On Shouting Down the Opposition

A quick shout out to anyone who’s coming over from Jason at Lousy Canuck! Willkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome!

Today I would like to address two points that seem to be cropping up over and over again in regards to the Sexual Harassment/Feminism “debate”.

  1. “I have freedom of speech, you can’t tell me to stop talking.”
  2. “By telling me to stop talking, you’re just bullying me into silence.”

Obviously these two points are related, but I have separate things I’d like to say about them.

Freedom of Speech

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Freedom of speech is an important thing. In fact, it’s the cornerstone of a free society: the government cannot prevent you from expressing any particular view. Furthermore, even though I quote the American constitution above, I am Canadian, and these points are not specific to the US, but rather a more general notion of free speech. It’s worth noting that this applies directly to unpopular or offensive speech: nobody needs a law to protect popular speech. But there are a few things that free speech does not mean:

  1. Freedom of speech is a relationship between governments and persons. It doesn’t in any way affect relationships between people. If I, as a private citizen prevent you, another private citizen, from being able to make your point, then your rights have not been violated. As a random, completely hypothetical example, say a popular vlogger (let’s call him LightningH4nd) joins a popular blogging website (let’s call it Freethinking Diaries, or FTD) and proceeds to make an idiot out of himself. FTD decides that they no longer want to host LightningH4nd’s lunatic ravings (for whatever reason, maybe they don’t like being disagreed with, or maybe H4nd’s behaviour behind the scenes was not very professional: it doesn’t matter) and so they take his blog down. This is not a violation of his free speech. In the same way I have the right to evict you from my house if you’re being an asshole: you still have the right to be an asshole, you just don’t have the right to do it in my living room.
  2. Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequence. Just because you’re allowed to say something doesn’t mean that you’re free from the consequences of what you said. If you are vocally pro-choice, your pro-life friends may stop wanting to hang out with you. If you’re vocally pro-life, your pro-choice friends might do the same. If you march into your boss’ office and tell her she’s an idiot (or deserves to be kicked in the cunt), you’re probably not going to have a job tomorrow. And if you post something stupid online, people might just go ahead and embarrass you for being an idiot. None of this violates your rights to say things.
  3. Freedom of speech does not guarantee respect. If you say something stupid, just because you’re allowed to say it doesn’t mean that we have to take is seriously. In fact, it usually means we have a rational obligation to disagree with you. The stupider the thing you say, the louder we get to disagree. For example, want to whine that creationists just aren’t given their fair chance to get their crap into science classes; I have no problem with people calling you an idiot.

So can you please stop whining that we’re not respecting the “Harassment Policies will ruin my lolz” crowd’s freedom of speech? We’re not required to.

Bullying into Silence

The other complaint that keeps getting leveled, particularly at the Freethought Blogs crowd, is that by arguing fiercely with people who think that sexual harassment isn’t a problem, or that conferences don’t need anti-harassment policies, or that the people who complain are just a bunch of crybaby pussies; the people on the “Sexual Harassment Bad. Let’s Stop it.” side are somehow “bullying” their opponents.

For the sake of argument, I will accept that what they are doing constitutes “bullying”.

In this particular case, for this particular issue, the “bullies” are right.

When the side you’re opposing is a) horribly wrong, b) giving arguments that are causing actual harm, and c) there’s already been enough discussion that anyone who is honestly interested in educating themselves has the resources to do it; shouting down the opposition is actually a perfectly reasonable tactic.

I want to take a moment to compare the anti-anti-harassment policy folks (whom I will refer to as misogynists for the sake of brevity) to creationists trying to get their crap into science classes:

a) Horribly wrong:

Creationists: Views contradicted be the overabundance of evidence to the contrary.

Misogynists: Views contradicted by the overabundance of women who say they would rather have anti-harassment policies at conferences, as well as the fact that when TAM instituted such a policy, their female attendance rate skyrocketed.

Creationists: Don’t understand well-defined terms like “theory”.

Misogynists: Don’t understand well-defined terms like “harassment” (hint: it isn’t “talking to women” contrary to the strawman arguments).

Creationists: Don’t understand the proper context for particular conversations (eg: science class is not the place for religion).

Misogynists: “But men are the victims of just as much oppression as women!”

Creationists: Play the victim card by claiming that they’re being denied academic freedom to pander their bullshit in classrooms.

Misogynists: Play the victim card by claiming that they’re being denied intellectual freedom to assert their opinion that bitches were asking for it, and just need to take it like a man.

b) Actually causing harm:

Creationists: When you refuse to teach children proper science, their science skills plummet, and they won’t be equipped to dealing with the real world.

Misogynists: When you refuse to listen to women who are complaining about sexual harassment, you leave a door open to the perpetrators to keep getting away with what they’re doing.

Creationists: Cause a drop in enrollment in science programs, as kids don’t have the proper background (or haven’t had their interest properly sparked) to pursue science.

Misogynists: Cause a drop in female attendance at conferences, as WOMEN DON’T WANT TO BE GODDAMNED HARASSED!

c) Opportunity for people to educate themselves

Creationists: These guys could easily read talkorigins or wiki-fucking-pedia for 5 minutes to get a grasp on what they’re arguing against.

Misogynists: As much as you might want to complain about Rebecca Watson or Freethought Blogs just shouting down the opposition, more words have probably been written on this subject within the atheist community in the past year than any other single issue. You can’t possibly expect me to take seriously the claim that the Feminazis aren’t leaving room for discourse. There’s just been so much room for discourse so far that you’re either not bothering to participate or you’re willfully ignorant of the claims against you. In either case, it’s time to shut the fuck up.

It’s truly amazing how much two groups can really have in common…

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  • smhlle  On July 6, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    “You can’t possibly expect me to take seriously the claim that the Feminazis aren’t leaving room for discourse.”

    Yeah, I think the other discoursers would prefer if their side of the discourse was garnering more agreement. They may be sad that their arguments aren’t selling well and are facing brisk opposition, satire and scorn. (And, sadly, a few porcupines.)

  • Stephanie Zvan  On July 7, 2012 at 8:56 am

    Just to pick one nit from an otherwise interesting post, I don’t think the rise in female attendance at TAM last year can be attributed to their policy. The policy was put in place in response to someone who “joked” that he was going to grope Rebecca in an elevator at TAM. TAM does have some last-minute registration, but that happened only about a week before the conference.

  • Doubting Tom  On July 8, 2012 at 9:01 am

    Another term the misogynists fail to understand (and we could go on all day with that–“bully,” “silencing,” “totalitarian,” “free speech,” etc.–is “slur.” This comment is a great example, where jackrawlinson tries to claim that “privileged white male” is a “gender and even race-based slur.” Um, no.

    “Privileged” is a description, like “ignorant.” In fact, it represents a special brand of ignorance, specifically ignorance of what life is like for certain underprivileged groups. “White” and “male” are both accurate descriptions of privileged groups to which certain commenters belong. A slur is not simply a description of ignorance and social groups, it’s a word designed to put someone down for what they are, by suggesting that the group they belong to is inferior or shameful. “C**t” is a slur. “N****r” is a slur. “F****t” is a slur. You could argue that “breeder” or “honky” is a slur, but I think that’s debatable. “Privileged white male” is a description, and I suspect that Jack wouldn’t bat an eye at the equivalent “ignorant fundie creationist.”

    Whites and (cis) males have privilege. The only shame in having privilege is refusing to examine it or trying to perpetuate it at the expense of others–you know, just like ignorance.

    Sorry for the rant; I’m enjoying your posts & perspective a lot. I guess I must be part of the hivemind now :).


  • By An Open Letter to Ron Lindsay | atheistlogic on May 19, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    […] Unless, of course, they just keep bringing up the same point over and over again, never actually responding to what the minority has to say. In which case, they just need to shut up for good. […]

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