Category Archives: Gender & Sexuality

An Open Letter to Ron Lindsay

So Women In Secularism 2 is happening this weekend (live blogging from Miri, Kate and Jason) and unfortunately I was not able to attend. But I’ve been following online, and in an odd twist, CFI President Ron Lindsay decided to open a conference about the under-representation of women in the Atheist Movement by talking about how we need to pay more attention to what men have to say. Rebecca Watson and PZ Meyers have both posted about why this was a problem. So far Lindsay’s main defense seems to be “but that wasn’t what most of my talk was about“.

Dear Ron,

As a general rule, I like to believe that people have the best of intentions, so I do think that you sincerely don’t understand what the problem here was. I’d like to try and explain the reaction to this (admittedly short) part of your speech in terms of a different sort of privilege that I think you will have an easier time understanding.

I suspect that you would agree with me that atheists lack privilege in our Christian-soaked culture. So let’s imagine the following scenario: An atheist conference (pick your favorite), specifically created to bring together a lot of similar-minded people and discuss the usual issues invites as its opening speaker a Christian. Now I’m not talking about a hate-spewing WBC preacher or anything like that; I’m thinking someone with whom we might share goals like separation of church and state, marriage equality, or a woman’s right to bodily autonomy. There are many atheists and Christians alike whose views on these issues line up, just as there are many men who take the feminist position on issues.

So it may seem odd to open an atheist conference with a Christian speaker, but it’s not completely out there.

But then let’s say that speaker devotes a section of their talk to the persecution that atheists face, and begins that section with “Now let me tell you something about persecution…” followed by the usual tone-deaf ravings about how the government is targeting believers. You know the drill. And I’m sure you know why what that speaker is saying is bullshit. I’m also sure you can imagine the kind of uproar you would get from attendees, who paid a not-inconsiderable amount of money to be there. All of this, despite the best intentions of the speaker.

This is essentially what you have done. You have gone before a conference dedicated to giving a voice to women in the movement and told them that they need to spend more time listening to what men have to say. As though it’s possible to live in our society without knowing what men generally have to say. As though it’s possible to live in our society without knowing what Christians generally think.

Now, the meme you’ve described does actually happen. I won’t deny that there are men who are told to “shut up and listen”. But this is good. It asks them to be silent long enough to hear what minority voices (more than one!) have to say. And after that, they’re welcome to bring up any concerns that they have but they need to shut up long enough to let someone bring their voice to the table.

Unless, of course, they just keep bringing up the same point over and over again, never actually responding to what the minority has to say. In which case, they just need to shut up for good.

You were asked for examples of people being told to shut up and listen and the ones that you gave were of what I’ve described above: people being told to shut up long enough for a minority voice to have a chance to speak. I’d like to provide my own examples of people being told to shut up:

  • Ophelia Benson’s Page o’ Nonstop Monitoring and Harassment in which she records all the bullying she receives to try and silence her voice
  • Skepchick’s Page o’ Hate where Rebecca Watson posts a tiny sample of the hate she gets, trying to silence her for speaking up (ironically) about harassment
  • Jen McCreight was bullied out of the atheist movement and had to quit blogging about atheist topics because of the level of harassment that she (and her family) received. It got so bad that people were trying to trigger her depression and telling her to commit suicide.
  • Natalie Reed also abandoned the atheist movement after Thunderf00t started threatening her when he got kicked off of FTB for being a bigot.

These stories are not unique, and when you trivialize them by comparing them (indirectly) to men who have been asked to allow a more diverse range of voices in the atheist movement; you are doing a disservice to the victims of actual harassment and bullying.

I hope you will come to realize that.


A guy with privilege.

PS: When people who paid to attend your event are unhappy; you should probably listen to them and address their problem instead of telling them why they’re wrong. They are, after all, your paying customers. Try to make them happy.


How Prevalent is Rape Culture?

EDIT: After publishing this, I realized that with my focus on the comments section, I really managed to ignore the fact that the whole article I was pulling comments from was, itself, actually focused almost exclusively on the feelings of the rapists rather than the victim. So… yeah… not just a problem with the comments, but actually a huge issue with the way the verdict is being reported on by the media. And it’s not unique to the one article I was using, although CNN does seem to be at the centre of it. Kate Donovan sums up the problem well.

So I was having an argument on Facebook the other day about this article discussing how to combat rape culture by training men not to rape, and the guy I was arguing with was rejecting the idea that rape culture existed, or at least that it was widespread. After I provided a list of examples of victim blaming and rape culture he said the following:

[…] that’s another small group of people, I want to see where society as a whole condones rape. I can’t believe that the majority of people in the world are cool with rape, I just don’t think we’re generally bad people.

Which in a sense I get. If you haven’t been exposed to it, it’s hard to imagine that there are people out there who are generally happy to blame rape victims for their own rapes, or to excuse rapists. You don’t want to face it because it really sucks when you realize that it’s out there. But realizing the extent of the problem is an important step to solving the problem. So with that in mind, I want to present one little demonstration of rape culture and victim blaming at work.

You’ve probably heard about the Steubenville rape trial. If you haven’t, you should read more about it, but I don’t want to get into the details of the case here. What’s important for my purposes here is that it’s A) a recent news item that B) involves rape and C) is fairly high-profile.

So what I did was find an article about the recent verdict in the case. Literally any article. In fact, I went with the very first article that I stumbled across. I didn’t even read it. I just skipped to the comments to see how many examples of rape culture and victim blaming I could find. While trying to ignore anything that triggered my troll sensors, as well as trying not to take more than a few examples from any one username, I managed to screenshot 80 comments from 54 unique users before my browser crashed.

Obviously not the most scientifically-rigourous experiment, but that’s also not what I was trying to do. All I want is to give one little example of rape culture at work in one spot. What I do think makes this a powerful statement that demonstrates a wider problem is that I didn’t wade through a bunch of different articles until I found one with some horrifying comments. I didn’t have to. It was literally the very first article I found. And we’re not talking comments from some niche rape-apologist or MRA website. This is fucking CNN.

One last note before we begin, I should point out that there are also a lot of comments trying to fight rape culture and arguing against the apologists and victim-blamers in the comments. This does not defeat my point that there are still a lot of people who are quick to blame the victim. With a few hundred unique commenters in the couple thousand comments I read, I found more than 50. That is not an insignificant number.

So let’s begin. (Trigger warning for rape below the jump) Continue reading

My New Game

I have a new game I play. I don’t really have a name for it yet, but I would like to encourage all the men reading to give it a shot.

Next time you see an attractive girl, either on the street or public transit or in a shopping mall, don’t check her out. Instead, pay attention to all the men around her and watch to see how many of them are looking at that girl: either a fleeting glance, or a long awkward stare.

Do it with a wide variety of girls, dressed in a wide variety of ways and in a wide variety of settings.

Now ask yourself: how comfortable would you be walking down the street knowing everyone you went past was looking at you.

Please Keep Making Calendars (if you want to)

Argh. This is tough. I love Rebecca Watson, but I think this is literally the first time I’ve disagreed with her about something. And strongly.

Rebecca Watson has posted a blog in response to (I assume, due to the timing of it) Secular Woman, Inc.‘s creation of a nude atheist calendar project. In it, she lists several reasons why she wishes atheist and skeptic organizations would stop making nude calendars. Hemant Mehta from Friendly Atheist also posted a blog in support of Watson. I’d really just like to take a moment to address the first two of Watson’s criticisms:

1. Regardless of the intent behind the calendars, regardless of how much fun we had making them, regardless of how empowering we found them, regardless of the racial and age diversity we showcased, and regardless of the fact that they were run by a woman and benefited women, pin-up calendars added to an existing environment in which women were seen first as sexual objects and maybe if they’re lucky they’d later be seen as human beings with thoughts and desires of their own. Back in 2005, I thought skeptics weren’t affected by the patriarchy and that misogyny was something left to the religious. In a community like that, a pin-up calendar of women would be absolutely fine. I learned that a community like that does not exist and it was naive of me to assume otherwise.

2. Adding a calendar of men did not balance out the calendar of women. In a perfect non-patriarchal world, it would, but what I realized was that the women in the calendars were not being seen in the same way as the men in the calendars. The women were objectified on a level unmatched by those viewing and commenting on the men. This was something difficult for me to objectively evaluate at the time and was just a hunch based on my casual observations, but that hunch was confirmed last year when I had shitlord after shitlord emailing me to tell me that I have no right to complain about being groped or propositioned at conferences because I posed in a calendar for skeptics (see my filthy slut photo as the featured image on this post). If Phil Plait ever complains about a woman grabbing his crotch at a conference, I’m confident that no one will forward him his entry in the 2007 “Skepdude” Calendar and tell him to stop being such a whore if he doesn’t want that kind of attention.

First off, if the intent behind the calendars is good, and the people making them both had fun and were empowered by it, then that’s all you should need right there. If you want to pose nude (or semi-nude) for a calendar (or anything else) go right ahead. The whole point of feminism is that nobody but you gets to tell you what to do with your body. I realize that Rebecca isn’t saying otherwise, but if you want to make a nude calendar then you should. Don’t let anybody else tell you not to.

The problem here isn’t that women are being sexualized. If you’re posing for racy photographs with the intent to distribute them, then I would hope that you realize that being sexualized is inevitable, if not the whole point.

The problem is when assholes fail to have the ability to see someone in a sexual context for a few seconds (or, I guess, a month) and then treat them normally in any other context. The problem is when these people objectify women, rather than recognize that sexuality is only one small part of an entire person.

So what’s the solution? I don’t claim to be smart enough to know for sure, but I suspect that the following things will help:

  1. More nude calendars with more diversity: Everyone get naked! Let’s try to create a culture where people can be sexual and still be taken seriously. We need more men to strip for the cause because, as Rebecca points out, nobody takes nudity as a mark against men. Maybe, just maybe, we can normalize nudity to the point where it’s not something that people can hold against women. The Atheists Breaking Through calendar is doing awesome in this regard as it has a mix of men and women, including a trans woman. That’s great! Let’s do more.
  2. Don’t give in to trolls: If we let the solution to “dumbasses don’t know how to deal with nudity” be “get rid of all the nudity” then you’ve basically let win kind of people who think that a woman who has appeared naked in a photo once can no longer be taken seriously. If you want to express yourself by appearing nude, then stopping yourself because of negative reactions you get is letting people silence you. And you know what? If that’s a barrier to you expressing yourself that you don’t want to put in the time and energy to traverse, that’s fine too. But what bothers me about Rebecca’s suggestion to get rid of the calendars is that she’s adding to that barrier rather than fighting against it. “If you think that ignoring assholes and bullies makes them go away, you are wrong”.
  3. Stop being an asshole: If you’re the kind of person who can’t take a woman seriously if you’ve seen her boobs, then kindly fuck off. I honestly wonder how you can even have relationships with women. I imagine most of you would actually love to see some boobs, so how do you deal with that in real life? Do all your relationships (romantic, sexual, or otherwise) teeter precariously over the brink of seeing the other person naked? If you have sex with someone do you magically become unable to have a serious conversation with them? How do you operate in life? I honestly don’t get it. But regardless, don’t be that guy. Just… don’t.

Posing nude can be fun. It can be sexy. It can even be empowering.

Although it sucks that there are people in this life who will try and take that away from you, if you decide that your desire to do it outweighs the drawbacks, then great. Go for it.

I did some nude modelling for a friend’s photography art project in university. It was awesome. I am so proud that I did it, because I do have body image issues and being able to be open like that was a huge deal for me. I would do it again in a heartbeat. JT Eberhard, who will be appearing in the Atheists Breaking Through calendar, said it beautifully:

As a recovering anorexic, taking those pictures was extremely difficult, but it was worth it.  This is what flooded into my mind when Bridget asked me to be in this calendar.  It will be scary, but ultimately I think it will be good for me.

I think the human body is beautiful.  After those pictures, there were times when I thought mine was as well.  After years of coming to loathe reflective surfaces but being unable to resist looking at them, that feeling was like breathing oxygen for the first time.  I suspect that participating in this project will allow me to recapture that sensation.

So yeah. If you want to pose naked, then do it. If you want to publish the photos, then do that too. Hell, if you like looking at the photos of other people naked, there’s nothing wrong with that either. You just need to be able to go back to treating the people in those photos normally after you’ve looked at them. Don’t objectify them just because they have tits or a dick.

Who Votes Over the Economy?

The following is a hypothesis. I don’t really have the background in sociology or any idea of the methodology required to confirm or refute it, but I want to put it out there any maybe someone with more of a clue than me can figure out if it’s true or not.

I read the following quote from Grimalkin on the Atheism+ forums today:

People who have their lives voted on and legislated by politicians tend to not care *too* much about the economy, because we’re too worried about whether some governer is going to declare him the right to our uterus or something equally fun.

It got me thinking. The economy is probably an important issue, and one that I admit I don’t really understand. Because of this I’ve always voted on social issues: stuff I can wrap my head around. Marriage equality is important because gay people deserve the same rights as anyone else. Marijuana should be legalized because we are imprisoning too many people for a “crime” that the vast majority of people commit; they just had the misfortune of getting caught. Education costs should not be prohibited. Homeless people deserve a place to live. Women should have the right to bodily autonomy. Transgender people should not have to worry about discrimination. Women who are coerced into prostitution should be protected and women who want to be sex workers should have that right. People should have access to healthcare regardless of how deep their pockets go.

These are all issues that our society is grappling with and for the most part they seem to be supported by the left and rejected by the right.

In the current US election campaign, I hear Republicans talking about the economy a lot more than Democrats. It’s similar in Canada: I hear a lot more from the conservatives about economic and business issues and a lot more from the NDP and Green Party about social issues.

So it makes me wonder, who actually casts their vote based on the economy?

It seems to me that if your primary concern is the economy, then you haven’t really had to deal with a government or society that seems intent on trampling your rights. If your biggest concern is whether your company can make more money with the Republican tax plan, or if your biggest problem is that you can’t afford the lifestyle you used to have then you are privileged in a lot of ways that allow you to ignore how the right is taking away the rights of the rest of us.

If you’re gay, you have to worry about bigots trying to pass constitutional amendments to prevent you from getting married. If you’re in prison for minor drug offenses, you’re probably concerned about the hypocrisy of the people who put you in there. If you can’t afford an education, you have to worry about how to get a good job in a society that increasingly requires a post-secondary education. If you’re homeless you probably have to worry about whether your local shelter has enough beds and food. If you’re a woman, you might have to worry about the long term consequences of if you have a child you’re not ready for. If you’re trans, you probably have to worry about whether the government will let you get on a plane or whether they’ll harass you because you don’t “look man/woman enough”. If you’re a sex worker you probably have to worry about your safety and ability to rely on law enforcement if you’re in danger. If you have cancer you need to worry about whether you can get the chemotherapy that you need to stay alive.

In my opinion, these issues are way more pressing than which candidate gives the best tax cuts.

I’m not saying that the economy is unrelated to these issues: clearly it is as government needs ways to fund a lot of these things (or in some cases is actively wasting money on suppressing the disadvantaged, for example money spent on imprisoning people for drug possession). But if your primary concern when you cast your ballot is which party will better stimulate the economy, then you probably haven’t had to spend any part of your life worrying about whether the party you were voting for was going to turn around and try to stomp you and people like you down and out of society once they’re in power.

Can We Have a New Atheist Movement Now Please?

Fuck. I’ve been putting off writing this, because I don’t really have the words. There are so many things right now, and through the last year, that just piss me the fuck off about the Atheist Movement. I’m an atheist, and I want very much to be a part of *an* atheist movement, but the one we have right now is failing on so many levels.

Sure we have publicity, and record numbers of people showing up to conferences. Huge spikes in secular student groups. Blogs. Billboards. Television exposure.

But for all our successes, we have a lot of fucking problems. Natalie Reed sums it up brilliantly (no, seriously, read the whole thing):

And, of course, the endless controversy over the most basic principles of feminism and women’s rights. Elevatorgate, now ongoing for over a year. The treatment of the 15 year old girl on r/reddit. The “controversy” of Staks Rosch’s all-male atheist-of-the-year list, and his ridiculous claims that it would be “tokenism” to have ANY women on a five person list, with insinuations that it would only start “making sense” for just ONE of half the world’s population to show up if it were a list twenty people long. The endless discussions of the merits of using the word “cunt” to harass and intimidate women. DJ Grothe’s insistent apologism for any dudes being “attacked” by the “radical feminist” contingent of Atheism who had some basic level of sense that all this fucked up shit was kind of fucked up. The sexual harassment issue. The blatant misogynistic appraisals of female atheist’s worth by their appearance. Mallorie Nasrallah. Paula Kirby. FTBullies. The Amazing Atheist’s meltdown while trying to deliberately trigger a rape survivor. Justin Trottier. The increasing incursion and overlap between the internet Atheist Movement and the Men’s Rights Movement. I got so sick of all that, having to same the sexist garbage rehashed endlessly, with so much vitriol and fervor.

(links added by me)

And to be perfectly honest, as important as I think the Atheist Movement is, as crucial as it is to promote reason and skepticism and secularism; I’m fucking tired of having the movement I believe so much in associate me with people like that. I’m fucking tired of it, and honestly, I don’t even have to deal with it on a day-to-day basis. I can’t imagine what Natalie, Jen McCreight, Greta Christina, Ophelia BensonRebecca WatsonElyse Anders, the rest of the Skepchick crew and probably dozens of other women (some of whom I probably haven’t even heard about yet) have to deal with on a day to fucking day basis. Not to mention women outside of the movement, like Anita Sarkeesian who are victims of the same Internet culture in which the Atheist Movement thrives. And yet we’ll turn to defend women like Jessica Ahlquist so long as the people threatening to rape her come from outside of the movement; and then quickly turn around and pat ourselves on the back for how much better we are towards the womenz.

I don’t want to be associated with those kinds of people anymore but I also don’t want to give up on fighting for something that I think is this important now that I’ve finally found a place (albeit a mostly digital one) where I actually feel like I belong.

So here’s what I propose: we need a new atheist movement. Not the “New Atheist” movement as Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris, as described by Christians: it’s been well pointed out that the current Atheist Movement is nothing new at all: philosophical objections to Pascal’s Wager, the Watchmaker analogy and the ontological argument are almost as ancient as the arguments themselves. What we need is an actually new atheist movement. One that actually cares about the people. While I enjoy many privileges in life (being white, male, cisgendered, able-bodied, etc) I’m tired of a movement that clothes itself in these privileges and then claims that they’re better for it.

I want a new atheist movement that actually cares about people. An atheist movement that will look at the way religion poisons our views on gender, race, or sexuality and actively tries to combat that. I want an atheist movement that will reach out help other people, regardless of their race, gender, sexuality, ability, education, wealth, visibility, or even religion. Yes, religion, we don’t have to agree with them, we don’t even have to be nice about it, but we can still be the goddamn compassionate ones who will reach across and help anyone in need, regardless of whether they can refute Pascal’s Wager or not.

I want a new atheist movement that isn’t going to call women on the internet cunts for having an opinion.

I want a new atheist movement that is open and inviting and accessible to everyone who wants to be there.

And I want a new atheist movement where we can tell the people to fuck off and leave if they have a problem with creating a safe space for the people who want to be there. Because fuck those guys.

Seriously, Was Math Not Hard Enough Already?

she, her, she, her

Originally I was just speechless by this story (via Zinnia Jones) about 16 year old Ashlyn Parram first being told she could not sit an exam unless she changed into boy’s clothing, and then being segregated from the rest of the students when she pointed out that the school was violating her rights. First was how offensive the situation was, but perhaps just as bad is the reporting of the story which refers to her using male pronouns throughout. I was so shocked and disgusted that all I could think was that there were no words…

And then I thought: No. Fuck that. There are plenty of words. They are, in order: Her, her, her, assigned male at birth, she, she, she, she, she, she, she, she, She, She, Her, she, she, trangender, She, she, gender reassignment surgery, Her, her, her, her, she, she.

To the educators: you are a failure. Not only have you failed to attend to the needs of a student in your care, but you have gone out of your way to inflict psychological distress on her right before requiring her to take a test that could affect her academic standing. You have failed as both a teacher, and as a human being. And if my saying so makes you feel like someone has called into question a fundamental element of your identity? Now go answer some questions about polynomials.

To Ashlyn, should you ever read this: Some people spend their entire lives questioning their identities. At 16, you’ve already shown that you have not only the courage to question something that many take for granted, but also the courage to express yourself in the face of bigotry. You are awesome: never loose that. And though this situation should never should have happened in the first place, It Gets Better.

On Shouting Down the Opposition

A quick shout out to anyone who’s coming over from Jason at Lousy Canuck! Willkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome!

Today I would like to address two points that seem to be cropping up over and over again in regards to the Sexual Harassment/Feminism “debate”.

  1. “I have freedom of speech, you can’t tell me to stop talking.”
  2. “By telling me to stop talking, you’re just bullying me into silence.”

Obviously these two points are related, but I have separate things I’d like to say about them.

Freedom of Speech

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Freedom of speech is an important thing. In fact, it’s the cornerstone of a free society: the government cannot prevent you from expressing any particular view. Furthermore, even though I quote the American constitution above, I am Canadian, and these points are not specific to the US, but rather a more general notion of free speech. It’s worth noting that this applies directly to unpopular or offensive speech: nobody needs a law to protect popular speech. But there are a few things that free speech does not mean:

  1. Freedom of speech is a relationship between governments and persons. It doesn’t in any way affect relationships between people. If I, as a private citizen prevent you, another private citizen, from being able to make your point, then your rights have not been violated. As a random, completely hypothetical example, say a popular vlogger (let’s call him LightningH4nd) joins a popular blogging website (let’s call it Freethinking Diaries, or FTD) and proceeds to make an idiot out of himself. FTD decides that they no longer want to host LightningH4nd’s lunatic ravings (for whatever reason, maybe they don’t like being disagreed with, or maybe H4nd’s behaviour behind the scenes was not very professional: it doesn’t matter) and so they take his blog down. This is not a violation of his free speech. In the same way I have the right to evict you from my house if you’re being an asshole: you still have the right to be an asshole, you just don’t have the right to do it in my living room.
  2. Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequence. Just because you’re allowed to say something doesn’t mean that you’re free from the consequences of what you said. If you are vocally pro-choice, your pro-life friends may stop wanting to hang out with you. If you’re vocally pro-life, your pro-choice friends might do the same. If you march into your boss’ office and tell her she’s an idiot (or deserves to be kicked in the cunt), you’re probably not going to have a job tomorrow. And if you post something stupid online, people might just go ahead and embarrass you for being an idiot. None of this violates your rights to say things.
  3. Freedom of speech does not guarantee respect. If you say something stupid, just because you’re allowed to say it doesn’t mean that we have to take is seriously. In fact, it usually means we have a rational obligation to disagree with you. The stupider the thing you say, the louder we get to disagree. For example, want to whine that creationists just aren’t given their fair chance to get their crap into science classes; I have no problem with people calling you an idiot.

So can you please stop whining that we’re not respecting the “Harassment Policies will ruin my lolz” crowd’s freedom of speech? We’re not required to.

Bullying into Silence

The other complaint that keeps getting leveled, particularly at the Freethought Blogs crowd, is that by arguing fiercely with people who think that sexual harassment isn’t a problem, or that conferences don’t need anti-harassment policies, or that the people who complain are just a bunch of crybaby pussies; the people on the “Sexual Harassment Bad. Let’s Stop it.” side are somehow “bullying” their opponents.

For the sake of argument, I will accept that what they are doing constitutes “bullying”.

In this particular case, for this particular issue, the “bullies” are right.

When the side you’re opposing is a) horribly wrong, b) giving arguments that are causing actual harm, and c) there’s already been enough discussion that anyone who is honestly interested in educating themselves has the resources to do it; shouting down the opposition is actually a perfectly reasonable tactic.

I want to take a moment to compare the anti-anti-harassment policy folks (whom I will refer to as misogynists for the sake of brevity) to creationists trying to get their crap into science classes:

a) Horribly wrong:

Creationists: Views contradicted be the overabundance of evidence to the contrary.

Misogynists: Views contradicted by the overabundance of women who say they would rather have anti-harassment policies at conferences, as well as the fact that when TAM instituted such a policy, their female attendance rate skyrocketed.

Creationists: Don’t understand well-defined terms like “theory”.

Misogynists: Don’t understand well-defined terms like “harassment” (hint: it isn’t “talking to women” contrary to the strawman arguments).

Creationists: Don’t understand the proper context for particular conversations (eg: science class is not the place for religion).

Misogynists: “But men are the victims of just as much oppression as women!”

Creationists: Play the victim card by claiming that they’re being denied academic freedom to pander their bullshit in classrooms.

Misogynists: Play the victim card by claiming that they’re being denied intellectual freedom to assert their opinion that bitches were asking for it, and just need to take it like a man.

b) Actually causing harm:

Creationists: When you refuse to teach children proper science, their science skills plummet, and they won’t be equipped to dealing with the real world.

Misogynists: When you refuse to listen to women who are complaining about sexual harassment, you leave a door open to the perpetrators to keep getting away with what they’re doing.

Creationists: Cause a drop in enrollment in science programs, as kids don’t have the proper background (or haven’t had their interest properly sparked) to pursue science.

Misogynists: Cause a drop in female attendance at conferences, as WOMEN DON’T WANT TO BE GODDAMNED HARASSED!

c) Opportunity for people to educate themselves

Creationists: These guys could easily read talkorigins or wiki-fucking-pedia for 5 minutes to get a grasp on what they’re arguing against.

Misogynists: As much as you might want to complain about Rebecca Watson or Freethought Blogs just shouting down the opposition, more words have probably been written on this subject within the atheist community in the past year than any other single issue. You can’t possibly expect me to take seriously the claim that the Feminazis aren’t leaving room for discourse. There’s just been so much room for discourse so far that you’re either not bothering to participate or you’re willfully ignorant of the claims against you. In either case, it’s time to shut the fuck up.

It’s truly amazing how much two groups can really have in common…

Sisterhood of the Oppressed – A Critique

Paula Kirby is a writer whose work I have never read who, this weekend, posted an essay called “Sisterhood of the Oppressed” criticizing (no, wait, go on… guess) the segment of the atheist/skeptic movement who think that harassment is bad and we ought to do something about it. While this should be a pretty non-controversial point, apparently it is not and the internet has exploded in a firestorm of rage over the last few weeks. I’m not familiar with Kirby’s work at all, so without any context other than what she wrote in her essay, here we go:

(Incidentally, if you’re new to this discussion, Jason Thibeault over at Lousy Canuck has a decent timeline of what’s been going on in this conversation in case you need a little bit of background.)

We start off with a defense of the term “feminazi”. Now I don’t really have a problem with namecalling when you’re trying to make an emotional appeal. I don’t have an issue with terms like “anti-choice” or “idiot” when you’re just trying to get in a quick jab at the person you’re arguing with. But when it comes to “nazi”, can’t we at least agree that that’s a little extreme? You don’t win argument points by pointing wildly at something bad and saying “YOU’RE JUST LIKE THEM!” (complete with caps-lock). Nazis killed millions of people in an attempt to exterminate entire segments of the human population. Kirby is arguing against a group of people whose “crimes” are literally things like saying “Guys, don’t do that“, or that sexual harassment is a thing that happens sometimes. The thing about analogies is that they should scale properly. Comparing people saying words to other people killing millions is more than a little bit out-of-sync. On top of which, 99% of the time that you compare your opponent to Nazis, you’ve already lost the argument: it’s just not a point that people tend to respect.

But! (says Kirby) we’re not comparing them to actual Nazis, but rather to a general notion of Nazisim “used to simply mean ‘extremist’ or ‘obsessive'”. While this is still a stupid rhetorical point, let’s look at what Kirby considers totalitarian”

Hysterical, bullying overreaction to dissent? Attempting to make it so unpleasant for anyone who dares to oppose them that others are deterred from trying it? Utter conviction that their own ideology is absolutely right and just, and that no questioning of it can therefore ever be permitted?

So, hyperbole aside, we’re talking basically about conviction towards an ideology that you feel compelled to defend. You know, like the Republicanazis and the Democranazis. The Christinazis and the Athenazis. Don’t forget about the GLBTN with their totalitarian gay rights agenda. Look, if that’s your definition of a “Nazi” extremist is someone who has and defends an ideology, then you’re going to get caught in your own trap. But maybe I’m wrong, maybe the “hysterical, bullying overreaction to dissent” really is over-the-top enough to warrant the label. So with (what I imagine would have to be) a world full of examples of how the feminazis are suppressing dissent, surely Kirby can find us three REALLY good examples.

Let’s not forget the abuses of speakers’ “privilege” at certain conferences, where audience members holding “the wrong attitudes” have been picked on by the speaker from the platform.

For those not aware, this a reference to Rebecca Watson giving a talk at the 2011 CFI Leadership Conference regarding the “elevator incident” where she mentions a particular comment about the incident:

So apparently “publicly disagreeing with someone” is suppressing dissent. There’s a valid argument to be made that what Watson did was bad form in that it wasn’t the proper forum to call someone out over a disagreement by placing her next to comments advocating that Watson be slapped or raped. But this is a far cry from “silencing dissent”. Disagreement with people happens, and sometimes people are going to be hurt by it. But there’s a difference between “here’s what a person said and I disagree with them and here’s why” and over a year’s worth of telling someone that you’re going to rape them, or that they’re too ugly to rape, and using the name “Rebecca Twatson” as though you think you’re being clever when really it’s impossible to be clever by repeating the same insult for OVER A GODDAMNED YEAR.

Saturday saw someone on Twitter being harassed by one of the Sisterhood for having had the temerity to simply follow the decidedly unapproved @AngrySkepchick. Not even your “Follow” lists are now safe from the prying eyes of the Sisters, and be sure you will be subject to interrogation if your choices appear to deviate from the required standard!

This second example, I actually hadn’t heard about and it took some Google digging to figure out. I guess on Saturday, Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) of Skepchick fame challenged one of the speakers at the upcoming TAM 2012, Sharon Hill, over the fact that she was following a twitter account called @AngrySkepchick that was mocking Rebecca Watson (people’s hatred of whom always seems to enter into these things…). As a public figure, her tacit endorsement of an insult campaign versus Watson could be viewed as a inappropriate, and Roth called her on it by saying that she would no longer follow Hill on Twitter. At its core, that’s pretty much it: A woman on Twitter unfollowed another woman on Twitter over something she felt was inappropriate… Ergo, FEMINAZI SILENCING OF DISCUSSION AND OPPRESSION OF DISAGREEMENT!

As for Kirby’s third example of silencing dissent:

the blogs, of course.

Specific as that is, I’m not really sure what to say to it. Maybe she’s talking about comment policies? I’m not really sure. So these are (one assumes) the best examples of how radical feminists are oppressing discourse on issues: publicly addressing comments and unfollowing people on Twitter. And blogs.

But fine, let’s assume that they are radically suppressing the voices of those who disagree with them. Let’s look at the point that’s actually being disagreed upon:

  • Some women at conferences feel harassed.
  • Women who feel harassed at conferences are less likely to go.
  • Such women have said that instituting an anti-harassment policy would make them feel more comfortable.
  • An anti-harassment policy would not negatively affect the experience of anyone who wasn’t harassing women.
  • Therefore, institute a fucking harassment policy.

Honestly, this battle is pretty much won. American Atheists, Dragon*Con, CFI, SkepchickCON, Skepticon, SSA Con and more all have instituted harassment policies. Even TAM, at the centre of all the controversy, had a harassment policy last year, which one assumes will be carried over seeing as how last year’s TAM was the largest turnout of women they’ve ever had (ie: anti-harassment policies get more women to come).

That’s it. That’s all there is to it. Some people want a harassment policy and feel don’t comfortable coming without one. Anyone who doesn’t care won’t be affected and anyone who actively opposes a harassment policy should think long and hard about what exactly their reasons are for opposing it. Do you think it’s because such policies are anti-sex? Then you should check out the anti-harassment policy of a goddamned sex-based conference: OpenSF.

This should be such a non-controversial point that anyone defending it has the right to treat their opponents like idiots. Harassment bad. Don’t do it.

Kirby, however, would rather continue comparing feminists to Nazis.

Let’s consider 1930s Germany for a moment. How did the Nazis gain popular support? By exploiting a sense of grievance post-Versailles, by continually telling the German people they’d been treated abominably, had their noses ground in the dust, been unfairly penalized, that they were the victims of an international, Jew-led conspiracy, that they needed to rise from the ashes and gain their revenge and their proper, god-ordained place in the world.


Change the terminology a little and you have the poor, oppressed, victimized, unfairly ignored women being urged to rise up against the evil conspiracy of those men, women-haters, sister-shamers and gender-traitors who are responsible for all their woes.

Except that there was no Jew-led conspiracy out to keep the German people down; whereas the effects of misogyny can be felt by how any woman who dares speak up against it gets threats of rape and violence. Even if the two situations were comparable, Nazis went on to kill millions of people and the feminists are simply saying “hey guys, don’t harass women”.

Speaking of harassment, did you know that it’s not actually a problem?

Absolutely anyone can find themselves being sexually propositioned at any conference at all if they hang out in the bar long enough, and late enough at night. (snip)  For those who engage in the propositioning and those who respond positively to it (and many do), it is presumably one of the fun bits of life. I simply do not accept that any reasonably mature, rational adult does not know exactly how to avoid getting into this kind of situation if he or she would prefer not to, or how to deal with it if it occurs.

Nobody other than the concocted strawmen in the heads of those who oppose the anti-harassment policies actually has a problem with this situation, in principle. Some people like to have sex at conferences. That’s great! They should go out and have a blast. But some people like to go to bars and hang out, and they should be able to enjoy themselves too. The point is, don’t make sex the primary thing. If you’re having a conversation with someone and one thing leads to another, then you’ve lucked out. But if you’re just having a good conversation and it doesn’t lead anywhere physical? Guess what, you still lucked out! You got to talk to some cool people and maybe make a few new friends. Heaven forbid that you not get laid after all your hard work of making conversation with people. Find yourself in a conversation with someone who you don’t think wants to sex you up? You’re free to leave and talk to someone with more similar intentions. If the people who want sex can get it, and the people who just want to hang out can do that EVERYBODY WINS. All you have to do is not start out your conversations with “Want to go back to my room?” and a wink.

I am talking about normal, non-violent situations in which no assault takes place.

Well you know what? Some of us are. Because in addition to the issue of constant but non-violent string of sexual propositions from certain attendees there are other issues of women being groped, or stalked or possibly having upskirt photos taken of them that need to be dealt with. An anti-harassment policy does this too. It gives conference staff the explicit ability to throw people out harassing women when they’re doing things as extreme as this. It’s not an admission that this sort of thing happens all the time. It doesn’t. But it also doesn’t have to in order to have a negative effect. We don’t want to hear that sexual harassment never happens at conferences, because that’s probably not true. We want to hear if  it happens what does the conference plan to do about it.

Kirby then attempts to address the criticism that there aren’t enough female speakers at conferences by spending a few pages talking about how men don’t keep women from speaking out, women just naturally don’t speak out. She does this by talking about her time organizing events or meetings for business people, and how the women would always stay silent.

My background is in business. I have lost count of the number of times I have been present at meetings when the women said nothing and left it all to the men. I’ve been guilty of it myself, many a time. Was it because the men weren’t willing to listen to the women? I don’t think it was. Did the men dismiss our comments if we made them? No, they didn’t. Did they try to stop us making them? No, they didn’t do that either. Were the women lacking in ideas? No, of course not. We just didn’t speak up. Crucially, many of us didn’t speak up, even when openly invited to do so.

It’s their own fault, dammit!

Let’s put aside the notion that maybe, just maybe, women stay silent because often when the speak up about an issue, they’re met with a backlash that is either because of their gender or focused on their gender. For a recent example of this, check out the story of Anita Sarkesian who started a project critiquing the depiction of women in video games. Before she even started working on the project (having merely announced it) she was called a bitch, whore, slut, feminazi (of course) and cunt, told to get back in the kitchen, make a sandwich and show her tits.

Let’s put aside the notion that this is not an uncommon occurrence.

Kirby is trying to make the argument that women don’t actually have an interest in speaking up and presenting at conferences. I’ll admit, I don’t know much about the business world. Maybe this is true there (I doubt it), but the atheists and skeptic movement is a much different place, and there’s no shortage of women available to speak at conferences. This list includes:

  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali
  • Ophelia Benson
  • Susan Jacoby
  • Jen McCreight
  • Taslima Nasrin
  • Christina Radd
  • Natalie Reed
  • Greta Christina
  • Maryam Namazie
  • Sikivu Hutchinson
  • Amanda Marcotte
  • Rebecca Watson
  • Tracie Harris
  • Jen Peeples
  • Ashley Paramore
  • Julia Sweeney
  • Jessica Ahlquist
  • and Paula Kirby, herself!

Not to mention the Women In Secularism conference which took place a couple months ago, which only goes to show just how many great female speakers are out there who could be invited to speak conferences. Since this issue has started coming up, conferences have started focusing on exactly this, with a greater and greater percentage of female speakers (and, consequently, attendees). But Kirby somehow views it as ironic that these women would have a place to speak, rather than giving it up to “new names” or “fresh new women secularists” but this ignores a huge aspect of conferences: the networking. It is about getting new faces to come out to conferences, and whether or not you’re up on stage, you’re now involved with the movement just by being there. And when you reach out to women (by, for example, instituting the anti-harassment policies they ask for) you (surprise!) get more women to attend. TAM, of all places, were the ones who proved this last year.

So if you say that women being invited to be speakers means there’s not a problem, you’re an idiot. It simply means that we’re winning.

A Letter to My Heroes

Giving it some reflection, I’ve had a pretty good year and I’d like to take a few moments to thank the people who I feel are at least partially responsible.

It all started when a man asked a woman in an elevator at 4am in Ireland if she would like to come back to his room. That woman, of course was Rebecca Watson. I remember my first time watching the now-infamous video where she says, fairly simply, “don’t do that”. And I have to admit that at the time I kind of thought to myself “I don’t get it” and went on about my life.

But some people took didn’t get it even more and these people decided to take Rebecca to task for her comments in what would soon become termed “Elevatorgate”. And while most of these people were assholes and behaved as such, I owe them a tremendous debt, because they sparked a conversation that it turns it I desperately needed to hear.

I’ve always considered myself a feminist, but it turns out the whole time I had no idea what that actually meant. I thought we could get away with just saying “equality=good” and that was all the was to it. I quickly learned that I was wrong. I didn’t realize the scope of actual problems still faced by women in modern times. I don’t really feel equipped to talk about the subtle (or sometimes not-so subtle) ways women are put down in our society, but I’ve had a great time these past few months realizing just how much there is that I don’t know about women’s issues and filling in those gaps in my knowledge. After Elevatorgate I added Skepchick, Blag Hag, and Greta Christina among others to my blogroll and it’s been an eye-opening and educational experience.

So Rebecca Watson, thank you.

A few months after I started learning about Feminism, I saw a talk from Skepticon IV where JT Eberhard talked about mental illness. I ha never heard of JT before, but that was (is) a brilliant talk that literally brought me to tears. I realized some of the subconscious prejudice I had had against the mentally ill and why hat was stupid. (Watch it. No, seriously, watch it. You have no idea how great this talk is.) I find it difficult to word exactly what those prejudices were, since they were subconscious. Not major prejudices like not wanting to associate with them, or thinking they should be locked away, but little things like not understanding “Why can’t they just make themselves better?” Which I freely admit is probably one of the stupidest things I’ve ever believed: but that’s the point, it was subconscious. And in its own way, that’s a much more sinister type of belief. Without realizing you even hold it, it can cause you to mistreat fellow human beings and you don’t even realize enough to reevaluate your position. It took JT to grab me by the collar and shake me until I realized that this is the kind of thing I thought. The point of the talk is how people need to reevaluate how they think about mental illness and for me (and I suspect a lot of other people) I think it worked.

I got the chance to meet JT this weekend at the Reason Rally, and while I didn’t have a chance (or, due to my shyness, the words) to tell him the specifics of this story, I did muster up the courage to go and talk to him and to thank him for dramatically changing how I view mental illness, even if I didn’t elaborate. The next day at the American Atheists National Convention, I even got to hang out with him for an hour or so and it was probably one of the best moments of my life to be around someone just so awesome and full of life. When I left back to my hotel, he even gave me a hug, which is an amazing moment: to hug one of your heroes. While I’m embarrassed for the prejudices I used to hold about mental illness, I feel like JT has made me a much better person.

So JT Eberhard, thank you.

In my course of reading Skepchick, there was one woman who really stood out to me as someone else who made me think about things. That woman was Natalie Reed who blogs (primarily) about trans issues. Never before in my life have I had one writer bring up so many different issues that have never even occurred to me to think about before. Having been raised in the gay community, I think I felt like I had some sort of grasp on transgender issues because the GLBT community all gets lumped into one acronyms. Reading Natalie’s words, I realize not just how little I know about the trans experience and the prejudice they face, but the enormous gulf of just how much more there is for me to learn. She now has her own blog at Freethougt Blogs called Sincerely, Natalie Reed, which is updated twice-daily.

One of her biggest complaints about cis people like me is how we don’t call out anti-trans prejudice when we see it. If we see someone call someone else a faggot or a nigger, I think most civilized people are going to call them out on it. But if someone calls someone a tranny or comments that some girl “looks like a dude”, we’re a lot less likely to say anything. Natalie is trying to change that, and as someone who tries pretty hard at being a good person, I am trying to listen. At the Reason Rally this weekend one of the attendees had made a sign saying “Shirley Phelps has a penis”. Now let’s be clear: Shirley Phelps is a horrible person, who deserves only the worst things to be said of her. But the idea that she has a penis, or that she has in some way a non-binary gender or sex characteristics is somehow the most horrible thing you can say about her? I confronted the guy who had this sign to tell him why I thought it was offensive and tried to make him see why it wasn’t appropriate. In the end, I doubt I changed his mind, but I think actions like this are how we start to do so somewhere down the road. Calling out religious people who hurl “atheist” as an insult and not putting up with their prejudice was a big theme of the Reason Rally this weekend, and I suspect most people there agree with this notion. We should absolutely extend this to any denigrated minority, and I want to commit right now to doing this.

I’m not trying to tell this story as sort of a “look how good an ally I am” moment. If anything I’m trying to acknowledge that I need to stride to be a better ally to the trans community, and Natalie Reed is the person I owe for making me realize this.

So Natalie Reed, thank you.

The three of you, Rebecca, JT and Natalie, have challenged my own privilege and the only things I can really offer you is my thanks for the amazing ways in which you have changed by life in the past year towards the direction of making me a better person, and a promise at I will continue to seek out challenges to privileges, prejudices and preconceptions that I may not even realize I have.

Thank you.