A conspiracy of crybabies or the comfortable shelter of apathy?

Photo: D Sharon Pruitt

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:

  1. Oh my lord, I never realized how bad things are. What can I do to help change this terrible problem?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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15 thoughts on “A conspiracy of crybabies or the comfortable shelter of apathy?

  1. Kernan Coleman says:

    If you don’t think there’s a problem, you aren’t looking very closely or simply refuse to believe what you see and hear.

    The amazing and varied women of skepticism helped me to see what sexism looked like, and I was shocked to see that it looked a lot like me. Now, I’m a gay man and thought that I could never be a sexist, having been subjected to some fairly intense homophobia over the years from a wide range of bigots. But the one thing I never really got is that at the end of the day, I “pass.” I’m a tall, professional, white MAN and that comes with a constant, subtle privilege that was, to be honest, invisible to me, as invisible as the constant, grinding sexism that women endure all around me 24 hours aday.

    This awakening preceded The Great Elevator Guy Wars of 2011 by at least a year, so when I really got a look at how reactionary and crazy many men (and some women) became over it, I was taken aback by the level of vitriol (and I’m a Pharyngula regular so I eat vitriol for breakfast).

    I didn’t get a clear look at sexism because I refused to acknowledge my privilege (only wealthy people were privileged in my previous worldview) and because I despise humorless political correctness and didn’t want anybody to tell me what I could or couldn’t say . . . no matter how it made someone else feel (or how it made me look).

    I’m a better rational thinker and skeptic for what I’ve learned about myself and gender bias in our society through spending lots of time in this fractious and lively community. I’ll finish with a post from DaveL on Dispatches from the Culture Wars that really provided me with an “aha” moment regarding privilege:

    “Being privileged doesn’t make you a bad person, but acknowledging that you are privileged might make you a better one.”

    Thanks for the great post Sasha.

  2. Surly Amy says:

    Thank you, Sasha.

  3. […] Sasha Pixlee – A conspiracy of crybabies or the comfortable shelter of apathy? […]

  4. Adam C. says:

    It’s definitely a problem. I’ve seen it myself. The trouble is trying to deal with it.

    Take http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Conservapedia_talk:What_is_going_on_at_CP%3F/Archive217#Andy_Schlafly.2C_two_time_loser_with_recall

    This contains gross misogynism, to a horrific extent. I tried to shut it down twice, pointing out that it’s pretty much the definition of rape culture. The site’s reactions? Ugly


    I really think that thread, if we can’t deal with it, and soon, would be enough that I’d have to leave here. It’s disgusting. Aconite (talk) 17:22, 20 January 2011 (UTC)

    Then leave. What’s more disgusting is your attempt to censor words you don’t like. That makes us no better than Conservapedia. –Leotardo (talk) 17:24, 20 January 2011 (UTC)

    I agree with you, Aconite; it’s an ugly conversation that I wish wasn’t on this wiki. But it’s not up to any one person to decide to shut it down. Read the sysop guide linked to on your talk page, learn how the community deals with such things, and guide yourself accordingly. P-Foster (talk) 17:27, 20 January 2011 (UTC)

    The people who made it an ugly conversation are the people who hijacked the thread because they couldn’t just ignore two off-handed rather tame comments about Liza Schlafly and focus on the recall issue. In the name of Political Correctness, they made it a far bigger part of the thread than was necessary, consuming the thread, and then try to censor it. What surprising is the PC bullshit is over saying she’s bony and that someone would ‘do her’ – nothing we haven’t said about many other men and women. –Leotardo (talk) 17:31, 20 January 2011 (UTC)

    (EC)You should discuss stuff like that in the thread first. And you especially shouldn’t start an edit-war on a high-edit page; you’ll just give people edit conflicts and piss them off. EddyP Great King! Disaster! 17:32, 20 January 2011 (UTC)


    And so I did the only thing a principled person could do: leave the site. And I think that’s one of the big reasons such misogynist arseholes are allowed to remain: Anyone who does criticise them is driven off the sites, meaning that only the utter slime remains.

    • Sasha says:

      That’s the problem: They like to gang up. Perhaps we need a way to call in reinforcements so it’s more of a fair fight? Also a way to note which communities are moderated by notorious scumbags?

      • Adam C. says:

        It could certainly be a start towards solving the problem. Maybe some sort of twitter account that basically checks the comments sent at it, and checks then retweets any justified calls for help restoring sanity?

    • Adam C.,

      I read those links to RationalWiki.

      Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh. That was disgusting.

      Okay, it’s not exactly on a level with rape-threats to fifteen-year-olds (I still can’t believe I needed to type that), but “not quite the bottom of the barrel” is hardly an endorsement of decent human behaviour.

      And there was the standard “cussing is okay so why should dehumanising language be a problem” bullshit. I’ve seen that a good few times now, and really must write a blog post about it. As I’ve said before, there’s nothing fucking wrong with profanity.


  5. Alex says:

    Great write-up, and definitely what we need more of in the rational community. We also need a lot of male allies who are willing to bust up the misogynistic shenanigans amongst other skeptic males when the “boy’s club” gets going in certain venues. Unfortunately, no matter how well we articulate our points, as women, some men have the tendency to think that we’re simply trying to goad or fool them into special treatment, rather than realizing that misogyny hurts men, too. Aside from the fact that it’s just really shitty for women, and if they’re so opposed to the trappings of religion’s influence on society, then its horrible patriarchal values and historically unfair treatment of women should be anathema in the skeptic community.

    We truly need those male ambassadors who “get it” to instruct those who aren’t quite there yet.

  6. […] Pixlee asks if the greater atheist communities suffer from “A conspiracy of crybabies or the comfortable shelter of apathy?” We have all heard the many, many incidents of sexist and misogynist attitudes and actions […]

  7. […] awful object lessons? And while things are getting a little better, it seems that from day one women have to put up with a lot of shit. Bonus topic: is “I’ve Experienced God in My Life” a […]

  8. Alice Manterfield says:

    Well aren’t you just wonderful! I look forward to a skeptical community with more people like you. Thank you. Also, thank you to skepchick.org for leading me here.

  9. […] Sasha Pixlee – A conspiracy of crybabies or the comfortable shelter of apathy? […]

  10. KT says:

    As has been pointed out to Adam, those comments are as much tongue in cheek and his head is up his arse. Totally lifted out of context (the context being Andrew Schlafly’s rampant misogyny – that’s odd, why no moaning about his different tests for boys and girls? – and AdamC has now gone trawling through archives to dig up his concern trolling again. Even I as a woman can see that.

    His (and anybody who agrees with him – such as Timothy) ignorance is astounding. Now grow up and carry on, kiddies.

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