Yeah, it’s a problem

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson: Skepchick
Image credit: Wikipedia

Yesterday, Rebecca Watson updated her site, Skepchick, with a post about the objectification she experiences in the online community – particularly in the atheist community. The post was unplanned, the result of receiving an email that depicted Watson in a very dehumanizing light. (She was bound, covered in semen, being penetrated anally by a dildo. The caption read, “Rebecca Watson is an object.”)

With much calmness and clarity, Watson discussed in her post why the so-called “witch-hunt” (as deemed by Michael Shermer) for anti-female atheists is an absurd notion, and why misogyny needs to be addressed in the atheist and skeptic movements.

I thought the article was very well composed, so I posted it to r/atheism on Reddit under the heading, “I used the think the atheist movement was better than this. I have seen enough of it lately to convince me otherwise.” Admittedly (and this is also an issue with Watson’s own argument), there is no evidence to suggest that the email Watson received was generated by an atheist. Such an email could also have been made by a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, a pagan, an anti-vaxxer, a Republican, or a variety of other individuals (Watson has more than her fair share of haters).

So, maybe I (and Watson) was being too brash by labeling this hate mail as atheist. That’s a fair criticism, and I’m willing to accept it. However, I have seen plenty of anti-female rhetoric spewed at atheists by fellow atheists (particularly on PZ Myers’, Greta Christina’s, and Watson’s blogs), so this discussion still seems to be one that needs to be had.

A quick rebuttal to a common argument: The term “professional victims” is thrown around in this conversation quite often. Some even claim that those claiming victimhood are only doing so to garner attention and create a false rhetoric from the anti-feminist crowd. It is possible that this is the case. However, as a skeptic, I think that this argument deserves a heavy amount of criticism. As should be the case for victims of rape, we should not immediately disregard these claims as self-serving deceptions. When someone claims to have been molested, it is morally unjustifiable to dismiss the complaints as false. Some rape claims are unfounded; but we don’t ignore the few who lie at the expense of the overwhelming majority who have actually been raped. Thus, when Watson says that she is threatened in these ways, it is only responsible to consider her claim and offer assistance when possible.

Moving on…

When I posted this link on Reddit, I was interested to see how the Reddit community would react. The first comment was encouraging; it basically stated solemnly that every movement was likely to have its set of crazies. From there, however, everything went downhill. Following are bits of the conversation that ensued. The user “fococsume” is me.

[-] coprolite_hobbyist 3 points 18 hours ago
So? What has that got to do with us or atheism?

Those people are pretty fucking annoying and they put themselves out as public figures. While it is deplorable that someone is sending them mean pictures, it is neither surprising nor of any importance.

[-] fococsume -2 points 18 hours ago
This is about someone in the atheist movement being physically threatened. And if it IS coming from others in the movement, then I think it definitely deserves our attention.

[-] coprolite_hobbyist 3 points 18 hours ago
That word, physically, it doesn’t mean what you think it means. Unless someone is coming up to her in person with a weapon or raised fists, she is not being physically threatened. See, that is the kind of hyperbole and sloppy use of language that tends to annoy people.

To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t think it deserves any attention at all and attempting to get others to give it any attention is a waste of time for all concerned. I am far more concerned about how she and her ilk are damaging atheism in general than I am about people sending her crudely drawn pictures or how she interprets them.

I really think she and the rest of Atheism+ should just go fuck themselves. (do your very best to interpret that as a physical threat)

cancelreplyvote upvote down
[-] fococsume -2 points 18 hours ago
By “physical threat,” I meant that people are threatening to physically harm her. Being told that she is going to be raped at a conference constitutes a physical threat in my mind. I’m curious though: How do you think she and the Atheism+ crowd are harming the movement?

[-] coprolite_hobbyist 3 points 18 hours ago
Yes, I know what you meant and I explained to you that you are wrong. Threatening to harm someone is not a physical threat, it is a verbal or written threat. If the person seems actually capable of carrying out the threat, it is a crime and it is called assault. Actually touching someone without their permission is called battery. A physical threat would be if I put my fist in your face, swung a bat at you or in some other way attempted to batter you.

The vacuous and unjustified whining about the use of language, the sudden and vitriolic insertion of radical feminist male-hating into the atheist dialogue, the obsessive concern that everyone that does not accept the strict feminist orthodoxy is a potential rapist, the attempt to silence critics through political correctness and general over-sensitivity to problems that do not actually exist detracts from the atheist dialogue.

You want to be a feminists? Go do that, bless your little heart, but don’t pretend it has anything to do with atheism and don’t expect me to give a shit.

[-] fococsume -3 points 18 hours ago
Haha. And you have the nerve to complain about “vacuous and unjustified whining about the use of language” and hyperbole? “…obsessive concern that everyone that does not accept the strict feminist orthodoxy is a potential rapist…” << Nice.

[-] coprolite_hobbyist 3 points 17 hours ago
Yeah, I guess you can go fuck yourself, too.

[-] fococsume -2 points 17 hours ago
With pleasure.

[–]coprolite_hobbyist 0 points 17 days ago

Use a broken bottle for a special level of enjoyment.

[–]fococsume[S] 1 point 17 days ago

Reasoned debate just ain’t what it used to be.

[–]coprolite_hobbyist 1 point 17 days ago

Oh, is that what you were attempting to do? I didn’t recognize it as such. Anyway, you have much more important things to do, like fucking yourself. Find a nice splintered baseball bat, don’t stop until you bleed out.

(Note: I previously claimed that the comments above – those in reference to fucking myself – had been deleted. That was incorrect. Thanks for bringing that to my attention, coprolite_hobbyist.)

Here’s the point: Sure, I misused the term physical threat. What I should have said is that Watson was threatened online by people claiming the desire to inflict upon her physical harm. The fact is that the person disparaging Watson’s claims was astonishingly quick to revert to the same tactics about which Watson was complaining in the first place. I wasn’t personally bothered by the weird suggestions, but I’m also not a prominent figure in the movement who could actually be harmed at one of the conferences. I’m also not a woman.

Here’s another argument posted in the comments section:

[-] GetBusy09876 3 points 17 hours ago
Tempest in a teapot surrounded by a real fucking tempest. I can’t believe we’re still wasting time on this bullshit when girls are getting acid thrown in their faces or shot in the head for going to school. When creationism is being legislated into school curricula in the US. Talk about first world problems. Priorities. This is on the level of drama, which means it can safely be ignored. And it should be.

If the logic of this claim is to be followed, then why do we care about any issues that aren’t the foremost threat to human existence posed by religion? Why do we bother spending our time and money on atheist billboards? Shouldn’t the sum of our effort be directed at religious genocide? The atheist movement has never been a one-issue movement, as much as some would like to believe that we can just stop at the fact that none of us believe in God. We address issues like gay rights, racism, circumcision, education and abortion because we care about a number of issues facing humanity, and we believe that reason, skepticism and science have the best answers to these problems.

I believe that feminism necessarily must also be a focus of the atheist movement. The belief that women are somehow inferior to men is a belief not based in reason, and therefore it must be dispelled. Feminists are not arguing that women are better than men, nor are we arguing that anybody who doesn’t agree with us is a rapist. We are arguing that women deserve equal respect as men, and we take into account history, privilege, prejudices and a variety of other factors that play into the female role in society.

While I will apologize for my slight errors in semantics, I will not back down from defending feminism – and I will do so from the standpoint of an atheist.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Atheism/Religion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s