Steering the Conversation in the Right Direction

This is a guest post by frequent commenter Claudia.

Often the circumstances that surround an event tell us more than the event itself. We all know the stories of the manger scenes around the holidays: City puts up a manger scene on public property, secular group reminds city of the existence of the “Constitution” (and “lawsuits”), city takes down manger scene, and the atheist community is flooded with vitriol and hatred by religious people.

In these situations, it’s not just the presence of the manger scene that’s a problem, but also the over-the-top backlash against its removal.

It has happened again, this time within our community. I’m sure most of you are aware of Femalegate by now. The situation: There’s a discussion and the subject of inclusion of woman in the movement comes up. The panel has 5 men and 1 woman. In the audience, men outnumber women two to one. The complaint that women are hit on too much at meet-ups is met with comments about it being “biological” (which can be easily read as, “So suck it up”). Eventually one woman, feeling belittled and passed over in favor of men in the audience, calls the panel out for the use of terminology. In return, she gets jeers and a sarcastic joke.

From here, the situation could have gone in various directions. As a community that prides ourselves on intellectual honesty and the ability to recognize (and even celebrate) nuance, we could have:

  • Had a conversation about how panel discussions on delicate topics should and should not be handled.
  • Discuss how a broad context of many different factors can contribute to making a minority feel unwelcome.
  • Recognize the importance of the original subject and start over brainstorming the kinds of concrete steps that can be taken to make the movement more welcoming to women.

All of these would have been mature, complex, yet worthwhile ways to take the conversation.

We chose none of these.

Instead we decided to spend the better part of a week debating whether the word “female” is offensive (though, to be fair, the guest posters themselves attempted, but failed, to take the debate elsewhere).

Virtually no attention was paid to the broader context. Most comments trying to explain how context matters were totally disregarded in favor of saying “female isn’t offensive!”

You know what can make you feel unwelcome? That when you try to explain why you find something unwelcoming, you are told (in no uncertain terms) that you don’t have the right to feel that way, you’re being oversensitive, or you have to get over yourself. There seem to be a lot of people who say they want to hear from women in regards to how inclusiveness could be improved, but they are absolutely unwilling to admit that they could possibly be doing anything wrong.

“How can we make the movement more inclusive to women?”

Well, I think it would be nice if people said X less often.

Y bothers me when I go to events.

Oh c’mon, do we have to police all our words now? I get called Z all the time and I don’t go bawling to the bathroom to whine! And besides, Y isn’t that bad; lots of women like it!

I don’t think the word “female” is offensive in the slightest. It can be used offensively, but so any other term. However, the reaction to the original complaint, where the objections of women have been delegitimized, ridiculed and denied any kind of context, has been a hell of an eye-opener. I always thought that the freethought community was largely welcoming and that issues of gender disparity would correct themselves over time. I’m no longer so sure about that.

In closing I’d like to ask anyone reading (female and male) to ask themselves the following questions:

  1. Do you believe that there is a gender disparity in the movement and that this is a problem that should be corrected?
  2. Do you believe there’s a possibility that there are aspects of the movement itself that could make women feel like they are not as welcome as men?
  3. Do you think that the opinions of women in deciding how to get more of them into the community are valuable?
  4. Are you willing to refrain from treating any objections you hear as challenges that must be defeated at all costs? (Note that this does not mean you have to agree with all objections, only that you do not view the objector as an enemy who must be defeated.)

If the answers to these questions are “no,” then any conversation is futile, since you either don’t think there is a problem or you are unwilling to let your guard down long enough to solve it.

If the answers are “yes,” then I’d be overjoyed to hear your thoughts on the issues.

I’ll even let you call me missy.

  • Sarah TX

    Well-said! I have been trying to frame my own thoughts on this whole debacle, and it keeps coming back to your point #4.

  • http://rejistania.wordpress.com Rejistania

    My 2 Eurocents on it. Trying to make the movement not to be discriminating is one thing, but these discussions give me as a woman always the feeling that I was somehow inadequate for the movement for being female.

    It always feels to me like women are considered fragile, needy, like orchids… I am not an orchid, I am a human being. Currently the discussion about inclusion is what angers me most in the movement.

  • http://atheistreadsbible.blogspot.com/ Jude

    I suppose that I don’t care about the movement at all. I don’t care if females are welcome because I have the internet where I can say whatever in heck I want on my blog and who cares if anyone is reading it? And I can say what I want in comments, and who cares if anyone agrees? I’ve been a lone atheist for decades. I remember the amazement I felt when I heard Sam Harris on CSPAN and I realized that even though he didn’t use the word, I knew he was an atheist, and an atheist was speaking on television without being derided. That was cool. Movements are for other people. If I wanted a movement, I’d join a church.

  • chanda

    thank you so much for writing this. you just took everything i’ve been thinking/feeling about this and condensed it into a blog post.

  • Larry

    “…issues of gender disparity would correct themselves over time. I’m no longer so sure about that.”

    Your points, in general, and as applied to normal, everyday behavior, are ok, but I wonder exactly what the ‘issues’ are. Do we make it an issue if there aren’t as many women in this ‘movement’ as ‘we’ would like? What makes that an issue? It seems we are actually creating an issue, then trying to find a way for it to be ‘corrected.’

  • Rieux

    Larry is answering Questions 1 and 3 with “no.”

  • Jon Peterson

    1) Yes, and no. There is disparity for sure, although in my observation it exists mostly among the outspoken. I see many of both genders who profess atheism, yet mostly males who raise a fuss about it. I don’t know whether this necessarily merits “correction”, but I do agree that the atmosphere should be more inclusive of both genders in order to encourage more females to join the dialogue.

    2) Aspects, certainly. And to a certain extent I agree with the “suck it up” attitude. If a female enters a room full of males, she’s going to get noticed. The males can certainly respect boundaries and refrain from overtly crass behavior, but don’t expect anything different from any other public meeting. Are we at that point yet? From the complaint, I’m led to believe not… but in moving towards inclusiveness, we should not set expectations beyond a reasonable mark.

    3) Absolutely. I don’t think I need to further clarify this.

    4) Again, absolutely… but don’t opinions to change without debate. Having a different opinion doesn’t make an enemy, but it does make an opponent (quite literally). In order to reconcile that opposition, some sort of dialogue needs to occur. And while such debate may easily be misconstrued as blind attempts to defeat “the enemy”, remember that the only alternatives to debate are blind acceptance (something I believe everyone in this movement opposes) or division.

  • http://blogforthelordjesuscurrentevents.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    Posts like this remind me that the atheistic movement is just another form of church. That is, both are social phenomena in which the full variety of human behavior – for better and worse – takes place in pursuit of sociological rewards. The only difference is the name on the marquee.

  • Jon Peterson

    That’s not the only difference.
    I get what you’re saying, Mike… but I absolutely disagree. Citing basic human traits as a common theme between two groups of humans, and then using it as the basis for saying they’re both basically the same thing is fallacious.

  • http://www.bolingbrookbabbler.com William Brinkman

    I find the crass behavior very disturbing. Sure a man might want to sleep with every attractive woman he sees at an event, but that doesn’t mean he has to act on it.

    I’ve dated women I’ve met through atheist and skeptical events. I’ve even been asked out by women I’ve met through these events. It can be done in a way that respects the other person’s boundaries.

    I’ve also realized that sometimes its best not date within a group. I learned that after a couple heartbreaking experiences.

    I guess I’m disappointed that some men in the atheist movement don’t seem to realize that it is important to be respectful of a woman’s boundaries. We don’t have have to be Victorian, but we don’t need to act like our events are frat parties.

  • cass_m

    I think there is a gender disparity at meetups but not necessarily in the movement. As long as the venue is open to all (as in not held in a men’s locker room if you want women to attend) you get who you get. Having said that, if you are asking for input on how to increase participation from a segment then your comments are spot on. I put the response from the panel to the woman down as immaturity and/or lack of experience.

    I am not particularly surprised by the response to the situation, it’s the same response that comes whenever a minority is critical of a majority. Most of the majority will either defend their position or divert the question away so their position is not as obvious. The important thing is that the leadership is responding by learning from the experience and being more prepared in their response.

    +1 Jon about Mike’s comments.

  • Villa

    I feel like the whole discussion involved a lot of people talking past each other. It seemed like we saw two major issues that got blurred into a single topic.

    One was, “Is there a problem, generally?” The other was, “how bad were the specific events described?” The debate over a single comment became a proxy-fight for a much larger issue.

    This reminds me of religious debates, and not in a good way. Disagreement with individual facts (did the resurrection happen?) is taken as disagreement with all parts of an ideology (should people be nice to each other?).

  • Dakota Bob

    I’ll call you missy but you’ll have to call me darling.

  • Kyle

    I was talking to my girlfriend about this and she made a good point. The Atheist community is made up by a majority of nerds and geeks. That community already seems mostly male already. So, I’m not sure if there is a disparity, but I’m not sure there isn’t. I haven’t made up my mind. I would personally like to hear more from and about women atheists and scientists. I mean Ayaan Hirsi Ali is already such an impacting figure and I love seeing her passion when she talks. I wouldn’t object to listening to women speak for any reason that would be traced back to their gender. That would be silly.
    I do have one idea pertaining to the ‘joke’ that started all this. Don’t we all know that women aren’t “the weaker sex”? Wasn’t that why it was funny? To think like that in such a group of people is so dumb; isn’t that why most of the people there didn’t take it seriously? He might as well have said, “We’ll bring that up at our next church meeting.”
    Why is this such a big deal? Haven’t we been talking about having more women involved for awhile? This wasn’t a powder keg of frustration, was it?

  • Kerrie

    I’m another lone atheist like Jude. I haven’t been to any organized atheist meetings, but now I’m curious. Maybe I should start going and see what this disparity and lack of inclusion is and if I’m getting hit on every few minutes. Due to my lack of acquaintance with the social aspects of this movement, I’ve failed to see what the fuss it all about.

  • http://amillionwordstogo.blogspot.com aynsavoy

    Jon Peterson said:

    remember that the only alternatives to debate are blind acceptance (something I believe everyone in this movement opposes) or division.

    Isn’t conversation also a viable alternative to debate? I agree that you can’t change opinions without communicating with others, but I disagree that debate is the only form that communication can take.

    Maybe I’m just arguing semantics, but bear with me. Debate implies that one side is right and one side is wrong, which results in the mindset of opponents, winners, losers, and defeat. When it comes opinions, I don’t think it’s as simple as one side being right and one side being wrong, and I don’t think debate is the most constructive form of communication for a community to use to resolve its differences. Let’s have a conversation instead.

    I see the following differences between conversation and debate:

    1. There can be many “sides,” not just two.
    2. All sides ask questions in order to better understand others, and don’t just present their own views.
    3. All sides must engage with what the others are saying, and not just repeat themselves.
    4. All sides must resolve not to respond defensively.
    5. Compromise is a viable resolution.

    I’m sure there are others, but this is what I’m thinking about right now, and what I’m not seeing in the debates taking place surrounding this subject right now.

  • The Captain

    Well this is still going on? There are certain moments that make me want to disassociate myself with movements. At anti-war rallies everything was fine until the damn drum circle came out, and everyone started singing. I put down my sign right then and left. This is almost the skeptics movements “drum circle” for me.

    Want to know why there are more men than women at skeptic events? Probably the same reason there are more men at sci-fi conventions, car clubs, and football games. And those reasons are complicated! They are cultural, financial, and yes there may even be a gender preferences involved (or can you tell me another reason why chicks don’t like Star Trek?).

    Now does that mean there shouldn’t be a desire for diversity? Of course not, but there may be some things people can’t control. I find this whole argument strange in that it boils down to “there is not enough women at skeptic events… what can the men do about that”. Probably not much. And to imply that it’s the males responsibility to do it, kinda defeats the argument that we are all equal huh. Perhaps the question should be “why is there more males than females at the events, and what can the women do to encourage more to show up?”

    And unfortunately most of the complaints I’ve read here though, are not so much complaints about men at skeptic events… but men in general. Don’t like to be hit on by guys at skeptic events? Then don’t leave your house, because you can get hit on at any event. Or are we to believe skeptic events are supposed to have only highly sterile, robotic personal interactions that happen no where else in society? Perhaps even a code where personal feelings, or thoughts about each other can not be shared at anytime with anyone, and only panel approved words may be used at these events as to not make someone somewhere uncomfortable?

    That would be a shame too since I know of several couples who met at skeptic events (and how many couples do you see hook up at conventions, and the like? apparently lost of women have no problem with this). Too bad some people think they never should have hooked up, and found love with someone they shared an interest with, since it involved the guy hitting on the girl at an event.

  • Pam Ellis

    My concern is not the same as you have discussed in this post. I was at first confused as to why a woman would find the term “female” offensive enough to stand up during a panel to bring it up. The first report on Blaghag was a damning account of what transpired, but I looked at other sources who told a different tale and said to wait for the video. I watched the video, and came to my on conclusion that the BlagHag guest report was over the top and dishonest.
    If a man had stood up and complained about the use of the term “male”, I would think it was just as silly. I also saw other women in the video who appeared to enjoy the panel and felt no compulsion to walk out.
    One speaker on the panel used the term “girl” several times, but he partnered it with the term “guy”, so I had no issue with it. If he always partnered it with “man”, then I would have made an issue. But the use of “female” was partnered with “male” so I see no problem, and I can’t pretend to side with anyone who make an issue about it.

    So, does sexism happen and something we all need to examine…yes. Was this whole issue about sexism at an atheist conference? Not from my perspective.

    I think it is more about someone making snap judgements about what her friends wrote on her blog and won’t admit that maybe they didn’t portray reality, and in so doing painted a positive conference as one that was negative for female participants.

    And @Captain, I concur with you.

  • Brian Macker

    LOL, Claudia!

    In closing I’d like to ask [you the author] to ask yourself the following questions:
    1)Do you live by double standards.
    2)Do you close yourself off to the opinions of others.

    If the answers to these questions are “no,” then any conversation is futile, since you either don’t think there is a problem or you are unwilling to let your guard down long enough to solve it.

    If the answers are “yes,” then I’d be overjoyed to hear your thoughts on the issues you have.

  • Zach

    Most of these comments are so terribly disappointing.

  • Jon Peterson

    @aynsavoy:

    I believe we have a difference in connotation. To me, “conversation” is representative of a concept where ideas are presented.

    “Debate” is representative of a concept where opposing ideas are presented, their merits and flaws discussed, and a resolution reached.

    The difference is the existence of opposition, and the goal of resolution.

  • http://amillionwordstogo.blogspot.com aynsavoy

    Pam, you may have missed Claudia’s point, which I took as pointing out that the whole “is ‘female’ offensive?” debate is not getting us anywhere, and trying to steer the conversation toward productive ground. Let’s drop that specific issue and look at the bigger picture.

  • Jon Peterson

    @Zach:
    Then contribute your own constructively.

  • Brian Macker

    “If he always partnered it with “man”, then I would have made an issue.”

    Which is a perfectly reasonable and specific complaint. No double standard involved. There is also an asymmetry here that would not cause it to grate on me if the term “guy” was paired with “woman”, while pairing “boy” with “woman” wouldn’t be right.

    Saying “A guy like you should respect a woman like that” is not the same as “A boy like you should respect a woman like that”.

    Mainly because the implication in the later is that I’m childlike. As would be the implication when “girl” is used with “man”.

  • Rieux

    I find this whole argument strange in that it boils down to “there is not enough women at skeptic events… what can the men do about that”. Probably not much.

    Well, one thing we can do is refrain from saying ridiculous things like “chicks don’t like Star Trek” and “Don’t like to be hit on by guys at skeptic events? Then don’t leave your house, because you can get hit on at any event.” The male privilege inherent in a line like “are we to believe skeptic events are supposed to have only highly sterile, robotic personal interactions that happen no where else in society?” is simply suffocating.

    Treating women with the respect that is due to human beings is not “sterile,” it’s ethical. It’s well within the capacity of adult men, and plenty of us don’t find it this “robotically” difficult.

  • http://cheapsignals.blogspot.com/ Gretchen

    I don’t have a proposed solution, but I do have a few niggling thoughts:

    1. There’s a vulnerability in being offended that has been overlooked a bit. I think that non-believers can get used to being more often the offenders rather than the offendees, and can forget that it’s actually pretty taxing to experience feeling bothered about something you consider important, and risk being mocked or thought of as thin-skinned for speaking up about it. It shouldn’t be a point of pride to never be offended…”sucking it up” isn’t a virtue unto itself. Brave people don’t “suck it up;” they speak up.

    It’s one thing to listen to the complaints of an offended party and disagree about their validity, and quite another to openly dismiss them as not worthy of any serious consideration. When someone complains about not feeling included, respect the fact that they are to some extent opening themselves up to being thought foolish. Take them seriously, even if you disagree.

    2. Having said that, there is a certain incentive for women who are part of a “boys club” to keep things that way. The most non-inclusive comments can actually come from other women who want to solidify their position as being reasonable and unemotional, unlike those fragile hysterical women who are complaining. The same women who consider themselves feminists, proving that women are capable of cerebral pursuits currently dominated by men, will turn around and slap down other women with the same anti-feminist rhetoric that would drive them crazy if applied to themselves. This is something all of us women/females/whatever have a responsibility to hold ourselves accountable for avoiding.

    3. The subject of men speaking up for female interests is a tricky one–it’s not always easy to tell whether it should be gratifying or annoying. It can be immensely gratifying to know that women aren’t the only ones who care about whether we’re included. It’s annoying, on the other hand, if those men appear to be speaking for us. I sometimes wonder if having “token females” on panels, or as the only ones giving talks about gender in secularism/skepticism/etc. is actually damaging to the interests of the rest of women involved by making it seem as if there’s a Single Female Perspective. Having a multiplicity of female (and male) opinions can relieve the burden of being expected to represent an entire gender and allow women to just speak openly as individuals.

  • Brian Macker

    I never understood debates to be about resolution, only presentation of opposing viewpoints. There are other words like pow-wow, arbitration, and parley where the implication is that an agreement is to be reached.

  • http://amillionwordstogo.blogspot.com aynsavoy

    Jon, I’m concerned about the emphasis on opposing views. Presumably we (as in, members of the community) have shared goals, and we may have different ideas about how to get there, but I want to avoid thinking of anyone as “the opposition.”

    Whether we call it a debate or a conversation, do you agree that it should include the elements I listed of actively trying to understand and engage with what others are saying, rather than just going on the defensive (which is what seems to be happening a lot)?

  • http:www.mountaintrail.us Joel Justiss

    Yes, well said, Claudia. It’s very disappointing that gender is even an issue, and sad that people who are concerned about it are treated disrespectfully.

  • http://amillionwordstogo.blogspot.com aynsavoy

    This:

    I never understood debates to be about resolution, only presentation of opposing viewpoints. There are other words like pow-wow, arbitration, and parley where the implication is that an agreement is to be reached.

  • Jon Peterson

    @aynsavoy:
    Absolutely.

    Although keep in mind that I was responding to

    Are you willing to refrain from treating any objections you hear as challenges that must be defeated at all costs?

    when I brought up debate. Opposing views are inherent to the response because they are part of the situation presented in the question. It’s not a general view of the atheist movement, merely a certain situation.

  • Pam Ellis

    @aynsavoy

    My post was mostly background for my main point, which is a blog jumped the gun at claiming sexism at an event, and has dug in their heels for this one instance.
    Skepticism did not appear to be used and so this will happen again.

    No one is claiming that sexism does not occur.
    No one is claiming that it should not be addressed.

  • hippiefemme

    I think one of the biggest problems I’ve seen through this discussion are all the women who are saying, as you mentioned, “Well, that doesn’t offend me at all!” It reminds me of when I gave a discussion on my thesis (effects of negative body image messages in the media) to a group of freshmen and sophomores. A few of the women commented that they didn’t feel bad about themselves because of the commercials, and a few of the men made comments about how they’d enjoy the attention.

    I had to explain carefully that you cannot use anecdotal evidence to generalize to a larger population. You have to respect that on a larger scale it’s a problem for a significant number of people and that problem needs to be addressed. It amazes me that the skeptic community would need this lesson.

  • Brian Macker

    Reiux,

    “Well, one thing we can do is refrain from saying ridiculous things like “chicks don’t like Star Trek””

    Actually that’s more about normal snipping in communication than stupidity on his part. Read in context it is “chicks don’t like Star Trek [as much as guys]“. After all the subject was preferences. It’s a very uncharitable interpretation of what he wrote to assume he meant that the set of chicks who like Star Trek has zero elements.

    My wife just got done asking me if I got the impression that the plumber was coming over today. I told her, “I can’t say because any impression I got would have come from you. I never talked with him.” That, of course, doesn’t mean I never ever talked with him about anything. Only that I hadn’t talked with him about the subject at hand, the time of his arrival.

    Stop reading other people so uncharitably.

  • Villa

    Pam, you may have missed Claudia’s point, which I took as pointing out that the whole “is ‘female’ offensive?” debate is not getting us anywhere, and trying to steer the conversation toward productive ground. Let’s drop that specific issue and look at the bigger picture.

    This seems odd.

    We aren’t “steering the conversation”. We are dropping the old conversation [Was that event inappropriate? Was the description factually accurate?] and starting a new one [How do we make our movement more welcoming].

    I know it seems like a petty distinction. But I feel like it’s a significant change in rhetoric.

    The factual-accuracy question was pretty divisive. A lot of people disagreed with the author. The “should we try to not-drive people away from our movement” question isn’t even remotely divisive.

    By ‘steering’ the first dispute towards the new topic, we keep the original ‘sides’ and generate the illusion of continued controversy.

    This gives us a situation where people say, “Women should be included in the Atheist movement” and feel like they’re facing substantial opposition. This is pretty harmful.

  • Pam Ellis

    @hippiefemme

    Or…..some people are more easily offended than others and I can decide on my own to state such, and to also not agree with them.

  • Re

    The primary reason I, personally, as a queer vegan atheist American-born Chinese woman, have not gotten involved with atheist groups in undergraduate as well as grad school is that they are populated entirely by straight white men. I don’t have anything against straight white men–some of my best friends are straight white men!–but these are not people who have made a serious effort to engage with progressive activist politics and communities. In fact, that’s one of the things I am most critical of in the majority of atheist communities: the lack of intersectional awareness. Certainly I experience some degree of anti-atheist prejudice in my interactions with anti-racist advocates, with feminists, with LGBTQ activists. But at least they have the vocabulary and scholarship to think and talk about structures of marginalization and privilege.

    With atheist communities, I often feel like I’m watching them reinvent the wheel when there is a whole discipline of Wheel Studies, when there are archives full of wheel diagrams, when there are wheel conferences and wheel support groups and wheel journals.

    This kind of discussion does not take place in any of the major feminist/womanist, anti-racist, or LGBTQ blogs. That’s not to say that these movements are without their problems–that Queerty isn’t misogynistic sometimes, that Feministe doesn’t marginalize POC voices, that Angry Asian Man can’t be heteronormative. But what it does mean is that these movements borrow from one another. They respect one another enough that serious progressives cannot restrict themselves to one issue, even if they have one focus. Engaging in anti-racist dialogue inevitably means engaging in feminist/womanist dialogue, which is inextricably linked to queer dialogue. They are viscerally aware of one another, because they start from one important tenet:

    Our liberation is bound up with yours.

    And that’s something I just don’t see in the atheist movement.

    Already there have been a chorus of voices excusing the marginalizing and alienating behavior of atheist men, in this discursive space and others. I could address each point individually, but the fact is that these are Activism 101 points. Rather, to everyone who’s wondering why this is such a big deal: please, I am begging you to read this. I am a stranger to you, and you are stranger still to me, but this is the single most true thing I have ever read, and it will not take you long to finish.

    http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2009/08/terrible-bargain-we-have-regretfully.html

  • Brian Macker

    When Claudia communicates in a way that truly expresses interest in my opinion, and I she should know how being in communications, then I’ll consider answering her questions. I don’t think she’s going to like the answers, because they are going to shatter this double standard she has going.

    Gender disparity? Leaving aside even whether one exists a question using this term is already loaded. It combines both the normative and positive (what should be with what is) leading naturally to a fallacious reasoning. There may be a positive disparity without there being any normative issue. Women may not like atheism in the same proportions as men.

    Many of the people arguing the other side of this do not practice any kind of mental discipline in the thoughts or writings. I’ll be willing to answer your questions once you clean them up.

  • Pam Ellis

    @Re

    Obviously I am only speaking to my opinion, but frankly, my first reaction to your post is that it must be a troll post.

  • hippiefemme

    @Pam,

    While I understand that some women aren’t offended and that they do have the right to assert that, I feel they also need to respect that some women are offended by certain language. People who continue to say that the offended women don’t have the right to be upset or that being upset is silly or overly sensitive aren’t helping them feel more welcome or at ease. It’s less about the word and more about the reaction, as the post indicates.

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    The Captain, Well, damn, at this very moment I am watching Star Trek I and if I had only consulted one of you ever so helpful boys, I might have been smart enough to turn on the Home Shopping Network, instead!

    And the irony….

    Perhaps the question should be “why is there more males than females at the events, and what can the women do to encourage more to show up?”

    How did you managed to construct a sentence with such sensible and contextually correct nouns? Did it hurt? Could you teach the some of the other boys to do it?

  • Villa

    @hippiefemme
    I think one of the biggest problems I’ve seen through this discussion are all the women who are saying, as you mentioned, “Well, that doesn’t offend me at all!”

    I had to explain carefully that you cannot use anecdotal evidence to generalize to a larger population.

    This cuts both ways. Social rules need to depend on averages and trends. So, if we’re asking, “is X offensive?” we really mean, “are many people offended by X?”

    As you point out, I cannot declare “I am not offended by X, thus X is not generally offensive.”

    It’s equally mistaken to say, “I was offended by X, thus X is generally offensive.”

    I’d view the “I did(n’t) offend me” comments as a sort of voice-vote. Each vote doesn’t prove much by itself. Neither does an initial complaint. But, when many people have weighed in we’ll have a better idea about trends.

    So, there’s no problem with “It did(n’t) offend me” comments, unless the person is trying to speak for everyone.

  • Brian Macker

    Re,

    “I don’t have anything against straight white men–some of my best friends are straight white men!–but these are not people who have made a serious effort to engage with progressive activist politics and communities”

    The irony in that sentence is amazing. You’ve just admitted not making any serious efforts in atheist activism and communities.

    I hate progressivism. Mostly because it makes the world a worse place in many ways. There are other groups that champion gay rights that don’t have all the other authoritarian and collectivist baggage.

    “This kind of discussion does not take place in any of the major feminist/womanist, anti-racist, or LGBTQ blogs.”

    Because they are echo chambers that fail to attract people like me who would do you a world of good. Especially since it is you who is reinventing the wheel, and it’s a square one.

    I betcha you have no clue about one of the main hurdles you face with regards to gay marriage. It’s not something that is even on a progressives radar.

  • Jon Peterson

    @hippiefemme:
    But you absolutely cannot expect everyone to pander to the most easily offended. Everyone is expected to have a certain thickness of skin, and if they don’t inherently, they must find other ways to protect themselves.

    @Hypatia’s Daughter:
    You’re not making a very convincing argument by throwing out inference and context. Pure vitriol rarely conveys the message you desire. Take a lesson from Pam, hippiefemme, The Captain, Villa or most of the other commenters here. While I may not agree with what they say, they make solid points and convey them rationally.

  • Brian Macker

    Villa,

    Correct so far as you took it, but also at the end of the day even if every single person in a group found something offensive that places no moral burden on those doing the offending. It may be that every single one of them is offended and they deserve to be offended.

    In truth the prophet Mohammed was a despicable man who did terrible deeds, and founded a quite violent religion. Making that truthful claim should offend any true believer in Islam. Not only isn’t it wrong for me to make that statement but it is quite moral for me to do so once I understand its truth.

    Yes it’s offensive, however that which is offensive can also be moral. Progressives make the mistake of binding the normative to the positive in this case.

  • Villa

    @hippiefemme

    While I understand that some women aren’t offended and that they do have the right to assert that, I feel they also need to respect that some women are offended by certain language. People who continue to say that the offended women don’t have the right to be upset or that being upset is silly or overly sensitive aren’t helping them feel more welcome or at ease. It’s less about the word and more about the reaction, as the post indicates.

    Who has said “offended women don’t have the right to be upset”?

    I am not even sure what that would mean. How could we stop someone from feeling their feelings? What would it mean to deny it? What would it mean to not respect a fact (like, “I hold opinion X”)?

    I’m edgy about this sort of language because of a number of debates about religion. It’s a pretty common for apologists to talk about ‘respect for belief’ and ‘right to their belief’. And, it’s an effective tactic, because everyone has positive associations with those words. Who wants to oppose rights?

    But, it’s not really an honest tactic. It lets apologists go after straw-atheists. No one is pressing to deny people their ‘right’ to their thoughts (and I don’t think we could enforce that law even if we passed it). So, I have to agree that they have the ‘right’ to their belief and I have to ‘respect’ the fact that they hold their opinions.

    But as soon as I do, ‘respect’ seems to shift in meaning to, “don’t disagree with me.”

    I don’t want to say that this is what you’re doing. But painting the opposition with these nebulous charges makes me uncomfortable.

  • Brian Macker

    Zach,

    “Most of these comments are so terribly disappointing.”

    I find your comment very disappointing in lack of effort and specificity. We have no clue what you find disappointing. We are not mind readers. Perhaps it’s all the typos that have you so terribly disappointed?

  • Jon Peterson

    @Roxane:
    At no point in this situation has any man made the argument that it’s a biological imperative to treat women as sex objects. That is an extrapolation from the original observation that it is a biological imperative to notice (women’s) sexuality.

    Treatment is irrelevant to that observation.

  • Remus

    I have avoided this tpoic as much as I could because it seemed kinda pointless, but this post really clarify what the core of the problem is and what the debate should be about.

    Good work Claudia

  • http://johannthecabbie.blogspot.com johannthecabbie

    I’ll answer all four of your questions with a yes.

    Now, I would like to move on to discuss what I consider to be the more important questions surrounding this event.

    1) Where during the panel discussion did anyone imply “Suck it up?”

    2) The woman’s complaint was met with a brief, reasonable discussion followed by a joke. Where did your “jeers” comment come from?

    3) Prior to the woman standing, all discussion was between the moderator and the panel. Where do you get the idea that the woman was “passed over in favor of men in the audience?”

    4) Did you even watch the video?

    5) Don’t you find it to be unprofessional, not to mention poor taste, to cite a source that many people consider to be dishonest?

    6) Why do you not discuss the fact that the original post was dishonest and defamatory?

  • http://scentednectar.blogspot.com/ Scented Nectar

    I’ve not read the comment debates, but I’ve read the articles and have some opinions, so might as well jump into it. Might not be the most politically correct opinions, but oh well. :)

    I’m a bit embarrassed when I hear of women running out of rooms crying over hurt feelings. It’s like what a way to perpetuate the stereotype of us being overly sensitive, and blowing emotional things out of proportion, and needing special treatment with little kid gloves.

    1. ?Do you believe that there is a gender disparity in the movement and that this is a problem that should be corrected??
    If there is a difference, then for this one, it’s up to us women to fix. Just show up. Go there. Participate. We’re atheists too, so what are women scared of? Is it somehow worse there than in the rest of the world that we’re in social contact with? If anything, I think the atheist community is MORE accepting of differences in gender, race, sexualities, income, etc, then most other social groupings I’ve seen. Goes with the mindset of basing things on logic rather than reasons of blind social expectation, I think. The cage door is already opened. We need to walk through it. That one’s on us.

    2. ?Do you believe there’s a possibility that there are aspects of the movement itself that could make women feel like they are not as welcome as men??
    Not of the movement, but possibly individual cliques. There is nothing intrinsic about atheism or the gatherings where it’s discussed that excludes women.

    3. ?Do you think that the opinions of women in deciding how to get more of them into the community are valuable??
    If there are legitimate concerns, then yes. But if it turns out that preferential or focused treatment that excludes men is wanted, then it’s gone overboard.

    Also, I wouldn’t want to see any thought crimes put into place. An example of such a possibility would be where let’s say everyone had to go through a sensitivity orientation to be reminded it’s naughty to think sexual thoughts about others there, and that you’ll get booted if you proposition anyone for a date or make a sex joke. Would they boot me too? I’m female, and I like to flirt and make sex jokes sometimes. I believe that women are socialized to be all sex-shy and to have a ton of baggage connected with it. Another cage to walk out of. I’m not saying one MUST be sexual all the time or even at all, mind you, I’m just saying that like it is among men, we should be at ease to do that IF we want and as long as we’re not being pushy towards anyone who has indicated disinterest.

    And just be honest if someone is attracted to you, but you’re not to them. Don’t weird out too much, or make excuses, or decide you’re persecuted. Just say “I don’t feel sexual about you, but thanks, I’m flattered” or maybe “Thanks, but I don’t go on dates because I’m in a monogamous relationship” or whatever is the honest reason for you. It stops awkwardness cold and is good for staying on friendly terms with the person, assuming you don’t do it in some sort of offended horrified manner, cuz yeah, that will make the guy feel like dirt when he doesn’t deserve it, assuming of course that he’s not been mean, or in some other way a major asshole in his approach to you.

    4. ?Are you willing to refrain from treating any objections you hear as challenges that must be defeated at all costs??
    That sounds like good advice for all objections all the time. :)

  • Villa

    @RE

    With atheist communities, I often feel like I’m watching them reinvent the wheel when there is a whole discipline of Wheel Studies, when there are archives full of wheel diagrams, when there are wheel conferences and wheel support groups and wheel journals.

    This kind of discussion does not take place in any of the major feminist/womanist, anti-racist, or LGBTQ blogs.

    I feel like these places have a different goal. A major purpose of these spaces is convincing previously-suppressed people that their opinions matter and that their view of the world merits respect, even if it differs from the mainstream’s view.

    Unfortunately, debate is a skill that needs to be learned. Even people with the right answer can get picked apart while they’re still learning.

    So, it makes a lot of sense to restrict the amount of internal criticism and nit-picking that goes on. This lets people develop the confidence that the movement is trying to promote. After people have learned that they should be putting their voices out there, they can start learning the tricks of good debate.

    Plus, too much debate can hinder activism. If someone’s setting up a rally to push the message, “Women can succeed in business?” do they really care if the wage-gap is 7% or 8.5%? The rally needs to be the same either way.

    For these reasons, the whole, “debate the fundamental underpinnings and assumptions of the movement” doesn’t really take off. (As it shouldn’t).

    I feel that our movement is different. Our essential idea isn’t, “We’re here! We demand the respect that we’ve been too-long denied.” Instead, it’s “The truth matters” and “people should feel free to question any claim put to them”.

    There are definitely problems with poor treatment of atheists. But, I don’t feel like I’m fighting for acceptance in the same way as the groups you’ve mentioned.

    Instead, I’m arguing for the idea that there should be no ideas above criticism. We should question theology. But we should also question secular humanism.

    So, our spaces have to debate these topics. If we didn’t encourage our new members to question our own ideas, we’d just be supplanting an old doctrine with a new one.

    The downside is that we have to accept internal criticism. I expect to be challenged when I assert specific points. This isn’t people rejecting the movement, attacking me personally or rejecting my moral conclusions. It’s a necessary part of how people teach themselves to question the claims put forward.

  • Roxane

    @Jon Peterson: Sorry. I was going back and forth between two blogs and commented on the wrong one. I took it down as soon as I realized my mistake.

  • Vas

    “I don’t have anything against straight white men–some of my best friends are straight white men!”

    Really… *Facepalm*

  • Jon Peterson

    @Roxane:
    My response still stands. Any implication (that men ganged up to imply that sexual objectification of women was O.K.) can be seen in the video recording of the meeting to be an utter fabrication.

  • http://chandays.blogspot.com Larry Meredith

    this whole “Femalegate” thing is completely ridiculous. I don’t care if anyone thinks I’m being dismissive of people’s feelings when I say they are overreacting. This woman was absolutely being over-sensitive, and furthermore, the only reason this is a such an issue is because she has a vagina. If she were a man making the same argument about male v man, barely anyone would care and it wouldn’t cause debate.

    I consider myself a feminist. I believe in complete equality. This is just nitpicking and bickering over how women should be treated with extra delicate care. I run an atheist blog of my own, and I refuse to post anything on my blog about this because it’s not worth talking about. This is so utterly ridiculous it makes me ashamed of my fellow atheist and feminist. Things like this make our whole movement look like we’re just the PC police. Get over it. And if those words offend you too, let me know and I’ll say something worth taking offense over.

  • Jeanette

    Claudia, great post. And Gretchen’s comment above is basically exactly what I was going to say.

    I can’t say I was offended by “female”, but I also can’t say I’m never offended by what other people may perceive as an innocuous comment (ahem, “chicks don’t like star trek” for example) that to me brings up a lifetime of putting up with annoying stereotypes and gender norms.

    So just because I wasn’t offended, doesn’t mean it’s fair to sarcastically dismiss the woman’s point. It’s about creating a general climate that is inclusive to women, not freaking out over the validity of specific complaints.

  • The Captain

    @ Rieux

    So for you “respect” is actually emotional void communications? Apparently so. It also means that out of “respect” no two people should ever communicate their desire to pursue further possible love interest with each other. Thats a sad world you seem to demand others to live in. I’ll have to tell my parents who have been married for over 60 years that their entire marriage is built upon disrespect since my dad hit on my mom when they first met.

  • Brian Macker

    “4. ?Are you willing to refrain from treating any objections you hear as challenges that must be defeated at all costs??
    That sounds like good advice for all objections all the time.”

    Yeah, and it is (not sounds like) a loaded question. I wonder if Claudia is willing to treat her opposition like they have rational objections. What specifically is she talking about. Who is guilty and in what instance.

    I have no example to go on here. I do have an example of a woman breaking down in tears. How would Claudia like it if someone taking the opposite view had listed, as one of a bunch of other one sided questions, for “anyone reading (female and male)” to ask themselves whether they were going to break down in tears over this?

    In fact the article has a condescending and materialistic tone to it, all the while showing a lack of nuance, objectivity or adult thinking in many areas. Ironic.

  • Jon Peterson

    @Jeannette: (Well, really at everyone)

    (ahem, “chicks don’t like star trek” for example

    Inference. You use it in interpersonal communication all the time… why do you refuse to recognize it on the internet?
    Please, read the full comment again. He’s drawing on a societal stereotype we all recognize to allow him to make a point that can be understood universally.

  • Brian Macker

    William Brinkman,

    “I find the crass behavior very disturbing. … I guess I’m disappointed that some men in the atheist movement don’t seem to realize that it is important to be respectful of a woman’s boundaries.”

    What on earth are you talking about? No specific example of crossing boundaries like fondling was given. They found it uncomfortable being asked out on a date, not propositioned for money.

  • The Captain

    @Hypatia’s Daughter

    If I ever construct a sentence grammatically correct, or non-offensive… it’s an accident!

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    The Captain, Touche!

  • Dave

    “Virtually no attention was paid to the broader context.”

    Haha, I get it; “broad”. Very sly of you to sneak that in there. ;-)

  • Azkyroth

    Are you willing to refrain from treating any objections you hear as challenges that must be defeated at all costs? (Note that this does not mean you have to agree with all objections, only that you do not view the objector as an enemy who must be defeated.)

    While I agree with the post overall, this part really stands out to me as one that has much broader applicability.

  • Amphigorey

    Re’s comment is absolutely spot-on. It’s very weird reading the comments in this blog after spending time at Pandagon, Shakesville, and other places where the conversations about marginalized groups are so much more advanced.

    Seriously, read the link that Re posted. It is good and useful.

  • Rieux

    Moi:

    Well, one thing we can do is refrain from saying ridiculous things like “chicks don’t like Star Trek”

    And then Brian:

    Actually that’s more about normal snipping in communication than stupidity on his part. Read in context it is “chicks don’t like Star Trek [as much as guys]“. After all the subject was preferences. It’s a very uncharitable interpretation of what he wrote to assume he meant that the set of chicks who like Star Trek has zero elements.

    What in the world are you talking about? I “assumed” no such thing. I merely pointed out—and you clearly totally missed it, as you jumped right in yourself—that our friend the Captain referred to women as “chicks.” (And then, so did you.) Wake up.

    In the context of this discussion, calling women “chicks” an overwhelmingly ridiculous thing to do—as Jeanette and Hypatia’s Daughter (among, I suspect, many others) noticed. As so frequently happens in discussions like this one, I am ashamed of my Y chromosome.

    Jon:

    @Jeannette [sic]: (Well, really at everyone)
    (ahem, “chicks don’t like star trek” for example

    Inference. You use it in interpersonal communication all the time… why do you refuse to recognize it on the internet?
    Please, read the full comment again. He’s drawing on a societal stereotype we all recognize to allow him to make a point that can be understood universally.

    The hell he his. “The Captain”‘s comment is thoroughgoing mansplaining sexist crap. Demeaning women as “chicks” is entirely of-a-piece with the rest of his “aw, telling me I can’t hit on babes renders events ‘sterile’ and ‘robotic’” male-privilege bullshit.

    He’s not “drawing on” sexist social stereotypes, he’s enforcing them.

  • Rieux

    The Oh-So-Manly Captain:

    So for you “respect” is actually emotional void communications?

    Sure, pal, you can keep telling yourself that the only alternative to slobbering over women who desperately want to avoid you is “emotional [sic] void communications.” That doesn’t make it so.

    The notion that mixed-sex gatherings must either (1) regard skeezy pick-up tactics as just swell and decide that women who don’t appreciate them are the ones with the problem or (2) resign themselves to “highly sterile, robotic personal interactions” is both an obvious false bifurcation and a blatant symptom of blind male privilege. Grown-ups of both sexes are perfectly capable of communicating in mature and respectful ways—even about potential romantic relationships—without stooping to the absurd behavior (gotta land some “chicks,” right?) that prompts the complaints you dismiss. Your ridiculous pretense notwithstanding, sterility and slime are not actually the only options available.

  • Jon Peterson

    @Rieux (second comment immediately above):

    Your problem is in creating polarity in the statement. You believe that he’s saying either allow obscene action in its entirety, or prohibit all but sterile interaction.

    He’s actually saying that nobody should expect this subset of humanity (atheists) to behave substantially different from the whole. Flirtation happens everywhere, and (this will come a shock to some of you, apparently) it’s generally pretty well received and accepted by both genders. And for the most part, when it’s not accepted, it’s declined with grace and courtesy, and both parties move on.

    He never polarized it into skeeze or sterility. You did that yourself.

  • Rabid

    Rieux

    The notion that mixed-sex gatherings must either (1) regard skeezy pick-up tactics as just swell and decide that women who don’t appreciate them are the ones with the problem or (2) resign themselves to “highly sterile, robotic personal interactions” is both an obvious false bifurcation and a blatant symptom of blind male privilege.

    The notion that anyone has promoted the idea presented at (1) is a blatant symptom of your lack of reading comprehension.

    Seriously, this whole topic has become a proverbial mountain in place of a mole hill and the best comebacks people seem to have for people willing to bring that up is to either argue semantics or tar them with the misogynist brush.

    IT’S FUCKING PATHETIC.

  • http://scentednectar.blogspot.com/ Scented Nectar

    Oops, the fancy quote marks I used came through as extra question marks.

  • http://none Capt’n John

    I find this whole topic revolting! We are NOT paternalistic! We regard the views of all people to be equally acceptable! If only it were true. We, both men and women, were brought up in a paternalistic culture and it is damn difficult to break away from male dominance of all he surveys. It is, however, too bad when a group which needs equality of the sexes, lowers itself to the point that when a woman brings up the sexism she feels at the meeting as a topic of discussion it is met the way it was. Perhaps, as a group we atheists, agnostics, skeptics, humanists, or whatever, should think very carefully before we deride anyone for their ideas. Women have every reason to feel slighted when treated inappropriately.

  • allison

    1. Do you believe that there is a gender disparity in the movement and that this is a problem that should be corrected?

    I think there is a real serious gender disparity in some parts of the movement. Whether it should be corrected is really up to those parts of the movement to decide.

    2. Do you believe there’s a possibility that there are aspects of the movement itself that could make women feel like they are not as welcome as men?

    Personally, I don’t think that having an atheist movement itself is the problem.

    3. Do you think that the opinions of women in deciding how to get more of them into the community are valuable?

    I think that if you identify #1 as an issue, saying that the group doesn’t have enough women and that you want to rectify that situation, then restricting yourself to soliciting primarily the opinions of men rather than women is rather foolish. Moreover, you’re going to have to listen not just to women inside the movement, but to women who could be candidates for the movement but are staying away. In short, if you want to attract a certain audience, listen to what they want. If you’re fine with the status quo, running around and asking the question seems kind of silly.

    4. Are you willing to refrain from treating any objections you hear as challenges that must be defeated at all costs?

    Again, it depends on what you’re trying to do. If a group is trying to attract more women, it’s helpful to listen to the concerns and objections expressed and thank women for expressing them. Remember, you asked! You might not like the answers, in fact you might re-think your goal of bringing more women into the group. That’s fine, but immediately adopting a defensive posture is not going to help if you think there’s a gender disparity and want to correct it. What you’re doing is collecting information so that you can decide what you want to do, how you want to market the group, what you want the social climate to be like, and so on. Arguing with the very people you’re trying to attract is shooting yourself in the foot.

    Basically, I think that some parts of the movement have to decide what they want to be.

  • Claudia

    @Brian Macker I’m afraid I simply don’t know what you are accusing me of. Would you do me the favor of specifying exactly in what fashion I have shown “double standards” or indicated that I was not open to the opinions of others?

    To everyone else, thanks for commenting. I guess I do wish that every thread on this subject didn’t have to be so combative, but I guess that’s to be expected with such a difficult topic, and in that respect I’m as guilty as anyone else. I would like to stress that I don’t actually care (too much) about the incident that started all of this. Certainly I have nothing against discussions about it, who was right, was it misrepresented etc. However I simply don’t find it too interesting. One incident does not show a tendency. The reaction to the incident however I have found worriesome, for the reasons I outlined in the post. For those who don’t see that there is a gender disparity or more likely see it but don’t regard it as a problem, then the conversation holds no interest to them, obviously. For the rest, I simply believe it’s healthier to concentrate on the larger context and not the individual incident. Cheers.

  • ludovico

    Using “female” to women is like using “homosexual” to gays and lesbians. Ipso facto it’s not derogatory, but it can be received as dismissive and lesser-than; it’s a cold, clinical term, thus seeming to be non-inclusive–describing the “other.”

  • Nakor

    Do you believe that there is a gender disparity in the movement and that this is a problem that should be corrected?

    This is often met with the reaction that trying to draft women into the community is a mistake; I would tend to agree. But at the same time, it leads to this thought:

    Do you believe there’s a possibility that there are aspects of the movement itself that could make women feel like they are not as welcome as men?

    Given that there is no other reason I can think of why men would be more likely to become out atheists and join activism related groups or events, clearly there must be some such thing. So the goal isn’t to recruit women, it’s to figure out what’s causing women who may otherwise join to choose not to.

    But what is it?

    Do you think that the opinions of women in deciding how to get more of them into the community are valuable?

    Yes, but here’s the clincher, and kind of the key point of this post: I never hear them. “Femalegate,” as you called it, was, perhaps, the first time I’ve ever read/heard of a woman who was in that position of feeling unwelcome offering a thought toward this question. Now I would agree that my initial reaction was not ideal either, and I will strive to correct that in the future. But if I am to pay better heed to such comments and opinions, we need to hear more of them. So my question in return is, how do we get those opinions?

    Of course, we can ask women already within the community, and those thoughts are quite valuable, but they do also come from the people who for the most part are likely comfortable within the community. Even better is if we could somehow get the opinions and thoughts of those who unfortunately aren’t comfortable offering them because of events like the one we’ve been discussing.

    I’m just not sure how to do that.

  • Richard Wade

    Thank you very much for this, Claudia. To answer your questions:

    1. Yes, there three kinds of disparity. There certainly is an obvious disparity in the numbers of women and men in the movement. It only takes a glance at the names on a blog or the heads in a convention room to see that. The disparities between the social respect that is afforded women versus men, and the intellectual esteem that is afforded women versus men has only come to my attention by way of these publicized controversies, and it’s very upsetting. I’ve never witnessed that kind of thing directly, and I’ve never contributed to it. If I ever do witness it, I will object loudly.

    2. Yes I can accept that there is a possibility that there is something intrinsic, or built-in to the movement that causes this, but I have absolutely no idea what it would be. I’m simply open to hearing people’s ideas about such a thing. I want all people to feel welcome, and if in the ideas, the practices, or the subculture of the movement, there’s an overlooked deterrent to women feeling welcome and validated, I want to know about it and work against it.

    3. Of course women’s opinions on this are valuable. Who would better know about improving inroads than those who have struggled against barriers on those inroads?

    4. I am willing to listen open-mindedly to honest observations, heartfelt objections, clear-headed assessments, and especially constructive suggestions. There’s only one sore spot in this for me that causes some hesitation:

    Please hear me out with the same openhearted, open-minded attitude that you are searching for in your post. I really hope this does not derail your topic, but adds it as an integral part of your idea of positive, constructive and inclusive multilogue.

    Too frequently when controversies like this come up, I hear a great deal of blame being tossed broadly and carelessly around against “white males.” The idiotic sexist attitudes, the intellectual conceit, and the capricious dismissal of women that we see and hear from some PEOPLE are too often attributed to the whiteness and maleness of “white males.” All sorts of social ills are blamed on the “white male” source of all evil. Yeah, a lot of the jerks on whom I’d like to perform a violent freehand laryngectomy happen to be very pale and obviously male.

    But so am I. My skin is light pink and covered with hair. I have broad shoulders and a bald spot on the back of my head. There’s nothing I can do about that, and I’m sick of being lumped into a group of assholes who cause these social problems.

    Anyone here who has read my comments or posts for any length of time knows my passion for treating everyone respectfully, fairly, kindly, honestly, and honorably, and my passion for fighting against the opposite kinds of treatment done to anyone. That’s me. None of that is caused by, or interfered with by the lack of melanin in my skin, or my Y chromosomes.

    This Saturday, I’ll be attending the SSA Leadership Summit in Thousand Oaks, CA. I’ll be there all day and evening, attending talks by both men and women. I’ll be walking around with my very pale and very male face for all to see. I hope to see plenty of women in the crowd, and I hope to talk to some, but I won’t be hitting on any of them, and I won’t be dismissing or discounting anyone because of their gender or color or any other absurd reason. I’ll be wanting to make everyone feel welcome and I’ll want to feel welcome too. Hopefully someone will take a picture for proof that at least one “white male” was being a decent human being, what used to be called without any sexist connotation, a gentleman.

  • Aj

    Do you believe that there is a gender disparity in the movement and that this is a problem that should be corrected?

    Disparity: Yes. Problem: No. Men and women are equals, therefore I don’t care about the proportions. I believe that looking at the numbers like this is backwards and short sighted. If you want real change then changing the culture and attacking gender roles is the only sensible route.

    Do you believe there’s a possibility that there are aspects of the movement itself that could make women feel like they are not as welcome as men?

    Yes. Because they’re female? No. There are aspects of the movement itself that could make anyone feel like they are not welcome.

    Do you think that the opinions of women in deciding how to get more of them into the community are valuable?

    Anyone’s opinion is valuable.

    Are you willing to refrain from treating any objections you hear as challenges that must be defeated at all costs?

    Every claim should be challenged. That’s one of the greatest strengths of the movement.

    If the answers to these questions are “no,” then any conversation is futile, since you either don’t think there is a problem or you are unwilling to let your guard down long enough to solve it.

    You don’t want a conversation, you want a circlejerk.

  • http://Welldone! Rieux

    Sorry, Jon, but you’re referring to a Captain comment that exists in your imagination. The one on this thread contains precisely the false bifurcation I pointed out–and Captain Caveman doubled down on it (rather than denying it, as would have happened had his intentions been what you imagine) in his response to me. It remains unclear how you’ve missed that.

  • Jon Peterson

    @Rieux:

    (link) And unfortunately most of the complaints I’ve read here though, are not so much complaints about men at skeptic events… but men in general. Don’t like to be hit on by guys at skeptic events? Then don’t leave your house, because you can get hit on at any event. Or are we to believe skeptic events are supposed to have only highly sterile, robotic personal interactions that happen no where else in society? Perhaps even a code where personal feelings, or thoughts about each other can not be shared at anytime with anyone, and only panel approved words may be used at these events as to not make someone somewhere uncomfortable?

    My imagination, huh? I don’t see any implication of skeeze anywhere. Just a statement that you can’t remove hints of black without eliminating the grey.

  • Ibis

    Thanks for this, Claudia. I have to say that since I’ve been hanging out at gnu atheist places on the web, I’ve been extremely disappointed and often disgusted by the misogyny and privileged thinking that goes on. Disappointed because I expected that in a community that supposedly holds to (neo)Enlightenment values of gender and sexual equality and humanistic values of respect for others as people (at least until something is said or done to cause it to be lost), women would be treated generally well. This is far, far from the case. Women are treated pretty much as they are in any forum where ignorant, privileged, adolescent boys and young men are in the majority. The only difference I see is that in the “movement”, there are some people who are trying to change things. They aren’t getting very far very fast. I couldn’t even finish reading the comments to this post without being turned off.

    In fact, maybe the question should be “how do we treat women with enough respect that they don’t leave” before tackling the question of attracting new people.

    But then, maybe the guys just want the club to themselves?

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    Actually, I can handle it if someone calls me a “chick”, or “female” or the “weaker sex”. Perhaps not 30 years ago, but my hide has grown thick and and I usually consider the source (not very highly, but I consider it). I have had men make a crack about the “weaker sex” and, asked, “Of course, you are referring to men??”
    OK, my take on Hemant’s clip:
    Some men and a woman who were President’s of their local atheist/humanist groups were asked to sit on panel to give some “boots on the ground” input about a topic, which was chosen for them. Now, these guys are just average Joes who give a lot of their time & energy to run a local group in their free time. In all volunteer groups 10% do all the work; 10% do all the complaining and 80% go with the flow. They aren’t experts on social dynamics and none of them are experts in running an organization filled with a lot of quirky individuals and big egos. You fake your way through it, and learn from your mistakes (hopefully).
    The topic given to them, in its formality, was “Why are there more male atheists than female atheists? Is it true for your group? Why? What does your group do about it?”
    These poor noobs were handed a hot potato, which they passed off to each other. They kept using the word “Female” because it was in the original statement and they didn’t know if they should keep the formality of the original statement or drop into casual conversation, until one man finally began to use “guys & girls”. They joked alot because they were uncomfortable.
    If this isn’t too emotional for this little (not true) lady to say, I emphasized with their discomfort. I felt sorry for them. Even sorrier now that their faux pas is a major subject of the number 2 (1?) atheist blog. How embarrassing. Guys, if you’re reading this, I know you didn’t mean it to come off they way it did……
    But, “FACEPALM”, that was golden opportunity to talk about one real issue of women & atheism and you blew it. For shame. Good thing I wasn’t there or there might have been a little bitch slapping during that panel discussion. (I occasionally refer to myself as the Club Bitch and have done some slappin’ in the mostly male Astronomy Club I belong to.)

  • Ibis

    I wrote “maybe the guys just want the club to themselves”. I should have written “the guys (with the exception of those who are working to change things)”. I do recognise and appreciate that there are some of you out there, Richard.

  • Wea

    Honestly, all the comments of late have been rather intimidating. For the reasons you have highlighted.

    “Oh c’mon, do we have to police all our words now? I get called Z all the time and I don’t go bawling to the bathroom to whine! And besides, Y isn’t that bad; lots of women like it!”

    They’re still intimidating, considering the types of replies on here.

    Frankly, if there was an Atheist community nearby that I could attend, I would completely forgo it if it was anything like these comments since it’s pretty much guaranteed my opinion will be ridiculed. :X

  • Michelle

    There is no need to be repetitive because Gretchen really did say it very well. Her second point addressed an issue I personally experienced and became that final snow flake in an avalanche of little reasons that separated me from my local free thinkers group. In a meeting about the obvious gender gap just questioning it had me set upon my the group, most especially the few women and one man. What horrible thing did I ask about – “It’s not that women don’t come, they just rarely come more than once, does anyone have any ideas?”
    It is the same set of attitudes that keeps other minorities away and prevents growth. Not only do new members not come, but old members who want change finally give up as well. There is an inherent sense of inflexibility in this type of thinking that feels very suffocating.

  • Claudia

    @Nakor, you raise great questions that are worth a whole series of posts, not just one comment. One very important point is whether the issue is that not as many women as men are going into the movement, and another is if the new entries are similar, but women abandon it sooner for whatever reason. The two groups (non-joiners and early-leavers) may well have different objections. I would very hestitantly guess that non-joiners are less likely to have problems with feeling unwelcome since they may not even have had much contact with activist groups either way. I think it’s more likely that the “early-leavers” (yes, I suck at nicknames) are the ones that have felt negative pressure of one sort or another.

    @Richard, thanks for your comment. I understand where you’re coming from with the “white male” thing. I suppose that for many people, talking about “white males” is shorthand for “the dominant cultural structure”. A cursory look at those most prominent in our culture will show that white males are still represented in numbers that vastly exceed their proportion, so that for many people, the “white male” (more typically called the “white man” in my high school days) is the visual representation of the oppressor.

    I say this not to justify the use of the expression, but to perhaps try to explain where it’s coming from. You are right that many white men who work damn hard to make things better for those born with characteristics that make life harder for cultural reasons have every reason to feel unhappy that their descriptor is shorthand for “bad person”. I think that those that, for whatever reason, are not in the supposed “advantage” group should strive to identify our enemy as the prejudice itself and not construct another “other” group of people.

  • The Captain

    All right this is now somewhat amusing.

    I like how some here have judged me as “sexist”, “demeaning”, and perpetrating “male privilege” all because of the language I use to talk. Not my actions mind you, just my language. At no point has anyone offered proof that I believe women are inferior to men. Or that I go around insulting women on purpose, or even whipping out my penis to girls I want to hit on. All that I have been judged by (and how this original discussion over the last few days started) is the specific verbiage I use, not the intent.

    Communications between people is not a one-way event. Two people are involved even in a one sided conversation. One person speaking, the other interpreting the words to find meaning in them. It’s the interpretation that’s getting overlooked here in favor of a fundamentalist (and arbitrary) definition of words. Well sometimes the problem with miscommunications lie with the person listening.

    The way we speak is cultural. It’s a product of the environment we grow up in, where we live, and who we hang out with. Different people use and interpret words differently. That’s not going to change. Ever. What we have to do is judge people by their actions and their ideas, not the words they use, which is what many seem to want the skeptic community to do.

    For a discussion of how to be more “inclusive”, many seem to be arguing for the exclusion of those that do not have the same cultural sensibilities as those of a narrowly defined group. I was at a punk show last weekend and a girl I was with, who’s an atheist, and would make a great skeptic, threw a beer bottle at another girl, mooned her boyfriend and cussed up a storm. Now why aren’t we talking about how to get her to come to these events, which she would find boring and bland? Is she less important than the woman who ran out crying?

    Most modern communities are made up of a wide variety of people with wildly different taste, sensibilities, and dialects. The skeptic community is no different. That’s why we can’t get bogged down in arbitrary semantic arguments. No one gets to define words for other people.

    So just like I don’t show up to these events swilling beer, screaming “Iron Maiden fucking rules” and riding a motorcycle in the hotel (O.K. maybe I still swill beer), perhaps some people need to understand they have left their small world too and should try to judge people on their thoughts and actions rather than the narrow criteria such as speech or whether or not perusing possible romantic involvement at this location is appropriate in your belief.

  • JD

    I guess I really don’t understand the point here, OK, so Claudia believes the original complaint wasn’t true, but the response to the complaint was unnecessarily dismissive and possibly sexist?

    I hadn’t read all of the disagreement, but I didn’t see any that looked like the complainant had to be defeated at all costs.

  • The Captain

    Yes Rieux, you are correct.

    I’m a barbarian who refuses to treat women with respect. I emotionally abuse my girlfriends, I believe they must listen to me unquestionably, and generally treat them like shit. I have no respect for my mom, and think she should shut up when my dad speaks. I don’t think women should be paid the same as men, or should even hold jobs. I think all women should be barefoot and pregnant, and should never have been allowed to vote. I think all women’s sports funding should be stopped, and title x repealed. When I walk into a bar I feel all the women should line up and allow me to judge them before I pick which one must go home with me. I have no respect for their opinions, and think they should never speak them or give advice. I hate Oprah.

    The amazing part about this is you where able to deduce all this from the fact I used the word “chick”! How brilliant of you!

  • Brian Macker

    Rieux,

    I merely pointed out—and you clearly totally missed it, as you jumped right in yourself—that our friend the Captain referred to women as “chicks.” (And then, so did you.)

    Never happened. You did NOT point out that anyone referred to women as chicks. I did not refer to women as chicks.

    You live in some alternate reality where the words you and I write convey meaning that is not there. It’s not what you think you wrote, or what you think I wrote, it’s what you or I actually wrote.

    You said the sentence “Chicks don’t like Star Trek” was ridiculous, and not that you object to the use of the word “chick”.

    In fact you are now adding “chicks” to females as a forboden word. We’re supposed to be off the hypersensitive taboos on this thread.

    Not only are you hypersensitive to “The Captain” using the word chicks but super-hyper-sensitive when I quoted “The Captain”. I never actually referred to women as chicks as you claimed, but you are like some kind of wound up spring trap of offend-ability that even imagined offenses offend you.

    If the word offends you so much it’s even an offense to quote someone else using it then why did you quote the Captain. Hell, I wasn’t even quoting him when in the first instance. I was quoting you quoting him.

    What do you want me to do? Refer to it as the “C-word”. Then how are you going to tell I’m not referring to cunt.

    As I already said to you. Stop reading other peoples comments so uncharitably. I’m starting to think you have reading comprehension problems. Hell, you don’t even know what you wrote. You hadn’t wrote anything indicating you found his use of chicks offensive.

    Not only are you wrong in your conclusions, you are even wrong in your facts.

    Then you go on to use the term “mansplaining”. Talk about “[r]enforcing” “sexist social stereotypes”.

    You project the image of a lying man-hating hypocrite. That’s a fact based statement you should take much greater offense to than being called a chick.

  • Amphigorey

    Richard – when we talk about white men being a major source of problems and discrimination, we aren’t talking about people like you. Please take that to heart.

    Just as an example – I’ve heard and read African Americans and Asian Americans talk about the racist treatment they get from white people. The key here is that, while I’m white, I know they aren’t talking about me because I don’t do those racist things. Of course if someone says hey there’s this racist thing that white people do and I realize, oops, that’s totally something I do, I’ll pay attention and try to fix my own behavior.

    On the whole, I try to listen and I try to be an ally, and I don’t take things personally. That’s really the best thing that men in the atheist movement can do for women. It’s remarkable how many men in this debacle have failed at this.

  • Amphigorey

    Ohh, don’t stop now, Brian – I almost have my bingo card filled!

  • Greg

    Not being interested at all in joining movements of any kind, I don’t have much to say on this matter, but one thing actually came to mind that I think may be worth mentioning as regards #1.

    Do you believe that there is a gender disparity in the movement and that this is a problem that should be corrected?

    If there is a gender disparity that needs correcting in the current system, then why are there not lots of female only atheist groups? Whilst by some definitions, women are a minority, in actual numbers they aren’t. One would have thought that if there was a significant amount of female interest in this sort of thing, it shouldn’t be a big issue to set up in terms of manpower (no gender related pun intended).

    I don’t mean why in any kind of inquisitorial sense at all – I actually mean it rather open ended. Think of it as musing ‘out loud’ if you like.

    It just strikes me that if there is a real problem of the atmosphere, then this would be a way to address it. Have an option which is welcoming for women, to introduce them to the community, and then – hopefully – having a large group will make it easier to integrate into the male dominated atheist groups. Obviously it is hard when you are the only one of a minority in a room… and it should be easier if there is a group of you. They could even ignore those male dominated atheist movements and keep to themselves and simply cater for those women that find the current system too unwelcoming.

    Now I may be showing my ignorance here, due to my general disinterest in such movements, and there are in fact plenty of female only atheist groups around, but if there aren’t, it makes me wonder if the fundamental demand differs by gender (for whatever reason) and if that is the case then not only does the gender disparity not need ‘correcting’, it cannot be ‘corrected’ as far as I can see. (Basically, because the disparity is intrinsic and thus neither correct nor incorrect in the way #1 seemed to suggest was the case.)

  • Rollingforest

    Claudia, glad to see that you’ve got yourself a guest post. I agree with much but not all of what you said.

    Your comparison to the issue of the manger scene was a good attempt at explaining the situation, but I feel that the two issues aren’t quite the same. In regard to the manger scene, the argument against it isn’t “you are being insensitive to the atheist view” but rather “it is fundamentally unfair because atheists don’t get to put up a similar scene”. If Christians are furious, that is unfortunate, but I can argue rule of law rather than simply saying “you aren’t being sensitive enough.”

    I agree with you that there is an issue of sexism when it comes to women getting hit on too much. Men are more interested in sex (because they don’t bear the burden of pregnancy) but that doesn’t excuse making unwanted sexual suggestions. Men can be friendly toward a woman and see if she is interested in him without trying to force the issue on the women when they first meet. It is okay to seek a date in an atheist community, but men shouldn’t pressure women about it.

    I should also add that, while I wasn’t there, it seems like the panel was chosen to discuss many things, not just gender. Perhaps they should have had a different panel to discuss gender, but it isn’t like this panel was specifically chosen only to discuss gender.

    I don’t feel that the commenters meant to suggest that women weren’t allowed to feel offended. The debate was over whether the community standards should actually be changed or not. Yes, the commentors on the blogs should have mentioned that they respect the woman’s point of view no matter what the final decision is, but Lyz and Sharon’s original article that started all of this wasn’t very understanding when they accused the men on the panel of acting sexist and dismissing her just because she’s a woman. No, some of the men (and women) on the panel just disagreed with what the community standards should be. They would have had the same reaction if the suggestion was made by a man. So always assuming that a disagreement is sexist just because it involves gender issues is unfair.

    Lyz and Sharon said in their piece that the panel declared that excessively hitting on women was biological and that people should just get over it. The panel never said anything like that. They merely asked the question about what the women in the audience thought and then they proceeded to say that while dating was okay, sexual harassment was not (though I agree, polling the audience was a little awkward). This is very different from what Lyz and Sharon said.

    While the panel could have responded more warmly to the woman in the audience instead of without emotion as they did, I think it’s wrong to say they mocked her. The woman in the audience directly asked the panel whether they thought the use of the word female was wrong. They answered no. Then she asked if they would like if they were called ‘males’ and the panel answered that they thought it was okay. The woman on the panel agreed with the men. The woman in the audience was not “viciously torn apart” by the panel as Lyz and Sharon (and your post) suggested.

    Lyz and Sharon said that there were calls from the audience for the panel to apologize. Nowhere in the clip do I hear any such calls.

    You say “the objections of women have been delegitimized, ridiculed, and denied any kind of context” despite the fact that the same thing would have happened if a man did it. It has nothing to do with the fact that she was a woman. It is wrong to assume the worst about the panelists or blog commentators just because they are men.

    I’d answer yes to 1 and 3. I’d answer that 2 is possible, but that there are more out of the closet male atheists to begin with so I don’t think it’s fair to blame the gender disparity entirely (or even mostly) on the atheist groups. I’d answer yes to 4, but also add that we need to develop a way to respectfully disagree with someone while still respecting their feelings.

  • Brian Macker

    Claudia,

    I’m afraid I simply don’t know what you are accusing me of. Would you do me the favor of specifying exactly in what fashion I have shown “double standards” or indicated that I was not open to the opinions of others?

    I already was quite specific in my objections. My first comment should have made blazingly clear how you communicated that you were not open to the opinions of others. I was mimicing you. I merely replaced your loaded questions with some of my own and the rest is verbiage lifted directly from your article.

    Not wanting to hear any “no” answers indicates you are not interested in others opinions unless they correspond not only to your framing of the issues, but your opinions. Both are wrong.

    Your questions are loaded with implicit concepts like “gender disparity” and you don’t want to hear a “no” answer? So it’s obvious you have taken a side in this whether conscious or not, and smuggled your biases into your questions. That I explained in the comment you are responding to.

    Your fourth question is loaded in that implies guilt where none has been shown. Like in “I’d ask anyone reading this male or female. Are you willing to refrain from beating your boyfriends?”

    How can I be “willing to refrain” from doing something I haven’t even done?

    My answer to four is:
    “No, I’m not willing to refrain from it because I never did it in the first place.”
    However, you’ve stated an unwillingness to entertain any no answers.

  • Brian Macker

    “Women are treated pretty much as they are in any forum where ignorant, privileged, adolescent boys and young men are in the majority.”

    … and men are treated by some pretty much as they are in any forum dominated by ignorant and privileged girls and young women.

  • Claudia

    @rollingforest, I think you may have misinterpreted my manger analogy, and thus the point of the post itself. I apologize if I wasn’t clear.

    My manger analogy was not about the issue of sensitivity or fairness at all. In fact, I meant to illustrate that the reaction to an incident can tell us more about the underlying issue than the incident itself. Thus, the fact that a manger scene is up on public property actually is less telling than the deluge of bile directed our way when we demand its removal.

    Likewise, I find that the incident itself is less interesting than the online reaction that has ensued afterward. In fact my point is that considering the underlying issue, I feel that it’s tremendously wasteful to spend all the energy discussing that incident (and not even the whole one, just one aspect about terminology) instead of using the opportunity to discuss the wider issues it brought up. When I’m saying that objections have been delegitimized I’m again, not talking about Lyz and Sharon, but the ensuing clusterf#&k in the comments threads that followed them.

    I’d answer yes to 4, but also add that we need to develop a way to respectfully disagree with someone while still respecting their feelings.

    This is key. It’s harder to do than throwing mud or snark (I declare myself guilty, your honor) but when we are talking amongst supposed allies, we need to find a way of discussing respectfully. Respect for the person you speak with does not need to mean agreement, and disagreement can be expressed without insulting.

  • Kiwiatheist

    If women are under-represented, so what? What does that mean? Don’t we need to understand why they are under-represented to begin with, if indeed they are? It may be that men are under-represented in the theist communities. Maybe women are more likely to believe in a god than men? I simply don’t know, but shouldn’t we be getting our facts right before we start talking about taking corrective action?

  • Brian Macker

    Richard Wade,

    Sorry that’s not the way it works with these “progressives”. You can’t opt out of “white privilege”. You lack moral authority based on your skin color and gender. You can only gain such authority if one of the girls validates it.

    Yep, anyone who thinks this way doesn’t deserve the respect of the term woman. You are a girl if you think a man can come to an opinion that opposes yours on the issue of gender and be correct both in fact and morally.

  • Claudia

    @Brian, I had decided to go to bed after the last comment, but seeing as how you’ve answered me I’ll explain myself and then crash (Europe time and all that jazz).

    I’m still unsure what my double standard is. I’m sorry if this is so obvious to you that it doesn’t need explaining. Can you spell it out?

    As for the question list, the easy part first. I don’t see “disparity” as loaded in the slightest. It simply means that there are more of one group than another. “Imbalance” would be another term. I will grant you (though I don’t know if that’s what you’re talking about) that it’s a rather trivial question. It’s entirely apparent that there are more men than women in the community, so asking an opinion about it can be legitimately seen as unnecesary. I suppose a more efficient question would be “Do you think that the gender disparity in the atheist movement is a problem?”

    As for not being open to opinions, I simply must say that it’s not true. What is true is that I see that for me to have a conversation about how to include more women in the movement, I would need the person I’m speaking to to answer in the affirmative. The possible exception is #2, because you can believe that there is a disparity that should be fixed but think that the reasons are external to the movement. If your answer no to #1 you have no interest in the conversation at all because you don’t think there’s a problem. This is not neccesarily a bad thing. I don’t participate in discussions about how my circle of friends can be more welcoming to comic book fans because we’re all raging geeks and don’t see it as a problem. If your answer to #3 is no (though I doubt anyone would ever admit to something like that) then obviously you don’t want to hear from me. If your answer to #4 is no, then conversation is likely to devolve into attacks and counter-attacks.

    I’m happy to hear from anyone on why they think yes or no on any of the questions, or even why they think they’re the wrong questions or that another should be added. That’s a separate issue from that of addressing problems with the inclusion of women in the movement.

    G’night all :-)

  • Brian Macker

    Greg,

    I had the same thought. Want to avoid men and hang out with atheists then form a woman atheist group. Want to avoid older male atheists then form a young atheist group. Hell if they want they can find the cougar atheists for older woman atheists who only want attention from younger male atheists.

    There can be nudist atheist groups for those who are more comfortable with their bodies than me, and the burka atheists for those who think woman’s bodies should not be looked at. Heck they can hold their meetings in dual rooms segregated by the sexes and communicating only by audio so as to prevent any male from violating a woman with his eyes.

    Want double standards then found an atheist group that only allows women to be in positions of authority. Hell, you can make this whole male-privilege belief system an dogma of your atheist religion.

  • http://chandays.blogspot.com Larry Meredith

    It’s obvious there’s a gender disparity in the movement, and it does need to be changed. I don’t think taking every brainfart complaint seriously is the way to do that though. In question 3, I obviously value the opinions of women just as much as I do from men. Brainfart complaints are not worth giving serious consideration. Whether they come from a man or a woman.
    As for question 2: Yes, of course there’s a possibility that there’s aspects of the movement that make women feel not as welcome. I accept there’s a possibility that men can feel not so welcome as well.
    question 4: I don’t see anyone asking questions or raising concerns as an enemy. That’s just silly. But I do think sometimes people have bad ideas. Even I have a brainfart every now and then and I’m willing to admit it when I have a bad idea. I like when people point it out when I have a bad idea. I don’t go run away crying.

  • cat

    Is there some sort of ‘ignorant sexist mansplaining ass’ award that we can grant Brian Macker for his “wonderful” comments here? Sure, the Captain may be a solid runner up and Jon ran a decent race, but I think Macker is an obvious winner here.

  • Brian Macker

    Claudia,

    Double standards are about doing things that if they were done in reverse you wouldn’t like.

    You seem to think that if we discuss what you want to then it would result in “mature, complex, yet worthwhile ways to take the conversation.”

    Many of us were having a mature conversation about the issue brought up by the questioner about the use of “female”.

    As you can see your turning this to other issues has not resulted in less of what you would characterize as a “cluster fuck”.

    How about if Hermant gave me posting privileges and I lamented that “mature, complex, yet worthwhile ways to take the conversation” than where you’ve lead things.

    The issue of whether the questioner was right to find offense at the use of the term female can not honestly be characterized as immature, simple, and worthless. I think it very worthwhile to make people understand that they cannot expect others to kowtow to everything the find offensive. Especially if they have gone out of the way to find offense.

    You’ve got your own issues and anyone who wants to discuss others is immature, simple, and worthless, yet I’m quite sure you reject such dismissals of your own issues.

    Fact is that atheism isn’t what big happy family. All we have in common is a lack of belief in deities, and not even leprechauns. Of course, we are going to fight. Frankly the vast majority of atheist have been complicit in mass murder, so I certainly have much to quarrel

  • trixr4kids

    @Brian Macker

    “You are a girl if you think a man can come to an opinion that opposes yours on the issue of gender and be correct both in fact and morally”

    Like your first post, this is pretty confused. I think you meant to say “You are a girl if you don’t think a man can come to an opinion that opposes yours on the issue of gender and be correct etc. etc.”

    In fact nothing in Claudia’s post suggested that she would claim any such thing.

    You seem to be particularly hung up on Claudia’s question #4:

    Are you willing to refrain from treating any objections you hear as challenges that must be defeated at all costs? (Note that this does not mean you have to agree with all objections, only that you do not view the objector as an enemy who must be defeated.)

    One of your responses:

    I wonder if Claudia is willing to treat her opposition like they have rational objections. What specifically is she talking about. Who is guilty and in what instance?

    Why would you assume she would not? And why do you introduce the notion of “guilt” here?

    You seem to assume the question is addressed to anyone who disagrees with Claudia. I’m pretty sure it is addressed to everybody. And I don’t see any attribution of guilt.

    In another comment you address the same question with:

    “No, I’m not willing to refrain from it because I never did it in the first place”

    And again:

    How can I be “willing to refrain” from doing something I haven’t even done?

    Nothing in the phrase “are you willing to refrain from” suggests that the party being asked the question has done the behavior in the past. If two generals from opposing armies get together for a parley they may reasonably set some ground rules before they begin discussing terms. If the ground rules can’t be agreed upon, there’s no point in going further. Imagine if one of the generals got petulant at being asked if he was willing to come to the parley unarmed (“What are you accusing me of!? No I’m not willing to agree to that because I never did such a thing before!) The question is not leveling an accusation at the reader (let alone at you, personally). And it is explicitly not insisting that objections and challenges not be made. It is merely saying that if the reader cannot listen to objections made by the people they disagree with without treating them like an enemy, conversation will be futile.

    You’re responding to this post defensively, emotionally, and antagonistically.

  • Brian Macker

    Claudia,

    Double standards are about doing things that if they were done in reverse you wouldn’t like.

    You seem to think that if we discuss what you want to then it would result in “mature, complex, yet worthwhile ways to take the conversation.”

    Many of us were having a mature conversation about the issue brought up by the questioner about the use of “female”.

    As you can see your turning this to other issues has not resulted in less of what you would characterize as a “cluster fuck”.

    How about if Hermant gave me posting privileges and I lamented that “mature, complex, yet worthwhile ways to take the conversation” than where you’ve lead things.

    The issue of whether the questioner was right to find offense at the use of the term female can not honestly be characterized as immature, simple, and worthless. I think it very worthwhile to make people understand that they cannot expect others to kowtow to everything the find offensive. Especially if they have gone out of the way to find offense.

    You’ve got your own issues and anyone who wants to discuss others is immature, simple, and worthless, yet I’m quite sure you reject such dismissals of your own issues.

    Fact is that atheism isn’t what big happy family. All we have in common is a lack of belief in deities, and not even leprechauns. Of course, we are going to fight. Frankly the vast majority of atheist have been complicit in mass murder, so I certainly have much to quarrel with them about.

    I believe a discussion has been productive when the other side understands my position, and not when they agree with it. It doesn’t matter how quarrelsome that process is just so long as the process does not degrade into lying, defamation, etc.

    I’m quite aware that others have a tenuous grasp of reason, even in the atheist community. Often they have feelings they themselves are too immature to understand the source of. So I’m willing to go a long way in explaining myself, and rarely expect others to see the light.

    Your first question is: “Do you believe that there is a gender disparity in the movement and that this is a problem that should be corrected?”

    First “gender disparity” is not an unloaded term. It has a deep history in the feminist movement of being used to assume a problem caused by male sexism based on the mere existence of differences. Your further use of the word “problem” emphasizes this meaning. It’s an extremely biased question, so I’m not going to play by your rules.

    Some feminists are either too stupid, ignorant, paranoid, or selfish to consider the possibility that when adjusted for other factors these disparities are mostly explained by female choices. They don’t even want to talk about it. The mere mention of the possibility is evidence of a heretic.

    I don’t see how anyone can be intellectually honest and use loaded phrases like “gender disparity”.

    I haven’t even seen any evidence put forward for the exact ratio of female to male atheists in the general population let alone in atheist groups. How would I even know if there is a quantitative disparity of these ratios. Perhaps the ratio of atheist females is greater at these meetings than in the general population.

    Is there a quantitative disparity in the general population. Again, I don’t know.

    If there is then I don’t see how a personal decision like this can be laid as a crime at the feet of males. Atheism for me wasn’t some whim or choice. I didn’t choose to be an atheist, it was something I discovered. I realized that I didn’t believe in a deity of any sort. There was no gender based expectation in society that made me decide this.

    Assuming that the portion of atheists in the male population is identical to that in the female population seems to me to be quite a stretch.

    I have been to atheist groups and there certainly is a quantitative difference in the number of males that show up compared to females in comparison to their ratios in the general population as sexes. That tells us nothing. Might be that only one percent of all females are actual atheists and twenty percent of males. So when two females show up at the ten member meeting they are “over represented”. [Yes, those are scare quotes,and that is because there can be other innocent gender differences that will always cause differences between these two ratios.]

    BTW, I don’t buy the reframing of your question. I don’t think you really meant the simple observation that there are more men than women. It was a normative question with a deep bias present in the ideologies of feminism, minority studies, sociolog, post-modernism, Marxism, and liberalism.

    To get me to change my opinion on the nature of your question, bias, you are going to have to give a convincing explanation for why it wasn’t two separate questions, and why you assumed it was a problem, and why it required a yes answer.

    It’s not out of the realm of possibility for you to do so but I have my doubts.

    BTW, someone who uses loaded questions is already practicing a double standard if they expect others not to do the same. I assumed you were intelligent enough to know what a loaded question was and to be able to reject one if it came your way. You know you wouldn’t ever give a straight yes answer to a loaded question so why present one with the expectation that others answer it in the affirmative. That’s a double standard, expecting something of someone else that you wouldn’t accept if the tables were turned.

    You were also complaining about our lack communications skills. You can get out of this bind with the double standard by admitting you hadn’t realized question number four was loaded, but then you are in a bind on the issue of denigrating our communications skills, aren’t you?

    Furthermore, there were many valid criticisms on this thread of how you framed the entire event. It didn’t go down as you have described it. Many opinions projected on others were never stated.

  • Kamaka

    Sorry if I repeat a point. I haven’t had time to read all the comments, I work long hours on the weekend.

    This:

    The complaint that women are hit on too much at meet-ups

    To show up at a meeting that purports to be about ways of thought and then being forced to repeatedly fend off unwanted “romantic” advances…I would have no patience for such a thing. How off-putting.

    Yah, a good atheist woman is hard to find, and every atheist guy is, indeed, a smooth operator.

    If this is shit is going on, and I have no reason to doubt it, it’s no small wonder that women are underrepresented at atheist meetings.

  • anon

    This chick digs Star Trek. So do most of my female friends. (And yes, in answer to your unasked question, engineers and computer geeks are HOT. I married one and birthed the other.)

    The rest of the debate/discussion demonstrates why I don’t associate with groups, atheistic or otherwise.

  • RPJ

    Sorry, not going to read 100 comments.

    What loaded questions. I’ll decline to pretend that you’re really asking objectively, so I might get a little harsh here.

    1. Probably. I’m not actually active in any movements; I share the values of atheists/humanists etc but I just sit on the internet and lurk blogs. Gender disparity has been a pervasive problem since the beginning of time, so it wouldn’t surprise me that the atheist movement has it as well.

    2. It’s something to should be addressed. Again, I don’t know any specifics but I’ll err on the side of history.

    3. Yes, I believe that the opinions of women are of paramount importance; that should be obvious. This doesn’t mean acquiescing to every wilting lily’s pet peeve, though. Some things are just stupid and you don’t get a pass by invoking a minority status. That said, if this is something that the majority of women actually do take seriously, then I guess my understanding of language needs to be updated.

    4. Nice strawman there. Are you willing to avoid crying every petty thing you can think of, expecting every petty thing to be taken seriously and crying discrimination when you’re ignored? Sorry, I was under the impression that this issue was supposed to be a dialogue, not a laundry list of prissy princessly ultimatums that men must meekly obey or be painted as “treating any objections you hear as challenges that must be defeated at all costs”. (Yes, this is a strawman too).

    The complaint that women are hit on too much at meet-ups is met with comments about it being “biological” (which can be easily read as, “So suck it up”)

    To a VERY limited extent, yes, suck it up, princess. You aren’t alone – men have to suck a lot of things up too (inb4 men’s right activist). Humans are humans and humans will engage in human activities. Often these are unwanted, and we’ll all have to deal with unwanted people doing unwanted things. That’s what “no” and pepper spray were invented for. Men, as a whole, still need to improve vastly on leaving women the hell alone. But if you’re expecting the entire half of a gender to forever walk on eggshells around you, keep dreaming; biology won’t go away. You’re going to have to say “Please stop” sometimes. That’s life.

    Maybe you didn’t mean to sound like a princess but that’s how you did sound so that’s how I responded.

    bullet points

    None of those seem to directly address the complaint. I don’t take part in panel discussions, so maybe that’s normal, but when someone asks me something I tend to answer it as directly as possible rather than going off in tangents. Personally I loathe it when people do that to me.

    That when you try to explain why you find something unwelcoming, you are told (in no uncertain terms) that you don’t have the right to feel that way, you’re being oversensitive, or you have to get over yourself.

    Oh no, you have to get over yourself. What oppression.

    I’m still not convinced that this isn’t a stupid quibble (inb4 “why are you arguing”; because I like to argue about things and this is being argued). Being in a minority doesn’t make it not stupid. Again, I may be wrong and women may actually find “female” offensive. But from the understanding I do have it isn’t and if you do find it offensive, you need to get over yourself.

    It can be used offensively, but so any other term. However, the reaction to the original complaint, where the objections of women have been delegitimized, ridiculed and denied any kind of context

    Of course, it was delegitimized because she was a woman, not because it was a stupid, trivial nonissue.

    This may have been a discussion of how to get women involved, and may have come from a woman, but that doesn’t mean that every crackpot, paranoid idea that is brought up is equal with real issues (that were being obfuscated by this crap). And trying to legitimize it by crying discrimination doesn’t help anyone.

  • Lisa C.

    I have the pleasure to socialize with a lot of women atheists online and in real life. We’ve created small forums within wider topics of interest all over the place.

    For myself, I’m a fiber artist and participate in online forums related to that hobby and host crafting salons in public and in my own home. There are side forums contained within the much larger hobby related community (via the Internet) for every interest imaginable (because our geographical/political/lifestyle leanings sometimes inspire the art we create… it makes sense).

    We (in the salons and online) we have dozens of productive conversations every week on current events, our local atheist communities (or lack of them), navigating family/work/social landscapes, talk about coming out, about things that both blend with and diverge from the more mainstream Atheist Movement interests, talk about our physical and mental health, discuss reproduction/family planning/choice to remain childfree, how we educate our children (if we have them), how we navigate the educations system and the pressures other parents/teachers/peers might put on us to conform to religious values in education… on and on.

    Maybe it would serve those who are interested in what would attract women to these meetings well to check out what is currently working well elsewhere already (observe).

    Maybe we’re not visible in larger numbers here (or at conferences/local meetups, etc) because we have converged organically where it makes the most sense for us already?

    Many of us discover each other while going about our daily lives – in play groups for our children, in crafting meetups, in cooking classes and cooperatives. It makes the most sense for so many to seek our peers in the environments which suit our lifestyles best.

    For example, I’m not particularly interested in meeting up at a bar once a month just to meet people I generally may not have much more in common with than that we don’t share a belief in deities or the supernatural over beer and board games. That’s just me. My responsibilities to other areas of my life have me multi-tasking to get all my interests met already. So, I follow my hobbies, and I look for like-minded peers there. Sometimes, they’re there… sometimes not. But I do find them, and it’s usually a delight to simply just share time with someone who most likely respects my lack of religious life… and who will be interested in the kinds of chit-chat that might come up around that.

    It’s more casual than panels, debates, round circle discussions… and tends to suit the temperaments of people who are more interested in sharing space with people who feel comfortable and open. Occasionally, we have come together and decided on service work… raising money, providing warmth for the disadvantaged, blood drives… and other things… but we generally don’t come to our hobby groups with action plans to further the Atheist Movement. A large part of sharing has to do with growing as people in compassion, skill, knowledge, and community that feels well rounded to us.

    And of great interest to me, our salons are open to ANYBODY… men, women, young people, the elderly, any income level, any ability level, faith, ethnicity… anybody.

    In a circle I host weekly, we have women, men, gay and lesbian, Middle Eastern/Asian/Black/Native American/Jewish/Muslim/Christian/Atheist/Mixed Race Couples, mothers with children, retired individuals, people in school, people drop in from out of town (and even other continents)… and we face each other over crafts that fit in our laps… the conversation comes naturally and it’s there or it isn’t… and if it’s not, it’s no big deal. If we feel discomfort with any of the conversations… which I have seen happen from time to time, the projects we’re working on allow participants to step back from the conversation without feeling challenged or the need to explain why we’re not participating at the moment. At the end of the salon, the participants might make a new friend or connection… or they might not have enjoyed it and they move on. But, we have a high return rate… we’ve been meeting for over 2 years, and it’s probably the single most satisfying group I have ever had the pleasure to be a part of.

  • Jon Peterson

    @cat:
    Do you have something useful to add to this thread? Because right now all I’m seeing is an angry commenter who is extremely comfortable tagging inaccurate and offensive terminology to people with whom (s)he doesn’t agree.

    I’ll contest a statement or position with which I don’t agree, regardless of the gender/race/orientation/beliefs of the person who uttered it. I form opinions on individuals, never classes.

  • Brian Macker

    trixr4kids,

    The entomology of the word “refrain” is as a derivative of refraindre, to break sequence.

    When generals agree to refrain from attacks there is the implication that there is either a history or an impulse to attack that must be checked.

    The only reason she could have for implying this

    I have neither a history nor an impulse of “treating any objections you hear as challenges that must be defeated at all costs?” There is nothing for me to refrain from.

    You know what. Unless you answer this question in the affirmative then there is no point talking with you. Are you wrong or what?

    “I’m pretty sure it is addressed to everybody.”

    I betcha you are one of those school teachers that thought it was correct to punish the entire class for the offense of one kid.

    Why should I agree to refrain from something that there is no history of me doing, or having the impulse to do.

    How about I make a long list of questions regarding things you should refrain from in your discussions based on zero history?

    1) Are you willing to refrain from masterbaiting while reading my comments. I think that will help focus your attention.

    I don’t care if it’s addressed to everybody. She characterized an diverse discussion as simple, immature, and worthless in toto. In her attempt to be fair handed she is being unjust in condemning the guilty with the innocent.

    Nonsense, to your claim that there is no guilt implied here. This whole discussion is normative. It’s precisely about what we males “should” do. It’s about who gets blamed for the lack of females at atheist meet ups.

    “In closing I’d like to ask anyone reading (female and male) to ask themselves the following questions:

    1. Do you believe that there is a gender disparity in the movement and that this is a problem that should be corrected?

    If the answer to this question is “yes,” then any conversation is futile, since you think there is a problem.”

    I think the above blockquote captures the nature of the problem here. It’s about a double standard.

    She would NOT accept the above quote as a valid way of starting off a discussion. Nor do I. Yet she did exactly that.

    Ironic that I went into great detail to try to get you to understand the facts, yet you dismiss it as emotion. Probably because that’s all you get out of words is emotional impressions.

    I’m not telling you what I feel. I’m telling you what I think. Get it? If I want to tell you what I feel then I’ll do so.

  • Jeanette

    Thanks for defending my comment Rieux. Much appreciated.

    Frustratingly, the point I was trying to make with my post was that it’s useless to pick apart the specific examples of phrases that upset people because people are bound to be upset by different things (as I was by “chicks don’t like Star Trek” EVEN IF OTHERS WEREN’T) but of course, what happens is, that one example I use gets quoted to be picked apart. I don’t need to re-read the full comment (thanks for the helpful suggestion though, I didn’t think of that!!) because I wasn’t addressing his comment. I was addressing his one sentence.

  • Jon Peterson

    @Jeanette:
    Oh shit, we’re allowed to address individual sentences on their own (discarding context as irrelevant) now? Because all I asked you to do was gather the full context of the sentence so that you could see how it shouldn’t be taken at face value.

    But since context no longer matters… I guess I’ll just accept that your blatant misrepresentation of the words of another commenter should just fly. Everything’s good now! ^_^

    (I’m really tired of these threads devolving into misquoting, namecalling, and other vitriol… but I’m also really tired, so pardon [or don't] this final chunk of sarcasm. I’ll just observe from here on out.)

  • Brian Macker

    trixr4kids,

    “Like your first post, this is pretty confused.”

    I think you mean you are confused. The correct term is unclear. No, this was merely is a typo. The word can, should have been can’t.

    “You are a girl if you think a man can come to an opinion that opposes yours on the issue of gender and be correct both in fact and morally”

    I’ll admit stripped of context this may also be unclear. So let me rephrase:

    “You have the maturity of a child if you don’t understand that men can be correct on issues of gender that are in opposition to what any single woman might have to say.” Does that clarify things for you? The context being that you have to be a woman to understand gender issues. Which is patently ridiculous since there are two genders.

    Sorry if you were confused by the first post. It was straight Claudia except the loaded questions were changed. Just like that block quote in my last comment.

  • Jeanette

    @Jon Peterson: I said nothing about that comment or commenter. I said the phrase “chicks don’t like star trek” pisses me off. If you want to know why, I can tell you, but it isn’t that important to this discussion and you’d probably dismiss it anyway. Not that it isn’t you know, pretty self evident why that might annoy a long-time star trek fan who is a woman.

    And speaking of taking things out of context, you’re the one that block quoted half a parenthetical statement I wrote without addressing anything else.

  • allison

    Greg wondered:

    If there is a gender disparity that needs correcting in the current system, then why are there not lots of female only atheist groups?

    Actually, as I stated in one of the earlier threads, there are a lot of really informal female-dominated atheist groups out there. They spring up almost everywhere I’ve been that’s predominantly female — places like parenting groups and knitting groups. They obviously have a different thrust than groups such as American Atheist, but they do exist. There is a fair amount of discussion of the political issues, but there also tends to be more on navigating personal issues as well. It’s all informal (the idea of a position of authority in a weekly/monthly knitting gathering is kind of amusing), but it is definitely networking and many of the online groups of the sort described have pretty good membership. (Seriously, American Atheists has, what, around 2200 members? That’s what Wikipedia says, anyway. One of my online atheist knitting groups has about 2600 members, the vast majority of them female. Another that’s not strictly atheist but is very atheist friendly has 7700 members.) We find each other.

    I’d also like to point out that some of the younger women are involved in SSA chapters that are majority female. Y’all have something at stake in keeping these women in the fold.

    As I said earlier, these groups such as American Atheists have to decide what they want to be. If they really want to keep the young women who are in SSA active in the movement, they might want to keep their eyes and ears open, adjusting as they go. If they want a different audience, they’ll have to aim for it. Decide who you want to be, and I’ll decide if I’m interested in showing up. Given my prior experiences with the local offshoot related to American Atheists, I’m not interested.

  • Brian Macker

    *begin sarcasm*

    In closing I’d like to ask anyone reading (female and male) to ask themselves the following question:

    1. Do you believe that there is a gender disparity in the movement and that this is a problem that should be corrected?

    If the answer to this question is “yes,” then any conversation is futile, since you think there is a problem.

    Less politely characterized, STFU if you think it’s a problem since your opinion is pointless.

    Hell, I don’t know why we ever bother discussing things where you think there is a problem and I don’t. Just shut up. No point to having a conversation.

    *end sarcasm*

    I could have done the sarcasm in another way.
    For example:

    *begin sarcasm*
    1) Do you believe that there is an inherent theft in the redistribution of income and that this is a problem that should be corrected?

    If the answer to this question is “no,” then any conversation is futile, since you think there isn’t a problem.
    *end sarcasm*

  • Brian Macker

    Allison,

    Don’t forget that AA was founded by a woman.

    What was she thinking in setting up such a male centric organization? :)

  • Aj

    Claudia,

    The same shitstorm happened at TAM7 over completely innocent comments. The whiners didn’t really have a leg to stand on then, and they don’t now. There should be no debate, using the term female does not denote livestock.

    …where the objections of women have been delegitimized, ridiculed and denied any kind of context…

    In this case the objection wasn’t legitimate, it was ridiculous, the appropriate response is not to treat it as legitimate or respect it. I don’t think you’re using the word “context” in manner I’m familiar with. I’d like to know what context changes this to sane, because I can’t imagine one.

    I agree that confronting this bullshit takes focus away from more productive conversation. However, the solution is not to appease this kind of stupidity. People should either be encouraged to think before they get offended, or be ignored. You only encourage it to happen again if you take it seriously. You seem to be asking for people to favour women and treat them differently, I very much doubt you’d have a problem if a male pulled the same shit and was treated the same way.

    You can complain about the reaction and call for more understanding, but you seem to have made no attempt to understand the reaction. When out of the blue someone accuses you of referring to women as livestock, something pretty terrible, there’s going to be an emotional response of fear and paranoia, there’s going to be a feeling of injustice. Why have these bees started to attack me while I’m poking their hive?

    I was concerned with the “we’re not allowed to use the term ‘women’ according to feminists” defence. That’s another problem with starting this nonsense, people don’t think straight and start digging holes that weren’t there before. However, the “weaker sex” comment was clearly facetious.

    p.s. another example of digging holes that weren’t there is the “it’s biological excuse”. It’s OK to flirt with people you find attractive, there’s no need to add the natural fallacy to justify it. Sometimes I wonder whether these complaints are a joke. Jen “blaghag” writing it’s OK as long as they’re young enough for her approval and the group is below an arbitrary number. If you’re not interested you usually emote it, if they still don’t get it, tell them to stop or talk to others. If you have a problem at people staring at your cleavage don’t look where they’re staring, no one else owns their eyes. Some people don’t like making eye contact, but they deal. I doubt people making this complaint would be compliant if others were making all sorts of demands.

  • Brian Macker

    Jeanette,

    It’s ok, us men have been told that “Real men don’t like Star Trek, only losers.” That’s from a woman. In fact, I’ve heard it expressed by several women.

    Your single quote out of context wasn’t his point. He was talking about differences between men and women. It wasn’t about intensity of desire nor a blanket claim that no woman ever liked Star Trek. My understanding is that male trekkies outnumber females.

    Do you find the sentence, “Women don’t like star trek in the same portion as men” offensive?

    What about “Chicks don’t like Star Trek in the same portion as men?”

    If that bothers you then would “Dudes like Star Trek in greater proportions” bother you?

    I’m interested in exactly what is rankling you here. I assure you he didn’t mean it as a blanket claim.

  • allison

    Brian, I don’t forget, although I noticed earlier that some of the men who were so proudly crowing that fact spelled her name incorrectly. :) Personally, I suspect I would not have got on well with Ms. O’Hair. There was more involved than the gender issue, although it certainly came into play. You’ll note that I’ve not said the groups are evil or anything, just that I find them unappealing for a number of reasons. I also said that I don’t see the need to belong since I have no difficulty finding like-minded women without the use of the group. At the American Atheists meetings I attended, frankly, I found people I didn’t care to gather with.

    The groups I’m referring to aren’t things that were set up to counter groups such as AA. They’re just like-minded people who gather together, but there are an awful lot of them.

  • http://liberalfaith.blogspot.com/ Steve Caldwell

    A useful mental model for the issues surrounding gender equality is the following:

    oppression = power + prejudice

    Oppression isn’t simply just a matter of personal attitudes and prejudices. There are “structural” considerations as well — the “power” contribution to oppression.

    To examine what “structural oppression” might be, I will post this definition developed by the Aspen Institute:

    The ways in which history, culture, ideology, public policies, institutional practices, and personal behaviors and beliefs interact to maintain a hierarchy – based on race, class, gender, sexuality, and/or other group identities – that allows the privileges associated with the dominant group and the disadvantages associated with the oppressed, targeted, or marginalized group to endure and adapt over time.

    Source — http://opensourceleadership.com/documents/DO%20Definitions.pdf

    A dominant group has unearned privilege and gets to define what is “normal” and what isn’t “normal.”

    Anyone who is an atheist living in North America has some experience with the unearned power and privilege associated with dominant groups (e.g. religious people in general and Christians specifically).

    It would be worthwhile to take this understanding that we get from looking at the unearned power and privilege that religious people have in our society and expanding this understanding to include the issues surrounding gender, race, sexual orientation, economic class, etc.

  • Brian Macker

    That was supposed to be proportion, not portion. I’m making quite a bit of typos here.

  • Jeanette

    @Brian Macker: Sure, I’d be happy to explain. He may not have meant it as a blanket statement, but it comes off that way to some star trek fan women living in a society where we are routinely treated as though we don’t exist. The very statement “Real men don’t like star trek” already implicitly rules out the possibility of a woman liking star trek, for example.

    Now, that said, I am in no way trying to gloss over how upsetting it is to be called a loser. Of course it is. She should apologize for saying that to you. And of course I’ve been called a loser for being into nerdy things too. It sucks.

  • Charon

    @Claudia

    I don’t actually care (too much) about the incident that started all of this. Certainly I have nothing against discussions about it, who was right, was it misrepresented etc. However I simply don’t find it too interesting. One incident does not show a tendency. The reaction to the incident however I have found worriesome

    I think this is somewhat problematic. It matters quite a bit whether the initial presentation of the situation was honest, because if it wasn’t, then an angry reaction against hypersensitivity is perfectly understandable. If the presentation of strong sexism was honest, then the reaction should have been supportive and concerned.

    The reaction isn’t occurring in a vacuum.

    That’s not to say there can’t be objectionable comments either way – I’ve seen a handful here and on BlagHag that are quite sexist, on both sides – but they’re distinctly not the majority.

    Things can quickly spiral out of control when people feel attacked, though, in reaction to the reaction. This generally happens with people who’ve had this sort of argument before, and need little to set them off, which I’ve seen here with both men and women. Honestly it’s been some of the feminists who’ve most puzzled me, Jen herself talking about how this “female” thing has been argued for years, and implying those of us ignorant of these great debates don’t have much to contribute. I understand this kind of reaction to an argument you’ve had lots before with other people, but unlike, say, creationism v. evolution, here there is not one side that is clearly right, with all the evidence.

  • Brian Macker

    “A useful mental model for the issues surrounding gender equality is the following:

    oppression = power + prejudice”

    Baloney. There can be both the power to oppress a group, plus prejudice against a group, and yet no actual oppression taking place.

    Also remember that prejudice can be justified, so even where there is action on that prejudice the result may not be oppression. I’m prejudiced against theives and if I had the power to act against them and did the result would not be oppression.

    Also, the mechanics of politics allow non-dominate groups to oppress dominant ones. For example, in India you often hear of individuals setting themselves on fire because they cannot get into college despite being qualified. That is because they are being oppressed on the behalf of a minority via quotas.

    Men are supposedly dominant but we are oppressed in various ways with regards to the issues of reproduction and marriage here in the US.

    For example, a woman can name a male as the father of her child and gain child support without him being the biological father, being married to her, or ever slept with her.

    Likewise, a woman can terminate the mans child with no say so on his part even if she took full responsibility in the possibility of conception.

    I think women would consider it quite oppressive if any man that knocked up someone could name Oprah Winfrey the mother and tap her income. Likewise, I don’t think they’d appreciate it if a man could terminate the life of their child merely because he provided the sperm, married or not.

  • Charon

    The very statement “Real men don’t like star trek” already implicitly rules out the possibility of a woman liking star trek, for example.

    No, it doesn’t. I don’t have anything to add to this Stark Trek discussion, apart from standing up for logic. (For an example, consider if I looked at a badly done realist painting of a horse, and commented “real horses have hair”, that would in no way suggest that other mammals do not.)

  • Charon

    @Brian Macker

    There can be both the power to oppress a group, plus prejudice against a group, and yet no actual oppression taking place.

    Not often, no. It tends to require strong forces opposing the natural tendency for oppression (which would weaken the power).

    Also remember that prejudice can be justified, so even where there is action on that prejudice the result may not be oppression. I’m prejudiced against theives and if I had the power to act against them and did the result would not be oppression.

    I don’t agree. You claim it would not be oppression of the thieves, despite clearly restricting them. Why is it not oppression, then? Because it’s justified? Well, then maybe it isn’t prejudice, either. Most people do not use the word “prejudice” for a valid, reasonable dislike.

    Also, the mechanics of politics allow non-dominate groups to oppress dominant ones.

    Not really. Note the example you give is of a dominant group oppressing “on behalf of” a minority. The dominant group is still oppressing. If it decided to no longer oppress, the minority would have no power to gainsay it. Oppression can come from a numerical minority, but not a group with a power minority.

    I think women would consider it quite oppressive if any man that knocked up someone could name Oprah Winfrey the mother and tap her income.

    Yeah, it really is awful about all the women who’ve done that to Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and… wait a minute. You just made this supposed privilege of women up, didn’t you?

  • Jeanette

    @Charon: Yeah, it doesn’t logically mean it’s impossible. But saying “real men do X” and “real horses have hair” are totally different uses of the word “real”. Anyway, I have nothing else to add to the star trek conversation either, and like I said, I see no reason everyone should react negatively to it like I did. I was trying to make a more general point about how we all react differently to different statements, and it should be a goal of the atheist movement, IMO, to not make potential woman participants feel excluded by accident.

  • http://liberalfaith.blogspot.com/ Steve Caldwell

    Just curious – does anyone think that this is happening in this discussion:

    Internalized Dominant Group SupremacyMy worldview is the only worldview. The standards and norms I live by are universal. My achievements have to do with me, not my membership in the group; I feel that I personally earned, through work and merit, any and all of my successes. Inflated sense of self. I have the right to be comfortable; if I am not, someone else is to blame. Equate individual acts of unfairness against members of my group with systematic oppression of target groups. I have many choices – everyone else has those same choices. I am not responsible for what happened before; I have a right to be ignorant. I see anti-oppression work as only in the interests of target groups. Cycles through generations.

    Source – http://opensourceleadership.com/documents/DO%20Definitions.pdf

    For every atheist who thinks that systemic or structural oppression is a bunch of bunk, remember that opinion the next time there is a public event like the Presidential Inaugural with “ceremonial deism” public prayer (which our courts have ruled to be perfectly legal BTW).

    How would you feel if you were told that your atheist objections were dismissed as you being too sensitive — perhaps you should just suck it up and carry on? Would that make you feel welcome or marginalized?

  • Brian Macker

    I’m going to bed but I find it amazing that it never crossed your mind that a rights violation was a requirement on your formula for oppression. No rights violation then no oppression. I have the power to buy a ticket fly over to your home town and slap you in the head to make you think straight. That doesn’t mean you are being oppressed at this very moment. Regardless if I was prejudiced or not if I started doing that on a regular basis you would be oppressed.

  • http://liberalfaith.blogspot.com/ Steve Caldwell

    Gee Brian, why the threats of physical violence?

    Do I need a restraining order? Or does the implied threat simply mean you’ve run out of things to say?

    :^)

    Michael Newdow attempted to sue to stop the use of the words “so help me god” in the oath of office and the incorporation of prayer in the event agenda for Obama’s inauguration. The US courts ruled that this wasn’t a rights violation.

    My point was that this public prayer situation was an example of dominant group insensitivity to marginalized groups. As atheists, we may have some understanding of being marginalized and perhaps we should apply that understanding to other types of diversity.

  • Jeanette

    @Steve Caldwell: Yes, I think that is happening in this discussion :P

  • http://askanatheist.tv/ pinkocommie

    Steve – on the nose, buddy.

    Claudia – great post! I always enjoy reading your comments and I think this post expresses the same concern I felt after reading all off the comments and the posts about this subject. In fact, my initial reaction to the actual story was ‘how silly!’ but now that I’ve read the responses, I actually feel a lot less confident about gender equality in the atheist community.

  • beckster

    Since this whole thing blew up, I have thought about why I am not as active in formal atheist organizations. What keeps me from becoming more active in atheist causes is atheism is not the minority status that defines me first. If I am going to spend time trying to change institutionalized discrimination, I will focus first on women’s rights. I think this could explain why many out-spoken and active atheists are white men. Their defining minority identity is being an atheist so when it is time to get angry and outspoken about something they focus on atheism. I am glad that they are fighting that battle and I think they are doing a decent job of it. While they are fighting that fight, I am busy focusing on women’s rights.

    As a woman, I am less concerned about our dollars saying In God We Trust than I am about the fact that I earn less of them than a man does for equal work. Perhaps atheist groups could organize events focused on women’s rights issues if they want to attract more women. I know these issues are all intertwined, but it is tough to divide your hours between all the organizations out there. If I have to choose an organziation to be active in I will choose to be more active with one focusing on women’s rights rather than on atheism because that effects my day to day life far more.

  • Amphigorey

    Ah, Brian is a Men’s Rights activist.

    That explains everything, and hey look, I just filled my bingo card.

  • Tizzle

    Can you please spend the next week only posting pictures of atheists eating babies?

    I never see mansplaining on those threads. Perhaps the trolls will go back to the mountains if there’s no food here for them.

    Richard Wade, I don’t know if you’ll see this, but if I were to try not to complain about “white men” in a way that bugged the white men I know to be on my side– how might I say it? Patriarchy? That may be too broad. Assholes? Mansplainers? I would likely say “straight white men”, but that doesn’t change the tone.

  • gsw

    The question to ask is:
    If we ever get a W60:M40 ratio, will men start leaving because it has suddenly become a women’s movement?

    I have seen it happen in professions; clubs and movements in the past.

  • Greg

    Allison – what I find most interesting in that response is that the goals these female atheists groups seem to have sound very different to those that happen in all these current atheist meet-ups the furore is referring to. Would that not tend to suggest that the demand for the particular services the ‘official’ atheist groups provide is just lower amongst women?

    That would certainly account for the ‘gender disparity’ as put in the OP, and yet there would be nothing wrong with it, and nothing should necessarily be done to change it. You can’t exactly change the goals and purposes of an organisation, and expect the people currently in them to stay, after all. Do that, and their needs may not be being met any more, and they’ll go off and start their own group, and the whole so called ‘problem’ would remain.

    Honestly, the best solution to me sounds like making sure the right environments are available for people. Maybe rather than fussing over the fact there aren’t enough women in these current groups, people should be considering ways to make the kind of group those women want easily available to them. Set up sister (no pun intended) organisations, with no requirement to join the other – ideally open to both sexes – and be happy that each organisation is catering to the people who want to be there. Each organisation could band together upon the areas important to them, but stay separate when things they don’t want to be part of come up.

    No one thing is going to appeal to everyone, so rather than try to force it to do so, why not provide enough choices so that people can have the thing that most appeals to them?

    There’s nothing wrong with people liking different things, or with genders liking different things. There’s a reason some films are referred to as chick-flicks despite some men also liking them, but that doesn’t mean they should be changed so that all men like them. If they were, then they wouldn’t be chick-flicks anymore, they’d be something else: probably something less women/girls would enjoy! Far better solution to provide a genre of film that men enjoy more than women. I know taste in films and organisations are two different things, but hopefully you see what I’m trying to say.

    It strikes me that the current organisations would be in a great position to help these new organisations get started, and publicity, etc., because they’ll know the things that work from having done it themselves.

    I guess I just don’t see why we so often have to assign blame to people or things, without first establishing there is blame there in the first place.

    Oh, and Steve Caldwell, yes it is, on both sides of the discussion.

    Tizzle I never see womansplaining on those threads, either.

    FFS – don’t use sexist comments and sexist terminology, and expect to be taken seriously when issues on sexism come up.

    If you don’t understand why the ‘word’ ‘mansplaining’ is sexist, just look at the comments at the end of the last thread to deal with ‘femalegate’.

  • Tizzle

    @Greg: Womansplaining (if it exists) isn’t sexist. Might be prejudiced, but sexism involves having power.
    I don’t know what the “word” means to you: if it’s women talking down to men as if they are little children, which is my first thought, then, well…I don’t do it. No worries.

    I’m not trying to be taken seriously by you. I was addressing Hemant. I don’t know you, whereas me and H are totes fb friends.

  • allison

    Greg wrote:

    Allison – what I find most interesting in that response is that the goals these female atheists groups seem to have sound very different to those that happen in all these current atheist meet-ups the furore is referring to. Would that not tend to suggest that the demand for the particular services the ‘official’ atheist groups provide is just lower amongst women?

    That would certainly account for the ‘gender disparity’ as put in the OP, and yet there would be nothing wrong with it, and nothing should necessarily be done to change it. You can’t exactly change the goals and purposes of an organisation, and expect the people currently in them to stay, after all. Do that, and their needs may not be being met any more, and they’ll go off and start their own group, and the whole so called ‘problem’ would remain.

    See, that’s what I don’t know. I suspect that it is — that these more formal groups are not appealing for a variety of reasons. Hence my saying earlier that this is really an issue for the groups involved. My suspicion is that if they really make a decision that they want to appeal to the wider female atheist population they’re likely to have to make some changes. They have to decide whether or not these changes are worth it to them, and as someone who’s not a member of these groups I really don’t feel comfortable telling them that they have to change.

    Honestly, the best solution to me sounds like making sure the right environments are available for people. Maybe rather than fussing over the fact there aren’t enough women in these current groups, people should be considering ways to make the kind of group those women want easily available to them. Set up sister (no pun intended) organisations, with no requirement to join the other – ideally open to both sexes – and be happy that each organisation is catering to the people who want to be there. Each organisation could band together upon the areas important to them, but stay separate when things they don’t want to be part of come up.

    No one thing is going to appeal to everyone, so rather than try to force it to do so, why not provide enough choices so that people can have the thing that most appeals to them?

    Exactly. And by here I don’t mean “separate but equal” so much as “don’t treat the people who are interested in what you have to offer badly, regardless of gender, and decide what you want your group to be.” I would like to say, though, that since people at the conference raised the issue of unwanted advances, I would argue that enough of the parties interested in the group are disturbed by the trend that some people may want to consider backing off and others may want to help out if they see someone feeling trapped. That’s why I think that having a singles meet-up offshoot was probably a good idea. It would probably help fix the problem. It’s also why I think that groups such as American Atheists might want to talk to the young women in SSA and see what keeps them going. SSA is, after all, part of the future of these organized groups!

  • Greg

    Tizzle said:

    @Greg: Womansplaining (if it exists) isn’t sexist. Might be prejudiced, but sexism involves having power.

    sex·ism (skszm)
    n.
    1. Discrimination based on gender, especially discrimination against women.
    2. Attitudes, conditions, or behaviors that promote stereotyping of social roles based on gender.
    sexist adj. & n.

    dis·crim·i·na·tion (d-skrm-nshn)
    n.
    1. The act of discriminating.
    2. The ability or power to see or make fine distinctions; discernment.
    3. Treatment or consideration based on class or category rather than individual merit; partiality or prejudice: racial discrimination; discrimination against foreigners.

    Sexism does not (necessarily) involve having power.

    Sorry if I’m snappy, I just have issues with people rejecting something someone says by labelling it as ‘mansplaining’ and then raising complaints about sexism themselves (which the word ‘mansplaining’ itself seems to imply). I see it as blatant hypocrisy.

    If someone says something wrong, then there are far better ways to combat it than label it as ‘mansplaining’. For example, actually showing why those things are wrong.

  • http://selfra.blogspot.com dantresomi

    1. yes there is a huge disparity.
    2. yes there are aspects of the movement where women CAN be made to feel excluded.
    3. yes we need the opinions of everyone
    4. No, there are some opinions that are needed to be defeated at all costs.

    I must point out that many of the folks on this post are MISSING the point. It’s not about the use of the word “female.” It was how the question was approached by ALL even the women in the crowd.

    again, Male privilege is clear and evident in the video and the responses to this blog and others. It’s a shame because I assumed that we freethinkers were better than that.
    We acted just like fanatical church folks over this incident.

    Our movement like any other is male dominated, duh. That doesn’t make it right. So what we are geeks, but geeks can be just as sexist as the jocks.

    YES, i blame white males for two reasons:

    a. one for white male privilege
    b. even if one of them notices, they are mum about it.

    Of course there is enough blame to go around, there were black and asian and latino males and females in the crowd who went along with it but last time I checked, this atheist movement was predominantly led by white males.

    I am not asking for a leadership position but i would rather we discuss the issues without the high school locker room banter and immaturity and get to the heart of the matter like the intelligent reasoning human beings we consistently tell the theists that we are.

  • Claudia

    @Tizzle, sexism is sexism no matter which direction its going. Just like black on white racism is still racism. What is true is that the pervasive culture of discrimination goes in one direction and not another. That does not make unfair discrimination against one gender right or excusable, even if they are in other aspects priviledged because of their gender.

    Also, and this includes dantresomi, I would reject the notion that we have to choose an identity group as the “enemy” and apply to them all the negative stereotypes. “White men” includes everyone from Pat Robertson to Richard Wade, and I’m not a fan of including both of them in any group other than Homo sapiens.

    If you want to identify a group as an enemy, then their name should be that aspect of them you find disagreeable. Sexists may sound more vague than “white men” but it ensures innocent men don’t get caught in the net.

  • http://Whowilldefendgod? John D

    If I may ad another voice to this particular thread.

    When something goes wrong where I work we perform a “post-mortum”. We study the root of a problem and try to prevent it from recurring.

    I have a proposal for what really went wrong here. Follow these steps.

    1) Blaghag, a popular blog allowed two people (Sharon Moss and Lyz Liddel) to write a review of an atheist meeting. This review, was scorching in its tone and accused the meeting organizers of blatant sexism. One piece of the post slandered a speaker so horribly that Jen (the blaghag owner) removed part of the post upon review.

    2)J T Eberhard decided to cross-post this blaghag article to “Friendly Atheist” to start a discussion about dissent and its value. The problem is that the original blaghag post was so vile and accusatory that it should not have been referenced. Eberhard was right to start a discussion, but should not have used the horrible original blaghag piece to start the discussion.

    3) tempers flared since people of good heart felt offended and hurt… thus starts the conflagration! Men and women across the blogosphere felt compelled to take sides and have a mighty battle (where everyone is eventually killed)

    My suggestion: Hemant. I fire the arrow directly at you. You should not have let Eberhard use this space for a post that was not well researched. and… Mr. Eberhard – I hope you have learned from this. I have no doubt your intentions were good. Just keep in mind that things spin out of control when false accusations are perpetuated. Please check your cross-posted material before you start another webwar.

    It is time for us to take a break. Men and women of goodwill will survive this bloody fight… and I hope we are all better for it.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    I read all the comments (at least up to this post) and agree that there is a problem with gender inequality that contributes to women not feeling comfortable in atheist meet-ups. I have the following practical suggestions.

    Recommendations for the Men:
    1. Don’t view atheist meet-ups as a dating pool. Assume that any women you meet there are not interested in dating unless they overtly flirt with you. Look elsewhere for a potential mate or sexual partner. I met my wife in an art class. “Raid” the local churches if you have to.
    2. Remember all the sparring in this thread and be more sensitive to how you present yourself and communicate with women. Women have very legitimate concerns over and beyond whether or not they believe in God.

    Recommendations to the women:
    1. Don’t have too high an expectation of atheist men. Although they may have given up (or never had) the God concept, they were probably still socialized the same as everybody else as far as male-female relationships.
    2. Don’t view nerdy men lacking socialization skills as having some kind of character flaw. It is often the churches that provide much of the inter-gender socialization in our society and if you don’t have that support group, one has to blunder through gaining that socialization experience all by yourself. But the nerdy guys can catch up fast once given the opportunity. Cut them a little slack.

  • Emily

    Of course chicks don’t like Star Trek. Poultry don’t have access to televisions, and even if they did, chicks would be too young to appreciate the sociopolitical commentary and awesome fight scenes.

  • http://Whowilldefendgod? John D

    Missy – What “movement” are you talking about when you ask “Do you believe that there is a gender disparity in the movement and that this is a problem that should be corrected?”

    Are you talking about “free speech”, “skepticism”, secularism in government, organizing student groups, adult meet-ups, specific atheist organizations (AA, AHA, CFI, etc.)

    All these groups are different. I am a member of many groups. I think the best approach here is to set a goal and not paint with such a broad brush. We all make too many assumptions when you use language such as “movement”.

  • Aj

    Jeff P,

    1. Don’t view atheist meet-ups as a dating pool. Assume that any women you meet there are not interested in dating unless they overtly flirt with you. Look elsewhere for a potential mate or sexual partner. I met my wife in an art class. “Raid” the local churches if you have to.

    That’s a nuclear option. I’m pretty sure you’ll find women who complain about men coming to art class and hitting on them, probably more so of church. I’d like some facts on the ground first. How big is the problem? What would we be losing? It might be the case that atheists form relationships from these events, as I’m sure people partly go to them to socialize with other atheists.

    2. Don’t view nerdy men lacking socialization skills as having some kind of character flaw. It is often the churches that provide much of the inter-gender socialization in our society and if you don’t have that support group, one has to blunder through gaining that socialization experience all by yourself. But the nerdy guys can catch up fast once given the opportunity. Cut them a little slack.

    Perhaps they’re so nerdy they’re not picking up the pertinent signals. Cutting them a little slack probably won’t help. Be blunt, or embarrass them. However, lets not be quick to lay this all on males, all parties have responsibilities in this, there’s ways to deal with unwanted attention. It’s probably not best to complain about it with reference to age or other characteristic, and throwing about the incoherent term “sex object” as if it actually means anything.

  • darlene

    Claudia and Re were dead on.

    The problem with privilege is that those with it don’t have to be bothered recognizing how it impacts those without it.

    It is a privilege to not have to care what others name you.

    It is a privilege to look around a room and see people who mostly look like you; act like you; think like you.

    It is a privilege to be able to push aside the concerns of others as silly or over-reactive or easily offended.

    Please, please go and read this: http://www.uakron.edu/centers/conflict/docs/whitepriv.pdf

    See, it doesn’t matter if what you said didn’t really offend me…it matters that someone was offended. The correct response to offending someone is an apology, not laughing at them. It doesn’t matter if I think the descriptor you use is cute, it matters that someone else finds it hurtful.

    I am so so so sick of apologists. That this has degenerated so far disgusts me.

    Why aren’t there more women at these events? Because of the people who make the hateful comments here and on other sites. Because of the lack of compassion and understanding and the complete unwillingness to even admit that there is room for change and growth.

    Hint: women generally don’t like being around misogynists or sexists or those who are apologists for either. Just sayin’….

  • http://Whowilldefendgod? John D

    Nice work darlene – Great way to paint about 80% of the posts here as sexist and misogynistic.

    Feelin the love.

  • allison
    2. Don’t view nerdy men lacking socialization skills as having some kind of character flaw. It is often the churches that provide much of the inter-gender socialization in our society and if you don’t have that support group, one has to blunder through gaining that socialization experience all by yourself. But the nerdy guys can catch up fast once given the opportunity. Cut them a little slack.

    Perhaps they’re so nerdy they’re not picking up the pertinent signals. Cutting them a little slack probably won’t help. Be blunt, or embarrass them. However, lets not be quick to lay this all on males, all parties have responsibilities in this, there’s ways to deal with unwanted attention. It’s probably not best to complain about it with reference to age or other characteristic, and throwing about the incoherent term “sex object” as if it actually means anything.

    Can I make another, extra, suggestion from a female persepctive? If it helps, I’m a big nerd and hang out frequently with nerdy men – nerd cred, I’m a mathematician married to a physicist turned computer scientist, in my spare time I watch sci fi and hang out at game stores. Yes, some men are clueless. They’ll drool over women around almost no matter what cues are sent. Often the women involved are not comfortable being as blunt as they need to be, because in order doing so would involve reaching the point of being incredibly insulting to the point of “Look, I would never date you even if you were the last man on earth” followed by other scorchers. Saying “I’m not interested” is often not enough to cut it with some of these guys.

    If, as a man at one of these meetings, you see someone else doing this to a woman, where she’s obviously looking uncomfortable, please help out. Help steer the guy away. If you notice that this is a recurring problem for this fellow, maybe later (not in a public setting) talk to him a bit and mention that it looked like he was overstepping boundaries. When it comes from us (particularly if the person complaining is the one being propositioned), we often get dismissed as frigid or whatever by the offender and so on. For many of these guys, hearing that other men notice they’re out of line is really what they need.

    Honestly, when we’re in a group and are trying to maintain good relations with other group members we don’t want to tear someone to shreds like that.

    I’m not saying here that you have to step in any time someone’s flirting with a woman, etc, but the more clueful among us can read social cues enough to help out.

  • Anna

    I’m not sure how big of a gender problem there is in the “atheist movement”. I think there is one but it is not major in my opinion, I think racial diversity is a bigger issue. I recently attended Skepticon III in Springfield, MO and thought there was a good representation of women and variety of topics so had a great experience. I do prefer secular humanist organizations (i.e. I belong to American Humanist Association and the Council for Secular Humanism, but I don’t belong to American Atheists). AHA is better about gender inclusion than CSH. FFRF is good and I belong to that organization too. Women can find good organizations to be a part of and those that are inclusive in a variety of ways will thrive the most.

  • http://Whowilldefendgod? John D

    @allison – I agree with your advice. Some people (more often men than women) are a bit clueless about social rules.

    Women often struggle to simply say no since this is seen as being cruel, and men are often too persistent since they think persistence is a virtue.

    I am glad I am married and don’t have to deal with these social complexities. I was really bad at this sort of thing, but my wife cut me some slack.

  • Jeanette

    @Emily: Hahahaha I hadn’t considered that angle yet. Seriously though, why didn’t I just post that and be done with it?? Would’ve saved so much time and been funnier :P

  • Tizzle

    @Greg, Claudia: I’ve always understood sexism and racism to be more than their dictionary definitions, and to be used almost exclusively to describe the powerful discriminating against the less powerful.

    Perhaps that’s not right. A quick search did not give me a better word to use. I think that someone claiming blacks are/can be racist against whites is co-opting the language of the oppressed, but just because I think something doesn’t make it important or true. I shall rescind my statement in which I implied sexism can be only one direction.

    @Greg–”mansplaining” is generally used when a person, usually male, comes around and patronizes people, usually female, especially if he isn’t a usual contributor to a blog. You’ll note that I did not accuse anyone specifically of it. Why did you think I was talking about you? I also mentioned trolls, but you didn’t respond to/take offense to that.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    @allison,

    That was a useful helpful suggestion. Thanks.

    Jeff

  • http://liberalfaith.blogspot.com/ Steve Caldwell

    Tizzle wrote:

    @Greg, Claudia: I’ve always understood sexism and racism to be more than their dictionary definitions, and to be used almost exclusively to describe the powerful discriminating against the less powerful.

    Perhaps that’s not right. A quick search did not give me a better word to use. I think that someone claiming blacks are/can be racist against whites is co-opting the language of the oppressed, but just because I think something doesn’t make it important or true. I shall rescind my statement in which I implied sexism can be only one direction.

    The chances that I’ve had to seriously examine racism, clasism, sexism, heterosexism, etc have been a liberal religious context (Unitarian Universalism). Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that “religious = worthless” here, keep in mind that a high percentage of Unitarian Universalists are atheists, agnostics, and other types of humanists.

    First, any member of any group can be prejudiced towards other groups. And any member of any group can hold stereotypes about other groups (positive and negative).

    Second, groups differ in terms of unearned power and privilege granted by society. Please note that any unearned power and privilege is given whether one wants it or not and it’s difficult to impossible to give back unearned power and privilege.

    Here are a few concrete examples of the differences between power and prejudice and what that might suggest to us about oppression (and oppression being a combination of power and prejudice).

    If a gay man or lesbian makes a rude stereotyped comment about heterosexuals, then that is an example of prejudice. However, that doesn’t change the reality of where the balance of power lies in the US between gay and straight folks (who can marry, who can easily adopt children, who can openly serve in the US military, etc).

    A woman can make a rude stereotyped comment about men. Again, that doesn’t change the reality about where the balance of power lies in the US between men and women (keep in mind that women on average make 77 cents for every dollar the average man makes).

    An atheist can make a rude stereotyped comment about Christians. Yet again, that doesn’t change the reality about where the balance of power lies in the US. I would provide examples here but this example is probably “preaching to the choir” (to borrow a metaphor).

    The confusion here comes from the colloquial usage of words like “racism” and “sexism” to mean personal prejudice and stereotyping.

    People who are looking beyond the personal prejudice to include structural and systemic barriers to equality are using the words “racism” and “sexism” differently. In these cases, the words “racism” and “sexism” are “technical jargon” and not the colloquial usage that one finds in the abridged dictionary.

    Oppression is considered to be the combination of prejudice and power (where a dominant group has more power than the less dominant group).

    This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for people of color to be racist towards whites. However, for this to happen, it would require a huge shift in our culture where whites are marginalized and people of color are the dominant group.

    Likewise, a woman could be sexist. For this to happen, it would require a huge shift in our culture where men are marginalized and women are the dominant group.

    A gay man could be “homosexist” but this would require that we live in an alternative reality where heterosexuals are labeled by the sexual acts they perform (“breeders”?), cannot legally marry, are restricted in adopting children, and cannot serve openly in the US military.

    I hope folks are seeing that we need to look beyond the words, jokes, slurs, and putdowns (which are a serious issue) and look further to who’s empowered by society and who isn’t, who gets to be “normal” and who gets to be the “other,” etc.

  • Aj

    allison,

    I’m not as kind as you, if they’re still hitting on someone after they’ve been explicitly told “I’m not interested”, they need to be told. As a male you can’t intervene without being called a white knight or that you’re “cock-blocking”, the female has to take the lead. You shouldn’t care what someone thinks if they’re so immature to start calling people “frigid” for rebutting them.

    I can’t help think that a male would not have this trouble. If a male refuses female advances it’s not any better than if a female does. Females are expected to be chaste, if a male isn’t chasing skirt he’s seen as defective. However, the solution to this problem for a male is to be blunt and not give a shit what other people think. If it was the female hitting on the male there would be some hollow-skull calling her a slut, which is just as bad as in the opposite situation calling someone frigid. And hopefully anyone using that language would be met with derision or be ignored, and no one should care what they think.

    Asking males to do something about it isn’t very helpful, and it perpetuates gender roles. There is a distinct lack of respect being shown to females in this situation, and it’s up to them to demand it.

  • Amphigorey

    Men speaking up when they are in groups of only men is key. If you hear someone say something sexist or demeaning and there are no women around, one of the best things you can do is to call the man out on it. By demonstrating that sexism is unacceptable whether or not you’re in mixed company, you are helping everyone.

    I’m a little disturbed by the notion that’s come up that nerdy men just can’t help themselves because they are so undersocialized. You know what? I am a nerd and I hang out with nerdy men and women, and I think it’s doing a huge disservice to nerds and geeks to say, “Oh, the poor things, they just can’t help themselves.” No. We expect better, and we’re capable of better.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    @amphigorey,

    I’m not saying that under-socialization is the only problem. Only that it a contributing factor. And of course it is possible for geeks (those that like math and science) to be well socialized with the opposite sex. All I’m saying is that a contributing factor for some bad behavior is being under-socialized. Getting a little help from friends can’t hurt.

  • cat

    @Jon, if you lot have nothing more to say than insulting women’s intelligence, referring to them as “princesses”, or suggesting that they are children, then it is as pointless to try to have a reasonable conversation with you as it is to try to discuss astronomy with a flat earther or biology with a young earth creationist. As you have done nothing but accuse your opponents of being irrational and unable to read, other than making statements that are blatantly disconnected from reality, you are undeserving of anything other than mockery.

    “That is an extrapolation from the original observation that it is a biological imperative to notice (women’s) sexuality.”

    When you say silly shit like that, what gives you a right to expect others to not respond in kind? It is absurd to suggest that women being hit on in public spaces is about those women’s sexuality. If it were, lesbian and asexual women would be exempt and men would not hit on women who did not want it. You wanting to fuck someone has nothing to do with their sexuality and everything to do with yours.

    “Flirtation happens everywhere, and (this will come a shock to some of you, apparently) it’s generally pretty well received and accepted by both genders. And for the most part, when it’s not accepted, it’s declined with grace and courtesy, and both parties move on.”

    This is completely innacurate, as pretty much anyone raised as a girl or living as a woman can tell you (not to mention that you are being as condescending as hell). Women and girls are not generally respected when they refuse advances or express that such advances make them uncomfortable. People, like you are fucking doing right here, suggest that women should ‘get over’ being publically harassed and objectified. Shit, you fuckers won’t even admit that it happens, let alone that it is a problem. Men are not treated as public sex objects the way that women are, period. And, no, assholes, “you get harassed and objectified everywhere, so get the fuck over it” is not a defense to harassing or objectifing people in any specific contexts.

    You have no right to demand respect from the members of and allies of groups you refuse to see as worthy of respect. So take your condescending attitude and shove it up your ass.
    You see, I actually disagree with 4 on Claudia’s list, because only the group in power has the privilege of not seeing a debate about the oppressed groups rights and humanity as a war that must be won. When someone from the group in power is attacking the humanity and rights of the oppressed, the oppressed group has no choice but to see an enemy, because someone trying to strip you of rights and/or kill you is an enemy. Queer people do not have the privilege to agree to disagree about whether or not their sexualities and genders should be criminal and whether they should be stripped of civil rights. Black people do not have the privilege to agree to disagree about racial discrimination. Women and trans folks do not have the privilege to agree to disagree on issue of gender discrimination. Because if the oppressed give up, we die, be it slowly or quickly.

  • allison

    Aj, honestly I would do the same for you. I would also do the same if I saw a woman being pressured too much by someone I knew. If it was someone I didn’t know, I might step in and get rude about it, but sometimes a helpful hand is the best thing for both parties involved….before it reaches the point where the person making the advances really, really oversteps. If we’re group members and hang out together, we usually have an idea as to who the repeat offenders are. I’m talking about the people who are really intensely socially clueless here. Sometimes they actually mean well, but they just don’t know when to stop.

    As an example (not a sex/dating issue but similar lack of social boundaries), where I went to grad school one of the professors was really socially clueless. She would talk to you forever once she started, and you could directly tell her “Go away – I’m busy!” It wouldn’t help. If a man went to the bathroom to avoid her, she would talk through the door until he emerged and then continue following him around, she would keep talking at you when you walked into your class, wait outside the room when your prof closed the door, and then talk when you left class. It was bad. We developed several techniques for dealing with her. One was kind of mean to others around us – we would walk her to someone else, get her started on that person, and leave quietly before she noticed. Another was that sometimes a friend would see you in trouble and catch her attention, dragging her away. Usually this was done in combination with the third move, which was to walk until you were in the door of your office and then hope a friend would take pity on you and call your office so that you could pretend it was a big emergency.

    If someone’s just awkward and well-meaning, this means that the person can potentially save face at least a little face for a later date.

    Some people do really have serious social issues and need help.

  • MelissaF

    Wow. I really don’t get all the uproar over this. In my opinion its just created a situation thats sexist & insulting to both sexes. Men are suddenly considered to all be unable to take “no” for an answer, nerdy, drooling & sexist “mansplainers” (fecking hell women, stop calling men that, it just sounds hypocritical & bitchy). Women are making themselves appear oversensitive, unable to stick up for themselves, man-hating, & yeah, just a little anti-sex. And the “oh no teh menz are hitting on me, help!” attitude pisses me off, because hey, chicks can drool over guys at inappropriate times too, you know! I know I have. I think all that needs to happen in the “movement” is for everyone to be reminded that maybe people should have the aim of friendship in mind at atheist meet-ups. If said friendship blossoms into romance, then cool, but that shouldnt be the goal. Oh, & that if a girl/guy uses the phrase, “sorry, you just arent my type” it means no sparkage, so stop hitting on the girl/guy. It should be simple, really. Shouldnt it?

  • Jon Peterson

    @cat:
    I challenge you to cite a quote of me insulting women’s intelligence, referring to them as “princesses”, or suggesting they’re children.

    You personally, however, have just made a baseless attack on my character… and I have absolutely no problem calling you out for acting like a child.

    You’ve happily discarded all context of the sentences you quoted in an attempt to present them as self-contained ideas, rather than a portion of a larger idea built on my previous interactions in this thread. You are being dishonest with me, and with anyone you’re trying to convince, and likely with yourself. Cut the crap.

  • http://Whowilldefendgod? John D

    Haha – I used to be frustrated by this whole topic, and now I am amused.

    Now that the topic has turned more toward the behavior of individuals who don’t always follow social rules people take offense again.

    I happen to think that many atheists are a bit (let me pick the right words here)”unique”. I think we tend to push on social boundaries in some ways and are a bit peculiar socially. I don’t mean this is a bad thing… it is really more interesting.

    I suppose now a bunch of people will pile on and say this is stereotypical and bigoted speech. Haha.

    I had a boss once who was a really nice guy. Unfortunately he had different space boundaries than I had. When I was frustrated by something at work he would come behind me and rub my shoulders. I DO NOT like to be touched when I am angry. Man… I almost smacked him once, but really, this was just how he thought he should deal with the issue. I did tell him very strongly not to touch me. It helped.

    Just sayin. Everyone is different.

  • Aj

    Steve Caldwell,

    The confusion here comes from the colloquial usage of words like “racism” and “sexism” to mean personal prejudice and stereotyping.

    People who are looking beyond the personal prejudice to include structural and systemic barriers to equality are using the words “racism” and “sexism” differently. In these cases, the words “racism” and “sexism” are “technical jargon” and not the colloquial usage that one finds in the abridged dictionary.

    It’s not colloquial usage. It’s not just personal prejudice and stereotyping. People who use the words in the classic way refer to discrimination. If there is a law that says women can’t do something, that’s sexist, it’s not personal, it’s structural. Specific Leftist ideologies that formed in Second Wave Feminism and Marxist “Anti-racist” movements came up with their own definitions and jargon dealing with power and ideals.

  • Carlie

    Why is it that any time a woman brings up a topic about how women feel marginalized in society, that a lot of men speak up to say that women have no idea what they’re talking about and need to shut up and stop being so sensitive?
    Never, mind, I’m pretty sure I know. It’s just sad that anyone could predict exactly how this comment thread was going to go the minute the post went up, and darned if it didn’t do exactly that.

  • Aj

    Carlie,

    When it comes to stupid shit like using the word “female” instead of “woman” that is brought up as an example of women being marginalized don’t pretend that if a male did something similar there wouldn’t be plenty of other males saying shut up, stop being so sensitive, and probably more.

    It’s also easy to predict that a bunch of pseudo-feminists will start talking down to you as if your opinion doesn’t matter by preconditioning conversation with a short quiz, or use the incredibly irritating sexist term “mansplaining” , basically saying if you’re male and don’t agree with me then your opinion is worthless.

    I sincerely doubt when some real sexism comes up, instead of “you used ‘female’ instead of ‘woman’” bullshit, that there would be a lot of males telling a female to shut up. It seems like a lot of you are asking males to a) not treat the woman equally to what they would men, and b) to treat stupid shit like it deserves to be treated.

    It gives me hope that this type of thing is the only thing “feminists” can come up with. It’s good to know that there aren’t so many actual problems that “feminists” have time to beat the drum over absolutely nothing.

  • Amphigorey

    Aj, don’t be disingenuous. The issue is not solely over whether “female” is as acceptable as “women”; the problem is the treatment that the person who complained at the panel received at the hands of that panel. She was treated rudely and dismissively.

    The problem is that this kind of disrespect comes up over and over. That’s what we need to address.

  • Vas

    Boy I’m sure glad someone took the time to steer “the conversation in the right direction”.
    Also it’s quite impressive that someone knows what the “right” direction is.

    Ah the downward spiral, truly one of my favorite things. I’m not much of one for lighting fires, but I sure do love to watch things burn down. Anyone have video of the person crying in the bathroom, that would be a fun watch.

  • Aj

    Amphigorey,

    Aj, don’t be disingenuous. The issue is not solely over whether “female” is as acceptable as “women”; the problem is the treatment that the person who complained at the panel received at the hands of that panel. She was treated rudely and dismissively.

    The problem is that this kind of disrespect comes up over and over. That’s what we need to address.

    I’d be disappointed if that kind of question wasn’t treated dismissively. It’s disingenuous to frame this as a sexism issue, when there’s no inequality involved. Respect has to be earned, whether you’re male or female, if you say something like that you don’t deserve a response or discussion.

    How was the treatment? I was going by the blaghag post but now that I’ve seen the video, I think it’s a pretty poor representation of events. One of the quotes is just wrong, changing its meaning from an ice-breaker to an aggressive snipe. From the video the treatment the woman recieved was fine, the panel ignored it and moved on.

  • Amphigorey

    Aj, the panelist’s response of “What should we say, ‘the weaker sex?’” was pretty snide. The proper way to handle it would be to apologize and say that he didn’t mean to cause offense (and NOT say “I’m sorry if you were offended,” which is a total non-apology). He belittled her concern, and that’s no way to foster dialogue.

  • Aj

    Amphigorey,

    Aj, the panelist’s response of “What should we say, ‘the weaker sex?’” was pretty snide. The proper way to handle it would be to apologize and say that he didn’t mean to cause offense (and NOT say “I’m sorry if you were offended,” which is a total non-apology). He belittled her concern, and that’s no way to foster dialogue.

    Apart from it was “from now on we’ll use ‘the weaker sex’” and it wasn’t snide at all, everybody laughed, he wasn’t being malicious at all. Who apologizes when they haven’t done anything wrong? They did nothing wrong. Her concern is bullshit, there doesn’t need to be dialogue, that they spent the time they did on it elevated it beyond what it deserved.

    I shouldn’t be surprised that the account on sites like blaghag and the video are wildly different. At this point there definitely should be plenty of apologies, but it shouldn’t be from the panellists. The way people are misrepresenting this is abhorrent to me. If they had any shame they might be feeling a little.

  • http://www.inside-story.co.nz/ Sarah Robot

    @Aj

    When it comes to stupid shit like using the word “female” instead of “woman” that is brought up as an example of women being marginalized don’t pretend that if a male did something similar there wouldn’t be plenty of other males saying shut up, stop being so sensitive, and probably more.

    You seem to have no understanding of the concept of privilege – or maybe you just don’t want to understand. Look, the language we use matters. It comes with a history, connotation and context that is larger than a single encounter. Using the word “female” instead of “woman” in this situation can feel marginalising to a woman who is on the un-privileged side of the social equation. The whole reason that flipping it around (i.e. “male” and “men”) seems so ridiculous is because men are the privileged class in our culture and history. We are conditioned to view them as more than just objects, so it simply does not have the same connotations. Not to say that you can’t marginalise men – simply that it’s much more difficult to do in a society where the straight, white male is the dominant paradigm.

    In addition, as Amphigorey states, the issue is primarily the fact that the panel dealt with her concern by making a joke which effectively silenced her and dismissed the issue entirely. This is disrespectful at the very least, and most likely rooted in unconscious sexism and privilege. Hence it deserves to be addressed.

    I sincerely doubt when some real sexism comes up, instead of “you used ‘female’ instead of ‘woman’” bullshit, that there would be a lot of males telling a female to shut up. It seems like a lot of you are asking males to a) not treat the woman equally to what they would men, and b) to treat stupid shit like it deserves to be treated.

    All things being equal, using the term “female” as opposed to “woman” would carry no negative connotations for anybody, and men and women would be as free to use it as they are to use “male” instead of “men” without offense on either side. It is disingenuous to suggest that we live in such a world, because all things are not equal. As I said, our language has a history, and it is loaded with cultural assumptions. We can’t just wish them away because we want to, or because we disagree with them – that’s as bad as when my uncle tried to convince me that his (white, male) use of n****r wasn’t a racial slur because “they’re the ones interpreting it as negative!”

    To assume that your interpretation or experience of something is the only right, valid or “real” interpretation/experience is the very definition of privilege. And it’s what you’re doing right now. More than that, you’re asserting that your right to use the word “female” as you see fit, and to the unreflective use of language in general, not only does but should trump the fact that other people may find it sexist or marginalising. Privilege again.

    Sexism/marginalisation is not something that can be determined by an objective measuring stick, since everyone’s reactions and interpretations differ based on their personal background and biases – and especially their privileges. We don’t get to debate how someone should or should not experience something. Privilege makes us blind to certain things which are clear to others; in this case, we need to listen to what they’re saying and learn from it. Not dismiss it as “stupid shit” because our experience/interpretation is different.

    It gives me hope that this type of thing is the only thing “feminists” can come up with. It’s good to know that there aren’t so many actual problems that “feminists” have time to beat the drum over absolutely nothing.

    1. Nobody is saying this is the only issue facing feminists.
    2. Nobody is saying this is the primary issue facing feminists.
    3. Nobody is advocating focusing on language use to the exclusion of all other issues.
    4. You are derailing. Try again.

  • MelissaF

    The word “female” marginalises us poor un-privileged women? Wow, & here I thought it was just another way to say “woman”. Jesus, if you get horribly offended just for being referred to as female, then you’ll get offended over anything and everything. Honestly people, get over it. Something this trivial shouldnt be such a big deal.

  • Claudia

    Well, I suppose I should be happy it took several days for the conversation to turn back to the word game.

    AJ, I can’t speak for anyone else, but my original point was that the significance of the incident itself paled in comparison to some of the shit that has been going on in the comments threads that followed it, and that this is what I see as being indicative that there is a problem, not whether there’s something wrong with the word “female”. I was asking (pleading, really) for us to get off the topic of terminology and address the blaringly obvious tensions on issues of gender within the community. You only have to look at this thread to see that there is a problem, leaving aside what you think the origin of those problems are. I’ve never seen threads this contentious on Friendly Atheist on any other subject. It’s smoke and I’d rather se if I can find the fire and put it out than decide whether I want to call it “smoke” or “smog”. Others may have other interests, but this was my pitch.

    @vas, the title was not of my choosing. This is my fault because I didn’t give one to Hemant and he had to make one up. It’s true that I think this is a much more worthwhile and productive conversation to have than to beat one incident at once conference to death, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call others “wrong” for discussing other matters. My personal choice for a title would have been “thoughts from a female”, but I should have said so from the start.

  • Aj

    Sarah Robot,

    The objection wasn’t a result of interpretation, it was complaining that women weren’t explicitly being referred to as humans. No one was in doubt that what was being referred to was human. Men were referred to as “male” at the same time, and not a single shit was given. Being bothered by the words and not the meaning is stupid.

    1. The concept of privilege is unhelpful rhetoric.

    2. The source of meaning comes from the person who formed the words.

    3. Language cannot be sexist.

    4. Sexism is objective, it’s discrimination based on gender.

  • http://www.inside-story.co.nz/ Sarah Robot

    @Aj

    Um, what do you call that except the fact that one woman interpreted/experienced the term “female” to be dehumanising? What happens in that video seems to me a matter of how words are being interpreted and experienced on different sides of the discussion. I don’t see what men being referred to as male has to do with anything, since I just explained to you why that’s not a viable equivalent.

    1. Dismissing something as unhelpful without engaging it in the slightest is unhelpful rhetoric. I have found the concept of privilege extremely helpful, personally, although I admit to some doubts about it at first. If you have any logical rebuttal to make, I would listen to it happily.

    2. Not entirely, no.

    3. I apologise if I was unclear, but I did not say languages themselves (as discrete entities) are sexist; just that they cannot be entirely divorced from the culture in which they were created, and may have context beyond that which the speaker is consciously aware of or intending.

    4. What sexism is is objective. What is sexist is not so much. As evidenced by this entire thread, and the fact that virtually every time someone, somewhere claims something is sexist, another dozen or so people pop up to tell them they’re wrong/overreacting/not getting the joke et al.

    @MelissaF

    Assuming that was directed at me (or if not, that I can answer in generalities) I submit that you are missing the point. The point isn’t that some women find the term “female” to be marginalising, which really isn’t open for debate – it’s the way they’ve been treated for actually saying anything about it.

    Also, I feel compelled to add: I don’t feel like being a woman makes me “poor” in any way and don’t intend to suggest that privilege makes one person inherently more or less than another. This is about societal structure, not about individual merit. A straight woman, for example, is considered privileged in comparison to a lesbian woman because we live in a heterosexist culture (i.e. people are assumed to be straight unless they say otherwise, depictions of heterosexual relationships are everywhere, etc. etc.), but they are both less privileged than straight men in cultural discourse. I really suggest you look up Feminism 101 – they explain it much more in depth than I can in this post without derailing the topic altogether :)

    @Claudia

    I agree with you, and I hope I haven’t contributed too much to derailing the conversation (if I have, I’m sorry – I enjoy linguistic wrangling a bit too much, I’m afraid). Unfortunately the fact that this problem exists seems to be preventing many people from seeing that there is a problem, which is somewhat ironic. In response to your initial questions:

    Do you believe that there is a gender disparity in the movement and that this is a problem that should be corrected?

    To be honest, I wouldn’t know. I am not an American, I don’t go to local atheist meet-ups, and in general I prefer to stay on the fringes of things. I will admit to being frustrated by the fact that there aren’t many voices which resonate with me personally in the blogosphere, but I have more issues with the fact that I can’t find many vocal atheists who aren’t scientists than as to whether or not they’re female, lol.

    Assuming there were such a disparity, would I consider it needed to be addressed? That depends. If by “disparity” you mean that there are fewer female atheists in general, then I’d say of course, because I want as many people to be atheists as possible! As to whether we ought to get more women involved in the movement, I suppose so. But I think this can only really happen if we’re willing to address the gender issues we so obviously have. As I think Amphigorey said, a bit more intersectionality would be awesome to see IMO.

    Do you believe there’s a possibility that there are aspects of the movement itself that could make women feel like they are not as welcome as men?

    Hell yes. This entire thread (and the others) = case in point. Quite frankly, I find just commenting here intimidating at the moment XD

    Do you think that the opinions of women in deciding how to get more of them into the community are valuable?

    Of course they are. Since, you know, women are women, and they’re the only ones who can really say how they feel about things, what they like/dislike, what would appeal to them personally, what they need/want from the movement, etc. We do have to be aware that woman is not a monolith, though; you’re never going to be able to appeal to everyone.

    Are you willing to refrain from treating any objections you hear as challenges that must be defeated at all costs? (Note that this does not mean you have to agree with all objections, only that you do not view the objector as an enemy who must be defeated.)

    TBH, when I debate, it’s the idea I’m debating, not the person. I have no interest in defeating them (although I occasionally fantasize about a world in which everyone agrees with me…it might get boring, but at least it would be less frustrating *sigh*), I’m more interested in arguing the point in the hopes that someone finally gets it (at least, the point as I see it, anyway). Unfortunately, I do often feel like people are treating me like an enemy who must be vanquished, so that any acknowledgement that I might see their point becomes a defeat, and that’s hard to wear. So – I try, I guess, but I can’t make any promises in this respect XD

  • Carlie

    I don’t see how much more clearly it can be stated than it already has been, multiple times.

    When there is a panel specifically designed to address why women don’t seem to be comfortable being a part of a group, and a woman voices her opinion as to why she personally isn’t comfortable, and is then made fun of for it, what message does that send?
    It sends the message to every other woman in the room that whatever their opinions are, there is a high probability that they will get the same treatment. It makes them decide to shut up rather than risk it themselves.
    And then when another woman tries to steer the conversation back to the larger question of women in the group, and still men continue to berate the opinion of the original commenter (in direct opposition to the request of getting back to the larger discussion), it sends the very strong message that they aren’t actually interested in either the presence or opinions of women unless those opinions line up exactly with what they already think.
    Frankly, it’s tiring. And no, it doesn’t just happen with “little” issues like terminology. Look around the internet. It happens every time, on every topic. Any time anything related to women comes up, there are a bunch of a particular type of man who have to come in and tell all the women why they’re wrong and why they need to shut up unless they’re going to discuss the right things the right way. And it gets old. And it gets demoralizing. And what it often does is make women think about other things they could be doing that are much more satisfying and fruitful, like creating lectures, writing papers, cleaning the bathroom, getting around to those books she’s been meaning to read, anything other than banging her head against the wall trying to get her opinion listened to. And then those women just…go away. No fuss, no flounce, they just fade out, one after another.
    And then after awhile the guys look around and wonder again why there aren’t many women there. And maybe have a panel discussion.

  • http://Whowilldefendgod? John D

    @Carlie – The joke was risky and rude. Most people agree. I suspect the speaker would not have told it if he thought the reaction would be so dramatic. The joke was also funny (which is sometimes true for rude jokes). He didn’t make the best choice under the circumstances and I suspect it would take it back if he could. I do not know if he is willing to apologize for it.

    But, the concept of the word “female” being offensive is bizarre to most of us. I probably would have been tempted to make a joke myself. Just sayin (and I am sure you will call this mansplaining… whatever)

    You are over simplifying. You are claiming that this is an example of the excessive abuse women receive from freethinking and atheist men. You site the internet as an example. Well, the panel was not the internet and meetings are not the internet. You are suggesting that men across the spectrum simply dismiss women and are abusive and uncaring. This is complete hogwash.

    Of all the groups in the world, I suspect that atheist men are one of the most accepting of the idea that men and women are equally valuable. Not exactly the same mind you, but equal in value. Turn the mirror on yourself if you struggle this much to get along with men from the atheist movement.

    The chip on your shoulder is enormous.

  • http://Whowilldefendgod? John D

    PS Claudia – nice way to get this subject back to something positive and “in the right direction.”

    Hemant – when are you going to stop this madness?

  • Brian Macker

    “Yeah, it really is awful about all the women who’ve done that to Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and… wait a minute. You just made this supposed privilege of women up, didn’t you?”

    No, just do a search on Paternity Fraud. I was just using Oprah as an example of a famous woman who works for a living. I understand your skepticism as it was a bad choice for a different reason. It is highly unlikely that a rich and famous person who retains lots of lawyers to end up in the clutches of the law here.

    The rules in many states, and I’m not being too careful here for brevity’s sake, is that you throw some guys name on the birth certificate, make a legal announcement in the paper, and if he misses it then he’s screwed even if he is not the biological father, and never had any interaction with your child.

    Of course it would be highly unlikely that if Oprah’s name was in the newspaper with such an announcement that she wouldn’t get wind of it. The extreme case is going to happen to the least fortunate, like this guy.

    I still consider it to be totally unfair in the case of an actual boyfriend or a husband. That happens all the time. You don’t see women paying for the bastard children of their cheating husbands, and boyfriends.

    Unlike murder cases the DNA evidence doesn’t get you off your 21 year sentence at labor, often hard labor.

  • Brian Macker

    “I don’t see what men being referred to as male has to do with anything, since I just explained to you why that’s not a viable equivalent.”

    It is equivalent because if a bunch of feminists start referring to men as males the way Ferengi do. For example, addressing them as you males, then they will get angry. But no one was doing that with the word female here.

    The reason this woman was dismissed was that her complain was ridiculous.

    You are just asking for a double standard. Either women are equivalent to males in their ability to have adult conversations or they are not. You are asking us to assume women are not able to rationally distinguish these differences in usage and instead are emotional land mines ready to explode at the slightest touch.

    The exact opposite message from one claiming that women are equal to men in the workplace, science, etc.

    I for one am sick of all the privileged treatment (privileged in the true sense of the word) that some women and minorities want and get, while at the same time denigrating males and whites as subhumans as an excuse for getting those privileges.

    Hell they teach this stuff in college seriously. Gender studies and black studies which are all about how evil white men are and were, and then you’d expect a whiteness studies to be about all the equivalent bad shit about other races and instead it’s about how evil white people are.

    It’s quite one sided to say the least and especially considering that historically all the bad shit that was visited by Europeans on non-Europeans also happened in reverse, and also happened between different non-European cultures long before white people showed up. Look at the Aztecs, look at white slavery, look at invasions of European countries from the east and south. These all happened prior to Europe’s expansion.

    It’s highly unbalanced to talk about how my grandmother was a call girl when yours was a crack ho, and especially unbalanced to think it reflects on me when I’ve got my life straight.

  • Claudia

    @Brian, you wanna trade with your average African American woman? You know, seeing as how you think they have it so much better than you?

    Maybe you want to go the whole hog and trade with an African American lesbian atheist? I mean, wouldn’t that be so much more advantageous than being a straight white man?

  • http://liberalfaith.blogspot.com/ Steve Caldwell

    John D Says:

    Hemant – when are you going to stop this madness?

    John,

    Perhaps you should be more specific about what you mean by “madness.”

    Are you talking about the recent post from Brian Macker where he’s ranting about gender studies and black studies “strawmen”?

    I haven’t attending any black studies academic conferences.

    But I have attended one gender studies conference (hosted by a small liberal arts college in my town).

    http://www.centenary.edu/news/2006/March/gs-conference.html

    I wanted to hear a friend who was on a panel discussion about the topic religion and sexual orientation (she was an atheist who participated in the Soulforce “Equality Ride” civil rights campaign with a bunch of very religious folks):

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equality_Ride

    I also wanted to hear Naomi Wolf speak at this conference.

    I heard a few interesting things about this conference. One thing that I remember clearly was a presentation on gender stereotypes in the “Star Wars” fictional universe that talked about how women are portrayed being more emotionally vulnerable and sensitive when compared with men. Padme apparently dies of a broken heart during childbirth but crispy critter Anakin Skywalker survives his emotional pain. During the Q and A after this presentation, a participant also suggested another explanation — maybe George Lucas is a poor storyteller?

    A lot of the conference was cultural criticism and philosophy related to gender by both men and women.

    I didn’t hear any bashing of white European ancestry males. I didn’t hear any bashing of males at all during the workshops I attended.

    I’m not saying that unfair criticism of whites and/or males never happens in academia. All I’m saying is that it wasn’t my experience at this weekend conference.

    And that’s why I’m saying that Brian’s recent post is an excellent example of a strawman being offered without any citation references.

  • Brian Macker

    “Or does the implied threat simply mean you’ve run out of things to say?”

    LOL, you oh so do not know what you fell into here, and yes this sentence is a threat. Maybe you should have considered my long winded responses and the time of day before you made that assumption.

    Hint: Subject matter: What is oppression, hypersensitivity, all whites are evil and especially men (except if they have repented against their original sin, like you).

  • http://Whowilldefendgod? John D

    I will get specific Steve –

    What do I mean by “stop the madness”

    This entire discussion has been a giant pissing contest. Men and women of good will have been dragged through the dirt and we have lost all focus. Men (including myself) have been offended by the idea that we are automatically guilty of great social offense, and women have been offended by the idea that they are not understood and treated equally.

    We have spent days talking about social rules and humor and hurt feelings. All we have talked about is who offended whom and how the world is far from perfect.

    If we wish to change things, this discussion has to become more specific and more concrete. Without clear goals and specific recommendations this discussion has been an amazing and useless study in social science.

    One thing is perfectly clear already. Use of the word female is not necessarily “wrong”. Excellent. This is progress.

    Another thing is perfectly clear. Telling rude jokes is a risky behavior and can result in turning people off. Consider someone’s feelings before trying to be too funny.

    What else have we learned? I will suggest there is a third thing we have learned. An open and undirected discussion about male/female relations is likely to turn into a giant dramatic and horrible battle where everyone will end up dead.

    We need to avoid this type of discussion. We should be very specific when we float an idea. Leaders in the blogosphere should show “leadership” and not just allow blogs to be taken over by ranting accusations. The type of blog that starts with something like “gee wizz… take this questionnaire and if you answer “no” to any of it then you are not my friend!” This is childish nonsense. Grow up people.

    How about some specific recommendations for a change (and I don’t mean silly general advice like “don’t be a dick”)?

    For example:

    1) During formal meetings and breakout groups the leaders of the meeting should keep things professional. Limit joking and stay inclusive. Act like you are in a business meeting.

    2) Have specific times during events designed to encourage socializing. Schedule specific events. Try to build some separation between “professional” and casual events.

    3) Encourage open dialog from everyone. Make sure there is a time during all meetings and working groups where all voices are heard. Ultimately, the group leader decides what to do next, but it is important to listen.

    4) If the group does not use your suggestion try to take it in stride. Just because the group doesn’t like your idea does not mean they don’t like you.

    etc..etc…etc…

    I am looking for leaders to lead. I am not looking for a discussion on “male privilege” and “female privilege”. I know all I need to know about this topic. I do not need someone to give me a speech about injustice. We will only make progress if we take small and concrete steps.

    This is what I mean by “Stopping the madness”.

  • Carlie

    But, the concept of the word “female” being offensive is bizarre to most of us. I probably would have been tempted to make a joke myself. Just sayin (and I am sure you will call this mansplaining… whatever)

    You are over simplifying.

    I’m not talking about that particular slight. I’m talking about all of the response to it and what that response means, which is also what Claudia was trying to do, which again got sidelined in this exact comment thread back to the original slight.

    Turn the mirror on yourself if you struggle this much to get along with men from the atheist movement.

    I get along with most men in the atheist movement quite well, thank you. It’s just that the few who do feel like they have to always be in control of the discussion are the ones who take over comment threads like this, and it’s exhausting even just to read.

  • http://Whowilldefendgod? John D

    So Carlie – (Believe it or not, I get along really well with most women too)

    What next? I am pretty sure we will not solve the problem of male/female relations the way we are proceeding.

    Is there a leadership gap here? I think so. I believe that the crew who started this kerfuffle (namely Moss, Liddell, McCreight, Eberhard, and Metha) have the most “splainin” to do (call it mansplainin, womansplainin, or just plain explaining).

    Some people are rising to the top of the atheist communications food chain. The growth potential for organized secular and freethinking groups is very high. Encouraging open discussion is fine to some extent, but without some vision and leadership from the “top dogs” we will spend all our time bashing each others ears in.

  • Aj

    Sarah Robot,

    Um, what do you call that except the fact that one woman interpreted/experienced the term “female” to be dehumanising?

    A demand for dereference to her contentless social mores. It’s not interpretation if you invent it yourself, it’s projection. I don’t give a shit about experience.

    …since I just explained to you why that’s not a viable equivalent.

    You’re wrong, my points detail some of the ways you are wrong. You do understand that my comment disagreed fundamentally with your comment?

    1. Dismissing something as unhelpful without engaging it in the slightest is unhelpful rhetoric. I have found the concept of privilege extremely helpful, personally, although I admit to some doubts about it at first. If you have any logical rebuttal to make, I would listen to it happily.

    I don’t want to get into a debate about it here, derail this thread more, but since you asked. The concept of privilege is only rhetoric, a framing device. People, as you do, start just throwing it out to explain anything you want without rhyme or reason. Then you start brow beating people with claims that they don’t understand privilege or that they’re blinded by privilege without any reasonable attempt at persuasion or explanation, just dogma wrapped in peculiar rhetoric.

    2. Not entirely, no.

    3. I apologise if I was unclear, but I did not say languages themselves (as discrete entities) are sexist; just that they cannot be entirely divorced from the culture in which they were created, and may have context beyond that which the speaker is consciously aware of or intending.

    Language can’t be divorced from culture. Of course it can have context beyond which the speaker is intending, because other people use that language to mean different things. That’s my point, and why the objection should be dismissed. It’s extraordinary to me that there are people who are bothered by what someone isn’t saying and didn’t mean, because of what someone else did say and did mean. That’s not interpretation, that would be if they cared what the speaker meant, that’s insanity.

    4. What sexism is is objective. What is sexist is not so much. As evidenced by this entire thread, and the fact that virtually every time someone, somewhere claims something is sexist, another dozen or so people pop up to tell them they’re wrong/overreacting/not getting the joke et al.

    People disagreeing doesn’t prove something is not objective, it only proves that if it is objective some people are wrong.

    I don’t think there is broad disagreement like this every time, because there is plenty of actual sexism in this world.

  • Aj

    Sarah Robot,

    Assuming that was directed at me (or if not, that I can answer in generalities) I submit that you are missing the point. The point isn’t that some women find the term “female” to be marginalising, which really isn’t open for debate – it’s the way they’ve been treated for actually saying anything about it.

    Carlie,

    When there is a panel specifically designed to address why women don’t seem to be comfortable being a part of a group, and a woman voices her opinion as to why she personally isn’t comfortable, and is then made fun of for it, what message does that send?
    It sends the message to every other woman in the room that whatever their opinions are, there is a high probability that they will get the same treatment. It makes them decide to shut up rather than risk it themselves.

    1. Many people’s opinion of the complaint is fundamental to whether they consider the action of the panel deserved or not.

    2. This woman was treated as a man would be.

    3. I don’t think every other woman in that room was that irrational. I’m pretty sure not every woman disagreed with the treatment for a start.

    4. What kind of message does it send when you a) start treating women differently, and b) start humouring stupid complaints. I don’t think that’s a productive road to go down.

    I saw the video and didn’t hear the ridicule people claimed, or anyone making fun of her. The joke wasn’t pointed at her, the blaghag article misquotes what the guy said. If the person thought that they were being ridiculed, that’s unfortunate, but there seems to be two paths being advocated: a) No more jokes, or b) stop being so sensitive. I know which one I prefer, it’s a subjection decision, depending on what you want the meets to be like.

  • Carlie

    You’re right, AJ, and there’s nothing to talk about because the initial comment was so ridiculous that she deserved everything she got and anyone who thinks otherwise ought to shut up about it and stop being so sensitive because getting to make whatever jokes you want is the most important thing about meetups. Ok? Happy now? You win, there’s nothing else to discuss. There’s no problem with how anyone was treated at this conference, and there’s no problem with how women are treated in general, and sexism never takes the form of being made fun of and then told to get over it because it’s just a joke, and there’s absolutely no reason why women should feel unwelcome with a bunch of guys who think exactly the way you do and if they don’t then it’s their problem. There. You win. Enjoy your sensitivity-free conversation, confident in the knowledge that you’re doing everything right.

  • Jon Peterson

    @Carlie (and, well, everyone):
    False Dilemma
    Appeal to Ridicule
    Nirvana Fallacy
    Fallacy of the Single Cause
    Retrospective Determinism
    Suppressed Correlative

    Just to name a few.

    Not that you’re the only one, by a long shot. There have been fallacies throughout this thread. Certain sub-thread interactions have gone completely past the point of logical discussion. Cut the crap and present your ideas rationally. That goes for all sides.

  • Carlie

    Like I said, Jon, you win. Enjoy your sensitivity-free conversation, secure in the knowledge of how right you are.

  • Aj

    Carlie,

    I don’t appreciate your false accusations or that you’ve grossly misrepresented the event. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  • Tizzle

    AJ, you and Jon win. John D wins, too. And that other guy.

    If Carlie isn’t ashamed of herself, well, I am doubly ashamed for me and her.

    As a woman, I have learned that language is silly and unimportant and I shall never get offended by it again. I will only comment on feminist issues that are real and valid such as violence (but not if she hit back) and rape (but not if she was wearing a short skirt) and abuse (but not if she asked for it).

    I will laugh every time some man jokes to me with bible verses….lucky for me, I had experience with this as a child.

    I won’t complain about men in a public forum, either, since they might be listening. Also, the (non)word mansplaining — I will never use it again.

    So glad this situation is resolved.

  • Aj

    Tizzle,

    I will only comment on feminist issues that are real and valid such as violence (but not if she hit back) and rape (but not if she was wearing a short skirt) and abuse (but not if she asked for it).

    I’m glad people get to see the real you. You seem to think it’s acceptable to falsely accuse others of supporting violence, rape, and unspecified abuse against women. I’m not going to go running off crying, I can deal with it, because your bitter, lying, irrational, worthless comments don’t mean shit.

  • Tizzle

    You’re right, AJ. I am a bitter, lying, worthless female whose comments don’t mean shit. I am super irrational; also I am bleeding out of my cunt right now. I cry whenever I talk to a man in public. This is why I only work parttime and make less money than every man I know. Also, I am fat because I eat donuts for breakfast and lunch, and Taco Bell for dinner.

    I am very glad you are manly enough to deal with my false accusations. I would be devastated if anything I said made any impact on you whatsoever. Please, please, for my sake, for the sake of my feelings, ignore me.

  • Sarah Robot

    @Aj

    I’m not going to go running off crying, I can deal with it, because your bitter, lying, irrational, worthless comments don’t mean shit.

    So glad we got to see the real you. The fact that you literally don’t give a crap about anyone else’s experience as it differs from yours tells me we disagree on too fundamental a level to have a productive conversation.

    Feel free to see this as a white flag. I give. You win by sheer attrition. As the others have said, enjoy your sensitivity-free conversation!

    @Tizzle and @Carlie

    I’m so glad we’ve got men to tell us when we’re being oversensitive and irrational. Just think what might happen otherwise! We might actually get carried away and disagree with them, and everyone knows that would cause our tiny brains to explode.

    More seriously (if I may), what exactly would you have liked to see come out of this little furore? Personally I’d love to hear the panel members recognise they’ve given offense and apologise to the woman who left, as well as to anyone else who might have found their use of “female” offensive. A real apology (i.e. none of that “I’m sorry you were offended” rubbish) plus some recognition that their handling of the topic left something to be desired. Think that’s ever likely to happen, or do I have too much faith in humanity?

  • Tizzle

    Sarah Robot, I went to my very first ever atheist type gathering on Sunday. It was a larger Darwin Day event, and I made sure to talk to the organizer, but couldn’t stick around to talk to anyone else. I am somewhat perverse by nature, and this “controversy” makes me want to see what the fuss is about. I am not above shaming men in public if it were necessary. *last resort, I swear* But in my current city, I haven’t gotten flak ever about anything. Seriously, I love Seattle. I don’t imagine I’ll run into any issues in my particular meetup.

    I don’t know much about AA, I’m not specifically affiliated with them. I think, in spite of a few vocal men here and elsewhere deliberately not getting the point, that the atheist community will grow and learn from this. I don’t know about any specific apologies. I only saw 8-10 minutes of a panel; I could barely hear, and I saw no tears. I couldn’t tell if the woman waited til the bathroom to cry or not. Not relevant to the discussion, but I’m just saying I can’t have a super-informed opinion on this specific situation.

    My very first thought about this kerfuffle is that back in the Christian communities many of us grew up in, this conversation wouldn’t have existed. Even if this particular dialogue doesn’t go anywhere, even if I’ve been annoyed by what some people have said in this comment thread, I am seeing that even the trolls acknowledge women should be able to speak up, be heard, have opinions, etc.

    I often have a unique spin on things. I LOVED that the woman in question left the room when someone quoted the Bible at her. Tears or no. I wanted to run from the room for about 21 years before I finally did. I wish I could talk to her myself, just to say that.

  • http://Whowilldefendgod? John D

    Good word. Kerfuffle. I like it… seriously… :^)

  • Carlie

    What I would like to see is an acknowledgment that there are real issues underlying the initial comment, regardless of whether one thinks she was in the right or not. A lot of people are acting as though she was completely off her rocker being upset by the use of the term “female”, when it’s a term that has actually had a lot of discussion around it in feminist circles for years. (Google, it’s your friend.) And they’re still ignoring the fact that she was upset at first at being overlooked in the first place, and then made fun of after, and that the entire conversation has centered on how awful this one woman was rather than getting back to why there aren’t a lot of women in atheist movements.

    In the most simple terms, what I’d like is for the response to a charge of “you’re acting sexist right now” to be “Oh, I didn’t think I was, please explain what you mean by that and I’ll take it under consideration and look into it more” rather than “NO I’M NOT YOU’RE STUPID AND OVERSENSITIVE”. I’ve seen absolutely no movement on the part of the guys complaining about it to try and understand it any further than “that sounds stupid to me so I’ll ignore it”. I mean, come on, substituting “male” for “man” in a few sentences and thinking that means you’ve done “research” on it? Why not try looking at what actual scholars have said about it? Doing a little legwork other than whatever pops out of your own brain?

    That doesn’t mean you have to ultimately agree with the charge that you were being sexist, it just means you ought to actually pay attention to what is being said to you and educate yourself about it first. It may be a surprise, but women’s studies is a real field and has had a lot of real research done, honest! At least do women the courtesy of not always jumping to the conclusion that they’re just speaking out of their own little hysterical girly-emotional psyches.

  • http://Whowilldefendgod? John D

    @Carlie – I have written several times that I think the “weaker-sex” joke was risky and rude. The man who told this joke should have made a different choice in my opinion. I think that it is likely he didn’t think it would cause as much upset as it did. I suspect he regrets it, but I can’t speak for him.

    What disturbs me is that this issue (which is really only a case of some individual rudeness) has turned into some kind of statement about how horrible men in the atheist movement are. This is the problem with the original blaghag post and this is what caused the kerfuffle (I like this word).

    How about if someone told the rude guy that he should apologize? This is what happens when we are civilized. We simply correct each others behavior on a case by case basis. The secular world has not been split in two because some guy told a rude joke. Okay?

  • Sarah Robot

    @Tizzle

    I am somewhat perverse by nature, and this “controversy” makes me want to see what the fuss is about. I am not above shaming men in public if it were necessary. *last resort, I swear*

    LOL yeah, this does kind of make me want to know whether things are the same here (in New Zealand), but sadly I don’t think we actually have any atheist get-togethers in my area. Glad to hear you don’t anticipate any issues, though!

    Not relevant to the discussion, but I’m just saying I can’t have a super-informed opinion on this specific situation.

    Admittedly, I don’t either. It does seem to me that she was upset (judging from the video plus the BlagHag posts), in which case I think an apology to her at least would be appropriate, more as a matter of courtesy than anything else. I don’t particularly care if they agree or disagree over the use of the word female, but it seems (to me) that the right thing to do would be to recognise that their behaviour upset her and that she matters enough to be concerned about. Then again, I just read an update on the situation over at BlagHag and it sounds like some of the event organisers did go to talk to her, so that may already have happened anyway. All I can really say is, if I unintentionally offended someone whose viewpoint I solicited and considered important (and particularly if it was in public, since in her place I would be mortified), I’d want to apologise for it. You know?

    Even if this particular dialogue doesn’t go anywhere, even if I’ve been annoyed by what some people have said in this comment thread, I am seeing that even the trolls acknowledge women should be able to speak up, be heard, have opinions, etc.

    That is true, and thanks for pointing it out. I’ve found this thread interesting and mostly enjoyed the dialogue, even if it has been frustrating at times (okay, most of the time, lol).

    @Carlie

    In the most simple terms, what I’d like is for the response to a charge of “you’re acting sexist right now” to be “Oh, I didn’t think I was, please explain what you mean by that and I’ll take it under consideration and look into it more” rather than “NO I’M NOT YOU’RE STUPID AND OVERSENSITIVE”.

    Well said! I think there are a few commenters who have done that, but I’d definitely like to see it more often. What I’d like even more is if the person accused of sexism would (assuming they have done their research and still disagree) then follow up with: “I can see why you might view x as sexist, even though I personally do not, so I apologise for any offense unintentionally given. Lets discuss how we can avoid this in the future.”

    That doesn’t mean you have to ultimately agree with the charge that you were being sexist, it just means you ought to actually pay attention to what is being said to you and educate yourself about it first.

    Exactly :)

    @John D

    It would be nice if someone *had* told him to apologise. I think it’s the fact that nobody did – along with the fact that he thought it was appropriate at all – which appears indicative of a wider problem. Not necessarily that all atheist men are sexist pigs; it’s entirely possible to be consciously for equality but still use sexist language or engage in sexist behaviour, simply because one doesn’t recognise that it might be sexist. I would like to think the reason it’s been brought up and pointed out is precisely because it was assumed atheist men would care and would not want to perpetuate the problem – although, obviously, I can’t speak for the beliefs of those who wrote the initial post.

    Also, kerfuffle is an awesome word XD

  • Jon Peterson

    @Sarah Robot:

    I think it’s the fact that nobody did – along with the fact that he thought it was appropriate at all – which appears indicative of a wider problem.

    Just keep in mind that nobody did. And the room was pretty well populated with women. Heck, the very blogger who brought this topic into the forefront of the atheist movement’s thought process didn’t even bother to confront him about it… instead opting to call him out from her keyboard later.

    What’s got me so pissed off and on the defensive is the overwhelming surge of anger/frustration towards males in general following the event… as if the entire population is to blame for the one guy’s ill-advised remark, and for not calling him out right then and there. On the whole, I’m an advocate for equality, and I’ve been extremely angered by being declared a sexist by certain individuals who simultaneously claim all women to be free of responsibility (in this situation).

    I don’t think it’s necessarily indicative of a wider problem (that nobody called him out on the spot), because if the topic had been ANYthing non- gender/race/etc-ist, the fact that someone left the room in tears would likely not have been mentioned at all, much less caused an upset across the community. People get hurt. People have varying degrees of tolerance. We can’t bubble wrap everything for the most sensitive.

    An apology would be nice, I agree… but pardon me if I don’t start a petition to make him do it. He’s an individual, and he can handle his own interactions. And I’m not going to apologize for his mistake simply because I’m male. And you shouldn’t expect me to.

  • crystalspin

    Claudia,
    I was horrified to think that Mehta had written this article! Fortunately I noticed at the top, that it was a guest post.

    I don’t know why I’m posting this comment: you already have all the answers you think you need. You post your positions cleverly disguised as questions, but you do come right out and admit that you have no intention of hosting a dialogue:
    “If the answers to these questions are “no,” then any conversation is futile, since you either don’t think there is a problem or you are unwilling to let your guard down long enough to solve it.”

    If you want women to feel more welcome — welcome them. The only thing you can change is YOUR attitude. Mine is all right as it is.

  • http://liberalfaith.blogspot.com/ Steve Caldwell

    Jon Peterson Says:

    What’s got me so pissed off and on the defensive is the overwhelming surge of anger/frustration towards males in general following the event… as if the entire population is to blame for the one guy’s ill-advised remark, and for not calling him out right then and there. On the whole, I’m an advocate for equality, and I’ve been extremely angered by being declared a sexist by certain individuals who simultaneously claim all women to be free of responsibility (in this situation).

    Gee Jon … I think you’re being overly sensitive here.

    :^)

  • Brian Macker

    Carlie,

    I’ve seen absolutely no movement on the part of the guys complaining about it to try and understand it any further than “that sounds stupid to me so I’ll ignore it”.

    Did it ever cross your mind that we’ve looked into a lot of this stuff in great detail and found it lacking. It’s not like this hasn’t been going on for a very long time and there are entire post-modernist feminist manifestos out there for us to read.

    The woman insulted the individuals on the panel so she got an insulting comment back. Happens all the time between men, between women, and between men and women. For some reason you guys want some special privilege when it’s directed back at a woman. The insults were implicit in both cases, just like my implicit insult of Steve, wherein I compared him to a child needing some severe disciple for not thinking straight, after his implicit insults against me.

    This whole post modernist line of thinking about hidden racist, whiite male privilege, and the like is not only a mechanism to view oneself as oppressed but as certain other people as oppressors without a lick of evidence they did a single thing wrong. It’s an insult to be thought of in that way. The stuff isn’t science as they try to portray it either, it’s a pseudo-scientific religion that was exposed by Sokal a long time ago. Yet some people are so ignorant and uncritical in their thought processes that they still think it’s valid.

    She gave the implicit or explicit insult that the men were treating the women like cattle. The charges were ludicrous. It was a laughable insult so the guy made a joke about it that the audience found funny, including the women.

    There might be valid points to be made but this isn’t one of them.

    Stop the group think. He did insult the woman, but he didn’t insult all womankind. The fact he made the joke in a room with a substantial number of women means he respected them enough to think they would get it.

    No that doesn’t mean they are all brainwashed like the religion of post-modernism teaches.

  • Brian Macker

    Steve,

    I’m going to need quite a slice of time to deal with your unfalsifiable religion, but don’t worry I’ll get back to you when I have time for it. I’ve had it out with Rieux and others on white privilege before. In the meantime you can read what I wrote before Here.

  • The Captain

    @ Sarah Robot

    Sorry I have no idea how to do that quote thingy. So I’ll do the traditional quote thingy.

    “Look, the language we use matters.” Bull shit it does. It’s the THOUGHTS and IDEAS the language is conveying that matter. The words are just fucking words. Sure they can come with “a history, connotation and context that is larger than a single encounter” but that “history”, and “connotation” is all relative to you and you alone, as it is to all of us. But most people have the ability to view words outside of their own narrow frame of reference and understand if another individual is using them in an insulting manner or not. You (and others) are trying to absolve yourself from that responsibility when communicating with others by playing the buzzword game of grammar. And I don’t mean to imply you are trying to catch people using sexist terms, just that when you hear one, one that you have defined as sexist for yourself, you ignore all meaning behind the word, and intentions of the speaker, and just focus on the stupid ass word. Can you even communicate with people outside your own culture? When a British person asks you for a fag, do you freak out and call them homophobes?

    I have been around long enough to know that some people who hold the most horrible, racist, sexist, bigoted thoughts and positions can speak in the most friendly, eloquent, polite, PC way. And the crudest, most vulgar, rudest speakers can be the nicest, most caring, inclusive people I’ve ever met. It’s a shame that it seems you would view them the other way around.

  • Aj

    I think the irrational stance of language comes from post-modernism, which is counter-enlightenment, against science, pretty much opposing the values to truth many atheists hold. The kindest critiques of post-modernism are that it contributes nothing to analytical or empirical knowledge, and has nothing to say. It’s not surprising considering what fields post-modernists are in, and what their backgrounds are.

    Framing issues with privilege rhetoric may also come from post-modernism, there is overlap between proponents of both, and their seems to be a common element of relativism. Privilege rhetoric is used to justify discrimination. You don’t need to understand privilege, people already know what discrimination is, and it’s rare for people to be unaware that discrimination exists (it’s another thing entirely for people to accept that discrimination isn’t right). It’s dehumanizing and denies individuality, separating people into groups they did not join, and treating them as a unit whose situation, experience, and thoughts are as one. You tell from this thread of the framing of privilege primes sexist stances. I’m not going to pick out quotes, it’s obvious for those who look. The framing doesn’t logically encourage discrimination, it’s only a facilitator, providing justifications for why sexist remarks and behaviour are fine or those that point it out are corrupted by privilege and must be mistaken.

    These behaviours aren’t reliant on post-modernism or privilege rhetoric, they’re just formal guises of them, built upon obscurantism, anti-modernism, and relativist philosophy.

  • Vas

    Ya know I’ve been following this whole debacle and I have a nagging question. Just who exactly was this person who was brought to tears by the the panel. What are her politics and what was she there for? Was she really there to discuss atheist issues? Was she there as a agent provocateur with a feminist agenda, was she intending to monkey wrench the meeting? Did she really run to the bathroom and cry? Something just doesn’t feel right about this whole thing to me. There is a striking lack of evidence that has been presented on the indecent and the accounts given seem conflicted and many have suggested that there were outright lies being told about what really happened. Considering the internet aftermath of this incident, I really have to wonder if this whole thing was a set up by forces who want to overlay a feminist agenda on the atheist agenda.

    Even the concern about women being hit on too much at atheist meeting seems out of place to me. I have never even heard a first hand account of this happening, maybe it does happen often but then again maybe not very often at all. Can anyone speak to this issue? Even a few first hand stories of this even happening would be a start, even if it doesn’t point to a larger problem within the “movement”… can I get a witness?

  • Aj

    Vas,

    She was not an agent provocateur. The only source that said she was crying seems to be the source of the article that started this clusterfuck, which seems to be unrepresentative of what actually happened on a number of points. Obviously she has flaky politics, but she responded to what the panellists said, it wasn’t planned.

    Most of the article, also being unrepresentative of reality, and referencing non-specific vague problems of some women feeling uncomfortable wasn’t about the woman.

    Angel of Harlots has a counter-article, disputing the claims, and of course there’s the video. Original blaghag post, and follow up non-apology.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    I don’t view this whole discussion as a “debacle” or “kerfuffle”. The “war of the sexes” is a real problem in the modern world at the intersection of changing social attitudes. It isn’t an “atheist problem”. It’s a general problem for society at large. It just seems like a “debacle” or “kerfuffle” because we are not used to directing our criticism at each other. We usually are content to directing it towards the religious. The “war of the sexes” may not be discussed so much in religious circles because religious doctrine has a place for everyone and there is much pressure to keep everyone in their place. In the “brave new world” of free-thought, the “places” are not defined and there will undoubtedly be tension. These problems will take generations to work themselves out and reduce tension. Take small practical concrete steps to show and give people better respect and try not to sweat the little stuff. That’s my mansplaining, anyway. :)

  • http://Whowilldefendgod? John D

    A Kerfuffle is a “disturbance or fuss”. I think the last two weeks of the topic can be defined as a kerfuffle. Jeff P – Don’t pick on my “word of the week”… haha.

  • Vas

    Yeah Jeff sorry but I just don’t view what has transpired here as a “discussion”. I view it as a shit fight and a bunch of name calling, lying, finger pointing, individuals claiming the right to speak for an entire class of people, wedge driving, snarking, devaluing, insulting, posturing, monkey wrenching, and dragging people through the mud for the good of some cause. All the while with some vague unspecified aggrieved party. Who the fuck is this person, and what’s her deal, I could use some context here. I’m disgusted by this entire mess quite frankly. Hell I keep vowing to myself to stop reading Hement’s blog over this, but alas I can’t seem to resist, but I’m gonna try to cut down because reading this discussion is making me feel bad, all tight in the chest, and peeved and such. The Horrible part is that I’m truly interested in the discussion, but not the shit storm. I’m also not keen on being lumped into a class of bad guys and lectured about privilege. I feel like my head is going to explode. And I really want to know about the extent of the problem of women being hit on or leered at at events. I’d like to know about how big the problem is. Somebody… anybody, can you help quantify and/or define this part of the problem? I say this part because I understand there is a larger problem, but I’d like to know what this part looks like. Let’s just start with first hand anecdotal evidence. I guess I’m saying I’m willing to listen so…

  • Tizzle

    I can’t keep up.

    I am apparently part of a vast conspiracy of women to change the atheist movement. Vas doesn’t say if that’s for the better or worse, though.

    I have absolutely no idea what post-modern means. I’ve always thought the word was stupid, because I take things too literally (yes, I am an Engineer, what?). Because I don’t get it, I can’t say whether I am or not. The commenter didn’t explain it.

    This is my first foray into “the battle of the sexes” in about a decade. It’s pretty fucking hilarious.

    This much is certain in my life: arguing privilege or that language matters with someone who doesn’t believe that would be like me trying to argue religion with my minister father. I don’t, because a) we love each other, and b) I don’t enjoy beating my head against a wall.

    I wonder why anyone bothers trying to educate the obviously clueless on the internet (yes yes, I’m aware this includes me for the last 2 days). *note* this statement applies to both sides of the issue if you don’t read it with emotion.

    This is where I flounce away, and unsubscribe from all these stupid emails. I’ll check back in a week to see if this community is irrevocably trolled and derailed. I’m going to get a life, too, so that being the 218th commenter stops sounding like a way to spend my morning. Flounce flounce! Flouncety flounce!

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    Vas, You are asking for data that no one probably has. A couple of women have already said that they have been hit on before at atheist meet-ups. Other women have indicated that they had been hit on in other venues and can relate to the plight of the hit-upon women at the atheist events. That is probably all that you will get. I don’t know if it is really constructive to demand evidence here. The perception is real. People make decisions based on perceptions all the time.

    John D, OK, You can have your word of the week. :)

  • Jon Peterson

    @Tizzle:

    I wonder why anyone bothers trying to educate the obviously clueless on the internet

    Because it bothers us (I’m well aware that I’m included as well) to see someone declaring as fact an opinion that differs from our own view. In essence it’s the same base emotional trait that gives many Christians (& other religions) the desire to “spread the good news”, and many atheists the desire to contest religion.

    There’s something that bothers us… and we’re the ones who respond to that bother with words (as opposed to silence or physical action).

  • http://Whowilldefendgod? John D

    Jon – don’t bother to reply to Tizzle. She is off flouncing! Now we can chat and mansplain behind her back… :^)

  • Tizzle

    Aagh. I forgot the part where I unsubscribe. Ok: Last thought: to Jon and John — I don’t think this convo has been especially productive, but if we were talking in person, I bet we wouldn’t hate each other. This time I am off to go see a real live person with whom I can converse with actual verbal and facial cues (and with whom I agree on everything, but that isn’t the point as such).

    *per my understanding of flouncing, as learned on pharyngula, it’s not a real flounce unless you come back at least once. Encore!!

  • http://Whowilldefendgod? John D

    Haha Tizzle – I agree that we would probably get along fine and I suspect we agree on many more things than we disagree. Enjoy your flounce!

  • Inthewater

    Wow, I am sick to death of being accused of all this shit, just because I am a white male.

    Male priviledge? If you mean the priviledge of being the scape goat for anything, and never being able to complain about it, then I see what people are talking about.

    Richard Wade said everything I am thinking in a much better worded way, but I am just sick of it.

    If and when the same sort of thinking is applied to any other group of people for any reason, it is thought of as some sort of narrow-minded crap.

    I am sure there is basis for this stereo-type, but why is this one acceptable? I am none of those things, but I am lumped in with someone that is? How is that not wrong, and how do people get away with it?

    Uggh.

  • Lisa

    Meh. I’m female and have been non-religious since about 11. Not involved in any sort of “movement” but I don’t see the big deal. Men like women. Women get hit on wherever you go…no big deal. Just tell the guy you aren’t interested, or have fun and flirt if you are. If they say something degrading, tell them off.

  • http://Whowilldefendgod? John D

    Okay. Jen has added this to blaghag and I can honestly say “I like it”.

    http://www.blaghag.com/2011/02/clarifying-pears.html#comment-148714349

  • Vas

    AJ thanks for the links. I was up to date except for the except for the Angel of Harlots bit. I’m still not sure she was not an agent provocateur. I understand that she was responding to what the panelists’ said, but agent provocateurs don’t really rely on scripts that others follow, they wait for opportunity, they plant questions they derail conversations to suit their agenda, they want a shitstorm. I’m not saying definitively that this person was an agent provocateur, but I do think it’s a realistic possibility worth considering. The reports I have heard claim that she was out of order and simply stood and inserted herself into the conversation without waiting to be acknowledged by the moderator. She then proceeded to derail the topic and because she felt she was being treated like cattle. Whatever the case I question her motive for speaking. And again remember we are talking about an unspecified person here, an unknown wild card. We should not be faulted for speculating about her motives.

    So Jeff you say “A couple of women have already said that they have been hit on before at atheist meet-ups.” I’m not at all surprised by this but my point was that I have yet to hear any first hand accounts of this. I was hoping for actual accounts not just “yeah it happened to me”. Surely if this situation, (women getting hit on at atheist meetings) is endemic we should be able to find many such first hand accounts. As evidence mounts we should be able to accurately asses the extent of the problem and this seems like a good place to start if we intend to address the problem and find solutions. When I say we I don’t mean just the menfolk or just the womenfolk, I mean all of us together. The data is out there it just needs to be complied. Yes perception does make a difference however perception is not always in line with the reality of a situation. If the perception closely aligns with the reality then we have one problem but if the perception is at odds with reality then we have a different problem altogether. Is the problem that women are getting hit on a lot or that they stay away because the think they will get hit on if they do show up, they are kind of different things. You say “I don’t know if it is really constructive to demand evidence here.” I’m not demanding evidence, I’m suggesting that such evidence does in fact exist and that it would be constructive to bring it forward so we know what we are dealing with.

  • Aj

    Is the perception even real? How many surveys have there been? The post on blaghag claims to know what was going on in the minds of all the women in attendance. There’s a similar problem with Claudia’s guest post, that treats women as a monolithic block. Two persons had a problem with a word, two persons had a problem with being hit-upon (source:Jeff P). If there wasn’t a perception of a problem, with posts like the one on blaghag, anyone reading might assume there are huge problems. That’s why I think posts like Angel of Harlot’s are so important.

    It’s also assumed that every complaint, has to either be acknowledged as legitimate, if not accepted outright. That’s not right at all, and I don’t think anyone actually believes that’s right. Complaints like this about language aren’t legitimate. Some people here are suggesting their should be apologies for not treating an opinion with respect. In general we don’t treat all opinions or “experiences” with respect, respect has to be earned, we’re not going to change our stance because it’s one of “our own”, that’s not healthy. Behaviour that can be described as “hitting upon” can be inappropriate, so any complaint about it should be accompanied by specific examples. Regardless, much of the discussion of the panel on that issue, and in the comments on various sites, was pretty good (unlike how it was represented on blaghag). I’m pretty sure there’s going to be disagreements about what is inappropriate behaviour. It’s not feasible to just give into any demand, from any number of people. After one meet-up of skeptics some people were complaining about what women were wearing.

  • http://liberalfaith.blogspot.com/ Steve Caldwell

    Hello,

    A huge portion of the dispute that was reported on various atheist blogs appears in my opinion to be a result of group dynamics / group process issues at the conference itself.

    I’ve had over 11 years experiences as a sexuality education curriculum trainer working with groups in both secular and religious settings where we disccussed topics related to sexuality, diversity issues, values, etc. Topic like these can lead to emotionally charged discussions if not managed effectively.

    One of the most effective tools for working with groups is using a group contract that explicitly says how we will treat each other when working in a group.

    Here are a few of the guidelines that I’ve seen used in effective group contracts (with explanation provided after each bullet statement if needed):

    ** No “put downs” (This is mostly self-explanatory — situations where group consensus doesn’t exist will be covered later on in the “oops / ouch” rule.)

    ** Assume good will (Keep this as your default assumption in a conference or workshop setting until demonstrated otherwise.)

    ** “Step up / step back” (Some women and men are introverted and quiet. Even though it may require extra effort on their part, they need to “step up” and speak their minds so the group can benefit from their insights. Some women and men are extroverted and will dominate the dicussion if allowed to. Even though it may require extra effort on their part, they need to “step back” and allow space in the conversation for for quieter folks. This all comes down to sharing.)

    ** “Oops / ouch” rule (If you say something that you realize you shouldn’t have said as the words are leaving your lips like the “weaker sex” comment example, you can say “oops” and this lets the group know that you are acknowledging the mistake you just made and it may be OK to move on without further group process discussion. If you hear something that you find intentionally or unintentionally offensive, you can say “ouch” and this lets the group know that we need to stop and process the situation so it doesn’t fester and breed anger.)

    ** Use “I” language (Speak from your personal experience. Do not speak on behalf of others. “I think that the usage of word ‘female’ was not offensive” would be an “I statement” because it’s a sharing of personal experience and it acknowledges that others may think differently. “The word ‘female’ wasn’t offensive” and “Nobody thinks the usage of the word ‘female was offensive” are not “I statements.” In these non-I statement examples, the speaker is assuming that his/her personal experience is a universal one shared by all participants.)

    ** Start and end on time (If meals and bathroom breaks don’t happen on-time, people may get cranky.)

    ** Have fun (Self-explanatory.)

    It’s good to have someone backing up the group moderator by observing group process and assisting where needed. For example, a person assisting the moderator might notice that a person in the back of the room is patiently waiting to participate and the moderator doesn’t see her waiting patiently.

    Another useful thing is having a dedicated process observer in any group discussion. At the end of a group discussion event, the process observer can report back on trends noted in the group — who speaks and who doesn’t. This feedback may help the group work together better and be more aware of who may feel marginalized in the workshop or conference setting.

  • Aj

    Steve Caldwell,

    ** No “put downs” (This is mostly self-explanatory — situations where group consensus doesn’t exist will be covered later on in the “oops / ouch” rule.)

    No criticism? That’s bullshit (oh wait).

    If you say something that you realize you shouldn’t have said as the words are leaving your lips like the “weaker sex” comment example

    Shouldn’t he have said it? I don’t know whether he regrets it or not.

  • http://liberalfaith.blogspot.com/ Steve Caldwell

    Aj wrote:

    No criticism? That’s bullshit (oh wait).

    AJ,

    A “put-down” isn’t the same as a critical comment directed towards an idea.

    It’s very possible for a person to say “I think that idea is mistaken and this is why …” — there is no need to comment on the person who proposes an idea when making a critical comment about the idea.

    A “no put-downs” rule is basically saying no “ad hominem” attacks in more concrete and direct language.

    Since “ad hominem” attacks are a type of logical fallacy, would there be any reason to keep this sort of fallacy around in group discussions?

    Shouldn’t he have said it? I don’t know whether he regrets it or not.

    I don’t know if the speaker making the “weaker sex” comment did regret making it (it was just a handy example for how the “oops / ouch” rule could work).

    If the conference had an “oops / ouch” rule as a community norm, an “oops” acknowledgement from the speaker after making the comment probably would have ended the matter right there.

    Also, if the “oops / ouch” rule were in place, an “ouch” comment from a participant would have also addressed any concerns in a timely manner.

  • Aj

    Steve Caldwell,

    A “put-down” isn’t the same as a critical comment directed towards an idea.

    Oh, that’s sensible. I looked up “put-down” in dictionaries and on urbandictionary.com, and it didn’t explicitly say criticism of a person in every definition, and sometimes it included criticism of “a thing”. As I understood it, you could “put-down” an idea.

    Some groups try to separate an idea from a person by presenting them to a moderator, and in a discussion people don’t directly respond to others, but to the moderator.

    If the conference had an “oops / ouch” rule as a community norm, an “oops” acknowledgement from the speaker after making the comment probably would have ended the matter right there.

    The joke itself, in its content, wasn’t directed against any person or idea. Since people are misquoting the words, it’s not certain that anyone would have been offended by what the guy actually said. I think the “assume good will” rule is much more appropriate for this matter, maybe “don’t jump to conclusions” or “make sure you’ve heard it correctly” should also be rules.

    What the guy said:

    From now on we’ll use “the weaker sex”.

    The joke is to defy expectations. The expectation is for him to recommend using a word he thinks everyone will agree upon. So he suggests something no one in the room will agree upon. I don’t think it’s probable that anyone in that room, if they heard it right, would not understand this joke. It’s kind of central to how jokes work in the Western world.

  • Brian Macker

    Tizzle,

    “I have absolutely no idea what post-modern means.”

    Lucky you. Unfortunately, your ignorance means it is you who is clueless about what these terms mean, like “Whitness studies, Hidden Racism, White Privilege, and Racial Justice. Hint: They don’t mean what you think they do.

    For example, Racial Justice theory a nice old woman who volunteered for the NAACP for more than half a century was in fact a racist. Why? Because she was white and all whites are racists, well hidden ones.

    This is something I actually witnessed during a committee event on Racial Justice at a Unitarian church. It was a round table discussion and they were trying to explain to me exactly what these concepts were all about. They were on these interrelated topics and were running an exercise to explain hidden racism.

    My father is a pacifist non-racist liberal from Minnesota. Not only am I not a racist I wasn’t raised as one. Yet, here they are running some ridiculous exercise meant to show that all whites are racists (btw, they also claimed that it was impossible for a black to be racist because of power issues). I beg to differ.)

    Unfortunately there where no examples I could think of that would count me as a racist, even by the very low bar set by them. They had for example claimed it was racist to have not considered dating a black person. Not only had I considered it but I had done it on several occasions.

    So this nice little old lady who had prior to this given a short introduction of herself like everyone else said: “I’ve admitted to being a hidden racist. You should too.” My response to her was: “The concept of hidden racism degrades the meaning of the word racist if someone who volunteered for the NAACP for as long as you did admits to being a racist because they didn’t marry a black guy”.

    That ended the exercise. The whole point of which was to get all the whites to admit to being racists so they could later be dismissed when they objected to anything someone with the right skin color had to say. Quite, like scientology where they get you to admit all your flaws so they can blackmail you with it.

    “This much is certain in my life: arguing privilege or that language matters with someone who doesn’t believe that would be like me trying to argue religion with my minister father.”

    I actually believe that both privilege and language matter. I just don’t believe in White Privilege which amounts to the idea that because Paris Hilton has a trust fund that means I’ve got white privilege.

    “*note* this statement applies to both sides of the issue if you don’t read it with emotion.”

    There are more than two sides to any issue. People like to read emotion into what people write because they are human, even if it’s not there.

    I was the first to write about post-modernism. I don’t know if you were responding to me, but you make a grave mistake if you think I’m clueless.

    Besides, you don’t get to declare yourself clueless and say we are all in the same boat. Once you are clueless you don’t have the means to assess whether “both sides” are.

    I do respect your honesty in this but you need to reassess what you are claiming.

  • Brian Macker

    Jeff P., and others,

    “The perception is real.”

    That women get hit upon? Wow, news flash.

    Guess what, men get hit on too. I got hit on twice at a skeptics conference by two women. At least they were unaware that I was married.

    I’ve had women hit on me at work who know I’m married. Hint: Don’t flirt with and hip bang a married man at work. Also, don’t invite an atheist over to hang your Xmas lights because “your husband is not good at such things and is away so much.” Two separate women.

    I’ve also been hit on by gays many times, and even propositioned, as in I’ll pay you. I don’t really mind the guys who did this back when their were few options and who had no way of telling I wasn’t gay. However, there is no excuse for this now days.

    If I’ve just got done telling you that I’m straight in a conversation at a cafeteria table with all your male and female gay friends, please don’t proposition me later in private. Don’t say that one of the girls at the table is bisexual, and do I want to have a orgy with her, yourself, and one of your male friends. Don’t explain to me that it is because I seemed to like her, and you noticed how awkward I seemed around girls. I don’t care if you think I’ve got the body of a Greek god.

    Also don’t get mad at me when I start avoiding you by not talking to you, and assume I have something against gays. I don’t. I just want to make it clear to you that I’m not on the fence about a future get together. Hell, your roommate overheard your proposition and even chided you about it, “Hey, man. Don’t be an idiot, he told you he’s straight.”

    You approached me in our math class for help, and then suggested we run together since we both runners, and you invited me over to your dorm to meet your friends. Little did I know it was about propositioning me to an orgy so you could fantasize about me, or worse, cop a feel.

    Jeff P. how easy it is to give enough details for people to tell what is and is not appropriate. There are appropriate and inappropriate ways to hit on the opposite or same sex.

    I’d never give these incidents as an excuse for not showing up at work, math class, or track, however.

    The above is a true story, reference for all the ignorant women on this comment thread who think that white heterosexual males couldn’t possibly have an experience that is not out of Leave It to Beaver.

    I’ve got plenty more where that came from but I’m not sure I want to share as much detail on the internet. Actually that’s one of my funnier stories. Quite a few of my other stories are so horrible they’ve brought both men and women to tears. I’ve been raped, twice. Once when I was 7 by and older girl. I know how that can screw up your perceptions and emotions.

    Want more examples of how women aren’t some Borg collective who all share each other sensibilities, and knowledge merely by being female?

    A female coworker spotted the baby wipes, in the drawer of my cubical and blurted out, “Baby wipes, why do you have those? Ha, ha, ha (loudly), never mind, I don’t want to know”. I let her off the hook by telling her they are great for cleaning keyboards and desks. No need to embarrass her by informing her that toilet paper just isn’t comfortable when your outer anal sphincter is ripped from a prior rape. She should have been embarrassed enough when she realized later that everyone would assume I was covering some embarrassing medical condition, like hemorrhoids. She’s actually and intelligent person.

    White male privilege my ass.

    As a rape victim I can tell you that men who have never been raped can understand it as well as any woman who hasn’t once it’s explained to you.

    This whole idea that others cannot put themselves in the shoes of others is absurd. Most humans are empathetic once you point things out to them even if clueless otherwise.

    Some people are so dense that you can explain things to them as clear as day and they don’t get it. You, don’t know which till you try.

    You, ain’t trying. “I got hit on” is whiny bullshit if you ask me. It’s stupid to expect anything other than the “male biology” response. Do you expect male atheists to sacrifice themselves as biological dead ends because a few of you don’t want to get hit on? Do you have any clue how hard it is “hit on” someone? Talk about clueless.

  • Brian Macker

    Claudia,

    “@Brian, you wanna trade with your average African American woman?”

    I can’t trade with an average African American woman, only a specific individual.

    “You know, seeing as how you think they have it so much better than you?”

    I never expressed the claim that the average African American woman has it better than me, on any particular issue or in general.

    I will now. African American women have it better than me when it comes to actual dyed in the wool preferences, and the “average” wasn’t even raped once.

    “Maybe you want to go the whole hog and trade with an African American lesbian atheist? I mean, wouldn’t that be so much more advantageous than being a straight white man?”

    That is actually a deep philosophical issue and bears little on the issue of White Privilege. Will my tastes change when I’m converted? If not then I’d certainly rather be a lesbian, since I can overcome the percentages against meeting the right girl by going where gays concentrate.

    Obviously, you didn’t read my explanation of a few of the problems with the hypothesis of white privilege or male privilege. I’m giving it more statue than it deserves here because its more akin to a conspiracy theory, where everyone is conspiring and doesn’t know it. A dogma in a religion, is more like it.

    I really suggest you read some of Thomas Sowell’s books so you understand what privilege really means, and why it doesn’t correlate with what I would or wouldn’t want, in your hypothetical.

    For example, his book “Preferential Policies: An International Perspective” would be great for you to read. In it he gives all sorts of situations where preferential policies (actual priveleges not imagined ones) do not result what you’d expect.

    For example the racist Malaysians have put in place true preferences for their own members against the Chinese immigrants. So let’s ask your question with regards to them. Would I rather be a Malaysian, or a Chinese in that culture. That would depend on what I value. If I value preference then certainly I’d prefer to be Malaysian, but I don’t. If I prefer hard work and earning my own way to be successful then I’d prefer to be Chinese. I do.

    I’d prefer to be a “average” Jew than a Nazi but that doesn’t mean I think that they were getting preferential treatment in Hitler’s Germany.

    No wonder you come up with all the wrong answers. You are asking all the wrong questions. Meanwhile committing all the sins you ascribe to others, like assuming you know the “male” or “white” perspective. I’m white and I don’t know the “white perspective.” All we have is individual perspectives.

  • Brian Macker

    Statue was a typo, it was supposed to be stature.

  • Brian Macker

    Charon,

    “Most people do not use the word “prejudice” for a valid, reasonable dislike.”

    But my dislike of thieves doesn’t have to have valid and reasonable justification, and therefore can be prejudiced . I may believe that “God hates thieves.” in the same fashion that some people think he hates “Fags”. That belief may hold that he hates them worse that murderers. If I were a member of the police force my beliefs might lead me to track down theives while letting murderers, rapists, etc. go. My head can be full of crazy predjudice against theives, such as that the group as a whole is lazy, shiftless, god haters, which is certainly not true of all of them.

    Besides Steve’s (and the Aspen Institute’s) whole formula is stupid for other reasons. There is a long history of oppression in the world, plus current oppressions. Most of them are motivated by the desire for power over others, not predjudice. Dictators oppress everyone in a country to some extent. Even if you are the head torturer you don’t have to freedom to choose in the same sense as someone in a truly free country. You don’t, for instance, have the freedom to choose not to obey the dictator.

    Otherwise you now have to play this stupid game to make everything fit this formula.

    “Oppression can come from a numerical minority, but not a group with a power minority.”

    It’s the untouchables who have the political power to get the quotas. It’s not accurate to say they are a power majority or minority. They have power in some ways and not others, both political and non-political.

    A minority can opress whether or not they are in power. The KKK was oppressing blacks well after the north had gained power over the south and put their “carpetbaggers” in place.

    Plus the way India works is that there are are many tribal areas where different minorities have power. One can be an oppressor in ones own locale and yet be the oppressed at a higher level. Untouchables can be in the minority in each district and yet have a large enough power block country wide to get conseccions on their behalf. Those concessions can be rights-violating and therefore oppressive.

    One of the major points that the right is correct on is the isssue of special interests in politics, and it is something the founding fathers recognized also. If you give government power over individual rights what you get is not the majority oppresssing the minority but many minorities oppressing the majority, even though politicians get voted in on majority issues. Politicians lie and once in power the way for them to make money and gain power is to oppress the majority to the benefit of the special interest minorities.

    “Yeah, it really is awful about all the women who’ve done that to Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and… wait a minute. You just made this supposed privilege of women up, didn’t you?”

    No, it actually happens. It only requires that the male in question not respond to the accusation in time. This doesn’t happen to Bill Gates because he’s well known and easy to track down. I wasn’t using Winfrey as an example of the kind of woman it would happen to. I was using her merely as an example of someone that I thought women would think had actually earned her money.

    Once you’ve been identified as the father and ordered to pay child support no amount of evidence that you are not the biological father matters. As a male, you are fucked.

    Just because you are ignorant of the ways men are oppressed doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

    Thinks don’t have to work by some stupid three variable model of reality that Steve Caldwell likes.

  • Brian Macker

    Amphigorey,

    “Ah, Brian is a Men’s Rights activist.”

    Actually no.

    “That explains everything, and hey look, I just filled my bingo card.”

    Well, it shows you jump to conclusions, and don’t have very sharp reasoning skills. I already knew that when you mentioned “Pandagon” and “advanced” in the same sentence.

  • Brian Macker

    “Is there some sort of ‘ignorant sexist mansplaining ass’ award that we can grant Brian Macker for his “wonderful” comments here? Sure, the Captain may be a solid runner up and Jon ran a decent race, but I think Macker is an obvious winner here.”

    Fuck you, cat.

  • Brian Macker

    Steve Caldwell,

    “Gee Brian, why the threats of physical violence? Do I need a restraining order? Or does the implied threat simply mean you’ve run out of things to say?”

    There was no threat of physical violence. We are talking about what is and is not oppression. I gave a hypothetical in order to explain something to you. It did contain the implied insult that you were a child deserving some corporal punishment. Obviously I’m not going to fly out there just to smack some sense into you, even though I have the “power” to do so. It was violent corporal punishment because I didn’t think you would get the point with a hypothetical of merely harassing you. However, with your further comments I see that a puff of air in your direction counts as oppression.

    As I pointed out on that old article here [ about how all the white atheists weren't taking up the white burden to make atheism more inviting for the brown skinned people], your beliefs here are unfalsifiable. We can’t think your ideas are stupid at face value, no, it’s got to be about some kind of class struggle.

    Marxism shares a hell of a lot in common with a religion. One of those things is dismissing criticism based on ad hominem criteria like class. “No need to listen to him, he’s bourgeois.” Which is exactly what you are doing with your “Internalized Dominant Group Supremacy” theory.

    We’re not saying you ideas are wrong because they are not “normal” or because we have power over you. We are saying it because frankly, they’re stupid. We point out the exact reasons why but you avoid the issue like this:

    “Michael Newdow attempted to sue to stop the use of the words “so help me god” in the oath of office and the incorporation of prayer in the event agenda for Obama’s inauguration. The US courts ruled that this wasn’t a rights violation.”

    So, what’s the parallel here? None. It’s a pretty weak form of oppression in the first place and is not at all analogous with with happened.

    “My point was that this public prayer situation was an example of dominant group insensitivity to marginalized groups. As atheists, we may have some understanding of being marginalized and perhaps we should apply that understanding to other types of diversity.”

    Which is in itself a dismissal of others claims on the basis that 1) You are a member of a dominant group. 2) Therefore your claims are valid. You aren’t addressing anything specific. You are just dumping ideological dogma on the thread, with the implicit context that I among others are not to be listened to on the basis of our actual arguments, but instead dismissed. Which is NOT what we are doing to you. We are pointing out why your arguments are wrong (or just plain unthinking, unreflected, and unthoughtful).

    You cannot expect to make some narrow point while spouting talking points from some Unitarian church that is based on Marxist derived educational dogma that has gained popularity in the humanities masquerading as science. Ironically kids have to take courses in this crap, and then face a hit on their GPA if they dare speak against the power of these tenured frauds.

    You made a claim and are making other claims that have a very broad and well known background. They rest on a whole series of conjectures and assumptions that are false.

    So when you say write something like the following you own it, even if you’ve never actually taken any black studies courses:

    “A useful mental model for the issues surrounding gender equality is the following:

    oppression = power + prejudice

    Oppression isn’t simply just a matter of personal attitudes and prejudices. There are “structural” considerations as well — the “power” contribution to oppression.”

    Especially when you are claiming to be a veteran of gender issues discussions. Here’s a hint. This stuff was not thought up in a vacuum. The same invalid arguments are made in all these areas.

    I immediately recognized the source and entire philosophical background of the nonsense you are parroting even if you don’t understand it, or know where it comes from.

    “How would you feel if you were told that your atheist objections were dismissed as you being too sensitive”

    I’d know, not feel, that a person making the dismissal on this basis is ignorant, and I could explain in detail why. Not something we are getting from those who are expressing their “feelings” on why we should take this questioner seriously.

    “… keep in mind that a high percentage of Unitarian Universalists are atheists, agnostics, and other types of humanists.”

    My experience with the UU is that they only like certain kinds of atheists,agnostics, and other types of humanists, leftists. Same goes for their openness on the issue of theists. The welcome everyone, except those who disagree. They are against prejudice except their own. It’s a sham.

    Ironic but they have the same exact “power” issues they complain about in other groups.

    “A woman can make a rude stereotyped comment about men. Again, that doesn’t change the reality about where the balance of power lies in the US between men and women (keep in mind that women on average make 77 cents for every dollar the average man makes).”

    See, this is one idiotic statement and you haven’t a clue why. Your statistic doesn’t adjust for confounding factors. Adjust for marriage, education, career choice, physical strength, part time/full time, time off, etc. and you will find there is a hell of a lot less to explain.

    Meanwhile you won’t like the explanations you’ll get. Like the fact that unions are a good mechanism to discriminate against other workers, junior union members, and even other races. This can be done all the while looking like angels. Like when white South African unions insisted that blacks be paid equal wages to whites. Hint: It wasn’t about concern for justice.

    “Second, groups differ in terms of unearned power and privilege granted by society. Please note that any unearned power and privilege is given whether one wants it or not and it’s difficult to impossible to give back unearned power and privilege.”

    Another idiotic statement. I’ve already explained why on the other article. I can’t even fathom the unthinking that went into accepting this premise. But you go on to give examples that echo nonsense coming out of black studies programs that “blacks can’t be racists.” The reason they end up with such absurd conclusions is because they redefine words to have new meanings that are perfectly at odds with existing ones.

    “In these cases, the words “racism” and “sexism” are “technical jargon” and not the colloquial usage that one finds in the abridged dictionary.”

    No kidding. I knew you were twisting words with your first formula.

    This is an attempt a being scientific but misses the whole point of what scientist are doing. They are using technical jargon to be more precise, and not to cause equivocation and confusion. They call a particle “charm” not to imply it has charm. They don’t use nonsense and garbled jargon that has no semantic relationship. You can still use normal mechanisms of deduction using the syntax. None of this applies to what you are doing.

    If I use deduction based on what you’ve been writing and linking to the implicit statement is that “All whites are oppressors”, while at the same time “There is no such thing as a white race” and “We must fight oppression”. It’s self contradicting verbal diarrhea disguised as science. It’s purpose is to confuse and it’s been quite successful on you.

    If you imply I’m a racist or an oppressor you better damn well mean it. I don’t want you coming back later after you’ve spread the notion I’m this evil oppressor racist and saying, “Well looking up my technical jargon, that means you own a car.”

    “look further to who’s empowered by society and who isn’t, who gets to be “normal” and who gets to be the “other,” etc.”

    Yeah, because everyone who actually knows me understands that I define the “normal”.

    “Are you talking about the recent post from Brian Macker where he’s ranting about gender studies and black studies “strawmen”?

    I haven’t attending any black studies academic conferences.”

    You are just plain ignorant. That’s all.

    Think about it. You come in, call people the N-word and monkeys, and then hide behind your ignorance of the history of the term, and the argument that by N-word has a special technical meaning in your world. All the while quoting from KKK literature.

    Give me a break.


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