Within the atheist community, there’s a general air of superiority due to the sense of having a more “enlightened” worldview. While I share share this attitude, I would like to take a moment to point at that any sense of enlightenment is instantly and entirely invalidated once the insults and rape comments start flying.
Sexism and harassment at skeptic conventions have been the source of a bit of debate recently as more and more women have been breaking into the ever growing community. I myself have never been to such a convention though I can guess that there is much overlap between skeptic events and Sci-Fi conventions such as Convergence here in Minneapolis. Nerds tend to be science enthusiasts, a central theme among skeptics. Convergence attendees dress up like their favorite science fiction characters and many of them are rather revealing. To highlight the problems with harassment at Convergence, organizers recently put up posters explaining that costumes are not consent. In other words, just because a woman is wearing a dress cut mid-labia, doesn’t give a man the right to verbally or physically molest her. News of harassment has surprised many people because nerds, like skeptics, feel that they are separate from society at large and therefore immune to the sexist attitudes of normal people. People tend not to notice or want to notice their own inappropriate behavior as well.
In a recent article on Slate, one woman discusses sexism at skeptics meetings such as The Amazing Meeting held by The Amazing Randi. Her comments in the past have been met with even more harassment up to and including threats of rape for nothing more than arguing that female genital mutilation is worse than male circumcision. She also talked about an incident when a man who she had never spoken to followed her into an elevator and invited her to his hotel room of a cup of coffee. She figured, probably correctly, that this was an invitation for sex. Using this as an example of how not to approach women apparently warranted intervention by the king skeptic Richard Dawkins. Dawkins wrote an insulting open letter to her telling her to stop whining. After all, she isn’t subject to the same crushing oppression of women in Islamic countries. Dawkins’ blatant dick assholery served as an invitation to step up the attacks against her.
I don’t know Rebecca Watson, the author of the Slate piece, and I wasn’t present during the elevator incident. She could have overreacted. Perhaps the gentleman in question really meant coffee because he wanted to exchange ideas in a less cacophonous environment. Then again, maybe his body language was threatening, maybe he forgot to zip up his fly and his man business was hanging out. I don’t know. What I do know is that a complete stranger following a woman to a secluded spot to ask them to a more secluded spot can make her feel awkward. Many men have no idea how to talk to women. This is probably because they don’t understand that it’s best to talk to women like they’re people. And men get even more confused when erections get involved. I understand that it can get confusing. Women, oddly enough, are different from each other and therefore, are not sexually stimulated by the same things. I once told a woman that I was dating that the first time I met her, I wanted to just grab her hard and kiss her. She told me it would have been a huge turn on. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for most women, and the few who would be into that, would not be into it from every fellow who decides to just go for it. So, unless she is somehow able to psychically send you suggestions to just maul her, it’s best to walk up and introduce yourself first. Women are not opposed to casual sex with men they don’t know. But it’s probably best to take a the time to figure out if she’s interested in you that way. I also know that Richard Dawkins should know better.
Defeating sexist attitudes takes some work. Just because you believe you’re not sexist, doesn’t mean you’re not unconsciously discounting her ideas because of her missing Y chromosome. I’m not going to spend much time of objectification because we’re all sexual beings. All people are sexual objects, but not all the time. When a woman opines about the role of religion in the suppression of ideas, stop wondering if she keeps up on her kegels and listen to her. And If you vehemently disagree with her, use your words like a big boy and avoid telling her she should get raped. The worst thing about religion is its barbaric treatment of women, let’s try to move away from that.