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Jan 22 2013

Loop loop loop loop

Lots of fantastic people are coming to Women in Secularism. One woman is coming from Melbourne, another from Norway.

Jane Fae has a post at the New Statesman on “Misogyny, intimidation, silencing – the realities of online bullying.” The subhead is

The aggregated effect of floods of negative comments online can be enough to put opinionated women off appearing in public.

And thus we get a feeback loop. Opinionated women get floods of cunting and bitching and why the fuck are you so uglying, so they’re put off appearing in public, so dudebros look around and don’t see many opinionated women mouthing off and they conclude that opinionated mouthing off is more of a guy thing. And they say that, and opinionated women say no that’s not it, that’s a stupid sexist stereotype, think harder – and they get floods of cunting and bitching and why the fuck are you so uglying, so they’re put off appearing in public, so loop loop loop loop.

Last night I was chatting online, offering support to a friend who had just been bullied off Twitter. Nobody famous. Just an ordinary, everyday sort of woman who has taken the nastiness that life has dealt her over the last few years and come through it. Smiling? Mostly. But also vulnerable.

As an active feminist, she deals with anonymous abuse – she gets a fair bit of that, from the EDL and their hangers-on – and though it’s not nice, she copes. What got to her this time, though, was the viciousness of “friends” when called out on their refusal to condemn violence against women and joke polls about “people you’d most like to kill”.

The viciousness of “friends” can be quite staggering.

Beard makes the point well, in a blog responding to her own online treatment. It is clear that she is no stranger to tired old jokes about her appearance – but even she has been shocked about the response she evoked, describing the level of misogyny as “truly gobsmacking”. The focus of much of the abuse is sexual, sadistic even and, she adds: “it would be quite enough to put many women off appearing in public, contributing to political debate”.

In other words, it is silencing, something I get very well from personal experience. I’ve opted out of contributing online for periods ranging from hours to a couple of weeks after being subjected to this sort of online nastiness. Not just me. Many far braver women with serious contributions to make to public discourse on violence and abuse have suffered similar: been silenced simply for having an opinion.

And there’s another turn of the screw which Fae doesn’t mention: they get called “Professional Victims” for publicly objecting to the abuse. They, I mean we, cannot win.

Another person who’s going to Women in Secularism is Marc David Barnhill. Why? Because of

yet another “parody” website and Twitter account mocking the aims and methods (and ripping off copyrighted images) of prominent women secularists.

Plus his eight year old daughter may have had something to do with it.

Was I opposed to attending in the first place? Well, no, actually I very much wanted to, having missed the first one last year. And the roster is once again a stellar one: Lauren Becker, Ophelia Benson, Jamila Bey, Soraya Chemaly, Greta
Christina, R. Elisabeth Cornwell, Vyckie Garrison, Debbie Goddard, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Adriana Heguy, Melody Hensley, Teresa MacBain, Amanda Marcotte, Maryam Namazie, Katha Pollitt, Carrie Poppy, Edwina Rogers, Amy Davis Roth,
Desiree Schell, Shelley Segal, Rebecca Watson, Stephanie Zvan. It’s a startling collection of speakers.

So why wasn’t he going?

Well, that’s my business, frankly, and I’m starting to find your rhetorical questions a bit impertinent. But a combination of personal, financial, and health issues had led me to the decision to sit this one out as well. The women have got this, I thought. It’s covered.

Tonight I tucked my eight-year-old daughter in bed and settled down to scan Twitter and see what I’ve been missing.

A lot has happened in the last year, some of it wonderfully inspiring and much of it dismayingly ugly. One of the things about privilege is that an ally can choose to withdraw from the struggle when burnout or shocked sensibilities request it. Not everyone has this option. It’s an option I was too easily prepared to exercise.

So thank you, guy with the sophomoric, nearly clever parody account. Thanks for a gentle reminder just when I needed it. I’ll make it work. I’m going.

I feel a little abashed. I don’t give the guys with the sophomoric senses of humor enough credit. I’m not appreciative enough of all the free publicity. I’m too focused on the aesthetics and not enough on the consequences, however unintended.

29 comments

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  1. 1
    Cthandhs

    The “friends” thing really gets me. When I re-discovered feminism and internet feminism in particular, I naively shared a privilege checklist to a private mailing list consisting predominantly of people I knew and was friends with, mostly of the lefty progressive type. In moments I had a storm of men (and one woman) accusing me of “reverse sexism” and talking about their liberal credentials. It was… eye opening. Let’s just say that most of those people wonder why I don’t hang out anymore.

  2. 2
    michaeld

    I have to admit after all the awful comments I’ve seen since the first WIS I’m significantly more interested in WIS2.

  3. 3
    HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr

    I think I’d have a bit more respect for that New Statesman article if the “bullying” Bindel and Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill got/get wasn’t actually just being called on being vicious transphobes. The bullying was on their part.
    There’s no shortage of women actually harassed out of public spaces, and no need to pretend bigots flailing about their freeze peaches are anything but.

  4. 4
    Ophelia Benson

    But they weren’t just called out. I haven’t read what they said but I gather it was shitty. By all means say it was shitty, and transphobic if that fits. But that’s not all that was said.

  5. 5
    HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr

    I suggest reading what they said. Because it’s really kind of jarring to see that defended.

  6. 6
    Ophelia Benson

    I’m not defending what they said.

  7. 7
    jenniferphillips

    I have read what they said and it was, indeed shitty (and doubled-down on) and indefensible, but the correct response to that is public disagreement and destroying their arguments on their (lack of) merits. NOT harassment. Not ever. It is always the wrong choice to threaten and abuse someone, no matter how wrong they were.

  8. 8
    HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr

    Well, yes. The actual harassment they’ve received is inexcusable. But there’s also the issue of their considering any criticism of the transphobia to be the worst kind of misogynist harassment.

  9. 9
    Ophelia Benson

    Exactly. You’ll notice I don’t produce photoshops of the people who harass me, or call them sexist names, or complain about how ugly or old or fat they are, or call them insulting little diminutives of their names, or turn their names into slurs, or make videos to call them fucking cunts.

  10. 10
    AJ Milne

    I’m trying to find the positive, here… So I start by thinking, hey, this loop loop loop thing could be a great way to explain the whole thing to, say, someone who’s ever written code. And given the reputation of the tech sector as a dudebro enclave, this should be a sizeable cohort…

    … and then I start to thinking: but what if it’s rather another thing, and this notion of mine won’t actually help, because sexist dudebros don’t even grok what’s wrong with an infinite loop…

    … and then I continue by thinking: y’know, those two things–the dudebro enclave thing, and the ‘don’t grok infinite loops’ thing, it would explain some of the code I’ve seen over the years…

    … so I’m not sure I’ve got anything, here. Yet…

    But then again, mebbe if you fix the one, you get t’other for free…

    I didn’t say it was a particularly deep thought.

    (/The deep one was more, if those two things really do go together, for now, and unless and until I’m sure I’ve got something, mebbe I should just unload my tech stocks.)

  11. 11
    Wowbagger, Designated Snarker

    Ophelia wrote:

    Exactly. You’ll notice I don’t produce photoshops of the people who harass me, or call them sexist names, or complain about how ugly or old or fat they are, or call them insulting little diminutives of their names, or turn their names into slurs, or make videos to call them fucking cunts.

    And yet one of the scumbags’ most common ‘arguments’ is that the FTB/Skepchick/A+ crowd are ‘guilty of the same things they condemn others of’. And yet, whenever challenged to provide evidence of this claim, they’ve got one, maybe two examples – compared to what now must be in the many hundreds, if not thousands, of tweets, blog posts, YouTube videos and the like.

    But they call themselves ‘skeptics’ – hah!

  12. 12
    jenniferphillips

    Indeed. They trot out Greg Laden with such frequency I’m amazed the poor fellow’s legs haven’t given out yet. But after that, the field gets pretty thin, and mysterious posts from one-time commenter “Informed Consent” (or whoeverthefuck) are presented as equivalent ‘evidence’, along with just plain old fashioned lies and misrepresentations.

    Lucky us, I guess, for never having to scrounge for examples.

  13. 13
    hypatiasdaughter

    Lucky us, I guess, for never having to scrounge for examples.

    O.K. That made me laugh.

  14. 14
    hypatiasdaughter

    Exactly. You’ll notice I don’t produce photoshops of the people who harass me, or call them sexist names, or complain about how ugly or old or fat they are, or call them insulting little diminutives of their names, or turn their names into slurs, or make videos to call them fucking cunts.Exactly. You’ll notice I don’t produce photoshops of the people who harass me, or call them sexist names, or complain about how ugly or old or fat they are, or call them insulting little diminutives of their names, or turn their names into slurs, or make videos to call them fucking cunts.

    Well, now that is only because you are actually frittering your time away on useless things.
    Things like writing books to support atheists. Writing blogs and articles to support atheism. Going to conferences and lectures to talk about atheism.
    Sad, really, that you don’t know where your priorities lie.

    /sarcasm/

  15. 15
    Argle Bargle

    jenniferphillips #12

    They also like to claim Richard Carrier is THE spokesman for Atheism+ because of one post he later rescinded.

  16. 16
    athyco

    I feel a little abashed. I don’t give the guys with the sophomoric senses of humor enough credit. I’m not appreciative enough of all the free publicity. I’m too focused on the aesthetics and not enough on the consequences, however unintended.

    Feminists and their allies who didn’t support Hillary Clinton in 2008 spoke out on the criticism v. insult/slur divide. The same for those who didn’t support Sarah Palin…Christine O’Donnell…Sharron Angle…Michelle Bachmann. Ann Coulter has been defended year after year after year until the occasional “Mann” Coulter comment for a post in most atheist/skeptic circles is routed vociferously. No, it’s by no means all stamped out, but there is a long list of women in public who now have and will continue to benefit from their opponents as well as their friends defending them.

    Perhaps atheism will have a more difficult road (although I agree that unintended consequences are there to be appreciated). People of good will in “opposing” sports rivalries, political parties, religions, etc. will call out their own. The religious, however, through their faith that atheists are damned and can cause the damnation of others, are less likely to call out their own against us. In Edinburgh, the Pope compares atheist extremism to Nazis tyranny; why would any faithful Catholic care if an atheist does something like that to another atheist? Pat Robertson blames natural disasters and mass shootings on us; why would any faithful Southern Baptist care if an atheist says another atheist is being hyperbolic in claims, thus “tearing apart” the community?

    Are the sophomoric humor gang becoming our version of soccer hooligans, Tea Partiers, or Westboro Baptist picketers? The spotlight they’re unwittingly turning on themselves is showing more of them than of you. An unintended consequence, I do hope, is that more atheists/skeptics become repulsed by the idea of emulating those religious who ignore or disavow the harm caused their worst. We don’t have a common “faith” as an excuse, after all.

  17. 17
    Wowbagger, Designated Snarker

    And the HomerVacula twitter account, which appears to have stopped at the end of December.

    It’s indicative of their limited capacity for argumentation, and that they’re pretty much only capable of dealing with literalist and fundamentalist Christians, who are stuck with an unchanging bible to defend – as opposed to people who can change (and have changed) their minds on things, like Carrier has.

    Yet, as noted, we get new examples of scumbaggery every day. ‘Both sides’ indeed.

  18. 18
    Francisco Bacopa

    Seriously y’all, lawyer up. Hire private investigators. They will never stop until you can prove you can hit harder than they hit you. The long arm of the law is a pretty powerful fist. Make an effort to find out what legal recourse you have. Hire private investigators to dig up dirt. Find one of your worst harassers and hit him with a civil suit and release of embarrassing information at the same time.

    You have to hit back hard, and with such shocking violence (and by violence I mean civil court injunctions and such, along with old 1995 Usenet posts about bedwetting domination fantasies) that others are deterred. They will never stop until you can instill fear.

    If I were supplied with any address in Southeast Texas of one of your harassers I would gladly paint a butterfly on their driveway to send a message.

    You can’t make them stop until they are afraid of you. Use the law when you can, and call for a higher level of harassment when you can’t. I am serious. I can tag anywhere from Austin to Lake Charles.

  19. 19
    hjhornbeck

    Hire private investigators to dig up dirt. Find one of your worst harassers and hit him with a civil suit and release of embarrassing information at the same time.

    Given how shrill their cries are over fake doxxing, I wouldn’t want to be on the same continent if anyone tried the same thing.

    You have to hit back hard, and with such shocking violence (and by violence I mean civil court injunctions and such, along with old 1995 Usenet posts about bedwetting domination fantasies) that others are deterred. They will never stop until you can instill fear.

    They already do fear. Look at Shermer’s latest opus; mere disagreement is treated on par with torture and violence. I doubt he’s saying that because he wants to fire up a group of haters, he genuinely believes these things to some extent. Zvan, Benson, Myers, and others are just on the forefront of a culture-wide change, something most of the Slyme Pit dreads enough to mindlessly fight against.

    There’s more than one loop going on here; while the haters are trying to drive away women, the people who argue back are causing these people to get defensive. They can’t be wrong, they’re skeptics! And so they fight back harder, leading to those arguing against fighting back harder still. Rather than wake up, what blossoms is massive over-sensitivity and double-standards, where blocking people on Twitter is the height of censorship, while blocking people on the Slyme Pit is perfectly fine. Where posting someone’s home address can be rationalized away, while posting someone’s email is doxxing of the worst kind. Where they keep calling for disengagement from FtB, only to obsess over it further. “Hitting back” doesn’t break this look, it only strengthens it.

    No, if you really want to stop the haters, you have to break their loop. What benefits are they getting? What rules are they following? Defuse or disarm those, and the loop goes away.

  20. 20
    Ophelia Benson

    “Call for a higher level of harassment”? Why on earth would I want to do that? I don’t want ever-escalating harassment; I want an end to harassment.

    I don’t have any addresses and if I did I wouldn’t share them (except with law enforcement if necessary).

  21. 21
    Raging Bee

    Seriously y’all, lawyer up. Hire private investigators. They will never stop until you can prove you can hit harder than they hit you…

    Bacopa does have a valid point: these harassers are basically the lowest of the low, people who have no self-discipline, no restraint on their mindless hatreds, and who have (for bloody obvious reasons) been forcibly denied any other outlet for their relentless junior-high attention-hogging vindictiveness. We may never be able to locate and punish them for causing trouble, or force them to act like sane adults; but we can exclude them from our meatspace gatherings, toss them out of bars when they start to make trouble, and locate and prosecute them when they make obscene or threatening phone calls or letters. Now the Internet has given them a new outlet, and both the people and the technology are only starting to catch up with them, as they earlier caught up with them WRT phone and mail systems.

    At the very least, we need more and better means of cutting these lowlifes out of our cyberspaces, as we alraedy cut them out of our meatspaces. This will probably involve changes in what sort of forums we create on the Web, and definitely involve better tools to allow decent people in and keep bad people out.

    As for retaliation and punishment, I really don’t think such lowlifes will ever be deterred by it. I suspect that these, for the most part, aren’t people with decent jobs and reputations to lose, who know how to behave correctly if they choose to; they’re socially-deprived people who never grew up and know nothing but hate, abuse, punishment, hounding, manipulation, and childish modes of social interaction. Punishing these people for their bad behavior is like punishing a mentally-ill person for not acting like a sane adult.

  22. 22
    Raging Bee

    I don’t have any addresses and if I did I wouldn’t share them (except with law enforcement if necessary).

    Hopefully law-enforcement will start to catch up with the trends too. There’s an arms-race aspect to this: technology to attack vs. technology to fend off attacks. Today the former is winning, but that doesn’t mean it will always be so.

  23. 23
    Raging Bee

    And here’s another way to disempower the harassing scumbags: minimize isolation. I don’t just mean A+ folks sticking together, I also mean A+ folks reaching out to others who at least share the “+” if not the “A” — the more allies atheists have in other communities, the less the lowest common denominator will matter.

    Besides, remember that Christians have a similar “dep rift” in their own “community:” There’s Christians, who only want to live and talk and breathe Jesus 24/7, and “Christians+” who want to apply their moral code to fight for certain good causes in the real world, and who are getting slammed and attacked by the “Christian-” types. Think of what we could do if all the “+” types from all communities started to work together.

  24. 24
    freemage

    I, for one, would like to see a more aggressive stance by Twitter and Facebook on posting abuses–Conlon’s post, for instance, was so far beyond the pale that it should’ve been a matter of “Forward to some complaint office; account gets pulled”. Yes, the Freeze Peach contingent will whine and piss and moan, but they still don’t have an inherent ‘right’ to a given platform. However, when I went to check Twitter’s current ToS, they clearly prefer a completely hands-off approach; a comment has to reach lawbreaking levels (a very high standard) to warrant intervention.

    If it can’t be instituted on a full-system level, I do wonder if they could be persuaded to set up a sub-network–a “Safe Zone” where users agree to a stricter standard of conduct. Posts could still go out to a broader audience, but only users who were also members of the sub-network could post back to you. I know that such a safe harbor would make me more interested in actually using my Twitter account for something more than registering for forums and flash games.

  25. 25
    Dan L.

    (and by violence I mean… old 1995 Usenet posts about bedwetting domination fantasies)

    I’m pretty sure that would constitute slut shaming. I, for one, think it’s kind of shitty to punish people by telling everyone the kinky stuff they do to get off.

    No, it’s by no means all stamped out, but there is a long list of women in public who now have and will continue to benefit from their opponents as well as their friends defending them.

    This is much more like it. Being principled entails making concessions to your opponents and occasionally even fighting at a disadvantage. But it is also what makes you one of the good guys.

  26. 26
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    In Britain, it’s illegal to harass people

    Offence of causing intentional harassment, alarm or distress. In Part I of the M1Public Order Act 1986 (offences relating to public order), after section 4, there shall be inserted the following section—

    4A. Intentional harassment, alarm or distress. (1) A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he—

    (a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or

    (b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,

    I wonder if there is some similar, neglected statute in the U.S. or in your state that you might use to protect yourself against these people.

  27. 27
    casus fortuitus

    Markita Lynda – threadrupt:

    The problem with that offence is the requirement to show intent – I wonder how courts will treat the “only joking” defence?

  28. 28
    Francisco Bacopa

    I just wanted to make an apology here. I suggested that I should be supplied with addresses of anyone harassing Ophelia anywhere between Austin and Lake Charles and that I should graffiti tag their property. At this time that is an inappropriate response.

    I was moved to suggest this level of threatening behavior by the whole “acid in the face” Twitter comment. I take this comment seriously and still suggest exploring legal action.

  29. 29
    Ophelia Benson

    Thanks, Francisco. Perhaps you’ve seen that your comment has been made into a new meme to beat me over the head with? They claim that I encourage it, which is odd, given that I disagreed with it. Odd, but typical.

  1. 30
    Around FtB » Pharyngula

    [...] Ophelia is going around in circles. [...]

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