In Which I Gain Respect for Certain Atheists….

After watching certain atheists say hurtful, hateful, idiotic, misogynistic things directed at Rebecca Watson, the whole Skepchick crew (especially Surly Amy recently), other women in skepticism who dared to speak out, and the men who understand that there is a problem and want to do something to fix it, it is refreshing to see this quote from President of the American Atheists, Dave Silverman:

As a Humanist, I see these threats as base and detestable. They have no redeeming value and will raise no awareness, solve no problems, and hurt those who should be friends. As a long term activist, I see hatred and threats of violence directed at our sisters-in-arms to be reprehensible, serving no purpose other than to hurt and intimidate valuable allies. As a white man, I know that so much of this hate comes from people who look like me — but they’re nothing like me where it counts. As the leader of a national atheist organization, I have implemented harassment policies to minimize such irrational, hateful, and counterproductive behavior wherever my authority allows. We have a war to win, and we won’t win until we can look forward, without watching our own backs. American Atheists stands by all its members, supporters, and allies, and we will not tolerate hate directed at any of us. Period.

~David Silverman

The minute I saw this quote at Butterflies and Wheels I decided to join American Atheists.  I’ll be proud to be a member of an organization that gets it, and that stands by its members even in the face of the inevitable backlash they are sure to receive.

Surly Amy asked for and got this statement from American Atheists, and they aren’t the only ones.

I recently wrote about dealing with hate and harassment and a good point was brought up. How do the leaders in the secular, humanist, skeptic and atheist communities feel about what has been happening to women online and at events? Why haven’t they spoke up about it?

Maybe no one has asked them to.

Until now.

Over the next few weeks I will be asking for and posting statements from the leaders in our community. I will specifically be seeking out the men to comment as I feel that an, ‘us against the men‘ meme has been incorrectly spread. How do our secular leaders, and specifically the men in our movement, really feel about sexism, threats of violence and the misogyny we have been dealing with?

Hopefully over the next few weeks I will be gaining new respect for many in the community, and posting their responses as well.  It is far too easy for us men in the atheist community to shut our eyes and deny that there is a problem, just as it is easy for Caucasians to pretend racism is over.  It’s the concept of privilege.  As men, we don’t face the harassment, the threat of rape or sexual assault, the glass ceiling, the dehumanization into nothing but sexual fantasy, or any of the other misogyny and sexism women face.  I’d be lying if I said I know what they go through, because I don’t.  I can say that I understand, but honestly, I never really could.  Same as no white person will never truly know what it is like to be a person of color.

That’s the whole idea of privilege; I am privileged to be a man and never have to face that shit.  Since I never have to face it, I can deny its severity, if not its very existence.  If I go to TAM, no one is going to grab my tits.  If I speak at a Skeptic’s in the Pub, the audience is not going to be ignoring my talk to undress me in their mind.  If someone hits on me in an deserted hotel elevator at 3 am, I don’t have to worry that they won’t take “no” for an answer.  No one is asking if it is morally acceptable to rape me because I’m annoying.

As a man, I can see the effects of privilege.  I can think to myself; “if someone hit on me at a conference in the elevator, I’d take it as a compliment.  Hell, it would probably make my day!”, or “I wish the audience was undressing me in their mind.  If only!”  But I can think that because those things would be aberrations.  I don’t have people asking to fuck me at every meeting.  I don’t have people ignoring my words to fantasize about fucking me every time I talk.  My intellect is not ignored because I have tits.

So it is easy to pretend the problem doesn’t exist.

But it does.

And I may never be able to truly understand what women in skepticism go through from my place of male privilege, but I can definitely see that there is a problem, and that we need to admit it and work together to fix it.

I’m glad Surly Amy asked, and I’m overjoyed at the first response.  I can only hope the others are similar.


10 thoughts on “In Which I Gain Respect for Certain Atheists….

    • That’s great to hear, hopefully the rest will be as positive.

      And thank you for all the work you and the other Skepchicks do. They vitriol you all face for daring to point out the problem and trying to fix it is shameful. They not only miss the point, but then they prove there is a problem by lashing out with such vile, misogynistic shit. I’ve been a mostly silent supporter ever since Rebecca committed the horrible crime of saying “Hey, please don’t proposition me in deserted hotel elevators at 3am, k?”, but when I saw the rationalia (or whatever) thread asking if it was morally acceptable to rape skepchicks, I had to speak out on the issue.

      I have a niece who is a scientist and a skeptic, another niece studying to enter a different male dominated profession, and another that is 7 with her whole future unwritten.

      Thank you for working to make their lives better and safer.

  1. Thanks for pointing out that this is a great context in which to join American Atheists. I’m following your example.

  2. Well said. It once again makes liars of those who claim that misogyny in the community is a myth and that pointing it out is a tactic exploited only by certain groups to garner blog hits.

  3. “That’s the whole idea of privilege; I am privileged to be a man and never have to face that shit. Since I never have to face it, I can deny its severity, if not its very existence.”

    The people who are allegedly receiving “threats of violence” (as Silverman says) or expressions “to hurt someone, rape someone, mutilate someone, or kill someone” (as Lindsey says) or “literal threats of rape and murder” (as McGowan says) can simply identify these and put the evidence out for everyone to see….and report them to the police. This — despite all of the talk of alleged threats — hasn’t happened. Why isn’t this happening*?

    When I get threats — and I have received threats because I am a church/state activist — I report the threats to proper authorities and authorities take action. Earlier in 2012, for instance, a county bus driver sent me messages I believed to be of a threatening nature along with what seemed to be desires to deny me service on a bus line I depended on to get to my college classes. I called the police, filed a report, followed-up with the bus driver’s employer, and posted the information online for all to see. The bus driver was disciplined and I got a message from the bus driver’s employer… So what’s the problem with the Skepchicks and others who are allegedly receiving “literal threats of rape and murder?”

    Yesterday on Twitter, when I had shared my blog post concerning FTB/Skepchick commenter ‘Spokesgay’ telling me to “fuck off and die,” FTB blogger JT told me the following, “Someone on the internet told you to fuck off. Welcome to the same boat as 99% of humanity. Christ.” Why don’t others take the advice from JT?

    Sure, there are some nasty commenters online saying unsavory things…but it is not tantamount, at least from what I have seen, to “literal threats of rape and murder” or “threats of violence.” Instead, it’s the consequence of being a public figure in the realm of an internet filled with trolls….and saying controversial things that people might happen to disagree with.

    If you happen to receive :”literal threats of rape and murder” or “threats of violence,” you should REPORT THEM TO THE POLICE. NOW. What are you waiting for? If you have evidence of these things, release it, report to police, and get the entire skeptic/atheist community on your side. People like ‘Surly Amy’ and Rebecca Watson have a huge platform in which they can share these “literal threats of rape and murder” and ” violent threats” with the atheist/skeptic community and even perhaps use the influence of their supporters to make sure that action is taken. If you aren’t a writer for Skepchick and happen to receive threats, you can e-mail them and I’m sure they’ll take action. Hell, I’ll even post threats on my blog if they won’t.

    Sending threats, as should go without saying, is absolutely wrong. Threats should not be tolerated and people who receive threats ought to do something about it…and not just sit by and ask leaders in the atheist/skeptic community to write letters of disapproval. The harassment, too, is uncalled for. It shouldn’t happen. Move on, though, and realize that internet trolls are internet trolls. As JT said, “Welcome to the same boat as 99% of humanity. Christ.” Want to continue to talk about it? Whatever…but I, at least, don’t see the point.

    * So far, what has been presented as evidence of threats are non-threats from obvious internet trolls who are obviously trolling (the Rationalia forum) and e-mails that were demonstrated not to be threats (Ophelia). If there are “threats of violence” or “literal threats of rape and murder,” please open my eyes. Threats were shown by people like Jessica Ahlquist…and she acted, but this — regardless — does seem to be what is being discussed by ‘Surly Amy.’

    • Thing is the people making the threats are smart enough to not be overt…they hide behind the “it was just a joke” whine…

      Look at how long it took before anyone in authority took action action David Markuse, who had been making online threats, very specific threats, for years…you really think running to the police with every anonymous rape “joke” is going to do any good?

      And don’t tell me something like that “joke” on Rationalia isn’t a threat. It may not have been in Pappa;’s mind to actually physically hunt down and rape one of the skepchicks but the joke itself is intended to intimidate and shut people up. That kind of thing doesn’t have to rise to the level of a criminally actionable offense before it becomes unacceptable, does it? Do we really want a community where everything short of an actual assault is an acceptable part of the conversation? I know I don’t…

      • No one is saying it is an acceptable part of the discussion, but people are talking about “violent threats” and “literal threats of rape and murder.” The comment by ‘Pappa’ is neither a “violent threat” or a “literal threat of rape and murder.”

  4. Justin Vacula, it is beyond rude to presume that you are empowered to speak for other people and tell them what is a threat and what is not. It betrays a total lack of empathy. Please stop minimizing the distress this sort of vitriolic rhetoric causes.

    At one point, I helped organize my local SlutWalk. I set up a Facebook page for the event, and I made the mistake of having my real name associated with it. Within a day, my FB account had been spoofed, and (of course being a noob) I had low privacy controls, so people were spreading my real name, address, and phone number over the internet in conjunction with inflammatory remarks attributed to me, which I did not make. I also received a number of emails saying I should be raped. About five, IIRC. None of them ever came to anything but it’s stressful and disconcerting and had the effect of putting obstacles in the way of my real life feminist activism. Do not presume to tell me what I should and should not take seriously. You don’t live my life, you don’t see the emails I get, and the same thing is true of Rebecca Watson, Ophelia Benson, and all the other women you seem to track and follow all over the internet in order to tell them how silly they are for being alarmed or intimidated about the messages they get.

    I find your consistent minimizing of the distress this sort of thing can cause to be absolutely appalling and morally outrageous. I wish you’d stop.

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