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Posted by on Dec 7, 2012 in Feminism, Freethought Blogs, Skepticism | 32 comments

A Very Strange Interview With Rebecca Watson

I really don’t know what to make of this interview with Rebecca Watson. Ken Perrott does an analysis of her misconceptions about peer review here.  Watson again complains about misogyny and internet trolling, completely ignoring the abuse that comes from certain SJW and FTB sites. She also retells the Egate story (in this version EG apparently wasn’t anywhere near her at the bar?) and gives a somewhat distorted recap of this presentation in Dublin. Basically, all I can say is that I don’t know what to say…

One thing I noted is that while the interviewer can clearly see the problem of mixing ideology with skepticism, Watson can’t. Also Watson makes a point about a study where skeptics provided valid criticism of the results, while feminists provided additional criticism from another perspective, thus providing a better overall analysis. Isn’t that really an argument for keeping these groups separate? Ideally, that’s what I’d like to see, and I think Watson would make a great advocate for her particular type of  feminism, which she defines with the cliche “the radical notion that women are people.” But surely there’s more to Watson’s feminist ideology than that, unless simply seeing women as people requires the 101 blog that Watson considers required reading for everyone except misogynist parrots.

Any thoughts?

  • It didn’t seem all that strange to me. I found it interesting. I’ve only half-followed the hyp that surrounds her lately, but I must say it does have the appearance of a bunch of rabid haters just wishing she’d shut up. The more of that I see, quite frankly, the more interested I am in hearing what she has to say.

    • bluharmony

      It’s pretty much always what she said in the interview above, with slight variations in the facts. Of course the EP speech is different, it provides tons of misinformation about real science and conflates media reports and actual research, to further whatever her feminist goals may be. Basically, if you want to hear how everyone in atheism is a misogynist (excluding her and her friends), she’s the person to tell you.

      • That isn’t what she says. Why do you feel the need to misrepresent her position?

        • bluharmony

          It’s misrepresenting her position to post a link to the interview so that people can decide for themselves? Wow, never knew.

          • Maria, YOU state that she says all atheists are misogynists. That most certainly is a misrepresentation. Try not to be disingenuous. .

    • DavidGaliel

      By that logic, you must *love* the Wesboro Baptists.

  • What, on earth, could you possibly have found strange about that? Your bias is obvious. She is speaking about abuse that is directed towards her.

    • bluharmony

      In the past she has called the elevator incident sexualization and objectification, while Myers called it harassment and assault, a ridiculous position that Watson did not object to. Marcotte called it “almost rape.” Now it’s just a breach of etiquette because the interviewer seems baffled at why someone would be offended by an invite to coffee? But that’s what I’ve always said it was, and was called all sorts of names for saying it. Why didn’t she call the interviewer the same names? Because such language isn’t allowed on the air?

      BTW, I’m glad to meet the first non-biased person on the planet. Please teach me how to be more unbiased, just like you.

      Watson always speaks about abuse directed toward her, which is exactly what I said above, and she does tend to call everyone who disagrees with her a misogynist, sister-shamer or similar. I got called a slut-shamer, for instance, which isn’t even possible, because I’m a slut, and I’m not the least bit ashamed of it.

      What she didn’t do here, and what we all hoped she would do, is address the multiple errors in her EP presentation and tone down her trashing of EP.

      • Karmakin

        To be honest, I kinda feel bad for Watson…maybe I’m off the mark, but I see her as being in a pretty tough position. At least to me, it was pretty clear that at least from the get go she wanted to downplay the whole EG incident and not let it get out of hand, but several friends grabbed that ball and started running down the field with it…and what could she do at that point?

        That said I tend to be an overly empathetic person who tends to try and see the good in all positions (which isn’t always a good thing), so that could just be my personal bugaboos speaking.

        Also, feel free to put friends in scare quotes in your mind if you want. I don’t think good friends should start wars on your behalf, but that’s just me.

        • bluharmony

          What she could have done is not attack McGraw, Dawkins, and tons of others who disagreed with her, while proclaiming herself to be the new goddess of feminism (I’m paraphrasing, see her Privilege Delusion post). She could have said, “Hey guys, it wasn’t that big of a deal, let’s stop talking about it” instead of tweeting how getting someone famous to say something stupid about you makes you more famous on the internet and gloating: She could have also avoided saying that anonymous threats (that every YouTuber whose main goal is to ridicule others gets) are coming from atheists. She could have done a lot, actually; the ball was completely in her court. But Skepchick has never seen as much traffic (= $) as it did during that controversy.

          I still appreciate that you try to see the good in everyone; it’s a great way to be. I assume that about people too, unless they prove otherwise. And frankly, I’m a lot more cautious now than when I was younger. I’m still hoping that Watson will do something positive for others at during her career as a feminist blogger & speaker.

          • Karmakin

            Well, truth be told she is a troll. Not that there’s anything wrong with that by itself per se. The world actually needs trolls sometimes IMO, and they can be entertaining. But all the same, I do think that to some degree she was caught up with the mob mentality that triggered around it.

            Or to put it a different way, I can’t be but so upset with the trolls in and of themselves. It’s with the people who try to justify and protect the trolling that do the real damage.

            For what it’s worth, I fundamentally disagree with the concept that this is about page hits. Why? Because the whole SJW mindset is much bigger than the big blogs (Jezebel probably being THE exception to this rule), and to be honest ego, hubris and self-righteousness are much better explanations for their behavior.

            SJW-ing is a toxic mindset that attracts toxic people. It doesn’t matter if it’s radical feminism, radical veganism or whatever. (The latter comes to mind as my wife was reading a lot of that stuff lately and talking to me about it). What you see here isn’t special or unique.

          • bluharmony

            I often get the impression that unlike a lot of SJWs, Watson doesn’t really believe what she’s saying. I’m not sure why. PZ, on the other hand, probably does. Enough to completely destroy his reputation as a biologist, anyway. Watson doesn’t have similar concerns. Just a couple of years ago, she was having people vote on who was the sexist of her friends on FB. She was the winner, of course, and she proudly displayed the results. It’s all so at odds with the position she’s taking now, and people don’t change that quickly. Plus, she’s extremely intelligent, despite what anyone else might think or say.

          • I have no reason to think she doesn’t believe the things she says, but I think she’s embraced a fairly radical kind of feminist politics for ultimately cynical reasons. Before “Elevatorgate”, she didn’t seem to be much of a “social justice” blogger or particularly radical feminist, but has always been a big promoter of “brand Rebecca”. The role of “controversial feminist” was basically thrust on her at that point, and I think she found that she really liked the attention that got her, both positive and negative, and simply ran with it. Now she’s pretty much all about pushing buttons and getting even more attention – she even made a t-shirt to that effect: .

            Unfortunately, the EP blogwars are succeeding in doing much the same way, even though it’s also managed to bring up an interesting debate on the pros and cons of EP. I say, make the discussion more about EP and less about Watson, for all of the obvious reasons.

          • bluharmony

            So far, none of the criticism in the blogs has been substantive in nature. PZ made a substantive allegation in the blog Evolving Thoughts, and I have no idea if it’s right or not because Professor Wilikens hasn’t responded (even though I did, but I’m not a biologist). Basically, it seems to me that he’s asserting that all sexual differences are a result of mutation and genetic drift and cites a study that doesn’t support what he’s saying. The link to that blog is on the right. Take a look.

          • Karmakin

            Yeah. Normally I would expect eventually the SJWs to get bored of you guys in particular and start to eat their own, and I suspect that Watson would be one of the first.

            That said, I really do think that the egalitarian/SJW conflict is on the verge of moving to the mainstream, and it’s not going to go well for them. At all. And that might put a hold on the normally expected purity purges.

      • “Watson always speaks about abuse directed toward her, which is exactly what I said above, and she does tend to call everyone who disagrees with her a misogynist, sister-shamer or similar. I got called a slut-shamer, for instance, which isn’t even possible, because I’m a slut, and I’m not the least bit ashamed of it.”

        This. The thing that earns Watson so much enmity is her outright defamatory conflation of simple disagreement with her politics and her tactics, and outright misogynist trolls who send her rape and death threats. (Which any random asshole on the internet can do, BTW.) The sad thing is that she’s gotten venues like Slate to provide her a pulpit for that story, and there’s now large numbers of left-of-center individuals who buy into a very distorted picture of the mainstream (meaning non-“social justice warrior”) part of the atheist/secularist movement.

        • bluharmony

          Yes, that’s the larger part of the problem & why she can’t simply being ignored — she tells everyone how awful most atheists are (falsely) — and calls it atheist activism and skepticism. She has also now begun to disparage science as male-biased in the name of skepticism without providing evidence for the scope and breadth of her allegations. This, frankly, sucks. And it also leads me to think that the best way to decrease male-bias in science is for women to become scientists. There’s nothing stopping us and, in fact, the bar is indeed lower when we pursue such fields. And if Watson does want to criticize science the way she does, then she should to so as a feminist, not a skeptics or atheist or rationalist or anything that obscures her clearly political motivations.

    • EllenBeth Wachs – sometimes I google people’s names just to get a better idea of where they’re coming from. Your’s was pretty interesting:

      To me, this just says *everything* about who’s jumping on the “social justice warrior” atheist bandwagon, especially with its convenient “poor put-upon woman atheist” blanket defense it offers.

      • bluharmony
      • If you want to call yourself a skeptic, try acting like one. I hear you have a law degree? Act like it.

        • Ronlawhouston

          She is – she’s refuted your arguments over and over. As a matter of fact this juror gives bluharmony thumbs up and undocumented financial transaction lady thumbs down.

          • I recognize your username from Hemant’s blog. Not having you on my side is a relief.

          • Ronlawhouston

            Eh, whatever. I’m on your side on the whole Polk County incident. I think you could win a serious 1983 lawsuit against them. However, I feel radically different about the feminist jihad against EP.

            Even if you put EP into a very narrow box, the premise that it’s somehow invalid because it doesn’t support your worldview is seriously against the evidence.

            I don’t always agree with you, but I do admire your fighting spirit.

          • I don’t know anything about a “feminist jihad” against EP but I consider myself a feminist and take no position on it as I simply don’t know enough about it. Until I do, I remain on the sidelines.

            As far as your support re Polk County, much appreciated. I just wish I could have found a lawyer that wasn’t $500.00 as hour. I ran out of money very quickly and thus the contentious issues with my organization. BTW, they got all of the documentation. That was a red herring. There was a board election that was occurring. Certain people were afraid of not getting re-elected.

          • But thanks, you and Maria have given me evidence for my ongoing defamation case against those people.

  • DavidGaliel

    Why continue to grant this mediocre charlatan far more attention than she merits? You need some perspective – outside the margins, few people in the atheist community know or care who Rebecca Watson is – and fewer still in the science community, let alone in the general public. She is a self-appointed representative of a fringe neo-puritanical group that is neither skeptical nor rational, and the fact that she and her supporters self-label as “atheists” doesn’t automatically grant them some authority or credibility when it comes to critical thinking, skepticism or science. She doesn’t represent “atheists” (or “feminists”, for that matter) – she’s just an overrated mediocre thinker who has some minimal skills in playing the online publicity game.

    And she certainly doesn’t represent “skepticism”, any more than Deepak Chopra represents quantum physics

    The more you write about her and the other fringe ideologues at FtB, the more you perpetuate their nonsense – which is mostly about gaining attention in the first place.

    Leave them alone to stew and eat their own, and let’s move on to more productive, progressive, meaningful work. You are getting as obsessed with them as they are with you. Leave it alone, you are above this nonsense. Stop feeding the trolls.

    • bluharmony

      Fair advice. There’s an element of morbid curiosity, I suppose. Also an amazement at how self-proclaimed skeptics are willing to eat up propaganda that they’re being fed, and concern that this is being taught to young people in the name of atheism or skepticism. And finally, those who have personally suffered from the antics of this group generally have a harder time just letting it go.

      • DavidGaliel

        Ah, there’s the heart of the matter, and the problem. Watson et al have learned the trick that, if you target someone personally online, they will grant you a lot more attention than they would otherwise. The more you ignore the substance of your victim’s arguments and focus on personal attacks, the more urgently and publicly they will attempt to correct the record substantively – which just creates the illusion of credibility for you – and generates more publicity.

        It is classic online troll behavior – as is their overuse of “troll” to attack anyone attempting to engage in substantive debate with them. Anyone who has been around online communities for long enough recognizes the insular pathology of that group.

        You, Justin, Thunderfoot, and everyone else personally targeted are simply playing their game, acting within the framing they have created.

        The more you take them seriously, and attempt to engage with them rationally, the more they react, and thrive.

        There is a reason “don’t feed the trolls” is such old advice. It is the only productive response.

        Ed Clint did a great job with his point by point substantive post. Unfortunately, he and the rest of you are getting sucked in to trollish reframing. Make a rebuttal, and move on.

        I assure you that Watson is far more obscure and less influential than you think.

        It hurts to let unfair attacks go; it is also the only way to deal with fanatics.

        • bluharmony

          Good advice.

          • DavidGaliel

            I chide because I love 🙂

          • bluharmony

            Much love back. I’m still wondering where the substantive take-down of EP might be. PZ promised one, but it hasn’t seen the light of day yet.

  • MIstwalker

    I think the major issue is that Rebecca Watson isn’t really a very good skeptic. When she describes herself as a “skeptic”, she really means “not religious”, as she has something akin to religious dogma, just not in conventional religion. Instead, it’s faith in the sort of illogical reactionary tumblr brand of always offended “feminism”. I put feminism in quotes in the last sentence, because feminism *should* be about equal rights for everyone. In her case, though, it has little to do with that, and instead it’s inflated mock-offense for attention gathering purposes, so she ends up getting invited to conferences and so on. This is because she doesn’t really have any marketable skills or talents.

    This is why, when you question her, she seeks to ban you from attending the conference she’s at, or bans you from her youtube accounts, twitter, etc etc. If you doubt her, it’s most likely because she’s wrong, and you can’t have that visible to others if you lack all substance.