Chicks, Tough Old Hens and Roosters. Oh, and T-shirts at TAM

Chicks, Tough Old Hens and Roosters. Oh, and T-shirts at TAM

It has been a long but very productive weekend for me. I spent my weekend in discussions with Dr Steve Novella with the hope of finding a way to end at least some of the drama surrounding the T-shirt incident that happened at TAM last year. As many of you know, Dr Harriet Hall wore a shirt that said on the front “I Feel Safe and Welcome at TAM.” On the back of the T-shirt it said, “I’m a skeptic Not a “skepchick” Not a “woman skeptic” Just a skeptic.” Harriet shirtWhen I was confronted with the shirt it was very upsetting to me and I perceived it as a direct attack against me, this blog and another attempt at minimizing the discussions surrounding harassment that were being had at the time. But as the months went past since TAM I had noticed that people dedicated to cyber stalking and harassing me and my peers were continuing to use the shirt and its message to attack us unfairly, but Harriet was not. She responded when it was brought to her attention, but she was not the one constantly bringing it up. I realized at this point that Harriet Hall’s intentions may not have been to attack me or this blog but instead she was indeed trying to send a message that spoke from her own experiences as a feminist.

I decided to do what I could to help end this controversy and to hopefully stop some of misinformation surrounding the incident. I realized that there was a lot of emotion involved, particularly on my side because that shirt has been waved like a flag in an attempt to belittle and drive a wedge between Skepchick and some other members of organized skepticism and of course the harassers displayed it like a prize. As you can imagine, that was upsetting to me. I realized Harriet had been constantly questioned about her actions as well. She may not want to to talk to me. I knew Harriet identified as a feminist and odds were we had more in common than not ideologically and so there was hope to find common ground. Steve assured us we could start a dialog.

Steve has written his own post on this experience. It is posted at NeuroLogica and at SkepticBlog.
I have quoted his text in part here:

As movements grow, internal conflict becomes inevitable. A movement dedicated to reason, thoughtful introspection, and putting logic above emotion, one would think, should be able to deal with such conflict in a constructive way. If the events of the last couple of years have taught us anything, however, it is that we are all still biased and flawed humans, despite our striving for reason.

There is, perhaps, some sign of a light at the end of the tunnel, if you bear with me for a bit more preamble.

I have not been a direct participant in the recent drama over sexism in the movement, but I have had a front row seat. It has struck me throughout that many of the people involved, steeped in critical thinking, firmly believe they are correct and are being reasonable and yet are in such heated conflict with other critical thinkers who also believe they are correct and being reasonable.

There are, it seems to me, three general sources of this conflict. One is sincere and real ideological differences. If you read the recent exchange between Harriet Hall on SBM and Will on Skepchick, and a sample of the comments to each, these differences become apparent. Where exactly to draw the line between free speech and the avoidance of offense is one recurrent theme. Still, this by itself should not be enough to cause such a rift, for our common ground dwarfs these differences.

A second source of conflict are those who have chosen cyberstalking and daily harassment as their chosen mechanism of activism. Rape threats, threats of violence, sexually charged and grossly offensive language have no place in this discussion, but have infiltrated our community. The result has been to raise the level of emotion and defensiveness and pushing all sides toward the more radical extreme. This is, unfortunately, part of the new social media world we have created. We have to find ways to marginalize and ignore these elements, and not confuse them for those who have reasonable and friendly disagreements.

The third source of conflict seems to be avoidable misunderstandings on all sides. This is something we can fix, with a few helpful rules of conduct and more open communication.

Please go to Steve’s Blog to read the remainder of his text.

Now, I present to you in their entirety, two emails. One from Harriet and one from me. I hope with the following we can at least put to rest some of the misinformation and animosity surrounding the TAM T-shirt drama and get back to work on making the world a better place.

From Harriet Hall:

Dear Amy,

I am so happy you have reached out! I hope we can become friends and put all the unpleasantness behind us.

First, I’d like to say that I admire you and value the work you have done. I bought one of your necklaces years ago (“Quackery is for the birds”) and have worn it frequently and gotten a lot of compliments on it. I particularly appreciate your artistic talents, since I have none of my own – can’t even draw a decent stick figure. I applaud your raising money for scholarships to bring more women to TAM. I appreciate the hard work you have done promoting the participation of women in skepticism.

I also value the Skepchick organization and appreciate what it has accomplished. It has done a lot to raise consciousness and promote women in skepticism. I don’t agree with everything it has done, and I don’t personally choose to join, but I certainly support those who do, and I would not want to do anything to discourage them.

I apologize for putting the word skepchick on my shirt. I honestly did not intend to target the organization, but rather the concept of chick in general. I did not foresee the reaction, and I should have. My social skills have never been very good. If I had it to do over again, I think I would have just said “I’m a skeptic. Not a woman skeptic. Just a skeptic.” I sincerely regret that I inadvertently contributed to inflaming the harassment that was directed at you. I was truly appalled by some of the venomous over-reactions and egregious abuse that you were subjected to online. I felt very sorry for you and what you were forced to endure. There is no excuse for the behavior of your persecutors.

And I have always admired Rebecca. She adds spice to the mix of personalities on SGU and has her own unique style. She is smart, hip, and eloquent. Rebecca had always been a big part of TAM; she had been good to it, and it had been good to her. That’s why I was so distressed by her announcement that she would not be attending TAM. I was also very distressed to hear that her former “immense amount of respect” for me could be totally destroyed from one week to the next by one action of mine that she disapproved of.

Dr. Novella has laid out a list of the things he thinks we agree on:

• gender equality

• judging people by the content of their character, and not by physical or gender attributes
• creating a safe and open environment regardless of sex or gender
• the concept of sex and gender are complex and multifarious, and it’s all within the spectrum of what it is to be human.
• condemnation of sexism in all its forms
• respect and recognition of the dignity of all people regardless of their sex/gender
Do you agree with these? If so, we have a starting point and can build from there.

No two skeptics are exact clones, and there will always be areas of disagreement. We should be able to respect each other even when our opinions differ. We may be able to get our opinions closer together through courteous discussions, or in some cases we may have to agree to disagree.

Even when we pursue different strategies, we can respect each other and tolerate our differences for the good of the whole. Next time we meet, I hope we can shake hands and maybe even share a hug.

Yours in skepticism,
Harriet

My response:

Harriet,

First of all, thank you for taking the time to open a dialog with me and thank you for the apology. It is very kind of you and I appreciate it.

I too would like to apologize. I am sorry for raising my voice to you at TAM in the speakers lounge. I never really gave you a chance to speak. I was, as you could probably tell, very upset at the time. At that point in time things had gotten so bad for me that I went to the speakers lounge to hide and the undercover harassment specialists had to be called in to take a report. When you happened to walk into the room I had already dealt with, among other things, all the stress leading up to the event and at least one full day of being belittled and targeted with nasty comments online via the TAM event hashtag. Various blogs were posting misinformation about me and Rebecca during my time at the event. Some of the people that were saying rude or inaccurate things also included photos from the event so I knew that these people were in attendance. I still, to this day do not know the real identities of many of the people posting. I had witnessed people showing off fake necklaces that they had created, that were made to mock and belittle me. That the necklaces were meant to upset me was not an assumption. The people who created them were open about their intent to make fun of me. Some of these people were posing for photos with you and complimenting your shirt. I assumed at that point, you were aware of the harassment that I and the blog I write for was dealing with prior to TAM, and the nastiness at the event, and that your shirt was also intended to insult me and our blog specifically. I realize now, that was not your intention. I still disagree with your decision to wear the shirt, especially after I told you how upsetting is was, but I certainly respect your right to express your opinion. None of this excuses the fact that I yelled at you. And for that I am sincerely sorry.

Things we agree on.

*gender equality

*judging people by the content of their character, and not by physical or gender attributes

*creating a safe and open environment regardless of sex or gender

*the concept of sex and gender are complex and multifarious, and it’s all within the spectrum of what it is to be human.

*condemnation of sexism in all its forms

*respect and recognition of the dignity of all people regardless of their sex/gender

Yes, we agree on everything on your list. The only thing that we seem to squabble over is the wider definitions of gender and how it can feed into heterosexism and cissexism but this is definitely not my area of expertise and so I am not going to delve any further into the conversation for fear of not getting it right myself. I am still learning about these issues. You have to forgive my partial ignorance, as I only started to identify as a feminist about a year ago, when the harassment became focused on me. It was when the MRAs and certain people from within organized skepticism and atheism started calling me a feminist did I even realize that I might indeed be one. I was a skeptic first, and only recently have I taken on the feminist moniker. I am still educating myself on some of the history and current status of the movement itself.

Speaking of harassment, this is where I think we may be able to find some common ground and work together to make things better in the broader skeptical community.

To give you an idea of the harassment we deal with, every single day we get hate messages via social networks or email. We get rape and death threats on a regular basis. In certain instances law enforcement has been contacted but unless an actual physical crime is committed they are not much help to us beyond taking reports. They contact my customers online and say things like my jewelry is toxic. They photoshop our faces onto pornography or make images of me crying and post them online. There are multiple blogs that write about us daily and try to ruin our reputation so that when you search for our names now, hatred and lies pop up.

And let me emphasize here that disagreeing with me or Rebecca doesn’t mean that you are part of a hate group. That is not what I want to convey here at all and I don’t want to silence legitimate criticism. I am completely aware that many of the people who have sided with you on this issue are genuine, good people and sometimes the criticism is valid and taken to heart. My reaching out to you with the help of Steve should be testament to that fact. My hope here, is to make you aware of the fact that you are also being used unfairly by some as a reason or an excuse to attack us further. I am hoping we can work together to shut down some of these avenues that are taking advantage of both of us by putting the T-shirt issue and any animosity between us, behind us.

We are both feminists and skeptics after-all and while our approach may differ many of our goals can be in harmony. Let’s work together to promote the things we agree on instead of focusing on the negative.

I look forward to hearing back from you and I hope we can work together to makes things better.

A hug would be welcome. :)

Amy

In closing, I’d like to say that Harriet has been gracious and warm in our correspondences. She is intelligent and funny and the title of this post references part of a lovely conversation we had after the above emails were exchanged. I am happy to put this controversy behind us and move forward. I encourage everyone else to do the same. I know we do not agree on everything but hopefully, we can now have productive discussions about those disagreements that are not used as ammunition by the people who wish to spread only hatred and lies. Many thanks to Steve for his help with all of this.

Avatar of Amy
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. Follow her on twitter: @SurlyAmy or on Google+.

45 Comments

  1. Avatar of Elyse

    Thank you.

  2. Avatar of Ophelia Benson

    Beautiful! Well done, Amy. And Dr Hall. Well done both of you.

  3. Avatar of Marc David Barnhill

    Thank you, Amy (and Harriet and Steve), for doing this in such a public and respectful manner. It sends a powerful message about reason and respect to a community that should have more of both.

  4. Avatar of oolon

    Cool, one of the worst things about this is how the slimy creeps co-opted a feminist to justify their harassment campaigns online…. She is a “proper” feminist because, as they put it, she is not a “professional victim” or other such shit. The reality is they are anti-feminists and they have been using Harriet’s reputation to bash Amy down in a childish display of bullying. When as shown above she clearly does not approve in any way of the behaviour of these so called “skeptics”… HH: “There is no excuse for the behaviour of your persecutors”

  5. Avatar of Kristjan Wager

    Thank you for sharing this with us Amy.

  6. Avatar of sondosia

    This was really-heartwarming to read. Thank you for being so open-minded despite the crap you’ve gone through.

  7. Avatar of brownian

    Well, that’s a welcome Monday morning pick-me-up!

  8. Avatar of Adriana Heguy

    Thanks Amy, Harriet and Steve. Great letters, both of them.

  9. Avatar of Felicity

    I was so happy to hear about this positive exchange. Kudos to Amy and Harriet for being willing to reach out, and to Steve for facilitating. I look forward to a united effort to condemn gender-based harassment in our community and elsewhere.

  10. Avatar of James Fox

    Well done, admirable and thank you.

  11. Avatar of Jack99

    Good job, Amy and Drs Hall and Novella! I am glad this particular matter is resolved and anybody who brings it up again is an asshole.

  12. Avatar of Buzz Parsec

    Thank you both for your courage to reach out across the chasm.

  13. Avatar of SteveT

    Bravo, to the both of you! This is the kind of role-model behavior that makes me proud to associate with the Skepchicks. Amy, both you and Dr. Hall (and Steve) are to be commended for this joint attempt to bridge a gap that should never have existed in the first place.

  14. Avatar of wicked-witch

    This was so wonderful to read. I disagree with Harriet’s decision to wear the T-shirt and continue to wear it after you told her what you were experiencing, but I respect her ability to reach out to you and remain civil. This is what this community needs.

  15. Avatar of Ginger

    This weekend I was thinking about what would happen if Steve moderated a discussion between Amy and Harriet. Now I’m so pleased to see that it did, and I got a little teary-eyed. I’d like to see a lot more in person, private, moderated discussions take place, but only with people who are participating in good faith, not with the hateful harassing people of course.

    This is very good to see. This Saturday I was hosting a Drinking Skeptically and someone started to disucss this and the Ben Radford issue, and I just started getting angry and said I wasn’t going to talk about it. Fortunately, like the negative that spills over into the lives of the people at home this positive event will as well.

  16. Avatar of boyofd

    Great job, Amy. I am sure it is difficult for you to communicate respectfully to someone whom you thought was making a personal or pseudo-personal attack on you last year, but these are the moments that push us forward individually and collectively. I think it can be a great moment for skepticism and feminism because, as someone mentioned above, you have stolen away an opportunity for the trolls and anti-feminists to cease upon this schism.

  17. Avatar of Andreas Steen

    This was a very warming post to read. I’ve been completely like.. well, just like how I feel I have to apologize and qualify my respect for dawkins work with religion, I was getting the same feeling with harriet, but this is now remedied, and more importantly (since really, when was it ever important how upset I was that you all were being hammered this way), this takes away this conflict as a beachhead for retarded misogynists wanting to use Harriet as a cover for their bullying. So, thank you to all three of you for doing this, and for sharing it.

  18. Avatar of Jeff Wagg

    Very very happy to see this! I hope this starts a whole wave of these types of things. Agreement isn’t necessary between people of good conscience.

  19. Avatar of Mike Conley

    So — how can I get a copy of that particular Surly-Ramic? It’s gorgeous, and I don’t see it in your store!

    • Avatar of Amy

      Aw thanks, I will have to make some. That is a photo from a while back. Keep your eye on my shop. I will make some more soon. :)

  20. Avatar of Will

    I am quite glad to see that you and Harriet were able to come to an understanding. =)

    • Avatar of delphi_ote

      I think you could bring her to a better understanding, too. Just try to be patient and polite. This is important.

  21. Avatar of Mary

    I’m thrilled to read this post! Thanks to both of you for working it out. I was so disappointed and hurt with Dr. Hall’s shirt at TAM, but this has restored my respect a lot. Hugs for everyone!

  22. Avatar of marilove

    that’s great, Amy. :)

  23. Avatar of skeptigal4

    I am so happy to this post and Steve Novella’s. After yesterday’s continued drama on other blogs (not to be mentioned), I was feeling down and uncertain about whether I really want to identify with a movement that has so much in-fighting. To be clear, I take no one’s side. I appreciate and honor all leaders in the skeptical/rationalist/atheist movement and see no reason to follow one particular “dogma” over another. Part of the reason why I am a skeptic and rationalist is to avoid being subjected to dogma.

    Healing requires time, and it is time for the healing to begin in our movement. Thank you for all you do!

  24. Avatar of Brianne Bilyeu

    Wonderful. Thank you.

  25. Avatar of Danarra

    Thank you! That took courage.

  26. Avatar of Kmlawrence

    Excellent post and wonderful news! Admiration all around.

  27. Avatar of weatherwax

    Great to see. I respect both Amy and Dr Hall, so I’ve felt very conflicted (even though I’m just a spectator).

  28. Avatar of Paul Rinzler

    Well done Amy and Harriet, I know as a mediator it is a difficult thing to try to reach across the chasm of a disagreement, it’s a very courageous thing you both have done. And kudos to Dr. Novella, sometimes a third party is just the catalyst needed.

    Let this be a case study for all to learn from. And don’t ignore those warm and fuzzy feelings this incident now creates, too.

  29. Avatar of Xanthe

    Well done to all concerned, Amy, Harriet, and Steve.

  30. Avatar of Ubi Dubium

    *Snif* That was wonderful! Bravo!

  31. Avatar of ultraturquoise

    This was really nice to read. Great to see something positive happening.

  32. Avatar of Karla Porter

    The post and examples of correspondence serve to provide a model on how to recognize commonalities are more important than differences and how moving past obstacles can be accomplished with sincere sentiment, good communication and willfulness. Wonderful job Amy, Harriet and Steve.

  33. Avatar of Thomas Penn

    Well done! I want to thank all three of you for restoring my faith in humanity just a little bit. I hope that I remember this in the future, so that I’m not so quick to demonize people and write them off as “the enemy”. Good people can disagree, good people can make bad arguments, and good people can even do/say stupid or mean things. Brava!

  34. Avatar of ufischer

    Truly heartwarming. Thanks and kudos to everyone involved! Now if we could get Rebecca and Dawkins to hug, all would be right with the world. :)

    • Avatar of satanaugustine

      I would love it if Rebecca and Richard could reconcile their differences. I think Dawkins would need to make the first move though. As much as I enjoy reading him and how much I admire him, it’s a bit disappointing that it seems he still thinks he did nothing wrong. But I’m not ruling out the possibility of reconciliation between the two. I’m a natural pessimist trying be an optimist here, inspired as I am by Amy & Harriet, both of whom I admire as well.

      • Avatar of Jack99

        I for one do not care whether they settle their differences or not. Dawkins has had his go,and yes he has done well, but now it is time for another paradigm.

  35. Avatar of KellyM

    I’m so inspired by the hard work you did to make this happen, Amy. You are making the world a better place and creating beauty with your art, to top it off.

  36. Avatar of Dave Blue

    Awesome, so glad to see this.

  37. Avatar of ginckgo

    I remain unable to fathom the hatred that continues to be directed towards you and most feminists here; I am truly sorry that you have to deal with it. Even the apparently (deceptively?) rational documentation by members of forums I frequent, of what is seen as feminists attacking their opponents, seems to occur in some bizarre parallel universe. I am very glad that you and Harriet have been able to work this out and prove the idiots wrong.

  38. Avatar of satanaugustine

    This made my day, Amy! (OK, by now that day was yesterday, but I read most of this post earlier yesterday and just finished it now:) I even had a bit of a good cry about this. I’m so very glad that you and Harriet worked things out. It gives me hope that other misunderstandings among skeptics/atheists/humanists can be resolved in a similar way. I am, of course, referring only to the people who actually want a resolution, not those whose purpose in life seems to be to stir up trouble.

    Well done Amy, Harriet, and Steve!

    Frank Wall

  39. Avatar of benjaminsa

    This is great : )

  40. Avatar of lkl11

    Thank you, so glad to read this. It was frustrating to see multiple people whom I admire very much, for similar reasons, going for each other’s proverbial throats. It can be difficult to walk the conflict back when it has gotten so acrimonious, so I now have that much more to admire you all for :)

  41. Avatar of Nick Gotts

    That’s excellent news! Can’t help wondering how the MRAs who have used Harriet Hall as an example of a feminist who supports them will react.

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