To those of us fighting the good fight

I wrote this, originally, to console someone who was sick to death of her efforts being met with rape threats and death threats and inaccurate accusations.  I debated posting it, knowing it would undoubtedly bring with it some backlash.  I spend my free time volunteering for atheist, humanist, and skeptic causes only to be constantly met with people telling me that I am not a “real” activist.  There are other things I could be doing. It is hard to watch all of the misogyny and sexism go on in this movement.  It’s hard to watch people as wonderful as Pamela Gay be torn down for coming forward with her story.

It’s exhausting to know that there are people who hate you and believe ridiculous, untrue things about you, no matter how clear and unoffensive you have tried to be. I am tired of being accused of being in it for the money when being involved in atheism costs me loads of money every year — travel costs I don’t ever expect to see returned by my blog. I’m tired of every post being a target and rage commenters trying to tear me down for my appearance, education, and family. I have never been targeted by religious people the way I am by atheists. And how much worse is it to be targeted by a group of people you spend your free time working to help.

I am tired of being worried about legal threats and hackers, people who have targeted me as “collateral damage” to others as well as those who’ve directly targeted me. I am tired of getting flooded on Facebook by people I don’t know whenever I post something vaguely in the area of things they label social justice warrioring. I’m tired of everything being a fight. I’m tired of trying to be the bigger person. I’m tired of feeling like all the abuse is pointless because there’s no movement. I’m tired of people with power laughing or shrugging off sexual assault and harassment. I’m tired of people making value judgments about those who’ve been harassed — demanding you have had certain experiences to be able to comment on them and then mocking you if you come forward with those experiences.

I am, in short, very tired. And I don’t have it the worst, by any stretch of the imagination.

But then, sometimes, strangers come up to me or email me and thank me. They thank me specifically for talking about things that get me the most bile. There are people who hear what you say and change their mind, but they’re usually not very loud, because changing your mind is hard and takes a while and is difficult to talk about when you’re in the middle of it. I have many friends who became not very close friends for a little while because I was on the SJW side of things and they weren’t sure which way to go who are now among my strongest allies.

That said, I’ve had a hard time blogging lately because, on top of all the drama of day to day life, it’s so infuriating and upsetting to deal with the internet assholes. It’s hard to find the reward. Every post is a constant decision to put up with attacks.  I have to remind myself that it’s worth it.  And sometimes, it’s just not.  Sometimes, I am just not in a place where I can deal with the abuse.  Ultimately, while changing minds is a lofty and important goal, it’s also not our responsibility. If you’re tapped out, you are, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no reason to subject yourself to this if you don’t find it rewarding. And there are less hostile audiences within the movement as well.  The SSA, for example, has been nothing but wonderful to me.

I don’t know if that helps at all, just know I feel what you’re feeling an awful lot.  You’re not alone.

Michael Shermer Legal Fund

Screen Shot 2013-08-21 at 10.43.01 AMSomeone has set up an Indiegogo campaign to raise money to help pay for Michael Shermer’s response to the unnamed first hand accuser at PZ’s site.

I actually don’t have a problem with people deciding they want to help raise money to pay for the legal fees someone else is incurring.  I think the justice system is such that that is entirely reasonable, especially if you’re a fan of the guy and think he’s being falsely accused.  It’s really no different from OJ or Michael Jackson fans wanting to financially support “their guy” through their legal troubles.  I happen to find myself on the opposite side, having heard and experienced too much behind the scenes to believe in Shermer’s innocence, but I don’t begrudge those without that knowledge for wanting fair legal representation of Shermer.

I do, however, begrudge them their inability to believe in the good intentions of others with a demonstrable history of trying to do something positive with the movement.  It seems that, to some skeptics, merely offering criticism of problems you see in the organizations, conferences, celebrities, or overall movement is tantamount to wishing to destroy skepticism, rather than an attempt to make skepticism better.

“PZ Myers and the FtB feminists have set their sights on skepticism and atheism in general. They clearly want to do harm to the institutions.”

You hear this argument a lot from Republicans, that criticizing America is anti-America or trying to destroy America, when in fact it’s trying to make America better and fix the problems within, rather than turn a blind eye.  Yes, a lot of “FTB feminists” have set their sights on skepticism and atheism in general, because we’re part of those movements and care deeply about making them better.

And, of course, it’s difficult to give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re just trying to make sure justice is served when there’s this:

A show of support will send the message that we as a community will no longer tolerate illogical attacks on people who do not condone nor support sexual harassment, sexual predation, or rape any more than we support defamation of our community members from anonymous allegations.

Ah, so donating to this is not, in fact, an attempt to help Shermer get decent representation, but rather a way to condemn unnamed victims who come forward with their stories.  Got it.  Out of curiosity, what is the appropriate way for a reporter to deal with a story from an unnamed source who is known and trusted, whose story and reputation is vouched for by multiple others?

Taking it Personally: Privilege and Women in Secularism

Illustration by Tom Gauld for The Guardian

Illustration by Tom Gauld for The Guardian

There is a tendency for people to take criticism of ideas personally.  It’s true of all people, though I noticed it particularly this weekend at the Women in Secularism conference.  People also have a bad habit of criticizing individuals rather than their ideas.  I do not claim freedom from this tendency, although I do work very hard to try to be clear in that distinction.  I do not like the speech that Ron Lindsay used to open the conference with, but this doesn’t mean that I do not like Ron Lindsay.  I don’t know him, he is quite probably a pretty cool guy generally speaking.

Of course, I am not the only person who took umbrage at his opening speech.  I wasn’t particularly upset by it, I just felt it was wrongheaded as an opening speech for this event in particular and demonstrated poor understanding of the cultural theory behind the terms of “privilege” and the intent of “shut up and listen.”   I think it’s inappropriate to use the opening speech to criticize the conference goals rather than introduce it. I also think that the way he talked about critical theory indicated a lack of familiarity with the scholarship on the subject and the power dynamics at play. At best it was terrible tone deafness which was then exacerbated by his position of power in the organization, his race and gender and socioeconomic status, and the fact that he was giving the opening address not a lecture.

I also agreed with Rebecca Watson that it was particularly bad for these apparent misunderstandings to be delivered by a wealthy white man who was part of the organization in charge of the Women in Secularism conference.  In other words, it was a poorly expressed, poorly timed message delivered by exactly the wrong person for the message.maiself

For stating that, I have been accused of being sexist, of having it out for men, for having it out for Ron Lindsay, of quote-mining, of being dismissive, of shutting down dialogue by calling people names, and just good old “fuck you” and “fuck off” from strangers. I am dogmatic and hateful and trying to tear people down.

Rebecca Watson has also gotten this kind of response, but far more intense, for level-headed criticism of the talk.  In response, Ron Lindsay felt the need to make it about how Rebecca Watson is a Bad Person.  (At least further accusations of quote-mining will be justified by the use of quotes):

Rebecca Watson inhabits an alternate universe.  At least that is the most charitable explanation I can provide for her recent smear.  Watson has posted comments on my opening talk at Women in Secularism 2.  It may be the most intellectually dishonest piece of writing since the last communique issued by North Korea.

Perhaps Watson was too busy tweeting about how “strange” it was to have a “white man” open the conference to pay attention to what I was actually saying

I’m just glad Watson didn’t notify security: “white man loose on stage, white man loose on stage!”

There are also places where it continues to be clear that he doesn’t understand the “shut up and listen” suggestion, but at least those aren’t unnecessary and unprofessional attacks on someone who has criticized something he said.

Now I’d like to offer some advice to Ron Lindsay: Shut up and listen.

  • Shut up because you’re just making this more and more of a PR disaster.
  • Shut up because you’re hurting Melody Hensley and the amazing event she put together.
  • Shut up because if you’re so busy coming up with ways to defend yourself, you’re failing to understand why people are upset.
  • Shut up because it is so very clear that you are not listening.
  • Shut up because you can’t talk and listen at the same time.
  • Listen to what other people in your organization have to say.
  • Listen to what other people in the cause have to say.
  • Listen to women and men who are upset about the opening speech.
  • Listen to criticism of what you said and remember that it’s not about who you are as a person, but the argument that you’ve made.
  • Listen because it’s the right thing to do.

I appreciate that there are those who somehow think that this “shut up and listen” thing means don’t use critical thinking, but it’s actually about defensiveness.  People always take things personally.  When someone says, “You’ve got privilege,” most of us want to yell, “I worked really hard to get what I’ve got.”  And most of us have worked really hard, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t privileged — learning to see the privilege is difficult, and to see it we’ve got to be willing to shut up for a little while and recognize the possibility that there are things that we didn’t know before.  In other words, if you’re not prepared to just listen for a little while, you’re going to spend the entire time trying to prove someone wrong instead of considering the possibility that they may have a point.

Ron Lindsay presents this as a war where either you “believe reason and evidence should ultimately guide our discussions, or you think they should be held hostage to identity politics.”  This negates the possibility that this is a fight between factions who think that reason and evidence point to the necessity of identity politics and those who refuse to listen.

Sometimes the bad guys win

It was very refreshing for me to spend the weekend at the skeptic conference at Dragon*Con this weekend.  When you spend most of your time working in this movement online, it can lose a lot of its appeal.  In real life, most of the people I know who care about atheism and skepticism are really nice and fun to be around.  If there are disagreements, they are generally civil.  Not so on the internet.

Since I joined Freethought Blogs in June, there has been a concerted effort on the part of certain online factions to bully anyone on this blog out of existence.  I don’t know how many readers here have ever been the victim of an extended hate campaign, but it is exhausting.  Anything I post publicly draws attacks — and not just attacks on ideas, but personal attacks, mockery about my looks or my mental health, threats, and complete fabrications and accusations of hurting people.

For some reason, there are people on the internet who think that because I blog on a particular network, I am evil.  They think that all these people who spend their free time engaging in activism are monoliths of power.  I can tell you I do not feel terribly powerful.  I do this on top of getting a PhD full-time, working as a GA, and working a part-time job.  My life has too much going on already — I have yet to make enough money from this website to cover the gas money it took for me to get to Dragon*Con to speak.  Being an activist costs me a lot of money.

Perhaps if I had more money, I’d be able to go to more conferences where the commitment of time and resources seems to be appreciated, but instead I spend most of my time online where I am treated like a monster.

Octopus Solidarity

And people will almost certainly say that Freethought Bloggers are all bullies just as bad as  our attackers, but this is false equivalency.  One, just like at Patheos or Scienceblogs, the people at Freethought Blogs are all different people with different opinions and different blogs.  Two, saying that the movement should have more women and minorities and care about social justice is not the same as calling an individual a lying cunt.  Three, the only people claiming that anyone who disagrees with the opinions of anyone on this network are misogynists are people who disagree with the opinions of the people on this network.

I try to believe what Greta Christina always says, that these fights make the movement stronger.  But it’s so hard to believe that when just scratching your ear seems to start a fight about how horrible you are and how you should be destroyed.

No one is obligated to stay in this fight, just like no one is obligated to try to break the glass ceiling in specific industries.  I felt this horrible guilt when I quit pursuing math as my field of study because there were no women in the field and I didn’t want to be the only woman in the room for the rest of my life.  Life is hard, adding extra obstacles isn’t necessary to make it so.  But these things need to change and if someone doesn’t force them to, they never will.  It’s so fucking hard, though, you can’t force someone to take on that burden.

So I want to say that I love Jen and I will miss her.  I hope she comes back, but I can’t honestly say that she should come back.

I have seen so many wonderful people quit being a part of the movement because of the pointless, cruel bile being thrown around.  The constant fights.  The constant bullying.

I can no longer write anything without my words getting twisted, misrepresented, and quotemined. 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). If I block people who are twisting my words or sending verbal abuse, I receive an even larger wave of nonsensical hate about how I’m a slut, prude, feminazi, retard, bitch, cunt who hates freedom of speech (because the Constitution forces me to listen to people on Twitter).

The people on Freethought Blogs are just people.  We’re just individuals doing what we can for something we care about.  We’re not elected officials, we’re not all-powerful overlords of the movement, we’re not “professionals” — most of us are barely making ends meet with our day jobs, working on activist causes in our daily lives, and trying to maintain a blog where we post our thoughts in whatever extra time we can grab.  We are imperfect, we are human, we are sometimes wrong, we care.  And we’re rewarded with threats of rape, insults, and hate from the people who are supposedly fighting for the same causes.  I’d ask why, but I’m sure I’d only get hate in response.

Mazel tov, Jen.  You deserve better.  So do the rest of us — but I think you’ll have better luck than we will.

Feminism, Privilege, and Learning About Humility

This is a guest post from Patrick Mitchell, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Ashley F. Miller

One year ago, after one of the most agonizing struggles of my life, I finally shook off the chains of fundamentalist Christianity, leaving me free to explore ideas in a way I never dreamt possible: in color.  You see, in Fundyland™, everything is black and white: You are for me or against me, men are the head, women serve. Sex outside marriage is evil, sex inside marriage is required.

Drinking “gender role” tripe for 10 years from fundamentalist Bible passages and pastors, alongside the idea that feminism is the devil, served to create a large barrier for me understanding feminism in a meaningful way much longer than it took me to understand homosexuality wasn’t a sin, or that enjoying sex is natural.

Also, I’m male.

I have been wanting to distill my thoughts about feminism in the context of my atheism for some time, and on the year anniversary of my freedom, I figured it would be a good occasion.  This is an expansion of the thoughts I had on my own blog, and Ashley (who has strongly influenced my own feminism in positive ways) was gracious enough to allow me the opportunity for this platform.

Misogyny Is Everywhere

“Grow a pair,” “Man Up,” “Pansy,” are phrases that misogynist and Fundyland™ culture uses to denigrate the feminine and elevate the masculine.  Phrases I used to use without a moment’s thought that state unabashedly “Men are strong, women are weak.” And yet this could not be further from the truth.  I have seen women with more strength of character and resolve than dozens of men: these claims are demonstrably false.

Anita Sarkeesian’s series on Tropes vs. Women served to help me realize just how much misogyny has infected our culture, such that it is nearly hidden from view.  Traditional gender roles, defined by the apostle Paul and ignorantly parroted across the world today, are inherently sexist and entirely stupid. There is absolutely no reason why “Men are the head of the household” should be taken for granted.  In fundamentalism, everything is black and white.  In reality, there is color.

Women have the right to function in a relationship as they desire to define themselves. I have no right, no recompense, nor stature with which to demand (or even suggest) the way in which two genders interact with one another.  When one realizes that sexuality and gender itself is fluid, the archaic notion of ‘roles’ should promptly be defenstrated from any rational person’s mind.

And thus, I must continue to fight against my own past, the small-mindedness of my fundamentalist background, to see the opposite sex as a full human, lacking in nothing, whose values and expertise must and should be evaluated on her terms, not on mine.

I Am Privileged

The thing about the word privilege, is that its one of those things that is nearly impossible to understand until you’ve experienced life without it.  When I lost my faith, but more specifically when I became public about it, I learned what its like to be in the minority of wordview, to have people hate and judge me based on something fundamentally outside my control.

It’s not the same, but it knocked me down enough notches to recognize I was too stupid, too arrogant, and too blind to really know how well I had it.  This is the fundamental idea of privilege, be it white, male, cis, or rich (all of which I am).  Therefore I have an uphill battle to recognize it in myself.

The first time my own privilege reared its head was when I first read about Watsongate (in an uninformed rant on /r/atheism).  I thought it was the most infantile reaction, and was behind Dawkins for calling out what was clearly a childish plea for attention.

Then I read about Watsongate from Ashley’s perspective.  Thanks to the SSA here in our meager town of Columbia, SC, I knew Ashley personally and was more likely to respect what she had to say. She isn’t the type of person that gets behind idiots with bad ideas, so I read.  And I learned about Schrodinger’s rapist, and started to realize I’ve never felt fearful for my sexual identity being violated, and very rarely have I been objectified in a way that made me uncomfortable.  Then I learned about the statistics, numbers that run through feminists’ minds, that had never crossed my own.

And then it hit me: I didn’t know, and couldn’t know, what it feels like to be threatened.

So in the face of this fact, I did what any good skeptic should: withhold judgement, assess the facts, and change my mind if the facts deem it so.  And thus, I did.

The Skeptic Community Needs Feminism

First, let me say that I don’t use the word “need” to say that feminists need me, or anyone, to achieve their goals, in any way that denigrates their role or prior achievements.  Nor am I at all mature in this movement, so my commentary must come with a grain of salt.

But in this past year, after reading about the Rebecca Watson incident, after what The Amazing Atheist said, and the current debacle over TAM’s reporting policy, it is clear that there is a need for the voices of those who are actually aware and affected by the issues to speak up, and to have the attention of everyone when they say something.  On blogs, posts, walls, reddit threads, everywhere in the skeptic movement it is clear that there is a man-child level of misogyny that rivals our fundamentalist foes: women are routinely denigrated, slut-shamed, and recognized for their ability to reproduce rather than the quality and content of their discourse.  Ashley has obliged before on this issue.

This is a problem. A hill that the community faces, that will bring it to a grinding halt if we don’t take a step back and address the issues.  I would prefer that we all just became aware that calling people ‘cunt,’ ‘bitch,’ ‘slut,’ etc. is bigoted and stupid, but at the very least we should continue fighting to enact policies that protect the speech of sexual harassment whistleblowers.

The sad thing is, we look more like the religious than than skeptics and freethinkers when we treat one another this way.

The US Needs Feminism

The recent string of back-woods Bible-fueled insanity in this country highlight the need for us to shape the discourse of our nation towards recognizing misogyny and feminist-sensitive issues.  The uptick across several states in invasive and psychologically damaging procedures to dissuade (and disparage) women who seek abortions from having them in incredibly humiliating ways.

The Catholic Leagues attempt to take away women’s health rights by masking legalized suffering in religious terms means that atheist feminists are uniquely qualified to answer both questions: It is not alright to force women to suffer, and especially not because of a 2000-year-old delusional fairy tale.

Across this country, there are senators and Congressmen who have been elected who are so steeped in their own privilege as to render them incapable of representing 51% of the voting muscle of the nation.  This is a problem, and should be recognized and addressed by those of us with minds and eyes enough to see the problem.

Seeing in Color

After this year, I can recognize the beauty that is feminism, and the demon of my own ingorance that I need to continually stab until it rears its ugly head no more.  In my small way, I seek to educate others about the journey I’ve had and what it’s taught me.  To be sure, there are irrational sexists out there who would masquerade under the title of feminism, but their rantings do not make the issues any less important or real.  I have to check my privilege at the door to continue this conversation, and thanks to people like Ashley, Greta Christina, Sikivu Hutchenson, the Godless Bitches, and many others, I’m learning.

And I want to continue this conversation, for a long, long time.

About The Author


Patrick Mitchell is a 27-year old Electrical Engineering Ph.D. Student at University of South Carolina.  He became a Christian at age 16 and studied theology and apologetics, was president of USC’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and served as a lay minister and worship leader in multiple congregations.  His interests include History, Theology, Philosophy, Music, Engineering, and Psychology.  He blogs at his personal website, the Coffee Shop Atheist, writes for his School Newspaper, and is an officer of The Pastafarians @ USC, a SSA affiliate group.

The point of the TAM harassment posts

I read the comment threads on a lot of these TAM harassment posts and many readers seem to miss the fundamental point:

DJ said women were not attending TAM because other women were posting about harassment at skeptic events. He justified this by saying no reports of harassment were made at TAM last year.

These “feminazi” posts are actually just a skeptical examination of his claim.  And since there’s a lot of evidence in favor of reports of harassment having been made, his conclusion, that women should stop talking about it, is without any evidence or argument to justify it.

At this point, it seems the more reasonable claim is that DJ needs to stop posting comments in blogs blaming women for low female attendance as that has directly led to several women deciding not to go.

Obviously, this is an emotional issue for a lot of the people involved, but we have to remember that emotions are valid and exist on all sides of the debate.  The point stands regardless: women are leaving TAM because of DJ.

What’s Up?

I cannot tell you how excited I am to be joining Freethought Blogs.  Interestingly enough, I was asked to join FtB exactly 2 years after I started blogging about skepticism and atheism.  I am a relatively new voice in this atheist/skeptic/oh-my-god-don’t-conflate-the-two blogosphere, though I have been blogging for 14 years.

Many of you know me, but some of you do not.  So hello!  I’m Ashley, there’s a bio over there that basically says I know too much about movies and talk a lot.  The thing that most people seem to find shocking about me is that I worked on Toddlers & Tiaras.  What else?  They should be bringing my archives over eventually, but my old site is http://ashleyfmiller.wordpress.com

Here is a list of things I love:

  • The World Cup
  • Karaoke
  • Baby Sea Turtles
  • Rainbows, Sparkles, Sparkly Rainbows, Rainbow Sparkles
  • Drag queens
  • Otters
  • Alan Rickman
  • Great White Sharks

Here is a list of things I hate:

  • Perfume
  • Allergies
  • Ron Paulians
  • The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
  • Everything
  • Dark Harbor
  • Kevin Costner

In summation:

 

Aren’t you making it up? – Why women don’t report harassment

There has been a lot of discussion about why women don’t report sexual harassment (Ophelia Benson, Greta Christina) and what they’re up against when they do, including hyper-skepticism over claims that are routine, mundane, and unsurprising.

I would like to present to you a comment I got today, which you can go find if you want, but I have no intention of linking to it or encouraging people to respond to it.  I want you to read it and keep in mind a few things:

  1. Unlike most cases of sexual harassment, I had several witnesses
  2. Many witnesses were willing to make public statements
  3. Although the report was incomplete, it was made as the harassment was ongoing, not afterwards
  4. It was not a complaint about a named person, no one is on the defensive
  5. It was not a complaint about a well-known speaker
  6. Many people in the community know and respect me, I am not unknown
  7. I have a public platform from which to speak

These things are not always true for a woman who is being or has been harassed and the following is a response I got with all of those things on my side.  Take away one or two or all of these and tell me what kind of response the average woman might expect to get.  And then tell me whether you’d find it worth it to make a report when you can expect this treatment from many other people.

Miss Miller, is there any actual evidence that the alleged harassment took place? Is there any actual evidence that “some other women” were harassed? Did you submit a written report of the alleged harassment to the conference organizers? Did the alleged “other women” submit written reports? Did any of you report the alleged harassment directly to “DJ”?

If the guy was so obnoxious for so long, why didn’t you ask someone for help? Why didn’t you ask for help right away if you were so repulsed by and uncomfortable with the guy’s alleged behavior? You say that someone from TAM’s staff eventually (but “so quickly”) intervened but you don’t say whether you asked for help or if someone just happened to come along and deal with the alleged situation.

You say that someone from TAM “made it stop” and that someone kicked the guy out but you don’t say exactly who it was who first intervened and how they knew you were being harassed. You say that you were told that “DJ himself” kicked the guy out but you don’t say who told you that.

You obviously think that TAM should consider what you did as a “report of harassment” but you don’t actually say what you did, exactly who intervened, whether you asked for help, who you talked to (either to ask for help or otherwise), and there are a lot of other missing, important details.

Another thing you said is that you were ultimately impressed with and proud of TAM’s staff for so quickly intervening. If they intervened so quickly, how could the guy have harassed you from room to room for so long?

You also make it sound as though “DJ” must have known about the alleged situation at the time but you don’t actually know that he did because you didn’t actually talk to him about it at the time, did you?

Exactly how would it make TAM “look bad” if you had gone “into explicit detail of exactly how gross the guy had been to” you? Who exactly would you have gone into explicit detail to about how gross the guy was to you that would have made TAM look bad? If you had gone into explicit detail with TAM’s staff, how would that make TAM look bad? If you didn’t go into explicit detail with someone on TAM’s staff at the time, then why did they intervene and kick the guy out? How would they know for sure what they were intervening with?

And another question: Do you expect the TAM staff or “DJ” to be psychic and to know what’s happening to you and/or other people at the conferences at all times, and to know what has allegedly happened to you or other people even though you and/or those other people don’t properly report it to the people in charge?

According to your own words TAM’s staff  took care of the alleged situation “so quickly” and effectively. That speaks well of TAM’s staff, which should demonstrate to you and all others that TAM’s staff deals with problems quickly and effectively as soon as they know about them. TAM’s staff can’t reasonably be expected to be psychic or to personally babysit every woman (or man) at their conferences. It’s unreasonable for you to blame TAM or “DJ” for something that you could have ended a lot faster if you had asked for help quickly and had properly reported it to the people in charge.

Is it wrong for ‘skeptics’ to be skeptical of non-evidential claims that don’t add up, and that weren’t properly reported to the people in charge of the conference?

Are you making up the whole thing?

On its own, it might just seem like a bad apple not worthy of notice, but I’ve gotten dozens of other comments here, on other blogs, on Facebook, and in e-mails that reflect the same sentiment.  And I knew I would get them.  Every woman knows she will get them.  Every time she speaks up.  Every time.  And sometimes it’s just exhausting.  It hurts a little, having to relive it and be called names and a liar, but ultimately it just makes you tired, completely bone-weary, and a little heartbroken.

TAM9 Harassment New Information

First off: Anyone who has had an incident at TAM, however small, should write it down and send it to DJ ([email protected]) ASAP.

DJ’s explanation of the event:

Hi Ashley, I was wracking my brains trying to place the incident you are blogging about. So we looked up in our database of last year’s attendees anyone fitting the description and location of the man you mention in your blog post, and I believe we now know who it was: someone who was being asked to leave the private speakers reception (he wasn’t a speaker, nor invited to the reception, and appeared drunk).

DJ goes on to say he was confused because I thought I’d meant the guy had been kicked out of TAM not just from the reception.  DJ e-mailed me the guy’s Facebook profile and I confirmed that it was the correct guy and DJ asked for a full report, which I have sent him.  I assume that with an official written report, at this point DJ will have to stop saying that there’s never been a report.  I suppose it will now be that there’s only ever been one report.

Phil Ferguson, of Skeptic Money, is the person who brought the guy to DJ’s attention:

This was at the speaker reception. There was one person that was not supposed to be in the room (i do not know if he was even at TAM) he was rude and talking to several ladies with inappropriate language. I told you about him and you took immediate action and talked to the gentleman and you took him from the room.

The guy was a TAM attendee, he was wearing his badge and was in TAM’s database.

I want to reiterate that my complaint is not about how DJ handled this, he handled it swiftly and efficiently and everyone in the room was impressed.  He also made the effort to find out who it was and get a report after I wrote my blog post.  He is absolutely to be commended, he is doing a great job of handling these things when they arise.

The problem is that he’s going around saying that women are making unfounded complaints because there has never been a report of bad behavior at TAM and women like me, who complain about bad behavior on blogs, are why other women aren’t going to TAM and that’s my fault.

TAM felt it was important enough to kick the guy out of the reception, but did not think it was important enough to get detailed accounts or write down what happened, even though several people congratulated DJ for doing the right thing.

Since there are a number of incidents, detailed after this, where JREF staff helped someone who complained about behavior but DJ has no knowledge of any reports of behavior, I recommend that when they help someone who complains verbally they make a note of it and make sure they understand what happened, so that DJ has a more accurate record of what his staff has actually done and what incidents have been acted upon. I think many people, myself included, made the assumption that telling someone on the staff what was going and them acting on it means that you’ve reported the incident, but apparently if you did not write it down, it doesn’t count.

From PZ:

someone had blown through the nearly empty hallways while a session was ongoing to make lewd remarks to someone sitting at the tables; it was reported, I heard, and I joined in with another fellow to look for the “gentleman”…he’d escaped, so it didn’t happen? There was also an incident on twitter in which a prospective attendee threatened to grope Rebecca Watson on an elevator at TAM; I thought his registration was revoked

From Kitty Mervine:

I had an issue at the Del Mar [pre-DJ], was handled very well by two members of the JREF staff and South Point. I’m not kidding, my hair was set on fire. So well resolved except he showed up at South Point at the Del Mar. I talked to the South Point security and they assured me ONE WORD from me and he would be OUT. (and they had no clue WHO I was, but this guy is in their “data base” as a bad one). They were even “do you want us to remove him now? Do you feel uncomfortable?” The man was NOT attending TAM, he was simply at the Del Mar with his wife and talking quietly, so I said “no”. But later a security person from South Point (she informed me she was a veteran) came over to check with me again. I was “no I’m fine”. I would say South Point security has as their first goal the comfort of all their guests. A person can just be making you feel uncomfortable, and South Point will react quickly. I admire them so much.

And what follows are several other people’s memory of the speaker event that I talked about in my previous post.

I was a little surprised, since the day before (or within a couple of days before) I tagged him in a comment where I referenced how well he handled that situation, and why I took that as a good sign for how well the JREF was handling policing TAM. … Well, it wasn’t just you. Jenn had the exact same experience as you with the same guy at the same time. And I’m relatively sure it was made clear that it was as much of an issue as it was because the guy was going from woman to woman.

This guy was being very
persistent in his attentions to you, and then to Jamila Bey. Possibly to
other women as well, although I didn’t witness that. I didn’t see him
grope anybody, but I did see him follow you around persistently and  be
very invasive of your physical space. I remember that he was drunk off his
ass. I didn’t personally witness DJ escort him out of the room, but I
heard second-hand that that’s what happened.

I remember the guy. He was definitely violating our personal space and hopping from woman to woman

I clapped DJ on the back and the other guy who helped kick creeper dude out. I can’t wildly speculate as to how insignificant was this event or how widespread were events similar such that none can be recalled, but it was memorable to me. And this wasn’t three women looking for something to bitch about- this guy was egregious enough to be obviously a nuisance (at LEAST) to the entire roomful containing both genders.

As I recall, DJ was approached because a drunk man was repeatedly bothering women, and it was my impression at the time that DJ either personally asked him to leave the reception, or saw to it that someone else escorted him out. I agree that he was ejected just from the reception and not from the entire TAM conference. I don’t recall the exact words that were used, so it’s possible that what DJ took away from the conversation was merely that someone was drunk and disruptive, but I know that it was clear to all of us that he was harassing women specifically, and we all believed that that was the reason this action was taken. As Jarrett said, we all were impressed at the time that the incident was taken seriously and we thought it was handled well.

To reiterate the specifics, I remember that he reached a certain level of extreme that had Ashley and Jen (I believe it was only the two of them standing together at that moment) that finally another gentleman (whose name I don’t recall) decided to go get DJ and explain the situation to him, as, in a way that’s not remotely surprising given everything we normally hear in these situations, Ashley and Jen were not comfortable stirring up MORE trouble on their own.

That said, I wasn’t privy to the conversation that this gentleman had with DJ, so it is purely ASSUMPTION on my part that he described the situation accurately. It’s possible he merely stated that the guy was drunk and obnoxious. I do recall overhearing DJ ask more than one person if they knew whose guest he was, implying he was trying to track the person’s validation for being at the reception, and shortly thereafter I noticed the man in question had been successfully removed.

So among a reasonable number of people it was known that this person was drunk, obnoxious, talking three inches from the faces of any women he could get near, and saying suggestive things to them. What I can’t say for certain is how well this was communicated back to DJ in the process of informing him that this man was harassing the women at the reception.

Women in Secularism: The Good, The Bad, The Awesome

Earlier this year I had to make a financial choice — I could either afford to go to DC for the Women in Secularism conference or I could afford to go to Vegas for The Amazing Meeting.  I say this not to denigrate TAM, but I could not have made a better decision.  The Women in Secularism conference is far and away the best atheist/skeptic conference that I’ve ever been to.  If you missed it, and you probably did, you need to not miss it again.

One of the things that I have trouble with in this movement is the lack of focus on issues that “matter”.  I came to the secular movement from the LGBT movement, fresh off of the Prop 8 loss, I discovered that out-and-proud atheists also had a movement, and I was eager to join a fight that I thought impacted everything, including LGBT and women’s issues.  So I went to the OCFA conference, to local skeptic and atheist meetups, I went to TAM, to Dragon*Con’s Skeptrack, to the SCA lobbying training, I wrote about it here, I wrote about it for secular.org, I gave speeches.  In short, I got involved.

Photo by Brian Engler

This month is my two year anniversary of being involved with this movement and, as someone who cares deeply about social justice, it has very often been a very difficult movement to be a part of.  For me the great appeal of secularism, the great tragedy of religion, and my own personal passion for this cause is all centered around the fact that religion is the source of many evils or used to justify those evils perpetrated against humanity.  As was said several times over the weekend, UFOs and Bigfoot aren’t that important to me, skepticism is much more interesting when applied to issues that impact people’s lives in serious ways.  Children, minorities, people of color, women, poor people, the disabled, the elderly, LGBT, and other marginalized groups would benefit so much from having the tragic consequences of religious bigotry removed from their lives.

So when people in charge of important organizations speak on a panel at TAM to say that social justice isn’t and shouldn’t be within the purview of skepticism, or people in my local atheist group leave because they think it is inappropriate that someone posted a link to a story about the Rally Against the War on Women because who cares about that feminist bullshit, or important people in the movement tell me not to bother submitting something to TAM if it has anything to do, even tangentially, with women’s issues, I start to doubt why I am even involved.

This conference was the antidote to that.  If you are someone in this movement who wants it to be about creating change in the world, this is the conference you should have been at.  If you are someone who thinks all that atheists and skeptics should do is talk about is why the bible is stupid and why UFOs aren’t real, then it really wasn’t for you.  I think that UFOs and critiquing the Bible and all of that are important discussions, but I think they are a reflection of an old, traditional, white male scientist way of thinking, and it’s not why I want to be involved.

I know why I am involved, and this conference was it.  In reality, it wasn’t the “Women in Secularism” conference, it was the “Secularism for Social Justice” conference.  I am proud to have been a part of it.

HIGHLIGHTS (all quotes paraphrased)

  • Typing 13000 words while liveblogging
  • I place as much value on anonymous comments made on blogs as I do on statements of eternal love made after a late night drinking at a bar. – Susan Jacoby
  • This conference is a good start, the first of its kind, but these panels BELONG in regular conferences. There are places for these issues at every conference we hold. Especially on science and education. Things have not changed enough, and women are the primary educators and caregivers. Secular organizations, if they want more women, are going to have to address this. The reason men aren’t here isn’t because the conference isn’t welcome, but because men in the movement don’t give a shit about this. – Susan Jacoby
  • Both religion and sexism are hard to give up. They’re ingrained and it’s tough to overcome, especially because it’s not conscious. Giving up religion feels freeing, but giving up sexist beliefs as a man isn’t necessarily freeing because it means examining, acknowledging, and confronting privilege. It feels like reentering a place where you’re made to feel guilty. But sexism impacts men too, and men don’t seem to realize it. Men get called girly as an insult and are driven away from being themselves if they’re not “man enough”. They don’t care about reproductive rights. As though they don’t have to deal with getting a girl preggo. – Jen McCreight
  • Sikivu and Ophelia disagreeing strongly, and talking about it rationally and pleasantly.
  • Recognition of the underground acknowledgement of the bad guys in the movement and how women are afraid to speak up about it because it will hurt them instead of the well-known man.
  • Panel arguments that were over details of implementation and how to fight, not over whether there was a problem in the first place
  • I have never found a trace of morality in my own religion – Wafa Sultan
  • The complete rejection of the Prime Directive and everyone agreeing that helping women in other cultures is a moral duty, not cultural imperialism.
  • It’s cultural imperialism to help these women? Tell the to the girl who had her clitoris cut off, tell that to the girls who had acid thrown on their faces for going to school, tell that to the women being stoned to death for the crime of being raped. Tell that to them and then FUCK YOU.  - Greta Christina
  • Having a military base in Saudi Arabia isn’t imperialism but opening a school is? If you can invade a country how can you not open schools? We need more secular schools, not more army bases! – Wafa Sultan
  • Wafa Motherfucking Sultan.  For many personal reasons, it was a very difficult and traumatic talk to sit through and I was nearly sobbing by the end of it, if I hadn’t been transcribing, I’m sure I would have been.  I hope that this talk goes up first, it needs to be seen.
  • A lot of people are talking about issues that apparently have nothing to do with secularism, should Catholic hospitals get public funding and refuse to give the morning after pill, should black boys be frisked without probable cause in NYC, we are skeptics, we’re good with numbers, we should care about it. These stories, we who are skeptical, we who believe that morality does not come down from on high, we who understand that it is our obligation as humans to first do no harm and make sure that others are not harmed, have to — HAVE TO — tell our stories. – Jamila Bey
  • We’re so foundational. If I can convince people to spend more time thinking about things, using critical thinking, it’ll fix a lot of these other problems I’m fighting for. Because our message is so basic and foundational, I think that it is a part of everything else. – Debbie Goddard

NITPICKS

  • Some of the talks were either too broad and not focused enough.  I say this with absolute love, because there was not woman who spoke that I didn’t want to hear more from, but many of the talks were so detail rich on such a broad topic that they were very difficult to follow.  Annie Laurie Gaylor was particularly guilty of this, I’m afraid I didn’t retain very much of what she talked about because it was basically just a list of names.  Her argument, which was that women have historically been freethinkers, could have been made in a way that wasn’t as hard to follow.  I just didn’t know any of the names or have any point of reference.  Susan Jacoby did a lot of the using names without explaining who they are thing as well.
  • Using cards to take questions was great, but I didn’t have access to any and would have had to interrupt the session or leave to get cards to be able to ask questions.  I think there needs to be a stack under each chair.  Especially since my neighbors all grabbed all of the cards immediately when they sat down so I had none!
  • The talks were too long, I’d rather have heard shorter talks from more people and some of them felt a little stretched out, I’m thinking of Bernice Sandler’s in particular, but just generally I think hour long talks are excessive when you’ve got so many other people who didn’t get to speak.  The panels were the perfect length.
  • Attendance.  I would have liked to see a lot more men and people of color in the audience.  I said it was the Social Justice in Secularism conference, and I think that’s how it should be advertised, because it wasn’t just about women and it wasn’t just for women and women’s issues are human rights issues.  So much of what we covered this year was new territory for these conferences, I hope that the conference continues and continues to expand into covering topics like prison reform and drug policy — things that impact women even though they aren’t traditionally thought of as “women’s issues” and were brought up several times over the weekend.
  • I admit that, because I work in media and I study media, I am unusually focused on this, but I wish that there had been more time spent on addressing the representation of women in the media.  And if you need someone to rant about that next year, I’m sure I’m only one of a whole lot of women in the movement who could go on and on for hours.

Readin’ a list; Photo by Brian Engler

And my final complaint, which is not a nitpick and not the fault of the conference, is the tragic performance of Edwina Rogers, who literally read a list from an old power point presentation over the course of 15 minutes and then left the conference entirely without taking any questions.  She had been there before the speech, available to be approached, so she wasn’t hiding entirely and I wouldn’t accuse her of that, she was just avoiding having to publicly answer questions.  And she clearly was not hired to be a charismatic public speaker and I never missed the overly enthusiastic rabble rousing of Sean Faircloth more.  This wasn’t just my response, I heard this from several people who didn’t know anything about her background.

I also had the opportunity to meet her and I was disappointed in that as well.  She just threw talking points at me about opening state chapters, and she and Woody, her handler from the SCA, both acted like they didn’t know who I was.  This despite the fact that I was recruited by the SCA to be one of the the first bloggers for their organization’s website, I spent hours and hours last year with Woody, led a panel discussion for the SCA last year, and have sent them much feedback and, admittedly unsolicited, advice about Edwina.  If they don’t know who I am, it’s insulting, and if they do know and they acted like they don’t, that’s even more insulting.

That said, Melody Hensley did an amazing job with this and deserves all of the credit in the world.  Conferences, especially first ones, are incredibly difficult to pull off.  This was so much better than I had hoped for, I have come away impressed by everyone involved.  Well, almost.

I will be adding a list of resources mentioned while I was taking notes over the weekend, for people who want to read more or watch videos that were recommended.