In this ongoing discussion about dealing with harassment at atheist and skeptic events, one question has been asked a number of times. “Is this even a big deal?” The undertone, occasionally asked outright, is “Are you exaggerating the problem?”
The American Secular Census has just released some survey data relevant to the question.
Have you ever felt unwelcome, discriminated against, or harmed in the secular movement?
11.4% – Overall
14.4% – Women
Which of these factors contributed to this experience? (Multiple responses permitted.)
77% – Words, actions, or attitudes of other participants
46% – Words, actions, or attitudes of organizers, leaders, or employees
23% – Unwanted advances by other participants
15.4% – Unwanted advances by organizers, leaders, or employees
15.4% – Programs or positions of the organization itself
8% – Choice of activity or venue
It’s impossible to be sure which responses on the second question came from what gender. However, we do now have data showing that the movement has been more hostile to women than to men by a fair amount. Given that men are less likely to classify sexual advances as unwelcome, there’s also a good chance that those numbers disproportionately reflect responses from women. The second set of responses are from women who responded, “Yes”, to the first question.
Is all of it going to be harassment? Of course not. Some of it will be, however, and more of it will be run of the mill objectification: “Hi. So I know we’re here at this intellectual event and all, but, well, I noticed you’re female. Wanna fuck?” (For the record, that starts being harassment as soon as “No” is ignored.) Whatever the specifics, it was enough to make the people who responded–many of them those women we claim to want in the movement–uncomfortable enough to say they “felt unwelcome, discriminated against, or harmed”.
In essence, the numbers aren’t huge. That’s not surprising. No one said they were. But they are not insubstantial either. They deserve to be addressed, plain and simple.