08 September 2012

Jen McCreight quits (2)

For the last few weeks I haven't been reading atheist blogs, or at least those on FTB or associated with it, as much as in the past.  Too much space was being taken up with intra-atheist infighting in the wake of the controversy over sexual harassment at atheist conferences.  It was clear that the harassment problem was real and serious, and that measures needed to be taken (and were being taken) to deal with it, but the infighting was using up energy that should be going into the struggle against religion.  In particular, the disgrace of "Thunderf00t" -- creator of one of my all-time favorite videos -- left a very bad aftertaste.  Basically, I gave time to other interests while waiting for normal programming to resume.

I've been agnostic, so to speak, about "Atheism Plus".  It seemed like an attempt to tie atheism to a laundry list of social causes which are mostly laudable but have nothing inherently to do with atheism.  Harmless enough, but not particularly interesting or necessary.

Then this happened.

I've been reading Jen McCreight on and off for a couple of years.  Besides consistently having an interesting take on things, she always seemed like a pleasant, upbeat person.  And she was, of course, the instigator of "boobquake", a take-down of Islamotard cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi which became a sterling example of combating religion via mockery.

This should be a wake-up call.  If someone as self-confident and as valuable to the movement as McCreight can be hounded out of the blogosphere by sexist harassment, then we have a deadly-serious problem.

Yet I've seen surprisingly little reaction on atheist blogs, and some writers seem determined to minimize or deny the issue.  For example, I've seen several comments suggesting that McCreight simply got tired or burnt out or needed a break.  This can't be an honest misunderstanding; it's wilful blindness worthy of a global-warming denialist.  From McCreight's farewell post:

Instead of feeling gleeful anticipation when writing up a post, I feel nothing but dread. There’s a group of people out there (google the ironic term FtBullies to find them) devoted to hating me, my friends, and even people I’m just vaguely associated with. I can no longer write anything without my words getting twisted, misrepresented, and quotemined. 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). If I block people who are twisting my words or sending verbal abuse, I receive an even larger wave of nonsensical hate about how I’m a slut, prude, feminazi, retard, bitch, cunt who hates freedom of speech (because the Constitution forces me to listen to people on Twitter). This morning I had to delete dozens of comments of people imitating my identity making graphic, lewd, degrading sexual comments about my personal life. In the past, multiple people have threatened to contact my employer with “evidence” that I’m a bad scientist (because I’m a feminist) to try to destroy my job. I’m constantly worried that the abuse will soon spread to my loved ones.  I just can’t take it anymore.

I've seen other women bloggers describe similar abuse, especially since taking sides in the conference-harassment fight.  I say again:  We have a deadly-serious problem here, and anyone who tries to deny or minimize it is part of that problem.  This is sinking to the enemy's level; this is atheists acting like Limbaugh vomiting filth at Sandra Fluke.  I had hoped and believed that the world of atheism would be at least relatively free of such asshole behavior, but since it turns out that mere lack of belief in deities is not, in fact, a guarantee of human decency, we need to figure out what to do about this.

It's practically impossible to control anyone's behavior on the internet (and on the whole, for obvious reasons, that's a good thing).  But at a bare minimum, we need to establish a community norm -- to the extent that atheism is a "community" -- that harassment is not tolerated behavior.  Identifiable harassers need to be named, shamed, shunned, and excluded.  People with technical knowledge should make their expertise available to help trace and identify anonymous harassers.  Above all, no one should be trying to justify such behavior or shrug it off as trivial.  Conference organizers have begun taking steps to squelch the problem of harassment at their venues.  Doing so in the blogosphere is going to be far more difficult, but there's no excuse for not doing what we can -- before we lose any more good people.

How will we know when we've succeeded?  When the atheist blogosphere is a safe enough space that McCreight feels comfortable blogging again.

9 Comments:

Blogger Bruce Gerencser said...

I am with you. While I do not support atheism+, the treatment of Jen is despicable. Sadly, within the atheist community, we have people who are every bit as vicious as pigheaded, nasty Christian fundamentalists. I have been, on several occasions, eviscerated by fundamentalist atheists who didn't like my agnostic view on the God question.

08 September, 2012 10:42  
Anonymous Marc McKenzie said...

@Bruce Gerencser: Agreed. I am not an atheist, and am not an agnostic either, but still....what happened to Jen was just plain wrong. She deserves our support, and we do need to hit back at what is, for me, a truly nasty face of the Internet.

It isn't just sexism either. It's the racism and anti-semitism that bubbles up and overflows. Granted, it is a few who cause trouble for everyone else, but those few need to be dealt with, as Infidel753 has pointed out.

08 September, 2012 12:51  
Blogger Ahab said...

Totally unacceptable. Jen shouldn't have had to endure that harassment, and now a good voice has been silenced. It's disgusting. Atheists and agnostics ought to be better than this.

08 September, 2012 12:58  
Blogger Ted McLaughlin said...

I am not a fan of Atheism+, but I have always enjoyed reading her blog. We should not have to always agree on everything to respect each other. There is no justification for the way she has been treated (and it happens far too often to women bloggers). I agree with you that those who act in such a despicable way should be outed and shamed.

08 September, 2012 13:15  
Blogger LadyAtheist said...

I agree completely and I have followed about the same pathway you have - I don't follow any of the freethought blogs closely, and I've followed even less closely since there's been less substance and more infighting.

It's distressing that sexist bullying has reached such a fever pitch, especially when the issue wasn't a sexual thing to begin with. I never paid attention to Atheism+ for the same reason I don't call myself a "bright" or join specific organizations.

I'm glad that some men have the empathy and insight to take on the issue of harrassment, and I don't see why that couldn't have been the end of it. I totally agree that the harrassers can and should be tracked down especially when threats are involved. If D.M. could be brought to justice why not the bullies?

I did actually appreciate PZ Myers' response to the thunderf00t episode. He defined freethought as he understood it, as more of a humanist movement than just thinking what you will. Right or wrong, at least he clarified what he was trying to do with his blog collective. Loftus' collective is more of an academic blog.

I remember all the drama surrounding the splitting up of the moderators of the old imdb (now frdb). I got the ultimatim from a friend that I was either with her or against her, and that made me feel really uncomfortable. I would like to feel that I can disagree with someone and still be friends. I have Christian friends, after all. Why would my atheist friendships have to be defined by 100% agreement on everything? There's nobody on the planet I would agree with 100% of the time, even myself! I reserve the right to disagree with myself and change my mind.

08 September, 2012 19:35  
Blogger Robert the Skeptic said...

"... When the atheist blogosphere is a safe enough space that McCreight feels comfortable blogging again."

This is NEVER going to happen.

My wife gets annoyed looking at the online version of the local newspaper seeing all the mindless anonymous comments attached to everyday news articles... and I mean "anonymous" through the use of login ID's or account handles. People aren't dumb, they know there are potential consequences to attaching their REAL name, their REAL identity to their opinions, so they hide their cowardice behind anonymity for the same reasons KKK members wear hoods - Shame!

Several years ago the local newspaper stopped accepting anonymous written letters to the editor; requiring a name, address and phone number. Yet, oddly, their online editions today have no such requirement. Local TV stations do this as well now, soliciting uninformed opinions from anonymous commenters... as if the ignorant opinion of some nobody adds anything to the discussion.

On a few occasions after one of my letters to the editor was published, people have telephoned me at home to discuss my comments. I had to be accountable for my comments and opinions. But with blogs, no commenter can be held accountable!

One solution is to have people "subscribe" to a blog, preferably with a credit card, and requiring their real name to be published with their comments. Or, if one considers a blog to be essentially an online "editorial", there is no requirement to even ALLOW comments. One thing McCreight or others can do is write there blogs and disable comments. Let the hateful respond on their own blogs... and ponder their own reprisals. But don't wait for it to become "safe", we know that will never happen.

08 September, 2012 22:43  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

BG: The real problem is frat-brat-type misogynists -- there seem to be a few of them in every group, including among atheists.

MM: Within the atheist realm I haven't seen much racism or anti-Semitism, but I almost feel like I'm tempting fate by saying so.

Ahab: Unfortunately, not everyone who rejects belief in deities is a decent person. Stalin was an atheist, after all.

TM: Yes, and even if one can't honestly feel respect, there's no excuse for harassment.

LA: I do get the impression that cliques are forming within atheism, and it's disquieting. Luckily we have the option of ignoring them, and I hope most will do so. Then the "you're either with me or against me" types will be the ones who find themselves isolated.

I think most men are repulsed by harassment like this, but as I said in the post, it bothers me that more blogs haven't posted about this.

RtS: I don't think you read the post very carefully. Most of the harassment isn't in the form of blog comments. As for the anonymity problem, I addressed that too. True, not every harasser can be unmasked -- but once a few are, that will put a little fear into the rest.

09 September, 2012 06:38  
Blogger Robert the Skeptic said...

I wake up every morning to abusive comments, tweets, and emails

Identifiable harassers need to be named, shamed, shunned, and excluded. People with technical knowledge should make their expertise available to help trace and identify anonymous harassers.

Donno, Infidel, I have a LOT of respect for your blog, but I read it again, I don't see what it is you think I've missed? I even suggested a method by which people could be unmasked... But shall we move on?

10 September, 2012 19:35  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

RtS: You said that "This [the atheist blogosphere becoming a safe space] is NEVER going to happen" because of the anonymity behind which the harassers could hide. I had already suggested that atheists with internet technical expertise could help unmask anonymous harassers, by tracing e-mails, tweets, etc. back to their real source. That is, I had already shown how, to some extent, the obstacle presented by anonymity could be overcome on the path to making the atheist blogosphere safer. Your comment was oblivious to this.

Your comment addressed exclusively the issue of blog comments (or newspaper equivalent), ignoring the fact that, as my post had made clear, most of the harassment McCreight had suffered did not take that form.

I even suggested a method by which people could be unmasked...

I don't see one, unless you're referring to the last paragraph in your first comment -- and that would only apply to blog comments, which, as my post made clear, aren't the main harassment problem.

Quoting (now) the references in my post which your first comment overlooked does not change the fact that your first comment overlooked them.

My point is, there's no basis for saying "This is NEVER going to happen." Nobody ever won a fight by declaring it unwinnable and giving up.

10 September, 2012 21:14  

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