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What “we” know

Russell Blackford, surprisingly, has announced that

We now know that Ophelia Benson did not receive threatening emails (she received a couple of earnest, concerned emails from people who were on her side … unless the emails were actually intended as parodies).

The way that’s worded, and in the context where it’s worded that way, it’s clear that that is an accusation of having, at least, exaggerated – and at most, lied. That of course is the view of the troll who keeps dropping in here under various names, but I expect reasonable people to take a slightly more nuanced approach.

I expect reasonable people at least to see that the messages I got are very peculiar, and that it is not obvious that they are not threats disguised as “earnest, concerned” advice. That’s because it is not obvious that they are not threats disguised as “earnest, concerned” advice. It’s really not. The “earnest, concerned” advice is itself exaggerated, wildly exaggerated; so exaggerated that it made me frown in puzzlement and try to figure out exactly what was going on – was this really advice? Was it mockery? Was it a warning?

In fact, it was so exaggerated that it triggered skepticism – which is exactly what Blackford is urging. That’s what led up to his announcement of what we now know:

Note, however, how Chris Mooney fell for the Tom Johnson/Wally Smith story because it confirmed his biases. This should be a lesson to us all. Be sceptical about every such story, even if it tends to confirm your biases. In fact, especially if it tends to confirm your biases.

I was skeptical. I couldn’t figure out what the hell the first message was. I didn’t just read it and think oh, great advice, I’ll do that – I’ll book myself into a different hotel while keeping the one I’m supposed to be in, and make JREF pay for both; I’ll demand a “Green Room”; I’ll agree with the writer of the message that I’m a big star and of course JREF won’t mind obeying my every command because I’m such a big star.

No, I didn’t do that. Instead I thought wtf? This is ridiculous. Green Room?? Escape taxi??!

So I replied, to express my skepticism and try gently to calm the guy down. I’ve already reproduced my reply to him, but I’ll just remind you of what I said –

I really don’t think things will be as bad as that. I’ll have some friends there. I think it could be extremely awkward at times, and I’m dreading that, but I don’t think I’ll be torn limb from limb or anything. PZ went to the GAC and we know there were people there who hate him, but nothing happened.

See? I was skeptical. All I was expecting was extreme awkwardness. That’s all.

But the guy replied, and what he said at the end shaded into what looked more like a veiled threat than ever.

I’m happy that PZ was not shot (gun or uppants camera) at GAC, but that gives me scant reassurance that you will *not* be shot either way in Las Vegas.

Please do not respond to this message. If you adopt safety measures, whether I’ve suggested them or not. DO NOT TELL ANYONE, including me.

As I said in Closing the file, I went back and forth, and I asked friends what they thought. I didn’t say omg it’s certainly absolutely a threat! I just felt creeped out and wary and doubtful. I asked people, they replied, I swayed back and forth – and then I got fucking sick of the whole damn thing – of DJ’s putting a metaphorical target on me in the first place, and failing to take it off once it was on, and (however inadvertently) creating a situation where I was dreading that extreme awkwardness, and now this – I just got totally sick of it.

I don’t think I was terribly unskeptical in calling those two paragraphs threats. They certainly felt threaty to me, thank you very much. It’s easy for Blackford to sneer; they weren’t addressed to him. I wasn’t certain that they were threats, but they certainly did feel threaty. There’s a difference.

So less of the triumphalist “We now know that Ophelia Benson did not receive threatening emails,” please. “We” now know that only because I reported what came next, which was Tim Farley’s generous help, including a tense phone conversation with the guy who sent the messages. I wasn’t trying to con anybody when I said I’d had threatening messages, and I wasn’t being credulous, either.

Comments

  1. Josh Slocum says

    Blackford has been just morally repugnant in this whole affair. It’s head-spinning to see him turn out this way. . .I never would have predicted that when I started reading him (with pleasure) years ago.

    But then I’m a vicious thug so I would say that.

  2. julian says

    And that wasn’t his only ridiculous accusation. Aparently everyone here is anti-sex too. Should be news to Greta. Amazing cover identity she came up with for herself.

    I wasn’t trying to con anybody when I said I’d had threatening messages, and I wasn’t being credulous, either.

    Of course not. You said you received a threatening email. You went on to explain what had been in it and why you felt threatened. I would have too as, I’d wager, would have Blackford if he’d received similar. It was an incredibly off rant and that’s what made it unsettling.

  3. Utakata says

    Makes me wonder if Brother Blackford even has read the same letter…

    …I am thinking out loud to myself, if something was sent like that to say someone like Hillary Clinton, even if it’s was proven later to be a false alarm, no one would reasonably fault the Secret Service for going completely ape shit over it.

    The point is at the time no one knew the intention of the letter sender initially…short of mind reading. So how can anyone be skeptical of something they have no idea the nature of the source beyond maigical thinking? One has presume the worst until proven otherwise. This is not an unreasonable conclusion or position to take. Instead, I think we should breath a sigh of relief that this was indeed a false alarm as opposed to using this as oppotunistic confirmation evidence against those so-called “alarmist uppity feminists”. And thus get over it.

    And comparing this to a notorious sock puppet incident which wasn’t even viewed as a potential threat, one can also conclued that Blackford’s brains have likely fallen out over this somewhere down the line.

  4. says

    Nice argument from authority coming from Blackford, though, gotta admit that. Also, he has this whole “I don’t like your fact so I’ll call you a liar” thing down pretty well. The whole Wally and Chris/Sheril/Intersection thing seems kind of off he wall for me

    But my favorite part of all is where he lists the Freethoughtblogs.com bloggers who are doing it all wrong and somehow fails to include PZ’s name.

    This is one of those cases where one is attempted to ask … oh never mind.

    I figured Blackford probably owed Grothe, but I didn’t realize Grothe totally owned him. Interesting.

  5. Lyanna says

    We now know that Russell Blackford is a liar, willing to say anything, however inaccurate, to tell the story he wants to tell: about uppity paranoid feminists getting in the way of sweet clueless autistic guys trying to get laid, as is their natural prerogative.

  6. julian says

    It’s weird to see him say no one here knows anything about sexual harassment and that he is terrified of the prospect of any of Stephanie Zvan’s, Greta Christina’s or Jen McCreight’s suggestion be taken under consideration. To say it and then not even reference a faulty argument or position. Just throw it out there and back it up by saying he’s an expert in the field because of his law experience and having written on corporate harassment polices.

    Of course that experience would be entirely relevant but sans any specific disagreement or argument, why make such an absolute statement? And what could he even be referring to? Trusting the person complaining? That’s the only thing he even mentions (insisting they must be cross examined before being taken seriously) and as that’s one of Stephanie Zvan’s (and much of FtB’s) big points (that we should be supportive of the people reporting and not hyper critical) I’m assuming that’s the big thing he’s afraid of.

    I figured Blackford probably owed Grothe, but I didn’t realize Grothe totally owned him. Interesting.

    Grothe doesn’t own anyone and I don’t see how that helps. Blackford has been doing this for a long time now, so I doubt he needed prompting from Grothe.

  7. says

    Well liar isn’t quite the right word, since he didn’t really lie (except by omission). (At least not in the part I quoted. I don’t know about the rest, I didn’t read all of it.)

    But with the context and the wording…it certainly is misleading. For one thing it reads to anyone who hasn’t seen my account as saying I just plain lied about getting threats and “we” – maybe including Blackford himself – uncovered the sordid truth that I didn’t get threats at all.

  8. Cecilia says

    Okay, I do not have a horse in this race. I am just a reader. I am not sure I’ve even ever posted a comment here at FTB and/or rarely on any other skeptic, atheist, etc. blog. Never been to a conference, don’t ever see that happening. Am vaguely aware of the “sexism” problem in the community. Today was the first I’d heard of this (because I am a casual, infrequent visitor to FTB – just happened to bounce over to Pharyngula from Balloon Juice – much more of a politics junkie). All in all I think I can take a pretty objective view of this situation. So here is my take: these e-mails are without a doubt threatening and weird and creepy and should have been treated as such by all parties. Sounds like it is all okay (although still, IMHO, the sender of the e-mails seems creepy even if well-intentioned).

  9. julian says

    At least not in the part I quoted. I don’t know about the rest, I didn’t read all of it.

    He doesn’t really lie but he characterizes FtB as being grossly anti-sex and heavily insinuates Watson and Miller’s accounts should not be trusted. And that’s just the blatant stuff.

  10. dogeared, spotted and foxed says

    Oh great, more bullshit about what “really happened in the elevator” and more dismissal. How is it possible to preen and posture as a skeptic while claiming that an ill-advised come-on is such an extraordinary claim that it takes extraordinary evidence? Or that, in the wake of a heated controversy, a bizarre email which pointedly mentions possible harm is somehow benign.

    And yes all this has been said before but apparently it hasn’t yet been answered. Just when I thought I couldn’t get any more disgusted.

  11. says

    Not that I pay rapt attention to internecine fights, but who gives two shits what Blackford thinks or says on the matter? Is he on some Official Asshole Committee at JREF or is this freelance work for him?

  12. Tony... therefore God says

    Ophelia:
    It’s easy for Blackford to sneer; they weren’t addressed to him.

    That is one of the biggest problems I’ve seen with his ridiculous comments. He acts as if you’re supposed to react to these emails in a manner that *he* approves of. He’s viewing your very subjective experience from his privileged male perspective.

  13. says

    “Nonsense. Those nice mafia men were just genuinely concerned about all the possible bad things that could happen to your store. Very sweet of them.”

  14. says

    No surprise that Russell Blackford would react this way. He’s always seemed convinced that he can substitute his judgment for that of those he considers to be his intellectual inferiors.

    Of course, I’m the guy with a loaded gun on his hip. I respect the feelings of everyone who feels in the least bit threatened.

  15. says

    Whether or not the e-mails in question were intended to be threatening, they were perceived as threatening, and should, until further notice, be treated seriously as such.

  16. says

    Julian: Grothe doesn’t own anyone and I don’t see how that helps.

    Keep looking, you’ll see. And I’m not trying to help. Otherwise, thought, good points and questions.

    Is he on some Official Asshole Committee at JREF or is this freelance work for him?

    Preposterous!

    It’s pretty revealing, when they intentionally conflate “assault” with “sex”

    word.

  17. Lyanna says

    Corporate harassment policies in the US are usually at least officially supportive of the accuser, to encourage people to come forward. They are also usually confidential (again, officially). So I don’t know what Blackford’s complaining about.

  18. bad Jim says

    While in hindsight it may be fair to say that Elevator Guy was merely asking Rebecca Watson over for coffee, and that Ophelia was just the recipient of some friendly advice about keeping safe, it’s still indisputable that Rebecca was accosted by a stranger in an elevator who invited her to his room at 4 am, and Ophelia was warned that her life would be in danger if she went to TAM. To deny that both situations were threatening, and to insist that only the most benign interpretation was ever reasonable, is patronizing in the extreme.

  19. Eric O says

    I think it was perfectly reasonable to see those e-mails as a possible threat. I can understand that some people might be more inclined to believe that the e-mails were well-intentioned warnings, but I don’t understand how such people can fail to understand how the e-mails might be interpreted as threatening.

    I hate to say it, but Russell Blackford is either dishonest or thick as a brick, at least on this matter. And I really do hate to say it; I used to enjoy his blog.

  20. Tim Harris says

    Russell B is surely being very silly. I should be interested to know why he feels he should involve himself in this. I seem to recall him asserting about the ‘Elevator Guy’ that he was probably some nerdy, painfully shy young man with Asperger’s Syndrome, and totally harmless. Well, maybe he was and maybe he wasn’t. Fortunately, or unfortunately (in the harmless case), we never found out. And given the context – Rebecca Watson had, as I recall, just been saying publicly something along the lines that she had grown fed up with rather too many men regarding conferences as little else but places to ‘lay’ any womewn participating – her remark did not seem in any way untoward, to me at least.

  21. Svlad Cjelli says

    He does keep his own blog civil. I wouldn’t have known he thought like this by just my subscription to him.

  22. says

    I too am bemused by Russell’s reaction to this. A little bit off topic, but I was especially surprised at his assertion that we should suspend judgement about whether Elevator Guy *even existed* until we have more evidence (I’m not sure what kind of evidence he expects). I see absolutely no reason to distrust Rebecca’s account, especially since it was so mild. The message was “guys, don’t do that”, which I still think is excellent advice. Why would we need more evidence to decide whether Rebecca’s point was a good one?

    As I said on another thread, I don’t think it matters whether the emails Ophelia received were actually in themselves a credible threat or not.

    The existence of a person who feels entitled to appoint himself Ophelia’s personal guardian is itself a threat. Who does that? Many people here expressed concern about Ophelia’s safety, but telling someone to keep their eyes open is different from giving strange, obsessive and not very effective security advice. Get a room in a different hotel and tell nobody where you are? That’s patently *not* good security advice and one of the many things that make the emails still seem threatening.

    The “don’t tell anyone, even me” part is particularly worrying because the guy has obviously decided that he has some special privilege: as though Ophelia would naturally tell him where she was staying! As though – even if she’d taken his advice – she’d have reported back to him!

    The creepiness and inappropriateness of being so overly concerned about someone you do not know is a threat in itself. The sensible default position is to be somewhat concerned rather than entirely dismissive.

  23. says

    Greg Laden,

    But my favorite part of all is where he lists the Freethoughtblogs.com bloggers who are doing it all wrong and somehow fails to include PZ’s name.

    Well, here’s what I think you’d have to be referring to:

    But what I can tell you, based on all that expertise and experience, is that most of what I am reading from Benson, Zvan, Watson, Myers, Laden is total bullshit. These people don’t know what they’re talking about, but are merely subscribing to an ideology.

    [emphasis added]

    I’m not sure who you’d think Myers should refer to, if not P.Z. Myers …

    bad Jim,

    While in hindsight it may be fair to say that Elevator Guy was merely asking Rebecca Watson over for coffee, and that Ophelia was just the recipient of some friendly advice about keeping safe, it’s still indisputable that Rebecca was accosted by a stranger in an elevator who invited her to his room at 4 am, and Ophelia was warned that her life would be in danger if she went to TAM. To deny that both situations were threatening, and to insist that only the most benign interpretation was ever reasonable, is patronizing in the extreme.

    Well, the problem is I agree that insisting that only the most benign interpretation was ever reasonable is wrong, but to call the situations “threatening” runs a massive risk of saying that they were intentional threats, not that the person was reasonable to feel, at least, that there might be a threat. I think that both Watson and Ophelia here were not being unreasonable to think that it might be a threat, and might have had reason to feel uncomfortable, but that didn’t mean that there was any intention to do so. I think a big problem with these situations is that people don’t separate what’s reasonable from their perspective to what is reasonable from the perspective of the other side.

  24. says

    And the anti-sex accusation… Isn’t the point that the more choice everyone has in safety, the better the sex for everyone? I *know* Russell buys into that principle, so I’m not sure why his conclusion on this matter is so odd.

    I think it’s great if people meet and fuck at conferences, who wouldn’t? But lets consider people above penises when we go about it. I don’t understand how Russell has lost sight of that.

  25. says

    “but to call the situations “threatening” runs a massive risk of saying that they were intentional threats, not that the person was reasonable to feel, at least, that there might be a threat.”

    Are you serious? The risk we should be concerned with is false positive identification of threats? THAT’s what’s important? That’s what ‘risk’ means in this situation?

  26. says

    latsot,

    Please stop overinterpreting words, and thus engaging in equivocation. I explicitly stated that people like Watson and Ophelia feeling that it might be a threat was not unreasonable, and so in the sense of “risk” that you are using I have already conceded the point. Thus, the “risk” I am talking about is another type of risk, the risk of using the word “threatening” to refer to the intentions of people as opposed to what people like Watson and Ophelia might feel based, which is wrong. Thus, it opens up the risk of being wrong. My phrasing is perfectly valid to express that statement and, really, there’s no reason for you to misinterpret what my point was given this:

    I think that both Watson and Ophelia here were not being unreasonable to think that it might be a threat, and might have had reason to feel uncomfortable, but that didn’t mean that there was any intention to do so.

  27. julian says

    I *know* Russell buys into that principle, so I’m not sure why his conclusion on this matter is so odd.

    How do you know that? If what’s causing him to call FtB anti-sex is its stance on sexual harassment, it would suggest his very hostile toward the idea of imposing rules and limits on sexual behavior and propositions.

  28. julian says

    but to call the situations “threatening” runs a massive risk of saying that they were intentional threats

    No it doesn’t. Threatening doesn’t require any intent on another person’s part. It’s possible to be inadvertently threatening just like it’s possible to be inadvertently dismissive.

  29. says

    julian,

    If someone says that “X was threatening you”, then the implication is always that that was intentional, and not just that the person found it threatening. On the other hand, if you say “I found X threatening”, that doesn’t imply that, at least not as strongly. What was said was that the situations were threatening, which can imply either interpretation. Clearing it up avoids anyone feeling like someone is saying the person was actually threatening them as opposed to it was a situation where the other person felt threatened, even though there was no intention of that on the first person’s part.

  30. says

    “Please stop overinterpreting words, and thus engaging in equivocation. ”

    I don’t think I’m equivocating. I think I understood your point perfectly but don’t care much about the ‘risk’ of being wrong about intentions. Mostly because nothing is really at risk in that situation.

  31. says

    julian,

    Actually, another way to think about it is this: if someone feels that another person might intend them harm, then they might feel that a situation is threatening, and might feel so reasonably. But if the person really had no intention of harming them, it would be wrong to say that the situation was threatening, because threats are about a chance of harm and there was no actual chance of harm there; the person was not going to do that. None of that would in any way mean that the person was not reasonable to feel that it might have been threatening, nor that perhaps the other person might have wanted to reduce that perception of threat in that case. Separating the two cases seems to me to be quite important in these discussions.

  32. says

    Julian:

    “How do you know that? ”

    Because I’ve read his stuff for years and he has been quite explicit about this sort of thing.

  33. says

    “But if the person really had no intention of harming them, it would be wrong to say that the situation was threatening”

    Which is not at all the same thing as saying that there is no threat.

  34. says

    latsot,

    Which is not at all the same thing as saying that there is no threat.

    Well, do you mean “saying there is no threat” as being like saying this:

    None of that would in any way mean that the person was not reasonable to feel that it might have been threatening, nor that perhaps the other person might have wanted to reduce that perception of threat in that case.

    Then, again I have already conceded the point. If not, then what do you mean by that?

  35. says

    Verbose, calm down. We differ on the meaning of threat and risk, but perhaps not enormously. I’ve already given an example: the intention of a person who writes creepy emails might not be to enact the specific threats he or she describes, but that doesn’t mean that the person isn’t a threat. Nobody really suspected Markuze of carrying out specific threats, but – especially in the later days – there was reason for some people to be concerned that he might do something bad. He was a threat. There were risks associated with that threat.

  36. Stephen Beesley says

    But Ophelia, your original post stated, unambiguously, that you had “got email threats about TAM”. No ifs, no buts, no nuance.

    Naturally, the majority of us were outraged, horrified and supportive. It now appears that in fact it was some person who messaged you inappropriately in a manner that was understandably alarming to you. I’m not aware that you spoke of any doubts or scepticism until the follow-up post.

    You say that you

    expect reasonable people at least to see that the messages I got are very peculiar, and that it is not obvious that they are not threats disguised as “earnest, concerned” advice.

    and that’s totally reasonable.

    Yet it is also not obvious that they were threats.

    My personal opinion is that you made a error of judgement in your original post. That’s okay, mistakes happen, no-one was hurt. But I fear that you’re defending the indefensible and, given that this is a sideshow and a distraction to the original TAM problem, perhaps it is time to move on from this particular incident.

  37. julian says

    Like latsot said, we probably disagree on what threatening means. To receive a threat or to be threatening, to me, has nothing to do with intent of the person coming across that way. The relevant part is how the person is received or could be perceived.

  38. julian says

    Naturally, the majority of us were outraged, horrified and supportive.

    If you say so.

    But Ophelia, your original post stated, unambiguously, that you had “got email threats about TAM”.

    Which she did. The emails were about all the horrible things that could happen to her and how she should hire private security. It was a very threatening email.

    It now appears that in fact it was some person who messaged you inappropriately in a manner that was understandably alarming to you.

    That would be a threat.

  39. Stephen Beesley says

    Julian, I suggest you go away and acquaint yourself with the various meanings of the word “threat”. The clear meaning here was that the emailer threatened her.

  40. says

    latsot, julian,

    I’m not sure that we do disagree on that, but think that it’s more that I’m pushing a distinction that I don’t think is being really recognized, which is between things about the person who is the purported threatener and things about the person who is the purported threatened.

    So:

    If a specific person is likely to actually commit an action to hurt someone else, they are a threat even if they don’t actually do anything visibly “threatening” up until that point.

    If a specific person makes a comment intending to make another person feel threatened, then they are threatening them.

    If due to circumstances another person feels — without appealing to anything actually about that person’s specific intentions or actions — that there is a chance that a person — perhaps not that specific one — might cause them harm in that case, then that person may seem “threatening”, but there’s nothing you can say about the purported threatener in this case.

    As an example of the last one, I might stop to buy bread from a man in Brussels, who is 6 ft 4 and full of muscles. Just being that big and that muscular might make me feel a bit threatened just because of the physical differences, but that says nothing about the man himself or his intentions or if he’s even capable of hurting me. He’s doing nothing to intentionally make me feel threatened and I have no idea if he could or would actually harm me. All I have to go on is that he’s 6 ft 4 and full of muscles.

    My concern is about translating reasonable concerns about the latter into unreasonable claims about the former, basically meaning taking the idea that if you feel that someone is threatening to you then they are indeed obviously really capable as specific individuals of harming you and/or trying to make you feel that way.

  41. julian says

    The clear meaning here was that the emailer threatened her.

    Which he did.

    Look, I’m not being obtuse. I know what you mean. You thought she’d received something along the lines of “I’m going to kill/hurt/maim you in some way.” I had a similar thought.

    But that doesn’t make this word game anymore valid. There was nothing in her post that’s a mischaracterization of what happened nor did she exaggerate it. I don’t get why this is a point of contention or why some are trying to write the letter off as entirely innocuous.

    @Verbose Stoic

    Ok, so we don’t disagree.

  42. Stephen Beesley says

    julian,

    Look, I’m not being obtuse. I know what you mean. You thought she’d received something along the lines of “I’m going to kill/hurt/maim you in some way.” I had a similar thought.

    Of course. We all did. It was the clear meaning of the post. My observation is that Ophelia is now complaining that reasonable people are not taking a nuanced approach which would not be possible from the original post. She says she was sceptical and but none of that was said until two days later.

    I would merely reiterate that I think the original post was ill-judged. Time to move on.

  43. julian says

    @Stephen Beasley

    I know you’ve said you wanted to move so this’ll be my last reply to you.

    I don’t know what you’re doing but you’re not fairly representing Ophelia here. She emailed whoever this person was back and as the emails continued to get weirder and weirder she became understandably uncomfortable with them. It was after this exchange (from my reading) that she said “I’m out.”

    It strikes me as incredibly unfair to be this critical because she did not include everything that happened in her first post.

    A couple of us jumped to conclusions. That’s not her fault, it’s ours for making assumptions without knowing the full context. It would have been enough to express concern and well wishes and wait until she was comfortable with elaborating on what happened.

  44. Martha says

    No surprise that Russell Blackford would react this way. He’s always seemed convinced that he can substitute his judgment for that of those he considers to be his intellectual inferiors.

    I don’t know anything about this Russell Blackford, but if he actually considers Ophelia to be an intellectual inferior, that says everything we need to know about his judgment. Hubris would be a better description of such an attitude than arrogance.

    Ophelia, this whole conversation is absurd. Nurse Ingrid explained very clearly the reasons for taking this kind of paranoia extremely seriously, and she’s absolutely right. That the letter writer didn’t intend for his words to be threatening is irrelevant. The Secret Service sure as hell would take this kind of letter seriously, and they’d make sure this guy came nowhere near the protectee.

    I hope you don’t have to keep dealing with this crap too much longer.

  45. says

    When I checked out the headers, I didn’t see any indication that it was someone posing as someone else. I saw it as coming through a person’s home DSL connection, through a service-provider-issued email address, not proxied or spoofed in any way. I thus assumed contrition, over-protectiveness, and that the person sending the email had little idea as to how creepy they sounded.

    The thing is, the email did not happen in isolation.

    If everyone in the community had been nothing but supportive and nobody said anything terrible and misogynistic to Ophelia at any point in her speaking career, I bet Ophelia might have thought, “hey, here’s a guy who’s just being overprotective.” She would have gone to TAM, nothing would have happened. (Or something might have happened, and she would have been blamed for not listening to the warning, to julian’s point).

    But this comes at the end of years worth of targeted hatred. Hundreds of anonymous folks have spat thousands of comments and emails containing nothing but invective at Ophelia for long enough that the chipping damage was done, and all it took was one questionable email talking about some supposed “hidden knowledge” that she might be attacked. This guy, by advising her as though he knew something might happen, was damned creepy coming on the end of all this nonsense and in the face of TAM proving that they have no intention of taking this bullshit seriously.

    I reiterate what I said before — I bet everyone who’s complained about FtB bloggers (and Ophelia in particular) being “bullies” feel really good about her pulling out of TAM now. They must feel like they’ve successfully outbullied a bully.

  46. says

    FWIW, I read those emails as mockery — but geez they’re pretty damn creepy, and I wouldn’t say with confidence they *weren’t* veiled threats, especially if they were addressed to me.

  47. says

    Eamon Knight: even if they weren’t veiled threats, even if they were contrite warnings of special knowledge, they are creepy. I see it as the straw that broke the camel’s back, no matter how well intentioned the guy placing that straw was.

  48. says

    @ 48 – to be fair – at least at the outset, Blackford did the very opposite of treating me like an intellectual inferior or acting as if he thought me an intellectual inferior. On the contrary, he invited me to write a chapter of 50 Voices of Disbelief. Clearly he thinks I’ve gone soft in the head at least on this complex of subjects, but that’s normal with disagreement. He really didn’t start from a de haut en bas position.

    So that’s not it. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not that.

    I don’t know what it is that causes him to focus so obsessively on the putative “bullying” at “FTB” while never saying a word about the starkly obvious scare-quote-free bullying at ERV – but at any rate it isn’t a starting conviction that I’m an intellectual inferior.

  49. says

    What Jason said @ 49. Quite. I have a target on me. That target got bigger and more fluorescent in the wake of DJ’s remarks blaming women who talk about harassment (because they could be seen as including me even though I hadn’t actually talked about harassment). That made me feel worried about a hostile atmosphere at TAM with no support from the management – i.e. DJ. Then the email arrived.

  50. says

    Blackford has been in the slimepit camp during the whole elevatorgate debate and after, so this is par the course for him.

    I used to think highly of him.

  51. Martha says

    @52

    I don’t know what it is that causes him to focus so obsessively on the putative “bullying” at “FTB” while never saying a word about the starkly obvious scare-quote-free bullying at ERV – but at any rate it isn’t a starting conviction that I’m an intellectual inferior.

    I’m glad it’s not that, Ophelia. Please feel free to remove the quoted block and the first paragraph from my comment #48 above. My main point is that it’s unfathomable to me that anyone can read what you’ve written and said on this subject in the last couple months, or to watch the video of the panel at WiS, and so forth, and not find it utterly clear that your ideas must be taken seriously.

    As to what it is, I can’t speak about any one person involved in this controversy, so I’ll comment more broadly. I don’t think it’s “just” confirmation bias. I’m an academic chemist, and I see this dismissal of common sense feminism all the time. When I was in grad school, I read Deborah Tannen, which I found a rather useful practical guide to learning how to communicate effectively in a male-dominated environment. I don’t want to take her ideas too far, but I do think there’s a difference in the norms of behavior in all-male and mixed environments, and I think some of the resistance is fear that the culture will be changed. You said something similar recently, that they fear they’ll no longer be able to have any fun if women are welcome. I think it goes beyond that. I think they also fear that the tactics of self-promotion that have been successful for them in a typical all-male environment will be less successful in a typical mixed environment. The men– and women– who are particularly skilled at using these tactics are probably right. IME, that’s minority, albeit a highly vocal and combative one.

    I recently read Joan C. William’s “Rethinking the Work-Family Divide,” in which she argued that, in our culture, men perform masculinity through work– through physical strength and daring (even foolhardiness) in jobs that require it, and through working long hours and showing dedication to work above family in professional/managerial jobs. If work– and, by extension, rational, intellectual debate– are ways of showing one’s masculinity, then I can see why some might be very threatened by the idea that they are not only wrong, but behaving extremely irrationally.

    Whatever the source, I agree with those who have said that the behavior of the anti-feminists in this debate is remarkably similar to that of anti-evolutionists in their “debates” with skeptics.

  52. Deepak Shetty says

    @Everyone who thinks that the email to Ophelia can’t be seen as a threat

    a. Garden variety threat – X aren’t welcome here and we know how to deal with them!
    b. Sophisticated threat – X face violence when they visit such and such city. I would advice you to keep a firearm at ALL times and lock your door when you visit. Your safety is the MOST important thing but no one can GUARANTEE it. TRUST NO ONE!!!
    I dont see why you have to necessarily read b. as friendly advice

  53. says

    Martha – well I’ll leave it, if that’s ok, because my reply is part of the picture too so I think that’s the better course.

    It’s very true about the difference betwen all-male and mixed environments. It was like that at the zoo – all male units were very different from mixed ones. Carnivores was all male [pauses to remember]

    When I first started at elephants it was all female. Two women and four female ‘phants.

  54. says

    Verbose Stoic:

    …but to call the situations “threatening” runs a massive risk of saying that they were intentional threats…

    Intent isn’t magic. And you don’t get to tell women what they may or may not find or call threatening.

    As for “the perspective of the other side,” as a woman I am inundated with the straight cisgendered male perspective just by existing in society. I don’t need well-meaning menz to mansplain it to me.

    Finally, if you don’t want to be “overinterpreted,” maybe you should develop a little more awareness of how you come across: as lecturing and concern trolling.

    Stephen:

    I would merely reiterate that I think the original post was ill-judged. Time to move on.

    Nobody’s stopping you.

  55. says

    Ms Daisy Cutter,

    Intent isn’t magic. And you don’t get to tell women what they may or may not find or call threatening.

    And I didn’t, in fact, say that. I was making the distinction between what people in general might find threatening and an implication of the intent or of any state of the person making that comment. As I repeatedly said, I think it reasonable in both the cases to feel threatened, but that that doesn’t mean anything about the intent or state of the person making the comment. So, yeah, I agree that I don’t get to tell other people what they may or may not find threatening, but in return you sure as hell don’t get to tell other people what they really meant when they said something.

    As for “the perspective of the other side,” as a woman I am inundated with the straight cisgendered male perspective just by existing in society. I don’t need well-meaning menz to mansplain it to me.

    There’s no such thing as that “perspective”. Everyone has their own perspective. As an example, on things like insults and meanings my brother and I have completely different perspectives much of the time, and we grew up in the same family and same culture. If you think you can read that out by appealing to some kind of odd WASP cultural artifact you’re going to get it wrong most of the time.

    Finally, if you don’t want to be “overinterpreted,” maybe you should develop a little more awareness of how you come across: as lecturing and concern trolling.

    So … because you don’t like my writing style you think it’s okay for someone to jump on one word or phrase out of my comment and pretend that that indicates my meaning without bothering to read or reference what I actually said?

  56. says

    It’s not your writing style. It’s the personality that style seems to stand for.

    Go away for now, ok? For this particular discussion you really are grating. [cue shouts of crazy feminazi dogma, irrational, ugly, nazi, urglblrgl]

  57. says

    It’s not your writing style. It’s the personality that style seems to stand for.

    Anal retentive? Overly analytical? Philosophic?

    I think I’d have to plead guilty on all counts [grin].

  58. Ole says

    I’ve never heard of Blackford, but I think he’s got a
    blind spot in his skepticism. It’s an amazing conspiracy
    theory he’s proposing.

    I mean, according to his theory you’re all making up
    these fake accusations, somehow conspiring quietly
    (Where exactly? Here on FtB, for all to see?)
    in order to achieve… eh… uh, what exactly?

    I find that hard to believe.

  59. Ole says

    Also, why is it that so many seem to think that it’s somehow irrational and non-skeptical to trust your feelings? I mean the feeling are there to tell you something. What you do about that information is up to you.

    Julia Galef has interesting things to say about this in The Straw Vulcan:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLgNZ9aTEwc

  60. Kevin says

    “De haut en bas.”

    Never have a seen an expression more aptly describe the thing being described.

    Be that as it may — once again, I think the entire issue is one of someone being made to feel uncomfortable by a word or action, and someone else trying to dismiss those feelings as being invalid.

    I cannot imagine why someone would engage in that kind of assholery. If you feel threatened, you are entitled to those feelings.

    Christina Rad has a post about being propositioned by “Threeway Woman” at TAM, and she didn’t feel threatened, just annoyed. And she has a right to those feelings as well. She asks whether that encounter was “harassment”, and there’s a divide among the respondents. But what didn’t happen was someone trying to invalidate her own reaction to the encounter.

    Can’t tell you how disappointed I am with Blackford with regard to this. Frankly, when I first heard the name associated with this type of response, I thought it was a sock puppet or some other guy appropriating his name.

    I think the phrase “feet of clay” is apropos.

  61. Dan L. says

    Please stop overinterpreting words, and thus engaging in equivocation.

    LOL. Verbose Stoic said that. I cannot stop laughing about the fact that Verbose Stoic would, apparently without irony, accuse someone else of overinterpreting words and engaging in equivocation.

    No. Self-important. Lecturey. De haut en bas. Someone who gives “help” where no help is needed or wanted. Patronizing.

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!

  62. says

    There is hope so long as he is with us.Don’t trust to chance!I like all kinds of fruit.You forget to write down the date of your departure.May I ask some questions? I would be very grateful for information about entry to your college.I would be very grateful for information about entry to your college.My brother is see king a job.That’s always the case.I feel I am the happiest person in the world.

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