Dale McGowan speaks out

Amy has the second in the series. Read the whole thing.


For the past year I’ve been shaking my head in sick disbelief at the abuse many women in the freethought movement are getting, but I’ve stayed silent. I’m not talking about the discussion of gender and privilege itself, which (to my surprise) still needs to happen in some depth, but at the insane, hateful attacks, including literal threats of rape and murder, that are raining down on the Skepchicks and others taking part in that important discussion.

Silently shaking my head does nothing. The women under this kind of attack can’t hear my head rattling, so they can only assume I don’t care, when I actually care deeply. I think it’s the difficulty of putting this massive, deranged genie back in the bottle that keeps so many of us quiet. But that’s a poor excuse that only keeps the victims feeling isolated and besieged.

Fortunately I don’t have to deal with the whole genie to do something useful. I don’t have to go back to the elevator and work my way forward, defending and countering and challenging and apologizing and repairing my way down to the present. I can start right here and now by saying out loud that violence and threats of violence – physical, verbal, emotional – are completely out of bounds, no matter what the topic, no matter what your opinion. They don’t speak for me, not one tiny bit, and they don’t belong anywhere near the rational community we imagine ourselves to be. Once we establish that, we can begin to pull the lessons of the late 20th century forward – none of this is new ground, after all – and have this important discussion.

Finally, we HAVE to begin calling people on their anonymity. If it’s protecting someone from harm or exposure, fine. If it only gives them the freedom to harm others, we have to go after it as a huge part of the problem. As long as our community lives and connects primarily online, the problems of the medium are going to continue getting in the way of sane, civil, productive discourse.


  1. Rieux says

    Ooh, ooh–now I can quote myself from last night:

    Hopefully we’ll see folks from CFI, AHA, Atheist Alliance, UCoR, SCA, Stiefel, SSA, FBB… dare we hope for RDFRS?

    Today places a check mark by FBB. Who’s next?

    Very off-topic, as I’m watching Olympic women’s soccer while trying to calm a two-week-old down: U.S. national team coach Pia Sundhagen bears a reasonable resemblance to Ophelia. Go team!

  2. jehk says

    Well said. I really like the last part. Too many people justify or excuse such behaviors with “lol its the Internets” when its not acceptable at all.

  3. Lyanna says

    I like his anonymity point. Yes, people do behave outrageously under their real names, but such behavior is less common and less virulent without the ease and safety of an internet pseudonym.

    I use a pseudonym myself, and see nothing wrong with it. But it’s precisely because I am pseudonymous that I appreciate the courage of people like Ophelia, Rebecca Watson, Amy and Stephanie Zvan in speaking up under their real names. I don’t want to google Rebecca Watson’s name because I don’t want to see the vile dreck that comes up. I can’t imagine if that were my name. That would be horrible to deal with, and I applaud Rebecca for doing so.

    All the more so because, when people see an online controversy (or any controversy), their instinct is often to say that all the pugilists are equally bad. So to many people’s eyes, Rebecca won’t look much better than the people calling her misogynistic slurs and fantasizing about raping her.

  4. says

    Certainly internet anonymity reduces the reputation cost of spewing hate and lies. But I believe that having the community father figures setting clear boundaries for these boys and girls is most important.

    I’d prefer not to have to rely on the patriarchy to address this, but I don’t know what else will work?

  5. says

    @Eric #7 “Matriarchy?”

    Why not? Let the pendulum swing to the other side, otherwise we approach the balance point too slowly.

    Unless we abandon hierarchy altogether, I’d prefer we change it up now and then. Of course, this would be terrifying to the priveledged class, but experiencing this could provide some much needed insight.

  6. says

    @Ophelia #8

    As we are dealing with immature children, the solution lies with shame they can believe in. Our leadership doesn’t have to cater to them paternalistically (that would reinforce the wrong message). However, as they pecieve the leaders (at least some of the male ones currently) as role models, it’s a win-win. Learning to respect everyone begins by getting that message from those you already respect. This is why Dawkins’ tragic mistake did so much damage. And why Surly Amy’s current “get off the fence” out campaign is so important.

    What other authority will these characters listen to (as good arguments have not been sufficient)?

  7. callistacat says

    I think most young men know that there are consequences for standing up to the sexist behavior of their peers. Having more men openly condemn this kind of behavior really does makes a huge difference.

  8. says

    @13 I definitely agree with that. As a 24 year old white male, I’m -constantly- having to pull my friends up (and by friends, I almost exclusively mean male friends) on both casual racism and sexism.

    It’s a hugely frustrating scenario because I’m definitely seen as the wet sock a lot of the time. Someone who’s trying to destroy everyone else’s fun, even though I’m one of the (for lack of a better term) leaders of the group. In fact I think the only reason that all I get is eye rolls when I talk about this sort of stuff is because I’m ‘higher up’ in the groups hierarchy. If I were lower, I really don’t think they would put up with my attitudes.

    It’s really frustrating. I think I’m effecting change ever so slightly, but trying to argue with a group of 20 somethings over inherent male privilege and such sometimes seems futile.

    The only reason I manage to keep my chin up and maintain my attitudes is because of the incredibly courageous people like Ophelia, Amy, Rebecca, Stephanie, PZ and a host of other online presences which would take too long to name. They inspire me to make the world a better place for everyone.

    Though sometimes Futurama takes over a little bit and I feel like I don’t want to live on this planet anymore. When that happens I just grab a glass of wine and start reading Freethought Blogs to remind me that humanity still has it’s champions and the fire of hope gets stoked once again.

  9. mildlymagnificent says

    I find all this carry on about using real names a bit distracting. The big problem with real names is that there’s no exclusivity. My own real name is not Rebecca Watson or Julia Gillard – but my name *is* exactly the same as a well-known science journalist. Even if I wanted to use my own name I could damage her reputation and her earning capacity by simply saying something foolish, or just plain wrong, or in a style a particular paper or magazine dislikes.

    And then there are all those public servants, police officers and schoolteachers who could use their own names – so long as they stayed off the topics they know best as well as any policy matter whether it does or doesn’t relate to their own work.

    People who behave badly enough will be publicly identified. Much better than constant confusions about “which” Ian George or Maria McGuire or any other shared name you do or don’t have.

  10. mildlymagnificent says

    Oh yes, it matters. But I can’t see how a blanket rule about “real” names would solve the problem.

    I do think a publicly stated willingness and determination on the part of bloggers and administrators to identify and publicly name and shame such people when they show up … and relentless, unforgiving, no exceptions implementation of such policies is the best response. Alongside the usual banning, deleting, and all the rest of it.

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