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“It’s sad I can’t take my kid”

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.

Comments

  1. Scr... Archivist says

    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.

    And this is one reason the screamers and whiners fight so hard against the other “disloyal” men who have been pointing out these problems. Observant and compassionate men have a role to play in this change, and the self-satisfied don’t want them to break ranks.

  2. hjhornbeck says

    Scr… Archivist @1:

    And this is one reason why the screamers and whiners fight so hard against the other “disloyal” men who have been pointing out these problems.

    The greatest threat to the True Believer is not the non-believer, but the apostate. The non-believer may simply not know any better, while the apostate did know but was swayed by the evidence. The former are potential converts and allies; the latter, a sign your worldview may not be sound.

    Feminist men probably bought into sexist views at some point, but later rejected them. That marks them as apostates.

    Thibeault:

    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.

    I’ve got a different but similar view. I never realized this until recently, but the secular/atheist community is a “safe space” for some people. After dealing with religious believers cramming their ideas down your throat, or just blindly assuming you share their views, it must be marvelous to drop into this community and vent to a sympathetic crowd. You can say what you think! You can disagree with people!

    Unless it comes to gender, that is. Rather than provide a place for relief, we’ve switched one sort of toxic bullshit for another. Those searching for a safe space will simply look elsewhere, prefering to hang out with liberal believers instead, leaving only those who don’t come here for a safe space or those that agree with the sexism. To call me a bit player here is hyperbole, yet even lowly I have heard women mention they don’t participate because of the toxic online culture.

    I’ve also had women thank me for being a feminist and pushing back. My goal is not to get more of those thanks, but to get less. Why should I be thanked for treating people like human beings?

  3. AnotherAnonymouse says

    This makes me really sad to read. As a teenage girl in the 1980s, I went to Star Trek conventions (the only kind around us back then) with my best (girl) friend. We’d go several times a year because we lived within commuting distance of several major cities. We used to hop on the train or hop in the car and be gone all day, and our parents never worried about us. I remember having some really fun, geeky conversations with other Star Trek fans, and I never felt harassed or hit-upon. We were both female-looking, so it wasn’t that we were mistaken for boys. I’m sad that it’s not that way anymore. I’m infuriated the women and girls don’t feel safe (because often they’re not).

  4. says

    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.

    Not, seemingly, to many white cismale atheists, who seem to like throwing around vague buzzword “points of agreement” with conservatives that only hold up because of how vague they are, or else throw around stuff about “tribalism” and “labels” that serve as dog-whistles for the ever-feared “identity politics”, or just claim that for some fucking reason we need the bigots for “balance” because empowerment is “too much, too soon” or some damn thing. Either way, they act like conservatives are still potential allies by ignoring the actual substance of conservative policy., and then extrapolate from that to accuse those of us not comfortable with conservatives of utter ridiculousness beyond all common sense.

    The most they will do, usually, is acknowledge the existence of the Tea Party and theocrats…and then proceed to Other the shit out of those groups and claim that there are still “reasonable” conservatives hiding out in some dark corner with an invisibility cloak on, using those conservatives’ “civil” language as a get-out-of-bigotry-free card regardless of what actual policy they support (and usually using some excuse like “Tea Party primary” as the reason these “reasonable” conservatives supported such policy).

    I got more than sick of this long ago, and prefer movements where defense and promotion of oppressive status quo is simply not tolerated.

  5. says

    It is well worth remembering exactly what it is that conservatives wish to conserve: a status quo that is not only sexist and patriarchal, but racist, violent, amoral, ubercapitalist, imperialist, heteronormative, and viciously social Darwinist. Compassionate white cismales speaking out about intersectional oppressions is supremely subversive of this state of affairs, thus the nasty pushback from those who benefit from the status quo.

    Thank you, Jason, and thank you to all compassionate people, with marginalized identities or not, who fight oppression where they find it.

  6. Onamission5 says

    Wow. I could have written her letter almost verbatim, with the exception of former occupation. Mine was in the food industry and surprise, I left for very similar reasons.

  7. rilian says

    Libertarianism is anti-harassment. Some individual libertarians may not do a good job of living this (many don’t) but that’s the ideal.

  8. shari says

    fantastic post. This crap has to be brought into the light. Horrifying that you have So. Much. to report on.

    well done and thank you.

  9. John Horstman says

    @rilian #7: Libertarianism is not anti-harassment; Libertarianism is, at best, neutral on issues of harassment. Libertarianism is all about limiting formal legal structure to allow non-formal social norms to mediate the majority of human interaction. In the present context, Libertarianism is functionally sexist, racist, homophobic (though less and less so), etc. becasue our social norms are, and Libertarians reject legal approaches to counterbalance normalized biases resulting in disparate treatment for socially-marginalized groups. Libertarianism is also ultimately and necessarily a pro-privilege socio-legal philosophy. Equality of opportunity and unbiased treatment can only exist in a Libertarian framework in a context with zero normalized social biases, a kind of society which is, for all we know, impossible for human beings, as we have no examples ever out of the thousands/millions of human cultures that have existed.

    So, no: as long as harassment is socially normalized, Libertarianism is pro-harassment, not anti-harassment.

  10. rilian says

    @John Horstman #9
    Libertarianism IS anti-harrassment, and anti-sexism, -racism, etc. We can’t have a free society if the society is full of violence and hatred. The libertarians who are not aware of these problem, due to their privilege, are sexist etc in the same way non-libertarians are. That’s a problem with those individuals not being informed (making the effort to get informed, it’s their own responsibility), not a problem with the philosophy of freedom.
    My desired step #1 toward a free society is not to abolish the government but to change how people relate to each other, primarily how parents treat children.

    You can combat prejudice and oppression in your own life, without the government. You can call other people out for their prejudice, you can make a point of promoting women and minorities in your company. Those kinds of things are compatible with libertarianism and kind of required by it because without that kind of thing we can’t have the free society that libertarianism advocates.

  11. moarscienceplz says

    @rilian #10

    A la Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word, “Libertarianism”. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    You said, “You can combat prejudice and oppression in your own life, without the government.” I agree with that whole-heartedly, but that is not Libertarianism, my friend, or at least it is not a version of Libertarianism that would be recognized by most self-identified Libertarians. As an example, look at how vehemently Libertarians oppose anti-harassment policies for conventions. Sure, they may dislike harassment in principle, but as soon as any sort of formal procedures to curb it are proposed they start screaming about oppression and the dangers of false accusations.

  12. Nick Gotts says

    Libertarianism IS anti-harrassment, and anti-sexism, -racism, etc. – rilian@10

    Hahahahahahahahaha! Good one!
    .
    .
    .
    Oh. You were being serious?
    Hint: if you say you’re against something, but oppose all institutional or collective measures to combat it, you’re not really against it.

  13. leni says

    Hint: if you say you’re against something, but oppose all institutional or collective measures to combat it, you’re not really against it.

    Ha. That was kind of a perfect way to sum that up.

    Not a libertarian, but I suppose a libertarian could consider a collective group of people operating in a free market (say conference organizers selling an event to potential attendees) as the very people who should instigate those changes.

    We didn’t hear from many (or any, as is my case since I am working this argument out on my own as a hypothetical rather than one in which I’ve actually heard in the wild) who did, but there are probably some. I don’t imagine they were the loudest voices, but I could see it being an appealing if naive argument for a libertarian minded person who wasn’t a total piece of shit.

  14. says

    Libertarianism IS anti-harrassment, and anti-sexism, -racism, etc. We can’t have a free society if the society is full of violence and hatred

    A lot of harassment, sexism and racism doesn’t involve any direct violence or breach of rights. By highlighting violence, you’re playing into the common trope that only the worst and most blatant discrimination counts. That as long as black people aren’t actually lynched or arrested just for being black, racism isn’t a problem.

    I know you didn’t say that and may very well never have intended it, but that’s the trope you’re playing into. It’s widespread and incredibly damaging.

    …you can make a point of promoting women and minorities in your company. Those kinds of things are compatible with libertarianism and kind of required by it because without that kind of thing we can’t have the free society that libertarianism advocates.

    I think you need to distinguish between what’s required by your personal ethics and what’s required by libertarianism.

    In a libertarian system, the employer has the right to decide who he promotes, according to his own criteria. The employees have the right to find another place to work if they don’t like that. If an employer decides that it would be best for his company to only promote men to management, libertarianism strongly supports his right to do so. His company, his decision.

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