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Aug 23 2012

A marked increase in outright misogyny and thuggery

Another great post in Amy’s series, this one from Phil Plait.

What the hell is going on in the online community?

If you’ve been reading or paying attention at all to any of the online cultures like skepticism or general geekery (scifi, gaming, convention-going, and so on), you’ll have seen astonishing and depressing displays of sexism. That’s been true for a long time. But recently some sort of sea change has occurred, and what we’re seeing now is a marked increase in outright misogyny and thuggery.

The examples are so distressingly ubiquitous I hardly need point them out. A woman gamer wants to make a documentary showing misogyny in video games, and she gets rape and death threats. Rebecca Watson calmly and rationally tells men not to hit on women in enclosed spaces and reaps a supernova of hate and irrational vitriol. And now we’re seeing death threats, rape threats, all kinds of violent threats, against women who are simply trying to improve the way they are treated at meetings as well as online.

This. Must. Stop.

I second that!

There was also Michael De Dora’s last week, which I never caught up with.

If you are among the people who have been the target of criticism for supposedly making sexist remarks or acting in a misogynistic manner, think about all of this. Have you rejected arguments simply because they are coming from a woman? Have you disrespected women? Was it simply because of their sex? Have you afforded women the same respect you feel you would afford all human beings? Have you tried to put yourself in any of these women’s shoes? Have you treated women as you would treat yourself? Have you let sexism and misogyny slide when you could have tried to stop it?

These questions represent a crossroads for the secular and skeptic movement, as many good people are questioning their involvement. I understand and sympathize many of their points of view, and direct this message to those who consider themselves on some other “side” of the argument: imagine the message it would send and the potential consequences both within and outside the movement if secularists and skeptics finally collectively stood together against sexism and misogyny, and for equality of the sexes and fair treatment. I dare say it could be historic.

Women have experienced and to continue to endure social oppression and harassment at the hands of men – even within the secular and skeptic communities. It’s time for us all to condemn this unacceptable behavior. It’s time to articulate as a community why the sexes, and indeed all people, should be treated fairly and equally. And it’s time for us to act in accordance with this thinking, to treat one others with kindness and empathy. Otherwise, not only will women continue to face poor treatment, but we might also see the end of the already fragile secular and skeptic movements.

Which is the idea behind Atheism+, as I understand it. It’s not to exclude and shun allies, it’s to inspire allies to declare themselves allies. Yes, granted it is to exclude and shun proud vocal misogynists, but how is that a bad thing?

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  1. 1
    Aratina Cage

    It’s not to exclude and shun allies, it’s to inspire allies to declare themselves allies. Yes, granted it is to exclude and shun proud vocal misogynists, but how is that a bad thing?

    This right here is one of the main reasons I started reading Pharyngula. Replace “misogynists” with “anti-gay bigots” and you’ve got me pinned. I watched with glee as the bigots who would come there were verbally torn apart. I had never seen that before. That is something I needed, something that had been lacking in my life before then. I needed to see that other people stood with me and that I wasn’t going it alone with the onslaught of anti-gay LAWS that were being passed. And, yes, anti-gay bigotry is fundamentally religious. The biggest pushers of it in the USA are Christians. So it was only natural that an atheist blog like Pharyngula would be the place where that was rhetorically stomped into the ground. And in no way would I ever want to be an ally with someone who is an anti-gay bigot.

  2. 2
    Arthur

    I read a tweet by Russell Blackford criticising Atheism +. He felt it was redundant at best and wrote:

    “Once again, what serious person in the atheist/secularist/skeptic movement does NOT oppose misogyny, racism, and homophobia?”

    Thing is, if you read comments after videos or blogs regarding women in the skepticism movement, there are plenty of outright attacks on women to be found. It isn’t difficult to find blanket dismissals of “feminism” directed after even the most benign attempt to highlight problems for women in the movement. You’d have to be blind not to spot this.

    No doubt Phil Plait will be on the receiving end of abuse and vitriol after his latest statement. Like everyone else. And it won’t be the kind of tiresome hyper-sarcastic, OMG-speak criticism you get from people at Freethoughtblogs. It’ll be genuinely nasty. Because these people really are bullies.

  3. 3
    Ophelia Benson

    That’s nothing – I read a tweet by Russell Blackford calling atheism+ a hate group!

    It’s pretty clear that atheism+ means: atheism, plus we will hunt you down if you disagree with us on detail. It’s a hate group.

    I’m tempted to adapt the football anthem:

    We will, we will
    HUNT YOU
    [stomp stomp]

  4. 4
    Ophelia Benson

    Oh and Phil Plait already is – take a look at the comments on the Bad Astronomy mirror post of his piece.

    Honestly, if Russell really thinks that no one “serious” (as defined how, by whom?) in the atheist/secularist/skeptic movement fails to oppose misogyny, for instance, he either hasn’t been paying attention or is engaging in (highly) motivated reasoning. There are lots of people in the skeptic movement, for instance, who revel in misogyny. We could just declare them all not serious by definition, but then the claim becomes tautological and empty.

    Again, and however tediously, I think this is at least partly a matter of different filters. Misogynists don’t target Russell, because he’s not gyn. Maybe his filter is just clogged up with not-being-targeted dust.

    There’s the in-between area, the gray area, the uncertainty about group 1 versus group 2 – but group 2 is certainly not vacant.

  5. 5
    Rrr

    Again, and however tediously, I think this is at least partly a matter of different filters. Misogynists don’t target Russell, because he’s not gyn. Maybe his filter is just clogged up with not-being-targeted dust.

    Oh but you do write wonderful prose! On a par with Cuttlefish. I tip my hate to you both. Errr … ;-)

  6. 6
    Onamission5

    Ophelia @#4, I was going to say that, too. If you want to keep hope that his message reached the people who needed to hear it most, don’t read the comments on Bad Astronomy. I made that mistake yesterday when there were only a handful, and then I had to take a mental shower with brain bleach. I can only imagine what it’s like after the commentariat had a full 24 hours to marinate in their gleeful assholery.

  7. 7
    Ophelia Benson

    Rrr – thanks. :- )

    Onamission, yes, I read just a few at the top. Then I made my escape!

  8. 8
    peterhearn

    There are lots of people in the skeptic movement, for instance, who revel in misogyny

    Like who? Any big names?

  9. 9
    Rrr

    Probably, yes. Dunno any of them for sure myself, though. Anybody’s guess. But I trust OB’s judgement.

  10. 10
    TauriqM

    Nice post by Dr Phil. Ew. No. I hope no one calls him that. I’ve been really liking De Dora’s and Fidalgo’s ones, too.

    RE: Blackford and Atheism+

    Seems that Dr Blackford was looking at the language Richard Carrier and similar people were using, which seems to me, unnecessarily antagonistic toward those like myself who:

    (1) are not misogynists/racists/etc [as far as I know].
    (2) nonbelievers, but
    (3) who do not wish to “sign up” to any movement.

    If you look at examples of Carrier’s responses, it is (3) that automatically moves him to assert such people as NOT(1) – despite little to no evidence of this being the case. He also does end his post with a fallacy (which is surprising from such a careful and articulate thinker), which, when pointed out to him in the comments, is denied, glossed over, etc. “Are you with us, or with them; are you now a part of the Atheism+ movement, or are you going to stick with Atheism Less?” he asserts.

    Whether someone is a misogynist/sexist is something we can find out and demonstrate. I would want to know, too; I also agree it is worth pointing out and steering clear from such people.

    I also think the social justice issues are central and am glad for the enthusiasm. I’ve nodded my head at every one of the (broad) goals: equality, combatting homophobia, etc. I also agree with many who say atheism is rather in-itself unimportant – it’s our ethical, political, etc. that really matter. It’s why your blog is and has always been important, for women’s rights and, especially, Muslim women’s rights. And that can (and is) being focused on by specific groups: women’s rights groups, secular bioethics, and so on.

    But because I do not wish to sign up to the Atheism+ movement, Carrier and similar folk (though I have only at hand the evidence of Carrier’s language) would consider someone in a similar position as “signing up for douchery” . This is the move that asserts that somebody is NOT(1) because of (3).

    I’m assuming that it is this that Blackford is focused on. I don’t think he thinks this of everyone. But anyway, the point here is not defending Blackford but to see what responses to this would be from you and others. Notung has some good points, which can add to this discussion and which largely articulates my ambivalence about/heavy scepticism of Atheism+. Rebecca Watson also has a good post and comment response, as does Reason Being.

    Three apologies: [1] I was responding to your views regarding what Blackford was speaking about, as far as I could ascertain in my conversation with him. And would be interested in your response. And [2] if I make any of those damned hyperlinking mistakes, please do correct! [3] Being a non-regular commenter, my apologies if I’m bringing up discussions, points, or links which you’ve already had.

  11. 11
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    What Aratrina Cage said. In my case, I don’t have a particular personal suffering of bigotry marginalization I have to fight, but what got me following all these blogs and comments was the anti-bigotry in general, along with the anti-faith and anti-ignorance. I probably would not have seen a reason to follow atheist-orientated stuff otherwise, aside from occasional entertainment. Y’all made me care that atheist-based movements existed.

  12. 12
    Ophelia Benson

    @ 8 – I don’t think I know of any who revel, no. But non-big names? Lots.

  13. 13
    Ophelia Benson

    Tauriq – you still want me to delete the second comment? I ask because it appeared, while I was away. The one before it was held because of links, not because it was a first.

    For your first – well, as so often in these discussions, if he meant Richard Carrier’s post, he should have said that instead of “atheism+” – just as people in general should stop throwing shit at “FTB” because they dislike one or five or eight specific FTB blogs.

    It’s a great irony that much of the burden of all these “FTB” tweets is to do with groupthink, ostracism, dividing the world into them and us, othering…when the people who do all this “FTB”-bashing are othering and groupthinking and ostracizing like mad.

  14. 14
    Rob

    So if Russell Blackford said this:
    “Once again, what serious person in the atheist/secularist/skeptic movement does NOT oppose misogyny, racism, and homophobia?”

    Is he wilfully blind or has he fallen prey to the no true Scotsman? Maybe he is redefining the thousands of clearly misogynistic uggggghhs we have seen crawl out of the woodwork in the last year as ‘not serious’ and therefore not really part of the movement.

    Either way, poor.

  15. 15
    TauriqM

    Agreed. And yes please do delete my second comment. (I figured it was my flooding of links, though I hope they provide insight and debate for some who might not have seen them)

    As per a recent discussion on Twitter (with Pribble, etc.), I’m not as averse as I was before reading Emily Has Books update in her post: if Atheism+ a bridge of some kind, to spur people on toward good goals, I wish you all the best and indeed would support the strands I’ve done some work in (sex workers, bioethics, women’s rights, etc.). However, if it’s as Mr Carrier has portrayed it, I think there are problems. But, my support would be for almost anyone interested in those areas, not merely atheists – is my point. (Though I would disagree probably more fundamentally about morality with non-atheists and be suspicious of motives!)

  16. 16
    Ophelia Benson

    I don’t think it is as RC portrayed it. I hadn’t even read that post until today – people think we co-ordinate everything but we don’t.

    Jen has a good FAQ here:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/blaghag/2012/08/responding-to-common-misconceptions-about-atheism/

  17. 17
    TauriqM

    OK. Thanks!

  18. 18
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    Blackford: “Once again, what serious person in the atheist/secularist/skeptic movement does NOT oppose misogyny, racism, and homophobia?”

    Oh, man, the obliviousness. It burns.

  19. 19
    Wowbagger, Designated Snarker

    Ms. Daisy Cutter wrote (of Russell Blackford):

    Oh, man, the obliviousness. It burns.

    He’s got to be pulling a No True Atheist/Secularist/Skeptic™ to even contemplate believing this without having his head assplode.

    Though I guess that’s the benefit of him being a totes smart philosopher dude; he can come up with far more verbose ways of alleviating cognitive dissonance than the rest of us worthless peons.

  20. 20
    psanity

    Ms. Daisy Cutter:

    Oh, man, the obliviousness. It burns.

    Well, this is Russell Blackford we’re talking about. If he doesn’t see it, it doesn’t exist. And he wouldn’t see it if it were written in Sharpie on his forehead, backwards.

    Because he’s a Real Skeptic. Not like us fuzzy-thinking uncomfortably activist A+ers, who are doing the field labor of building local and online communities that will actually function and not make sensible people run screaming. Why, our hands are all dirty; what’s the matter with us? The view is so much better from the ivory tower. And who needs windows when you can project so well on the tower walls?

  21. 21
    Kristjan Wager

    Once again, what serious person in the atheist/secularist/skeptic movement does NOT oppose misogyny, racism, and homophobia?

    Well, Blackford for one. He might think he does, but his actions speaks louder than words.

  22. 22
    rq

    What F said @ 11.

  23. 23
    latsot

    It’s pretty clear that atheism+ means: atheism, plus we will hunt you down if you disagree with us on detail. It’s a hate group.

    Russell’s views on these topics are increasingly astonishing. *How* is that clear? What motivation could anyone have for ‘hunting down’ people who disagree and what would they do if they caught them?

    I can’t see how anyone who read Jen’s posts could come to this conclusion. It seems perfectly clear what she means by the term. It looks to me as though bullying and exclusion couldn’t be further from her mind, let alone hate. Same goes for people like Greta and Ophelia who have supported the idea.

    Russell is starting to sound like he’s dismissing certain ideas because of who they come from rather than what they are. In this respect, he increasingly reminds me of certain people we know about who spend an unhealthy amount of time (if not any actual effort) refuting and ridiculing everything certain people say…

    I’d love to see how Russell would justify this tweet.

  1. 24
    Atheism and Misogyny: Like Oil and Water?

    [...] Well, I guess that takes care of that! [...]

  2. 25
    Cyclical Faith in a Certain World and Unpopular Opinions « Pilgrim Outskirts

    [...] realize how silly it must appear to someone looking on? On the internet, I read of atheists being typical misogynists at secular conventions. See? They aren’t as superior as they seem to think. I see pagans [...]

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