I have given up on the atheist and skeptical movements, and am starting a new one – the Jennifer McCreight Movement. The headquarters will be my bedroom (not the living room, which is shared with the Roommate Movement). The official dress will be whatever the fuck I feel like. Events will be held every night, consisting of reddit browsing, cute baby animal photos, cookies, and the occasional beer.
I hate to disappoint you, but there is one big rule. Only I am allowed to be in the Jennifer McCreight Movement, thus avoiding all the stupid drama and bullshit inherent in human interaction that has tainted atheism and skepticism for me.
No, I’m not really rage quitting. The overall goals mean too much to me. But I’m frequently reminded more and more why I was so anti- clubs and cliques and organizations when I was a teenager.
When I first started getting involved with atheist activism through reading blogs, I was excited. I wanted to change the world for the better, and I found others who shared my goal. I was so excited to work with these wonderful people who shared my ideals.
And then I became jaded.
Don’t get me wrong – there are lots of good people in these movements, and I’ve made some truly wonderful friends I otherwise wouldn’t have. People I met through my club at Purdue, Greta, JT, Brendan, everyone at the Secular Student Alliance… Those people are good to the core. Their passion doubles mine, and I want to get more and more involved to make a difference.
But getting more involved is precisely what makes me get jaded.
My first time attending a major conference had a dozen women coming to me independently to warn me about certain male speakers that I should be careful around. It was common knowledge to the female veterans who the aggressive and/or distasteful womanizers were, and they wanted to make sure some 22-year-old woman heard the warning. It was unnerving, to say the least. But for all I knew, it could just be gossip.
The more close friends I make, the more that comes out of the woodwork. The more specific examples of men – attendees and famous speakers alike – saying and doing things that cross the line. But they tell me to stay quiet. Because no one will believe them. Because they like the events overall and don’t want to ruin the experience by making people angry at them. Because they don’t want to lose their job or harm their employer. That was unnerving, too.
But before people think I’m a broken record – it’s not just the sexism. Becoming a board member of a secular non-profit and being invited as a speaker to events has really opened my eyes. You start interacting with a diverse group of people who have been in the movement a long time, and you get a behind-the-scenes glimpse. Some organizations (like the SSA) are truly awesome and run by lovely human beings. Some… boy, if you guys only knew.
The people are the same. Some are the most genuinely lovely individuals I have ever met. But some are manipulative, petty, passive aggressive, selfish, sexist, racist, homophobic, ablist, or just downright mean. Yes, I came to the shocking realization that atheists and skeptics are also human. The problem is that without this insider knowledge, it’s incredibly difficult to distinguish the lovely from the loathsome.
The bigger problem is that I see no real solution, and am stuck cringing silently when someone is unwittingly praising a person who’s really a Giant Fucking Asshole. Because the politics involved between people or between organizations is enormous.
I feel gross staying silent and playing the game, but I often have no choice. This isn’t because I’m afraid of losing readers – contrary to popular belief, I don’t just blog For Teh Hitz, and the money I make off blogging is not enough to float in swimming pools full of hundred dollar bills. This isn’t because I’m afraid of losing a potential writing career – my actual job is as a scientist, remember? It’s because there are people and organizations in the movement I genuinely care about, and stirring certain pots would cause them harm.
I’m not sure why I’m even writing this post other than to get it off my chest. It probably comes off as totally vague and pointless to those of you who aren’t privy to the back stories and insider knowledge. But maybe that’s the message. That when some of us insiders rant and rave, and it comes off as vague and pointless…it’s probably because you’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg, and we forget your view. You can’t see under the water to glimpse the private emails, the angry phone calls, and the years of history. So many people think other bloggers and I do anything for controversy because we’ll occasionally speak up against big names.
What should concern you are the things we can’t talk about.
So why don’t I rage quit? Why don’t I stop the blogging, speaking, and board of directors-ing? Because I know what I do matters. Maybe not the most, and maybe not a lot – but it matters. I occasionally get an email saying I helped make a person a skeptic or an atheist. I get twice as many emails saying I’ve inspired someone to take up activism too, whether it be writing or working with their local group or whatnot. I get ten times as many emails saying I’ve made someone a feminist and opened their eyes to sexism. And I get a hundred times as many messages simply saying I brought a bit of joy to their day.
And that makes putting up with the drama worth it.
There is part of me who doesn’t even want to post this, because I know everyone will interpret it however they want. People will insist I’m talking about Person X or Organization Y, while the people who really know what I’m talking about also can’t talk about it. But I blog because being able to express myself brings a little joy to my day, and I’m taking this opportunity to be the selfish one for a moment. Maybe instead of reading the comments I’ll relish in one of the Jennifer McCreight Movement’s fine events.