I’m not very deep into the skeptic/atheist community, and I’ve never been to an atheist conference. I’ve been reading atheist blogs for a few months now, and I’ve heard a lot about sexual harassment at atheist conferences, and the fall-out when people suggested conferences should have anti-harassment policies. More broadly, atheists who write and speak about feminism get preposterous amounts of hate mail and trolling from people who, based on their comments, would rather feminists simply ceased to exist.
One of those feminist atheists, Rebecca Watson, has an article in Slate today about sexism in the skeptic community. Examples of the harassment these women face:
Then women started telling me stories about sexism at skeptic events, experiences that made them uncomfortable enough to never return. At first, I wasn’t able to fully understand their feelings as I had never had a problem existing in male-dominated spaces. But after a few years of blogging, podcasting, and speaking at skeptics’ conferences, I began to get emails from strangers who detailed their sexual fantasies about me. I was occasionally grabbed and groped without consent at events…
Meanwhile, other skeptical women are being bullied out of the spotlight and even out of their homes. My fellow writer on Skepchick, Amy Davis Roth, moved after her home address was posted on a forum dedicated to hating feminist skeptics. In September, blogger Greta Christina wrote that “when I open my mouth to talk about anything more controversial than Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster recipes or Six More Atheists Who Are Totally Awesome, I can expect a barrage of hatred, abuse, humiliation, death threats, rape threats, and more.” And Jen McCreight stopped blogging and accepting speaking engagements altogether. “I wake up every morning to abusive comments, tweets, and emails about how I’m a slut, prude, ugly, fat, feminazi, retard, bitch, and cunt (just to name a few),” she wrote. “I just can’t take it anymore.”
The article currently has over 4,800 comments, most of which make Watson’s point: sexism is rife in the atheist community.
A couple of atheist women have said things like, “Well, I’ve never been harassed at atheist conferences, maybe it’s because I don’t think all men are trying to harass me.” Well, how nice for you that you’ve never been harassed. That doesn’t negate the experiences of women who have been. And then some other women say, “You’re just playing the victim card! The rest of us handle our own business and don’t have a problem with it.” Speaking out against a serious issue isn’t being a victim, it’s taking action. It’s the opposite of victimhood.
And then some men come out and say “But it’s so offensive to men, to assume that we’re going to harass people!” Here’s the thing, guys. I’ve been harassed. Not at atheist conferences, because I’ve never been to one, but I’ve been harassed. Harassment exists. It’s incredibly prevalent. Read the Everyday Sexism Project. And I can’t tell who might be a harasser or an assailant, because they usually don’t skulk around looking creepy. So I’ve learned to be cautious due to my own experience and to the experiences of many, many other women. And some men! Men can get harassed too. Do I like feeling this way? Do I enjoy employing this level of caution? No. I hate it. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Here’s another thing: anti-harassment policies benefit people accused of harassment, because they set out a well-delineated procedure for dealing with claims. I forget where I read this (sorry, whoever you are), but one woman recounted an experience she had at a club or a concert. A man groped her, she alerted a bouncer, he hauled the man outside. The bouncer came back with an actual bloody hand print on his shirt. An accessible, non-violent procedure for dealing with harassment is a good thing.
The bizarre thing about all this is how many people refuse to believe this sort of harassment exists, or refuse to believe that it’s a big problem and needs to be dealt with, or say things like “Well, where’s your evidence? I thought we were supposed to be skeptics. You can’t expect us to just believe you when you claim to be harassed.”
This is from a great post by Cassy at All My Stubborn Ounces:
Something I’ve noticed recently, though, since embracing my newfound identity as a feminist and survivor of sexual assault (and everything unpleasant that comes along with that), is that the skeptical community is largely comprised of straight, white, educated, cisgendered men.
What’s wrong with that, you may ask? Well, nothing inherently. But I’ll tell you what happens.
All five of those prevailing characteristics carry with them what is referred to as privilege. (Eek! It’s a buzzword, I know. Please keep reading anyway, despite your desire to: (╯°□°）╯︵ ┻━┻. I will be arriving at the point in a mere moment.) When a person has privilege, it means they experience the world unlike others who lack their respective privilege — and in a good way. It’s not their fault that they’re privileged. But it does mean that they have a responsibility to be aware of their privilege and to, in turn, lend more of an ear to the experiences of others who have not been endowed with said privilege, rather than relying on their own perceptions of the world to determine all of their worldly perspectives…
Oftentimes, you’ll hear a skeptic (usually a man, I’ve found) say, in response to the subject of sexual assault and/or harassment, something like, “If we’re an evidence-based community, that should go for all things.” Or perhaps, “Until we have all the facts, we can’t come to any logical conclusion.” Or even, “Anecdotal evidence is not evidence.”…
But here’s the problem. The realities of rape are severe. And they’re just that: realities. We’re not talking about reports of supernatural activity. We’re not talking about UFO sightings or near-death experiences or ghosts. We’re not talking about extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence. We’re talking about rape. And rape is real…
What I am going to say is this: Rape happens so much more frequently than you think. There are — without a doubt — women (and men) in your life who have been sexually assaulted, and more often than not, have left you in the dark about it, because we live in a vicious society where victims are blamed for circumstances out of their control and no one is properly taught about consent or what to expect from a healthy relationship. And no, they cannot provide you with proof. What proof do you think they will have at their disposal? Do you think they thought to take video of it with their iPhones? Do you think the perpetrator will actually come forward and confess upon being asked if the events happened “as alleged”? Do you think there’s some sort of test that can be performed in a lab somewhere that will demonstrate exactly how the Raped party screamed “No!” but the Rapist didn’t listen? What is it that you want? What is it that you think you’ll find if you investigate the claim to its “logical conclusion”?
When it comes to rape, all you have is anecdotal evidence. And you know what else? No matter how much doubt you have about the events described, I guarantee you that the victim of the assault is experiencing those doubts inside his/her head on a level wholly unimaginable to you. And they’re blaming themselves. And they feel certain that no one is going to believe them.
Rape is real. Sexual harassment is real. I’m sorry if that makes you uncomfortable. But your discomfort doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.