Joint statement by Ophelia Benson and Richard Dawkins

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It’s not news that allies can’t always agree on everything. People who rely on reason rather than dogma to think about the world are bound to disagree about some things.

Disagreement is inevitable, but bullying and harassment are not. If we want secularism and atheism to gain respect, we have to be able to disagree with each other without trying to destroy each other.

In other words we have to be able to manage disagreement ethically, like reasonable adults, as opposed to brawling like enraged children who need a nap. It should go without saying, but this means no death threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut; no photoshopping people into demeaning images, no vulgar epithets.

Richard adds: I’m told that some people think I tacitly endorse such things even if I don’t indulge in them. Needless to say, I’m horrified by that suggestion. Any person who tries to intimidate members of our community with threats or harassment is in no way my ally and is only weakening the atheist movement by silencing its voices and driving away support.

193 COMMENTS

    • I am newly de-coverted and it was a real shock to me how much sexism is in some parts of the movement and being a woman, this was difficult to accept, but its good to see that people are trying to make this fringe aspect either grow up or get gone.
      I definitely agree that more civility is a good thing.

  1. ” In other words we have to be able to manage disagreement ethically, like reasonable adults, as opposed to brawling like enraged children who need a nap. It should go without saying, but this means no death threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut; no photoshopping people into demeaning images, no vulgar epithets. ”

    It should go without saying but trolls are going to troll! The response is what they want.

    I have never seen any of the above here ( at least I do not remember it ) though some discussions have been sharp here.

    ” , we have to be able to disagree with each other without trying to destroy each other. ”

    Indeed. Religion settles it’s disagreements with destruction.

  2. Well done, both of you. Collaborative efforts such as these to set clear limits and expectations in our community make it much easier to provide safe and supportive secular spaces (online and off) to anyone in need — regardless of political opinions or affiliations. As someone whose primary work in the community is in the secular support movement, I applaud this statement. On behalf of Grief Beyond Belief, thank you.

  3. I don’t get this. As far as I know RD has not been trying to destroy anybody. If Ophelia Benson wishes to appologise for fostering lies and demonisation of RD as a racist, misogynistic middle-aged white ‘dudebro’ then fine. This statement implies that RD is equally guilty of mudslinging and also plays into Benson’s trumped up narrative of harassment and rape threats. I suppose that there may be some genuinely nasty trolling somewhere, but she has a history of interpreting any criticism as harassment.

    The reason that people make photoshops of her and her fellow travelers and make derisory comments about her is that they tried very hard to engage in honest discussion with her only to be met with conveniently selective moderation practices, ridiculous accusations of misogyny and a habit of playing the offended victim card to death. People might still have left her to stew in her own juice if not for the attacks on high profile figures over contrived offences. When bloggers jump on board with unevidenced accusations of sexual crimes then they can expect to be lampooned. The rationale behind the ridicule is that there is no point at all in trying to reason with her because she will not give an honest reading to what you say and will likely selectively moderate for effect, so why bother trying to engage politely with her.

    If you want to know how seriously to take Benson, take a look at the extraordinary number of posts she has made recently attacking one Jaclyn Glenn. I’d be astounded if her commentariat lay off the witch hunting. What this statement does is whitewash Benson’s complicity in tarring people like Justin Vacula as misogynistic harassers while painting her as a victim of bullying.

      • Go over to Butterflies and Wheels and check out the comments. There is zero recognition that Ophelia had anything to do with the rancor or ugliness in the atheist movement. It is more or less being read as a “better late than never” admission from Richard that he is somehow responsible for the abuse that has been directed at atheist women. Ophelia is being congratulated left and right for her hard work in getting Richard to the table, and for being “right on this all along”. And there are still many comments that demand that Richard apologize for his horrible transgression (sarcasm) of the “Dear Muslima” letter.

        I mean seriously, what is this pronouncement meant to solve? Do rational adults actually need to be told to cool it and stop calling each other nasty names – shouldn’t that be obvious already? And if there are truly so many horrible, misogynist male posters spending their days viciously harrassing (allegedly in Richard’s name) prominent female atheists , do you think a few sentences from Richard will stop this? Are these blokes thinking, “Oh man, I thought that since Richard rationally criticized some feminist positions once, that meant it was ok to send death threats to prominent female atheists. But now I understand that this is highly inappropriate. Sorry Richard!”

        As much as I don’t want to rain down on this parade, I feel as if Richard’s enemies (including those in the atheist ranks) will spin this and take advantage of it.

        I also can’t help but notice that, so far, the comments over there on this issue far outnumber those here. I think that it reflects the focus of people who visit Richard’s site vs. Ophelia’s; clearly, petty fights and getting people to admit their “wrongs” are more interesting to one group than the other.

        • I largely agree with you that most of the infighting is petty, but the larger issue which inflamed this rift is the dishonest and unskeptical nature of the tactics being used to fight those petty battles. Those tactics reveal something about the people using them and they bring those same tactics to bear on major issues. Then again, ask Ben Radford and Michael Shermer, amongst others, how inconsequential the witch hunting has been. They might have a different view. Calling RD ‘sexually predatory’ is not nothing. Benson may have disappeared the evidence, but without a public retraction this ‘peace’ means nothing. Does she suddenly no longer believe that’s true? If not, why not? What’s changed? Does she make these accusations based merely on whether she’s ‘at peace’ with the target? Where does that leave other targets of baseless accusations?

          The issue of abuse directed at atheist women is something I know quite a bit about because I am one of the group of people routinely accused of misogynistic abuse and I can state categorically that the criticism directed at atheist women (and men) by that group has little to do with the fact that they are women. The conflation of disagreement with women and harassment and abuse is pervasive in the media these days and is far from a petty issue. You may argue that it’s abuse and harassment at issue rather than genuine disagreement, but I can tell you from experience that accusations of the former are routinely use to dismiss the latter. RD has been accused of aiding and abetting people who don’t even commit the crimes they’re accused of, although one can always do the old switch and drag up comments from people not involved with the core parties involved.

          • Richard adds: I’m told that some people think I tacitly endorse such
            things even if I don’t indulge in them. Needless to say, I’m horrified
            by that suggestion. Any person who tries to intimidate members of our
            community with threats or harassment is in no way my ally and is only
            weakening the atheist movement by silencing its voices and driving
            away support.

            For the record, if that comes from Benson it’s manipulative, not to mention almost certainly untrue. This is why I think RD is being naive and should stay above all of this. I can guarantee that it’ll be business as usual only with the encouragement of RD’s scalp on the wall.

    • I want to believe this is genuine but from past experience, i suspect it’s a sad attempt by Benson to ride some coat-tails back into some sort of relevance. Others are perfectly capable of making up their own minds on this, as they should. For me, i guess it’s another lucky case of not having to listen to any commandment to “Forgive”!

  4. I think this underlines the fact that atheism is a single view point on one issue not a political movement.
    Whilst certainly think it is right to advocate for equality ( of opportunity and legal rights for those that don’t understand the concept ) for all people whatever their gender, race or creed I don’t think this has any thing to do with atheism.
    It really saddens me that RD feels the need to make such a statement for two reasons:

    Anybody who seriously thinks RD at his age or with his distinguished career would be even tacitly encouraging people to make threats on his behalf is not worth engaging with and should be ignored. As sceptics we demand evidence for claims before we believe them.

    Certain political groups are thriving on the attention they get by making accusations about high profile atheists but when you look at what contributions these people have made to arena of discourse on atheism or advocacy for science you find nothing; nada – not a thing.

    So I guess my appeal is look at the quality of evidence anybody brings to a discussion. If they have none then really the best thing to do is ignore them.

  5. I don’t know Ophelia Benson and before this article had never heard of her. I wish her well. But the fact that one of the world’s most significant geniuses, a true mental giant, wasn’t capable of avoiding such a squabble in the first place, says a lot about the limits of pure intelligence.

    This article appearing on this forum makes no difference whatsoever, but the fact that their squabble became part of the never ending background radiation of digital cacophony accomplishes less than nothing for either Dawkins or Benson.

  6. I started occasional visits to this site about four years ago after becoming an atheist. I never joined, and the reason was because, whilst there was no large scale misogyny or death or rape threats, there was a definite low level of sexism. And I always noticed that things that were offensive, however mildly, were not tackled and the females were ganged up on.

    It was never bad obviously. But it was never appealing. It was definitely only a minority of posters but it was never taken to task. And though I visited infrequently, there was always that something that made me think old fashioned willy waving rather than equality.

    For example on one of my first visits a debate was raging about the banning of the burkha. One comment suggested women had evolved to be gawped at. Once said similar views were espoused. Another visit and Femens so called protests were being presented. Except for the vast majority of women, well all women who aren’t in Femen, Femen are seen as a anti feminist organisation. Existing for men, and indeed run by a man. Protests from women were ignored.

    I visited during the non protest of someone called Amina Tyler. This was the only site devoting so much time to Amina. For most women that was not a protest and she was not seen as a protestor. She was seen as a silly girl who should be protected from harm, but not lauded I any way. I saw all the women objectors shouted down and their objections belittled by the majority of males. Including Richard Dawkins.

    It was only a tiny proportion of the site, most of which was brilliant. It was only a tiny proportion of the men, most of whom were brilliant. But it was unpleasant enough to put me off and to make me dubious of Richard Dawkins as. Campaigner.

    So I would say to those of you here complaining about what I see a a huge forward step in atheism, if a black person told you something you thought ok was offensive I bet you’d listen. If a gay person told you something you I offensive was offensive you’d listen. Yet when women here have told you comments about looks or featuring Femen or topless teenagers is offensive you don’t. But don’t forget women have had a long boring lifetime of being defined in terms of looks. They hate it and won’t come here.

    • I think that people do listen to opinions. That doesn’t mean that they have to agree with them. Being offended does not give one the right to have one’s opinions hold sway. The ‘shut up and listen’ attitude of the SJW faction is usually very unreasonable mostly because it accompanies demands that the majority dance to the tune of the complainant without question. It is only right that people weigh up the reported subjective experience of the offended and balance it against the cost of pandering to it. Otherwise we have a situation where entire communities are bossed about by the personal feelings of a few people.

      Another thing I would say is that many of us are put out and feel marginalised at times. We all have our points of strong disagreement and I find that many women are loathe to admit that men are not as all-privileged as they are made out to be. The “pander to us, but we’ll ridicule your problems” attitude unfortunately seems to be taking root in atheist circles. The important factor in a fair forum is that there is no banning or being generally cold-shouldered over points of contention. I would respectfully suggest that if women’s issues are all that matter to one then one is probably in the wrong place here. Otherwise it is a little weak-willed not to hang around and participate in discussion of general atheist issues. I have participated in a lot of atheist forums over the years and I have seen very little evidence of hostility toward women. I have seen precious few guys who care about anything other than the arguments put forward by a woman. Besides, vacating a forum is no way to get your point of view across. If more women participated then we could all disagree strongly without any gender feeling unwelcome, unless of course one cannot tolerate disagreement. I think what many online atheists object to is commenters making EVERYTHING about gender issues without the ability to tolerate disagreement and resorting to a scorched earth policy.

      • You are missing the point. It is not atheist sites in general. It is this one specifically. I’ve not noticed any issues elsewhere. Here there is a sometimes quite old fashioned feel where men seem to think what they think of a woman’s looks, or featuring her just because of her state of undress is ok. This site is unique in that respect and hasn’t reflected well on poor old Richard Dawkins

        If there is an almost universal cry from the females on this site that a particular behaviour is deemed outdated and offensive, as some of the comments are, than the response is not ‘no they aren’t’ which is the usual response. Or men ‘like to look at women’ which is the other. The recognition that a particular group finds a particular way of talking about them offensive is often absent or reacted to defensively. This is not a small group of religious folk asking for special treatment due to their beliefs. It is a group representing 50% of the population demanding equal treatment and equal respect.

        Now you can either treat that opinion with respect and say I didn’t know it demeaned your status as an equal, I will change. Or you can say my opinion as a man of what women should find offensive is more important, which is far too common a response. In which case how do you differ from the religious when it comes to the role of women?. St. Paul saying women shouldn’t aspire to preach, Christianity is a mans world. This website saying women shouldn’t deem to have opinions on issues that directly effect them, their role is decorative and they like that even though they repeatedly say they don’t.

        You can either assume that 50% are equal and understand that they find certain behaviours and discussions demeaning, patronising and unpleasant and often quite creepy in certain contexts! Such as discussion sites like this. Or you can continue with the same old rubbish that says they are wrong to be offended..

        You can continue to demean and patronise their genuine protests and struggles around the world by giving credence to groups and individuals that they feel are dragging them backwards (as most women feel about Femen or Amina Tyler) just because they suit your preserve of male dominance more or you can say what leads us to greater equality. What leads us to respect each other as human beings. If most women think Femen are doing nothing to further the cause of any woman isn’t it the height of sexism to disagree with them. Likewise the never in danger Amina Tyler.

        It is up to you. But all the protestations I’ve seen from females here have been shouted down. Their opinions about what is and isn’t acceptable does not count. I repeat it is a minority of the men here, but the issue is they never seem to be moderated and that is why women remain in the minority here. I repeat if a black person or gay person said your behaviour is racist/ homophobic you’d listen. When a woman says discussing looks is sexist you don’t.

        I nearly joined this site once before. Few months back when someone called Red Dog called someone commenting on a female scientists looks to task. But I didn’t because shortly afterwards the same old stuff arose.

        I’ve come on here solely because I saw the Butterflies and Wheels piece and thought things might be changing. But I’m not sure they are. The rest of the world is moving on. In the UK the representation of women in the media is being challenged every day. The way they are discussed is also challenged. Most men are welcoming the changes because they like women. Some aren’t, and that includes a minority here. . Those that don’t start treating women as people and discussing them in terms of what they say and do rather than how much you fancy them are being left further and further behind.

        Women don’t have to join this site and won’t if they don’t feel they are equals. The women that are here are brilliant and add so much sense and wit, for such a small group they punch well above their weight in an often hostile environment. But they are a minority. They are a minority for a reason. If the site does not address even minor sexism, you will become less and less relevant to women in the modern world than the more progressive of the religious.

        It is your choice.

        • There is little I disagree with your post. I have been and continue to be lifelong champion of women’s issues to my personal cost. (51% of the population) I would be appalled if the sort of behaviour you ascribe to this site occurred. I’m relatively new in here. Probably only go back a year. But I haven’t seen the sort of stuff you say occurs here. Maybe this issue predates my membership. Can you point me to a couple of examples.

          I find that the regular and evidenced based rational correspondents, about 2 dozen, don’t exhibit the behaviour you describe. We do get some fly in, fly out bigots and religious nutters who do post stuff you describe, but they do not represent the bell curve of people I converse with on a daily basis. Could you be tainting the regulars with the occasional bigots. See here.

          harry Jul 24, 2014 at 11:27 pm

          Read some of this guys comments over in this discussion.

          http://richarddawkins.net/2014/07/faith-based-fanatics/#comment-149064

          Is this the sort of thing you see as tainting the rest of us. If so, read my responses to Harry and Reckless Monkey’s. I think you will see that we give his opinions a thorough thrashing.

          I would be appalled if I belong to a discussion forum of the type you describe.

          • I think a lot of it predates you. To be honest I hadn't been here for a while. But it was bad and occasionally flares up. Reckless monkey is a name I recognise [removed by moderator to bring within Terms of Use], Harry I'd never come across. But yes that sort of behaviour was far more common and more importantly NONE of the men challenged it. So maybe it has improved. In which case I apologise.

          • So maybe it has improved. In which case I apologise.

            Don’t apologize Alice. If what you say is true, then you have done me a service and I will be alert to prejudice, whatever form it takes.

        • One wonders if “occasional visits to this site about four years ago” and “rarely come here” qualifies you to have your critique of the site taken all that seriously.

          Especially if such visits appear largely driven by a hyper-ventilating specialized need to sniff out real or imagined PC violations and Offensiveness transgressions the parameters of which you have anointed yourself the supreme arbiter.

          A closer and more sustained (not “occasional”) following of the FEMEN flap would have revealed that those (who you presumed to be menz) in support, who labored under the supposition that it was fully female run and operated, did a 180° when it was revealed that FEMEN was headed by a man.

          So, no, it was not all about the “boobies!” Which, women, without being much criticized by feminists, spend $millions swaddling in scientifically engineered textile structures and surgically volumize/rejigger to optimally present and lend more heft when it comes time to negotiate recording/acting/modeling/marriage contracts. So when women manipulate and deploy their physical attributes in the aforementioned fashion then no harm done -empowering, even. But if they deploy them in protest to socio/religious/political absurdity then it’s no no no no no.

          Just a few more factual notes: Back when comments could still be rated, female participants could routinely find their comments amongst the highest rated. Those that where “shouted down”, what in menz circles is simply perceived as “being challenged”, were being challenged on their positions. Many of those who slagged FEMEN were the very same who declared Pussy Riot and Ayaan Hirsi Ali also not being up to their approved standards of how women are supposed to properly express themselves “inoffensively”.

          What rings most hollow are your recriminations of men commenting on women’s looks. Who spends $billions on cosmetics, fashion, unsensible shoes, beauty treatments, surgery and untold hours shopping, prepping and primping to favorably influence such comments/assessments/perception?

          Do you get as upset when women comment on menz looks? No? Good, because neither do most men. That’s just not how they care to define themselves. And the sooner women no longer do, the sooner we reach another milestone in the progress of human civilization.

    • Alice Jul 27, 2014 at 12:15 pm

      I started occasional visits to this site about four years ago after becoming an atheist. I never joined, and the reason was because, whilst there was no large scale misogyny or death or rape threats, there was a definite low level of sexism. And I always noticed that things that were offensive, however mildly, were not tackled and the females were ganged up on.

      A good test is where comments from females (or males) are not obviously so. There are several posters @ RD net, who I know are female from past comments, but it is not obvious from their posting names, and many answering them would not know the gender of the person they are replying to.
      Biases can show, however, in any direction. There are also biases from particular geographical cultures and political wings, which people do not always recognise in their own positions.

      • I rarely come here and I agree it is sometimes difficult to tell genders from names. But I would direct you to a thread about someone called Amina Tyler which I followed with interest. She was some kind of topless ‘protestor’ for Femen. The women seemed to see through her straight away and query why she was included alongside the likes of genuine feminists like Malala. The men disagreed and were ultimately proved wrong. Her inclusion after the women’s comments was sexist because the reasons for including were sexist.

        I’ve also come across comments saying folk here hated feminists. Yet without a doubt most decent people of both sexes are feminists. It just means equality and respect as a human being. I know there are so called radical feminists but they are a stereotype based on a minority I’m not sure exists any more. They dislike men, but most feminists only dislike misogynists.

        That sort of stuff does contribute to the poor image Richard Dawkins has got with women. It is sad. But this is a change that will succeed or fail only by listening to and respecting women as people and including them only because of the real value of what they do or say and not because of their looks.

        • That sort of stuff does contribute to the poor image Richard Dawkins
          has got with women

          He doesn’t have a poor image with women. His supporters and allies include many prominent women scientists, activists, authors and speakers.

          I have read most of Richard’s books and many of his articles and essays, and I have never, ever read one disparaging sentence about women. I have read several statements of his praising women and the work of feminism, and crediting pioneering feminists with raising his consciousness.

          It is true that he has a vocal set of detractors who CLAIM that he is a sexist, but they don’t have one shred of evidence to back it up. It is hysterical nonsense, and you should know better than to buy into it.

          As this is a site for reason and evidence, please, give your evidence that Richard Dawkins has said or done things that deserve the label of sexist or anti-women.

          • I’m not sure Richard Dawkins does deserve what is thrown at him. But I do think he has been tarnished by some of the members of this site and by moderators and those who choose what is included. They have let him down.

            This is for many their first point of contact with the Dawkins brand. If they see,as I did four/five years ago statements like ‘women evolved to be gawped at’ or as I also saw on a thread about some Femen member comments about lovely boobies than Dawkins is going to be tainted. Go look at the earlier threads. It may be the site has cleared up its act. It may be its newer members like Red Dig and David Allen are more up to date and intelligent than the earlier ones. But it is rare you get a chance to correct a first impression and far too often that first impression has included some moron making a comment about women in terms of looks.

          • @Alice

            or as I also saw on a thread about some Femen member comments about lovely boobies than Dawkins is going to be tainted.

            But….but….but…why? Why is Richard tainted by this other person’s comment? The thread (at the time leading with a censored image of Amina protesting her right to do with her body as she wished) was indeed closed prematurely because of the ruckus.

            The real nub of the problem here is do “toxic words” need policing at all levels? When are they reliable evidence for toxic thoughts and toxic behaviours? When are they usefully left to stand as evidence or reminders?

            The reasonable belief in free speech lays one open, in soliciting it, to all crimes great and small by association. RD.net has shrunk and shrunk over the last few years laying in greater and greater moderating efforts.

            The dispute at hand is at root about how far back you are allowed to step from a problem to see its extent and how much you must presume right-thinking people have it already solved and must act accordingly.

            More concerning about Richard tainting the brand comes from his tweets IMO. He seems to be getting those under control now. Twitter is a boon to miscommunication.

          • Apologies all round for this multiple posting and indeed for posting at all. It seemed that neither version posted after clicking post comment and I was in the act of producing a third version, more thought through.

            Heigh ho. Stet.

            Mods, I would be very grateful if you could remove the first post above and this. I’ll let the second longer post stand and try and finesse my views later.

          • Mods, I would be very grateful if you could remove the first post above and this.

            No problem, done.

            If comments contain links there can be a delay before they appear, as the site’s automated spam detection facility often puts them on hold pending moderator approval.

            The mods

          • Agreed. I think Richard does have a blind spot on certain issues that women face, but that doesn’t make him sexist. It means it’s a flaw. The example I keep going back to is my father. He’s excellent about women’s issues– better than most people MALE AND FEMALE– but he has a really bizarre hangup about people who cut themselves or attempt suicide. He says, “They just do it to get attention.” It doesn’t make him mentalillnessophobic, just very very wrong and misinformed. I have had to tell him ten billion times that this is complete and total bullshit and is an archaic way of looking at it. I think he’s starting to get it now, but very slowly. That’s his flaw, that’s his blind spot. And, as I’ve said elsewhere, I suspect (I don’t know Richard any better than you, so this is just a guess) that if he heard about someone cutting themselves or attempting suicide, he would feel badly for that person that they felt they had to do something like that.

        • Alice,

          I agree with your comments and I appreciate everything you said. I wish you had joined the site so that you could’ve chimed in on those exasperating threads on Femen, Amina and don’t forget about that one about the exemplary young woman in London named – what was it now…Arianna or something like that. Remember the picture of her standing in front of a red bus with a sign on it? Richard was next to her in support. That thread stands as a low point on this site with disgusting boob comments and demeaning “piece of meat” comments that shocked even me! I felt so sorry for her being treated that way by members of the atheist community who should have risen up and protected her and promoted her with everything we had at our disposal. But no, there had to be all those tits comments and even one complete A-hole here who created an avatar of himself leering at her chest, which he kept on this site until recently or maybe even at the present time. Excruciating, really.

          It’s all well and good to try to go back and search those threads in an attempt to figure out what went so badly wrong, but when I did so some time back I realized that they’ve been cleaned up and there are many comments zapped out (some of them are mine-admittedly) and I doubt that any case could be made now since the threads are choppy and incoherent as a result of the moderator slashing.

          I remember that Richard posted a comment on the Amina thread that said something to the effect that we should support her. It’s the only time I can remember him posting a comment that had to do with this subject. I read through the description of the elevator incident and rolled my eyes at the whole thing and moved on, but the whole situation adds up in my mind, after all these years as this:

          I don’t know Richard personally. If he has viewpoints and opinions that would cause me to conclude that he’s a sexist ass then I’d be terribly disappointed about it. I don’t want this to be true about him. When I discovered this website all those years ago I was a lonely, isolated atheist in the middle of a Methodist, Tea-party Republican family. This website was the oasis in a parched sahara for me. It’s not only me. I know he stands as an international hero to so many atheists around this world who cannot fight for their own rights and who are being demeaned and abused to the point of death in some places. My annoyances are petty compared to what they go through on a daily basis. But in all of these years on his website, what I wish he would have done for the several women who had the moxie to keep coming back here and plowing through the crappy demeaning insults and the general atmosphere of this sausage fest, is to at least drop an occasional comment that would have tilted the conversation toward neutral. I mean, after all, he’s the alpha male in these here parts and not to get all evo-psych on you all, but I just think it would have been so easy for him to do and it may have made all the difference in the world for me and the several other females who comment here on a regular basis. If he had established a more familiar relationship with us we could have rallied around him in times of trouble like the elevator incident. He should have been much more proactive in establishing himself as a champion of equal rights and shown public evidence of promoting women in science and human rights issues. I can’t for the life of me figure out why this has not been handled effectively by his close associates. He left a vacuum and it filled itself with toxic crap. Why is he letting others direct his narrative? It’s weakness.

          Come on Richard. Come out of the corner punching! What the hell are you waiting for?

          • Phil Rimmer if you look back to the A,Ina threads, and indeed all threads involving Femen, you will see that not a single woman thought they were feminists. Not a single woman thought they were doing anything other than dragging women backwards. And yet RD and the males here ignored that.

            If they doubted the women here then five minutes listening to women outside of the site would have confirmed it. Yet they didn’t take the blindest bit of notice.

            So what exactly does that say about the attitude of this site to the views of women. Not a single woman was surprised to hear Femen was backed by a man. The only bit of news there was his name!

            Didn’t see the 180 degree turn. Was it apologies all round?

    • ” One comment suggested women had evolved to be gawped at. ”

      Aside from the word “gawped ” one thinks your interpretation of what was said could be filtered through an ideological position you hold.

      That men find women ” gawp-able ” might have been what was meant. Without the quoted line one can not really know.

      ” One comment suggested women had evolved to be gawped at. ”

      That, of course, is just silly evolutionarily speaking.

  7. …we have to be able to manage disagreement ethically,
    like reasonable adults, as opposed to brawling like enraged children
    who need a nap. It should go without saying, but this means no death
    threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race,
    sex
    , size, haircut;

    The lack of self awareness from Ophelia Benson truly is amazing. Well done though to both for this magnanimous gesture, lets hope the level of discourse can be raised above acrimonious personal remarks.

    • She got in an elevator at some conference. There either was a guy already there, or he got on after. He asked her to his room for coffee. She felt threatened, and wrote about it later. RD wrote a reply about the writing. I’ll leave the details to you, they are well documented.

      I personally have only heard her version of events. I think the dude was a creep looking to get lucky. I think she later put forth an unreasonable level of required behavior for all men to follow. I think she was correct to feel a bit threatened and trapped. I think she wrote an honest piece about how she felt. I think it went a little too far after that first post.

  8. Though I could be wrong, I suspect that the repulsive rants of online misogyny directed against women in the form of graphically gendered insults, harassment and rape threats prompted Richard Dawkins to publish “a joint statement” with Ophelia Benson more out of exhaustion than outrage.

    I applied a word-count to the original statement and came up with 184 words. Taking the liberty to edit the original statement by eliminating connective phrases, one simile, and
    the redundant disclaimer at the end, I came up with 97 words.

    Allies can’t always agree on everything. People who rely on reason rather than dogma to think about the world are bound to disagree about some things. Disagreement is inevitable, but bullying and harassment are not. If we want secularism and atheism to gain respect, we have to be able to disagree with each other without trying to destroy each other. We have to be able to manage disagreement ethically, like reasonable adults.
    this means no death threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut; no photoshopping people into demeaning images, no vulgar epithets.

    The text, already fatally abbreviated for the complex conflict it would address, loses another 87 words without changing its simple request: We should
    disagree vigorously but in a healthy open-ended, attentive, and civil manner while respecting the rights and humanity of our opponents.

    Can we count the statement as a baby step for “cautious optimism” concerning reconciliation with the Atheism + movement? In my opinion – no. Dr. Dawkins has said nothing new about himself or the other parties to the squabble. He reiterates only the way that humanists, specifically those in the atheist community, should disagree online, in print or in person. Nowhere does he refer to what people should believe; what dogma they must cleave to; what ideology they must embrace; what political party they should vote for, what or how people should think, feel or speak about topics under discussion.

    Sadly the implicit half of the audience admonished by these pronouncements comprises the Atheism + movement that remains a front for third-wave feminism (to which Benson herself subscribes) and its unforgiving with-us or against-us imperatives. At the first glimmer of subsequent questioning, or dissent by Richard Dawkins that deviates from this radical ideology, he will find himself on trial for apostasy and his head on the chopping block of shunning.

    Perhaps the chopping block is the better fate. Over at the small burrows called Freethought and Skepchick blogs, Ophelia Benson, Greta Christina, PZ Myers, Rebecca Watson and other troubled outliers, already suspicious of Dawkins’ mere nibbling at the edges of heresy, now demand that the eminent scholar walk the walk, spouting abject apologies, signing confessions, renouncing “enemies” as he moves solemnly down the aisle to sacrifice his integrity on the altar of total conversion, total loyalty and total devotion.

    • To be honest, whilst not a fan of Rebecca Watson at all, her elevator statement was rational. It is terrifying to be alone with a male stranger. Not because men are bad but because the threat from the tiny minority is very real and very scary. Most men understand that and avoid any contact with women in certain circumstances. They save chat up lines for daylight and safe places.

      And Dawkins response was wrong. Fear of possible rape is very real and universal amongst women when alone and vulnerable. nothing like chewing gum. And without a doubt after his rant Rebecca Watson did receive death threats and rape threats. Which again most women find scary. Dawkins silence about that did him no favours at all.

      This could have been dealt with by simply listening to those facts, and attempting to understand them I agree Rebecca Watkins persona and past behaviours might have made that difficult and both sides are definitely to blame. Three years ago there should have been the dialogue. That is the only way to gain understanding. Instead both sides went on a pointless offensive that did neither side any good.

        • That comment is trite in the extreme. Being alone with any stranger that is physically stronger than you presents a possible but hopefully rare threat. I could equally replace male with large gang of females!! I would still be nervous of harm in certain situations.

          Most people recognise that fact and avoid eye contact, avoid speaking. Do you actually speak to lone female on an empty train? If you do be aware that that behaviour NOT you gender will have freaked her out and terrified her. This man didn’t recognise that fact. You connect with possible partners in safe environments.

          Most women are scared when out and alone. Rape is a real threat! Many men are also nervous when alone and out. Getting beaten up is a real threat. Do you get it yet? Speaking to people who are vulnerable and alone is creepy.

          • I could equally replace male with large gang of females!! I would
            still be nervous of harm in certain situations.

            Sure, but it would depend on a number of things that have little to do with the gender of people accompanying you in the elevator. You speak of men as a monolithic group as threatening. As a man who is larger than average but would never hurt a fly, I find it troubling that I terrify people on a daily basis merely by existing.

            Do you actually speak to lone female on an empty train?

            No. But a young man chatting up a young woman at 4AM after going to a bar is a bit different. Personally I would not do this, but I do not think that it merited the brouhaha that followed.

          • If a women is alone with a man on an empty train then she should logically feel vulnerable whether he speaks to her or not. If he did speak in a respectful way then that would surely alleviate the tension.

            Watson’s elevator ride was apparently one or two floors in a secure hotel anyway. How threatening is that? Besides, transient fear seldom kills anyone and this current obsession with ‘safe spaces’ and the notion that people should tiptoe around each other in case discomfort ensues is not very healthy IMO, barring obvious exceptions like following someone down a dark alley. I don’t think that anyone can reasonably expect a life free of occasional anxiety or fear. A women alone in an elevator with a man is still that whether he talks to her or not. Any conversation is either reassuring, neutral or threatening and only the latter is worthy of any kind of criticism. The only issue of consequence is whether or not the women emerges unscathed from the elevator. If she experienced temporary fear then so what? Emotionally secure adults know that that is their own issue to deal with. It’s less than ‘zero bad’ in the absence of a genuine mental problem. I know of a number of women who were quite offended at the suggestion that they needed protection from discomfort like children when this elevator spat broke out.

          • Michael I do not refer to men as a monolithic group nor would I ever dream of doing so. Where on earth have you got that notion from?

            I refer instead to situations. Alone in a lift with a stranger is a situation. Alone in a lift with a stranger in the early hours of the morning where there are unlikely to be others around even when you do get out is another. It is the situation that is threatening not the gender. If rape/attack is going to occur it is more likely in those circumstances. All genders recognise that.

            Rapes do happen, like attacks and muggings happen to men. And if they happen they are more likely in certain situations. That doesn’t make me scared of men it makes me wary of strangers in given situations.

            In the incident in question Rebecca Watson was alone in a lift with a stranger in the early hours of the morning. He propositioned her. That would have scared me. She mentioned it as a scary event that was all. Richard Dawkins response was very, very odd. Following his rant she received numerous rape threats. Richard Dawkins did not speak out at the time. Given his role in posting a very odd rant directed at Rebecca’s Watson that was odd.

          • It is terrifying to be alone with a male stranger. Not because men are
            bad but because the threat from the tiny minority is very real and
            very scary.

            Alice, this statement about being “terrified” despite the very low risk is what bothers me. It is also not unheard of for women to attack men, again should that lead me to being terrified being alone with a strange woman?

            And I specifically posed the question of how changing “male” to “black” would result in a very offensive and stupid statement, which you didn’t address but dismissed as trite. It wasn’t trite, it was to point out that your statement is equally wrongheaded.

            In fact, if we were to use statistics we would find that the threat of being attacked by a black male is greater than a white male (in the US), as blacks commit more crime per capita. But again, nobody who wants to be taken seriously would say something like “Whenever I am in a elevator alone with a black person, I am terrified. Not because blacks are bad but because the threat from the tiny minority is very real and very scary.”

            Now, you could reply that you are scared with men but not with women because although it is rare for a man to attack, it is much rarer for a woman to do so. But then we would be right back where we started with the black/white comparison.

            It is thinking like yours that has lead to policies on major airlines that bar men (but not women) from sitting next to unattended children on flights. Same bad logic applies – yes male child molestors are rare but one can’t be too careful, as the threat from the tiny minority is very real and very scary.

            What should you do when on an elevator with a stranger (black, white, female)? The default emotion should not be terror, unless the person you are with is giving you legitimate reasons to be afraid. That would be thinking clearly, and not making rash generalizations based on race or gender.

          • What a terrible thing to say. I would have hoped that “speaking to people who are vulnerable and alone” would / could / should be an act of kindness and solidarity. What is the world coming to…

          • Michael if you look at it the brouhaha that followed was nothing to do with the initial incident. It blew up after RDs bizarre and irrational Dear Muslima rant. After that Watson received rape and death threats.

            As for your other points about blacks and males and so on – as I’ve said before, situation not gender or colour is what is scary. Nervous of every person that could possibly overpower me at midnight alone on the tube or train. Be it male of any hue., gang of females, large dogs etc. simply because that is when I would expect such attacks to occur and therefore that is when I would feel I needed to be most on my guard. If you wish to continue to see it in terms of gender and race to suit your preconceptions of women feel free. I obviously am not going to change that.

            As for Watson’s elevator ride, I wasn’t there. But I do know someone that was propositioned in a lift in London. She politely declined so he followed and chased her. She was lucky to escape.

  9. As with a couple of other posters, I think this must have occurred before my time. There was reference made to a cataclysmic event at one stage but the incident was not spelled out and I was none the wiser after googling. @LaurieB has made mention of being sworn at in the distant past, so I imagine that it was not a very female-friendly site. I have to confess to being far too thin-skinned for my own good, so I don’t think I would have lasted long on the old, old site.

    Could anyone enlighten me on the actual events? I’m trying to piece together the meager clues and innuendo, but I’m not coming up with a very clear picture of what happened. Is this possible, or is it too salacious for current sensibilities?

      • Are you referring to the original kerfuffle that started the major schism in the atheist community? If so, I think the best summation (though rather lengthy) can be found here:
        http://freethoughtkampala.wordpress.com/2011/09/11/elevatorgate/

        Many would say that this summation is slanted with an anti-Watson bias, but I think it does a good job of outlining the situation. Of course, this was written in September of 2011, so there’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then.

        • Um, “the major schism in the atheist community?” Ah, you mean some bickering in a few American blogs. I can assure you there are many millions of atheists in the world who have never logged into those ghettos, have never heard of Ophelia Benson and would never subscribe to her notion of “Atheism +”. As for “Elevatorgate”, I heard it about it via someone quoting Richard’s sarcastic comment, which I found both amusing and well-deserved.

        • Thank you Mordacious. I now have some background context to understand the posts. If this was happening in my class room, I would have sent them all to the naughty corner. Follow the secular Golden Rule, “First, do no harm.” To anyone. But that’s just how I see the world.

          I have little time for petty internal conflicts, when there are so many big issues out there, that require a united effort from people on the rational side of thinking. To expend energy over matters that are not world or life threatening, while they do have some import, for the the matter to have gone on so long, that it required the correspondence above, is way out of proportion to the issue at hand.

          There is an evolutionary advantage to being aware of, and playing politics within a tribe. Primates do it. Even Ethiopian baboons do it in a wonderful documentary by David Attenborough. If you can assess who is allied with who, who is on the up, who is on the down, who you can ally with, and who you can bad mouth to your own advantage, helps pass on your genes. We see this behaviour every day of our lives, with politics, office politics, family politics, and interpersonal politics. If more than one person is present at a given location on the earth, humans will play politics.

          Is this a productive behaviour in 2014, It may have helped in the last 2 million years to pass on your genes, but in 2014, with the world frying with global warming, and the religious fanatics on the rampage even in countries like America, I would argue that we humans, applying reason and science, should be able to rise above this bickering in about an hour and move on, because, as I read Mordacious linked article, that, IMHO, is all it was worth.

        • Thanks for the link. I could not resist a peek but I should have heeded my own inclination that it would do me no good. Had I not looked, I might at least have been blissfully ignorant of how stupid this whole thing is.

          That such a minor incident has led to the need – THREE YEARS LATER – for the statement that kicked off this thread is both ridiculous and depressing. For so much energy, passion and venom to have been spewed out over this is beyond stupid. And its sadly typical of the quagmires and liberal/intellectual types can’t seem to resist getting themselves into as the expense of doing anything actually relevant.

          There is no right and wrong in this argument. There are just shades of perspective that shift according to the exact circumstances. It was never worth expending energy on by anyone involved. Frankly I suspect that most of the participants know this intellectually but their egos and a need to be RIGHT prevent them from letting it go. Also it’s easier to indulge in a little snide point-scoring to make yourself feel big than to tackle real problems.

          It’s things like that that a) make me reject any notion of a secular “community” and b) affirm my belief that “bloggers” are primarily concerned with stoking their own egos.

      • LaurieB

        yes Nitya, I remember telling you that and I stand by it. I’ve been on this site since 2008 and it was a stinking cesspool of misogyny in those years that lasted right up to the first appearance of a moderator.

        I think I have been here a wee bit longer, but my memory doesn’t recognise Laurie’s description of this site as a “stinking cesspool of misogyny”. Had I thought that, I would not have consistently returned here over the years. Frankly I’m not interested in “feminism”, in whatever form it takes. I’m interested in and in favour of the emancipation of all humanity without distinction of race or sex. Like others I am ignorant of “Elevatorgate”, or whatever Michael Shermeer is accused of, and I don’t give a bloody toss. Yes I have heard the name Rebecca Watson, but in my world there are more important names to remember. I don’t believe in God or gods, I do believe in the scientific method and science. Nor do I think that Richard has in any way done anything to undermine science and its objectives, – quite the opposite.

        Incidentally LaurieB, do you remember that Ophelia Benson used to be fairly regular contributor here ? I do, and mostly, I liked her stuff.

        Having read this discussion, I am especially, especially a non- believer. Does that make me an Atheist plus ? ( Don’t bother to answer!)

        • @ Mr DArcy

          I’ve found the comments on here quite genteel for the most part. Although I don’t swear as a rule, I’m not shocked to the core by hearing/reading the odd expletive. I live in the real word after all.

          When the new site started, I ventured over to the Friendly Atheist for a bit hoping to find the same satisfying level of debate. How wrong I was. I happened across a particular thread that was blatant in its misogyny. It was really horrible! It was very hard to believe that these posters had mothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends, daughters or female colleagues. Where had they been hiding?

          The Friendly Atheist thread is how I imagine RDFRS of the past according to @LaurieB’s description. So I can visualise it, and I’m very pleased that any such comments are removed by the moderators. I hope there are male/female representatives in the ranks of moderator.

          • The Friendly Atheist thread is how I imagine RDFRS of the past
            according to @LaurieB’s description

            I was very active on this site during those years, and now I am worried that a new myth is forming. Although there certainly were some characters who crossed the line, this site in any of its incarnations was never a hotbed of misogyny. It was a place where religious woo was mercilessly and deliciously scrutinized and attacked; woe betide the theist or woo peddler who ventured in there with half-baked arguments and assertions. Now, this sort of scrutiny, and accompanying strong language, was often applied to any set of ideas or assertions that lacked sufficient support. To many posters (including myself) some of the claims of third-wave feminism fit that bill, but many took offense to that level of skepticism when applied to those ideas. What would have been considered spirited questioning and even justified ridicule when applied to a religious poster was considered inappropriate when applied to a dodgy feminist.

            So much, maybe most, of this alleged sexist abuse was in fact a mischaracterization.

        • @Mr DArcy

          While I’m on the subject I should add that I think the initial cause of the dispute, the elevator incident, seems to have been blown out of all proportion. I would sum it up like this.

          An indirect proposition was made and politely declined. That’s it! I don’t think it required one more thought. Unfortunately there was an over reaction and a counter-over reaction. Old scores and festering resentments were suddenly part of the argument.

          I’m very pleased that I was not involved. I hope these gender wars are not reprised in the process.

          • While I’m on the subject I should add that I think the initial cause
            of the dispute, the elevator incident, seems to have been blown out of
            all proportion

            Most definitely. And what is encouraging to me is the number of posters here who had never heard of it. It was clearly a tiff confined to American bloggers, particularly young, white people. To call it a Great Schism within the atheist community is to act as if there is no atheist community outside of the US.

          • Hi Michael. I’ve had to chose my words carefully because I have no wish to alienate the sisterhood. That’s the side I’m on, at heart, but some perceived wrongdoings seem to be blown out of all proportion. In fact, I think it must be all very confusing for the single male out there in ‘dating land’.

            I’ve been married since I was twenty, so I have no idea how these tricky negotiations are conducted in the 21st century. Back in my day, ha ha! such an episode would not have caused a ripple. It would have probably been perceived as the guy trying his luck, or taking a punt and being knocked back. Neither party would have felt aggrieved or insulted.

            To be a member of the American atheist community must be more daunting as they’re really up against some entrenched opposition. It’s not unusual to see very public displays of religiosity, such as grace being said in a restaurant and sports people crossing themselves before the game. In fact, they seem to rival Islamic countries in the very public show of their faith. We have it easy in comparison.

          • I am going to address Elevatorgate ONCE and then, please, for the love of all that is holy in this world, can we move on from it?

            Rebecca Watson was in a situation that made her uncomfortable. She said, “Guys, don’t do that.” That was all she said. I would have been uncomfortable too. Think about it. She gets groped over and over and spends an entire day talking about this stuff making her uncomfortable. Then the elevator thing happened. She probably thought, “Jeez, what does it take to make people get it?” So while the guy probably was a harmless, socially awkward guy, she brought up a valid concern (without naming names).
            Richard overreacted with his “Dear Muslima.” I have a lot of respect for Richard but, like any human being, he has his flaws and what he did was uncalled for. Again, I return to my father saying, “People who cut or attempt suicide are looking for attention.” Good thing Dad isn’t a celebrity on Twitter. Cuttergate, anyone?
            Rebecca overreacted to Richard’s overreaction by writing him off as a human being and calling him misogynist. What he did doesn’t make him misogynist any more than my dad’s comments about self-cutters make him mentalillnessophobic. Just misinformed and oblivious to the situation.
            The most offensive part of Elevatorgate: the subsequent explosion and horrible judgments towards both Richard (misogynist) and Rebecca (professional victim). And the fact that nobody will let it go.

            That is it. I’m tired of hearing about Elevatorgate. Am I the only one who sees it as more than one side vs. the other? Jebus.

        • > Incidentally LaurieB, do you remember that Ophelia Benson used to be fairly regular contributor here ? I do, and mostly, I liked her stuff. Oh yes, indeed I do remember her showing up here from time to time. One of those times was when I had objected to the use of the C-word [slightly edited by moderator] several times throughout a discussion. After my objection the thread degenerated into a shouting match about his free speech and my puritanical attitudes. At some point Ophelia dropped in and said something close to, "I can't believe we have to explain about that word in this day and age". I sure do like that stuff.

        • Mr Darcy I do. Which is why I never joined. I remember Richard Dawkins being interviewed for a British tea time science programme by a scientist/presenter called Liz Brolin. It was probably one of the first times I came to the site as a new atheist.

          Within three or four posts some throwback Neanderthal had commented on her looks! By the end of the thread they were speculating on how much Christians would masturbate over her if they had access to the interview. I doubt any female would ever agree to interview RD again if they’d seen it. I’ve moderated my language.

          It was 2010. I could not believe it. I went another thread about banning the burka in France. Again a host of comments starting with the burkhas should be banned cos women evolved to be gawped at. Again deteriorating into a discussion about what the various men liked in a woman -none of which involved personality. I remember one stated he liked them slim with large breasts to which another replied nobody liked fat women that looked like hocks of ham.

          Nowhere do I recall similar comments being made about men, I disappeared to learn about atheism from more enlightened, less religious sites. Returning occasionally but never feeling comfortable.

          The fact I’ve remembered all of this is a measure of how shocked I was. From Christian to something where I assumed women would be equals. It was lads mag land just as women were finally waking up to the misogyny in lads mag in the real world.

          On various other visits it got worse. Culminating in the Amina Tyler threads. Amina was here for two reasons only. She was never actually in danger as evidenced by the fact she got annoyed at her sponsors Femen for being nasty to her particular sect of Muslims. No other site or news room have her much house room recognising her as a seeker of attention rather than a protestor. Yet here the men, despite the objections from all the women, printed and reprinted her photo. To my horror RD joined them.

      • And beyond. This year is the first visit to this site where there hasn’t been at least one sexist comment per thread. 2010 it was pure lads mag misogyny. 2012 likewise.

        Now far better. But I’m not sure that has as much to do with moderation as with an influx of men who engage with women.

  10. I think atheists are just naturally harsh people and these things will always happen.

    We put reason and logic before empathy and compassion, some of the put downs atheists use are brutal, even if they can be subtle at times, it’s no surprise that these traits will be carried over when atheists disagree with each other.

    Whatever happened to ‘no one has the right not to be offended?’

    • I think atheists are just naturally harsh people and these things will
      always happen.

      I suppose people are just naturally harsh people. Or are Catholics or Buddhists that much different from us?

      We put reason and logic before empathy and compassion

      All of us?

      Also, I am not that sure that saying “your internet post is hogwash” is on the same league of “lack of empathy and compassion as bombing people entrapped in a huge open air prison, systematically gassing people for being of the wrong descent, or carpet bombing their farms so that what they produce doesn’t end sustaining a guerrilla army.

      Whatever happened to ‘no one has the right not to be offended?’

      Got repealed by libel laws, I suppose?

    • You’re statement is another example of the intellectual confusion shown by non critical thinkers(theist and atheist), who inexplicably relate academic matters with human emotional matters.
      You’re statement:
      “We put reason and logic before empathy and compassion..”

      This statement makes no sense.
      You put reason over compassion when trying to do what exactly? When trying to …explain the formation of stars? ….investigate evidence of climate change?…date material around a fossil?
      Why would you even consider using empathy and compassion to help with academic investigations, how could they do that?

      The flaw in thinking is obvious. It is the same flawed thinking that is used when theists try to say atheists are immoral, or when atheists say things like what you said above.

      It should be clear to any critical thinker, that reason and logic are not similar in use or purpose compared to human specific qualities such as emotion or morals. Never should one think there is a choice between reason and emotion, because they serve two completely different purposes. Never should they be thought of as being part of a symbiotic or balancing relationship, where less of one means more of the other.

      The lack of critical thinking that continues to promote confusing and irrational discussions is rampant on both sides of the theist/atheist battle. That is why I continue to say that we should not champion atheism, but instead, we should champion reason and critical thinking.
      Critical thinking leads to atheism, while atheism does not lead to critical thinking. In fact, like the irrational comparison between reason and emotion, they are incomparable in their nature.

  11. We put reason and logic before empathy and compassion..

    You need to speak for yourself, because this generalized statement stains all who don’t believe in god, and thus is clearly not true.

    My psyche tests and my bank balance tell me that my “empathy and compassion” genes are way over active.

    You make the classic mistake that many make, of applying a label to a very diverse group, then attributing values and actions to all in that group. Stuff like… All blacks can run fast. All Scots are miserly. All white people are hard working…. etc. I would suggest you take each person on their own, and don’t collectively apply traits to social groupings.

      • Really? I think you ought to take a look at some of the comments made by many theists on blogs and forums all over the web and the hateful things they say about atheists, LGBT’s, women, liberals and people of a faith other than their own. Or have you forgotten?

        Sure, atheists sometimes make some pretty harsh comments about theists (and each other) but I’ve never heard or read a comment by an atheist expressing a wish for death and/or eternal suffering towards a theist because they foster religious beliefs.

      • Yes, to some not sugarcoating bullshit is perceived as harsh.

        Something is either 1. true, 2. not true 3. we’re not sure 4. we don’t know.

        It would seem to be the duty of intelligent, conscientious and responsible people who have been privileged with those traits to recognize those categories and to speak up when thing are miscategorized e.g. religion placed in column 1 or climate change placed in column 3.

      • liam Jul 28, 2014 at 8:36 am

        Despite all of that, atheists are perhaps the harshest people online, when it comes to something they do not agree with.

        I think it is a matter of horses for courses.

        Disagreeing with a rationally presented viewpoint from a person who respects evidence, is quite different to the sort of put-down I use when dealing with an arrogant posturing ignoramus, making unwarranted assertions with airs of superiority.
        (Scientists are not very sympathetic when they are lectured by pseudo-scientists on the nature of “troooo science”!)

        • There is a world of difference between disagreeing in the rudest terms with someone’s opinions and beliefs, and commenting on how attractive they are.

          The latter is not acceptable behaviour on a site like this. It is misogyny pure and simple. It shows a lack of respect for, not only the woman, but every other woman. It is the latter I’m referring to.

  12. Like Nitya above, and Paulmcuk above, I too had clean missed this whole unfortunate business. I also found the long summary of blog trails and so forth. I even read it, as have some others. If I may summarize for those fortunate enough not to have borne this cross:

    Rebecca Watson made an honest point about some of the situations that women can find themselves in and that can genuinely feel very threatening. An elevator is, lets face it, a small room which you may find yourself locked into with no way out, and a stranger. She had a point, possibly could have made it better, but a point none the less. I, for one, will remember this when I get into an elevator where there is a woman by herself.

    An Oxford Professor of biology then made a poorly worded sarcastic reference to this in comparison to the unspeakable horrors under which many Muslim women struggle.

    So far, so not so good. Then the balloon went up, with pretty much everybody involved behaving less than ideally, including Rebecca Watson, the Oxford Professor of biology, and all sorts of people, of whom I had never heard, and of whom I cannot care if I never hear again,

    It growled along, with the cast of dozens making a complete meal out of it, and turning it into their private fight, the original issues long lost in a frenzy of name calling. Finally it seems to have ended, not with a bang but a whimper, as recorded at the top. Good thing too, considering it is now three years old, and well past it’s best before date.

    But what is fascinating is that on many of the linking sites, “Conservapedia” in particular, the flames are still being fanned. You can go and see how “Elevatorgate” shows the “Contemptible misogyny of the atheist movement,” the “Fundamental immorality of atheists,” how “Atheism is decreasing worldwide, while religions are increasing hugely,” how “Women dislike and don’t trust atheists,” and the usual “Fifteen questions atheists can’t answer” sort of rubbish. (I am not an Oxford Professor of biology, and I can answer most of them.)

    Also, that this shows how this is “The schism in the atheist movement that will lead to its destruction.” Apparently the Sunni- Shia conflict, and Martin Luther nailing Bulls to doors, and Henry VIII’s removal from the Church of Rome were Sunday school picnics by comparison. As presumably were the Crusades.

    On the subject of basic morality, I see no comment from Newt Ginrich or Pat Robertson, stalwarts both of the sanctity of marriage, and the rights of women in general, and of course there are many many more on that side of the imaginary fence who have absolutely no right to lecture anyone on morality, ethics, misogyny, or basic truth in general. But, they will claw at whatever they can, and so the world of rational thought has had a setback, not a huge one, but a set back none the less..

    This should have ended long ago, it has done harm to all, and good to no one.

    • Wow, 2009! Those were the good ol’ days. I wonder how many of those commenters still post here? I know I left a while back (except for once or twice a year, when something interests me like this topic). It’s interesting how my original thinking on the subject, which was similar to OB’s, has (thanks to no small part to OB herself) moved in the opposite direction than OB had wanted.

      Those were, whether you agree with the opinions expressed, some thoughtful, frank discussions. I miss that. Though I still have PTSD because decius sexualized my butt in that thread. :(

      • I used to post quite often in those days under the name Blitz442. [Removed by moderator to bring within Terms of Use.] Why did everyone leave? In my case, I felt I was spending too much time online and consciously reduced my exposure to places that would get me sucked into debate. It really had nothing to do with any negative impression of the site.

        • Hi Blitz, er Michael. I was just teasing decius in case he happens to show up here, I wasn’t being serious (he made a comment about my butt in that thread that was linked…).

          I left because I liked the camaraderie of the old site, you can learn things and still be friendly. This is just my opinion, but it felt as if Richard wanted a more “no nonsense” site (I think a lot of that had to do with complaints he was getting from people like OB). When the mods starting cracking down on “off topic” comments, I left. I learned as much from off-topic comments as I did from on-topic ones, usually. Anyway, Richard can do what he wants with his website, but I find it rather dry now…so I moved on. Not a big deal, although I miss a lot of the people here.

    • ” If you still don’t get the distinction, try reversing the genders in this scenario. What if every time an article is posted, the females here started their posts with an assessment of the author’s sexual attractiveness? On the Zuckerman thread, did any women make comments about his attractiveness or lack of it? No. What if we toss in our opinions on RD’s hair style and descriptions of his features and body parts? ”

      Some women would, but many men will. Body parts?!?

      I vaguely remember the bus poster and some of the comments. What specifically do you mean by body parts.? I don’t remember any vulgarities and a passing comment on a woman’s pulchritude while listing the other accomplishments is something some ( maybe most ) males will do from time to time. I don’t know if you will find any construction workers and their blatant and over the top sexism here. If you found something to this degree then I would take further notice. Othwise I think your complaint may be overstated.

      • I was still losing my faith in 2009. What I do know is that I would not expect to come onto a site like this and hear what men find attractive in a women as a long topic for discussion.

        That is misogyny. I know I find attractive in men. I do not think it appropriate to discuss it on sites like this because I respect and like a lot more men than I fancy for what they say and what they do.

        In addition women have had a long period of seeing their whole gender assessed and valued in terms of looks. They find it offensive full stop. So no matter what your opinion is, it is an offensive behaviour and it does make women second class citizens. If that is what atheism is, how is it different to religion for women?

    • Absolutely…What would happen if everyone involved in this unhappy, divisive episode simply moved on? The past does not have to be the future, does it? Why doesn’t it makes sense to stop dredging up old controversies and ancient slights? What is the point of those who want to stubbornly insist on continuing what RD has wisely characterized as “brawling like enraged children who need a nap?”

  13. Neodarwinian,

    As Alice and I have both explained above, there was a “definite low level of sexism” here. Moderators did effectively cut out the worst of that. For emphasis, here is what Alice said above:

    I started occasional visits to this site about four years ago after becoming an atheist. I never joined, and the reason was because, whilst there was no large scale misogyny or death or rape threats, there was a definite low level of sexism. And I always noticed that things that were offensive, however mildly, were not tackled and the females were ganged up on.

    You think my “complaint is over stated” and you are welcome to your opinion. Please take your place with many of the men on this website who freely inform the women here about what we should feel about the topic. What if straight people inform gays about what level of homophobia they should find acceptable? What if those with scant traces of melanin inform those melanin-abundant members how they should feel about racist comments?

    Back in the good/bad old days here, we had a member, Steve Zara who explained something about political correctness that I found to be valuable. He said that as a gay man, he appreciated a certain level of political correctness in society because it served as a kind of protection against the worst abuse that homophobes could inflict upon that community. I’m paraphrasing here because I’m too much of a luddite to find his exact quote for you. I hope I have represented his meaning well enough here and I only wish he’d fly by and clarify it himself but alas, he’s off on other pursuits these days. When I read that point I couldn’t help but recognize that this must also be true for women here. What I wanted then is for some level of PC here on this site that would shelter women, gays and any other minority group from the worst of the verbal abuse and general atmosphere of sexism, so that we could carry on with a productive discussion of the topic presented to us on this site. This is what the moderators have accomplished well enough.

    Since this is Richard’s website, he deserves credit for putting this protection in place. Installing moderators is a basic, low level of protection against harassment on this site. But when I consider Richard’s role in terms of his leadership of the atheist community, with this website as one of the most wide reaching mediums of worldwide public access, I still maintain that he has not taken enough assertive direct action to deflect accusations of hostile environment sexism on this website. Then add to that an awkward interaction with an atheist/feminist and there you go, it was a catastrophe waiting to happen.

    I happen to have here a college textbook on business ethics. I found a passage that discusses ethical managerial leadership that I feel is a useful resource and applies directly to this topic. The two paragraphs that follow are from this textbook:

    Business Ethics and Ethical Business by Robert Audi. Chapter 11 pages 104-105.

    Consider the obligation of beneficence. Even when we do good deeds only to the obligatory degree, say create a basically safe working environment, ethical ideals call on us to do more if we can. There is no precise answer to the question of how much this is. It is a characteristic of morality to demand that we ask, at appropriate points, whether we are doing enough. Consider the indefinitely demanding goal of beneficence. There are ideals of beneficence ; these can be achieved only by supererogation-going beyond just fulfilling our obligations. An ethical leader not only avoids being unethical but seeks to fulfill certain ideals that call for positive conduct that exceeds the requirements of duty.

    …We can distinguish, then, between leadership that is simply ethically adequate and leadership that is truly admirable from the moral point of view. Whatever one says about this difference, it is probably uncontroversial that-both for the welfare of those led and from the moral point of view- it is best for leaders to be not just ethically in the clear but also morally admirable, Stressing that point can be motivating to leaders in business and in other walks of life. Virtue and ideals have an attractive power that should not be weakened by conceiving ethics as stating only constraints or only the standards society has a right to demand leaders meet.

    To all the guys who have dismissed and belittled the women contributors to this website and others for their honest explanations of sexist hostile environment in atheist circles, I hope you can review your position on this topic and find yourself in a comfortable fit with the description of ethical leadership above. If you’re dismissing complaints or just going along with the status quo then let’s have an honest admission of ethical failure. You all have wives, daughters, nieces, mothers and other women in your life who need your unequivocal demonstration of beneficent ethical leadership. If you can get to that point then please extend that ethical leadership out to the females of the atheist community. This is what we are asking for. We ask this from Richard and from everyone else too.

    • ” I started occasional visits to this site about four years ago after becoming an atheist. I never joined, and the reason was because, whilst there was no large scale misogyny or death or rape threats, there was a definite low level of sexism. And I always noticed that things that were offensive, however mildly, were not tackled and the females were ganged up on. ”

      Assertion. What constitutes a ” low level of sexism? ” Females ganged up on?

      ” You think my “complaint is over stated” and you are welcome to your opinion. Please take your place with many of the men on this website who freely inform the women here about what we should feel about the topic. What if straight people inform gays about what level of homophobia they should find acceptable? What if those with scant traces of melanin inform those melanin-abundant members how they should feel about racist comments? ”

      Yes I do think your complaint is overstated as I have no real examples of what you are talking about. Your definitions of sexism may not be the distributed definition most people would accept. I have seen neither homophobic or racist comments on here.

      ” Back in the good/bad old days here, we had a member, Steve Zara who explained something about political correctness that I found to be valuable. He said that as a gay man, he appreciated a certain level of political correctness in society because it served as a kind of protection against the worst abuse that homophobes could inflict upon that community. ”

      The worst?!? Sure you don’t mean the least?

      ” To all the guys who have dismissed and belittled the women contributors to this website and others for their honest explanations of sexist hostile environment in atheist circles, ”

      Without specific examples I do not know if you are talking about specific sexist comments or legitimate criticisms. For instance, I do not care how you would feel if I criticized the myth of the matriarchy, the concept that the sexes do not vary except for their genatalia or that all men benefit from rape concept.

      If there is a sexists comment that all would agree is sexist ( and we don’t all agree here all the time ) then one could say the specific woman was dismissed and belittled and it would then be ethical to moderate such comment. I have seen men here have their throats jumped down just for intimating that a woman was attractive and regardless of whatever else they said men here objected.

      So, what is this sexist hostile environment in atheist circles? I hear about it but, aside from your standard troll, I do not see it. I see well reasoned arguments dismissed as sexist more often than outright attacks. Specificity here is all. So when someone attacks thunderfoot as a sexist for criticising one Anita what’s her name’s videos I must wonder if this is the hostile environment you are speaking about.

        • How so? His basic point is that we need to see specific evidence of the claims and we need a consistent definition of sexist behavior. Please, by all means, dig up some old comments that are deemed sexist so that rational parties can evaluate them in light of a reasonable definition.

          Otherwise, we will continue to talk past each other, as what you see as sexist may have just been legitimate criticism of dodgy positions, or vice versa.

          • There are too many small incidences on nearly every thread I looked at in 2010. Again in 2011. And in 2012.

            The last time I came however, in 2014, there was an alleluia moment. Some female scientist had made a mistake in work on cells. The comments about her looks started. Than a whole host of decent men who clearly liked and engaged with women, (I only remember the name Red Dog,) took them to task. Telling them what awful behaviour it was.

            Now Michael I think you are also making mine a Laurie Bs point. You still cannot see there was a problem. But I know four female atheists who came to this site after rewarding the God Delusion or after seeing some pernicious attack on women’s rights by religion, and who read comments that led them to dismiss it as bunch of old sexists. That’s five women including me put off by comments here in the past. How many more have there been?

            So how relevant can you be if 50% of the population are unhappy with their representation. Or don’t see you as a relevant organisation.

          • But I know four female atheists who came to this site after rewarding
            the God Delusion or after seeing some pernicious attack on women’s
            rights by religion, and who read comments that led them to dismiss it
            as bunch of old sexists

            So out of the thousands and thousands of posts, there were a few posts that drew attention to women’s looks (probably favorably). Now while I don’t comment on anyone’s looks, I don’t see that as a basis to dismiss the entire site as a bunch of old sexists. What could be going on here is that some anecdotal evidence that was emotionally provoking to you has been overemphasized in forming your overall impression of the site. I have to say that on the threads I participated in, people’s looks were just not commented on that often.

            I would also note that commenting favorable on someone’s looks and valuing their intelligence and contributions are not mutually exclusive. Again, I’m not advocating commenting on looks, but such comments do not always = horrible sexism. If that were the case, the posters that occassionaly commented on how well Richard was aging would be sexist as well.

  14. Uh, in other news Richard has been tweeting about rape. While I tend to agree with his tweets and have defended them in the past, I don’t see the utility of claiming things like date rape is not as bad as being raped by a stranger. Yes, claiming that X is worse that Y does not mean that one is claiming that Y is ok, but in this case I don’t even agree with the ranking. Date rape could be a lot worse that stranger rape, as it could involve a huge betrayal of trust which could damage (permantly) the prospects of future healthy relationships.

    Tweets of this type seem to be very high on risk and low on reward. They are tailor made for harsh detractors to pin him as a rape apologist. They are not easily defended by supporters – indeed I have trouble with them. It is one thing to challenge people with concise assertions about the backwardness of Islam and its aversion to science, it is another to wade into extremely sensitive areas like ranking rape trauma.

    Are these tweets a stress test for the joint statement?

  15. Just as a matter of interest, would any of the female contributors here agree with Mae West when she said:

    It’s better to be looked over than overlooked

    ?

    PS I was propositioned by 2 different men on 2 different occasions. Their offers were politely declined, and a hasty retreat beaten. Yes, I am a man, and yes I can sympathise with the likes of Rebecca Watson, a rather nasty taste left in the mouth if memory serves, but nothing life changing.

    • I was at a bar with a friend and we (both of us are male) noticed a guy eyeing us. I went to use the restroom and came back. Then, my friend did the same, only the guy followed him in there and apparently propositioned him. When he told me about what had just happened, I briefly felt an emotion that I never thought I would have in that situation – jealousy! I’m a heterosexual male, but for moment I wondered “Hey, why didn’t he proposition me? Am I a toad or something?”

      Mae West was on to something.

          • Maybe if it happened to you on a regular basis, and/or if the words you actually said were passed over in favor of comments about your looks, and if this happened a lot…. then maybe you might feel a little differently about it.

          • @ Gra

            Yes, that would get tedious. But I would point out that bar/club culture is somewhat hostile to both sexes. I had a client that owned several nightclubs, and he said that the business model favored a ratio that was heavily slanted towards females. Meaning, do what you can to get attractive women into the club and minimize the number of men to a smaller number of high roller types who will spend a lot of money for female attention. Groups of average dudes looking to get in were the absolute bottom of the food chain and were discouraged as much as possible. These guys would tend to huddle around the dance floor or bar, taking up space and milking a few drinks all night. They were completely uninteresting to the women and/or annoying with their clumsy attempts to engage them.

            Hence, the environment at the most successful clubs was one of maximizing the experience of very attractive women, with lots of opportunities for conspicuous consumption for a select group of males. That is one of the reasons that drink prices are so obscene at these places – Thorsten Veblen would have been proud.

            Nightclub culture was thus gender roles at its worst. Girls are the center of attention and treated as VIPS…as long as they are attractive. A fewer number of men are allowed in, but only if they are bringing attractive girls or able to spend a lot of money. Average women and particularly average men, if they happen to get in, are starkly confronted with the mediocrity of their looks/charisma/bank balance.

            Now, with regard to this site, was there an inordinate number of comments directed at women’s looks?

      • Yes Gra. And to refine the scenario further, let’s also paint a picture of Michael the hetero-male as being about five foot eight and on the slim side and his admirer being about six foot five and two hundred eighty pounds. let’s just say he’s an American football linebacker with amorous intentions toward him. We need that imagery to communicate the size/strength discrepancy that women never, ever lose sight of. In this story Michael, if you were a woman, you would be sure to escape from that bar at the first possible moment, keeping an eye on the linebacker to see when he might duck into the bathroom or be distracted long enough for you to make it to your car and speed away from there. When you decide to make a break for it you will have your car door key at the ready- In your hand held out in front of you. As soon as you get into the car you will lock the doors from the inside and drive directly out of the vicinity. If he notices you leaving and beats you to the parking lot you are really in deep shit. Drunken large men don’t take kindly to rejection and parking lot rape is probably what you will face in this creepy scenario that you make light of. This is all basic, standard procedure for women.

        • What happened to my friend was a quick proposition followed by a denial. No violence or chasing around in the parking lot. These types of things must happen all the time every night across the country in bars and clubs, and it usually involves quick, mild annoyance rather than violence. I’m not saying that your scenario of being chased by a crazed linebacker in the parking lot can’t happen, but does that represent the typical experience, or a rare and rather extreme one? If the latter, why use it as an example of what the typical women faces when she ventures out to the bar?

          If you need to exaggerate to make a point, the point is probably not very strong.

          I would also add that as man, I probably have a more of a chance of getting beaten up in a bar fight as you have being chased by a mad rapist in the car park.

          • I’m trying get across the size/strength discrepancy that always puts women in a defensive posture in these social situations. Yes, these “uncomfortable situations” happen often.

            I agree that men have a good chance of getting beaten up but this is different story. I have certainly discussed male/male violence with my son and nephews who are all in their twenties and need to be wary off this type of violence.

            as man, I probably have a more of a chance of getting beaten up in a bar fight as you have being chased by a mad rapist in the car park.

            You sure about that? It’s a statement that I have the right and duty to ask you to defend with stats. I’ve seen plenty of bar fights and men showing off in front of females punching each other. But I also know about every time me and my friends have dealt with unwelcome aggressive sexual harassment in their lives. You know those incidents are not included in the stats. Don’t bother dredging up the numbers.

          • LaurieB,

            I appreciate your points about the size discrepancy, and it is something that I generally don’t experience as I am not a small person. With regard to the stats, I do know that men are actually at a greater risk of bodily harm and violent crime than women. Unfortunately, some of this is due to the fact that we consistently talk about violence in a very one-dimensional way, painting men always in the role of aggressors and only women as the victim. This leads men to underestimate their probability of being a victim, and women to overestimate it. If both sexes were more aware of their actual risk, we would see men modify their behavior to make themselves more safe.

            And speaking of rape, if you include prison rape, men are raped more than women!

          • Michael were you job prospects or chances of promotion harmed by saying no to this proposition?

            Did the man get his mates together to insult you, including your sexual prowess, after refusing it.

            Are you regularly judged on what you look like rather than what you say do.

            Should I take you seriously if I don’t fancy you?

      • Her original point was a fair point. But then a bit of bait and switch happened – the claim went from being made to feel uncomfortable to feeling threatened by rape by the time Richard wrote his infamous letter. I think that he was responding to the original point about being made to feel uncomfortable, while others thought he was trivializing rape threats.

        • No, I think you’re wrong about that. I ‘m not aware of Watson herself ever saying anything other than that the incident made her uncomfortable. Others, in trying to explain why that set of circumstances might make a woman feel uncomfortable, may have pointed that awareness of the possibility of rape might be part of that discomfort. But I don’t know of anyone who was equating it to the kind of things Dawkins went on about in his “Dear Muslima” scolding.

          In any case, none of that in any way justifies the shitstorm of abuse directed at Watson and others who stood up for her.

          • In any case, none of that in any way justifies the shitstorm of abuse
            directed at Watson and others who stood up for her

            Agreed. No excuse for the abuse from either side.

  16. Mr. Dawkins,

    I hope this reaches you. This marks the 2nd time I’ve found a need to address your comments on victimization. As a fellow survivor of sexual abuse myself, I am loathe to be critical of any survivor. However your statement above is in such stark contract to the Twitter tirade you went on that I feel it necessary to address you directly.

    In short your words are insulting and harmful to a great many survivors. I fully understand that you feel that the impact of the abuse you experienced was “mild” and that to equate all perpetrators with monsters is a logical error. On this last point we agree.

    However you have for some reason jumped to the conclusion that it is therefore correct to establish a hierarchy of harm based upon what you, and you alone apparently, have the right to declare are the varying degrees of severity of rape. By so doing, you are establishing 2 principles that are logically unsupportable and potentially profoundly harmful.

    First – you are mistaking your subjective experience as objective knowledge. This is all too common a trait in survivors of significant abuse and/or trauma, especially when experienced at a young age when our pre frontal cortexes have yet to fully develop. Many of us struggle with seeing the world objectively outside of our own distorted perceptions of danger, threat, and pain. To cite a personal example, I have long struggled with my own feelings of being a flawed, broken, and incapable person. These feelings persist in spite of many years of hard work in therapy, the love and support of many people, and in spite of all external evidence to the contrary. The fact is that the abuse I experienced at a young age (I have an Adverse Childhood Experiences score of 5) laid down deep grooves in my psyche that profoundly impact how I perceive myself today. This neurological change wrought by the trauma I endured is not insignificant, nor is it erasable. It simply is a part of who I am. A large part of the work of emotional healing is working to develop compensatory “grooves” in my psyche that enable me to function at a high level in spite of the parts of my brain that are given to falling into dysfunctional thinking. Many survivors face similar struggles, and it is possible that you yourself have been impacted in ways by the traumas that you have experienced throughout your life. As such, on this point you have my empathy as opposed to my criticism.

    Second, however, is a fault more egregious and damaging than the first error. By stating flatly that there are varying degrees of severity of rape, you are establishing a principal that is extremely harmful. And here, let me be clear so that neither you nor your acolytes make erroneous accusation about my meaning – I am not suggesting that you are tolerant or approving of any form of rape or abuse. The harmful principle you are espousing is this:

    By establishing that rape form X is more severe than rape form Y, you are creating out of whole cloth a measurement of harm that is based not on the experiences of the victim, but rather on the actions of the perpetrator.

    Doing so is harmful because it creates a dynamic where victims are only permitted as much harm as the severity of the rape they suffered will allow in your, or some other presumably independent arbiter’s evaluation, scale. But the harm born of trauma and abuse does not admit of such perfect alignment of act and harm. Survivors of rape may feel more or less pain based on a wide range of influencing factors including, but not limited to – the historical weight of previous traumas, the overall physical health of an individual at the time of the attack, the inherent resiliency of the victim’s body and mind, and the neurological functioning of a victim’s amygdala and higher level cognitive controls over startle response.

    To be clear, I am not suggesting that the response of criminal justice be based upon the subjective level of harm that a person experiences. Doing so would punish people inequitably, and also force persons to serve out punishments for harms that they did not cause, and could not reasonably forsee. But neither was your foray into telling the world that some rapes are more severe than others an argument merely about how severely some people should be punished. It was an attempt to say some rapes cause more harm than others, and that saying so should not imply a tacit endorsement on your part of any kind of rape. If such was the only reason for making your statements, than you could have easily let the matter drop with one sentence to that effect.

    However, in making the kinds of sweeping statements that you did most recently on Twitter, and in the past in response to valid critiques of your position on “mild” paedophilia, you have displayed a haughty arrogance that will permit no dialogue, no give and take, no respect for the opinions of others, and most distressingly absolutely no compassion for those whose suffering is of a degree that seems unwarranted based on the harm they have experienced. Even if that is not how you yourself actually feel, this is the unavoidable implication of your words and your actions. These actions are needlessly harmful to survivors, and fly in the face of the tolerance that you make a point of calling out for in the statement you just issued above.

    I do not feel that telling someone they are wrong is ever a profitable exercise. My intent in spending the time to write this is not to attack you and give vent to some degree of frustration within. Even were I to do so, I harbor nor illusion that you are likely to change your behavior or recant your statements. Rather, I would hope that you might read this and consider engaging in a dialogue on the nature of trauma with those who understand this subject with a level of objective expertise that surpassed yours and mine combined. Also, it is my great hope that other survivors might see these words and recognize that yours is not the only perspective that matters in this dialogue. The lived experience of every survivor of abuse and trauma is unique, and equally deserving of the full measure of our compassion. I hope that this sentiment might be seen by others who have had to walk paths similar to those you and I have journeyed, and that it might help them know that they are not alone, and that healing is possible.

    Christopher M. Anderson Executive Director, MaleSurvivor

  17. May I digress? The general level of fear in the American community is far higher than that of other places. As an example, in 1994 we took our children to Disneyland and stayed in a medium priced hotel. We were amazed at the number of locks available on the door and the wall was plastered with signs advising us to take care. Another female guest refused to leave her room having dinner brought up, instead of eating in the restaurant with the other guests, (mostly families.) At the time, I recall commenting to my husband that I’d refuse to live like that as I deemed it highly unnecessary.

    As a family we made a decision to simply follow the sensible approach to safety that we’d use in any other setting. We walked to the venue in the morning and walked back in the dark at night. Not once did we ever have cause for alarm.

    Now, back to the case at hand. The only time I’d refuse to get in a lift with a lone man, would be if he looked unsavory or lecherous. You men are just not that scary! This doesn’t mean that I’d join a lift full of drunken rugby players after a match. I’m not stupid!

    In my eyes this issue is completely different to misogynistic conduct when posting comments on a forum. You don’t need to follow too many paths ( from this site) to see what I mean. It’s a shame that the original incident led to this place but there you have it.

      • Yes exactly. Heed the words of Steven Pinker. To me, it sounds as if women in the US are more fearful in general. The risks of rape are probably commensurate with those of other western nations ( I would think), but the fear element is really ramped up. Perhaps the supposedly insensitive comments of RD should be viewed in that light. I have now wish to be seen as a traitor to my gender, but that’s the way I see it.

        • It’s not just US women. I may be generalizing a bit, but we freak out about a lot things. Perhaps its because our media bombards us with this crime and this threat and that danger 24/7, causing us to grossly overestimate the liklihood of bad things happening. In fact, it was a US women who recently let her 9 year old son ride on the NYC subway, and she was crucified for it. As someone who rode those trains for years, everyday, I can say that those trains are very safe. Assuming the boy was well prepared for it, and was probably armed with a cell phone to call in case of trouble, I don’t think that the mother was acting irresponsibly.

    • I agree. But to add one very salient point. Rebecca Watson was not afraid to get into the lift with the lone man. She clearly didn’t see him as threatening.
      It was his odd-ish behaviour of propositioning her once in the lift that commented made her feel uncomfortable. It was a behaviour in a situation not maleness that seems to have been the issue.

      I travel home late on lonely trains. Do I think men are rapists and scary? Definitely not. My beloved partner, half my relatives and some of my closest friends are men. Do I think the lone man in my carriage is a rapist? In all probability no. Am I scared? Very slightly but not because of the man but because the time and situation match ones in which attacks are possible.

      And in recognition of that fact both myself and the lone man will avoid eye contact, speaking and other behaviours that will be ok and even pleasant in other circumstances.

      We don’t make judgements based on one thing only but on many. There is no anti man sentiment in being scared when vulnerable.

      • @Alice
        I think there has been a conflating of issues in the whole ‘elevatorgate’ affair. On the one hand there is the relatively innocuous ( in my opinion) propositioning incident, and other more serious aspect of Rebecca being made to feel threatened and ill- at-ease. I’m forced to ask what it was about the man’s demeanour that made her feel uncomfortable/threatened. Was he invading her personal space? Did he leer provocatively? There must have been some tangible reason that would have forced her to make a public declaration. What was it?

        Having a general feeling of unease is not enough to warrant a very public venting. Perhaps the reasons were spelled out at the time of the offense and I’m unaware because I’ve only recently learned of the whole sorry mess.

        This doesn’t excuse the over-reaction by various male onlookers, who seem to have seized the opportunity to lash out in an indiscriminate manner to female atheists everywhere.

        • Nitya I agree. Several issues seem to have contributed. the initial incident was trivial. It was not clear what the mans behaviour was but I would guess that late at night you do not proposition people. The man was not named and as far as I’m aware all she said was guys don’t do that. I doubt I would have bothered mentioning it and I doubt I’d have been that bothered. But then I often travel from Central London to a South West England unmanned station late at night and have been followed to my car from the train which is a bit scarier.

          However it sounded to me more like a throwaway comment than a public venting of the guy. A public venting of such a minor incident would have warranted a stronger response, but still nothing like what happened. That comment was then seized upon and blown out if all proportion. The follow up including RDs very bizarre Dear Muslima rant went viral and rape and death threats followed. From people with names like Amazing Atheist.

          To put those into context, I would guess they were in part due to the fact that Watson seemed to have just done a talk about sexism in the atheist movement. Now I can only repeat what Laurie B has said this site was a cesspit of sexism and misogyny a few years ago.

          It has changed beyond all recognition in a very short time as far as I can see. You could barely get through a thread without someone sexist comment or other. And the men were very different to the ones now. Sexist w******s is the term we’d use in the UK.

          My guess would be that attempts to rectify that were not viewed particularly happily by some folk. I’ve seen blow ups here where certain men were not happy and women like Laurie B took incredible amounts of s*** demanding respect.

          The sexism was not viewed happily by others. So I would imagine those two competing viewhad a fair bit to do with the comment being seized upon by both sides. To bolster arguments. Hence a huge conflation and confusion of issues.

          I am under the impression that this joint and very belated statement is a response to what happened afterwards and what has continued to happen. There were death and rape threats directed at Watson and other female atheists from fellow atheists. In addition addresses of female atheists have been posted on line. Neither Benson nor Dawkins could continue to ignore that. Whether Dawkins will acknowledge there was sexism here is another matter. I would admire him, and the others denying it ever existed, if he did.

  18. Though this site and many of the posters have improved immeasurably there are still some of the older school here who still can’t see there was a problem. Michael you are one such person.

    I left religion not only because it was difficult to keep believing but because it did not move on. Progress is recognising that some behaviours are not acceptable because they promote inequality. The CofE at that time would not allow women bishops. The RC church still does not have women priests.

    I will agree there were never death threats here, or rape threats like those experienced by Rebecca Watson. But that doesn’t mean the low level lads mag sexism that was here was acceptable. It was part of a culture that was disappearing elsewhere, and it was disappointing that sites like this were most definitely not in the vanguard of that. Discussion of women in terms of looks, no matter how supposedly manly it is, is sexist. Women are just as interested in men and sexual beings too. I never found similar comments from them here. Nor would I want to out of respect for all the decent men here who like women.

    The joint link and reconciliation with OB is long overdue. The sexism predates elevatorgate. It was almost religious in its attitude to women. And for those that still aren’t ersuaded by arguments about equality perhaps telling you it is never seen as manly or attractive might. Hopefully the newer more enlightened males will keep their more old fashioned comrades in check. I hope so because religion is becoming increasingly disturbing.

    • Michael you are one such person.

      What about Nitya? What about Neodarwinian? Others have taken you to task on your claims as well. You have to understand that when you make serious, broad-based accusations about a web portal being “sexist”, you have to provide evidence. Your anecdotal experiences notwithstanding, you have failed to do that in my opinion. All you have done is insist that your subjective experience trumps everything. After all of the requests for a single comment that proves your point, you have failed to produce even one. And even if you did produce a few, it would have to be evaluated against the enormous amount of comments that weren’t sexist even by the broadest definition. Given the volume of comments that were posted here in this site’s heyday, it was almost guaranteed to produce racist comments, and I’m sure it did. I bet I could find some. Yet no one accuses the site of being racist based on that small sample.

      Hopefully the newer more enlightened males will keep their more old
      fashioned comrades in check

      Yes, if someone makes a legitimate sexist statement, or even a low level one, I will be the first to call them out.

        • Absolutely. I have a daughter you know. What is amusing to me is that I’m the Dad constantly trying to get her to play with things other than the pink girl’s toys (not that all of them are bad : )). I piss on contraining gender roles based on irrational premises such as tradition or “inherent differences between the sexes”, which are largely overblown and swamped by the amount of variation within the sexes. That is perhaps what irks me the most in being lumped in, implicitly or explicitly, with folks who do have these inaccurate and outdated opinions.

          • I do remember that discussion idea from a while back. After all of this verbiage that has been expended up to this point on this thread and we don’t seem to have made one bit of progress, I must say I’m downright discouraged at this point. It’s now 9:23pm here in Boston and I’m checking out of here to watch a show about Steven Fry touring America. He will make me laugh. I’ll check back in the am with refreshed attitude.

            I will say for now that it weighs heavily on me that atheist women have to parse their words and walk on eggshells around these atheist guys who refuse to acknowledge that we have a sexism problem here. We need to encourage young women to walk away from religion and stop dragging their kids to churches, mosques and temples just because it makes them a good mom by someone else’s definition. How can we reach out to them when we have this sexist crap going on in the background? Very discouraging.

          • I’m sure thats a good idea.
            But speaking for myself I don’t condone sexist comments but remain firmly unconvinced that the majority of men on this site do:
            My reply was actually for LaurieB and Alice who says this is a continuing problem on this site but I don’t think I can reply to a reply.

            Surely it can’t be that hard to provide specifics of comments? Otherwise how are we supposed to evaluate whether your claim is valid when the accusation is so vague?
            I would hate to think we are entering an ad-hominem state of affairs where men are being labelled as sexist simply for questioning your interpretation?
            As for treading on egg shells – please don’t. Its ok to give offence by stating an honest opinion. But you do have to spell out more precisely what you think is unnaceptable – preferably with examples if you expect people to change their behaviour.

          • Michael the comments I reported were made. If they were statistically rare than my rare visits to the site would have been unlikely to have picked them up. If I had been unlucky on one occasion to have picked up an odd stray comment I would have been unlikely to find another.

            But I recall crude comments about tv presenter Liz Brolin following an interview with RD, culminating in debates about how much Christians would masturbate over her. On the same day, different thread, a discussion of what the various men liked in a woman, including the charming nobody wants an old fact one.

            Same time, different thread, discussion about why men stayed with women once they got old. Why they didn’t all replace them with 18 year olds. Ignoring the fact that the ageing process is not gender specific. Not once did I see a similar comment about men.

  19. Mr_DNA

    There have been two links posted on this thread that make the problem crystal clear. One was posted my me and the other by Michael (mmurray). Did you make any attempt to read them at all? Did you make any attempt to understand why women on this site are discouraged? As I said above-why can’t we have comment numbers!!!!! The old threads where the sexual harassment was absolutely intolerable have been cleaned up with comments DELETED. Even so, if you go back to those threads that we have said were the worst then you can still get the general gist of the matter. *There were too many to link to! I’d need a whole freaking thread to myself if I were to replicate all of those conversations.

    But you do have to spell out more precisely what you think is unnaceptable – preferably with examples if you expect people to change their behaviour.

    Errrr…You do realize that if I spell out the words that are offensive then they will be zapped off of the page and perhaps myself right along with them, right? And why would I expect a change of behavior? It hasn’t happened since 2008 when I showed up here and I don’t have expectations that it would happen now either, based on this current thread.

    You don’t get what the hoopla is all about and worried that men will be accused of sexism? Fine. You’ve made you position apparent. I’ve dealt with that aspect of the situation already, above, too. The guys here who either recognize the uncomfortable environment for women or at least engage in thoughtful discussion and try to understand what we’re up against are known. The ones who willfully antagonize us and block productive discussion are also known. It’s a sort of keeping tabs on people in the mind. Primates are so good at that!

    I want to thank Michael (mmurray) for posting that link above. When I finally got a chance to read it this am, I realized how supportive your comments were.

    • One wonders if “occasional visits to this site about four years ago” and “rarely come here” qualifies you to have your critique of the site taken all that seriously.

      Especially if such visits appear largely driven by a hyper-ventilating specialized need to sniff out real or imagined PC violations and Offensiveness transgressions the parameters of which you have anointed yourself the supreme arbiter.

      A closer and more sustained (not “occasional”) following of the FEMEN flap would have revealed that those (who you presumed to be menz) in support, who labored under the supposition that it was fully female run and operated, did a 180° when it was revealed that FEMEN was headed by a man.

      So, no, it was not all about the “boobies!” Which, women, without being much criticized by feminists, spend $billions swaddling in scientifically engineered textile structures and surgically volumize/rejigger to optimally present and lend more heft when it comes time to negotiate recording/acting/modeling/marriage contracts. So when women manipulate and deploy their physical attributes in the aforementioned fashion then no harm done -empowering, even. But if they deploy them in protest to socio/religious/political absurdity then it’s no no no no no.

      Just a few more factual notes: Back when comments could still be rated, female participants could routinely find their comments amongst the highest rated. Those that where “shouted down”, what in menz circles is simply perceived as “being challenged”, were being challenged on their positions. Many of those who slagged FEMEN were the very same who declared Pussy Riot and Ayaan Hirsi Ali also not being up to their approved standards of how women are supposed to properly express themselves “inoffensively”.

      What rings most hollow are your recriminations of men commenting on women’s looks. Who spends $billions on cosmetics, fashion, unsensible shoes, beauty treatments, surgery and untold hours shopping, prepping and primping to favorably influence such comments/assessments/perception?

      Do you get as upset when women comment on menz looks? No? Good, because neither do most men. That’s just not how they care to define themselves. And the sooner women no longer do, the sooner we reach another milestone in the progress of human civilization.

      • When exactly do the women comment on men’s looks on this site? To the extent the women were commented on?

        And have there been any young topless males featured here? For the women to comment on?

        But yes I would get upset if men were treated as women were. I fight shy of doing so because I actually respect and like men. So conversions about their looks and size are reserved for appropriate circumstances. Not atheist discussion sites.

        And if you honestly think women like it you’re deluded. They hate it and it is that that drives them to spend billions on surgery (unnecessary and dangerous). Because they’ve learnt that what they say will always be secondary to looks in some people’s eyes.

        Nomore woo, there were plenty of women here telling you that Femen had little or no female support. I don’t know a single woman that didn’t know it was male backed. The only unknown was the name. There was no excuse for this site to have continued supporting them because pretty much every woman here said they were NOT supporting anyone. Every woman here knew it was just about the boobies. You seem to think women are stupid if you think we believed that excuse.

        Continue to pretend it doesn’t exist. Continue to live in your bubble and not take on board what is said. But look how many women are here since things improved compared with two years ago. It is this sites problem! The change has to stay because like or not you have to be relevant to all the people in the modern world if you’re going to be relevant at all.

    • I think I was clear about asking what activity have you seen recently. The latest of the posts mentioned was three years ago.

      I think you could spell out what you still consider unacceptable going on today because despite what you say I haven’t seen this lately; but then I don’t read that many comments but dip in if a subject interests me. It certainly seems though that when unacceptable comments have been made they have been challenged by men and women and have been removed or deleted.

      I sorry that you missed my point about questioning your statement of the scale of the problem not being the same as agreeing with sexism. I don’t like the “if you don’t agree with me you are part of the problem” attitude. For somebody who cl;aims to want to make this site inclusive you seem to be keen to divide people into groups of “good” and “bad”.

      I repeat I’ve not denied there has been a problem. I want this site to inclusive or I might as well throw away my humanist membership card and I think the way forward is to promote dialogue not accuse people on mass.

      • The last activity I saw was the Amina Tyler thread. Definite gender split. That was last year?

        And I’m not accusing people on mass. I’m saying there was a problem. Some of the comments here suggest it persists. Others that it has gone.

        • Are the comments that suggest ‘it has gone’ ones that agree with you and the comments that ‘persists’, ones that disagree with you by any chance?

          Sorry, but I cannot take anyone seriously who calls anyone a ‘Woman Hater’ without a shred of evidence.

        • I was replying to Laurb who using phrases like “The atheist guys on this site” which seems to be accusing people on masse to me.
          I did read through some of comments on the site which I had not read before and thought your summary of “It was only a tiny proportion of the site, most of which was brilliant. It was only a tiny proportion of the men, most of whom were brilliant” seemed to cover it. Most men as I perceive it want to engage in discussion on sexual politics even if they aren’t seeing eye to eye to the female contributors, only a minority set out to offend.
          This is not to be complacent – and I’ll certainly think about challenging these types of comments in the future but I’m not going to be apologising for comments I haven’t made and don’t support.
          If generalising about people causes bigotry then it behoves us all to examine our preconceptions on a case by case basis.

          • Good that is progress. To recognise that some comments are offensive when it is pointed out is a mark of intelligence and courage.

            I would not expect you to apologise for what you haven’t done. Unlike Laurie B I’m not regular enough to pick out names. So apologise if you’ve been lumped in with the morons. Who were in a minority but punched well above their weight.

  20. The invective begins anew, how disappointingly predictable. Gender equity under the law is a logical and reasonable position. Distorting statistics, stiff-arming objective reality, attempting to censor those with whom you disagree, and fomenting a warped view of masculinity is behavior typical of fundamentalists.

    • They were still weird comments. We have a legal system in the UK that considers each and every case on its merits. Put simply there is no clear defining lines. You could argue a woman would be more likely to attempt to fight back on date rape eliciting more violence.

      You could also point to how difficult it has been to get rid of the victim blaming with date rape.

      Stupid comment from RD given the long history of low conviction rates full stop.

    • Mr pickwick, congratulations to Mr Dawkins for recognising there was a gender split I which both sides were to blame. And for recognising that in not condemning the rape threats he was viewed, as Muslims who do not condemn terrorism, as being somehow ok with such threats.

      Continue with language like that that ignores this sides role in the problem and working together will fail.

      For the record I have never actually come across any sexist comments about lovely boobies on PZs site. Nor Jeryy Coynes. I have never felt like a second class citizen there either.

      It is a problem with this site. It is this site that has stepped in the biggest s..t. It’s climbing out but refusal to acknowledge there was a problem is stupid.

      • While I agree it’s nice that PZ’s site doesn’t have booby comments, I am slightly puzzled at the weight you put on that single metric. PZ’s followers routinely use abusive language of all description, including references to sexual assault with porcupines. Have you by any chance attended Ophelia’s site, or the sites of other players in this conflict, and expressed equivalently critical sentiments vis a vis their use of tone and language? Not to minimize your point re this site, but do you really sense an equivalence in general tolerance on both “sides” (for lack of a better word)?

  21. As an evangelical Christian, I can’t say that I’m surprised that atheists can treat one another as dirt. Atheists are human and no less subject than anyone else to foibles and flaws. Goodness knows, I’ve certainly seen a lack of charity among religious believers. Let’s just treat each other with civility and let the “true believers” be they secular or religious fight among themselves.

  22. I don’t mind fighting it out. It’s something I’ve done my whole life. The atheist guys on this site stubbornly refuse to hear that women are disappointed with the level of sexism that they maintain. So be it. They are welcome to wallow in their testosterone mudpie if that’s what they want.

    One thing that holds true for me, other women here can weigh in as they like, is that, as annoying as it ever got here, I never EVER considered going back to my abusive relationship with that guy JESUS. His genocidal, women hating dad was repulsive.

    I’m an atheist, a feminist, a materialist with a naturalism worldview and I’m out here with the wind blowing through my hair and I’m FREE!!!!

    • They are welcome to wallow in their testosterone mudpie if that’s what
      they want.

      One of the great aspects of rational feminism is that it identifies double standards. Now, imagine if one of us said something like “Let these whiny females wallow in their estrogen.” That would (legitimately) be held up as clear evidence of sexism, and paraded around like a trophy.

      So please, don’t use these sort of sexist slurs when trying to advance your position. People are disagreeing with you using reason, not because they suffer from testosterone poisoning, or whatever shaming term is used for men these days.

      I don’t mind fighting it out.

      You aren’t fighting some grand battle against oppressors. You are engaging in rational debate against people who have a contrary position. When you characterize this discussion in the way you do, you come across a bit sanctimonious and boorish.

      Now, on a postive note: On this entire thread, which has delved into many issue related to gender, as I type this THERE HAS NOT BEEN ONE SEXIST COMMENT.

      Can’t we celebrate that?

      • For gods sake Michael, to use a phrase that has no meaning, can you not understand how offensive the comments were. How offensive to women the inclusion of crap like Femen was. And actually how it was driven by a minority of willy waving morons who thought it was manly. Are you going to constantly defend that behaviour which was a testosterone mud pie.

        And for the record The women, like Laurie B that fought back. were accused of being whiny, chips on shoulders, frigid, killjoys etc. Demand respect and equality and you get called whiny, frigid – yes I’ve seen all those used.

        And yes the women were fighting oppressors. They were fighting men who thought this site was their own personal lad mag. They were fighting misogyny full stop. A debate about contrary positions is a difference of. Opinions and ideas. It does not involve bra size, desirability and a run down on what someone’s knob is feeling. You at this moment, are defending that as part of rational debate. Well it ain’t.

        Now tell me why on earth you keep defending this behaviour and getting upset when it is pointed out. What on earth is your problem with respect and equality? The vast majority of men seem to manage it.

  23. Thank you Alice. That’s very supportive. They don’t get it. His last line:

    Can’t we celebrate that?

    caused me to collapse in a heap of hopelessness.

    So, I figure you might have a good recommendation for a new internet home for me that would be a better fit. I should have figured it out for myself a long time ago (obviously). I’ve spent some time over at freethought today. I think I’ll lurk around there for some time and check it out.

  24. Laurie

    You do know that I can read your comments to Alice, right? Referring to me in the third person instead of addressing me directly is rude and childish.

    And why can’t we take a positive from the fact that no sexist comments have been written on this entire thread (save the remarks about about testosterone)?

    • Michael it is difficult to move on if folk do not recognise there was a problem. The comments were made, I saw them. The women that said they were offensive were insulted. I saw that. Femen were featured here. I saw that. The women said Femen were not representing anyone and it was just titilation. They were insulted. All of those were prime examples of sexism from misogynists. A minority, but a nun moderated one. What on earth makes you think that behaviour was ok? Why are you still defending it.

      Laurie B I decamped tothe sites of Ophelia Benson, PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne. PZ was very good at listening to women and acknowledging their concerns. Something Dawkins has yet to do to his discredit

  25. Peace to all, small and tall.
    The high road is the best road.
    Be ever aware of trolls who endeavor to sow discontent for the purpose of citing it, to the embarrassment of the foundation. They love nothing more than seeing their provocations blossom into awkward discussions. Don’t feed the trolls.

  26. drumdaddy the only embarrassment to the foundation is that it still doesn’t have appeared to have acknowledged there was a problem. A recognition of past mistakes is the adult way to resolve issues. Embarrassment then disappears.

    In the UK Dawkins reputation amongst female atheists has suffered from what happened here,

  27. Skepchick- Rebecca Watson
    Maybe I have it all wrong, I’m naive, but this woman seems a particularly unpleasant man hater.
    The Dear Muslimah letter was nothing more than a satirical swipe at western feminists’ seeming indifference to the plight of Islamic womanhood?

    If so the outrage of these feminists is simple hypocrisy surely?

    • Hello, JimJFox. I am unacquainted with Rebecca Watson and will therefore not comment on her character or her attitude towards men, but I am aware that satire has long been an effective literary device used against political enemies. Professor Dawkins’s “Dear Muslima” letter was an alienating slap in the face to many Western feminists, who may not agree with him on everything, but many of whom are valuable allies in the cause of secularism. What especially baffles me concerning the professor’s selective use of logic is that the very point of that injudicious letter contradicts the argument that the same professor has since used to defend his more recent tweets concerning rape. For, if he means what he says when he argues (correctly, I think most would agree) that saying that X is worse than Y does not imply that Y is not bad, then he should not have written that “Dear Muslima” letter, the very point of which is that the supposedly whining Western feminists have no grounds for complaint when their circumstances are compared with the much worse circumstances of their fellow women in Muslim lands. As I said, satire is best used against political enemies, and this has been its traditional use. Is it something like a Freudian slip that Professor Dawkins has used it against those feminists whom he happens to find irritating? If he wishes to be a leader in the secular and atheist movement, he needs to sort himself out a little more thoroughly. Perhaps he is merely succumbing to the curmudgeonliness that comes upon intelligent men of a certain age. Self-knowledge and all that is always worth seeking.

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