None so blind as those who will not see

Rebecca has a post about a Facebook clash on Saturday, in which Jessica Ahlquist posted a witty picture of herself imitating the emoticon


and a bunch of men came along to say she was hot and should go post on the “Sexy Atheists” page. Rhys Morgan commented that that was creepy, and the clash ensued. I happened to see it at an early stage so I chimed in, and soon afterward so did Rebecca. The usual thing – lots of squawking about humorless feminazi arglebargle blah – lots of guys posting 50 comments to say “why are you making such a fuss?!” The usual the usual; you could write it in your sleep. But Rebecca has a good analysis (and she has Jessica’s permission to post the whole thing).

I particularly like the opening paragraphs:

A lot of atheists who were once religious talk about their de-conversion as a metaphorical opening of their own eyes. Of course, those who find religion often feel the same way: “I once was blind but now I see.” This is an obvious way of describing what happens when you have a sudden realization that changes your entire outlook on life.

It would be wonderful if those who experience that change took as a lesson the fact that there may always be something big and obvious about the way the world works, that we may be missing. But instead it seems as though it’s more common that once someone has their particular realization, they assume that now they’ve got it all figured out.

Read on.



  1. karmakin says

    Creepy behavior is creepy.

    I still think that this sort of behavior is creepy pretty much across the board (unless you REALLY know somebody), making it far too easy to do it when it’s entirely inappropriate.

  2. julian says

    Great rule of thumb, gang! Don’t ask people out of the blue to send you sexy pics of themselves or to post them on some random part of the internet.

  3. Hane says

    Sorry, but no. Why do I take Rebecca Watson’s claims as a feminist with a huge bucket of salt?

    One. Because the SGU forum boards features an ‘EXPLICIT’ section for members of the forum only where posting of the kinds of pron content she condemns in her Ahlquist post is condoned.
    It’s not public as it is in Facebook but since it’s her forum board {and her podcast that she’s a co-host of with four other co-hosts?}, it smacks of the hypocritical. It’s the Wild West Saloon Skepchick party is fun but only if it’s on your own site.

    Two. Where was this concern when Natalie Reed was being bullied on the SGU forum boards? I see this as another bandwagon for popularity. Both atheism and feminism deserves better.

  4. julian says

    Why do I take Hane’s comment with a huge bucket full of salt?

    Mostly because I like salt and always seem to be short of it but also it’s that I can’t see someone who’s trying to castigate Rebecca Watson on a post about Jessica Alhquist being treated to arguably sexist behavior (and personally objecting to it) arguing in good faith.

  5. says

    Part of the point is that there are huge swaths of the Internet where “pervy” behavior is welcome and appropriate, full of adults who are there for that purpose. That’s different from the constant and widespread insistence that men are entitled to treat women as sex objects no matter what the context.

  6. karmakin says

    I think the question is how much those environments, be it online or offline, normalize that type of behavior.

    For what it’s worth we’re probably talking about less influence from the type of sites you’re talking about (basically adult sexual-theme sites), and more about bringing the bar/nightclub culture online.

  7. julian says

    One aspect of this latest example of atheists being sexist jerks is that those teenage years should be a time where you can safely explore your sexuality and what you’re comfortable with. That should be one of the joys of adolescence.

    Instead we get skevy creeps insisting you post pics of yourself and that they’ll totally wait until your legal. *insert lame jailbait/ 14+14 =28 joke here*

  8. says

    Re #2, Hane:

    Sorry, but no yourself. Watson’s post wasn’t about whether or not it’s okay to post sexy pictures anywhere. It was pointing out the wrongness of men demanding them from women everywhere.

    ‘Objectification’ has become a bloated and overused term, but she was unpacking what it really means: that for so many men out there, including, unfortunately, in the atheist and skeptical communities, women are sexual objects originally, all the time, every waking moment; that so many men fail to ever take women seriously as anything else, or ever allow them to exist just as people, as equals.

    I guaranfuckingtee you that Rebecca would not object to men hitting on women in contexts like, say, on a date, or at a nightclub. But a lot of men think that the appropriate time for it is ALL THE TIME, and it just isn’t. And this example was an extreme one: an older man saw a teenage girl’s Facebook picture and took it as an invitation to hit on her, and asked her to post sexy pictures of herself elsewhere for his enjoyment.

  9. davroslives says

    That was a horrifying conversation. It devolved into exactly what I expected. Someone whining about how this equation and that study proves that he isn’t creepy. Hey, idiot, you are creepy. Everyone says you’re creepy. The girl in question says you’re creepy. Maybe you should take a second and think about that. Arguing some minor point of semantics just highlights the fact that you can’t deny that you are indeed making sexual comments about a minor who is 15 years or more younger than you.

    Multiply that by about 20 people, and that was the thread. Sad.

  10. Philip Legge says

    Hane, I am not a participant at the SGU forums, but upon looking in from the outside on the most recent thread-bullying of Natalie, it looked like the actions of the transphobic commentators were partially condoned by the moderators, and that one of the moderators in fact joined in on the attack. So your question really should be addressed to those moderators who failed to protect her from bullying, and why one of their number joined in on the dogpile.

    I somehow also doubt that Rebecca herself – or any of the podcasters – necessarily have the time to do the moderation themselves if they aren’t heavily involved with posting there, and Rebecca has her own blogs to worry about. So they might be rather surprised to learn that that had happened, much the same way Richard Dawkins was appalled to learn of some of the appalling behaviour on offer on his own forums.

    As to your first point: porn is obviously problematical if it involves the exploitation of others, but aside from that there should no issue with adults choosing to engage in it if it’s non-exploitative, or with people exchanging images of themselves if it’s not harming anyone, and done in consenting fashion, yes?

  11. Dave says

    Unfortunately, many teenage boys are sexist jerks, it’s part of their identity-formation process. In the good old days, they had to get on with it in their mom’s basement. Now, alas, their mom’s basement has internet… It is well to bear in mind that these communities are often composed of people who are not actually adults [although of course many of those who, technically, are have trouble remembering it]. Doesn’t make it right, probably makes it incurable, pending The Revolution(TM).

  12. says

    lots of guys posting 50 comments to say “why are you making such a fuss?!”

    That always irks me. If someone thinks the issue is no big deal, they should just make one comment where you say so, shrug, and go on with their life. If they’re going to spend any more effort on it than that, then clearly it was a big deal to them. At that point, they’re pretty much saying that it’s only OK to make a big deal about it when you agree with them.

  13. says

    @Hane in #3:

    One. Because the SGU forum boards features an ‘EXPLICIT’ section for members of the forum only where posting of the kinds of pron content she condemns in her Ahlquist post is condoned.

    Maybe you should have read Rebecca’s post a little better before you accused her of hypocrisy, as she specifically addressed this issue when she wrote:

    Not all the comments are directly sexual, but the vast majority are, so we can take a good guess as to what sort of reception 16-year old Jessica might find were she to take this man’s suggestion that she upload her own photos – adults would tell her how hot her body is and how much they’d like to date, marry, or have sex with her.

    Which, for the women who want that, is fine. I mean, “fine” in that it appears as though many of them, men and women alike, are playing by (and thereby reinforcing) the rules of the patriarchy, which state that women should derive their self-esteem from presenting their bodies for men to judge. But that small bit of trouble aside, adult women have every right to upload photos of themselves anywhere they’d like for any reason they’d like and they should never be shamed for it.

    But for those who do not want or need validation from others concerning their looks and sexual availability, it can be distressing to get these nonstop messages that they should (literally) submit. And it’s especially distressing to see a teenager encouraged to sexualize herself.

  14. Svlad Cjelli says

    Improbably Joe at #5.

    (I’m lazy; so lazy in fact that “+1” is proving too daunting. I’m so lazy that I’m motivated to type a full paragraph on not being motivated to type at all. Suffice to say: Oh, yeah, I had been meaning to post the same as Joe.)

  15. jolo5309 says

    1) Cute pic, but it is fucked up that men are asking her to post on the “Sexy Atheists” FB page
    2) Why is there a “Sexy Atheists” FB page?

    These are both creepy, pathetic or sad.

  16. Rudi says

    Excellent piece, and I agree with every word. It maddens me that women have to put up with this crap, and maddens me that most of my male friends think there is something wrong with ME as a man because i refuse to play that game (i.e. “Why don’t you ever join in when we sexualise women? You gay or something?”)

    I did raise an eyebrow, though, at Rebecca frowning upon women “playing by (and thereby reinforcing) the rules of the patriarchy, which state that women should derive their self-esteem from presenting their bodies for men to judge.” Rebecca posed nude for a calendar, and thus did exactly that – or is it somehow different when she does it? Why is Rebecca uniquely immune from her own criticism?

  17. says

    Rebecca posed nude for a calendar, and thus did exactly that – or is it somehow different when she does it? Why is Rebecca uniquely immune from her own criticism?

    I enjoy karaoke but I’d still be vexed if I couldn’t wander down the road without somebody shouting, “SING!”

  18. says

    As long as no one is shouting at Ben to sing constantly, can we retire this nonsense of “well aren’t feminists being hypocrites because some time in the past they did something vaguely and superficially similar to what they’re complaining about?” Please? It is tedious, generally a misrepresentation or (intentional?) misreading of reality, and really has little or nothing to do with the point being discussed.

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