Welcome to the sixteenth installment in my series where I ask the men who are leaders in the secular communities to speak out against the hate we have seen primarily directed at women.

Today, I bring you the words of Phil Plait. Phil Plait is an astronomer, author, and writes the Bad Astronomy blog. He is the former president of the James Randi Educational Foundation, and has written and spoken numerous times about the idea of what it means to be a skeptic.

Phil speaks to us about the recent uptick in the amount and intensity of online sexism and thuggery and explains how and why each individual must fight to stop it.

Phil’s words after the jump.

From Phil:

What the hell is going on in the online community?

If you’ve been reading or paying attention at all to any of the online
cultures like skepticism or general geekery (scifi, gaming,
convention-going, and so on), you’ll have seen astonishing and
depressing displays of sexism. That’s been true for a long time. But
recently some sort of sea change has occurred, and what we’re seeing
now is a marked increase in outright misogyny and thuggery.

The examples are so distressingly ubiquitous I hardly need point them
out. A woman gamer wants to make a documentary showing misogyny in
video games, and she gets rape and death threats. Rebecca Watson
calmly and rationally tells men not to hit on women in enclosed spaces
and reaps a supernova of hate and irrational vitriol. And now we’re
seeing death threats, rape threats, all kinds of violent threats,
against women who are simply trying to improve the way they are
treated at meetings as well as online.

This. Must. Stop.

I am a skeptic and a scientist. I know what’s it like to feel anger
and frustration toward implacable forces I think are threatening my
way of existence. You may feel this way about many things as well. And
while you and I may disagree on some of these topics, the way to
work out our disagreements is through the exchange of ideas via
honorable words and actions.

Threats, dickery, bullying, hate, insults, mob-baiting, and
humiliation are not honorable actions and must not be used.
You want to change my mind? You want to win my heart to your cause?
Then argue your case logically and based on evidence.
If you have to resort to the kind of crap we’re seeing now, then maybe
your convictions aren’t as rationally based as you think they are.

Look, I know people are angry. Some of them have the right to be. As I
have said many times, anger is natural, anger can be warranted, and
anger can be a great motivator. But it must not lead to
hatred.
Unfocused anger, uncontrolled anger, cannot lead
anywhere but away from a goal. Once hatred leaks in through those
cracks, rational discussion is dead.

I have seen precious few discussion on this where sooner or later (and
usually sooner) the comments don’t devolve into spittle-flecked
rhetoric. Even if the original article is well-reasoned, thoughtful,
calm, and rational, the comments quickly fall apart. That is what hate
does.

That’s unfortunate, but that’s the internet. There’s not a whole lot
that can be done about that in general, because you cannot control how
others act. But here’s what can be done in particular: you can control
how you act. Don’t let the anger, don’t let the hate, get the
better of you.

Internet discussion devolves quickly, but discussions in person tend
not to. We know when we are facing another living, breathing, feeling
person, but that knowledge is easily overwhelmed by emotion online.
But the two are not separate: raging emotions online have real life
consequences. Threats and bullying online don’t just go out into the
ether. They affect real people, and can cause a lifetime of damage.

Don’t let the hate get the better of you.

I’ve been quiet about this up until now for many reasons. Whenever I
dip my toes into this miasma the overwhelming response is been vicious
and hateful. Even many people who claim to be critical thinkers dive
into the ichor and become part of it.

But I decided I can’t stand by and watch this anymore, and that’s why
I’m writing this now. My friend, Surly Amy, has been posting a series
of articles by men speaking out against this incredibly disturbing
trend toward violent rhetoric, and the post by Dale McGowan, Executive Director of
Foundation Beyond Belief, really struck home:

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.

This.

If you threaten violence against someone you disagree with, then you
are not a critical thinker. You are not a skeptic.
And you are most certainly not a decent human being.

If you disagree with someone, fine. You may be right, you may be
wrong. But if, when expressing your disagreement, you bully, threaten,
verbally or mentally abuse the person you’re arguing with, then
you’re doing it wrong, and you need to stop
.

Maybe you’ve heard me say this before, but it’s just as relevant now
as it was in 2010, and it always will be: Don’t Be A Dick. If we can just start there, we’ll
get a lot farther along the path of understanding and mutual benefit.
And from there we can get on with the real work of making the world a
better place. For everyone.

 

Phil Plait is an astronomer, author, and writes the Bad Astronomy blog.

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us Phil and thank you for being a good friend.

Prior posts in this series can be found here:

Speaking out against hate directed at women: David Silverman

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Dale McGowan

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Ronald A Lindsay

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Nick Lee

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Barry Karr

Speaking out against hate directed at women: David Niose

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Matt Dillahunty

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Jim Underdown

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Michael Payton

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Michael Nugent

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Dan Barker

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Carlos Alfredo Diaz

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Todd Stiefel

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Michael De Dora

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Paul Fidalgo

More to come.

Amy Roth

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and writes about vegan food. She is the founder and president of the Los Angeles Women's Atheist and Agnostic Group: LAWAAG. Follow her on twitter: @SurlyAmy or on Google+.

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54 Comments

  1. Avatar of Bjarte Foshaug
    August 20, 2012 at 12:25 pm —

    Phil delivers the goods as usual :)

  2. Avatar of Luna
    August 20, 2012 at 12:28 pm —

    Good one. Is it lame to say I’ve been meaning to check out your Bad Astronomy blog for the longest time? Well, I have.

    Online vitrol is sometimes like babies having a tantrum. Yes it can be serious. But what gets me is when it translates to in person or professional life.

    In grad school we had one professor who would be fine to everyone in the school. But on field trips, guess who he would chat with. Not the women. I can tell you that – it was all “boy talk”.

    It WAS about the science, that’s what got me. Apparently girls weren’t fit to benefit from his wisdom about field work. So the online harassment may not be there – but the attitude is.

    • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
      August 20, 2012 at 1:59 pm —

      What’s amazing about this attitude is that the same people (men generally) in scientific/atheist/skeptic communities that criticize the right’s war on women will turn around and do the exact same things as the right.

      That’s pretty fucked up and I’m glad the status quo is being overthrown in a popular and righteous rebellion.

      • Avatar of Luna
        August 20, 2012 at 2:04 pm —

        It’s true. And this was at a “liberal” graduate school so the professors acted like they were immune from criticism just because of where they were.

      • Avatar of jinxybunny
        August 20, 2012 at 6:46 pm —

        There’s an adage for that:

        “Conservative men want women to be private property. Liberal men want women to be public property.”

        • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
          August 21, 2012 at 4:40 am —

          Yeah, well, liberal or conservative it’s a case of both thinking their shit doesn’t stink, and it’s been good to see it being thrown back in their faces to make them reconsider that assumption.

          But it’s especially good to see the liberal side of sexism being challenged because I think for a long time it was far less obvious and therefore more insidious because a lot of guys were able to get away with it in plain sight without any criticism.

          No more.

  3. Avatar of Carl
    August 20, 2012 at 12:31 pm —

    Thank you Phil. It’s funny – you posted something about Elevatorgate a while back. That was one of a handful of articles that made me realize this fight was important and I needed to stand up for what was right.

    I’m very glad to see you back. Thank you so very much.

  4. Avatar of Regis Dudley
    August 20, 2012 at 12:46 pm —

    Beautifully articulated, Phil.

    My favourite quote is:

    “As I have said many times, anger is natural, anger can be warranted, and anger can be a great motivator. But it must not lead to hatred. Unfocused anger, uncontrolled anger, cannot lead anywhere but away from a goal. Once hatred leaks in through those cracks, rational discussion is dead.”

    I work in science communications, so I read a lot of business books and it is interesting how this mantra of “Don’t let anger get the best of you” crosses boundaries into nearly every discipline, from business to science.

    Those who cannot comment without letting anger turn to hatred do themselves a disservice, and a disservice to the conversation.

    That said, I understand that it can be hard to decipher passion from anger, so passion could turn into hatred if someone wants SO BADLY to communicate something they care deeply about, and comes up against opposition. That’s when the person needs to step back and critically analyze their responses; if they smell of hatred (even just a bit), they need to be reworked.

    I will share this with friends. Thanks again!

  5. Avatar of James Fox
    August 20, 2012 at 12:54 pm —

    “Dickery”, “spittle flecked rhetoric” and a “…dive into the ichor”. I guess metasogyny is one of the lesser crimes. ;-)
    Not bad Phil.

  6. Avatar of fizzygoo
    August 20, 2012 at 12:58 pm —

    It’s always good to hear people you like speaking out on things you like. Even better when it’s for civility, equality, and cannibalism. Er, wait. Not that last one. Civility, equality, and respect. The more out spoken everyone is, that spewing hate online is not socially acceptable, well at the very least I would suspect that it would show the mean-peoplez to be not as large of a population as they appear to be …and there will be more respectful people to engage in passionate debate with in order to find ways to better our society. I’m mean, sure, Cthulhu will usher in a new dark age where humanity will be smothered in the uncaringness of those from outside space…but we shouldn’t give up our humanity even if they’re just going to take it away in the end. Or wait? Is that; Cthulhu will usher in a big all-inclusive debate between humans showing their humanity which works towards the marriage of creative ideas giving birth to an adamantium age of science and reason. Maybe both? I’ll have to check what Cthulhu has on the menu.

    Regardless, happy to see Dr. Plait speak out on this subject and I support his speaking out on speaking out.

    • Avatar of weatherwax
      August 20, 2012 at 9:09 pm —

      I wouldn’t surrender to Cthulhu just yet. He has to get through the The Flying Spaghetti Monster first. Should be a battle royal.

      • Avatar of fizzygoo
        August 20, 2012 at 9:36 pm —

        Hehe, surrender, don’t surrender, it will all be the same when Cthulhu ushers in the Old Ones…however it’s better to make a stand and not surrender than to lay down and surrender if only because one can typically get a better view of the horizon when standing than when laying down and one does want the best view when the FSM battles it out with the Big C; all noodley appendages entwined with cephalopodic appendages as the geometries of the battle slip and become wrong. :)

  7. Avatar of captaintripps
    August 20, 2012 at 1:17 pm —

    I’ve often reflected over the TAM stuff specifically that were Phil still president of that organization things would’ve proceeded quite differently.

    And in that light I’m again forced to ask where James Randi is in all of this?

    • Avatar of delphi_ote
      August 20, 2012 at 3:13 pm —

      “And in that light I’m again forced to ask where James Randi is in all of this?”

      To be fair, his health has certainly not been well. I don’t want to come down too hard on him, as I don’t know what’s going on in his personal life right now.

      But I find it very troubling that two outspoken atheists and homosexuals (Randi and Grothe) seem to be so out to lunch on sexism. Neither has had trouble identifying the skeptics movement with religious freedom and gay rights. Why has their rhetoric been so backwards on this issue?

      • Avatar of Doug Poston
        August 20, 2012 at 4:39 pm —

        @delphi_ote: ["Neither has had trouble identifying the skeptics movement with religious freedom and gay rights. Why has their rhetoric been so backwards on this issue?"]

        I wondered the same thing until a friend pointed out that “gay rights” is not the same thing as “gender equality”.

        I’ve meet some gay people who were extremely misogynistic. I *DO NOT* think this is the case with Randi or Grothe, but I also don’t think they’re as aware of the problems women face as they could be.

      • Avatar of Nathan
        August 21, 2012 at 11:16 pm —

        Has Randi said anything at all?

        I wonder if he even knows what’s going on…

    • Avatar of Bjarte Foshaug
      August 21, 2012 at 4:14 am —

      I have a new criterion for deciding who’s in my good books. Instead of keeping the old “good books” and scratching out the trolls, the haters, the hyperskeptics, and the false-equivalence-spouting bothsiders one at a time, I’m starting a new book and adding names as they come out against the misogyny that turned the old “movement” into a stinking sewage.

      I always knew I could count on Phil though :)

  8. Avatar of leekottner
    August 20, 2012 at 1:21 pm —

    Great post, as always, Phil. And thanks for lending your voice to the crowd of male allies. One thing I haven’t seen addressed (though I haven’t read everything in the skeptic community about this topic) is, what are the trolls angry about, when they threaten women for their words or behavior or whatever? Not the actual incidents themselves that spark the discussion, but what’s behind it. People usually get angry when you question (or make them confront) their core beliefs about themselves or others. I think a lot of the reaction women get online is from guys who have had to think about their own behavior toward women and about their core beliefs about the equality of women. So when men (or anyone) get pissed off enough to threaten a woman for what she’s said or done or not done, it’s because their response threatens that person’s self image.

    It’s great that so many male allies are speaking out and saying this behavior is wrong, and uncivilized and immature and in some cases, criminal. We need all the voices raised against it that we can muster. But next time any of us says something in anger, or starts to, sit back and look at why you’re angry and what that says about your self-image and beliefs. Make yourself accountable. Don’t make other people call you out.

    • Avatar of BruceGee1962
      August 20, 2012 at 10:51 pm —

      I remember what I was like many years ago, before I found a woman I could get to know as a human being and she helped me get all this mental stuff straightened out.

      If I can recall from back then, I think the mental state is very simple: “Nobody loves me. I’ve examined myself closely, and I believe I am a lovable person. So if the problem isn’t with me, it must be with all of them.”

      I’d be willing to bet that none of the Watson/Amy-haters out there have solid relationships with any woman. That’s where the anger comes from, plain and simple. It almost seems as if it’s a male disease that can only be cured by getting to know a real girl.

      • Avatar of ihatemusic
        August 21, 2012 at 7:43 am —

        You hardly need to be a relationship with a woman to challenge your existing beliefs about women. They are plenty of gay men and singles who get that sexism is shit. They are people in “good” relationships with women, where the women themselves have absorbed enough misogyny for it to work.

        And yes, it helps to get to know people with a different viewpoint than yours, but you don’t need to personally know every other person in the world to challenge your viewpoint. I can check my prejudices against Africa without traveling there, etc.

        • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
          August 21, 2012 at 10:31 am —

          The challenge in changing the hearts of those people though is that they’re often NOT challenged.

          Which leads me to think that there should be some educational outreach campaign like More than Men to address the disgruntled single male population.

      • Avatar of Nathan
        August 21, 2012 at 11:22 pm —

        Yup. This is pretty much it.

        Although what made me realize the problem was with me was not a strong relationship with a woman (I actually gave up trying for a relationship a long while back… mainly because I realized the problem was with me, both physically and personality-wise). It was actually a combination of a friend of mine (we were Nice Guys(TM) together) getting yelled at by a woman he wanted (she was dating a jock, and at a party my friend complained that she was dating an asshole and she should be afraid of him, so she responded “I’m more afraid of you then I’ll ever be of him” [among other things]… my friend has also matured and has a much more feminist outlook now, as well), reading feminist blogs like Skepchicks, Flyover Feminism, and the feminist bloggers at Freethought Blogs, and personal reflection (recognizing that I do actually have problems that I need to take care of).

        All of that helped me to realize that I wasn’t a nice guy, but a Nice Guy (TM), and I needed to make a number of changes, which I’m doing now.

        (Also, sorry for the word-salad at paragraph 2. It’s mainly one long sentence, and I’m too tired to figure out how to split it up. So instead, I’m begging everyone’s forgiveness.)

    • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
      August 21, 2012 at 10:28 am —

      Bruce I don’t think that’s necessarily always true. I believe a lot of Skepchick haters do have relationships with women, but they’ve been drinking the kool-aid of privilege all their life.

      However, I think you bring up a good point, because there is probably a significant subset of guys who feel ignored/unwanted by women, and this leads to an especially angry brand of sexism. I know this because I felt unwanted by women, and it led me to feel horribly sexist thoughts.

      There’s no excuse for sexist behavior because of that, but what I think could help alleviate sexism is some outreach to these disgruntled guys by guys who have come over to the feminist side. Outreach about WHY sexism is bad (it’s not obvious to a lot of men) and how to fix the rejection problems with women.

      Things like:
      - Why sexism is terrible despite the rejection
      - Sexism is not appreciated, and won’t get you far, so don’t do it.
      - Women actually appreciate men who are genuinely nice and not just nice because they see a sexual interest.
      - How to interact with women as human beings, not just potential sexual partners.

      It might be an interesting project to start, similar to more than men.

  9. Avatar of Anthropologist Underground
    August 20, 2012 at 1:32 pm —

    DBAD was awesome back in the day, and the message was never more relevant than now.

    Slightly related anecdote: I was reminded of the current state of the endless skeptical nuttery this morning when I took the Tiny Anthropologist to meet her new preschool teacher. On the bookshelf was a book called something like, “How to Calm Down.” The take-home message is stop. Take a few deep breaths. Count to five slowly. Ask an adult for help. I don’t get why this is so difficult for grown-ups online.

  10. Avatar of Bill Nugent
    August 20, 2012 at 2:44 pm —

    I’ve heard something about a Hitler/Nazi threshold, where all unmoderated comment threads descend to… seems that nonsense starts way before it becomes apparent. From over here in the UK I was under the impression that Americans were working in some dystopian nightmare, where rules & laws that would be unnecessary here were required to govern appropriate behaviour in the workplace, but from what Pamela Gay was saying about the Scientific/Academic community, which I found astonishing, those laws are absolutely necessary, Here in the UK too.
    Here’s the rub, though: What is the point of having those laws if, except in the extreme, they never get applied? If the women who are subjected to this bullying/sexual harassment don’t report it for fear of losing their jobs?
    If the misogyny starts at the top, that’s where it needs to be cut-off.
    Perhaps workers need an avenue whereby they can blow-the-whistle anonymously… We have Unions, but I think that’s a dirty word in the US. There’s Wikileaks, but that’s probably a dirty word too.
    Sometimes I despair, when oil companies can claim to be green, when politicians can claim to be honest, when justice is fair if you’re white, male or wealthy and you’ve hit the jackpot if you’re all three. When good people like Pamela have to endure, then what hope for the rest of us.

    • Avatar of James Fox
      August 20, 2012 at 5:26 pm —

      If it starts from the top then it’s the top that needs to be changed IMO. And that has been happening on a very slow basis over the past generation in the cooperate world where, in many respects, there is more power than in the hands of politicians and governments. This very current list (URL below) of the percentages of women as corporate board members is somewhat interesting in that the top three are as expected Norway, Sweden and Finland. After that it gets intriguing and even surprising in some respects when you see Turkey on top as having the largest percentage of women as board chairs but quite a small percentage of board members. And when it comes to societal change I think we can anticipate that the cultural norms in entertainment and other industries will change at a faster rate when more women are on those boards; in the same way places like universities will change when their boards of trustees reflect that typically more than half of their students are women. I personally think public universities should be required by law to have a board that reflects to some degree the diversity of their student body. My guess is that issues like sexism and harassment would be handled in a much different manner than they are now at many institutions’ were that the case.
      http://www.catalyst.org/publication/433/

  11. Avatar of criticaldragon1177
    August 20, 2012 at 3:59 pm —

    Amy

    I like Phil Plait.

  12. Avatar of KellyM
    August 20, 2012 at 5:23 pm —

    Thank you, Phil! Leadership is so important. If Phil were president, I would still be a proud supporter of the JREF. “…no ill will intended,” of course.

  13. Avatar of obob
    August 20, 2012 at 6:05 pm —

    Wonderful series, thanks to all involved.

    Amy,
    I would like to suggest updating the earlier pages in this series so that they all use the /same/ set of links to each other. Right now, each one links only to the ones earlier than itself.

  14. Avatar of John Sandlin
    August 20, 2012 at 8:07 pm —

    Thank you, Phil, for writing this. Because I saw your post about it I got to read the others, too. Thank you, Amy and the Skepchicks for this series – excellent, if overdue.

    To expand on the idea of DBAD – if you feel like being a dick, you should re-examine your argument and your reasons for it. You might be wrong.

    Finally, just to throw out the No-true-Scotsman fallacy – I have to wonder if these trolls really are smart, free-thinking people. Their behavior suggests otherwise.

    John B. Sandlin

  15. Avatar of Aneka K. Bean
    August 20, 2012 at 8:45 pm —

    I’m a little curious as to what your opinion on the similarities between how women might be treated and racism in general. Honestly, IMO, until we can as a society ignore classifications such as race, gender, nationality, etc. such things will never change.

    Sometimes I venture out of my awesome Batcave of Solitude to find that social behavior hasn’t changed much from what I experienced in grade school (all the way through HS) It’s human nature to behave the way we’re socialized to behave. We have fluctuations of what’s cool and what’s not cool, but what it boils down to, is no matter where you stand on a position, demographic, gender or hobby, there is US and there is OTHER.

    I’ve been discriminated against for being white, female, and being more upper class than some, less upper class than others (I just consider myself a vagrant not classically educated designer/engineer with little interest in what other people think is important, I don’t identify with any of those socially imposed titles other than to feel “labeled”.)

    It’s a shortcut on how to behave without having to think about it. We all do it somewhere in life and it’s often escalated by feeling threatened. Is someone trying to take away from our social capital? From our respect, from our status? Some people think there is a limit on respect, that after a while there is no more to give.

    We have a competitive society that prepares us to fight for things. What people have a hard time distinguishing is there is a difference between monetary economics and social economics. (And I think monetary means are the least important in the long run)

    We have as much social wealth as we are willing to give. Though I agree with the message that violent insults and threats aren’t productive, I think that rather than telling someone not to hate (which feels an awful lot like an assumption of the other person’s motive to me) we should find a way to get people to speak more clearly about what they’re trying to convey. I’m probably making an assumption myself in thinking that hate is kind of a strong word for something that seems so thoughtless to me.

    I feel a little sorry for these people who resort to quick insults and threats, and graphic stories because I can’t help but think they have nothing else to give their peers that they think has value. Why try cheap social tactics of bravado otherwise? Establish territories maybe?

    Either way, sometimes I wonder if bringing attention to their behavior isn’t in some way encouraging it. I can’t say I have a better solution, but if you look at social patterns, if we continue to lead with an example of dramatic response we will likely get the same results, for example, forcing people to behave a certain way in the office with laws limits freedoms, to some degree creates more of a divide between men and women because there is the illusion (some cases true) of an unfair advantage women might have to wrest positions of social or monetary capital from men by pulling the harassment card when it’s not justified.

    I would love to see gender just forgotten altogether, scientifically there isn’t as clear a boundary or genetic line between female and male as we are raised to think. There are many who fit neither category and are doubly discriminated against.

    Thoughts? I don’t really like a lot of things about the way people behave (I know I have my own bad behaviors that I don’t recognise) Maybe there is a way to encourage people into behaving better without making them feel like an enemy in the process? It’s not a war, it’s more like a social disease.

    Why are they doing this? We should probably establish a cause before just trying to treat the symptoms.

    • Avatar of Will
      August 20, 2012 at 9:51 pm —

      Honestly, IMO, until we can as a society ignore classifications such as race, gender, nationality, etc. such things will never change.

      What makes you so sure that shifting to a difference-blind society will make improvements? This is not even a possibility. I’ve talked about this elsewhere, but it’s also quite problematic to tell oppressed peoples that their differences and identities should be erased because it has the effect of erasing their experiences. It also tends towards victim blaming—after all, if people would just stop acting different (and thus act like the default white, straight, cis-gender, middle-class man) they wouldn’t be subjected to discrimination, right?

      I’ve been discriminated against for being white, female, and being more upper class than some, less upper class than others

      No doubt you’ve faced some sort of discrimination in your life due to these things, but as far as being white and your socioeconomic status, there is not a systematic, institutionalized oppression against those things in the same way that there is for being a woman.

      Though I agree with the message that violent insults and threats aren’t productive, I think that rather than telling someone not to hate (which feels an awful lot like an assumption of the other person’s motive to me) we should find a way to get people to speak more clearly about what they’re trying to convey.

      Speaking of assumptions, this perspectives assumes that hatred is not what they’re trying to convey. I remain unconvinced of this. How do you speak to someone about trying to more clearly convey what they want when what they are trying to convey is hatred?

      Either way, sometimes I wonder if bringing attention to their behavior isn’t in some way encouraging it.

      Please see this.

      I can’t say I have a better solution, but if you look at social patterns, if we continue to lead with an example of dramatic response we will likely get the same results, for example, forcing people to behave a certain way in the office with laws limits freedoms, to some degree creates more of a divide between men and women because there is the illusion (some cases true) of an unfair advantage women might have to wrest positions of social or monetary capital from men by pulling the harassment card when it’s not justified.

      I’m sorry, what? Are you seriously saying that women in offices had it better back in the 60s-90s before sexual harassment policies were implemented?? And the notion of false accusations of sexual harassment/assault as being a reason to not implement them is atrocious. Research clearly demonstrates that false allegations are extremely rare and that sexual harassment (and assault) goes underreported.

      I would love to see gender just forgotten altogether, scientifically there isn’t as clear a boundary or genetic line between female and male as we are raised to think. There are many who fit neither category and are doubly discriminated against.

      Gender isn’t the problem per se, the ways people behave in the quest to uphold normative (oppressive) roles is the problem. And gender is distinct from biological sex (you seem to be conflating them).

      • Avatar of Aneka K. Bean
        August 20, 2012 at 11:13 pm —

        I’m sorry you felt insulted by my point of view. In my head I didn’t sound inflammatory or insulting.

        Could you correct the links? I can’t read them because they don’t seem to be working. I would love to read more about what you are saying. I’m not familiar with the ongoing argument/talks/etc here as this is my first time on this blog.

        I haven’t really cited anything as an irrefutable fact in my comment, and I don’t think I was clear enough that I was posting my point of view and looking for alternative cases because I am interested in knowing.

        I’ve generally been of the mind that words only have power over you if 1. your peers are listening to them and it therefore influences your social climate 2. You let them get to you and influence your mental climate.

        I understand that sociology is complicated and I fully expect to be wrong about things all the time. Feel free to educate me, I am happy to learn.

        (I am not clear on how I am mistaking the meaning of gender, however.)

        I have quite a strong opinion on a lot of things, but I am not an authority, and I have not researched much about gender roles outside personal experience and social discourse so I will avoid further comment without citation if that’s what’s required.

        • Avatar of Will
          August 20, 2012 at 11:33 pm —

          I’m sorry you felt insulted by my point of view. In my head I didn’t sound inflammatory or insulting.

          I’m not insulted, I’m pointing out the problems in your position. ;)

          Could you correct the links? I can’t read them because they don’t seem to be working. I would love to read more about what you are saying. I’m not familiar with the ongoing argument/talks/etc here as this is my first time on this blog.

          Whoops! Sorry about that. They’re all fixed now.

          I’ve generally been of the mind that words only have power over you if 1. your peers are listening to them and it therefore influences your social climate 2. You let them get to you and influence your mental climate.

          It very often goes beyond what people say though. We’re talking about much more than words here–we’re talking about behaviors and actions as well.

          (I am not clear on how I am mistaking the meaning of gender, however.)

          Basically, the current thinking is that sex is mostly biological (female/male/intersex) and gender is mostly cultural/social (woman/man/trans*/genderqueer/hijra/katohey/etc.). These things influence but do not determine the other.

          This sex/gender distinction is not clear cut and it is often difficult to tell the difference. But when you’re referring to genetics, that would be referring to a person’s biological sex and not their gender.

          I have quite a strong opinion on a lot of things, but I am not an authority, and I have not researched much about gender roles outside personal experience and social discourse so I will avoid further comment without citation if that’s what’s required.

          You’re certainly entitled to your opinions, but I think it’s important that we base our opinions on something other than gut feeling alone. There’s a lot of research in this area, and much of it is easily accessible (i.e., not steeped in academic jargon). I can recommend some titles to you if you are interested.

          • Avatar of Aneka K. Bean
            August 21, 2012 at 2:49 am

            I do feel a little unwelcome by the strongly emphatic language used in response to my original post, but I understand that maybe it’s a misunderstanding on my part as to the intention.

            I will certainly read the links and if you feel like directing me to other reading material. (Anything with objectivity would be much appreciated, I’ve lacked any dedication or interest in wading through the one-sided things I’ve run into.)

            Kammy,
            I have experiences of my own, and I don’t think I could adequately have fit them in what was already a one page post. If you would like help in getting past verbal abuse I would be happy to assist with how I manage it. I do not want to, how do you say it “thread-jack” so in the interests of taking detracting from the blog’s discussion elsewhere you are welcome to email me or toss me a line on G+. Or you can take my word that blithely was not at all the tone I was intending.

          • Avatar of marilove
            August 21, 2012 at 10:36 am

            Aneka? STOP with the tone-trolling!

            Will is being ridiculously patient and polite, and here you are telling him to be nicer? Why does he have to be nice to you? Read his POINTS and stop focusing on his tone!!! His “tone” is irrelevant (not to mention you’re reading a hell of a lot into it).

            Also, read this:

            http://www.derailingfordummies.com/emotion.html

            Fuck it, just read the entire “Derailing for Dummies” site.

            Also, familiarize yourself with this blog/site before asking a thousand questions we’ve already answered before. There’s a *multitude* of information out there. Use your google-fu.

        • Avatar of Kammy
          August 21, 2012 at 2:11 am —

          I’ve generally been of the mind that words only have power over you if 1. your peers are listening to them and it therefore influences your social climate 2. You let them get to you and influence your mental climate.

          1. Yes our peers are listening and many are joining in the abuse.
          2. I would challenge you to not let it get to you when your friends are receiving rape, death and destruction of livelihood threats DAILY for more than a year. Read up, please. Rebecca has been under sustained vicious attack since July of last year. Now people are trying to destroy Amy’s business and reputation. All of the Skepchicks are regularly called cunts and bitches. Everyone has an opinion about how we should feel or act about it all. Seriously, if you woke up one day to find that someone had made a forum post asking if it would be immoral to rape you and your friends, not for sexual gratification but just because you’re so damned annoying would you be able to just shrug it off and not let it influence your mental state? If you say yes, well then yay you!! You’re clearly better than me. Because I can’t. Every damn day I ask myself why do I even stay in this community? Why don’t I just quit and stay safe? And the answer is because Skepchick gives me a place to do something, to reach people, to try to make the world a little more rational. But I still ask every day. My husband wonders what I’ve gotten into here and my son wonders why mommy is so sad a lot of the time. So yeah, words have power over me and influence my mental climate. I’d bet a gazillion dollars if these words were being aimed at you for months and months you wouldn’t be blithely suggesting that we just shrug it off somehow.

      • Avatar of Benny
        August 21, 2012 at 12:44 am —

        Well done Will.

      • Avatar of Anthropologist Underground
        August 21, 2012 at 9:37 am —

        No kidding, Will. The thing is that when we erase differences, or try to be “blind” to Other, we miss a fantastic opportunity to benefit from diverse perspectives and culture. We should be celebrating diversity not ignoring it.

  16. Avatar of Grand Lunar
    August 20, 2012 at 10:12 pm —

    Saw this on Phil’s blog and LOVED IT.

    Definately want to hug the man for it.

    I hope his words (and those of the other speakers) actually get through to the community.

  17. Avatar of dashwood
    August 20, 2012 at 11:44 pm —

    I was wondering when we would get around to Plait.

  18. Avatar of noen
    August 20, 2012 at 11:56 pm —

    Phil Pait said “What the hell is going on in the online community?”

    People are people and they will be human regardless of what environment they are in. Having specialized technical knowledge doesn’t make you a better person. Having the “correct” belief about religion doesn’t make you a better person. Being able to debate obscure points of theology or philosophy or to refute conspiracy theories and pseudoscience doesn’t make you a better person.

    When you define yourself as an absence, as a void, then you leave it open for anything to rush in, and it does.

    If you shipwreck yourselves on a social and cultural island it should comes as no surprise that you devolve into a Lord of the Flies society.

    Piggy had it coming ya know, served him right.

  19. Avatar of Benny
    August 21, 2012 at 12:52 am —

    This post in particular spoke to me. I have loved the whole series, but specifically this one because Phil has the ability to understand the frustrations of those who’s view of the world is being threatened, and also the complete unwillingness to bow to their violence.

    I have long respected Dr. Plait, and this post’s sensitivity has truly reinforced that respect.

  20. Avatar of marilove
    August 21, 2012 at 10:45 am —

    Great post, Phil!!

    Also, Will, have I ever told you that you’re AWESOME?

    • Avatar of marilove
      August 21, 2012 at 10:45 am —

      Oh, wait, no: Aaaahhhhmaaaahhh-zing. (Imagine I’m Penny from Happy Endings. Hahaha.)

  21. Avatar of captaintripps
    August 21, 2012 at 11:12 am —

    It’s also totally unfortunate that the usual round of diversions, excuses, and explanations are making the rounds in comments no this piece at Bad Astronomy.

    I still find the “that’s just the way the Internet is and let’s throw our hands up at it” stance to be infuriating.

  22. Avatar of Quilled Mind
    August 21, 2012 at 11:26 am —

    I bet a lot of the troll-fire would burn out faster if Richard Dawkins, DJ Grothe, etc… would write one of these “Speaking Out Against Hate Directed At Women” articles explaining (or apologizing) for the lack of communication and why there has been misunderstandings.

  23. Avatar of anon skeptic
    August 21, 2012 at 3:02 pm —

    Since it is really amazing I have to ask this question: Have you people that so heftily criticized Phil Plait for his “Don’t Be a Dick” talk actually learned something? Have you realized that you were wrong and are willing to admit that? Or are you going to deny that you ever were in disagreement in the classical theistic fashion?

    • Avatar of marilove
      August 21, 2012 at 3:28 pm —

      Aren’t you an ironic little troll!

      The problem with telling the OPRESSED to not act like dicks is that it doesn’t fucking matter how polite or nice we are. We are always too angry or emotional. It is used to silence. Just look at the response to Wil above! He was ridiculously polite and patient and yet because. He isn’t groveling, he is being meaaaaaan. What a load of crap.

      DBAD is a good general concept but it is easily abused by the oppressors. The concept should never be thrown in the faces of the oppressed.

      I HIGHLY recommend you read the Derailing for Dumbies link I left above. Read the whole thing.

      I get the DBAD concept but man is it ever abused.

      Also, if you expect others to not act like dicks, perhaps it would help if you stopped actiing like one yourself.

  24. Avatar of OpenIDUser7
    August 21, 2012 at 8:25 pm —

    None of this will be stopped merely by railing at people that disagree with you.

    Did the Cold War end when it was Us yelling at Them and Them yelling at Us?

    Has the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians come to a conclusion just because Israel can trot out its group of respected individuals saying don’t be mean to Israel and the Palestinians can trot out their group as well?

    When you go to couples therapy, and you keep saying “I get mad when you do this”, and “I get mad when you do that”, does that help?

    What does help Phil!? What does help?

  25. Avatar of halincoh
    August 31, 2012 at 11:08 am —

    There are many, many reasons why Phil Plait is one of my favorite people in skepticism. Yes, he may be a skeptic, but first and FOREMOST, Phil is

    a very, very good man.

  26. Avatar of Megan McCauley
    June 25, 2013 at 12:41 pm —

    Love this. Thank you.

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