Author Emily Dietle
My focus is on state-church separation & social issues. I'm an avid reader, and feel that one of our most valuable tools is the free movement of information and ideas. | @emilyhasbooks
Today I welcome a guest blog from Martin S. Pribble, a talented atheist/skeptic blogger at martinspribble.com. Follow him on twitter at @martinpribble.
If there was one thing I thought I could hold onto as a truth, it was that people in the atheist/skeptical communities were in tune with many of the things I hold dear. But it seems to me that recently some aspects of the community have come to light that are a little more than dismaying. As you may know, I am an avid supporter of human rights, with a particular focus on women’s rights and equitable treatment of women. But it seems to me that not all in these communities hold these same opinions or standards. Am I disappointed? Yes. Am I surprised? Well to give an honest answer, no.
It’s a hot topic, and one well worth bringing up; “Are atheist/skeptical conventions breeding grounds for misogyny?” I would have hoped that the answer was a resounding “no” from attendees, but it seems that this is not the experience of some who have felt threatened or insulted at these events. Some have even said that they have never gone to a convention that wasn’t filled with misogynistic assholes. Some have even been approached by the high profile speakers and been the recipient of unwanted and uninvited advances. The apparent immediate reaction has been a sharp downward turn in female registrations to the upcoming TAM event, which is understandable; a show of solidarity on the part of women who would like to attend, but feel that the message is worth getting across to the organisers of these events that misogynistic behaviour is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated.
I am at a loss for knowing what to think here. For me, these events stand for a celebration of all the atheist, humanist and skeptical communities have achieved, and should be seen as an example of these achievements and all things we strive for in practice. But it seems this is not the case, not for everyone anyhow.
For fear of moving into an area of conflict I’m not comfortable to address, because I don’t know the whole story, I wont go into the specifics of the cases brought forward. There are too many voices i haven’t heard, only those of the most vocal. But let me say this. It embarrasses me as a self-described male feminist that this is happening at these conventions. It embarrasses me as a forward-thinking person to have been under the illusion that these events would be one place on earth where misogynistic practices were either not present, or at a minimum kept outside of the event itself. It saddens me that some people at these conventions don’t know right from wrong in given social situations. It angers me that the women at these conventions have felt the need to bring this to light. I feel betrayed and dismayed by my own judgements of the group, and stand behind the women, all women, who attend these conferences when they demand better treatment from the atheist and skeptic community.
What annoys me the most is that I was under the impression, albeit wrongly, that these conventions were a place away from the mainstream world where people could get together as true equals and discuss the topics that concern us most, and maybe walk away with some outcomes or strategies for moving forward. Of course, conventions are for many a bit of a holiday away from the mundanity of everyday life, so the tendency to let one’s hair down is present. But while everyone is having a good time, they should also be beacons of reason and rationality, where the participants treat each other with respect and in a decent manner. I’m not just talking about men treating women with respect, I’m talking about everyone treating everyone with respect.
We all have some level of cultural bias within us, and we live our lives within our understanding of what is right and wrong. When we see injustices, we act upon them and reveal them for what they are. Sure, some may not know how to act around the opposite sex; the community is made up from many types of people, and a lot of these have lived somewhat sheltered lives. This would be a minority among the whole, but all it takes is for one maladjusted person to make the wrong move on someone, or to treat them as much of the rest of society seems to think is okay, and we have a problem. We know it’s not okay.
I’m against the naming and shaming tactics so many have suggested as a way to deal with this problem. I think it would achieve little, and only end up ruining the lives of those who stepped over the line of decent human interactions. A stronger message is the one that is taking place now, the voice of solidarity among the female (and to a lesser degree male) attendees, a condemnation of the actions that have taken place, not once, but many times at these conventions. Like I say, it only takes one idiot to ruin an otherwise great party.
Emily Dietle was completely right when she told me that, on the upside, there is no better community to choose to teach this lesson to; for the most part, the atheist/skeptic/humanist communities are the first to admit errors on their part, when that error comes to light. This is one of the things we pride ourselves on, and rightly so in most areas.
I have not witnessed anything untoward at these events. That is not to say that they do not occur, but in my experience, they have been exactly what I have described; a great place to meet like minded people, let off a little steam and share ideas, in a safe environment. It is obvious to me that this is not the story for everyone, and we need to work a lot harder to sure that these events are safe for all attending. What this shows above all is that, while we appear to hold ourselves at higher standards in many walks of life, that we are simply a cross-section of the larger world. The one thing we have to our advantage is the ability to identify these problems, and with a dose of conscience, act to right the wrong.
This article was written exclusively for publication at emilyhasbooks.com by Martin S. Pribble