Victim-blaming, an online sport

Oh god, I could tell exactly how this was going to turn out. A woman did an experiment: when she received abuse on Twitter, she tried being nice and asking them politely if they wanted to talk about it. I’m sure you can guess how it went. She boiled the results down to 6 observations/conclusions.

1. None of these people considered themselves misogynists. Yeah, I’ve noticed. They can spew out the most horrific sex-based insults, but they’ll insist to the end that they really love women.

2. They later doubled-down on the sexist insults. It only escalates. I’ve never seen a troll realize that what they’re doing is disgusting.

3. According to them, all of this was my fault. They think they can avoid all blame/guilt by shifting responsibility for their actions to the target.

4. This wasn’t harassment; I’m just too sensitive. This is part of #3. The real problem, they think, is that everyone else is too thin-skinned.

5. They accused me of harassing them. You want to see an affronted yawp? Block ’em. They react as if their rights have been abridged by your callous action.

6. This was about power. Exactly! It’s always about silencing someone with harassment.

And then the wrap-up:

There’s a lot of discussion about how we need to reach out and talk to people who disagree with us – how we need to extend an olive branch and find common ground – and that’s a lovely sentiment, but in order for that to work, the other party needs to be … well, not a raging asshole. Insisting that people continue to reach out to their abusers in hopes that they will change suggests that the abuse is somehow in the victim’s hands to control. This puts a ridiculously unfair onus on marginalized groups – in particular, women of color, who are the group most likely to be harassed online. (For more on this topic, read about how Ijeoma Oluo spent a day replying to the racists in her feed with MLK quotes – and after enduring hideous insults and threats, she finally got exactly one apology from a 14-year-old kid. People later pointed to the exercise as proof that victims of racism just need to try harder to get white people to like them. Which is some serious bullshit.)

I spent days trying to talk to the people in my mentions who insulted and attacked me. I’d have been better off just remembering that when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first tweet.

Yeah, I’ve seen that: my first reaction has been to block, because I’ve learned that there is no point in trying to engage with someone who shows you that they are an asshole with their first words.

What if she says “No”?

It used to be I’d get up in the morning and get battered with blog comments and email, and now I’ve added YouTube comments to my morning exercise. I think of it as part of my mental health regime.

I should probably stop, but I feel it’s necessary to clear out the worst slime from the comments there — and there’s a lot. Here’s one example of the kind of stuff that doesn’t get instantly trashed, but is indicative of the kind of mindset common there.

Why is the SSA suddenly the police regarding sexual rules between consenting adults? So now there are age restrictions against white men having sex; [Incorrect. There are rules about speakers of any age or color or gender hitting on student attendees] and if they’re too old, they don’t get to ask? Wow, actually the SSA seems way, way more gross and creepy and soul-dead and just plain inhuman than Carrier. I don’t get any of this so far. So “creepy” people no longer have the rights guaranteed to them in the Bill of Rights? [I think it’s more like that women have rights, too. I know, what a surprise!] I don’t get why you call yourself a progressive or a liberal. You sound like a Puritan, uptight square. Your into vlog sound just like a, “I’m normal and conformist,” video, so I don’t see anything deep or self-reflective other than that since our own people don’t really permit debate anymore, just a kind of weak self-preservationism in order to belong to the larger group by 100% conformity to the dogma of that group. (Note: I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primaries and Hillary in the general election; and I just got done voting for Feinstein in the midterms and virtually all Democratic candidates in our area [Would you like a cookie?] ; but I don’t get why being a liberal entails being a member of the #MeToo crowd.) I think you got by on your really calm, soothing voice style [Thanks, I think], that people mistook that for reasoning. I don’t see any reasoning here, just kind of stuff that my mean feminist friends say. (Because I’m progressive economically, I’ll continue to vote Democrat, but once we leave economic issues, most of the people around here in Northern California are just plain awful and cold and unfeeling; and I used to love them. Something really hideous is happening in our movement.)

There is a lot of this sort of thing, and there is so much to decode within it. I am trying to police men propositioning women! I don’t want people to have sex, because I’m a prude! I am the death of fun!

I do have a sledgehammer, though. It’s the word “No”.

You want to proposition women, OK. What do you do when they say “No”?

Sex is lovely. What if she says “No”?

What is your definition of a mean feminist? It seems to reduce to “A woman who says ‘No’.”

Can I hit you with this sledgehammer? No? Well, gosh, you’re no fun. Why are you trying to ruin this movement with your rules?

All right then, how about if I just run a calm, soothing hand across your thigh, sir? You can’t possibly complain about that. It would be something really hideous if you said “No.”

Although, to be honest, usually I just sigh and ignore these rants. It gets really tiring swinging a sledgehammer all morning. The women I know must have phenomenal upper body strength.

Another uninteresting nerd gets punctured

For a while, YouTube kept throwing these videos from someone called “Diversity & Comics” at me, until I managed to train it to realize that I despise this guy. He’s one of those white nerds — a regular snowflake — who gets irate at characters in comics who are not white men, or white women with large breasts. And now, of course, he’s outraged at the silly She-Ra controversy, where a reboot of a comic character is now drawn with less flamboyant boobs.

He got interviewed by Jim Jefferies at Comic Con. His views were treated with more respect than they deserved, but it’s still an effective skewering.

Do we really need 4500 words about an unrepentant pedophile?

This profile of W. French Anderson really needs some editing. Lots of editing. It’s about 4500 words long, and most of it is self-serviing puffery — we learn how highly he thinks of himself, how tough he is, that he recently aced his driving test, how he won a high school debate in 1951, and how he did some ambitious science in the 80s and 90s, but he’s unimpressed by this CRISPR stuff. The arrogance just oozes through the page, which I guess is one virtue of the article, but still it is tediously long. If I were editing it, I’d cut it down to less than 250 words. Here are the salient words; the rest is just noise.

But in July 2006, Anderson was convicted of three counts of lewd acts on a child and one count of continuous sexual abuse, including fondling her genitals. The sexual assaults started in 1997 when the girl was 10 and Anderson was 60, prosecutors said, and lasted until 2001 — abuse that his victim testified in court caused her “pain that led me to cut my own body and contemplate suicide.” Her mother ran Anderson’s lab, and he had mentored the child academically and in karate.

Before sentencing Anderson to 14 years in prison, Judge Michael Pastor said he had caused the girl “incalculable” emotional damage: “Because of intellectual arrogance, he persisted and he got away with as much as he could.”

It was not only the audiotape but also emails that helped convict Anderson. In response to the girl’s emailed request for an apology, for instance, he wrote that he “can understand what would drive a person to suicide. For me, a powerful 9-mm bullet through the head would be the way to go” and “just in case, I have bought the ammunition.” In another email, he wrote that he “came to the sad conclusion that there must be a very bad part of me that, now that I have recognized it, has to be permanently suppressed.”

OK, actually we could have ended it with the first paragraph. It’s enough. I’m indulging the writer.

Instead of hearing all that glurge about W. French Anderson’s grand scientific dreams stunted by his ten years in prison, the real story ought to have been about the cost and loss of opportunity to his victim, and to his victim’s mother, who was sufficiently qualified scientifically to run his lab. There’s the real loss to science, not the absence of an egotistical pedophile.

But we don’t hear their story, because they refused to be interviewed for this article. That ought to have told the author and her editors that maybe this is a story they should have shredded. W. French Anderson has had his decades in the spotlight. It’s past time to let him go.

With the right lens, I can reinterpret the world

I just stumbled across Making fists with your toes: Towards a feminist analysis of Die Hard. I am amused.

It gives me life when a certain sector of thin-skinned Nazis get sad about films I like. From Fury Road to Star Wars, their tears bring me joy. Since, like many other people, my favourite Christmas film is Die Hard, it is my intention to highlight how this film is in fact a celebration of femininity, and perhaps one could even call it feminist, for a rather Eighties value of feminism. Am I trolling? I don’t even know any more.

I don’t care if she is trolling. It’s an entertaining exercise to take a classic 1980s macho action movie, flip it over on its belly to get a completely different perspective, and then make penetrating reinterpretations of of its tropes, over and over again, until John McClane squeals and confesses to his inner femininity. I think it strains too hard and is a bit forced in places, but realistically, you’re not going to get Bruce Willis to surrender by being gentle with him.

Now I need a similar analysis of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies. That stuff is fraught, and Bay has … issues.

Another science conference, another old white man getting honored

Unpleasant stuff is trickling out of the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists.

Just because you study scaleys and slimies doesn’t mean you have to be slimy yourself.

The story has already made the news.

Adam Summers, an ichthyologist in attendance, wrote on Twitter: “Herp League decided the most distinguished herpetologist they could find was Dick Vogt. His talk included scantily clad female students. Blue box cover ups were added without Vogt’s knowledge.”

Showing scandalous slides, she said, “is something he’s been doing for 20 years. … There’s a big difference between what he does and just (pictures of) students in normal field garb.”

So the guy is notorious for doing this, he’s been doing it for decades, and women have been avoiding him…and yet the society still goes ahead and gives him an award.

Latest word: the award has been rescinded.

Shermer will slide out from under this — it’s like slime on a slug’s back

Here we go again, another exposé of Michael Shermer’s deplorable behavior. He’ll just shrug this one off, too, and no one will care and no one will abandon Shermer. But it does have some interesting points.

If you want to make Shermer cry, hit his pocketbook.

That evening, Shermer told me, he noticed his talk was poorly attended. At dinner afterward, his faculty host told him about Napoleon’s message. Upset, Shermer responded by sending a long email to the SBCC all-campus list in which he accused Napoleon of defamation, said that both Wallace and Napoleon had aimed “to personally harm me,” demanded that The Channels retract its “libelous article,” and told both the school and the student newspaper that they “will pay” for any book sales affected by the coverage unless they pulled the piece.

Carol Tavris disappoints, deeply.

Napoleon says that this was not her intention, and while she did hire a lawyer, she was unimpressed by the threats from Shermer and his legal team. “If they specialize in libel and defamation,” she told me, “they should know that me sharing public articles about you from 2014 is neither libel nor defamation.” Napoleon says she was also surprised to receive an email from Carol Tavris, a prominent psychologist and a writer for Shermer’s magazine, asking her, “in the spirit of feminism and fair play,” to consider that Shermer had been falsely accused, and to apologize for her email.

In the spirit of feminism and fair play, how dare you try to silence women who complain about Shermer’s sexism.

And surprise! Shermer claims not to be litigious, and to have never sued anyone!

“Shermer is notoriously litigious,” said PZ Myers, who received legal notice from Shermer after originally posting the allegations in 2013. “You know that as soon as you say something, he’s going to come down on you with his lawyers.” (In an email, Shermer responded to Myers’ claim by defining litigious as “prone to engage in lawsuits,” and adding: “I have never sued anyone.”)

Right. He just threatens people with lawsuits to bully them into silence. I wonder how many times he has done this and succeeded? Does it outnumber the times he has tried and failed, as he did with me? It’s also ironic that he’s making this claim in an article about the time he tried to threaten a school paper with a lawsuit.

Still, good to know for other people he blusters at: by his own admission, he has never followed through on his threats.

Also interesting that the faculty member who invited Shermer and angrily defended him was, at the time, already under Title IX investigation.

What everyone seems to agree on is that events quickly veered in unexpected directions, and the interaction set off campus-wide discussions at SBCC. Prolonging the controversy, the school recently chose not to rehire the professor who hosted Shermer on campus, Mark McIntire, an adjunct philosophy instructor who taught at SBCC for more than 20 years. The college, McIntire says, told him that he was not being rehired because of deficiencies in teaching. McIntire was also under a Title IX investigation at the time for personal emails he sent to female faculty members after the Shermer incident, which some women reported as threatening. Shermer and McIntire have characterized it as political retaliation.

Birds of a feather. Although McIntire was eventually cleared, sort of.

The Title IX investigation, which was completed in June, cleared McIntire of wrongdoing in his emails to faculty members, but did reprimand him for unethical behavior.

I wonder if he learned his ethical behavior from reading Shermer’s books?

The paper tiger, though, once again admits to his impotence.

Meanwhile, Shermer says he has racked up $3,000 in legal fees. “From where I sit now, I wouldn’t have done anything,” he said, expressing concern over McIntire’s situation.

I also have to sympathize with Raeanne Napoleon, the chair of the chemistry department at SBCC, who posted the letter that got Shermer so upset.

“I didn’t think twice about sending that email,” Napoleon said, adding that she now feels naïve. “I sent that email thinking this is the right thing to do. This is what you do. I watched the #MeToo movement happen!” Napoleon said. “I thought you spoke out against this stuff. I didn’t realize that speaking out would be so hard.”

Yeah, I spoke out. It’s been 5 years since, watching everyone let an accused rapist slide right on by, with no repercussions on his career at all.

Be worse for greater justice!

I’m immediately put on my guard when someone starts using the old zero-sum argument against acknowledging someone’s rights: “Giving them the same rights I have means my rights are diminished!” This is not a good argument. Granting someone else rights does not shrink the pool of possible rights we can allow. But this is exactly the argument Sarah Ditum makes, and she even says it right in the title: Trans rights should not come at the cost of women’s fragile gains.

With a lead like that, you might expect that she’d then give lots of substantial examples of “unavoidable conflicts between women’s rights and the current trans-activist agenda”, because otherwise, I’m not going to believe it. But here’s her case: “born women” have had to acknowledge the existence of trans women.

In June Cancer Research UK, a charity, tweeted: “Cervical screening (or the smear test) is relevant for everyone aged 25-64 with a cervix.” The odd phrasing—“everyone with a cervix” rather than “women”—was not accidental. The charity explained that it had deliberately chosen to use what it described as “inclusive language”. Similarly, the campaign Bloody Good Period, which donates tampons and sanitary towels to asylum-seekers, uses the word “menstruators” rather than “women”. And Green Party Women, an internal campaign group of the British Green Party, confirmed last year that its preferred designation for the constituency it represented was not, in fact, “women” but “non-men”.

OK, but if you’re a trans man with a cervix, shouldn’t you get cervical screening? And aren’t there plenty of women who do not menstruate for one reason or another, not just because they might be a trans woman but because they’re menopausal or taking pills? This is a rather odd complaint.

Ah, but you see, the problem is that these trends for accurate language are applied unequally. So clearly the trans activists are only targeting women’s causes for change.

It is notable that Cancer Research UK did not test its “inclusive” approach with a male-specific cancer. Its campaign messages about prostate and testicular cancer address “men”, rather than “everyone with a prostate” or “everyone with testicles”. (Addressing “people with a cervix” is, of course, only inclusive of people who know they have a cervix. Many women do not have that detailed knowledge of their internal anatomy. And those who speak English as a second language may well not know the word.) While organisations in the women’s sector have revised their language to avoid the word “women”, male-specific charities such as CALM (the Campaign against Living Miserably, a movement against male suicide) continue to refer uncomplicatedly to “men”. Women’s groups are aggressively picketed for being exclusionary; men’s clubs are left unmolested.

All right, that’s a good argument. She’s right that this asymmetry is a problem. It seems to me, though, that the problem is that trans activism hasn’t gone far enough — that we should be objecting to prostate and testicular screening campaigns that only address “men”, rather than “people with testicles and/or prostates”, and that we should aspire to greater inclusivity. It is particularly ironic that CALM doesn’t seem to recognize that discrimination against trans men and trans women increases their suicide rate. So shouldn’t Ditum be concerned about this habit of “uncomplicatedly” referring to “men” and “women”?

But no. She’s instead arguing that we should return to the lack of complicatedness of just ignoring the existence of trans individuals. It’s really weird. Her entire essay should be read as an argument for the importance of using inclusive language for all, and that society has fallen short in many instances, but her conclusion is that we should fall even shorter, to make things fair.

I don’t get it. Be worse for greater justice! It’s not a very appealing slogan.