Beating the Dead Horse of Sexism in Secularism

Sexism in the secular movement is a topic that seems to forever be a topic of discussion. I hate to add to the cacophony of voices speaking out, but after having read this piece over at Freethought Blogs by Stephanie Zvan, I feel compelled to share my thoughts.

Zvan’s post discussed how many female skeptics, famous or otherwise, had been warned to stay away from certain popular skeptic men due to their ungentlemanly behavior. As a member of the freethought community and the organizer of Skepticon for many years, I can say that I have had quite a bit of first-hand experience with what the author is talking about.

But what I want to emphasize is that this is not purely a secular movement issue. It’s an overall issue, meaning that our small (but growing) community is a representation of the society that we all live in — one that does not always value women or respect their rights as individuals.

After giving it some thought, I have figured out why the sexist remarks and situations that skeptic women often find themselves in are so particularly frustrating and heartbreaking — we should all know better. In a movement that values Humanism, the fact that we are not past this issue (treating women like human beings — GASP!) is baffling.

So what’s the solution? Call out those famous skeptic men who have trespassed? Have women come forward with their stories so that they may be victim-blamed? I’m afraid neither of these will be very constructive.

What we all need to do is make a commitment, as a member of this community (regardless of fame), to make the places we gather safe and inclusive for all. This means not inviting certain speakers to come out if organizers know they will make trouble. This means calling people out on their offensive behavior as it happens, not weeks or months afterwards. This means being ready and willing and brave enough to have some potentially awkward conversations with people you have known for minutes, days, or years.

Let’s set the example for the rest of society and get past this issue.

About Lauren Lane

Lauren Lane is the co-founder of Skepticon, the Midwest's largest skeptic student-run conference and remains a lead organizer today. She has not one, but TWO fancy art degrees and is not afraid to use them.

  • CelticWhisper

     Maybe a touch extreme, but I’m trying to go as far as not even regarding people as men or women anymore, just fellow minds expressing ideas, beliefs, thoughts, questions, notions, etc.  Call it “post-genderist” if you like.  Seems to me, though, that if we’re skeptics in the business of exchanging and critically evaluating ideas, the focus should be on the ideas and not the sex of the person expressing them.

    • http://twitter.com/TimidAtheist Timid Atheist

      It’s good to treat people as people, but erasing gender is like erasing ethnicity. You can still tromp all over someone by pretending their unique identity doesn’t exist.

      • CelticWhisper

         Hmm.  Okay, well, obviously that wouldn’t be something I’d want.  I’m trying to figure out how this could be, though.  If sexism is the assumption of inferiority or superiority based on sex/gender/whatever, and one regards people on a basis that excludes such considerations…it’s still possible to offend but I would think it’s not possible to offend –on those grounds–.

        Am I missing something?  The only way I can see someone being offended on the basis of sex by someone who regards people in a sexless fashion is if they were not aware that they were being regarded that way.

        Not trying to argue or challenge, just trying to get other perspectives.

        • Patterrssonn

          “by someone who regards people in a sexless fashion” Is such a thing even possible. Sexist behaviour is rarely due to a conscious or deliberate decision. Just witness the denialostorm that erupts whenever the issue is raised.

        • Ibis3

          What you’re missing is that instead of acting as though sex and gender don’t exist, in order to counter sexism you have to consciously and deliberately think about how your actions or inactions are being informed by the sexism you’ve absorbed from the culture and actively work to mediate and remedy these things when you see them. Listen to women and give the narratives of their experiences respect. Use your innate empathy to try and put yourself in the shoes of the women around you and act accordingly.

          • teressa81

             This. This times a million.

          • TheOnlyKarsh

             I think you are spot on here.  My question though is if one’s innate empathy tells them that the complainant is a hyper sensitive twit or someone who’s just looking for something to be offended about. 

            Both outcomes have to be regarded as possible and equally as valid.  That is unless women are immune to such things? 

            Karsh

            • AxeGrrl

              My question though is if one’s innate empathy tells them that the complainant is a hyper sensitive twit or someone who’s just looking for something to be offended about. 

              Hmm, I see the “or” there, but the 2 options you describe seem about the same :)

              I think you’ve neglected to mention the possibility that the complainant is neither of those things :)

              • TheOnlyKarsh

                My point being that when one uses their “innate empathy to try and put yourself in the shoes of the women around you and act accordingly” there cannot be only one outcome.  While a woman making a sexism claim may be accurate in her claim she may also not be accurate.  Her claim cannot simply be accepted at face value solely because she is a woman. 

                That is unless this argument is that how the woman perceived the incident is the only evidence to be gathered or account to be considered valid?  

                Karsh

                • Patterrssonn

                  My god you’re a fucking moron, have I mentioned that already? Sorry if I’m repeating myself. Sexism is not academic, it is pervasive it is a fundamental and daily part of all women’s lives, it is epidemic and if you don’t see that it’s because either you don’t want to which makes you a total selfish asshole or you are incapable which makes you a total fucking moron. So which are you? Asshole or moron, perhaps a combination of the two.

                • TheOnlyKarsh

                  Or you’re an overly emotional hypersensitive twit who just has to have something to be offended about.  Seeing as your best argument so far is calling me a “fucking moron” and an “asshole” I think it’s pretty evident who’s capable of having a reasoned and logical discussion on the issue. 

                  Karsh

                • Patterrssonn

                  Okay, you’re a fucking asshole moron. Why would I try to have a “reasoned and logical discussion” with someone who thinks trotting out hoary old misogynist cliches constitutes an argument.

                • TheOnlyKarsh

                  You’ve been trying?

                  Karsh

          • CelticWhisper

             “Listen to women and give the narratives of their experiences respect.”

            That was never a problem in my case – I do that already, but as amycas said above, it’s on the basis of the individual.  I listen to and consider the words of women (and men, because we are all absolute equals and because to do otherwise would be sexist in the other direction) because female people are unique individuals like myself. 

            Humans are pattern-seeking organisms and, as such, it’s easy to ascribe locally-observed trends to entire subsets (e.g. gender-based subsets) of the population.  The “some/few/most/all” distinction is too seldom highlighted and so otherwise-innocuous observations can easily become damaging overgeneralizations.  Overgeneralizations lead to stereotyped interactions and, from there, offense.  Likewise, it’s very difficult to deliberately ignore perceived patterns when interacting with others and instead regard everyone as an isolated entity.  I do think that it can be done, though; and when done properly, is a very effective countermeasure against both sexism and other types of prejudiced behavior as well.  Maybe it comes from being a Linux user – everything the hard way.

            As for absorbing sexism from culture…while I cannot and will not deny that culture colors people’s perceptions, I also have to admit taking slight offense at the insinuation that I am incapable of rejecting that influence or helpless to overcome it, and thus bound to making constant efforts to resist it on a case-by-case basis.  Paired with, as well as contrasted against, my individualistic approach to interaction, I think these culturally-imbued assumptions can be rewritten permanently with the right methods and enough time; so that instead of having to check my responses and actions again and again as I interact with various people, my default mode of interaction will re-base itself on the assumption that both I and the person I’m interacting with are distinct, unique, and entirely equal individuals.

            Just as we, as skeptics, speak of the ability of a person to independently reject notions of religious belief against the best efforts of preachers to indoctrinate them with those notions, I think we, as people, can independently reject concepts like “men are boorish and disrespectful” or “women are irrational and undependable” no matter how hard society tries to beat us over the head with them.  Sure, it’s possible for it to get into our heads early, when we’re kids and don’t know any better, but just as people from religious upbringings have embraced reality, people who were subjected to sexist cultural influence can embrace equality.  Culture, like religion, can have enormous influence but, like religion, can be defeated once the curtain falls and you see that the tenets are all just so much bullshit.

      • amycas

         I understand that there may be some broad differences between the genders, but I also understand that most people don’t fall into any/all of the stereotypes attached to their gender. I try to treat people like individuals first.

        • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

          Yeah, all I see are my fellow travelers on this crazy planet, and they’re a beautiful mix of colors, beliefs, ideas, and identities, man.

          But that’s “denying” that everyone’s journey is different, that everyone has had different experiences that shaped them, or… something, and that’s “just as bad” as being, like, a raging gay-bashing racist Klan member.

          I don’t get it, man.

    • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

       If you can’t see the gender of the person you’re talking to, you also can’t see the effect that living as a person of that gender has had on their life and how that has shaped their experiences. You lose out on real information that way.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    What exactly is “trespassing” here? Are we talking about significant harassment,  or simply boorish behavior?

    • http://profiles.google.com/julielada Julie Lada

       It runs the gamut. I have heard everything from simply being a little too flirtatious with openly attached or uninterested women, to attempting to blackmail oral sex in return for promoting the woman in question’s pet project.

    • Wild Rumpus

      It’s all relative.  Apparently some people find being asked out on a date on an elevator to be significant harassment.

      • Patterrssonn

        You’re right it is all relative,  just like everything else is.

      • BruceMcGlory

        Alone. At 4 a.m. Deliberately trapped with no escape possible. By someone who prefaced his dumbass remark with ‘don’t take this the wrong way’ – meaning he KNEW he was acting like a dumbass.

        but, keep minimizing and dismissing.  Assuming you want to respect or credibility, that is.

        • TheOnlyKarsh

           While you may certainly may be correct, can you say how you know this was a “deliberate” act to trap someone “with no escape possible?”  Of the numerous descriptions I’ve read of the incident I can find no malicious or predatory intents communicated by this individual.  I see many and numerous accusations but nothing that could be considered objective.  He simple chose a very poor place in which to make a pass.  Sophomoric surely but predatory very unlikely.  

          Acting like a dumbass (which I agree he did in this specific incident) isn’t sexist, it’s being a dumbass.  Neither of which should be goals for individual behavior but which are certainly miles apart on the offensive meter. 

          Karsh

          • Patterrssonn

            “Acting like a dumbass (which I agree he did in this specific incident) isn’t sexist, it’s being a dumbass. ”

            See, you are an expert.

          • schmavery

            Intent is irrelevant. If someone doesn’t MEAN to be sexist/racist/homophobic, does it make their words/actions any less sexist/racist/homophobic? No.

          • schmavery

            http://bigthink.com/ideas/39234 Here's a great article that addresses ‘intent’ as well.

            • Brett Hansen

              One thing I liked about this article was that it praised Rebecca’s response specifically for being appropriate even if the man in the elevator had the best intentions (and was just very, very wrong about what was appropriate).  Really, what she said actually was a pretty politely worded piece of advise on how not to look like a creep.  I think this approach is very important if the goal is to change behavior and not simply feel superior.  Thanks for the link!

              • schmavery

                Exactly. The comments were pretty enlightening as well, especially the one concerning the fact that rejecting men can be dangerous. I can’t tell you how often I’ve had to go out of my way to placate jackasses, because I genuinely have no idea how they are going to react, and I have to consider that it might be violent. It is downright terrifying to be put in that position period, let alone have it take place in an elevator with a complete stranger.

                • Brett Hansen

                  I’ve been on the other end of that before.  I am a large man, and I clumsily tried to flirt in a very poorly thought out way.  It wasn’t until the next day when I realized how terrible a position I put the woman in, and how an awkward nerd who doesn’t think things through and a rapist look about the same.  This all happened long ago, when I wasn’t even out of school, and it was really creepy to so many young men have the exact opposite reaction to a woman being made uncomfortable and unsafe.  You’re not a terrible person for making a mistake, but the right thing to do at that point is acknowledge it and not make it again.  The silliest part of the whole thing is that propositioning women in an elevator at night is not only scary, it also doesn’t make women want to spend time with you.  For a nice guy who cares about women, being less scary is win/win

        • Ibis3

          Thanks for this response Bruce. May I also add “after having said publicly in a talk hours earlier at the same convention that she doesn’t like to be hit on at conferences”?

          But Wild Rumpus knows all that and doesn’t give a fuck cos we are just supposed to lie back and take whatever A Man decides to dish out. No complaints now because A Man might just be misunderstood. No need to get all hysterical and shit.

          • Silentbob

            May I also add “after having said publicly in a talk hours earlier at the same convention that she doesn’t like to be hit on at conferences”?

            Sorry to nitpick, but that’s a myth. The talk in question is on YouTube and it doesn’t contain a word about not wanting to be hit on at conferences (or anywhere else). It’s mostly about receiving threatening or sexually explicit e-mail.

            • http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds Stephanie Zvan

               Right. Myth. That part where she talks about what she doesn’t find flattering isn’t in there at all.

  • Ronlawhouston

      No, the solution is that if someone is an unmitigated ass you don’t book them to speak.   The problem seems to be that people want to utilize their fame while at the same time expecting them to behave the way they expect them to behave.  If their fame is so important than I suggest folks stop wearing their feelings on their sleeves and just ignore their behavior.

    • Lauren Lane

      We can hardly ignore their behavior, as ignoring a problem rarely makes it go away. What we can do is strive for open communication and help make this community ultimately a better one.

  • http://chaoskeptic.blogspot.com Rev. Ouabache

    Call out those famous skeptic men who have trespassed?

    Yes. If I have to hear this topic being discussed to death I at least want to hear all of the dirty gossip.

    • Ryan Moran

      I agree.  I know there are good reasons for harassment victims not to speak out (who wants to deal with that sort of backlash), but it’s really the only way that the average skeptic who’s not a convention organizer or in a position to hear this stuff is going to know which famous skeptics are worth supporting.

  • TheOnlyKarsh

    I’m always a bit skeptical of the pervasive claims of sexism in any group or by a group against another.  I certainly believe that it happens but my experience has been that most of the ones I’ve actually either been a witness to or have been able to follow up on are not sexist but individuals being rude and they happen to be male and they happen to have offended a female in the interaction.  They were rude and obnoxious to many people but the one involving a female is the particular example brought to the lime light and used as an example of sexism when it was really just another example of an asshat being an asshat.

    Karsh

    • Patterrssonn

      “the ones I’ve actually either been a witness to or have been able to
      follow up on are not sexist but individuals being rude and they happen
      to be male and they happen to have offended a female in the interaction.”

      Just what makes you such an expert in sexism that you are so much better qualified to judge what does and does not constitute sexist behaviour than the women who experience this behaviour? I’m assuming you’re a man from the general smug asshatness of your comment.

      • TheOnlyKarsh

        I never claimed to be an expert, I just related what my experience had been.  Having been the victim of sexual harassment in the work place though, I think I have an “on point” opinion.  Being a victim doesn’t make one an expert though either. 

        I won’t assume your gender despite your antagonistic response giving a huge hint.  Are you saying that as a male I am incapable of having a valid or worthwhile opinion on the topic? 

        Karsh

        • Patterrssonn

          “I never claimed to be an expert, I just related what my experience had been.”

          Bullshit, you claimed to know better than the women who’s experiences you were talking about.

          “I won’t assume your gender despite your antagonistic response giving a huge hint”

          Go on give it a try

          • TheOnlyKarsh

             No bullshit, I never claimed to be an expert.  I just stated my skepticism.  You can actually read my previous posts for yourself again if necessary. 

            I see no point in guessing at this point.  Simply because I’m skeptical I’m a “smug asshat.”  My successful or unsuccessful guess would support neither your point or mine.   Your attitude is already a total and complete justification for my skepticism.  Once the sexism card has been played (whether valid or invalid) rational, detached and meaningful debate is virtually impossible.  Men are pigs, women are gold-diggers and we all need to get our pitchforks and find the nearest tree. 

            Again I would ask are you attempting to say that as a male I am incapable of having a valid or worthwhile opinion on this specific topic? 

            Karsh

            • Tainda

              As one that has a vagina, please let me say that I agree with your original post.

              There is sexual harassment in this world, without a doubt and it’s horrible and needs to be dealt with harshly.  However, I do have a lot of doubts when it comes to women who just get their feelings hurt by a word, joke overheard or imagined put down.  Put on your big girl panties and get over it.  A jackass is a jackass, no matter what sex they are.  If someone can’t deal with that, they need to be put in a special bubble and stay away from the human race because life’s rough.

            • Patterrssonn

              Okay, lets go over this one more time. You state that most claims of sexism by women that you have seen are wrong. In other words you are a better judge of what constitutes sexism than these women. You say you’re not claiming expert status yet you claim to have some special insight or knowledge that these women lack. How is it that you are so much better informed as to what does and does not constitute sexism than these women are. In other words what makes you such a fucking expert.

              • DamnedScholar

                You keep claiming that Karsh is claiming expert knowledge, when in fact that was explicitly disclaimed. Karsh is claiming the position of a neutral, unattached observer. Usually, when sexism is claimed, the claimant is emotionally involved and thus has an inaccurate view of what just happened. A third party who observed the alleged sexism firsthand has a better chance of determining whether or not it’s actually motivated by the sex or gender of the offended party.

                • teressa81

                   Claiming that whomever is involved is less able to define their experience because they are “emotional” completely invalidates the experience to begin with. You cannot claim to be a part of the solution all the while decrying people who have experienced the problem.

                • TheOnlyKarsh

                  The question at hand is not who is offended but who was sexist and who was the victim.  Since this is a subjective issue and no objective definition can be used as a standard the participants should not be the deciding factors in guilt or innocence.  

                  Karsh

                • Patterrssonn

                  “Since this is a subjective issue and no objective definition can be used as a standard” I see it’s all a matter of opinion is it. I can’t believe what an ignorant misogynist asshole you are.

                • TheOnlyKarsh

                   No, it’s a matter of fact.  The difference here is that I understand the difference between a fact and an emotional tirade. 

                  Again, being offended isn’t sexism. 

                  Karsh

                • Patterrssonn

                  Again what makes you such an expert on sexism?

                • TheOnlyKarsh

                  Again, I never said I was. I’m simply stating that claiming something doesn’t make it so. Much like religion.

                  Karsh

                • DamnedScholar

                  Whether or not the offended party is offended is a completely separate issue from whether or not sexism was a motivating factor in the offense. It’s called illusory correlation, and is a significant portion of why couples who are having trouble go to licensed therapists who can act as impartial observers.

                  Nobody, man, woman or Bruce Campbell, is in a position to think entirely rationally when personally offended. You might wish otherwise (I certainly do), but wishing otherwise doesn’t make it so. So yes, an impartial observer is the best person to determine whether an offense was motivated by sexism.

                  http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-illusory-correlation.htm

                • Patterrssonn

                  “Usually, when sexism is claimed, the claimant is emotionally involved and thus has an inaccurate view of what just happened.”

                  I see, so you’re saying that women are incapable of logical thought whenever their emotions are involved. They need to ask any men present if what they experienced was harassment or abuse or discrimination as they are unable to decide this for themselves based on their own experiences. 

                  Thanks for that Scholar it’s not often you come across this kind of Victorian age misogyny. Usually people are too embarrassed to peddle this kind of bizarre crap.

                • TheOnlyKarsh

                   Geez, just how hard do you have to try to be this inaccurate? 

                  Claiming sexism isn’t proof of sexism.  Those directly involved have a vested interest in the outcome of a decision and are prone to tell the story in a manner that put them at best light.  It’s human nature.  This is why we have juries of peers decide trials and not the witnesses of the event.  It’s why police gather statements from witnesses and than have third parties go through them to find corroboration. 

                  Karsh

                • Patterrssonn

                  ”  Those directly involved have a vested interest” Everyone has a vested interest you fucking moron yours is maintaining male privilege. Which is why you’re so determined to deny that women are capable judges of their experiences.

                • TheOnlyKarsh

                  Please specify just what male privilege that it is I’m attempting to maintain. 

                  Again I never said that women are incapable of judging their own experiences. I said that being a woman doesn’t make their claims true or facts.  It’ makes them their view.   

                  Karsh

                • DamnedScholar

                  It’s all about who’s the man and who’s the woman with you. Because it’s impossible for sexism to be targeted at men, so the man is always at fault?

                • Patterrssonn

                  “It’s all about who’s the man and who’s the woman with you”

                  Well fucking duh!

              • TheOnlyKarsh

                I said that most of the incidents I’ve either been a witness to or been able to follow up on have not been as portrayed by those claiming offense.  There was either much more to the story (generally not in their favor) that either ruled their entire complaint false (lying or mistaken) or in at one occasion was a rejected sexual partner. 

                I claim that a disinterested third party often sees things in a less emotionally charged point of view.  That both sides of story must be taken into account.  Just as a man doesn’t get a pass on being a sexist pig a woman doesn’t get to have her claim substantiated simply because she’s female and making a sexism claim.  Evidence must support her claim.  I also feel that it’s possible for someone to take offense but to not have been the victim of sexism.  At what point does a pass become sexist?  There isn’t a clear and objective answer, which means that intent by the person is an important contributing factor.   

                Again I never claimed to be an expert.  I just claimed to have what I believe to be a well reasoned opinion based on logic and reason.  You appear to have nothing but a poor ability to insult and curse as a response. 

                Karsh

                • Patterrssonn

                  How dare you say such a thing! I have an excellent ability to insult and curse, you moronic weasly bigoted fucktard with your desperate attempts to protect your well padded cocoon of male privilege.

                  You don’t find it ironic that your arguments are basically victorian age misogynist cliches? I especially love that one about women being emotionally incapable of judging their own experiences.

                • TheOnlyKarsh

                  You have an excellent ability to  dodge logic, invoke emotion and deflect responsibility but I’ve seen nothing but poor attempts at insults. 

                  You mean the ones where I call for a fair and reasoned viewing of the incident before casting judgement?  The one where I state that long standing rules of evidence should be applied and that both parties should be held to the same set of rules despite their gender? 

                  I never said that women are incapable of judging their own experiences.  I said that parties directly involved in an emotionally heated incident are not good sole witnesses to base a judgment upon. 

                  Please stop applying your emotional content to my statements. 

                  Karsh 

                • Patterrssonn

                  Of course you did, you claimed to be a better judge of these women’s experiences than they are due to their emotional involvement. You and you’re idiot friend DS make this bizarre claim over and over like a couple of pompous old anachronisms. The fact that you honestly believe the argument that women are emotionally incapable of judging wether or not an action constitutes sexism just boggles the mind.

                • TheOnlyKarsh

                  Again, does it take you numerous attempts to be this inaccurate or are you capable of such massive feats of ignorance right out of the box?

                  Karsh

          • Lucilius

            Do trolls have gender?

      • Wild Rumpus

        I’m assuming you are one of those women who assumes all rude actions that are instigated by a man towards a woman are sexist judging from the general smug asshatness of your comment.

        • Patterrssonn

          “one of those women” eh? Do you have a name for this category of women? Come on don’t be coy.

          • BruceMcGlory

            Of course he does.  It’s “women”.  they’re all EXACTLY alike you know, esp the ones that make him wet his pants.

          • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

            You may or may not be a woman, and I don’t think it matters. You are certainly behaving like an antagonistic asshat. There is simply no context in which your conduct in this thread would constitute a reasonable way to interract with other people.

            • Patterrssonn

              “You are certainly behaving like an antagonistic asshat.” I just don’t have much patience for this kind of bigoted crap anymore

    • teressa81

       You seem to make a clear distinction between asshattery and sexism, as if it is not possible for a person to do both at the same time.

      • TheOnlyKarsh

         I would certainly say that could both be present in the same individual and instance.  I’m just pointing out that one doesn’t necessarily equal the other. 

        Karsh

    • Joelmael


      I’m always a bit skeptical of the pervasive claims of sexism….”   Just the ‘pervasive’ claims?   How about the non pervasive.   You disclosed your bias entirely in your first eleven words.

      • TheOnlyKarsh

        I beg to differ.  Claims that are generalized and not specific cannot be substantiated.  Thing like “all men are pigs” or “The Atheist movement has sexism issue.”  Accusation such as these are the equvilent to sayihng “always” or “never” and are unable to be substaintiated becasue of their vagueness. 

        “Non-pervasive” claim as you put it can be investigated, substantiated, and acted on. 

        Karsh

        • Patterrssonn

          “The Atheist movement has a sexism issue.” Well you and your idiot friend DamnedScholar have pretty much substantiated this claim.

          • TheOnlyKarsh

            Never met “DamnedScholar” before but so far he’s one of a few people so far that’s been able to have anything resembling a reasoned and logical discussion about this. 

            Karsh

            • Patterrssonn

              Of course you do. His inane sophomoric mansplanations are as pathetic and retrograde as yours.

              • TheOnlyKarsh

                Which puts both of our response light years ahead of your insults.

                Karsh

  • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

    If we are going to take the “moral high ground” and call out other groups over their repression of women and sexist behavior, we had better damn well have our own house in order first.

    I think my ideal model of where we should be headed is not that we would always need to “call out” people that make sexist or harrassing remarks.  I’m thinking back to the days before the Civil Rights movement, and how casual racism was simply accepted in everyday interactions.  Now it’s not, and people making a racist crack today might be met with, not approval and acceptance, but icy stares, awkward silence, or maybe a comment of “Dude, not cool”. 

    I think that’s what we should strive for.    When we call people out, they dig in their heels to defend their choices (See Carol Tavris’s excellent speech on this from TAM9).  When we simply make them feel awkward and uncomfortable with what they have just said, we’re pushing them toward better behavior, which is the goal.

    As an example, at the WiS conference, Bernice Sandler gave an excellent model for how to respond to a really offensive  joke.  First, don’t laugh at it.  Respond with a puzzled expression, and say “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that, can you say that again?” After they repeat it, give a response like “I don’t get it, can you explain why that was funny?”  After their explanation (which is likely to have been pretty lame, and they are probably feeling pretty awkward at this point), allow a silence of about five seconds to pass, then respond with “Oh.”

    It might still be necessary to call a few people out for particularly egregious behavior.  But if our atmosphere becomes one where sexism is considered as rude as racism or homophobia, we should not have to tackle nearly as many of this kind of problem.

    • Pseudonym

       

      If we are going to take the “moral high ground” and call out other
      groups over their repression of women and sexist behavior, we had better
      damn well have our own house in order first.

      This is just a suggestion, but perhaps this should be interpreted in part as a wake-up call that at least some of the rhetoric about religion and sexism may be factually incorrect. Maybe it’s not religion per se. Maybe it’s actually about people, and institutions, and entrenched power structures.

      Could this be yet another opportunity for atheists and progressive theists to work together?

  • Concerned Activist

    “This means calling people out on their offensive behavior as it happens, not weeks or months afterwards.”

    I would like to know who you expect to call out the offensive behavior is at happens rather than weeks or months afterwards. I hope you don’t mean women who have been been sexually harassed. Being touched inappropriately or verbally harassed can be quite traumatic and not every woman can process what happen or emotionally deal with the situation immediately after it has happened. Some fear for their careers and livelihood if they decide to speak out. I speak from experience. 

    • http://profiles.google.com/julielada Julie Lada

       That’s what I was wondering, too. Much of this type of behavior isn’t done publicly. So then expecting it to be called out as it happens would in fact require women to step right up for victim-blaming and accusations of hysteria/overreaction.

    • Lauren Lane

      I have also been a victim of sexual harassment in many of it’s heinous forms, though that hardly makes either you or I an expert on the subject. My greatest hope is that victims would call out offenders as soon as they possibly can when they are uncomfortable. And hopefully, with the support of the community, that can happen sooner rather than later.

  • kathy

    You are absolutely right that this goes much further than the freethought community — about 20 years ago I worked for a feminist organization and was astounded to find out the rampant racism within organized feminism.  Its a deeper, societal issue.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Thanks for the link to Stephanie Zvan.  It was rather insightful.

  • Keaton

    Don’t forget, it’s not only important to commit as a group to being inclusive of everyone and calling out those who are failing at that, but to commit to being non-reactionary when someone calls us on our shit. One of the biggest issues I’ve seen in the community is not just that sexism/racism happens, but that when someone points out something they think is wrong *cough* elevatorgate, people all of the sudden go batshit insane and start yelling “femnazi”.

    So I propose that if someone tells you you’re messing up, don’t just start defending yourself. Think about about it, consider it, and have an damn conversation about it. Even if, in the end, you don’t think you were wrong, you can at least learn something about another person and you won’t come off as such a butthole.

    • Lauren Lane

      THIS. So much this. I think skeptics are particularly bristly when they find out they are wrong. Being wrong is a large part of life, it turns out.

      • ErickaMJohnson

        And a good skeptic wants to know if they’re wrong as soon as possible.

  • Denis Robert

    Any community must have rules (although they need not necessarily be written down; they certainly weren’t for the bulk of human history), and sanctions when those rules are broken. Saying we shouldn’t shame the people who misbehave is eliminating one of the most important ties that bind communities together. Singing kumbaya and asking nicely for people to behave is good and all, but haven’t we been doing this already? Yes, we have. The vast majority of humanists behave (mostly) correctly at events like this. And they certainly speak out when people misbehave (the torrents of nasty comments made against Dawkins when he made somewhat insensitive remarks in the wake of Elevatorgate speaks volumes here).

    Yes, it’s better when the behaviour is sanctioned as it happens. But humans are not pets. We don’t have to catch people in the act to sanction them when they act-out. We can look at the evidence, and if the evidence is solid, call out the offenders, even if the act(s) were committed some time ago.

    Shame is not a dirty word. Priests who diddle young children should be shamed. Guys who sexually harrass women at conventions should, as well. The difference is in degree, not in nature.
     

  • Nordog6561

    Seems okay so far, but I can’t see this ending well.

    • Patterrssonn

      No kidding some idiot MRA’s gonna start wanking on with the sexism against men and the pendulum swinging both ways bullshit at any point now.

      • Nordog6561

        What the heck is MRA?  You keep throwing that around.  Music Recording Association?

        • Patterrssonn

          Men’s Rights Activist

      • DamnedScholar

        I don’t think they will. That would be giving you exactly what you’re looking for.

        • http://plantsarethestrangestpeople.blogspot.com/ mr_subjunctive

          You’ll lose that bet.

      • TheOnlyKarsh

         Cause we know that only women are allowed to claim sexism. 

        Surely you’re not trying to claim that women deserve special treatment solely based on their gender or that women are incapable of being sexist as well? 

        Karsh

  • anon atheist

    I’m gonna leave out the sex since my mine detector is broken but you
    have to realize that we are not all humanists or share humanist
    values. In fact I would guess that it is only a minority of atheists
    and skeptics that are humanists especially since part of feminism and new atheisms is anti-humanist.

    • amycas

      Even if you aren’t a humanist, you can still understand that women are people and deserve to be treated as such. It’s not that difficult of a concept.

      • Paul_Robertson

        Anon Atheist wasn’t saying otherwise. I think it’s a fair point to make that atheist humanist, even if it is only tangential to the article.

    • teressa81

       I might agree with you. I might disagree with you. I’m not sure – could you further explain what you mean by humanist and anti-humanist? I’m not getting what you are saying.

    • Deven Kale

       I fail to understand where you get this idea that  “part of feminism [...] is anti-humanist.” I consider myself both a feminist and a humanist.  I honestly see them as simultaneously complementary and synonymous. I don’t like being wrong in my opinions,  so please do explain your perspective here so I may better understand it.

  • amycas

    I love this piece. Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001968716330 Harmony Seeker

    Perhaps holding the conventions at hotels and the availability of alcohol contribute to the problem more so than it being a secular problem.  

    • DamnedScholar

      Alcohol isn’t a problem if you hold people personally responsible for how much they drink and how they let it affect them. If you let people get away with bad choices because they chose to let their judgment be impaired, then you have a problem.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001968716330 Harmony Seeker

         I don’t mean they should get away with it.  I meant that alcohol and being in a hotel may contribute to the problem more than secularness.  Seems to be some surprise, that this happens at secular events.

  • teressa81

    I am so often so utterly blown away that this is a conversation that must be had in the atheist circle. I would have hoped, having left the flock of misogynistic religion behind years ago, that as intelligent skeptics we would be able to know better.

    We do not. And in some way that’s okay – we are all human. But it disappointing me to know that even here, we have the same asshats claiming that sexism does not exist, or that if it does exist, it’s not a big deal and women just need to learn how to “deal” with it.

    We’re better than that. Aren’t we?

  • Deven Kale

    I already do this as it stands today. Male or Female, we should all be treated with the same dignity and respect. We should all have the same rights, whether they’re popular or unpopular. I swear I’ll keep this up as well, pointing out any infringements to this ideal as I see them, until I hopefully never have to again.

  • http://twitter.com/TPRyan007 CoffeeLovingSkeptic

    I’m bored to tears of hearing about sexism in the skeptic community. 


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X