You Must Always Be Nice: why I’m not being nice to DJ Grothe

Women supporting harassment are told they're just recounting "locker room tales" and "sexual exploits"... BUT SOME GUY CALLED ME A DOUCHEBAG SO BOTH SIDES ARE EQUALLY BAD.

If I’ve learned anything over the last week, it’s that there are two opposing factions that slaver at the bit to attack us feminists for different kinds of slip-ups — or perceived slip-ups, rather. There’s the “free speech” crowd who think that freethought means you should be free to use whatever racial, sexual or other slurs you want while making your arguments, who will scream and yell and build controversy over your banning them as disingenuous asses. There is, at the same time, another faction who will taunt and misconstrue and manufacture controversy over any perceived instance of being “mean”.

People like me — people who both condemn folks for using sexist slurs repeatedly and with impunity, but at the same time are willing to call people names when I get emotional — are stuck in the middle of both groups. I look like a tasty target to both sets of people because I appear to be a hypocrite. And surely I am! I mean, how could I possibly advocate not using certain insulting words when I’m willing to use other insulting words?

It’s rather easy to sort this out, of course. Though it does take a bit of intellectual honesty. And probably more patience and empathy than a certain class of reader has to hir credit.

I will readily admit that I can be a hothead. I say things that are rather impolitic, too often for my own good. In this way, I will on occasion accidentally incur splash damage to folks I really want to support. I do try to limit these occasions, but they still happen. They will continue to happen. And I will correct and amend as necessary. I am human, after all. I have emotions too. And no matter how new to this game I am, it’s my own job to win people over to my causes, and in that way, I can be my own worst enemy. Of course, there are certain folks who really want to amplify any self-inflicted damage, and who would never be won over to the specific causes I advocate, but at the same time, I’m no saint. So I can’t complain, only attempt to improve.

The concept of splash damage is a term of art both for warfare and for gaming. When you throw a grenade at a target, if your allies are near that grenade when it goes off, they’ll be damaged too, even if they weren’t the intended target. In Dungeons and Dragons, big spells or dragons’ breath will do more damage to more people than just the focal point because the attacks have range to them. People on the outskirts of that range will take less damage — “splash” — than they would if they were at the epicenter. Video games imported the concept pretty heavily, and RPGs like World of Warcraft will often include area of effect attacks that do splash damage to people semi-distant from the centre. A few games make sure that this splash damage was also done to your allies. This is why in debating we refer to accidentally hurting one’s friends instead of one’s enemies as “splash damage”.

When this happens — as it did so recently when, by my rather oblique suggestion that DJ Grothe’s bringing up his homosexuality as a shield might actually be a tell that he thinks he can’t possibly be a bad ally to women, I unintentionally stepped on the meme that “homosexuals are more likely to be misogynist” (the tl;dr of this controversy is right here) — I will readily apologize and refocus my original attack.

The reason that I do this is, while I do not under any circumstances want to retract the original statement — in this case, that DJ really needs to walk back his claim that harassment victims merely “regret” their “sexual exploits” — I likewise don’t want to hurt others (e.g. gays) in general. Homosexuals were absolutely not my target, nor would they ever be under any circumstances. I am neither a homophobe nor a pig-fucker, regardless of what accusations some trolls trump up. My arguments about DJ, and those arguments about the intersection between his treatment of women and his sexuality, are separate and distinct, and I recognized that I only had the appropriate position to make one observation and not the other. That is why I apologized, and what I apologized for.

Trolls latch onto this sort of thing though. It’s all too easy to read “he apologized for one thing, but continued attacking on another” as a not-pology — a way of saying “I’m sorry that you felt that way” rather than “my behaviour was incorrect and I’ll correct it now”. It doesn’t matter if that’s a wild misinterpretation that takes someone already primed to be uncharitable to perceive. So, the trolls attack and mischaracterize, and “big names” who believe the original argument to be incorrect for other reasons (like antipathy toward feminism) amplify — because they see it as proof that there is no actual argument to be had.

These trolls tend to think that because the person making the argument is angry, they have the upper hand in the fight — that one could easily dismiss someone who got passionate about something as being irrational. They think they can derail the situation over and over again. They want us to be talking about ANYTHING but my original point. But as I said in that apology post’s comments, I’m actually okay with their derail strategy. It gives me a chance to repeat my arguments.

But there’s one thing that’s true, no matter how much the trolls go after me. When I advocate for social change, when I advocate that certain behaviours are terribly antisocial and the people engaging in those behaviours despite repeated requests to stop should be excluded from the dialog, and yet I’m willing to use base, non-gendered, non-slur insults like “douchebag” in the course of my arguments, I am actually being entirely consistent. Sure, one set of trolls or another will ebb and flow, either dismissing me for being too mean, or taunting me that this is what I get for my nuanced view of what you should and shouldn’t say.

The thing is, it’s never been about “being nice”. My refusal to put up with people who make sexist slurs or gay slurs or racist slurs as a matter of course in “adult discussion” about topics does not undercut my ability and my right to get really angry about topics that matter — it was never a milquetoast demand that we all just get along. When I need to rhetorically slap someone in the face whom I think is normally reasonable but has a terrible blind spot, as I feel with DJ Grothe and his treatment of women working to make the movement less safe for harassment, and his terrible inability to communicate (yes, despite his use of only polite words), I will absolutely use non-oppressive terms like “douchebag”. No group of people is undercut by it save those I’m actually targeting, and the term does have a specific meaning: a douche is a device intended for use for “cleaning” vaginas, despite the fact that no such cleaning is necessary, and we have good evidence that it actually hurts the owners of said vaginas. As a commenter pointed out, it’s not even limited to those folks who have vaginas, as an anal douche, meaning it applies across all sexes, genders, and cis or trans status. My use of the term “douchebag” is only oppressive to people who think they’re doing certain underprivileged classes — like women — a favour, but are in actuality hurting them. It is widely used in feminist discourse in this manner. It is, also, a very apt descriptive for what DJ is doing.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think DJ is intentionally misogynistic — I don’t think he fits the dictionary definition of “hates women”. I believe he has a personal bete noir in feminism, which is why he so readily threw feminist bloggers under the bus as provoking fights and being intentionally controversialist and trying to tear the skeptical movement apart (as though no one but feminists were required for that). I believe he is absolutely terrible at communication, in that he cannot simply answer specific points made by specific people but instead has to ramble on and on, turning comments into essays worthy of top-level blog posting and doing all sorts of splash damage himself. I believe that DJ has a huge blind spot to the fact that his one axis of underprivilege does not inform him on other axes of privilege, considering how dismissive he’s been of women’s concerns and how intractable he’s been on this point. And I especially believe that nuanced argumentation has its place in discourse.

I also believe that when someone over a very long time frame refuses to engage those nuanced arguments, the use of non-oppressive insults is fully warranted.

I believe all this because I understand that the revolution will not be polite, so I have no misapprehension that I need to be polite to do damage where it needs to be done. I will not “be nice” when people are douchebags to women in general, no matter how good of people they might be otherwise. I will be furious. I will mix my argumentation with exactly the amount of vitriol I feel. It is part of my honest reaction. I wouldn’t ever argue so long and so hard about something if I wasn’t passionate. One must NOT always be nice. One must take care not to do damage to people that are not your targets, but one must not try to civilly and cooly debate the issue that a whole class of people have been dealt an attack.

To that end, I reiterate: DJ Grothe, you’ve acted like a douchebag to women.

You asked why they weren’t coming to TAM, and speculated that it was because of all those terrible nasty female bloggers scaring people away. You went on to call the women reporting harassment engaging in “locker room talk” and “regretful” of “sexual exploits”. These are actively damaging, bullying and diminishing sentiments. They have no place in this discourse and absolutely merit the label of “acted like a douchebag to women”.

If you are insulted by my assessment of these actions, perhaps you could consider the fact that I and many others would desperately love to see you apologize to all the women bloggers and all the harassment victims that you expressly did NOT apologize to for those remarks. Yes, I’m aware that you apologized to Rebecca Watson, but you doubled down on all the rest by maintaining that there are people expressly trying to foment controversy.

Here I am, then. I’m fomenting controversy.

If that’s what it takes to get your attention, here’s the controversy right here. DJ, apologize for being a douchebag to women. You’ve apologized to Rebecca, surely you can apologize to others. That action would do very much to build bridges and repair the fallout from this situation.

Here’s what an apology looks like, for reference. State what you did wrong, why it was wrong, and apologize for those actions. If you want to refocus your attack, that’s fine. Just don’t refocus it on these people who do not deserve it. Refocus it instead on those people who are driving this war against the very idea of having a harassment policy.

I, and others, have at great lengths told you what you did wrong, and how you failed miserably at apologizing for those wrongdoings. If you have any intention of building bridges, of being the better person, apologize for those transgressions.

The moment you do, I’ll apologize for not being nice.

You Must Always Be Nice: why I’m not being nice to DJ Grothe
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30 thoughts on “You Must Always Be Nice: why I’m not being nice to DJ Grothe

  1. 1

    Just wanted to say: This summarizes my opinion on the whole situation nicely. Everyone screws up. I’ve screwed up, you’ve screwed up, my parents have screwed up, my siblings have screwed up, my friends and extended family have all screwed up. If I have kids, they’ll screw up. I don’t know a single person who can honestly say, “I’ve never screwed something up.”

    The trick is not in not screwing up, it’s in how you deal with it. And the best way I’ve found is this: Admit your fault, apologize, and learn.

  2. 2

    But it is really ALL about distracting from the real issues, when it comes to the trolls, tone- and otherwise. Everyone who is correct on this issue …I was going to type “everyone on one side of the issue” but there’s not really another side to it, just hateful shit-weasels being hateful… has been attacked from contradictory angles. You’re too rude in your language, AND you’re too politically correct about the language other people use. You’re too authoritarian, AND you’re a fucking lefty liberal socialist hippie. You’re a homophobe AND you irrationally support gay rights. You’re “fomenting controversy”, and I’m going to try to turn as many people as I can against you for doing it.

    It isn’t a position or an argument in any real sense, it is simply howling at the moon in anger and fear with the hope of drowning out any real discussion.

  3. 3

    Sure, everyone has probably said or done things that they later regreted. Some people own up to their poor behaviour, some don’t.

    In any event, I think that you have gone beyond the point in this mini-debacle where it would be fair to say that you are your own worst enemy, and I don’t have a dog in this fight.

    I’m not trying to ‘troll’ you, just offering my opinion for what it is worth.

  4. 4

    Thank you steveschulers. Considering a lot of the other stuff that’s still pending in moderation from you on other threads, that was a hell of a nice sentiment.

  5. 5

    No problem, bro.

    As per my comments in moderation, it’s not that big a deal to me if my thoughts are published or not. I’m glad you read them as you were the intended recipient of what I had to say, not the world at large. I don’t care one way or another if they are ever published, what I said is neither something I am particularly proud of or ashamed of so…whatever.

    Peace to Ya’, Bro


  6. 6

    Grothe has receded into his turtle shell and will not emerge for some time, I suspect. That is, if he ever finds it important enough to deal with this.

  7. 7

    I don’t doubt you’re right, kagerato, but if DJ intends to treat this the way Dawkins did after “Dear Muslima”, that’s pretty telling too. He’s been explained why it’s wrong, without rampant swear words. If he refuses to “get it” now, I can’t help but think he doesn’t WANT to get it.

  8. 8

    FWIW, I think you’re giving waaaaaay too much credit to the “free speech!!”/”be nice!!!” crowd that pop up every time this subject comes up.

    The entire reason they use those two ridiculous non-arguments is because they can’t, in any reasonable sense, defend what they really want to defend – the ‘right’ of every man to treat any woman like his own personal petting zoo. That’s why they pout about imaginary censorship and/or tone troll.

  9. 11

    Illuminata and Giliell: I did this not to give these people any credence, but to build a strong argument for why the trolls shouldn’t be believed. There are a lot of people whom I like and respect who got completely suckered in by their nonsense.

  10. 12

    Plus, like I said, it gave me yet another chance to reiterate my original argument. I notice the trolls aren’t picking THIS one apart or complaining about my mean-ness!

  11. 13

    Jason: You are a coward and a bully. You block people who comment here for no good reason and continue to levy personal attacks at the blocked people (and DJ). While I appreciate people who blog and believe they can contribute to ‘the movement,’ I take great issue with you banning church/state activists fighting for the civil rights of atheists, taking a public stand in lawsuits, etc and dismissing them as trolls.

  12. 15

    Right – the pair of you. ENOUGH!

    As I have said previously – fight the issue – not each other. Both behaving like children TBH. You are obth adults – start behaving like adults, and cut the blog vs blog backbiting crap.

  13. 16

    As I’m sure you know, I still don’t think you needed to apologize. I got the context of the comment. So did anyone else who wanted to find it. This is coming from someone who has apologized on the internet more than once.

    Douchebags are called douchebags because, well…they act like douchebags. It’s a description, not an insult. An apt one, at that.

    Just like Vacuous Shitbag Trolls. They are vacuous. They are trolls. Not every Vacuous Troll is a shitbag, but certainly vacuous trolling is a popular pastime among shitbags- so I’d say vacuous trolling is a symptom of shitbaggery. If the shitbag fits…..

    Different people have different ways of expressing ideas. Some are downright nasty, some are harsh, some are even-handed, some are wishy-washy. The internet is a big place, and if you don’t like how people are saying things, you are free to find a different place to visit. I don’t hang out in slime pits, for example. I don’t get all holier than thou at ERV.
    I don’t bitch about “tone” over at Pharyngula- though I sometimes find those threads harsher than necessary.
    You know what I do? I just don’t comment. I move on. I go to a blog that suits my style and argue the EXACT same issue with people I can tolerate. Or even–or even–I blog about it myself! Can you believe that?

    Ahh, novel ideas….

  14. 17

    Can I assume from the link @14 that Justin has decided to chime in?
    Listen Justin- You gotta stop this. If you don’t like the tone that Jason uses then just go find a bunch of wishy-washy blogs to follow and comment on. Everyone is not obliged to follow rules of ettiquette that you dictate. You are not, contrary to your obvious illusions of grandeur, the Pope of the Intertubes.

    There are people more even-handed than Jason. There are people more harsh than him, too. Nobody forces you to read posts on Lousy Canuck, or Almost Diamonds, or any other blog. “Tone” is a preference- one that the blogger gets to control. If his tone isn’t popular- he’ll get less hits. He’ll end up with a cheering section of five that tells him how right he is all the time.

    After a cursory look at your blog, I can tell that you are an egotistical, self-important jackoff. You are so sure that your opinions are important- are meaningful.

    Deep down, below the surface of your abject arrogance, I think you know that they are empty.

    Why else would you have to mold reality to make yourself look good? Facts aren’t malleable. They are facts. When you go on about the Vacuous Shitbag Troll label- you act as though everything was peaches before you twisted Jasons comment. You were a vacuous troll long before that- and you know it.

    The word “vacuous”- since I have to assume that you don’t understand large words- means “empty”. Did you know that?
    Empty is a pretty good discriptive word for your responses in the comment section of that post. They didn’t address the issue at all. They didn’t add to the conversation. They were speaking to hear your own voice. That, dear Justin, is “vacuous”.

    “Troll”, in internet usage, is someone who comes into a thread to deliberately derail the topic and make people angry. You came into a thread, deliberately derailed the topic, and made people angry. Thus, you are a troll.

    “Shitbag” is something that is more of an opinion that piggybacks off of the factual descriptors “vacuous” and “troll”.
    Are you a shitbag? I am at the point where I think I can say with confidence that you are. When I think of a “Shitbag”, I imagine a sack, stinking up every place it inhabits- oozing feces from various orifices. I imagine Shitbags are filled with nothing of value, I imagine their presence ruins otherwise good spaces. I think that they spew substance, but it is the kind everyone would rather do without. You, Justin, are a Shitbag.

    DJ is a douchebag, you are a vacuous shitbag troll- and those are not just rude opinions. They are descriptors for people who meet the factual requirements for their useage.

    There are blogs out there that will discuss this issue without calling a spade a spade. I suggest you go find those blogs and enjoy your time there, though I bet you wouldn’t be interested in that kind of blog either. That blog is having a measured on-topic conversation. You seem unable to grasp what a “topic” is.

  15. 20

    @disengenuous asshole (#14):

    “I take great issue with you banning church/state activists fighting for the civil rights of atheists, taking a public stand in lawsuits, etc and dismissing them as trolls.”

    Guwah ? Yes, I see. If we can’t harass women freely in public, that means we will soon be ruled by a theocracy. Makes perfect sense. Are you literally incapable of addressing the problem? Was this sort of dishonesty brainwashed into you from an early age, or do you just enjoy it?

    @smhll (#19):

    Yes, because if I can’t rule the Internet, no one can. >_<

    Private property? Free speech? Fuck all that. Harrassing women is so much more important!

    Seriously, mockery is the only thing left at this point.

  16. 21

    Perhaps if Grothe does apologise you shouldn’t apologise for not being nice. No one should apologise for something they did deliberately to lay down offence. Im pretty sure apologies don’t work like that. Equally, unless Grothe actually recognises that he has made an error he shouldn’t apologise either. An apology cannot be demanded if it is to have any meaning.

  17. 22

    Justins comment @14 betrays the whole problem he has.

    I take great issue with you banning church/state activists fighting for the civil rights of atheists, taking a public stand in lawsuits, etc and dismissing them as trolls.

    Behavior doesn’t get a pass because it comes from someone who is otherwise respected. DJ has, to my knowledge, been an otherwise effective advocate. He said something epically stupid though, and that behaviour should and is being criticized. He doesn’t get a pass.

    Richard Dawkins, too, has recently made comments that prompted criticism. He is among the more respected atheists in the movement. He said something epically stupid, and that behaviour should be and was criticized. He doesn’t get a pass.

    Just because you are right most of the time does not mean that your words and actions are raised above criticism. When you troll a blog- and I don’t care if you are Martin Motherfucking Luther King, when-you-troll-a-blog…..people are going to call you a troll. Why?
    Because you are being a troll.

    That may not be the defining characteristic of who you are- but it is an honest description of your actions at that moment.
    People know who DJ is- he holds an important position within the atheist community. People know who Dawkins is- he has earned a place of respect. They still get called out when they do something unbelievably idiotic.

    So excuse me if I’m less than moved when some guy from a small and insignificant atheist advocacy group(that may have at some point done something positive for the advancement of human rights)comes into a conversation trying to derail the discussion-then expects us to search the backwoods of the intertubes to investigate why his word is Gospel and his actions are infallible.

    If people who are honestly important-in that place we call reality outside of their own mind– don’t get a pass for bad behaviour, why on earth do you?

  18. 23

    To belabor the gaming metaphor a little more, Justin seems to think that good deeds build up, like, a karmic shield around the good-deed-doer. That when you do a lot of good deeds, then it gives you license to do the occasional bad deed without taking any damage from it. It just knocks your shields down a bit, and you can recharge them by doing more good deeds, or apologizing, or something.

    But that’s not the case. Doing good deeds is great, but it doesn’t grant you the ability to then go and do a bunch of stupid/bad stuff without incurring damage. It means we hold you to a higher standard, and that when you screw up, it hurts more because we expect better of you.

    Keeping in game terms, good deeds give you experience points. After awhile, you level up. But as your level increases, so do the stakes and the difficulties of the challenges. One would hope that someone of DJ’s high level would be up to those challenges, but it looks like “thoughtful communication” was his dump stat.

  19. 26

    It never ceases to amaze me how all the MRA’s/PUA’s whose voices seem to dominate and drive the agendas and discussions in the atheist movement are screeching hysterically about “feminazis”, “false accusations”, blaming women for being the problem because of our “special interest” issues and instigating a “witch hunt”, when they’ve been the ones that relentlessly threatened and harassed Rebecca Watson for nearly a year for the “crime” of saying “guys, please don’t do that” (i.e. speaking up for her rights when Living While Female) and leveled some pretty ugly threats and insults at Greta Christina as well.

    And they claim that THEY are the targets of a “witch hunt?” Perspective, please.

    This is against a nationwide backdrop of cruel and punitive laws that have stripped women and girls of our rights to access reliable birth control and abortion even in the event of rape, and which have criminalized women for having miscarriages and stillbirths and which have literally slapped women with cruel deaths from pregnancy complications in emergency rooms nationwide under the “Let Women Die” laws which absolve doctors, ER staff, et al, from criminal patient abandonment for letting pregnant women die from treatable fatal pregnancy complications rather than perform life-saving abortions — all in the name of “religious liberty.”

    In nearly every state over the past decade, various “fetal homicide” laws were passed that have criminalized pregnant women for refusing unnecessary C-sections, and for having stillbirths and miscarriages without definitive proof whether their “lifestyles” during their pregnancies caused these negative pregnancy outcomes.

    To date, over 300 women across the nation are either in prison or are sitting in jails pending adjudication for miscarriages and stillbirths — some like Rennie Gibbs of Mississippi who was sentenced to life imprisonment last July for a stillbirth she had at age 15. Over 60 women are in jail pending adjudication for stillbirths and miscarriages in Alabama alone.

    These laws, which have elevated the “rights” of a fetus and subordinated those of its mother, are also costing pregnant women their lives in hospitals across the US.

    The good ol’ boys complaining about “witch hunts” over being told that there should be anti-sexual harassment policies for their conferences and events wouldn’t know what a real witch hunt was if it hit them upside their collective snot-locker.

    And if they think that all these laws specifically targeting women for invasive body policing and stripping us of our most basic of human rights, namely the right to life, bodily autonomy and bodily integrity, in a society saturated with rapists’ rights in a culture of impunity for men is merely “special interest issue” that the good ol’ boys — who will NEVER have to suffer an unwanted and/or medically dangerous pregnancy against their will and possibly die from it or end up incarcerated for any result that does not culminate in a healthy, bouncing baby — is all so unimportant, I wonder if their girlfriends, wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces, and future potential sexual conquests and bed victims know just how irrelevant their lives are in the eyes of the movement’s privileged white maledom that somehow gets to decide for the rest of us what is a “witch hunt” and a “special interest issue” and what is not.

    When 51% of the population who happens to be the most oppressed group here and across the world is told that the injustices and human rights violations committed against us don’t matter, that men have a right to an orgasm at our expense no matter the harm to us as a result, that is not a special interest issue. It is socially approved oppression, torture, cruelty, abuse, and a crime against humanity. The secular architects of the UN Convention on Torture and Article 7(g) of the Rome Statute in the ICC would agree.

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