My View of the Atheist Movement… Circa 2007

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to do something really cool: record an audiobook for I Sold My Soul on eBay. I know: it’s five years after the fact… but whatever :)

I went to a sound studio on two separate occasions to recite the whole thing from start to finish. It marked the first time since before the book came out in 2007 that I actually read through the whole thing.

It was a weird experience.

There’s so much of what I wrote then — before I started writing this blog — that I would never write now because my opinions have changed (hardened?) so much. There were also a lot of good/bad memories pouring back that I hadn’t given a second thought to for so long. I’d forgotten some of those churches I visited, for better and for worse. And I couldn’t believe how much happened in those churches that I was letting slide — things I would be calling them out on if it happened today.

But I read it just as I wrote it and I hope you’ll like it when it comes out — which will be soon, I hope.

(Also, my idea of reading the whole thing in an Indian accent was nixed. Your loss, people. Your loss.)

I bring this all up because there was one passage in particular that stood out to me, especially in light of all the recent blogosphere discussion about feminism and racial diversity and all the new organizations/conferences aimed at bringing more women and minorities into our movement.

Here’s what I wrote in the book in a section about how Christians could impress atheists like me:

You want to reach out to people like me? Then show me the churches where men and women lead on an equal basis, and where I can see a rainbow of people in the crowd instead of a sea of whiteness or, in another neighborhood, a sea of blackness. If you say racial and ethnic segregation in churches comes about because of differing preferences regarding the style of worship, then change the style to one that welcomes everybody. I’d love to see Christian faith leading to openness and equality, respect for people no matter their gender or skin color or language or culture. Think about this: atheist gatherings are often a mixture of everyone in society. The people represent different ethnicities, ages, sexual identities, and races. Does it surprise you that secular people are leading the way in accepting others, no matter their individual differences?

I’m proud that two of the leading national atheist organizations (American Atheists and Atheist Alliance International) are headed by women. Our meetings bring together men and women from all different races. You would never see separate sessions held for men and women. We’re all equal in atheism, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in most churches. I can only wonder why.

Wow. Either I was blind to the lack of diversity in my own world or we’ve started to segregate ourselves in an attempt to become more accepting of everyone. I’m guessing it’s more of the former.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Mark H

    Growth is always a good thing.  Where you a bit naive in the past?  Perhaps.  No one knows everything, (which is why we all need to keep learning.)  The point is that you have learned, which provides hope that you will continue to learn.

    Does this make you more hardened?  Again, perhaps.  More importantly, it does make you more wise, which, crucially for someone who is put forth as a spokesperson for our community, makes you more compelling.

  • John the Drunkard

    Maybe you weren’t all that wrong. Compared to those churches, our movement may have been a shining example. That doesn’t take away the scale of the problems that have surfaced since.

    As an example, Greta Christina’s great post about how the atheist movement demonstrated more concern for GLBT people than vice versa. It is hard to remember such an example in the avalanche of misogyny that has come down since.

    Is the problem exclusion of women, or the unrecognized inclusion of a cabal of woman-hating sociopaths?

    • PantySniffer

      so anyone who dares question the movement is a misogynist? If I say, “there is no foundation for the atheist community to adopt the agenda of the feminist” does this make me a misogynist? If so, you really are scary. Open dialogue and skeptical inquiry is what we should be promoting, not the stifling through oppression and name calling of said inquiries.

      • RobMcCune

        I’m fairly sure [John] is referring to death threats, rape threats, and misogynistic pejoratives, none of which help with an open dialogue.

        • Patterrssonn

          Your wasting your time, PS’s crowd consider rape threats to be a form of skeptical inquiry.

          • RobMcCune

            Given Sniffer’s hyperbolic overreaction (hell, given his name), I don’t think it’s going to be a productive conversation.  Still needed to be said, though.

          • Angry – PlF

            This will be the last time I respond to you directly because you repeatedly show yourself to be a mean-spirited, angry, loud and rude individual who is not able to interact in any way other than name calling, ad homs, false logic and wild accusation.

            You had damn well better go find some evidence I advocate rape threats as a form of skeptical inquiry. Your accusation is unfounded and frankly, if I can find out who you are, I am ready to sue you for libel. 

            You have not given anything but name calling, vulgarity and nastiness to a thread (or numerous threads). Instead of answering any questions asked you instead choose to make unfounded and false accusations.

            Is this what we can expect from A+? Are you the best they have? If so then they are really in trouble because frankly, you are not stable.

            If and when you decide to answer questions and speak in a manner becoming adults, please join in. Until then, please refrain from the name calling, vulgarity and uttering appalling accusations.

            • http://www.facebook.com/neil.terry.98 Neil Terry

              I have honestly wondered if Patterrssonn is serious, or is just trolling, or is maybe even trying to make feminists look bad.  I don’t usually go in for such conspiracy theories, but damn!  That’s a big  boatload of anger, or someone who just likes to shoot off for the manufactuered adrenaline rush.

            • Patterrssonn

              A tirade of strangely stilted mock outrage in from some sad freak of an MRA who refers to himself as Panty Sniffer. Thanks for making my day, looking forward to more.

    • http://www.facebook.com/neil.terry.98 Neil Terry

      I think the atheist society in general has been much better than many, if not most segments of America in general on issues of sexism.  Try bringing up any of these issues for discussion among the more conservative (or even simply “less liberal” parts of society.)  The worst of Greta’s twitter feed (#mencallmethings) is closer to their norm.  In my experience, only a very few liberal churches and social groups are anywhere near as open-minded as the larger atheist movement.I don’t like sounding dismissive, but from the beginning of “elevatorgate” I have seen the way an issue builds up and feeds on the hot-burning fuel of internet, uh, “discussion”.  There has never (as far as I’ve seen) been any HUGE number of sexists or misogynists involved.  Yet there will always be some, even if they’re trolling and not serious.  Mostly on the much larger forums like reddit and twitter, there has been a small but very ugly and vocal group of idiots, who have been condemned by pretty much every reasonable blogger and commenters.  The single most popular reaction by far to Watson’s elevator talk was …”uh, big deal, so what?”, not any kind of hostility…but that’s not what you might believe if you spend a year focusing on a tiny minority.
       
      Similarly, in all the FTB discussions about harrassment at conferences, I only saw three or so stories, not one of them particularly troubling, spread out over years and multiple large events.  I have repeatedly tried to describe these stories to women friends of mine, and the general result has been more  “uh, so what?” 

      I would never say that America doesn’t have a sexism problem, but to be honest, I resent the implication that the larger atheist society is as bad or worse than regular religious America when it comes to sexism and misogyny, especially when the behaviors being complained about are mostly mild conflicts of manners, or internet trolling, and not any kind of real oppression or struggle for power or autonomy.   

      I have already denounced those who say mean, sexist things and those who make any kind of threat.  Repeatedly, as has everyone.  I am not trying to be dismissive, I am trying to take account of any privilege I may be blinded by….but I still can’t avoid the conclusion, brought on by an unemotional examination of what I’ve seen, that the whole last year has been the most incredible example of molehilling I’ve ever seen.

      Sometimes I think that maybe some certain bloggers are quite happy to receive as many threats and slurs as dumbasses are willing to send, since it so useful in “proving” what a hive of scum and villainy the atheist movement is.  I hate to think in such terms, but otherwise, what fair and honest person would try to pretend that such things are the norm, or that most men treat such things as acceptable? 

      • RobMcCune

        I personally think apathy is part of the problem and the sexists and misogynists are the tip of the iceberg. Whenever someone tries to bring up problems sexual objectification, misogyny,  sexual harassment, etc. A segment of the ‘apathetic’ population show up to assert there is no real problem, or will devote a token sentence or two decrying the behavior followed by paragraphs against bringing the issue up at all. Anti-feminist tropes get brought up, passive aggressive “Dear Muslima” arguments are made, etc. mostly in an attempt to shut down debate on the issue.

        While I agree that atheists are better on these topics than the general population, there is still a problem and a large amount of resistance to acknowledging or talking about it.

        • http://www.groverbeachbum.blogspot.com/ Neil

          Thank you for the reasonable response.  I don’t think I’m apathetic myself, but maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe things are a lot worse in some places than anything I’ve seen personally.  Sometimes I get the feeling a different sort of privilege may be involved here…I live in a lower middle class, politically moderate (maybe slightly liberal) area in California.  Women are not exactly slaves here.   
          In twenty years of working in all kinds of jobs, I’ve  only worked at a couple of places, very small businesses, that didn’t have an official harassment policy.  I’ve never seen harassment tolerated or unpunished, the very few times I’ve seen it at all.  Almost all of the borderline inappropriate behavior I’ve seen in workplaces (clueless flirting, colorful jokes, joking grab-ass, sexual conversations or innuendo, that kind of thing) has been done by young to middle-aged women.  No bullshit!  Most guys here are extremely wary of attracting harassment complaints.  The only times I’ve seen any women have to put up with even mildly bad behavior was a few instances of usually older male customers flirting with young waitresses or bar staff.  I’ve only seen one instance of unwelcome groping in my adult life…it was in a bar, and the perp was the victim’s own boyfriend.  She got mad, and he stopped.  On the other hand, I have been groped by female coworkers twice.

          I’ve been getting most of my info on this subject from Freethought blogs and Skepchick, and I’ve taken women’s concerns seriously my whole adult life.  I’ve tried to see the problem, I’ve talked my friends’ ears off on the subject, and at least in the examples given, I just don’t see it.  Maybe I’m just not feminist enough, maybe my tolerance for other humans’ behavior is way above the norm.  But none of the examples I’ve heard point to any kind of huge problem at all.  Being asked out or even bluntly propositioned at a large social gathering is not harassment…not to me, not to my SO of 15 years, not to anyone I’ve asked.  Being handed a swinger’s card at a conference may be tacky, but I don’t know a single woman whose day would be ruined or who would even want to seek redress.  In a day to day employee setting, or at a church, where people commonly have negative and fearful reactions to sex and utmost sanctity of manners is the norm, I could see a problem.   
          I don’t think I’m apathetic…I think I’m rationally comfortable with other humans.  So are all the women I’ve asked in real life, and I’m pretty sure they weren’t lying to me out of fear.

          What I see the most in this situation, is people conflating the over-dramatic internet response with daily life.  A lot.  But if I’m wrong or horribly insensitive, I do want to know.

          • Pascale Laviolette

            What the women described initially, and what they asked for (anti-harrassment policy, no come-ons in elevators) was entirely reasonable.  It was the outcry on behalf those that disagreed that was over-dramatic!!Based on the aggressive, violent response these women received after merely suggesting an anti-harrassment policy be implemented (in case something DOES happen), the whole situation became a lot more serious – a problem in our community was revealed (even if it’s comparatively smaller than in other communities).The initial issue was not at all over-dramatic.  Even if there’s only ONE instance of harrassment at a con, it’s still worth having a policy where such things are documented.  What on earth was the big deal?!  Why can’t we talk about sexism without a deluge of ‘hysteria’ accusations?  THAT is the new issue, and it’s soooooo alienating to the women in the movement. 

            The more we ask to be taken seriously, the more we’re dismissed, the louder we ask — then we’re accused of over-dramatizing!It’s exhausting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Blaine-Higgy/1448513092 Blaine Higgy

    I think this whole A+ kerfuffle is a good thing.

    It shows that the movement has grown large enough that it can now split into the various cliques that some people seem to need.

    Brian: Excuse me. Are you the Judean People’s Front? 

    Reg: Fuck off! We’re the People’s Front of Judea

  • Poopie La Putz

    I think you have become more concerned with appearances than reality. I think you were probably right in 2007 and have been hoodwinked in 2012.

    First reactions and perceptions are often the right reactions and perceptions. You have been too concerned with non-issues and have fallen to the wayside of the real issues – like you said, things going on today with the same churches from the past should be called out, yet you are not doing that. Instead you tilt at windmills thinking you are doing something good.

    Hemant, have you ever stopped to consider the fact that these “movements” are not based in any real world scenario? Have you ever truly stopped to see how much damage the movements and your efforts are causing? I again posit you have not.

    Get back on the path dude, call out those churches, keep the wall of church/state separation firmly intact and stop already with this self-created world of discrimination and hoohah.

    • LouisDoench

       Nothing to see here, move along.  It’s all your heads. Get back to the real issues, yknow, the ones that effect me.  Self created? Oh that’s right, the ladies were asking for it…

      • PooPooPants

        Louis, first off, as has been argued ad infinitum, the atheist movement is not one of the feminist movement or any other special interest group. Okay, that aside, beyond the hearsay, conjecture and grapevine/bandwagon effect, there has been no proof of the alleged misgivings and nefarious deeds of this whole issue. Not one “threatening email”, verified assault, verified harassment has been provided as proof. All we have been given is accusation. Accusation is not proof nor is it valid until it is brought forward, investigated and then ultimately proven THROUGH FACT to be real/true.

        At present we have nothing but blog posts by the leaders of the unshaven-leg sisterhood – this is not proof. 

        Civilized societies and cultures have systems that do not permit witch hunts. There are checks and balances to make sure accusations have to be proven. In fact, truly civilized societies have laws and rules of libel and slander to prevent false allegations and accusations. but it seems the A+ ‘movement’ seeks to do away with such notions. That is truly frightening.

        I tell you this; if PZ or Greta ever posted ANYTHING about me – unfounded – I would have their next 30 years of salary and their house via a very justified and expensive lawsuit.

        • Patterrssonn

          Oh go away you sad pathetic excuse for a troll.

          • ya_rayah

            Guess you don’t have a real response to that?

            • Patterrssonn

              Oh as real as it deserves.

      • Patterrssonn

        Be nice to PLP, it’s not easy for the bubble-bound. Imagine life trapped within a filmy haze of self victimization, blind to logic, unable to speak without whining, only able to hear the sad plaintive cries of other MRA’s atheists trapped inside their pathetic shrinking world of hate.

  • http://de-avanzada.blogspot.com/ Daosorios

    The latter – the A/S movement has always been inclusive!

  • http://www.facebook.com/neil.terry.98 Neil Terry

    Well, let’s see….who are the people calling for segregation?  Hmmmmm….

    • Patterrssonn

      Mmmm nobody?

      • http://www.facebook.com/neil.terry.98 Neil Terry

        Actually, I have been repeating this essential comment here and elsewhere for weeks.  I’m not one of those asking for more evidence of harrassment, or calling people liars for not presenting it.  I believe the things I have heard, and that some men are pathetic sexists. 

         I’m one of those who honestly wants to know exactly what people see as “the problems”, and exactly what they want to change to fix them.  I am one of those who believes that tarring thousands of men with the actions of a handful is wrong, that sexist and even violent-sounding tweets are not actually harmful, but are just  an annoyance born of free speech and internet culture and not necessarily a sign of rampaging sexism eveywhere in atheist society, and that being asked out at a conference (even if you don’t like it, even if you’ve openly said you don’t like it) is not harrassment, nor harmful in any way except to the egos of people so incredibly privileged that they think they should get to define and regulate all social interaction based on their personal  preferences, and so hypersensitive that they should probably not go out of doors and experience life first-hand anyway, for their own emotional safety.  I see spoiled children who see their lack of ability to control others as a “lack of privilege” that I somehow possess(in their minds) by virtue of having a penis. 

        I am more than happy to learn why I am wrong about any of this, but I see no need to simply take the word of a small number of very politically motivated acitivists.  Personally, I know all kinds of happy and successful women, and they don’t seem to need my help or envy any “privilege” of mine, except when our mutual enemies, religious conservatives and some Randian libertarians, are able to get power and actually put sexism and bigotry into public policy. 

        I’m not sure who you mean by “you guys”.  I am not an “MRA” who contends that men are oppressed.  I do not make threats of violence or rape, or condone them.  I do not expect women in society to put up with anything I’m not willing to put up with myself, nor do I want to keep any kind of power or privilege that I have away from them.  But so far, all I’m getting from Freethought blogs and other feminists is a demand for my manners and preferred social interactions to match theirs exactly, and the usually unstated but heavily implied essential accusation that if I don’t care about how every last woman emotionally feels at all times, and am not willing to change things as ordered, no matter how pointless and petty the request, that I am somehow oppressing women (with kind offers to stick a dead porcupine up my ass if I disagree, at Pharyngula anyway.)  

        I will say that over the last few days on this blog, I have seen you spit and sputter and throw insults and crappy logic around like beads at Mardi Gras.  I think you’re an immature, angry, and dishonest person who just likes to spew angry bullshit for fun.  Feel free to ignore me, unless you suddenly have something worthwhile to say.       

        • Patterrssonn

          Sorry Neil but someone who claims to be against sexism but the calls women who speak out against harrassment “spoiled children” it’s hard not to think pompous fuckwit, what a complete fucking asshole. And this is what I find most amazing is that it’s not a case of cognitive dissonance, you just redefined sexism as what upsets you. You actually think you know more about what constitutes sexism than women do. I am amazed at the combination of arrogance and smug stupidity. I don’t know why you say you’re not MRA, you’re arguments a practically MRA. And your post is such long, dreary arrogant pap

          • http://www.groverbeachbum.blogspot.com/ Neil

            A perfect example of why I write such “dreary arrogant pap”.  This is what I’ve seen for the last whole year +.  
            Tell me why I’m wrong.  Tell me what I’m missing.  
            I ask, but this is what I get.
            You seem to be so solid in your knowledge and perspective that you don’t need to address anything I say, but are perfectly justified to rain down abuse and name-calling.

            I’ve read the posts.  I’ve read the comments.  I’ve read the feminism 101 posts(which I’ve been somewhat familiar with since college 20 years ago).  I still don’t see an epidemic of misogyny.  I see a much smaller infection than has ever been present in human history, but I haven’t seen much in the way of strategy or argument as to how to fix the rest of it.  

            So tell me, instead of acting like a jerk-off.  If you know how I should think about these issues presented, if you know what changes need to be made, how to kill the last of the infection, tell me.  I don’t expect much, because all I’ve seen you do is spit acid and fart around like a horse’s ass.

            • Patterrssonn

              Sorry I skipped most of your post Neil. What did you do wrong? You redefined sexism to suit yourself. The beauty of if is, you’re so fucking stupid and arrogant you think that there’s nothing wrong with redefining a parameter to suit your argument.

              • 3lemenope

                As a person who studiously cares little and less about the scandals that rock the communities I barely belong to, let me just say that as a person reading this stuff fresh, you’re not coming off as the reasonable one in this argument, Patterrssonn. 

                Take that for whatever it’s worth.

                • John the Drunkard

                  Two problems are being conflated.
                  1. The presence of sociopathic creeps at Atheist/Freethought events.

                  2. The avalanche of denial from those who don’t want to think about it.

                  Number 2 has become the larger problem. I don’t really think gender is at the heart of it. In my own experience with a violent (male) stalker–of women. I found that women were just as likely to rationalize away his behavior as men. The simplest factual report of his actions was met with almost identical language, e.g. ‘thats what SHE says,’ ‘I’m sure there are always two sides to the story,’ ‘I know him and he isn’t like that’ etc. etc.

                  I think this kind of denial is not different from that shown at Penn State or the Vatican.

                • PoopieWoopieWoo

                  But the problem here is at least the Penn State scumbag received his chance to tell his side of the story to a court before being given a sentence and this is not happening here. It is a situation where the mere accusation becomes the scarlet letter with the accused never getting their chance in court (metaphorically speaking). And that is WRONG.

                  Maybe there is this level of scumbaggery, maybe there isn’t. But when accusations become proof then there is a true and dangerous problem. And when fringe groups like this A+ nonsense tries to make the decisions of guilt/innocence by nothing more than accusations it does not hold any water. And it harms the accusers, the accused and if there are any, the victims. 

                • Patterrssonn

                  Thank you Mr Lemon but if I’m giving the impression that I’m in any way attempting to seem reasonable, then I’m obviously not trying hard enough. Because to be honest I don’t give a shiny tinkers toss. When fatuous pompous morons like Neil declare that systemic sexism and male privilege are non issues, because well that’s just how things are, I don’t really feel there is any need to be reasonable. For me a man who belittles women for speaking out against harrassment is a turd. A man who demands that we prove to him the existence of sexism deserves about as much respect as a creationist demanding we prove to him the existence of evolution. I don’t see why the answer would be any different ie for gods sake read a fucking book, educate yourself.

                  A few years ago I belonged to a group of men who walked across my province, town to town visiting schools and churches and town halls. We’d raise money for women’s shelters and rape crisis centers. We’d give talks to students and locals, about male violence against women and it’s effects, about how casual sexism supports that violence and creates an environment in which it thrives.

                  We were pretty effective because we talked very plainly and honestly, and also the statistics were horrifying. An auditorium full of high school students and you could have heard a pin drop. Afterwards there’d be young guys coming up and thanking us because they knew of women experiencing abuse but they didn’t know what to do, and some just grateful that someone was talking about it.

                  We’d have town hall meetings where guys would argue with us but usually not for long. And most saw the connection between casual sexism and violence, how one reinforces the other, how verbal abuse can be just as damaging as physical violence.

                  Every now and again you’d end up with someone like Neil who would just deny the existence of sexism, I can’t remember all their arguments but they would generally boil down to men are victims too, and “I just don’t see it”. This was at the beginning of the men’s movement which would eventually morph into the similarily themed But more extreme Men’s Rights movement.

                  Sorry for the long rambling post but I just got back from Jack’s smoke shack and I’m full of pulled pork poutine and raspberry thunder ice cream. My point basically is this, I don’t think there’s any real point arguing with anyone who denies the existence of sexism like MRA’s or proto-MRA’s like Neil, who while conceding that while sexism may have existed in the past it’s no longer an issue. If they were genuinely interested in the issue and not just denialists, then their arguments would consist of more than just misogynist cliches such as, you’re being too emotional, you’re acting like children or you’re just overreacting. And personally I’m not going to give hoary old misogynist cliches the respect of an actual argument.

                • Alan R

                  I am Catholic and I don’t know what all of the abreviations mean: A+, MRA. Can someone help me out?

                  Patterrssonn,
                  1. I try to read as much as I can so I am interested in learning more about the existance of evolution. I thought it was a theory with a great deal of evidence to support the theory? Do you recommend any writings that prove it?

                  2. is it possible that sexism is actually benificial to the perpetuation of personkind even though it is offensive to indivduals and that trying to eliminate it is somehow detrimantal to the species?

                  3. How do you know for sure that your view of realityis true and Terry’s is false?

                  I hope you guys can work out your differences and I would be grateful for your thoughts.

                  Sincerely,
                  Alan R

                • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

                  ‘A+’ = ‘Atheism plus other things like feminism and other social issues.

                  MRA = Men’s Rights Advocate.  Google for more.

                  Evolution: Dawkins “The Greatest Show on Earth” or Coyne “Why Evolution is True”.  I’ve read the former, not the latter.  Both are generally very highly recommended.  If it bothers your theology, look for youtube videos by Ken Miller, also a Catholic.

                • Alan R

                  Thank you Rich. I felt like I was missing out on  some of the context not knowing what the abreviations meant. I appreciate the book reommendations. Evolution as a theory is not opposed to Catholic theology per se. I was agnostic before catholic and one of the best books I ever read is “the Territorial Imperitve”. I guess I got hung up on Patteerrssoonn’s statement that it was true as opposed to theorically probable.
                  Peace,
                  Alan R

                • Patterrssonn

                  Alan is just Poopie or Panty Sniffer. Look at the second question, it’s just MRA evolutionary psychology crap.

                • Patterrssonn

                  1. To be honest I don’t know what you mean by “prove it”

                  2. Since sexism is detrimental to the female of the species, I fail to see the point of your question.

                  3. I don’t think my “view of reality” is true and Terry’s is false for the simple reason that I don’t know what Terry’s “view of reality” is. How about you first explain to me what that phrase means. Sans Poe.

    • Poopie

      Well said Terry.

      • Patterrssonn

        You and Neil are the same person aren’t you.

        • http://www.groverbeachbum.blogspot.com/ Neil

          No, Neil and Neil Terry are the same person.  HI! Different computer than earlier, not a sock puppet, I’m not Poopie.  Poopie is someone else, and I don’t think I share the same views exactly.

          • Patterrssonn

            I know that Neil, just making fun of you and your idiot clone.

  • RebeccaSparks


    (Also, my idea of reading the whole thing in an Indian accent was nixed. Your loss, people. Your loss.)

    You got to read at least some of your book in an Indian accent, right?

  • Patterrssonn

    Mmm nobody?

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

    To be fair to yourself, most of your experience with the atheist movement up to that point had been with college student groups.  A lot of college secular student groups actually are quite diverse and inclusive!

  • C Peterson

    There is no “movement”. There are lots of different movements which happen to disproportionately attract atheists. And as far as I can tell, all are very open to diversity, and in fact, are pretty diverse.

    What I do see is a few thin skinned people who like to see problems where none really exist. I find it best to largely ignore them. Groups that appeal to atheists seem to be operating quite nicely and aren’t excluding anybody.

  • Octoberfurst

     As someone who is new to the atheist movement I must admit that I am very perplexed about what all these angry accusations are about. On the one hand I hear that there are serious problems with misogyny in the atheist movement. (Which, if true, I find extremely troubling.) On the other hand I hear from other people who say that this whole misogyny thing is being blown way out of proportion and that those who have been accused of misogyny are just simply expressing doubts about said claims.
       So what IS going on? What is “elevatorgate”?  Could I have someone give me an unbiased explanation please?

    • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

      “Elevatorgate” sprung from a comment Rebecca Watson (from Skepchick.org) said in one of her videos. She was telling the story of how she had just finished a speech at a conference and was talking to people at a bar. At around 4am (IIRC), she announced that she was tired and was going to bed. She went into the elevator to go back to her room, when a guy (who had been hanging around the group in the bar during the entire conversation but didn’t say a word) entered the elevator with her. Alone, just the two of them, the guy asked her back to his room for some “coffee” (which is generally slang for hooking up in most areas of the U.S.).

      All Rebecca said was “Guys, don’t do that.” The overreaction was tremendous. People started claiming that she was somehow accusing ALL men of being creepy… then they claimed that she was accusing ALL men of being potential rapists. 

      As for the problems with misogyny… a simple reading of various blogs from Rebecca Watson, Greta Christina, and Jen McCreight, as well as the comments therein, over the past year (as well as recent posts by Greta and Jen recalling these past events), will tell you all you need to know about not only people doing and saying sexist and misogynistic things, but others who make excuses for them and think nothing of it.

      • RobMcCune

        To fill in some details Rebecca overlooked most of the initial negative reaction the few minutes of a 10-15 minute video. She did get a video response on youtube from a woman who said Rebecca’s comments were against sex. At a later speech Rebecca chose that video as an example of how feminists are misrepresented. 

        This provoked more backlash, and when PZ Myers weighed in on his blog, Richard Dawkins  commented “Dear Muslima, stop whining…” ridiculing Watson for the whole thing becoming such a big deal. In response Rebecca wrote a blog post critical of the way Dawkins trivialized her initial complaint, in that post she called him an “old white dude”. This offense caused a large vitriolic campaign against Rebecca and her supporters that continues to this day.

        • Octoberfurst

          Rob and TerranRich, thanks for the info. Frankly I am appalled that people would mock Rebecca’s comment about being upset when this total stranger asked her to come to his room for coffee. I totally understand why she was upset. It seems like a no brainer. So for people to be angry at HER is absurd. It seems like some people in the atheist community are clueless.  

          • RobMcCune

            I dug up Watson’s post on Dawkins if your interested.

            http://skepchick.org/2011/07/the-privilege-delusion/ 

          • Houonogoroy

             The problem isn’t that she was upset or that she said she was upset, you dolts. The problem is the implication that being asked for coffee in an elevator is somehow indicative of or an example of the misogyny and sexism in the atheist community. If that incident is representative of our misogyny problem, then we don’t have one. If that incident is representative of the kinds of actions we want to police, then we are wasting our time.

            Another problem is the assumption that the man did what he did for sex, or that he intentionally upset her, or that he did something wrong because he should have known it would upset her and he’s just selfish. None of these things can be known and all of them have been assumed.

            Yet another problem is the way that people who disagree with the ftb crowd and Watson are treated. They’re shouted down, bullied, and treated like horrible misogynists just because they don’t think that what happened to Rebecca indicates some kind of rampant sexism in the movement, or because they don’t think that the man did anything wrong. Let’s not even get into how RW called someone out for disagreeing with her at a conference where that person couldn’t defend herself.

            • Octoberfurst

              But it wasn’t just that he was asking her out for coffee. It was asking her to come to his ROOM  for coffee.  Mind you, according to what I have been told, she had never spoken to this man before. He just got into the elevator—just him and her in there—and asked her to come to his room for coffee.  I would assume, as she did, that he wanted more than coffee. Granted maybe his intentions were pure and that he is just socially inept. The right thing to for him to have done  would have been for him to have said, “I really liked your talk. Could we possibly get together for coffee sometime?”  There is nothing wrong with that.  But don’t invite the woman to your room for coffee for crying out loud. She didn’t know him from Adam. Why is that hard to understand?
                And the fact that he asked her was not the misogynist part. It was the reaction to her complaint about it from other atheists.  It was sort of a “Oh don’t be such a bitch” type reaction.  That is where the sexism comes in.

        • Masakari2012

          Yes, and to go more into details, she accused someone who was in the audience of “parroting misogynist thoughts”, as if asking a person for coffee is equal to misogyny.

          Also, Rebecca Watson and her FTBully allies were quick to call Richard Dawkins, “Dick”, yet they get pissed off when someone call RW, “Twatson”. That’s just their typical double-standards and their own sexism which shines through. In their eyes, it’s only sexist if it happens to a woman. This is one of MANY reasons why they can’t be taken seriously.

          • RobMcCune

            A few trivial statements devolve into a giant shitstorm, and this is what you feel justifies it? A sentence fragment in a garbled context, and the fact that once things got out of hand there was vicious name calling on both sides, that is hardly damning evidence. The idea that this sort of minutia somehow justifies the vindictiveness of the response is absurd.

            • PoopieWoopieWoo

              Perhaps not the extant the OP thought but it certainly does cast a light of hypocrisy over the A+ crowd. It shows the character of the players involved. If the A+ crowd is going to try and portray themselves as the moral victors and high-ground, they need to walk the walk. This does show character flaws and hypocrisy.

    • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich
    • Masakari2012
  • Mary

    Hemant, I don’t really know what to think about any of this anymore. The comments on this blog are just over the top. I’m not sure I would want to keep my blog going if this was the kind of “discussion” it dragged up. There are a lot of smart, talented people reading this blog and then wasting their time arguing with each other. Really, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t this a huge waste? Go love someone or plant a tree or build a house or something. I guess I should unsubscribe from this blog and just live my life as an atheist without thinking about atheism. It seems to be a much happier path than all this. While the “leaders” of this “movement” argue about women’s issues, I’m just going to raise my little girl the best I can and hope there are more people out there like me who are trying to do that too. When I see injustice in my small corner of the world, I will speak up. Who knows, maybe that will land me back as the subject of a blog post here one day. But at least I won’t spend anymore time reading comments like these.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      I have many of the same feelings.  I was recently invited into yet another atheist FB group which promptly set about bashing A+.  I haven’t removed myself yet, but in general I just feel tired of it and want to move on.  That doesn’t mean I want to move on and let misogyny thrive, but I feel beat down, and I’m a man who isn’t the brunt of any of it.  I can’t possibly imagine how people like Watson and Christina and McCreight feel.  I’ve barely skimmed most of the comments here, and I just don’t have the energy to weigh in again.  There are so many more useful things we could be doing.

      I think there are some days where a mater of maintaining sanity you have to focus on your own corner away from the shitstorm.

  • Keulan

    I’d say it’s more of the latter than the former. I’ve heard lots of anecdotes and rumors of sexism and harrassment coming from Freethoughtblogs and Skepchick and their fans, but no actual evidence. And when someone politely disagrees with them and/or asks for evidence to back up their claims, they attack you for your skepticism, in a manner that’s eerily similar to religious people when you question their dogmatc beliefs.

    I used to regularly read some of the blogs on FtB, but I don’t anymore because I’ve lost all respect for the bloggers there as a result of their ridiculously unskeptical behavior towards dissenters.

  • Tom Rafferty

    I am an atheist FROM my skepticism. You can very well be
    “an asshole” and an atheist. If you are a skeptic and reasonable, IMHO,
    you cannot be an asshole. Because of this, I only call myself an atheist when dealing with theological questions.  My broader identities include humanist, naturalist, skeptic, a rational person, a scientifically-oriented person, a husband, a father, etc.

    The problem with presenting “The Movement”
    as “The Atheist Movement” is that it is
    not reflective of the values and thought process of skeptical,
    scientific and reasonable people. Any “activism” I perform within “The
    Movement” will be encouragement of reason, skepticism and science. By
    doing so, individual and society well-being will be maximized. I think
    the efforts of the Atheism+ movement are commendable, however, the label
    reverses the cause and effect as I see it. 

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Maybe you should change your name to “The Blunt Atheist”.

  • articulett

    I was at a TAM in 2007 where I met Hement.  — Reginald Finley was there ans so were a number of other people of color. There was a huge age range from teen to elderly and lots of females. I remember being very impressed with the crowd– especially the various countries represented. The only “minority” that was seriously under represented, perhaps, were stupid people. 

    I don’t think the atheist movement was as homogenous as you now remember Hement– it certainly wasn’t at my local meet-ups nor at the number of TAMs I have been too. Perhaps TAM and my local groups are ahead of the curve. Atheists who want to increase diversity in their movement should look at the number of groups that have have been doing so. FreeOK has deaf translators for their deaf members.

    Or look into the groups that people in the minority join, speak at, etc.

    The groups I associate with seem to have atheists in populations reflective of the atheist community at large. I wouldn’t want to be part of an atheist community that suddenly starts vilifying older white men because they are over-represented or “privileged”. 

  • articulett

    For the record, I am a female who does not see all this misogyny that is supposed to be in the movement. I think many people are seeing what they want to see or conflating troll comments on the internet as being “evidence” of misogyny in the atheist community. We’ve been given very little actual evidence of real misogyny –and the brouhaha is way overblown in proportion to any evidence that has been proffered. Real people have been hurt in the “witch hunt” to vilify the supposed “misogynists”. And it appears some people are altering their memories or recasting situations to see them in a misogynist light.

    Iif your biggest worry is potential misogyny or the internet and/or at atheist conventions, then you are the “privileged” person, indeed. I’m sure many women around the world would love to have this sort of thing be their biggest problem.

    We can improve our movement without making fellow atheists into bad guys. 

    I’ve always appreciated that you take the high road on this issue, Hement. As a whole, I’ve found the men in the skeptical community to be far more considerate of women and minorities than in the population at large.  They are certainly more likely to call themselves feminists even though feminists don’t seem to agree on what feminism entails. I certainly do not see DJ Grothe as a misogynist and I’m appalled by groups that want to label him such–  I am more wary of groups that want me to share their enemies than I am of supposed misogyny amongst atheists.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fred.kohn.3 Frederick Jacob Kohn

    I think there are things about atheism that are just naturally going to attract a certain kind of person. Atheists tend to value rationality more than Christians, and thus are likely to be more highly educated and consequently better off economically. Women I think tend to value emotional connection more than men, especially after they have children. So it’s not really a big surprise that there is a disproportionate number of unmarried educated well to do white men in the atheist movement. That is not an indictment of atheism- any other movement will also have its differing makeup depending on its particular values.


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