Ask an Atheist with Sam Mulvey

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.


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 followup 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.

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.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Concentratedwater, OM

Greg Laden: I think you tread some pretty thin metaphorical ice when you compare a coffee shop near your trailer park, being overrun by kids, with a blog run and populated by adults who have proven strong critical thinking abilities.

As the baboons screech when upset by nannying comments similar to yours: this isn’t your blog, who are you to tell the owner/manger what/who to allow here?


Jeebuz Fucking Christ. How shallow and pedantic we became.

A “personal e-mail” was published with NO. PERSONAL. INFORMATION. WHATSOEVER. Suddenly, this is unaceptable, for some reason. Are you serious?! THIS is what we have to put up with nowdays?

Hitchens, please resurrect, we NEED you NOW. Or else, this will become an unbearable whinnyfest.

You people need some Third World problems to affect your stupid country to set your priorities straight.

Allison Kirkpatrick

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 That is PRECISELY all that they have done for the last year or so (as far as I can tell). What a tremendous disservice to the cause of feminism (not to mention “skepticism”) by wasting so much time and energy on the most asinine and trivial of grievances – these women certainly do not speak on my behalf. Becky, I would urge you to disregard the harassment of these… Read more »


Greg, you’re one to talk. This is the person who recently had to take down most of one of his articles because it was seen to harass an individual (a woman, no less). He also had to ask the people who had posted comments to that thread, if they wanted their comments deleted, once Greg had realised he’d overstepped the mark. Oh, and a couple of the ERVers are searching the memory banks over a private email Ophelia published from either Blackford or Coyne. Perhaps Ophelia could remind us. As I said, hypocrisy and double standards are hallmarks of the… Read more »


It’s called professionalism and decency, Fabricio. Learn it.


And Mike, Becky, Sam, and everyone else: I hope you all see how stupid and unproductive all of this is. I’m prepared to put up with an “Aquaman Month” instead of five more minutes of all this BORING crap.

I know my opinion does not count, of course, but seriously. I’d rather hear people discussing World of Warcraft PVP; HUNTERS cry LESS than Ophelia and her “gang”, and I tought I would never see anyone complain more about bizantine things than the freaking Hunters.


Melody, I think the expression you want is “Much Ado About Freaking Nothing”.


“Becky posted an entire email of mine in public without my permission. ”

She turned me into a newt


“You would have to ask the one person who said it. -Daniel”

Or those that agreed with them.

“This is getting way off topic”

No more than the series of posters who posted just to slam FtB or Ophelia Benson.

Yet I’m the one you have a problem with.

Greg Laden

This is the person who recently had to take down most of one of his articles because it was seen to harass an individual (a woman, no less). That is not what happened. What happened is that Ed and I had a talk and decided that Bluharmony was out of control and for her own good best ignored. He asked me to consider taking down the post so I did. (or deleted the content or whatever, don’t remember.) What was funny about that is this: I never used her name. It was a screen shot. I did that to avoid… Read more »


I banned someone that banned me for banning someone else in a banned forum once, for discussing a banned topic in a banned time. Man, that was such a BANE!


Pot. Kettle. Meet Greg Laden.

Thaumas Themelios

Ophelia Benson: “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?” Since the time that copyright law has had a fair use exception, which would be in common law since 1740, according to Wikipedia, and more explicitly in the US Copyright Act since 1976. So, to be as generous to your complaint as possible, the answer would be 36 years. “It’s common knowledge that you don’t publish other people’s emails without permission.” Actually, no, it’s not. Nor should it be.… Read more »


Last comment I’ll be making here as it seems I’m derailing and unlikely to stick around to read much else. It’s not helpful or constructive to tell someone ((as your posters have) being groped to nut up and deal with it or get in the face of their attacker. Not every situation lends itself well to that sort of physical confrontation nor are those accusations taken particularly seriously universally or by all authorities (one reason anti-harassment policies are so important). And it isn’t uncommon for friends and other well meaning people to do more harm than good if you do… Read more »


Ok, so I lied

“Actually, no, it’s not.”


Since when? Am I also allowed to post and hand out the phone numbers of people who’ve contacted me?

Thaumas Themelios

Greg Laden: “If you don’t keep the ERVites out of your comment section, … is not recommended if you want people to take you seriously.”

Funny. I see it in the exact opposite way. Dogmatically ‘keeping the ERVites’ out of one’s comment section (fallacy of Guilt By Association) is guaranteed to make me take someone less seriously.


“fallacy of Guilt By Association”

Would you say the same about stormfront?

And please stop saying dogmatically. Your making the word meaningless. The way it’s used on this board the only definition I can ferret out is stubborn.



May I ask if you asked the person who sent you the email for her permission to reproduce it? If so, you should definitely say so, since not getting the sender’s permission to use her words is considered a gigantic no-no. This goes back to the days of usenet, and before.

Anyway, I love the podcast.


franc hoggle

Greg Laden (#10211) June 14th, 2012 at 18:41: That is not what happened. What happened is that Ed and I had a talk and decided that Bluharmony was out of control and for her own good best ignored. ::cough:: You have a funny definition of “ignored”. Is this what you mean by “ignoring” someone? Cornering her on her own facebook wall, tag-teaming with PZ Myers. and branding her insane, knowing full well she is sensitive about people who treat mental health issues as a joke? – Way too many denizens of freethoughtblogs treat mental illness as the secular equivalent… Read more »


Since Becky didn’t have the permission to publish the email, can you sya that Ophelia’s mail box… WAS HARASSED BY A MYSOGINIST?!

Anne C. Hanna

Becky, I’ve gotta agree that it was somewhat poor form for you to publish a personal email without asking for permission first. It’s a minor slip to be sure, not the worst thing that’s ever been done by anything ever — as some have pointed out, the email doesn’t contain anything *really* private — but it’s still generally considered polite to check with the emailer first, unless they’ve already revealed themselves to be an unmitigated asshole unworthy of even the most minor courtesy (e.g. a death threat emailer). I know you’ve been trying to engage in this in good faith,… Read more »

Anne C. Hanna

Erg. s/anything/anyone/

Thaumas Themelios

Julian: ““Actually, no, it’s not.” ????? Since when?” Since knowledge has been defined by truth. It can’t be common knowledge if it’s not true in the first place. Otherwise, theism would have to be considered common knowledge. ” Am I also allowed to post and hand out the phone numbers of people who’ve contacted me?” Separate question. That would be a question of privacy law, not copyright law. Ophelia’s email contained no personal private information. She is protected by copyright law, but unfortunately for her, copyright law contains a fair use exception, which this clearly falls under: Becky posted the… Read more »


I am afraid that I am for once in perfect agreement with Ophelia Benson. It is immoral and unethical to post someone’s e-mail without his or her explicit consent. For more information, please see Ophelia Benson’s post on her getting email (which she then published to include full name without “Nigel’s” consent. I must also extend an apology to the whole of FfTB for the way the outrage at Ophelia Benson’s publishing an e-mail without Nigel’s express consent (or request to publish it); the ‘calling out’ of Ophelia and ‘naming names’ serves to remind that they are nothing if not… Read more »

Thaumas Themelios

@Julian: “And please stop saying dogmatically. Your making the word meaningless. The way it’s used on this board the only definition I can ferret out is stubborn.” I have previously explained what I mean when I use the word: Furthermore: “Dogma is the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, or a particular group or organization.[1] It is authoritative and ***not to be disputed, doubted, or diverged from***, by the practitioners or believers. Although it generally refers to religious beliefs that are accepted without evidence, they can refer to acceptable opinions of philosophers or philosophical schools, public… Read more »

franc hoggle

Ophelia Benson (#10163) June 14th, 2012 at 15:15: 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. Of all of the psychedelic derangements I have seen ooze out of freethoughtblogs, Ophelia Benson complaining about “unethical” behaviour crowns them all. Simply staggering. It’s like Rupert Murdoch accusing The Guardian biased journalism. I commented earlier on the “slimepit” that AaA having chosen to look at all of this would either… Read more »



If you’re really trying to address this issue in good faith, how can you honestly argue that *Ophelia* is somehow the villain here[…]?

I have never argued that Ophelia is the villain here.

Also, I appreciate your still being here, Anne, as well as the thoughtfulness of your posts.

I happen to think it’s more than a lack of courtesy that propels discussion like we’re seeing. And I’m honestly still confused about how I was supposed to write a response in an open medium to a question we’re not allowed to see… :/

Anne C. Hanna

Becky, I get that you might have been confused about what Ophelia intended for the email. We all misunderstand each other sometimes, and I’m not gonna be down on you for that; maybe the larger context of your emails back and forth made that misunderstanding more likely than it looks just from the text I saw quoted above. So I’m perfectly willing to believe that it was innocent. But I think this’ll go a lot more smoothly if you just say, “Sorry, Ophelia, I misunderstood what you meant for me to do with the email and I’ll try to communicate… Read more »

Anne C. Hanna


I just discovered that Jason Thibault has put up a “101” post on his blog and requested input from others to help get a good timeline going for those new to the discussion. In the comments, Pteryxx does exactly that. You might want to check it out:


Anne C. Hanna – it might just be me, and it may be perfectly innocent on your part, but you come across as incredibly patronising.

You haven’t listened to the supplementary podcast, but you are asking Becky to do more reading in order to understand someone else’s perspective?!

Thaumas Themelios

@Anne: “Also, I’m glad you don’t see her as the villain here. I guess my objection is just that the sense I’m getting from your comments on this … is that you’ve picked up on a few phrases that people have used in particular places that, taken by themselves, sound maybe not-so-great, but that, taken in the context of the larger discussion (or even, often, in the context of the rest of the post and comment thread they appear in), mean something very different from what you’re interpreting them to mean.” Hi Anne, given what you have just written here,… Read more »


I would just like to say, since everyone cares what I think, that Thaumas of all people I’ve seen appear here seems to be the most interested in actually trying to make progress. Of course, my personal endorsement probably just messed that up, but you keep doing what you’re doing, sir.

It won’t get you anywhere, but I admire the attempt.

Sam Mulvey

We’re closing comment on this debate as per our most recent blog post. Please feel free to continue discussion at the page regarding the episode: here.

Thaumas Themelios

@Anne: “The review boards were able to recognize this because, unlike the denialists or those who had been mislead by the denialists, they came into the process without a prior assumption that the researchers were operating in bad faith.” This is a very insightful point, Anne. I agree with you on this, completely. The review boards relied solely upon the hard evidence that was available, and did not come to their conclusions based on “prior assumption that the researchers were operating in bad faith.” You ask that Becky approach the topic the same way, without prior assumptions about the feminist… Read more »