Addendum: The Tumblr discussed herein, “More Will Be Named,” has been deleted as I wrote this. So I guess the general point of this whole post has been vindicated, or something. Well, I wrote this thing, so I’ll leave it up, because the point still applies generally.
Have you heard? Harassment is back in the discourse. Oh frabjous day.
With the recent reveal by Karen Stollznow discussing the harassment she faced during her time with CFI on the part of one of its highest-tier figures, Ben Radford, to today’s followup by Carrie Poppy corroborating Stollznow’s claims and adding that they were trivialized and dismissed by JREF, the message is once again out there: the godless, skeptical community is not yet a Safe Space for its women, even its women respected for their activism.
In the main, this should not be surprising, because this behavior is everyfreakingwhere. Dispiriting as hell, yes, but not surprising. It isn’t just a problem atheists are having right now. Cripes, we live in a country where elected officials have convinced themselves rape can be divided into sub-categories, only one of which is “legitimate.” (Presumably some of the others are “bitchin” and “unwashed and somewhat slightly dazed.”) Demeaning and debasing women’s experiences is something of a sport to people privileged enough not to have to live them themselves, usually by the happy accident of being born be-willied.
And now even “male feminist allies” must be suspect. Hugo Schwyzer is a California college instructor who built a massive online celebrity reputation for himself as a male feminist spokesman and activist. About a year and a half ago that public persona began to crumble when his own past — one of drug abuse, boning students in his office, and trying to kill an ex-girlfriend in a botched murder/suicide attempt — came to light. Lately, he has been driven out of public life altogether as his “redemption” narrative has proven just as bogus. The married, Christian 46-year-old whose favorite blog topic was chiding older men who date younger women was found to be engaged in multiple adulterous affairs, including sexting pictures of his junque to a 27-year-old porn star. (It’s safe to say Schwyzer may now be one of the most energetically hated people in internet history, loathed in equal measure by feminists and MRA’s — rather an impressive feat.)
Observation: Sex fucks people up and shit.
Women absolutely need to feel as safe as humanly possible to discuss any sexual harassment scenario they’ve experienced, especially if they’ve been living and working in a climate — say, planet Earth, for instance — where discussing such situations will subject them to blame, shaming, derision, dismissal, and all manner of abuse, because only an uppity ho who can’t take a flattering compliment would totally lose it just because some
drunken lout Nice Guy™ said something entirely complimentary about her boobs or ass.
That’s the crazy thing about sexual harassment, assault, and rape. Of all the crimes visited upon people, it is one where victim-blaming is not only disproportionate but completely off the scale. If you report that someone smashed the window of your car and tried to boost it, the default response you’d get would almost certainly, universally, be sympathy and anger towards the perp. But if a woman reports she was sexually violated in any way, the default response from far too large a percentage of people who hear her will be doubt, denial, shifting of blame (you were drunk, you led him on with your push-up bra), and worst of all, a whole second round of sexual abuse and threats for having the gall to make the charge at all.
So if someone tells you rape and sexual harassment should be treated like “just any other crime,” odds are very good they’re a hypocritical d-bag, because they don’t do that themselves. Case in point: If it’s discovered that the fellow claiming his car was nearly boosted is later found to have done the deed himself, perhaps to cheat his insurance company, everyone who initially sympathized with him will think he’s a major dickbag. But what they won’t likely do is think that every person they hear, for the rest of their lives, who reports an attempted grand theft auto is lying and trying to run an insurance scam.
But this is how many people think of rape: One documented, proven case anywhere in history of a false rape and sexual assault/harassment accusation, to misogynists, means that the default response to any such claim, ever, is “Biatch be lyin’!”
This is an acculturated misogyny that may take — jeezis — generations to correct. And it’s not an attitude that can simply be jettisoned from the human lexicon of douchery on command, like this.
Yeah…thing is…we’ve all seen how that’s worked in the past, right?
Again, a single instance of false accusation or deliberate slander is enough for too many people to be instantly dismissive of any claim any women make about their experiences with rape and sexual abuse. Women know this, all too infuriatingly well, and this is why rape and sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes out there.
Which brings me to the topic of right ways and wrong ways all of us as a community can ensure that safe spaces exist for women to be bold and forward with their stories, and not be branded lying shrews with an agenda right out of the gate. The above image was screenshot from a Tumblr that’s arisen in the wake of the Stollznow revelations titled “More Will Be Named.” More than a little intimidating, that. And I suppose it’s meant to be. But an immediate problem was evident to many of us, and our very own Matt Dillahunty brought it up. To wit: there seems nothing preventing any anonymous rando from just submitting a false accusation to the site, and having some unsuspecting person’s name blasted to the world in 60-point type that they’re a groping rapey raper. What’s to stop someone from just posting that Matt Dillahunty or Aron Ra or Martin Wagner OMG totally upskirted and tongue-bathed me at Godless Skeptifest 9000! Nothing, that’s what.
If the first argument someone hears for something is bad, it has a tendency to inoculate them against any and all later arguments, even really good ones. For most readers, this Tumblr will be the first they hear that specific, named superstars in the atheist/skeptical world (Bill Nye!? NO FUCKING WAY!) are conference creepers. And the anonymous format of this Tumblr is tailor-made to prompt its readers to just snort derisively and call “Bullshit!” on absolutely all of it. And for good reason: as skeptics, isn’t it one of our fundamental axioms that unevidenced claims should be treated skeptically?
To their credit, the host of this Tumblr has recognized the potential for abuse. Maybe something like this is a start. But what we should be concerned with is ensuring that survivors of any form of sexual abuse are treated, first and foremost, respectfully and credibly. I’m not the guy to determine what the right ways are. Discussion will resolve that. But a number of people I’ve interacted with today are concerned that Tumblrs like “More Will Be Named” are doing it the wrong way.
Addendum: Jason Thibeault has written eloquently and at length on the topic of trust in these circumstances, which I encourage everyone to read.