There’s this meme that the slime pitters are trying to pass around that my petition to have Justin Vacula removed as the co-chair of the Pennsylvania state Secular Coalition chapter was part of a bullying campaign against him. I won’t try to tell anyone I’m particularly nice to Vacula, but really, I think a bullying campaign generally has to consist of more than answering when someone asks me what I think of something or standing up for upset people who don’t have a platform of their own. Of course, in this case, I’m going to do something that isn’t quite either of those.
Melody Hensley didn’t point me at Vacula’s latest video, and though it’s probably a fair guess that it would upset her, I don’t know whether she’s watched it. It was pointed out to me by someone else.
The video consists of about five minutes of essentially saying this about Melody:
…she is just blocking entire lists of people who happen to follow certain unapproved accounts she considers to be misogynistic or harassing, as is pretty clear from her Twitter description.
Oh, “unapproved accounts”. Sounds vaguely McCarthyist, yeah? Orwellian, even? Controlling and unsavory in any case.
But who did Melody block? She preemptively blocked people who follow the @elevatorgate Twitter account. You know, this one.
I love @justinbieber and @timminchin. #TeamMatriarcy If you follow me, you will be shunned by #atheismplus & #FTBullies cult
U mad, RadFems?
Question Becky & Mangina Myers
This is the guy who calls himself “Brave Hero” and a defender of TAM without, apparently, any irony whatsoever. He’s run a blog devoted to trashing Rebecca Watson and friends for about a year and a half. He’s been keeping a Storify account for the last three or four months, which now has about 1,800 “stories” (about 15 a day), many of which consist of nothing more than a single tweet by someone this guy thinks he needs to monitor. Somewhere north of 100 of those “stories” mention Melody. As I write this, he’s musing on Twitter about how sad Melody’s husband must be that she isn’t as skinny as she once was.
In other words, “unapproved account” means a persistent stalker and abuser. Not much consideration required on Melody’s part. Orwellian indeed.
I could point out that it’s quite reasonable to put some separation between yourself and your abusers, or even to arrange to handle them on your own terms, but it really shouldn’t be necessary. Even if it were, Michael Nugent handled the matter four days ago:
Who did she ban from where? She banned nobody from anywhere. She blocked people from following her on twitter, who were also following the Elevatorgate twitter account, which was posting tweets harassing her. That seems like a prudent and sane thing to do. She did not infringe on anybody’s right to freedom of expression.
Four days ago. That’s two days before Vacula posted his video. Why he did so anyway I don’t know. I’m not going to try to figure out what he was thinking. Besides, it’s irrelevant to what I want to talk about.
That would be the title of the video. You see, it’s called “Professional Victim Melody Hensley”.
It’s that “professional victim” trope again. You know, those of us who dare to say we deserve something other than abuse and say it out loud–we only do it for…money, I guess. It’s how we make our livings, of course. Forget that we actually get paid for doing math or science or art or writing and speaking about religion or writing and speaking about everyday skepticism. No, all those talents and accomplishments mean nothing when we complain. We become “professional victims”.
They can get away with saying that when our public faces are blogs or books or talks. Those are subjective, easy to devalue when delivered by someone who annoys you. The only reason anyone would pay attention to us is because we cry victimhood, don’cha know.
And then someone says this about Melody Hensley. Seriously. Melody.
Who is Melody Hensley? She’s the Executive Director of CFI-DC, a position she’s held for almost four years. She is an incredibly accomplished professional skeptic and secularist who has done rather a lot for our movements.
- Melody Hensley has a decade of experience as an activist on issues of importance to secularism.
- Melody Hensley has built a vibrant community with several regular monthly events reaching a variety of audiences, creating a base that supports the important work of CFI with our national government.
- Melody Hensley has presented luminaries like Salman Rushdie to sold-out crowds, with audiences as large as 1,500 people. Other speakers she’s presented include AC Graying, PZ Myers, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Michael Shermer, Susan Jacoby, Barbara Forrest, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Penn Jillette.
- Melody Hensley sells out her fundraisers and runs a well-funded local organization.
- Melody Hensley has testified to the DC city government on secular issues on the behalf of her organization.
- Melody Hensley organized the historic African Americans for Humanism conference. To this day, it is still the largest gathering of African American non-theists.
- Melody Hensley organized the historic Women in Secularism conference and its sequel. I think everyone knows how broad an impact this conference has had.
- Melody Hensley edited an issue of Free Inquiry organized around this conference, carrying its ideas to a larger audience.
- Melody Hensley spoke at the CFI-supported Unite Against the War on Women rally in DC.
- Melody Hensley spoke at CSICon in 2011 on organizing independent investigation groups.
- Melody Hensley serves on the advisory committee for Secular Woman.
That’s who Melody Hensley is. That is the full-time, paid activist and organizer, one of only five CFI branch directors in the country, whom Justin Vacula dismissed as a “professional victim”.
When I created that petition asking for Justin Vacula to be removed from his position, people said I was dismissing his volunteer work. I have never done any such thing. Rather, I pointed out that the requirements of leadership are greater than the requirements of volunteering.
I’ve never heard from the Secular Coalition about the petition. I don’t expect to, particularly since Vacula did the responsible thing and resigned rather than placing the burden of a decision on them. Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if there are people there–assuming they still pay attention to Vacula–who sigh with relief every time he says something new.
“Um, boss, got a sec?”
“This is about him again, isn’t it?”
*sigh* “What did he do now?”
“It’s probably not a good thing when one of our volunteers makes a video claiming that an executive director for an affiliate of one of our member organizations makes her living as a ‘victim’, right? Boss? Boss, you okay? Say, I’ll just…uh…close the door behind me on the way out.”
How much less professional can someone get? Seriously, who thinks it’s a good idea to spend the time to put together a video like this denying someone’s blazingly obvious professional accomplishments because you don’t like who they blocked and who they talk to on their personal Twitter account? Beyond that, who thinks the way to convince the world that a woman is overreacting to sexist abuse is to deny said blazingly obvious professional accomplishments of a woman who is already being subject to sexist abuse? If this were a game, I would call that the kind of own goal that stays on the blooper reels for decades.
It isn’t a game, though. Melody is being harassed and abused, not moving a ball down a field. There are people who consider this a sport, including Michael Cortese/Mykeru, whom Vacula mentions in the video, but they’re playing with Melody’s professional reputation and emotional health.
Vacula’s contributing to that, with this little Calvinball video. It’s wrong not to approve of Twitter accounts that stalk and abuse you. It’s wrong to block people. It’s wrong to talk to people who abuse you on your own terms when you feel up to it. Why? Because Vacula now makes the rules of social media. And the rule you must never question is that we must always lose.
“Professional victim” my ass. Melody is one of the people making these movements get things done. Somebody who claims to be an activist could take some lessons. Instead, Vacula is making ad-supported videos dismissing all her important work, work from which he should be learning.
Technically, I think that makes him a professional victimizer.