The Washington Post has a longish article on l’affaire Silverman. It’s a bit unsatisfying, because we still don’t know the specifics of what American Atheists considered a good reason to fire him, and he denies everything.
But where it gets interesting and more than a little dismaying is when it starts listing all the problems in the atheist movement. I remember the days when you’d go to a meeting and there all these enthusiastic, diverse people who were thrilled to just be there and meet like-minded peers…and now the ones who are most enthusiastic are dudebros who see it as an opportunity to bash feminazis with other dudebros. It’s taken a lot of joy out of the movement.
A couple of interesting points, though: 1) David Silverman is the first and only atheist to face any consequences at all for his behavior from an atheist organization. All the other sleazoids are still doing just fine, are still getting invited to speak at conferences, are still drawing a crowd. 2) All of the accused deny all wrong-doing, no matter how solid the evidence. The Bart Simpson approach seems to work: rape or harass someone, then just say, “I didn’t do it,” and among atheists, you’re golden.
Here’s the depressing section of the article.
Organized secularism has been struggling with charges of misogyny, sexism and sexual harassment for almost a decade. The problem went public in 2011 when a then-little-known atheist blogger, Rebecca Watson, described unwanted sexual advances from a man at an atheist conference who followed her into an elevator and to her hotel room.
Correction: Watson was a well-known atheist blogger, active on Skepchick and SGU, and frequently invited to speak at conference…like the international conference where this event occurred. Also, the man didn’t follow her to her hotel room. But the rest is deplorable truth.
She was flooded with both supportive and haranguing comments. World-renowned atheist Richard Dawkins told her to “stop whining” and “grow up.” Dawkins — whose appearances at secularist gatherings can make or break attendance — has been called out multiple times for sexist statements but remains much in demand as a speaker.
Richard Carrier, a science historian and popular secularist speaker, has both apologized for and denied accusations of unwanted sexual advances at secularist and atheist events. He has been banned from at least one conference.
Michael Shermer, organizer of the popular Las Vegas Skepticon event, has denied allegations of sexual harassment and assault from several women, and remains editor of Skeptic magazine and a top speaker at secularist events.
Most recently, cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, another star speaker and best-selling author, was suspended in the spring by Arizona State University for what it described as a decade of inappropriate behavior, some of it at secularist events.
Sikivu Hutchinson sums it all up.
The alleged misconduct of these leaders, “was tacitly co-signed by an atheist leadership that is largely hostile to social and gender justice and complicit in the marginalization of women’s issues,” said Sikivu Hitchinson [sic], an activist who is often critical of organized atheism on the subject of women and people of color. “The atheist movement is no different from other male-dominated bastions in which sexual harassment and predatory behavior toward women are part of the culture.”
Ah, those heady days when I was blind to the injustices implicit in the movement, and could just think happy thoughts and be optimistic about the future. Why did you people have to open my eyes and ruin it all for me?
Maybe because it wasn’t so great for many people who didn’t happen to be old white cis heterosexual men.