There’s really no denying that I’m a glutton for punishment at this point, and it only gets worse when I find myself bored late at night. The following transpired over Twitter after I decided that poking the hornets’ nest might liven things up a bit. If anything, it’s a useful (if disconcerting) glance into the mindsets of those who see the rise of the Atheism+ (sub)movement as the latest great threat to the godless community’s patriarchal pride.
It began as I posted the following:
You cannot oppose a movement devoted to attaining equal rights for a group/class of people without inherently being bigoted against them.— Joé McKen (@joemcken) October 20, 2012
As always, it’s difficult to divide thoughts that would take paragraphs to flesh out adequately into blurbs that fit within 140 characters, but the gist carries across nonetheless. Regardless of “waves” and what the hoi polloi wants to believe, the entire point of feminism is to decry gender inequality and to fight for the equal treatment of both men and women under the law and in general society. Opposing this logically entails opposing the struggle for women’s rights. I find it hard to believe that there might be other reasons for doing so that don’t invariably boil down to regressive attitudes towards the role of women in society, whatever one’s reasons for feeling that way may be. (After all, misogyny isn’t only the overt hatred of women; it’s the totality of sexist attitudes, both apparent and abstract.)
It wasn’t long before the “discussion” began. Here’s a representative sample of the replies I received, presented both for educational and entertainment purposes. (Some are shown out of chronological order to preserve consistency; others are omitted either for brevity or to avoid giving air time to more tedious trolls.)
Having received this late at night, I wasn’t exactly in the mood to slog through a 3,600-word-plus dissertation, but I did skim enough of it to identify the premise, which appears to be that people are turning away from the modern feminist movement (and possibly women’s rights in general) as a result of issues with its public image. But this somewhat misses the mark; feminism has never been a particularly popular movement in the public eye – how can it, given that it’s devoted to calling out abuses of privilege and power? – and as with any group, it has its fair share of cranks and crazies drumming up noise and scaring off potential allies who fear being associated with such people. But if anything, the public perception of feminism has only improved over the years, now that fewer people consider it heresy to allow women to vote and all.
There was also this similar thought:
It’s unfair (and, frankly, just lazy) to judge an entire movement and all that it stands for based on disagreements with the actions of some of its supporters. I would argue that only a fringe (albeit an annoyingly vocal one) actually acts to the detriment of the feminist movement, and that the vast majority of those who call themselves feminists are doing nothing but great and necessary work, despite nonetheless receiving flak for it from an immature and blithe public. That’s just the nature of the beast with these things.
If you believe in the merits and goals of feminism and women’s rights in general, then you should fight for it and try to reclaim it from those who you think tarnish its name. Even if you’re misguided, you’ll still be on the right side of things most of the time.
I then received this:
@joemcken Well here's the thing Joe.On the A+ forum, you have to accept a number of positions, or get labelled a sexist.— KaineDamo (@kainedamo) October 20, 2012
@joemcken On the A+ forum, if you disagree with the Shrodinger's Rapist concept, you are labelled a sexist.— KaineDamo (@kainedamo) October 20, 2012
A wild red herring had appeared! Sadly, it was only the first in a long litany. What the hell did the Atheism Plus website/forum (a designated safe space reserved for like-minded people who want to discuss relevant issues without being disturbed by outside noise) have to do with anything I wrote? I wasn’t aware that entire movements as a whole are defined by any one website or another. The A+ Forum is no more representative of the Atheism+ division than Pharyngula is symbolic of the entire atheist movement, or that Vox Day’s hole is characteristic of the entire Christian religion, and so on. You evaluate a movement by the sum of its proponents and traits, not whatever you deem as the weakest link, regardless of its popularity. Again, that’s just lazy thinking.
But this guy was determined to illustrate how badly he misses the point:
@joemcken The forum is the hub of a+.If I'm wrong, where are the movers?There's no movement without movers.— KaineDamo (@kainedamo) October 20, 2012
@joemcken If the a+ forum is not representative, point me to what is!— KaineDamo (@kainedamo) October 20, 2012
PZ Myers nailed it with people like this. Why are they so unable to conceive of a moment that might exist and grow without some sort of “representative” leadership or centralized headquarters? The movement is barely a few months old, spreading solely through word-of-mouth, yet since its very inception, critics have been demanding that we point them towards the big cheese. They still haven’t understood that there is none.
What the movement does have is people, some more popular (and thus influential) than others, who speak their minds about Atheism Plus, either for or against it. At the moment, everyone’s pretty much just conversing amongst themselves, trying to understand the nascent movement and what it (should) stand for. The A+ Forum is just one website that happens to be dedicated to heavily moderated discussion about understanding and strategy; it is not the system core, nor is it meant to be, and nor can or will it ever be. Those who act like it is are only betraying their misunderstanding of what Atheism Plus is about.
Moving on …
And when asked to provide some examples of people who’ve supposedly been silenced:
This really isn’t the way to convince me to take someone’s arguments seriously.
Thunderf00t was kicked off the Freethought Blogs platform after acting like a jackass. He still has a blog and a YouTube channel, and he can still comment on any other blog he wishes (unless they individually ban him). That’s not censorship.
From what I’ve heard, Matt Dillahunty was banned from the Atheism+ Forum after repeatedly violating their rules. Whether or not he was treated unfairly by the moderators before being booted is both unknown to me and utterly irrelevant here; he’s not a victim of censorship.
Justin Vacula chose to resign from his new position with the Secular Coalition for America after weathering criticism over his dishonest and callous behavior, particularly towards Jennifer McCreight, whom he actually mocked for being forced to step away from her blog after the ongoing campaign of hate began to affect her mental health. That’s still not censorship.
It’s becoming unnerving to see just how many people fling the terms “free speech” and “censorship” around willy-nilly despite being transparently clueless about their meaning. In the hopes of simplifying matters, I propose this simple test:
Is a certain person still able to speak their mind on their own platform, or to create new outlets for their opinions, such as posting to a blog, uploading videos, or even just shouting in the streets? If so, then they still have their free speech rights.
On the other hand, has a certain person been reprimanded, sanctioned or even imprisoned by the government over what they said? If so, then they’ve been censored.
If the latter scenario doesn’t apply, then freedom of speech has nothing to do with it and nobody has been “silenced”. Having the right to say what you want doesn’t mean anyone else has the obligation to listen, nor can they be forced to give you a megaphone.
Furthermore, I never said any of them necessarily hate women (and whoever does say it is guilty of the usual misapplication of that word). As I said above, you don’t have to resent women to be an opponent to equality. Very few of the people use “bitch” or “cunt” as an insult do so because they think being female is a bad thing; that doesn’t stop them from being sexist when they use such explicitly gendered language. Thunderf00t, Dillahunty and Vacula may have “different ideas” for what should be done, but they went about it in a wrong-minded and potentially damaging manner. That’s why they were called out on it.
But Wilson wasn’t done being thick for the day:
So, he sees Vacula blatantly belittling Jen for being forced to step away from the Internet as a result of her worsening mental state and somehow doesn’t interpret that as mockery? Jen herself has mentioned, time and time again, how she’s been dealing with chronic depression since childhood and that it’s gotten bad enough to interfere with her private and professional lives; there’s no realistic way that Wilson can have missed this. He’s either illiterate, thoroughly dishonest, or hyperskeptical to the point where nothing short of an official announcement from a board of psychiatrists would convince him that Jen isn’t just claiming to be mentally ill to get more attention.
@joemcken And if you truly understand what atheism is, you understand it doesn't need new definitions & affiliations. It is not an ideology!— Shaka Zulu Consuelez (@mindymayhem) October 20, 2012
And nobody ever said that it was. Atheism+ isn’t a “new definition” of the greater atheist movement, it’s a group for those who think atheism and social justice issues go hand-in-hand. The rest of the godless community is perfectly free to continue about their business without paying Atheism+ any mind. It’s an attempt at rectifying what we see as problems and inequality within the movement; no-one’s trying to take anything away from anyone.
All this just illustrates the main problem with these malcontents and haters (discounting the outright trolls), which is that most of them are goddamned morons. They don’t understand a single thing about the movement, yet their arrogance of ignorance compels them to make all sorts of pompous declarations against “Plussers”, much like a snotty child throwing dirt at the walls of a treehouse he wasn’t invited into and whose occupants he doesn’t even like, anyway. Seriously; Atheism+ is a place for those who share common ideals and goals; if you don’t agree, why moan and rage about not being asked to join them?
Conversely, the comparatively few respectable critics (see Jamie Stanton, above) who choose to disassociate themselves from the movement seem to do so not out of any deal-breaking disagreement or mindless knee-jerk reaction, but because they just want to avoid the whole mess altogether. And frankly, the more of those poisonous dingleberries I encounter, the less I can blame them.
UPDATE: 10/20/12 9:40 PM ET —
Okay, now this is just funny. It appears some confused souls are taking my opening comment about “poking the hornets’ nest” out of late-night boredom to mean that I was “trolling”. Because that’s obviously what “trolling” is all about – saying something online in a frank and open manner to try and spark some sort of discussion, even if one expects replies to be mostly negative. Forget deliberately derailing conversations or spewing baseless invective; if you really want to rile people up, you need to go in with all guns blazing and … say that those who oppose the fight to advance women’s rights are necessarily against women’s rights.
Just you wait: Next time I feel mischievous, I’ll go even further in my zeal to force these poor, unwilling folk to debate me by posting that if you kick puppies for fun, you’re a bad person. Oh, I can hear them trembling now. I’m just that notorious.
On the other hand, perhaps we just ought to add netiquette (in addition to logic and basic English) to the laundry list of things these goobers have precious little understanding of.
Edit (10/23/12 4:45 AM ET) – Changed “out of brevity” to “for brevity”.