We Were Too Forgiving

So you may remember when DJ Grothe accused certain skeptic women of scaring other women away from TAM, and destroyed the goodwill of many in our community. Former supporters ceased supporting TAM, but most of us were willing to give James Randi the benefit of the doubt. Some of us even tried to meet our obligations to TAM, and suffered for it.

And many of you probably remember when Ron Lindsay got up in front of a room full of skeptic women, at a conference for skeptic women, and insulted them thoroughly. Then he took to his official blog and attacked Rebecca Watson rather viciously. Then he failed to apologize. CFI took an inordinate amount of time to issue a statement that amounted to “suck it.” But when Ron finally got round to apologizing, we forgave him, and most of us cautiously supported CFI again, despite the fact the Board had failed to take appropriate action.

And now, this. And this.


It’s too much.

My opinion is only my own, but I believe we have been too generous. We’ve forgiven too easily. And we’ve shielded reputations, failed to name predators, failed to demand substantial change. Our community has suffered for that failure.

We just wanted to be reasonable.

We need to internalize this truth: the reasonable thing to do is to demand abusers and harassers be held accountable for their actions. The reasonable stance is to demand that the leaders of the skeptic community apologize sincerely when they’ve harmed women, and make necessary and substantial changes in addition to that apology. The reasonable request is to require that organizations take measures to appropriately respond to harassment and abuse perpetrated by their employees, or speakers and attendees at their conferences.The reasonable stance is to say that this behavior will not be tolerated within this community, and if you are proven to engage in it, you are no longer welcome in our organizations and at our gatherings. And it is reasonable to expect those who fail to appropriately address misbehavior to step down, or if necessary, for their employers to terminate their employment.

It is reasonable to withdraw support from organizations that fail to live up to these standards.

It is unreasonable to tolerate the status quo, to protect big-name predators because they are big names, or to expect the victims of predation to suffer in silence.

It’s also reasonable to give people and/or organizations a chance to correct their deficiencies (although obviously this does not apply to those whose harassment was egregious, or if they assaulted or abused another person). It may even be reasonable to give them a second chance to get it right.

But it is far from reasonable to give them a third chance.

We cannot be expected to accept excuses, explanations, and lukewarm apologies indefinitely. Nor should we be expected to endure indefinite inaction. We cannot tolerate abusers remaining comfortably anonymous and allow their victims to be gagged.

We cannot continue to support organizations like the JREF and CFI, who have gotten it so egregiously wrong so very many times.

Here is what I believe should happen now:

Women in Secularism 3 should be moved from CFI to Secular Woman, American Atheists, or another national organization that has proven it can be trusted on these issues.

Those who speak, write, or volunteer for JREF and CFI should decline to continue doing so.

Employees of those organizations who are not okay with how these serious issues have been handled should be assisted in finding other employment if they choose.

Those who donate their time and/or money to these organizations should cease all support immediately.

Does this seem harsh? It’s meant to be. We’ve already given them first, second, third, fourth, and umpteenth chances. Despite the good they have done, they have proven they will not adequately deal with harassment and abuse. They’ve made their choice.

It’s time for us to make ours.

Choosing Rock

Some of you fence-sitters and those who’ve been, I dunno, trapped deep underground with no internet access for two-plus years, may be wondering what the fuss is about. I mean, jeez, Ron Lindsay just made a bone-headed speech and spouted off on the official CFI blog. What’s the harm, amirite? You may think the response is disproportionate to the offense.

But the thing is this: both the content and the context of his little lecture at WiS2 were awful. His actions afterward, when he attacked Rebecca Watson rather than attend a fundraiser for his own organization, displayed a stunning lack of professionalism, and went against the principles he himself had agreed to abide by. He betrayed himself as well as the women he said he stood by. That shows a weakness of moral fiber that concerns me deeply.

And the CFI Board? Given the chance, they couldn’t even muster a miserly “We’re sorry you were offended.” They couldn’t lower themselves to say even “I can see why you’d be upset, but…” They chucked the long, eloquent letters of very hurt people into a deep black hole and chose to blame the hurt folks for hurting. They decided to make the dedicated set of harassers, abusers, and general riff-raff scream for joy.

One act can balance ten thousand kind ones. What Ron did wasn’t evil, per se – there are far worse things that have been done. But his was an act that balanced many kind ones. It was an act that called into question CFI’s ability to lead in the secular movement. One act can fracture trust. A second (such as the Board’s) can shatter it. We no longer trust Ron Lindsay and the CFI Board of Directors to act in our best interests. Nor should we.

There are a great many organizations that do outstanding work within the secular movement. There are organizations that stand by their principles, no matter how it hurts them (hi, Skepticon!). There are organizations whose leaders have stood unflinchingly beside the women of this movement (hi, American Atheists!) Why should we support an organization whose leadership chooses not to support us?

I choose the rock I stand on. I will not stand on rock that threatens to crumble away from beneath me. I choose to stand with those who share my principles. And one of those principles is that you not only pay lip service to women, but support them as they struggle to undo the damage of thousands of years of second-class citizenship, servitude, and slavery. You can tell me that your rock is safe to stand upon, but I will base my decision upon the cracks I see in it, and how well you fix those cracks when they form.

CFI was once a great rock to stand on. The dedicated employees and volunteers did remarkable things for the secular movement, and I will be forever grateful to them for their hard work and dedication. But CFI’s leadership chose to let that rock fall away. I can no longer stand there. Many of us have discovered we can’t. And we are not shy about making our choice public. We hope those dedicated and outstanding people will either be able to repair that shattered rock, or find better places to stand, but we cannot stay there.

You can choose other rock. You have that right. But your choice will determine whether we stand beside you or apart from you. This should not surprise you. We choose, every day, where we will stand, or if we will stand at all, and those choices shape the world around us.

I have made up my mind to stand with the feminists, the social justice advocates, the people who are trying to make this world a better one. I choose to stand with those who are working to empower the powerless, and give voice to the voiceless. I choose to stand with those who will not tolerate harassment. I choose to stand with those who not only fight religion and superstition, but against outdated social constructs that constrict rather than allow people to realize their potential.

Upon this rock I stand.*

Moi standing upon Siletz River Volcanics at Alsea Falls.

Moi standing upon Siletz River Volcanics at Alsea Falls.

With thanks to Robert G. Ingersoll, who chose his rock, and rocked it.


*Being a geologist, I can assure you as to its stability. This is an excellent rock that will be very hard to break.

Three Posts that Should Be Required Reading for Ron Lindsay

Greta Christina has gone and said about all I could have said about this situation, and so much more. Ron Lindsay is a fool if he doesn’t read, then seriously contemplate, both of her posts.

A Blatant Misrepresentation — And An Insulting One: The Content of Ron Lindsay’s WiS2 Talk

He Treated Us With Contempt: The Context of Ron Lindsay’s WiS2 Talk

Afterward, he would be a raging dumbass not to head over to Jon Scalzi’s blog to see how a proper apology is done (h/t PZ).

Presidential Statement on the SFWA Bulletin, June 2, 2013

I don’t hold out much hope he’ll be capable of processing any of these, but one never knows. There they are, Ron. They might help you mend a few of the bridges you burned.


And now, a rant:

It’s pathetic, watching these men scream and howl when the ladiez mention they want some equality and respect. You have dipshits like Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg shrieking like what’s-his-guts – wow, he’s become such a non-entity to me I forgot his name – Michael Shermer. Persecution! Censorship! Witchhunt! Nazis! Stalin! Mao! North Korea! ZOMG Freeze Peach!!! They like to think of teh wimminz as emotional and irrational, but Jesus fuck, you can’t get much more emotional and irrational than these privileged little wankers do when called on their bullshit.

Ron Lindsay rode in like a shiny knight and said he was all against hatred directed at women – and then proceeded to stand up in front of women who have put up with an unbelievable amount of abuse and horrible treatment, lectured them on being good little girls, and then embraced their harasser, and that’s only the beginning. Methinks Ron likes to think of himself as a good person, and a champion of women, but he has no idea how to be a true ally and is refusing to learn. He’s just like so many of the he-man-woman-bashers who are happy to treat women with a smidgeon of respect just as long as we keep our mouths shut and our eyes down and bat our eyelashes at them like good little subordinate females.

You assholes make me sick. It’s time for you to extract your heads from your laps, stop performing your self-congratulatory self-fellatio, spend a few minutes thinking clearly about what sort of man gets that rabid over women calling them on sexist bullshit, and decide if this is really the kind of man you want to be.

And if the answer is yes, I have only one short sentence for you to listen to: Stay the fuck away from us.

As for the organizations that allow some of these extraordinary assholes to get away with this behavior: shape up and ship them out, or lose your chance at growth. You’ll dwindle in the dust as the movement marches on. And you’ll deserve it.

What About Teh Menz? – Answered!

The next time some sniveling asshat starts the “But what about teh menz?!” whine, don’t sweat it. Yeah, it’s annoying as shit, and we’ve answered that “patriarchy hurts men too” about five quadrillion-zillion times, and we’re tired of it, but it’s all good. The question has been answered by someone with a masculine voice and a penis who identifies as a menz. All we have to do is aim the sniveling asshat at this video. Seriously. Watch it. Just use caution if you have any medical conditions that make punching a fist into the air and screaming “Fuck yeah!” at the top of your lungs painful. (And remember to say thank you to Mary at Skepchick for finding it.)

I can’t find a transcript. I want a transcript, but I haven’t got time to do one. If someone wants to do one, I’ll be happy to send you a nice sniny chunk o’ something from ye olde rock collection. This was fabulous. It’s not much different from what women have been saying for ages, but it’s from a penis-haver to other penis-havers who identify as penis-havers, and it’s phrased in ways I think will be hard for certain subsets of the penis-haver population to avoid if they don’t want to come off looking like complete social losers. And I love the way Jackson Katz has turned this right away from the victims back onto the perpetrators. It even works for when the perpetrators aren’t men. It’s setting the conversation down firmly where it should begin and end: not how victims should avoid being victimized, but how perpetrators should avoid perpetrating, and what we as a society can do to reinforce the idea that certain shit is completely fucking unacceptable. Yes. That’s what we’ve been saying. That’s what needs to be bellowed from the rooftops until even the thickest of skulls have been penetrated.

(Oh, and Ron Lindsay? I’d like you to pay especial attention to the bits where he talks about leadership. Take notes, please. Which principles can you apply to your own life and work? Write 500 words, due by next Monday.)

I found Jackson Katz’s website after listening to his talk whilst repeatedly saluting him with my cleaning products, and there’s this wonderful list, which he encourages us to share. So I shall (en español).

Ten Things Men Can Do to Prevent Gender Violence


  1. Approach gender violence as a MEN’S issue involving men of all ages and socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. View men not only as perpetrators or possible offenders, but as empowered bystanders who can confront abusive peers
  2. If  a brother, friend, classmate, or teammate is abusing his female partner — or is disrespectful or abusive to girls and women in general — don’t look the other way. If you feel comfortable doing so, try to talk to him about it. Urge him to seek help. Or if you don’t know what to do, consult a friend, a parent, a professor, or a counselor. DON’T REMAIN SILENT.
  3. Have the courage to look inward. Question your own attitudes. Don’t be defensive when something you do or say ends up hurting someone else. Try hard to understand how your own attitudes and actions might inadvertently perpetuate sexism and violence, and work toward changing them.
  4. If you suspect that a woman close to you is being abused or has been sexually assaulted, gently ask if you can help.
  5. If you are emotionally, psychologically, physically, or sexually abusive to women, or have been in the past, seek professional help NOW.
  6. Be an ally to women who are working to end all forms of gender violence. Support the work of campus-based women’s centers. Attend “Take Back the Night” rallies and other public events. Raise money for community-based rape crisis centers and battered women’s shelters. If you belong to a team or fraternity, or another student group, organize a fundraiser.
  7. Recognize and speak out against homophobia and gay-bashing. Discrimination and violence against lesbians and gays are wrong in and of themselves. This abuse also has direct links to sexism (eg. the sexual orientation of men who speak out against sexism is often questioned, a conscious or unconscious strategy intended to silence them. This is a key reason few men do so).
  8. Attend programs, take courses, watch films, and read articles and books about multicultural masculinities, gender inequality, and the root causes of gender violence.  Educate yourself and others about how larger social forces affect the conflicts between individual men and women.
  9. Don’t fund sexism. Refuse to purchase any magazine, rent any video, subscribe to any Web site, or buy any music that portrays girls or women in a sexually degrading or abusive manner. Protest sexism in the media.
  10. Mentor and teach young boys about how to be men in ways that don’t involve degrading or abusing girls and women. Volunteer to work with gender violence prevention programs, including anti-sexist men’s programs. Lead by example

Copyright 1999, Jackson Katz. www.jacksonkatz.com
Reprint freely with credit.

So there ye go. Point the “what about teh menz?” cadre at these items, and if they’re still sniveling about teh menz afterward, you know they’re not coming at this in good faith. They’re part of the problem, not good and useful critics, and should be treated accordingly.

And to those men who have already answered that question by stepping up and taking responsibility for making the world a better place for women and men? Thank you.

Carry on. We can win this thing, together.

slam dunk

One Man’s Paranoia is Another Woman’s Sensible Security

One of my coworkers made the mistake of saying he wouldn’t mind helping me wash rocks last night, so I dragged him home and shoved a toothbrush in his hand. Fortunately for him, he doesn’t mind scrubbing dirt off of hand samples while blabbering on about various and sundry, or it might have gone very badly for him. I now have many sparkling clean rocks suitable for shoving under people’s noses and saying, “Look! LOOK! Look at how awesome this is!”

This is all to the good, but it’s an incidental detail having nothing to do with geology that I wish to discuss here.

People new to the apartment have a variety of reactions. Many are surprised by the number of rocks and books strewn throughout, and get lost wandering through libraries of stone and paper. Others are a bit overwhelmed by the art, especially when they poke their heads into the bedroom and realize that, yes, I am that much of a LOTR fan. Some get enchanted by the kitty, and have difficulties understanding they shouldn’t touch. No, especially if she’s being friendly and cute. That’s her “Oooo helpless naive victim!” routine, and there will be pain. Some have a combination of all reactions, in varying degrees.

And some are intrigued by the door.

First, it has a trick doorknob. It’s elderly and cantankerous and has to be wriggled just so in order to achieve a successful opening. Second, it’s got two heavy locks. There’s the usual keyed deadbolt, and then there’s another deadbolt that can only be operated from inside. It’s entertaining to watch people try to navigate that door. Even after they’ve become familiar with its quirks, they either forget to unbolt the top lock or end up stymied by the doorknob. They get out in the end, and I figure it’s good exercise for their brains.

I love that second bolt. When I saw it, I knew this was the place for me. It adds a nice layer of security. I can bolt myself in and rest assured that no one with the master key will barge in. I’ve never liked that about apartments, that some random people can just waltz in my door at all hours of the day or night. This way, I get to control when people enter my premises when I’m at home. I’ve used this to good advantage when they insist on doing inane inspections at the buttcrack of dawn and I’ve been all like, “You can come back in the afternoon after I’ve had my sleep, thankyoueversomuch.” They’ve no choice in the matter, and that has made living here much more peaceful on the day-sleeping front.

“Sigh.” Image courtesy Cordey/Flickr.

It’s also nice to know that if some genius manages to pick the lock, they’re still stuck outside. I sometimes wish someone would try, just so I could stand on the other side of the door watching them through the spyhole and laugh my arse off. I’d be kind enough to shout some encouragement to them, too. After all, if someone’s putting so much effort into something, no matter how ultimately futile, and entertaining you so well, you want them to know it’s appreciated. Alas, there have been no such attempts.

This place has window locks as well, and it’s clear that whoever put all this in place had a healthy regard for personal security. Why make it easy for some yahoo to bust in and grab what they want? the philosophy seems to have gone. Why run the risk of getting the shit sued out of us by a tenant because we didn’t spend a few dollars per apartment on simple locks? the management probably thought. Also, you can charge more per month for such features. Happiness all round.

So my coworker sees this hefty second deadbolt, stops, and says, “Somebody was paranoid.”

Ah. A tall young white male. Yes, of course. It hasn’t occurred to him yet that there are reasons other than paranoia to have two locks on your door. He didn’t grow up under the constant threat of attack, and if he was attacked, it would likely just be someone robbing the place who really has no interest in hurting the homeowner as long as stuff is obtained without a quibble. He hasn’t had to live with the daily reality that the next person you encounter may be the one who sexually assaults you. He hasn’t hunkered down behind one flimsy door lock and wondered what would happen if you had to rely on it for your safety. He hasn’t had someone slip past the single lock on the door and turn him into a statistic. That’s not his world. And so, in his world, two locks means paranoia.

In my world, two locks means sensible security, and really, the bare minimum, because it’s not like that second lock does any good when you’re out of the apartment. It won’t stop that particular kind of predator that watches apartments to isolate the one with the single female, and then decides one day that it’s time, and goes to lie in wait. This happens. It happens all the time, and is why I always lock the door when I leave, even if it’s just to walk down to the mailbox. He probably doesn’t do that. It probably never occurs to him that leaving the door unlocked for three minutes could sentence a person to death.

This, my friends, is what’s known as male privilege. The vast majority of men don’t have to contemplate the value of two locks. Virtually every female on the planet does.

One planet, two worlds. That’s us.

New at Rosetta Stones: The Founding Mother of Modern Geology You Probably Don’t Know

We’ve got our next Pioneering Woman in the Geosciences up: Mary Horner Lyell. Yes, married to that Lyell. Some of you may not have known she was a fine scientist in her own right. It was hard finding information on her, but I did manage to draw together enough for a sketch, and I think you’ll like her quite as much as I do. Go introduce yourselves.

Hey, Richard Dawkins! Women Aren’t Invisible

So stop treating us like we are.

Really, you only seem to notice women when you can use them to conveniently bludgeon religions. You’re super-concerned about how women are treated in the Muslim world because Islam. You call the Judeo-Christian god a “misogynistic…bully,” because hey, great point of attack, amirite? So women might get the idea you’re on their side, but when it counts, when we’re fighting against sexism and misogyny in the atheist community, you “Dear Muslima” us. When it comes to abortion rights, you’re more for pigs and parasites than you are women. You don’t see us, actual human beings with fundamental rights to bodily autonomy and respect. You see a rhetorical device. And you don’t even seem to be aware you’re doing it. I hope you’re not. I hope you’re not the kind of man who would deliberately erase a woman from the picture. But unintententional or no, that’s precisely what you’re doing.

How the religious right (and, later in pregnancy, Richard Dawkins) view pregnant women. All they can see is a fetus.

How the religious right (and, later in pregnancy, people like Richard Dawkins) view pregnant women. All they can see is a fetus.

Do you know who else erases women? The right-wing anti-abortion fanatics. They’re more thorough about it than you are, but you’re no slouch. I mean, look what happened when a woman tried to correct you on the fetuses-feel-pain thing:

You can see the full tweet stream, with awesome commentary, courtesy of Znikki at Storify. I encourage you to read the whole thing, because it is particularly relevant that Znikki sent actual scientific studies to correct Dawkins’ position and he ignored both her and the studies while responding to her husband.

Isn’t that interesting? I wonder why your eyes would edit out a female so easily. Oh, I’m certain you treat the women you know quite well, and you believe in equality and all that. You’re at least willing to grant a woman control over her body up until that mythical point when a fetus comes to feel pain, which is better than the anti-abortion zealots who banish women from the equation from the get-go, but you still have trouble with seeing women as complete, autonomous human beings. Your gaze slides right past them to the fetus parasitizing them, or the male they’re married to. Perhaps you should stop and ask yourself why that is.

You know what? I had to ask myself the same thing. Yeah, really. Even thought I’m a woman, I had a distressing tendency to fall for sexist tropes and erase my own gender from the picture. Good people brought me up short and forced me to reexamine certain of my assumptions. It wasn’t easy, but it’s easier than treating half the population on planet Earth as if they’re no more than incubators and rhetorical devices.

But I get it. I’m not being facetious: I really do get it. It’s hard. You’re a male, you’ve not got the anatomy necessary to ever be at risk for pregnancy. You don’t spend all day every day trying to avoid becoming a rape statistic. It’s hard to walk in other people’s shoes, I grant you that. So here’s a little thought exercise to help you out:

A fanatical Jain sect gains ground. One of their major beliefs is that killing parasites is murder. That sect controls nearly every aspect of the culture you live in. They support political parties and influence the laws of the land. You can’t escape their influence. And some of their ideas regarding parasites are pretty scary for anyone who could become infested.

  • The most radical ones say you can’t take medicine that would kill or evacuate parasite eggs before they implant.
  • Even the milder Jain sects say you must allow the parasite to mature within you, no matter how burdensome. Some make exceptions for life of the host, but in practice, hosts (that’s possibly you!) have died because doctors refuse to remove the parasites – even though not doing so means both the parasite and the person dies.
  • Many Jains think parasites are a consequence of fun activities such as swimming, and you should just accept the risks. If you don’t want to get a parasite, don’t go swimming. Oh, and refrain from eating most food, too. It’s your own fault if you eat food that hasn’t been completely checked for parasites, and end up having to host one.

Would you allow Jains to force you to carry parasites? Or would you fight them for control over your own body with everything you’ve got?

And how would you feel if a member of your secular community, a leading light, stood up and said, effectively, “Well, the Jains are wrong about forcing you to carry a parasite before it reaches a certain stage of development, but after that, parasites should not be removed. They can feel as much pain as an adult farm animal, therefore they should be allowed to grow.” How would you feel if that leader placed a parasite’s pain above your own, never even considered your pain as part of the equation – when that leader is immune to parasites and will never, ever have to face carrying one himself?

I doubt any of this will really get through to you, Richard. For you, it’s a thought experiment. For me and other uterus-bearing humans, it’s a distinct possibility. And we really don’t need men such as yourself coming along and throwing in with the make-pregnant-humans-invisible crowd, even partially. We’re fighting a hard enough battle without your misguided and flat-out wrong input.

I do hope you eventually take a moment to consider the fact that no other human beings are regularly forced to give up their bodily autonomy to have someone attached to and feeding from them for nine months. If you would refuse to have a person coupled with your body for an extended period of time, even to save their life; if you wouldn’t go into surgery today to donate half your liver or a kidney to an utter stranger who doesn’t even have a self-aware brain yet, much less the same hopes, dreams and plans that you do, why do you think you can blithely tell women to suck it up and give birth to a parasite? Pain is a ridiculous measure to go by. You’ll call me an absolutist, and think yourself superior for being otherwise, but I’m drawing the consequential line in a different place than you. I’m drawing it where the parasite is no longer physically attached. Then we can call it a baby. Then we can say that its life has equal worth, and that it must be cared for, if not by the birth mother then by someone else. Before that, all that matters is the person carrying it. That person can no longer be erased. Not by religious fanatics, not by social conservatives, and certainly not by you.

The whole picture is quite different, isn't it?

The whole picture is quite different, isn’t it?

Image badly modified by moi. Original here. Look, I’m no artist, m’kay?

Before you comment, read the policy. Know it. Respect it. Be aware I haven’t any patience with people who can’t see women, so if your comment erases women from the equation, elides important details, or in general annoys me, you won’t get through. There are some things not up for debate. Women’s status as full human beings is one of those.

I Think I’m a Little Bit in Love with the American Secular Census

Apparently, there’s an Open Letter to the Secular Community going around. Once again, people are running about in a flutter trying to find ways to make our online dialogue more civil. And once again, they’re missing the point.

The American secular census really gets it, though. Their whole letter explaining why they didn’t sign is worth reading, but let me just put my favorite bit here:

The role of feminism in the secular movement

The handling of this topic is actually my greater concern about the Open Letter. Despite good intentions, this area of the document in my opinion has the potential to broaden the rift between secular women and the formal secular movement.

There’s nothing to disparage in the Open Letter’s affirmation of equality of the sexes as fundamental to a secular worldview. Where the Open Letter falls short is in simply expressing these principles philosophically without any acknowledgment of intent to act on them organizationally. Stating support for an abstract idea is not the same as a pledge; groups that want women to feel welcome, safe and valued in the secular movement need to demonstrate that with their actions — or women won’t be convinced.

The War on Women

In 2011 and 2012, a record number of anti-abortion bills were passed in state legislatures. These measures and their connection to a broader theocratic agenda have been largely ignored by secular identity organizations. Meanwhile, secular women are asked to support Darwin Day resolutions, lawsuits against religious symbols, and other issues far removed from this most basic and simple right to bodily autonomy. Many women view the War on Women as the most significant and damaging church-state threat of their lifetime. Secular organizations’ silence and inaction on the religious basis of declining abortion rights and access represent an enormous wasted opportunity for movement expansion and, to some women, a betrayal.

Women online

The fact is that some secular women and their allies have been victimized online. The abuse has ranged from insults and name-calling on one end of the spectrum to rape and mutilation threats on the other. What separates these incidents from the hate mail and threats typically experienced by atheists at the hands of religious fanatics is that these are atheists (mostly men) targeting other atheists (mostly women).

The Open Letter clearly condemns online threats and hatred, but I was troubled that the “Our Approach” section could be interpreted by some victims as trivializing their experiences, blaming them, or even exposing them to further risk. In offering a one-size-fits-all formula of listening more, being more compassionate, and so on, the Open Letter fails to distinguish between spirited debate where such strategies may be helpful and more serious situations where they won’t be — and might even be dangerous. This problem was paramount in my decision not to sign.

Let me state very clearly what I wish the Open Letter had said: Women who are harassed or cyberstalked are not being harassed or stalked over some failure of theirs to practice appropriate online discussion techniques. They aren’t being targeted because they see grouping patterns among their harassers (what the Open letter appears to condemn as “guilt by association.”) They aren’t singled out because they lack the patience to educate others. They are being victimized because their harassers have a pathological need for attention, a feeling of entitlement, or some other deficiency that leads them to attack other human beings. Harassment is the fault of harassers, and harassers bear the responsibility for stopping it.

The unfortunate truth ignored by the Open Letter is that there are good guys and bad guys in many of these situations, each group needs to be dealt with differently, and in the case of stalking and threats, only trained experts should be offering advice.

Excellent points, all. I wish more of our community leaders would pay attention to them. Good on Mary Ellen Sikes for pounding them home.

slam dunk

Secular woman and Ophelia Benson aren’t happy, either. I imagine there will be plenty of others.

When You’re Prepared to Give Up Name and Face

I’ve known for a very long time that I want to write for a living. Been writing since childhood, y’see, and at some point it occurred to me that being a writer was the most sensible thing to do for a person who was decent with words and wanted to be lots of things. A writer can vicariously be whatever they damn well please. A writer can spend all day every day fantasizing, and get paid for it.

So yes, I knew by my teens that I wanted to be a writer. And I began doing all of the things necessary to become one. Literature classes. Creative writing classes. Job in book store. Change name.

Oh, yes, the name change was essential. I share my legal last name with a well-known retailer. It isn’t the done thing to crack your adoring public over the head with your latest hardcover for cracking jokes. And a character of mine had filched my first name and refused to give it back. And stalkers. And I wanted to be taken seriously. That, I thought, required picking a male pseudonym – or at least masquerading by initials.

It amazes me now just how I took for granted that women aren’t equal to men in SF. I’d absorbed that lesson to such an extent that I saw talented women as anomalies; if a woman’s name was on the cover, I automatically assumed the contents would be pink and fluffy and not at all as good as the stuff by the men. So what if some of my favorite authors were unapologetically female? They were exceptions to the rule. Just like I would be. If anyone gave my writing a chance, anyway, and didn’t dismiss it on the automatic assumption that it could be safely discarded due to having been written by a girl.

And so I planned for my future in the genre by spending hours shuffling combinations of initials with potential last names, searching for combos that wouldn’t give my gender away.

Then there was the great face debate.

Author Details Unknown

Author Details Unknown

The whole smoke-and-mirrors with initials would be for naught if I plastered my picture on the back of the book. This mug o’ mine ain’t exactly masculine. So at first, I decided that particular personal touch would have to be avoided. I don’t remember thinking so far as which pronouns to use in the author bio, but of course one misplaced “she” or “her” would give the game away. I’m not sure I’d have risked it. Granted, it wouldn’t be so obvious as a girly name or photo, but still, if people had paid attention, the jig would be up and I’d be back to trying to get a fair hearing despite being female.

I knew it wasn’t fair. But hey, you can’t fight reality, right? Do what you gotta do, and don’t be a pathetic whiner about it.

My reluctance to put myself forward as a female faded gradually. I got older, and perhaps braver, and definitely less inclined to accept the world as-is. I chose the name of a goddess – although not an overtly feminine name, I didn’t dismiss it because it didn’t belong to a male, but reveled in the fact that it belonged to a kick-ass goddess who was mother to a whole people. A bit later, I decided I’d do a photo. I figured it was time to join the ranks of unapologetic women who were demanding people acknowledge that SF wasn’t just a man’s genre. I started paying attention to the gender mix in my stories: I’d always had a strong female lead, but struggled to overcome a heavily male-skewed supporting cast. I started battling the tendency within myself to give women authors automatic short shrift – and it’s a good thing, considering the number of women doing excellent work.

A lot of things have gone in to undoing a lifetime of cultural conditioning against my own gender, but this questioning a previously unquestionable status quo, and the encouragement of those writers within the SF community to address gender bias in both authors and characters, certainly contributed much of the initial momentum. I still haven’t wrestled my birth name back from the character who filched it, but at least I’m not ashamed to have a woman’s name and a woman’s face on my work. I won’t give them up again.

Moi at Monterey Bay Aquarium. Image courtesy Cujo 359.

Moi at Monterey Bay Aquarium. Image courtesy Cujo 359.

Some interesting articles while we’re on the subject of women in SF:

Ask Nicola: A shocking UK sf ‘favourites’ score: men 500, women 18 .

The Guardian: The incredible shrinking presence of women SF writers.

Fantasy & Science Fiction: Women Writing Science Fiction: Some Voices from the Trenches.

NPR’s Monkey See: Women, Men And Fiction: Notes On How Not To Answer Hard Questions.

Wikipedia: Women in speculative fiction.

New at Rosetta Stones: A Pioneering Geographer Named After My Old Home State

I think you’re going to adore Zonia Baber. I do. She’s fantastic. I wish I could be like her when I grow up, and I wish I could have met her, and I’m glad I got to know about her. Go have a read-through and tell me if you feel the same.

(And yes, her name really was Arizona. Those of us from Arizona have that extra incentive to think she’s the best, but really, it’s not like anything more was needed.)