Vice "Chinese Cockblock": How a Male-Centric Worldview Hurts the HBO Show's Journalism
This season, the unique investigative show Vice on HBO aired a segment called "Chinese Cockblock," which delved into the consequences of China's skewed male-to-female ratio — well, it delved into the consequences for men's sex lives. In China, a country with a strict One Child Policy and a pathological preference for sons over daughters, there are about 50 million more men than women, and the 2010 birthrate was 120 boys born for every 100 girls, according to Vice and the The Economist. That is a bummer for all of the men who will be left without a wife, but the real tragedy is that the gender ratio is so skewed because millions of baby girls are killed, abandoned, or selectively aborted before birth, a phenomenon which is known collectively as gendercide. Shockingly, Vice does not even mention the issues of sex-selective abortion and gendercide.
In the segment, correspondent Thomas Morton meets Chinese parents desperate to find brides for their sons, interviews a matchmaker, attends a dating event for singles trying to attract a girlfriend, and commiserates over beers with fellow bachelors when their efforts are foiled. Admittedly, it covers a lot of ground for a short 10-minute segment, and they have to gloss over some of the complexity. But when they manage to squeeze in five or six condemnations of the OCP, it seems more than a little absurd that they didn't think to also criticize or even acknowledge gendercide.
To be fair, Vice's online coverage is slightly more female-aware. But the fact remains that on this episode, when they had the opportunity to say, "How messed up is it that this society is so misogynistic that millions of parents kill and selectively abort their girls?" they chose instead to say, "How messed up is it that these schlubby Chinese guys can't get a girlfriend?"
Vice's silence on gendercide is troubling because it seems to suggest that misogyny is somehow more natural and less socially engineered than the One Child Policy. They call the OCP "a massive social engineering project that has completely deranged the dating landscape and proven that when you screw with the natural order of things, nature will find a way to screw you right back." Must I remind you, Vice? It is not nature that is "screwing you right back," it is misogyny. Yes, the OCP is flawed, and certainly a violation of reproductive freedom, but the law does not cause a lower female birth rate. The cause of that low birth rate is gendercide. Addressing the forces in society which cause parents to prefer sons over daughters will help the dating problem more than overturning the law.
"Chinese Cockblock" is probably the most egregiously male-centric segment, but the problem is not unique to that episode. The very next week, Vice showed promise by airing a segment on the cruel Mauritanian practice of force-feeding girls so that they attain the plump physique that signals a family's wealth. But they immediately followed it up with a segment on young men who have been exiled from the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints Church. They rightfully lament the boys' struggle to adjust to life outside the church, undereducated and cut off from their families. But they don't even allot a couple of sentences to reflect on the plight of the girls and women who are left behind and forced to marry polygamist church elders.
Vice has covered an impressive range of topics, including issues that affect both men and women, like gun control and Europe's youth job insecurity, as well as those that predominately affect men, like the dating woes of Chinese bachelors, the exile of Mormon Lost Boys, and the coercion of child soldiers and suicide bombers, who are mostly if not entirely male. We're at the midpoint of a 10-episode season, and of the eleven topics covered covered so far, "Fat Farms of Mauritania" remains the singular segment to tackle a predominately female problem, and it is one of the shortest in the entire series.
And yet, it's tempting to make excuses for Vice. Like many real-life bros, the show can be funny, charming, and smart, despite its obliviousness when it comes to the depth of women's problems. (See Sam Blum's article about the show's many redeeming qualities.) And it's not like the adorable Thomas Morton deeply hates women or actively wants to silence them. The problem is that he lives and works in a culture that is hyper-focused on men's concerns. That culture does damage just as blatant sexism does.
According to HBO.com, the leadership of the show consists of "executive producers Bill Maher, Shane Smith and Eddy Moretti, Vice's chief creative officer, with CNN's Fareed Zakaria serving as consulting producer and BJ Levin as co-executive producer." IMDB lists a minority of women working on the show. The only onscreen correspondents are men, presumably because it is more dangerous for female journalists to report in the countries they visit. The official five-minute featurette explaining the show features just one woman, a Vice editor, speaking in English. If Vice is unwilling or unable to hire female correspondents, then their male correspondents are the only ones in a position to advocate for women on the show, and they are dropping the ball.
It's a problem when a tastemaker like Vice investigates a complex issue involving all genders and decides that what is most worthy of their coverage and their audience's attention is that dudes can't get laid. They must know that men's dating woes coexist and are linked to the systematic elimination of women. So why do they say nothing about that? Do they fear that their mostly male audience won't care about this "women's" issue and stop watching the show? Even if that is the case, Vice has the ear of that enviable 18-34 year old American male demographic, and they had an opportunity (maybe even a responsibility) to bring a conversation about gendercide to that audience. The show has never cared about pissing people off, so why are they unwilling to do so on behalf of women? Do women's stories even bother male viewers? Men might be more interested than we expect.
Vice's C.E.O. Shane Smith has said that their "over-all goal is to be the largest network for young people in the world." Well, Vice, you'll get there faster if you expand your coverage to include the concerns of half the world's youth: young women. So do better. Bring some of that bravery and swagger to the hiring table by recruiting more female producers, reporters, and consultants. Dare to tell young men that women's issues are interesting, and trust that they are smart enough to care about them. Have the self-awareness to realize that a male-centric media is part of the "absurdity of the modern condition" that you are trying to expose.