Sex is Oppressive; To Men

imagesCAYKT4J6This is an exercise in satire and gender-bollocks in the form of ‘frog boiling’ by slow degrees of seemingly relatively sane propositions, building to an irrational whole. I was curious how easy it might be to make a lunatic case using the kind of nonsense I have run into reading blogs and papers on Gender Studies issues and this is the result. References are intentionally as poor or comedic as I have run across in serious works and while there’s some truths or half-truths presented here, it’s intended as an exercise in bullshitting.

Introduction

Trigger Warning: This paper is concerned with heteronormative intercourse between cisgender individuals. Same-sex and trans intercourse is beyond the scope of this work.

There is a somewhat common conception that normative, heterosexual intercourse is necessarily an imposition on the woman and a matter of oppression.

Whether this comes from Dworkin’s ‘Violation is a synonym for intercourse'[1] or Lady Hillington’s ‘Lie back and think of England'[2] it seems that the two sides of the political spectrum, left and right, both agree that sex is an horrible ordeal and an unwanted imposition. While Dworkin’s words are often claimed to be misrepresented, at least some modern feminists agree with her radical statement, making this a subject worth investigating.[3]

While unwanted or duty-oriented sex may indeed be a momentary imposition oppression is defined as ‘prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or exercise of authority‘[4] which would require a much broader context than the mere act itself.

In this instance I argue that there is a much stronger case to be made that the act of sexual congress is an imposition and oppressive societal act upon men.

Approaching Intercourse

The oppression inherent in the pursuit and act of intercourse begins long before things might reach the bedroom. Men are expected to take all the risks and to make all the outlay.

Men are still expected to make the first move in approaching a potential partner[5].

Even in long term relationships men are expected to initiate the sex act[6].

The requirement for men to perform well (bring their partner to orgasm) and its precedence over other laudable qualities as a mate is a broadly accepted societal ‘meme’ or ‘trope’, even celebrated in pop culture[7].

The emotional risk at each step falls primarily upon the man. Incidental factors such as the cost of dates etc falling primarily upon the man[8] are also there. With that risk comes the possibility of emotional harm, loss of status, mockery and pain on par with physical harm[9].

It is not a stretch to consider this cruel, prolonged (lifelong) and an exercising of authority, as affirmative consent always lays with the woman, backed up by the power of the state[10].

The Act Itself

Should the man approach a potential partner successfully and initiate intercourse without rejection, his ordeal is not over because his pleasure and needs are almost entirely incidental to to act of physical love.

Male pleasure is devalued during intercourse via a combination of physical, social and relational impositions.

Physically, it typically takes a man 5-7 minutes to come to orgasm (intravaginally) while a woman generally takes at least 20 minutes of stimulation to achieve orgasm.[11][12]. Men have a refractory period of at least 15 minutes while women do not have a refractory period at all[13].

If sex were to be described as a game, then the ‘win state’ is the female orgasm and, for the majority of the period of intercourse the male orgasm would be considered a ‘fail state’ as it would bring an end to the act, and without having achieved the ‘win state’. After the female partner has achieved orgasm, the male orgasm – male pleasure – is virtually incidental and of much lesser value or concern.

The goal is almost never the male orgasm and this is reflected in media depictions which linger upon the cries and wild physical motions of a woman in the throes of ecstasy but which barely depict men’s pleasure, let alone ejaculation.

Even in pornography, a supposed misogynistic haven, whether acted or not the actors – and thus via transference the viewer – establish their virility and sexual worth by bringing their partners to (fake or genuine) orgasm.

This is even true at the more extreme end, of male-dominant BDSM and rough sex works which, though they would seem to be fixated upon male dominance and pleasure offers the same orgasmic female cues as mainstream erotic cinema and offers disclaimers in which the female performers assure the viewer (and presumably critics) that they enjoy what they’re doing wholeheartedly – returning the narrative to their pleasure and denying the viewer even the fantasy of being given primacy in the sex act[14].

Consequences

However safe one tries to be, sex can have consequences. The most consequential of these possible consequences is, of course, pregnancy and here again the oppressive tendency against men continues.

In the case of unexpected or unwanted pregnancy women have plenty of reproductive rights and options, across the western world. These run from abortions to adoptions to safe-haven abandonment laws[15].

In stark contrast men have absolutely no reproductive rights, whatsoever. They are held accountable for any offspring resulting from intercourse regardless of their wishes and even, in some cases, when their own sexual consent has been violated[16].

 

Conclusion

From initiation to conclusion and consequences, sex is an oppressive act against men. They are expected to expose themselves to rejection, dejection, loss of status, loss of partner, pain and harm in pursuing it. The cost of pursuit primarily falls upon them. During sex the man’s pleasure and comfort is deprecated in comparison to that of the woman – whose pleasure is paramount and not incidental. Should the sex result in an unwanted child the man has zero recourse and can be forced into indentured servitude in service of his sex partner and their child until the child achieves maturity. At every stage this is enforced by both social convention and the state and, given the innate physical nature of sexual performance differences between the genders it is hard not to see this oppression as gendered.

[1] Intercourse: A. Dworkin
[2] http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/close-your-eyes-and-think-of-england.html
[3] https://witchwind.wordpress.com/2013/12/15/piv-is-always-rape-ok/
[4] Oxford English Dictionary (online version)
[5] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-how-and-why-sex-differences/201104/why-dont-women-ask-men-out-first-dates
[6] http://www.today.com/health/ivillage-2013-married-sex-survey-results-1D80245229
[7] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUYaosyR4bE
[8] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2562054/Chivalry-not-dead-Most-men-pay-date-women-secretly-happy-do.html
[9] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/guy-winch-phd/this-is-your-brain-on-rej_b_3749885.html?utm_hp_ref=science
[10] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/02/education/edlife/affirmative-consent-are-students-really-asking.html
[11] Waldinger, M.D.; Quinn, P.; Dilleen, M.; Mundayat, R.; Schweitzer, D.H.; Boolell, M. (2005). “A Multinational Population Survey of Intravaginal Ejaculation Latency Time”. Journal of Sexual Medicine.
[12] http://www.webmd.boots.com/sex-relationships/guide/what-happens-to-body-during-sex
[13] “The Sexual Response Cycle”. University of California, Santa Barbara.
[14] http://www.sexandsubmission.com/site/?c=1
[15] http://worldabortionlaws.com/
[16] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/05/nick-olivas-alleged-rape-victim-_n_5773532.html

Phat Pipes: Critique of Cybersexism by @PennyRed

41xcA9y7fVL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_Introduction

Myself and Laurie Penny share a fairly conterminous experience of the internet, but a very different viewpoint. Here I try to address the main thrusts of the book and to give my alternative experiences.

This is For Everyone

My life with the internet starts a little earlier than Laurie Penny’s. I started up visiting BBS boards and playing Avalon over dial-up with a modem about the size of five, stacked, iPads. Via those early BBS systems it was sometimes possible to get email and to access ‘the internet’ though we never really understood what that meant until the real thing became available to everyone.

This was back when phone calls cost a lot more money, there was no broadband and using the modem would tie up the line. It was a far cry from the Neuromancer fantasies that beckoned the early pioneers (I was a NetGoth) but in the MUD virtual realities and the thrill of text-talking to strangers (this was even before mobile texting took off) there were flickerings of what was to come.

I’d used to escape into books, films and role-playing games. Those were my VR and the internet came in as an extension of that. Adopting different ‘fictionsuits’, avatars and handles came easily to us in a way that the current generation of ‘let it all hang out’ social media junkies can’t really understand. The avatar/alias culture only really still thrives amongst us oldies, roleplaying, trans and troll communities. The loss of the old guard in the Google NymWars pretty much put paid to that old culture and represents the victory of FaceBookism where your offline and online identities become the same.

Like Laurie, we swallowed the idea that the internet was a freeing medium. An opportunity to mix and meet and share information. To form communities that weren’t linked by petty geography and for a while it was glorious. You would get to know people via their mind and their writing, not the superficial realities of ‘meatspace’ and it didn’t matter. It was a consequence free, free-mingling ‘wild west’ utopia with a natural gatekeeper in the form of the technological capability needed to get online.

‘No girls on the internet’ was almost true back in the day and thus the origin of many internet proverbs, besides that one. ‘Tits or GTFO’ for example was a demand for proof. Why was this? Nerd culture – early adopters – was, and remains, stubbornly male. Tech culture even more so. Computers weren’t as ubiquitous as they are now and consoles didn’t hook up to the internet. Schools weren’t linked up either and so by a process of simple demographics access was limited to the relatively well off, technically minded and nerdy.

For many, men, women and all points in between this was rather freeing. You couldn’t genuinely know what or who anyone was and that meant people were largely treated the same, based on the ‘content of their character’ rather than the ‘configuration of their meat sack’. Not that this meant people weren’t still arseholes, but it gave cover to early adopters, especially women, that some benefited from.

I have the same, or more, degree of experience of the internet as Ms Penny has, yet my conclusions – despite coming from the same root – are very different.

ngYfSh2_No Girls on the Internet

Ms Penny suggests that the idea that the internet was for everyone was somehow untrue. That it was really for boys. This statement is both true and untrue. The internet was – and is – for everyone but by the nature of its genesis and the groups that were interested in it it became a male dominated space by simple virtue of emergence. The majority of users were men and so the spaces that developed – usenet, email lists and so forth – were ‘male’ spaces.

This was not a deliberate or exclusionary measure by any means and in the early days the few women you did encounter were generally given kudos for getting online. They’d proved their worth and their chops simply by the fact that they had managed to get online and access a community. As internet access broadened this began to change, both in terms of people able to prove yourself and in the need to even do so in the first place.

Where Laurie presumes – given her background – that this is down to misogyny or hatred of women, or a desire to exclude them, I have a different hypothesis which we’ll call This is What Equality Looks Like, TWELL for sake of typing ease.

One of Germaine Greer’s best known phrases is: “Women have very little idea of how much men hate them.”

Which is catchy, but a little uncharitable, especially if you’ve ever had the misfortune to overhear women on a night out complaining about their husbands and boyfriends with equal, if not more, viciousness than men do about their wives and girlfriends.

However, I think Germaine’s commentary is germane to TWELL, with a subtle twist.

“Women have very little idea of how horrible men are to each other.”

The presence of a woman in a social context tends to lead men to be considerate, toned down and to consider her feelings and upset. Language is often softened, opinions remain unexpressed and people make more of an effort to be pleasant – until they know where the boundaries are.

Why? Well, we can argue about natural proclivites and culture, but upsetting people in person is generally frowned upon and men and women are solicitous of each other more (generally speaking) in a meatspace environment.

Online the context is different, consequence free and gender truly doesn’t matter. Men – and women – no longer moderate their behaviour in the same way that they do in person. This doesn’t seem to have been much of a shock for men (again we can have arguments about culture, upbringing and nature here) but it does seem to have been a shock for women.

Stripped of the usual societal cushioning women are often afforded, the female of the species seems to have recoiled in horror from the kind of nasty – if not always serious – behaviour that men and boys have been putting up with since the first days of kindergarten.

TWELL is not intended as a flip response, but to underline that the difference here is in reaction, not content.

I think my first social online experiences were with Usenet and email lists, but like Laurie I migrated to Livejournal and some other abortive social networks in the following years. I primarily used Livejournal for RPG material and blogging about the LARP group I was a part of. It was a vital communication tool back then for both purposes and much more connected and hooked up than having your own website was. This was also my first real introduction to ‘internet drama’ and this was a direct consequence of more ‘normal’ people using it. This was the first clue that the defences were down and the barbarians were at the gate.

It wasn’t the ‘internet people’ that were the problem. It was the normal people.

If I describe Livejournal as being the prototype for the excesses of Social Justice Tumblr, many of you reading will shudder in horror and know what I mean. Let’s just say that in former insular, echo chamber cliques it began the radicalisation of internet activism that would reach its – hopeful – peak of awfulness this year with Suey Park and #CancelColbert, with it’s spectacular, po-faced, failure to understand satire.

Here, again, is where my experience begins to diverge from that of Ms Penny. She describes an online world of routine misogyny and hatred as being exclusionary, while I – for my sins – experienced no less amount of hate, challenge, vitriol and bile, just not what one might characterise as ‘misogyny’.

I am not convinced misogyny is even the right word. Misogyny is an irrational hatred of women and disagreeing with, arguing with or trolling women doesn’t seem – to me – to fit the bill. We both seem to have been subjected to hatred, and I’ve seen much of the disgraceful and horrible abuse Ms Penny gets, but I see little difference in the scale or nastiness of that hatred between us. Just our reactions. So it goes for all these pseudo-controveries throughout the last ten years or so of the internet. What is striking to me as an internet hate veteran, every time, is the difference in reaction.

Tits_or_gtfoPictures or it Didn’t Happen

The selfie culture isn’t something I really understand and I get the sense that despite more experimentation than me in this arena, Laurie and I share a degree of incomprehension about the total lack of privacy embraced by Generation Y. I occasionally participate in things like #NoPantsFriday and have succumbed to using my actual image as an avatar but to do either, to have ‘pictures of me on the internet’ still feels rather uncomfortable and somewhat silly.

This is old fashioned of me, I know.

At the same time I don’t think anyone should be shamed by photos, or indeed old posts and blogs that people like to drag out. People mature and change, their views alter or become more nuanced, they do silly things. Whether it’s Laurie’s boobs, my cock or some lightweight covered in vomit on his eighteenth birthday with a knob drawn on his forehead we should be able to laugh it off as indiscretion, accept that everyone does it and move on.

The trouble is, we don’t live in a world that has adapted to this yet. The people in power are forty and over. The generation below that, including people like me and Laurie are still somewhat uncomfortable with letting it all hang out, even with libertine political views and even the Millenials aren’t all sold on the idea of living a scandal free public life. One need only look at the difference between Belle Knox’s resilience and Alyssa Funke’s suicide to see that even the younger adult generation is struggling to adapt to the Mutual Surveillence Society we find ourselves in.

While I’m sure there’s some truth to what Laurie says about the minority of men online who harass women doing so out of hatred, I don’t think it is as true as is stated. Time and again I see reports of harassment of women online and go looking into it only to find many more bad-taste jokes and incidences of trolling than I do genuine abuse.

A case in point being Caroline Criado-Perez whose high profile campaign to replace Darwin with Jane Austen on British bank notes gave her a position of public awareness which, inevitably, drew the trolls. She received a lot of – apparent – hatred, a lot of trolling and, also, a great deal of genuine criticism and advice. To which she reacted – universally – poorly.

It’s important here to both define what a troll is and to introduce a new concept in trolling which has only recently emerged.

As originally used on Usenet, and perhaps etymologically connected to ‘trawl’ was to make the kind of comment or post that many, many people would react to and post on. One that would provoke arguments and chaos. You could almost ‘score points’ by how many replies it got or how many extra threads it spawned. The more controversial or ridiculous the statement, the ‘better’ it usually was as a troll. Hardy perennials of the art were posting religious nonsense in an atheist forum, Satanist nonsense in a religious forum, or mentioning abortion anywhere.

To an extent much has remained the same. Trolling is still about scoring a reaction. It is now a little more nasty though. It is about upsetting people, provoking a ‘rage quit’, or creating an enormous fuss – the bigger the better. This is why the advice on trolls has always been ‘don’t feed the troll’ and why it remains the best advice. Reporting, complaining, let alone writing huge media articles on the topic is the very opposite of this advice and will only excite the troll.

In an unguarded moment I compared this to ‘grinding your rapist’ and while the analogy is crude, its force serves to convey the point. By paying attention to the troll, by getting upset, you are giving them exactly what they want. So why would anyone even dream of doing it?

In the case of Criado-Perez we need to consider a new concept. That of the synergistic or symbiotic troll. Why would someone give a troll what they want in terms of media exposure, public melt-downs and notoriety? Perhaps because doing so also gives the victim something they want. If your ideology is centred around the idea that the world is male oriented and horrible to women then playing up to trolling, taking it seriously and presenting it as a genuine problem and an example of cultural misogyny both reinforces your belief and helps contribute to a moral panic in which ‘something must be done’.

I don’t know if Criado-Perez and others are doing it deliberately, but the consequences stemming from it certainly seem to be deliberate and, strangely for feminist concerns, seem to run concurrent to conservative politics and legislation.

The vast majority of abuse online seems, to me, to be insincere trolling. Though there are exceptions using this to claim an overall culture of misogyny and woman hating – when it happens to everyone regardless of gender – seems disingenuous at best. Studies presented by Ditch the Label and Know the Net have both suggested that men receive equal abuse to that of women online, perhaps more, and that 19 year old men are the peak target of online abuse and bullying.

We need to grasp that trolling is an internet problem, not a gendered problem and that it’s a hard one to tackle while preserving a free internet.

Where myself and Laurie perhaps agree is in that the culture of shame and sin needs to change. There should be no more Alyssa Funke’s and while part of that must come in attempts to change the broader culture it is still worth reminding people to be cautious and teaching them internet survival skills and that there’s support available if they do get ‘outed’. Lest we get swept up too much in thinking this is a uniquely female problem though, we should remember that boys have been similarly shamed, particularly those of alternative sexuality and that under stress it is men who are far more likely to complete a suicide attempt. Girls are also pressuring boys for pictures, the stereotype that it is only boys or the sad reality of the unsolicited cock pic should not get in the way of us remembering that all are vulnerable.

Laurie loses me again when she gets into discussion about women being used to surveillance of their behaviour. Certainly, as man and boy I feel and felt the pressure of being watched for behaviour very keenly. Where it is more, but not exclusively, authoritarian when imposed on girls it does still exist for boys where it is more, but not exclusively, mutual.

Girls might be mean, but boys are cruel and one’s adolescence is one long attempt to fit in, to never give a hint that you’re not a regular heterosexual, rough and tumble, football loving lad. Boys also succumb to the system, constrained and held, especially in education where many end up drugged so that they’re compliant and less boisterous. There’s also huge pressure to demonstrate one’s sexuality by losing ones virginity. Something which I think we’ve all been reminded recently can cause a psychotic break and a lack of feeling of self worth.

As such it is, again, disingenuous I think, to compare our increasing surveillance society with feminist interpretations of social pressure and culture. Men have felt it in a similar but different way. Outrage at CCTV, NSA surveillance etc comes from a concern over privacy, rather than public reaction, and political ramifications. If surveillance were more of a concern for women, one wouldn’t expect to see higher approval of CCTV and other surveillence measures by women than men.

Business surveillance, presenting the right image and ‘behaving oneself’ outside of work is not a uniquely feminine issue either. This also happens with men and it’s also completely unfair. An unguarded comment over a beer down the pub would not, in the past, have been picked up and formed grounds for dismissal. The internet is both instant – like a conversation – and eternal – like a book. As a result every little indiscretion is available in eternity, even if intended to be private and so we’re forced to endure any number of pointless or insincere apologies and to see people get fired as PR stunts to appease the howling mob.

aldpost1It’s for Your Own Good

In talking about online sex I think we must return back to the beginning of Ms Penny’s book and the idea that we can be anyone or anything online. Sex drives technology and always has but this is especially true of the internet. The moment there were chatrooms and email people were trading erotic stories and engaging in cybersex. ‘Tits or GTFO’ and ‘There’s no girls on the internet’ were, in part, calls to prove one’s gender status as a prelude to cybersex. So strong is the male prohibition against homosexuality that even in an entirely fantasised encounter it is desirable that ones partner at least be of the opposite sex. Meanwhile, other people WERE playing opposite gender roles, genderbending and even pretending to be things other than human.

All sex takes place, ultimately, in the mind.

To see Laurie’s view on pornography, which I hope is still in flux, is somewhat depressing. Someone who is intimately familiar with artists, comic book creators and writers of fiction would – I would have hoped – have had a better understanding of the divide between reality and fantasy. While she, at least, is not blaming pornography for misogyny, she is blaming misogyny for pornography. It is true that a great deal of pornography is rough, violent or ‘degrading’ but given that some 40% of women admit to enjoying rape fantasies (note – fantasies, not actual rape) is it really any surprise? It’s also notable that female use of pornography is slowly approaching parity with that of men and that best-selling book 50 Shades of Grey is an enormously problematic bundle of abuse masquerading as BDSM that has set that entire community’s teeth on edge. It has sold primarily to women.

One can blame this on internalised misogyny or some such I am sure, but again this seems to be disingenuous and kink-shaming, as well as ignoring that divide between reality and fantasy. What turns one on, one might not necessarily want in real life. Increasingly, also, one must recognise that pornography is consensual and a great deal is being produced by amateurs as piracy renders conventional production non-viable.

We do have a problem when it comes to pornography and censorship. As Laurie rightly points out, concern over pornography has been co-opted by governments seeking to control the internet as a whole (mingled with ‘blasphemy’ concerns in some other countries and political concerns in others). This is where we find strange bedfellows like mainstream feminism in bed with the UK’s coalition government and in favour of criminalisation of ‘extreme’ porn and the imposition of a compulsory filter.

Like trolling, this isn’t an especially soluble problem. If we want a free internet with all the benefits it brings, we have to maintain anonymity and relatively unconstrained content.

Sex and romance and everything else can, indeed, be online. I met my wife online as have many other people I know. We know, from leaked logs intended to embarrass people that a hell of a lot of human beings are typing obscenities to each other, writing explicit love letters and masturbating wildly to each other’s pictures. Sex is ultimately in the mind and so is love. It’s possible to fall for someone a world away, whom you have never met and as borders tighten that’s going to lead to a lot more tragedy.

odd_skirt_viralA Woman’s Opinion is the Short Skirt of the Internet

Yes, Ms Penny and many other opinionated people on the internet get hate messages, such as she has related in her book and online. Yes, many of these are graphic, sexual and/or violent. You know who else gets hate, threats and horrible messages online?

Everyone.

This is something I have a great deal of experience of and while my experience, like Larie’s, is anecdotal I’ll refer you to the reference I made earlier that men suffer equal or greater abuse and cyberbullying.

Personally I have been threatened with beheading, that my wife would be raped, I have petitions organised to try and prevent me being able to work – I have been cost work. I have been called every kind of bigot under the sun without justification.

There’s some differences though. I haven’t taken it as seriously. I have not presented it as a problem for my entire gender. The people attacking me have included trolls, but also ‘true believers’ who weren’t hiding behind anonymity. People who consider themselves to be ‘social justice’ activists and aren’t at all ashamed of what they say and do. It’s also true that far less of these threats have been sexual, though many of them have been violent.

The concern with the abuse of women online and the great seriousness with which it is taken is erasing the online harassment and bullying of men. Men are also erasing it by not taking it as seriously as women do (though this may be a healthier approach, all things considered). Men are also erasing their own negative experiences by brushing them off or not talking about them, ceding the public debate to concern over the abuse of women in the public sphere, which has only allowed this toxic and incorrect concept of a misogynistic online reality to emerge when it is truly a universal problem.

Anyone expressing an opinion on anything in the online sphere can expect to get abuse for it.

Where there is a difference is in the nature of the abuse.

As a woman Laurie is more likely to get abuse of a sexual nature while I am more likely to get violent abuse or to have my sexuality questioned.

Why is this?

I humbly submit that the reason women get targeted with this kind of abuse, especially women, is because it is a fairly reliable bet that they will be upset by it or rise to it, while threats of violence or aspersions about my sex partner preference are more likely to get a rise out of me, because I’m male.

Trolls will go after whatever they think will get you going. Those who troll religious forums will ‘blaspheme’ or try to outrage their morals, trolls who troll computer forums might get into PC Vs Apple, trolls who target homosexuals will use homosexual slurs. Your status as a woman is only important in that it highlights some obvious ways to cause upset.

Trolls rarely, if ever, mean what they say.

Terminology Ms Penny uses starts to lose me at this point. Misogyny is being used in a way other than I understand the term (pathological hatred of women), ‘gender violence online’ strikes me as an oxymoron, since violence can’t be done to you online. Structural sexism is over with equality laws, leaving only individuals and their increasingly outdated views.

She characterises these things as a ‘backlash against misogyny’ yet many of the complaints seem as petty as those found on sexismbusters while others seem valid but outside the framing of a misogynistic society. This backlash via things like Everyday Sexism or – more recently – the #YesAllWomen tag do not appear as a backlash, but rather a lashing out at all men, an outpouring of misandry against crimes that are unrecognisable and for which the overwhelming majority of men are not responsible.

#YesAllWomen is differentiated from trolling by sincerity. The sheer hatred found on #YesAllWomen (and #KillAllMan) hits home precisely because it is sincere as much as it seems invalid, stemming from a victim mentality and a paranoia of men which simply does not seem justified. It seems like a whole generation of women is growing up unjustifiably terrified of, and hateful towards, all men.

I had to stop following the tag as it began to trigger my depression, but I doubt things have improved in the interim.

Penny goes on here to talk about Anita Sarkeesian, a common mistake of late which I had hoped Laurie would not fall into. Sarkeesian has been exposed as a fraud with links to shifty practices like pyramid schemes and handwriting analysis, she has failed to produce the material she said she would and seems to have essentially soaked up the money and called it a day.

Sarkeesian attacked gaming, as has so often been done, by trying to bleed fantasy and reality together. Studies in the 80s on RPG players demonstrated that gamers have no problem differentiating between the two and there’s little reason to think things are any different when it comes to computer games. Nor has Sarkeesian’s treatment been any different to any that of other shallow, narcissitic critics of gaming. Jack Thompson was widely ridiculed for his attempts to link games with violent acts and, like Sarkeesian, had games made about him where he could be mutilated and otherwise disposed of.

The difference then? Sarkeesian’s a woman who has been subjected to exactly the same treatment as a man. TWELL.

Perez is covered next, but I believe I’ve addressed that instance above, a case of symbiotic trolling.

Ms Penny rightly bemoans governmental censorship but fails to grasp the implications of private censorship and social censure. For the internet to be free we need to accept that people are going to say and do things, hold opinions, have fantasies that we personally do not like. If you cede the moral high ground and accept censorship and the erosion of anonymity you not only remove the trolls but you also remove the capacity for political dissidents to communicate safely, for protests to organise, for people in violent relationships to seek help and so it goes on.

At the time of writing more and more worrying instances of private censorship are coming to light. Blacklisting of erotica on Amazon – vital to self-published authors, Paypal and other online money transfer groups holding or confiscating money belonging to perfectly legal adult performers. Credit card processors doing the same. The internet, increasingly, is at the mercy of a very few choke points, especially if what you’re doing involves money and people are too quick to tightly define censorship as a governmental activity in order to excuse this.

The concerns of feminist groups over ‘cybersexism’ and pornography are empowering and making politically acceptable the kind of broad brush censorship that Laurie herself bemoans.

There is no hypocrisy here. Trolling and abuse can’t make you stay offline, the choice is yours. Censorship and restriction via private and governmental action, however, can. When protests alter EULAs or policies they harm everyone. When you censor a nipple, you block pictures of breast feeding.

On the internet we have an option we do not have in real life. We can erase abusers from our existence by using ‘block’ or ‘ignore’. Again, don’t feed the trolls is the best advice. The abusive messages you get? Well, TWELL.

Laurie repeats Ally Fogg’s analogy of a woman on a soap box in a public square being shouted down by 5,000 angry people yelling abuse, but this analogy doesn’t only break down under close examination, as all analogies do, but right at the start.

Online your soapbox speech cannot be interrupted or drowned out. Everyone can hear you. The abuse can be ignored. They can’t force you, shove you, drown you out, you can ignore them but they retain their right to object and their ability to do so. In real life you can end up with stifling activities to ‘no platform’ people, but on the internet – even with DDOS attacks – this never sticks for long. You can’t end a recorded talk by pulling a fire alarm or chanting, you can’t turn the water cannons on a forum, you can’t tear-gas a chatroom.

Freedom of speech absolutely does include the right to criticise, call out and oppose others. You can’t silence anyone and the abuse is ultimately petty, pointless and harmless if you block and ignore it – especially in the case of trolls. Comparing the online situation to almost any real life situation is invalid from the get go.

Anyone can speak online. EVEN straight white males, though you’d be forgiven for thinking they were the exception sometimes.

Dts_news_bill_gates_wikipediaAnd the Geek Shall Inherit the Earth

This section of the book is, perhaps, the most important and the one where some understanding from, rather than towards, the online feminist is required. Laurie believes geeks are sexy, and I agree wholeheartedly and without reservation.

The nerdy boyfriend mentioned in this section could easily be me (without the jedi robe, but with the comics and the glow in the dark dice) and while I’d put it differently ‘Some people are just butthurt that girls get to come into our special club’ is a valid and meaningful observation.

The universal, rooted, geek experience of my and Laurie’s misspent youth no longer really exists for the current generation, where everyone plays computer games, where there are cosplay shows on TV and where the ‘tribe’ is large enough to look out for itself. Geeks today genuinely do have it easy and I’m envious of them and I hope they never have to go through the same hellish childhood experiences me and Ms Penny seem to have shared.

There were no nerd girls at my rural school and the small number of geeks that there were, were universally looked down on. There were a couple of goth/metal girls with a bit of crossover with the nerd squad, but they held themselves apart, even from us. There were nerdy girls elsewhere of course, there always have been, but they’ve been fewer and further between. Nerd culture used to be utterly dominated by men – completely unintentionally – and it still is, even though there’s been a seismic shift since then.

‘Geek misogyny’ is a term I am extremely hostile to. Geek culture is extremely vulnerable to political interference precisely because it is so accepting and so willing to please and accomodate anyone who wants to join in, up to a point. The problems with female ‘intrusion’ into geek spaces is twofold.

  1. Girl-related ‘PTSD’.
  2. Geek loyalty/fandom.

The older generations of geeks suffered immensely at the hands of dominant school/college/uni cultures. Especially – being predominantly male – at the hands of women. Endless rejections, total lack of romantic success, being outcast. Rightly or wrongly they associate that pain with women as a whole and want to be sure they’re safe and aren’t going to be ridiculed and treated like shit again. Hence the hazing.

Is this OK or rational? No. It is, however, understandable and deserving of empathy.

An analogy in the feminist sphere might be the argument over whether transwomen should be allowed access to feminist spaces and what sort of gate-keeping might be required.

When it comes to geek loyalty, geeks are fiercely loyal to their passions, whatever they might be. In previous years accommodating geek girls was less of a ‘problem’ because they seemed to be into what was on offer, passionate about the same things. Now barely a day goes by without some controversy related to a nerdy TV show, game, comic or similar and people wanting to change everything.

To a nerd this can be hugely confusing. Why would you even get into a hobby if you hate everything about it and want to change it all?

There’s also the fact that nerd culture has been under constant attack by fear-mongers and moral panics since forever. From Seduction of the Innocent to Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons to the Heavy Metal trials and Jack Thompson, there’s a context to the attacks on hobbies, a history. In this narrative the attacks from the Anita Sarkeesians of this world are just the latest in a long line of hateful attacks on hobbies and to be resisted with the same scorn and strength as before.

This whole argument would be completely avoidable if those who want to see something different and changed set about doing it themselves rather than trying to force people to alter what they love. That’s where the resistance comes in.

Understanding that many of these places have been ‘male safe spaces’ is important to understanding why the intrusion is unwelcome in many quarters. Just as women need their spaces men need theirs, but men will be condemned for creating those spaces while women will be celebrated. It’s a contradiction predicated upon the idea that somehow only men can be exclusionary and only male presence can be unwelcome. This is why mens clubs are being forced to open their doors to women while women are permitted to close men out of their gyms and other places, to ‘protect’ them.

Why are there less women working in information technology despite massive efforts to get women into STEM fields? That’s a puzzler given the investment in promotion and the fact that women are, generally, doing better in education than men and have been for some time. Ms Penny seems keen to pin the blame upon sexism but some of the problems she states are economic and practical, relating to the control factors that have virtually eliminated the pay gap myth of late. The demands of the job are the demands of the job and if that is less suitable for a woman who wants a child and/or wants to be the primary caregiver to that child then this isn’t sexism so much as biology and choices. Again, the best way to prove them wrong is to do it yourself, just as it is with comics etc and women like Cindy Gallop or Nica Noelle show how that might turn into success. ‘More things!’ more than ‘Change things!’

Paradoxically, greater gender equality might well be the reason less women are going in for these fields. Norway is one of the most gender equal countries on Earth yet as its equality has increased, so ‘gendered’ work has become more gendered, not less. It seems that when ‘women’s work’ is as valued as men’s women choose those lines of work even more.

I am glad Laurie seems to accept and understand the ‘origin story’ of the pained male geek and shows some empathy, but we need more, not less, of that and to stop talking past each other. ‘Fake geek girls’ need to understand why they are placed under suspicion and geek men need to understand why that suspicion is hurtful – and they will if it’s explained sensitively and related to their own experience, rather than as a way to further judge and bully them.

Ms Penny quotes David Wong on Crackd talking about how so much of what men do is for the sake of women, or impressing women. In particular:

“You’re all we think about and that gives you power over us. And we resent you for it.”

He’s speaking generally, on a societal level and he’s not wrong. At all. This breaks down at the individual level but female hypergamy is a great deal of what drives status and power seeking in men. It’s the biology stupid.

Criticising the tolerance that geek circles have for people of many different stripes has long struck me as… silly. Geek circles were places that were open to anyone regardless of race, gender, politics, creed etc and tolerated and accepted people with behavioural and socialisation issues. In gaming circles I’ve seen tabletop RPGs help people on the autism spectrum come out of their shell and that acceptance and patience was a definite virtue there.

Accepting people with opposing or ‘nasty’ views also serves a valuable purpose, it exposes them (and you) to alternative points of view and in a world plagued by polemical ‘news’ and the fracturing of people into insular echo-chamber social groups that normalise extreme points of view, this mixing is even more important.

A call to ‘clean house’ is potentially very dangerous in that it will both further isolate people with dangerous points of view and remove their exposure to contrary arguments.

The shaming going on at conventions via ‘free bars of soap’, the infamous Magic Tournament buttcrack shots and more recently Posthuman Studios banning ‘MRAs’ from being fans of their games is not a good development.

Dismissing neuroscience, genetic, behavioural and psychological differences between the sexes (as overall demographics) out of hand seems, to me, to be on dangerous ground. The politicisation of the field means we may be unable to find out the true scale of gender differences until some point in the far future but that doesn’t mean that they do not exist. Indeed humans would be virtually unique if our sexes were truly that identical. That’s not to say that one gender is superior to the other, but rather that our behavioural cues and adaptations might well be as variant as our upper body strength or body fat distribution.

Science should never be discarded on political grounds. It’s as unsafe as climate change denial or creationism. If evolutionary psychology and sexual dimorphism is to be debunked, let it be with good science, not with bad ideology.

Watch_Dogs_box_artThe New Cyborgs

Ms Penny sketches out a conversation she had with some Pirate Party members in Iceland about feminism and gender politics. It sounds like a good discussion, though with a slightly ‘matronising’ aspect (What they ‘think’ patriarchy means etc) but the meat of it comes when one of the men there questions the validity of claimed experience of gendered violence.

The discussion – as described – has many of the same pitfalls and problems that I’ve had in trying to get to grips with the feminist paradigmal lens. While I accept that I don’t necessarily have all the information and am constantly seeking that information (geek impulse to ‘fix things’) it seems virtually impossible and there’s almost no reciprocal effort from the other ‘side’. The parochial and insular language used by feminism doesn’t help things, nor does the presumption of ignorance that one is constantly labelled with. It seems inconceivable to many that one might examine the information and come to a different conclusion.

Many of the concepts and ideas in feminism – and more broadly in social justice – have the air of dogma. Patriarchy seems patently absurd to claim in the west in anything approaching its broadly understood definitions. ‘Misogyny’ seems to have a very different meaning in feminist circles. ‘Privilege’ is no use whatsoever in the discussion of anything and another abuse of terminology and so it goes on through ‘rape culture’ and all the rest.

The existence of cybervigilantism that Ms Penny underlines here, the likes of Anonymous etc, sharply underlines the points that I have made earlier about the insincerity of trolls. You can bet that those who hunt down animal abusers, child pornographers or those that have bullied the likes of Amanda Todd into suicide also contain amongst their number trolls and the kinds of people that spam Goatse into people’s Twitter timelines. Is that a contradiction? No. They know that one is sincere and the other not and they’re outraged by genuine arseholes, just as they always have been.

Conclusion

While a good summary of ‘where we are now’ the work betrays Ms Penny’s presuppositions about society and the world, or rather feminism’s presuppositions. The interpretation is, therefore, slanted and really only half the story. Well, perhaps 65% of the story as there’s some empathy and understanding here and there of the male experience of cyberspace.

So what’s the answer to the genuine and universal problems underlying all this? I’m not sure, but I have a few ideas.

  • Feminism needs to butt out: Trolling is not a gendered issue, abuse is not a gendered issue, it is just that the male suffering is comparitively invisible. Coming into spaces and trying to destroy or overturn them will only be read as abuse and authoritarianism itself and resisted. The unique history of the internet and the nerdosphere needs to be understood – along with TWELL.
  • Equitable Whining: Either women need to ‘man up’ or men need to ‘girl down’. Taking the problems less seriously seems to be a viable coping/survivial strategy but, as things stand, men’s issues are not known or understood and when they are raised are treated like a laughing stock.
  • Empathy: As a result of the above strands, both ‘sides’ need to make an effort to listen to each other. EG: When women engage in #YesAllWoman they need to listen as to why men reject and object and understand it, not just reject it, especially not as ‘not all men’.
  • Internet Skills: We need to teach people to cope with the internet, from selfies to permanence of commentary to identifying and ignoring trolls and abuse.
  • Cultural Change: Some of us are living in the 21st century and some in the 19th. Shaming culture and holding people accountable for flip comments needs to end. Society needs to be more forgiving and to come to understand the dangers of mutual surveillance.

 

A New Culture of Misogyny?

Misandry-report

Sinfest. Used to be funny. This one’s just ironic.

My original piece on the BBC TV documentary ‘Blurred Lines’ was intended as a counter to the show, which was incredibly biased and one sided with only two, half-hearted opposing views being presented. This article is intended to be a more balanced examination of some of the issues presented in the show.

The central issue presented by the show is to claim that we’re in a new era of misogyny and sexism, made worse by the media, culture and – in particular – the internet.

To determine whether this is true or not, we first need to understand what is meant by ‘misogyny’ and ‘sexism’.

What is Misogyny?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines misogyny as:
Dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.

Feminism has its own definition – or definitions – of misogyny as it does with other terms. There doesn’t seem to be any particular, overall agreement on the term but it does seem to go beyond the commonly understood meaning from the OED.

Commonly referenced in online debates and arguments the Finally Feminism 101 blog describes misogyny more broadly as:

Misogyny is a… more personal and emotional prejudice, resulting in contempt, scorn and dismissiveness towards women who step outside the bounds sexism lays down as appropriate. Misogynistic anger openly displayed against women who challenge their sexist preconceptions is part of an intimidatory silencing tactics arsenal, and of course the perpetrators don’t display those tactics against women who stay within the notional boundaries – approval is the reward for behaving appropriately.

What is Sexism?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines sexism as:

Prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.

Again, feminism has its own definition. Unlike misogyny’s feminist definition, the sexism definition is fairly consistent and is also found in arenas like racial discrimination. Within feminism, sexism is defined as:

Sexism is both discrimination based on gender and the attitudes, stereotypes, and the cultural elements that promote this discrimination. Given the historical and continued imbalance of power, where men as a class are privileged over women as a class (see male privilege), an important, but often overlooked, part of the term is that sexism is prejudice plus power. Thus feminists reject the notion that women can be sexist towards men because women lack the institutional power that men have.

This definition has come in for considerable criticism as it excludes sexism from women towards men, and has been used to excuse prejudice and bigotry towards men, but in this context that’s not especially relevant.

How can we examine this claim?

How can we hope to quantify something as subjective as misogyny or sexism? It’s a very challenging question to try and answer but we can make a few safe assumptions that might allow us to examine, at least, the truth of the claim that things are getting worse and – if they are – where the blame might possibly lie.

If misogyny has gotten worse, if sexism has gotten worse, we might well expect indicators stemming from that spread in various measures of gender equality, sex crime and similar concerns. We do have statistics on these factors that we can examine and, while methodologies have changed over time, some have remained the same for long periods of time.

So, are things Worse?

By any objective measure the situation for women has not gotten worse.

  • The World Economic Forum lists the United Kingdom as being 18th out of 136 countries in terms of gender equality, improving from a score of 0.7365 in 2006 to 0.7440 in 2013.
  • According to the British Crime Survey (chapter 4 Intimate personal violence and domestic abuse) sexual assault (against women) has dropped by around 1% since 2005 and domestic violence and stalking (against women) has dropped by 2.5% since 2005.
  • This is part of a longer term trend which has been noted across western countries, showing that sex crimes have nosedived since the 1990s. (The correlation of this to access to online pornography is well covered in Freakonomics and A Billion Wicked Thoughts).

Figure_1._Rape_and_sexual_assault_victimization_rates_among_females,_1995–2010

Conclusion

Whatever the case when it comes to the subjective experience of misogyny and sexism, the statistics simply don’t support a conclusion that things are getting worse for women. It would be my suspicion that rather than things getting worse we are seeing a higher degree of sensitivity and an ongoing clash of gender influenced behaviour and expectations as we adjust to a wired-up world.

A Fundamental Problem

The assumption of misogyny on the part of trolls, smack-talking online game players, singing sports teams and off-colour comedians is not a safe assumption. Expression is not, necessarily, an indicator of true values.

You can think of much of this, but especially the trolling and smack talking, as being akin to acting. The Swiss actor, Bruno Ganz, played Hitler, but nobody would make the immediate presumption that he was a Nazi simply because he played the part.

When it comes to trolls and smack-talking in online games the motivation is similar. In both instances the person is trying to get a rise. Amongst trolls the reaction and distress is what they are after while in online games they are seeking to make their opponent upset in order to gain advantage or to cause them to quit.

This has been known for some time and it isn’t to say that trolling isn’t problematic but, rather that thinking a troll is genuinely misogynistic or sexist and to take it seriously on that basis is to misdiagnose the problem. Trolls are, often, sadistic, psychopathic or sociopathic but that is no indicator of any views whatsoever.

We’ve had all this straight from the horse’s mouth before. Trolls are perfectly willing to explain why they do what they do and genuinely holding misogynistic or other nasty views doesn’t seem to rate mention.

Troll/Activist Synergy

Since trolling first emerged as a recognisible phenomenon on Usenet the received wisdom has been ‘Don’t feed the trolls’. The trolls want attention, want a reaction and the bigger the reaction the better, if you deny them that reaction they go away. That has been true and it has been the only way to deal with the problem and preserve the value of internet anonymity and security.

So what has changed? Why are the Criado-Perezs, Suey Parks and Anita Sarkeesian’s of this world suddenly playing up the trolling and treating it seriously?

Criado-Perez’s profile and cause was advanced by taking the trolling seriously, it got her a great deal of attention, media appearances, sympathy and social and political capital to spend on her activism. Same for Suey Park.

Sarkeesian made $160,000 off the back of it, along with awards and becoming the go-to spokeswoman for women in gaming despite being revealed as a fraud, a thief (more than once) and being linked to exploitative junk science (handwriting analysis) and pyramid schemes. Being able to point at trolls and act as though they were serious allows her to deflect attention from these problems and to ignore the wealth of, in depth, legitimate criticism of her analysis and positions, to block comments on her videos and even to ignore people asking where she’s spent the money.

Nor has the vehement reaction to Sarkeesian been unique and nor is it gendered. Much has been made of the cheap and nasty flash game someone made where you could slap Sarkeesian around and the abuse she had gotten, but those with a memory may remember another person who attacked the gaming culture, Jack Thompson, getting virtually identical treatment.

There’s at least one study that shows men suffer as many threats and as much abuse online (or more), but it’s telling that I had huge trouble finding it due to the way in which the Google search terms are completely flooded with the singular concern over the threats made towards women online. Ditch the Label also found the bullying was equal, not directed especially at women.

Why Might Men be Resentful?

I think the above, in which I’ve striven to support my assertions and to present a more balanced view than the previous article demonstrates that what is going on is not what is being assumed by activists are two different things. If we can properly identify what is going on without the pre-existing assumptions we may be able to figure out ways to cope with or address the issues as they actually are.

Is there any legitimacy to the claims that men – or at least many men – are resentful, angry or upset?

There, I think, there are some things to be considered, but the existing feminism dominated paradigm is too fixated on the idea that men are bad and that everything is their fault. The problems men face aren’t taken seriously and these kinds of anti-male accusations end up contributing to the problem rather than helping to solve anything.

If men are feeling disaffected and besieged, it does not mean that they’re afraid or angry because their supposed privilege and power is being eroded. It can be – and I think is – down to genuine inequality, unfairness and the loss of respect and rights without a commensurate reduction in responsibilities.

What we have at the moment needs to be replaced with a genuine, properly informed dialogue that takes in both sides.

#BlurredLines – Blurred Indeed

labyrinth (1)

Take Sarah’s advice on dealing with trolls.

Kirsty Wark presented a show called Blurred Lines – referencing the song – on the BBC, one just as awful and biased as the one about porn hosted by Jameela Jamil and retreading much of the same, tired, old ground as that did.

You might still be able to find it on iPlayer but the central thesis, presented at the start of the program is the question whether there’s a:

New culture in which men feel they have the freedom, and the right, to speak about, write about and portray women in a derogatory – even abusive – way.

I don’t know that it’s new exactly, but yes. People have the freedom and right to speak about, write about and portray other people in a derogatory and even abusive way. Within certain legal bounds varying by state and constitution.

The immediate presumption is that any of this must be down to misogyny and sexism. Misogyny is the hatred of women and it does not follow that enjoying a crude joke at the expense of women, or even trolling come to that, means that a person actually hates women. Sexism is prejudice on the basis of gender. Women seeming to expect different, special or protected treatment would be sexism, but against men in the form of positive discrimination for women.

This isn’t, of course, to say that there isn’t genuine misogyny and sexism out there, rather that the problem appears to be being misdiagnosed.

Wark starts out, after the introduction, by admitting that women are now equal in the eyes of the law and admitting that many think that that’s a case of ‘job done’ so far as feminism is concerned. I would be inclined to agree and to promote an egalitarian and humanistic outlook based on achieving equality for all in a similar fashion in as many arenas as possible. Others think differently and want to try and force changes in other spheres while leaving other problems, arguably now higher in priority, unattended.

Underneath it all is the telling, socially conservative concept that sex is bad. That the liberated libertine is somehow not in control of their own desires and can’t really like what it is that they say they like. She talks of a backlash against feminism when what I see is a backlash against the libertine strides made in the 80s and 90s.

An example is made of an event in Stirling on a bus, a university sports team singing a rather saucy song, as sports teams have been wont to do since the dawn of time. Nothing special about it, other than it was recorded and presented as somehow being unusual and bad. Drunk sports fans and teams on public transport are a problem to everyone, not just women, because it’s annoying and loud but drunk people will act like arseholes. It can’t even be that intimidating since they were confronted about it and recorded. Drunk people of either sex can be intimidating and annoying, but there’s usually no more to it than that. It seems to be another example of overreaction, an overreaction that is being encouraged, expected, even demanded.

‘Lad culture’ is portrayed as a backlash to the power-suited women and ‘new men’ of the late eighties while I think those of us at the time just saw it as a breath of fresh air and an allowance to look at pretty girls and have a drink without feeling guilty all the time. The Loaded editor made a good point that women were celebrated. Even if it was for their looks, that can hardly be called misogyny and – as he pointed out – it’s what sold. He did concede that the women were like objects, to sell the magazine, which he probably shouldn’t have but the point that everyone seems to miss, even though Rene Magritte got it right, is that “Ceci n’est pas une femme.”

He further goes on to make a point that I consistently find compelling in these arguments. That people are – on the whole – intelligent and savvy enough to tell the difference between something said in humour, irony or contextual harmlessness and those which are not. The other side, patronisingly (or is that matronisingly?) seems to think that the only ones able to view such material unaffected are themselves.

That is, in a large way, what has rendered sexist commentary humorous in that it is now so socially unacceptable that it is almost only ever uttered in the form of a joke. This is not something that should be fought since it’s humour at the expense of sexism and that undermines its power. Trolling is another story, there it’s to get a rise.

Perhaps feeling trapped he backed away from supporting MacFarlane’s boobs song at the Oscars and some near-the-knuckle T-shirts, but I would consider even those to be fine, at least the one’s shown. T shirts can’t really hurt you.

That section segued into one about comedy and differences in sense of humour between men and women. Offence comedians like Frankie Boyle base their whole oeuvre on outrageously over the top abusiveness that you simply can’t take seriously – unless you’re an idiot. The silly-string/pepper spray/rape joke by some American comedian was less funny, but that was more to do with delivery and timing than the joke itself.

The comedian she interviews makes another solid point. ‘Why do you think women are a sacred cow?’ he asks, and then goes on ‘I think it’s about equality’. There he has it absolutely right. What has changed is not that women are being abused per se, but that they are being treated equally – that is with exactly the same contempt, hostility and verbal rough-housing that men have always subjected each other to. Equality needn’t necessarily be all rainbows and glitter.

Then we get into trolling, politician’s gaffes and journalistic spats. This is a bit of an unfair conflation I think, though perhaps journalistic link-bait comes closest to trolling. The examples given are too much of a mish mash to address at length, ranging from Cameron’s ‘calm down dear’ to a UKIP member’s anachronistic use of the word ‘slut’.

A psychologist is then wheeled out, telling us things we already knew but with a different spin on it. The idea – as with all moral panics – is that media, jokes etc somehow brainwash people. What he actually found was that people who were already sexist were drawn to and empowered by it while those who were not sexist were essentially unaffected. Where this differs is in trying to blame the behaviour of the already prejudiced group on the environment around them, rather than the men themselves. What we’ve found in other, similar studies is that having an outlet can reduce or delay bad behaviours. EG: Most men who consume ‘violent’ pornography are no more likely to commit rape, those men who are more likely to rape anyway may find their desires blunted or delayed by access to that porn.

The documentary then moves on to the internet, with reference to abuse thrown at Mary Beard, Criado-Perez and – surprise surprise – Anita Sarkeesian.

Wark only monitored the abuse towards women, specifically those appearing on Question Time and not the abuse hurled towards the men. Studies have shown that the volume of threats is comparable, what’s different is the type of abuse. Women tend to get abuse over their looks and get sexual threats or derision, men tend to get threats of violence and abuse over other qualities – arguably more relevant – like intelligence.

Can this be said to show misogyny or sexism? Not really. It’s a matter of utility. What hits home? What is more effective and insulting? Trolls go for the soft target, angry people attack because of ideas. For whatever reason women are more vulnerable to insults and disrespect in general and to sexual threats and derision in particular.

Why is a threat to rape one person (female) treated more seriously than a threat to decapitate another (male)? There’s no reason why the rape – objectively less terrible than being killed – should be thought worse other than the ‘privileged’ position in which he hold women and the peculiar sensitivity we have towards sex.

If someone is insulting your looks, it’s irrelevant to the point your making. Why pay it any attention whatsoever? Is this the difference? Women aren’t used to it, aren’t brought up in an environment where they’re used to it? Is the answer for men to soften down or for women to toughen up?

And why, why, why, why are you taking trolling seriously?

Criado-Perez is essentially a troll, a legitimately unhinged fringe feminist who sees it as a victory to have knocked Darwin (a legitimate world-shaping genius) off the fiver, for Jane Austen a tedious writer of dreary romance novels. She flew off the handle at some irrelevant trolling, lumped legitimate criticism of her in with it so she could ignore it and ended up prosecuting a campaign that put two harmless, stereotypical, basement-dwelling trolls in jail for a whopping eight weeks at huge expense. Her example is also being used to tighten up restrictions on the internet. None of this is any victory for British citizens or human beings at all, let alone feminism. One need only look at her feed to see her pulling the same tactics, such as her over-the-top reaction to Sarah Pinborough.

It might be that threats to rape and murder are illegal, but if they’re spurious, what then? If I steal the last biscuit and my wife threatens to kill me, it’s a spurious threat and a joke. Trolls might not be joking per se (they’re trying to get a reaction) but otherwise how is that any different? Why take these ‘threats’ seriously?

I think the answer is that it serves their purpose to take them seriously. It gets them sympathy currency to spend and creates an atmosphere of ‘something must be done’ that helps them push their agenda. Ironically, it perpetuates the ‘woman as victim’ trope, but as one from which power can be derived.

She talks to Rod Liddle, who gives the only real, sensible countering voice in the whole documentary. As he points out, abuse is universal and it can be disregarded. He rattles off some of the insults and threats he gets every day (I could do much the same) and asks the pertinent question.

Why would it be any worse for a woman to get these threats?

It’s rhetorical of course. It isn’t any worse. It’s simply reacted to more and treated as worse.

As he says: “If there’s one thing to take from this, it’s that you must not take the internet seriously.”

After that the documentary tries to shore up the idea that internet speech matters by showing how it spreads and circulates from article to commentariat to social media and back. She thinks she’s tracking abuse, but what she’s actually tracking is a trend, or meme. An item catches someone’s attention, they talk about it, social media talks about it and then the media – may – talk about the reaction. All perfectly normal and not at all sinister. The linguist’s bias is obvious the moment she starts talking about objectification. We desperately need neutral research in all these areas.

Wark returns to talk to Liddle after this analysis and again, he knocks it out of the park.

“As soon as we feel this self-censorship coming on, ‘oh my god if I write this will people take it the wrong way’. It’s incredibly damaging and limiting to freedom of speech. That’s no way for a journalist to behave.”

Wark then goes to talk to Laurie Penny about whether the internet is amplifying sexism that was there or whether it’s something new. Now, I don’t know what internet Laurie Penny grew up on but it bears little resemblance to the one I knew.

I have excellent internet hipster credentials, having first logged into BBSs and MUDs on a creaking modem and my Atari ST. I’ve been plugged in as much as possible since then. The early internet was very welcoming, very open, didn’t treat anyone too badly and while it was predominantly male that was because the kinds of skills and tech knowledge needed was, at the time, predominantly a male field and sufficiently technical to keep normal people offline.

The ‘bad shit’ only really started to happen once the internet became ubiquitous, that is, the attitudes they are criticising only became noticeable once ordinary people started using the internet in larger numbers.

Again though, there’s the immediate presumption that all these people sharing jokes – in whatever bad taste – or accessing pornography necessarily hate women and that this represents sexism and misogyny that genuinely exists.

Laurie is right when she talks about the early internet as a utopian space, but that is a source of a great deal of the resistance to those who came into those spaces demanding that its utopian rules – especially about free expression – be curtailed. By and large that was, and has continued to be, feminists, the politically correct, members of various minorities who wanted to police speech which, of course, only prompted a larger and more visceral reaction. Laurie misattributes this to prejudice and hatred because despite knowing the lingo she doesn’t seem to be able to empathise with those who were being impinged upon.

This is where talk of ‘male space’ becomes important, because the internet as a whole was a male space and now, on or offline, there is no safe male space, while there are safe female spaces. It’s like the loss of working men’s pubs. Men would go there, bitch harmlessly about the missus, sink a few pints and go home and it wouldn’t mean a thing. Now there’s nowhere to hide, in either the virtual or physical world and that, along with being told women want equality, means they’re running into things and – mistakenly – taking them seriously.

Laurie paints nerd/geek culture as misogynistic, but it never has been. Distrustful of women yes, but this is not the same as being misogynistic. Women who entered the space and earned their chops were and always have been treated fine but nerds and geeks were often traumatised by and therefore suspicious of women. This is much less the case in the upcoming generations where general nerdery is much more acceptable, even sexy, but for now it endures – and with good reason. It’s just not misogyny, they don’t hate women, they’re wary.

Note that this doesn’t make such behaviour rational or acceptable, any more than the behaviour of some men makes some women’s fear of men as a whole gender legitimate or acceptable. It does make both instances understandable though.

Many of these nerdy, geeky spaces were male spaces, now they’re not, this likely wouldn’t be a problem so much if there weren’t so many attempts to police, control and change/ruin those spaces. Many women coming into those spaces are seeking to add and diversify, but to control and erase. Make more art, don’t tell other people what to do.

There’s a bog standard critique of Grand Theft Auto, which fails to note the humour, parody and satire or the fact that it deliberately stirs up controversy to get sales and interest. Why do people make Youtube videos of their prostitute killing in GTA? Precisely because its a stereotype and because people overreact to it. It’s a deliberate cliché.

How women are treated when playing online is another tired old trope. The answer is, yet again, the same as men. Which is what most women profess to want. People trash talk each other, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, they just go for whatever is going to get a reaction and throw you off your game. Don’t react, don’t let it affect you and it won’t happen.

Then, for the love of the fuck, professional victim Anita Sarkeesian pops up. She’s a fraud, a scam artist, a liar and people have worked this out since day one. She’s also obvious troll bait and has the same synergistic relationship with trolls that Criado-Perez has. She simply cannot be trusted, she’s using a whipped up situation in order to profit from it. Again, she conflates genuine critique with trolling but at least seems to understand that, to trolls, it’s a game of prestige, though she still makes the mistake of taking it seriously. She also claims it’s the hatred of women, rather than hatred of her specifically.

Sarkeesian has no business being taken seriously by the media, or the computer games industry. And yet…

The documentary wraps up with an exploration of why men might feel the way they allegedly feel, starting from Greer’s quote about women having no idea just how much men hate them. A grandiose statement that still has no real evidence behind it. Men love women, men make huge sacrifices for women, men want women to be happy to the point where they put their own needs behind those of women and that has – arguably – been taken advantage of and led to something of a reversal in the social positions of the sexes.

Greer victim blames men while simultaneously pointing out that men have no spaces of their own any more. She thinks it’s due to men being toppled from their imaginary perch at the top when it seems to me more than women are not only occupying mens spaces and leaving them none, but that they are also demanding that those spaces all be changed to accommodate women in every regard. The same issues facing gaming in other words, demanding others change what they love, rather than adding what they love. It’s like the difference between cultural assimilation, cultural ghettoisations and cultural conflict you can see in various racial and religious demographics in UK cities.

It’s not ‘female success’ as claimed in the documentary, that is giving men an identity crisis. It’s societal failing of men.

What it is to be a man today is an important question and some of what the man they interview next about that says is accurate. There’s little in the way of traditional male employment, offices are feminised, men are failing in education while women continue to get all the help. Men feel surplus to requirements, unneeded as fathers, partners, husbands or as participatory in society at all. Simultaneously the modern feminists blame them for everything and tell them they’re dominant in a society that affords them no such dominance and very few opportunities in the case of the majority.

Women can do anything and are constantly told and helped into doing anything. There’s been no similar examination of manhood and solutions, sadly including those that this lecturer presents, tend to concentrate on eliminating manhood entirely, rather than examining it and redefining it.

And then we end with some kink shaming and blaming of violent porn, that we’ve gone over before and exposed as bullshit.

We need strong, countering, level headed, intelligent voices and they’re simply not being represented in opposition to this moral panic.

Atheism Isn’t Awful

There seem to be a string of stories lately about various ‘schisms’ or ‘problems’ within atheism. Part of this is inevitable backlash to the ground that New Atheism has won – and is to be expected. If just not-being religious is enough to upset people then it’s hardly surprising that being critical of religion will elicit an even stronger reaction. This reaction isn’t, of course, only limited to the people that follow a religion but the people who are averse to criticising it because its rude or who, patronisingly, think it’s ‘good stuff for other people’.

This article is symptomatic of the problem. A laundry-list of non-controversies, misunderstandings and manufactured arguments that have amounted to very little in the greater swing of things. It then proceeds to blame entirely the wrong people.

Harris has been a target for some of his comments, mostly because he treats Islam without the kidgloves that have come to be expected and because some people are incapable of separating criticism from Islamophobia and Islamophobia from racism. Not that I’m sure a religion with as many problems as Islam can truly be considered to be a feared irrationally. Fear can be a rational response when something is genuinely terrifying.

Dawkins is blunt and grumpy but that – and his wit – is what makes him so effective. Put anyone’s ideas and statements under the level of scrutiny that he is put under by the tumblrgh crowd and they’ll find something to get upset about. The absolute worst interpretation is always put upon anything he says by those with an axe to grind and it’s rather dishonest.

Dennett’s avoided many of the same issues, largely – I think – by being ill and looking like Father Christmas. His criticisms of religion are no less powerful and forthright, he just doesn’t seem to have grabbed the same attention.

Hitchens is, of course, dead – sadly. He, however, exemplifies the ‘angry prick’ stereotype so repetitiously hammered home in the article. However, being an angry prick is what made Hitchen’s career and what made him such a powerful critic of religion, so quotable and so useful in the debate circuses that normally favour the folksy, nice-seeming creationists and religious apologists.

What atheism means is not difficult. It’s simple absence of belief in god/s. If you want to get into atheist activism we can go a little further, but not much. That would be ‘because there’s no good reason to believe in god, religion should not influence education, politics, health’.

It’s really not that hard to grasp. All the schisms that have come in, mentioned in the article, stem from people trying to hitch various other causes to atheism’s wagon.

Being a Dick: We need people willing to be dicks and others who don’t act like dicks. Dennett and Harris – softer spoken types – got through to people that Dawkins and Hitchens did not and vice versa. It’s a cliché, but sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind and the kinds of people we often deal with as atheists are not amenable to logic and reason. Engaging them, getting them going, on an emotional level will sometimes reach them in a way that simply being logical and right will not. It can also force someone to defend the indefensible, something that can cause reflection later on or show up hypocrisy to the peanut gallery. This isn’t a problem in atheism, it’s a problem with trying to tie behavioural policing and ‘social-justice’ rhetoric to atheism.

The Soft Left: Criticising Islam is not racism nor bound up in fear. Yes there are right-wing groups using the criticism of the horrors of Islam to stir up hatred but while they’re racist pricks that doesn’t mean criticism of Islam and concern about it are racist or invalid simply because the BNP has ‘poisoned the well’. We’re now in the bizarre position where many soft-left talking heads who claim to be against misogyny, violence and all these other things are giving Islam a free pass and exposing themselves as hypocrites. This isn’t a problem with atheism. It’s a problem with conflating other political issues – such as race – with religion and criticism thereof.

Sexism: While there are almost certainly genuine misogynists in the broad, atheist movement (keep in mind it also contains libertarians, Randroids, diehard Marxists and other oddities as well as people that just don’t believe in god) it doesn’t seem to me that it is a particular problem and – indeed – that it is a much lesser problem than elsewhere. What it does have – not unlike other arenas such as gaming, SF&F etc – is a much higher degree of concern and activism by certain parties within it, making the problem seem like it is more prevalent, present or endemic. Again, all that unites atheists is not believing in god and atheists as a whole tend to be rather skeptical. Expecting them to swallow highly politicised and poorly supported gender theory without question is a bit much to expect and treating any questioning or skeptical rigour as hatred is going to attract scorn.

Atheism just means we don’t believe in god and it means we are free to examine things with a more skeptical eye and one that can look to genuine solutions rather than ones that rely on dubious authority. People like the – much praised in this article – Rebecca Watson are not engaging in that, rather they are placing their own unfounded prejudices and biases upon the pedestal that others have placed religion. She’s the poster child for everything we shouldn’t be and the failure of A+ is a heartening example that there’s still hope.

All these issues are not issues with atheism. They are issues where someone has assumed that just because we both agree that the idea of a god is stupid and has no place in public life that we must therefore agree on whatever pet cause they have and have internally wedded to atheism. Atheism and secularism are one thing, hooking other things to that wagon such as radical feminism, over-extended race politics or whatever else narrows the appeal and causes divisions. If you decry ageism, classism, racism and sexism in one breath, then condemn or ignore someone out of hand for being old, middle class, white or male in the next then you’re an obvious hypocrite and should expect to be treated as such.

We need to re-separate the various causes, not combine them. Atheism is just one kind of activism and as atheists we don’t all have to agree on every point past that, singular one. Follow your other causes on your own time, subject them to the same level of skepticism and reason and don’t expect to set up new sacred cows in the place of the one we just knocked over without a fight.

As to the honey, doesn’t it just bring home how fucking stupid the security precautions have gotten?

The only dick here is the linkbaiting @mjrobbins

Male Slut Shaming II

fetish-bettiepage

In a comment in the previous blog on this, I got a rather long reply. Which I’ll address here as a separate topic.

While I agree that men should feel comfortable buying sex toys, etc, I find this part problematic:

“If a man likes violent pornography, rough sex or rape fantasies the expectation is different. The alarm triggers go off and it is going to be thought they’re a risk. It’s going to be thought that because they enjoy the fantasy they’re going to want to do the deed. They are not afforded the same understanding of the difference between reality and fantasy that a woman is.”

and

“You know Christian Bale isn’t Batman. Right? What’s the difference? He beats up the Joker for our gratification, Jenna Jameson takes a facial for our gratification. The entertainment doesn’t define the person.”

1.) I would question what part of a supposedly benevolent, kind, and empathetic man fantasizes about raping women – this is a direct contradiction. If a man fantasized about killing people, beating people, etc, I would feel the same way. The only way you can reconcile this contradiction is if you admit that these fantasies don’t come out of the kindness of a person’s heart; why should I see a man who wants to degrade me as laudable? Utterly illogical.

This is the very point addressed in the previous blog. Not only do critics seem unable to disentangle reality from fantasy in a way that would be  worrying in a consumer of ‘problematic’ media, but they seem to not understand that nice, wonderful people can have dark fantasies. Have you never been cut up in traffic and imagined, in your mind’s eye, pulling a trigger on the steering wheel to machinegun them James Bond style? It’s not a nice thought when you actually consider it, is it? Yes it is arguably a common fantasy.

It’s not laudable, but it’s also not something to be condemned either. It’s neutral, it’s fantasy, it isn’t real. What we do have here is a marked gender difference. While such fantasies aren’t  necessarily accepted by some women, it is a lot more acceptable for a woman to have rape fantasies than it is for a man to express the counterpart.

This seems a little, well, sexist.

If we can understand that a woman’s forced-sex fantasy is only a fantasy and doesn’t reflect a genuine desire to be attacked, then why can’t we accept and understand the same for the other sex?

Prejudice.

There are psychological studies demonstrating a link between violent porn and sexist and rape apologetic attitudes. It’s also fascinating to me how one can try to entirely obliterate the fact that fantasy is influenced by reality. For instance, women aren’t called sluts, whores, bitches, and hoes in porn because of a fantasy. Women are called these terms because these terms (that have no male equivalent with the same connotations) are applied to sexual women in day-to-day life and because we live in a still-sexist society. Nothing fantastical about it.

There are also psychological studies showing the opposite and that porn etc provides a useful and societally beneficial outlet for sexual tension and frustration. If you think there’s no equivalents to these terms, I suggest acquainting yourself better with gay porn, male prostitution and the world outside your front door. There is sexism in society, yes, but it runs both ways. You demonstrate it in your assumptions about men, about talking dirty and in your readiness to uncritically accept evidence that suits your conclusion.

A summary of some of the research showing this within the last five years or so is found here.

This seems to be a similar issue in many ways, oddly, to the abortion one. Countries with the lowest rates of abortion have easy access to it, easy access to contraception and good sex education. Yet, if you look at the US the anti-abortion crowd are against all of these things which, ironically, is pretty much guaranteed to increase the number of abortions and teen pregnancies. For them, the trouble is that it goes against their political orthodoxy, so they resist the unquestionable data.

It’s much the same with decriminalisation and legalisation/regulation of drugs.

With pornography the problem is that feminist dogma cannot accept that it can contribute to a lessening of harm, so an irrational opposition based on politically justified personal distaste rules the day.

2.) Jenna Jameson authored a book called “How to Make Love Like a Porn Star” that was quite critical of the porn industry. The difference is that Christian Bale isn’t actually beating up the joker (and hopefully people aren’t actually getting pleasure from another’s pain from a film), while that girl in a porno may or may be enjoying it for your pleasure. One thing worth mentioning is why porn has gotten increasingly more violent and degrading; facials didn’t used to be common at all. In fact, there are pornographers themselves who have gone on the record about needing to produce more shocking porn in accordance to the viewer’s taste, and yes, most of this porn is violent against women. It’s easy to say there’s nothing wrong with it, and I do believe porn portrays sexual acts that aren’t intrinsically degrading as needlessly degrading, but when many men are leaving comments along the lines of “make that bitch take it” and “cum on that fucking whore’s face” on porn videos, it makes me wonder.

And yet she worked in it for a long time, consensually, and made pots of money. As have many others. It’s their bodily and creative autonomy at stake but again, political orthodoxy apparently requires that women who make the ‘wrong’ choices (adult work, homemaking etc) must be criticised and demonised – like they didn’t already have enough.

Bale might not actually be beating up the Joker, but stunt men and fight coordinators are engaging in dangerous physical acts for our enjoyment. It’s really not so different as you have tried to unravel it to be.

I wouldn’t take comments on porn videos any more seriously than I take comments on Youtube or newspaper articles. Again, I think you’re not really understanding ‘talking dirty’. New and more exciting – or less familiar – content is  sought in any and all media. Why would porn be any exception? It also serves, rather than creates, a market per se. Facials are thought to stimulate ‘sperm competition’ and hence arousal. What you need to reconcile is that women are increasingly consuming and enjoying porn – even extreme porn – and not only in the form of 50 Shades. For a great look at this I suggest reading A Billion Wicked Thoughts, which, while already out of date explores this – amongst other themes.

You aren’t addressing any of the negative effects of the porn industry which, sorry to say, exist.

For instance:

http://jiv.sagepub.com/content/7/4/454.abstract

http://www1.umn.edu/aurora/pdf/ResearchOnPornography.pdf

You also may find this interesting:

http://journals.democraticunderground.com/Anti-Porn%20Activist/4

http://www.heyepiphora.com/2011/02/porn-degradation-and-khan-tusion/

While I don’t believe in censorship and think people should be able to do as they please, you don’t recognize intricacies and while I may agree that there’s nothing wrong with finding women attractive, porn is another issue altogether that goes far beyond that. If analyzed, it’s often a sociological study in society’s sexism, and even racism and classism, as evidenced by porn that scorns “white trash” women and utilizes negative racist stereotypes. I don’t believe porn needs to be sexist, either, and there is absolutely porn that isn’t problematic out there.

If you don’t see any issues with porn, deeper issues lie with you.

I believe the first few I’ve addressed. As to the last one, there are shitty people in any and every industry and type of work. Where I used to work my boss embezzled money, ultimately causing me and several others to lose our jobs due to the missing money. I work in publishing now and there’s some real shits who don’t just pirate, but pirate, steal art, reprint and sell books.

To further wear out a tired old phrase, the plural of anecdote is not data.

We live in an apparent age of neo-puritanism that threatens to stifle creativity, sexuality and to fuck up an entire generation or two of men by convincing them they carry around some sort of ‘original sin’ for the crime of having a penis. It’s entirely possible that some of this dominant and aggressive porn is a reaction to that, an outlet. These scare stories about pornography have been around before about comics, Dungeons & Dragons, heavy metal music and computer games. In every case there’s been no good data to support the idea that the media causes the behaviour and there’s no reason to think porn is any different.

There’s room for fantasies of all sorts, including ‘problematic’ ones. Variety is good in all things, but that’s going to include things that you don’t happen to like. If there’s no demonstrable harm, then why try to interfere in people’s sex lives? Real or fantastical? Why try to deny or interfere in women’s ability to choose a career in adult work? Why judge the consumer and try to shame him in the same way evangelicals do with homosexuals?

Where I have some agreement with you is on the racial thing. I just don’t ‘get it’, but I recognise my cultural and political biases in relation to it. The racism against blacks in American pornography is, frankly, weird to me as a Brit, but it seems to be a powerful fetish there for some reason and the black actors are doing the work willingly so despite my disquiet I have to notch that up to ‘Who am I to judge?’ as well.

Who is really the progressive here?

Skeptical About Misogyny

2010-02-28-sexist-pig

Context is everything.

This Slate article from last year by Rebecca Watson is doing the rounds again and is being treated as gospel by some people. The issues and problems raised in and by the article are relevant to various things going on at the moment in various spheres I’m involved in. Some of the tactics are reminiscent of the rhetoric around the government porn ban, similar groups of radical feminists and other disruptive influences are trying to use the same sort of arguments and tactics in nerd/geek/gaming culture and this is worrisome.

I’ve been horribly mean about Watson in the past, not because she’s a woman but because she seems to me to be a dishonest opportunist. Still, I’ll try and keep this relatively level-headed and civil to make the necessary points.

So using quotes from the article as prompts…

When I first started finding a large audience on my skepticism website, on my podcast, and on YouTube, I wasn’t terribly bothered by the occasional rape threat, sexist slur, or insult about my looks. There was something downright amusing about a creationist calling me a cunt while praying that I’d find the love of Jesus. The threats were coming from outside of my community. Outside of my safe space.

At this point in Watson’s career she was properly focussed on skepticism and atheism. These were the things she presented and these were the things that were attacked. Some of it by trolls, some of it by people who genuinely opposed her – probably from the religious and woo communities. We all get this, we skeptics, the death threats, the sexual threats, the rape threats. We get told we’re going to burn in hell forever, or that people will beat us up. Muslims threaten to behead us. It’s not like this is limited to skeptics either. Post an opinion, any opinion, on a political forum and see the abuse you get. Identify yourself as gay, bisexual, transexual, black, Asian, whatever and someone is going to use that to try and attack you. Basically, the rule is, if you say something somewhere on the internet someone is going to take loud and obnoxious issue with it. Show a weakness, someone is going to troll you.

It wasn’t until I started talking about feminism to skeptics that I realized I didn’t have a safe space.

Why would a safe space to be a skeptic and atheist necessarily be a safe space to talk about feminism? Why would someone like Watson think that skepticism wouldn’t also be extended to her ideological beliefs about gender? I wouldn’t expect a knitting circle to necessarily share my views about free expression when it comes to pornography so why would someone expect a skeptic space to be automatically welcoming and accepting to feminism? Why would Watson think that her ideological faith wouldn’t be examined by skeptics in the same way that religion, political extremism or homeopathy is?

I felt we were doing important work: making a better, more rational world and protecting people from being taken advantage of. At conventions, skeptic speakers and the audience were mostly male, but I figured that was something we could balance out with a bit of hard work and good PR.

There’s a whole bunch of factors as to why there’s a fairly big gender gap but this is at a societal level more than at a conference or group level. Still, despite that The Amazing Meeting had gotten up to a creditable 40% female attendance rate off their own backs. The first sentence is a little ironic, since that is how many of Watson’s dissenters feel about her and those like her, like Atheism+ etc. We feel we’re trying to make a better, more rational world and protect people from being exploited – by the ideas Watson et al are promoting and the scaremongering they’re engaged in. The irony is that Watson et al screwed up what had been vast improvements in gender parity, 180 degrees from what she claimed to want.

Then women started telling me stories about sexism at skeptic events, experiences that made them uncomfortable enough to never return. At first, I wasn’t able to fully understand their feelings as I had never had a problem existing in male-dominated spaces. 

As a skeptic, she should know that claims are not evidence. There’s no reporting of these alleged incidents, no evidence, so how can we accept them as true? If it was so bad why haven’t there been any significant reports of such since and why was there only one at one TAM and none at the following two TAMs? (Or since, IIRC). How would this compare with the general community outside conferences?

Why would you expect anyone, let alone skeptics, to take action on nothing but hearsay and rumour?

I started checking out the social media profiles of the people sending me these messages, and learned that they were often adults who were active in the skeptic and atheist communities. They were reading the same blogs as I was and attending the same events. These were “my people,” and they were the worst.

Individuals are not the community, Youtube is a trolltastic pit of scum and these claims are also not substantiated. We’re supposed to simply nod our heads and agree and if you don’t, apparently you’re excusing and encouraging abuse. ‘With us or against us’ (false dilemma).

Thinking the solution was to educate the community, I started giving talks about the areas where feminism and skepticism overlap. I encouraged audiences to get involved with issues like ending FGM, fighting the anti-woman pseudoscience of the religious right, and aiding those branded as “witches” in rural African villages.

And these are, indeed, areas of overlap and things that skeptics rightly oppose but the issue for skeptics is not that these are anti-woman, but that they are bullshit. That it’s anti-woman bullshit is just a nice bonus reason to fight it. However, that doesn’t mean feminism is free of bullshit or immune to skepticism just because it shares some goals and causes.

As I got to the elevator, a man who I had not yet spoken with directly broke away from the group and joined me. As the doors closed, he said to me, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting. Would you like to come back to my hotel room for coffee?” I politely declined and got off the elevator when it hit my floor.

Oh noes.

Unsurprisingly, this met with a collective eyeroll by the majority of the atheist community as being utterly inconsequential. No-one is disputing that it may have made Watson feel uncomfortable, rather they are disputing that it was anything even approaching an actual problem. The collective response was largely ‘so what?’ and thus the ‘wars’ started. Watson etc got more entrenched and ended up showing what has been seen as their ‘true colours’ in wanting to clamp down on social interactions, ‘sanitise’ debates, not be questioned, not be asked for evidence and it all seemed rather too familiar to people who are used to arguing with the religious faithful.

It began to look very much like dogma, irrationality and faith.

Question it? You’re a misogynist. Dawkins weighed in and while I don’t agree that X being worse than Y makes Y acceptable, when Y is nothing at all the man has a point. The response? Racism ‘What do you know, you’re white?’ Sexism ‘What do you know, you’re male?’ Ageism ‘What do you know, you’re old?’ slurs, hatred and the kind of thing Watson herself has described as being terrible when it happens to her and par for the course from the faithful.

It exposed a certain wing of skepticism that was not at all skeptical towards radical feminist beliefs and had no problem being prejudiced towards the rest of ‘their’ community. Understandably, this pissed a lot of people off and the well publicised drama drew trolls like flies to a particularly delicious cowpat.

Dawkins’ seal of approval only encouraged the haters. My YouTube page and many of my videos were flooded with rape “jokes,” threats, objectifying insults, and slurs. A few individuals sent me hundreds of messages, promising to never leave me alone. My Wikipedia page was vandalized. Graphic photos of dead bodies were posted to my Facebook page.

Why is Watson presuming this is ‘her community’ rather than ‘sick individuals’ or trolls? She made herself a target, identified the things that would wind her up and the trolls struck. Having been attacked by trolls before she should know better. I’ve seen many of the anonymous threats etc myself, I was active at the time. They’re so obviously trolling (at least the vast majority of them) I can’t see how anyone would think otherwise. The more articulate objections have been ignored or had mud flung at them, rather than being engaged with, which also fuelled frustration. When a demand for evidence is treated as a personal attack by someone claiming to be a skeptic, something has gone very wrong.

121018_DX_Tweet.jpg.CROP.original-original

 

Whatever you think about this Tweet, it’s fairly obviously a joke (albeit in poor taste) but then the skeptic/atheist community often uses mocking, jokes and disrespect as a tool in debate and argumentation. Watson’s position equating being asked for coffee to harassment or abuse was ripe for satire, not all of it well executed.

Given that Watson’s reaction to the ‘Elevator incident’ had been so utterly disproportionate to what actually happened, maybe what followed was predictable.

The organizers of the conference, the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF)—the organization started by the person who first introduced me to skepticism—allowed the man to attend the conference and did nothing to reassure me. I attended anyway and never went anywhere alone. This past year I finally stopped attending TAM when the organizers blamed me and other harassed women in our community for driving women away by talking about our harassment.

To a (bad) jokey tweet that’s another overreaction and, given Watson’s history with the elevator, a certain amount of ‘She’s crying wolf’ seems perfectly understandable. Why would they bar someone over a bad joke? Since there were already mechanisms in place to deal with problems at the meeting why would they feel a need to reinforce or change them (especially since there hadn’t been any harassment reports)? Other than economic issues the only identifiable reason there might be less women from one conference to the next is the scaremongering Watson et al have engaged in. This annoyed and angered organisers because it worked against all they had been managing to do to bring more women to conference, something sabotaged – ironically – by ‘feminists’.

Other skeptical organizations have been more compassionate. Center for Inquiry (the umbrella organization for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry), American Atheists, and several humanist organizations have enacted anti-harassment policies for their conferences. But still, there are leaders in the skepticism community who refuse to accept that there is a problem, and those who play the “both sides are wrong” game, insinuating that “misogynist” is just as bad an insult as “cunt.”

I’d argue it’s worse. Admittedly I’m British and we use fucking swearing like fucking punctuation but still. One is simply an obscenity, the other is a direct attack on someone’s conduct, being and character. An unfounded accusation of misogyny (and frankly, that word gets tossed around far too liberally) is far worse than calling someone a cock or a cunt.

Anti-harassment policies are a problem because:
a) They’re unnecessary – the law of the land and a conference’s reserved right to toss people out for any reason already cover the issue.
b) They’re overreaching – anti-harassment policies have become trojan censorship policies, they’re trying to police normal, healthy, of age human behaviour and they’re trying to be extended beyond the reach of the conference itself.
c) They’re ripe for abuse, especially in the context of RadFem ideas about burden of proof and presumption of guilt.

Thunderf00t on Youtube tackles some of these issues head on.

Of course, being against these unnecessary and potentially dangerous harassment policies has been mischaracterised as being pro-harassment, something that’s now happening in tech and geek communities. One can be both against genuine acts of harassment, and against dangerously overreaching harassment policies at the same time.

Meanwhile, other skeptical women are being bullied out of the spotlight and even out of their homes. My fellow writer on Skepchick, Amy Davis Roth, moved after her home address was posted on a forum dedicated to hating feminist skeptics. In September, blogger Greta Christina wrote that “when I open my mouth to talk about anything more controversial than Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster recipes or Six More Atheists Who Are Totally Awesome, I can expect a barrage of hatred, abuse, humiliation, death threats, rape threats, and more.” And Jen McCreight stopped blogging and accepting speaking engagements altogether. “I wake up every morning to abusive comments, tweets, and emails about how I’m a slut, prude, ugly, fat, feminazi, retard, bitch, and cunt (just to name a few),” she wrote. “I just can’t take it anymore.”

I’m not a participant at the Slymepit but I know people who are and it’s about far more than ‘hating on feminists’. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander and the community as a whole is ruthless with bad ideas, nonsense ideology and faith beliefs. RadFem ideas are no exception and nor should they be. Demanding they be treated with some level of extra respect is not so far removed from anti-blasphemy rules.

I’m not completely au fait with the accusations of ‘Doxing’ but there’s been plenty of that on all sides.

Trolls are going to troll and there’s little we can do about it while still maintaining a free internet. Presuming these threats and slurs are meaningful or anything more than simple trolling is disingenuous. Of course, it supports their contentions to take the trolls seriously, so they’re not actually motivated to identify incidences of trolling.

I know that this article will only rile up the sexist skeptics. I’ll hear about how I’m a slut who deserves whatever I get, about how I’m a liar who made everything up, about how I’ve overreacted, and about how I should just ignore the trolls and they’ll go away. I’ve written this article anyway, because I strongly believe that the goals of skeptics are good ones, like strengthening science education, protecting consumers, and deepening our knowledge of human psychology. Those goals will never be met if we continue to fester as a middling subculture that not only ignores social issues but is actively antagonistic toward progressive thought.

Kafkatrap. If this riles you up, you must be sexist. Oh, it couldn’t possibly be that you disagree or find things to object to. No, it must just be that you’re sexist.

Yes Rebecca, you are going to be trolled – and I’m sure you were. We all are, pretty much constantly, if we have any profile and we speak up about anything. This is not a special plight of women. It’s damn near universal on the internet. Women get it worse – in some quarters – simply because being a woman is a big red flag that ragging on you about it and using sexist insults is very likely to get a reaction.

Watson did overreact.

Yes, the best way to deal with trolls is indeed to ignore them. Take them seriously, write articles like this, you just feed them and you get more and worse.

Atheism and skepticism is concerned with atheism and skepticism. That sometimes crosses over with other goals but the more extra goals and beliefs you include the more you whittle down that community and make it less effective. It’s not ‘progressive thought’ or feminism per se that the wider skeptic community is hostile to, it’s the same things it has always been hostile to. Fallacious reasoning, poor research, lack of evidence and faith beliefs.

For some reason, some people, take that as an attack