Speaking Out Against Hate Directed at Women: Jim Underdown
Welcome to the eighth installment of my series that directly addresses the hate and harassment we have been seeing in our community.
Today, I bring you the words of Jim Underdown. Jim Underdown has been the Executive Director of the Center for Inquiry Los Angeles since 1999. He is the founder and chair of the Independent Investigations Group.
Jim calls for a cease fire.
His comments after the jump.
The Center for Inquiry Los Angeles and the Independent Investigations Group do not tolerate any hatred, threats, harassment or abuse toward women. Period. No exceptions. We take this strong stand not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it’s the right way to grow our movement. The women who comprise our staff, speak at our events, and volunteer are indispensable to the work we do in promoting secular humanism, skepticism and critical thinking. We would be severely limited in what we could accomplish without their contributions.
Angry words have polarized the skeptical blogosphere for over a year now about how women want (or ought) to be treated. Even the women in the discussion have been passionately at loggerheads about this.
Has our community learned anything from each other?
One thing that was underscored for me is the importance of listening. I learned a long time ago from the cherished women in my life that if they say there is a problem, chances are very good there is a problem. It doesn’t matter if it looks like a problem through my eyes. If she sees a problem or feels a problem, then there is a problem. (Just because I ride the subway alone at 1:00 a.m. doesn’t mean my wife will be comfortable doing the same. She and I often perceive threats in the world differently.)
It’s important to recognize that comfort and security levels may differ between men and women – between all kinds of people for that matter. So don’t expect everyone on the planet to be on the same page about what bothers them, instills fear in them, or hurts their feelings. An awareness of this difference in people might help us skeptics cut each other a little slack more often.
Ok, so how do we mend this chasm?
First, I should say that the sides may not be as far apart as they think they are. I spoke to a number of people who’ve followed this issue or been a part of it since the beginning. Most saw some possible ways to restore once cordial relationships.
May I humbly suggest a few ways to approach this?
1. Cease fire. Even if you’re throwing something out there as a joke or poking some fun, know that someone’s feelings might be hurt – whether you think they should be hurt or not. Maybe we can save the witty jabs for our real enemies like Sylvia Browne, homeopathy, and Power Balance Bracelets.
2. If you sincerely want to explore a complex topic with someone, try for face-to-face or at least phone conversations with him or her. Both are better media than chat rooms and blog comment threads to have a sane discussion. So much of communication is lost on-line.
3. Be skeptical of your own position. This self-challenging-of-one’s-own-beliefs (discussed brilliantly in Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson’s Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me) is no easier for skeptics than for regular people. But we should know better. Skepticism should not end at our own opinions.
4. Try to give fellow skeptics the benefit of the doubt. It really is possible to offend without intending to.
5. Don’t engage the cranks. Some people just love to lob incendiary bombs into legitimate discussions. Why dignify a saboteur with a response? They thrive on that.
6. Tolerate no threats of violence. This is critical. Threatening women with violence or rape via a keyboard has got to be an all-time low in the world of cowardice.
That’s all I can think of.
The skeptical tent covers a lot of people and I know we are all different politically, socially, and in many other ways, but that doesn’t mean we can’t unite under this cause.
We all think being skeptical and scientific about our universe is a good thing. Let’s try to be together on that idea – lest we be divided and conquered by those who live by and profit from ignorance.
Thank you for taking the time to give us your opinion on the issues, Jim. We appreciate it.
Prior posts in this series can be found by clicking the links below.
More to come.