The Last Word on Abbie Smith and Russell Blackford and the Right to Grab Ass at Conferences and All That

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There is very very little hope for the perverse.

They willfully and purposefully misconstrue, misrepresent, and pretend to misunderstand proportion and perspective of the very social phenomena with which they are obsessed. They are not honest with themselves or others. They see social change coming, change in the culture they enjoy, and they don’t like it and they resist it by claiming that the fog bank is a hurricane, or visa versa, that the rain is the sky falling, that ripples from a fish breaking the surface are a … well, you get the point. Ophelia Benson must get kicked in the cunt in order to quiet her down. PZ Myers must have dog poo, or something, sneaked into his jacket pocket to teach him a lesson. I must be accused of extramarital humping of someone I’ve never met in order to make me lose my taste for the conversation and go away. And never mind what happens to Rebecca Watson. Some guys just want to grab some ass1 when they feel like it, and a smaller number of chicks like that in a venue, but objections have been made; not in our community please. And for that, those who have raised the objections are vilified every single day of the week forever thereafter. Every. Single. Day.

Russell Blackford and John C. Welch and Richard Dawkins and Justicar and the others will not admit the obvious, for example, that a woman mentioning as an aside that for a man to ask a woman who just made clear she was done for the night, following her on to an elevator at four o’clock in the morning in a hotel to do so, if she would like to join him in his room for coffee, is slightly uncool (“guys just don’t do that”) and that it is an OK thing for her to say that this is uncool even if they disagree with her. They have made that minor complaint into an accusation of rape, which it never was. Failing there, they have made further discussion of that aside into an inappropriate oppressive power play, which it was not. Failing there as well, they said that bringing up poor form in a social setting harms women in traditional societies that are being mutilated and therefore she, this woman who keeps talking, needs to quiet down. Failing that, they call her ugly and say that she and her female supporters should be “kicked in the cunt.” And so on.

More recently, we have seen that it is a perfectly legitimate and even praiseworthy enterprise to openly discuss the fact that many women have felt uncomfortable at many different atheist, skeptics, and similar conferences and conventions, and we have seen as part of that discussion a reasoned call for more clearly stated and more widely distributed anti-harassment policies. The same people who have claimed that the aforementioned woman cried rape in an elevator when all she did was to provide some simple and rather obvious dating advice for morons (the ass-grabbers) told us that these women should shut up as well. That suggestion did not take effect. They would not shut up, for some reason. So the claims of harassment were denied. But the claims would not go away, for some reason. So the standard of evidence has been changed to the point that is has become absolutely clear that those who wish the status quo, that conferences are like pick up bars or meat markets, to remain, will not accept any level of evidence, and it goes on and on. A real, and important, but not earth shattering issue (as in, nobody died) was brought up and was being dealt with effectively, like one might close a window to keep out a chilly breeze, or fix a roof to manage a leak. But those who prefer the status quo for their own reasons have recast the expressions of concern to be planet-killing comets where they were really just storms or they’ve recast the players such as the complainers and their allies to be the worst kinds of people or worthy of being the object of physical threats, instead of just being people who are often annoyed and occasionally feel threatened.

I do not want to live in a world where the wind driven rain assails me where I sit, ruining the laptop I’m typing on and wrecking the nice wooden floor and the furniture. But the solution to that is to wait ’till it starts to rain and close the window. The solution is not to drain the lake and terraform the planet so that free water is frozen into glaciers or burned off into outer space. The handful of men, and smaller number of women, who have spent the last year actively trying to ruin people’s lives, and those who have recently joined them when they realized that their ass-grabbing culture was threatened as well, really have only one motivation: They don’t want to live in a world in which women can tell guys to fuck off without said woman paying a cost of some kind, being put in her place, or a threat being made against her so she will think twice about speaking up in the future. And the thing is, these guys can do this if they want to, by closing the metaphorical window. There are places in this world where they can go and have their particular version of a real-life 4channel meat market pickup bar. They can go to a bar where those are the rules. They can go to various communities on line. Like 4channel! They can arrange something with a professional sex worker if they can find one without standards, or play a video game where they get to harm countless victims who will mostly comply. But instead, they’ve decided to try to purge the community, of which they are a small part, of the majority, who wish to live in a 21st century world where freedom and respect are both counted as key values and are thoughtfully proportioned and balanced.

The discussion is over. The discussion has been over for a long time. In fact there never was much discussion. But most importantly, at the moment, other issues are emerging on the horizon, at least for me (and certainly for many of you) that are more important than Franc Hoggle, Abbie Smith, or Russel Blackford. I’m not taking about issues other than misogyny. I’m still talking about misogyny and other feminist concerns, as well as other current political and social problems, but just not in relation to these lost causes, these hopeless cases. These people with their perverted sense of proportion are not really as important right now as, oh, for example, Mitt Romney or any of the Teabaggers that are running for re-election in the US Congress or nationwide in state legislatures, in the upcoming US election. Of course, there are similar and parallel issues in other countries. The thing is, the next national election in the US, where we will decide ultimately the composition of the US Supreme Court for the next couple of decades, various same sex marriage amendments and related issues in many states, voter ID bills that will virtually guarantee a woman-hating freedom-repressing Republican government nationwide for the foreseeable future, is coming up in less than 20 weeks.

These people … these people on the internet that are so annoying … are not important in the larger scheme of things.

This is not to say that the fight going on now is not important. The blogging and commentary of my many friends and allies many of whom are here at Freethoughtblogs but also elsewhere, as well as the private discussions that involve those who rarely go public with their feelings, are incredibly important and they should and will continue.

And this, of course, is not really my last word on the subject either.

But I hope the title of this post conveys this: That I would like it to be the lastish word, and kind of need it to be, for a few months, for me, mostly. I have commitments to political activities and to other writing projects. No one in this circus is going to be convinced to change their minds by any of my efforts over the short term. The misogynists and 4channel fetishists and the rest of them are relatively small in number in the Skeptic and Atheist movement, and few are in leadership positions. Those who are in leadership positions probably regret stepping into this steaming pile of dogshit, and I suspect they will now quietly back away and hope things cool down. The worst case scenario for TAM is that it would transform, after a season or two, into a special kind of skeptics conference. Instead of “The Amazing Meeting” it will be called “The Ass Menagerie,” or maybe “The Ass Manhandler,” or “The Ass Market.” Or some other name that has to do with a lot of Ass Grabbing which is, after all, the point of being …. oh never mind, you get what I mean.

1The term “grab ass” is used here as a literary device, a catch-all, for behavior that is usually classed as “unwanted sexual attention” through “sexual harassment.” Unsolicited up-skirt photography is included in this.

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25 thoughts on “The Last Word on Abbie Smith and Russell Blackford and the Right to Grab Ass at Conferences and All That

  1. Thanks. The “boys will be boys” culture within the freethought movement is annoying, enough that I canceled plans to go to TAM this year. It’s not harmless and it has repercussions. This constant battle to proceed one inch at a time to normal standards of harassment protocol has revealed a very, very ugly sense of entitlement within this group. It is incredibly aggravating.

    But the Republican war on everyone who isn’t a rich, white republican is absolutely terrifying. The amount of legislature restricting women’s right to autonomy, the growth of acceptance for theocracy, the backlash against gay rights, it’s all so much more important right now.

    I’m as guilty as anyone of focusing on the smaller issue of misogyny within this small community. Perhaps it’s easier to see small bits of progress here while outside the US political machine rolls forward without opposition.

  2. Thanks for the post.

    BTW: 4chan, not 4channel – was that an autocorrect error?

  3. hmm attempted mating…. suddenly part of me wants to see a conference narrated by David Attenborough…

  4. dogeared: Yeah,and we should keep it up, too. I’m not saying “don’t feed the trolls” here. I just know that some of the bloggers who are focused right now on this have been very active political bloggers and I’m turning my horse and pointing.

    Crip Dyke: That was an error of ignorance. I feel a bit like a little kid who’s older sibling and friends are talking about stuff I don’t know about …. I have no idea what 4chan is other than people grew up there, or failed to grow up there, or it’s a bastion of feedom or it’s some kind of stinking swamp. All that and more. I know I can probably type “4chan” into the browser and find out but I could also have sex with a goat; not sure how to balance how much fun that would be with what kind of diseases might be involved.

    Not that I have a goat mind you.

    MichaelD: [crawling along floor next to bar stools, out of breath] “… and from this vantage we can see the elusive upskirt camera, tied to that ankle over there. Let’s see if we can get in a little closer and see what it is up to.”

  5. OMG! Yu guise, this is srs bizness. Stop making me snicker out loud!

    [Camera pans from between hotel palm fronds] We are at the watering hole. At past Matings, some males would have would have tribe-bonded by now but the lack of expected females seems to taken it’s toll. They are restless and pacing. There are some attempts at challenging – a smug remark about bigfoot, the snide elevator reference, a proud declaration of dickishness – but all dogma is in agreement and the would-be aggressor slinks off, hoping but failing to find some soft place to sink his all-important point.

  6. So, I looked and I got this far: “4chan is a simple image-based bulletin board where anyone can post comments and share images. There are boards dedicated to a variety of topics, from Japanese animation and culture to videogames, music, and photography. Users do not need to register an account before participating in the community. Feel free to click on a board that interests you and jump right in!”

    Then, I clicked on something (the first available topic) and was asked to agree to some terms, then I was asked to supply all kinds of information.

    And then there’s stuff like “If you watch these 3 specific videos in order, from beginning to end (with sound), you are able to ‘see’ supernatural things which others can’t. This isn’t a troll and it’s worked for not only me, but multiple other people.

    Hopefully this won’t get saged by disinfo agents, or whatever.”

    So, this is the place where people …. what? This is some kind of special thing or something? People are proud of … conspiracy theories (on multiple channels) 11 year olds pretending to be something they aren’t (guessing at that but you know its true) and pictures of puking and injured ponies? (not real ponies. Well, probably them too) …. and the rest of us normal people are somehow supposed to accommodate this subculture when it leaks out? Why? Amazing.

  7. 4-chan is hard to explain. It’s sorta just a place for stupidities, idiocies and behavior that anywhere else would get you arrested. No one takes anything seriously, not themselves, not murder and certainly not suffering.


    As much as it hurts me to admit, I’d be happy to see this conversation dropped. Grothe and his supporters have successfully thwarted the attempt to get more atheist cons to have explicit anti-harassment policies. Obsessing over a lost fight doesn’t do much good. Better to clench your fist and focus on the next one.

  8. I didn’t realize he stopped the process of instituting sensible management to other atheist conventions. How did he do that? Is now partly liable for future harassment cases at those venues, ethically if not legally?

  9. Noooooooooooo he didn’t. I know of one that’s in the works – I was invited to take part in the conference call to discuss it but wasn’t available at the right time – which is ok because I have zero expertise on the subject. It will be announced very soon.

  10. Most of the uber weird crap on 4chan happens on /b/ and most 4chan users will emphatically protest that not all of 4chan is /b/.

    Seriously, don’t go there.

  11. So, they said “There’s this 4chan thing. Don’t go there” so I went there. Now they say “There’s this /b/ thing. Don’t go there.”

    So …..

  12. Your second paragraph starts with “Russell Blackford and John C. Welch and Richard Dawkins” and seamlessly ends with “they call her ugly and say that she and her female supporters should be “kicked in the cunt””, without ever changing the subject of the sentences.

    And then you go on charging the same people with claiming “that the aforementioned woman cried rape in an elevator when all she did was to provide some simple and rather obvious dating advice”.

    Do you actually read what you wrote yourself? Both claims are equally ridiculous. This is blind tribalism at its best.

  13. Alex, kiss my ass.

    For others who also don’t get it, my run of names is just that … I could throw in “Alex SL” among them and it would still work. They are all in one big … tribe, if you like. I didn’t make that tribe, they did, so if there is an accusation of tribalism to be made, take it up with Richard Dawkins and John Greg and Abbie Smith and whomever.

    Alex, you are not welcome to argue any point but the one I”m making, and you are only welcome to argue it on my side. Because that was the last word. There are places you can go to keep up the drumbeat, but not here. This is not your forum, you do not have a second amendment right to write a single word here and never did. I allowed your stupid comment because I felt like verbally slapping you. That is the only reason.

    You are dismissed.

  14. Our esteemed host’s attempt to separate distinct controversies tempts the fates to conjoin them.

    I wonder what kind of harassment policies our patriotic Republican friends will maintain this August in Tampa (what rules might they institute for public teabagging)?

    Then it will be the Dems’ turn to convene in the Deep South (in John Edwards’s state, no less). Will the SecState find it necessary to send her husband on an urgent international mission until the final balloon drop?

  15. Greg

    In 99% of the time people mean 4chan/b/ when they say 4chan, simply because thats the conroversial meme generating part, although there are other topical boards on the site. Kind of like referring to the Netherlands as “Holland” (no comparison intended – go there 🙂

  16. I wonder what kind of harassment policies our patriotic Republican friends will maintain this August in Tampa

    My guess is the policy will be that harassment is not only encouraged, it will feature in the keynote speech and be a crucial part of the party platform.

  17. Alex – a stork who flock with the cranes can expect to have its neck wrung along with the cranes.

  18. It seems to me that unless one has tenure, is very close to tenure, or has a guarantee of a job post schooling, one should not support this type of misogynistic environment.
    I am on HR committees all of the time, and I read these blogs. I would not in any way want that type of environment to come into my department, since it gives the message that your young women undergrad and grad students could not come to you when they feel uncomfortable or threatened in your lab. Well not without seven forms of evidence, three signed confessions, and any number of other things meant to demean and harass the young women and help keep the young man in his privileged state of mind.

    I know that many of these people don’t feel job threatened due to their celebrity.

    Although there might be departments that would absolutely relish this kind of environment. Not me though.

  19. M – yes, that is what’s constantly surprising about this issue; Jen’s, Ophelia’s etc opponents aren’t opposing some proposed response to a harasser or harassment incident, they are opposing the idea of having a policy. Nobody has even suggested that outsiders tell convention staff how they ought to respond to particular incidents. This is all blowback from the suggestion that convention-runners should have some sort of policy, details to be determined later by that convention’s staff.

    Personally I can’t understand why any con staff would not at least want a policy of documenting incidents and responses. Its as baffling (and not baffling) as Bush cancelling the DSCOVR satellite. Yeah, I get that they might disagree with Jen or Greg about what’s going on. But don’t they want better information about what’s going on? If they really think it’s a non-issue, then they have to think that documentation will demonstrate its a non-issue, right? So why oppose documentation? Unless you (rhetorically) think it will prove you wrong.

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