Lots of people are awful, but not everyone who disagrees with you is

The two main impetuses for this post are both already old news in the blogosphere’s short news cycle, but I think the issue is important, so here it goes:

Impetus #1 is that this happened (emphasis added):

Adria Richards, a self-described developer evangelist, was at a tech conference sitting in the audience for a presentation. Two men were seated behind her and talking using technical language (dongles and forking) that allegedly morphed into a juvenile sexual joke overheard by Richards. She stood up, turned around and took three pictures of them. She then tweeted the pictures to her thirteen thousand followers with the conference hashtag. She made a second tweet then asking for conference organizers to do something.

Conference organizers removed the men, talked to them, one denied that some comments were sexual, admitted one was and apologized profusely. They were allowed back into the conference and that would have been the end of it BUT THE INTERNET EXPLODED.

Adria Richard’s company was besieged by DDOS attacks by Anonymous. One of the men was fired. Adria began receiving horrid rape and death threats. Adria got fired. And I commented on a blog post PZ Myers did about this titled, “Adria Richards did everything exactly right” and I disagreed with him. And got vilified, insulted, abused and disabused of the notion that what you think you know sometimes just isn’t quite what it seems.

I, of course, knew that the blog had a certain reputation for not suffering fools lightly. I know PZ, himself, promotes it as a “rude blog.” I wasn’t aware of how abusive it gets. I have been an avid supporter and defender of the so-called FTBullies and have paid a high price in the form of vicious ridicule and mockery by members of the slymepit. I cannot claim innocence as I have certainly thrown my own share of knives without knowing the full story some of the time, hell, maybe all the time. I don’t know anymore. I am doing what I need to in order to make myself right.

If you aren’t familiar with the comments section on Pharyngula, you can probably imagine what EllenBeth Wachs (the author of the post) means by “vilified, insulted, abused.” If you’re not, well, it included her being accused of being an “apologist for misogynistic behavior” and a “dumbfuck,” to pick two bits of it out at random.

You can read the whole post if you want to be really horrified, but I’m not sure I recommend it.

Afterwards, PZ wrote a short post where he briefly conceded that, “she [EllenBeth] might be right that the derision was disproportionate.”

Might be? Meaning PZ isn’t sure?

I’m a big proponent of the idea that people aren’t generally to blame for their comment sections. But PZ hasn’t just been allowing, but encouraging, this kind of behavior for a very long time. Last December, when Ed Brayton tried to defend PZ by saying you shouldn’t judge a blog by the comments. PZ’s response was to write a post titled “In defense of the commentariat” where he told his commenters, “you are the people I want here, and I affectionately regard you all as my local meatgrinder. Please don’t change. And when necessary, unleash hell.”

While I haven’t seen PZ ever quite sink to the level of some of his commenters, his own behavior is often quite similar if not to the same degree, for example assuming atheists who disagree with him on certain issues must by lying rather than having an honest difference of opinion.

Now I myself am not Mr. Nice Guy. There are some truly awful people in the world, and I don’t believe in being polite about how awful they are (for example). But the thing you can’t lose sight of is that just because there are awful people in the world, that doesn’t justify assuming everyone who disagrees with you must be an awful person.

With William Lane Craig, for example, I’m quite happy to call him a liar (among other things), but that’s a conclusion I reached only after observing his behavior extensively. When your first reaction to allies disagreeing with you is to accuse them of lying, something has gone seriously wrong.

Let me be frank about something. Money was the deciding factor in my coming to Patheos, before I realized moving to Patheos was an option, this kind of stuff had me wondering when PZ would finally do something so embarrassing that I would feel compelled to leave Freethought Blogs regardless of whether I had somewhere else to go. I think I’d be gone by now even if not for Patheos. The behavior of PZ and his commenters is not something I want to be associated with in any way, and I think it’s unfortunate that it’s one of the primary face of atheism on the internet.

The other impetus for this post is that recently, nearly two dozen leaders of national atheist orgs got together to make a statement calling for more civility on the internet… and Secular Women put out a response rejecting the call for civility. Among the reasons:

  • “At Secular Woman, the principle that ‘feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression’ (Hooks, 2000, p. viii) is taken as a given, and not a topic for debate.”
  • “Those of us working to challenge systemic sexism should be under no obligation to listen to or be more charitable to our opponents.”

I’ve expressed doubts about the idea of “being charitable” before. But I’m flabbergasted by the claim of Secular Women that they don’t even have to listen to their opponents. Even when dealing with deeply awful people, you need to listen to them some, or else you’re just assuming they’re awful without really knowing.

(On the internet I sometimes see people automatically accuse those who disagree with them of not listening, as if it were impossible to listen to someone carefully and then conclude they’re completely wrong, as if listening somehow required taking the other person’s side. Maybe the authors of the Secular Women statement are using such an idiosyncratic meaning of “listen” here, which could explain the statement I guess.)

But as an example of the benefits of listening: yes, “feminism” is often defined as being simply about equality, an in that sense few liberal people would reject feminism. But much of what passes for “feminism” is ridiculous and even harmful–not just the lunacy of Andrea Dworkin, but support for anti-sex work policies that are actually harmful to women.

Given that, it’s not hard to understand why many people have trouble seeing “feminism” in such positive terms. Personally, I’m a fan of the “I am if you think I am” approach to the label, but if you can’t fathom why anyone would be even more negative towards feminism than that, I recommend reading this. I don’t necessarily agree with all of it, but it’s an example of how people can have non-evil reasons for rejecting the “feminist” label. Listening to people is valuable because it lets you find out stuff like that.

(Note that none of the above should be taken to deny that there are plenty of people doing sex work activism who do identify as feminists.)

Now I can imagine someone making similar objections to the “atheist” label, explicit definitions be damned, as the objections I’ve just sketched towards the “feminist” label. In the “atheist” case, I have no problem calling myself an atheist and I think the reasons people who are basically atheists give for not not calling themselves atheists are kind of silly.

But I would never even think of declaring the issue “not a topic for debate.” I’m not personally very interested in debating it, but that’s because I don’t actually think the issue is very important. I’d never say it’s not a topic for debate in general, because that would implicitly tell other people it isn’t for them to debate even if they feel like it, which would be pretty arrogant of me.

  • hf

    Certainly the commentariat at Pharyngula worries me slightly, and I’ve never much liked Dworkin. But, “don’t necessarily agree with all of it”?

    The one specific example in that sweeping rant you link concerned a proposed ban on porn in Iceland, a proposal with a vaguely feminist justification. Iceland’s International Modern Media Institute put out an open letter opposing this ban; at least one member of their board of directors describes himself as a feminist on their website.

    Most of the signatories just seem like anti-censorship activists, but I found these people easily:

    Laurie Penny (born 28 September 1986) is a British columnist, blogger and author who writes for the New Statesman. She has a feminist and left wing perspective: “Socialism without feminism, after all, is no socialism worth having.”

    Daniela Bozhinova – Chairperson of the Bulgarian Association for the Promotion of Citizens Initiative, …Developed and managed the implementation of 30+ projects, advocacy and information campaigns addressing issues of freedom of information, environmental rights, gender democracy…

    • Chris Hallquist

      When a sex worker is summarizing years of experience in sex work and dealing with self-proclaimed “feminists,” complaining about a lack of detail is kind of missing the point. Note that, from other things I’ve read, sex workers, kinky women, etc. being told they don’t get to be a part of the feminist club seems to be a common experience (see the “I am what you think I am” link). IDK about relative sizes of different groups of “feminists,” but the basic experience she’s describing is common.

    • http://feministwhore.wordpress.com FW

      Here’s a more recent ‘letter of support’ for the Iceland legislation: http://www.innanrikisraduneyti.is/media/frettir-2013/ICELAND-Support-Letter-3-2013-FINAL.pdf .

      Notice how many feminists signed it? I think that shows more than just a ‘vaguely’ feminist justification (although mostly just a justification nonetheless), and don’t be lulled into submission by the claims they will only be legislating against ‘violent’ porn.

      The difference between how many feminists are in support of this and how many sign up against it is exactly what FurryGirl was talking about. Pointing to the fact that a couple/few feminists are also *against* the thing does nothing to negate that there are far more (and more powerful) feminists in support of it. It’s exactly this denial of reality, or at least refusal to discuss reality, that has put some of us off.

      And let me just add that the closing of that statement mentions how Iceland has already adopted the “Nordic” anti-prostitution model and has already banned strip clubs, and these are lauded as feminist victories, as evidence of working towards “gender equality”.

      • http://sinmantyx.wordpress.com/ M. A. Melby

        “Pointing to the fact that a couple/few feminists are also *against* the thing does nothing to negate that there are far more (and more powerful) feminists in support of it.”

        That is all you really need to point out if the condemnation is categorical. You don’t have to pretend as if you know the relative power of various feminist groups within the whole world, you just have to point out that the feminists that you are actually talking to and having a conversation with don’t hold all the views of every feminists in the world – doing so would certainly be insanity.

        If you put any discussion of a topic that may be related to feminism in the context of whether or not feminism or feminists (generally) should be condemned, that context is the reason that “reality” is supposedly not discussed.

        Considering that the agency of sex workers has been a widely discussed topic on FtB, and among feminists in general (simply search for “prostitution” within Greta Christina’s blog as an example) I don’t see how the charge of “not discussing reality” is justified.

        When you say that “and these are lauded as feminist victories”, I want to know who you are talking about. Certainly the feminists that are in support and worked to approve those policies see that as a victory. Who else?

        Any categorical criticism of feminism is either based on two things: 1) the idea that women are so radically different than men that it is “natural” or “moral” for women, as a group, to have less socio-economic power as men with in a society or 2) feminists in general are responsible (in whole or in part) for anything any feminist individual or group has ever done or said.

        Whether or not making certain types of sex work illegal or discussion about how sex work should be regulated, is a discussion.

        If you want individual feminists or specific groups of like-minded feminists to stop representing themselves and their own stances, and instead be constantly put on the defense of “feminism” due to disagreements you have NOT WITH THEM but with other feminists; that conversation is understandably going to go nowhere.

        I would think that atheists would understand the frustration of being blamed and criticized as a group, as if every atheist was as rude as “that prominent atheist” or as litigious as “that atheist on the news” or as much of a jerk as “that atheist guy I know”; and as a result be put on the defensive as if every individual atheist is responsible for all, even when they actively disagree.

        I’m seriously curious what you want. What would satisfy you?

        If I devoted more of my time to attacking the anti-trans* stances of some RadFem’s or instead of writing occasionally about how I disagree with bans against the niqab, I devoted every waking moment to distancing myself from “feminist” stances with which I happen to disagree would that stop putting you off? What do I, or any other feminist, have to do to be free of constant blanket dismissals due to self-identifying as a feminist?

        • http://feministwhore.wordpress.com FW

          I also self identify as a feminist, so I’m not sure who you’re suggesting has made these blanket dismissals. Seems to me it’s more often those who don’t want to identify as feminists who are given the blanket dismissals. Not id’ing as feminist is interpreted as ‘hating feminism’ from what I’ve seen.

          And what do I want? I want official orgs to take a stance on these issues (preferably MY stance, but in the case of some of these orgs ANY stance would be an improvement). I want official orgs to take these stances exactly SO individual feminists aren’t left to try to ‘distance’ themselves. So that individual feminists, like me, will know where I stand. Should I be happy with donating my money to an org only to turn around a few months later and find out they are actively campaigning against the things I support? Should I be happy that they are actively giving support to the very orgs that advocate rounding up brothel working women and putting them in rehabilitation homes?

          • http://sinmantyx.wordpress.com/ M. A. Melby

            We agree on a great many things.

            What are you talking about when you say that it has put “some of us off”? I think I misinterpreted that as being categorically anti-feminist because of those issues.

            I have many friends who don’t identify as “feminist” because of bad experiences or annoyances. I happen to identify as “feminist” partially *because* some self-proclaimed feminists have stances that I personally disagree with. If all the reasonable people left “feminism”; it would either die or suck more, and I certainly don’t want it to die.

          • hf

            I also self identify as a feminist, so I’m not sure who you’re suggesting has made these blanket dismissals.

            The person Chris linked approvingly! Does anyone actually read what I say?

      • hf

        I tentatively predict that Iceland will not effectively ban all pornography, and that claims of greater political power on that side (compared to the pro-sex, anti-Akin side) will look silly in retrospect.

        I also tentatively predict that if porn starts to look better or less harmful for the performers, the anti-porn strain of feminism will start to fade away.

        • http://sinmantyx.wordpress.com/ M. A. Melby

          Nina Hartley for the win.

  • hf

    As for Secular Women, you didn’t quote the beginning of the paragraph: “we have no desire to listen to, respect, or continuously debunk overtly sexist viewpoints.” (Emphasis added.) Do you believe they haven’t heard or seen those already?

    • Chris Hallquist

      The problem is that when you refuse to listen to people you imagine are your opponents, you end up doing things like assuming they must be sexist regardless of whether or not they actually are.

      • Monette Richards

        The problem is that when someone is telling me that I cannot run a country because PMS, I don’t have to assume they are sexist. And I definitely do not owe them my time or attention.

        Recently, a man at a local meeting decided that I *had* to prove to him why statutory rape should be a thing. I have no desire to engage in a debate about a definition that has been settled by the laws we have written in our state. Yet, since I am a woman, and a feminist, he was adamant that I explain why adults should be stopped from having sex with those under a specific age.

        This is a debate I do not wish to have. I told him so, repeatedly. Please tell me why I should HAVE to discuss anything with him?

      • http://sinmantyx.wordpress.com/ M. A. Melby

        I don’t think “overtly” means what you think it means.

        I suspect that the spirit of the Secular Woman statement as well as the Secular Census statement: http://www.secularcensus.us/why-we-did-not-sign-open-letter-to-secular-community#letter; is that a dynamic exists between oppressed groups and privileged groups where the abusive behavior of privileged groups is seen as more socially acceptable than the reaction of the group against that behavior that does not have the privilege. This dynamic is pervasive; so pervasive that seemingly common-sense be-civil statements such as the open letter has the potential to be used as just one more “quit being hysterical” or “chose your battles” or “quit being over-sensitive” silencing tactic against those who are harmed by constant micro-aggression or good old fashioned abuse.

        I don’t think the statements of Secular Woman or any other group that didn’t sign-on to the letter should be viewed as a blanket endorsement of any number of statements made by the commentariate on someone’s blog. I think the OP is needlessly conflating those two things.

        In my reading of the statement of Secular Woman, I was much more charitable (irony there) considering the context of the statement. For example, Anita Sarkeesian moderates the comments on her YouTube channel. One of the people who oppose her talking about female tropes in video gaming was so angry that Sarkeesian would not “listen to him” (his own stated motivation) that he created a video game where you got to beat the crap out of her image – give her black eyes, split her lip, create gashes on her face.

        In that context calling on a group of people to “listen” to their opponents is not nearly as benign as it sounds; I think that the OP is confusing “friends we disagree with” with “opponents”.

        • Chris Hallquist

          I think there might be room for reading “opponents” somewhat differently than I did, but declaring the issue of how to define feminism “not up for debate” doesn’t, in my mind, favor such a reading.

          • http://sinmantyx.wordpress.com/ M. A. Melby

            The way I read it is that the definition of feminism was not up for debate. I did not read it as suggesting that topics related to feminism were not up for debate.

            Many opponents of feminism consistently redefine it’s meaning in order to attack it. All that is required for someone to be a feminist is to be a supporter of gender equality; all else is window-dressing. There are certainly “feminist” groups and individuals who would have a difficult time defending their use of the term, as defined. That would be a discussion about those groups, not a discussion concerning the definition.

            When you hear the words, “Feminism is a hate group – a fascist gynocentric plague on humanity bent on relegating men to disposable slaves!!” and variations of that sentiment over-and-over again; well, I took that statement with that context.

            As far as the open letter, I realize that within one context it is completely reasonable and I agree with a great deal of it. I also understand that from a different perspective, there were aspects of it that caused some groups simply not to sign-on.

            Of course, if you are uncertain about the Secular Women’s statement concerning the letter, it would be a small thing to discuss it directly with the people who wrote the response. That is one of the suggestions in the open letter, right?

        • Chris Hallquist

          I should also note that the fact that people use the “your not listening to me” demand in obnoxious ways–a fact I noted in the post–does not justify being automatically suspicious of a call for more listening that was made in a context where such a call makes a lot of sense.

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

            But it wasn’t *automatically*. That’s the whole point. You keep translating informed refusal to debate familiar OVERTLY sexist viewpoints, into much stupider, uninformed, blanket refusals to talk to unknown people.

        • http://twitter.com/iamcuriousblue Iamcuriousblue

          The problem is that the whole concept of “microaggression” can mean practically anything. Basically, if somebody is part of an oppressed group (at least one of the “official” oppressed groups according to “social justice” consensus) and you don’t like something somebody said, you’re a victim of “microaggression”, and that’s a conversation stopper. At that point, any further discussion gets framed in perpetrator/victim terms, rather than two parties with different perspectives that are trying to hash out a difference of opinion.

        • Chris Hallquist

          What do you mean by “micro-agression”? To be frank, some of the usages of that term I see online are obvious bullshit.

          • http://sinmantyx.wordpress.com/ M. A. Melby

            Microagression are relatively inconsequential or unassuming slights (usually unintentional) that taken individually seem very innocuous/not a big deal; however, to the person who may have to deal with them over-and-over again can be extremely irritating or cause distress.

            A good example is the fact that people are constantly asked their gender for no real good reason. I never noticed this, until my transgender nephew pointed it out.

            He went to get a library card and the card included his gender and he needed to show his drivers’ license; which lists him as female.

            So, what should have been an easy thing, was awkward and irritating.

            If that was the only time he had an issue – who cares, right? However, he deals with being miss-gendered and having to discuss his gender constantly; and when you put that all together day-in-and-day-out; it adds up.

            So, it makes sense to attempt to change the policy at the library because there really is no good reason to include gender on your library card. However, because all-by-itself it’s not a big deal, voicing an opposition to having that question listed might be perceived as being “over-sensitive”, “not picking your battles”, etc so forth.

            It’s a “thing” that if someone points out how something is “not cool” or “could be changed” because it constitutes a microagression, many times (regardless of how diplomatic they are about it) there is push-back and defensiveness because the person didn’t intend to offend or be hostile; and becomes annoyed when they are “accused” of not acting appropriately.

          • Drew

            So, it makes sense to attempt to change the policy at the library because there really is no good reason to include gender on your library card.

            From a debt collection standpoint it makes sense to have library records line up with state records. Usually library debts are inconsequential but occasionally not. Also, even though there’s almost never any reason that it should be a problem, library people don’t like people using other people’s cards. Though all of this suggests that the library records should include this information but as to why gender identity should be printed on the card itself, you got me.

          • http://sinmantyx.wordpress.com/ M. A. Melby

            “Though all of this suggests that the library records should include this information but as to why gender identity should be printed on the card itself, you got me.”

            Right – I understand wanting to see his license (that is going to say F unfortunately) – but why the heck have it on the card? They even (I’m not kidding) had large bathroom-style “boy” and “girl” pictures for male and female to check on the paperwork. O.o

  • Ophis

    There does seem to be an odd sort of puritanism in the attitudes of some feminists, and it’s making at least me a little wary of self-identifying as a feminist. As you say, the idea of equality for women is easy to sign up to, but if feminism is defined that way, then I genuinely do not see how the Adria Richards case can be a feminist issue. From the way the jokes were reported, it seems like the men were merely making sexual puns, not directed at any particular person or at women in general (if I’m wrong about this hopefully someone more familiar with the case will correct me).

    That suggests the mere fact that men were using sex-related humour was considered anti-woman, and sufficient cause to publicise their photos, leading (not entirely unpredictably) to people’s jobs being lost.

    I can’t help connecting this with the sort of attitude that in the past led to restrictions on religious speech and open non-heterosexuality: people were offended at hearing (or even overhearing) something they didn’t like, and wanted it silenced.

    I agree totally with the stated aim of feminism, but the way arguments over feminism play out reminds me too much of dogmatic religious and extreme political movements, with splits over arcane matters and absurd accusations being thrown around.

    • http://sinmantyx.wordpress.com/ M. A. Melby

      From the information available, I also think Ms. Richards could have handled the situation better.

      However, saying that “I genuinely do not see how the Adria Richards case can be a feminist issue.” ignores a great deal of what happened afterward. I think her treatment, even if you disagree with her initial action, is very much a problem; not only considering the types of harassment she received but that she was squarely blamed for a decision (the person being fired) that she had absolutely no power over.

      I think it’s certainly a topic for discussion. At what point are sexual jokes and statements disenfranchising? They certainly have, traditionally, been a means of establishing the existence of boy’s clubs. For example, the traditional way of remember the color-codes on resistors (as in the electronic components) is “Bad Boys Rape Our Young Girl But Violet Gives Willingly” – of course, I learned it as “Black” not “Bad”.

      There is a balance there obviously, and I appreciate that you’re holding judgement (as am I) because we really don’t know all the details. There is a history there, though, especially since the people pointing out the problematic nature of those type of jokes in male-dominated fields are generally accused of being prudes or (more recently) the “PC police”. So the pattern recognition may be prone to see any type of sexual joke as part of that larger issue even if, in context, it could also be framed in another way.

      • http://sinmantyx.wordpress.com/ M. A. Melby

        Oh gosh – I meant “with-holding” judgement! Please don’t read that as a Freudian slip; Freud is largely debunked. :)

      • Ophis

        “However, saying that “I genuinely do not see how the Adria Richards case can be a feminist issue.” ignores a great deal of what happened afterward.”
        Looking back at my comment, I can see that I didn’t make this at all clear, but when I wrote that I was thinking of what happened at the conference rather than the reaction to it afterwards. The misogyny shown in the reactions to her is indeed problematic and relevant to issues of sexual equality, and unfortunately is typical of reactions on the internet. But viewing what happened at the conference in isolation, I don’t see what the harm done to women was supposed to be.

        “… that she was squarely blamed for a decision (the person being fired) that she had absolutely no power over”
        I disagree with you here. Richards put the men’s reputation and jobs at risk by publicly identifying who she was accusing. She could have made her complaint privately, or made it publicly without adding a photo identifying the accused. Obviously the employer has responsibility for over-reacting, but Richards should have considered the possibility of that reaction.

        “At what point are sexual jokes and statements disenfranchising?”
        Basically, when they involve gender-based insults to women. Some jokes and comments may be on the line and difficult to judge, but others are very clearly one side or other of the line, and taking offence at any and every reference to sex just encourages anti-feminist reaction and reduces the number of people listening to the better points that feminists make.

        “So the pattern recognition may be prone to see any type of sexual joke as part of that larger issue even if, in context, it could also be framed in another way.”
        I think you’ve identified the basic problem here. It needs to be appreciated that sexual jokes and misogynistic jokes are not the same thing, even if there is overlap. Not appreciating that difference may lead to a regressive puritanism that suppresses reasonable, relaxed attitudes to sex.

        • http://sinmantyx.wordpress.com/ M. A. Melby

          Agreed.

          I appreciate that in a similar situation, I would not dream of public shaming unless other avenues of dealing with the situation broke down pretty terribly.

          What I see as an extreme problem though, is that the responsibility of the firing is being placed “squarely” on her by a significant number of people. I suspect we agree that it smacks of the phenomenon in which women are blamed for others reactions; a phenomenon unfortunately most people who read atheist blogs know way too much about.

          Although her action was imperfect; for some, she is the only one who holds blame at all; even to the point of being blamed for her own harassment. This is what we see all too often. That’s what I was referring to.

          I entertain the notion that the man who was fired (unlike the man who was not) may not have done himself any favors; and Ms. Richards didn’t wave her magical matriarchal manipulation wand over his bosses head at night or something. :)

      • http://twitter.com/iamcuriousblue Iamcuriousblue

        Well, I happen to think there is something to the “prude” and “PC police” accusation, and I think the nature of this over-sensitivity to anything off color needs to be looked at more closely. And I don’t think this problem can be examined honestly without somebody getting their back up and accusing others of “prude-shaming”. C’est la guerre.

        Basically, I look at the PyCon incident very much in the light of what happened a month earlier to Violet Blue at BSides, and that was very much a case where feminist-inspired anti-”sexual imagery” language built into the conference anti-harassment policy was used to censor. I posted an article about this in detail earlier this week:

        http://www.skepticink.com/skepticallyleft/2013/04/07/sunday-sinner-guest-post-iamcuriousblue/

  • Andyman409

    The objection that (some) feminists have to things like sexual jokes, is that they encourage men to continue to think lower of them. Its like how violent media can make people more violent. Personally, I stay the hell away from tricky topics like that.

    (Note that none of the above should be taken to deny that there are plenty of people doing sex work activism who do identify as feminists.)

    The fact that you have to point this out- for fear of being accused of implying something- just shows how conspiratorial some people really are.

    • http://sinmantyx.wordpress.com/ M. A. Melby

      I’m pretty sure talking about sex-negative feminism without mentioning that sex-positive feminism exists; especially when discussing the secular community where sex positive feminism is the norm would absolutely be an omission.

      Why would you characterize the OP mentioning this as being a comment on “some people”?

      • Andyman409

        There’s a difference between ommitting and of not actively affirming. And to be frank, I just dont see the problem with not activly affirming the existence sex positive feminism in this post, considering its context. My guess is that he did it to avoid unwanted controversy; controversy which wouldn’t happen if their weren’t people on the internet practically looking for reasons to get pissed off. This isn’t to say I support ommisions in general. Some ommissions- like the lack of strong female protagonists in hollywood films- can re-inforce streotypes amongst the masses, and should be given attention.

        • Andyman409

          ooops. I meant to say, “this isn’t to say I support ommission-like actions in general*. The idea behind this comment is that, even though female characters may be irrelevant to point the story, their exclusion can have an impat on the viewer.

        • http://sinmantyx.wordpress.com/ M. A. Melby

          I suppose I can see how he already framed that section of the article in terms of: “But much of what passes for “feminism” is ridiculous and even harmful.”

          So, he essentially was saying that sex-negative feminism isn’t feminism at all. With that (second) reading, not mentioning sex-positive feminism isn’t an omission.

          Still, when writing blog posts about people (in general) it makes sense to be clear so that you aren’t interpreted as over-generalizing. I don’t read into his “need” to include that as being uniquely frightened of being lambasted.

          • Chris Hallquist

            “he essentially was saying that sex-negative feminism isn’t feminism at all”

            FWIW, I was trying to avoid an explicit stand on that question. The question of what’s really feminism isn’t a fight I care to be in. But yes, you may have detected a hint of skepticism in my voice.

  • Edward Gemmer

    A lot of them just hide behind feminism as an excuse to be an asshole.

  • EllenBeth Wachs

    I am so tired of hearing people use the excuse that you are “tone trolling” when you ask them to stop belittling you. Asking someone to not verbally abuse me is not “tone trolling” If someone acted like these people act in person, no one would throw out that silly taunt. That is abuse, plain and simple. Imagine all of these people surrounding one person screaming these invectives at them.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpsGRYbhBbM

    • http://sinmantyx.wordpress.com/ M. A. Melby

      I have mixed feelings about the commentariat on that blog, and I certainly had a horrible experience there when I was first seeking out camaraderie with Secularists. (You can image how that turned out.)

      After wading in unaware, I’ve returned a few times and occasionally the hostility almost feels refreshing. There’s a certain appeal to an allowance for extreme “honesty” of emotion; while simultaneously seeing people socially fried the moment the person assumes someone is male or uses the word “retard”.

      It is what it is, though, and much of what it is – is problematic. The best way I could describe it, is that it’s an internet equivalent of chess-boxing.

  • MNb

    “Now I myself am not Mr. Nice Guy.”
    Yes, you are. That’s why it’s nice – for me at least – to comment here when I disagree with you. You don’t unleas hell and discourage your commenters to do so.
    PZ – and Jerry Coyne to a large extent the same – deny it, but essentially follow the principle “if you’r not with us you’re against us”. It’s their blogs, so they are fully entitled to, but the result is that their commenters are only yes(wo)men.
    Quite a few of their articles are still good or very good, so I keep on reading them. But I hardly ever read the comments.
    Though the adjective militant is for all the well known reasons misplace I think dogmatic fits very well.
    You hit the nail on its head. When you call someone a liar, a*sh**e or whatever the burden of proof is on you. When it’s your first reaction it’s just an ad hominem. And I don’t think an atheist using a logical fallacy is any better than a believer doing so.

    “not something I want to be associated with”
    Since several months I have wondered – I can’t prove it though – if writing for FtB affects the quality of writing. Before and after you several other have moved to Patheos – even PZ has noticed – and since then I think them more interesting.
    At the other hand I have quit reading at least one Ft Blogger since he/she moved. I still think the old posts much better.
    The only exception imo is Mano Singham.

    As for feminism: I am all for equal rights and opportunities; I do my best to put this in practice too. Especially the latter is relevant as most of my colleagues, my deputy director and most of my pupils are female.

    • Chris Hallquist

      Well, I’m not Dan Fincke at any rate. I just wanted to be clear I’m not arguing from a “be polite to everyone all the time” point of view.

  • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

    While the “unleash hell” thing is certainly silly, and in all seriousness, hilarious given the difference between in person and in the safety of pharyngula behavior those folks engage in, I think the *far* more offensive “if you disagree with me, you are a bad, evil, person” post is this one:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/12/06/never-forget/comment-page-1/

    Its meaning is clear: if you do not agree completely with PZ, you are naught but a wannabe spree killer, too cowardly to even take the action you must so desire to take.

    That post, right there, is the perfect illustration of why so many people have issues with PZ et al.

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com Qu Quine

    The lack of civility in these discussions has directly reduced the level of thought involved, and has been a distraction to the necessary organizing of public opinion. We are reaping what we have sown.

  • Kendall

    Regarding authoritarianism/puritanism in feminism, it always seems to me that there’s a big inconsistency between the outlook of individuals who identify as feminists, and the policies of feminist organisations.

    Individual feminists are extremely diverse. If I look online I can find everyone from transphobic Marxists who view porn as filmed rape, to libertarian transsexual pornographers, all identifying as feminists. Yet when I look at major feminist groups (in Europe/UK at least) they almost all seem to take a radical feminist stance and push for censorship and criminalisation. When feminist organisations get a significant amount of power and influence, repressive laws inevitably seem to follow.

    There’s a lot of anti-sex industry activism that I’d expect liberal feminists to be fighting against (especially when sex workers are being slut shamed and blamed for causing rape), yet sex worker activists rarely seem to have much organised support from feminists outside their movement. Where are the sex positive feminist organisations that are even remotely comparable with groups like the European Women’s Lobby?

    • http://sinmantyx.wordpress.com/ M. A. Melby

      “Yet when I look at major feminist groups (in Europe/UK at least) they almost all seem to take a radical feminist stance and push for censorship and criminalisation. When feminist organisations get a significant amount of power and influence, repressive laws inevitably seem to follow.”

      I don’t think that follows. I also have some strong opposition to the tactics of some feminists in Europe. You just jumped from “[these feminists I disagree with have power and are working to enact laws]” to “repressive laws inevitably seem to follow” from feminist groups having power; which is demonstrably false considering martial rape is not longer legal in the U.S., women can vote, married women can hold property, etc so forth.

      “Where are the sex positive feminist organisations that are even remotely comparable with groups like the European Women’s Lobby?”

      The seeds of those hypothetical strong organizations, are dealing with a strong lack-of-support right now – currently – as in right here, right now.

      • Kendall

        When I mentioned repressive laws, I was specifically referring to the censorship/criminalisation of porn and the sex industry (as seen in “feminist” countries like Sweden and Iceland). I agree with mainstream feminists when it comes to the issues you list, as well as things like abortion rights, so I didn’t mean to imply that every law feminists have fought for is repressive.

        Of course I shouldn’t have said that this was inevitable. I think repressive sex work laws are pretty much assured whenever the current feminist movement gets power and influence, but I should have acknowledged that this could change.

        “The seeds of those hypothetical strong organizations, are dealing with a strong lack-of-support right now – currently – as in right here, right now.”

        The question is why aren’t they getting support in the here and now?

        I often see it claimed that the more puritanical and authoritarian radical feminists don’t represent mainstream feminism. In fact, I’ve had that argument with several people in the sceptic community recently, and have been repeatedly accused of attacking a straw feminist. If that’s the case then it doesn’t make sense to me that the largest feminist organisations would be full of “straw feminists”, while the liberal sex-positive “majority” has none of their power and influence.

        I’m starting to view liberal feminists in the same way I view pro-choice Catholics. They’re usually good people and I agree with their stance, but they’re not representative of their belief system or the goals of the leading organisations within it. In the same way that greater Catholic influence will likely lead to erosion of abortion rights (despite the existence of liberal pro-choice Catholics), greater feminist influence will likely lead to criminalisation of porn, stripping, and prostitution (despite some sex positive feminists writing angry blog posts about it). In both cases I don’t see much chance of that changing in the near future.

        • http://sinmantyx.wordpress.com/ M. A. Melby

          Thanks for the explanation.

          I think it’s easy to fall into illusions of prevalence based on our experiences; as well as falling back on an “us/them” thing (feminists vs. anti-feminists).

          I don’t see your criticism as a non-problem and the analogy is fair to a point. I’m not as quite as pessimistic though.

        • http://twitter.com/iamcuriousblue Iamcuriousblue

          Kendell – It’s important to keep in mind that different countries have different feminist cultures, and you are correct to note that in Europe, especially northern Europe, second wave radical feminism is still very dominant and quite mainstream and defines the agenda of groups like European Women’s Lobby.

          In the US, more sex-positive and third-wave perspectives have been more predominant since the 1990s. (Canada falls somewhere between the US and nothern Europe.) I’d characterize current US feminism as “post-third wave” or “fourth wave”, in that it’s deeply internalized third-wave ideas of “intersectionality”, and has a strongly pro-trans orientation, but on the other hand there’s been some degree of backlash against classic sex-positive feminism, which is probably too liberal (and by “liberal”, I mean “liberal” from the point of view of radicalism, not conservatism) for the current increasingly radicalized crop of feminists. A feature of current feminism is a distinct neo-Marxist orientation (exemplified in the framing of practically everything around the concept of “privilege”), though it tends to be hidden under the term “social justice”, with very few of it’s practitioners seeming aware or its Marxist roots. For somebody like me who’s old enough to remember the foibles and shortcomings of the older generation of the Marxist New Left, it’s very frustrating to see current feminists and other “social justice” types making all the same mistakes, pushing some of the same bad ideas, and learning very little from the experiences of the older generations of the Left.

          • http://sinmantyx.wordpress.com/ M. A. Melby

            Thanks so much for sharing your prospective. I know I have a lot to learn.

            Right now, there are some discussions – essentially what to call ourselves. There appear to be a reasonably coherent “wave” of feminism without a name. It’s not “RadFem” and it’s not quite “liberal feminism” either.

            The fact that someone more knowledgeable about these things also searches for a name, makes me think the my intuition isn’t too far off.

          • Chris Hallquist

            I’m a 20-something, but vaguely aware of the dynamics of those older left-wing groups. I wonder, though, whether it’s an issue of Marxism so much as a general dynamic that infects ideological groups: see Eliezer Yudkowsky on death spirals.

          • baal

            “ideological groups”
            That^.
            I’ve taken to distinguishing groups between those driven by the real world and those driven by ideology. The former focus on whatever facts are at hand and work to craft a way forward that’s better for the most people. Reality is starting place and the evaluator for success. The later groups focus on ‘good’ as that which supports the ideology and ‘bad’ as that which works against the ideology. Under that scheme, the only outcome the matters is the ‘strength’ of the ideology.

            Sorting the two out can take a while but looking for how a group argues and how much of the context they think is relevant to a given issue can be telling.

  • https://twitter.com/mistressmatisse mistressmatisse

    Glad to know you found my way of handling the “are you a feminist?” question useful! ;>

    • Chris Hallquist

      Thanks!

  • The Devil’s Towelboy

    While I haven’t seen PZ ever quite sink to the level of some of his commenters…

    Blink, rub, rub, blink. Really?

    I remember following the events of that day intently, horrified that there are people who will kill women simply because they are women. And these anonymous monsters on the internet who shriek affrontedly about women and feminists and moan that any feminist allies are ‘manginas’ — to me, every one of them has the name Marc Lépine, and is just hiding it in shame and fear and hatred and cowardice.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/12/06/never-forget/

    We’re not just Schrödinger’s rapists any more. Now we’re Schrödinger spree killers, all just tenuously hanging by a thread. Not all that different to antisemites claiming Jews want your infant’s blood for their rituals is it?

    Myers doesn’t just “sink to the level of some of his commenters” – he knocks the bottom out of the barrel and digs like there’s no tomorrow.

    • http://sinmantyx.wordpress.com/ M. A. Melby

      I highly doubt he is talking about you. Why do you think he is?

      Some of the internet anti-feminist crew are, in a very real sense, creepy as shit, are obsessed as fuck, and occasionally vomit some serious emotional/psychological baggage onto vocal women (especially younger women) and anyone who would dare defend those women from attack.

      And yes, someone using the word “mangina” probably isn’t very emotionally mature – sorry. However, in a charitable reading, the use of the word “monster” sort of narrows the field a bit more than even that.

      • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

        Well that’s the beauty of it. If you complain, then someone can say, well, why do you think he’s talking about you? Well, here’s the thing, PZ has been pretty clear about one thing: there’s no grey area. You are either completely *with* him in every way, agreeing with him on every issue, or you are the enemy, anti-woman, in fact, you don’t even think of women as *human*.

        So how do I know PZ’s talking about me? Because I don’t perfectly meet the first condition of his “with me or against me” litmus test.

        As well, exactly why should I, or any of the people PZ has cheerfully tarred for the past couple years have one iota of charity towards him, when it is obvious that he (proudly and loudly) has none for any who disagree with him on anything?

        • http://sinmantyx.wordpress.com/ M. A. Melby

          Ah. Well, thanks for answering my question.

  • ScottInOH

    Your previous post asked which blogs have comments worth reading. Especially seeing your interest expressed in this post, I would recommend Libby Anne’s “Love, Joy, Feminism,” which is right here on Patheos.

    • Chris Hallquist

      Good point.

  • http://twitter.com/iamcuriousblue Iamcuriousblue

    “I’m a big proponent of the idea that people aren’t generally to blame for their comment sections. But PZ hasn’t just been allowing, but encouraging, this kind of behavior for a very long time. Last December, when Ed Brayton tried to defend PZ by saying you shouldn’t judge a blog by the comments. PZ’s response was to write a post titled “In defense of the commentariat” where he told his commenters, “you are the people I want here, and I affectionately regard you all as my local meatgrinder. Please don’t change. And when necessary, unleash hell.”

    While I haven’t seen PZ ever quite sink to the level of some of his commenters, his own behavior is often quite similar if not to the same degree, for example assuming atheists who disagree with him on certain issues must by lying rather than having an honest difference of opinion.”

    I’m not sure if you ever saw this YouTube discussion PZ was involved in, but it’s very symptomatic:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Q7PprXJ-h8

    Some of PZ’s comments during what’s supposedly a civil discussion between people who aren’t really that far apart in points of view leave little doubt that the atmosphere at Pharyngula is a reflection of PZ’s often disagreeable personality. If he was just one blogger with a disagreeable personality, it wouldn’t be such a big deal – there are plenty of those to go around. The fact that he’s a very influential blogger and sets an example for behavior that’s encouraged not just on his blog, but well beyond Pharyngula is where the problem lies.

    “Now I can imagine someone making similar objections to the “atheist” label, explicit definitions be damned, as the objections I’ve just sketched towards the “feminist” label. In the “atheist” case, I have no problem calling myself an atheist and I think the reasons people who are basically atheists give for not not calling themselves atheists are kind of silly”

    I agree – for me, atheism is defined by a particular intellectual stance on the idea of divinity and the supernatural, and as a rational person who has arrived at that position by what I think is a rational process, I’m not about to abandon that simply based on emotional dislike of some of the other well-known figures who call themselves atheists. Also, I don’t think of atheism as a particular ideology – I’m a minimal-definition “dictionary atheist” in that regard – so unlike “feminism”, I don’t feel that labeling myself an atheist is making any big ideological commitment.

    However, the approach by PZ and company to political questions has not only turned me off to that version of “feminism” and “social justice” (and I’ll stress that it’s only one version – there are more benign kinds of feminism I most certainly don’t reject), but “New Atheism” more generally. If this belligerent approach clearly isn’t working with socio-political questions, it probably isn’t to hot of an approach to winning people over to reason, skepticism, and atheism either.

    Mind you, I haven’t gone the other way and become an outright accommodationist. I find Gould’s NOMA principal intellectually very unsatisfying, and I see nothing wrong with an intellectual stance that rejects the idea of the divine and the supernatural without apology. Also, a strong defense of secularism and full civil rights for people with any religious belief or lack thereof is something I don’t see much room for compromise on. At the same time, I see no need to be disagreeable, belligerent, and angry as a matter of first recourse about the topic. Sure, there are plenty of specific injustices to be angry about and fight back against, but being insulting toward religion just for the sake of showing strong opposition is ultimately counter-productive.

    • Chris Hallquist

      I’d caution that “being insulting toward religion just for the sake of showing strong opposition” sounds pointless, but there are lots of other, legitimate reasons for doing things believers regard as insulting, including creating a background environment where believers realize it’s futile to enforce their taboos on others. A world without Everybody Draw Muhammad Day is a world where it’s that much more dangerous

      • http://twitter.com/iamcuriousblue Iamcuriousblue

        I can understand that point. I would consider a religious group attempting to enforce their beliefs on others to be a provocation to begin with, and something like Draw Muhammad Day as a confrontational but not-uncalled-for response.

      • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

        The problem with the glee of being insulting towards theists is that well, people don’t know where to stop. They dump on theists, call them whatever name they wish and get…cheers. This goes on long enough until it starts to get a bit boring and the cheers die down, so now, a new target is needed so they get the same reaction again. If it means parsing the list of “good” people a bit more finely, well, hey, look, people are cheering us on, we can’t be wrong, can we?

  • A Hermit

    Martin Luther King Jr was SO RUDE! He just wouldn’t listen to the KKK…

    • Ophis

      You’ve missed the entire point of the post, and most of the comments. The point isn’t to say we should be more polite and accommodating to people who are as openly misogynistic as the KKK is openly racist. The point is we shouldn’t be alienating people who agree with our fundamental aims by saying everyone who disagrees with us on individual cases or methods must be some kind of bigot.

    • MNb

      What’s more, CH explains why MLK Jun. first listened to the KKK before he got rude towards them.

    • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

      yeah. It’s a good thing he encouraged his followers to attack people as often and viciously as possible…

      O WAIT

    • Andyman409

      Wow! Look at how hard you roached that Strawman! You even burned down the entire strawfield just to be safe!

    • Silentbob

      “I have a dream! A dream that one day asshole fuckwit douchenozzles will shove decaying porcupines up their backsides.”

      Nah. Don’t remember that bit.


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