Not a great weekend for atheism

There are times when I ask myself if I really want to be a part of this “scene”. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s usually caused by people acting like a bunch of children. Case in point: the entire atheist blogosphere has been abuzz dominated by Rebecca Watson’s “I was hit on in an elevator” story. This non-news got even more attention when she chose a keynote address to call out a fellow atheist blogger who had made a video suggesting her story was simply vain bullshit. This, as you might have guessed, caused a collective meltdown.

Since this little incident, the words misogyny, sexism, and “male privilege” have been floating around, and they aren’t going away. Richard Dawkins wrote a fairly snippy response to this stupidity, and was subsequently lambasted by PZ Myers and Blag Hag who said he trivialized the issue of sexism in Western society by calling attention to the rest of the world who has it much worse. I’ll admit it’s a bad argument, but the general point Dawkins was trying to make was the women in these other countries would kill for even a smidgen of the same rights enjoyed by women here. If you don’t think that’s relevant, then hey, I think your “privilege” is showing!

What we’ve learned with this experience is there is no real agreement in the scene as to what consitutes sexual harrassment. Why is this surprising? What unites us is merely a common disbelief. The rest is still up for debate, and while I think it is necessary to talk about the rights of women here and around the world, I sincerely disagree with the definition of sexism presented by both SkepChick and Blag Hag . I also think anyone who read the Dawkins response can appreciate that some people are more interested in the big picture than whether or not some dude in an elevator acted inappropriately.

Can we all get back to fucking work now?

NOTE: So, after this whole mess, how many of you are less likely to go to a atheist conference now?

Spread the outrage

Comments (30)

  • avatar

    Bradley Blackmere

    Funny thing. Both sides of this issue are basically correct, but the most important point is… besides Rebecca Watson who gives a shit?

  • avatar

    Chris

    My gawd, this has been beaten into the ground. Get the hell over it.

  • avatar

    Jeffrey Jones

    This is the whole reason I’ve left the scene. I don’t believe in god, but I’ve got better things to do with my time than waste it on in-fighting and drama.

  • avatar

    Tom

    I think I’m just about as likely to go to or not go to an atheist convention as I was before, but I’ve removed all the atheist women blogs I was reading from my google reader subscriptions because I am sick to death of hearing about how privileged and sexist and generally evil I am as a white male.

  • avatar

    godlessirish

    I was actually out drinking in Dublin that night, probably 5 minutes from that hotel, and this is the first I’ve heard of this. And, the best part, I don’t give a shit.

    The girl (who I’ve never heard of before) got hit on. Big fucking deal. In fact, I say bravo to the guy for having the balls to show his sexual interest in a fairly decent manner. From what I heard in her video, he asked her if she wanted to join him in his room. He didn’t try to force himself upon her, he wasn’t graphic or indecent in his proposal. How the hell did this EVER become an issue?

    If hitting on someone is considered vile and indecent, then the atheist community has essentially just sterilised itself. Congrats.

  • avatar

    nolan

    The common thread between all atheists is skepticism, and it’s obvious from all the buzz that many in ‘our’ community are skeptical about her claims of harassment, as they should be.

    Discord is healthy and normal and we shouldn’t be shocked when our peers and contemporaries disagree. And occasionally, as Rebecca is experiencing, they’ll do so with vitriol.

    She describes her presentation in Dublin and the video as unscripted and rambling.

    Really? Blacklist this retard. Time is valuable and should only be shared with those who respect that. Travelling overseas to give a presentation that she herself describes in unflattering terms should be the immediate end for her (present) speaking career.

    Incoherent and juvenile are two adjectives that apply to the video as well.

    Rebecca commits the sin of having something important to say, but only mentions it after four minutes of unscripted rambling about all the fun she had travelling around. After she gets the thirty seconds of actual content out of the way and resumes rambling on for another four minutes, we the listener are tasked with having to source some carbon nanotubes so we can build the world’s tiniest violin.

    We don’t need to agree about everything. Atheism (and skepticism) is about challenging the consensus when something smells fishy. Our community is like a large city; in your travels seeking wisdom, you’ll see the best and the worst, sometimes on the same street.

    Remember that no one has the right to not be offended, but we’re all well within our rights letting Rebecca know what a fucking dumbass she’s been.

  • avatar

    BumbleBee

    Really guys? The problem isn’t that someone asked her to have coffee with him. The problem is that someone thought it would be a good idea to corner a woman in an elevator late at night. That’s a predatory move. If you want to ask someone to come to your room, that’s fine, but you need to do it in a safe place where they feel comfortable saying “no” and walking away. It’s okay to ask a woman out on the street, in a hallway, and or in a crowded room. It’s not okay to ask a woman out when you are alone in an elevator. This is common fucking sense.

  • avatar

    Apollo

    Just a quick question to the ladies

    If the genders were reversed, would the situation be as unacceptable to you?

    I personally run into Misandry frequently in everyday life.

  • avatar

    Vladimir

    Well, when women start approaching men as much as men approach women, then women can have the right to complain about it.

    I’ve been hearing, and a lot of times from same women how someone approached them and, my lord, wanted to go on a date with them. And then, the a week later same women would complain how men are woosies and don’t come up and strike up a conversation…

    (headbanging smiley here)

    What about emancipation? What about the sex and the city?

    And PZ may be a very smart atheist, but he also seems very thick at times. Feminism can go overboard. There are men’s rights activists popping up as a result of that. In Sweden, there is such thing called the men’s network since militant feminism is emasculating men with alarmingly blunt force under guise of political correctness… Google for “Egalia kindergarten” to see what I’m talking about, or just look up for interview on Al Jazeera with a spokeswoman of prosecution regarding Julian Assange’s case. The video name on youtube is:

    Assange arrest warrant ‘no mistake’

    Screaming foul at every opportunity you don’t like something and expecting men to… men-up when they don’t like something is a rigged game I choose not to play.

    And if I’m single at a moment and I see an attractive woman, almost in every occasion I will go up to her and tell her what is on my mind. Who knows, she may be the woman of my life, and I would absolutely hate myself if I’d let my self wonder, never to find out what could have been.

    Hence, why the heck do atheist women object to something that is the product of evolution? For clarification, look at the beginning of my comment.

    And if anyone even tries writing the word privilege, let me tell you something:
    I’ve grown up in a poor neighborhood in a war torn Southeastern European country, been called names that would give any western born and raised woman a fit, stared down a barrel of a gun a number of times, had my ass handed to me on many occasions just because someone didn’t like the colour of my jacket or some other stupid excuse to pick a fight, I spent countess hours holding a queue spot in front of a store, alternating with my parents and brother to get a hold of some milk. Since I was a kid, my mom couldn’t let me stay at home all alone, so when she would go to queue for gasoline she would take me with her and I would fall asleep in the car so many times cause the queue was 5-6 hours long, and the next shipment of gasoline will not be soon.

    My whole life I had to be better then others just to come to nearly equal terms to those who have when it comes to education, employment, women…

    So, if you dare say privilege to me, then yes, I will call you a stinking cunt!

    And no, I have never forced myself on to a woman, nor do I know of anyone who has. I do know however a bunch of women who never knew what the word oppression means claiming wold’s greatest injustice towards them.

  • avatar

    ManBearPig

    I was really disappointed in how childish Dawkins was in this whole situation.

    I do understand that there are much more important and pressing women’s rights issues around the world, but does this discount Rebecca’s feelings and worries as she describes her experience?

    I know it’s like beating a dead horse, but men will never know what it’s like to be a woman, regardless of whether it’s a woman in the West or East.

    Don’t patronise or insult Rebecca for voicing her concerns.

  • avatar

    Aaron

    @Manbearpig

    I won’t insult Rebecca for voicing her concerns, but I will insult her for acting like a self-inflated douche. Yes, ok, so she was upset with how the guy propositioned her – fair enough – but to then dedicate a part of her talk (a talk that was intended for something entirely unrelated) to lambasting someone who disagreed with her is something entirely different.

    What she should have done was say that it was creepy and leave it at that – unless of course she thinks all men are creepy like that, in which case anything she will ever say becomes moot from her obvious unintelligible thoughts.

  • avatar

    Jacob Fortin

    The issue of sexism, the role of men and women in society, and all that jazz goes way beyond the expertise of Rebecca Watson. I’m not saying I’m qualified. Far from it, but I venture to suggest that she is definitely not the spokesperson for women when it comes to sexism.

    @ManBearPig i’ve never heard the elevator guy’s side of the story yet, and this alone makes me suspect to comment on the details of the encounter. In any case, i’d really rather not have the whole sexism debate be taken over by Rebecca and her ilk. They don’t represent the thoughts and opinions of everyone.

  • avatar

    Michelle

    A guy asked this woman for a cup of coffee in his bedroom, ok… if this happened to me at 4am in an elevator I would – politely – decline his invitation just in case (I don’t know the man…) but I would hardly consider his move to be sexual harassment. He just showed interest in her, is it wrong? If he kept insisting in a very rude manner or even grabed her, keeping her from leaving the elevator, forcing her to go with him to his bedroom then I would consider his move to be sexual harassment. But that’s not what happened, is it?

    What’s wrong with women today that a guy can’t even say “Hi” or invite her for a cup of coffee they already consider to be sexual harassment, for goodness’ sake? As Dawkins said, she should grow a thicker skin and stop acting like a child.

    Don’t get me wrong here; I’m all for it women’s rights and all but I stay away from these feminist movements; there’s just too much drama in them.

  • avatar

    Joe Dixon

    The people I found who went most overboard were the pro Rebecca commenters on the blogs, especially PZ’s. Frankly, as a black male I’ve gotten on elevators with white people and my very presences made the person ‘uncomfortable’. Well, is that my problem or theirs?

    In the minds of some people, Rebecca was ‘trapped’ in an elevator at 4 am in a foreign country and for this man to ask her back to his room was therefore ‘rapey’. Well, news flash, I’ve been on elevators with white women later than that. Sometimes I’ve even talked to them, was I trapping them? Were my actions suggestive of rape? Was I exerting ‘black male privilege’?

    Let’s do a ‘what if’? What if it were a black dude on the elevator and rather than ask Ms. Watson to come to his room he instead asks for the time. Now remember, all the same factors apply, the late hour, the elevator, everything is exactly the same but he asks for the time. By rights, this should also make her feel ‘uncomfortable’, shouldn’t it? Now, after this encounter, she then posts a video telling black men not to do that, because it’s ‘creepy’. What word would be used to describe her reaction? How many of these same people now defending her do so in this case? Now ask yourself, after she gets some criticism would PZ Myers write a blog about how black guys just don’t get it? That black men need to learn how to properly approach white people? Why wouldn’t he write this? A black man’s actions made a white woman feel ‘uncomfortable’. And they do want more women at these atheist gatherings after all! So surely black men need to shut up and listen to the white women, don’t they?

    Look, I’m not a fan of White Male Privilege. Honest. I’m going to assume there is such a thing as Black Male Privilege when it comes to our behavior towards black women or maybe just other women in general. Well I’m against that also. But I just don’t think it exists in the actual case that happened. All a guy did, in the nicest way possible (and that’s according to Rebecca’s own account) was ask if a woman would like to come back to his room. When she said no, he stopped asking. That’s all that happened. The drama should have ended there. Instead it’s made out to be about some broader issues. Well, it isn’t about a broader issue. Or if it is a broader issue, it’s that feminism won. The man behaved exactly as a 21st century enlightened human being would. He took no for an answer. Something that might not have occurred in the 40s or 50s happened here because men know if a woman says no to you, you stop asking. That’s actually a victory for women. Why some feminist won’t accept it though, I have no idea.

  • avatar

    Michelle

    No wonder there are so many single women around the world…they are too demanding. Of course we are not going to jump in a serious relationship with the first man that crosses our path…but please…that’s overreacting!

    If things continue that way; “god” forbid if a man shows interest and ask a woman to go on a date with him…she will be carrying a taser and a pepper spray in her purse just in case he shows some interest to kiss her.

  • avatar

    Chris Austin

    A man hitting on a woman leaving a bar at 4am. I can’t fucking believe it. I think the world is coming to an end.

  • avatar

    Clay Outain

    Oh no scary feminists run away!!! It’s all such a big deal and definitely a reason to hate Rebecca Watson!

    What the hell is wrong with you people! She’s a good, kind and intelligent person that had an uncomfortable experience.

    Being skeptical doesn’t mean you need to completely disregard someone’s perspective or experience.

    Jacob I like you… but calm down. You’re making a bigger deal of this than it needs to be.

    There are many different kinds of people who are Atheists. We all don’t agree… but this just sounds like typical whiney antifeminism.

    How about instead of attacking you take the time to stop and think.

    That guy was definitely asking her to have sex (if you watch Seinfeld… you know that Coffee late at night = sex).

    Alright… I said my piece. I know I’ll probably get attacked or something for holding a different opinion… but oh well.

    Keep up the awesome show Jacob. You’re a good guy (even though I may disagree with you at times) and I love to hear someone that stands up for atheism and skepticism.

  • avatar

    Jacob Fortin

    Trust me Clay, it’s not me that’s making this a big deal. Just read the comments on all the sites. It became about a lot more than just one uncomfortable experience. It’s where it should have stayed, but some rook the opportunity to get on some soapboxes and preach some pretty confusing/annoying shit, and that stirred the pot even more.

    On Blag Hag, her comment section hit 600. About 1k for Pharyngula. Still think I’m the one making a big deal?

  • avatar

    Apollo

    antifeminist: Characterized by ideas or behavior reflecting a disbelief in the economic, political, and social equality of the sexes.

    I think you need to redefine your accusation as I believe it is disingenuous to use that term when what is being suggested is that this incident has been blown out of proportion and not that she “get back in the kitchen and make me a sammich”

    Sadly too many women I’ve known pick and choose the parts of equal rights that benefit them (the take) and ignore the parts that don’t (the give). The blatancy of these sorts of double standards is extremely detrimental to gender equality, as it causes a lot of bad feeling, and as we’ve seen, some vitriolic unenlightened reactions from a few. (On both sides of the argument)

    On a side note: I doubt we will be hearing from the guy, if it were me, I’d be mortified and hoping this goes away very very soon.

  • avatar

    JPaper

    Jacob, although I think you’re wrong, this quote:

    “What unites us is a common disbelief. The rest of the world is still up for debate.”

    is great and should be on atheist mugs everywhere.

  • avatar

    vjack

    I never had any interest in attending an atheist conference in the first place, so I can’t say that this affected it at all. What it did was remind me of something I desperately need to be reminded of periodically: atheists are an extremely diverse bunch, and this means that some are bound to be fairly immature when it comes to how they interact with each other and the world around them.

  • avatar

    Joe Dixon

    I know this is pretty much settled here but I need to note one quick thing. There is a lot of talk on these other blogs about ‘listening to the women.’ What everyone fails to note is that ‘listening to the women’ has gotten a lot of black guys lynched throughout U.S. history.

    Not to imply that we should then not ‘listen to the women’. We should just remember listening to women does not automatically make what they say correct or just. That being possessed of a vagina does not mean you can’t be paranoid and make a giant ass of yourself when you scream misogyny where none exists.

  • avatar

    Les

    I’m one of those cats that are difficult to herd when it comes to my activism with regards to atheism. I’m an atheist and I blog about atheism, but I also blog about all the other crap that catches my attention. I prefer to follow my own path so attending atheism conventions is not high on my list of things to do. This most recent shit-storm thusly has no real impact on my decision either way. I wasn’t likely to attend before and I’m no more likely to attend now.

    That said, I have to ask @CLAY OUTAIN re: (if you watch Seinfeld… you know that Coffee late at night = sex). When did “Seinfeld” became an authority on what any one particular man’s intentions are? As someone who has asked any number of people if they wanted to get coffee to continue a conversation with no real intention other than drinking coffee and talking, I find the suggestion that it’s a rule somewhat offensive. Perhaps I’m the exception to the rule, but I seriously doubt that’s the case.

  • avatar

    Apollo

    It’s an appeal to popular culture, within a defined age range, which becomes more and more dated as time passes.

    However, the coffee is not so much the issue as the time and place suggested. (and that he potencially disregarded the whole “don’t hit on me at cons” talks she’d been part of) Certainly a facepalm moment.

    For me though the real contraversy was how this was picked up and ran with by people with thier own agendas.

  • avatar

    john

    When American Atheist takes civil action against a town hall because some nut bar mayor won’t remove religious iconography from the building, or when an ass-hat rabbi wants to stone a dog to death, or when a collage sports team ostracises a member of the squad because the uppity atheist does not join in when they talk to their sky daddy, or whatever, seemingly trivial, bullshit the ‘faithful’ try to pull, we call them on it. And we should always call them on it. Every one of us every time. No matter if the issue is big or small, whether it affects us personally or not, is inconsequential.

    My point is, and I understand that this topic is winding down and I joined late, all these things are small, individually, yet are indicative of a larger problem. For those out there who would trivialise this Rebecca Watson thang saying there are worse situations women have been subjected to around the world, and continue to be subjected to, shame on you.

    How many pointed out that while the dog-stoning rabbi acted stupidly there are more important thing happening in the world and one dog, who escaped unharmed by the way, does not matter.

    This guy cornered her in a confined space, alone. If you fail to see how this is a predatory move and completely unacceptable then I don’t know how to convince you and would suggest you are even part of the problem.

    Just because this isn’t an issue exclusive to the secular or atheist movement, instead existing in society as a whole, does not mean we are exempt from any wrong doing and should not address it.

  • avatar

    nolan

    I’m gonna throw this out there: If one asserts that people shouldn’t proposition each other in an elevator, they’re being silly and arbitrary, but if they assert that it’s inappropriate for a male to proposition a female in an elevator, they’re being arbitrary, sexist and misandrist.

  • avatar

    Aridawn

    Here here!

    I was just telling my fiance that this whole “controversy” has me feeling a little squiffy about the movement…as you say, Jacob, it’s non-news. It only became bigger non-news because Dawkins got involved. I’ve been so on the fence my butt is started to chafe.

    I think what irked me the most is McReight calling Dawkins out by saying that his privilege is showing. That made me hurt as a feminist. I don’t think that all feminists (or atheists) should be accomodationists…far from it. I think we should rant and rave as loud as humanly possible. However, I would prefer we stay logical in the process. I believe this is a non-issue because the guy didn’t do jack shit. He didn’t block her way, he didn’t press himself on her, he didn’t assault her or rape her. He hit ON her. Sure, maybe it is common sense for a guy not to “corner” a woman in an elevator late at night…but excuse the fuck out of him…maybe he was working up his nerve…maybe he was so concentrated on wanting to talk to her that he didn’t stop to wonder if he was, indeed, being “creepy.” I’m sure the guys I confessed my feelings to in school thought I was damn creepy…looking back on my 15-year-old self, I even think I was damn creepy.

    Because this is such a non-issue, I think that is why I’m having such a hard time putting my finger on exactly what irritates me about the situation. Mostly, I think I had hoped that the skeptics among us could just chock this up to us being human and fallible (even “our lord god Dawkins”) and GET THE FUCK OVER IT!!

  • avatar

    GA_Wolf

    I read your post, and PZ Myers yesterday and then stewed on it for about 24 hours.

    In my opinion, this is an isolated incident, but whether you agree with Watson’s opinion of the situation or not, her impression is indicative of a larger issue. It does reflect the impression many women have of the skeptic/athiest movement, whether that impression is justified or not.

    Also, for this particular issue, check out Watson’s latest post on Skepchick: http://skepchick.org/2011/07/the-privilege-delusion/

    You’ve got to stop and think about this from the perspective of someone that is constantly being threatened with rape, touched by people when not invited, etc…

    On the other side, likely as not, the dude could have just been interested in coffee and conversation and nothing more, we’ll probably never know. I doubt he truly remembers.

    I think the added context makes her reaction more understandable, whether justified or not.

    Overall, saying that she overreacted does nothing to address the underlying problem. Atheist and skeptic groups would be enriched with more diversity. If someone as active as she is in the skeptical movement has the overall impression that she does, what can be done to improve/shift that?

  • avatar

    Ben

    Drama has no place in the atheist/skeptic movement. Isn’t that was we’re trying to get away from?

    I think I understand Rebecca’s feelings about the situation; however, I think they were a HUGE bit of overreaction.

    The man in the situation who must feel horrible about what this has become was probably innocent. There is no indication even from Rebecca herself that the actually DID anything.

    This leads me to conclude that Rebecca is hysterical in her feminism. She imagines situations to be hurtful to her being in which no hurt was done.

    No wonder a lot more people who I know are becoming disillusioned with the feminist movement. They’re hysterical.

  • avatar

    sysyphus jones

    The thread at pharyngula has now been closed at… wait for it .. 1282 posts! “This thread is closed due to excessive length and prolonged stupidity.” PZ wrote.

    It seems that Professor Dawkins 1st post was at least partly responsible.

    I have to admit that his comment did make me wince but I think I’d defend him by saying he was being sarcastic. And sarcasm IS exaggeration for effect.

    I doubt that he actually thinks feminism in the west is a trivial matter, but I imagine that he believes the situation for women in Moslem countries is far worse (and of course it is), and is frustrated by our comparative lack of interest.

    And the shitstorm that followed seems to rather bear out that notion. After all ,would all that flying effluent have been generated if the article had been about say female circumcision? 1282 comments? I seriously doubt it.

    It’s the disproportionality I think was probably Dawkin’s point.

    But unfortunately he came across as patronising for though whose sarcasm detectors don’t work properly (or perhaps it’s a Brit thing that Yanks don’t get?), and he didn’t help himself with the 2nd post “clarifying” what he meant.

    I think if I had been him I’d have resisted the temptation to justify myself, or I couldn’t resist, then just quietly pointed out it was hyperbola.

    Anyway PZ has another thread for people who still wish to comment, and the comment count there is up to 747 already ….

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