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Jun 21 2012

Why I Have Hope: Atheism, Sexism and Blowing Up The Internet

MegaphoneI want to stop being a rabble-rouser for a moment, and take on the role of cheerleader.

Conflagrations like the ones we’ve been having in the last couple of weeks can be very disheartening. I’ve seen more than one person say that they’re giving up on atheism/ skepticism, or are on the verge of giving up on atheism/ skepticism… because these conversations about sexual harassment at atheist/ skeptical conferences have gotten so ugly, and have revealed so much nasty, hateful misogyny among so many atheists and skeptics.

And I can understand that. I, too, get disheartened when what seems like an absurdly obvious proposition — the proposition that sexual harassment sometimes happens at atheist/ skeptical conferences, and that the people it happens to don’t always feel like they can speak out about it or name names (especially when the perpetrator is famous), so therefore these conferences should have sexual harassment policies and reporting procedures in place to make the harassment less likely to happen in the first place and to have a plan in place for dealing with it if it does — is met with venom, outrage, hyper-skeptical goalpost-moving demands for absurdly high levels of evidence that this harassment has even taken place (to the point where you need more evidence to convince some people of threats or harassment than you would to convince them of homeopathy or Bigfoot), no-win Catches-22 in which not naming names gets seen as gossip-mongering witch-hunt but naming names gets seen as character defamation, and “Yes, but…” derailments of the conversation into topics so far afield they might as well be on Mars. Yes. It’s frustrating, and enraging, and disheartening.

But in the face of this conflagration, I still have hope. In fact, I’m going to go further than that. The very fact of this conflagration, and other conflagrations like it, is giving me hope.

I know. You’re all going, “???” You’re going, “I knew Greta was a cockeyed optimist — but really? These conflagrations are making her feel good about our future?” I’m serious. Hear me out.

I have hope because, in the middle of all the Internet conflagration about sexual harassment at atheist/ skeptical conferences, one of the most immediate effects has been that at least ten different atheist/ skeptical conferences and communities (as of this writing) have either (a) adopted an anti-harassment policy with reporting procedures, (b) pledged to adopt an anti-harassment policy with reporting procedures, or (c) publicly stated that they already have an anti-harassment policy, and have then pledged to make it stronger and/or more visible.*

hands on laptop keyboardI have hope because, every week, I get emails or comments from people — in particular, from men — saying, “I’ve changed my mind about this because of you.” Every week, I get emails or comments from people — in particular, from men — saying, “Because of your writing, I get it now about feminism, and sexism, and the toxic environments that women live in.” Every week, I get emails or comments from people — in particular, from men — saying, “Because of your writing, I understand now why I have to speak out about this, and not just let it slide.” And in fact, I specifically get emails or comments from people saying, “I get it now because of Elevatorgate.” Or because of some other horrible conflagration that made us all want to hide under the blankets and drink/ cry/ scream ourselves hoarse. The conflagrations work. They raise consciousness. They make people recognize that sexism is real, and is fucked-up, and is worth fighting.

I have hope because I’m not the only one this happens to. Jen McCreight gets these emails and comments. Ophelia Benson gets these emails and comments. PZ Myers gets these emails and comments. Stephanie Zvan gets these emails and comments. Rebecca Watson gets these emails and comments. Natalie Reed gets these emails and comments. Jason Thibeault gets these emails and comments. Amanda Marcotte gets these emails and comments. Atheist and skeptical bloggers who write about feminism are hearing from people — in particular, from men — whose minds have been changed, or are being changed, because of these bloggers’ willingness to be a heat-shield, and to say things that lots of people don’t want to hear.

I have hope because other bloggers and podcasters and so on have had their perspective on sexism changed by these conversations… and are now speaking out about it themselves, and are changing their own readers’ minds. (Here are posts from just two — I’ve gotten private emails from others saying the same thing.)

I have hope because of the large number of men in these conflagrations who are speaking up for feminism, and against sexism and misogyny. I have hope because, when one of these conflagrations starts up, there are consistently a large number of men who not only speak up for feminism, but who stick doggedly and persistently with the arguments, and who have educated themselves about the issues and can speak about them fluently.

I have hope because, as unpleasant as it is, this conflagration is going so much better than the previous ones. I have hope because, as ugly as it is, this conflagration is nowhere near as ugly as, say, Elevatorgate. I have hope because — and I suppose this could be confirmation bias, I haven’t gone through and counted comments on all the comment threads — because it seems to me that the balance is shifting, and more people are on the side of feminism. I have hope because what was once a debate with roughly equal numbers on both sides now seems to be turning into a dogpile, with lots of reasonable people piling onto a handful of stubbornly sexist jerks.

I have hope because, for the most part, the young people get it. I do a lot of public speaking at college and universities, including speaking on the topic of diversity and the importance of fighting sexism/racism/ other -isms in atheism and skepticism… and for the most part, the students get it. For the most part, the students are already totally on board with the “why” of diversity, and just want to talk about the “how.” I have hope because students are the future of this movement, and to a great extent they are the present of this movement… and for the most part, they get it, and are running with it. The kids are all right. And that gives me an enormous amount of hope.

And I have hope because we’re having these conflagrations now — not ten years from now, or twenty, or fifty.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: When you look at the history of other social change movements, you’ll find that every one of them has been bitten in the ass by sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, classism, and -isms and privilege issues generally. And specifically, they’ve been bitten on the ass because they didn’t deal with these issues early. Bad habits got set into place; self-fulfilling prophecies got set into a deep groove; bitterness and rancor and mistrust had decades to get set into place and fester. And as a result, years down the road, these issues were much harder to deal with.

I’ve said this before: Talk to anyone who’s seriously involved in politics or social change. Ask them, “If you could go back in time and get the early leaders of your movement to deal with race and sex — would you do it?” I can guarantee you that just about every one of them would fervently respond, “Yes, for the sweet love of Loki and all the gods in Valhalla — if we could go back in time and not screw that up, we would.” I’ve said this before: Atheism and skepticism have a unique chance to not screw this up. Atheism and skepticism have a unique chance to learn from history, and to deal with these issues early in the very visible/ vocal/ activist/ exploding-onto-the-scene stage of our movement… so we can get out of these bad habits, and interrupt these self-fulfilling prophecies, and keep the bitterness and rancor and mistrust from getting too deeply entrenched.

We seem, to at least some extent, to be doing that.

We are hashing out these issues now, in the early days of the powerhouse stage of our movement. And as frustrating and upsetting and discouraging as that hashing-out is — as frustrating and upsetting and discouraging as it is that such obvious, 101-level questions should still be generating so much rage and pushback and heat — it means we won’t have to hash them out in ten years, or twenty, or fifty. Or at least, we won’t have to hash them out as much, and the hashing out won’t be as ugly.

The fact that atheism and skepticism are having all these fights now? As frustrating as it is, as upsetting as it is, it gives me hope. It gives me hope that in ten years, or twenty, or fifty, we won’t be having them, or we’ll be having them a lot less.

So I want to encourage the people who are feeling discouraged. Hang in there. Social change is a long game. Have a drink, vent with your friends, snuggle your animals, go to the gym and pound the weights, scream into your pillow, watch “What Not to Wear” for ten hours straight. Do whatever you need to do to let off steam and relieve your stress. And then please, if you can, get back into the fray. What we’re doing works. It is working. And if it continues to work, we have the potential to massively change the world. We have the potential to make history. Please don’t give up.

Rah. Rah. Rah.

* If you know of other atheist/ skeptical conferences and communities that have adopted, pledged to adopt, or strengthened their harassment policies since this conversation/ conflagration began, please notify Sasha Pixlee at More than Men and Jason Thibeault at Lousy Canuck, so they can update their timelines and compilations.

59 comments

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  1. 1
    woo_monster

    Well fucking said. Thank you to everyone putting up with the shit you are subjected to in continuing to speak out. I can’t imagine how wearisome it must be at times. You people rock.

  2. 2
    Setár, Elvenkitty

    I hope the next blowup is over general social justice, aka “politics”. After seeing the TAM blowup, I really want the privileged libertarians (aka Penn Jillette’s fanbase) to just go off into their corner where they can fight it out with the Paulbots and let the rest of us move forward.

    And considering how it went with feminism, it seems that the best way to do that is to start calling out libertarianism (and possibly conservatism) as the privileged bunk it is.

    Not to mention, if we discuss class privilege more, this opens the door to better discussions surrounding sex work where we can take the intersectionality of class and male privileges into account. Hopefully this will get sex-negative ‘feminists’ (quotes used because sex-negativity involves agency denial) to drop the incessant Just So Anecdotes™…

  3. 3
    wanderfound

    Ditto.

    You’re fighting for what is right, and there are a lot of us who are on your side. Thank you.

  4. 4
    Siobhan

    Brings to mind Ani DiFranco’s “Face Up”

    some chick says
    thank you for saying all the things I never do
    I say
    the thanks I get is to take all the shit for you
    it’s nice that you listen
    it’d be nicer if you joined in
    as long as you play their game girl
    you’re never going to win

    Don’t just say thanks. Don’t just let the heat shields be the heat shields. Act when you see/hear something off. Stand up for someone in your work place or at home. Just change one thing in your situation, or even try to identify just one instance of sexism. Try to be more aware of it around you.

    It’s not easy. Pointing out when people behave badly is a sure fire way of getting deep in the poo. But everyone, even the people behaving badly, NEED us to DO this.

  5. 5
    samoanbiscuit

    Please don’t ever give up, because what you are doing is important, and the skeptic movement needs more and more people like you. Some people you will convince with words, other with actions, and maybe some we’ll just have to wait for them to die. But anyway, you all are an important agent for change in the skeptic movement, and please don’t ever stop!

  6. 6
    petria

    Great post! It cheered me up about the whole palaver. It is very encouraging to hear about the excellent men who write to you and who ‘get it’ I have often wondered if the last hurdle for gender equality lies in the actions of feminist men. Misogynists aren’t going to listen to women if they hate them, but a man may affect their thinking.

  7. 7
    hyperdeath

    Misogynists aren’t going to listen to women if they hate them, but a man may affect their thinking.

    It’s possible they’ll provide the final push to some fence sitters, but I doubt they’ll have a great effect. The real problem is this army of embittered obsessives, who absolutely despise women.

  8. 8
    Tim Buchanan

    Wonderful post! It’s great to get a reminder now and then that there’s something to be optimistic about. Thanks!

  9. 9
    Deen

    Yeah, I’d rather be on the right side of history here. Thanks for posting this.

  10. 10
    pipenta

    Thank you.

    Hope, I haz it.

    I’ve always figured that sweeping stuff under the carpet really isn’t what atheism is about. That’s what religion does. Religion is about make believe that serves a purpose for some of the people some of the time. It gives this group power and that group some kind of comfort, even if it is just Dumbo’s magic feather. And in religion, you sweep reality under the carpet and that creates conditions for all kinds of abuses.

    And atheism? It’s not like it’s never comforting, but it isn’t about comfort. It isn’t about empowering the few at the expense of the many. It isn’t about allowing one group control over another group. Atheism is about getting REAL. So no no no, you are not allowed to tell lies to support patriarchy and expect to get a pass. You’re gonna get called on your bullshit, eh?

    I hate that women are getting harassed and hassled, but that’s been happening forever. But I like that the discussion is public and noisy and LOUD. Religions hide their dirty laundry, protect their dirty laundry, treasure their dirty laundry. Religion eventually becomes dirty laundry.

    Screw that.

    The atheist/skeptical community is the perfect place for this fierce, loud, passionate conversation because we won’t tolerate cover ups and lies and myths. In this environment, a lot of hard-headed people of that certain trolling demographic are being positioned to actually examine the gibberish that they are spouting. Why yes, I do believe more than a few might just have themselves, some of them, a good think or two or three.

    I was a rape crisis advocate back in the seventies. The statistics and the reality of sexual assault were just becoming public knowledge back then. I assumed, the way young people do, that it was all going to be wonderful positive progress from there on out, that educated attitudes about such matters would spread out like ripples in a pond. Some forty years later, visits to college campuses made me realize how wrong I was. In many ways, it seemed like we’d gone backwards. At the very least, nowhere near enough progress had been made.

    The response of the marginally-pubescent internet troll set to sexual harassment incidents in the atheist community was ugly and sad. But as actual grown-ups started pushing back against it, demanding respect and a public conversation and proactive policies, what had been a an ugly scenario became hopeful. This culture might be the best place, outside of feminist culture (in which we are preaching to the converted, you should forgive the expression) to have these kinds of conversations. This fight (which we are so going to win) shows exactly what the potential for atheist culture is, and not only for women’s issues.

    If Trolls are here because they they are actually atheists, we have traction. We can say this: Whatever the preconceived notions, whatever cultural propaganda you’ve been awash in, STOP! Here is data. Not myth. DATA. Now go and have a good hard THINK and don’t allow yourself any loopholes. Don’t tolerate any bullshit. Give this a good hard think and consider the implications.

    So yeah. I have hope.

    Thanks for fighting the good fight.

  11. 11
    Deen

    @petria in #6:

    …but a man may affect their thinking.

    It’s sad, but that is sometimes how it works. I do think feminist men need to play their part and correct their peers whenever they detect sexist behavior.

    @hyperdeath in #7:

    The real problem is this army of embittered obsessives, who absolutely despise women.

    On the other hand, sometimes the existence of these people is just what was needed to open people’s eyes that sexism wasn’t fixed in the 60′s.

  12. 12
    Christensen

    This situation is not unexpected.

    And atheism, once it is in a position of political power, will self destruct and destroy the society it controls.

    There are many historical examples, and more are on the way.

  13. 13
    quietmarc

    Thank you, for this post and for being one of the faces and voices of this movement. It makes you a target, but it lets those of us who aren’t often targets see the true nastiness that’s out there and what we’re up against.

    I’ve said elsewhere that it’s basic math that we’ll eventually win this particular fight (sexism/inclusiveness at conferences, at least). The creepy straight white dudes can go to their conferences and the non-creepy straight white dudes and everyone else can go to the awesome, inclusive, diverse cons.

    At the end of the day, diversity and inclusiveness and making people feel safe are all Good Things that can only be to an organization’s or movement’s advantage. As the skeptical/atheist communities open up to hearing different voices speak, we’ll get more and better ideas, fresh perspectives, interesting new theories and ways of solving old problems we hadn’t considered. And while the good ol’ boys are still patting each other on the back for “saving” their institutions, we’ll be building new and better institutions and leaving them in the dust.

    The misogynists, racists, cissexists, homophobes, and bigots are all dinosaurs, they just don’t know it yet.

    We, we are the birds. (Or the mammals? I dunno….)

  14. 14
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    All this talk about feminism and sexism in the context of skepticism has been really polarizing… hopefully in a good way. There’s the feminist side, and the anti-feminist side. Then there’s a whole big chunk in the middle who never really gave it much thought, or who think that they lean towards one side but really agree more with the other. And for the most part the anti-feminist side has been winning because as long as there’s a big undecided middle the status quo is preserved and privilege is preserved. It is no coincidence that a movement that has traditionally been the domain of upper-class white men would want to avoid issues involving economics, racism, and sexism.

    So the conversation is happening, and it is ugly. We’re seeing just how big the enemy is, and how vicious they’re willing to be. We’re seeing how many people are on the right side of the issue, and how they are eager to bunch up and support each other. And that big messy middle is being forced to take sides, and take responsibility. I haven’t seen too many people claim to have been converted to misogyny because of this DEEP RIFT (and of the few I’ve seen, many of them seem to be disingenuous in the “I used to be a devout atheist” sort of way) but I’ve seen lots of people realize that they’ve been sexist and enabling sexism and are working to correct themselves. I’m in that camp, and I’ve seen more like me than the opposite. So when the messy middle takes sides, I’m thinking the right side is going to win.

  15. 15
    Zed

    <3

  16. 16
    Danni D

    WOW!!! Just wow. I so needed this Greta. Over the last three years I began deconstructing my privileges specifically my male privilege and the last place I ever thought would have the most affect in deconstructing my privilege was the atheist community (specifically the new atheists).

    It was just last summer when I discovered the online atheist community and through it I discovered the elevator gate controversy. At first I admit I didn’t get it but I as I began reading Watson’s posts about the situation it finally clicked. Then from there things just started clicking and before long I felt like a very different person. Soon enough, I discovered you, Jen McCreight, Ophelia Benson, Laci Green, Natalie Reed, and many other women in the scene. Soon the blogs who I read the most were the women bloggers. You all just provided this perspective that I didn’t see in many of the blogs run by male bloggers. I never thought I would learn so much about feminism from the atheist community but before long I was hating MRAs and loving the feminists lolz.

    Its even changed who I interact with and how I interact. I began to get how derailing works and the legitimacy of the anger in new atheists and other marginalized groups. I began to understand why I shouldn’t expect others to educate me and I became aware of many of the double standards placed on women. Since then I have been immersed in lots of 101 and 201 writings on understanding marginalization.

    I ended up writing my trans friend an email apologizing for a convo that I derailed last summer on his fbook wall. I told another one of my good friends who was derailing a convo on racism to fuck off and he blocked me yet I was so happy about it cause I stood up to him (I drank with my trans friend that night to celebrate).

    There are lot of people in my life that I can’t look at in the same way anymore and I am beginning to get new friends as a result of it :)

    The women in the atheist community have done so much. When one of the atheist bloggers wanted to award the atheist of 2011 and they only had males nominated, I didn’t get it as this community is filled with amazingly brilliant females who have changed my own views more then any of the other male bloggers in ways that I never imagined and they faced a vicious opposition in doing so. At this point I sit absolutely stunned by the strength of the many women in this group. I can’t believe how strong you all are and yet you get so little public recognition except when it comes to hate and vitriol.

    With the recent TAM debacle I just don’t know how you continue to stay in the game and be so proactive and kickass. I have been sucking on so many teats of privilege my whole life and I even want to call it in. I couldn’t do that now though as I have become all to aware of the many issues that permeate the atheist community. But damn does it get discouraging. Reading your post has totally got me energized again and it brought a tear to my eye.

    And so I thank you. All the female atheists have given me a lot of hope for humanity so cheers to the day (hopefully in the near future) when you are all publicly recognized for how fucking kickass you all are. I include the women who are lurking in the online atheist community as well because I can’t imagine how hard it would be start participating after seeing the bullshit propagated by the what-about-the-menz assholes out there.

    You have all forced me to see my privilege and bigotry to the point of no return. I couldn’t turn back now. Every bone in my body is in it so here is to taking the dive. Cheers :D

  17. 17
    sambarge

    “And atheism, once it is in a position of political power, will self destruct and destroy the society it controls.”

    Okay, who gave Christensen @12 the Super-Secret Atheist Playbook? We’re never going to get the chance to destroy society if we let everyone know that’s what we’re doing! Sheesh, you guys. Haven’t we learned anything from the feminist movement?

    /sarcasm (in case Christensen’s sarcasm meter is broken, like his/her understanding of history)

  18. 18
    csrster

    I wouldn’t exactly say that my mind has been changed because I think I have always been largely on the side of the angels :-) But my eyes have certainly been opened to the scale of the problem since the whole thing first blew up over elevatorgate.

  19. 19
    gbjames

    @sambarge (17). Thanks for the morning laugh. Mostly this topic has been depressing me and that comment made some of it evaporate.

  20. 20
    debraobrien

    As a very long time lurker – spent days at my computer during elevatorgate – I was transformed by women atheist bloggers. I used to be one of those women who would laugh with the guys at sexist jokes so they would think I wasn’t one of those boring feminists. You all inspired me so much that my Facebook is devoted to skepticism AND feminism. I have read and reread all the great feminist theorists and feminist scientists like Cordelia Fine, and am now a proud feminist. I can’t thank you enough. Your work has not been in vain.

  21. 21
    Kevin, Youhao Huo Mao

    It’s still incredibly disheartening to see so much pushback on what should be a cut-and-dried issue. Misogyny bad. Harrassment bad. Anti-harrassment policy good. I posted yesterday in Ophelia’s blog post, and I used the words “atrocious” “despicable” and “disappointing.” This is a community that needs to be able to shed those words, and is laid out as one of the best ones to be able to do so. This should not be an issue, and yet we see the same sorts of people dragging their feet and holding onto memories of the past that should be abandoned.

  22. 22
    albiefarinas

    One of the things that really bothers me about this conversation is the assumption that atheists are monolithic and a demographic, that we all hold the same moral, social and political values…. WE DON’T….!

    The most beautiful aspect of my being atheist is the ability for me to make personal informed choices. My definition of what most in the theist community would refer to as “spirituality” is “the awareness and acceptance of reality”. It’s personal, it’s selfish and I wouldn’t have it any other way… I am not willing to compromise, however, I am willing to change….

    I find this whole conversation about misogyny and feminism, completely irrelevant in the sense that, if you find someone irritating and you don’t like them, you avoid them. If they stalk you, you file a complaint with the authorities…. That’s all… No big deal…. Right…?

  23. 23
    Deen

    @albiefarinas:

    One of the things that really bothers me about this conversation is the assumption that atheists are monolithic and a demographic, that we all hold the same moral, social and political values…. WE DON’T….!

    Indeed we don’t – who’s claiming otherwise? But that doesn’t mean we should be able to expect people to share at least some basic values. You know, about how it’s rude to kill each other and stuff. Or that women are people too. Minor things like that.

    If they stalk you, you file a complaint with the authorities…. That’s all… No big deal…. Right…?

    Depends on whether the authorities care or not, doesn’t it? If you can’t be bothered to care, how can you expect the authorities to care instead?

  24. 24
    carlie

    Thank you so much for this post. I really needed it.

  25. 25
    Burk

    I would urge you to name names. Half the ugliness is beating around the bush.

  26. 26
    valleycat1

    RE albiefarinas’ remark: “I find this whole conversation about misogyny and feminism, completely irrelevant in the sense that, if you find someone irritating and you don’t like them, you avoid them. If they stalk you, you file a complaint with the authorities…. That’s all… No big deal…. Right…?”

    That’s actually one of the major points of the long discussion that’s been raging here. The incidents were reported, though it seems at least some of the ‘authorities’ have forgotten, or did nothing at the time or dismissed the complaints as trivial. And it was more than stalking, it was actual harassment, in a situation where it wasn’t necessarily easy to avoid the perpetrators.

    For those who say they’re giving up on atheism because of the conflagration, I would say that being atheist makes us no more perfect than being religious purports to. We’re just as likely to have differing opinions as the rest of humanity. I agree with Greta that it’s a good sign that the community is willing to enter into the conversation.

  27. 27
    Martha

    @albiefarinas:

    One of the things that really bothers me about this conversation is the assumption that atheists are monolithic and a demographic, that we all hold the same moral, social and political values…. WE DON’T….!

    The question then becomes: what is the point of an atheist *community*? If the only point of agreement is that there is no god, then it’s hard to see how people who are interested in ethics and morality and making the world a better place– many of whom now make their homes in religious institutions– will see atheism as a valuable alternative to traditional organized religions.

    It seems to me that this fight is about something fundamental: does the atheist movement want to be associated with people who strive to make the world a better place, or not? We’re seeing the movement split along those lines, and I think that’s a good thing. Selfish atheism is just as morally bankrupt as selfish theism. And this fight has certainly made it clear that selfish atheists are just as capable of self-delusion as is the most gullible believer.

    That said, you’re right that we have no obligation to agree with each other. Nor do we have any obligation to support each other. I certainly can’t support the libertarian branch of atheism that congratulates itself on its own superiority while caring very little about the suffering that goes on around it.

  28. 28
    soiejfoijsef

    I can’t find words to thank you enough for what you are saying here!

    I agree with every word, and I am enthusiastically joining your cause!

    But first, I’ll ride my bike to the store to buy some Ale. This is cause for celebration!

  29. 29
    soiejfoijsef

    Uppercase Ale even. :)

  30. 30
    David Byars

    Thank you for sharing the effect, Greta. I liked thinking all of this was having a positive outcome… and I’m stubborn enough that I’d need a lot to shift me…
    but I wouldn’t want to take it on faith. (Ew)

    @albiefarinas Actually, if you go back and follow the events we are referring to, you will find it is sometimes a very big deal. The women who are subjected to such interactions are often disbelieved or ignored by the authorities who they report to: that’s why having so many conferences and communities changing their policies is such good news; it means dealing with this sort of thing will be closer to as simple and easy as you describe in the future.
    After all, we don’t believe in a perfect authority so we need to improve whatever authorities we do have.

  31. 31
    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle

    I have hope because, every week, I get emails or comments from people — in particular, from men — saying, “I’ve changed my mind about this because of you.”

    I’ve said this before at Pharyngula: this, right here, is the real reason for engaging trolls. For ever moronic troll who infests a blog defending, denying or engaging in bigotted behavior – how many people are watching? how many people watching might agree, but are adverse to confrontation? How many people watching might agree, but don’t know how to counter the defending/denying/engaging “arguments”? how many people watching might never have thought about it before? etc.

    I don’t give a crap about the troll. Arguing with them is just a means to an end – getting the message out to the lurkers. And trolls ALWAYS oblige us with the opportunity to do so.

  32. 32
    Jeff

    The misogynists, racists, cissexists, homophobes, and bigots are all dinosaurs, they just don’t know it yet.

    We, we are the birds. (Or the mammals? I dunno….)

    Or maybe both? I mean, there are some among us who from a very young age had feminism inculcated in them (mammals) and some others who had to “evolve” from misogynists, racists, cissexists, homophobes and bigots (birds). And there will be struggles in the future, like diatryma and hyracotherium or kakapos and stoats, but they won’t be nearly so bad.

    /ridiculously over-extended metaphor

    Ahem. The only other thing I wanted to say was “Amen, Greta!”

  33. 33
    Godlesspanther

    It’s a movement. We have to deal with the issues that come up within that movement. If there is an exception to this, I have yet to hear about it.

    We can’t quit now. We can’t just shit-can the whole thing. We are in too deep. We have to do the repairs and keep going.

  34. 34
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    I have often wondered if the last hurdle for gender equality lies in the actions of feminist men. Misogynists aren’t going to listen to women if they hate them, but a man may affect their thinking.

    Unfortunately, to the true scumbags, men who give a shit about women aren’t “real men” anyway and thus not worth listening to.

  35. 35
    Et Al, The Frequently Published

    I’m cheering the cheerleader! Woohoo! :D I needed to read this, thank you! Dealing with some similar crap in my own little corner of the skeptic community and it’s taking its toll! I’ve taken a break and have jumped back in. Reading this makes me happy that I did. I know not everyone can fight so I gotta do what I can!

  36. 36
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    The response of the marginally-pubescent internet troll set to sexual harassment incidents in the atheist community was ugly and sad.

    I very much doubt that sexism is primarily concentrated in teenagers and the college-aged. Please don’t scapegoat us.

  37. 37
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    This situation is not unexpected.

    And atheism, once it is in a position of political power, will self destruct and destroy the society it controls.

    There are many historical examples, and more are on the way.

    Not this shit again.

  38. 38
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    I find this whole conversation about misogyny and feminism, completely irrelevant in the sense that, if you find someone irritating and you don’t like them, you avoid them. If they stalk you, you file a complaint with the authorities…. That’s all… No big deal…. Right…?

    Of course not. Haven’t you been LISTENING?

    Don’t you think it’s time you START?

    Thanks for being such a perfect example of what the problem is.

  39. 39
    Doug

    I posted this on reddit but I want to put it here as well:
    Great post by Greta. I am one of those men who have been made much more aware these issues and now find myself speaking out against misogyny more and more each day. Whatever short term negative publicity there has been for certain conferences is infinitely less important than the long term gains that have been made for gender equality in our movement.

  40. 40
    Sheila Crosby

    Greta, you know that cool drawing of you on a pony with a whip? It was great, but I think a “clarity gun” would have been better. You blast away at logical fallacy better than anyone I know, and it’s inspiring to watch.

    OK, now that I’m inspired I’m girding up for round 13,472.

    Meanwhile, have you considered the possible books:

    * 99 Things that Piss-off Any Intelligent Woman (and a lot of intelligent men.)
    * 99 Things That Ought to be Bleeding Obvious
    * 99 Things that Show you’re a Misogynist
    * 99 Ways to Derail an Internet Thread, and What They Say About You
    * 99 Ways to Inspire the Good Guys to Keep Plugging On

    (Actually, I’d love you to write the second one. Just saying.)

  41. 41
    Bronze Dog

    I’ll gladly take all the noise going on about feminists versus mysogynists over silence. The status quo isn’t fair, and silence isn’t going to change it.

    Ugh. Just had a flashback to an instance of cyber-harassment on Playstation Home when I was having a conversation with a female player. The gamer community needs a lot of cleaning up.

  42. 42
    John the Drunkard

    Thanks Greta. I couldn’t see an upside before and now I do.

    I had felt that the explosion of malevolent trolls was going to turn into a perpetual-motion maelstrom.

    I cringed at the idea of Anti-Harrasment Codes, worrying that such codes wouldn’t work to produce an Anti-Harrasment Culture. Think of the ways despicably racist/sexist etc. ideas are accepted in the media with the slightest veneer of ‘appripriate’ language. David Duke could be taken seriously as a candidate, just by leaving his sheets at home and leaving the ‘N-word’ out of his speeches.

    But your post makes me think
    a) that the trolls have been started from the underbrush.
    b) that the effort behind new Codes is good in itself even if the Codes end up being unenforceable or silly.

    Setár is right to connect this biz with the social justice issue, and the problem of Libertarian/Randroid cultists and their creeping agendas at work in the Atheist community.

  43. 43
    smhll

    For ever moronic troll who infests a blog defending, denying or engaging in bigotted behavior – how many people are watching? how many people watching might agree, but are adverse to confrontation? How many people watching might agree, but don’t know how to counter the defending/denying/engaging “arguments”??

    This latter point especially! I don’t read here just because it’s an intensely fascinating trainwreck of trollery. I read here to find the best damned counterarguments to the questions that I find tough to answer.

  44. 44
    researchtobedone

    If you could get permission from the original e-mailers, I think it would be really heartening to see some of the “Changed my mind” e-mails you’re referring to.

  45. 45
    John Horstman

    @34:

    Unfortunately, to the true scumbags, men who give a shit about women aren’t “real men” anyway and thus not worth listening to.

    Maybe not immediately, but like with overt racism in most places these days (which unfortunately spiked up after 2001 along with xenophobia and religious-grade and sometimes just plain religious nationalism), social norms are extremely powerful. The more women and especially men that the hard-core misogynists encounter who call them on their shit and tell them to knock it off, the lees they will see the behavior as acceptable. Even if they don’t (partly or entirely) change their attitudes, they’ll be forced to change their behavior to not be ostracized and marginalized themselves. Eventually they will die, solving that particular problem, and since it’s behaviors that create culture (no one knows what’s going on in one’s head), altering the behavior until the hard-core misogynists die off is enough for the long game.

  46. 46
    John Horstman

    Oh, also, great post Greta; I’ve been feeling down about all the sexism, and your optimism is contagious.

  47. 47
    Lou Doench

    @Martha…

    Selfish atheism is just as morally bankrupt as selfish theism. And this fight has certainly made it clear that selfish atheists are just as capable of self-delusion as is the most gullible believer.

    Well said Martha, as we say in disc golf, “That shot will play.”

  48. 48
    Rob Tarzwell

    It is a privilege, in the best sense, to be one of those heat-shields. Losing sleep, weight, and hair aren’t very fun (and if you know me, you know I can scarcely afford to lose any more of those things!), but seeing this blog post has left me just euphoric! Wheeeeee!!!

  49. 49
    rork

    Put me down as one of the changed. I wanna say it was just fine tuning, but I’m also trying to learn to stop being so defensive, and quit making excuses.

  50. 50
    Hank_Says

    Bravo Greta! I love how you can not only marshal your incandescent rage and turn it into coherent, passionate reason, but also how you can notice the spark of opportunity amidst a crisis and do your level best not only to fan it but to inspire others to do the same.

    In fact (personal TL;DR, folks, be warned) you remind me of both my mother and my father. Dad, a retired science teacher whose professed hero is Charles Darwin, could be described as a big, quiet, cuddly animal-lover with a sharp sense of humour, a huge heart and the complete inability to tolerate any hypocrisy, injustice or plain unfairness (in general, bullshit) from anyone about anything. Mum, a long-time epic homemaker/office management wizard/wildlife handler/concert pianist (among other things!), shares dad’s love of nature and love of a good joke – and also shares his inability to tolerate bullshit. They both express this dislike of BS and their love of nature and of people in their own subtly different ways but it amounts in the same thing: unstoppable strength in adversity, hope when all seems hopeless and they individually and collectively serve as inspiration – a rock – to myself, the family and others around them. With specific regard to feminism, I don’t know if the word was ever even mentioned in our house, but it didn’t have to be – mum and dad always treated each other like equals and expected my brothers and I to do the same (woe betide us if we ever repeated some racist/sexist joke we’d picked up at school). That respect, that lack of tolerance for bullshit and their “think global, act local” activism (for local wildlife preserves, community hospitals etc) throughout my childhood – done in their own characteristically quiet, understated but highly, arse-kickingly effective manners – was a key factor in shaping my own views and inspiring my own journey to attempt to affect change in what small ways I can.

    So to close this little Hallmark movie, I want to say thanks, Greta, for reminding me through your frankly fucking awesome warrior prowess through your optimism, for reminding me of the two most awesome, gentle-yet-powerful people ever.

  51. 51
    Hank_Says

    As a separate meta-comment, I’d just like to say a big

    FUCKING A!

    for Freethought Blogs.

    This place is an oasis in what sometimes seems like a hive of scum and villainy. With the addition of Thunderfoot and AronRa (ThundeRa!) – whose science/anti-creationist vids I’ve been gorging myself on for years – it just got two daily clicks more awesome.

  52. 52
    onion girl, OM; social workers do it with paperwork

    Thank you for this, it’s absolutely wonderful. I was just posting over at Ophelia’s about how helpless I feel not being able to doing something tangible to support all those who are being harassed. But this reminds that words can be tangible too, that words can become action by supporting, motivating and inspiring people.

    Much of the harassment we’ve been discussing has been words–words used to insult, bully, degrade, shame and threaten.

    So we fight fire with fire–words against words.

    And I think you’re right–I think we are getting stronger, I think the voices against sexism are getting louder than the voices denying or minimizing sexism, and I think we’re going to win. But it’s going to take a while. And I’m not going to give up.

    (I feel like I have to add a disclaimer in case the above comment doesn’t makes sense. I’m on the eleventh day of a non-stop migraine and under the influence of a lot of drugs and I keep worrying that I’m not expressing myself clearly. The point is, anyway–thank you.)

  53. 53
    Emptyell

    Hey Greta. I love and share your optimism. I’ve been feeling the same about this whole mischegas.

    Petria @6

    Great post! It cheered me up about the whole palaver. It is very encouraging to hear about the excellent men who write to you and who ‘get it’ I have often wondered if the last hurdle for gender equality lies in the actions of feminist men. Misogynists aren’t going to listen to women if they hate them, but a man may affect their thinking.

    The role of men in feminism has always been a sticky one for me. In the early days it wasn’t clear if men could be feminists. This always struck me as wrong but I found it easier to just be a quiet supporter. Now I see more support and thanks to the impetus of seeing all the raving misogynists I am becoming more active.

    Regarding the “last hurdle”…

    From your comment it just occurred to me that once all men become feminists then feminism will cease to exist. So if these MRAs really want to hasten its demise all they have to do is rush on board ;-)

    I have been trying the approach in some of my comments of experssing the feminist viewpoint calmly and rationally from a privileged white male perspective. Mostly I’ve been ignored while the troll goes on attacking the women for using naughty words (and carefully avoiding their substantial arguments). I am guessing this is not lost on the more perceptive readers.

  54. 54
    Pieter B

    Tweeted by MaryBeth Williams of Salon.com (@embeedub) a few days ago:

    I’m going to start a feminist magazine called Holy Fuck We’re Really Still Arguing Over These Things Are You Shitting Me? Monthly

    Yes we are, but things are changing. Before too long, I hope it becomes a quarterly.

  55. 55
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    Thank you so much, PZ. That was the conclusion I came to in the 1980s, after performing the thought experiment, “What if it were a person?” Given the standard of law and ethics for what other people can demand from us, the fetus doesn’t have a rhetorical leg to stand on.

  56. 56
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    This is the burst of rebellion before new rules are accepted–I hope.

    If not, it’s the pendulum swinging back and we’ll see the return of Jane.

  57. 57
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    Sorry, wrong thread!

  58. 58
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    Nope, right thread. I didn’t realize how far it had wandered.

    Greta Christina is right: we’re dealing with sexism early and maybe we can pound a stake into its evil heart.

  59. 59
    Scruffy

    I love science and skepticism. I hate politics, flag-waving, and impassioned rhetoric. If I see a guy being crude, slimy, gross, or offensive to a woman I (a guy) might say something like: “That’s your mating strategy? Seriously? Why don’t you try demonstrating modern socialized behavior instead?”. But I’d wait for her to say it first. If I see a guy actually being threatening I hope I would make some noise and get him to get lost or at least put myself in between him and his victim.

    But there is no @#%!* way I’m getting involved in this ridiculous ‘conflagration’. All I see are people willfully misunderstanding each other and a bunch of trolls fanning flames. No thanks.

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    Harassment policies campaign – timeline of major events | Lousy Canuck

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    Schroedinger’s Threat | Greta Christina's Blog

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    Good News, Everybody! | Greta Christina's Blog

    [...] if you want to know why we have to keep talking about all this sexism stuff, or why I have hope in the face of ugly Internet firestorms about sexism? This is why. It works. Share [...]

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    Why Atheism Plus Is Good for Atheism | Greta Christina's Blog

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    Why Atheism Plus is good for Atheism | Atheism Plus

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    How the Atheist Movement Failed Me – Part 2: Dealing with Diversity

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