Jen McCreight quits (2)
I've been agnostic, so to speak, about "Atheism Plus". It seemed like an attempt to tie atheism to a laundry list of social causes which are mostly laudable but have nothing inherently to do with atheism. Harmless enough, but not particularly interesting or necessary.
Then this happened.
I've been reading Jen McCreight on and off for a couple of years. Besides consistently having an interesting take on things, she always seemed like a pleasant, upbeat person. And she was, of course, the instigator of "boobquake", a take-down of Islamotard cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi which became a sterling example of combating religion via mockery.
This should be a wake-up call. If someone as self-confident and as valuable to the movement as McCreight can be hounded out of the blogosphere by sexist harassment, then we have a deadly-serious problem.
Yet I've seen surprisingly little reaction on atheist blogs, and some writers seem determined to minimize or deny the issue. For example, I've seen several comments suggesting that McCreight simply got tired or burnt out or needed a break. This can't be an honest misunderstanding; it's wilful blindness worthy of a global-warming denialist. From McCreight's farewell post:
Instead of feeling gleeful anticipation when writing up a post, I feel nothing but dread. There’s a group of people out there (google the ironic term FtBullies to find them) devoted to hating me, my friends, and even people I’m just vaguely associated with. I can no longer write anything without my words getting twisted, misrepresented, and quotemined. I wake up every morning to abusive comments, tweets, and emails about how I’m a slut, prude, ugly, fat, feminazi, retard, bitch, and cunt (just to name a few). If I block people who are twisting my words or sending verbal abuse, I receive an even larger wave of nonsensical hate about how I’m a slut, prude, feminazi, retard, bitch, cunt who hates freedom of speech (because the Constitution forces me to listen to people on Twitter). This morning I had to delete dozens of comments of people imitating my identity making graphic, lewd, degrading sexual comments about my personal life. In the past, multiple people have threatened to contact my employer with “evidence” that I’m a bad scientist (because I’m a feminist) to try to destroy my job. I’m constantly worried that the abuse will soon spread to my loved ones. I just can’t take it anymore.
I've seen other women bloggers describe similar abuse, especially since taking sides in the conference-harassment fight. I say again: We have a deadly-serious problem here, and anyone who tries to deny or minimize it is part of that problem. This is sinking to the enemy's level; this is atheists acting like Limbaugh vomiting filth at Sandra Fluke. I had hoped and believed that the world of atheism would be at least relatively free of such asshole behavior, but since it turns out that mere lack of belief in deities is not, in fact, a guarantee of human decency, we need to figure out what to do about this.
It's practically impossible to control anyone's behavior on the internet (and on the whole, for obvious reasons, that's a good thing). But at a bare minimum, we need to establish a community norm -- to the extent that atheism is a "community" -- that harassment is not tolerated behavior. Identifiable harassers need to be named, shamed, shunned, and excluded. People with technical knowledge should make their expertise available to help trace and identify anonymous harassers. Above all, no one should be trying to justify such behavior or shrug it off as trivial. Conference organizers have begun taking steps to squelch the problem of harassment at their venues. Doing so in the blogosphere is going to be far more difficult, but there's no excuse for not doing what we can -- before we lose any more good people.
How will we know when we've succeeded? When the atheist blogosphere is a safe enough space that McCreight feels comfortable blogging again.