There has been a lot of discussion about a recent interview of Professor Jordan B Peterson by Kathy Newman, an interview that sparked a lot of discussion more about the tactics used in the discussion instead of the content. I have a brief comment about one topic raised.
At one point in the interview, Kathy Newman observed that the audience of Professor Peterson’s YouTube videos is predominantly male, and that much of his teaching is specifically directed at young men. She claimed that this was inherently divisive, excluding women from the discussion, and in particular excluding women’s concerns about the messages directed at men.
Professor Peterson’s response was to acknowledge the truth of the preponderance of male audience, although he also has a sizable female audience that appreciates his teachings. In addition, he stated that there may be multiple factors at play, and in particular that the online content is available online on YouTube that itself has men and boys as the majority of the audience. It is unclear how much of the disparity is due to his particular messages, or due to available population on the platform.
This is a topic I think could have been explored more deeply. Perhaps it could have been explored in the interview, had the interview not been poisoned by antagonism or by a dominance agenda: to be seen as vanquishing the interviewed foe. On the other hand, perhaps, even Professor Peterson is not really the right person to explore this aspect of the question. He is a clinical psychologist. The topic is deeper than the psychology of how an individual can be the best he can be in this world.
The topic, as I see it, is much more general, at a sociological level.
The hypothesis is that male voices command more attention from audiences, particularly male audiences when the topic is a serious discussion leading to decision making and life choices.
Over the past decade, we have been participating in a huge experiment in the form of social media, of Internet-driven peer-to-peer communications with the likes of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and many other options. Anyone in the world can communicate to the entire world at any time, and anyone in the world can be an audience of that communication. All that is required is access to an Internet-connected device of some sort.
This (now decade old) communication opportunity emerged after society has already built up a large set of competing theories of human nature ranging from individual psychology, to large-scale sociology and economic theory. Theories about interpersonal relationships, about acceptable boundaries for discrimination or equality, and about personal expression.
Prior to the opening of the social media phase of the Internet, US society in particular has already established a firm foundation of equality of opportunity. We argue today that there is still work to be done, but even a couple decades ago, we saw substantial participation by women in roles previously were held almost exclusively by males.
I’m excluding the parallel development about opening of opportunity to minorities by race or sexual-preference in order to focus specifically on the equality of the sexes. Also, in the context of people listening to other people, I personally see the divide between sexes to be far stronger than any divide between races or other categories.
From my personal experience, I pay attention when men are speaking no matter how different they may be from me. Women content creators occupy a tiny portion of the creators I follow on social media. I do consume intellectual content from women content creators, but I’m less likely to follow them compared with male content creators.
I follow many male content creators who I disagree with and decline following female content creators who I might agree with. I’m making this observation in hindsight after watching the above mentioned interview. I looked at what I subscribe to, and almost every one is channel of a man expressing his opinion or reporting something that is happening. I did not deliberately set out to be selective in this way, it just happened.
The above interview moment raised the valid observation that the emergence of self-segregation of who we want to provide us with information or opinion. That segregation is by sex. In particular, for some men such as myself, some men take information more seriously when other men uncover or deliver that information than when it comes from women. As mentioned above, we take it more seriously whether we agree or disagree with the content.
When I first started thinking about this, I recall the persistent complaint that we lost the social cohesion we once had in the past. Before there was the Internet, our mass-media choices were limited to a few competing broadcast stations that provided both news and daily entertainment. Coincidentally, predominantly men were the creators of the content distributed. In particular, when it came to reporting of news, the reporters and the new-readers or anchors were men. Similarly, male voices dominated political debates at most levels of government.
Previously, I attributed the breakdown of this coherence of a national discussion to be the proliferation of many smaller channels that the Internet made possible. It is cheaper and more convenient to get the same information from Internet than it was to get it from corporate media outlets. The diversification of voices led to divisions as people selected different combinations of talents to prepare or present information when previously this was very limited to a very small and tightly managed population.
Coincidental to the emergence of Internet social media competing with corporate media was the emergence of the corporate media diversification of producers and presenters of content. The corporate media options still retained their limited options for such talents, but those options became more distributed between males and females. Females became sole anchors of news shows, or sole reporters of some story. Often when men were participating in a story, they shared the stage with a female counterpart, often with both faces on screen at the same time even when just one was speaking.
I contrast this corporate offering a forced diversity with abundant female presence in the news gathering and presentation with what is available in social media channels presenting similar content. By economic necessity, most social media channels are solo operations: the channel is one person’s hobby, or a very small business. Rarely are there opportunities for channels with partners giving the opportunity for mixed sex voices.
Thus social media channels involve an implicit choice of gender of the creator as a consequence of the preference of the quality of content created. Picking a channel involves selecting a solitary voice that must be either male or female.
Compared to corporate media that has the resources to satisfy all information needs within a single channel, solitary social media channels can only cover a subset of what is interesting or necessary. As a result, we, the consumer, have to build out a programming scheduling involving selecting different channels for different topics or for different entertainment needs.
Social media emerged after we have more-or-less settled on the equal opportunity for men and women. From my personal perspective, I also settled on the equal expectation for quality and respect. Even now, when first encountering a new voice, whether male or female, I consciously give the creator the benefit of my doubt. Even after previously getting a negative impression, I will return to a creator if the topic looks relevant, effectively giving them a second try.
Despite this equality of opportunity, my subscription list contains channels created mostly by men. I didn’t set about this by any conscious plan. I merely selected the creators I felt I need to pay attention to, including those who I disagree with. For some reason, I feel more compelled to pay attention to male voices and male creators than I do to female counterparts. Indeed, even having a female partner on the channel lessens my interest in following the channel. I’m not excluding female voices from my attention, but I can’t deny that they are a small minority compared to the male voices I regularly check up on.
This is just a sample of one, of my own experience. The interview mentioned at top is an observation of a larger phenomena. Kathy’s initial claim that Jordan Peterson’s audience is mostly men, and Jordan’s counter-claim that YouTube view-hours are dominated by men. My experience may be consistent with Kathy’s conclusion that this is evidence of division between the sexes, in particular that many man are paying more attention to other men than they are to women.
Similar to recent social study of Sweden’s policies to maximize career choices of men and women led to an increase in segregation into traditional occupations for each sex, the Internet-enabled social-media options have maximized our own choices for who we are most compelled to listen to: we discovered the tendency that men feel more compelled to pay closer attention to what is said by other men than by women.
It is easier to see why this pattern emerges when we choose voices in disagreement with our own views. We can pay attention to a viewpoint opponent when we are at least contemplating coming up with a counter-argument that at some point we may express.
It can be very intimidating to oppose a male voice with significant authority and following such as someone like Jordan Peterson. I still feel free to formulate counter arguments and may even present them to a small audience (as I expect I will in a future post here).
In contrast, I feel less free to counter-argue the same viewpoint when presented by a female, even those who are re-enforcing a male argument, such as female apologists for Jordan Peterson. True, there is a different kind of intimidation of counter-arguing a female since it can come across as misogynous, for example. More fundamentally, though, is the sense that it is pointless to argue with a female voice.
There is nothing to gain to engage in argument with a woman for a viewpoint created by that woman. An example of this is the recent arguments expressed in the annual Women’s March, or the #MeToo obsession. I personally disagree with the severity of sanctions on the accused harassers, especially for ancient episodes that should have been resolved long ago. There is nothing to gain by arguing back, though.
Similarly, there is nothing to gain with an argument of a woman presenting a view created by a man. If a good argument exists, it is better taken to the man who created the argument, or to a comparable male representative.
My hypothesis is that men do have a tendency to prefer male voices for topics of high interest or importance, and that tendency is a consequence of the opportunity for a fruitful counterargument when we disagree. I follow more male voices than female voices, because there are many more people I disagree with than I agree with. I will listen to both sexes if I agree with them, but I will only follow men if there is a potential that I will disagree with them. It is only with other men that I can have any chance of gaining anything through argument.