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Posted on May 30, 2013 in arguments, critical thinking, gender, philosophy, responding to arguments, Women in Secularism 2 | 56 comments

Don’t satirize feminists, but happily draw Mohammad?

Photoshop of various Freethought Blogs writers created by Reap Paden

Photoshop of various Freethought Blogs writers created by Reap Paden

I have recently realized tremendous inconsistency within the minds of various secular feminists who bemoan even the mildest satire directed at them but happily endorse an event dubbed Draw Mohammad Day in which secular individuals are encouraged to draw cartoons of Mohammad. At one extreme, satire and drawings of Mohammad — a product of Draw Mohammad Day — may lead to violence including destruction of property, death, and severe injury. At another extreme, Muslims will simply claim drawings of Mohammad are disrespectful and offensive. Can one be consistent in both bemoaning satire of feminists while supporting satire of Mohammad?

I hosted one photoshopped satirical image of various feminists — including Ophelia Benson of the Freethought Blogs network — on my Facebook page because I found it light-hearted, humourous, and in good taste. A friend of mine, Reap Paden, had edited signs in the image to read “We <3 Justin” – what I thought was a humourous mild jab because, in part, many in the image do not love me and instead have written dozens of over-the-top blog posts about how much of a bad person I am.

Following the posting of this photoshopped satirical image, a commenter considered the image “mean-spirited” and suggested I remove the image because leaving the image up, at least in part, shows that my intention is to hurt others. Elsewhere, the image was called “harassment” (or part of a “campaign of harassment”) amidst calls for me to remove the image presumably because people claimed offense.

The moral imperative proposed — that one ought to remove a satirical image merely because one claims offense — is most unreasonable and would consign everyone to silence on any given issue because anyone can claim offense. What matters, instead, I believe, is whether one’s claiming of offense is reasonable. If the claiming of offense is unreasonable, there should be no moral imperative for one to refrain from the mildest of satire. If it is not permissible to satirize feminists because people may claim offense and be hurt, why should it be permissible to satirize Mohammad?

Some Muslims believe that drawing an image of Mohammad or offering criticism of Mohammad is an abominable act – so much so that, as it seems, riots and fatwas are the ‘proper’ response to such sacrilege. Atheists, though, fully knowing this, go ahead and draw pictures of Mohammad regardless…and these same atheists then go about saying that it is improper to, no matter how mild, satirize feminists because ‘feelings are hurt’ and people claim offense.

How is this consistent? Why is it that Mohammad is ‘fair game’ and that the feelings of Muslims do not matter while it is the case that feminists are put on a pedestal and satire of feminists, no matter how mild, is morally impermissible? Further, if I am morally wrong in posting a mild satircal photoshop of feminists, should it be the case that the feminists cease their criticism of me if I claim offense? Further, should all atheists cease criticism of religion because religious individuals may claim offense? If someone is going to propose a standard for one group of people, feminists, they should at least be consistent in applying it to all groups of people.

As always, feel free to leave comments below.

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  • Jessie McQueen

    I think that it has to do with religion being based off of beliefs of fictional characters, and people choosing to believe in something vs sexism, gender-bias being important issues that people face not because they choose to believe they’re women, but because they actually are.
    (I hope that makes sense?) One is stupid, the other is inevitable and needs some serious fixing.

    But, that being said, I don’t think this qualifies as harassment on any level. If it did, I’d definitely have a lot of charges to press and police statements to write.

    If this is what feminist activists are focusing their time and effort on, this shames and scares the shit out of me.

  • Seán Dàibhidh Cummings

    Satire is part of free speech. There is zero harassment here. Besides, part of free speech is freedom to offend. People who jump to terms like ‘harassment’ are more interested in shutting you up than they are about a free flow of opinions.

  • I guess their argument would be that they (ie the radical feminists who hate other women) exist in the here and now, while Muhammed was a rather dubious liar and bully in the 7th century.

    Even so, the above photoshop is not harassment in any shape or form. Considering their attempts to get people to shun Justin at wiscfi, they have some nerve making such a fuss over a gentle satirical prod.

    Then again, drama is how they make their money.

  • ahermit

    What precisely is being “satirized” here?

    • Brian Curtis

      I’d say the irrational and emotion-driven attitudes of Justin-haters among alleged “skeptics.”

      • How exactly does changing the signs supporting imprisoned atheists in Bangladesh a satire of of Vacula’s critics?

        I don’t think you (or Justin) quite grasp the concept of satire…

        • Pitchguest

          Don’t be stupid, A Hermit. You know full well it’s not the message that’s being satirised.

          • ahermit

            To be satire there has to be some ironical connection between the original image and the satirical message. Where’s that connection here?

            This isn’t satire; it’s just another immature cheap shot. And it ignores the much more important message of solidarity for those imprisoned atheists.

            I guess Justin’s ego is what’s really important here though…

            • Pitchguest

              The connection? Most of the people there had threatened to boot Justin from the conference. That’s enough of a reference point. And that you should focus on the message that HAPPENED to be written on those signs, which wasn’t being satirised in the shop, is just deliberately playing dumb.

              It was lighthearted satire, designed to rib, not harass, or bully.

              • Liar. No one threatened to do anything to Justin. They simply asked him to leave them alone.

                And when you keep “ribbing” people who have asked you to leave them alone it does start to look a little petty, don’t you think?

                • Pitchguest

                  Petty? He’s been accused of being a stalker, of being a misogynist and sexist, of being a rape-enabler and rape-apologist, of being someone who doesn’t think women deserve to be treated as people, and all of it without proof. That’s petty.

                  Moreover, their feelings should be catered to, but not Justin’s? I think a gentle ribbing is justified against such unproportioned loathing. I saw over 30 tweets by Ophelia referencing Justin in one day, I saw blog posts by PZ and Lousy and Zvan, and they have the gall to tell him to leave THEM alone? Indeed.

                • Richard Sanderson

                  See my previous posts about PZ and Ophelia using their privilege and followers to create a hostile, shunning environment.

                  When you have done that, check your privilege, come back and admit you are wrong.

                  Do it, do it now!

            • Caias Ward

              Actually, that isn’t what satire is.

              The connection is that these people who loath Justin are presented as liking him.

              But keep up with your concern troll if you wish.

        • Brian Curtis

          Sure it does; they’re hypocrites who claim to support freethought and skepticism, all the while circling the wagons and whining about ‘harassment’ any time someone dares to question their dogma. Satire is clearly called for.

          Just accept that the FTBullies are failed and disgraced anti-skeptics, AH. It’s a reality, and denying reality is never a smart skeptical position.

          • I guess if you think calling someone “cobweb cunt” is the same as “questioning their dogma” that might make sense…o_O

        • Steersman

          Speaking of the “concept of satire” (1):

          Satire is a genre of literature, and sometimes graphic
          and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement.

          Considering the chicken-little “the sky’s falling, the sky’s falling”
          response to Justin’s presence at the WiS conference, “satire” seems like a fair and complete description of what that photoshop did: the “follies, abuses, and shortcomings” of the FfTB/Skepchick mob held up to ridicule.

          Although the chances of “improvement” seem somewhere between slim and none ….

          1) “_”

  • ool0n

    Wow this was one of the key parts of your discussion with Dave Silverman on Twitter. Dan Fincke helpfully pointed you to his blog post, twice. Did you bother to read it?

    • Richard Sanderson

      Does Silverman know about your role in the doxxing of somebody, Oolon?

      • ool0n

        Yeah we had a good laugh about it over a beer, best mates me n Dave!

  • Brian Curtis

    An important principle that’s often overlooked, especially in political/social arguments: Being Offended Doesn’t Make You Right.

    Too often people declare “I’m offended!” as a shortcut to shutting down a debate–especially a debate that they’re losing. The appropriate response is always “That’s too bad; do you have a response to my point?”

  • Ronlawhouston

    Oh Justin, you just need to stop thinking in these subtle, nuanced, grey shaded manners. If you want to understand the other side, you need to think in dichotomies. See, they’re good, you’re bad (maybe not as bad as Mohammad?) It’s easy once you just switch to black and white mode.

  • Pingback: Atheist solidarity? What’s that? » Butterflies and Wheels()

  • Laurence

    I don’t think your analogy is that strong. Mohammad is a person that lived over a thousand years ago who can have no interest in whether or not his picture is draw. The people in this picture have an interest in whether a positive image in support of oppressed atheists is photoshopped to make a silly joke. The situations presented are just not even close to being related for the analogy to be strong. The situations is even more different since at least one of the individuals in the picture have explicitly asked to be left alone by Reap and yourself. I think that gives a pretty good prima facie reason for not photoshopping the picture in the first place, much less sharing it on Facebook and tagging said people. It’s just juvenile and makes neither yourself or Reap Paden look good.

    Also, I don’t see any reason to count this a satire. It’s not obviously funny. It doesn’t make any real point. And it’s pretty juvenile. Good examples of satire are books authored by Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller. This is not an example of satire.

    • There is no analogy proposed above. Rather, I am pointing out how inconsistent it is to promote “Draw Mohammad Day” and bemoan satire of feminists.

      • Laurence

        You are pointing this out by trying to put them on a similar level. I am arguing that there is no good reason to think that they are possibly on the same level which means that they is no inconsistency.

    • Steersman

      Laurence said:

      The situations presented are just not even close to being related for the analogy to be strong. The situations is even more different since at least one of the individuals in the picture have explicitly asked to be left alone by Reap and yourself.

      Analogies don’t have to be at the same “level” to work – all that is required is that a similar set of relationships must hold (1). For example, consider the paradigmatic example in that source (Wikipedia):

      Hand is to Palm as Foot is to Sole

      As Wikipedia notes, “the analogy is focusing on their similarity in having an inner surface”. And as for “difference”, that Wikipedia article starts off by noting that Bohr drew an analogy between the solar system and his model of an atom – it would be hard to find systems or cases that differ so much in scale while exhibiting such significant similarities, i.e., the elements and their relationships in each case.

      But I think that Justin is somewhat in error in denying, and that you are correct in suggesting that he is “proposing” an analogy which actually seems to be quite a good one. More particularly, one might suggest that the analogy is:

      Islamic dogma is to Draw-Mohammad-Day as Feminist dogma
      is to “draw its modern-day ‘prophets’ in ridiculous poses”.

      While of course feminist dogma isn’t promising life-after-death – much less consorting with 72 virgins at any time, some of it is also based on some very specious and problematic premises, and is likewise rather dogmatic in insisting on a “One True Faith” of sorts – something that is emphasized in the photoshop (2) Paula Kirby provided not long ago. And, of course, feminist dogma isn’t, yet anyway, planning on advancing itself at the point of a sword – although some radfems seem to be toying with that idea. So some very significant differences in scale between the two cases, but the significant similarity is in the dogma and pretentious claims, and in the appropriate and “civilized” responses to it.

      But there is, I think, a delicious bit of irony in that analogy – which is maybe more along the line of what Justin had in mind. And that is that Myers & Benson & Company have been making a great to-do about poking fun at Islamic dogma – quite reasonably, I think – but seem remarkably unwilling to consider that significant portions of their feminist “philosophy” also qualifies as dogma and so should, by rights, be fair game for any true-blue skeptic. Which means they either have to admit to being egregious hypocrites, or to admit that maybe there’s a fly or two in the ointment that they have been peddling.


      • Laurence

        I still the connection between the two things in the analogy is weak and stand by assessment for the reasons given.

        There is no feminist dogma. There are people who feel strong about something for reasons given. That is not dogma. I have never heard any convincing argument that there is some feminist dogma being upheld by Benson, Myers, or anybody else. It just seems to be a way for people to dismiss what they think. That doesn’t seem like the right way to do things.

        • Steersman

          Laurence said:

          I still [think] the connection between the two things in
          the analogy is weak and stand by [my] assessment for the reasons given.

          But you haven’t really even attempted to rebut, much less succeeded in rebutting, my argument about the nature and mechanisms of analogies. Which suggests a very strong connection.

          There is no feminist dogma. There are people who feel
          [strongly] about something for reasons given. That is not dogma. I have never heard any convincing argument that there is some feminist dogma being upheld by Benson, Myers, or anybody else. ….

          And fundamentalist Muslims and Christians “feel strongly” about their
          beliefs too. And many people “felt strongly” that the sun went around the earth, and that the earth was the center of the universe. Strong feelings don’t make them an accurate reflection of reality.

          As for “feminist dogma”, you might want to take a look at this Wikipedia article which lists and describes some 17 different feminist ideologies. And then there’s the book “Professing Feminism”, a review of which here by some less dogmatic feminists argues:

          The book is a critique on Women Studies departments in the United States. The authors interviewed dozens of women, from staff to professors to students, all quite supportive of feminism, but all still sharing the same criticism of infighting, indoctrination, political correctness and a near total lack of objective discussion.
          The authors, however, demonstrate that these problems have existed since their ideology’s inception, and were particularly common within Women Studies programs. The authors wrote of the isolationist attitude that dominates many of the programs, along with a virulent anti-science, anti-intellectual sentiment driving many of the professors, staff and students. [my emphasis]

          Hardly seems appropriate that a bunch of atheists and skeptics should be getting into bed with some “anti-science, anti-intellectual” feminists. But, as argued, very strong similarities in the amount of dogma and responses thereto, as well as large differences in magnitude and details and implications – both of which are hallmarks of analogies.

  • erin.nikla

    Justin. Dude. You had a choice: share and promote an image of atheists standing in solidarity with Bangladeshi atheists suffering under a theocratic regime (the original image), or share and promote an image which erases that message of atheist solidarity and replaces it with a minor jab in an ongoing internet squabble.

    Which do you think is more important? And do you think it is appropriate to erase the original message just to add a bit of fuel to your fight with the feminists and pro-feminists?

    • This isn’t a matter of what is important. I shared the photoshop because I thought it was funny. I could have shared both the original image and the photoshopped image and you still would be annoyed with me. Further, I live-tweeted Maryam’s speech – there is “solidarity” for you – if solidarity is putting words on signs, solidarity is tweeting. Anyway, I fail to see how writing messages on pieces of paper is going to do anything for atheists arrested in Bangladesh. It might look nice and be a kind gesture, but it’s slacktivism. We might as well pray or change our profile pictures on Facebook to cartoon characters to combat violence while we are at it…

      • erin.nikla

        [1] You could have shared the original image. But you didn’t. That was the whole point.

        [2] I’m not annoyed with you, and given that this is (iirc) our first interaction, you cannot possibly know whether I would be annoyed or not given certain actions.

        [3] Live tweeting is not a priori a gesture of solidarity. I might live-tweet a creationist speech; I am hardly showing solidarity.

        [4] As I say to everyone who marshals the accusation of slacktivism: firstly, many (if not most) slacktivists are also activists; secondly, if can’t even be bothered to share a photo, you hardly have grounds to criticize those who do.

        [5] It is about what’s important, or rather, which rhetorical points you would rather make. You saw both images, and you decided which expressed that which you would like to communicate. That’s fact.

        • Richard Sanderson

          You’re clueless. Go back to Baboon Land where all the other remedials reside.

          • ool0n

            Rich is always on hand to show how welcoming the Slymepit are to members of our community! Disagree and you are a “Baboon” … Personally I don’t think I’ve seen an “erin.nikla” nym at FtBs so I’ll refer to xyr as neutral in this “war”. Somehow Rich knows Erin is a FtB fan with no evidence just because xie disagrees with Justin the wonderboy Vacula. Rich also knows xie is “remedial” or of subnormal intelligence, presumably compared to him and the Vac?

            Clearly this is true because according to fanboi Rich the Vac “…does a lot more for the atheist community than the bunch of FTB wasters you are defending”

            Impressive that he can do more than 35+ bloggers and activists on his lonesome. I’m starting to wonder if he isn’t some sort of alien, would explain a lot.

            • bismarket 1

              But what about the subject of the blog, do you have any comments on that?

              • ool0n

                I did, below, the link to Dan Fincke, he puts it better than me ;-)

                Childish mockery is not satire. The aim is not to make some greater point or to ridicule opponents arguments, its to hurt. The more Ophelia says “leave me alone” the less they leave her alone, because they think they can get at her. Not that they think they can come up with a reasoned argument to best hers, they think they can bully her off the internet as happened with Jen. I’d imagine Justins response would be as caring if Ophelia gave it up –

                “So, Jen’s allegedly finished blogging…and this time it’s not her boyfriend who kicked her off the internet.”

                Nice response for a student in mental health counselling to make when a fellow activist is so depressed by the nastiness online she throws in the towel.

                • Steersman

                  Yea, that comment about Jen probably qualifies as a cheap shot.

                  But I don’t think “childish mockery” holds much water. As mentioned,
                  considering the chicken-little “the sky’s falling!” type hysteria generated
                  over Justin’s presence at the WiS conference, I would say that that photoshop highlights the ridiculousness of that response, i.e., credible satire.

                  • ool0n

                    Well I dunno if you get your impression of “hysteria” from the Slymepit digest or reality… For me nothing came close to this –

                    “They hate his guts, and he’s going to the lions’ den, a conference of theirs where speakers are already spitting hate and venom to his presence there, having their fandom ready to attack and be hostile and aggressive, and WiS2 organizers seem to be looking the other way. I fear for his safety … This is a poisoned environment and I’m afraid he could be in more danger than just being asked for a cup of coffee”

                    Then amazingly topped by TheO ffensive Atheist –

                    “There are some people in the comment section of Butterflies & wheels that are trying to convince (I’m not sure who) that Justin represents a REAL threat & some are seriously talking about bottles of acid being thrown in Womens faces as a real possibility (all without ANY kind of evidence of course).”

                    That level of “hysteria” could do with some mocking… But I wouldn’t co-opt a message of support to fellow atheists facing death to take the piss out of a couple of dills.

                • bismarket 1

                  Was there some kind of petition or letters to her hosting company or anything similar? Didn’t something like that happen to Justin Vacula & some others & didn’t Ophelia & “Jen” support those things? (Genuine question, as i’m really not sure).

        • Pitchguest

          Giving you the benefit of the doubt, have you seen the original photo?

          You can’t even read the fucking words. The worst kind of slacktivism. And again, it isn’t the message being satirised. It’s designed to poke pun at the people in the picture (with the exception of Maryam Namazie) and their bizarre disproportioned loathing of Justin. It goes without saying that they wouldn’t write “We <3 Justin" on their signs. It's meant to be humorous. Ha ha ha. They say laughter makes you live longer. It's definitely better than saying it's a "bully-trope" or "harassment" which is just ridiculous.

          • erin.nikla

            I did not say the message was being satirized; I said the message was erased.

    • Richard Sanderson

      Erin, look up what false dichotomy means.

      Justin does a lot more for the atheist community than the bunch of FTB wasters you are defending.

    • Caias Ward


      So where have you shared the original image?

  • The Monarchs of Public Square

    I get it. It’s funny because no one loves Justin

  • Brive1987

    “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”.

    Time to grow up.

  • Lord. Here, all of Ophelia’s fan’s comments, tl;dr version:


  • Pogsurf

    OK, I’m a new-boy around here, but I want to have a go at untangling the log-jam.

    1. Draw Mohammed Day

    I object to censureship that occured around the Danish cartoons. I have no problem offending people who might think an image of Mohammed is profane. I enjoy doing art. Plenty of people produce cartoons of Mohammed each year that don’t cause any offence. I wanted to produce an image that was good enough to cause offence…

    And then I thought HEY, THAT’S A FUCKING STUPID THING TO DO! I’ve gone off the idea because I don’t want guys in suicide vests rocking up at my front door or spend the rest of my life under police protection. There are other things I can paint. I’ll have to find other ways to protest about the censureship.

    The Mohammed Cartoon Conundrum: if its good enough to seriously offend it’s a fucking stupid thing to do.

    2. The I <3 Justin Photo

    Is totally inoffensive, there's no need to take it down.

    But, and it's a big but.

    In the Facebook comments Justin says he'd like to become an ally of Benson. If you want allies you have to start throwing out olive branches. Needling your potential allies will not help. Take the picture down because you are a big man and you want to make a gesture of goodwill. No one can seriously turn round and say you were forced into removing it. It's about love for fucks sake. Precisely because it is so inoffensive is why its a good place to start your charm offensive. If Benson wants it removed (I'm not sure if she has explicitly asked for its removal, but the implication is there) then do this simple thing for her, and she will start to see you in a different light.

    Hey, all we need is a little lubrication and we can all get down to some serious love-making…

    • Pogsurf

      I have to recant the bit about Benson. I found out she is a bigotted old witch when she started mouthing off that I was dangerous upon finding out I have bipolar. She exaggerates, she lies, and her commitment to liberalism is compromised by her staggering prejudices combined with an extreme sense of victomhood.

      Myers is a bully and Benson is the joker in the pack. Have a fun time in Dublin Justin. I got it wrong.

      • Do you have a link to where Benson does this Martin/Pogsurf?
        May I ask why you decided to start following me on Disqus?

        Curious on both counts.

        • Pogsurf

          It’s an opinion I have formed after interacting with her for several years. I could provide a link to the most recent incident, but I won’t, for my own reasons. Put my comment down as gossip if you like, this is not hard core evidence of anything.

        • Pogsurf

          No idea what the second question even means. Are you getting paranoid Glendon?

  • sezit

    Hmmm. What this looks like to me is that you, Justin, are more focused on poking at people for your own amusement and creating pointless offense than you are at addressing issues that all atheists have in common. What the heck is your end goal here? How does this further it? You complain at the many blog posts written criticizing you. It’s pretty hard to see you on the high ground with this petty crap. Here’s a challenge – stop writing about these people and see if they stop writing about you. Take the draw.

  • When it comes to images and image use, I know a few things.

    One of the tests of parody is whether or not it also comments on the work it’s using as a source. I’m an illustrator with some experience, not a copyright lawyer but it seems to me stripping out the message of solidarity for Bangladeshi atheists is removing any chance of commenting on it.

    Nah, what we have here is just ripping off Lee’s photo and replacing the original message to slap at some people you and Paden enjoy slapping at.

    This isn’t parody. It isn’t a stand against tyranny. It’s just a crappy Photoshop to make other people feel crappy while you get lulz.

    • Steersman

      That “message of solidarity” wasn’t what was being ridiculed. It was that
      the biggest thing that that group of individuals came together over was in
      getting their panties in a bunch over Justin showing up at that Conference.

      For which they should rightfully feel “crappy”. And seek to mend their ways, not that anybody is holding their breath at the prospect ….

      • Steersman, to legally create a parody, you can’t just grab any image and assign any meaning you want to it. Parody demands some reference to the material used.

        Wikipedia has nice examples. Using The Cat in the Hat to make fun of the OJ Simpson trial isn’t cool because it doesn’t comment on The Cat in the Hat. Writing a satire of Gone With the Wind from the servants’ point of view is okay because it’s directly referencing the source.

        The message of solidarity is integral to the original image. It isn’t being parodied here, it’s omitted. So this is just a photo ripped off and a derivative work created without permission from the copyright holder.

        • Steersman

          Yes, and what is “the material used”? While you might think that that “message of solidarity” was integral, many who had any knowledge of the backstory prior to that photo would realize, particularly in the context of the modified message, that what was really integral was the serious hate-on – or at least histrionics – that many of the people in that photo, and their supporters, experienced in considering Justin’s pending presence at that conference. And that contrast, that incongruity between the message and the subtext is, I think, the basis for the ridicule which quite reasonably and justifiably falls on many in that picture.

          However, you might also check the Pit for a few other photoshops of the same picture which make some reference to that message, and which suggest that at least several in that photo are little more than “champagne socialists”.

          But YMMV ….