When posts about gender go pear shaped

Yesterday I allowed Sharon Moss and Lyz Liddell to do a guest post on my blog. I rarely let people do guest posts, but I trust both of them immensely and have a great personal interest in making women feel more welcome in the atheist community, so their post seemed appropriate. They even waited a week before writing it, so they had plenty of time to think about their opinions and reduce a reactionary response. And while the comments have erupted into what I can safely call a clusterfuck, I’m here to stand by my decision to let that post go up.

I watched Sean’s video. I have my opinions about his whole talk, and specifically about the Million Dollar Challenge as an evolutionary biologist and a feminist. I also have some thoughts on the whole “female vs woman” terminology debate. I’ll likely expand on these later, because they’re important topics (and as a blogger I’m compelled to give my opinions) but I want to focus on a different set of objections in this post*.

All voices must be heard, not just the ones supporting popular opinion.

Sharon and Lyz felt uncomfortable and unwelcome thanks to certain things that happened at the conference. That was how they personally felt. While I understand concerns that purposeful misrepresentation happened – something I do not support – I know Sharon and Lyz had nothing of the sort in mind. Others may just have been personally fine with the comments, and thus saw it as a misrepresentation. But if we want to make groups more welcoming, we have to worry about the people we’re upsetting, not the people who already agree with us.

Frankly, the reaction to that post disappoints me more than whatever happened at the conference. It really illustrates how most of the secular community has no clue how to react tactfully to criticisms about diversity. To start on a positive note, what should be done when a woman says they were made uncomfortable by a situation?

  • Politely state that your original intention was never to cause offense or make someone feel unwelcome. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think all atheists are sexist assholes.
  • Apologize for the problem. You may not have intentionally done anything wrong, but this is the diplomatic thing to do.
  • Foster further discussion. Ask what in particular made them feel unwelcome. Ask them to expand on any points you didn’t understand. Ask for feedback on how you can avoid this situation in the future.
  • Realize people who point out sexism are not out to blame individuals or event organizers, or even the movement as a whole. It is merely to highlight a larger problem so we can work toward fixing it.

Sharon and Lyz have had correspondence with the Alabama state director of American Atheists, and apparently he is doing many of the things on my “good” list and resulting in very productive conversations. I have also been talking to Sean Faircloth. While his initial reaction frankly fell into issue #3 below, he has been very polite and interested in feedback and discussion since then, which I really appreciate and respect.

On the flip side, it doesn’t help to:

  • Automatically jump to conclusions that they’re feminazis with an agenda to slander individuals and organizations (especially when they also praise those individuals and organizations in the same post). And yes, the vast majority of the commenters went straight to this viewpoint. All avenues of rational discussion? Obliterated.
  • Claim they’re obviously wrong because you were there and you have a vagina and you weren’t offended. Good, I’m glad everyone in the room wasn’t upset… but women aren’t all the same, nor does being one mean you understand sexism or feminism. Newsflash: women can say sexist shit too. Hell, I do sometimes – no one is perfect.
  • Flaunt how women and/or feminists have previously supported you or your conference. Look, that’s great, but we’re talking about a single incident, not your whole past. Again, even the most anti-sexism humanists can screw up every once in a while. Don’t fall into the “But I have a black friend!” fallacy.
  • Belittle them by saying these issues are trivial. Is a poorly timed joke about “the weaker sex” as bad as issues like female genital mutilation? Of course not. But little things do matter, especially when added together. Those small remarks and uncomfortable gazes from the audience can add up to feeling like a second class citizen by the end of the day, especially in the context of other things going on in a woman’s life.
  • Encourage people on your side to drown out the opposition. One, the argument from popularity is a logical fallacy, folks. Two, the pure anger in these comments completely discourage other women who also had problems with the conference to speak up. Who wants to admit they were also offended when the result is being mocked, insulted, and told to shut up? (Key word: drown out. Feel free to disagree, but is the vitriol necessary?)
  • Use triggering terms that have been traditionally used to oppress women’s opinions – “irrational,” “hypersensitive,” “overreacting,” “humorless,” “hysterical” – especially without justification. If you think someone is being irrational, break down their logic and show their flaws. Resorting to these terms can cause many women to shut down discussion thanks to their history.

If a student who attended a Secular Student Alliance conference was deeply offended by what they considered a sexist statement in a talk, I’d take their concerns seriously, no matter how much I personally disagreed with them, because I want this movement to be welcoming. And if you can’t understand that, then you are part of the problem.

To the conference organizers and (unfortunately) few commenters who actually managed to behave tactfully in this whole situation, thank you and keep up the good work. Your concerns are going to make this movement more accepting in the years to come. To everyone else? While I don’t agree with it 100%, it would still help if you watched (or re-watched) Phil Plait’s Don’t Be A Dick talk. Just sayin’.

*I am going to consider any comments in this thread that debate the Million Dollar Challenge or “female vs woman” topics thread derailing, and both sides of the debate will be swiftly deleted. You have been warned.


  1. ethanol says

    Do all reactions of offense deserve serious consideration, or are some, objectively, too ridiculous deserve the time and effort to address? If the latter, how do we objectively determine which is which? Even if all cases of offense deserve some sort of response, how do we deal with cases where the offense has no rational basis? (think those religious for whom the existence of atheists is offensive). Not trying to flame here, I’m posing a genuine question.

  2. Scott Savage says

    “Sharon and Lyz have had correspondence with the Alabama state director of American Atheists, and apparently he is doing many of the things on my “good” list and resulting in very productive conversations. Thanks, Jen. It is nice to hear positive feedback.

  3. says

    Well said. As a woman who has been following this closely, I was hesitant to stick the proverbial oar in because of the outright vitriol that this issue has attracted. Surely that in and of itself is a symptom that perhaps status quo is NOT right?And I hate the term feminazi. Really, REALLY hate.

  4. Steven says

    I think all instances of people feeling offended should be looked at. Only after spending time trying to understand why the person is offended can any conclusion be made of whether or not it is ridiculous. And even if it is ridiculous, acknowledging that there was no intention to offend would be a good idea, even if an apology wasn’t warranted. Anna, I agree that feminazi is a pretty horrible term. I can’t take any person seriously about gender after I hear them say feminazi. And have a hard time taking them seriously about a lot of other things too.

  5. says

    I find that the best reaction to have when someone says that they are offended and you can think of no logical reason for the offense is to tell them that there was no offense meant and ask them why they feel that way. Keep it calm, keep it civil. If someone is offended mocking them or pretending that they aren’t offended just means that they now have something logical to be offended about. Respond to their points, but that doesn’t mean that you have to agree with them. (I’m assuming from your comment that before taking this tact you would already have listened to the complaint and considered it on the basis of your own experience prior to deciding to disagree with it). Disagreement is fine. Civility, respect (for at least the person, if not the idea) and class while being in disagreement is amazing!I think Ricky Gervais gives the absolute best reaction to unwarrented offense in this video: http://www.cnn.com/video/?/vid…But yeah, it is a terribly complicated matter to respond appropriately to people who are offended. It really, really isn’t easy. But that is the point, most things aren’t easy, they aren’t black and white… that is why so many people have differring views on everything…The main thing to watch out for is the automatic defensive reaction (everyone does it) that occurs when people are called out on having made (or having potentially made) a mistake. The first reaction is usually “no I didn’t”… either because you can’t see that you made a mistake OR because you are reacting to the fear of making a mistake (something that everyone I know has and is particularly strong when you are in the public forum). If you start with a phrase that is the equivalent of “mistake? I made no mistake!”, or with any form of ridicule (particularly personal) then it doesn’t matter how valid your following arguments are, your point is going to be lost on the person you are talking to because their emotional barriers are now up too. And then you spiral into defensive posturing where everyone becomes angry and noone comes away feeling like anything was accomplished (and usually both sides are amazed at the close mindedness of the other). People are terribly complicated and it is very difficult to successfully respectfully disagree with them let alone debate with them without one side or the other shutting down because they think the other person is totally against them personally but it is possible. And it is possible to actually change people’s opinions (and your own to) over time…

  6. says

    I’m going to take a slightly different tack on this one, which is that I think the atheist organizations are showing a lack of leadership skills, which is probably the sort of growing pains that are inevitable. Here’s maybe the problem: if you’re in charge of a group and you want the group to grow, you have to stow some of your personal stuff for the sake of the larger goal. For instance, I find that there are some women who have abrasive personalities and are oversensitive to perceived gender slights, who are basically looking to pick a fight all the time. They are sort of the flip-side of guys who will say intentionally offensive things because they’re eagerly looking to pull out their “political correctness gone mad” shtick. I’m sure no one from either group is reading this right now… :) My first instinct is to say “look lady, lighten the hell up already… and stop using ‘dude’ as an insult, you’re just being a boor.” And I can do that, because I’m Improbable Joe and I’m just some guy on the Internet, plus it entertains my wife to no end to see me get hostile towards people who need a reality/ego check. If you don’t like it, fine. If you agree with me, that’s cool too.On the other hand, none of that is nearly as cool and groovy if I’m President Joe of the American Atheist Army of America and someone is complaining about something they don’t agree with about the group. Now I’m representing a group, so my personal feelings need to take a backseat to more professional behavior. Plus I’m in a position of some limited power or authority, and it is an abuse of that position to put the weight of authority behind my personal views. If I do that sort of thing in front of a crowd of people, I’ve now nailed the asshole trifecta. Real leaders understand how to take criticism, especially when they disagree with it 100%. Good groups need good leaders to make things work reasonably well for everyone. If you want your group to stay small, make sure to only allow people who agree with you.So yeah, if you’re leading a discussion and someone stands up to complain about something they obviously feel strongly about, the last possible way to deal with it is to dismiss them out of hand. And since relatively low numbers of women at atheist gatherings seems to be a common and openly recognized problem, it would seem to be common sense to err on the side of caution and not offend the people you’re trying to convince to join your group. You don’t have to agree with someone to give their ideas a fair and respectful hearing, and you’re not losing anything important by avoiding stuff that might seem sexist. You can always be insulting and offensive on your own time… trust me, I know from experience.

  7. ethanol says

    Certainly an expression of your intention not to offend is warranted in almost all cases (unless you were trying to offend). And it might even help to ward off the cognitive-dissonance-induced spiral of increasing offense which you so accurately describe.

  8. says

    :((((( I thought the guest post was excellent, and I didn’t read the comments so I had no idea it had gone over so badly until now.

  9. vuvuzilla says

    I haven’t read the offending article yet – obviously I’ll have to, but what I did see was a heck of a lot of text and some very strongly-worded complaints about bad male behaviour.If that’s the sort of thing you’re running into, then damn but men are pigs. It’s not going to help accusing people of being feminazis and I’d just have to echo South Park in saying “I get it: I don’t get it”. On the other hand, if the discussion making you feel uncomfortable was about a sexist issue and the men in the audience just weren’t getting it then one can only hope that the discussion, as uncofortable as it might have been, did make a portion at least rethink their positions and actions.Sexism in a patriarchal society has the same issues as racism in a society dominated by a particular race – it’s tough to walk the line between equality and special rights when in trying to ensure the former you often wander into the latter.

  10. says

    Jen, hope you don’t get discouraged — more people support your perspective than the kind of reactions you described. Or at least most of the prominent skeptics and atheists I’m aware of are non-assholes when it comes to sexism. Keep up the good work!

  11. says

    Actually, I’m going to counter some of the statements Jen made, for a variety of reasons. I will be very specific in saying that I am not addressing any individual person or circumstance, but rather the recommended practices outlined in the OP.Having worked for both private non-profit and county-run organizations with contentious topics (animal welfare,) I can say there are very distinct cases where dissenting opinions can and should be disregarded. There is no way to make everyone happy, and organizational policies exist precisely so that individuals within are not forced to regard every complaint if it it had equal merit – that can become time-consuming and counter-productive.Some opinions are ill-informed, unfortunately. It can be extremely difficult to actually address this without offense or seeming to dismiss someone, and that requires a tact that can take some time to develop. But treating such opinions as if they had equal merit with others is also time-consuming, and sometimes communicates a message that it is more valid than you really find it. You run this gantlet between offending someone and encouraging them to waste your time. This is always your own call, but it should be weighed against what affect offense has, and how important your other work is. Since it’s impossible to please everyone, organizations often have no choice but to stay with majority opinion – what else can they do? So minority dissenters do indeed get the short end of the stick in such cases. However, if they can make a cogent argument in favor of a practice that should benefit the majority, even when the majority did not propose it themselves, it is perfectly reasonable to consider this. Matters of opinion can be seriously hard to handle, though.I agree that automatically jumping to conclusions is bad – in either direction. Failing to consider other conclusions is bad, too. The key is to remain objective, and as has been pointed out numerous times in the past, most especially to the possibilities you’d rather not entertain.And finally, a bit of advice (or personal opinion, dismiss it as you see fit) that is not addressing/responding to Jen’s post: maintain perspective. Some points don’t really compare, in the grand scheme of things, and may not merit the effort – that’s for you to decide.

  12. Charon says

    “I can say there are very distinct cases where dissenting opinions can and should be disregarded.”Indeed, anyone who’s taught a class knows this. I taught mountaineering first aid for a while, and our standard policy with a course evaluations was to throw away the few most positive and few most negative reviews. And wow, it’s way worse when it’s an actual graded course at a university. Some of your students will hate you and rant about how unfair you are to anyone who will listen. What you need to do is listen to the complaint, and try to respond without too much defensiveness if there’s a valid issue you need to address. And make sure most of the class is okay with what you’re doing. But there will be a few people who’s dislike of you is irrational or, often, because you gave them a poor grade – which they earned.You should listen to everyone’s criticisms, to make sure you’re not caught up in a bubble of your own self-perceived awesomeness. And there are issues which don’t occur to you that you need pointed out (the “weaker sex” joke is an example that I’m sure was meant to be a completely harmless joke, but was totally inappropriate).But there are some people who just bitch about you no matter what. As Jen well knows, having read some of the comments, but she seems to be applying a small double standard here…

  13. Charon says

    To clarify that last point slightly: I’m sure Jen knows that there are sometimes people you can just disregard. Because that’s exactly what she’s done with every commenter who “disappointed” her in these threads. What I haven’t seen her do is explicitly acknowledge this – there are people who can be disregarded, in these threads, but also in cases of sexism accusation.Now, these are not symmetric cases! Women in this context are a suspect class, and thus accusations of sexism need to be taken more seriously that dismissals thereof. Hence this is only a “small” double standard, not a full-blown double standard.

  14. says

    Honestly, I don’t feel like I disregarded them. I removed the paragraph that was the most suspect about its representation. I explicitly said I understand concerns of misrepresentation. I took the time to read all of the comments and watch the video so I’m more informed about the situation. I’ve had a lot of discussion with Sean Faircloth and people from AA. Not having the time to personally reply to each of the 500 comments on a blog post isn’t quite the same as spitting acid when someone doesn’t have the same opinion as you.There are certainly going to be instances where people are completely off their rocker. You don’t necessarily need to implement major policy changes because of them, but at least being diplomatic with them will keep the peace. It may be annoying to do so, but it comes with being in a leadership position.

  15. Azkyroth says

    I would suggest a slight modification. I’ve found that the majority of people take an apology, no matter how it’s couched, as a concession and an opportunity to gloat. :/

  16. says

    I have a problem with the logic of this, closely related to what ethanol said above. Can a person who had their feelings hurt ever be wrong? When you listed all the things people should do when someone says her feelings were hurt, I kept agreeing, but waiting for the moment where you describe what should be done if, after all the apologies, listening, etc. the “offender” still disagrees. But it didn’t come! All you said is:“If a student who attended a Secular Student Alliance conference was deeply offended by what they considered a sexist statement in a talk, I’d take their concerns seriously, not matter how much I personally disagreed with them, because I want this movement to be welcoming.”By “taking their concerns seriously”, do you mean feigning agreement? You said: “Apologize for the problem. You may not have intentionally done anything wrong, but this is the diplomatic thing to do.” But what about the case where I still believe I’ve done nothing wrong, period — neither intentionally nor unintentionally? Sure, I can always say “I’m sorry that you feel that way”, but that’s absolutely not the same thing as saying “I agree that what I said/did was wrong, thank you for teaching me, I won’t do it again”. Which is the exact issue most of the time! The issue at the conference wasn’t that someone needed an apology there and then — it was claims of the kind “Behavior X makes women feel unwelcome, stop doing it”.And my question is: do you want to allow claims like this to be debated? From your post, it seems to me that they have immunity to debate, an automatic unfalsifiable status (a major red flag!). All that anyone is allowed to do, according to you, is ask questions to help the person clarify and explain their feelings, and then follow up with “Wow, thank you for enlightening me! I’ll never do X again!”Not only is this position inherently unfair, it’s also internally contradictory. You said, correctly, that even if the majority of women at the same place were not offended by the same thing, it means nothing — who said majority was always right, or that its feelings even constitute a rational argument? That’s correct. But sorry, it goes both ways! If you admit that the issue is not purely of opinion, that there is something objectively right or wrong hidden beneath the layers of feelings, then you must admit the theoretical possibility that the majority happens to be right… Can you please explain how your proposed framework of discussion allows exploring that possibility?

  17. says

    “I’d take their concerns seriously, not matter how much I personally disagreed with them” does not equal “I’d agree with whatever they said, no matter how much I personally disagreed with them”. “Foster further discussion. Ask what in particular made them feel unwelcome. Ask them to expand on any points you didn’t understand. Ask for feedback on how you can avoid this situation in the future.” does not concern the “rightness” or “wrongness” of the person’s viewpoint vs your viewpoint, nor does it say anything about prohibiting debate about said person’s viewpoints, but instead is about trying to respect their opinions and feelings and, as Jen said, trying to make people feel welcome. You can still disagree with someone but do it respectfully and in a way that doesn’t hurt their feelings. Avoiding a situation that hurts someone’s feelings doesn’t necessarily entail faking agreement with their opinions or avoiding debate of their opinions.

  18. Racingstu says

    Consider it a test of your skepticism, when presented with any argument, whether it be about god, science or whethersomeone is being an ass. Jumping to conclusions, basing arguments on personal anecdote and pigeonholing entire groups of people are all bad ways of approaching a topicThose of you guilty of the above, use this opportunity to see where you can improve your critical thinking when in unfamiliar territory.This came off more condescending than I intended, sorry

  19. says

    Provided that you can assume good faith (an assumption that people often seem to find difficult), then yes, everything deserves consideration because you can’t judge it as ridiculous until you’ve considered it; many valid concerns have, IME, seemed ridiculous prima facie.However, it is worth considering the position the concern is coming from when weighing the decision. If the concern is coming from a place that isn’t related to anything you want to be welcoming to, where people of that category could reasonably expect to be challenged or uncomfortable (a fundamentalist at an atheist event, say), then giving serious consideration isn’t that worthwhile – but it is worth politely saying “what did you expect?”.

  20. says

    I have to agree with the people saying that apologizing is going to far; however, one can be supportive and conciliatory (and one should) without apologizing. Making it clear that no offence was meant, and that you wish you could understand (or, if not yet tried, want to understand and will try to), is really all that should be expected. An apology, to me, is a significant thing, and shouldn’t be given when not meant; of course, we may differ on how it is meant, and there are ways to mince words (“I’m sorry you feel that way”, for instance, which I dislike but is sometimes the most appropriate thing to say, to my mind). Most importantly, as others have noted, people can take even a slight apology to be a concession, which leads to an expectation regarding future behaviour. What you really need is to compromise, potentially ending up at the position of stating that your behaviour won’t change, but that you hope the other person can understand how you mean whatever-it-was to be taken.PS: good deletion policy for this thread

  21. says

    A friend of mine wrote a post a long time ago called “Constructive criticism,” but she could also have titled, “How to Tell Jadelennox She Sounds Racist.”http://jadelennox.dreamwidth.o…No one likes to be told they’re insulting, rude, mean, thoughtless or anything like that. But if we’re not told we won’t learn.I am a feminist. I am the son of a woman who didn’t just have a job outside the home, she had two. I am the grandson of a woman who was a suffragette and was French teacher. I find sexism debates tedious because I think we should be light years past it.However I am also sexist. The first time I gave blood I was literally terrified. While on the couch waiting to be punctured by the spear the nurse beside me was fiddling with, I rambled on nervously. I had already chosen to have the blood drawn from my my left arm in case they had to amputate (I’m right handed – and at the time clearly irrational). I asked if the doctor would be doing anything or something like that and the nurse replied that he wasn’t a doctor, he was a phlebotomist.And I suddenly realised she probably wasn’t a nurse, she was a phlebotomist too. I had just assigned “doctor” and “nurse” to people based on gender. Me. What the flying fuck??? I was so shocked I didn’t even notice her impaling me – the spectre of my own ignorance was much larger and terrifying than the needle (which had now shrunk down to the size of, well, a needle).Humans are really good at finding patterns. Even to the point of finding patterns when they don’t exist. And sometimes that doesn’t work in our favour or the people we’re incorrectly lumping in with others.We’re all going to do it, the question is what do we do when we notice it or have it pointed out to us. If you deny it or justify it or expand on it, well, you’re an asshole. If you at least wander off and think about it while grumbling (and better still apologise and then think it through and try and learn from it) then you’re a flawed human trying to do better. Good on ya.The question is not if any given person is sexist, racist or generally groupist – yes, we all are to some degree. For me the question is, are you going to be an asshole about it when you discover you’re pattern matching poorly or will you try to learn and improve? The former is a lost opportunity for you, the latter is something to be admired and emulated as best any of us can.

  22. says

    “All voices must be heard, not just the ones supporting popular opinion.””But if we want to make groups more welcoming, we have to worry about the people we’re upsetting, not the people who already agree with us.”I am offended that you published a post that contained statements of fact that other conference attendees disputed.I am offended that when those attendees complained, you became angry and defensive.I am offended that when a panelist at the conference wrote a blog post disagreeing with you, you called her “sexist” and “asshole.”I am offended that when a commenter on same blog rationally criticized you, you belittled, mocked and mischaracterized the comment.I am offended that you when the same commenter apologized and explained, you made no public response.I am offended that when Blair Scott criticized the post, you rescinded your scholarship application.I am offended that when Blair Scott called you on your bad behavior, you said you didn’t feel like ever attending any American Atheists events.I am offended that you did not retract the original post and issue a formal apology.I am offended that when I and others called your behavior irrational and emotional, you did not consider our comments with a skeptical mind, but instead cried sexism.*I am offended that you treat your commenters in the same manner that you decry when women are treated in a similar fashion.I am offended that you are seemingly unaware of just how hypocritical you are acting.Jen, with this blog, you are one of the leaders of the atheist movement. Others in the movement have every right to expect you to treat them in the same manner that you expect them to treat every woman with a complaint.This entire situation could have been handled in a more professional and thoughtful manner. Because of your failure to do so, you have harmed atheism, our movement, feminism, and yourself.If you expect to be taken seriously, you need to begin to act seriously.*I’ll concede that “emotional” and “irrational” can be triggers, and should be avoided. In the future, I’ll use “dogmatic” and “unskeptical.” If anyone has a problem with those words, please tell me why, and provide substitutes.

  23. says

    “This entire situation could have been handled in a more professional and thoughtful manner. Because of your failure to do so, you have harmed atheism, our movement, feminism, and yourself.”Hi, I don’t even know you and your post makes me think you’re a complete douchebag asshole loser. It’s my sincere hope that someone has logged in as you and just wrote out that passive-aggressive victimisation post as a troll because that’s about the only way your reputation can be redeemed.Oh wait, just read your blog. Yes, you’re a complete tool. In the hierarchy of assholes you’re actually beneath Pat Robertson. Which is an accomplishment.

  24. jose says

    Feminazi = uppity nigger.People will feel amazed (and appalled) with early 21th century folks and how they used to throw that term at women.

  25. sunnybook3 says

    The one good thing you can say about the term “feminazi” is that it tells you everything you need to know about the person who uses it and means it.

  26. says

    I expected some negative responses, but never in a million years would I have expected this heaping pile of ‘Oh noes!!!!!! Jen McCreight broke atheism, and feminism too!!’ *facepalm*You like telling racist and sexist jokes so you can blast people for being too PC, don’t you?

  27. sunnybook3 says

    Thanks for this post, Jen. As always, you have addressed the issue rationally, with grace and tact and, in my opinion, you stated your case beautifully. Cheers!

  28. says

    Beginning every sentence with “I am offended by…” Makes it pretty obvious that that’s all you ever had in mind. Frankly, I find Jen’s posts to be very insightful, generally; and most of the comments are moderate and thoughtful.Except for yours.And though it’s nice of you to proclaim Jen to be “one of the leaders of the athiest movement”, it’s really rather self-important of you to proclaim that “you have harmed atheism, our movement, feminism, and yourself.”And (having read your blog on the subject) I feel that your comments are “silly and embarrassing.”

  29. Gus Snarp says

    Well said, Jen. These points are the ones repeatedly being missed elsewhere. I just have one though on the whole “misrepresentation” issue. While I may have been hasty in my judgment that all the real factual assertions were actually in agreement if one read carefully, I stand by the notion that there was no misrepresentation intended. I really see the issues of discontent as places where two people just had different experiences of the same events. Kind of like the classic experiment where a fake crime is staged and afterward everyone is asked to describe the perpetrator. None of the descriptions match and all of them are wrong. Or like the three blind men describing the elephant. So at least three women at this conference had a very different experience with regards to feeling welcome as women from a lot of the other attendees. As you said, that experience was real, even if it wasn’t shared, and when it comes to including an underrepresented group, acknowledging that experience is important.

  30. Gus Snarp says

    I would say that when the offended party is part of a very small minority or heavily underrepresented group, then no, it can never be dismissed offhand. If it came from a member of the dominant majority, maybe. Yeah, that’s a double standard, but when you’re part of the group that has pretty much ruled the world for centuries, and still does, you just have to accept that.

  31. darlene says

    Please check out Microaggressions, which is a great place to see how the “little” things we are supposed o just have a sense of humor about are actually painful and scarring: http://microaggressions.tumblr…What those offended by being called out on their offenses are doing is basic cognitive dissonance. “I’m a decent person and decent people aren’t sexist/racist so I’m not and those people who say I am must be humorless/looking for a fight/irrational/emotional/hysterical/on that time of the month” without realizing that their defense merely proves the privileged nature of their original offense.See also Privilege Denying Dude, particularly this one: http://memegenerator.net/Privi…I have made comments that I later learned offended someone, and I would ask why, they’d explain, and 99.99% of the time I’d agree and find a new word. I used to love the word “crazy”–as a descriptor or an insult–about shoes, religion, coffee, whatever. Until I spoke with people who have real mental illnesses and it was pointed out how using that word marginalizes them and makes them something to be laughed at. Wow, a really slap of reality, and I adjusted my vocabulary accordingly.Because that is what intelligent, rational, reasonable people do, especially when they are in leadership positions. As a representative of an organization they are responsible for setting a tone and an attitude, and based on the descriptions I’ve heard at this event it was not a tone or attitude I’d want to be a part of.I used to work for a motorcycle dealership, and I’ve heard less sexist things there then the comments made at the panel described. I was respected, and listened to. To bad the “rationalists” are less self-policing or aware or respectful than the tattooed, bearded, leather-wearing, butt-kicking riders…I cannot respect or support an organization that thinks sexism and misogyny is something to be shrugged off and mocked and who pats the little ladies on the head and tells them to go sit down and stfu while the men decide what women should find offensive…I used to respect Blair Scott and his organization, and right now I cannot. But Jen, I respect you and the work you do. Keep it up!

  32. says

    I really hate it too, I also think it is a BS term. I also hate the word “bitch”. I am sorry, but I see no positive connotation with that word. I know some women like to use it as a euphemism for strong, to me, they should just say strong. Bitch always just meant mean to me.Maybe I am just old.

  33. says

    Nicely said, if you speak with them and figure out why they are offended maybe you will get a better understanding of the issue. Also, it may help them to see it in a different light, and if it is something that happened to them personally, a sympathetic ear can go a long way to helping them mend.

  34. Blahdeblah says

    This post is further nonsense. We know that Sharon lied about the events at the talk, so we know that she’s not arguing in good faith. There is no obligation to waste valuable time dealing with people who are arguing in bad faith as though they were representing their feelings honestly. You ignore them, make fun of them, or kick them out and tell them not to come back. Not every person has a valuable contribution to make.Also, for somebody who claims that using triggering language is bad, you certainly like to use an awful lot of it to trigger responses from everybody who’s ever been in an emotionally abusive relationship with a radical feminist.

  35. says

    It’s also bad to give an insincere apology in my opinion. If your apology is “I don’t understand/respect your offense, but I’m sorry I offended you,” people are just going to snap back that your apology is insincere/half-assed. And they’re right.

  36. Gus Snarp says

    I always say that if an apology includes the word “but”, then it’s not really an apology.

  37. Gus Snarp says

    Something out of left field on this: I come from a discipline that has a hard time deciding whether it is a physical science or a social science. It encompasses some of both. There are fights in every department between the physical scientists and the social scientists, and students learning the history and philosophy of the discipline have to learn about both sides, regardless of which side they fall on. Which means we have some very hard physical scientists sitting through classes and being asked to write constructively on postmodern approaches (and I’m not talking about postmodern literary criticism here, for those not in the know “postmodern” can include Marxist, feminist, and a lot of other perspectives, and when applied to thinks like economics, or how people organize themselves, provide real insights). What happens, almost invariably, is the physical scientists become quite dismissive of anything that remotely smacks of postmodernism, in spite of the fact that they don’t really quite get what postmodernism means within the discipline.Now on to my point: One thing postmodernism often includes is how people feel about things. I wonder if the large number of people who are very into hard science who become involved in atheist and skeptical movements leads to a lot of the disagreement. “You feel offended? But that’s irrational, it’s not logical, I can ignore it.” I don’t really mean to cast the skeptic as an emotionless Vulcan, because they have feelings and passions too. But perhaps some think that an emotion that doesn’t make sense to them is simply invalid. Well, it’s not. Feelings matter. Perspectives matter. And no two people truly share the same experience.Me, I’m a pragmatist. I think that when there are empirical tests and results available, then what they show is what they show and it hardly matters how you feel about it. But when people are involved in making judgments or directing the course of world events, then feelings do matter.

  38. katsudon says

    Taking concerns seriously does not in any way mean feigning agreement. It means just what it says – taking the concerns seriously. The way you do that is by (1) listening, (2) trying to understand the issue from their viewpoint, and (3) then doing any necessary investigation before rendering a judgment. I’ve been in a lot of leadership roles, and I’ve found that even just doing step #1 with all sincerity helps assuage a lot of anger, whether you ultimately end up agreeing with a person or not. *Most* people, as long as they feel that you are listening, that you are taking them seriously, and that you are doing your best to be fair, will feel okay with the decision you hand over, even if it doesn’t go their way. Because if that’s the policy, and you treat everyone exactly the same way, then they know that they were treated fairly.Occasionally that’s not enough for some people, who won’t settle for anything less than perfect agreement. At which point all you can really do is shrug and say, “Sorry, I’ve made my decision, that’s the way it is.” While I don’t know if that’s a perfect analog for the current situation, I think it’s a good starting place. I don’t think there’s anyone saying that this sort of issue isn’t open for discussion. But dismissing it as coming from humorless feminazis is categorically NOT a discussion. In a real discussion (I would suggest using discussion rather than debate, since a debate is often about scoring points for one’s side) both sides have to try to understand each other to begin with. Jen’s point #3 on the things that are good to do pretty much describes that – fostering further discussion. In this particular discussion, well, I’d guess the offended women’s side is already well aware that the other side doesn’t think there’s anything offensive, and why that is. It’s pretty much the default position out there. Which mean’s it’s on the other side’s shoulders to try to understand the viewpoint of the offended women.I don’t think you can boil this down to some kind of discussion of objective proof when it comes to a person *feeling* unwelcome. They either felt unwelcome or they didn’t. And as much as we all worship the golden idol of rationality, this is not necessarily a topic for that kind of discussion. The issue is, *if* a group wants to be inclusive and welcoming (instead of just whining that for some reason women don’t want to hang around) then that group needs to figure out *how* to be inclusive and welcoming. Which means dealing with squishy things like feelings.

  39. Azkyroth says

    I used to love the word “crazy”–as a descriptor or an insult–about shoes, religion, coffee, whatever. Until I spoke with people who have real mental illnesses and it was pointed out how using that word marginalizes them and makes them something to be laughed at. Wow, a really slap of reality, and I adjusted my vocabulary accordingly.

    In the spirit of some of the points above, I call bullshit on this one. I can certainly empathize with people who feel that the use of diagnostic terms as insults, or the casual slinging of speculative diagnoses at people who annoy us, marginalizes and insults people with mental illnesses, but the term “crazy” is so simultaneously vague and emotive that it’s worth hanging onto. What you’re describing is a path to having no strong or emotive adjectives at all. :/

  40. says

    “You can still disagree with someone but do it respectfully and in a way that doesn’t hurt their feelings.”Yes, definitely — if you’re discussing, say, a physics problem. But if your topic of discussion is “Your behavior made me cry, stop doing that!”… well… good luck with peacefully disagreeing about that! ;-)

  41. says

    I think that when there are empirical tests and results available, then what they show is what they show and it hardly matters how you feel about it. But when people are involved in making judgments or directing the course of world events, then feelings do matter. In my discipline, there are empirical tests and data – at the statistical level. It’s a popular contention that the use of mass quantitative data is to the detriment of many people, when used to inform policy, ignoring qualitative concerns.One point though – data can be qualitative, and “touchy-feely” and still be empirical, at least as social sciences use the term. Empirical doesn’t imply quantitative.In general, agreeing on the interaction of social and ‘hard’ sciences, and I had thought about the possible correlation of ‘hard’ scientist numbers with difficulty accepting issues such as this.

  42. says

    It’s pretty doable. It requires both sides to be prepared to talk about it sensitively and constructively. The problem often seems to be a lack of sensitivity and/or an assumption that the upset person won’t be willing to be constructive. In my experience, that’s not true – a sensitive approach makes it more likely that the person will be open to compromise and understanding why people didn’t realise it would upset them or why you don’t think you can really stop using the term.

  43. says

    “I’ve been in a lot of leadership roles, and I’ve found that even just doing step #1 with all sincerity helps assuage a lot of anger, whether you ultimately end up agreeing with a person or not.”Agreed. (Although, judging by the accounts of people at SERAM, that is exactly what happened and it still failed). It requires a lot of patience, if the offended person is acting like a small child — but patience is what expected of leaders. Other people, though, (especially on the Internet) may not be as patient or tolerant of drama seeking missiles… which is not necessarily evidence of a fault in the whole community.”I don’t think you can boil this down to some kind of discussion of objective proof when it comes to a person *feeling* unwelcome.”Exactly! But that’s the whole problem! A person tells a community “Behavior X hurts my feelings, hence X is bad — stop it, all of you, forever!” Sometimes, that person is absolutely right. But not always. Can a group still be inclusive and welcoming while disagreeing on such issues? Or should it just always cave in in the end and pander to anyone who claims hurt feelings? I hate that solution.Maybe the diplomatic solution is to just boldly lie. “Yes, honey, we’re with you, dear sister, we all promise to never do that horrible thing again!” while thinking “Dear Loki, what an idiot…” :-/ I hate that solution as well, though.I don’t know… I can’t figure out a good answer to this question. I’m still stumped. All I know is that 1) there is some objective base behind these types of issues, it’s not just all squishy feelings; and 2) nobody deserves a privileged position in a debate only because they had their feelings hurt (especially if the debate is on matters of general principles of behavior, as opposed to a one time situation).

  44. Georgia Sam says

    Right on, Jen. I don’t always see male/female issues the same way you do, but I agree with every point you make in that post. It exemplifies once again why I look forward to reading your blog every day.Some of the comments suggest to me that a lot of people could benefit from reading “Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior” or a similar work. There is nothing wrong with apologizing when you don’t really believe you’re in the wrong, for the sake of keeping the discussion civil and letting people know that you care about their feelings. On the other side of that coin, when someone apologizes, there is only one appropriate response: accept the apology and move on, even if you don’t believe it means “I’m wrong, you’re right, please forgive me.” These are some of the fundamentals of diplomacy, and of debating issues in a grownup, constructive way.

  45. says

    “It requires both sides to be prepared to talk about it sensitively and constructively” Yes, that. That is the right thing to do in any case, despite it being very difficult. Probably easier in real life than on the Internet, though. Many people are much more blunt and direct online than they would be in a personal conversation, and it can create a wrong impression. One of the lessons for me from all this, definitely.

  46. ENonImus says

    I’m trying to find where the speakers at the convention or a commenter on the posting used the word, “feminazi”? Or are you speaking in general terms?

  47. Darlene says

    The English language has no shortage of descriptive words, so to use one which causes harm when there are perfectly good replacements seems to be an act of overt aggression. My desire to use vocabulary seems outweighed by other’s desire to not be marginalized, insulted, or otherwise made to feel like a second-class undesirable.

  48. TheG says

    I always have said that if an apology includes the word “if”, as in, “if anyone felt offended,” it isn’t really an apology. All the person is doing is blaming the offended party for being so thin skinned that they were offended.

  49. says

    Postmodernism is bullshit, and as a a English Lit major I know this. And it’s not just bullshit in Lit theory. Postmodernism denies that there is any objective reality outside of social construct. It is completely antithetical to everything the skeptical movement stands for. http://www.amazon.com/Higher-S

  50. Azkyroth says

    The word “crazy” has been decoupled from “mentally ill.” There is no rational reason to argue that it causes harm. And if we can argue that it causes harm in this fashion than dozens of other words “cause harm.”I fully agree with not using “mentally ill” and specific diagnostic terms as generic insults, but this demand is overbroad and the purported justification doesn’t seem to apply very well.

  51. Azkyroth says

    I’ve always assumed to was a reference to volcanic eruptions, the smoke clouds from which rather resembling upside-down pears through much of their development.

  52. Realee says

    I’m not really sure how much room, “I’m sorry what I said offended you. That was not my intention. Could you please explain because I’m not sure I totally understand?”, gives someone to gloat. It can be unnerving apologize because it feels like a concession and like it leaves you vulnerable, especially if you don’t think you did anything wrong off the bat… but in my experience it usually really does help spark positive conversation.But say if someone somehow takes that as an opportunity to gloat about how the other person just apologized… they aren’t exactly fostering communication… and no one will really learn from the situation… but what was the real harm? In the end they’ll be the one who derailed things and you’ll have tried to learn. Why does that need to be modified?

  53. Realee says

    It’s never okay to have to deal with emotional abuse from anyone. I’m sorry that anyone has had that experience. I know from my experience certain argument styles and some terminology can make me mentally shut down and retract from a conversation as a result of an emotionally abusive relationship. May I ask what language in particular you find to be triggering language?If you don’t mind I’d like to go on to ask how you found this post in it’s entirety to be nonsense? For me, the bulk of what I got from it seemed encourage open discourse that wouldn’t be as triggering to either side. She asked we not use this post as place to discuss those specifics… and really as I read it, it seemed like this was mostly a post about communication styles that are applicable to far more than just one situation.

  54. Azkyroth says

    If you’ve actually been in a relationship that was emotionally abusive, and this isn’t just an underhanded way of implying that feminism is emotionally abusive towards men by its very existence, you have my sympathy but why is the entire movement responsible for what one woman did to you? Isn’t holding all women, or all women activists, responsible for one woman’s actions kind of…well…sexist?

  55. Azkyroth says

    Is it possible that his field interprets the concept of postmodernism in a somewhat different way? Because the definition you give doesn’t seem like it’s reflected in his description above.

  56. Azkyroth says

    I personally think it’s a mistake to use the words “racist,” “sexist,” etc. to describe prejudices that people have retained or failed to remove despite a general commitment to a progressive mindset – it trivializes the significant progress that has been made in beating back gender and racial prejudice both in social institutions and in public consciousness, and dilutes the “more extreme” examples. Using the same word for “feeling less comfortable around young black men than young white men” and “burning a cross on someone’s lawn”, naively interpreted, implies that they belong to the same category.That said, I agree with your broader point about finding and eliminating one’s own prejudices.

  57. Jules says

    But without postmodernism there would have been no way to talk about serious issues like race, gender, sexuality, you name it, because deconstruction is a vital part of this discussion. Yes, in a scientific context postmodernism failed big time (Sokal Hoax, ouch), but that doesn’t invalidate its worth for looking at socio-cultural phenomena.

  58. says

    From my understanding of postmodern approaches in educational research, including their overlap with some management theory, that’s only part of post-modernism. Post-modernism isn’t a single, well-defined set of ideas or values, rather a contrast with older approaches. For example, anything seeking to move beyond the positivist approach is, to some extent, post-modern. Constructivist approaches are post-modern. This includes constructivist, plural views of epistemology (that knowledge is constructed and plural, rather than static and transmitted, a big question informing educational theory) which are fairly well-accepted, and constructivist ontological views (that reality is not fixed and cannot be determined, with various flavours of complication on this) which I do have trouble with. It’s possible to hold to constructivist epistemology without holding to constructivist ontology, and that’s still a post-modern position.I used to react to post-modernism in a similar way, to be honest, when I was mostly exposed to it through literature, art etc studies. I realised it was so much more complex when I started learning about it in terms of social science methodology and approaches. There are some post-modern approaches that are, IMO, a bit whacked out, and these seem to be very popular on the arts/humanities side of things, but my experience of social sciences are much more positive and rational. Maybe the ‘science’ part plays a part.I just wish social science could move past the positivist/constructivist and qualitative/quantitative tension.

  59. says

    It’s an English idiom (that I always assumed was more British than American), the origin of which is contentious and has many claims.Generally, it means when something goes very much not-to-plan, the classic phrase being “it’s all gone pear-shaped”. Apparently, many Americans in the media were confused by this when Margaret Thatcher used the idiom.Claims that it’s referring to a supposedly-negative view of a certain style of feminine figure seem to be more modern, and not well supported; some evidence suggests that it originated in the British Royal Air Force, the original specific reference unknown.

  60. says

    Post-modernism doesn’t work well in the ‘hard’ sciences, but it’s pretty useful in social sciences… and as someone who’s moved from ‘hard’ to social, I feel comfortable saying that social sciences, even when done quantitatively with (some) post-modern approaches, are plenty scientific.

  61. says

    maybe that’s true… but Postmodernism definitely originated in the arts & humanities in that form, I’ve only ever seen it used to ridiculous and fallacious ends, so you’ll have to excuse me if I’m inherently suspicious of it. Maybe seeing it in a different context will exonerate it, but I have to say I’m inclined to be skeptical.

  62. Jwilder204 says

    Or if your topic of discussion is “Your behavior caused God to send a natural disaster to my homeland, stop doing that!” :)

  63. says

    If it’s something that darlene has been called out for using *by* people with disabilities, that alone should suffice. Letting marginalized groups define the terms of their oppression is pretty par for the course, and language has always been central to their experiences because of the power dynamics inherent in semantic construction. “Crazy” and “insane” are to the disability rights movement as “bitch” and “cunt” are to the feminist movement.

  64. says

    So why did you not also remove the part where she lied about who was (or wasn’t) in the bathroom, after Christie Swords, Scott Savage and Angel of Harlots called her out?And has the video been posted yet?

  65. says

    Huh, I must have missed that. Hold on, I’ll go do some CTL-Fing through that mess.A video from a previous talk has been posted, and I was emailed the audio from the one in question, and I watched/listened to both. Scott Savage hasn’t yet updated me about an actual video being ready yet.

  66. says

    I have a mental illness (technically, several, but who’s counting?), and I think saying that using the word “crazy” marginalizes people with mental illnesses is… crazy.

  67. says

    How would you react if you described, say, the Coen brothers’ Fargo as a black comedy and an African-American walked up to you and told you that they felt marginalized by your comment? Would you apologize and promise never to use the word “black” again?

  68. Azkyroth says

    Given that I’m technically a part of that group, although activism mostly hasn’t been on my radar….

  69. says

    Hey Jen, wanted to let you know that the people with the video of SERAM got it uploaded to YouTube. Hope you get a chance to watch it and come up with your own conclusions based on what happened. I would love to hear what you think about it if you can watch the video without any bias. I know that it might be tough with all the flame wars going on about it and emotions running high at the moment but I hope that everyone who did not attend the SERAM will take the opportunity to watch the video. Thanks!

  70. says

    Thanks Yvonne. I already listened to the audio for the SERAM talk, but I’ll watch the video too. Seeing the slides and body language of everyone will probably help a lot.

  71. says

    Oh, it’s the panel discussion, not Sean’s talk. My bad. Well, I mean, I’ll still watch it either way, but that’s what I was talking about before.

  72. says

    “If that’s the sort of thing you’re running into, then damn but men are pigs.”I get what you are saying, but I don’t get how this helps. Isn’t it the same thing you just commented about? “It’s not going to help accusing people of being feminazis…”Wouldn’t it have sufficed to say (for example) “If that’s the sort of thing you’re running into” it’s a shame or it really bothers me?I unfortunately do the name-calling thing too at times.. But, I wonder why we do it. I also wonder why it seems a lot of people tolerate it if it goes one way, but not another. Just curious. I totally agree with your last paragraph, btw.

  73. says

    I wouldn’t say I am offended anymore. Mostly, I am seriously disheartened and disappointed with people’s behavior including my own to some degree. I thought this article was a good opportunity to try to move forward and decompress the situation. .johanthecabbie appears to be making an honest statement about how they feel. You can disagree with them, but PLEASE stop the insults.

  74. says

    You had an opportunity to do something positive for both the atheist movement and the feminist movement. I feel that the original intent in allowing the pear-shaped blog to happen was good. It could have been a useful educational tool. However, when the pear-shaped blog was called into question, your implying (or even outright calling) people sexist and assholes only served to drive people away from listening to your typically good arguments for feminism. If you saw fault in people’s feminism logic (so to speak), why didn’t you explain what those flaws were instead of alienating them (and therefore others who were reading your Twitter posts, for instance)? While I do not always agree with you, I usually respect you. You have relatively large platform (you go, girl – no offense intended) which gives you a certain amount of power. This time, it was not used to its full potential. Allowing unfounded statements to remain in place hurt the atheist movement and, in turn, the feminist movement along with numerous individuals who were falsely portrayed as insensitive and uncaring. Granted some of them were / are. Those who aren’t should not be unfairly represented that way. It would be different if it was merely stated that the authors of the aforementioned blog felt a certain way or things “seemed” a certain way to them. That’s not how it was. I would love an opportunity to talk with either and/or both Sharon and Lyz about the events in question. We are all powerful women who could and have done a lot of good for both movements. Unfortunately (as already stated), I feel the pear-shaped blog has done harm to both. People are now looking at the feminist movement with an even more cynical eye than before. Women stated in the comments of that blog that they would not go to an atheist event because of the things that were written. After reading 200 plus comments denigrating my friends and family for things that did not happen, I could not stand it any longer. It is truly a shameful and regretful situation, and I regret my part in allowing my emotions to get the better of my judgment in some of my posts. I sincerely hope that we can all continue to work together to undo the harm that has been done to both atheism and feminism.

  75. Anony says

    Could you imagine if a man stood up a made the same complaint, and then ran off crying? Do any of you honestly believe he’d get this much sympathy and cause this much of a debate spanning across a variety of atheist forums?

  76. FormerReader says

    It is amazing. A few people create an article about an atheist event where women can felt uncomfortable in our community. And then the story hits the blogosphere about how this is automatically true because of the poor, disenfranchised state of women everywhere. Later, it turns out to be “true-ish.” “True-lite.” “Fox News Worthy.” “Based on a true story!””But the point stands! Because men are sexist, oppressive beasts! Every single one of them! And women are just weak and have to go cry in the restroom!”Religion can be a divisive topic and there is no doubt that it’s low opinion of women makes the world a worse place. But what has come out in this topic are few enlightening points and a slew of assumptions that female genitals make you automatically right.I have been reading BlagHag since before Boobquake and the only result of this attempt to educate atheists is that I no longer feel comfortable in Jen McCreight’s feminist world because of my genitalia.

  77. says

    Still not seeing how any of this is a slur on all men… is this the sensitivity and defensiveness people have discussed? People are so hurt (not the right word, can’t think of a better one) by the suggestion that they might be, in some way, sexist, insensitive, or whatever, so they react by finding reasons to ignore the claim rather than examine their own actions? This is what Jen’s talking about in this post!Here’s the thing – whatever your gender, I can pretty much guarantee that, in say the last 12 months, you’ve (almost certainly inadvertently, and without realising it) acted on sexist assumptions, used sexist or sexually insensitive language, or something along those lines. This is no insult. It behoves us all to try to be aware of this and understand the situations and issues.

  78. Dantresomi says

    I would love to see the video.However, the writer of this post is CORRECT… I have heard many of us atheists act sexist in so many ways. While much of it is unconscious, it is still an issue. Let’s not even talk about racism. there is such a thing as male privilege. as freethinkers and those who claim that reason is the best way, we should acknowledge this and fight to eradicate it.

  79. says

    That’s an argument for taking everyone seriously, not an argument to be more dismissive of women. We’ve got to change this culture of wanting to tear down people instead of building them up.

  80. SecondLife says

    I think FormerReader’s point is that he or she feels it is insensitive to assume sexism without the facts and sexist to assume that women are always right when they accuse sexism occurred, implying they need protection.

  81. says

    Well, I wouldn’t say insensitive is the right word, but I age it’s bad.However, it is worth assuming that you should talk about a problem that someone raises, even if their view of it seems to make no sense to you, because you aren’t them. This applies to any sort of complaint, including (for me) those who are raising problems with the way that Jen handled this. She might not have engaged every complainant in individual dialogue (which would, in fact, be impractical), but she appears to be taking concerns seriously, and I reckon she’s thinking about it quite seriously. I could be wrong, but that’s my impression.

  82. Rollingforest says

    I agree with Jen that if someone is offended we should calmly and rationally discuss it with them and listen while trying to understand. However, we were not talking to the person who was offended on the other blog post. We were talking to each other. Saying how we really feel is not necessarily out of line. When we debate Creationists, we say what we mean even if they don’t like it. Atheists are trained to debate. We don’t sit down and ask Creationists “So tell me how you feel about evolution so I can sympathize with you” (It is true that asking leading questions in a friendly way does work well with individuals, but that is very hard to do in a debate or an internet forum) I don’t think the majority of commenters said that the post was written by feminazis. They were just expressing their personal feelings on the issues brought up. Yes, when someone is offended, compromise is necessary, but that doesn’t mean the compromise should never come from the offended person. The women who pointed out that they weren’t offended were giving their personal opinions. They weren’t saying that the offended person was stupid, just that there were other ways of perceiving what happened. It should be noted that vitriol was also used against people who said anything that disagreed with the original post. Having another opinion is not drowning out the opposition. And finally, if your argument is rational it shouldn’t matter whether you use trigger words or not. So to summerize, Jen is right about talking to people who are offended, but wrong that those same rules apply to an internet blog that is discussing an issue, not attempting to calm any one individual.

  83. says

    ITT, two groups of people who believe that social change is best achieved by stigmatization each try to stigmatize the other more effectively. Hilarity ensues.The ironic part is that I’m not sure this is wrong. Stigmatizing the expression of disfavored opinions is probably a really effective way of achieving social change. It just invariably ends up here unless one side has a sizeable advantage in social capital.

  84. says

    Talking about something which is, by nature, ‘real’ and physical and has some (even if not fully knowable) objective general truth (like the origin of the universe/world) is pretty different from talking about something which doesn’t have any general truth; if a person is offended, they are the only one who can ever have authority on that, and to presume that rational discussion can establish with any certainty whether that offence is reasonable is ludicrous. You can establish whether it could reasonably be anticipated, and thus assign blame for problems; you can decide, for yourself, or collectively for an organisation, if you care about the offence, and you can decide that using whatever metric you like. You can only ever formulate an opinion on whether it’s reasonable.

  85. says

    Thanks for your defense.Jen mention in her OP that everyone’s feelings need to be respected, and that everyone needs to be made welcome. I was simply seeing if that was true for everyone, or only her and the issues she cares about. I feel Sharon’s and Lyz’s post was defamatory and wrong, but Jen does not seem to care for the injury of those she harmed.In this post, instead of making things better, she insulted her detractors even further by telling us to go watch a “Don’t be a dick” speech.If she honestly felt there was a problem at the convention, she could have handled it with an email, instead of trashing your convention in such a dishonest manner.I admire you for letting go of your offense, but I still think that Jen needs to issue a formal apology.

  86. says

    The panel was discussing the problem of sexism in the atheist movement.The problem with the post is that it was dishonest. It presented statements of fact that are not true. IMO, that is the overriding issue.Sexism is an issue, but Jen sidetracked that by publishing such a defamatory post. She needs to apologize.

  87. Gus Snarp says

    Yeah, I wasn’t going to weigh in on this to defend or explain postmodernism, mainly because anything here is by necessity oversimplifying. That and, as I said, I’m a pragmatist, not a postmodernist. But basically, you nailed it. It’s a blanket term, it’s not just the kind of postmodernism seen in art and literary criticism. It includes the approaches you and I mentioned and many more. Even many of the people identified as postmodernists would never call themselves that.But even if it did always mean that there was no objective reality outside social constructs, there’s nothing wrong with that approach when looking at social constructs. They just really shouldn’t weigh in with it on quantum mechanics or DNA structure, for example. Certainly it can give great insight to social issues.But I think you and I have brushed up against this on another thread somewhere, and I’m totally with you. Mixed methodology FTW!

  88. says

    I’ve seen the video a number of times now, and I amazed by the level of misrepresentation and outright dishonesty the original post displayed. I am further amazed that Jen does not see the need to apologize for such a post.

  89. says

    A video of the panel discussion is also on YouTube. It shows quite clearly that Sharon and Lyz misrepresented the talk. It is not a matter of how they felt, but a matter of fact.

  90. Rollingforest says

    No one on any post (that I saw) ever said she wasn’t allowed to be offended. We were just debating what the community standards should be. In other words, should the fact that that person is offended change our actions? If the offense seems to make a good point or if a large number of people are offended, then we can take that into account. Otherwise, we can’t change everything everytime anyone gets offended because someone is always offended at something. I agree with Jen that we should be considerate to those who are offended, but we are not talking with them on this blog. We are talking about community standards.

  91. jimmyboy99 says

    Christie,I’m a regular reader here, and occasional commenter. I suspect that my reaction was fairly typical when I read the original. This was an initial – “that’s shit, this should never happen”, and then “hang on, there are two sides here”, once I’d read some of the strong and well argued rebuttals.However, that doesn’t make a post. So I didn’t say “well – I’m on the fence on this one”. I’ve not had a chance to see the video, but even if I did, I don’t think I’d conclude that I knew what happened coz a video can’t ever tell the whole story. I think it probable that lots of others had a similar reaction.So I, and lots of others, did jump on some of the sexist fuck-wittery (“if they don’t want men to notice why do they get them out in public” particularly grates) that jumped out of the dude locker room (as it always does) – and point it out.But I suspect that this is one of those situations where a majority view has not been heard because it wasn’t expressed. And therefore quite probably many people here do not make any harsh judgements about what happened. We just don’t know.What is obviously true though is that we need to find a way to make women feel more included. That doesn’t seem to be controversial.Cheers,Jim

  92. says

    And my assertion is that the standard I would hope to see is that every offence is considered and it seriously examined what change is justified (if any). One of the allegations was that a complaint was dismissed pretty much out of hand; whether or not that happened then (I can’t say), I don’t think any problem should be dismissed out of hand, with the possible exception of obviously expected and already considered problems, although if they happen repeatedly it might be worth re-examining.On the question of numbers, consider where a wheelchair-user has difficulty accessing a venue; suppose arguendo that the group is very large and only one wheelchair user is involved. Is that worth dismissing due to numbers? To alter the example to what I’ve seen, suppose that an organisation uses many venues and has no policy for accessibility; how valid is the argument that no-one involved with the organisation has accessibility needs?On the question of whether or not it’s a ‘good point’, should the value of a point be decided without careful examination of it?Please bear in mind that I’m not talking only about the incident(s) that started this whole thing, I’m considering them as a prompt for more general thought.

  93. techspoon says

    Long time reader, first time commenting…I’ve seen the video of both Sean’s talk in Boston and of the panel discussion. I was disturbed by the original blog post before I saw the videos, and having now seen the videos I saw other things that were at least irritating to me as a feminist although not distinctly offensive.I think its important to remember that our feelings as observers vs participants skews our perspective, and while I was only irritated at what I saw, I can imagine how I might have felt had I been there.Where I used to work (I’m an engineer, so this job was working with about 90% guys), the guys would say something to tease me that wasn’t bad, but it made me feel like crap. Example: a male engineer would change his mind, no one would say anything. I would change my mind about something, the guys would joke “its a woman’s prerogative to change her mind! Haha! My wife changes her mind 4 or 5 times a minute! hahaha!” Ok, nothing about that is sexual harrassment or “mean” or anything, but the message was clear: a man changes his mind because he has new information or a better perspective on the problem, a women changes her mind because silly girls just can’t make up their minds.So watching these videos, I can see how it seems harmless, but to someone having a bad day or feeling vulnerable, these comments could be more damaging. Especially the comment “from now on we’ll use the weaker sex” or whatever the exact wording was. There’s a lot of baggage in that statement, whether or not the man who said it realized it. There’s a tendency to group certain good adjectives with men and bad adjectives with women. Ex: strong, confident, assertive, logical (for men) vs emotional, sensitive (for women) (This is from Williams, J.E. and Best, D.L. (1990) Measuring Sex Stereotypes: A Multi-Nation Study). The terms female and male were both used several times, and I didn’t see any particular problem with that. But the joking insult for a man was being a dick, which usually means being overly male, right? More aggressive, more dominant, etc. For a culture that says man = good, women = bad with adjectives, joking that someone is a dick is not the same as joking that women are the weaker sex.Finally, I just wanted to say that a lot of women go through their daily lives without commenting on the numerous times they feel uncomfortable, discriminated against, ridiculed, etc. because they don’t want to make a big deal out of something that may or may not have been sexist. There’s always the accusation that women are overly sensitive, but I think most women do a great job of putting up with a lot of sexist behavior before they explode, even if that explosion is not at the most overtly sexist remark.

  94. says

    Agreed. I have “faith” that something really positive can emerge from the ashes of this flame war. There are already very encouraging convos happening. Statistically speaking, atheists are among the most intelligent people. We also tend to be opinionated. If we use those characteristics together, we can empower women and make a better community for everyone. At TAM last yr, Carol Tavris spoke about how any minority tends to be excluded, feel unwelcome, etc until they hit the 30% of the population mark. Then, the group dynamic “magically”(tongue in cheek) changes. We are getting there. We will reach that mark then hopefully. atheists men and women will be able to work together to make this world a better place for everyone. Or, at least for me. : DI appreciate the tolerant, supportive comments that are taking place in the wake of this event. It will get better. We can make it happen!

  95. Anony says

    Actually it’s an argument of being dismissive of silliness, whether it comes from a man or a woman. Most of the debate over this has been whether or not it’s right to call women “female” but rather that when you upset a woman like what happened in this situation, should it be taken seriously and addressed carefully. Why is this that the most debated part of the topic? Because women aren’t as big a part of the atheist movement as men are, therefore we all need to be hypersensitive to the concerns of women or we’ll risk losing their attention. If it were a man who stood up and made the same complaint and ran off crying, we wouldn’t care as much because he’s a man. The atheist movement has no problem attracting men, so there’s no worries if one leaves even if he takes some others with him. Why is it that in a fight for equality, we are always being pushed to treat women with more sympathy and delicacy than we would treat men? That doesn’t sound fair nor equal to me.

  96. Jwilder204 says

    I’m not sexist: I don’t care if you’re a man or woman. If you’re being silly, I don’t care if you’re offended. I’ve got more important things to do (such as fighting the harms that religion has put upon the world) than worry about your ridiculous offense.

  97. The Great Attractor says

    I rarely use the term “feminazi”, but do employ it occasionally to refer to a very specific kind of ultra-feminist (think: blogger “skeptifem”). I use it sparingly, but when I use it – I mean it.But, to be honest, I don’t really think someone who thinks they can know “everything they need to know about someone” from their utterance of a single word is someone whose opinion about anything is worthy of consideration by anyone.Have a good day.

  98. Rollingforest says

    I think I agree with what you say hear. I tried to note, perhaps not successfully, in my last post that offenses should be accepted as legitimate if they are held by a large number of people OR if the charge of offense is logical. The wheelchair incident should be accepted because they are logical even if in the minority. (though I should note that just because the majority is offended, does not make their offense logical, but it does mean the issue needs to be addressed in a thoughtful and considerate manner). Now, I haven’t had time to watch the video, but I think BOTH sides, both the original post and the comments, could use calm discussion and understanding instead of accusations. This, however, is hard to do over the internet where people never see each other’s face and just see writing on a page which they might misinterpret.

  99. Todd says

    I have to correct an argumentation error that Jen has made.The argument from popularity is a logical fallacy when the question is a matter of fact. It is not a logical fallacy when the question is a matter of opinion (e.g., whether a word or action is offensive).If the question is whether the use of the word “female” and the joke about the “weaker sex” are offensive to women, then it is very legitimate to look at the response of the typical woman in attendance or at the response of the majority of the women in attendance.

  100. Anoncoward says

    “I think all instances of people feeling offended should be looked at.”I have a diverse opinion. What’s our response when Muslims get offended at people drawing Mohammed? “Deal with it.” We don’t offer to understand their point of view; we merely point out that their religious sensitivities don’t apply to people not of their religion. Or Christians offended at atheist billboards. Nobody has a right to not be offended throughout their life.I have watched the video and I do think some of those panelists were dicks. Both in the terminology they used, the way they injected humor and the way they responded to the topic. Having recently come from a similar event in which I was perceived as the sexist one, my opening words were labeled sexist and I was shouted down by one of the women in the group and not allowed to finish my point (which would have put the first words into context) I have tried to improve my understanding of the whole issue and eliminate any sexism or sexist bias in my own opinions. That SERAM discussion made me uncomfortable.So the question is “should gender sensitivities (i.e. propensity for offense) be treated differently to religious sensitivities.” My gut feeling is that we all have to have thicker skin, and rather than getting offended we should call out the perpetrator of the outrageous statement, but this approach is a blunt instrument and until such thicker skin is normal, we all need to be sensitive to offence arising through careless statements about innate differences (gender, race, sexual orientation etc).

  101. Azkyroth says

    At the risk of derailing, is there a story here? All I know about skeptifem is that she seems perfectly reasonable on Pharyngula in the comment threads unless some topic comes up that she can drag her obsession with how horrible pornography and the porn industry supposedly are into.

  102. The Great Attractor says

    Which is kind of what I was getting at. I don’t think anybody can lay claim to being 100% skeptical all of the time, but some *completely lose the ability* to think rationally and critically – especially about their own positions – when certain issues come up. I count SF in this camp when the topic switches to issues of feminism.Heck, I remember one thread a while ago where she was branding people who were arguing with her “rape apologists”. If that ain’t batshit crazy, I don’t know what is.

  103. jimmyboy99 says

    This issue is a real dilemma (I have sympathies on both sides): but the argument that you are mentally ill and don’t object is similar to saying I’m a woman and don’t mind being called a bitch. You might not. But…there’s a valid case for saying that word has such history it’s not unreasonable to object to its use as applied to humans.On the flip side I am yet to be persuaded, but could be, that the C word here in the UK has anywhere near the potency it does in the US. Are there folks in the UK who get upset about it? Sure. Are the objections reasonable or accurate – not sure that they are but could totally be persuaded. And as it’s an open question I just don’t use the word (though it’s a useful word if used sparingly).So marginalised groups would do well to try not to be offended by everything that is possible to be offended by. And the rest of us could do well to be sensitive. We’d get on just fine with a bit of balance here.

  104. says

    Very true! But — it also doesn’t work as the sole measure. For example, is it okay for a woman to drive? Question of opinion. Majority of women is Saudi Arabia will argue that it is not (driving is not feminine, and should be discouraged for women, or even disallowed). Does it make them right?

  105. sunnybook3 says

    Actually, let me clarify, as I really don’t feel the need for antipathy and I can understand the point you’re making about this one particular poster. In general, you might not consider her to be too far out there, but, under certain circumstances, the tinfoil hat comes out. (This is just my impression based on what you said–feel free to correct me.) In ordinary circumstances, you wouldn’t use the term “feminazi,” as the point of its existence is to be casually dismissive of a certain viewpoint, particularly if that viewpoint is something the individual feels passionate about.What you seem to be saying is that there are certain very rare and very extreme circumstances where that term may be useful. My point (which was intended to be casual and a lot less wordy) is that how and when the term is used gives you a lot of information very quickly and is so off-putting that it can completely derail a conversation. I can’t even put it in quite the same class as words like “nigger” and “bitch,” which have been co-opted to have a less intense meaning when used in certain contexts.The bottom line is that, if you’re going to use the term, tread carefully, as you run the risk of making an extreme negative impression very quickly. “Feminazi” was coined to be dismissive of women passionately speaking up for themselves–nothing else says “STFU and get back in the kitchen–and why aren’t you pregnant?” quite so effectively. (At least, that’s what *I* hear when it’s used. I suspect other women hear something similar in it.)

  106. Todd says

    You’re right. I don’t think you can say that an opinion is right just because it’s popular nor that it is wrong just because it is unpopular. However, I’m not sure that logic can ever really say that an “opinion” is right or wrong.In the question in this case (i.e., whether “female” is offensive to women) the idea that an argument from popularity is necessarily fallacious doesn’t apply for an obvious reason: We are asking whether most women are of the opinion that “female” is offensive.If the question was only whether the woman who objected to the use of “female” was offended, then I don’t think there would be any disagreement. She certainly was.If the question was whether her opinion was wrong, then I don’t think an argument from popularity could prove that one way or the other. That’s not because of any special problem with the argument from popularity. It’s just because an opinion about something that truly is a matter of opinion can’t be proven right or wrong by ANY type of argument.

  107. Todd says

    One more point:Popular opinion is relevant to this case because if a large percentage of the women in attendance had been offended by the use of “female” then that would have created a problem that would have needed to be accommodated somehow, but if only one or two women in attendance were offended then the the problem may have been so small that it should have been bypassed to avoid disrupting the larger discussion.

  108. says

    If the question is whether most women are of the opinion … then it’s not an argument from popularity – it’s direct evidence which has potentially statistical validity. If the question is “is it offensive”, in some absolute sense, then it becomes an argument from popularity. It also becomes a silly question, because offensiveness is inherently not absolute or objective – it would be like trying to find evidence or reasoning for and against the statement “red cars look cool” (by which I agree with your final statement).

  109. The Great Attractor says

    I’m glad you took the time to clarify. I find this position to be much more agreeable.The useful thing about worlds like “feminazi” is that they still have impact. They can be used to quite forcefully make a point, just as long as they are used with caution.I certainly would not use the term to describe Jen or the guest authors. In fact, it is the rationality of these people, in contrast to the hateful hyperbole of skeptifem, which is this blogs greatest attribute.

  110. sunnybook3 says

    My first thought when I read your response was, “There is NO possible way to defend a term thought up by Rush Limbaugh as a way to shut up those darn uppity females!” And then I took a step back and realized that, if you’re reading and enjoying Pharyngula and BlagHag as much as I do, we probably agree quite a bit. My flippant little remark (which in my head was said very dryly) and your point were probably equally misunderstood–a hazard of writing on the internet, no?In any case, context is everything. Even objectionable terms can have their place in rational conversation when the meaning is completely clear–and it probably helps to already know a person well enough to know that he/she is NOT the type to use the term casually. This is the real objection to the term “feminazi” for me. Nearly all of the times I’ve heard the word used, it’s been by ultra-conservative types who are clearly using it to belittle women who try to assert their rights as unique individuals, instead of meekly hewing to gender roles which require female subservience. (Rush Limbaugh coined it, after all.) Not surprisingly, the term makes my blood boil nearly instantly. The exception to this is when it’s used in a way that makes it clear that both the term and people who hold those views are being mocked.I like your point about using the term to make an impact, though. I’m a big believer in taboo words having a proper place in language. Sanitizing your speech means you miss out on opportunites for precision in meaning. The drawback with terms which are extremely objectionable (like “feminazi”) is that, unless your audience is familiar enough with you, you run the risk of creating an unwanted impression of yourself. If someone knows that the term runs counter to your views, yet you use it in a particular instance, it does speak volumes about that instance. Without that crucial bit of information (that it is, in fact, not a term you use casually), the impact is completely lost.

  111. anonymous says

    I think the problem with the term is the prefix before nazi. If you mean nazi, use it. Don’t make unnecessary gender distinctions.

  112. Eric_Rom says

    “Atheists are trained to debate. “Where does this occur? Atheist Academy? What are its credentials, and how is it working against the blatent sexism exhibited again and again?

  113. The Great Attractor says

    There is no gender distinction in “feminazi”. Why do you assume all feminists are women?

  114. Marshall Agnosticsalvation says

    I wonder the same thing. My suspician is that because this particular offense involved someone’s take on feminisim, then the assumption must be that the cause of offense (reguardless how petty) must be taken very seriously and addressed promptly. Fact of the matter is, there are other protected categories that are treated in the same manner (race, sexual preference, etc.). I’m not saying that I agree or disagree with this reality, it’s just the way things are in this PC world of ours.

  115. Marshall Agnosticsalvation says

    I think that one problem with this discussion is that it largely discounts the fact that almost everyone else who attended this conference vigorously disagrees with nearly every detail of how it was depicted in the original blog post. Now I don’t doubt for a second that Sharron and Lzy believed everything they wrote in their blog post, but I’ve dealt with way too many men and women who are so focused on a single passionate issue (in this instance feminism but there are thousands of others) that they are often unable to distinguish between things that are legitimately causes of offense and things that just simply are not. These people also tend to be entirely humorless about the particular topic they’re focused on (gun rights and anti-abortion advocates come to mind), and as a result any attempt at levity will be perceived as insensitive and offensive. I honestly believe that this is the situation here (granted I could be wrong) and this IMHO explains why they failed to meet the reasonable person standard for offense. My question is: should we cater to this tiny minority or should we just accept the fact that any open discussion on any topic will result in some people being offended no matter what and proceed anyway with that knowledge?

  116. Catsydestiny says

    “But what has come out in this topic are few enlightening points and a slew of assumptions that female genitals make you automatically right.”That may be what you’re seeing, but I suspect that, like the woman who took offense at the panel discussion, you are perceiving slights where none is intended.Nobody is saying that “Men are sexist, oppressive beasts! Every single one of them!” What has been said, among other things, is that we still live in a sexist world, there is such a thing as (often unconscious) sexism, and that some people were too quick to dismiss the issues raised here (and a very few did so in a way that was truly sexist, which was disheartening and unhelpful, to say the least).On the other hand quite a few people didn’t perceive any sexism at all coming from the panel or from Faircloth’s talk and said so from the beginning.What I see are a lot of thoughtful people mostly trying hard to be fair, rational and empathic about issues that are complex and often painful.

  117. Jwilder204 says

    I think what’s actually being said is “If a woman claims something sexist happened and it offended her, then she is automatically right and whatever behavior triggered her offense must be changed.”

  118. says

    I don’t think I’ve seen that asserted here. At all. Admittedly I haven’t read every comment (too many!!), but the gist on one ‘side’ seems to be that people are often too ready and quick to dismiss problems.

  119. Xorthon says

    If we only regard the perspectives and feelings of a few, we abridge OURSELVES from reaching out to the many. Many who may otherwise agree with us. That’s what Jen is saying. Feelings are not subject to fact and scrutiny after the occurrence that triggered the feeling. If we did that, EVERYONE would be wrong about nearly EVERYTHING (and possibly everyone) they hold dear. We must’nt be Vulcans about other peoples’ feelings.

  120. Xorthon says

    Each of the concepts laid out in Jen’s post here is Concept-for-Concept, all the tenants for good Customer Service. You can find this in training videos on the interwebs specifically, Evelyn Wood training courses. Those companies that have huge customer bases, and have high customer satisfaction ratings know this. It’s not hard to regard other peoples’ feelings. Although, in these days where fewer people are connected to their own feelings, to say nothing of anyone else’s, perhaps it is something that takes some thought (heart) and effort.

  121. The Great Attractor says

    It’s not hard to take others feelings into account – but should you be expected to do so to the detriment of your own feelings?This is where your company analogy falls flat. Companies do not have feelings.

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