It was with a combination of rage and helplessness that I read Jen McCreight’s post about how she’s taking a prolonged break from blogging. There was some sadness too, but above all else was anger and disgust. Well, and there was a good bit of relief that she’s taking time to care for herself.
Blag Hag was one of the first blogs I followed when I stumbled onto the blogosphere in 2009. Here was someone I could relate to – a gamer geek, science nerd, a freethinker, someone who loved learning. Jen wrote openly about her personal life and has shared all of the embarrassments, the disappointments, the successes, the hilariousness and the awesomeness of being alive.
Jen helped found the Society of Non-Theists at her undergrad university. She compiled her big list of atheist women. She organized and followed through with Boobquake. She created Atheist Barbie and was published in the Atheist’s Guide to Christmas. She continued to blog even after being accepted into a competitive graduate program and her time for extracurricular activities was stretched thin. She proposed Atheism+, a new way of thinking about the intersection of social justice and atheism*. She’s been mentioned by Stephen Colbert, interviewed by news organizations, radio shows and More magazine. She serves as a director on the board of the Secular Student Alliance. She spends the little vacation time she has traveling to speaking gigs which sometimes pay nothing or next to nothing in order to share ideas and excite people about science, atheism, feminism and equality.
Jen’s indignation about religious-based injustices, violations to church/state separation, and bigotry and inequity of every stripe has been strong, but her arguments are usually measured, rational and to the point. She’s so often focused on offering solutions. In some (rare!) cases I have disagreed with her proposals, but I always appreciate that she is looking for ways to take action rather than just bitching about the status quo.
Jen McCreight is an inspiration as a scientist, atheist, activist, blogger and woman.
As she mentioned earlier this week, Jen is stepping back because she needs to take a break from the constant campaign of hate that has been leveled against her, a campaign which recently escalated drastically in response to her proposal of Atheism+, but which has been going on for years. Read that again. No matter how you feel about the opinions and ideas found on the Blag Hag blog, you should object to the fact that people have been using words to harass, bully, hurt and attempt to intimidate someone for years.
Some of her attackers say that she deserves it.
WHO deserves this?
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).
This morning I had to delete dozens of comments of people imitating my identity making graphic, lewd, degrading sexual comments about my personal life.
In the past, multiple people have threatened to contact my employer with “evidence” that I’m a bad scientist (because I’m a feminist) to try to destroy my job. I’m constantly worried that the abuse will soon spread to my loved ones.
All this because she introduces challenging new ideas. Because she has the audacity to criticize ideas that don’t sit right with her. To demand explanations or evidence from people who present poor arguments. To defend herself when she is attacked by bringing the harassment she receives to light.
When someone presents what we believe to be a bad argument, we should go after it. But rarely should we assume that the person making the argument is inherently flawed or acting with malicious intent. This should be common sense, a golden rule in the marketplace of ideas. Because we’ve all have bad ideas. We sometimes have good ideas that we present poorly, or we have good ideas that other people don’t agree with. None of these things make us bad people who deserve to be verbally abused and threatened.
When I started blogging I had to learn the hard way that conversations conducted online are a very different beast from what I knew. I was shocked to learn that people are willing to be so cruel online, that they act more mean from behind a computer screen than they would ever behave in public. But the angry, negative people who have contacted me to this point have been faceless – anonymous or unknown to me. They’re few and far between and I get long periods of rest between them. Jen has been dealing with a relentless parade of abusers who are real, who attend the same conferences as her and know the same people she knows. I can’t imagine what it’s been like to deal with that.
Jen has come up with some incredible, creative, original ideas that have taken the blogosphere, atheist community and even mainstream media by storm. Her writings are thought-provoking, challenging and unique.
And now – for a while at least – she’s leaving. I don’t get to open up my browser every day and read her newest idea or observation or see a new photo of Pixel. I don’t get to enjoy that rush of excitement that something she’s written might inspire or incite me to new ways of thinking about an issue. I’m so grateful that Jen has the self-awareness to pull back from something that is hurting her and to focus on taking care of herself. However, I consider her break from writing to be a loss for many of us.
And the fact that she has decided to stop writing because there are people who take pride in showing just how vile, cruel and sadistic they can be towards her… that makes the loss so much more bitter. She’s not leaving to pursue another opportunity or because she no longer wants to write. She left because other peoples’ words have made the environment too toxic to stay.
In the interest of dialing back the vitriol I propose this: The next time you write a post or comment on a blog, the next time you post on Facebook or re-tweet somebody, take a moment to reflect on what you’re about to say. Before you press “publish” or “send” re-read the words that are in front of you. Ask if what you are about to publicize has the potential to cause harm or to intimidate. Are you challenging an idea that you don’t like or just defaming the person who proposed it?
And if you’re trying to make a name for yourself in a community, think about how you want to be known and who you want to collaborate with in the future. Every single one of us – from the silent lurker to the A-list leader – has the potential to do and create great things. If you want to contribute to a community, the likelihood of working with someone you meet online is a possibility. Verbally abusing people will be a self-defeating action if you want to be more involved. Consider if your words will positively affect the community you’re attempting to influence.
You can make changes when you write; consider carefully what kind of change you’re trying to make.
Take care, Jen. We’ll hold down the fort in our own ways while you’re gone, and we’ll greet you with loud, boisterious cheers when you return.
*And all I’ll say about that here is this: I’m all for people proposing new ways of thinking about things. I applaud Jen for seeing a problem and offering a new approach. Yes, it’s controversial. Good! People are talking more about the problem. The conversation took on new life because of Jen’s contribution, and she should be credited for that.