Nazis and Stasi and bears, oh my

Dear oh dear, lots of new assigned reading first thing in the morning; how will I ever catch up.

There is Rebecca’s post on being called Feminazis and Femistasi. (I read that yesterday actually, but late in a long and rather nerve-racking day, so I’m treating it as new.)

There is Paula Kirby’s eagerly-anticipated (since she announced it yesterday) Google doc “Sisterhood of the Oppressed” (gee I wonder what that could possibly be about, and what its take might turn out to be).

There is Alex Gabriel’s unanticipated and lovely mash-note to Freethought blogs. Alex’s note is especially pleasant because it includes detailed accounts of what he likes about a whole slew of particular blogs on the network, which makes a nice contrast to people who simply rant endlessly on Twitter about “FTB” as if it were allonething. It also offers the comradely suggestion to tweet #WeLoveFTB. It offers it for the same set of reasons as the one we were talking about on the video yesterday. (That was only yesterday? It feels like weeks ago now.)

All of these people are tremendous, and so are many of their co-bloggers from the little of them I’ve seen. But none of them is the biggest reason I love FtB.

The biggest reason is the same one other people have been criticizing them recently: that they speak out so often, and so eloquently, on feminism, queer and racial struggles, politics and other Causes That Aren’t Directly Related To Atheism. That while primarily they’re an atheist network, they’re a collective of atheists with other opinions, where atheist discussions on justice, ethics and politics can take place – especially where the perspectives of the marginalized are included.

If we had a word for atheists doing this, what would it be?

Oh yes. ‘Freethought’.

The criticism of religion is a very much older beast than RDFRS, or CFI, or FreethoughtBlogs itself. It’s older than the skeptical movement writers here belong to, and which focuses (don’t get me wrong, correctly) on attacking religion epistemologically.

In Europe, the historic home of freethought, and elsewhere in the world, there exists a long and esteemed tradition of thinkers and writers who called out religion for being unjust and oppressive: traditionally, feminists, Marxists, queer theorists and all the other famous bêtes noires of the Daily Mail have been the first to bash religion. There’s clearly no real dichotomy, and many people who identify with these groups also foreground science, but I relate to that atheist tradition at least as much as to Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. And I love FreethoughtBlogs – I adore it – for representing that contingent.

So here’s my invitation to you, if you love it too. Now that I’ve set out what makes that set of writers special to me, I’m not going to try and stop people calling them bullies or totalitarian. They’re entitled to their opinion – but so are we, and while the FtB crowd are, frankly, being bombarded with abuse, I think we ought to share it.

Remember when Tory politicians said we needed to privatise health, and #WeLoveTheNHS trended? I think it’s time for #WeLoveFTB.

Tweet it. I’m about to. Tweet it so that everyone from that network knows we support them, and find love as well as hate when they search for FtB.

Thank you, Alex.


  1. StevoR says

    I just want to say thankyou Ophelia Benson. You rock.

    I understand you’ve had to put up with a lot of (bites tongue) awful vile and putrid nonsense from some seriously nasty people lately – and for quite a while actually.

    I just want to say, love your work, keep up the good fight, cheers and well done, Ophelia Benson. Virtual hugs if you’d like them.

  2. Arthur says

    I started reading Paula’s letter but my eyes glazed over when I started reading something about “1930s Germany”. Sorry.

    Anyway, Ophelia, please keep banging on about feminism as much as you like. I find it interesting and it doesn’t bother me. I still don’t get why it bothers other people.

  3. David says

    Keep it up Ophelia, you know its working. Many different commentators have posted thier support, versus a small, seemingly organised, group of blatherskites.

  4. julian says

    Many different commentators have posted thier support, versus a small, seemingly organised, group of blatherskites.

    It isn’t small and they aren’t all blatherskites. It’s several high profile names in skepticism and atheism.

  5. says

    What is a blatherskite, anyway?

    Alex has just been asking me what a mash note is – he thought it was a neologism. It’s archaic rather than neo – teenage US slang of the…20s or 30s or 40s, I’m guessing.

  6. karmakin says

    @Arthur: There’s a couple of reasons, I think, for different people First, it’s because some people are simply male supremacists, and they think that women don’t mean anything.

    Second, for some people it’s that they don’t like the usage of social pressure period. Some on principle alone (especially in our movement, as social pressure is something commonly used by religious groups a lot of people have a bad taste about it), and some because we’ll use social pressure on other social justice issue, where they might actually disagree.

    Third, for some people, it’s a matter of social privilege. They want a socially overtly-aggressive environment because it’s something they personally enjoy. The desires of other people be damned.

    Fouth, and this is probably going to be controversial. Feminism has a bit of what I call the PETA problem. That is, that the movement as a whole is tarnished by the actions of a few. I think it’s both better and worse than PETA…that at one point the problem probably was worse, as in larger, but by and large feminism tends to be much more interested in being self-correcting in terms of ideological flaws.

    A good example of this that most of us (hopefully all of us) would agree would be feminists who are extremely CIS-ist/Anti-Trans, something that is obviously wrong. This may, and actually does taint the view of feminism for some people.

    I’ve seen “totalitarian feminism” (although generally speaking it’s more about being totalitarian in general) before. FTB has very little of this, and fact in the past has generally fought against this. It’s why even though this sort of thing concerns me, I have no qualms about calling myself a proud feminist.

  7. Millicent says

    I read you every day, Ophelia. I admire your work, and I hope the endless bullshittery will stop (or at least slow down). Thank you for all that you do. 🙂

  8. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    I love your blog Ophelia, you’re consistently clear and insightful an every issue you address. Thank you!

    It’s archaic rather than neo – teenage US slang of the…20s or 30s or 40s, I’m guessing.

    You were still keeping up with youth culture in the depression? *ducks*

  9. says

    Ha! I knew some smartass would say that. Left off the disclaimer for that reason.

    No, not quite, but I had an intense interest in everything about the 1930s at one time. Spanish Civil War, Moscow Trials, Cagney movies, the Jarrow march, the WPA, Art Deco, proletarian novels – you name it.

  10. David says

    Blatherskite, it would be impolite to say, Ophelia, I apologise i may have over stepped the line, using middle english/old norse

    Mash note, a paper token to exchange for prohibition alchohol, perhaps

  11. Stacy says

    Virtual hug from me too, Ophelia.

    I read you everyday and appreciate your strength and your wit and your eloquence.

  12. Lyanna says

    Kamarkin: do you really think the PETA problem has anything to do with THIS particular dust-up, though?

    Because I don’t. This whole thing has been promoted by perfectly ordinary, sex-positive, rationalist, mainstream feminists touting a perfectly ordinary, sex-positive, rationalist, mainstream policy.

    Sexual harassment policies aren’t officially controversial anymore. Most people agree that we need them.

    And neither Rebecca Watson, nor Ophelia Benson, nor Greta Christina, nor PZ Meyers any of the other feminists advocating for these sexual harassment policies have been “oversensitive” or “radical” about any feminist issue. They’re not making a Catherine MacKinnon argument. They’re not saying anything extreme either in tone or in content.

    The whole thing got kicked off by Rebecca Watson very mildly saying “guys, don’t do that” about hitting on people in elevators at 4 am! It was mildly expressed, and it didn’t even ask for any onerous change of behavior. Why do you need to hit on people in small enclosed spaces? Isn’t it much easier to do it at a bar, where they can walk away easily, anyway? How is that any harder than not chewing with your mouth full?

    So…I’d say it’s not about feminism having a PETA problem, but about people reacting to the mildest feminist suggestions with OMG YOU OPPRESSIVE HYSTERICAL FEMISTASI!!!!! Especially if those suggestions in any way imply that men should think before they act on their lust. Because, you know, male sexuality is a holy force, and women’s autonomy and ability to go about our business is nothing compared with the sacred rights of men to get sex.

  13. Stacy says

    I hope this doesn’t seem like a pileon, kamarkin. I get what you were going for with your PETA metaphor, but in addition to what Lyanna said there’s another problem with it that jumped out at me:

    PETA is a single organization, with an organizational structure. Feminism is a broad movement. It’s wrong to compare the two. There isn’t a heirarchy in feminism. There are spokespeople, who are more visible to the media for one reason or another, and they may disagree sharply with one another in many ways (think Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. Sorry, I’m showing my age in my examples.)

    Wanted to mention this because one of the ways people try to dismiss feminism is by speaking of it as if it were a monolithic organization, as opposed to what it is: a grassroots movement that has always been full of debate and disagreement.

  14. Hamilton Jacobi says

    I think karmakin’s analogy was more between feminism and veganism, or between feminism and animal rights — the point being that there are a great many vegans and animal rights activists who do not support PETA’s tactics, even though both movements are often caricatured as being entirely PETA.

  15. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    The big difference is that PETA is the most prominent animal rights organization in the world, while the “bad feminists” are almost entirely on the fringes (and in the imaginations of MRAs). And for the record I support neither PETA nor the exploitation of nonhuman animals for food.

  16. Lyanna says

    Kind of tangential, but I want to clarify that I’m not saying (in my previous comment) that all feminists who agree with something Catherine MacKinnon says, or who are not “sex-positive,” are not rational.

    Those feminists get demonized enough as it is, and I often think they have valid points (except for the transphobic minority that Kamarkin brings up). So I wanted to make that clear.

    Those feminists are, however, somewhat out of the mainstream of both feminism and general political thought. My point in my previous comment was that the feminism in this discussion is very mainstream, obvious and moderate, so the vicious response can’t be due to hostility to extreme* forms of feminism.

    *extreme is not a per se pejorative in my book.

  17. Josh Slocum says

    I’ve been readin’ me some Ophelia Benson for. . . how many years now? And loving every minute.

    Oh, and I’ma pal around with her and buy her food and beerz on my vacation this fall. So yeah, suck it other commenters:))))

  18. Arthur says

    Thanks for the analysis karmakin.

    All I can vouch for is Ophelia’s blog. I don’t follow the Skepchicks, Rebecca or others.

    I’ve learned a lot from Ophelia’s blog. I use it as a resource, especially for global issues, and pass on many posts to colleagues and friends via facebook or email. Pieces on Leo Igwe, Afghanistan and so on.

    This kind of information is essential, and thanks to Ophelia for providing it. Few others are doing it. Least of all Paula Kirby it seems.

    I’ve never seen anything here that could reasonably provoke the kind of unpleasant response Ophelia has received during this spat. “Feminazis”? Shame on Paula.

  19. Stacy says

    Oh, and I’ma pal around with her and buy her food and beerz on my vacation this fall. So yeah, suck it other commenters:)))

    Well, I’m hoping to meet her when she comes to Los Angeles in November. And I’ll totes buy her a beer or an absinthe or a cup of mead.

    But yes, I’m still jelly of you, Mr. “Personal Friend of Ophelia Benson” Slocum. I know you think you’re all that.

  20. karmakin says

    Dunno if you guys will read this (was out all day), but by and large I agree with you, I just said it clumsily I think.

    I agree that feminism is not a monolithic organization. And what I meant to say (but wasn’t that clear) was exactly that. There’s a lot of internal debates within feminism as a whole, and that by and large I think it’s moving in an overwhelmingly good direction.

    And i do think that generally speaking basically all of the feminists here talk about very fair and reasonable solutions to problems.

    But that doesn’t really change that some people…quite irrationally I will add..will dismiss said reasonable solutions just because they think that because they came from a “feminist” then they must be radical.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think that’s the primary fuel for this particular fire, personally I think that #2 and #3 seem to be much bigger issues right now, #3 in particular. But I mentioned it because I don’t think it’s nothing either.

    The reason I use the PETA analogy is because that’s where my experience is. I spent years volunteering for animal welfare groups, and in terms of messaging with the public, the PETA problem was MASSIVE, in my experience. I see similar problems coming down the pipe for feminism as a whole, and while I don’t think it’s the big problem here, it’s something we should be aware of.

  21. Stacy says

    I see what you mean, karmakin, and I agree. Sorry for misunderstanding!

    I see similar problems coming down the pipe for feminism as a whole, and while I don’t think it’s the big problem here, it’s something we should be aware of

    Well, I’m old enough to be able to say that that problem has always dogged feminism. You always had detractors who dismissed feminism because of mythical “bra burners”, or because all feminists supposedly “hated men”, or who attributed extreme views of a particular thinker to all feminists. It is something to be aware of, but (alas) it’s nothing new.

    On the glass half full side, some ideas that were once considered pretty radical are now mainstream.

  22. karmakin says


    I admit I may be too sensitive or biased over these things, and of course, I hope I’m wrong. But I’m not saying that we have to change anything we’re doing, for the most part. Keep on putting forth the message that feminism is about equality and breaking down the social boxes and the gender roles that on the whole hurt all genders. There will never be no opposition, and in fact I think the less opposition there is the nastier it’ll be.

  23. Josh Slocum says

    But yes, I’m still jelly of you, Mr. “Personal Friend of Ophelia Benson” Slocum. I know you think you’re all that.

    Pssssst. . . . I know you ain’t ready for this jelly (makin’ a “mmmmmm-hmmmmm” face and hand-waving thing).


  24. Musical Atheist says

    I don’t tweet but I do love FTB. I love the diversity of interesting writers, the fact that it places discussions of atheism and scepticism in contexts that are actually relevant to my life, like politics, gender, race and LGBT issues instead of banging on about spoon bending and Bigfoot debunking, which I find mildly entertaining for about 10 minutes. I like the acknowledgement that we can talk about science and social justice, and that these fields may actually at times intersect. I like the fact the posters like Ophelia, Greta and Stephanie don’t back down when ridiculous amounts of shit are thrown at them for saying perfectly reasonable things. And I like the fact that there are interesting conversations and that if I say something foolish it will get criticised, but that a more sensible reassessment of my position will be recognised and accepted. So thank you for what you do and please don’t stop doing it.

    Also, for the record, I posted something inane on one of the gendered epithet discussions, about finding it wearisome but not horribly offensive that one of my tutors at music college uses gendered epithets. Reading the discussions here at B&W subsequently gave me the impetus to admit how much his language, the stereotypical assumptions behind it and the fear of being labelled ‘difficult’ if I objected were actually bothering me and creating a barrier to building a trusting creative environment. I felt impelled to open a discussion with the other women and agree to ask him to stop. He did, without difficulty, as soon as we explained why it made us uncomfortable. Thanks Ophelia.

  25. says

    Musical Atheist – ah that’s interesting…and rather cheering. (Not the first time from you!) I had a discussion with two highly reasonable UK guys on Twitter yesterday, who were saying they think it’s partly a matter of cultural differences between the US and the UK.

    I said yes, maybe so, but then I don’t think the UK culture is all that healthy. It’s David Brent. He thinks he’s hilarious, but actually he’s just disgusting and brutal.

    But one of them said he thinks we (people in general) put too much emphasis on names and labels. (Then I talked about stereotype threat, but then one of them who is a psychologist said there’s criticism of the ST idea, and I realized I haven’t explored the criticism yet, so should shut up about it.)

    It’s a view…but I think it’s wrong. I just (still) think vicious down-putting names and labels of a certain type – epithets, to put it another way – do harm. A lot of harm.

  26. says

    The criticisms of stereotype threat I’ve seen mentioned anywhere all refer to one conference presentation in 2009(?) that still hasn’t been published as a peer-reviewed paper. I would love to see what more this person would refer you to on the topic.

  27. A Hermit says

    Part of a comment I left over at Hank Fox’s the other day…

    “I rarely comment, but I lurk and read…one of the reasons I like to come here is the diversity of opinions and viewpoints and backgrounds I find. I can hear a range of voices from an exiled Iranian woman to a Phd philosopher to a Texas redneck; and while I’m reading sometimes I nod my head and agree, sometimes I jump up and cheer, occasionally I get annoyed and even angry and sometimes brush away a tear.

    You’re all overdue for a big thank you…”

    Nice too see someone is organizing that “thank you”…

  28. Musical Atheist says

    Ophelia – the tutor is actually a Dutch opera director, (I’m at college in the Netherlands), and said he thought it was a Dutch director thing, although I suspect it’s a bit of an British one too, and I definitely agree with you about aspects of British culture being unhealthy. I think it’s also a difference between a truly academic environment, in which issues of diversity and professional language have usually been pretty thoroughly hammered out, and one geared towards the performance industry, in which personal idiosyncrasies are more permitted and stereotypes abound (divas, viola players and the terrifying martinet director). I do occasionally worry that entering the profession might sometimes be like a cross between entering an old boys’ club and a pub when the football’s on, but a broad mix of nationalities (as we have on the course) is fairly typical of the opera world as a whole, so it’s necessary for everyone to be flexible: thick-skinned and sensitive to different cultural norms. Anyway, he was extremely decent about it, and it was interesting to me to realise how much the use of certain language and stereotypes affected my willingness to trust.

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