Bad analogies are bad

Here’s some of what Becky Friedman said in her post addressed to me at Ask an Atheist:

My argument is that feminism applied dogmatically, along with employing shame and zero-sum tactics of approach, work at cross purposes to eliminating misogyny and harassment in the atheist/skeptics community(ies). So I’ll give a few examples of how I see your writing as part of that larger observation. I’m not going to go looking for “too-dogmatic” things because that was never my argument.

In my original editorial I state: “Is our womanhood and feminism so holy that we cannot and will not open ourselves to criticism, discussion, and questions? Because the tone I’ve seen is unforgiving.” I could very well have linked the following comment on your Misogyny?  What Misogyny? post as one example of this:

I don’t want to see [commenter] Justicar as a decent human being in one place despite knowing that he’s not one via what he’s said in other places.

This strikes me as dogmatically rejecting all ideas a person has based on experience/contact with them in another arena. If myself and a pastor got into a spat about evolution, but then the pastor said “I don’t even want to see evidence of you doing charity because I know that in another arena you deny the majesty and wonder of the Almighty Creator!” we’d easily identify that as dogmatic.

That’s an idiotic analogy. My mention of Jews in Germany in 1936 was a bad analogy because it was much too strong to compare with women reporting harassment at conferences. Becky Friedman’s analogy is a bad analogy because it’s much too weak to compare with a guy who calls me and other women “cunts” more times than a search function can count.

Becky Friedman was comparing my view of Justicar to a pastor’s view of an atheist who denies the majesty of god. Bad analogy. My view of Justicar is not that he denies the majesty of god or anything comparable to that; it’s that he calls women cunts and whips up contempt for them in every way he can think of.

It’s not “dogmatic” in any relevant sense to refuse to chat with someone who calls women cunts. That’s not the right word, and it’s not the right category. It’s not “dogmatic” to refuse to break bread with someone who calls people by racist epithets, and it’s not “dogmatic” to refuse to argue with someone who calls people by sexist epithets.


  1. Simon says

    Well you know they’re not trying to have a meaningful dialogue when they’re accusing a well-known and respected rationalist of being ‘dogmatic’.

  2. says

    Ahhh, Ophelia, but didn’t you know that you have to be nice. Didn’t they teach you anything when you were a girl?
    If you’re nice enough they might even buy you a beer.
    No, you’re not allowed to say “I won’t have anything to do with that guy because he hates me”. He’s still entitled to your time.

  3. Rabidtreeweasel says

    I was brutally teased, harassed, and eventually assaulted by schoolmates back in highschool. The advice I was given by adults (Christians) was to “turn the other cheek,” “Stay sweet,”” and “be above reproach.”
    You know what? Fuck that. If I:d gone with my gut and fought back in the early stages it might not have progressed to the point of hospitalization. It’s perfectly acceptable to not spend time with boorish individuals. We have the right to associate as we choose.

  4. says

    Also worth noting: “Justicar” is not a person. “Justicar” is an on line pseudonym. It is conceivable that everything about the person who intentionally created, crafted, reified and implemented this persona is different than the online persona, but that is utterly irrelevant. Justicar is a strong on line pseudo in the sense that this isn’t just somebody using a fake name for a short term purpose. Justicar is a full blown consistent and in your face persona. Justicar is what justicar does. And it happens that Justicar is an unmitigated ass and a misogynist.

    Becky is throwing her lot in with Justicar by defending him. That is regrettable, but forgivable, because she is just doing it out of ignorance. She is accidentally insulting everyone Jusitcar has gone out of his way to harass in order to make a rather pedantic point.

    She had good reason to go to the grocery store to get more milk but she ran over a kitten on the way. How’s THAT for an analogy!

  5. Stacy says

    My argument is that feminism applied dogmatically, along with employing shame and zero-sum tactics of approach….

    I’m dismissing her based on the stylistic outrages present in that sentence alone. But then I’m a bad person.


    (Also, “employing shame”? Chill Girls do worry so about bruising the menz’ fragile feelings.)

  6. says

    Did you listen to their podcast? There was an awesomely bad analogy, of sexism to cancer, and everyone hates cancer, right, so we’re all trying to solve the problem of cancer, we’re all on the same side, but there are these deep academic disputes about the best way to go about it–

    –but he’s not saying that there are no sexists out there. There are sexists out there, they’ve experienced them. There are certainly sexists, and there are… “atheists who are bad around women.” Seriously. He used that phrase. Sam, I guess? Or Mike? Anyway. He apparently can’t decide whether sexist atheists even exist. On the one hand, we’re all bravely battling cancer and having deep, heady disputes, but on the other, there are “atheists who are bad about women.”

  7. mehitabel, wotthehell wotthehell says

    Oh, wow. I just read Friedman’s post and tried to respond, only to learn that comments are closed. Too bad. I wanted to let her know that the link to the mysterious “three words” Ophelia Benson used that Friedman thinks confer some sort of tacit approval on what she feels is an “egregious characterization of atheist men” doesn’t in fact take me to any specific comment or any set of three words, but just to the top of the Almost Diamonds blog. The “egregious characterizations” link works just fine. Takes me right to comment 91 of the same thread. So what “three words” was Friedman talking about? The only thing I can find is comment 97, which does quote 91. And adds three words: “And at me.” Are those them? Are those the big bad three? If they’re supposed to be, is Friedman joking? As much as you may have hated the fifth paragraph of a comment, I can’t see the relevance of saying so when someone’s actually quoted from the second. Which has a factual claim in it, about threats of sexualized violence and misogyny and vitriol directed at R Watson and Greta Christina. Benson adds, “And at me.” Does Becky Friedman think an observation is a conclusion? An endorsement? Did she miss the interpretation of that comment that would’ve gone something like, here’s somebody correcting someone else’s grasp of the facts? I guess I’ll never know, since it was apparently better to use a crappy link than just to reveal which three words she found so damning.
    But really, if “And at me” was supposed to be a smoking gun, that’s even more disappointing than the time I sent off for my Orphan Annie decoder ring and learned to drink my Ovaltine.

  8. says

    How is it that someone who declares the opposition as “dogmatic” and “zero-sum” gets away with criticizing an unforgiving tone? Astounding hypocrisy.

  9. Stacy says

    Did you listen to their podcast?

    No, I’m not big on podcasts, even the interesting ones. I haven’t heard of this one before–and clearly I haven’t missed anything.

    What does that even mean, to be “bad about women”?

    Maybe it’s a minor fault, like being bad about keeping your apartment clean. You know, some atheists (“atheists” being men, natch) leave their empty torn envelopes and dirty dishes lying around. Some tend to treat women like pussy dispensers.

  10. julian says

    How is it that someone who declares the opposition as “dogmatic” and “zero-sum” gets away with criticizing an unforgiving tone? Astounding hypocrisy.

    Their definition of dogmatic is absurd. Any political party, medical organisation, pretty much anything that would be strongly argued for or believed would be dogmatic. To them at least.

  11. dirigible says

    “What does that even mean, to be “bad about women”?”

    It depends whether they are using “about” to mean “regarding” or “in proximity to”.

    The former is sexism, whereas the latter is sexism.

  12. says

    They closed all the other threads on this because they were sick of the ERV overrun in the comment sections. I think perhaps they may have learned something small from this…

    I doubt it.
    And they made the bed they’re sleeping in now. God luck with their new fans.

  13. says

    Giliell, I agree that they’re still not really “getting” what they’ve screwed up here, and they certainly haven’t just straight up apologized and walked it all back like they really ought to. But listening to the podcast addendums, it did seem like they were moderating their stances to some extent without admitting that they’d moderated them (i.e., they’re still insisting on applying that obnoxious label “dogmatic”, but they’re simultaneously stating views which they didn’t mention before and which are a lot more in line with those of the “dogmatic feminists” than they realize).

    Only time will tell whether this is going to go the way of the DJ Grothe mess or not, but I’m doing my damnedest to talk them out of taking that path. Perhaps I’m being too optimistic, but I’m not quite ready to give up yet.

  14. mehitabel, wotthehell wotthehell says

    Anne, thank you for that, but on reflection, I don’t really want to comment anymore and am loath to give AaA any more attention. My confusion’s resolved, anyway, I guess. I looked again at that ‘response to Ophelia’ post of Friedman’s, and noticed a comment by Stephanie Zvan about that link. Seems I found the right three words. That I had to dig for them, while the “egregious whatever” link managed to get me straight to a comment that sets off my Poe-alarm was an annoyance, but I’m over it. If Friedman doesn’t get that clarity is her job and that nobody needs to scour her comment threads to figure out what she’s talking about in the OP, nothing I can say to her will help.

  15. says

    mehitabel, I quite understand your frustration. The only reason I’ve stayed positive about this as long as I have is that I’ve quite liked the podcast on most of the other occasions when I’ve listened to it, and I hate to see them going in this direction.

  16. says

    Hmyeah. Their “nondogmatic” way of letting the ERVites move their obsessive vendetta against me to their place, along with their “nondogmatic” way of calling me names for objecting to the publication of my email without permission, along with their “nondogmatic” way of calling me dogmatic for not wanting to chat with a guy who calls me a cunt – taken all together are enough to persuade me that they’re of no interest.

  17. says

    Heh. In search terms in the stats yesterday –

    ophelia benson sarah palin “is a cunt”

    Whaddya bet that’s one of the ERVites, hoping I called Sarah Palin a cunt here. That’s because one of them said at Ask An Atheist that I call women cunts, and I shelved my disnclination to comment there long enough to say “that’s a fucking lie, I’ve never called anyone a cunt in my life.” No doubt now they’re wasting precious summer hours trying to find the black swan. Can’t be done. I’ve never called anyone a cunt in my life.

  18. says

    Ophelia, believe me, I’m definitely not trying to say that anyone else (particularly you and the other offended parties) should feel obligated to take the same approach that I am. As I noted over there, *I’m* not one of the ones who’s been the target of the year-long campaign of misogynist harassment that the AAA folks are being so determinedly oblivious about, so it’s easier for me to be patient for slightly longer with their failure to Get It. I figure that since my current status as a relative nobody means that I’m in a position to be able to stick it out over there for a little longer, I’ve got a duty to at least try to use that to make a positive difference.

    The only reason I’ve persisted is that I’m desperately clinging to any hope I can find that this podcast I’ve liked can be prevented from succumbing to the dark side. As it is, almost the only people who are commenting over there any more are the ERVites, and I just really want the podcasters to know that they can have better allies than that if they resist the temptation those folks are laying in front of them.

  19. says

    Anne, sure, I didn’t mean to throw cold water on you – just to hint at my reasons for thinking they’re a bit…obtuse.

    I’ve thought you were heroic ever since that awful thread at SGU last summer, when you tried so hard to persuade people to talk sense.

  20. says

    I’ve just followed the link cited @ 9 above – man, that makes Becky’s gloss on it seem out in left field. It’s just bonkers.
    The comment I quote says misogyny and vitriol were aimed at Rebecca and Christina, and Becky calls that “one of the most egregious characterizations of atheist men I’ve seen condensed into one paragraph.” Is she crazy? It wasn’t a characterization of “atheist men”; it was a true statement about what’s been aimed at Rebecca and Greta.

    Oy, oy, oy.

  21. says


    Thanks, Ophelia. I just really respect the work you do, along with many of the other FTBers and I hate the idea of giving any of y’all offense, even inadvertently.

    You’re definitely right about the way the ERVites are settling in over there. That comment thread has become a pretty ugly place; I can barely stand to read most of it. I get that the AAA people are more radio hosts than bloggers and so probably aren’t used to moderating this level of comment explosion, but all I can say is yech. No matter how much they denounce the ERV crowd, it’s hard not to see them as de facto allying themselves with the misogynists when they allow their comments to grow into to something that drives away everyone who’s not in that group.

    Also, the “sarah palin” search is utterly hilarious. I guess at least it was kind of a creative way to do a gotcha search?

  22. says

    The one “entertaining” thing about it is that it *is* kind of adorable how the ERVites keep address me directly over there. It’s almost like they really think I’m gonna waste my time arguing with them.

  23. says

    Nearly all of the things you mention is astonishingly appropriate and it makes me wonder the reason why I hadn’t looked at this in this light before. This particular piece truly did switch the light on for me personally as far as this particular issue goes.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *