Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Latest Atheist Blogosphere Kerfuffle

Update: I've posted the video of the panel discussion with a minute-by-minute breakdown comparing it to the offending post.

Sharon Moss and Lyz Liddell wrote a guest post yesterday for Jen McCreight's Blag Hag. In it, they discuss some examples of sexism they witnessed recently at an atheist convention. They described a panel discussion on making atheist groups more welcoming to women. The problem of men hitting on women was bought up, which does happen. The severity of the problem is something I know nothing about.

The authors go on to tell the story of one woman who complained that she didn't like the use of the word "female" to describe women. She felt it was dehumanizing.
But did the panel address the question, perhaps looking for the point at which the discussion took on the word “female” so universally? Did they take the opportunity to discuss how things like language can make a group uncomfortable for women, and what we could do to make it better? No! The woman asking the question was viciously torn apart and ridiculed for even bringing it up. First, a combination of panelists and audience members tried to defend themselves by saying that feminists won’t let men use the word “women” off-limits because it has “men” in it. Then a commotion of everyone talking at once, which was cut off by one panelist’s definitive comment: “What do you want us to say, ‘the weaker sex?” 
She got upset (and who wouldn’t be?) and left the room. I - a member of the audience, not one of the event organizers - went after her. While there were a few odd calls from the audience for the panelist to apologize, the moderator sort of awkwardly pushed the discussion on to a new topic, with an embarrassed air of “Sorry for the disturbance.” No apology, no discussing a better way it could have been handled. Not even a joking “This is how *not* to be welcoming” comment. Just “nothing to see here, move along.”
The authors go on to describe a speech which they felt was particularly sexist and offensive. But, the middle of their complaint was replaced with:
[Jen's note: I've temporarily removed the section on the "Million Dollar Challenge" since there seems to be a lot of debate over whether it was depicted fairly. The Alabama Atheists are uploading the video of Sean's talk to make this situation clear. While I wouldn't let Sharon and Lyz do a guest post unless I trusted their judgement, I also don't want to misrepresent Sean Faircloth, so I'm waiting until I've seen the video.]
 Apparently, I read the post after a number of people complained about its accuracy. Which made me doubt the accuracy of the whole post. But, more on that later. For what it's worth, I am curious what was originally written.

The post went on to describe ways to make atheist groups more welcoming to women.

The comments, though, were interesting. At first, most people supported the authors and decried the rank sexism. But, then people who actually attended the event started commenting and disputing much of the reporting. One Christie Swords wrote:
If the description of the SERAM and Sean Faircloth's speech were accurate, I would be disgusted, too. The truth is that this blog is very slanted and untruthful.

I am a woman. I was present at the SERAM. Sean got a standing ovation from everyone including the women. I have had many conversations with other women about the SERAM and Sean's talk. I have heard no one else say anything about either being sexist.

I met both Sharon and Lyz. They seem like intelligent, nice people, but the assertions here are unfounded. Please take that into consideration before diving right into the oh-so-handy bucket of despair. I am not saying that they did not feel they way they felt. I am saying that it is wrong to rake people over the coals if you weren't there.

Evidence-based folks should ask for more than one blog before gathering the torches and pitchforks. Watch the video when it comes out and make up your own minds.
I found that interesting. Things got even more so when I read the post at JesusFetusFajitaFishsticks written by the woman on the panel. She writes:
This woman stood up and made a self-righteous quip about how we shouldn't have been using the word "female" because we're not animals. #1, Yes we are. #2, Quit wasting everyone's time. If THIS is the most important thing you could think of to mention regarding sexism in the atheist movement then I'd say we're doing pretty damn good as a movement. You get the mic and THIS is what you choose to bring to everyone's attention? I was hoping to get some input from the single females on how they felt when they first joined a group... did they feel harassed? Was it over the top, or just typical flirtation you encounter anywhere else that went away once you showed no interest? Is it any different from walking in to any room full of dicks (ohhh shit... come on guys... one of you stand up to lil' ole me and tell me how you don't like being called "dicks" I'm sure you're all fuming...).
The rest of her post can be summed up with, "Stop whining." This post also generated some comments, a few of which annoyed Jen enough that she wrote another post whining about them. Some of the comments were written by Blair Scott of the American Atheists. They were mild, non-offensive, but disagreed with Jen. She didn't like it.


Scott replied:
So you just posted a guest blog that trashed American Atheists without actually checking into the validity of it. And we know that to be the case because you had to delete the comments about Sean Faircloth's speech, but you just assumed that the rest was accurate?

And now you're upset that I dare call you on it?

Good grief...
And, Jen snapped back:
"Trashed American Atheists"? It criticized one aspect of one panel, and one speech, while saying how successful AA has become. What's really tarnishing American Atheists' image isn't that guest post, but your completely unprofessional comments as a board member disregarding the concerns of two female attendees (hint: argument from popularity is a logical fallacy), not to mention the rude, hateful, and sexist comments from people who also attended the conference. I would have happily attended an AA conference after reading Sharon and Lyz's posts. Now that I've seen the reactions? Count me out.
So, there are two stories for me to comment on, but first I'll sum up.

At some convention, a female complained about something, and hardly any one agreed with her. One guy even made a joke in slightly poor taste. She stormed out of the room and hid in the bathroom, like a crybaby.

If a man did that, he would be ridiculed for his crybaby behavior. His concerns would go unnoticed and uncared for, because he acted like a child.

But, this was a woman, and two other women at this same event wrote an article which Jen McCreight published on her blog. This article was poorly written, inaccurate, and possibly libelous. When others started complaining about the lousy article and criticizing her, Jen stormed out of the room and hid in the bathroom, like a crybaby.

Such behavior does not help the atheist movement. A kerfuffle such as this is silly and embarrassing.

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