The Atheist Boys Club and Online Misogyny as Sport

On-line misogyny. The anonymous crime against human dignity.

Leah Libresco, who blogs at Unequally Yoked and bills herself the “geeky convert” wrote a fascinating post last week about online misogyny from the atheist perspective.

Her post, Ave atque vale, Jen McCreight, discusses how one female blogger has been forced to retire from blogging due to online attacks from the atheist boy’s club. Ms McCreight’s  explanation for quitting is both straightforward and poignant. I just can’t take it anymore, she said. According to the post, the group primarily responsible for these misogynist attacks bills itself FtBullies.

I’m not going to repeat the things Ms McCreight has suffered at the hands of these people. Leah Libresco covers it in her post, as does Ms McCreight in hers. If you want to see it, you can follow the links. I’m also not going to discuss her beliefs.

The important issue to me is that she is a woman and she has been attacked to the point that she feels compelled to remove her voice from the public debate simply because she’s a woman. Do I need to tell you that this is wrong? I doubt it. Anyone who sincerely tries to follow Jesus Christ already knows that.

The simple fact is, we should never treat human beings made in the image and likeness of God in this degrading manner. We do not have the right terrorize women into silence with threats of rape and by sludging their names all over the internet. Brutalizing women, whether it’s done physically or verbally, is wrong. It is a sin.

Before I began writing this post, I googled “internet misogyny.” I got a pageful of hits with more pages to follow. It was, for the most part, articles by women trying to defend women against this sadistic menace. You can look here, here, here or here. I picked these because they were the first four hits. I don’t vouch for their brilliance or even the specifics of their facts. What I do vouch for is that they point to a real and growing problem of misogyny directed against women in our society.

The debate following Leah Libresco’s post evidently fell along predictable lines. I didn’t read it, but she did, and what she read moved her to write two more posts, defending Ms McCreight’s decision to step down. Based on what she said in these posts, I am assuming that some people felt that Ms McCreight should just toughen up, “take the heat,” and get on with it.

My first thought about this was that it sounded suspiciously like they were expecting the victim to “handle” what no one should be asked to “handle” in a civilized society. Do we believe that misogyny is something that women should learn to accept, and that if they don’t learn to accept it, there’s something wrong with them?

As I said earlier, I’m not going to address Jen McCreight’s beliefs. Whatever she believes she has the right to talk about it in public venues without being assaulted by the misogynist boys club competing in their favorite sport. I’m also not going to discuss the irony of such rampant misogyny from the self-proclaimed “tolerance” police of our society. Ms McCreight did a fine job of that in her post How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism that you will find here.

My point is that misogyny is wrong. It is cowardly. When it’s done anonymously over the internet, it sinks to levels of spineless cowardice that defy description. It is also a particularly virulent form of cyber-stalking, which means that it is probably illegal and punishable by criminal statutes.

However, the message I want to convey with this post is not about legal sanctions. It’s about us; about Christians and how we should treat other people. It is simple. If you are a Christian: 

Do not engage in misogynist attacks against women.

Do not go to websites that do this.

Do not click on links that lead to it.

If one of your kids starts using their computer time for this, stop them.

We bear the name of Christ. He has taught us to be better than that.

  • Arkenaten

    It would have been better, at least for context, if you had explained that Jen McCreight is an atheist and the atheist misogynist fools that were abusing her online were (by the sound of the post) a minority.
    To even consider this type of nonsense would not even cross my mind, and neither anyone I have ever come across in the years I have been writing online.
    Whether one is atheist or religious this behaviour is disgusting.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      That’s a good point. Thank you for making it.

  • Rich Hadley

    As a pastor I have supplemented my income by sub teaching over the years. Something in your blog post stirred a memory. My experience of many schools is that the approach to various bullying abuses is to teach the victim how to cope or manage rather than draw the hard line of intolerance toward abusive behavior. Since I am not a teacher or in educational administration I was left to presume that someone, somewhere had some rationale (misguided or not) for choosing this approach. When you say that the response fell along predictable line whereas many expected her to drive on and be encouraged on to some measure of heroic martyrdom of the self, I could only shake my head. Courage should be more properly placed on our shoulders and not force fed into those whose crisis makes them convenient iconic human shields of the hard issues.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Rich, I think it’s telling that the way these things were handled was the encourage the victim to “cope” with it. Now that I think about it, that’s what happened to one of my sons with bullying in public school. That practice is not only unjust, it’s cowardly. It also indicates a partial explanation for the plethora of bullies in our society.
      Thanks for the comment.

  • Mr. V.

    It’s sick the way the so-called Internet trolls behave. They somehow seem to think they’re doing something noble by offering what they view nothing more or less than criticism. Criticism seems to be the only thing they hold sacred. But they’re divorced from reality. If they took the time to really sit down and think about their behavior, they would realize just how awful it is. I would bet money not a single person of that type would act like that in public around other people.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      I think you’re right that most of them do not behave this way in their “real” lives. One of the many tragedies of us allowing this behavior is that it silences good people and keeps them from having their say. That’s one reason among several why I don’t allow it on this blog.

  • Jessica Hoff

    There is, I am afraid, something about the Internet which seems to breed this sort of thing. There is one site I will not visit because the comments were so obviously designed to attack a woman who dared post there as an overt Christian. Good post Rebecca.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      I know Jessica. I’ve seen similar sites. It is disgusting.

  • Bill Genereux

    These stories are very distressing to me. A wonderful author and educator in the field of computer science, Kathy Sierra had a similar experience a few years ago and stopped blogging.

    Blogging is a gift of self to the world. Few are paid for freely sharing their thoughts online, and the internet world loses some of its richness when women withdraw like this.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Bill. There is no freedom of speech when people are forced to withdraw from the public debate because thugs feel free to use threats to silence those they disagree with.

  • Erik Jaros

    The trolls referred to in this post call themselves atheists. And that may be true, in that they choose not to believe in a higher power. But they are hardly representative of the atheists I am familiar with (myself included). Non-belief does not give you a free pass to behave despicably. We are all in this together.

    • Michael Anderson

      Regarding the loss of meaning for misogyny, that is a sad thing. Words like that need to retain their power. We need to be shocked at intolerance and threats and other means used to implicitly or explicitly threaten anyone.

      Also, exactly what Erik said – the innuendo carried in the first in last paragraph implies condescension to atheists. That is religious intolerance – aka another form of hate. And coming from a majoritarian religious group with legal and societal standing that provides them privilege, you should certainly see the danger of at least perceived hypocrisy in more or less calling out atheists, then implying ‘Christ taught us to be better than that’ with ‘that’ also including ‘them’.

      I know that my church and priests I worked with as a teen taught me to be better than that as well – without thinking I needed to somehow single out ‘them’.

  • Ted Seeber

    My real problem is that the word now means almost nothing.

    Pro-lifers are misogynists. Men’s groups are misogynist. The Knights of Columbus is Misogynist.

    This gets to the level it did with my mistaken responses to Leah’s posts. I failed to see the real misogyny going on because of all the fake charges of misogyny out there.

    And I still do not understand how chainsaws and rape go together. Chainsaws to me are a tool only to be used on trees.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      I agreee. People use serious words like misogyny for their shock value, and by so doing, cheapen them — and us.