Hardly an exception

This has now been published. Mark Oppenheimer asks Will misogyny bring down the atheist movement?

Yet Shermer remains a leader in freethought — arguably the leader. And in his attitudes, he is hardly an exception. Hitchens, the best-selling author of God Is Not Great, who died in 2011, wrote a notorious Vanity Fair article called “Why Women Aren’t Funny.” Richard Dawkins, another author whose books have brought atheism to the masses, has alienated many women — and men — by belittling accusations of sexism in the movement; he seems to go out of his way to antagonize feminists generally, and just this past July 29 hetweeted, “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.” And Penn Jillette, the talking half of the Penn and Teller duo, famously revels in using words like “cunt.”

That’s just one small part.




  1. mildlymagnificent says


    Apart from the title. That really doesn’t reflect what the article is about. I suppose “change” or “redirect” would have been a bit tame for a headline writer.

  2. screechymonkey says

    Wow. Is Shermer going to threaten to sue Buzzfeed now, too?

    And if anyone was still wondering, it appears that the JREF’s rot comes from the head down:

    “Shermer has been a bad boy on occasion — I do know that,” Randi told me. “I have told him that if I get many more complaints from people I have reason to believe, that I am going to have to limit his attendance at the conference.

    “His reply,” Randi continued, “is he had a bit too much to drink and he doesn’t remember. I don’t know — I’ve never been drunk in my life. It’s an unfortunate thing … I haven’t seen him doing that. But I get the word from people in the organization that he has to be under better control. If he had gotten violent, I’d have him out of there immediately. I’ve just heard that he misbehaved himself with the women, which I guess is what men do when they are drunk.”

    Yes, Mikey, you’ve been a “bad boy.” If Randi gets “many more” complaints, then he’ll have to “limit” your attendance. So you know, keep it to one or two victims a year, or you’ll have to leave the bacon and donuts party early. Naughty, naughty.

    But hey, “misbehaving with women” is just “what men do when they are drunk.”

    Pathetic. Whatever respect I still had for Randi is gone.

  3. John Morales says

    Very nice, very informative piece. I entirely concur with mildlymagnificent above.

    My pullquote:

    Older male activists in particular were like fans whose favorite obscure band hits it big; their small, intimate shows were becoming big arena concerts, leaving them a bit dislocated.

  4. aziraphale says

    One quibble. The Hitchens article is not exactly an attack on women – to quote, “Men will laugh at almost anything, often precisely because it is—or they are—extremely stupid. Women aren’t like that. And the wits and comics among them are formidable beyond compare: Dorothy Parker, Nora Ephron, Fran Lebowitz, Ellen DeGeneres.” I don’t like to see him ranked with the odious Jillette.

  5. Eric MacDonald says

    Well, this rather took me by surprise. Shermer turns out to be a total sleaze. Who knew? (Well, apparently, quite a few.) Not that misogyny in the new atheist movement was any secret, as you have documented here again and again, Ophelia. It all began (for me) with Rebecca Watson and “elevatorgate” and Dawkins’ completely off-the-wall response (when he lost my respect, and has since failed to regain it), and then began to go downhill from there. For me the sign of it was the increasingly simplistic (not to say crude) argumentation. For awhile there was some good, thoughtful commentary, but that is becoming more and more rare, which is why I decided to withdraw myself publicly from the new atheist movement some time ago. It was no longer something with which I could associate myself. No longer appropriate for the self-respecting, let alone the self-respecting woman, in my view. I have commented on a few sites, but without marked success in prompting a reasonably sophisticated level of thought. Here’s a snippet from a recent thread on Canadian Atheist, where the subject was the historical Jesus. It’s from someone who calls himself “Indie”:

    And let me be clear, I’m not claiming he was a myth. I don’t even need to (and don’t care to). I’m just pointing out that anyone who claims he *isn’t* is full of shit.

    Classy, thoughtful stuff (even ignoring the self-contradiction)! Anyway, I can’t imagine what women feel when they are faced with this kind of thing expressing anti-feminist or, worse, straightforward misogynistic mindlessness. To my mind the new atheist movement has already consumed itself in triviality, not just misogyny. Misogyny is just a sign of a growing inability of men to think clearly (when they manage to think at all).

  6. says

    Shermer turns out to be a total sleaze. Who knew?

    I know. That’s how I felt. I’d had quite a few friendly interactions with him, and had no idea of his reputation among women at these conferences — when I first heard from Jen that he was on the short list of obnoxious male predators at conferences, I was shocked. How could I have missed that? But then, he never hit on me, obviously, and the women were all afraid to talk openly about it because all the con organizers supported Shermer, not them.

    These are boils that need to be lanced. It needs to be out in the open.

  7. dshetty says

    Randi doesn’t come out too well in this
    But I get the word from people in the organization that he has to be under better control.
    This seems to contradict the impression that DJ Grothe is trying to give (plausible deniability).

    I think that as time has passed , I realize that I’m much more anti-conservative/libertarian (Atleast as defined in the USA) than I am anti-religious so any secular movement that favors having the conservative/libertarians as part of it is not something I will consider myself a part of. I think by definition liberals have to be feminists.

  8. says

    I don’t like to see him ranked with the odious Jillette.

    Hitchens on Wanda Sykes: “black dyke”
    Hitchens on the Dixie Chicks: “fucking fat slags”

    Yeah, he was a prince.

  9. Pieter B, FCD says

    I couldn’t restrain myself; I had to respond to some twit who referred to “a polite invitation to coffee.” Said twit wrote in a followup that all she had to do was say “No thinks, I’m tired.” Which, if you were paying attention, she had announced to one and all before leaving the hotel bar.

    I lost most of my respect for Dawkins when he said that he had no problem with giving an award named after him (for which “advances science” was an essential criterion) to alt-med loon Bill Maher. “Dear Muslima” just hammered in what was not the first nail on that casket lid.

  10. yahweh says

    @14 Atheism doesn’t need central figures, but the incarnation of atheism represented here needs fallen heroes as badly as a tabloid editor with circulation problems.

    I read physics at university but only learnt from B&W that Feynman was a shit to his wife. Shock horror, hold the front page. But how does anyone even know?!! Did you all know the man? Did someone finish his Lectures on Physics, calculate the probability amplitude that he a fine husband and then research the matter only to be bitterly disappointed? He’s dead and so is she. What was the lesson supposed to be?

    So it turns out Shermer is a slimeball (allegedly) and Dawkins doesn’t take you seriously.

    Will this tear atheism apart? Jesus wept.

  11. John Horstman says


    In his statement, Shermer argued that he is a victim of the “growing movement — at conferences, college campuses, and businesses — to clarify or even to redefine the rules of sexual encounters.”

    Er, can anyone interpret positioning oneself as a victim of an anti-rape movement (there is only one rule: freely-given consent on the part of all parties involved in any sexual activity) as anything other than an implicit admission that one is a rapist? Or did Shermer actually directly imply that he is a rapist?

  12. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    John @ 16: Well, if the Ian Murphy article last year taught us anything, it’s that Shermer is way too arrogant to know when he’s digging his own rhetorical grave.

  13. Jackie says

    It did sound like Randi was going to send him to bed right after supper if he continued “misbehaving”, didn’t it?

    Misbehaving is cutting in line on the playground. Misbahaving is not raping and assaulting women.

    I’d like to know exactly how many times Randi needed this behavior reported and exactly who constitutes a person he has reason to trust? I want to know how many times it WAS reported to him while he stood by and did nothing. I want to know what constitutes a reason to mistrust someone informing him Shermer had “misbehaved” ? He trusted Shermer. He trusted DJ Grothe. Apparently who he didn’t trust were any of the women reporting Shermer’s pattern of predatory behavior. Sexual harassment of women in the atheist/skeptic community has been an ongoing hot topic for years now. Randi had to be aware of it. Still, he said nothing and still refers to Shermer as a “bad boy” who was merely behaving as men do.
    He knew.
    He knew what was being reported and he didn’t think it was important enough to do one damn thing about. It was the worst kept secret in skeptic circles. He definitely knew and did nothing.

    He once said he avoided recreational chemicals so that his thinking would never be muddied or his perceptions compromised. What a waste. He never got high and his thinking and perception has still been a fucking mess for years.

    You JREF supporters remember that when you hang up your Randi on a unicorn Xmas ornament this year.

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