That these activities may occur with a backdrop of much more horrible truly misogynistic activities does not diminish the importance of stopping them. I think that most misogynistic activities occur outside of the sphere of atheists, and may even serve to spur people into giving up on their theistic deity to find peace and peace of mind. Some truly horrible activities occur in areas that are accidentally connected with atheists, and ignoring these to inflate the damage caused by something like a few icky online remarks is not right.
Some of the online comments are way out there. Many spew from the same open sewers every time there appears to be an opportunity for attention. Does pointing out these individuals' contributions to the online stench help to shut them up or does it encourage them? I tend to ignore them, and so any list of contributors and their contributions that I might compile would be woefully incomprehensive.
One online personality, who calls himself “The Amazing Atheist” is often pointed out to me as an example of the evils of atheism. “This is what becomes of people if they turn their back on Jesus Christ” I am told. He is also a favorite source of immature sexual harassment vitriol by those that have made it their multi-year mission to combat these things. He also thinks cannibalism is good. The only reply that has sufficed has been for me to say: “He is a crazy person, and I hope he can find Jesus”.
Two of the accidentally atheist-connected magisteria that harbor misogynistic evils are medicine and universities. Luckily both of these are changing for the better, but not as fast as they should.
Many universities, for instance, have begun to define rape based on the severity of an assault rather than an inability to ignore the victim. The number of rape investigations has increased, and the gap between the number of reported rapes and rape investigations has decreased in many cases. For academic atheists assailing the sexual assault policies of institutions is the same as attacking ones employer or potential employer; it is an exercise that can appear prudent to avoid.
In medicine advances in the treatment of women’s health issues have long trailed general or men’s health issues. Advances in women’s specific treatments often takes a back seat to image or reproductive issues. I’ve seen a number of articles about women getting prophylactic double mastectomies, and I can’t remember any of them treating it as an acceptable general course of action; the women come across as paranoid. And I’m sure the world would like a new anti-cancer drug, but not if it also provides a safe and effective abortion. The issues are more important to many people than women are.
Breast cancer is an iconic women’s health issue. We all know someone who has had or will have breast cancer. As many as one in eight women will get breast cancer in their lifetime. It is more than twice as common as the next leading cancer in women. Hundreds of thousands of women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the US this year, and almost 40,000 will die of it.
Actually, the number of women who die of breast cancer each year in the US has been steadily decreasing for two decades. A very important reason breast cancer’s mortality rate has been decreasing is that people are looking for it, and talking about it. This brings together money, interest, and diagnosis-ready patients; these are the elements society needs to effectively field a treatment.
Innovation has also contributed, and newly announced discoveries will likely decrease both the morbidity and mortality associated with breast cancer even further.
One group -the Keep A Breast Foundation- produced and sold hundreds of silicone rubber “I ’heart’ Boobies” bracelets. Their mission “is to eradicate breast cancer for future generations. We provide support programs for young people impacted by cancer and educate people about prevention, early detection, and cancer-causing toxins in our everyday environment.”
The use of a transparent double-entendre to promote KAB’s message was wildly popular. They became a fashion statement much like the yellow LiveStrong bracelets they resembled.
Because of the sexual allusion the bracelets were soon banned in many places; especially schools. In marched septuagenarian breast cancer survivors applauding the attention a cure for the disease that caused them so much suffering had garnered. Some bans were rescinded, but other groups continued to insist their interpretation of the bracelets as sexual statements trumped anyone else’s opinion.
Rebecca Watson (of Elevatorgate fame) has recently derided the I ’heart’ Boobies statement as a example of sexual harassment. She describes it as an example of an egregiously bad add on to an otherwise unacceptable calendar. People who wear bracelets with the ” I ’heart’ Boobies” statement are obvious “Giant S**theads”.
“ [The calendar] comes with a “Geeks ’heart’ Boobies” bracelet, so you can tell everyone you meet what a giant s**thead you are without saying a single word.” – Rebecca Watson (yeah I censored the language for her in the quote)
Despite Watson’s desire to re-frame the message as one of harassment most people have seen it as a tremendously positive, and fun, way of addressing a terrible disease of women. In fact the idea of fun, and sexy, ways of addressing other women’s issues has undoubtedly gotten a boost from the I ’heart’ Boobies bracelet campaign.
In an obvious parallel to the Bracelet’s message Jennifer McCreight loosely organized an “event” she dubbed “Boobquake” that took place on 26 April 2010. An Iranian cleric had suggested that too many women showing cleavage resulted in earthquakes. McCreight encouraged women to show their cleavage at a specified time to try and stimulate an earthquake. Though a significant earthquake (6.5) was registered in Taiwan on the day of the event it came to early to be a product of the cleavage show.
McCreight succeded in getting hundreds of women, and even more men apparently, talking about how women are talked about. And boobies…people talked a lot about boobies in response to boobquake.
There was a counter event to McCreight’s Boobquake called Brainquake. In it women were supposed to show off their awards, cv’s and degrees. The organizers of Brainquake thought that McCreight’s Boobquake was too sexualized and provocative. I would never of even heard about Brainquake if I was not searching the internets trying to find the exact date of McCreight’s event.
Slutwalks, though less directly influenced by the I ’heart’ boobies campaign, were at least encouraged by the wild popularity of the KAB foundations double entendre. In enlightened communities all over women dressed provocatively, and carried signs that said things like:
“No means No,
Yes means Yes”.
Interestingly, many of the slutwalks helped to nudge universities into re-defining their institutional approach to rape prevention. People were talking about women’s rights, and things were being done to protect those rights.
Interest in any of these issues is not an intrinsic result of being an atheist. I have opinions, and this is my blog so I can express them at will, but I express them only as a result of my own personal idealism. I am an atheist, and I sometimes talk about that as well.
So when I suggest that you support the advancement of women’s health issues I appeal to the fact that you have mothers, sisters, daughters, and lovers who would be healthier if these issues were addressed.
When I suggest that you demand that universities regularly re-think their rape prevention strategies until there are no more rapes on their campuses I suggest it because women should feel safe on campus. When I prod a bit more and suggest that professors and other employees of universities have an enhanced ability to make a difference in the safety of the women on their campuses I don’t suggest that only atheist professors pay attention to this issue.
I do not make any of these suggestions because I am an atheist.
Of course…it doesn’t hurt that I’m an atheist.