No, Penn Jillette, Rape And Death Threats Are Not Free Speech

screencap from the movie My Chauffeur (1986)
Penn Jillette being artistic?

There has been a major storm over misogyny in the freethought movement for several years. Women in the movement who have spoken out against it have been harassed with rape and death threats among other nasty reactions. People who don’t see anything wrong with the misogyny, like comedian Penn Jillette, worry more about being able to call a woman a ‘cunt’ than why one shouldn’t be doing that in the first place. That’s the problem.

Buzzfeed has a very thorough article about the misogyny conflict in the freethought movement. It actually gave both sides of the issue and while I knew most of the incidents described the article also included interviews with several women who had been raped and/or harassed.

I’ve never been attracted to the more skeptic side of the movement because a large number of the activists, like big names Michael Shermer and Penn Jillette, are libertarian. Most libertarians are assholes and not people I would want to know or hang out with if I can help it. Sure Shermer and Jillette have said some things I agree with but they wouldn’t be anyone I would have over for dinner. Now after reading the Buzzfeed article I’ve lost what sliver of respect I had for them.

One part of the article that really caught my eye was the interview with Jillette. He gave the classic libertarian defense for looking the other way when women in the movement are treated like shit:

Jillette argued that the occasional misstep was a small price to honor the principle of artistic freedom and access, for women as well as men. “I have a 9-year-old daughter, and it’s really important to me that she read Ulysses. I don’t want there to be a rule that there is a certain kind of language used for women, and a certain kind used for men. That’s appalling. That patronizing of women is despicable. I don’t want women to be robbed of literature.”

Will Misogyny Bring Down The Atheist Movement?

Yes, calling women a ‘cunt’ is just Jillette trying to be artistic. He doesn’t want a certain kind of language for men and different language for women. What about the LITERATURE!!!! OHHH NOES!!!


Rape, death threats and online abuse is not something to support no matter who you are. Those kind of words are not artistic. This isn’t a movie or TV show. You don’t treat real people that way.

Downplaying such constant abuse actually is divisive – Jillette and people who think like him actually dehumanize women. His kind of thinking lacks any compassion for other people – another reason I hate libertarians in general.

It doesn’t take much skepticism to know such abuse is wrong. Telling a woman online that you hope she gets raped or kills herself is wrong and guys like Jillette, who won’t say it is wrong at every opportunity, are not people who should have anything to do publicly with the skeptic/freethought community.

If we don’t demand a higher standard of the supposed “leaders” of the movement then how can all of us freethinkers hope to get any respect from the outside world.

People like Michael Shermer, who are known jerks, if not criminal toward women, need to be cut loose from the movement as well

I don’t care if Shermer cured cancer, if he is a dick toward women, and he won’t stop, then he needs to lose his meal ticket. Maybe if his wallet is hit it might make more of a statement because obviously rational discussion with him hasn’t worked.

I do disagree with the writer of the article on one point – that this misogyny crisis will harm the freethought movement in the long run. I don’t think it will.

Basically it has split in two. One group is forward thinking, positive about treating all members equally and with dignity, and is a safe space for women.

The other group is made up of bitter libertarian men who get more pissed off as their numbers slowly dribble away to nothing.

Isn’t that the libertarian ideal – to vote with ones feet?

One Reply to “No, Penn Jillette, Rape And Death Threats Are Not Free Speech”

  1. Thank you, Doug. You make a vital distinction between art pieces and direct, vile communications at real people.

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