Abel and Orac and Isis have recently called attention to the flak Amy Wallace had been getting for her recent article in WIRED Magazine, “An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All”. The flak Wallace has gotten, as detailed in her Twitter feed (from which Abel constructed a compilation):
I’ve been called stupid, greedy, a whore, a prostitute, and a “fking lib.” I’ve been called the author of “heinous tripe.”
J.B. Handley, the founder of Generation Rescue, the anti-vaccine group that actress Jenny McCarthy helps promote, sent an essay title” “Paul Offit Rapes (intellectually) Amy Wallace and Wired Magazine.” In it, he implied that Offit had slipped me a date rape drug. “The roofie cocktails at Paul Offit’s house must be damn good,” he wrote. Later, he sent a revised version that omitted rape and replaced it with the image of me drinking Offit’s Kool-aid. That one was later posted at the anti-vaccine blog Age of Autism. You can read that blog here.
I’ve been told I’ll think differently “if you live to grow up.” I’ve been warned that “this article will haunt you for a long time.” Just now, I got an email so sexually explicit that I can’t paraphrase it here. Except to say it contained the c-word and a reference to dead fish.
Since the scientific issues around vaccination (including the lack of evidence to demonstrate a link between vaccinations and autism) are well-covered in these parts (especially at Orac’s pad and by Mike The Mad Biologist), I just want to speak briefly about the strategy that seems to be embodied by these reactions to Wallace’s article.
Clearly, some people didn’t like the upshot of Wallace’s article, that there is more scientific evidence to support the benefits of vaccinating than there is to support opting out of vaccination to avoid autism — and that there could well be bad consequences for more than just the vaccine refuseniks (a point we’ve discussed here). Sometimes, when people don’t like your upshot, they dig in and try to identify the flaws in your reasoning, or they try to ferret out the unreliable sources on which you might be resting your claims.
If they can’t do that (or if they can’t be bothered to try responding to the content of the claims or the logical structure of the reasoning, for whatever reasoning), sometimes they call you names. Stupid, greedy, arrogant, pharma-shill.
But the invective hurled at Wallace includes some sexualized insults: Prostitute. Whore. Female body part, described in language designed to be crude. The victim of (intellectual) rape. Someone who may now be targeted for physical violence, including sexual violence.
This kind of response goes beyond communicating that people didn’t like Wallace’s article, or that they take issue with the conclusions she draws in that article. It targets her as a woman.
It communicates that, for the audacity of taking this public stand, she will be reduced to her lady-parts. Her lady-parts, not any of her intellectual labor. And the verbal attacks on her as a bearer or lady-parts may include threats to enact physical harm on her and her lady-parts, because that’s a well-worn way to keep uppity women in line.
For the moment, set aside the question of which side of the vaccination wars an author might be on. Set aside the question of which side of the vaccination wars you might be on. If you are a woman, or someone who counts women as your allies, shouldn’t you be appalled at this kind of tactic for responding to Amy Wallace’s article? Because this tactic can just as easily be used against you (or one of the women with whom you make common cause) if someone decides that you get out of line and express a view you’re not entitled to express.
When people disagree with your position, is it cool for them to reduce you to features of your anatomy? For them to remind you that you and people like you exist primarily to service others sexually? For them to threaten you with sexual violence?
Then, if you find this tactic to be inappropriate, you should call it out when it’s used — whether it’s being used by your opponents against one of your allies, or by one of your purported allies against one of your opponents.
Really, this stuff is not hard to figure out.
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Liz Ditz has been compiling the definitive link-list of reactions to Wallace’s article (and reactions-to-reactions).