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The video Roxane Gay’s public relations team did not want you to see is now available online. It features extended clips from a two-stop mini tour of Australia in which she debated Christina Hoff Sommers on the topic of feminism. The tour garnered much attention online after reports of audience misbehaviour and diva-like demands by Roxane Gay and her handlers. Even before the tour started, Gay had slimed Sommers as a “white supremacist” in the pages of Sydney Morning Herald. Anyone familiar with Sommers’ work, knows that she is the farthest thing from a white supremacist. She is the world’s most prominent equity feminist.
Jesse Singal over at New York magazine has a detailed account of all of Gay’s backstage shenanigans, including a demand for a new host and legal threats.
I admit that the debate, organized and hosted by Desh Amila’s This is 42, was at times difficult to watch. This was not the fault of Sommers or Gay, or Amila (who did an admiral job hosting), but due to the fact that the pro-Gay audience was an almost-perfect replication of an online mob—uninformed yet strong enough in numbers to drown out honest questions and points of contention.
For two hours, Sommers and Gay jousted on topics such as #MeToo, feminism in the Middle East, women in sports, rape culture. A pattern emerged early on. When posed a question, Sommers would thoughtfully explain her position, often backed with statistics. Gay would effortlessly shut down lines on inquiry with empty, snide comments, or blatant misinformation.
Sommers: “As a woman of a certain age, age enhanced, actually, you.gov does a poll every other year and asks people ‘are you a feminist,’ and actually it’s a fairly low number.”
Gay: “People are really hesitant to consider themselves feminists because there’s such a stigma around it that if you’re a feminist then you’re a troublemaker, or you’re an unpleasant person, you’re angry, you’re man hating, and you know these are all entirely reasonable ways to be. So… what’s the problem here?”
On the subject of #MeToo, there was a distinct lack of empathy on Gay’s part as she dismissed the suffering of unfairly “cancelled” men like Louis CK: “He’ll be fine. He’s a millionaire.” (The beleaguered comedian lost his entire career as well as 35 million dollars in one year. His transgression was minor and Joe Rogan has since hinted that there is much more to CK’s story that will be revealed.) To her credit, Gay did admit that there should be a distinction made between “offenders” like Aziz Ansari and criminals like Bill Cosby.
Sommers, on the other hand pointed to the potential for #MeToo to turn into a modern-day witch hunt: “We have a bad history with black lists, going back in the United States to McCarthyism, calling someone a communist. You have to have evidence, you can’t have anonymous informants that have the power to take someone down.”
In the most appalling moment of the night, Gay claimed that “Charlie Hebdo was bombed [sic] for many reasons” and that the most persecuted religion in the world is fair game for mockery because “Christianity in general has been the oppressor, not the oppressed. And so it’s punching up when you make fun of Christianity because it is so dominant throughout the world. When you are making fun of Islam and looking at a lot of the rhetoric where people equate thinks hitting Islam is punching down.”
The discussion also touched on athletics. Gay claimed that women’s sports were not as popular as men’s sports as a result of the patriarchy and misogyny. Sommers, on the other hand, opted to stick with facts and common sense in her approach to the subject, pointing out that there is nothing wrong with, say, women’s basketball, but the level of athleticism and the quality of the product is not even close to that of men’s basketball. This reality easily manifests itself, and there are far less fans of the WNBA than the much more dominant, athletically, and culturally, NBA.
Gay then made the preposterous claim that the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks regularly sold out their home games. In fact, they have had one sell out in 19 years. It may seem like a fairly innocuous white lie, but it is indicative of a larger truth about intersectionality and the people who peddle it. Facts don’t matter to these people. They callously claim their own alternative facts, and if you dare to point it out, you are a racist, sexist oppressor.
Throughout the two hours of footage, Sommers brought nuance, research, and goodwill to the conversation. Gay countered mistruths, defiance, and snark—all the while being showered with hoots and hollers from her equally rude supporters who also made sure to boo and shout down Sommers. It was an embarrassing moment for campus-style feminism, and it’s no wonder Gay’s people wanted to keep the video from seeing the light of day.
Around halfway through the debate, Gay proclaimed, “The media is lazy. Oftentimes, they find a few talking points that are inaccurate, and they regurgitate them for years on end.” Well, there you go. She’s actually 100% right. But if that doesn’t also perfectly describe Roxane Gay’s career, I don’t know what does.
You can watch the entire video here: