For the past couple of years the skeptic/atheist community has dealt with something of a kerfuffle dealing with sexism and harassment policies. Like most of you, I’ve watched as that debate went on from a mild comment about how people conduct themselves at conferences to the advent of Atheism+. But while all of that was happening in our community, I was also watching something similar happen in another community. One that I’m not a part of.
One of my best friends is Christie Koehler. We’ve been buddies since we both transplanted to Portland, Oregon around the same time. Last year she got a job with Mozilla as a web product engineer and shortly after she took the job, she noticed a problem. This post bashing marriage equality appeared on Planet Mozilla, a feed aggregator for Mozilla for the Mozilla community–mostly tech stuff. Christie is also married to a woman. This would be a little like if you went into work one day to see a memo condemning you posted in the breakroom.
There was backlash about the presence of bigotry on this feed, and the response from Mozilla was rather meek refusal to implement any kind of community standards. Other Mozilla employees have since tried to bully into silence Christie and have even left death threats on her blog.
It’s also been happening in the gamer community as well. Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency decided she wanted to talk about sexism in video games. The response was death threats and the development of a video game where you beat Sarkeesian, which has thankfully been removed from Newgrounds.
I bring this up because while we’re not special in being burdened with these problems, I feel like we can become the leaders in the fight to change this. The difference between the atheist movement and the tech and gaming communities is that despite all the backlash people had about Atheism+ and the declarations of dictionary atheism, this movement has already been focused on social justice for a long time. We fight against the misogynists trying to remove women’s rights and promote the “quiverful” ideology. We fight against the oppression of LBGTQ people by politicians and pastors alike. And yes, despite our animosity toward religion, we do fight for the rights of people in minority religions when we champion the separation of church and state.
Not only should we fight for social justice, we have the skills and the motivation to be the most effective movement out there doing it. If we aren’t trying to better the world around us when we fight irrationality, then all we’re doing is trying to win a game of trivia.
I would suggest going forward that secularists learn more about the history of other social justice movements. Learning how the equal rights movement got to where it is today can help you understand concepts that you might be having trouble with. I have seen many a skeptic have trouble with the concept of privilege, for example.
There is a secondary benefit to learning about these issues–it helps us see how other movements have gone from being marginalized and despised to being a mainstream cause that people can rally behind, one that steers the political course of nations. This obviously doesn’t apply to every movement, but racism has few vocal proponents these days, even if there are still tons of racists.
If we can dedicate ourselves to learning why the Kalam Cosmological argument sucks, the multitude of reasons for opposing frauds masquerading as psychics, or the legal history of church/state separation we should be able to learn about the history of social justice and why it matters now. For a clever crowd like us, that shouldn’t be difficult.
I write a lot of jokes. Some of them are in this book.
I also host the podcast of the Skepchick events team, Some Assembly Required, and cohost the WWJTD Podcast.
You can also follow me on Facebook or that bird thing.