Watch Your Mouth

Things are disappearing. Facebook posts calling people “pussies” have vanished! People with the clout to speak to Richard Dawkins and be heard are leaving some of their thoughts unsaid and unwritten for the fear (no exaggeration) that they’ll be arrested and tortured and punished, maybe even by death! Or because they’re not prepared to deal with being criticized. Either way.

Welcome to my world, guys, or at least a pale approximation of it.

It’s no secret that I’m a feminist and use my blog as a platform for activism, particularly on issues surrounding sexual harassment. What some people, particularly guys with jobs that give them some amount of power, don’t seem to understand about this is that I and everything I say are under constant scrutiny. Not only do people hold me accountable for every individual word I write, but they hold me responsible for every half-assed “gotcha” misreading of those words.

Is that fair? Well, it’s not charitable. It’s not diplomatic. It’s frequently anything but civil. It certainly doesn’t happen through private channels. Yet I never see any of the people who are now afraid going after the people who do this to me. [Read more...]

Why This Matters

American Atheists’ official representative calls a group of people who’ve been harassed for years “pussies” and an American Atheists official posts it to Twitter and Facebook suggesting it’s a reason people should subscribe. The Friendly Atheist posts a video from the Amazingly Notorious Atheist and says, “Oops”, in a buried comment. Some random but persistent asshole spends hours “caricaturing” FtB bloggers, Rebecca Watson, and someone who dropped out of organized atheism after intense abuse—then some other asshole decides he has to send each one of these caricatures to their targets on Twitter.

What does all this mean? It’s time for one of those periodic reminders of exactly what it is those of us standing over here are arguing for.

Have you forgotten how all this started? [Read more...]

What “We” Want

No, we don’t want the same thing. I don’t want what you want.

  • I don’t want my arguments to rely on dressing my opponents’ arguments up in a cheap wig and a sneer because I can’t call them ridiculous when they stand on their own.
  • I don’t want to build a sense of superiority on disagreeing with positions that have only been handed to me through a game of shouty, anti-feminist telephone.
  • I don’t want the endorsement of people or organizations who sweep me under the rug when the time comes to justify their support.
  • I don’t want the endorsement of people who rely on volume to carry their arguments.
  • I don’t want the endorsement of people who get so emotional when faced with feminism that their spelling, capitalization, and ability to make less-than-laughable analogies go to pot.
  • I don’t want the endorsement of people so desperate to discredit feminism that they have to quote mine and misrepresent people’s positions.
  • I don’t want the endorsement of anyone in such need of validation for their positions that they appreciate the support of the slime pit.
  • I don’t want to benefit from the work of generations while telling the world that I’m not a part of what they’ve done.
  • I don’t want to feel so helpless I throw my hands up at YouTube or Twitter harassment because that’s just the way the internet is.
  • I don’t want to have to make myself look brave by suggesting that people who have stood fast in the face of years of harassment are “pussies”.
  • I don’t want anyone ever to see me conflate caring that people are treated well with weakness.
  • I don’t want to be held up as a “good one” by people who are pretty awful themselves.
  • I don’t want to spread misrepresentations and poor arguments that get used to justify the harassment of others.
  • I don’t want anyone ever to see me ask people to support me without question or criticism.
  • I don’t want people to support my organization because I guilt them into it rather than because I’ve made a good argument that it works in their interest.
  • I don’t want anyone ever to see me argue to someone that our mere shared identity is a good way of evaluating how well I work in their interest.
  • I don’t want my success to be dependent on men who try to sell me on sex appeal instead of on my abilities.
  • I don’t want my success to be dependent on organizations that will throw me under the bus the moment I disagree in public with one of their big guys.

But here’s the deal: I don’t think you really want any of those things either. I don’t know what you do want. I don’t know what your dream was or where you wanted making videos to take you, but it probably wasn’t getting yourself stuck in an ideological trap where you get more praise for treating others badly and know what you’re in for if you bite the hand that feeds you. Still, here you are.

Welcome to movement atheism in 2014. Good luck.

And take that silly wig and sneer off. You can do better than that.

“You’re Not Oppressed, White Atheist Dudes”

It’s the Dear Muslima of atheist progressives, so knock it off.

Not enough? Okay, we’ll do this the long way.

No, not all atheist progressives. (Do I really have to do this?) Plenty of atheist progressives manage to critique the actions and priorities of atheist organizations without suggesting that the enterprise as a whole isn’t needed because the atheist oppression white guys complain about isn’t real. It still happens, particularly among a subset of well-educated, urban, white, progressive atheists.

Oppression of people who are otherwise well able to withstand the oppression does not stop being oppression. [Read more...]

Inviting the Ladies

You may have noticed that yesterday’s linkspam post was heavy on Ophelia’s articles on the Global Secular Council. I haven’t had a lot to say about the council myself. I definitely agree with Ophelia on the diversity and basic communication problems that their launch displayed. They promise us research from big names, but their website just has a bunch of Secular Coalition for America publications and high-gloss photos of people who mostly aren’t the folks who did that work.

Will the people in the glossy photos do great work under the Global Secular Council banner? Hard to say. There are some people on that list who have done truly impressive work, but I find it a bit odd that they didn’t hold the launch of the website for the release of work from at least a few of them. I’d like to believe they had the time for that between dinner and going live. There had to at least have been work those people had done that they were willing to repurpose under the GSC banner, right?

Not as of launch, no. But maybe they’ll start producing their own content soon, something more than a blog, since that’s what they’ll need to influence government. They’ll have to produce in order to survive. [Read more...]

On Trigger Warnings and “Scientific Arguments”

In case you haven’t noticed, the fires of the Great Trigger Warning Debate are burning high again, this time in the halls of academia. Students at UCSB have called for trigger warnings in course syllabi, prompting the New York Times to equate dissociative spells, nightmares, and anxiety attacks with “squirming”. Now, along comes Pacific Standard with an article that tells us science says we shouldn’t give sexually assaulted students with PTSD even the same consideration we give television viewers who don’t like nudity on their screens.

As the article was written by Dr. Richard J. McNally, who directs clinical training for Harvard, I didn’t expect to find fault with the science he cited. This turned out to be mostly true. I found the argument presented in the article pretty appalling, however.

On a side note before I get to the arguments: You may well have the impression that “trigger” is a concept unique to post-traumatic stress disorder. If you do, you’re not alone. I saw someone on Twitter just a few days ago suggest that a broad view of trigger warnings was somehow appropriating the experience of PTSD sufferers. Reading the article won’t disabuse you of this notion–it’s entirely a discussion of PTSD–but this isn’t true.

Think of a trigger the way you’d think of a stimulus in classical behavioral psychology. It is an event that provokes a response over which someone has very little control. Pavlov’s bell was a salivation trigger in his dogs.

Of course, we’ve moved on a good bit from strict behavioral psychology, and people aren’t dogs. “Trigger” these days describes an event to which we react in a way that is significantly but not entirely automatic or beyond our conscious control. Suppressing a reaction to a trigger requires cognitive and emotional resources, executive function, but it can be done. “Trigger” now applies to events that provoke a wider variety of maladaptive responses as well, such as bingeing in someone with eating disorders or self-hatred in someone with depression.

But on with the article.

[Read more...]

Debate, Gender, and Authority

When I wrote about debate as a poor tool for building knowledge a couple of months ago, I left one issue implicit rather than explicit. I did this because it would have derailed discussion around the main point. Why? Because there are issues of parity in debate as well as almost anywhere else.

I argue very well in text. When I set my sights on demolishing what I consider to be an unfounded position (as opposed to discussing, say, what we do and don’t know about a topic), I frequently get comments from people who say they don’t want to get on my bad side. I hear from friends that they don’t want to get on my bad side.

People who don’t like me call it propaganda. They don’t say I’m bad at it. They don’t engage with my arguments. They just suggest that I don’t “play fair”. You know, they lost the argument, but not because they were wrong.

On top of being able to construct convincing, even devastating arguments, I have speech and theater training. I understand how speech, appearance, and body language are projected and read. I’ve rehearsed all of those until they’re largely under my conscious control. As long as I have a microphone to overcome the fact that my voice doesn’t carry, I do well on a stage.

Despite all that, I never get asked to debate.
[Read more...]

Let’s Call It a Hitler

So by now you’ve probably seen that Ricky Gervais is once again desperately clinging to a word that he desperately needs to…well, for some reason anyway, I’m sure. I first saw it on Facebook:

If you grabbed Hitler and shouted “stop killing innocent people you cunt”, someone on Facebook would call you out on your sexist language.

As I pointed out there, if you grabbed Hitler and shouted at him, people would rightly point out that he’s dead and hasn’t been killing people for nearly 70 years, which just raises the next question: What are you really doing that’s so vitally important you can’t spare a moment to deal with sexism?

When Ophelia posted more of Gervais’s “defense”, such as it is, it struck me how hard he was working to defend something that’s fundamentally useless. It just doesn’t work as a serious epithet, unless your entire point is the misogyny. It’s even more useless for a comedian. [Read more...]

Can We Fight Gender Roles and the Pink Ghetto at Once?

This is a post for Karla, who donated to help send me to this year’s Women in Secularism conference. She asked me to address the following argument.

Let’s start with this premise: “An important goal of feminism is to eliminate unequal treatment based on gender.” Seems unarguable.

Except that there are two interpretations of that premise, and they’re incompatible. Let’s call them Position 1 and Position 2. By way of explanation, here’s a short article. It argues that although feminist parents often discourage their daughters from wearing pink, they should not do so, because it perpetuates the idea that girly colors, and by extension girly things, are inferior. [Read more...]

“Mission Creep”: Easier Than It Sounds

Greta Christina has been writing a great series taking apart the argument that atheist groups working on social justice causes is “mission creep”. I suggest reading the whole series:

If you don’t want to read them all, you should at least take this message away:

I don’t know how much more clearly to say this: IT IS BROKEN. It is badly broken. Many marginalized people already feel very alienated from organized atheism because their/our issues get ignored, dismissed, trivialized, and worse. As I’ve said more than once in these conversations: The status quo is not neutral. Doing nothing is doing something. Doing things the way we’ve always done them is not a neutral act – it is contributing to the problem.

This needs to be understood and emphasized. When you raise objections to including social justice in the activities (and operations) of your group, this is what you need to weigh those objections against. But that’s not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about this idea that it’s hard to bring social justice activities into an established community group, and I want to talk about it from my perspective as the associate president of one of the largest atheist community groups in the U.S.

This isn’t as hard as you think it is. [Read more...]