CFI Responds on Melody Henlsey Malicious Remarks

A few days ago, I posted a response to io9’s The Great Geek Sexism Debate in order to point out that the interview with Amy Roth failed to mention anything about Dr. Harriett Hall’s “I’m not a Skepchick” shirt, which Amy took issue with. They also erroneously stated that TAM (The Amaz!ng Meeting) has had no anti-harassment policy (they were actually the first skeptic conference to put one in place). I felt both these points were important matters, overlooked by the piece.

Most of the feedback on my post was positive, and many commented (both publicly and privately) that they were glad to see me raise these points. Many remarked that they are afraid of receiving vitriolic responses and malicious labels for voicing any critiques or disagreements with the opinions and methods certain self-proclaimed feminists have applied to the issue of women in atheism, skepticism, and freethought communities.

Two women who work for feminist values within these communities chimed in with responses that used gender-based stereotypes. At the very least it was mean-spirited name calling…despite the fact that the article was denouncing exactly this type of behaviour.

Skepchick Amy Roth, of Surlyramics, reduces me to a vain shoe-obsessed stereotype, and Melody Hensley, CFI-DC Executive Director and organizer for The Women in Secularism conference, implies that I further my career as a professional skeptic by garnering attention and approval of men.

CFI’s Ronald Lindsay responded to me about the issue, pointing out that Hensley doesn’t speak on behalf of the CFI in her personal twitter account, and that they disavow the implication in her remarks.

Both Hensley and Roth deleted their tweets, without apology, and have blocked my account. While I wouldn’t hold CFI or Skepchick responsible for what their members say on their personal accounts, I do believe those who present themselves as activists and community leaders should hold themselves to higher standards than using personal attacks.

This is not a matter of “tone trolling”. The irresponsible manner in which the terms misogynist, rape apologist, gender traitor, “chill girl,” “sister punisher,” and accusations of MRA affiliations are having a negative impact on the issue. The malicious language is harming people; those the insults are directed towards and victims afraid their reports of harassment won’t be taken seriously.

When women want to speak out against the hyperbole, misinformation, and unfairness surrounding the issue, they aren’t dismissing other women’s experience. It’s not a matter of “I had a good experience and that trumps your bad one”. I can believe there is a problem with harassment at events while also believing the online narrative is painting an exaggerated picture of these events if some women aren’t attending because they believe it’s outright dangerous.

The consequence of the belittling language and treatment, like Hensley and Roth demonstrated towards me, is that many women conclude that they too will be subject to intimidation if they are outspoken–even if they communicate their disagreements rationally and tactfully.

It’s unacceptable and it needs to stop. When you see it happening, I encourage you to speak up. If you keep to being calm and rational against the vitriol, in the long run, you can’t lose.


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