On Being a Good (and Bad) Ally to Feminists

In the last few days, Melissa McEwan at the feminist blog Shakesville gave a list of advice to atheist men on how to make the secular community more feminist-friendly. There was considerable discussion of her list on Pharyngula, but the usual harassing trolls also decided to pollute the conversation with their stupidity. In response to hostile messages from some of them, McEwan posted this:

I started out writing about why I didn’t want to have anything to do with mainstream movement atheism, but, in the end, this entire endeavor has revealed that whether I want anything to do with mainstream movement atheism is irrelevant, because mainstream movement atheism doesn’t want to have anything to do with me.

Although I agreed with just about everything else McEwan was saying, I thought this was unfair. Certainly, I’m not denying that sexism exists. I’ve seen the abuse hurled at some of my female friends, and I’d never tell any woman that they have an obligation to put up with it. I believe it benefits both atheists and feminists for us to have a closer alliance, but if any feminist doesn’t feel safe or comfortable in the atheist community, then that’s entirely her decision to make.

But I think McEwan went farther than that, by saying “mainstream movement atheism doesn’t want to have anything to do with me”. To me, this sounds as if she’s saying that atheism has only one voice, and it’s the voice of the sexists. I just don’t think this is accurate.* In just the past few years, anti-harassment policies have become the norm at atheist conventions; we’ve had a whole series of atheist leaders speak out against sexism; and we’ve seen the A+ community forming to explicitly promote social justice. We have a lot of work left to do, certainly, but I think there are sufficient grounds to argue that a lot of atheists care about this and are trying to make it better, and their efforts shouldn’t be dismissed as inconsequential. (See also this comment on Pharyngula by Salty Current.)

I posted some of this on Shakesville, where it got, shall we say, an unfriendly reception. I was expecting that; McEwan’s is one of the most heavily moderated feminist sites and caters mainly to people who share a certain set of assumptions. And I would have let it end there, except that I was conversing with someone else on Twitter about the matter, and McEwan spotted that and decided to hold it up for execration. Here was my tweet, in reply to a person who I believe was asking a question in good faith:

And here was McEwan’s response:

Here is a thing Adam actually just said on Twitter regarding this discussion: “I certainly don’t think anyone’s claim of hurt feelings should be accepted without question.”

It is extremely hostile to assert that women’s feelings have to be filtered through a validity prism before their legitimacy can be authenticated.

And yet this is publicly posted as if it’s eminently reasonable.

McEwan didn’t expand on what she meant by this, but given the circumstances, I can see just one plausible interpretation: that if a woman says she’s harmed or offended by something I’ve said or done, then I’m not permitted to form my own opinion about the reasonableness of that claim, I just have to accept it without question.

Now, I recognize that being part of a privileged majority, not having to experience or even to witness the kind of exclusion and prejudice regularly visited upon outsiders, makes it easy to overlook that when it happens or even when I do it myself. We all experience this in some contexts but not others. As an atheist, for example, I’m more sensitive to the kind of religious privilege that a Christian living in America would consider normal, while as a white man, it’s more difficult for me to understand what racism or sexism against women and minorities looks and feels like. I recognize that surmounting this empathy barrier requires consciousness-raising, a deliberate attempt to see the world from others’ perspectives, and a willingness to listen and not reflexively deny. And I especially recognize that feminists, having so often been burned by trolls who are “just asking questions” in bad faith, have good reason to be gun-shy towards strangers offering them advice.

But even when all that’s said and done, there still has to be a role for good-faith disagreement about at least some things. The majority has often failed to acknowledge legitimate charges of prejudice, and is still doing so, but that doesn’t mean that every claim of prejudice should be automatically accepted as true. I’m willing to concede that inexcusible harassment is continuing to happen in some quarters, and that there are prominent atheists who’ve made some shocking missteps over the treatment of women. But I’m not willing to concede that the atheist movement as a whole has any desire to exclude feminists. I don’t think that alone makes me a bad ally, but if anyone believes that it does, then so be it.

* This thuddingly blunt statement was all the more confusing because, in an earlier post, I think she struck exactly the right balance: arguing that while it is a small but vocal group that engages in outright harassment and intimidation, it’s the moral responsibility of the larger community to speak out and condemn them as forcefully as possible, and not to engage in unhelpful “we’re not all like that” defensiveness – which is the same thing I said in my post on Skepchick. Common ground, perhaps?

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels Ophelia Benson

    But I think McEwan went farther than that, by saying “mainstream movement atheism doesn’t want to have anything to do with me”. To me, this sounds as if she’s saying that atheism has only one voice, and it’s the voice of the sexists. I just don’t think this is accurate.

    No, I don’t either. Definitely not. Which is ironic, because I’m one of the Top Demons of the sexist faction, and one of the most-cited reasons (that I see) for my enviable status is that I’m always saying things like “all atheist men are sexist” or “all of mainstream movement atheism is hostile to women.”

    But I don’t think that at all and I’ve never said it. I think mostly the sexist faction is pretty marginal.

    I think sexism is somewhat less marginal (and thus more mainstream) in organized movement skepticism, but that’s a different thing, and anyway only somewhat.

    And this business of always accepting claims of hurt feelings without question – no, I don’t buy that either. The heads of a few people who hate me with a passion will explode if they see that, but there it is. Of course I don’t buy it. Anybody can claim anything. There’s no blanket rule that all claims of type X must be accepted without question.

  • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

    It is extremely hostile to assert that women’s feelings have to be filtered through a validity prism before their legitimacy can be authenticated.

    That’s not what you said at all Adam. In fact that is possibly the least charitable interpretation of what you said. Maybe if you had said “every claim of hurt feelings” it would be less objectionable?

  • Austin Green

    So I’ve been thinking about this really hard for the past couple days and I’m trying to order my thoughts on why this whole situation bothers me on a fundamental level. I think it goes something like this: As male allies to feminism, we’re sort of treated like we can’t possibly have anything original to say of our own merit on feminism and the only thing we’re allowed to do is either express our uncritical support or stick up for woman feminists who are being ganged up on by privilege-blind people if we see them. In fact, I was seeing this a lot with SC on the Pharyngula thread and the Shakesville thread. She was often mistaken for a man, and then when she corrected the people she was arguing with on her gender, they immediately took her much more seriously. I don’t think this is right. Sure, I understand everything about our overprivilege and the fact that we can’t ever truly know what it’s like to be a woman in society. I’ve done a lot of reading and listening and I feel like I have something to say and should be taken seriously! I’m not asking for a cookie, as the saying goes. I just thought the end goal of feminism was to tear down social gender roles and truly equalize genders. To me, it seems a little counterproductive toward that goal if the male feminists are dismissed offhand.

  • Improbable Joe

    It IS possible that Melissa McEwan isn’t a very nice person, generally. Being a feminist or “ally”(I hate that term) doesn’t mean you have to personally get along with or agree with everyone who calls themselves a feminist.

    We’re not really equipped as a movement to deal with that, are we? It is easier for most of us to wrap our brains around “I mostly disagree with them, but I don’t necessarily dislike them” than to say “I mostly agree with them, but they’re actually kind of a giant jerk.” Especially when someone is constantly shit on unfairly, it feels like piling on (and probably looks like piling on from the outside) to say “… but they ARE being an enormous jerk!” It is hard to separate fair and unfair criticism, especially for the person who receives so much of the unfair kind. And easier for people of good faith to just walk away from that person, rather than engage them and be accused of being part of the bullying contingent.

    But then it becomes self-fulfilling prophesy, doesn’t it?

  • http://oolon.co.uk oolon

    I took it to mean that denying hurt feelings is wrong… All too often the claim of hurt is answered with a sneer and “get over it”. The feelings are valid unless you are taking the view that the hurt person is lying for gain. How you deal with it is to apologise and clarify surely? So yes you do always accept the claim and if its due to misunderstanding clear that up. It is gas lighting to deny them?

    That would be a general rule for me but when marginalised groups are so often told their hurt feelings are hysteria or irrelevant… Well it surely takes on a new dimension?

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels Ophelia Benson

    Heh. True. I know I’m frequently an abrasive irritable shit.

  • athyco

    * This thuddingly blunt statement was all the more confusing because, in an earlier post, I think she struck exactly the right balance: arguing that while it is a small but vocal group that engages in outright harassment and intimidation, it’s the moral responsibility of the larger community to speak out and condemn them as forcefully as possible, and not to engage in unhelpful “we’re not all like that” defensiveness – which is the same thing I said in my post on Skepchick. Common ground, perhaps?

    In the first Shakesville post you link, the paragraphs that followed the “thuddingly blunt statement” noted the “Good Ones” and included “My admiration for the women who hang in and stick it out and fight the same fights over and over. That is a valid and commendable choice, even though it’s not mine.” Those sentences echo what you called “exactly the right balance” from the earlier post. Alleviating your confusion was within your grasp by including more than the single sentence upon which you narrowed your first argument.

    I’m glad that you said at Skepchick that there shouldn’t be any “‘we’re not all like that’ defensiveness.” Unfortunately, your comment at Shakesville was “we’re not all like that” defensiveness:

    There are terrible people in the atheist community, but there are also a lot of us who are trying our best to make this movement a better place. Please don’t imply that the misogynists speak for atheism as a whole and we don’t. Some of us most certainly do want you here.

  • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com Michael

    This is exactly the problem. One hand: the sexist trolls. Other hand: overreacting and misinterpreting every comment that might be seen as offensive. An opposition to both of these seems legitimate. We must be able to disagree without these recriminations. Obviously, sexist trolls are much worse, and more blatant, however seeing all criticism or disagreement as attacks also does not help.

  • Azkyroth

    How you deal with it is to apologise and clarify surely?

    You’re far too trusting. The first problem is that to many people, attempting to clarify after apologizing is read as “defending yourself” and automatically makes it a “not-pology.” Especially if you realize and acknowledge that what you actually did/said was wrong, but that other people’s assumptions about your motives or attitudes are flatly wrong. (And yes, “intent is not magic” but if intent is irrelevant then why were speculations about it brought up in the first place?!) One could be forgiven for interpreting this behavior as motivated by a desire to dominate others and extract submissive behavior (or, slightly more charitably, vindictiveness) rather than sincere offense, though one won’t be.

    Generally speaking, the people who demand this kind of behavior from you exhibit a night-and-day-polar-opposite reaction to what they demand from you, when you attempt to confront them about things they’ve said or done that are hurtful because of privilege they have that you don’t. So there’s that to deal with.

  • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

    (And yes, “intent is not magic” but if intent is irrelevant then why were speculations about it brought up in the first place?!)

    Yes this, “Intent is not magic” may be one of the most valuable lessons you can learn about privilege, but that doesn’t make intent irrelevant.

  • athyco

    We must be able to disagree without these recriminations. Obviously, sexist trolls are much worse, and more blatant, however seeing all criticism or disagreement as attacks also does not help.

    Oh, look here. Going “You’re Not Helping” on the marginalized group while obliviously saying the marginalized group is heaping on the “recriminations” in “seeing all criticism or disagreement as attacks.” Oopsie! Isn’t it the contention of this post that seeing a group as “a monolith” is a bad bad badsy thing to do?

    Let’s take the first comment that Adam Lee left on Shakesville to look at the value of this “criticism and disagreement.”

    With respect, Melissa, I think this is unfair.
    I’m not denying that there’s sexism in the atheist community, including some horrendous and indefensible misogyny. Nor could I blame anyone who chooses not to associate with the atheist community because they don’t want to be subjected to that kind of abuse. But I don’t think it’s accurate to say that “mainstream movement atheism” has expressed a desire to exclude you or any feminist.
    There are terrible people in the atheist community, but there are also a lot of us who are trying our best to make this movement a better place. Please don’t imply that the misogynists speak for atheism as a whole and we don’t. Some of us most certainly do want you here.

    Category 1: “yes, but…” Category 2: “we’re not all like that.” Category 3: nada, zero, zilch, zip.

    This shameful argument is no more substantial than that brought to the atheist table by a young earth creationist or a sexist troll.

    After commenting at Shakesville, Adam Lee tweeted “This comment thread turned out pretty much as expected, but I had to try:”

    What did he expect? Why did he expect it? What steps did he take to make a substantive comment that would prevent or lessen his “expectation” of an “unfriendly reception”?

    In this post, he tells us that Shakesville is heavily moderated and caters to a specific group.

    How is that a bad thing in comparison to…say…the A+ forum? Was moderation and a specific audience the cause of his expectation? If not, why include it here?

    Adam Lee later tweeted “But I think she’s too dismissive of the people trying to make things better.”

    Is this criticizing people or their ideas? Is this using a particular person as a stand-in for a group of people? For what (and whose) improvement?

    He tweeted “If you have the energy to write about this topic, you can at least acknowledge the existence of allies.”

    Is there willingness to pay me $5 for every example through this recent arc of posts about “mainstream movement atheism” in which I can quote Melissa McEwan acknowledging the “existence of atheist allies”? It’ll be an amount under $100, but it will not be $0, either.

    Good grief, the comment Adam Lee left there was telling Melissa McEwan that expression of her feelings were unfair because it hurt his feelings through “we’re not all like that.” If it wasn’t that, then what does this sentence mean?

    And I would have let it end there, except that I was conversing with someone else on Twitter about the matter, and McEwan spotted that and decided to hold it up for execration.

    “Would have let it end there”–there where you were told by three moderators that you needed to read the Shakesville comment rules before posting again? There…where you were discussing it with more than one person on Twitter (but only quote this one who agreed with you)? There…where you invited a couple of people to continue the discussion in email? But you would have left it there, except that Melissa McEwan held up one of your comments for execration.

    Until this post included some specifics, nothing but “nuh-uh!” did Adam Lee bring to the table. This post is setting ablaze the strawman of one sentence in a post. This post falls flat trying to use Melissa McEwan’s single sentence as a springboard.

    I favorite a tweet by Pot Sherds, another who discussed this: “Actual allies do not need to be assuaged by constant reassurances that they’re not included in the criticism.”

  • Azkyroth

    Would you like a moist towelette?

  • Azkyroth

    Yes this, “Intent is not magic” may be one of the most valuable lessons you can learn about privilege, but that doesn’t make intent irrelevant.

    It’s not just that – it’s the idea that a person’s presumed intent can legitimately be used to condemn them, but their actual intent can’t be exculpatory if explained. These can’t both be true.

  • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com Michael

    “Oh, look here. Going “You’re Not Helping” on the marginalized group while obliviously saying the marginalized group is heaping on the “recriminations” in “seeing all criticism or disagreement as attacks.” Oopsie! Isn’t it the contention of this post that seeing a group as “a monolith” is a bad bad badsy thing to do?”

    I will say it about anyone, marginalized or not, but shouldn’t have used the word “all.” They aren’t a monolith, nor is the atheist movement. Which is part of the point. Anyway, I don’t hold members of marginalized groups to be immune from criticism (hopefully of the constructive kind).

  • Einander

    Here’s the thing, athyco. He’s not saying “we’re not all like that.” That’s a statement used when a minority is attempting to use their position on an issue in an attempt to exonerate the other members of their group who are less tolerant/good/correct. It’s obviously incorrect to use a minority as a basis for understanding the majority, and that’s where the fault lies with that kind of statement.

    In fact, that’s the basis of his argument: “Most of us are not like that. You’re taking a small part as characteristic of the whole, and you’re describing us wrongly.” Atheists, like any other minority group, are used to being labeled and told what we think. Unlike mansplaining, this atheistic phenomenon doesn’t have a snappy and widely-accepted name, so I can’t encapsulate it quite so concisely, but I think you’ll recognize what I mean. So I think you’ll forgive Mr. Lee a little sensitivity when an ally is characterizing “mainstream movement atheists” again. We’re all old and tired of it — you too, I suspect, just as you’re wearied by the equivalent in any other non-privileged group in which you hold membership.

    “Not all of us are like that.” More importantly, not even most of us are like that. It’s not an entrenched position in any atheistic authority group of note, and even when one of our figureheads says something intensely dumb and hurtful and undermining (begins with D and ends with awkins), that doesn’t get pushed into policy. We have a small but vocal minority of utter fuckheads, and I apologize for the harm they do. But we’re working on it. Please don’t characterize us according to the least and least welcome of our number, because they truly are that.

  • Figs

    I don’t have time for a big comment. I just wanted to make one quick point.

    When people are natural allies on an issue, as Melissa McEwan and Adam Lee certainly are on feminism, it would behoove all parties to give each other at least a little bit of benefit of the doubt. Adam, for instance, has shown himself through word and deed, over and over again, to be committed to feminism and to fighting the anti-feminist voices in the atheist movement. I’d hope that would earn him a little bit of benefit of the doubt when he says something which my first inclination might be to disagree sharply with. Enough benefit of the doubt for me to take a minute and say, “is this thing I hate really what he’s saying, or am I jumping to the least charitable conclusion?”

    This happens often, with everybody, and its a shame. It’s a shame because it widens rifts that may not have even needed to exist in the first place. The only way I can see Adam’s comments as somehow friendly to the anti-feminist voices in atheism is if he were engaged in a years-long con which culminated in a comment on a blog that could be misinterpreted if you look at it the wrong way. That doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Differences ought to be explored and interrogated, but it helps no one to become so insular that you push away people who are obviously on the side of the angels.

  • Adam Lee

    I had some further thoughts about what constitutes the so-called NALT or “not all like that” response, and/or the “yes, but” response, versus what should be a legitimate response to a charge of sexism. Here’s what I see as the distinction:

    Initial statement: “I’ve experienced a lot of harmful sexism from atheists that makes me reluctant to join the atheist community.”

    NALT response: “What? How dare you accuse me of being a sexist! I never did any of the bad things you’re talking about! I demand that you issue a sworn statement declaring me innocent of all prejudice before I’m willing to proceed any further with this discussion.”

    “Yes-but” response: “Sure, there’s some sexism in the atheist community, but at least we’re not marching in the streets trying to outlaw abortion and force women into burqas like lots of religions are! That makes us less bad than them, so you’re wrong to not want to join us.”

    Alternative “yes-but” response: “Maybe there’s some sexism in the atheist community, but here’s a story about atheist men who raised a lot of money for charity! Why aren’t you talking about that instead of this?”

    Not-NALT, not-”yes-but” response: “I agree this is a serious problem that has to be dealt with, and some of us are trying to make it better. Here is a list of the things we’ve done to make the atheist community a more welcoming place for women.”

  • MNb

    “mainstream movement atheism doesn’t want to have anything to do with me”.
    I prefer to keep things simple. If that’s the case I don’t belong to mainstream movement atheism. As for her advice I think it all boils down to one thing: treat others as equals. That’s what I try to do.
    Further I am not very interested in the subject; too much drama involved and that specifically includes stupid males who cannot accept that women are their equals indeed.
    Still I won’t claim that I’m a good ally to feminists. They might very well blame me for not doing enough.

  • smhll

    “Other hand: overreacting and misinterpreting every comment that might be seen as offensive.”

    I think a major sticking point between the ‘sides’ on this issue is whether the standard used to evaluate offensiveness is the “reasonable man” standard or the “reasonable woman” standard. (Or reasonable person who falls into some other category.) The norms of skepticism can come across as very rude when talking about personal experience.

    When you (you all) don’t accept a claim that I make about being hurt or offended, that’s very close to an accusation of lying. (Your claim that I’m hurt because I mis-interpreted your writings has more value to me. But arguing with a hurt person may be fruitless.)

    We could do with quite a bit less of “Now wait a minute, you say you’re offended, but I don’t detect anything that would offend ME, so let me interrogate you.” (This is my paraphrase of a common attitude.) I believe this potential attitude is Melissa McEwan’s beef from her interaction with Adam above. (But since I’m talking about her feelings and not my own, I could be wrong.)

  • athyco

    Azkyroth:

    Would you like a moist towelette?

    I have an adequate supply, thanks. Unfortunately, it seems there’s a lack of answers to my questions or evidence against my points. Or are they buried under your supply of spare moist towelettes? I understand your offer of one of them rather than the $5/ally mention. The latter would be more expensive.

    It’s not just that – it’s the idea that a person’s presumed intent can legitimately be used to condemn them, but their actual intent can’t be exculpatory if explained. These can’t both be true.

    Is it that “idea”? Where has that been written/explained, or is it your “interpretation,” the way that a single sentence was interpreted to kick off this post? Intent has not been used that way on this thread, and you’ve not referenced or linked to any examples. Or does the “idea” come in because you think a specific-free “yes but…we’re not all like that” should have been greeted with a “the intent for this lack-of-content scolding must be well-meant”? There is a great deal of specific-free content with a lack of reference going on here.

  • Leeloo Dallas Multipass

    In general, I would take someone at their word that they are genuinely hurt and offended by things they say are genuinely hurtful and offensive to them, unless there’s evidence otherwise. If I’m understanding Adam’s point though (and please correct me if this is wrong), what he was saying was less “we shouldn’t believe people’s self-reports of their feelings” and more “if someone finds something offensive, and argues that that behavior should be considered unacceptable, then we should be able to examine their reasons and see if they hold up.” For example, if a deeply religious person says they’re offended when I say I’m an atheist, I believe they’re telling the truth about their feelings being hurt. I just disagree that that’s a justification for me to pretend to be something I’m not. People take offense for all sorts of different reasons; some are good and some aren’t, and if we can’t evaluate them, then we’re essentially ceding the setting of civil standards to the loudest person in the room. Who is often yelling “misandry”, and taking offense to the existence of bumbling sitcom dads.

  • athyco

    michael:

    They aren’t a monolith, nor is the atheist movement. Which is part of the point. Anyway, I don’t hold members of marginalized groups to be immune from criticism (hopefully of the constructive kind).

    This claim of anyone except Adam Lee saying “monolith” is precisely the point that I contest. I’ve quoted both Melissa McEwan and Adam Lee to show that he was wrong: she did include allies in her writing about mainstream movement atheism, in the posts before the one that prompted his comment and after the “thuddingly blunt” single sentence that he uses as his evidence. The evidence that she’d done that destroys his assertion that she’d treated mainstream movement atheism like a monolith. To continue to ascribe “monolith” to her is to argue a strawman. (Notice: you didn’t take me up on my offer of $5/ally mention either.) Lastly about your comment, I don’t understand why you put “of the constructive kind” in parentheses and prefaced it with the word “hopefully.” Criticism that is not constructive is idle or destructive. I’ll state outright that no individual or organization or monolith should have to put up with anything but “constructive.”

    If Adam is saying that Melissa McEwan deserves his “constructive criticism,” then he’s got to defend 1)that she actually has done what he’s criticizing and 2)that his criticism aids her or others–allowing the better construction of an argument or position that has already been stated. You’ve read his comment; I quoted it. I contend that he fails on both points. His interpretation is a strawman. His criticism is a nothing more than a “yes but…we’re not all like that,” which is not constructive.

  • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com Michael

    The word “monolith” was a self-criticism, for saying “all” erroneously here: “seeing all criticism or disagreement as attacks.” It was an overly broad statement-I apologize. Though I’m not going to pay you anything, I’ll take notice that McEwan acknowledged atheist allies.

    I placed “constructive” in quotes to make clear the kind of criticism I’m advocating. That was simply to clarify. I wasn’t referring to Adam, it was purely a description of my own thoughts.

  • athyco

    “Not all of us are like that.” More importantly, not even most of us are like that. It’s not an entrenched position in any atheistic authority group of note, and even when one of our figureheads says something intensely dumb and hurtful and undermining (begins with D and ends with awkins), that doesn’t get pushed into policy. We have a small but vocal minority of utter fuckheads, and I apologize for the harm they do. But we’re working on it. Please don’t characterize us according to the least and least welcome of our number, because they truly are that.

    Numbers, actually, don’t make any difference. I am a retired teacher. I don’t answer someone complaining about a wide topic on the profession as a whole or the individual John Freshwater burning crosses on students’ arms with “we’re not all like that” unless the complainant actually says it. I believe that I was a good teacher and am now an ally for the profession overall and good teachers individually, and someone complaining about the bad aspects–however few or many–prompts me to ask what could be done to improve or to lay out the evidence–laws, practices, results, and safeguards so that the achievements and recourses are better known. But if someone tells me that they’d rather not be a teacher for reason A? It’s not my place to tell them that they’re being unfair because there are so many teachers who are working to make reason A something that wouldn’t affect a teaching career.

    So yes, it is easy for me to say that someone who characterizes a group according to the least and least welcome of our number is wrong. Can you or anyone else here provide more than that one stinkin’ sentence that Melissa McEwan did that? Can you counter her writing about “Good Ones” and the atheist women who’d made a “valid and commendable choice” to be vocal within mainstream movement atheism, her willingness to reply to PZ Myers (because she believed he was asking in good faith), her willingness to reply in comments to oolon because he brought more than “yes but…we’re not all like that” to her comment section, her reference to “men of good will” to contrast the atheist man who tweeted “no, fuck off” about her list, or the post that Adam Lee described as striking “exactly the right balance”?

    How much evidence will you ignore? Adam Lee has presented one sentence from a post and one reaction to a tweet, both of which he’s “interpreted” without asking questions or demonstrating that he read further in the conversation. He’s been asked to do some homework before posting again at Shakesville, but what keeps him from tweeting Melissa or one of her readers/moderators? From offering them email interaction as he’s done with others?

    Read this and tell me that Melissa McEwan doesn’t understand the impulses and the duties of someone who is privileged within a group just as well as she understands being marginalized within a group:

    I get it. I get why someone who is a privileged member of a self-selected identity group feels shitty that there are other privileged members of that group who behave like total fuckheads to non-privileged members. I am a white, cis feminist in a broad feminist community that has deeply entrenched white and cis privilege that manifests in ugly goddamn ways.

    That makes me angry. It also necessitates my vigilance, so that I don’t engage in racism and/or transphobia—and acknowledge when I fuck up (and I have fucked up)—and invites me to practice meaningful inclusion, in key management and content roles; and obliges my participation as a vocal ally, so that no one can imagine my silence is a product of support.

    It doesn’t matter an infinitesimal speck to me how small or large a group of feminists from privileged classes alienate feminists from non-privileged classes. I’m not going to spend my time quantifying how many of us are demonstrably terrible, because that serves literally no purpose but trying to convince someone already hurting that their harm was negligible.

    When some feminist asshole writes some anti-X shit in comments, in direct contravention of the posted commenting policy, my urge isn’t to beg my X readers to reassure me that I’m not like that. My urge is to slam down the banhammer and draw a boundary that renders that shit unwelcome in a space where I want them to feel as safe as possible.

    It’s my job to reassure them that I’m not like that, not the other way around.

    I do that imperfectly, I fuck up, but reassuring others, not myself, has to be the objective.

    So if I have one more piece of advice to atheist men, here it is: Stop obliging me to reassure you that you’re one of the Good Ones, and just start being one of them.

  • Azkyroth

    Is it that “idea”? Where has that been written/explained

    Nearly ten years of arguments related to the point made by the poster whose response I blockquoted immediately above it. Not everything is about you.

  • Azkyroth

    His interpretation is a strawman.

    Pot, meet kettle. You might have a point in there somewhere, about how Adam could have expressed himself better, but between the cherry-picking, ignoring of context and records, and bending over backwards to interpret everything he’s said uncharitably, you’ve more than killed it.

    Most other feminists, thankfully, aren’t like you. I don’t care if you think I’m your ally.

  • Adam Lee

    If Adam is saying that Melissa McEwan deserves his “constructive criticism,” then he’s got to defend… that his criticism aids her or others

    No, actually, I don’t. I can express disagreement with someone without first proving that some concrete benefit will come of it. I can express disagreement just because… I disagree.

  • athyco

    Sorry. My previous comment was in reply to Einander, and I neglected to state that.

    Figs:

    Adam, for instance, has shown himself through word and deed, over and over again, to be committed to feminism and to fighting the anti-feminist voices in the atheist movement. I’d hope that would earn him a little bit of benefit of the doubt when he says something which my first inclination might be to disagree sharply with. Enough benefit of the doubt for me to take a minute and say, “is this thing I hate really what he’s saying, or am I jumping to the least charitable conclusion?”

    That’s nice and all, but if someone’s not closely following the atheist movement, is it their responsibility to go look up the bona fides of someone with a male-identified nym who says nothing more than “yes, but…we’re not all like that” in his first comment ever on that feminist site? Adam Lee has in this post told us that he knows Shakesville is “heavily moderated,” but he didn’t take a minute to read at the top right of the site that there’s a clear commenting policy to be read first. What is the evidence that Adam Lee took a minute to say “Is this thing I hate really what she’s saying, or am I jumping to the least charitable conclusion?” Can you point to more initially gathered evidence than a single sentence for his “charitable conclusion”?

    I have a lot of benefit of the doubt with my family, but I can still say things that either sound like or are accusations. If I should say that the homophobic attitude in my uncle’s household means that I’ll pass on an invite to buy a timeshare with them, it would be wrong of my brother to respond with a non-specific “that’s unfair” and “yes, but…the whole family is not like that.” Even if it’s only my uncle’s attitude and his wife and nine children all argue with him about it, I’m not obliged to be a part of that atmosphere. And if my uncle’s wife and nine children want me there, they’re not my allies if they make it my job to change my feeling or ignore what I don’t like by a focus on “that’s unfair” and “yes, but…it’s only dad, not us!” rather than doing more to change the atmosphere.

  • athyco

    Adam Lee:

    Alternative “yes-but” response: “Maybe there’s some sexism in the atheist community, but here’s a story about atheist men who raised a lot of money for charity! Why aren’t you talking about that instead of this?”

    Not-NALT, not-”yes-but” response: “I agree this is a serious problem that has to be dealt with, and some of us are trying to make it better. Here is a list of the things we’ve done to make the atheist community a more welcoming place for women.

    See that bolded sentence in what you want to say was your “Not-NALT, not-”yes-but” response? Your comment at Shakesville didn’t provide that. If you want to say that you now realize that you were in error to leave it out and that your future criticism of a marginalized group/member of such a group MUST PROVIDE such a thing, that may be a step in the right direction. A list still won’t shield someone who’s providing it as a “Look at all these wonderful things we’ve done! Why are you still complaining?” (Did I just make up a self-serving hypothetical?)

  • athyco

    Leeloo Dallas Multipass: (Your nym gives me a grin.)

    For example, if a deeply religious person says they’re offended when I say I’m an atheist, I believe they’re telling the truth about their feelings being hurt. I just disagree that that’s a justification for me to pretend to be something I’m not. People take offense for all sorts of different reasons; some are good and some aren’t, and if we can’t evaluate them, then we’re essentially ceding the setting of civil standards to the loudest person in the room. Who is often yelling “misandry”, and taking offense to the existence of bumbling sitcom dads.

    Agreed. I think this ties in with the earlier assertion that “intent is not magic” is meant to be a gotcha coming and going. When someone says that you’ve hurt their feelings, it is at that point that you really examine and then promote your present intent through discussion. Your example of the religious not having enough justification for their hurt feelings to cause you to change your atheism is a prime example for this community.

    It also follows that, although you’re not going to change your atheism, you’re going to modify your behavior dependent upon the justifications you give yourself for the situation. You may attend the Reason Rally and cheer when Dawkins basically says to be rude to religious people, but that “rudeness” is going to take different forms when you visit your grandmother or when you speak to a co-worker (or employer!) or when you are accosted by a street preacher.

  • Improbable Joe

    Another thought, more generally: you can be a supporter of feminism while rejecting whole huge swaths of feminist thought, as well as disagreeing strongly with and disliking specific people who identify as feminists. Criticism of a member of a marginalized group is not always criticism BASED ON them being a member of a marginalized group, and being a member of such a group doesn’t make someone immune from being an obnoxious and dishonest idiot who needs to be criticized or even shunned… or just kind of a rude jerk whose rights you’ll defend but who you’d never, ever invite to dinner.

    There’s enough argument among honest, sincere advocates of feminism and other forms of social justice to know that there’s no single correct way. And we know that people in every group come in all types, including the negative types. Insisting on perfect agreement to count someone as being on “your team” is a mistake… and so is assuming that you have to actually like or respect all the individuals whose rights you’re trying to protect.

  • athyco

    Azkyroth:

    Pot, meet kettle. You might have a point in there somewhere, about how Adam could have expressed himself better, but between the cherry-picking, ignoring of context and records, and bending over backwards to interpret everything he’s said uncharitably, you’ve more than killed it.

    Most other feminists, thankfully, aren’t like you. I don’t care if you think I’m your ally.

    Since I’ve provided more extensive outside quotes than anyone else (including the OP), the charge of cherry-picking is not a major concern of mine. However, I–and others, I’m sure–would welcome your providing the information that I’ve missed. You know about “asserted without evidence,” I’m sure.

    What context and records have I ignored? Since my comments make up a sizable percentage of the total, I don’t think I’m ignoring important context from other commenters. Since I’ve accessed and read several times the Shakesville posts on “mainstream movement atheism,” Adam’s tweets, and this post, I’d say I’m not ignoring important context from them, either.

    I’ve not “interpreted” what Adam Lee says by not providing the quote right along with the interpretation. I’ve not used feely-words like “unfair” (as Adam did) or “uncharitable” as you did. Can you quote where I’ve “bent over backwards” to do so?

    As long as you act as an ally, I’ll consider you one. That doesn’t mean we can’t disagree–as we obviously have here. That doesn’t mean that you can’t call me out for cherry-picking, ignoring context and records, and interpreting uncharitably–because you have. That doesn’t mean that I can’t defend my position by demonstrating why I see no evidence for those things–because I have. That doesn’t mean you can’t come back with another post replete with quotes and links and explained inconsistencies–because I ask you–not as a feminist or atheist or any other -ist–to have such things to back up your assertions.

  • athyco

    Adam Lee:

    If Adam is saying that Melissa McEwan deserves his “constructive criticism,” then he’s got to defend… that his criticism aids her or others

    No, actually, I don’t. I can express disagreement with someone without first proving that some concrete benefit will come of it. I can express disagreement just because… I disagree.

    Under that construction, a little variation can give us

    I can express that something said hurt my feelings without first proving that some concrete harm has come from it. I can express my feelings just because…I feel them.

    Or should I vary the earlier construction you used in your tweet?

    I certainly don’t think anyone’s claim of disagreement should be accepted without question.

    Yes, I accept that you can disagree with someone just because you disagree–like with favorite ice cream flavors. That sort of disagreement doesn’t fall in the category of the other person being wrong or unfair, however.

    Why did you replace the first requirement for “constructive criticism” with elisions? (Reminder: “1) that she actually has done what he’s criticizing.”)

  • athyco

    Improbable Joe:

    Criticism of a member of a marginalized group is not always criticism BASED ON them being a member of a marginalized group, and being a member of such a group doesn’t make someone immune from being an obnoxious and dishonest idiot who needs to be criticized or even shunned… or just kind of a rude jerk whose rights you’ll defend but who you’d never, ever invite to dinner.

    That’s certainly true. As the one most likely seen as the idiotic feminist jerk around here, I’m content that no one has decided that’s the route to go.

    At this point I will go for some interpretation without accompanying quotations. I’m virtually on my own here in stating outright that I find Adam Lee to be wrong in this case. Does that mean I think that Adam Lee is anti-feminist? Oh, hell no. Does that mean that I think he’s done nothing for women in the atheist moment? Oh, even heller no. Does that mean that I don’t see him on the side of the angels, as Figs said? Well, maybe it does mean that–because I don’t want to put anyone on the side of mythical perfect beings. And you know what? I would expect someone who wanted to approach the “side of the angels” to also want–and recognize the (hopefully rare–as in this case) need to make course corrections.

    I think Adam Lee believes in the concept of privilege. I believe Adam Lee understands that privilege can be unconscious. I believe that Adam Lee understands that privilege is harder to see in oneself than it is in others. I believe Adam Lee knows that someone can unconsciously do something based on it, then dig in his heels. Just a few days ago, he tweeted about Dawkins not doing feminism well in the past but signing on for a good feminist thing recently. And I believe that he succumbed to the privilege of seeing himself as someone who could tell Melissa McEwan “unfair” with only a “yes, but…we’re not all like that” comment.

    Heck, if he wanted to discuss the advances of feminists and their allies in atheism, a big ol’ post about the numbers at the A+ forums, the A+ redditt, the number and attendance of conferences that have been held under anti-harassment policies. It could have been a piece pulling together in one place all the great stuff that has happened since last May (when the first calls for conference policies gained notable impetus) and become widely linked for convenience. It could have been a piece doing some research to tell us something we don’t know. (I really wonder how the TAM, WiS2, and AA registrations are trending so far this year, don’t you?) In my opinion, an article that focuses on the idea/argument isn’t a “Nuh uh!” to what an individual said–an article like that could stand on its own to say “We’re working like this.”

    I think that Adam Lee would be a better feminist ally if he’d surpass Dawkins by not digging in his heels. Does that make him not a feminist ally until the trump of doom? Geeeez, no. And actually, this is a small kerfuffle that’s far off the front page of Shakesville, far down the timeline for Twitter, and a brief swirling here and at B&W only because Adam Lee brought it back up, and I decided to dig into it.

    If nothing else, it’s started some on the path of thinking about the complexity of concepts like “yes, but” and “NALT.”

  • Improbable Joe

    “I think that Adam Lee would be a better feminist ally if…”

    Yeah, I can tell that you do… but why should anyone give special privilege to what you in particular think? Or me, or Adam Lee, or Melissa McEwan, or anyone else? I think McEwan is kind of an occasionally dishonest and uncharitable person, and very often an unpleasant one. I’ve no doubt that a quick perusal of the things I’ve said would cause McEwan to come to the conclusion that I’m not exactly a friendly person either. And I think that’s fine… I’m not even my own biggest fan most of the time.

    But what I do have a problem with is this conflating of personality with causes. It is possible to think that Melissa McEwan is wrong, dishonest, more horrible than Hitler, and still be an “ally” of the feminist cause… and maybe that’s why I dislike the term “ally”, because I see that as being more aligned with people than with causes. I don’t have to give a quarter-damn about any individual person to fight for their rights. I can think that any given feminist is a crappy person and it doesn’t mean I reject feminism, and I don’t automatically and idiotically start screaming “misandry” when a feminist doesn’t like me or disagrees with me or actively thinks I’m terrible… I assume they are a jerk for not liking me, or that maybe I’m coming off as a jerk to them, or even that they’ve suffered enough abuse to assume that I’m a woman-hating evil shit-demon, but not that they’re being a man-hating evil shit-demon.

    But if I think they’re misjudging me, and I’ve given careful consideration to what I’ve said, and maybe run it past a couple of trusted folks, I’m not going to bend over backwards and apologize for their misjudging me. Nah.

  • athyco

    Improbable Joe:

    … but why should anyone give special privilege to what you in particular think? Or me, or Adam Lee, or Melissa McEwan, or anyone else?

    Do you expect me to disagree with this? Except that it’s coming out of left field, I’ve not seen anyone here asking for/dishing out “special privilege” (beyond maybe the suggestion of taking Adam Lee’s accomplishments into account). True, my agreement was short in comparison with getting my “interpretation” off my chest, but it was there.

    But what I do have a problem with is this conflating of personality with causes. It is possible to think [poorly of an individual feminist], and still be an “ally” of the feminist cause… and maybe that’s why I dislike the term “ally”, because I see that as being more aligned with people than with causes.

    Agreed again, conflating personalities with causes is a problem. Not something I’ve seen in this comment thread. It’s too bad that the title as well as the body of the OP has a word you hate and so led to its usage in the comments. Should we continue, I’ll try to construct sentences to use “activist, supporter, adherent, affiliate, backer” if the concept is needed.

    But if I think they’re misjudging me, and I’ve given careful consideration to what I’ve said, and maybe run it past a couple of trusted folks, I’m not going to bend over backwards and apologize for their misjudging me. Nah.

    Well…yeah, agreed again. I brought that up with Figs in my response about my uncle’s family. I must admit that I’d already read Leeloo Dallas Multipass’s comment with a great reference to a religious person’s assertion of hurt feelings. I agreed with that and explored its connection to “intent is not magic” in my post quoting part of that comment. One extra point that you’ve made that should be noted is that it’s often clearly harder to work through difficulty with a co-activist you dislike–to make it clear to yourself and those who witness the difficulty that the contention is with the cause/content rather than the personality.

    Are we not on the same page? With the exception, I think, that I don’t have a negative overall opinion of either Melissa McEwan or Adam Lee?

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com The Letter D

    It looks like you two got started talking past each other and never met back up. Here’s where I see things go off-track: in your tweet to Yoshi, you’re talking about someone else’s feelings (as your possible motivation). McEwan, it seems plain to me, is talking about someone else’s feelings (as their actual experience). Leave those parentheticals unsaid, and it’s easy to miss that there are VOLUMES of context that fall of the map when you both think you’re just talking about feelings.

    Let’s play the Meaning Reversal Game! Here’s how you play: take the exact words that someone said, and show how taken one way, it’s eminently reasonable – but taken another way, it can mean something totally unreasonable! Ready? Go!
    1. “I certainly don’t think anyone’s claim of hurt feelings should be accepted without question [as a reason for me to wholly revise my standards of behavior; I'd be re-writing my personal code every day!].”
    2. “I certainly don’t think anyone’s claim of hurt feelings should be accepted without question [as an honest description of those feelings in reaction to whatever I just said or did].”

    Now, coming at this from the outside and seeing some of the ensuing discussion, I can see quite clearly that you meant something close to #1. But here’s the thing – I had to see where things went wrong to understand that. It sure as Hell seemed at first that you meant #2, so much so that on my first reading, I actually asked myself aloud, “Did he REALLY just say that?!”

    Yoshi’s “Whoah, slow down there” line – the implication that I’m doing something wrong by reacting unfavorably to his words – comes off as super-condescending, and sets the tone for your response, priming the reader. Think of our hypothetical misunderstanding as Yoshi stepping on my toes: he didn’t mean to do it, it was just a clumsy misstep, and he doesn’t want me to judge his whole character based on one bad move. Happens all the time, and we get through it, right? So: what do you do when you hear someone say “ouch” and feel that awkward bulge under your sole?

    You back up a step and say you’re sorry. You do this almost automatically, and I can’t for the life of me understand why the reflex doesn’t translate into conversation. Yoshi shouldn’t say, “Whoah, slow down there, you seem to be misunderstanding something here”; he should say, “Whoah, I’m sorry, I seem to have said something wrong.” What would you think of Yoshi if he stepped on my toes and then told me to “slow down” or watch where I’m going? And how absurdly oblivious would it be for him to say, “Whoah, slow down there – I didn’t mean to step on your toes, therefore you shouldn’t be feeling pain”?

    So all of that is going through my head when I read your tweet, and no it’s not fair, but that’s how it comes off just the same, because of what Yoshi said before. That’s why McEwan talks about the validity prism – because that’s what it sounds like you’re talking about, in light of Yoshi’s question. To play the Meaning Reversal Game again, “I’m not permitted to form my own opinion about the reasonableness of that claim, I just have to accept it without question [when someone self-reports their feelings to me; it's called arguing in good faith, and if my words have hurt someone, I should accept that at face value and back up a step before trying to move forward, otherwise I stand a good chance of stepping on their toes all over again].”

    Of course, it would be patently absurd to assert that “I’m not permitted to form my own opinion about the reasonableness of that claim, I just have to accept it without question [when someone tells me that their feelings should provide sufficient impetus for me to wholly revise my standards of behavior].” I mean, that’s just silly. But it’s not what McEwan meant. Try reading her line about the validity prism again, with the stepping-on-toes analogy in mind. You two are talking apples and lawnmowers.

    To put it differently, of course you’re permitted to form an opinion about how reasonable someone is being when s/he’s offended by something you say, because people are unreasonably offended by things all the time; but the fact that s/he is offended in the first place, I think, should not be up for debate. The self-report of taking offense should be enough, regardless of whether it is reasonable to do so. But it sounds like you’re saying that one’s self-report of one’s own feelings is subject to question in your tweet, and in your follow-up to boot, which is what makes me think that you still haven’t grasped where things went off-track.

  • Chris

    Responding to the original post –

    It looks like she interpeted your tweet as “be skeptical of people claiming to be hurt”.
    It looks like you’ve interpreted what she said as “you can’t question how someone feels about the way they’ve been treated”

    I’m pretty sure you’d both agree that the middle ground here is probably reasonable: You should be able to assume that your allies and friends are acting in good faith, especially in regards to their lived experiences. (Just like everything else real-world, absolutes aren’t the norm. Question if needed but it’s exclusionary to assume said questioning is necessary.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/LizardSF Lizard

    I see this “Denying the validity of feelings” thing a lot, and I had a minor-league epiphany a bit ago.
    Barring extreme evidence to the contrary, I’m willing to give any person considerable benefit of the doubt when they state their feelings. I’m not a telepath. If someone says they’re hurt, bitter, angry, humiliated, etc., my default assumption is that they’re describing their emotions as accurately and honestly as they can.
    The reason people often try to deny other’s expression of emotion, or convince them they’re “wrong” for having the feelings they, is, it seems, because the alternative response is much less socially acceptable: “I don’t care.”
    People would rather say, “It’s wrong for you to be offended”, than to say, “I don’t care that you’re offended — at least not enough to do anything differently. I may feel a vague sense of sadness that I caused someone pain without intending to, but such an emotion is transient and minor.”
    However, the alternative to deciding someone’s offense is not a motivation for you to change is to put yourself at the conflicting tastes and sensibilities of the entire planet. A fundamentalist Christian might be sincerely and genuinely offended by my Cthulhu Fish car magnet. No matter how sincere their offense, no matter how genuine their emotion, I am not going to remove that magnet just because a random person might be offended by it. If a close friend or relative who was a devout Christian said they were offended, I might remove it, because I am willing to make a reasonable effort to not offend people I have a reason to care about, and I do not care equally about the entire planet.
    You would think that, all things considered, “I don’t care about your feelings on this issue, at least not enough to actually do anything to alter my actions or make compensation. Sorry.” would be less insulting than “Your feelings are wrong/you’re lying about your feelings”, but it seems that is not true. What does it say, when the “polite” social response is to insult someone’s sincerity or honesty, rather than simply stating that their feelings on a particular issue don’t matter much to you? We all live day to day gleefully offending and insulting most of the world because we eat the wrong foods, worship the wrong gods (or no gods, or the right gods but in the wrong way), have the wrong kind of sex, support the wrong politicians, give to the wrong causes. There’s virtually no action you can take that someone, somewhere, won’t find offensive, but we all manage to get on with our lives. Speaking this out loud, though, seems to be a strong taboo, so extreme we’d rather call someone a delusional liar than acknowledge that all of us are quite content ignoring the thousands of things we do every day that offend somebody, somewhere.

  • athyco

    You would think that, all things considered, “I don’t care about your feelings on this issue, at least not enough to actually do anything to alter my actions or make compensation. Sorry.” would be less insulting than “Your feelings are wrong/you’re lying about your feelings”, but it seems that is not true. What does it say, when the “polite” social response is to insult someone’s sincerity or honesty, rather than simply stating that their feelings on a particular issue don’t matter much to you?

    The “polite” social insult to another’s sincerity or honesty is a societal requirement I’d much rather do without, but it’s become almost integral to the system when we do band together much beyond familial groups. Perhaps that makes the practice one of the most important to dismantle and replace. If one wants to say to an “outsider” that they’re “unfair” when expressing feelings or that they’re feelings are not valid until (unspecified event or ruling), it disguises the “I don’t care that you’re offended” to those in your “insider” group containing those who would express much the same feelings under much the same circumstances. With “I don’t care,” the explanation becomes much more difficult (although not always impossible, depending upon numbers and other, perhaps only tangentially related, areas of dislike against the outsider). The fight is still ongoing, for example, in feminist Democrats calling out Democrats for making sexist comments or posting sexist photographs of Republican women and vice versa. To get a “we’re not all like that” or “yes, but the Republicans are worse” reaction is a version of “I don’t care (enough).”

    There are few atheists in the A+, Skepchick, FtB community who wouldn’t see as unremarkable the comment “I don’t really want to have anything to do with TAM because TAM doesn’t want anything to do with me.” TAM attendees and supporters and organizers who objected would be eyed with “Who are you kidding?” askance if they claimed that such a statement was saying that TAM spoke with one voice–the voice of misogynists. There are few who would agree that deciding “He said exactly that” was enough to denounce Ophelia Benson as witch hunting Michael Shermer; they’d see a ridiculous conclusion that ignored context before and after in that article. But they do not eye askance that only one 53-word sentence in a 600+ word post started this masquerade of “I don’t care (enough)” wearing a disguise of “yes, but…we’re not all like that.”

  • Mumpty

    At what point did Melissa M. ever say she was hurt or offended? Just askin’ since several of you are making arguments on that basis.

  • Austin Green

    @ TheLetterD: Thanks for your picking apart of my tweet (I’m Yoshi, if you couldn’t tell). I’ve been really frustrated lately because I’ve been really confused over what is and is not reasonable criticism of feminists as a male feminist and I’ve been really struggling to find the words to convey that. I can think of my objections clearly in my head, but I have a lot of difficulty translating them to writing because I’m frankly not all that used to writing about this stuff. I’m primarily a lurker—my writing experience lies in technical science writing rather than this sort of philosophical social justice stuff so it’s harder to put my thoughts on these matters into words. I was indeed trying to get across the message that I’m absolutely not trying to deny anything anybody’s feeling. Rather, I’m just trying to evaluate whether or not their interpretation of events is correct, because if they’re getting upset over an incorrect interpretation over somebody’s words—no matter how much “intent is not magic” —it would be much better for everybody if there was no bad blood amongst those who should be, for all other intents and purposes, allies. I’ve been trying really hard to say this in a way that won’t get people pissed off at me and I’ve been having trouble with it. Naturally, if I didn’t succeed here, feel free to yell at me about it.

  • athyco

    I’ve been really frustrated lately because I’ve been really confused over what is and is not reasonable criticism of feminists as a male feminist and I’ve been really struggling to find the words to convey that. I can think of my objections clearly in my head, but I have a lot of difficulty translating them to writing because I’m frankly not all that used to writing about this stuff. I’m primarily a lurker—my writing experience lies in technical science writing rather than this sort of philosophical social justice stuff so it’s harder to put my thoughts on these matters into words.

    Years’ long lurker here, as well, Austin. Still one who hits the “Post Comment” button with trepidation. Still one who rewords and tightens and eliminates entire paragraphs, sometimes entire posts (aren’t you all glad), because they don’t ask/say what I want.

    TheLetterD’s post says something more than material I agree with. It tells me that there was something that I wasn’t considering: I hadn’t constructed the two valid unspoken continuations of Adam’s tweet to you. It tells me that–if I can start doing that–I can have better, more empathetic, discussions/arguments with both my allies and my opponents. I agree with a comment that contained this underlying message: “athyco, you have some improving to do.” It made me flush to read it, actually. I don’t regret my comments, but I wish I’d known how to phrase more “Did you mean this?” rather than “What do you mean by this?” Better her to have looked for points of agreement rather than expecting a response to dissect, you see. Kinda embarrassing that I didn’t see that leaning in my writing because I’d rather it not be there unconsciously.

    Can I then see your Twitter exchange with Adam through a filter of tweet-length mindset/incompleteness? Yes, indeed. Can you see that focusing on one sentence in a Shakesville post also brings about a mindset/incompleteness that dismisses other sentences that do not support a reading that Melissa McEwan is claiming all in the atheist movement to be speaking with one voice–that of the misogynists? See, it seems that the trick at present is not trying to figure out how to broad arc disagree with feminists as a male feminist (or to be a woman disagreeing with a male feminist), but to determine (by clearly representing the other side and with evidence to back up yours) at what specific point you’re no longer confused about disagreeing and start there.

  • Adam Lee

    Just a quick note here, but I think The Letter D’s comment has gotten me to see this whole disagreement in a completely different light. I’m going to try to find the time to write a followup post later this week before my Austin trip. Thanks, D, for being your brilliant self!

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com The Letter D

    Testing for HTML things and stuff. (Adam, feel free to delete this, I just wanted to see what HTML I could get away with. By Einstein’s Klein Stein, I could really have used some emphasis on the last one, but wasn’t sure quite how to hack it.)

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com The Letter D

    OK, so full disclosure? That comment took me, no joke, four hours to write (I feel your pain, athyco!). Most of that was editing and re-editing what I’d said; there were big chunks spent writing and ultimately (painfully) deleting irrelevant tangents; plus about twenty minutes to just do something else, so I could come back with fresh eyes before the end; and a good deal of it throughout was spent considering phrasing because I wasn’t sure how to emphasize stuff without HTML tags (new websites always make me angry – like, if my short comment immediately above is still there, I tried to underline the first “HTML” and attempted no less than three separate strikethrough tags).

    That said, I saw what went wrong in, like, a minute. All I had to do was ask a simple question: Adam said, “I certainly don’t think anyone’s claim of hurt feelings should be accepted without question,” and the obvious query arises, “Accepted as what?”

    The rest follows naturally from there, as there are a zillion ways to answer that question. We saw what happens when different people pick two, and it turns out they don’t match (but with a zillion to choose from, you can’t blame ‘em). Thing is, there’s always a zillion ways to interpret anything – while we’re usually able to just put something out there on the first try and have it be received more or less as intended, that’s really only because we spend most of our communication time talking to people who are already on the same wavelength. When you talk to someone who’s on a different wavelength, but still expect to be able to communicate on your wavelength, you get breakdowns like this.

    The rest of this got long, so I made the call and just put it on my own damn soapbox (so, edited for long, for tangents, and for adult use of alcohol). You can read it here: http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/2013/03/hiatus-schmiatus.html

  • Azkyroth

    So: what do you do when you hear someone say “ouch” and feel that awkward bulge under your sole?

    You back up a step and say you’re sorry. You do this almost automatically, and I can’t for the life of me understand why the reflex doesn’t translate into conversation.

    I think partly this is self-answering. Conversation, especially online doesn’t have the kind of cues that allow you to easily differentiate between “when you hear someone say “ouch” and feel that awkward bulge under your sole” and someone running-”running” into you when you were just minding your own business, almost or actually bowling you over, and then angrily demanding to know why “you ran into them.” I’ve never seen anyone come right out and say that others should always assume the first case…but I can certainly think of occasions where people – even those who apparently advocate that everyone else always make the first assumption – haven’t abided by it themselves.

  • UAS

    >I certainly don’t think anyone’s claim of hurt feelings should be accepted without question.

    An observation: each of us has a CHOICE as to how we react/respond to anything someone else does or says.

    If someone says something offensive to me, I have a choice as to how to respond and how to feel. I can dismiss it; I can reject it; I can take it to heart. I can do something in the subtle grey area in between those three choices.

    I cannot control anyone else, but I can control my reactions. I’m allowed to feel anything I want—I don’t believe any feelings are illegitimate—and I do not need to act on my feelings.

    I may not agree with someone else’s choice on how they react, but I endeavor to respect their choice. On the other hand, if someone expects me to agree with their choice, they may be in for some disappointment. In this context, McEwan’s decision to choose to have her feelings hurt is her choice, which I must respect. I may not agree, but that is my deal.

  • Steven Carr

    http://www.shakesville.com/2013/03/so-heres-what-happened.html

    In this post Melissa McEwen explains ‘I started out writing about why I didn’t want to have anything to do with mainstream movement atheism, but, in the end, this entire endeavor has revealed that whether I want anything to do with mainstream movement atheism is irrelevant, because mainstream movement atheism doesn’t want to have anything to do with me.’

    It appears that the misogynists are incredibly successful at what they want to achieve – namely silencing women.

    I hate to point out the obvious, but people don’t usually stop what they see as a successful strategy.

    What can be done?

  • Steven Carr

    ‘It is extremely hostile to assert that Muslim’s feelings have to be filtered through a validity prism before their legitimacy can be authenticated.’

    Anybody who claims that Muslims should not get upset by seeing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad is clearly an Islamophobe, particularly if it is Muslim women who are offended by these cartoons.

  • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com Michael

    They can be upset about them. Can we be upset by Muhammad’s character (such as his marriage with Aisha, violent acts) or the status of women in Muslim societies overall? I dislike Islam, and it seems we have no way of saying that, or making specific criticisms, that do not offend people. Whose feelings then have greater legitimacy?


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X