Or, How Stories Change
Yesterday, someone pointed me to a tweet aimed at Elyse Anders of Skepchick. To put the tweet in context, Ben Radford posted a picture on his Facebook wall Saturday night, claiming it was a retraction from Karen Stollznow of her sexual harassment and assault allegations against him. Elyse made some angry comments on his wall and some angry tweets because the statement was unsigned and uncorroborated by Stollznow, yet people were taking it at face value. (You can read how all that played out here.)
The next morning, Elyse found a bunch of the ugly messages in her Twitter replies that many female skeptics receive if they suggest that accused harassers shouldn’t immediately and automatically be believed. To quote a few:
@dELYSEious is really ANGRY and RAGING TEARS. Watch her timeline for #lulz. #FTBullies #thecrazee
@dELYSEious Hey nutjob: Have another wine box. Won’t make your Radford pain go away, but the walking into shit will distract you. #ftbullies
@SpongyPissFlap Anything but more nude photos of @dELYSEious. Looked like a used condom draped over an ugly stick. #ftbullies
Yes @dELYSEious, Westboro Baptist Church just lost its leader, but I think it’s too soon for you to apply. via @Mykeru
Hey, @dELYSEious are you going to have those pendulous folds of skin tucked up, or just toss it nonchalantly over your shoulder?
@pzmyers @dELYSEious The moral of the story is that you both are miserable and should focus on yourselves & not guessing about other lives.
@dELYSEious Like seeing you naked, for example?
@dELYSEious Yeah, this really ain’t the time to be making potentially costly accusations with hubby on the dole and a wine habit like yours.
.@dELYSEious What the hell is wrong with you? It’s time for you to get off twitter and get some help @AmandaDevaus
@davidgaliel That’s no excuse. @dELYSEious has waged a vicious defamatory campaign against @BTRadford She’ll be lucky if he doesn’t sue her.
Those last two are from EllenBeth Wachs. The two before that, about the torture of seeing Elyse naked and about the fact that she drinks wine and is married to someone who was recently laid off, are from people Elyse hadn’t previously blocked, so she saw those. She addressed them on Twitter, then tweeted about receiving these messages being exhausting. I can verify that, by the way. I find them tiring, and I’m not raising kids while coping with them. Elyse has my sympathy, and she knows that.
Wachs*, however, reacted to Elyse’s observation differently.
Elyse Anders: Skipping my celebration of my accomplishments because the emotional demands of being a woman on the internet left me physically ill/injured.
Setting aside Wachs’ suggestion that Elyse deserves to be injured for something her friends do, because what can you say to that but “Ugh!”, I find it fascinating that Wachs suggests that Elyse forgot that. I say, “fascinating”, because not only did never happen, but Wachs has previously told this story. What she said then doesn’t even come close to what she says now.
So let’s compare the stories. Once upon a time, Wachs wrote a rather jumbled post that was nominally about resigning from Secular Woman (which managed to mislead a number of people on that score) but included complaints about an unrelated Facebook support group she, I, and Elyse had all been a part of. The relevant text:
My second mistake was thinking that these people actually cared for me. The longer I stayed in the group, the more it became obvious that most of them only cared for themselves. I don’t begrudge a bit of narcissism. I think we all need to have selfish, self-centered tendencies to survive. When the self takes over to the point that you ignore the needs of those around you, it’s a rather ugly picture.
When I was viciously attacked on the Pharyngula thread, I posted in the support group asking for help. With that knowledge, Stephanie Zvan, shut me down cold stating in no uncertain terms that I was not to bring that issue to that group. In other words, the group was only for support for when OTHERS i.e slymepitters attacked. I abided by her request but another member opened the thread up for discussion. Stephanie also came onto the Pharyngula thread and tried to shut me down there.
After the emotional damage was done and I flounced from the thread, I left all social media. Well, more accurately, I didn’t respond. I monitored it.
Now, there are a number of inaccuracies there. Wachs received plenty of support in that group and from me on issues that she mentions in the post, issues that have nothing to do with the slime pit. Someone she described as her stalker, who definitely evinced an unhealthy hatred of her and nursed a grudge against her, made contact with a magazine editor. Wachs was terrified that he would tell convincing but false stories about her, so I wrote an email to the editor encouraging skepticism and pointed them to places online where the guy’s extremism was easily visible. I’ve also deleted comments he’s left about her here on this blog.
Additionally, my comment at Pharyngula happened before Wachs commented in the support group. Here is the damning comment:
EllenBeth, stop. You’re defending the politically powerful (the conference organization) from the politically powerless (the attendee) here. You’re in the position of demanding something you can only, rightfully, ask for because of the rest of the context of the situation. This is a very bad time and place for that.
(More information about demanding instead of asking.) If you look at the thread, you can see why it was a bad time and place. A fellow by the ‘nym of Matthew Best was doing his damnedest to rile up the place and succeeding. By the time I made that comment, people were already referring to him as emotionally abusive. In that emotional atmosphere, no one was going to have a quiet and thoughtful discussion over Wachs’ defense of the good name of conferences, even if she wasn’t being her natural, abrasive self. But she was, and nothing good was going to come of it, so I tried to warn her off. Instead, she defended Best.
She didn’t respond to or acknowledge my comment there. Instead, she went to the support group and posted something along the lines of “Those folks at Pharyngula really can’t stand to be disagreed with, can they?” If you’ve been following along for any period of time, you’ll recognize that comment as a standard slime pit meme.
My reaction to a slimepit meme being introduced to a group set up to support some of the people targeted with their memes? I admit, it creeped me out. Still, to the best of my recollection, my response was “Don’t do that here.” Then there was a discussion in which others sympathized with the fact that she wasn’t being heard in the Pharyngula thread. I was coping with other things, including being creeped out, on my own where she didn’t have to deal with them too. Then she sat back and watched social media for a few days.
This, boys and girls, is how I bullied EllenBeth Wachs off the internet.
You can see an abbreviated discussion about both the editor letter and the exchange in the support group in the comments on Wachs’ post from almost a year ago. In the months since then, I have apparently multiplied in Wachs’ mind to become “friends” of Elyse rather than one friend. Me saying a discussion was impossible to have and me telling her not to post a slime pit meme in a support group have become bullying.
And it’s totes okay to punish Elyse for that.
*At one time, I would have called her “EllenBeth”, but I don’t recognize the person I thought I knew in this behavior.