Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Sexism in the Atheist Community

Let's start this out with what's happened in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church had a problem with pedophilia. That can be expected, after all Catholics are made up of the general population, and some people happen to be pedophiles. It's bound to happen in any large organization. What's important is how the organization deals with the problem.

They need to treat it like a problem: they need to report the problem to proper authorities, shame the offenders in their own community, apologize deeply to the victims, and put protective systems in place to ensure that the problem doesn't happen again in the future.

That didn't happen. What did happen was that they denied a problem, labeled it a PR problem, and tried their best to sweep it under the rug, ignore it, or blame the victims. They excused the offenders and enabled them and their anonymity by shuffling them around and did everything possible to deny that anything was a problem. When it erupted to the surface, they had to take different tactics, still just as slimy. They complained about being unfairly yolked with the blame. They did everything but address the issue and ensure that it wouldn't happen again in the future.

And that sort of response is the kind of response that I'm seeing in response to sexism within the atheist community. The atheist community has been having a problem with misogyny. And that's to be expected. After all, atheists are made of people, and some people can be misogynistic. The important thing is looking at how atheists deal with the problem. Unfortunately, there's been denial of a problem, blaming the victim, fervent apathy towards admonishing people on the internet, misguided attempts at defending free speech, and complaints about being unfairly yolked with the actual perps.

And those are all the wrong reactions. When someone in your group does something bad, the group need to react with unity in correcting the behavior. At the very least, individuals need to not interfere with those who are doing the right thing. Because otherwise it's just enabling the problem to continue. It's saying that we're okay with the status quo. We shouldn't be.


  1. I'm not sure I'm completely up to date.
    Is this still about that elevator stuff, something else, or more of a general admonition?

  2. I think one of the first steps is for every male in the community to do one thing when hearing these complaints: stop taking it so damn personally.

    A complaint about sexism in the atheist community is not necessarily an accusation that YOU, personally, are sexist. It does not make a connection between atheism in general and sexism. Whenever you respond with "well not everybody in the atheist community is sexist" or "hey, I'm an atheist and I'm not sexist!" you are missing the entire point.

    The point of making a big deal about misogyny in the atheist community is to raise awareness of it. I'll be the first to admit I've probably said some sexist things online, not out of any malicious intent, but because it just didn't dawn on me at the time how it sounded to other people. We know not to make ethnic jokes or stereotype black people, asians, etc. because long ago those people complained, making us aware of how it makes them feel. The same thing is happening here. When you deflect the conversation to a woman's appearance, or deride her for daring to show her face to people over the internet, it's rude and disrespectful. Imagine if every time you tried to have a serious conversation with someone, they would always say "yes, that's nice...Oh my god you are just SOOOO CUTE!" It might make you feel good at first, but it would get old really fast. You wouldn't feel respected as a person with thoughts and opinions. This doesn't mean feminists are out to stop men from complimenting women, dating women, or trying to sleep with women. It's merely a call to pay attention to the context of a conversation. If you're on a date IRL or on OKCupid, then yes, reasonable compliments about appearance are not sexist. In a more serious situation, they are.

  3. I was watching Good Morning America this morning and the headline story was about a woman who killed her husband because he was cheating on her. Killed him.

    Now, the discussion that followed, which involved two female laywers, was this: Is it a good strategy for a murderer to take the stand to defend herself?

    How bizarre. But only in a very feminist world is this possible. Yes, their are plenty of bad, misogynic men out there. But if a story was aired about a man who murdered his wife in rage there would be a very different reaction (or no reaction at all). The latter being true because men commit so much more violent crime. But in this case the woman's crime was treated with an unusual degree of sympathy.

    Of course, one has to consider the target audience - mainly women who get cheated on by alpha males. On needn't bring up the fact that a large proportion of women also cheat as is evidenced by paternity tests.

    1. What a fascinatingly bizarre rant, mr. alpha. Do you have anything to say about the topic of this post, or do you prefer to just change the conversation to whatever you personally are thinking about at the moment?

    2. Care to say something on-topic, Mr. Fuller? This would hardly be relevant even if the lawyers were known atheists. As it stands, your post is little more than an incompletely formulated tu quoque argument.

    3. Care to say something on-topic, Mr. Fuller? This would hardly be relevant even if the lawyers were known atheists. As it stands, your post is little more than an incompletely formulated tu quoque argument.

  4. Author, are you talking about misogyny in general or some misogyny that is specific to the atheist community. I know there's a certain amount of misogyny in the Ayn Rand atheist community, but that's predictable. Ayn Rand is a barely-camouflaged Calvinist who just takes God out of the middle of her religion and substitutes the Self and the UberMensch.

    Other than that, I see a surprising amount of surprisingly acrid misogyny among young men - many of whom fancy themselves "atheist" and "libertarian". In a porn-soaked culture obsessed with the self, that's understandable also.

    Would you be more specific about the relationship you see between men's understanding of atheism and their sexism - and for that matter your understanding of atheism and feminism?

  5. I have never encountered a misogynistic atheist, myself, though I've also encountered relatively few atheists overall (at least knowingly). Those I've interacted with online seem to have nothing in particular against women. So, I'm curious about what instances of misogyny we're talking about here.

    Also, it seems odd to me to even link the two - misogyny and atheism, I mean. Atheism has no tenets or creeds, so why should misogyny and atheism even occur in the same sentence to begin with? The only answer that occurs to me here is that the misogyny written about must have cropped up at some sort of atheist forum or event. Am I right?


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