The new atheist anti-harassment policy takes effect

Because — for the humor-impaired — there’s been way too much anger, bitterness, feuding and rancor over this subject (a subject which, among sensible adults, there should really be not a whiff of controversy at all) that I think a little calming levity is overdue.

(For those curious, this comes from the amazing Tumblr feed Black and WTF, and sports this caption: February 27, 1923. “Miss Alice Reighly, 1409 Harvard Street, president of Anti-Flirt Club, which has just been organized in Washington, D.C., and will launch an ‘Anti-Flirt Week’ beginning March 4. The club is composed of young women and girls who have been embarrassed by men in automobiles and on street corners.” So, you know, it’s not a new problem.)

Oh hell, is Elevatorgate going to ruin TAM9?

“What do women want?” Sigmund Freud once famously asked. Aretha Franklin answered him just as famously: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me!”

If you haven’t been keeping up with the current online eruption surrounding Elevatorgate — and I suspect most of you have at least heard about it, as Skepchick and Pharyngula are just slightly more widely read than our little blog — I will just direct you to those sites for the full-immersion experience. But to recap, here are the main bullet points…

Rebecca Watson of Skepchick fame attends a conference overseas. Gets hit on by clueless doof in the hotel elevator at 4 AM, brushes him off. Mentions the incident in her talk, as well as online, saying, in effect, “Hey guys, don’t do stuff like that, thanks.”

This being the Internet, the situation Escalates into full-on web drama. Loser guys with same sense of clueless entitlement blow Rebecca’s reaction all out of proportion, make her out to be stick-up-the-ass prude who pilloried some poor Nice Guy for the ghastly crime of asking her for coffee. Larger group of Rebecca defenders jump in, including PZ, Jen at Blag Hag, and many others, chiding the guys for not getting it and pointing to a very real problem of acculturated sexism that infects the skeptical/atheist community just as it does the wide world.

Then, out of the blue, Rebecca gets a “Methinks the lady doth protest too much” note from no less a luminary than Richard Dawkins, the boneheadedness of which stupefies everyone (except, of course, the clueless doof brigade). Short version: in a world in which women are undergoing such horrors as genital mutilation and death by stoning, any chick who has nothing more to complain about than an unwelcome pass in an elevator is clearly a petulant whiner. Seriously.

Understandably incensed — I mean, way to miss the point, Prof! — Rebecca publicly chastises and disowns Dawkins. And now, it appears the godless Internet is splitting into Team Rebecca and Team Richard camps.

From such pebbles do avalanches begin.

I will make my position so clear even a gerbil with dyslexia should be able to get it, because this is the Internet, and it appears one’s words can be wildly misunderstood and misrepresented here. (Who knew?) In six words: Dawkins is wrong, Rebecca is right. Dawkins’ point — which is fundamentally no different than telling atheists that in a world where the godless are burned at the stake, we’re being kind of petty to complain about “little” things like God in the Pledge or creationism in the classroom — is simply wrong. He’s as wrong as a wrong thing with the word wrong written on it by someone who can’t spell.

Now, TAM9 is coming up, and I am concerned that the backwash from all this is going to cast an ugly pall over a convention that ought to be the community’s annual high point. It isn’t that Rebecca and her supporters (hello, I am one) aren’t justified in their anger. They are. But…

The whole “throwing Dawkins under the bus” thing is, I think, unproductive. We are rationalists. We pride ourselves on our capacity for reason, which we boast of having more of than anyone else. So what do we do about this? Do we employ our reason, and turn this event into the teachable moment it needs to be? After all, Dawkins wrote TGD, in his words, in the interest of “raising consciousness.” Clearly, acculturated sexism is a matter about which Dawkins desperately needs his consciousness raised. Will we give him the chance to do this? After all, the man’s achievements over the last decade in the service of promoting atheism and reason — culminating in both topics today being suitable for bestselling books, rather than shameful topics you just cannot mention in polite society — are considerable, and the debt atheists worldwide owe him is incalculable. I am simply acknowledging a fact, not putting the man on a pedestal or anything. He’s done a lot, and that deserves recognition.

So how do we pay him back for this? Do we say, “You helped us gain stature and credibility. Now you apparently need our help, getting over some ideas of privilege you seem to have a problem with. Here. This is why you are wrong. Please think about these things and man up to your mistake.” This, is seems to me, is the path of rationality.

Or, do we abandon rationality, give ourselves over to emotion, anger and ego, and circle the wagons around the sense of righteousness gained from believing that we’ve taken the right side of a split? (Note: I do not accuse Rebecca of this, as she’s responding to a personal insult and has every right to respond as she chooses. But I think such a thing would be the case if skeptics en masse did so.) I can think of nothing that would disappoint me more than to witness the drama of a mass walkout of Dawkins’ speech at TAM. I would understand it, but I’d wish a path had been taken towards allowing this conflict to be something the godless community saw as an opportunity for education and problem solving, rather than digging in trenches.

Attitudes of sexism and male entitlement do exist among those of us who consider ourselves rationalists. You should see some of the fratboy bullshit that pops up in the chat room when either Jen or Tracie are on the show. It’s like, WTF? Who are you people?

I know that I myself had to unlearn a lot of my own acculturation, and I am equally sure I’d get a “Needs Improvement” grade on my efforts even today. But I know that when I was younger, less secure and a bit more arrogant, I reacted poorly to rejection in ways that I can only now, years later, understand were wrong and, yeah, pretty damned creepy. I had to outgrow feeling sexually entitled, just like I had to outgrow homophobia. My perceived loneliness and need to dip my wick was not, I had to learn, any woman’s problem to solve. There is so much about my 20-24 year old self that embarrasses me to remember.

But I learned, and am still learning, and I want those who still need to learn — even if they are 70-year-old celebrity scientists — to be able to do so. It’s harder to change your attitudes as you get older, as you get set in your ways. But I think it can still be done.

For the most part, I do see an effort to correct and educate Dawkins has been made. Dawkins has asked to be led to understanding of where he is wrong, even if, as far as I could tell, he may still not yet get it.

What I want to happen out of this is consciousness-raising. Will TAM9 be the event that helps that occur, or that divides us further? I guess we will see.

Presenting the most offensive email we’ve ever gotten

And it’s not even Christian hate mail. Hell, that stuff’s almost always penny ante.

No, this is someone who claims to be a fan, but who has his head…well, let’s just say that the attitudes expressed here reflect a level of clueless douchebaggery and stupidity that I’ve rarely seen. I suppose this way of thinking might fly in the Christian Quiverfull community, or among 13-year-old boys who’ve learned everything they think they know about females from torrenting Girls Gone Wild videos. But to hear it coming from an (choke) admirer of ours is creepy to say the very least. One gets the impression he’s the sort of fellow who wonders why women only want to go out with “jerks” and not “nice guys” like him.

Why post it here? Simply because I think this is the sort of thing that deserves public shaming. Rock-stupid condescension and male-entitlement attitudes like this continue to thrive when those who express them are brushed off with a “boys will be boys” dismissal, rather than being subjected to the castigation they deserve. So, castigate away.

Subject: message for jen peeps

hi,

I think you’re great, and your current look is excellent suits you very well.

I am only saying the following advice because you’re good and thus deserving of my advise

You look hot here
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7w7hOv47Y4
this seems to be your current look

Long hair is very important.

It’s a minority that look reasonably good with short hair, and even those that do, would almost always look better with long hair.

You look bad with short hair.. As in
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YsaOL85jx9Q
It might be better if I don’t elaborate on that or get too blunt, because women can burst into tears over that kind of thing.. and you’re nice I don’t want you to burst into tears or even to get upset. And there’s no reason to, this is a very positive message that you look hot -now-. and that it’s so easy for you just don’t cut your hair short. And since you’re so logical, I know you will take this message as a positive thing since it should be, and it’s not spun either.

A secondary issue, is your clothing in that older video is frumpy rather than modern-sexy.. women usually look sexier in a t-shirt than in frumpy clothing, and you are no exception. I know you’re not trying to look sexy even when you do.. but no point dressing in a frumpy way. Really since i’m a guy I don’t care about type of clothes.. but as a woman you’re familiar with clothes and you’d understand if I said your clothing there was frumpy.. and it was. The recent video where you wore the t-shirt is better than the frumpy clothes.. though you’d look hot either way.. since as I said clothing was secondary. From a guy’s perspective, something less frumpy might not hide you as much. I hope you get a nice partner, like Russel , a particular hero of mine, and have lots of intelligent logical discussion and kids like you two! or like almost any on AE, at least 5 or 6 of you are incredible and really leading atheist thinkers.

In 15 years you’ll look quite bad.. and after that you’ll look as disgusting to a man(A man with standards) as any other very middle aged woman is just expired and at different stages part their expiration date. So look good and sexy and enjoy the experience while you can. And be glad that you can..

I am very happy that you are hot, because you deserve to be!