The skeptic/atheist community has a woman problem. The nature of that problem depends on who you ask. Most people agree that it would be good to have more women involved in our community. Many women, and many men like myself, see that the problem is that our community is unwelcoming to women. Others say the problem is all the ladies fault.
We have all heard the many, many incidents of sexist and misogynist attitudes and actions women report experiencing at our meetings and online. We have numerous examples of prominent male skeptics and atheists exhibiting behaviors that many women say make them feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. I believe that what we choose to do with these facts speaks volumes about who we are as individuals and as a community. The response from men seems to break down as follows:
- “Oh my lord, I never realized how bad things are. What can I do to help change this terrible problem?“
- “I’m not a sexist and anyway I know those people you are complaining about and I’m sure there has to be a less horrible explanation. Plus, even if this is true it’s just a few bad apples and shouldn’t reflect on us as a group.“
- “Those bitches are crazy feminazi whores. No one would ever want to fuck them and they just want attention. I’m a skeptic. I think critically. Everyone knows women are less rational than men and they should just shut the fuck up and stop causing problems. Also, tits.“
If your response is #1, you are a fine human being and I’m glad to have you on my side. If your response is #3, you’re a lost cause; please remove yourself from polite society. I’d like to talk to the men in category #2.
The first point I would like to make is that when we say that there is a problem with sexism in our secular community we are not saying you have raped anyone, will rape anyone, or would tolerate anyone else raping anyone. There is a problem with child-rape in the Catholic church, that doesn’t mean that your average Catholic is someone who shouldn’t be around children.
My next point is this: We need to listen to and believe our fellow secularists. We have a large number of women reporting these experiences. I realize these are anecdotal reports and we’re skeptics, but we trust the victims of abuse and discrimination on other communities and situations, don’t we? Lets return to the Catholic Church and it’s problem with priests raping children. As atheists I know we like to use that one a lot in debates. Why are we so sure it is a problem? Because of the testimony of the victims. Why arte we so sure that it’s a widespread problem? Because of the number of victims reporting abuse. Yes, yes, we found documents proving that Church officials covered up those reports and protected the rapists, but the evidence is reports from the victims. You believe them, why don’t you believe skeptic and atheist women who report problems?
If we accept the experiences of the women who are reporting sexism and misogyny, how is that our problem if we aren’t the ones doing it? Well, let’s go back to religion. Sam Harris has argued that religious moderates give cover to religious fundamentalists and fanatics. By not being an active opponent of sexist and misogynist behavior you are cloaking and providing safety for the assholes who do those things. You become the bishop who continues to let the priest be around children even when you know he has been accused of raping them.
Racism is no longer socially acceptable. Even people who are racist and do, say, and believe racist things publicly claim they are not racists. Why is this? Because we have, as a society, made it an embarrassing and shameful thing to be racist. Some have argued that mocking religiosity is a way to make professing faith in the almighty as embarrassing as admitting you believe in bigfoot. Why not do the same thing with sexism and misogyny?
What can you do to help make our community more welcoming to women? It’s pretty simple:
- Listen to them.
- Remove cover from the assholes who make it unwelcoming.
The next time someone comments on a woman speaker’s appearance, let them know that is unwelcome in polite society. When one of your secular heroes does something appalling and embarrassing realize that they are human, too. Accept that someone can be right about some things and grievously wrong about others, then let them know how you feel. It’s as simple as that.