Sunday, 24 February 2013

Always be suspicious of an opinion unbacked by evidence...

...especially when the opinion offered is attributed to an absent third party.

I'm a little late to address this, but I found out today that I was mentioned a while back on Ophelia Benson's blog.  I'm only a supporting act, quoted as having "agreed with" a Tweet by Jeremy Stangroom in which he speculated on the respective attractiveness of "chill girls" versus the more outspoken feminists who think chill girls are too relaxed about misogyny, or even misogynistic themselves.

Interestingly, Stangroom's original Tweet is quoted by Benson, but mine is not (granted she links to my Twitter profile, but given that I Tweet several times most days her readers would have had to click through pretty damn quickly to stand a chance of finding my offending Tweet).

The most obvious explanation for this is that I did not in fact express the opinion she attributes to me.  Here's what I said:

Now, leaving aside the technical impossibility of agreeing with a Tweet which was in fact expressing indecision between two or more possibilities (the "I wonder" at the start is a dead giveaway!), any reasonable observer will see that in fact all I said was that he was brave to speculate publicly on a such a taboo subject - I did not give an opinion on the matter either way.

I'm not going to give my own opinion on my looks or on anybody else's - beyond reflecting that unfounded generalisations and assumptions of the kind made in the comments about women Benson has labelled "pretties" would quite rightly be met with anger if they were aimed at women NOT considered "conventionally attractive" - because looks ought to be irrelevant to reasoned discussion.  I'm not going to try to contend that "pretties" have it worse, or better, or equally bad, because I don't think a person's right to get pissed off about misogyny in our culture is affected by their appearance, or whether they personally happen to have experienced exactly a given species of sexism.  Nor am I going to comment on the "Nine Ugliest Feminists in America" article Ophelia also quotes (nor will I link it), for the simple reason that it does not deserve anybody's attention.

What I will say is that I am disappointed by Benson, and even more so by her readers.  Granted, Stangroom - not I - was the point of the piece, so it's entirely natural that the majority of the comments should focus on what he said and not with my alleged agreement with it.  But in more than eighty comments at the time of writing, not a single person has thought to ask what the "pretty" being accused of holding a revolting opinion actually said,  to ask for evidence that she holds the opinion attributed to her.  No one thought it was strange that Benson directly quoted Stangroom, but did not directly quote me. Seriously, nobody thought that was odd?

Given what the opinion I was falsely accused of holding was used to justify, that's pretty shocking.  Skepticism fail, people.

Update: I posted this link in the comments section of Benson's blog.  She and I have since had a conversation on Twitter, and - after some resistance - she has accepted that my meaning in that Tweet to Stangroom was not what she interpreted it to be, and has said she will update her original piece.  I'd like to thank her for discussing it with me, and I look forward to reading the promised amendment.


  1. I suspect that at least some of those who read Benson's blog do not feel comfortable disagreeing with her in the comments, so that might have something to do with it feeling a bit like an echo chamber at times. In any case, it is good to hear that she came around as was willing to update her piece. She is to be commended for that.

  2. So, Stangroom gets off with a "he was just asking" and your "hahaha" was a simple comment on his bravery. Got it. (Not sure what's brave about his speculation--it's a pretty common trope. It's not like Stangroom will get cyberbullied in perpetuity for it. The people being cyberbullied are Ophelia and the women Stangroom was "just wondering" about.)

  3. And speaking of skepticism fail: Stangroom thinks the "chill girls" are being "vilified"? Citation needed.

    (Compare a tweet directed at Sara Mayhew two years ago to the ongoing harassment experienced by Benson, Watson, Zvan, and others. Compare and contrast.)