Guest post: And now they’re stuck

Originally a comment by =8)-DX on The cavalry has arrived.

I’m just going to try to give a really accommodating interpretation of the events:

James Randi, Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins: all agree women are human beings and should be treated as such. But in their specific, biased, tribal, personal, ordinary, everyday, exploitative, non-sexist!, clearheaded, logical, rational, fun-loving, emotional situations a crack has appeared. This is the crack through which feminist thought, language, experience, evaluations seeps through.

And they don’t know what the fuck to do. They’re not equipped for it. Because in the past three years they decided to ignore the rising tide of feminist voices. That wasn’t important, that couldn’t happen, they didn’t do it. And now they’re stuck.

When my favourite atheist YouTuber said “guys, don’t do that”, I thought I’d learned something new. But I was wholy ignorant of reality: atheist emancipation, feminist thought, equality, secularism and skepticism, can’t take place on a backburner of slow, incremental progress. I had to take into account the gender of each participant, I had to take into accout the legion of bigots who at every turn need to express a reluctance to change.

“If only people could get together, sit down and sort things out.” doesn’t work when most (90%?!) are operating on prejudice alone, expounding confirmation bias and have no problem shouting their ignorance to the world.

People: you’ve always helped me in my ignorance, by taking me to task. Why don’t the big names understand this? Because equal rights are not just a word, but a whole field of inquiry that takes years of research and listening to grasp.

Shutting up now.


  1. whiskeyjack says

    I think another element of this whole boondoggle that a lot of people miss is that folks like Dawkins have a LOT invested in making the atheist community out to be some sort of utopia. After all, we can be “good without god,” right? Isn’t that the whole point of this?

    So when problems come up, they’re either:

    a) Not problems because science
    b) Not problems, stop being so over-sensitive

    After all, religion is the root of all evil, amirite? And we have no religion, ergo no evil. Shut up, nothing bad ever happens in human interactions unless the Church is involved somehow. No really, you’re just being hysterical. Let’s talk about our Dear Muslima instead. See? Religion is screwing her over. No problems for us, here, now. The whiners themselves are the only *real* problem. Let’s stay on-message and take potshots at the clergy.

  2. says

    It’s not rocket science. Here’s what you do: you ask a couple of feminists, “Have we got a problem, here?”

    We have serious issues in my professional community (computer security) with institutionalized frat-boy behavior at some events, and at least one known sexual assault at a conference. There were a number of people who were concerned about this and mostly, I’m happy to say, we educated ourselves using a simple process: ask a bunch of people who give a fuck, then look at what other fields are doing. One shocker was that when asked “what would you like us to do?” not a single feminist suggested castration or removal of all fun – mostly it was productive and useful stuff like safe spaces, enforced policies, communication, support, including women on the program committee and agenda (as equals and not having a panel like, “feminism in computer security”) – things like that.

    Sam Harris appears to be fond of saying that his wife and his mom and whatnot are his best editors; I suspect Sam’s big problem would be solved really damn quick if he teamed up with ummmm…. a feminist or two – for a couple of articles. Think of the clicks he’d get if he, you know, worked with someone like Anita Sarkeesian or Amanda Marcotte and wrote a couple of articles together with them. That would be the fast (and possibly painful) way to get an education. Another way would be to, you know, study the issue and put one’s preconceptions under the magnifying glass for a little while. Maybe Sam’s relying on too kind an audience in his wife and current editor — he could start by asking himself, “now, is that something I could change?” One would expect the great big badass atheist to understand a bit better how to prepare for a critical audience: sometimes inclusion, not defensiveness, is the key.

    Like in the religion battleground, there are fakers who pretend to be atheists but really are playing for the other side (or for themselves?) You know, it’d be a mistake to take Michael Behe as your “go to guy” on biology just because he has some publications and a PHd. Dawkins and Harris are both expected to be minimally smart enough to understand that, and apply a bit of skepticism to their sources.

    What frustrates me about Dawkins and Harris is that they’re smart enough to get it and could ask around and level up in no time at all. No time at all. But it seems to be the usual thing: once you get famous you want to forget that your poo poo stinks just like everyone else’s.

  3. Brony says

    “If only people could get together, sit down and sort things out.” doesn’t work when most (90%?!) are operating on prejudice alone, expounding confirmation bias and have no problem shouting their ignorance to the world.

    …Why don’t the big names understand this? Because equal rights are not just a word, but a whole field of inquiry that takes years of research and listening to grasp.

    How the hell to be fair with that one?

    I don’t mean what they did to piss everyone off, they own the crap from that mess.
    Dawkins owns the BS that he used to tell women to stop talking about what was bothering him. He also owns his following need to justify the means that he used to try to tell women to stop talking with repeated attempts to go and compare suffering. He also owns the fact that he did not really show any signs of understanding why people were upset.
    Harris owns the fact that he completely refused to actually engage people criticizing him, and that he also dismissed them with a sexist smear. Now they are dropping into personal attacks, because it’s personal to them.

    Beyond the fact that Dawkins felt the need to tell women that they should stop talking, all we can do is speculate on why since his emotions did not match up with reality when he gave his reasons. I don’t yet know enough about Harris to point to some core past event like Dear Muslima to try to look at how his rationalizations might be related.

    If they were just anyone I would be less inclined to speculate and try directly empathizing. But they have an effect and the way they are spinning reality for others matters. At least this group might have some empathy about it. I would want to know just what sort of emotions might lead a person to be upset at others trying to talk about what they are suffering?

    It makes me wonder not just about unconscious social routines involving men and women. That does matter and are critical to understanding, but those biases only have power because of some emotional excuse that makes the motivated reasoning work (consider how the twitter portrayals are almost literal opposites of reality). I can’t be sure but I would wonder if Dawkins suffered more from his childhood abuse than he can admit. Yes that is insensitive of me and I fully own that. But I have little else and his behavior matters too much. I think it’s obviously personal and it might be just that he is too pig headed to admit that he was wrong, but I would not want to make the same mistake he did.

    As for Harris, I am not too familiar with him beyond his book on lying and the plain facts of the current situation. Clearly he has it in him to paint a threat (critics) with emotions that lets him decide that a group of other humans are innately inferior in some way. I can’t really say what sort of past threats might lead him to do this.

  4. Brony says

    I did it again. My previous comment should have said,

    Dawkins owns the BS that he used to tell women to stop talking about what was bothering them.

    All this perspective switching does play with my head a bit.

  5. Anne C. Hanna says

    Peter Boghossian appears to have formally chosen a side of the Deep Rifts as well, to judge by his Twitter feed. I guess those seventeen all-male endorsements (headed by several people on the wrong side of the Deep Rifts) that he selected for his book weren’t any kind of oversight or accident after all.

    I also noticed while browsing his Twitter stream an apparently approving retweet of a commiserating comment Charles Murray (yes, “The Bell Curve” Charles Murray) made to Christina Hoff Sommers on Sep. 13. (The comment was this one. I can’t figure out how to link to the retweet rather than the original tweet.) I guess he figures bold iconoclasts like them have to stick together in the face of SJW/PC/FTBullying? *blech*

    Kind of a shame, as I thought he did have a few interesting points to make, but, as with Harris, Dawkins, Shermer, Grothe, Dalton, Jillette, and many others like them, he seems to have chosen the easy way rather than the hard way in addressing an injustice where he might be the perpetrator or beneficiary rather than an outraged victim or observer. It makes me wonder how many more maybe-sorta-kinda-suspected-proto-assholes in prominent or semi-prominent places will publicly remove all doubt as this Rifts thing continues to grind its way across the community.

  6. Holy_Imam says

    James Randi, Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins all hate women.

    This is the problem with Atheism: it so easily leads to hatred of all women.

  7. FedUp says

    Maybe they’ll get some INSIGHT — just from my inbox:

    The Skeptics Society is proud to announce the creation of our brand new group blog, INSIGHT at Dedicated to the spirit of curiosity and grounded in scientific skepticism’s useful, investigative tradition of public service, INSIGHT continues and expands upon the energetic conversations begun at Skepticblog (a platform the Skeptics Society has now retired).
    INSIGHT will shed light, offer critical perspective, and serve as a broadly accessible, evidence-based resource on mysteries of science, paranormal claims, and the wild, woolly, wonderful weirdness of the fringe.
    The blog is launching today with twelve of skepticism’s most captivating voices:
    * Ani Aharonian a cognitive psychologist, PhD student, and an institutional researcher at Santa Monica College;
    * Barbara Drescher, a former university instructor of quantitative and cognitive psychology, and regular contributor to the podcast Skepticality and the streaming video program The Virtual Skeptics;
    * Tim Farley, the creator of the What’s the Harm? website and the Skeptical Software Tools blog, and co-host of The Virtual Skeptics;
    * Jim Lippard, a skeptical writer for decades who works in the information security field, blogger, and founder of the Phoenix Skeptics in 1985;
    * Daniel Loxton, the Editor of Junior Skeptic, book author, and blogger;
    * Robynn “Swoopy” McCarthy, the founding co-host of the pioneering, original skeptics podcast, Skepticality—The Official Podcast of Skeptic Magazine;
    * Mike McRae, an Australian educator, science writer, and author of Tribal Science;
    * Dr. Donald Prothero, a paleontologist who has taught college geology and paleontology for decades, and author of over 35 science books;
    * Dr. Michael Shermer, a Scientific American columnist, historian, author of numerous books, and Editor of Skeptic magazine;
    * Dr. Eve Siebert, a blogger at Skeptical Humanities and co-host of The Virtual Skeptics;
    * Blake Smith, the producer and host of MonsterTalk, an official podcast of Skeptic magazine;
    * Laurie Tarr, a technical writer and co-founder of the Louisville Area Skeptics.
    … And, in a special guest post, former National Center for Science Education Executive Director Eugenie Scott agrees. INSIGHT, she writes, “should be a place for anyone who appreciates the importance of science and critical thinking—which means all of us.”

  8. Guy Harper says

    FYI, I don’t usually post, but maybe it’s time.

    First, can we just acknowledge that the physical characteristics (gender, sexual orientation, skin color, height, weight, etc) of a person are not indicative of their intelligence, character, wit, knowledge and so on. When you interact with people you need to make your evaluations based one what they say and do.

    Second, the lessons we learned as we grew up, from the people around us and the culture we live in were not always correct. Sometimes these irrational fears get buried pretty deep and you have to work at finding and and countering them. Often that means really listening to people that have had a different path than you and try to understand their perspective. Make no mistake, this is hard to do, because it often challenges some of your deeply held, but incorrect assumptions. Many people in the atheist community have already done this with their religious beliefs, it can be useful to apply that experience to this.

    Finally, and maybe most importantly. The problems the world faces are very challenging, water issues, food, climate change, population. Solving these problems is going to take a collaborative effort. I don’t know the physical characteristics of the people that may have the answers to these. I don’t know what county or part of the world they live in. What I do know is that we cannot afford to dismiss people because of our biases.

  9. Kevin Kehres says


    Right … and female genital mutilation, honor killings, forced birth, and other religiously based nonsense are evidence that religion just loves women.

  10. dshetty says

    My accommodating version of events is this
    if you asked me probably around 10-15 years ago whether I am sexist? I would say Not in the things that matter. Essentially that I have never discriminated on the basis of gender when it comes to say evaluating candidates for jobs and support all the equal rights etc etc. But that I have made or laughed at a few sexist jokes or commented that resumes for female candidates should come with a picture to help the short listing process – but that all of it was good fun and no harm was intended etc etc.
    As time has passed all I can say is that my so called *harmless* joke is not distinguishable from people who do actually mean that all they focus on in a woman is her prettiness and that yes indeed my laughing along or making the same joke abets these people.
    But 15 years ago? if you told me I was sexist I would say go get your head checked – i support all rights for women and I consider them equals – the fact that I make some jokes doesn’t make me sexist , it just means you have no sense of humor.
    I feel Harris is where I was (Dawkins on the other hand seems to be trying to prove that he is actively evil- I still hold out some hope) – Harris probably will be on the same side for a good number of issues but he seems to be missing a few views of his that are either are sexist or aid sexism.

  11. John Horstman says

    @Holy_Imam #9: Um, giving you the most charitable read possible, it’s not so much that atheism itself breeds contempt of women as it is that atheism offers no special protection against internalizing (and regurgitating) misogyny. It’s not like religious spaces are free from misogyny. The only atheism/religion divides I can see re: misogyny tend to be the specific forms that misogyny takes in the different discourses (and even then some of the forms are shared, like slut-shaming and body-policing), but the thread of misogyny cuts across all religious (or irreligious) identifications.

  12. =8)-DX says

    Just a note to close if anyone ever reads this thread again: part of the frustration I wanted to express in the OP was that I’ve found that to engage with feminism one cannot “jump into” the discussion, but rather accept feminism on its own terms: including the oft denigrated rather post-modern deconstructionist vocabulary and framework. If you think “patriarchy” means “big man caveman with big club hunt mamoth have many wife!”, or that uses of “voice” are discussions about tenor vs. soprano, or that “rape culture” means “all men secretly enjoy raping women”, your erecting wildly ignorant strawmen. Part of the process of coming to a general acceptance of feminist values and the movement in general over history was doing a translation of a feminist critique back in the day filled with such expressions: I laughed at it at the time but reading a carefully thought out piece of feminist literature allowed me to understand *what* the author was saying.

    And that’s what most of the critics of modern feminist voices get stuck on: they are uneducated about the volume of feminist critique and research of the past. I am too, mostly, but trying to understand *what* is being said instead of fighting over language is important.

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