Blogging can be frustrating. A lot of the time it feels like we’re beating our heads against the wall, replying to the same misconceptions over, and over, and over again. I occasionally have a low day where I wonder why I’m spending my time doing this if no one is “getting it.” It also doesn’t help that a lot of people like to poo-poo blogs as being wastes of time or circle jerks (though I never quite understood why circle jerks get such a bad rap). I think this opinion exists because you don’t see the feedback that we get in personal emails or buried in giant comment threads. And that feedback is what keeps me motivated, know I’m changing minds about issues I’m passionate about.

I got such an email from a reader named Matt the other day, which I think many of you may relate to, and he gave me permission to share it:

This email is something that I’ve meant to write, lingering in the back of my mind for a few years. I’ve finally been spurred to action by writing my “why I am an atheist” email for Pharyngula, and by telling an idiot friend on Google+ why “he” is not a valid gender-neutral pronoun. I want to give you sincere thanks, from the very bottom of my heart. You are singlehandedly the reason I consider myself a feminist instead of a men’s rights activist.

I know that’s kind of an odd divide. Let me explain.

I grew up in an environment one might reasonably say had a Republican/libertarian bent to it. When I was growing up, and even now, my mom was the type who–repeatedly!–claimed that the young, upper-middle-class, white male is the most put-upon ethnic group in modern America (I wish I were exaggerating). Suffice it to say I was led to believe I was in an “oppressed” group. The fact that I went to an all-boys’ catholic high school, overflowing with its male bravado, did not help. Add to all that my complicated relationship with my mom, which would go from amicable to adversarial in a matter of hours, and the result was potentially dangerous.

By nature I am kind of a shy, awkward guy, so when I got to college, it was a challenge to engage with women. Rather than try talking to girls, making mistakes, learning, and growing as a human being, I basically withdrew from the real world into forums and the internet. Obviously this made engaging with women (and eventually even men) seemingly impossible. It was a textbook catch-22. However, just being out of my parents’ house did get me exposed to other viewpoints, and it did make me realize there was more to the world than libertarianism. I began to understand how I wasn’t the oppressed prole I was led to believe. I still had a low opinion of women, though. My feelings aped the same depressingly common comments seen on MRA and PUA forums: “Why are all these women hooking up with guys who are not me (and are therefore assholes)?! I’m such a Nice Guy ™! My inability to interact with women couldn’t possibly be my fault! It must be them, not me! Me me me!”

There are two events which brought about the turning point in this story. First, in May 2009 I reconnected with a friend from high school who sent me a PDF copy of the PUA book by Neil Strauss, The Game. This was the first exposure I had to actual, someone-paid-money-for-this-crap pick-up artist stuff. I finished the book in a week, hoping for a clue to what I was “doing wrong.” Instead, I learned about the sleazy world of pick-up-artistry. Eventually, I decided to try using pick-up techniques. In what is hopefully a surprise to no one, I failed spectacularly, since PUA is about preying on people with insecurities and low self-esteem, and I tried using the techniques on normal, even confident, women. I didn’t want to date or hook up with someone with low self-esteem. Rather than ask myself, “am I doing it wrong?”, I found myself asking, “is this PUA stuff wrong?”

Around that time was the second event: I started reading your blog. I was using Google Reader to follow a few blogs and a bunch of dumb webcomics, and I searched for “atheism,” hoping to find the blog of some biology professor from Minnesota whose website name I couldn’t remember. Instead I found Blag Hag. Reading your blog was crucial in stopping me from a Mad Max-style nightmare future only with PUA/MRA forums. It made me realize a simple truth: “This woman isn’t some unassailable mystery, or some video game that responds to a proper combination of insult, backhanded compliment, quarter-circle-forward-fierce-punch… She’s like me. She’s a normal human being.”

As embarrassing as it is to type now, back then that seemed like a revolutionary thought. By the way you write, you made me pick-up artists as the manipulative shits they really are. You made me see men’s rights activists as the misogynist sociopaths they really are. Most importantly, you made me see feminism as something approachable, understandable, and ultimately, the only logical choice there really is.

Never stop what you do. Ever.

And it’s not just feminism. I got this sweet comment the other day from Timid Atheist:

Jen,

Your blog and Skepchick were the reason I finally admitted to myself that I’m an atheist. I enjoy reading what you and other ladies in the community have to say and the majority of Freethoughts Blogs as well.

When I see this kind of mindless hate and scorn for people come from someone who calls themselves an Atheist, it makes me not want to call myself that anymore and that really upsets me because I thought I’d finally found a place where I could be who I am and enjoy discussing things with like minded people.

I hope that anyone who defends TJ comes to their senses. But I most assuredly will never endorse someone like that. TJ and anyone who agrees with him has no place in any part of society.

Thank you for continuing to do what you do best. And perhaps someday, because of people like you, I won’t have to hide that I’m an Atheist from my family and friends in order to keep custody of my child.

To all the Matts and Timid Atheists out there who send me lovely things like this – and I do get them quite a lot – thank you. I try to reply though I occasionally get busy and forget, but know that I do read and cherish every one.