Rebecca Watson thinks r/atheism reddit full of misogynists

Here’s something I’ve learned in all my years of blogging: if you look for something hard enough, you’ll find it. In my case, it’s examples of religious stupidity that I zero in on. I realize that cheap laughs and easy jokes may not give the complete picture of a particular religion (usually Christianity or Islam), but if I was trying to be fair I wouldn’t be having any fun.

I want you to keep this in mind, as it might help clarify some of the frustration you might be feeling if you read Rebecca Watson’s new tirade on the evils of secular sexism entitled “Reddit makes me hate atheists“. The post focuses on the story of a 15 year old girl who received a barrage of inappropriate comments after posting a picture of herself with a copy of Carl Sagan’s “Demon Haunted World”. I think this opening paragraph will help set the tone of the piece:

…R/atheism is very large, and so it is jam packed with assholes. And yet I continue to read it every day. I read it even though I usually learn nothing new from it and it only serves to create and foster inside me an intense hatred of my fellow atheists.

While there are a variety of explanations as to why some of comments were so disparaging (her post made it to the front page of reddit, which extends far beyond the confines of r/atheism), her obsession with gender issues makes it seem as though the atheist reddit forums are a cesspool of misogyny. I couldn’t disagree more.

I’ve been trolling the site for years now, watching the group grow from humble numbers to over 300,000 strong. While a great number of posts are usually rage comics, occasionally hilarious Facebook threads and funny pictures, a significant portion of them are personal tales of individuals “coming out” to family members (I even remember one post from a redditor claiming to be Michel Behe’s atheist son). The support these people receive from their fellow redditors is almost universally positive. I’m constantly surprised by the patience, understanding and intelligence on display from members. Then again, I’m usually on the lookout for positive examples of human kindness on the site, so I’m not entirely surprised when I find what I’m looking for.

This, in a nutshell, is Rebecca’s problem; she’s actively looking for examples of misogyny in the scene to justify her claim that sexism is rampant in the atheist community. While I don’t believe that our group is guiltless, I think the problem has been severely overstated. Do we have studies to show atheists are more sexist than believers? Is there any proof beyond a couple of anecdotal stories of misogyny? Seems to me like there’s a lot of speculation based on some extremely limited samples, colored by emotion and marred with anecdotal evidence. Sounds like a fucking nightmare to me.

I don’t want to claim to have more “journalistic credibility” than Rebecca, or anything equally silly (I’m more of a curmudgeon than a serious writer). Still, I think it’s important to recognize how much of your own perception is influenced by your pre-existing beliefs. Is the world as sexist as you think, or is there a chance that your preconceptions might be blinding you? I certainly wonder how anyone could visit r/atheism and develop an “intense hatred” of your fellow atheists (unless you hate rage comics, of course). Seems far more likely that this intense hatred might have been there all along…

Comments (27)

  • avatar

    BevansDesign

    Just about 90% of everything in r/Atheism is idiotic garbage anyway. I block anything that comes from imgur or memegenerator, which gets rid of most of the stupid.

  • avatar

    Christian McFadden

    I enjoy a lot of the junk, be it rage comics, memes or facebook screencaps. Things can get pretty heavy and serious in that group sometimes, and humor (regardless of whether it’s high- or low-brow) can be a very welcome relief. I wouldn’t have said most of the shit that was said to that poor girl, but I’ll admit that I laughed at much of it. But Watson is way off base if she things those kinds of things represent a large part of what r/Atheism is. Hell, with her recent tirades, I’m beginning to hate her right back.

  • avatar

    Eric

    To say that 90% of r/Atheism is idiotic garbage seems low to me.

    I was actually talking about this earlier today to someone and their argument was essentially “it’s just a joke, take it easy” which for somethings I can accept. I don’t share the type of humor that is popular on places like reddit, the comics,mthe memes, I don’t find any of it funny in the slightest. But when someone’s reaction to something like Rebeccas post is “relax it’s a joke” I have to step back and wonder if we’re reading the same thing – a large (based on the comments and votes) group of people think raping a 15 hear old girl is damn near the funniest thing ever. also, fuck women cause aren’t they dumb…

    It doesn’t make me hate atheists, it just makes me hate this portion of the Internet culture. You can accuse Rebecca of cherry picking, but this behaviour and attitude isn’t rare on reddit (within r/atheism and outside) or theinternet as a whole.

    I disagree with Rebecca’s statement that this makes her hate atheists, but I agree its an absolutely disgusting spectacle to watch.

  • avatar

    Carl Baker

    I read through a bunch of the comments on that post, and I don’t think that Rebecca was cherry-picking. But it wouldn’t matter if she was. It doesn’t take much hate to drive someone out of a group, especially if that hatred is targeted at them (or their gender). Even if this were the only post on r/atheism that looked like this, it would still be a problem.

    We have wondered for years why there aren’t more women in our community, and Rebecca is telling us. We need to listen (and I’m very grateful she’s willing to tell us). We may not all be willing to do what it takes to convince more women to participate, but I think we should at least try to learn what’s necessary.

  • avatar

    Jacob Fortin

    I don’t want to fucking police the internet. The nature of any anonymous posting makes people say shit they would be too chicken to say aloud.. If you start thinking that the retarded opinions of forum trolls is the reason women don’t participate in the scene, then I think you’re severely oversimplifying things.

    The issue of gender roles is far more complex than anyone is willing to admit, and so far I find the discussion frankly embarrassing. There’s little in the way of real research and a lot more “the internet said something mean” going on here, and I frankly think it needs to fucking cool off, and we need to focus on other priorities.

  • avatar

    WCLPeter

    Carl,

    I too appreciate what Rebecca and other female writers are doing when they point out the derogatory treatment of women. There is a lot of ingrained sexism in our society that most people don’t even realize they have so its always nice to have it pointed out so I can learn something new.

    She was right to point out the inexcusable shit being said on Reddit about women, and the original poster in particular; rape is not a laughing matter.

    The problem that Jake’s talking about though is Rebecca has taken a larger social issue that affects all communities and society at large and dumped the blame for it on the whole of the Atheist community, basically making us take responsibility for the behaviours of a small subset of the group that she can’t even prove belong to the group (anyone can post on Reddit, not just the people who read that particular SubReddit).

  • avatar

    Richard

    ummm… welcome to the internet?

    I’m not too familiar with reddit, so I can’t comment on what it’s like, but I can say that the internet in general is filled to the brim with sexism (not misogyny, I rarely see a hatred towards woman, but a general disrespect and failed attempt at humour at the expense of women, definitely) Youtube, forums, blogs, etc are places for silly boys and men to talk about how macho they are and how much power they have over women. It’s clearly bullshit, it’s clearly a by-product of anonymity and it’s clearly not a fair representation of men in general. I say just calm down and stop looking to get offended at every little thing.

    I’m not saying it’s healthy, I’m not saying it’s acceptable, I’m just saying it is what it is, you’re not gonna change it so stop trying to, and for fucks sake stop acting like you’re a victim, some douchebag on the internet telling you to make him a sandwich isn’t cause for emotional distress.

  • avatar

    BlueIndependent

    Well, it’s proof that, as they say, atheism is a necessary but insufficient condition to be considered enlightened. Some netiquette and a strict response policy helps too. These assholes would exist whether religion was here or not, but that’s obvious.

    I really can’t blame RW for finding this disgusting. Not that nobody else here doesn’t, but seriously, internet or not, you have to be stupefyingly sophomoric and childish to get a kick out of that kind of banter. Yes the internet by design has the ability for losers to act like losers in front of and at the expense of others. But I find that crap even beneath the level of pretty much any kind of dialog, save the types who post overtly racist things to get a rise out of others; it’s so base and banal…and the sign of a thin intellect and a lack of things to do. My question is if the offenders here are known for this kind of behavior, or if they happen to be new people. It may be entirely possible someone is trolling to get a rise out of regulars, or bully that girl and draw negative attention to that board. I didn’t even know R/atheism existed (I’m not a reddit person), but it sounds like I shouldn’t bother.

    Jacob, I can see your point as well, but I guess I’ll agree with RW with respect to this one incident by individuals intent on misrepresenting more civilized males. RW is also not without her reasons: Elevator-gate was not that long ago, and that was first-hand experience for her of a less obvious though still uniquely creepy and off-putting form of misogyny.

  • avatar

    Charles

    I remember being told about racism that “If you don’t see the problem – you’re part of it,” and I remember, with considerable embarrassment, the ingrained attitudes and the condescension that infected my younger life. Despite my awareness, I know my upbringing (1950′s and 60′s middle class British) has underlying flaws that can break out at any time.

    I see the same thing in respect of misogyny on the internet. The “playful” flirting, the disdain about women “not understanding” certain processes or attitudes and the dubious respect shown to “women and their problems.”

    I enjoy reading your blog but in this area if you can’t see the problem you – Are – part of it.

  • avatar

    Jacob Fortin

    “If you can’t see the problem you are part of it”. Seriously dude, think about the implications of that statement for a second. It’s fucking ridiculous.

  • avatar

    Charles

    What a silly little boy you are. Shouting obscenities rather than actually looking at what people are telling you.

    It is pointless arguing with a someone whose mind is closed, they would rather fester in their own ignorance and prejudice than face the terrible expanse of their idiocy.

  • avatar

    She Fights Like A Girl

    I tend to agree with Blueindependent’s POV. Places like reddit (and others) are like the worst on offer from the stereotypical locker room. I didn’t read the post in question because I, as an adult woman, spend zero time on reddit. But I’m familiar with the rep: It doesn’t seem a place where one goes for any real conversation, discussion, or interaction. Rather than expecting people in such a notorious location to “grow up,” we should leave them to their shock tactics and extreme porn, and keep looking (and/or creating) reasonable places for productive chatter to happen.

    I also agree with Jacob that if one is looking for insult, it’s really fucking easy to find one’s own pet version, just about anywhere.

  • avatar

    Carl Baker

    I guess I was just putting “offering to rape 15-year-olds” in the “not OK” box. And thinking that maybe that’s not too high of a standard to which to hold my fellow atheists.

    I get that the Internet’s a rough-and-tumble place and that one shouldn’t wear one’s thin skin when participating. But if someone was offering to rape me every time I posted, I might choose to spend my time doing something else.

  • avatar

    shefightslikeagirl

    …or find better places to post.

    This isn’t an atheism problem.

  • avatar

    Tom C

    OK, so here’s my take. I’m a white middle class male, so it’s safe to say I’ve never been the target of actual discrimination. So, I’m probably not a good person to say what is and what isn’t sexist, racist, or discriminatory unless it’s moderately overt. I will agree that the girl in question didn’t ask for sexual comments, and didn’t deserve them. And quite a few went over my personal line of taste. But it’s MY personal line of taste.

    To be blunt, yes. Men talk sexually about women. I’m not ashamed of that fact either. It’s our sexual drive as humans that has led us to be a successful species, so I’m fine with it. But on the other hand, we have the ability to ignore our instinct and do the socially right thing…so we talk about women in hushed tones in the right company. I’m also not ashamed of that.

    What is wrong, however, is to generalize an entire audience of a website because of commenters. The numbers of readers vs. contributors on sites like Reddit is skewed far in the favor of the “lurkers”. So, probably a small fraction of a percent of the viewers commented, and an even smaller fraction of a percent commented in a sexist or questionable way. So to me, this is a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water. And for someone asking for sensitivity for a stereotyped and generalized group, you’d figure Rebecca would be more aware of that fact.

    I’m not discrediting what Rebecca said. But I tend to agree with Jacob more (typical men…I know). There are far more important things to deal with than the ridiculous comments posted on a website that might hurt a girl’s feelings in a first world nation. Like, maybe, studying how widespread sexism is and how to combat it appropriately. Or maybe stopping genitle mutilation of little girls around the world. Just a thought.

  • avatar

    Jason

    The “If you can’t see the problem you’re part of it” slogan is just as ridiculous as Ken Ham’s “Were you there?” slogan.

    Fundies use catchy one liners so they don’t have to think about things. Don’t bring that weak shit here.

  • avatar

    fred johnson

    Whats strange is the only one openly sexist person I know of in the skeptic movement is Rebecca, her whole thing is based on catering to one sex ie women skepchick is one blatent example….

    Seem to be a massive hyprocrpt, who demands respect largely purely because of her sex…..

  • avatar

    Mickey Mouse

    Atheism is the last bastion of white male dominance.

    And it shows.

  • avatar

    Mickey Mouse

    “Seem to be a massive hyprocrpt, who demands respect largely purely because of her sex…”

    Isn’t this shit what males spew out most of the time? YOU probably expect to be respected because you have a penis and you’re calling her a hypocrite.

    Maybe I should change dominance to read “…supremacy”?

  • avatar

    Jacob Fortin

    ^So do you have a problem with Fred because he’s a man, or because he has a different opinion than you? Can you see that perhaps focusing on his gender is doing exactly what you’re accusing him of doing?

  • avatar

    She Fights Like A Girl

    Good smaug, I could not be sicker of this topic.
    See:
    http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/rebecca_and_riley_tempest_in_a_dolls_tea_party/

    …and in about 10 places simultaneously. :(

    The loudest people will always become the “face” of any unmoderated group. We haven’t quite figured out how to transfer our civic/social rules to text-based modes. See:
    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2011/12/people-more-likely-to-lie-when-texting-study.html

  • avatar

    Mickey Mouse

    Hmmm….interesting. I’m not allowed to criticize a man the way men criticize women.

    Should I focus on his intellect and inability to spell? Should I criticize his concern that RW is only supporting women…WOMEN for chrissakes? Which is exactly what she is supposed to do in an essay about the climate WOMEN face in online forums.

    This may have not bee the best battle for her to take on for many valid reasons, but to criticize her for taking on the crass, crude and childish writings of some men seems like a fairly reasonable argument to make about the secular and atheist community.

    Or should I be talking about farting, anal intercourse and the humor around the subject of rape to make my point?

  • avatar

    Mickey Mouse

    These articles might help with future discussions:

    ‘Benevolent Sexism’ Is Not an Oxymoron and Has Insidious Consequences for Women, Experts Argue
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111004121314.htm

    Daily Acts of Sexism Go Unnoticed by Men, Women
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110613122519.htm

    Sexism and Gender Inequality
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111030151659.htm

  • avatar

    She Fights Like A Girl

    Again, this is not an atheism problem. What are we going to do, segregate each group, seek out and pick at the sexist scabs? Fighting among ourselves isn’t a great way for a minority to progress. What happened to leading by example?

    I’m not saying sexism doesn’t exist or isn’t a problem. But it’s not an atheism problem.

  • avatar

    Rapt

    “Here’s something I’ve learned in all my years of blogging: if you look for something hard enough, you’ll find it.”

    You don’t have to look very far for misogyny on reedit. That’s the whole point of Rebecca Watson’s post, and the disappointment that the atheist community is not above this.

    I know YOU, as a male with privilege, don’t notice it and don’t have to think about it, and can claim that “others just focus on sex, gee golly whiz, I don’t know why? Jimminy Christmas, just don’t think about it!” Yes, you can “just not think about it” because as a man, society is built around the assumption that you are the default. You are almost always the end user in mind when something is designed, written, built.

    I know that it sucks that, as a member of a group that has privilege and has oppressed another group, you don’t like hearing that, but I’m sorry, it’s too bad. I know it must “frustrate” you, and gee, isn’t that awful for you? Who in this world has it harder than a middle class man?

    And as for your rather juvenile attempt to spin women as “man haters” and saying that we can “do the same as we’re accusing men of doing,” no. Prejudice is about power. Men have more power, so you’re painting a false equivalency and I would have hoped you’d have been a rational enough thinker to see that the two are not comparable.

    I’m sorry I gave you that much credit.

  • avatar

    LeeLee

    “I’m not saying it’s healthy, I’m not saying it’s acceptable, I’m just saying it is what it is, you’re not gonna change it so stop trying to, and for fucks sake stop acting like you’re a victim, some douchebag on the internet telling you to make him a sandwich isn’t cause for emotional distress.”

    Said by yet another privileged male who will NEVER UNDERSTAND what it is like to get that shit thrown at you 24/7. Yes, all us ladies are too sensitive. Hey, how about I come over to your house and flick you on the nose eighteen times a day? Do you think you could “ignore” it? Oh, then when you yell at me to stop I’ll get five more of my friends to come and flick your nose too (upvotes).

    All I ever hear from dudes on the internet, in atheist communities, and nerdy spheres is that “there are no women!” You wonder why? Really?

    The reason why Rebecca pointed out atheist communities is because we EXPECT better of you men. We see the conservative republican nutjobs running their mouths everyday and spewing all this hatred about women. This is why women choose to be liberal. Typically, liberals are atheists. We just don’t expect this kind of stupid shit from atheist men. When we see it, it pisses us off. Even more so when those said misogynists get in the way of us discussing something we feel passionate about. Which is exactly what they did on Rebecca’s post.

  • avatar

    Jennie

    I certainly don’t think that atheists are more sexist than nonbelievers, but I think they are often more sexist than rational, intelligent people (which they often are and always want to be) ought to be.

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