Wednesday, July 6, 2011

More Sexism in the Atheist Community

Okay, I started reading Ezekiel 16 and boy, is it just wall to wall craziness concerning Jerusalem and her transgressions (again). And since I was pretty sick yesterday I didn't get any time to go through it well enough to talk as much as I'm going to need to about it. But! It seems the gods of coincidence are on my side because another big sexism issue has popped up yet again in the atheist community and it's getting quite a bit of talking about going on. So there will still be a post today, yay! So without further ado, I give you more interesting tales of sexism in the atheist community.

I think my absolute favorite part of the video is near the end where she mentions the extremely misogynist comments she's gotten about her video and the video of the panel she was on at the conference. She thanks those people for their comments because if people watch those videos and get it in their head that she's just an emotional woman blowing things out of proportion, all these people need to do is look down at the comments and see that no, she isn't exaggerating or overreacting. This sexism is very much there and it's very "kind" of people to leave those horrid comments so others can see it for themselves. Of course, most of the sexism I've come across in the atheist community isn't the overt in your face kind, so these comments are both helpful and not. I feel it's often easy for people to point at in your face comments and go, "Well, yeah, of course THAT'S sexist." But it's much harder for these same people to see the sexism in a man following a woman at 4am into an elevator to ask her up for coffee in his hotel room when the woman has made very clear prior to this that she does not want to be treated as a sexual object.

It's important to see the harsher comments, especially for those who are very new to the concept of sexism. Unfortunately, if that's all we give these people they will only see the most extreme misogyny as sexist and anything else is just women "misinterpreting" a situation.

For example, Shakesville does a great job of taking down some comments that Richard Dawkins made on a post Pharyngula did mentioning the Skepchick panel and the situation with the man in the elevator. I'm gonna be honest, I'm extremely disappointed to read these comments by Richard Dawkins. His book The God Delusion did so much for me while I was struggling with not having religion and helped me answer a lot of questions I had about my skepticism. So yeah, it hurts a bit to see that a man I kinda looked up to really isn't any better than the other entitled men I deal with on a daily basis. Note: It would seem Skepchick feels much the same about Dawkin's comments, since she just put up a very excellent post on those comments and her stance as a feminist in the atheist community.

Richard Dawkins seems to understand (in a rather condescending manner) that extreme acts of violence against women (Muslim women, at least) is misogynistic. Female genital mutilation, rapes, being stoned to death, not being allowed the basic freedom to leave the house or basic mobility like driving a car. He seems to see that these acts are sexist and violent against women. Much like the overtly sexist Youtube comments, these are things many people do not argue about.

Yet, when given a scenario that many women face on a daily basis (unwelcomed come-ons from strange men) he shrugs that off as nothing more than simple "words" that Skepchick just took the wrong way. Yeah, like I haven't heard THAT before when I've recounted cat calls or other come-ons to people. Or you hear that this is a stupid thing to talk about because other women in other parts of the world are going through so much worse! Like we can't multitask when it comes to getting rid of sexism. These more non-violent or extreme acts of sexism are not obvious to these men. Or, when made obvious, not treated as an issue that actually needs to be addressed.

So while I do love that the Youtube commenters, in their exercises in sexism, help to make Skepchick's point, those comments alone will not win the fight. We need to continue to point out the non-violent sexism that we women face every day and we can't back down. It saddens me that one of the most influential men in the atheist movement seems to completely miss the point no matter how many people are trying to show him exactly how he's missing the point. This will only encourage many men in the atheist community to stay the way they are and not change.

Richard Dawkins, I am disappoint, and I don't think I will really ever look at you the same way again, since it seems you would probably find it difficult to see me as a rational, thinking human when I hold many of the same thoughts as Skepchick. I really have no tolerance for people like that anymore.

I can only hope that his completely ridiculous comments and those who support said comments will help those people in the atheist community who are on the feminist fence see what exactly is going on and that something does need to be done to address these issues. Skepchick stated that she wasn't a feminist before, that she was in the atheist community and felt feminism had played out and women were equal and done. But as she got more into the community and began to speak out on issues that many disagreed with, the misogyny came out and she began to see that no, sexism is not over and done with and feminism is still needed. Blaghag makes a similiar statement early on in the comments of Skepchick's post as well.

I'm honestly happy to see this issue seems like it's FINALLY being taken seriously by many of the big bloggers in the atheist community. Especially after the fiasco at that other atheist panel where the talk of sexism actually led to people mocking and laughing a woman out of the room. I don't know why this is getting more attention than the other incident. Maybe it's because people got sidetracked with stupid discussions on whether to call women "females" or not during the last incident. Maybe it's because Richard Dawkins actually stuck his fat privileged head into this debate and suddenly it's not just an issue of a few "bad eggs" in the atheist community but not it also includes some of its biggest players. I don't know, but I really am happy to see that this seems to be getting people REALLY talking and seriously looking at how the men in the atheist movement act. I can only hope that it will lead to some progress because I really would like to get back into the community again. Well, I don't know about that. I kind of stopped being a fan of the community because of the extreme hard science bias, too (really, it gets tiring having people think your college major is a huge joke), and I don't think that'll really ever go away.

But is nothing else, more talk like this and more people really seeing that what us women have been talking about all this time is really happening and is really hurtful might start bringing more women into the atheist movement and more women as speakers and leaders. Even if I don't ever feel completely welcome in the community, it would be very much worth it to have more female voices being heard loud and proud in the movement.

Also, if you have not yet been to the Stop Street Harrassment blog, I highly recommend it. Especially if you are under the impression that the scenario Skepchick mentioned is an isolated incident.

Edit: has put up a post containing letters written to Richard Dawkins concerning the comments he's made about the Rebecca Watson incident. They are very much worth the read.

Friday: (hopefully!) More Ezekiel


  1. A link back to the great post you wrote in February: Ecclesiastes 1-4.

    And the spot on quote:

    "This is why I tend to never bother with actual feminist discussion in atheist environments. Because they are usually comprised of a majority of men (who have never once tried to do any research on sexism or the feminist movement) whom dismiss the issues that are bothering women (or atheists of color because trying to discuss racism in the atheist community is just as frustrating) because those problems are silly. The atheists are so much better than those conservative Christians so they can't possibly be sexist or racist, right? Trying to educate a privileged white guy about his privilege when he honest to dog thinks he is way better than those other privileged white guys simply because he isn't in a privileged religion is far more frustrating than talking to a wall."

    Thanks for the post and all the great links. Here's hoping that we can get things to change.

  2. Thank you for posting about this -- I hadn't seen anything about what happened, so I'm glad to find out and read your thoughts about it. The online atheist AND skeptic communities are rife with misogyny and it's way, way past time that they get called out of all of it.

  3. I only wish this got pointed out more often by the community. Too often this shit just slides right by and no one cares. Honestly, we should all be happy that Dawkins stuck his sexist comments in the middle of it. It's his fame that's making this a real issue. Without him, this would have just been another comment made by a woman who was made uncomfortable at an atheist convention that didn't get any real attention. From the comments left on many of these blogs about the incident, Rebecca Watson is not the only woman to constantly be hit on at atheist conventions and she will probably not be the last.

    If only other famous atheist's would stick their sexist noses into other conversations about sexism in the atheist community maybe something would actually come of it. As it is right now, I can only HOPE something may change, but the cynic in me says that there's no way the atheist community will change so quickly.

  4. Part of the problem is framing their behavior as merely "sexist." What they're displaying for all to see is their rampant hatred and fear of women -- it's misogyny and they need to be called on that specifically. Answering their hate-filled behavior toward women as if it's just something we need to discuss and men will suddenly "get it" (see the comments to Skepchick's posts -- full of women trying to get men to see what the problem is and not getting very far) is keeping us treading the same water forever. Men don't know they're being hateful? No way. Men know how they feel about women; all we're doing by calling out "sexism" is explaining how to hide their feelings better. They intend to keep women down and they use slurs and casual putdowns and harassment to make that happen. Calling them woman haters (I have absolutely no doubt that Dawkins does indeed hate women, he's been acting it out for decades) puts the onus on them instead of forever on women and their ability to educate.


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