“There Is the Great Disappointment”

You know, I never thought I’d see the day when PZ Myers, the fire-breathing atheist whose passion for science and reason launched me full-tilt at science blogging, would despair of the atheist movement. But here that day is:

There is the great disappointment. The movement, whose whole premise demands a sweeping change of the culture, has discovered that it is far easier to defend the status quo than to change it. We’re willing to ask other people to think long and hard about their beliefs, to question and change, but all that other stuff that our culture planted in our heads, like beliefs about the sexes and races, like the rigid gender binary, like the suitability of women to thinking critically, like the automatic conferral of status by wealth, like the dehumanization of people who look like they might have had different great-grandparents than us, like the utility of simply killing people who disagree with us…oh, no, don’t ask us to change. We’re just here to promote atheism! One thing at a time! Once we’ve cleared away the deadwood of religion, then maybe we can think about encouraging a rational world that will have those nice things you’re talking about. Atheism is only about separation of church and state issues, or only about science and naturalism, or only about scholarly discussion of the accuracy of ancient texts, or only about fighting the barbarous customs of non-Western peoples…it’s only about the non-existence of gods, we can’t possibly consider side issues, like the harassment of women or the oppression of black communities or the diminishing educational opportunities of the poor, to be part of our brief!

Well, I’ve got news for the atheist movement: it all matters.

[snip]

I will make a prediction, right here and now. The number of people identifying as “nones” will grow in this country in coming years, because we’re on the right side of history, and because organized religion is happily in the process of destroying itself with regressive social attitudes, scandals, and their bizarre focus on other-worldly issues that don’t help people. The number of people identifying as atheists will stagnate or even shrink, because organized atheism is happily in the process of destroying itself with regressive social attitudes, scandals, and their bizarre focus on irrelevant metaphysical differences that don’t help people.

I can’t say that’s a bad thing. The name of atheism has been burdened with unfair and inaccurate stigma for a great many years, and we’re now drifting into an era in which atheism will be burdened with a totally fair and accurate stigma.

Unless we change.

I don’t know that we can.

Image is a grayscale photo of a cat with its head in its paws. Caption says, "I has a sad."

And it’s not just PZ, or the people he mentions within his post, who are disillusioned. I’ve seen comments from a goodly number of people who are either walking away or walked a long time ago. These are people who could be contributing to the movement: volunteers, donors, activists that we’ve lost because the leaders of our orgs can’t extract their heads from their asses. (Perhaps they would understand what right shits they’ve been if they read this excellent poem by our own Digital Cuttlefish. I value my continued existence too much to hold my breath, thought.)

I think the current incarnation of movement atheism is going to perish. It’s too self-satisfied, too unrepentantly sexist, too hostile to people of color, too ignorant of the poor, too opposed to social justice, to survive to the next generation. The churches are losing people who are needlessly cruel to others, dogmatically refuse to change, and then wonder where all the young people went. The atheist orgs will find themselves facing the same problem. They’ll be wondering where the women, the people of color, the majority of the LGBTQ folk have gone. They’ll sneer and say “Good riddance!” when they realize we’ve ended up over here, on the opposite side of the rift. They’ll retreat to their own enclaves, and they will think they’re important, but they won’t be the ones making a difference.

We will.

Because, despite disillusionment, we know that what we’re doing is necessary. It’s important. It matters.

Listen to RQ, answering PZ’s despairing “I don’t know that we can” with a firm yes, we can:

I can’t afford to believe that we can’t. None of us can (in my opinion). That being said, it’s awfully difficult sometimes. But I refuse to give up all hope, even if I have to force myself to do so with a conscious, bull-headed effort. I can’t afford to.

Maybe I’m not old or tired or worn out enough yet, but the day I give up all hope will be a day I die a death far more meaningful than the physical one. And I don’t think I will like myself after that day.

We won’t give up. We’ll just take our activism and our dollars and our passion elsewhere.

Listen to George Wiman, who lays out some options:

I’m sure not going to start believing in gods because a bunch of atheists are sexist yobs. I’m stuck as an atheist whatever the “movement” does. So I could disavow atheism and embrace “humanism” (which is too kind to religion for my taste)

Keep my head down and still my voice.

Identify as a humanist atheist or an A+ or something else which says “Keep your gods and your oppressive culture too.”

There’s the third option. We’ll be over here, taking our atheism and building something of value. We’ll be working on a better moral foundation. We’ll be applying our critical thinking skills to our society and culture. We’ll be going beyond realizing there’s no gods, and asking what comes next.

Listen to consciousness razor, who knows that atheism is a beginning, not a finish line:

We should* all realize, as atheists, that we have to take it upon ourselves to make the world a better place. No benevolent magic being is going to do it for us, and there also aren’t demons or some such which we can blame the bad stuff on. And there are no other (not god-like) mysterious, purposeful forces at work, which guides things toward a certain end. And we don’t get second chances, because death is a real thing that happens, not only a transition to some other kind of reality. So there really is no other good option. That’s our job as good rational human beings, because we cannot consistently come up with a good excuse for not doing it. If you’re not buying into that, yet call yourself an “atheist” anyway, what legitimate reason do you actually have to justify any of it?

*But obviously, we don’t all in fact do what we should. That’s not surprising in the least, or any reason to be “disillusioned.”

I’m disappointed, but not disillusioned. I expected better of our leaders, but I’m not surprised they didn’t deliver. And there will definitely be disappointments going forward, but they won’t stop me. It’s like Jon Scalzi says:

I think internalizing the fact that no opinion/belief/enthusiasm inoculates either you or anyone else from the baser aspects of the human condition, or the larger social milieu in which we all exist, is probably a very smart thing to do. It helps manage the disappointment when the cool new group you find yourself with is eventually revealed to be full of flawed and fallible human beings, and it helps to free you from the initial desire to rationalize shitty behavior within a group merely for the sake of identity politics. And on the rare occasions when everyone in the group is actually good and decent, it allows you to appreciate just how nice that really is.

All this bullshit? It’s been a booster shot. If the people who are supposedly leading movement atheism are terrible failures, so be it. There have been terrible people in every social movement. We can brush them aside and continue the necessary work. They don’t define us, and they won’t end our good work.

PZ’s the one who inspired me all those years ago. He lit the fire. He turned me into an unapologetic atheist. He rekindled my passion for science and gave me the conviction and the courage to blog it. He showed me that we could forge a better world without gods. He gave me hope. And I’ll be damned if I let a few assholes in the movement take that away. I don’t care if we have to tear the entire movement down and rebuild it from the foundation up. I don’t care how much that makes smug assholes like Dawkins and Harris howl, I don’t care how much it makes reported serial sexual harassers like Shermer shriek. I don’t care how many fuckwads scream and whine and try to flood our channels with death and rape threats. This isn’t their movement. They don’t get to define it.

Over the next several weeks, I won’t let up on the supposed leaders who are failing so spectacularly. But I’m not here to only tear down, but to build up. I’ll be bringing people and organizations to your attention who are doing excellent work. I’ll be finding work that deserves our support. In the coming months, I’ll be tracking down books and podcasts to replace those the ones we found invaluable before their creators turned out to be such spectacular failures as human beings. I’ll be giving you some humor boosts, and hopefully helpful memes with which to illustrate your own posts about the Deep Rifts™.

We don’t need the leaders who have failed us. We have each other. And we have it within us to change the world.

Let’s do this thing.

Image is a grayscale cat with round dark steampunk sunglasses. Caption says, "Let's do this!"

The World As It Should Be

Here are two stories showing that the world we are asking for is not impossible. Two stories of young women getting falling-down intoxicated, in the presence of men.

Image shows a black cat hugging a bottle of Captain Morgan's rum. It's tongue is hanging out. Caption says, "Got a lil 2 much cap'n in meh."

This is how it should be when this happens.

 Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-:

I was a stupid teen once, like most people, and I did a lot of stupid things teens will do because they think their parents are ignorant idiots when they try to tell them that this is stupid.

So I got really drunk one night.

And then smoked weed.

Together with older guys (by older I mean just no longer teens).

To cut a long story short, at some point I threw up, and I really wanted to take a shower, because that was gross, and because I couldn’t walk anymore those guys helped me to the shower, undressed me, helped me shower, and at some point in that shower my memory stops and only returns when I wake up the next morning. In a clean T and undies. In my bedroll. Completely unraped.

I shouldn’t have to consider myself lucky for that.

No. This shouldn’t be luck. This should be the expected outcome. And it can be.

RQ:

You and me both. I’ve had guys help me puke my guts out and never try a thing; I’ve chugged whiskey from the bottle just like one of the guys and subsequently passed out, to no negative result; I’ve been walked home, lent beds, lent clothing, with never a worry for my safety, even in a houseful of guys and the only woman staying overnight, with a party on the first floor (I had Saturday classes, so Friday nights were spent with this houseful of guys) and never a spot of trouble.

I know a factor in some of these stories is a lack of so-called sexual morals: it was a very sexually open sort of society, with a musical-chairs of partners and a no-hard-feelings attitude for anyone refusing to partner up with anyone else. And, I might add, a lack of mean-spirited gossip (in the sense that no one was ever put down or ridiculed or bullied for their sexual exploits). Heck, a friend of mine was on the point of penis-insertion with one of these guys, and she freaked out, said no, and you know what he did? He backed off, put his penis away, and made sure she was okay, and has never (to my knowledge) pressured or teased her about it in any way. And nobody got blamed for anything.

The factor in the second kind of these stories (university roomies) is, again, a sexual openness – it wasn’t the same level of sexual freedom, but several of the guys were volunteers with the Sexual Education Centre, and took a lot of pride in being knowledgeable about women and sex and generally not being assholes. I suppose they were as arrogant about it as any university students would be, but at least they got most things right. Playing strip foosball? No problem. It’s strip foosball, not foreplay. :P

Funny how neither one of those factors rests on denying women the opportunity to have fun as people…

Do you see the common factors? Do you see how certain cultural expectations within these groups were set? Funny what happens when we expect better of men, when we educate people that intoxication is not consent, that they should get consent before proceeding with sex, and if consent isn’t crystal-clear, don’t have sex.

Many naysayers have wanted to pretend we can’t have a world in which women are able to drink themselves under the table with the guys, and expect nothing worse than a hangover the next day. They’re wrong. We can educate kids and teens, and reinforce our expectations. Yes, we can’t stop every single human being from being a predator. But we can make it impossible for them to operate in a group. We can make it impossible for them to find cover for their boys-will-be-boys, hey-we-were-drunk-she-just-regrets-it excuses. In some spaces, that world is already here.

It’s not impossible. Just very hard work, and a will to do it. If you haven’t got that will, I suggest you stand aside and let us get to work.

Image shows an orange tabby kitten leaping off a couch, looking as if it's flying. Caption says, "I must go. My planet needs me."

Some Helpful Tips for Those Institutions Wishing to Avoid Sexism and/or Racism

My dear friend and fellow science blogger Anne Jefferson has an excellent post up about sexism and racism in the scientific community. It deserves to be read in its entirety. However, I know many of you movers and shakers are quite busy, so here are her helpful tips, which you might wish to put somewhere easy to find for those times when you might be close to injecting more sexist and/or racist dreck into the community.

So here’s a few simple tips for publishers, funders, and other institutions that have megaphones and amplifiers in the scientific community. If you are part of an organization that’s been caught out on issues of sexism and racism in the past, or you think there’s a possibility it could happen in the future, you might consider printing these tips out and pinning them to your colleague’s cubicles.

1) If you receive racist or sexist material for publication, DON’T PUBLISH IT. Throw it out. Shake your head, laugh about the backwardness of the writer with your colleagues, but DON’T PUBLISH IT. It doesn’t deserve your printed or virtual space, and it’s not “contributing to the conversation.”

2) If you woman and/or person of color is describing problems with racism, sexism, or harassment, assume that what they are saying is true and do not attempt to silence or gaslight them. This is a general rule, but because apparently it needs to be said. Even if, especially if, the women and/or people of color are part of your organization or are accusing your organization of racism, sexism, or harassment, you should let their voices be heard.

3) If your organization is responsible in any way for selecting which voices get heard in science (you know, like publishers, funders, and think tanks do), make sure that women and people of color get representation, and that when you do, that you don’t do with a side helping of victim blaming or condescension.

There you go. All you need to begin the process of keeping sexist and racist dreck out of our spaces. This is how you make the community better.

And now, you have absolutely no excuse for getting it wrong.

Originally published at Rosetta Stones.

Sponsor Jamila Bey, And She’ll Talk About All the Verboten Topics!

Let’s do something positive for public atheism: sponsor Jamila Bey! This sounds awesome:

“The Sex Politics And Religon Hour: SPAR with Jamila Show” considers all the topics one was never supposed to raise in polite company. It’s coming back as a podcast. You can be part of its glorious relaunch!”

Says it all, doesn’t it? If you want more information on the project, or want to pledge your support, visit her Beacon page. But do it fast – the fundraiser ends tomorrow!

Image shows Jamila Bey looking over her shoulder and grinning.

Photo of Jamila Bey from her G+ page.

This is the kind of thing we can throw our support to, with so many of the atheist orgs treating us like they can have their sexist bullshit and our dollars, too. Let’s support independent atheists who can put together the kind of media that will inspire whole new batches of freethinkers while feeding our own need for change:

We’ll discuss the more interesting things in our world and our lives. These shows and blog posts will investigate the role of race, gender, political affiliation and other alleged private beliefs and assumptions that bear upon the news and newsmakers.

If you can, please do go throw some funds Jamila’s way. Search for her videos on YouTube. And if you want to learn how to pronounce her name and get a taste of her merciless humor, watch this all the way through. (Just don’t come crying to me about how meaaan she is if you’re a Republican, cuz you earned every damn word.)

STEM’s Harassment Problem Goes Well Beyond Field Work

D.N. Lee has a post up at Scientific American that needs to be read right now. Here’s a pull quote, but read the entire thing. Now. No excuses.

I know the SAFE research focused on field research experiences – mostly abroad, away from home institution – but many women are getting harassed out of science before field research opportunities become available to them. You don’t have to go far away to experience this pain, and too many divert their research interests to lab spaces to avoid it. You don’t need a New York Times Op-Ed or Huffington Post published piece to hear these stories. Just listen to your students/academic advisees, especially the ones who may suddenly stop coming/going  to class or students who refuse to go to office hours to see certain instructors or those that flake out on attending after hours social events or if you notice several students en masse avoid a certain instructor or adviser or section of a class/lab offering.  These scholarly environments that indeed do exist, that the royal we have not proactively and deliberately made safe — this is not fair to them or science, either. I wager we are losing some great minds.

The SAFE study was the very first of its kind to document and comment on abuse within field research sciences. When news of this research first hit I remember many critics claiming it wasn’t comprehensive enough, more detailed questions should have been asked, *exact* details of unwanted encounters should have been parsed. Like any ‘first of its kind study’ those comprehensive details are not included. Moreover, I say demanding this amount of detail from subjects is unethical and unnecessary. I have a problem with how easily and quickly fellow scientists can be to harm human subjects because of  ‘for the good of science notion’. No, what more detail do you need? I’m mad that we needed data in the first place in order to have a conversation about doing something. If you or our institutions demand this much research, detail and investment before half-way committing to doing something to establishing safe places and spaces for people, then it means they aren’t really, really interested in creating these safe places/spaces. It shouldn’t matter how often or intense the abuse is or when a ‘not who we expected’ victim speaks up that people in power finally create safe places and spaces. Period.

That second paragraph should be horribly familiar to those of us who have been combating sexual assault and harassment in skeptic and atheist circles. That second paragraph needs to be thrust under the noses of every single person in any community who has been hand-waving away reports of problems. And the ones who continue to hand-wave are the ones we’ll know we need to cull from our spaces.

unacceptable

I have no tolerance left. I’m tired of waiting for people to clue in. Either you recognize there’s a problem with the way women and minorities are treated, or you don’t. If you recognize the problem, help us fix it. If you don’t, get the fuck out of our way.

And go read D.N. Lee’s piece until it finally sinks in: you should be doing something to end this shit right now. You should have started doing it long ago.

No more silence.

Image shows a puma with its paws crossed and its ears flattened, gazing at the camera as if disappointed and annoyed. Caption says, "We expect better of you than this."

Puma photo by Beatrice Murch via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

Another (Very Belated) Anniversary: Two Years Smoke-Free

I keep missing this particular anniversary not only because I’m crap at remembering things like birthdays and anniversaries and such, but because Chantix made it such a non-event. But it occurs to me that I’ve now been an ex-smoker for two years.

Part of me will always be a smoker.

Image shows me sitting on a Mexican hotel balcony, in a black straw hat and black Peacemakers tank top with their logo in blue rhinestones. I'm gazing off into the distance and lifting a cigarette to my mouth. Jesus, I was skinny - so skinny my stepmom thought I had an eating disorder. Nope, that was the smokes.

Moi in Mexico with cigarette, October 2005.

I loved that person, I’ll be honest. Sometimes, I miss me. I’m still me, only… different. Cigarettes were a crutch that hid a lot of anxiety, and with that fix gone, the anxiety came roaring forward. Sometimes, I wonder if I should go back to it. But that’s a fleeting temptation, especially now.

Don’t congratulate me on having the courage and strength to quit. Thank Chantix. I’d been smoking since I was eighteen, with one break of three years where I quit for someone else (don’t do that – you lose them, you get the cigarettes back – not a fantastic trade). I’d promised myself I’d only smoke so long as I didn’t have a smoker’s hack. Once I developed that, it was time to stop. In 2012, I began hacking most mornings, so I decided the time had come. I hied me off to the help center, where our great physician’s assistant wrote me a scrip for Chantix. I was one of the lucky ones who didn’t have bad side effects. The most violent dream I had was one where I was Batman and punched the Joker in the stomach, which I figured was justified and therefore not bad violence. I took the pills for a few weeks. I kept smoking. I smoked a bit less. And then, one day, I had half a cigarette, saved the other half for the next day… and never smoked it. That was in the middle of our Mount St. Helens trip.

I’ve been tempted a fair few times since, but not overwhelmingly so. Something about Chantix just sort of shut those receptors in my brain down. They don’t crave nicotine except in moments of extremely high stress. And then, it’s just for a moment. I think the craving is habit, really, rather than the sheer chemical need of physical addiction.

That’s why I’m saying, don’t congratulate me like I did something hard. I decided to quit, took a few pills, and just quit. It’s not like the epic battles others have fought. It feels like cheating. Hey, I’m happy to cheat – I know how addictive this shit is.

At first, my lungs had no idea what the fuck was going on, and struggled mightily with this untainted air they were expected to breathe all the time. That got better with time. I can’t say my lung capacity has increased since I was a smoker – I’m one of those genetic freaks whose lungs stayed pretty clear no matter how much tar I dumped in them. But the hack is gone, which has definitely made mornings more pleasant. My voice hasn’t changed much, but I don’t get hoarse as often.

When I first quit, I was hungry ALL THE DAMNED TIME. Not even kidding. It was like all those years of suppressing my appetite decided I owed them food right now. I’ve gained an amount of weight I’m ashamed to admit to, because my frame hides it fairly well and people hate me. I was scary-skinny before and my main ambition in life (outside of writing) was to gain some weight, so I can’t count that as a bad thing at all. Just, if you’re quitting, be forewarned: that weight gain and appetite increase stuff is absolutely true for a lot of us. Watch out. (If you’re in the Seattle area and need an exercise partner, let me know. We’ll go burn calories. My new ambition is to turn my food into muscles. I haven’t got many yet.)

I can now stay still and focused for very long periods of time. Needing a smoke used to propel me outdoors hourly. Now, I am only dictated to by my bladder. This is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I get a lot more stuff done. On the other, I don’t get as much exercise, and I don’t go outside as often, which means I miss things like meteors and animal antics. The fact I will now be able to fly cross-country without wanting to leap from the plane so I can slay the nicotine demon is a definite bonus, though. I’ll take it.

It’s only in the last few months I’ve been noticing some really odd changes. My sense of taste suddenly seems to have increased to an amazing degree. I mean, I could taste food and appreciate it before, but now it’s like a fireworks finale in my mouth. It’s like majoring in music, and hearing notes in symphonies I never suspected were there. I love it.

My sense of smell has also gotten way better. I’ve used the same dish soap for years, but couldn’t really smell it. All of a sudden, boom, there it is. It’s like, aha, that’s why people make a fuss about lavender. Okay. Alas, I’m more sensitive to all odors, including the ones left about the house by the elderly felid, but I’m coping.

I totally recommend quitting smoking just for the recovery of those two senses. They are marvelous.

On the whole, yeah, I’m glad I quit. I needed to quit. I can now funnel money into things like books and sewing projects (not to mention food), rather than burning it. I like the idea that quitting has increased my chances of not getting some terrible diseases.

I won’t go out preaching to the world that everyone should quit. You love your smoking? Fine by me. You want to quit? I’ve got pom-poms and will be in your cheering section. Do what you need for you.

But I’ll tell ya, if you want to quit and can tolerate Chantix, go for it. Easiest thing ever.

Image shows me sitting on water-smoothed slabs of granite, with the river rushing beside me.

Moi on the rocks in the Snoqualmie River. Look, Ma, no smokes!

“We Are Not Holding Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins to Some Impossible Standard”

Continuing the theme of expecting better, here’s Tony on standards and the possibility thereof:

As I started to compose this comment, I thought: we’re not asking much of people like Dawkins and Harris. That all people are asking is that they listen to what we’re saying. That they open themselves up to criticism and accept that they can be wrong. That they peel back their layers of privilege and recognize the signs of the internalized sexism they’ve carried with them their entire lives.

But then I thought:

Framing it that way appears as if this is an easy task.
I remember when I started confronting my biases. It *wasn’t* easy. I remember when I started seeing how women were treated. When I started listening to what women were saying. When I started recognizing the signs of sexism.
I was horrified.
It was everywhere.
I couldn’t escape it.
I couldn’t go to work and escape it.
I couldn’t go to a gay bar and escape it.
I couldn’t go to the movies or turn on the tv and escape it.
I saw it in the way people dressed.
I saw it in the way people acted.
I saw it in the way people spoke.
I saw it in the way people interacted.

One of the most striking moments for me came when I was sitting at a local gay bar and having a conversation with a friend. We were talking about effeminate gay men and drag queens and dating sites and more. This was maybe 2 years ago. I’d accepted that feminism was a worthy cause and was becoming comfortable calling myself one. But I was still in the process of understanding the sexist views I had.

Well one of those sexist views up and slapped me across the head right then and there.

I realized as my friend and I spoke, that all those people talking about how they won’t date a “girly gay man”…
•or those times when I said that phrase, followed by “I want to date a man bc he’s a man. I don’t want a date a man who acts like a girl”…
•or those people who put at the top of the Adam4Adam, Manhunt, or Grindr profile “not interested in nellie men, only want masculine men”
…I realized then and there that we…I…was trapped in thinking about gender in very rigid terms. I realized that I thought “men are supposed to be this way, and women are supposed to be this way”. I thought that any deviation from that was wrong. I thought that there was something wrong with a man acting like a woman, or having traits or characteristics typically associated with women. I realized how deep sexism ran. It runs so deep it affects how we view ourselves, as well as the people around us. It shapes our opinions of our friends, our family, our coworkers, even strangers.
It.
Runs.
Deep.

Reflecting on that, I realize now, that we *are* asking for a lot from Dawkins and Harris.

But you know what?
We’re not asking the impossible.

[snip]

I…We are not holding Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins to some impossible standard. We’re holding them to same standard we hold ourselves and others to. They continue to fail to measure up to that standard.

One day I hope they’ll recognize what they’re doing and dig deep…deep into their core and realize that they have some shit to come to terms with. I hope they do this because not believing in gods is NOT. FUCKING. ENOUGH.

Read the whole thing.

Image shows a black kitten poking its head up over a fence with big, eager eyes. Caption reads, "K, I not beweive in any gawds. Nao wut?"

Adorable kitten photo by Tony Alter via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

And for those who haven’t done the hard work yet: yes, it sucks. What Tony said up there about confronting biases, and recognizing sexism, and being horrified because it’s bloody everywhere? That’s truth. It is horrible, especially when you realize you’re not exempt. I’ve been there and go through that daily: finding new pockets of sexism left by a lifetime living in this sexist culture, and having to scrape them out of myself. It’s like having an infection in your jawbone, and every time you think it’s gone, it comes back, or your hygienist finds yet another bit of it that has to be tediously and painfully scraped out. It’s not fun. It’s not pleasant. But ignoring it doesn’t make the problem go away: it makes it worse.

Getting over gods is a great start, but it’s only a beginning. Once the gods are gone, we’re left with people, and civilization, and all of the imperfections that plague both. I’m sorry, but losing religion doesn’t mean all problems are solved. Religion amplifies some of our worst qualities, but those are still human qualities, and they remain once religion is gone.

I used to think it would be easier to fix things like sexism and homophobia and racism once religion was gone. But looking at how so many of our atheist celebrities and their fans have reacted to even the most mild requests to please not make sexist assumptions or do sexist things, I’ve realized it can actually be harder. The men (and some women) who have let go of gods seem so assured of their own rightness that they refuse to listen to the people affected by their words and actions. They sneer at the evidence presented, although they pretend that evidence is important to them. They don’t question their assumptions. They don’t do the hard work, but worse, don’t believe they need to. They got what they feel is the most important question right. They coast on that. And when people don’t go along for the ride, they get pissed.

Having gone from oblivious asshole to painfully aware, I’m not willing to cut them any slack. If a headstrong peon like myself can do the hard work, the lofty intellects at the top are certainly capable of the same. Let’s demand they do it.

Image shows a puma with its paws crossed and its ears flattened, gazing at the camera as if disappointed and annoyed. Caption says, "We expect better of you than this."

Puma photo by Beatrice Murch via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

Why It Matters

I shall now shamelessly filch a bit of Ophelia’s pointed post, and Quote it For Truth. I ask that all the people who, now or in the future, wish to whine about how we’re so mean and if we don’t like it just ignore it, please pay attention. We can’t ignore big-name atheists when they indulge in this shit.

Ok wait a second, a partisan of the Dawkins-Coyne faction might say here. Hold on. Why have people been documenting the things Dawkins types? It’s just because you’re looking for fodder for click-bait, right? Right?

No. It’s because Dawkins matters. It’s because he’s not just some random atheist; he’s the most un-random atheist we’ve got. He is by far the most famous recognizable celebrity-like person in the Anglophone atheist movement. (Anglophone, please note. Michael Nugent keeps complaining that global atheism isn’t American atheism, as if we obnoxious Yanks had been pretending otherwise. No, of course it’s not. I’m talking about Anglophone atheism here.) Now an atheist celebrity isn’t a real celebrity by the usual standards; Dawkins isn’t a movie star or rock star or basketball star; but he is a celeb in this particular niche. He’s the celeb.

As such, he does a lot to set the tone of said atheist movement.

That tone sucks.

We – we naughty critics, we bad people who keep documenting what Dawkins says on Twitter – we would like to have a better atheist movement with a less sucky tone. We would like to have an atheist movement that’s not sometimes absent-mindedly and sometimes determinedly contemptuous of women. We think it would help if Dawkins set a better tone.

Or at least I do. I think the others do too; I think that’s basically why any of us do this; but I haven’t polled them and I don’t know that they would word it this way.
But I’m pretty sure that’s the gist of it. The atheist movement is way too riddled with casual sexism, and Dawkins has done a lot to make it that way, and we would like him to stop doing that and do the opposite instead.

I’m one of those others. That’s my motivation in a nutshell. So that’s at least two of us. I’ll eventually have a longer post up explaining why I take off after atheist leaders doing sexist (and other awful) things, but that’s the basics. We expect better, and we need them to do better, and they’re never going to if lots of people don’t demand better.

Image shows a puma with its paws crossed and its ears flattened, gazing at the camera as if disappointed and annoyed. Caption says, "We expect better of you than this."

Puma photo by Beatrice Murch via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

Sexism Starts Early and Is Reinforced Often: STEM Edition

Listen up, everyone who likes to babble about innate differences between the sexes (especially you, Sam Harris). Listen to Libby Anne, whose daughter Sally loves science. Listen to the story of Sally drawing equations on her dad’s office chalkboard, and a science colleague dude walking in, and asking a little girl who’s enthusiastically writing numbers-

(No, he didn’t ask her about her math stuff. Don’t be silly! Everybody knows girls don’t math, even when they’re happily scribbling numbers.)

(No, you weirdo, he didn’t ask her if she likes science. Of course not! Her dad and her two year-old brother can like science, but even if she’s doing sciencey stuff all on her own, that’s obviously not what she likes, because girls don’t science.)

(No, of course he didn’t ask what she was doing! She was obviously just doodling. It didn’t mean anything. Numbers don’t mean things to girls, duh.)

No, of course he asked her the only rational thing you could ask a girl who’s playing with numbers on a chalkboard:

“What’s your favorite princess?”

Image is an angry troll face with red eyes. Background has the letters FFFFFUUUU repeated in red.

Because that’s not reinforcing sexist stereotypes at all.

Libby Anne spoke to the gentleman about it, and you’ll be relieved to know he’s totes aware that women are under-represented in STEM fields, it’s just that his nieces like princesses, so of course that’s what you ask little girls who are playing with math about.

Then, y’know, when those little girls tell you they haven’t got a favorite princess, but they adore science, of course it’s fine to walk out while they’re in the midst of sharing that love, because you’re probably busy and don’t have a moment to listen to miniature females talk about science. She’s supposed to have a favorite princess, anyway, amirite, guys?

Image shows Puss in-Boots from Shrek holding something in his paw, with his mouth open in an angry O. Caption says, "You see this? You see this shit!"

Libby Anne has a message for us:

Many little girls are into princesses, yes, and that’s fine. But but others prefer legos, or art, or My Little Ponies—or science. I want a world where girls are treated as individuals first, a world where girls are allowed to fill in the blanks in their own stories. Is it so hard to ask a girl her interests instead of assuming them for her?

My son Bobby is two, and I’m interested to hear what people say to him as he grows so that I can compare. What do people lead off with with five-year-old boys? It will be gendered as well, I’m sure, and that’s the problem—this is part of the process of socializing children into specific gender roles. Girls are assumed to like sweet sparkly pretty girly things and boys are assumed to like strong manly messy boy things. And then we do studies on psychological differences between men and women or differences in occupational choice as though these things are wholly natural rather than largely the product of relentless cultural shaping during childhood.

Can we please stop doing this shit? It’s 20fucking14. Isn’t it time to stop shoving little kids into gendered boxes and let them love what they love? Can’t we please encourage kids to figure out for themselves what floats their boat?

And if you engage in stupid oblivious sexist shit like the above dude, you really need to take another look at your assumptions, and consider that your thoughtless actions are a major reason why women and men turn out differently. Hint: it ain’t all biology.

/rant. Sod this for a lark. I need a vat of tequila and a truckload of limes, now, please.

 

 

 

Attention Coyne, Dawkins, and Harris: You Are Part of the Problem

I’d like to ask a favor of anyone who can manage to get a critical viewpoint through the defenses of atheist celebrities like Harris and Dawkins: please get them to read Libby Anne’s infuriating and heartbreaking post, Do They Care about Women, or Simply Bashing Religion? Because it’s a question they need to address. They’re driving people like Libby Anne away from movement atheism. That is very much to the detriment of the movement.

Libby is one of the best atheist bloggers out there. I don’t always agree with her, but I have to put careful thought into why when that happens, because she’s a lot smarter and more thoughtful than I am. She emerged from the Christian patriarchy/Quiverfull culture, so she has insights into the extremes of fundamentalist Christianity that are invaluable. I’d not be blogging about Christianist textbooks or aware of the plight of kids trapped in that awful bubble if it wasn’t for her. She’s also my go-to person for showing that there are better ways to parent than hitting your children. She’s made me aware of just how relentlessly even mainstream culture genders kids, well before they’re old enough to even have a concept of themselves as boy or girl or something else. She’s worth a thousand Richard Dawkinses or Sam Harrises to me. She could be a tremendous asset to any atheist organization.

She could, but movement atheism is too busy patronizing women and making sure we all get the impression that we’re only of use to our Fearless Leaders™ when we’re being used as a cudgel against religion, and she wants none of that.

It is men like these who confirm my decision not to engage in movement atheism. Despite their claims, I don’t see them displaying a greater willingness to question their biases or engage in critical thinking. Frankly, I have felt for some time that atheist activists are frequently only willing to call out sexism when they see it in religion. It’s one more way they can point to how thoroughly horrible religion is as they call for its demise. But the moment an atheist woman says she has encountered sexism at atheist conventions or at atheist gatherings, she is lampooned and derided, called all manner of names and even threatened with rape or death. But isn’t this the kind of thing these same atheists criticize religion for?

Frankly, I feel used. These atheist activists are the sort of people who want to use my story as proof that religion is horrible to women but aren’t willing to listen to what I have to say about sexism in our culture at large. They are the sort of people who are eager to use the shooting of young education activist Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban to prove how horrible religion is for women but somehow fail to mention that Malala is a Muslim who speaks of drawing her inspiration to fight for gender equality from the Koran. This is not standing up for women. This is exploiting women as merely a tool in a fight against religion.

You know what, atheist dudes? Women are smart enough to see what you’re doing there, even if you’re not willing to remove your own blinders.

Image shows two cats in a box with their chins on the edge, looking toward the camera. Caption says, "We see what you did there."

We can tell when you don’t genuinely give a shit about us, and are only using us as a weapon against someone or something else. You think you’re amazing allies, because wow are you so brainy, and you say such wonderful things about how wrong those religious practices that fuck over women are, but when it comes to treating the women within your own movement better? You shriek and whine and shit all over us. You use the plight of those religious women against us, as if this is either/or, as if we cannot address sexism within western secular spaces until we’ve destroyed all the religion.

Bullshit.

You need to start paying attention to the women who are telling you they are not yours to use. People like Hiba. Her comment on Libby Anne’s post needs to be etched onto atheist leader dude’s mirrors, where they’re forced to read the words every day, until they get it:

Ex-Muslim woman of color here. I blog about this stuff over at the Freethought Blogs. Your words are affirming. I too, feel used. Especially when the plights of women like me–women raised in Muslim-majority countries, forced to cover, controlled and abused by militant Islamist organizations and individuals–are appropriated and used to bolster anti-feminism in the West, to minimize battles against harassment and unequal representation. I refuse to have my story used to attack and demean other women. I refuse to have my story used as a talking point for hypocritical anti-theists.

I seem to recall men looking round the atheist movement a few years ago and wondering where the women are. We’re right here, either outside the movement or heading for the doors, because we tried to come in, but you made the place so hostile many of us said fuck all y’all and walked out.

You, white male atheists who spend so much time screaming you’re not sexist that you can’t acknowledge when you’ve done sexist things and bloody well stop, are causing women to stomp out in disgust. Then you’re blaming us for not wanting to put up with your shit. It’s well past time you cut your pride down to size, swallowed some of it, and listened to what women are saying to you. Women like Hiba, and Libby Anne, and so very many others who’ve had it.

You want a strong, united movement? Then fix the problems you’ve caused. Until you do, I’ll just be hanging out here on this side of the Deep Rifts with the people who give an actual shit about women. I’d rather spend my time with those who are working their asses off to make themselves and our spaces better, not just for women, but people of color, LGBTQ folk, and a lot of other people you’ve trampled all over.

You can either join us over here, or enjoy your rabble of merry misogynists and your increasing irrelevance. It’s completely up to you.

Image is a black and white photo of two women at the rim of the Grand Canyon early in the 20th century. One is holding the back of the other's dress as she looks into the chasm. Caption says, "Yes, it's a very Deep Rift, but it definitely could get deeper."