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Ask Surly Amy: How to Deal with Hate

I was wondering how you guys manage to deal with all the hate? I became an atheist/skeptic a little less than a year ago, and since then it’s just been wave after wave of violent pushback against feminism. It’s not even just the atheist movement anymore (i.e. Anita Sarkeesian & the gaming community) – everyday, I see some explosion over feminism/women, and every time I see the discussion devolve into how we’re just a bunch of prude whores (oxymoron) who need to shut the fuck up. I’ve become depressed, even suicidal. Am I really less able to succeed at the things I enjoy (technology, science) due to some different brain wiring because I have a vagina? I read these discussions, and we’re always the minority. We’re always drowned out by these people. Not once have I seen someone from the “other side” crossover. All they do is get louder.


(((((Trigger warning for threats of violence against women.))))))

First off if you feel suicidal, please, please get some help right away. It is totally reasonable that you would feel that way. It is extremely difficult to deal with constant, daily abuse. Here is a link to a page that can help you.

I don’t think that we have evolved to deal with daily doses of direct hate. It puts one in a constant state of fight or flight and can take a terrible toll. It’s not your fault and you can get help. Please know that.

For those that may read this and are not familiar with the sort of harassment we have been dealing with here, let me give you an example of an average day.

Yesterday, I saw a thread that asked if it was, “immoral to rape a Skepchick.” Then, this morning I woke up to a tweet that recommended that I light myself on fire.

Here are some screen caps of just a bit of those conversations:

Just an average day for us. And this has been going on ever since Rebecca said, “…hey guys don’t do that.” For me, it has been getting worse over the past few months. I guess I became a direct target after Rebecca decided to stay home from TAM. I was more in the spotlight so the threats became more about me.

I’m not really sure what the best advice here is, honestly. I can say things like, don’t give up and keep fighting the good fight but it sounds so cliché. It’s no joke that this endless stream of misogyny and out-and-out hatred is exhausting. Especially when we here at Skepchick have literally donated thousands upon thousands of hours and thousands of dollars to encouraging the secular-skeptic-atheist movement and to specifically working towards getting more women involved.

I firmly believe we need some more leaders in this movement to make a stand and speak out publicly to enforce the message that behavior that encourages violence against women and minorities, be it rape threats or supposed jokes about rape, death or violence should not be tolerated in a rational, humanistic, secular society. We need leaders to stand with us, not sit quietly by, while we are ridiculed and threatened. But that is another story that I will probably write about later.

Back to actually dealing with the abuse in daily life.

Over time you do get used to it, but it would be a lie to say it doesn’t hurt. I recommend sharing your stories with friends. We are lucky here at Skepchick to have the other writers to share our tales of woe with. It’s a very supportive community. I hope you can find someone to talk to as well. Try turning off the computer and going outside when it really gets to you and most importantly of all, keep reminding yourself that together, we can make the world a better, kinder and more rational place where people are not judged or oppressed based on things like gender/sex/financial worth/ableism or skin color. But we can never reach that goal if people like us walk away. The haters are very good at hate, we are very good at making the world around us a better place. Don’t let them stop you or silence you. Only walk away if you want to. Not because someone douchbag or even a group of douchbags told you to.

And just so you know, about once a week we get an email or message from someone who does cross-over from the ‘other side.’ It’s not usually one of the vocal extremists but it is usually a person who was on the fence and saw the discussions and actually learned from them. This happens a lot. So know that there are lurkers that benefit from seeing how awful people act and seeing those of us responding by speaking out against it and by continuing to do good in our community. We see cross-over a lot, I promise.

So I recommend doing good deeds. Start up a local group. Raise money for a charity. Adopt a pet. Plant some trees. Feed some people. Fix something for a neighbor. Paint something. Make something. Read a book to a kid. Every time you see a hate message against a woman online donate 25 cents to Planned Parenthood. I could go on and on. There is always some good to be done. Don’t let pathetic bigots stop you from living the life you want and try to turn the negativity into something good.

Know that the haters are just trying to silence us because of bigotry. Huge waste of their time and a sad state to be in. We are actually doing things to help others. That’s a good use of time and a happy place to be. So ignore them when you can, mock them when you want a laugh and report them to the police or FBI whenever you see a credible threat and most importantly, keep doing good things.

And please, please get some professional help if you feel overwhelmed.

If you just need a friend to chat with, reach out to me on twitter and say hello and I will be happy to DM with you.

Hope this helped.


Got a question you would like some Surly-Skepchick advice on? Send it in! We won’t publish your real name, unless you want us to and creative pseudonyms get bonus points! Just use the contact link on the top left of the page.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. This. This is why you are such an inspiration to me and many other people in the skeptical community. Thank you for your excellent words.

  2. Yep. Busy and high-achieving. Nothing more annoying to haters than seeing that you’re getting on with stuff regardless.

  3. The thing that pisses me off most about all of this is the, “Well, yes, I’m SORRY that Amy/Rebecca/et al are being threatened with rape/death/etc, but they’re OVERREACTING about elevatorgate/the t-shirt/whatever!” As long as the first half of the sentence (rape/death/etc threats) is true then it’s not possible for the second half of the sentence (they’re overreacting) to be true. These “unimportant” incidents are connected AT THEIR CORE with the threats that have been flying. You can’t reasonably talk about this shit without talking about the threats.

    1. @Erista… Hmmm. You’re right. “Over-reacting” is the wrong phrase. Certainly most of we males vastly under-react to the misogynist haters.

      However it is certainly possible to react in a counter-productive way. Boycotting an atheist group because they haven’t got their act together (yet) on this issue is counter-productive. Boycotting a widely read atheist’s books because he (wrongly and condescendingly) advocated under-reacting to a sexual harassment incident is counter-productive.

      Atheism undermines the main ideological underpinning of misogyny. Skepticism promotes atheism, because, obviously, the biggest scam of all the scams exploiting human cognitive weaknesses is god belief.

      As such, anything which promotes atheism ultimately promotes humanism (women are humans, so humanism includes feminism — anyone who doesn’t get that is not really a humanist). I know, this sounds like a “No True Scotsman” argument, but it is, nevertheless, the case.

      IMHO, Pamela Gay’s talk on the main stage at TAM 2012 did exactly the right thing on this issue. She didn’t shut up and sit down about it, but neither did she withdraw her support of TAM or other organizations which are, whatever their failings, supporting human progress.

      I completely agree that the infamous yet still miraculously anonymous (despite all the haters’ ranting about rapist libel) elevator guy was out of line. Rebecca’s initial reaction to the incident was exactly the right thing to do in that situation. She gave perfectly good and useful dating advice to all socially awkward nerds everywhere: Scaring the crap out of someone you like is not likely to lead to a one night stand or any kind of positive personal relationship.

      The problem with the haters reacting badly to Rebecca’s subsequent (somewhat counterproductive) comments is that haters are not humanists. Atheism is only a step toward humanism. Some of the more liberal, bible ignoring “christian” groups are already humanist. Some ex-Catholics (or ex- other virulent religious cults) unfortunately, retain their deeply internalized attitudes about the proper role of women and the supposed inferiority of women to men even after they have discarded their absurd “God” myths. And some guys are just the non-thinking, universally bigoted, boneheaded assholes which their comments imply they are.

      Also, I suspect a fair number of the more virulent posts are from religious lurkers who just like to poke at the “evil” atheists to try to get a rise out of us.

      Meanwhile if you notice inadequate responses to incidents of sexual harassment, you are definitely not over-reacting to call out those who should be responding more vigorously, but please… let’s not toss out the proverbial baby with the bath water.

      1. @ufischer – There is so much wrong with your comment that I am not sure where to begin but, as I don’t have all day to address them, I will point to one major misrepresentation and one statement that is wrong on its face.

        First – What Rebecca did regarding both Dawkins and TAM 2012 were personal decisions NOT BOYCOTTS. They were not organized as boycotts, they weren’t intended as boycotts, and they were specifically pointed out to NOT BE BOYCOTTS. So that sorry-assed little strawman can be put to bed forever.

        Second, your assertion that

        anything which promotes atheism ultimately promotes humanism

        is so laughable as to be a possible Poe.

        Not everything atheists do to promote atheism furthers humanism much less feminism.

        When Penn Jillette, who is as ardent a promoter of atheism as just about anyone, says of a woman who failed to amuse him that she is a “remarkably stupid cunt” he is not furthering anything beyond Penn thinking (and being woefully mistaken) that Penn is funny. And by the way, the thing this woman did that offended Mr. Jillette’s sensibilities? She repeated a joke which is Penn’s domain I guess as he is one of the directors of The Aristocrats, a movie who’s entire premise is to repeat the same joke ad nauseum.

        Nice try though.

  4. Amy, am I correct that the venom is mostly (not all) anonymous? I think that selects for low life cowards.

    I second your recommendation to help others when you feel like crap. Many of us don’t have the time or aren’t ambitious or talented enough to start a skeptic group or to write our own blog, but there are SO many small ways we can do good.

    Another plus is that volunteering and helping others is often social and can help you connect to your community.

    1. A lot of the online threats and harassment are anonymous, yes. But at TAM I dealt with a lot of real people who, while they never touched me, they did things like make fake Surly-Ramics necklaces with words on them that mocked things I said online and there were actual people live blogging from the event saying things like I was part of an ‘axis’ that was trying to destroy the event and people celebrating T-shirts that served to make me feel like an outcast and people singing songs that said we ‘should pull the sticks out of our ass’ etc. So sometimes, yes, I have to deal with actual people IRL. None of those in real life trolls at TAM got within 10ft of me though (that I am aware of) and it’s not often that I encounter those types of people as I do my best not to be around that group.

        1. Yeah, I’m still in shock people would go to that much trouble to lash out at me so specifically. That took some serious dedication. And I know who did it. They mocked the art I make that I used to raise money to send women to THAT event. The art I have used to raise money for CFI, Camp Quest, The American Cancer Society, Doctors without Borders, ASPCA, Humane Society and countless small atheist and secular orgs.

          Imagine if those people had spent their time doing something good instead of the hours it took to fake my art. What a waste.

          1. My head exploded when I read that. They went to that much trouble, driven by that much vitriol & desire for mob approval, to actually mock up Surlyramics. I am sorry, and I am disgusted. The only cure will be to go to Etsy on my next paycheck and order as many Surlyramics gifts as I can so we can guarantee, in any crowd, outnumbering them.

          2. Don’t know how this will be taken, but most of the people involved in this mess wouldn’t know physical violence if it (literally) jumped up and bit them in the ass. Hyperbolic threats are par for the course on the Internet *even though they’re powerful things.* What gets me is that I suspect the Heathers-esque songs, duplication of products, and IRL whispering campaigns at TAM were done with far more malice and awareness of damage than any online interactions.

            It’s vastly, vastly different when there’s a living, breathing human being right in front of you, or when you’re crafting something with your own hands to denigrate someone else and their work.

            Hang in there.

      1. That kind of behavior is unacceptable. People who do that should not be allowed at TAM in the future.

        I don’t care if TAM shrinks in half. Such people should not be allowed.

        The skeptic community needs zero tolerance for this kind of misogynist BS. If people would rather be misogynists, they can have their own club where women and people of good will are not welcome.

      2. Amy, did the TAM organizers make any effort to identify these people with the necklaces, t-shirts, and songs? How could what they did be considered anything other than harassment? How could they not have been summarily tossed out of TAM on their asses?

        Was there any kind of official response at all to what happened to you?

      3. This makes me so sad, especially the fake necklaces thing. That’s spiteful and downright bizarre.

        (Just for the record, I’ve loved the necklaces you make for ages, but it always seemed silly to pay for jewelry to be shipped across a major ocean. But having read the above, I went on a little bit of a shopping spree.)

  5. This is complete bullshit and I’m sorry you have to put up with it. If I ever encounter anyone I know personally saying anything like that, they will know in certain terms what I think of them.

  6. I’m so sorry that you were mistreated at The Amazing Meeting, Amy. What kind of an organization allows a speaker to personally insult a sponsor from the podium?

    I’ve been to five TAMs and had a wonderful time at each one. It’s clear that I wouldn’t feel welcome there any more, so I am withdrawing my support of JREF that began before the first TAM and instead contributing to other skeptical organizations that align with my values.

  7. I’ve viewed the Podcasts and Vids of lot’s of opponants, all of them make fun of the community and none of them make an attempt to “Put on another persons shoes” To semi qoute To Kill a Mockingbird. Anyway I think it all comes down to Empathy, if you don’t have it or you’re not using it correctly to assess your opponents you’ll never understand why so many atheists are accepting the “Evil Dogma of Feminism” To semi qoute some random asshat.

  8. The atheist/skeptic communities were fortunate to not have had to deal with homophobia or racism (to any significant amount that I’ve been able to discern). However misogyny has surfaced online and it’s for real. We have seen it IRL. IMO the distinction is only to the extent that the haters show up to events.

    I think what we have to start coming to terms with is that we are dealing with haters not in the quaint “hey don’t be a hater” type of sense, but in the literal sense. This is isn’t just difference of opinion and well-meaning debate. We are talking about rhetoric and behavior that is on the radar of the Southern Poverty Law Center. I challenge anyone to visit and tell me it is not a hate site.

    1. //However misogyny has surfaced online and it’s for real. We have seen it IRL.//

      That’s because
      1. Racism in society is seen as NOT OK, so people have to be really subtle about it. In the organized atheist community homophobia is also seen as NOT OK (although in the general public it still is ok).

      2. Sexism is still seen as perfectly okay in most places of society. In fact OPENLY PREACHED by many.

      1. At least in the US, I wouldn’t say that is the case. We’re not in a Mad Men world any more.

        As is the case with racism, the overt variety is looked down upon, however there are other variants that still prevail in the form of dog-whistles and code words.

        1. I have to disagree with this.

          While women has managed to be somewhat better off, there is still plenty of the outmoded mentality around.

          It’s even worse to know that the powers-that-be practise it.
          And it doesn’t help when those that are women endorse the actions of those that pass laws that encourage such mentality.

        2. After watching the first episode of madmen, my wife remarked that it was kind of disheartening that the sexism was presented in a cartoonish way and that people discussing the show made it seem that “that sort of thing” only happened in the past. She said that she had experienced some variety of almost everything that was said or done to a woman in the workplace on that show post-2000.

    2. It’s not a joke, not an internet phenomenon. These people are real, and they and their ideas are dangerous. And a lot of these attitudes have found a comfy home in male-dominated spaces. Which includes most ‘geeky’ groups.

      And to the LW: don’t feel guilty about walking away to preserve your mental health. There’s no shame in needing to get your head together. This shit gets to everyone, even us lowly internet commenters. Try to take some time out of the fray. It’ll still be here when you get back.

      1. And a lot of these attitudes have found a comfy home in male-dominated spaces. Which includes most ‘geeky’ groups.

        Which breaks my heart. Considering the amount of abuse a lot of us took just by being geeks, one would think simple empathy would lead to being on the side of the angels. I know that my experience in geek culture lead me in the opposite direction as the MRA crowd. I’m a feminist because of my geekery, not in spite of it.

  9. “Every time you see a hate message against a woman online donate 25 cents to Planned Parenthood.”

    I propose a “#2bits4PP”* campaign. Rather than respond directly to trolls, tell them this so they know that they’ve just done direct financial damage to sexism and bigotry. Keep a tally and make an extra contribution to PP. I volunteer to fund the 1st 400 tags. What will that last, a day?

    * Did I do that right? I’ve been informed that I’m Twitter-challenged.

  10. Some times I get overwhelmed by the attacks that my friends and allies are undergoing. Sometimes I want to just stop reading because, like you, I fear we aren’t moving forward in any real way an I get depressed. Sometimes I just don’t want to think about it any more. But then I realize that I have the luxury of not having to deal with it daily, that I can walk away if I want to, and I realize that means I morally can not walk away because things still need to be done and we need all allies on deck.

    The things that really dig at me are the people who have been allies or should be allies that no longer are because their widdow feewings were hurt. People like Emery Emery who when the elevator incident occurred backed Rebecca but has somewhere since switched over to misrepresenting Rebecca and the FTBlogger’s position and then writing them off. Organizations like JREF who don’t feel the need to lay out a clear anti-harassment policy yet feel the need to blame anyone who suggests they should have one as hurting the attendance to their fundraiser (which is what TAM really is). People like Paula Kirby who seems to be operating under the delusion that if she can’t see something that it doesn’t exist and feels the need to shut up those who point out where she might be wrong (and her herd of lick-spittle sycophants that seem to be overly represented by philosophy students for some reason).

    These people need to be corrected when they get facts wrong, but they are ideologically driven which means that changing their minds is a fools errand. We would do better to let them have their Ayn Rand worshiping circle jerks that accomplish nothing while the rest of the community learns and grows and betters itself.

  11. If people who make such threats can be identified, they can be barred from essentially any public event. No public event is going to risk liability from allowing people who have made threats of rape to attend, no matter how much of a “joke” they are.

    IANAL, but if the organizers are warned in writing about specific individuals, they have to disclose that to the insurance carrier, and the liability to allowing such people to attend becomes very large.

    If they don’t disclose, or even if they do and allow them to attend, and something happens, it is an organization-killing event due to civil liability.

    With what just happened in Aurora, things like Comic-Con are going to be extremely aware of security. They will have zero tolerance for any kind of jokes about any kind of violence.

  12. I think a big part of the solution is that more men need to stand up to sexism!! If a lot more men (especially men like Dawkins) would actually stand up for women, it would start to make people feel embarrassed about being sexist (as they should be).

    And I mean stand up to it wherever you see it, and stand up to it with an appropriate response. If you see a male friend not seeing some basic sexism, educate him. If you see someone being completely inapproriate like that twitter-fucktard, it’s your job as a man to make a complete mockery of him for having a mind that’s still stuck in 1789. The men’s voices need to be just as loud as Amy’s in denouncing it.

  13. Anecdote time!

    I used to work at a bar in the Midwest, rural area. It was full of rednecks and general creepy older dudes, and I was more or less told to expect sexual harassment in my interview. I was desperate for a job and figured I’d be just fine holding my own, so I dove in.

    Sexual harassment came from the customers, as expected, but what I didn’t expect was getting it from the management. Lewd comments, propositions, “hey honey, why don’t you smile?”-s, the whole gamut of fuckery was launched in my general direction.

    After several months of working there, it began to wear on me. People around me noticed a change. I was constantly on the defensive, constantly angry, and I began to withdraw and stop being social. Going to work was a chore, and I snapped easily at customers.

    I was eventually fired because I quickly lost my cheery demeanor and couldn’t seem to rustle up a smile when yet another weirdo called me babehoneysweetiedarlingdollsugar, take your pick. Instead, I told customers to fuck off and was quick to snap at them when they tried to give me any shit.

    Getting harassment, be it sexual or otherwise, on any kind of consistent basis can and will wear on a person. You’re not wrong to feel defeated by it, to feel worn out, like you just don’t want to fight anymore. It takes a serious toll on your mental health after awhile. It’s important to have positive people in your life who will support you and who you can turn to when you’re feeling bad.

    There’s no shame in seeing a professional when you’re feeling overwhelmed, rather than letting the wave of shit overtake you. They can help you sort out your feelings and give you strategies to cope with life when it becomes too much. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to help take some of the burden off. I wish I would have.

  14. Amy,

    That’s appalling. I’m so sorry that you’ve had to deal with such awful behavior.


  15. For me, it’s not a matter of getting used to it, but getting numb to it. It’s like a bad odor your nose stops noticing due to overload of chemical receptors.

    Nicely posted….

    1. I’ll join your FB group! This shit is driving me crazy. It’s like some misogynistic version of rabies is sweeping the atheist/rationalist world. Tragically, the reality is that this poison has been there from the very beginning, just covered by a thin veneer.

  16. Author Steven Erickson was asked about how he builds his characters for his books. A small part of his reply was this paragraph, which I feel transcends the literary realm and becomes a life lesson to all men.

    “Or, if, say you happen to be a man, you then ask yourself what would it be like to have every avenue of personal power blunted in almost every social context, barring that of the domestic — and then to look at the domestic and see how physical intimidation remains ever present as one of the physically weaker (or, let’s be honest, not ‘weaker’ but less potentially testosterone-driven violent) in a relationship. Then ask yourself, what would it be like to have been, historically, offered glimpses of true emancipation, independence, financial and cultural, only to have it all taken away again when the boys come home from the war. Imagine for yourself, as a man, a reversal of the biological imperatives involved in procreation, shifting from any port in the storm thinking to lifelong child-rearing thinking — and how does the shift alter the notion of relationships, of security, stability, monogamy, betrayal, deceit, threat, abuse? If you can make as much of this shift as you can possibly imagine (and ‘imagine’ is the key word here, since a man can never truly know what it is to be a woman, and vice versa), until you find in your soul a bridling rage, indignation, frustration, even despair, then congratulations, you have reached a place of empathy and from that empathy, a smidgen of understanding, and from that tidbit, the first glimmers of compassion.”

  17. I hope the person who wrote in hangs in there. This just depresses me. I try to avoid comment sections and forums because they bum me so. Hang in there.

  18. “Am I really less able to succeed at the things I enjoy (technology, science) due to some different brain wiring because I have a vagina?”

    Regarding this, an article on Yahoo states that women might actually have more potential to suceed in these fields. Something to do with being “wired” for multitasking.

    Tell THAT to the haters. Watch them cry and then type out even more hateful messages. They are nothing more than insecure cowards.

    I’d like to give all the haters a Gibbs-style head slap.

  19. There was a thread on the Legend of Korra imdb boards that just made me angry. Basically it was men saying that sexim doesn’t exist anymore any how women in *insert country* have it much worse. I had to stop reading it.

    On a One Piece forum someone brought up how the female characters were portrayed and the response to it was “it’s a double standard, get over it.”

    1. I read something similar about a year ago. Did that one begin with “Dear Muslima” too?

  20. Hey we all lose hope sometimes; it has been a very hard year for me too. The hate and active slander and lying and judgment and misconceptions people have about atheists is unbelievable.

    I understand that being a woman is probably extra hard; I use to not even believe people still pre-judged women or twisted what y’all do to fit their hypotheses about you; until I ‘came out’ as an atheist.

    After that, all my actions, intentions and motives were twisted to the most negative thing. I just thought labels were pointless harmless words, but labels are bad a contaminate how people view your actions and successes.

    I will not go into it, but it took me over thirty years to finally start to understand a woman’s scenario and also the scenario many other ‘minorities’ have to deal with.

    The hardest part about my situation is that I did it to myself; I could have just strayed quiet and not told anyone I was an atheist. For women and others, they have no choice to remain silent.

    Please don’t kill yourself, I do know the feeling, life is much too precious to do that and even though life is cheap now, it still is better than the other option.

  21. Hang in there you are not alone, Stephen Fry puts it well here:

    I don’t know about you but whenever I read a blog I do not let my eye drop below half the screen in case I accidentally hit the bit where the comments reside. Of all the stinking, sliding, scuttling, weird, entomological creatures that inhabit the floor of the internet those comments on blogs are the most unbearable, almost beyond imagining, …
    Their resentment, their desire to be heard at the most vituperative level, at the most unpleasant and malevolent, genuinely ill-willed malevolent, level is terrifying and I am very often simply not able to cope with that,

    1. Hey, Mr Fry, lay off the entomological creatures. They don’t deserved to be insulted by being compared to the vile scum. (Oops, pond scum doesn’t deserve it, either.) On this blog, we love our Bug(s).

      Other than that, Stephen Fry: most.eloquent.writer.ever.

      1. We do need some troll taxomonical system though, not sure what class and order they would go in. According to the wow wiki:

        Historians and physicians generally classify trolls into four categories: forest trolls, jungle trolls, ice trolls, and sand trolls. The trolls of the Zandalar tribe are considered unclassifiable because the Zandalari are the earliest known trolls, from whom all other trolls are descended. Some debate exists as to how many categories are necessary in order to describe the troll race. Several notable authorities on the topic have chosen to specify a fifth category: namely, the dark trolls.[9]

        I definitly think we need a new family or trolls to describe the internet varieties, and the rest of the animal kingdom is probably going to disown any association. You can’t choose your family sad to say.

        1. “Run they have a cave troll!”
          I like the idea of labeling internet trolls cave trolls; although cave trolls tend to be strong, stupid, giant monsters; and most internet trolls are weak, smart, fat creatures.
          Oh well, you can’t win them all.

  22. I’m 99.99 per cent certain that @TheOtherAtheist is Victor Ivanoff/Felch Grogan/Franc Hoggle. It is the name of a group Victor set up after leaving Atheist Nexus and the ‘occupation’ listed on his Facebook page – Theothera Theist – has a comment about Rebecca Watson that strongly reflects Victor’s style. He also attacked me under that name on my Facebook page last night with accusations that could only have come from Victor.

  23. Amy, your post made me donate $150 to Equality Now. The more I follow these discussions, the more I am inclined to think a schism in the skeptical community would be a good thing. As Stephanie Zvan put it:

    If the movement has to be torn in two to cut out the people who think women have no right to not be harassed, where is the value in sticking together?

    Off the top of my head, I cannot think of a single benefit of “sticking together” that could possibly outweigh the cost of having to put up with the kind of people who can bring themselves to write stuff like “Would it be immoral to rape a Skepchick? […] I’m really torn on this one.” – even as a joke.

    Finally I just want to say that I think the JREF has proven itself unworty of your support, but I’m sure there are other skeptical organizations who know how to appreciate your efforts.

  24. Technologically we are in the “Information Age.” It’s depressing to see that large parts of the Internet community are culturally still in the Bronze Age.

    The Skepchicks literally are the youth and energy of the skeptical community, and it’s an embarrassment and disgrace to see so much hate and friendly-fire aimed at them for calling attention to some serious concerns.

    My heart goes out to Amy, Rebecca, and all the bloggers and regular commenters here at Skepchick. You deserve better.

  25. Grímhildr,

    I don’t know if you’ll read this, but if it’s any help to you, *I’m* someone who crossed over. I wouldn’t say I was ever openly hateful or significantly sexist, but I certainly didn’t see feminism as having any sort of social value. The transition was gradual; it took several years, and a lot of conversation with feminist friends. There were certainly setbacks, mostly caused by the more vitriolic brand of feminists who take the view that, “If you don’t get it, get out.”

    But in the end, I was swayed; love and tolerance bred love and tolerance. And it’s very substantially changed the way I interact with women. I don’t know how many men like me there are. I don’t know how common crossovers like mine are. But I can attest to at least one of them.

    1. High 5 for EvoEdu!

      Because almost all the replies here have been comments on things Amy said, and only a few of them are directly to Grímhildr, I want to add my voice:

      We need you and want you and value you in our community, and we will support you. Please don’t let the bad guys win.

  26. Hi Amy & friends! Thank you so much for your encouragement to all of us. Yesterday I dropped my daughter off at Camp Quest. My greatest concern for her was that this hatred would bleed over into the only safe space she has to discuss skepticism/atheism with peers all year. I didn’t want her to feel as crushed as I did when this constant barrage of misogyny erupted in a community I once felt welcomed in. When I broached the subject, she let me know right away that nobody is going to keep her from her Questy-besties. Nobody can scare her away from them. That is a hill worth dying on for her.
    As kids and teens descended on us to help unpack our stuff when we got there and they hugged each other, called out camp nicknames and showed the newbies around, I felt much better. I cannot believe that hate could ever find a home in such an environment. We have a generation of amazing people coming after us. I’m so grateful to those of you who continue to weather this shit-storm. Because maybe, the kids won’t have to.
    Amy, I met a woman this weekend wearing one of your necklaces. She came to my hometown with her hubby from American Atheists to help us start a secular group. Because of this year of crap we witnessed online we’re going to be certain not to let bigotry get a toehold here. Another nearby group has invited PZ to come to our area. I can’t wait. We even all talked about going to Skepticon in November.(Caravan!) I hope I see you there.

  27. This is all really sad and disheartening. I had a feeling this was why Rebecca didn’t go, but I had hoped that it was was that SDCC had stolen her (like Phil) or she was too broke (like me) (OK, not really the last one. I don’t want anyone to be poor).

    I used to have sort of this ambivalence towards the issue because (1) I didn’t see it and (2) I like things to be single-cause focused. I’d think I came here for skepticism, not feminism.

    But by talking about this, I can at least see it a little bit through your eyes. And it isn’t about making TAM or skepticism into another cause (which is why the atheism theme bugs me sometimes); it’s about being decent people and fostering a healthy community for all. Clearly, these are not issues that can just be swept under the rug. Even when I thought it was just a couple anonymous people on the Internet, it wasn’t acceptable. But this problem is far worse than I thought.

    It really sucks to see an ugly side to something you love so much, but you have to get over the cognitive dissonance and do it. If we don’t, we risk this community we’ve built collapsing in on itself. :-(

  28. De-lurking to restate what I’ve delurked to say before: I have the utmost admiration and respect for the Skepchicks and the work they do. As so many others have said, I’m horrified at these attacks.

    Thank you to Amy and all the Skepchicks for your strength, good humor, and wisdom. I’m totally onboard for #2bits4PP and other efforts to support what you and so many women are doing to combat misogyny.

  29. Harassers are, at their core, cowards. Step one: thank the blessed Earth you are not them. Step two: speak up when you see someone being harassed. Encourage others to do the same.

    My friend’s (somewhat shy) 16 year-old daughter shared on her blog a photo of her new tatoo. Some slimy right-wing guy stopped over to comment that the tatoo made her look like a slut and she needed to lose weight.

    Her dad invited all his readers to slam the harasser online. The humiliation lasted a long time and the coward disappeared faster than someone wearing an invisibility cloak.

  30. I love the donation and Buzz’s ideas. Brilliant. One caveat: I’d skip the adopt-a-pet. I worked at a shelter and these animals have been through tons of shit. They need someone at their most emotionally stable moment in life as the cats and dogs usually have some physical and mental issues.

    Instead, if you can handle the realities of a shelter, volunteer at one. You’ll be vastly rewarded and it will bring down your blood pressure.

  31. Not once have I seen someone from the “other side” crossover. All they do is get louder.

    I don’t have a lot to add to this article – wiser people than I have said nearly all that needs to be said.

    All I can do is hopefully reassure you (I genuinely hope you read this) that there ARE converts – like me. I used to be ‘that guy’. The guy who made the slimy rape jokes, the guy who wouldn’t stop staring at your boobs and thought that ‘The Aristocrats’ was the height of comedy. I really did say things like ‘She’s asking to be raped, dressed like that’ and ‘If she didn’t want to known as a slut she shouldn’t have screwed all those guys’. I was anti-abortion, I was pro- I really, truly did have trouble thinking of women as ‘people’.

    It would be really easy for me to blame my religious upbringing for my sexism – and it’s partly true, at least. The patriarchal structure of my childhood really did teach that women were ‘different’, that they were ’emotional’ and ‘didn’t think logically’ and that they ‘weren’t reliable’ and ‘need a man to lead them’, all of which boil down into thinking that women are some sort of inferior, broken sort of person. Like a man, but missing some things. Man was the standard, women were the ‘other’.
    That doesn’t excuse the several years after I broke out of my religious upbringing but refused to examine with that same skeptical eye the other parts of my psyche. That is completely on me, and I’ve no excuse.
    Fortunately, one day I posted something blinkered and stupid and incredibly offensive on the comments section of Pharyngula. Hoo, boy, did I get tore up. The jaws that bite! The claws that catch! I could have easily just written them off as overly PC jerks, blinded by their feminist ideology to obvious facts of biology. Certainly many of their detractors do just that, and it was my first impulse to do so as well. But in the middle of the sniny claws and snatching teeth was a lesson. And (lucky for me) my dedication to learning new things was stronger than my dedication to the sexist tropes that had filled my childhood. I chose to learn. I followed the provided links to Skepchick and Shakesville and I read and read and I learned what feminism actually is – the revolutionary idea that women are people too, and deserve to be treated that way. And now here I am, and I’ve got Skepchicks and Pharyngula and FTB to thank for it.

    I imagine that you don’t hear from guys like me very much. I imagine that’s mainly because we are embarrassed by the people we used to be. Past-Stevarious was an asshole, and I wouldn’t want to introduce him to ANY of my friends. I think Present-Stevarious is pretty okay, but I hope that Future-Stevarious is improved enough to be embarrassed by him too.

    But for what it’s worth, we DO exist. And I at least have got your back.

    1. This was really heartening to read. I know some people who have crossed over, and hope to know far more, until there’s no more “crossing over” that needs to be done. Pipe dream, I know.

  32. I’ve never commented here before, but I wanted to voice my support for you Skepchicks and for the letter writer.

    LW: I’m a woman in science, too. There are bad moments, to be sure, but it is changing and it has gotten a lot better in the quarter century since I began graduate school. It’s really important to bond with other women, so you won’t feel so alone. And it’s important to read up on studies about sexism so you know you’re not imagining things, no matter how often people tell you that you are. There’ s a good summary of such studies in Joan C. Williams’s “Rethinking the Work Family Divide: Why Men & Class Matter.” I think it’s chapter 3.

    Please do seek help. Sometimes other people can see more easily than one can oneself the most important steps to turn things around. Good luck to you!

    Skepchicks: I suspect you’ve heard from most of the vile misogynists out there, but I’ll bet you only get to see the tip of the iceberg of sympathetic readers who appreciate what you do and are repeatedly outraged on your behalf. I’m sorry you have to deal with this, but I’m glad so many people are showing their true colors. The kind of blatant crap you’ve deal with does make it easier to have a conversation about these things. So thanks for fighting and for all that you do.

    Finally, Stephanie Zvan is right that a split in which those who wish to harass and humiliate women are separated from the rest of us is no loss. In fact, I think having them around turns off far more people than humanistic atheists/skeptics would lose in such a split. I know– I had pretty much decided that this movement wasn’t worth my time before I saw the WiS panel in which Rebecca participated, along with Jen McCreight, Ophelia Benson, and Sikivu Hutchinson. A split is a win for those who want to do good in the world.

  33. I have to admit that, after all this, I have been terrified to voice my opinions in print. I would never marginalize or trivialize another woman’s experiences. I’ve been through too much, myself, to do that. But I’m not afraid of men. Men I can handle. It’s women and their reactions that frighten me. The idea that I could be labeled a gender traitor for my ideas has made me mute.

    Though I believe that all people should have equal rights regardless of gender, I don’t understand logically what defines misogyny. Being told to set yourself on fire because you’re a woman with an opinion is horrifying. That’s hateful regardless of gender. But to me it’s hardly on par with being called “honey” or “babe”. I guess I just don’t get how they’re comparable.

    I’m a middle aged southern woman so I grew up with that. It doesn’t bother me. To me “honey” is a trivial matter. Hell, I CALL people honey or sweetie. There’s no insult intended and I do it with both men and women. Am I misogynistic for that?

    I hope someone can help me define all this.

    1. The idea that you can’t voice your opinion because you’re going to be attacked by a bunch of irrational women is, you know, in and of itself pretty misogynistic.

      1. I didn’t say anything about “women’s irrational reactions”. It’s not cool to put words in my mouth when I’m already unsettled over this and genuinely trying to understand. I don’t get how I can be a woman and be misogynistic.

        1. It’s women and their reactions that frighten me. The idea that I could be labeled a gender traitor for my ideas has made me mute.

          That sounds like you’re saying they’re scary and irrational. Men, men you can deal with because they’re reasonable. Women, not so much. They attack at the mere whiff of disagreement… that’s how I read that statement.

          And I think you need to step away from the troll-y masses. The whole idea of “gender traitor” is a strawman.

        2. It’s pretty easy to be a woman and be misogynistic. Look what happens when women speak up about this stuff. Do you really want to be on the receiving end of the treatment Rebecca Watson is getting? Do you really want to accept something negative about many of the men in your life that you care about? It’s not easy to get past that stuff. There’s a reason there are so many female MRAs.

          You’re fortunate that you have been lucky enough that you can feel safe around men in situations like the one in the elevator. I don’t. It’s not the rape that made me that way, either. I don’t own a car. I walk a lot of places alone. There’s a lot of men that made me feel that way. They did this through catcalling, aggressive sexual attention, and once I even had a guy just start demanding to know where I live and work. He tried to follow me home. The most common experience I’ve had is getting hit on in a way that’s intentionally unsettling.

          I once had a college age guy ask me what my bra size was. He was trying to impress his lady friends with his ability to correctly guess a woman’s bra size. I told him. Some people would be offended. I wasn’t. He wasn’t trying to threaten or intimidate me, and I could tell that. I’m not searching out reasons to be offended or feel unsafe. This stuff happens, and it generally happens when other people aren’t around to witness it. I’m sure that the fact that I am perceived as a sexual minority has a lot to do with it too.

    2. @Fledglingskeptic well, friends and family calling each other “honey” is one thing. What if some creepy distant uncle showed up and began calling your 12 year old daughter “honey”? See the difference?

      One time when a driver slammed into my car because he wasn’t looking, I had a police officer who referred to me as “honey” while taking the report. Again; see the difference?

      1. Honey is a term of endearment. When used affectionately between people who already have a loving and respectful relationship, that’s appropriate.

        When used between people who share no intimacy, and one of those people is in a position of power over the other, it’s demeaning.

        1. Thank you. How presumptious when my 92 year old dad, a well respected scientist, a world war 2 veteran, a man of accomplishments I could only dream of reaching is ill, and his caregivers call him honey? At the airport, they think he is “cute” with his cane. How dare they. But it is so right to call my husband of 30 years “honey,” because he is. My honey.

          1. Laika –

            I think, along with feminism (even more so), lack of respect for our elders is one of the worst plagues of American society. I appreciate the story about your dad. Just one of the many condescending and rude ways people behave like children in their adult lives.

    3. “I would never marginalize or trivialize another woman’s experiences. I’ve been through too much, myself, to do that. But I’m not afraid of men. Men I can handle. It’s women and their reactions that frighten me. The idea that I could be labeled a gender traitor for my ideas has made me mute.”

      But it is trivializing others’ experiences to come to a post about being threatened with rape and told to kill yourself for daring to be a woman and tell people that what REALLY scares you isn’t threats of violence but the possibility of women calling you out as sexist.

      “Being told to set yourself on fire because you’re a woman with an opinion is horrifying. That’s hateful regardless of gender.”

      And telling a straight person to kill themselves is awful but there’s a lot more going into the situation when it’s said to someone who’s LGBTQ. Pretending identities don’t exist isn’t the path to equality because there’s too much inequality already. Acting as if telling a man to kill himself because you’re angry at him and telling women to do it as an attack on women are equivalent ignores the context of the situation. These threats aren’t random, individual bits of nastiness. It’s a systematic attack of vitriol aimed at anyone who dares to be feminist.

      “But to me it’s hardly on par with being called ‘honey’ or ‘babe’. I guess I just don’t get how they’re comparable.”

      Degrees. Being called a bitch isn’t as bad as being told to kill myself but I don’t want to hear either one. Pet names are often used condescendingly to patronize and belittle women. They also push intimacy that doesn’t exist. But no one’s saying they’re the same level of bad and there are probably people who don’t have a problem with pet names. I only have a problem with pet names used by people I don’t know well or people at work (generally).

      “There’s no insult intended and I do it with both men and women.”

      Intent is not magic. People don’t know what you intend when you say something.

      “Am I misogynistic for that?”
      I don’t think so. I think it is insulting to paint women as if we’re hysterical harpies who will scream at you if you want to discuss issues rationally or to act as if the possibility of being called a misogynist is worse than the possibility of being threatened with rape. I mean, honestly, how would you feel if you told someone about a threat you received that really frightened you and their response was to say that it didn’t scare them and they’re really more scared of you?

  34. The website Gamers Against Bigotry was hacked and all their pledges were erased. I can’t believe how far some people wil go.

  35. For whatever it may be worth, there are people who do support feminism, and the Skepchicks, and *any* woman who may need or want support.

    And I feel like buying some genuine Surlyramics…

    1. Unfortunately, those in leadership positions have no incentive to stick their necks out, especially considering that many of them are perpetrators of sexism.

      I would love to see Randi say something but I don’t kid myself into thinking that he would care enough about the issue to step forward or even what his thoughts on the subject are.

      1. Love your comments almost always mrmis, but I just can’t get behind disrespecting Randi. Not a perfect man. I have made mistakes, have you? I treasure him.

        1. It’s not disrespecting to say you wish the namesake of an organization would state his opinion on a major issue. It’s not expecting him to be perfect to ask him to.

          1. I respect Randi for what he has done for the skeptical community. He is an elder. I would love it if he would state his opinion on this issue but I will respect him even if he does not.

        2. I am not sure why wishing Randi would say something is disrespectful.

          Having reread my comment I think I see where that came from. The first and second parts of my statements were completely separate, hence the space in between. I did not mean to imply that Randi was a perpetrator of sexism, I was referring to others (not all) in leadership roles. I have nothing but respect for Randi, It’s just that I have made the mistake of believing I know the mind of people I admire before and it always ends up leading to disappointment, I wouldn’t want to make that mistake with The Amazing Randi.

          Having said all that I have never gone for that respecting our elders BS, to me respect needs to be earned not expected. The Amazing Randi has earned my respect because of all he has done not because he is an elder.

        3. To your below comment: So is the pope. Being an elder doesn’t mean anything. It’s your actions that matter. I respect Randi for his work. I still am disappointed at his silence.

  36. First time commenter. I fired a long post to our freethought group’s mailing list in response to this, most of which was just quoting Amy, but I did contribute this little bit at the end:

    “The women and men behind Skepchick have worked harder than most to make the skeptical community a tolerant, welcoming environment. They should be showered in praise and held up as heroes for their efforts; instead, a small group of people have been dousing them with hatred, backed by a larger number of skeptics that have been supportive or clueless. Don’t be one of the latter group. Call out sexism and misogyny when you can, and send the Skepchicks a warm fuzzy to let them know the silent majority appreciate them.”

    Consider y’all warm fuzzied. ;)

    1. Thank you for the fuzzies and most of all thank you for calling other people to action We need the support from the community to stop this hatred.

  37. It is a pity that such childish, vindictive and abhorrent tactics are being employed by the ignorant against the female activist/blogging community. Clearly we are not living in a time where western society has achieved the pinnacle of human rights awareness.

    It is heartening to see that Amy is remaining positive; I hope you remain positive and continue your good, and presumably unpaid, work.

  38. I don’t comment often, but I read dutifully, and I want to send along some warm fuzzies as well.

  39. “Am I really less able to succeed at the things I enjoy (technology, science) due to some different brain wiring because I have a vagina? I read these discussions, and we’re always the minority.”

    This really touched me. I’m a soon to be STEM student (I’m double majoring in English and Biology with a minor is Psych). My goal is to get into a Neuroscience graduate program, and I’ve been studying my ass off on my own time to just prepare for school this fall. I become so disheartened by people who say that women just don’t have the brain for STEM majors. I hear it often, in person or online.

    It’s hard enough having my racial minority status hanging over my head, but to constantly hear that I’m not suited for my chosen field because of my female brain fills me with doubts.

    I like to mostly read about brain machine interface on my spare time, so I really don’t know much about sex differences and our brains. I’ve read some criticisms of fMRI research relating to sex differences, but not a lot. Tbh, I’m kind of afraid to look into sex and brain differences. :(

    1. Melody, you will find a reassuring summary of the current scientific research regarding the so-very-much-smaller-than-mythologised (and intellectually irrelevant) differences between male and female brains in Cordelia Fine’s book Delusions of Gender.

    2. @MyMelody: You have to be kidding. I am a clinical biochemist in South Australia. In my organisation, women are prominent, if not dominant.

      Lets see, my boss is male, but the two levels above him are female, then there is the guy in charge of Health, then the Minister, also male.

      At my level, women are in a majority by 2 to 1.
      They still maintain that it is a boys club, but I think that relates to politics rather than academic clout, and it is getting better.

      If anybody came out with the kind of sexist claptrap you have been getting, they would be lynched. Maybe you should move to a more progressive State?

      But never doubt your abilities as a woman in a STEM field!

    3. MyMelody, when the first female medical student was enrolled at the University of Oslo in the 1880s, the men where deeply concerned. In their opinion, it was unnatural for a woman to go through such a difficult intellectual feat, and that her health and her femininity would be ruined. Women’s brains were simply not suited for medical school.

      Well. She passed her exams, specialized in obstetrics (though she had to go to Germany for this, no hospital in Norway would have her), came back and started her own practice. She also married and had five children, so it seems her femininity was intact.

      Now, 70% of medical students in Norway are women. If anyone said we are unsuited for the job, or that medical school is unnatural for women, we would die laughing.
      There is nothing wrong with our brains. There is nothing wrong with YOUR brain. If you want to do neuroscience, DO IT.

      Good luck,

      Pernille Nylehn, MD

  40. I am so sorry that you have to deal with this horribleness. I have no idea how you are strong enough to do it, but I am so glad that you are. SkepChick is an important voice and I would hate to see it disappear.

  41. Many warm fuzzies to you all, Skepchicks. Thank you for all your hard work, particularly in the face of so much pushback.

  42. @Amy, @grimhldr: warm fuzzies and support from me too.

    N.B. the more extreme the comments against you, the more ridiculous the opposition looks.

    @grimhldr: I recommend a 2 week vacation without the laptop! Nobody wants you to stress out 24/7.

    That, in fact, is just what I’m about to do – see you in a fortnight – take care y’all!

  43. G’day Amy i’m one of the original members of Rationalia.Whilst not exactly the most tasteful post ever i think you are vastly misrepresenting rationalia.

    We aren’t a community of haters or promoting hatred of anyone. We are an atheist community and that’s where we agree on things end. We have all colours of the rainbow when its comes to beliefs etc.

    It’s essentially an open forum with only a few rules.Sometimes people don’t respect the freedom they have and do stuff like that. But that is not what the community is all about. The wilder web is designed for the more inane stuff like that but thats only one forum out of many.

    Whilst i agree prejudice of any kind not just against women is something that is abhorrent in this case i think you have picked the wrong target. I have being posting in forums for years and i’m yet to find a more open caring tolerant and accepting of all forum yet than rationalia it has to me become more like a family than a community over the years.


    p.s I think i speak for all ratz that you’re more than welcome on the forum you seem to have some interesting POV’s that would add to the diversity of the forum.

    1. Dude, she didn’t even mention your beloved little forum. She only showed a screenshot of a couple of jackasses on said site doing what you say they don’t do.

      She did not misrepresent your forum, those two jackasses did that. I’m sure it’s a lively place, except for when it’s not.

    2. Nothing screams, “We welcome diversity of thought!” like threatening/joking about the rape of anyone you find “annoying” and then locking down the thread when people criticize you.

  44. Hello from Norway!

    It makes me so sad that such a wonderful and important movement and ditto event (TAM) should be riddled with such stupid and hateful and counterproductive conflicts.

    Amy, Rebecca, keep up the good work and don’t let stupid and ignorant people ruin your enthusiasm and energy. Don’t let them put you down. This fight is important and just, and you have lots of friends and allies all over the world. Count your friends, forget the fiends.

    All the best,
    Pernille Nylehn

  45. Just a note to say thank you for the courage you and all the other “out atheist” and feminist writers display, and for your willingness to not “shut the fuck up”. There is a new generation coming, and with your help, they will be better than all those frightened angry responders, more thoughtful, less religious, more skeptical. At least that is my fervent hope.

    Might I also add: AWESOME JEWELRY!! I daily sport at least one of a number of your pieces and they almost never fail to elicit at least a comment and often a conversation. Especially Russell’s Teapot. Good job.

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