Last weekend I gave a talk at CFI’s Student Leadership Conference. They asked if I’d talk about the Religious Right’s War on Women, and I was only too happy to oblige because it’s an important issue that I enjoy discussing. The night before I spoke, though, I became aware of what I think is a pretty serious problem with anti-feminist thinking amongst the very people I was meant to be addressing.
You may recall that last week I posted this video, in which I describe an unpleasant encounter I had with a fellow atheist that I thought might serve as a good example of what men in our community should strive to avoid – basically, in an elevator in Dublin at 4AM I was invited back to the hotel room of a man I had never spoken to before and who was present to hear me say that I was exhausted and wanted to go to bed.
The night prior to my talk, I happened across a video rebuttal from a woman who I was told would be at the CFI conference. I was pretty frustrated, seeing a young woman who I’m sure is intelligent be so incredibly dismissive of my experience and that of other women in this community, and so uneducated about the fundamentals of feminist thought. She ends the video by asking, “What effect do you think it has on men to be constantly told how sexist and destructive they are?”
I made the mistake of replying to the uploader (stclairose) and some of the hateful commenters at 2 AM – never a good idea. My response to her question at the time was that I never called all men sexist and destructive, nor did I do it constantly. In fact, in my video I specifically said that most of the conference attendees – men and women – were awesome. What I should have added is this: for the men (and women) who are behaving in sexist and destructive ways, I hope that pointing it out to them has the effect of making them consider their actions and stop being sexist and damaging.
When I was discussing the video with friends the next day, I was blown away to be told that there were other student leaders who had expressed similar dismissive attitudes recently on Facebook and on other blogs. An hour or so prior to my talk, someone sent me this link to a post by Stef McGraw on the UNI Freethinkers site. I added a paragraph of that response to a slide for the intro to my talk, in which I hoped to call out the anti-woman rhetoric my audience was engaging in....
I hear a lot of misogyny from skeptics and atheists, but when ancient anti-woman rhetoric like the above is repeated verbatim by a young woman online, it validates that misogyny in a way that goes above and beyond the validation those men get from one another. It also negatively affects the women who are nervous about being in similar situations. Some of them have been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted, and some just don’t want to be put in that position. And they read these posts and watch these videos and they think, “If something were to happen to me and these women won’t stand up for me, who will?”
After my talk, I met a ton of amazing young men and women who came to talk to me about their own experiences. Some were considering not attending the conference due to the anti-woman sentiments they were reading. Some told me that the previous year, they watched in horror as Heidi Anderson was shouted down while on the stage discussing feminist issues. I think that the intelligent, thoughtful, caring people I met at the conference were very much in the majority, but are often out-shouted by an angry minority. Over the next two days I would see that kind of angry bile dominating the #CFICON Twitter hashtag, demanding I retract my statements and apologize....When Skepchick blogged about her experiences, Richard Dawkins, ever the gentleman, sent her some instructions via the Pharyngula combox (it's confirmed that it was indeed Dawkins):
Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and . . . yawn . . . don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.
Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so . . .
And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.
Dawkins' 'lay back and enjoy it' advice didn't sit well with Skepchick:
This is especially interesting since Richard Dawkins sat next to me in Dublin and heard me talk about the threats of rape I get... I’ve spoken about [female genital mutilation] a lot, and the worst of my hate mail from atheists is about that.
So to have my concerns – and more so the concerns of other women who have survived rape and sexual assault – dismissed thanks to a rich white man comparing them to the plight of women who are mutilated, is insulting to all of us. Feminists in the west have been staunch allies of the women being brutalized elsewhere, and they’ve done a hell of a lot more than Richard Dawkins when it comes to making a difference in their lives.
That wasn’t the end, of course. Dawkins went on to compare my experience with his frustration at riding in an elevator with a person chewing gum (presumably he was once accosted by such a person who rubbed Bubble Yum into his silky white hair). You can read all his comments to date at Shakesville or one of the other sites linked above.
This weekend when I read Dawkins’ comments, I was, briefly, without hope. I had already seen thefuture of this movement dismissing these concerns, and now I was seeing the present do the same.
What is the point in continuing?
Skepchick includes a screenshot of one coprolalic message she got from a freethinker colleague about genital mutilation. You'll have to go to the link above to read it.
It's fascinating to watch this naif come to grips with the 'skeptical community'. Heck, there are quite a few middle aged Christian guys who've dealt with these people for a while who could'a told her about them. I've never been propositioned sexually by an atheist, but a lot of them have told me to do lewd things, mostly to myself.
Skepchick is learning. The 'war on women' isn't from the religious right. We on that wing are trying very hard to [re]establish a Christian culture that is the anthesis of the free-thought sewer.
Why would Skepchick think that a libertine cult that acknowledges no objective moral law and expects no ultimate accounting for behavior would treat her as anything but prey? They're evolved, she's evolved, and they're just trying to maximize reproductive success, or at least get some practice with dry runs.
Who would'a guessed that atheists might be jerks?
Revolutions consume their children. The atheist revolution is no exception. Skepchick is realizing that in the atheist coven she's less on the podium than on the plate. Her next lucid moment will be when she realizes that her male skeptic colleagues take that Darwinian stuff quite literally.