Sexism is a problem we should address

Let us dig up a grave and gnaw on some old bones. USA Today has just now gotten around to an article on that elevatorgate tempest. Fortunately, I think it takes the right tack; it takes the perspective that sexism isn’t particularly a problem of the atheist community, but that what’s going on is that the atheist community is taking the problem seriously and is trying to address it.

Yet many, including Watson, say Elevatorgate is less a calamity and more an opportunity to welcome women and other minorities into a community that’s long been dominated by white men.

“The majority of emails I have gotten have been from men who said, ‘I had no idea what women in this community went through, and thank you for opening my eyes,'” Watson said. “There has actually been a net benefit coming out of this that I think has made everything worthwhile.”

No one is suggesting the freethought community is more sexist than other segments of society — after all, the most famous American atheist, the late Madalyn Murray O’Hair, was a woman. [And what about Ellen Johnson, Margaret Downey, Susan Jacoby, and so many other atheist leaders? –pzm]

Nonetheless, the incident has struck a chord, perhaps because atheists and other skeptics pride themselves on reason and logic — intellectual exercises that theoretically compute to equality.

They’ve got a few quotes from me in there, too. I tried to make the point that whenever I’ve brought this subject up with meeting organizers, they’ve been very receptive, recognize the problem, and try to deal with it. What this one incident did was expose a small, fringe group of obsessive sexists who suddenly had the privileges they took for granted questioned…and oh, how they did squeal, and continue to squeal.

The bad news is found in the comments. It’s as if most of the commenters didn’t even bother to read the article. The comments section at USA Today is a grisly sight — I don’t recommend it unless you’re strong of stomach. A few samples:

why is it that a blog post about female genital mutilation on a high traffic blog might generate a few dozen comments, but a privileged western white woman being on the receiving end of a clumsy pass leads to thousands of angry comments?

Say what? I know from past experience that any post about FGM I make will generate a high volume of comments. I’m cautious about posting them because they always turn into such a management headache. Of course, one of the reasons they blow up is the clueless guys who show up to whine about how I’m neglecting the evils of circumcision…

Both Watson and Myers have been actively promoting “blacklists” of undesirables within the community, and have even toyed with the idea of “prohibited author” lists.

We have? I had no idea we had such power, and I don’t recall ever posting a list of people we should not invite to meetings…whereas the other side has been positively shrill in demanding the immediate excommunication of “radical feminists”.

And then, of course, the Christians are out in force. Man, there are a lot of comments from religious people non-ironically damning atheism as a religion, and there sure is a lot of projection going on.

Atheism is actually a fundamentalist religion. While it has no theology, psychologically it meets all other criteria. What do Fundamentalists have in common with Atheists?
(1) Absolute beliefs and no toleration of other beliefs.
(2) They both believe there’s no mystery in life. Everything is known, and they just happen to have all the answers.
(3) Whoever disagrees with them is not tolerated.
(4) Contradiction is inherent; Evangelicals are against every ethic of the New Testament while Atheists, who profess rationalism, are anything but (see their on line comments for proof; usually very crude and bigoted; like fundamentalists).
Put another way, fundamentalists and atheists are the same person with a different belief but the same personality.

Every one of those points is absurd; it’s particularly bizarre to see accusations that disagreement is not tolerated on an article describing how the atheist community is trying to be more tolerant and diverse.


  1. Anri says

    As for the question you wanted me to answer, I couldn’t give a number that had some objectively valid grounding; just as there isn’t one for violent crimes in general. My point was to negate the claim that all women should be afraid, not to state a positive claim to the contrary. But if that was not the picture you intended to paint, there was actually nothing to negate in the first place.

    And what a pity we have been unable to find even a single women to tell you if your impression of the reasonable level of fear a woman might feel is accurate or not.

    Except, you know, for all of the ones in the thread.

    This is what I’m taking about. You keep saying, over and over, that you don’t want to tell people what to feel, and then keep saying, over and over, that people shouldn’t feel a certain way. So tell me – the women who have been trying to tell you that the situation is worse than you think, that you’re not listening, that you appear to making substantial light of what they are saying… do you really know more about being a woman in the US to accept your feeling over theirs? Is is that you just think these women are dumber than you?
    If not, what reason?

    Also, this question is still unanswered:

    Ok, then, please clarify for me: how common would rape have to be, in your opinion, for women being afraid of it to be sensible? A round number will do. Twice as common as currently? Three times? What’s your ‘wait a sec – women aren’t being dumb about this’ rape occurrence threshold?

    Please don’t tell me you’ve answered it – what you did was to ask me if I thought it was applicable to crimes other than rape, and I said that fear of that type of crime was perfectly legitimate.
    This just to attempt to forestall another avoidance of an answer.

  2. scriabin says

    Trudging through this re-tread thread – on a rather late basis – it occurs to me that universities really need to require that all of their students take a hell of a lot more “Gender and _____” courses, rather than leaving those classes simply as electives for those liberated souls in the Humanities departments.

  3. says

    First of all, I really don’t believe women generally are that afraid of men – why the hell would they keep constantly risking it otherwise. Not a common behavior for someone who’s afraid.

    this is incoherent, ignorant bullshit sprung from a very limited imagination.

    I’ve on multiple occasions during this clusterfuck quoted a native woman who confesses to getting panic attacks whenever she finds herself to be the only non-white person in the room (even when all those white people are her friends), because while growing up she witnessed white people killing, maiming, or otherwise violently harming members of her community, over and over. But she still goes out, and she goes out into the wide world to do her job anyway. Because what else is she supposed to do? Hide on the rez forever, and remain in poverty and never improving her situation and the situation of her community back home?

    Minorities learn to manage their fears because they don’t really have a choice. That includes racial minorities terrorized by racial violence, sexual minorities terrorized by homophobic attacks, and women terrorized by rape culture.

  4. Anri says

    Why do threads about this always get so many comments?

    Because these issues are some of the most unconcious and culturally-ingrained around, and even quite smart people often take a lot of convincing that they even exist.

    Privilige, especially gender privilige, is very often completely invisible to those that benefit from it. So, for nearly every commenter, we have to start the argument at Step 1: This Is A Real Thing. As shown above, many people never make it past that step.

    Also, the initial incident seems very trivial to many people – and if it were totally context-free it might be possible to argue that it was trivial. When viewed as a larger picture, however, it’s a chirping canary. The canary’s chirping may or may not be in and of itself trivial, but it is a sign that something larger is not right.

    (And please pardon my poor spelling – I am w/out benefit of spellchecker.)

  5. says

    fuck, I forgot who I’m talking to, and didn’t “show my work” on the last post.

    Imagine my last post starts with “Even if the premise weren’t based on a complete misreading of SR and a fallacious, b/w interpretation of something written completely in shades of gray, it would still be etc. etc…”, if you start feeling the urge to claim that all women are feeling terrorized by all men.

  6. says

    My point was to negate the claim that all women should be afraid,

    somewhere upthreade, I specifically explain that Sr is not an ought but an is; do you need me to use smaller, more common words and sentences so you can comprehend what that means?

  7. Vicki says


    And how would you know if someone is nervous of being in the elevator with you, if either (a) she (or he, for that matter) quietly finds ways not to, or (b) sometimes copes with the fear because that particular day she can’t cope with six flights of stairs?

    You can probably be sure some women aren’t nervous, but everyone you work with? Everyone who lives in your building (if your building has an elevator)? Maybe someone is scanning the lobby, looking at who if anyone is near the elevator, and sometimes deciding to go check the mail and wait for the next elevator. From outside, that looks just like someone deciding to pick up the mail for some other reason.

    Maybe that person who you think is climbing the stairs for exercise is doing so for other reasons. You’d have to know her quite well before she’d say anything.

  8. Rey Fox says

    And please welcome, for his semi-regular glib and illiterate one-sentence comment, KingUber! Round of applause, please!

  9. kristinc says

    When viewed as a larger picture, however, it’s a chirping canary

    A quiet canary, actually. /nitpickingagoodmetaphor

  10. says

    @John Morales 466,

    I provided you two examples, including this thread. You have now provided the third I was unable to find. That makes PZ’s claims repeated. In fact, it’s the only reason I care about this non-topic. Since any objective person can see I have won the point – PZ has repeatedly claimed to be on the side of those who are calm and collected – I will not address this further.

    @Nerd 468,

    Which MRA blog has been talking about this? What dissent was quoted in the USA Today article? Which side is declaring the other to be sexist, bigoted, and pro-rape for merely disagreeing? And remind me, who watches Watson’s videos? And of those people, who tends to re-blog them (pre-controversy)? Which MRA and “obsessive sexists”, exactly, picked out Watson’s brief side-point?

  11. ichthyic says

    Since any objective person can see I have won the point


    rationality is not your strong point, seriously.



  12. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Since any objective person can see I have won the point –

    Nope, you never won the point. You just delusionally think you did, like all the MRA fuckwits who keep annoyingly posting their egotistical and posturing fuckwittery here. And they don’t know how to shut the fuck up and listen, just like you don’t.

    MRAs kept the arguments going, not us. We would be happy if this died down as it was boring from the start. Why can’t you just shut the fuck up? You have nothing cogent to say. That’s right, MRA fuckwits can’t shut up, they just keep whinging. I’ll call you a Wahmbulance.

  13. julian says

    Mr. Hawkins, if you have a point to make make it before a thread goes quiet not after. Especially if you genuinely interested in having a discussion.

  14. says


    Your reflection of my rhetoric is a demonstration of bitterness on your part: You’re mad someone said something that bit at a person you like, so you just started using my exact language to make yourself feel better. It’s like when a kid drops a cookie on the ground and everyone laughs. That kid then goes and knocks a cookie out of the hand of someone else to make himself feel better.


    I’m not interested in your directives on how I ought to post on the Internet.

  15. John Morales says


    I note Michael Hawkins is yet another specimen who clearly is addicted to Pharyngula.

    (Understandable, that. Honey-pit, this is)

  16. Sally Strange, OM says

    I’m not interested in your directives on how I ought to post on the Internet.

    Chalk one up for “not genuinely interested in discussion”, then.

  17. says

    Sally Strange,

    Please constantly praise me, accepting that everything I say is right. Furthermore, go out and dance in the streets, traffic be damned. If you do not follow these directives, I can only conclude that you are not genuinely interested in discussion.

  18. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I can only conclude that you are not genuinely interested in discussion.

    That’s right, you aren’t interested in discussion, merely attempting to mock your betters. Which is all women and all men who think women are real people. Time to fade into the bandwidth, as you have said nothing cogent for days. But then, that is typical of MRA fuckwits. Your inane and superfluous posturing is amusing in that we can laugh at the idiocy of it. Bwahahaqhahahahaha

  19. David Marjanović, OM says

    So tell me – the women who have been trying to tell you that the situation is worse than you think, that you’re not listening, that you appear to making substantial light of what they are saying… do you really know more about being a woman in the US to accept your feeling over theirs?

    And Beatrice isn’t even in the US…

    Since any objective person can see I have won the point

    You haven’t read comment 479. Why aren’t you ashamed?

  20. Pteryxx says

    You’re lost as well. The point I said I won was that PZ has accused the other side of continuing this, or making it a big deal. You agree with me.

    Know who’s the “loser” of an egofest on the Internet?

    The one who can’t help but post the last word.

  21. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    *Sets up the Paryngula Saloon and Spanking Parlor™, Patricia, Princess of Pullets, Proprietor, betting pool for MH’s next immature and posturing post, which will prove once and for all, that the MRAs are keeping the discussion going, not us.*