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Jul 12 2012

Personal attacks on prominent female skeptics for discussing harassment

Religion News is interested in our little spats. (Well it would be, wouldn’t it – except that JREF and TAM actually aren’t atheist, and are a bit hostile to atheism, at least at TAM.)

Officials for The Amazing Meeting, or TAM, said Wednesday (July 11) that women would make up 31 percent of the 1,200 conference attendees, down from 40 percent the year before. A month before the conference, pre-registration was only 18 percent women, organizers said.

The explanations are many — the bad economy, that women, as caregivers, are less able to get away, and that more men than women identify as skeptics, whose worldview rejects the supernatural and focuses on science and rationality.

But in the weeks preceding TAM, another possible explanation has roiled the nontheist community. Online forums have crackled with charges of sexism in TAM’s leadership and calls for the ouster of D.J. Grothe, the male president of the James Randi Educational Foundation, TAM’s organizer. In June, Rebecca Watson, a skeptic blogger and speaker, canceled her TAM appearance because, she said on her blog, she does “not feel welcome or safe.”

Other nontheists — both male and female — have shared stories of unwanted sexual attention at nontheist gatherings, including propositions for sex and unwelcome touching. Chatter has ranged from calls for more women to attend nontheist events to personal attacks on prominent female skeptics for discussing harassment. Meanwhile, two more skeptic/feminist bloggers announced they will not attend TAM.

Two? Who’s the other one?

The current hullabaloo can be traced to May’s Women in Secularism Conference, a first-of-its-kind gathering for nontheist women. On a panel examining feminism and nontheism, Jennifer McCreight, an atheist blogger, said women speakers at nontheist events warn each other privately about male speakers who make unwanted sexual advances.

“They brought up a concern about harassment at conferences and I was not aware of that problem,” said Ron Lindsay, president of the Center for Inquiry, a humanist-skeptic group that organized the women’s conference. “Maybe I should have been. But once I became aware of that concern it wasn’t that difficult to come to a decision that we should have a policy in place to deal with that.”

So they did, and so did other organizations. But…

As these groups and others unveiled their policies, members of the skeptic community asked whether TAM had one in place.

And that’s where things got ugly. In an appeal to assure women that TAM is welcoming and safe, Grothe made comments that upset some in the community. They accused him of underplaying, and even ignoring, reported harassment at past meetings, and of “blaming the victims” of the alleged incidents. Grothe apologized to Watson on her blog, Skepchick.

“I believe strongly that women’s voices need to be taken seriously in the atheist and skeptics movements, that any reports of harassment or assault at atheist and skeptics events need to be taken seriously and recorded, and acted on effectively, and that those who make reports of such harassment shouldn’t ever be blamed for such,” Grothe wrote.

Asked to comment for this story, Grothe said he stood by his online remarks.

Too bad the article quotes only the later remarks, not the ones that “upset some in the community.” And pathetic that DJ said he stood by his remarks.

Many skeptic women say they have no plans to abandon the conference or the broader nontheist community.

“We may not be able to ever completely solve misogyny online but we can absolutely do a better job ensuring that our physical events are welcoming and safe spaces for women and minorities than we have been,” said Amy Davis Roth, a longtime skeptic who has helped raise almost $8,000 for grants to send 22 women to this year’s TAM.

“Anti-harassment polices are a good start because it sends the message that event organizers want everyone to feel safe and that harassment will not be tolerated by our community,” she said.

Which is why it’s a pity that TAM still doesn’t have one. It has sarcastic T shirts, instead.

 

56 comments

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  1. 1
    melody

    Religion News Service is actually quality journalism. They have been good to the atheist community. I’ve enjoyed working with them and they have always been fair.

  2. 2
    carlie

    It’s also been reprinted in the Washington Post.

  3. 3
    simonsays

    I do believe there is a timeline discrepancy. Also its not clear who the second blogger is.

  4. 4
    Randomfactor

    Apparently, the teeshirts ARE the policy.

  5. 5
    Steve Schuler

    I think that the third (first actually) skeptic/feminist blogger who publicly announced that they would not be attending TAM this year may be Greta Christina who stated on her blog in January of this year that, “I have no intention of going back to TAM because I don’t feel safe there.”

  6. 6
    Simon

    The quote above says “meanwhile…” making it sound like it happened around the same time as Rebecca. Greta made this statement long ago. Timeline issues.

  7. 7
    Stacy

    Which is why it’s a pity that TAM still doesn’t have one

    I think they’ve had one since last year, but they failed to properly record (or admit) the incidents that were reported.

  8. 8
    Stacy

    Never mind me @ #7. I hadn’t read Stephanie’s post (or Ophelia’s “Boy am I Glad” post when I wrote that. So they didn’t even bother to keep the policy DJ was so proud of last year. I suspect its value to him was as fodder for his ego, nothing more. Since it failed as that, the hell with it.

  9. 9
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    I do believe there is a timeline discrepancy. Also its not clear who the second blogger is.

    I suppose it was PZ

    Good article overall

  10. 10
    Jafafa Hots

    Newspapers always get major things wrong. Ever been interviewed? I was. When I read it I didn’t recognize the words that were supposed to have come out of my mouth.

    Best you can hope for is that the overall tone gets it right.

  11. 11
    jose

    Seriously what’s with people and passive aggressive t-shirts. Reminds me of the dickwolves debacle with penny-arcade.

    People take it personally and double down when called out. If I say I’m not going because I don’t feel like being sexually harassed, it’s not about how you are a terrible organizer or an oblivious person or anything – it’s about me and the harassment…

  12. 12
    Deen

    @Stacy in #7: and last year’s was more of an anti-harassment statement than a policy anyway. This year, they apparently didn’t even bother with that (except for a short comment in their FAQ, which also didn’t make it into the booklets).

  13. 13
    leebrimmicombe-wood

    Seriously what’s with people and passive aggressive t-shirts.

    I imagine they view that there’s no problem. Which has been the sad message from the Resistance in all this. It’s no problem, any complaints are either imagined or were not really all that serious. If you don’t like that, please stay away from TAM.

    Which is fine, because we now know where they stand and people will make their conference-going decisions accordingly. Particularly as the war has been largely won elsewhere by cons that have sensible policies in place.

  14. 14
    PZ Myers

    Aww, Kimberly Winston asked me for a quote, and then she didn’t use it. So here’s what I told her:

    I don’t think atheism has a woman problem: I think the whole culture does. It’s just that now atheism has grown large enough that we have to confront it.

    The only real problem right now is that some individuals are so blinded by their own privilege that they resent that atheist organizations are, in effect, telling them to grow up.

  15. 15
    carlie

    The saddest thing is that I’m worried that if someone does get harassed and tries to report it, they won’t be believed because organizers/commenters/etc. will assume they’re making it up to try to prove that it does happen and are trying make the con look bad.

  16. 16
    karmakin

    @Jose: To be honest, that reminds me of one of my favorite movie quotes (and to be honest life quotes).

    “What the hell did you think would happen?”

    This is what happens when people disagree with moralistic concepts. They double down. We do it. They do it. Everybody does it. Yes, it’s rude and petty and it means that they don’t want us there. Duh. I thought that was painfully obvious.

    And yes, we do double down. What do you think #FTBullies was? We were reacting to people moralizing that using social pressure to effect change is wrong. It’s not that I disagreed with what was done there…hell, I was part of it too…but it is what it is. We were making a doubling down statement. We weren’t saying that Kirby and Co. had good points that need to be respected and changes needed to be made to accommodate them. No, we said they were wrong and we showed them that even more.

    It’s a normal human reaction to things we disagree with, especially when they come with the baggage of “you’re telling me that I’m a worse person for this”. That doesn’t mean that it’s always helpful.

    In short, it’s that the base ideas themselves are wrong, not that we “troll” or “double down” in order to get them across. (I actually don’t think these things are always good or always bad or whatever. It’s very subjective)

  17. 17
    Ophelia Benson

    What PZ said. I mean, we’ve said a squillion times that it’s not that atheists are extra-special sexist oh my, it’s that they’re not magically better than everyone else.

  18. 18
    leebrimmicombe-wood

    Well said, PZ.

  19. 19
    screechy monkey

    Meanwhile, Jerry Coyne is doing the passive-aggressive thing again.

    In a post noting that Dawkins has just had a genus of fish named in his honor, he writes (referring to the definition’s use of the phrase “gender feminine”

    I wonder if this now officially qualifies him to be a Gender Traitor™.

    The chuckling then begins in the comments, including dismissive comments from a poster named articulett, who is married to the guy who was going around previous TAMs shoving his tongue in unsuspecting women’s mouths.

  20. 20
    Ophelia Benson

    Eh?! Really?

    Well that would at least explain one recent puzzle – I saw articulett spewing hatred of me and other evilfemistasi types the other day and was confused, not having realized she was of That Party. (I have no idea who the guy mentioned is, just in case anyone thinks I know all the things. I know nothing. I’m a nerd, so I don’t hear the gossip.)

  21. 21
    Captaintripps

    Ophelia, how dare you say evilfemistasi and diminish the impact of real evil in the world, like Dr. Claw or those guys from KAOS!

  22. 22
    Jafafa Hots

    including dismissive comments from a poster named articulett, who is married to the guy who was going around previous TAMs shoving his tongue in unsuspecting women’s mouths.

    This whole thing just keeps getting weirderer and weirderer.

  23. 23
    screechy monkey

    Opehlia: Assuming that this is the same articulett who used to post at the JREF Forum before she was banned (and I’m pretty sure it is), she is married to another former JREF poster, Dr. Adequate. If you have a strong enough stomach, you can read about Dr. A’s “exploits” at TAM on the JREF Forum, including at least one first-hand account. Of course, no doubt we’ll hear that those are all lies from lying liar feminazis.

  24. 24
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Eh?! Really?

    Well that would at least explain one recent puzzle – I saw articulett spewing hatred of me and other evilfemistasi types the other day and was confused, not having realized she was of That Party.

    Exact same experience here. I was wondering if it might be a different person using the ‘nym.

  25. 25
    Lyanna

    The chuckling then begins in the comments, including dismissive comments from a poster named articulett, who is married to the guy who was going around previous TAMs shoving his tongue in unsuspecting women’s mouths.

    Ugh!

    You know, I have a pretty quick self-defense reflex because I’ve trained enough in various martial arts to overcome the instinctive “freeze” reflex that most people have. If someone did that to me I’d immediately shove them away and possibly hit them.

    And I’d be legally correct to do so (so long as I didn’t hit them TOO hard; force has to be proportionate to the offense). How delusional are these guys, that they think they can get away with such behavior?

  26. 26
    Lyanna

    I just re-read my comment and have to take the last part back. Of course they can get away with it. They do all the time.

    But how delusional do they have to be to think that (1) our official social norms allow for it (they don’t! even our laws don’t!) and (2) that those norms SHOULD allow for it?

    Do they want random strangers sticking tongues in their mouths?

  27. 27
    Ophelia Benson

    It does indeed get weirder and weirder. By the hour.

  28. 28
    Martha

    Do we need a T-shirt that says “I feel safe at TAM as long as Lyanna is near me?”

  29. 29
    Deepak Shetty

    it’s that they’re not magically better than everyone else.
    Not magically. You just need to get a species named after you – then you are less sexist than everyone else or perhaps writing a really good book on evolution reduces your sexism quotient.

    Coyne’s just doing Scott Adam’s version of dance monkey dance. Best ignored I think.

  30. 30
    Marta

    “Coyne’s just doing Scott Adam’s version of dance monkey dance. Best ignored I think.”

    I couldn’t disagree with you more.

    This passive/aggressive, pretend to be neutral shit bugs the hell out of me.

    I don’t think there are gray areas in the debate, or that the line between sides is wide. You’re on one side of it or the other, and pretending that you’re not so that you can fire crap from your foxhole doesn’t cut it.

  31. 31
    Godless Heathen

    The chuckling then begins in the comments, including dismissive comments from a poster named articulett, who is married to the guy who was going around previous TAMs shoving his tongue in unsuspecting women’s mouths.

    WTF??? Is he still around? How do people rationalize that kind of behavior?

  32. 32
    Deepak Shetty

    This passive/aggressive, pretend to be neutral shit bugs the hell out of me.
    I dont think there is any pretense of being neutral.

    Coyne is using an unrelated topic – a species named after Dawkins – which we could have otherwise applauded to make a snide comment – knowing fully well that this will cause some people to get annoyed and some will react.

    He’s just rattling the cages so that he can point and laugh.
    He’s using the religious tactic make some offensive statement and then use the reactions as proof of how horrible atheists are.

  33. 33
    screechymonkey

    Deepak, exactly. And then the story will be “gee, I posted this nice article about Dawkins being honored for his scientific achievements, and you people had to derail it with your sexism discussion.” Even though the derail was right there in the OP.

  34. 34
    Jadzia626

    @Ophelia

    Which is why it’s a pity that TAM still doesn’t have one. It has sarcastic T shirts, instead.

    Yes, and people find those t-shirts brilliant.

    http://img822.imageshack.us/img822/1760/tamdiscussion.png

  35. 35
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    I wonder if this now officially qualifies him to be a Gender Traitor™.

    They’re really obsessed with that term, aren’t they? You should think that people here used it all the time (apart from talking about the term)
    Seems like they use it much more often than anybody here ever did.

  36. 36
    Godless Heathen

    You know, I have a pretty quick self-defense reflex because I’ve trained enough in various martial arts to overcome the instinctive “freeze” reflex that most people have. If someone did that to me I’d immediately shove them away and possibly hit them.

    Same here, minus the martial arts training. Pushing people away when they touch me is easy for me.

    Responding to the creepy and inappropriate things people say w/out freezing is the hard part.

  37. 37
    Ani Sharmin

    It’s a decent article, and I like that some women are also quoted in it.

    And I agree with PZ at #14.

    I wonder how much of the denial of the existence/seriousness of sexism comes from people who think that atheists are magically supposed to be better and how much comes from people who don’t think it’s a big deal in larger society, either.

    @screechy monkey (#19, #33): Thanks for the link. I wasn’t aware of the Dawkinsia genus; it seems fitting, given his writing about science.

    Even though the derail was right there in the OP.

    Yeah, this does seem to happen too often. I mean, it was totally nice piece of news about a well-known science author, something I can be happy about even if I disagree with other statements he’s made, and now it’ll be derailed (likely already has been) due to something in the original post.

  38. 38
    601

    For balance, I commented at WEIT

    …and thanks for all the fishes Richard.

    The “gender feminine” just must be part of her latest conciousness raising campaign.

  39. 39
    Kalliope

    Is anyone else bothered by what’s implied by this sentence in the quoted article?

    and that more men than women identify as skeptics, whose worldview rejects the supernatural and focuses on science and rationality.

  40. 40
    'Tis Himself

    Kalliope #39

    Raises hand.

  41. 41
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Is anyone else bothered by what’s implied by this sentence in the quoted article?

    No! I was just mentioning that yesterday. (If you’re interested, you can see my and some others’ comments below on that thread; if the attendance figure given in this story is correct, it would appear there’s been a substantial decline in TAM’s attendance overall from last year. That would need to be confirmed.)

  42. 42
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    No!

    Sorry – I meant Yes! I was thinking you’d asked if you were the only one bothered by it.

  43. 43
    simonsays

    @SC: The total attendance figure for last year was 1652: http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/swift-blog/1360-a-thank-you-to-the-tam9-ers.html

  44. 44
    simonsays

    However, I don’t believe that two years worth of data is a good way to try and draw meaningful conclusions. Trends and outliers would be impossible to deduce.

  45. 45
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    simonsays, did you happen to notice my reference to subsequent posts on that thread?

  46. 46
    screechymonkey

    However, I don’t believe that two years worth of data is a good way to try and draw meaningful conclusions. Trends and outliers would be impossible to deduce.

    If only D.J. Grothe had thought about that before drawing his conclusion ….

  47. 47
    simonsays

    @SC: I have now :-)

  48. 48
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Amaz!ng_Meeting#Locations_and_dates

    This gives approximate attendance figures – steadily increasing through 2011. By all accounts, so was the percentage of women in attendance over the past few years. If the 1,200 figure is correct – again, could be wrong – that would mean a big drop in overall attendance.

  49. 49
    Sili

    Is anyone else bothered by what’s implied by this sentence in the quoted article?

    I’m certainly bothered by what can be inferred, but I don’t know if it’s an intentional implication or just a poor choice of placement for the definition of skeptics.

    Suffering hella privilege I’ll leave it to others to decide and just worry about how easy it is to miss those dogwhistles.

    –o–

    The “articulet” nym rings a bell, but I can’t place it.

  50. 50
    Ophelia Benson

    If only D.J. Grothe had thought about that before drawing his conclusion …

    Especially since in his case it wasn’t two years, it was six days! Six days.

  51. 51
    callistacat

    “‘I wonder if this now officially qualifies him to be a Gender Traitor™.’

    “They’re really obsessed with that term, aren’t they? You should think that people here used it all the time (apart from talking about the term)
    Seems like they use it much more often than anybody here ever did.”

    Does reality matter to them? I’ve only heard that term (which is apparently trademarked now by…whom?) from MRAs posting here and had to ask for clarification when they kept lobbing it at FTBloggers and commenters as some sort of ‘gotcha’!

    Seriously fuck them all. There is no reasoning with them, I’m sick of it. Fuck you Jerry Coyne. You had to drag that B.S. into it. You throw your fellow atheists under the bus based on total lies and strawmen. I’m actually starting to miss going to church.

    They are such are dishonest fuckers, I’m so through with this shit.

  52. 52
    Hamilton Jacobi

    There was another dog-whistle a few weeks ago:

    This proves something that we’ve all learned in the last year: atheists can be just as crazy as the looniest believers.

  53. 53
    Godless Heathen

    Kallipe: Yes.

  54. 54
    Godless Heathen

    Sorry, meant Kalliope.

  55. 55
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    Anybody have a link to the Dr Adequate saga?

  56. 56
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    This proves something that we’ve all learned in the last year: atheists can be just as crazy as the looniest believers.

    Given how he meant this, its truth is rather ironic.

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