Warning: this is long and rambling and goes nowhere.
You know in The Social Network, where Zuckerbergs girlfriend tells him that “you will go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a tech geek. I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”?
Similar goes for you. Rebecca, you will go through life thinking that men don’t like you because your a woman. I want you to know from the bottom of my heart, that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re a cunt.
The email amused me because of how easily it shows its bias to anyone who isn’t a raging misogynist. Imagine: “You will go through life thinking that white people don’t like you because your (sic) black. I want you to know from the bottom of my heart, that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re a n****r.” Or try Jew/k**e, or gay/f*g, or any combination of oppressed group and word used to shame, demean, and dehumanize a member of that group. The result is the same: sad irony.
Someone Tweeted to ask if I get emails like that often, and I had to laugh. Ever since the incident that shall not be named, I get these emails several times a week. But more than that, I’ve now amassed a following of obsessive creeps who have seemingly devoted their lives to hounding me down and making sure I never dare to speak my bitch mind again. Their tactics? Scientologist-level private investigation to dredge up the deepest, darkest mysteries of my past combined with grade school-level name-calling. It’s impressive, really. Really. Really.
For months, I’ve been ignoring these people with varying amounts of success. I read all my emails, which means I see these people sending me links to their posts, apparently proud of their work. They post their angry rants on Reddit, where I happen upon them while browsing stupid cat gifs. They post poorly-formed insults on my Facebook page(s). Well-meaning friends even send me some links, worried that these people will take their obsession to the next level.
Some friends have encouraged me to write about it in the hopes of exposing this idiocy and protecting myself in case someone does actually try something. I’ve put it off, because diving into that pool of bitter bile isn’t good for my mental well-being. When I write about something – particularly something depressing – I like to have a call to action, or a lesson of some sort. A story arc. But after thinking this over for weeks, all I have is this: there are some truly terrible people out there, who define themselves by their hatred. Worse, these people aren’t the “others” that we might wish. They aren’t David Mabus, a crazed Christian holed away in Canada sending bizarre threats all day. They aren’t adolescent trolls who will grow out of it. These are “normal” adults, with jobs and families. They attend skeptic and atheist events. They probably have the ability to read and think and be compassionate, but they choose not to.
Here are a few examples of what they choose to do instead:
Abbie Smith at ERV was, as far as I could tell, the first to actively encourage people to replace intelligent discussion and inquiry with blind hatred and bile. That’s where the name “Rebeccunt Twatson” apparently arose – see? Impressive! If you listen hard enough, you can hear the ghost of Ambrose Bierce chuckling and nodding his head in approval.
Then there’s a blog called Grey Lining written by someone named Franc Hoggle. Apparently nearly every post is now about me. Lucky me! He focuses on the really important things, like how I made a YouTube video recently in which I mistakenly said that Galileo was executed by the Church. Within minutes, I updated the video to flag the fact that I was wrong, but that doesn’t matter. Hoggle says that I must be “dumber than dog shit” and suggests I be taunted for the rest of my days. How dare anyone ever get anything wrong and then immediately correct it! The ghost of Mark Twain gives the thumbs up.
My favorite of Hoggle’s posts is the one in which he says that I’m an honest-to-Jesus criminal who should be arrested because maybe four years ago the JREF forum mistakenly gave me moderator powers and so I made a post joking about using them to ban a friend. I also edited replies to that post to say things like “…and Rebecca is the greatest” and suspended someone who said he wanted to be suspended. I’m not going to lie, it was pretty god damn funny, but it’s true: please call the Internet police and arrest me right now.
Hoggle has also investigated whether or not I have a science degree, by finding a MySpace page I forgot about years ago. He could have just asked me, or read/listened to any interview I’ve given in the past six years in which I’m asked about my background. The short story is that I have a bachelor’s degree in communication from Boston University (it’s a BS, which differs from most schools that offer a BA in comm) and that from high school through college I had relatively little serious interest in science. It was magic (and magicians like James Randi) that got me into science, and mostly everything I know about science I learn from reading on my own as opposed to formal education. I’ve never pretended to be a scientist or have any formal training as one. In my haters’ view, though, it’s more like this: I got a science degree that was namby pamby liberal arts and therefore inferior and why did I even bother going to college and I should never speak of science again because who would dare speak of science without a formal education in science? Besides James Randi. And Carl Zimmer. And 3 out of 4 of the male SGU hosts. And well let’s just move on.
Next up is a guy who equivocates my disagreement with Dawkins to child abuse, and he even uses graphic pictures of abused children to prove his point (trigger warning, obviously). He apparently made an Encylcopedia Dramatica page about me and how ugly/slutty I am and encouraged people to “Tweet bomb” me (I guess no one took him up on the suggestion). He also tried to start a meme using a photo of me. My favorite was something along the lines of, “Asks not to be propositioned….wears low-cut dress.” Yep. I was asking for it, boys! If only I’d learn my lesson and wear a hijab when in public.
Then there’s this elevatorgate blog, in which a man attempts to convince my fellow SGU co-hosts to kick me off the podcast. I learned of this one from Steve Novella, who emailed it to me with the subject line “Another stalker”. Again, every post on this blog appears to be about me and what a bitch I am. He posts videos saying that I’m so ugly I should feel thankful that men proposition me against my stated wishes, and videos calling me mentally ill and a cunt (this appears to be the favorite insult – I wonder why) including one popular video from The Amazing Atheist, a YouTuber who is, I guess, trying to be Lewis Black but without the comedy. The blogger even posts videos from women who have criticized me, pointing out that they are “actually attractive.” Yep, no issues there.
I think Steve discovered that blog because that person was one of the ones derailing this SkepticBlog post about the SGU 24-hour podcast. That’s right: a quick, simple, upbeat post from Steve publicizing our 24-hour show was quickly turned into a whine-fest from people demanding Steve “fire” me from the show. To support their argument, they linked to the above blogs because they seriously believed that it would convince others. As you can see in the thread if you dare to dig through it, they were not successful.
And those are just a few of the blogs I’ve seen. There’s a hate subReddit someone tried and failed to get going, there are the thousands of YouTube comments threatening and harassing me daily, there are the Tweets and the Facebook messages that make little to no sense, like this one from just last night:
These are people who desperately want to insult me, but have neither the wit nor the intelligence to do it properly. Mentioning that I have a vagina? Drawing attention to the fact that I started Boston Skeptics, something I’m very proud of? Ignorantly suggesting that I left a group of men in charge in spite of the fact that Liz Gaston, Maggie McPhee, and Mary Brock are all very capable people who happen to be women? It’s pathetic. That same Facebook user flagged me in another comment wondering why I hadn’t responded to her, as though I owe her the same ridiculous amount of attention that she has apparently spent on me. I hope this response suffices.
So yes, these people can continue to crow about how great it is that I’m no longer in the same city as the successful skeptics’ group I started. Similarly, they can continue to pretend that my college education is a tawdry secret, and I will continue to be proud of it. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college, and I worked 40 hours a week at the magic shop to afford it (along with the money for my freshman year that my parents gave me, which my dad made a point of reminding me of last week – love you guys! Wait I told you not to read this).
And similarly, they can continue to call me a cunt. After all, they derive so much joy from it, and to me it only makes things clearer. “Cunt” is what misogynists call outspoken women with contrary opinions, in an attempt to silence them.
That’s what this is really about: silencing. No one starts an entire site like the “elevatorgate” blog in the hopes of having a debate. No one comes up with a nickname using a word like cunt because he wants to resolve differences. No one tells a woman she would be lucky to get raped because he wants to offer solid evidence to contradict her point that misogyny is just as bad amongst skeptics and atheists as it is elsewhere.
The question is this: will their silencing tactics work? I honestly don’t know. I’m a competitive person, and so all my life my response to someone telling me to stop talking has been to talk more. But for the past few months, I’ve definitely been talking less because I find it far more enjoyable to play video games than to deal with these people in any way. This is not a call for more support, as you have all been very giving with your encouragement. Instead, I suppose it’s just a documentation of what my online life has been like for the past few months, though it’s only the tip of the iceberg as I tend to delete the links to a lot of the really awful things.
I honestly can’t think of a way to even end this post. People are terrible. I’m going to go play video games for awhile.
Featured photo courtesy of cupcake_eater which is on Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.