Is harassment and misogyny really a problem in atheism? In the last year or so, we've heard about...
- Alleged sexual harassment at conventions
- Men being terrified to show interest at conventions
- Women being terrified to attend conventions
- Loads of YouTube drama about harassment
- Misogyny in atheism
Last night, I had the pleasure of having Greta Christina live in studio to talk about this, and Ashley Paramore called in to help out with the discussion. As always, Shayrah Akers was in studio as well and had some very good insight.
First, let's dispell a few myths, because that's what we do best.
Greta and Ashley both confirmed that men should feel perfectly comfortable in respectfully talking to, flirting with, and even "asking out" a woman at an atheist gathering. Greta even said it was encouraged, because the idea of meeting like-minded people and hooking up, and starting relationships is a beautiful thing.
What's important, is the approach.
I understand that can be a difficult thing--because we never know what might offend someone. In fact, as I pointed out after the mics went off last night, the concept behind "Elevator Gate" was that Rebecca felt "creeped out" and somewhat "trapped" because after giving a talk on not being hit on at conventions, and saying that she was tired and done for the night, a man approached her alone in an eleveator and asked her to go back to a hotel room for coffee.
My point was - she felt "trapped" in the elevator, but I'm guessing he felt "safe" and didn't consider how she may have taken it. What I mean by that is, the man likely waited until he was in the elevator with her, because he didn't want to risk public rejection. This is the same reason many men will not approach a woman when she's with a group of friends. The only thing worse than being told 'no,' is being laughed at by a group.
I'm not justifying his actions, I'm just trying to offer a logical explanation, that it's very likely, that the appearance of "creepy" came from his internal fear of being blasted. - Ironic, eh?
Was he out of line? Only 2 people on this planet know exactly what was said, the tone it was spoken in, and the energy in elevator. And I'm betting there are 2 interpretations for this incident. Wrong or right, I think we can all learn from it, and be a little more careful.
Now, for Michael Shermer, who dropped this pile of misogy-vomit on us when asked why women don't seem to be as involved in the skeptical community... "It’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it, you know, it’s more of a guy thing."
Strangely enough - he's now defending those words instead of apologizing.
So for all those that think this concept of misogyny in atheism is conjured up by self-pity victims; you're wrong. It exists, and we have to acknowledge it's existence to resolve it.
Another myth in this whole debacle, is that the concept of the "Harassment Policy" stemmed from "Elevator Gate." This isn't true.
As Greta mentioned on the show, the harassment policy came after an onslaught of complaints of actual harassment and groping at a few conventions. It then raised the questions "Why don't we have harassment policies like other major professional events?" And so it started being implemented.
A few people, who want to pretend like this has never been a problem, ever, in the history of time, are rejecting the idea of the Harassment Policy. I've seen some outrageous arguments against it, like "why not say 'no murdering' at conventions? If it's already illegal, what's the point?"
That's a stretch - and I think the people making this strawman, know exactly what they're doing.
Greta had a wonderful point. She thinks people should feel more comfortable in flirting or showing interest in a member of the opposite sex when a harassment policy is in place; because when everyone is on the same page, it relieves some of the stress that harassment might happen. If we've all agreed to it, and we're all there, we all know the rules.
My concern, is that this topic has been so widely talked about, that many women who have never even been to conventions, are now terrified to go, because they think attending an atheist convention means they will be fondled or raped.
That's not the case.
Understand that those of us who cover these stories, and blog on these topics, are members of the media, and we talk about what's popular at the time.
So just because a topic is covered on 18 podcasts, 2 television shows, and 56 blogs, it doesn't mean it actually happened 76 times. While the issues do exist, and can be problematic, it's not an epidemic that should keep you from being active in this movement, or meeting someone special in the process.
Misogyny is to atheism, as a plane crash is to the airline industry. When a single bad seed is let into the fleet, and goes down in a fiery crash, it hurts hundreds of people, effects thousands of lives, and becomes injected into millions of conversations for months on end; but it was still just a single bad seed.
So, atheism has a few wobbly Cessnas out there, and we'd like to reign them in, because people are becoming afraid to fly. Let's understand that in order to make a difference in this movement, we need to gather, we need to protest, and we need to meet other like-minded people. Let's not let the few wobbly Cessnas (like Michael Shermer) ruin it for everyone.
The point is, women, you are safe at conferences. Men, you are safe to be honest about your interest and intentions at conferences. But please understand, if both sides can have a professional, and respectful approach to one another, this issue will go away - and we won't continue to have internal dissension that starts to look like a religious schism.
We are better than this. Let's act like it.