So, I’m moved to blog for the first time in ages by something Rebecca Watson said in this post. It’s about a 15-year-old girl who posted a picture of herself (holding a Carl Sagan book) in the Reddit atheist community and–unsurprisingly to anyone who’s ever been female on the internet, or paid the least bit of attention to someone who has–was met with a gigantic fucking comment thread full of everything from uncomplicated remarks on her hotness to not-so-veiled rape threats. You should read Watson’s whole post, but here’s the part that really inspired me:
I’ll also add a quick note for those of you (not yet in the comments below, but elsewhere) who cry, “So what! Terrible people are everywhere! It’s the Internet!” You? You are awful, too. R/atheism is a huge community of atheists, and here is an example of a young woman attempting to join it, to get more involved, who is sexualized and mocked for being a girl. Why would she ever want to be a part of any atheist community, if that’s how she’s treated? The next time you look around your atheist events and wonder where all the women are, think of this and know that there are at least some of us who aren’t willing to just accept this culture without trying to change it.
I love that “you are awful, too” bit so much, I’d like to expand on it.
First, to anyone who would dismiss these men’s behavior as the consequence of unbelief, as though [your religion here] automatically bestows upon its practitioners a deep and abiding respect for women: you are awful, too. Because in fact, it’s the consequence of a sexist culture, in which any time a woman shows her face or opens her mouth in public, whatever point she wanted to make stands to be delayed by a referendum on her fuckability. Pretending that some people, your people, good people, live entirely apart from that culture just means you don’t want to do your part to change it.
Similarly, if you’re an atheist whose first response to something like this is, “Don’t blame atheists! Most of us aren’t assholes!” you are awful, too. You’re right–most of us aren’t! And that has nothing to do with the fact that this is happening on an atheist forum–not to mention at atheist conferences–and yet, instead of wondering, “How might I help clean house in this community I care about, which I do not wish to see filled with assholes?” your first instinct is to explain to women why they’re wrong.
Whether there is a sexism problem within the atheist community is really not up for debate. People affected by it have been telling you and telling you and telling you there is a problem. So when you say, “Sexism is not a problem for/by/about atheists,” those of us who have direct experience with sexism hear, “I like things fine the way they are and thus would rather spend my time antagonizing the people who say they’re hurt than the people causing the pain.” And we conclude that you are awful.
Finally, if your solution to sexist abuse on the internet is, “Just don’t let anyone know your gender, or see a picture of you, or ever mention where you live” (as one of the first commenters on Watson’s post suggested), you are so fucking awful, I can’t even. It’s not just that you’re putting all the onus on the targets of hatred to change so that bullies won’t have to, or that you’re conveniently ignoring situations, in almost 20fucking12, where a woman might want to have her picture and contact info on the internet for, I dunno, business reasons? For example? And it’s not even that you’re representing yourself as someone who’s clearly more internet-savvy than the lady blogger in question, but you apparently don’t realize that a highly motivated person can pretty easily discover the identity behind a pseudonym. No, it’s that you’re arguing that abuse of women online would solve itself if only women disappeared from the internet.
Oh, of course that’s not what you’re saying! I know, I know. In the scenario you describe, sexist shitheads would know that there were still women out there–it wouldn’t be as though around half the human race had just vanished!–but they wouldn’t know which specific screen names deserved to have their hotness assessed, their gender mocked, their ideas dismissed, and their bodies threatened. So they wouldn’t even need to bother with all that! PROBLEM SOLVED YOU’RE WELCOME.
Know what, dude who thinks this? You’re probably the awfulest. That’s all.