Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Airing the laundry...

I have, from time to time, castigated those of a more religious persuasion for being sexist, homophobic, and generally prejudicial. I think more often than not my criticism on these occasions has been warranted. That said, it gives me great sorrow to note that atheists, agnostics, free-thinkers and skeptics are not without their own flaws,* and Rebecca Watson has recently done an excellent job of throwing some light on them:

When I started this site, I didn’t call myself a feminist. I had a hazy idea that feminism was a good thing, but it was something that other people worried about, not me. I was living in a time and culture that had transcended the need for feminism, because in my world we were all rational atheists who had thrown off our religious indoctrination so that I could freely make rape jokes without fear of hurting someone who had been raped.

And then I would make a comment about how there could really be more women in the community, and the responses from my fellow skeptics and atheists ranged from “No, they’re not logical like us,” to “Yes, so we can fuck them!” That seemed weird.

So I started speaking more about women. About how they’re not idiots. About how they can think logically but maybe there are other social pressures keeping them away from our message, like how we tell women they should be quiet and polite and not question what is told to them. I spoke about how people need role models, and there were so few women on stage at these events.

And I got messages from women who told me about how they had trouble attending pub gatherings and other events because they felt uncomfortable in a room full of men. They told me about how they were hit on constantly and it drove them away. I didn’t fully get it at the time, because I didn’t mind getting hit on. But I acknowledged their right to feel that way and I started suggesting to the men that maybe they relax a little and not try to get in the pants of every woman who walks through the door. Maybe they could wait for her to make the first move, just in case.

And then, for the past few years as the audience for Skepchick and SGU grew, I’ve had more and more messages from men who tell me what they’d like to do to me, sexually. More and more men touching me without permission at conferences. More and more threats of rape from those who don’t agree with me, even from those who consider themselves skeptics and atheists. More and more people telling me to shut up and go back to talking about Bigfoot and other topics that really matter.

She goes on for a while and you should read the whole thing but the long and the short of it is that those of us in the non-religious community have some work to do if we're going to really live the values that we espouse. I have a lot of confidence that we'll manage it in time- we do, after all, agree that tolerance for all sexes and sexualities is a good thing, an advantage many other communities simply don't share- but our performance needs some work. And the first step in that is acknowledging the problem. We white males are privileged, and we don't always get it, but that doesn't excuse anything.

* For one thing, we're just waaaay too sexy.

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Blogger Lisa said...

Do you really think that dealing with sexism among atheists is any different from dealing with sexism in religious communities, in the work place, or in public places where women are groped openly? Call a spade a spade - sexism is alive and well. Don't trivialize this like Rebecca did. This is not about feminism. This is not about atheism. This is about the right of women to feel safe in public, including facebook, email, and blogs. I'm not a feminist by any stretch of the imagination, but this still pisses me off.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

Not for nothing, but how exactly am I trivializing it? Yes, I'm discussing it in the context of the atheist/agnostic/etc. community, but that's only because we have a certain unfortunate tendency to assume that we're immune to such prejudice.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011 1:59:00 PM  
Anonymous silkworm said...

I agree with what Rebecca has written here about sexism in the atheist movement. There may be payoffs in terms of changes in male behaviour at future atheist conventions. However, in my estimation Elevator Guy did not rise to the standard of sexism, at least from the sketchy description that Rebecca gave. What concerns me is that Rebecca's supporters have made inferences about what happened that early morning that are not in evidence, in order to make their moral pronouncements about him, and male atheists in general. What concerns me even more is the attack that Rebecca made on Stef McGraw, and especially on Richard Dawkins, all becauase they dared not to agree with her. If Rebecca was an honourable person, she would apologize to Stef and Richard for these attacks, though I doubt that she will because she is too proud. Instead she seems to be hiding behind the shitstorm she has kicked up over Elevatorgate in order to avoid questions about these attacks. It is true that it is her supporters and not Rebecca who have started the boycott against Dawkins, but it is Rebecca who started the ball rolling and it is she who has the power to reign in her supporters. Will she exercise her power responsibly?

Saturday, July 16, 2011 4:01:00 AM  
Blogger Drek said...

Hey Silkworm:

Yeah, I had some thoughts along those lines. The problem with that reasoning, though, has to do with aggregation. If males greatly outnumber females at Skeptics' meetings then each individual female may be hit on a staggering number of times even if the males are not being particularly randy. As a result, from the perspective of the women it's an incredibly hostile environment even though no man is being- individually-particularly offensive. So, on the one hand, yeah, elevator guy was probably not being too unreasonable in and of himself. On the other hand, he was neglecting to attend to his context and, in so doing, made others uncomfortable. Think of it like this, let's say you meet a guy named "Michael Jordan." He's likely heard all kinds of cracks linking him to the basketball star before, so basically any joke you come up with is going to come across as stale and annoying. As such, the polite thing to do is not make such a comment in the first place. It isn't that your joke would necessarily be bad, or you are a jerk, but under the circumstances, almost any joke is going to flop. So yes, frankly, I think Rebecca has a good point here. I also agree that it's been a bit overblown, but then Dawkins owns some responsibility for that since he approached a sensitive topic with his signature bluntness.

Monday, July 18, 2011 1:52:00 PM  

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