As I Continue to Lose Respect for Atheists I Once Looked Up To

Ah, I remember my younger days as an idealistic atheist.  Watching thunderfOOt’s youtube videos, reading everything I could find involving John Loftus.  I still consider them important influences on my early atheism, especially Loftus.  There was a time that a dream of mine was to see Loftus debate William Lane Craig.  Ah, the heady days of youth.

Reading Debunking Christianity  infuriates me anymore.  A case in point is his Quote of the Day for July 19th.  He approvingly quotes thunderfOOt:

I can’t but help feel the skepchick-types REALLY needed something to be offended about, and they defiantly need to be the victims of something! There clearly wasn’t any sexual harassment at TAM, without even a single instance of someone being asked for coffee in an elevator.

“There clearly wasn’t any sexual harassment at TAM,….”  I’m sorry, that strikes me like a white student at a majority white high school claiming that “there clearly isn’t any racism at my high school.”  Last time I checked, thunderfOOt is a man. (Which isn’t a crime, I happen to be a man as well.)  I’m not quite sure how thunderfOOt knows that there wasn’t any sexual harassment at TAM.  Did he install spy cameras and hidden microphones in every possible location, with a crack team of investigators searching the footage for any harassment?  Did he individually ask each and every female in attendance if they were sexually harassed during the conference?  Did he hand out comment cards asking “If you were sexually harassed at this conference, please check here and explain”?  And if he did, how does he know every answer of “no” he received was honest?  Is he about to win the $1 Million Dollar Challenge with his new mental power of lie detection?

I have no idea, but more than likely, he just didn’t witness any harassment.  As a man, it is much less likely that someone at the conference would harass him personally; the female attendees that he knows personally well weren’t harassed, and why would those he doesn’t know personally choose to tell him of their harassment when most victims don’t tell anyone?  My high school was 99% white.  Three non-Caucasians in my graduating class of over 300.  I counted one as one of my best friends, and I witnessed abuse, the slurs, the harassment almost daily.  Yet other than her inner circle of friends, she would never mention it to anyone.  She feared it would only make it worse, because no matter what I witnessed and she lived through, there was no racism at my high school.

Just as I’m sure there was no sexual harassment at TAM.

Dr. Pamala Gay gave a talk at TAM this year, a talk she called “the hardest talk I’ve ever given.”  Eventually, I will give her talk the full treatment it deserves.  But for now, I want to use it to give a woman’s point of view.  Bolds are mine.

Sometimes things are more physical and more scary. As an astronomer, at professional conferences, I’ve randomly had my tits and ass grabbed and slapped by men in positions of power and by creeps who drank too much. This is part of what it means to be a woman in science. With the creeps I generally hold my own and get them to back off like I would with any asshole in a bar. With the people in power… I commiserate with the other women as we share stories of what has been grabbed by whom. I know as I say this that it sounds unbelievable – and how can we report the unbelievable and expect to be believed?


Here in the skeptics community, we, like every other segment of society, have our share of individuals who, given the right combination of alcohol and proximity will grab tits and ass. I’ve had both body parts randomly and unexpectedly grabbed at in public places by people who attend this conference – not at this conference, but by people at this conference. Just like in astronomy, it’s a combination of the inebriated guys going too far – guys I can handle –  and of men in power being asses.

I know that there has been a lot of internet buzz over the last two years about these issues. This community is filled with strong women. A Kovacs and MsInformation are two ballsy women I draw inspiration from. These are just two of the many SkepChicks, and many of the Skeptical and scientific podcasts have female hosts. When they see something wrong, they ask for ways to protect people from being hurt. And they do like Surly Amy did and raise money to get women here – women who together can support one another so that when we go home we have a network of women to turn to to support us even at a distance. These are women who react to  problems with a sharp word and a needed call to action that is designed to fix the problems

I know this is an uncomfortable topic. And I know that my talk is going to provoke some of you who don’t think I should air dirty laundry. But I see a problem and I can’t change it alone.

Changing our society takes all of us. Doing something is being that guy, and I’ve had two different guys be that guy for me, who jumps between the girl and the boob grabber and intervenes. Doing something is donating to get more women here, and to get more minorities here, and making a point to admit, we’ve got problems – we’re humans – and saying Stopping Harassment Starts with me.

We can make TAM a place that is focused on inspiring skeptical and scientific activism – that is focused on how each of us can in our own way make the world better. We can put this bullshit behind us, and we can try to rise above the problems that plague so many conferences in every field. We can be the better example.

Or we can shut our eyes to the problem.  We can reason that since no one has ever grabbed my tits and ass (not that I have tits, but still) and that since no one I personally know has had their tits and ass grabbed, therefore no tit and ass grabbing occurs at skeptical conferences.  We can chide those silly girls for raising a ruckus.  So overly dramatic.  We can slut-shame them into silence, nitpick on what they call themselves, and when one is propositioned by a stranger alone in an elevator at 3 am, we can tell her that her fears are unrealistic (women never get raped, for christs sake) and that she should loosen up already.  Take it for the compliment it was.  He wanted to fuck you after all, and isn’t that all you really are?  Fuck machines?  I mean, after all, you’re asking for it with the way you dress.  And if we all shut our eyes hard enough and long enough, when we open them everything will be back to the way it should be.  Dominated by men, with nary an uppity woman to be found.*

God damn it, I need a fucking drink.


*Before I get accused of something I didn’t say, I am not claiming that either Loftus or thunderfOOt think women are nothing but “fuck machines” who have no place at skeptical conferences.  I am claiming that thunderfOOt’s quote (and Loftus’ approval of it) reeks of male privilege.  Too many think this problem is nothing more than isolated incidents.  Hopefully, Dr. Gay’s talk opens a few eyes to reality.  Sadly, it is more likely that she’ll be met with calls of “you’re over-reacting,” followed by some of the most hateful misogynistic bullshit you can imagine.  Kinda like what Rebecca Watson faced when she dared to ask men not to come on to her in lonely elevators in the middle of the night at skeptical conferences.

It pains me that this issue has splintered the atheist community.  It pains me even more to see people I once respected on the wrong side of the issue.  If we have to pick sides, it isn’t even a choice.  I will stand with the Pamela Gays, the Ophelia Bensons, and the Skepchicks of the world.  Guys?  It’s time to admit there is a problem.

Edited to add the following:

Real quick, here’s a link to Butterflies and Wheels showing Harriet Hall at TAM completely missing the point.  Did I mention I need a drink?

Also, Loftus’ Quote of the Day post contains the link to thunderfOOt’s blog post so you can get the context of the quote.  Up until today, I’ve been linking to Debunking Christianity in my blogroll, so if you want the context, go there and click to read thunderfOOt’s post.  Because after reading it myself, there is no way I’m linking to him.



One thought on “As I Continue to Lose Respect for Atheists I Once Looked Up To

  1. I think you’re absolutely right. I also think that in some cases, harassment comes from guys who just don’t know how to relate to women. They ought to know, but for various reasons they don’t.

    I briefly worked for a company, Charisma Arts, that teaches social skills to men. It wasn’t always easy to get people to take this work seriously, but actually, I think that some men just need to learn this stuff, as they haven’t had good role models. Of course, some guys are just assholes.

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