Monday, July 9, 2012

Bad Atheist - No Banana. ACT I: Elevatorgate

I’ve been accused of not being a proper atheist by other bloggers, and over the past few weeks it has been looking like I’m in good company. Apparently all sorts of people are no longer proper atheists, and the divisive problem is caused by women and sex. 

When I write it that way it sounds like a very old story; lots of people like stories about women and sex. There is this one with a snake and an apple in it that has caused all sorts of grief.

So far it plays out like a two act play, but I’m sure there will be sequels.

ACT I Elevatorgate (Where Richard Dawkins is taken down a notch)

In early June of 2011 the World Atheist convention is taking place in the O'Callaghan Alexander Hotel Dublin. Many prominent atheists are meeting to espouse the awesomeness of reason. Maryam Namazie is the keynote speaker.

The conference includes a host of workshops including one with Tom Melchiorre, AronRa, Richard Dawkins and Rebecca Watson (SkepChick) on communicating Atheism. Rebecca sat between Tom and Richard. Tom wore a black button-down shirt unbuttoned to reveal a Tee-shirt in a color of unnaturally-flaming red that rivaled the color of  Rebecca’s hair. Rebecca wore a low-cut sleeveless black blouse, and Richard wore an awful tie that did not work for video.

Rebecca spends the first 10 minutes of the panel detailing the e-mails she gets. The breakdown went like this:
  1. She gets a couple a month where an atheist disagrees with her in a sexist way (she provides an example of someone addressing the men of her podcast for things she said); these range from "very sexist" to “this is probably sexist”. 
  2. She then describes “fan mail” where the writer in inappropriate “graphic” terms describes what they would like to do with Rebecca; she feels that the writers of these e-mails just “don’t understand”. 
  3. Then there is the unspecified volumes of mail from “religious people” which include specific threats of rape as well as death threats.

This is good stuff. It raises awareness for a type of environmental issue that should be addressed. She is complimented on this, and conversation moves from the conference to the bar, and continues until 4AM. Rebbecca, now exhausted, extricates herself from her fans, and takes the elevator back to her floor.

Rebbecca describes what happens in a video. Some guy got on the elevator with her and said “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I really find you very interesting, and I would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?”. One can tell from the video that Rebecca was creeped out by the event. Apparently she said no, and that was the end of the story.

Except that was not the end of the story. Dozens of people chimed in. Many people, both men and women, stated that Rebecca was being over-sensitive about her response, and that the invitation after drinks was not an inappropriate example of sexualizing her.  Some called into question the descriptions she had made on the panel earlier in the conference; if she was so overly sensitive is her assessment of inappropriate e-mails skewed? People stood up for her right to be offended by anything a man might do, especially in an elevator, especially at 4AM. Some good points were made.

I was busy taking apart a magic electric water-magicifier, and did not think that anyone would care if I said anything as I’m old, white, heterosexual, and -above all else- the wrong kind of atheist.

That’s when Richard Dawkins weighed in. In a sarcasm framed electronic communication he suggests that being asked to coffee after a late night drinking, saying no, and then having the asker accept no as an answer does not measure up to the flavor of abuse against women that many Muslim women routinely have to put up with.

I should point out that the keynote speaker for the Dublin conference was a noted ex-Muslim female-rights activist. Women’s rights were a key concept at the Dublin conference. I encourage you to watch some of the videos of the keynote speech; they are brilliant. You would not know that speakers on women’s rights were so key in the conference from Rebecca’s video, as she does not really mention them. She does tell us that AronRa can’t hold his alcohol.

The response to Richard’s communication was huge. This issue now had validity. It got a name too: “Elevatorgate”.  I hope Richard has learned to avoid using sarcasm in mixed company in the future.

Rebecca responded by calling for a boycott of all things Dawkins.

Rebecca reveals that Richard Dawkins is old, rich, and white.   If this is true then Richard has no excuse for his tie in Dublin.  He should have enough disposable income to hire AronRa for fashion advice, as he was the only member of the Dublin panel dressed properly. There was a time when LBT meant "Large Black Tee-shirt" in the way LBD is still instantly recognized as meaning "Little Black Dress". 

She also posts a very uncivil e-mail from someone stating that she should be raped because of some disagreement they have over the relative harm of female genital mutilation and male circumcision. She then states that “the worst of my hate mail from atheists is about that”. So by association she is receiving rape threats from atheists. Much has changed in a few short weeks.

By September Rebecca related to USA today that: “Hers and other atheist/skeptic blogs were soon flooded with comments. Many women told of receiving unwanted sexual advances at freethinker gatherings. Some men, meanwhile, ridiculed Watson as overly sensitive or worse — or threatened her with rape, mutilation and murder.”

Note:  there are so many marvelous links to the source material for this post.  I will  be adding them as time permits.  Right now I want to work on "ACT II scene 1: Upskirtgate"


Joshua M. Kreeck said...

Things like this are precisely why I've avoided Atheist gatherings. I find it sad that oftentimes the meetups, conventions and rally's are billed as places uniquely devoid of irrational or societal pressures. A safe haven of sorts. Frankly it plays out more like a self-help group than anything. Atheists, like all other groups, are just as prone to being irrational, judgmental, sexist, racist, homophobic or classist etc. etc. as theists are and sadly they will justify it using the word "reason" in the same way others use the word "god".

adult onset atheist said...

The few atheist gatherings I've been to in Salt Lake have been interesting especially because of the elements of humanity that people bring into them. Are they safe? As far as I could see they were. I think there is a general interest in having them be safe, and I'm not sure if this situation is really created from that free-floating interest in things being safer, and more inviting.

I've never been to a big convention, but I have imagined going to one. Someday I might. I think humans are cool, and I know of no other species I would rather be.

Joshua M. Kreeck said...

I always thought that it would be nice to try my hand at being Betelgeusian but then it was brought to my attention that it is in fact a fictional species.

I've never attended the gatherings in Salt Lake though I did in Virginia. That is really where my distaste comes from. I assumed that it would be the same if not worse given my individual run in's with atheists with a chip on their shoulder in the state. Maybe I'll have to give one of them a try now though.

adult onset atheist said...

It takes all types. I bet you would love to be one of the types that are taken.

There is a coffee meetup that occurs most Thursdays at Mestizo Coffee House - 641 W. North Temple. It starts at 7PM. I don't usually go myself as it is quite a long drive for me. Each time I've gone I've been sucked into conversations about all sorts of ungodly stuff, but I like conversation. The coffee at Mestizo is also good. The last time I went I had this frothy cappuccino thing with hot peppers in it.