Alex Gabriel

Queer left politics, pop culture and skepticism.

Things that are and are not bullying

This image was just posted on Coffee Loving Skeptic’s Facebook page.

It struck me, for one thing, that if CLS want to present themselves as non-misogynists, this image will not help. Since numerous people on the page told complainers they should ‘make an argument’, here are the issues with it I would raise:

  1. It implies a man who takes Rebecca Watson’s side, in this case PZ Myers, must either be childlike or have a submissive fetish for which he could be labelled perverse - as if no man in his right mind could simply think a feminist woman’s attitude was right, and to think so would be deserving of mockery.
  2. It uses a breastfeeding allusion to ridicule a feminist woman, as if childrearing is an essential symbol of a woman’s role, rather than something a woman might choose to do, or not, at some point in her life.
  3. It depicts said woman’s body in sexual terms rather than addressing her statements (though I don’t know if this was prompted by any particular statement, or just by generalised resentment), as if the creators simply feel entitled to show her that way.
  4. It reads ‘Are you fem enough?’ - either this means ‘femme’ or ‘feminine’, in which case it presents being like a woman as something degrading, or it means ‘feminist’, in which case it presents that response to women’s lives and experiences as a fad or arbitrary quality of no real value, as in ‘Are you tall enough?’
  5. It dismisses her reaction to being regularly threatened, insulted and indeed dismissed as ‘manufactured’. It is - by things like this.

If I discussed this any more I’d get embedded in a trollfest that doesn’t interest me, but it has prompted me to think about bullying in general. There have been a lot of accusations flying around on the interwebs lately, so I thought I should write a guide to what I personally do and don’t see as bullying.

Things that are bullying (or otherwise generally not okay):

  • Reductive, abusive slurs used to dismiss, e.g. branding a feminist skeptic an ‘uppity cunt’ or similar.
  • Dismissal in general based on arbitrary factors, e.g. attributing someone’s position to ‘teenage idealism’, ‘hysteria’ or similar rather than experience or a reasoned thought process, and refusing to engage with arguments.
  • Disseminating images which insult someone in personal, irrelevant terms. (Another example here.) Really, it’s hard to think of anything more playground-like.
  • Threats of violence, however figurative, from telling someone you’ll decapitate them to saying you’ll ‘kick [their] ass’. This includes threats of Hell.
  • Actual violence. (I’m currently staying in the small rural town where I grew up. This time last year, I had an object and a homophobic slur thrown at me from a passing car.)
  • Use of personal adversity, or someone’s mental health history specifically, in aggressive or intimidating ways. The second point above includes mental health status.
  • Non-stop, obsessive negativity toward specific people or groups, spread in all directions. I’m happy to argue with other people, including skeptics, on the internet. But I also do other things. There are some people I know of only because they wholly dedicate themselves to trolling others.
  • Non-stop, obsessive criticisms and negativity contained in someone’s own space. Certain blog comments might be fine on their own, but a single user leaving negative comments on every single post becomes intrusive and passive aggressive. Telling someone you’re not sure about their outfit can be fine; telling them so every single morning, and not speaking to them otherwise, is not okay.
  • Making unfounded assumptions about someone’s life, and speaking as if you’re entitled to comment on things you don’t know about.
  • Deliberately making someone feel isolated, voiceless orirrelevant, e.g. by saying ‘Everyone in this group supports [idea x] except Alex, for one.’
  • Striking a raw deal with someone and exploiting them, e.g. giving money in a sponsorship deal, and in return overwhelming their project with your own publicity and physical presence so their work’s visibility is lost.
  • Intrusion into private or personal areas or threatening to, including physically via 'I know where you live' statements or figuratively, e.g. by re-entering a private mailing list after being blocked and using it to gain access to sensitive, potentially dangerous personal details.
  • Addressing someone abusively in public, or specifically telling them they’re disgusting.
  • Blaming the victims of any of the above, by telling them it resulted from their behaviour or was in some sense their fault. This is irrelevant. No one, whatever they might have done, should be subject to treatment like this.

Things that are not bullying

  • Calling someone out on any of the above, including publicly, including via blog post.
  • Telling someone you think they’re wrong, and why, with appropriate amounts of nuance and politeness.
  • Saying someone’s been potentially racist, when you think what they’ve said is potentially racist.
  • Saying why you’re not going somewhere, or why you don’t feel safe there.
  • No longer recommending someone’s books when they’ve said something you found hurtful or dismissive. (You might think this is misguided, or an overreaction, and it might not have been your response, but it isn’t bullying.)
  • Saying sexual violence, especially against women and by men, is a reality and an issue to be taken seriously.
  • Criticising someone who you don’t think has dealt with this as they should have.
  • Asking someone not to use terms you find upsetting or offensive, especially slurs. (See above.)
  • Asking someone to leave your blogging site who used it as a platform to be negative, non-stop and obsessively (again, see above) about the other members and their views.
  • Blocking or removing someone from your social media account whose voice you don’t want to hear any more.
  • Banning people from your blog or placing their comments under moderation whose negative comments you don’t want to hear any more.

Hope we’re clear on this. Okay. Thanks.


Update: here is an e-mail I just received. For the record, I think I understood only one person’s title was ‘Coffee Loving Skeptic’. I refer to CLS above as ‘they’ because I mean the site’s writers and users in general, and the community around it.

Alright Master Yoda

Just an observation: _____ is Coffee Loving Skeptic. Nobody else. Those who occasionally blog there, myself included, do so under our own names.

The Twitter account for CLS is run by _____. Those of us who occasionally blog there, tweet under our own names.

Just to clear up a falsehood! 

I would suggest that if you would like to call me a misogynist you do so on the basis of some evidence as opposed to a whim, misunderstanding or total misunderstanding of what ‘misogyny’ actually means (or when it is appropriately used as a descriptor). I would suggest some education as to the various schools of feminism too, as the term ‘feminism’ also gets thrown around with little clarity.

Yours in anticipation of a drink at The Chequers,

Trystan Lewis Swale I 

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Astounding, I find this.

'Speaking as if you're entitled to comment on things you don't know about', including their knowledge or education.

On the fucking list, this was.

  1. thingsstuffandotheradventures reblogged this from goldspandexleggings
  2. sirrealism reblogged this from goldspandexleggings and added:
    Some serious weirdness going on in the skeptic community lately.
  3. goldspandexleggings reblogged this from alexgabriel
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