While at Convergence/SkepchickCon 2012 this past weekend, I did a lot of things, but one of the most fruitful and important was to attend the “Don’t Feed the Trolls” panel on the second day of the Con. The panel consisted of a number of prominent female skeptics (Rebecca Watson, Cristina Rad, Stephanie Zvan, and Heina Dadabhoy) along with a couple of male colleagues (Greg Laden and Jason Thibeault) discussing the issues of gender attitudes, sexism, and misogyny in the skeptical movement. I think having these discussions in an open, public format is important, because there are a number of trolls out there who are not interested in reasoned, calm discussion on these issues; instead they are interested in intimidating those with whom they disagree and are attempting to silence them.
So, in an effort to light candles rather than curse the darkness, I wanted to share with you the discussion I was able to (very roughly – I was not able to get every word down) transcribe. The talk was extremely well-attended (about 300-400 people were present) and the audience Q&A was very useful. If you are at all concerned with these issues, please read my transcription and pass it along…
83% of skeptics think this guy is hilarious.
We all know about this latest Daniel Tosh thing. As Lindy West explains, you can make a rape joke if you’re doing comedy right. This got me thinking of what passes for “comedy” with most skeptics and atheists. It’s shit. Horrible, horrible shit. First you have the “science comedians” or “atheist comedians” who have tepid, hacky jokes pandering the the interests and opinions of skeptics and atheists. Here’s a made up example:
“Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle! Well, actually more like a monkey’s cousin because while we share a common ancestor it wasn’t recent enough to classify as an avuncular relationship…unlike stupid Christians think we believe!”
I think you have all seen or heard or read gags of this caliber. They’re pretty dreadful, right? Why on earth do we keep booking them at our conferences again?
Then you get the juvenile comedy. Now, I like schoolyard jokes – in moderation. But the thing is I’m a person who likes to think. I like jokes that challenge me and make me think around corners. If your body of work is almost entirely based around “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if [thing or person that irritates skeptics and/or atheists] got kicked in the nuts?!?!” then you’re a hack and you’re not funny. At the very least you can’t keep making the same joke over and over again and expect me to think you’re talented or skilled at comedy. I’m well known for making dick jokes, but I make different dick jokes as often as possible and try to make them clever. Skeptics: stop going for low-hanging fruit. (See what I did there? Ha! Fruit = nuts = testicles for kicking! I hate myself for that.)
Then you have the angry, miserable bullies. Last night Jason Thibeault tipped us to TAM speaker Doug “Show us where babies feed!” Stanhope describing TAM as a gathering for bitter, miserable people who like jokes about rape, and there are the guys (they almost all seem to be guys) who are doing their damnedest to prove Stanhope right. Take a look (if you don’t mind being miserable for a while) at the @AngrySkepchick feed on Twitter as an example. The impotent rage is palpable. It’s just angry bullying with attempts at “comedy” based upon sexist stereotypes of “feminazis” rather than a sarcastic or parodic twist on any of the actual people the person or persons running the account are obviously so upset about. It’s just a stream of unfunny bile that doesn’t ask anyone to think, it just invites you to be equally frustrated and angry. That’s not comedy. That’s a temper tantrum.
A perfect storm of the Dunning-Kruger effect, stunted senses of humor, and flailing rage using humor as a cloak have created what almost looks like a wasteland of unfunniness in our communities. Luckily this Friday I can point you to some actually funny skeptics and atheists. You’re welcome. (Links go to Twitter, if you can’t find their other stuff from there, that’s their fault.)
This actually happened at SkepchickCON.
Their main argument, as far as I can tell in between the derailing, namecalling, Godwinning, and other extreme ridiculousness is that it’s unnecessary and punitive to have a freedom-crippling set of rules governing how people treat each other. They seem to be saying that decent people are decent and most people are decent and anyway those online rape threats are just weirdos who never go anywhere and anyway they never saw anyone being sexually harassed at a conference. I think that’s how it goes.
On those grounds I suggest we get rid of the establishment clause of the first amendment of the US Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
I don’t know about you but I am a good person. If I were elected to Congress at the state or federal level I would never abridge someone’s rights to practice or not practice any and all religions. That’s just common decency. Why do we even need this stupid rule telling people how to behave?? Is this even a serious problem? I’ve never personally seen a legislator try and violate anyone’s freedom of religion. I mean, sure you sometimes see people on TV and the Internet saying something stupid but we’re talking about real life. Those people don’t go to the Capitol. And anyway, those times when they say someone tried to pass a law that violated someone’s right to religious liberty is all just hearsay. I wasn’t there and neither were you so how do we even know it even happened?
This is just typical bullying, totalitarian behavior. We’re all reasonable adults and we don’t need people making needless rules for problems that don’t even exist. To even make that rule is offensive because it’s like you’re saying we’re all horrible theocrats who want to take away people’s freedom. how dare you slander me like that!
We atheists know that creationism relies on bad logic and laughable arguments. Here’s what’s super interesting (though not at all surprising): anti-feminist creationists and anti-feminist atheists use the same shitty logic and laughable arguments when it comes to crapping on women!
Over the on Uncommon Descent – a site “serving the intelligent design community – someone going by “scordova” tries to beat up on Rebecca Watson using basically the same ridiculous nonsense reactionary and hateful atheists have been using to try and pillory her about being a woman for years. What’s super amusing is that the writer thanks Thunderf00t for tipping them off to how messed up and female Rebecca is. Has Mr. Give-me-leg-biting-or-give-me-death decided that crushing female resistance is more important than his atheistic principles, or did creationists just hear about Ms. Watson’s crimes against masculinity through his “work”? Probably the latter, but the idea of these skeptical atheists who hyperventilate over uppity ladies deciding that feminism is an enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend situation and allying themselves with creationist lunatics is…sort of delightful.
Anyhow, go read the piece and wonder at this moment of unity: a creationist making an atheist’s arguments. It’s pretty spectacular.
MRAs, anti-feminists, and general dudebros are fond of responding to feminists and just-not-horrible people (especially women) by
whining making strongly worded claims of misandry. Inspired by the amazing How To Be A Reverse-Racist: An Actual Step by Step List For Oppressing White People by A. D. Song and Mia McKenzie I’ve created this handy guide to using the inherently unfair (to men) system to create a gynocratic fempire that I would like to call Misandria.
[Trigger Warning for a list of sarcastic, but graphic ways in which one gender has treated another over the centuries.]
Today I’m sharing a guest post from Huey P. Newton, one of the co-founders of the Black Panther Party. I love, love, love this piece because it represents exactly the kind of self-reflection that inspired me and that we hope to inspire here at More Than Men. This is the entire text of a speech Newton delivered on August 15, 1970. Enjoy.
During the past few years strong movements have developed among women and among homosexuals seeking their liberation. There has been some uncertainty about how to relate to these movements.
Whatever your personal opinions and your insecurities about homosexuality and the various liberation movements among homosexuals and women (and I speak of the homosexuals and women as oppressed groups), we should try to unite with them in a revolutionary fashion.
I say ”whatever your insecurities are” because as we very well know, sometimes our first instinct is to want to hit a homosexual in the mouth, and want a woman to be quiet. We want to hit a homosexual in the mouth because we are afraid that we might be homosexual; and we want to hit the women or shut her up because we are afraid that she might castrate us, or take the nuts that we might not have to start with.
We must gain security in ourselves and therefore have respect and feelings for all oppressed people. We must not use the racist attitude that the white racists use against our people because they are Black and poor. Many times the poorest white person is the most racist because he is afraid that he might lose something, or discover something that he does not have. So you’re some kind of a threat to him. This kind of psychology is in operation when we view oppressed people and we are angry with them because of their particular kind of behavior, or their particular kind of deviation from the established norm.
Remember, we have not established a revolutionary value system; we are only in the process of establishing it. I do not remember our ever constituting any value that said that a revolutionary must say offensive things towards homosexuals, or that a revolutionary should make sure that women do not speak out about their own particular kind of oppression. As a matter of fact, it is just the opposite: we say that we recognize the women’s right to be free. We have not said much about the homosexual at all, but we must relate to the homosexual movement because it is a real thing. And I know through reading, and through my life experience and observations that homosexuals are not given freedom and liberty by anyone in the society. They might be the most oppressed people in the society.
Those of us who argue for diversity are prone to empathy. We not only see that our position is logical and reasonable, but we are passionate about it. We feel about these things very strongly. These issues matter to us very much. It’s why we’re so prone to burnout. We pour are hearts into this and it hurts us when we’re attacked about these things. Since More Than Men started at the beginning of the year I have felt used up and beat up and emotionally exhausted several times, and I don’t even get the worst sort of abuse. The only rape threat I ever received was from someone who didn’t even care enough to notice that I’m a guy.
Sometimes it is really, really hard to tell when a commenter on something we write or say is naively trying to learn more or is a troll. The fact is that there are some horrible people who use a cloak of “just asking questions” to try and get through our emotional armor and muddy the water at the same time. “Just asking questions” gives them a plausible deniability, tricks us into engaging longer than we should, and helps them get their logical fallacies out into the world for more innocent people to encounter. These trolls are smart. They know what sorts of questions people who haven’t really looked at the issues as closely as we have might ask while they’re trying to form an opinion. They ask those questions, they twist those questions. They shift goal-posts. They start building straw men. All in the name of “just asking questions.”
This is not what harassment policies are about.
As an organizer for my local Skeptic group, it was important to me to include an anti-harassment policy. My co-organizer and I very much wanted the gender ratio to be as close to 50/50 as it could be, for both speakers and attendees. To that end I wanted a good anti-harassment policy in place. I never imagined that it would be an issue. I guess at heart I’ve been far too much of an optimist.
Obviously it didn’t happen that way. The incidents are probably well known to you if you’re reading this and I don’t really have any desire to go into a detailed analysis of them. I do, however, want to address something that was brought up over and over again in the maelstrom that followed the incident and post on SkepChick. It was continuously brought up that our anti-harassment policy was “sex negative”. In essence – that we were trying to keep people from having sex. I found these comments rather perplexing. For one thing – why is having sex that important at a Skeptic conference? I’m in a long-term monogamous relationship, but even if I wasn’t I wouldn’t be looking at Skeptic conferences to have sex. Maybe I’m a bit naive about these things.
Saladin Ahmed is a Muslim, Arab-American fantasy writer. (If you enjoy fantastic fiction, I recommend his novel Throne of the Crescent Moon.) As you’d expect he’s experienced some racism and religious bigotry directed at he and his family, especially since 2001. Last August he was asked if that hate was something he had experienced in the publishing trade, to which he replied:
“…talking about this or that sector of society as being less or more racist is kind of like talking about this or that part of the ocean being less or more wet.”
In the past I’ve tried, in my own crude way, to make the point that we skeptics and atheists are a part of the world. We’re not magically immune to social attitudes. Our society is racist, it is sexist, it is homophobic, it is transphobic, it is ableist. All of us, even people who are members of an oppressed group face a barrage of unfiltered hate. This prejudice is so pervasive – is presented so confidently as just common sense – that we have to work to question it. I don’t know about you, but I am human. My brain is not optimized for perfect rationality 24/7. Things slip through, especially when I was a child and I was learning, especially when I think I’m not learning. As a skeptic we all have moments where we realized that something we believe is not factually true. How did we come to believe that thing? Someone taught us. Maybe it was a person, maybe it was just something we absorbed unconsciously as “common sense.”
Declaring that you are a skeptic or that you are an atheist doesn’t make you immune to society’s influence. Whether you believe that society is racist, homophobic, or misogynist because of religion or if you take my view and believe that religion is racist, homophobic, and misogynist because society is all of those things, you are still swimming in the ocean of human culture. It’s wet here and we need to remember that when we’re making decisions and drawing conclusions about other people.
We’re still working on building our list of secular/skeptical/science events with harassment policies. It’s grown some since we started, but we need your help. Even if you don’t know about the policy, please comment here with the name of an event you attend or organize and, ideally, a link to their webpage. I’ll do the work of tracking down a policy they may have that we can’t find.
I think this is a non-controversial but important step. The more it becomes the norm for our events to articulate their willingness and desire to make everyone welcome the better things will be for everyone who attends. (After we have a good frip on harassment policies I hope to start a similar resource for disability accommodations.)