I haven't been paying attention to the Atheist community for a while now. It was mostly the sexism -- after Elevatorgate, I just got sick of getting in arguments the other person was trying to frame as "It's us (male atheists) or them (all women, everywhere)." But I kind of figured that what was happening behind the scenes was, everything was cooling down, intelligence and compassion was prevailing, and people were being less nice to the people who were being totally awful. I guess that's not the case, though. Rebecca Watson, a central figure in the increase in attention to feminism among the skeptic community, published an article today on Slate, It Stands To Reason, Skeptics Can Be Sexist Too.
When I first got involved with the skeptics, I thought I had found my people [...] At conventions, skeptic speakers and the audience were mostly male, but I figured that was something we could balance out with a bit of hard work and good PR.
Then women started telling me stories about sexism at skeptic events, experiences that made them uncomfortable enough to never return. At first, I wasn’t able to fully understand their feelings as I had never had a problem existing in male-dominated spaces. But after a few years of blogging, podcasting, and speaking at skeptics’ conferences, I began to get emails from strangers who detailed their sexual fantasies about me. I was occasionally grabbed and groped without consent at events. And then I made the grave mistake of responding to a fellow skeptic’s YouTube video in which he stated that male circumcision was just as harmful as female genital mutilation (FGM). I replied to say that while I personally am opposed to any non-medical genital mutilation, FGM is often much, much more damaging than male circumcision.
The response from male atheists was overwhelming. This is one example:
“honestly, and i mean HONESTLY.. you deserve to be raped and tortured and killed. swear id laugh if i could”
I started checking out the social media profiles of the people sending me these messages, and learned that they were often adults who were active in the skeptic and atheist communities. They were reading the same blogs as I was and attending the same events. These were “my people,” and they were the worst.
That was where we were starting from. like I said, I hoped it was getting better. But this glimpse back into the community made it very clear that things haven't gotten better in the atheist/skeptic circles. Most distressingly, I discovered (a few months late) that Jen McCreight stopped blogging. Watson quoted,
I wake up every morning to abusive comments, tweets, and emails about how I’m a slut, prude, ugly, fat, feminazi, retard, bitch, and cunt (just to name a few), [...]
I just can’t take it anymore.
This was a super-depressing thing to discover. I'm not really sure what to do with this information, but it just sucks to see. I'm glad, at least, that Rebecca Watson hasn't been completely shoved out of the dialogue.