The ‘Schism’ in Skepticism


Cross-posted from Teen Skepchick 

Over the last few years, and especially since the event known as “Elevatorgate,” we’ve seen a drastic increase in the visibility of sexism within the skeptic/atheist movements. It has been the focus of many conversations, and many eyes have been following the developments of people coming out against sexist behaviour and others rushing to defend the behaviour. It can be, at times, either severely disappointing or very uplifting.

It’s uplifting to see people shrugging off the shackles of years of oppression by staking a claim on their autonomy, by standing up and saying ‘no’. Rebecca Watson is a constant inspiration to me in this regard. She simply asserted her right to be in shared spaces without being objectified, harassed, or assaulted, and continues to be a strong voice to that effect.

However, the volume of hate she (and other outspoken feminists) has received is extremely disappointing. Feminists in the skeptic community are told to shut up; they receive death threats and rape threats. The very mechanisms we point out as harmful are used in attempts to silence us. We’ve been looking on as the chasm between the two groups has gotten wider, and the group asserting their rights are the ones being blamed for it.

Some people have been lamenting that this may be the end of the skeptic movement. Some say that if it needs to die, we should let it, so that something better can take its place.

I don’t know about anyone else, but my little corner of the skeptic movement is doing just fine. My introduction to this movement was through Skepchick, and almost all of us blogging on this network identify as feminists. We believe that everyone should be able to be in public spaces without fear of harassment. (Or anywhere, at any time, without fear of harassment…) I’m friends with several bloggers from the Freethought Blogs network, and many of them also identify as feminists.

Some of the people on the ‘good’ side are dropping out of the movement because of the virulent sexism. I open my arms in welcome to them. We don’t need to have a big movement if that movement is going to include misogynists. As Greta Christina put so eloquently:

An atheist movement cannot be inclusive of atheist women… and also be inclusive of people who publicly call women ugly, fat, sluts, whores, cunts, and worse; who persistently harass them; who deliberately invade their privacy and make their personal information public; and/or who routinely threaten them with grisly violence, rape, and death.

We want people to be treated equally. We will treat you equally, as much as we’re capable. We will acknowledge our privileges and marginalization and will work toward a society in which those powerful social dynamics don’t exist–or at least don’t hurt people to the extent that they do now.

We don’t have to go to conferences which we know don’t have harassment policies, or who have a history of poorly enforcing those policies. We don’t have to go to cons and read blogs run by people who inappropriately harass others, or who condone the harassment of others. We don’t need to watch videos made by people who side with rapists.

We don’t have to support people and organizations which don’t have the best interests of every single person in mind. We don’t have to support people and organizations who throw whole groups of people under the bus in order to maintain the status quo.

We have our own spaces, and our own cons. We have our own harassment policies, and we do have social repercussions for those who think they can impede on the rights of others. I welcome a schism which results in the creepers being marginalized and removed from our spaces. This is a positive step toward a better, more inclusive movement. I hope others will come to embrace it as such.


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