Watson’s World and Two Models of Communication

May 18, 2013

Rebecca Watson inhabits an alternate universe.  At least that is the most charitable explanation I can provide for her recent smear.  Watson has posted comments on my opening talk at Women in Secularism 2.  It may be the most intellectually dishonest piece of writing since the last communique issued by North Korea.

Her distortions begin with her second paragraph, when she states that “Lindsay spends a good deal of time arguing against the idea that feminism as a movement has no significant internal disagreements.”  I expended about 200 words out of a 2,420 word text posing the question about whether there are significant divisions within feminism.  In other words, I spent 90% of the time talking about other topics.  The next time Watson asks me for a “good deal” of my drink, I will leave her an ice cube.

Second, she says she has never heard anyone take the position that there are currently no significant divisions within feminism, which I assume is fairly translated as no divisions worth debating.  Yet Watson is aware that just a short time ago, the organization Secular Woman rejected the Open Letter that was endorsed by most leaders of secular organizations, in part because it implied that there was a legitimate ongoing debate about the meaning of feminism.  The Secular Woman response to the Open Letter states, in pertinent part:

“It is confusing, therefore, that this same letter suggests that a significant problem with online communication is centered on the ‘debate’ about the ‘appropriate way to interpret feminism.’ At Secular Woman, the principle that ‘feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression’ (Hooks, 2000, p. viii) is taken as a given, and not a topic for debate.”

Next, Watson claims the “crux" of my talk was the problem I have with feminists using the concept of privilege as a justification for telling men to “shut up and listen.”  This claim is false.  No reasonable person could possibly describe the crux of my talk as dealing with this issue.  Instead, the crux of my talk dealt with the millennia-long history of the subordination of women and how CFI was committed to working toward a society in which women would have “complete social and civil equality and equal economic and political opportunity.”

But in her defense, perhaps Watson was too busy tweeting about how “strange” it was to have a “white man” open the conference to pay attention to what I was actually saying.  (I’m just glad Watson didn’t notify security: “white man loose on stage, white man loose on stage!”)

But let’s leave Watson’s distortions behind and move to the central issue presented by her criticism, and that is what model of communication we should adopt when we are conversing with someone who has had different life experiences, e.g., a conversation between a woman and a man.  As I stated quite clearly in my talk, we should listen respectfully and attentively to someone with different life experiences, especially if that person is from a group that historically has had its voice suppressed.  However, although we should listen attentively, we should not fail to engage and, where appropriate, question. This is exactly what I said:

“By the way, with respect to the ‘Shut up and listen’ meme, I hope it’s clear that it’s the ‘shut up’ part that troubles me, not the ‘listen’ part. Listening is good. People do have different life experiences, and many women have had experiences and perspectives from which men can and should learn.  But having had certain experiences does not automatically turn one into an authority to whom others must defer. Listen, listen carefully, but where appropriate, question and engage.”

By contrast, the position against which I was arguing, as articulated by PZ Myers, is as follows:

“When a member of a marginalized group tells a member of a privileged group that their efforts, no matter how well-meaning, are wrong, there is one reasonable response: Shut up and listen. You might learn something.

There is also a terrible response: arguing back. It always makes it worse.

It’s not that they are infallible and we are totally stupid. It’s that THEY are the experts and the subject of the discussion.”

Myers-Watson assume you should never question, you should never argue back, because the person from the marginalized group must have the expertise.

I do not share that assumption, and I doubt its wisdom.  Indeed, I think it is a horribly misguided, logically infirm understanding of communication.   This model of communication asks us to put our critical thinking on hold merely because the person speaking comes from a marginalized group.

No extended argument or analysis of this issue is needed, and I do not think the choice could be starker.  Either you believe reason and evidence should ultimately guide our discussions, or you think they should be held hostage to identity politics. 



#151 Barney (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 10:58am

The irony is that the call for civility is the “the Open Letter that was endorsed by most leaders of secular organizations” that Lindsay himself refers to, while trying to show that someone told him there are no significant divisions in feminism (not that I think he did show that).

#152 PQ (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 11:01am

“If you are listening to the complainant’s points to catalog their argument so you can issue your counter-response, you are not listening in a sincere effort to understand their point of view—-Even though you are not literally shutting out their words or verbally talking over them. In effect, you’re talking over them in your head.”

Assuming we’re outside the narrow verbal context here:
I agree that this is the case of not listening.  I disagree that it’s something that necessarily requires the person to stop talking to rectify.  Or that someone can, generally, be confident is the reason they’re not being listened to.

Maybe they’re too focused on their next response.  Maybe they’re too focused on what they had for lunch.  Maybe they’re just a bad listener, or a jerk.  “You’re not addressing what I’m saying” is a good criticism of someone’s response.  “You’re not listening to me” is a bit more speculative as to the cause of the problem.  “You need to shut up” is a very speculative (and fairly rudely put) recommendation for how to fix things, and a response popular among people who aren’t interested in improving communication, just stopping people from saying things they don’t want to hear, so it’s unsurprising the reflexive reaction is negative.

And, of course, the case Lindsay was addressing wasn’t one where such a recommendation was being made to someone who was clearly failing to communicate, but a blanket one to people purely by virtue of their identity and that of who they were arguing with, regardless of the arguments’ merits.

#153 The Tim Channel (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 11:06am

Three cheers to reason and a bonus bump for accurately identifying a big source of the conflicts. I am not a member of any particular pit, slyme or otherwise, and am not sure why that is a relevant subject in the first place?  I am not a member of the communist party either if that helps put one at ease.

Like a previous commenter wondered, I want to know why the top secular organizations continue to mollycoddle Ms. Watson.  Are there no better, more qualified women skeptics available?  This is starting to get into the land of parody.  In fact, I suspect a good deal of the trolling on behalf of her blighted ideology is being done by creationists trying to stir up the skeptic movement. I make this observation on the basis of the extremely weak rhetoric being offered, often mirroring that we all see in fundamentalist threads.

In any case, Ms. Watson jumped the shark back when she attacked Richard Dawkins, which was coincidentally about the same time she tried to smear Lawrence Krauss.  Please refrain from inviting her disruptive presence at future organizational events.


#154 Hero on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 11:09am

Breaking: Amanda Marcotte appears to be calling for firing of Ron Lindsay:

http://elevatorgate.wordpress.com/2013/05/19/amanda-marcottes-petulant-attempt-to-overthrow-ron-lindsay/  😐

#155 Withinthismind (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 11:12am


You are denying and covering up abuses, including rape threats and threats against children, harassment, doxing, and all the other bad behavior the pitters have engaged in.

Explain how exactly, you are ‘morally superior’ to the Catholics I referenced?

#156 Withinthismind (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 11:15am

“If a man speaks his mind he’s a man. If a woman speaks her mind she’s a bitch.” Bette Davis

And nothing has changed.

#157 Peter Beattie on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 11:19am

» Withinthismind:
“If a man speaks his mind he’s a man. If a woman speaks her mind she’s a bitch.” Bette Davis

And nothing has changed.

That really helped. Thank you very much!

#158 DriveBy (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 11:19am

I will have no further use for CFI, which is regrettable since there is a regular talk by CFI in my neighborhood and a large CFI center an hour away. Leadership matters, and what Lindsey has said is enough for me to conclude that the leadership of CFI is opposed to the people that brought me into the secular movement and supported by the same people who have been subjecting them to non-stop abuse.

#159 allison (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 11:20am

Agree strongly with #153 above - what, exactly, does Ms Watson do to justify her repeatedly being invited to speak at these conferences? Can anyone tell me what she brings to the table?

Thanks to Ron for his courage in standing up to the hysterical FTB/Skepchick lynch mob.

#160 Peter Beattie on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 11:29am

» Driveby:
what Lindsey has said is enough for me to conclude that the leadership of CFI is opposed to the people that brought me into the secular movement

See, that’s one rather trenchant distinction: Lindsay, and many others criticising Watson et al., talk about arguments and other things people say; Watson, Benson, Myers, and many others are continually making this about the people who hold opinions they find abhorrent, with epithets ranging from “assholes” to “vermin” (no joke, sadly) and calls for their being shunned. That is the textbook definition of othering and divisiveness. I think it should give you pause that no official representative of any organisation has called for the ousting of, say, Rebecca Watson just for saying what she says.

#161 Lsuoma (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 11:33am



You are denying and covering up abuses, including rape threats and threats against children, harassment, doxing, and all the other bad behavior the pitters have engaged in.”

Can you point out which pitters - by which I assume you mean people who post at The Slyme Pit - have engaged in “rape threats and threats against children”?

If not, then your assertion can be *FLOOSH* dismissed.

#162 Pandora3 on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 11:44am

“It’s not really applicable if one is talking about general trends in the community without naming names, as Ron Lindsay did in his original talk. (For one, if it’s a general trend, who *do* you call, anyway?”

Mr. Lindsay, to his credit, did list specific instances of someone saying “shut up.” The first was PZ’s, listed by itself. The second and third were listed afterwards. One was John Scalzi’s blog. I will admit I have never read his blog and don’t know where he falls on the informal scale of the “community.” but he is the president of the sci-fi/fantasy writers association, I have no argument with Mr. Lindsey citing his blog as an example.

The third was a tl;dr dailykos ramble about racism. I will take Mr. Lindsay’s word the writer said “shut up” in there somewhere, but providing this post with 150 or so followers on dailykos seems like a oh shit, I need examples, let me google that now I need to say specifically what I’m outraged about.

And I’ll reiterate my point, and ask you in good faith to read Mr. Lindsey’s examples in his earlier blog post. He specifically said the two things he was thinking of when writing the speech were a private meeting, (which he can’t fully disclose) and PZ’s post, which was discussed, not just linked. 

So we have PZ’s post, which he could address with PZ. Maybe the additional post from Scalzi really did add weight to the “shut up” perception. That’s two blog posts. I don’t perceive this as so important it must be covered in opening remarks, Mr. Lindsay obviously doesn’t agree.

But citing a closed meeting Lindsay can’t talk about as reason to address an audience who have no exposure to the meeting whatsoever? Really?

I won’t say it’s just like the nazis!!111!! but asking “why are you continuing a closed meeting discussion at this place and time in front of these people, who can’t even hear the full original discussion or the people involved” is an absolutely fair question, and acting all butthurt over the public response is a questionable reaction IMO.

If you have a point I haven’t thought of on why this issue was appropriate for the audience moreso than the speakers, a welcome, or any number of topics in opening remarks, I am willing to listen. Right now the main reason seems to be “Ronald Lindsay wanted to get this off his chest, the ladies were there to shut up and listen.”

#163 M. A. Melby on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 11:46am

“He’s assigning an unquestionable “expertise” to someone based solely on their identity, and insisting that people “shut up” and defer to that regardless of what they have to say.”


Both PZ and RW clarified their comments immediately to explain that is NOT what they meant.

#164 drosera (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 11:46am

You are denying and covering up abuses, including rape threats and threats against children, harassment, doxing, and all the other bad behavior the pitters have engaged in.

Explain how exactly, you are ‘morally superior’ to the Catholics I referenced?

Sorry, I can’t even get angry about this clumsy attempt at libel. You are the Frank Drebin of libellists. You must be completely brainwashed by PZ Myer’s anti-Slymepit propaganda. You call yourself “Withinhismind”, but “Outofhismind” would seem more appropriate.

#165 Elizabeth K on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 12:10pm

As a long-time member of CFI and volunteer and donor at CFI-LA, words cannot express how important CFI and the world of skepticism are to me. I had never been a steady reader of FtB, but I kind of knew whom PZ Myers is, and that some of my close friends admired him and quoted him. I had known more about Skepchick, and had admired Rebecca Watson early on, when her blog was less well known, and in fact, blogs were a newer form of communication. She was original and funny, but I was never exactly a Skepchick; I was a casual reader. Fast-forward about eight years. I was startled and aggrieved to discover that the freethought/atheist/skepticism/critical thinking crowd was beginning to fracture and crumble. It was mysterious to me that TAM, one of the biggest and most popular skeptics’ conventions, was the scene of a misunderstanding over an uninvited guest at a reception who had startled and insulted a woman who was legitimately attending the reception, and that incident snowballed into a wholesale condemnation of the convention – and, that because of Ms. Watson’s report on an experience at a completely different convention, the skepticism community has divided as if whatever else we have in common does not matter.

My discomfort was multiplied when administrators and executives of CFI and other organizations, one by one, wrote essays explaining that they were speaking out against hate directed at women. I was not aware that there was hate directed at women; some people are more popular than others, and some do not need approval of every action – but it bothered me that the organizations I support seemed to be convinced that if they declined to add an essay to this collection, it would be as if they were in favor of hate directed at women. I think this is a false dichotomy, and I would have declined. To be fair, when I read Jim Underdown’s essay, that mostly stated that face to face discussion is better than online blurbs, I called him on it, and he was as good as his word. He arranged for a meeting with me and other women to discuss the matter; the upshot was that I was touched by his willingness to listen to other points of view than the Skepchicks’, and honor them.

I have chosen to disagree with some of my old friends – my values point me in a different direction. I think the criticism mentioned in comment #94 of certain persons in the skepticism community is confusing. Each of the people mentioned, Harriet Hall, Ben Radford, DJ Grothe and the others, have done a lot for skepticism – have devoted their lives to the advancement of critical thinking. They are not getting rich doing it – each of them has either had a previous career, and could be in retirement; or has the chops to do something more lucrative for a living; some are younger, and must be taking a second look at whether the career, or in fact the whole enterprise of skepticism, is worth the risk and hassle.

My thought as a donor to the skepticism organizations is as follows: when I give to CFI, JREF, Skeptic Society, I expect those dollars to go to the advancement of skepticism, not feminism. There are other organizations that support feminism and other women’s causes: NOW, NARAL, etc., and they do a good job. Their donors do not expect them to turn over their resources to support atheism, secular humanism, skepticism or critical thinking. I decided last year that rather than support my local NPR radio station, I would subscribe to a skeptic podcast and a skeptic youtube series, even though there is no tax write off. My reasoning is that NPR has a huge donor base, and these other enterprises have a much smaller donor base, but are important to me. I am glad that in your past three essays, you have reflected on the purpose of the Centers for Inquiry, on the wider issue of human rights that includes women’s rights, and that the infighting is senseless. That makes up for the disappointment I had felt about the series of essays earlier this year. My screen name is Elizabeth K, but my name really is Wendy Hughes.

#166 PQ (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 12:35pm

@M. A. Melby,

Do you have links to the clarifications?  I did check out the original post with the Myers quote (although the post itself wasn’t by him and so unsurprisingly had no further comments by him) and Watson’s comments on Lindsay’s speech (but that just seemed to be taking issue with the term “silenced”).

#167 Za-zen (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 12:36pm

I’ll add another, and very revealing name to the purge attempt by the ideologues.

Edwina Rodgers

Crime: Not a lefty.

Action: attack blog after attack blog, letter campaign, and a petition, hauled over coals and forced to justify her appointment to the mob.

More wymyn in leadership! What they actually mean is more if them in leadership.

#168 J. J. Ramsey on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 1:27pm

Pandora3, you seem to be broadly construing “Go offline before going online” as saying that before citing someone’s work in support of a claim, one calls (or e-mails) that someone first. Not only is this impractical when one is citing multiple sources, it also was not the scenario to which the advice “go offline before going online” was meant to apply, as was fairly clear from the context of that advice in that open letter to the secular community.

Pandora3: “If you have a point I haven’t thought of on why this issue was appropriate for the audience moreso than the speakers, a welcome, or any number of topics in opening remarks, I am willing to listen. Right now the main reason seems to be ‘Ronald Lindsay wanted to get this off his chest, the ladies were there to shut up and listen.’”

If you want to indicate that you are willing to listen, then I suggest refraining from unhinged hyperbole like “the ladies were there to shut up and listen.”

#169 Hero on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 1:50pm

Sarah Moglia (vegan Sarah) attempted to impart some wisdom to Mr Lindsay:



(Greg Laden returns!)

#170 David Jones (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 1:57pm

@TCC I think your remarks usefully encapsulate some of the well-intentioned but wrong-headed thinking about this

>*I am amazed that so many people are piling on Rebecca for her response*

It’s not just for this response. It’s because, well, it’s *always* Rebecca, isn’t it?

* Lindsay
* DJ Groethe
* Riched Dawkins
* Justin Vacula
* Paula Kirby
* Penn Jilette
* Ben Radford
* Harriet Hall
* Stef McGraw

>*the claim that privilege is used to shut down dialogue, as her own example perhaps showed*

Many people don’t accept the oddly simple model of a limited number of axes of privilege from which any and every individual member of a ‘privileged group’ necessarily benefits, in aggregate, after all things - including the innumerable factors and experiences of each individual life - are considered. Regarding group advantages, it might work. Asserting it’s necessarily true of each and every individual is a fallacy. It’s called the *ecological fallacy*.

>*which women and other minority groups have actually been silenced*

This smacks of 1st-World problems. Nobody’s actually silencing women.

>*At absolute least, the skeptic community deserves an apology for the initial comments*

Well, you might believe you speak on behalf of a community. I suspect that community might consist of just the one person.

>*I will have nothing to do with CFI as an organization*

By all accounts the conference - putting aside the opening remarks, and Rebecca - was a great success. Why not try and work with that?

#171 Kevin Lyda (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 2:08pm

In your previous post your first paragraph ends with, “As I stated at the end of my talk, this enforced silence robbed women of their humanity, and I indicated that CFI was committed to working toward a society in which the autonomy of women would be respected and, among other things, they would be free to express themselves however they wanted.”

Then you do this post where you complain about how some women communicate.

It kind of makes me doubt the sincerity of your views.

#172 M. A. Melby on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 2:18pm

“@M. A. Melby,

Do you have links to the clarifications?  I did check out the original post with the Myers quote (although the post itself wasn’t by him and so unsurprisingly had no further comments by him) and Watson’s comments on Lindsay’s speech (but that just seemed to be taking issue with the term “silenced”).”

You already have the links and have read them - but I’ll go ahead and find the quotes I’m referring to.

“It’s not that they are infallible and we are totally stupid.” - PZ


“He [Ron Lindsay in his opening remarks] seems to be confused, assuming any discussion about how race, gender, and other attributes influence our outlook and our biases is a call for people of privilege to have no say. This is quite obviously absurd – I myself am incredibly privileged as a white, straight, cisgendered, able-bodied, middle class educated American, but do I demand that I and anyone like me never engage in discussions of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or class? Of course not – I merely hope that we engage in these conversations with compassion and understanding, ultimately encouraging the people directly affected by those issues to have a voice and an audience.” - RW

#173 Anonymous (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 2:44pm

@ Gordo

You said, “What a baby. You guys are in the same hotel. Go talk to one another. She tweeted that your talk was accusatory and wrongheaded, and your response was to take to CFI’s public page to attack a blogger? Grow up.”

Haven’t you heard?  Ms. Watson has made it exceedingly clear that she doesn’t like being approached in hotels.  Further, Ms. Watson and her legion have created a toxic atmosphere for males, especially Mr. Vacula.  I don’t blame anyone who avoids personal contact with those kinds of folks: people who are quick to make unfounded accusations. 

Isn’t it ironic?  Some people who complain about needing “safe spaces” are unwilling to allow others to feel safe.

#174 Pandora3 on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 2:49pm

“Pandora3, you seem to be broadly construing “Go offline before going online” as saying that before citing someone’s work in support of a claim, one calls (or e-mails) that someone first.”

No, but I can see how you would get that impression because it was directed at J.J @149 a page back, not Mr. Lindsay directly. J.J pointed out if there’s a generalized problem, you can’t resolve it with one individual. I agree that’s true, but disagree the “shut up” calls are a generalized problem.

So my issue with Mr. Lindsay’s citations isn’t he used them without permission,  it’s that they’re limited to 2 people who could reasonably be called part of the community, and a meeting which he can’t talk about. In short, they suck to support his assertion it’s a big burning issue which must be addressed stat.

Why he would use an opening statement to a general audience to get this off his chest rather than following his own recommendations—picking up the phone and talking to the one person identified, PZ—-is the question.

His last citation, the meeting which can’t be discussed, is flat out bizarre, underhanded, and generally creepy. Citing a meeting you can’t cite as a reason to talk about that meeting to an unrelated group in public, WTF?

Mr. Lindsay has a snit, this does not translate to a widespread problem simply because Mr. Lindsay has a widespread ego.

#175 Sara Mayhew on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 3:19pm

Don’t criticize The Oprah Winfrey of Skepticism™.

Many Skepchicks and self-described feminists have bullied me. There are many other women who’ve experienced similar hatred from women like Watson, Hensley, Roth. The difference is that I don’t presume to speak for all women in secularism and skepticism. They do. They speak of “women in skepticism experience _____” and “women atheists” think X.

They dismiss the opinions of women who don’t agree with some of the things they do. These feminist leaders aren’t listening.

Rebecca’s brand was built on the idea that women in skepticism are chicks. She made a mess with bringing sexiness and partying into the idea of promoting women in skepticism, however well intentioned. It’s a mess that she isn’t doing a good job of cleaning up.

I’m sure in the early days of podcasting a snarky skeptic chick was novel. It’s old now and the movement has grown; there a plenty of women who do real-world education, research, writing, outreach, organising and popularising who deserve the resources, attention, and speaking positions that are squandered by Waton to promote her stale self-serving pseudo empire.

#176 J. J. Ramsey on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 3:20pm

@M. A. Melby: Remember what PZ said right before saying, “It’s not that they are infallible and we are totally stupid.” It was this:

“There is also a terrible response: arguing back. It always makes it worse.”

The problem with saying that arguing back is just a terrible response is that sometimes the less privileged person may very well be just plain wrong.

For example, suppose you are dealing with a particular feminist woman who thinks that transgender women do not belong at women’s conferences. Do you refuse to argue back because she lacks male privilege? She can argue that she has expertise on being a woman from birth, and that this experience is obviously different from that of a male-to-female transgender person and gives her insights that a transgender person lacks.

What about an American or European Muslim who claims that, in his experience, anti-Islam rhetoric has been a dog whistle to racists, much as railing against illegal immigration is a proxy for expressing racist sentiment about Hispanics? Do you then refuse to argue back if he calls you a racist for criticizing the Quran? He does lack the privilege of being white, and to some extent his experience is even correct. Do you just “shut up” or do you “where appropriate, question and engage”?

#177 BrianX (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 3:29pm

What Watson et al are telling you is not to suspend your critical thinking, but to engage it when dealing with your own prejudices and when confronted by concepts like privilege. You and a great many others have been quick to cast Watson and her supporters as the bad guys, when it’s clear that you’d rather pretend that there’s nothing wrong with race and gender relations in the world than address the issue. You can’t wish white male privilege away just because you find the concept disturbing.

Once upon a time, I did shut up and listen, and I learned that radfems aside (and Rebecca Watson is most certainly not one), baseline feminism is the skeptical position. And yes, it does require understanding context (like 4am in an elevator) and other people’s experiences. How is it that this simple moral lesson eludes many people who claim to be skeptics? Why do you and many others continue to be so intellectually blinkered and dishonest on this issue? I’d ask what it would take to get you to understand where Watson et al are coming from, but it seems that you’re determined not to. How does this make you any better than racists, global warming deniers, or creationists?

#178 M. A. Melby on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 4:08pm

“This smacks of 1st-World problems. Nobody’s actually silencing women.”

This absolutely does happen.

And no, it’s not JUST a 1st world problem.

A great deal of this does NOT happen in person however.  The call to implement sexual harassment policies was really separate from the issue of women being threatened, attacked and silenced.

I think the peanut gallery is conflating a lot of complicated, very storied, situations.

The backlash is generally more problematic than the actual issues or real disagreements that come up.

Just like this - seriously - the tone of the reaction to Ron’s speech (at least from my perspective online) was that Ron’s opening speech was a bit off-putting.  Seriously “off-put” was about as “outraged” as most people seemed to be.

Then, when a few people wrote down that they were a bit annoyed by his speech - instead of dealing with their criticism constructively.

He essentially blew a frickin’ gasket; and for some bizarre reasons (among all the blog posts and tweets that made a similar criticism) he decided to attack RW.

Not address what she said - just sort of make some snarky complaint against her about HER personally and not, so much, what she said.

Yeah, that’s going to calm down those people who were “off-put” /sarcasm

Making this a big drama makes ZERO sense.  So, why don’t we just skip that part.

It does seem though, that Ron Lindsay is searching far and wide for actual examples of the privileged being silenced; that he might stumble upon the truth of the matter.

Besides one particular rude space - PZ’s blog; and one particular safe space - the A+ forums; you rarely see this.  EVEN THERE - the “problem” doesn’t exist the way it is commonly described.

What happens - and we KNOW this - is that because of battle fatigue; the pattern recognition of skeptic feminists is in high mode and they stumble upon “false positives” when otherwise reasonable statements resemble some pretty horrendous attitudes and behaviors.

More often however, those being criticized are REALLY clueless when they are actually being really fucking terrible.

A classic example was that, in a thread about the high-profile rape case in India - where a woman (who later died due to injuries) and her friend were kidnapped on a bus; someone piped in about teaching women self-defense techniques.

He had NO CLUE why people on the thread were upset at him even after it was explained - A LOT; though I doubt he, personally, then decided that skeptic feminists were a bunch of “hysterical” harpies…that’s the reaction of some people who find themselves in that situation.

#179 Pandora3 on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 4:19pm

“What about an American or European Muslim who claims that, in his experience, anti-Islam rhetoric has been a dog whistle to racists, much as railing against illegal immigration is a proxy for expressing racist sentiment about Hispanics?”

The problem is not challenging his assertion as much as it is the unconscious calculus—-“I don’t see evidence of racist rhetoric, therefore I need proof of this assertion. The default setting is he’s wrong, and I will decide what’s scary and racist, not the guy who gets 20 scary racist e-mails a day directed at him.”

If he calls you a racist for criticizing the Q’uran, consider his point. Seriously. Don’t scramble a counterattack. That’s hard to do but honestly challenging your own conclusions is what we supposedly advocate. Most of us are very familiar with the bible, even more than Christians, but if you criticize the Q’uran when he knows more about it, you run the risk of looking like Ray Comfort fondling his Jeebus-created banana.

#180 M. A. Melby on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 4:31pm


I get that.

We don’t know the context of PZ’s larger statement (it was a quote within a blog post written by someone else); but if he really meant that if you are a member of a privileged group you should NEVER “argue” with someone who is not part of that group about issues concerning THAT group - He would certainly be acting differently.

In the context of the blog post (at least with a charitable reading) he is essentially discussing a well-known dynamic where someone is told they are being rude; and instead of trying to figure out why they are being perceived that way, they get defensive and ARGUE about how the OTHER person *shouldn’t* be pissed off or offended or mildly annoyed.

This happens all the time.  For example, there are common phrases that people use all the time that have histories and associations that are really horrendous.  Unless you are part of certain groups or are hanging out in various circles - you may have NO idea just how awful those terms are; or how RUDE certain questions are.

For example: Saying “transgendered” instead of “transgender person” is sort of rude.  If someone tells you, “Hey, could you please use the correct terminology,” the worst thing you can do is to argue at them about how they have no reason to be annoyed because it’s not that big of a deal….blah de blah blah blah.

The phrase “Deaf and dumb” is extraordinarily insulting to the Deaf; but if you don’t hang out with deaf people you might not have ANY idea just how obnoxious the phrase is.

If someone is trying to explain to you that you just stepped in poop - you should probably listen to them instead of dig in your heals - into poop.

That’s my take-away from those statements.  Ron’s interpretation is WAY beyond what RW certainly described and what (at least to me) what PZ was saying.

Also, there is a *thing* where “do-gooders” who are many times very privileged in many ways; will impose upon an embattled group what THEY (the privileged) think is best for them.

Ironically, skeptic feminists are sometimes accused of doing just that: white-knighting or being neo-collonialist.

It’s a real danger - and one of the ways to avoid that danger is to - you know, “shut up and listen” and BE AN ALLY and realize it’s not all about you.

#181 Sili (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 4:41pm

I want to know why the top secular organizations continue to mollycoddle Ms. Watson.


Are we reading the same blogpost?

#182 Astrokid on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 5:13pm

Flashback to 2001
Lay off men, Doris Lessing tells feminists.
Novelist condemns female culture that revels in humiliating other sex[/url]

The novelist Doris Lessing yesterday claimed that men were the new silent victims in the sex war, “continually demeaned and insulted” by women without a whimper of protest.

It is time we began to ask who are these women who continually rubbish men. The most stupid, ill-educated and nasty woman can rubbish the nicest, kindest and most intelligent man and no one protests.

Men seem to be so cowed that they can’t fight back, and it is time they did.

Good that times have changed a bit, eh? I love putting my boot up feminists’ behind. Thanks Internet.

#183 John C. Welch (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 5:29pm

It is fascinating to me how many people continue to deny that women who are not in agreement with FTB/Skepchicks have been attacked, repeatedly for not agreeing. They deny that women from FTB/Skepchicks have attacked, viciously, women who dare disagree with them.

In fact, melody, amy and a few others had a lot of fun going after Sara Mayhew because SHE LIKES PRETTY SHOES. Yeah. That’s pretty feminist, attacking a woman for her appearance. But hey, Sara’s not on board, she’s a chill sister, a gender traitor, a supressive person. so, fair game, right?

Then there was Mallorie Nasrallah, who was attacked by lousy canuck and zvan IIRC because she posted on her own blog about how she didn’t want every man in the skeptical movement to change just because they think they might maker her uncomfortable. They implied that mallorie didn’t want to lose her hawt status. Slut shaming. How feminist. But hey, Mallorie’s not on board, she’s a chill sister, a gender traitor, a suppressive person. So, fair game, right?

Abbie Smith, an up and coming scientist. She was not only attacked online, but there were continual attempts by Zvan, Laden, Myers et al to use NatGeo’s code of conduct, (ironically, the same code of conduct so suppressive, so heinous that it was one of the things that drove PZ to start and join FTB), to force Abbie to take down certain threads that they found ‘objectionable’. PZ actually lied and said that NatGeo had forced Abbie to do this. That was incorrect. Then, Laden stalked Abbie until he was able to get her employment info and emailed her manager in an attempt to shut her up. Ironically, this was the same tactic that PZ’s friends were so outraged at when used by Bill Donohue during “crackergate”. But hey, Abbie’s not on board, she’s a chill sister, a gender traitor, a suppressive person. So, fair game, right?

Let’s see, there’s Miranda Hale, attacked for daring to criticize the FTB crowd. I believe Ophelia’s closing on that one was “fuck you Miranda”. She took it down later, must have made her look bad. Ophelia, not Miranda. Buy hey, Miranda’s not on board, she’s a chill sister, a gender traitor, a suppressive person. So, fair game, right?

Ellenbeth Wachs, a firm friend of the FTB/Skepchicks lot, until she dared, as a conference organizer, with, you know, actual expertise AND experience, the kind of thing we’re supposed to “shut up and listen” to was attacked by the pharynguoids for disagreeing with them about Adria Richards. Then PZ mansplained to the silly little woman how she just wasn’t thinking correctly. I guess “shut up and listen” only applies to people with GoodThought. It’s not mansplaining when it’s done to further your cause. End justifies the means, right? But hey, Ellenbeth’s not on board, she’s a chill sister, a gender traitor, a suppressive person. So, fair game, right?

Because I am sometimes too subtle, the suppressive person/fair game bit is in fact, directly comparing the FTB FC(n), (a bit of array notation, short for “Fainting Couch(n) where n is an integer that varies between 1 and 7 or so) and Skepchicks, Melody Hensley, Amanda Marcotte and others to Scientology’s worst tactic: Fair Game.

If you do not think correctly and say the correct things when required, you are a Supressive Person, and any tactic used to silence you is Fair Game. Trying to force PZ’s employers to silence him? HOW DARE YOU! FREEZE PEACH!!!! Trying to force Abbie’s employers to silence her? Oh that’s totes okey-dokey, the stupid bitch should have shut up.

The idea that somehow, only men oppose the FTB/Skepchicks line is drivel, and it is a lie. It may in fact be their Big Lie, but it is a lie nonetheless. Over and over, you see how women who are not on board with the FTB/Skepchick lot are not only attacked, but their existence is *denied*. They are not even allowed *personhood* by these people, one of whom ALSO works for the CFI.

Every time you see one of these people claiming that only men are against them, remember these women, and others, like Paula Kirby, Harriet Hall who are not only attacked, (and I DEFY you to show me any one of them who did as much for women as Harriet Hall. All of them COMBINED don’t even touch Dr. Hall’s accomplishments), but then their existence, in the desperate need to further the Big Lie, is denied.

They accuse the people who post in the Slymepit of denying the humanity of women, but then they deny the existence of the women who *also* post in the ‘pit. Is there a more fundamental way to deny someone’s humanity than denying their existence? I think not.

But that’s what they have to do, because if they don’t, if FTB/Skepchicks don’t other the women who disagree with them, if they don’t deny their existence or run Fair Game on them when forced to admit they exist to shut them up and shut them down, then they can’t claim to speak for all women, or even all women feminists, or even all women atheists.

And if they lose THAT mantle, well, then what do they represent other than themselves? And if they only represent themselves, then what happens to all the influence they’ve worked so hard to acquire?

This is not about helping women. This is about certain members of FTB, Skepchicks and others defending and preserving their influence and supposed power. Because if it were about helping women, they’d not be so eager to so viciously attack, other, and deny the existence of any women who dare disagree with them.

#184 AndyWatson (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 5:35pm

#41 SallyStrange: “And the “call security” remark was just juvenile and petty and mean.”

Really? To put this into perspective… This is the same SallyStrange who just a few days ago was asked politely for civility and decency and reasonable debate (on FreeThoughtBlogs). Her reply: “F&CK; CIVILITY!” and then she went on to tell any person that dared to disagree or discuss anything (that did not agree with the FreeThoughtBlogs cult) to “F&CK; OFF”. “Juvenile and petty and mean” she says. What a hypocrite. Maybe what she meant to say was “Ron Lindsey is a man of respect, decency and honesty who actually cares, and so we must demean and denigrate and misrepresent him as much as possible”

SallyStrange and all of the FreeThoughtCult (including PZ “Jim Jones” Myers) only have “expertise” in: lies, distortion of truth, childish pettiness, and pouring filth and obfuscation on any debate. If SallyStrange’s mouth is moving, only ever ignore and/or laugh at her, do NOT engage her (or any of that foul bunch) in honest debate, as that is utterly pointless.

Well done Mr. Lindsey for exposing petty fascists like Rebecca Watson, PZ Myers, SallyStrange etc for what they are: bigots who try to hijack and any all discussions. I hope that other strong women come forward who can group together to drive away the PZ/Watson bigot-bullies by reasonable men and women who have a willingness to engage, debate, respect, question, listen and appreciate each others points of view. PZ/Watson are already utterly irrelevant, but let’s hope that they will also just shrivel away to utter obscurity before the end of this year. These people have no interest in human rights or womens rights; they have only ever been interested in their “me-me-me!!!” rights.

#185 MosesZD (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 6:23pm

If we follow the course set by Myers/Watson, then neither of them have any business discussing many issues they routinely blog about.

Watson is no scientist.  She has virtually no science exposure.  When she lectures at Skeptic conferences on science topics, they’re always fundamentally flawed.  Since she’s not an expert, she should, according to her doctrine, just STFU and only let those who have ‘expertise’ weigh in on the various subjects. 

Myers, of course, is a privileged white man who, according to his own beliefs, should just STFU as he’s (a) not a woman, (b) not a minority and (c) not an expert on anything but biology.

And yet here they are, day-after-day, pontificating on various scientific and social issues for which they have no expertise…

#186 M. A. Melby on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 6:28pm

Irony is that one of the more valid criticisms of RW is how she treated Stef McGraw.  The LEVEL of anger about that issue could be placed (in part) in the “Mollycoddle” category.

All those others on the list certainly are able to hold their own against criticism; and the fact a few of them are so OBVIOUSLY the ones that picked the fight in the first place is just - whatever.

The real problem with the insinuation that RW is being “Mollycoddled” is that you’d have to redefined “Mollycoddled” and constantly and consistently attacked, quote mined, and defamed; for that to be remotely true.

SO MUCH criticism that I’ve read that targets her is just insult after insult after insult: *blanket* conclusions with little evidence - without engaging with anything she has actually said or done.  This is a *thing*.

I highly doubt she is perfect - but this shit just has to stop.

She isn’t the only one that gets this treatment, either.  Notice HOW Thunderf00t criticized Surly Amy and the rationale for several people apologizing for his behavior:


#187 Jeff_V (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 6:35pm

Look. I consider myself to be pro-feminist and a left of center progressive. I have always agreed with the general values and goals of FTB and the Skepchick site, and I used to read the blogs there regularly, but I haven’t for nearly a year.

Why? Mr. Lindsay, your talk and the response to it, homed in on exactly why. You cannot disagree in good faith with the slightest detail of the narrative propagated by them. You can cover all your bases, put all the caveats in your commentary that you want, it doesn’t matter. That will all be ignored, and the minor point of order you raise will be rhetorically inflated into evidence of your misogyny and your badness as a person, and you will be excoriated and shunned. It’s pathetic, and I have had my fill of it.

#188 Guesty (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 6:51pm

How to become respected authorities in the atheist and skeptic communities, FTB/Skepchick/A+ style:

* Move up the ladder by trying to tear down the current globally-known and respected figures in the community. Let everyone know that these people are tired old white privileged men who do not truly represent the community anymore, and tell everyone that you and your pals are just what everyone needs. Lump all current global figures into the vaporous term “Patriarchy”, which becomes your non-falsifiable answer to all criticism. “Because patriarchy, that’s why.”

* Create a para-religious doctrine that you can try to impose on people. Declare misogyny to be original sin, and men to be the devil. All are guilty who do not submit to the saving grace that you and your friends represent. Renounce all who apply skepticism to the doctrine as patriarchal heretics who merit expulsion from the community, and effectively declare your doctrine to be off-limits to skeptical inquiry.

* Go after everyone, online and when possible in real life, who disagrees with you. Insult them, defame them, scream at them, censor them, marginalize them, silence them, libel them, dox them, call them rape apologists, try to deny their right to participate in the community, and harass their employers if at all possible.

* Try to commandeer every convention you can, and turn these conventions into irrelevant cult-of-personality boozefests only occasionally interrupted by poorly-prepared, unscientific opinion pieces that twist facts like animal balloons until they fit your beliefs.

* Try to take over skeptical organizations by viciously attacking and libeling their leaders at the slightest provocation. Start massive smear campaigns and create petitions to get leaders of organizations replaced with new leadership of your choosing.

* Create a ruling concept, like AtheismPlus, to formalize and enforce your doctrine. Explain away all pushback from the community by saying the pushback just proves how much AtheismPlus is needed.

* If all else fails, try to manipulate public opinion by crying and leaving conferences early. Then point to your temper tantrum as proof that you are being viciously assaulted and psychically raped.

#189 Rachel (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 7:08pm

Jim Lippard #139:

“Ron, you should take a look at “Daniel Dennett’s seven tools for thinking” [...] because you certainly did not for this one.”

Jim, did you also suggest this on Rebecca’s post? No?

I suggest you do so, and note how she and her lovely commentariat take your advice.

#190 David Leech (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 7:14pm

I am still waiting for the people who are for the pro privileged argument to tell me what I should do as a white university educated male. When faced with a woman of colour who has Jesus in her heart, do I defer to her experience? Do I step back and allow her to continue to be a slave to a misogynistic religion? Do I allow my white university male privileged ass to shut up and listen to her self imposed oppression? That is not going to happen ever. So where does the privileged argument start and/or end? I’m not allowed to use my education to help free her because of my background was different from hers? This privileged bullshit just looks like a silencing tactic by people who can’t logically defend their point of view.

#191 Astrokid on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 7:23pm

I am surprised that so many people are clueless about privilege. Here’s a 12min video that will set you right in the first 1:30
Got Privilege?

#192 Sgarre1 (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 7:28pm

While I agreed with the thrust of your opening talk (I confess I read the transcript and did not attend) and this entry, I must wonder why an intellectual would lower themselves to such pedantic ad hominem drivel? This response would have had more authority without the first paragraph. We shouldn’t respond to ignorance with more ignorance. Two wrongs do not make it right.

#193 M. A. Melby on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 7:33pm


That worry would make sense if anyone was actually advocating for people with privilege in a particular form to never speak and always defer to those who don’t.

Nobody has ever, ever, ever done that - so getting upset about it and inflating it is really silly.

Also, if you really want to have a meaningful conversation with a religious black person, you might not want to call that person a “slave” because, y’know….

#194 Currie Jesn (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 7:41pm

That video turned out to be quite the pleasant surprise, Astrokid. Thanks for sharing it.

#195 Currie Jean (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 7:51pm

#193: “Also, if you really want to have a meaningful conversation with a religious black person, you might not want to call that person a ‘slave’ because, y’know…”

... Because it would be poignant?

#196 Jeff_V (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 8:00pm

We get it, Astrokid. Really, we do. Just because we don’t take this understanding and put it to the precise use you would have us do doesn’t mean we don’t.

#197 Sister Chromatid (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 8:03pm

I look forward to PZ mitigating his privilege by handing over Freethought Blogs to control by the women, rather than spending his time telling other skeptic organizations how they are all doing it wrong.

#198 Freshverbal (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 8:16pm

Well done Ron.

The concept of privilege/intersectionality is wrong on so many levels it’s hard to know where to start.

It is a concept created and used by educated, Western (EG: highly privileged) people to silence others regardless of their experiences or economic and social status.

Despite all the talk of respecting peoples experience, the concept of privilege -as used by this “social justice” clique- totally disregards the nuances of human experience in a blatantly racist and sexist manner.

In this discourse my Kenyan friends who own one of the largest estates in Kenya, were highly educated in some of the best British schools and earn fantastic money are less privileged than I am because my skin is white and theirs isn’t. It means in any debate with a university educated feminist with a career and a media footprint I must concede the argument to the feminist, not because I’m wrong but because I have male privilege. Surely the fact I left school at 14, have no degree or career and am only able to earn minimum wage should be taken into account when weighing my privilege against someone like Watson or my Kenyan friends but it never is.

I’m white and male therefore I must be wrong.

Not only is this insulting to the white people and men it is used to silence, it is profoundly insulting to all of those women and people of colour who have earned success and don’t experience the world as a hostile place run by and for evil white men.

If Rebecca Watson’s “experiences” of being “objectified” must be respected and believed then so should the experiences of men who feel marginalised or people of colour and women who do not.

And lets stop beating around the bush on this people. The concept of privilege is not dogma it’s straight up sexism and racism posing as “social justice” and we should treat those who use it accordingly.

#199 Maple Leaf (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 8:23pm

Here’s the reaction of other atheist women to Ron Lindsay’s unwelcoming speech and his doubling-down on it: They are variously disappointed, alienated, losing heart, totally out of the movement, and leaving atheist/skeptic organizations behind. It was not evocative of a new era:

“I can have random dudes on the internet demand “What about teh menz??” for free; why would I pay money to hear some dude mansplain at a roomful of people?”

Unless your intent was to reduce future attendance and donations, you’ve engineered a giant failure to communicate.

#200 M. A. Melby on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 8:29pm

“#193: “Also, if you really want to have a meaningful conversation with a religious black person, you might not want to call that person a ‘slave’ because, y’know…”

... Because it would be poignant?”

Or backfire and offend the person.

In that *actual* situation, I would want to try to understand the perspective of the person I am speaking with first before alluding to such a “poignant” topic.

I might also consider that perhaps, coming from someone like me, that sort of comparison might be perceived differently and that I may not (because of my limited experience) be able to treat it with the nuance needed for such an analogy to be effective.

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