There’s been a lot of talk about sexual harassment from the obvious angles: how it’s bad for those targeted specifically (because barf, who wants to deal with some skeezy dude all up in your space?) and how it’s bad for conference attendance generally (because barf, who wants to go to a conference where other dudes unite in defense of that skeezy dude all up in your space last year?), but one thing I hadn’t seen addressed is how it’s bad for atheism as a brand.
For better or for worse, atheism is categorized under the broad category of religion in most people’s minds. It’s not enough for us to say that people should come to our meetings, sign up for our newsletters, read our unholy blogs and deconvert their friends and loved ones. Sure, the day will come when I’ll be out tabling and nary a smartass will say, “Why would I come to your club? The point of atheism is not having to go to meetings!” but that day will come about two weeks before we stop having meetings and enter the golden secular era of ponies and butterscotch. Until then, part of our outreach has to take into account that atheism is competing not just against religion, where our edge is that “It’s true!” but against other religions, where we need a different hook.
For me, that hook has always been that atheism doesn’t have a big book of hateful misogyny as its foundational text. That may not seem like a huge difference, but something about the idea that I was a human being equal in rights and dignity to any other, and that I wasn’t responsible for all the evil in the world because of my tits, just, I don’t know, gave me the warm fuzzies in my no-no zone. It was the fact that I could turn my no-no zone into a yes-please zone whenever and with whomever I wanted, without fear that some crazed space ghost would roast me for eternity, exchanging my burnt skin for a fresh set of skin so I could relive the torment all over again, that really sealed the deal.
That’s our fucking brand, y’all. That’s what we need to be selling like sunblock at the Manhattan project. Every major poll of opinions on social issues like gay marriage, as well as every poll looking at the willingness to question religion, shows one thing: young people want more consensual sex, safer sex, gayer sex, and fewer god-bothering nitwits getting in between them and their sex, their partners, contraception or their doctors. Fuck, even the Mormons realize this! Why do you think they’re showing up to gay-pride rallies? It’s not because they had a sudden realization that god likes us!
Atheism as a movement is about saying no to the assholes who say god put me on this planet as a woman to be some sort of humanesque receptacle, whose only relevant variable was whether I’m for public or private use. It’s about saying ‘no’ to the categories ‘men’ and ‘women’ as things that are assigned and enforceable. It’s about saying ‘no’ to the people who would say I must have sex with a man, for I have girl-parts, and that’s what all those with girl-parts must one day do within the bonds of holy coverture. The last thing our brand needs are slimy dudes telling women shit like “if you’re a girl, expect to be hit on.” Why? Because I have tits? Please. If I wanted that bullshit, I’d go to church.
If I wanted to be told to calm down and shut up I’d go to church.
Tangent: Thank goodness thunderfoot came along to tell us which issues are worth talking about. If you missed the lecture, sexual harassment: non-issue. Women talking about sexual harassment: major issue. No, he really, truly says this: “Put simply, YES talking about sexual harassment can sometimes be a bigger problem than sexual harassment.” Because, well, because it affects men, I guess.
Here’s the thing, dudes who’ve rejected the existence of god, but are still pretty sure that someone made women to be fuckmeets, I am not interested in like, 99% of you. It’s nothing personal. You just don’t do it for me. You know how I feel, actually, because most dudes don’t do it for you either. I wouldn’t tell you to “expect to be hit on” by people you’re mostly not interested in. You routinely expect dudes to not hit on you unless and until you give them a reason to think you’re interested. Why shouldn’t I get the same courtesy?
There’s a real niche market here for a pseudoreligious community atmosphere that A) doesn’t lie OR B) pass around the haterade for those of us who are LGBT or who have girl parts. And if we play our cards right, if young people coming after my generation see us as the group that’s consistently secular, consistently feminist, and consistently pro-LGBT, we have a chance of really making a permanent and ever-widening crevasse between the age of unquestioned religious dominance and the age of unanswered irreligious interrogation.
If we don’t, we’ll become just another religion that’s by, for and about hetero cis-dudes, at least in the eyes of the young girls questioning their parent’s religion, their sexuality, their gender, and their lives. Our brand is a critical part of our success as a movement.
I go to atheist conferences not because I expect to be treated like a girl – to be hit on, shamed, harassed and bullied if I tell – but because I demand respect as a large-brained unusually literate ape with opposable thumbs and laser eyes. No luck yet on that last one, but for now, I’ll settle for being treated as human.