The “We” of It: An Apology

Last night, another atheist leader stepped down from her position.

She was a name I recognized, perhaps not as prominent as others who have taken breaks, who have found themselves preferring an indefinite hiatus to a former passion. Right here and now, her name and the Why don’t matter. She’s one of many who have decided that perhaps they’d just feel a little happier, a little less stressed if their Twitter and their email weren’t filled with anger, hate, and insults. Maybe she decided it would be nicer if her Facebook wasn’t a battleground.

There’s a good number of passionate people who’ve made that decision. Sometimes you have to pick between those causes that light you on fire and wake you up with ideas at midnight and dealing with pushback for that one time you said just…less harassment, please.

Then there’s this vague, nebulous number of people who’ve lurked and read and followed the controversies, and then decided their time could be better spent on some other cause, that conferences just were too much risk or trouble or worry. There’s those who just…stopped. Stopped lurking, stopped reading, stopped considering a role in atheist activism.

If you’ve left, quietly, anonymously, or just never felt you’d be welcome in the first place, I’m sorry. I’m sorry it was easier for me to figure out that I was an atheist than a feminist, sorry that ‘ableism’ and ‘transphobia’ didn’t enter my vocabulary until this year. I wish I’d spent a little less time cheering on Team Atheism in the Oppression Olympics, and a little more time educating myself.

I’m sorry we didn’t make this movement a place for you. I’m sorry that I count myself part of the ‘we’ in this movement, and you don’t, or don’t want to, or have been made feel that somehow you can’t be in that pronoun. I’m sorry I missed out on checking my websites for screen-reader compatibility, on transcribing those videos I was posting. I regret how long it took me to realize the only authors I recommended were cis white men. I’m trying to do better now. I’m learning–floundering around a little bit–but I’d like to stop missing out on your voices. I don’t even know what they sound like yet, but they probably do not sound like mine. And that can only be a good thing.

And separately–perhaps more importantly–thank you.

Thank you for knowing that your ability to be okay day-to-day is more important. Thank you for deciding that being in an environment where you could feel safer, happier, and more mentally healthy was the right decision for you. Thanks for taking care of yourself.

Because, you know, someday we’d like you to feel okay enough to give us a try. Give us some time, but we’d like to see you dip your toes in, maybe, or tell us what we can do to improve. One day, you might feel like lurking again, might dust the dis-use off that commenter’s identity,  register for your first conference. Until then, we’ll try to listen to the things we can learn from your absence.

The “We” of It: An Apology

29 thoughts on “The “We” of It: An Apology

  1. 1

    What I am most sad about is that I only very recently began focusing on women atheist bloggers. I read two blogs for “news”: JoeMyGod for gay rights and marriage equality, and Friendly Atheist for atheist news. I’m relatively new to atheism activism. I’m not sure why I picked Hemant’s blog over others, but it probably has to do with the fact that he’s local, and he’s a math nerd like me, so I felt I could relate to him.

    I’m not a con-going person. I don’t read a lot of books about atheism. (Never read anything by Dawkins or Hitchens. I read Lying by Sam Harris and Christina-anity. Never finished Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World.) I tend to read more science and history of science (The Black Goddess, Kingdom Under Glass, The Moral Lives of Animals) and mystery books. I’m not a philosopher; I’m more of a Champion of Causes™.

    So now that I’m just getting into this side of things and feeling like there’s a place where atheism as a movement needs me, the people whom I feel like could help direct my energy are drifting away. It’s disheartening.

    1. 1.1

      Your sentiment is good, but that last part is a problem: “the people who could help direct my energy.” We can’t sit around and wait for Big Inspiring Person X to direct us along the path. That’s bad skepticism, bad rationalism. At some point, you have to take it upon yourself to make the movement, and the world, a better place.

      1. Is that the way you encourage all self-described newbies? “Get a grip already?” If so, I’d love to hear how effective that’s been from someone who embraces that strategy; in my experience as a recipient, I’ve found such responses to my wishes for guidance to be both discouraging and alienating. Maybe you didn’t intend it to sound that way, but you should be aware that it does sound that way.

        1. I’m sorry it came off that way. As a personal friend, I’m sure Andrew didn’t mean that at all. The idea is just that while the tales of woe are galvanizing and inspiring, those of us still in the movement (and plenty of social justice people like you and us still are!) are still honor-bound to make the movement better, more accepting, more diverse. Even if people are leaving, there is so much great work for committed people like you and the original commenter to do, and Andrew just meant that it’s important to recognize that even without the people who inspired us in the first place.

    2. 1.2

      I’d say there are many ebbs and flows to a persons life and to a movement. I am hopeful that there are more women moving into the secular/atheist community and additional voices will be added to the chorus. That women who have taken the lead and blazed a trail for others to follow on. Thank you.

  2. 2

    So very well said. Thank you for putting my feelings into words… we can only do our best to continue their efforts to make this a safe place to be, and I’m willing.

  3. 3

    For me, atheism and social justice seem hand in hand.

    But it can be really easy to step on someone else’s knuckles without even knowing. And I’m glad you’re willing to look out now that you know.

  4. 4

    I don’t think you need to apologise for the fact that Movement Atheism has a vocal minority of misogynist bullies. Admitting there’s a problem is a good start. I’m more sick of the enablers, and the people who don’t think this on-going harassment of women is a big deal. Let the movement schism, I haven’t got time for people willing to give the haters a platform and who need to be dragged to a position of treating people decently.

    1. 5.2

      In short, the opposite of trans*, in other words your internal sense of gender and self is largely congruent with your physiological sex.

      For further reading, you might consider visiting the blogs of Natalie Reed or Zinnia Jones, both here on FTB.

  5. 6

    I am one of those mostly lurkers who’s decided to leave. Mostly inhabiting the trans* comunity I am quite used to viputuritive infighting. I have learned how to navigate that invironment quite well so the nastiness per se isn’t what’s prompting me to leave. The nastiness in the athiest community has just shon me the irrelevance of Athiesim to the social justice causes that are most important to me.

    I came to orginized Athiesim because religion seemed a root cause of so much of the oppression and hatred faced by trans people. The nasty fights in Athiesim have just shown me that even if religion disapers tomorrow the oppression and hatred will continue just with shiny new pseudo scientific ideas to clothe it’s self in rather then the old worn out religious ones.

    For the people fighting form Athiesim + good luck, I hope you succeed. As fr me, I’m going to concentrate my energies on the intersectional issues around trans* rights.

  6. 7

    I’ve been lurking at FTB for several months. During that time I learned about privilege and some basics of feminism. I also learned there are large numbers of misogynist atheists who bully those who aren’t misogynists. I was a sexist pig but I’m trying to do better (I’ve still got some sexist attitudes, I’m just not as piggish about them).

    Finally I realized I had to take a stand about sexism and various other isms. The cliche “are you with us or with the terrorists?” had to be answered. That wasn’t a difficult choice to make at all. I was bullied in school and despise bullying. So I’m going to stop the bullies terrorizing people who think women are people.

    Being decent to other people is not noble, it’s being honest and ethical.

    1. 7.1

      Thank you.

      It’s. easier and safer to hide in the crowd. Popping up over the parapet is uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous. Hopefully, soon, the parapets will be crowded enough that being below, in the dwindling crowd, is no longer a safe option.

  7. 9

    What a load of horse shit this post is.

    Some nameless individual has left, and you provide us no name, no quotes, nothing but your assumption it was due to evil cis white men.

    There is no reason not to completely skeptical of your post and not to denounce your cries of victimhood and your throwing your skirts and body at us in some act of shame.

    Why not act like skeptics and adults!?

    1. 9.1

      You didn’t read the links did you? It’s clueless, privileged people like you who by denying there is a problem enable the haters to go on harassing and threatening people with impunity. Youa aren’t just part of the problem, you are the problem.

  8. 11

    [delurk] I am absolutely gobsmacked that on every single one of these posts >every single onegender equalitydominds<. Remind me again how women were too emotional to be atheists?

    Sorry, this whole thing has been disgusting me for some time now, but whatever was the straw that broke the camel's back.

  9. 13

    Let’s try this again:
    I’m amazed that every single time a post that has anything to do with this topic is posted every single time, someone chimes in with “prove it”. As if they’re unaware of the ongoing shitstorm since Elevatorgate. I mean, it’s so hard to find all of the harassment, rape threats, vitriol, etc, as they are confined to Twitter and the comment sections of the blogs in question.
    “Whatever”, you’re not being a skeptic, you’re being a denialist. I’ve seen you post on FTB before, you’re well aware of what’s going on. Can you think of a reason why Kate may not want to post the name of her friend who has decided to bow out, given that mentioning it would send up the freaking Bat Signal to the trolls and the haters to double down on the bile?

    You’re not questioning, you’re enabling these idiots.

    I’ve been drifting around the edges of the Atheist movement for a long time, and I remember back in the day when the question was “how do we attract more women to the movement? So many of our leaders are older white men, and we need people to take their place when they die! Why don’t women join the Skeptics, the Atheists, etc?”

    I also remember that one of the theories floating around was that women were too emotional and mystically inclined to naturally be skeptics. Riiight…

    Then, after some outreach and changing demographics more women and people of colour and non-cis gender began to join, and like any group where the membership became more diverse, the newcomers brought their own concerns and agendas with them that needed to be addressed. I watched as the group I’ve come to think of as Paleo-Atheists LOST THEIR MINDS because a woman asked not to be propositioned in elevators, and explained why that might be seen as a bit threatening. I was boggled by the responses to this. “Guys? do you mind not doing this? I really don’t like it, and some women find it scary, no matter why you do it” is responded to with “BLEEEEARGH! HOW DARE YOU!!!!”. The mind reels.

    How in the world is sexual equality controversial in this group of people? Harassment policies? Basic courtesy and respect for fellow travelers? Social justice? If we’re supposed to be coming together as a movement, if not to be of benefit to society, then why? To sit around and play “I don’t believe in gods and homeopathy soooooo much! So there!”.

    This whole thing has absolutely disgusted me. I’ve watched a bunch of people who should be acting like enlightened human beings pretend that threatening rape to rape someone, to threaten them violence, to spew the most unbelievable hate at someone is a perfectly acceptable way to register a difference of opinion. Argue that women are not entitled to feel safe at gatherings and better yet >their desire not to be harassed< is trumped by guys right to do what they please, and if they are not given full rein to do this it's the END OF FLIRTING/SEX/HUMANITY as we know it.

    Horse. Crap.

    Let me tell you how this is going to end, based on what I've seen so far. Social justice will come to Atheism. It has to if it's going to survive as a movement or a philosophy. it will have to become inclusive and develop customs around that inclusiveness just like every other human subculture. If it doesn't, if you and your kind "Whatever" managed to drive out the people who would make Atheism an inclusive movement, the rest of us will leave you behind. It's already happening. So kick and stomp you little feet, speed up that schism with your hate. It can't come soon enough.

  10. 14

    Kate – there’s no such thing as “too late”, you’re there now.

    I had long, terrible struggles with my internalised misogyny, internalised ableism (which nearly killed me), and misunderstanding of racism. Listening, reading, and sitting back taught me valuable lessons.

    Welcome to self-awareness!

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