July 27, 2014

Gender and How We Evaluate YouTube Videos

Jaclyn Glenn
When a man makes a YouTube video, it seems like the audience tends to focus more on his content and how he expresses himself than they do on his appearance. Yes, I recognize that this is a generalization and that there are certainly exceptions. If the man were to do something as unforgivable as wearing a fedora in his video, we'd almost certainly hear about it. But barring something so horrible, it would be unlikely that we'd hear much about his appearance. We'd hear more about what he said and how he said it. The focus would be on the ideas he expressed in his video.

When a woman makes a YouTube video, it seems that we often hear as much about her appearance as we hear about her content. Yes, we may hear some opinions of what she said and how she said it as well, but it seems like there is often some commentary about her appearance. Was she attractive or not? What was she wearing, and what do we think of it? We rarely hear this about videos from men.

Feminists have long pointed out differences like this where we seem to use somewhat different criteria for evaluating men and women in many contexts. I think this is an important observation that should raise questions about why we do this and how this affects women in a broader sense. When feminists offer this as evidence that we are objectifying women and taking their intellectual contributions somewhat less seriously, I tend to agree.

This difference can be observed in many of the reactions to YouTube videos with atheist-oriented subject matter. We seem to be more likely to focus on what the men say than on their appearance, and this difference seems far less pronounced when we watch videos of women. Much of the time, we seem to be at least somewhat more likely to focus on what the women look like than on what they say.

Why Does It Matter How Jaclyn Glenn Dresses?

In a recent post from Rebecca Watson (Skepchick) accusing Jaclyn Glenn of plagiarism, Ms. Watson wrote:
From what I could tell, she saw the hundreds of thousands of hits that people like The Amazing Atheist and Thunderf00t are getting for their videos and decided to emulate them in a camisole: make a few videos mocking Christians, add in a few mocking feminists, and presto! YouTube/Adsense Partner success.
At first, all I noticed here was the attempt to attribute to Ms. Glenn the very motives that many in the atheist community have long suspected of driving Ms. Watson's antics. I nearly missed the reference to "in a camisole."

It seems that not even Ms. Watson could resist the commentary on Ms. Glenn's appearance. How is what Ms. Glenn chooses to wear relevant here? Would we have heard about what a man chose to wear in his video? By making Ms. Glenn's appearance an issue, isn't Ms. Watson doing something similar as what she frequently rails against others doing?

I hadn't heard of Jaclyn Glenn until I saw a barrage of criticism aimed at her on Twitter from some of the bloggers who write for Freethought Blogs or Skepchick. They have been characterizing her as "anti-feminist," and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I have only watched a couple of her videos so far, so I am in no position to judge her entire body of work. I have not heard anything I'd characterize as anti-feminist yet. In fact, I'd guess that she is a feminist who isn't thrilled with the behavior of some atheist social justice warriors. And if so, she's certainly in good company.

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