Angry Mob by Robert Couse-Baker

Yes, “Hate *Atheists*”

This is a guest post by Stephanie Zvan. It is cross-posted from her blog, Almost Diamonds.

So, Rebecca Watson once again pointed out what should be a no-brainer–only to have her point ignored by people who want to quibble with her wording. “Oh, noes! Rebecca titled her post, “Reddit Makes Me Hate Atheists“! Oh, noes! But this isn’t about atheists!”

Actually, yes, it is. Rebecca already made the connection in her post, in case you need reminding:

Why would she ever want to be a part of any atheist community, if that’s how she’s treated? The next time you look around your atheist events and wonder where all the women are, think of this and know that there are at least some of us who aren’t willing to just accept this culture without trying to change it.

Here’s the thing, boys and girls: I don’t get this crap anywhere else I choose to invest my time. I don’t get it from my friends, because those people don’t get the privilege of remaining my friend. I don’t get it at work, where they’ve gone well beyond the basic legal requirements in order to make it a place where women also have rewarding work and an opportunity for advancement. As a result, I’m surrounded by smart, confident people of various genders who take everybody seriously. There is the very rare sexist idiot, but the conspiracies we create to work around these people are open and supportive.

I don’t even get it in those legendary bastions of “social ineptitude,” fantasy and science fiction fandom and conventions. Don’t get me wrong. There are definitely still problems, but predators and discriminatory publishing practices are considered problems of the community, and the institutions that support the problems are rightly pressured (and aided) to fix themselves. This “we’re so helpless in the face of a few bad actors” nonsense doesn’t fly.

This is very much about atheism. It’s also about the more general skeptical community, of course, but atheism is a big part of that and getting bigger.

No, this is the community in which I get, “We have this female guest we’d like to have on the show. Would you care to interview her?” This is the community in which we get high-profile writers saying, “Piffle. I have no need to condemn the bad behavior of those people I was just joking around with.” This is the community in which a leader of an organization goes around telling people (all women that I’ve seen so far), “Oh, he’s a friend of mine. He’s a nice guy. I’m sure you’re just misinterpreting what he said,” or liking it on Facebook when someone complains that skeptical woman is being all emotional over a scientific issue. This is the community in which Rebecca’s cheerful acknowledging of a mistake is used to suggest her worth as a skeptic is zilch, while Brian Dunning’s stubborn embrace of DDT disinformation costs him nothing.

I write in this community about rape and issues of consent. I get MRAs in my comments, but they’re no big deal. Everyone can see them. I also get commenters who say, “Well, yes, MRA = bad. However, he had a point about this tricky legal question.” They get all butthurt when I say, “It’s nothing like tricky if it never happens. If you’re not sure you have consent, don’t have sex–unless you’re willing to be a rapist.” They’re just there for an intellectual conversation in which potential sexual partners have all the humanity of chess pieces. And people tell me I should be nicer to them.

I get links to those posts from skeptic and atheist forums, where someone is using them to try to counteract the victim blaming and doubting in the latest high-profile rape accusation. That means I get to see them completely ignored as our oh-so-rational friends pull hypotheticals out of their asses and cite the Duke Lacrosse team as though it were a legal precedent in order to make the case that the accuser is probably lying her pathetic little ass off. These are our forums, people. That’s what they look like.

I write about IQ and bad science. I’ve got a university professor, the guy who is best known in atheist circles for having his MySpace atheist group discriminated against, who shows up on every one of these posts to suggest I really shouldn’t be writing about the topic without more expertise. He can’t actually find anything wrong with what I write, but he knows these researchers are nice guys, and he, personally, finds their conclusions reasonable despite lousy methodology. So I need more expertise. Guess how many times he’s done the same thing to a guy–or been called on that bullshit.

Same guy, Bryan Pesta for the record, is the fellow who followed a link from one of my blog posts to someone outside this community. She was complaining about a guy who ignored her repeated insistence that she wasn’t online to get hit on. Bryan’s response? I paraphrase: “Now that you’ve dumped him, how about you and me? Huh?” When I asked him whether he also sexually harassed his students, his response was legalistic. The response of other commenters was to suggest he was joking. No shit, he was joking. He just found it perfectly acceptable to make her the target of his joke, and these other commenters apparently couldn’t figure out why this was a problem.

In addition to writing, I also do this little skeptical convention experience called Skepchickcon. That would be where I was in July, on my way to a panel in a room so full of F&SF geeks hungry for skepticism and science programming that there wasn’t even standing room left, when I heard about Dawkins comments about someone who “calls herself Skep’chick.'” I’d already noted, after another conference in January brought it up, that I can write those science posts or solid atheist reasoning and rabble-rousing posts like yesterday’s response to Massimo Pigliucci. I can do those conventions and reach the audiences we say we want to reach. But I really only get seen when I talk about “women’s issues,” and when I do, I now know the leaders and icons of the movement I’m working for have already decided I’m whining about trivialities.

Many people have also decided that when I’m writing about this bullshit, I’m only in it for the clicks. That reasoning, for the record, is about as sound as that of the people who say atheists aren’t responsible for the sexism Rebecca talked about in her post because the young woman in question made the front page of Reddit–after the pretty girl was voted up that far by atheists. These posts don’t get more clicks. My other posts on more traditionally male subject matter get fewer. If people clicked on those more, where would be the incentive to write about sexism?

Oh, right. I’m still a part of this community. I’m still volunteering my time, energy, and yes, expertise to this movement. And doing that–and making a difference–I still have to put up with all this crap. Rebecca is entirely right. I don’t have to like y’all in order to do it, just think it’s important. And right now, yes, I’m rather hating atheists. However, it’s only because you’re awful.

8 thoughts on “Yes, “Hate *Atheists*”

  1. tigtog

    Thanks for this post, Stephanie – I think it’s by far the most measured and nuanced piece I’ve read on this whole blow-up.

    I really only get seen when I talk about “women’s issues,” and when I do, I now know the leaders and icons of the movement I’m working for have already decided I’m whining about trivialities.

    This. They push women speakers into a women’s issue ghetto and then make mock about women speakers having a limited repertoire of stuff nobody who is serious about skepticism cares about.

  2. Gunnar Tveiten

    “I don’t get this crap anywhere else I choose to invest my time.” (atheist venues)

    The problem with this claim is that I’ve seen exactly the same claim for each and every one of the male-dominated subcultures I’m part of.

    I’ve seen it claimed that the SF-subculture is particularily sexist. I’ve seen it claimed that Open Source culture is particularily women-unfriendly. Here it’s claimed that atheism is particularily sexist. I’ve heard (numerous) claims that motorsport is particularily sexist.

    I agree that all of these do have substantial problems with sexism that needs fixing. It’s just really hard to agree that any one of them have particular problems, because to me it looks very much like the problem is a general one, suffered by most subcultures that are dominated by males.

    Can someone point me at counterexamples ? Are there subcultures that are male-dominated yet do *not* suffer from serious sexism-issues ?

    1. Mary

      “I don’t get this crap anywhere else I choose to invest my time.” (atheist venues)

      The problem with this claim is that I’ve seen exactly the same claim for each and every one of the male-dominated subcultures I’m part of.

      I wonder if it’s that each subculture’s sexism becomes much more visible when you are involved in a way where you can’t choose who you interact with.

      I can’t speak to Stephanie’s experience, I don’t know what her role in the SF community is, but I can imagine that a community in which one is publicly talking about women’s issues is the same community in which women’s issues will be most visible, and from there a cycle develops.

      The converse phenomenon can be one of being A Great Leader, in which sexism in your community appears very easy to solve. You get the position of “well, just tell people to be better behaved. Works for me!” Yes, I imagine it does work for you, person whose single word of displeasure will get an offender banned from all the good parties/make them effectively unhireable in this community.

    2. Dorothea

      Might not another interpretation of that statement be “I choose instead to invest my time in non-male-dominated environments”?

      They do, mirabile visu, exist.

      1. Gunnar Tveiten

        I don’t know, I’m not able to read it that way, but the problem could be with me :)

  3. C.

    I gave up a long time ago.

    I’ve embraced my heritage and now consider myself a secular Jew. The community’s much better on women’s issues, and everyone admits they’re atheists anyway.

    1. Miriam

      Me too!

      I was once a member of my school’s atheist group but ended up hating it (not for any feminism-related reasons, but for general lack of open-mindedness and friendliness). Now I’m much more involved with the Jewish community and have found a lot of support there.

  4. Lauren

    I first noticed a connection between atheism and misogyny a week ago when I had to leave a Facebook page that was posting less about Christopher Hitchens and more about how “It’s only sexist when guys say it.” The comment thread of these areligiously enlightened fans making fun of women was lengthy and an unpleasant splash of cold water. Thanks for the great article!

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