The Petition to Ask Freethought Blogs and Skepchick to "Return to Critical Thinking"

I’m not going to pretend that this petition by Rocko 2246 from Australia is going to succeed, but it merits discussion at least. In fact, unless we have a crowdsourced effort by people at this blog and others on “our side” of the great rift, I seriously doubt they could get 100 unique signatures per their current goal, which is at 21 signatures (at time of writing).

If any part of this petition were unequivocally true, I would throw my full weight behind it because the picture it paints of our community… oh, it is dire. It is evidently a response to Adam Lee’s petition to the leaders of our communities, asking them to not fall for Thunderfoot’s framings on certain issues — given that the Foot has apparently spread a few of these videos around to the leaders of our communities asking them to “shun” the feminists “pouring poison” in the ears of said communities. This petition is apparently the third motion in a back-and-forth that started by Thunderfoot.

Stephanie alerted us to this petition’s existence, otherwise I’d never have known it was created. It is vitally important that we know, though. Considering we’re the subject matter, and if they succeed in getting a hundred signatures FtB will be the recipient of an email that reads as follows, I figure I should make sure everyone’s absolutely aware what 21 people (at time of writing) want us to do:

To:, FreeThoughtBlogs
Return to critical thinking and respectful free exchange of ideas
[Your name]

So, if this petition fails in its goal, I want to make absolutely certain that it does not fail as a result of being underpublicized. Basically, I want to make sure it doesn’t fail on account of me. And I will consider it, in its entirety, on its merits. Because that is what one does with the respectful free exchange of ideas: thinking critically about them.

As I said, there’s precious little that actually appears to reflect reality in this petition. It’s exceptionally well-worded — well, the part of it that isn’t in the “letter to be delivered” portion, anyway — but it simply does not describe any reality with which I am acquainted. It’s another facet of my parallel universes hypothesis of the secular and atheist movements — the demands depend entirely on framing by people who feel they have been unfairly burned by our uncompromising viewpoints on feminist or other social justice topics.

To wit:

For a number of years now,, FreeThoughtBlogs and some associated sites have been portraying the online skeptic and atheist community as rife with misogyny and unwelcoming to women. This attitude has particularly been encouraged by persons who are considered to be at the higher echelons of those named sites.

Freethought Blogs has existed for just over one year. While I suppose one IS a number, normally “a number of years” indicates that a site has existed for longer than one. But that’s hair-splitting.

The REAL part that I take exception to in this quote is the word “rife”.

Certainly, if 99.9% of a community is progressive and capable of critically examining the sexism in the society, and the other 0.1% of the community is entrenched in their sexism, and extraordinarily vocal about their beliefs that they are both NOT sexist and that their views are simply a difference of opinion, and that their views on the proper place for women in their community is “equality as long as we don’t have to do anything to address any present imbalances because there totes aren’t any imbalances because EQUALITY BY FIAT BITCHES”, then there’s SOME representation of those ideations. Obviously some of our “upper echelon” will oppose these ideations. That is, in fact, a difference of opinion. But the word “rife” implies that the vocal minority is anything other than a minority. Unless we’re using a different definition of the word “rife”, where we recognize that something can be infested by something else even at very low volumes. For instance, a dog bed might be considered “rife” with fleas if there are only a few fleas, even though those fleas make up a tiny fraction of a percentage of the volume of the dog bed.

These people appear to have uncritically and wholly accepted ideas of gender feminism (as opposed to equity feminism) and have been making factual claims made to support gender feminism which can be found to be wholly incorrect through the application of critical thinking and considered research. These people have also been wholly resistant to the application of any critical thinking in relation to this ideology and the claims made.

The “gender feminism” vs “equity feminism” distinction was entirely invented by Christina Hoff Sommers. As far as I can tell, she invented the distinction in order to try to retake the word “feminism” for conservative libertarians like her. “Equity feminism” appears to be “you’re equal by fiat, be damned your actual experiences”, and “gender feminism” — while described as any attempt to make women better than men — is about any attempt at actually fixing imbalances that are in fact present in society. In fact, “gender feminism” is everything except “equity feminism”, and “gender feminism” is the enemy according to adherents to Sommers’ version of “feminism”. And as far as I can tell, it is entirely used by people who espouse libertarian values with regard to how far one should go in “policing” — read, chastising people for — bad behaviour. I have never encountered someone using the “gender”/”equity” split who actually knew a damn thing about feminist theory or current schools of feminism or feminist ideology.

The fact that considered research exists and pretty much informs every aspect of ACTUAL feminism and feminist pushback against legal abrogations of women’s rights and every aspect of the patriarchal society we fight against, suggests to me that in point of fact, we feminists ARE applying critical thinking and considered research to our understanding of the world. If there is research that suggests that any aspect of my personal ideology is incorrect, I would be happy to revisit that ideology. That the people most opposed to my ideology are completely unwilling or unable to provide any such research suggests to me further that I have little to worry about with regard to being unduly resistant to such research.

The adoption of this ideology, and surrender of principles of critical thinking, has been accompanied by a divisive approach of attaching unwarranted labels such as “misogynist”, “MRA”, “chill girl” and “gender traitor”.

The really cool part of this assertion is the fact that one person who is not actually affiliated with Skepchick or Freethought Blogs applied the term “gender traitor” to a person with anti-feminist sentiments, and the majority of the people itemized in the letter’s targets disagreed with that phrasing. So I can probably safely ignore the “gender traitor” nonsense.

The even cooler part is MRA, which stands for “Men’s Rights Activist”. There are actual people who truly believe that MEN are the underprivileged gender, and fight feminists for the purpose of undercutting their fights for equality. Many of us have, by including feminism in our humanism, had to tangle with these irrational and unskeptical folks. These so-called “activists” never actually fight for MEN’S rights, mind. Mostly because they care more about stopping feminists, than they do about actually fixing the disadvantages of being a man that stem from the self-same patriarchy that feminists fight constantly.

And “chill girl” is of course when a woman says “I’m a woman and I’m totally okay with this treatment so your feminism is wrong”. Coz, see, this girl is chill about that treatment and not all uptight like you uppity feminists. It’s a real phenomenon, as though YOUR gender provides some kind of prophylactic effect against the biases you espouse against certain genders. The descriptive is certainly not damning outright. And it was invented by a girl who was anti-feminist — a self-description. Why not own it?

And then there’s the butt-hurt about being called a misogynist. This is, almost every single time, a “dictionary” argument against misogyny — “but but but I totes don’t hate women!” The fact that their constant attacks on feminism undercutting women in general never occurs to them as qualifying — because they aren’t cartoon caricatures of Yosemite Sam hopping up and down screaming “oooh, I hates them wimminz”, they can’t possibly be misogynist.

But this argument is almost identical to when people who say “I’m not racist but” and follow it up with a clause that’s terribly racist. Just denying that you’re actually sexist against women doesn’t absolve you — however, the idea that you’re unknowingly prejudiced against women just doesn’t even register with some of these people.

Like so:

These labels are generally, if not always, levelled only on the basis that the person labelled has applied critical thinking to the ideas underlying the ideology of gender feminism and the polite expression of disagreement or scepticism at the factual claims or narratives espoused by the gender feminists within the atheist and skeptic community.

See? The idea that they’re unknowingly sexist didn’t even register in Rocko’s petition. It’s a false dichotomy. Either these people are rampantly and stridently anti-woman, or they’re mislabelled just for their being totes skeptical of feminist claims. It never occurs to Rocko that some of the people labelled, say, “misogynist”, might actually hold viewpoints that actively damage women in society, and that expressing these viewpoints, no matter how politely, is still misogynist even if these people aren’t at all Yosemite Sam.

The unwarranted attachment of these labels has then been used to justify otherwise unwarranted claims that those people at the sites are being harassed or harangued by the persons so labelled. The conduct unfairly labelled as harassment is then deemed grounds to ban or block those people are ‘harassers’ on the sites purporting to be the face of the atheist and skeptic community to the rest of the world.

If the conduct labelled as harassment is perceived as harassment, then people have the right to curate their own online experiences. That some people think it’s totally in proportion to create multiple blogs — not blog posts, whole blogs — devoted to poring over minute details about a person’s life to try to prove them as frauds for asking for money to handle living expenses (and buying appropriate work shoes) while they pay for medically-necessary hysterectomies out of pocket, that’s enough to block them. That some people create a number of “parody” accounts to trick people into believing that certain folks on our side of the community are saying and doing things that they never would do, that’s enough to block them. That some people repeatedly demand resources from a person to answer certain claims or to refute lies made up from whole cloth, preventing these people from actually spending those resources on things that would improve the community, that’s enough to block them. That people would repeatedly mistreat or insult us, that’s enough to block them. None of this is “civil disagreement.”

But apparently by having a blog, we’re obligated to give voice to people who hate us and everything we do, and who have zero evidence or nuanced argumentation to show for it. And any time we say “enough’s enough, I’m blocking you to put a stop to this ‘civil disagreement’ that involves terrible insults and terrible argumentation and a total dearth of evidence”, then we’re ABROGATING FREE SPEECH.

Of course, when the other side does it — and I’ve been blocked and banned on my share of social media and blogs, thank you very much, and never once complained about it — that’s totally acceptable and totally reasonable.

Perhaps if you give some examples, some real proof that any of these bannings and blocks were totally unjustified, maybe we would have to accept that criticism. However, as the recipient of a milder form of the same harassment that’s driven people like Natalie Reed and Jen McCreight from the community entirely, I don’t see any evidence showing that anyone’s reactions to “perceived harassment” are out of proportion to the actual events driving these people to curate their online interactions. Nor is your right to post on my blog so overriding that it merits a bloody petition, in my ever-so-humble opinion.

This behaviour, which is often directed at new people who are not aware that this behaviour is endemic to the sites named above, drives away potential members and discourages existing members from continuing to be actively involved. Those driven away include a large number of women, who do not associate with the gender feminist ideology and cannot uncritically accept ideas just because these ideas support their own opinions about how the world should be. Those driven away will also include those in other minority groups who consider there is an unwarranted and petty focus on the unfounded claims of oppression or harassment by those at the higher echelons of the community (being those who are being paid within a funded system of a profitable website to blog and opine about atheist / skeptic issues and including those who are in leadership positions in otherwise respected secular organisations, such as the Centre for Inquiry).

Aside from all the repeated “feminists can’t do critical thought” charges, there is the charge that some people are caught in the crossfire — that they accidentally trip people’s “troll triggers” and incorrectly determine that someone holding a set of viewpoints is there to harass and add to the background radiation of sexism that permeates society in general. Yes, “newbies” who might otherwise be simply clueless, and who believe things that are totally normal and baseline in a society that has a baseline level of sexism, might end up getting “bitten” by tenured commenters or even bloggers who have been around that particular mulberry bush all too often already. It’s the same idea as when the five hundredth theist you’ve encountered has, YET AGAIN, trotted out Pascal’s Wager and you’re forced to, YET AGAIN, say “that only works if there’s only one God, and that God is the one your religion describes”. You get tired. You snap at the person who earnestly believes that thing that’s so patently obviously wrong to you.

And this is a minor problem. Snapping at newbies is a minor problem. But that’s why you make 101-level spaces, that you can direct these newbie away from the more advanced discussion that happens when people have been involved in a movement for decades and don’t have either the will or the energy to walk yet another person through the basics.

But that is not any sort of unique challenge in our communities. Nor is it damning of our activists that some of us are tired of going through the most basic of discussions from square one repeatedly. Not when atheists suffer from the same experience when discussing basic concepts like the Problem of Evil or Pascal’s Wager.

When sweeping and unsubstantiated claims are made that harassment is occurring on a large scale both within the online community and at conventions, without any apparent evidence and based only on the expression of disagreement with ideas, it also makes the community unappealing to women who are unfamiliar with the behaviour perpetrated by those at the named blogs and consider that they may be at physical risk if attending conventions or participating in the online community.

Whoa nelly. There’s a whopper. Even with the push to create harassment policies to provide frameworks for those rare occasions when harassment happens and it isn’t dealt with appropriately, there has never — I repeat, NEVER — been a “sweeping” or “unsubstantiated” claim that harassment is happening on a “large scale”. Not even if you define “large scale” as something like happening to a hundredth of a percent of the community as a whole. This is entirely a problem as regards the availability heuristic. People hear “there’s a problem with harassment” and they assume that one wouldn’t bring up such a problem unless it was happening in most interactions in the community. Even if a problem is problematic if it happens more than zero times, people STILL assume that by having to say “X behaviour is a problem”, it must be a “sweeping” and “large scale” problem.

I admit that newcomers might, in fact, view a problem like the one we have, with a small but terribly vocal minority of community members acting like complete shitheels to people in general because they think those damn uppity feminists are totally trying to curtail their rights, as a big enough problem to avoid the community as a whole. Look, for instance, at Laci Green, who while she had some excellent videos about atheism at the start of her Youtube celebrity career, left the community when it repeatedly mistreated her in grossly misogynist ways. Now, sure, that portion of the community might have been a miniscule and almost microscopic minority, but that minority was vocal and prolific enough to puff themselves up into being a real nuisance to her. It doesn’t surprise me that after having been disappointed this way so often, that she might decide it’s not in her best interests to stay in our community, as steeped in libertarian antifeminist sentiment as it is — even if that libertarian antifeminist wing, despite being loud and persistent, is really, REALLY tiny.

When those in the groups named above drive the participation downward with their conduct, they damage the atheist / secular community as a whole and also damage its generally accepted goal of secularising our societies. Secularising our societies would have benefit in many cases to women’s rights issues (including but not limited to issues of abortion and contraception that have become particularly concerning in the United States recently).

I agree that for the purpose of improving the secular nature of our societies, we can and should put aside differences and fight against the same religions that hurt women and gays and trans* folks and non-whites. But our alliances go only as far as stopping the religious hegemony from maintaining their stranglehold — and meanwhile, the conceits that you might have about your own treatment of women and gays and trans* folks and non-whites are completely open for discussion, whether you like it or not. You don’t get a free pass for your attitudes which damage women just because you say you’re an “equity feminist” and you claim critical thought about feminism and you’re totes on our side about the whole question of whether or not there’s a god. Sorry, but deities aren’t the only dogmas, and sexism is vulnerable to the same critical thinking processes that we use to take out religious belief. Why you’re so entrenched in these beliefs is actually important, and if I have anything to say about it, we ain’t going to stop at accepting your help for one topic then let our differences lie.

Don’t try to co-opt the fights that we’re fighting for the cause of atheism, because it seems beyond abortion and contraception where they’re fought against by the religious, there’s precious little intersection between some of your signatories’ philosophies and our own.

Well, I say that, even knowing that some of your petition’s signatories did so accidentally or in protest, including Elyse Anders of Skepchick, Will Robinson of Queereka, and A Hermit, a commenter who expressed dismay that xe signed unintentionally over at Stephanie’s blog.

In short, the organisations named above are damaging their own stated feminist goals and are damaging the goals of the atheist / skeptic community as a whole.

In short, PROVE IT.

We ask that those in the groups named above, and those associated with them, return to the community’s roots of critical thinking and the respectful free exchange of ideas.

Okay. I’m not so sure we’re anywhere removed from the roots of critical thinking and respectful free exchange of ideas. But I’m willing to make an especial commitment to valuing critical thinking and free exchange of ideas henceforth.

As long as both of these are done respectfully.

Yeah, you hamstrung your entire argument by predicating it on respect. I’ve been entirely respectful (if a touch snarky) in fisking this petition the way I have, but I expect people will react as though I’ve abused you terribly somehow just because I agreed with very nearly none of what you’ve said. Meanwhile, others are content to call me names and act as though I’m some kind of anathema to free speech and free discussion because I’ve banned twenty or so abusive commenters, then characterize their insults and abuse as mere “disagreement”.

While I could show you that every single one of the moderated commenters was abusive to dialog or grossly irrational, even where they agree more with your ideologies than my own, and while I could show you that each of them has since managed to say something worth posting in my estimation despite being in moderation, I could certainly never prove it without any doubt. Not to the people making the complaints. Not to people who get off on “doubting” literally everything, even with sufficient evidence to convince someone who’s actually open-minded.

All of that notwithstanding, if any of this petition convinces you to do so, or any of my rebuttal fails in any way, I strongly encourage you, dear readers, to go sign this petition. Hell, even if you think you might have argued the point better than I did above, you might want to throw your signature into the pool just to spite me — they need their numbers shored up.

If they manage get to a hundred signatures without sockpuppetry or other dirty tricks — that is, one fifteenth of the 1500-ish signatures that Adam Lee’s petition has gained in two days where the counter-petition has gotten 21 in one day — then it will give me pause. I might even congratulate the petition writer for achieving their first goal. Even if I disagree with every jot and tittle of this petition, if a hundred others actually agree within this community, then it will absolutely give me pause. It might even make me consider abandoning this community altogether, as others have been forced to do by the harassment that Rocko characterizes as “civil disagreement”. It might make me think that the anti-feminist mindset is so entrenched that my time is better spent elsewhere. Then again, it might also make me redouble my efforts. You never know.

Remember, though, that the signatories will have succeeded only in sending us the one sentence pasted at the very top, not the actual argumentation for why the petition is necessary. I think I’m being exceedingly generous in rebutting a position that apparently only 21 members of this community hold — three of which I know definitively don’t actually hold that position.

The Petition to Ask Freethought Blogs and Skepchick to "Return to Critical Thinking"
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21 thoughts on “The Petition to Ask Freethought Blogs and Skepchick to "Return to Critical Thinking"

  1. 2

    I’ve been entirely respectful (if a touch snarky) in fisking this petition the way I have, but I expect people will react as though I’ve abused you terribly somehow just because I agreed with very nearly none of what you’ve said. Meanwhile, others are content to call me names and act as though I’m some kind of anathema to free speech and free discussion because I’ve banned twenty or so abusive commenters, then characterize their insults and abuse as mere “disagreement”.

    QFT. Bears repeating.

  2. 3

    I think Rocko owes both you and Zvan some thanks; if you’d stayed quiet, this wouldn’t have received a fraction of the bandwidth. Even the ‘pit wasn’t interested in that petition, apparently:

    Oh, by the way, you’ll see the petition’s mine – I’ve flogged it to the slimepit and got a mixed response. I’m not expecting numbers.

    For a close-minded hivemind, FtB seems to be remarkably open to criticism…

  3. 6

    I am awed by this person’s characterization of “their side” as “respectful”.

    I would not presume to argue with someone who displays such objective, superior, perception and insight.

  4. 7

    My priority is simple: I want to make the world a better place. Which, aside from being terribly cliche, is problematic because “better” is multi-dimensional, and I might weight the various axes differently than someone else does. But my weighting includes racial equality and gender equality and LGBT equality and economic justice and environmental protection, along with secularism and atheism (in the active sense of a critique of religion).

    And I am not willing to compromise on any of those other values, I don’t give a damn whether or not the opposition to that is grounded in religion (and not all of it is, while there are more than a few religious folks who are the same side as I am), and if the “atheist movement” is to be defined as excluding those, then I think I will make a priority call and put my efforts elsewhere.

  5. 8

    So between around 4AM Jason’s time and now, he’s gotten 4 signatures…one of which was M. Mouse from Toon Town FL. I’m sorry to say, but Mickey doesn’t seem too impressed with you guys. Or at the bare minimum he accidentally signed – that big red button is very tempting to click on.

  6. 9

    I think I’ve finally seen the light. Equity Feminism is clearly the way to go, and gender fminism is jus as clearly false. I can accept that there are small, isolated, individual examples of people (men or women or other–silly feminists trying to make the focus all on them) who experience clear, unambiguous sexism and sex-based bigotry and harassment directed at them as individuals, but there’s simply no evidence that those small aggressions and attitudes and individual circumstances can add up to a society that is suffused with sexist ideas and built on a sexist power structure, where people can perpetuate sexist systems without being aware of it. The very notion is absurd.

    To make it somewhat more succinct, I believe that microsexism occurs, but not macrosexism.

  7. 10

    Return to critical thinking and respectful free exchange of ideas

    …so if that means if the ideas exchanged are dubious or bad, we can’t be critical of them? Wtf?

  8. 13

    “…so if that means if the ideas exchanged are dubious or bad, we can’t be critical of them?”

    No, it means the comment “BITCH STFU & SHOW US UR TITS” is a respectful rebuttal to a blog post or video about how sexist attitudes are hurtful to women, and must be treated as a legitimate opportunity to further the conversation about how women are only valuable if they’re hot and dressed in skimpy outfits.

    It’s like listening to Freepers complain that a liberal once wished for Rush Limbaugh to have a heart attack.

  9. 14

    Here’s more respectful exchange of ideas from that totes legit Keyser Soze:

    Keyser Söze AZERBAIJAN about 14 hours ago Liked 0
    Funny how easy the baboons are to rile up. Justin Bieber and the beached whale Zwan-thing are already blogging indignantly about this while the rest of the world laughs. They really can’t imagine a reality where their opponents aren’t as filthy and deceitful as they are themselves.

  10. 15


    No, it means the comment “BITCH STFU & SHOW US UR TITS” is a respectful rebuttal to a blog post or video about how sexist attitudes are hurtful to women, and must be treated as a legitimate opportunity to further the conversation about how women are only valuable if they’re hot and dressed in skimpy outfits.

    …so watcha saying, and how I reading this now, is this petition is really asking for the right to troll FtB and Skepchick. No reasonable blog wants trolls. So I shall attempt to ammend the petition to:

    Return to critical thinking and respectful free exchange of ideas, without being infected and distracted with trolling, abusive, bigoted or otherwise.

    But I still wouldn’t sign that petition because FtB and Skepchick seem to be doing that already, adequately. Thus making the need for it mostly redundant.

    By the way and out of curiosity: if this petition gets enough names, does this mean some federal law enforcement body will be raiding FtB and Skepchick offices? Or some government legislation will be proposed to enforce the said petition’s wishes? I am not sure the what the goal of this petiton is if it is ever “successful”. It all seems pretty silly to me.

  11. 16

    The really cool part of this assertion is the fact that one person who is not actually affiliated with Skepchick or Freethought Blogs applied the term “gender traitor” to a person with anti-feminist sentiments

    Yeah, a similar thing happened on Pharyngula a while back. Someone made a stupid comment about hating people in fedoras — someone who’d made a total of three comments ever on the blog — and everyone else said “WTF?” and ridiculed the guy (including me), and then shortly afterwards the slymers were raging about how FtB was prejudiced against hat-wearers.

    There are Myths that must be generated and maintained, and those kooks are ever vigilant to create them.

  12. 17

    Alright kiddoes, time for Psychopomp Gecko’s Evil Pope Femicommunazi Takedown for Americans.

    Yeah, why can’t FtB be about the free exchange of ideas without any judgements about them at all? That’s what critical thinking is all about, just reading without deciding about whether something makes sense or is moral or even has words in it. Like if you showed a dog a newspaper. He’ll look at it, maybe decide to urinate on it. That’s critical thought. It’s possible the urination goes too far, but it’s not my place to judge that. As the good book says, judge not lest ye be judged, and I think we can all just read that without making a decision about if that book was wrong about women, slavery, homosexuals, shaving, shellfish, or unicorns and then deciding to correct the errors stemming from that in our society.

    I for one am all about people here putting up Glenn Beck, David Barton, Rush Limbaugh, and Meinkampf without burdening the discussion with judgement calls about the content of the books or programs in question.

    And if you dare accuse me of Godwin’s law about this, then I have a question for you. You know who else thought everyone around him was a Nazi? That’s right, Hitler. And you know I’m right because he was surrounded by Nazis.

    Because ultimately, if we were committed to critical thought, then there may come a day when we ourselves are accused of latent mysoginy or racism. And it’s not our place to find out if that’s true or not. No, instead we must simply say the other side is wrong. Possibly with some combination of the words “I” “rape” “ugly” “hos” “who” “call” “me” and “sexist.” Doesn’t really matter how you put those together because the pinko commie hippies on the side should just shut up, read it, and not make a value judgement about the words, maybe while they’re cooking something in that room where food is cooked. Because the alternative involves applying that critical thinking to ourselves and finding out if we are wrong. And as we all know from that critical thinking we aren’t supposed to do, our brains are hardwired to pull some tricks just to keep us from admitting we are ever wrong about something, whether it is true or not.

    Not that we’re dumb enough to fall for that, I think. Again, no judgement calls.

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