Atheism Plus What?
I’m an atheist. We all know that. When it comes to activism and atheism, I’m on the fringes. I consider myself a comedian and because of that, I take what is going on in the atheist movement just seriously enough to joke about it.
Because what is going on right now is pretty serious and, to my way of thinking, you need to be able to joke about it just to get past all of the vitriol.
Beneath all the calls for harassment policies at atheist gatherings and discussions of misogyny on the internet is an ugly undercurrent that has threatened to tear this comparatively new community apart. I’ve tried to read through both sides but I admit, I’m biased and try as I might, I just don’t understand a single point the other side is trying to make. It all sounds like douchebaggery to me.
On the one side, you have a lot of prominent women (and men) saying that they feel unsafe at atheist gatherings. They say they have felt harassed and they’d like to see controls put in place to make that behavior stop.
On the other side, you have a lot of men (and a few women) saying that they think the whole thing is a bunch of sound and fury signifying nothing.
Harsh words have been spoken on both sides. The biggest difference, I think, is that the words spoken on the side I happen to agree with don’t include death threats. Or rape threats.
The other difference is that one side is asking to be treated fairly and the other side is saying that their request amounts to special privilege.
I just don’t know how to state this any more clearly: Asking to feel safe at a large gathering is not asking for special privilege.
As a white male, when I go to a big gathering, I never have to ask myself if I feel safe. I just do. There is never a moment when I’m approached by an individual and find myself thinking “this person creeps me out – I need to think about an exit strategy.”
Sure, I might be thinking “this person is as boring as toast without butter – I need to find an exit strategy,” but that isn’t the same thing. I’m not at risk in that situation. I’m just having a socially awkward moment.
So when women who are part of the atheist community are saying “I’d like to feel safe at a large (or small) gathering,” they are asking for the same thing that I already have. That isn’t asking for special privilege. That is asking for the same privilege.
You know, kind of like gay people asking to be allowed the same privilege as straight people. Any time someone tries to define these issues as one of special privilege, we need to remind them that the requested privilege is not special if you already have it and someone else does not.
The anti woman rhetoric has gotten very loud and very poisonous. It amazes me that there are those out there who constantly state “I think both sides are being childish” without, I think, really trying to understand both sides.
Because if you read the other side and I mean really dive into it, you will find a bunch of men who don’t understand that the experience men are having is not the same as the experience women are having. Rather than accepting that these women might have a point, they blame the women for failing to have the same experience they do.
Or they are using the time honored excuse of “it doesn’t happen all that often” or worse “they were probably asking for it.”
Jen McReight blogged about becoming a member of the atheism community and how she went from feeling like she belonged to feeling objectified, threatened and unwelcome. It amazes me that a community like the atheist community could behave in such a way.
We are all outsiders to begin with. We are the minority in a country that is predominantly Christian and predominantly hostile to those of us who have rejected god. Yet we can’t seem to treat the women in our community with what seems to me like a natural level of respect.
When prominent feminists in our community speak out about feminism, they are subjected to the worst kinds of verbal abuse. Not civil discourse. Abuse.
Women are called “feminazis” for asking to feel like they belong in the movement. Even men are accused of having “manginas” if they make the “mistake” of supporting a feminist point of view. So if I decide I agree with a woman’s point of view, I’m abdicating my manhood? The implication is that I’ve become a lesser person because I sided with women.
Hey, you know what? I like women! I married one of them! I have a lot of friends who are women! I don’t think there’s anything wrong with believing that they have a right to feel as if they are a valued and equal part of the conversation.
The question at which we have arrived appears to be this: is the atheist movement just about not believing in god and nothing else? Can’t we all – misogynist, feminists, racists, Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, homophobes and LBGT get along on that one issue and let the rest of it sort itself out?
The answer is no. You can’t try to build a community without respecting all the members of that community. Social equality (or a constant push towards it) must be a part of the movement if you want it to succeed. The socially intolerant points of view don’t fit.
Because if 50% of your potential allies can’t feel comfortable speaking up, you have a problem. If a woman is shouted down every time she says something pro-feminist and we all scream “OMG Feminism,” we aren’t going to succeed as a movement that is all about freeing our lives from the pressures of religion. That’s where the opression of women starts and our goal is to get away from that, isn’t it?
If we don’t welcome members of the LGBT community into our community, what are we saying about ourselves? We are saying that it is OK to be different in one way but not in another.
Hell, if we can’t find common ground across political ideologies, how do we hope to convince all politicians of the importance of separation of church and state?
So the movement is expanding. Or maybe evolving. It’s OK to be “just” an atheist but if we are to grow as a movement, we need to be focused on issues that go beyond our simple agreement that there is probably no god. We need to make sure that the movement diversifies by ensuring that anyone who stands up and wants to be a member of the movement feels comfortable being a part of it.
Jen, and others, are calling this shift Atheism +.
I’m still not an activist. I’m a comedian. My activism is tied up in being a comedian who is open about his atheism and who tries to create some entertainment that talks about those beliefs in a way that is amusing/interesting.
That said, I’m all for this shift. I think that atheism as a movement needs to move to the next level.
And that level is one where we stop arguing about the stuff that should be obvious. We all agree that there is probably no god.
We should all agree that GBLT members of our community deserve the same rights as the straight members of our community.
We should all agree that everyone; women, men, straight, gay, whatever; feel comfortable at atheist gatherings.