How is it that when Rebecca Watson says something essentially unobjectionable and otherwise a no-brainer, like that when people make misogynist jokes at a fifteen year old girl, and others reward same with upvotes, they might just be creating a chilling atmosphere for women in general, a total fucking shitstorm ensues?
Only one point made in r/atheism’s defense is worth considering at this point, in my estimation: terrible people exist everywhere. Those terrible people — and the excuses made to let them keep being terrible in your space — color the perception of the group as a whole. Reddit’s r/atheism subreddit is filled with lots and lots of good people, a bunch of very vocal douchebags, and too little self-policing. So when poisonous elements are allowed to fester such that a fifteen year old girl trying to excitedly join a community of fellow atheists by daring to post a picture of herself with her new Christmas present — a copy of Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World — she gets a full-on assault for daring to be a girl on the internet. People are going to get turned off by that kind of behaviour. People like Jen McCreight, John Loftus, Ed Brayton, PZ Myers, and myself.
So if your group is colored by the perception that you’re allowing douchebags to mistreat newcomers to the community, you’re either responsible for doing it, or responsible for letting it happen. Yes, that’s right, you let it happen if you do not register a dissenting voice. I’m talking about moderation the only way it can exist in a place with no moderation powers — by shouting down the assholes. By punishing bad and antisocial behaviour. By punishing if not by silencing the assholes who think rape jokes about a fifteen year old are fine and dandy, by at least telling them that those opinions are not welcome, are not the majority, and are not acceptable.
What’s worse, I think this particular incident only blew up because it was Rebecca Watson who pointed it out. Since her startling and bold claim, of which we should be so very skeptical, that someone might have thought their privilege to cold-proposition strange women overrides a woman’s right to feel relatively safe, she’s somehow managed to gain a magical superpower to make mundane and obvious revelations huge conflagrations.
Every time she points out anything that should be a no-brainer — as one anti-Watson commenter said somewhere (crowdsource a link?), she often sticks to Skepticism 101 topics, which I suspect is an intentional strategy to facilitate newbies to the cause — she’s completely drowned in effluence from anti-Watson posters who are so drenched in privilege they can’t even recognize that there are people out there who might actually suffer from the things she points out. And what’s worse, they have a tendency of doubling down on the horrible things that were pointed out by Rebecca, by posting horrible terrible things about Rebecca for all to see.
And you know what? GOOD.
Maybe not so good for her, but for all of us. These magical superpowers of hers are probably a curse for her own sanity, but they are a boon for our society, for our respective communities. It’s excellent that she can draw so much attention to the problem, and can draw out the people who are, in essence, part of it, where they can make examples of themselves. The “touch of boorishness” that she can draw out of complete strangers just by mentioning this nonsense is exactly the type of attitude we need to cleanse from our systems, to keep from becoming an entrenched part of our culture. We have to draw this venom out of our skeptical communities’ bodies somehow.
I only regret that she has to wade through that effluence in making herself a huge target just by, you know, daring to talk about the problem while being a girl on the internet. She needs all the support she can get if she’s going to keep touching off firestorms just by prodding at that one raw nerve that so many atheist and skeptical men seem to have where even addressing our problem with privilege. Because that raw nerve needs to be prodded until we manage to do something about it. Having girls as part of our movement, with all the attendent concerns that brings, is too important a goal to let the MRAs and the winged monkeys screech at us until we give up on it. We must not cede the privilege of being part of the movement without an uphill struggle toward acceptance to be a male privilege only.
This should be a no-brainer too. But since it was Rebecca Watson who said it, of course we’re seeing so much pushback.
Just remember, she isn’t the only one saying it.