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Old 10-20-2011, 05:36 AM   #1
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New Atheism and the same old sexism?

The Privilege Delusion - Skepchick

Mom, Don’t Read This - Skepchick

Me and a friend have got into a bit of debate over this, if you want the long story check out the two links but i'll try to condense it down for you.

Skepchick is a skeptical feminism blog tackling such issues as contraceptive rights and the general sexism inherent in many world religions and cultures, as well as your usual science topics of interest and so on.

One of the writers for the blog Rebecca Watson goes around the world and does talks at Skeptic society meetings at unis and the like. Anyway she was in Dublin not too long ago and after a meeting she went back to the hotel bar and had some drinks with people who came to the meeting. At about 4am she said she was knackered and was heading to bed, she got into a lift with one of the other guys and he then asked her back to his room for coffee and to chat more, she turned him down.

Anywho, she did a wee vidblog shortly after which contained a small two minute segment about how guys trying to chat her up made her uncomfortable and said she didn't appreciate it, especially after it was one of the things she talked about at the meeting and how it weirded her out as she was by herself in a different country late at night.

This was the cue for a whole lot of vitriol and nastiness to be directed her way across the internet, from blogs being set up specifically to call he everything from 'slut' to much worse and that she should be grateful that a guy even asked her out as she's 'ugly' etc also then rape threats.

There are lots of youtube videos that have been since made about her mainly against her from people who often do their own topical video series.

I find the initial situation that set all this off relatively harmless but I do understand that while I as a guy wouldn't feel threatened or made uncomfortable by being propositioned as such, there is a different power dynamic on the go when a guy approaches a girl especially late at night in an enclosed space like a lift.

Richard Dawkins a guy who I have never been that fond of even waded into this discussion with a disparaging email in relation to her (especially after a talk she did which he attended on the rape threats against her), which you can read in the first link, and has thus lowered himself in my esteem.

The heart of this which I find most bewildering is that it all goes to prove her central point that within her society of like minded individuals there remains a beating heart of dinosaur sexism. I find it troubling that people who are meant to display some intellectual rigour in their thinking and be more open minded to the concerns of the world can remain so unchanged. I don't understand how they can turn round after defending women's rights in say the Islamic world and then turn round and threaten violence or be abusive to a woman in their own backyard.

I do find it more shocking than someone of a certain religious mindset's doing it, you just expect better.

Umm can a mod pease remove the three wee iii at the end of the thread title so I don't look thick
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Old 10-20-2011, 07:20 AM   #2
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I'm with Dawkins on this one. Seems like she's confusing her social anxieties with sexism. The guy who invited her back did nothing wrong. It only dilutes her argument to raise it as an example of sexism. And beginning her post with "Thanks, wealthy old heterosexual white man!" makes her sound like an idiot
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Old 10-20-2011, 07:30 AM   #3
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To me it sounds like she's having a whinge because a guy dared to think he might be able to have sex with her after drinking with her past 4am.

Obviously she doesn't deserve to be called a slut and all the rest of it, but what a massive hyperbolic overreaction from her. She wasn't raped.

Pretty lazy to cry "sexism!!!!1!11!!!" imo.
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Old 10-20-2011, 07:44 AM   #4
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I agree she over reacted to the guy in the lift, but Dawkins was apparently at a talk where she spoke of rape threats before he said what he said. I think there has been an opposing unhealthy over reaction to what she actually said in what was a 2 min segment in her video. I know its the the internetz and all where you kinda have to expect some vitriol and what not, I just find it odd to find that its coming from people who are usually in opposition to such rhetoric. Plus there is my own bias at work in that i've never really liked Dawkins.
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Old 10-20-2011, 08:10 AM   #5
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Old 10-20-2011, 08:30 AM   #6
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In the second link, she completely misses (or ignores) the point of the person's comment and instead decides to provide some inaccurate comparisons. A man can be a cunt too.
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Old 10-20-2011, 08:35 AM   #7
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I agree she over reacted to the guy in the lift, but Dawkins was apparently at a talk where she spoke of rape threats before he said what he said.
But he wasn't addressing the rape threats (I'd argue that what she posted wasn't even a threat). Just because some internet troll says something mean to her doesnt give her amnesty from ridicule. And what Dawkins wrote was hardly aggressive
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Old 10-20-2011, 12:29 PM   #8
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In the second link, she completely misses (or ignores) the point of the person's comment and instead decides to provide some inaccurate comparisons. A man can be a cunt too.
I know a guy who me and a buddy have decided can best be described as "cunty." Men can most definitely be cunts.
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Old 10-20-2011, 01:43 PM   #9
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But he wasn't addressing the rape threats (I'd argue that what she posted wasn't even a threat). Just because some internet troll says something mean to her doesnt give her amnesty from ridicule. And what Dawkins wrote was hardly aggressive
I read Dawkins bit, more as disparaging to the idea that misogyny exists in the west still. I do get that this whole thing is a bit of your typical internet flame war, but I was just taken aback by the level of vitriol aimed at her from the types who claim to be as more enlightened, especially if you see some of the blogs and vids taking a crack at her.
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Old 10-20-2011, 02:14 PM   #10
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If I followed all the hyperlinks in the OP links, and in turn followed all the hyperlinks in whatever blogposts those led me to--which I'd need to do, and probably then some, to grasp the full social context here--it'd take me quite a bit of time. That in itself is one reason why online "communication" easily descends into chaos--people react to one sentence, comment or video excerpt that 'sounds bad' to them, without the benefit of grasping the whole picture. And in that scenario people are especially likely to make sexually/racially/etc. insensitive (or worse) comments, sometimes even with no idea they're doing so, since they don't get the context well enough to really understand at what and whom their words are taking aim.

I did watch the video where Watson briefly recounts 'the elevator incident' (as LJT mentioned, it's no more than a couple minutes out of otherwise highly enthusiastic commentary on the conference and its attendees) and she wasn't shrill, hysterical or dogmatic about it in the slightest--she smiles wryly as she recounts it and says "Guys, look, don't do that"; she says nothing about rape or anything of the sort. If that's what Dawkins' comment was aimed at, then yes, it was completely asinine and uncalled for. I don't, though, have the benefit of knowing what sort of presence Ms. Watson is within 'the Skeptic community' in a broader sense, nor do I know the history of her contacts via Skeptic conferences with Dawkins, so I have no way of knowing for sure what else might or might not have informed his scathing reaction, which was totally unlike her filmed comments in tone (what purpose does it serve bringing graphic images of female genitals being sliced off with razor blades into your 'critique' of one woman's wry grumbling about one unnamed dude's passing social ineptitude? seriously, WTF).

I don't find her reaction (as expressed in the video) to the 'elevator incident' unreasonable. Following a fellow conference attendee (who's already announced his or her intent to sleep and headed off alone) into an elevator, and only then inviting them back to your room, is poor social form in almost any context--even if you're a woman doing this to a man, there's a good chance he'll be annoyed you chose to corral him in this way, and yes, a woman might additionally feel unnerved by the obviousness of the attempt to (literally) catch her alone, and/or--where applicable--insulted by the sudden, blunt shift to sexually suggestive interest when you'd previously been effecting only general social and intellectual interest (as Watson hints, though doesn't explicitly state, might've been the case here). The broader context matters, too--it's an atheist conference, most people are there primarily to enjoy intellectual exchange, and while that certainly doesn't rule out a little fun on the side, women are apt to be particularly sensitive in such an environment to anything that comes across as 'Yeah, yeah, you're a smart girl and whatnot, but I'd rather see you naked,' which makes the sudden blunt approach a dubious idea.

I wouldn't expect atheists to be any more or less susceptible to these kinds of disconnects and oversteps than anyone else. This is primarily about social IQ, what nuances your own upbringing and subsequent personal experiences have primed you to be able to see and hear in various social situations--it's not really about your ideological commitments, not even to feminism or whatever else.
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Old 10-20-2011, 02:42 PM   #11
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I remember thinking about this ages ago (when it first happened), but i can't remember what conclusion i came to. Both sides seemed to have fair points (although both sides did dissolve into appallingly insulting responses as well).

I think 'Skepchick' is entitled to feel threatened if, after having declared she wants to leave a party of people and go to bed, someone followed her, and waited until they were in an isolated area to ask if she would go to his room with him. It could be just social anxiety, but i think it was a fair assessment to assume this guy wanted sex, and therefore being 'cornered' so to speak could have felt sexually intimidating (is that the right phrase??).

At the same time, i think the guy who asked her to his room could have been unfairly judged. He could have been too nervous to ask her out in front of the others they were drinking with, or worried he wouldn't see her again after that night, and he could have actually needed that lift anyway, in which case his request could have just been opportunistic, rather than calculated. So he wasn't necessarily a 'creep'.

But in principle, was it ok for the guy to do what he did? I'm kind of unsure of this - it struck me (a guy) as a bad way to approach a girl, but a friend of mine (a girl) thought it was fine. I suppose i think it's a bad idea to 'corner' someone before you request something, but at the same time, it doesn't necessarily make you a bad person or a creep - just a bit thoughtless. I guess that means i'd side with 'skepchick' when she says that in general, men shouldn't approach women the way this person did.

I did get a bit pissed off, however, when she complained that this happened just after she gave a talk about wanting to be 'appreciated for her mind, not seen as an object' etc. It implied that men shouldn't ask her out on a date, that they should only ever engage with her on an intellectual level, and that if they don't limit themselves to that, they therefore see her only as an object. That's just silly - just because a guy wants to have sex with a girl, it doesn't necessarily mean that's all he's interested in. It just means he wants sex (and hey, who doesn't?). I very much doubt that she'd prefer no man ever makes a sexual advance towards her.
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Old 10-20-2011, 04:01 PM   #12
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Men can most definitely be cunts.
If you believe my female Facebook friends, all men are cunts.
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Old 10-20-2011, 06:36 PM   #13
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I wouldn't expect atheists to be any more or less susceptible to these kinds of disconnects and oversteps than anyone else. This is primarily about social IQ, what nuances your own upbringing and subsequent personal experiences have primed you to be able to see and hear in various social situations--it's not really about your ideological commitments, not even to feminism or whatever else.
I'm startled why anyone would be startled by this. I'm not sure where Dawkins falls in the insensitive/misogyny order. I love his writings, don't read him for his feminism. I'd go elsewhere for that.

I am constantly amused though that so many guys think a woman being hit on is a source of constant flattery to her.
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Old 10-20-2011, 09:51 PM   #14
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I am constantly amused though that so many guys think a woman being hit on is a source of constant flattery to her.


i'm pretty much always flattered when a guy hits on me.
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Old 10-20-2011, 10:56 PM   #15
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^ Is it possible that's partly because you haven't repeatedly had the experience of specific individual men commenting on your sex appeal for the purpose of belittling your authority, competence, or intelligence? Which can affect how you evaluate being hit on in general, and also how much respect you'll trust you can take for granted from men in general. And at times how positively you feel about the fact that you have sex appeal at all.

I think there are perfectly reasonable arguments to be made that Ms. Watson judged this particular man unfairly (see Jamie's post above for instance), but I didn't find her read of what happened unreasonable either, and based on what little I've seen of both her initial comment and the kinds of responses it drew, I think she was overreacted to way more than she herself overreacted to anyone.
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Old 10-20-2011, 11:27 PM   #16
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Depends on the guy. Depends on the approach. Depends on the situation. Some guys (women too) do not handle a declination gracefully and then it can become distinctly unflattering and sometimes nasty. Irvine, I don't know if you've dealt much with that or perhaps you've been fortunate on being hit on only by people who can take "No, but thanks for asking" well without a little side vitriol. You never know quite what you are going to get.

And for some other reasons, Yolland addressed them nicely.
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Old 10-21-2011, 09:59 AM   #17
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^ Is it possible that's partly because you haven't repeatedly had the experience of specific individual men commenting on your sex appeal for the purpose of belittling your authority, competence, or intelligence? Which can affect how you evaluate being hit on in general, and also how much respect you'll trust you can take for granted from men in general. And at times how positively you feel about the fact that you have sex appeal at all.

i usually take it at face value -- a comment on my sex appeal. nothing else. because why would i ever care if the person hitting on me things i'm a dumb slut or not? that's his problem. why do i need to not be hit on in order to positively affirm that yes i am also a competent person working a demanding job and am valued for my brains? for a feminist, she seems to place an awful lot of her own self-esteem in the hands of other men.

she commented on her own blog:

Quote:
But regardless, the point I was making was that people need to be aware of how their comments might make someone feel extraordinarily uncomfortable and even feel as though they are in danger. This person failed to recognize that even though I had been speaking about little else all day long.
perhaps it's because, being a man, i understand that one's sex appeal alone is about the level of complexity that it is usually intended when one is hit upon. i'm not sure that there's nearly as much intent to "belittle" women as is perceived, though if that is the effect, then this leads to bigger questions in general rather than about the behavior of this individual, and about the set of assumptions this woman has about herself and about other women because it seems that the incompatibility of sex appeal and brains exists more in her mind than anywhere else.

someone made a pass at her. she said no. he left. seems as simple as that. there's much less going on inside of a man than many woman appear to believe, or at least this woman.

i've been hit on by married "heterosexual" men before. do i take this as, "this guy thinks all gays are sluts and will have sex with anyone"? no. i take it as, "this guy really wants to try something with a guy, and he finds me attractive." and i have an easy out in that i'm for all intents and purposes married.

as for the very valid understanding that straight women are the victims of most sexual violence at the hands of straight men, that i do understand (though i've been called a faggot, i've also been called a "redneck" and a "fucking gringo" and i am routinely bashed on television by elected representatives as well as well-known hate groups and read every day about gay bashings that happen nightly across the country), and i could certainly be the victim of date/acquaintance rape, or a baseball bat upside the head. however, this situation does not seem a precursor to sexual violence in any way at all, and this is the point Dawkins was trying to make i think.

Dawkins response was over the top, but we've all done the hyperbole thing on the internet, especially in here, myself absolutely included.




Quote:
I think there are perfectly reasonable arguments to be made that Ms. Watson judged this particular man unfairly (see Jamie's post above for instance), but I didn't find her read of what happened unreasonable either, and based on what little I've seen of both her initial comment and the kinds of responses it drew, I think she was overreacted to way more than she herself overreacted to anyone.

agreed it was an overreaction all around.

but, i think my point stands: how can a man in a relatively benign interaction invalidate what a woman thinks of herself? seems like she belittled her own authority, competence, and intelligence because she seems to have an issue understanding that authority, competence, and intelligence aren't negated by the recognition of sex appeal.

and a comment on her blog like this:

Quote:
All of those are very real possibilities that women face all the time. There is no way to know what any man’s intentions are, unless they make it clear. It shouldn’t be up to Ms Watson or any other woman to anticipate, plan for, prepare for, or be hyper vigilant for every possible threatening interaction that may be encountered by men. It is up to men to make choices…choices that show their intentions are not harmful or threatening to others.
makes me almost feel badly for heterosexual men. how much you put on them, and how little room for error, and how responsible they are for how you feel about yourself.
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Old 10-21-2011, 02:46 PM   #18
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how can a man in a relatively benign interaction invalidate what a woman thinks of herself?
If people were androids, and never internalized certain common disparaging messages but rather took them as strictly someone else's problem, then I suppose it wouldn't happen. I was responding in general terms because your comment was likewise general, and am not sure how precisely they apply to the OP--Watson didn't say anything that sweeping when she recounted the incident; again, it was a brief wry comment, not some melodramatic women-are-such-fragile-creatures sob story, and the only phrase she used that even remotely struck my ear as politicized/ideological was that she didn't appreciate the way the particulars of that situation (especially feeling cornered, she seemed to emphasize that) caused her to feel "sexualized" in an inappropriate way that she resented. I don't know what exactly that means to her, it's fairly broad language, but I interpreted it more or less as referring to what I described in my own terms above:
Quote:
...a woman might additionally feel unnerved by the obviousness of the attempt to (literally) catch her alone, and/or--where applicable--insulted by the sudden, blunt shift to sexually suggestive interest when you'd previously been effecting only general social and intellectual interest (as Watson hints, though doesn't explicitly state, might've been the case here). The broader context matters, too--it's an atheist conference, most people are there primarily to enjoy intellectual exchange, and while that certainly doesn't rule out a little fun on the side, women are apt to be particularly sensitive in such an environment to anything that comes across as 'Yeah, yeah, you're a smart girl and whatnot, but I'd rather see you naked,' which makes the sudden blunt approach a dubious idea.
I'm certainly not saying that's the only reasonable reaction a woman might have to that situation. I think my own reaction might've been to frown on the guy's timing, but otherwise not think about it for more than five minutes. Hard to say though since I wasn't there, for instance he might've seemed vaguely creepy in other ways her brief account didn't convey, sometimes it's the intangibles that raise red flags.

Quite a few years ago now I read an autobiography by an MTF transwoman, can't recall the name, Kathy or Katie then some Jewish surname I think?. There was a chapter where she discussed some of the changes--good, bad and neutral--in how others responded to her as a woman compared to as a man (and judging from the photos she was attractive and 'pass'-able as both, FWIW). One of the more unpleasant recollections involved a man in her neighborhood (who didn't know she was trans) who repeatedly verbally propositioned her in what most people would consider a crude and hostile way, making her feel threatened and uncomfortable. She commented on this in a wryly ironical manner, "Five years ago, these breasts and these hips weren't around to get me in trouble." That stuck in my mind because it's such a good description of what being on the receiving end of the intentionally derisive forms of 'hitting on' feels like--like the visibly female parts of your body are badges of humiliation some bad cosmic joke slapped you with that you'd at times give anything to get rid of. Sure, it's "irrational" and "unhealthy" etc. etc. to internalize it that way, but that's true of all kinds of shame that people from often-stigmatized groups whose social identity is based on appearance struggle with. It seems unrealistic to me to expect that that kind of awareness isn't going to result in some degree of habitual wariness towards situations that might appear neutral or inconsequential to others.
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however, this situation does not seem a precursor to sexual violence in any way at all, and this is the point Dawkins was trying to make i think.
He was pulling the "How dare you whine about the piddling difficulties of being a Western woman when women in Iran et al. are being stoned, mutilated and forced to hide behind veils" trump card. Which is always a lousy counterargument, even when delivered in a relatively understated way, which he certainly didn't. Look, her writing sucks too in its own way, it reads like the half-baked pensées of some college sophomore who hasn't had time yet to digest the subtler points of all those critiques of received wisdom, but there's a big difference between clumsy overreliance on jargon to make your points and the emotional tenor of many of the responses she got (which LJT summarized; it wasn't just Dawkins), which is what her subsequent blogposts were reacting to. I'm pretty sure she heard in much of that the offended-entitlement sentiment BonosSaint was describing ('Bitch! What's your problem, it's a compliment!') and I understand why. That is something very different from the reasonable counter that she perhaps unfairly judged a respectfully delivered proposition to be a disrespectful one.
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i've been hit on by married "heterosexual" men before. do i take this as, "this guy thinks all gays are sluts and will have sex with anyone"? no. i take it as, "this guy really wants to try something with a guy, and he finds me attractive." and i have an easy out in that i'm for all intents and purposes married.
This is an interesting point, but TBH I don't feel like I understand nearly enough about the social dynamic of married 'straight' men hitting on gay men under the assumption openly gay=always available to address it effectively. I would tend to assume as one starting point that gay men, not being women, don't have an especially similar relationship to the idea/fact of their own bodies as sexual attractant as women do, but surely there's a whole lot else informing a moment like that, and that makes me wary of commenting on it as if I understood it.

I could say something, from having seen it (at work) a couple times over the years, about a certain kind of married straight woman who has a habit of propositioning her (straight) male students and younger male colleagues--and, yes, they react somewhat differently to that than women in an analogous position vis-a-vis a man would, though hardly positively I'd say--but it's probably not very applicable.
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and a comment on her blog like this: ...makes me almost feel badly for heterosexual men. how much you put on them, and how little room for error, and how responsible they are for how you feel about yourself.
Yes, rejection is unpleasant, unexpectedly indignant rejection is especially unpleasant, and it's surely true that since men do more propositioning than women they'll experience both more. Sometimes a negative response to being hit on that in truth amounts to little more than "I find you highly unattractive, and therefore am not keen on your attraction to me" can wind up getting reframed in the displeased one's mind as an actual wrong against them in ways that are unfair to the one doing the propositioning; I can recall one instance where I was guilty of this myself, responded in a needlessly hostile way and felt bad about it afterwards, even though the guy counterresponded in an equally hostile way at that point. Sometimes the fear of a polite "No thanks" being responded to aggressively can itself lead in a vicious-circle way (guilt --> defensiveness; internalization stuff again) to a needlessly hostile response, too. I don't think either of these was likely behind the OP scenario, though.
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Old 10-22-2011, 06:29 PM   #19
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I was at the event, though I didn't stay around for the festivities.

I went along to see Dawkins speak, not some blogger called "Skepchick". In any case, her contribution did not particularly impress me. She struck me as a self-publicist with an agenda, so I guess she got what she wanted.

Dawkins is right. Being chatted up in a hotel lift at 3 a.m. is not harassment, still less sexual violence. I hope the guy sues her for defamation, but on the other hand, maybe that would not be a good outcome it just gives her more publicity which is what she probably wants.
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Old 10-22-2011, 07:08 PM   #20
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She never said it was either of those things or even close to it. Nor did she name the guy. Whatever. I'm not surprised her panel contribution was unimpressive, since her writing is certainly fairly described that way.
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