PZ is optimistic about the bigger picture.

I am constantly dunned by email and tweets from the haters and sick scumbags, and I read stuff by my colleagues who get far worse, and at times it is just too depressing and dismal — there really are reactionary fanatics within atheism who refuse to recognize the responsibility to work towards equality. And I just want to give up.

But then…perspective. Step away from the smears and assaults and slime and look at the movement as a whole: look at the leading organizations of the godless. You know what you’ll see? None of them support these loons. They’re all progressive and committed to improving the diversity of the atheist community and broadening our engagement with the greater culture.

Hm. I’d like to agree, but – the leading organizations don’t support them, but they don’t disavow them, either (except in broad general terms that don’t grip on anything). I think most of the organizations don’t know much about them and their project, but I kind of think maybe they should try to find out.


Rebecca is more definite about it.

For the most part, these organizations work on their causes while pointedly avoiding what they see as a divisive quagmire. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, no. For years, I defended the JREF’s pointed disinterest in atheist topics because while I do think atheism is the natural outcome of skepticism and that the two are ultimately inextricably linked, I understand that there’s a benefit to an organization focusing resources on a particular goal while also appealing to a larger audience. But it would be silly to then congratulate the JREF on working toward some atheist or secular goal, just as it’s silly to congratulate these organizations that are not focused on fighting for women.

I think that’s pretty much right. The organizations aren’t against us, but they’re not really for us either. They’re doing other things.

So while PZ finds optimism in the work these organizations do, I, for the most part, do not. I see anti-feminists who think those organizations stand for them. (Hell, I’ve seen misogynists cite feminist and Freedom from Religion Foundation co-founder Annie Laurie Gaylor as an inspiration.) I don’t think these people are stupid (though yes, many are – just look at the people populating my Twitter @ replies) – I think that secular organizations aren’t being loud enough in their support of women. I think often these organizations are being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century by a few progressive employees who want to do good at the risk of being seen as radical troublemakers.

And that’s where I find my inspiration: not in the large organizations but in the individuals who are strong enough to stand up for what’s right despite the endless hateful shit thrown their way. People like Ophelia Benson, Stephanie Zvan, Greta Christina, and Melody Hensley. People like Surly Amy and all the other Skepchick Network contributors. People like Amanda Marcotte, who in December recounted what it’s like to be a writer who happens to be a feminist…

Yes. We find our inspiration in each other. Not at all a bad place to find it, either.


  1. Gordon Willis says

    nd that’s where I find my inspiration: not in the large organizations but in the individuals who are strong enough to stand up for what’s right despite the endless hateful shit thrown their way.

    Well, I think that’s right. It’s only individuals who count. How else can we claim to be sceptics? It’s numbers that matter, not organisations. Organisations appear because of the strivings of individuals, but once established an organisation develops its own agenda, and sooner or later individuals disappear. An organisation becomes a thing in itself.

  2. says

    Yeah. As I said over at Almost Diamonds, the atheist community is not a safe space for women, at all. And it’s not even those scumbags who are making the rape threats, blaming victims and expressing hyper-skepticism, constantly harassing, making the videos and posts, and fighting protections against sexual harassment and abuse. I mean, those people sre awful, but the exist in every community, unfortunately.

    No, it’s all the people in this community that support, tolerate, excuse, or simply ignore and therefore allow those other members to continue their abusive behavior. Until more people take active steps to change the culture, instead of just giving people a chance to report casualties from that culture (something that they should have been doing all along, and is in fact in their best interests simply from an insurance standpoint, so I’m not inclined to give cookies for it), I’m afraid that I agree more with Rebecca than PZ.

  3. sheila says

    Well I get inspiration from you, Ophelia, although my efforts are extremely modest.

    One thing I think has changed: when the harassment happens, there are fewer men shuffling their feet and looking at the floor, and more men voicing disagreement. It’s not huge, but it’s a shift.

  4. says

    I don’t know if it’s been said anywhere, but if it hasn’t:

    It has begun actually to embarrass me to be associated with online atheism, increasingly, from Elevatorgate, forward.

    And that’s really saying something. Seriously.

    I mean: I’ve previously been mildly uncomfortable being an ‘out’ unbeliever, in certain contexts, but I can honestly say, in those, that was about energy, and about practicality…

    As in: I don’t know how argumentative I come across as online, but, seriously, I don’t want my life always to be an argument, and you get so much shit from some just for being visible. Or, more practically, my life can’t be a constant argument, as I do have to sleep and eat and work and, y’know, do things not quite so stressful, on occasion…

    And about that hush thing: there’s a constant level of hush pressure, I think, that unbelievers face a lot of places. I’ve written on it elsewhere, and it’s been done by others elsewhere, so I won’t go on endlessly about that, but it’s one of the nagging pressures of life for unbelievers, lot of places. Call it the shut up field. Everpresent, at various concentrations, and a constant drag, and you need to learn to swim against it or drown, so you do get used to swimming, as well as you can…

    And then there’s actual safety concerns. Won’t get into that too far, don’t want to exaggerate it, either, but those, too, are there…

    But those are the only reasons I ever felt the need to be anything less than forthcoming about what I do and don’t believe. And those, I got used to dealing with, those I think I can deal with, well enough. Against a constant current of ‘shut up, evil unbeliever’, you can learn to buck against that, say, fuck you, I’ve got damned good reasons for standing where I do, you bastards, and I’m going to keep on being here, keep on being me, keep on saying what I believe and don’t. It takes energy, but you get used to it… And, again very seriously, I think I actually really have to. This really is swim or sink… Again, probably a larger discussion than I have time for here, explaining all that.

    But this thing, this is different.

    This is actually embarrassing. This is the kind of thing I don’t want on me. All the sometimes harsh, occasionally downright crass and tasteless stuff I’ve occasionally written myself in the sometimes rough and tumble comment threads and fora, y’know, I’m still quite okay with wearing that. My words, after all, and I generally stand by them, or can at least say, that was then, I’ve changed a bit, maybe… Point is, there’s nothing in all of that actually makes me want to hide, to say, listen, I’m not with these people…

    This stuff, this is very different. I really, really hate this stuff. I begin to fear: this is how people are going to see this world, and people associated with this world. Oh, vocal online gnu, huh? So you’re with those assholes who hound and harass women off the web, huh? You’re one of those shitty little bastards who scream ‘tits or get the fuck out’ at women who just want to be recognized as equals? Sort of like the gamers who chased out Anita Sarkeesian because they couldn’t handle the damned truth, only a little more focused on epistemology?

    Whichever way someone who sees it that way reacts–creepily, disgustingly approvingly (‘you go, boy, give those uppity women shit’) or suitably appalled (‘thanks, but we’d prefer not to be seen with you in public’)–that stings. And I don’t want it on me. Decades of smarmy, self-righteous religionist jerks telling me I’m going to hell, you learn to laugh at that, because you know it’s nonsense… This…

    This, the trouble is, isn’t especially wrong. The organizations–and never mind I’m generally formally associated with very few–haven’t been as definite, it seems to me, as they should have been. And the assholes are here, and they are that nasty. Never mind they’re not me; they’ve been posting next to me, reading the same shit I was, apparently going to some of the same meetings, and never mind I do pretty few of those…

    I don’t want to be a downer. I’d love to give a nice, Churchillian ‘fight them in the trenches’ speech, here, but I just have to say, listen, I just find this incredibly disheartening. It taints things, makes even old victories suddenly seem less lovely. I have done my bits to stand up for unbelief, and now I get it rubbed in my face daily that unbelief is also these shitty little bastards? I mean, I always knew there were folk I didn’t so much entirely agree with under that umbrella, and that’s okay… But it’s starting to look like it’s a lot of them, and, worse, it seems to me, they don’t seem to me to be within a thousand pages of me on what this is even all about. They couldn’t be, to be doing and saying stupid shit like this.

    That’s all. It’s not ‘I’m out’. It’s look, I hate this. I feel dirty even standing near it.

    I’d like to say something all positive, too, about how inspired I am, seeing people like OB and Greta who keep on keeping on, in the face of direct harassment which I don’t even have to hack, but honestly, I can’t even manage that, right now. I look at it and think: the assholes who are making it so hard, who are trying to grind them down, they, too, are part of this thing I’ve been part of, so long. I don’t know that it makes them my damned fault, but still… It’s not something I can easily just shake off and say, well, that’s them. That they, they would have been us, to me, kinda as an assumption, right up until they talked long enough to out themselves as being quite this toxic, over the course of this thing. And again, I feel like: this shit will get on me. I can do what I like to call ’em out, when I can find the energy, on top of everything else there was still to do, and I’m still going to feel: people are going to think that’s what you people are…

    And honestly, it kinda blows me away, realizing I’m thinking that, feeling that. The pope could work his bullshit lies for a decade about how secular humanism was responsible for the Holocaust and at least that would just be a big, fat, howling smear, and I can deal with that. Pull the fucking blood libel on us, make the world believe it, at least I would still know it ain’t so…

    But this, the trouble is, it is so, more than a bit. So now when someone says ‘also, guy gnus are apparently sexist, snot-nosed little jerks, and one of them even made noises about an acid attack, we hear’, all I can say is, ‘point of order, some of them… okay… and that’s a number at least rather larger than ‘dozens’… anyway, point of order, technically, only some of them are sexist, snot-nosed little jerks’…

    Let’s just say it’s not exactly motivating. And I guess neither was this comment. So maybe if it really didn’t help you, I don’t know, go back, read OB’s last few paragraphs, again. But I do have to say: that’s just how it feels, right now.

  5. Lyanna says

    Like A.J. Milne, I’ve been embarrassed to associate myself with online atheism, but I’ve always seen atheism and secularism as one small part of my politics.

    So maybe that’s why it’s easier for me to find inspiration and optimism in the human beings who oppose this nonsense. I don’t need atheist institutions to be woman-friendly for me to have hope, though I’d like them to be. I need communities of feminist skeptics like Ophelia, Greta, Rebecca, and others, and I do see that. If I have a faith, it’s in other human beings, and the feminism I see online is enough to nurture it.

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