Friday, June 22, 2012

Straw Man

By now you've probably heard: A few days ago, the US Olympics committee sent a cease and desist letter to Ravelry over their use of the term "ravelympics". Twitter went crazy, and the story was picked up by Gawker and NPR picked up the story. The committee wrote a somewhat lackluster apology, followed by another apology which seemed to calm everyone down, myself included. Amid this indecent, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, the yarn harlot herself, wrote her own blog post on the issue, which was quickly and widely circulated. Her post was generally more level-headed than most of the other blog posts and passionate 140-character words of indignation I came across. I respect and (mostly) agree with her take on the issue: the committee had every right to defend their name, and to send the sheep and desist letter (couldn't resist- thanks to the Savvy Girls for the great pun). However, I still feel like much of the anger over the incident was totally justified.

The Yarn Harlot's post, at least if she was looking at the same arguments I was (which is a big if), was actually somewhat of a straw man argument. A straw man argument, as I learned in my Freshman-year logic and critical thinking class, is when you distort or misrepresent someone's position and then argue against THAT position, not their actual position. Here's a (somewhat silly) example:

Person A: I just don't like sock knitting. I like than I can get a nice, inexpensive pair of socks at the store. Person B: Aha! So you think that anyone who knits socks is wasting their time? I knit socks, so you're saying that I'm wasting my time!

Person B is upset, but he/she is not representing person A's argument accurately. Person A never said that it was a waste of time to knit socks, he/she just said 'I don't like it'. If person B likes it, rock on. So the Yarn Harlot's point is totally valid, IF the argument was that the committee was wrong in protecting their trademark, that we should all boycott the Olympics, and that knitting is just as hard as being an Olympic athlete. I'm sure that some of the arguments going around were just that, and I can get behind her in her counterarguments for that. There seems, though, to be a big chunk of the argument left out here. There was a particular outrage that wasn't about trademarks, or profit, or even about hurt feelings. It was about the very non-boilerplate language used in the letter (which is why people were still upset after the first apology), which was incendiary and belittling. The passage people were particularly up in arms about was:
"We believe using the name “Ravelympics” for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among others, tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games. In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work."
This language is incredibly condescending. It not only implies that knitting is not work, but more more importantly, in the words of the knitmore girls, it "address[es] a group that is primarily made up of women and treat[s] us like we're foolish, stupid, and easily bullied."

We collectively decided to not be the easily bullied, sweet little grandma knitting in a rocking chair. Even many who were actually grandmas, and/or knitting in rocking chairs. I think we can be proud of that.