Someone sent me an email with regard to the timeline I had put together of harassment reports in the secular / skeptical / atheist communities, and it came at a very good moment for me. Just when I was feeling the strain of the sisyphean task of combatting harassment in a community that would rather we have a “big tent” that includes the harassers, this email came to bolster my spirits.
I got permission to republish excerpts in hopes that it helps you too.
I wanted to say thank you for the work you’re doing, because no matter what I say, I will never be taken seriously when I talk about sexual harassment in geek space- because I’m a woman. It’s doubly hard for me now, because my daughter is old enough to start being interested in going to various conventions in geek culture.
The second I say anything, no matter how mild, I’m instantly going to be viciously attacked. I’m moderately used to the nastyness, but I’m completely unwilling to subject my 13 year old child to that sort of crap.
I deeply hope that the skeptic community pulls their heads out of their butts and starts to realize that they need to treat women as people, and that some members of the community are predatory. It’s really no difference than making sure that someone known for pick pocketing at conventions isn’t completely welcome, and their actions aren’t glossed over. It’s a minority of men who act inappropriately, but when they’re treated like a protected class, it’s never going to get better.
I haven’t gone to a con in years, because of exactly this sort of nonsense, and it’s sad I can’t take my kid. I’m cheering for you. Sad to say, but the only ones who can change the culture are the men who notice there’s a problem and don’t instantly start calling any women who says anything an ugly whore who deserves to be raped- for something even as minor as politely asking someone to stop touching their butt, or suggesting that’s not what one does in polite society.
I just want to be treated with respect, and politely, and as a person before I am treated as a representative of my gender. I never used to think it was all that much to ask, but…
Ah, well. Thanks for what you’re doing, I appreciate it.
From what I can tell, the communities have this problem because of a serious entrenchment and enshrinement of entitlement. That’s what you get when you found a movement on the libertarian ideals of don’t-regulate-anything and equality-by-fiat.
I asked for permission to publish this letter to share with the rest of you, in case it helps to know you’re not alone in this fight. This opened the floodgates — just having someone to open up to, was enough to prompt an evident catharsis for this woman.
I’m glad the letter had good timing. I understand completely feeling beaten down by the culture, I was in IT for over a decade and left a career I loved because I got completely ground down fighting this shit. I was told, in a meeting filled with C-level executives, that my opinion didn’t matter because girls can’t do math. By the CEO of a hundred million dollar freaking company. No one said a thing.
By the way, the math I couldn’t do? 3*8. I had, actually, gotten it right. :/
So, because of this sort of crap, and the insistence from everyone (that honestly, I used to share) that sexual harassment was sort of an artifact from the past, finally made me give up. I knew that no matter how good I was or how hard I worked, that I would NEVER be able to rise in these organizations, and a lot of my past made a lot more sense. It only takes one dudebro in your chain of command to stop your carreer progress dead in it’s tracks.
She goes on:
I know how hard it is not to let the bastards grind you down, and how scary the attacks can be, but please, don’t ever give up. You can help fix this in ways I will never be allowed to, and not enough guys realize just how fucked up and bad it is.
If we have a voice already in a community that isn’t even willing to admit it’s systemically oppressing some voices, it is a humanist imperative that we use our voice to help the oppressed. In any conversation about oppression, the oppressed should be doing most of the talking, even if that means you have to loan them your voice to balance things appropriately.
In the secular community, people who’ve otherwise experienced no oppression whatsoever consider the oppression that they experience at the hands of religious privilege to be the only problem that rustles their jimmies. Those of us who recognize and empathize with other folks’ fights might actually realize that there are enough problems in this world that a “big tent” that comprises all atheists will actually put both the oppressed and the oppressors from another axis of privilege together; and in almost every case, since religious privilege is pernicious but does not actually result in any abrogations of atheist rights in western society, those other axes might actually be more important. It’s wholly understandable and wholly believable if atheist women might chafe at the idea of atheist harassers or atheist libertarians or atheist Republicans being in the same tent as them, even where both experience the negative effects of religious privilege.
It’s not only us self-proclaimed freethinkers who are dogged by societally-imparted and unquestioned sexism, of course, but rather just about any “nerd culture”:
There’s only one comic book and gaming shop I can take my daughter to, because if I get shit for reading comic books while female, the level of nastiness sent my kids way could completely turn her off to one of the coolest things I’ve got in my life. It didn’t matter as much when she was 8, even the worst of the nasty nerds aren’t going to attack a child without their fellow nerds figuring out That Is Fucked Up And Shouldn’t Happen, but since the booby fairy showed up and she looks older than she is, it started.
And the script that double-victimizes women victims of harassment wouldn’t come into play if every other circumstance was identical except for the age and gender of the victim:
If a 12 year old boy complained of getting groped and harrased at a convention, do you think he’d get death and rape threats? I can’t see it happening. So why is it culturally OK for so many men to do the same thing when a woman complains of a sexual predator?
These questions are excellent ones, but I’ll frame it all differently. Why is a movement of freethinkers so protective of its societally-prescribed gender role dogmas, so protective of its cruel and anti-humanist sentiments, of its laissez-faire method of dealing with entrenched societal mores?
You cannot change society unless you question the pernicious and damaging aspects of it. While religion is in fact one of the biggest ways society empowers sexism, the sexism underlying it remains even as you eliminate the gods that ostensibly ordained society to be built that way. That means that the godless are no more enlightened on sexism solely by virtue of eliminating religion.
We have to keep questioning. Atheism is not enough — it’s only a start. This email is proof that we’re having a positive effect, even if that effect is often hard to see under the din of the folks who’d rather we all have free license to harass one another with impunity.