Buzzfeed published a lengthy article on Friday discussing misogyny in the atheist/skeptic/freethought movement. In it, writer Mark Oppenheimer interviews notable members of the movement, such as Amy Davis Roth, Penn Jillette, PZ Myers, Rebecca Watson, and Michael Shermer. The article revealed that the anonymous woman accusing Shermer of rape in PZ Myers’ infamous Pharyngula post ‘What do you do when someone pulls the pin and hands you a grenade?’ was Allison Smith. In that thread, Myers relates that he was asked by Smith to tell the story of how Michael Shermer plied her with alcohol and raped her:
At a conference, Mr. Shermer coerced me into a position where I could not consent, and then had sex with me. I can’t give more details than that, as it would reveal my identity, and I am very scared that he will come after me in some way. But I wanted to share this story in case it helps anyone else ward off a similar situation from happening. I reached out to one organization that was involved in the event at which I was raped, and they refused to take my concerns seriously. Ever since, I’ve heard stories about him doing things (5 different people have directly told me they did the same to them) and wanted to just say something and warn people, and I didn’t know how. I hope this protects someone.
At the time, it was unknown that Allison Smith was the woman who made the rape allegations. She asked PZ to keep her identity secret and he respected that. She merely wanted her story to be told. PZ says:
She’s torn up about it. It’s been a few years, so no law agency is going to do anything about it now; she reported it to an organization at the time, and it was dismissed. Swept under the rug. Ignored. I can imagine her sense of futility. She’s also afraid that the person who assaulted her before could try to hurt her again.
But at the same time, she doesn’t want this to happen to anyone else, so she’d like to get the word out there. So she hands the information to me. Oh, thanks.
The thread exploded. Fast. As of this writing, it’s sitting at over 4,000 comments. It was a powerful thread that grew from discussing the horrible actions of Michael Shermer and expressing support for the then-unknown Allison Smith, to multiple commenters relating the stories of their sexual assault and rape. Sadly, the thread was also filled with defenders of Shermer, people who denied Smith’s rape, people who accused PZ of trying to start drama, and people who demonstrated no understanding of Rape Culture. I know all this. I was there, for much of that emotionally exhausting thread. It seemed like there was constantly someone calling PZ an asshole for believing Allison. There were people whining that she should have gone to the police (never mind that the police often don’t believe rape victims, nor did Allison express a desire to go to the police). There were blatant sexist and misogynistic comments galore. It was a draining thread. And I’m someone who has never been raped or sexually assaulted. I know for a fact that it was triggering for many people, because people stated that in the thread. In case after case though, despite being triggered, many of these people continued to speak up in support of Smith (referred to as Jane Doe throughout the thread) and other rape survivors. These people refused to do that which PZ’s detractors wanted them to do: shut up. They refused to be silenced, and stuck with the thread and pushed back against the tide of misogynist assholes.
I’m glad that PZ posted Allison’s story. It shows that he cares about and listens to women. He knew that this could possibly be damaging to his reputation and did it anyways. Why? Because it was the right thing to do.
I just wish it never needed to be done in the first place. I wish that Allison Smith had not been raped. I wish that Michael Shermer was not a rapist and sexual predator who used TAM as a stalking ground.
But that’s what happened, and Michael Shermer needs to face that and deal with it. He needs to own up to it and accept that what he did was rape. What he does NOT need to do is say shit like this:
“I will freely respond to Alison or any other woman who communicates with me directly and privately who believes I have insulted or mistreated her. Let’s try honest person to person—and most of all timely—communication as a way of dealing with such issues.”
How fucking tone deaf do you have to be to think that the woman you raped would want to be anywhere with you and privately at that?! Actually, I take that back. That’s not tone deaf. That’s someone who still fails to realize the harm in what he’s done. He still fails to acknowledge that HE RAPED ALLISON SMITH. There was no consent. She was drunk. You cannot give consent while drunk, and don’t forget, he helped get her drunk:
“I ran into Shermer in the hallway,” Smith said recently, speaking publicly for the first time about what happened that night. They began talking, and he invited her to a Scotch and cigar party at the Caesars Palace hotel. “He was talking about future articles we could write, and he mentioned this party and asked if I could come, and I said yes.” At the party, they began downing drinks. “At some point,” Smith said, “I realized he wasn’t drinking them; he was hiding them underneath the table and pretending to drink them. I was drunk. After that, it all gets kind of blurry. I started to walk back to my hotel room, and he followed me and caught up with me.”
Oppenheimer’s article also contains a bit that’s damning of JREF and James Randi:
“Shermer has been a bad boy on occasion — I do know that,” Randi told me. “I have told him that if I get many more complaints from people I have reason to believe, that I am going to have to limit his attendance at the conference.
“His reply,” Randi continued, “is he had a bit too much to drink and he doesn’t remember. I don’t know — I’ve never been drunk in my life. It’s an unfortunate thing … I haven’t seen him doing that. But I get the word from people in the organization that he has to be under better control. If he had gotten violent, I’d have him out of there immediately. I’ve just heard that he misbehaved himself with the women, which I guess is what men do when they are drunk.”
Randi was told what Shermer had done. He knew, yet since it wasn’t violent, he didn’t have him blacklisted from TAM. Why Randi? Why? Shermer wasn’t misbehaving. Misbehaving is clogging the toilets with paper towels. Misbehaving is covering someone’s car in plastic rap. Misbehaving is NOT being a sexual predator who harasses women.
Then there’s Randi’s opinion of men! He thinks “this is just what drunk men do”. Uh huh. What about all the men who get drunk and manage to not be sexual predators or rapists? They’re men too, and they wind up treating women as human beings and respecting their boundaries. To claim that “this is what men do when they’re drunk” is to demonstrate a mighty low opinion of men and is, quite frankly, offensive. No, Randi doesn’t get a pass because he’s in his 80s. No one gets a pass because of their age. He doesn’t get a pass because he’s a “product of his time”. That shit is just an excuse to avoid holding him accountable for his actions. He’s living in 2014. He’s had people tell him what Shermer has done. He’s not ignorant. He has chosen not to do anything, despite what he knows. He has helped enable Michael Shermer. Fuck you James Randi.
And a hearty fuck you to the rapist known as Michael Shermer.