It’s not personal

Sigh. I have someone badgering me via private messaging on Facebook trying to push me to agree that Jaclyn Glenn is a feminist, it’s just that she’s “a liberal feminist who doesn’t agree with radical feminism.”

I don’t know, that may be the way she sees herself, but it’s not what she’s said in any of the videos I’ve criticized recently (which are the only videos of hers I’ve seen). I’ve been criticizing what she says in the videos. That’s it. She says what she says, and I criticize that. If her meaning is something other than what she has said in those videos, it’s up to her to make that clear. It’s not up to friends of hers to do that, and it’s not up to me to take their word for what she really thinks.

Besides that, I don’t care. I wish both Glenn and her friends would stop making this personal. I don’t care about Glenn the person. I know nothing about her, and I’m not talking about her. I’m talking about what she has said. I don’t care about Glenn the person, I care about what she has said and seems likely to go on saying.

I don’t get why this seems to be so hard to grasp. Why would it be about Glenn the person? Why would it be about anything other than her product – the content of what she says? This isn’t school, or a job; we don’t have to get along personally. This isn’t personal; it’s public discourse.

Maybe her friend and supporter who keeps badgering me is right; maybe she does consider herself a feminist. It doesn’t follow that I have to agree that she is one. Sarah Palin once said she was a feminist. I don’t consider Sarah Palin a feminist.

This post too is not strictly speaking about Glenn; she’s just an example. It’s about the fact that public discourse is public discourse, and we get to respond to public discourse in public rather than in private. Her friend who’s been badgering me was also trying to push me to contact her privately, and rebuking me for saying I don’t have any friends who are friends of hers. All of this is wrong-headed, because it’s all an effort to short-circuit or divert public disagreement into some sort of back room deal. No. If the discourse starts in public, it should continue in public.

(Granted there are exceptions to that. If I were abusing her, then a private intervention would be fair. But I’m not abusing her.)


  1. Matt Penfold says

    I am not sure someone can be considered a feminist just because they say they are.

  2. says

    I have someone badgering me via private messaging on Facebook trying to push me to agree that Jaclyn Glenn is a feminist, it’s just that she’s ” a liberal feminist who doesn’t agree with radical feminism.”

    There’s that mention of “radical feminism” again. Are we EVER going to get a definition/explanation out of Glenn or her supporters about just what they mean by saying this? And how Rebecca Watson exemplifies it?

  3. drken says

    A radical feminist is a feminist that isn’t currently criticizing other feminists for being radical feminists. It also applies to liberals, environmentalists, etc.

  4. tonyinbatavia says

    Your point that she needs to be clear makes your earlier call for specifics even more important. If she considers herself to be ”a liberal feminist who doesn’t agree with radical feminism,” I wish she or someone who speaks for her would be very specific about who is espousing radical feminism, how it is manifesting in the community, and how and who it is damaging, all with no straw. Without the details, we will never know who/what the hell she is talking about. None of what she has said so far even approximates a caricature of the atheist feminists I follow, much less reflects their actual views.

  5. says

    It is personal for them because it is about personalities rather than ideas, and about tribalism above all. That’s the reason why when they decide someone is outside of their tribe they throw their ethics out the window and engage in harassment and personal attacks. Over here on this side of the rift, we’re constantly correcting each other about not crossing ethical lines no matter who the other person is or what they say and do.

    In addition and maybe more importantly, if you make it about people you don’t have to bother engaging your mind and actually thinking about what other people are saying. If someone claims that criticism is all jealousy and personal grudges, they don’t even have to pretend to address the criticism at all. Making up motives instead of addressing the actual points people make is some sort of logical fallacy, isn’t it?

  6. says

    I don’t think we should settle for “someone who speaks for her” doing it! That’s what the guy on Facebook was trying to do: speak for her, and get me to accept that as reliable and true. Nope. I have no idea who are her true representatives and who are not, so it has to come from her, not someone who speaks for her.

  7. says

    Interesting point, Joe. I suppose I’ve been assuming that at least some of them have some interest in the substance…but maybe that’s a mistake.

  8. doublereed says

    Yea that’s pretty arrogant and she can speak for herself. If she wants to say that she’s a liberal feminist she is more than capable of doing so.

    I thought radical feminism refers to Dworkin or sex negative feminism.

  9. tonyinbatavia says

    You’re right, Ophelia. When it comes to her, she should speak for herself.

    Having said that, since you mentioned the need for specifics my mind can’t stop craving them. I’d love for anyone on the anti- side to provide those. So in addition to Jaclyn speaking for herself, I’d love for someone to give specifics, straw-free, around who is practicing this radical feminism and how it is hurting atheism.

    Sadly, though, and to Joe’s point, if it’s about personality then specifics don’t matter.

  10. screechymonkey says

    Of course now that it’s relevant to a conversation, I can’t recall the examples, but this reminds me of the phenomenon where journalists remark with surprise about how some person who is famous for publicly saying or doing obnoxious and reprehensible things is “really sweet and polite and charming” in person, as if it’s supposed to change my opinion of him or her. Or as if it should even be all that surprising that people who are publicly awful are capable of being friendly and charming (especially to people who have some measure of power over them).

  11. Claire Ramsey says

    I would like to read some examples of “radical” feminism and some examples of “liberal” feminism, so I can figure out what each term is supposed to mean, and further, figure out how (and whether) they are distinct.

  12. Bjarte Foshaug says

    But… but… but.. I’m a vegetarian too! I only have a problem with those radical vegetarians who don’t eat meat. They’re almost as bad as the radical feminists who think women should be treated as equal to men. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to record a long rant against those radical elements in the atheist movement who give us all a bad name by refusing to believe in God.

  13. says

    “radical feminism” again, Jaclyn you keep using those words … How about laying out what “radical feminism” is in your view? How about laying out even one simple objection to this “radical feminism” you seem to have an issue with? At the moment I get the impression you don’t like something about “divisive” atheismplus feminists and feminism. But it is far from clear, other than it’s divisive. How? Why? I don’t know, you haven’t made that clear, at all.

    Might be worth talking to her just to find out what the hell “radical/extreme feminism” actually is!

  14. says

    So far all we really have to go on is by a commenter in support of Glenn, in another thread here, who said that the sort of “extreme feminism” that is the opposite of so-called “liberal feminism” is that which is undertaken by Rebecca Watson.

    And no, I’m seriously not joking about that.

  15. yazikus says

    I was disappointed when Michael Carlton bounced before explaining what he was talking about. Typical, I guess.

  16. screechymonkey says

    Bjarte @12:

    Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to record a long rant against those radical elements in the atheist movement who give us all a bad name by refusing to believe in God.

    It is kind of ironic, isn’t it, that a “movement” that is so often tarred with smears about “militant/radical/fundamentalist atheists” (which never seem to specify what makes an atheist militant, radical, or fundamentalist) would be a little more attuned to the problems of an argument that just makes vague references to “radical” or “extreme” feminism.

  17. says

    I’m just surprised that Jaclyn Glenn and friends haven’t adopted the “equity feminists” vs. “gender feminists” pose that was popularized by Christina Hoff Sommers. Ms. Sommers’ anti-feminist cred must be on the wane, otherwise you’d think they’d have picked up on that.

    That, or Ms. Glenn really knows nothing at all about feminism generally.

  18. deepak shetty says

    Jaclyn Glenn is a feminist, it’s just that she’s “a liberal feminist who doesn’t agree with radical feminism.”
    Shades of Im an atheist , just not one of darn rude,strident new atheist..

  19. says

    They know feminism is about women and choice, so they conclude any choice a woman makes must be feminist by definition.

    bell hooks has a bit about conservatives trying to co-opt feminism as a term in “Feminism is for Everybody.” In short, she doesn’t mince words about certain beliefs and attitudes being explicitly antifeminist.

    This gets back to something I said to Dave Muscato on Twitter the other day. He said “we’ve same big-pic goals in end” and “My goals are economc, political, & social equality for atheists & for all genders, & sep of chrch & state—You?” Few people would disagree with that on it’s face. The problem is what he means by terms like “equality”. What does Dave Muscato’s idea of “equality” look like? Apparently it’s consistent with promoting the use of “pussies” as a pejorative term, which is pretty different from my idea of social equality for the genders. This seems to be the idea of the “equity feminists” as well (also, most libertarians): as long as there’s equality in writing under the law, how it works in practice, how it works outside the courtroom, is immaterial. Efforts to correct those problems are radical, government overreach, socialist, etc.

  20. says

    You mean Michael Castro? Yeah, I agree. My feeling is that a light dawned in his head and it made him uncomfortable enough to not want to continue the conversation. That’s okay, it’s not really him that needs to answer the questions put forward, anyway.

  21. says

    When someone decides to do YouTube videos they aren’t just deciding to express an opinion, they’re deciding that their opinions have to be delivered not only in their voice but with their face. It’s not just the words that matter, it matters that they be heard and SEEN.

    The content isn’t the main part – the most important thing they are spreading is THEM.

    THAT’S why it’s personal. Because that’s the motivation, the important part. To be seen and heard. What you are seen and heard saying comes second. If you criticize the content you criticize them, because THEY are the content, in their eyes.

    (In my opinion this is true of ALL youtube video creators who put themselves on camera.)

  22. says

    I thought radical feminism refers to Dworkin or sex negative feminism.

    There were also (I have no idea if there still are) some feminist separatists — who claimed to believe that a world without men would be a better place.* Now that IVF and cloning are pretty much sorted out, it would be possible to do away with men entirely, or severely restrict the male population (a la “The Gate to Women’s Country” by Sherri Tepper) I don’t think anyone takes those sorts of ideas seriously.

    I don’t know the current status of sex negative feminism, though it’s been a long time since I encountered anyone who takes Dworkin seriously (I did, back in her heyday) McKinnon’s ideas about pornography are still relevant and even important, though I think it’s safe to say sex positive feminism was a reaction and synthesis response to many of the points she raised. My old feminist separatist friend from the late 70s** would probably say that sex positive feminist shared the same relationship to feminism as the tea party does to constitutional originalism (i.e.: co-opted by the republican party or in the case of sex positive feminism, co-opted by the patriarchy)

    The caricatured “radical feminism” I’ve encountered usually consists of a mish-mosh of fear of Dworkin’s anger and McKinnon’s brilliant argumentation, wrapped up with a desire to not rock the boat, i.e.: the idea that equality is a zero-sum game and that women being free to be equals may mean (stereotypically) that they might say “no” when you bite their ankles in public, or might (gods forfend!) tell you to leave them the fuck alone if you tell them they should smile or be pretty for you. That kind of thing. I always find it weird that many men’s residual guilt makes them afraid that a woman’s demand for respect is a zero-sum game, and that their interior landscapes are so not-oriented toward seeing women as anything but toys, that they interpret “equality” as meaning everyone is a toy rather than that we simply stop treating anyone as a toy.

    (* I agree, but don’t want to see it happen)
    (** she used to wear one Tshirt I loved that read “If we can send one man to the moon, can’t we send them all?”)

  23. Gemma Mason says

    Oh, look, “radical feminism” has an informative Wikipedia page. You’ll note that it’s more recent than feminism itself — it dates to the 1960s. You may also start wondering as you read why so much of it sounds like mainstream feminism. The answer is that at least some of the ideas of radical feminism have indeed been absorbed into the movement as a whole.

    “Radical feminism” has also been used as a pejorative, of course. That’s why “radical feminists” sounds to us, these days, as if it means “hateful feminists” or “extreme feminists”. But it was/is actually a real movement with real ideals, some of which have been, quite rightly, influential.

  24. says

    Tom – That’s funny; I’ve been arguing with Dave Muscato about this too, non-stop. His idea, not mine. I don’t much like it, given the fact that AA promotes Glenn – he has a vested interest, and I don’t really want him beating me over the head with it.

  25. jenBPhillips says

    I just saw this in a comment on Cult of Dusty’s FB page, discussing the unfairness of JG getting criticized for not being specific about what ‘extremist feminism’ is an who in the atheist community is allegedly practicing it.

    On “what is an extreme feminist” – the “all penetrative sex is rape” crowd, the groups that bar transwomen from “female safe spaces” and the “all porn is violence against women” types come to mind.

    Totally sounds like us (‘Atheist+ers, FTBers, SJWs, whatever), don’t you think? So, hope that clears up THAT question for everyone. *eyeroll*

  26. Anthony K says

    He said “we’ve same big-pic goals in end” and “My goals are economc, political, & social equality for atheists & for all genders, & sep of chrch & state—You?”

    What a fucking idiotic non-answer. Has he heard of universities, the places that house departments of political science, and how whole careers have been spent in such places in describing various types of ‘economic equality’?

    Are you pro-life too, Dave? I mean, I doubt you’re pro-death, so you must be pro-life?

    Ship American Atheists a container full of history books, and threaten to cut off their funding unless everyone in the office can demonstrate they’ve read at least one chapter. Fucking ignoranuses.

  27. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    The parallels between labeling atheists as “militant” and feminists as “radical” are pretty notable. In both cases you’ve got the stricy opponents (religious/sexists) and then a group of lukewarm centrists (accommodationists/chill girls) who will tolerate (atheism/feminism) until the (atheist/feminist) actually says/does something for their cause. I know people who are only mildly faithful, spiritual or even non-believers themselves whose main beef with organized atheism is that it’s advocates don’t just keep quiet about it. I think the same goes for anti-feminism. JG might (I don’t pretend to know) be one of those people who wants/supports equality for women, but when vocal Feminists dare to suggest that the chill-girls on the side who don’t want to make waves, are not only NOT helping women, but that they are part of the problem, the “radical” charge comes out defensively. It’s basic tone-trollery and I see it alot from Accommodationists of religion when “militant” atheists call them out.

  28. sambarge says

    …though it’s been a long time since I encountered anyone who takes Dworkin seriously…

    I still take Dworkin seriously. What don’t you take seriously? I know she’s often quoted out of context and she tends to be everyone’s favourite straw woman* but I don’t think her writing was without merit.

    *Personally, I’ve always assumed that Dworkin came in for more abuse than MacKinnon because of her physical appearance and her funny-sounding name. MacKinnon is more conventionally attractive and has a nice Anglo name.

  29. says

    I still take Dworkin seriously. What don’t you take seriously?

    I feel that a lot of her arguments were overstated for dramatic impact, which wound up making them harder to take seriously. I’m aware that a lot of the claims about her views are actually deliberate mis-interpretations of them, intended to demonize her position, but that was an element of the counter-attack on her work on obscenity. I don’t take “obscenity” seriously, I think it’s simply an attempt to raise an aesthetic judgement to a moral plane and that was a strategic error. The arguments McKinnon was making that (for example) pornography is based on economic exploitation driven by unfairness of opportunity are more tangible and better framed. I’m not sure if that makes sense… So I stopped engaging with her ideas and paid more attention to McKinnon (who, I think, was organizing and polishing Dworkin’s ideas, making them simultaneously more consumable and harder to argue against)

    I realize that what I just said comes off as almost a “tone” whine, but I don’t think it’s an unfair complaint. We’ve recently been seeing a lot of JAQing about “why do we need feminism, when the broader issue is social equality?” and Dworkin’s charges, I think, aimed so broadly that a lot of us (remember: I was a lot younger then!) took it as “augh! I cannot completely reconstruct myself and society! WTF! It’s too much!” Most of my movement toward feminism came from McKinnon, whose narrower focus on the exploitative aspects of pornography (economic, sexual, and political) was easier to chew and swallow than the broader critique.

    Now that you asked me, I guess I really mis-spoke when I said that I haven’t encountered anyone who takes Dworkin seriously – her ideas are pervasive (because she was right about tons and tons of important stuff!) but it’s been filtered into the broader consciousness about sexual inequality and patriarchy. It’s like she said what needed to be said, and it’s now sunk in deeply where it matters and nobody points and says where the ideas came from (not like she was the first to say all those things, either).

    I’d agree that Dworkin came in for a lot of abuse because of her appearance and (less so) her name, but I think a lot of the hetero-male backlash against her was because she made a lot of us profoundly uncomfortable because she (rightly) hit us where it hurt but the other thing I remember — now I have to go look on wikipedia — her “partner” (Stoltenberg) and her very non-typical relationship made me uncomfortable. I was, what, 20-something at the time, and I think I interpreted her relationship as an intended exemplar. Now, I understand better, but at the time I thought that was her model of the future of masculinity and relationships and at 20 that made me very uncomfortable. That’s hardly a critique, though.

    The caricature of Dworkin as a sex-hating man-hating feminist who thinks that all sex is rape (I know, she never said that!) is the straw from which so many straw feminists are made.

  30. says

    I feel that a lot of her arguments were overstated for dramatic impact

    I just re-read what I wrote and…. ugh.

    It’s also quite possible that her arguments weren’t “overstated” and that she was just that righteously, justifiably pissed off. And that I couldn’t wrap my brain around the idea that anyone would be that pissed off at me for something I didn’t think I had done, but which I was a part of because of the accident of my existence.

  31. Donnie says

    I am in a cynical mood. I feel as if the Dawkins Foundation, American Atheists, JREF, and all the other organizations and individuals on the other side of the rift desire to remove religious preference from mainstream politics in order to replace a Christian patriarchy with an Atheist patriarchy. Of course, I am just being cynical of the specific goals of the “thought leaders” of the movement. They allow the occasional token (white) women to use their bathrooms, boardrooms, conferences. Other minorities and genders can ask politely behind the curtain for their wishes to be granted.

    Yes, I am cynical (of the motivations of others on the other side of the (it needs to be deeper) deep rift). Sreiously, I doubt the other organizations are against harassment policies (individuals, yes), gender ratios, STEM. Honestly, there has been too few initiatives for PoC or LGBT* , but I believe the issue is that the organizational thought leader’s egos.cannot stand being pushed, pulled, or shown where they have gotten it wrong. The organizations will get it right like harassment policies (I am being cynical again), but at the cost of the current movement atheists. From the organizations, it will not matter. As long as they can over at their pace, and believe that it is their “thought leader” that had the revelation then all will be good.

    I was going to go on longer, but cynicism has its limits.

  32. Donnie says

    “Movement atheist” was meant to refer to A+, the importance of social justice atheists. We need our own foundation, so to speak, that speaks on our behalf and represents our (as in everyone’s) ethics, morals, and goals in terms of atheism plus social justice.

    At this point, burn the atheist bridge, leave them on their island. I would rather work with humanists, secularists and liberal religious types that focus and care about social issues rather than any of the current conservative, libertarian, and / or accommodating atheists for the sake of any goals that exclude individuals because of “freeze peach”, “secular arguments for abortion”, and/or “big tent policies”.

    Fuck that! Simply, fuck them and the big tent that they are hiding under.

  33. sambarge says

    Marcus, I think we are in agreement. Normally, I find people who don’t like Dworkin have read about her and not actually read her work.

    The making fun of her name thing might only be my personal experience. I had a prof at uni who would sneer when he said her name and really emphasize the “Dw” part of her name. Some of the sycophants in class would laugh when he did it and repeat it back. It’s so now when I hear people criticize Dworkin, I can hear that sneering version of her name.

    But, there is no doubt that her physical appearance was discussed in criticism of her work like ad hominem was just for men.

  34. Pierce R. Butler says

    Marcus Ranum @ #s 33 & 34 – Pls take a harder look at MacKinnon’s work and its impact. She wrote with less zeal and more precision than Dworkin because she wanted to influence legal discourse (and did).

    Canadian lawmakers took her seriously enough to enact some of her proposals – which were promptly used, e.g., to arrest women for presenting sexually explicit materials at lesbian-activist conferences (in one notable case, just for bringing such materials in their luggage when crossing the US border for presentation at such a conference).

    MacKinnon’s name and program have vanished from contemporary feminist activism for excellent reasons.

  35. KaineDamo says

    ImprobableJoe said, “It is personal for them because it is about personalities rather than ideas, and about tribalism above all. That’s the reason why when they decide someone is outside of their tribe they throw their ethics out the window and engage in harassment and personal attacks.”

    In the comments here
    Blanche Quizno said, “The first term describing herself: “She’s hot.” That’s all that matters in the manlymanosphere, and she knows it. She realizes that the only thing that gives her any standing in a misogynist patriarchal culture is being hot – and throwing other women under the bus. She could be saying absolutely anything – it’s like they’re the dogs in this Far Side cartoon:×300.jpg

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