The warnings of George Orwell play a significant role in the official philosophical anxiety of SethBlogs.
ORWELLING UP SERIES:
II: FEATURING CBC FEMINISM (you are here)
In the first episode of ORWELLING UP—which I wrote while I was reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four—I questioned the notion of excommunicating artists for behaviours in their personal lives. Now, upon finishing Orwell’s dystopian imagining, I’ll peek in on what I increasingly perceive to be CBC Radio’s Orwellian policy on “thought crimes” against their patron ideology, feminism.
In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four “nothing was illegal,” but, if you were caught doing something aberrant (i.e. outside the undefined but easily inferred Party lines), “it was reasonably certain that it would be punishable by death, or at least by twenty-five years in a forced labour camp.” Similarly, CBC Radio never speaks of a feminist policy. However, the consequences of drifting from CBC feminist party lines are undeniable:
(1) If you have incorrect opinions, you will generally be excluded from this grand, publically funded conversation. And
(2) If you do Houdini your way through that first barrier, but you nudge a toe out of feminist line, you will be challenged by the normally gushing hosts.
Meanwhile, the benefits of colouring neatly between the feminist lines are equally obvious:
(A) If you never question feminism, and always treat individual feminists as infallible equality-seekers, you will have a much greater chance of being promoted to valuable hosting and guest roles, regardless of your talent and intelligence in the areas you are discussing. And
(B) If you say something that is evidence and/or decency free, you will be supported with adulation, so long as it supports the orthodoxy of feminism.
In this blog, I have criticized what I perceive to be examples of CBC’s unstated but relentless pro-feminist slant, and how its hosts never question feminist dogma. Such yielding to this particular Big Sibling is understandable given both the risks of being pushed out of CBC for “thoughtcrime,” and—if I may offer a matching Orwellian term—the benefits of demonstrating virtuethink.
But these pressures to conform are never officially acknowledged. Indeed, if questioned, the host would likely say they were always expressing their own opinions. And they’re very convincing. Many of them probably are sincere (they were, after all, likely chosen for that apparent sincerity). But, if feminists are right that their excommunicated hero, Jian Ghomeshi, was a long closeted misogynist, then they must admit that any of these other beloved feminist personalities might also be faking their commitment to the faith for the benefits of such conformity.
This unstated but ever-present thought policing is a disservice to both critics of feminism, as well as proponents, who are able to release morally and intellectually inept statements into our public airways without challenge. And, while that surely feels good to them and their congregation at the time, it deprives them of the scrutiny we all need to improve our thinking. Meanwhile, those outside of the margins of correct feminist opinion are nearly always dismissed as sexists and/or misogynists because they hint at opinions that feminists have already deemed incorrect. CBC Radio thus treats intellectual debate as unnecessary (and potentially harmful) in such cases.
In this episode of ORWELLLING UP, I consider a June 20th CBC Q interview in which both the throughtcrime and virtuethink styles of silent feminist influence took turns leading a discussion. The conversation starred the ever warm, eloquent, and feminist-flavoured Gill Deacon interviewing Ali Wong, a rant-and-dirty-joke-wielding comedian who had both pleased and displeased feminist pastors.
Wong’s correct thinking was itemized first. Deacon played a clip from the comedian’s special, Baby Cobra, in which the then 7.5 months’ pregnant comic noted that male comedians just having a baby can merrily:
“…get up on stage a week afterwards, and they’ll be like, ‘Guys, I just had this baby. It’s so annoying and boring. And all these uppity dads in the audience are like, ‘That’s hilarious. I identify.’ And their fame just swells. Because they become this relatable, family funny man all of a sudden.”
Meanwhile, Wong hollered, just-becoming-mom comedians are a little too “busy!” producing and nursing the baby to return to the stage so quickly.
I thought this was a fair diatribe, which seemed to me not so much a hostile complaint about men as much as a playful, old-style, battle-of-the-sexes teasing of them.
CBC interviewer Gill Deacon, though, helped herself to a feminist reading of the comedy, marking the rant down in her Approved Feminist Grievance column as she celebrated it as a “fairly spot on” identification of a “double standard.”
I heard no evidence, nor claim, from Wong that she had been accosted by a double standard. A double standard implies that she was being dealt with by a different standard than her male rivals. That would mean her business and/or audience was not open to her pregnancy-or-post-pregnancy comedy in the way they would be if she were male. She made no such argument. As far as I can tell, she’s just claiming that it’s extra difficult for soon-to-be or just-become mothers to do stand up comedy. Fair enough. That doesn’t mean that there is sexist discrimination going on in this case; it might just mean that pregnancy and nursing needs can be hard on one’s comedy career. And, given that women are more often pregnant and nursing than men, they have that burden more often.
Curiously, then, after Deacon rewarded Wong for a feminist claim that she had not made, she scolded the comedian for some decidedly unfeminist material. Consider this interaction:
DEACON: You are a very professionally accomplished woman… You also joke a lot… about wanting to be a housewife… Is that really a fantasy of yours? You kind of make it seem like housewives are the geniuses of our time.
WONG: …I’m joking, because I obviously really love doing stand up. The desire, though, to not work anymore is real…
DEACON: And there’s no bells of concern that go off for you at all when your mind starts to go there?
WONG: No, I mean I think that’s real. I think a lot of my other friends, who are professional women, are like… “What the Hell am I doing?” when they see women who have super rich husbands… It’s all a fantasy…
DEACON: You say that feminism’s ruined it for us. Now we’re expected to work. Have you heard any complaints from women in any of your audiences with jokes like that?
WONG: Not really. I think most women understand that I’m joking…
DEACON: It doesn’t come across that clearly that you’re joking, I have to say. I found myself going, “Hmm, does she really think this? It’s hard to tell.”
WONG: Um, yeah.
DEACON: It sounds like I wasn’t all wrong. You kind of… do believe in the fantasy.
WONG: Yeah, part of me believes in the fantasy. But part of me also knows that it’s a fantasy. And the reality of it comes with consequences…
DEACON: ….At the end of your special, you do twist things around a little bit to sort of prove that point. But do you worry that men in your audience might think that they’re seeing what women actually secretly think?
WONG: I don’t really worry about that. I’m worried about if they’re laughing. I’m not worried about what really they’re thinking. …I’m not a teacher. I’m not a politician. I’m a stand up comic.
Notice that Wong had not only committed the speechcrime of joking about having blasphemous thoughts, but, with a little prodding, Deacon detected that Wong was doing more than just joking. Wong was admitting to taking genuine pleasure in imagining something unfeminist. She had committed a thoughtcrime: she had coveted an unapproved feminist lifestyle! If this weren’t bad enough, she had allowed men-folk to overhear her forbidden dreams.
So, far from being a freeing ideology that allows people more choice in their lives, this version of feminism is telling women not that they can be career-oriented if they choose, but that they should be. And not only should they be, but they should never enjoy dreams of greater leisure. That would clearly be fantasycrime! And, if you’re going to have these evil fantasies, the least you could do is not let the drooling men hear about it: men are too simple to understand that one woman’s favourite imagining neither means it automatically overpowers her simultaneous desire to have a career, nor does it represent all women at all times.
Next, Deacon “pushed [Wong]” for telling her audience about sexual desires that were also not feminist approved.
Wong responded to these shake-of-the-head questions by pointing out that her comedy is not a TED TALK: her goal, she said, is to just make people laugh.
Deacon did not seem impressed to hear it.
“So it’s just going for the laughs?” she asked.
Wong had clearly once again committed both a thoughtcrime (the desire) and a speechcrime (talking about it).
I’m not objecting to Deacon questioning anyone’s moral justification for their creative renderings. If Deacon wanted to explore the social implications of an artist’s material, that would be fine. However, my greatest trouble here is that Deacon and her fellow feminist interviewers at CBC are incapable of nuance both in their support and condemnation.
First, there is rarely exploration into the details and/or veracity within feminist—or, in this case, feminist-seeming—arguments. I have little doubt that pregnant women and new mothers have a particularly daunting time in stand-up comedy, but a good interviewer might have explored why the comedian thought that was so, and whether it was, as Deacon diagnosed it, a double standard, or an unavoidable consequence of biology, or something in between. Instead, in CBC Feminism’s world, any claim that a woman is treated worse than a man is approved without question or contextual consideration. Essentially, You have said something that confirms the Party doctrine, therefore I agree.
Then, on the disapproving side of the conversation, if ever someone says something that doesn’t coincide with the correct feminist opinion, the blasphemer is first given the option to renounce the position, and when, in this case, the comedian held onto her incorrect thoughts, there was no exploration of whether the comedian was nevertheless morally justified in her comedy. Instead, Deacon simply pointed out that Wong really did seem to be sincere about her wrongthink, and moved onto the next question.
This lack of nuance suffocates these conversations. We are left with vacant approvals and accusations without any moral foundation to hold them up. Instead, CBC Feminism (intentionally or otherwise) relies on fear of Party excommunication to keep their members from diverging too far from virtuethink.
ORWELLING UP SERIES:
I: FEATURING DJ MORALS
II: FEATURING CBC FEMINISM (you were just here)