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Blue Stripes

September 2012

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Blue Stripes

This is why I'm not part of movement atheism

(TW for brief mention of rape)

This post is dedicated to the bravery of Ms. Rebecca Watson - you may not have known the storm you'd set off, but I salute your bravery in both attending the con, and in speaking up.

ETA: I have specifically enabled anonymous comments, but anyone not on this LJ's friends list will be screened. Haters, just save it. Not interested. You won't get out of moderation, and I won't read past the first hateful thing I read.

This. (Uppity, Mr Myers? Really?)*

It will surprise few that my favourite take on it is Liss', over at Shakesville.

Why am I not part of movement atheism?

Because we are told that if we want to be part of the movement, we have to put up with the "clueless" sexism of many of our fellow atheists. So clueless they preface their remarks with "Don't take this wrong," which sounds pretty knowing-of-wrongness to me. But if we must speak, we must do so politely and calmly.

Because if we do speak up, politely and calmly, saying "Hey, if we're in $SITUATION, it's really not a good idea to be hitting on me," we are virtually pilloried, the rotten fruit of sexist slurs being slung from every passing privilege-denying dude, and from as many more as they can gather with their WAT ABOUT THE MENZ RAEG ELEVENTY posts and tweets and tumblrs andandand...

Because if we don't speak up politely and calmly, we are ignored for being too rude.

Because if we don't speak up "rudely", we don't get heard at all.

Because if we get heard at all, we're "distracting from our purpose", which we stupidly thought with our silly ladybranez was "equality for all".

Because if we dare to distract, we are criticized for drawing attention away from the Much More Important Sexism in $RELIGION, thus explicitly denying the central core of feminist thought for nearly 50 years, that the personal is political: our own experiences denied to our faces, told they aren't what we experienced, but what we're told we experienced.

Because if we talk about our experiences, we are likewise pilloried, and must be defended, ad nauseam infinitamque.

Because if we try to defend one another for speaking up about it, as we've supposedly been encouraged to do, the reaching for No True Scotsman fallacies would make the poet Burns weep (or Calvinball, as Ms. Marcotte put it).

But most damningly, that even in the home of free thinking and rationalism, sexist privilege can be so in-ground that one of my feminist siblings probably wrote this post in 1965 for a mimeo machine, or 1920 to be set in type on a small press, or any of a number of previous centuries and technologies, about the same kind of men, for the same kinds of reason. It would surprise me not at all to know that in some hidden cave somewhere, a woman's scratched drawing of her view of her world was carefully coloured over with a picture of how many mammoths some man had killed. And probably showed him raping her while doing it, as her "reward" for speaking out.

Because this is what rape culture looks like: women silenced, bad men excused by "good" men, and goalposts that will never stand still for us.

So yeah: This is why I stay right out of movement atheism.**

I encourage other women who've made that choice, or whose experience of misogyny leads them to limit their contact with movement atheism, to leave comments here. I say women, specifically, because while there are undoubtedly progressivist men who are staying out for the same reason, I want this to stand up as a post where atheist men in the movement can see just how many women they're leaving out, while they bleat on about how they want more women in the movement. Here's a clue, guys: if the reason you want more women in the movement is because you're at an atheist conference to get laid, you're part of the problem.

I'll be tweeting this post on @TheCaitieCat. I would be pleased if you'd be so kind as to spread the word.

* How thoroughly disappointing from someone I'd respected. And /sarc me no /sarcs, because there was no such indicator on the title, and it should have been all too clear that your readership remains strongly invested in their privilege, and this just basically told them they're right.

** Imagine that blinking, if you will.



I'm confused...

Both the posts you link to on Pharyngula are in support of Ms. Watson and condemn the actions and arguments of her detractors. I don't understand why you're disappointed in PZ when he's supporting Ms. Watson and condemning the sexist behaviour of the man in the elevator.

Re: I'm confused...

I find it difficult to believe you're not just being disingenuous, but just in case:

a) being supportive, while using silencing words that have been used against the marginalized for centuries ("uppity"), isn't being supportive.

b) reinforcing the idea that it's an appropriate thing for men to go to atheist conferences and hit on women there because they want sex, isn't being supportive.

Honestly, if the best way someone can help to fight against misogyny is to use misogynist tropes, and support the rape-culture idea that women exist for men to fuck, then we can do without that help.


Re: I'm confused...

But PZ was speaking AGAINST hitting on women at Atheist conferences. He spoke out to say that Rebecca Watson was RIGHT, and that she doesn't deserve the crap being slung at her by the whining apologists. He sided with Jen McCreight against Richard Dawkins (who said that Watson should just get over it, in not so many words).

Watson and McCreight have since thanked him for his support, as have other feminist atheist bloggers. And his use of the word "uppity" was very obviously sarcastic... he clearly agrees with what Amanda Marcotte said, seeing as it's more or less the same thing Jen McCreight said (which he linked to) and which Rebecca Watson said (which he linked to) and against what Richard Dawkins commented (which he denounced on his blog). His sarcasm there is completely appropriate, since Marcotte uses such irony in her own writing (calling herself "a bitch" and "uppity" and so forth).

PZ has posted repeatedly to say that men at Atheist conferences behave misogynistically and that he deplores such behavior. Just because he tried to post a "if you MUST hit on women, try to not be a total creep about it" guide, are you saying that his position now becomes the opposite of what he's previously stated? Are you saying that Jen McCreight and Rebecca Watson are wrong to applaud his support, because he didn't make his sarcasm clear enough when he linked to a feminist post that he agrees with?

I follow PZ Myers' blog regularly, and he ALWAYS calls out the misogynists. He's the single most outspoken anti-misogynistic male in the atheist community. If you sincerely believe that his latest posts are intended to belittle feminists and give a thumbs-up to guys who come to atheist conferences looking to pick up chicks, then that would represent a complete reversal from his previous position. It just doesn't make sense to me. I don't mean any disrespect when I say that I think you're having a knee-jerk reaction to a misreading of his posts... I completely agree that the behavior in question from males in the atheist community is deplorable, but I think your position (and mine) is the same as PZ's here... and that you've just misinterpreted what's being said.

BTW, I just want to say that I like your blog, I found it by searching for Alina Pete's Weregeek. :-)

Re: I'm confused...

As my dear friend Liss says: Yes, I expect more.

PZ may have been speaking against it, as a general rule. He also posted an entire post on how to get laid at atheist conferences. It's my contention that that is not being supportive, it's contributing to the problem.

Also, using silencing language - like calling feminists "uppity" for speaking up about the controversy - does not, to me, ring as the true hallmark of the supportive. Maybe he meant it sarcastically, but it's quite certain that the vast majority of his readership, judging by the comments left over the last few days, will not take it as sarcastic at all, but rather at face value: dismissive and silencing.

I want allies who can be supportive without pandering to the misogynists with wishy-washy language. I want more.

I want allies who recognize that "guys who want to go to atheist conferences to get laid" are the problem Ms. Watson was talking about, not a target market.

I have higher standards for allies, because they're allies. I expect a true ally to eschew silencing language, and not to make posts explicitly saying "it's okay for you to be on the make with women you meet at conferences, as long as you back off when she says no". That's not good enough.

Atheist women don't go to conferences to be hit on - and many, many of us don't go to atheist conferences because the attitude that we should just put up with it is so, so prevalent (as witness the hundreds of angry, angry men who've responded when someone said just that!).

And we should have the freedom to be able to be there without being seen as yet another brainless-vaj-walking.

That other people aren't holding our allies to such high standards doesn't mean, for me, that I can't or won't.

I expect more.


Re: I'm confused...

I definitely agree that there are WAY more whiny defensive "wah-we-should-be-able-to-hit-on-the-girls" kind of guys on the internet than I ever though possible... you should have seen the backlash when Kate Beaton (a Canadian cartoonist) posted on Twitter about being creeped out by male fans who think saying "I love your work, you're hot and I'd love to fuck you" is a positive comment. I would have thought that was a pretty uncontroversial statement, but the internet guys proved me wrong. It was more than a little depressing.

I totally see where you're coming from, and I agree that PZ could have gone farther... as in, just saying that guys shouldn't be at conferences looking to get laid PERIOD. But I still see his overall position (ie, calling for less sexism among organized atheists) as a positive one, and most of his posts are about as vehemently pro-feminist as any feminist blogger I've rad... but that's from his overall body of published posts, not from that one article. So yeah, I do see what you're saying.

I just realized that I'm posting anonymously... sorry about that, I can't seem to get my login to work. This is Layne from Weregeek, actually. :-)

Re: I'm confused...

I don't expect my allies to always get it right, but I do expect them to want to always get it right. To hear when we say, "There's a problem with what you're saying,", that's the true test of an ally: can you take hearing that something you're doing is working actively against the goals you're claiming to work toward?"

I appreciate your comments, and that you've gone to such lengths to engage in good faith. It's entirely too rare these days.

And of course, Weregeek is simply The Bomb, end of.


Yeah, this is one reason I left. I used to be somewhat active in atheist circles, particularly online where I helped run a large atheist website, but it's too much. When I left ~6-7 years ago, these discussions were percolating but not really making news yet, and there have been some improvements as far as getting women in leadership roles, giving them speaking positions, etc. But this latest shitstorm has brought the misogyny again to the forefront, especially with leaders like Dawkins behaving in such a terrible manner. Shameful.

Le mot juste. Agreed, and thank you for your comment.
This is why I never got started with movement atheism. Feminism came into my life long before atheism did, so I like to think I had an inoculation to the casual, throwaway disdain for women in the movement. It makes me sad, because I'd like to be involved. But there's no way I'm going to embrace any hate.

I really like your idea of gathering comments from all the women who are staying away. But I have to wonder, what percentage of the men would really care?
Well, I look at it this way: the ones who don't care will make themselves obvious, and we can then aim to build an atheist movement that has room for women in it. They do claim to want more women in the movement. The question is, "What for?" If it's solely so they'll have pickup material, then it's not helping, and better we know than that we don't. :)

Thanks for your comment.


I am another feminist atheist who has decided not to subject myself to the sexist atmosphere at meetings and cons anymore. It's subtle (mostly), this attitude that women at these events are...rare? Decorative? Eye candy? Not really *real* atheists, like the men but something *other*.

No thanks. Tried it (several times), and now I'm done. Another atheist woman who left the movement because I'm not accepted as a real person there.
Thanks for coming by.

I'm sort of secretly hoping that if we can amass a huge list of women, we might be able to consider making an explicitly feminist-friendly, or maybe even women-only, atheist con somewhere. Or maybe even just a women-only safe space at an atheist con, for a start, like the POC-only room at Wiscon.

Honestly, though, I don't have a lot of hope for that kind of space being maintainable, in the face of the kind of angry misogyny we've seen in the last couple of weeks in the atheist community.

Icon for Dawkins, not you

Absolutely spot on. I agree.

I was once a Dawkins' follower, thoroughly enjoying his books, and he DOES know his shit when it comes to evolution. I even remember reading passages on how we shouldn't use ev-psych on our fellow humans, and I thought he was a stand up guy because of that.

Not anymore.

As always, women must either be shrill b!tches or cowering flowers that didn't do enough to protect themselves. We can't win. -.-

Re: Icon for Dawkins, not you

Thanks. Love the icon! :) All my good icons are on my private LJ, because hello, Blogging While Feminist. I've had my share of death and rape threats over the years, had the police become involved - all because I won't just shut up and take it. So I don't dare use much in the way of public photography of me. Even my icon over at Shakesville is pretty carefully airbrushed, and wouldn't be easily recognizable as the everyday me.

Male bloggers don't have to do that, for the most part. Female bloggers do. Just one of those teeny ways in which life is simply different for women in this society than it is for men.

Thanks for your comment! :)

Re: Icon for Dawkins, not you

Word, ET. Word.
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<de-lurks... blinks in the harsh light of the interwebs>

I came over from the skepchick thread. I am not part of the "atheist movement" because the "atheist movement" is primarily a misogynistic sausage-fest. I am not interested in spending several hundred dollars to attend atheist conferences so attend one fucking panel on "Women in the Atheist Movement" or "How Religion Hurts Women" and then for the rest of the conference be treated as every asshat attendee's potential fucktoy, or if I am not fembot2k-compliant enough, a waste of space who is totally cockblocking all the dudez with my FUGLY BONERKILLING COOTIES!!!!

I do feel quite embiggened by the radicalizing of women in the movement though, and I'm hoping that maybe we might see some autonomous women's atheist organizations and conferences. I want to get together with my atheist sisters and organize around the concrete issues which are effecting women's lives. Issues such as: Combating the religiously-biased, church-funded, patriarchy-backed war on our reproductive rights. How to find, or start, childcare networks to help replace the loss of church based child rearing communities when exiting religion. Setting up shelters and getting material support for women (and their children) exiting woman-impoverishing movements like Quiverful, FDLS, and Scientology... Oh yeah and SMASHING THE FUCKING PATRIARCHY!!!1!1elev1nty!!!!

...sigh that would be fucking awesome.

well, I guess its time to crawl back down into the bowels of the interwebs.

<gets out grappling hook and headlamp>

LOL! Awesome comment, and I agree completely. :)

Thanks for coming by.
That was an awesome comment.
Totally. Also, *waves hi to LC*.

Right On!

I was reading bits and pieces of the comment threads over at Pharyngula over the weekend and the rampant sexism and male entitlement have just reinforced my decision to have nothing to do with movement atheism. Well, that and the racism and ableism abundant in the movement as well.

I'm not spending my limited time, money, and energy sacrificing for privileged folk who are obviously not willing to spend some of their own to understand why they're hurting their supposed allies. Sorry Privileged Dudes but I've got stuff to do and no energy for dealing with your bullshit.

Re: Right On!

Thank you - exactly the feeling I have.


Hey there! This is babydyke from Shakesville, I followed the link from the blogaround.

I came to atheism and feminism around the same time, so there's never really been an atheism NRE period for me--pretty much any time I've dipped into a male-lead atheist space, I've found myself filled with rage and wanting to tattoo Wheaton's law on various foreheads for a variety of reasons, a lot of them to do with treating women like people.

Which is strange, because I first started thinking about atheism when I stumbled on Angie the Antitheist's youtube channel. I haven't read Dawkins or any of the other "names." Angie was the one to really articulate what had been percolating in my brain for so long. (In fact, Angie lead me to Shakesville.) It's rather upsetting to see this kind of sexism in movement atheism, when a woman is the reason behind my freedom.

Anyway, good post. I'm right there with you. This debacle has merely solidified my profound lack of desire to join the throng.
Thank you - and welcome, always nice to see another Shaker come by. :)
I came here via Skepchick and realized it was an LJ account so I'd love to start following you. Everything you said in this post, I was just like "YES YES YES!" Thank you for writing it and posting it around.

I'm a relatively new atheist, but long time feminist so I'm not surprised by far too much of the vitriol, though of course Rebecca's original comment was so nearly innocuous I am surprised that *it* of all things was what incited that much ire.

Male privilege and general cluelessness about rape culture is so far wide spread it's really exhausting a lot of the time. I love the idea of a strictly feminist atheist movement though and would be happy to do what I can to help.
Hiya - thanks for coming by, added you back. Sorry to be so slow, been a painful weekend, that happens sometimes. :)
No problem! I know how it is. I'm still following "Elevatorgate" on the new post she put up for the overflow. *le sigh* Fighting sexism is tiring! I can't stop myself from reading though. Hehe. Hope you are well!

Count Me As Another.

I don't touch movement atheism with a ten foot pole. There's far too much misogyny and disablism to make it worth my time. I work for women's rights, LGBT rights, and for equality for differently abled people. The atheist movement would be natural allies..if they weren't tearing these groups down.

And they wonder.

(Here via Shakesville!)

Re: Count Me As Another.

Thanks! Always happy to see more Shakers. :)