Dublin panel: Women atheist activists

UPDATE:  Paula Kirby has posted a long comment here explaining her position.

_____________

Here is a video from the World Atheist Convention held in Dublin in early June; the theme was “Women Atheist Activists.”  Thanks to Grania Spingies, an officer with Atheist Ireland, who sent me the link.

The introduction is by Grania, and the other panelists are

Grania emailed me her take on the panel, and kindly allowed me to put it here:
What makes this panel interesting is that everyone on it is female, an atheist and and activist, but each in a different way.  They also represent different nationalities (although all are Caucasian): USA, UK, Irish-UK and Australian.  All of them are positive about being an activist (in whatever form it takes for them) and none of them seemed to think that there was a serious case of sexism in the atheist community.  All of them were very aware of sexism in society but mostly felt that they had not suffered any negative experiences in the atheist community. Tanya in particular put forward some useful ideas on encouraging women to get involved in whatever capacity they might find interesting. Paula stressed that she realised that her experience did not entitle her to speak for “everyone”; this is a point that is maybe missed by people who use personal anecdotes to color an entire community.  Bobbie talked a bit about the history of atheist activism in the States, which she said was dominated by women at one stage. That was interesting too. I think that a lot of people don’t know much about that—they do tend to think that atheism started in 2006.  Anne-Marie Waters is a tireless campaigner against Sharia Law because of what it does to women in those communities in the UK that use it. She is not an atheist campaigner, but a campaigner who happens to be atheist.

The video is much better than others I’ve seen from meetings, for it was filmed and produced by a professional.

I am proud of my readers, the general lack of rancor on my site, and the ability to discuss issues in the reasoned way that is the ideal of atheism (not always realized, of course!).  I hope the comments for this thread, too, will be polite and—more important—to the point.  Please, no name-calling or comments about issues not relevant to this panel. And one other request:  please don’t comment on this panel or its issues unless you’ve watched the whole video.  With the questions at the end, it’s a bit over an hour long (so no comments for at least an hour after I post this, plz.).

UPDATE: If you want to talk about Elevator Guy, Rebecca Watson, or Richard Dawkins, or anything that’s been hashed to death in other places, please do that on one of the many other sites where flame wars are going on.  I won’t have them here.

Thanks to Grania and Atheist Ireland!

108 Comments

  1. Posted July 8, 2011 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    I haven’t watched the video, but I was there! So I guess that counts. I enjoyed the panel and it was a joy to hear from these highly successful female atheists. They’ve all got where they are through talent and hard work and their message that it’s possible if you try is an inspiring one.

    However, let’s hope Rebecca Watson’s response to this panel discussion is online soon, if not already. In a later panel at the same conference she pointed out that while it is certainly perfectly possible for women to achieve great things in the atheist/skeptic communities, females putting themselves forward open themselves to risks that men do not. As an example, she described some of the hate mail she’s got, including ones gleefully hoping she’d be raped as punishment for being…what? Skeptical? Outspoken? Atheistic? I’m not sure. While many of us have receieved hatemail, Rebecca seems to get some especially awful ones, targetted at sexual violence. Presumably Dawkins, PZ and Jerry don’t get very many rape threats.

    I think Rebecca’s comment balanced out the discussion a bit and in hindsight it might have been better to have included her on the Woman Atheist Activits panel. Personally, I’d have welcomed a bit more disagreement.

    Still, the message of the panel members is inpspiring.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted July 8, 2011 at 5:46 am | Permalink

      This is not a good start; you’re discussing other issues (ones that have been widely disseminated on the internet), and I’d prefer that people discuss what was said on THIS panel, not about other panels or other issues. This is exactly the kind of comment that is designed to start a brushfire, and I don’t want that on my site.

      Please stick to the issues discussed on this panel.

      • Posted July 8, 2011 at 5:54 am | Permalink

        Sorry, that was not my intention.

        I really thought it was relevant to the panel discussion because in my opinion the panel lacked a side of the discussion that was important: that while it’s great that women can do well in the movement, it’s often harder for them to do so than for men. It was one of the things I was thinking as I listened to the discussion and I wished I’d made a comment about it at the time.

        I only mentioned the content of another panel because I thought it addressed some issues that this one ought to have and didn’t.

        I did not intend to start a bonfire and my mention of Rebecca was not a mention of the elevator unpleasentness. It just happens that she was the one who – in my opinion – addressed a matter of balance that I think was needed in the panel.

        But I can see why you might regard it as off-topic so I’ll keep quiet from now on.

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted July 8, 2011 at 6:00 am | Permalink

          I’m not asking you to be quiet, but I really don’t want this to degenerate into the kind of thread that has made other places unpleasant. The other videos you mention about the “communicating atheism” panel, are online here and here.

          To clarify, there has been enough said already about the current fracas that is dominating atheist websites. This post is not an invitation to continue that debate on my website.

          • Posted July 8, 2011 at 6:10 am | Permalink

            OK, I certainly didn’t want the discussion to become unpleasant, sorry if I’ve tipped it in that direction, nothing could be further from my intention.

            But I’m a little confused. Would it have made a difference if I hadn’t mentioned the other panel and had said instead that I felt the discussion would have been better if it included some people less inclined to agree with each other? A personal opinion, of course, but I’m not sure why it’s not relevant.

  2. wiz5
    Posted July 8, 2011 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    I think what has happened is that difference feminists haven’t been educated in what equality feminism is and have mistaken them for misogynists.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 8, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, those terms are both self-explaining and useful to me. I haven’t really come to terms with the spread in what is termed “feminism”, but those are great starters!

  3. Posted July 8, 2011 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    Sadly, I’m afraid that Paula’s position has been refuted by the recent blowup over Elevator Guy. Richard’s response was especially disappointing, though I have hopes that he’ll still come to his senses.

    Though I can certainly understand where she’s coming from. If nothing else, it’s the position where I wish society were in.

    The closest I can get to the MRA position would be, “Gee, Elevator Guy is even more clueless than average. There’s socially awkward, but even I know asking a lone strange woman in an elevator to your hotel room at oh-dark-thirty is full-force creepy dude territory. He needs to sit down with his sister / female cousin / etc. for some emergency social training, stat.

    But all this blaming of Rebecca for feeling creeped out by a guy who was being creepy? Makes no sense, unless those doing the blaming are defending their own prerogatives to creep out women. And even that doesn’t make sense. Why would even occur to Richard to feel the inclination to do that?

    Consider me thoroughly flabbergasted.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted July 8, 2011 at 6:57 am | Permalink

      Ben, you don’t seem to have read what I wrote above, or the comments I made in the posts. I do NOT want this thread to become about elevator guy or blaming Watson or Richard’s behavior or whatever. That just makes it the same kind of flameout that has plagued other sites.

      It it even possible for us to discuss the subject of women in atheism, their leadership roles, etc. without mentioning that other stuff? If my readers are unable to do that, then I’ll just deep-six the thread.

      • Posted July 8, 2011 at 7:05 am | Permalink

        Sorry…I watched the whole video and posted my response without reloading the page first.

        At the very least, though…all the “sound and fury” surrounding this is an indication that there are some pretty significant problems surrounding the treatment of women in the atheist movement. And, until we get these problems sorted out, all the great stuff women do will be forced into the sidelines by the sexism.

        It’s like trying to enjoy a Beethoven string quartet playing live in your living room…while the demolition team is tearing down your neighbor’s house with wrecking balls and chainsaws. Kinda hard to concentrate….

        b&

      • Gregory James
        Posted July 8, 2011 at 7:07 am | Permalink

        The expectation that “the other stuff” will not be mentioned is, IMO, an unrealistic expectation. Expecting a lack of rancor is one thing. Complete avoidance of unfortunate realities is another.

      • Posted July 8, 2011 at 8:36 am | Permalink

        It it even possible for us to discuss the subject of women in atheism, their leadership roles, etc. without mentioning that other stuff?

        “…and none of them seemed to think that there was a serious case of sexism in the atheist community.”

        Probably not, no.

        • Posted July 8, 2011 at 9:02 am | Permalink

          I think that’s the sentiment I was driving at.

          There’s an elephant in the room, and Paula’s opening remarks to me sounded like she was insisting that the elephant was a plushy toy. The problem is that this elephant is really a randy old bull.

          Other collections of people have figured out how to convince elephants to play nice with others, and I’m sure we will, too. But it’s not going to happen by pretending they’re not there or by downplaying the havoc they wreak — regardless of whether said havoc is intentional or clueless.

          b&

          • John
            Posted July 10, 2011 at 4:14 am | Permalink

            A good start might be to point out where exactly the ‘randy old bulls’ have been tamed previously. That would be pretty constructive and you could avoid mentioning the elephants directly.

          • Posted July 10, 2011 at 5:52 am | Permalink

            And just how will you report this to those who are undergoing horrific infibulation at this very moment?
            That there is an elephant in a western elevator?

            Dawkins was correct to dismiss this storm in a tea-cup with sarcasm.

            I had thought better of you, Ben.

            • Posted July 10, 2011 at 5:55 am | Permalink

              Oh, and post scriptum:
              Paula was referring SOLELY to the reality of sexism WITHIN THE ATHEIST MOVEMENT.
              Thos eof you who have reading/listening difficulties have conflated her words to apply to society in general.

              STOP. IT.

      • Posted July 8, 2011 at 10:21 am | Permalink

        It bothers me, Jerry, that you seem to think I was referring to all that business when I wasn’t. I *think* I was making a perfectly valid point that just happened to involve some of the characters that later turned up in other discussions. That was my intention. I didn’t have elevators or anything of the sort in mind. Was that really not clear from what I wrote?

        I realise I’m whining now, but HUMPH: I feel misunderstood.

  4. wiz5
    Posted July 8, 2011 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    Right sorry, I generally agree with everything on this panel. I found it a refreshing contrast.

  5. Posted July 8, 2011 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    OK then. Sorry to sound flippant, but I really did want to make a serious point earlier and will try to do so without mentioning The Forbidden Subjects or People.

    It was enormously uplifting to be at the panel discussion, but a lot of people in the audience, myself included, seemed to feel there was something missing. People were turning to strangers and asking each other “is that it?” I did that myself. Some of us were a little blown away by the fact that there wasn’t someone on the panel with a different perspective.

    Now I’m not a fan of fostering advertsity for the sake of it, but I think it would have been a far more interesting panel; a far more interesting discussion; and would have made more people think about more things if there was someone on the panel who had a different view. They could have compared experiences, agreed on some things, disagreed on others and we’d all have learned something, hopefully in a fairly congenial atmosphere.

    As it was, the talks were great and I really hope they inspire people, but they don’t tell the whole story.

    Let’s just bear that in mind.

    • Posted July 8, 2011 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      well said.

    • Sal Bro
      Posted July 8, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      I agree that the whole story isn’t presented here, and I can’t ignore the context in which this panel took place (June) AND in which the video was posted (July 5). In recent months, there has been a lot of discussion about sexism within atheism. A number of atheist men & women have pointed out evidence for sexism within the movement in very specific ways (fewer women at conferences; predominance of white, male speakers at conferences; quick dismissal of voiced concerns about sexism at conferences and in online forums) and have tried to have discussions about ways to improve on it. This panel fell short in that it didn’t generate much good discussion about solutions, because the panelists failed to see beyond their personal experiences. It would have been more interesting to see them leverage their unique perspectives to propose solutions for problems that others have pointed out.

      Then, this video was published on YouTube on July 5–and subsequently shared with Jerry, who published it here–in the midst of a related shitstorm. Again, I can’t ignore the context in which this took place, whether it was coincidental or not, and it compounds my dissatisfaction with the panel.

      • Tyro
        Posted July 8, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

        This panel fell short in that it didn’t generate much good discussion about solutions, because the panelists failed to see beyond their personal experiences.

        Really? I thought they did a good job at that. They each shared their own experiences and just as it’s unfair to use their past to dismiss the reactions of others, it’s just as unfair to dismiss theirs.

        I think they also raised many potential explanations for the lower numbers of women attendees and presenters. Could it be that the problems they raised in Dublin were societal and difficult to fix whereas the problems that have been raised elsewhere are simpler and can be solved much easier?

  6. Posted July 8, 2011 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    It should be easy to avoid most of the recent kerfuffle, because this panel is about women leaders mostly. I’m about 40% through it at this point, where the second panelist said that women are more touchy-feely in their organizing, and the third one says that women generally have low self-esteem. It is certainly not the sort of “empowerment” panel that I think I was expecting.

    It is also so far very “top-down” which is an issue that makes them maybe ill-suited to talk about sexism/feminism within the atheist/skeptic “movement” itself. It reminds me of the mid-1990s when I was in the Marines, and they was an association of the wives of Marines and Sailors on the base, and they never had enough of the wives of the younger enlisted men join the club. They really pushed hard to let the wives of young enlisted men know that the club existed, it was there to support young women a long way from home and family, maybe with young kids, all useful support stuffs. A couple of the wives of friends of mine went to a meeting, and reported back the problem: when the meetings were setting up, the wives of the officers and senior enlisted congregated in the corner while the wives of the junior enlisted men set up chairs and tables, made coffee, whatever. Then the meetings were dominated by the officers’ wives, and when they were done they would just leave, and the wives of the junior enlisted were handed brooms and mops and trash bags to clean up. Who would want to join a group where you get treated like crap and talked down to?

    So, maybe the issue of women leaders in these groups is more an issue of whether you want to groom your leaders (men and women) from the rank and file of your group, or whether you’re looking for people who have already established themselves elsewhere or in some other way to add their privilege to your movement. Do you want to be top-down or bottom-up? Combine that with JT Eberhart’s recent post about the bias in the movement towards people with higher degrees, and it begins to form a pattern in my head…

    • Egbert
      Posted July 8, 2011 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      What fascinates me is the boredom and indifference many have when people are speaking, even on the panel. People are generally uncomfortable when surrounded by others, unless they lose themselves in the audience or instead adopt a social role imposed by society.

      Someone commented on another blog that the new atheist movement is not mature enough. I agree, but this is not a problem with atheism but a problem with society, that imposes identites and roles onto each of us. Real maturity requires a complete throwing off of social roles and identities and the gaining of self-possession. None of this is generally the case amongst atheists, and so that’s a problem. We are still not yet comfortable throwing off our roles as a community.

      We are failing to recognise each other as individuals, and the identity of ‘atheist’ is not helping, only regressing the goal of individual liberation and reason. This means we’re not listening to each other as individuals. No one is interested in listening to inauthenticity and cliche when we’re outside that social identity, when people start agreeing, clapping and nodding their heads to inauthenticity and cliche, it’s time to leave.

      Those who are maturing, such as the likes of Paula Kirby and the main atheist bloggers, may not recognize that hierarchy is unconsciously creeping into the movement. Then suddenly, like a bolt of lightning, everything becomes reversed and insanity ensues.

      • Posted July 8, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink

        “hierarchy”?
        I assume that this adjective is consciously applied?
        I see a similar (disturbing) phenomenon in the “skeptikal” movement.
        Ms Watson appears to have been anointed as an high priestess of the SGU cult.

        • Egbert
          Posted July 8, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink

          When you have a panel and audience, that naturally generates a sense of superiority over the audience. Asking the audience to participate with questions is a good step to diminish this separation, but nonetheless, people are fulfilling their social roles of passive reception (immature) and active speaker (more mature).

          Atheist blogs are based on the same separation. We have the big personalities and then the bloggers and blog followers.

          sooner or later, the separation becomes leaders and followers, and suddenly constitutions are drawn up by the committee and leaders, without the rest of the movement having any clue about it.

          It might not appear to be hierarchical or important, but it is, and slowly erodes the point of the movement.

  7. Posted July 8, 2011 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    This video is well-worth watching.
    If solely for the very positive reason of “conscience-raising: aspect.

  8. Posted July 8, 2011 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    I was disappointed to hear Kirby start off by dissing an excellent source of insight into issues of sexism in our culture, Bitch magazine, in such an offhand way. I wonder if she even read the article in question? There are one or two unfortunate digs in there, but the overall message is very coherent and provides solid evidence that sexism is at play in our movement, though perhaps the concerns raised apply not to members of the “movement” itself but to its portrayal in the media. (Even so, we have a responsibility to counteract the media bias.)

    http://bitchmagazine.org/article/the-unbelievers

    • Posted July 8, 2011 at 8:32 am | Permalink

      I had to struggle through this article as to when it might suggest something positive.
      Never got there, sorry old chap.

      • Posted July 8, 2011 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        It’s true, this was disappointing, but we shouldn’t expect an outsider to solve our problems for us.

    • Posted July 11, 2011 at 7:35 am | Permalink

      I don’t think she ‘dissed’ Bitch magazine. She raised an eyebrow at the name and laughed along with everyone else at the irony.

  9. NMcC
    Posted July 8, 2011 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Er…is it allowed for someone to disagree that it’s a ‘professional’ production? Surely a professional would spell atheist correctly?

    • matt
      Posted July 8, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

      Haha. I noticed that too. I think that was an error of whoever put it online, though. Not so much the camera guy, sound guy, or editor. At least I hope so.

  10. Somite
    Posted July 8, 2011 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    I think the difference between this panel and other incidents discussed elsewhere is this: the panel is an overall assessment of women and atheism based on their experience and a discussion of practical advice. The incidents elsewhere are anecdotes amplified for effect, just like Fox news and tabloid journalism.

    Sexism is everywhere and rampant; but it should be examined as a scientific problem and not sensationalized by anecdotes.

  11. Tyro
    Posted July 8, 2011 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Listening to Paula Kirby now, she relates a story of a person asking why “sexist white dudes are the face of atheism.”

    Before answering, I do have to sit back and ask the same question of Christianity. Why are the sexist white Christians getting the most media attention? Yes, even I know that there are female Christians and plenty of different races but it doesn’t take long to see that the higher you rise through the ranks, the more likely you are to be male and white.

    Why is this? Blacks, hispanics and women are as likely (by some accounts, more likely) to be religious than white men. There is, however, an institutionalized sexism throughout religious practice with the bible explicitly forbidding women from being leaders.

    I don’t say this to excuse the atheism movement. If anything, because we pride ourselves on throwing off these remnants we should expect to see far more women and minorities than we do see, so perhaps the low representation on panels and in the audience is an even bigger problem for us than Christians. Still, it is jarring for the institutional sexism to be ignored or whitewashed. Maybe the atheist movement isn’t where we’d like it to be, but it’s a hell of a lot better off than the Christians!

    (Not saying much but it still should be said.)

    • Tyro
      Posted July 8, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      I wrote too fast – Kirby is tackling some of these issues now.

      Interesting so far, maybe I’ll be quiet and wait till everyone has a chance to speak :)

    • Tyro
      Posted July 8, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      I finished the entire video and I *definitely* spoke too soon! They covered a lot of ground. Each person had very different experiences of sexism, role models, feminism, and the role of atheism in feminism. There’s actually such diversity and so many issues that they raised I think there could be the subject of five or eight different posts.

      For instance, they raised the point that women in general are less likely to be outspoken activists. Obviously there’s a wide range within each group, but could this broad tendency explain why fewer women chose to attend atheist meetups? As well, men are more likely than women to pursue positions for which they lack skills which could explain why men are more likely to hold some organizational positions. Should we be doing more to encourage women to step forward, should we accept this as a societal quirk, or should we reject this as an excuse for sexism?

      There was a discussion about how some women have gathered together to defend the misogyny in Christianity, to say that women really should not instruct men and that women should cherish their differences and not try to be something they are not. This probably arises as an attempt to reconcile the oppression of women in Christianity with the fact that these women still chose to be Christians. Perhaps by merely letting women know there’s an alternative to default Christianity we can help.

      In addition to this oppression of women, they noted that religions are generally very patriarchal. When women do appear in roles of respect like the Virgin Mary, they must reject their sexuality by remaining virgins. Women are treated as dirty, less than men, and their sexuality is inherently sinful. Surely atheism by rejecting these teachings is liberating.

      And many more subjects. No doubt any one of them would spur a long post and an even longer discussion thread.

      Not once did they mention guys hitting on them. Not saying this isn’t an issue for some women, just saying that there are a lot more things to talk about.

  12. Posted July 8, 2011 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Yesterday I watched the YouTube video of Maryam Namazie @ Dublin 2011 – wow !

    This video here ? Well Anne-Marie Waters particularly hit home to me – engaging, direct & funny but mostly the discussion was agreeable and anodyne

    A Malaysian guy asked a question re the Obedient Wives Club: “How do you empower women that don’t see ‘submissive’ as a problem…”

    Paula Kirby answer @ 1:47:30 “…I’m not a women’s rights activist. I’m an atheists activist… I’m not that interested in telling women how they should live & how they should be. It’s a great shame if a woman wants to go through life being submissive, but if she does it’s her business & not mine…”
    I don’t know why PK bothered to make that statement & I’m shocked by it. I need to reflect for a while & ask myself if it’s me being a bloke that’s the problem here

    Thank you Grania, Atheist Ireland & Jerry for the brain food

    • Posted July 8, 2011 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      correction…

      0:47:30

    • Posted July 8, 2011 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      Wow… Kirby’s response there is very “screw you, I got mine” isn’t it?

      • Posted July 8, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

        As if women who ‘choose’ to be submissive is a really a choice in sexist society (implied by one of the panelists, thank goodness). Kirby by her own omission is not focused on women rights. Some male atheists aren’t either. They embrace instead the broad, reasoning approach, that sexism will fade away if religion does. Ha.

        I enjoyed the panelists (even Kirby made some good pts that held their own strength despite her admitted non-interest in promoting women’s rights) and the questions v much and do think this a step forward in the problem of less participation by women at atheist meet ups.

      • Tyro
        Posted July 8, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

        I didn’t get that at all. She does touch upon the experience of others and I don’t think she ever says that sexism doesn’t exist. I think she’s giving her perspective and that’s different than what other women have.

        I think it’s a big stretch to say this makes her dismissive of others.

      • Posted July 8, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

        No, it’s really not

        • Posted July 8, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

          Sorry if my comment is unclear (I fear it may be because of the threading system): my “No, it’s really not” is in response to Improbable Joe’s assertion that “Wow… Kirby’s response there is very “screw you, I got mine” isn’t it?”

          • Posted July 8, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

            … and I disagree. This isn’t going to be very productive, is it? *shrugs*

            • John
              Posted July 10, 2011 at 5:47 am | Permalink

              Though it is indeed improbable that you don’t know this, a skeptic forum requires a little more than your opinion. If you could point to specific examples, back it up with some evidence… it could be productive.

    • Posted July 8, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

      Michael Fisher:
      I think you’re overracting and not appreciating what Paula has actually said.

      It’s a matter of triage. There are women in the world being oppressed asking for help, and women in the world being subjugated with their apparent consent. To “rescue” the second group means to ignore the first group, but it’s the first group asking to be set free. The second group is saying outright: we’ll resist your attempts to “free” us.

      Even if they’ve chosen unwisely, they are aware they have the option to leave and choose to resist it. It’s a bit arrogant to then conclude that your will for how their life ought be lead replaces their will for how their lives ought be lead.

      If you want to get them “freed”, the more examples of free women around the globe you have to cite to is surely better than forcing these women to do what you want rather than what they want.

      • Posted July 8, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

        Forcing ? Why use that word ?

        • Posted July 8, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

          What other word would you call it when someone says to you “I don’t want to do ___” and then you go in to rescue them from themselves? Cordial invitation they may not refuse? Gentle nudge in the direction you’ve decided they need to go?

          When someone says, “my life is like this and I like it this way”, and the response to someone who says, “her business, not mine” is a visceral let’s fix the issue, what you’re saying is that these women aren’t making good decisions for themselves, so someone needs to go in do it for them.

          Otherwise, you have to accept the fact that you may not like the decision, but they don’t need fixing – they’re happy with the situation. To do anything to remove them from that situation will require force. (Since you were apparently not impressed by the “let’s show them what empowered, non-suppressed women look like and how nice it is” line suggestion that’s on offer in the video)

  13. Posted July 8, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    FWIW, the only responses to the article in question i’ve seen among atheist bloggers have been positive. Here’s the quote from blaghag:

    “I highly recommend this article by Victoria Bekiempis at Bitch Media. It’s one of the most well-rounded, unbiased, well-researched article about the gender problem in the atheist movement that I’ve seen written by an outsider.”

    http://www.blaghag.com/2011/05/unbelievers-new-atheism-and-old-boys.html

    http://www.thinkatheist.com/xn/detail/1982180:BlogPost:704570

    http://atheistuniverse.net/forum/topics/new-atheism-and-the-old-boys

    Kirby seemed to read the word “bitch” and move on.

  14. Posted July 8, 2011 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Interesting speakers.

    I liked Tanya Smith’s description of the incremental steps that led to her position as the head of AAI; sort of like a timid person’s guide to involvement–good for non-alpha personalities of both genders.

    Paula Kirby made the point that atheism is a subset of reason and I think a living embodiment of that would be Anne Marie Waters, who as Grania Spingies says, is “not an atheist campaigner, but a campaigner who happens to be an atheist”. That leads me to a question I always have whenever I hear about an atheist convention and/or “movement”; why organize under that particular banner? If atheism is a subset of reason, and “reason” is a category that contains positive values while “atheism” is at it’s core a description of what you are not, why not organize under the broader, more positive banner? It seems like there’s more potential for a constructive movement to emerge if like-minded people coalesce around ideas like reason, or even “humanism” than just non-theism. The way I phrased that probably makes it sound like a rhetorical question, but it’s not; I suspect that there may be some good answers to it, and this seems like a good place to ask. I hope I’m not off-topic in asking that.

    Lastly–and this IS off-topic, but it seems like as good a place as any to bring it up–Professor Coyne, I love this blog, or web page, or whatever you want to call it! I’m always learning new things here, and you inspire me to THINK! Thanks for that, and for encouraging dialogue and civility in your comments section. Oh, and thanks to you and your readers, I no longer hate cats!

    • Posted July 8, 2011 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      There is the very much intertwined “skeptics” movement. The problem is that religion has a far more privileged role in our society and often gets special exemptions from reason.

      There are many people who feel that applying reason to alternative medicine and psychics is somehow different from applying reason to religion and they get quite upset when people start talking about religion at skeptics conferences.

      I think it’s important for there to be a movement specifically saying that religion is no different from any other wacky belief.

      Also, sadly, there are many “atheists” who seem to have stumbled onto disbelief in god yet don’t understand the reasoning behind it. Take Bill Maher and his ant-vaccine stance.

      • Posted July 8, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

        I’m guessing you mean that it’s important for there to be a movement specifically saying that religion is no more exempt from criticism and analysis than any other wacky belief, because there are undoubtably differences between the beliefs. Anyway, I can see why that might be the focus for a movement, but I’d call that something like “secularism”. The atheist label still seems too broad, and actually does include Bill Maher and his anti-vaccine stance.
        Is that the scope and focus of the “atheist movement”? I don’t know…

        Anyway, the horses have left the barn on this one; people will call themselves what they will. I might not agree with the name on the banner, but it’s still all pretty interesting!

  15. raskolnikov37
    Posted July 8, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    I agree with PK’s answer. As a school teacher, one of our catchphrases is “pick your battles.” If you run around fighting every fight you’re going to wear thin and run out of gas; in the end, you’ll accomplish almost nothing. I think that phrase applies here. Some atheists should definitely concern themselves with atheism and feminism. For others it might be some other aspect of atheism like the criticism of religion. I also don’t care about the feminist aspects of atheism; I care about attacking religion and promoting science. I don’t fault others for emphasizing a different aspect of the movement, but they can’t ask us all to care about it as passionately. Having said that, I will not deny the importance of what people like Rebecca Watson, for example, are doing,; it’s just not interesting to me. I welcome Jerry’s blog into my life every day because he seems to be interested in the same aspects of atheism as I am: science, reason, religion.

    • Sal Bro
      Posted July 8, 2011 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      raskolnikov37, part of the point is that, for many atheists, it is not a choice to find the “feminist aspects of atheism” to be uninteresting. Sexism works its way into rational discussion very often, and whether we choose to ignore it or not still involves a decision and an action on the parts of those who recognize it for what it is. It’s wearying and unpleasant, but difficult to perpetually ignore.

      It is particularly exhausting to run into sexism in atheist-friendly spaces, because it is less expected there–even after, time and again, that has been shown to be an unrealistic assumption. When atheist speakers/commenters/bloggers display a significant blind spot to sexism, it calls into question their ability to think rationally in other areas. (Not that is impossible to be sexist and still be rational about many positions, but just that it takes more effort to determine the extent of their blind spot.)

      To use your phrase of picking one’s battles–I don’t usually feel like I’m picking feminism as a cause to fight for. It’s more like I have to cross a feminist bridge before I can even get to the battlefield. Over and over and over again.

  16. Posted July 8, 2011 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Seriously Jerry, thinking you could post this right now and NOT have Elevator Guy come up would be like if you started going around telling people your blog is not actually a blog.

    Oh wait….

    “When people stop believing blog, they start believing anything!”

    • Tyro
      Posted July 8, 2011 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      Watch the video dude, there’s a lot of meat in it for us to chew on without beating up elevator guy.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted July 8, 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      What Tyro said. Is elevator guy really relevant to what the panel says about women’s role in atheism? I would think we could have a substantive discussion without all that stuff, and, indeed, many people are succeeding at it!

  17. Gayle Stone
    Posted July 8, 2011 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    re: The “In God We Trust” in school’s; they have their foot in the door here in Florida. It has appeared on license plates here for some tme but not on mine; if I have to change my plate I will refuse one and make a FEDERAL CASE of it!

  18. Notagod
    Posted July 8, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Snagle rasum wasr snat, unreliable, wasr snatl taut wifi connetion, our? one raslsnapn day more zaprn likely!

    • Marta
      Posted July 8, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      How ’bout those Dodgers!

  19. Paula Kirby
    Posted July 8, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    I have been keeping very quiet over the last week or so, saddened to see the movement tearing itself apart over something that I do not see as central to atheist activism in the first place, and reluctant to do or say anything that might add fuel to the flames.

    But I am encouraged by Jerry’s insistence on cool, calm discussion on the subject here at least, and so there are some things about my position that I would like to clarify.

    My background is in business. I have lost count of the number of times I have been present at meetings when the women said nothing and left it all to the men. I’ve been guilty of it myself, many a time. Was it because the men weren’t willing to listen to the women? I don’t think it was. Did the men dismiss our comments if we made them? No, they didn’t. Did they try to stop us making them? No, they didn’t do that either. Were the women lacking in ideas? No, of course not. We just didn’t speak up. Crucially, many of us didn’t speak up, even when openly invited to do so.

    Similarly, I spent 7 of the last 10 years organising events for business people: conferences, seminars, workshops, that kind of thing. Over and over again, I tried – how I tried! – to find women speakers. Over and over again, other delegates, both male and female, would tell me they’d like to hear from more women speakers. So the desire was there on the part of the audience to listen to what women had to say, and it was there on the part of the organisers too. And we didn’t just invite: we encouraged, we offered support, we offered coaching, we offered to change the format of events to make them feel less daunting: we went out of our way, event after event after event, to encourage women to take a more prominent part. And almost always to no avail. There were two or three who were already happy to do it anyway and didn’t need our encouragement. Another, I remember, who finally agreed to do it after her initial panic at the very idea, and who, despite being very nervous on the day, said afterwards it was the best thing she’d ever done. But otherwise, it was all for nothing. Try as we might, try as I might, most women we approached simply refused to even consider it, saying ‘Oh no, I couldn’t possibly.’

    So I have to ask: Who was holding those women back? They weren’t just being given equal access to prominence as speakers – they were being positively encouraged in ways that male speakers were not. But ultimately, there was something in their own heads that was stopping them. It wasn’t that men didn’t want to listen to them, it wasn’t that they weren’t being given the opportunities, it wasn’t that they weren’t respected, it wasn’t that no one thought they had stories worth telling and valuable contributions to make. They just didn’t feel confident enough to do it – even when offered coaching to help them prepare.

    So this is my frustration. I did a sociology module as part of my degree many years ago: I know the arguments about socialisation and normative values, and structural discrimination and all that malarky. All I can say in response is that, while all these things may be true to a greater or lesser extent, banging on about them does not even begin to help women achieve their goals. If we, as women, externalise the reasons why we are not being heard as much as we say we’d like to be, and seek to put the blame on other people, nothing is going to change or, at the very best, it is only going to change painfully slowly. It is a simple fact of life that it is always easier to change our own behaviour, than to persuade other people to change theirs.

    So there is an alternative, and it is this alternative that I would urge women to seize with both hands – whether we’re talking about how we interact in our jobs, in our social lives or in the atheist movement. And that alternative is to take responsibility for ourselves and our own success. To view ourselves as mature, capable adults who can take things in our stride, and can speak up appropriately. To really start believing that we can do whatever men can do. To stop seizing on excuses for staying quiet and submissive, stop blaming it on men or hierarchies or misogyny or, worst of all, ‘privilege’, and start simply practising being more assertive. To wake up to the fact that, actually, the lack of prominent women is a theme in almost all walks of life, and many, probably most, organisations will leap at the chance to put a woman into a position of leadership. I would even say that some organisations will leap too far to put a woman in a position of leadership: I have seen, more than once, a mediocre female candidate put on a short list for a Chief Executive position simply because the organisation hoped against hope that she’d be more impressive in person than she was on paper, because they would have actively liked to appoint a woman.

    I am not saying that all men, or even all women, are enlightened on this subject, or that all sexism is dead. But I am saying that we women do ourselves no favours by assuming that the system is weighted against us, or by claiming prejudice when, in fact, we have just been slow or even reluctant to take the opportunities that are there. The doors are open – but it’s no good just standing on the threshold and peering fearfully across at what’s on the other side. All I have ever asked for myself is that there be no barriers put in my way on account of my being a woman: I do not ask that men actively go out of their way to make it easier for me than it otherwise would be. I still need to summon up my courage and my confidence, and step through that open door. And what I’m saying is that, in my experience, whether in the atheist movement or elsewhere in the western world (in Western Europe, at least), women who do just that will almost always be welcomed. We just need to DO it.

    Yes, there’s the occasional neanderthal, in any walk of life But it’s up to us whether we let him put us off doing what we really want to do. At the risk of sounding like a tedious self-help book, we don’t have to give him that power over us. We can choose to rise above him (or sidestep him) and continue pursuing our own goals. And what I am suggesting is precisely the attitude that I have found in the vast majority of successful women I’ve met in a range of walks of life. In almost any field you care to consider, the women who have made it to the top are generally not sympathetic to the view that men or the system were desperately trying to hold them back. They have simply adopted the tactics I am describing here, and have refused to let anything hold them back. They certainly haven’t diverted their focus from their goals to how men are treating them, and they haven’t waited for men to give them permission to succeed. Are we going to say their voices and experiences do not count, because they have made it? – that the very fact of their success makes them ‘privileged’ beyond the point of having anything valid to say on the subject? That any woman who has made it automatically doesn’t count or can even be advanced as further evidence that ‘ordinary’ women can’t make it? Would that not be truly bizarre, akin to the Roman Catholic Church trying to spin Mother Teresa’s doubts as further evidence of the truth of her beliefs?

    Two final points, before I finish what has already been an overlong screed. The first, unlike everything else I’ve been saying, is specific to the atheist movement. Activism is by definition controversial: we don’t need activists for causes that are already widely accepted. This means that conflict comes with the territory. Activists need to be able to cope with that, we need to be able to deal with people who really do want to silence us and discredit us at any cost. It can turn nasty. And the religion/atheism divide – as I’m sure I don’t need to spell out to anyone here – is one of the most aggressive areas for activism there is, largely because religion is something visceral, that people attach themselves to with the full force of their emotions. All too often, it is not a polite, nice, friendly debate. It can be foul. Anyone – male or female – considering becoming prominent in this field is likely to be letting themselves in for a considerable amount of really nasty stuff. There is no reason why women shouldn’t be able to cope with that as well as men can. But I do find it hard to see how anyone who is shy about speaking up within the movement, in front of people who are broadly on his or her side, is going to be able to deal with some of the abuse that will start coming their way from those outside the movement if he or she becomes more prominent.

    And the second is that I see a parallel here with one of the arguments we often have with the religious. Many of the religious don’t want to abandon belief in God because they find the thought of having to stand on their own two feet too daunting: they are afraid of having to take responsibility for themselves. And generally speaking, we atheists might have some sympathy with the fear, but we don’t accept it as a good reason for giving in to it: ‘Tough’, we say: ‘That’s just the way it is’. And that’s sort of what I’m saying here too. All of us have to take responsibility for ourselves, make things happen for ourselves, learn from our mistakes, brush up our skills, and stop waiting for other people to make things easy for us. Man or woman, if we want success we just have to get on and make it happen, because no one else is going to do it for us. And no: this is not ‘privilege’ speaking, as anyone who actually knows me and my history would be able to attest. Other, that is, than the enormous privilege (shared by most women in the atheist movement, I suspect) of having been born into a western society, where women enjoy a degree of opportunity and freedom that would have been unimaginable to our grandmothers and still is so to countless of millions of women around the world.

    • Sastra
      Posted July 8, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      Long, but thought-provoking. Thank you.

      After reading probably too small an amount of the opinions on “all” sides of this women & atheism issue, I find myself pretty much agreeing with each speaker — with a few minor caveats each time. This makes my position — if I have one — hard to focus. I’m still mulling it over, I think.

      But the more I read, helps.

      • raskolnikov37
        Posted July 8, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

        What a great post, Paula. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I’m glad you posted it here because if you had posted that on PZ’s site, you would have been torn to pieces by his minions; they will brook no dissent.

    • David
      Posted July 8, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      Damn movement tearing itself apart every other week. You would think Skeptics like to argue or something.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 8, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

      I started to read that, and suddenly found myself finish that long comment. As Sastra noted, thought-provoking. And I too have prevaricated on the current side issues, because these things tend to tear you apart without really offering support to those that need it.

      So on the larger, constructive issue* – I agree. We need to work on both external influence and internal motivators. Once women speak up in proportion to their influence**, presumed misogeny will disappear and unsuspected will appear. And then we can do more on that!

      It is encapsulating the atheist problem. If we don’t speak up, how can anyone listen? If we don’t act, how can anyone react or pro-act meaningfully?

      [Now the problem I have is that I call it "side issues", without having any evidence that they are so.

      But again, I'm fairly confident that those issues are no better or worse than in other social events. That is, sometimes they *are* the main issues, most of the time not.

      I await evidence either way.]
      ————
      * Apart from the constructive in listening and following the advice out of the side issues, that is.

      ** The ultimate target there is 50 %, natch.

    • Egbert
      Posted July 9, 2011 at 2:35 am | Permalink

      Paula,

      While I think you were the most mature speaker in that video, and obviously comfortable in yourself while all those around you were struggling, there is something you may not be noticing–those less mature and struggling are unconsciously having powerful social pressures and identities placed upon them.

      Also, there really is a little bit of privilege speaking, the privilege of maturity, of belonging to the mature club. Clearly your background in business has helped you, but may also cloud the way you believe people mature by measuring their success. This is in fact more intimidating for people struggling to break out of social pressures. It is rather like being told to ‘pull yourself together’ when you’re struggling to do just that.

      I am sure this is terribly frustrating for you and it is for me. And the goal posts have switched from the urgency of our cause to the most trivial gossip and absurdities. The problems are not outside the group, they’re suddenly within the group–a lack of personal development toward the full throwing off of very powerful social pressures and identities.

      Atheists are unique in the sense of having no group identity, and that is why they’re struggling between roles and self-possession in a crowd. We must–through plenty of sympathy–promote an individualistic agenda within the movement away from self-destructive group identity politics.

    • Marella
      Posted July 9, 2011 at 2:37 am | Permalink

      It’s true, I am thoroughly opinionated but I’m not really very good at confrontation. That’s why I use a pseudonym, and I’m still very careful what I say. I am not used to being abused, I don’t cope well with it and I don’t want to leave myself open to it. This is one reason why I hang around here more than at Pharyngula where I used to hang, I found all the abuse and the possibility it might come my way a bit too unpleasant. I need to grow a pair I know.

    • Posted July 9, 2011 at 6:31 am | Permalink

      Wonderfully expressed, Paula! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your mature ability to see the bigger picture and share it with such eloquence. Your closing analogy with the religious mindset was spot on. We are very fortunate to count a person of your caliber among us in the atheist movement. Thank you so much!

    • Posted July 9, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      Acknowledging that self-doubts are embedded by many long years of being undercut by male responses does not mean that people are falling back on them as an “excuse” for being passive or quiet.

      And “Yes, there’s the occasional neanderthal” doesn’t quite cover the fact that, for example, I was four jobs and twelve years into my professional career before I found a job where I was actually being paid on par with my male colleagues, despite doing precisely the same level of work. In the job previous to that one, I had actually tried all the good advice to get promotion and an appropriate pay rise, and was blindsided by my manager suddenly dumping an extremely negative performance review into my record, involving incidents that I was oddly unaware of (a couple of which were entirely invented, as far as I could ever tell). Was that all just me being too “passive”?

      The fact is, too, that this is one open, blatant, and easy-to-point-to incident. What is harder to point to is multiple individually very small, cumulatively large incidents of being undercut by colleagues, ignored in meetings, which collectively embed the message “the people in your job are not interested in listening to you.” This spills over.

      We all know perfectly well I’m not the only person that has happened to; women spend a lot of time speaking up and saying that this is happening, and maybe you should take that on board as being more than merely an excuse for being reluctant to speak up. I’m personally in a far better job now, but that was at least partly simply getting lucky. Not everyone can rely on that. People shouldn’t have to rely on that. People who have found that lucky opportunity shouldn’t then turn around and discount the luck and attribute all of their success to hard work and attitude, because there are a tremendous number of people who work just as hard but never get to the same place. And yes, as one of the comments above made the point, sometimes telling people that they have to just “muscle past it” when they are in fact trying to do just that, is not as helpful as it could be.

      To take the attitude that women’s attitudes are now more of a problem than whatever institutionalised attitudes they are still faced with in places is to downplay severely some real issues. Maybe you are right in some areas. You certainly aren’t in others. Women entering the STEM sciences are faced with an entrenched culture and some distinct challenges, too, and a single module in sociology and a superficial understanding of socialisation isn’t an adequate basis on which to deal with them. And it isn’t adequate to *just* tell women “keep going for what you really want to do” — there MUST also be a continued pressure on the male contingent, “shut up sometimes and listen.”

      One final thing:
      “But I do find it hard to see how anyone who is shy about speaking up within the movement, in front of people who are broadly on his or her side, is going to be able to deal with some of the abuse that will start coming their way from those outside the movement if he or she becomes more prominent.”

      –Betrayal by people who are supposed to be your allies is far more devastating than opposition by people you knew were opponents.

      When the people who you think will back you up, instead undercut you and tell you you aren’t entitled to speak up about issues that are important to you; when they meet your attempts to speak up with annoyance, laughter or hostility — this comes into one’s consciousness as a betrayal. These are –supposed to be allies– and they are doing something rather similar to one’s opponents. You don’t see how that is harder to deal with than simply meeting the abuse that you *expect*?

    • Hyperion
      Posted July 11, 2011 at 2:47 am | Permalink

      I would like to know whom you asked. Did you ask, say, Ayaan Hirsi Ali? Nonie Darwish? Wafa Sultan? Phyllis Chesler?

    • Posted July 11, 2011 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      Women are underrepresented in business and in atheism. According to you, and certainly i don’t doubt your account, when asked to participate in

      • Posted July 11, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

        wth? stupid konqueror. i have to use it to post here for whatever reason.

        ok, so when asked to speak at these conferences, there was a strong tendency to decline.

        The question is, why? Why didn’t women want to speak at these conferences? What stops them?

        Clearly you’re right, Paula, that the easiest solution would be for women to just do what they don’t want to do and speak anyway, but the problem is that they don’t want want to speak.

        The problem is cultural. Ours is a culture which does not encourage women to feel comfortable in certain kinds of leadership roles. This needs to change. Of course women have a crucial role in solving this role by stepping up themselves, but your refusal to assign responsibility to the perpetrators of systemic sexism (generally all of us, myself included) and your pessimism about changing attitudes are simply bizarre considering that you are an activist yourself.

  20. Posted July 8, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    So Paula, what would you say about women who do speak up, in a calm and positive manner, and then face a huge shitstorm of protest just for suggesting a little politeness?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 8, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      Maybe she would say to you:

      “If you want to talk about Elevator Guy, Rebecca Watson, or Richard Dawkins, or anything that’s been hashed to death in other places, please do that on one of the many other sites where flame wars are going on.” ?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 8, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      Oops, so I’m not misunderstood, I’m sure it doesn’t mean to be silenced. If you are really interested, there is email.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 8, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      Or maybe I misunderstood. It isn’t that clear from context, so if it was something else, excuses.

    • Thanny
      Posted July 8, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

      Can you name a single example of that happening, other than the Event-Which-Must-Not-Be-Discussed?

      It takes a great deal of people to generate a full-on proper shitstorm, and I don’t think there are enough troglodytes in atheim (by an order of magnitude) to succeed in doing it, following an event of your description, which doesn’t apply to the aforementioned nameless event.

    • John
      Posted July 9, 2011 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      Calm and positive comments such as “And then I would make a comment about how there could really be more women in the community, and the responses from my fellow skeptics and atheists ranged from “No, they’re not logical like us,” to “Yes, so we can fuck them!” That seemed weird.”

      That is weird. That is the *complete* range of responses exhibited by men in the atheist/skeptic community?

      Or Isis the Scientist’s post on the topic:

      “Guys like Richard Dawkins are no different than any of the entitled, white-haired, pale-faced, penis-stroking fucks that plague our entire civilization. Patriarchy isn’t rooted solely in religion. It’s rooted in men’s belief that they should be able to beat their meat to and with whomever they want.”

      Again, calm and positive.

      This is not to say that they’re wrong in their assertions about sexism in the atheist/skeptic community! I contest that there is no way of knowing, based on anecdote. We would need to (for example) survey a large number of women in the atheist/skeptic movement and find out the extent and frequency of sexism that they have encountered in the movement. This would not be difficult to do. In fact, it would be the responsible thing to do.

  21. Martin
    Posted July 8, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad you posted it here because if you had posted that on PZ’s site, you would have been torn to pieces by his minions; they will brook no dissent.

    How is this helpful or constructive ? She propably should have posted it on Pharyngula, because there is a higher chance there that Paula would be shown by someone why her views on this appear blatantly naive to many people including myself, and ignoring the societal realities of many women in any given social movement.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 8, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

      Children are blatantly naive. Einstein was in the purest sense naive. I like naive.

      As long as it works, why is “naive” a problem?

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted July 8, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

        Moreover, I just realized another, more basic, reason why I like naive. In physics, “naive” is called “a first order theory”, “parsimony”, “reductionism” – and it works better than anything!

        It is when you go non-naive out of hand you will have to watch out for problems.

    • John
      Posted July 9, 2011 at 7:53 am | Permalink

      “Paula stressed that she realised that her experience did not entitle her to speak for “everyone”; this is a point that is maybe missed by people who use personal anecdotes to color an entire community.”

      There’s Paula’s statement. To me it sounds like an implicit disclaimer that there may be points of view or experiences opposite to her own. And I think it’s important to acknowledge that this isn’t a scientific debate and won’t be until (for example) we poll a large number of women in the atheist/skeptic movement and ask them to ascertain the frequency and extent of their experience with sexism in the skeptic/atheist ‘movement’ (I abhorr that term. May there never be a consensus among those that would consider themselves critcial thinkers).

      On the other hand, you say:

      “Paula WOULD BE SHOWN by someone why her views on this appear blatantly naive to many people including myself, and ignoring the societal realities of many women in any given social movement.”

      There’s something different about that… An assumption of objective fact, where no such thing has been proven yet, perhaps? You could well be right. But there’s no way of knowing without an objective investigation into the matter, surely?

      Or are we only scientists when we’re mocking creationists? :)

  22. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted July 8, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    This is great! Kudos to the speakers, and especially Kirby that comments here.

    I want moar!

    Ouch:

    none of them seemed to think that there was a serious case of sexism in the atheist community. All of them were very aware of sexism in society but mostly felt that they had not suffered any negative experiences in the atheist community.

    Anecdote isn’t data of course. But as long as no one has such data, if it is really needed (and I hope not):

    I don’t expect atheists to be more sexist than other social movements in general (i.e. excluding misogynist movements). I don’t expect atheists to be less sexist either, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers are slightly lower considering what education & intelligence brings in general behavior.

    • Posted July 9, 2011 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      With respect, I can speak to the fact that the SF-fandom community *also* considers itself more enlightened, more educated, more forward-thinking…and yet, sexism and low-level harassment of women at conventions is certainly not much less prevalent than in the general public. AND it was harder to call it out and be listened to (at least until the Great LiveJournal RaceFail a couple of years ago) precisely because of the attitude of “we’re more enlightened, we don’t DO that kind of thing” which inevitably led to the next bit, “…quit crying ‘victim’! Nothing really happened to you.”

      This was despite incidents being repeatedly reported.

      http://www.keycon.org/letter.php

  23. Adam
    Posted July 8, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Sounds like she’s saying to just move on and do your thing. And maybe sometimes it will suck but that’s life.

    I have a wife (apologies to Ophelia) who “made it” in law after being raised by strict Christians. She used to lock herself in her room and pull out her hair because her mom read Revelations to her when she was young.

    It didn’t end up defining her. And hearing about Elevatorgate just makes her laugh because it’s only about rudeness, not female rights. Has sexism been eradicated from the practice of law? No. Are most US law grads women? Yes. She would have failed utterly if she just focused on how male dominated firms are.

    Kirby has written the best take on all this IMHO because it’s the long view. This will burn itself out soon enough. She’s wisely avoided the minutiae of the current debate.

    • Posted July 9, 2011 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      All that was said was essentially “guys, don’t invite women back to your room at 4am while they are trapped in an elevator with you after having spent the last however-many hours saying that this kind of thing is not ok with them. It is creepy.” It does also send the message that the person involved wasn’t bothering to listen to the person he purported to find so ‘interesting.’

      This was then mischaracterised as being “anti-sex”, as well as paranoid. Seems to be a lot of missing the point going on.

  24. Dominic
    Posted July 8, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    This leads me to wonder, does atheism need to be a ‘movement’? Is it sufficient to have ‘secular societies’ or is there no substantive difference? I do not particularly want to join any single group because there would be things with which I would disagree but I can broadly agree with secularisation because it is essentially saying that religion is a private matter and should not be part of the state or education.

    • Dominic
      Posted July 8, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

      I thought all the panel were very interesting & articulate in different ways. I don’t see what the fuss is about but then as I said, I am not one for organized groups (I hate committee meetings!)…! Unless I blinked (well, slow usb internet connection) I have no idea about ‘lift man’ & no interest. I would say that I take my hat off to women from religious backgrounds who break away from them – it must be that much harder. It.amazes me the lack of rancour in the panel.

  25. whyevolutionistrue
    Posted July 9, 2011 at 2:59 am | Permalink

    Wonderist, who is having trouble posting, has asked me to post his comment (below):

    Wow, Paula, thank you so much! That was fantastic.

    While it started off sounding a bit down and pessimistic about the future (to me), it quickly challenged that and gave me a tangible sense of your vision of a more positive future that we (all) could strive for.

    Personally, I didn’t find it too long (some things just need to be said completely to be said right), and it certainly didn’t come off as a screed to my ears.

    I find your perspective refreshing, in the Sam Harris kind of freshness of The End of Faith: Forthright, honest, passionate, and so incredibly sensible. This is why I say, “Thank you.”

    I sincerely hope you continue to develop and express your ideas in this vein. I think they might be just the thing to challenge the kind of hyperbolic othering and sniping we’ve been seeing lately.

    I too am greatly heartened by Jerry’s renewed call to reason and tackling these issues with evidence-based thinking and challenging our own assumptions.

    Let’s hope that this is a sign of things to come. I am one of those who sincerely wishes to see all people enjoy equal rights, freedoms, dignity, and respect, regardless of gender, race, or any other incidental characteristic.

    The recent melodrama highlighted to me that if our goals are to fight for equality and basic respect for one another as people, then we simply cannot abandon those values and principles in our struggles along the way.

    Your perspective says to me that we do not have to abandon them, and that there is another way that *can* work, *has* worked, and *will* work if we pursue it.

    • aspidoscelis
      Posted July 9, 2011 at 5:24 am | Permalink

      In regard to “othering”, I think it’s worth wondering why the Dublin conference included a “women atheist activists” panel rather than, for instance, a “gender and atheism” panel. Obviously gender issues aren’t female-specific and women aren’t anomalies requiring special consideration, yet this is often how the issue is implicitly presented. The men are just atheists; the women are “women atheists”…

      • Posted July 9, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

        ^This. Thank you.

  26. Posted July 9, 2011 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    I deeply appreciate Kirby’s remarks, in her presentation, during Q&A, and in her post above. She does the atheist movement proud. Go, Paula!

  27. Cereal
    Posted July 9, 2011 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    Thank you Paula, for sharing your thoughts. Very well put.

    Martin, I’m sort of wondering, what would it take for you to be convinced that sexism is *not an issue* within the Atheist movement.

  28. Posted July 9, 2011 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    I would love to see a panel at an atheist conference on gender/sexism issues and atheism that includes the following panelists:

    ** Paula Kirby

    ** Greta Christina

    ** Jen McCreight

    ** Sikivu Hutchinson

    ** Rebecca Watson

    I’m a person who reads a lot of atheist blogs and I didn’t hear the wide range of views on gender/sexism issues that one can read out there on the atheist blogosphere that pre-date the recent unpleasantness that cannot be named on this blog.

    Greta wrote two blog articles back in 2009 about the mistakes that the gay movement made with race and gender diversity concerns and the lessons that the atheist/skeptic community can learn from their mistakes:

    “Getting It Right Early: Why Atheists Need to Act Now on Gender and Race”

    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2009/09/race-sex-atheism.html

    “Race, Gender, and Atheism, Part 2: What We Need To Do — And Why”

    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2009/09/race-sex-atheism-2.html

  29. Mike
    Posted July 9, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been impressed by Paula Kirby’s pieces in The Washington Post for a while. So it was good to hear and see her speak on the video.

    Thanks

  30. Gregory James
    Posted July 12, 2011 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    Today’s “Mr. Deity”. The begging segment, especially.

  31. ildi
    Posted October 5, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    So I have to ask: Who was holding those women back? They weren’t just being given equal access to prominence as speakers – they were being positively encouraged in ways that male speakers were not. But ultimately, there was something in their own heads that was stopping them.

    Yeah, I’m sure examples like the treatment of Kathy Sierra have nothing to do with it. (Not to mention that the shitstorm-that-shall-not-be-named is still going on four months later…) Yeah, go on, women, speak your mind, anything that’s holding you back is all in your head!

    • Yanquetino
      Posted October 5, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

      Ildi: Wha…? Kathy Sierra was an atheist woman, threatened by atheist men, for participating in the atheist movement? Uh… I think you better back up a bit and read through the actual context here.

      • ildi
        Posted October 5, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

        I think you better back up a bit and read through the actual context here.

        Exactly. Four frigging months and counting…


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] new voice of reason has entered the fray… Paula Kirby relates the following: I see a parallel here with one of the arguments we often have with the [...]

  2. [...] She has remained relatively silent on the issue with the exception of her substantial post on Why Evolution Is True a year ago. This week she produced a more robust commentary titled The Sisterhood of the [...]

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