DJ Grothe is right, part 3: “Yes, but sometimes it’s appropriate to say, ‘yes but’”

Part 1, what DJ said
Par 2, screen cap dump

One thing Greta Christina did in criticizing DJ Grothe was refer back to a previous post she had written, Why “Yes, But” Is the Wrong Response to Misogyny. When I saw this post, I thought it was pretty obviously problematic, for reasons that don’t require any preamble to explain, so I want to talk about that now. Here’s the core of the post:

When the topic of misogyny comes up, and men change the subject, it trivializes misogyny.

When the topic of misogyny comes up, and men change the subject, it conveys the message that whatever men want to talk about is more important than misogyny.

When the topic of misogyny comes up, and men change the subject to something that’s about them, it conveys the message that men are the ones who really matter, and that any harm done to men is always more important than misogyny.

And when the topic of misogyny comes up, and men change the subject, it comes across as excusing misogyny. It doesn’t matter how many times you say, “Yes, of course, misogyny is terrible.” When you follow that with a “Yes, but…”, it comes across as an excuse. In many cases, it is an excuse. And it contributes to a culture that makes excuses for misogyny.

Whether this is right or not depends on what kinds of situations Greta is talking about. Situation 1 is where someone says, “this is an example of horrid misogyny” full stop, and someone else changes the subject. In that situation, the second person definitely seems like they’re trivializing misogyny. But then there’s situation 2, where someone says “this is an example of horrid misogyny, and also X” and someone takes exception to the “and also X.” It’s hard to see how a rule against taking exception to the “and also X”s in situation 2 could be justified.

For one thing, if such a rule ever truly came to be accepted in a particular community, it would invite abuse. People could cite instances of misogyny to push any crazy agenda and then invoke the rule to block criticism. But even without active abuse of the rule, there’s still the possibility of cases where the “and also X” is problematic in important ways, and it doesn’t necessarily trivialize misogyny to discuss that.

Now, Greta’s initial “yes, but” post was made in a context that made what she said sound pretty plausible. A 15 year old girl had made a short post on Reddit’s atheism community (known as r/atheism) with a picture of herself holding up a copy of Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World with a message saying, basically, “look what my mom got me for Christmas!” The post got a lot of nice comments, but it also got quite a few nasty, sexual, harassing comments. Obviously that was horrible.

But even then, the “yes buts” weren’t directed only at people saying “that’s horrible.” Rebecca Waston’s post on the incident was titled, “Reddit Makes Me Hate Atheists,” and ended with “Fuck you, r/atheism.” It’s not surprising to see pushback against this, especially from r/atheism users who didn’t contribute to the horribleness.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to say in Rebecca’s defense here (such as “it should be obvious from context that she didn’t mean all atheists,” “r/atheism really is especially bad,” that r/atheism’s moderators need to delete those kind of comments, etc.) The point is that it’s not reasonable to expect people to refrain from pushback as a matter of general principle, and the defensibility of Rebecca’s post doesn’t make “no yes buts” a good general principle.

The dustup with DJ is a pretty good example of why “no yes buts” is a problematic general principle. For starters, Greta doesn’t seem to be sticking to a strict “no yes buts” position. Instead, she says:

My problem is that — when weighing on the one hand, “Greta did something that in my opinion was unfair by quoting someone out of context,” and on the other hand, “Ryan publicly stated that he wanted to ‘slap the bitch’ and ‘kick her readers in the cunt’” — you seem to think that the former is of greater concern than the latter. You have certainly devoted significantly more space to discussing it. In the discussion on Stephanie’s blog, you devoted one sentence to saying that “there is never any defense for real or pretend threats of violence”… and 2,371 words discussing other matters, including 602 words (by a conservative count) justifying Ryan’s behavior, defending it, explaining the context for it, expressed a wish that people have sympathy for it, defending your own reaction to it, and blaming me for having instigated it.

Those priorities are, in my opinion, exactly backwards. If you’d spent one sentence saying, “Yes, I think Greta’s behavior was unfair,” and then spent the rest of your comments on the topic saying that obviously the important issue here was threats of violence, specifically gender-based, sexualized threats of violence against a female writer and her readers… we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Though it’s a little unclear, this makes it sound like her position is that it’s okay to say “yes but” as long as you don’t dedicate too many sentences to the “but.” The underlying idea is that how much attention you devote to different issues reflects how important you think those different issues are. However, while importance is one factor people use to decide how much attention to pay to different things, it’s only one of many. This makes the whole idea of criticizing someone based on how many sentences they devoted to different points a little strange.

For one thing: when you agree, all you have to say is “I agree.” You can elaborate, but it isn’t always necessary, and it would be a waste of time to rehash absolutely everything the person you’re agreeing with said. But when you say “I think you’re being unfair,” it’s natural for people to expect a somewhat detailed explanation of why you think they’re being unfair. In fact, I think if anything DJ could be faulted for not explaining himself enough.

Furthermore, part of DJ “defending his own reaction” here was DJ responding to some not very nice comments about himself, in particular “DJ Grothe has a problem, an ongoing problem with a pattern, and that problem is him” (from Stephanie Zvan). Had DJ followed Greta’s suggestion in the second paragraph quoted above, he wouldn’t have been able to respond, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect people to not defend themselves against such remarks. (Maybe Greta didn’t mean to suggest that, and she was just giving one example of one thing DJ could have done instead, but if so, it’s not a very helpful example.)

But maybe Greta didn’t mean to say that “we wouldn’t be having this conversation” if only DJ had distributed his sentences differently. She certainly does make other criticisms of DJ, and I’ll talk about them in later posts.

Leave a comment


  1. As I see it (and I’m open to correction) the issue of “yes, but . . .” is the issue of whether a woman’s complaints about misogyny are being properly addressed, or whether they’re simply being brushed aside.

    Word counts and word placements are merely evidence that this is happening; they aren’t the problem itself. So of course it’s a mistake to focus on any particular pair of words, or word ratios or what have you. But that’s not what Greta was saying.

    The issue is simply whether people are taking women’s complaints seriously. Several women feel that D.J. is being dismissive of their concerns. And I’d say it’s obvious from your screen dump that Ryan Grant Long was being completely dismissive (or oblivious) of their concerns, and then became a star example of why these concerns are justified.

  2. From what I can tell (and I am still largely in the dark, so feel free to correct), Greta’s anger here isn’t so much about particular instances of misogyny or threats of violence, but rather that some people are willing to disagree with her.

    Saying “‘Yes, but…’ is the wrong response to misogyny,” is just another way of saying “The only proper response is to agree with me 100%.” What if the person disagreeing thinks a particular instance of what Greta (or whomever) thinks is misogyny isn’t really misogyny at all? Isn’t Greta’s phrase circular, since it assumes that she is right in the first place? Just to clarify, I’m speaking abstractly here, not necessarily about what any person’s disagreement may have been.

    It reminds of Chris’ earlier post “Against ‘feminism’” where he says:

    “When you spend a lot of time telling people you’re a feminist and thinking about how the issues you care about are ‘feminist issues’ and how your views are feminist views, it becomes easy to think of other views as not feminist. And if they’re not feminist, they must be misogynist. So any disagreement with your views can safely be dismissed as misogynist with little thought.”

    Greta says that “yes, but…” is dismissive of misogyny. But isn’t saying “no disagreements” equally dismissive? I think there is some projection going on…

    But again, I don’t have the fullest view of what’s going on here, so if what I said completely contradicted some obvious bit of info, feel free to ignore it.

  3. Hey Chris!

    This is my first visit to your blog made possible by a hyperlink that you left in the comments pertaining to this issue at Greta’s blog. I do not self-identify as a member of the skeptic/atheist community and by virtue of what I know about Elevatorgate and what I have read at Greta’a blog over the last few weeks, I am perfectly content to continue maintaining a discreet distance from the movement.

    Thank you very much for providing the screen captures of Greta’s conversation with Ryan in your article preceeding this one. While following the discussions, such as they were, on Greta’s blog as well as several others at FTB revolving around GT Grothe, the details of this critical conversation were conspicuously absent. It was not clear to me how to access it, but I thought that being able to read it was essential to making any sense out of the whole debacle. Thanks to you, now I have.

    I had only very recently become aware of Greta’s blog and certainly do not think that I should hold a firm opinion of her based on the little that I currently know about her. To be frank though, I can see little reason that I would want to continue following her blog based on what I have witnessed there so far. In short, at present I regard her as a narrow minded ideologue whose vanity is sufficiently well developed to carelessly and ruthlessly assault the character of anyone who disagrees with her, whether that be Ryan Grant Long or GT Grothe, utilizing whatever distortions of truth are convenient to her purpose.

    Thanks for your clear-headed treatment of this matter.



  4. Steve, browser her archives some and you’ll find a ton of great stuff she’s written. Atheists and Anger is famous for a reason. Heck, read all of the “If You’re Just Going to Read Five Things…” on her sidebar.

  5. Steve, Annatar, and Chris, agreed.

    Chris, I think you’re just hitting the tip of the iceberg with these attempts to shut down debate, especially in a *skeptical community* by a) saying that misogyny is the worst of all crimes, and b) the speaker gets to define what misogyny is.

    I’ve seen too many places where disagreement with actions or arguments made by our nice little skeptical talliban is “misogyny”, “excusing misogynistic behavior”, “rape apology”, “women hating”, “privilege” and even “gender traitor.”

  6. Here’s a perfect example of the emotions Greta is stirring up against DJ, who let’s remember has never even jokes that assault against her is okay nor has ever pursued any policy to hurt or disenfranchise women:

    [Name redacted] (3rd comment down): “That was a good poisoning of the well there. We can’t just happen to agree, no, I’m a “ditto head” adding to the excoriation of whatever the heck that nonsense was… Sigh. “there there dear, you’re just overreacting, try to be quieter next time and not so histrionic and then maybe we can get somewhere”. No, DJ, you didn’t literally say that, but that’s how it comes across to those of us told to shut p about this all our lives and called sluts, whores, bitches, cunts, etc for daring to exist on the Internet with a vagina.”

  7. Chris Hallquist

    @Really, Greta?: I don’t think I’ve seen anyone ever say “misogyny is the worst of crimes.” And I’d be careful about assuming that Greta agrees with anything people say on her Facebook page.

    On an unrelated note, now I know how to permalink to Facebook posts. Who else can see that post? Can everyone see it, or does Greta have her privacy set so that only her friends can see it?

  8. @Chris, that’s the purpose of the piece about “Yes, but” (misogyny is the worst of all crimes). There are severe problems with the creations of sacred cows, particularly in a community that ostensibly argues for rational discourse. By even calling for people to take a deep breath and question some of the allegations being thrown around and the suppositions, it’s somehow confirmation of misogyny, which then gives Greta the position to say that her point as been proven and it’s even more important that we fight this threatening force amongst us.

    These are all particularly drafted arguments to dismiss the concerns of others and group them as quickly as possible with apologists for hatred and abuse of women.

    As far as Greta’s commenting policy, it’s one that is arbitrarily enforced. Someone who the group has labeled as an agitator calls into attention the treatment that he or she has experienced to which Greta will say that she appreciates their wonderful contributions but attacks are not allowed. Members of the group tell Greta that the dissident is a “troll” and she then justices the blocking of dissent.
    I know there’s a lot there and would take hours to read over, but in her first or second missive against Grothe, at the bottom, she declares that she reserves the right to ban anyone for any reason she wishes (including a matter as arbitrary as having one’s name start with the letter Z). Not on a computer now where I can easily pull up the permalink. Will link to it later.

    Does Greta have a right to ban people for arbitrary reasons? As it is her blog, certainly. But, should she be banning people for arbitrary reasons when the threads follow posts calling attention against fellow leaders for missteps perceived or real with calls to boycott and accusations that these leaders somehow put women’s safety at risk? No. That’s inexcusable behavior for a leader of a skeptic community.

    Greta’s rule of acceptable commentary is superficially no ad homs and that’s a good start (except for she and her supporters calling people trolls that disagree with any declaration made and given in bad faith), but the reason that we hold the ad hom fallacy problematic is presented in these personal posts about DJ and and misogyny-in-our-midst. We’re not talking about his responses. We turn to talk about the individual as a person who justifies misogyny. All of his contributions then become but a footnote. His other opinions on any matter called into question.
    If you take a look at the comments in the various conversations about this, people are saying they will never support him again. We’re seeing the Dawkins thing repeat.
    And Greta is NOT advising anyone not to act in haste. It’s the obvious intention of a post where she says she won’t attend TAM for her safety is at risk because of this Ryan character, of whom I read somewhere, perhaps from DJ in his responses to Greta, deleted his posts, feels he overreacted and is now ashamed of himself.
    We don’t have Ryan sending her messages or harassing her. I have seen no group of Ryan supporters talking about wanting vengeance against Greta. No one is saying “Yes, but Ryan was right” about the outbursts. But people are saying that the guy has a point about the way things have been played by some, and for that this continues on that TAM is a dangerous place for DJ will be there and he must call into question his devotion to the safety of women.

    2 things: Yes, you permalink by clicking on the date of a status for anyone who wants to know, but screenshots are a wise idea as well. Secondly, in your second part of this, you don’t have the screenshots of Ryan saying he will kick Greta and her fans in the c***. This was in response to Ophelia saying that someone wanted to kick her in the c*** and it somehow being attributed to Ryan or some matter in which he thought he was accused of it and later posted a status that he would kick she and her fans in the c***, along with kicking the men in their scrotums and the transgendered people in the apparently smaller genitalia.
    This is childish and although I don’t think it’s funny, I can’t take it seriously.
    The thought of this man attending some place and going around kicking people in their privates is a YouTube skit. Greta leaves off from this reporting that this kid has shown remorse for the statuses, and she also leaves out that he said he would kick men in their scrotums because this doesn’t play into the narrative that specifically women are under attack. I’m by no stretch of the imagination a men’s rights advocate, however I can see what Greta is doing here by selectively focusing on one part of his status and leaving out the other part. Additionally, as a man, I have absolutely no fear that Ryan will be a TAM and attempting to kick me in my gonads.
    The people leading these charges of misogynists in our midst

  9. I can see it, and I ain’t Greta’s friend. So apparently it’s on public view.


    Greta: “…And for anyone who thinks, “Oh, she’s just banning people who disagree with her”; There are plenty of people who comment on this blog, and indeed who are commenting in this thread, who express opinions that disagree with mine and that I even find reprehensible. I do not ban them. I ban people who are sucking the air out of the room. And I am entirely within my rights to do so. Hell, if I wanted to ban everyone whose name ended in the letter Z and who posted at 6:32 pm on a Tuesday, I would be within my rights to do so. What with this being my blog and all. I don’t do that — but I will ban people who are sucking the air out of the room…”

    “sucking the air out of the room” can mean absolutely anything. It’s completely arbitrary and not the defense of a supporter of the free exchange of ideas and viewpoints. At what point is it not disagreement but instead “sucking the air out of the room”? It’s not established. It’s not even hinted at.
    There’s a point to her pieces, and in those 2 it is to keep focus aimed at DJ Grothe. Anything else is “trolling.”

    Greta says that she does not ban people who disagree with her who hold opinions that are “reprehensible,” but there is no evidence of this.

    Here, we have her blocking some guy for responding in opposition to Rebecca Watson having been voted most influential female atheist of the year. He made one comment and noted the tribalism.