So close

Greta has a terrific post on the question of what will you accept in an ally before you decide that’s not an ally after all.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week, as you’ve seen, and also as you haven’t seen, because I’ve been doing it out of sight.

Here’s a crucial bit of Greta’s post along with my response posted there and on Facebook:

In many instances, of course we can agree about some things while disagreeing about others, and agreeing when someone says (X) doesn’t automatically mean you agree when they say ( Y ). But when someone crosses a clear line into vile and unacceptable behavior, the community needs to make it clear that this behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. We need to show that some lines absolutely should not be crossed, and that if people cross them there will be consequences. Supporting someone’s work when they’ve acted abhorrently means there are no consequences.And that’s especially true in the case of rape threats, persistent harassment of women, and other misogynist behavior — because in the atheist community, we don’t, unfortunately, currently have a clear ethical standard that this is unacceptable. We have a culture in which it’s depressingly common for people to engage in this behavior, and for other people to defend, rationalize, trivialize, dismiss, or victim-blame it — without consequences, or without serious consequences.

Leaders in the movement do this, and remain leaders. We need to change that culture. We need to make it unmistakably clear that we do not tolerate this behavior. Promoting people’s work who engage in this behavior is tolerating it. And tolerating this behavior helps perpetuate it.

Yes yes yes yes yes.

The sad thing? (A sad thing.) I was working on it. I was talking to one of those leaders – one of the Leaderest of them – about exactly that, and what a good thing it would be if he did make it unmistakably clear that we do not tolerate this behavior. He said he would consider it; he even asked me to suggest some wording. He even suggested we sign it jointly. He even sent me a revision for my opinion. I said it’s great, let’s do this thing.


So close. We were so close.

That. I thought it was going to happen. It would have been a game-changer. It should have happened. It should happen. But – silence has fallen.

So damn close.


  1. jenBPhillips says

    this is disappointing to be sure, but regardless of the outcome, I am very grateful to you, Ophelia, for pursuing the possibility and advocating so well for the corner of the movement that I still feel good about. Thank you.

  2. jesse says

    Perhaps the issue is that there is a difference between an ally on some but not all issues (think of the Catholic Workers Movement and some Women’s organizations) — both agreed that reducing poverty and guaranteeing certain labor rights was important for improving women’s lives. The former would probably not sign on with say, Planned Parenthood but they wouldn’t oppose it either) and a situation where a leader of your movement (however defined) is screwing up badly.

  3. tonyinbatavia says

    So disappointing.

    I obviously don’t know who you’re talking about, but I can easily conjure up a scenario where this person passed your near-final, almost-signed draft by a few dudebro peers in similar leader-y positions in other skeptical/atheist organizations, who then discouraged him from continuing with such nonsense.

    Or maybe my X-Files-esque “somebody-got-to-him” paranoia is getting the better of me.

  4. kellym says

    If you’re still in touch with the guy, Ophelia, please let him know that his moral cowardice in this issue (opposing Dawkins on sexism/harassment would take immense courage) is the reason that I’m not renewing my membership this year. None of the atheist leaders I’ve emailed or sent paper letters to, letting them know that not supporting harassment is an absolute minimum requirement for me, have returned my correspondence. (One of them keeps sending me paper letters to renew, but I just toss them, like he ignored my polite mails.)

  5. says

    kellym – well it wouldn’t take any courage for this particular person to oppose Dawkins.

    Tony, yes, something like that has of course occurred to me.

    But – really – I don’t think any organization leaders would oppose the suggested statement. On the contrary, I think they’d be delighted to see it. Basically it says we don’t have to agree on everything; of course we don’t; but we need to be able to disagree like adults.

    What’s the downside? There isn’t one.

    And most of the organization leaders have in fact already signed up to that and more, in that series that Amy Roth of Skepchick did. Not the one I’m talking about though. As I said, he’d be a game-changer.

  6. Al Dente says

    So close. We were so close.

    So frustrating. Thank you for trying.

    Also thank you for the link to Greta’s post.

  7. Kevin Kehres says


    I’m a complete nobody to anyone involved in any sort of organization or movement…but one of the reasons that I don’t support any of the organizations is because of this moral cowardice.

    I’m not “rich”, but I do have way more assets than most people — I could benefit the right group in many ways. I choose not to because I don’t want to have the rug pulled out from under me.

    Dawkins Foundation? No way.

    Until people can be arsed to declare themselves in favor of human rights, I can’t be arsed to support them with time, talent, or money. And most especially money.

  8. Silentbob says

    May I also recommend Avicenna’s post? It’s about racism but all the time I was reading it, you know, I was thinking about feminism. The parallels are so striking.

  9. Silentbob says

    By the way, I’ve changed my thinking since I wrote this. I was in the “I can agree with X on some things while disagreeing on others” camp. Now I’m in the “some people are so beyond the pale they shouldn’t be given the time of day” camp. It was Avicenna’s post linked @11 that changed my mind.

    There’s a difference between disagreement and bigotry. We mustn’t condone bigotry even implicitly. That’s just spitting in the face of the targets of that bigotry.

  10. says

    To expand on what Silentbob is saying, there’s a lot of people who say “why are you offended?” or “why are you creating drama?” whenever there’s conflict. What they’re trying to do is equate “disagreement” and “bigotry” in order to erase the context and content of their words and deeds, in favor of pretending that these issues are about personalities and differences of opinions. As long as they erase context and content, they can pretend that these are ethically-neutral arguments. The moment that they deal with the issues honestly, they lose hands-down.

  11. Reality_based_community says

    Are you free to disclose the details? The language of the proposed standards? The people involved?

  12. Silentbob says

    @ 14 Reality_based_community

    I expect there’s a reason they were not made explicit in the OP.
    (Ophelia is not one to beat around the bush, in my experience.)

  13. Shatterface says

    If I was in the pub and someone started spouting rape threats or even rape ‘jokes’ I wouldn’t agonise about whether shunning them was an appropriate response. The fact that we might have one interest in common (say, atheism) wouldn’t matter a jot.

  14. says

    It shouldn’t fall on Ophelia to be peacemaker. I’m glad it’s happening, but she isn’t the one in the wrong, and she isn’t going about being in the right the wrong way.

  15. says

    Oh yes, I forgot to update this during the torrent of responses on Saturday. Um yes – as you probably noticed, this happened after all. It was only travel that interrupted. moarscienceplz @ 9, the text of the last revision has been published.

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