Ken has a nice post at Popehat on the strangely hyperbolic reaction to discussion of harassment at conferences.
I am not a feminist. By that I mean that I am completely uninterested in whether or not I deserve the label “feminist” or “anti-feminist.” I believe in the legal, formal, and social equality of men and women, I am interested in the ways that laws and social norms interfere with that equality, and I am open to discussion of approaches to changing laws and social norms.
I gotta tell you, Ken, that means you are a feminist. A non-feminist doesn’t believe in those things and isn’t interested in those ways and isn’t open to that discussion. Arguing about definitions isn’t what makes someone a feminist. To put it another way, your “by that I mean” might as well continue “the exact opposite of what any sane person understands by feminism.” But hey, if the word gets on your nerves because it sounds like people defending FGM as someone else’s fragile culture, I’m not going to argue, or paste a feminist button on you when you’re not looking.
On the other hand, I am often astounded by the reaction to “feminism” (self-identified, or so identified by critics) or any discussion of sexual harassment. The reaction often seems wildly and disproportionately sensitive to criticism to a frankly disordered extent. I’m seeing that from both men and women in this debate over harassment at skeptic conventions. In fact I find the reactions more off-putting than the descriptions of harassment themselves. Take, as a recent example, this recent letter from Paula Kirby, which repeatedly calls her opponents “hysterical” (a loaded term that I would only use trollishly, belligerently, or satirically), defends terms like “feminazis” and “femistasi,” refers to discussions of harassment as “totalitarian,” refers to the “Sisterhood of the Oppressed” and “Approved Male Chorus,” and generally acts like a 14-year-old flaming out upon being banned from a World of Warcraft subforum for comparing Orcs to various racial groups.
And what makes it all the weirder is that in person she seems like the sanest person in the room. She’s Obama-esque in her poise and calm. It feels Invasion of the Body-snatchers-ish. That’s not true of other principle actors in this clash, certainly including me, but Paula is the last person I would have expected to collapse into an extended tantrum.
I don’t get it. I’m not saying that self-described feminists — or anyone else talking about sexual harassment — are always right. They’re not. Sometimes they’re perfectly silly. I’m saying that they are participating in a marketplace of ideas, and that responding to them with “your criticism breaks the marketplace of ideas” or “your criticism is tyrannical” tropes is unserious and embarrassing. I sometimes write things that some people think are sexist or offensive. I own them. If someone calls me out on them, I will apologize if I think it is appropriate, or refute the accusation if appropriate, or shrug and move on, possibly with a lol u mad bro. What I will not do is attempt to portray myself as some sort of victim of bullying and censorship — as if someone had sued me, or tried to get me arrested, or physically attacked me. People hissed at me for non-liberal views in college, people sure as hell hissed at me in law school, and here I still stand, not a victim.
Well, that’s how I see it. I’ve been trying to see the merit of the view that disagreement on a blog amounts to bullying (in the intervals of mocking the whole idea, granted), but it’s a hell of a strain.
I wonder what Paula would think if a few FTB people started doing tweets about #RDFBullies, full of high-minded vows to fight them, stand up to them, challenge them, and whacked-out cries that it is SAFE TO SPEAK OUT and YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I don’t think she would consider that very collegial or even fair – yet she doesn’t hesitate to do it to Freethought blogs. That too is odd.