Speaking Out Against Hate Directed at Women: Adam Lee

Speaking Out Against Hate Directed at Women: Adam Lee

Hello friends! I am pleased to bring you another edition of Speaking out Against Hate! This installment brings you the wise words of Adam Lee. His topic of choice is very interesting to me, as it is a conversation I have been thinking about a lot lately.

Religion is often blamed for the oppression of women and minority groups and the promotion of patriarchy in our society. This systematic churning out of oppression leaves organized atheism in a prime position to take the high road of equality in its quest to build a better future for everyone. BUT surprisingly, some women are reporting having had an easier time simply being a woman from within the church communities they left behind than in the atheist communities they have attempted to join. Some women are reporting that the experience in organized secularism is equivalent to religious communities, only the sexist language and behavior is sometimes worse here. Women are reporting different experiences than men from within the same sectors. Any secular group that cares about inclusivity and wants to build a community free from oppression and bigotry should be listening to these voices.

And now, let’s turn it over to today’s guest contributor, Adam Lee, who will hopefully give us some insight as to why this is happening and what we can do about it.

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. He blogs at Daylight Atheism on Patheos.
From Adam:

There’s one thing that just about every atheist activist agrees on, which is that religion has always treated women as inferior. Whether it’s demonizing them as evil temptresses who brought sin into the world, demanding their silence and subordination, or treating them as male property with no desires of their own, every major church has a litany of shockingly sexist teachings. And yet, even though men are the faces and the voices of organized religion, even though they wield the power and set the doctrines, they still depend on women. In order to perpetuate themselves, the churches need women’s attendance, women’s unpaid labor, and especially women’s willingness to have children and to raise them in the faith.

 

This is a vulnerability that’s crying out for atheists to exploit. If we could offer religious women a better alternative – if we could invite them into a secular community where they’d be treated as equals, where there’d be no more of the hateful prejudice and the blatant double standards they’ve so often been subjected to – then they’d have every reason to flock to our banner, draining the churches’ vitality in the bargain. This could be such a devastating blow, it seems to me, we should be bending all our efforts toward it. We should be doing everything possible to reach out to women; we should be throwing the doors wide open to welcome them in.

 

But this isn’t happening. Women aren’t turning away from religion en masse, and the atheist movement still has a majority of men. And while there are undoubtedly multiple causes for this, over the last few years we’ve seen one very obvious and glaring reason: the sexist hate and harassment that atheist women far too often encounter in our online and real-life communities.

 

Most of us became atheists for intellectual reasons, because we find the arguments for theism unconvincing, or for moral reasons, because we find its teachings intolerable. But it seems to me that there’s a small number of men (and a smaller number of women) who are atheists purely because they delight in being offensive, because they believe no one has the right to tell them what to do. They think this community is a place where they can indulge those impulses: where they can be as crass and boorish as they want, where they can leer at or hit on women in any way they want, or cheer on those who do. And too often, we’ve seen that when women object to this treatment, however politely, they become the targets of a campaign of violent threats, abusive hate mail and dehumanizing filth.

 

This isn’t a brand-new phenomenon or one unique to atheism; other communities are grappling with it as well. But I wanted us to be better than that, and it disappoints me profoundly that so many atheists aren’t. And I’m even more upset that the insults and epithets these sexist skeptics use to dismiss women who speak out – professional victim, whiner, thin-skinned, troublemaker – so perfectly echo the arguments used against atheists by the religious when we speak out. These people are low and despicable bullies, and if I thought for even a moment that they were the future direction of atheism, I’d long ago have severed my ties with the atheist movement.

 

But the sexists are not the future of atheism. No matter how much noise they make, they’ll never be anything but an ignorant, resentful minority. I’m confident that most atheists are good, decent people who don’t condone harassment. But to those good and decent people, especially us atheist men, I want to say this: This isn’t just a women’s fight, it’s your fight too. We all have a stake in the future of this movement, so raise your voice, speak out, make yourself heard! Call out the trolls and the harassers; tell them that their behavior is wrong and unacceptable. Don’t sanction them by your silence. They do what they do because they believe that it’s socially condoned, that people who don’t speak up must approve of their behavior. They get agitated and defensive when confronted with evidence that this isn’t true, which is why we need to do it more often. As with other kinds of predators, the way to stop them is by taking away their social license to operate.

 

On the surface this fight is about the treatment of women, but ultimately it’s about what kind of community we want atheism to be. Do we want it to be an insular and impotent subculture, where we do nothing but complain that the world doesn’t understand us? Or do we want it to be a mass movement that fills streets, that strikes fear in the hearts of theocrats, that shifts the course of history? If we’re willing to do the work necessary to broaden our appeal as much as possible, to make the atheist community a welcoming and tolerant landing place for all kinds of people, it can be the latter. If we divide ourselves and chase away allies by allowing prejudice and hate to spread unchecked, it can only be the former.

 

Adam Lee 1

Adam Lee writes the blog called Daylight Atheism.

 
Prior posts in this series can be found here:
 
Speaking out against hate directed at women: David Silverman

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Dale McGowan

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Ronald A Lindsay

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Nick Lee

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Barry Karr

Speaking out against hate directed at women: David Niose

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Matt Dillahunty

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Jim Underdown

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Michael Payton

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Michael Nugent

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Dan Barker

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Carlos Alfredo Diaz

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Todd Stiefel

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Michael De Dora

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Paul Fidalgo

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Phil Plait

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Aron Ra

Speaking out against hate directed at women: Eran Segev

Speaking out Against Hate Directed at Women: Jonathon Figdor

Speaking out Against Hate Directed at Women: Russell Glasser

 

Interested in contributing to this series? Get in touch with us through the contact link!

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and kicks ass on a daily basis. Follow her on twitter: @SurlyAmy or on Google+.

19 Comments

  1. “But it seems to me that there’s a small number of men (and a smaller number of women) who are atheists purely because they delight in being offensive, because they believe no one has the right to tell them what to do.”
    I’ve never thought of that.
    I understand that there are atheists who arrive here based on technical skepticism, on moral skepticism or because emotional misery caused by religion led to their ears being opened to skepticism.
    It never occurred to me that there are people who come to atheism just to piss other people off.
    I suppose I’d rather hoped that those people didn’t exist, that they were a figment of the imagination of the irrational religious people.
    If that kind of atheist does exist, though, then such people would be at the centre of this misogynist bullshit, wouldn’t they?
    They became atheists because it was a fun way to upset their parents. They don’t actually care about the logic or the improvement of society. They’re just children stomping their feet, waving their hands in front of our faces and yelling out “I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you!”

    • Sadly, I ran into a number of athiests like that in college. And others who were athiests because it allowed them to feel supperior to all the “sheeples”.

      • Indeed. However, they are not the only people who are making the community unwelcoming to women and other minorities. At all.

  2. These people are low and despicable bullies, and if I thought for even a moment that they were the future direction of atheism, I’d long ago have severed my ties with the atheist movement.

    I prefer to think of them as “the other atheist movement”, meaning, the ties are already severed, the wedge gone all the way through the movement and come out on the other side ages ago. And it’s a good thing, because it means we can forget about “infighting”. The people in the other atheist movement are no more part of my “ingroup” than the KKK or the Westboro Baptist Church, and I can’t imagine why any person in his/her right mind would want their values to become more mainstream. In fact, I would not hesitate siding with moderate believers against our common enemy to prevent that from happening. If I had to chose between an atheist movement that included these people and no atheist movement at all, I would chose the latter any time.

  3. I for one wish I had the power to withdraw permission from secular men to use the “look how they treat women” argument against religion when those same men engage in the exact same behaviors within the atheist community. Either you’re fighting for my rights both inside of and outside of religion, or you’re not actually fighting for my rights at all, you’re appropriating my struggle to further your agenda struggle with no actual consideration to me whatsoever. (that would be a general you, not one directed at Adam Lee)

    So, yeah. Guys? If you’re going to rail about how “they” threat “their” women, make sure that you aren’t treating “your” women the exact same way. It’s the very least– and I do mean the absolute bare bones least– you can do.

    • Agenda struggle? Read: agenda. Proofread fail.

      • Also, threat = treat. SIIIIGH.

  4. Since your ‘nym, judging from the irrelevant but sanctimonious nitpicking, appears to be missing an “n” in the fourth place, I wouldn’t be quite so smug.

    • ….to whom are you speaking?

    • Oops, read the “Proofreading fail” as nitpicking the OP. Pattern matching error, sorry.

      • I actually suspected that’s what happened. Haha. :) I was giggling, but wanted to make sure first. GOOD MORNING :)

      • I was nitpicking myself. I am missing no ‘n’ though, this is the nym I use everywhere. Confused. Did you read me as a troll?

  5. “They think this community is a place where they can indulge those impulses: where they can be as crass and boorish as they want, where they can leer at or hit on women in any way they want, or cheer on those who do. And too often, we’ve seen that when women object to this treatment, however politely, they become the targets of a campaign of violent threats, abusive hate mail and dehumanizing filth.”

    No. Denying the Patriarchy doesn’t make it go away. This isn’t just about the current disgusting harassment from some fringe. Its about the everyday sexism that so frequently occurs in atheist spaces, and elsewhere. A few trolls aren’t the problem. Its the silent majority that either tacitly endorses them, or that says, ‘Hey I’m not like those guys, so ipso facto I’m not sexist.’ Give me outright misogyny over “allies” who deny their own sexism any day! At least then the battle lines are clear. But Adam, blaming a small group of trolls for the widespread sexism problem just doesn’t cut it. First, because these problems exists BEFORE the Slimepit, or Elevatorgate or any of these public harassment campaigns. And second, because these trolls don’t control who speaks at conferences, or who gets to represent atheism (mostly white, cis men). THESE THINGS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN PROBLEMS IN THE MOVEMENT. These things are symptoms of Patriarchy. Not a small coterie of people wanting to “indulge their impulses” to be “crass and boorish.” And I have to say–by refusing to see the real root of the problem and instead shifting blame onto a small minority, you are part of the problem.

    • Good points. The loud misogynists are a definite problem, but the sneaky placid small-dose misogyny is more insidious and far-reaching.

    • I’ve never claimed that outright sexist harassment is the only problem women face. For example, I’ve written often on my own blog about unconscious prejudice, about the need for proportional representation and diversity at conferences, about the problem of men talking over women at social gatherings, and so on. However, Amy’s series is titled “Speaking Out Against Hate Directed at Women”, not “Speaking Out Against All Forms of Patriarchy”, so I wanted to write something that addressed the topic she requested.

  6. Adam,

    The purpose of Amy’s series was stated in the first post: “How do our secular leaders, and specifically the men in our movement, really feel about sexism, threats of violence and the misogyny we have been dealing with?” Notice that the question isn’t just about “threats of violence.” The other two things in that list are “sexism” and “the misogyny we have been dealing with.” The general sexism and misogyny isn’t confined to a small band of determined trolls. Its more widespread than that. This is an IMPORTANT DISTINCTION, Adam. If you were simply talking about the sustained campaign of hate that some women-leaders in the movement experience, you should have made that clear. But you yourself said that you were talking about “the sexist hate and harassment that atheist women far too often encounter in our online and real-life communities”–the kind of everyday stuff that most of us women have experienced in our day-to-day interactions in skeptical and atheist communities.

    I also really dislike the armchair diagnosis of these people as shit-stirrers (my word, not yours) rather than honest actors. How can you know that they don’t honestly feel the way they purport to? Again–by pathologizing them rather than talking about sexism as a cultural phenomenon, you give cover to the kind of everyday sexism that is much more pervasive, and is the target of this series.

    I have suffered harrassment in atheist circles before, and it wasn’t from trolls–it was from people who had inculcated and uninterrogated sexist attitudes that refused to exam them when called on their sexism. People with privilege often react badly when their privilege is called out. Can you see how mischaracterizing sexism as the purview of trolls (as well as conflating “the sexist hate and harassment that atheist women far too often encounter in our online and real-life communities” with the kind of sustained harassment that some women in the movement experience) makes it harder to call our everyday sexism?

    • How can you know that they don’t honestly feel the way they purport to? Again–by pathologizing them rather than talking about sexism as a cultural phenomenon, you give cover to the kind of everyday sexism that is much more pervasive, and is the target of this series.

      I thought that was a very good point that I hadn’t picked up on. Thanks for the comment.

  7. The background level of sexism in our culture is a real and persistant issue that feminists of all stripes, genders and religious beliefs need to constantly attack. But the overt misogyny of some that identify with the atheist movement is very specifically a problem that atheism needs to confront and I see no problem with dealing with the (rotten) low hanging fruit by isolating them specifically. After all the object of the excercise is to make atheism a safe and welcoming place for everyone and all the time a few shouty sexists are percieved from outside as being representative of our movement we won’t attract enough women to point out how unconsiously sexist the rest of us undoubtedly are.
    We can and should work to eliminate sexism completely within the atheist movement, but unfortunately at the moment we can be percieved as being worse than the population at large and as Adam points out even worse than the religions we oppose.

  8. Ugh this piece infuriates me. This is exactly why I as an atheist woman want nothing to do with movement atheism. Dear Mr. Adam Lee – I am a human being. Not a tool to use in some battle against religion. A human being. Don’t talk about me as if I’m a resource. Don’t say “Don’t treat her badly, don’t sexually harrass her, don’t shout slurs at her, because we need the women-resource, because as long as religion continues to have it they will outnumber us.” Say “Don’t treat her badly because women are equal people, and sexism is wrong and unacceptable.” FULL STOP. I want to hear NOTHING BUT THIS if you want me to believe your movement is not as sexist and misogynistic as the Church. If you insist on talking about women in the exact same way as the churches do, as if we are just resources needed by the REAL members (men) to get more powerful, then stop writing sobby articles about women not joining the atheist movement en masse. At least if I’m in a church and somebody grabs my boob, everybody else in the church will know how wrong that is. Which is a lot more than I can say for the atheists.

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