Two questions for Justin Vacula about ‘nasty pushback’ against some feminists online

by Michael Nugent on March 1, 2013

Justin Vacula has published a video (here with transcript) titled “Feminists’ million dollar question” in which he elaborates on his advice “for people who face criticism and hate on the internet.”

While I fundamentally disagree with his analysis, I am interpreting his intentions charitably, and I would like to ask him two questions.

Justin asks why some feminists receive what he calls “nasty pushback” while others don’t, and he concludes that it is because of the way that they present themselves on the Internet. He says of this “nasty pushback”:

“It’s not to say the nasty pushback is morally justified, but it’s just to state a fact; it’s just to state how the internet “is.” It’s not to justify the behavior.”

Justin, here’s my first question for you. Can you go a step further than that, and say that at least some of “the nasty pushback” is morally unjustified, and can you give some examples of morally unjustified nasty pushback?

Justin then concludes with his “Feminists’ million dollar question”.

“So the million dollar question once again is this: “Why is it that some feminists experience negative feedback on the internet while others do not?””

Justin, here is my second question for you. Do you think that we can more usefully ask that question in the active tense rather than the passive tense, and how would you answer this actively framed version of it:

Why is it that some people on the Internet direct “criticism and hate” and “nasty pushback” at some feminists, while others do not?

Note that this question is not about what these people believe they are responding to, but about why some respond with “criticism and hate” and “nasty pushback” while others do not.

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

1 The Devil's Towelboy March 1, 2013 at 3:49 am

Here’s two questions for you –

1) Do you deliberately choose not to see the wholesale vandalism conducted against our various communities by the people you claim are “victims”? Or,

2)Are you fully aware of it and willfully ignore it for whatever reasons favor your personal agenda?

Here’s a brief checklist –

http://i.imgur.com/wH9p8.jpg

There are three words that summarize the the plight of those that claim to be the “victims” – self fulfilling prophecy.

If people, irrespective of gender, insist on dumping truckloads of unsubstantiated accusation, smear, character assassination and just outright falsehood, how dare they expect that there will be no “push back”? Absurd.

This is not a gender issue – it is a vicious idoicy issue. You neglect the fact that some of the worst offenders in this regard are male – PZ Myers, Greg Laden, Adam Lee to name just a few.

I pity Ireland if you are the best representative for atheism they have. You are just a blind believer without a god.

2 doubtthat March 1, 2013 at 5:38 am

Well, just to balance the crazy out for you, I have only read a few of your blog posts, Mr. Nugent, but I’m impressed with your effort, here.

Gird your loins and prepare to have your blog become (hopefully temporarily) the vomitorium for the unhinged sort of people you see above. Good luck, Sir.

3 Stacy March 1, 2013 at 5:54 am

Adding Michael to the enemies list now are you, DTB?

Skepticism 101: unsubstantiated accusations aren’t worth shite. If you have a specific complaint, make it and provide evidence. Context matters.

4 Stacy March 1, 2013 at 5:57 am

I meant to refer to The Devil’s Towelboy above; I should have used the acronymTDT instead of DTB. Sorry for any confusion.

5 Jeremac March 1, 2013 at 7:38 am

“Why is it that some people on the Internet direct “criticism and hate” and “nasty pushback” at some feminists, while others do not?”

I’d say they’re the same people who respond to anything on the internet in that way. It’s been going on since the days of the fidonet and occurs regardless of the topic of discussion. People don’t act the same way they do in an anonymous online environment as they do in person. Hell, people don’t even act the same way in the online environment when they’re not anonymous as they do in person.

Why are we still pretending that the behaviour is specific to the topic of feminism?

What’s different here is the scale of the abuse, not the type of abuse or the viciousness of it. The scale is different to what we normally experience because it’s a topic that is dividing the community and the way it has been dealt with is further dividing that community.

If I write something that someone doesn’t like on the internet, that person will almost certainly respond with vitriol. If I have a large audience and I write something that half that audience doesn’t like, I can expect a large number of people to respond with vitriol.

It’s not rocket science. Can we stop talking about the poor feminist victims now?

6 arclight March 1, 2013 at 9:01 am

Shorter Jeremac: “You’re not specifically a target. And if you are, it’s because you feminists won’t shut the fuck up.”

It has been demonstrated time and time again, regardless of topic, that women will receive much more persistent abuse than men. The difference between being beaten to death and a slap on the ass is merely a matter of “scale”.

I will agree to one point – the abuse levied is not specific to those speaking of feminism. Ladies, expect to be victims. If you complain about it, expect to become Professional Victims™.

I’ve tried to stay out of this bullshit fracas but I keep getting dragged in by abuse apologists. Frankly, I don’t have time for them; I make a special exception to my otherwise tolerant humanist outlook and hope you become trapped in your basement to be slowly devoured by rats. I look at the two sides and ask myself, “who would I trust alone with my sister?” The answer is clear.

When I was in my early 20s I held a lot of the same opinions I see in others. My attitudes changed as I learned about others. Girlfriends who’d been trapped on airliners next to the creepy masturbating guy, getting no support from the aircrew. Girlfriends with the stereotypical misogynist math teacher. Tales of stalking, harassment, assault.

And as a counterpoint I’ve dealt with actual stereotypical feminist and Leftist bullies. I’ve had my share of throwdowns with those types and frankly, I don’t have any use for them either.

The common theme here is that if you treat people badly, I want nothing to do with you and I don’t give two shits about how you justify your bad behavior. “But (s)he started it!” is the last bastion of a mental four-year-old and I could not care one whit about your CV if that’s your best argument. I fervently hope you can wise up and outgrow it, otherwise may you die in a fire. You and your shit opinions won’t be missed. Sperm is cheap – we’ll make more just like you.

I’d rather spend my limited time on this planet positively, making this a better place while I’m here. The whole gender/feminism thing doesn’t interest me; it’s not that it isn’t important (it is), it’s just not what I want to spend my time arguing about. Sadly, it keeps getting forced upon me and I’m fed up having to deal with it. But rather than telling (or implying) others should just shut the hell up, I (usually) blow it off and focus on positive action. If you want to focus on the negative and defend the indefensible, be my guest. Knock yourself out. Literally.

7 Jeremac March 1, 2013 at 10:01 am

Well that basically went like every conversation I’ve ever had with any of the Atheism Plus folks.

It started out by putting words in my mouth and ended with a whopping strawman argument hypocritically infused with the very vitriol it claims to be opposing.

I’m not an apologist for any kind of poor online behaviour. I just can’t see how focusing on the problem as if it’s a women’s rights issue is going to help the situation when there is clearly a wider conversation to be had about poor online behaviour.

Michael hit the nail on the head in his previous article about the sexist joke and photo. The apalling comments made by people who presumably would never attach their name to such comments in the real world. What were they thinking? Those people presumably would never write comments like that, put their name to them, post them on a noticeboard at work or on the fridge at home for all to see.

There is something about the psychology of online commentry that needs to be explored and that’s not happening in the femino-atheist discourse.

8 clod March 1, 2013 at 10:58 am

Perhaps you can answer a question Michael: Why is it that intelligent and thoughtful female sceptics, (Kirby, Celeste-Hale, Hall, Smith and many others) are vilified, insulted and abused and invited to kill themselves and do various unsavoury things with porcupines by women who style themselves as feminists. It beats the hell out of me. Have you not read what has been said about these people at all?

9 Cian March 1, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Good point Clod – what mystifies me about all this is the lack of understanding for feminists who aren’t EXACTLY the same as the A+ people.
The name calling, slandering of decent people has been so disappointing ….. that must have something to do with the nasty push back. I thought what was done to Kirby ( who has walked away from the “community”), Mayhew, Celeste-Hale, Harriet Hall and others has been so reminiscent of religious doctrinal disputation and excommunication. One of the reasons I am an atheist was to get away from the infallible and unshakable authority of the church … growing up seeing priests denounce people, lifestyles, art forms etc from their pulpits led me to skepticism and atheism. To see the same thing begin to happen in the “freethinking” movement has left me with little appetite to continue listening.

10 Notung March 1, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Michael, your second question to Justin is interesting in its own right, but is entirely different from the question Justin was asking. So, whatever the answer to your question, it is perhaps unlikely to shed any light on Justin’s “million dollar” question.

My answer to it would be that the personalities of the people involved and the internet habits they engage in lead to such behaviour. It is a problem, yes, but I confess that I cannot think of a reasonable solution to it.

To Justin’s question, well, I have some idea, but my “let’s not get into an internet flame war” sense is compelling me to leave that for others to try to answer!

11 clod March 1, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Cian: Exactly. The shunning of women who don’t EXACTLY tow the party line of the proscribed ideology has been despicable and, as you point out, so analogous to religious strategy.

12 Stacy March 1, 2013 at 5:40 pm

Why is it that intelligent and thoughtful female sceptics, (Kirby, Celeste-Hale, Hall, Smith and many others) are vilified, insulted and abused and invited to kill themselves and do various unsavoury things with porcupines by women who style themselves as feminists.

The porcupine line was retired months ago. As for the rest of your allegations, citation(s) needed.

There is NO equivalence between the dedicated, utterly mean-spirited, daily and ongoing harassment directed at outspoken feminist bloggers and criticisms (however angry) made in response to the bloggers you name.

This false equivalence is simply the latest in a long line of dishonest tactics.

13 Renee Hendricks March 1, 2013 at 6:07 pm

As a woman who is for women’s rights as well as men and as a very vocal atheist/skeptic, my question for you is why don’t I get the same sort of “harassment” as Ophelia Benson, Stephanie Zvan and so many others? It really never occurs to people that it’s all in the way things are presented to the public??

14 clod March 1, 2013 at 6:23 pm

Tactics for what exactly? What on earth are you talking abt?

15 oolon March 1, 2013 at 6:57 pm

On with the nit picking, list of grievances and false equivalences from the Slymepitters… I’m amazed they even bother as unless you are already inculcated in anti-FtB rhetoric I cannot see how any reasonable person when presented with this -> http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2013/02/02/what-is-more-important-than-peace-nsfw/
From one side of Devil Boys equation at #1 vs…. Well nothing even coming close apart from a few upset egos from Pharyngula commenters savaging them in comment-threads. Followed by the ultimate ego-smasher, banning! The common thread seems to be if you are so full of yourself to believe everyone should have to hear what you say and anything else is a horrible infringement of your freedom of expression then you’ll fit in well at the Slymepit.

So Renee wondering why she doesn’t get the harassment her way is very amusing, look who is on your “side”… Kirby, Hall and even ERV (Despite her hideous opinions on shoe-buying) get nothing like what I linked to above. Interesting Hall is mentioned above, I’ll finish with her words… “I sincerely regret that I inadvertently contributed to inflaming the harassment that was directed at you. I was truly appalled by some of the venomous over-reactions and egregious abuse that you were subjected to online. I felt very sorry for you and what you were forced to endure. There is no excuse for the behavior of your persecutors.”

16 oolon March 1, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Damn forgot to add this as an answer for Justin for morally unjustified “nasty pushback”… http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2013/01/22/drama-is-not-disagreement/

Does he feel any need to apologise for the reaction his video caused amongst the bullies at the pit? Or the abuse she got on her blog and her IRL facebook page which one of Justin’s audience tracked down to leave her a comment there (No implied threat or stalkery behaviour meant!)

He is directly *responsible* for at least one feminists experience of “nasty pushback” online.

17 Stacy March 1, 2013 at 7:57 pm

my question for you is why don’t I get the same sort of “harassment” as Ophelia Benson, Stephanie Zvan and so many others?

Renee, in the first place, other than the slimepit and the people you troll, nobody knows who you are. I suppose the validation you get for your nastiness has led you to think you’re on a par with the people you obsess about.

You’re safe in any case. The people who oppose you refuse to sink to your level.

Perhaps you need to ask yourself why you’re so hateful. I realize ya’ll come up with some grandiose post hoc rationalizations for your hatred (whatever happened to the one about how Our Precious Civil Rights are threatened by bloggers monitoring their own blogs and blocking commenters?) but the truth is, Stephanie Svan, Ophelia Benson, PZ, the Skepchicks, etc., forcefully critique sexism and actually demand change. People who do that commonly receive abuse from people who feel angry or threatened by feminism.

Politics aside, to my knowledge the fact that females are disproportionately harassed online is not in dispute.

http://www.haltabuse.org/resources/stats/2011Statistics.pdf

18 JPaper March 1, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Renee, that would be because the hate and harassment is coming from your buddies and the people you have a hate-on for (feminists) won’t stoop to that level. You are a female anti-feminist. You’re full of sexist BS like claiming women can’t cut it in the military and the fact you could just goes to show how much more special than other women you are. So, of course the anti-fems don’t attack you. Since they are the only ones lobbing turds and you are standing shoulder to shoulder with them, you aren’t in danger of getting splattered with poop. That doesn’t mean you are better than anyone else. It means you are friends with horrible people and get to stand safely by then while other people take damage.

19 doubtthat March 1, 2013 at 11:48 pm

Wait, so the women who agree with the MRA’s and anti-FtB crowd don’t receive harassment?

Seems to me you folks have answered your own question.

20 Kim Rippere (President of Secular Woman) March 2, 2013 at 10:18 pm

Michael –

“Why is it that some people on the Internet direct “criticism and hate” and “nasty pushback” at some feminists, while others do not?”

I love this turnaround. It places the responsibility on the correct party.

Just like society told women don’t get raped for centuries . . . we are just now figuring out the the message should have been don’t rape. Now you are doing the same thing with reactions to women/feminism – the problem is largely with the one reacting to the ideas.

It isn’t that the women/feminists that need to be reviewing their postures; it is the people that responding and how they are responding. Our response is with in our control; how others respond is not.

21 athyco March 3, 2013 at 1:03 am

Vacula post on this spends 1049 words avoiding the questions. Why does it take him so many words to do something that simple? He needed to lead up to explaining with multiple uses of “perhaps” exactly the opposite of the note at the end of this post: “…this question is not about what these people believe they are responding to….”

Your questions, Michael Nugent? For the first one, he sidesteps “examples” by saying a “definition” would be difficult. Then he gives two categories, not examples. For the second, he pulls out “It takes two to tango” and that it’s time to be “candid” in order to shift his focus to exactly what your note explains you are not asking.

Huh: “It takes two to tango.” Is “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” next in the queue? His handwaving response (not answer) ought to be embarrassing.

22 athyco March 3, 2013 at 1:17 am

Is there a pingback or link or comment that Justin Vacula has left to alert readers to his response on this topic? I’d thought that when one writes an answer to another’s questions, that was the usual procedure, visible in the comments. I assumed that one would be here, but review of the earlier comments and their links proved me wrong.

Well, here it is. Sorry I don’t feel competent enough with html to do more than copy/paste.

http://skepticink.com/justinvacula/2013/03/01/two-answers-and-questions-for-michael-nugent/

23 Skeptico March 3, 2013 at 10:50 am

Justin raises some excellent questions of his own. I look forward to reading your response Michael.

Do you believe people have any legitimate grievances against the behavior of feminists in the atheist community? Consider some individuals whom many believe were unfairly maligned — dubbed ‘witches of the week‘ — such as Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Ben Radford, and Sara Mayhew.

People accuse popular feminist bloggers in the atheist community of shaming, blaming, defaming, and participating in ‘call-out culture.’ Do you believe that these claims have merit? Can you find fault with this perceieved approach and understand why people are angry?

http://skepticink.com/justinvacula/2013/03/01/two-answers-and-questions-for-michael-nugent/

24 doubtthat March 3, 2013 at 5:53 pm

“Consider some individuals whom many believe were unfairly maligned — dubbed ‘witches of the week‘ — such as Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Ben Radford, and Sara Mayhew.”

Shermer said something stupid, it was pointed out, he reacted like a child. Dawkins said something stupid, it was criticized, I’m not really sure if he’s followed up on that or not. Harris made bad arguments, was confronted for making bad arguments, that’s sort of how it works. Radford made an simultaneously frivolous and insulting post and was criticized for it, and I don’t know much about Mayhew.

When people make bad arguments, that should be pointed out. Most of the uproar concerning those individuals was generated by the incredibly silly responses each made to the criticism. Shermer is probably the best example. All he needed to do was say, “I was speaking live and said something I didn’t intend. Here’s what I really think:” Instead he lashed out and made himself look like a fool.

It’s not that complicated. Say dumb things, expect to have that point made against you.

25 athyco March 3, 2013 at 9:43 pm

Skeptico,

Justin raises some excellent questions of his own. I look forward to reading your response Michael.

Does it matter to you that Justin Vacula spent the first half of his response tap dancing around the questions in this post and the second half of his response doing exactly the opposite of what was asked? After that, I find his two questions far from excellent, but quite interesting because they lead to yet another: “What is Vacula avoiding/hiding?”

We know from Vacula’s video on this topic, combined with his posts “Negative criticism and the Internet” (from which he copy/pasted the advice on the Steven Novella thread in the first place) and “Blame and Intent” what he believes about those questions he posed. It is possible (I believe probable) that his ideas cannot be supported. One part of the evidence against his ideas is that he cannot/does not answer (as his post purports to do but does not) these original two questions in a straightforward manner. When he wants to issue new questions rather than answer these, he’s avoiding making his own case.

26 Cian March 3, 2013 at 10:09 pm

“It’s not that complicated. Say dumb things, expect to have that point made against you.”

If that were the case it would be fine, but who decides what is said is dumb? Many of these statements are not obviously considered “dumb” – by those who made them, or those who agreed with them.

It is called having a different view point. ( I thought Steven Novellas recent post regarding this and about taking a charitable view of your opponents position was particularly good ). But this kind of decency has been long gone as far as I can see from a few of the prominent atheist blogs for years.

The unforgiving nature of the reactions of many of these bloggers to disagreements ( whether it be political or social or tactical ) and their incitement of their commenters to pile on has been apparent for a long time now and what has happened was probably inevitable. I was put off a long time ago by the “preachy” nature of it all. One word out of line in a speech or an essay can mean your undoing now, regardless of your past actions and track record.

Of course pointing out a bad argument is always a worthwhile thing to do … but that’s not what has been happening. People have been called misogynists, chill girls, sister punishers, gender traitors etc for merely disagreeing on fine points like tactics, not really on the core issue of sexism. And the horrible thing is that this stuff sticks! ( just like the old religious canard of atheists being wife swapping nihilists has stuck, so do these epithets ).

Sam Harris wrote of his fear of his children discovering in the future that their dad was a racist, due to people misrepresenting is views. Because if the lie is repeated enough times it sticks.

I don’t think either side has behaved particularly well in all this, but the destructive, acrimonious and sarcastic nit picking from the now “wounded” side has been building for a long time. Their seems to be a “win the argument at all costs” mentality … instead of trying to see the others point of view it is straight to denunciation. This article in the Guardian sums it up far better than i ever could …

“Even if you’re fighting the good fight, if it’s more about shaming, righteousness and public performance I’m not fighting with you”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/18/online-bullying-ugly-sport-liberal-commenters

27 Michael Nugent March 4, 2013 at 12:04 am
28 doubtthat March 4, 2013 at 12:58 am

“If that were the case it would be fine, but who decides what is said is dumb? Many of these statements are not obviously considered “dumb” – by those who made them, or those who agreed with them.”

We have an argument. What’s causing the hysteria, at least in the examples given, is that people are taking that criticism and calling it “witch hunts” and making Nazi analogies. If you think you’re right, make an argument, don’t whine about the fact that you’ve been criticized (“you” in the broad sense, not you personally, Cian).

“Of course pointing out a bad argument is always a worthwhile thing to do … but that’s not what has been happening. People have been called misogynists, chill girls, sister punishers, gender traitors etc for merely disagreeing on fine points like tactics, not really on the core issue of sexism.”

No, this hasn’t happened. Provide an example or two.

And, by the way, “chill girl” was a term created by the MRA/anti-FtB crowd. I would enjoy you producing an example of someone under discussion here that uses the phrase as a slur.

I’m sure Sam Harris will have ample time to explain the subtleties of his pro-racial profiling position to his children.

29 Cian March 4, 2013 at 6:20 pm

doubtthat: I take it back if “chill girl” did not come from FTB’s, sorry about that. It is just that I first heard Paula Kirby being called that on FTB …

http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2012/07/the-oppressed-sisters-and-their-approved-male-chorus/#comment-209972

And I don’t know if you realise what a large brushstroke you are using by naming people who are opposed to their style as being MRA’s/anti-FTB ( I for one still like some of the FTB bloggers and can’t see the point of an MRA movement to be honest ). They can’t all be MRA’s can they? Maybe you didn’t mean it that way, but using these terms to brand people is my point. Its what the church has done forever. I presume you are an atheist like myself – are we all godless-sodomites? :)

I am very unimpressed by the pathetic level of name calling etc on both sides as I’ve said but my point is that ( in my opinion ) one person in particular has been amping up the vitriol over the years, and I have never seen an apology or a retraction from that person ( can anyone but so correct all the time ?). Then again that might be just my personal taste, so it might not be a valid point here.

Melody Hensley also dubs women who disagree with her as sister punishers …

http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2012/07/the-oppressed-sisters-and-their-approved-male-chorus/#comment-209972

http://www.saramayhew.com/blog/index.php/2012/09/cfi-responds-melody-hensley/

In that article by Sam Harris he said that he himself should not be exempt from profiling, so I’m not sure where the racism comes into it, but I might be wrong to be honest. I thought he was making the case that old women and vets etc should be exempt ( people who are clearly not jihadists ). This may be totally flawed ( and unworkable ) but does it make him a racist? And does he deserve to have that moniker follow him around? Again you might know more about this than me.

I should leave this alone now … its just so disappointing and exhausting to be a spectator in all this. There are too many dramatists on both sides and I personally feel that some decent people ( again on both sides ) are being slandered. Guilt by association is also another problem I see but thats another can of worms.

Thanks for the reply.

30 Iamcuriousblue March 5, 2013 at 2:48 am

“And, by the way, “chill girl” was a term created by the MRA/anti-FtB crowd. I would enjoy you producing an example of someone under discussion here that uses the phrase as a slur.”

No it most certainly was not. I first heard that term used by the FTB commentariat, and like many, was appalled by the implication that women who didn’t agree with their party line were just trying to be “chill” in the eyes of men rather than having their own motivations. The fact that that many FTB feminists casually throw around terms like “chill girl”, “sister punisher”, or the particularly horrendous “gender traitor” (and I think anybody using that last term really should have their political judgement and sanity called into question) says to me what I deeply messed-up ingroup mentality plagues these people.

31 Michael Nugent March 8, 2013 at 7:47 am

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