Dream diary, 1/11/12: Christopher Hitchens at Tufts

I dreamed that Christopher Hitchens was teaching philosophy at Tufts, and that I had moved across the country to take his classes. I liked his first class — but most of the dream was taken up with frustration and annoyance at having to live in a dorm again, getting lost on a confusing campus, and vague bafflement at myself for having decided to become an undergrad again.

I woke up remembering that Christopher Hitchens was dead, and wondering if my dream-brain had been mixing him up with Daniel Dennett.

Welcome Mano Singham to Freethought Blogs!

Mano SinghamWe are very fortune to have Mano Singham join the Borg Collective, also known as the Freethought Blogs network! Here’s what he has to say for himself:

I am a theoretical physicist and currently Director of UCITE (University Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education) at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. I am the author of three books: God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom (2009), The Achievement Gap in US Education: Canaries in the Mine (2005), and Quest for Truth: Scientific Progress and Religious Beliefs (2000).

What was it Tom Lehrer said? It’s people like that who make you realize how little you’ve accomplished. :-) Please welcome him to the family, and go say Howdy!

D.J. Grothe Replies… and I Reply Back

JREF President D.J. Grothe has responded in the comments to my previous post, in which I expressed serious concerns about his responses to sexist and misogynistic behavior in the atheist/ skeptical community, and his attitudes towards bloggers who point it out. In that comment, he expressed concern that his comment might be overlooked. So I’m posting it here, with my responses.

But I want to say this first: I fucking hate this. There are about twenty million other topics I’d rather be writing about right now. (I haven’t even done my Project Runway: All-Stars recap, and I haven’t blogged about our kittens in way too long.) And despite the accusations that D.J. has made, I’m not writing this to generate controversy and draw traffic. In fact, I strongly suspect that most people are sick of this now, and that this will be among my less-widely-read pieces.

But I think this is important. I think it’s important to speak out against sexist behavior, and defenses and justifications of sexist behavior — especially when it’s exhibited by a prominent leader. I hope I make it clear throughout this piece why I think it’s important, but I’ll spell the crux of it out right here at the outset:

When people don’t speak out about sexism and misogyny, it creates a climate in which sexism and misogyny flourish. When people do speak out about sexism and misogyny, it creates a climate in which sexism and misogyny wither. Like it or not, D.J. Grothe and other leaders set a tone: if D.J. is setting a tone of excusing and rationalizing misogynistic threats of violence, and of impugning the motivations of people who call him on it, that fosters an environment where it’s seen to be okay. That’s important.

So here we go. [Read more...]

Two Questions for DJ Grothe

UPDATE: D.J. Grothe has replied to this post in the comments, and has requested that I link to that response here in the original post. I will respond as soon as possible; it may not be until tomorrow.

I have two questions for JREF President D.J. Grothe. They’re questions that I find unsettling and upsetting to even consider, questions I wouldn’t have thought I’d have to ask a leader of a major organization in this movement. But I’ve been reading some things Grothe has been saying recently… and apparently, I have to ask.

Question #1: Do you really think there is any context in which making threats of gender-based, sexualized violence — towards a person of any gender, but especially towards a female writer and her readers — can be justified?

Question #2: Do you really think that feminist bloggers in the atheist/ skeptical movements are writing about sexism and misogyny, and pointing out examples of it in our communities, primarily so we can manufacture controversy and draw traffic?

I would like to think that the answers to both questions is an obvious and resounding “No.” D.J. and I have had some differences, but we’ve also had a largely cordial and even friendly professional relationship. I know he thinks of himself as an ally in the effort to make the atheist/ skeptical movements more welcoming to women. And I know that he takes pride — justifiably so — in, among other things, drawing more women to TAM, both as speakers and attendees.

But I’ve been following the discussion on Almost Diamonds about him, and about an apparent pattern he has of defending sexist language and behavior in the atheist/ skeptical communities. I’ve been reading the things he himself has been saying in this conversation. And I am extremely distressed to realize that the answers to both these questions appears to be, “Yes.” [Read more...]

Fashion Friday: Black Patterned Stockings

memoi_damask_stockingI’ve been thinking a lot lately about ways to be sexy and still be age-appropriate. (A larger topic I’ve written about before, and one I’m planning to write more about soon.) And one of the strategies I’ve come up with is black patterned stockings.

For years, if I was putting together an outfit and wanted to call attention to my legs, I did it with colored and colorfully-patterned tights. But now that I’m getting older, that seems too youthful for me. I still wear them if only a few inches show between the top of my boots and the bottom of my skirt — that can give a nice splash of color and vibrancy without being heavy-handed — but a full-length leg with planets or clouds, with bright green or bright blue, just doesn’t seem age-appropriate anymore.

Black patterned stockings are another story.

Black patterned stockings are sexy, and at the same time they’re elegant. They call attention to your legs, but in a way that’s not flashy. They’re subtle, sophisticated, graceful. (Depending on the style, of course. I have seen some tacky ones.) But at the same time, they exude swanky, womanly, glamorous sex appeal. That balance between sex and elegance is often what I’m going for these days, and black patterned stockings can be a good way to get there. They also give me a lot of options — I can go for a more swirly pattern if I’m feeling fluid and feminine, an angular pattern if I’m feeling more snappy and sharp, darker patterned tights if I’m feeling more subtle, patterned fishnets if I just want to fucking well go for it.

And — very importantly for me these days — they don’t specifically say “youth.”

Colored and colorfully-patterned tights say a lot of things that I very much want to say: cheerful, playful, exuberant, joyful. But I think they also say “youthful.” And I don’t want to say “youthful” with my style any more. I want to say “middle-aged woman who’s comfortable with her age and loves her body.” So I need to find other ways to be cheerful and playful and exuberant and joyful in my clothing. I need to let my legs tell another story.

And black patterned stockings have been telling a good one.

(P.S.: Very fine-meshed fishnets can accomplish much the same effect. From a distance, they look like good-quality pantyhose, and people don’t even notice that they’re fishnets until they’re up close.)

I’m Number Two! I’m Number Two!

I can’t remember another time in my life when I was as honored to come in second.

Jen McCreight as Blag Hag recently did a reader poll for their nominations for Most Influential Female Atheist of 2011. And I came in at Number Two! A fairly distant number two, well behind the landslide winner: Rebecca Watson.

Rebecca WatsonAnd I heartily applaud this decision. In fact, I voted for Watson myself. (Voters could pick as many candidates as they liked: I voted for Watson and Jessica Ahlquist.) Watson did far more for atheism than simply point out an example of moderately creepy behavior and say, “Guys, don’t do that.” She also persevered through the horrible, hateful, venomous shitstorm that resulted, and used it as an opportunity to educate people about sexism and misogyny in the atheist community — despite enormous pressure on her to back off, including hideous threats of violence. In 2011, sexism and misogyny has come to the front burner in our community, and many, many people are now much more informed about it — largely as a result of Watson’s work. (I can’t count the number of emails and comments I’ve gotten from men who responded to Elevatorgate with, “Oh, I get it now.”) To quote Jen, “I don’t think Rebecca knew quite what she was getting into when she made that initial benign comment, but her perseverance through the resulting shitstorm was amazing. She exposed the reality of sexism in the atheist and skeptical movement, alerting people to the problem and inspiring social change.” I am totally proud to be left in her dust.

And in fact, I am totally proud to be on this list at all. Because I’m in incredibly awesome company. Others on this list include Jessica Ahlquist, Maryam Namazie, Natalie Reed, Ophelia Benson, Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Amanda Marcotte, and the women of the Godless Bitches Podcast. If anyone tries to tell you that atheist women aren’t getting recognition because there just aren’t any who have done awesome thing, point them at this list, and then laught in their face.

Oh, and I hope I don’t have to explain why we need a separate form of recognition for female atheists. But for those who might just be joining this blog and haven’t gotten the memo yet, here’s Jen’s explanation:

Why bother with a women-only poll? Because despite their accomplishes, women are still frequently overlooked when we acknowledge people in the atheist movement. I originally started this informal award because of end of the year “Top Atheist” lists that always seemed to exclude women. We’re certainly getting better: the gender ratio at cons is getting less skewed for attendees and speakers, and women’s issues are gaining more and more attention in the movement. But there’s still room for improvement. The main public figures of atheism are predominantly men, and calling out blatantly obvious issues of sexism results in the internet exploding (not to mention, you know, rape and death threats). And yet again, end of the year round-ups forget that women exist.

So congratulations to Rebecca for a well-deserved landslide win. Congratulations to all the other women — on this list or not — who have worked so hard for the atheist community and the atheist movement. And, lest I forget… congratulations to MEEEEEE!

What Do You Say to Grieving Non-Believers? A Reader Query

I want to write a piece for AlterNet about godless/ secular grieving, and I’m asking for help from readers.

The piece I want to write is tentatively titled, “What Do You Say to Grieving Non-Believers?”. The gist: A lot of religious and spiritual believers find themselves stymied when the non-believers in their lives are grieving. The comforts and consolations they’re used to offering and that they rely on themselves — “they’re smiling down on you,” “you’ll see them in the afterlife,” “it’s all part of a plan,” etc. — obviously don’t help with atheists and other non-believers. At best they’re useless; at worst, they’re actually upsetting. But people often don’t know what to say instead. And even some non-believers have a hard time knowing what to say to the grieving non-believers in their life, since they’ve often been brought up in religion, and have been brought up framing death and grief in religious terms.

So what, specifically, can people say — or do — to comfort and console the non-believers in their lives who are grieving? What words or actions have actually helped you? (And what shouldn’t people say? I’m not going to focus on that as much in this piece, but I’m probably going to get into it somewhat.)

You can reply in comments here; or, if you prefer, you can reply privately, by emailing me at greta (at) gretachristina (dot) com. Please let me know if you want your quotes to be attributed by full name, first name only, or with a pseudonym. (If you don’t say otherwise, I’ll quote people by first name only.) You can also request that details of your
story be changed to protect your identity — if you do make this request, please tell me which details you want changed and how.

And in the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that comment threads on AlterNet are often not kind, especially in posts about atheism. Even in posts that you’d think would be received with some civility — such as posts about grief — commenters there can sometimes be very ugly. So please be prepared for that when/ if you decide to contribute.

I hope this piece can help shift attitudes about grief among non-believers, and can make things easier for some of us. Thanks for your help.

Christopher Hitchens’ Brother: Atheists Reject Religion So They Can Be Decadent

atheist cartoonI wish I was kidding.

I’m no longer surprised when religious believers say that atheists just want to be atheists so we can live a decadent, sybaritic, selfish life with no morality. I’ve heard it way, way too many times now.

I was, however, surprised — and saddened — to hear it said by Christopher Hitchens’ brother, Peter.

In an ongoing exchange at the excellent Daylight Atheism blog, Adam Lee has been debating with Peter Hitchens about religion in general, and about the necessity of religion for morality in particular. The whole exchange is well worth following — but what jumped out at me was this comment by P. Hitchens:

An atheist in a society still governed by the Christian moral law has great personal advantages. The almost universal idea among the college-educated young, a sort of crude J.S.Mill belief that ‘nobody has the right to tell me what to do’ is a very powerful force in modern western societies, excusing as it does a great deal of sexual promiscuity and drug-taking which do immense damage and create huge unhappiness, for which those responsible often do not even realise they are to blame.

Yeah. See, here’s the problem with that. [Read more...]

Tokenism Is Not Inclusivity

When a list of Top Five atheists doesn’t include any women, you’ve got a problem.

When a list of Top Five atheists doesn’t include any women — and the creator of the list says it’s because he didn’t want to include any “tokens” — you’ve got a bigger problem.

You may have seen the Atheist of the Year contest at the Examiner, created by Staks Rosch of Dangerous Talk. There’s been a fair amount of discussion about it, largely because — in a year when discussions and debates and controversies about sexism have dominated the atheist community — there was not one woman on the list. Rosch has been widely criticized for this… but instead of simply acknowledging that this was a problem and promising to do better in the future, he’s decided to double down. He’s defending his decision: saying that he considered some women for inclusion in the list, but he didn’t deem any of them worthy, and he didn’t want to include one just to have a “token.”

A token.

His word. Used eight times, in a 677-word post. Ten, if you count the title, “Tokens or No Tokens.”

Are you fucking kidding me?

Ophelia Benson has issued a masterful takedown of this whole “token” idea, and exactly why it is so grotesquely insulting. Awesome pull quotes:

Doesn’t everybody know by now that it’s a tad insulting to attach the words “a token” to the words “black” and “female” automatically like that, as if it were simply obvious and universally acknowledged that a black and a woman couldn’t possibly be qualified?

Or to put it another way…what a rude dismissive contemptuous entitled thing to say. Newsflash: it is not the case that there are no black atheists or female atheists or black female atheists who are good enough to be nominated as Atheist of the Year. It is not the case that any black or woman so nominated would be a worthless talented zero who was nominated solely as a “token” of good will. It is the case that implying otherwise is deliberately insulting.

What infuriates me even more about this whole thing is that Rosch is citing me as a supporter of “tokenism.” I shit you not. Quote, from his recent post defending his decision:

In the comments section [at Blag Hag], Greta Christina made a case for the token nominee and that is something I will have to consider next year.

Shame on you, Staks.

At no point did I advocate making a “token nominee.” What I advocated for was taking gender into account when considering your nominees. That is absolutely not the same as making a “token nominee.” “Token” implies that the nominee is not actually qualified, but is being included solely for their gender (or race, sexual orientation, etc.). Here, exactly, is how the Blag Hag exchange you’re referring to took place:

You:

My question I guess to the female community, is would you rather I had taken gender more into account or remained gender neutral and let the chips fall where they may? I seriously would like to know.

Me:

DangerousTalk: Take gender into account. Because — among many other reasons — there is virtually no way that you can genuinely be gender neutral. We are all influenced, even if unconsciously, by sexism, including the tendency to see what men do as more serious and important than what women do. And as a result, women don’t get promoted as serious participants in society… and as a result of that, we don’t see what women do as serious… If we don’t make a conscious effort to be more inclusive of women, this vicious circle will continue forever. So please, yes, in the future, make an effort to be inclusive of women and to promote their work.

(Ditto people of color, LGBT people, etc.)

Tokenism is not inclusivity. Inclusivity means (okay, gross oversimplification here) being aware of your own biases (conscious and unconscious), and being aware of the biases of the culture you live in (conscious and unconscious), and being aware of how these biases become self-fulfilling prophecies, and making a conscious, pro-active effort to overcome them. Tokenism means patronizingly including one member of the marginalized group in question, without regard to qualifications, and without any real attempt to make deep-rooted change either in yourself or in society.

Shame on you for equating them.