That Isn’t How It Works


A while ago, Ophelia noted that Justin Vacula had uploaded a picture of most of the FtB crew at Women in Secularism to Facebook. This picture had the messages of solidarity with embattled atheists across the world that we had written out removed and replaced with “We <3 Justin”. It was a Reap Paden “creative original” that Vacula liked so much he needed to share.

Then Paden tagged some of us in the photo. Ophelia objected, and the comment thread went into overdrive.

I wasn’t in a place to untag myself, so I got a nifty little summary of those comments in my email. There was Lee Moore, neutral party extraordinaire and would-be peacemaker, saying that no one loves the people in the picture. There were Vacula and Paden being abusive because Ophelia dared to tell them to leave her alone. There was blaming her for not pre-emptively having blocked them on Facebook as though she should–of course–have known they were going to behave so spitefully. There are the usual whines about how telling someone to leave you alone is weakness or confusing the lay definition of harassment with the legal definition. There was gratuitous nastiness both before and after Ophelia had blocked Vacula.

It was such a charming, pro-social, and activist set of emails.

There was one interaction that particularly stuck out, however.

Facebook exchange. Text in the post.

Alishba Zarmeen: Please keep Maryam out of this ftb bullshit.

Justin Vacula: Maryam posts on the FTB network. Anyway, I have no quarrel with her. [edited to add] Would be great if she left for a more respectable network, but that’s perhaps a story for another day.

This struck me because this is such a strange but common misunderstanding. Maybe it’s centered in “just world” victim-blaming. Maybe it comes from wanting to believe that this behavior of Paden’s and Vacula’s really is the “disagreement” they claim rather than plain old, garden variety harassment. Why it happens isn’t terribly important. The fact that it’s wrong is what matters.

No, Alishba, you don’t get to direct the crap. You can enjoy it, if you must, when it’s pointed at people you don’t like, but you don’t have any say when it gets pointed at anyone else. The only way to keep the crap from infecting everything and everyone in these movements, all the bits of what make these movements important to you, all the things and people that keep you inspired to act–the only way to keep this from touching them is to stop it entirely.

You see, these people don’t care who is doing the work of our movements. They don’t care whether their targets have written good books, have helped doubting believers free themselves from superstition, teach critical thinking, work for movement organizations, or anything of the sort. They don’t care. They only care that no one be able to tell them what they can or can’t do, who they can or can’t use for their sport.

“No one” means they don’t want you telling them either.

This isn’t something you can control. This isn’t something that benefits you. They’re in this for them and them alone.

Don’t forget that.

By the way, this is also the conversation in which this little jem was posted by someone named Matt Johnson:

I’ll tag you Ophelia… i bet its been a while since you’ve been properly tagged… we god haters know how to do it so well you’ll scream out “HITCHENS!!!” In extacy before you have the urge to say “oh god”.

I was tagged in the photo too, so I got that little bit of joy in my email. I didn’t, however, get any email saying Vacula had objected to the comment or to its replacement:

I’ll tag you, Ophelia. I bet its been a while since you’ve been properly ‘tagged’. See, now that’s harassment.

What was that Dave Silverman was saying about silently lending your support to misogynist crap?

Now just imagine that message being sent–by atheists–to your favorite atheist activist, because that’s what’s going to happen to any of them who get in these people’s ways.

Comments

  1. says

    I anticipate a response of plausible deniability from Vacula: since Matt Johnson didn’t actually use a slur, therefore it wasn’t misogynist. Or, since Ophelia didn’t make an official complaint by way of contacting the police after being tagged by him, therefore it wasn’t harassment.

    If that’s the level of puerile foolishness that Vacula stands for, and is considered to be an acceptable standard of decency by leaders of the atheist community, then the atheist community deserves to fall into ruin. I’m glad David Silverman called him on this crap on Twitter, but few others seem to be willing to do it – and Ophelia has put up a blog ‘Look at them all’ which points out that too many people are sitting on their hands, ignoring this ongoing pattern of abuse. That’s really shameful.

  2. lochaber says

    This is well beyond ridiculous.

    I just don’t get it… I haven’t been diligently following all this crap, just marginally aware of some of it, and initially I thought ‘slymepit’ was something metaphorical or figurative, or… something? I didn’t realize that was the actual name of an actual site.

    But the level of effort put into this? Part of me wants to ask what the hell is wrong with them, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t find whatever answer sufficient.

    It’s obvious they have access to the internet, so even if they don’t have real hobbies, why can’t they just look at funny cat pictures, or go on a tvtropes tab-blossom fest.

    meh, people like this are a large part of why I’m a misanthrope.

    Sorry to hear you keep having to put up with this, it’s not something I can imagine dealing with.

    And thanks for keeping at the posting and writing. I’m hoping this sorta thing takes a back seat to, say, the weather soon, but I’m not going to hold my breath or anything.

    :(

  3. Eristae says

    They can’t even leave this alone?

    No, actually, they can’t. Vacula and I had exactly this conversation on twitter, wherein I asked him to please not literally erase the plight of these men for his “satire.”

    His response was that they should do even more photoshopping.

    Most of the conversation can be found here with an additional post by me here.

    As a sidenote, Vacula started including Ron Lindsay in the tweets eventually. I was saddened that Lindsay did not feel moved to say anything on behalf of those men, but I wasn’t really expecting him to.

  4. says

    I reckon they’re so accustomed to gaslighting folks and doing the “What Did I Do?” dance that they think just keeping on doing it will get them out of this mess they’ve dug themselves into. After all, it’s probably worked for them their whole lives up until now.

  5. PatrickG says

    I object!

    Vacula doesn’t silently endorse this crap, he rather actively does so! At the least by encouraging and praising the people who produce said crap.

    To be fair, I’m sure Vacula only failed to address that particularly odious comment because he’s defending the rights of … someone. Not sure who. But he’s busy, you know? I’m sure he’ll get to it. Eventually. When his schedule frees up. He’s really busy.

    Any day now. Any… day…

  6. says

    I hope Dave Silverman is keeping an eye on all this, Justin was asked specifically to condemn some examples of harassment from his perceived allies. He really did no such thing and Dave was far too generous in jumping on the Vacula self-promotion bandwagon that is “bravehero” radio. Things like this show all too clearly how much lip service he will pay to the leaders of the community then go right back to being a harasshole. He wants plausible deniability by not being openly bigoted like Reap, Franc and the rest while getting a nice gang of people to do the worst of his harassment for him.

  7. says

    So a bunch of people have a gesture of solidarity with oppressed people, and Vacula and his chums make it all about him. That tells us all we need to know about that lot: they’re nothing but self-absorbed children hogging attention every chance they get. There’s no point in having any sort of “dialogue” with people like this; they need to be shut out of grownup events until they’re ready to act like grownups.

  8. A Hermit says

    More evidence of Vacula’s narcissism. It’s all about him all the time. And if it isn’t he’ll find a way to inject himself and make it about him. And the sycophantic little Paden is there to egg him on.

    Petty, small minded, pathetic little posers.

  9. Scr... Archivist says

    As I recall, Vacula resigned from the Secular Coalition for Pennsylvania last fall. Is he still a spokesperson and board member with the Northeastern Pennsylvania Freethought Society? If so, I wonder what they have to say about his behavior. I can’t tell if he’s still active there, but has anyone asked them?

  10. G Pierce (Was ~G~) says

    I am up for membership renewal with FFRF and sent them a letter because I am of sick of the attention they give him because of his banner work. Banner work is great, but there are some people you just don’t want representing your org. He was on their podcast in January, last week the subject of an article last week, and even awarded a $250 scholarship in March. I didn’t even know about the attention they’ve given him since the podcase when I sent my letter. I don’t know if Dan and Laurie or others in charge just don’t know about this or what. I like them very, very much and am giving the benefit of the doubt. I may just “pick up the phone” soon.

    I also don’t understand what was being satirized? Support for people who may be be-headed? Satirizing people supporting atheists? Seems pretty anti-atheist as well as a sick prioritizing of values to me. I don’t want my money going to promote people who are satirizing support of atheists under seige. Me thinks someone doesn’t know what “satire” means as I see that word flung around to justify pointless mocking with no underlying message other than, “we want to make you feel like shit.”

    Kind of like when you ask Christians to explain the underlying meaning or point of horrific parts of the bible. There’s always some important point, they claim, hidden under the toxic message if only you just look hard enough after drinking enough kook-aid.

  11. says

    It is truly bizarre that people like Alishba think Maryam supports the continued harassment of women in this community. She absolutely, definitely does not.

  12. Eristae says

    I also don’t understand what was being satirized? Support for people who may be be-headed? Satirizing people supporting atheists? Seems pretty anti-atheist as well as a sick prioritizing of values to me. I don’t want my money going to promote people who are satirizing support of atheists under seige. Me thinks someone doesn’t know what “satire” means as I see that word flung around to justify pointless mocking with no underlying message other than, “we want to make you feel like shit.”

    Yeah, I thought it was telling that he could bleat about it being “satire” but he never did say what it was a satire of. It’s pretty clear that it wasn’t satire of anything. As you said, Vacula and a chunk of other people have taken “satire” to mean “saying/doing things that are designed to upset other people,” which of course is not what it means. However, saying, “How dare she get upset over this thing that we did with the intention of upsetting her?” doesn’t sound as good as “How dare she get upset over this satire?” I mean, what was he supposed to say? I satirized Benson for being “obsessed” with me . . . by taking a picture that had nothing to do with me and making it about me? I satirized Benson for not caring about men . . . by taking a picture in which she supports men who are currently being oppressed, erasing anything about them, and making it about me? What can he possibly claim this is a satire of without turning the bloody thing into a satire of his own raging hypocrisy?

  13. karmacat says

    These people can’t even admit to making a mistake. They certainly can’t tolerate any criticism

  14. Anne Marie says

    Well, considering that’s the same woman who came up to me at TAM 2012 following the first WIS and said, “It’s so nice to finally be at a conference with reasonable women!” and then complained that Rebecca Watson was making “her personal preferences” political and that’s “not feminism,” I am not surprised.

  15. says

    I just came across this.
    Grow up a little bit & actually learn to be honest. When I said leave Maryam out of this nonsense I meant not to drag her into the problems that gave birth to stupid tags like #FTBBullies and harassment of women, no matter how valid or invalid their stance may be.
    While you are at it, if you are not ready to listen about other versions of feminism, I would suggest that you stay out of any issue that does not relate to middle-class white category. Don’t talk about Malala & Mukhtara Mai if you can’t stand listening to views different than yours. I cannot remember a single time when I personally attacked anyone but I CAN quote numerous time when you “sisters” have attacked me. I’m actually kind of happy that a lot of these women have taken me off their fb WITHOUT any argument or discussion.
    What was that thing about changing the world… ah, yes, that you must change yourself first.
    Good luck! You might need it to follow your own principles.

  16. says

    Dear Rebecca,
    This is the problem with you: You popularize your assumptions without actually thinking if you have enough information to support your conclusion. I actually said no such thing.
    Think about these words: How do we know what we know?

    Dear Stephanie,
    Grow up a little bit & publish my two comments.

    Dear Anne Marie,
    Yes, it is NOT feminism when you want all women to act the way YOU want them to act. Feminism about women being able to make free choices. I don’t remember talking to you but I wish you had paid a little bit more attention to the conversation. The first WIS was actually where I found out about the Elevatorgate. I was not about to hate all the women there just because I do not agree with one.

    Sometimes I wonder why do you guys call yourselves skeptics when it is impossible to have a rational conversation with you about your deeply held beliefs.

  17. says

    Oh, hey, Alishba. Thanks for tagging me on Facebook, then blocking me so I couldn’t ask what you meant by saying I don’t “hesitate to blog half-truths and distorts facts.” I eventually remembered you’d posted a couple of comments last weekend while I was very busy with the science and skepticism track at CONvergence. Turns out they were in moderation because you’ve never posted here before. So in addition to cleaning out all my comment spam from that time, I’ve got these from you and a couple of guys commenting to talk about how fucking minors isn’t such a bad thing. Whee.

    Grow up a little bit & actually learn to be honest. When I said leave Maryam out of this nonsense I meant not to drag her into the problems that gave birth to stupid tags like #FTBBullies and harassment of women, no matter how valid or invalid their stance may be.

    I know what you said. I quoted it. I didn’t offer any interpretation of it. I just told you that you don’t get to pick and choose. When you hang out with the harassers, you’re supporting them in what they do, even when they use your heroes to do it.

    While you are at it, if you are not ready to listen about other versions of feminism, I would suggest that you stay out of any issue that does not relate to middle-class white category. Don’t talk about Malala & Mukhtara Mai if you can’t stand listening to views different than yours. I cannot remember a single time when I personally attacked anyone but I CAN quote numerous time when you “sisters” have attacked me. I’m actually kind of happy that a lot of these women have taken me off their fb WITHOUT any argument or discussion.

    Really? You can’t remember?

    No, I’m not going to stay away from the issues that people like Maryam ask others to help with. I’m not going to try to tell anyone what the solutions to those problems are, because I don’t know enough to suggest solutions, but I’m not going to keep from giving the help they ask for just because you consider the issue “yours”. I really can’t believe you’d ask.

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