Here is part seven in my ongoing series where I ask the men who are leaders in our community to speak out against the hate that has been directed at many of the vocal women in atheism, secularism and skepticism.
Today, I bring you words of wisdom and a video featuring Matt Dillahunty, President of the Atheist Community of Austin and host of The Atheist Experience.
Matt speaks to the idea that discussing sexism and harassment can be a difficult task especially when there are some ‘thugs’ who refuse to engage in honest discussions. These ‘thugs’ are trying to silence people and we as a community need to stand together to stop them. He also brings attention to the fact that there are also a lot of really good people out there who just ‘don’t get it’ and we should focus on helping those people to understand the issues.
Matt’s comments after the jump.
I’ve tried to discuss the subjects of sexism, harrassment and what we can do about them in a way that is reasonable, informative and productive. Having made a conscious effort to kill off my assumptions (I spoke about this at the SSA Leadership conference. Video below.) and to investigate the subjects honestly, I’ve tried to take what I’ve learned, phrase it in a way that is accessible and share it. It has proven to be a very frustrating mission, with mixed results. There’s a lot of misinformation and miscommunication but I think it’s something we can and must fix, because there are a lot of good people who are simply confused.
Unfortunately, there’s also a vocal contingent of extremely hateful people who aren’t willing to honestly engage in the discussion and they’ve been venting – if not simply trolling. When there’s an expressed concern, or a proposed solution to a concern, they frequently respond with cartoonish arguments loaded with fallacies but the more disturbing responses simply include hateful threats of rape and violence.
These individuals are beneath contempt. They’re not just misinformed or mistaken, they’re malicious little thugs who are lashing out in response to the fear that someone might actually expect them to treat another human being with respect. They aren’t decent people disagreeing, they’re part of the problem. We don’t have to exclude them from these conversations; they’ve excluded themselves.
When someone expresses a concern that something is making them feel unwelcome, we need to address it. Period. We need to seriously consider their complaint, make every effort to understand it and then decide what sort of action can and should be taken to alleviate it.
Read that last sentence again – what that means is, “let’s discuss this and figure out what, if anything, we’re going to do about it”. That’s all. It’s not an assertion that we need to flip the world upside-down to accommodate everyone’s concerns…and yet, that’s how some people portray this in order to give the illusion that their hateful attacks originate from firm footing.
When you hear a complaint that someone has raised, you might think that they’re expressing an irrational, emotional, over-reaction to the situation. You might even be correct – but it doesn’t matter, and here’s why:
You don’t get to decide what someone else finds offensive.
You don’t get to decide what someone else finds uncomfortable, unwelcoming, disconcerting, stressful, harrassing, troubling or painful.
You aren’t the world: everyone isn’t exactly like you.
We’re trying to build a safe and welcoming community. We’re trying to sponsor safe and welcoming events. We’re doing a pretty good job and we’re getting better at it, but we need every decent person to participate. We need to make sure that people who express their concerns are treated with respect and compassion and that we make reasonable efforts to either alleviate their concerns or clarify why we can’t or won’t.
The thugs who are responding with threats of violence and rape are attempting to silence people. Whether the threats are literal or figurative, it’s harassment and bullying in an attempt to silence current and future objections. That must not happen. We, as a community, need to support those who are speaking up and encourage others to do the same.
Thank you so much for standing with us, Matt and for speaking up to help make our community better.
Prior posts in this series can be found by clicking the links below.
More to come.