If I had known that this particular malicious lie would hang on for well over a year, I would have gotten screen shots.
A bit of background – as a great deal of you already know, I’m a regular commenter at FreeThoughtBlogs (FTB). And FTB has a dedicated website for FTB haters, they call it the Slymepit. I call the people who post there slimers. Most of their hatred of FTB is grounded in their hatred of the concept of having to do something about social justice, rather than mouthing empty platitudes and feeling smug and superior because “we” don’t throw acid in “our” women’s faces, not like those brown barbarians in far-off lands. They’ve constructed a narrative that sexism is basically over in the Western industrialized world; therefore, since they assume that sexism is done, women in the USA or Britain or wherever who complain about sexism are lying hysterical bitches who are trying to smear some innocent man’s good name. Or something. And, since I’m a vocal feminist, and an active commenter at FTB, I sometimes attract the attention of the slimers. Here is the story of my notoriety among the anti-feminists, and why I’m totally capitalizing on the lies they tell about me to persuade you to donate a small amount to my travel fund for the American Atheists’ conference.
Once upon a time, during, or, actually, just after Thunderfoot’s brief misadventures as a blogger at FreeThoughtBlogs.com, I went over to Thunderfoot’s own website to speak my mind. Okay, so far so good. Thing is, while I was there, some anonymous poster threatened to “track you down and rape you.” All right, that sucks. I pointed it out, and emailed Thunderfoot at the email address listed on his site. No response. And pretty much immediately, some of the other commenters there began to claim that it was actually me. Like, I logged out as SallyStrange and then logged in as anonymous to post a rape threat against myself.
Right. As if dudes who hate feminists are ever shy about issuing rape threats on the internet. A couple of years ago, I helped organize my local SlutWalk, and accidentally let my real name get publicly associated with the SlutWalk Facebook page. For this, I got about a dozen Facebook messages from complete strangers, mostly degrading and sexualized comments, several of which were explicit rape threats. So getting a rape threat from an anti-feminist on Thunderfoot’s site wasn’t overly shocking. What was shocking was the utter lack of response from Thunderfoot on the subject. It’s ironic, since as I recall, part of his objection to anti-harassment policies at conferences stemmed from his claim that actual harassment (“legitimate” harassment?) is against the law, and thus any instances of harassment could be dealt with by law enforcement–no need for conference organizers to step in. Yet, when a blatantly illegal threat was made on his own site, he took zero action to counteract it. Not only that, but he’s the only one who has the information to determine whether it’s me or the slimers who are lying. As far as I know, he’s offered nothing one way or the other.
All I know is that it wasn’t me who posted that illegal threat on Thunderfoot’s website. But the lie that I had faked a rape threat against myself quickly gained traction among the Slimers. But that was a year ago, or maybe longer, and the rumor won’t die! Just yesterday, on a post by Ben Radford of the Center For Inquiry, a slimer showed up with the following comment:
Same old faces as always. So who’s going to be first to post a threat to themselves and then demonise Ben for encouraging this “rape culture”? Sally, if it’s you, at least use another browser and wait half an hour between the posts.
So, the narrative goes, there is no rape culture, and it’s only lying bitches like me who talk about it, and naturally we have to make things up and lie about being harassed, getting rape threats, etc., because there is no rape culture. It’s only logical!
So now you see the kind of bullshit that women in the atheist/skeptic movement have to put up with.
Ben Radford’s self-centered and incoherent rant about how feminists are using numbers wrong and doing activism wrong is here, if you want to read the whole thing. Too bad he didn’t just stick to criticizing Eve Ensler’s use of statistics, then perhaps he wouldn’t have come off as either an anti-feminist or a person who’s so gullible that he thinks that anti-feminists don’t lie through their teeth whenever it suits them (as opposed to using outdated rape statistics, or lumping “homicide, intimate partner abuse, psychological abuse, dating violence, same-sex violence, elder abuse, sexual assault, date rape, acquaintance rape, marital rape, stranger rape and economic abuse” into “raped and beaten” or “raped, beaten, or otherwise abused,” which is pretty much the only salient criticism he offers). Then there was that old chestnut, “Why are you dancing in the streets when you could be working in a battered women’s shelter?” No matter what form of activism we choose to bring our concerns to a wider audience, it will be criticized. Slutwalk was too confrontational; One Billion Rising is too pandering. SlutWalk alienated men with its in-your-face rejection of victim-blaming; One Billion Rising doesn’t do enough to point the finger at patriarchal values and toxic masculinity and what men can be doing to combat those problems. We can literally never win.
The thing is, from my experience of actually being out on the streets for a protest, a LOT of the people you meet there are already doing all kinds of activism behind the scenes, whether it’s organizing ESL classes or cooking for Occupy or tree-sitting (that should date me, and you too, if you know what the heck I’m talking about) or volunteering for a rape crisis hotline, they are the people on the streets. There’s a large contingent of people who only have time for the occasional protest too, and that’s fine–everybody has different time demands and finite amounts of energy. I listened to the critiques of SlutWalk, and the critiques of One Billion Rising, and some of them were spot on. The thing is, the critiques from people who actually supported women’s equality never framed their criticism as, “Well you ought to be doing this other thing instead of this fake activism.” Or “slacktivism,” as Radford cutely calls it. Getting people to come out into the streets IS activism, and it’s really fucking hard to do–I know because I’ve tried to do it, and failed, and also tried and succeeded. Getting people out into the streets is not slacktivism. “Slacktivism” applies much better to what Ben Radford was doing with that dumbass piece of his. Sitting at home, offering inaccurate critiques of activists and telling them that raising awareness isn’t real activism but activities that don’t involve getting media attention are–that’s slacktivism.
The Center For Inquiry need to get their house in order. First, they need to figure out if feminism and women’s equality are issues worth getting right–in which case they need to stop Ben Radford from writing on the subject any further. As I have said elsewhere, when it comes to scientific topics, there’s a healthy respect for expertise and the time it takes to become knowledgeable about a complex subject in the atheist/skeptic movement. But when it comes to topics having to do with sociology and the scientific study of human behavior and biases, suddenly the field is wide open and any schmuck with an opinion can spout off and expect to have his opinion treated seriously. Radford’s most telling moment was when he inveighed against feminists who think that all men are rapists. The genesis of this quote is in a 1977 novel by Marilyn French. The line is voiced by a fictional character. The fact that Radford repeats this false trope uncritically shows that he’s not bothering to do his due diligence as a public communicator and a representative of an organization that is supposed to promote critical thinking.
The only way this is going to change is if more women get involved in the movement. And for whatever fucked-up reason, I’m willing to do that. Despite the fuckheads and misogynists in the community, I’m still passionate about the benefits that skepticism, empiricism, and secular ethics can bring to the world. I’ve been developing my skills as a public communicator and community organizer and I think I have a lot to offer. Misogynists like the Devil’s Towel Boy act like they want to exclude me and people like me entirely from the movement. For a while I gave into the sense of intimidation and fatalism this inspired in me, but not anymore. And this is why you should donate a few bucks to the travel fund to get me to the American Atheist Convention in Austin, TX! Plus, it will really piss off the haters. If I raise more than necessary, I’ll donate the excess to more travel grants for people going to Women in Secularism–or maybe I’ll buy myself a new pair of shoes. ;)
Thanks for all the support I’ve already gotten. This community has some seriously awesome people in it. Which is why I’m still here.