Just a Few Loud Voices

This is a long post. It’s a very, very long post.

There’s this meme going around that it’s really just a handful of noisy bloggers who are talking about sexism in the secular and skeptical movements. So I took about a dozen threads where I’d seen women in these movements talk about the sexism and harassment they’d experienced and observed and often how that affected what places in these movements, online and off, in which they were willing to participate. I grabbed the relevant excerpts of those comments to put in one place.

This is a very, very long post, with roughly 90 women represented.

What it is not is comprehensive. It is, however, a good start at answering that little meme.

TheLady: PZ occasionally posts super sexist stuff on his blog, and the antifeminist shit storm I’ve reaped in trying to highlight it and make it stop has more or less put me off commenting on there for ever. And then you’ve got guys like Hitchens and Maher, not to mention lesser antireligionist luminaries like Martin Amis. There’s a lot of penis inches invested in the cleverer-than-thou stance of New Atheism; as a sub-culture it’s very heavily weighted towards the Smart Guy(tm) crowd, and is rife with antifeminist landmines.

catgirl: Bill Maher is yet another example of women being asked to “take one for the team”.  The idea is that atheism is so important that it’s OK to support a raving misogynist to promote it, and “don’t worry ladies, we’ll worry about you after we take care of the important stuff, honest.”

catgirl: Along with feminist blogs, I also follow a lot of skeptical blogs.  When I try to bring a feminist perspective to an issue in the comment thread, it is often met with hostility.  I was recently surprised how bad it really is.

dezcrawford: And if I go by myself, I don’t like the “after-session” mood at conventions — no, I don’t want to be hit on. No, I didn’t leave my husband at home so I could get wild, I left him home because he has things to do and someone needs to mind the family. No, I didn’t come here to get kinky, I came to listen to speakers. No, I’m not a prude, I just think random sex with just anybody is both tacky and a health risk, so it’s not for me.

carolyn.macleod: Then there’s the occasional, unchallenged sexist statement. (It’s amazing how many men have never met a single competent female engineer) Or assumption that we’re all men who date women, (and of course slightly dirty jokes are fine). Or we all have stay-at-home wives who take care of all family obligations. Maybe most of the men don’t believe these things, but if they aren’t challenged, they set the tone.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the men who notice “attractive female” and get a slightly creepy personality transplant, and act “nice”. It becomes very obvious when a partnered/gay/older/larger woman doesn’t get the same treatment at all.

ForgotMyGingko: Second, even in as lovely a group of men as we get here – being seen as an equal is tough. There’s a lot of posturing, chest beating and pissing out territory to contend with. It comes down to “how much energy am I willing to expend?” See the above reason and it pretty well sums things up. I don’t NEED in on the pissing contest, I don’t WANT in on the pissing contest.

Even if you DO get in on the pissing contest, 9 out of 10 times you’re branded a bitch, overly-emotional, or seen as a creature to be looked after and dismissed summarily. But that phenomena isn’t relegated to a skeptics – that’s the real world – and its up to the individual woman to pick when and where its worthwhile to wade in.

Ol’Greg-OM: It would be nice, even for an argumentative person like myself, not to have to get deeply embroiled in an argument with random men… see what I mean?

So if some one doesn’t speak up maybe some women just don’t come back, and if some one does speak up then they ruin it for everybody by derailing things with feminist rhetoric.

florakinz: Unfortunately, visiting any on-line discussion can be pretty depressing, because no matter where you go, there’s guaranteed to be some level of woman-bashing, even if it’s just a comment or two. Sometimes I just don’t have the mental energy to face the same-old-shit. It’s a catch-22 for me, (just finished Hitch-22, excellent book), because I believe strongly in free speech, but it gets so depressing when so much of that speech displays men and women’s internalized contempt for women.

Teshi: And as for sexist comments and conventions/gatherings…

I’m a geek and a skeptic and also female. This can mean I’m quite interesting to lots of people who don’t often meet girls who care about geeky things and whose eyes don’t glaze over when scientific topics are brought up.

I can concur that women among groups of men who are not used to having female skeptics around can result in unfortunate situations. It only takes one guy (of a lot who don’t) to spend the day or night hitting on me to make it an unpleasant (and frankly quite boring) experience.

I’m not there to flirt, I’m here to be a geek or a skeptic (or whatever I’m there to be).

parclair#d615c: Hah. I went to #40’s suggestion (the facebook site) and right at the top of the page was:

“Talis Mancer I was a bit hopeful when I saw this page’s name, I thought it said, “Ladies who do skeptics”….
June 24 at 3:51am via Facebook for iPhone ”

A. not funny
B. disrespectful, lacking civility
C. Flame worthy (but women hate flaming, it’s so exhausting compared to actually discussing topics and there’s too little time for pissing matches–see notes about multiple jobs, child-rearing, housekeeping, going to school to get degrees, lack of support from others)
D. dismissive of women actually having thoughts as skeptics

That is, this man-child exemplifies the issues.

Angel Kaida: Also, I would find an all-female group crazy intimidating, whereas a male-dominated group would be okay only if there was an absolute guarantee of being neither hit on nor talked over. (Reasonably equally-divided group would be fine.)

TopsyTurvySal: There are a couple of things that stop me from taking part.
Based on a few things of his that I’ve read, Hitchens is both openly misogynistic, and not terribly scientific in his views. He also has a group of adoring fans that are largely atheist and male. When I already deal with, and argue about, background level sexism most days, I’m not entirely sure that I want to go out of my way to spend time with a group that isn’t that much more enlightened about sexism than society is generally.

Ol’Greg-OM: Usually if this topic gets broached even here it’s a countdown of 3 before it’s “what about teh menz” and “is sexism real” and “doesn’t gender essentialism have some support and ergo women are just naturally wooish, passive, and dumb with science and anything else we’ll arbitrarily call masculine”…


oh, yeah looks like it’s already started.

chantal: Whenever I do enter into an aggressive debate with a man, it more often than not becomes about *showing me my place*. The dynamic is automatically gendered, and I deal with enough gendered crap in my day-to-day life.


When I see male skeptics and atheists regularly calling out their peers on sexist, ableist, racist, transphobic, and classist shit, I’ll be more likely to view them as allies.

Until then… yeah. I’ll keep reading, I’ll keep supporting y’all quietly, but I don’t feel like making a target out of myself.

Carlie: The biggest detriment to women being in the atheist movement is that when women do come in and try to get comfortable, then a punch in the gut always comes out of nowhere to remind us that we are still second-class citizens. This blog is fantastic. PZ cares, and he gets it a lot more than the majority of men out there, and so do the majority of male commenters here. Yet look at how often there are still sexist arguments, and still huge numbers of guys willing to defend sexism, and still ha ha women are the butt of the joke, and it’s damned tiring having to decide every time whether to drag the sword out and fight this one off and risk a pile-on, or to overlook it and pretend it didn’t happen. It’s gotten a lot better, because there are more women and men who don’t do that, and who share the burden of schooling anyone who tries it, but most women have a long history that can tend to make them gun-shy of having to deal with it.

chantal: I think the most important thing for men to do is to call other men out when they say misogynist crap. If your buddy says something busted and you remain silent, everyone will assume you agree. Even if you don’t, actually, agree, how’s the solitary woman supposed to know that?

It doesn’t have to be that way. One comment from one dude doesn’t have to ruin the entire thing. It’s the silence from everyone else that screws it all up.

Megan S: I don’t go to skeptical conventions for the same reason I don’t go to other non-work conventions anymore. When at them, I usually have to convince men that I belong there. If a stranger strikes up a conversation with me, and asks, say, what kind of comics I read, or what video games I play, I can actually see it in their eyes when they dismiss me. And if I give the ‘correct’ answer, they keep asking questions until they can safely dismiss me as just a girl, or something (for example, ‘Have you EVER played Kingdom Hearts?’ or ‘Have you read Sandman?’). True, this is just my personal experience, but it has happened with enough frequency that I don’t want to spend my weekends justifying my presence.

frautech: I’m a geeky girl but most often when I meet geeky guys in groups and they find out I am geeky they are either a) immediately disappointed that i am married or b) get creepy. Now, the first reaction is what happens more often than not. Apparently I am not valid as a friend for these people, probably because I am a girl.

Secondly, I am tired. Even wading through the comments here there is a lot of “women should be more…” from both the men and the women. […] And I adore him and I’d love to go to a place of skeptics and feel welcome. But instead I feel like a piece of meat. The fact that I am mostly in a workplace setting with the majority of men helps keep the creepy at bay. They know their jobs are at risk. But every single after work event seems like an open door for them to make comments that make me realize they don’t see me as an equal, as a coworker, as a person. I’m just a piece of meat. If I thought skeptics were any better than the general population I’d definitely go.

crowepps: Well, yeah, a piece of meat is indeed the feeling you get when you are in the middle of an interesting human to human conversation with a group and the apparently inevitable ‘creepy dude’ makes some subtle or overt jokey sexual reference and all those other people, the ones who assert that they would NEVER treat a woman like a sexual object, all ignore how offensive the comment was or worse yet, laugh.

litchick: Here’s my issue: I encounter a lot of sexism in the atheist community. I’m a stay-at-home mom, and have worked for years in the male dominated IT industry. I don’t consider myself a feminist, I enjoy working and socializing with men.

Having said that, I’ve heard all types of comments, like, for instance how our supposed lack of intelligence explains how women are more religious then man, and that I needed to explain my atheism in light of this “fact.” I’ve left a lot of conversations with other atheists wondering what century we’re in. They seem just as militant and misogynistic as their fundamentalist counterparts in Islam and Christianity. It really doesn’t lead to any meaningful discussion.

If you want women to come to the table, drop the bullshit.

johnnykaje: I am often ignored in my freethinker group. Partly due to my quiet girl voice being drowned out by booming dude voices, but also because the guys are locking antlers and can’t be distracted from their manly pursuits.

It’s especially frustrating when two or three dudes are arguing about abortion, and I’m completely ignored when I speak up. Even though I’m sure as fuck more qualified to debate the subject then the whole lot of them put together.

Rachael: The first drinking skeptically I ever went to, I got cornered and mansplained at, quite possibly because skeptical dudes think that they’re more enlightened than your average Joe and can’t comprehend that they may sound just a teensy bit patronizing. I almost didn’t go back because I was so disgusted.


Oh, and finding everyone who claims that ladybrains just can’t do math and we’re really “intuitive” and “feeling” instead of “thinking” and then punching them all in the face. Twice. That would be great too.

naddyfive: The reasons she lists for female non-inclusion in atheist events are exactly the same reasons why feminist/womens’ groups have historically had a difficult time uniting with socialist, anarchist, and communist groups toward a common goal. The universalist language relied upon by groups with revolutionary political ideals often tends to pre-empt membership on the part of those people the group needs most to propagate itself-i.e. the oppressed, the marginalized, those who don’t yet have a voice, who aren’t yet fully included in the royal “we” of the party.


P.S. Harassment and casual sexism certainly are factors that need attending to, as well.

Cerberus: Number three is actually one of the most important to fix and the most crucial to focus on. That is limiting sexism. Women, like all humans, when they make an extreme effort to go to a conference in their free time, want to be able to relax and feel a part of a community.

And well, if the place is a sausage-fest and they’re all alone and men are leering at them and half the panelists are making sexist jokes or assumptions and none of the men are taking them seriously, then they’re not going to return. They took a gamble, took off the time and got a miserable experience.

chgo_liz: I piss men off sometimes. How? Because WHEN they interrupt me, I continue speaking. WHEN they interrupt me AGAIN, I pick up again when I had left off. WHEN they interrupt me YET AGAIN (notice I’m not saying “if”) I will finish quickly instead of saying everything I wanted to say, but I WILL finish.

Of course, I don’t stand up for myself like this most of the time. I don’t have the energy for it, and it really does negatively affect one’s work and extended family environments. But the reality I have seen is that, when a woman speaks, a man will interrupt her. (No, not all men, but if there are at least a couple of men in a given conversation, at least one will interrupt her.)

Cerberus: This would be why PZ wanted men to shut up and listen, because this fucking conversation is one of the biggest blocks to contribution. It means only the exceptional will bother, will continue fighting and pushing through on the same damn arguments.

And well, only the exceptional is going to leave you with one hell of a gender gap.

And a dumb one to boot, one enforced because thanks to cultural sexism, women need to literally fight for the right to speak and have a conversation outside the usual same damn fights over and over and over again.

Jules: I, like most women on here, have also had to deal with the piece-of-meat issue.

Anytime I go out alone (which is fairly often because I recently relocated and don’t have a real social network yet), I get hit on. Nearly every fucking time. I understand, I suppose. I’m a woman out alone. I must want/need a date. [/sarcasm]


It’s frustrating to be belittled on so many levels and with such brazen cluelessness. For the record, unwanted attention is UNWANTED, therefore an intrusion. And it’s not only possible for a woman to not want attention, it’s pretty fucking likely a lot of the time.

marilove: When women talk about their experiences with sexism, why not believe them, instead of constantly questioning them? It gets damn tiring having to prove yourself over and fucking over again.


And people wonder why there is a lack of women in the skeptical movement! Perhaps we just tire of being brushed off, and don’t feel like talking to people who clearly have no plans to listen to us?

KristinMH: Also, I second (third, onehundredth) everyone who’s said that women are afraid to speak up and voice their opinions because we’re smacked down when we do. It’s true. I’m really, really tired of being called a bitch because I say “I think ________” every now and then.

joreth: But PZ, your continued insistence on gender equality, not as a pandering patriarch who must make allowances for the wimmenfolk, but as someone who truly understands equality, does a great deal for the community in making women feel appreciated and their contributions wanted. More men who can express their equality views without sounding like they’re pandering or being condescending would be very welcome.

Jadehawk: yup, the cultural pressure and double-standards do it: men offer criticism, women nag, bitch, harangue, etc; men are rational, women are cold-hearted and hurtful; men are focused, women are selfish; men are assertive leaders, women are ball-crushing harpies. With that, women won’t be able to be openly skeptical and atheist, and gain leadership positions, without active support to finally destroy these nasty double-standards (because unfortunately, we need women leaders first in order to destroy the double-standards; won’t work the other way round)


another problem though is that if a woman does challenge this stuff, she’ll be the killjoy who ruined everybody’s fun, and will end up ostracized. this even happens on this blog sometimes! Privilege gets offended when it is pointed out. It’s a very big problem.


I’ve recently stumbled on an indian skeptic discussion board (because someone there linked to a blogpost of mine, yay!). I had to leave almost immediately again, because it spiraled into “rape is caused by indecent clothing”; with statistics and everything! they were being all right and proper skeptical! jesus fuck, that was painful. and i’m sure i wasn’t the only one who reacted that way. and western skeptic groups often do the same. there’s only so often a woman will have the energy to yet again defend herself against another just-so EP excuse for shitty male behavior, after all.

andrastewhite: People already in the movement need to stop using sexist language. Now. Those who do that around here usually get slapped down, but that doesn’t mean it’s not dispiriting seeing it over and over again.

Kaderie: It’s been mentioned that a few sexist assholes whose comments go unchallenged can really turn the atmosphere hostile and threatening for women. This is, I think, really the crux of it.

We need to challenge the sexists in our midst, especially if we find them among individuals that purport to represent us.

YourSharona: I still want to argue that there’s no skeptical website (that I’ve seen, anyway) that’s by men, for men, where women are also very welcome. I said it dismissively earlier, but is it actually true that skepticism, like many other fields, is so predominantly male that it’s “by men, for men (and girls can come too)” by default?

atheistorganizer: Myself and three of my awesome atheist women buds wrote a haiku to express our experience as women in the movement.

A Young Woman’s Reflection on Her First Atheist Convention

penis everywhere
old white old white old white old
I won’t sleep with you

helen.huntingdon: If you are a man and you let another man get away with sexist/harassing behavior unchallenged, you just sent a message to him, his target, and everyone present that you support his choice. We’re not dumb, guys. When you show off how respecting a bigot’s feelings matters more than, you know, not tolerating bigotry, we get the message, and it’s not hard to find better people to hang out with.

Shadowbright: + Stop with casual sexism
This is almost issue no. 1 for me. Sexist jokes and remarks cause me to lose 99% of my respect for the people who make them. I will not pay money to hear Christopher Hitchens being misogynistic. Or even worse, to hear no one correct him or care. In my experience, many geeky communities are hostile or dismissive to female members. I don’t know how this would be expressed at a skeptical conference, but the threat is there, I think.

killerrobot: The fact that I’ve come across as much and on special occasions, sometimes more, yawn and occasionally stab-inducing sexism and plain old-fashioned misogyny in any atheist/skeptic-specific online community as anywhere else hardly encourages me to place such things on my to-do list either. Apparently far too many people’s skepticism, much like their ‘liberalism’ doesn’t always extend to anything that challenges their ideas about gender.

Mephit: I’ve been pretty disillusioned with online atheist communities over the years, because of casual sexism going unchallenged. One board I was part of another female poster started a gender issues thread, which was subjected to a constant barrage of derailment and evo-psych from some of the blokes. Who seemed to have a lot more time and energy to expend.

It gets tiring being told you need to ‘educate’ men and at the same time being a spoilsport, no sense of humour, pat on the head, blah blah.

m.champaigne: For me, an atheist feminist skeptic, it’s a few things — I was active in an atheist forum for years, until I realized that all too often people proclaiming themselves atheist were quite as bad as anyone else in terms of racism and sexism. And so awfully smug about their superiority.

Morganna: I’m greeted with answers from my male skeptical counterparts with a sentiment of hostility in their replies. The men in my skeptics’ group can’t seem to explore an issue with me without a degree of smug disdain, I’ve noticed they don’t respond to one another this way. […] Sometimes we can hardly finish a sentence without hearing a man’s reply, they’re quick to jump down our throats (sometimes with a smirk on their faces) before they even understand what it is we’re trying to ask.

ologies: This is something that I’ve been trying to consider before getting too heavily into blogging, myself. The internet is a cruel place at times and though I don’t expect any grand fame, incidences like these as reported by a few female bloggers I follow is very disheartening.

GeekGirlsRule: I hear you, I haven’t been blogging as much lately because I just don’t have the fortitude to put up with the bullshit right now. We’re dealing with an elderly cat’s health issues, and I just don’t have the energy to deal with the douchebags right now.

Tracie: I’m very sorry you’re having to endure this sort of immaturity and vile reaction from pathetic individuals. We all suffer our over-zealous fans and/or stalkers now and then, and it’s a complete drain even when there are only a few. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have such a flood of misogynistic, disgusting cretins on your doorstep.

Kataya: Seriously starting to wonder if I’m going to have to write off the majority of the atheist “community.” I haven’t seen too many of my own atheist friends making such comments, but I’ve seen their friends doing it. And fuck conferences. No way am I showing up if this is how hostile these arrogant douchebags are to women.

lkl11: There is very little as annoying as being told to your face, with full seriousness, that (for example) you are more emotional because of your gender and thus cannot be expected to be taken seriously (And when you then leave because you don’t have time for that bullshit, the men behind you nod to each other and say, ‘see how quickly she got angry when presented with the Truth? Proof that women are more emotional.’)

MyMelody: I’ve had my share of unwanted comments about my breasts/etc sent my way by plenty of atheist/ skeptical men I’ve met at one event or another (And I’ve had more than one unsolicited penis pic sent my way).

Most guys at these events are indeed white and male. Most of them are also pretty awesome, and many I still talk to even though I may not go to many events.

quill2006: I’m also newly involved in the online atheist community, and I have to say that having heard the stories of the sexism so many women have experienced, I have almost no interest in attending a conference or meeting. There’s already plenty of sexism in my life; I have no interest in going places in which people defend it. It seems like there’s a significant portion of the skeptic/atheist community which is completely unwilling to consider that there might be a problem within the community, and they are lashing out at anyone who suggests that the problem even exists. That’s no way to deal with any problem, let alone something as terrible and disenfranchising as entrenched sexism. The people who are defending the members of the community who have been called out as sexist are doing as much damage to the community’s image (with me, at least) as the sexist people, because they aren’t willing to even consider that there might be a problem. The changes women are asking for are so innocuous and reasonable, and yet just asking is seen as a betrayal of the community. That’s like a giant flashing sign “HUGE problem here!”

zylla: I’ve never attended a local skeptical gathering (the pub chats always sound fun on Skeptic Zone) but I’ve wanted to look into finding one. This discussion is disheartening, but if I find a group, maybe I can help to make a difference. I dunno.

Siveambri: Without getting into details I know that I’ve stopped reading several blogs due to the sexism in the comments and there are a few others where I will still read the posts but not the comments. This isn’t even face to face interaction and it’s sad.

debster: What the sexism apologists don’t get is the breath you have to take sometimes before you decide to read comments on some subjects. I mean, do I really want to hear that there are people who hate me just because of my gender? Or that they think they are smarter than me because they have a dick? Am I up for this today? And yet while they say “grow a hide” you know if you called them out on their bigotry, they would go hysterical. I’m up for the fight, but just not all the time.

Lizzy: I have thought about blogging a few times since feminism, skepticism, and atheism are some of the most important aspects of my life. I just know that I couldn’t handle the constant barrage or hatred, I’m a sensitive person (yes, probably because I’m a weak woman) and I would take too much of it to heart.

hellboundallee: Interesting–I just had a Day of Sexism on my leisure day of reading atheist social networking sites just yesterday. One after another after another. Oh, yes, I called people out on their bullshit. And oh, yes, I was told it must be That Time of the Month.

I figured, don’t hang out in the stockyard if you don’t like bullshit. But I have just as much of a right to using social networking sites as male “skeptics” do.

Erista: I’ve been to one secular/atheist/freethinker conference, and I was treated badly by a man (not a speaker). As awful as it was, the one of the things that made it bearable was the thought that no one knew this was going to happen and that if they had, they would have acted to support me. To think that I might go through a similar experience with a speaker while knowing that other people knew what was going to happen but felt no need to warn me makes me very angry, and it makes me feel like I’m not safe to go to conferences.

Emily Dietle: I’m so glad you wrote this. At the American Atheist Nat’l Conv. in DC this year, myself and five other women realized we’d all been stalked, and harassed by the same convention attendee, after one of the persons was physically assaulted by him. We brought this to the attention of one of head AA’s persons, who took our concerns very seriously. I’m looking forward to the anti-harassment policies, actions, and awareness.

kerfluffle: Have you been to the JREF forum? There’s enough rape apologist, libertarians, and pro-child molestation advocates to turn anyone’s stomach. Maybe it’s changed. It’s been about a year since I lurked.

Alethea: Well, if they have that Jim Jefferies idiot booked as entertainment, I’ll be quite put off.

Sansha Johnson: I wouldn’t return to a Global Atheist Conference again unless I was pretty damn sure I wasn’t going to be subjected to misogynistic ranting packaged as comedy. I would expect the organisers to actually acknowledge their error in booking Jefferies, otherwise I’m not going to expect anything has changed.

Jennifer: So, does TAM need people to send in emails about them not using racial slurs as part of the conference as well, or is that automatically guaranteed to be wrong? What of homophobic slurs? Transphobic slurs?

I’m actually deathly serious about that question, since you seem to think that they need to be “psychic” to understand beforehand that the kind of misogyny that Jeffries spouts is wrong. Do they really need that kind of hand-holding? If that’s the case, then my five-year-old is more socially advanced than the JREF, and I’ll never darken the doorstep as long as I have to tell them that maybe placing active woman-hating on the schedule is wrong. I already have two kids to parent; I don’t need to help to parent an entire conference of skeptics as well. If they can’t figure it out without me then I want no part of it.

Elvira: a) Jim Jeffries

b) people laughing at Jim Jeffries as he showed his utter contempt for women.

c) conference attendees telling me I have no right to be offended by Jim Jeffries. That I am stupid, embarrassing and missing the point for finding his show appalling.

Roxee: I am an atheist, skeptic, freethinking secular humanist. I participate in groups that call themselves such. I have the desire to promote the activities of these groups within the wider community. I bring knowledge, experience and passion to the groups I participate in. I have left groups who engage in sexism, I support those who don’t. If a group wants to keep me they have to mind their P’s and Q’s. That’s it. Take me or leave me.

Beatrice: Er, maybe give this harassment issue a bit more thought rather than dismissing it? I’m from Europe and don’t have financial resources to travel to the US, but if I could, I would be much more inclined to attend a conference with clear policies on sexual harassment than one that has none.

Lauren: Then some women bloggers shine a light on the bullshit we have put up with and taken for granted our entire lives, and say, “we should be better than this.” Then MRAs show up in astonishing numbers ferociously defending teh men’z right to impose on any woman at any time because … you can’t outlaw FLIRTING.

The issues were there before the event – we just got especially incensed about it afterwards because of the defensive, hateful, and explosive reaction to women who pointed out that the status quo sucked.

Anne Marie: I attended last year – and I’m returning this year – but I had several moments where I felt uncomfortable (e.g. hearing a prominent male speaker loudly and publicly denigrate a female speaker in the hotel bar for no real reason other than that she was a woman and she interrupted a man during her panel). I emailed Brian at the JREF (I believe he asked for feedback on TAM) and got no response (it’s been over 8 months).

Regardless, I think it’s extremely unfair to assume that the response of women must be irrational or wrong rather than the result of the situation.

Godless Heathen: Plus, as someone said earlier, it’s frustrating that so-called skeptics feel that they should spend their time debunking Bigfoot sightings, but not debunking and confronting their lack of critical thinking and acceptance of the pseudoscience that supports sexism and racism.

skeptifem: I saw sexual harassment personally at TAM and never wanted to return after that.

Illuminata: I’m dropping out of TAM because I have a more limited amount of fun-monies to spend on non-necessities this year. And I’m definitely not going to spend that money on an event whose Powers That Be have plainly told a woman who’s been the focus of psychotic hatred and threats for a year by people who presumably attend these conferences that its her fault women don’t feel safe, when they have absolutely no proof that is the reason for the drop in female attendance.

ischemgeek: No organizer likes to think bad stuff will happen at their event. But bad stuff happens, and I trust an environment with a clearly spelled out, strict, and effectively-applied policy to deal with the bad stuff. This includes anti-harrassment plans, but also includes stuff like having clearly-marked first aid stations staffed with trained volunteers (maybe supervised by a doctor or nurse so that a pro can make the decision to call 911 if needed – there are volunteer, not for profit organizations that offer such services and will deal with all the legwork for a nominal fee). Like having disaster plans. Like having a lost & found. Like having a place where lost kids and/or party members can be reported and a staging area for searches in case of lost/missing kids. Like ensuring that there are allergy-safe food choices for people with food allergies. And so on. All of which should be clearly communicated to attendees everywhere possible.

tinlizzy: My reasons/experience for not attending TAM this year:

I followed how the entire brouhaha w/Rebecca Watson last year played out in the skeptic/atheist community – i.e. that it was initially a non-event/bit of fyi from RW, but then turned shit-storm under all the subsequent mansplaining & hey-it’s-hard-out-here-for-straight-guys finger-pointing, including by some male skeptics I admired.

kaboobie: All things being equal (smoke-free environment, having the time and money to attend), I’ve heard enough independent claims about one particular individual that I would choose not to attend a conference where he is an invited speaker. And I heard these claims long before the recent discussion that came out of the Women in Secularism conference.

Timid Atheist: I’m sorry, but as a woman who has had, on occasion, been harassed, I’d like to know that a place I’m going to go to where everyone is a stranger, is welcoming and safe and doesn’t leave everything up to the victims in order to make things welcoming and safe for everyone.

MyaR: DJ, thanks for enabling assholes like the commenter at 43. I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with being part of the 18%, but not because of what any of the women (assuming commenter 43 isn’t a woman) are saying.

Maria: As someone that considered going to TAM, I am scared off, not by the stories I have heard of harassment, but the response to those stories and DJ’s post. His comment above makes it clear to me that if I were in an uncomfortable situation and complained about it that I would be the one making people feel unsafe. Rebecca says “Don’t be a jerk.” And she gets attacked by everyone on the internet. No thanks.

LeftSidePositive: HOWEVER, I am sure as hell not going to give any of my money or support to an organization that openly tries to silence women for speaking out about our experiences. That is something I can avoid, and I will be spending my money and enjoying my travel elsewhere.

Giliell: That’s why I would be comfortable going to Skepticamp Ohio where Elyse was harassed: I got the impression that the organizers actually care, that they would have my back.
While with you, DJ, I got the impression that should I report harassment I’d be treated like I claimed I had just seen bigfoot and accused of ruining TAM.

SallyStrange: There’s a third option: women choosing not to attend because of the perception that any harassment may be dismissed and/or covered up by the event organizers.

To me, this is the biggest turn-off.

WithinthisMind: I also knew that because neither of those events happened (in front of witnesses that were A) willing to give a report and B) didn’t think it was just all in good fun/my fault anyway), nobody would take any complaint I made seriously. I’d just be ‘imagining’ or ‘overreacting’ or ‘oversensitive’. Because that is how it has occurred every single other fucking time I’ve tried to make a complaint about any of this crap.

So, I won’t be going to TAM. I see nothing that leads me to believe my experience there will be any different from the experiences that eventually stopped me from going to/participating in gaming conventions, comic conventions, certain stores, sports events, midnight matinees of cult movies, concerts, MMORPGs, several bars, many internet forums, and Xbox Live activities.

echidna: If this is how DJ frames women discussing harassment, then I have no interest in anything he is involved in.

morella: Ah yes, the “hysterical woman” gambit. How pathetic and stereotypical can you get? I had prior to this kerfuffle assumed (my mistake!) skeptics were smarter than the general population but the evidence sure is mounting up against that hypothesis with this stupid bullshit.

Cancelled my TAM plans now and in the future.

lacat: I have not been attending for a while, for several reasons. The main one is because I have a very busy life, two little ones now. But an important one is because I felt that some people at JREF were dismissive of my safety and security concerns. I had been posting and attending under a pseudonym because I had been previously stalked. When the issue came up, long ago now, I felt I was dismissed as a drama queen.

lepperk: It’s the RESPONSES to these posts from some men that make me think twice about being more involved in the skeptic and atheist community. Men who belittle, ignore, explain away, and most importantly offer abuse in response to feminist bloggers.

Daniela: I was at TAM last year and I was only mildly harassed by an attendee well known for being a creeper. My friends saved me from the uncomfortable situation and I didn’t even think of reporting a creepy guy being creepy. Now I know I should have.

I was going to TAM this year. I might still go, but I’m feeling less inclined to do so after all this. Blaming women for the problem has to be the worst PR move in history.

Chris: I’ve been meaning to attend TAM for a long time, but I can no longer support an event with such blatant disregard for the *legitimate* safety concerns of 50% of potential attendees.

violets: I came to the skeptic community through SGU many years ago and was so excited to find this community of people and was eager to get involved. But after diving in enthusiastically, I quickly backed away, well before “Elevatorgate,” due to exactly these issues. I went from active participant to observer because I rarely felt like just a person in the skeptical movement and often felt uncomfortable for various reasons relating to my gender.

mightyamoeba: I went to TAM9 and felt safe. I was not harassed or threatened, but I felt like if I was, I would be able to get help and remedy the situation.

I don’t feel that way now. The silencing tactics and lack of support from the organization would make me feel unsafe to be there.

Nicole: Although I haven’t officially registered for TAM yet, I have already set up professional obligations to be there, and I will do that. This whole situation made me question that, but the very least I can do is show up and share my love of astronomy with everyone there.

Maggie: Having seen the bile and out-right sneering viciousness directed at Rebecca and anyone perceived as ‘on her side’ just made me anxious the whole time. I’m not going this year and, frankly, I feel a bit relieved that I won’t have to feel anxious in a room full of people I would have, just 14 months ago, not worried too much about. But the cover has been pulled back on the body and it’s worse underneath than I would have imagined.

materialistgirl: I’ve drifted away from the SGU, too, and sadly I must admit a portion of that is because of sguforums.com. I know the rogues don’t run the forum, but the show is still associated with it, and that’s a shame, because it’s become just another anti-Rebecca, anti-feminist ranthole (thanks largely to Beleth’s blindness to his male privilege and the tone he sets with his modding).

Anthropologist Underground: But we could figure it out, if I really wanted to go. I have to admit that the sexism is a convenient excuse to just blow it off entirely. Not the you talking about it part, but the way the intertubes explode with misogynistic insanity every. single. time. one of you mentions anything having to do with sexism. There is enough of that shit in the air we breathe as women. The fact that a shocking number of skeptics can disabuse themselves of all kinds of nonsense yet fail to shuck of this most basic form of idiocy is utterly disheartening. Skeptical events should feel like a breath of fresh mountain air, not like sickening smog.

Lara: That is why I’m not going to TAM. Not because I worry about being harassed, but because I have a lot of evidence that suggests that if I do witness harassment and talk about it, I will be subjected to the same.

Harassment is a small part of the problem. The fact that the focus is on silencing the people who talk about it rather than address the problem is much, much bigger.

Jackie: What folks like Michael Nuggent don’t seem to get is that some of us who were in the process of starting secular support groups and skeptic events in our isolated communities have stopped. I no longer see the point. More and more I realize that an intersectional progressive movement is the only one I’m interested in supporting.

Just a Few Loud Voices
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42 thoughts on “Just a Few Loud Voices

  1. 2

    Mostly not research. Mostly remembering. It kills me that this stuff affects women’s participation, so it sticks in the brain. There were a few incidents and threads that I particularly remembered those comments coming up in, and that was plenty for this post.

  2. 3

    It’s illustrative to note how many people are basically saying “it’s not the misogyny per se, it’s the fact that misogyny is defended that is the problem”. There’s a strawman argument that people are claiming that skeptics are worse than the general population, and the longer people stay fixated on that false position, the longer this ‘turning a blind eye’ thing will continue.

    If only there were some way to create a separate group that values freethinking and skepticism without relying on the status quo infrastructure. Surely that would solve everything. Who could possibly object to that?

  3. 4

    I read them all. Some of them were before my time, some of them were from threads that I remember reading when the posts were published.

    Thanks for putting all of these together, Stephanie. I hate how they’re erased because the “other side” chooses to focus their harassment on you and the other bloggers/prominent figures.

  4. 6

    There’s a strawman argument that people are claiming that skeptics are worse than the general population, and the longer people stay fixated on that false position, the longer this ‘turning a blind eye’ thing will continue.

    This is an important point, because it really does keep coming up. While an argument could be made that we as skeptics/atheists/blahblah ought to be better than the population at large at X, Y, or Z, I don’t think that’s ultimately very relevant. Misogyny looks different among skeptics/atheists than it does among the general population because skeptics/atheists don’t have the luxury of dressing it in religious garb. Since the problem looks different, it makes sense that we as a community (inasmuch as there is such a thing) should talk about solving it.

  5. 7

    It’s illustrative to note how many people are basically saying “it’s not the misogyny per se, it’s the fact that misogyny is defended that is the problem”. There’s a strawman argument that people are claiming that skeptics are worse than the general population, and the longer people stay fixated on that false position, the longer this ‘turning a blind eye’ thing will continue.

    I completely agree with the first part of that statement. There are misogynist jerks everywhere. The problem is that others defend them in this community. However, I’m not so certain that the problem isn’t worse in skeptical community than in general population. This is a community that prides itself on being logical, and my experience in science is that people who pride themselves on their logic are particularly resistant to the notion that they have irrational biases. When enough of one’s ego is invested in being logical, it becomes far too easy to take umbrage any time one is accused of bias. Quite often by maligning the social sciences instead of listening to what they have to teach all of us…

    I just wish we could all admit that it’s impossible to be unbiased, so all we can do is try to correct as carefully as we can for the biases we’ve been taught by society.

  6. 8

    I recognized a lot of those comments, too, especially from PZ’s old Woman Problem thread where I started to get my first clue. Thanks for assembling this refresher, Stephanie.

    One particular comment, which provided my major WTF moment, wasn’t listed here. It’s from the Dear Richard Dawkins thread, back in 2011.



    That’s what the atheist meetups I went to were like. I had ten different conversations where the prettiness of my eyes was a focus despite my efforts. Other topics initiated were “what was your mode of transportation to get here”, “what neighborhood do you live in” and “do you do yoga.” I really came to the event to talk about skeptic stuff and whatnot, but these guys didn’t seem interested in that. Also I was followed to my car.

    If it was just one guy I’d have blown it off. But 10? It’s excessive. I experienced a similar thing when I went to Mensa meetings (the stickers were brilliant and needed). It was explained to me that I was “new meat” and those who behaved that way did so because they were really excited at the possibility of meeting someone and women often didn’t come back so they weren’t going to miss their chance. Same vibe at the atheist meetup. I felt like prey. But now they have nametag stickers. At least they thought it was a problem worth addressing instead of a prerogative that needed defending.

    I don’t like going to atheist events after my bad experiences. It’s OK if you have a guy escort you, but on your own, be ready for something different.

  7. 9

    Oh, jeez, that first comment from TheLady led me back to a post I wrote in 2009, when I was stil naively optimistic that the sexist problem in the atheist community was simply that they hadn’t thought it through…that all it would take a little consciousness-raising and everyone would come around.

    2009. I’m feeling so tired now. And nowhere near as optimistic anymore.

  8. 10

    Pterryx, there aren’t any comments here from the threads in mid-2011. By the time I got this far, I was too tired to tackle any of those monsters. I don’t want to think how long they would make this post.

  9. 11

    not meant as a criticism; that comment just happens to be my personal WTF, and also one I’ve cited repeatedly as it gives an actual number: ten unwanted come-ons in a single atheist meetup. I’m sure that 2011 thread could provide another fifty-some voices, left as an exercise for the interested and not-yet-exhausted reader. (Not me; providing one source comment was all I have the energy for tonight.)

  10. 14

    So, I want to add my voice to this. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to tell these stories, especially the third one (which I’ve never told before and still feel like maybe I should have done something differently?).

    1. I was an officer, and eventually the faculty advisor, for my campus’ atheist group. The group had a pretty big MRA contingent. Like, 1/4 of the regular members would just “what about the menz?” whenever women’s issues came up. These guys had free rein and it poisoned discussions. I could see female members getting frustrated. I had the spoons to talk back and I tried to fight for them, but a lot of the women in the group disappeared. By my last semester at this college, we had gone from a 60/40 men to women ratio, to me being 1 of 2 female members who regularly attended (the other was the girlfriend of the group’s president.)

    2. After college, I joined the Facebook page of my local skeptics group, wanting to put as much time and effort into this new group as I had my campus group. After a few weeks, I noticed that some members regularly used gendered slurs like “pussy” to insult people they didn’t agree with. I spoke up. I got shouted down, not just by other members, but by the *female* president of the group. I unfollowed their page.

    3. About a year after story #2, I decided that maybe I should give this local group another shot. I have really missed my activism, and I still have a lot of free time to donate to a group that could use me. So, I went to one of their meetups at a pub/restaurant near my home. There I met an older man who was a speaker at an upcoming event about genital mutilation. Only, he wasn’t going to talk about FGM. His talk was entirely centered on male circumcision. Which…okay, I agree that that is also bad.

    Anyway, in the space of about 2 hours, while I was talking geek with some new members, Older Male Speaker switched seats with someone and was now on my left side. He proceeded to get very drunk, talk over my head to the person on my right, all while leaning into my space and putting his arm around my shoulder and touching my back, neck and shoulders. I kept moving away. He kept moving closer. Finally, I asked him to move so that I could get up. He made a big production of it– he asked if he was bothering me in a snide, condescending tone, and acted really put out that I was making him slide out, even though he would now be sitting next to the person he apparently wanted to talk to. A half-dozen of the members saw this, including 2 officers for the group (the person he was talking to was an officer). No one said anything to him.

    I haven’t been back since.

    So yeah–this stuff happens. Sometimes its really minor, micro-aggressions type stuff. But even those things affect how safe I feel, how welcome I feel, and how I decide to spend my free time. I’d much rather hang out with the local feminist group, or the Liberal politics group, or the literally hundreds of other groups in my city than be subjected to this crap over and over again.

  11. 15

    You know, on the Minnesota Atheists Facebook page, if we had any misogynist jerks like this posting they would be shouted down and, if they persisted, they would be kicked off. I know this is not a full solution because some sickos will just create a new identity and come back. I don’t visit blogs much so maybe others can tell me: how often and how effective is expulsion? Alternately, how stifling is it to moderate comments before they get posted – or to only let trusted, pre-approved people post unmoderated?

    It’s harder with conventions because, whereas with blogs the harassment is there for everyone to see and identify (even if it’s a false identity), at conventions the perpetrators are often in one-on-one situations. It’s just easier for a woman to never return than to go to the trouble of filing a complaint, which may or may not be believed, which may or may not be acted upon, and which may or may not invite further harassment. If I saw harassment going on I would certainly intervene, but it is the nature of these cowards that they usually prey upon women when there are no male witnesses, unless it’s men they know agree with them.

    I haven’t witnessed much harassment in Minnesota, though I am not so naive as to think it doesn’t happen. Still, I wonder if any states are more enlightened than others. We know that zero tolerance for harassment is the answer, but is it more effective in some states or organizations than others?

  12. 16

    Expulsion is fairly effective. There are a few idiots who keep coming back under new pseudonyms, but one thing I’ve learned is that they’re never subtle about it, so they’re fairly easy to catch. It’s just a constant game of whack-a-mole. (Why anyone willingly chooses to be the mole in a game of whack-a-mole is the mystery.)

    I can’t moderate comments before posting. I think I’m getting 4-500 per day, somewhere around there, and it’s very conversational — losing the instant feedback between commenters would kill the discussion.

    Let me throw a warning flag on your play, though. You say you haven’t witnessed much harassment. Have you actually solicited feedback and discussion about it from the women in the group, though? We bearers of Y chromosomes and traditional gender roles aren’t directly affected by it, so we tend to be oblivious to it. I know I was until I started paying closer attention.

    It also helped being identified as a mangina by the sexist jerks, and they obligingly started sending me samplers of the crap they deal out to women.

  13. 17

    Definitely in with this. I won’t be going to any conference, ever, that doesn’t have a solidly enforced harrassment policy. Period.

    Why? Because I’m poor enough to make the church mice look down their snooty noses at me, and if I make the financial commitment to go to a con, I’m not doing it to be fodder for some jackass’ hobbyhorse. Even if I got a bursary or whatever, I’d hate to be taking people’s money to go and be miserable.

    PZ, I totally get your weariness, and it makes me glad you’re willing to stick at it despite it not personally affecting you in the same way. Lots of us have been at this for a LOT of years, but we don’t get a lot of choice in it since it’s either fight it or not be part of the community, so i appreciate it when an ally is willing to stay in the trenches with us. Thanks.

  14. 18

    You bring up a good suggestion: To actually solicit reports of harassment. It’s something our board should discuss (choose representatives) and announce to the members/attendees. I think there are some cases where a woman would feel comfortable reporting to a woman on our board, who could then report to a guy on the board, who could then have a “man to man” talk with the perpetrator. In some cases the men aren’t evil, just ignorant and in need of education. Even if education doesn’t work, the knowledge that henceforth someone is keeping an eye on them could also be effective.

  15. 19

    Perhaps you haven’t witnessed much harassment because you haven’t been directly impacted by it.
    If you’ve never watched a male colleague foster a harsh work environment through vulgar jokes, gendered slurs or consistently diminishing women, you might be unaware of harassment.

    If you haven’t been aware of your boss constantly leering at the women in your office, you might be unaware of sexual harassment.

    If you haven’t noticed, as you walk down the street how often women get cat called, or called “baby”, or told they should smile more, or had their butts grabbed you might have been unaware of harassment.

    The examples could go on and on and on. The common denominator is that you have not noticed. You have the benefit of moving through life without having any reason to see how women are treated.
    But sexism is there, all around you. You have to know what you’re looking for/at. That won’t happen until you talk to women about what they deal with.
    Once you do, it gets scary. You start seeing the world differently and you can’t turn it off. Even then though, while you see it, you don’t live it. You can still go home at the end of the day and not stress about how to turn down your boss’ advances while keeping your job.
    Women can’t do that.

    (Another thing that happened for me is the continual challenging of myself. It took some time, but I’ve largely stopped referring to grown women as girls. Recently, I was cut off abruptly in a parking lot, and my default thought was “why did SHE do that”–and immediately caught myself assuming the driver was a woman.

  16. 20

    Another helpful thing would be to have a training class on harassment. A helluva lot of people have no clue what constitutes harassment and WHY. For a lot of men, they view harassment as ‘things guys do that are harmless’, with no regard for how women feel.
    I had a short lived general manager a few years back who-within 2 weeks of starting-slapped one of female bartenders and tried to kiss one of the female servers. Thankfully, the latter spoke up and our GM was fired. Immediately thereafter, we had a class on sexual harassment.

  17. 21

    Second, even in as lovely a group of men as we get here – being seen as an equal is tough. There’s a lot of posturing, chest beating and pissing out territory to contend with. It comes down to “how much energy am I willing to expend?” See the above reason and it pretty well sums things up. I don’t NEED in on the pissing contest, I don’t WANT in on the pissing contest.

    This is a consistent problem I find, outside the skeptical community when trying to be skeptical and inside when trying to push on ‘out of bounds’ issues like sexism, or worse yet ableism. When combating denialism the denialists will turn peaceful discussion into a chest-beating, territory-defending, win-at-all-costs, no-surrender game. They will nitpick, strawman, tone-police, and even sometimes gaslight as a substitute for argument. All it takes is being skeptical about the ‘wrong’ thing to make the brains of otherwise reasonable people completely shut down, making them unrecognizable from the troglodytes they were just helping you fight.

    Especially with regards to ableism. Skeptics love their ableism and it seems the hill most skeptics want to die on is their perceived ‘right’ to declare their opponents ‘stupid’ or ‘morons’, and thus declare them incapable of learning or knowing better at all. Never mind of course that this is the first step on the path to not listening because I’m Smarter Than You, it’s Totally Not Ableist and Big Skeptic Brains can’t use “ignorant”, “reality-blind”, or find some other word — they just have to declare their opponents less intelligent and it’s censorsh…I’m sorry, nitpicking language purity to tell them not to be fucking ableist.

    And the moment itself — the gut-wrenching moment of total WTF where you find yourself in a Social Justice 101 discussion with someone whom you’d thought already passed that course — is no less spoon-draining than the ‘discussion’ itself. Which makes things all the worse =/

  18. Pen

    That must have been a huge amount of work, Stephanie!

    I suppose the patterns in non-participation come as no surprise but the list makes them more obvious. I think perhaps a lot of men don’t ‘get’ how justifiably self-centred women intend to be. If I participate it something from where I am now, I want it to be gratifying for me and contribute to my personal advancement. Ok, there’s something quite funny about such a clear ‘it’s all about me’ statement, but that’s what it is. If I get to the stage where I’ve got something to give back, I want to exercise some choice over what it is. Activities that boil down to boosting male egos at the expense of my own probably won’t be high on the list.

  19. 23

    I see the tactic, concede the first one, the one that criticises PZ, to create an impression that this blog post is neutral, unbias and a voice of reason.
    But what have you done? You have cherry picked quotes from the blogosphere where ever you have heard the Whaaaambulance noises and are now presenting this as legitimate evidence that there is a major problem in regard to harassment at atheist/skeptic conferences? The feminist threat narrative constantly needs feeding like a furnace, of course there is going to be exaggeration and invention to keep the flames alight.

  20. 25

    Tony, I said I did not observe harassment within Minnesota Atheists, not the atheist movement as a whole, my job, or the world at large. But you hit on a good point: I think we can agree that harassment is more likely in some circumstances than in others. Regarding Minnesota Atheists, my main experience is sitting listening to lectures and also interacting with other MNA leaders. (Yes, an MNA leader could potentially be a harasser, but I haven’t observed this.) I don’t tend to mingle with the general membership in social situations. (That’s a reflection on me, not them.) We did have one person post something sexist on our Facebook page (not that I read all the posts) and I quickly slapped him down.

    So while I rarely observe harassment in person (as opposed to on the internet), I do know it’s out there and, thanks to the type of reporting Stephanie did here, I see that it’s much worse than I would have imagined among a supposedly intelligent group of people.

    I think we can also agree that, in general, a woman is more likely to report harassment to another woman than to a man, which is why a woman, even if she has not been harassed herself, is more likely to be aware of this problem than a man is. Which is why I read this blog; ignorance is no excuse.

  21. 26

    Stephanie, thank you for showing that the “few, isolated incidents” are neither few nor isolated. Even though these comments are so common, this post must have taken quite a while.

  22. 27

    Sounds to me like the system is working just fine. The boyz club has put out their “no girlz allowed” sign and the only females showing up are the ones who accept the club’s rules.

    Blaming women for the problem has to be the worst PR move in history.

    Doesn’t that kind of depend on the objective?

  23. 28

    Great work, although will be taken as fuelling the strawman as Crommunist puts it ->

    There’s a strawman argument that people are claiming that skeptics are worse than the general population, and the longer people stay fixated on that false position, the longer this ‘turning a blind eye’ thing will continue.

    I’d make it clear that is no reason not to have posts like this as it needs to be discussed! So many on the other “side” are fixated on this whole talking about it means FTB think the sceptic community is rife/rampant/full of misogyny… Bloody annoying as it clearly is not the case given Crommunists statement above yet again making it clear what the view is. Trying to argue this is bizarre as they take their own view of what it “means” for an individual to declare *they* don’t feel safe or conferences without harassment policies are not safe and project that onto the whole community being unsafe due to most of them being misogynists! Of course not, a tiny number of individuals can make a community unsafe if the community fails to act.

    Had an argument on Rebecca Bradleys “skepticwoman we feel safe in the community” petition post… Perfect example of the “FTBs are saying we are all misogynists” meme from Katie Graham, keep fighting the strawmen! -> http://www.skepticink.com/lateraltruth/2013/06/06/we-the-women-undersigned-feel-welcome/#comment-921385836
    BTW I thought saying PZ was full of shit would help me out getting some kudos, sadly no. But I do think his statement that the community is better than the norm is clearly dubious 😉

  24. 29

    Minnesota Atheists has long had a commitment to equality and social justice, and I think that helps make the membership more aware of bad behavior. Big nasty slimy chunks of the atheist community at large, though, actively reject the idea that being an atheist makes you responsible for building a better society — and that uncouples them from this idea that maybe you shouldn’t exploit people.

    Oolon, I said I was once more optimistic about atheists being better people (and my experiences with MNA contributed to that — it really is a good progressive organization). But I’ve become increasingly cynical.

  25. 30

    A lot of atheists and skeptics believe they’re so much smarter and more enlightened than the public at large, so they’re horrible at taking constructive criticism. They really do think their opinions matter more. Calling them out on their sexism results in a flurry of denial, dismissal, and even more sexist comments.

  26. 31

    There’s a strawman argument that people are claiming that skeptics are worse than the general population..

    Let me take a stab at this. People in bars at conventions may well be worse than the general population especially if they are thinking “tonight is my last chance to bang this person before xie leaves the state.”

    If almost all of the convention conversation in the evening happens in the bar, then avoiding the bar to avoid drunken gropey folk, even folk from other conventions sharing the bar, is not an appealing way to spend one’s time after paying to travel and participate.

  27. 32

    Eww. Looking at that thread that Oolon linked to with his convo with Katie Graham – he cites various people as examples of something, including “Jason Thibeault” – KG replies with “I don’t know about the French-Canadian.” Wtf? Jason is “the” generic “French-Canadian” to her? Dang, that’s creepy.

  28. 33

    Pteryxx @ 8

    I recognized a lot of those comments, too, especially from PZ’s old Woman Problem thread where I started to get my first clue. Thanks for assembling this refresher, Stephanie.

    Yeah, that was one of the first major cluebats to pummel me with the extent of this issue, too. I recommend reading the thread in its entirety to those who haven’t, even though it makes the OP above look brief in comparison.

  29. 34

    Oh, yeah, that old “Woman Problem” post from 2010 where I said men need to shut up and listen and suggested we have a “Women and Secularism” conference. Am I a prophet or what?

  30. 35

    Stephanie, thanks for putting this all together. I admit I only made it about halfway before I just had to stop.*

    This kind of makes me want to get involved — despite my extreme antisocial nature — with a local group solely for the purpose of being The Guy Who Politely Asks Others To Stop. Hopefully without grandiosity or overstepping my bounds.

    * I do intend on reading the rest later, but … ugh.

  31. 36

    Let me take a stab at this. People in bars at conventions may well be worse than the general population especially if they are thinking “tonight is my last chance to bang this person before xie leaves the state.”

    That’s as may be, but so far I’ve not seen a woman, even those complaining about unwanted attention at cons or in bars after cons, claiming that the level of sexism was noticeably higher than the general population. Perhaps you know of someone?

  32. 38

    I went to a recent con in Texas and was quite happy and comfortable because on the website before hand and in the brochure and in the opening speech at the con, we were told that harassment would not be tolerated and that everyone should feel safe and welcome. I still stand by my comment up there. If the onus is on me to keep myself safe then I have no intention of attending events of a secular/atheist/skeptical nature.

  33. 39

    but so far I’ve not seen a woman, even those complaining about unwanted attention at cons or in bars after cons, claiming that the level of sexism was noticeably higher than the general population. Perhaps you know of someone?

    Nah, you’re right. I don’t really think I have. (It’s kind of a straw argument.) Some people seem to think it’s implied by Rebecca Watson’s remarks about the Dublin conference in 2011 (?) and in the subsequent comments. But some of those readers have much better “making things up” skills than “reading comprehension” skills.

    Perhaps the logic of our critics is “if unwanted sexual attention happens any time and anywhere, then why would you pick the context of a conference to start complaining about it?” (Answer: because R. Watson was already blogging about the conference and thought she would add a sentence or two about behavior.)

    Somewhere in the heap of posts and comments of the last 2 years, someone did a thought experiment mentioning being harassed in the grocery store. And I remember very little about that comment. But I thought about it for awhile afterwards. If someone was unpleasant to me at my local grocery store, I could be pretty confident that the manager would listen to me at at least make some show of wanting to make me happy. Store managers are pretty clear on the concept that walking through the door with a shopping cart is not consent. I’ve heard some of the anti-FtB folks claim that walking into a bar implies some consent to listening to propositions.

    My grocery store is a mile from my house. If I have a harassment incident at the store, the option to just leave my shopping cart and go home is more available to me than if I had traveled to a conference. I didn’t pay anything to attend the grocery store and I’m not going to miss out on any special presentations if I leave before the grocery store is over for the day/weekend. I have family and friends nearby to back me up if I feel alarmed or threatened.

    (There also has never been an ad campaign that I recall that encourages misbehavior while shopping with a line like “what happens at the grocery store stays at the grocery store.”)

    Setting shopping carts aside, I’ve always assumed that the historical gender imbalances at skeptical events (that might have been 80 or 90 percent male in the past) tended to intensify the competition for the attention of any new woman who came alone. I tend to picture her like a fumbled football and many of them rush to be the first to jump on her and take possession. (Flawed analogy, but I think it channels the spirit of a couple of the remarks above about being treated like meat as a newcomer.)

  34. 40

    Exactly, smhll. I think the general consensus is not so much, “ZOMG, atheists and skeptics are sexist like WHOA,” but rather, “I can, and frequently DO, get hit on by creeps in my normal everyday life – if I’m going to pay money to spend time in a convention center with a bunch of allegedly like-minded people, I expect BETTER than that.”

  35. 41

    also, for all those arsehats who loudly wonder why women stay active in faith communities even if they admit to having little/no personal faith? Most faith communities make a point of, one way or another, standing against the background level of harassment of women within the walls of their meeting places – women are still exploited within faith communities in a variety of ways, but at least there are strong cultural norms in place which make suggestive remarks, leering at, and “hitting on” women highly unacceptable in the public practices of those communities.

    When groups take pains to make their meeting spaces feel like a refuge from the sexist crap of the mundane world, women are interested in attending, and they tell their friends how comfortable they were there, and they get their friends to come along next time. This is why nightclubs have bouncers and will toss harassers out on their arses – because if they don’t do this then the women won’t return and word of mouth will stop other women coming, and then the men won’t come either, and then they won’t make a profit on their overpriced drinks (analogy paraphrased from one of Amanda Marcotte’s posts).

    This is not just an ethical issue, although for me that is its primary importance. It’s also a pragmatic issue of getting more bums on seats at meetings, and all these free-market libertarians yelling about abridgement of their rights to flirt etc are ignoring what makes good box-office.

  36. 42

    As is not the least bit surprising to me, I agree with tigtog. The reason I left my local freethinkers’ group after a couple of meetings had to do with the Mensa-Mob thing people have mentioned before: it’s not comfortable, for someone who is basically quite shy with new people, to be hung all over by every drooling jerk in the place all evening, when I didn’t go there to meet a partner at all, I just wanted some time with fellow freethinkers.

    Instead, I get to be the target of the folks who do go there to be a partner, and no one does a thing to stop it.

    So I go home, and I stay there. And poor I may be, but surely they don’t want to continually be pissing away half the money they could have been taking in to put to good causes?

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