The other day, an asshole named Jerry Conlon said this to Ophelia Benson:
Maybe a vial of acid would do you some good. You already look like you were set on fire and put out with a wet rake.
This upset PZ a great deal as it pushed him to recognize the fact that if the entire world were atheist, we would still have plenty of assholes. Conlon apologized, for what it’s worth (not much), and today PZ posted a bit of optimism:
Really. Look at American Atheists, the American Humanist Association, the Center for Inquiry, Atheist Alliance International and Atheist Alliance America, the Secular Coalition, the Secular Student Alliance, and the Richard Dawkins Foundation. They are not supporting these petty, resentful snipers; they are working towards a future in which those goons are irrelevant.
Unfortunately, his links only go to the main websites of those organizations and not to any evidence that those groups are doing anything that would make irrelevant those who harass many of us every day. While many or all of those groups may be doing good things to advance the rights and freedoms of atheists, few have taken any large steps to stop what’s happening to women. Some of them, like American Atheists and Center for Inquiry, have instituted anti-harassment policies. A few of them have employees who have participated in Amy’s essay series in which men speak out against harassment (specifically: Ron Lindsay, Barry Karr, Jim Underdown, Paul Fidalgo and Michael DeDora of CFI, Dave Niose [then] of AHA, and Dave Silverman of AA. It’s worth noting that Dan Barker of Freedom From Religion Foundation also wrote a piece). As far as I can see only one of them – AHA – prominently uses the term “feminist” on its site and in its organization in a way that takes it as a given that feminism is an integral part of humanism and progress. (EDIT: Though I do want to note that CFI is sponsoring the Women in Secularism conference, for which it deserves kudos.)
For the most part, these organizations work on their causes while pointedly avoiding what they see as a divisive quagmire. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, no. For years, I defended the JREF’s pointed disinterest in atheist topics because while I do think atheism is the natural outcome of skepticism and that the two are ultimately inextricably linked, I understand that there’s a benefit to an organization focusing resources on a particular goal while also appealing to a larger audience. But it would be silly to then congratulate the JREF on working toward some atheist or secular goal, just as it’s silly to congratulate these organizations that are not focused on fighting for women.
And then there’s the Richard Dawkins Foundation. Over on PZ’s post, I commented:
I guess if you’ve never been called a “feminazi” by Paula Kirby or had your inbox explode with rape threats thanks to Richard Dawkins, RDF wouldn’t look out of place on that list.
I know that Dawkins’ comments have led to some very ugly results, and that Kirby just completely lost the plot, but considering that the RDF confines itself mostly to science education, I don’t think that organization as a whole is the ‘enemy’.
I could not disagree more, obviously. When discussing whether or not an organization supports “petty, resentful snipers,” it’s worth asking whether it keeps any on staff or whether the organization is named after one. Richard Dawkins’ comments have been the very definition of petty and resentful, including those he has continued posting on Twitter. Whether he’s retweeting victim blaming trash or coming up with his very own passive aggressive ways to denigrate a free vaccine program because Skepchick runs it, he has not only failed to stop the torrent of abuse aimed at me and other women in this movement but he has actively participated in it himself. And Paula Kirby of RDFUK has spent months defending her point that those of us asking for atheist conferences to be safer spaces for women are literally like Nazis and the Stasi.
Regardless of what RDF does for science (and I’m not sure what that is, exactly, though I do know that they donate substantial amounts of money to other organizations that actually do things), they are not to be counted among organizations that discourage harassment of women.
So while PZ finds optimism in the work these organizations do, I, for the most part, do not. I see anti-feminists who think those organizations stand for them. (Hell, I’ve seen misogynists cite feminist and Freedom from Religion Foundation co-founder Annie Laurie Gaylor as an inspiration.) I don’t think these people are stupid (though yes, many are – just look at the people populating my Twitter @ replies) – I think that secular organizations aren’t being loud enough in their support of women. I think often these organizations are being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century by a few progressive employees who want to do good at the risk of being seen as radical troublemakers.
And that’s where I find my inspiration: not in the large organizations but in the individuals who are strong enough to stand up for what’s right despite the endless hateful shit thrown their way. People like Ophelia Benson, Stephanie Zvan, Greta Christina, and Melody Hensley. People like Surly Amy and all the other Skepchick Network contributors. People like Amanda Marcotte, who in December recounted what it’s like to be a writer who happens to be a feminist:
6PM: This is approximately the time the first tweet was out accusing me of “ignoring” the situation I had learned about an hour and some change before and had already drafted an intro paragraph about and started researching. I made fun of how weird that was…
6PM-until this morning: This results in an absolute torrent of abuse from wingnuts, many insulting my looks, making sexualized jokes about me, calling me a “hypocrite” for supposedly ignoring a story I was writing about. About an hour into it, I turn off Twitter because it’s distracting me from organizing my thoughts and also it’s really unnerving, as a survivor of violence against women, to see folks like Ace of Spades get so excited at hearing about violence that they need to go find another woman to harass, to keep the thrill going. You know, under the cover of “outrage” about the supposed “ignoring” that’s going on.
The harassment Marcotte and other feminists experience is non-stop and at times overwhelming. Hell, I haven’t written a substantial blog post in ages, mostly because I have 800 tabs open filled with anti-woman bile and bitter hatred that I feel deserves to be exposed, but there’s just too much, and focusing on all of it long enough to write a post is exhausting. But the more individuals who stand up to fight this shit, the easier it gets. I could slack off on my blogging without worrying that the misogyny was going unanswered. I could take a break from supporting other women being harassed because I knew that there was a support network for them. I could block haters on Twitter without taking screen caps because now the Internet is flooded with the evidence of what we get every day.
But that’s because of individuals, not organizations.