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Posted by on Oct 29, 2012 in Atheism, Drama, Feminism, Freethought Blogs | 157 comments

Why Does Rebecca Watson Get So Much Sexist Abuse Via The Internet?

While this post applies to several prominent and outspoken women in the atheist community, I’m going to focus on Rebecca Watson, because she seems to be the easiest target for most of the sexist online vitriol. First of all, if you’re engaging in anything other than legitimate criticism of her arguments or behavior, I beg you to stop. I know that I’m probably directing this request (and it is a request, not a demand) at people who aren’t guilty, but still, I might as well ask. Whatever your goals or issues are in this “feminist war,” attacking Watson in a sexist manner is inappropriate and counterproductive. Further, it’s unprofessional and cruel. It demonstrates to people who already despise atheists that atheists are immoral, and confirms their worst fears. If this is a movement and a community, then any abuse against fellow members is inappropriate, and this, of course, also includes abuse by Watson and her clique.

Many of you believe that Watson thrives on victimhood and attention, and benefits from it financially. I’m not a mind reader, so I don’t know if this is true. But if it is, then please think about what happens when she’s trolled in a sexist manner. She gets the attention she seeks; she collects ad revenue; and moreover, it appears that she’s proved her case. So if for no other reason than that, please stop. Whether the threats against Watson are real threats or not, some of the emails and comments on her Wall O’Hate make me feel physically ill. And while it appears that some of those are typical 4chan/Anon garbage, and there’s no indication that the majority of those comments are coming from atheists, some clearly are. At least two of her stalkers appear to be seriously obsessed. Anyway, don’t feed into the drama. Real people are getting hurt, and often, those people are not the targets you intend.

Now, I’d like to give my opinions on the reasons for Watson’s trolling and online harassment. These are not facts, and I can be persuaded that I’m wrong. However, I do not believe that Watson is getting trolled because she’s a woman. Many vocal women on the Internet do not get any negative sexual attention, and the only online abuse (including sexist name-calling and comments) I’ve received has been from atheist feminists. But unlike Watson, I can say exactly who most of them are, and what they said or did. It is also worth noting that men like PZ Myers and Greg Laden are maligned just as often as Watson, yet are not as vocal about it. And oddly enough, it works like this: the less you care or protest, the less online abuse you get.

Having said all that, here are the reasons I see for Watson’s abuse that have little to do with her gender:

1. Prior misconduct, such as the JREF forum incident;
2. Online attacks — Krauss, Dawkins, Dunning, McGraw, etc.;
3. Attacks from the speaker’s platform — Kirby, McGraw;
4. Attacks from other feminists on her behalf;
5. Hypocrisy: for example, using female sexuality to get attention, then blaming others for noticing female sexuality once the goal is achieved;
6. A condescending attitude toward anyone who disagrees with her;
7. An inability to accept criticism and deal with it productively;
8. Use of abusive language and gendered slurs;
9. Mistakes in presentations and speeches, going off-topic;
10. Lack of expertise or experience in many of the areas she speaks about, poor fact-checking;
11. Celebrity that many deem to be undeserved;
12. Perceived dishonesty;
13. Inability to take on a true leadership role;
14. Failure to address topics of concern to the majority of the community;
15. Immaturity;
16. Sexism;
17. Consistent troll-feeding behavior.

This is the short list.