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.
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.