Speaking Out Against Hate Directed at Women: Dale McGowan

In my continuing series where I reach out to men in leadership roles in the secular, skeptic, humanist and atheist communities, I bring you a lovely essay from Dale McGowan. Dale is the Executive Director of Foundation Beyond Belief.

This story may restore a tiny bit of your ‘faith’ in humanity and it gives some darn good advice on how some may find footing to move forward. We don’t have to rehash the entire story of how it got to this point again and again. People just have to start doing the right thing. Starting now.

But I’ll let Dale explain.

Dale’s comments after the jump.


From Dale McGowan:

Speaking Up

In summer 2008 our family had an Obama yard sign in front of our house in Atlanta. Within the week there was an angry scrawled note in our mailbox. We were “helping to destroy the foundation of this country,” it said. “The terrorists want him to win” because he’s a Muslim. The next day, our sign was gone.

I knew my kids would feel violated and afraid. We’d only been in Atlanta for a year and were fish out of water in more ways than one. My ten-year-old daughter said she felt like crying and asked if everyone was mad at us.

One or two stupid, anonymous cowards had made us feel suddenly surrounded by hate. Even with my longer perspective, it actually felt to me as if every silent house on the block was staring.

Then one neighbor – a man so Republican that he has signed pictures of George and Laura Bush in his garage – heard that our sign was stolen. He was furious. He apologized and asked if there was anything he could do. It made a huge difference to us, instantly undercutting the illusion that the act somehow represented the majority. Even when we found the sign, put it up again, and had a hole shot in it (no kidding), his expression of support, and a number of other neighbors who added theirs, helped us keep our own perspective during a difficult time.

But apparently I didn’t learn a thing from this. For the past year I’ve been shaking my head in sick disbelief at the abuse many women in the freethought movement are getting, but I’ve stayed silent. I’m not talking about the discussion of gender and privilege itself, which (to my surprise) still needs to happen in some depth, but at the insane, hateful attacks, including literal threats of rape and murder, that are raining down on the Skepchicks and others taking part in that important discussion.

Silently shaking my head does nothing. The women under this kind of attack can’t hear my head rattling, so they can only assume I don’t care, when I actually care deeply. I think it’s the difficulty of putting this massive, deranged genie back in the bottle that keeps so many of us quiet. But that’s a poor excuse that only keeps the victims feeling isolated and besieged.

Fortunately I don’t have to deal with the whole genie to do something useful. I don’t have to go back to the elevator and work my way forward, defending and countering and challenging and apologizing and repairing my way down to the present. I can start right here and now by saying out loud that violence and threats of violence – physical, verbal, emotional – are completely out of bounds, no matter what the topic, no matter what your opinion. They don’t speak for me, not one tiny bit, and they don’t belong anywhere near the rational community we imagine ourselves to be. Once we establish that, we can begin to pull the lessons of the late 20th century forward – none of this is new ground, after all – and have this important discussion.

Finally, we HAVE to begin calling people on their anonymity. If it’s protecting someone from harm or exposure, fine. If it only gives them the freedom to harm others, we have to go after it as a huge part of the problem. As long as our community lives and connects primarily online, the problems of the medium are going to continue getting in the way of sane, civil, productive discourse.

Dale McGowan is the Executive Director of Foundation Beyond Belief


Thank you for standing with us Dale and thank you for reminding us that we need others to speak up.

More to come.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. Remarkably well said! The personal story was deeply moving and effective in conveying the message.

    Thanks, Amy, for continuing to publish these!

  2. Very nice. I think the main reason I’m not a little more vocal against the haters is because I simply lack the eloquence to express my disdain for them. STFU H8ERS!

  3. What Dale has said here was what I was trying to get at yesterday. We need to let those who use their anonymity as a shield from consequences know that it will no longer stand.

    We really need to use the light of exposure as an antiseptic.

  4. Thank you Amy for doing this, and as another white male who’s had my eyes opened by Rebecca, yourself, and all the Skepchick and FTB posts ever since this started, I have to say you’re amazing for doing this and keep it up because the more it’s out in the open, the harder it is for reasonable people to keep themselves ignorant.

  5. From one Dale to another, I think that is wonderful to hear. Silence is not an option!

  6. I literally have tears in my eyes. This is unusual for me because I’m usually on a pretty even emotional keel. But in the four or five years since discovering organized and online atheist and skeptical groups, I’ve gone from feeling like, “hmm, this is interesting,” to, “Hot DAMN! These are my PEOPLE!” to “Oh wow, maybe not…” to “I think I’m just going to have to call myself a feminist humanist who happens to not believe in god and cares about rational inquiry, because clearly these people REALLY, REALLY don’t want me in their movement.” And that last bit really hurt.

    Thanks for taking some of that hurt away and making me feel like I might belong in this community again.

  7. One more reason to love Dale McGowan. He’s actually the reason that I ended up getting involved in the online freethought community. So happy to hear this from him.

  8. I’m loving this series. I’ve been writing as of late on Pharyngula that maybe the skeptics community is too seriously bigotted to be worth salvaging, and those of us who care about equality would be better off aligning ourselves with a less toxic group.

    My faith is being renewed. Thank you Dale, and thank you Amy.

  9. Great response! It’s plain to see that this series will be a success. Are there any plans to organize these responses so that they are easily referenced? Collectively, they’ll be a very useful tool, and a very encouraging message for skeptics that want to improve the movement.

    1. I hadn’t thought about it but that is a great idea. I will definitely consider it. Until then, everyone please point and link to these articles here whenever appropriate.


        1. Sure, I can add a tag to them. I added “end hate”. So if you put that in the search box all the posts will come up. I will add the tags to all future posts as well.

      1. I’m looking forward to being able to point someone to these and saying, “Do you support the work of any of these groups? Then your bullshit will not be tolerated.”

        Thanks again for all that you and the other Skepchicks are doing.

  10. I think that the misogynists are a small, but loud, minority in the skeptical movement. Other people need to speak up more.

  11. Fantastic. Dale has been one of my favourite atheist-freethought writers for years and this is typically well said.

    Way to go Surly Amy and the Skepchicks for keeping on message and being informative and interesting as always. Awesome.

  12. Thank you, Dale. And I really appreciate that you call out on anonymity. That particularly hits home for me; I remain anonymous online so that, as a federal employee, I don’t have worry that I appear to be speaking from my professional position or violating the Hatch Act. I have wanted to push some of the more vile trolls (in the skeptical community & on some of the political sites I frequent) to grow a set and pull off the white sheets & pointy hat, but feel that since I’m anonymous myself, I lack that authority. But online anonymity has become what a black windowless van is to predators in the real world. It has been tolerated beyond what is reasonable.

    Thanks, Amy. This series is a relief to read after what you and the other Skepchick contributers have suffered this past year.

  13. Thank you Dale, and thank you Amy (you’re fucking amazing).

    This is a badly needed balm.

  14. I have an investment in pseudonymity that’s similar to bibliotequetress‘s, but I agree that Dale’s submission is fantastic. Not the first noble step I’ve seen him take, either.

  15. Hi, first time commenter and all that jazz.


    “Silently shaking my head does nothing. The women under this kind of attack can’t hear my head rattling, so they can only assume I don’t care, when I actually care deeply.”

    grants a certain stark context to the utterly heartbreaking Ask Surly Amy this week, and prompted this.


    I’m not a member of any organized sceptical movement or anything, I’m just a casual reader, brought over by Rebecca via the SGU, of which I’m a big fan. Still, even if this is just from random Finnish dude, I hope this is a little bit of a counterweight to the senseless shit you’ve been getting:

    You guys are awesome, and should keep doing what you’re doing.

    I was planning to attend TAM this year, but due to SNAFUS at my workplace, the vacation schedule remained in flux until very late, making a trip to Vegas even more expensive. But if I’m being perfectly honest, I still could’ve made it. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the horrible outpouring of sexist bullshit surrounding TAM this year. Why make such an effort to visit a movement that harbours such an extent of misogynist trogdolytes?

    (Extra disappointing, given that I’m an avid gamer, coming so soon on the heels of the vile response to Feminist Frequency. I’m used to gamers being asinine, but skeptics as well? Skeptics are supposed to be better than that. Right?)

    Much better to lay down on the balcony and enjoy some mojitos.

    But that does absolutely shit for you lovely people, facing all this abuse.

    So again, and I’m sure you know it, but: You guys are awesome, and should keep doing what you’re doing.

    Much love and appreciation,


    PS: I might be slightly confused, visiting the site outside of my safe Google Reader environment, but there seems to be a conspicuous absence of a Donate button for me to put some money where my mouth is. Just saying.

  16. I’m a bit outside the atheist / skeptic community but am well within the geek and science culture; I admit when I saw Amy began this series I was expecting a bunch of canned statements from atheist leaders. I’m glad to say I was completely wrong.

    Thanks Amy. And Dale, what a statement. If just a few men in the field of science learn from what you said, it could kick-start something quite significant. Please continue to speak out. While Skepchicks are heroes of mine, there’s also places (work, graduate schools) where this stuff needs to be said – so women can actually get past sexism and on with their careers (and informing science).

    Thank you.

  17. Because of overt sexism and unexamined racism around many of the discussions (especially on YT) I have been considering cutting myself off from the emergent new atheists. I’ve been totally disgusted by places like The Thinking Atheist’s FB page….because there is so little thinking and so much unexamined racism expressed there and an unwillingness to untangle the intersections between racial discrimination and having the nerve to appear Arab and Muslim in the wrong place at the wrong time…

    Anyway…this gives me heart. Thank you Amy, Rebecca and the entire Skepchick community for raising the level of discourse and COMMUNITY BUILDING.

    And thank you for speaking out guys. We need you to do it a lot more…This is not just a problem in this community. It is a constant of life for women young and old online. Just spend a day reading YT comments for any XX person who has the nerve to call herself a feminist publically… Take a look especially if you have a daughter.

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