Speaking Out Against Hate Directed at Women: Nick Lee

Here is part four 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.

I am so happy with the feedback we have been getting. It is really helping me to feel less alone and it is reinforcing the fact that there are a lot of good men out there who are willing to stand up and say that hate directed at women is not acceptable in our communities. The decent, kind men are the majority, we just haven’t been hearing their voices as they have been drowned out by the vitriol over the past year.

Today, I am honored to present the words of Nick Lee, the President of the Atheist Alliance of America.

Nick speaks to the idea that education in regards to sexual harassment is needed in this community and that those of us who speak of these issues should not be attacked. He also points out that we need more women in leadership positions.

Nick’s comments after the jump.

From Nick:


Over the past year, I have followed the atheist blogosphere and noted with dismay the discussions of sexual harassment, threats of sexual violence and a general environment that has made female members of our community feel uncomfortable.

To be sure, atheist organizations and public figures (like bloggers) frequently get hate mail from Christian fundamentalists informing us of the death and destruction that will rain upon us because we don’t think like them. But those are generally aimed at both genders and are based on a desperate fear that our side is winning..I suspect that much of the threatening posts on blogs and Facebook pages come from religious taggers.

But, from within our own ranks? I thought we were well beyond that! How could any self-identified rational freethinking male skeptic still cling to adolescent notions of sexual behavior? How could any twenty-first century American male humanist be so insensitive to the feelings of other human beings?

The issue is complicated by the presence of sexual tension in male/female relations, and most people learn by experience the rules about how to do that social dance. Not every flirtation is unwelcome attention, until one side announces it is, and then it should stop. It is also complicated by the right of people to say what is on their minds even if it makes us feel uncomfortable.

But that ambiguity does not extend to violence or threats of violence or physical harassment.
During my work-life I spent some years investigating sexual harassment complaints in the workplace. The primary effect was to educate supervisors and co-workers that it was no longer cool to pinch bottoms or make suggestive remarks. You could get fired for stuff like that!

It seems like the same kind of educational effort is needed in the atheist movement. Leaders of the major organizations need to, or need to continue to, speak out — in our publications, in our policy statements, and in our conventions and conferences. On one front, we need to set the tone for acceptable and civil behavior within the community, and actively condemn those who step over the line. At the same time, we need to assure women in the movement that they are valued and we will take their concerns seriously.

Because of biology and social conditioning, and as a remnant of the Judeo-Christian misogyny, women are generally more sensitive to social interactions than males. Most men get that, but some have not been completely socialized. Guys who feel that women are ‘over-reacting’ need an “empathy injection.”

Movement leaders frequently bemoan the gender imbalance in the movement and wonder what can be done to motivate more women to become active leaders. We need the diversity of thought and experiences from females (and minorities), not as tokens but as fully engaged leaders.

We do NOT need to be driving women away with frat house behavior.

Just Stop It!

~Nick Lee

Nick Lee is the President of the Atheist Alliance of America

Thank you for speaking to this problem, Mr Lee. Your support and advice is appreciated.

Prior posts in this series can be found by clicking the links below.

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

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.

Related Articles


  1. “Because of biology and social conditioning, and as a remnant of the Judeo-Christian misogyny, women are generally more sensitive to social interactions than males. Most men get that, but some have not been completely socialized. Guys who feel that women are ‘over-reacting’ need an “empathy injection.””

    Side-eyed to hell and back.

    Also, anyone noticing any kind of visual pattern with these four movement leaders?

      1. Older white gentleman with beards? Seems to be a running theme. :P Quite a popular look in research and academia, though.

      2. Hi DebGod,

        Pretty much what marilove noted, that they’re all older white dudes. I mean, if Skepchick is going for a “leaders of the movement” thing here, it’s worth noting that they have so far been white older guys.

        I’m assuming they aren’t being picked for this series to try and gain cred with the MRAs and retrogrades, which makes me wonder what the point of the series is. Legitimately – is it to get people who lead named organizations, charities, etc, so that they can’t be dismissed as “some bloggers”?

        I guess some of this comes down to who counts as a “leader” in the movement, and I’ll admit given my wariness of anyone with that label, since in my experience it tends to lead to reflexive defenses of those people (see particularly Dawkins and Hitchens, for example).

        1. @sivivolk – If you read the lead in to David Silverman’s statement Amy explains what her motivation is and also points out that she was going to focus on men and why.

          I don’t think Amy hopes to convince any MRAs of anything, they appear to be beyond persuasion, rather she hopes to gauge where leaders of the movement stand on this issue and perhaps show that we aren’t alone.

          As for who are leaders, well that is of course a bit of a problem in a nebulous “movement” like the skeptical/atheist movement but I think talking to the leaders of organizations that represent those viewpoints is a good start.

          1. @mrmisconception

            Hm, fair enough, I can totally see where it’d be nice for the not-terrible-people folks in the movement to be assured that there are people with jobs and titles and organizations who support them and not the hater, especially given how constantly wearying it must be to face the shit people like Amy or Rebecca have been.

        2. Are you actually saying you’re surprised that there are so many older white men leaders in these communities? Something that has been pointed out for years? When you seek out men in positions of power in organizations in our communities, there are almost no people of color. And yes, that’s definitely a problem.

          It’s wonderful to get these men–despite their skin color–to openly and loudly proclaim their solidarity with the goals of social justice within our communities.

          1. Yeah, I gotta say that I am surprised people are surprised by the prevalence of white men in leadership roles in our communities. If you look back over the years, this blog has been speaking about that issue and specifically trying to get more women and POC and minority and fringe groups involved in the movement and to specifically get more of these people involved in the conferences that take place. That, and encouraging rationalism and skepticism in the lives of women has pretty much been our main goals all along and seems to also be the main reasons why we find ourself in this current situation. We have consistently, over the years, raised awareness for the need for diversity and the need for a more welcoming environment that will encourage diversity.

            That being said, there is no reason at all to disregard the words coming from these men in leadership roles. Yes we need diversity but we need to work together to widen our community in a healthy and productive way starting with what we have.

            To assume some underlying or secret message about the intent of this series based on skin color or beard prevalence is wrong. As I said before, the voices of an angry minority have been shouting and spitting hate that has gotten out of control and it’s time to refocus the spotlight on the decent, rational and progressive minds that we have all around us. We need to move forward and past the hate to continue to do good.

            I have been speaking to the men, because they are in the majority of the leaders that we have and I wish to dispel this “us against the men” meme that has been incorrectly spread about feminists and Skepchicks specifically.

          2. I’m not so much surprised, since every has been talking about it, but including pictures at the beginning of each entry has really driven it home to me that the “leadership” looks pretty interchangeable – hell, if Dave Silverman hadn’t shaved they’d all be bearded (and admittedly he looked a little like Satan with the beard, so that was probably a good choice). And I say this as a bearded white academic who will likely fit right in with these guys when I hit my 40s.

            I certainly wasn’t trying to claim there was a secret message or hidden intent with the speakers. It just comes across a bit as buying into the idea that these individuals can provide an unbiased message because they aren’t biased like women or gender-non-conforming people, that they’re the sober gatekeepers of skepticism and look they agree with us. It seems to give too much ground to the bigots.

        3. Amy answered about the series focusing on men in leadership positions. I’m a little surprised that some of them are being called “older”, though. I never thought of Dave Silverman as “older,” and Dale McGowan’s about the same age. (I’ve known Dave for ten years–he was in his 30s when I met him, which might be skewing my perspective.) I guess I’d have a hard time determining where the “older” line starts. :)

          1. *shrugs* They’re pretty well all salt-and-pepper, which I tend to read as older.

        4. They are leaders of long term organizations which have been doing this work much longer than most of the newly minted minty fresh “new atheist” crop of the last 6 or so years. They have a track record of accomplishment and work that goes far beyond vitriolic skeptic slacktivist commentors whose noob status as activists in invisible only to themselves… VERY generally speaking…

    1. I don’t particularly like that, either, but I think i get what he’s trying to say. Still don’t think it’s quite accurate, though.

      I mean, for one, I’m not particularly sensitive. Just not stupid. Soooo.

  2. Well said.

    But those are generally aimed at both genders and are based on a desperate fear that our side is winning

    FYI this is exactly the same fear that drives MRA’s, the notion that feminists are “winning”. This a terrifying prospect that triggers their insecurities in the ugly ways we have been seeing.

    1. And of course it’s not about winning vs. losing or “us vs. them” regardless of who one thinks “us” are and who one thinks “them” are. It’s about getting along in society, and some people just don’t know how.

      This video is on a slightly different topic (bullying of “bronies,” male fans of “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” animated TV show), but perhaps it would useful here:
      How to Brony: Dealing with Haters and Trolls

  3. Sadly, I believe simonsays is absolutely correct. Why it’s sad is because I don’t expect that sort of fear and insecurity from men I consider my peers. Sure, maybe from the “frat boys” Mr. Lee mentions, but not from people like me. The blows can be particularly painful when they come out of nowhere and from people you thought were on your side.

    All of this internet hatred is depressing. It’s making me hesitant about speaking out, when I’ve always been considered the one who’d say anything to anyone, if I felt it needed saying. It’s making me resentful and angry, as well; I don’t like being fearful any more than anyone else. I don’t hate men (happily married for 20 years), but waiting for a verbal slap doesn’t exactly foster goodwill.

    I think “just stop it” is a little simplistic, however. Unfortunately, I don’t have the solution. Eliminating anonymity might deter some of them, banhammers will get rid of a few more, but that just means the vile verbiage will retreat to a secret clubhouse with “No Gurls Alowd” on the door.

    1. Unfortunately I think you are correct in thinking it will not go away or be ‘solved’. Just look at Thunderf00ts latest post – might need a trigger warning – for examples of the latest deranged thinking. The term ‘Empathy Shot’ really hit home to me, but how to administer it?

      It might help, if you can, to laugh at them. Not necessarily to minimise the harm they are doing but to deal with it without getting depressed. I think that is part of the hate towards the Skepchicks as they are irreverent and funny and it grates on the stereotype of the stone-faced feminist. And if you do venture to Thunderf00t land there is much to laugh at – or to see the humour in a less raw form I’ve recently discovered which really makes it hard not to laugh at nutty MRAs.

  4. I’m a little… curious, as to why biology is in there. Assuming he means ‘sensitive’ in the sense that we can detect sexism easier, and not in the ‘sensitive emotional womens’ sense, it doesn’t make any sense.

    Unless vaginas are supposed to function like smoke detectors and start beeping when you get to close to a misogynist? In which case, I need to check my batteries.

    1. I agree with your first paragraph. In your second paragraph, I would just point out that the presence of a vagina does not determine whether or not a person is a woman.

      1. Eep, I was kind of worried that that might come off that way… I guess I should have taken that worry more seriously. Sorry for implying such.

        Though it’s worth mentioning, the fact that vagina =/= woman makes ‘biology’ even more iffy.

  5. Okay, so onto the issue at hand. I have a hard time understanding the situation women in America are in.

    I understand the statistic that 1 in 3 women in America have been sexually assaulted by the age of 30; I also get that in general men are larger and more aggressive.

    While I appreciate the the nature of being surrounded by aggressive beings and being in a generalized size disadvantage; I have never gotten the impression from any of the women I have spent years of my life with that they were nervous or hindered in any way.

    Maybe because of their training or experience, maybe because of our physical location; but either way I have never heard of a complaint by any of the women I have lived or worked with about harassment.

    Now I am use to working in academia and laboratories, so the issue may never come up because we never talk about anything sexual that is not related to biology.

    I am just asking; what is the generalized level or perception or fear of various unwanted physical advancements in the female population in general; or the atheist population specifically?

    I have known many atheists and none of them ever complain or mention human sex while at work and those that do are literally talking about sex in general. So am I just out of the loop too?

    1. am just asking; what is the generalized level or perception or fear of various unwanted physical advancements in the female population in general; or the atheist population specifically?

      Are you a man? Because the fact that you’re a man may be why you don’t notice abasement.

      What is the generalized level or perception of fear for ME? An atheist women living in alone in the middle of a big city (Phoenix)?

      Well, I now have a car, so some of that fear is lessened, but when I took the bus, EVERY TIME I went outside after dark, I was afraid.

      How ’bout that one time I was all alone at the bus stop, and the sun was going down, and some random douche came up and started to caress me?

      Or how about that time when we had the Baseline Killer running about (google it) and then at 5am, when it was still pitch black out, some guy in a truck decided to roll up realllly slowly behind me and ask, “Hey baby, want a ride?” Please note that the “Baseline Killer” often took women at bus stops and on the side of the road (in broad daylight!).

      Or how ’bout that time, when I lived in a pretty bad neighborhood, and at 11 AM (morning) a woman was taken from the street – a block from my apartment – and raped in the alley way? In broad daylight?

      Or how about that time it was in July in Phoenix and my air conditioner broke at like 9pm and it was 105 degrees in my apartment and I called maintenance and some skeezy guy came over and did NOTHING except flirt and stare at my chest? And then he wouldn’t leave? And I had to get someone else in the apartment complex to get this guy WHO HAD A KEY TO MY APARTMENT out of my apartment? HUH.

      Things are slightly better now that I have a car, AND now that I live in a better neighborhood. But that fear is still there.

      Watch this stand-up routine:

      “The problem is that every woman in her entire life has that one moment when you think, ‘Oh! Here’s my rape!'”

      Have you ever felt that? Because I have.

      Is that helpful?

    2. And yeah, you’re out of the loop BECAUSE YOU ARE A MAN. Just because you don’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t fucking exist. And this is part of the problem. “Well, no one has ever said anything to me! Surely that means no one is being harassed!”

      And unless you’re particularly close to these women, WHY would they complain to you??? Harassment is embarrassing and often shaming. A lot of the time you just want to move on and forget it. Not complain to every fucking man you happen to meet.

      1. Also, a lot of harassment just becomes part of the background noise and eventually you just stop noticing it as much. Which is sad.

      2. [Sorry, Marilove, I started writing this to back up your first paragraph, but it kind of got out of hand and is really directed at mtheatheist. I’m afraid if I try to cancel it and repost as reply directly to him, I’ll lose it all. I hope this doesn’t come off as mansplaining.]

        I think among some skeptics, there might be an element of this:

        1) Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.
        2) This has never happened to me.
        3) Therefore this is an extraordinary claim.
        4) All the evidence presented that sexual harassment is a problem in the skeptical/atheist community is anecdotal, which is insufficient to constitute extraordinary evidence.

        The problem with this chain of reasoning is in all of steps 2, 3 and 4. In step 2, the reasoner is suffering from a form of confirmation bias. He (it is usually a “he” in this case) is only seeing what he expects to see, based on his own previous experience, rather than the sum total of all observers’ experiences.

        In step 3, the reasoner is attributing “ordinariness” to his own experiences (which are anecdotal), rather than to scientifically derived statistics. There are many difficulties obtaining accurate numbers, but it is obvious from the data that between one in six and one in three (your number) women will be sexually assaulted or raped in her lifetime. This amounts to 25 to 50 million of the 150 million women currently alive in the US alone. The incidence of sexual harassment must be hundreds or thousands of times greater. To claim it doesn’t happen in the skeptical community or in any other community is the extraordinary claim that would require extraordinary evidence.

        In step 4, anecdotal evidence is insufficient to make statistical claims, but it is perfectly adequate to establish the existence of a problem. We can’t use anecdotes to establish that there is more or less of a harassment problem among skeptics or atheists than among the population at large, or that the problem is getting worse or getting better, but we can absolutely use them to show that the problem exists. If you want to claim that “we aren’t as bad as all that”, then the burden of proof is on you, not on Amy or the other Skepchicks or their allies or the defenders or promoters of anti-harassment policies.

      3. hey so it has been a long time, I have been too busy with other stuff to post, but I will respond and thank you for your insight.
        You describe several scenarios that any human would be nervous in and not just women. For example, if some guy, or gal, just walked up to me at the bus stop and starting rubbing up against me I would think that person was dangerously crazy; so I will just say it is possibly not limited to just females but people in general.
        Also, men too get raped by men and women, so sexual assault is not the sole province of females, and the sooner we get that stereotype removed people will progress more positively.
        And these women cold not possibly be any closer to me and would say something if they felt they had to.
        I will say that you seem to be a bit too angry with me just because I ask questions. Asking questions is the beginning of Knowing and not the lack of it.

        1. Actually, understanding the answers is the beginning of knowing. If all you do is ask questions to suit your own ego and never take the time to understand the responses you get, it’s called JAQing.

    3. The women in your life have never complained about harassment, but have you asked them?

      Society is so steeped in the “norm” that sexual harassment is just going to happen and anyone who complains is a prude or a man-hater that many women either don’t notice it (because you don’t notice what you think of as normal) or simply don’t say anything because what would change?

      Maybe you should ask them instead of assuming you know what they would say, and I mean that sincerely. You are not in the position to know the extent of the problem without guidance.

    4. Dear mtheatheist, while Marilove and mrmisconception have give you very succint answers, I would like to add one more thing. I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who didn’t feel some degree of trepidition when faced with the necessity to go out, alone, at night. We don’t talk about it because it’s, well, normal. Just the way it is. Come daylight and we’re at work, we’ve forgotten about it. Just part of every day life.

      In fact, it wasn’t until I came here to the Skepchick blog that I learned there were men who didn’t KNOW that this is normal.

      Please do actually ask your coworkers; assuming that because they don’t talk about it means it doesn’t happen is…naive.

      1. I’m going to second this and add to it a little. On top of it being normal, to women the concept of “it’s dangerous to be a woman because you might be assaulted” is about as debated (among women) as “the sky is blue” or “water is wet” (ignoring certain MRA women…)

        Though I do want to clarify, women do talk about this stuff. Not explicitly though. It’s very much like how people in the Harry Potter universe talk about Voldemort. Nobody says Voldemort, because it scares them and ‘You Know Who’ works because everyone knows who. Same for women in regards to fear of going out at night and such- most people don’t want to explicitly talk about rape and assault in polite conversation, so a “You Know Who”-esque nod to the idea suffices when it’s a conversation between women.

        And these nods are everywhere. Conversation about whether or not poodles are silly? “A standard poodle is a good dog for a young woman.” At a restaurant, when the manager comes up to our table (of exclusively teenage girls) before doing it to any other tables? “That was… odd.”

        Coded in all of that is the notion that we all understand the dangers of being a woman, without the need to say anything too squicky.

        So, yeah, (most) men won’t notice that. But using that as a reason to say it doesn’t exist is like claiming that Voldemort doesn’t exist because you’ve never heard anyone say his name.

        Also I’m just going to apologize right here for overnerding like that and stretching out a Harry Potter metaphor that long, but damn I never realized how similar it is.

    5. I am just asking; what is the generalized level or perception or fear of various unwanted physical advancements in the female population in general; or the atheist population specifically?

      While the other comments are accurate about the problems with being overly skeptical about this, actual data exist, too. Many studies were cited in this post and discussion:

      On a university campus:

      This survey asked about eight types of unwelcomed behavior which may constitute sexual harassment. A majority–52%–of respondents indicated that they had experienced one or more of the eight categories of unwelcomed behavior.

      A study finding 90% incidence of sexual harassment in the military:

      From another commenter:

      Sexual harrassment statistics are harder to find because the area is not studied as much, but studies on street harrassment suggest that sexual harrassment is far more common than sexual assault, with the most common subset (street harrassment) being reported by 100% of women in some areas, and between 15-25% of women reporting street harrassment daily.

      Link to comment:

      Source of data:

      1. I just want to say, with numbers like this, and with it being SO FUCKING EASY to just google this stuff, when people like mtheatheist say things like, “Well, women haven’t complained to ME about harassment. So how common IS IT?” I just want to fucking scream.

        And then he can’t even bother to come back and respond? Was he even actually INTERESTED in finding out? Or was there some other motive?

        1. Agreed. Amazed at calm detailed responses to what I can only say seemed like a disengenous to be kind, question… I, of course, wanted to scream then punch my laptop screen.

          I commend the decorum and patience on display.

      2. Great and thanks. So a 1/3 of women have been sexually assaulted, 1/2 have been sexually harassed, 9/10ths of females in the military have been harassed (no shocker there) and 100% report some form of street harassment.
        I will say something about a Silver-Lining here, and I will work backwards to do it.

        So every woman has been harassed on the street by a stranger that was just pasing by. Half of them had experienced a close-up harassment, as the males get closer it gets scarier, but about a third of the total women harassed on the street get assaulted. Now any assault is unacceptable but for all women to experience harassment but a minority are assaulted bodes well for the Majority of males.
        The data support that we are not all rapists and that most of us may talk a bad game but never actually run a bad-game. I try to look on the bright side of things.

  6. If I may be allowed to derail this fine discussion to go back to the original post:

    Am I the only one who found Mr. Lee’s statement somehow not all that supportive? The stuff about “sexual tension” and innate differences between men and women seemed at best off-topic if his purpose was to unambiguously condemn the constant threats and hate speech. Sort of like, “you should behave yourselves, but I can see where you’re coming from.” Or something.

    1. It’s definitely not without fault. Hopefully he would be open to reading some critiques of his position and change his position accordingly.

      I’m still thankful that there are men in positions of power willing to speak out and be allies (despite their misconceptions–things that we can help to educate them about–or skin color).

  7. “How could any twenty-first century American male humanist be so insensitive to the feelings of other human beings?”

    Because they don’t see women as human beings.

    1. “Because they don’t see women as human beings.”

      That was exactly my thought when I read that line.

      Objectification sucks.

  8. “The primary effect was to educate supervisors and co-workers that it was no longer cool to pinch bottoms or make suggestive remarks. You could get fired for stuff like that!”

    Part of what bothers me about this entire trend, particularly amongst anon creepers, is that so many of them do it precisely because they are unlikely to get caught and even if they did, suffer any consequence.

    We have a six year old who started sneaking things recently and we dealt with it as stealing, even though it was her own candy. We had to have a very long conversation with her about it because she kept focusing on thinking it was wrong because of the potential consequences, not because it was simply wrong to steal.

    We framed it for her that, as atheists, it was vital for us to come to moral decisions on what’s right or wrong to us in our hearts, what we want for society as a whole, and how we want those around us to behave. We can’t rely on consequences to guide us: not even potential punishment from an invisible man in the sky.

    We had to demonstrate to her how stealing is wrong because it hurts other people, not because there might be a consequence.

    I think more harassers need to learn these lessons on that level. The mere threat of being fired isn’t enough. They need to know deep down that what they’re doing is fundamentally wrong. And sadly…I don’t know how to teach these sorts of people that. I fear it was their parents who needed to instill that in them. :(

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button