As of 12 February over 6.8 million people have watched a “debate” about gender politics between clinical psychologist (and YouTuber) Jordan B Peterson, and Cathy Newman, a Channel 4 news presenter. Jordan is a clinical psychologist in Canada who 4 years ago started putting his lectures on YouTube, whereas Channel 4 News is a mainstream broadcaster, known for having more “lefty” beliefs.Together, Cathy and Jordan cover the gender pay gap, Jordan’s recently released book, and the politics of campus protestors.
Yet this was no debate, and it does not deserve the views or the acclaim that it has been getting. It is an embarrassment.
First; Oxford Dictionary Online says a debate is:
So this formal structured discussion, featuring arguments from only one side, Jordan’s, and questions only from the other side, wouldn’t count. Not only this, but in the description itself the segment is described as a “fiery interview”, despite Cathy confusingly calling it a “spat” and a “joust” on twitter.
Born Sexy Yesterday is a trope building on the born yesterday naïve character, normally found in sci-fi and almost inevitably the main character’s love interest. Here’s the video if you haven’t seen it, which excellently presents and explores this concept:
One of the issues raised in the video is that this trope is rarely reversed; rarely does a naïve male creation become an object of desire based on his pathetic-ness or childlike-ness. This is what I wanted to explore more.
The Easy Answer?
The explanation the video is that it is a male power fantasy, of a generic everyman character becoming the most impressive and most wonderful man and subsequent love interest of the Born Sexy Yesterday woman character. The video goes on to look at the reverse, in which women find the naivete unhelpful and unappealing, and fall in love with the male character despite his childishness.
I think this is too simple, and there is more to it than that.
For one thing, there is multiple layers involved in any piece of media.
First, the story layer, where the characters live, and make their choices and have their own preferences. This is the in-world perspective.
Second, you have the viewing layer, people watching the show and making their judgements on it, and paying money to see it.
Third, you have the production team, the writers and directors and actors and camera people and the whole crew, who hold their own individual and group vision for the media and what story they want to tell.
To truly undress this trope and why it fails to work in reverse, you need to look at each individual layer. We’re gonna start with the character layer, because it is the simplest.
The characters are the simplest layer because they are fictional, even though they are the part people tend to focus on and argue about the most when talking about media; it’s easy to focus on the character’s and their motivations because they are what is right in front of you on the screen. But whilst it seems to matter whether Korben Dallas (by Bruce Willis) fancies Leeloo (by Milla Jovovich) because of her innocence or because of how it makes him look by comparison, it’s ultimately impossible to answer. Fictional characters can’t have a real or genuine motivation, except that which is created by the production team, which means you aren’t really analysing anyone unless you look directly at the production team. (incidentally this excellent video summarizes this more eloquently thna I ever could)
This is also what leads to the “empowered bikini battle woman” trope; if a character loves her metallic bikini armour, that’s fantastic and great and there’s nothing we can do to argue with that, or analyse it, or tell her it’s problematic, because she is fictional, as is her desire to be almost naked, so she’s not going to change her mind, because she is nothing more than her creator’s vision.
With that, we need to turn to the production team:
“Production team” is hugely oversimplifying the process of creating media, I know. There will be creatives and there will be market analysts and there will be producers and everything in-between in the creation of a blockbuster film, I know, but one thing everyone in this section has in common is being part of the process of creating the film, together, as a team.
Coming back to Born Sexy Yesterday, there will be plenty of production reasons for the trope coming into being. One could be that the lead writer thinks it is cool, they want their main character to have an interesting love interest and also to have that reciprocated, and this sexy android programme is the perfect solution to that! It solves a problem of developing another character, because there’s inherently no real back-story, the lack of backstory becomes the character’s sole characteristic, and it is an interesting thing to see, you could argue, because fully grown but completely naïve characters don’t happen much in real life. (I say “much” because amnesia exists, but I doubt it’s usually as cute or adorkable as the Born Sexy Yesterday character is.)
Or perhaps it’s the marketing team’s idea, perhaps they’re onboard pushing this concept, because it’s been proven it works really well with the audience, it’s a popular proven plot mechanism, so knock yourself out with it! Maybe it’s the actors, they may have played this style before or they might find it interesting and moving and romantic, so they’re always happy to work on a story with this trope.
At this point it’s worth pointing out how male-dominated Hollywood is.
You can figure out for yourself how that might bias production towards representing male fantasies over female fantasies, or prioritising male characters development and characters over female ones, which leads to the same result. Looking back at the writer, if they are writing a story that is totally about a female character, are they really going to want to skimp on her backstory, or make her a blank slate? It would limit the direction of a character, at least at first.
But the elephant in the room and in the marketing figures is yet to be addressed. Let’s rectify that.
Finally, the audience.
The complicated mass of humanity that gets translated to a box-office grossing number and targeted demographics and genres by the production team, that gets to interpret the characters however they want and argue about it until the cows come home …*Harry+Hermione vs Hermione+Ron war flashbacks*…
These are the part of the puzzle that drives production companies and define what works and what doesn’t.
These are the part that decide whether Born Sexy Yesterday is an entrenched part of pop culture or a gross creepy romance in one piece of failed media; no matter how romantic or entertaining the writer thought it was when they wrote it.
And this is ultimately why “Born Sexy Yesterday” doesn’t work the other way around; it doesn’t “sell”, however you put it.
The Problem The Other Way Around
Born Sexy Yesterday as a phrase probably makes you feel uncomfortable, the related suggestion of paedophilia is obvious when the trope is pointed out. And as pointed out in the video, the depiction of a consenting relationship is debatable if “she” is really a 2 day old computer programme; unable to realise that undressing in public is generally inappropriate; can we really assume she is capable of informed consent?
Of course, we can’t. Because that’s decided by the writer, or the audience, as they watch it. The character has no true consent or obstacle to consent, because they are fictional, so it’s impossible to definitely answer this question, which is complicated enough to define with real-life human beings.
So what do the writer and the audience decide as they watch it?
Generally, that it’s okay. Films like “Big” and “Fifth Element” and “Tron” work, even with these plot lines, and the ratings and the sales and the reputation of these films speak for themselves about how audiences received them.
So why do audiences say it’s okay?
A variety of reasons spring to mind. Reasonable suspension of disbelief; it makes for a far better film if this is a consensual relationship with a quirky character, rather than a perverted abuse of a vulnerable child-like creature (or, in the case of Big, an actual 13-year-old child).
Or perhaps plot-based explanations, such as a drastically accelerated learning process in a computer-generated programme compared to human learning, making her an equal intellect and non-problematic romance option, hooray.
Or perhaps it’s about what you see, what looks good must *be* good, if the character is represented *by* an adult then they *are* an adult, so it’s all fine and good. (Consent education is poor enough in most parts of the public that this works in real life too; drunk people are nowhere near as competent as a sober adult, but they *are* an adult, so it’s all fine and good, according to some schools of thought.)
The Gender Problem
So, finally, why doesn’t Born Sexy Yesterday work in reverse?
An audience fed on a diet of male main characters and quirky female sidekicks/love interests, excluding chick flicks which are a whole genre of their own, are unsurprisingly accepting of male main characters who meet quirky naïve female sidekicks who are literally “born yesterday” into human society. Like the video mentions, Born Sexy Yesterday can be seen as an extension of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, or the Exotic Savage character, just another in a line of male power fantasy tropes.
This same audience, seeing it in reverse, would be expecting to see things from the male point of view, especially if you stick to the same genre, science fiction and fantasy. Seeing it from the Born Sexy Yesterday’s point of view, the consent issue becomes more obvious, and for most people, would taint the experience. If the Born Sexy Yesterday was the main character, it would only make it more obvious.
But none of the male fantasy tropes are exclusively or intrinsically male. People of all genders like all different kinds of people; dominant or submissive, stupid or smart, strong or delicate, although the media presents it as if these are intrinsically gendered preferences, they do not have to be (although, due to the magic of media influence, they do get disproportionately represented that way in reality too).
If media was truly gender equal, and reflected people of all gender’s desires for power and submissiveness equally, perhaps it would work in reverse. Unpacking sex and relationships as a power dynamic in which male must be strong and the female must be submissive would change the popularity of this trope; perhaps by making people more aware of the hugeness of the imbalance in gender representation, or by making people more sensitive to issues of power and consent in context of relationships between true equals.
Alternatively, perhaps there would be an outpouring of demand for story’s about strong sensitive women, who have lost their way, become grizzled and hardened by the gritty world of work they live in, who meet beautiful and delicate and semi-erotic man-children type-creatures, with long eyelashes and curious naivete about the big wide world, and open their hearts to loving and protecting them before the action sequence where the woman beats everyone up and is rewarded with awe and adoration from her sensitive creature-mate…
…Or maybe not. But it’s worth thinking about how we as the audience shape what is acceptable, and what becomes prominent in media, and it was fun to explore the gender constructs behind this interestingly gendered trope. Thanks for reading!
What’s going on in the Hypocrisy/FreezePeach Argument?
If you’ve ever tried to have a meaningful conversation with a casual bigot on the internet ever you’ve had this conversation:
Them: *bigoted casually harmful thing* Just my opinion though!
You: That opinion is trash and perpetuates stereotypes and harmful thinking towards a group of people.
Them: Excuse me?! FREE SPEECH though!! You’re oppressing my opinion!
You: I’m not “oppressing it” I’m just telling you it makes you look like an arsehole. I’m not stopping you.
Them: But you SJW’s don’t want me to judge anyone ever though, you think you’re free from criticism, so this is #oppression, this is unfair, this is the real tragedy here.
You: You’re aware that you are literally judging me right now right?!?
So what’s going on here? Are they trying to bait you? Are they living on another planet? Is this actually reality and have you been deceived the whole time and good is actually bad and you yourself are in fact worse than Stalin?!? (Probably, probably not, and probably not.)
Essentially, most people start out as whiny babies with no concept of other people outside of themselves. They can see themselves being criticised, and feel hurt, alienated, maybe even isolated and confused, and think, damn this is awful, how is this even allowed? If you’re never challenged on anything or taught to think for yourself, this doesn’t change as you grow up. People who are most insulated by privilege are the most likely to fit this description, because the world around them is quite literally, catered to reflect them. There’s no need to think for yourself if everything around you agrees with your own narrative.
The Moment You Inadvertedly Create a Police State in Your Comment Section
When you come across them online with a contradictory viewpoint, they are threatened on a level they probably don’t quite understand. They know that you’re presenting something different and therefore #wrong, but also that you are quite happy and confident in what you believe, despite your blatant Wrongness! How, when they are Right and you are Wrong can you be so composed?? Clearly, you must be under some illusion that you are perfect and actually Right, and that no one can disagree with you! So bam, look what you’ve got coming your way now, you got some DISAGREEMENT. Some DISSENT. Ooooohh how you going to handle THAT now, come on!
They turn against your opinion in the hope that it will shock you just as much as having their opinion challenged has shocked them. Unfortunately for them the playing field isn’t quite even here; if you’re touting an alternative viewpoint, not only are you used to having your opinion shouted down and disagreed with, but also, you are used to thinking for yourself, and not needing the approval of others to have conviction in your beliefs.
So it’s completely boring. Once you’ve had a couple dozen of these conversations, you know exactly how it goes, and no, you’re not surprised that they think you are an “evil totalitarian dictator from hell”, like you always thought you were the opposite of, because of course you are, it’s obvious and immediate, it’s the easiest possible insult there is for someone who’s trying to fight for fairness and freedom, to try and hit us with the “not fair!” card. It’s simple and its aim is to be paralysing, but you can think for yourself, and know that’s not how fairness works.
Like a child who incessantly shouts this though, the people who call you out on this have no idea how fairness works, they barely have an honest concept of what “fair” is, outside of their own hurt feelings. They genuinely believe that justice is all about feelings, because to be fair to them, they’ve never been taught anything else. They’ve always been taught that you shouldn’t be racist or sexist or homophobic because it hurts people’s feelings; a simplistic model that doesn’t address the greater systematic context of harmful actions but it’s easy to explain to kids and gets them to stop propagating said actions. It’s great for a start, but the problem is that once you’ve learned to shut up about the right things at the right moments with the right people, that’s when most people stop learning about what fairness in society means.
So you are actually Fair…now what?
No, you can’t convince them that you are being fair. You can’t convince them that your challenging viewpoint wasn’t built around criticising them and making them feel bad and that therefore it’s not allowed in the constitution or whatever they believe in.
That’s not fun. If they are a troll, they exploit that to try and guilt people into taking it back, or just waste their time trying to convince said troll of their good intent and pure meaning. If they aren’t a troll, they probably will sound the same, but either way, it’s a waste of your time. It’s not truly you who hurt them, it’s the shock of other viewpoints, one of which you happen to hold and you happened to voice.
Now maybe it’s a bit patronising to call it a “shock”: these other views are hardly unheard of, radical ideas like “equal pay” and “stop police killings” are everywhere in media. But the shock comes in realising that other people believe in this, and there’s not much you can do about that except trust in the process of awareness that worked on yourself. No one suddenly became aware of social inequality after one comment by a friend or anonymous message, but equally, no one became aware without those initial interactions. Allow yourself to be that first hurdle, or even the fith or the tenth or the hundredth. You’re not taking something away, you are adding a hurdle, and certain people don’t like being challenged. You could stop challenging them, but does that really help anyone in the long run? You could try and tell them this isn’t a personal challenge and it really shouldn’t be a challenge, but nonetheless, it will still be a challenge to them if they haven’t had to find away around it yet.
Ultimately, the only way people will realise that Dissent is okay, and that it’s not a threat to their Free Speech, is once they learn to think for themselves in the way that so many others have been forced to since birth. It is not your responsibility to do that for them, partly because you literally cannot, it’s in the phrasing “for themselves”. The most that you can do is lead by example, and hope that one day, they’ll find a better way through this hurdle than yelling at it for existing.
*Disclaimer: It is better to publish something than let it sit in drafts forever. xx*
New term for the politically apolitical generic white dude who is not privileged “bro i am completely broke how can i be privileged???”
You hate being called mra. You hate being called redditors. You hate being called redpillian or manosphere or dudebro. It’s disrespectful. You’re all the same though, so you’re the horde.
You’re all various levels of racist, various levels of sexist, massive levels of ignorant. On some levels, the politically correct messages have got through to you and you can sound like a normal human being, but it’s only surface level behavioural conditioning; like training a dog not to poop on the carpet. You’re not really trained to think, and you don’t understand why you can’t just say the word (cos words are just words, right?).
You think that the SJW’s and the politically correct crowd are the thought police and are going to lock you up unless you fall to their incessant growing conflicting and confusing set of demands (sjw’s, as one of you, i say they have a point; we have got to stop treating the horde like they are video game enemies instead of human beings, it’s only helping them think like this. more on that later)
This is cos you don’t understand the motivations, so you think everyone else is motivated like you are, through fear of sounding offensive and gauche. You wish all this fear would just go away though, why they gotta be so sensitive. You’re so far off the point I think you are facing backwards maybe really. Please think about turning around someday please.