How Not To Apply The Cherry Picking Fallacy

First, this was going to be a Facebook comment – then I couldn’t be bothered to get into a fight.

Then it was going to be in one of those status things – then it got incredibly long.

Now it’s bloggified and going here for permanence and posterity. I had such high hopes for more productivity this afternoon… feel free to ignore this. It’s just a rant. An intentionally absurd one, I must add.

The subject is Game of Thrones. Yes, I am a fan. Yes, I love it. Yes, I watch it through exactly the same method as everyone else in the world. The specific subject is Oberyn Martell’s scene in the brothel from the first episode of season 4. GoT has never shied away from what has been dubbed “sexposition”,[1] so while for some people this scene was shocking in its horrifically objectifying treatment of women, for fans it was Sunday. Actually, the biggest shock for me is that it took 12 minutes to get to the boobs. The writers are slipping.

So here’s the accusation I’m going to respond to: that this is a cherry picking fallacy, and that it’s such a fallacy because everyone ignores the fact that there was a male prostitute in the scene,  therefore there is no actual objectification of women going on.

But this is bullshit. It is not cherry picking. It’s nothing of the kind.

First, “cherry picking” refers to selectively using data to support your conclusions while knowingly ignoring evidence and data detrimental to your case. E.g., medical studies where you look only where a medicine worked and not at where it failed.

So far, so obvious.

Unfortunately for this argument regarding objectification, the existence of a male prostitute in a scene, who is also treated like shit, isn’t detrimental to the fact, observation and commentary that women are being treated as shit in the same scene. It just isn’t – it’s not a balancing act and it’s not a numerical question. All this says is that there were characters of both sex/gender being on the submissive side of a scene. Whoop-dee-do, have a prize for spotting that. If we’re talking about one set of effects, and one set of examples, and only looking at those examples, it’s not cherry picking to seek out those examples and those examples only. If I want to find out something about Fords, it’s not cherry picking to ignore the Vauxhalls because the existence of Vauxhalls doesn’t magically cancel out what I’m looking for in Fords. The top speed of an Astra doesn’t change the top speed of a Focus, the treatment of a male character doesn’t change the treatment of a female character. There’s no magical cancellation going on because a male character gets put in the same situation (well, not quite the *same* if you watch it, but let’s ignore the nuance of a more convoluted power structure in that scene for now).[2]

But let’s assume this was a numerical question, and therefore the existence of an apparently contrary piece of information did, in fact, cancel out the cherry picked examples. In that case, we’d need to assign numbers to it. If you can’t, then you can’t do the balancing, you can’t do cherry picking, you have to show that one thing cancels the other equally to get an overall total. Since the hypothesis begs the question of equality anyway, we may as well use equal weighting and each character gets |1|. If there’s a male character in power in the scene, let’s call it +1, and if there’s a female character in power, add -1 to the total. Similarly, if a female character is treated like shit, it’s +1 and a male character being treated like shit is -1 (see how that works, if we end up in positive numbers at the end, men are in power, women are overall being treated like shit).

Now, I know what you’re thinking – presuming you’re a sensible person. And I agree with you. Of course this is absurd. It’s the most absurd approach to this you could make. But I didn’t call it cherry picking, and I never implied that this is how it works. If you want to accuse someone of cherry picking, you need to be prepared to make this sort of balancing act out of the non-picked examples – and if the balancing act is absurd, then the accusation of cherry picking is absurd.

If we then add up the numbers in said prostitute scene from Game of Thrones, we have Oberyn, which is +1 and then Ellaria who counts as -1 (again, assuming non complex power dynamics between those two). So the characters in power in the scene balance out to zero. Next we have three female prostitutes, which is +3 and one male prostitute, which is -1.

Oh… oh dear.

We can see things don’t balance at all in this case. Even if we don’t “cherry pick”, the numerical data comes out as +2. Overall, mathematically, women are being treated like crap in that scene. There you go.

Yes, it’s a dumb-ass argument to make. It really is. And I agree the above is totally stupid. But hey, if someone is going to call a fallacy in a dumb-ass way, they have a dumb-ass response coming.

[1] I don’t actually think this objectification of women is a problem in the series, per se – because the series’ treatment of women is never depicted as an objectively “good thing”. G.R.R. Martin never presents Westeros as some idealistic paradise – it’s a brutal shit hole. Contrast John Norman’s Gor series to, say, the rape of Lisbeth Salander in the Millennium series – both depict women on the receiving end of significant abuse, only one says “hey, this is awesome!!”. Depiction is everything, and endorsement is the issue that needs looked at. But I do totally and emphatically object to people thinking it isn’t a problem for bad reasons, and then dismissing criticism out of hand. Certainly the outright dismissal, without any consideration at all, of the sex and exploitation in the series as something that only whiny people complain about is a bigger problem than the actual sex and exploitation itself! This is because it’s evidence of how entrenched our view is that it’s okay to treat women badly, it’s okay to find any excuse for it. No one seems to want to say “look, this is a bad thing and the series treats it as a bad thing, and we should be mature enough to accept that as some sort of fable and not as an example to follow”, but plenty of people seem willing to jump to “oh, it’s just entertainment” or “oh, look, a man was treated badly too therefore it’s okay”. No it’s not okay because of that, that’s not the fucking point. Anyway..

[2] Oh, while I’m on a roll with magical cancellation effects that don’t exist – the blood and violence in GoT don’t magically cancel out the sex either. They’re different, unrelated things. If anything, the lack of complaints towards the violence demonstrate society’s desensitisation to it. If you want to see what society’s desensitisation to the ill-treatment of women looks like, read up on the Steubenville rape case where the female victim was treated like a nasty slut who deserved it while her abusers were treated with “oh my, what ever will happen to their football careers?!” sympathy. You know, that sort of shit.