Adam Lee has an article in Salon about Divisiveness Among Teh Atheists and what a good thing it is. (No, he doesn’t say anything about “bitchy infighting” or the Judean People’s Front.)
The animating idea behind Atheism+ is that atheism isn’t a stopping point, but a beginning. We’re atheists not because we want to gather and engage in collective back-slapping, not because we want to chortle at the foolishness of benighted believers, but because we care about creating a world that’s more just, more peaceful, more enlightened, and we see organized religion as standing in the way of this goal. We consider politically engaged atheism an effective way to demolish this obstacle, to refute the beliefs that have so often throughout human history been used to excuse cruelty, inequality, ignorance, oppression and violence.
Is that bitchy of us? No, it isn’t. Joking aside, it isn’t. It’s what freethought has always been about. I bet nobody ever called G W Foote bitchy.
While Atheism+ has already seen allies flock to its banner, it has its detractors as well. The most common complaint heard from some quarters is that A+ is “divisive,” that it causes us to waste valuable time and energy on infighting rather than accomplishing the goals we all have in common. However, this is a classic example of how privilege makes it easy for people to overlook barriers that don’t personally affect them. The truth is that the atheist movement is already divided, and has been for a while: Surveys show that there’s a significant imbalance of men over women. Some of this may be due to outside cultural factors, but some of it is surely owing to the experiences that many women have spoken out about: belittling language and condescension, unwanted sexual advances, outright harassment, and sometimes violent abuse and threats when they speak up about the other things that make them feel unwelcome.
It is now. I don’t know that it was a couple of years ago (at the time I thought it was mostly just a matter of forgetfulness – conference organizers forgetting to ask women to speak and forgetting how to look for them when PZ and others told them to ask), but it sure as hell is now. There are places I won’t go near, for the simple reason that I don’t want buckets of ordure dumped over my head.
Atheism+ isn’t creating division, it’s an effort to fix an already existing division by lowering the barriers to women’s participation in the atheist movement. The widespread adoption of anti-harassment policies at most major atheist conferences, as well as the series of atheist leaders speaking out against hate directed at women, are a good start, but there’s much more progress to be made.
Like…people stopping. People stopping things like this disgusting podcast, in which Reap Paden calls Stephanie Zvan a fucking bitch over and over again in a shouting enraged rant, and later joins with some other dudes to call Rebecca Watson a stupid cunt. Just not doing that, would be progress. I don’t see Reap Paden doing a racist version of that, so progress would be not doing a sexist one either.
For many atheists, the events leading up to the formation of Atheism+ have been one dispiriting experience after another, as the depths of hate that have been festering among us have emerged into public view. It’s clear there’s a small subset of people within the atheist community, mostly but not exclusively male, who are driven into a raving fury by the idea that there should be any limitations on people’s behavior or that we should undertake to make our movement more diverse. It’s unlikely that we can rid ourselves of these people entirely; but at the very least, we hope to ensure that the larger community won’t sanction their behavior, regard it as acceptable or tacitly condone it by saying and doing nothing.
Or somewhat more than tacitly condone it by saying and doing nothing about that while pitching daily fits about “FTBullies” and their friends and allies.
Most important, we want to be clear that this isn’t a problem unique to atheism. On the contrary, it’s something that’s happened over and over through history as once-fringe ideas move into the mainstream and become more diverse. As this article on io9 notes, other conferences are having these same fights, which may well mean that feminism and social justice are ideas whose time has come.
Oh god that last part makes me want to bang my head against the wall. We thought feminism’s time had come forty years ago. Forty fucking years ago, children. It’s so sad that we’re forlornly hoping that maybe now…
You youngsters will be saying the same thing in forty years. I’m sorry to tell you that, but you will.