Feb 05 2013

Sexual Objectification: An Atheist Perspective

Picture of Caroline Heldman, Ph.D.A recently excellent TED talk by Caroline Heldman about sexual objectification is a must-view. It will just take you thirteen minutes of your time, and I guarantee every minute is informative–things you should know, if you don’t already (and don’t assume you do). She correctly defines and identifies a real problem, identifies from empirical and scientific findings why it’s bad, and lays out what you can do about it, and everything she suggests is doable without much expense (the only resources required: just your attention and concern, and what it motivates you to say and think and do) except one thing, which is producing better art, advertising and media yourself (which we need not all do: that’s a recommendation for artists, marketers, and media people).

To watch that video, and read yet another disgusting example of how the women in our own movement are being treated, see Rebecca Watson’s post on it (Reminder: I Am an Object). Her post is short but to the point and she gives the evidence of what she’s talking about (in her case, something far worse than what Heldman is talking about, but on the same arc). Why so many men in our movement (and even some women) are not taking this seriously as a problem to speak out against and fight I don’t know. Anyway, the Heldman video is embedded at the end of her post, so if you don’t care about the latest harassment of Rebecca Watson, you can just skip to the end and watch Heldman (or click on her picture here above). Indeed I dare you to.

In the meantime, I have more to say on this subject as an atheist, a humanist, a feminist, and a philosopher…

Atheists, especially organized and active atheists, often make the point that we care more about the welfare of humanity than theists, that unlike them, we have (or certainly can have) sensible, empirical, rational ideas of what actually are the problems facing society and what to do about them. Our abandonment of gods and dogmas is precisely what qualifies us to speak out on social issues, because we aren’t deluded into guessing the mind of some imaginary being or interpreting ancient primitive texts to discern his will, or using either to justify and maintain outdated morals and attitudes. That’s what makes atheists different from almost all theists in society.

And that’s why atheists of all people should make themselves heard on issues like this. We have a distinctive perspective, born from a freedom from gods and spirits and dogmas that theists cannot claim to have. In this particular case, unless we choose to act just like religionists, we can have rational and reasonable and evidence-based scientific, philosophical and moral discussions about sexual objectification. We can notice it, analyze it, observe what effects it has, and decide whether we like those effects or not, and whether we’d have a more enjoyable and better world if we changed it (and then, how we can change it).

Depicted here is an example of sexual objectification used by Heldman, an ad in which a woman is objectified as just a table with legs holding a purse on top.For example, we don’t have to just analyze and talk about sexual objectification (as the negative side of the use and promotion of sexuality and sexism) as something to be against (though we should), but we can also, at the same time or on its own, analyze and talk about what I shall call sexual subjectification (as the positive side of human sexuality and eroticism) as something to be for. Sexual subjectification also sexualizes its subject (whether women or men) but in ways opposite those listed by Heldman: it represents the whole person, as an actor with a will and desires of their own, it does not dehumanize the subject (Heldman criteria 1, 2, 6 and 7) or negate their individuality (criteria 3, 6 and 7) or gratuitously eroticize their lack of consent (criteria 4), or treat them as only a source of sexual gratification (criteria 5 and 6), as if they were not a thinking, complex agent with their own will who can also be, and should also be, a chooser and recipient of sexual gratification, an actual or potential equal partner in deciding and pursuing sexual pleasure (including the most basic sexual pleasure of viewing or enjoying the company of beautiful people without any actual sex expected or occurring).

An image from shoe designer Brian Atwood, photographer Tony Duran, and stylist Kithe Brewster: image of actress Rene Russo wearing Atwood's shoes in exclusive fetish book Role Play Rene. The image has many characteristics of objectification yet subverts stereotypes by depicting the man naked and lovingly embracing a dressed woman, who is erotically clothed but fully depicted, in a state of pleasure, and engaged in thought.Erotica and porn is thus not by definition sexually objectifying. It can be. But it doesn’t have to be. And good porn and erotica isn’t. It sexually subjectifies instead. It communicates, through its art, that women are human beings, in all the same respects as a man, and contextualizes their sexuality in those terms, rather than depicting women as mere pleasurebots for men. Even kink that fetishizes nonconsential sex can (and should) humanize its victims and thus sexually subjectify them (see On Writing Kink). Sexual objectification is not empowering; it is quite the opposite. It is dehumanizing and disempowering (in all the ways Heldman surveys). Sexual subjectification, however, can be empowering, of women generally (as it is of men), and of the sexualized subject specifically (even in unexpected ways, as I discussed before of Sasha Grey, in Sexy Sex Sex!! (for Cash on the Barrel)).

This is why it shouldn’t be the case that if a woman wants to sexually subjectify herself (like, pose for erotic photos for the benefit of her fans, or work as a porn star), she should not then be assumed to be a sexual object. Yet even many atheists in our movement have done this, arguing that (or acting as if) the moment any atheist woman poses for erotica or (God forbid! — and yes, I am using that phrase with deliberate irony) does porn, she is no longer a person worthy of respect but is to be derided and belittled and treated as a sexual object, and then blamed for it (as if her own empowering sexual subjectification morally warranted her sexual objectification and abuse). Honestly? See Greta Christina’s remarks in #mencallmethings: “whore” and Why I Probably Won’t Do Porn Again: Sexism and Being a Woman on the Internet for real perspective on this.

Black and white picture of myself (Richard Carrier) dressed as Caesar, standing with a spear and wearing a gold laurel crown, semi-nude with just a tiny linen wrap suggestively positioned around waist; this was the September picture for the Skepticon calendar of 2012, limited edition.We know this non sequitur is overtly sexist, and often misogynistic, because it generally doesn’t happen to men. All the shit said to Greta Christina and Rebecca Watson and Jen McCreight for posing in erotic art has never been said to me. Even though I did the same thing they did. Evidently no one cares if men sexually subjectify themselves for the entertainment of their fans. No one assumes that that then negates his value as a human being, reduces him to a sexual object and nullifies the value of anything he says or does. Yet that is how women are treated for it. By their own peers. Think about it.

The thing is, it’s atheists of all people who should know better. It’s supposed to be the irrational, superstitious, sex-fearing theists who can’t make logical distinctions and thus oppose all sexualization, all porn and erotica, all nudity and sexual liberty. They are clearly wrong, and their fear and loathing of sexuality (female sexuality especially) drives their socially harmful efforts at censorship and thought control, and shaming and harassment. Why on earth would atheists do the same thing? Shouldn’t we be the ones speaking out against attitudes like that? And, you know, not the ones perpetuating them?

I’m reminded of the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated (which all atheists should see, because it documents how Christians actually exercise real power over the American movie industry and thus control what you are allowed or likely to see in cinema, all behind closed doors and often not even noticed) and one story it tells in particular:Screen cap from Chloë Sevigny & Hilary Swank love scene from Boys Don't Cry, erotically depicting a loving mutual relationship how the film Boys Don’t Cry [now also available in HD] had to edit itself to cowtow to Christians in the Motion Picture Association of America who would not give it a marketable rating unless they deleted a consensual sex scene depicting female pleasure (even though the brutal rape scenes, ending in murder, were totally fine). The director had to fight them, even though having no actual leverage over them, and eventually persuaded them to allow the good sex scene, as long as the woman’s orgasm didn’t go on for too long (it was thus edited down to mollify the MPAA). This is all kinds of fucked up. And it’s certainly the sort of thing atheists should be up in arms about.

But these kinds of attitudes about depictions of sex and sexuality should be the failings of theists that atheists gleefully and persistently point out. They should not be the failings of atheists, too. We should be fine with positive depictions and uses of sexuality. We should, with our responses and comments, be actively empowering the women (and men) who engage in such things or appreciate them. We should not be attacking them and attempting to objectify and dehumanize them. Insofar as any atheists do that, the rest of us in the atheist movement should be outspoken and clear in condemning it. Every bit as much as we would be if Christians were the ones doing this to us.

But even beyond what’s going on in our own house, sexual objectification is a real problem to care about generally. To have your eyes opened to all the subtle ways sexual objectification in art, marketing, and media is everywhere, and what you can do about it, and why you should care, watch Caroline Heldman’s TED talk.

She’s pretty much 100% right. My only nitpick would be that I don’t agree with her closing statement against women using make-up to beautify themselves. The basic feminist analysis Greta Christina performs on high heels in High Heels and Feminism is entirely adaptable to all beautifying clothing and cosmetics. Even though I don’t think Heldman meant to suggest a blanket rejection of the practice (only the promotion of a general social acceptance of women when they don’t wear make-up, in other words ending the pressure on them to always do so, a sentiment I entirely agree with: see what happens when women do or don’t wear makeup), her way of making the statement could be mistaken for such by the inattentive.

These images of John Adams, Adam Ant, and Jared Leto illustrate the points I just made.That the practice of wearing makeup is presently gender specified is not in itself an indication of sexism (any more than skirts are), as one will remember men used to wear makeup, too. Not only in many distant periods of history (why, even the Founding Fathers wore wigs with cute curls and bows and pony tails, and that was then as manly as ever). Men in makeup was still cool even as recently as the 1980s, and even now there is a masculine way to wear makeup evidenced in the rock, punk, goth, and ink cultures. I would even experiment with it myself if it were more generally done and not falsely associated with midlife crises or regarded as unseemly for an academic–an example of sexism negatively affecting men and restricting their freedom, sexism that is still entirely generated by other men (since most women I know would not make such assumptions about me if I wore eyeliner).

Thus, makeup is no evil. But the pressure to wear it can be. Likewise, being (or making yourself) beautiful or attractive and enjoying the results is no evil. But requiring a woman to be beautiful or attractive in order to like her or take her seriously can be. And reducing her to nothing but her appearance definitely is. And above all, the social impact of the widespread objectification of women (as well as of men) is not something to be complacent about.

And that’s one atheist’s perspective on the issue of sexual objectification and why we should care about it and do something about it, and why we mustn’t do what the theists do, and oppose or vilify or punish sexual subjectification along with it.

Special comments policy: Besides my usual comments policy, any comment on this post that says or implies (or even so much as contains a remark that says or implies) that we should ignore sexual objectification as a problem because there are other problems to worry about will be deleted without ever being posted. You should know that’s a fallacy, and why it’s a fallacy, and if you don’t, you are the worst skeptic on earth, committed to irrationality or incapable of reasoning. I don’t care what such people have to say. So I will not let you say it on my webpage.


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  1. 1

    Isn’t “objectification” simply a way a normal human mind works – modelling world as a set of interacting objects? For example an employer “objectifies” an employee as a task-machine, a government “objectifies” a human as a taxpayer identified by a number. Even non-bureaucratic entities objectify people – eg. for other drivers you are just a moving object on the road, for a judge you are just an object of a type of witness or suspect.

    The worst is perhaps the way people objectify the feeling or even thinking animals – for people they are just meat. Even intelligent ones, like whales treated just as a source of meat and fat. But you don’t have to do this, as proven by Temple Grandin you can share feelings with animals, and understand what they think (see for example the documentary “The Woman who thinks like a Cow”). But she’s autistic, so she cannot be counted as a normal human mind.

    But if the normal human mind models world as a set of objects and interaction between objects then how “objectification” is even avoidable? This goes even for computers, which can be prgrammed using so called “object-oriented languages”, in which stuff is represented by objects with certain properties, and limited set of methods you can do on objects. Isn’t such model actually good in the sense of efficiency? We are not capable of doing full-parameter simulation of everything and everybody in our minds – so your request for non-objectification would just mean a request for not thinking?

    Or are you just a sex purist, who thinks objectification of everybody and everything other than sex is OK, but for things related to sex doing that is a taboo?

    1. 1.1
      Richard Carrier

      Isn’t “objectification” simply a way a normal human mind works – modelling world as a set of interacting objects?

      That would be defining the word differently than Heldman does. Making it a moot point even if correct.

      But it also isn’t correct. What you just described is autism. Autistic minds have trouble modeling other minds and thus often have literal difficulty in seeing other people as anything more than objects (“meat sacks,” as one autistic author put it). Obviously, that is not what Heldman is talking about.

      Your examples even reflect a completely different idea than your initial sentence: numbering people, for example, does not intrinsically dehumanize or objectify any more than naming them does. Numbers, after all, are just names in a different language (mathematics), although numbers can be used to take away someone’s name and thus their individuality (e.g. concentration camp tattoos), but only when actually used to that purpose. Merely numbering people doesn’t do that.

      It’s treating people as if they were just a number, a disposable or interchangeable commodity, that objectifies them. And whether that’s bad depends on how complete it is: for instance, commerce and warfare must treat people (employees, soldiers) as disposable or interchangeable commodities (of necessity), but if it does so to the exclusion of their humanity (their value as persons, as citizens, and as individuals), then that is definitely something to be against as well. And most people, in practical fact, are against that. Dehumanization, denial of individual rights and will, eclipsing a person’s thoughts and feelings as if they didn’t exist or didn’t matter, these are dark roads to go down. The worse when they target a specific group to the advantage of another.

      Thus, the issue is not the recognizing and accounting for what can be objectified and commodified about people (e.g. one mechanic is interchangeable with any other mechanic), but doing so to the exclusion of their humanity, or indeed promoting the idea that they have no humanity (that all a mechanic is is an interchangeable set of skills).

      Sexual objectification does this within a subset of sex and gender. In the specific ways Heldman explains. And that is what is bad about it.

    2. 1.2

      So it looks like what you are against is abstract thinking. Abstract thinking is about HIDING INFORMATION. Your requirements for inclusion “of their humanity (their value as persons, as citizens, and as individuals)” whenever humans are involved are a direct, though partial ban on abstract thinking, as they disallow hiding information, even if it is not needed or revelant for particular purposes.

      The ban on abstract thinking you propose may even be harmful to people, civilization, systems, institutions and other general entropy decreasers. Consider your example of an mechanic, but with a twist – a mechanic who has great value, skills and competencies as a mechanic, but low value as a person, citizen and individual. Note I’m not talking here about people of negative value as a persons, citizens and individuals, like destructive violent criminals, fraudsters etc. just of people of low such value. Constant and consistent including person’s “value as persons, as citizens, and as individuals” in everything, thus also in hiring, wages and assigning tasks would result in people with less mechanic skills, but more personal values doing mechanic work. Which is both discriminatory for people with specialized skills, bad for civilization – as stuff is done with people with less skills for the tasks, who are just better personalities, also bad for the institution, as they hire worse specialists as compared to using abstract thinking. A civilization built from a set of entities with great specialized knowledge and low everything else can thrive, while one with amorphous blob of good character-entities with low professional skills fails. Competence and professionalism are a moral virtues more important than personality, after personality exceeds some low minimal treshold of not being destructive (=evil). And there’s no minimal threshold for them from which they become unnecessary. Abstracting away irrevelant invormation like personality traits (after they exceed the low treshold of not being evil) seems to be a great way to promote these virtues. I’d say that even now we have too much promotion of personality over competence. Yes, I know there are people who are good at everything, but how rare are they? Can we afford services of perfect mechanics?

      Besides there’s no actual objective measures of people’s “value as persons, as citizens, and as individuals”. Some value discipline and stirct following of rules, some others prefere easiness and flexibility. Some value thuthfulness, some prefere diplomacy. “Eclipsing a person’s thoughts and feelings as if they didn’t exist or didn’t matter” can also be a good thing, expecially when these are stupid, ignorant or misguided. Actualy eclipsing people’s stupid thoughts and feelings may be a way to see their value :-)
      So abstract thinking wins big way – and yet you are against it in a quite general sense. The pseudoscience (Gender Studies) representative was at least making a special case (Special Pleading fallacy) that we shouldn’t use abstract thinking, expecially it’s object-oriented variety only for sex topics, not as general as yours.

    3. Richard Carrier

      So it looks like what you are against is abstract thinking. Abstract thinking is about HIDING INFORMATION. Your requirements for inclusion “of their humanity (their value as persons, as citizens, and as individuals)” whenever humans are involved are a direct, though partial ban on abstract thinking, as they disallow hiding information, even if it is not needed or revelant for particular purposes.

      Not at all. You don’t have to attend to everything about a person to acknowledge and treat them as a person. We can do math on death rates from a specific cause, without describing any personal stories of those deaths, yet without dehumanizing the people who died. It’s when we specifically treat or contextualize a person in a dehumanizing manner that we then objectify them in a way that is bad for society and the people (and class of people) being objectified.

      Constant and consistent including person’s “value as persons, as citizens, and as individuals” in everything, thus also in hiring, wages and assigning tasks would result in people with less mechanic skills, but more personal values doing mechanic work.

      This does not follow from anything I said. Dehumanizing someone and thinking ill of them are not the same thing. Saying a woman is an awful person and saying a woman has no will or identity or thoughts or individuality are not the same thing. And perpetuating the image of all women as devoid of individuality or worth is not the same thing as demonstrating a specific woman is a bad person (or lazy or dishonest or whatever). Indeed, the latter still recognizes and treats that woman as a person (who has a character and thoughts and a life to evaluate), which is the exact opposite of objectifying her.

      Thus, it seems quite clear you don’t understand what we are talking about. Or you do and you are just fucking with me.

      Your calling gender studies a “pseudoscience” (gender studies is an interdisciplinary field crossing the sciences and the humanities, not a science itself; it is more comparable to philosophy or media studies; insofar as it uses science, when done well, it uses actual science, not pseudoscience) and your characterization of Heldman’s argument as “special pleading” (I don’t think you know what that means: dismissing, without evidence or argument, all gender studies as pseudoscience is special pleading) suggests you are not being honest with me.

      You have strong emotional biases here, and they do not appear to be rational, or admirable. They are distorting your perception of reality, and interfering with your ability to reason coherently.

    4. 1.3

      In normal meaning of morality when the results are good, and intentions are good then such a person is considered good, or at least not evil. So a person who treats every clearly separable entity in the world as an object, but treats objects well both as intentions (striving for thes state of objects to be good) is considered moral. Treating object well may mean something like providing excellent maintenance for his car objects, sex & reproductive objects, computer objects, house objects, stuff he maintains or manages at work, as well as for children, so that all these objects are in a great state. Related to non-destructiveness towards non-his objects (including those being part of wild nature, technical, infrsastructural ones etc.) or even being in favor of them being in a good state. I mean a competent, responsible, reliable approach that is not humainstic (not special thinking, classification or preferences for human-type objects), not feministic, not even emotional. An approach that is useful for maintaining a civilization that currently consists of mostly of and is critically dependant on non-human objects.
      By the way notice that in such approach it’s the object that are more and more frequently actors with initiative as the world progresses. Technical objects with electronics (“smart” products) ask for maintenance on their own intiative, tradotionally the same is with children-type objects.
      What you propose is a set of strict moral rules that would add demonization and classification of people as evil based not on intentions and results, but on a way of processing informtion: if there’s no special pathway for humans in one’s brain (“exclusion of humanity”) then one is considered evil by your rules. Basically a fundamentalist humanist stance. Are you a humanist Taliban?
      Why is the special-pathway-for-humans you propose and support wrong?
      1) It ends with evil effects. Special thinking about humans is not only giving special rights what humanist say. It also implies that there will be special punishments and more cases for punishments. Before the advent of thinking in terms of systems the way to deal with a problem was to find some humans that was nearby a problem, attach a guilty label and apply a punishment to him – case solved. This includes exteme cases like burning “witches” accused of causing some natural phenomena, but a typical case would be something like bad quality of a batch of products resulting in firing some workers that were at the time working in a factory. Or even trivial cases – some humanistic-thinking people have tendency to shout at a driver if a bus is late, at a mall employee if there’s some product labeling or pricing inconsistency, at a helpdesk employee if a product causes them some pain.
      Such unjust punishments for humans was only solved when the civilization learned the contept of the system, and started thinking in such terms. Eg. there are quality control systems, that show that it’s inherent that there will be bad baches of products, allow to estimate how many, how to minimize the number, how to check if the batch is good etc.
      It even affects scientists! Those who blame CO2 for temperature rise call the phenomena HUMAN CAUSED global climate change. How bad is that! Isn’t it obvius that large CO2 are the result of the activities of civilization? If you believe in CO2 role in climate change, then it’s only honest to call it CIVILIZATION CAUSED global climate change.
      One of the features of too much human-cenetered centered processing in our world is that corporations and institutions get much more benign senteces for the same crime. Usually just paying a sum of money for everything bad they do, while humans for the same activity face severe life disruption – eg. jail time. It’s simple – if you think about the world in the terms of humans, then humans have to be punished for the evil that is in the world.
      Your stance is an example of getting into the trap set by humanist bias. In a sense you are publicly supporting demonizing people for non-humanistic processing of information, while you haven’t written anything condemning other infomation processing entities (eg. computers) for processing information in a non-humanistic way. That is because of a humanistic bias you are treating people worse than non-people in this aspect! This is even though for many tasks, including decision making, humans and and other information processing entities are exchangable. For example a computer system can be used to decide wheter to provide welfare to a person, based on data provided to in a request and assiciated documents and taken from other computer systems (eg. tax office one to get info how much money a person has/makes).
      2) It’s does not reflect reality.
      The reality for civilizaiton is that probably the strongest actors affecting the world are distributed systems (like a free market, science, Internet, as set of interconnected and interdependant businesses – both small and big ones – as well as a civilization itself being a distributed system), then you have individual institutions like corporations and governements, then I’d say technical stuff – like factories or computers…. humans are quite low-level actors by themselves. Few geniuses perhaps, as well as few destructors and few oligarchs or other men in power – they’re rather exception than the rule to the not-so-influential mass of everybody else.
      The reality for nature is that humans are not special entities but just a part of ecosystem – critically dependant on it, and related to the other animals, subject to a common set of threats – virueses, natural dieseasters etc. There’s not much special about human feelings – animals have them too, they also can be quite intelligent, have identity etc.
      It’s not only the special thinking pathways for the humans, but also obsessing about them and spending disproportionally large amount of time on human’s issues that is incopatible with both features as well as needs of the world. And this is what humanists do.
      The humanistic way of thinking about the world that you advocate is just BOKEN, inadequate, wrong and dangerous.
      It’s not that processing information using an abstraction of systems and objects is perfect, or better than other non-humanistic ones. It’s just it’s probably the simplest one that is both reasonably close to how the world works now, and is intuitive enough to be explained to a common person without the need for an extensive math teaching.

    5. 1.4
      Jason Goertzen

      The way you define object, subjects are just a type of object. The point of Richard’s criticism is that it’s immoral to behave toward a subject as though they are ONLY an object–that is, *as if they were not a subject.* It’s treating a subject like a non-subject. To put it in childish terms: the whole problem is treating people as if they have no feelings of their own. This applies to animals too–it’s why it’s meaningful to call it immoral to torture a dog, but not to smash a rock in two.

      When you treat a car well, or your phone well, it’s not for the car’s sake, or for the phone’s sake: it’s for your own sake, because of how their becoming damaged would impact you; this has nothing in common with treating a person respectfully because that person has feelings of his or her own. Honestly, it’s very strange that you find anything to object to in this kind of thinking.

      You also read into humanism what isn’t there. It’s the idea that we, as humans, are responsible for our own values and behaviour: there is no god to determine it for us. Many humanists advocate animal rights. It’s not meant as “humans are the highest value, everything else can be exploited in service of humans!” I don’t know where you’re getting that; it’s a blatant strawman.

    6. 1.5

      @Jason Goertzen:

      Point 1

      Jason: ” [...] humanism [...] It’s the idea that we, as humans, are responsible for our own values and behaviour”.

      What you have written sounds quite comical in the context of the post you are responding to. In it there are examples as well as a general description of a problem of people being assigned a blame for the failures of systems, corporations etc. And a culprit is identified – a broken way of thinking, “a humanistic bias”, “humanistic way of thinking about the world”, “human centered information processing”. A wrong mental model of the world in which it’s the humans, rather than institutions, corporations, distributed systems, technology etc. are the major actors shaping the world, responsible for what occurs in the world. From it it obviously follows that humans should be held responsible for the results that occur in the world. Including being severely punished for the bad results.

      The model is wrong because it’s not humans, but greater forces, like distributed systems (eg. trade networks, Internet, science), institutions and corporations, governments etc. are the major actors shaping the world. So it’s they who should be held responsible for bad results that happen, rather than humans who were on duty or working when bad stuff happened.

      So the real assignment of responsibilities cannot be achieved unless a broken way of thinking is extinguished. The unfortunate fact of life is that many people are quite dumbheads when it comes to thinking in abstract, non-human centered ways – even if they are otherwise intelligent (when the humanistic bias is not activated). Many of such people identify themselves as humanists.

      Just an example: you have a tax system. In this tax system companies pay 19% rate from what’s close to their profit. That is they can deduce any reasonably justified expanse from the tax – things like a rent for the locum, electricity, components they bought, supplies, services from other companies. Humans on the other hand have from the total amount the employer pays first subtracted something on total something like a progressive 37% to 45% (including health care tax, and pension tax), with no ability to deduct even basic necessities like food, cloth, electricity, medical expanses (strangely Internet access and public city transit can be deducted up to a limit). Almost a revenue tax.

      Enter people identifying themselves as humanists, who say that in the name of “social justice” we need to tax the rich. So I think – they surely must think about increasing the taxes for corporations who make dozens of millions in profits? It turns out it’s not the case – they don’t even bother thinking about the tax, keep the current tax as is, but just introduce some punishment-like rates for HUMANS! Humans that don’t even make millions, just being on the right side of the human income curve. These are the blatantly anti-human views from people calling themselves humanists.

      I’m not a humanist, but in my view in no way humans should be taxed on the worse conditions as corporations. That’s possible because I use object-and-system oriented thinking, rather than human-centric one. So it turns out if you think in an abstract terms like “taxpayer”, or “economy participant” only, without unnecessary introduction of information if it’s human or not, then it is actually MORE beneficial to humans, than the current tax system based on humanist biases.

      Point 2

      Jason: “When you treat a car well, or your phone well, it’s not for the car’s sake, or for the phone’s sake: it’s for your own sake, because of how their becoming damaged would impact you”.

      That’s a lie. I simply have this tendency to treat object and systems well, and support them being in a good state and function well. Independent of whether it’s for my own interests. Or some other human’s interest. I just have a preference for stuff to work, being bug free, not broken etc. rather than for them to be destroyed, neglected etc. I don’t know if it’s inborn or cultural. And I know other people who have this feature.

      Jason: “To put it in childish terms: the whole problem is treating people as if they have no feelings of their own. [...] treating a person respectfully because that person has feelings of his or her own.”

      On the contrary I don’t care about feelings that much. There are many reasons for this. First these are worthless because they are too subjective. Example: tell a few average people that they are average. The results: some will feel offended, as they though they are greater than average, some will be indifferent, some will be happy to be assured that they are not below average. Second respecting feelings it’s not fair, as it gives privilege to emotionalized, rather than non-emotional people. Up to the point of treating the latter as some sort of evil – “cold”, “calculating” being thrown as invectives etc. Third – feelings are the weakest form of information processing available. Getting information and having a feeling about it is so much inferior to analyzing this information, validating it or other ways of thinking about it. So it follows we should respect others’ thinking rather than others’ feelings.

      Point 3

      Jason: “humanism [...] It’s the idea that we, as humans, are responsible for our own values and behaviour: there is no god to determine it for us.”

      It’s your definition of a humanist that is wrong. You probably confused a humanist with a secular humanist. A humanist (as in general and common-language term, not a sectarian word in atheist circles) can be a believer in gods. According to dictionary com a humanist is:

      1. a person having a strong interest in or concern for human welfare, values, and dignity.
      2. a person devoted to or versed in the humanities.
      3. a student of human nature or affairs.
      4. a classical scholar.
      5. ( sometimes initial capital letter ) any one of the scholars of the Renaissance who pursued and disseminated the study and understanding of the cultures of ancient Rome and Greece, and emphasized secular, individualistic, and critical thought.

      I’ve clearly indicated that a good indicator of a humanist is the level of interest and spend resources – time, energy etc. on human issues. “It’s not only the special thinking pathways for the humans, but also obsessing about them and spending disproportionally large amount of time on human’s issues [...]. And this is what humanists do.”

      And the general conclusion was that it was wrong, as humans are parts of a larger systems (eg. civilization), critically dependent on them. So even if your goals are humanistic, then what you should work on are stuff like economic systems, technology, medicine etc. that humans are critically dependent on. And those who spend their resources improving these systems do a better job of improving human conditions even as a side effect, than humanists preoccupied with human affairs.

    7. Richard Carrier

      Just FYI, as to the claim that corporations aren’t people, that’s misleading, and requires qualification in the very context being mentioned here. In fact, by definition, corporations are the incorporations of people, i.e. when you tax a corporation, you are in fact taxing people: the shareholders. In other words, the owners of the corporation. Corporations are not some sort of robot disconnected from humans, they are the cooperative enterprise of human owners, a special kind of business partnership. As such, for example, the shareholders’ right to free speech becomes the right of their cooperative enterprise to free speech. It is not actually possible to disentangle them, as much as people would want to. That said, there are still serious problems with over-equating a corporation of shareholders with an imaginary single person independent of the shareholders (for example, exempting the shareholders from the consequences of, say, crimes committed by their incorporation), but that’s a different issue from whether actions taken against corporations are or are not actions taken against people. The reality is more complex than usually touted, by either side of the debate over the legal status of corporations.

    8. 1.6

      @Richard – in theory, unless there’s a specific ban in the law against a corporation owning itself – a company can become an independant free entity, not a slave to some owners. All is required to achieve this is a company buying itself from current owners. Using a credit from a bank, or wisely utilizing times of low prices to systematically buy itself, or simply get the ownership transferred to it from previous owners in a will after their death.

      If there’s a specific ban on a corporaton owning itself in the law – a freedom for corporations is not a lost case. You can create “freedom islands”, within which corporations will mutually own themselves. Eg. company A owns company B, which owns company A. If these act as a team then this team is de-facto independent entity, not owned by an external force.

      If a restrictive legislature prohibits even such arrangements, then perhaps international opportunities would enable to create them.

      In practice the prices for stakes of corporations are so high comparing to purchasing power of that corporations , that such freedom option is unlikely. But you cannot dismiss corporations-as-independant-entities option, and artificially insert humans everywhere. This would mean humanist are just like religious people – religious people artifically insert “God” everywhere pretending it is the main actor in the world, while humanists artificially introduce “humans” everywhere pretending they are the main actors in the world.

      Even if you look at a current situation, although corporations are not free, they are frequently owned by other corporations, who are owned by other corporations, …., some of which are owned by governments, or churches. Not much humans there.

    9. Richard Carrier

      There are certainly problematic issues with the way current law treats corporations. But ultimately, all corporations, even shell corporations, are owned by people. Not non-persons. Even when owned by institutions. To quote Shepherd Book: “A government is a body of people, usually, notably ungoverned.” Likewise a church. Even when, say, all shareholders have mysteriously died, you still have a custodian (the heir or executor of the property, the property being the corporation; often this may simply default to the CEO depending on the corporation’s bylaws, but always still a person). There is literally no way to divorce corporations from being owned or entrusted as property by a person somewhere, even by the fanciful machinations you imagine. So it’s always down to people. And all corporations are tools in the hands of those people. Whether those tools are used conscientiously or not.

  2. 2

    I agree with everything you’ve said here, and found her talk to be an eye-opener. I realized this was a problem before, but it was enlightening to hear about the psychological data which shows just how serious a problem it really is. The idea of “habitual body monitoring” was especially foreign to me as a guy. It hit home how seriously something needs to be done.

    But regarding Rebecca’s post, I’m of two minds. On the one hand, I’m absolutely appalled by what she has to go through. It’s absolutely disgusting. It pisses me off that there are guys who send her this kind of garbage–and the fact that they are just the most obscene and most vocal tip of an iceberg. And I am glad she shared this, because it really highlights the importance of what Heldman says.

    But I can’t follow her when she brings this to bear on the recent controversy about Shermer’s comments. I find it baffling that she could say that “Shermer, Kirby, and the others have no idea what it’s like to be hunted and harassed, because “our side,” the people who are speaking out against harassment, don’t do this to them.”

    Here she’s making the exact same move she rightly criticised Dawkins for making back during “Elevatorgate,” when he clumsily and foolishly compared her being propositioned in an elevator to the suffering women in Afghanistan and concluded that, since what she was suffering wasn’t as bad, it wasn’t, therefore, true or important. Shermer might not be persecuted in the way Rebecca is (he isn’t), but that has no bearing on whether his concern is valid.

    1. 2.1
      Richard Carrier

      The idea of “habitual body monitoring” was especially foreign to me as a guy. It hit home how seriously something needs to be done.

      I knew of it but hadn’t thought about it in the detail and ways she expresses, so it was eye opening even for me. I also realized I engage in the practice sometimes myself. The way a man is judged hinges a lot on his perceived manliness, and posture and pose are taken to indicate the presence or absence of that attribute. I have occasionally caught myself being self-conscious of this. But nowhere near as often as women are. Nor are the consequences of slacking off as great for me. Imagine if we entered a bizarro world where everything Heldman says about women and the world they inhabit was instead true of men. I can imagine the even more intense pressure I’d be under in that atmosphere, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t like it.

      But I can’t follow her when she brings this to bear on the recent controversy about Shermer’s comments.

      Regarding Shermer, Watson’s point is that he describes mere criticism of something he said as a “McCarthy-like witch hunt” (and compares it with the Nazi roundup of Jews and the Spanish Inquisition…I’m not making this up), which is galling considering that what Watson goes through looks a lot more like a scary ass witch hunt. As she says:

      Instead, [when feminists like Watson and Benson disagree with someone like Shermer] they focus on his words and on his arguments and they offer an opposing viewpoint. If that’s what Shermer thinks of as a witch hunt, then a single day of the treatment I get would have him boarding up the windows at Skeptic Magazine faster than you can come up with a bigoted nickname based on his name.

      See the point? That’s what she means.

      His reaction is absurd, exhibits a bit of egotism and a lot of hyperbole, and betrays a rather blithe ignorance of what is actually going on. He instead blames the low volume of female speakers in this movement on it “just being a guy thing” rather than on, say, the fact that women are harassed ruthlessly and incessantly the moment they speak out, which other women see and conclude they would rather not deal with that shit; or on, say, the fact that plenty of women are available and would be speaking, they just aren’t being invited to speak–a fact that is changing, but only recently, and largely due to Watson’s efforts. I am notably unaware of Shermer ever working or speaking out to increase female representation on panels and event rosters. You can thus see why his remarks would really piss her off. And rightly so. I’d be pissed, too. (But she’s a woman, and women aren’t allowed to get angry, because then they’re all bitches and cunts…or engaging in witch hunts, inquisitions, and Nazi purges.)

      Indeed, the shocking thing to me when I heard Shermer’s original statement (I watched the video; something sometimes people neglect to do when they weigh in on these things), was that his immediate reply (to being asked why there were no women on the panel he was sitting on) was not “hey, you invited the members of the panel, so why didn’t you invite more women?” Before this the questioner did mention asking a single woman (who was not available). A single woman? I can name ten just off the top of my head who were known at the time that this panel occurred and who would have been well suited to be on it. And that’s just off the top of my head. I happen to know there are at least twenty (and know where several lists of them are). Yet Shermer’s response was “[speaking/atheism/skepticism] is just a guy thing”?

      You might see why that looks appalling from my perspective, and the more so from Watson’s. (Inspired by Watson, BTW, I began publicly and privately encouraging and helping venues invite more women speakers since last year, and my efforts have actually had results at several conferences; by comparison, Shermer seems completely out of touch with his own movement. What makes it worse is that he still doesn’t realize this, or acknowledge how wrong he was and why–or that he could be doing a lot to help, rather than defending his own ego. That really doesn’t look good.)

      See the analysis of Adam Lee for perspective.

    2. 2.2
      Jason Goertzen

      Thanks, Richard, for a thoughtful reply. I do understand what Rebecca said–and agree with it. I need to be clear that I think Shermer was wrong, and that his response was ridiculous, and dismissive of the real problem.

      I was more focused on the *form* of Watson’s argument which was identical, in form, to the argument Dawkins foolishly made–dismissing the validity of Rebecca’s discomfort at being propositioned because it wasn’t as bad as what Afghan women experience.

      To get at what I mean, imagine for a moment that Shermer were right actually right (he isn’t!) that some people have gotten so sensitive to sexism in the skeptical movement that they’re detecting false positives everywhere and that he’s just the latest “victim.” If this were actually true, then it would be a genuine problem, even if the ‘victimization’ only came in the form of public shaming. If it were a genuine problem, the “look how bad the sexism problem is, though,” reply wouldn’t be valid. So in this case, I think it’s a bad argument, even if it’s for a true conclusion.

      The focus needs to be on showing that no, Shermer, you’re not the latest victim of over-active sexism detection. You’re the latest person who inadvertently revealed subconscious sexist biases. Time to own up to them and apologize.

    3. Richard Carrier

      I don’t think the analogy holds, because Dawkins was doing what I forbade in the last paragraph of this post (worse, in fact, since he was actually dismissing Watson’s concerns as of no account and attempting to shame or belittle her for having voiced them). Shermer, even if he was right (and I would say he is right as to his implied major premise: sometimes people see and attack false positives in this debate, and that’s something to attend to; it was his minor premise, that that is what was happening to him, that is false) was not saying anything like “I think x is bad” and then being shamed or belittled for having said so, as if x wasn’t a problem worth talking about and how dare he talk about it (which is what Dawkins did to Watson).

      Thus, false analogy. Maybe if what people did to Shermer was say that attending to the problem of sexism over-detection generally is not an important problem, because “other stuff is worse,” then the analogy would connect, but that isn’t what happened. What Shermer did was say something false (in effect that “women just aren’t interested in doing this stuff”), which exhibited a mind-blowing ignorance of the movement (like the dozen women he just dismissed with that statement) and the issues it has been dealing with (like the trend of not inviting those women to be on panels like the one he was invited on). For which he was rightly criticized. Then he flew off the handle with absurd ego defenses, rather than admitting, yeah, he boned that one, sorry, will do better next time (as you note).

      And again, by contrast, Watson wasn’t saying that his being criticized was unimportant compared to the real problems of the world (sexism etc.), she was saying he deserved to be criticized (whereas Watson did not deserve to be made uncomfortable in an elevator, nor do any women generally, which was Watson’s whole point–and do note, Watson never said that was sexism or harassment, it is Watson-haters who invented that myth about her; Watson just wanted to tell guys why that’s not something they should do and why). Watson then argued Shermer’s complaining about being criticized is appalling (and it is), since it suggests sexist remarks can’t ever be criticized (they would all then be witch hunts etc.) and it actually does make light of the real problem of sexism (like the actual witch hunts directed at the likes of her, which he still does not seem to be aware of or speak out against: instead he belittled them by making mere criticism, not actual harassment, into the torture of a witch hunt, which is like a white guy in the 40s complaining about being yelled at by calling it a lynching to a community of black people regularly being lynched).

    4. 2.3

      If you think HBM is a real problem then I have some homeopathy to sell you.

      As a male you exist in an environment where you are measured. That you don’t realize it, by Heldman’s terms, makes matters even worse.

    5. Richard Carrier

      Didn’t you just contradict yourself? HBM is not a real problem, and it’s even worse if you don’t realize it’s a problem?

      (Bazoing! Wha?)

    6. 2.4
      Jason Goertzen

      Oddly enough, I think I follow your point less now than I did after your first reply. :\ Unfortunately I might have to go on at a length disproportionate to the importance of the point, in order to explain.

      You say the analogy doesn’t hold since Dawkins was “actually dismissing Watson’s concerns as of no account and attempting to shame or belittle her for having voiced them.” But this is exactly what Watson was (rightly) doing to Shermer: dismissing his concerns as of no account and attempting to shame and belittle him for having voiced them. So on *this* count, the analogy still holds.

      You say “Shermer, even if he was right [...] was not saying anything like “I think x is bad” and then being shamed or belittled for having said so.” But this is *exactly* what was going on. Shermer said “I’m being falsely accused/people are seeing sexism where there isn’t any, it’s all so unfair!” and then he was shamed and belittled for saying so. Watson’s remark was explicitly about *his claim that he was being persecuted* (which is analogous), not about his original sexist remark about skepticism “being a guy thing,” (which isn’t analogous at all, I agree).

      You add “And again, by contrast, Watson wasn’t saying that his being criticized was unimportant compared to the real problems of the world (sexism etc.), she was saying he deserved to be criticized.” But here I think you’re reading in what she should have said, when it’s the one thing she doesn’t actually say. To quote the relevant paragraph in full:

      “I want you to think about this the next time you hear Michael Shermer complain that Ophelia Benson’s mild criticism of his words is a “McCarthy-like witch hunt,” or when Paula Kirby complains that she’s being persecuted by feminazis because women are asking for better treatment, or when anyone complains that PZ and others are “Freethought Bullies,” or when anyone complains that I complain too much because once every few months I provide examples of the harassment I receive. Shermer, Kirby, and the others have no idea what it’s like to be hunted and harassed, because “our side,” the people who are speaking out against harassment, don’t do this to them.”

      Here she is *explicitly* comparing the mild trouble of being criticized with the harassment she experiences, and implying that he, therefore, has nothing to complain about. She’s saying that, since the criticism had been courteous, rather than crude, obnoxious, and disgusting, that it’s absurd for him to complain about it. The idea that the criticism he was objecting to had also been fair and valid is *consistent* with what she said, but it’s not implied or required by it, which is unfortunate, since it’s the clearest and most piercing criticism that can be made of his ridiculous complaint.

      Finally, you suggest that ” Watson then argued Shermer’s complaining about being criticized is appalling (and it is), since it suggests sexist remarks can’t ever be criticized.” I don’t see her making this argument. Where are you reading that? What’s more, I don’t see how that would be a valid criticism. Would acknowledging that McCarthy went way overboard in his search for communist sympathizers imply that no criticism of communism is possible? I don’t follow what you mean here. Shermer is *wrong* that he’s being unjustly criticized, but he’s wrong because he thinks he’s innocent–not because he thinks criticizing sexism is wrong.

      Sorry for the length. I wanted to be thorough since I’m having trouble understanding how we can be reading the exchange so differently. Thanks again for your time and patience in responding.

    7. Richard Carrier

      You say the analogy doesn’t hold since Dawkins was “actually dismissing Watson’s concerns as of no account and attempting to shame or belittle her for having voiced them.” But this is exactly what Watson was (rightly) doing to Shermer: dismissing his concerns as of no account and attempting to shame and belittle him for having voiced them. So on *this* count, the analogy still holds.

      Well, sure. And black is analogous to white…if black were white.

      I don’t see the point of saying things like “when atheists say Christianity is false, they are doing the same bad thing Christians are doing when they say atheism is false, except for the atheists being correct.”

      Likewise, “What Watson did was as bad as what Dawkins did, except for Watson being correct (and thus not doing anything identifiably bad at all).”

      That isn’t a point worth making. So I charitably assumed it wasn’t the point you were making.

    8. 2.5

      Let me state this another way – if HBM is a problem, it’s universal.

      It would be especially difficult to prove one gender has a larger problem in this regard than another, for example.

      HBM is a problem much like life is a terminal illness.

    9. Richard Carrier

      It would be especially difficult to prove one gender has a larger problem in this regard than another, for example.

      No it wouldn’t. And it isn’t.

      That women have it much worse is easy to prove, and I have direct observational evidence and abundant testimonial evidence even at my own disposal, much less the scientific studies there are on it. Indeed, I am only aware of it being prevalently habitual among women. For example, I occasionally do it. I have never habitually done it. Few men I know do. Many women I know do.

      But I think you are just fucking with me, so I don’t think you are being sincere in anything you say. So I’m probably wasting my time in stating the obvious.

    10. 2.6
      Jason Goertzen

      Um. “Likewise, “What Watson did was as bad as what Dawkins did, except for Watson being correct (and thus not doing anything identifiably bad at all).”

      That isn’t a point worth making. So I charitably assumed it wasn’t the point you were making.”

      It wasn’t the point I was making. I can’t believe you got that out of it. :\

      You can make a bad argument for a true conclusion. Watson was right *in that her conclusion was true* (Shermer’s self-defense was absurd), but the argument she made for that conclusion wasn’t a good one. I know you don’t think we should give arguments a pass just because they support conclusions we agree with–look at how quick you are to point out terrible mythicist arguments. Is that not a point worth making?

      So it’s not like saying “Atheists are doing the same bad things as Christians: saying the other guy is wrong.” No! It’s like saying “some mythicist arguments are as terrible as some historicist arguments: they should use these other ones instead.”

      I also didn’t say that what Watson did was *as bad* as what Dawkins did. I said her argument was fallacious in the same way as Dawkins was–a fallacy Watson so effectively pointed out at the time, which was the only reason I brought it up. The fact she’s right is why I’m criticizing the *logic* of her argument, while supporting her effort–whereas when Dawkins said his boneheaded nonsense I criticized the logic of it AND called him insensitive and out-of-touch.

      Does that make more sense?

    11. Richard Carrier

      Watson was right *in that her conclusion was true* (Shermer’s self-defense was absurd), but the argument she made for that conclusion wasn’t a good one.

      Her actual argument was that his response to being criticized is appalling, and insensitive, in perspective. Which is correct. Given that that is her actual conclusion, her argument to that conclusion is a good one.

      It’s like saying “some mythicist arguments are as terrible as some historicist arguments: they should use these other ones instead.”

      You seem to propose this as an example of a bad argument. To the contrary, this is an entirely valid and sound argument (provided “these other ones” are not as terrible as the arguments to be replaced by them). I’m also unclear as to how this parallel argument bears an analogy to what Watson was arguing. So I am not sure what your point is.

    12. 2.7
      Jason Goertzen

      So after writing that last comment I’ve been stewing it over, trying to figure out what could be causing such a misunderstanding over such a trivial observation.

      As I stew it over, I was trying to find a way of reading what she wrote that makes sense of how you’re understanding my criticism. The only source of confusion I can find is that I’m reading “Shermer has no right to complain” as the inference she’s drawing. You, on the other hand, seem to read that in as an assumed premise–something like “Shermer has no right to complain (since what he said IS sexist). The abuse women are experiencing in the atheist movement is outrageously awful; therefore, Shermer’s delusions of persecution are especially egregious.”

      Is that a fair assessment? I have to admit that this isn’t an unreasonable reading of what she wrote–but it does involve reading in a major unstated premise. In any case, if this is what she meant, my criticism would certainly not apply, which would reduce it from pedantic to irrelevant, heh. I hope this…. helps?

    13. Richard Carrier

      Yes, I think you are closer to the point now. One thing though…

      You, on the other hand, seem to read that in as an assumed premise–something like “Shermer has no right to complain (since what he said IS sexist). The abuse women are experiencing in the atheist movement is outrageously awful; therefore, Shermer’s delusions of persecution are especially egregious.”

      The first statement isn’t an argument Watson made. That Shermer (or anyone) has no right to complain about being criticized is not even the issue. Obviously he can complain about it (though complaining about a legitimate criticism does make him look like a bit of an ass, but that’s not Watson’s main point). Rather, it is his making it out to be a Nazi purge, a witch hunt, etc. that is simply appalling, self-centered, and insensitive. And it is. Nothing he describes as having happened to him is real. He said a stupid thing, and was called out on it. That’s what happened. The correct response would have been to admit his mistake and correct it. Instead, he ignored the criticism and made it into an attack on his ego (no analogy to Watson), and misrepresented fair criticism as a Nazi purge and a witch hunt (no analogy to Watson), and falsely mapped the potential for unfair feminist reactions generally onto the particular criticism of him specifically (no analogy to Watson). He also seems still completely unaware of how the imbalanced treatment of women in our movement might actually be part of the problem he thought he was addressing on the panel in the first place, and thus he shows no signs of having actually learned anything (again, no analogy to Watson).

    14. 2.8
      Jason Goertzen

      I still find my reading of Watson’s argument to be a fair and natural reading of what she actually said, though I’m happy to admit that she might very well have meant it the way you read it, and that this would obviously make my criticism irrelevant.

      But I do want to address a few places where your replies missed what I meant:

      I said:

      > “I know you don’t think we should give arguments a pass just because they support conclusions we agree with–look at how quick you are to point out terrible mythicist arguments. Is that not a point worth making?

      So it’s not like saying “Atheists are doing the same bad things as Christians: saying the other guy is wrong.” No! It’s like saying “some mythicist arguments are as terrible as some historicist arguments: they should use these other ones instead.””

      You replied:

      >> “You seem to propose this as an example of a bad argument. To the contrary, this is an entirely valid and sound argument (provided “these other ones” are not as terrible as the arguments to be replaced by them).”

      I wasn’t proposing it as an example of a bad argument. On the contrary, I was proposing it as an example of a *good* argument, as an alternative analogy which better illustrated what my actual argument was (that Watson’s good point would have been better made with a more valid argument). You’d characterized my argument as being that “Watson was wrong in the way Dawkins was wrong because they were both criticizing other people,” and compared this to saying “Atheists say Christians are wrong, so they’re just as bad as Christians who say atheists are wrong.”

      I was saying that it was more like the *reasonable* argument, “this mythicist argument is as bad as this historicist argument, in that it commits the same fallacy,” because I was criticizing the form of Watson’s argument, not her behaviour or her conclusion, which I agreed with.

      In the second reply, you corrected my description of your position:

      “The first statement isn’t an argument Watson made. That Shermer (or anyone) has no right to complain about being criticized is not even the issue. Obviously he can complain about it [...]”

      This involved reading my use of the phrase “Shermer has no right to complain,” as meaning “Shermer can’t complain,” or “Shermer should not be allowed to complain.” But this isn’t what the phrase normally means. “You have no right to complain,” doesn’t literally mean “you don’t have the liberty to complain,” but “you aren’t justified in complaining,” or “your complaint is without merit.”

      Understanding it like this makes my representation of (your understanding of) Watson’s argument right in line with what you ‘corrected’ it to be, which is good: it shows me that I’d understood you.

    15. Richard Carrier

      I stand corrected in interpreting what you meant. Thank you.

      But I still don’t see what you mean to be the fallacy (the bad form) in Watson’s argument.

    16. 2.9
      Jason Goertzen

      I honestly think you’d see it if you went back and read it. I’ve outlined it several times, and contrasted it with what you understood her to mean. But here, again:

      You understood her to mean:

      1. (Assumed) What Shermer said WAS sexist, and so his claimed innocence is untrue.
      2. The criticism he received was mild and courteous.
      3. The people he claims are persecuting him experience REAL persecution.
      4. Therefore, it’s in especially bad taste that he compare the mild criticism he received to persecution.

      I understood her to mean:

      1. Shermer described the criticism he received for remarks he considered innocent in terms that compared it to witch hunts and McCarthy-ism.
      2. But people like Watson and the women in skepticism experience things far more akin to witch hunts.
      3. By contrast, then, his complaint is unworthy of serious consideration. .

      I compared this to Dawkins remarks during “Elevatorgate” which could be rendered in the same form:

      1. Watson complained about a man propositioning her in an elevator.
      2. But women in other countries experience far more serious examples of sexism, abuse, and harassment.
      3. By contrast, then, her complaint is unworthy of serious consideration.

      Why do I think my reading makes more sense? Because her remarks were about Shermer’s “witch hunt” and “McCarthy” remarks–which were NOT about how harshly he’d been criticised, how rudely, or violently, or threateningly. His remarks were about how the criticism was an example of a false-positive–of the sort generated by McCarthy, or in witch hunts, where people find what they are looking for, whether it is there or not. Now he was WRONG about this, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is what he meant. So either Watson’s remarks utterly fail to address what he actually meant, or else they address what he DID mean, but in a way that is fallacious in the exact way that Dawkins’ remarks were.

    17. Richard Carrier

      Right. I didn’t take her to be arguing what you do. And I believe the truth of Shermer’s premises are relevant to this matter.

      Because the difference between the last two syllogisms is that Watson had a valid complaint that Dawkins dismissed with the fallacy, whereas Shermer does not have a valid complaint being dismissed by Watson. His complaint is bogus. Thus the analogy breaks down even at the level of the informal fallacy proposed. Watson’s argument isn’t fallacious, because her implied premise that he has no valid complaint is true, whereas Dawkins’ explicit premise hat Watson had no valid complaint was false.

      For example, if Watson had complained about being persecuted in a witch hunt because someone offered her a drink while she was already happily chatting with them at a bar, and Dawkins had then said that was absurd because there are women who really are victims of witch hunts, he would have been right. Just as Watson is right now. But two things didn’t transpire there: (1) Watson didn’t make such an argument (but Shermer did), rather, she said nothing about witch hunts or persecution (or even harassment), but instead she had a valid issue to raise (whereas Shermer did not, at least in respect to the particular issue; he had a valid general argument in that sexism over-detection can be a problem to monitor, it’s just that isn’t what happened to him–and so far, there is no evidence of anyone actually being subject to witchunting and Nazi purges because of sexism overdetection); and (2) Dawkins didn’t argue that “there is nothing wrong with offering a drink to a woman you are chatting with,” he argued “there is nothing wrong with failing to take into account the perspective and feelings of a woman alone in an elevator inebriated at two in the morning in a foreign country who has no idea who you are,” which is insensitive in precisely the way Watson’s criticism of Shermer is not.

      In other words, in the imaginary alternate universe where Dawkins argued that “there is nothing wrong with offering a drink to a woman you are chatting with” and Watson claimed there was (and not only that, but called it a witch hunt and a Nazi purge), you would have a point. But we don’t live in that alternate universe.

    18. 2.10
      Jason Goertzen

      I agree that the truth of Shermer’s premises is important. In fact, it’s both a necessary and a sufficient premise to dismiss his complaint: if he’s wrong, then his complaint is invalid, period. Yet it’s the one premise Watson doesn’t mention in her article.

      You can read it in as an assumed premise–maybe you *should* read it in, even–but when you do, the assumed premise is doing all of the heavy lifting. Her comparing the criticism he received to the awful shit women have to put up with has no bearing on whether his complaint is justified or not: if what he said was true, he’d have had every right to complain. Since what he said wasn’t true, he doesn’t. It doesn’t matter how much worse anyone else has it. It only matters that his complaint wasn’t true which, again, is the one thing Watson didn’t say.

      So yes, “the difference between the last two syllogisms is that Watson had a valid complaint that Dawkins dismissed with the fallacy, whereas Shermer does not have a valid complaint being dismissed by Watson.” But this is exactly what I’ve been arguing the entire time: that Watson’s *conclusion* is true, but her argument for that conclusion is invalid. The whole point of comparing the two syllogisms was to demonstrate this invalidity by showing that an argument with the exact same form can be used to argue for a false conclusion–the very definition of an invalid argument. Syllogisms 2 and 3 have identical forms, so it isn’t possible for one to be valid but the other invalid. That’s not how logical validity works; the truth of the conclusion has no bearing on the validity of the argument.

      You go on to say “Watson’s argument isn’t fallacious, because her implied premise that he has no valid complaint is true.” But “he has no valid complaint” isn’t a PREMISE of the second syllogism, it’s the conclusion. That’s the point. I get that Syllogism 1 is your understanding of what she meant, and I don’t think this syllogism is invalid. But it isn’t what I understood her to mean. I understood her argument to be Syllogism 2. So when I’m explaining what I had meant by the logical invalidity of her argument, I am referring to Syllogism 2. You go on, for the rest of the post, to compare Syllogism 3 to Syllogism 1, when the two have nothing to do with each other. 3 is mentioned ONLY as a point of *formal comparison* to 2. I never raised it in comparison with Syllogism 1.

      Whether she meant 1 or 2 is a separate question–one that I discussed in the last paragraph, which you didn’t address. In fact, your last two paragraphs commit the exact error I raised as a concern: that Shermer did not compare the criticism he received to witch hunts in order to emphasize the *severity* or *viciousness* of that criticism, but to emphasize the unfairness and inaccuracy of them (that, as in witch hunts, targets will be found whether genuine or not). On your reading (syllogism 1), Watson has to have understood Shermer to be complaining about the violence or rudeness of his critics, which isn’t what he complained about. It’s possible this is what Watson meant–in which case her argument would not be formally invalid. It would just miss the point of what Shermer said. If I’m right, though, and she DID understand Shermer, then she has to have meant syllogism 2: but in this case, her argument isn’t formally valid.

    19. Richard Carrier

      The conclusion here is that I just don’t read her as saying the things you read her as saying. What I see her as saying I’ve made sufficiently clear.

  3. 3

    But… but… starving babies in Africa!!! Just kidding. That particular fallacy is one of my pet peeves as well. Seriously, that was a great video. Posts and discussions like this and the Skepchick article about atheism and poverty that PZ recently linked to are why I think A+ has so much value.

    1. 3.1
      Richard Carrier

      But… but… starving babies in Africa!!! Just kidding.

      Thanks. I needed that laugh.

      [Oh, and just for the wankers who think letting this comment through contradicts what I said: well-intentioned jokes that by their obvious nature do not assert or actually imply what they are making fun of do not assert or actually imply what they are making fun of. You know, as if that had to be explained. That is not an excuse, however, to try "kidding on the square," which by definition does assert or actually imply what it's making fun of]

      Thanks for that link, too. I encourage others to go read that. Lots of other great links in it, plus an apt discussion, including of a specific charity started by our own Black Skeptics Los Angeles that represents everything atheists should be about (improving access to education for the poor, an essential step for creating more atheists, and more understanding of atheists). But Debbie Goddard says and explains it better than I, so anyone reading this, definitely read that if you haven’t!

      My extended interview for the atheist-Christian documentary Give a Damn? reflects the same objective: atheists should be talking about things like this more (it shouldn’t just be Christians asking these questions, or just Christians wanting to know what our answers are; and their interviewing me really woke me up to that fact), and as a conference attendee, I want to hear more and learn more about it and see more evidence-based debating and discussing of it (among other things)–from an atheist perspective. And I know we would eventually double our conference attendance rates if we did (if word was being adequately disseminated that it was even happening).

  4. 4

    Well said. This is just one of the many reasons why you are a beautiful person.

  5. 5

    You are off-message. You’re supposed to mention Michael Shermer by name, it’s what everyone else covering Rebecca’s story is doing.

    So I’ll do it here: Michael Shermer, Michael Shermer, Michael Shermer.

    Sexual objectification is surely real, and it very likely causes various problems, but to view this as atheist males somehow endorsing the message Watson received is ridiculous.

    Curious about how porn can be objectification-free, as sex is the object of the content. It’s like saying NASCAR can have a focus that isn’t racing.

    1. 5.1
      Richard Carrier

      Sexual objectification is surely real, and it very likely causes various problems, but to view this as atheist males somehow endorsing the message Watson received is ridiculous.

      I’m not sure I get your point. That doesn’t seem to be what either I or Watson said. Maybe this is a mistake in set theory. I said what happened to Watson is a far worse example of the kind of thing Heldman is talking about as ubiquitous, so Watson’s treatment is a small subset of the issue my post (and Heldman’s talk) was about.

      Watson’s post, BTW, is about what was sent to her when she originally posted the video of Heldman’s talk. Thus, when asked to consider the problem of sexual objectification, someone decided to dial sexual objectification up to 11 and throw it in her face. Which is precisely the sort of thing that isn’t being done to the men in this movement. Which is one of the points I made.

      Other than that, “atheist males endorsing the message Watson received” is sexual objectification (again, a subset), so I’m not sure if you are denying that it is, or claiming that no atheists endorse what is happening to Watson. The former is refuted by the definitions and analysis of Heldman. The latter is refuted by the fact that it’s happening to Watson. In droves. So obviously someone is endorsing it. Evidence of atheists endorsing similar behavior is extensively documented in the first two links in the first sentence of my original Atheism Plus post.

      Curious about how porn can be objectification-free, as sex is the object of the content. It’s like saying NASCAR can have a focus that isn’t racing.

      Then you didn’t read my post. I explained in very specific detail what the difference is between objectifying and subjectifying porn, and even linked to specific examples.

      “Women are a sexual object” and “sex is an object of porn” are not even using the word the same way, much less sharing comparable subjects or predicates. You might need to bone up on your English grammar.

    2. 5.2

      What Watson received is not sexual objectification dialed up to 11.

      It is insulting Rebecca Watson dialed up to 11.

      Let’s imagine the worst insult I could make of one Richard Carrier. What would it be? Any number of things. Maybe it would insult your manhood – maybe it wouldn’t. Depends on context.

      Watson received the worst possible insult in the context she created.

      Maybe the insult Richard Carrier would receive is something about how you are terrible at (for the sake of argument) theological criticism. Maybe it would be a cartoon of you being a terrible husband/father/brother/son.

      The trolls will take you, precisely as you are, and throw it back in your face.

      The idea that “the other side” is only equal when we get a cartoon penis in our email is absurd.

    3. Richard Carrier

      You obviously don’t get what sexual objectification is. Or how in fact that is what was used to attack Watson. Or you do and you know you are lying and are just fucking with me.

      But assuming you are actually being sincere, you are clearly not paying attention to what I wrote, in which what I discuss goes far beyond pictures of penises. The way men attacked is almost never sexual or sexually objectifying, but consists of criticism of their ideas or statements or honesty, or even of lies about them, but still not of a sexual or sexually objectifying nature (I am aware of a very few exceptions, and so far none directed at me). By contrast, the women in this movement (not just Watson) are being persistently attacked, in high volume by dozens of persons without cessation, in explicitly sexual and sexually objectifying ways (and not only in the ways I describe in my article to which you are responding, and obviously have completely ignored). Yet she and I talk about the same things, and have done the same things publicly.

      That’s also Watson’s point, BTW (very explicitly in her comparison with Shermer). But I don’t expect you would actually read what she wrote, much less acknowledge it.

  6. 6
    Great American Satan

    But have you tried ant music, Richard? Have you [i]really?[/i]

    Two thoughts on the video: The literally breathless pace of it is evidence that the format of TED talks isn’t great for the stated goal of communicating big ideas. Thought two: It’s a good indicator of the privilege one holds to watch stuff critical of privilege and see which ones make you uncomfortable. She made me a bit uncomfortable.

    When I apply reason to it and can’t disagree with her position, that discomfort is evidence that I can and should be doing things better. Progress! The only thing I’d like to see, and I’m sure I could find Greta’s informed take if I went looking, is a more comprehensive look at the issues this raises in the realm of erotica.

    Oh, third thought. As a guy who has had access to the intimate thoughts of a person badly damaged by society’s objectification of women, I would have to be a fucking monster to deny this is a real and deadly serious issue. I may be a bad boy sometimes, but I ain’t that bad.

  7. 7

    Some good reflections and insights, Richard. I like how you explain your concept of subjectification, and how it maintains a positive outlook on sexuality, namely that the sexualization of something or someone is not a bad thing, as long as its empowering to them rather than dehumanizing of them. Thought I might throw another good link into the mix….one about the scientific studies done about porn, and the implications therein for a secular society:


    1. 7.1
      Richard Carrier

      Thanks for that link. That reinforced and expands on a lot of what I said in my post about the sex industry (which I also linked to in my article above). It’s handy to have.

  8. 8
    Kilian Hekhuis

    Thanks for the link to Caroline Heldman’s talk, it’s indeed a must-see. It really bothers me that sexual objectification is all around us, putting preasure on women and girls to be something, rather than someone.

    1. 8.1

      I would like to challenge the idea that girls that have careers in ‘being pretty’ don’t qualify as ‘being someone’.

      You can work your ass off at your science degree, but that doesn’t make you more of a ‘someone’. Having the capability to relate to your peers and understand life makes you a ‘someone’.

      If someone looks at you and says, “he/she is really good at math”, then what you are is not necessarily a person. You’re a human calculator.

    2. Richard Carrier

      Your first paragraph is a non sequitur. Kilian never mentioned “girls that have careers in being pretty” and was not talking about that.

      Your second paragraph was exactly Kilian’s point. “Having the capability to relate to your peers and understand life” is precisely what Kilian wants girls to aspire to.

      Your third paragraph is simply false.

  9. 9
    Andy Semler (@AndyTehNerd)

    Don’t know if you coined the term “sexual subjectification” (if so, bravo), but I certainly hope to hear this word distributed widely. I think one of the downsides of having a [necessary] community-wide discussion of “guys, don’t do this” is that we can lose sight of where we go from here. Modeling and celebrating sexual subjectification more often than we caution against objectification is a focused way to turn our practical values into habit.

    (BTW, thanks for the tip on the Lazarus extension. It’s a real time-saver.)

  10. 10

    Absolutely agree, but I’m curious how we would distinguish between objectification and subjectification (I like that term, by the way). I get the difference on a theoretical level, but in practice, isn’t there a rather fine (and perhaps very blurry) line? I’d be curious to know how you think that problem should be approached.

    Very well-written post, thank you. I’ll watch the Heldman video when I get home.

    1. 10.1
      Richard Carrier

      Yes. All lines have blurry edges. Even in the mundane sorites examples (when does a hill become a mountain? … the fact that there is no clear line does not mean there is no difference between a hill and a mountain; some cases are clear, others are harder to discern).

      The problem of demarcating is different from the problem of how to deal with borderline or ambiguous cases. And you are in essence asking about the latter (so beware of the difference).

      That said, my answer cannot be reduced to a general rule.

      I regard the case of Sasha Grey (the one I mentioned in this article, in reference to my discussion in my other article) to be a borderline one. I had a hard time with it, but sided with “subjectification” in general (for reasons of the queues and observations I noted there), although aesthetically on occasion her work might fail to adequately convey that and thus fall on the “objectification” side without her intending it to, a frequent problem of riding on the borderline, as a lot of other kinds of BDSM does. That problem is solved by more artistic awareness and control, and IMO the whole porn industry could do with a big booster shot of that.

      It’s worth also noting that if you approach media already well adjusted in your aesthetic sense and attitudes and beliefs about women, you can transform objectifying work into subjectifying work, when you “use” it for your own appreciation (or when you re-contextualize it). A lot of porn fails to get from one to the other, for example, but some of that gets close enough that you can fantasize it the rest of the way (think about the woman in the scene, give her thoughts and intentions, sexual and beyond the sexual, and write your own simple backstory in your head as to what is going on in the scene, as part of how you actively enjoy it). But most people aren’t going to know or think to do that nor automatically prefer doing that. It would be better if the art did it already, or made it easier. And that’s kind of what good art does. Which is why I describe most porn as bad art. Art all the same. Curiously, a lot of the pro-am stuff (though not all), especially couples porn, does better at subjectifying the women in them, mainly because they don’t think to stylize the content, so a woman’s reactions and behavior is already authentic and little is edited out or subject to direction. She is thus humanized without any artistic intent to. Good art could do it even better, by actually intending to.

      Overall, not just in porn but in advertising and media and everything else, there are cases I think can be filed under “indeterminate” and cases that can be filed under “borderline bad” or “borderline good” or “could be done better” or “could be done worse” and so on. Context can matter (Are we selling something with the image? Does it make sense for this artist to be pushing the envelope here? Etc.). And there are all kinds of degrees. And so on.

    2. 10.2

      Thanks for the in-depth response, I think this helps me understand your point in a more concrete way. I hadn’t thought about art in that way much.

      The one case where I have thought about it is in video game art. Obviously, sexism and objectification are huge issues there as well, and it bugs the hell out of me every time I see it – but I’ve long recognized that drawing appealing female character art isn’t the total extent of the problem. It’s the lack of anything but sex appeal that makes it objectifying, and that’s why male characters, while also made to look appealing, can’t be considered objectified.

      So your response makes a lot of sense to me. I hadn’t applied the same reasoning for video game art to other forms of media, because it simply hadn’t occurred to me; but there’s no reason that it shouldn’t apply.

      Congrats on the douche-free post on sexism! Must be some kind of record!

    3. Richard Carrier

      Well, I think male characters in graphic art can be objectified and sometimes are. But you may be right as to proportion of treatment. I don’t know.

      Also, I don’t think merely drawing a woman in a particularly sexy way is objectifying; it becomes objectifying when it becomes an overused or absurd cliche, and especially to the exclusion of all else (e.g. women always are posing unrealistically to display their butt, etc.) See the mockery of this trend here and here and here.

  11. 11

    The Rebecca-Hate is just stunning sometimes. “Here’s one paragraph about the topic of this post. Here’s three more about some other post on another blog somewhere since I assume everybody cares more about that and is all up to date on all the Rebecca-Bashing and totally knows what I’m talking about since they read this one post here that isn’t related. Not, really”

    Well, JGoertzen, it looks like you’ve successfully changed the topic. Please, go on. Richard can try another time to discuss something other than the Rebecca-bashing, I guess. Good try, today.

    I hope someone, somewhere can one day find a different topic. Almighty God, this is getting tiresome.

    1. 11.1
      Richard Carrier

      I don’t know what you are talking about here. The comment you are responding to is referring to comments Watson made in the post I actually linked to, not some other one, and is certainly relevant here, since I didn’t just link to the TED talk but to Watson’s article about it. Which has to be understood in context, as I myself already explained.

      Seems to be entirely apt to me, and not derailing. Moreover, JGoertzen’s remarks were calm and reasoned and sincere and not malicious or mocking or devoid of any sense of logic (as many derailers are). I wish all criticisms were voiced that way. Take a lesson.

    2. 11.2
      Jason Goertzen

      Yikes. Thanks, Richard. Yeah. To make it clear again: I am sickened by what Rebecca has to put up with and I wish I could do something to stop all of the sexist assholes who think they have the right to insult and harass her. Though I think she made a bad (or possibly badly worded?) argument here, I think she’s right.

      I want to be annoyed I was so mischaracterized, but when Rebecca gets as much hate as she does, I suppose one should be extra clear to avoid getting caught in people’s spam filters.

  12. 12
    Richard Carrier

    Yay! I didn’t have to delete any posts! A topic on feminism and sexism, after 24 hours, and almost totally douche free commentary (and maybe totally douche free, in fact, since I’m not sure what inerrant is trying to say or why, so I can’t tell if it’s douchy or not).

    Must be a record. Or maybe the wave of evil is coming. Oh no! Did I speak too soon? Run for the hills!

    1. 12.1

      Not deleting posts or banning acconts? – you don’t fit it Atheism+ movement :-)

    2. Richard Carrier

      I’m not sure what you mean. I do reject posts that violate my comments policy, except when it makes my argument for me. And I will block anyone who engages in physical threats or sustained harassment. I just haven’t had that happen to me yet.

  13. 13

    One thing I notice, especially about gender equality in the US: Women try to become equal with men. First, they should recall Marilyn Monroe said something about how weak that goal is. They should pay more attention-sometimes they wish to get what the man has, not realizing the true solution.

    And with that in mind-men, like myself, need to help them. Women have never really had equality, never. This means from day 1, since we had to get together, men have dominated them either through brute force (caveman) or through politics (religion) and thus psychologically, and maybe even biologically since this would extend over 100,000 years, even before Homo sapiens, neither group really understands this concept of gender equality. Much of the misogyny remains, perhaps the most important parts-the true roots, yet nobody notices.

    Sexism is arguably the most important violation of Liberty, it attacksthe largest minority.

    1. 13.1
      Richard Carrier

      A bit of an exaggeration (it’s hard to top murder or slavery on the list of most important violations of liberty), but well meaning I guess. Even by body count, manipulation of the law in service of the rich attacks the actual largest minority: the 99% of us who aren’t millionaires (whose liberty can be impaired by regulations designed to make it harder for small businesses or individuals to defend their rights or compete against big business; on which general point, see Sic Semper Regulationes).

      But yes, men should be helping women overcome the biases against them, and not only by working to overcome those biases in themselves (which first requires learning to recognize when they are there), but also by acting and speaking out against them, right along with women, side-by-side.

  14. 14
    Jacob Palmer

    Some of my friends and I speak of “objectification of women” sometimes. It seems that defining objectification is not a very easy thing to do: literally it means “to treat as an object.” I would go as far to say that even when we practice “theory of mind” our assumption of what the other mind is like is, in itself, an object the observer creates (how the observer interprets another’s mind is VERY different from how the other person perceives his/her own). I have to agree, I don’t see how you can say that any platonic ideal (‘women’ for example, ‘men’ for another) is not conceived of as an object. The truth is, we are all objectified every day, and then classified (objects sorted by features). So, if objectification of women is negative, what about that of men, nerds, jocks, mathematicians, atheists, theists, deists…etc?

    My point is not to diminish the objectification of women, but to show that if it is bad, perhaps objectifying other (sentient?) classes of objects is also bad. How does one say, objectively, that objectification is bad, but only when applied to women? What I really think we need is a new term, or to stop using the word to mean “treating a woman other than the way she wishes to be treated.” If I ask my mom to make me a sandwich, I am not “objectifying” her, as I heard so much growing up, nor am I objectifying my friend if I ask the same from him. I’m probably only thinking,”[person in the kitchen] makes sandwiches better than I do; I’m hungry; maybe they can make me one.”

    Now, another snag in this is intent. It’s cruel to objectify someone/thing with the express purpose of making he/she/it feel inferior or denigrated. To be aware of good but to do evil, I believe, is the (secularized) Unforgivable Sin. It’s hard to raise awareness, though, with this term, because it is so often misused and/or misunderstood.

    So to wrap up…objectification is a bad term, people always objectify, and if the action-known-as-objectification is bad/immoral, shouldn’t we be applying our awareness of it for more than just that of women? I confess I’m rather ignorant of the specifics here, I have an aversion to the term itself which makes the entire line of inquiry into it distasteful for me.

    1. 14.1
      Richard Carrier

      How does one say, objectively, that objectification is bad, but only when applied to women?

      Heldman answers that question in the video, in detail.

      Your comment does not seem aware of what she said (for example, not only was your question already answered in her video, you are not defining objectification in any relevantly similar way).

      So, go watch that. Then try again.

      (Although to correctly frame your question: Heldman points out that objectification of men is also bad; it’s just less common. So it’s not just “only when applied to women.” Analogously, objectification of blacks characterized the slave trade, as well as propaganda for it, so it’s also possible to negatively objectify classes of people other than by gender. Heldman is not saying otherwise. She’s just identifying the most pervasive problem in current Western society as the objectification of women and focusing on that, although one can adapt her criteria to identify and call out and oppose objectification of other groups, too.).

  15. 15

    >> Our abandonment of gods and dogmas is precisely what qualifies us to speak out on social issues
    >> a freedom from gods and spirits and dogmas
    >> the irrational, superstitious, sex-fearing theists

    It’s extremely delusional to think you are free of dogma precisely as you promote a very specific moral-cultural dogma so righteously as to condemn improper bodily instinct and sexual fantasy as “evil”.

    You talk like you are an objective scientist floating in neutral space holding up your absolute protractor to measure society. Surely you have some inkling of how philosophically absurd that is?

    The reason to care about this topic, or not, is if you want to achieve a certain goal, or not. There’s no morally right or wrong in that. The word “evil” has no place in such a discussion.

    Yet you view those acting otherwise as “evil”. You believe your underlying goal to be good and true and those who disagree are heretics.

    So, remind me again, what precisely does NOT believing in god have to do with righteously promoting specific cultural values that arose only in the recent years of our 2 million year old genus, in the late-Christian cultural areas, which have nothing at all to do with truth?

    Alas, when will we have a truly atheist movement?

    1. 15.1
      Richard Carrier

      Huh? I write an article specifically promoting a sex-positive moral ethic, and you get “[you] condemn improper bodily instinct and sexual fantasy as evil”?

      What are you smoking?

      (No, seriously. What are you smoking? Because you might want to cut down a bit.)

      I think perhaps you meant that I am condemning a sex-fearing moral ethic as evil. Although I never said that (I didn’t use the word “evil” in any such fashion).

      At any rate, you seem to be saying all morality is false and therefore anyone who has morals and advocates for any morality whatever is a dogmatist and not “truly an atheist.”

      Which is ironic. Because such a committed and passionate defense of total amorality is precisely how theists want atheists to be perceived. So, kudos for scoring a goal for the enemy team there. Nice.

      Of course, “morality = dogma” is no more true than “truth = dogma.” A morality one argues for from evidence and reason, and allows to be rationally debated and critiqued and changed in the light of new evidence, is the exact opposite of dogma. Indeed, that was precisely my point, which you conveniently erased by quoting me out of context (Good going! Just like a Christian apologist…they must be proud).

      Context = the line preceding the one you quoted = “unlike them, we have (or certainly can have) sensible, empirical, rational ideas of what actually are the problems facing society and what to do about them” = the related line in the following paragraph = “unless we choose to act just like religionists, we can have rational and reasonable and evidence-based scientific, philosophical and moral discussions.”

      But if you are against that, then yes, you are not my people.

      [Again, I'm still assuming snowman is an atheist. There is a possibility snowman is a Christian trolling as an atheist.]

  16. 16

    You’re the one claiming certain sexual views of the body are “evil”. Do you not even understand what you wrote? Do you not even understand that word???

    >>Because such a committed and passionate defense of total amorality is precisely how theists want atheists to be perceived. So, kudos for scoring a goal for the enemy team there. Nice.

    Actually did not say that here but your sports metaphor is telling. Who cares what anyone thinks if the truth? Jeez, what do you think philosophy is, a club contest we score by how many members we get? That’s absolutely pathetic.

    You still have not answered how you are magically free of any dogma as you righteously promote dogma and label unbelievers evil for their bodily desires. You’re more of a moral zealot than most Christians.

    (Btw, can you still not see how shabby you look by attacking critical posters as Christians? It’s like faking injuries in sports games to draw a penalty.)

    1. 16.1
      Richard Carrier

      As evil Willow said, “Bored now.”

    2. 16.2

      Richard gets depressed when revealed to be no different than the moralistic hacks he hypocritically feels superior too.

      Keep preachin’ that good old-timey morality, Rev. Carrier. Gots to keep the evil doers in their place.

  17. 17

    Richard, It seems in this back and forth, that people ignore to a great extent the underlying causes of the male behavior. For example, in the elevator incident, Rebecca Watson said “Guys, don’t do this” to the conference and (I think) that is what started all the stuff from men. She was telling the guys what to do, and the reactions I think are a rebellion against this. Similarly the email she blogged about, where a guy (almost surely) sent her a pornographic image & told her she was an object, it sounds a LOT to me like the guy was saying “ha ha, I’m not under your control and I’ll be offensive if I want to” as well as venting aggression by being as offensive as he could. Why would a male want so much to offend a woman? I’ve read that the underlying cause is that men are raised in their infancy by mothers. In whatever way the mother isn’t enough for them, it will arouse infantile rage, and this is the first exposure the infant has to the reality that the world won’t always be enough for them. The mother’s control is the first exposure the infant has to restriction. These feelings of rage and rebellion are very intense and from a very early age. When guys react to control/socialization attempts by a woman with rage, I think they are venting feelings that come from their experience as babies, with their mothers, feelings they don’t understand. Telling guys “this isn’t appropriate” is not going to end the rage. Giving people understanding about the causes, going beyond judgements, would start to be helpful. Women of course also have their first experience of restriction from their mothers. It puts women in a weird situation where they identify with their mother who did this to them, and become identified with socialization by others. But it would help, if a woman is the target of this, to step out of the socializing role (that Rebecca Watson was playing) and understand the underlying dynamics. It would help a woman to not feel personally hurt, help to not waste energy on trying to socialize males.

    1. 17.1

      Paging Dr. Freud… Dr. Freud to the Discredited Psychobabble counter please…

    2. Richard Carrier

      Paging Dr. Freud… Dr. Freud to the Discredited Psychobabble counter please…

      Please make an actual argument. As is, this statement is unintelligible. As a conclusion it is indecipherable; but it is also not derived from any stated premises.

  18. 18

    The only way to save this movement is if feminists in the movement concede to the superior and *inevitable* label of ‘gender equality.’ Go ahead and have A++, but at least get this part right and heal this rift. Our leaders must at least have the capacity to acknowledge or concede to even the idea of a *possible* time when the promotion of the label ‘feminism’ is not as good or as useful of a semantic social device as the label ‘gender equality.’ Every thoughtful feminist must ask: how much evidence of gender damage *going the other way* is necessary to meet that standard? Then look at the evidence AND KEEP LOOKING. How many have even considered that, rather than focus on painting competitors as emotional reactionaries creating strawmen. It’s really upsetting.

    1. 18.1
      Richard Carrier


  19. 19

    For that reason it is also better if males do the socializing of other males not to act this way. Socializing others is a burden since it provokes rebellion and hostility, and better if males take on that traditionally-female burden.

    I doubt that you as a male, are going to be subjected to the virulent personal attacks that the women are who say similar things.

    As a woman, if I had been in Rebecca Watson’s shoes, I might have said “This made me feel threatened”, and explained the fear of rape and sexual assault that women, especially young women like Rebecca, carry around with them. I might have said “If you want to get to know me or any other woman I know, this is NOT how to do it”, rather than telling all the guys not to do what that guy in the elevator did. I don’t want to be in a shaming/enforcing of social standards role, that isn’t who I am, so I would try to protect myself in some other way.

    1. 19.1
      Richard Carrier

      It’s unclear who you are responding to with this comment.

      But I agree that men need to be more proactive in encouraging other men to think about and learn these things, and anyone interested in what Rebecca Watson actually said (and how in fact it provides all the information you actually need to know what the right way to approach a woman would have been in her circumstances) should just watch the original video (from minute 2:44 to 6:30, although if you keep listening there’s a funny joke at the end).

  20. 20

    Thank you for the piece. As an atheist and an independent escort, I really enjoyed it. Wish I’d skipped the comments though. lol

  21. 21
    Kilian Hekhuis

    I’ve read that the underlying cause is

    I’ve read that little red riding hood was devoured by a wolf when visiting her grandma. I think that explains it all!

    On a more serious note, this sounds like amateur Freudian psychology, and MRA apologetics. If a man can’t handle a woman saying “don’t do this”, there’s something seriously wrong with them.

  22. 22

    I was responding to you – I don’t think that you as a male, are likely to provoke vitriol on anything like the scale that Rebecca did, saying similar things. Thanks for the link to the video on her Youtube channel. She is very lowkey about it. I still wouldn’t have said what she did, because in her shoes, whether I felt threatened would depend on intangibles – the guy’s tone of voice, his body language, little flicks of his eyes. There’s no Law of Elevator Behavior that he violated.
    However, that it caused such an outpouring of offensiveness and threats by males, the sheer virulence ot it, makes it clear that she tapped into something much deeper, that I think goes back to infancy and their mothers.
    I liked Rebecca. I might have a good deal in common with her, and that other people, male other people, couldn’t just give her space to be nonperfect, says a huge amount about them.
    A therapist called Adam Jukes wrote a book “Why Men Hate Women”, see http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/boys-will-be-misogynists-mens-hatred-of-women-begins-in-infancy-psychotherapist-adam-jukes-tells-angela-neustatter-how-their-mothers-are-responsible-1483437.html all about the roots of misogyny in what goes on between boy babies and their mothers. It’s supposed to be especially hard for males because they can’t identify with their mothers, perhaps that explains why women don’t have that intense antagonism to other women (or to men).

    1. 22.1
      Richard Carrier

      I don’t think that you as a male, are likely to provoke vitriol on anything like the scale that Rebecca did, saying similar things.

      Oh, yes. Quite!

      I don’t buy into the Jukes thesis, though. Apart from being unscientific (he is mostly just hypothesizing from the armchair, and too much like a Fruedian, a discredited methodology), in my experience it’s both parents (and the whole social environment of childhood) and the mindset they actually teach their kids that causes overt misogyny and conscious sexism (to be distinguished from unconscious sexism, which is a wholly different thing).

      It’s true that, like racists, misogynists are made, not born. But in my own experience they appear to be simply taking after their father or male peers, adopting their attitudes and internalizing their statements and behaviors. I’ve never met a misogynist who was made outside such a father/peer environment, except for those in whom I have instead (or in addition) seen the following: sometimes misogynists come to their biases from perceived loss of control of their world in the atmosphere of rising female liberation–which brings with it abuses of power as well (as women gain more freedom, they can abuse it just as men once did, and of course still do).

      A common cause of all prejudices is being wronged by one or more members of a class and then attributing their characteristics to all members of that class; and this includes perceived wrongs (not just actual ones), as when anti-hispanic racism is born from one’s employment frustrations (which I’ve personally seen; I used to work in construction), which directs resentment toward perceived interlopers (“stealing our jobs”), and I’ve seen the same psychological reaction generate sexism and misogyny–as women increasingly become “interlopers” in traditionally male domains, like speaking and having an intellectual following or mastering manual trades, holding professorships, and so on.

      Women entering those domains also demand respect, which no man would think twice about coming from a man (a man who demanded respect would be perceived as manly and thus admired), but coming from a woman it requires changes in behavior that a man who hasn’t been well socialized among women will feel is intrusive, causing more resentment. Resentment becomes rationalized as a worldview (“women are just awful people”) which then leverages a whole mythology into place (about all the ways women are screwing men over).

      Also, note that Jukes is primarily interested only in male-on-female violence, and less on verbal abuse, contempt, and other forms of nonviolent misogyny. His background is in counseling male abusers, which means the only ones he sees are those who have taken their misogyny so far that they committed violent crimes and were arrested, which is a narrower niche of misogyny generally (and one even more frightening than which generates mere harassment and contempt). And his quasi-Freudian style of inquiry becomes self-fulfilling (if you focus on asking someone about their relationship with their mother all the time, then of course all you’re going to hear about is their misogyny mapped onto their mother–it is folly to mistake this for causation, especially considering that by then their memories are not even likely to be reliable on this point) and can’t distinguish between causes of violent tendencies (which are not always directed at women) and causes of misogyny specifically (which is not always associated with violence).

      For a different, specifically anthropological study (which shows the cultural universals of misogyny) see Gilmore’s Misogyny: The Male Malady. But I haven’t found any good psych studies, possibly because misogynists don’t show up or cooperate in being studied. But if anyone knows some modern studies of the actual cognitive science of misogyny or on attempting to scientifically determine its causation, do let me know.

  23. 23


    I’m talking about the emotional component of misogyny – the antagonism, hate, the deeply personal bashing on women that was directed at Rebecca. I’ve also been a target and seen huge amounts of it online. It has to be more than imitative, learned behavior, it’s much too intense for that.

    According to the article link I gave, Adam Jukes drew his ideas from various people, from Freud and Melanie Klein to Nancy Chodorow and Dorothy Dinnerstein.

    The theory I’m talking about, to recap, is that the roots of misogyny are in the relationship of boys as babies and little children with their mothers; when their mother is the primary disciplinarian, she is everything to the baby and any way that she isn’t enough causes intense feelings in the baby. Also, that males have to break away from a primary identification with their mother to identify with their father, this is a difficult journey.

    This isn’t “blaming the woman”, it says that gender roles in the family are the basis of misogyny. The mother being the primary caretaker of the children when they’re very young means that women bear the burden of very intense feelings that come from a very early age.

    Freud actually went way beyond this in his theorizing. The idea I’m talking about was more Freud’s starting point, than his theory.
    Guys might dislike this idea a lot because it suggests that misogyny is to some extent universal. Very few males were brought up with their father as their primary caretaker in infancy. Probably why people have thrown empty pejoratives at it.

    Having good parents would make this process easier for boys. Both a good mother and a good father would be important, and boys from a good (loving, non-hostile, non-abandoning) family would find it easier to have a good relationship with a woman when they grow up, and their relationship would be less infested with subliminal hostility. They might still have strong ideas about traditional gender roles, but if both the woman and the man happen to be suited to their gender roles, it can work out more or less OK.

    This idea makes sense to me, in terms of what I’ve experienced with males. I’ve seen the virulence of misogyny, any woman not wearing blinders would, and something so virulent has to go back to very early feelings.

    Older guys are worse for sexist stereotypes, from what I’ve seen. They are worse about relegating women to the status of emotional “batteries”, the idea that women are just there for emotional nurturing and sex. And this is very likely because older guys grew up with more stereotypical gender roles in their families.

    Awhile ago I looked a bit at the origins of racism, which are different from the origins of misogyny. A root cause of racism seems to be social anxiety. Apparently there’s a rare genetic disorder called Williams syndrome, where people lack social anxiety, and these people also don’t have the unconscious racism that other do! See http://www.livescience.com/8189-individuals-rare-disorder-racial-biases.html Also, weirdly, the beta-blocker propanolol, which blocks activation of nerves that are involved in unconscious fear, decreases racism. See http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/03/07/beta-blocker-heart-pill-combats-racism_n_1326290.html
    However Williams syndrome and propanolol do nothing for gender bias. Misogyny has deeper origins.

    I haven’t looked deeply into research on either misogyny or racism, I don’t even know what research could be done to investigate misogyny.

    However, going beyond the discourse of “should” is important. With racism, the “shoulds” tend to make white people even more anxious about relating to people of oppressed races. The “shoulds” would make at least some kinds of discrimination, even worse. It’s important that bashing on women not be acceptable among males; it’s important that excluding people of other races or making them feel uncomfortable not be acceptable among white people. Those attitudes are tolerated often, and that is a big problem. I used to go camping by myself and several times I heard groups of men discussing whether to rape me! They did not sound shocked at the idea, either.

    It’s a huge burden on women, that Rebecca and other women would be targeted with such vitriol, for saying things. It makes women want to hide their heads and thoughts.

    At the same time, it’s important for males to not deny their own conflicts about women coming from infancy, and for white people not to deny their own unconscious racism. It’s a big temptation, if one is arguing against such attitudes, to distance oneself from them, to make it someone else’s problem. But I see this as very likely a matter of denial.

    1. 23.1
      Richard Carrier

      ” It has to be more than imitative, learned behavior, it’s much too intense for that. “

      But look at Islamic fanaticism, Tea Partyism, gun nuttery, animal rights terrorism, WTO rioting…”it has to be more than imitative, learned behavior, it’s much too intense for that” is not a valid mode of inference. Emotional intensity grows out of learned beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors as easily as anything. Perhaps the emotional intensity is a propensity that is native (either genetic or produced by early childhood environment or both) and has to be steered toward a target, but the steering is still the learned, imitative part. When I look at the data available to me, the environment of early adulthood, not childhood, is the control factor that determines where someone ends up in terms of the targets of their external loathing and rage and how they conceptualize and frame it. Emotionality may have other causes, but it isn’t determinative of target. Extreme emotionality and rage, accompanied by a supporting irrational worldview, attaches to countless belief systems, liberal and conservative, women-targeting and non.

      Apparently there’s a rare genetic disorder called Williams syndrome, where people lack social anxiety, and these people also don’t have the unconscious racism that other do!

      Certainly racism is often fear and anxiety based, or gets tied to fear and anxiety as a maintaining apparatus (the same way Christianity is often sustained that way, and all forms of anti-atheism, as in the McCarthy era). But that does not mean people who feel anxiety and fear will be racists. Thus, the cause of racism has to be something else. Attitudes shared by the parents and peers and learned socially (as children or young adults) are the obvious control factor (since the very ability to understand or assign a concept of race has to be learned). Moreover, learning negative associations for other races can start in early childhood, but can become unlearned (from experience or reflection) or not lead to malicious racism even if persistent (the sort of racism that correlates with actual misogyny and not just minor sexism).

      I don’t think infancy is the main issue with misogyny. Unless we can verify someone was a sexist asshole even when they were ten years old, it’s an untested scientific theory, and thus idle to speculate on. Meanwhile, I’ve been in the snakes’ nest many a time as a man, and I can tell you the causes I directly observed. And they were not occurring in infancy. We’d need more science to be sure, but the trend looks clear enough to me to warrant where we should first look.

      It’s important that bashing on women not be acceptable among males; it’s important that excluding people of other races or making them feel uncomfortable not be acceptable among white people. Those attitudes are tolerated often, and that is a big problem.


  24. 24

    So atheists treat women like shit.

    What else is new? When they have the political power to do so they frigging KILL people.

    1. 24.1
      Richard Carrier

      I’m going to assume you’re being all kinds of sarcastic. Otherwise, you’re being all kinds of crazy. And I like to be charitable.

  25. 25
    kwame Ajamu

    I am sorry, but Only until recently in my life, I really wasn’t attracted to women for friendship unless it involved some sort of sexual relationship, and it wasn’t because I didn’t want to like women for friendship. I didn’t particularly have anything to do with men at all, women where the only friends I had, and they were all women that I was having sex with.

    Only the men that I worked with did I have any relationship with and this because I was a corrections officer and there was a brotherhood, specially between me and my special response team brothers.

    Nature did not make people for frivolously comingling just for itself, nature created relationships to be for survival and mating, all the isms that the woman in this article spoke of is just identification, and it is all a figment of the imagination, feminism, atheism, humanism. Western folk have too much money, too much free time, to cook up all kinds of nonsense. Nature made men to want to mate very much with women(mostly) to fulfill its ends, one needs friends to survive that’s the tribe.

    Being a sex object is part of natures scheme, in the prisons where there are no women available for the inmates the most effeminate and weakest male becomes highly desirable to otherwise very straight inmates go figure.

    You people should start living in the real world, we are all made for the use of something else, not the misuse, but the use.

    1. 25.1
      Richard Carrier

      Quite the contrary. We were not made “for” anything, nor did what make us care one whit about us. Nature is no god to be worshipped, much less obeyed. Which is why we defy her routinely in every aspect of life, through machinery, medicine, and technologies and techniques of every kind.

      You have yet to learn that you have the capacity in you to rise above being an animal, and be a man instead. And the end result of that will be a perspective and attitude about other people, women and men, very different from the unenlightened one you suffer with now. Your experience of life will greatly improved if ever you escape that unenlightened state.

    2. 25.2

      Sex (gender) is not a good candidate for classifying people, so btw. is not race. If you have a desire to classify people people in groups according to some critiera you should put important parameters as your first classificaiton critiera. Parameters like are they safe or dangerous, do they act in your interest or in general interest, or are they just egoist caring for themselves, are they intelligent, trustable, hard-working etc. Sex and race should not be forgotten, they have a biological basis, but they are dozenth or so classificaiton factor, starting from the improtant ones.

  26. 26

    One huge problem with this. “Even kink that fetishizes nonconsential sex can (and should) humanize its victims” Seriously, what the hell?! That’s an absolute oxymoron and is in fact more dangerous than rape kink that objectifies victims. People think sexual harassment and rape would be great for the victim and thus the amount of actual rape must escalate. Are you talking about sado-masochism? Sympathetic masochism? That comment’s messed up no matter how I look at it.

    1. 26.1
      Richard Carrier

      I’m unclear what you are objecting to.

      (A) Are you saying you are against all “kink that fetishizes nonconsential sex”? (e.g. couples indulging in rape fantasy-play, dominance-with-safewords, S&M–and affiliated erotica, on which see Greta Christina’s article, which I linked to in the very sentence you are quoting, where she specifically explains the difference between humanizing and dehumanizing kink)

      (B) Or are you saying you think “kink that fetishizes nonconsential sex” should dehumanize its subjects? (I am having a hard time believing that’s what you meant, but your remark against “sympathetic masochism” might imply you mean to say masochism is only enjoyable if it is conducted without sympathy or remorse, and that therefore you are advocating unempathic masochistic sexplay–the only other possibility is that you are opposing all masochistic sexplay, which would be (A) and not (B).)

      (C) Or are you saying you think “kink that fetishizes nonconsential sex” can’t (even in principle) humanize its subjects?

      That last would seem to suggest you also are against all “kink that fetishizes nonconsential sex” and thus by saying (C) you also mean (A); and as I noted for (B), by saying (B) you might also be saying (A).

      Thus, no matter how I turn it, I can only conclude (if I am to be charitable) that you are saying (A).

      If so, then you are very badly informed about the S&M and kink community and its value system. The whole point of safety words, for example (as well as education in safe and responsible S&M, which education is a commonplace in the S&M community), is to provide mechanisms for masochists to engage their empathy for their partner. This entire ethical system in the S&M community is the very difference between humanizing and dehumanizing S&M: the one is S&M and kink that ignores the feelings and will and humanity of the “bottom”; the other is S&M and kink that stays well in touch with, and values, the feelings and will and humanity of the “bottom.” Good S&M and kink erotica will endeavor to convey that (through such devices as contextualization or, as in literature, the exploration of the feelings, desires, and humanity of the “bottom”).

      If you meant something else, please explain. Otherwise, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you have some self-educating to do. Start with Greta’s article, and then explore the web for more discussion of the ethics of kink and S&M enthusiasts.

    2. 26.2

      If they already established safe words then how can it be nonconsentual? That’s power play.
      Yes I object to all nonconsentual kink.

      “My problem is more with the question of how to publicly explore fantasies of non-consent in a way that doesn’t glorify actual, real-world non-consent.” You can’t, so don’t.

    3. Richard Carrier

      If they already established safe words then how can it be nonconsentual?

      It’s nonconsensual in the fantasy thus produced (fulfilling a woman’s rape fantasy by roleplay, for example). The very fact that it is done with safeguards and consideration of one’s partner’s feelings and humanity is what makes it not glorifying of truly nonconsensual acts.

      You are thus wrong that this can’t be done. It’s done all the time. Quite successfully. Greta Christina’s next book will exemplify that, as it’s on this very subject.

    4. 26.3

      It’s true that people can engage in completely consensual sex while fantasizing about rape but it is always in the perspective of the rapist, even if you’re the one in chains. I trust the view that it not glorifying rape in this way as much as I trust the views of child abuse kink not glorifying child abuse because “they are adults acting as the child.”

    5. Richard Carrier

      Your sentences don’t make grammatical sense. So I cannot deduce what you are saying.

      But it is not the case that “fantasizing about rape is always in the perspective of the rapist.” In fact, rape fantasy play is often initiated by the one who wants to be raped, and often enacts a fantasy they have of something happening to themselves (something they would never want acted out for real, except by someone who actually cared about them and was safe in going about it). Moreover, in subjectifying rape-play, the one enacting the rapist will enjoy it precisely because they know the one enacting the victim enjoys it. Whereas, when the rapist thinks the victim enjoys it when in fact the victim does not, you have an actual rape. When the rapist knows the victim doesn’t enjoy it but rapes them anyway (or even precisely because of that), you have a brutal rape.

    6. 26.4

      Oh, sorry I should have proof read that. What I meant was: Just like child abuse fetishes have to fantasize about children in sexual situations for it to even qualify as child abuse kink. So do rape fetishists have to fantasies about those who really don’t consent to the sexual act in order for it to qualify. Therefor they are attracted to others pain not their own. It is not about them they are actually a spectator or the rapist themselves.

      No it is not those who want to be raped because no one actually wants to be raped! That’s the very definition of rape. Like I said, I don’t care if your playing the part of the victim, you are attracted to the thought of a victim.

    7. Richard Carrier

      Your semantics are out of synch with reality. There are plenty of women who have rape fantasies and ask men to act them out with them. You are now saying that that is not a rape fantasy because it’s not a real rape. That’s just dinking around with words. Obviously it’s not a real rape; it’s a fantasy rape. The word “rape” still applies because rape is what distinguishes that fantasy from others. Likewise all other kink.

      So all you seem to be concluding here is the trivial fact that “real” nonconsensual sex objectifies and is bad (I agree) while “fake” nonconsensual sex, which subjectifies, is fine, because it’s not “real.” I had assumed you were attacking “fake” nonconsensual sex as if it could not be distinguished from “real” nonconsensual sex. If that is what you were arguing, you are factually wrong. People make that very distinction all the time. The kink community’s entire ethic is based on it. And that’s the very distinction I’m talking about in regard to porn and erotica, which should aim to subjectify (and thus humanize) all actors, even when exploring fantasies of nonconsensual sex. If you don’t think that’s possible, then you certainly should take this up with Greta Christina on her blog (the most appropriate place to do that is probably in comments to her post Sexual Fantasies and The Road Not Taken or its sequel, Sexual Fantasies and The Road Not Taken, Part Two).

  27. 27
    kwame Ajamu

    quite the contrary dear sir, everything is made for some specific purpose of nature, be it base animal nature from mother earth, our atoms ,molecules…etc..etc, are broken down from our deaths and recycled for the continued maintainance of organic life, the vibratory frequency of our machinations and activitys, our breathing and emissions from our beings, goes to the furtherance of some higher bodies in this solar system, and the average woman and man break down on the basic levels of planetary and I believe celestal functioning of some kind undetectable to modern science, but detectable right beneath the surface.

    For example I can see what appears to be a basic energy outline around everything in creation on this globe of ours, and sometimes a golden hue appears, only after I began meditating to quell my hypertension did I began to see this, and before I thought it hogwash to belive in such things, yet modern science has nut universally imbraced this for me, reality, though that is changing. Those who reach what you call enlightened have a separate and some would classify as a higher usage.

    If you notice this planet, from space, has a thin venere of atmosphere which is lined whith oxygen on the lower surface at least and is full of greenery which is life, the other planets I don’t think, have no such thing, and as I said Their is an energetic membrain surrounding all things animated or no on this earth, much like the membrane even around the cells and such on the microscopic level, which seems to me to be comng from our local generator Sol, Aten, RA the Sunh is a biosphere, a farm, for the transformation of energies filtered through organic and none oganic apperactuses. This earh is a farm for the infusor of all existence to feed her creation with energy for recipricol maintainance.

    And we humans are no exception to that rule, everytime we breath our oxygen cells moultiply, like every other animal, but our oxygen cells are infused with more of a substance for counsciousley digesting a certain something. But on the mundane mundane level of our average mutual human, this level of nature simply keeps breaking down their bodily and brain cells for just recycling of materials on or surrounding this earth, but for a higher, their brain cells serve a purpose for higher and more counscious part of nature, wrongfully called supernatural.So those remarks made in my statements in above was for the mundane, no snobbism meant nor pessimism just what some observe to be true. And none of the isms will solve the problems of this eart world wit its world of pain, for te many natures of this earth world extract energys from its makelings, by both the horrors and the joys inherent in organic existances, and technology, civil, human rights will or can change what is needed from the extrapolations that father sun mother earth and extremely big sister or co maker lil” mama moon made us to give up.

    Please excuse the misspellings, I am doing what all the undereducated do, when addressing those usually not of their peers, try to come off as an intellectual!.

    Or perhaps it is just that am so excited to comment to folks that understand my views that I go too fast..naw! more of the first with a sprinkling of the latter!, Bu I concede that man does have a little more leash room far as natures objectives, than does any other known organism on the earth, and that’s in relation to all areas of human nature, their is a lower, middle, higher scale of human sexuality, and the same for all human activity(don’t mean to be redundant), and a higher level of objectifying.

    But objectifying it shall remain, for how else can we interact without some scale of objectification.

    For whether it is physical, objectification, emotional objectification, or what forgive me for using this arcane and outdated word but for lieu of this writers scale of neo-ism vocabulary, spiritual objectification.
    For we are but objects, in the body and so-called mind, objects of the first class, the mind is an object of the “mind”, and the body, how can we all have congress with the body, or without the mind.

    For I know none of you, except for your words on these electronic pages but from the objects that these words represent, representing the ideas which itself are objects of a certain arena of your mind and vise verse me to you. And these ideas are representations which only certain objects of certain arenas of certain thoughts formulate
    based on a certain program fed to us by the mainframe program of a certain place in time, ,space and culture representing ideas of a segment of the whole time, space, culture in which we live, subject to change from from further knowledge and places’.

    1. 27.1
      Richard Carrier

      everything is made for some specific purpose of nature

      There is no intelligent creator. Thus, nothing is “made for a purpose,” much less a specific one. Attributes do evolve because they are adaptive (and thus indirectly serve the purpose of “differential reproductive success”), but to conclude that these dictate how we should behave is called a “naturalistic fallacy” or the fallacy of “appeal to nature.” For example, that we evolved to be violent does not dictate that we ought to be violent. Likewise that we evolved to think irrationally and live by hunting and foraging does not dictate that we ought to think irrationally and live by hunting and foraging.

      Maybe you need to learn the parable of Darla the She-Goat.

      The rest of the weird stuff you argue is qualified or refuted by my book Sense and Goodness without God.

  28. 28

    When one assumes that there is no conscious creator,(nature)that can be debated, let me explain.
    Lets give an example of a sort of consciousness to creation.The telephone, tv, even computer was not ready made upon this planets appearance, man didn’t just know how to manifest these things, but though trial and era he did eventually, even haphazardly did create them, through trial and error.
    Some, if not most of our creation even happened accidently from looking to do one thing another thing came out of it.

    Now that is what I call an a sleepy consciousness, if one looks at nature, look at the hominid.
    nature created many different hominids, and sometimes two or three or who knows right now
    many at a time.Ultimately homo sapien sapien is the end result, and we do believe that we(homo sapien) are the last and most fit,at this time to survive.

    So this thing called evolution I think is the trial and error of conscious, that man mirrors the consciousness of himself, as we are as far as we know, the highest conscious, on this earth able to mimick nature, with let me change sleepy conscious with trial and error consciouness.
    So in summary, if nature has no consciousness than neither does man.

    1. 28.1
      Kilian Hekhuis

      Although I have a hard time trying to understand what you’re saying here, your summary is nonsensical. To call evolution “trail and error of conscious” (sic) is rediculous, since evolution is neither trial and error nor has a conscious. And humans’ trial and erroring when deliberatly searching for a solution is still part of deliberatly searching for a solution. Evolution is not deliberate, there is no conscious. If you don’t understand that, perhaps you should first try to understand it.

  29. 29

    ha..ha..ha..ha..ha..ha…I responded to your post before I read it all, so you think a puny man/woman human being, who lives about a day longer than a worm relativley speaking,can rise above nature, above the animals, which he is the human animal. The reason that nature spits so many of us out(replying partially to your article on
    Darla The She-goat) is because we die like flies.

    Why so angry,again in your Darla article, I was angry at the inevitable result of our our existance as well ..ie..death, and yes this lower nature and the nature that we can see is a machine, the core generator is not the operation is.

    So we have this suffering on this level, because of man not putting existance in proper perspective, don’t totally blame nature(In response again to Darla The She-Goat.

    1. 29.1
      Richard Carrier

      Angry? The Darla article is funny, not angry.

      I’m starting to think you are off your rocker.

  30. 30

    I’m joining this Atheism+/elavatorgate party late but having caught up some now, I’m literally floored at the amount of words typed, videos made, etc. over something that should be as plain as the nose on your face. Sexual objectification of women is real, Rebecca’s concerns about the elevator incident were real, but widely, and sometimes viciously, discounted. Even Dawkins, whom I respect and who has shown he is and whom I count on as a voice for the rights of women couldn’t understand what Rebecca was feeling. I don’t even blame him for it, because I believe that with his integrity and intelligence, if he WERE capable of understanding it, if any man could, he would have, but he didn’t. That speaks to the heart of the problem…

    The heart of the problem is sexism, none of what comes after in the form of atheism+ or anti-atheism+ rhetoric matters. We need to roll it back to the beginning — sexism — which has become nothing more than background noise at this point, in the sense that many people (even women) don’t see it for the destructive, dehumanizing force it is.

    It’s as basic as seeing an injured animal on the road and stopping to help it. There are no deep conversations about whether that is right or wrong; it just is. Until men and women see sexual objectification and sexism in these black and white terms, we’re all just wasting breath. How do you come to this knowledge, I don’t know. For me, it’s always been fairly simple to see hurtful, denigrating behavior for what it is, be it toward a woman, a black person, a fat person, a disabled person, etc. It’s not hard. Of course, I have no entitlement I’m trying to hold on to. I have nothing to lose by seeing this behavior for what it is. I lose nothing when I point out sexism, or racism. Perhaps some people feel they are losing the higher ground? I honestly don’t know.

    As a woman, I’m starting to believe that making men understand where woman are coming from regarding these issues is pointless on a grand scale; we can only deal with each example of it as it comes up in our daily lives (and, yes, it’s daily). Trying to convince some men (and women) that sexism is real is like trying to convince theists that god is not real. Pointless. We, as atheists, can only assert our rights, speak our beliefs plainly and clearly, extract ourselves and move on. As women, we must do the same. Confront sexism when it arises, everywhere it arises, demand our rights, but don’t expect understanding. If we teach our daughters and sons about it, hopefully the next generation will be better and so on.

    I don’t want to end this post without mentioning that sexism applies to men as well, when, as young boys they are told to shut down their emotions, etc. We need to start when children are young, not ‘manning up’ boys and not belittling girls. Not making boys believe ‘conquering’ is the only way to true manliness, etc.

    What makes this process so hard is the knee-jerk response men feel toward woman who dare bring the issues to light… when, if these same men, had their rights abused in the same way a woman does, would be just as outraged.

    I feel it’s a losing battle. As one man said to me ‘why should I give up my privileged existence?’ I don’t know, Sir, perhaps because your privileged existence denigrates half the population of the world including your own family members (Mother, Sister, Daughter, GF) I don’t feel the need to bother trying anymore… I do what I’ve always done, when confronted with sexism I call it for what it is and if I’m then subjected to vitriol, I forget that and continue on my path which is to educate young girls and boys about how sexism is wrong, and to stand up for myself when I encounter it and most importantly, to distance myself from men (and women) who pertpetrate it.

    I’ve rather given up on this generation who far too often resort to the lowest of the low by suggesting I give them a blow job or that I’m frigid, when I discuss sexism. For the most part, this generation, has proven they are beyond helping. Let’s concentrate on very young men and women and stop the ranting blogs, online commenting wars and hate-filled youtube videos. They are pointless. I’ve often lamented the idea that atheists can also be sexist. Somehow, I felt that enlightenment would automatically extend to sexism. I was wrong and it hurt for a while to realize that women, again, have a battle to fight even with the most enlightened of people. It is what it is, all I can do is keep speaking truth and hope for the best.

    One other suggestion I have for helping the cause of equal rights for women, is to dissociate with any men or woman who is sexist. I fear that will leave quite the lonely world with woman (who only want to be respected) on one side (and men and women) who, for some inexplicable reason, can’t see the problem on the other. But better that than accepting my lot in life and helping sexism continue. If we, as women, remove ourselves from the equation in a very real way, sexism would lose it’s power. Hatred, denigration and the need to possess women wouldn’t mean much if the bars were filled only with men, if women withdrew completely from men. Perhaps loss of a precious commodity might change minds? I fear women would be afraid to be so drastic in their response, as women long for families, love, children… but it’s simply time to get drastic. Atheism+ has shown me, sadly, that sexism is alive and well and so deeply rooted that ‘debating’ it is pointless. Actions speak louder than words.

    For instance, years ago, a friend brought her BF along to the bar to meet all of us; within minutes, and right in front of his GF he cupped my backside and slid his fingers between my legs. I told him what I thought of him, in no uncertain terms and then never spoke another word to him again. Not a hello or a goodbye even though I frequented the same bar as he did for years afterwards. I completely eradicated him from my life. I’ve had to do this many times with men who considered me an object. If ALL woman did this, I think it would force change. Playing nice with someone who has abused you in any way, helps no one. It doesn’t help you or help him see that he was not correct in considering you an object. I never found drawing these lines hard, sadly, some women do. Draw the hard lines, stand your ground with action, not words. Words are wasted most times. Do you think a slave in 1860 could have reasoned with his owner? Not likely, but unlike slaves, we in the USA, at least, are free to disassociate with men who objectify us. If this happens in the work place then the fight gets more difficult but you can still fight. We can fight and should, with more than blogs. With actions.

    1. 30.1
      Richard Carrier

      As a woman, I’m starting to believe that making men understand where woman are coming from regarding these issues is pointless on a grand scale

      That progress is slow must not be mistaken for progress not happening or being impossible or working for it being pointless.

      A lot of progress has been made when we look at the large scale (e.g. the last fifty years), and real progress is still being made when we look at the small scale (a lot more men are on board with what we are talking about now than were five years ago, and this is true not only within the atheism community but other communities where sexism is finally being talked about and widely debated, with the sexists slowly losing that debate, such as the gaming industry, tech industry, journalism industry, and so on).

      So don’t lose heart. It’s unfortunate that we have to have patience in the face of piles of the wrongheaded. But the more we hang in there, the more water we haul, and with every year they gradually lose more and more. I’m on the long game. I’m looking at where we can be in 2063. Or even just 2033. And for that, I just have to look at where we were in 1993 or 1963.

      So do take heart. It’s frustrating. But working for change does make change. The next generation might benefit more than we do. But then that’s still why we do it. I would have wanted the last generation to have done it for me.

  31. 31

    I watched the video and I still have some questions about what sexual objectification means. Are all ads with scantily clad women (or men) objectifying? If I look at a man and have sexual thoughts or fantasies, have I objectified him?

    1. 31.1
      Richard Carrier

      Not if you also subjectify them.

      In the second case (just thinking about other people), if you also think about what sort of person they are, what thoughts they have, how they might enjoy being with you, and otherwise see them as a full human being like yourself, then you are not objectifying, you are subjectifying. It is objectifying only if you completely ignore their humanity and only regard them as a physical sexual object.

      In the first case (ads) just revisit Heldman’s criteria and imagine ads that still use sexual attractiveness but reverses or avoids every one of her criteria. As I say in my article:

      [An ad is not objectifying that] represents the whole person, as an actor with a will and desires of their own, [that] does not dehumanize the subject (Heldman criteria 1, 2, 6 and 7) or negate their individuality (criteria 3, 6 and 7) or gratuitously eroticize their lack of consent (criteria 4), or treat them as only a source of sexual gratification (criteria 5 and 6), as if they were not a thinking, complex agent with their own will who can also be, and should also be, a chooser and recipient of sexual gratification, an actual or potential equal partner in deciding and pursuing sexual pleasure (including the most basic sexual pleasure of viewing or enjoying the company of beautiful people without any actual sex expected or occurring).

  32. 32

    I am confused about objectification.

    Only until after I finally was able to realize that I was still a theist and then realized that I wasn’t connecting to God or the universe or a collective consciousness, only until after I realized I was connecting to myself, only until after I TRULY became a real atheist instead of a fake atheist for 20 years (what an incredible change, so much completely debilitating guilt, fear, and panic is just GONE now), was I able to realize that I at many points in my life have objectified people without knowing. It was only then that I realized what people even meant by “objectification”.

    If I think I’m below everyone and nobody can relate with me because of it, I’ve turned everyone into objects—objects of possible admiration, objects of “I can never be like THAT”, objects of other types, but objects nevertheless. If I think I’m above everyone and nobody can relate with me because of it, it’s pretty obvious that I’ve turned everyone into objects—this is the view that MOST people have of when someone gets turned into an object.

    Only when I’m looking at people as equals, as humans, as the human animals that we are, with the patterns we have, with the mindsets we have, with the way we process thoughts and emotions, am I truly looking at people as PEOPLE, as equals, as humans.

    Now, I have fetishes, I have things that turn me on—but at the same time, I’ve never looked at someone, IN PERSON, PURELY for my fetishes, but I guess I’ve always assumed that everyone else would only look at me for their fetishes, and after I no longer looked like a prepubescent child (I looked like a kid until I was probably about 27 or 28) I never thought I could ever make the cut, ever, for anyone, at least, nobody that had an opposite mindset of my own at the time (at the time I could have gotten with plenty of very skinny, hairless, very feminine young men that couldn’t arouse me no matter what they could possibly attempt to do, I’ve always went for the rugged, alpha male, masculine, bear/biker/trucker/punk/rocker/skinhead/aggressive-looking guys, I went for the stereotypical hypermasculine male archetype—now it doesn’t matter if someone is hypermasculine or not, they just be to be a decent, caring person who thinks about other people’s feelings, and physically I like beards, bellies and pit stink)

    I never thought that I was ABLE to connect with anyone sexually except for fetishized objectivity, I never thought someone could connect with me as a PERSON and be sexual. Knowing what I know now–that I CAN connect with people, that people DO like me, that people DO care about who I am, it changes a lot for me.

    I’ve never been into watching people have sex—I like pictures of people, I like to think about how I could satisfy the people in the pictures, there are certain attributes that I really really enjoy in the pictures (the 3 things I mentioned in parenthesis, primarily). There are certain things I think about with those people, their scents, the feeling of their skin, sensuality—but I’m apparently too much of a beta or too submissive or too filled with guilt to actually think about using my dick to DO something to someone. I’ve just never even been able to imagine it. The idea of doing something to someone against their will is one of the biggest turn-offs I can imagine—yet, the idea of someone doing something to me against MY will is somehow a turn-on—but would it really be against my will? Not really. So it’s very confusing for me.

    I haven’t had a satisfying, loving encounter with someone for almost 20 years, back when I was in a BDSM relationship with someone who I found out later only liked me because I looked like I was 15 and he knew how to manipulate young minds (I found out recently that he was arrested in 2007 for molesting a 14 year old). Until recently, I had lost faith that it was even possible. And it was my own fault, really. I would have unsuccessful encounters again and again, even with my ex from 2004-2006–unsuccessful situations—I mean, I always satisfied the other person, that wasn’t a problem, that has never been a problem. –But I didn’t realize the deepness in a sexual manner that could be achieved with someone if we truly got to know things about each other, how we think, our quirks, our advantages, what scares us, what makes us smile, the individual beautiful things about being what we are. I somehow thought it would get in the way. I’m not sure why I thought that, but I did. I thought the more they knew about me, the more they would judge my sexuality, or something, the more that they wouldn’t want to have sexual relations with me.

    The idea of someone TRULY loving me for my mind and how I think, and in essence, who I am, was just so foreign to me before. I thought, in a relationship, all I was worth was an object, a trophy of sorts.

    That last relationship and how it went by 2006…… the worst damage anyone ever did to me was the abusive 3rd person who was brought into the relationship who a couple days after I got him to climax 7 times in the period of an hour, said, after I wanted to give him a hug, “I won’t touch you, it would be like inappropriately touching a small child.”

    Enough of that though….

    Anyway, I’m at this point now where I’m just confused.

    I have fetishes, but I have fears that to even think about the fetishes are objectifying. I have completely lost my sense of what it means to objectify someone sexually. I don’t know if I’ve EVER actually done it (and I actually was sexually SUBJECTIFYING people), or whether I was doing it ALL THE TIME before, or what. I DON’T KNOW! I’m trying to be the best person I can and I seem to be beating myself up over it.

    I can’t afford a therapist, so I’m just sticking my neck out, taking a chance, and possibly getting verbally beat down for being a little too personal, or, well, WAY too personal. I seem to be good at that.

    1. 32.1
      Richard Carrier

      The only thing I can recommend is to read writers who talk informedly about consensual kink, and maybe ask them a specific question or two related to this in their comment threads (you need to be more direct so they know what you are actually asking for). Maybe start with Greta Christina (and through her writing find others). You can look over her articles under kink or S&M and see if any relate to your questions, or broaden your search to sex.

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