Good news! The leaders of the secular movement have gone to the mountaintop and returned holding a stone tablet engraved with wisdom for us to behold. Go read it, and maybe read this response from Secular Woman and this response from Secular Census, both of which are very good. Then maybe read this, or whatever:

A Problem with Stone Tablet Communication

The fact that large organizations in this movement communicate via stone tablet presents unique challenges. For one, it can be difficult for those of us at the bottom of the mountain to understand what, exactly, went into the making of the tablet. For instance, if the tablet references the harassment of women in this movement, how many of the harassed women were consulted, if any? I know that Secular Woman was shut out of the tablet-etching process, so my hopes aren’t high. If this harassed woman had been asked, though, I may  have made the following suggestions:

  • The problem is not just the Internet. I’m not the only one who feels this way. If we don’t take the initiative to solve our “real world” problems, those problems will continue to leak over into the Internet, and vice versa.
  • If secular leaders want to show they care about women’s equality, they should stop etching tablets and start actively participating in the massive feminist fight against the Religious Right that is currently happening in the US and elsewhere. Barry Lynn, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, isn’t listed on the open letter. I assume it’s because he was too busy making reproductive justice one of AU’s core issues. In fact, I just stopped typing this post for a few minutes so I could go donate $25 to AU. You should, too.
  • There is no “debate over sexism” within this movement. People who don’t think sexism exists in this movement have no response to the massive amounts of evidence women have provided to illustrate the problem. There may be slight disagreements concerning things like, “How can we best help women feel welcomed in our community,” but . . .
  • We cannot begin to discuss the tone of slight disagreements in our community unless and until secular women can prominently express unpopular viewpoints without receiving an avalanche of slurs and threats. Merely stating that slurs and threats are bad does not help this problem. Moderating blogs and forums is a good start, and I’m glad that some of the co-signers have apparently changed their minds on that point, but it’s not enough. Until this movement as a whole recognizes, condemns, and successfully marginalizes that behavior, we cannot demand that women tone down their comparatively mild responses on these issues.For instance, dear atheist leaders, if every hour of every day for a year someone randomly called you a disgusting heathen, told you you deserved to be raped by dogs, gave you pamphlets about burning in hell, and told you that your life was worthless and you should kill yourself, would you be ready for a calm and rational conversation with your neighbor, who just wants to tell you that you’d make more friends if you weren’t so angry all the time? Would you always be charitable to him? Would you respond to a defamatory article about you in the local paper, not with a fact-correcting op-ed, but with a polite, private phone call to the author? If you think you would, I congratulate you on having lived a life thus far free from persecution or harassment.

Once all that is taken care of, I think the tablet looks great. I’m a big fan of moderating blogs and forums. I’m a big fan of listening, and helping others, and being charitable, and those things are so, so easy to do in a community where I’m not relentlessly attacked from within. For instance, the disagreements I have with other feminists are by and large productive and interesting. Maybe one day I can say the same about secularists.

Featured image grabbed from AU’s current front page.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org and appears on the weekly Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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124 Comments

  1. Avatar of frogmistress
    April 2, 2013 at 3:41 pm —

    “If secular leaders want to show they care about women’s equality, they should stop etching tablets and start actively participating in the massive feminist fight against the Religious Right that is currently happening in the US and elsewhere.”

    Yes, this exactly! I cannot tell you how many conversations I’ve had with people about “our priorities.”

    Yeah, you go take the time to teach everyone how to think critically. That’s important. But we can’t sit around and wait for that to work while women are losing rights all across the country! It’s about time the secular community starts acting on that!

    Bravo, Rebecca!

  2. Avatar of Nicole Introvert
    April 2, 2013 at 3:52 pm —

    All of our responses seem to circle around to the basic theme of “Equality is not up for debate.” I just cannot wrap my head around why that is so hard for some folks to grasp.

  3. Avatar of Ophelia Benson
    April 2, 2013 at 4:05 pm —

    We cannot begin to discuss the tone of slight disagreements in our community unless and until secular women can prominently express unpopular viewpoints without receiving an avalanche of slurs and threats.

    Exactly. Please stop telling us to have a “dialogue” with that…especially on a stone tablet.

  4. Avatar of jblumenfeld
    April 2, 2013 at 4:07 pm —

    Well said, Rebecca. Well said.

  5. Avatar of Improbable Joe
    April 2, 2013 at 4:08 pm —

    This reminds me of the Upton Sinclair quote: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

    The “Open Letter” reads like a cynical political statement, written by a committee that began with the question “how do we position ourselves on this so that we don’t lose any money?” It pays lip service to the idea of being welcoming and safe for all people, while using language designed to set the minds of bigots at ease. There’s nothing in it that calls for action from organizations, or penalties to be leveled against the worst offenders. And it reeks of simple and craven economic calculation: “people with less privilege generally have less cash, and people with more privilege have more cash. If we have to choose to alienate a group, or allow a group to feel alienated and unwelcome, let’s pick the group that can’t actually do us any harm.”

  6. Avatar of DrShell
    April 2, 2013 at 4:13 pm —

    Wow, the statement from Secular Census is particularly well done.

  7. Avatar of rubbsdecvik
    April 2, 2013 at 4:16 pm —

    And here I thought I was going to have to write my own response… instead I’ll shamelessly post yours and say “This.”

    Thank you for this awesome post.

  8. Avatar of rlindsay
    April 2, 2013 at 4:37 pm —

    Since reproductive rights have been a core issue for CFI since … well, since forever, I look forward to receiving your contribution, Rebecca. By the way, look for CFI’s comments on HHS’s contraceptive rule later this week. We’ve put a lot of work into this issue.
    The statement was not delivered from a mountaintop. This suggests it’s dogma. CFI doesn’t do dogma, nor do I think most secular organizations do dogma. People can criticize the statement; they can reject the statement in whole or in part. In assessing the statement, however, I hope people will give it a fair reading.
    The statement was not intended to solve all the world’s problems. It was intended to address the issue of online conduct, which the signatories recognized is a serious problem — moreover, it’s a problem they believe they can and should address. This does not imply there are not other problems.
    If the leaders of secular organizations stay silent, then they are faulted for that. If they unite behind a statement, then they are accused of issuing pronouncements from the mountaintop. If the statement doesn’t address all issues that may be of concern to people in the movement, then, apparently, the statement instantly becomes unacceptable.
    Perhaps you should evaluate the statement in its own terms. Is there something specifically mistaken in its contents such that you think it was wrong for the signatories to endorse it .. or is the gravamen of your complaint that it did not include items you think should have been included?

    • Avatar of muddgirl
      April 2, 2013 at 4:57 pm —

      It seems strange to me that the leaders of secular organizations would take upon themselves to instruct other atheists in how to conduct themselves politely online. I don’t think any rational adult (the vast majority of atheists) would accidentally or mistakenly engage in trolling/harassing behavior. I seriously doubt anyone is going to read this statement and say, “Gosh! It never occurred to me that I just need to listen more! Or that I even CAN dial down the drama! Thanks, Leaders of Atheist Organizations!” It verges on victim-blaming – people try to silence me when I express dissenting opinions in atheist communities because I’m just not polite enough. It erases the reported experiences of countless numbers of atheist feminists. It gives a cover for harassers in the community by pretending that they don’t know what they’re doing – they’re just misinformed! If only we’d take the high road!

      A Pledge should be a promise from Leaders of Atheist Organizations to their members. It shouldn’t contain (what we call in conflict resolution) “You statements” – “You should”, “You will”, etc. The section titled “Our approach” contains many such “you statements”, along with “we statements” that are really disguised you statements. That is undoubtedly why Rebecca and others interpret this as a list of commandments, not a list of promises. Because that is what it appears to be.

      • Avatar of teambanzai
        April 2, 2013 at 5:06 pm —

        Took the time to collect my thoughts and write a responce and it turns out you expressed exactly what I was going to say!

      • Avatar of Tobasco da Gama
        April 3, 2013 at 10:13 am —

        A Pledge should be a promise from Leaders of Atheist Organizations to their members. It shouldn’t contain (what we call in conflict resolution) “You statements” – “You should”, “You will”, etc. The section titled “Our approach” contains many such “you statements”, along with “we statements” that are really disguised you statements.

        Yes, this is absolutely right. This is why all of these “Open Letters” end up, at best, falling flat and feeling empty.

        Leadership is not about handing out ultimatums, it’s about doing. You want to write an Open Letter about a problem? Make it about what you, the author or signatory, of the letter are doing yourself. An Open Letter is not the format to be telling other people what do to and how to behave.

    • Avatar of Rebecca Watson
      April 2, 2013 at 5:12 pm —

      ” Is there something specifically mistaken in its contents such that you think it was wrong for the signatories to endorse it .. or is the gravamen of your complaint that it did not include items you think should have been included?”

      I think my post made my criticism clear. And as I’m sure you know, I’ve given a lot to CFI because I support much of the work that you do. I wish other organizations did at least that much.

      • Avatar of Rebecca Watson
        April 2, 2013 at 5:15 pm —

        Hm, seems like replies aren’t working well for some reason…..sorry all, looking into it….

        EDIT: nevermind, fixed it!

    • Avatar of Improbable Joe
      April 2, 2013 at 5:33 pm —

      “The statement was not delivered from a mountaintop. This suggests it’s dogma. CFI doesn’t do dogma, nor do I think most secular organizations do dogma. ”

      It also suggests a “top-down, leaders proclaiming to followers” approach, which many organizations DO engage in. This is borne out by your insistence that the problem is with people’s interpretation/reading of your statement, rather than the statement itself. It also seems that you didn’t even look at let alone address the substance of the criticism, you just sort of hand-waved it away with a bunch of “we can’t do anything to satisfy you people” nonsense. It seems like your goal is to appease critics or silence them, not to actually take action to solve the problems that are at the root of the criticism.

    • Avatar of GideonBanner
      April 2, 2013 at 8:17 pm —

      “If the leaders of secular organizations stay silent, then they are faulted for that. If they unite behind a statement, then they are accused of issuing pronouncements from the mountaintop.”

      I think the more general problem people have is how much of the piece was devoted to what others could do and so little was spent on what you as organisations would do/plan to do/are doing etc.

    • Avatar of LeftSidePositive
      April 2, 2013 at 9:56 pm —

      It was intended to address the issue of online conduct,

      THIS IS NOT THE ISSUE. The issue is sexism. The issue is abuse delivered at women for being women, and at their allies for helping women. The fact that some of it takes place online is not the point. The fact that some people will write 5,000-word flowery rationalizations with no potty words to say that rape really isn’t a big deal, or harassment reports are just “distasteful locker room banter,” etc., is much more a problem than someone saying “hey, fuck off, you filthy sexist asshole.” Your misguided pronouncement utterly fails to grasp this fact.

      If they unite behind a statement, then they are accused of issuing pronouncements from the mountaintop.

      No, I think you are accused of issuing pronouncements from a mountaintop because you apparently failed to get the input of anyone who was actually dealing with the harassment or systemic sexism. I notice here you just whined about the tablets metaphor, without actually saying a damn thing to refute it. Who did you consult? Did you consult anyone? If not, why the hell didn’t you listen to the voices of women who were actually dealing with this before you made your pronouncements? Isn’t it kinda central to empowering women to actually include them? Shouldn’t you have–to use your own advice–”picked up the phone” to talk to them before you said something publicly?!

      Seriously–how could you presume to speak up for women in the atheist movement and not even so much as CONSULT Secular Woman? I don’t know how to tell you this…but that is the entire mission of their organization. Did it not occur to you that they might have something of value?! How could you presume to discuss the issue of women getting harassed and fail to approach women who get tons of harassment like Ophelia Benson and Rebecca Watson? REBECCA FUCKING WATSON. Seriously! Look, I hope for a secular community where Rebecca can be justly admired for all the religious and pseudoscientific woo she so brilliantly dismantles (and that she wouldn’t have to take time away from these to address our community’s internal bullshit!), but the fact of the matter is that at the moment Rebecca is chiefly famous for getting slammed with a vicious two-year+ harassment campaign. And you didn’t think to get her opinions ahead of time for how to approach harassment in this community?! WHAT?!

      Perhaps you should evaluate the statement in its own terms.

      She linked to Secular Woman and American Secular Census’s critiques. Did you not read the links? Generally, when someone links to something with the instructions to read it before their own piece, it means they are writing in addition to what was already said there.

      Moreover, Ophelia has some additional critiques here

    • Avatar of Bjarte Foshaug
      April 3, 2013 at 2:33 am —

      Bottom line, you cannot be a friend of both the harassers and the harassed at the same time. As long as the leaders in what used to be the secular movement keep laboring under the delusion that “healing the rifts” is any kind of goal and talking as if “both sides” have a future within the same movement, they are never going to be anything other than part of the problem.

    • Avatar of bcmystery
      April 3, 2013 at 12:46 pm —

      As of this moment, it’s been more than 18-hours since this drive-by scolding based on a reading comprehension failure occurred, with no return by Mr. Lindsay to address the many legitimate points others have raised in response.

  9. Avatar of Bruce McGlory
    April 2, 2013 at 4:48 pm —

    Excellent piece, Ms. Watson. Can’t say anything that would add to that.

    Color me extremely disappointed that Mr. Lindsay wasted an opportunity to listen and perhaps glean more understanding of the very clearly outlined issues with the original statement, and chose . … that . .. instead. Disappointing.

  10. Avatar of teambanzai
    April 2, 2013 at 4:51 pm —

    Is it cynical of me to think after writing this stone tablet someone thought “Well that ought to do it! Next problem.”?

  11. Avatar of ambidexter
    April 2, 2013 at 5:06 pm —

    If someone calls me on the phone to complain about my statements or behavior, the click they hear will tell them they are soloing on the line. I doubt Franc Hoggle or Justin Vacula will be any more accommodating.

  12. Avatar of Giliell
    April 2, 2013 at 5:32 pm —

    NOw I’m wondering:
    Did Ron Lindsey call Rebecca before typing here or not?
    From the letter:

    We miss the nuances and differences within “the other side” once an issue becomes polarized, while continuing to see our side as filled with nuance and distinctions.

    You’re missunderstanding:
    It’s not that I don’t see their “nuance”, it’s that I don’t care (much).
    The difference between somebody calling me a c*** and somebody merely saying that the other one is full within his rights to do so and that, while he himself wouldn’t use the word I should just calm down is neglegible.
    It’s like being asked to acknowledge that not all pro-lifers are the same because some would allow me to have an abortion if there was a 90% chance that I die…

  13. Avatar of CultureClash
    April 2, 2013 at 5:44 pm —

    Having read the “stone tablets” it struck me as being very similar to (one of) the major problems with modern journalism…
    When reporting on climate change there must be a nice 50/50 balance between those who say it’s happening and those that deny it…
    When reporting on the teaching of evolution in schools there must be a nice 50/50 balance between those who say we evolved and those who think we were poofed into existence by the great pumpkin…
    When reporting on whether or not the earth is round there must be a nice 50/50 balance between those who say that it’s an irregular oblate spheroid and those that think its a flat disk sat on the back of four giant elephants who themselves stand on the back of a star turtle…

    There are subjects where we know the right answer (or at least know the ballpark the answer is in) and anyone claiming otherwise can, and should be, ignored.
    Similarly…
    What we have here are people who think that everyone should be treated equally and fairly regardless of sex/gender/geographic origin/ect/ect and those who are sexist bigoted a**holes who post rape and death threats to anyone trying to do anything to achieve the aforementioned equality.

    When one side of an ‘arguments’ entire M.O. is to abuse and try to silence the other in clear violation of every value we supposedly share as a group the response should not be to say “lets all sit down and talk about this nicely”… It should be to kick the a**holes out of the group… through the door if there are no convenient windows.

    When the people making death and rape threats have been booted from the movement then those left can sit down and do some discussing.

    This ‘stone tablet’ contains nothing effective for achieving that.

    I think perhaps asking the authors of these tablets if they would have suggested to African Americans in the 60′s that they should sit down with and be civil to members of the KKK… Because their suggestions look to me to be just that stupid.

    • Avatar of delphi_ote
      April 3, 2013 at 8:02 am —

      To be fair, they wouldn’t have asked them to sit down with the KKK. They would’ve asked them to pick up the phone and call the KKK. So they could really get past all their misconceptions and talk like real people.

      Back then, the telephone was probably new enough that the suggestion wouldn’t have make our self-proclaimed “leaders” sound like the out of touch dinosaurs they sound like now. “These newfangled intrernets are crude! We can’t express our manly emotions with text! Use carrier pidgeons like a proper gentlemen.”

    • Avatar of pieterb
      April 5, 2013 at 2:15 pm —

      Insults, slurs, expressions of hatred, and threats undermine our shared values of open and candid discussion because they move us away from an exchange of views supported with reasons. Some blogs and comments actually exhibit hatred, including rape threats and insults denigrating women. Hatred has no place in our movement. We unequivocally and unreservedly condemn those who resort to communicating in such a vile and despicable manner.

      Conspicuously absent is the phrase “will not be tolerated.” When talking about avalanches of threats and extreme abuse, that is the only rational response.

  14. Avatar of knitty
    April 2, 2013 at 6:26 pm —

    Wow. Just wow. I see the original letter as a step in the right direction, but wow did they miss stuff. A little more reflection would have been nice.

    Thank you Rebecca for responding in a productive and succinct way. I think you have really captured many of our reactions and responses.

  15. Avatar of Cygore
    April 2, 2013 at 6:32 pm —

    Before I start, I’ll say that I too support CFI, and will continue donating.

    This declaration is a start. Considering all the different groups, I doubt they could have come up with something more definitive.

    There are at least two ways to go from here. First, we can ask each group if they will go beyond the declaration, and address the concerns listed in the post, and by others. We should support those that will do more, and treat the others on a case by case basis. Secular Women comes to mind as a group to support. The other option is to form new groups that will focus more on the issues we’re interested in.

    Over all, the statement is a good start, but it only a start.

  16. Avatar of KellyM
    April 2, 2013 at 6:48 pm —

    It is simply fascinating that one of the signers of the letter is DJ Grothe.

    In May 2012, DJ Grothe publicly blamed Rebecca Watson, among other feminists, for lowering female registration at TAM. Skepchick had raised thousands of dollars for TAM, Skepchicks had been enthusiastic supporters of TAM, and Rebecca Watson and Surly Amy were both in frequent contact with DJ Grothe over their activities and events to help make TAM 2012 a success. DJ literally had Rebecca’s number and apparently passed on several occasions to discuss the issue with her privately.

    So, Ron Lindsay, I am a current member of CFI, a former member of the JREF for many reasons, a former five-time TAM attendee, and I have some issues with the letter.

    • Avatar of LeftSidePositive
      April 2, 2013 at 10:13 pm —

      Oh, heavens, SERIOUSLY?! DJ is part of the problem. DJ is one of the figures we need OUT of the skeptic movement (I don’t say atheist movement because he’s one of the brand of skeptics that wants nothing to do with us!) if we are to make any progress on sexism in this community. It’s not just the way he behaved to Rebecca and the Skepchicks over TAM 2012. There’s his disgraceful gaslighting of Ashley Miller when she told him he should have known about harassment that he personally dealt with. There’s his appalling policing of Greta Christina when a misogynistic troll was making violent gender-based threats at her and her commentariat. Then there’s his stubborn refusal to clarify whether or not TAM would have a harassment policy, and insisting to use an in-house non-publicized one rather than ones that had been praised by people who actually had experience dealing with harassment (and we all know how well that turned out, and how awful TAM ended up being for Surly Amy!). There’s the fact that after Elevatorgate he allowed people who were known to have threatened Rebecca to still attend TAM.

      If your statement on getting over sexism in our movement doesn’t address how to get people like DJ Grothe out of positions of influence in our movement until they take a long sabbatical to learn what is wrong with their behavior and attitudes, then your statement has failed. If your statement INCLUDES DJ Grothe it is part of the problem, not just for enabling his status-quo enabling, harassment-minimizing behavior, but that should be a very strong sign that your statement and the values behind it are fucked up.

      • Avatar of Giliell
        April 3, 2013 at 3:47 am —

        It’s quite ironic, isn’t it?
        Because IIRC at that time when Grothe went after Rebecaa many people said exactly that:
        You know each other, you’re kind of friends, you have her godsdamn phone number, why didn’t you call her up and talk to her about that problem you have (thinking that her statements are lowering you attendance), but instead chose to accuse her very publicly?
        But apparently it’s always the fault of people reacting publicly especially those at the receiving end of discrimination and harassment.
        That#s why that whole “civilty bullshit” serves only the status quo, because the “civilly worded” oppressive bullshit doesn’t get seen as such.

        • Avatar of KellyM
          April 3, 2013 at 6:32 am —

          DJ’s support of the slymepit is also one of the reasons I can no longer support the JREF. I am pretty disappointed in the signers of the CFI Open Letter.

          • Avatar of delphi_ote
            April 3, 2013 at 8:08 am

            He vocally supported them?! Holy crap! Where?

          • Avatar of Chas Stewart
            April 3, 2013 at 6:25 pm

            Yeah, where? Hahaha. He hasn’t endorsed an internet forum, especially not one like that.

  17. Avatar of mildlymagnificent
    April 2, 2013 at 6:55 pm —

    CultureClash

    I think perhaps asking the authors of these tablets if they would have suggested to African Americans in the 60?s that they should sit down with and be civil to members of the KKK… Because their suggestions look to me to be just that stupid.

    I diagnose a rampant infection of the “we’re all adults here” syndrome with the writers/carvers of the statement. They sort of know at an intellectual level that there are bullies and irrational people associated with their organisation, but they don’t personally deal with this kind of thing. So it’s very easy to dismiss “extremists” when you never have any contact with them or their actions, and you rarely or never hear or see their words.

    It seems to be a weird conflation of the do-gooder, just be reasonable person and the deal with it now and it’s over type of company director. These company directors are the ones who only learn the hard way, if at all, that a bullying workplace will eventually get you a visit from the workplace safety inspectors or a raised insurance premium when one-too-many of your employees.lodges yet another injury or stress claim. Pretending that every incident brought to your notice is just the bad behaviour of isolated individuals and ignoring the corrosive effect of so many, so often, is a recipe for failure.

    Back to the KKK reference, a few choice words from MLK. He wasn’t a feminist, but he knew something about fighting for justice.

    In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

    Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

  18. Avatar of Andy Ewing
    April 2, 2013 at 10:22 pm —

    Rebecca,
    I think that your points are valid, but that they don’t address the letter well. There are lots of letters that COULD be written, and probably SHOULD be written, but this letter was addressing the online discourse, with a nod toward the subject that is most often at the center of the worst in online discourse today. With that in mind, I find your criticism to be off the mark:

    * The problem is not just the Internet.
    No, it’s not, but this letter is addressing the internet. This criticism is like saying “You fed a homeless man in Chicago, but there are people without water in Nairobi.” Your point is valid, but it falls flat as criticism of the person trying to feed people in Chicago.

    * If secular leaders want to show they care about women’s equality, they should…
    True, and maybe they will, but this letter was about elevating the online discourse. Nobody says they can’t do both.

    *There is no “debate over sexism”
    Correct, and the letter reaffirms that message.

    * We cannot begin to discuss the tone of slight disagreements in our community unless and until secular women can prominently express unpopular viewpoints without receiving an avalanche of slurs and threats

    This seems very circular to me – we can’t talk about tone until we eliminate issues of tone. Beyond the circularity, I see no reason to believe that a letter in support of higher quality discourse in any way impedes other efforts, including more direct efforts at eliminating attacks on women.

    I enjoy much of what you write, but I really find this criticism to fall flat. It seems to violate the very principles espoused in the letter – principles that I would hope you agree with.

    Am I satisfied with this letter as some kind of panacea for the secular movement? Of course not, but I don’t see any of the signatories claiming that it is anything LIKE a panacea – it’s just one more step toward a better movement.

    • Avatar of LeftSidePositive
      April 3, 2013 at 9:26 am —

      Andy, you’re flat wrong. The letter actively enables debate over sexism in the secular movement. It equates people who have deeply bigoted attitudes about women with people who take a salty approach to calling them out. It mistakes “unpleasantness” for “injustice,” trivializing the latter and ignoring the necessity of the former in many situations. It tries to compel people who are the victim of bias or outright abuse to be “charitable” and to be meek and quiet and “pick up the phone” and preserve the reputations and comfort of those that are marginalizing them (intentionally or not, vituperatively or not. DJ Grothe has probably never uttered an overtly rude sexist slur in this whole discourse, but he is instrumental in minimizing women’s concerns and validating sexists) over actually critically examining the problems in our community with obtaining justice.

      This seems very circular to me – we can’t talk about tone until we eliminate issues of tone.

      This is where you go seriously, fatally wrong in your understanding. The issue with the sexists is not an issue of tone. It is one of CONTENT. The fact is that they have beliefs that they are innately superior to women, and that they don’t deserve to be listened to, and that men shouldn’t have to change what they want for what women need to feel included. This is a problem whether it’s Michael Shermer saying “being intellectually active” is “more of a guy thing” or Richard Dawkins saying “Dear Muslima” and “zero bad” or Reap Paden screaming c*** b**** w****.

      “Tone” just means will it offend some church lady. Who the fuck cares? There is a critical difference between calling someone an asshole, which is blunt and crude, but ultimately a criticism of antisocial behavior and attitudes, versus using a slur against an identity that does not harm anyone and has no intrinsic moral standing (race, sexual orientation, gender, body type, disability, etc.).

      By the way, fuck the principles espoused in the letter. They are misguided and deeply flawed, and the signatories are fucking irresponsible for putting this out there without the input of those mot directly affected. It will not make a better movement–it will just tell people who are frustrated with how they are mistreated that they have to be better about it, and that these “leaders” prefer appearances and the superficial semblance of calm over actual equality.

      • Avatar of Andy Ewing
        April 3, 2013 at 1:15 pm —

        “Andy, you’re flat wrong. The letter actively enables debate over sexism in the secular movement.”
        As I said below, I don’t see how its content permits debate. It clearly affirms the textbook definition of feminism and the fact that the feminist and secular movements are deeply tied to each other.

        “It equates people who have deeply bigoted attitudes about women with people who take a salty approach to calling them out”
        Where? This criticism seems to confuse the scope and audience of the letter, irrationally confining it to “the abusers and the victims”. The letter is clearly to the ENTIRE skeptic community. Everybody. It addresses an issue that affects everybody: clearly harmful behaviors that everybody, at some time or another, engages in. If you reject this scope, then you have to address the question: “If YOU saw universal problems with discourse, and wanted to correct them, how would you invite EVERYBODY to raise the level of discourse?”

        “The issue with the sexists is not an issue of tone. It is one of CONTENT… There is a critical difference between calling someone an asshole, which is blunt and crude, but ultimately a criticism of antisocial behavior and attitudes, versus using a slur against an identity that does not harm anyone and has no intrinsic moral standing”

        That’s a very good point; I misunderstood Rebecca’s argument. Rephrased, it would (?) be “You can’t address universal problems with tone, until after you’ve corrected the terrible content put forth by a subset of the community.”

        I wouldn’t say “can’t”, but I can see where if those were the ONLY two problems that a community were facing, it would be irresponsible to first address tone before harm.

        That said, the letter doesn’t just address tone, it addresses the prctices of moderation, the practice of verifying claims, and the practice of listening. By the way, these practices aren’t just ‘fluff’. They collectively make the difference between a community that has real, impactful discourse, and reddit.com/r/atheism.

        “the signatories are fucking irresponsible for putting this out there without the input of those mot directly affected”
        What evidence do you have that this is the case?

        “Just tell people who are frustrated with how they are mistreated that they have to be better about it, and that these “leaders” prefer appearances and the superficial semblance of calm over actual equality.”

        Again, I find your allegations to be unjustified. The letter didn’t start with “Dear Musliima”, or “Hey Feminists”. There’s also nothing in it to suggest that they seek a superficial semblance of calm. I think you’re interpreting _intent_ and _reception_ far beyond what’s reasonable.

        More to the point, I think you’re ignoring the real question: “How do you reduce sexism in the secular movement?”

        That is a VERY complex question, and there isn’t going to be one or two or three answers. It’s going to take a lot of things, but this letter certainly isn’t the immoral attempt at dicatorial status-quo-keeping that you seem to imply.

        • Avatar of LeftSidePositive
          April 3, 2013 at 2:34 pm —

          As I said below, I don’t see how its content permits debate. It clearly affirms the textbook definition of feminism and the fact that the feminist and secular movements are deeply tied to each other.

          God, you’re so fucking naive. I don’t know how to spell this out any clearer: just stating a definition is worthless unless all the rest of one’s actions demonstrate a clear understanding of how that definition applies to all aspects of what the letter is doing. It fails, and it fails badly, as we have already shown you.

          If you reject this scope, then you have to address the question: “If YOU saw universal problems with discourse, and wanted to correct them, how would you invite EVERYBODY to raise the level of discourse?”

          If I saw people being viciously harassed for being female, and other pretend moderates advocating casual, defensive, and thoughtless sexism, and I thought the most important issue to address was inviting “everybody” to “raise the level of discourse,” I’d have to be a fucking asshole.

          That’s a very good point; I misunderstood Rebecca’s argument. Rephrased, it would (?) be “You can’t address universal problems with tone, until after you’ve corrected the terrible content put forth by a subset of the community.”

          Closer, I suppose, but frankly ’round here we don’t agree that tone even IS a problem. No problem using as many four-letter words as you want. No problem saying bullshit is bullshit. No need to suffer fools gladly.

          That said, the letter doesn’t just address tone, it addresses the prctices of moderation, the practice of verifying claims, and the practice of listening.

          Which, by the way, telling people how to moderate their spaces (in the absence of bigotry or abuse) is none of these leaders’ business. Some people LIKE the tone on Pharyngula. Some people prefer strict moderation at Love, Joy, Feminism. People find spaces that fit their tastes. This is a subjective matter of preference that these leaders have no legitimate opinion on. And another thing, “verifying claims” can have some negative associations for women who have to deal with hyperskepticism about how they’re treated. And this elevation of “listening” can often just be telling marginalized people that they have to shut up and pretend that there isn’t a lot of thoughtless assumption going on when privileged people speak. It is a way of turning around the fault of conflicts not on the person who was insensitive, but back on the person who objected, for causing “drama” or not being understanding enough of the person who hurt them. Fuck that.

          What evidence do you have that this is the case?

          Hey, you fucking dumbshit–IT’S RIGHT THERE IN THE POST. Rebecca said she wasn’t consulted. Secular Woman said they weren’t consulted. Ophelia and Stephanie Zvan weren’t consulted. None of the signatories on the post are in any way known for dealing with harassment firsthand (except for DJ, who is chiefly known for being hostile to women about speaking up!). Fucking A, tone trolls are dense.

          Again, I find your allegations to be unjustified. The letter didn’t start with “Dear Musliima”, or “Hey Feminists”. There’s also nothing in it to suggest that they seek a superficial semblance of calm. I think you’re interpreting _intent_ and _reception_ far beyond what’s reasonable.

          Oooh, lookey here! The tone troll with frequently-pointed out knowledge deficits assures us that he didn’t see anything in the letter to be objectionable! Hey, dude, why don’t you listen to the women who are objecting to it. Why don’t you assume that since you don’t have experience being shut up for being female, those who have decades of experience on this subject might know more than you. Just for starters, reams have already been written about how “pick up the phone” is, apart from anachronistically hilarious, a means of having people with less institutional power be silenced rather than bring their concerns publicly and raise awareness. But if you weren’t so busy tone trolling you’d have figured this out by now. And another thing, this whole–”you can’t speculate about our intent!” Dude, we’re not. We’re saying there are preconceived notions that bolster your thought patterns, of which you are not aware. Remember, intent is not magic. And really, this whole “be charitable!” nonsense is really just telling the marginalized group to turn off their pattern-recognition for problematic behavior, because naturally every instance is a special snowflake and THEY couldn’t possibly be contributing to a chilly climate, now could they?!

          More to the point, I think you’re ignoring the real question: “How do you reduce sexism in the secular movement?”

          A very real start would be: get the leaders in our movement to realize that sexism and harassment are not misunderstandings, and they won’t be solved by dialogue. They will be solved by making our environment unquestionably inhospitable to overt sexists, and to those with unexamined privilege. This would include ditching DJ Grothe, for starters, and making sure conferences don’t invite people who have said stupid, evidence-free shit about women, their abilities, and the value of their autonomy. It would include refusing to admit individuals like Justin Vacula, Ryan Grant Long, Reap Paden, and many others to even REGISTER for a conference, let alone speak at it. It would include showing that harassment gets you complete ostracism, and we reserve the right to decide how long it takes before we’ll give you another shot.

          That is a VERY complex question, and there isn’t going to be one or two or three answers.

          Don’t lecture me, you ignorant, insufferable mansplainer.

          It’s going to take a lot of things, but this letter certainly isn’t the immoral attempt at dicatorial status-quo-keeping that you seem to imply.

          Maude, you’re such a willfully ignorant douchenozzle. It’s not that it’s an “attempt” at status-quo-keeping. One of the most basic facts about privilege 101, even just sociology 101, is that preserving the status quo comes naturally to people. The vast majority of the time they don’t realize they’re doing it. We know this letter isn’t consciously trying to silence women, but it is having that effect, and effects matter.

          • Avatar of Andy Ewing
            April 3, 2013 at 4:23 pm

            You’re really not worth talking to. I’m respectfully disagreeing with you (and not in a “nice but demeaning” way), and you keep blasting vitriol like its going out of style. The vitriol might even be fine, even if it’s demonstrably counter-productive, but you continue to assume my ignorance of various subjects, AND my stance on unrelated subjects, simply because I arrive at different conclusions.

            Let me be clear, I’m not just ‘tone trolling’, I’m not whinging about being corrected, I’m just bored of trying to hold a conversation with someone who goes out of their way to insult, demean, and dismiss me. If you think the community doesn’t have a problem with the level of discourse, I’m not surprised, because this is apparently how you think reasonable people engage in dialogue. It’s not.

            Let me put it a different way: bitch about people telling you to be ‘nice’ all you want, but you’re missing the boat: Look at your arguments, look at how you write, look at how you treat other people trying to engage with you, and then compare what you do with the ‘great thinkers’, with those people who have had the most impact in bringing other people into the secular and feminist fold. If you can’t tell the difference between being strident and being an asshole, if you can’t understand that ‘tone’ aside, there is rhetoric that convinces people and rhetoric that drives them away, and you seem to revel in the latter.

          • Avatar of ambidexter
            April 3, 2013 at 6:16 pm

            Let me be clear, I’m not just ‘tone trolling’, I’m not whinging about being corrected, I’m just bored of trying to hold a conversation with someone who goes out of their way to insult, demean, and dismiss me. If you think the community doesn’t have a problem with the level of discourse, I’m not surprised, because this is apparently how you think reasonable people engage in dialogue. It’s not.

            Translation: I am tone trolling. You’re being a big poopyhead and using nasty words at me. WAH! I’m so upset I won’t answer your legitimate criticisms of my posts. So there! :-b

          • Avatar of LeftSidePositive
            April 3, 2013 at 7:11 pm

            Andy, you’re tone trolling, and you’e tone trolling pathetically.

            Also, I am not “assuming” your ignorance of various subjects, I am pointing it out with citations. Quick recap: that you apparently think tone is relevant, that you think stating a definition of feminism makes this statement okay, that you didn’t even pick up on the things that are extremely problematic in the statement (just ‘I don’t see a problem’…), much less make an argument for why they’re okay, you didn’t know what the salient argument of the nice-vs.-good piece was (and you thought a piece about something that made no mentions of calling out privilege or examining the dynamics of challenging privilege or the privileged person’s response to it was a comparable article!).

            And another thing you’re shockingly ignorant about: “bitch” is a gendered insult, and thus totally inappropriate. I can’t believe you think yourself so high and mighty about being the arbiter of when things are sexist, and then you throw in a term that has AT ITS FOUNDATION an assumption that women are not allowed to be assertive, and that women are contemptible and animal-like when we stand up for ourselves. Epic fail, dude. Epic, ignorant-ass fail.

            I’ve also actively argued that the level of discourse is not an issue (so I don’t know what is up with your “if”). It is a phony “issue” and a matter of taste. Moreover, only superficial idiots think swearing has any impact on the level of discourse. Great and profound thoughts can be expressed with profanity, and shallow nonsense can be very polite and use lots of multisyllabic words. You have failed to address any of the arguments put forth in the nice-vs-good discussion.

            And if you really were so “bored” you’d just stop talking. The fact that you have to compulsively keep tone trolling says something. And, frankly, I’m not trying to convince you. You swanned into this thread with a great big sign saying “I VALUE STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE! I HAVE NO GRASP OF BASIC FEMINIST ACTIVISM OR THE DYNAMICS OF CHALLENGING PRIVILEGE!” I wrote you off from your first post. I am dissecting for the benefit of other readers why you are Exhibit A in Privileged Douchebros Who Think They Get to Arbitrate Social Norms They Know Nothing About.

            Oh, and another thing? “Great Thinkers”? Read some Carlin, read some Shakespeare, read some Mark Twain, read some Alice Walker, motherfucker!

          • Avatar of Rebecca Watson
            April 4, 2013 at 2:13 pm

            LSP, please avoid the out and out insults like “dumbshit” and keep the discussion chill.

    • Avatar of lamuella
      April 3, 2013 at 9:48 am —

      “This criticism is like saying “You fed a homeless man in Chicago, but there are people without water in Nairobi.” ”

      that’s a bad analogy because the man in chicago and the man in Nairobi aren’t linked, wheread the problems of the skeptical movement are linked on and offline.

      A better analogy would be “You’re going after the people who drink beer and drive, but people are also drinking vodka”.

  19. Avatar of Edward White
    April 3, 2013 at 12:16 am —

    Great response Rebecca – I also appreciated the response from American Secular Census.

  20. Avatar of magicthighs
    April 3, 2013 at 5:47 am —

    Secular Woman and Secular Census not signing makes me wonder, who exactly wrote this letter? Were the signatories just asked to sign, or was the letter a result of a concerted effort by all parties?

    Oh, and rlindsey, did you call Rebecca Watson before posting your comment?

  21. Avatar of maureenbrian
    April 3, 2013 at 8:21 am —

    Well said, Rebecca!

    As for you, Andy Ewing, suggesting that a degree of rudeness on the internet can or even should be addressed without acknowledging the disease of which it is a symptom is (a) daft and (b) not likely to work.

    This is a horrible analogy and I apologise but it is the one which immediately came to mind at that suggestion – it is like painting the toenails of someone whose gangrenous leg is about to drop off.

    • Avatar of Andy Ewing
      April 3, 2013 at 9:11 am —

      maureenbrian,

      Your analogy assumes that the ONLY cause of crude and hostile discourse on the internet is sexism, a premise which is clearly false.

      I think it’s reasonable to say that if the online skeptic community continues to reinforce a standard of discourse that prohibits ALL personal attacks, including sexist remarks and threats, then the incidence of such bad behavior will be reduced. Again, is it a panacea? Of course not, but it IS a small but feasible step in the right direction. To criticize such a step, which has NO clear drawbacks, is to shoot ourselves in the foot.

      • Avatar of LeftSidePositive
        April 3, 2013 at 9:34 am —

        No, Andy, she is saying that not all crude and hostile discourse is wrong.

        By the way, do you even understand what a “personal attack” is? Are you capable of distinguishing hating someone for culturally-marginalized identities, versus pushing back against overtly harmful behavior (for which “you’re being a fucking asshole” is perfectly appropriate). Are you one of those who thinks that to be criticized is to be attacked? Conversely, do you understand that sexist behavior, phrased nicely, is still a much bigger deal than “stop being a fucking asshole”?

        By the way, the step has VERY clear drawbacks. I suggest you reread the pieces by Secular Woman and the Secular Census to see how this statement enables harassers. I further suggest that you read what Ophelia Benson has to say about how absurd this stifling of legitimate criticism is with this whole “pick up the phone” nonsense. Stephanie Zvan also has some excellent points about how this attitude entrenches the status quo and lets others be ignored, and also that misunderstanding the source of the problem (some people are deeply uncomfortable with women having power in movement atheism, NOT people are rude on the interwebz) enables people who have these problematic attitudes.

        I suggest you read this and correct some deficits in your understanding:

        http://www.socialjusticeleague.net/2012/04/the-revolution-will-not-be-polite-the-issue-of-nice-versus-good/

        • Avatar of Andy Ewing
          April 3, 2013 at 12:39 pm —

          LeftSidePositive
          “No, Andy, she is saying that not all crude and hostile discourse is wrong.”
          Perhaps I misunderstood the analogy, but I see no interpretation of her argument or analogy that match what you’re proposing that she said. Furthermore, I’m not sure that I asserted otherwise.

          Your next paragraph doesn’t really contain argument, and I find your barrage of condescending questions to be premature. I haven’t given any reason to warrant your interrogation. More to the point, the tactic of asking people loaded questions is intellectually dishonest.

          “I suggest you reread the pieces by Secular Woman and the Secular Census to see how this statement enables harassers”

          I read both pieces. I disagree with the piece by Secular Woman: I think they clearly misinterpreted that entire section of the letter. The letter very clearly identifies that a major source of conflict is over the ‘debate’ of ‘interpretations’ of feminism and the role of feminism in the movement. Then the letter unequivocally reiterates the real definition of feminism and the fact that feminism is inextricably linked to the secular movement.

          I also read the letter from the Secular Census, and I emailed them. In the end, they don’t actually disagree with anything in the letter, mostly they just think that it did not go far enough.

          “I suggest you read this and correct some deficits in your understanding:”

          This is exactly the kind of tone and attitude that the letter is trying to move people away from. Your recommendation is blindly arrogant and insulting, and invites insults in kind, as opposed to a careful consideration of what you said. While hostile or crude discourse is sometimes warranted, it has not utility here, and in fact detracts from productive conversation.

          Incidentally, I really like this article on Benevolent Sexism. I think it dovetails with the Nice vs Good article: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/psysociety/2013/04/02/benevolent-sexism/

          • Avatar of LeftSidePositive
            April 3, 2013 at 1:24 pm

            Your next paragraph doesn’t really contain argument, and I find your barrage of condescending questions to be premature. I haven’t given any reason to warrant your interrogation.

            Yes you have given ample reason. You have shown astounding ignorance on what this issue is about. You have not shown that you understand what makes a personal attack bad, and you have not shown you even understand the difference between deservedly harsh language and a “personal attack.” Until you demonstrate some competency in this regard, you are going to get condescended to, because you look really ignorant.

            More to the point, the tactic of asking people loaded questions is intellectually dishonest.

            They’re not loaded. At most they’re rhetorical. But it shouldn’t be so hard to answer them, if you had the slightest idea what the important issues here are.

            The letter very clearly identifies that a major source of conflict is over the ‘debate’ of ‘interpretations’ of feminism and the role of feminism in the movement. Then the letter unequivocally reiterates the real definition of feminism and the fact that feminism is inextricably linked to the secular movement.

            One, if the letter is entertaining ‘interpretations’ of feminism where it’s okay to call women c***s and use other gendered slurs, where propositioning people in elevators is seen as “zero bad,” and that intellectual activity is “more of a guy thing” and women reporting harassment are engaging in “distasteful locker room banter” and the real women are those saying “please keep trying to fuck me” (actual quote by Mallorie Nasrallah, btw, and not out of context–she actively wanted guys not to change their behavior in response to the harassment reports that were coming to light!) and that women’s autonomy isn’t such a big deal in pregnancy, and that harassment policies are the worst thing ever, and that statements on harassment can be drafted and released without learning from or seeking input from those most harassed…then it may pay lip service to a decent definition of feminism, but it’s failing badly at living up to it.

            This is exactly the kind of tone and attitude that the letter is trying to move people away from.

            Oh, go fuck yourself, you smug, intellectually incurious little dumbshit. This is EXACTLY why this tone argument is so fucking stupid. You are trying to act like you have something legitimate to offer this conversation, but you’re all style over substance. You are making extremely superficial statements about what being a good skeptic and a good activist is about, and this bullshit statement validates your vapid, let’s-just-keep-things-looking-nice-at-all-costs inability to grasp the fact that you have some serious knowledge deficits. If I was really wrong and you did really understand this, you could have countered it. Instead you just whined.

            By the way, if you think that article on Benevolent Sexism was even in the same league as what we’re discussing here, it just shows all the more how much You. Don’t. GET. It. I mean, wow. This is not a question of tone. The issue here is not simply that some marginalization can be “nice”–the issue is that it is vitally necessary to respect the right and the moral validity of the underdog to tell people off and own it. This is why it’s wrong for you to whinge about being corrected when you clearly don’t have the background understanding on these issues to be conversant in them, and yet you feel like your disagreement with the assessment of the sexist repercussions of this open letter is so profound that we (and Secular Census?!) should listen to your pearls of wisdom. This is why it is necessary and good for me to burst your superficially-thinking, self-important little bubble. The article on Nice vs. Good deals with injustice. It deals with the inaccuracies of privileged groups perceiving their own affrontery as equal to injustice. It deals with the impossibility of challenging hierarchical systems in a way that won’t make the privilege feel affronted. This goes way deeper than just slapping up an article on Benevolent Sexism and saying “See! Two sides of the same coin!” Yawn. You’ve got a lot more lurking to do.

      • Avatar of brownian
        April 3, 2013 at 12:07 pm —

        Of course not, but it IS a small but feasible step in the right direction.

        Not if the issue is sexism in the community. One can be completely civil, even online, and behave horrendously marginalising.

        Insisting everyone remain nice, while failing to take into consideration whole segments of the community, is not a step in the right direction. It’s standing still, both feet firmly planted in the ground.

        • Avatar of Andy Ewing
          April 3, 2013 at 12:44 pm —

          > Not if the issue is sexism in the community
          Sexism in the community isn’t the ONLY issue that the community faces, and the letter is clearly addressing the issue of online discourse. The letter acknowledges that sexism in the community is a significant part of the state of the discourse, which I think was only appropriate, but I see no reason to think that the primary purpose of the letter was to address sexism specifically.

          > “Insisting everyone remain nice, while failing to take into consideration whole segments of the community, is not a step in the right direction. It’s standing still, both feet firmly planted in the ground.”
          Sure, and if the letter did this, you would have a valid criticism. If fact, however, the letter simply affirmed that the signatories would hold themselves to a universal higher standard of discourse.

          They did not “insist that everyone remain nice” or “fail to take into consideration whole segments of the community”.

          • Avatar of brownian
            April 3, 2013 at 1:51 pm

            If fact, however, the letter simply affirmed that the signatories would hold themselves to a universal higher standard of discourse.

            Are you kidding?

            From the letter:

            The leaders of major secular organizations have issued a united call for more civility in online discussions, pledging to use their best efforts to improve the tone and substance of such discussions. The entire letter can be found on our website. Ronald A. Lindsay, president & CEO for the Center for Inquiry, and Tom Flynn, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, are signatories to the letter.

            You’re claiming that this applies only to:
            David Silverman, President, American Atheists
            Rebecca Hale, President, American Humanist Association
            Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director, American Humanist Association
            Chuck VonDerAhe, President, Atheist Alliance of America
            Richard Haynes, President, Atheist Nexus
            Ayanna Watson, CEO, Black Atheists of America, Inc.
            Mandisa L. Thomas, President, Black Nonbelievers, Inc.
            Mynga Futrell, for Brights Central, at The Brights’ Net
            Amanda Metskas, Executive Director, Camp Quest
            Ronald Lindsay, President and CEO, Center for Inquiry
            Tom Flynn, Executive Director, The Council for Secular Humanism
            Jan Meshon, President, FreeThoughtAction
            Joseph McDaniel Stewart, Vice President, FreeThoughtAction
            Margaret Downey, Founder and President, Freethought Society
            D.J. Grothe, President, James Randi Educational Foundation
            Stuart Jordan, President, Institute for Science and Human Values
            Jason Torpy, President, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers
            R. Elisabeth Cornwell, Executive Director, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science
            Edwina Rogers, Executive Director, Secular Coalition for America
            August E. Brunsman IV, Executive Director, Secular Student Alliance
            Todd Stiefel, President, Stiefel Freethought Foundation
            Fred Edwords, National Director, United Coalition of Reason

            Is that really your claim? It’s just those 22 people making a statement about what they’re personally going to do?

          • Avatar of Andy Ewing
            April 3, 2013 at 8:47 pm

            brownian
            Point taken, they simultaneously “pledged to use their best efforts…” AND “issued a united call for more civility”

            Still, then we change your argument to: “Pledging to improve the TONE and SUBSTANCE of online discussions, and calling for more civility from everyone, while failing to take into consideration whole segments of the community, is not a step in the right direction. It’s standing still, both feet firmly planted in the ground.

            I still don’t see where they “failed to take into consideration whole segments of the community”, or how this is ‘standing still’. I’ll grant that it’s not a huge step. It’s a small step, and an even smaller step _in the context of the issue of sexism alone_, but there is more than the issue of sexism currently causing problems in the community, and they started out saying that they’re addressing a different issue.

          • Avatar of LeftSidePositive
            April 3, 2013 at 9:03 pm

            I still don’t see where

            I love the smell of argument from ignorance in the morning!

            they “failed to take into consideration whole segments of the community”,

            You mean the part where they failed to contact ACS, Secular Census, Rebecca Watson, Ophelia Benson, Stephanie Zvan, or PZ?! You’re just being deliberately obtuse now, aren’t you!

            or how this is ‘standing still’.

            Several of the above-mentioned bloggers have discussed at some length how encouraging a nice tone and insisting on what superficial, privileged people consider an elevated “level of discourse” has a way of entrenching existing power structures. Why don’t you go, read those, and then lurk a little until you’ve figured it out…

          • Avatar of Andy Ewing
            April 3, 2013 at 11:14 pm

            “I love the smell of argument from ignorance in the morning!”
            It wasn’t an argument from ignorance. An argument from ignorance is “We don’t know the cause of X, so Y!” I was rejecting the assertion for lack of evidence.

            “You mean the part where they failed to contact ACS, Secular Census, Rebecca Watson, Ophelia Benson, Stephanie Zvan, or PZ?!”
            They also didn’t contact a number of other people and organizations. It seemed pretty clear that they were going after organizations to sign the letter. What would be a critical mass? Who makes the list of necessary organizations? What’s the deadline for getting signatories? How big a blog following do you have to have? Matt Dillahunty wasn’t invited to sign, nor was Ayaan Hirsi Ali. This counts as not asking enough people?

            Now I’m curious as to why all the women and minorities who signed did so, since you think the letter is so clearly a moral failure.

            “encouraging a nice tone and insisting on what superficial, privileged people consider an elevated “level of discourse” has a way of entrenching existing power structures”
            Once again, they encouraged people to moderate forums, trust but verify and other known best practices for public figures and online communities. As much as you seem to want to reduce the letter to a whine about tone, it’s not.

          • Avatar of LeftSidePositive
            April 3, 2013 at 11:41 pm

            I was rejecting the assertion for lack of evidence.

            No, you just chose to remain ignorant of all those who discussed in detail that they were not considered, and how the lack of consideration affected them (hint: Rebecca is talking about it above).

            They also didn’t contact a number of other people and organizations. [...] This counts as not asking enough people?

            This isn’t just a grab-bag for anybody. If you are talking about community harassment and you fail to include the perspective of those who have been harassed (either as consultants or signatories), you’re gonna fuck up. Big time. There’s a slogan that goes “nothing about us without us.” This is so elementary I’m really kind of dumbfounded this wasn’t inherently obvious to you.

            Now I’m curious as to why all the women and minorities who signed did so, since you think the letter is so clearly a moral failure.

            Yeah, I’m sure your best friend who’s a minority signed it too! Look, douchenozzle, women and minorities are not a monolith. Some of them get to places where they can ignore the marginalization that others deal with (see also: Sheryl Sandberg and Bill Cosby and Sarah Palin and Clarence Thomas). Not all people who are in marginalized groups magically have access to some hivemind of social theory. Not everyone in every marginalized group has every experience. And, just having someone of a certain identity doesn’t mean it must be fine from the standpoint of all those that share that identity. Sheesh.

            Once again, they encouraged people to moderate forums, trust but verify and other known best practices for public figures and online communities. As much as you seem to want to reduce the letter to a whine about tone, it’s not.

            I have already said why all those things are flawed. Answer my objections or stop repeating them.

      • Avatar of
        April 3, 2013 at 6:11 pm —

        if the online skeptic community continues to reinforce a standard of discourse that prohibits ALL personal attacks, including sexist remarks and threats, then the incidence of such bad behavior will be reduced.

        It is possible to say a lot of horrible, vile, sexist, racist, homophobic et al stuff without using swears or “personal attacks.” For instance, “Black people are inherently more criminal” is neither a personal attack, or a threat, but its a vile thing to say. So is “Women are just naturally less intelligent than men.” Do these statements belong in the public discourse? Should black people or women have to answer them, over and over again ad nauseum in order to maintain a ‘standard of discourse’?

        Its ~almost~ like the problem isn’t how something is being said but what is being said. What WE are saying is that ‘threats’ and ‘slurs’ do not belong in the same category as ‘insults’ because the former are about the CONTENT while the latter is about the TONE of what is being said. And frankly, tone trolling has been to often used to silence the oppressed. Oppressed people are often angry, and impatient. We have a right to be. Because we not only have to deal with outright sexists or racists making “polite,” non-swear filled statements about *who we are as people,* but we also have to deal with (presumably) well-meaning people like yourself, criticizing the sharp way we interact with those bigots.

        It is fucking frustrating to be lectured to by people who aren’t in the fight and don’t deal with this shit day in and day out. Instead of telling the people who are being harassed and oppressed to be nice and smile–why don’t you tell the bigots (however nicely they phrase their bbigotry) to stop being fucking bigots, hmmm?

        • Avatar of
          April 3, 2013 at 6:12 pm —

          Rats–the first lines is a quote from Andy Ewing. The comment form is stripping my HTML out…

        • Avatar of Andy Ewing
          April 3, 2013 at 9:35 pm —

          “It is possible to say a lot of horrible, vile, sexist, racist, homophobic et al stuff without using swears or “personal attacks.””
          I agree. The article I linked above explores some of phenomenon in the context of “benevolent sexism”.

          “Do these statements belong in the public discourse? Should black people or women have to answer them, over and over again ad nauseum in order to maintain a ‘standard of discourse’?”
          Should they? No. Just the other day I tried to explain to a very “non-vile” person that rape victims hold ZERO responsibility for being raped. They remained unconvinced, and they will undoubtedly repeat their despicable beliefs on some other forum.

          “What WE are saying is that ‘threats’ and ‘slurs’ do not belong in the same category as ‘insults’ because the former are about the CONTENT while the latter is about the TONE of what is being said.”

          I agree that former are more specifically about content, while the latter has an expanded meaning that includes slurs along with more generic insults like “idiot”. That said, in the context of the letter, they grouped these items in regard to a specific outcome:

          From the letter: “Insults, slurs, expressions of hatred, and threats undermine our shared values of open and candid discussion because they move us away from an exchange of views supported with reasons.”

          I think that their argument is sound, and the issue of insult vs slur doesn’t come into play given the point they were trying to make.

          “And frankly, tone trolling has been to often used to silence the oppressed”
          I agree 100%

          “we also have to deal with (presumably) well-meaning people like yourself, criticizing the sharp way we interact with those bigots”
          I criticize some people’s inability to interact civilly with NON-bigots. It’s like they get so jaded by dealing with the truly willfully ignorant, they can’t shift gears to “normal” dialogue, even for fellow feminists. It’s not often, but when I do publicly disagree with some portion of a feminist blog post, I am almost always accused of mansplaining, being willfully ignorant, being a bigot, a sexist, called all manner of insults, and more importantly, my reasons are ignored in favor of heaping insults on me. I see this happen to other people too, and yes, I can tell the difference between a bigot and a feminist who just happens to think differently.

          “It is fucking frustrating to be lectured to by people who aren’t in the fight and don’t deal with this shit day in and day out.”
          I see that 100%. My question is, am I *allowed* to disagree with someting you might say? If so, how shal I do that?

          “Instead of telling the people who are being harassed and oppressed to be nice and smile–why don’t you tell the bigots (however nicely they phrase their bbigotry) to stop being fucking bigots, hmmm?”
          Again, this is the kind of baseless assumption that just wastes time and halts discourse. You have no reason to think that I DON’T tell bigots to stop being bigots.

          I’m interested in what works in terms of moving the community forward. I have to agree with you and LeftSidePositive – obdurate bigots with no hope of ‘salvation’ just have to be made so unwelcome that they leave. That said, EVERYONE has bad beliefs, and the kind of discourse that LeftSidePositive seems to enjoy is guaranteed to alienate anyone whose view differs. Vitriol and insults hurled at PEOPLE and not IDEAS or BELIEFS are guaranteed to put people on the defensive and make them much, much less likely to change their views. This isn’t just my opinion, or “tone trolling”, it’s about the CONTENT of our discourse: are we discussing ideas, or just reviling people? If you care about convincing more people to be feminists or secularists, you have to care deeply about the answer to that question.

          LeftSidePositive seems to think that the “principle of charity” is just another way for The Man to keep you down. It’s not. It’s a practical approach to discourse that has been demonstrated OVER and OVER to produce better dialogue, which is the only way that we bring people to our side.

          • Avatar of LeftSidePositive
            April 3, 2013 at 10:25 pm

            Thanks for taking up tons and tons of pixels explaining how you’re totally a great ally elsewhere…and continuing to be a mansplaining douche here.

            I think that their argument is sound, and the issue of insult vs slur doesn’t come into play given the point they were trying to make.

            Failing to address the difference between an insult and a slur is a moral failing. It is equating a purely stylistic issue with an issue of injustice. It is false equivalence. It robs people of the genuine voice to express their outrage. It is unacceptable.

            While we’re on the subject of slurs, you’ve still failed to apologize for using one upthread.

            “And frankly, tone trolling has been to often used to silence the oppressed”
            I agree 100%

            So why the fuck are you repeatedly doing it here?!

            I criticize some people’s inability to interact civilly with NON-bigots.

            Another example of your embarrassing ignorance: it’s not just the overtly bigoted that need calling out. Haven’t we mentioned a few times on this very thread that it’s not just overt bigotry, but it’s what people don’t realize that they’re doing?! It’s also smug, privilege-denying, focus-shifting mansplainers. {_} <-mirror

            It’s like they get so jaded by dealing with the truly willfully ignorant,

            Dude, I wrote out and itemized for you ways you are being willfully ignorant. You haven’t addressed it. You even added another one above.

            It’s not often, but when I do publicly disagree with some portion of a feminist blog post, I am almost always accused of mansplaining, being willfully ignorant, being a bigot, a sexist,

            Dude, I provided you concrete examples of where you were mansplaining and being willfully ignorant. The fact that you act all confused and affronted when I took the time to show you where you were wrong and how you could learn from it shows that you’re…waaaaiiit fooor iiiiiit…willfully ignorant!!

            Also, another point of your ignorance, which is getting pretty comical by this point: when you are criticized for sexist behavior, it’s not a matter of being “A bigot” or “A sexist”–it’s about BEHAVIOR that, whether you mean it to or not, and whether it’s out of character for you or not, feeds into social structures of bigotry and/or sexism. “A bigot,” “A sexist” or “A racist” are almost certain tells for someone who has no idea what ze is talking about from a social justice perspective. (But, please go on and whine about how it’s sooooo uuunfaaaaaiiiiiiiir that we call you ignorant!) And another thing for your martyr complex–no one called you “A bigot” OR “A sexist” on this thread, nor did we even so much as apply the labels bigoted or sexist to your behavior! I did a Ctrl-F to be sure, so stop whining.

            called all manner of insults, and more importantly, my reasons are ignored in favor of heaping insults on me.

            No, actually, I comprehensively addressed the flaws in your reasons. You have ignored my posts and continued to repeat the same tired bullshit to others, ignoring that it’s already been answered. If you don’t agree with the answers, fine, but at least acknowledge and try to refute them!

            My question is, am I *allowed* to disagree with someting you might say?

            Of course. You’re allowed to say the world is flat, too, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get called wrong when you’re wrong. And you’re not just disagreeing–you’re minimizing. You’re ignoring counter-arguments. You used a slur. You’re hyper-fixated on tone. You’re arguing from ignorance and ignoring what people directly affected by these issues are telling you.

            That said, EVERYONE has bad beliefs, and the kind of discourse that LeftSidePositive seems to enjoy is guaranteed to alienate anyone whose view differs. Vitriol and insults hurled at PEOPLE and not IDEAS or BELIEFS are guaranteed to put people on the defensive and make them much, much less likely to change their views.

            Now you’re just making excuses not to change your views. This is tiresome, and no, we’re not buying it. Views are not an immutable part of yourself. You are in control of your intellectual honesty. The fact that you would rather whine about tone than engage in arguments says a great deal about your values. Moreover, you are the person who is not just promoting stupid ideas, but you are engaging in some bad behavior, and doing it pretty repetitively to the point that it’s pretty clear that it’s a character flaw. We’re allowed to point that out.

            LeftSidePositive seems to think that the “principle of charity” is just another way for The Man to keep you down. It’s not.

            Thanks, privileged man, for arguing from assertion to flatly deny the ways I’ve been dismissed! That’s sooo helpful! Gee, I’m so sorry for all those times I called you a mansplainer! Let me hereby amend: you are a filthy, motherfucking mansplainer.

            It’s a practical approach to discourse that has been demonstrated OVER and OVER to produce better dialogue, which is the only way that we bring people to our side.

            I suggest you read the Letter from Birmingham Jail on this regard. I suggest you read “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?” I suggest you learn about the history of ACT UP! I suggest you learn about the early Women’s Suffrage Movement. I suggest you consider your position as one with privilege in contrast to the lived experience of those who have spoken up and gotten results when we ruffled feathers. I suggest that getting some salty language involved makes pages of social theory a hell of a lot more colorful, and I further suggest you notice that some of the more freewheeling spaces are the most engaged and popular (’cause, y’know…nobody reads Pharyngula, and nobody’s written to PZ about how his blog was useful in their deconversion…and nobody has found cognitive dissonance compelling or unsettling…suuuuuuure!).

          • Avatar of Andy Ewing
            April 3, 2013 at 11:03 pm

            Whew, for a second I thought I might actually get to hear what Jenae Reese had to say. Thanks for taking care of that for me LeftSidePositive!

            “Of course. You’re allowed to say the world is flat, too, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get called wrong when you’re wrong”
            That wasn’t the point of the question – the point to ask if people who aren’t directly affected by X CAN ever have sound counter-arguments when talking to people who are directly affected, and if so, then how do they express those arguments without being told that they’re just “lecturing”?

            “And you’re not just disagreeing–you’re minimizing. You’re ignoring counter-arguments. You used a slur. You’re hyper-fixated on tone. You’re arguing from ignorance and ignoring what people directly affected by these issues are telling you.”
            Lets see, you’ve happily minimized my experience and arguments, you’ve ignored a number of my arguments, douchenozzle isn’t a slur I guess, nope, and believe it or not, I do value what people directly affected by these issues tell me. Not everyone directly affected by these issues feels the same way that you do. Similarly, you don’t have a trump card that says because you’re directly affected you’re always right about everything on the topic. Do you get the benefit of the doubt? Absolutely. Blank check? Nope.

            “Dude, I provided you concrete examples of where you were mansplaining and being willfully ignorant”
            Again, you provided arguments. They are far from ‘concrete examples of mansplaining’, because your arguments were flawed.

            “The fact that you would rather whine about tone than engage in arguments says a great deal about your values”
            The fact that you are incapable of differentiating between tone and content is incredible. For the record, I have read a lot of Greta Christina’s work, including the Angry Atheists piece. I have read Martin Luther King’s letter from a Birmingham Jail. For years I lived less than a block from the MLK memorial in Atlanta and I visited it frequently. I think YOU should re-read that letter. Why? Because that letter is powerful, where your arguments and rhetoric is weak and self-defeating. If you care about the future of the secular movement, or the future of the feminist movement, you must care about WHY that letter is powerful. You must care about the content. You must care about the form.

            You have to ask yourself – “What do I care about more? Feeling justified in calling people assholes, dipshits, and douchenozzles? In minimizing their experiences and dismissing their character? or do I care about the future of my society?

            The endgame for secularism, for feminism, for civil rights, is not and has never been the elimination of the “other”. It has ALWAYS been the *assimilation* of the other. How do we achieve that? Through discourse, and we KNOW from experience that personal attacks make for failed discourse. We KNOW that the kind of vitriol you enjoy spewing drives people away from both movements, without actually helping or defending anyone. There’s being strident, like Hitchens, and then there’s being an asshole. The difference is whether you’re addressing the belief and behavior or the person. Objecting to the former is tone trolling. Objecting to the latter is self-respect.

          • Avatar of LeftSidePositive
            April 3, 2013 at 11:27 pm

            Whew, for a second I thought I might actually get to hear what Jenae Reese had to say. Thanks for taking care of that for me LeftSidePositive!

            Jenae Reese is still perfectly capable of replying to your comment. I have not stolen her keyboard. She still has a reply button. What the fuck is this whine?!

            the point to ask if people who aren’t directly affected by X CAN ever have sound counter-arguments when talking to people who are directly affected, and if so, then how do they express those arguments without being told that they’re just “lecturing”?

            Whether or not it is possible to have a sound counter-argument is not relevant to the fact that your counter-arguments have been shit. And, it’s generally a good idea to ask a question rather than make an assertion, if the issue at hand affects someone else directly and you think you have some brilliant insight–odds are they’ve thought of it already, and rejected it for a reason.

            Lets see, you’ve happily minimized my experience and arguments,

            Do you even know what “minimize” means?! It doesn’t mean disagreeing. It doesn’t mean telling you where you’re wrong. It doesn’t mean pointing out ignorance. It means taking a big deal and twisting it to seem like something insignificant. It means ignoring axes of oppression that make something a big deal.

            you’ve ignored a number of my arguments,

            WHICH ONES? I’ve responded to everything I’ve seen so far.

            douchenozzle isn’t a slur I guess, nope,

            Nope, it’s objectively not, fuckwad. No one has the identity of a douche. A douche is a harmful product that is marketed to women based on the cultural assumption that they are unclean but actually totally unnecessary for their health. It is therefore a fitting reference to someone who is irritating (specifically to women), thinks they’re essential, but is actually superfluous. Another thing you’re ignorant about, I suppose…

            I do value what people directly affected by these issues tell me.

            Actions speak louder than words, I’m afraid.

            Similarly, you don’t have a trump card that says because you’re directly affected you’re always right about everything on the topic. Do you get the benefit of the doubt? Absolutely. Blank check? Nope.

            Then why don’t you try MAKING A COHERENT ARGUMENT, instead of just whining?! I might not always be right, but you’ve given no indication that I’m not right in this case.

            Again, you provided arguments. They are far from ‘concrete examples of mansplaining’, because your arguments were flawed.

            Hey, mansplainer…care to pick an argument and say WHY it’s flawed? That’s how arguing generally works, you know…

            The fact that you are incapable of differentiating between tone and content is incredible.

            WHAT?! What does this even mean? Please link to the comments you’ve made that you think contain content, and provide line numbers to where the content is.

            And to whatever extent that you think a defense of the tone is content, I’ve already said why that is misguided, status-quo-reinforcing, and marginalizing (and boring).

            Because that letter is powerful, where your arguments and rhetoric is weak and self-defeating.

            Thanks for that assertion, dude. It was very educational.

            Through discourse, and we KNOW from experience that personal attacks make for failed discourse. We KNOW that the kind of vitriol you enjoy spewing drives people away from both movements, without actually helping or defending anyone.

            Those are just assertions. Provide evidence or shut up. And by the way, Hitchens was lambasted for being an overly-aggressive “New Atheist” 2nd Horseman of the Apocalypse who was totally too strident and turning people away from atheism, too. Just FYI.

  22. Avatar of maureenbrian
    April 3, 2013 at 3:41 pm —

    Fuck the tone! It’s the content we are arguing about!

    Do you not think, andy ewing, that the people who have been engaged in the fight for a couple of years might, on balance, have more idea what this is about than someone who wandered in from the planet Zog but feels quite able to tell us that we are misunderstanding our own experience? Do you not think that the woman who wrote the OP, who is also one of those who was subjected to vile abuse, might understand both what the real problem is and how best to address it?

    As more than one person has pointed out today, once these “leaders” have decided – go! leaders! – that women are fully paid-up members of the human race and entitled to equal treatment then certain arguments and certain actions are off the table but boisterous language is not one of them. Yet there is nothing on the tablets of stone which says these people and their organisations are going to address gender-based bias or threatening behaviour. There’s nothing which even says they are sorry they let this rip and/or sat back and laughed while real harm was done to real people. They seem perfectly content to let abusive behaviour continue provided that it is done in polite language.

    We women and similarly enlightened people know from experience that what they have written does not fully address the problems experienced. And, being fully human, as they have themselves admitted, we get to call them on it. Just as we get to call you on your mansplaining. It’s what equality means and, yes, it might feel a little uncomfortable until you get used to it. Tough!

    —-

    Love ya, brownian!

    • Avatar of Andy Ewing
      April 3, 2013 at 8:35 pm —

      “someone who wandered in from the planet Zog but feels quite able to tell us that we are misunderstanding our own experience”
      Where exactly do you get off telling me who I am and what my experience is? I was around for elevatorgate, happily raised my voice in favor of codes of conduct, argued in favor of atheismplus, yadda yadda yadda, and on a day to day basis I correct ignorance of privilege, sexism in those around me. I have a lot of success, by and large, because I make a point of respecting PEOPLE when attacking ideas.

      Where did I tell you what your experience was, or that you misunderstood it? Where did I call into question YOUR feminist credentials? I didn’t, because to do so on the basis of a post or two would be intellectually bankrupt, ignorant, and counter-productive.

      ” There’s nothing which even says they are sorry they let this rip and/or sat back and laughed while real harm was done to real people. They seem perfectly content to let abusive behaviour continue provided that it is done in polite language.”
      Again, where do you get off telling every signatory on that list that they don’t give a shit about abusive behavior? How did you get from what they wrote to that conclusion?

      “We women and similarly enlightened people know from experience that what they have written does not fully address the problems experienced”
      I agree, my point is that I don’t see them claiming that the letter was an end-all-be-all solution to every problem that the secular community has. It addressed the problem of online secular discourse, with a nod to the issue most commonly at the center of terrible discourse.

      • Avatar of LeftSidePositive
        April 3, 2013 at 8:51 pm —

        Andy, I don’t care how good you think you are, or how good your past intentions have been, or even how nice you are when sexism is blatant enough for even you to see it. The issue now is that you are being a dense, tone-trolling mansplaining shithead. We can identify fundamental flaws in your “feminism” because you are saying things that no one with a passing knowledge of how privilege works or how people are marginalized could possibly spout. We’re not impugning your deep special character or anything, but we can call into question your feminist credentials because you’re saying stuff that’s just plain stupidly ignorant. Just like I can question someone’s self-proclaimed evolutionary biologist credentials if they were to say “But why are there still monkeys?” Yes, it only takes a couple blog posts to show you have a shoddy foundation for your thinking. “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt…” and all that.

        By the way, dumbshit, it’s not about whether or not the signatories CONSCIOUSLY don’t give a shit about abusive behavior. It’s that they don’t seem to care that what they care about more–the fucking tone!–will have very bad consequences in terms of enabling abusive behavior. Again, intent is not magic. If you actually had a shred of the feminist credentials you claim you would have heard of this by now. Not to mention, I already told you upthread, so you really have no excuse other than being a willfully ignorant tone-trolling blowhard.

        I have already told you that focusing on the problem of “online discourse” is generally a shitty idea, and none of their business. To do so instead of addressing the harassment of women is MORALLY REPREHENSIBLE. You have not answered this issue. You have just kept repeating your gradeschool-level thought that hyperventilating about the tone of other people’s online spaces is in any way worthwhile or valid (for the record, even I don’t think the signatories are as callous as you seem to be considering them. I think they genuinely think their efforts will stop harassment, and they’re simply wrong about the social dynamics leading to harassment). Repeating things when others have offered arguments against them is trolling, so cut it out.

        By the way, upthread you used “bitch,” a gendered slur, in your comment above. You should apologize for that immediately (and stop fucking whining that we point out your painfully obvious ignorance).

        • Avatar of Andy Ewing
          April 3, 2013 at 10:20 pm —

          You’re right, I did say “bitch”, and I should know better, and I should have said “complain”. I apologize.

          “To do so instead of addressing the harassment of women is MORALLY REPREHENSIBLE”
          You seem far more comfortable than me to assume knowledge of others’ circumstances and motivations. There are a lot of things that need doing, and some are able to be done when others aren’t. I don’t feel bad about helping a friend move instead of driving someone to the hospital – IF the former is manageable and the latter, for whatever reason, isn’t feasible at the time.

          It seems that you don’t agree, but I actually think that improving online communities is very important. As I said before, I get tired of being labeled a bigot or a misogynist every goddamn time I have a difference of opinion, and NO, I’m not always wrong. I’ve had the lovely satisfaction of being lambasted by people like you before, only to have some “respected” feminists repeat my objections: Magically these same objections suddenly become valid.

          The point being, that needlessly engaging in personal attacks instead of addressing the arguments and beliefs isn’t just a matter of “tone”, it’s a matter of content, and it’s a harm that our community doesn’t need.

          Now, is the issue of secular discourse AS important as stopping harrassment? No. But from where I sit it IS serious, and this letter addresses the former directly and the latter indireclty. This was a thing that for whatever reasons could be done and was. To call writing this letter instead of addressing sexism and harassment morally reprehensible seems arrogant and naive.

          “Repeating things when others have offered arguments against them is trolling, so cut it out.”
          Just because you’ve offered an argument, doesn’t mean that it was a sound argument.

          “it’s not about whether or not the signatories CONSCIOUSLY don’t give a shit about abusive behavior.”
          Agreed, intent is not magic.

          “It’s that they don’t seem to care that what they care about more–the fucking tone!–will have very bad consequences in terms of enabling abusive behavior”
          Again, if they had only addressed TONE, I’d agree. There was a lot more there than just tone.

          “Not to mention, I already told you upthread, so you really have no excuse other than being a willfully ignorant tone-trolling blowhard.”
          I dont’ know why you think that your words are some kind of magic that once read commit other people to either agreeing with you, or beiong labeled “willfully ignorant”. Your arrogance is frankly astounding.

          I see your kind of bullying a lot among people on the ‘front lines’ of feminism. You think that personal insults are a sign of strength, and TELLING people what to read or what to think is effective rhetoric. You don’t grant me ANY authority to speak on the subject at hand. Given that, why do you expect me to grant you that respect? I don’t care how many swear words you use, but the less respect you show for me as a person, the less I’m inclined to take you or your arguments seriously. I’m pretty sure that most people have the same response.

          Again, it’s not about tone, call sexism “fucking dumbass sexism”, use whatever language you like when describing ideas or beliefs, but when you use the ‘retorical device’ of asking a barrage of loaded questions that you’ve already assumed the (wrong) answer to, instead of presenting an argument, you demonstrate a complete lack of respect for the people you’re talking to, and your post doesn’t merit a response.

          • Avatar of LeftSidePositive
            April 3, 2013 at 10:55 pm

            You’re right, I did say “bitch”, and I should know better, and I should have said “complain”. I apologize.

            Took you long enough!

            “To do so instead of addressing the harassment of women is MORALLY REPREHENSIBLE”
            You seem far more comfortable than me to assume knowledge of others’ circumstances and motivations.

            LISTEN UP, DUMBSHIT: This is not about motivations. I’ve told you this before. Repeatedly. Motivations don’t count for shit. Intent is not magic. I’m not assuming knowledge of others’ circumstances and motivations–I am pointing out that their EFFECTS are unacceptable. I don’t know why the fuck this is so hard for you to grasp.

            And by the way, what possible “circumstances” could one be in that would give one the right or moral authority or need or indeed ANY validity to quibble about the politeness of someone else’s blog?!

            It seems that you don’t agree, but I actually think that improving online communities is very important.

            No, idiot, my point is that politeness is utterly orthogonal to the issue of improving online communities. Having dumbshits like you think before you post would improve online communities.

            As I said before, I get tired of being labeled a bigot or a misogynist every goddamn time I have a difference of opinion,

            1) Stop whining. 2) I dealt with this in my last post–learn to grasp the difference between a criticism of yourself and your behavior, and learn to grasp the difference between criticism of your opinion and criticism of your totally douchey, privilege-blind derailing techniques.

            I’ve had the lovely satisfaction of being lambasted by people like you before, only to have some “respected” feminists repeat my objections: Magically these same objections suddenly become valid.

            Links, please…

            The point being, that needlessly engaging

            Who says it’s needless? Why do you get to decide that? I already told you it’s needed to shake you out of your complacency, and to protest your style-over-substance trolling.

            in personal attacks instead of addressing the arguments and beliefs isn’t just a matter of “tone”, it’s a matter of content,

            YOU ARE THE FUCKING DOUCHE who has been ignoring my arguments to focus on tone. You are the douche who has ignored the lists I have made you of how and why you’ve been ignorant. You are the asshole who has been ignoring content and repeating the same bullshit.

            But from where I sit it IS serious,

            If you must masturbate, please do it in private, wether verbally or not.

            This was a thing that for whatever reasons could be done and was.

            Have you failed to notice that we are opposed to the aim itself, not just the focus on it? Just saying something is possible to accomplish is not an argument in its favor when we are opposed to the thing itself.

            To call writing this letter instead of addressing sexism and harassment morally reprehensible seems arrogant and naive.

            Where’s my mansplainer’s bingo card? Did you notice that I wrote at great length in several posts about WHY it was morally reprehensible? Would you like to actually present an argument instead of just arguing from assertion?

            Just because you’ve offered an argument, doesn’t mean that it was a sound argument.

            If that was the case, you could refute it. The fact that you choose to repeat yourself rather than address the issue in progress strongly implies you’re not up for taking on the argument on its merits.

            Agreed, intent is not magic.

            Aw, thanks for repeating the buzzphrase and then failing to see how it applies throughout this thread!

            Again, if they had only addressed TONE, I’d agree. There was a lot more there than just tone.

            I’ve already dealt with this upthread. Provide a counter argument or stop repeating it.

            I dont’ know why you think that your words are some kind of magic that once read commit other people to either agreeing with you,

            No, you fucking shithead–it means you need to ANSWER THE ARGUMENT. This is not fucking difficult. If you disagree, say WHY. Then I say why I disagree with you. This is how this works. Just repeating the thing I already have an answer for is not getting anyone anywhere (and it’s trollish and a fucking waste of time!).

            I see your kind of bullying

            Being called out on your insensitive, misguided, intellectually dishonest behavior is not “bullying,” so cut that self-serving appropriating crap out right the fuck now.

            You don’t grant me ANY authority to speak on the subject at hand.

            I’m not giving you authority to speak about my life? I’m not giving you authority to speak about how my voice has been marginalized? Funny that!

            And you lost your authority with all your repeated fuck-ups, mansplaining, and lack of substantive arguments. Authority needs to be earned, and you failed to earn it.

            but when you use the ‘retorical device’ of asking a barrage of loaded questions that you’ve already assumed the (wrong) answer to, instead of presenting an argument,

            I’m interested in this contention that asking rhetorical questions is not an argument. Go tell it to Socrates.

            Moreover, the argument (since you seem to be too dense to grasp it) was, in declarative statements, this time: the term “personal attack” is often used to deflect substantive criticism from people’s harmful behavior, since privileged people conflate the distress they feel at being corrected with being marginalized. “Personal attack” is poorly defined and can just as easily protect the privileged as the oppressed, since it focuses on things being “personal” and not the nature and content of the statements. Was that so hard? (<-see, rhetorical question!) Bonus exposition: if you mean slurs, then say slurs. But, in the context of "let's all get together and be charitable and pick up the phone," the use of "personal attack" is unacceptably vague.

  23. Avatar of americansecularcensus
    April 3, 2013 at 4:10 pm —

    rlindsay Ron Lindsay, you say that reproductive rights have long been a core issue for CFI. I have seen your work on the contraception mandate, but has CFI addressed any of the attacks against abortion access in the states? If you have documentation of action alerts, lobbying, or similar activity on those bills I will update the American Secular Census’s post.

  24. Avatar of doubtthat
    April 3, 2013 at 4:27 pm —

    When has correcting tone ever solved anything? Assholes just dog-whistle, using nicer language to express the same malicious ideas.

    Let us not forget Lee Atwater:

    Atwater: As to the whole Southern strategy that Harry S. Dent, Sr. and others put together in 1968, opposition to the Voting Rights Act would have been a central part of keeping the South. Now [the new Southern Strategy of Ronald Reagan] doesn’t have to do that. All you have to do to keep the South is for Reagan to run in place on the issues he’s campaigned on since 1964 and that’s fiscal conservatism, balancing the budget, cut taxes, you know, the whole cluster.
    Questioner: But the fact is, isn’t it, that Reagan does get to the Wallace voter and to the racist side of the Wallace voter by doing away with legal services, by cutting down on food stamps?
    Atwater: You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

    Yeah, that “did away with the racial problem. Tone policing just leads to more convoluted versions of assholery.

    • Avatar of Andy Ewing
      April 3, 2013 at 8:37 pm —

      That’s a fascinating quote. I think that _just_ modifying tone is a pretty ineffective “solution.” That said, the letter called for more than just tone trolling, there were quite a few behaviors and actions called out that are known to produce a more cohesive and productive community.

      • Avatar of LeftSidePositive
        April 3, 2013 at 9:07 pm —

        Hey, douchebag. Don’t repeat the same shit once we’ve already countered it. At least, respond to our counter-arguments, and don’t repeat the same superficial bullshit over and over again like it’s fresh. Firstly, I am unconvinced by your “_just_ modifying tone” since elsewhere in this thread you have been claiming that the tone itself is a legitimate problem that one could conceivably care more about than sexism and not be a callous, privilege-blind hack. You can’t have it both ways. Furthermore, I have already informed you why issues like “listening” and “picking up the phone” and “verifying claims” are problematic. You have failed to address that, so don’t keep posting your ill-formed opening statements. It’s a show of bad faith.

        • Avatar of Andy Ewing
          April 3, 2013 at 10:31 pm —

          LeftSidePositive

          I think that other people might have different opinions or counter-arguments. You’re not the only person on the thread.

          I know that in the context of marginalized groups, “listening”, “picking up the phone”, and “verifying claims” are problematic. Women are told that they aren’t “listening” to sexist arguments. Harassed people are “encouraged” to handle things privately and quietly, and badgered for “evidence” of harassment.

          On the other hand, in a huge number of areas, “listening”, “picking up the phone” and “verifying claims” are best-fucking-practice. As in, if you don’t do those things, you’re going to fuck up bigtime. There IS context other than the context of marginalized groups. As a practicing psychologist. Ask anyone in the corporate world. Ask a philosophy grad student. Ask ANY PUBLIC FIGURE.

          Yes, these recommendations can be problematic in the wrong context, but they are absolutely virtuous in the general sense. Their virtue is a big part of why they are so problematic when it comes to marginalization. With that in mind, it doesn’t hold that recommending these actions in a letter EXPLICITLY TO THE COMMUNITY AT LARGE is necessarily problematic. It’s pragmatic.

          Also, show of bad faith? I find that accusation to be incredibly hypocritical coming from you.

          • Avatar of LeftSidePositive
            April 3, 2013 at 11:07 pm

            I think that other people might have different opinions or counter-arguments. You’re not the only person on the thread.

            And those people could easily reply to the first time you said it, or provide a counter argument to what I’ve said. That’s the thing about the internet–everybody has a reply function for everyone else’s posts!

            On the other hand, in a huge number of areas, “listening”, “picking up the phone” and “verifying claims” are best-fucking-practice.

            The issue at hand does not relate to those areas. The issue at hand relates to people who are exposing sexism and other institutional oppression in our movement. That is THE POINT of this open letter. Don’t pretend it isn’t. Don’t pretend that an open letter about the way feminists are treated with advice for both sides isn’t trying to set norms for what feminists should be doing. Moreover, because men are assumed to be the default in the public sphere, it will be less out-of-the-ordinary when men publicly criticize women (or, indeed, anyone defending the status-quo on an issue gets the edge). Case in point, did ANYONE seriously criticize DJ Grothe for not going to Rebecca privately (as opposed to, say, his ideas being fucked up) before DJ himself made a big deal about Rebecca and Ophelia not going to him privately?

            There IS context other than the context of marginalized groups.

            How nice to know that when our community is finally getting around to acknowledging the mistreatment of marginalized groups, we can still make sure to acknowledge the “context” of everyone else, who is not marginalized and already had plenty of attention and influence and weren’t the point of this letter anyway! I feel so much better now.

            Yes, these recommendations can be problematic in the wrong context, but they are absolutely virtuous in the general sense.

            The wrong context is the very one into which they were made. Sorry, rationalization fail on your part.

            Also, show of bad faith? I find that accusation to be incredibly hypocritical coming from you.

            Would you care to actually make an argument for any bad faith on my part? I have clearly stated where I have objections to your behavior. As it stands, your paper-thin assertion just looks like grasping at false equivalence.

  25. Avatar of
    April 3, 2013 at 5:50 pm —

    Leftside Positive wrote:

    A very real start would be: get the leaders in our movement to realize that sexism and harassment are not misunderstandings, and they won’t be solved by dialogue. They will be solved by making our environment unquestionably inhospitable to overt sexists, and to those with unexamined privilege.

    QFMFT! I agree that the unquestionable way to do this is to *stop inviting bigots to speak at cons* and to call this shit out, immediately and without equivocation. IT IS NOT HARD.

  26. Avatar of ewanmacdonald
    April 3, 2013 at 6:26 pm —

    I would take this pronouncement from CFI seriously, but they chose to air it in public on the internet instead of phoning me personally, so I’m going to completely disregard it instead.

  27. Avatar of KellyM
    April 3, 2013 at 7:41 pm —

    He Tweeted a post by Al Stefanelli promoting the slymepit. In contrast, when Jen McCreight criticized Penn Jillette for publically calling a woman a cunt, DJ blocked Jen on Twitter and FB. When last I checked, DJ was Twitter following numerous harassers from the pit. If he disapproves of the site, he has not made that clear. Especially when he had no problem publicly voicing his disapproval of the actions of many feminists.

  28. Avatar of patrickg
    April 3, 2013 at 7:42 pm —

    A minor question: I’m seeing the assertion that Secular Women was shut out of the letter-writing process, but from their own response (and my admittedly weak Google-fu), all I’m finding is that they declined to sign the finished process. Now, this could definitely mean they had little or no input on the drafting process, but it’s hard to figure out exactly what happened/how it happened/why it happened given my ineptitude with the internet.

    Finally, I loved the responses from Secular Women, Ophelia Benson, ASC, and, of course, here. I’m just really curious about this, because it seems rather important, and is mentioned only in passing. More information available somewhere I’m just not finding?

    • Avatar of LeftSidePositive
      April 3, 2013 at 8:59 pm —

      From the wording of the response on Secular Woman, it looks like they were handed the document as a fait accompli. It just seems like if they had been included they would have talked about how their concerns were ignored, but everything in the way their response is worded, to me, seems like they were bringing this stuff up for the first time. If they were involved, I would expect something much more along the lines of “After much discussion, the following clauses were kept and these others were not adopted, which made it impossible for us to sign the finished product…” or something like that. Instead, “It is confusing, therefore, that this same letter suggests…” indicates they had no input or awareness of how the letter was drafted.

      • Avatar of patrickg
        April 3, 2013 at 10:22 pm —

        Yeah, that’s fair. In fact, kind of how I was reading it…. so I’ll blame being bumped from my flight and in an airport hotel bar for my apparent denseness. :)

        Guess what doesn’t jive is trying to make a “community” letter without actually talking to … the impacted communities. Sort of a o.O moment for me, but then, I guess that’s really the general response: a raised eyebrow and slow shake of head.

        • Avatar of Andy Ewing
          April 3, 2013 at 10:35 pm —

          I still don’t get this criticism, they engaged 22 different organizations and people, some of whom are women, some of whom are minorities. It’s unclear why they stopped where they did, or how many of the signatories received the finished letter to sign, but to suggest that they hadn’t talked to the ‘impacted communities’ at all seems unfair.

          Of course, I bet they wish they had included more groups now…

          • Avatar of LeftSidePositive
            April 3, 2013 at 11:10 pm

            Um, groups specifically dedicated to women’s involvement would be a good start, dontcha think?! None of the people who signed are in any way known for their work on harassment issues (except for DJ, whose work has been to enable it). The women I mentioned are not just random people who identify as women–they are the ones who have been outspoken in combatting the harassment they’ve received, and have valuable firsthand knowledge and an established body of work addressing this topic, unlike everyone who drafted and signed the letter.

          • Avatar of Cognoggin
            April 4, 2013 at 5:59 am

            Andy, just because someone is a woman or a minority, you do understand that doesn’t stop them being ignorant or shall we say “misguided”, right? as for the tone thing, I don’t think I can do better than LSP has – yes, in a perfect world, we’d all be nice and polite in our language, but then in a perfect world we wouldn’t be having the conversation either. I REALLY don’t like swearing (can’t help it, I’m a very polite Brit!) but it doesn’t stop me hearing what someone is saying. I once clocked one of my best mates use the F word 28 times in thirty seconds, and I’d never be able to use the terms LSP has without choking up and blushing. However, I’m really glad there’s someone like LSP CAN speak that way (although I’m sad they have to), and I wish you were able to understand what’s being said and why.

          • Avatar of Andy Ewing
            April 4, 2013 at 1:22 pm

            Cognoggin
            “Just because someone is a woman or a minority, you do understand that doesn’t stop them being ignorant or shall we say “misguided”, right”
            Yes. For the record, I think they SHOULD have reached out to secularwoman.org before finalizing the letter. It’s just that I look at the 8 female signatories, all heads of major secular organizations (and the signatories were clearly limited to organizations), and I think it unreasonable to assume that all 8 are seriously ignorant and/or misguided with regard to feminist issues in the secular community. As a result, I think that the criticism that the letter was written “without contacting the impacted communities,” as if women were a complete afterthought, is weak.

            As for tone, as I’ve said above, I care very little what language or rhetoric is used to attack or rebuff or debunk bad IDEAS or ARGUMENTS. When you start attacking people, though, the issue has become one of content, not tone.

          • Avatar of LeftSidePositive
            April 4, 2013 at 5:52 pm

            WHAT? So just having a certain number of women is good enough for you? Because women are apparently interchangeable?! How does just being a woman magically ensure that you will not have just experienced harassment, but will understand the dynamics behind it? Are we a monolith? Have any of these women publicly fought off a harassment campaign? Why do you just assume that because they’re women, they must know about women’s issues, and must be qualified to speak for those who have had direct experience? I am especially amazed that you make such a blithe assumption even in spite of several very obvious failures in the letter to understand some very basic aspects of how harassment works, and how privilege works. We are not “assuming” they are ignorant of these issues; they have SHOWN they are ignorant of these issues, and we’ve said why.

            And by the way, your behavior on this thread has been APPALLING. Don’t complain that we’re attacking you as a person when you have insistently been willfully ignorant, repetitive, and tone-trolling, and act like that excuses you refusing to stop being a troll. You’re basically asking us to be subtler about our pushback so you can still be an entitled, pompous mansplainer.

  29. Avatar of Jim Trott
    April 4, 2013 at 7:30 am —

    The French have a phrase (several, actually) to describe the tactics I’ve encountered.
    Failing to locate any concise, dispassionate summary of these convoluted controversies, I find myself sadly disinclined to participate in “the secular community.”
    The English phrase “cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face” also seems to apply.

  30. Avatar of Delft
    April 4, 2013 at 8:22 am —

    Great post.
    On Pharygula “bastionofsass” likened the stone tablet to faults-on-both-sides let’s-improve-our-communication “How to save your marriage” guidance – given to an abused spouse.

    Is there hope of a (counter-) declaration? Not as a stone tablet, but as a declaration people and organizations can become signatories of?
    Undertaking to
    - refrain from and stop harassment,
    - take harrassment seriously and not blame the victim,
    - enforce real consequences (e.g. exclusion from meetings) for people who engage in it,
    - not call both parties to order, when one is making threats, using sexist/racist slurs etc.

    I think such a declaration could become a touchstone of who really wants to improve communication, and who just wants to stifle justified criticism. For example, it might be interesting which of the undersigned of the stone tablet would also sign such an agreement.

    • Avatar of Andy Ewing
      April 4, 2013 at 1:25 pm —
      • Avatar of Delft
        April 4, 2013 at 1:59 pm —

        No.
        The statement asserts “I am a good guy, I’ve done loads for women, etc.”. That may be true (I don’t follow the US atheist scene, and don’t know anything about D.S.). But the statement contains none of the promises I mention above. It may be well-intentioned, just like the stone tablet may be. But, at best, it’s wishy-washy.
        In particular this is actually creepy:

        American Atheists stands by all its members, supporters, and allies, and we will not tolerate hate directed at any of us.

        Both the implications that whether or not you tolerate hate depends on the status of the victim, and that you stand by members or “allies” who direct hate at others are … repulsive.
        Say:
        I will not tolerate hate, in particular threats, hate speech, sexist or racist slurs etc., directed against ANYONE. Anyone who does any of the above is NOT my friend or ally, and cannot count on my support. I will exclude any such person from any event I am responsible for. I will never in the same breath address or admonish for their tone, the victim of such hate AND the perpetrator. I undertake never to blame the victim, and never to seek extenuating circumstances, as such behaviour is unacceptable under any circumstances.

        • Avatar of Andy Ewing
          April 8, 2013 at 9:59 am —

          Sorry for the short post, I was mostly pointing out that that sort of thing is going on in different places, though without the unified Action Statement that you propose. Surly Amy’s series has continued since DS – the most recent one is here: http://skepchick.org/2013/03/speaking-out-against-hate-directed-at-women-adam-lee/

          And to be fair to David Silverman, he points out that AA DID implement harassment policies to stop harassment, and he was writing this statement at a time when harassment policies were being derided, so I don’t think that it’s fair to call it ‘wishy washy’, even if it doesn’t include everything you itemized. That said, the excerpt you highlighted is a little weird – why limit intolerance of hate to members, supporters and allies?

          Still, I like the idea of a universal statement of intent and action, in addition to individual statements. I wonder if Rebecca or Secular Woman is working on one?

      • Avatar of onamission5
        April 4, 2013 at 2:00 pm —

        Just because a person gets something right, doesn’t mean they get everything right, or that they get a free pass from all future criticism.

        Meaning well and doing well: two different things. Even well intentioned folks can get shit wrong. Especially when they speak on behalf of people who are not them, whose experiences they do not share, and try to tell those people how they should feel, think, or react.

        • Avatar of Andy Ewing
          April 8, 2013 at 9:49 am —

          I agree with everything that you have said. My point was not that David Silverman gets everything right, but that he is already participating in the kind of thing that Delft proposes – a grassroots effort to speak out against sexism and harassment as individuals. I think that the series that article is is great, but I concede Delft’s point, it doesn’t have a unified Statement of Action. That could be a great thing.

          I hope that skepchick and/or Secular Woman writes one and then invites everyone, including the people who signed the Open Letter to sign on. It might be telling.

  31. Avatar of maureenbrian
    April 4, 2013 at 10:01 am —

    It’s very simple, Jim Trott. One set of persons – loosely described as US – are trying to address an outbreak of hate crime.

    Another set of persons – loosely described as THEM – are trying to pretend that it’s all just a matter of miscommunication which would be solved by introducing a code of courtesy for use on the internet. Even though they seem to have fooled you into believing that, tell me any other time when systematic oppression and hatred was eliminated by use of the “vicarage tea party” standard of politeness.

    Go on! I challenge you to find a credible example. You have all the time you need and the entire history of the world to draw upon.

  32. Avatar of Bjornar
    April 4, 2013 at 1:58 pm —

    I wholeheartedly agree with the criticism posted by Mary Ellen Sikes and most of what Rebecca says, but I have some issues with this statement, or at least with how it seems to be interpreted by commenters here.

    We cannot begin to discuss the tone of slight disagreements in our community unless and until secular women can prominently express unpopular viewpoints without receiving an avalanche of slurs and threats.

    The reason I disagree is because I personally read and participate less and less on Skepchick’s main issues, and a major reason is tone. This is of course not a problem on par with the hostile to women elements within and without the various relevant communities, or the blockheadedness of the criticised message orchestrated by CFI, but I think it’s possible to discuss small problems while there are still larger problems unsolved in the world. And before I’m accused of tone-trolling, rightfully so even by my standards, let me quote from further into the same bullet point and respond.

    ready for a calm and rational conversation with your neighbor, who just wants to tell you that you’d make more friends if you weren’t so angry all the time? Would you always be charitable to him?

    No, and I don’t expect everyone to be either, but having not been exposed to that kind of abuse I still think calm and rational is something to aim for, and I expect some charity when I disagree on something without realizing my ignorance. For instance when I now point out that the current commenting environment on Skepchick is at odds with this part of the end of the post:

    I’m a big fan of moderating blogs and forums. I’m a big fan of listening, and helping others, and being charitable

    LeftSidePositive (LSP) evidently speaks for everyone when he or she states that:

    Closer, I suppose, but frankly ’round here we don’t agree that tone even IS a problem. No problem using as many four-letter words as you want. No problem saying bullshit is bullshit. No need to suffer fools gladly.

    At least no one speaks up to say they disagree. LSP goes on to respond with vitriol to Andy Ewing’s every argument and question. Including such pearls as:

    Hey, you fucking dumbshit–IT’S RIGHT THERE IN THE POST. Rebecca said she wasn’t consulted. Secular Woman said they weren’t consulted.

    Don’t lecture me, you ignorant, insufferable mansplainer.

    and

    Maude, you’re such a willfully ignorant douchenozzle.

    Now I think May Ellen Sikes’ critisism is completely valid and that Andy Ewing and Ronald Lindsay should re-read it with a “maybe I’m in wrong” in mind, but is really the failure to do so, something that qualifies for a forfeiture of all charity? Is not knowing Secular Woman is the most important organization to consult when touching upon issues regarding Secularism and Women and not noting that “Our name is not attached, and our members may be wondering why Secular Woman declined to endorse this document.” implies they were only approached after the fact, really so horrendous it makes you a “fucking dumbshit”? Or is it, like LSP implies, never problematic to call people dumbshits, ignorants, mansplainers, douchnozzles or Maudes? (I’m not entirely sure how Maude is an insult, but I may be missing some ingroup significance of the epithet.)

    I’m ambivalent about the statement in the post on Secular Woman that “Those of us working to challenge systemic sexism should be under no obligation to listen to or be more charitable to our opponents” since it seems to me to excuse a lot as long as you’re willing to define “opponent” as broadly as LSP and others here. Is that how Skepchick readers and commenters in general feel?

    • Avatar of Rebecca Watson
      April 4, 2013 at 2:12 pm —

      For instance when I now point out that the current commenting environment on Skepchick is at odds with this part of the end of the post:

      In fact, it’s not at odds. I put a lot of time and effort into moderating comments on this site…the fact that someone got a few insults through doesn’t mean I don’t value moderation. But I do thank you for pointing out LSP’s problematic posts.

    • Avatar of Delft
      April 4, 2013 at 2:34 pm —

      Even though I do live under a rock, I’ve realised that in the atheist scene this has happened over and over again.
      Woman points out that [something] is sexist while bending over backwards to be mild about it, say “Guys, don’t do that” or “Not cool”. Shitstorm ensues. Woman gets threatened with rape and death, is harassed in multiple ways. Atheist leaders say – let’s everyone be polite, and please moderate your language. (Not: don’t send death threats, don’t publish someone’s home address etc.)
      Under those circs, not consulting someone from the feminist front before publishing such a declaration is pretty pathetic.

      Maybe rephrasing that slightly makes it clearer:

      Those of us working to challenge systemic sexism whose humanity is being questioned should be under no obligation to listen to or be more charitable to our opponents.

      Invective may not be your style, as it isn’t mine. But do you really want to put someone whose very humanity is being attacked (or who is defending such a one) under pressure to moderate their language?

      • Avatar of Bjornar
        April 6, 2013 at 8:04 am —

        Invective may not be your style, as it isn’t mine. But do you really want to put someone whose very humanity is being attacked (or who is defending such a one) under pressure to moderate their language?

        Yes, and no. As long as the pressure we’re talking about is me voicing my opinion on the limits of debate, I’d put such a person under pressure to moderate their language if they called people idiots based on their preference in ice cream, and if they disagreed on the appropriate level of discourse when debating ice cream I’d find somewhere else to discuss my ice cream flavours. If the discussion was whether or not women should be allowed to drive, I wouldn’t exert such “pressure”, even if I, in my sheltered, male heart-of-hearts, would think I’d be super-principled and more successful with my calm and reasoned replies.

        • Avatar of LeftSidePositive
          April 6, 2013 at 2:07 pm —

          This is where you’re being dishonest. We are not calling people idiots over something as minor as a preference in ice cream. Please do not equate my moral right not to be condescended to, or dismissed on the basis of my gender to something as inconsequential as a subjective preference that affects no one else but me. This is not acceptable, and it is not honest argumentation.

          HOWEVER (to continue with your rather silly analogy), if someone were to presume to tell OTHER people what kind of ice cream they should like (“the tone of online discourse is a problem that we ought to address”), say that some forms of ice cream are objectively better (“a civil tone is the only or best possible way to accomplish anything”), and willfully and repeatedly ignore the reasons people have stated for preferring one type of ice cream over another (“picking up the phone does not work for marginalized people because it keeps us isolated and ignored”), then, yes, I have no compunction whatsoever in calling zem an idiot.

        • Avatar of Delft
          April 8, 2013 at 9:28 am —

          …someone whose very humanity is being attacked (or who is defending such a one)…

          Read the whole sentence, please.
          And we are talking about people’s humanity, people’s basic dignity, people’s right to be treated as human beings.
          So why bring up preferences in ice-cream?

    • Avatar of LeftSidePositive
      April 4, 2013 at 6:13 pm —

      Or is it, like LSP implies, never problematic to call people dumbshits, ignorants, mansplainers, douchnozzles or Maudes? (I’m not entirely sure how Maude is an insult, but I may be missing some ingroup significance of the epithet.)

      Firstly, “ignorant” and “mansplainer” are specific criticisms. There were rather obvious things of which Andy was simply not aware–that is the definition of ignorant, and if we can’t say that simple fact, we’ve got problems. Similarly, mansplaining refers to the act of insisting one should be taken seriously simply because one is a man, and talking down to women with much more experience than oneself. Again, Andy was doing exactly that.

      “Douchenozzle” and “dumbshit” are straight-up insults, and I’ll point out that they only came out after several replies after Andy tried to pull a “your behavior is what the letter is about” when he was criticized for his arguments and his behavior. He was, in effect, doing exactly what the letter was being criticized for enabling–silencing people criticizing entitled, privilege-blind and/or sexist behavior with a tone argument (and he earned a few more for continuing to be willfully ignorant). Frankly, I stand by those statements, as his behavior was just plain egregious. Now, if Rebecca doesn’t want those words on her site, I will henceforth more scrupulously criticize specific behavior, even when it’s making a pretty obvious pattern.

      “Maude” is used in the same way as the colloquial “God,” but is tweaked so the reader/listener couldn’t possibly be confused that you actually mean an existent god. FYI.

      I’m ambivalent about the statement in the post on Secular Woman that “Those of us working to challenge systemic sexism should be under no obligation to listen to or be more charitable to our opponents” since it seems to me to excuse a lot as long as you’re willing to define “opponent” as broadly as LSP and others here.

      Frankly, I don’t think those who purport themselves to be allies should be exempt from criticism, and ESPECIALLY not when they’re behaving as badly as Andy was here. This shouldn’t be a matter of “I have good intentions, now give me cookies! Oh, by the way, I flatly disagree with your lived experience and I will assert that here is a better way to manage your oppression that I have not experienced, and let me use a gendered slur to describe your response. Give me another warm, chewy ally cookie!” Broadly accepting feminism is no excuse for tone-trolling and mansplaining.

      • Avatar of Bjornar
        April 6, 2013 at 7:48 am —

        Firstly, “ignorant” and “mansplainer” are specific criticisms. There were rather obvious things of which Andy was simply not aware–that is the definition of ignorant, and if we can’t say that simple fact, we’ve got problems.

        “You’re arguing from ignorance” is critisism. “This is mansplaining” is critisism. “Don’t lecture me, you ignorant, insufferable mansplainer” is an insult, but of course, when followed by “Maude, you’re such a willfully ignorant douchenozzle” Andy should have been immediately motivated to analyze his posts for ignorance and mansplaining.

        “Douchenozzle” and “dumbshit” are straight-up insults, and I’ll point out that they only came out after several replies after Andy tried to pull a “your behavior is what the letter is about” when he was criticized for his arguments and his behavior.

        I nearly called you a liar, but realized the reply function changes the chronology a lot from just top down. I agree Andy’s initial “your behaviour is what the letter is about” was absurdly thin skinned.

        I still can’t see where Andy’s critisism of Rebeccas post “overtly harmful behavior” or how you can imply you’re just offering criticism in one moment (“Are you one of those who thinks that to be criticized is to be attacked?”) while you’re actually just pecking at him for the amusement of your peers:

        I wrote you off from your first post. I am dissecting for the benefit of other readers why you are Exhibit A in Privileged Douchebros Who Think They Get to Arbitrate Social Norms They Know Nothing About.

        But I realize you don’t have the patience to explain this to a blockhead like me, or at least not in a manner I can understand. This juxtaposition for instance has me scratching my head:

        Also, another point of your ignorance, which is getting pretty comical by this point: when you are criticized for sexist behavior, it’s not a matter of being “A bigot” or “A sexist”–it’s about BEHAVIOR that, whether you mean it to or not, and whether it’s out of character for you or not, feeds into social structures of bigotry and/or sexism.

        Gee, I’m so sorry for all those times I called you a mansplainer! Let me hereby amend: you are a filthy, motherfucking mansplainer.

        I suppose the noun “mansplainer”, even when preceeded by “filthy, motherfucking”, _really_ is a comment on behaviour, and not an implication that someone is a bigot or sexist, at least when one is just dissecting comments for the benefit of other readers. (Yes, I do know you could technically say this particular instance comes after you ensure Andy he’s only being criticised for his behaviour.)

        “Maude” is used in the same way as the colloquial “God,” but is tweaked so the reader/listener couldn’t possibly be confused that you actually mean an existent god. FYI.

        Huh, never would have guessed that.

        • Avatar of LeftSidePositive
          April 6, 2013 at 2:29 pm —

          while you’re actually just pecking at him for the amusement of your peers:

          No, I’m “pecking” at him for the EDUCATION of my peers. By the way, “pecking” is extremely minimizing when we’re offering detailed, substantive criticism, and also has some gendered connotations from terms like “henpecked.” I suggest you be more thoughtful of the biases in your language. We are showing where his thinking is problematic, highlighting what classic minimizing behaviors he is doing that is characteristic of faux allies, pointing out the dishonesty/willful ignorance in his posts (which, when coupled with his insistence that he is qualified to judge what is properly feminist, becomes particularly galling), so that he can see that his privilege can and should be challenged, others reading will learn why his behavior is unacceptable, and people put off by him without exactly putting their finger on what’s wrong will have multiple people’s input as to what exactly makes his behavior wrong, and as such we can develop a vocabulary to identify and deal with it.

          But I realize you don’t have the patience to explain this to a blockhead like me, or at least not in a manner I can understand.

          One thing I don’t have patience for is passive-aggressive self-deprecation, so I suggest you cut it out. You’re not fooling anybody anyway.

          I suppose the noun “mansplainer”, even when preceeded by “filthy, motherfucking”, _really_ is a comment on behaviour, and not an implication that someone is a bigot or sexist, at least when one is just dissecting comments for the benefit of other readers. (Yes, I do know you could technically say this particular instance comes after you ensure Andy he’s only being criticised for his behaviour.)

          This really isn’t difficult. Certain descriptors are based solely on the basis of certain behaviors–a golfer is one who golfs, a mansplainer is one who mansplains, etc. (and a filthy, motherfucking mansplainer is one who continues to mansplain even after being told not to several times, ignores arguments discussing at length why a social norm is silencing even when he tries to use that same norm to silence the person he’s arguing with, and then flatly denies our thesis rather than engaging in our arguments–put simply, it indicates a higher degree of severity), whereas other descriptors are broader assessments of character: bigot, sexist, racist, mensch, lady, visionary, etc., etc.

          And what the hell is up with this “implication that one is a bigot or a sexist”?! How exactly are we supposed to communicate that behavior is harmful and egregious without having someone else infer “implications” that they can then use to accuse us of being too personal? Not to mention, the idea that engaging in problematic behavior (even really badly problematic behavior) is in any way an indication that one is consciously and comprehensively opposed to equality (“a bigot” or “a sexist”) is based on a total misunderstanding of exactly how privilege works, and how established hierarchical social norms work. Here’s a hint: people can have all the best of intentions but still do harmful things, and still feel entitled to keep doing harmful things, because those behaviors are normalized in our culture.

          • Avatar of Bjornar
            April 6, 2013 at 5:13 pm

            No, I’m “pecking” at him for the EDUCATION of my peers. By the way, “pecking” is extremely minimizing when we’re offering detailed, substantive criticism, and also has some gendered connotations from terms like “henpecked.”

            I’m sorry I was unclear, I didn’t really think anyone was amused, but by “your peers” I meant people who’re sufficiently educated in this minefield to agree from the very beginning that Andy’s sins were obvious and made his criticism unworthy of patient replies at his level of understanding. From where I’m standing, your audience were people who don’t need to be educated because they already know that a perfectly cromulent verb liked “peck” is too much like “henpecked”. I arrogantly assume there are people like me who find your posts too uninformative, too “if you don’t already know this shit, I can’t help you”.

            One thing I don’t have patience for is passive-aggressive self-deprecation, so I suggest you cut it out. You’re not fooling anybody anyway.

            Am I wrong though? Do you have the patience to discuss this with someone who still thinks you responded to Andy in a way you didn’t think was going to make him rethink his criticism, who still thinks his point of view wasn’t a horrendously sexist one. Do you not think I’m a blockhead who should fuck off and stop participating in a discussion he doesn’t have sufficient knowledge and understanding of?

            And what the hell is up with this “implication that one is a bigot or a sexist”?! How exactly are we supposed to communicate that behavior is harmful and egregious without having someone else infer “implications” that they can then use to accuse us of being too personal?

            I didn’t say you should, I was merely confused about what you were trying to communicate when you carefully explained to Andy (or I suppose to educate your peers), in response to him saying he was being called a sexist, a bigot, a mansplainer, that being criticised for problematic behaviour was a question of just that, behaviour, and not the same as being called a sexist or bigot, and in the same post called him “filthy, motherfucking mansplainer”. You say “This really isn’t difficult”, but it obviously is.

    • Avatar of punchdrunk
      April 4, 2013 at 9:26 pm —

      I feel commenters like Andy Ewing are working against my interests, yes.
      I’ve reread the exchanges between AE and LSP, and I’m not sure how you think the response to this disagreement should go. Or where you think it went wrong.
      And if I can’t use my own words to argue for myself, then I’ll go silent. And the Andy’s of the world will be free to arrogantly hold forth on subjects that don’t affect them, as they have been doing unfettered for a very long time.

      • Avatar of Bjornar
        April 6, 2013 at 8:19 am —

        I think it went wrong when LSP decided Andy wasn’t worth convincing or debating: “I wrote you off from your first post.”

        • Avatar of Will
          April 6, 2013 at 10:44 am —

          I think it went wrong when Andy Ewing compared the shit that women in the skeptical/atheist communities go through to the tone people use in slight disagreementsin his first comment:

          * We cannot begin to discuss the tone of slight disagreements in our community unless and until secular women can prominently express unpopular viewpoints without receiving an avalanche of slurs and threats

          This seems very circular to me – we can’t talk about tone until we eliminate issues of tone. Beyond the circularity, I see no reason to believe that a letter in support of higher quality discourse in any way impedes other efforts, including more direct efforts at eliminating attacks on women.

          That first part is what Rebecca said, and the second part is what Andy Ewing said.

          This is enough, in my view, for him to get ripped a new asshole. It is not a circular argument to say “until you stop fucking harassing us, we’re not going to worry about our tone.” Harassment and tone are not the same damn thing. There is a false equivocation going on there. Whatever LSP has said in this thread I can assure you is so nothing compared to the constant barrage of shit hurled at Rebecca, Ophelia, Stephanie Zvan, Jennifer McCreight, etc. It is not the “tone” that is the problem there. It is straight up harassment and bullying. And this is the same damn false equivocation that is circulating through these communities, as if “both sides” of the Deep Rifts™ are on equal moral ground. One side calls people “ignorant motherfucking mansplainers” while the other side does this and this. For Andy Ewing to say that it is a circular argument to say before we can address the use of “ignorant fucking mansplainer” that the shit I linked to has to stop is fucking stupid.

          So, yes, feminists–especially women–get really fucking pissed when they are told to tone it down if they want to be heard. It plays into the same patriarchal bullshit that is behind the harassment and bullying. The problem is not that LSP does not take Andy Ewing seriously, the problem is that Andy Ewing doesn’t have a clue what’s going on and is trying to be all Mr. Logic about it when talking to Rebecca (hence the appropriate use of the mainsplainer label). He came in here to explain to Rebecca–who along with Ophelia Benson take the brunt of online harassment–that she should not expect the harassment to stop unless she asks nicely. If that was not his intent (which is not magic, as I’m sure you’re aware), that is how it comes across. And if he’s truly interested in “higher quality discourse,” perhaps he should be off elsewhere lecturing people on not harassing and bullying as opposed to telling the people who are harassed and bullied to be nice.

          • Avatar of Veronica
            April 6, 2013 at 11:13 am

            The main issue right now seems to be all the mediators who are playing the false equivalence game. People do it over here too, and I am getting pretty fed up with it. To the point I snap whenever someone pull out one of the tropes associated with it.

          • Avatar of Bjornar
            April 6, 2013 at 5:52 pm

            This is enough, in my view, for him to get ripped a new asshole. It is not a circular argument to say “until you stop fucking harassing us, we’re not going to worry about our tone.” Harassment and tone are not the same damn thing. There is a false equivocation going on there.

            I agree that was a stupid way to put it, but I honestly don’t think Andy realized that, and he admitted having misinterpreted Rebecca’s statement in his next reply.

            He came in here to explain to Rebecca–who along with Ophelia Benson take the brunt of online harassment–that she should not expect the harassment to stop unless she asks nicely.

            Now you’re just being stupid or wilfully ignorant if you want. It’s fairly obvious from the get go Andy didn’t see this letter as being about the problems with sexism to the extent everyone here do. It seems to me that’s what the letter writers intended, when they clumsily tried to make it a general internet discussion admonition while still making it obvious the primary reason was how they felt troubled about the problems the issues with sexism and related debates are causing them. I agree he either didn’t read the criticisms carefully enough, or suffered from biased induced reading incomprehension, to not see those problems being the primary cause.

            Yes, the issue of tone in various conflicts within the Secular Community is dwarfed by the problem with harassment of women, but if you can’t see that Andy though the former was a significant reason for the letter and worthy of attention, you too have a problem with bias.

            Writing this does makes me realise how one, even giving Andy this much credit, would be right to accuse him of either false equivocation or being clueless about the relative importance of tone in discussions in general and harassment of women in particular, but it’s still incorrect to accuse him of implying that improving the first is a necessity to reducing the second.

          • Avatar of Will
            April 6, 2013 at 8:04 pm

            *sigh*

            I’ll give this another try.

            Bjornar said:

            Yes, the issue of tone in various conflicts within the Secular Community is dwarfed by the problem with harassment of women, but if you can’t see that Andy though the former was a significant reason for the letter and worthy of attention, you too have a problem with bias.

            The fact that the former is thought of as a significant reason for a letter, and the latter is not, is the fucking problem.

            it’s still incorrect to accuse him of implying that improving the first is a necessity to reducing the second.

            We will have to agree to disagree. I’ve read way too much false equivalency bullshit over the last couple of years to see it any other way. If that’s not his intent, he should come back and express it in no uncertain terms and apologize for making the inference.

            And if that’s a bias I have, so be it. Mansplaining will never be met by me with benefit of the doubt.

        • Avatar of LeftSidePositive
          April 6, 2013 at 2:34 pm —

          I think it went wrong when LSP decided Andy wasn’t worth convincing or debating: “I wrote you off from your first post.”

          Heaven forfend we marginalized people should have any sense of pattern recognition! It’s especially inexcusable when those patterns turn out to be exactly right! It’s those underprivileged people who use their underprivileged wiles to MAKE the poor privileged folk make affronted arguments from assertion and minimize others’ experiences! If only underprivileged people would pretend not to notice the warning signs of privilege-denying behavior, it would magically stop because of privileged people being so moved by the beauty of the underprivileged’s patience and charity!

          • Avatar of Andy Ewing
            April 8, 2013 at 1:35 pm

            It’s especially inexcusable when those patterns turn out to be exactly right

            Exactly right? To be exactly right you’d have to justify writing me off from my first post. In reality, I have demonstrated the ability to acknowledge where I’m wrong, and that your assumption of my complete ignorance of both the issues and various articles/texts was incorrect, independent of my conclusions. At least have the integrity to acknowledge that your “pattern recognition” failed.

            On the other hand, your admission jives with your apparent determination to disagree with as much of what I say as possible, to the point that you don’t always address my arguments, and even incorrectly identified an argument from ignorance. You went on to demanded evidence for the fact that insulting people makes them defensive and less inclined to listen to what you have to say, and is harmful to a movement. In case you’re still awaiting evidence, it took all of 5 minutes on google to find some relevant research:

            “Attack, disapproval, or withdrawal? The role of honour in anger and shame responses to being insulted”, by Rodriguez Mosquera, P. et. al.
            “How, When, and Why Bad Apples Spoil the Barrel: Negative Group Members and Dysfunctional Groups”, by Will Felps, Terence R. Mitchell, Eliza Byington

            You can find plenty of other papers, since this is a fairly well understood phenomenon. Mostly it gets applied in organizational feedback models, but the conclusion is always the same – if you want people to listen, you don’t insult them personally. If you don’t care that anyone listens, then by all means, say whatever you want, but don’t pretend that you’re doing anything positive, and don’t pretend that anything I’ve said here justifies your behavior.

            To quote you:

            you are engaging in some bad behavior, and doing it pretty repetitively to the point that it’s pretty clear that it’s a character flaw

  33. Avatar of Will
    April 4, 2013 at 11:11 pm —

    I find it telling that–once again–a discussion that should be directed towards halting sexist bullshit in the skeptical/atheist/whatever communities has–ONCE AGAIN–devolved into a tone policing argument. Not at all surprising, but indicative of the fact that little has changed.

    • Avatar of Andy Ewing
      April 8, 2013 at 11:06 am —

      Discussing tone and content in discourse would be a derailing tactic in most posts. Given that the letter specifically addresses both in the context of secular discourse, I think it to be expected that this discussion would concern tone and content.

      The major dispute above seems (to me) to center around the premises that A) there are problems with the level of discourse in the secular community as a whole, and B) whether or not people can or should be reasoned out of bad beliefs. On the former, I think that the secular community can and must do better. On the latter, I think that what Greta Christina said about religious debate applies:

      When this question of arguing about religion comes up, we sometimes see it purely in adversarial terms. As if arguing with people made them the enemy… and as if saying, “I think you’re mistaken and here’s why” were the same as saying, “I think you are stupid and inferior and worthless.”

      But I don’t see it that way. When I argue with a believer about religion, I’m not saying, “I think your beliefs make you stupid.” I’m saying, “I think you’re smart enough to get this. I think you’re open-minded enough to be willing to change your mind. I think you’re strong enough to deal with changing your mind about something important.”

      Like many others, I’ve seen terrible dialogue and unnecessary invective in secular threads on all kinds of topics, including atheist billboards, church-state separation, atheism and morality, and abortion law, in addition to feminism. Shitty discourse is just unproductive – people just talk past each other, and nobody changes their mind. More to the point, flamewars create a hostile environment that drives people away. It’s amazing to me that people can be so aware of the harm and alienation that comes from using slurs, but don’t recognize that there are plenty of behaviors that alienate everyone, not just a disparaged group. If you’re trying to build a community dedicated to social progress, you can’t afford to alienate people unnecessarily, not when the whole point of “building a community” is to make it grow. You can’t start discussions with the assumption that just because the other party disagrees with you or makes a bad argument, you can just write them off and treat them however you like. For one, you give up any hope of converting them to your way of thinking, and for another, you drive others away.

      In case there’s any question, there are definitely people who have no place in any progressive movement, and should be excluded – but of course they violate the very principles of engagement that we’re talking about by making threats, harassing, etc.

      As for the implication that this is ALL about tone, I believe I’ve identified behaviors and content that are harmful, not just tone. Assuming someone’s complete ignorance and bigotry before engaging, and then refusing to acknowledge that they aren’t as ignorant or entrenched as you assumed, isn’t a problem of tone. Using classic baiting techniques such as asking loaded questions that you’ve assumed the (incorrect) answers to isn’t a problem of tone. Gleefully hurling insults at people isn’t a problem of tone. Neither is applying the principle of charity – it’s a well-established best-practice for discussion and debate, and for CONVINCING people. People use it because it WORKS, not becauce it’s NICE.

      • Avatar of Will
        April 8, 2013 at 11:54 am —

        Let me point a couple of things out that I hope you will take seriously and think about before posting some defensive reply.

        This:

        Discussing tone and content in discourse would be a derailing tactic in most posts. Given that the letter specifically addresses both in the context of secular discourse, I think it to be expected that this discussion would concern tone and content.

        is mansplaining. People in this thread that have a problem with your posts know:
        A) That discussing tone and content is a derailing tactic;
        B) That the letter specifically addresses both in secular discourse;
        C) That the conversation would concern tone and content.

        You do not need to explain it as if we are unaware of what’s going on. This is why you’re accused of mansplaining–because you’re doing it.

        Second, the major dispute is exactly what’s being challenged here. The idea that there is a problem with secular internet discourse in the “debates about sexism” is what’s being contested. Again, we’re aware of what the letter says. Rebecca laid out pretty clearly why she disagrees with the premise of the letter.

        Saying it is a problem with “tone and content” minimizes the fact that it’s actually a problem with harassment and bullying. The tone that you are taking issue with in this thread is the tone of people who are being marginalized (at best) and harassed and bullied (at worst). That you feel it is appropriate to focus on how marginalized and bullied people respond to being marginalized and bullied is exactly the problem with this letter–it’s focusing on the wrong thing.

        If you’re trying to build a community dedicated to social progress

        Is that what is happening? I mean, it seems to me that this is completely antithetical to what the harassers and bullies want. They want a politics-free skepticism/atheism (which is impossible) that is devoid of pushes for social progress for certain people.

        you can’t afford to alienate people unnecessarily

        Ah, the old “you’ll scare potential allies away!” canard. Look, if people are truly interested in social progress and social justice, they will pursue those things despite some angry words. What you’re asking is for us to make people in positions of privilege comfortable and not rock the boat. Not gonna happen.

        Assuming someone’s complete ignorance and bigotry before engaging, and then refusing to acknowledge that they aren’t as ignorant or entrenched as you assumed, isn’t a problem of tone.

        It’s ironic that you wrote this statement considering the amount of ignorance you assume and refuse to acknowledge yourself in these posts.

        Neither is applying the principle of charity – it’s a well-established best-practice for discussion and debate, and for CONVINCING people.

        Two issues here. First, the argument of “charity” is often a silencing tactic. I’ve experienced this myself recently in my posts about Harriet Hall, and Melissa McEwan experienced it in her recent exchanges with Adam Lee. You should be very careful telling marginalized people to be more charitable in their discussions. Charitability is a luxury of the privileged.

        Second, what makes you think we are trying to convince anyone? Is there a charitable way to read this? Or the pages and pages of harassment catalogued by Ophelia Benson on her blog? We are not trying to convince those people–we just want them to go the fuck away.

        Ultimately, the letter is based on the assumption that those of us over here want the Deep Rifts™ to be healed. I can assure you, many of us want them to be widened to the point that we don’t even deal with the harassers and bullies anymore. For many of us, it is not about convincing them of our position, it is about getting them to leave us the hell alone.

        And the fact that the letter–and you–are so focused on the tone of internet discussions while all that other shit is going on is infuriating.

        • Avatar of Andy Ewing
          April 8, 2013 at 4:08 pm —

          Will,

          Thank you for the careful explanation. I did read it several times carefully, so I hope this isn’t defensive.

          I thought that mansplaining was roughly: “To explain (something) condescendingly (to a female listener), especially to explain something the listener already knows, presuming that she has an inferior understanding of it because she is a woman”

          Soemtimes I preface a comment with a premise because I wanted to acknowledge that I recognize a given premise before getting into the comment, not because I think that anyone else is ignorant of the premise. What’s more, I might have been pedantic, but I didn’t use condescending language, or in any way imply that gender came into the matter. If you’re telling me that mansplaining means, essentially, “Any time one person tells another something they already know as if they didn’t already know it.” Then… OK?

          The idea that there is a problem with secular internet discourse in the “debates about sexism” is what’s being contested

          On that subject I think that it’s possible for there to simultaneously be a problem with harassment and attacks, and with how secularists/feminists engage with each other, not just on the topic of feminism, but in general. I get that one of the most prevalent silencing mechanisms is for people to claim that the marginalized are “shrill” or “angry” etc. I think most people also agree that that fact doesn’t give anyone carte blanche to say whatever the fuck they want in defense of the marginalized. I.e. there’s still a real line between “angry words” and “destructive behavior.” As LSP so brilliantly demonstrates, there are too many secularists who reject Greta’s position, and are happy to immediately discount and disrespect anybody who disagrees with them or makes a bad argument. A couple people have been keen to point out to me that “even female feminists can be wrong”. Great, but when any feminist is wrong, they far too often get the full “flog the slymepitter!” treatment.

          Two other examples of feminists/secularists dismissing and shitting on each other for disagreeing:
          http://www.shakesville.com/2008/08/actual-headline.html
          http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist/2012/11/07/bdsm-erotica-pseudo-snuff-astounding-observations-of-groupthink/

          The latter is far longer, but again demonstrates a willingness of fellow-secularists to call each other “dickshits”, strawman each others’ arguments, and generally talk past each other. I could find some non-feminism-related examples if you like.

          There are people who either can’t or don’t care to differentiate between “bad people” and “people with bad ideas”. There are people who think that at the first sign of a bad argument they’re justified in turning on a fire-hose of personal disrespect. I think that behavior sucks both because it is counterproductive and divisive, and because it does, as Bjornar and others have actually said, drive people away.

          Calling this idea a canard is a rejection of reality. Any time you speak out against stupidity, you’re going to offend, we take that as a given and we calculate the cost and realize that calling a bad-but-popular idea bad is not only worth it, but ethically required. Nobody disputes that. On the other hand, the shitty behavior I’ve specifically pointed out in my previous posts aren’t ethically required. They’re not of value. They just offend people for no gain, and that’s just plain stupid.

        • Avatar of Andy Ewing
          April 8, 2013 at 7:03 pm —

          Re: my question about mansplaining: I was reading your criticism in the context of my conversation with you, where I assumed that you were male, and the other posters, whose gender I do not know. I can definitely see how any comment I make toward Rebecca automatically fulfills the gender/privilege requirement for mansplaining.

  34. Avatar of maureenbrian
    April 5, 2013 at 3:15 am —

    Yes, Will, because one of the major barriers to discussion is the over-supply of people who think they already know what the question is, what the answer is and if we’d just shut up and listen then there’d be no need for us to to worry our pretty little heads ever again.

    But you already know that.

  35. Avatar of maureenbrian
    April 5, 2013 at 5:53 am —

    Will, I’m sorry if that last came over as rude to you. It certainly wasn’t intended that way but I apologise anyway.

    Thing is, I’m coming up to 71 and I’ve lost track of the number of times that a group I’ve been part of – as a think tank bod, as a trade union rep, as a woman – has been working away on some question, trying to make sure that we really understand what’s happening and what needs to change so that we can put together a coherent analysis and sensible proposals when suddenly …. WHOOOOSH!!!!! …. along comes a person who insists upon helping, without being asked.

    I’ll do that for you, says this person, sweeping up and carrying off our brainstorming notes and having sometimes, only sometimes, stayed long enough to grasp what the subject under discussion is which they then present to whoever has power to change things but present it as they understand it, not as we did before we were interrupted! You probably do have an idea of how daft carefully selected soundbites can be made to look if someone really tries.

    An example – a large not-for-profit had a pay and grading system which had “just growed” – after 80 years it had gender bias, class bias and levels of reward which bore no relation to the skills required or the responsibilities of the job. It was also artificially hierarchical when the organisation actually worked on cross-disciplinary effort and horizontal alliances. So, some of us did the training, did the reading, did the thinking and were about to put up a proposal for a logical job evaluation scheme when, behold, along came HR and said, “well done, we’ll take over now.”

    So what was presented to the board was nothing about skills or equal opportunities but something on the lines of the “girls” want more money. Lead balloon time! No progress at all, a two year delay before it can be effectively raised again and only when management finally facd the fact that they were not up to the job did we start to move again. You can imagine what it did to morale to have the people with the knowledge confined to the sidelines while the people without it floundered.

    I hope that wasn’t too boring. What I’m trying to say is that this isn’t about being women, it isn’t about the configuration of anyone’s genitalia – it’s about power. Some people have a bit more than is good for the rest of us and they can always find little helpers who insist on joining in when they haven’t been part of the hard work of analysis and who, through ignorance or through design – the effect is the same – manage to get us an answer to the question which is not the one we asked or a solution to a problem vaguely related to the one we were trying to tackle.

    And then, as LeftSidePositive says, they want a cookie for it. Every attempt at freedom, every attempt at the redistribution of power throughout history has been beset by these Cookie Monsters.

    • Avatar of Will
      April 5, 2013 at 12:37 pm —

      Did not come across as rude at all. No need to apologize. ;)

    • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
      April 5, 2013 at 1:22 pm —

      //they want a cookie for it.//

      You know that’s a damn good point. And not just a cookie, they spray paint it gold, hold it up & then call themselves civil rights champions.

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