Defending the right to make bad choices

Article by Jonathan Dugec /
Doing With, Doing Without /
June 08, 2012 /
Click here to view original /

“Sexist advertising, miscreants like Kyle Sandilands, and organisers of events such as the Lingerie Football League rely on controversy. They bank on the fact that there’ll be a ready throng of feminists ready to pitchfork them. They know that faux-news channels will be primed to pounce on an exposé, knowing – without a shadow of doubt – that there’s always an outraged feminist ready to give a sound-bite.

Marketers know this, they bank on this and time and time again feminists play into this malarkey.

Worse than just gifting lingerie football undeserved airtime however, every time feminists complain about the sexism of a product, a target audiences gets solidified. Nobody actually cares if feminists boycott lingerie football. Au contraire: a boycott all too often makes a product instantly attractive. Suddenly a whole lot of people who would never have thought about lingerie football are suddenly militant about their God-given right to cheer on a scantily clad tackles. To buy tickets, to buy merchandise. Suddenly folk who are exhausted by the thought police, by the wowsers, are hornily salivating to get to a game.”

Great piece by Lauren Rosewarne about the debate surrounding Lingerie Football.

I found myself violently nodding in agreement throughout, and it provoked some more thoughts that I have been sorting through for a while now.
Free speech and equality can be difficult principles to uphold without being hypocritical because sometimes it means letting people say and do things you would otherwise disagree with. For instance, I believe in the principles of free speech, which means I do not believe someone should be prosecuted for saying the Holocaust didn’t occur or that climate change isn’t caused by carbon pollution. I believe in equality, even if it means that previous victims of inequality, in this instance women, can choose to do something that seems to me to be pretty backward.

What is of most value to me is that people have the freedom to say what they want and to make their own choices. If they choose to do stuff that runs counter to other things I believe in, so be it. That’s the bitter pill of being progressive.

In a mediated world such as ours, any publicity is good publicity, and anytime someone focuses attention on an event, program or product, it is valuable to the people who create that product. Even this post is counterproductive, in a sense that I am participating in the public debate surrounding this event. The only effective way to respond to situations like this, if you disagree with or dislike something, is to pretend it does not exist. If you do not like reality television, don’t watch, discuss or engage with it. Even yelling at your television and telling your coworkers how much you hate something is feeding into the maelstrom of attention that products need to be successful in the modern world. Lauren’s example is the feminist critiques of Lingerie Football, a particularly pointed case. All their comments achieve is to reinforce or amplify the feelings others have towards the product.

But once people have the freedom to do and say what they want, how do we know that people will make good choices? You don’t. Besides, it is the height of arrogance for anyone to decide what is right and wrong for anyone other person. I believe Lingerie Football to be extraordinarily tacky, but these women have the right to choose to play and fans have the right to attend if they so wish. Taking these choices away results in a worse society than one in which Lingerie Football exists.

The conclusion I have come to, taking these thoughts to what I believe to be their logical conclusion, is that people will do what they want, and complaining about their choices only serves to reinforce them. To be a believer in progressive and democratic principles is to be an optimist about the potential of people to make the right choices for themselves and for society. I hope that by ignoring garbage and supporting things I think are of value, good will win out over bad in the end in the battle of ideas, in a broad sense. Often it can be difficult have faith in people’s capacity to make good choices, but to take those decisions away results in a weaker society, not a stronger one.