The first big incident in the past year occurred in June. The incident was dubbed "elevatorgate," though some people have been calling it "the incident that shall not be named" as of late. It was something that I didn't feel like talking about on this blog, not because it wasn't important to discuss, but because so many atheist blogs had covered it that I felt smothered by the topic as it was. In fact, I am still not going to really talk about it myself. I will instead quote bloggers who have.
In a recent vlog, Skepchick Rebecca Watson had some friendly advice for male skeptics seeking to make women feel comfortable and welcome at skeptical gatherings. She mentioned, offhandedly, that during a recent conference in Dublin, a guy followed her into the elevator at 4:00am and invited her back to his room for coffee. His overture was not well received:As the above quote essentially says, the thing was much ado about nothing. Watson provided what should have been good advice. Instead, there was much overreaction to the situation, some of which may have been motivated by personal grudges. It was quite pathetic to watch the developments in the months following, especially after a female blogger had renamed Watson "Rebecunt Twatson." How mature?Um, just a word to wise here, guys, uh, don't do that. You know, I don't really know how else to explain how this makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but I'll just sort of lay it out that I was a single woman, you know, in a foreign country, at 4:00 am, in a hotel elevator, with you, just you, and -- don't invite me back to your hotel room right after I finish talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner.Judging by the reaction in some quarters of the skeptical blogosphere, you'd think she'd recommended preemptive castration.
Some male skeptics huffed and puffed that they had the right to approach women anywhere they damn well pleased.
Prominent skeptic Richard Dawkins opined that Watson had nothing to complain about because Muslim women suffer genital mutilation. By the same token, Western men should suck it up when they’re asked, nicely, to show some manners in the the elevator. Don’t they realize that Muslim women are being genitally mutilated?
Some of Watson’s critics argued that she was too hard on the unnamed guy. How dare she complain about his behavior? Maybe he was just socially awkward, they said. Well, if so, he and his fellow well-meaning but socially awkward men should be thanking Watson. She did them all a favor.
Watson gave them a simple rule that anyone can memorize and apply: Don’t hit on women in elevators. If they didn’t know any better, they do now.
Yet, the discussion devolved into attacks on Watson and a stupid griping match about the “rights” of men to hit on women however they please, and, implicitly, the privilege of men not to care how women want to be treated. Some even argued that by demanding to be treated with respect, women were revealing themselves to be weak and fearful. You see, really strong women just grit their teeth and let creeps hit on them in elevators.
Then there has been the recent incident on Reddit, not started by Rebecca Watson, but brought to light by Watson. She informed the community about a 15-year-old girl who posted on the atheist subreddit about getting a copy of Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World along with a picture of her posing with the book. To little surprise, there were anal rape jokes and the likes in the comment thread, including:
- Well 15 is legal many places, including my country, so I'll only have to deal with the abduction charges. (159 up-votes, 42 down-votes at time of capture)
- Relax your anus, it hurts less that way. (1715 up-votes, 648 down-votes at time of capture)
- Blood is mother nature's lubricant (570 up-votes, 175 down-votes at time of capture)
- BITE THE PILLOW, IM GOIN' IN DRY! (192 up-votes, 51 down-votes at time of capture)
- i'd put billions and billions in your pale blue dot (354 up-votes, 83 down-votes at time of capture)
- I'd occupy her habitable zone. (227 up-votes, 51 down-votes at time of capture)
Some of the excuses I've seen have been quite bad. One has been a claim that people don't like to down-vote. Granted I do not participate on Reddit at all, but I do spend time on YouTube, which has a similar rating system for comments and videos. As YouTube's comment structure is different, it is impossible to make a comparison there, but go to just about any Christian apologetic video that allows ratings, and it'll likely have a slew of down-votes...which is most likely why some posters don't allow ratings—they know their video would get down-voted, so they don't participate in the system. A somewhat similar excuse has been that Reddit readers are not supposed to have to be "thought police." OK, sure, if you're a user that never votes on comments at all—up or down—then sure, I suppose I can let you off the hook. But, if you're someone who does vote up comments, then aren't you already policing thoughts in some manner, even if the policing is giving praise instead? And once again I can point to YouTube, or even to the, um, "philosophy" of the group, which is that religious people have bad ideas which are often harmful and we want to discourage such thinking. The whole point here is that many of the excuses being used don't seem to apply when it's atheists hounding Christians (or other religions—it's typically Christians because they are by far the majority religion, not because their ideas are somehow any less ridiculous than other religions), which means that these excuses are really saying, "We don't want to pick on people in our group." That's bad! I think there are a lot of people in this group that understand one of the reasons people are able to hold religious beliefs is because those beliefs too often go unchallenged, so the religious person does not have to deal with cognitive dissonance. And we know one way to combat religious belief is to invoke dissonance...to "rock the boat." Yet, here we have people within the group essentially saying "Don't rock our boat!"
There have been some hypothesis about this.
- As there is a social stigma attached to atheism, many of the outspoken atheists have personality types where they have little concern about what people think about them or their opinions. They are little afraid to say something that other people consider stupid. They have "thick skin."
- From the above, some might also expect others in the community to have thick skin. When they see someone taking issue with something they consider trivial, their response to that person is to, essentially, "toughen up!"
- In addition to the above, many of them could have an arrogant personality—they are always right! They are used to being the ones criticizing other people. To be criticized is not the way the world is supposed to work! ...In their minds.
At any rate, I've been getting a little frustrated over this shit. I have been wanting to be more active in combating bad ideas, but now that all of this has come to my attention, I feel slightly demotivated. The silver lining, I suppose, is that the people complaining about the bad behavior could have been a small, insignificant minority. The good news is that I see many of the popular atheists condemning such behavior. And, as Greta Christina (one of them popular atheists) has pointed out, "When people don’t speak out about sexism and misogyny, it creates a climate in which sexism and misogyny flourish. When people do speak out about sexism and misogyny, it creates a climate in which sexism and misogyny wither."
I have also considered the fact that the atheist community is in itself quite young. While there have been atheists around for centuries, and there have been spikes in the size and influence of atheists throughout the last 300 years, this latest spike only started about 5-6 years ago. What I hope we are actually seeing is a turning point. Perhaps soon the community will no longer be so inhabited by the do-whatever-I-want disgruntled types* and will have an increase in population of people who hold long-term goals as a priority. Those are my hopes and dreams, at least.
* This is not to pick on the disgruntled types; I totally sympathize. There is much to be disgruntled about. Nor do I suggest being accomodationalist! Instead, it's perhaps time to be more diplomatic.