Ron Lindsay and the Myth of the Feminists Who "Cry 'Sexist'" (Updated)

Update: Ron Lindsay has acknowledged that he was wrong and said that he would have corrected the record at the time if he’d understood that it was important. Please also see a correction near the end of this post.

You’ve seen the complaint before. “These feminists didn’t address my argument. They just called me names”, where “calling names” means identifying someone’s behavior as sexism, misogyny, rape apologia, etc. As far as I can tell, it’s meant to signal either that we are less rational than those whose behavior we label or that we don’t have a counterargument.

There are good reasons to sometimes skip the argument. Sometimes we’re talking to audiences we’re confident can recognize the problems in the original argument. Sometimes these are ongoing arguments where one party has already done all the productive arguing they can do. Sometimes the timing or the medium is terrible for productive argument, but we don’t think the behavior should go completely unremarked. Sometimes we don’t think the person whose behavior we’re talking about would be receptive to argument or argue in good faith.

Sometimes, however, the statement itself is simply false.

There’s a lot of backstory on this one, but the short version of the events that led to our current situation is that in August 2013, PZ Myers published a rape accusation against Michael Shermer, and in September 2014, Mark Oppenheimer published more details on this accusation and others at Buzzfeed. Since the original post, PZ’s relationship with a number of prominent atheist voices has suffered, and this became more overt after the Buzzfeed article came out. PZ has not been quiet about his contempt for calls for silence. His detractors, who supported him when he expressed his contempt for religious apologetics, are less happy about his contempt for their behavior.

This came to something of a head about three weeks ago, when Michael Nugent elevated his complaints against PZ from the thousands of words spent on his personal blog to a statement from the organization that has had him as its sole chair for all of its existence. Hemant Mehta took the opportunity to agree that PZ’s contempt is a problem and say that PZ has issued tirades against him, though he declined to identify any of these tirades when asked. In doing so, he suggested that PZ should also not call the slime pit, a group dedicated to a 3.5-year-long harassment campaign against both PZ and me, among others, “trolls”.

As for Myers himself, he responsed on Twitter with a sarcastic “Oh no! I’ve been disowned by the slymepit!”… in other words, associating Atheist Ireland with an online forum that frequently criticizes and mocks him and is populated by people he deems trolls (even though they correctly uncovered plagiarism on his blog network). In other words, he didn’t care.

Rebecca Watson, one of the pit’s prime targets, wrote a post about why Mehta’s post was a problem, with the title, “The Friendly Atheist Endorses a Hate Forum”. Then Ron Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, used the organization’s blog to suggest she should apologize to Mehta and to say, “There is nothing in that post that can be properly characterized, by any imaginative to stretch of the English language, as an endorsement of The Slymepit.”

I was alerted to the post almost immediately, because that’s how feminism in these movements work these days. I tweeted about it and got into the following discussion.

This was when Lindsay posted the two tweets above. There’s just one little problem. Well, two, really. The first problem is that parallel to my discussion with Monette and others, I was having this one with Rebecca. It’s snarky. It is not remotely respectful of the fact that someone with a suit and a responsible title disagreed with us. But it is very much an argument against Lindsay’s position.

Worse than that, however, is the fact that before I tweeted anything about Lindsay’s post, I commented on it. This is also an argument.

Actually, Ron, yes, there is an endorsement in there. It isn’t the world’s most broad or ringing endorsement, but the idea that it’s somehow strange to call the people who have spent nearly four years now harassing me, Rebecca Watson, and other outspoken feminists “trolls” is saying we should take them more seriously than that. Saying we should do that because they uncovered plagiarism in those many years of obsessive scrutiny of their targets is saying they have value.

As Lindsay tweeted his claim that I wasn’t engaging his argument, I was, in fact, dealing with slime pitters in the comments of his organization’s blog, on his post, to do just that. It was a ridiculous, tedious argument, wherein the people I argued with insisted English is my second language while trying to tell me the words “even though” are a placeholder with no meaning, but it was clearly an argument over his claim.

Lindsay did not take part in that argument. Instead he took to Twitter to tell the world I was calling him sexist in lieu of defending my position. Nor did he correct himself when I tweeted this.

This is the point in my post where I remind you that Lindsay had just written a blog post to talk about how important it was to be accurate in criticizing someone.

This is the point where I note how sexist it is to have strict standards for feminists that you don’t apply to your own behavior. And that this isn’t the first time Lindsay has attempted to impose such standards.

Meanwhile, on Rebecca’s end:

Lindsay didn’t respond. When offered a solution to the problem he considered so pressing it had to appear on his organization’s blog, he ignored it. Update: I was incorrect about this. While there is no response to this tweet, Lindsay’s response is here.

Now, believe it or not, this isn’t a post about Ron Lindsay. As he says, he’s retiring in December. If he chooses to make his legacy in his last months lying about the behavior of feminists, well, CFI has withstood worse. So have feminists in the atheist and skeptic movements.

The real problem here is that it was so easy for him to do this. The problem is that, despite his history of going aggressively enough after both feminists in general and Rebecca in specific that he had to apologize to his own institution, people were quick to believe–and spread as truth–what he said.

I don’t just mean slime pitters, either, though they were tickled to have someone with such a high profile spread their favorite “These feminists can’t handle arguments” meme. People who insist we be careful and accurate when arguing about religion retweeted Lindsay without so much as looking to see that I’d replied to tell him he was wrong.

That’s the problem here. I don’t think these people apply the same blatant double-standards to feminists that Lindsay has demonstrated he does. They do, however, show a bias in what and who they’re willing to believe on the topic of feminist behavior. To be frank, the idea that feminists in these movements don’t argue how and why the people they disagree with are wrong–or even sexist–is ludicrous.

But that’s how these movements work these days. Myths about feminism fly, even at and from the top. And now, having spent several hundred words of argument to make that point, this is where I say that’s incredibly sexist. And yes, that’s an issue.

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Ron Lindsay and the Myth of the Feminists Who "Cry 'Sexist'" (Updated)
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11 thoughts on “Ron Lindsay and the Myth of the Feminists Who "Cry 'Sexist'" (Updated)

  1. 1

    You know what? If I had to choose between
    – dissolving the slymepit and the harassment it instigates and
    – not discovering that one case of plagiarism.
    I would have no problem choosing to dissolve the slymepit. Not if that one blogger plagiarized for a hundred more years to come.
    And I do not understand anyone who would think that was a difficult choice to make.

  2. 2

    @1 Konradius:

    Let’s not say “dissolving the symepit” because of freeze peach and all that. Also, I’m not liking the visuals that go along with dissolving slime, eww.

    Instead, let’s imagine for a moment that all of these people suddenly discover other hobbies. Wouldn’t that be a charming thought? Playing the tuba. Collecting stamps. Not collecting stamps. Cleaning up local roadways. Taking care of cats. The possibilities are endless!

    Nah, I suppose all those things pale in comparison to the rush that comes when you photoshop somebody’s head onto a goat. Never mind.

  3. 3

    Disgusting as the Slymepit is, I would oppose any attempt to destroy it. Kicking its members off private property is fine, but trying to get the website itself pulled would be a genuine violation of their right to speak freely.

    I just wish our dear leaders would treat the Slymepit as the repellent garbage it is.

  4. 4

    Lindsay’s response, and the fact that he feels perfectly comfortable wading in on this, show the tremendous hubris of privilege. I can’t imagine very many people who would be so eager or willing to be so openly ham handed in punching down – after being publically excoriated, requiring a public apology, for going after the same individual on the same issue previously. Anyone else would have remembered that a subject that they had blundered so badly in is a minefield, and kept their trap shut. He has no embarrassment or learning from the previous round of public humiliation, and worse, no ownership of his divisiveness in the movement. What an ego!

  5. 5

    hell, I made one longass storify that shows how full of shit Mehta was for saying the pit doesn’t deserve the label “trolls” for that one useful thing they did that one time. but sure, nitpicking over whether it was “endorsing” or more accurately “condoning”, “excusing”, “whitewashing”, “lauding” or any number of similar terms is soooo much more important than actually dealing with the reality of what the pit is.

    also, because pitters actually think I made the storify to defend PZ, one of them actually proposed a deal where both pit & PZ to stop all internet activity for 6 months, and just assumed I’d be against it. But actually? that’d be totes worth it. Hell, if banning PZ from the internet forever would also remove all pitters from the internet forever… *throws PZ under the bus* :-p

  6. 6

    Heck, PZ would probably go for it. Of course, he’d also believe (and likely state) that it’s not likely to be an actual ban for him for long because there’s no way most of the people in the pit would actually shut up willingly. Many of them seem to come from the ‘I’m not touching youuuuuuu’ school of debate tactics.

  7. 9

    I take back the “asshole” comment, though he’s certainly not particularly graceful about his mode of responding to certain individuals’ disagreement, even when they are responding thoughtfully to the subject matter. The disdain really comes through sometimes, and my pattern recognition seems to trigger on it being primarily women that he acts that way toward. Maybe he’s just like that to everyone, who knows.

  8. 11

    I’m sorry, my #10 is probably unfair. I’m just extra-frustrated because I really like CFI. They have so many great people doing great things there, and, while I certainly cannot claim to know Lindsay’s thoughts, he seems to have a way of often shooting off his mouth in a way that makes him (and CFI by proxy) look really bad.

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