Dealing with Misogyny (Part 1)

By Adam Cuerden

Rebecca Watson recently pointed out a problem on Reddit’s atheism group: A 15-year-old girl made an excited post about getting a Carl Sagan book for Christmas, and the commenters decided to talk about abducting and raping her.

I really wish that was an exaggeration.

I’m going to presume that I don’t need to tell anyone why that’s wrong. If your view of women is such that the only point of them is to be treated as a sexual object, you’re utter slime. When the girl you’re forcing to fit into your sexual object mode is only 15, I really don’t have the words.

So, let’s talk a bit about the situation at hand. The thread Rebecca Watson pointed out treats women as nothing more than sexual objects, to be used by a man. This is a 15-year-old girl, excited about her very religious mother respecting her enough to get her Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World as a Christmas gift. And yet, the comments are about how these adults want to have sex with her, and point out that women have holes. Holes that men can use.

That’s not treating her as a human being, it’s treating her as a sex doll, and this attitude is so pervasive these grown men can’t even bother to reign themselves in when talking about a 15-year-old. (And, no, it wouldn’t be justified if she was an adult, of course. However, it shows that there’s no real boundaries here: the inability to think of women as anything but sex objects is apparently so strong that underage females can’t be excluded from the sexualization.)

And, of course, they fantasise, or – as they’ll surely attempt to justify it – “joke” about abducting and raping her, describing her tears and blood as “nature’s lubricant”.

The incident in question basically forcibly making a 15-year-old girl get exposed to – and thereby, in a way participate in random people’s sexual fantasies about her, by putting them up in unrelated conversations where she’s likely to find them. She’s also apparently been getting nasty private messages which are even worse than the public ones.
And getting such comments go strongly against her desires:

“For the record, the pedo-ish coments disgust me. You have no idea what me or the other men and women on this site have been through. I’m sure if someone who has been sexually abused read through this they’d be upset. Just stop. Seriously. It’s possible to be funny without being creepy.”

…and make her feel that she’ll never be taken seriously in the atheist/scientific/political/whatever community because [she’s] a girl”.

She’s undergone objectification, forced sexualisation, harassment, misogyny, and sexual abuse.

But the Reddit situation is not an isolated incident. Packets of such behaviour exist everywhere. Even talking about misogyny while being a female skeptic can apparently be enough to expose you to pretty awful stuff, such as we see in this comment to Greta Christina’s excellent post explaining unhelpful reactions to misogyny:

Go fuck yourself with a knife you irrational cunt.

We will continue to act as we please and you can continue to bitch and moan, but it’s just going to antagonize us.

Even major skeptical organisations can have issues with dealing appropriately with women. The Center for Inquiry Canada’s Vancouver branch decided to let volunteers try to recruit women into skepticism. But after two meetings of the “Reasonable Women” group, it was cancelled, for supposedly “promoting feminism”, because apparently, women’s rights isn’t something that skepticism should get into. Of course, the founder of CFI-Canada, Justin Trottier, advocates men’s rights, and has written in support of another misogynist stating that wives have a duty to give their husbands sex, even if they don’t want to, because, in Trottier’s summary:

“In these two columns Dennis Prager presents the argument that a wife who cares about having a happy husband rethinks the idea that if she is not in the mood then that means she must not have sex. Prager shines a light on the differences between men and women, sex is far more important to men than it is to women and that a man knows his wife loves him by the fact that she has sex with him. Does mood always determine our actions? No. Are you always in the mood to get up and go to work in the morning? Are you ever in the mood to get up in the night and feed the baby? Take out the trash? Sometimes we have obligations to do things that we don’t feel like doing because they lead to good consequences down the road.”

And Katie Kish, President of the Freethought Association of Canada lists a litany of negative behaviour by him in a 2009 blog post, including:

  • Accusing the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) of being sexist, because they asked to interview her, instead of him.
  • Telling a rape victim applying for a job in CFI that she was sexist and unprofessional, because she listed work for women’s groups on her resumé.
  • Using his contacts at CFI to promote the blog that the above quote came from.
  • Refusing permission for Debbie Goddard to speak on multiculturalism and gender, because he disagreed with her views.

I think by now everyone will agree there’s a major problem here. But what can be done about it? Obviously, objecting to it and arguing against it is vital. But is that enough?

In part 2, I’m going to detail a personal fight against misogyny, from back before I was involved with any skeptical organizations, on the website RationalWiki. Best known for defining Poe’s Law, in one thread this website also demonstrated some of the same problems as the Reddit example.

I objected to it. I had been named as an admin, so I used this authority to ask people to stop. However, this failed to put a stop to it, and my objections were then deleted. However, I didn’t have any further platform to decry the behaviour, so could only leave the site. Analysing that failure will form the subject of he second part of this post.

The problem of how to deal with entrenched misogyny is a difficult one, and simply objecting to such behaviour alone, as one person, can have little-to-no result when the slime outnumbers you. If it’s being tolerated on a site, it’s likely that people in positions of power also tolerate or even engage in it. And once it’s infected the people in charge, how can it then be dealt with?

These are the hard questions we, as the decent human being part of the skeptical and humanist community need to consider.

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0 Responses to Dealing with Misogyny (Part 1)

  1. I looked at the thread that Rebecca Watson cites. It’s nauseating. And incitements to sadistic violence get a thousand thumbs ups.

    There are only two honourable courses open to Reddit:

    Screen comments

    Shut down

  2. Cuerden says:

    Paul: I, of course, agree, but think it’s slightly more complex, because who does the screening matters. If who does the screening is chosen by popularity, and is imposed after the misogyny has been allowed to chase a lot of the decent human beings off, leading to a preponderance of slimeballs, screening could actually serve to further entrench misogyny, by giving them a way to silence their critics.

    And, no, this isn’t just speculation, it’s the subject of Part 2.

  3. I agree, Cuerden, and look forward to Part 2.

    I never signed up for reddit, but if I did, I also would now have two honourable options: protest and stay, or protest and leave. And life being short in this imperfect world, I think I know which I would do, despite the consequences you mention.

  4. Sorry, you’ve got me brooding. Surely whoever owns reddit does not have to make decisions by counting responses. Cheering on sadistic fantasies is an insult to all of us, not just women. Who owns reddit, who does it claim to speak for, and what (other than abandoning it to the mentally ill) can be done about it?

  5. Cuerden says:

    That’s what I really wish I knew. The best solution is probably to widely publicise the problem: Websites have a tendency only to act when the negative publicity starts rolling in.

  6. Done, on my facebook wall, as follows:

    To my friends who use reddit for atheists, please read this: . Force yourself to actually look at the posts cited, including the ones about blood and anuses, and their ratings. Then do one of three things: devise an effective strategy against this sort of thing; quit reddit; unfriend me.

    And pass it on. All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, and this stuff is evil.

  7. David says:

    The idea that you can screen the comments on reddit is totally implausible, just because of the sheer volume. The best that can possibly be done is to have a facility for complaining about particularly nasty comments.

  8. Lesmond says:

    I’m not familiar with Reddit, but I’ve recently been led to believe (while talking about this particular issue) that it’s a bit of a wannabe 4Chan (my point was that if folk want to behave like that they should go wallow in the filth of /b/) in which case this kind of behaviour will be part of the whole raison d’être of the site I really don’t know what can be done. If it’s anything like 4Chan the only negative publicity from the perspective of the site’s owners would be of the form that people HAVEN’T been offended.

    Maybe the discussion needs to be focussed on why people want to create spaces like 4Chan and, apparently, Reddit, where gross offensiveness, bullying, and vicious insults are the whole purpose, in the first place.

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