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Are universal statements always a problem?

Or just sometimes?

It occurs to me that many (“ALL!” “Shh.”) of our problems around these parts viz every new conflagration, from our recent conversation with Mallorie Nasrallah, to the statement by DJ Grothe that we only blog about controversial topics for hits, to the pushback against a Rebecca Watson blog title as though it meant she hates all atheists, is the fact that we as skeptics seem to have a problem with blanket universals even when they are not intended as universals. They are the quickest single thing you can do to engender hatred amongst your commentariat.

Much of the problem with Mallorie’s open letter to the skeptical community has to do with the universal statement that skeptics “shouldn’t change for anyone”. While she claims she wrote the letter solely for the purpose of expressing her own views of the community, she presented it in the midst of a number of controversies wherein people have been demonstrably misogynistic to bloggers like Greta Christina or new women in the community like the 15 year old Lunam on r/atheism. This caused some outrage in the context of the greater fight we’ve been waging — the fight against entrenched sexism in our communities.

For context, I always use the plural for communities because neither atheism nor skepticism have a single overarching community, much less a greater community for either one. We have a set of loosely allied communities, each manifesting their own sets of values and beliefs. The commenters and bloggers at Freethought Blogs appear to have clustered around beliefs in humanism as well as skepticism and atheism, and will fight a misogynist comment as quickly as a creationist or woo-peddling one. I don’t believe that the levels of sexism in our collective online communities are very different from the background of the internet as a whole, no matter how much of a safe space we’ve carved out here. However, there are three things that are important and mitigating factors to that blanket statement about the levels of sexism.

1: The internet is, as a whole, a far cruder and crasser place than real life, owing largely to anonymity and the Greater Interent Fuckwad Theory.

2: Our real-life meatspace communities are very often being organized via the internet, so there’s a lot of overlap between what goes on in meatspace and what came from the internet to begin with.

3: we have experienced by my estimation a significant amount more pushback than most other communities built around other topics, against the very idea that people shouldn’t use sexist slurs at women, or treat women like they’re just there as dating pool material, because either of those are likely to result in women who might otherwise participate bleeding away from our communities.

DJ Grothe described our fight against this pushback as being solely intended to drive controvery, to drive a wedge in the community, done solely for the hits. What makes this a short-sighted blanket statement is in part the misidentification of the problem, the misidentification of what it is we’re trying to do about it, and the misidentification of what’s actually being said about the community as a whole. Stephanie’s post itemizing the times when he’s exhibited this sort of blind spot for ongoing fights was met with doubling down, and DJ declared that the whole episode served as proof to him that that’s all the feminist bloggers in our community want to do is to tear other communities apart over sexism. Of course that’s not going to be very well received, except by those who would rather have the right to call women cunts or feminazis or thought police or what have you — of which there is an actual faction, who are better organized than you’d think, and who explicitly argue against every instance of feminist thought on every blog they read.

When Rebecca Watson described an event that creeped her out (owing to the predatory behaviour exhibited), and suggested that guys should maybe not do that if they expect to actually pick up, one of the major pushbacks against the event — one of the major ways the otherwise obvious comment Watson made got turned into a complete and utter shitstorm — was that people felt she was describing a universal, that no man should ever flirt with any woman ever.

Barring the fact that Rebecca Watson said it and she has her own hate posse; and that “flirting” is being so often conflated by dishonest interlocutors with “cold-propositioning”, where the former involves a level of familiarity with your flirting partner and the latter involves asking for sex from a bloody stranger; the important factor here with regard to why this rankled so many people is in the perceived universal. It is, of course, a strawman argument to suggest that Rebecca Watson asked for anything like that level of restraint. She did, however, ask that men in general restrain what many of us apparently view as their biological and societal imperative — that they have an unalienable right to attempt to convince women to have sex with them without consequences and regardless of the situation.

In a way, the false perception of a universal proscription was being defended via another universal in this way. The idea that males have some kind of privilege that their “need to flirt” should override someone’s repeated suggestions not to flirt with her is so entrenched in the male ego, probably owing largely to the media narrative that boy must woo girl, that people lost all semblance of proportionality in their reaction to the Elevatorgate event, as proportionally as it was initially described.

When Mallorie Nasrallah wrote her open letter to the skeptics community, she evidently did not have the benefit of having lived through the various blog fights we’ve all had over the past few years with regard to sexism. Having not been exposed at all to the nascent anti-feminist Mens Rights Activism movements, the misogynist Men Going Their Own Way, or the splinter faction of people proclaiming themselves to be the True Skeptics who question feminism as some sort of dogmatic movement (in much the same way that some accomodationist atheists and theistic apologists call New Atheists dogmatic), she evidently did not recognize that her letter would be received the way it was. Her repeated defense that her letter described her own situation only, are given the lie when you read the actual take-away message and the thesis for her letter:

With all of my heart I beg you: Do not change. Do not change for me, do not change for someone else. You’re wonderful, just the way you are.

And this passage:

More recently I have noticed a trend among men in my communities, you seem to have been told that you’re awful and need to change. Again, apparently because your genitals imbues you with an inescapable assholism. Please never believe this lie.

And this:

If your jokes or teasing manner offend some people, so the fuck what? Someone will always be offended by jokes, never let them make you believe that you are guilty of something worse simply because of your gender. If you want to make boob jokes thats fine by me, you have after all been making dick jokes since you were old enough to make jokes. Plus they are funny as hell. If you want to go free and uncensored among a group of like minded people, if you want to try to acquire sex from a like minded person, awesome, do it, sex and friendship are amazing. You are not a monster for wanting these things. You are not a monster for attempting to acquire them.

The two passages together diminish and dismiss every instance of women being subjected to slurs or being treated as though they are only welcome in the community as long as they are attractive and put out to strangers. These two passages together describe a situation that is not happening — that people are being villified for making boob and dick jokes, or for simply being male, or for simply attempting to chat up a like-minded individual with whom you’ve already had some contact. If any of these things were happening, they would be wrong, and I would speak out against it. But it simply isn’t happening this way at all, in my experience. If it was, I should at least theoretically be a target of this misandry, owing to the fact that I am a public voice against sexism and have advocated for egalitarianism in areas that would benefit only men, like ending routine male circumcision or making sure that rape statistics include rape carried out against men. I do not see this misandry. In fact, when the trolls suggest that it’s happening, their examples given are specious or, at best, owing directly to the gender roles that I advocate against.

However, even if this supposed misandry was happening, the blanket statement of “if someone’s offended by your jokes it’s their problem” forgets that jokes can often form the substrate of a societal prejudice. Nobody would say “feel free to make jokes about blacks and if they’re offended it’s their problem”, because our collective consciousness has been raised enough that the majority of us consider racism to be counter-productive and antisocial behaviour. Women make up a very large percentage of the human race — more than half, even — and if we’re to achieve any sort of social parity between the sexes, it takes making the people with power understand that sexism isn’t cool. Like it or not, men have that power right now, because our significantly eroded patriarchy is still a patriarchy.

The fact that there are more males in the atheist community does not mean that they should be allowed to treat the women in the community with the sort of disrespect that they’re getting right now in aggregate. The corollary fact that any one woman, like Mallorie, does not feel like they’re being disrespected in any way is a data point in favor of our fight, not against it. If they are not exposed to blatant misogyny in our community, it is because we have collectively declared as a community that that blatant misogyny is universally wrong, and we fight against it when we see it.

That’s a universal statement I can get behind. It’s a shame that it is not true of all atheists or skeptics, and that any such universal statement is viewed with such suspicion as being dogmatic.

Bonus round: count the universal statements I made in this post.

Comments

  1. smhlle says

    I really liked the nuanced thoughts that you presented. I agree about absolutes. When my husband tries to sneak in an absolute statement, it’s like he’s trying to throw a pork chop past a wolf, I am all over his statement shredding it back down to a proportionate size.

    I’ve been thinking that the counter argument about Reddit, that men are mean to other men on Reddit, bears some thinking about. Yes, the internet is full of obnoxiousness, (and some jokes that are sort of funny) aimed at everyone. However, obnoxiousness that is aimed at someone because of their gender (or other trait) is an issue for me. Not something we want to have in a community that is trying to work together to accomplish something. In conclusion “down with gendered obnoxiousness”. (For times when the word misogyny is too strong, but obnoxiousness is just right.)

  2. julian says

    I’m still in the air about drawing a line between emotional and physical pain. While physical pain may seem more objective honestly we know emotional pain exists and we know insults (among other things) can cause it. Why is it so much more permissible to emotionally or mentally harm someone than it is to physically strike even if neither ‘hurt’ is permanent or grave?

    For example, someone calls me a spic. I respond by striking them across the face. Neither of us is particularly hurt, the stinging in their cheek is about the same as the choking feeling I get. Both will pass shortly although they might smart and make us a little more sensitive for the next few days.

    But the physical injury is seen as more severe and I am seen as being the one at greater fault. Why? I understand the necessity for restraint and self control. I understand that an emotional wound won’t kill you where a physical one will. I get that. But in terms of damage what makes them different?

    Anyway that’s all pretty off topic.

    she evidently did not have the benefit of having lived through the various blog fights we’ve all had over the past few years with regard to sexism.

    Do we know that? She seems perfectly familiar with those arguments and discussions. She just seems to generally fall on ‘their’ side of the issue. Namely that those instances don’t count as misogyny and that we, not being privy to the individuals thoughts, cannot call them misogynistic.*

    *I still don’t understand the emphasis on ‘dictionary’ definitions like misogyny only means hatred of women. If I see another I’m going to insist on dictionary definitions for science terms. ‘Why do you insist on evolution? It’s just a theory.’

  3. says

    I think that some problem lies with what Pratchett calls “lies to children (or wizards)”.
    When we speak in universals, we know most of the time that there’s a caveat, an exception. We rely on the people at the receiving end to understand that.
    When we say that “mammals give live birth”, we know about the platypus. And we suppose that the audience does, too. So when the smart-mouthed person brings it up, we get annoyed.
    I’m thinking about Greta Christina’s why “Yes, but” post. People who showed up there to demonstrate that they could indeed make a “yes, but” comment that would not derail a thread were doing exactly that: derailing, nitpicking, spilting hairs.

    And I also think that Rebecca Watson has demonstrated that you cannot make a statement as explicit as possible without being accused of making universals.
    If people want to be upset with you, they’re going to find a reason to.

  4. says

    I’ve been reading a whole bunch of your posts lately, Jason, and you’re rapidly becoming one of the FtBloggers that I most enjoy reading.

    As for universal statements, I think one problem results from people reading general statements as if they were universal statements. Generalizations are a necessary evil when talking about complex situations, because we can’t infinitely qualify every statement. They’re also and an inevitability in groups that have similar conversations about the same topics over and over, because we develop shorthand phrases and become comfortable in assuming things that once we would have explicitly clarified. A person who is a newcomer to the community wouldn’t necessarily understand that these assumptions are generally made and acknowledged, even where they are not explicitly stated.

    When Rebecca Watson said “Reddit makes me hate atheists,” some read it as “Reddit makes me hate ALL atheists,” which explicitly was not the intent, purpose, point, or even an accurate representation of her feelings. Arguing against the statement as if it were a universal was an exercise in missing the point.

    As scientifically-minded folks, I think we generally tend to realize that reality is more complicated than it sometimes appears, and more than we’d often like it to be. But we’re also used to (as atheists and skeptics) arguing for that position, against people who often have an overly simplistic understanding of complicated things. That may be why we often jump to the conclusion that a general statement represents a universal belief–and not a qualified, nuanced position–even when discoursing with like-minded folks.

    It could also be that there are people primed to ignore/rationalize/react strongly against certain ideas/accusations/people, such that they’ll (willfully or otherwise) ignore any nuance or subtlety that would make it more difficult to become enraged/dismissive.

    In general, I think the intellectually honest (and safe) thing to do would be to ask for clarification rather than jumping to the conclusion that the person making an apparently general statement is actually representing a universal belief. It’ll make strawmanning a lot less likely, and backpedaling a lot more apparent, at the very least.

  5. karmakin says

    The problem with universal statements is that with them we’re making moralistic judgements. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong, and sometimes they exist in that grey area that we have a really hard time dealing with.

    Claiming that Christianity is very problematic from a sexism point of view is a moralistic judgement. I think it’s fair because it’s accurate. The lashback we get from Christians who may not think they are sexist themselves and feel offended by my moralistic judgement, quite frankly, is worth the cost.

    Elevatorgate was strange because it was the exact opposite, or at least that was how it was originally presented. It was ultra specific. It was just that feminism for some people has baggage with it. Don’t proposition women in elevators for “coffee” quickly becomes don’t proposition women for “coffee” becomes don’t proposition women quickly becomes don’t flirt with women quickly becomes live life a lonely virgin. Bit of an overstatement there, but you get the picture…and the rage becomes clear.

    Now, I don’t think this is deserved baggage. I think this is privilege run amuck. But I also think that this is due to deep deep cultural norms, that may be impossible to change. Friendship then Flirting then Dating to me seems to be the pair bonding path in a gender-equal world…and I think that everybody knows this, deep down. People who like the “chase” don’t like that it might go away.

    Another example of this sort of baggage is in terms of food. Often, just acting in a vegan fashion will be seen by others as making a moralistic judgement on the way they are eating. Quite frankly, this baggage is much more deserved than anything involving feminism, and even then you shouldn’t be assuming these things.

    But we are humans, and we do live and thrive in terms of our pattern recognition. Which to my mind is the best way to really understand and come to terms with all this.

    How to bend, then break the patterns. In order to reduce the amount of sexism in our society, that’s the question that needs to be answered. Unfortunately, I do think that in this case, making poor universal statements can reinforce negative patterns and as such make the job that much harder.

  6. Irene Delse says

    I wonder how much of this problem with general statements comes from the fact that many sceptics, having trained themselves to detect and counter logical fallacies, end up with an over-sensitive detector and start by dismissing any statement couched in general terms?

  7. Irene Delse says

    karmakin:

    Elevatorgate was strange because it was the exact opposite, or at least that was how it was originally presented. It was ultra specific. It was just that feminism for some people has baggage with it. Don’t proposition women in elevators for “coffee” quickly becomes don’t proposition women for “coffee” becomes don’t proposition women quickly becomes don’t flirt with women quickly becomes live life a lonely virgin. Bit of an overstatement there, but you get the picture…and the rage becomes clear.

    As someone who followed Elevatorgate since its inception, I can tell you that the feminists didn’t misrepresent what Rebecca Watson said in her video. What happened is that some people who disagreed with RW distorted her words (shall we say that privilege is a burdensome baggage?), and that other people reacted to this distorted view, not to what she said. Hence the escalation.

  8. says

    I think karmakin was trying to drive home the point that people twisted Rebecca’s message because they think that’s what feminism is about — that feminism has cultural baggage saddled on it by all the folks who are opposed to it.

    julian: I’d posit that emotional damage can often last a hell of a lot longer than physical damage, causing disability that you don’t even realize until someone goes rubbing up against that sore spot. It’s as possible to receive emotional damage as it is to receive physical damage, only more insidious.

    As for Mallorie’s presence for the misogyny we keep pointing out, I suppose I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt. I know she was pointed to Lunam’s Reddit thread and saw no misogynist comments in the rape jokes made at her; but I don’t know what she knows about Elevatorgate, just that she feels qualified to make statements about it that don’t comport with the reality of the situation.

  9. says

    @karmakin:

    Friendship then Flirting then Dating to me seems to be the pair bonding path in a gender-equal world…and I think that everybody knows this, deep down. People who like the “chase” don’t like that it might go away.

    That was what seemed most transparently problematic with Elevatorgate to me: “Coffee Guy” was using predatory techniques. Wait ’til the weakened (tired, had been drinking) member of the herd (people chatting ’til late at night) was isolated (alone in an elevator), then strike. I don’t know how much of that would have been intentional, and how much was the junior high “if I ask her to dance while she’s with her friends, they might all laugh at me” mentality, but it still seemed to me to be the creepiest aspect of the whole encounter. That we as a society tend to frame the quest for dates with hunting metaphors only legitimizes the behavior and possibly makes it less intentional.

    @Jason:

    I’d posit that emotional damage can often last a hell of a lot longer than physical damage, causing disability that you don’t even realize until someone goes rubbing up against that sore spot.

    That, and both have the chilling effect: once you’ve been attacked and wounded, chances are you won’t do the thing that gets you attacked again.

  10. John Greg says

    Why do you, Jason, and it would appear almost all Freethoughtblogs bloggers and commenters, dismiss and belittle any women who disagree with your rhetoric and ideology?

    Why do you find it so utterly unimaginable that some of those women may in fact be right to one degree or another?

    What is this massive degree of cognitive dissonance that disables you from seeing that in many instances many of these supposed cases of rampant sexism in the atheist / skeptic community are imagined; are, in fact, manufactured faux crises?

    When asked for evidence of this rampant sexism in the community, very, very little meaningful evidence is brought forth — yes, yes, tons of apoplectic apocryphal anecdote appears, but scant fact.

    Also, I have never witnessed you, or any other Freethoughblogs blogger or ideologically supportive commenter say, when confonted by a woman commenter that disagrees with your ideology, anything along the lines of “Oh, I’ve never seen these issues from that perspective; I will have to practice my critical thinking skills on this issue”.

    Instead, you end up posting long blathers like this one wherein you state how those women are wrong, misguided, and are in effect the enemy, or as that raging misandrist, skeptifem, would say “gender traitors in action”.

    Why is it that you consistently fail to even entertain the slight possibility that you may be, to one degree or another, misguided, or even wrong in your presumptions?

    Why do you so completely avoid nuance, grey areas in your thinking, ranges of opinion?

    Because you’ve brought it up yourself, I will feel free in making a point about the Elevatorgate nonsense. In the beginning of the EG nonsense, there were several women who politely, eloquently, and intelligently disagreed with Watson and Watson’s take on the incident. Watson’s, and Freethoughtblogs’ response to that disagreement was to shame those women, to dismiss them as MRA supporters, as women who wanted to play in the boy’s club, as supporters of sexist ideology, as gender traitors, and so on and so forth, an endless stream of dismissive shaming. And so, most of those women simply gave up on debating the issue.

    I know you take great pleasure in carpet vilification of the ERV blog, Abbie, and all ERV commenters, without really looking into the range and variety of perspectives and opinions, in particular the large range of disagreement over many issues. You see, that’s what differentiates the ERV people from the Freethoughtblogs people: ERV allows for and encourages dissent, disagreement, debate, and argument. ERV does not encourage people to experience being raped by knives or porcupines, or in julian’s favoured terms to die in a fire or at the point of a knife.

    It seems to me that Freethoughtblogs bloggers and commenters tend to encourage rather thoughtless and uniform aggreement, with some very narrow allowance for slight dissent in flavour and tone but not in any comprehensive sense.

    Yes, I know we’ve had this discussion before, and yes you have Gish galloped like mad avoiding any substantive and critical-thinking based debate on it.

    Jason said:

    “DJ Grothe described our fight against this pushback as being solely intended to drive controvery, to drive a wedge in the community, done solely for the hits.”

    Yes, if that is in fact what Grothe said, that is a somewhat over-generalized statement. However, your rebuttal is just as much of an over-generalized statement that completely denies any possibility of Grothe being right to any degree whatsoever.

    And then you go on and state such ludicrous absolutes as:

    “Of course that’s not going to be very well received, except by those who would rather have the right to call women cunts or feminazis or thought police or what have you — of which there is an actual faction, who are better organized than you’d think, and who explicitly argue against every instance of feminist thought on every blog they read.”

    There are scores of men and women who are committed atheists, committed feminists, committed skeptics, who condemn the limits to language and thought that people like you ascribe to, but who nonetheless do not for an instant insist on calling women or men cunts or feminazis or thought police or what have you, but who at the same time do indeed demand the right to do so.

    Contrary to what people like you, Jason, and Ophelia Benson, Stephanie Zvan, et al seem to think, constraints on language do not have much affect on how people think. You can have all the word rules you want and you are still going to encounter sexist thought, theist thought, anti-skeptical thought in the world.

    I repeat, it is not so much that the so-called slimepit denizens insist on calling women cunts, etc. — in point of fact only a very small minority actually do so — it is the insistence of the right to do so. To constrain the right to do so only shows you and the other Freethoughtblogs bloggers and commenters as being supportive of the concept of thought crime.

    Jason, you constrain thought and speech at your own peril.

  11. F says

    Tim Foss:

    As for universal statements, I think one problem results from people reading general statements as if they were universal statements.

    Put this way, you have defined the Universal/Blanket Statement Fallacy: Claiming one’s opponent is making all-encompassing absolute claims when, in fact, they are not.

  12. says

    In the beginning of the EG nonsense, there were several women who politely, eloquently, and intelligently disagreed with Watson and Watson’s take on the incident. Watson’s, and Freethoughtblogs’ response to that disagreement was… yadda yadda yadda

    Wow, Jason, I didn’t know you even had a time-machine here.
    By now their hate against the compound that is Freethoughtblogs has grown so much that they accuse you of doing things even before it existed.

  13. julian says

    As for Mallorie’s presence for the misogyny we keep pointing out, I suppose I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt.

    Going over her comments here and elsewhere I doubt this is an argument that’s going to be settled by pointing to examples of misogyny.

    Mallorie, going off my reading, seems to hold that misogyny, being hatred of women, can only be verified by knowing the ‘misogynist’s’ thinking. Furthermore she also seems to suggest statements made in anger or that the speaker later regrets can’t be held as evidence of misogyny as the apologetic attitude of the individual signals he clearly doesn’t hate women. Just a particular woman.

    If this argument is to be resolved by coming to some mutual agreement it’ll have to wait until everyone agrees on what it means to be misogynistic. You (from what I can see) as well as the rest of FTB seems to lean towards misogyny being policies, attitudes and atmosphere’s that disproportionately hurt women more than men.

    In her comments Mallorie argues that at least one policy we consider misogynistic (because of their impact on the majority of women). Employers wishing to know if a woman they are hiring plans on having a family, are being entirely fair and appropriate. They are only looking after their business and can’t have employees who abandon work for other things. (I realize that’s bunk. Single fathers are never treated the same way nor are men who choose to start a family.)

    So there really is a huge gulf between everyone here and Mallorie in terms of what can constitute sexism and what can be considered misogyny. This looks like a start from square one discussion. Which has me wondering where I left that bottle of spiced rum.

  14. julian says

    @John Greg

    Why do you find it impossible to ever actually address the concerns and criticisms of the people you’re trying to chastise?

  15. says

    I know I’ve, had a problem with universal and generalized statements simce I was a kid. Maybe because I tend to take everything to literally. Like, even if someone asks if my bed is made, and I literally just made it and walked out of the room, I have to say “it should be” instead of “yes” because something conceivably could have happened to mess up my bed in the mean time. Not that I never make such statements, myself, but that’s usually in the context of a joke or obvious hyperbole. Of course, even when you thimk your hyperbole is obvious, there will be those who don’t realize it. Them’s the risks.

    On the “elevatorgate” thing, I actually thought it was an overreaction, at first, mostly because I only saw it referenced on this site as “a guy asked Rebecca to have coffee with him while they were in an elevator and she said this was sexist behavior.” Of course, that sounded like “asking a girl out in private is bad” to me, which seemed silly until I got the full story that he was asking for “coffee” rather than coffee, and other such details, which makes a big difference. I would say in that context I agree whole heartedly with her. Seems like the human tendency to summarize may be guilty of at least some of that controversy.

  16. John Greg says

    Gileill said:

    “… they accuse you of doing things even before it existed.”

    Quite right. I stand corrected. I should have clarified it by saying something along the lines of: “Watson’s, and Watson’s supporters’ response to that disagreement was… yadda yadda yadda”.

    Thanks for the correction even if it was something of a fuzzy straw man.

  17. John Greg says

    Giliell also said:

    “… their hate against the compound that is Freethoughtblogs….”

    Well, one individual, i.e., me, is not a they or a their, so far as I know.

    And I do not hate Freethoughtblogs, bloggers, or commenters, nor the “compound that is …”, I merely distrust many of them.

  18. says

    Your right to swing your fist ends at the point of another’s nose, John Greg. Or more proximately — you still have every right to do or say whatever you want, as nobody’s abridging your right to free speech by moderating or banning you on one website. Not even across THE WHOLE website, mind you, given how many other boards on FtB you’re banned on.

    Interestingly, your boards which you’ve presented as being “the other side” moderate differently, quite a bit like the Pharyngula Horde, by making a chilling climate for anyone wanting to post there to actually discuss things. So it’s not like you hear dissenting opinions from yours in your own insular communities. Why don’t you return to them, instead of bothering us in ours? Why do you fight so hard for your right to curse at someone in their own home, when you still have the right to sling insults from the curb outside?

  19. Pteryxx says

    Also, I have never witnessed you, or any other Freethoughblogs blogger or ideologically supportive commenter say, when confonted by a woman commenter that disagrees with your ideology, anything along the lines of “Oh, I’ve never seen these issues from that perspective; I will have to practice my critical thinking skills on this issue”.

    John Greg must not have seen Jason’s “Vilifying dissent” post on whether to use the word “misogynist” (which was just last week even!) or PZ’s bunny post, to name a few.

    Bonus universalizing points for “I have NEVER witnessed…”

  20. Alukonis, metal ninja says

    Why do you find it so utterly unimaginable that some of those women may in fact be right to one degree or another?
    [...]

    When asked for evidence of this rampant sexism in the community, very, very little meaningful evidence is brought forth — yes, yes, tons of apoplectic apocryphal anecdote appears, but scant fact.

    Why do YOU find it so utterly unimaginable that those anecdotes may in fact be right to one degree or another? Especially considering there are SO very many of them?

    In sociology, enough anecdotes becomes data. Welcome to soft science.

    Also, while people may have the right to call me a cunt, if they do it in my house, I have the right to throw them right the fuck out. How is someone’s personal blog any different, exactly?

    Plus, while you also have the right to spout a bunch of racial and gendered slurs, that doesn’t mean the people seeing you do it are supposed to somehow withhold judgement just because they possess no psychic powers and therefore couldn’t tell that you were “joking,” and if you behave like an awful person, people will think you ARE an awful person. Don’t like it? Then stop acting like an awful person.

  21. Alukonis, metal ninja says

    shoot, forgot to say my comment was directed at John Greg, and also that should be “anecdotes become data.”

  22. John Greg says

    Jason said:

    “Interestingly, your boards which you’ve presented as being “the other side” moderate differently, quite a bit like the Pharyngula Horde, by making a chilling climate for anyone wanting to post there to actually discuss things.”

    I am not 100% certain what you are saying here. Are you referring to the ERV blog as “making a chilling climate for anyone wanting to post there to actually discuss things”? If so, I guess we will have to disagree on that. Personally, I find the climate at Pharyngula, Butterflies and Wheels, Almost Diamonds, Laden’s blog, and here to be far colder. But then, that’s just me and my anecdote.

    “So it’s not like you hear dissenting opinions from yours in your own insular communities.”

    Again, I am not 100% certain what you are saying, but I think you are referring again to ERV?

    And so, indeed I do hear dissenting opinions from mine [fellow commenters -- is that what you mean?] in my own insular communities. There are many dissenting opinions at ERV. And I don’t think my community, whatever that means, is any more insular than yours. And seriously, what do you mean by my community? I range over many, many blogs and BBSs covering a wide range of interests and hobbie horses.

    Pteryxx said:

    “John Greg must not have seen Jason’s “Vilifying dissent” post on whether to use the word “misogynist” (which was just last week even!) or PZ’s bunny post, to name a few.

    “Bonus universalizing points for ‘I have NEVER witnessed…'”

    Quite right Pteryxx. I am open to being corrected when it is clearly pointed out to me. That was indeed disingenuous and wrong of me to make that claim in so absolute a fashion. I should have made the claim as a more general sort of behaviour thingy. And actually, I did read the Bunnygate thread. As a matter of fact I even agreed, to some extent, with PeeZus’s original post, before he changed his mind. And ironically it was that posted agreement that got me disemvowelled and eventually banned from Pharyngula. As for the Vilifying Dissent, I only vaguely recall it, so perhaps I’ll give it a browse.

    Alukonis said:

    “Why do YOU find it so utterly unimaginable that those anecdotes may in fact be right to one degree or another?”

    I don’t. And if it appears that I said so, then I was in error amd mis-stated my case. I suspect that some of those anecdotes are indeed factual; I also suspect that some of them may be either entirely apocryphal, or perhaps expanded to fit the topic. I feel the same way about the dissenting posts I have read written by women who state that they have never experienced or witnessed any form of sexist behaviour at any of the various conferences.

    More importantly, I do not think that either such anecdotes should be given carte blanche and a free pass from criticism just because they support the sexist / not-sexist trope.

    Perhaps one of the challenges in such discussions is the range in defining “sexist” behaviour: As we have witnessed time and time again, one person’s sexism is another person’s social incompetence. For example, I am pretty certain that WMDKitty and skeptifem would have a somewhat more wide reaching, all-encompassing definition of behaviour they consider as sexist than would you, or I.

    “Also, while people may have the right to call me a cunt, if they do it in my house, I have the right to throw them right the fuck out. How is someone’s personal blog any different, exactly?”

    I think that that is a complicated argument. For one thing, I do not think it accurate to compare a blog with a home. For another, when that blog is hosted by something called Freethought, I seriously think it is critically important that any place self-describing as Freethought really must back that up with action.

    “Plus, while you also have the right to spout a bunch of racial and gendered slurs, that doesn’t mean the people seeing you do it are supposed to somehow withhold judgement just because they possess no psychic powers and therefore couldn’t tell that you were “joking,” and if you behave like an awful person, people will think you ARE an awful person. Don’t like it? Then stop acting like an awful person.”

    I do not dispute that, but it does not change my opinion regarding having the right to behave like an asshole under certain circumstances. For the record, I do not, in fact, spout bunches of racial or gendered slurs. But I am not willing to insist that others must not do so. If I find myself in a conversation where someone is so spouting, I can always just leave it, or make a request that the slurrer lighten up on the slurs — that is not a demand, it is a request. Nuance.

  23. says

    That’s disingenuous. It’s not just that you’re “not willing to insist that others must not” call women cunts and twats ad infinitum; it’s that you hang out (virtually speaking) with people who call women cunts and twats ad infinitum. Surely you’re not just putting up with it as opposed to actively liking it.

  24. Pteryxx says

    For another, when that blog is hosted by something called Freethought, I seriously think it is critically important that any place self-describing as Freethought really must back that up with action.

    Well, it’s Freethought blogs, not Free-Pass blogs.

    I suspect that some of those anecdotes are indeed factual; I also suspect that some of them may be either entirely apocryphal, or perhaps expanded to fit the topic. I feel the same way about the dissenting posts I have read written by women who state that they have never experienced or witnessed any form of sexist behaviour at any of the various conferences.

    The problem here is that while you’re ascribing degrees of credibility to anecdotes, you’re doing so using your own frame of reference, biases and all. (Which is not a condemnation; all of us do the same.) But one of those biases, endemic to our culture, is that sexist behavior is normalized; and another is that women are seen as less credible than men. There’s plenty of research to back up both those statements. Hence, it’s reasonable to make a conscious effort to acquaint oneself with the research and to compensate for the inclination to disbelieve anecdotes in women’s voices.

    See: Ouellette’s essay “Is it cold in here?” and associated references:

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cocktail-party-physics/2011/07/20/is-it-cold-in-here/

    And the cases of Joan Roughgarden and Ben Barres:

    http://www.theage.com.au/national/how-the-sex-bias-prevails-20100514-v4mv.html

  25. says

    Someone mentioned me?

    John Greg, dude, I’m just now (like, within the past year) discovering just how horribly misogynist the internet really is. And meat-space ain’t much better.

    I’m constantly on alert for anything that might even hint at predatory behavior, because I’ve had personal experience with being, you know, the “prey”.

    That means I’m going to pick up on more of it.

    I’m starting to think that maybe, we should get the kids while they’re still young, and teach them about predatory behavior and how to get away from someone behaving that way. In, you know, age-appropriate language, on a level they can grok.

  26. D.J. Grothe says

    I was not going to comment here but because I have just received an email from someone asking if I really said the things attributed to me in this post, I figured I should correct the mischaracterizations.

    I would like to point out that Thibeault appears to have made the same mistake in this post that he is bloging about others making: he mentions a “statement by DJ Grothe that we only blog about controversial topics for hits” but links to another blog post that quotes no such statement (since none was ever made). He claims that I’ve said “all the feminist bloggers in our community want to do is to tear other communities apart over sexism.” He claims that I “described our fight against this pushback as being solely intended to drive controvery, to drive a wedge in the community, done solely for the hits.” 

    Each of these quotes or attributions is impressively incorrect. I never used the word “solely,” “only,” etc. I never made a statement to the effect that “all the feminist bloggers in our community want to do is to tear other communities apart over sexism.” It looks like Thibeault engaged in generalization and exaggeration to make his point stronger, which I hope was just unintentional. Nonetheless, he mischaracterized what I said, and I think he should try harder to be more accurate in the future.

    What I really said was: some of these atheist blogs “often seem to present controversies, possibly unduly fomented just to drive readership” (in a comment on one of Christina’s posts) and that I know such controversy “may be good for blog hits, but it is bad for skepticism and in my view, is antithetical to our values” (in a comment on one of Zvan’s posts). 

    I also said in comments on that post of Zvan’s that some of these blog posts “seem to me to be deliberately controversialist, and focused on excoriating individuals for various things,” and “that fomenting movement controversy often seems to be prized over honest and sincere argument, that some folks are too quick to vilify and engage in destructive in-group/out-group thinking, that these online communities are exclusive rather than inclusive, and that unfortunately as a whole, the feminist and atheist blogospheres often operate quite separately from and counter the growing skeptical movement working to combat unreason and harmful pseudoscience in society.”

    I stand by all of the comments I actually made. But note, again, that nowhere did I say anything about “only,” or “solely,” nor that anyone “only blog[s] about controversial topics for hits” or that “all the feminist bloggers in [y]our community want to do is to tear other communities apart over sexism.” Nor did I describe anyone’s “fight against this pushback as being solely intended to drive controversy, to drive a wedge in the community, done solely for the hits.”

    Thibeault here is breaking a cardinal rule in honest blogging and in journalism, and that is that he misquotes and mischaracterizes someone to make his argument stronger, again, I hope unintentionally. His mischaracterization of me is sloppy at best and disingenuous and deceptive at worst.

    I hope that bloggers on this network, many of whom I know personally to claim intellectual integrity as a value, would work to avoid mischaracterizing and misquoting people in the future.

  27. Tim Groc says

    Ophelia, don’t forget that you hang around (virtually speaking) with someone who wanted to “fuck somebody into the ground”. Plenty of others who you “virtually” hang around with have said nasty things, but I wouldn’t hold that against you.

  28. says

    Tim Groc, that too is disingenuous – by “hang out with” in Greg’s case I meant (as I’m sure you know) “post frequently on the same thread where.” Greg posts often and at length on the series of threads at ERV in which people call women cunts and twats and other names a lot. I don’t do anything resembling that – and I have, for instance, no idea who that someone you mention is or where or when it said that.

  29. Anat says

    I repeat, it is not so much that the so-called slimepit denizens insist on calling women cunts, etc. — in point of fact only a very small minority actually do so — it is the insistence of the right to do so. To constrain the right to do so only shows you and the other Freethoughtblogs bloggers and commenters as being supportive of the concept of thought crime.

    John Greg, do you insist on people’s right to call black people ‘nigger’ and gay people ‘faggot’ too? If not why not? If yes is the response to the use of sexist language all that different from the response to racist or homophobic language?

  30. julian says

    @DJ Grothe

    I’m half tempted to pull the same stunt you’ve done twice now but will leave it at this

    You were not misquoted. No quotes were attributed to you in that post. Attitudes and feelings towards certain groups were but not quotes.

  31. Pteryxx says

    @ DJ Grothe:

    What I really said was: some of these atheist blogs “often seem to present controversies, possibly unduly fomented just to drive readership” [...]

    I also said in comments on that post of Zvan’s that some of these blog posts “seem to me to be deliberately controversialist,[...]

    All righty; if only SOME blogs, OFTEN, SEEM, TO YOU, to present controversy for controversy’s sake with no greater purpose, can you give a counterexample? I’d ask that you name at least one blog post discussing sexism in relation to atheism or skepticism that you consider valid or worthwhile.

  32. John Greg says

    Pteryxx said:

    “Well, it’s Freethought blogs, not Free-Pass blogs.”

    Well, yes, okay. I guess we will just have to disagree with each other on that issue.

    “The problem here is….” (Truncated for space.)

    What you say is true, and I do not deny it at all, except for the fact that I am not so much ascribing degrees as I am stating that as critical thinkers, and skeptics, we should not be so quick to assume that all such anecdotes are true (or, for that matter, false), and that it is, I would think, most likely that their truth or otherwise lies somewhere within a range.

    For critical thinkers and skeptics, anecdotal discussion, when presented as evidence, needs to be critically questioned; approached with a healthy degree of skepticism. And in my opinion, all of that applies whether or not the anecdote originates from a man or a woman. And for the record, I make a conscious effort to not sway my bias in favour of men over women. I am sure I do not always succeed — as you rightly point out, we all have our inherent biases — but I do make the effort.

    Actually, I did read Ouellette’s essay. I also commented on it because she, Ouelette, told some porkies in it. She also made some false accusations and associations. If you click on your link you will see my comments beginning at # 25.

    WMDKitty said:

    “John Greg, dude, I’m just now (like, within the past year) discovering just how horribly misogynist the internet really is. And meat-space ain’t much better.”

    WMDKitty, dudette, I agree about the Internet. The Internet can be a truly ugly place where really ugly people get to carry sway. And there are ugly people on all sides of all coins, to some degree.

    I don’t know that I would agree with you on meat space being almost as bad though. I am not in any way, shape, or form dismissing or dimishing or denigrating your negative experience — being prey, as you say. But we are all influenced by our experiences, and therefore, through no fault of your own, you are probably going to perceive the world as a darker, uglier, more dangerous place than I am. Some of that may be due to what people keep calling my white, male “priviledge”. But I am in dispute with much of this priviledge theory as it is most commonly used on skeptic blogs.

    “I’m starting to think that maybe, we should get the kids while they’re still young, and teach them about predatory behavior and how to get away from someone behaving that way.”

    I would certainly not hold any disagreement with that sentiment; however, I suspect our methodology would differ.

    Anat said:

    “John Greg, do you insist on people’s right to call black people ‘nigger’ and gay people ‘faggot’ too?”

    Good question. I would think that my answer is a qualified yes. What I mean by that is that in certain contexts, or in certain circumstances then, yes, people have the right to use terms like nigger or faggot. And if they do, then anyone who objects to that term has the right to so state — I do not agree that they have the right to unilaterally demand that no one ever use those terms.

    To clarify my yes’s and no’s could be an endless process though. Suffice to say that in my opinion to use that term in a directed and specific instance of denigration and personal insult, well, I would be uncomfortable saying yes, but I would also be uncomfortable saying an absolute no. In my opinion these kinds of terms really must be dealt with, or defined and dissected on a specific case-by-case basis. I think any kind of all-encompassing general ban is somewhat dangerous.

    Ophelia, it’s your pal Myers who said that in a discussion about the ice cream shop owner.

  33. says

    So DJ, if I were to remove all the absolutes as relates to you, but leave my impression of your arguments otherwise intact, you’d be fine with it, regardless of the complete lack of change to the substance of the post? Especially where your clarification of what you actually said modifies none of my conclusions? Because if that’s what it takes to make you think that I’m responsive to your needs, then I can do that. You know, despite your giving me all of half an hour to respond to your email stating that you weren’t going to comment, before cut-and-pasting your email to me into the comment field here and modifying it to work as a comment.

    It is amusing that in a post where my general point was that universals or absolutes are often simplifications for the purpose of conversation, that you demand that I remove the absolutes. Especially the moreso that I pointed it out all meta-like in the last sentence that I used them myself.

  34. says

    @Tim Groc: Speaking of disingenuousness, do you recognize that there is a difference between “fuck you” and “I want to fuck you”?

    If not, I have to imagine that you are often confused on the highway.

    Here’s PZ’s “into the ground” tweet, and Jen McCreight’s that he was responding to, for context (1, 2, 3).

    Next, let’s tackle the difference between “to” and “into,” and the significance of “the ground,” particularly in the context of Yelp ratings.

  35. Pteryxx says

    @John Greg:

    Actually, I did read Ouellette’s essay. I also commented on it because she, Ouelette, told some porkies in it. She also made some false accusations and associations.

    …I looked at your comment. Seriously, your reason for impugning Ouellette’s entire essay on chilly climate, for claiming she told lies and made false accusations, is that she’s supposedly saying Rebecca Watson got vilified for the wrong reasons?

    What the heck has that speculation got to do with the phenomenon of chilly climate? How does that even address, much less counter, any of the data and evidence Ouellette discussed? Where do you get off calling her entire post “fundamentally dishonest” because you dispute the motivations of a single incident?

    From your comment, ellipses and emphasis mine:

    Ouellette said:
    .
    “Watson was vilified for over-reacting, for being a diva, a ‘media-whore,’ an attention-monger, a bitch, a man-hating feminazi, and a troublemaker who was deflecting attention away from far more important issues. She was accused of being anti-sex (as if), calling all men rapists (she did not), and was threatened with sexual assault at the upcoming TAM ‘to give you something to complain about.’”
    .
    While much of that was said, sometimes from erstwhile Watson supporters, sometimes from neutral commentors, and sometimes from a small group of hateful hit-and-run posters, the problem with Ouellette’s entire premise is the utterly false, demonstrabley so, claim that all, or even a large percentage of those hostile reactions were due to Watson’s statement of discomfort at being approached in an elevator at 4 AM by an intoxicated Irish guy, who asked her back to his room ‘for coffee.’
    .
    Ouellette, you are either ignorant of the reasons behind the vast majority of hostile reaction, or you are just being dishonest for the sake of trying to stir things up even more.
    .
    The majority of hostility towards Watson were the result of a series of events, to wit:

    [...]

    2. The gender feminists unquestioning acceptance of Watsons’ anecdote as indisputable evidence.

    [...]

    6. The gender feminist community’s complete acceptance of ad hominem, personal insult, invective, and hate-filled language as the most acceptable and best and first course for responding to any type of dissent or disagreement whatsoever.

    7. Watson’s scathing arrogance, condescension, and dismissal of any and all dissent or disagreement with any of her points, and her tactic of shaming, dismissing, and belittling anyone who disagrees with her or who asks questions she feels carry obvious answers.
    .
    However well spoken and reasoned Ouellette’s long post may seem, it is fundamentally dishonest.

    Not only do you have a huge problem reading for content, bud, I don’t think the effort you’re making to avoid anti-woman bias is having much if any success.

    And as for universal statements… Yeah, I think you signally, spectacularly failed to apply a healthy degree of skepticism, consider a range of truth, or any of the other reasoned views you just espoused.

  36. smhlle says

    ” If I find myself in a conversation where someone is so spouting, I can always just leave it”

    I think the point is that people don’t want to have to leave the conversation on their own damn blogs.

  37. says

    For critical thinkers and skeptics, anecdotal discussion, when presented as evidence, needs to be critically questioned; approached with a healthy degree of skepticism. And in my opinion, all of that applies whether or not the anecdote originates from a man or a woman.

    And you’ve done this where for people who are arguing that sexism isn’t a problem in the atheist and skeptic communities? Funny thing is, you march in here claiming Jason is applying a double-standard, when he’s accepting stories from both–and merely pointing out that neither experience is universal.

  38. Anat says

    John Greg,

    I agree people have a right to use any word they damn well choose. But people also have the right to respond unpleasantly to language they see as promoting the denigration of certain groups. Whether the user is aware of it or not, allowing such language to go unopposed harms members of groups that have been historically and still are marginalized. People need to learn that such marginalizing is harmful and that contributing to it (even by passive enabling) is harmful.

    The bloggers and posters on freethoughtblogs aren’t forbidding the language – they don’t have that kind of power. They object to its use on their blogs. The posters by pointing it out and explaining why it is harmful, the bloggers also occasionally by deleting posts or banning users who persist despite warnings. This isn’t the policing of thought – the ftbers can’t do anything (besides post rebuttals) about language used in other places anyway. It is about educating people about the harm they cause with their language choices and telling them such choices are unappreciated in certain places because preventing the harm done by marginalizing language trumps the ability to marginalize.

    Ideally more people will catch on and stop marginalizing and stop tolerating marginalizing behavior.

  39. says

    Jason asks the question

    we as skeptics seem to have a problem with blanket universals even when they are not intended as universals.

    Most of those “universal statements” are not universal statements. Both Rebecca Watson and I were chastised for referring to the “Atheist Community” as though we were painting all atheists with same brush. But we weren’t. A community has many parts, and if one or two parts stand out, are in your face, attracting all the attention and being a general nuisance, then that community, as a whole, is tainted, colored, glossed, by that component. I used the analogy of a neighborhood tainted by hoodlums standing around on most of the street corners. Like it or now, women are not likely to feel comfortable or welcome in a community where they are verbally raped on arrival. The complain about “universal statements” is usually a straw argument… the universal statement is not being made.

    A second form of that argument misunderstands how we speak. A headline says something general, the very first sentence expands on it, the rest of the paragraph gives more detail. The complaint to which Jason refers is often about the headline and not the text. It is possible that at times one could have written a better headline or leading sentence, but ya know what? It’s a fuckin blogpost. Most people who make these complaints neither blog themselves or have ever been involved with any process of publication or production of text, and don’t realize that the perfected, refined modality is the product of more work than we invest when we blog daily, and more eyes looking at the product than happens on almost any blog, where we do in fact not employ editors. So, get over it. Imperfection is going to happen. If you don’t like it, stick with books produced by the finest publishing houses.

    But I think there is something else going on other than misunderstanding the writing and reading process. Most complaints of the form to which Jason refers are mere distraction using the tool of senseless pedantry. There is a point being made that someone does not want to see explored, so they thrown a wrench in the process. Such pedantry is probably best ignored.

    As Irene notes:

    I wonder how much of this problem with general statements comes from the fact that many sceptics, having trained themselves to detect and counter logical fallacies, end up with an over-sensitive detector and start by dismissing any statement couched in general terms?

    Jason notes that …

    DJ Grothe described our fight against this pushback as being solely intended to drive controvery, to drive a wedge in the community, done solely for the hits.

    Yeah, OK, whatever But no. I’ll tell you what. Controversy arises from somewhere. Let’s take an example. Some guy says “I want to kick you in the cunt” and some guy comes along and says to that guy “Don’t say that.”

    Which one was “causing controversy?” The one who made the threatening statement about phsysical violence, or the one who told the dickhead too shut up? Answer. The latter, not the former. So no. Jason expounds on a parallel example in much more detail. He also points out…

    In a way, the false perception of a universal proscription was being defended via another universal in this way. The idea that males have some kind of privilege that their “need to flirt” should override someone’s repeated suggestions not to flirt with her is so entrenched in the male ego, probably owing largely to the media narrative that boy must woo girl, that people lost all semblance of proportionality in their reaction to the Elevatorgate event, as proportionally as it was initially described.

    It’s funny to hear John Greg come along on a post about universals and say:

    Why do you, Jason, and it would appear almost all Freethoughtblogs bloggers and commenters, dismiss and belittle any women who disagree with your rhetoric and ideology?

    Hahahaha. Idiot.

    In the same comment Greg says:

    I repeat, it is not so much that the so-called slimepit denizens insist on calling women cunts, etc. — in point of fact only a very small minority actually do so — it is the insistence of the right to do so.

    And therein lies the problem. No, you don’t have the right to verbally abuse people. Not without consequences anyway.

  40. says

    And therein lies the problem. No, you don’t have the right to verbally abuse people. Not without consequences anyway.

    Well, and that’s just it, isn’t it. The MRAs and their ilk certainly have the right to call women whatever they like and treat women however they please (within the boundaries of the law). And the rest of us have the same right to construct and enforce social mores that discourage the negative behavior. They can call women cunts and make unwanted sexual advances, and we can call them creepers and shun them, and encourage others to do likewise. We’ll see who has the better pub meetups and conferences.

    Too often people confuse criticism with censorship and “taking away rights,” and it’s usually because people they disagree with are trying to exercise the same rights. See also: conservatives about gay marriage, religionists about atheists expressing themselves publicly, etc.

  41. Alukonis, metal ninja says

    You know what, if some blog commenter (or hell, anyone in meatspace, too) keeps insisting on their right to use sexist/racist/homophobic slurs against people, I will interpret that as “I am an idiot with a limited vocabulary that is unable to express themselves without resorting to the lowest possible slurs and insults, because I have no legitimate viewpoint and nothing worthwhile to say. That’s why I have to keep comparing people to women’s body parts, with the obvious implication that women’s body parts are gross and icky and wrong, because it is impossible for me to rationally defend my position using language that reasonable, mature adults would use, for example, in a televised debate.”

    Try, as a mental exercise, to eliminate all gendered slurs from your speech. It’s harder than you’d think it would be, and really forces you to look at your own thought process and think about how to express what you’re trying to express.

    Finally, @John Greg, if you don’t like how freethoughtblogs are run, go start your own blog. It’s not like it’s hard. Here, I’ll help you out: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=blog

    And you can have whatever rules you want and let your commenters say anything they want and use ALL the sexist/racist/homophobic/ablist/classist slurs they want to! Don’t expect many of us FtB commenters to come visit, though. Most of us frown on that sort of thing.

  42. says

    If so, I guess we will have to disagree on that. Personally, I find the climate at Pharyngula, Butterflies and Wheels, Almost Diamonds, Laden’s blog, and here to be far colder. But then, that’s just me and my anecdote.

    That’s because people who think that it’s perpectly OK to use sexis and racial slurs get a cold treatment.
    You can’t have both: A place where women and minorities feel safe and welcomed and a place where assholes are allowed to spew bigoted shit without any consequences.

    I see, it’s the old Free-from-consequences-Speech idea:
    You want to be able to say such shit, but heavens forbid that people judge you for it.
    As for skepticism: There is decades of research that shows that such behaviour does cause harm, that it does perpetuate ideas that directly translate into active discrimination.
    At some point it’s not skepticism anymore, it’s stupidity combined with Dunning Kruger.
    Just like it’s not skepticism to come to any of those blogs and proclaim that we must debate evolution openly and without taboos and that it has become dogma and therefore people aren’t freethinkers anymore.

    I do not dispute that, but it does not change my opinion regarding having the right to behave like an asshole under certain circumstances. For the record, I do not, in fact, spout bunches of racial or gendered slurs. But I am not willing to insist that others must not do so.

    That’s because you obviously don’t give a fuck about the demonstrable harm such behaviour causes and the people who are actually harmed by it. Because you value the right to cause harm higher than the right not to be harmed.

    What you say is true, and I do not deny it at all, except for the fact that I am not so much ascribing degrees as I am stating that as critical thinkers, and skeptics, we should not be so quick to assume that all such anecdotes are true (or, for that matter, false), and that it is, I would think, most likely that their truth or otherwise lies somewhere within a range.

    For critical thinkers and skeptics, anecdotal discussion, when presented as evidence, needs to be critically questioned; approached with a healthy degree of skepticism.

    look for Jason’s post on being over-skeptical.
    At some point you wander right into the realm of conspiracy-theory.
    Yes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Ordinary claims don’t.
    So, do you think that those anecdotes are extraordinary claims? Or do you think that we can check them back, not only against our own experiences, but also against the research and then conclude that, unless I want the much more severe claim that the person who tells them is a liar, it is true?
    Or do you claim that in social science you can never know anything because we need to collect data from people who might lie?
    If I say that people are driving recklessly and tell an anecdote I expirienced that day, do you demand court proof evidence that some driver cut my right of way?

  43. filipposalustri says

    Jason,

    I enjoyed this post. It seemed to me, unfortunately, that the point of it – the question on the role played by universals (or perceived universals – was largely lost. At least that’s what I see reading the comments.

    At one point, I’m pretty sure the comments got to talking about how to talk about the ways we talk about what others have talked about.

    Really?

    On the matter of universals. Sometimes, one might use a universal because one’s personal experience suggests it’s true. But others have different experiences and therefore see the one’s utterance as false (and possibly insultingly so). Both parties are at fault here, and for the same reason: neither’s thinking allows for people who just haven’t had the same experiences.

    We can only see differences if there are alternatives. A fish doesn’t know it’s wet; we can’t necessarily tell if our thinking is right unless we compare it to other people’s thinking. Yet it seems that any time anyone tries to think out loud, it gets slammed as being somehow inappropriate.

    Well, sometimes it is. In this discussion, for instance, I found John Greg’s comments far too adversarial and confrontational. But I also found most of the comments seemed to me (and my admittedly limited experiential base) to be too unequivocal.

    Many of the issues raised here have not to do with concepts like misogyny, but rather with the boundaries of those concepts: when does an utterance become misogynistic, and for whom? These boundaries are the transition areas. We will all agree that certain statements are always misogynistic. These are statements solidly within the scope of the term. Its the fringes where things get confusing. Except many people seem to be missing the inherent confusion and assuming there is confrontation at work. (Likewise for every other issue besides misogyny.)

    Let me suggest this: thinking of boundaries is not particularly useful if those boundaries that thought of a crisp demarkations. There’s a lot of gray here. The boundaries are really boundary layers – that is, regions of change. It’s at the boundary layers that universals will distinguish themselves as troublesome.

    It’s important to understand what happens at the boundary layer, but not so important that we forget how much we actually do agree on.

  44. ischemgeek says

    ^This! I’ve observed this and chimed in a few times, and my issue with Mallorie was and remains the fact that after she said, “I’ve had a great time so don’t change for me,” she went on to call those who haven’t had a great time “silly assholes” (her words) and say “don’t change for anyone” (emphasis mine, but again, her words).

    On the topic of absolute statements… I think they’re necessary for black-and-white issues where any compromise or middle ground would in fact severely harm people, education, or the movement as a whole, or would in-effect be capitualting entirely: Threatening people with death or physical harm because you disagree with them is never okay, homeopathy should never be presented as if it’s real medicine, teachers in general should always have background in the subject they’re teaching, creationism should never be taught in science class, and so on.

    On the other hand, when you’re dealing with a scenario where personal experience and background play a big and subjective role (like, I’d say, >90% of interpersonal situations), absolute statements should be avoided, lest you accidentally tar and feather someone who doesn’t deserve it.

    For example, someone who says “asking any woman to get coffee ever is sexist!” and someone who says “all women who think being asked to get coffee is under any circumstances sexist are silly!” are both probably wrong: there are situations where being asked to grab coffee isn’t sexist… What if I’m going to grab coffee anyway and so it won’t inconveniance me at all? What if we’re both women? What if the man in question and I take turns grabbing coffee? What if I’m within arm’s reach of the pot? On the other hand, there are situations where it would be sexist: If I’m in the middle of something and there’s a person of a different gender who’s free, if a pattern of only asking women to interrupt their day to grab coffee emerges, if the boss in question admits sexist motivation (“You can be the Coffee Queen! Such things are women’s work, after all.” – actually had a boss say that to me once), and so on.

    Regarding discussions of sexism, when the blatant stuff is out of the way, a lot of the rest comes down to context and nuance, and if you haven’t experienced or seen a given situation, you might not know it exists (for example, I recently explained to my boyfriend the whole coffee thing – he had no idea that there are people who will ask a busy woman over a free man to go grab coffee, just because the woman is a woman, or that there are people who think grabbing coffee is women’s work, and by contrast I didn’t know about a lot of the BS he experiences as First Nations until he started telling me – segregated classrooms in the 21st century as just a start). So for such discussion, I think it’s best to leave the absolutes at the door. By all means, still disagree and argue and so on, and if possible settle on a right answer, but I don’t think absolutes contribute much, if anything, and they do have a tendency to cause shitstorms to erupt.

  45. ischemgeek says

    @45 – To clarify my opening paragraph of my previous comment(why writing before morning coffee is a bad idea, I just realized that it could come off the wrong way) – I take no issue with Mallorie saying “I had a great time, so don’t change for me.” That’s fine. Wonderful, even. I – and, I think, most people who took issue with her letter – take issue with the fact that she then went on to say all the other things that are pretty much the source of the shitstorm. “Don’t change for anyone,” “silly assholes,” etc.

  46. Dunc says

    The internet is, as a whole, a far cruder and crasser place than real life, owing largely to anonymity and the Greater Interent Fuckwad Theory.

    Also, the higher proportion of teenagers with autistic spectrum disorders amongst the active participants… A lot of the problems I see seem to arise from people being unable to imagine that people might not be talking about them, and a profound inability to grasp nuance in social interactions. Hence the repeated demands for precise rules-based systems for social interaction and the frequent recourse to argument via dictionary definitions and etymology.

  47. says

    we have experienced by my estimation a significant amount more pushback than most other communities built around other topics, against the very idea that people shouldn’t use sexist slurs at women, or treat women like they’re just there as dating pool material, because either of those are likely to result in women who might otherwise participate bleeding away from our communities.

    I disagree, for the most part. In fact, with the possible exception of sexist slurs (more on this in a second), my experience has been that this “communities” is a helluva lot less tolerant towards casual misogyny than others I have experienced online. Like, significantly so.

    I mentioned the one possible exception is sexist slurs, but that I think has to do with rationalists’ rejection of linguistic taboos and some confusion about what that entails. The vast majority of other online communities I have dabbled in, you just can’t swear. If you can’t say “fuck”, of course you can’t say “cunt”. It’s not that the slurs are discouraged/banned because they are sexist, they are banned because they are perceived as swear words.

    Around here we pride ourselves on saying whatever the fuck we fucking want, and most of us wouldn’t have it any other way. And this is even true, and in a very positive way most of the time, when it comes to sexist/racist slurs: This “communities” tends not to have serious difficulties with the use/mention distinction, so I can talk about words like ‘cunt’ or even ‘nigger’ without having to splatter my prose with asterisks or use schoolyard expressions like “the N word”.

    I think that explains why there is a surprising and unusual amount of pushback in this “communities” against avoiding sexist slurs: Other communities which even nominally ask people to be “nice” to each other tend to ban swearing altogether, so there’s no amibiguity. Around here, we understand that the idea that civility and profanity are mutually exclusive is bullshit.

    But that also means we ask people to have a deeper understanding of why sexist slurs are inappropriate. They aren’t just banned words; they are to be avoided for a reason. That’s more challenging than other communities where they are either avoided “just because”, or else they are simply not avoided.

    In regards to just about every other measure of feminist awareness, etc., however, I feel like this “communities” is a lot more sensitive than most online ones. (Which shows how far we have to go, eh?) Just my experience, though…

  48. says

    Maybe another way of saying what I said in the last paragraph of my previous comment…. I feel like in other online communities I have participated in, there is no pushback against requests to make women feel more welcome because there are no such requests to begin with.

    At a homebrewing forum I participated in, despite there being a handful of high-profile long-term female contributors, not a second thought is given to characterizing wives as nagging homemakers, to making sexist jokes, etc. None of it seems to be meant maliciously, but there is also no apparent worry about what kind of cumulative effect it might have. The idea is just not even considered.

    On the other hand, nobody calls anybody a “cunt” over there, cuz it would get you banned in about two seconds flat. But that has nothing to do with sexism; they just don’t tolerate profanity.

  49. John Greg says

    There seems to be a fairly comprehensive misunderstanding here. Perhaps it is my fault. To wit:

    1. I do not condone, encourage, or proselytize the use of racial or sexual slurs, or any other particularily hostile language or diction choice.

    2. I do condone, encourage, and proselytize the right to use such language, if it seems useful and effective.

    That does not mean that I like hostile diction choices; it means I condemn the politically correct and ultimately conservative social control inherent in forcefully constraining diction choices. Censorhip and its inherent thought-crime ideology is not the answer to improving communication; education is.

    Ironically, I am in agreement with Daniel Loxton and Barb Drescher (and in disagreement with PeeZus) on the benefits of constructive, polite, non-confrontational communication.

    And, while I think Phil Plaitt expresses some hypocritical or at least self-contradictory thoughts on the matter, I tend to feel that non-confrontational communication, at least in the sense of not using hotile hateful language is almost always the way to go.

    Keep in mind that non-confrontatioal does not mean non-dissenting, non-disagreement, or uncritical dialogue and debate.

    There is a difference between condoning the right to use such language, and condoning the actual use of such language. That is quite clearly one of the sub-themes at work in Orwell’s 1984. Perhaps some folks cannot see and/or understand that distinction. I know Ophelia thinks that my position is disingenuous, but I think Ophelia is struggling with a false dichotomy.

  50. John Greg says

    Some relevant quotes:

    “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

    Incorrectly attributed to Voltaire, it was actually stated by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, written under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre in her 1906 biographical book The Friends of Voltaire.

    Supposedly, Voltaire actually said:

    “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.”

    linky: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voltaire)

  51. says

    The right to say something is not the same thing as the right to have it published everywhere. If we had that kind of right, I’d be explaining a few things to a few publishing houses right about now.

    Also, you haven’t answered my question at #38. We’ll see that answer when?

  52. says

    The right to say something is also not the same as the right to face no consequences for saying those things. People have the right to say the sorts of things that make them look like misogynistic asshats. And everyone else has the right to think that they are, in fact, misogynistic asshats, and to treat them accordingly.

    Social discouragement of certain kinds of speech in various contexts is not an abridgement of free expression rights. It is an exercise of those free expression rights.

  53. John Greg says

    Stephanie Zvan, if you are referring to this::

    “‘For critical thinkers and skeptics, anecdotal discussion, when presented as evidence, needs to be critically questioned; approached with a healthy degree of skepticism. And in my opinion, all of that applies whether or not the anecdote originates from a man or a woman.’

    “And you’ve done this where for people who are arguing that sexism isn’t a problem in the atheist and skeptic communities?”

    Your question as it stands doesn’t really make sense. Approaching anecdote skeptically and using critical thought is something we do as individuals; it’s not something we do for someone else.

    For example, if I read some anecdote regarding something going on the skeptic community, I try to approach it using critical thinking and skepticism; I try to determine if there are gaps in logic, plausibility, sensibility, and so on. I try to avoid making any automatic assumptions one way or the other about the range of its veracity until I have examined and tried to find, if possible, corroborating evidence and/or additional anecdote.

    In my opinion some of the anecdotes I have read over the last couple of years, on the various sides of the argument, appear to me to be somewhat apocryphal. Lacking any proof, one way or the other, I can do nothing but hold reservations about them, and where it might seem appropriate, ask for some kind of external support for the anecdote.

    Does that answer your question?

  54. John Greg says

    Tom Foss said:

    “People have the right to say the sorts of things that make them look like misogynistic asshats. And everyone else has the right to think that they are, in fact, misogynistic asshats, and to treat them accordingly.”

    Certainly. Doesn’t mean they are correct in their assumptions though.

    “Social discouragement of certain kinds of speech in various contexts is not an abridgement of free expression rights. It is an exercise of those free expression rights.”

    You used the critical phrase, “social discouragement”. Editing (for example, disemvowlling), deleting, and banning is not “social discouragement”, it is constraint and curtailing of an individual’s free expression rights.

    And only in Newspeak can editing and deleting someone else’s posts, and banning, be termed an “exercise of those free expression rights”. That is nonsense.

  55. says

    A question then, John Greg. If you were in a pub, and you were thrown out by a bouncer for harassing other patrons verbally, is the bouncer (or owner) guilty of abridging your freedom of speech? Would you be within your rights to sue him or her for violation of your First Amendment rights?

    Blogs are private property that are open to the public. They are communities in which the community sets the rules for membership. Kicking you out of our club, or even deleting or disemvoweling your posts before doing so, does not keep you from standing outside hurling epithets to the people within. As evidenced by your own various communities’ slurs against Freethought Blogs and their bloggers.

  56. says

    Certainly. Doesn’t mean they are correct in their assumptions though.

    It’s not an “assumption” to judge someone based on the words they use and actions they take. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then either it’s a duck or doesn’t care too much if it gets mistaken for one.

    You used the critical phrase, “social discouragement”. Editing (for example, disemvowlling), deleting, and banning is not “social discouragement”, it is constraint and curtailing of an individual’s free expression rights.

    No, it is not. You are confusing governments with privately-maintained blogs and other spaces. Bloggers have every right to regulate what sort of speech and conduct is acceptable in their private spaces, forums, comment threads, and so forth. You have the right to express yourself; you are not guaranteed the right to a platform to publish and promote said expression. You are most certainly not guaranteed the free and unfettered use of someone else’s platform.

    By “social discouragement,” I was referring to the way that communities (whether actual physical ones or commenting/blog communities) can exert pressure on others in the community through disagreement, criticism, and even shunning.

    And only in Newspeak can editing and deleting someone else’s posts, and banning, be termed an “exercise of those free expression rights”. That is nonsense.

    I agree. Editing and deleting someone else’s posts is, in fact, the exercise of one’s right to property–specifically, one’s right to control what kind of content appears on one’s own private blog/forum/etc. Newspapers (for instance) are under no obligation to publish every letter they receive, nor are they under any obligation to publish anything unedited. Blogs and message boards are no different. Again, you are not guaranteed a platform for your expression, nor does your right to free expression trump someone else’s sovereignty over their own property.

  57. says

    The two passages together diminish and dismiss every instance of women being subjected to slurs or being treated as though they are only welcome in the community as long as they are attractive and put out to strangers.

    I think your conclusion that her words “diminish and dismiss” other women’s experience diminishes and dismisses the experiences of women who have experienced said acts and do not take offense to them, which —I believe— is the gist of Mallorie’s letter to begin with: That she does not recognize as sexism many of the claims of sexism made by feminists in blogs such as this one. I think it’s intellectually dishonest and unfair to call her disagreeing with the idea that these behaviors are sexist a dismissal of other women’s personal take on similar experiences.

    Further, I find it incredibly convenient that anecdotal evidence is protected from scrutiny —“How dare you question/dismiss/disregard this woman’s experiences?!”— if it perpetuates the feminist myth of the great misogynist agenda, yet is proportionately vilified, dismissed and gets the crap straw-maned out of it —“Your experience is your own and not representative of what ‘we all know to be true’.” or “You’re just one of the lucky few. Count your blessings.” or “You’re just suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. We all know what you’re really going through even if you are incapable of recognizing it.”— if the experiences do not fit in with the narrow definition of the modern woman’s experience according to feminism. In both instances, women are talking about their own personal experience and have nothing more than their own recollection of the event(s) to back them up, which invariably brings me to a more important point (one I alluded to above): Perhaps these women both had the exact same experience —say, for example, a man hit on each one of them uninvited, with equal directness, in an environment removed from other people— yet one experiences discomfort while the other does not. They each are at liberty to respond accordingly. Watson, for example, told the guy in the elevator “No”, whilst other women may have said “Yes”. Both are equally valid responses.

    Yet for some reason what happens after the event is evaluated differently in each case. When Watson goes on to tell men “um, don’t do that” and a battalion of feminists calls it “predatory tactics” (speaking on behalf of women in general, as they are telling men never to do that to anyone) you think it’s OK. If, on the other hand, a different woman —the one who does not take offense to such an approach— says “I think it was fine” and other people agree with her calling it anything but predatory —as is the case in Mallorie’s letter— (characterized by you as “diminishing and dismissing” of other women’s experiences) you think that is not OK. The only distinction I can observe —and I do beg that you shine a light on this if I’m wrong— is that Watson’s take-away from the experience and long-term response is aligned with your worldview of an ever-present misogynist agenda that needs to be eradicated, while Mallorie’s celebration of this behavior does not bode well in your view. And if this is the case, how is your feminism anything but the selective application of your moral values, which —while valid as a personal set of social ideals— are far removed from anything even remotely resembling skeptic thought.

    If isolated claims of sexism inside a community are enough “evidence” to make bigger claims of there being “a sexist trend” within that community, then logically isolated claims of equity inside a community are enough “evidence” to make bigger claims of there not being “a sexist trend” within that community. Both arguments are absurd, but feminists claim otherwise, and questioning this is a surefire way see how utterly anti-skeptical feminists are. Take Emil Karlsson’s participation in this comment thread, for example, where an argument in which he proposes that one would need to carry out a study to find out whether in fact sexism is a trend within the skeptic community disproportionate with its existence in society at large is met with, essentially, “we don’t need studies, we know it’s happening and that’s the end of that”. His arguments are dismissed as “straw-skeptic talk” at one point. I shit you not.

    Feminism is not skeptical. It is political and values-driven. That doesn’t make it bad (its politics and values themselves are what make it bad, in my opinion), but it does make it completely unrelated to skepticism, and people who subscribe to an ideology that requires such an utter rejection of logical thought and skeptical inquiry are being dishonest with themselves when they think of themselves as skeptics.

  58. says

    Alfonso: your reading of Mallorie’s letter comports very little with what she actually said in that linked discussion.

    Everything else is an antifeminist screed. I am skeptical that you have any idea what feminism is, in fact. Does that mean I win at Who’s The Better Skeptic?

  59. John Greg says

    Jason said:

    “A question then, John Greg. If you were in a pub, and you were thrown out by a bouncer for harassing other patrons verbally, is the bouncer (or owner) guilty of abridging your freedom of speech?”

    Fair question I suppose. But don’t you think degree of harrassment is important before sentence is cast? Harrassment could be any number of things from some silly old harmless drunk throwing soggy hankies at passing patrons while hissing mild insults, to someone waving daggers around and threatening the room. Degree is fundamental.

    “Would you be within your rights to sue him or her for violation of your First Amendment rights?”

    Aside from the fact that I am Canadian and know almost nothing about American legislation, I would say that once again degree should determine the level of right and/or wrong for all parties involved.

    Jason, I am not trying to be evasive here. I just think that your questions present a scenario that is just too short of specifics to be treated comprehensively.

    And let’s look at the blogs that I have been banished from. In all instances of those blogs (except Butterflies and Wheels, where Ophelia banned me before I even posted), I received far harsher insults and denigrations, i.e., harrassment, than I ever gave, ranging from “fuck off”, to “I’d like to run my skateboard over your stupid face” to “let me introduce you anally to a dead porcupine”, “you’re too stupid to breathe and I wish you wouldn’t”, and several other similar tangetial rape and death threats to the gleeful support of all those who do not like my point of view, and nary a word, nay, not a hint of chastisement of any kind from the blog hosts, let alone editing, deletion, or banishment.

    “Blogs are private property that are open to the public. They are communities in which the community sets the rules for membership.”

    Yes, but surely you would agree that consistency is important, wouldn’t you? For example, I was banned before even posting at Butterflies and Wheels for using a silly, harmless, juvenile infix nickname for Myers, and yet julian posts actual death threats, and frequent “fuck off”s, and other such sweet encomiums and gets a wee slap on the wrist. Where is the consistency in levels of harrassment leading to banishment? Where is the honest rationale?

    It is not so much that I get pissed off at the various rules that bring in censorship and banning (though I find any form of editing someone else’s posts to be nothing short of deep intellectual dishonesty and most foul), it is that they are arbitrary and ever-changing to suit the blog owner’s like or dislike of the particular posters — they rarely seem to stick true to stated principle.

  60. says

    it is that they are arbitrary and ever-changing to suit the blog owner’s like or dislike of the particular posters — they rarely seem to stick true to stated principle.

    Even if we’re to accept this as something other than sour grapes, so what? Again, their property, their prerogative. If your use of certain (in your opinion harmless) terminology brands you as a potential troll who just wants to stir things up, then they’re well within their rights to determine that you’re not worth the potential hassle. You can always appeal–I imagine that there are e-mail links for all the aforementioned bloggers–but it’s their blog, and their right to apply rules however consistently or inconsistently as they choose.

    I would, however, recommend checking out blogs’ comment policies. In many of the linguistically liberal FreethoughtBlogs, potentially offensive language is often not a qualification for banning. Take a look at PZ’s comment policy, for instance, where bannable offenses include things like trolling and sockpuppetry, not insults or foul language. You may not like it, but then, you don’t get to make the rules. If you have a problem with that, start your own blog.

  61. ischemgeek says

    @Alphonso – a lot of the situations that you’re implying are purely anecdotal actually have supporting evidence. Watson has screenshots of some of the threats she’s encountered when she writes about sexism. There’s a whole thread of rape jokes and other sexist comments and jokes (like the one about how women vs men take pictures of things) directed at that kid on Reddit. And so on.

    Sure, the plural of anecdote is not data, but when anecdote in the form of eyewitness testimony is paired with supporting evidence, it can become credible enough to result in criminal conviction. When anecdote in the form of chemists describing what they did in the lab is paired with supporting evidence in the form of spectroscopy, elemental analysis, and thermogravimetric analysis, it becomes credible enough to change the scientific landscape a bit (especially when that anecdote is followed by anecdotes from other chemists in other groups who have the same experience).

    So, I ask you: How much supporting info, and of what type, would it take for you to admit there’s a problem? I’m sure that we could find it for you… just set out your standard now, and promise not to move the goalpost when we meet it.

  62. SallyStrange, FemBrain in a FemBadge (Bigger on the Inside!) says

    Feminism isn’t skeptical? There are parts of feminism that aren’t skeptical but by and large it’s driven by data and research.

    I find that people who write things like that tend to be of the mind that the null hypothesis regarding sexism is that it doesn’t exist.

    Any rational person should be able to take a quick look at global data regarding women’s educational attainment, economic opportunities, economic power, access to equal protection under the law, reproductive rights, risk of experiencing gendered violence and sexual assault, and quickly realize that the null hypothesis is that sexism exists. And it would be the rare and special community where sexism is not an issue.

  63. codelette says

    Feminism isn’t skeptical. It’s driven by politics; which is in essence driven by personal views of social/religious morality. Saying that feminism is skeptical is akin to saying that: socialism, libertarianism, communism or capitalism is skeptical. Skepticism is about finding the answer to a question based on undeniable evidence (even if the answer shakes our moral values to the core). As I mentioned on another thread, anecdote does not facts make.

  64. Matt Penfold says

    Feminism isn’t skeptical. It’s driven by politics; which is in essence driven by personal views of social/religious morality. Saying that feminism is skeptical is akin to saying that: socialism, libertarianism, communism or capitalism is skeptical. Skepticism is about finding the answer to a question based on undeniable evidence (even if the answer shakes our moral values to the core). As I mentioned on another thread, anecdote does not facts make.

    So what about all that data that shows women earn less than men, even after allowing for factors such as career breaks to have children, or the data that shows women still do more housework than men even if both partners are working full-time ?

    Is that data just made up ?

  65. Matt Penfold says

    Feminism is at its core the idea that men and women deserve equal treatment. I suppose someone could be a sceptic and disagree with that idea, but they would be a piss-poor person as a result, and not one I would want to have anything to do with.

  66. julian says

    Saying that feminism is skeptical is akin to saying that: socialism, libertarianism, communism or capitalism is skeptical.

    You can’t be skeptical about politics? Huh. Who’d have thought the place where your decision making ability has the biggest potential impact on yourself and others is one of the places you can’t use skeptical thinking.

    Snark aside, feminism requires us to be skeptical about ourselves and potential biases we may not be aware of. It asks us to examine the culture we live in, the organizations we support, our habits, our actions and decisions, honestly it’s as skeptical as you can get.

    Provided, of course, you have some grounding but the same is true of any personal philosophy. Take skepticism to far you convince yourself everyone around is merely a projection of your mind onto the nonexistent world.

    Skepticism is about finding the answer to a question based on undeniable evidence

    Is it? I’ve always considered skepticism to essentially be approaching every subject critically and with an open mind.

  67. Matt Penfold says

    Is it? I’ve always considered skepticism to essentially be approaching every subject critically and with an open mind.

    Exactly. We can approach moral and ethical issues with a sceptical perspective, but does anyone, except maybe Sam Harris, really think that there are definitive answers to be obtained as to what is moral and ethical ?

  68. Pteryxx says

    Even so, it’s tangential to disregard these anecdotal reports in order to make the general claim that harassment isn’t happening. Sexual harassment targeted disproportionately at women is a real phenomenon, with real effects, substantiated by actual data. As in, data collected in observational and experimental studies.

    So, dismissing harassment as anecdotal is about as intellectually valid as dismissing vaccine effectiveness.

    Examples:

    http://www.physorg.com/news66401288.html

    A study by the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering found that chat room participants with female usernames received 25 times more threatening and/or sexually explicit private messages than those with male or ambiguous usernames.

    Quoting mouthyb:

    http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/apl/92/2/425/

    This one is behind a pay wall, but the summary states the following: “Study 1 included male and female college students (N = 175) and showed that women with relatively masculine personalities (e.g., assertive, dominant, and independent) experienced the most sexual harassment. Study 2 (N = 134) showed that this effect was not because women with relatively masculine personalities were more likely than others to negatively evaluate potentially harassing scenarios. Study 3 included male and female employees at 5 organizations (N = 238) and showed that women in male-dominated organizations were harassed more than women in female-dominated organizations, and that women in male-dominated organizations who had relatively masculine personalities were sexually harassed the most.” Women in the three studies who were outspoken were disproportionately subjected to sexual harassment, because they spoke up. (These were college students.)

    Here’s the text of the study: http://www.scribd.com/doc/55650053/The-sexual-harassment-of-uppity-women

    You know what really made the situation worse for the women being studied? Being outspoken about being harassed or poorly treated, even in workplace or academic situations about topics which were not harassment. Any sort of assertive behavior from women was enough.

    I’m going to keep looking, but there’s no dearth of science which supports women’s need to be wary of strange men, and the large scale of the problem of violating consent and personal autonomy.

    http://news.yahoo.com/survey-sexual-harassment-pervasive-grades-7-12-050245126.html

    During the 2010-11 school year, 48 percent of students in grades 7-12 experienced some form of sexual harassment in person or electronically via texting, email and social media, according to a major national survey being released Monday by the American Association of University Women.

    The harassers often thought they were being funny, but the consequences for their targets can be wrenching, according to the survey. Nearly a third of the victims said the harassment made them feel sick to their stomach, affected their study habits or fueled reluctance to go to school at all. [...]

    From the actual report: http://www.aauw.org/learn/research/upload/CrossingTheLine.pdf

    Girls were more likely than boys to be sexually harassed, by a significant margin (56 percent versus 40 percent). Girls were more likely than boys to be sexually harassed both in person (52 percent versus 35 percent) and via
    text, e-mail, Facebook, or other electronic means (36
    percent versus 24 percent). This finding confirms previous
    research showing that girls are sexually harassed more
    frequently than boys (Sagrestano, 2009; Ormerod et al.,
    2008; AAUW, 2001) and that girls’ experiences tend to be
    more physical and intrusive than boys’ experiences (Hand
    & Sanchez, 2000). Being called gay or lesbian in a negative
    way is sexual harassment that girls and boys reported
    in equal numbers (18 percent of students).

    And finally, this is a slightly dated but comprehensive list of references documenting chilly climate: http://dynamic.uoregon.edu/~jjf/chillyclimate.html

    Gender bias and discrimination against women in academia take many forms, from overt sexual harassment to the much more ubiquitous and insidious problem of subtle and unconscious sexism impacting daily life, work distribution, student evaluations, and promotion and hiring decisions. This confluence of problems has been called the problem of the “chilly climate.”

    One error people make is assuming that gender bias and discrimination require a conscious sexist ideology or a conscious attempt to discriminate against women. In fact, however, psychological science has overwhelmingly demonstrated that sexist behaviors, gender bias, and discrimination can and do occur without these conscious beliefs or attempts to discriminate.

    A second error people often make is believing that discrimination is “out there” but not “here” — that is, that gender bias is in other environments than one’s very own department or university. It is very hard to discern gender bias in individual cases, while in aggregate analyses that it is operating may be an unavoidable conclusion.

    A third error is the belief that bias, though present, is negligible in effect. The problem with this is that a large number of nearly negligible effects all working in the same direction can easily cumulate to very significant aggregate discrimination.

    It is thus important to ask whether the bias occurs, despite one’s own beliefs that it is not occurring or that no one intends for it to be occurring. Although many systematic studies have demonstrated the empirical reality of the phenomena underlying the chilly climate, much of this research remains outside of mainstream awareness. For instance, although many studies have documented biases in student evaluations, only rarely do promotion committees explicitly take this fact into consideration. [emphasis mine]

    This page contains our selected references primarily to published empirical studies about chilly climate or related phenomena for women faculty. Our hope is that this resource will be useful and educative to students, faculty, and administrators.

    There are also research references linked from Ouellette’s “Is it cold in here” essay, which any of y’all could have pursued, if you weren’t going into intellectual anaphylactic shock from the mere mention of Watson’s name.

  69. Irene Delse says

    The contention that “feminism isn’t sceptical” reminds me of religious people claiming that you can’t question the validity of their dogma because it would be against the freedom of religion…

    But when religion makes factual claims (i.e., the age of the Earth, or prayer as cure for illness), sceptics don’t hesitate to examine them! Because everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not to their own facts. It shouldn’t come as a surprise when feminists question the validity of some long-established social demarcations between men and women that many people still think come from “natural” differences.

    I’ve recently come across an example of how feminist studies can inform scepticism:

    http://pandagon.net/index.php/site/comments/book_review_sybil_exposed

    Very interesting read.

  70. baal says

    john greg posted

    “The problem here is….” (Truncated for space.)

    I suppose this is irony. Mr. Greg has so many long posts that I can only assume he’s on a crusade to have every post he’s read devolve into an orbit around him.

    fwiw; Feminism has tremendous baggage. I agree with it as a theory and in many applications but (now hearing Greta Christina bells ringing in my head) my mother-in-law; a former apartment mate (grad student in women’s studies); and a member of a swim team were all ‘vocal feminists.’ And despite agreeing with them 95%+ of the time, their endlessness, repetition and some % “all men” characterizations led me to ask them to moderate their speech around me.

  71. says

    Alfonso: your reading of Mallorie’s letter comports very little with what she actually said in that linked discussion.
    Everything else is an antifeminist screed. I am skeptical that you have any idea what feminism is, in fact. Does that mean I win at Who’s The Better Skeptic?

    Jason: Your reading of my comment comports very little with what I actually pointed out in my comment.

    If you define skeptic as ‘skimming over a comment, barely reading a reference, misunderstanding the relation of said reference to the argument, dismissing the entire thing as a mere screed, and making not a single attempt to counter any of the points brought forth in the comment’, then yes: You’ve won at Who’s the Better “Skeptic”.

    Your snark is par for the course in any discussion involving feminism, and the intellectual laziness of your response illustrates the point I was trying to make. I appreciate the assist! *high-five*

  72. says

    @Alphonso – a lot of the situations that you’re implying are purely anecdotal actually have supporting evidence. Watson has screenshots of some of the threats she’s encountered when she writes about sexism. There’s a whole thread of rape jokes and other sexist comments and jokes (like the one about how women vs men take pictures of things) directed at that kid on Reddit. And so on.

    Sure, the plural of anecdote is not data, but when anecdote in the form of eyewitness testimony is paired with supporting evidence, it can become credible enough to result in criminal conviction. When anecdote in the form of chemists describing what they did in the lab is paired with supporting evidence in the form of spectroscopy, elemental analysis, and thermogravimetric analysis, it becomes credible enough to change the scientific landscape a bit (especially when that anecdote is followed by anecdotes from other chemists in other groups who have the same experience).

    So, I ask you: How much supporting info, and of what type, would it take for you to admit there’s a problem? I’m sure that we could find it for you… just set out your standard now, and promise not to move the goalpost when we meet it.

    The only situation I’ve described as anecdotal is Watson’s elevator event. Your lazy use of “a lot of” is a classic example of a straw man, as you’re arguing a point I never made. You’ve also chosen to ignore the main point of my comment, which is that two different women may interpret —and react to— the same event in completely opposite ways, and who are we to tell someone like Mallorie that her interpretation of what some people call sexism is wrong by suggesting her experiences —along with how she lets those experiences affect her— may be the product of her having “got some sort of Stockholm Syndrome”?

    For those two reasons alone it would be unrealistic of me to expect you to come up with any kind of accurate, relevant data that doesn’t rely heavily on emotional arguments, logical fallacies, and ideological predispositions. So I’ll kindly decline the offer. Thanks, though.

  73. says

    John Greg, your full response is right here. Having written all of that, either start talking about the topic at hand here instead of whatever your concerns are about free speech, move your concerns to that thread where you will get a fuller hearing on them, or find someplace else to talk where you’re not pissing off the blog owner. My pub, my rules.

    Alfonso, likewise. You are on a discussion about whether absolutes are always to be taken literally. You are discussing side concerns, and I would be much happier answering them on the Mallorie Nasrallah thread where you can tell Mallorie that what she said in the comments and where she and I agreed, she was actually wrong. You know damn well that the “Stockholm syndrome” reference was talking specifically about the possibility of a woman needing to be told she’s a cunt in order to engage in mating habits; your suggestion that I’m saying her experience is invalid because I know better than her is a strawman and not borne out by any of the facts in that thread.

    Either take your argument there, where everyone’s still talking about it, or get kicked out of the pub.

  74. says

    Trying to wrap my brain around how John Greg can characterize

    The corollary fact that any one woman, like Mallorie, does not feel like they’re being disrespected in any way is a data point in favor of our fight, not against it. If they are not exposed to blatant misogyny in our community, it is because we have collectively declared as a community that that blatant misogyny is universally wrong, and we fight against it when we see it.

    as

    dismiss and belittle any women who disagree with your rhetoric and ideology

    Or is this another case of him participating in the conversation he wants it to be instead of the one it is?

  75. says

    Jason: You act as if I brought the subject out of the blue. Your post pointed out specific passages of Mallorie’s letter, which you then characterized —again: in this post— in a manner I do not agree with. It stands to reason that I address what I disagree with right here, rather than comment on a post where you didn’t make the specific comments I’m referring to. You’re really reaching here: “I’m not addressing your comment about this post because you’re making them on this post. If you had commented your arguments about this post on that other post, then we’d be good.” Really?

    You know that I’m not looking to discuss your “Stockholm Syndrome” bit, but merely used it as a reference for ischemgeek, to illustrate my point about how two women’s opinions are valued in completely different ways seemingly based only on how their conclusions fall in —or out of— line with your feminist dogma. My point is still the same point I first brought to the table on this thread, which is relevant to the words in this post: that the criteria you use in this post to characterize Mallorie’s words as “diminishing” and “dismissing” is, to me, disingenuous and intellectually lazy.

    Yet, while discussing it on this comment thread is far from irrelevant, I do understand how it may inconvenience you. However, given the penchant you —ever the feminist— have displayed for snark and evasive pseudo-answers, you give me little incentive to repeat myself on that other thread comment thread. So, whatever. I suppose the mistake was mine, for setting my expectations to high for skeptical discussion with a self-proclaimed skeptic.

  76. aspidoscelis says

    I just came across this discussion, so I’m late to the party. However, it’s gotten me thinking further about various things that have been wandering through my mind, so I’ll give my $.02 (whether you want it or not):

    I don’t think the basic issue is one of rough generalizations being misinterpreted as universals, although that’s certainly part of it. I think the tendency of recent discussions of sexism in the atheist community to become controversial boils down to three factors:

    1. The illusion of transparency (brief definition from wikipedia for convenience: “a tendency for people to overestimate the degree to which their personal mental state is known by others”).
    2. The illusion of asymmetric insight (“people perceive their knowledge of others to surpass other people’s knowledge of themselves”).
    3. In-group–out-group bias (“a preference and affinity for one’s in-group over the out-group, or anyone viewed as outside the in-group”).

    I think works something like this:

    Person X says A, with intended meaning A’.
    Person Y interprets A with meaning A”.
    Due to the illusion of transparency, X believes the intended meaning A’ was absolutely obvious and could not honestly have been misunderstood by Y, and says so.
    Due to the illusion of asymmetric insight, Y believes that meaning A” was absolutely obvious; hence Y says that X is being deliberately misleading about X’s intent.
    X continues to try to clarify X’s intended meaning, but since both parties now believe the other to be acting in bad faith the discussion is soured and clarification is unlikely to be effective.

    Or, a more complicated situation with group dynamics in play. Suppose X and Y are perceived to be members of different groups (let’s call them GX and GY), and that A’ is a charitable reading of A, and A” is an uncharitable interpretation. Others (J, K) are discussing a disagreement between X and Y.

    X says A.
    J believes X meant A’.
    K believes X meant A”.
    The two proceed to argue as to which is the appropriate interpretation.
    Because J adopts interpretation A’, K believes J to be a member of GX.
    Likewise, because K adopts interpretation A”, J believes K to be a member of GY.
    Due to in-group–out-group bias combined with illusions of transparency and asymmetric bias, we might expect the following kind of outcome:
    J interprets anything said by K both in an uncharitable fashion, and as a reflection on or result of the characteristics of GY, and likewise for K’s interpretation of J.
    This dynamic is self-reinforcing; whenever J interprets a statement by K uncharitably, it reinforces J’s belief that K is both a member of GY and that statements made by K or others perceived to be members of GY should be interpreted uncharitably (after all, J believes that K is a member of group GY and just said some horrible thing–so both K and by extension other members of GY are assholes and liable to continue saying horrible things). Likewise for K’s perceptions of J.
    For further confusion, suppose that K does not agree with either J’s assessment of K’s group membership, or with J’s characterization of GY; K attempts to clarify this to J.
    J interprets this, of course, as a steaming pile of lies; K is either trying to deny an undesirable association with bad people, or trying to whitewash GY.
    Obviously, neither J nor K convinces the other, and both leave the discussion thinking very poorly of the other… and, moreover, perceptions of group identity and poor opinion of the out-group are both liable to be reinforced.

    One of my suspicions here is that in-group–out-group bias is liable to result in the illusion of transparency and the illusion of asymmetric bias being extended to all members of the in-group and out-group, respectively; e.g., if J self-identifies as a member of group GX, J will consider X’s intended A’ to be perfectly obvious in the same way that J would consider J’s own intent to be perfectly obvious.

    In this light, we might look at something like comment 4 from Tom Foss:

    When Rebecca Watson said “Reddit makes me hate atheists,” some read it as “Reddit makes me hate ALL atheists,” which explicitly was not the intent, purpose, point, or even an accurate representation of her feelings. Arguing against the statement as if it were a universal was an exercise in missing the point.

    First, I agree with Tom Foss about Rebecca Watson’s intent. Second, I think I can understand why others do not. You just have to assume that they perceive Rebecca to be a member of an out-group, perceive members of their own in-group to have transparently non-malign intent, and believe themselves to understand Rebecca’s “real” intent perfectly. Voilá, uncharitable interpretation of Rebecca’s statement. The fact that her statement is particularly amenable to a specific form of misinterpretation (taking it to be a universal when it was not intended as such) may be, so to speak, the spark but not the fuel in the ensuing conflagration.

    And a couple more comments–all of this is speculation on my part. I don’t know a great deal about cognitive biases (if anyone happens to actually read this and have suggestions for literature to read on the topic, I would appreciate it), but they seem to fit so neatly as an explanation that it’s difficult for me to resist them. So, basically, take all this as a guess on my part that I know full well is just a guess. My further speculation is that knowing about these biases is not itself any kind of guard against them, and may in fact make them worse. For instance, it’s awfully tempting to think to yourself, “Ah, he’s saying that because he’s being deluded by the illusion of asymmetric bias.”–which of course means that being aware of the illusion may strengthen your belief that you are better able to interpret others than they themselves are! Which is to say, I’m not sure what would actually solve the problem.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] There’s a line that is apparently crossable where the calculus flips from never-acceptable to acceptable-this-once to out someone and remove the shield of pseudonymity behind which some trolls attack some public figures. Posting an address obtained from a previous target’s investigations of a serial harasser is not a politically smart move in an atmosphere where there are two parallel universes going on where one of them thinks anything done to their side is horrible but anything they do to you is acceptable. And this is knowing that so-called “universals” are NEVER such. [...]

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