On Civil Discussion
I had trouble deciding what I was going to talk about in this article. I could speak about how the majority of Christina Hoff-Sommers’s supporters were either white, a man, or both. However, I won’t. I could speak about how her opposers were more varied, dare I say diverse, in terms of race, sex, and gender. However, I won’t. I could even speak about how referencing statistics from a single study doesn’t make an argument true, since studies often contradict each other, and hypotheses need to be confirmed repeatedly to have scientific merit. Again, I won’t. Instead, I’ll speak about what civil discussion is, and why the Christina Hoff-Sommers event failed to have any.
As people like Christina Hoff-Sommers tend to disregard any information outside of official, old institutions, let me first define my terms according to one of those official, old institutions. The Oxford English Dictionary defines civil as either 1) “Relating to ordinary citizens and their concerns, as distinct from military or ecclesiastical matters” or 2) “Courteous and polite.” For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that the ‘civil’ in ‘civil discussion’ means the latter.
Now then, let’s define ‘discussion’. Going back to the OED, discussion is “The action or process of talking about something in order to reach a decision or to exchange ideas.” Fairly straightforward. So, now that I’ve cited my sources, let me define, in my own words, ‘civil discussion’. A civil discussion is a polite, reciprocal conversation in which multiple parties are able to share their ideas.
Having defined my terms, I can finally start talking about the event. Before it even began, a woman came around and handed out a few pages presenting counter arguments to various points CHS had made in previous articles and videos. On the first page, she wrote that she didn’t include citations to save space, but provided her email and the option to ask her for said citations.
At around 7 pm, the event officially began. Anthony Dimauro, the president of the Young Americans for Freedom, kicked the event off with a short speech about embodying the principles of equal liberty ala the founding fathers, and how he and the club welcomed civil discussion as part of the event. He requested that all questions be held until the end of CHS’s speech, when there would be a Q & A. And here, we have our first issue.
A Q & A is not a discussion. It is a Q & A. Someone asks a question, the speaker answers. No opportunity for follow-up questions, no opportunity for rebuttals or counter arguments. A question, and an answer. But, of course, this was an event taking place in the evening on a Wednesday. It’s entirely possible that the YAF didn’t want the event to drag on for longer than the two hours it ultimately ended up being. And that’s fair, that’s reasonable, that’s understandable. But if that was their intent, they shouldn’t have claimed they wanted to have a discussion, civil or otherwise. It was misleading at best, an outright lie at worst.
So, this event that was apparently meant to spark civil discussion, was not structured in a way to allow any discussion at all. It was structured to allow the speaker to reaffirm their ideas while keeping opposing views to a minimum. And I do mean a minimum, as monologuing was discouraged, and people were repeatedly told to just state their question without providing the background of said question.
Having failed to be a discussion from the get-go, the event could have at least been a civil Q and A. It was not. The speech CHS gave was civil, in that there were few to no disruptions, but the Q and A was neither courteous nor polite.
Perhaps I should define another term. Polite, again according to the OED, means “having or showing behavior that is respectful and considerate of other people”. Refusing to allow question askers the ability to hold the microphone as they spoke is neither respectful nor considerate. And yet, one of the YAF members stood, microphone in hand, ready to hold it out for whoever wanted to ask a question and take it away when other people decided the question asker should stop. Half the time you couldn’t even hear the question asker, since the man holding the mic apparently wasn’t particularly capable of holding it so that other people could be heard. Giving the mic to the person speaking would have solved this issue, but the YAF didn’t want “a monologue.” Interrupting people by taking the mic away from them was fine though.
The first person who asked a question prefaced her question with a few sentences about resources available to people who have been sexually assaulted, and the reassurance that they were not alone. She was accused of a monologue and had to ask for the mic back to ask her question. When she prefaced her question by providing context, namely that the issue was not so much men and women as it was masculinity and femininity, she was again called out for a monologue. By this point, half the crowd was riled up about her apparent dithering, and the other half was riled up by her being interrupted. She repeated her question, and CHS answered. At least, CHS reiterated ideas from her speech that vaguely related to the question, and the question asker was told to go sit down.
Then it was my turn. My question was similar to that of the woman before me, but I know the score when discussing things with people like CHS. So, I went straight into my question, about whether or not the examples she gave of male sacrifice were in fact due to the hyper masculine standards men hold each other to, aka toxic masculinity. I wasn’t called out for a monologue, but I still wasn’t allowed to hold the mic, and apparently couldn’t be heard because of it. Again, CHS didn’t actually answer the question. When I tried to explain my point, to get her to actually answer the question, I too was told to let the next person speak. When a black woman went up to ask about intersectionality and the racism our country was founded in, she was dismissed. When a trans woman went up to ask where she fit into CHS’s equity feminism, she was given empty platitudes of “wanting people to be open and accepting”. So, it went, on and on. When people tried to provide background or have their question actually answered they were laughed at, repeatedly asked “what was your question?” and spoken over by CHS, the YAF, and half the crowd.
Not to say the other half of the crowd was calm and quiet. On the contrary, they got increasingly riled up as people’s questions went unanswered and the people themselves were spoken over. When they called out to let the person speak, when they called out rebuttals and opposing ideas, Dimauro would grab a mic and remind everyone that this was supposed to be a civil discussion. And yet the people asking questions were still treated rudely, and the Q & A didn’t magically turn into a discussion. Allow me to drop my faux academic tone for a moment to properly express my views on the matter.
The event was a fucking mess. It wasn’t a discussion, it was never meant to be a discussion, and the conservatives or whatever they want to be called were the first ones to be rude. When the club sponsoring the “civil discussion” and “free speech” event is limiting people’s ability to speak and be heard, condescending down to them and treating them like idiots, you know something’s fucked up. And then when the social justice activists push back against their mistreatment, they end up being the ones called rude and disruptive. Hypocrisy at its finest, folks.
And oh, was there hypocrisy. Remember the handout I mentioned? The one rebutting CHS’s arguments? One guy got up and mentioned said handout before his question, and said that he “didn’t see any citations.” The handout said why that was on the first page. So, either he didn’t actually read it, or he was deliberately misrepresenting the handout to make the author of it look bad and by extension make CHS look better. Not to mention that he didn’t immediately ask a question, but provided background to his question. In the interest of fairness, I asked him what his question was, since the YAF seemed content to let him monologue. I could continue railing on the guy by insulting the shirt he was wearing, but ad hominem attacks are cheap and pointless. So back to hypocrisy.
One of the major points of CHS’s speech was that modern leftist feminists were using hype and bad sources to further their agenda. The last person to ask a question cited a statistic from the Federal Bureau of Justice. CHS’s immediate response? “Fake statistics.” She didn’t know what study it was, couldn’t have known whether it was scientifically valid or not, but she immediately decided it was fake. She gave about the same level of information about the studies and statistics she cited, but apparently we’re supposed to accept those as true because she said they were.
What I ultimately want people to take from this article, is my perspective differs according to their views and attitudes. To conservatives: a Q & A is not a discussion, you can’t expect people to be civil when you aren’t civil to them, civility doesn’t mean talking calmly it means treating people respectfully, and free speech as stated in the constitution only means that the government cannot interfere with your ability to express ideas.
To people who care about marginalized groups and want to create an actually fair, just, and equal society: I know it’s hard to keep your cool when you’re arguing for these ideals, when you’re arguing that people don’t deserve to die because of their race, their sex, the sexuality, or their gender. But the people you’re arguing against don’t care about emotional impact. The only thing that might, might be able to convince them is calm words and numbers. X number of people are dying because of Y, so Y needs to be dealt with. They don’t care that people are dying in general, they don’t care that the reasons are complex, multifaceted, and present in the very foundations of U.S. society and government. They just, don’t, care. Any emotional appeal will fall flat, any show of emotion on your part will cause them to dismiss you as unreasonable. It sucks and its bullshit, but so are the ideals that they defend.