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Who occupies “the middle ground”? A story of an open letter

Yesterday, I admonished you to read a Colorlines piece that details, in a step-by-step fashion, the way that majority spaces react when minority members speak up about discrimination. I put a particular emphasis on step three:

Step 3: Play the ‘Middle’ Between Rational and Frothing Racist

You know how mainstream news shows discuss global warming by pairing an actual scientist who points to decades of consistent research with an oil-company shill who says global warming can’t be real because Al Gore said something dumb once? And you know how the news anchor moderating the discussion gets to occupy the “rational” “middle” ground by saying “more research is probably needed”? You’re that guy now. Crackpots don’t get people fired, people who validate crackpots do, so get to work.

Let me get you started on your “common-sense” blog post, article or mainstream interview: “We can all agree that the behavior of these Internet trolls is unconscionable. However, let’s not discount their concerns because of a few bad apples…”

You’ve got some primo poli-sci Overton Window triangulation going on now! By assigning the Internet trolls one end of the alignment spectrum, you’ve successfully shifted the terms of the debate from, “What can be done about rampant unjust outcomes for women and people of color?” to “How many racial epithets is it OK to fit in a tweet?” Also, don’t moderate the comments on your blog post, even if they overtly threaten women and people of color. That would be, like, censorship.

The reason I highlighted this point, apart from my personal exasperation at the “tone” argument as a whole, is because I want to talk about something else I read yesterday.

Those of you who are familiar with the online atheist community are all-too-aware of the fact that atheist spaces are currently grappling with their own failures to attract women and people of colour. The problem mirrors one that the American Republican Party is having, and the people arguing against structural changes make many of the same arguments – that what is needed is merely a ‘pinkwash’ or a ‘brownwash’, rather than a concerted effort to change the culture. I have summarized my view of how we got to this position in a previous post, but the even summarier summary is that people began asking why women weren’t participating, but only some of those people accepted the answers they were given.

In response to what is (sincerely by some, ironically by others) being called the “deep rifts” within atheist communities, an Open Letter was drafted, and several high-profile secular groups signed it. It calls for, among other things, a détente between people on “both sides” of the “deep rift”, and a pledge to model more “constructive” standards of communication. I quote from that letter selectively:

Insults, slurs, expressions of hatred, and threats undermine our shared values of open and candid discussion because they move us away from an exchange of views supported with reasons.

(snip)

Unfortunately, the discussion of these issues has suffered from the same problems that plague online discussion in general—although arguably to a greater extent. Some blogs and comments actually exhibit hatred, including rape threats and insults denigrating women. Hatred has no place in our movement. We unequivocally and unreservedly condemn those who resort to communicating in such a vile and despicable manner.

(snip)

Any organization or individual engaged in blogging or administering a forum has an obligation to moderate comments. Slurs, threats, and so forth beget more of the same. Keeping our online spaces free of these elements creates a civil climate that makes it much easier for people to engage issues productively.

While these excerpted sections are far from the biggest problem I have with this letter, it is worth comparing it to the quoted section from the Colorlines piece: a focus on the extreme behaviour, coupled with a litany of admonishments to the discriminated-against party to “be more charitable” and “give the benefit of the doubt” and any other pearls of “common sense” wisdom that place the burden predominantly on the oppressed (while saying nothing about the oppressors except to demand that they be held to an identical standard for non-identical behaviours).

No mention, of course, of the fact that even those who do dispassionately describe the abuse are subject to the exact same level of vitriol – suggesting, perhaps, that there is no method of criticizing the majority that they will find acceptable. No mention, of course, of the fact that while “both sides” claim to be the target of slurs, the slurs that one side complains about are not slurs. No mention, of course, that only one “side” is having their credibility and worth as human being questioned. No mention, of course, that some anger is legitimate, and that some issues need to be evaluated on their merits rather than assuming that the “real” problem is bad behaviour.

No, for that, you’ll have to go to the top of that page and read what is a splendid takedown of the letter by Mary Ellen Sikes, President of the American Secular Census:

Let me state very clearly what I wish the Open Letter had said: Women who are harassed or cyberstalked are not being harassed or stalked over some failure of theirs to practice appropriate online discussion techniques. They aren’t being targeted because they see grouping patterns among their harassers (what the Open letter appears to condemn as “guilt by association.”) They aren’t singled out because they lack the patience to educate others. They are being victimized because their harassers have a pathological need for attention, a feeling of entitlement, or some other deficiency that leads them to attack other human beings. Harassment is the fault of harassers, and harassers bear the responsibility for stopping it.

The unfortunate truth ignored by the Open Letter is that there are good guys and bad guys in many of these situations, each group needs to be dealt with differently, and in the case of stalking and threats, only trained experts should be offering advice.

Their dissent is echoed by Kim Rippere, and the board of Secular Woman:

As a secular feminist organization committed to understanding and exposing societal constructs that contribute to the inequality of women and other oppressed groups, we have no desire to listen to, respect, or continuously debunk overtly sexist viewpoints. Just as most scientists are not interested in debating the beliefs of creationists, we are not interested in debating gender-biased, racist, homophobic, or trans*phobic beliefs.

Although the document contains reasonable recommendations for increasing effective communication, some of these techniques have been used to silence women (and other oppressed groups). When people express opinions that challenge sexism ingrained in social structures and conventions they receive a significant amount of pushback and harassment. Those of us working to challenge systemic sexism should be under no obligation to listen to or be more charitable to our opponents.

Perhaps because they represent entire organizations, or simply because they are more polite than I am, both of these letters are very diplomatic in their criticism of the open letter. I, however, represent nobody but myself, and have nothing either to lose or to gain in saying exactly what I think about this open letter: it sucks and I hate it.

I do not, for example, acknowledge the “good intentions” of the letter. I do not think the goal of the authors of the letter is to improve the situation for marginalized groups – I think it is to move the fighting out of the spotlight so they can return to ignoring the issue. I think they are tired of having to devote time and energy to an internal fight while the “real battle” is still “out there”. I think they honestly believe that there is blame to be shared around “both sides” of the issue. I think they see anger on “both sides”, and therefore assume that the problem is that everyone is angry, rather than recognizing that one side is angry because they’re being harmed, and the other is angry because they don’t like getting called on their bullshit.

This is the problem I have with this and any other proposed “civility pledge”. It presumes that “angry” and “correct” are non-overlapping states, and that all criticisms must be presented politely in order to be valid. It presumes that oppressors need merely to be cogently talked out of their oppressing behaviour, and that they will do so once the ‘perfect’ argument is presented to them (because, after all, we’re all reasonable people here, right?). It presumes that the problem lies on the surface, and that nothing more than superficial changes are needed to address it. It presumes that there is a “middle ground”, and that the role of organizations is to bring “both sides” to that place, rather than deciding what its values are, and fighting for them.

This open letter is merely a pledge to uphold the status quo, and to treat all anger as “counter-productive”. It beggars belief, in fact, to imagine that a similar letter would garner the support of these organizational leaders if the subject was how we talk about religion, rather than how we talk about feminism. I would be surprised indeed to see David Silverman, for example, proclaim the virtues of “dialing down the drama” when it comes to criticizing creationism or the World Trade Center memorial cross. Perhaps it is only when the people we are criticizing are “on our own team” that it becomes more important to preserve hurt feelings than it is to decry bad beliefs.

So while I wish the solution to the problem was as easy as writing an “open letter”, when the people writing the letter have not bothered to understand the problem, the only “open” thing I’m looking for is the door. Until there is a real effort to understand why there is a problem, rather than simply bemoaning the fact that there is a problem, no progress can be made. And as long as major organizations are insisting on chiding “both sides”, all the while assiduously affirming that they deplore the extremist behaviour, they are doing worse than not helping – by perpetuating a cycle designed to resist change, they’re fighting to preserve the status quo.

In closing, I would like to quote from a much better open letter – one that these secular leaders would do well to read carefully:

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

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P.S. Rebecca Watson has also responded; Stephanie Zvan responds as well.

A commenter at the Skepchick piece rightly points out that this letter was apparently crafted without the input of a number of principal targets of misogynistic abuse. This is a basic, elementaryl failure to represent the needs and preferences of the very group this letter purports to address, which pretty well confirms my suspicion that the writers do not actually care about solving this problem.

Comments

  1. embertine says

    Goddamn the man could write. That letter made me want to storm Parliament.

    And I agree: the open letter is just a more pompous way of saying “SHUTTUP SHUTTUP SHUTTUP SHUTTUP”. No thanks.

  2. carlie says

    I was about to copy and paste bits of this post that I wanted to say “here’s the best part so I’m quoting it so everyone can read it again”, and then realized I was about to do that to the whole post. So YEAH. WHAT CROMMUNIST JUST SAID, ALL OF IT.

  3. says

    No mention, of course, of the fact that while “both sides” claim to be the target of slurs, the slurs that one side complains about are not slurs.

    So calling me a “victim blaming, misogynistic “chill girl” is NOT a slur? Among many other things.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/03/22/adria-richards-did-everything-exactly-right/comment-page-2/#comment-585621

    Googling it, you come up with the following definition-

    n:
    An insinuation or allegation about someone that is likely to insult them or damage their reputation.

    Merriam Webster defines it- as

    a : an insulting or disparaging remark or innuendo : aspersion. b : a shaming or degrading effect : stain, stigma.

    While a descriptive may SOMETIMES be true, when it isn’t is is certainly a slur.

  4. says

    “Perhaps it is only when the people we are criticizing are “on our own team” that it becomes more important to preserve hurt feelings than it is to decry bad beliefs.”

    This is what I’ve been thinking since shortly after I saw it. I first read the letter on friendly atheist and 2 posts later there was a post on a catholic blogger on patheos. With the letter fresh in my mind it really struck me how much this looked like a double standard on how we treat bad behavior.

  5. Dunc says

    Hell yeah!

    It beggars belief, in fact, to imagine that a similar letter would garner the support of these organizational leaders if the subject was how we talk about religion

    I’m pretty sure I can’t be the only person who remembers the whole “accommodationism” kerfuffle of a few years back…

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    … they honestly believe that there is blame to be shared around “both sides” of the issue.

    Somebody’s been watching too much network tv news, and reading too many NY Times columnists.

  7. says

    So calling me a “victim blaming, misogynistic “chill girl” is NOT a slur?

    No. They are descriptions of behaviour. Unless you’re in the “‘bigot’ is a slur” camp along with Rick Santorum and Bill Donahue. Just because you don’t like the way your behaviour is perceived doesn’t put some burden on the perceiver to use more friendly language.

  8. says

    So calling me a “victim blaming, misogynistic “chill girl” is NOT a slur?

    No. They are descriptions of behaviour

    My point is exactly that. They are only descriptions of behavior when they are true. They are slurs when they aren’t.

  9. says

    They are only descriptions of behavior when they are true

    Read yesterday’s post. Your hurt feelings are not proof that an accusation isn’t true.

  10. Onamission5 says

    I think they see anger on “both sides”, and therefore assume that the problem is that everyone is angry, rather than recognizing that one side is angry because they’re being harmed, and the other is angry because they don’t like getting called on their bullshit.

    THIS.

    I know that anger makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Hell, it makes me uncomfortable, too, even though I recognize that anger is a tool, it is a survival mechanism, I still squirm internally and have to fight the impulse to toss out platitudes, to be the feelings police all over other people’s pain. What is missing from the open letter is empathy. Sympathy simply isn’t enough. Sympathy is patronizing. Empathy leads to understanding.

    Over and over I feel like leaders in the skeptic community are behaving like the two sides are kids who got hauled into the principal’s office for fighting, and that’s all they need to know about it, we’re both getting chided for being disruptive. Never mind that one side has launched a systematic attack on the other, and the second side couldn’t take it any more. I get a distinct, “I don’t care who started it, I’m going to finish it” vibe. So, I have an open letter of my own.

    Dear secular leaders: Let me know when you actually understand what’s been happening here, and have something to say which doesn’t read as paternalistic chiding designed to lend legitimacy to the status quo and put the marginalized back in their place. In the meantime I am going to go ahead and keep being pissed off about what continues to happen to women, PoC, trans*folk and disabled people who speak out or by their very presence offend, because that’s the fuel which keeps me fighting against the tide instead of giving up and letting myself be dragged under. Mkay?

  11. embertine says

    EBW, I actually kind of agreed with you about Richards’ initial actions, although I also saw the other side of it. I don’t dispute that some of the comments made against you were unnecessarily nasty, and I’m cheered at how balanced your responses have been to various ‘pitters in your own thread.

    However, as we say, intent is not magical. If you are coming off in a certain way to people then just saying that you didn’t mean it like that doesn’t absolve you, anymore than it would if I made a racist joke and then claimed not to be racist. You may not like to be called a chill girl (I sure as hell wouldn’t) but when it seems as though you’re blaming a woman for calling out sexist behaviour then that’s how it comes across.

    I’m sure you can see how turning a discussion on sexism around from “how does this make a tech conf unwelcoming to women” and making it all about “she shouldn’t have done it like that” might not look good, given how easily similar discussions often derail into a detailed discussion of what the woman did wrong.

    I think you’ve been held to a high standard on this occasion because that’s what your readers have come to expect of you. Personally I still have a metric tonne of respect for you and I hope this can be resolved.

  12. hoary puccoon says

    EllenBeth Wachs @ 3, 8–

    AR reportedly received rape and death threats, her company received threats, and she was fired. I cannot see how the punishment she received was in any way commensurate to the “crime” of reporting sexist misbehavior through inappropriate channels.

    I sincerely hope that you, EllenBeth, have not received anything even remotely approaching the piling on that AR received. I can understand that you are hurt by the reaction you received. But I can also see this is an example of a real imbalance between the two sides. And I truly hope that never changes. I really hope that you, or anyone else who speaks out against the majority feminist viewpoint, will never be exposed to the abuse, threats, etc., that people who have spoken on behalf of feminism have had to face.

  13. says

    Ellen Beth, saying “I do not agree with her decision to tweet this” sounds like victim blaming, even with the ton of context you put around it. It’s far too close to, “Of course the rapist is to blame, but she shouldn’t really have worn a short skirt.”

    [I don’t know how often you read this blog, but Ian makes rather a thing about how perfectly nice people can sometimes do or say a racist thing, usually without noticing. That’s why he’s keen on labelling behaviour, not people.

    I thought the rest of the thread was ridiculously OTT, and I’m sorry you got piled on. And good luck with the horrid sheriff.

  14. mythbri says

    I particularly liked this part of the response to this open letter from the American Secular Census, because I very much agree with it (found it originally over at Dana’s blog):

    In 2011 and 2012, a record number of anti-abortion bills were passed in state legislatures. These measures and their connection to a broader theocratic agenda have been largely ignored by secular identity organizations. Meanwhile, secular women are asked to support Darwin Day resolutions, lawsuits against religious symbols, and other issues far removed from this most basic and simple right to bodily autonomy. Many women view the War on Women as the most significant and damaging church-state threat of their lifetime. Secular organizations’ silence and inaction on the religious basis of declining abortion rights and access represent an enormous wasted opportunity for movement expansion and, to some women, a betrayal.

    ….

    @EllenBeth Wachs

    I’m not quite sure what your purpose is in bringing your beef with Pharyngula over to other FTBlogs, and I don’t like it. You have issues with a specific group of people. If you want to address those issues, you should do it with that specific group of people. Bringing your fight to other ground looks to me like nothing more than an attempt to garner sympathy and re-hash the argument yet again, and is off-topic for this thread.

  15. says

    I’m not quite sure what your purpose is in bringing your beef with Pharyngula over to other FTBlogs

    If I had to guess, I’d say that she is bringing an example of a behaviour that she finds problematic, which I actually very much appreciate. Most often, people make these complaints about “bullying” and “slurs” without providing a citation – EllenBeth has provided evidence of exactly what she objects to. I disagree with her interpretation of the unfairness of the charge, but at least she was good enough to cite it.

    It’s also not at all off topic. The top of this piece segues from the Adria Richards thing, which is the topic that her thread discusses. And I make specific reference to “slurs” that are not slurs, and this is her attempt to refute that point.

  16. mythbri says

    @Crommunist

    I see – that was not how I was looking at it. Apologies if it seemed like I was trying to speak for you or your blog.

    ….

    @EllenBeth Wachs

    With Crommunist’s explanation, I can see why you might have brought this up here. I retract the portion of my comment that said it was off-topic.

  17. says

    Thanks for the kind words about the American Secular Census post and decision not to sign. To ward off a possible misconception, the Secular Census is not an organization. It’s just me: Mary Ellen – my time, my dime. :) I actually agree with your analysis of the letter’s intent, but since we’re talking about human beings and relationships the real truth is that we are both right – no one’s motivation for the Open Letter was either truly generous or truly self-serving. I try to maintain a diplomatic posture when I can* because it’s the best way for me, personally, to push for positive change. I respect that that isn’t (and can’t) be everyone’s approach. *Yes, there are times when I feel my values demand a more confrontational approach.

  18. says

    Aha. Well then it’s just a matter of rhetorical style. At any rate, I think your response was very well-written and insightful.

  19. says

    EllenBeth, You don’t know me, because I’m basically nobody in the secular movement. So there’s no reason in the world why you should give a shit about what I have to say about this, but I’m going to say it anyway in hopes that maybe there might be something microscopically useful in it. Please don’t think that I’m attempting to impose upon you any obligation to give a shit about my nobody opinions.

    I want to start by saying that although I haven’t followed your work closely, every time I’ve seen your name on something I’ve found it to be worthy of respect. So it’s distressing to me to see you getting caught up in this kind of dispute with other people whom I also respect.

    I read through the discussion you got involved in on Pharyngula, and I can understand your preference as an organizer for not having incidents like the “dongle” jokes not blow up publicly if they don’t have to, and also your concerns about the effects of Adria Richards’ chosen method for reporting those jokes. I also can understand why you were upset by what may have seemed to you to be a very hair-trigger and extreme response to those concerns by the Pharyngula commentariat. My opinion on these two issues doesn’t *quite* match yours, but on other occasions I have indeed found myself on the defending side of a disagreement like this here on FTB, and I know it’s not a pleasant experience.

    But the thing it’s always come down to for me is, no matter how upsetting it may be to find myself perceived as ill-intentioned by some of the people here, and no matter how much I may feel that I’ve been misconstrued and unfairly slotted into a “not-an-ally” category as a result, I don’t really want my relationship with the people here to become all about that incident of misunderstanding and the resulting hard feelings. Ultimately, any negative reactions I’ve gotten on these blogs haven’t been about malice on the part of the regulars, they’ve been about people here having heightened sensitivity to certain problematic issues that are generally neglected in the larger society, which may *occasionally* result in them reacting a more strongly than someone on the other end of that reaction might feel is warranted by the circumstances. And in the end it’s always been more important to me to remain allied with the people here who are working hard to do the right thing than it was to have the “official record” show me as completely vindicated in every disagreement with them.

    So I’ve let small things drop when I thought I was mostly right but didn’t feel like they were really worth making a stand over and apologized for poorly received phrasings when my intentions were good but for some reason the other person heard hostility or bias. I’ve also fought some things through to the bitter end. It’s just depended on how important that disagreement was to me. And I think my choice of which issues I’ve made my stand on and which I haven’t has defined my relationship to the other people here.

    So I guess the question I find myself always asking here, and I think the question many people are going to be asking as they watch your developing response to this incident is, is this really the incident you want to use to define your relationship to the people here, and is the particular response that you’re making really founding the kind of relationship you want to have? If you decide that the most important thing about this relationship is to win your fight to have everyone acknowledge that your role in that original comments thread was completely without blemish, and that the angry responses of some commenters were completely beyond the pale, then you’re selecting one style of relationship. If you instead decide to think of this as a massive and completely unintentional miscommunication on your part with people whom you would rather maintain as allies, then you’re selecting a different style of relationship, and one which may have a productive future if you work to understand how that misunderstanding came about and communicate with the other parties involved about how to avoid it in the future.

    I don’t want to presume to tell you which choice is right for you, or to suggest that these are the only possible alternatives. But I nevertheless personally hope that you will choose something more like the second of the two options I mentioned, because I like to see people I respect working together rather than becoming enemies unnecessarily. Whatever you choose, I’m sorry this happened and I wish you well with your future endeavors.

  20. CaitieCat says

    Anne C Hanna – just wanted to discuss one small thing out of what I thought was a really good comment.

    they’ve been about people here having heightened sensitivity to certain problematic issues

    I personally like to re-cast this statement: it’s not that people offended by or contemptuous of problematic issues have heightened sensitivity; it is that the people producing the problematic text/speech aren’t sensitive enough to those issues. It’s not a failure on the part of the dismissed/hurt/offended; it’s a failure on the part of the offenders.

  21. says

    Thanks, Ian. That was precisely my reason and the only one. I really have no nefarious other one. I agree that people can do bigoted or sexist things without actually being bigoted or sexist. That’s why language and how we use it is so very important. I may not agree with all of your points but understand and respect them.

    I also happen to agree that sexism needs to be addressed. I was disappointed that Secular Woman got cut out of the process and that the leaders didn’t talk to actual women that have been involved.

    Anna C. Hanna, thank you so much for taking the time to write that and the kind words. I certainly hope that thread doesn’t end up defining me or my relationship with anybody.

  22. says

    CaitieCat, no argument from me. I meant it in the sense of “heightened sensitivity relative to the general public” rather than “heightened sensitivity relative to what they should have”, so thanks for putting that up for refinement.

    EllenBeth, I hope you’re correct that a positive way forward will come out of this dispute. Good luck.

  23. Cyranothe2nd, ladyporn afficianado says

    Ellen Beth @ 3–

    Did you fail to read the comment right after the one you linked to?

    EllenBeth is surely out in left field on this thread and I’m not defending any of her comments here, but if you aren’t aware, and I’m guessing you aren’t, she has been a vocal proponent of FTB and feminism in general in the past.

    She’s also a favorite target of the slymepitters.

    I don’t know if that makes any difference to you or not, but given your comment at 496:

    “My facts? That you’re a victim blaming, misogynistic “chill girl””

    I thought maybe you’d want to be aware of that context.

    I’m not demanding you revise your position or anything like that, just giving you some context of which you might not be aware.

    Did you ignore the many people who stood up for you and said that, while what you said may have been misogynistic, that Kate_Winter’s criticism unfairly characterized you? Many of us were willing to give you charity and goodwill in that thread, even though we very much disagreed with what you said.

    How your behavior is interpreted and decoded by others seems to be the sticking point here. And if that is so, then you need to talk to those particular people about it (ie, the people who called your words misogynistic), find out why they interpreted it that way and whether you can take that criticism on board and adjust the way you communicate, or reject that criticism. [I'd be happy to talk with you about my own criticism of what you said (though I did not comment in that thread) if you'd like, but this isn't the appropriate place to do that. You may email me at my username at gmail.]

    As a general rule–I am disinclined to give charity to people who use grossly misogynistic or racist language, and I have no compunction about “slurring” them as acting/writing/speaking in a sexist or racist way. I think its also IMMENSELY privileged to take offense to being called a racist, ignoring the real harm done by racism itself. If the worst that can ever happen to me as a white person is that I might occasionally get called racist by someone on the interwebs, I am goddamn lucky!

  24. smhll says

    Ms. Wachs — If I told you that you got hammered on the Pharyngula thread because you didn’t complain “just right”, I’d be an asshole.

    Let’s think about that a little, and I will work harder on not being an asshole.

  25. says

    Just thought I’d drop in here and leave a plug for my very similar argument:http://haifischgeweint.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/an-open-reply-from-a-satanist-to-cfis-open-letter-to-the-secular-community/

    You will find that this open reply is literally rife with profanity, and this is simply to demonstrate the point that the “tone” argument is no more than a way to dismiss the content of what is being said without ever addressing the underlying problem — which in the case of sexism, is very real.

  26. says

    You will find that this open reply is literally rife with profanity

    I would expect nothing less :P

    And while we’re on this vein, just what the fuck do you all think feminism is? Let me be the first to inform you that it’s not some sort of secret remote lesbian colony where women grow out their armpit hairs, talk about castrating men while they sit around drinking hemp tea, and have sex exclusively by holding hands with each other whilst running in slow motion through an open field

    This. This is why we’re friends.

  27. andrea says

    YES!

    Merely telling the Hateful person and the Angry person to “play nice” Does. Not. Solve. Anything.

    The Angry people have every reason to be angry, and it is because they are the target of what the Hateful people are doing.
    Ignoring that they are being being targeted (actively, passively, in many ways large and small) changes nothing. Dismissing their concerns, and hoping they will eventually quite asserting their right to be included, is insulting. And it is just as harmful.

    The Hateful people have no ground to stand on when claiming to be upset because the Angry people refuse to be victims.
    Trying to placate the Hateful people and waving one’s finger at them changes nothing. They don’t give a shit.
    Dismissing the harmful actions of the Hateful people, or diminishing the importance of those actions, just allows the Hateful people to continue what they are doing.
    In fact, it legitimizes it.

    I am really sick of how vile, bullying behavior is not automatically dealt with, and how people of all kinds have to constantly keep pointing out that it is STILL happening.
    I am flabbergasted that now it is the 21st century we have to even explain that it IS a problem.
    I do not see why it must still be explained that it is the Hateful people who have the problem behaviors, not those who are angry about being targeted.

  28. LeftSidePositive says

    EllenBeth, go read the comments on PZ’s thread specifically about your post. Read what people actually objected to. You defended a disgraceful, trolling MRA. You placed the concerns of the conference above the concerns of women who might feel uncomfortable. You acted as though a conference’s harassment policy got to dictate how women choose to express themselves about their harassment (hint: going public is their moral right, and can be important for consciousness-raising no matter how good your harassment policy is). You said some very troubling stuff about talking someone out of a harassment claim and then just asserted you were right without clarifying what was problematic about bringing this up in the context of someone who wanted to go public. You conflated the conference’s obligation to confidentiality to imply the harassee had to keep everything confidential. You repeatedly failed to address the substantive issues people brought up and only complained about mean names (and they’re criticisms of behavior, NOT slurs, and I’m dumbfounded that you don’t know that already!). You “joked” that the answer to people feeling wary of your approach to harassment would be to blacklist them from your conferences. You asked a commenter FOR HER REAL NAME and failed to apologize. This is simply unacceptable behavior. It is unbecoming of a skeptic and a conference organizer. Stop being affronted and carefully read the numerous times people plainly spelled out for you why what you were doing was wrong. Reflect on your actions, and apologize.

  29. says

    I haven’t really had the time to be around the internet today so I just now saw this post and I have something to say.

    You know I am a fan. This piece is the rule rather than the exception. I am mildly dyslexic. That combined with a less-than-stellar vocabulary means that when I read anything other than fiction, I often struggle. Between misplacing a word lines down into the line I am reading and an overuse of words I only have a “contextual” understanding for, I find myself rereading lines of many blogger’s posts.

    I don’t do that with you. Instead I reread lines aloud (sometimes in preacher fashion) because of your power. Because of your accuracy. Because of your flow.

    From my perspective at least, you are one of the best writers I have ever had the opportunity to read. I’ve wanted to say so for a long time now but embarrassed by fan-girling this much.

    Thanks muchly for the awesome post. Exactly what needed to be said and the King quote made me tear up.

    Done inflating your ego for the time being.

  30. says

    Popping up to say great post again, although to assuage your ego that Willonyx is determined to inflate I’d say Avi is giving you a run for your money as u have both been hitting it out of the park recently!

    SmHill above, #27, that comment is the best succinct description of the core of the issue I’ve seen!

  31. R Johnston says

    EllenBeth, go read the comments on PZ’s thread specifically about your post. Read what people actually objected to. You defended a disgraceful, trolling MRA.

    Ellenbeth really needs to come to terms with this. Once you engage in such an absurd and contemptuous defense of the likes of Matthew Best, nothing else you say will or should be given any benefit of the doubt. Defending Best and citing him as “rational” was an utterly irrational act of extreme moral degeneracy. You don’t get to praise David Duke as a model of the rational approach to race relations and then criticize how someone reports an incident of racial harassment without expecting and deserving to be savaged mercilessly.. Once you openly defend and extoll irrational bigotry you deserve every bit of scorn and anger heaped upon you, and the only thing you can do to change that is to shut the hell up until people calm down and then offer an abject unconditional apology. Anything you say that isn’t an abject unconditional apology just makes things worse.

  32. NoAssume says

    I agree that the silency tone arguments are bad, but I also think that it’s bad to be too *self-congratulatory* about hurting people’s feelings, and that harrassment should be be employed in a focused manner, not as suppression fire (unless it’s part of the MLK and Malcom X good-cop bad-cop dynamic which far too few people recognize). Privilege should not wall off pity.

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