Urgent »« Stand with tacks

He prefers to light a candle

A couple of days ago Dan Fincke posted a cartoon on his Facebook page, and a lively discussion followed. The cartoon was about the bind women are in: no matter what we do, we get shit for it. Be more feminine/you’re a slut type of thing. I have Dan’s permission to quote from the discussion (and his posts are public, so you can see it for yourself). Part of what made it extra interesting is that Ben Radford participated. Yes that Ben Radford.

Ben Radford I agree with the premise, but unfortunately the piece ignores important distinctions between WHO is saying these things: A respected parent, or an anonymous Internet troll? Just because someone hears a criticism (or compliment) doesn’t mean they pay attention to it or influences them.

That’s convenient, isn’t it. No worries. Internet trolls don’t matter, and people at work don’t matter, and shouts on the street don’t matter – we can all just go back to sleep.

Dan and Heina make the same point. Radford goes on pushing his, though, insisting that not all comments are equally significant (when no one had said they were) and pretending that brought no implied message (“so calm down already, it’s not a big deal”) at the same time. Later he thought of another point.

Dan, another reason why I find this piece superficial, since you asked, is that it suggests a problem without providing, or even hinting at, a solution. The only way to prevent people from using sexist slurs or expressing their opinions is censorship. Unless the comic creators (or anyone else here) thinks curbing free speech is a good idea, I’m not sure what the proposed solution is.

Now that’s some hard thinking he did there. Nothing to be done other than censorship! No social pressure, no social consequences, no argument (despite the argument going on around that very comment) – just censorship, or nothing.

…pointing out social problems is easy. Racism exists, sexism exists, poverty is a problem, etc. No one denies that, and yes, I would say that without offering at least some hint of a way to solve the problem, simply stating that it is a problem is, as Dan would say, a truism. Carl Sagan noted, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

And

As I noted, I agree with the cartoon’s message… I’m pointing out that the issue of this sexist language is a legitimate and serious problem, and that it is much more complex and nuanced than can be shown in this cartoon. Apparently we can’t even agree on the message of the cartoon, so perhaps that’s part of the problem… I just wish it offered solutions to the problem instead of simply stating that it exists, which we all know. I’m not saying the cartoon is wrong, I’m saying it doesn’t go far enough toward clarifying the issue or offering a way to address it.

“Which we all know?” Oh really – then what’s all this been about, lately?

His final contribution:

Curious that people are touting how important and socially relevant this cartoon is, while at the same time diminishing its importance as “just a cartoon.” (And we can’t even agree on what its message is!) I make no apologies for wishing that it had suggested a solution to the sexism it highlights, instead of merely pointing out that it exists. If others are okay with cursing the darkness that’s fine, but I prefer to light a candle.

And which candle would that be, exactly?

Comments

  1. says

    I think Dan had a great response to this:

    My friend, you’re lucky that your lot in life is arguing with people who believe in Big Foot. Because you will lose arguing with people who believe in just about anything else.

  2. A. Noyd says

    “pointing out social problems is easy.”

    Aaaaaahahaha!

    The fuck it is.

    “Racism exists, sexism exists, poverty is a problem, etc. No one denies that,”

    Yes they fucking well do! Or, rather, they might allow that those things exist in some form, but deny the label to any and every real-world case brought before them, which amounts to the same thing.

    People who deny social problems are legion. Most of them are determined to stay ignorant and many of them attack those trying to point out the problems. Even people who acknowledge problems exist like to attack the ones pointing it out.

    Easy, my ass.

  3. says

    Not only are there people who deny that, like dipshits who claim that media images and toys don’t affect people, but many people are unaware of just how pervasive & inescapable the problems & mixed messages are. The point of the comic is that socially-defined gender roles have stacked the deck against women, so that no matter what they do, they’re still somehow failing to be what they’re “supposed” to be. The implicit solution, not that a short comic is going to be able to solve all the entrenched problems of sexism in a panel or two, is to change the culture, which starts by recognizing that the problem exists, and not personally contributing to it. It then extends to calling others out when you see them contributing to it, and moves outward from there.

  4. smhll says

    Unless the comic creators (or anyone else here) thinks curbing free speech is a good idea, I’m not sure what the proposed solution is.

    snip

    I would say that without offering at least some hint of a way to solve the problem, simply stating that it is a problem is, as Dan would say, a truism. Carl Sagan noted, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

    snip

    I just wish it offered solutions to the problem instead of simply stating that it exists, which we all know. I’m not saying the cartoon is wrong, I’m saying it doesn’t go far enough toward clarifying the issue or offering a way to address it.

    A cartoon, like a tweet, is a fairly brief form of communication. It is suitable for bringing attention to a problem or reframing a problem in a way that provokes thought and laughter.

    Cartoons usually aren’t expected to completely solve social problems. A cartoon is shorter than a manifesto and usually not backed up by the resources of a government or a large NGO.

    It’s apparent to me that the cartoons suggest that individuals should become more aware of the way they are verbally ‘policing’ women’s behavior and try to refrain from doing so in the future. Every little bit helps!

  5. jagwired says

    I just wish it offered solutions to the problem instead of simply stating that it exists, which we all know. I’m not saying the cartoon is wrong, I’m saying it doesn’t go far enough toward clarifying the issue or offering a way to address it.

    I’ve got a solution for him: shut the fuck up for a few seconds and listen. Then he might hear that he is a big contributor to this “issue”.

  6. iknklast says

    I have long had a problem with the idea that you shouldn’t point out a problem if you can’t give a solution. You may see the problem; you may not have the solution to a complex and deep-seated problem. The point of calling out the problem is to begin the discussion, get people aware there is a problem, then we can begin working on it.

    Telling someone not to just point out a problem, but give the (simple) solution to the (complex) problem at the same time is a way of saying, shut up over there and don’t rock the boat. Because real life doesn’t work that way. The mere fact of recognizing a problem doesn’t come neatly packaged with an epiphany as to it’s (simple) solution. We need to ask the questions, then we can start trying to answer them.

    This would be the equivalent to telling a scientist to not develop a hypothesis and test it unless he already knew the answer. In short, it’s backwards.

  7. skemono says

    If Radford wants to combat sexism, might I suggest the first step be to stop sexually harassing women? Or is he like the anonymous internet troll, whose harassment he seems to believe just rolls off women’s backs?

  8. jenBPhillips says

    What a shit-stirrer. He just jumps into a conversation with some petty, peripheral complaint and continues to pick away at the argument that NO ONE WAS MAKING for hours. Who does that?

  9. Nentuaby says

    Soooo… Did Radford actually light a candle? That is, did he actually propose a solution to the issues he’s complaining the cartoon only brought attention to? Or did he simply curse the cursing of the dark? Because, y’know, it’d sure be silly to do THAT. Futility squared, and all.

  10. says

    I saw that thread when BR’s first comment hit. I was going to write something along the lines of…

    “What if the people saying these things are co-workers with more power than the person being abused?”

    Then I thought it may piss Dan off… Not sure why.

  11. hoary puccoon says

    Responding to “Look, here’s a problem,” with “If you don’t have a solution to it, shut up,” is just a meaner, snakier way of saying, “Shut up.”

    I don’t know what, exactly, Radford has done to his women employees. But I can see exactly what he’s doing here. If CFI wants any kind credibility, they should escort Radford to the door, ASAP.

  12. Bjarte Foshaug says

    @skemono #7

    If Radford wants to combat sexism, might I suggest the first step be to stop sexually harassing women?

    I think you’re on to something there…

  13. Dunc says

    Now that’s some hard thinking he did there. Nothing to be done other than censorship! No social pressure, no social consequences, no argument (despite the argument going on around that very comment) – just censorship, or nothing.

    Yeah, but to the freeze peach types, those are all “censorship”… Absolutely anything which even attempts to encourage them to think a little bit before opening their mouths is “censorship”.

    Of course, them demanding that you don’t say anything about X, Y or Z is completely different. Obviously.

  14. PatrickG says

    Radford’s a skeptic, right? How can he possibly say things like this without immediately imploding? (rhetorical question)

    Dan, another reason why I find this piece superficial, since you asked, is that it suggests a problem without providing, or even hinting at, a solution.

    Not the first to say this, but come on. When did it become not ok to point out the existence of a problem unless you had a solution already? By this standard, we should just stop testing for environmental contaminants. Don’t report exposure results until you have a fully engineered solution to leakage/emissions, people!

    Or to put it a different way (see below) People still believe in Bigfoot, so obviously Mr. Skeptic has failed.

    On another note, it’s nice to see that Dan Fincke doesn’t really go for that civility thing much anymore. This tickled me pink:

    Seriously, Ben. Can you make a single respectable argument with respect to feminism EVER? This is about the fifth attempt I’ve seen between your articles and my wall here and they are astoundingly unconvincing, I’m beside myself.

    Ace of Sevens quoted a deliciously snarky response as well at #1.

    I might have missed Fincke moving away from Civility, since I loathe the comment format at Patheos and unfortunately (for me, since there is some great stuff there) tend to avoid visiting there. Might just be me missing changed tenor and all that.

    But THIS (as referenced above):

    Ben, why do you keep writing articles about how monsters don’t exist?? No matter what you do people are just going to keep believing in them. Stop the madness man! Stop wasting your life!

    Priceless, and not at all civil. :)

  15. Great American Satan says

    We light a candle after our cats go dooky in our small apartment.
    Maybe Ben Radford has to light a candle after he speaks.

  16. thetalkingstove says

    Wow, that was embarassing. Seriously, you have to have a solution to an issue before speaking on it? There’s not a face or a palm big enough…

    I’m going to go ahead and speculate that given his previous record, Radford is internally hostile to feminism, sub-conciously realises that he can’t come out with what he really wants to say about the cartoon (probably “shut up”) and so concocts these ridiculous objections instead.

    Perhaps he could turn some of his Bigfoot-skeptic powers onto his own reactions…

  17. brucegorton says

    If others are okay with cursing the darkness that’s fine, but I prefer to light a candle.

    Radford comes off as being way up his backside in this argument, so I would suggest that Radford not light that candle.

    After all, what happens if he farts?

  18. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    In case it’s not crystal clear: “Why don’t you offer a solution” is never, ever, a genuine plaint. It is a straight up derailing tactic used to shut down conversation about the problem. It really means, “I don’t want you to talk about this problem at all under any circumstances because I don’t agree it’s a problem, really, but I’m making pro forma noises so that I don’t have to be honest about my motivations.”

  19. echidna says

    In case it’s not crystal clear: “Why don’t you offer a solution” is never, ever, a genuine plaint. It is a straight up derailing tactic used to shut down conversation about the problem.

    Huh. I never really thought of it that way. I have always responded to “Why don’t you offer a solution?” literally.

    I will say, though, that engineers tend to believe they can always find solutions to everything. Sometimes, the solutions might even work.

  20. kaboobie says

    I too have a newfound appreciation for Dan based his responses to Ben. The civility pledge never sat well with me. I’m not sure what made him depart from it (maybe it’s just meant for comments on his blog, not Facebook?) but if this is Dan being “uncivil”, I like it.

  21. says

    Although I liked Dan’s responses, the fact that a known sexual harasser and assaulter is able to come into this discussion at all is fucked up. So much for the horrible social consequences to men who are accused of harassment or assault. Not only does he still have a job, but he still gets to insert his disingenuous opinion in a serious discussion of sexism where women may not feel particularly comfortable engaging with him.

    Had I been in the conversation earlier, I may have said, “Hey everyone, Ben Radford’s here in this discussion on sexual harassment. Let’s make sure Bob Filner knows so he can give us his much-needed two cents as well. Don’t want an echo chamber now, do we?”

  22. says

    I don’t think Dan’s behavior here is outside his civility pledge. Notice he didn’t call Radford an asshole or speculate about his motives. I don’t think he ever meant that snark was bad.

  23. godlessheathen says

    When will people stop using the phrase “free speech” incorrectly?!

    It only applies to the (U.S., not sure about other countries) government trying to stifle speech and even then, there are exceptions.

    If a private individual or organization is telling you not to say something, that’s NOT infringing your free speech! And it’s not censorship!

    This pisses me off so much.

    As does the idea that being able to speak your mind means that no one is allowed to criticize what you say.

  24. davidjanes says

    @23
    In fact, I think Dan’s response is proof positive that being civil does not mean “suffering fools gladly.”

  25. Jeremy Shaffer says

    While the “don’t point out a problem unless you have a solution” can be given in earnest* it’s far more often that not repeated by someone that is fully aware of the problem but really doesn’t want to see it solved. It could be because they benefit from the problem or they simply don’t care. Where I’ve often seen it being handed out is by those who should, in some small way at least, themselves be responsible for the solution. Given what’s come out from and about Radford over the last few years, his posts on Fincke’s FB post very likely stem from him benefiting from or not caring about the problem. I think it also comes from him shirking his responsibility, assuming he made those statements in good faith, of course. We keep being told that we should give people like Radford the benefit of the doubt, and usually to excessive degrees, so let’s see what happens when we do.

    It still turns out to be a complete load of crap. If we take his complaint at face value, he may be correct that the cartoon and those that support its message do not offer solutions but he isn’t either despite the fact that he claims that the existence of sexism is non-debatable. Why does he feel it’s up to others to come up with a solution when he acts as though he is well aware of the problem too? Is it because they’re the ones pointing the problem out? A problem Radford seems to already be aware of and thus didn’t need it pointed out? Also, Radford is a fairly big name and has access to far greater resources to present a solution to an issue he claims to be conscious of so it could be argued that his obligation to present a solution is far greater. So, where’s Radford’s solution? He claims he’d rather light a candle instead of cursing the dark but no candles were lit by anything he said. In fact, if I want to murder that metaphor further, between what he says here and previously I’d say he’s tried to snuffed more than a few out. I’m not the first to say so in this thread or elsewhere but I think that just illustrates more that Radford’s only purpose there, and his only contribution to the discussion, was to basically troll the whole thing.

    * I’m pretty convinced that one of my former managers actually believed this was an insightful and useful axiom that inspired “out of the box” thinking. I’m also pretty convinced that this manager was a complete moron that was the offspring of a drunken one-night stand between the Peter Principle and Dunning-Kruger Effect.

  26. equisetum says

    “If others are okay with cursing the darkness that’s fine, but I prefer to light a candle.”

    The cartoon is a candle. You just can’t see it, because you’ve still got your eyes closed.

  27. says

    Yes @ 23 & 25 – I don’t think Dan has ever meant one can’t argue sharply, I think he has always meant strictly name-calling and related items – you know – go piss up a rope, etc. And yes I too enjoyed his responses here a lot. :)

  28. says

    —I have long had a problem with the idea that you shouldn’t point out a problem if you can’t give a solution. —

    It’s such an absurd thing to say. Should we not diagnose folks with cancer just because the best we can do is treat it rather than cure it? I can’t ‘solve’ the problem of my mother-in-law’s MS, should I just ignore it and hope it goes away? I can’t fix my neighbor’s senile dementia, should I refrain mentioning it to people so they know what’s going on?

  29. freemage says

    There’s a legit form of the ‘no complaint without a solution’ comment–”You’re right, this is a problem. Do you have any thoughts on how we can make it better?” Note the construction–not a demand that the person pointing out the problem provide the solution, but rather, seeking their inclusion in the discussion process and a desire to move forward.

    Here, the response to the above would be almost painfully obvious:

    1: Don’t do it yourself. It’s easy to fall into a bad habit without even realizing it–many of these sorts of comments are made by ‘well-meaning’ people. Consider your comments from their point of view.
    2: If you encounter a situation where someone is doing this, speak up–politely, gently even, but make sure that they understand that you do not agree with their efforts to police women’s clothing choices.
    3: If you know the target personally, you might also want to speak directly to the woman and reassure her that at least some folks understand it’s her prerogative. (As a general rule, do not do this if the woman is not personally known to you; it may come across as an attempt to use this as an excuse to introduce yourself. If the woman comes up to you after you speak to the offender, of course, you can accept her response graciously.)

  30. poxyhowzes says

    As someone upthread suggested: “So, Ben, precisely what candle did you light?”

    Was it the one that said that Ms. Bigfoot and all the Bigfoot daughters deserve equal treatment with Mr. Bigfoot and the Bigfoot sons??

    I think it more than likely that Ben was in no way cursing the darkness, but instead muttering startled imprecations at the person who dared awaken him by striking the match. — pH

  31. smhll says

    Soooo… Did Radford actually light a candle? That is, did he actually propose a solution to the issues he’s complaining the cartoon only brought attention to? Or did he simply curse the cursing of the dark? Because, y’know, it’d sure be silly to do THAT. Futility squared, and all.

    Nope. It’s more like he spit on his fingers and kept pinching the wick.

    [That's a candle simile, everybody, not salacious innuendo. Hee.]

  32. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    He needs to light a candle because he needs the match to chase away the smell of his rhetorical farts.

    /strained metaphor

  33. hjhornbeck says

    hoary puccoon @11:

    If CFI wants any kind credibility, they should escort Radford to the door, ASAP.

    They’re doing the opposite, actually. Ben Radford will be a speaker at the upcoming CFI Summit. This, despite CFI claiming to have a zero-tolerance policy towards harassment, via Ron Lindsay, and admitting Radford had done some wrong.

    To further salt the wound, Karen Stollznow claims that as part of the settlement process, CFI agreed she and Radford cannot be at the same conference. If true, this means CFI is hypocritical about their harassment policy, rewarded someone who even they say has done wrong, and punished the victim for coming forward.

    It’s deplorable, and enough for me to wash my hands of CFI permanently.

    Here we get to an awkward part, though. Two other speakers at that event are Greta Christina and Ophelia Benson. They’ll be attending a conference that Stollznow claims she cannot, speaking from the same podium as someone who’s claimed to be a serial harasser and perpetrator of sexual assault, and supporting an organization which does not follow their own harassment policy.

    Just to be clear, I’m not asking you to drop out, Benson. I just ask that you think about the situation.

  34. cuervodecuero says

    Is it my overinterpretation or did M’sieur Radford actually invite himself into the conversation to mansplain how to handle sexism and other minor inconveniences?

  35. says

    I wish I could understand the psychology behind all this, but all I see is the pattern. Radford can’t imagine any solution outside of legalistic terms (censorship, abridging free speech, etc.). Shermer’s defenders have only two frameworks of understanding: either this is avoiding (go to the police!) or usurping (lynch hunt mob justice!) the proper power and process. The harassment apologists try to boil everything down to the criminal definition, and use “let the police handle it” as a reason not to have anti-harassment policies.

    Is it authoritarianism, in that they can only see the world in terms of necessary power structures, and the rules handed down from them? Is it that they think their place in the power structure is threatened by their inferiors?

    Is it rules-lawyering, in that they have a set script which must be followed, and deviations from the script lead to chaos? Do they not understand that social mores and social pressures are an intermediate step between “nothing” and “government action”?

    Is it some other thing, or some combination? I really don’t know., but it seems like a lot of these issues have significant commonalities, and may be stemming from the same place.

    Also, the “light a candle” quote originates with Peter Benenson, founder of Amnesty International. I’ll also note that the reason one lights a candle is typically to make hidden things more apparent. But Radford isn’t exactly known for his firm grasp on the facts, or his literary acumen.

  36. Al Dente says

    iknklast @6

    Telling someone not to just point out a problem, but give the (simple) solution to the (complex) problem at the same time is a way of saying, shut up over there and don’t rock the boat.

    There’s an H.L. Mencken quote that’s apropos:

    For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

    Earlier this week I discovered a problem at work. It was only peripherally connected to my department, so I sent an email to the appropriate people (and their bosses) to point out the problem. I didn’t offer any solutions, I merely stated the problem. Later I got an email (cced to my boss) from the division VP thanking me for my email. I wasn’t scolded for not suggesting a solution. I’m glad Radford doesn’t work for my company because he’d probably rebuke me for telling people “you’ve got a problem” without giving a fix.

  37. Stacy says

    Now that’s some hard thinking he did there.

    Be fair. This is Ben Radford we’re talking about. That’s hard thinking for him.

    Seriously, I can’t believe he claimed the cartoon wasn’t clear. Though I do believe that the man is a dolt, I think he understood it well enough to feel threatened by it–hence his need to put it down with a non sequitur about “solutions.”

  38. latsot says

    I’ll also note that the reason one lights a candle is typically to make hidden things more apparent.

    That’s what I was thinking. You light a candle because you want to see stuff. You curse the darkness because it means you can’t see stuff, which is bad.

    As equisetum said, the cartoon is a candle. The darkness we’re cursing is ignorance. Education is part of the solution to ignorance. The cartoon is educational. What was Radford’s point again?

  39. yahweh says

    A super cartoon – absolutely spot on – but you might be over-estimating Ben Radford’s (who he?) importance.

    Apropos of nothing, the worst offenders I’ve come across are girls’ mothers. Second most likely to have strong opinions about how girls dress (esp. about skirt length) are their fathers. Then come their girl friends.

    Politicians, policemen, judges, lawyers, journalists and bloggers don’t get in on the act half as often – however distasteful their opinions may be.

  40. rnilsson says

    So, I confess to not having kept à jour with this particular debate and in fact skimmed the post and comments.

    Now, did Herr Professor Doktor Doktor Ben R of Great pink dolls fame — after complaining about people who point out problems without offering viable solutions — ever offer a viable solution to the problem he pointed out? I may have missed it.

    R of anakro-anthro-anarko-snarkitude degree

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>