Sep 05 2012

Sometimes the bad guys win

It was very refreshing for me to spend the weekend at the skeptic conference at Dragon*Con this weekend.  When you spend most of your time working in this movement online, it can lose a lot of its appeal.  In real life, most of the people I know who care about atheism and skepticism are really nice and fun to be around.  If there are disagreements, they are generally civil.  Not so on the internet.

Since I joined Freethought Blogs in June, there has been a concerted effort on the part of certain online factions to bully anyone on this blog out of existence.  I don’t know how many readers here have ever been the victim of an extended hate campaign, but it is exhausting.  Anything I post publicly draws attacks — and not just attacks on ideas, but personal attacks, mockery about my looks or my mental health, threats, and complete fabrications and accusations of hurting people.

For some reason, there are people on the internet who think that because I blog on a particular network, I am evil.  They think that all these people who spend their free time engaging in activism are monoliths of power.  I can tell you I do not feel terribly powerful.  I do this on top of getting a PhD full-time, working as a GA, and working a part-time job.  My life has too much going on already — I have yet to make enough money from this website to cover the gas money it took for me to get to Dragon*Con to speak.  Being an activist costs me a lot of money.

Perhaps if I had more money, I’d be able to go to more conferences where the commitment of time and resources seems to be appreciated, but instead I spend most of my time online where I am treated like a monster.

Octopus Solidarity

And people will almost certainly say that Freethought Bloggers are all bullies just as bad as  our attackers, but this is false equivalency.  One, just like at Patheos or Scienceblogs, the people at Freethought Blogs are all different people with different opinions and different blogs.  Two, saying that the movement should have more women and minorities and care about social justice is not the same as calling an individual a lying cunt.  Three, the only people claiming that anyone who disagrees with the opinions of anyone on this network are misogynists are people who disagree with the opinions of the people on this network.

I try to believe what Greta Christina always says, that these fights make the movement stronger.  But it’s so hard to believe that when just scratching your ear seems to start a fight about how horrible you are and how you should be destroyed.

No one is obligated to stay in this fight, just like no one is obligated to try to break the glass ceiling in specific industries.  I felt this horrible guilt when I quit pursuing math as my field of study because there were no women in the field and I didn’t want to be the only woman in the room for the rest of my life.  Life is hard, adding extra obstacles isn’t necessary to make it so.  But these things need to change and if someone doesn’t force them to, they never will.  It’s so fucking hard, though, you can’t force someone to take on that burden.

So I want to say that I love Jen and I will miss her.  I hope she comes back, but I can’t honestly say that she should come back.

I have seen so many wonderful people quit being a part of the movement because of the pointless, cruel bile being thrown around.  The constant fights.  The constant bullying.

I can no longer write anything without my words getting twisted, misrepresented, and quotemined. I wake up every morning to abusive comments, tweets, and emails about how I’m a slut, prude, ugly, fat, feminazi, retard, bitch, and cunt (just to name a few). If I block people who are twisting my words or sending verbal abuse, I receive an even larger wave of nonsensical hate about how I’m a slut, prude, feminazi, retard, bitch, cunt who hates freedom of speech (because the Constitution forces me to listen to people on Twitter).

The people on Freethought Blogs are just people.  We’re just individuals doing what we can for something we care about.  We’re not elected officials, we’re not all-powerful overlords of the movement, we’re not “professionals” — most of us are barely making ends meet with our day jobs, working on activist causes in our daily lives, and trying to maintain a blog where we post our thoughts in whatever extra time we can grab.  We are imperfect, we are human, we are sometimes wrong, we care.  And we’re rewarded with threats of rape, insults, and hate from the people who are supposedly fighting for the same causes.  I’d ask why, but I’m sure I’d only get hate in response.

Mazel tov, Jen.  You deserve better.  So do the rest of us — but I think you’ll have better luck than we will.


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  1. 1

    Only in the Charlie Sheen sense of #WINNING

    In reality, nobody has won – we have all lost.

    Thank you for your time and efforts.

  2. 2
    Kaoru Negisa

    It’s times like this that it’s not easy to determine whether you want to fight harder or just sigh and walk away. I don’t blame Jen for walking away. I wouldn’t blame you if you decided to do the same. You guys put up with so much from so many awful people for something you care about.

    Thank you for what you do, from the atheist and feminist writings to the uke videos. It all means a lot.

    Question becomes, is it now time to pick a fight? (answer is obvious, but it’s fun to entertain the thought)

  3. 3

    This is awful. This whole situation is appalling. But, then again: I’m grateful that we are no longer pretending that being an atheist or “freethinker” means you have unloaded all your baggage. We are no longer pretending that misogyny and other bigotry is not present in the movement. And we are no longer ignorant of how many of our so called “fellows” think. Privilege blinds, but ignorance is curable. Willful ignorance is only despicable.

  4. 4

    I don’t often de-lurk, but I should tonight just to say:


    I really like reading your stuff, and I wish I could do as much as you. For every hater out there making so much ‘noise’, there are plenty of us who think you’re awesome. I feel like I should have said as much to Jen too sooner, but at least there’s this.

    Thank you.

  5. 5
    Ophelia Benson

    Depressing, isn’t it.

  6. 6
    Scr... Archivist


    Hi, there. Your post reminded me of a question I’ve had the last few days, especially in light of Jen’s hiatus.

    You wrote:

    When you spend most of your time working in this movement online, it can lose a lot of its appeal. In real life, most of the people I know who care about atheism and skepticism are really nice and fun to be around. If there are disagreements, they are generally civil.

    As I understand Jen’s (and others’) call for an inclusive atheism, one goal is to get more women involved in the atheist movement. So, should atheists have more in-person gatherings, specifically because misogynists are less likely to be obnoxious in such circumstances? How much is organizing and socializing on the Internet a liability when it comes to bringing more women to organized atheism?

  7. 7

    So, should atheists have more in-person gatherings, specifically because misogynists are less likely to be obnoxious in such circumstances?

    Misogynists actually aren’t LESS obnoxious at in-person gatherings. There, they just harass via stalking, groping, and persistent advances rather than hateful commentary. The internet’s only safer than meatspace for women and other targets in terms of physical attack; and also because anonymity can protect them from being targets, not just give cover to attackers.

  8. 8

    I love you guys (and it was great having you at Dragon*Con again this year), and it’s incredibly frustrating watching the slime pit tear away at you. But high-fives and hugs to you, Jen, Greta, et al for soldiering on.


  9. 9

    Don’t give up. Don’t let the bad guys win. The internet is too full of lies and hateful propaganda as it is. We need some counter to all the crap that’s floating around in cyberspace. And I see nothing wrong with moderating comments.

    This “freedom of speech” defence is so incredibly annoying and misleading. I’ve seen it so many times uttered usually by trolls who are dissapointed that they aren’t allowed to insult or swear or blackmail or share nude pictures or preach the gospel or whatever happens to be banned on that particular site.

    Guess what haters?! You are completely free to say whatever you want ON YOUR OWN SITES! But when you are on someone else’s turf you play by their rules! It’s that simple.

  10. 10

    Love what you do, THANK YOU. O and I adore the octopus pics, you added a smile to my saturday-on-the-couch-being-too-tired-to-move-cause-of-a-cold.

  11. 11
    Jack Rawlinson

    Two, saying that the movement should have more women and minorities and care about social justice is not the same as calling an individual a lying cunt.

    True indeed. Neither is it the same as calling people scumbags, fuckwads, MRAs, misogynists and CHUDS, wishing they would “die in a fire” and then, in case we thought they were joking, stressing that they really mean it (source in comments), dismissing Dawkins in the following terms: “Why does PZ even bothering quoting from this discredited, authoritarian pig? Nothing he says can be relevant any more.” (source in comments)

    I could go on. For a very, very long time. But what would be the point? You people, like all zealots, already know who the “bad guys” are. And they couldn’t possibly include some of your own. Ah well, now even some of your own have had enough of the hypocrisy and selective outrage and are starting to speak out too. Very refreshing.

    Get the log out of your eyes.

  12. 12
    Elene Mochel

    You could certainly see your skills in the paintings you write. The sector hopes for even more passionate writers such as you who are not afraid to mention how they believe. Always go after your heart.

  13. 13
    Nathaniel Liverani

    Merely wanna comment on few general things, The website design is perfect, the subject matter is rattling fantastic. “Crime does not pay … as well as politics.” by Alfred E. Newman.

  1. 14
    These people are an embarrassment to this movement and to humanity.

    [...] always agree, and that’s ok.  Other bloggers have cataloged the shit that Jen has had to put up with, so I won’t rehash that here.  What I will do is lend one more voice stating the obvious: [...]

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