The Problem with Privilege: Manifesto for Change

Jennifer Ouellette writes about the chilling effect of privilege prejudices on diversity in the skeptical/atheist movement, and I couldn’t agree more.

When I spoke two years ago at TAM7, I was flooded afterwards with friend requests on Facebook from the skeptical community. It was initially kind of gratifying, and I pretty much accepted them all, provided they weren’t using obvious pseudonyms. Most of my interactions on Facebook have been positive, but there have been a dozen or so instances over the last two years where a man has become obnoxious, offensive, overbearing, overly flirtatious, or just plain creepy about personal boundaries, forcing me to defriend him. With one exception, they were all from the skeptic/atheist community. I now rarely accept Facebook friend requests from skeptic/atheist men. No, it isn’t “fair.” But even though 98% of them are probably very nice guys, I just don’t have the time to comb through each profile, trying to ferret out clues as to who is most likely to tweak out on me unexpectedly.

So believe me when I tell you that the skeptic/atheist community has a serious problem when it comes to creating a welcoming environment for women. The APS lists causes of concern in an academic department that are indicative of a chilly climate. Guess what tops the list? “Denial that such issues do matter to people.” And further down the list: “Derogatory comments about female faculty to reduce their ability to bring about change. Branding faculty as ‘difficult’ or ‘troublemaker.’”


It doesn’t have to be this way; as Sandler discovered, this is changeable behavior. That’s why I’m offering a Manifesto for Change, and I challenge those in the skeptic/atheist community to implement its principles.

Read on for what one can do to fix this situation. Yes, especially if you’re a man.

Tangentially, here’s another interesting development in the ongoing saga: Richard Dawkins’ foundation’s pledge to sponsor child daycare at all future The Amazing Meetings. This materially supports women’s participation in the skeptical movement. And people who consider Rebecca Watson’s complaints against Elevator Guy to be unfounded, like ERV, are crowing about how this proves Rebecca’s wrong and Dawkins is awesomesauce.

Except this is putting far more stock into what people are SAYING that Rebecca’s saying about the whole situation, than what she actually said.

Get it?

If not, read my previous posts about privilege.

My only comment on this is that Dawkins did the right thing. I would, however, still like him to actually comment on the whole everyone-ganging-up-on-him thing now that a number of people have attempted to explain exactly what the problem is with him telling Rebecca that her complaint is about “zero bad”, and they even assented to his requirement to not use the word “fuck” in said explanation.

The Problem with Privilege: Manifesto for Change

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