I was recently sent a copy of a column titled “He, Too” (pdf) from the September issue of The Rational Alternative, the newsletter of Atheists United in Los Angeles. Sadly, it’s not a call to remember that women and nonbinary people are not the only ones subject to harassment in the secular movement. It is, instead, a suggestion that #metoo is somehow obviating due process in the movement’s efforts to deal with sexual harassment and assault.
The first half of author Bobbie Kirkhart’s article is essentially summed up in one paragraph.
It is a sad surprise that the freethought community is tearing itself up over such accusations and denials. Unless the accused man confesses and apologizes immediately, our discussions on the allegations eat up much of our time and energy, destroy friendships and embarrass our movement. Although there is much emotion involved, I believe we can—and must—look at these things as the rationalists we are.
I suspect that Kirkhart means she’s distressed rather than genuinely surprised. I’ve been doing this too long to be surprised, and she’s been working in the movement longer than I have. I also disagree that confession of wrongdoing stops discussion and prevents strife. People expressing remorse for their actions are still told they have nothing to feel bad about when the subject under discussion is as politicized as harassment and assault are. I’d be a happier person if I’d never seen that happen, but I have.
I do agree with Kirkhart that discussions on the topic could be more rational. The number of times I’ve seen an “argument” along the lines of “He’s nice to me/highly respected in his field/chased by other women, so he couldn’t have done that” is appalling. Harassers don’t harass everyone, and often groom others to stand up for them. We’ve seen many highly respected academics and business people turn out to be serial harassers. Harassment and assault don’t happen because people have no other choice; they are a choice. Literally none of those things are correlated with harassing people or not. Still the arguments fly with far too much of the secular movement.
Even more than rationalism, however, I would argue that the secular movement needs a heavy dose of empiricism on the topic of harassment and assault. In this respect, Kirkhart falls woefully short. Continue reading “Ladies, Mind Your Manners”