Notes and Comment Blog

Writing to be understood

Jan 28th, 2013 11:22 am | By

Greta did a post the other day about someone who rethought something she wrote and then took it back. I hadn’t seen it until this morning.

This is how it’s done, people. She didn’t double down. She didn’t insist that she hadn’t done anything wrong; she didn’t equate “lots of people disagreeing with you” with tribalism, bullying, McCarthyism, or witch hunts. She kept it short and sweet, without a “making it worse” morass of defensive rationalizations/ making it all about her hurt feelings about people being mean to her. She heard the criticism, accepted that she screwed up, and apologized. This is how it’s done.

([cough] Michael Shermer [cough])

The result of course was that – starting in comment 2, already – some anonymous detective insisted for comment after comment that I misrepresented Shermer. No I didn’t. AD also insisted my article (which AD thought was a blog post) was about Shermer and that I had said Shermer is a sexist. No, and no.

A guy called Michael Heath has been insisting even more insistently on a couple of posts of Ed Brayton’s – Shermer and the Myth of Feminst Persecution and a later post that had nothing to do with me or Shermer - that I lied about Shermer, that I am a liar, that I defamed Shermer, that my article is demagoguery. That’s all false.

Greta addressed the detective – one “coelsblog” – in a long comment, which sums up a lot of things with beautiful clarity.

coelsblog: I’m going to say this once.

For the sake of argument, let’s concede all your major points. Let’s say that while Shermer’s statements were sexist, he didn’t intend any of the sexist intent that came across. And let’s say that Benson’s interpretation uncharitably took them out of context: what he said was sexist, but it wasn’t as sexist as she made it out to be. I don’t agree with this assessment: but for the sake of argument, let’s say that it’s true.

So what?

Does that in any way, shape or form justify Shermer’s reaction? Does it justify him calling criticism of him a McCarthy-like witch hunt, a purging, an inquisition, comparing it to the Nazi party? Does it make Benson responsible for what Shermer said? And does it make Benson’s actions more problematic than Shermer’s, and more worthy of extensive critique?

If you think Shermer’s ranting response was justified, or that Benson was somehow responsible for it … then I have nothing more to say to you. That is an indefensible position. And if you don’t… then why are you so fixated on Benson? Why are you micro-analyzing her comments in comment after comment after comment? Why do you think that her misinterpretation (in your eyes) is more worthy of more criticism than Shermer’s off-the-rails hissy-fit?

When you say something sexist, racist, homophobic, whatever, and someone calls you out on it… you apologize. Full stop. Even if the person calling you out got something slightly wrong… you let that pass. You say, “I’m so sorry. I did not intend to say anything sexist/ racist/ homophobic/ etc., but I can see why people are angry, and I can see why they saw it the way they did. I’ll speak more carefully in the future.”  You don’t make it all about you and how everyone’s being mean to you; you don’t make your hurt feelings over being misunderstood more important than sexism/ racism/ homophobia/ etc. Do you think that every atheist who called out Charlie Jane Anders got absolutely everything right, and said everything in the best way possible? I doubt it highly. She didn’t focus on that. She focused on the injury she had done, and the apology for it. That’s what makes her a class act.

And when you — speaking to you now, coelsblog, not to the generic “you” — acknowledge in passing that Shermer’s sexist remarks were not okay, and then spend comment after comment after comment micro-analyzing Benson’s criticism of it, and blaming her for his off-the-rails reaction… it’s a classic “yes, but” response to sexism. In fact, “Yes, but… the person writing about this incident didn’t behave absolutely perfectly in all respects. Why aren’t we talking about that?” is one of the “Yes, but…” examples listed in that piece. The expectation that critics of sexist behavior always get everything absolutely right — and if they don’t, they should expect the targets of their criticism to react horribly — is, itself, unbelievably sexist. Stop it. Right now. Just stop it.

The imperfection in what I wrote in the article was saying of the overall stereotype, “Don’t laugh: Michael Shermer said exactly that…” when I would have closed that loophole by instead saying “Michael Shermer invoked exactly that stereotype…”

But that is really not a very big imperfection. Since I immediately go on to report exactly what Shermer really did say, it’s an absurd bit of pettifogging to pretend that I meant the “said exactly that” literally or that I intended it to mislead. For fuck’s sake, if I intended it to mislead why would I immediately quote exactly what he really did say? What I said is just a normal bit of commentary. People who know how to read know that. It’s obvious on the page which bit is in fact exactly what he said. Aesthetically, “invoked exactly that stereotype” is somewhat inferior to “said exactly that.” It’s a bit cluttered. In academic writing, of course, precision trumps aesthetics every time, but guess what, I’m not an academic and Free Inquiry is not an academic journal. There’s always a tension in this kind of writing, between pedantry and style. You make choices all the time. There are tradeoffs. You make them, generally, based on the background assumption that the reader is not an idiot. I never for one second thought that any reader would be idiot enough to read “said exactly that” and then ignore the next part where I spelled out what Shermer actually did say. Nor did I think any reader would be idiot enough to read “it’s a guy thing” in the following paragraph and think Shermer had said that, either, since I had just spelled out what he did say – “it’s more of a guy thing.”

You have to assume the reader is not an idiot, because if you don’t, you get horrible over-literal baby-step writing with no color or energy or wit. Lunatics are insisting that I wrote those four paragraphs (that address Shermer) the way I did as a dastardly attempt to frame him. The hell I did. I wrote it that way because writing that assumes the reader can’t read is terrible writing, and I refuse to do set out to do terrible writing. (Terrible writing I do by accident is another story.)



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

What we need is a filter

Jan 27th, 2013 4:00 pm | By

Cath Elliott writes about What it’s like to be a victim of Don’t Start Me Off’s internet hate mob.

Note from Helen Lewis, who republished the post on her New Statesman blog:

Note from Helen: Cath Elliott’s Blog, An Occupational Hazard, was one of the pieces which inspired me to collect together the experiences of female bloggers about online abuse. I thought Cath was incredibly brave to write about the hatred she was subjected to – particularly since it was deliberately as humiliating and obscene as possible.

Funnily enough, her internet tormentors were from a site called Don’t Start Me Off! – which was taken offline last week by its owner after the unwelcome glare of publicity fell on it when Mary Beard spoke out about the thread about her posted there. As Richard White, the site’s owner, is now claiming that he has been badly misrepresented, I thought it was important to hear what it was really like to be harassed by DSMO. Here’s Cath, in a post originally published on her blog yesterday.

Yes Richard White who said “we never try to hurt people’s feelings.” He actually said that.

In his sniveling non-apology to Professor Mary Beard, who has recently been the victim of the DSMO hate mongers, White also stated: “We do not go out to be offensive”. He then implied that the only reason Beard had seen the vile comments about her was because she’d obviously gone on to the Internet specifically to look for them.

According to White, the trolls at DSMO were never actually trolls in the true Internety sense of the word because they never went after anyone off the site. They didn’t for instance harass anyone on Twitter or Facebook; they all stayed safely within the confines of the DSMO comment threads.

Well, as I’m sure you’ll understand when you see the nearly two years worth of abuse and harassment I’m about to detail here, I read that Guardian interview with White with a mounting sense of disbelief.

So did I, though at the same time I read it also with a sense of weary, disgusted familiarity. Yes of course he bullshits, yes of course he denies it, yes of course he’s dishonest and self-serving.

In the piece I posted back in April 2011 – An Occupational Hazard? – in which I detailed the abuse I’d received on that site, I said: “Of course I realise that by posting this piece I’m no doubt giving them enough ammunition to start the whole sick cycle off again, but so be it.” And I was right: that’s exactly what they did.

In the comment thread under the original piece someone claiming to head the moderating team at DSMO posted what looked very much like an apology: “Firstly I wish to apologise to Cath if some of the comments did offend her” he said, “I, for one, will try to watch out for the comments that upset Cath so much, but such is the nature of some people on the internet I feel we can only do our small part to stop the maliciously intent.”

And yet two months later, in June 2011, just when I thought things were starting to die down over DSMOgate, here’s the comment that Richard ‘Ricardo’ White, the site owner remember, tried to post to this blog:

“Hi Cath I just thought that I’d clarify that the semi-apology on this page didn’t come from me. I think maybe you thought it did. For the avoidance of doubt, I wouldn’t apologise to you if I were tied to a chair and about to be beaten to death by a gaggle of your acolytes, armed to the teeth with heavy duty dildos.

You see, you’re in the criticism business and we all know you just love to dish it out. I’m in that business too and as any primary school child knows, if you dish it out, you have to be prepared to take it too. You seem to be unfamiliar with this concept. I’ve been on the receiving end more times than you could imagine. Rightly so, too.

Unlike you, I don’t expect never to be challenged. Does this bother me? I can honestly say, not one iota. Your brand of hilarious left-wing nincompoopery is absolutely ripe for ridicule. You love to portray yourself as the victim, but you’re nothing of the sort. You and your fellow arch ‘Liberals’ are in truth the least liberal people on earth. You ruthlessly defend your own opinions and will not accept any criticism or suggestion that you may be wrong. Is this the free society you long for? Is freedom in Cathland purely selective? It would seem so. I imagine that, to you, Joseph Stalin was just a cuddly, misunderstood champion of the poor. So here it is, Cath. I don’t give a shit if you’re offended. As long as you’re dishing it out, you’re going to be taking it too, whether you like it, or not. Now, polish those shoes, straighten that blazer and tie and get ready for assembly.”

Uh huh. It’s all there. The “you write in public so you deserve anything we feel like dishing out” bit. The confusion of “challenging” with trashing, insulting, degrading, and similar bullying tactics. The unabashed announcement that “you’re going to be taking it.”

And then there are the comments. There’s a guy there persistently interpreting Elliott’s claim that rapists aren’t somehow radically and obviously different from the normal guy in the street as a claim that all guys in the street are rapists. Oy.

I wish somebody would invent a filter. A really good, effective filter.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Will the archbish be a temporary floor mop?

Jan 27th, 2013 11:44 am | By

I tweeted a link about an upcoming debate at Cambridge between Dawkins and Rowan Williams a few hours ago. There are replies saying Richard will wipe the floor with him. I’m not so sure. Williams was an academic before he was the archbish, and now he’s not the archbish any more.

He almost certainly knows of better arguments than the kind of highflown archepiscopal bafflegab he gave to the House of Lords and so on while he actually was the archbish. And since he’s not the archbish any more, he may feel less of a duty to sound churchy and archepiscopal.

There’s no chance that he’s actually stupid. The fact that he used to say a lot of stuff that comes across as stupid to atheists doesn’t mean he is actually stupid. It’s more likely a déformation professionelle. I would think that when arguing with Dawkins he’s well able to come up with things to say that will prevent the latter from wiping the floor with him. Whether he will choose to or not is another question, but I’m thinking he probably will.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The right to complain does not turn women into pathetic victims

Jan 27th, 2013 8:11 am | By

More from Nussbaum on Christina Hoff Sommers and on “equity” v “gender” feminism more generally. It’s a very packed, dense essay.

From the end, this time. The penultimate paragraph.

In short, the feminist views attacked by recent critics are not the monopoly of a sect of radical extremists. They are commonplace in mainstream liberal, and even some libertarian, thought. These theoretical ideas have a very close relationship to the critique of existing preferences that led to the critique of rape law and to the demand for laws and policies dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace. These changes certainly seem to have enhanced demcracy rather than to have undermined it – for surely it is not better for democracy that women should suffer from violence and inimidation without the opportunity to complain. Complaint is not a solution to the problems, and women continue to face many grave problems of sexual harassment and sexual violence. But complaint is surely far better than silent intimidation, and the right to complain does not turn women into pathetic victims – any more than the right to complain when someone steals a wallet turns men into pathetic victims. [Sex and Social Justice p 153]

I’ll just repeat that for emphasis – the right to complain does not turn women into pathetic victims.

The final paragraph.

American women have much to complain of. They are far too often victims of rape, of sexual coercion of many kinds, of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Moreover, the underlying attitudes that made these problems so difficult persist, producing pain of many kinds. On the other hand, the feminist movement that began in the 1970s has made considerable progress in articulating the underlying problems and in proposing legal solutions. This has happened in large part through a criticism of the myths that underlay many men’s (and women’s) beliefs about sexual violence and its causes. Such criticism, far from treating people like victims or children, treats them like adults who are capable of reflection, and capable of deciding that they were wrong on an important matter even when their own emotions and desires are at stake. [Ibid]

Once more for emphasis. This has happened in large part through a criticism of the myths that underlay many men’s (and women’s) beliefs about sexual violence and its causes. Such criticism, far from treating people like victims or children, treats them like adults who are capable of reflection…



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

What they did about it

Jan 26th, 2013 4:48 pm | By

The BBC’s Andrew North tells us more about the Delhi rape victim.

Like the student’s family, at least two of the accused are from impoverished villages in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, and source for many of the thousands of migrants who come to Delhi every year hoping for a better life
- the same journey her father made nearly 30 years ago.

And the other men are from similar migrant backgrounds. Where they differ, though, was in what they did about it.

“We gave our all to our daughter,” her mother told us, still devastated with grief. She says she can barely leave her bed, complaining of frequent headaches and chest pains.

And their support was working: her daughter was studying at a college in Dehradun in northern India and was on course to qualify as a physiotherapist, while working overtime in a call centre.

“We never gave our sons better treatment,” said the mother. In that respect they were also different from many among India’s middle class.

Figures show they are just as likely as poorer groups to favour male children, even before they are born – and afterwards in care and medical treatment.

It means India is in a rare category – along with only China – of having higher rates of infant mortality among girls than boys.

The student’s mother also lashed out at India’s sexist attitudes, attacking the many politicians and other public figures who’ve suggested she brought the rape on herself.

One well-known spiritual guru even said she should have embraced her attackers as “brothers” to stop them assaulting her.

“Either they don’t have daughters,” her mother said, “or they are clearly backing these crimes.”

It’s heartbreaking.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Uncovering Shakespeare

Jan 26th, 2013 4:07 pm | By

There’s a BBC Four series from last summer, Uncovering Shakespeare; I saw the first two episodes last night, Macbeth first and The Comedies/Shakespeare’s Women second, which is the opposite of the order of broadcast.

I thought the Macbeth wasn’t very good. It was way too heavy on “interesting” but totally irrelevant visuals – lots of New York streets packed with cars, for instance; wut? – and way too light on the words. Not enough discussion of the words, not enough saying of them, not enough clips of actors saying them, pretty much no discussion at all of the way the words do the work. On the other hand there were some clips, and the discussion wasn’t actually boring, so I enjoyed watching it, but I wished it had been better.

But the next one was good. Joely Richardson was the presenter, and she knows her Shakespeare (and his words) a lot better than Ethan Hawke (who presented the Macbeth one) does.

And it was on a subject I’m very keen on, which is how astonishing it is that Shakespeare did so much with women characters when that wasn’t the norm at all (and still isn’t, not to the extent that he did it) and when he had only boys to play the parts. Yeah. They talked mostly about Twelfth Night and As You Like It. There was a lot of conversation with Vanessa Redgrave, sitting opposite Joely Richardson on a couch. JR’s voice is so like VR’s it’s almost funny.

Neither episode, though, can hold a candle to Playing Shakespeare, the nine part series directed by John Barton in which actors – Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Ben Kingsley, Patrick Stewart, Peggy Ashcroft, David Suchet, Harriet Walter, Alan Howard, and others – and Barton discuss the language in detail, and perform bits of scenes. It’s enthralling and illuminating (and regulars with acute memories will remember that I’ve talked about it before). It’s on DVD; the library has it. What’s taken me so long?!

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Equity v gender

Jan 26th, 2013 1:15 pm | By

Chapter 5 of Martha Nussbaum’s Sex and Social Justice is titled “American Women” and it’s basically about the idea that there is sane normal sensible feminism and then there is crazy extremist radical feminism, with the first being sensibly in favor of equality before the law, which we now have, so that’s that, and the second being about crazy wild stuff like distorted preferences and asymmetrical power. Nussbaum addresses Christina Hoff Sommers as the clearest source of this notion (and as a fellow philosopher), but she says the idea is widespread.

Nussbaum points out that the feminists Sommers sees as “radical” are the very people who brought about the changes that Sommers applauds.

It is not only women in the academic elite who wish to be able to call the police when battered in the home; who wish to be able to bring a charge of rape without testifying to their prior sexual history; who wish to avoid sexual harassment in the workplace…If Sommers holds that a woman such as Mary J. Carr, who successfully brought charges of harassment against General Motors (GM) after a five-year campaign of threats and obscenities, is not an “equity feminist” but a supporter of a suspect radical agenda, it would appear to be Sommers who has lost touch with what American women want. And yet, the concept of asymmetry of power, which Sommers apparently rejects, was a crucial part of Judge Richard Posner’s reasoning when he decided in favor of Carr and against GM. [p 133]

Posner is a Reagan appointee, by the way.

To be continued.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Universal human rights in Nigeria

Jan 26th, 2013 11:54 am | By

A letter to the influential Nigerian newspaper The Guardian defends same-sex marriage and cites Leo Igwe.

The letter points out that religious groups are very opposed to same-sex marriage, while human rights activists support it.

Such opponents include Christian denominations as well as Muslim groups all of which have voiced their rejection of the pressure on Nigeria by some sections of the international community. Among them is the Primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), the Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh who has repeatedly opposed the move, saying same-sex marriage is not biblical and therefore unacceptable.

However, Nigerian Humanist human rights activist, Leo Igwe, who is a supporter of the UK gay Humanist Charity the Pink Triangle Trust, said: “The statements made by David Mark that the ban on same sex marriage was irrevocable are reprehensible. They are a clear demonstration of homophobia and show a lack of appreciation of the humane moral values of the contemporary world.

Instead of supporting the ban on same sex marriage, the Senate and the Government of Nigeria as a whole should make a commitment to promoting and protecting the universal human rights of everyone, whatever their race, ethnic origin, sex, sexual orientation, religion or belief, even when such commitment conflicts with the teachings of religion.”

Good job, Leo.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Wafa Sultan at Women in Secularism 2012

Jan 25th, 2013 3:50 pm | By

You also get to see Wafa Sultan’s talk…which was one of the most shattering things I ever saw/heard. Be prepared for that. Have a stack of paper towels handy.

But do not miss it.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Interruptions, for example

Jan 25th, 2013 12:15 pm | By

You are so lucky! You get to see Bernice Sandler’s talk at Women in Secularism 2012, at last.

It’s about the subtle, unnoticed ways women and men are treated differently.

What??? Really? Is that true? There are subtle, unnoticed ways women and men are treated differently?

Who could ever possibly have guessed…

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

He bruised his knuckles when he punched her

Jan 25th, 2013 11:38 am | By

It was all Mary Beard’s fault, as it turns out. No really; it was. The guy who ran that website says so. If he doesn’t know, who does?!

The co-owner and moderator of the website that published abusive comments about Mary Beard has accused the Cambridge academic of using the row to deflect from her own comments about immigration on Question Time.

He said that friends and colleagues of Beard, professor of classics at Cambridge University, had been “trolling” his site, Don’t Start Me Off!, which he closed down this week, by bombarding it with Latin poetry.

Oh my god that is so mean! Latin poetry, when all they wanted to do was hang around peacefully posting comments about Mary Beard’s genitalia and similar reasonable stuff.

The co-owner and moderator, Richard White, a Kent-based local businessman,…told MediaGuardian: “If she is genuinely hurt I am sorry because we never try to hurt people’s feelings. My suspicion is that she used our site to deflect the debate because she was so roundly thrashed after her appearance on Question Time last week.”

If. Genuinely. We never. My suspicion is. Used. To deflect. So roundly thrashed.

What a lying piece of shit. What a lie, to say “we never try to hurt people’s feelings.” I use the word “lie” sparingly, partly because other people throw it around so very carelessly, but that just is a ludicrous lie. It’s like hitting someone with a baseball bat and then claiming you never try to hurt anyone.

“We do not go out to be offensive and it is true that a lot of the postings that were made you would see said by other people like the comic Frankie Boyle.”

So.the fuck.what.

It doesn’t matter that you can see nasty shit said by other people – that is, it does matter, because it’s a very bad thing, but it doesn’t matter in the sense you meant: it doesn’t make it ok for you to say nasty shit too. If little Jimmy’s mommy let him jump off the roof would you jump off the roof too? The fact that other people are shits doesn’t give you dispensation to be a shit.

He did more explaining of why he’s not the troll, she’s the troll.

“Trolls are people who go and abuse people directly in places like Facebook and Twitter and if anything she is the troll because she encouraged her friends and colleagues to flood the site with Latin poetry, which they did. I allowed a lot of the poetry to go up because I didn’t have time to translate it.

“She came to us by Googling us and in a sense looking for negative comments. We never went to her.”

Yeah, dude – you hosted a lot of ugly crap about her and your horrific punishment was Latin poetry.

And the thing about Google? If she can find it on Google, that means other people can find it on Google. She has a reputation. She would probably like it not to include stuff scribbled by strangers about what a cunt she is because she said something.

White said that “as a classics scholar” Beard ought not to seek to curb freedom of speech. “She is a historian and she should know how much blood has been spilt over the years seeking to preserve freedom of speech, which you do not give away lightly,” he said.

Right. The glorious cause. Freedom to photoshop women’s faces onto female genitalia. That’s what the martyrs died for.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Jan 25th, 2013 10:10 am | By

Where is this Big Book of God’s Rules where God spells out all these new rules that some people know all about but I’ve never heard of? Like the rule that a girl who works at Burger King has to wear a long skirt instead of trousers? I seriously have no idea where that rule is but apparently it’s such an important and real and binding rule that Burger King has to hire her because of it and it has to let her wear a long skirt instead of trousers on the job. Also if it slips up and fires her instead it has to give her 25 thousand dollars.

Burger King has agreed to pay $25,000 to a Pentecostal teenage girl who was fired because she wished to a wear a long skirt instead of pants.

In August, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit on behalf of Ashanti McShan, who had been hired to work at a Burger King restaurant in Texas. “At the time of her interview for the job, Ms. McShan asked to wear a skirt instead of uniform pants as a religious accommodation,” the EEOC lawsuit stated. “Defendant assured her that she could wear a skirt to work. However, when she arrived at work for orientation, the store management informed Ms. McShan that she could not wear a skirt and that she had to leave the store … The result of the foregoing practices has been to deprive Ashanti McShan of equal employment opportunities because of her religious beliefs and observances as a Christian Pentecostal.”

What beliefs? What observances? In what sense “religious”? Is it an official “religious belief” that women have to wear skirts and not trousers? Are you sure? Are you sure it’s not just a stupid prejudice in favor of the way women used to dress before they got so god damn uppity, disguised as a pretend religious belief? Because I’m not. I remember battles over skirts v jeans when I was a child. I remember always always always wanting to be allowed to stay in jeans at all times because skirts are so damn inhibiting. I didn’t use that word, of course, but I hated wearing skirts and that was why. Skirts are an invention to make girls and women unable to move freely. The whole point is that if you make a wrong move everybody will be able to peer at your crotch! Gotcha! I see Spain, I see France, I see Sally’s underpants. It’s the underage version of talk about kicking women in the cunt.

So I want to see this mysterious Big Book of God’s Rules where God says women and girls can’t wear trousers. Then I want it tested for authenticity.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Women’s hour

Jan 24th, 2013 4:59 pm | By

Maureen Brian alerted me to Mary Beard’s appearance (there should be a hearing-word version of “appearance” for radio and podcasts – can’t be audience, that’s taken, and I can’t think of what else it could be) on Women’s Hour to talk about verbal abuse online.

She reports that the guys who run the repellent website that zoomed in on her actually took it down. Gee. I wish that happened more often. “Oh – this is vicious and horrible?” Pause for thought. “Why I guess you’re right, it is. That’s the end of that then. Thank you for letting us know.”

She and the presenter Jenni Murray talk about whether misogynist verbal abuse discourages women from speaking up (and writing) in public. “D’you think it does?” “Ooooooooh I don’t know, what d’you think?” “Oooooooh hard to say really.” No that’s not how it went. Mary Beard said of course it does.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

A good little girl doesn’t

Jan 24th, 2013 1:21 pm | By

Laura Bates objects to casual sexism among politicians in the UK.

Murdo Fraser, Member of the Scottish Parliament for Mid-Scotland and Fife, discovered last week that the wife of former Liberal leader Lord Steel had declared herself pro-independence. He tweeted: “Why is Lady Steel (apparently) pro-independence? Is he not master in his own house?” Presumably Fraser was joking, but Twitter users were less than impressed, with one remarking: “That line is like something straight out of the 1950s.”

Fraser’s words closely echo those of Austin Mitchell, Labour MP for Great Grimsby, who a few months ago launched a misogynistic online tirade against former Conservative MP Louise Mensch, tweeting: “Shut up Menschkin. A good wife doesn’t disagree with her master in public and a good little girl doesn’t lie about why she quit politics.” When accused of sexism, the politician acted as if the whole affair were a huge joke, later tweeting: “Has the all clear siren gone? Has the Menschivick bombardment stopped?”

Haha. Hahahaha. Hahahahahahaha. So so funny. Remember Tom Harris MP, Labour-Glasgow South? He’s so so funny too.

What a hero! Fearless protester chucks an egg at EdM and runs away. Like a girl. Throws like a girl too. #loser

Remember that tweet? Remember how we all laughed? Mmmyeah.

Bates goes on:

…what does it say about the status quo of British politics, if our elected representatives, who make daily decisions impacting our lives and welfare, are openly prepared to make sexist jokes and direct misogynistic vitriol towards colleagues? There is a public acceptability of sexism; a suggestion that we – “just the women” – should stop getting our knickers in a twist and take a joke. MP Stella Creasy says: “Parliament is no different from the rest of Britain, where unconscious stereotyping about women happens, too – the point is we should challenge cultural prejudices and expectations wherever they are expressed.”

We should, as long as we’re prepared for bellows of outrage and accusations of being a McCarthyite Nazi witch-hunting inquisition that purges and pillories tragic hapless men who were only giving their honest opinion of why there were no women around the table where they were mouthing off. We are all prepared for those, right? Of course we are.

Jacqui Hunt, London director of the international human rights organisation Equality Now, says: “As elected public representatives, it is essential that MPs communicate with respect and dignity at all times. It is their responsibility to help eliminate rather than reflect harmful gender stereotypes. They need to set the example to ensure that women and girls do not experience prejudice or abuse, but rather reach their full potential as human beings.” It is perhaps no surprise that the UK manages to come only joint 60th in the world for political gender equality, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Is it too much to ask that our elected representatives support women rather than tear them down? Particularly when their female colleagues are still dealing with sexist abuse, tweets about their breasts during Prime Minister’s Questions, and tabloid articles on “Cameron’s Cuties” and the “Best of Breastminster“. It would be nice if women coping with rape and sexual assault didn’t have to see their elected political representative going to such lengths to publicly declare, “Not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion,” as Galloway did. It would be nice to think that in a society where more than two women per week, on average, are killed by current or former partners, two politicians in the space of six months didn’t find it funny to make public jokes about husbands being the “master” of their wives. Of course, neither would have intended such a correlation, but the point is that general attitudes and ideas about women are important. Shouldn’t politicians be leading the fight against prejudice, rather than indulging in it?

Oh but I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think general attitudes and ideas about women are important. They can’t be. Saying they are is “radical” “gender” feminism, not nice normal non-radical equity feminism. I know this because people keep saying it.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

“She whined”

Jan 24th, 2013 11:39 am | By

I hope you enjoyed your break from the misogyny wars yesterday – I held off on commenting on the Ms piece in order to make it a real break – because the wars aren’t over yet.

I’m staggered by something I just read by Rod Liddle at the Spectator. I’ve been staggered by things Rod Liddle said before – way back in January 2010, for instance, and reposted here in October 2011.

And here I was fuming (or should I say bitching?) about sexist epithets and men who type thousands of words insisting that ‘stupid bitch’ is not sexist. Kind of puts it all in perspective. Except actually I think it’s (broadly speaking) all part of the same thing. I think both items are part of a broader culture in a lot of places that demeans women in a sexist way. I think the bizarro phenomenon of men who ought to know better verbally spewing on women whenever they feel like it is pretty much by definition part of a broader culture that demeans women in a sexist way. That’s why it shocks me that men give themselves permission to do that – it reveals that contempt for women is commonplace in areas where I would have thought it had gone out of fashion decades ago.

But no – apparently it’s still seen as hip and edgy and funny to treat women like dirt. Apparently sexism is being defined downwards so that it isn’t really sexism unless, I don’t know, it comes with a signed affidavit stating This Is Sexism. Rod Liddle apparently is of that school, unless he really didn’t post this on a Millwall fans’ website:

Stupid bitch. A year eight sociology lecture from someone who knows fck all. You could equally say that we were similar to any group which disliked a certain aspect of society, felt estranged from it but were sure we were right. The logical extension of her argument is that the status quo is always right, which is absurd, because if that were true nothing would change. Someone kick her in the cnt.

That’s Rod Liddle. This too is Rod Liddle, three years on, telling Mary Beard “It’s not misogyny, Professor Beard, it’s you.”

She went on Question Time, he explains. She said things there that he considers stupid and wrong.

Beyond the confines of the programme, Beard’s remarks were greeted with frank hilarity and in some cases anger. She was very quickly made ‘Twat of the Week’ on a non-aligned website and the insults started flowing. Most of them were accurate refutations of her vacuous argument, or expressions of annoyance at her middle-class, metropolitan insouciance. But it is true that some ridiculed her appearance as well.

Outrageous, tweeted Beard! (Yes, the Prof tweets, and that tells you something.) ‘The misogyny here is truly gob-smacking,’ she whined: all those comments were ‘truly vile’. She triumphantly listed the most graphic comments on her blog and concluded that the abuse would ‘be quite enough to put many women off appearing in public’. If only that were true in Mary’s case, but I strongly suspect it isn’t.

We’re supposed to think he’s “joking” there – he doesn’t really wish the abuse would put her off appearing in public. Oh really?

But there’s one other thing in the case of Mary Beard. How many professors of classics have you seen on BBC Question Time, other than Beardie? None. How many other professors of classics have been invited to take part in Jamie’s Dream School, or been invited to present a series on BBC2? None other. Just Beard. Why is this? Is it because she is so absolutely brilliant at the classics that they think she ought to be on a cooking show? Nope: it’s because of the way she looks. They think she looks like a loony. And the TV companies, the producers, love that. If they can’t get a hunk or a fox, they like an eccentric. It generates a reaction, not always entirely pleasant. And if Mary doesn’t grasp that her appearance is precisely why she — along with Grayson Perry — gets to be on TV, then she had best not look at what the genuine loonies have to say on Twitter.

Nice guy.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

On the relationship between philosophy, science and morality

Jan 23rd, 2013 5:44 pm | By

Massimo goes a few rounds with the ol’ science can whup philosophy story.

Oh my, I thought I was done for a while chastising skeptics like Sam Harris on the relationship between philosophy, science and morality, and I just found out that my friend Michael Shermer has incurred a similar (though not quite as egregious as Harris’) bit of questionable thinking. As I explained in my review of Harris’ book for Skeptic, one learns
precisely nothing about morality by reading The Moral Landscape. Indeed, one’s time on that topic is much better spent by leafing through Michael Sandel’s On Justice, for example.

I too reviewed Harris’s book, and I too thought it was way too dismissive of philosophy and way too short on argument as a result. I thought that as a non-philosopher, of course, while Massimo thinks it as a philosopher (and a biologist too!), but I’ve read a little moral philosophy here and there, and I found it a lot more enlightening than I found The Moral Landscape.

Shermer proceeds immediately by blaming the is/ought problem as the main culprit for scientists’ misguided concession to philosophers (even though I bet dollars to donuts that the overwhelming majority of scientists has never heard of the is/ought problem). Indeed, Michael claims that the problem is a fallacy (I take it he is using the term colloquially, since I don’t see that entry listed in the vast catalogue of fallacies that professional philosophers and logicians have accumulated.)

Why is the is/ought problem a fallacy, according to Shermer? Because “morals and values must be based on the way things are in order to establish the best conditions for human flourishing.” Let’s unpack (as philosophers are fond of saying) that loaded phrase. First off, there is a prescriptive claim (“must”) that is not actually argued for. Sounds like Michael is engaging in some a priori philosophizing of his own. Why exactly must we base morals and values on the way things are (as opposed to, say, they way we would like them to be)?

Second, “the way things are” has, of course, changed dramatically across centuries and cultures (science tells us this!). Which point in the space-time continuum are we going to pick as our reference to ground our scientific study of morality? We better not just assume that the our own current time and place represent the best of all possible worlds.

Third, “human flourishing” is a surprisingly slippery (and philosophically loaded!) concept, not at all easy to handle by straightforward quantitative analyses. (If you want an idea of the sort of complications I have in mind, take a look here and here.) And of course it should go without mention that the goal of increasing human flourishing is itself the result of a value choice that cannot possibly be grounded in empirical evidence. Nothing wrong with that, unless you insist on a scientistic take on the study of morality.

I think that’s a good sample for seeing why philosophy is useful for thinking about morality, and why just talking about the way things are isn’t adequate.

One more sample:

Shermer then goes on to add a market economy to the mix of his favorite ideologies, claiming that “it decreases violence and increases peace significantly” (hardly surprising, coming from a well known libertarian). Once more, without even going to question the empirical assertion, shouldn’t we at least admit that “market economy” is a highly heterogeneous category (think US vs China), and that some market economies decrease fairness, do not provide universal access to health care and education, lower workers’ wages, and overall negatively affect human flourishing? How should we rank our values in order to make sense of the data? How do the data by themselves establish a guide to which values we should hold? And why should we follow whatever the current science says, as opposed to having discussions about where we would like science and technology (and economics) themselves to go?

How should we rank our values - that’s a question that Harris gave astonishingly short shrift in his book.

Read the whole thing; it’s long and rewarding.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Not persons after all?

Jan 23rd, 2013 3:54 pm | By

Oh how interesting. Catholic hospitals don’t always say that a fetus is a person. For instance, how about when an on-call obstetrician doesn’t answer the page when a pregnant woman is in the ER having a heart attack and she ends up dying? And then her husband files a wrongful death suit?

No, not then.

The lead defendant in the case is Catholic Health Initiatives, the Englewood-based nonprofit that runs St. Thomas More Hospital as well as roughly 170 other health facilities in 17 states. Last year, the hospital chain reported national assets of $15 billion. The organization’s mission, according to its promotional literature, is to “nurture the healing ministry of the Church” and to be guided by “fidelity to the Gospel.” Toward those ends, Catholic Health facilities seek to follow the Ethical and Religious Directives of the Catholic Church authored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

You know, the Ethical and Religious Directives that say St Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix did a wicked wicked thing by terminating a pregnancy to save the woman’s life. Those Ethical and Religious Directives.

…when it came to mounting a defense in the Stodghill case, Catholic Health’s lawyers effectively turned the Church directives on their head. Catholic organizations have for decades fought to change federal and state laws that fail to protect “unborn persons,” and Catholic Health’s lawyers in this case had the chance to set precedent bolstering anti-abortion legal arguments. Instead, they are arguing state law protects doctors from liability concerning unborn fetuses on grounds that those fetuses are not persons with legal rights.

As Jason Langley, an attorney with Denver-based Kennedy Childs, argued in one of the briefs he filed for the defense, the court “should not overturn the long-standing rule in Colorado that the term ‘person,’ as is used in the Wrongful Death Act, encompasses only individuals born alive. Colorado state courts define ‘person’ under the Act to include only those born alive. Therefore Plaintiffs cannot maintain wrongful death claims based on two unborn fetuses.”


To be fair, maybe Catholic Health isn’t being hypocritical; maybe Catholic Health, like the administration of St Joseph’s Hospital, refuses to obey the bishops on this issue.

Who knows. There shouldn’t be any ambiguity on the subject either way. The Ethical and Religious Directives should be a dead letter.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The barmaid agrees

Jan 23rd, 2013 10:59 am | By

A great new Jesus and Mo. First, a word from their sponsor -

You may notice the return of the “Help J&M pay their hosting fees” button in the r/h column. This is because our current host – the magnificent – have changed their billing system to make it fairer for
sites which don’t use up many resources. Unfortunately, J&M is not one of those
sites, and  our monthly bill has increased substantially – so if you have a few
bucks spare to throw into our hosting account, that would be much appreciated.

And now, see them finally get through to the barmaid.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Life, liberty and the 24 ounce Coke

Jan 23rd, 2013 10:51 am | By

A trade group called the American Beverage Association is in court trying to prevent a New York City law limiting the size of sugar drinks from going into effect on March 12. Well they would, wouldn’t they. But they have some odd allies.

Opponents also are raising questions of racial fairness alongside other complaints as the novel restriction faces a court test.

The NAACP’s New York state branch and the Hispanic Federation have joined beverage makers and sellers in trying to stop the rule from taking effect March 12. Critics are attacking what they call an inconsistent and undemocratic regulation, while city officials and health experts defend it as a pioneering and proper move to fight obesity.

The issue is complex for the minority advocates, especially given that obesity rates are higher than average among blacks and Hispanics, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The groups say in court papers they’re concerned about the discrepancy, but the soda rule will unduly harm minority businesses and “freedom of choice in low-income communities.”

I wonder what “unduly” means there. I also wonder what on earth the NAACP and the Hispanic Federation are thinking. They want sugar drinks to be extra-special cheap so that blacks and Hispanics can have higher than average rates of Type 2 diabetes? Do they also wish lead-based paint were still legal and readily available? Do they long for the old days when toddlers could munch on paint chips full of lead?

The NAACP and the Hispanic Federation, a network of 100 northeastern groups, say minority-owned delis and corner stores will end up at a disadvantage compared to grocery chains.

“This sweeping regulation will no doubt burden and disproportionally impact minority-owned businesses at a time when these businesses can least afford it,” they said in court papers. They say the city should focus instead on increasing physical education in schools.

So it’s about the businesses but not about the people who shop there. Maybe not the best choice.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Loop loop loop loop

Jan 22nd, 2013 10:48 am | By

Lots of fantastic people are coming to Women in Secularism. One woman is coming from Melbourne, another from Norway.

Jane Fae has a post at the New Statesman on “Misogyny, intimidation, silencing – the realities of online bullying.” The subhead is

The aggregated effect of floods of negative comments online can be enough to put opinionated women off appearing in public.

And thus we get a feeback loop. Opinionated women get floods of cunting and bitching and why the fuck are you so uglying, so they’re put off appearing in public, so dudebros look around and don’t see many opinionated women mouthing off and they conclude that opinionated mouthing off is more of a guy thing. And they say that, and opinionated women say no that’s not it, that’s a stupid sexist stereotype, think harder – and they get floods of cunting and bitching and why the fuck are you so uglying, so they’re put off appearing in public, so loop loop loop loop.

Last night I was chatting online, offering support to a friend who had just been bullied off Twitter. Nobody famous. Just an ordinary, everyday sort of woman who has taken the nastiness that life has dealt her over the last few years and come through it. Smiling? Mostly. But also vulnerable.

As an active feminist, she deals with anonymous abuse – she gets a fair bit of that, from the EDL and their hangers-on – and though it’s not nice, she copes. What got to her this time, though, was the viciousness of “friends” when called out on their refusal to condemn violence against women and joke polls about “people you’d most like to kill”.

The viciousness of “friends” can be quite staggering.

Beard makes the point well, in a blog responding to her own online treatment. It is clear that she is no stranger to tired old jokes about her appearance – but even she has been shocked about the response she evoked, describing the level of misogyny as “truly gobsmacking”. The focus of much of the abuse is sexual, sadistic even and, she adds: “it would be quite enough to put many women off appearing in public, contributing to political debate”.

In other words, it is silencing, something I get very well from personal experience. I’ve opted out of contributing online for periods ranging from hours to a couple of weeks after being subjected to this sort of online nastiness. Not just me. Many far braver women with serious contributions to make to public discourse on violence and abuse have suffered similar: been silenced simply for having an opinion.

And there’s another turn of the screw which Fae doesn’t mention: they get called “Professional Victims” for publicly objecting to the abuse. They, I mean we, cannot win.

Another person who’s going to Women in Secularism is Marc David Barnhill. Why? Because of

yet another “parody” website and Twitter account mocking the aims and methods (and ripping off copyrighted images) of prominent women secularists.

Plus his eight year old daughter may have had something to do with it.

Was I opposed to attending in the first place? Well, no, actually I very much wanted to, having missed the first one last year. And the roster is once again a stellar one: Lauren Becker, Ophelia Benson, Jamila Bey, Soraya Chemaly, Greta
Christina, R. Elisabeth Cornwell, Vyckie Garrison, Debbie Goddard, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Adriana Heguy, Melody Hensley, Teresa MacBain, Amanda Marcotte, Maryam Namazie, Katha Pollitt, Carrie Poppy, Edwina Rogers, Amy Davis Roth,
Desiree Schell, Shelley Segal, Rebecca Watson, Stephanie Zvan. It’s a startling collection of speakers.

So why wasn’t he going?

Well, that’s my business, frankly, and I’m starting to find your rhetorical questions a bit impertinent. But a combination of personal, financial, and health issues had led me to the decision to sit this one out as well. The women have got this, I thought. It’s covered.

Tonight I tucked my eight-year-old daughter in bed and settled down to scan Twitter and see what I’ve been missing.

A lot has happened in the last year, some of it wonderfully inspiring and much of it dismayingly ugly. One of the things about privilege is that an ally can choose to withdraw from the struggle when burnout or shocked sensibilities request it. Not everyone has this option. It’s an option I was too easily prepared to exercise.

So thank you, guy with the sophomoric, nearly clever parody account. Thanks for a gentle reminder just when I needed it. I’ll make it work. I’m going.

I feel a little abashed. I don’t give the guys with the sophomoric senses of humor enough credit. I’m not appreciative enough of all the free publicity. I’m too focused on the aesthetics and not enough on the consequences, however unintended.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)