The Skeptic Civil War shows no signs of abating; in fact its sides are deepening and diverging. In 2012 I reported on the event which triggered one of the main battles in that war. Rebecca Watson is a writer and former skeptic radio show host who runs the "SkeptChick" blog, which combines general skepticism with associated feminist and women's interest issues. However her life changed forever when she attended the World Atheists Convention in 2011 in
Ireland. After a late night discussion in the hotel bar, one of
the men to whom she'd been talking shared a lift with her up to the floors of
their rooms. While they were alone together in the lift, he made a completely
benign but rather clumsy attempt to seduce her. During her speech later in the
conference, Rebecca referred to this incident and said that it made her feel
uncomfortable. She addressed the male members of the audience saying:
"Guys, don't do that." She said that one of the reasons this incident
irked her especially was because she'd recently received internet abuse from non-skeptics.
The response from her lecture was very acute indeed; it became known as
"Elevatorgate". No less a figure than Richard Dawkins got involved by
writing a sarcastic reply to her entitled Dear
Muslima that appealed to Rebecca's sense of perceived privilege by
comparing her experience to the ordeal of women in Islamic theocracies. Rebecca
struck back angrily. She disaffiliated SkepChicks from Dawkins' organizations,
the Centre for Inquiry and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and
Science. She is no longer promoting Dawkins' books and other works or taking
part in his events, see: http://skepchick.org/2011/07/the-privilege-delusion/.
That was just the opening shot. What followed was a flame war of an intensity
that I've never seen. I know the Truth movement has its various conflicts, see:
but they are mere playful scuffles by comparison. Rebecca Watson received the
most extreme hate mail: death threats, threats to rape and mutilate her,
threats to torture her, threats to plant a bomb in her house; and this was all from her fellow skeptics. Photographs of dead bodies were sent to her, with an
obvious inference; and this modus operadi
makes me wonder if these are the same Australian skeptics who tormented Meryl Dorey, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKEMPf_DRMg).
Very little analysis of the skeptisphere is ever done from the non-skeptic
side, so myself and Steve Trueblue were probably the only two who covered this
matter from a third party position, see: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/skeptics-troll-their-own.html.
It is clear that the skeptic movement is attracting some seriously unhinged
people, specifically some young men with major difficulties when it comes to
relationships with women. The word "misogynist!" is tossed around
very casually nowadays, but these people are some of the few slapped with that
label who deserve it. Rebecca said: "The
threats were coming from outside of my community. Outside of my safe space. It
wasn’t until I started talking about feminism to skeptics that I realized I
didn’t have a safe space. When I first got involved with the skeptics, I
thought I had found my people... Then women started telling me stories about
sexism at skeptic events, experiences that made them uncomfortable enough never
to return... (When I gave my opinion) The response from male atheists was
overwhelming. This is one example: 'Honestly,
and I mean HONESTLY, you deserve to be raped and tortured and killed. Swear I'd
laugh if I could!'" Skeptics are able to maintain a good shop
window, a veneer of order to conceal the raging chaos beneath, for another
example see: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/james-randi-quits-jref.html.
And so it was business as usual in the official skeptic media; Rebecca
continued to host Skeptics Guide to the Universe and do articles and videos on
psychics and anti-vaccination, and barely a word more was said. I know what it
feels like to be on the receiving end of an internet hate campaign; for years I
have been targeted by "Team Droike", but Droike never said anything
as bad to me as what people have said to Rebecca. Also, I'm a big ugly
ex-hospital porter; I'm resilient enough to endure this sort of thing. Rebecca
is a young unmarried woman who lives alone. One day she wrote: "I wake up every morning to abusive
comments, Tweets, and emails about how I'm a 'slut, prude, ugly, fat, femi-Nazi,
retard, bitch, and cunt', (just to name a few). I just can't take it
I am not an advocate of feminism; in fact, as regular HPANWO readers will know, I'm a very harsh critic of it, see the background links below. I've never met Rebecca Watson and if I did I doubt we would get along. However, if I had been in a position to defend her from her flamers, ie: if I were a skeptic myself, I would have done so vigourously. I recently watched a debate between the journalist and men's rights activist Milo Yiannopoulos and some feminists, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3_2svKFkE4. I completely agree with what
Milo says about feminism, but he is totally wrong about
internet bullying. Internet bullying is a very serious matter and it has driven
some people to commit suicide. After Steve and I completed our initial work on
Elevatorgate, I thought I would check back on Rebecca Watson and see what she is
doing today. I was astonished by how much she has changed. Where she used to be
a skeptic who brought feminism into her skepticism; today I would say that she
is more a feminist who is influenced by skepticism. Her feminism has become
much more hard-line. Her YouTube vlog is less light-hearted and tends to
feature fewer male guests, see: https://www.youtube.com/user/rkwatson.
Her Twitter feed is more scathing, see: https://twitter.com/rebeccawatson.
She remains a skeptic on all matters, but will not tolerate any rational
criticism of feminism. She has become a very zealous believer in it; once she
said: "If you're a male skeptic who
doesn't like feminism, you're worse than somebody who rape-threatens!".
There is still a Cold War against her of filth in her comments boxes, but she
has also been criticized by the more moderate men's rights contingent of the
skeptisphere, primarily in the form of Phil Mason, aka "Thunderf00t",
and "Sargon of Akkad", see: https://www.youtube.com/user/SargonofAkkad100.
Although I share a lot of F00tie's and Sargon's opinions on feminism, there is
a fundamental question they have not asked: Why do you think Rebecca Watson is
behaving as she does? The Cherokee Indians have a saying: "Never judge a
man until you've walked a mile in his moccasins." Try to see the last few
years from Rebecca's perspective. She is a feminist who wants to defend women
from abusive behaviour by violent and cruel men. She has suffered a torrent of
the most vicious and merciless insults and threats to her very body and life. Are
you now seriously trying to convince her that she is making a fuss about
nothing and she needs to "stop being a man-hater!" etc? No, F00tie
and Sargon. Your general points about feminism are valid, but you need to treat
Rebecca with a little more compassion and understanding. I know that becoming
aware of feminism can be a hurtful process because it's so obviously there, and wrong. Its brutality, its double-standards, its injustice; these
things can so easily drive you into a frenzy when you first wake up to it. This
is the stage Paul Joseph Watson (no relation) is in right now I think, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0la_UwdG15E.
But don't get so mad that you stop getting even. How many feminists are
actually just "evil bitches!"?, Couldn't some of them simply be
instead world-weary victims of very real abuse by truly degenerate men? It
never ceases to impress me how many women become men's rights activists in
spite of all this. I can't express my admiration for them too much. They have the strength, patience and wisdom of dolphins, see: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/women-against-feminism.html.
I don't know if it's possible to repair the damage done by the post-Elevatorgate
onslaught; Rebecca may well be lost by now, and I won't condemn her if she is.
You male skeptics have missed a valuable opportunity that will never come again.
Even if you disagreed with her on feminism, you could have addressed Rebecca's
attitude in an understanding, honourable and principled manner, shown her the truth about
genuine manhood. Instead even those who did not harangue her with vitriol have
still unsympathetically denounced her. You could at least have tried. I know
it's not always possible; nothing could have prevented me falling out with my
friend "Katie", see: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/a-friend-to-all.html.
I still do not apologize for that. A few days ago Richard Dawkins was banned
from the upcoming New England Conference on Science and Skepticism; and
there'll be more on that later. Rebecca Watson Tweeted: "Well done @necss for taking a stand & dumping the toxic
sludge that is Richard Dawkins! Your move, @center4inquiry". What else
do you expect her to say? Nobody other than a psychopath wakes up in the
morning and says: "Hee hee hee! How can I be evil today?" We more
often develop malevolent behaviour as a response to suffering. People are not
punch-bags. If we're hit and hit and hit again, we will feel it, and it will
change who we are.
See here for background: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/anti-feminist-women-banned.html.