Greg Laden won’t have sex with me.

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Sorry for the absence yesterday, gang.  I decided to spend the day hanging out with my brother.  A lot of the people I know say the love their families even though they try to keep their interactions with them to a minimum.  I’m very lucky.  My brother and my parents are my best friends.  I wish we had more time together.

Anyway, Greg Laden really didn’t like my post the other day about Ron Lindsay.  You can tell because of what he said about me personally:

I just read, and it was very very hard to read, JT’s post on his blog i which he tries to let everyone know that he really is a feminist, yet he also really agrees with Ron that feminists are doing it wrong. A word of advice for JT: You know that thing that people say, that if you act like a feminist the feminists will sleep with you? Its a joke. It does not really happen. You can stop now, JT.

Oh snap!  He’s on to me.  Here I’ve been giving the impression that I empathize with harassment and inequality, not just because I give a damn about justice and fairness in general, but also because I have friends in the movement like Stephanie Zvan who have been harassed by a cabal of very malicious people and that pisses me off.  But Greg has seen through that hard-to-believe ruse.  What if my fiancee finds out?  At least then I can stop pretending like the subversion and harassment of friends bothers me, right?

The first thing to note is that Greg places the dichotomy between being a feminist and thinking that feminists are doing it wrong (or, as I would put it, many feminists could be doing better in their interactions with potential allies) as if the two are incompatible.  This is something that I think comes out a great deal when feminism is on the table that I don’t think is present most other places.  I mean, I’ve told atheist activists that I thought altering their approach in particular ways would be more productive.  Most of us have.  I imagine suggestions for improvement happen in all facets life with nobody assuming ill-intent or subversive mechanics are at play.  Why are people so worried about it when discussing feminism?

Note also the re-interpretation in the worst possible light.  I didn’t think that some tweaks could be made so that the harassers and true enemies of equality could be denounced without also making an appreciable number people who agree with our cause want nothing to do with us (as well as nothing to do with them).  No, I thought feminists (all of them?) were doing “it” wrong, whatever “it” is.

We also have the projection of intent, as if Greg can read the contents of my mind and felt them to be a more worthy subject than the contents of the post.  I don’t want to help women, I want to get laid even though I’m engaged (or, metaphorically, I have some other selfish motivation for considering myself a feminist that’s not giving a shit about other people).  So often I see assaults on somebody’s motivation when the assaulting party has no real means to discern that motivation (as if knowing someone’s true, devious motivation would make that person wrong even if people like Laden did have psychic powers).  This alienates people and makes them not want to help us.  And it doesn’t alienate only slymepitter archetypes, but it also alienates good people who don’t want to deal with stuff like this, or even be lumped in with the slymepitter archetypes if they offer a critique of people in a cause they support.  If we’re trying to rally a movement, that’s not a good thing.

Am I saying that all feminists do the things I’ve highlighted in this post (and in Greg’s)?  No.  Am I saying enough do that it’s a problem?  Yes.  The 1,000+ words of disclaimers and clarifications I put into my post the other day was not an accident (and it was not lost on many of the commenters).  Pointing out these things and asking people to stop is a friendly concern because I care.  If you think that attacking a person’s motivations instead of addressing their stated position is a bad thing, then this should not be controversial.  If you think wholly uncharitable responses to people is a bad thing, then this should not be controversial.  If you think someone can appreciate the cause of feminism while also thinking there are ways to make it more effective, then this should not be controversial.  These things are bad whether atheists do them, whether feminists do them, whether black people or white people do them, etc.  These are just not good ways to create a welcome environment for our cause no matter who you are.

If you think the post I wrote the other day does more damage to feminism than stuff like this bit from Greg Laden, I’m not sure what else I can say to you.  And if you read me saying “attacking somebody’s motivation instead of what they said is a bad thing” and hear me denouncing feminism, then I’m not sure what else I can say to you.  And if the way to get laid is to emulate Laden’s behavior, I’d rather stay chaste unto death.

I’m not asking anybody to be less angry about injustice.  I’m not asking anybody to be less passionate.  I’m not asking anybody to stop denouncing harassers and other truly bad people (hell, I encourage this and will happily join you).  But I am asking people to stop assaulting hidden motivations instead of what someone actually said their concerns were (if you don’t do this, awesome!  This is not directed at you).  I’m asking people not to conflate criticism with opposition (if you don’t do this, awesome!  This is not directed at you).  I know for a fact that these things are pushing away people (both prominent and not) who care and I don’t want it to continue.  Feminism is not turning away would-be allies, but some feminists who loudly and regularly toss out passages like this one from Greg Laden are.

When you care deeply about a cause, I understand the worry of being hamstrung while your opponents are vicious and unscrupulous.  I get that.  My goal is not to hamstring.  In fact, the only reason I’m not just laughing off Greg’s comment is because I know the type of effect such comments can have.  I think fewer of this specific type of comment (though not fewer comments, and certainly not less outrage) will enable people, men and women, to more easily join our ranks.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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