[Update 2017.10 – This series has gotten a lot of attention lately. It appears that it’s become an ancillary part of another discussion on a discussion forum. Welcome! I encourage you to read the followup to this series, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to the Forums, for an epilogue to the discussion.]
This is the final article in a 3-part series Feminism Debate between Sargon of Akkad and Dr. Kristi Winters on April 30, 2016. This was a formal debate between two prominent YouTube personalities and tackled the highly-emotional topic in a structured and formal fashion.
In the first part, we gave a short overview of the debate process in order to lay the foundation of what to expect in a formal debate, and how it’s different than most people realize. In the second, we looked at a high-level summary of the debate, examining the strategy and tactics used by the participants.
This last article will provide an analysis of this specific debate, and discuss means (and reasons) by which these should continue, as well as improve.
Now, before I begin the analysis and you think that I’m being unfair or harsh, let me point out that Sargon wasn’t all that happy with his performance either:
In fact, it’s this “reflections” video that prompted me to go through the debate a second time and try to match up the Affirmative and Negative points and evaluate them on their debate merits. In this 3 minute video, he thinks back upon what he could do to make his case much stronger, and given what I’ve seen from Dr. Winters’ own channel I do not see evidence in her character of that exercise. [2016.09.21 Update: It turns out she didn’t behave very well at all.]
To that end, there is a lot to be learned from the experience, especially if someone wishes to take a look at debating someone in a similar vein. By all rights, Sargon should have won this debate – and likely could have if all he had done was addressed her flawed points.
The primary foil to Sargon’s approach was the debate structure itself. I don’t think he was aware of how much of an influence it actually has on the way that arguments get constructed and deconstructed.
It appears that Sargon took the sum of time that he had as an aggregate and intended to spread out his prepared statements evenly throughout the debate. In any case, it appears he was unclear that when you present information is as important as what information you present. This is why, for instance, many of his strongest arguments are peppered throughout the debate as opposed to concisely located as a rhetorical battalion.
[Update 2016.09.21 Sargon posted the text of his debate script, and it turns out this is exactly what he was doing.]
For example, his point about the President of the United States citing bad Feminist statistics as a measure of Feminist harm came during his closing statement. His point about Feminism ignoring population data in oppressive societies/cultures came during his second rebuttal. Just like a platoon of soldiers are much more difficult to defeat when they’re working together as a team than individually scattered across the battlefield, Sargon’s arguments needed to be consolidated at the very beginning of his opening statement.
This, in fact, leads to the very point about rhetorical offensive and defensive positions. By conceding nearly half his time during the opening statement, he yielded all of the ground that he could have potentially made to balance the Affirmative. Because of this, he had given her nothing to need to defend against, even though she – herself – had primed the pump with potential Negative arguments in her opening statement (it could be argued, in fact, that her own opening statement was the most powerful argument gainst her own position in the debate!).
When she went through her “Of Course” litany in the beginning, what she was saying was this: If Negative starts to come back and say these things, I’ve already addressed them and here’s why they don’t matter.” When Sargon actually did fall into her trap and made that argument during his second rebuttal, she could repeat her dismissal of it – and she does. “I knew you were going to say that,” is effectively what she was allowed to say, “And I already showed why that doesn’t work.”
My guess is that Sargon prepared for the debate like he prepares for his usual videos, which are a rhetorical form in and of themselves. As a rhetorical form, they work extremely well for him (and his audience). But, also as a rhetorical form, it’s insufficient preparation for a debate.
Therein lies the most damaging aspect of her assessment of his debating style: Sargon did “construct the arguments instead of presenting the evidence” precisely because during his normal method of creating videos the evidence is self-evident. Take his “This Week in Stupid” videos, for instance. He shows specific evidence of insanity that can be applied to Feminists (among other targets) as he is discussing the topic, so there is no need to make a direct tie between his argument and the evidence: it’s simultaneous.
When formulating an argument for a debate, however, it is unwise to presume that anyone can track those connections since they are most definitely not simultaneous. This leads us to…
Tackling the Negative On This Debate
The Negative position is not as weak as it may seem, despite the apparent odds stacked up against it. There are two possible approaches that would have given the Negative the debate win:
- Show that Feminism does not do good, or
- Show that Feminism does harm
These are not the same thing.
In the first instance, the strategy would simply have been to deny Affirmative any of the points being made. Each of the points that were made – from the direct to the indirect – could have been (and should have been) addressed in turn. Even if Sargon had done nothing but show that Affirmative’s arguments were ill-formed, he would have won the debate (the burden of proof in any debate falls on the Affirmative, not the Negative).
In the second instance, Negative could show that Feminism does actual harm – either directly or indirectly (by inaction). There were moments when Sargon attempted to imply this tactic, but fell short of actually demonstrating the connection he thought he was making. For example, when he was talking about how Feminism was ignoring actual oppression in the world against women. he was implying “harm by negligence,” but never actually said it. The dots must be connected.
So, even though Negative (technically) could have won by simply negating Affirmative’s points, he still needed to establish the position of either 1 or 2 above, preferably a combination of the two.
Connecting the Dots, or Planting the Negative’s Flag
Sargon’s decision to address and attack the integrity of social science methodology was, simply, unwise. From a debate perspective, with only 8 minutes to establish a position, in order to pull that off he would not only have to show that social science consistently produced unreliable results (which he attempted, unconvincingly, to do), and that feminism derives its weakness in research from that specific source, and then he would have to show how such a condition means that Feminism causes harm.
Moreover, it was an extremely weak position to take in general, and Dr. Winters shot it down as easily as swatting a fly out of her face: social science research is the foundation for media, advertising, marketing, psychology, and business. When applied correctly, the scientific methodology for social science research is extremely powerful.
Sargon’s issue is for misapplied social science research, and while he has an excellent point to be made about this, a debate is far too complex difficult to apply that logic (unless that was the topic itself). Even if he had narrowed his focus to Feminist research, he would have been on more solid ground but not in the form of the argument he was embracing.
Considering that the point of the exercise was to either show impotence (at best) and harm (at worst), and he would have been on much stronger ground to show that Feminism causes harm, why not simply focus on that instead? My guess is that the connection that he sees between the “flawed research methodology” and the “flawed Feminist theoretical construct” was self-evident. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
Whatever “ergo” he had in mind – it wasn’t stated explicitly. He could have mentioned the wage gap problem at that time, but didn’t. He could have mentioned the false rape statistics at that time, but waited until the rebuttal phase. As a result, the establishment of his argument and the supporting evidence for it were several minutes apart – during which Dr. Winters was able to drive a stake of doubt through his argument’s heart.
The thing is, there are loads of examples of how Feminism has demonstrably harmed “the World,” from “affirmative consent” laws to defending false rape allegations (or even denying the problem) to “the Duluth model” of domestic abuse intervention. Sargon’s got a great point about the circular reasoning of modern intersectional Feminism: the redefinition of the terms that he points out has so infiltrated every day discourse that it is used as immunity from any and all repercussions (see Melissa Click and Bahar Mustafa, just for two).[Interesting side note that shows the perversion of intersectualism: While Mustafa was not fired for advocating “kill all white men”, apparently she felt she had to step down for bullying an Asian woman. The degree of the offense is mitigated by who is the offended, evidently.]
Therein lies the problem, and Dr. Winters nailed it: Sargon establishes the argument – say, in this example, that Intersectional Feminism is highly problematic – but fails to follow through with the examples of harm that would clarify how these problems affect real-world consequences. It’s a consistent theme throughout Sargon’s arguments – he sets up the spike but fails to actually drive the point home.
Sadly when Sargon said that he could provide the litany of feminists and examples of how Feminists have espoused harmful tactics, it became clear to me that he was thinking about this discussion completely differently than expected. It appears that, in his mind, if he was able to show just how unreasonable, irrational, and flawed Feminism is, the logical conclusion is that anything that results from Feminism is, by way of extension, unreasonable, irrational, and flawed.
If that is, in fact, the connection that he was trying to make, it needs to be explicitly stated. By way of comparison, if it appeared that Dr. Winters stated her own connections and points repeatedly, you would be correct. That is precisely the point – to hammer home your unchallenged points as often as possible (“Look at all my flags on the field that can’t be touched!”). Unfortunately for Sargon, she was able to do this because of the single most important unchallenged claim that he let her get away with.
Losing the Fight for the Definition
Sargon’s acceptance of Affirmative’s definitions is the root of how he lost the debate. Had he understood what she was saying, he could have easily turned this against her and used her own words to contradict her own claims.
Without realizing it, Dr. Winters opened herself up to a huge liability problem in the name of Feminism. She has just accepted the mantle of every person who does horrific actions under that umbrella.
If Feminism is, in fact, “A range of political movements, ideologies and social movements that share a common goal,” then the definition cannot escape the horrific travesties of justice that have been done in its name. Since Affirmative defined Feminism so broadly, and makes claims to the success of any elements that do ‘good’ in its name, she must also accept the harm done in that name as well. These fall squarely inside that definition, as she admits (implicitly) that there is no such thing as “not a true feminist.”
Without realizing it, Dr. Winters opened herself up to a huge liability problem in the name of Feminism. She has just accepted the mantle of every person who does horrific actions under that umbrella. During the Q&A, this became apparent that she would not have been able to handle such a criticism, as she was completely incapable of answering the question of whether parroting harmful and incorrect rape statistics should be prevented.
Instead, Sargon allowed her to claim that any beneficial outcome – either as a direct result of Feminist efforts or indirect, nebulous, and questionable effects – could be attributed to Feminism. She effectively defined her way to victory by creating a tautology that Sargon missed; Feminism is good, so all good things are due to Feminism.
Worse, not only did Sargon let this go wholly unchallenged for the entire debate, he never defined his own terms. He missed the opportunity to counter this, to make the claim in his opening remarks that the definition of Feminism that he was working with was more specifically defined. So, by not dismissing her definition, nor providing his own, he conceded the point – a point from which all Dr. Winters’ arguments flowed that he was unable to assail because he had accepted that root premise.
Addressing the Affirmative’s Flawed Logic
As I mentioned above, part of the skills necessary to do good debating is to listen as closely as possible to what your opponent is claiming. It truly isn’t clear to me if Sargon actually was listening during her opening remarks (I don’t mean this as a slam; I honestly don’t know if he was or not from the video stream that I could see).
During her opening remarks she made several claims that were absolute softballs that he should have been able to hit out of the park, but he never even took a swing. In fact, it was only during the Q&A session that I believe he even heard some of the more outlandish claims for the first time.
Let’s re-examine the key points of her argument (don’t worry, there are only three).
First, she defines her terms: Feminism:
“A range of political movements, ideologies and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish and achieve equal political, economic, personal and social rights for women.“
Now, it wasn’t until the Q&A when he takes her to task for her broad overreach, and I’ve already explained how this wound up losing him the debate from the first few minutes, but evidently even Dr. Winters erred in her own use of supporting materials.
When defining Feminism, Dr. Winters uses as her citation “What is Feminism?” by Chris Beasely. However, on the very first page of that text we can see that Dr. Winters’ position is diametrically opposite that of the citation she uses:
Feminism now, as in the past, entails a variety of widely differing approaches. And yet, in spite of this diversity, feminism is often represented in everyday discussions, as well as in lecture rooms, as a single entity an somehow concerned with ‘equality.’ This limited portrayal is rarely challenged, partly because many forms of current feminist analysis require considerable previous knowledge and are sometimes only available in forms of academic language so difficult that they make Einstein’s theory of relatively [sic] look like a piece of cake. (p. x)
(By the way, this is why debaters argue both sides of a debate, to be able to have the experience to know the limitations of such sources when someone presents them as hard evidence against their position).
It should be noted that, Beasley spends considerable time discussing the reticence of feminist scholars to adequately define the boundaries of feminist thought, lending credibility to Sargon’s argument that Feminists deliberately keep their definitions and re-definitions in flux, conveniently avoiding accountability concerns.
Perhaps I’m getting a bit too into the weeds here, but the overarching point is that Affirmative slipped through a definition of Feminism so broad that she was able to lay claim to credit for anything good that happens to anyone and everyone… and she does.
It’s why, for instance, she can talk on several occasions about how feminism is addressing UK girls’ “honor killings” problem, but this is in direct contrast to what they actually do. In fact, when it comes to Islamic Sharia law, Feminists have no position on it. Now, granted, the news article I’m linking to came out after the debate, but this type of claim is easy to refute and there is a long history of this kind of negligence.
What about the “indirect” effects Dr. Winters was so fond of saying? What were they again?
Feminists raises an issue that creates a space for men to talk about their experiences with those issues. Second wave feminists opened the subject as a crime, so that men could then talk about their own problems.
Rape and Rape Culture opened up the topic for men and teen boys to address the issues that they’ve been violated. Exposed “Male Myths” that have prevented men from revealing sexual assaults.
US Senator who “shown the light on the number of rapes in the US military.” Feminism has helped men because the equal pay effort has allowed women to help bring home more money to contribute to the household, along with the efforts in the US for paid family leave.
Birth Control has helped women control the time and manner of their own pregnancies, which benefit men.
Each and every one of these claims should have been soundly refuted, and it wouldn’t have been that difficult. Each of these claims – when examined – would have not only trounced Dr. Winters’ attempts at braggadocio but further buttressed Sargon’s stance on the Negative:
1) Feminists create a space for men to talk about their experiences on those issues.
- Like in Toronto, where a talk on Male suicide where attendees were assaulted.
- Or in Ottowa, where feminists disrupt a forum about battered husbands
- Or the number of Feminists who oppose Domestic Violence shelters for men, period.
- Come to think of it, they threaten to kill women who suggest that men need those spaces as well.
- But it’s okay for feminists themselves to beat men, after all, according to feminist online magazine Jezebel
- Or the fact that Feminists tried to shut down a feminist who is creating a documentary on Men’s Rights, through slander, libel, and other outright falsehoods? Why? Because it was balanced.
- Or any of a number of a long list of activities designed to chill speech and send those they target running for cover.
Nothing exemplifies the bizarreness of this claim like the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Dr. Winters claims that men have benefited from these legal actions, but her definition of “benefit” – like Feminism – leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, the harm caused by Feminism in this regard is so well-documented, it is astounding that Dr. Winters can make the claim that men are helped by “knock-on” effects at all.
For example, Feminists pushed for – and received – significant legal coverage that directly harmed not only men, but women in those men’s lives:
- It presumes guilt on the part of the accused, and even if the accused is found not guilty the accuser can appeal, placing the accused in double-jeopardy
- Even if an accused is thought to be even “50.00001%” guilty, he must be disciplined (note: “he”)
- Feminists actively campaigned for the automatic presumption of guilt, claiming that accused should not be granted due process, because the act of being accused of a crime means that the accused students do not “have a constitutional liberty interest at stake.”
- VAWA was a Feminist dream legislation, accumulating millions while legislating the j’accuse mentality of the Loi des Suspects, all the while proving to be ineffective. Almost all claims to its efficacy eventually emerged to be grossly overstated.
How, precisely, does this qualify as even remotely “benefiting” men through any effect? Sargon could have, and should have, shown how efforts by Feminists to affect legislation have consistently reduced equal protection under the law, not improve it. It’s been more “knock out” than “knock-on.”
2) Rape and Rape Culture opened up the topic for men and teen boys
Women’s groups in various parts of the world have actively campaigned to eliminate women from being legally defined as rapists, such as India, Israel, or the United States, where the preference has been to pay lip service to the existence of male rapists but then erase them from discourse altogether.
The conversation about “Rape and Rape Culture” has opened up the topic, of course, but solely as boys and men as the perpetrators. Dr. Winters’ broad definition of feminism allows for this bastardization of events, under the contortionist means of “by forcing boys and men not to rape it benefits them too.” Because of the means by which Feminists define anyone and everything as problematic, it’s now become impossible to challenge the notion that the burden of proof now falls upon men to show they are not rapists.
Of course, just take a look at the first paragraph in Stanford University’s “Feminist Perspectives on Rape”:
Although the proper definition of ‘rape’ is itself a matter of some dispute, rape is generally understood to involve sexual penetration of a person by force and/or without that person’s consent. Rape is committed overwhelmingly by men and boys, usually against women and girls, and sometimes against other men and boys. (For the most part, this entry will assume male perpetrators and female victims.) [Emphasis added]
Worse, Feminists have actively fought against the empowerment of women to take a role in their own safety. For example, there are numerous Feminist attempts to prevent the police from conducting “prevent rape” campaigns.
3) Rapes in the U.S. Military
Reading through the sources Dr. Winters cites, none of them indicate how Feminism affected those reporting statistics in any way. I’ve looked through the sources, even done some additional research outside of what she provided, and there is simply nothing that can tie any Feminist activism with reducing rapes in the U.S. Military.
This point should have been shut down easily and immediately.
4) Equal Pay
This is the part that Sargon should have jumped on immediately and thoroughly. Sargon did address this in his closing statements, but by then it was too late.
Oh, but how this myth is perpetuated. Sometimes it’s 77%. Sometimes it’s 83%. Sometimes it’s 70%. Sometimes it’s 88%. But it’s all wrong.[Note: I went through more links than I have patience to put down here. There were so many links that came up that I just didn’t have the energy to copy them down here. Instead, I’ll let Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers do the heavy lifting.
5) Birth Control
Dr. Winters explicitly claims that birth control has, via the “knock-on” effect, benefited men. There are several reasons why this claim is specious, at best.
First, let’s assume claim that this is an indirect benefit is worthy of consideration. If that’s true, then we must also look at the indirect harms as well.
Notably, with this shift in the power-to-get-pregnant, comes the ability and willingness for women to abuse this power. In 2004, a UK study showed that 42% of women would lie about taking the pill in order to get pregnant, in spite of the wishes of their partner.
For men who do not want to have children – which is what birth control is for, after all – the abuse of Birth Control by women leads to a dramatic disadvantage to their reproductive rights. This leads to active efforts to stop or kill off male birth control pills. Did you even know such a thing existed? I’d wager many do not.
Take a look at this quote from the perspective of a feminist powergrab:
But there’s another problem with male contraception that is rather less talked about. And that’s whether most women really are happy giving away our power over a part of our lives that tends to mean more to us than to men.
So how would we feel if our man wandered off to the GP and booked himself in for a jab without consulting us? To be honest, I’m not sure that most women would like that at all. In my experience, the stuff of domestic life is jealously guarded by most women…
And while it is taboo to say it, plenty of women do feel, in a primal way, that they should have the last word on how many babies they have, hence the large number of ‘surprise’ third babies around. [Emphasis added.]
But those aren’t real feminists, right? Ah, but remember, Dr. Winters has absolved “false” feminists by defining feminism as encompassing anything that helps women.
Certainly, though, she wouldn’t claim Betty Friedan is not a Feminist in any case, right? Listen to Dr. Coutinho talk about what happened when Feminists protested the male birth control pill (skip to 5:00):
In light of this, Dr. Winters’ claim that the “knock on” effect of birth control improving the lives of men is disingenuous, when the claim of equality is eschewed in the very same manner.
So she must accept these types of feminists under her definition. Once she does that, she needs to show how this behavior is “good“, and once she does that she needs to show how this is indirectly “good” for men, a logical inconsistency – and thus loses the point. Flag down.
These are the points that Dr. Winters made as the Affirmative in the debate, and each of these arguments were either non-existent (as in the case of the military argument) or outright misleading (Feminism helps men).
As shown, none of these arguments hold up to scrutiny, but they are the entirety of Affirmative’s arguments. Moreover, not only does the refutation of these arguments take out the flags, but it also bolsters Negative’s possible strategy of showing harm.
If you made it this far, I’m impressed! Well, stunned, really.
We’re coping with some very bad things that have emerged as a result of Identitarian Politics (i.e., the politics of identity, such as sex, race, sexual orientation, gender, etc.). Debates such as these are absolutely necessary to keep the checks and balances for civil discourse.
All too often the marketplace of ideas seems to consist of a single merchant as ad hominem cries of “Sexist! Racist! X-ist!” push out any competition or dissent. The best kind of diversity – diversity of ideas – is omitted from the platform.
Forums like this – where an intellectual and honest debate take place – are needed more, not less. It’s a long-form of argument (much like this blog post), an art that has been slowly dying out as audiences seek to retain snap-confirmation of their biases, instead of fleshing out a deeper understanding of nuanced issues.
College campuses, in general, have become the last place to engage in these kinds of discussions. Now dissent – the lifeblood of good ideas – is treated as hostile harassment, something to be eradicated at all costs. If this comes to pass, exchanges such as these won’t be able to raise discourse to any higher level, because they will not be permitted at all.
Debate – especially organized, formal debate – gives us the ability to remove sacred cows, to examine points of argument based upon their merits (or lack thereof). It gives us the opportunity to separate the emotion from the arguments (at least, it’s the best venue to do so) so that there is less noise, less clutter, in coming to an informed position.
Feminism is one of those sacred cows that evokes a strong reaction in people – and with good reason. It’s an idea, an identity, a discipline, a political movement, a legislative lobby, and a religion. It is virtually impossible to maintain a detached, objective viewpoint when discussing Feminism, and nearly all conversations lead to emotional outbursts at one point or another.
Structured, formalized debate may not be the only chance to have civilized discussions about this, but it is certainly the easiest to employ – provided people are willing to take the time to be guided by its principles. In this case, because the structure was (likely) misunderstood, emotions ran high – though arguably not nearly as high as they could have been when discussing Feminism.
Sargon lost the debate, even though it was clear through the Q&A that had he had a better grasp of the process he could have addressed Affirmative’s points in a more timely and definitive fashion. We also saw that Dr. Winters was not prepared to address some of the counter-points to her own arguments (again, in the Q&A), and as a result Sargon could have taken an upper hand if he had been more familiar with the proper rebuttal process.
I want to see more debates like this. Not just on Feminism, but on Social Justice, #BlackLivesMatter, #GamerGate, Humanism+, Global Warming, and a host of other sacred cows that are considered untouchable.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Dissent is the lifeblood of good ideas. It is only through addressing dissent that ideas become good, become stronger. If you must prosecute or violently eliminate dissent, your idea cannot be good.
I want to see Sargon debate on this topic again, because I’ve seen absolute brilliance from the man, with an insight that at times borders on the preternatural (take a look at his dissection of the Social Justice crowd on Political Correctness and Freedom of Speech, an analysis that deserves its own attention).
I would even like to see Sargon debate Kristi Winters again, as I’m sure that by this point she would have plenty of opportunity to improve her own game (despite winning the debate, she definitely needed to improve a lot.)
All in all, I’m encouraged by the attempt at civil discourse, especially given the highly charged arena that these subjects have been occupying lately. I would like to see more of these.