Yes, this is a funny title for a very, very, unfunny topic, in light of recent events. But I always disliked rhetoric and the metaphysics are indirectly pertinent here, providing the structure and patterns I use for analysis. So it’s more like a subtle hint.
While in most other cases I didn’t consider Pewdiepie responsible of what he was being accused, this time it’s different. Things are more complex than how they appear and you can’t simply distance yourself from the act. Saying you have nothing to do with it, on one side it’s obvious, on the other it’s myopic.
So let’s talk about this myopia, and why it’s so widespread.
When there’s some controversial topic it’s always hard to discuss it and analyze for what it is, because people get irritated, come with prejudices and the end result is that instead of a better understanding of a problem you end up exacerbating it. One strategy I use, both when I think by myself or when I discuss this with other people, is to cut away the topic from its context and explain the pattern I see using a completely different example that won’t have “strings attached”. A different example that retains the same characteristics but that doesn’t come with the same set of prejudices, and so can offer a more neutral basis of understanding, if it’s true that you aren’t anymore directly emotionally attached to it. Otherwise it’s those emotions that take control and that’s the opposite of a clear sight.
So, in order to analyze the mechanics of “subscribe to Pewdiepie” I’ll use a completely different topic that I think retains all the features. It too comes with its own set of strings attached, but the change will be enough to neutralize it: “not all men.”
When I first heard it, years ago, I also didn’t understand the message. I was one of those “men” who couldn’t understand what was wrong in the typical defense of “not all men.” It was legitimate, it felt legitimate to me, and yet it was used as a “here we go again with that stupid defense men will use.” Why was it considered stupid, “by women”, if I couldn’t see the problem in it? Because I was “a man”, and so of course “I wouldn’t understand.” And when you hear “you won’t understand, you are a man” you feel irritated, because it sounds patronizing. So we are caught in that struggle, and instead of a better understanding of each other we only end up with deeper divisions.
Why couldn’t I understand what was wrong in the use of “not all men” as a defense used by men? Because I was myopic. “Not all men are rapists.” I know I’m not I’m a rapist, so why I cannot claim that? While I should take that blame when I am *certain* I’m not guilty? Again, because I was myopic.
Let’s work with an example then. Let’s say I’m a guy and there’s a pretty woman walking along the other side of the road. I decide to whistle aloud at her, a typical “catcall”, because I see she’s pretty, I’m interested, and I want her attention. Now this is a simple typical case that can make people debate whether this is can be counted as harassment or not. From the mentality of a man, this is not harassment. Because if I’m there, this interaction is meant as a way to be playful. I know the boundaries, I know I’m not going to start chasing that woman, try to grope her or anything like that. I whistled to get her attention, see how she reacts, but it stops there unless she gives a clear consent of moving it forward. It’s not harassment because it stops long before it gets serious. It stays this side of the line, so if that woman wants to play along fine, if she ignores it that’s fine too. So in this example I haven’t harassed anyone, right? Nope, this is again myopic, and it’s directly tied to the idea “not all men.”
From the point of view of a man, in that situation, the whole thing is a closed system. The guy “did nothing wrong.” It was just a whistle to get some attention, but it stopped there. It was fair because there wasn’t an intention to harass, but just to be playful, like a game. It was meant as a positive interaction and even within the hope that the woman would show interest. Everything consensual. But of course that man doesn’t know what’s in the head of that woman, so he cannot know beforehand whether this approach will be positively or negatively received. The whistle is a way to sample a reaction, see if it can lead to something else, again with consent. What’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing. It’s linear, it works. Not all men are rapists, a whistle is not harassment.
Again, this only works, linearly, because you are thinking about it from the confines of your own head. You know your intentions, you know what you are doing and why you are doing it. So it’s true you are doing nothing wrong. But you are still being myopic. You are ignoring the fact this isn’t a closed system, and can’t be judged in separation.
The problem with “not all men” is that its MESSAGE is valid, but it is GARBLED. So the ultimate outcome is that the rift is exacerbated instead of solved. I guess the inner mechanics are actually working properly, as this is a tool meant for a fight. It’s doing exactly what it was meant to do. But let’s instead be naive, and try to take it apart anyway. The theme of “not all men (are rapists, for example)” is that it unpacks more eloquently as “it takes just one”, to ruin the life of everyone. THAT’s the valid theme. Not all men are rapists, yes, but it takes JUST ONE to feel threatened. Why can’t a woman go for a walk without the fear of being assaulted? Why can’t she dress sexily, for whatever reason, and still feel safe? Because not all men are sexists and rapists, but it still takes just one to feel that threat on your skin, and that’s not tolerable.
The whole deal is that, the example above, the guy whistling to the woman on the other side of the road knows the content of his own head (relatively), he knows his intentions, he might know he isn’t a rapists and that he will never cross that line. BUT, on the other side of the road that woman has no such “in-sight.” She has no information to work with. It’s just a stranger over there. Not all men are rapists but it’s something that happens with such a frequency that YOUR LIFE IS AT STAKE if you ignore that possibility. That woman doesn’t know what is going on, she has no control and that loss of control is a form of abuse. It is INDEED harassment. Because, as a whole, we don’t live in a sane society where you can EXPECT to be safe. You have to worry, or gamble and then suffer the consequences.
So no, that woman doesn’t have the freedom of “feeling safe”, or maybe even answer the catcall with a wink and play along, because she would take a risk. And women do live in this toxic environment where they are forced to feel unsafe to preserve their safety, where they have to deal with this moment to moment, all their life. This is what it is, and it is unacceptable. It’s a disgrace and it shouldn’t be tolerated even for a moment. It’s a problem that should have the utmost priority.
Not all men you’ll meet in the course of your life are misogynist, sexist, rapists, but it takes JUST ONE to ruin the rest of your life.
Human beings, in general, are myopic. When you judge yourself from the confines of your head you might see it as an open book, understand your intentions clearly and so judge that a catcall to a woman is all fair game, knowing it won’t cross some definite line. You will think it’s how things should be. But that means you would see your “system” as if it was closed, and blind to what’s outside that you’re also part of. You would ignore that you live in a sexist society where women AREN’T safe. And, because so, because of this wider system you are myopically ignoring, a catcall IS harassment. Because while you can play innocent, a woman instead is forced to learn the environment where she lives, in order to stay alive. There’s no freedom in that, only the real, tangible threat of not learning that lesson. A woman cannot afford being myopic in the same way a man can.
We live far, far, far away from an ideal world. And we cannot pretend it is what it isn’t.
How does “subscribe to Pewdiepie” fit in all this? It’s the whole theme of “i’m not guilty” and “not all men” rhetoric. Yes, as in the example above, a catcall isn’t harassment when judged from the confines of your own head. When you know your intentions and when you know what you’re doing and why. But the system isn’t closed, you live in a wider, more complex environment. Women learned their own lesson the hard way, because they had no freedom not to take it. Now it’s also time that men stop playing naive and start seeing the world for what it is. Instead of constantly washing hands of responsibility.
Stop being defensive, and be more proactive. And don’t be blind (wherever possible).