Fun Fact! Even Awful Women Don’t Deserve Rape Threats

TW for sexist slurs and threats of gender violence.

Recently, the online discussion over the harassment of women has become a hot topic. We’ve dealt with our share of harassment here at Skepchick and we’ve stood up for others who we have seen being harassed . Sarah wrote a great piece last week about how so much of the so called “criticism” directed at women actually seems to be misogyny in disguise and used examples like Kim Kardashian and Kristen Stewart, along with Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn. I shared her post on facebook and a commenter asked me if I feel the same way about criticism of people like Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, or Anne Coulter, though they are people who I vehemently disagree with in almost every way, and my answer was “absolutely, yes.”

Let’s step back for a second though to go into all the drama that’s been happening with the Food Babe. By now, you probably know about Vani Hari, the Food Babe, the woman who has been using the internet to spread fear, misinformation and pseudoscience about food. We have written about her many times here at Skepchick  and on our sister blog Grounded Parents. NPR posted a great article in the Salt this week implying that Food Babe is a fearmonger, in which they quoted our own Kavin Senapathy from Grounded Parents. Food Babe has now responded to that article with the ridiculous claim that Kavin and others who were quoted in the article are part of “hate groups” among other things.

I don’t need to respond to each of her points and explain why they are so very misguided because David Gorski already did that over at Science-Based Medicine and I have it on good authority that Kavin has a response in the works (UPDATE: Kavin’s response is now up!). Instead of focusing on all the things she has gotten wrong, and trust me there is so, so much, I want to talk about the part of her response where she mentions the harassment she has received. Vani posted the following examples of some of the harassing messages she has had directed at her.

"Ferd Blerb is attacking Subway, again, for their Frito's chicken enchilada melt...the usual toxins, chemicals, GMO's and other inane remarks. I just posted this on the secondary part of the site. "Vani, you ignorant slut, you just make things up as you go along. You are stressing out your "followers", er I mean butt kissers. You need to stop it." She is starting to really tick me off. BTW, I posted as "Webb."

Ferd Blerb is attacking Subway, again, for their Frito’s chicken enchilada melt…the usual toxins, chemicals, GMO’s and other inane remarks. I just posted this on the secondary part of the site. “Vani, you ignorant slut, you just make things up as you go along. You are stressing out your “followers”, er I mean butt kissers. You need to stop it.” She is starting to really tick me off. BTW, I posted as “Webb.”

"Food babe get some real dick in your boney ass diet!"

Food babe get some real dick in your boney ass diet!

"This is just for you food babe your a ugly twat" Photo with the following caption "What organ stays warm inside of a dead girl's body? My Dick"


“This is just for you food babe your a ugly twat”
[Attached photo with the following caption] “What organ stays warm inside of a dead girl’s body? My Dick”

Person 1: "She looks like a clown. too bad she can't be both smart and pretty." Person 2: "She got shot with the whore makeup gun?"

Person 1: “She looks like a clown. too bad she can’t be both smart and pretty.”
Person 2: “She got shot with the whore makeup gun?”

In fact, even Kavin, one of the Food Babe’s harshest critics, wrote a post a couple weeks ago about how the sexist language used by other critics of Vani Hari needs to stop.

I’ve seen Food Babe called names like, “slut,” “bitch,” and “stupid bitch.” These slurs undermine the valuable and credible arguments against Food Babe’s pseudo-scientific agenda. One’s sexual behavior has nothing to do with credibility. Firstly, I don’t think any of us are privy to Food Babe’s sexual behavior, nor is one’s proclivity for sex or lack thereof ever relevant nor shame-worthy. And while the word “bitch” is controversial, it adds or detracts nothing from the content of Food Babe’s character or message.

On facebook Kavin also mentioned racist language used by some of the people attacking Vani Hari.

Alright, I have to say it: Yes, Food Babe is a huge hypocrite. She calls out “toxins” and carcinogens selectively while happily using nail polish and drinking wine. But I’ve seen a few folks on social media berate her for “tanning” or even “fake spray tan.” Newsflash, folks – She’s INDIAN-AMERICAN. Like me, she has Indian parents, and that pretty much makes us tan. Blessing? Curse? I don’t know, maybe a bit of both.

Also, I’ve seen comments like “dots or feathers?” or questioning who would name their child something like Vani Hari. Vani Hari is an Indian name. I have to call out ignorance and bigotry when I see it. Like I’ve said in the past, let’s criticize her for her harmful messages, fear-mongering, and cowardice. Not for irrelevant superficial matters. Thanks.

Here’s the thing you guys, this stuff makes me so, so angry. I really do not like Vani Hari. I believe she spreads fabrications that misinform the public about the food they eat. If anything, I consider myself a critic or even opponent of the food babe, actively trying to fight her misinformation with facts. However, none of these things have anything to do with the fact that it is not ok to slut shame her. It is not ok to make disparaging comments about her appearance. It is not ok to call her a “whore” or a “bitch” or a “cunt” or any other gendered slur. Sure, maybe you believe as I do that she is wrong about GMO’s, but guess what? That still doesn’t make it ok to threaten to rape her. There is literally nothing that she could do that would make saying any of these things to or about her ok.

We talk a lot about feminists that deal with harassment on an almost daily basis, but it’s not just feminists; It’s every opinionated woman. It doesn’t actually matter what her opinion is, as long as there is someone who disagrees there is someone who will call her a cunt for daring to hold that opinion.

I have spent years speaking out against the anti-vaccine movement and Jenny McCarthy in particular. Oh, but here is a famous Victoria Secret model calling Jenny McCarthy a whore and a cunt for being anti-vaccine.


Sarah Palin is an all around awful person. Here’s a radio personality calling her a bitch and hoping for her death by bear.

Anne Coulter is just …oh god, Anne Coulter is just a horrible, horrible person in so many ways. Here’s actor David Anders calling her a cunt and saying he hopes someone commits a violent act against her.


None of this is ok. None. Are all of these people women who have done and said horrible things? Yes. Can you criticize them for the terrible things they have done and said? Yes. But at no point is it ok to attack them with gendered slurs or implied violence. I know I already said this, but let me repeat, there is literally nothing any of these women could say or do that would justify gendered harassment against them.

This may seem like an obvious statement, but the comments over on David Gorski’s response to Vani Hari at Science Based Medicine show it is anything but obvious. David used part of his post to strongly condemn the harassment Vani Hari has received, something which should seem uncontroversial, and yet commenters have continued to argue that she deserved her harassment or brought it on herself. Many, many people have mentioned that because Vani Hari calls herself the “Food Babe” and passes herself off as sexy, she was asking for gendered and sexualized harassment. Did you hear that women? If you are trying to be sexy then you are automatically consenting to having men say they want to rape you.

Also, the idea that the Food Babe only gets this type of harassment because she passes herself off as sexy is just patently false. Women get harassment focused on their appearance and gender because they are women, not because they are women with a certain type of body. It may take different forms when a woman doesn’t fit the stereotypical western ideals of what a woman’s body is supposed to look like, but they get it all the same.

Another example of someone skeptics love to hate on because she is an awful person is the recently deceased Sylvia Browne. Sylvia Browne is not what most people in our culture would consider beautiful and she certainly never tried to pass her image off as sexy. Here’s someone criticizing her by calling her a fat pig.


Yep, it turns out that women still get harassment based on their appearance even when they aren’t stereotypically sexy. It just tends to take on a different form.

Look, it’s ok to criticize all these women for the terrible things they have done and said. You should criticize them and do so harshly but without using gendered slurs or threats of violence or comments on their appearance. That type of language is not ok to be used on any woman anywhere. It doesn’t matter how much you dislike her. It doesn’t matter if she is a horrible person herself. There is nothing she could do that would suddenly make it ok to threaten to rape her.

I don’t like most of the women I have mentioned in this piece either but I will stand up for every single one of them when I see them being harassed. If you’re saying something to someone like Vani Hari or Sara Palin that is so horrible that you end up making me be on her side, you’re doing it wrong. You are not helping. Please stop.

Featured image is from Experience Magazine‘s Oct 2014 cover. 

Jamie Bernstein

Jamie Bernstein is a data, stats, policy and economics nerd who sometimes pretends she is a photographer. She is @uajamie on Twitter and Instagram. If you like my work here at Skepchick & Mad Art Lab, consider sending me a little sumthin' in my TipJar: @uajamie

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  1. Jamie – thank you so much for this. Now I have somewhere to send people with the infrequent but regular comment like “but she calls herself ‘babe,’ what did she expect?”

    1. The thing that really gets me about the whole “What did she expect?” argument is that I don’t understand how that somehow makes it ok. I mean, I know that whenever I write about feminism I’m opening myself up to harassment, but that doesn’t suddenly make that harassment ok. Women who state their opinions publicly are targeted for harassment, so should all women stop being opinionated? Would that solve harassment? If she is opinionated and then gets harassed, well, what did she expect?

      I can never tell if people who make that argument truly believe the women are at fault for their own harassment or just haven’t thought through the implications all that much.

      1. I’ve had limited success using the analogy that if it was a black person, who somehow either worked being black into their public identity and/or used a nickname like ChocloateBabe, would it be an open invite to use racial epithets against them? Even if they themselves, used them would it make it ethical and rational for you to use them against that person?

        For some people I’ve seen the light bulb go up after that, but then there are others to entrenched with their self narrative, or simply a fan of racist humor, that it falls deaf on.

      2. They also never apply the “What did she expect?” to their side.

        Did any of them say “What did he expect?” about the Rosetta scientist that caused #shirtstorm?

        Just as it is easy to predict the kind of sexualised and violent response a woman will get on the internet, it is equally easy to predict that someone doing something sexist in a very visible way will get criticised.

        Yet they don’t apply the same bullshit argument consistently, complaining instead of how unfair it is to oppress them with criticism, and they do have a right of free speech don’t you know…

        So they try to excuse appalling behaviour on the basis that it is very common, appalling behaviour, which is somehow supposed to make it OK, but they hypocritically fail to use that argument when it comes to criticism that is in response of appalling behaviour.

  2. Even if you’re not a feminist, even if you have the lowest possible opinion of women in general, this is still true: name-calling hurts your argument. Every time. Name-calling tends to happen in that last flailing attempt to win a debate, and we have ALL OF SCIENCE on our side. There is absolutely no reason to call her names, be they gendered or otherwise, when you can just micdrop some science and win every time.

    1. The very first comment that Jamie quoted uses the phrase “Vani, you ignorant slut…” I doubt the commenter knows the origin of that phrase, since it is a concession that he has no rational argument and is resorting to insult.

      It comes from a segment in the early years of Saturday Night Live which parodied a segment on 60 Minutes called Point/Counterpoint, where Dan Ackroyd (playing a conservative) would “debate” Jane Curtin (taking the liberal position). Jane would invariably have facts and rational argument on her side, and Dan, having nothing, would lead his reply with “Jane, you ignorant slut”, and follow it with a string of slurs, peppered with false claims and illogical arguments. So using this phrase is a concession of defeat. Or at least it was intended that way. People like the first commenter seem to think it is a clever rejoinder.

      In the real Point/Counterpoint, James J Kilpatrick was a sexist reactionary, but I don’t think he ever called his opponent a slut. At least, not on the air. (Tried to find some original segments online, but the only one I could find was a New Year’s bit from 1978 without much rational content from either side.)

      TL;DR: Yeah, use science, not slurs.

  3. To anyone not convinced that this type of argumentation is harmful, let me add this: Think of the collateral damage. For a moment, forget about the target of the abuse. The fact of this abuse being thrown out there (much of it in public) normalizes it, both in the mind of the abuser and in the mind of anyone else who sees it. So if you say it’s okay to abuse Vani Hari because she calls herself “Food Babe” and you think she’s wrong about a lot, you’re opening the door to someone else thinking, “Well, Rebecca Watson calls herself ‘Skepchick,’ and I think she’s wrong about a lot….'”

    You can’t have it both ways on this. If you try to split hairs, even for people you really really hate, you make it alright for other people to split hairs for people they really really hate – who might be people you like or love. The only ethically consistent stance, the only way to move to a culture where women in general don’t have to put up with this kind of abuse for being openly female on the internet, is to stand against this type of harassment no matter the target.

  4. As the British comedian David Mitchell once said, in response to jokes about the appearance of Anne Widdicombe:

    “Is this the best we can do? Make fun of her looks? What’s bad about her is everything she says and everything she does and we call her fat? Okay then.”

  5. This is a little different from Sarah’s post. Sarah wasn’t saying that no one deserves rape threats or other such abuse. She was arguing for the presumption that all criticism of famous women was based on misogyny, which I must disagree with. Obviously, we shouldn’t be sexist towards Sarah Palin. That doesn’t mean, however, that all dislike of Sarah Palin is based in misogyny.

    1. That isn’t what Sarah said.

      If presumption* means what you think it means, no one could ever be found guilty of any crime.

      A presumption is a starting point, not a postulate and not a conclusion.

      [*] I hope this works. I’m at work and my PC is running Windows Server, which doesn’t play videos.

        1. So much criticism of famous women comes from a misogynist position that the presumption is warranted until contrary proof can be established, call it the null hypothesis.

          I would liken it to reports of celebrity deaths on twitter, always assume it is a hoax unless confirmed by outside sources.

          It’s not that the misogyny and the hoax is always the case, just that starting there will save you some legwork and keep you from being wrong more often than not.

        2. I used the word “presume” in my response to you because you used that word. Yes, she originally said “assume”, not “presume” (you are the one who misquoted her), but in context, she said “I operate under the assumption that all criticism of famous women are rooted in misogyny until I find conclusive evidence otherwise.” “assume … until” means the same as “presume”.

          My dictionary defines presume as “to take for granted; accept as true lacking proof to the contrary; assume; suppose.”

          How dare you misquote someone and then play gotcha with words because someone used the same words you used in the misquote instead of the original words with identical meaning? You are proving Sarah’s and Jamie’s point.

    2. I am understanding Sarah’s argument to be that in her experience if someone is criticising a famous woman then the prior probability is that it will be based on sexism is.

      It doesn’t mean that the posterior probability will be the same as the prior probability, but by then you will have some evidence either way.

  6. There is no excuse for misogyny, rape threats, comparisons to Hitler etc. Simple as that.
    Less evil but close to encouraging it, is ignoring when “your side” does it. I have yet find Vani Hari or anyone in her camp discussing or even protesting these things towards the skeptic community. It’s ignored and it goes on.
    As long as Vani does not address it in the way it is done here or as Science Babe did she is part of the problem. Science Babe got banned for politely pointing it out. Vani uses it to argue she is right. She is, in effect, a cheerleader for anti-skeptic bullying. Sadly I have to add this, lest people draw the wrong conclusion: bullying FB cs is very wrong.

  7. I can never thank Dr. Gorski enough for supporting women who are targeted for misogyny-based harassment. It’s not something he’ll ever personally face, but he addresses the issue anyway. I admire that kind of integrity and compassion.

  8. I prefer to stick with calling everyone an asshole. Everyone has an asshole! Even non-binary folks.

    And this is never without a well-reasoned response on why that person is an asshole. Typically requires some willful deception of others or something actually intentional. Without knowing exactly what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, you can’t be an asshole. I’d argue Food Babe knows EXACTLY what she’s doing when she does things like call out Starbucks for not having any pumpkin in their pumpkin spice syrup, and then immediately endorse another product from a company that is SPONSORING HER, which also does not have any pumpkin in it.

    Otherwise, I’ll say “ignorant.” I usually give the benefit of the doubt that someone just legitimately doesn’t know what they’re doing unless they provide a lot of proof to the contrary. I think we should move away from racial or gendered slurs anyways. It’s not like people are ever going to stop calling each other names, but at least the names can focus on the behavior, or qualities of the person, and not just on “lol u hav vagina, shut up git ‘n kitchen.”

  9. I would rather spend the rest of my life locked in a room with Vani Hari, Jenny McCarthy, Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, and Sylvia Browne than be associated with the people making those kinds of comments. Please, folks, if you can’t give up the gendered insults, comments on women’s appearance, and rape and other violent threats, then could you at least stop calling yourselves skeptics? You’re making us look bad.

    1. You do realize that at least one of those people allows such comments to remain on her pages and site when they are directed to her opponents and bans everyone politely pointing that out? Which, in my opinion, encourages such comments. I have yet to see an outcry and banning of Vani supports by Vani and her supporters. If both sides would combat it, we could get results. I would rather sit with Science Babe and the moderator(s) of Banned By Food Babe in a room, who do ban people who make vile comments, no matter who they support.
      In short:
      Food Babe says ‘they [implying every opponent] should stop’
      Science Babe says ‘those among us and those among them should stop’ and does something about it too.
      Being in a room with people encouraging it by looking the other way is as bad as being associated with those who do it.
      I’ve had the whole standard set from the idiots among the FB crowd: I should be killed, I poison my kids and the hope of dying a slow painful death has been my part. But Vani never spoke about such things.

    1. No feminists spoke up? I guess NOW aren’t feminists? It really only took a simple Google search to turn up this and many others like it: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/03/27/960371/-Why-we-must-defend-Sarah-Palin

      Yes, Maher was wrong. Yes, there were far too many on the left willing to defend him, just like in the case of the misogynist “skeptics” referenced here.

      However, it’s just flat not true to say no feminists spoke up. Plenty did.

    2. “No feminists — and no associations for people with disabilities — spoke up.”
      That is completely untrue. I know various writers at Freethought Blogs were all over it, and I definitely read criticisms of Maher’s sexism on other feminist blogs at the time. “I didn’t see X,” and, “X didn’t happen,” are not equivalent statements.

  10. I’ve seen countless people use misogynist slurs in criticisms of other people for using racist slurs or homophobic slurs, for example, with a total lack of awareness that they are replicating the exact same problem they’re criticizing. It’s so utterly disappointing; sexism is about as rampant in otherwise-liberal circles as it is in the culture at large.

    1. In the tweet about Ann Coulter that I quoted, the person tweeting (actor David Anders http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1044403/) was calling out Coulter for using an ableist slur and then followed it up by calling her a sexist slur. At no point does he seem to realize that he is literally doing the exact thing that he’s calling out Ann Coulter for doing.

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