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Monday, January 2, 2012

The straw man boxing match

I love Penn Jillette. I do, very much. But he does tend to carry the denouncement of prudes and blowhards so far that it gets to the point of practically denying that authentic assholes exist. Let me explain.

Earlier this evening, Penn tweeted a link to this letter addressed openly to the "skeptical community from a fellow atheist, who just so happens to be female," Mallorie Nasrallah. In it, Nasrallah describes herself as having been a member of this community for a very long time and having been welcomed, and now finds herself "distressed" to see that some people are raising the question of how to be more welcoming to women. She asks "Who made you think you weren't?" The answers, one might suggest, can be found in incidents like thisthisthis, this, and this...if one is even half-heartedly keeping up to date on the situation. Nasrallah, it seems, is not. Ignorance of such is the charitable explanation I can come up with for her having declared to the skeptical community at large,
With all my heart I beg you to not make monsters of your gender. I like your jokes. I like your humor. I like the casualness and ease that no gender distinction has allowed us all over the years.

You have never hurt or insulted me, you have brought me years of joy, wonderful debate, and stimulating conversation. By forgetting to see me as a woman, you have treated me as an equal, as a comrade, as a friend.

If your jokes or teasing manner offend some people, so the fuck what? Someone will always be offended by jokes, never let them make you believe that you are guilty of something worse simply because of your gender. If you want to make boob jokes thats fine by me, you have after all been making dick jokes since you were old enough to make jokes. Plus they are funny as hell. If you want to go free and uncensored among a group of like minded people, if you want to try to acquire sex from a like minded person, awesome, do it, sex and friendship are amazing. You are not a monster for wanting these things.  You are not a monster for attempting to acquire them.  
I type this with all of the warmth and sorrow of someone entangled in the most beautiful of bromances. I love you guys. And I'd like to slap the silly assholes who have given you the idea that you have mistreated me.
Because, you see....it's all about how Nasrallah personally has been treated, and how she sees herself as having been treated. Her perception and interests are the only things that matter. Jenn McCreight and I'm sure many others joined in pointing this out.

Never mind that most of the people concerned about misogyny in skepticism are not saying anything like that
  • jokes and teasing are bad
  • boob and dick jokes are bad
  • people are guilty of something because of their gender
  • people who don't like boob and dick jokes are trying to censor people
  • people who make boob and dick jokes are monsters
  • people who want sex from the like-minded are monsters
Rather, they're saying things more like "Not cool," in response to things like "Go fuck yourself with a knife you irrational cunt." Which, I believe, does not generally fall into any of the above categories.  

What's funny is that this is a reminder (among other things, needless to say) not to treat skeptical women as somehow different. Guys who love skeptical women, guys who are our "bros," will feel comfortable to relax and make baudy jokes without assuming that the only point in having those women around is to sleep with them and/or or joke about how worthwhile it might or might not be to sleep with them. Or, you know, rape them. So here's my open letter:

Hi Mallorie,

The people complaining about misogyny in skepticism clearly are not objecting to the treatment that you have received. It seems that you have been treated graciously, which is fortunate. That is not everyone's experience. Please do not disparage their complaints about that experience by expressing a desire to "slap" them, or by misrepresenting the basis of their issues. If you see people making irrational complaints, try and identify them specifically so that people like Penn do not tweet about how right you are, because you're his friend, while failing to acknowledge that the reality of conflict going on isn't restricted to your personal experience. I'm not even saying that the bully is still a bully even if he treats you nicely. I'm saying that the fact that some people who sort of resemble the bully but treat you nicely exist doesn't mean that the bully doesn't exist. That's a lot more nuanced and therefore convoluted, but the truth always is.  

And Penn, I'm saying that you need to look at the bigger picture before jumping behind someone's decree to an entire community based on her personal experience.

For added reading: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/01/02/pennjillette-your-friend-is-wrong/

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