Thursday, December 29, 2011

Misogyny and changing the subject

Greta Christina preaches it:
It's depressingly predictable. When an instance of misogyny gets pointed out on the Internet, in a forum big enough to garner more than a couple dozen comments, you’re almost guaranteed to see some or all of these types of comments. It’s happening now. In case you haven’t heard, there was a recent incident on Reddit/ atheism, in which a 15-year-old girl posted a photo of herself holding a copy of Carl Sagan’s Demon-haunted World that her mother had given her for Christmas… and was almost immediately targeted with a barrage of sexualized, dehumanizing, increasingly violent and brutal comments. Including, “Well 15 is legal in many places, including my country, so I’ll only have to deal with abduction charges.” “Relax your anus, it hurts less that way.” “Blood is mother nature’s lubricant.” “Tears, natures lubricant.” “BITE THE PILLOW, IM GOIN’ IN DRY!” And including comments blaming the girl for posting a picture of herself in the first place. 
Rebecca Watson and others — including Stephanie ZvanEd BraytonJason Thibeault,Jen McCreightJohn Loftus, and Ophelia Benson — have been pointing out how revoltingly misogynistic this is and why. And the “Yes, but…”s have been coming thick and fast. 
It’s depressingly predictable. And it’s depressing that anyone should have to explain why this is a problem. It seems totally obvious to me. But apparently, it’s not so obvious. So I’m going to spell it out. 
When the topic of misogyny comes up, and men change the subject, it trivializes misogyny. 
When the topic of misogyny comes up, and men change the subject, it conveys the message that whatever men want to talk about is more important than misogyny. 
When the topic of misogyny comes up, and men change the subject to something that’s about them, it conveys the message that men are the ones who really matter, and that any harm done to men is always more important than misogyny. 
And when the topic of misogyny comes up, and men change the subject, it comes across as excusing misogyny.


  1. What's the point of talking about these kind of things then? If any response other than unconditional condemnation is unacceptable, why not simply lock comments?

    In fact, since Greta Christina took the liberty to write out what all our responses should be (i wish i was being facetious here), how about we just have a button that pastes that entire response into the comment section for you?

    Oh, would you like expressive freedom when it actually comes down to saying what you're supposed to say? Guess freedom of expression only matter's when it same basic message that everyone else is supposed to say.

    Ironically, one of Greta's listed no-no responses is:

    “Yes, but… misogyny doesn’t just happen in (X) community (atheist, black, gay, etc.). In fact, it’s worse in some other communities. So it’s not fair to talk about misogyny when it does happen in (X) community, as if it’s something special that we’re doing wrong.”

    And what's the title of the other blog in this post? "Reddit makes me hate atheists." Not "some atheists".

    I'm sure that's just hyperbolic though. Perfectly fine. She even says "hate my fellow atheists". so she can't really mean it. Unlike how when people who say something you want to be angry about always mean it, and even when they don't it still contributes to the larger culture. but saying "[i]hate atheists" because a atheist subreddit is "jam packed with assholes" isn't like that at all. There's no direct parallel with stereotypes about atheists at all.

    Greta says its not okay to change the subject on misogyny. It's perfectly acceptable to "add some thoughts about the history of misogyny. Some insights into how misogyny happens, and how it gets perpetuated. Some ideas about what you think should be done about it. "

    Except if this involves any opinion that could be possibly construed as "victim blaming", or anything that doesn't fit into the unconditional condemnation/sympathy template Greta (and others) have laid out for us. So basically its all pathetic rationalization for "agree with my definition of what sexism is, how it should be talked about and how it should be dealt with or shut the fuck up".

    Example : One of the few dissenting opinions on the comments of the blog (skepchick) I just read, a "fontaine", actually fit multiple of these categories (how misogyny happens, what you think can be done about it). This person was saying that they were sad she got such a response, and encouraged them not to be discouraged from skepticism and to try and engage in discussion using the shield of anonymity to prevent against unwanted harassment (As every sensible person who's ever used the internet has done at some point).

    What follows is a barrage of accusations of fointaine blaming the victim, and telling women they should keep their identities a secret (the word "e-burkas" was used), regardless of the fact the original post was fairly explicit, and follow up posts sought to enforce that explicitness.

    Apparently, unless you pretend there aren't any practical steps people can take to avoid discrimination, then you're making the problem worse (of course, we could never have a reasonable discussion about whether that is an effective way of combating sexism, if you disagree, you're a victim blamer, and thats that).

    Bonus points for the condescending author message:

    "I approved this comment so that you’d be able to reread it and think about it and maybe realize how awful and point-missing it is."

    Wow! How learned and enlightened!

    These types of censor-ridden, pious, self-congratulatory circle-jerk communities are grave yards for active inquiry.

    When you have people like this putting so much effort into directing what can and can't be said, what can and can't be thought, you need to think about what the purpose of the community and the discussion actually is.

  2. @IG: I agree with you insofar as the dissent issue (this *can* be a method of silencing dissent, and that would be bad), see Wes's comments for an example of the problem there (though through persistence he managed to come to an understanding of what he didn't understand, so it worked out in the end). I even agree that I'm not liking the way the commenters handle Wes's dissent and inquiry.

    However I think you misunderstand Greta's main thesis (and, personally, I think she could have been clearer): changing the subject is bad. As Wes notes, "yes I agree with this but I disagree with that" should be perfectly acceptable; the problem is when you go "yes I agree with this but ".

  3. As for the rest, I think I tend to disagree with almost everything else you say, but I'm only going to address a single bit:

    "[he advised them to] try and engage in discussion using the shield of anonymity to prevent against unwanted harassment"

    I can't find a record of this conversation, but that's really not what I'm interested in. You see, I agree with the responses (though likely not with their presentation), and I seek to clarify the problem with the above quote.

    That women have to hide the fact that they are female (to avoid harassment) is a very significant example of mysogyny and sexism. Men don't have to hide it. If they let slip that they're male, no one cares; they don't have to worry about the possibility of a large thread of "make me a sammich bitch" and other marginalizing and ostracizing "jokes". Indeed, men don't even typically have to "reveal" that they're male because an underlying sexism of the internet is the default assumption that you are male. Why? Why should women have to intentionally and carefully avoid letting others know that they are female else face harassment solely because they are female? Why should they have to hide behind anonymity? This is wrong, and deserves to be called out, as many have done of those on that reddit post.

    On top of all that, women face the problem that the more of them that cave in to this common harassment and hide behind the veil of anonymity, the more encountering women remains a rare event of great significance and fanfare and results in (often unwanted) extra attention, all of which serves to reinforce the simple idea that females are not part of "us", they are part of the "other". Women may be wanted or unwanted, the extra attention may be positive or negative but all of it highlights that women are not a natural part of this culture, whatever "this culture" may be. This is, in part, why the "joke" "there are no women on the internet" is so insidious: it reinforces this situation where the default is male, and where females are rare events.

    The problem with the shield of anonymity idea is that women shouldn't have to. The problem with the shield of anonymity idea is that, while likely to be successful in most situations, it perpetuaties the need for the shield of anonymity. And, likely, the most relevant problem is a major problem in advising women to hide behind anonymmity in this context: it is almost definitely changing the subject, and can even be accusatory and become "yes that was awful, but she shouldn't have had the audacity to reveal that she is female." Which is indeed blaming the victim. Though again, I can't see the original.

    As far as "electronic burka", it's simply an extension of the idea that the women need to hide themselves from men, because the men can't help themselves. In the case of real burkas, the typical argument is that women need to hide their bodies from men because men can't help but rape them if they don't. In the case of the "e-burka", the concept is that women must hide they are women on the internet, otherwise men can't help but give them tons of attention, often in the form of harassment (usually verbal or written sexual harassment) (even to the point of talking about anally raping them*, or even rape threats).

    *which I'll note is another place I disagree with Greta. She sees it all as a threat, and I don't see it that way. I see it as a shitty "joke", and while I fully recognize the evils of mysogynistic "jokes" (namely that of expressing a nasty belief by using the excuse "it was just a joke, it wasn't serious"), I think it unfair to characterize an instance of those as a threat, and I think it is definitely reading things into it that are not actually there.

    Holy shit that ended up long. I am really bad at being concise.

  4. The problem: a significant portion of men enjoy acting like abusive jerks toward women. Because it's easy, and because they know guys will laugh and support their rights to act like abusive jerks...and because they know their words are hurtful to women.

    Telling women to hide their identities contributes to the problem.

    Telling women to suck it up and deal because 'boys will be boys' contributes to the problem.

    Telling women that men can't be held responsible for their words contributes to the problem.

    Telling women that we can hold men accountable for hate speech based on race or sexual orientation but not hate speech based on gender contributes to the problem.

    When 1 in 5 women are rape victims, telling them that men making jokes about raping them is 'free speech' contributes to the problem. How many men go around joking about lynching black people before they get a vicious public backlash? Why is it socially acceptable for men to use threatening language toward women?

    Telling men to stop acting like abusive jerks helps solve the problem...but apparently it's too much effort *not* to say horribly degrading things? Who knew it takes less effort to type out reams of threatening BS than to not type anything at all...

    If you don't want to be treated like an abusive jerk, don't act like one...and don't enable others to get away with acting in an abusive fashion. Telling women to deal with abusive treatment that no other group has to cope with is misogyny.

    Well done.

  5. Oops, part of my response was considered html and stripped. The last line in my first comment should read:

    As Wes notes, "yes I agree with this but I disagree with that" should be perfectly acceptable; the problem is when you go "yes I agree with this but [insert change of subject to another topic that is at best tangentially relevant]".