Ask an Atheist with Sam Mulvey

SEXISM! IT EXISTS AMONGST AND BETWEEN ATHEISTS!

Blogs and podcasts are afire! We’ve seen hedging and hardlining, demands and ultimatums, compromises, questions, excuses, and judgment all around one issue: the treatment of women in the atheist community.

I can’t say I’ve been hesitant to join the conversation. I can say I’ve been repulsed. I am so uncomfortable with the tone of the discourse surrounding these events and discussions that I’ve wanted nothing to do with them. But as a reader of blogs, an occasional conference speaker, an educator, and an engaged Humanist, I haven’t been able to avoid exposure to the discussions. Now I’m diving in, reputation be damned. So here goes.

What’s been happening?  Over the past year, prominent bloggers/speakers in the freethought community have been drawing attention to issues of sexism, sexual predation, and gendered power dynamics as they play out at conferences, conventions, at meetups, and online.  The discussion has been raw in many cases.

JREF President DJ Grothe wrote about why he thinks the discourse is “well-meaning” but “misguided, clumsy, and irresponsible,” and gave evidence to support that the vast majority TAM attendees report feeling welcome and don’t report assault or harassment.  He was lambasted over and over again.

One blog commenter with a male name lamented that if one doesn’t meet ideological standards of FreeThoughtBlogs (and I’ll add: by extension the Freethought community), you are labeled:

1. sexist; 2. misogynist; 3. a harrassment enabler; 4. a rape enabler; 5. a rape culture enabler; 6. an MRA zealot; 7. a Slimepit Denizen™; 8. an anti-feminist; 9. a liar; 10. a derailer; 11. a troll.

Approximately 1 hour after his post, readers were informed that the poster was a known troll from other Freethought Blogs and had been banned. I know not of the poster’s previous online behavior. However, his list and DJ’s points gave me pause.

They summed up everything I’m afraid of being labeled if I speak/write on this issue, and it’s everything I’ve seen males be labeled as they raise questions, respond to posts on the topic of sexual harrassment/predation, and answer questions posed by bloggers. And I’m speaking about men I know personally, whom I respect, and who respect me, in addition to posters unknown to me.

I am a woman. I have attended and spoken at conferences. I have diligently and thoughtfully explored and studied issues of sexism, privilege, social constructs, diversity, and equity. I was steeped in a college culture that, despite being single-sex, eschews gender binaries and celebrates women as integral components in all levels of society. I am a product of a college whose founder intended her institution to serve as “a perennial blessing to the country and the world” for educating women, a college whose tradition “educates women of promise for lives of distinction.” I continue to explore and study these issues as an educator dedicated to equitable opportunity and the ideals of egalitarian responsibility, and atheism/Humanism is a natural home for many seeking to be free of religion’s tendency to reinforce negative gender stereotypes and rigid gender roles through dogma.

That said, I am struck by the dogma that characterizes the discourse surrounding the issue of sexual harassment at atheist conferences. When prominent religious voices espouse dogma, we spot it and denigrate the thinking behind it with ease. I can’t help but listen in disbelief (ha!) as my female peers—gulp—dogmatically insist that any gathering worth its spit adopt and publicize a strict policy, indignantly assign sexual predation to entire categories of people (men), unflinchingly insist that speakers who make romantic advances are inherently abusive, and reactively denigrate and dismiss those who question the tone or content of these cries. Is our womanhood and feminism so holy that we cannot and will not open ourselves to criticism, discussion, and questions? Because the tone I’ve seen is unforgiving:

Also, did you just express “skepticism” over this? It’s a completely uncontroversial statement.

And capitalizes on turning shame on an entire social movement[emphasis mine]:

Naming and shaming only works in an atmosphere that has some shame itself. This movement does have some, but not enough.

-Almost Diamonds

The tone of feminist discourse cannot afford to be dogmatic if it is to succeed in the atheist community.  It cannot afford to engage in shaming tactics that were so insidiously used against those of us who escaped religion.

Skeptics are just that: skeptical. We’re primed and poised for argumentation. We’re not socialized by some construct to be that way; we socialize ourselves as such. Proverbial laying-down-of-the-law will only serve to alienate, not ally. Stating vaguely that there are men who women should avoid because they are predatory only serves to create a culture of paranoia, not partnership—at least not amongst and between men and women. What I do see forming is partnership between scared and/or indignant women against those who find the discourse unpalatable and increasingly destructive.

I in no way deny that physical assaults and sexual harassment are unwanted, problematic, and should be eliminated. Based on statistics alone, I’ve no doubt these have occurred between active atheists. I don’t intend to sweep women aside, nor to ignore cases of intentional predation, nor to devalue discussion on the role of women in the freethought movement. To that end, I am buoyed by bloggers (here and here) who seem to be expanding the discussion to focus on comfort and safety for all: gay men, those with disabilities, those questioning their faith in secret. And I’m buoyed by those who address the questioners who are so summarily attacked or booted from comment threads with posts and discussion about the intricacies of social, sexual, and romantic interaction (here, here). It alarms me that the voices I find affinity with on this topic are largely male; it does not bode well for the diversity of female voices in our movement.

So, does all this make me a sexist, trolling, lying, enabler of harassment and rape culture? Or perhaps a bad feminist? I’ll have a hard time abandoning my Seven Sisters heritage, but if the new Good Atheist Feminist is characterized by reverence for some holy sacrament of outrage, I will settle for the latter.

About the Author: Becky Friedman

Becky works on the Ask An Atheist production team, frequently appears on episodes, and lends her voice to commercial announcements. She speaks Spanish, works as an educator in the Seattle-Tacoma area, and sits on the Board of Humanists of Washington.

Thomas Lawson
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

If there’s a metaphorical lifeboat encapsulating everything you’ve just said, then I am in said lifeboat.

Michael Kingsford Gray
Guest
4 years 2 months ago
A classic text-book case of the oppressed becoming the oppressor. Most of the bloggers on the now egregiously falsely name “Free Thought Blogs” have devolved into that which they set out to combat: An un-self-skeptical, dogmatic theocratic fascist cult, where no dissent from the random contradictory nonsensical fiats from the Sainted Hierarchy Above (yes PZ, I mean you) is brooked. Toe the party line, or they’ll burn you as a witch. They might even do that based on patently absurd rumour alone. Or even less. They are less observant than Lois Lane. It is like the mental shock that is… Read more »
Malky
Guest
Malky
4 years 2 months ago

I have been following all this on the web (mainly as a lurker) and couldn’t agree more with your summary above.

DT
Guest
DT
4 years 2 months ago

Well, what is a rose by any other name? So you get called a gender traitor, and mra, or a slimepit denizen (do stop by, the party is always growing, and we have potato cats).

Every time I have seen those words, I have actually checked to see what has warranted it, and nearly always the person doing the name calling ends up lacking credibility.

Can I guarantee others will be as reasonable? Unfortunately no. Should a movement of sceptics strive to scrutinise such name calling? Definitely.

Michael Kingsford Gray
Guest
4 years 2 months ago
DT, you make a remarkably poetic observation with your Shakespearean allusion. But not is all slings and arrows for: terms originally designed as pejoratives, such as Slime-Pit-Denizen®, have evolved into badges-of-honour amongst the crusty residue of true free-thinkers, and the rejectors of lazy clone-like-robotic-iCult slacktivist popularity fads. (Such as has been distilled into FfTB acolytes. “Distilled”, because the hazing processes boils off the rational independent thinkers, and leave the filthy residue, or alchemic DROSS; dross who by definition are neither rational, nor free-thinking, nor intellectually independent, nor even ‘grown-up’.) Yes. I wear my “Slime-Pit Denizen” Badge with outstanding pride! It… Read more »
Kal-el H
Guest
Kal-el H
4 years 2 months ago

Lifelong atheist, but didn’t realize until recently how big the online community was. One of the first things I noticed was the huge overlap between the LGBT and feminist movements. Unfortunately this was just as that ‘elevator’ thing got started. I know it’s not P.C. to say so, but as a guy, that totally soured it for me and now I usually steer clear and let the more vocal people roast each other.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff
4 years 2 months ago
I’m turned off by the whole issue and find myself avoiding blogs because of it. I also believe it has no place being discussed so constantly on atheist websites, unless somebody is proposing that the problem is somehow worse in the atheist community. Otherwise, it’s a human issue across all communities, and is therefore no more relevant than to point out that some atheists cheat on their partners. And I cannot believe how much of a hard-on people have for this issue. In the past few years, my girlfriend has been flashed multiple times, including by a guy who jumped… Read more »
Michael Kingsford Gray
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

Jeff:
Quite.
A ‘lack of theism’ has absolutely nought to do with neither feminism, nor anti-Calithumpianism, or Whatever-ism.
And the sooner the FfTB droogs realise this, the better.

Michael Kingsford Gray
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

His rhetoric is incredibly damaging and offensive

You, perchance, might find the time to justify these extraordinary concrete claims?
Incredibly Damaging to whom? (And why?)
Incredibly offensive to whom? (And why?)

Sam Mulvey
Admin
4 years 2 months ago
MKG: I don’t know if you’re from FTB, or some other place so I can’t place you in a larger context. However, here on Ask an Atheist and right out of the gate you’re describing Watson and Myers as theocrats, fascists, communists, and cult-members. These words mean things. These meanings are at odds with what we know about them, regardless of our opinions about how they choose to address feminism within the freethought context. At best, your claims about Waston and Myers are unsubstantiated, so in response to your request for justification, I can only ask that you put your… Read more »
Michael Kingsford Gray
Guest
4 years 2 months ago
I address the anonymous “Sam”, despite that my remark was intedd as a response to Becky, but I shall let that rest in the interest of productive conversation. I don’t know if you’re from FTB, or some other place so I can’t place you in a larger context. And that means what, exactly? How is that supposed to add to our intercourse? That you are unwilling or unable to simply cut-and-paste my globally unique name into a search-engine and press enter? I think not. I suspect that you are laying a transparent pattern of plausible deniability, for subsequent deployment. However,… Read more »
Jeff
Guest
Jeff
4 years 2 months ago

Wow, I rest my case. This has to stop.

Michael Kingsford Gray
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

Jeff, I agree most wholeheartedly.

The Devil's Towelboy
Guest
The Devil's Towelboy
4 years 2 months ago
Rebecca: My intention is to change the current discourse into something constructive and open–something that I believe freethought bloggers actually *do* want. Good grief. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I believe DJ Grothe *also* believed that. Look at the way they are mutilating him. They have not listened to anything he has said – instead there is nothing other than misquotation, misrepresentation and wholesale slander. Ophelia Benson is comparing TAM to Nazi Germany, while Greta Christina is tweet-bombing nonsense like “Rebecca Watson pulling out of TAM.Not okay w/ DJ Grothe blaming women for speaking about harassment” where… Read more »
Sam Mulvey
Admin
4 years 2 months ago
Again, to MKG: And that means what, exactly? How is that supposed to add to our intercourse? That you are unwilling or unable to simply cut-and-paste my globally unique name into a search-engine and press enter? What it means is that I’m setting the context to the only what you’ve said here. It’s clear from *your* context that this is an ongoing concern, so I thought I would begin by setting the context. I’m taking you at your words, said here. Meanwhile, if you’ll forgive me for not googling your name, I’ll forgive you for not checking our cast list.… Read more »
Erik
Guest
Erik
4 years 2 months ago
I think both sides are wrong here. DJ Grothe almost got it right, he should admit that harassment is a problem, but then go on to make it known that it is not the norm among attendees. The other side is inadvertently harming their cause. Psychologically it has been shown in studies that pointing out the cases that it does happen actually causes it to happen more as it becomes the norm. For instance there was a study done of national parks they did different trails and put different littering signs up. The one that told people how much littering… Read more »
Michael Kingsford Gray
Guest
4 years 2 months ago
To the (still) shamelessly and cowardly anonymous “Sam” What it means is that I’m setting the context to the only what[sic] you’ve said here. It’s clear from *your* context that this is an ongoing concern, so I thought I would begin by setting the context. I think that I understand ‘where you are coming from’, but am a trifle unsure… What do you mean by the passive “this is”? It could mean several contradictory things. Please excuse me. I am autistic. Meanwhile, if you’ll forgive me for not googling your name, No. Not ‘forgiven’ whatever that snide aside means. Not… Read more »
Jeff
Guest
Jeff
4 years 2 months ago

Michael, I don’t think Sam is anonymous. And I think there is a very good reason he knows Becky’s intent better than most.

Sam Mulvey
Admin
4 years 2 months ago

Jeff:

Correct, I’m not anonymous, but changing my nick to make the point is not trivial. And while I do have Becky’s ear more than most others, I’m only working with what she’s written. Might spoil this week’s show otherwise.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff
4 years 2 months ago
Sam, why are you (AanA) promoting this kind of infighting by posting about it? This topic needs to die as quickly as possible. It’s only causing damage to us, and for what? It’s irrelevant. I have a blog too, not as big as your show of course, and this topic is banned (meaning I won’t be posting about it and giving it any more life than it already has). That said, I’m not a fan of the hard time Michael is giving you. He may have some points, but has exaggerated them to an extreme and I find his attitude… Read more »
Michael Kingsford Gray
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

Jeff:

Michael, I don’t think Sam is anonymous.

Utterly fascinating.
And utterly irrelevant.
Unless you are able to reliably reveal his adult identity.
After all, you all have the opportunity, should you desire, of knowing EXACTLY who I am, without having to leave your keyboards.
I cannot say the same about my “brave” interlocutors.

And I think there is a very good reason he knows Becky’s intent better than most.

Do you now?
And how does that revelation help to propel this intercourse in a forward direction, eh?
Just asking, as that is the point of the original post.

Sam Mulvey
Admin
4 years 2 months ago
Jeff
Guest
Jeff
4 years 2 months ago

You’re here and you seriously don’t know who Sam is? You will owe him an apology for the “shamelessly and cowardly” remark. It would take you less time to figure out who Sam is from your keyboard than it would take us to find you. Your attitude is absolutely horrible, and that’s coming from a guy who frequently gets told how horrible his attitude is. I’ve only “known” you for a couple of hours or so, but you have one of the most extreme personalities I’ve ever encountered.

Dude, chill.

Michael Kingsford Gray
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

Jeff:(#9837)

That said, I’m not a fan of the hard time Michael is giving you. He may have some points, but has exaggerated them to an extreme and I find his attitude over-the-top and unhelpful.

You are most perspicacious, Sir!
For I find that guarded exaggeration and extreme hyperbole is able to motivate swift change.

You can practically taste the poison in his writing.

Again! A wonderful description, nay: distillation of my intentionally invective prose, aimed at those more obtuse than thee (Sir Knight).
From this diagnostic characteristic, I do
not aver, sir.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff
4 years 2 months ago

And if you truly agree with me that this needs to stop, then STOP! Why do you keep attacking, attacking, attacking!? Sam and Becky do a tremendous amount of work for the benefit of our community, and they deserve some slack, credit and respect. You’re treating them like trash.

Chill, get some sleep.

Sam Mulvey
Admin
4 years 2 months ago
Sam, why are you (AanA) promoting this kind of infighting by posting about it? This topic needs to die as quickly as possible. It’s only causing damage to us, and for what? It’s irrelevant. I have a blog too, not as big as your show of course, and this topic is banned (meaning I won’t be posting about it and giving it any more life than it already has). For the most part, while we’ve a fair amount of material about feminism, we’ve stayed away from this nexus of personal controversy. But the infighting exists in the atheism community, and… Read more »
CommanderTuvok
Guest
CommanderTuvok
4 years 2 months ago

Re: Sam’s anonymity.

Always name names…

Michael Kingsford Gray
Guest
4 years 2 months ago
Sam: For the most part, while we’ve a fair amount of material about feminism, we’ve stayed away from this nexus of personal controversy. But the infighting exists in the atheism community, and it’s reached a point where someone on Ask an Atheist felt the need to talk about it. We can’t discuss the infighting without inviting it to sit at the table with us for a little while. So here we are. After all, I’ve always said we’d talk about atheism, “warts and all”. Good point(s), well put. I contend: 1. Feminism & a-theism are un-correlated concepts, save for historical… Read more »
Michael Kingsford Gray
Guest
4 years 2 months ago
It would take you less time to figure out who Sam is from your keyboard than it would take us to find you. Au contraire mon petit m. I have searched for “Sam” with almost no concrete results. Bags that ‘almost’. Zero concrete results. I am a newbie to your clique, and I expected better. That is my fault, I admit. I expect that, as an Atheist, posing a conundrum to “Ask An Atheist”, I should have been more gently treated, even if I had been a raving Islamist, or Baptist. You guys have a great ‘bedside manner’. Tell neophytes… Read more »
Parge
Guest
Parge
4 years 2 months ago
I toyed with the idea of jumping in here as a mediator. I liked the gist of the post and was glad to see the sentiment popping up somewhere other than the blogs of the usual suspects. I hope to publicly dispel any impression that I align myself with Mr. Gray’s positions. His rhetoric is incredibly damaging and offensive. I assure you that Mr. Gray, contrary to your assertion, is a person with whom you have actually aligned yourself, like it or not. You may not like his tone, and I can’t rightly assume that it has been born out… Read more »
Sam Mulvey
Admin
4 years 2 months ago
MKG: You’re getting as good as you’re giving. We believe in “equal response”, and that’s what I’m doing. And I do mean “we”, that you haven’t figured out who I am by now is either some sort of conversational gambit or a severe lack of reading comprehension and contextual understanding. Either way, let’s have an end to it: I am a producer for this radio show. I am on it frequently. Any further than that is irrelevant because I’m not some sort of atheist rock star. Either what I’m saying is meaningful or it isn’t. Meanwhile, on one hand you… Read more »
Sam Mulvey
Admin
4 years 2 months ago

This also goes for everyone else:

If you’re making claims about people in the atheism blogosphere, provide some evidence. In this case it is not just a demand for rigor, it might get used on the show.

Sam Mulvey
Admin
4 years 2 months ago

Parge:

Can we not throw anti-intellectualism into the mix?

There’s a difference between anti-intellectualism and using vocabulary as a cloak. A big lexicon does not necessarily mean a good intellect or strong arguments.

Parge
Guest
Parge
4 years 2 months ago
There’s a difference between anti-intellectualism and using vocabulary as a cloak. A big lexicon does not necessarily mean a good intellect or strong arguments. Yes, but the comment was a double-layered ad hominem. Well, sort of. He’ll freely admit he’s a jackass. It’s the “big words” part that bugs me. I see it as trying to discredit what he’s saying by the way that he says it. You probably don’t believe you’re doing that. That’s just the way it reads. But claiming he uses his vocabulary as a cloak? As a rhetorical tool, maybe. It seems ingenuous to claim he’s… Read more »
Sam Mulvey
Admin
4 years 2 months ago

Parge:

You’re clearly his friend, and I think it clouds it a bit. I do not know him. All I see is someone making ridiculous claims, and when called upon to back them up, he gets wordy and vaguely insulting. Yeah, I’d call it a lexical cloak.

Parge
Guest
Parge
4 years 2 months ago
Friends? Acquaintances at best. I like him and most of what he writes, and for all I know he likes me back. This is the Internet. I can’t claim anyone as a friend until I’ve hugged them IRL. We share common cause and ooze in the same Slime Pit. My opinions are not clouded by my association with him. He and others on ERV have trundled down many an untenable alleyway as I spoke of above, and I had no reservations about disagreeing with them (though may not have bothered to care about speaking up about it at the time).… Read more »
Sam Mulvey
Admin
4 years 2 months ago

I will. Thank you.

KiwiInOz
Guest
KiwiInOz
4 years 2 months ago
Hi Sam and Becky. I had never heard about AAA until I read it on ERV’s truly endless thread. I like what I’ve seen so far. I’m a dabbler in the Slimepit, having given up on Pharyngula after watching it become a travesty, and the very thing it started out deriding. Abyss, stare, meet thy selves. The denizens of the pit love arguing, slaughtering and bbq-ing sacred cows, and ranging lyrical from truly juvenile to very high brow. Most do not take themselves seriously, but are serious about challenging anything, with evidence and logic. (The rest of us are just… Read more »
Jeff
Guest
Jeff
4 years 2 months ago
“MKG, for example, is razor sharp, and loves playing with words, phrases, and left field allusions (as do I). He seems to expect the same standards in arguments of himself as he does of others.” I think he’s just an ass who gets off on treating other people badly, is too lazy to click the Cast button to learn who Sam is (seriously, he didn’t even have to leave this website), and puts way too much meaning into whether or not people post everything online with their full name and photo attached to it. Does he honestly not know why… Read more »
Jeff
Guest
Jeff
4 years 2 months ago

And next he’ll probably go to the Atheist Experience website and wonder why this guy who keeps posting as “Matt D.” won’t reveal his last name.

Fabricio
Guest
Fabricio
4 years 2 months ago

LOL at the guy not realizing who this anonymous “Sam” guy may be. This is Grade-A comedic material.

Next thing, he will realize that he really doesn’t know who this “Becky” chick is. Or what this “Ask An Atheist” site is. Or what this “planet Earth” really is.

On topic: Thank you, Becky-whoever-you-may-be, for pointing exactly how stupid and boring all this bullshit became.

Fabricio
Guest
Fabricio
4 years 2 months ago

Oh well, PZ Meyers, Rebeca Watson, Greta Christina et al are in the web to show us that Nietzche was (again) right. “He who fights monsters…”

I’m such a fanboy for Nietzche and his ridiculous mustache and his self-empowering, anti-Christian philosophy, that I raelly can’t get that mad with them. Please continue to show that the Mr. N was right all along, guys and gals!

KiwiInOz
Guest
KiwiInOz
4 years 2 months ago
Jeff 2 #9879 – my perception and your perception are not necessarily mutually exclusive! 🙂 My perception is coloured by knowing that he is further along the Asperger’s spectrum than myself, so perhaps I excuse some of his intolerability. His rules of engagement are his rules of engagement. So the choices are: 1) ignore 2) address based on own rules of engagement 3) address based on his rules of engagement 4) understand his rules and adapt strategy accordingly 5) say, piss off, these are my rules and this is my house I disagree with his interpretation of the intent and… Read more »
Sam Mulvey
Admin
4 years 2 months ago

Closing the thread in favor of this week’s episode post:

http://askanatheist.tv/2012/06/10/the-problem-of-dogmatic-feminism/

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