Thursday, February 10, 2011

Jen McCreight Needs to Apologize

Regarding the atheist blogosphere kerfuffle I mentioned the other day, the video is out.



[EDIT: For some reason unbeknownst to me, the above video has been edited, and the pertinent information flushed down an Orwellian memory hole. Fortunately, I managed to come across an unedited version, shown below.]



Now we have proof. I will compare the video with the authors' account of the discussion. First they said:
First, the panelists grabbed a theme that had been floating around all weekend: that men hitting on women is just biological (therefore excusable), making it sound like a woman in that kind of situation should just STFU and get over it.
 Actually, the first comment was a funny joke ("Same thing happens on XBox Live.") followed by one panelist saying that men hitting on women happens at any group, but he said, "...just don't be an asshole." (0:50-1:17) He did not say, or imply, that asshole behavior was excusable, and he certainly didn't say "just STFU and get over it." I am at a lost to see how the writers can honestly make that leap.

Then another panelist mention that this problem has been brought to his attention at his student group. He wondered why there are so many more male out atheists than female. He went on to mention that for people looking for a relationship, an atheist group is where one can find someone who will "...accept you the way you are." this is an important point for many atheists. They want to date like-minded people. (1:17-2:45)

One panelist mentioned that his group had more women than men, followed by another panelist saying that his group was mostly married couples, so they don't have such a problem. (2:45-4:06)
Then the moderator asked the women in the audience, as if it were a rewording of the same question, whether they would feel harassed or flattered if they showed up to an event and a few guys started flirting with them. We women in the audience, pressured to respond to the question at hand but feeling duped because we knew it wasn’t the same thing, gave an honest response. Sure, a few guys flirting with us is sexy. BUT!!! (we all screamed in our heads, even though the panel never let us say it out loud) 20 guys our father’s age blatantly staring at and talking to our cleavage is a totally different situation! It’s not sexy, it’s gross and creepy.
The writers skipped three minutes of discussion before they hit their next point. But, they changed the moderator's words. He asked by a show of hands how many thought being hit on would think "sexism" (two hands) versus how many thought it was "everyday penis activity" (a lot of hands and a good deal of laughter). (4:06-4:44)
BUT!!! (we all screamed in our heads, even though the panel never let us say it out loud)
Horseshit. If you look at the women in the video, I do not see any screaming in their heads. Maybe the writers were, but they are being awfully fucking presumptuous if they claim that all women were. Furthermore, as you will see later in the video, if someone would stand and speak to the panel, they would listen.
20 guys our father’s age blatantly staring at and talking to our cleavage is a totally different situation! It’s not sexy, it’s gross and creepy.
The authors are clear here. Hot guys hitting on us is sexy. Ugly, old guys hitting on us is sexist. Of course, it is hard for a guy to tell if a woman considers him hot or creepy. They do not usually let us know, at least not in ways men can figure out. Admittedly, we are dense at times. If you look at the video, you will see plenty of older women. The writers are speaking of all women as if they are all college age, ignoring a good part of the audience.
It’s not sexy, it’s gross and creepy.
You may find it creepy, but others may find it sexy. Many young people prefer dating someone much older. My first serious girlfriend was eighteen years older than I. I liked it, not creepy or gross at all. Once again, the writers are projecting their personal preferences onto all women. They should stop being so stereotypical.
It was extremely frustrating.
This was a panel discussing how to combat sexism in atheist communities. How this can be considered frustrating, I do not know. If men are trying to understand, and attempting to deal with sexism, shouldn't they be given some credit?

The moderator then went on to speak about a survey that was done earlier. He claimed that the was no complaints of sexism, he was surprised that some of the most sexist responses were from women. This point was discussed for a bit. (4:44-5:58)

A panelist went on to say that forbidding flirting and hitting on people cannot be forbidden at atheist groups, but warned that "...don't be a dick." "Especially if you have one," the moderator cut in. Laughter. (5:58-6:46)

General discussion of the hitting on issue, with one panelist announcing a marriage in his group soon, and another panelist stating that while rules against flirting are unworkable, inappropriate behavior is unacceptable and must be dealt with. (5:58-7:59)

A panelist then asked how many single females were in the audience. Despite another saying that single women might want to remain anonymous, a few women raised their hands. The moderator counted three. He was interrupted before he could continue.(7:59-8:09)
So I wasn’t surprised when the young woman who finally stood up and started challenging the panel snapped. First, despite her having her hand raised for most of the discussion, the panel never even acknowledged her or invited her opinion (despite soliciting the opinion of several guys both on and off the panel. Finally, she just stood up and started shouting to make her voice heard. Her question focused on the language the panel had been using - “female” instead of “woman,” and pointed out that it made us sound like livestock rather than people.
Several lies here. The woman in question did not snap. She stood and asked her question in a reasonable tone. I did not see the moderator once soliciting the opinion of "guys" or anyone else from off the panel, besides a show of hands. Perhaps I missed it, but I believe the discussion was between the moderator and the panel only. The woman did not start shouting at all. She stood up, got the attention of the panel, and asked her question, again, in a reasonable tone and very calmly. She never once said livestock, but instead mention that female seemed to imply animal. (8:09-8:38)
But did the panel address the question, perhaps looking for the point at which the discussion took on the word “female” so universally? Did they take the opportunity to discuss how things like language can make a group uncomfortable for women, and what we could do to make it better? No! The woman asking the question was viciously torn apart and ridiculed for even bringing it up. First, a combination of panelists and audience members tried to defend themselves by saying that feminists won’t let men use the word “women” off-limits because it has “men” in it.
Again, horseshit. In response to a question from her, a male panelist mentioned that he was not offended by the term "male," because he was one. The only female panelist mentioned that she thought the words were interchangeable. At this, the woman said quite calmly, "Alright." The woman was never viciously torn apart or ridiculed. There was some laughter from the audience, but it was obviously nervous laughter, coming from both men and women. I heard no mention of "...feminists won’t let men use the word “women” off-limits because it has “men” in it."  (8:38-8:53)
Then a commotion of everyone talking at once, which was cut off by one panelist’s definitive comment:“What do you want us to say, ‘the weaker sex?”
Actually, he said, "From now on, we'll use 'the weaker sex,'" to laughter and applause from the audience, again, from both male and female. A case can certainly be made that this comment was unnecessary and rude. But, as any public speaker or actor would tell you, it helps to end any awkward moment with humor. Maybe the panelist could have used better humor, but the audience liked the joke, and I see no real harm in it. (8:53-9:02)
She got upset (and who wouldn’t be?) and left the room. I - a member of the audience, not one of the event organizers - went after her.
She did get upset, but the writers assertion of "who wouldn't be?' is again projecting their own opinion onto every woman present. That is presumptuous. The claim that no event organizer went after the woman was a bald face lie. It is not apparent on the video, but Christie Swords, one of the organizers, also went after the woman. She claimed so in the comments, and other commenters and bloggers backed up her claim. (9:02-9:05)
While there were a few odd calls from the audience for the panelist to apologize, the moderator sort of awkwardly pushed the discussion on to a new topic, with an embarrassed air of “Sorry for the disturbance.” No apology, no discussing a better way it could have been handled. Not even a joking “This is how *not* to be welcoming” comment. Just “nothing to see here, move along.”
I do not know if there were any calls for the panelist to apologize, for the audio is somewhat unintelligible. He did make another joke, but I could not figure it out. The moderator did not push the discussion onto a new topic. They stayed on the same topic they were discussing, and the moderator did not even speak next. A woman called out from the audience, "Don't overlook the fact that sometimes women are going there to find men." Shocking, women want to meet people, also. The writers missed this somehow. (9:05-9:33)

The panel continued the discussion until the next topic, which was the possibility of atheist dating theists. (9:33-15:50)

The writers then go on to discuss a speech given by Sean Faircloth. The video hasn't been posted yet, but video from an earlier speech he gave in Boston is available, which event organizers and Faircloth say is basically the same.


Boston Skeptics in the Pub - Sean Faircloth - Oct 4th, 2010 from Maggie McFee on Vimeo.

This talk began well enough: a strong feminist position, an excoriation of Victorian moralist Anthony Comstock, mention of several areas in which the law imposes on women’s rights. 
This is accurate, but then:
But then it got weirdly uncomfortable. First, came the proposal of a new motto: “What Would Don Draper Do?” (Don Draper is your role model, seriously?) 
Faircloth was making the point that Draper is a libertine, while American law and society attempts to regulate people's sexual desires. Draper just goes for it, not minding society's rules.

Then came the discussion of the "Million Dollar Challenge," which Jen redacted.
[Jen's note: I've temporarily removed the section on the "Million Dollar Challenge" since there seems to be a lot of debate over whether it was depicted fairly. The Alabama Atheists are uploading the video of Sean's talk to make this situation clear. While I wouldn't let Sharon and Lyz do a guest post unless I trusted their judgement, I also don't want to misrepresent Sean Faircloth, so I'm waiting until I've seen the video.]
I don't understand this at all. If this portion of the article becomes suspect to Jen, why does she consider the rest appropriate? Things get weirder.
From there, the conversation wandered into a weird discussion about how men’s biology drives them to frequently (if not constantly) pursue sex, and since it’s biology, no one should get upset at, judge, or think less of men for any skirt-chasing they might engage in. (Because we never intellectually overcome our animal instincts in other areas of our biology, right?) The attitude in the room shifted: suddenly women were the bad guys for saying no to men’s propositions because it denies the men’s innate biology. Most of the guys in the room loved it, but as a woman in the audience - it was really uncomfortable. It was demeaning, frustrating, and not what you want to say to attract more women into this movement. 
Once again, horseshit. Complete and utter horseshit. Faircloth spent the entire talk telling women and men that we have the freedom to do what we want in the bedroom, and that it is our right to pursue pleasure if we so chose. He listed two rules to live by. "Consenting adults," and "mind your own business." That's it, that was his speech. Watch the damn thing, it's only thirty-nine minutes, and it's entertaining.

The writers comments are ludicrous. I am at a loss to figure out how they can even misinterpreted his speech to mean what they say it does.

The rest of the article is a bit more bitching, um, I mean whining, er, perhaps complaining about horrid sexism before they list a few ways to make atheist groups more appealing to women. And, by women, I think they mean sex-phobic, easily offended women.
But there’s an even bigger problem here. Situations like this drive wedges between otherwise natural allies in our movement. 
This is the crux of the matter, but not in the way they mean. Situations like this post, and Jen's behavior to the reactions to it, are the problem. Jen has been acting in a divisive manner, loudly complaining about nonexistent sexism, but blithely publishing an article that defames an entire convention and several good people who organized it and spoke there.

The panel they complain so bitterly about was addressing sexism, and methods to deal with it, yet Sharon and Lyz falsely accuse the panel of sexism.

In a new post yesterday, Jen defends the original post, [EDIT: I originally placed the wrong link here. It has been corrected.] saying:
Sharon and Lyz felt uncomfortable and unwelcome thanks to certain things that happened at the conference. That was how they personally felt. While I understand concerns that purposeful misrepresentation happened - something I do not support - I know Sharon and Lyz had nothing of the sort in mind. Others may just have been personally fine with the comments, and thus saw it as a misrepresentation.
Personally felt!?! It is one thing to have opinions, that is expected and encouraged. But, they made statements of fact that are demonstrably false. Maybe Jen feels that there was no "purposeful misrepresentation," but the video clearly disputes what they reported.

Furthermore, Jen goes on to insult the commenters who cried foul by stating:
To the conference organizers and (unfortunately) few commenters who actually managed to behave tactfully in this whole situation, thank you and keep up the good work. Your concerns are going to make this movement more accepting in the years to come. To everyone else? While I don't agree with it 100%, it would still help if you watched (or re-watched) Phil Plait's Don't Be A Dick talk. Just sayin'.
Don't be a dick? Jen published a post by two guest writers that was grossly inaccurate and defamatory, became angry and defensive when the defamed rightly protested, refused to apologize or retract the offensive post, and then has the gall to say "Don't be a dick."

Jen is a leader in the atheist movement. With her blog, she has a large following, and a bit of influence. It is incumbent upon her, if she wants to be taken seriously, to behave in a professional manner.
But if we want to make groups more welcoming, we have to worry about the people we're upsetting, not the people who already agree with us.
If she truly believes that statement, she needs to worry about the people she upset with this irresponsible post, and her bratty behavior afterwards. But, Jen seems to care only about the offense she feels, and not a bit about the offense she's caused.

Jen's father has a blog of his own called "If I Were King." It is apparent that dreams of royalty runs in the family, since she is acting like a fucking princess.

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