Divisiveness Within the Secular Movement

September 12, 2012

Greta Christina and PZ Myers have recently suggested that is it not necessarily a bad thing to be divisive.  True, it is not necessarily a bad thing.  It depends on what one is separating oneself from. 

In her blog post, Greta Christina responded to the charge that the Atheism Plus initiative is divisive by claiming that the secular community is divided already.  As evidence for this claim, she offered several deplorable incidents and actions, principally involving hate-filled threats and comments to women, many of which would be familiar to anyone active in the movement.  She then asked rhetorically why such vile conduct has not been called “divisive.” 

But if hate-filled comments and threats to women have not been expressly called divisive, it’s because such conduct does not threaten to divide the movement. It has already been repudiated, both implicitly and explicitly, by many, if not most, of the organizations in the movement. 

Before I go further, perhaps I should indicate what I mean by “the movement,” at least as it pertains to the United States.  (It will complicate matters if I try to encompass other countries.)  There are roughly fifteen nationwide secular organizations in the U. S.  Many (but not all) are members of the Secular Coalition.  (FFRF is not, for example.)  There are also a number of significant regional secular groups, e.g., Humanists of Florida Association, Humanists of Minnesota, Minnesota Atheists.  Finally, there are also some national and regional skeptical organizations that have crossover appeal, that is, they have gone beyond the traditional limits of skepticism and in some fashion engage in critical examination of religion and have explicitly nonreligious leaders. The movement comprises these organizations, their members, and supporters.  The movement doesn’t include everyone who is nonreligious; some (many? most?) nonbelievers have little or no interest in the missions or activities of these various organizations.  Merely identifying yourself as an atheist and posting a comment on a blog doesn't make you part of the movement.

Now that we are clear about what I mean by the movement, I can say with confidence that at the national level none of the movement organizations condones hatred and threats toward women.  I believe the same can be said for the regional groups, although I am less confident simply because I do not have first-hand knowledge for all these groups. 

But do not take my word for it.  Amy Roth had the inspired idea to have some of the male representatives of movement organizations go on record condemning the sort of invective and hate that Greta highlights in her blog.  I am not privy to the individuals Amy asked to participate.  I suppose it is possible someone turned her down.  All I know is that many secular organizations are represented in her series “Speaking out against hate directed at women.” 

My point is that the haters are not threatening to divide the movement.  No matter how frequently the haters pollute our blogs, they are outside the movement already.  No one in a position of responsibility wants them in the movement.  Whatever differences may exist among the various movement organizations, we are united on this issue. 

So if the movement is united on this point, is there any need to be concerned about divisiveness?  In particular, is there cause for concern about divisiveness resulting from the Atheism Plus initiative? Or from any other source? Maybe. 

First, let’s talk about possible discord with respect to goals external to the movement, that is, the changes we’d like to bring about in society.  Obviously, not all the secular organizations are in agreement with what the precise objectives and priorities of the movement should be—otherwise, presumably, we would have just one large, nationwide organization.  Nonetheless, as demonstrated by the Secular Coalition, and events such as the Reason Rally, there is a broad consensus about many of the issues on which the secular movement should work.  (There is less consensus, admittedly, if one includes the crossover skeptical organizations.) I think it’s fair to say that all the secular organizations advocate for a strict separation of church and state, equal rights for nonbelievers, and an end to preferential treatment of religion. Most of them also want to end religious influence on public policy. With respect to this last objective, there are different interpretations about how broad our work in this area should be. As I outlined in a prior post, CFI takes a fairly expansive view of its mandate and we have worked on a variety of issues that could be described as social justice issues, including activism in support of  LGBT equality, reproductive rights, and equality for women. We’re a member of the Alliance for Justice and where appropriate we have partnered with AFJ or some of its member organizations on various projects.

Deciding how much staff time and money to expend on a particular issue is always a problem, however. We have finite resources. Real finite. Compared to Religious Right organizations our budget is minuscule.

Furthermore, our resources compared with other progressive organizations are also (usually) much smaller. For example, Human Rights Campaign does great work; it also has annual revenue of over $30 million. There is no way we could—and no reason we should—try to compete with them. It makes no sense to duplicate their efforts.

And it’s not just that we can’t effectively “me too” the work of other organizations working on social justice issues; we at CFI don’t want to. We are not primarily LGBT advocates, women’s rights advocates, or healthcare advocates. We are advocates for a secular society, one of the fruits of which, we firmly believe, will be a society with rational, evidence-based policies and much less religion-fueled prejudice. We also believe our work on this objective takes priority over other social justice objectives, however worthy they may be.

So to return to Atheism Plus, here’s a concern: because the A+ advocates want to work on social justice issues, but have not yet specified how they plan to go about this, including which issues they will emphasize, there’s a worry that they will divert resources from the secular movement and weaken it. Moreover, this diluting of the strength of the secular movement will come right at a time when we have begun to make some progress, but we’re still far short of achieving our goals. When both major political parties still feel free to give us the back of their hand and treat the nonreligious as second-class citizens (as evidenced by the recent conventions), it may be premature to declare victory and move on to other projects. And, of course, that’s just the United States. When one looks at the influence of religion in other countries, especially the Islamic world, it’s even clearer that we have much work to do.

I’m not asserting that Atheism Plus is divisive with respect to the secular movement; I don’t see how anyone can at this stage as it’s still very much a work in progress. It’s possible this initiative will actually have the effect of energizing the secular movement by getting people involved who otherwise would remain inactive. But because its objectives, priorities, and plan of action have not been clearly formulated, it’s not irrational for someone committed to the secular movement to be apprehensive about its effect. In any event, I don’t think one should be indifferent to its potentially divisive impact.

OK, now let’s turn to divisiveness about goals internal to the movement. Here’s where the friction really is, isn’t it? As is well known, both A+ advocates and some others have called for a continuation of the scrutiny of sexism and other forms of prejudice within the movement, a process that began in earnest a little over a year ago. In the abstract, there’s nothing wrong with getting one’s own house in order. To the contrary, it’s obviously something we should do. Moreover, if it were simply a matter of “prioritiz[ing] the inclusion of women over the inclusion of hateful, misogynist assholes,” as Greta puts it, it would seem to be relatively simple matter. As indicated, no one in a responsible position in the movement wants to include hateful misogynists.

But it’s not that simple. It’s not that simple because while everyone agrees that telling a woman you want to kill her after you rape her is intolerable and in and of itself marks you as someone who has no place in the movement, the label “misogynist”  is sometimes thrown about carelessly. For example, Russell Blackford, the Australian philosopher (and Free Inquiry columnist) has been called a misogynist shitbag. Yet, as far as I know, Blackford has never made any hateful comments or threats to women; indeed, he has condemned them. He has expressed doubts about the wisdom of harassment policies adopted by some organizations and, if I recall correctly, he has taken exception to some of the criticism directed against TAM (the JREF’s annual meeting). But although Blackford’s views on these issues may be misguided, that hardly qualifies him as a misogynist.

I don’t mean to suggest that the stigmatizing and slurs flow only in one direction. Obviously not. Those calling attention to the problems of harassment within the movement have been dismissed as attention whores, feminazis, or man-haters. Again, even if the incidence of harassment within the movement and its seriousness were overstated (the reality is we don’t have reliable statistics, so anecdotal evidence is all anyone can point to), this would not imply that those emphasizing the problem are engaging in unacceptable conduct. They can be mistaken without being self-centered fanatics.

In a sense, Greta and PZ are right: the movement is divided, but it’s not divided for any good reason. It’s divided because too many in the movement are not willing to recognize that their fellow secularists can be mistaken without thereby being bigots; that their fellow secularists can have different understandings of the implications of feminism without being misogynists or “sister-punishers”; and that their fellow secularists can have can have different perceptions of the problem of harassment without being feminazis.

We’ve divided the movement because we’re not talking to each other; we’re just insulting each other.

Contributing to this type of divisiveness is not a good thing, because it’s fostering divisions that are unnecessary and can be avoided; it’s fostering divisions that will weaken the secular movement; it’s fostering divisions that will allow the religious dogmatists to require a new lease on life. We’re arguing about who’s the true feminist while state legislatures are drafting bills restricting abortions.

We should not cut ourselves off from fellow secularists who agree with us on core principles such as a woman’s right to be in control of her reproductive choices, to enjoy economic, social, and political equality, and to be free from harassment and hostility. If there are secondary disagreements about how best to secure these rights, we should try to resolve them through dialogue, not denunciation.

Postscript
I don’t think of myself as being part of the language police, but in reading various blogs and tweets in preparation for writing my post, I think I saw enough references to douchebags, shitbags, fuckwads, and assholes to last a lifetime. Intemperate language isn’t the cause of the disagreements currently roiling the movement, but it certainly is a contributing factor. And it’s tiresome.

Comments:

#151 julian (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 6:31am

In what way is me mischaracterizing your argument abuse? Even assuming it’s deliberate on my part. How is it abuse?

Actually forget it. This is a massive derail. I apologize for starting it.

#152 CommanderTuvok (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 6:31am

Sally Strange:

“Also, I thought Russell Blackford’s support of Paula Kirby’s characterization of feminists as “Feminazis” (a term coined by Rush Limbaugh) and “Femistasi””

Kirby did not characterise feminists as “feminazis” and “femistazi”. She characterised specific FTB leaders and agitators as “feminazis”. Get your facts right.

Also, until some of your lot call out Ophelia Benson for her Nazi-Tam comparison your gripe about the use of those terms is dismissed.

#153 Amy (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 6:34am

I’m just going to throw this out there to see what happens.

Is it possible that many of the people here who object to A+ are doing so because they don’t like some of the people who are associated with it? Or do they honestly object to the idea that one’s atheism/secularism/skepticism can and does inform one’s world view with regard to social justice issues?

I see a lot of contempt for “those A+ people”, but do you even know who it is you hate besides a few outspoken bloggers with whom you disagree? Do you know me?

Hi, I’m Amy. I am atheist/secularist/skeptic/feminist, and I care about social justice (though my main gig is science education). It took me a while to find the courage to speak up around here because of all the hate I’ve seen thrown at women that I admire and respect. I’m a nice person. I make a point to engage people’s ideas rather than making judgment calls about their person. I don’t like to be rude or call people names because I don’t think it’s constructive. Not everyone who identifies as A+ is the same way, but that’s them and I’m me. And yet… you hate me because I happen to identify as A+? Because I happen to care very strongly about social justice issues, and because I see them closely tied to atheism, secularism and skepticism?

That hardly seems fair. And you wonder why so many people, women especially, have been hesitant to join your movement?

#154 Timon for Tea (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 6:35am

“In what way is me mischaracterizing your argument abuse? Even assuming it’s deliberate on my part. How is it abuse?”

It became abuse when you accused me, without any foundation at all, of ‘sharing guilt’ with people who send rape threats. I am sure you can see that.

#155 Timon for Tea (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 6:38am

“And yet… you hate me because I happen to identify as A+? Because I happen to care very strongly about social justice issues”

Who hates you Amy?

#156 julian (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 6:40am

And I apologize for misinterpreting (and then misrepresenting) your position. It’s a claim I’ve seen made often (htat Watson et al are faking. Saw it within this thread itself) and I jumped the gun.

@Amy

That’s something that struck me too. Most of the haters have made a lot of assumptions about who is and who isn’t part of A+. Many have assumed Watson is and directed criticism of her at A+. It would be nice if they pointed the skeptical lens at themselves.

Anyway, I’m with you. I’ve got a lot of reservations about A+ but it’s still got me excited. We’ll see where it goes

#157 Timon for Tea (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 6:41am

“And I apologize for misinterpreting (and then misrepresenting) your position. “

How often does THAT happen in an internet row? It is quite disconcerting, but very welcome too. Thank you.

#158 Amy (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 6:55am

Kevin said: “If some women are receiving hate, then one has to ask why.  Is it just because they are women?  I doubt it.  Or is it because they are expressing ideas that a lot of people find repulsive?  I think that is much more likely.  If *anyone* expresses ideas on the internet that a lot of people find repulsive, then they are going to receive a lot of hate.

That’s the real world.”

Three things.

1) *Are* their ideas repulsive? Which ideas? Increasing the participation of women in A/S? Writing harassment policies that keep everyone (men included) informed and safe? Pointing out institutionalized sexism and trying to excise it from our community so that we can make an honest claim to our advanced moral compass? Those ideas are repulsive? Or are you talking about other ideas?

Maybe it’s not the *ideas* you find so offensive. Maybe you just don’t like the people giving voice to them. Have you considered that possibility?

2) You need only look at the *nature* of the abuse hurled at women in these venues to see that misogyny is a problem in our community. Gendered slurs, objectification, threats of rape… this is rarely the kind of abuse you see when males are targeted. Even if you are right that it has nothing to do with being a woman, do you think that the women receiving this abuse (or the women who witness the abuse being dealt out on a daily basis) see it that way? Furthermore, does your reasoning somehow excuse the hate being thrown around and directed at particular individuals?

3) “That’s the real world.” Yes, and this is the entire point of activism: we don’t want to live in that kind of world. We are trying to change the world we live in. There are a lot of people who don’t like that. Hence the abuse.

#159 SimonSays on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 7:07am

Ubi Dubium you make a good point and this is my main issue with this blog post. It seems to set up a false equivalence based on my reading and that of many others from what I can tell:

But it’s not that simple. It’s not that simple because while everyone agrees that telling a woman you want to kill her after you rape her is intolerable and in and of itself marks you as someone who has no place in the movement, the label “misogynist”  is sometimes thrown about carelessly.

The comment about Russell was made by an anonymous commenter on Pharyngula during an unrelated blog post on Sam Harris: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/08/01/free-book/comment-page-1/#comment-421731

The way that Ron uses the term “everyone” in the quote, I’m assuming he means movement leadership. This can only be the case because we know full well that not literally everyone is on board with this concept, otherwise we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Well, likewise this same “everyone” must surely already know that using characterizations like the anonymous commenter above is also not acceptable, and I think it’s safe to say that this anonymous commenter is not a member of the movement leadership.

This is why I think this can be seen as a case of false equivalence, however unintentional.

#160 Timon for Tea (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 7:07am

Ha! After complaining about Ophelia Benson deleting my comments, she has just published it on her thread, so ignore that bit!

#161 Notung (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 7:07am

julian #151-

Well, I don’t want to keep talking about Myers’ banning me because it’s slightly off-topic. Perhaps people can make their own minds up about that. He’s just added me in a blog post about auto-bans (I’m famous!). I haven’t commented on his site since the very early days, and I wasn’t banned for it. I guess he read my comments here and might be using his big platform to try to justify banning me on YouTube (even though none of the things he said would apply to YouTube). It still doesn’t answer the charge that he lets some actual haters run riot, and presents a misleading appearance of the one-sidedness of the hate.

I don’t like the way all this is personalised. We should concentrate on claims, arguments, evidence, reasons, objections and things like that, not whether someone has posted on the same forum as someone seen as a ‘hater’. I have no quarrel with you as a person. I don’t know you - and what you’ve posted on the internet isn’t enough to make any judgements about you. I suspect we’d probably get on fine in real life.

By the way it isn’t ‘just you and Laden’. I’m not sure which ‘side’ has the most haters (and I wouldn’t describe you as a ‘hater’) - I suspect you’re right claiming it is ‘my side’, but I don’t think counting heads is the best way of solving this.

#162 Ophelia Benson on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 7:12am

One factual point. There was no “Nazi-TAM comparison.” That is not what I said. I withdrew what I did say, because it was still too strong, but I did not compare TAM to Nazi Germany. What I compared was [blaming women in the secular/skeptical movement for complaining about harassment] to [blaming Jews in 1936 Germany for complaining about the way they were treated].

#163 Timon for Tea (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 7:14am

“I don’t like the way all this is personalised. We should concentrate on claims, arguments, evidence, reasons, objections and things like that, not whether someone has posted on the same forum as someone seen as a ‘hater’”

Yes I agree with this and would go even further. It is quite possible to be friends with and even, in general, a supporter and ally of someone who has at one time or another said something unconscionable on the interwebs without thereby becoming yourself ‘infected’ with their misdeeds. To argue otherwise is to condone damnation by association which is generally considered a very bad principle indeed. There are many reasons why we choose our friends, real and virtual, that go beyond or run alongside ideological affiliations.

#164 Timon for Tea (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 7:16am

Thanks for that Ophelia. I think you should modify your claims about Russell Blackford in your recent post while the spirit of clarification is upon you.

#165 Jack (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 7:24am

Thanks for noting that just because you don’t agree with the approach, doesn’t mean that you don’t agree with the principles. I’m in a very similar boat Ron.

#166 Iamcuriousblue (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 7:33am

Ron - I think you’re far too mild on Atheism+. When you talk about “hate filled comment threads”, have you looked at some of the comments sections at Freethoughtblogs. Pharyngula, Almost Diamonds, Buttlerflies and Wheels, and Lousy Canuck in particular? The atmosphere cultivated there is utterly toxic and totally unworthy of any kind of positive movement for change. You can see some of that rhetoric carry over into the comments here. The denizens of FTB describe theirs as a “righteous anger”. Those of us not sold on the idea see it as simply self-righteous.

What’s worse is this is now spilling over into real-life incidents. There’s a video of a Vancouver, BC “men’s rights” activist having a rather ugly mob action taken against him:

#167 Renee Hendricks (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 7:33am

Hey, “Julian” - I call BS. Please point out where I’ve *ever* torn someone down for their mental illness or for being promiscuous. Put out there for all to see where I’ve *ever* laughed at someone for reacting to a rape threat. All I’ve done (with regard to this particular topic) is stated AtheismPlus isn’t about the lofty “we’re atheists who care about social issues”. And the last time I checked, I am allowed to not agree with the co-optive nature of AtheismPlus.

#168 Logan (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 7:49am

This whole fiasco is ridiculous, as are many of the comments in this section, but I do find it troubling that when symptoms of a mental illness are present, another person or group of people is being accused of “triggering” those symptoms.  We are not going to blame the person with an illness for being ill, but neither are we to blame others for the symptoms of the illness.  Treatment teaches how to identify triggers, avoid them and/or cope with them, not how to blame the triggers on people we dislike or with whom we disagree.  For goodness sake, is this the level of education represented in the community?  Shocking.

#169 Christopher Camp (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 7:53am

Thank you for this interesting post. I shall definitely be visiting more often now to read your articles.

It must be said, however, that this amount of attention, given to something dreamed up by a fairly small but very vocal hate group on the internet, strikes me as rather odd.

The main founding mother of atheism plus very soon gave up on blogging soon after she came up with the idea, and rode off into the sunset. Blogging is difficult, gruelling, arduous and painful, and just like the farmer who will one day hang up his scythe forever, McCreight just wasn’t prepared to endure any more of the stress that comes with receiving negative feedback.

What’s to be expected of a new social justice movement whose own inventor has so little interest in that a couple of trolls will make her submit her resignation papers?

The few posts she did publish about the idea were full of authoritarian drivel and pseudo-feminist clap-trap. The movement just wasn’t off to a good start.

Rumour would havit that the hub of atheism plus is now some reddit page, with the negative Karma button disabled. If you look up ‘dead on arrival’ in a dictionary, the page will probably feature a big atheism plus symbol.

#170 Jack (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 7:56am

@Chris, I would have preferred if you had stuck with the western cowboy theme instead of changing metaphors.

#171 Iamcuriousblue (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 8:04am

To continue from #166, it seems that the auto-moderation has cut me off because I posted a link. Google “the great poster tear-down extravaganza” and “So, I ran into JohntheOther today…” for details. At least one prominent Freethoughtblogs and Atheism+ commentator was involved with this mob action.

My point is that this conflict has now spilled over into real life, and that people associating themselves with A+ have given themselves over to mob action, harassment, censorship, and possibly direct violence as well (there was a reported physical altercation with a security guard when they were told it was not OK to tear down posters where permission to post them had been given). Either Atheism+ needs to distance itself from this action, or if this action is indeed an expression of Atheism+, the larger atheist movement needs to repudiate A+.

#172 Iamcuriousblue (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 8:14am

Also, I think there’s a false equivalence here. I really don’t think anything Russell Blackford has said is nearly as out of line as the level of hatred coming from some of the more combative FTB bloggers and hate-filled comments sections there. Language which Stephanie Zvan apparently approves of and laughingly calls “an effective strategy” and the “language of the oppressed”. Zvan and others of her ilk are clearly adopting a kind of Jacobin version of “social justice”, not the mantle of the US civil rights that they wish to claim for themselves.

#173 justintempler (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 8:16am

This is what happens when you try to overlay a political agenda on top of the word atheism.

#174 Timon for Tea (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 8:21am

“Also, I think there’s a false equivalence here. I really don’t think anything Russell Blackford has said is nearly as out of line as the level of hatred coming from some of the more combative FTB bloggers”

I agree. In fact I don’t think anything that Blackford has said could be characterised as ‘hatred’ in any sense.

The attempt to smear Russell B is one of the strangest and most dispiriting aspects of this whole affair. I am sure it is motivated at a sort of impotent fury at his reasonableness in analysing and criticising bullying behaviour. They don’t like it up ‘em.

#175 Amy (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 8:25am

@Timon: There are quite a few people who are contemptuous of anyone self-identifying with A+. I see it a lot on Twitter, for example. Some people have even expressed such opinions in this comment thread. It’s the whole “guilty by association” thing.

#176 Timon for Tea (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 8:29am

But nobody has aimed any hatred at you, have they Amy? So why so personal? Maybe the ‘enemies’` you are thinking of are less substantial than you think.

#177 Notung (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 8:35am

Amy:

“There are quite a few people who are contemptuous of anyone self-identifying with A+.”

Yes, that’s bad too. I have no problem with anyone who wishes to call themselves A+. Guilt by association is wrong in all cases. I’ve seen so many radically different definitions of A+, that we can’t assume someone believes X simply because an A+ proponent claimed that A+ implies X.

#178 Amy (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 8:46am

@Timon: No. No, not yet. But… do you think it would take long to attract hate if I were to start up a blog and begin talking about women’s issues as they pertain to atheism?

(and actually, the larger geek community as a whole, because this sort of thing is widespread - I’ve now seen it in the sci-fi/fantasy lit community, the hacker community and the gamer community, in addition to our own.)

Point being, I haven’t had any hate directed at me personally because I’ve only just started taking a more active role. At least, that’s my current hypothesis.

I’m attending a meeting at my local CFI chapter tonight. The topic is Atheism+. I am planning on wearing my A+ Surly-Ramic. We’ll see what happens…

#179 Timon for Tea (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 8:54am

“We’ll see what happens…”

Let us know!

#180 Amy (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 9:01am

@Christopher Camp #169: A+ is a hate group??? Look, I know that there are people who say nasty and snarky things, but I haven’t seen any outright threats.

Come on, everybody. Everybody. Just stop. Stop being horrible to one another. If you find yourself about to type something insulting, it’s time to get away from the keyboard and go for a walk outside. I get angry at people on the Internet, too, but for crying out loud I don’t ridicule them or say nasty things about them, and I certainly don’t suggest that they kill themselves or light themselves on fire.

Let me tell you a story. My husband is a gamer. He recently started playing a new MMORPG. He was maybe level 1 or 2, still getting used to the game and its mechanics. He was in a PUG (group of random players) and something he did or didn’t do pissed off one of his group mates, a more seasoned player. You know what the guy told him? “Uninstall the game, then kill yourself.” I don’t know how old the guy was, but he *sounds* like a 10-year-old spoiled brat who has no respect for others.

Don’t act like a 10-year-old spoiled brat. It’s not getting anyone anywhere. If you can’t play nice with others, maybe you shouldn’t be allowed to play at all.

#181 onion girl (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 9:22am

My point is that the haters are not threatening to divide the movement.  No matter how frequently the haters pollute our blogs, they are outside the movement already. No one in a position of responsibility wants them in the movement.  Whatever differences may exist among the various movement organizations, we are united on this issue.

I wish that were true.  But the haters are not just in our blogs, they ARE in our movement.  It’s fantastic that you and leaders of several other national organizations are now being vocal about supporting women and opposing harassment—but how does that help me when the leaders of my LOCAL organizations are sexist?  Are those individuals not part of the movement just because they’re local, not national?  I have friends that are very active in the atheist movement online and on a national level, yet they wouldn’t set foot in the door of their local organizations because they already have experienced fierce harassment from local leaders.  And some of those very same haters on the blogs ARE the leaders or active participants in their local organizations.  There may be a consensus among the leaders of the national organizations, but you are NOT the whole movement.  And in many ways, you have less impact on the women being driven away from movement atheism because you are NOT the voices they hear on a daily basis—their local leaders are.

We should not cut ourselves off from fellow secularists who agree with us on core principles such as a woman’s right to be in control of her reproductive choices, to enjoy economic, social, and political equality, and to be free from harassment and hostility.

You’ve got a good point here.  And I also acknowledge the good point that some may have valid reason to be concerned about how A+ could POTENTIALLY divide the movement (and let’s be clear, this is still only potential, because as you said—A+ is just starting, and there isn’t consensus on what its role in the larger atheist movement is going to be) because they’re committed to making change, and they’re worried A+ will split resources.  I understand that, I really do.  But some of the push-back that A+ advocates have been getting are pushing back at the very IDEA of A+, even when they—and EVERYONE else—still doesn’t know WHAT A+ is going to be, how it’s going to eventually mobilize, what role it’s going to have as a subset of the atheist movement.

I appreciate the work you have done for atheism on a national level, and I appreciate the support you’ve given projects like Women in Secularism.  As a woman, I appreciate your commitment to being a good ally.  But I also think that as a cis-gendered, straight white male—you are still not fully appreciating the level of anger, frustration, depression, and even despair that those fighting for social justice are feeling.  You’re standing at the edge of the fire and saying “Someone needs to put that out!  Let’s get some water!”  And you’re organizing the firehoses and working hard to put the fire out.  But you are not IN the fire.  The people that are being burned alive can’t wait for you to put the fire out.  They have to save themselves, and they’re going to do that in their own way, with or without you.

(Note:  I’ve been in and out of court and haven’t had a chance to keep up with all the comments, I apologize if these sentiments have been stated already!)

#182 A Hermit on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 9:26am

#133 Kevin Solway (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 3:44am

“If some women are receiving hate, then one has to ask why.  Is it just because they are women?  I doubt it.  Or is it because they are expressing ideas that a lot of people find repulsive?”

————

Yes Kevin, and the ideas they are expressing are that women and minorities should be treated with respect and dignity and not be marginalized in the secular community.

The fact that some people (the Hoggles of the world) find that “repulsive” should tell you everything you need to know about them…

#183 Mary Ellen Sikes (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 10:04am

Ron raised some provocative points in his blog. The fact that the comments have been turned into yet another venue for targeting specific individuals rather than discussing the broader issues Ron addressed is actually a great illustration of just how futile it has become to try to distance the organized secular movement (however that is defined) from what is happening in the blog world.

That said, organizations with boards and bylaws and other infrastructure are obligated to their members and donors, period. They are not free, in a legal sense, to set new priorities based on the opinions of online personae.

This may appear like a defense of Ron and CFI in not addressing women’s issues as vigorously as some would like. It’s not. In my almost 20 years of close involvement (even by Ron’s high standards), that has become my second deepest disappointment in the secular movement. Attacks on reproductive rights and LGBTQ equality are almost entirely motivated by religious extremism. They are nothing less than the Right’s central battleground in establishing Christian dominionism in the U.S. - points that religiously diverse repro rights and LGBTQ groups cannot make. To brush these issues off as less “core” than science or skepticism or SOCAS *IS* an abandonment of mission, IMO, as well as a stunningly huge lost opportunity for organizations, the secular movement, and the secular community. It is also, IMO,  one of many factors that have quietly alienated many secular women from established secular organizations, driven them out into other networking venues like the blogosphere, and thus created the vacuum so easily filled by abuse and harassment.

The other factor is one I have yet to see addressed in any of the blogs, and that is the internal culture of some (not all) secular organizations. In serving in various roles with various groups, I have personally witnessed brazen examples of sexism, including a group of males who refer in private to a female colleague as “The Cunt” and a male supervisor confiding in me that he planned to hit on a staff member’s relative at a conference. As long as these men are still in positions of visibility and prominence in secular organizations, I will not see policies and statements as any sort of evidence that women are a priority for the secular movement.

#184 julian (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 10:46am

Yes. Our objections to blackford have nothing to do with how eagerly he laughed along to smelly skepchick snatch or Watson and Benson being to ugly to rape.

Fuck this.

#185 Notung (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 10:51am

julian #184

I’m practically certain that he did no such thing. Feel free to offer evidence. Evidence is especially important when potentially libelling someone.

#186 Stephanie Zvan (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 10:56am

Mary Ellen, I haven’t seen anyone try to tell Ron to shift the priorities of CFI. I think it would be silly to do so. CFI is quite good at what it does and we need that work done.

As for the internal culture of organizations, that isn’t an easy thing to write about. There are a fairly small number of us writing about internal situations at all. We don’t have the kind of direct experience we can write about on our own responsibility and our own heads. Anything we do write would require solid sourcing, since there is a campaign (as you can see here) to declare us not credible, and that would expose someone else to the abuse.

That isn’t a decision we can make for someone else. That would require someone coming to us.

#187 Plain Atheist (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 11:02am

The A+ crowd has always struck me as one operating under mob mentality. And that seemed to be proven to me this past week with Melody and Amy’s behavior on Twitter.  Amy resorted to calling people “fucking awful” for retweeting Sara Mayhew’s blog post.  The blog post was described as horrific by Melody.  And when both were asked to clarify those statements, they resorted to block them or to insult them by suggesting they are using their gender to curry favor with men.  True or not, it does remind me of the feminists who claim to fight for women to have choices, but then turns on women who, in their opinion, make the “wrong” choice.

And this behavior is exactly what I anticipated if I were to ever, even out of innocent curiosity, ask questions of them.  Perhaps the conversation has become so chaotic for them that they don’t or can’t distinguish Internet Trolling from legitimate and valid dissent/questions (and anything inbetween), but how the hell do they ever expect to win anyone over that doesn’t already agree with their all or nothing approach when their main tactics are to insult, bully, and block? 

At this point, it seems to be a purge.  Melody likes to claim that sexism is everywhere and that we have all just become immune to it, but perhaps she (and others) has simply become hypersensitive to it and sees it even with every perceived slight.  And she likes making declarations that only she and her cohorts are “true” feminists. Because, you know, having a vagina doesn’t qualify you but not agreeing with the A+ tactics DOES disqualify you.

I have spoken with a couple of women who either have been completely repelled by Skepchicks and A+ and their bullying or who simply fear to speak out against it lest they suffer the slings and arrows of this mob. What began as a revolt against priviliged white males has grown to encompass anyone who disagrees in the slightest with A+, including other women.

I certainly don’t condone the vileness that has been thrown at these men and women who have made it their crusade to put feminism at the forefront of atheism.  But my sympathy for them is severely dampened because they are often guilty of the same petty offenses and childishness they accuse others of.

#188 Quine on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 11:07am

A video by Steven Pinker has just gone up on YouTube ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0W9sSqeJnA ) that discusses the psychology of dissent, and has parts that apply to how that impacts divisiveness within movements. Starting at about the 3min+ point he gets into how some people will consider even exploring ideas to be a betrayal of the “group.” This goes with what I was posting, above, about splits developing when people are denounced for even talking to the “others.”

#189 Kevin Solway (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 11:09am

@ Hermit

“the ideas they are expressing are that women and minorities should be treated with respect and dignity”

If some particular feminists are receiving a lot of hate, I really doubt that they are receiving hate because they are expressing that minorities should be treated with respect.

Likewise, I don’t think the strong opposition to Atheism+ is because it is social justice.

Other issues are clearly involved.  One can understand what those issues are simply by listening to what the detractors are saying.


@ Amy

I believe I have answered most of your points in the words above.

To find out which ideas people don’t like, with regard to Atheism+, and its version of feminism, one need only watch the many videos on Youtube, or read the countless comments on twitter. I think they make it very clear.

What I oppose about atheism+ is definitely the ideas and motivation behind it, and its version of feminism, as well as the actual name itself.

You say “misogyny is a problem in our community”, but hatred of particular women is not necessarily “misogyny”.  It can simply be hatred of particular individuals because of the ideas they hold.  If it was a man who held those ideas, they would probably be met with the same amount of hate, if not more.  So it may not be a gender issue, and I suspect it isn’t.

I am against all forms of hate, as it is counterproductive.

#190 CommanderTuvok (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 11:10am

Speaking of language. Don’t forget Sikivu Hutichison called Richard Dawkins “a white supremacist” at a conference. Along side her at the time was Ophelia Benson and Rebecca Watson, who nodded along with approval!

Neither of them took Sikivu to task for this false slur. They’d be foaming at the mouth if someone called them supremacists.

#191 Amy (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 11:17am

@Plain Atheist: Have you ever gotten a new car (or a “new to you” car)? I just recently got a yellow Focus. I never noticed yellow Focuses on the road before. Now it seems like I see them everywhere.

We filter out a lot of information, the stuff that isn’t relevant to us for our day-to-day activities. But sometimes we become aware of something, and we notice that it is pervasive. Does that mean that it wasn’t there until we began to notice it? Of course not - it was always there. We’ve just been awakened to its presence.

Whether we are desensitized to institutionalized sexism and misogyny or hyperaware of it does not change the fact that it is there.

#192 Tezcatlipoca (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 11:23am

@107 I have seen a Quine comment at Freethought Blogs as well.  Is that also forbidden? Should there be a certain symbol Quine should wear?  A placard around their neck perhaps so that we may know to shun them?

#193 Amy (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 11:24am

@Kevin #189: As humans, we are subjective. We see things differently. I know what I think based on the stuff that is online. That doesn’t help me to understand what you think. I asked you what the ideas are that you find so repulsive. Can you please tell me explicitly?

If sexism isn’t a problem and women aren’t attacked for being women, can you suggest another hypothesis to explain the use of gendered slurs, objectification and rape threats aimed almost exclusively at women?

#194 am.w (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 11:30am

Yeah, man. If a guy said “guys, don’t do this”, I’m totally sure he’d be getting slurs and rape threats a year later. Let’s not forget that what ignited this powder keg wasn’t some person expressing a completely awful view. It was a woman pointing out one uncomfortable behavior one person did once, and some people just couldn’t handle a woman having the audacity to criticize a man.

#195 Kevin Solway (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 11:42am

@am.w

I agree with you that the “guys, don’t do this” comment was very innocuous.  I personally wouldn’t take offense at such a remark.

However, I don’t believe the hate she has received (if indeed she has, since I haven’t seen the evidence) was just because of that one comment.  I think there are much larger issues involved.


@Amy

“Can you please tell me explicitly?”

I could give you a hundred good reasons why I oppose atheism+, but I really don’t think this is the place for it.  Many of the videos critical of atheism+ make points that I would agree with, as well as a good many of the criticisms to be found on twitter.

You say, “can you suggest another hypothesis to explain the use of gendered slurs, objectification and rape threats aimed almost exclusively at women?”

Yes I can.  Some angry people want to hurt people, and they are saying whatever they think will do some hurt.

#196 Tezcatlipoca (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 11:47am

I just saw Quine’s post @188.  Interesting.  It’s nice to have a post with something in it other than invective and hearsay.  In the meantime I’ll stick with plain ol atheism.  It causes me much less worry that my kids will get their heads shaved and sent off to Indian School by folks knowing what is best for them.

#197 Igloo lynx (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 12:28pm

I’m curious whether it is possible to be a feminist and not be sexist.  Or does not identifying as a feminist automatically make a person sexist and misogynistic?  I’d like to think I am neither,  but I also don’t call myself a feminist.  I’ve noticed some feminist atheists suggest that not being a feminist or expressing criticism toward any form of feminism is sexism.  I’d particularly like to hear from self identified feminists.

#198 A Hermit on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 12:28pm

#189 Kevin Solway (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 11:09am

Other issues are clearly involved.  One can understand what those issues are simply by listening to what the detractors are saying.

Oh the people who think it’s funny to “joke” about kicking women in the cunt or raping them certainly have issues…but not the kind you mean I think…

And I’ve listened to the detractors; most of them are uninformed or deliberately misrepresenting the facts in pursuit of some twisted personal agenda. I’ve seen as much cherry picking and quote mining on the part of the A+ detractors as I see on the average creationist site…

#199 Amy (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 12:30pm

@Kevin: Okay, you seem to be sending me an implicit message with your persistent vagueness. So… that’s that, I suppose.

#200 Amy (Guest) on Thursday September 13, 2012 at 12:35pm

@Igloo: I think you can choose not to identify as feminist and not be sexist. Whether or not you are sexist is dependent on your ideas and actions, not how you choose to label yourself. Similarly, your ideas and actions might be consistent with feminism even if you don’t adopt the label of feminist.

What’s important is what you think and do, not what you choose to call yourself.

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