Note: If you haven’t already read this FAQ about Atheism Plus, please read it before you comment on this post. It answers many of the most common concerns and most frequently asked questions about Atheism Plus. What with it being a FAQ and all.
Is it divisive to create a subset movement of atheism that focuses on atheism plus social justice — an “atheism plus” wave that explicitly focuses, not just on atheism, but on the intersections between atheism and racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other social justice issues? Externally in what issues we take on, and internally in how we deal with our own stuff? (Background here, for those who haven’t been following this.)
I’m going to say this right from the start: If you’re wary about Atheism Plus and want to see where it’s going before you decide whether to get involved… that’s fine with me. If you understand the motivations behind Atheism Plus, but prefer to align with another segment of the godless community, such as secular humanism… that’s fine with me. If you can see why people would want to form Atheism Plus, but personally prefer to keep your activism focused on more traditional atheist issues… that’s fine with me.
But if you don’t want to get involved with Atheism Plus — and you don’t want anyone else to, either? If you’re vociferously objecting to Atheism Plus and are actively trying to talk people out of it, because it’s “divisive,” because it will “weaken” the community and “splinter” us?
For the sake of clarity, the examples here will be focused on women, gender, and sexism — but the basic concept can be adapted to include people of color, trans people, poor people, working class people, the mentally ill, and other marginalized people. (Trigger warning for rape threats and other forms of threats and harassment, and for the dismissal of same.)
Face it. This community is already divided. And it is divided in a way that is making many, many women feel cut out. For a solid year, far too many women in this community — and especially feminist women — have been relentlessly subjected to a torrent of hatred, harassment, and abuse… and to a torrent of people ignoring this behavior, rationalizing it, trivializing it, or getting angry at us for even talking about it.
So why is it that forming a subset of atheism that prioritizes the inclusion of women, over the inclusion of hateful, misogynist assholes, is what’s being seen as “divisive”?
And why is it that actions and words that demean women, objectify us, inappropriately sexualize us, violate our privacy, and literally threaten us and make us unsafe, are not being called “divisive”?
Why is it “divisive” for some atheists to create one space in the world where we don’t have to deal with this shit? Why is that, when some atheists form a subset of the movement that’s dedicated, in part, to speaking and acting against these kinds of abuses, and to carving out a place in the movement where the people who perpetuate them are not welcome, it sends so many people into a frenzy of hand-wringing about “divisiveness”?
Why is Atheism Plus being seen a terrible threat to the cohesion of the movement… and yet a solid year of feminist women being subjected to actions and words that demean us, objectify us, inappropriately sexualize us, and literally threaten us and make us unsafe is not getting called “divisive”?
A leader of a major skeptical organization speculated on the causes of low female attendance at his conference… and blamed it on women who were speaking out about sexual harassment. Why was that not “divisive”?
A widely respected and beloved atheist celebrity publicly called a woman he disagreed with a cunt. And when this was brought up and criticized in an atheist blog, the comments were flooded with people defending him, and defending his use of the word. Why was that not “divisive”?
As part of a dispute about feminism, an atheist blogger and local atheist organization leader publicly posted Surly Amy’s address, with photos of the building. Why was that not “divisive”?
A popular atheist videoblogger deliberately tried to trigger a rape victim, by posting graphic threats of rape. Why was that not “divisive”?
A thread was posted on an atheist forum posing the question, “Would it be immoral to rape a Skepchick? Not for sexual gratification or power or anything like that, just because they’re so annoying.” Why was that not “divisive”?
The suggestion was made that atheist and skeptical conferences, like virtually every other conference in the world, should have sexual harassment policies and codes of conduct, because some women had had bad experiences at cons of sexual harassment and other assaults and invasive behavior. And it sparked a firestorm of controversy, in which the very idea of harassment policies at conferences was derided as unnecessary and repressive, and in which women advocating these policies were targeted with hatred, abuse, vilification, slander, invasion of privacy, and graphic threats of violence, rape, and death. Why was that not “divisive”?
When atheist women speak out about online threats and harassment, we routinely get told that we should shut up about it because it’s “feeding the trolls.” Why is that not “divisive”?
A female public figure in the atheist movement spoke about an incident where she was approached in an inappropriate time and place; said, “Guys, don’t do that”… and as a direct result, has been targeted with an unstoppable torrent of hatred, abuse, vilification, slander, and graphic threats of violence, rape, and death. A torrent that has lasted for over a year, and that continues to this day. And mentioning her name in any context starts the fight all over again. Why is that not “divisive”?
The reality for prominent feminist women in the atheist movement is that harassment, hate, and threats have become routine. The reality is that, when an atheist targets me with a brutal, graphic threat of rape and sexualized death, directed personally at me by name — as happened just last week — my basic reaction is, “Oh, yeah. This again.” And this has an effect on women who aren’t public figures. I get emails and comments all the time from women who tell me, “I’m an atheist, I really want to be part of the atheist community and the atheist movement… but WTF? How can I possibly be part of this?” Every feminist atheist blogger I know gets these emails and comments. Why is that not “divisive”?
And the reality for me — a reality that makes me sick and sad, a reality that I can hardly bear to talk about — is that, as a public figure, the people I fear the most, the people I am most genuinely concerned about doing me physical harm, are not religious extremists. The people I fear most are other atheists. Why is that not “divisive”?
How is it that none of this is called “divisive”?
How is it that none of this is “divisive”… and yet Atheism Plus is somehow going to rip atheism apart and destroy it?
Like I said when I first wrote about this: There is no way for an atheist movement to be inclusive of everyone. An atheist movement cannot be inclusive of atheist women… and also be inclusive of people who publicly call women ugly, fat, sluts, whores, cunts, and worse; who persistently harass us; who deliberately invade our privacy and make our personal information public; and/or who routinely threaten us with grisly violence, rape, and death.
So why is it that forming a subset of the community that prioritizes the inclusion of women, over the inclusion of hateful, misogynist assholes, is what’s getting targeted as “divisive”?
And if you do see the last year’s misogynist horror show as divisive… and you still object to Atheism Plus, because it’s also divisive? If you’re asking, as many people have been, “Why do you have to form a new thing, a new subset? Why don’t you just kick the assholes who are now in atheism out of it?” Here is my question for you: How, precisely, do you propose doing that? We’ve been pushing back on the misogyny for a solid year. It’s not getting better. Or rather: it is getting better, we’ve done a lot of education and have made a lot of allies… but the misogynists have not stopped their campaign of hatred and harassment. How do you propose getting rid of them? And even if this could or should be accomplished: How is it that this would not be “divisive”… but forming our own subset of the movement with people who share our values and goals would be?
The people who are hand-wringing about how Atheism Plus is “divisive” are basically saying that they are entitled to me. They may not intend to say that — but that’s the upshot. They are saying that they are entitled to my work, my ideas, my fundraising efforts, my late nights, my grueling travel schedule, my passion, my exhaustion, my efforts to make atheism stronger and more visible. They are saying this about me… and about every other feminist woman in the movement, and every feminist man, and every feminist person who doesn’t identify as either male or female. They are saying, “If you want to be in this movement, it has to be on our terms. And if those terms means putting up with hate, abuse, harassment, violation of privacy, threats and more… well, I guess those are the breaks.” And they are acting as if a group of people in the movement deciding that they get to choose who they work with, and deciding to form a subset of the movement with people who share their core values, is some sort of horrible betrayal.
But I am sick to death of people calling me “divisive” for not wanting to work with people who despise me, who abuse me as a matter of routine, and who have been working for a solid year to drive me out of the movement. I am sick to death of people calling Atheism Plus “divisive”… and yet somehow not applying that word to the hate, abuse, harassment, violation of privacy, threats, and more that women in this community are subjected to as a matter of course, or to the stubborn, hyper-skeptical, willfully ignorant defenses of those behaviors. I am sick to death of people calling Atheism Plus “divisive”… and yet somehow not applying that word to the shit that motivated people to form Atheism Plus in the first place.