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Not if but where

I had an interesting Twitter conversation with Dave Silverman yesterday, which continued with other people later. It was about the recurring subject of having an all-inclusive political movement on the one hand, and standing by certain values or commitments on the other hand.

Dave obviously has to lean heavily toward the former, because that’s his job. The atheism comes first, by a long way, and everything else comes second. But does everything else come nowhere? I don’t think so. I think there are limits. I don’t think Dave would welcome the KKK or the American Nazi Party as allies, for instance. Just for one thing, accepting them as allies would mean the loss of a lot of other allies, so you can frame it as a completely hard-headed practical decision. But for another thing, it would ruin the brand, and I know Dave doesn’t want to do that: that’s why he always disavows things like vandalism of churches or mosques. He doesn’t want atheism (and especially AA) mixed up with that; he wants them clearly and starkly separated.

So the question turns out to be not if but where: not if there are limits, but where they are drawn. He draws them more widely than I do, because he has to. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t draw them at all.

It’s my view that over the long haul, it will be best to separate American Atheism clearly and starkly from overt noisy misogyny and sexism. I’m pretty sure AA is already clearly and starkly separated from overt noisy racism, as I indicated above; I think overt noisy misogyny and sexism and overt noisy homophobia and trans-bashing should be in the same category.

Not everyone agrees with me on this.

Comments

  1. hjhornbeck says

    Not everyone agrees with me on this.

    I suspect the Venn diagram between those that disagree, and those that practice overt noisy misogyny / sexism / homophobia / trans-bashing, would bear a strong resemblance to the new moon.

  2. Jason Dick says

    Made me laugh, hjhornbeck :)

    But unfortunately, I don’t think it’s quite that simple. It may be hard to vocally defend the inclusion of such people, but it’s pretty easy to just be mostly quiet on the issue and suggest people making a fuss shouldn’t be making a fuss. I do think that view is sexist, but not overtly so (i.e., you can say, “Don’t feed the trolls,” without saying, “Get back in the kitchen!”).

  3. says

    I don’t see why the atheist movement would want any association with misogyny, given that it’s one of the better ways to criticize religious dogma. We’re not asking Dave to make feminism his issue as president of AA or be omnipresent to detect misogyny, but he should take an across the board anti-bigotry stance. Anybody remember the Larry Darby?

  4. says

    I like David Silverman and I think he does a lot of good. From that conversation you had yesterday, it seems to me that he just doesn’t consider sexism in the movement to be that big of a deal, which is of course not surprising given that he’s not subjected to the worst of it. He seems to hold the rather common view that the Big Fight is promoting atheism and that sexism is at best an ancillary issue.

    Anymore, these days, I am leaning towards exactly the opposite belief. It seems like atheism is growing daily, practically on its own, and becoming more and more acceptable, whereas sexism seems to be getting worse. Perhaps I’m just paying more attention and that’s not actually the case, I don’t know. I do know that the only comments of mine that I’ve made on twitter that have attracted abuse/haters are the ones wherein I speak out against sexism & misogyny. The pro-atheism comments go by silently accepted.

  5. screechymonkey says

    By the way, speaking of dubious allies (and yes, that’s a lame segue to this probably off-topic bit of news, but…), it would seem that the JREF has finally published the Women Thinking, Inc. report on vaccination resistance.

  6. dshetty says

    It’s my view that over the long haul, it will be best to separate American Atheism clearly and starkly from overt noisy misogyny and sexism.

    Not everyone agrees with me on this.

    Id say the disagreement was over what constitutes misogyny and sexism rather than whether misogynists or sexists are welcome.

  7. says

    Id say the disagreement was over what constitutes misogyny and sexism rather than whether misogynists or sexists are welcome.

    DS didn’t dispute that OB’s examples were misogyny. He just continued to insist that “we are all allies”, even the people who call women “cunts”.

  8. says

    Deepak – well to the extent that that’s true (and I don’t think that’s much of an extent), that in itself is sexist. Trying to define away everything short of rape & murder with a signed affidavit by the perp, as not sexist or misogynist…is sexist and misogynist.

    But anyway I don’t think that’s the issue here. Dave’s point is that we can be allies even if we’re not friends, and we don’t have to agree on everything to be allies. I agree with that as a generality, but the particulars are a problem.

  9. Al Dente says

    Someone who thinks other people aren’t people is someone who is neither an ally nor a friend. There would have to be several degrees of separation between a supposed ally and the misogynists before I’ll accept the supposed ally as a possible ally.

  10. stanbrooks says

    I don’t comment often, but this is an issue that strikes home for me. Once I discovered that board members of my local atheist meet-up were also associated with the gals and fellows of the slymepit I became much less interested in joining in on their activities. In this I fully agree with Al Dente.

  11. Minnow says

    I think overt noisy misogyny and sexism and overt noisy homophobia and trans-bashing should be in the same category. Not everyone agrees with me on this.

    I think there is widespread agreement on this, but the consensus collapses over definitions. We mainly agree what overt racism looks like, but there doesn’t seem to be clarity, in many cases, on what overt sexism is when people like Russel Blackford are considered, in some activist quarters, to be misogynists. So I think Silverman is right to take a very cautious conservative line on this.

  12. Bjarte Foshaug says

    @Ophelia #11

    Trying to define away everything short of rape & murder with a signed affidavit by the perp, as not sexist or misogynist…is sexist and misogynist.

    I usually point people to your blogpost #peopleagainstbadthings in those cases. Placing atheism’s “gender problem” outside of the definition of “misogyny” only makes “misogyny” a less useful term. It doesn’t make the attitudes about women that have surfaced in the 2 1/2 years since the comment in my gravatar was uttered any more acceptable.

    Just for one thing, accepting them as allies would mean the loss of a lot of other allies.

    They have definitely alienated me. Secular Woman is pretty much the only organization that hasn’t disqualified itself from any kind of support for the rest of eternity at this point.

  13. says

    Silverman was just mansplaining. Probably cisplaining, too. That’s what got him on BlockBot in the first place, even though oolon has (temporarily?) let him back off.

    Waiting for “agesplaining” next from older nth-wave feminists .. or the kiddie pool of A-Plusers 40 years from now.

  14. Chuckles says

    Sorry if this has been mentioned previously here, I remember seeing it in a comment on a blog, just can’t remember which one.

    I’ve been a little unsure of Dave Silverman since this. Not sure if it has been explained somewhere why he would choose to like that particular video.

  15. Dan L. says

    Minnow@14:

    I haven’t seen many outright accusations of misogyny per se directed at Blackford. What I’ve seen is accusations that he’s vehemently and irrationally anti-feminist, that he’s willing to bend over backwards to give benefit of the doubt to people like Elevator Guy but not to (for example) Rebecca Watson, that his reactions to certain statements (for example “guys don’t do that”) are disproportionate to the statements to which he is reacting, and just generally that he’s unwilling to examine his attitudes towards gender or feminism or to seriously consider any argument driven by a feminist perspective.

    All of which is rather easily verified by looking at what he’s written.

    I think “sexist” would be a fair label. I don’t see that Blackford goes out of his way to make the world a worse place for women (except OB, RW, and a few other particular women) but he’s certainly not willing to examine his attitudes towards gender with the attitude that he might not yet know everything.

  16. don1 says

    Chuckles, That’s actually a pretty good video. Silverman featured in a Mr Deity video himself (as did PZ). Of course that was before Mr Deity picked sides on the Shermer issue. But he still made some good videos.

    As for Blackford, I lost all regard for him when he argued that suggesting OB should consider the possibility of acid throwing as a consequence of her expressing her opinion was wrong because it was a tactical error and gave her what she wanted. Not because it was a sly attempt at intimidation (it wasn’t technically a threat, more a ‘concern’.) but because it might put his ‘side’ in a bad light.

  17. Chuckles says

    don1, it’s really not a good video.

    Although I now realize that Dave Silverman’s liking of it was brought up by Steve A.E. at comment 27 (and DS’s involvement and AA’s response are also discussed) at the second transcript post. Has anyone heard from DS that it definitely wasn’t intentional?

  18. Stacy says

    I’m pretty sure AA is already clearly and starkly separated from overt noisy racism, as I indicated above

    The overt and noisy kind, no; but that suit against them for racial discrimination hasn’t been settled yet.

  19. Minnow says

    What I’ve seen is accusations that [Blackford] is vehemently and irrationally anti-feminist

    Really? Because I think that underlines the problem that Silverman is pointing to. Blackford strikes me, and a lot of people, I think, as vehemently and rationally feminist, so the definition problem is a real one. That is not generally the case with racism or homophobia. I can’t think of an example anyway.

  20. Dan L. says

    Minnow@23:

    Can you back up this assertion of Blackford being vehemently and rationally feminist with some evidence or something? In the mean time I’ll try to find some of his choicer anti-feminist comments.

  21. Dan L. says

    Minnow@23:

    Let’s also not pretend that strict definitions can settle these sorts of self-identification problems. Read this: Tangent and then consider that the author, Dave Sim, insist that he is not a misogynist.

  22. Dan L. says

    Also, KKK and Stormfront members — virulent racists — will insist that they are not racist but that they are race realists and that their contempt of other races and ethnicities derives from rational analysis. Which comes right back to the point OB is making in the OP.

  23. says

    Minnow @23 – That’s a bad (cognitively and thus also ethically) reply to Dan L because he explained exactly what he meant quite carefully, and you simply ignored the explanation to pretend he’d simply made a dumb unqualified assertion. Don’t do that.

    I don’t think Russell is anti-feminist, but I do think he’s made common cause with quite a few people who decidedly are anti-feminist, and turned a blind eye (at best) to a lot of very overt sexism and misogyny.

  24. Dan L. says

    Blackford will happily call FtB criticism of movement heavyweights “bullying” but will not call slyme pitter harassment of FtB folks “bullying”

    Blackford categorically rejects OB’s worries about possibly veiled threats refusing to leave any room for interpretations other than his own

    Blackford refuses to speak at any conference also featuring PZ Myers or Rebecca Watson. As far as I can tell, this is because they thought “guys don’t do that” was a reasonable statement and Blackford disagreed.

    Blackford tweeted the following, implying that RW was simply lying about the EG scenario (despite the fact that there was nothing particularly implausible or over-the-top about the story and that the only other witness — EG himself — hasn’t disputed RW’s account): @Colvinius You do know, don’t you, that Watson is a very sketchy individual and the story she tells is largely untrue? #factchecking

    He just goes on and on. Whatever it takes to discredit RW on the basis of…a factual disagreement about an event at which she was present and he was not?

    Russell’s one-sided view of the “deep rifts” continues: (FB comment by Blackford)
    “Sorry, but I no have time for someone who whines about the so-called harassment of vicious bullies who vilify good people and destroy their reputations on a daily basis. The individuals this Doench person mentions as victims are exactly the ones who need to take the pledge. They and of course PZ Myers, who is the worst of all, as he’s called me a bold-faced liar and encouraged a forum where I can be called scum, a misogynist, etc., etc. Doench is part of the problem if he’s going to defend such people.

    People like Doench need to understand that people like me are very angry for good reason. Every time I read something like this claptrap, I get that much angrier. Until I get an apology from Myers in particular, I will not let this drop.”

    Noting again that Blackford doesn’t object to slyme pitters characterizing, say, OB as a c*nt but seriously objects to Pharyngulites characterizing him as, say, scum.

    Blackford characterizes OB’s request to Vacula to leave her alone at WiS asa “witch hunt”: “Whether or not you agree with Justin Vacula’s opinions (and I disagree with many of them), this witch hunt against him has to stop.”

    Blackford defends Lindsay’s statements as WiS2: ”

    Russell Blackford @Metamagician tweets

    By giving an apology, @RALindsay hands a victory to people who trash and vilify opponents for reasonable disagreement.

    There was nothing wrong with @RALindsay’s remarks. They were correct, diplomatic, and timely. He should withdraw his apology.

    @RALindsay should not have apologised for anything.

    “Trash and vilify opponents for reasonable disagreement” is particularly rich given how Blackford started out his grudge against PZ, OB, and RW.

    I maintain the above demonstrates an anti-feminist attitude: while he may not explicitly target feminism he happily targets feminists whose interpretation of “feminism” is different from his own. He’s unwilling to accept what I would characterize as reasonable disagreement on standards for fair treatment for women. Rather than engage in coherent criticism of the positions of PZ and RW, he insists what they do is “vilify and trash” (as opposed to merely criticize; I’m quite sure he’d categorize his own “vilifying and trashing” as mere criticism). Engage in “witch hunts”. (No one using the phrase “witch hunt” unironically is interested in reasonable debate or discussion, the only purpose of the phrase is in propaganda and polemic.) He refuses to even speak on the same bill as them.

    The vehemence and irrationality are clear from the quotes and context provided. There is still some room to disagree about “anti-feminist” but I have trouble attaching a motive to the noted irrationality and vehemence outside of serious contempt for what PZ and RW interpret feminism to mean and what that interpretation implies about proper behavior.

  25. Minnow says

    “I don’t think Russell is anti-feminist”

    Neither do I, but many people (like Dan in his last comment above) do and that is why there is a serious definition problem, and why Silverman is, in my opinion, right to be cautious. I am not saying Dan (and others) don’t argue their point, but I don’t think Blcakford is anti-feminist for any vale of that term so there will be a problem in allying to drive out ‘anti-feminists’.

  26. Dan L. says

    Minnow@30:

    I’ve argued my case at length while admitting that there’s room for disagreement there. You don’t seem willing to engage what I’m actually saying, instead trying to dismiss me as unreasonably “trying to drive [Russell Blackford] out” which is simply not the case. I haven’t seen anyone “trying to drive [Russell Blackford[] out at all.

    What I have seen it Blackford quite unreasonably trying to drive others out.

    As I’ve already pointed out this has very little to do with definitions. I think I’ve made a decent case that Blackford is engaged in exactly the tactics of which he’s accusing his “opponents” and that furthermore he’s consistently applied different standards to the “two sides” here. Given that I’m not sure it matters what definitions we use since Blackford may very well verbally accept a certain definition and then betray that definition with his actions. His actions are already inconsistent with his rhetoric. Once you get to that point arguments over semantics aren’t particularly helpful.

    If you can engage with my actual arguments I’m perfectly willing to hear yours.

  27. Minnow says

    Dan, I recognise you have a view about Blackford that is argued for, the reason I don’t engage with that is because I don’t think it is to the point right now. The question is whether people like Blackford represent test cases, I would say absolutely not, he is a feminist by any standard I would be willing to apply. Others, maybe including you, would argue the opposite and consider him a possible case for exclusion. That is why this is not an issue like racism or homophobia. I cannot imagine a Blackford case in those areas. We are very unliekly to agree what constitutes the evils we might all agree should be banished. I would get rid of misogyny too, I think it is vital, but I don’t see misogynists where many others do. That is why I think Silverman has it right in this case.

  28. Argle Bargle says

    Blackford fails an important test for being a feminist, i.e., actually giving a damn about women. For that matter, Russell Blackford only gives a damn about Russell Blackford, making him a Russell Blackfordist.

  29. Minnow says

    Actually Argle, although I take your point, I don’t think that giving a damn about women is really necessary to be a feminist. You just need to give a damn about justice. I think it could be entirely coherent to be a passionate feminist while not liking women very much at all.

  30. Dan L. says

    Minnow@33:

    Dan, I recognise you have a view about Blackford that is argued for, the reason I don’t engage with that is because I don’t think it is to the point right now. The question is whether people like Blackford represent test cases, I would say absolutely not, he is a feminist by any standard I would be willing to apply.

    That’s actually exactly the point right now. Did you read the OP?

    Others, maybe including you, would argue the opposite and consider him a possible case for exclusion. That is why this is not an issue like racism or homophobia. I cannot imagine a Blackford case in those areas.

    Then you lack imagination.

    We are very unliekly to agree what constitutes the evils we might all agree should be banished. I would get rid of misogyny too, I think it is vital, but I don’t see misogynists where many others do. That is why I think Silverman has it right in this case.

    Again, no one’s trying to “drum Blackford out of the movement” so stop harping on some point I only ever made in your mind. (also, I explicitly said Blackford isn’t a misogynist. I’d appreciate you acknowledging what I’m actually arguing rather than, as I said, simply arguing with some hallucinatory version of me.) Blackford is trying to drum others out of the movement, though, so maybe some defense of Blackford’s asshattedness is in order.

  31. Dan L. says

    Minnow@35:

    Justice is an abstract noun whose definition will change according to one’s personal values. Unless one values other human beings the word “justice” probably wouldn’t mean much at all.

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