ActivismRandom Asides

That’s Not Bullying

[Trigger/content warning: Bullying, threatening language]*

Scene 1: “Hey, you fucking faggot. If I see you in this hallway again, I’m going to take a broomstick from the janitor’s cart and rape your faggot ass with it. You’d like that, wouldn’t you, you stupid fucking faggot!” This was said as I was being shoved up against the wall of lockers, face first, as a crowd of other students gathered around and laughed and cheered. Again.

Scene 2: “Hi. I am going to be running a series of guests posts on a blog about the harassment and hatred directed at women in our community. Would you be interested in writing one?” This was said through a single e-mail.

Clearly, these two scenes are depicting the same sort of event. Right? Well, if you were to go with Thunderfoot’s latest diatribe, he would have you believe so.

Thunderfoot has published a video (it’s getting rave reviews from the MRA blog A Voice For Men) in which he accuses Skepchick Surly Amy of “bullying or cajoling” men into contributing to her awesome series of posts “Speaking out against hate directed at women.” Michael Nugent has a blog post up about it, noting that he was never bullied (or cajoled, which is kind of the opposite of bullying) into writing the article and then reposts the article in question. I’m not going to link to Thunderfoot’s video here, but the link is on Nugent’s post for those with the intestinal fortitude.

I have two major issues with this sort of discourse. First, using “bullying” to poison the well against people because you disagree with them is the exact opposite of rational. And for people in a community that prides itself on rationality and skeptical/critical thinking, there sure is a whole hell of a lot of this kind of nonsense going on.

The second (and more important) concern that I have about this sort of thing is that it has the effect of diminishing the experiences of people who are actually bullied. It lessens the impact of accusing actual bullies. It’s the same sort of shit that these same people complain about with the use of the word “misogynist.” They’re right about one thing—labeling every instance of sexism directed at women as misogyny does lessen the impact that that word has. So stop fucking doing it with “bully.”

Bullying can be defined as “repeated, aggressive behavior intended to hurt another person, physically or mentally. Bullying is characterized by an individual behaving in a certain way to gain power over another person.” Bullying can be direct (such as in physical aggression) or indirect (such as seeking to marginalize or ostracize).

When people do things like use the “#FTBullies” hashtag or accuse Surly Amy of bullying people when all she’s done is ask them to write something, they are making the word “bully” less meaningful. They do this at a time when there is an epidemic of queer bullying, to the extent that thousands of queer kids are killing themselves. Queer teens are five times more likely to attempt suicide than other teens, and this is a direct result of social stigma that includes things like bullying. And they compare sending an e-mail requesting a guest post on a blog to this??

Those who abuse the word “bully” are making light of the very real bullying that people like myself have experienced for being queer. And you’re doing it not because you actually care if people are being bullied or not. No, you’re disparaging the experiences of people who are actually bullied so that you can star in your own fucked up passion play. But it’s not Amy who’s doing the bullying—she’s not the one obsessively making videos and posting them to YouTube accusing you of anything. Or fanatically monitoring Rebecca’s Twitter feed to start shitstorms over seemingly obvious comments about rape culture. If anything, the appropriation of this word is a way to project your own behavior onto others.

We get it—you hate Rebecca and the Skepchicks and feminism. But this has got to end. Find another (preferably more rational) way to disagree. Stop appropriating the word “bully.” Stop belittling the experiences of people who actually do experience bullying.

Oh, and you know what else? Stop actually bullying people, too. The repeated, aggressive behavior intended to hurt—and silence—women like Amy and Rebecca and Jen and Ophelia and others who aren’t taking your shit is, by definition, bullying.

So how about you stop acting like high school students and start acting like the rational adults you claim to be? Get on with the engagement of ideas and the critical thinking and enough with the personal attacks.

*In response to “anon” (how brave of you to put your name to your comment!) over on Michael Nugent’s thread, who claims that trigger warnings are a way of policing language—fuck you. This is a way of alerting people that the content of the post could be triggering or may have uncomfortable content. If you will notice, I have a trigger warning at the top followed by a paragraph containing three instances of the word “faggot.” Yeah, that trigger warning is totally making me use all my PC language, huh!


Will is the admin of Queereka, part of the Skepchick network. They are a cultural/medical anthropologist who works at the intersections of sex/gender, sexuality, health, and education. Their other interests include politics, science studies, popular culture, and public perceptions and understandings of anthropology. Follow them on Twitter at @anthrowill and Facebook at

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  1. Thanks for this important post. In the animal rights community, a faction I’m associated with has sprouted up valuing rationality and skepticism. We have experienced a lot of what you’ve mentioned here. Because we challenge a lot of taken-for-granted ideology, we have been targets of harassment and threats. I receive emails threatening me and accusing me of bullying from people I don’t even know (fake emails probably), our Youtube accounts are vandalized, my Examiner page was trolled relentlessly, a Facebook group was created to accuse us of bullying and to basically insult us, we’ve had our places of work contacted…..all because we take a critical view of bogus (but popular) theories and tactics. I just thought it very bizarre to see that the exact same thing is happening in other communities! I guess no matter where you go, atheists, skeptics, and critical thinkers will always be the bully. Must be nice to have all that extra time to stalk people down and concoct elaborate schemes to make their lives a living hell.

  2. Sorry to hear about the harassment you’ve been experiencing. That’s messed up.

    I guess no matter where you go, atheists, skeptics, and critical thinkers will always be the bully.

    Well, I don’t think that the skeptical, atheist, or critical thinking communities are any more or less full of bullies than the larger society within which they exist. It’s just that as communities that value rationality and critical thought, you’d think that resorting to emotional abuse would be avoided and not prized.

  3. I don’t disagree with this article, but all of this could also be said about some commenters here who overuse the word “rapist”. Perhaps those people also need to take this to heart.

    1. No, and stay the fuck out of this thread. You’re not welcome here, and I will request that you are banned if you post in this thread again.

      1. Excellent rebuttal! You’ve clearly demonstrated a superior grasp of logic and reason, and my point has been thoroughly defeated.

      2. Will,

        stay the fuck out of this thread. You’re not welcome here, and I will request that you are banned if you post in this thread again.

        Nice (or rather not so nice) example of a self refuting argument.

        But I agree with it, you should be banned.

        1. No. That person was harassing people in another thread. Telling them to stay the fuck out of my thread and then banning them if they don’t is not bullying.

          Clearly you need to go back and re-read the OP.

          1. Aw, Will…good call but some of us were looking forward to seeing Megalog encounter Ms Daisy Cutter

  4. Hey Will, I was that anon. Tell me Will your last name, otherwise suck it when it comes to calling me a coward.

    This country was founded on anonymous speech, it is a shame that social justice warriors like you are the first to call for throwing our free speech protections out.

    Since you felt free to tell me “fuck you”, let me turn that around and you can fuck yourself too.

    And if you feel like censoring this post or banning me, just consider what that says about your power, your privilege, your ability to tell others to fuck off and your inability to take it.

    1. My last name is Robertson. I live in San Antonio, TX. I have made no effort to hide my information. It’s out there if you want to find it.

      You need to learn what the hell free speech is. It has nothing to do with posting comments on blogs on the internet. It has everything to do with protecting citizens from government interference with speech. I’ve never “called for throwing our free speech protections out.” What a stupid thing to say.

      Don’t bother posting in this thread again, you ignorant ass.

      1. Hey Will. Great article. I recently found out about the thunderfoot controversy on freethoughtblogs (I know, pretty late to the party haha) and I recently saw his video against feminism on youtube. I’ve been aware of sexism in the atheist community for a little more than a year now (since 2011) and I very little shocks me anymore. However, TF’s video was pretty childish and petty for an individual who attacks others for doing the same thing when attacking atheism. I am a male feminist and atheist and this type of sexism has kept me away from engaging with the atheist community. I don’t know if you would consider yourself a feminist, but I’m really glad to see another male atheist supporting women’s rights in the atheist community and I’d be really interested in chatting with you about the topic of sexism in the atheist community. I also live in San Antonio but I’m not very active in the atheist community here (the last time I was, all they did was throw parties. It got boring after a while). Anyway, if you’re interested in chatting with me, I’d love to know your thoughts. Thanks and take care.

    1. I never said that people who don’t put trigger warnings up are assholes. I put them in posts out of common courtesy. I don’t think not putting them makes someone an asshole, but I do think calling them “patronizing, condescending calls for speech policing and message enforcement, plays on a victim card, and not conducive to speech or to feminism” as you did makes you an asshole. And, by the way, that’s not at all what the author of the post that you linked said. That person says they are unconvinced of their necessity, not all of the words you stuffed in their mouth.

    2. The character in Lost in Space was Will Robinson, not Robertson…nice try though ;)

      You also kind of missed the point of that article about trigger warnings I think…maybe you’re just having a bad day?

    3. Way to mischaracterize Hess’s piece, “Mr. Cuse.” The person disparaging trigger warnings in that article, Susannah Breslin, is about as much of a “feminist” as Camille Paglia or Christina Hoff Somers is. Jezebel is hardly a reliably feminist site, being part of Gawker Media. Note that the opinion Hess chose to blockquote is that of Melissa McEwan, who is pro-trigger warning.

      People can click through links and read for themselves, believe it or not.

  5. Anyway, serious congratulations on being in a position, or being brave enough to post your full name and location.

    But you should consider how privileged you are compared to many of us that could lose jobs, friends, relationships, chance for tenure, promotions, admission to programs, liberty, etc. for posting our names.

    It’s a very privileged position to be in and one most of the US and most of the rest of the world will never be in, I know you understand that, and check your privilege on that accordingly.

    1. You know what? You’re right. It is quite shitty of me to knock people who maintain anonymity. I’m certainly willing to admit that many people do not have that luxury for a variety of reasons.

      You also need to realize that when you post things like what you posted on Nugent’s comment thread, it comes across as asinine trolling and not as someone hiding their identity out of fear of reprisal. People often hide behind anonymity to excuse their childish and bullying behavior. That is what I condemn.

      So, I will avoid knocking people for being anonymous in the future and let their anonymity speak for itself, whether it’s for valid reasons or to just be an ass.

    2. //Anyway, serious congratulations on being in a position, or being brave enough to post your full name and location. But you should consider how privileged you are compared to many of us that could lose jobs, friends, relationships, chance for tenure, promotions, admission to programs, liberty, etc. for posting our names.//

      lol, what a little immature baby argument. “Wa wa wa someone criticized my anon status, I will call him privileged!”

      What you said is bullshit of the highest order. I used to do consulting for the department of defense and large aerospace companies, had security clearance and all. And I used my real name on the internet to rant politically all the time, which my co-workers and military customers saw.

      Your statement that you can’t say your name because you’re under duress is fucking laughable bullshit.

      Also free speech =! freedom from criticism. I love how many people come here, make insults or strong criticisms and then cry bullying when people respond strongly. It’s not like they just walked up to you bullied you, you came in swinging and now you’re crying like a baby that you’re bullied.

      Again, lol.

      1. Well, to be fair, there are good reasons to maintain anonymity on the internet. Many of the writers at Queereka do it to protect themselves from fallout from being queer. I shouldn’t make assumptions about people based on their anonymity alone–I should reserve those judgments for the types of comments they’re making. Which is ultimately what I meant in my reply to them: fine, have your anonymity, but your comment still makes you look like an ass.

        I agree with you that their use of the word “privilege” is absurd, which is why I didn’t even bother to engage with it. It reads as someone trying to twist it into a “gotcha” moment. I’m perfectly willing to admit that I am in a position that I can reveal my identity online without much thought about it–but that’s not an unearned advantage as my being white or a man is.

        Plus, it is not completely without risk for me to be public with my identity, I just don’t want to be in environments where people don’t accept me for who I am. So if I can’t get into a department in the future because I offended someone by standing up to assholes on the internet, why would I want to work in that department anyway?

        1. Yeah indeed, anonymonity is something that is a good thing ultimately.

          It’s just so laughable that someone comes in attacking private citizens, gets counter-attacked by other private citizens, and then screams “bullying! free speech violation! privelege!”

          What thin-skinned, whiny chumps.

  6. I’m amazed how low Thunderfoot has let himself sink.

    He did great taking on creationists, but when it comes to feminism, he totally blows chunks. He just doesn’t get it.

    Regarding this:

    “The repeated, aggressive behavior intended to hurt—and silence—women like Amy and Rebecca and Jen and Ophelia and others who aren’t taking your shit is, by definition, bullying.”

    This is ironic, considering Thunderfoot also made several videos about free speech when HE was the one that encountered behavior of the sort you describe.

    And now the sub-culture he’s getting praise from is now doing the same thing to feminists.

    What a load of fucking hypocrites.

  7. I’m trying to imagine a scenario where asking men to speak out against harassment of women would be considered bullying.

    I think if you kept a public record of the people you asked, made their responses public, and then asked readers of the blog to tweet at them or send them emails if they decline to speak out.

    I’m not even sure the above scenario counts. As far as I can tell, what actually happened is miles away from bullying.

  8. He gets a bit kooky whenever he ventures out of laughing at creationists. I remember one debate he had with some guy about Islam in Britain and it was eyebrow-raising too.

  9. Thanks for this post. As someone bullied as a child for being a “nerd” (geek, whatever), which warped my attitude to my fellow human beings — and which I concede was pretty mild compared with the crap pulled on gay kids — I find it utterly baffling that polite requests via e-mail from people who have no control over ones’ life is considered bullying, but repeated online harassment, vilification, and posting of personal details for the convenience of potential real-life stalkers is “just the Internet”. If I were less of a misanthrope I might even be shocked.

    Unfortunately, I have a confession to make about “trigger warnings”: I’ve begun to use the term ironically in my e-mails and forum comments, either in regard to people who provoke insanely out of proportion reactions (e.g. Rebecca Watson, Felicia Day), things that are merely irksome but trigger rants and flamewars among people who have too much time on their hands (e.g. bad digital effects, Mac vs. Windows, spoilers), or things other people find creepy but I don’t (e.g. Doug Jones in Pan’s Labyrinth). How awful a person am I? (I’d like to think that, should I ever discuss actually traumatic events, I’d preface the work with unambiguous warnings.)

    1. Depends on the audience. I’d probably avoid using “trigger warning” sarcastically/ironically because it may come across as mocking “legitimate” trigger warning uses and the people to whom they are directed, which could come across as very insensitive.

      Personally, I prefer to stay away from the phrase “trigger warning” and just utilize a really good, obvious headline, and an intro paragraph or two, with anything that could be traumatizing under a cut.

  10. I watched the video, and the bullying claims where stupid, followed by lots of quote mining. The real problem with his rant, it is not really an argument, I think is the, by now intentional misunderstanding of free speech and censorship.

    No one, I hope, is trying to shut down Thunderf00t’s blog nor his youtube account, at least no one from FFB or here, as far as I am aware? Is there evidence of false DMCA’s or anything else? He did make one point about Melody Hensley asking people to tag a video as spam, which might be a violation of youtube policy, and if so that is a youtube issue it needs to solve. Wild guess but I suspect it happened as Youtube doesn’t have good tools for people to protect themselves from harrasment, and so they use the wrong ones.

    What is happening are things like the implementation of anti-harrasment policies at conferences, and local regulation of forums and blog comments. That is not a free speech issue, no more than me telling Mormons to go away when they come to your door, or a memorial having a no talking policy is a free speech issue. The fact that Thunderf00t and so many others cannot grasp this really simple idea is telling. If you don’t like these rules, don’t comment on those forums, and don’t go to those conferencs, start your own ones, simple.

      1. Well, it says you MUST log in to reply. It doesn’t say what happens if you don’t log in to reply. I just sort of assumed there was an implied threat there.

  11. What’s the original context of the ‘making fake jewellery is not okay’ comment mentioned in the YT video? I’m assuming there’s more to it than he let on.

  12. Yes that’s how it works apparently asking people to speak out is bullying, spending over half a video personally attacking someone is criticism apparently (the one mentioned about the woman at CFI). I unfortunately spent the half of yesterday transcribing and commenting on the whole video over at PZ’s since people wanted a critical look at it from him and he didn’t want to waste his time. Having done it I can’t say I blame him.

        1. Thanks for doing that btw. I have never watched a TF video and never plan to. I read your review though, and it helped to get me up to speed on what was being said about me. Thanks for taking one for the team. ;)

          On that note, it’s bizarre that these people keep using the same one line out of one podcast spoken months and months ago to try to vilify me. I obviously don’t want all jewelry banned. What happened to me was a specific incident at TAM directed at me and I explained that in the podcast and in the post linked above. It was used as an example to illustrate the obsessive, misrepresentative, hateful behavior that we have been experiencing. Chalk TF’s videos up as another example.

          I don’t want to be harassed and targeted by creeps, yet by mentioning that, I get harassed and targeted by even more creeps.

          As for bullying 19 adult men who are all leaders in secularism into writing blogposts? Think about that for a minute. It is laughable. I always hoped my superpower would be Xray vision, but apparently it is making people type. o_O

          1. “I always hoped my superpower would be Xray vision…”

            But then your weakness would be lead!

            Try Neutrino vision instead! :)

          2. On that note, it’s bizarre that these people keep using the same one line out of one podcast spoken months and months ago to try to vilify me.

            Just like Elevatorgate, huh?

            Hmm. :)

          3. Actually, I’m pretty sure that your superpower is making people think.

            Some of us, at least.

            And we’re grateful.

          4. Finally I get the full story, I do not mean to talk shit about A+ but I asked them about this whole rumor when his video (Tf00t’s) came out and they banned my ass. If I had known I could get the answer from you I would have just asked you about it. I watch videos and look up comments from both sides, so I am glade I could read a comment from you directly to respond to all this.

  13. Wow, Will, that makes any bullying I endured through my childhood look pretty minor.
    I only caught up to the whole Tfoot nonsense in the last day or two. Too bad. The guy was a kind of hero for his ruthlessly logical take down of VenomFangX. I hate when people I admire do shit like this.
    That aside, there seems to be a disconnect in the heads of these people. We’re asking them not to be assholes and their response is to declare that they legally have every right to say whatever they like.
    “Dude. You’re the guy at the recreational softball game who steps in front the woman so he can catch a fly ball. Of course you’re *allowed* to do that. We’re just saying that you’re an asshole for doing it and we’re not going to play on the same team as assholes.”

  14. I find it incredibly baffling that we accept, as general practice on the Internet, that it’s rude to start talking about plot details from the latest American Horror Story episode or Star Trek movie without prefacing it with a spoiler warning (so people who haven’t caught up yet can decide whether or not to continue reading), but there’s a huge backlash and this hyperskepticism over the very idea that we might do the same thing for content that could trigger people’s PTSD.

    I don’t frankly care if trigger warnings work; I don’t care if every study shows that no one stops reading when they encounter one. They take so little effort to write, with such a great possible benefit, that I don’t see the point in omitting them. If it’s found that they’re harmful or that there’s a better way? Sure, I’ll change up. But for now, I don’t understand the skepticism, I don’t understand the backlash, and if I can accept that I should accommodate people with TiVo, I don’t see why I can’t accommodate people with PTSD.

    1. Excellent point about spoiler warnings.

      While I’ve experienced some trauma in my life, nothing that resulted in PTSD. I stopped reading once due to a trigger warning, and have paused to consider stopping several times. I’ve also run into things I was unprepared for because of no warnings. Based on these experiences, which lacked any sense of inconvenience, and due to the fact I know there are people who have suffered far worse than me out there, I appreciate trigger warnings.

      And I think it’s unintentionally sexist of the camp saying that trigger warnings are sexist as though they only exist to warn women. The warning I abided had to do with children. The warnings I paused over were about violence in general.

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