Ophelia Benson Has Withdrawn from TAM

Ophelia Benson of Butterflies and Wheels was scheduled to speak at TAM. But she got email threats about her attendance there, and has decided not to go.

I am sick and sad, and furious.

I am sick and sad that bullying sometimes works. And I am furious at the culture, institutional and otherwise, that makes it possible for bullying to work, and for bullies to get away with it.

I’m currently finishing up a post on why, in the face of ugly internet conflagrations, we should still have hope and keep plugging away. I still think that. But I don’t have the heart to post it today. Right now: Fuck the world.

Ophelia Benson Has Withdrawn from TAM
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40 thoughts on “Ophelia Benson Has Withdrawn from TAM

  1. 2

    Greta, for what it’s worth, this was my response to your “Yes, but” post:

    All I can say is, thank you, Greta, for explaining these issues so clearly and with almost unbelievable restraint and civility. Even if you don’t win converts, the support of those who get it means an awful lot to the many of us who have had our experiences with misogyny belittled.

    I’ve also noticed several comments on these threads– especially on PZ’s cartoon mega-thread– from men whose opinions have been changed by the discussion, painful as it is. I don’t know how you keep it up, but I’m glad that you do.

  2. 5

    I’m currently finishing up a post on why, in the face of ugly internet conflagrations, we should still have hope and keep plugging away. I still think that.

    I think that too. I don’t know what your reasons are, but here are mine:

    1. I’m too goddamned mad at the injustice. You can’t have the conversation and you can’t own the world and mold it into a cesspit of bigotry. I won’t let you. It’s not yours.

    2. Real progress has been made in civil rights and cultural legitimacy for some minorities, in some places, some of the time. I won’t give that back or let it stagnate. But realizing the bottomless hole of horrible we still have to climb out of when it comes to denigration of women, invisibility of bisexuals, outright cultural mockery (and murder) of trangender people makes me want to fight even harder.

    3. I’m too goddamned mad at the injustice.

    4. You (read: patriarchy, white people, heteronormative cis-supremacists) are not the boss of me (read: everyone else but your comfortable middle-class ass).

    5. FUCK YOU.

    6. I can’t shut up about injustice. There’s no way to say this that doesn’t sound corny as hell, but people suffering matter. Who can live with themselves for the 70-odd years we get without pushing back?

    7. You’re not the boss of me, and also fuck you.

  3. 6

    I really hope Ophelia screenshots that email and posts it on her blog with full headers visible. The person who did this needs maximum exposure and shaming.

  4. 10

    Naomi (@NaomiJChambers) @ #8: Right. When women — in particular, one of my most respected and valued colleagues — says that she was threatened, and when someone immediately responds to this, not with compassion and concern, but by saying that he won’t believe her unless he sees proof, it is so very childish and unreasonable of me to be SICK TO FUCKING DEATH of it, and to decide that I no longer want this person to participate on my Facebook page.

    The fact that for days now, it’s been clearly shown that no amount of proof will ever be good enough for some people? The fact that for days now, questions of “how much evidence is enough to make a reasonable conclusion that someone has been threatened or harassed” consistently get their goalposts moved, to the point where you need more evidence to convince people of threats or harassment than you would to convince them of homeopathy or Bigfoot? That’s not enough to get me PISSED THE FUCK OFF, and to decide that people who act that way are not my friend, and that I do not want them in my Facebook life.

    So let me just say this: My Facebook page is MINE. It is not a public utility, which the general public is free to avail itself of at will. It is MY space. People who comment on it are guests. If guests there can’t do me the basic respect of not automatically assuming that my friends and colleagues are liars, they are not welcome in my home.

  5. 13

    I don’t see anywhere in Ophelia’s message any reference to her being a woman having anything to do with the threats she got. The threats just as well be from homeopaths, the religious right, or many others that don’t like TAM and what it stands for. I see no reason for Ophelia to lie about getting threats, but I also do not jump to conclusions this has anything to do with sexual harassment or the fact that she’s a woman.

  6. 14

    “The threats just as well be from homeopaths, the religious right, or many others that don’t like TAM and what it stands for.”

    Yes, I’m sure that’s it. The homeopaths decided to target Ophelia. Hey, we can’t prove otherwise! Maybe it was small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri!

  7. 15

    @8 Naomi

    The problem is that there is no evidence that hyperskeptics like Johnny Gutiérrez would accept.

    Ophelia says she has received email threats. What more could she possibly do that would provide “proof”. Any copies of the emails could just be dismissed as forgeries or otherwise inadequate to prove that threats were made. (c.f. Birthers and Obama’s birth certificate.)

    Greta’s reply is the appropriate response to such a stupid request.

  8. 17

    So now we’re demanding proof Ophelia received a threat. Until then it won’t be believed because skepticism and bullshit. Because her just telling us she received a threat isn’t enough.

    I’d call it victim-blaming but more of Grothe’s supporters might pitch a fit about it and I don’t feel like dealing with their callous disregard for others right now.

  9. 18

    That was childish

    And you are callous for demanding someone receiving death threats substantiate them to you when you’ve just seem them become so distraught over them they’ve cancelled a speaking engagement.


  10. 19

    @Greta #10 I think that you’re perilously close to violating your own comment policy 😉

    Seriously, fuck all these bastards, and the bastards they rode in on (looking at you, Jillette).

    @epsilon #13 Yeah, I’m sure it was the homeopaths… Read the context surrounding this story, look up “Occam’s razor” and get back to me.

    @Naomi #8 Amazing how easy it is to find damning evidence when you ignore all context isn’t it?

  11. 20

    JohnnyG: “like an angry child having a temper tantrum..” takes an opportunity to indulge his derisive view of children. The temper tantrum is his own…. hidden under a request for evidence.

  12. 21

    @19 I know about Occam’s Razor. The fact that there has been a recent uproar in the blogosphere about TAM’s harassment policy, does not mean that the threats were issued by misogynists. Ophelia did not frame this in any context. Greta did, but that’s a secondhand report.

    Just because a speaker cancels her appearance due to threats does not mean the threats have anything to do with her being a woman. That’s called jumping to conclusions. Ophelia never said who issued the threats and in what context (and I read her post multiple times), and she should not be asked to. However, there is no point in wild speculation about who issued the threats and what kind of threats they were. If Ophelia wants to discuss the threats, she will do so on her terms.

  13. 23

    I’ve just finished reading your book, Greta. It strikes me that your post about why we shouldn’t give up the fight against misogyny– and those who would apologize for it– could be eerily similar to Chapter 12, in which you discuss whether arguing with believers is effective. There are so many parallels– a belief system usually adopted in childhood, mostly unconsciously; an unwillingness to think critically about the issue; a rejection of (social) science findings inconsistent with that world view; the fierceness to which one clings to beliefs without evidence; the impossibility of convincing the most dedicated believers; and the fact that a single conversation seems pointless but sometimes really does make people reconsider their views– slowly and usually painfully.

    It seems as though a lot of atheists assume patriarchy can’t survive without religion. That’s clearly not the case. I wonder if (organized) religion can survive without patriarchy. If so, I wouldn’t have so much of a problem with it.

  14. 24

    What I want is the identity of the emailer known and disseminated. Ideally, his name, address, and photograph should be all over the blogosphere. Name the bullies, shame the bullies. Anonymity is their friend.

  15. 25

    Martin, the people who go around saying, “Oh! You’ve accused someone of XYZ! You’re defaming them! Expect the lawyers any day now!” are their friends. I can point you to those people. They’ve been hanging out on this blog for the last few days and they’re more numerous elsewhere.

    It is entirely reasonable of Ophelia to not want to deal with that on top of all this. Besides, there are already plenty of people to name and shame if you’d like to get in on that action.

  16. 28


    I’ve never posted on your blog before, but I’m becoming more and more in love with it every day. I wanted to comment on one very small thing concerning threats and proof.

    I’m a crisis worker in SF with a degree in Philosophy. I hope, at the very least, this allows me to make a clear, concise statement on the concepts of proof, threats, and bullying.

    When someone feels threatened or bullied, that is a feeling. An emotion. You cannot “prove” an emotion. It’s not something you can “prove” by showing publicly available evidence to someone else. It would be tantamount to one person claiming, “I have a headache” and another responding, “I’m a skeptic, -show me proof!”

    If you think that sounds ridiculous, then you understand why it’s idiotic, even for “skeptics” to play that sort of passive-aggressive game of marginalization. Showing the letter, or email, or whatever it was would never satisfy someone.

    I’m glad you blocked that idiot, and you have my (inconsequential) support to block any and every other idiot who says or implies the same.

    It can never be the case that a person has grounds to tell, or imply, to another that their feelings are “incorrect” or false. As shown by G. E. Moore, perceptions (and emotions) are proof “that,” not proof “about.”

    Thank you.

  17. 29

    I realize that this would not solve the general problem of so many people being morons about this issue, but in light of everything that’s happened, I have a question: at what point, with TAM specifically, do we give up? At what point do we say, “It’s clear you’re not going to work with anyone on this, so we’re no longer going to try to work with you. We’re going to stop promoting you in any way, and let you fade into the movement’s past”?

    Grothe has failed in every conceivable way to address this situation appropriately, and through him, TAM has failed. They’ve had everything explained over and over, by so many different people. They’ve had what they could do to rectify things spelled out over and over and over again, and still nothing.

    I’m sure as fuck never going. At this point, I feel like we’re done here, you know? TAM has made it clear that they’re sticking to their silent, stupid guns. Maybe we should let them stupidly do that, and focus on the events that give a shit. Focus on the people who obviously care enough to listen and take heed and make things better.

  18. 30

    Today, I can strongly related to Bruce Banner edging into his Hulk state. And the thought forming in my brain is “my secret is that I’m always angry”. That’s really resonating for me now, but it also feels so toxic.

  19. 31

    Tim Farley, of Whatstheharm.net, used the emails in question to track down and telephone the fellow. The sender stated that he did not mean them to be threatening, and has promised to apologize. See here: https://www.facebook.com/RedSeaRoadkill/posts/312362085524700

    I note this: 1) Because it is a happy moment in a series of bummer back and forths over the past few weeks, and 2) Because, in addition to Tim, Travis Roy and others associated with the “other side” immediately stepped to the plate to try and help when physical harm seemed possible. That’s a nice reminder that behind the mutual flaming there is still a community that protects its own when it really counts.

  20. 32

    I still want to see what JREF’s response to Ophelia was that she characterized as “kthxbye” dismissive before I judge whether the JREF did anything wrong when she forwarded them the threat and her concerns. I haven’t seen her post it yet.

    This whole debate has so much vitriol and attacking of others that do not deserve it that we need to take a step back, a deep breath and start dealing transparently, openly and honestly with each other. That can start with Ophelia releasing the response before we judge the JREF.

  21. 33

    I still want to see what JREF’s response to Ophelia was that she characterized as “kthxbye” dismissive before I judge whether the JREF did anything wrong when she forwarded them the threat and her concerns.

    She withdrew that and explained it was more of an automatic message than anything else. As far as I know she hasn’t gotten anything back other than (essentially) “sorry to see you go.”

    Somehow I’d convinced myself there’d be some sort of strong reaction. Now that I’ve paid it more thought, this is exactly the sort of thing Grothe, his many defenders and Ophelia’s long standing critics have been saying doesn’t amount to much. To them this isn’t a credible threat so there’s no reason to get worked up about it.

    Any response is likely to be lukewarm at best.

  22. 34

    [email protected]#33:
    She withdrew that and explained it was more of an automatic message than anything else. As far as I know she hasn’t gotten anything back other than (essentially) “sorry to see you go.”

    I just went back to Ophelia’s blog post about it, looking for her comments about this and I cannot find where she retracted saying that the JREF just blew her concerns off dismissively. Could you point out specifically where she did so? I must have missed it.

  23. 35

    I have been an Atheist streetfighter for decades. I am a lifelong feminist. A MR Mom since 1978. Both my daughter’s were given the bible: OUR BODIES OURSELVES both editions by the Boston Women’s Collective… my hero is Robin Morgan. Know your enemy. But there is a problem…. why have I never been invited to a : ” T. A. M. ?” Is it I’ve been a loyal Life Member of American Atheists? Is it because of certain people who refuse to capitalize Atheists? I am furious with patriarchal jerks where ever they are. I confront the bastards every time I hear their code words or see them oogle breasts or girdles. Julia Sweeney did a great job confronting sexism with “Pat.” The fight remains on 99 state legislative floors, 2 floors in Congress & the White House to defeat theocracy. I’ve been lobbying in schoolboards, city halls, county councils and court clerks accross the nation. Maybe the problem is institutional bias, giving too much credit to credentials of academia? Sexism has not been purged from universities & colleges. Why expect a recently growing Atheist movement to be less than patriarchal if radical Atheists like me are not invited, not brought to the panel discussions or asked to speak about their US Supreme Court cases? 843-926-1750 Larry Carter Center 20 Wespanee DR, Charleston, SC 29407-6066 2 blocks from ground zero ABORTION CLINIC WHERE THE Atheist street fight is with tampon terrorists…

  24. 36

    Who are you buddy? I’m sure you are a great guy who’s done a lot of cool stuff, but the fact that you are complaining you have never been invited to a conference, in the comments section of another person’s blog is probably some sort of indication, a lot of it is who you know, (especially considering some of the speakers at some of these conferences).

    Do you have an online presence? Has what you have done been newsworthy in this community? Have you made yourself memorable to the people who decide these things?

    I’m sure there are hundreds of people who wish they had a spot up on stage, but not everyone can be accommodated.

  25. 38

    @Cory Albrecht(@Bytor) #34:

    I just went back to Ophelia’s blog post about it, looking for her comments about this and I cannot find where she retracted saying that the JREF just blew her concerns off dismissively. Could you point out specifically where she did so? I must have missed it.

    See comments #35, #51, #118, #333, #349, and #353.

  26. 39

    I submitted the comment that follows to Ophelia Benson’s blog, twice, and it was deleted within minutes both times. The indented quotations are all from Ophelia’s post here:

    I’ll explain why, as succinctly as I explained it to DJ (and Carrie) the day after threat-day.

    “Threat-day”? What threat? You made it up, Ophelia. You yourself admitted that there never was a threat, simply an over-zealous, friendly letter from one of your own sympathizers concerned (ludicrously) for your safety. For goodness sake, we are supposed to be SKEPTICS. You hardly need any degree of skepticism to see that your “threat” email was no such thing.

    I think he stuck a metaphorical target on me.

    WHAT was that, Ophelia? DJ stuck a metaphorical target on YOU? Such staggering hypocrisy!

    He didn’t do anything to take it off. He didn’t do anything to assure me that he still welcomed me to TAM.

    Ophelia, I suspect that that is exactly what he did do. Will you publish your correspondence with DJ so that we can judge for ourselves? Or is it against the rules for a skeptic to ask a WOMAN for evidence?

    He triggered a shit-storm, and then let it get worse and worse and worse.

    No, Ophelia, any objective skeptic would agree that YOU triggered a shit-storm, you and your bullying colleagues: PZ Myers (who is so admirably skeptical EXCEPT when talking about this one ridiculous issue), Greg Laden (who tried to get Abbie Smith fired from her university, much to their amusement) and the Skepchicks (how can any woman complain of being “objectified” when she calls herself a “chick”?)
    Incidentally, I don’t understand how you can honestly deny the bullying, when it is spread out in front of your nose, in comment thread after comment thread. The moment a commenter has the temerity to exercise a tiny modicum of skepticism and ask for a smidgen of EVIDENCE for anything said by a woman (other than a gender traitor or a sister punisher of course) the bullies all pile in with depressing unison, baaing like hysterical sheep. How DARE you ask X for evidence. X is a woman, isn’t that enough evidence for you? “Listen to the women”.
    You triggered a shit-storm, Ophelia, when you invented a “threat”, and drama-queened it up to a level of manic hysteria excessive even by Freethought Blogs’ standards. Thank goodness, at least, for Thunderfoot – until that true and honest skeptic gets fed up with the company he finds himself in and goes elsewhere.

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