What they don’t get

What it’s like to be Rebecca.

She got a message this morning with a link.

The link was to a pornographic MS Paint drawing someone made of me and posted to a Rule 34 porn site under the username “rand0mathe1st.” The image depicts me bound and gagged, covered in semen, with a dildo up my ass. It reads, “Rebecca Watson is an object.” Here’s a link to a censored but still NSFW version that may be disturbing to you if you don’t get this shit sent to you all the time. It’s interesting to think of how much time and energy that person must spend thinking about me, fantasizing about sex with me, and wondering how much one should charge to rape me.

She thinks a lot about sloths, Rebecca adds, but enough to do that kind of thing? She gives it a shot, but it’s too boring. Go see the cute sloth face though.

Usually the troll messages just go into my trash bin and I get on with my day, but I thought the timing of it was too good to not mention. For a start, it handily supports Dr. Heldman’s lecture about objectification, posted below. But also, it should help make it clearer what women like me, like the other Skepchicks, like Stephanie Zvan, like Greta Christina, like Ophelia Benson, deal with on a daily basis.

I want you to think about this the next time you hear Michael Shermer complain that Ophelia Benson’s mild criticism of his words is a “McCarthy-like witch hunt,” or when Paula Kirby complains that she’s being persecuted by feminazis because women are asking for better treatment, or when anyone complains that PZ and others are “Freethought Bullies,” or when anyone complains that I complain too much because once every few months I provide examples of the harassment I receive. Shermer, Kirby, and the others have no idea what it’s like to be hunted and harassed, because “our side,” the people who are speaking out against harassment, don’t do this to them. Michael Shermer isn’t told every day by atheists and skeptics that he’s worth nothing aside from the sexual gratification his body could offer someone. He isn’t told by atheists and skeptics that he deserves to be raped and abused. Atheists and skeptics don’t spend hours drawing images of him in dehumanizing positions. They don’t tell him that they’re going to sexually assault him if they see him at a conference. They don’t tell him he’s too old or fat or ugly to fuck. They aren’t so terrified of what he has to say that they’ll do anything they can to silence him. And they don’t tell him that his disinterest in putting up with any of the former makes him too sensitive to be involved in the atheist or skeptic community.

Instead, they focus on his words and on his arguments and they offer an opposing viewpoint. If that’s what Shermer thinks of as a witch hunt, then a single day of the treatment I get would have him boarding up the windows at Skeptic Magazine faster than you can come up with a bigoted nickname based on his name.

That is the truth.


  1. says

    Thank you for this very cogent reminder of the power differential and sexism that the privileged such as Michael Shermer don’t have to face.

    He’s so privileged that he didn’t bother to reply when I pointed out to him that one of the articles he published in Skeptic Magazine was plagiarized almost entirely from one of my blog posts.

  2. A Hermit says

    Go see the cute sloth face though.

    Then take twelve minutes to watch the Ted Talk…well worth it.

  3. mandrellian says

    Yes, as stated above, if Shermer/Stangroom/Kirby/Vacula/MrZer00es etfuckingcetera had to put up with anything like the amount of vicious and graphic hatred Rebecca, Ophelia, Amy, Stephanie, FtB et al have to put up with, they’d not only board up their windows but they’d likely wash their hands of the whole goddamned skeptic/atheist movement altogether. If you’re familiar with Shermer’s and MrZer00es’ butthurt and wailing about persecution and freedom now, just imagine if someone sent them a personalised humiliating rape image or email. Then imagine it was sent by one of PZ’s Horde, or any other regular FtB commentator, or any regular at a FtB blog setup specifically to insult them. Then imagine it happening to them every fucking day for years on end in response to mild criticisms they made or complaints they made about the harassment they were experiencing. Do you think they’d “harden up” or “develop a thicker skin?” Not fucking likely. Given their wailing over the mildest criticisms and disagreements, I wager we’d not only never hear the end of it, they’d be up in arms, clamouring for a full-scale “purge” of their own.

    It can’t be said too often: the hateful, graphic, violent images and threats and rape fantasies are only coming from one side of the fence. And they’re not just coming occasionally, they’re coming every goddamned day and it’s not just a number of isolated lunatics making these pics – thanks to the anonymity of the net there’s an entire fucking community that has a forum dedicated to sharing and laughing at them.

    That such a large number of self-described “critical thinkers and skeptics” fail (or refuse) to realise this or acknowledge this very simple fact (or that they minimise it or deny it outright) says so much more about them and the protective, insular little bubble their privilege provides than the most well-written reams of argumentation ever could.

  4. jose says

    It’s remarkable the pornographic imagery used with the sole purpose of demeaning and humiliating. I wonder if some day people can stop the “they consent to it, end of the question” narrative and actually look into what it is that men see in porn to consume so damn much of it and also to use it like this guy did.

  5. Hamilton Jacobi says

    Somehow I doubt if Michael Shermer is paying attention to any of this. His cognitive dissonance disposal system might get clogged up, so it is much more convenient if he just doesn’t notice.

  6. doubtthat says

    If the person that spent time drawing that and sending to Rebecca could just sit down and have a conversation with you, Ophelia, I think you’d realize that it’s all a big misunderstanding. I mean, the intent behind something like that is so inscrutable that we all need to listen to the nuanced explanation of the drawer’s motivations.

  7. says

    Well yes, doubt, because of course that person has a “grievance,” and if he (going out on a limb here) could only meet me over a plate of corned beef hash and explain his grievance, we could be BFFs.

  8. says

    Doubtthat: Actually, I had a dispute with one of the Skepchicks, and I found Rebecca to be very reasonable when I talked to her. I’ll always be grateful to her.

    So I’ll trust Rebecca’s judgement when it comes to the person who sent her the drawing.

  9. cubist says

    sez ophelia benson: “Reality is so absurd that sarcasm calibrators are just always breaking down.”
    Well, that’s because sarcasm calibrators are a spinoff derivative of irony meters — and we all know how prone they are to catastrophic failure events.

  10. says

    You know, if people would just stop using Alanis Morissette to calibrate their irony meters, the damn things wouldn’t blow up nearly as much…

  11. Silentbob says

    Speaking of Greta, I’ll probably get into trouble for a “‘yes, but‘ response to misogyny”, but…

    I think it’s a pity Rebecca framed the last two quoted paragraphs as a “Dear Muslima” argument directed at Shermer and Kirby. (And ironic, given the author.)

  12. athyco says


    Although the “think about this when you hear about that” phrasing may have led you there, I find several differences that make it not a “Dear Muslima” argument. Rebecca is not saying “How selfish are your own concerns because there’s a horrible situation over there that is worse, so be quiet–yours is zero bad.” She’s saying “You have in the past minimized the horrible situation over there, so take a look at some specific, ongoing evidence.”

    Next, no one had initially derailed a comment thread about the injustices and pain and misogyny suffered by Muslim women to say that Rebecca had it just as bad or worse so that Richard Dawkins had to bring it back on subject.

    Third, Rebecca made her own post, linking to a TED talk about objectification, updated with the NSFW Paint image; she did not derail a discussion about the hardships of Shermer or Kirby.

    If I’m having a disagreement about the temperature at which most women begin to sweat being higher than the temperature at which men begin to sweat, then am I saying that the person on the other side has to be quiet once I present evidence? Or later, not to talk about the effects of exercise on the efficiency of sweating? No. That first argument may be over; it may be continued with evidence from the other side, but there’s no attempt to silence. A “Dear Muslima” in that conversation would be, “Why are you even talking about this? Don’t you realize that some people have anhidrosis or hyperhidrosis?”


  13. brucegee1962 says

    Good link, 14 SilentBob. I was thinking about the same thing. The story from Rebecca was appalling, absolutely, since Rebecca in no way consented to the objectivization. But the TED talk seemed kind of dumb, in exactly the ways that Greta was describing.

    The objectivization of the female body is simply a fetish. Based on the culture, it’s an amazingly common fetish among men, and as Greta points out, not unheard of among women too. And as one of the commenters in the article SilentBob quoted points out, “I have a hard time reading anti-porn pieces like the one you linked to without suspecting that what the author is really troubled and offended by is not the porn itself, but by the desires which the porn gratifies. Because they know better than to set themselves up as the thought police, they reverse cause and effect, claiming — typically without evidence — that the porn creates the offensive desires, and that if the porn went away, the desires would disappear as well. But the aim remains the same: to stamp out the desire.”

    Sure, it’s a bit creepy because it reduces the humanity of the object of desire. So do practically all other fetishes, including ones that are popular among women like sparkly vampires. For the TED speaker, it seemed beyond the bounds of reason that men and women might be turned on by different things, but when my wife saw the Calvin Klein superbowl ad of the mostly naked guy, her main response was, “Yuck, that’s disgusting.”

  14. thephilosophicalprimate says

    Oh shit, jennifer! That link should come with some sort of trigger warning for those with high blood pressure issues. Kincannon’s racist stupidity followed by the worst “Can’t you take a joke?” defense in history is likely to cause an aneurism in vulnerable populations.

  15. says

    The story from Rebecca was appalling, absolutely, since Rebecca in no way consented to the objectivization. But…

    No! No no no no no no. Stop. No buts. No minimizing. Just shut up.

    Silentbob mentioned the “Yes but” thing and did it anyway. Are you ignorant of it, Bruce? Well, go to Greta Christina’s and look it up. Then you won’t be able to claim ignorance anymore.


  16. brucegee1962 says

    I’m perfectly aware of the “Yes, but” phenomenon. It doesn’t apply when we are discussing two entirely. different. things. If someone says “Star Wars episode 2 stunk, but episode 3 was pretty good,” and I say “Yes episode 2 was awful, but actually episode 3 was pretty bad too,” that doesn’t mean I somehow hold less disdain for episode 2.

    What dipshit did to Rebecca was utterly without her consent. It was cruel, abusive, lame, asinine, all other bad adjectives. It was something no human should do to another, ever. And the first 7/ 8ths of Rebecca’s article, including the sloth, is brilliantly written as is typical of Rebecca.

    But I don’t see how what that guy did compares to a bunch of highly paid models who CONSENT to get their pictures taken in fetishized positions, or have their bodies painted on to advertise a product.

    The difference is CONSENT. It is a very big difference. I fail to see how you can overlook it.

    But sInce you asked, yes, I quit the video at around 6 minutes, when the speaker started wondering why we don’t see half naked men everywhere. Because men tend to be turned on visually and women by narratives. Duh.

    Did you read Greta’s article linked to in 14? Because she seemed to me to demolish the TED speaker all over the place.

  17. Stacy says

    I quit the video at around 6 minutes, when the speaker started wondering why we don’t see half naked men everywhere.

    It shows, and you really should have watched the whole thing. Among other things, you missed the speaker’s point that “We see men’s magazines full of scantily-clad women, and we see women’s magazines full of–scantily-clad women.”

    Now, why would that be? Because women dig “narrative?” Or because we’ve learned to see ourselves as objects?

    Because men tend to be turned on visually and women by narratives.

    And immediately after making this assertion, you refer to Greta’s article, in which she, a woman, discusses her enjoyment of sexual images.

    In any case, your hypothesis doesn’t account for women’s magazines being full of scantily-clad women.

    Here’s a rival hypothesis: the reason more women don’t enjoy images of naked men is that we’ve all internalized the fact that women are sexual objects, not sexual subjects. Men, on the other hand, are sexual subjects and actors, not objects–at least not for women.

    Men are socially dominant, and their bodies are their own.

    If women were socially equal, would more of us be “turned on visually?” Maybe. Maybe not. How can we know? We’re so far from gender equality and true sexual freedom for women there’s no telling what we’d like if we really were free and equal.

    Girls still grow up with the message that women who too openly or promiscuously enjoy sex are “sluts” and “whores.”

    And how many chances do young, sexually curious hetero girls get to enjoy pictures of the naked bodies of young, desirable men?

    In any case, brucegee, you’ve read Greta’s article but I don’t think you’ve understood it. It’s about images of consensual kink. It does not contradict the TED talk at all.

  18. Martha says

    I was tempted to craft a careful reply to BruceGee, making myself late to work in the process. Fortunately, Stacy already took care of that problem and saved me from that fate!

    There’s a big difference between using sexy images as erotica and using them to sell cars by making men feel masterful.

  19. brucegee1962 says

    Thanks for the well-reasoned argument, Stacy.

    Mightn’t we say, then, that the feminist position should be to try to seek out more ads wherein men are objectified (eg. the Calvin Klein superbowl ad) rather than fewer ads where women are objectified?

    Here’s the thing. It took me literally decades (and reading and talking to plenty of women like Greta) to get to the point where I could reconcile my own specific set of turn-ons with my support for feminism. I got fed up with the speaker because what I was hearing was “All these images are bad, so you’re bad too if you find them arousing.”

  20. Stacy says

    I got fed up with the speaker because what I was hearing was “All these images are bad, so you’re bad too if you find them arousing.

    I applaud your honesty, brucegee. I suspect that’s what a lot of men hear. It’s understandable.

    But that’s not what she was saying. You’re not at all “bad” for being turned on by sexy pictures of women. The problem is with the pervasiveness of it, with the underlying social narrative, as I tried to express above.

    Also, what Martha said. 🙂

  21. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    Because men tend to be turned on visually and women by narratives. Duh

    Hey! When did Ignorant Sexist Bullshit Story Hour start?

    But I don’t see how what that guy did compares to a bunch of highly paid models who CONSENT to get their pictures taken in fetishized positions, or have their bodies painted on to advertise a product.

    The difference is CONSENT. It is a very big difference. I fail to see how you can overlook it.

    I fail to see how you can possibly not understand the problem here. Seriously. You get about half way there, then run flailing right back to Boy Privilege Land.

  22. daniellavine says

    Porn’s not the problem per se but there is plenty of porn predicated on the exploitation of women. Yes, this just reflect pre-existing attitudes in the audience. But since there’s no special porn market for children younger folks end up watching this same porn and I think it would be disingenuous to claim this has no impact on their just-developing views on sex and sexuality.

    Objectification isn’t just a matter of women looking sexy. When women consent to dressing scantily and being photographed it isn’t necessarily objectification. Objectification is a lot more abstract than that and has more to do with how images are interpreted than with what’s in the images to begin with.

    Let’s please not go accusing feminists of being anti-porn. First of all, it’s not true of many feminists AFAIK. And I’m rather certain it’s not true of any of the people in question here, TED presenter included. Pornography is at the locus of a lot of difficult problems around consent, choice, and objectification and it deserves a somewhat more sophisticated, knowledgeable, patient, and open-minded approach than this:

    But sInce you asked, yes, I quit the video at around 6 minutes, when the speaker started wondering why we don’t see half naked men everywhere. Because men tend to be turned on visually and women by narratives. Duh.

  23. Stacy says

    I’d like to recommend Lynda Barry’s 1984 “coloring book” Naked Ladies Naked Ladies Naked Ladies to anyone interested in how girls interpret all the female objectification they’re bombarded with. It’s a glimpse into the mind of a coming-of-age American girl by the cartoonist Matt Groening calls “the funk Queen of the Universe.”

    If ya’ll don’t know who Lynda Barry is, you should.


  24. Deoridhe says

    I’ve actually considered getting a gay men’s magazine because I liked the images of alluring men so much, but objectification isn’t just an attractive image, it’s about disbodiment. She specifically points out in the video how women are shown as body parts, or with vacant eyes, or as explicit victims of violence, and personally I find the male quivalent of dead eyes (I got a lap dance once from a dead eyed man, and it was really uncomfortable for me; I liked the female stripper more, as she was more personally engaged, even though I’m not sexually attracted to women) really kind of disturbing and I feel like a creep being on the other side of that. That it is much more normalized for women in ads has really given me pause.

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