Jan 232013

Many people seem to really dislike being called a misogynist on the internet, this post is a response to a particular example of this but if you are not interested in the history the next paragraph and hidden text can be skipped. So how should you react to being called a misogynist? Well read on, I’ll use Reap Paden as my poster boy on how not to deal with a misogyny accusation…

I was recently the star of ReapSowRadio and my new best bud Reap Paden was rather upset about being called “a misogynist” by some bitchfellow atheist-sceptic on a blog post. If you want the background there was a kerfuffle when an atheist activist named Justin Vacula was named as a volunteer leader for the SCA, the person leading the removal of him from that position was one Stephanie Zvan of Freethought blogs. Her petition is here and blog post describing the petition. Many people agreed that he was not suitable given his history, most of which were from Freethoughtblogs.com which is a red flag to a section of the atheist community but others also spoke out. Justin eventually admitted he had made mistakes, but refused to apologise for them.

So Reap Paden disagreed with Stephanie Zvan on this topic. How did he express that disagreement? With a well thought out rebuttal of her points? Not exactly as while he may have made some rational argument against her position this was drowned out by him calling her a “fucking bitch” over and over in a podcast of his. Referred to here and the start of the you’re “a misogynist” accusations to my knowledge. Looking through that thread he was mainly called out on his “misogynistic” language which is an important distinction. It seems that when called a bigot of any type the usual reaction is defensiveness and then often anger as the person *knows* they are not a bigot! Their friends are black/gay/women and they don’t complain about their attitudes or use of language! From here it degenerates into name calling and hurt egos. The thing to realise is that bigotry is a default position for human beings, we are hard wired to make distinctions about people based on their differences from ourselves. When we repeat sexist stereotypes it is often without even realising it, but as a sceptic I would hope this is obvious and something to be welcomed when pointed out as it gives us an opportunity to address it (I’m naive). There is plenty of research showing we are subject to stereotype threat, we are effected by microaggressions. This is well researched social science not a fiction any more than confirmation bias or other cognitive errors. If you think it is fiction then please produce evidence as nearly all the objections I see are “My friend/acquaintance is gay/black/a woman…. and they don’t have a problem with … X”. This is clearly not going to meet any level of proof given in the stereotype threat research this is an unconscious effect built up over years of exposure to negative stereotypes that have intertwined themselves with that persons sense of self worth. They are not concious of this bias against themselves which they have had inculcated in them by a bigoted culture from birth.

So… Going off topic here as I am just looking at the definition of misogyny. Should be pretty easy given dictionaries hold all the “real” definitions of words in existence, right? Nope. In the call above this was repeated over and over, they “know” what the “real” meaning of the word is and dictionaries back them up. When presented with the recent Macquarie update to the accepted definitions of  the word “misogyny” Reap and his friends accepted this but as it is an Australian dictionary that only applies in Oz… To be clear it is an English language dictionary and is sold across the world. Have a look at Wikipedia this is not something unique to Australia or a bunch on bloggers you disagree with. The meaning of words change and it is not a dictionary that is the causative factor behind this change, it is the culture or cultures within which the word is used. So when you are called a misogynist you are not being called out as the most hideous woman hating bigot in history, as lets be honest can you name anyone that hates *all* women? Seriously, even the Pope doesn’t *hate* women he just has a religiously inspired view of his inherent superiority due to his having a Pope-wang.

The meaning of words change and frankly dictionaries take time to catch up, good on Macquarie for being the first of many. Don’t get me wrong this is far from an absolute, many of these definitions by women commentators in the guardian are not in agreement. But the meaning of words is never an absolute, they have *many* meanings arising from context, be that the way it is used in a sentence or the person stating it. In Reaps case it was clear as the person accusing him of misogyny has this to say about it and it ain’t “You hate all women”. The reaction to further trot out sexist stereotypes and dig holes is quite epic in scale, you don’t want to end up in the same boat as Reap so what to do?

Swallow your pride and accept you have inherent bias and bigotry in your make up because you are human! If you are called a misogynist ask what meaning are they using? Do they mean unconscious bias or a concious anger and hatred of women? Someone accusing you of misogyny is expressing dismay that you are adding to the culture and environment in which stereotype threat and microaggressions thrive.  You’ve probably made a faux pas, dropped a bollock,  gaffed, so just apologise and if you don’t understand what you did then ask for clarification. You are not being insulted, really, the person accusing you could well be angry but that is because they are upset at you adding to this bigotry that likely affects them day in day out. Summon up some empathy and look at it from their point of view and try and understand. What ever you do don’t go the full Reap and dig yourself a misogyny grave so deep that you’d end up in Australia….

Finally focus on this point of view from Crommunist over at FreeThoughtBlogs.com

I don’t support the use of the word ‘misogynist’ to identify people. Not because it’s not nice, not because it’s bad tactics, not even because it’s awkward English. We shouldn’t call someone “a misogynist” for the same reason we shouldn’t call someone “a racist” – because it’s inaccurate and places the blame in the wrong place. Ideas, institutions, systems, and behaviours can be misogynist, but to call a person “a misogynist” is too global to be accurate.

You can remove this behaviour and bias, but you need to acknowledge the possibility it is present first…. Over to you.

 Posted by at 12:15 am

  10 Responses to “So you were called a Misogynist on the Internet? Defining Misogyny…”

  1. I noticed that whenever Reap told you to calm down, or accused you of being juvenile, it was always preceeded by him struggling to rebut what you had just said.

  2. … “preceded” rather.

  3. My personal favourite was when I announced the Prime Minister of Australia is a member of FtBs, total non sequitur and it put them off interrupting for a second :-)

  4. Despite disagreeing with your stance I didn’t think they tackled you very well on that podcast regarding both the usage of gendered slurs and, specifically, the term misogyny.
    Maybe I will have a go over video. To be honest the podcast inspired me to make a video on gendered slurs but i have been reluctant to then make another on the usage of the word ‘misogyny’ because i am seriously trying to get my channel back from the cesspit of drama it has descended into the last few months.
    Lastly, kudos for going on the podcast and backing up your views.


    • Well in regard to gendered slurs we didn’t really get far on that, I would have used the example of ‘bitch’ in the workplace and how that is specifically used to demean women in power. But the conversation didn’t really get very nuanced…

      I think there are plenty of reasons not to use gendered slurs and no good ones for using them, in fact any insult, slur or epithet that draws attention to the inherent characteristics of the person you are insulting. Sceptics would, I hope, insult peoples arguments, beliefs and not personally insult regardless of the bigotry inherent in many of those insults.

      Anyway looking forward to a video on it… I reckon you’ll manage a better stab at an argument than “I know people who say it therefore its fine”.

  5. Re above comment, please delete, my guess as to how the formatting worked clearly was wrong (I thought i just was to use the ‘blockquote cite “xxx” and put the text where the x’s are).

    Let me try again

    You wrote:
    Well in regard to gendered slurs we didn’t really get far on that, I would have used the example of ‘bitch’ in the workplace and how that is specifically used to demean women in power.

    But is the real problem with calling women bitches the fact that it is gendered? I will reiterate what i wrote in the footnotes to my vid on these slurs: isn’t the line ‘all women are dogs’ even more insulting than ‘all women are bitches’? Yet we have just gone from a female gendered slur to the exact male equivalent!

    Clearly if you refer to all women in status positions within the workplace as bitches, or hold them to different standards of behaviour then that is problematic, but I suggest to you that the problem does not lie with the word ‘bitch’ but with the intent behind its usage; the pattern of its usage; and the person using the word.

    You wrote:
    I think there are plenty of reasons not to use gendered slurs and no good ones for using them, in fact any insult, slur or epithet that draws attention to the inherent characteristics of the person you are insulting.

    But this isn’t what we are talking about when we refer to gendered slurs. At least, it is not what the FtB crows are talking about. It is not what Benson was talking about when she warned me for calling the actions of the people making fake accounts about her ‘twattish’ (yes I was defending her, not using the word to refer to her). Gendered slurs are gendered on account of the origins of the term, not on account of at whom they are aimed. If I call you a twat, a cock (both gendered) or an asshole (not gendered) I am not literally likening your characteristics to any of these three organs. The real question is whether my wife calling me a twat or a dick really has any impact on how we view those who own twats and dicks; whether my wife calling me an asshole really impacts on how we view those who own an asshole. Personally, I find it all a bit of a stretch.

    PS: In case you are interested my ‘gendered slurs’ video is here. i even provide a suggestion on how we can compromise at the end to make gender-neutral gendered slurs :)

    One last thing, PPS if you like. I wouldn’t find the FtB crowds attitudes quite so annoying if they didn’t simultaneously throw their hands in the air when anyone else objects to certain words and phrases. It seems that there is no crime worse on their blogs (or on your beloved Atheismplus forum) than that of ‘tone trolling’ which is nauseatingly absurd given that the only distinguishing difference between ‘tone trolling’ and their policing of gendered slurs is who is taking offence. BTW, your A+ forum never ceases to cheer me up. i don’t know if you saw the post where they were proclaiming their right to write ‘fuck’ as often as they wish and despite it offending anyone. One poster said they don’t like being repeatedly told to fuck off and so simply don’t respond if this occurs to which Piegasm made a response which scaled new heights of staggering hypocrisy by ionforming them that not responding in such a circumstance is another form of tone trolling!!!!……..15 mins later – even looked it up, it was irkthepurist and Piegasm http://atheismplus.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=716&start=1775#p66700
    Seriously, never posted at A+ and never will (respect their desire for a ‘safe space’ and get the feeling I may not be entirely welcome anyway (I dont actually like being unpopular despite appearances)) but i do find it great entertainment.

    take care,

  6. Clearly if you refer to all women in status positions within the workplace as bitches, or hold them to different standards of behaviour then that is problematic, but I suggest to you that the problem does not lie with the word ‘bitch’ but with the intent behind its usage; the pattern of its usage; and the person using the word.

    There are multiple things in play imo, the stereotype that women in power are bitches whereas men in power are strong or leaders. This does the damage and in the minds of those you would absolutely define as misogynists it is used to put down women actively in the workplace for example. Then there is the culture that makes it acceptable to call women bitches when they are in a position of power — how did the “real” misogynist get the idea that women in power are bitches in the first place? By the proliferation of demeaning stereotypes of women being poor leaders, they haven’t got authoritative deep voices so they are shrill, they order us blokes around so they are shrill bitches. Fighting these corrosive gender stereotypes is a large part of what feminism is all about, they affect people unconsciously. Just look at the paper Shermer was commenting on in regard to deep resonant voices being subconsciously given more credence. Look at stereotype threat which I link to above and evidence for the effects of microaggressions on peoples sense of self worth. Just commenting on a womans gender before a calculus exam leads to a 33% drop in performance…

    These are powerful unconscious biases that we are all subject to, in the same way that scientists need to work to remove bias such as confirmation bias then these need active measures to counteract. Just assuming we are above them and “its just a joke” is not good enough. There is plenty of social science and psychology research to prove it is not good enough.

    I’d have no problem if people come up with some other way of countering the toxic stereotypes that adversely affect us all. But in the absence of anything better then the feminist approach seems a good way of getting there. It is working for racism and homophobia, they have become much less acceptable and prevalent in no small part to a purge of casual racist and homophobic language that fosters hateful stereotypes and attitudes. Again unless anyone can prove me wrong on that and something else did it all… Unfortunately we are stuck in “freeze peach” mode and any intelligent analysis of the data is not happening, well probably it is in academia but not on many sceptic blogs!

    It’s sad as I get the impression Rebecca Watson was very keen to apply the sceptical method to feminism and to critically analyse where feminism is working and where it is woo. But she has been stuck fielding pretty basic 101 stuff, as have all the feminists on FtBs… They need to explain over and over and over why X is a gendered slur and why it is not acceptable while people pretend they don’t understand basic concepts like context changing a words meaning. (I say pretending as I still find things like this unfathomable, could anyone be that dumb to miss the context?)

  7. But she has been stuck fielding pretty basic 101 stuff, as have all the feminists on FtBs…

    Until they can accept that the problem with saying ‘all women are bitches’ is not that the word bitch has female roots; until they can accept that there is a huge difference between saying ‘all women are bitches’ and ‘stop being such a twat/cock/cunt/prick/dick’, then they will have to keep reiterating the ‘basic 101′ stuff. If the basic 101 stuff is not able to discern between these manifest qualitative differences then we need to chuck it out and get a ‘basic 102′!!!

    As it stands you keep referring to ‘gendered slurs’ in the most general terms but whenever you give an example it is always of the ‘all women are bitches’, ‘women bosses are all shrill’ variety. If your argument stands generally then it also has to stand for me calling you a tithead, or you calling me a twat. If it does not then we are not talking about gendered slurs in the way that Ophelia and PZ are talking about them.

    • Obviously there are differences based on what the context of the usage is… The view is that any non-joking/non-ironic/non-reclamation negative usage is not OK. However the disapproval is not binary, either all bad or all good. Obviously someone like Reap using bitch to criticise a woman who he specifically describes as sticking her nose in where she shouldn’t is pretty high on the misogyny scale. Calling me a tithead is unlikely to cause much of a problem anywhere other than the Pharyngula comment threads where there is a rule against using insults that have a sex bias. I really don’t see that being an issue I care about…. They have taken a tough stance probably due to the history of constant trolling over the meaning of words and one persons assertion X is not offensive in context Z somehow applies globally and trumps all others.

      Calling people cunts as an insult is further along the scale since the root of that word is to mean female genitalia. The insult refers to the most odious type of person. That juxtaposition is clearly insulting to some women. I support the move to reclaim it which clearly the majority of Skepchicks and FtB’ers agree with. Cunts are awesome… http://everythingsproblematic.wordpress.com/2012/04/23/reclaiming-cunt-can-be-problematic/

      Same with queer, to do that the negative connotation had to be removed from usage.

  8. Mr Oolon sir, I now have a proper response up to this explaining why I feel liberally labelli g people misogynists IS unfair, not to mention political trickery, regardless of personal definitions. Hope you get chance to have a look:

 Leave a Reply



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>