We Were Too Forgiving

So you may remember when DJ Grothe accused certain skeptic women of scaring other women away from TAM, and destroyed the goodwill of many in our community. Former supporters ceased supporting TAM, but most of us were willing to give James Randi the benefit of the doubt. Some of us even tried to meet our obligations to TAM, and suffered for it.

And many of you probably remember when Ron Lindsay got up in front of a room full of skeptic women, at a conference for skeptic women, and insulted them thoroughly. Then he took to his official blog and attacked Rebecca Watson rather viciously. Then he failed to apologize. CFI took an inordinate amount of time to issue a statement that amounted to “suck it.” But when Ron finally got round to apologizing, we forgave him, and most of us cautiously supported CFI again, despite the fact the Board had failed to take appropriate action.

And now, this. And this.


It’s too much.

My opinion is only my own, but I believe we have been too generous. We’ve forgiven too easily. And we’ve shielded reputations, failed to name predators, failed to demand substantial change. Our community has suffered for that failure.

We just wanted to be reasonable.

We need to internalize this truth: the reasonable thing to do is to demand abusers and harassers be held accountable for their actions. The reasonable stance is to demand that the leaders of the skeptic community apologize sincerely when they’ve harmed women, and make necessary and substantial changes in addition to that apology. The reasonable request is to require that organizations take measures to appropriately respond to harassment and abuse perpetrated by their employees, or speakers and attendees at their conferences.The reasonable stance is to say that this behavior will not be tolerated within this community, and if you are proven to engage in it, you are no longer welcome in our organizations and at our gatherings. And it is reasonable to expect those who fail to appropriately address misbehavior to step down, or if necessary, for their employers to terminate their employment.

It is reasonable to withdraw support from organizations that fail to live up to these standards.

It is unreasonable to tolerate the status quo, to protect big-name predators because they are big names, or to expect the victims of predation to suffer in silence.

It’s also reasonable to give people and/or organizations a chance to correct their deficiencies (although obviously this does not apply to those whose harassment was egregious, or if they assaulted or abused another person). It may even be reasonable to give them a second chance to get it right.

But it is far from reasonable to give them a third chance.

We cannot be expected to accept excuses, explanations, and lukewarm apologies indefinitely. Nor should we be expected to endure indefinite inaction. We cannot tolerate abusers remaining comfortably anonymous and allow their victims to be gagged.

We cannot continue to support organizations like the JREF and CFI, who have gotten it so egregiously wrong so very many times.

Here is what I believe should happen now:

Women in Secularism 3 should be moved from CFI to Secular Woman, American Atheists, or another national organization that has proven it can be trusted on these issues.

Those who speak, write, or volunteer for JREF and CFI should decline to continue doing so.

Employees of those organizations who are not okay with how these serious issues have been handled should be assisted in finding other employment if they choose.

Those who donate their time and/or money to these organizations should cease all support immediately.

Does this seem harsh? It’s meant to be. We’ve already given them first, second, third, fourth, and umpteenth chances. Despite the good they have done, they have proven they will not adequately deal with harassment and abuse. They’ve made their choice.

It’s time for us to make ours.

We Were Too Forgiving

9 thoughts on “We Were Too Forgiving

  1. 1

    It does seem like these groups, and speakers, have had plenty of opportunities now to work on fixing things.

    As a board member of a local group that’s listed as an affiliate of CFI (not that this is remembered much or has much impact), I’ll be bringing up getting that officially severed. That behavior is just too embarrassing to be associated with.

  2. rq

    It’s like they think they can keep hiding these things and just keep going as before – you know, Oh, oops, we messed up, sorry *tee hee* again and again and… Oh, him? Suuuure, we gave him heck for whatever it was that he may have done to you, sure we did!! and… I’m just amazed at their inability to actually face the issue. You’d think they’d understand what they’re doing.
    But it doesn’t look like they do…

    I’m all for these predators being made public. The more they hide behind anonymity, the easier it is to cover their own tracks, and serial incidents look like accidents or one-time mistakes.
    If I ever go to a con or seminar or whatever else, I sure want to know who to stay away from.

  3. rq

    Also, with Ron Lindsay, we gave CFI a chance to say some strong words on the matter. From what I understand, CFI is refusing to utter any strong words in this matter, as well. *spits*

  4. 8

    I agree elebenty-billion percent!
    I have never had any dealings with these people and I have tried to keep an open mind since I was getting all this info second and third-hand, but I am way past the reasonable doubt stage now. These people and orgs are seriously fucked up. I think the orgs will have to be totally blown up; the rot is just too endemic to hope they can be salvaged. As for the people, I always hope that redemption is possible, but it’s gonna take years of exemplary behavior from them before I would trust ’em as far as I could throw a neutronium baseball. And I’m a guy. I can’t even begin to imagine how you feel, Dana.

  5. 9

    The thing is, I am both happy and sad about these reports surfacing. Happy that (as the target of multiple workplace harassments and assaults myself – with pretty sucky outcomes) we as a community are taking this shit seriously, and that our voices are joined and becoming powerful. So sad, though, that my judgment of these two orgs was so wrong. I thought they were basically honorable, but just had some insensitive and clueless leadership which could be brought around. Instead, my opinion has seismically shifted. These orgs have deep pockets of nastiness and cruelty – ie, anti-humanism. To not care about a colleague’s harassment and assault! To favor her abuser over her is really not forgivable. I cannot forgive it.

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