Harassers of Stephanie Zvan, Rebecca Watson, and others are jerks.

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I got linked a post by Stephanie Zvan where she talked about responding to a comment on my post about Greg Laden the other day.  The comment was:

If you’re really about supporting Stephanie, why didn’t she tell her “husband,” Greg, that in the first place, since she wears the pants in that “family.” And, contra Chimako, Laden regularly has such fails, usually deliberate.

Stephanie was upset that an insufficient number of people had responded.  But I did respond.  Like most people I had no idea what he was talking about.  I suspected it might be a childish and inept dig like someone commenting under the name Sleezy Lyers and said that if that were the case that it was pretty weak.

It turns out that the commenter is a guy who has asserted that the only reason Greg Laden would agree with Stephanie is if they were having sex, and this is an extension of that assertion.  So, let me again be as clear as I possibly can: Stephanie Zvan is a great person who has been very good to me in my interactions with her.  She cares very deeply about those around her.  I like and respect Stephanie.  The harasser in question is an asshole and his remark was childish, spiteful, meant to hurt, and contained no argument worth hearing.  The harassers of women, the slymepitters, are bad people.  I have been unequivocal about this.

If an asshole leaves a comment on my blog, especially when I haven’t had my eye to the comments because I’m trying to enjoy the limited time I get with my brother, I think it’s entirely unfair to take the existence of the comment as my endorsement of the comment.  Surely people understand that not every comment on a blog represents the opinions of the blog’s author.

I read through some of the rest of the comments on Stephanie’s post and there’s one I want to address while I’m on this.

As far as I understand, JT thinks he’s being fair/doing something good. He thinks that’s the way to go and that he’s being an ally to women with this legitimization of harassers. He can be the voice of reason in the great “are women inferior to men” debate.

Fuck them. The amount of ‘allies’ who think they have the full vision of power dynamics because they occupy the high ground is getting ridiculous (and of course the solution is ‘hug your harasser’). Nugent, Lindsay, now JT.

In my post about CFI and about what Greg Laden said I have been as clear as I can possibly be that there are slimy people in this movement who should be denounced, chief among them being harassers like Justin Vacula and the guy who left the comment about Greg and Stephanie being married.  Part of my point has been the worry that people have about commenting on feminist issues is that their comments will be interpreted in the worst possible light, their devotion to fairness (not a failure in method, but their devotion to equality) will be questioned, etc.  My position is not that harassers should be hugged (or even liked, or anything other than rebuked), but that doing things like that alienates people who are not the harasser archetype.  I’d like to see it stop, and I don’t see how that is controversial.

I wrote a post saying I thought many people made an error in approach to the CFI situation.  I never said anybody was a bad person (in fact, I reiterated how I thought everybody involved were actually very good and admirable people) or an enemy to fairness, just that I thought many got it wrong in that case.  Since that time the response has often been implications or flat out assertions that I am opposed to equality, absent compassion for those around me, tolerant of harassers, lacking of intelligence, or otherwise worthy of contempt.  Can you not see how this would might negatively impact the way many people who are not completely and utterly bad people might view your cause?

So I don’t see how I’ve legitimized harassers by saying they are slime that should be kept at bay from the larger movement.  That seems to be the opposite of legitimization to me.  If you read a statement like:

I also think that most of the people who inhabit the slymepit are, well, slime.  I read some of their comments upon my engagement and it was elementary school rage at a social enemy’s happiness all over again.  I have no love for that group.  Chief among them is Justin Vacula who I consider to be one of the most childish, obtuse, and despicable atheists on the planet.  He’s a cruel person and I don’t like him.  I’m not here to defend Justin Vacula or his ilk.

Or:

To the slymepitters, calm the fuck down.  Stop poking and prodding for the sake of antagonizing people you disagree with.  You know you do it, and it just makes you assholes.  Also, ditch Vacula.  Don’t let personal grudges become more important to you than social injustice.  That’s not the way to become “brave heroes” (the most redundant pairing of words since “tasty delicious”).

And you hear “hug your harasser”, there’s not much more I can say to you.  Why do you think I included so many disclaimers and clarifications in my CFI post?  I did it to avoid saying “I don’t think what Ron Lindsay said was as bad as it’s being made out to be (even though it was bad)” without having that get turned into “JT supports the harassers of women”.  Can you not see how this type of thing is not only a bad way to interact with other people (people who have worked and written in favor of women’s rights/equality), but a bad way to make your movement appealing to good people who are getting eyes on it for the first time?

So here’s where I stand: I want us all to call out bullshit when we see it.  The harassers of women?  They’re bad people.  When I talk about alienating potential allies I have been as precise as possible in reminding people that I’m not talking about harassers and misogynists.  Pitters and harassers are no more potential allies in the cause of women’s equality than theists are potential allies in the task of destroying faith.  That they harass especially good people like Stephanie Zvan makes me loathe them all the more.  When I talk about my worry of people becoming silent, neutral, or alienated, I’m talking about the people who have zero love for the pit, who empathize with the inequalities facing women, but who worry that by speaking about the issue they’ll be accused of snuggling up to harassers or of saying things they didn’t actually say.  I don’t see how anybody could possibly think I want to see this resolved for any other reason than the success of the feminist cause (which would happen at the expense of the harassers and pitters, much to my elation).

For years I have considered myself a friend of most of the FtB writers, have praised the site, and have asserted without repentance that I miss everybody there.  I continue to do so.  And yet when considering talking about the issue of tactics within feminism (all the while affirming the cause of feminism) even I have had the fear of being cast as a villain for making a critique in good faith.  And comments like the one above, and there are plenty of them, are the reason that worry exists.  I don’t point it out because I’m an ally to harassers.  I point it out because I think it’s doing legitimate damage to the cause of the good guys (and gals).

I also want to see people in the feminist movement do the same as me.  Stephanie, you know me.  Surely you know that I’m no friend to cruel people or to cruelty in general and surely you don’t think I see you unhappy and brush it off without a care.  So when you see someone asserting that I want you or anybody else to hug a harasser, can you call them out on it too?  I’m not asking you to delete any comments, but at least call them out the way I have made efforts to call out Vacula and the pitters (and not just in my recent posts, remember when I went after the SCA for bringing Vacula on board?).

Unless you actually believe that my message is that we need to be more friendly to cruel people.  In which case I’m pretty sure all I can do about that is be sad.

PZ came into the comments of Stephanie’s post after I had offered to rebuke the commenter and did the right thing.  After I had said I didn’t know what the commenter was talking about, PZ explained it to me:

JT — this is a really common theme. Learn to be aware of it.

I am constantly informed that the only reason I support women is because I want sex from them. I have been sent pornographic sagas about me having sex with Rebecca Watson, a woman young enough to be my daughter. This recent noise from Adelaide featured Mark Senior claiming I had groupies and that I was ogling them lasciviously…all stuff in the mind of that author.

It is one of the first and most common accusations these assholes — and I definitely include Steve Snyder among the assholes, even if his ego is so colossal that he refuses to side with the slyme, despite sharing the same attitudes — that they attempt to discredit every effort at equality by imputing their motives to others

And now I know and can be on the look out for it in the future.  He said “learn to be aware of it” and now I’m well on my way.  PZ’s comment treated me like I was someone who didn’t know something, not as somebody who was applauding cruelty.  If PZ Myers, god of all things uncivil, can do this (and presumably see the value in treating people like they want to help/understand), then surely we all can.

Not knowing things is not a crime.  In all areas every single person will have things of which they’re unaware.  This shouldn’t stop them from having opinions or from vocalizing opinions, otherwise nobody would ever be able to say anything.  Life is a learning process, and for causes we care about we should help well-intentioned people along that road.

Another comment that deserves attention is this one:

I know one prong of his moderation policy, at least, is to ban people who are mean to him by telling him he’s not being the super duper bestest ever ally.

Like with Pharyngula, a brief perusal of the comments section of my blog will reveal several comments from people who don’t like me and who go to great lengths to make it known.  They’re not banned and they’re not deleted.  Not liking me and not agreeing with me are not crimes.  I’ve even banned people who like me but who were disruptive to the site.  So I don’t think the commenter “knows” this.

My comment policy is pretty loose.  As long as somebody’s not derailing a thread, I don’t moderate much (probably the product of growing up reading Pharyngula).  In fact, I think I’ve banned more atheists from my blog than believers (4 atheists to 3 theists).  But this only goes if I’m reading the comments, and I haven’t looked at the comments on the Laden post since there were about thirty.  I’m enjoying family time right now.  And, admittedly, I get bothered that someone who has known me, who knows my character, would first assume I’m endorsing shitty people instead of not reading the comments until the next day (or even later).  :(

Stephanie said of the comment section of my Greg Laden post::

Providing a forum for more abuse to go unchallenged while simultaneously telling us how to behave.

My comments sections tend to be a forum for theists, atheists, feminists, everybody.  If people are getting out of hand with insults, I’ll delete their comments if I see them.  But a lot of times that doesn’t necessarily happen immediately.  The comment sections on my blog are no more a forum for assholes who assault Stephanie’s character as they are a forum for people displeased with my thoughts on the CFI kerfuffle who assault mine.  I’m no more intentionally providing a forum for the latter than for the former.

What’s more, as far as making suggestions for how to not alienate potential allies (phrased by Stephanie as “telling us how to behave”), why do you think I didn’t devote a lot of time and words to the pitters on how to make their side more appealing?  I don’t care if their side becomes more appealing because I don’t agree with them.  The reason I did so for people in my camp is because I do care about whether or not people are inadvertently ostracized from feminism.

After I offered to rebuke the commenter, Stephanie said:

I don’t want a blog post. I don’t want more words. I want the comment section in which I am now being abused by several people from the slime pit because I objected to the abuse of one person being allowed to stand to be dealt with. I’m done with words. I’m done with disclaimers. I want action.

Had Stephanie sent me an email that said “Hey, this guy’s comment bothers me for x, y, and z reasons and I didn’t think your rebuke was strong enough, probably because, like you said, you didn’t know what he was talking about” I would’ve just gone and deleted the comment and maybe even said something.  But instead I got sent a blog post by somebody I like (and who I hope likes me, but that’s up to her) impugning my compassion over it.  I can’t hardly delete it now because it’s being so talked about.  What I can do is rebuke it in full and express my disdain for the comment, the commenter, and those like him.  In this case words are actions: they are the action of responding to the comment and rebuking it, which is what Stephanie asked for in her blog post.

This is what I can do.  It’s something I’m happy to do, as I’ve never shied away from expressing my contempt for bad people.  I’m sorry if it’s not enough.

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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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