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This Week: (Cast) Out for Love

A Response to Ophelia Benson

I received a personal email from blogger Ophelia Benson around 5 pm on Tuesday:

Hi again Becky,

I want to ask you a direct question, since you’re the one who named me as one of the too-dogmatic and other bad things feminists on your podcast – can you quote something too-dogmatic etc that I’ve written on this subject? I’ve just looked through my posts on DJ and I don’t see anything that seems very dogmatic.

Could you give a specific example on my post on the podcast or on yours or here but with permission to quote you? I think that’s only fair. You accused me of things so I think you should point to at least one example.

Ophelia

By 8:30 am Wednesday, Ophelia complained about my absent response on Greg Laden’s blog:

Becky’s responses are sometimes so underwhelming as to be absent entirely. She emailed me late Monday to request the rescue of a comment in moderation (because of links)[1]; I replied yesterday to ask her for an example of “dogmatism” from me, since she named me as one of the “dogmatic” feminists in the podcast. No reply. I find that deeply unimpressive.

Underwhelming I’ll take, but absent responses?  After 6 comments prior having addressed Greg? Is 16 hours the time limit for whether I’m responsive on an issue?  In light of my multiple follow-up responses in multiple arenas?  I am interested in this topic, and dedicated to co-creating positive solutions, but I’ve got a day job!

 

To Ophelia:

You request that I quotemine for something “too-dogmatic”.  Is there a spectrum of dogma? My argument isn’t that a little dogma is ok as long as you’re not a “too-dogmatic and other bad things feminist.” My argument is that feminism applied dogmatically, along with employing shame and zero-sum tactics of approach, work at cross purposes to eliminating misogyny and harassment in the atheist/skeptics community(ies). So I’ll give a few examples of how I see your writing as part of that larger observation. I’m not going to go looking for “too-dogmatic” things because that was never my argument.

In my original editorial I state: “Is our womanhood and feminism so holy that we cannot and will not open ourselves to criticism, discussion, and questions? Because the tone I’ve seen is unforgiving.” I could very well have linked the following comment on your Misogyny?  What Misogyny? post as one example of this:

I don’t want to see [commenter] Justicar as a decent human being in one place despite knowing that he’s not one via what he’s said in other places.

This strikes me as dogmatically rejecting all ideas a person has based on experience/contact with them in another arena. If myself and a pastor got into a spat about evolution, but then the pastor said “I don’t even want to see evidence of you doing charity because I know that in another arena you deny the majesty and wonder of the Almighty Creator!” we’d easily identify that as dogmatic.

In your Both Sides post you criticize my saying that both sides are doubling-down. Your first commenter construes that to mean that I think both sides are equally wrong. You do nothing to dispel that and in fact provide tacit agreement by saying “I thought I’d try understatement for once.” You agree with commenter Deen that I think you’re too feminist, claiming, “Yep. All that misogyny stuff is bad, of course, but the really bad worrying terrible awful people are…the ones Becky named.” This dishonestly supports this narrative of “us” vs. “them” with me clearly on the “them” side. You have contributed to the narrative of 2 sides, “for” and “against”, affirming the very thing that I pointed out! When things are black and white (a characterization embraced by Stephanie ) it’s indicative of dogma.

In Stephanie’s post addressing our episode, you in three words reveal your tacit agreement with one of the most egregious characterizations of atheist men I’ve seen condensed into one paragraph (the 5th, if you’re following the links), bolstering an us-versus-them mentality.

I hope it’s clear that I don’t think feminism  equals dogma, but that its application can be dogmatic. FtB’er Natalie Reed has a fine analysis of this phenomenon, which was only recently brought to my attention, in more general terms (not related to its application in atheist/skeptic circles on the issue of eliminating misogyny).

 

[1] True, I contacted Ophelia about a comment being left in moderation on her blog because I was concerned that the content may have been deemed objectionable (since subsequent comments had appeared sans moderation).  Turned out it the links I’d included dumped me in the queue automatically, and Ophelia dropped me a quick email to say as much with a cordial explanation and apology.  I’m not really sure how telling folks that I had comments awaiting moderation bolsters her assertion that my response is absent.  This was a technical hold-up, just as were her comments on our post. Observe her similar request to Ask An Atheist on Monday just after 10 am (when incidentally all three producers are working at our paying jobs): “I have a couple of comments in moderation. Could you let them out? I’d like to set the record straight before a bunch more comments from the ERV gang come in.”  That Mike Gillis guy, who Ophelia surmised just might have something to do with Ask an Atheist, caught the email and let her know it was held up by the Spambot detector and he’d approved her comments.

 

Update: Some links fixed.

Categories:
Opinion

About the Author: Becky Friedman

Becky works on the Ask An Atheist production team, frequently appears on episodes, and lends her voice to commercial announcements. She speaks Spanish, works as an educator in the Seattle-Tacoma area, and sits on the Board of Humanists of Washington.

Feedback and Commentary

81 Comments 3 Trackbacks
Sam June 13, 2012 at 8:59 pm

CRISWELL PREDICTS:

The response gets darker from here.

Prove me wrong. Please… prove me wrong.

Manolo Matos June 13, 2012 at 9:06 pm

If we spend half the time and energy we use for this issue to advance the atheist visibility movement, we would already have a secular society with zero church/state issues in the U.S. Just sayin’. Like they say where I come from: “La mierda mientras más se revuelca, más apesta…”

Tickle Me Melvin June 13, 2012 at 9:19 pm

Becky, my honest advice is to not get sucked in. These people spend their days in front of a screen construing and misconstruing the words and motivations of others, with a horde of agreers to make them feel good about it. There’s just no way anyone can make headway on introducing a different opinion. Blogging is a sociological problem.

Manolo Matos June 13, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Totally agree Melvin. That was my point above. Let’s use our energy for a better purpose.

Stephanie Zvan June 14, 2012 at 3:41 am

For people who don’t follow links: Ophelia’s “in three words” comment was an agreement that she has received threats of sexualized violence. It doesn’t name the parties who did it. It doesn’t say anything about atheist men in general. It just says she’s received these threats.

At least now I understand what “being dogmatic” is supposed to mean. Good to know.

Fabricio June 14, 2012 at 6:42 am

My, my, my! Picky picky picky, aren’t we? “You did not answer my points in 24 hours or less, its soooo underwhelming!” What is this, an Atheist Helpdesk or something? Take care, Becky, or you will be reported to the management.

That “us vs them” mentality is the first sign you are turning your point into a dogma. Wasn’t there a group of people that used to fight against that kind of mentality in name of reason and fact-based arguments?

Sam, I’d like to add another Criswell preditiction: that Ask An Atheist will be deemed a “show-non-grata” in the PZ Land. Just wait. The smugness of those who think that they’re saving the world from Teh Evulz knows no bounds.

Tai Fung June 14, 2012 at 6:48 am

Tickle Me Melvin just NAILED it. I’m almost annoyed that I’ve never been able to say it like that.

I just use the phrase, “Outrage Prism,” as a shortcut for viewing life, including innocous, innocent, or mundane events as a source of outrage. I don’t think getting groped is mundane, but then, by golly, REPORT IT. Get in the face of the groper. Bring friends if you have to do so. But say something when it happens. And stop decrying every other ACTUAL mundane event, otherwise you become like the kid who cried wolf.

Ophelia Benson June 14, 2012 at 8:49 am

I haven’t read the whole post yet, but I will just point out that I didn’t give Becky permission to post my email.

Jason Thibeault June 14, 2012 at 9:13 am

It’s strange that you’re condemning Ophelia as dogmatic for recognizing someone who’s called her horrible names at another blog and banning them, but you’re entering into evidence something she said at another blog. Either you have to take a person’s position solely from those direct encounters, or you don’t. Please pick one, Becky.

Becky Friedman June 14, 2012 at 10:08 am

We are a program that answers questions. It’s the title of the show. As most listeners realize, we field voicemails, emails, and live calls from people asking questions. Then we answer them on air or on our website.

Ophelia contacted me under the auspices of AaA, not privately. I responded per her request “on my post on the podcast or on yours or here”.

Ophelia Benson June 14, 2012 at 10:26 am

I didn’t request that you post the email. You had replied to me via that address, so I took you to be using it as an ordinary email address.

Fabricio June 14, 2012 at 10:38 am

Ha, now you are going to Management because of a Term of Confiendiality Breach. Atheism Inc. will NOT tolerate those, Ms. Friedman.

Let the whine BEGIN!

Cheron June 14, 2012 at 11:26 am

“This strikes me as dogmatically rejecting all ideas a person has based on experience/contact with them in another arena.”

If in that other arena the person has done almost nothing other than call you a cunt for a year+ why wouldn’t you simply dismiss him out of hand?

Also I find it REALLY hard to believe you get the same level of hate mail that feminist bloggers get and even if you did does that somehow make the behaviour ok? Should Rebecca just shut up about it and stoically carry on until it somehow it magically gets better?

Fabricio June 14, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Cheron, I think that you’ll get hate mail for EVERYTHING on the internet, even for the mundane. Go to a Final Fantasy forum and try to say “I think Sephirot is a overrated villain”. You’ll get death threats in no time.

So, yeah, grow a pair (down there or up there, as it may be the case) and take hate mail by what it is. She is not the first person to get hate mail, and is not the one who gets more hate mail, and that’s not the one who gets the most odious hate mail, and certainly is not the one who gets it by just being someone. As out-of-the-closet atheists, we should know better. Its the whinning that is unbearable, and because we say the whinning is just that, we are the villains now. And probably rapists, or “eneablers” or some bullshit word that they conjure out of their enlightened minds.

As I said before, the smugness of those who think they’re saving the world from some evil knows no bounds.

David June 14, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Prove that example, Cheron — show me a commentor who has done “almost nothing” but call someone a cunt, but then posted something substantive on the issue at another site. Or is voicing disagreement the equivalent of calling someone a cunt? Because I think your example is a total strawman, and that you won’t be able to back up your scenario. I don’t think your example is what we have here at all.

Justicar June 14, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Cheron, it is hardly the case that I’ve not done much of anything else in the past year. Indeed, this isn’t my life. My disposition is mostly one of response, and I select my ‘tone’ quite on purpose. You’ll also note that I don’t whine and complain that people say bad things about me. I insult people. And I take my insults. I don’t have a rule that I’m allowed to say x about y, but y better not say x about me or else I’m going to start crying about fairness or whatever.

Ophelia’s statement is problematic because, as she says, she doesn’t want to think of me as being reasonable. In other words, it’s easier for her if she can get through life without having to think of people as complex agents who aren’t all one thing or another. I’ve said things she doesn’t like; therefore, I am to be thought of as only being a person who says things she doesn’t like. And when confronted with the reality that I am quite reasonable despite her narrative, she lets her religion take over. The narrative that I’m not reasonable is broken by seeing me as ever being reasonable.

When the narrative and facts are not in alignment, it is the facts that get the fuzzy end of the lollipop. IN my universe (as someone who is mildly curious about reality), when there is discordance between facts and my opinions, my opinions lose out in favor of the facts. Even when those facts are inconvenient or uncomfortable.

There are at base two approaches to having concordance with reality. One is for reality to change to accommodate one’s views. The other is for one’s views to accommodate reality. And reality is notoriously quite uncooperative in changing to suit my wants, so that leaves me with the joyful task of changing to suit reality.

To say that ‘oh sure, I can see that my narrative isn’t accurate, but I don’t want to change my narrative to be accurate’ is to say that one has a dogma that reality will not inconvenience.

Magicthighs June 14, 2012 at 12:20 pm

@Fabricio You forgot to start your post with “Dear Muslima”.

Darren June 14, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Oh, I get it. Ophelia at 08:49 is giving us an example of one of those “underwhelming” responses which is “absent entirely” she is complaining about.

Although, Becky, in Ophelia’s defence (shudder) you did refer to the email as a “personal email” in the OP. FWIW.

Mike Gillis June 14, 2012 at 2:22 pm

…as in from the real Ophelia Benson, and which Ophelia Benson *asks her to answer publicly*.

This is such a stupid pedantic distraction from Becky’s actual response.

Magicthighs June 14, 2012 at 2:59 pm

@Mike Gillis: Since when does “answer publicly” mean “you can make this email public”?

I find it a bit ironic that people who complain about the way Stephanie Zvan and Ophelia Benson communicate think it’s a good idea to commit these kinds of faux pas, like telling Zvan she can call in like any other listener when they’re talking about her, or make a private email by Benson public without her constent (unless the email Benson replied to contained a statement saying any reply can be made public without notice).

Ophelia Benson June 14, 2012 at 3:15 pm

A stupid pedantic distraction? Excuse me? Becky posted an entire email of mine in public without my permission. Since when is it stupid and pedantic to object to that? It’s common knowledge that you don’t publish other people’s emails without permission.

[...] Friedman of Ask an Atheist did a post addressed to me yesterday (but I didn’t see it until today). She started off by saying I received a personal [...]

Melody June 14, 2012 at 3:43 pm

This is horrible etiquette. I can’t believe you would post a personal email without permission. This is kind of basic stuff. I would never associate with someone that would do this.

Simon June 14, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Publishing Ophelia’s email in full. Stay classy AaA.

[...] some of what Becky Friedman said in her post addressed to me at Ask an Atheist: My argument is that feminism applied dogmatically, along with employing shame [...]

julian June 14, 2012 at 4:06 pm

So Ophelia Benson, Stephanie Zvan, Rebecca Watson and the rest, per AaA’s readership, do nothing for secularism, women or equal rights. They just sit infront of computers all day being bitchy.

What a great lot.

Mike Gillis June 14, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Ophelia, knock it off. Now you’re just looking for excuses to dismiss Becky’s arguments.

MyaR June 14, 2012 at 4:24 pm

I will pass on someone else’s take on this — “Ophelia, dogmatic? Tenacious, yes. Unrelenting, sure but those are not synonyms for dogmatic.”

Daniel June 14, 2012 at 4:32 pm

“So Ophelia Benson, Stephanie Zvan, Rebecca Watson and the rest, per AaA’s readership, do nothing for secularism, women or equal rights. They just sit infront of computers all day being bitchy.

What a great lot.”

I think they have done good work for secularism, women and equal rights, and sometimes they don’t. I don’t think we should avoid criticizing them when they mess up because they have also done good things in the past. I also don’t like this portrayal of criticizing them on this issue now being turned into a you think they just sit in front of computers all day being bitchy.

Ophelia Benson June 14, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Mike Gillis – for the third time, it is impermissible to publish other people’s emails without asking. Do not tell me to knock it off. Do not tell me what I’m doing. You’re a rude and obnoxious guy.

Mike Gillis | Butterflies and Wheels June 14, 2012 at 4:46 pm

[...] Gillis of Ask an Atheist decided he hadn’t been rude enough yet, when he called my objection to posting my email without permission “such a stupid pedantic distraction from Becky’s [...]

Mike Gillis June 14, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Ophelia,

The facts:

You emailed Becky, the producer and host of a radio show, on her official radio show email.

You have asked for her to publicly answer a question. A question you also asked on your own blog.

In the email that we reposted, you did not include troop positions, private medical information or your address. In it is the exact same material that you share publicly and frequently.

Had you been, say, John Boehner and sent an email to a reporter from the Washington Post on their work email, you would be laughed at if you’d acted in the exact way you have hear, had the email’s contents appeared in a Washington Post article.

Tell me, please, what contents of that email that you find constitute a breach of ettiquette, when you have been emailing the producer of a media outlet.

And yes, this is stupid and pendantic behavior and totally unworthy of you, based on my past knowledge of your work in this movement.

And yes, it’s a distraction. So is posting about this to Twitter in hopes that your supporters will descend on our show’s site and tell us how terrible we all are.

My question to you is this: What is there is that email that you do not already say publicly?

And, if you were John Boehner, and you had emailed a reporter for the Washington Post on their work email, would you seriously be screaming about etiquette.

Becky has already explained this to you, and you continue to try and use public displays of shame and distraction, and appeals to your followers to do the same.

And calling me a rude and obnoxious person, after your behavior in all of this, is frankly, rude and obnoxious.

Mike Gillis June 14, 2012 at 4:53 pm

It never ceases to amaze me how much the internet and an audience can make intelligent, educated people act like they’re in high school.

Godless Poutine June 14, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Just a comment.

I’ve got a toddler sitting next to me that needs food… so I have little time. I definitely haven’t the kind of time or energy to have heated arguments like this. I think perhaps the point of this whole thing is becoming less clear to us folks looking in from the outside.

Greg Laden June 14, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Mike, if your show, the AAA show that addressed the whole harassment issue, was a high school rhetoric class project it would have gotten a D for being very very poorly researched. Maybe a C- because it was reasonably well presented. However, the extra credit material added on would have cancelled that out.

So no, you’re not quite at the high school level, in terms of professional treatment of the very important issues that people have been discussing, and that your team must have been ignoring, for the last year.

Also, may I say that your dismissal of Ophelia Benson’s complaint about your gross breach of professional ethics is laughable. You could have made any of a number of arguments in your favor. People do actually publish emails sometimes. But instead you simply use her complaint to suggest that she has no valid argument and needs a smoke screen. Wow.

You are totally off my christmas card list.

julian June 14, 2012 at 5:02 pm

“I also don’t like this portrayal of criticizing them on this issue now being turned into a you think they just sit in front of computers all day being bitchy. Daniel”

Except that that’s what was said. That these are a group of people who “spend their days in front of a screen construing and misconstruing the words and motivations of others, with a horde of agreers to make them feel good about it.” So what exactly are you objecting to?

Deepak Shetty June 14, 2012 at 5:03 pm

It never ceases to amaze me how much the internet and an audience can make intelligent, educated people act like they’re in high school.
It never ceases to amaze how irony escapes people.

John Greg June 14, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Mike Gillis said:

“Becky has already explained this to you, and you continue to try and use public displays of shame and distraction, and appeals to your followers to do the same.”

Yes, and now you are experiencing, first hand, the kind of tactics these FfTB bloggers and commenters thrill to.

Mike Gillis June 14, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Godless,

I agree. This isn’t our new format and we’re not going to let this debate dominate our show.

David June 14, 2012 at 5:07 pm

But Ophelia, you do think it is permissible to publish other people’s emails without asking. You did it on your blog on March 20th. Of course you gave a reason for doing it, but you definitely DO NOT think it impermissible.

julian June 14, 2012 at 5:19 pm

“I agree. This isn’t our new format and we’re not going to let this debate dominate our show.”

Yeah, corrections and admitting fault don’t make for good ratings.

Simon June 14, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Mike, from what it looks like she responded to an email Becky sent her. Ophelia clearly had good reason to have an expectation of privacy based on how this is being described.

Magicthighs June 14, 2012 at 5:29 pm

@Mike Gillis: Maybe you shouldn’t have touched on the subject in this manner to begin with if you didn’t bother to do your research. For instance, it’s a bit silly to make an issue of bloggers banning people that have been trolling threads related to this subject for months.

I still don’t get what makes Ophelia dogmatic in her application of feminism, by the way. Is anyone ever going to explain that? Does it just mean that she’s applying feminism to situations you just don’t deem worthy?

I kind of get the impression that you guys are just digging your heels in now because you feel like you’re being shamed.

CommanderTuvok June 14, 2012 at 5:31 pm

“I’d like to set the record straight before a bunch more comments from the ERV gang come in.”

I don’t particulary agree with the use of the term “gang”, coming from a ‘neutral’ perspective. Would you describe people from FfTB as a “gang”?

This is pushing the misleading “FfTB = good, ERV = bad” line that people like Ophelia are desperate to put out – in order to cover their own logic drain, double standards, and hypocrisy.

CommanderTuvok June 14, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Jason Thibeault

It’s strange that you’re condemning Ophelia as dogmatic for recognizing someone who’s called her horrible names at another blog and banning them, but you’re entering into evidence something she said at another blog.

This is someone talking on about a blogger who uses the vague excuse “x is a known troll from another blog” to ban people from her site. Now JC is moaning about Ophelia’s comments on other blogs being used.

As I said, double standards and hypocrisy.

Magicthighs June 14, 2012 at 5:42 pm

“This is someone talking on about a blogger who uses the vague excuse “x is a known troll from another blog” to ban people from her site”

Ah yes, banning a known troll from your very own website is now a “vague excuse”.

Amazing.

Concentratedwater, OM June 14, 2012 at 5:43 pm

CommanderTuvok, 17.33:

Yes, indeed: “double standards and hypocrisy”.

“Here is a list of blogs which are verboten for my readers to comment on, because of those blogs’ policy of barring readers who post on a second list of verboten blogs.”

Or someting.

Greg Laden June 14, 2012 at 5:54 pm

If you don’t keep the ERVites out of your comment section, you are making your blog an uncomfortable place for all those people that they choose to target with their incessant harassment. It really is up to the blogger to ban/not ban, leave a comment up or not. But allowing one’s blog (or a particular post on one’s blog) to become part of Abbie Smith’s cesspool is not recommended if you want people to take you seriously.

It is like the coffee shop down the street from my house. It, in turn, is near a middle school. The middle school kids are allowed to go in there after school but they often act up really seriously bothering the other customers, at which time they are sometimes asked to leave. It is a matter of responsibility of the management. Their choice, the management can chose to act or not, but the responsible and sensible thing to do is to not allow a very small number of over the top obnoxious individuals who’s entire mission in life is to be a pain in the ass and who have zero other redeeming value to control and overwhelm your crib.

Ask A Atheist claims to be all about outreach. Well, you’ve got a choice. Make this a place for these middle school kids to have their way, and shut down the outreach part, or clean up your act.

Also, I do agree with Mike. Move on to a different topic. You weren’t prepared to handle this one, it is out of your league. Maybe at some other time you can come back to it. Run away now while there is still time and there is a possibility that you can carry out your other missions without being bogged down.

rlearn June 14, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Shorter Greg Laden:

“We’re not dogmatic, but if don’t proactively prevent people we disagree with from posting on your blog, we’ll stop taking things you say seriously.”

Daniel June 14, 2012 at 6:14 pm

“Except that that’s what was said. That these are a group of people who “spend their days in front of a screen construing and misconstruing the words and motivations of others, with a horde of agreers to make them feel good about it.” So what exactly are you objecting to?”
You would have to ask the one person who said it. There is no point in making generalizations about the entire AaA readership based on your interpretation of what one poster might be saying. This is getting way off topic