The “Tone Wars” revive from time to time, most recently in PZ Myers’ justified criticisms of Richard Dawkins’ objections to feminist objections to sexist language and moves. The story so far:
Jen McCreight, who blogs as Blag Hag (why can’t I think up such clever names?) was commenting on the following: Rebecca Watson attending an atheism conference. Anyone who has attended such conferences, whether academic or not, knows that a considerable number of the men, married or not, spend a lot of time trying to hook up with the generally minority female contingents. Rebecca was propositioned in an elevator at 4am, and Jen asked, simply, that men be a little sensitive. Her list of “Do’s and Do Nots” is worth reproducing:
Do not come up to me right after I give a talk on communicating skepticism and tell me a perk of my presentation was that I’m easy on the eyes.*
Feel free to say I’m cute when I’m rocking my black cocktail dress at Penn Jillette’s party at TAM 9.
Do not interrupt an intellectual discussion on diversity in the atheist movement with a unrelated sexual joke.*
Feel free to tell raunchy jokes when I’m having a beer at post-talk social. I’ll join you.
Do not reference my looks, boobs, or sexiness when introducing me for a talk or panel, especially when you would not do so for the male participants.*
Feel free to say you think I’m attractive in casual conversation and tweets, especially if it’s in addition to my intellectual accomplishment. I fangirl over people too – it’s okay.
Do not make numerous comments about my looks in an intellectual blog post that happens to contain a photo of me that’s not meant to be sexy.*
Feel free to comment away when I post photos from my Skepticon pinup calendar. You have the green light.
Do not follow me around the Skepchick party insisting that I drink your bottle of whiskey, after repeated “No thank you”s.*
Feel free to approach me or offer me a drink if you’re okay with the chance that I may not be interested. Sometimes I am!
And finally – if you miscalculate the context of the situation, if you accidentally make someone uncomfortable, if you come off as a creep but you really just had a brainfart and said something incredibly stupid and unintentionally demeaning – it’s okay. It happens. We’re human. It doesn’t mean you’re an evil misogynistic beast, even if we publicly discuss it so others can learn from your mistake.
But recognize said mistake, apologize, and learn from it.
*Yes, all of these “Do not’s” have actually happened
Sensible stuff, huh? Not to the chauvinists, of whom there are still way too many to tolerate in a civil society. Jen was attacked. Nastily and unnecessarily. The worst was what Richard Dawkins, yes, the Richard Dawkins, said, not because of the nature of it but because of who he is:
Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and . . . yawn . . . don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.
Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so . . .
And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.
PZ rightly took Dawkins to task. As did several others (I like Greg’s comments the most). And there it would lie except that this is PZ who attacks anyone who suggests that a more sensitive tone might be adopted when dealing with an outgroup. He writes (what I would if I were as loquacious as he):
The response has been to belittle her reasonable suggestion, belittle her, accuse her of hysteria, defend the rudeness of the fellow with the proposition, and mostly act as if utterly obtuse to both the unpleasantness of the elevator faux pas and to disrespect the rational concerns of women. Women aren’t so much afraid that unruly mobs of atheist men will rape them at meetings, but that they’ll be dolts who trivialize legitimate and common concerns of women…and this incident has definitely shown that to be the case. We aren’t just going to see Rebecca Watson diminished as an asset to atheism, but all the other women who seek common cause with atheism will watch how we treat our own and find this community significantly less attractive.
This isn’t slightly bad. It’s very bad. Atheist men are alienating the people we want to work with us on the very same problems, the oppression of women under religious regimes, that you cited in your comment.
Now, as an exercise, replace “atheist men” with “science-supporters” and “women” with “believers”…
The Tone Warriors like to say that to ask someone to take a measured and moderate tone (i.e., to not be a dick) is to effectively silence them, or try to. The Tone Moderators (i.e., me and those like me, wonderful people every one) ask that the style of argument matters as well, and that to be constantly attacking and aggressive will, guess what? alienate those we want to work with (i.e., religious people who do not have a problem with real science). So the irony here is so thick you could stir it with a stick.
I guess I have to repeat that appeals for a measured tone do not mean one can’t sometimes get angry and noisy, just that you should hold it back for when it adds to the communication, not when it diminishes it by alienating the audience. As I used to say to my kids, if you swear all the time it won’t mean anything when you need to. Of course, one of my kids swears all the time, and the other never does, so on average, I’m 100% successful in that strategy.
Later: Again, Abbie at erv does it so much better than I can.
Even Later: Greg Laden summarises the entire discussion/furore