Katha Pollit, left, a speaker at this year's Women in Secularism conference, with Melody Hensley, right, who has been the target of anti-feminist harassment online and in social media. Photo courtesy of Center for Inquiry

Katha Pollitt, left, a speaker at this year’s Women in Secularism conference, with Melody Hensley, right, who has been the target of anti-feminist harassment online and in social media. Photo courtesy of Brian Engler


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

(RNS) Does organized unbelief have a sexism problem?

That’s the question that launched the first “Women in Secularism” conference three years ago and one that will be closely re-examined at the third annual iteration of the event, being held this weekend (May 16-18) in Alexandria, Va.

“I don’t think much has changed,” said Melody Hensley, executive director of the Washington branch of the Center For Inquiry, a humanist organization that organizes the event. “I think things are very divided.”

Hensley, a longtime feminist and secular activist, speaks from experience. About 18 months ago, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after a vicious flood of online and social media attacks that included threats of rape, murder and photographs of dismembered women.

Many of her harassers, she believes, are men in the secular community. They feel threatened by the inclusion of issues that go beyond the central pillars of the secular movement, such as protections of freedom and conscience and church-state separation They want to silence activists, like Hensley and others, who want secularism to address broader issues of social justice, economic equality and racism.

Many in the movement — both men and women — say those are, or should be, secular issues.

“Atheism is not the most important issue in a state that is trying to outlaw abortion clinics or limit contraception coverage,” issues that disproportionately affect women, said Debbie Goddard, director of African Americans for Humanism and a speaker at previous Women in Secularism events. Those issues, she said, are frequently taken up by conservative religious groups, and that makes them of concern to nonbelievers.

“If we are not talking about a secularism that is concerned with these issues, then we are not talking about secularism,” she said.

Center for Inquiry's Debbie Goddard, speaking at last year's Women in Secularism conference. Photo courtesy of Center for Inquiry

Center for Inquiry’s Debbie Goddard, speaking at last year’s Women in Secularism conference. Photo courtesy of Brian Engler


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Women in Secularism was organized after a sexism scandal rattled the community in 2011. Eventually dubbed “Elevatorgate,” it erupted when Rebecca Watson, a young atheist activist, complained on her blog, Skepchick, about unwanted sexual advances in an elevator at an atheist conference.

Her post prompted comments from scores of women who said they, too, felt uncomfortable at atheist gatherings. But it also led to a now infamous string of put-downs from Richard Dawkins, arguably the world’s most prominent atheist, and others.

“Stop complaining,” Dawkins quipped in one comment. Many nonbelievers — not all of them women — saw this as an attempt to silence women. One year after the scandal, the first Women in Secularism Conference was held, with Watson among the speakers.

There has since been change for the better, many activists say. For one, women are equally represented in leadership positions at the major secular organizations. In 2012, lobbyist Edwina Rogers was appointed executive director of Secular Coalition for America, a Washington-based umbrella group that represents all the major atheist and humanist organizations. There are also women at or near the helms of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, among others.

The Secular Coalition for America's new leader Edwina Rogers. Photo courtesy Secular Coalition of America

In 2012, Edwina Rogers was appointed executive director of the Secular Coalition for America, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group that represents all the major atheist and humanist organizations. Photo courtesy of Secular Coalition for America


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

They also say the inclusion of formal anti-harassment policies at major conferences is a positive step. Some (mostly male) secularists worried that such policies they might interfere with free expression — which is something of a sacred cow for nonbelievers — but they’re now fairly routine.

And more women speakers are included at major conferences and meetings. Women made up about half of the featured speakers at the recent American Atheists convention in Salt Lake City, and they make up a large portion of the speakers roster at next month’s American Humanist Association’s national conference.

The real hostility to women in secularism seems to have moved online, as Hensley’s experience attests. Adam Lee, who blogs at Daylight Atheism, recently wrote about atheism’s “MRA problem,” referring to “men’s rights activists,” who congregate online. A recent survey showed that the vast majority of Reddit’s MRA community, which counts more than 90,000 subscribers, identify as atheist or “religiously indifferent.”

“There is an unreformed contingent of anti-feminists, that even though the broader secular movement is not in step with them, are not willing to be silent and they can make women’s lives miserable with their harassment if they choose,” Lee said.

So what can the secular community do to fight sexism in its own ranks? Hensley said more should be done to increase women’s attendance at conferences, where attendees are still predominantly male, while Goddard feels the movement’s agenda must be expanded.

“We tend to think that other people’s issues are fringe,” she said. “But if we include more women in leadership positions, include women’s voices at conferences and listen to women, then I think some of what we are now calling women’s issues will be seen as something the secular movement should be interested in, aware of and doing something about.”

KRE/MG END WINSTON

 

41 Comments

  1. The Great God Pan

    “But [Elevatorgate] also led to a now infamous string of put-downs from Richard Dawkins … and others — all men.”

    Actually, one of the most vocal and persistent critics to go after Watson was Abbie Smith–a woman. In fact, Smith’s attacks on Watson were much nastier and more personal than Dawkins’, who basically called “First World Problem” on the elevator incident that sparked the whole thing.

    • A lot of atheists don’t really think about their atheism all that much. They are happy to simply get on with life. Or they focus on the problems of religion. For many, atheism is a pragmatic or political thing. That’s fine.

      But another large group of atheists do need more than that. They want to explain why atheism makes sense, both for their own benefit, and to convince others. These are the skeptics and rationalists. Atheism doesn’t come with easy answers, so you have to be willing to dig into diverse subject areas and learn what you can, and apply critical thinking skills to that information.

      The collision occurs because some radical and gender feminists injected themselves into the atheist community. Yet their ideas do not withstand scrutiny. They often use censorship as the first response to opposition or question. They deny the plain evidence. They ridicule the idea that anyone else might be experiencing a problem. They demand to speak for everyone. And in most cases, they don’t even say much of anything new about atheism. Generally, they exhibit many of the same behaviors of religion that atheists reject.

      There is no “rage against women”. But there is strong opposition to certain individuals in our community, like Melody and Rebecca (but also PZ who is not a woman), whose behavior and speech have been worthy of repeated denunciation.

      • @Randy – thanks for that.
        But what are you talking about regarding skepticism and women’s rights?
        What is that connection exactly?

        Based on what I’m reading, women tried to participate in certain Atheist groups hoping to talk about women’s rights as part of the larger conversation about the damages of religion. On the surface this looks like a perfect fit because women are absolutely cheated out of many things thanks to religion. It would appear that women’s issues would be extremely welcome to other Atheists.

        Then came cruel words by Skepchick and Dawkins over the meaning of ‘a particular harassment endured by Rebecca Watson (skepchick)’ and this divided the two camps into two strongly opposing camps – women on one side and men on the other. Am I right?

        What I don’t get is this:

        1. Why is skepticism being equated with woman-bashing?
        I don’t get this – even a little.

        2. Are things getting better or worse?

        3. Do Feminists have a good point that they are not being treated fairly?

        4. Is there something particularly different about being a male Atheist vs. being a female atheist that I am not seeing?

        Thanks again

        • I suspect that some men feel that an atheist woman has fewer religious hang-ups about free love and presume to take advantage of what they perceive as a special opportunity. But what exactly is the obnoxious behavior? A man on an elevator making a fresh remark? Or hostile opinions being expressed in a group setting?

    • What’s missing is the entire truth. Sexism isn’t actually a significant problem in the skeptic/atheist/humanist community. People who are non-religious tend to not hold onto the bigotries and hatreds that religion spreads.

      What we have is a few vocal individuals claiming endlessly that there’s a super serious problem and that it’s located within the skeptic community, without ever showing evidence of it. Like in this story, it’s always that someone *believes* it’s skeptics, when it’s far more likely random amoral internet trolls who gather on boards like /b/ on 4chan.

      Rebecca Watson has never presented one shred of evidence of her claims about the supposed sexism issues in the secular community, and on atheism+, and her blog, and her twitter, and youtube and everywhere else she spouts her claims, anyone who disagrees is banned and accused of being a misogynist. This sort of behavior is very much like the behavior of theists who ban anyone who disagrees with them from religious forums. As far as I can tell, Watson’s belief in this claimed problem is faith-based, and she’s making a religion of it. She has her followers, and the nonbelievers are cast out.

      In one of her videos, by the way, Rebecca Watson says that atheist/skeptically minded men who aren’t interested in hearing about feminism are, and I quote, “worse than rape threats”. This is the level of intellectual discourse Watson employs, and she has no tolerance at all for anyone who doesn’t take what she says on faith.

      As far as I can tell, she is not a skeptic. Her religious mind is still in full force, it’s just applied to a different kind of faith.

  2. It’s not atheism AND women that men have a problem with it is atheism AND “social justice warriors” that men have a problem with.

    When PZ Myers and friends co-opted RationalWiki with their militant feminism and social justice stuff, (reddit atheismplus) men reacted. That unfortunately tarred atheism with the militant feminism dogma.

    That, Ms.Winston, is what you overlooked or intentionally ignored.

  3. Reggie, I have a hard time understanding how disagreements about ideas like what you refer to as “militant feminism” from “social justice warriors” leads to “a vicious flood of online and social media attacks that included threats of rape, murder and photographs of dismembered women.” There seems to be a more significant problem than one based on differences of opinion or even ideology.

  4. “A recent survey showed…” Citation needed.

    There was a “survey” which readers of “mensrights” subreddit became aware of when it had been completed, because the results were significantly different from posts and comments in the subreddit. Investigation showed that not only were many contributors not even aware of the survey, but that it was also manipulated by easily-identifiable automated ballot stuffing by people seeking to smear the readers of “mensrights”. These two problems render the results meaningless.

    To continue to discuss this survey without even so much as a disclaimer, Kimberly, reflects incompetence or bias.

    And even had the survey measured what it claimed to measure, it would hardly reflect Reddit’s “MRA community” which is spread across multiple subreddits, but merely the people who read or post in “mensrights”, regardless of their position on men’s rights, and regardless of how they label themselves.

    MRA’s consistently stand for equal rights for men (e.g. the right not to be cut without consent, the right not to be presumed to be the rapist when both parties were equally drunk), equal responses to biases against men (e.g it is culturally acceptable to strip, grope, and joke about castrating and raping men on television), and equal responses to the harms that men face (e.g. most suicides are men, there are few if any battered men’s shelters in most areas, men and boys are falling out of the educational system). MRAs are opposed to sexism, including when that sexism originates in feminism, and they will call it out.

    I don’t label myself MRA, because I’m not an activist, and I don’t limit myself just to the rights of men. But the things MRAs are asking for are valid.

    By perpetuating stereotypes about a group seeking equal rights, you are part of the problem.

    • @Randy,

      I see.

      It is too bad that men’s rights are getting tied up in the secular movement. I have yet to figure out how they got connected.

      Feminists have been in favor of the kind of rights you list – even for me. But for every woman caught gaming the system I would bet you would find four men who were not caught or even questioned. But I’d be glad to look at evidence. An crucial component of skepticism that seems sorely missing in this debate .

      • but for every woman caught gaming the system I would bet you would find four men who were not caught or even questioned

        And you know this how?
        This is precisely the ignorance that the MRM fights. The HyperActive Agency Detection Device that predisposes humans to belief in the supernatural is not the only delusion that massively impacts society. The ‘women are wonderful’ effect is even more powerful. From wikipedia,

        The “women are wonderful” effect is the phenomenon found in psychological research which suggests that people associate more positive attributes with the general social category of women compared to men. This effect reflects an emotional bias toward the female gender as a general case. The phrase was coined by Eagly & Mladinic (1994) after finding that both male and female participants tend to assign exceptionally positive traits to the female gender (males are also viewed positively, though not quite as positively), with female participants showing a far more pronounced bias. The authors supposed that the positive general evaluation of women might derive from the association between women and nurturing characteristics.

        Women are held less accountable in pretty much everything. Google ‘Men Sentenced To Longer Prison Terms Than Women For Same Crimes’

        If you’re a convicted criminal, the best thing you can have going for you might be your gender. A new study by Sonja Starr, an assistant law professor at the University of Michigan, found that men are given much higher sentences than women convicted of the same crimes in federal court. The study found that men receive sentences that are 63 percent higher, on average, than their female counterparts.

        • @Astrokid,

          I see your point. You want skepticism applied to all claims.
          You see women as not applying skepticism to their own claims about themselves.
          And men are not applying skepticism to the women’s claims.

          Are you in favor of men applying skepticism to men’s claims?

          • Yes.
            I couldnt care less about the gender of the person applying skepticism, but I do want to hear a diverse set of opinions, facts, and interpretation of facts.
            Look at the diversity of the speakers/panelists at the ‘women in secularism’ conference. There are no conservatives, no libertarians, no non-feminists, no anti-feminists, no religious women. The conf is more aptly titled ‘Lefty feminists in Atheism movement’.
            Best skepticism advice I heard

            I hadn’t really thought in terms of “skepticism” as a concept but it matches a lot of what I have thought independently. It’s a good word. Here is what I think: people are not good at seeing things from different directions. They are very good at one direction. But trying to do two is very hard work. There’s an easy solution which is to get two people together with different views. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. That is how you learn to think better. That is why I go to places to meet people I know I will disagree with because I want to know more stuff and have better thoughts.
            People ought to do it but they do not.
            I don’t understand though, why skeptics do not do this already. Is it because there’s too much science not enough philosophy? Maybe you do visit eg. religious boards but just don’t know how to handle being on the other end of things?
            I tell you this because I want you to know that talking to people isn’t easy. It’s hard. It’s very hard. It’s so hard that we are probably not going to be able to pull it off. I happen to think if it’s even 1% likely then I’ll give it a try

            Whats happened over the years is that people who have critiqued feminism have been marginalized and thrown out of the Sisterhood. This included people like Erin Pizzey in UK from the 70s, Camille Paglia, Wendy McElroy, Christina Hoff Sommers.
            for e.g look at this one
            http://www.freezepage.com/1399064185JDOLBIPZOL

            The Princess at the Window: A New Gender Morality. By. Donna Laframboise. Toronto, Ontario: Penguin Books, 1996,
            Reviewed by Edward S. Herold, Ph.D., The University of Guelph, Department of Family Studies, Guelph, Ontario, Canada N1G 2W1.

            We are making the same arguments she made 20 years ago, similar arguments Belford Bax made 100 years ago. And yet feminism grows from strength to strength institutionally, and the injustice it heaps upon (impacted) men goes unnoticed.

          • Okay – thanks.

            So the skeptic community has its own thing; and at the moment the issue is men’s rights vs. Feminism.

            And I’m seeing this is a subset of the Secular movement. Though an important subset to be sure.

            Even so, I do see religion as the much larger problem in society – as its clashes have the potential to destroy the world.
            Religion poisons everything.

            As for Feminism, I’m not convinced it poisons everything nor do I think it will destroy the world. But it looks like it needs to be examined with the same skeptical eye it applies to others.

  5. Kimberly Winston

    Hi, Ron! Thank you for a great comment, which I have featured. I did not mean to imply it was a direct result – as in people sat around a table and said “Elevatorgate happened, let’s have a conference about women in secularism.” But I have been told by multiple people that it came out of what some perceived as a general climate of anti-feminism in the community at the time. Elevatorgate, they said, was the apex of the climate and Women in Secularism was seen by these same people as a step forward – a big one – to address that climate. I am sorry for any confusion.

  6. Well, out of hope that your religious beliefs and journalistic training lead you to value truth here is my pretty extensively researched piece on the original “Elevatorgate” controversy. It must be mentioned that there is a person on social media called “Elevatorgate” who makes it his mission to record every embarrassing or hateful thing that some feminists and social justice warriors say: this post of mine is about the incident in the elevator with Rebecca Watson and not social media person.

    The blog, Traditional Christianity, is now defunct. Which is sad because one or two of the links no longer work though google or the Wayback Machine could probably get one the same information.

    Anyway this is much, much, much more complicated than you make it out to be (my post is just about the initial incident and it’s hundreds of words long) and the ramifications for the larger atheist/skeptical community are still reverberating to this day.

    https://traditionalchristianity.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/elevatorgate/

  7. A few extra things, just in case you want to research this farther because it can get rather confusing , esp now with a few years and more incidents having passed:
    The main defender of Steph McGraw was Abbie Smith, who is a respected virologist. She took issue with Wat son’s use of her platform (speakers privilege) to abuse McGraw, and had the TEMERITY to demand EVIDENCE for what some of Watson was saying. She has a message board called The Slymepit (meant as irony) on which she sometimes participates and which often serves to mock or track the doings of people such as Rebecca Watson and her friends both on Skepchick and “Free Thought Blogs”. I here give a link because anyone can lurk or join and many people say many untrue things about the members of the board, what the board is about, etc: but they NEVER ever provide a link. Indeed on parts of “Free Thought Blogs” merely being a present or past member of “The Slymepit” is enough to get one banned.

    http://slymepit.com/phpbb/index.php

    Anyway, lots of drama, but unfortunately many innocent and not so innocent people are caught up in it. I will say that over the past two years it seems for the most part that Rebecca Watson and crew have been marginalized. They have their one or two sparsely attended conferences and they aren’t often invited to speak at the larger events. Their blogs are mostly selectively edited echo chambers, so in my opinion their fate is deserved. Whether you are a religious skeptic, an agnostic skeptic, or an atheist skeptic, paying homage to a singular Church of Feminism (or really any “Deity” besides the truth of things) is not something you can do and still remain a skeptic.

  8. Atheism does not have an MRA problem.
    Atheism has a White-knight, Mangina and misandrist problem.
    White Knights like Ron Lindsay, who will side with Team Woman to look like a good guy, and call that “evidence based skepticism”. LOL Ron.
    Manginas like PZMyers, Adam Lee, Jason Thib, who will do anything to get a pat from women, those wonderfully superior creatures that need protection.
    Misandrists like Ophelia Benson, Stephanie Zvan, and skepchicks ..failures in life that found an escape valve in feminism.

  9. (Cross posted comment from WaPo)

    A point not mentioned in the piece is that some of the women participating in this conference have been downright hostile to other secular woman who disagree with their point of view. They have drawn “lines in the sand”. As a woman who has long been supportive of secular causes and active in the community, I certainly do not feel welcome at this event in which the speakers have been selected based on if they are on friendly terms with the organizers.

    They have considered much fair criticism to be “harrassment” and have closed off certain options for reasonable disucssion. For these reasons and others, I don’t consider this conference in its current setup to be a worthwhile way of pursuing progress on these issues.

  10. Rich Sanderson

    This article is very biased. It ignores the years of abuse, shunning, and intimidation from various people associated with Skepchick and FreeThoughtBlogs. In fact, the aforementioned Abbie Smith was harassed by the friend of one prominent FTB blogger (Zvan). Later this person was booted from FTB after sending another FTB blogger threats of violence. On that very night, Zvan raised a toast to this violent bully. Is she really the kind of divisive person who should be criticizing other women? I don’t think so.

    Also, there is no mention of Rebecca Watson’s ableism that upset the community, and then the bullying of EllenBeth Wachs and Sara Mayhew. Numerous other women have remarked that they feel intimidated and silenced by the likes of Rebecca Watson and Stephanie Zvan.

    Lastly, many of these people are keen to publish serious allegations about others in the community, but are very quiet when it comes to an FTB poster known as Ogvorbis, who actually admitted a very serious crime. Others such as PZ Myers and Lousy Canuck have also had very serious allegations made against. Their slogan is “always believe the victim”. That is, until, the victim accuses their heroes like PZ Myers.

    On my Twitter bio you can find a link to block list containing many of these bullies. It helps to keep women (and men) informed of who to avoid in the atheist/secular community.

    The good news is that movement fascists such as Rebecca Watson and PZ Myers are being sidelined. They are becoming persona non grata, and as soon as the atheist/secular movement leaves them behind, the better. That is why the best conference for this movement is TAM, which had 50% speaker equality and an anti-harassment policy well before the others. The FTBullies like Watson and Myers avoid TAM, making it a much safer and pleasant environment for women and fellow atheists and skeptics. Sign up.

  11. I wonder what Ron Lindsay finds fair with suggesting that Richard Dawkins wanted to “silence women”? How about he saw that the community was quarrelling over (seemingly) nothing; didn’t care about the “he said, she said” and feuds, to which the debate had degenerated and wanted to remind everyone that there are more important matters to focus on, perhaps within the purview of atheism and feminism?

    It’s a fairly eccentric interpretation to use Richard Dawkins’ “Dear Muslima” response, which was a call to think about oppressed women in Islamic societies, and warp this 180° and make it about silencing women. But it’s not unusual to read such dishonest pieces that regularly fly off the printing presses of the Social Justice propaganda bureaus. “Rebecca Watson heroically stood up against the privileged men that wanted to silence her!” we might read. Simultaneously, PZ Myers uses his status and influence to kick Abbie Smith out of the movement, at some point explicitly (Pharyngula, “There is no blacklist”, May 25, 2012). This gender pairing is not important in that case, because it is in the way of the desired story. However, when Sara Moglia of SkepChick reported to have overheard Richard Dawkins saying that he doesn’t want to share a stage with Rebecca Watson (who wasn’t invited anyway), that’s again an outrage and about gender roles and privilege. Curiously, PZ Myers joined the outrage, briefly reminded himself he did something worse (by orders of magnitude) and quietly swept it under the carpet and condemned Richard Dawkins in the same go.

    However, Richard Dawkins’ statement can’t even be an issue. Because by her own admission Rebecca Watson wouldn’t want to share a stage with Richard Dawkins anyway. She wrote she’d never buy anything from him again, and won’t listen to his lectures or support him in any way and wrote that she “recommend that others do the same” (in “Privilege Delusion”, July 6, 2011). It escalated the situation even more and backfired, so that Rebecca Watson later claimed that this wasn’t a boycott at all. Propaganda machine to the rescue! White knight PZ Myers seconded – not a boycott – and wrote that claiming otherwise was an “absurdity by the misogynists” (comment 53 in “What misogynists call outspoken women”, September 29, 2011). The good thing is that everyone can check it and get an idea of the warped minds of these authoritarians (also not the Orwellian undercurrents, effectively blacklisting someone isn’t a backlist, boycotting someone isn’t a boycott and so on).

    This is but a very tiny snapshot of the double standards and hypocrisy of this faction. There is something last week. There is something last month, last year, all the way back to Elevatorgate. Trolls and misogynists notwithstanding, there is something rotten about this discourse.

    In reality, the series of events that are summed up under “Elevatorgate” have brought about various ideological and temperamental differences in the Atheist-Skeptics “movement” and it sorted itself since then. Rebecca Watson, PZ Myers and many more who mainly write for FreeThoughtBlogs and SkepChick have adopted an ideology the internet has coined “social justice warriorism” – it’s a form of Progressive Authoritarianism. They are arguably part of another movement that made the news recently. There was Suey Park and her #CancelColbert. There are now attempts to stifle freedom of speech everywhere based on “trigger warnings”. Rebecca Watson, PZ Myers et al denigrate it as “freeze peach” and the professor is in legal trouble for having expressed he liked to have a student newspaper banned at his university.

    Those who don’t believe in Social Justice Warriorism are labelled misogynists and harassers; are smeared and put onto online pillories for shunning and shaming. There is a peculiar disregard of facts, but “impression and perceptions” count and are reinforced within their movement. Hence, people from the in-group can do no wrong, and are seen most charitably, whereas everyone else is open game, where their statements and behaviour can be misrepresented and the misrepresentation is misrepresented again, in a kind of Chinese whisper game. The ideological undergird is that someone doesn’t want to check the facts, because that would (allegedly) expose them to something “triggering” – that’s why they rely on hearsay and impressions of others. PZ Myers and Rebecca Watson utilize these techniques masterfully. They tell their flock they won’t provide links to sources. That’s another checkbox for “authoritarian”. They will, however, present carefully collected information that supports their agenda. For example, just conflate all critics with the misogynists and trolls that exist somewhere and never have to defend the merits of their Social Justice ideology.

    It’s a contradictory ideology that places emphasis on impression and perceptions rather than facts, casually operates with what would be otherwise considered ad hominem (skin colour, gender/sex, suspected motivations of the arguer), has some progressive tenets such as “blank slate” views (on FTBCon, PZ Myers online conference, it was claimed that sex/gender were cultural constructs) – Myers/Watson also rejected and attacked the whole field of Evolutionary Psychology like Creationists do with Evolution, because it’s findings disagree with their ideology. That even brought them critique from notables, such as Steven Pinker and Jerry Coyne. They called PZ Myers attacks “ideological” (Coyne) and a “prosecution” (Pinker).

    I readily believe that there are misogynists or MRAs (which may or may not be the same thing), yet conflating this with much broader issues is a Reddit herring created by Stephanie Zvan. There is a lot more, like the conundrum that international people likely have little interest in national American social issues, but I conclude it here.

    This barely scratches the surface. There is some accommodationists wars in there (Progressive Authoritarians tend to be multiculturalists and Islam accommodationists), there is some science wars in there (postmodernism, humanities vs natural science), there are some political left/right issues in there, even though that plays a much smaller role since most people who disagree with them are also left-leaning, then there is national issues vs international interests, disagreement over priorities, a lot of temperamental difference (some people like the argument and debate and an adversarial culture, Social Justice Warriors prefer Authoritarian “safe spaces” in which they can hate on someone outside together and preferably never have to deal with criticism).

    If someone really thinks this is all about women vs anti-feminists, they just expose their ignorance or that they have consumed too much Social Justice League Kool-Aid. It is high time to have a look at the bigger picture.

  12. Debbie Goddard speaks of a “secular movement.” I am unclear what she has in mind, or her proposed raison d’etre. For we already have:
    * An ‘atheist movement’ to promote acceptance of atheists, to encourage atheists to be ‘out’, and perhaps also to persuade more people to be atheists;

    * A ‘skeptics movement’ to promote the application of logic & evidence-based reasoning to all questions, (the existence of deities being just one);

    * An ‘humanist movement’ to promote an arbitrary set of of social values which are not inspired by any gods.

    The only ‘secular’ issue should be church:state separation — keeping secular institutions free of religious entanglement. This is the sole mission of a secular, non-religious group like AU; it is also one of several missions of an atheist group like FFRF.

    The “broader issues of social justice, economic equality and racism” ought be addressed either by the humanists, or narrow-focus pro- economic equality or anti-racism movements. These most definitely have nothing to do with atheism. The argument, that atheism must campaign for women’s rights, because atheism is against religion, and religions traditionally discriminate against women, is a non sequitur. One may as well argue that, as religions traditionally support the arts, atheism should be against Bach and Michelangelo.

    It’s a question of mission focus vs. mission creep. As reasoning, open-minded skeptics, we would gladly debate this point. The other camp, however, has declared it not up for debate; one must either accept their dogma, or be vilified as misogynists and rape-culture-enablers.

    NB: One can support gender equality without having to buy into the radical feminist dogma spewed by Hensley, Pollitt, et al., which is largely either devoid of logic, unsupported by evidence, or simply unfalsifiable.

    One can also be concerned over true instances of entrenched sexism without having to: 1) accept the labeling of an ill-timed, inept pick-up line as “sexual harassment”; 2) consider Melody Hensley’s true ailment to be anything other than Munchausen’s.

  13. Thanks for the article, Kimberley.
    One thing I do feel needs correcting though is that you describe the so-called elevatorgate event as something which happened “at an atheist conference”. This is how I first heard of it too, but actually it transpires that in fact it happened in a hotel, late at night. It is true that one of the people in the elevator had been to an atheist conference during the previous day (I don’t know if the conference was in the same hotel or not) but this assault was not at the conference. This may seem like a small pedantic point, but really it isn’t, and as a journalist, I’m sure that you would see why, given the fact that it has been highly publicised. I can’t help wondering that if someone had been assaulted six hours after attending a christian or a moslem event in a hotel whether you would have described the assault as happening ‘at the religious event’. Thanks for listening.

  14. “Women in Secularism was organized after a sexism scandal rattled the community in 2011. Eventually dubbed “Elevatorgate,” it erupted when Rebecca Watson, a young atheist activist, complained on her blog, Skepchick, about unwanted sexual advances in an elevator at an atheist conference.”

    There was no “harassment”. According to Watson herself, the man asked her to his room for coffee and conversation. She declined, and that was it. In no way did “Elevator Guy” harass her, and he politely took her “No thank you” and didn’t press her on the issue.

    It’s amazing how much mileage the victim feminists have gotten out of this complete non-event. Of course, the drama-whinging has had a massively negative effect on actual feminism. Feminism used to be about empowering women and removing obstacles to their success; now it’s all about treating every woman as a victim whose precious fee-fees must be preciously coddled. Real feminism has lost years of hard-fought victories because of cynical, self-aggrandizing drama-mongers like Rebecca Watson.

  15. real horrorshow

    One of my points has already been made above i.e. the way the author, in successive paragraphs uses the terms “unbelief” AKA atheism, “secularism”, “humanist” and “feminist” as if they were all somehow synonymous. Well, they aren’t.

    This sort of deliberate muddling of language along with attempts to re-define it are the hallmarks of the Social Justice Warriors. So for instance following someone on Twitter is “harassment”; Storifying their Tweets is “stalking”; disagreement is “violence”.

    This is Newspeak. It is an attempt at thought control. Add in the shameless disregard for facts and Kimberly Winston is looking very much like a sort feeble-minded junior officer of Thinkpol.

    On another note, it is downright risible to accuse Richard Dawkins of “a now infamous string of put-downs” (it was two comments in fact) and then, in the next paragraph concede that: “There are also women at or near the helms of the… Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.” Actually half of those at the helm of RDRS are female. Why is the horrible old sexist allowing this? One might wonder.

    Not only this, but you decorate your article with a picture of one of these women; Edwina Rogers, better known perhaps as Executive Director of Secular Coalition for America.

    One might think that Women in Secularism might have applauded her appointment in early 2012. In fact they were horrified. Why? Because this conspicuously capable and experienced woman was a Republican. In fact a former Republican lobbyist.

    Leading Free Thought Bloggers – echoed by their commentariat – were swift to denounce the appointment and Roger’s views. This was before anyone had actually asked what those views were or, more importantly, seen how Rogers did the job.

    Greta Christina interviewed Rogers and then pronounced “this is a disaster”. It didn’t stop Christina from sharing a platform with Rogers at the first WiS though. Christina is one of the more savvy of the FTBers. She knows what side her bread is buttered.

  16. I’m sure Melody gets genuine harassment on occasion, but she also has an unfortunate tendency to A.) be incendiary and divisive, and B.) characterize ALL criticism as “harassment”. I criticized her on twitter a few weeks ago for writing some incredibly problematic tweets which seemingly tried to pit the gay and transgender communities against each other. She made blatantly false statements, like that drag queens and transgender people are completely different (the reality is more complicated than that, as she would already know if she had even a basic grasp on LGBT issues and queer theory).

    Her response? She called me an “MRA”. I’m a gay liberal in Madison, WI and I have Women’s Studies courses all over my college transcripts. (sigh)

    The divisiveness and harassment comes from ALL sides in this, and Melody is responsible for her share of muddying the waters as well. She and her cohorts could do a lot to further meaningful discussions of gender equality if they would stop getting themselves embroiled in petty Internet bickering and demonizing all their detractors.

    • “She and her cohorts could do a lot to further meaningful discussions of gender equality if they would stop getting themselves embroiled in petty Internet bickering and demonizing all their detractors.”

      Call me cynical, but to me it seems that for Rebecca Watson, PZ Myers, Melody Hensley and many others, embroiling themselves in petty internet bickering and demonizing their detractors is their whole raison d’être. That, and making a comfortable living without having to do much in the way of actual work. It’s as if gender equality is just the schtick they use to attain their own personal goals. If they really cared about feminism and gender equality, we wouldn’t have witnessed the gruesome squalling, viciousness, vindictiveness and utter abandonment of rationality that has poisoned reputable feminism since Rebecca Watson hit the jackpot with her (more than likely apocryphal) Elevatorgate tale. The absolutely disgraceful and shameful way they shat all over Harriet Hall at TAM (over a silly T-shirt) is just one of myriad examples over the last two or three years of how they give the appearance of not really caring about feminism or gender equality.

  17. I dislike the term “mangina”, but it has reached the point where the concept is really quite apparent. It has become a social fashion for high profile atheist males (PZ Myers seems to be the yardstick) to abase males as some “collective”, while presenting themselves as the “only good men” in an attempt to gain favour with women. But not just any or every woman, they seek the favour of highly narcissistic women with controlling tendencies, who will use any dishonest tactic they can to present themselves as pure victims and never predatory. No surprise we are starting to hear some of the personal grit come out in public about their emotionally and physically abusive tendencies in personal relationships (see Karen Stollznow).

    If it were individual males who simply had cringeworthy tastes in what they wanted in a woman’s personality, I would shrug. However it is being presented that if you do not kowtow to these female personality types, then you literally are evil. More than a few allegations of being a rapist, and rape apology (which is really the lite version of accusing someone of rape) have been leveled at those who dared to maintain some self respect – even women who disagreed have been labelled as rapists, often due to the fact that internet names are often gender ambiguous. Ironic that the same feminists who decry assuming someone as male, assumed these people were male for dissenting.

    As alluded to above, this dichotomy laden narrative, ie predatory oppressive males vs victimised oppressed females, is pure fiction. (Much of this dichotomous thinking comes from the marxist feminist way of thinking)

    Apart from those males dishing out a lot of this bile from the feminist perspective, there is a long list of women who have been swept under the carpet by the gender apartheid narrative. Starting with Stef Mcgraw, Rose St Clair, Abbie Smith, Sara Mayhew, Paula Kirby….those were some of the original ones. The list has grown and grown.

  18. Further to my earlier comment, I accept the correction by Matt Cavanaugh, that I should have descibed the ‘elevatorgate’ incident as a ‘conversation’ rather than ‘assualt’ as there was no physical contact involved. I had been misled by an untrue account on the internet and repeated it without checking it. As I’m not a reporter or a journalist, I guess that this a common mistake to make, just as to repeat that the elevator incident happened at an atheist conference, when actually it happened at a hotel several hours after a conference had finished is also a mistake.

  19. To address the title of article — there is no problem with ‘Women in Secularism.’ By-and-large, the vast majority of the women do quite well in the community.

    That is not to say some women don’t have problems. But their problems are along the lines of self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

    The truth is there is a problem with a small cadre of professional crap-disturbers/pseudo-victims (mostly centered around FreeThoughtBlogs (FTB)and SkepChick (SC) that routinely claim any form of disagreement with their philosophical positions is misogynistic abuse. Additional sources of ‘misogynistic abuses’ include the remarking on their (FTB/SC) constant trolling of the skeptic/atheist communities, pointing out their libel and slandering of other atheists, or even merely commenting on the frequency of their routine and toxic insults towards men and the community-at-large, is some of sort of misogynistic, sexual harassing, rape-culture-enabling potential-rapist.

    That group of small, by highly-vocal, trolls is the group that makes all the noise and over-the-top claims of harassment. And while these do get some blow-back from their BS, it’s far more a case of MUTUAL COMBAT, not true victimization or ‘harassment.’

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