Pharyngula

They keep dragging me back in. I try to drop it, but my inbox is full of people still arguing this point, and it’s getting ridiculous. The thing is, they keep throwing godawfully bad arguments at me, as if they’re trying to hit me in the head with a brick enough times to make me stupid enough to believe them. It’s not going to work. Here are a few of the worst of the bad arguments.

Let’s stop the shouting that Richard Dawkins is some kind of raving misogynist. What’s happened here is that he is at some remove from all of the details, and this issue got blown up by lunatics who felt their manhood threatened and who exaggerated the situation to an absurd degree. I think he is wrong, but what he was arguing against was a cartoon of feminism which far too many people have been peddling on the blogs.

What cartoon of feminism, you might ask? This is the most common bad argument I’ve been seeing, and here’s a doozy of an example:

Atheist Flagellants and Puritans. Try reading this and recognizing even a dim resemblance to the events that triggered this episode.

The latest moral panic / fart-in-a-bathtub comes, rather depressingly, via Skepchick?s Rebecca Watson, who you could be excused for expecting to be above such trite gamespersonship. In this case exploiting a perceived atrocity against that most terrifying of socio-theo-politico-morasses: the sacred temple of the divine yoni and all of its sensitivity and delicateness. A blasphemy against the purity of the holy of holies, the supreme goddess-hood, the sublime and perfect eternal feminine, the über-she who?s poop smells like cinnamon buns?

Yeah, perhaps that is stretching the point. But there is no other way to try and get a handle on the way conventional reality simply vaporises and all commonsense ceases to play any role when the deadly combination of pussy, circumstance, insecurity and a readily available male patsy to blame everything on combine in surreal Grand Guignol ? especially when the masses rally behind it and give it a good head of indignant steam. This is all grist for the misandrist blog industry, but it is particularly disheartening seeing it become such a staple amongst the godless and allegedly ?freethinking? rationalist communities.

This was posted under the category “shrieking hysteria”. I think it was self-referential. The rest of the post doesn’t get any calmer, either.

Let me remind you what really happened, without the “divine yoni” and “Grand Guignol” and self-righteous accusations of misandry. A woman was awkwardly propositioned. She said no. She later briefly addresses atheists in a youtube video to say, “guys, don’t do that”.

So let’s just be clear here. If your version of the events requires comically strident exaggeration in order to make a case, you’re definitely wrong, and you are to blame for the discord and confusion. You are lying. And, by the way, if you even mention the words “misandrist blog industry”, you’re a flaming conspiracy nut.

Here’s another example of disgracefully bad argumentation, this time from an
online advice columnist who seems to specialize in pandering to adolescent male fantasies. This is the pseudo-biological argument that it is the male’s nature to hit on women all the time, everywhere, and how dare we stymie such natural impulses?

Men “sexualize” women. Ladies, they want to have sex with you, your sister, your sister’s friend, your sister’s friend’s friend, the cashier, the waitress, the lady with the big luscious ass who’s crossing the street, and her sister and her sister’s friend. If men weren’t like this, the planet would be filled with plants and cockroaches instead of human beings.

If it is troubling to you to be sexualized, stay home, or only leave the house in a big black burka.

Start fucking right now, everyone! We have to outcompete the cockroaches, and the only alternative is to wear a burka!

You know, it’s true that men (me among them) have frequent sexual thoughts, and we do notice secondary sexual characteristics, and we do enjoy sex. If we actually do have sex several times a week, and have two or three children over the course of our lifetimes, then we’ve pretty much fulfilled our reproductive obligations, we can rest assured that the cockroaches won’t overwhelm us, and that humanity’s fate is secure. It’s kind of amazing, actually, that those responsibilities can be carried out in such a small fraction of our time, and that we can have fun while safeguarding the future of the species. So what are we going to do with all of our free time?

Hey, how about conversation and learning and science and art and music and engineering and mathematics and dancing and movies and reading and…say, it turns out we do a lot of things, and they take up more of our time than sex (for most of us, anyway), and also, they’re things that make us human and not cockroaches or plants. We are surprisingly well capable of setting the sexual impulses aside for most of our lives and doing other interesting things. I really don’t think there’s a problem here that requires indulgence in sex at will to solve.

It’s also misleading. Women have the same sexual desires (cue argument that the cockroaches will defeat us if women don’t surrender to those desires right now), but notice — most don’t want to have sex non-stop, either. Maybe they’d also like to read a book or have a conversation, too.

This poor excuse for an advice columnist is full of contradictions. After telling us how men want to have sex with every female, she reveals that that isn’t actually true.

My dad told me to worry when men stop asking you out, when construction workers stop whistling. You want to “have the power”? When somebody whistles at you, smile and wave and be on your way. Don’t be (and act) all offended down to your ugly feminist-approved shoes.

Oh. So her definition of power is “men want to have sex with you”. And inevitably, someday, you’ll be old and ugly and men won’t want to have sex with you, so you’ll lose all your power. How sad. As for feminists: ugly shoes. There, we’re done with them!

You don’t even want to crawl into the comments at that site. We’re getting a lot of accusations that those feminists leave hateful, mean comments, but you’ve got to compare them to comments made by hysterical men to get some perspective. There are several that point out that Rebecca Watson is, apparently, powerless because she’s ugly and a lesbian.

And then there’s this comment, which creepily makes a perfect point for Watson’s reasonable concern.

Jeez, what meathead. Skepchick, that is. Look, I’m 6″2, I’m lean and I’m strong. If I’m in an elevator with a woman asking her out, I’m not trying to rape her. If I wanted to rape her, I would. Like the average woman can put up any kind of resitance to a man who wants to rape her. But, this is the interesting part – we don’t want to. Of course 90% of all women know this. Of course we don’t want to rape you. We really, really like you. We don’t want to hurt you. You smell nice, you look good in skirts, some of you are even kind enough to give the occational blow job. We don’t want to hurt you.

When some idiot like this spreads the notion that a guy asking her out is a potential rapist, she’s insulting everyone. She’s insulting the women who are supposed to believe her, she’s insulting us, the men, suggesting we are rapist. She’s insulting those poor, unfortunate women who really have been raped. Even worse, perhaps some men will think “damn, could that really be perceived in that way? I’m never asking anyone out in an elevator”…and next week, she’ll be complaining that some guy in a bar offered her a drink. We need MORE dating and MORE screwing in this world. With women like this in power there’d be less screwing. We’d still be screwed, though.

Case closed. I think Jesper here has done a far better job of making me ashamed to share a gender with him than anything Rebecca Watson could ever say. I think I need to take a shower after reading that.


To wash that unpleasant taste out of our mouths, let me suggest some good posts to read. Lindsay Beyerstein has an excellent, restrained, and accurate summary — no divine yonis in evidence. Stephanie Svan has a depressing series of testimonials from women who have been abused (trigger warnings galore!); this is not a negligible problem here in the first world, and there are many women who have justified fears of being caught in situations that Jesper seems to find romantic. I particularly recommend the comment from Doubting Thomas, which will chill you to the bone.

I repeat, though, that the story Rebecca Watson told was tempered, moderate, and polite, with only a reasonable request that the atheist community demonstrate a little more respect for women, and that it was not the hysterical feminazi nonsense so many people are claiming. And that appeals to base nature and testosterone do not justify uncivilized behavior, ever — we are human beings, animals with far more complex and diverse behaviors than that.

Also, the Amazing Meeting is coming up this week, and many of the principals involved in this argument are going to be there. Some people seem to think this topic is going to be the major discussion point there: it isn’t. We’ve all got our talks lined up in advance, the theme is space exploration, I’m working on a talk about the likely nature of aliens, and at best feminist etiquette is going to be babbled over in the bar afterward. I’m also getting a little fed up with dealing with such patently bogus arguments, anyway. The JREF has posted some sensible guidelines, though, just in case — so remember, treat your fellow attendees as human beings first.


We might as well have some fun with the oblivious commentariat. Here’s your bingo card!

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(via Katie Hartman)