Don’t make apologetics if you don’t want to be called an apologist

[Content note: links to material discussing rape culture, victim blaming, rape myths, sexual harassment]

There’s a fellow over at Jason Thibeault’s blog (Lousy Canuck on FreeThoughtBlogs) who haz a sad because he felt singled out by mention of how nice it might be to have an Index of Rape-Apologist Claims for easy reference. This was Jason’s response to alandeon2’s plaint that he’s “certainly not a “rape apologist”“:

If you tried to justify literal interpretations of a 6000-year-old Earth, I’d call you a religious apologist. If you try to justify a system that lets people get away with rape by suggesting that it’s not rape if she’s drunk and it’s all her fault for being drunk anyway, I’m going to call you a rape apologist.

Don’t make apologetics for the rape culture we live in if you don’t want to be called a rape apologist.

Jason’s comment above is #105 on his post documenting a timeline of sexual harassment accusations in the skeptical and secular communities since May 2012, which is part of the continuing sexism and misogyny fallout in those communities, ever since Rebecca Watson said “Guys, don’t do that”, in case you weren’t already aware that that particular cyberstorm is still raging on.


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About tigtog

tigtog blogs a lot elsewhere, but here on Feministe she mostly does the tech support and feeds the giraffe. tigtog tweets in irregular flurries @vivsmythe.
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46 Responses to Don’t make apologetics if you don’t want to be called an apologist

  1. TomSims says:

    @tigtog

    Very interesting subject. I’ve read a lot on line about rape and sexual harassment in the atheist movement. I wonder why that is? I wonder why there is an “Atheist Movement.” I wonder why so much on line is a movement of some kind. I like to think of myself as a free thinker, but there most likely is a “Free Thinkers ” movement out there somewhere. And speaking of movements, I now find it necessary to make a bowel movement. Thank you and have a nice day.

    • XtinaS says:

      …this must be spam.

    • I’ve read a lot on line about rape and sexual harassment in the atheist movement. I wonder why that is?

      Because they have the vertebrae to talk about it as of late? Also, because like every other religious/anti-religious movement, its leaders spout misogyny like a neverending douchefountain?

    • Donna L says:

      Tom, you told me way more than I ever needed or wanted to know about your activities.

    • tigtog says:

      I wonder why there is an “Atheist Movement.”

      Because unbelievers in societies which highly privilege religious affiliations (such as the USA despite its officially secular laws) want to protect themselves against the creep of theocracy into everyday life? And organise gatherings for spending time with others who also want to escape the pervasive religiosity in their neighborhoods and workplaces and entertainments and often families too?

      Societies where religion is treated with less conspicuous deference tend to not have such highly active atheist/secular organisations, because there’s plenty of mundane places/events where religiosity simply doesn’t feature at all.

      I wonder why so much on line is a movement of some kind.

      It’s an over-used word, I agree. The internet allows a meeting of minds between people who are separated by vast distances, and for anybody who’s the only atheist in town or the only lesbian in town or the only [insert non-normative identity] in town, being able to communicate with like-minded people online is hugely important, and it’s tempting to think of a forum one has found to be accepting/affirming/supportive as the vanguard of a movement for change. Some forums are attached to genuinely activist organisations, but they’re definitely the minority.

      I like to think of myself as a free thinker, but there most likely is a “Free Thinkers ” movement out there somewhere.

      Free Thinker activists tend to be rolled up into the secular/humanist or secular-humanist movements.

    • Fat Steve says:

      speaking of movements, I now find it necessary to make a bowel movement. Thank you and have a nice day.

      I pray that you will post soon after as most of your posts tend to be made when you are full of it.

  2. Ms. Kristen J. says:

    Good grief. I had no idea of the level of harassment/sexual assault in the organized skeptic community. I had heard from someone years ago that it was not a safe place for women when I mentioned being curious about their conferences. The linked to suicide note was heartbreaking.

    What struck me as unintentionally ironic about Rape Apologist over in that thread is how someone who I presume is invested in the idea of reason and evidence so thoroughly fails to use either of those things when critiquing something he disagrees with.

    His long list of “questions” about the initial rape claim are easily answered by 101-level reading about how rapes are prosecuted – if at all, and the different ways in which individual people react to being raped – including potentially RTS. But instead of thinking carefully and rationally about the subject, he defaults into *she must be lying.* And in sharing with everyone his genius deduction that *she must be lying* wraps himself in the myth of his superior reasoning/knowledge as firmly as I have seen others wrap themselves in their religion.

    • Kungfulola says:

      This is why I don’t believe for a second that douchebaggery can be pinned on religiosity. It is within the capacity of all humans to be self-serving, intellectually lazy, and disingenuous. Religion just provides a more elaborate display case for these qualities.

      • miga says:

        Agreed. Douchebag knows no color, creed, or continent. Douchebag is forever (cue bond song knock-off)

      • DannyChameleon says:

        This is why I don’t believe for a second that douchebaggery can be pinned on religiosity.

        I used to believe that. I think it is a very easy belief to fall into. If one is raised religious, it is especially easy to believe it is responsible for all of the ills of society.

    • tigtog says:

      I had no idea of the level of harassment/sexual assault in the organized skeptic community. I had heard from someone years ago that it was not a safe place for women when I mentioned being curious about their conferences.

      I think skeptical/secular women have always been more willing to name it for what it is to each other at least, and in recent years more and more women speakers in the community have gone public.

      I’m still unconvinced that there’s a higher number of predators in organised skepticism/secularism than in any other community, although there’s definitely a stronger cadre of denialists. I speculate that this is because they’re deeply attached to their own sense of ethical/logical purity, and the idea that they could have been just not noticing/realising for years and years and years is one that they are strongly resisting. There is a parallel problem with racial biases within the community regarding who gets stage time etc which Crommunist has frequently written about (he ran out of time for blogging a few months ago, but the archive on FTB remains).

      • amblingalong says:

        Exactly. By the same token, I don’t really think there’s a higher level of racism in the feminist community then the rest of society; I just think there are more people willing to call it out, and more forums for discussion.

      • tigtog says:

        There may not be a higher level of racism in the feminist community than the rest of society, but it’s fairly obvious that it’s not nearly a lower enough level of racism in the feminist community. Because feminists too like to think of ourselves as having raised consciousnesses on the issue of racism amongst other ‘isms, we too tend to often resist accepting that we have overlooked incidents among ourselves, and sometimes when we do accept it about one particular incident we don’t then fully incorporate and synthesise that knowledge into our larger worldview and habits of thought and action.

        I’ve certainly fallen far short in the past of the ideal ally whom I want to think I can be, and and some of that past is more recent than I’m comfortable thinking about. But it is something I need to think harder about rather than dissociate from, because if I don’t then in the future I’ll fall just as short again, and I want to do better than that.

      • karak says:

        I think both have a sort of “not in my backyard” ideological purity that makes them weirdly… blanked-out on these problems.

        Feminists are too advanced to be racists, plus we’re really about women, not race, so racism doesn’t happen and it’s not our problem anyway.

        Same thing with movement atheists–we’re too advanced to be sexist, religious equality is more important than sexism, sexism in a religious problem, therefore, nothing we do is sexist.

      • tigtog says:

        karak, you expressed it much more succinctly than I did. In both cases it’s a pernicious form of Othering, really – “we” are too advanced to do the horrible things that “they” do.

      • pepperedmoth says:

        I think both have a sort of “not in my backyard” ideological purity that makes them weirdly… blanked-out on these problems. . . .

        . . . we’re too advanced to be sexist, religious equality is more important than sexism, sexism in a religious problem, therefore, nothing we do is sexist.

        Karak, I think that’s just spot-on. I see this in all sorts of ideological communities. I’m in a leftist religious community (liberal Quakers), and we tend to do this with classism and trans issues, especially (I’m sure we do it with others, too, but those are just the ones I’ve noticed our community falling down on PARTICULARLY badly).

        Any community that prides itself as being full of Good People seems to have that sort of tendency (like feminists with lots of other isms). Which, if I impute the best possible motives to everyone involved, I can understand even if I can’t excuse it — it’s really painful to be in a social justice movement and then to suddenly realize that it’s busily propagating the same BS you’ve been trying to fight.

        What I’m curious about is why atheism and sexism, in particular? Is it really just because logic has been male-coded and emotions have been female-coded? One would think one would see more racism, too, in that case? Because POC have often been othered as ‘soooooo mystical and spiritual’ or stuff like that?

        I HAVE noticed it a lot, though, mostly because I’ve gotten in a few too many squabbles with atheists who in one breath accuse me of propagating sexism merely by the fact that I’m religious and then in the next breath accuse me, essentially, of being a hysterical woman. Annoying.

        Given my own community’s failures to recognize our own failings I’m CERTAINLY NOT trying to throw stones at the atheist community. Wanted to clarify that. I’m just curious about where it comes from. Other than how, as kungfulola said, “It is within the capacity of all humans to be self-serving, intellectually lazy, and disingenuous.” Trufax. And mebbe that’s all there is to it.

      • Bagelsan says:

        At least things like sexism are agreed (at least in the abstract) to be bad among atheists. That’s still a step up from groups where everyone agrees that women are and should be subservient to men, etc. Sooo… golf clap for the atheist dudes? :p

      • At least things like sexism are agreed (at least in the abstract) to be bad among atheists.

        Sure, “sexism in the abstract” is agreed to be bad, but considering that the leaders of movement atheism outside the blogosphere seem to be quite happy to be sexists anyway, what’s the big difference? Does it matter if one is being dogmatically sexist or revolutionarily sexist? Many things that are commonly understood to be sexist in the feminist movement are hotly contested in the atheist movement, or to be more specific, in the part of the atheist movement that falls outside the overlap with the feminist movement. Is there, for example, a functional difference in the views of Richard Never Mind Mild Pedophilia Dawkins and Pope Never Mind Mild Pedophilia Benedict? Between Richard Never Mind Creepy Stalkers Dawkins and Robin Blurred Lines Are Smexy Thicke?

      • Bagelsan says:

        I think that atheism is less top-down than, say, Catholicism, so the opinions of Richard Dawkins and those of the Pope carry different weight among people who identify as atheist or Catholic. Sexism is not intrinsic to atheism as it is to Catholicism; that’s a pretty major difference. Clearly being an atheist is not protective against sexism, but at least it’s not causative of sexism.

      • Agreed, but your statement that

        At least things like sexism are agreed (at least in the abstract) to be bad among atheists.

        and my point was that the leadership of “offline” atheism at least does not agree on sexism’s ill effects except in the most abstract and “is sexism bad? yes” common denominator. I suppose I didn’t make it very clearly.

      • It’s also why I pointed to the views of Dawkins and Benedict, as opposed to the effects of those views, which are very different, because Dawkins and Benedict have (had) very different levels of power.

      • Bagelsan says:

        I’m certainly not arguing that Dawkins isn’t sexist (and other -ist) to the max! He is. But I think that the atheist movement has a different, and non-sexist, set of ideals than, say, Catholicism* does — sexism isn’t necessary to atheism’s existence, there just happen to be a passel of un-self-reflective sexist douchebags in the movement, like there are virtually everywhere. I think that aiming for equal treatment, and failing, is still slightly better than not even giving a shit about inequality. Not loads better, but enough that I’m comfortable being associated with atheism (and feminism, etc.) despite its numerous fails in a way that I’m not comfortable with Catholicism.

        *to pick on one of many religious groups

      • Denise Winters says:

        At least things like sexism are agreed (at least in the abstract) to be bad among atheists. That’s still a step up from groups where everyone agrees that women are and should be subservient to men, etc. Sooo… golf clap for the atheist dudes? :p

        I think it matters some, but not to the point that a golf clap is deserved because at the end of the day a lot of it seems to come down to simply saying something isn’t sexist, and therefore claiming less sexism. For instance, I saw a video over on The Friendly Atheist where this group was making fun of the preacher who went off on a tirade about how women should stay at home and cook gourmet meals for their husband (as well as how he carries his wife around every morning to remind her who’s boss, because yeah…..), and then one of the guys making fun referred to one of the women in the preacher’s audience as a bitch. It is easy to see what the preacher is speaking is complete sexism, but then calling a woman in the presumed audience a bitch while speaking out against his sexism is perfectly fine. There’s also the subset of people who are quick to cry Evolutionary Psychology (TM) in order to justify sexist assumptions or practices. It can get to the point where it is as set in as religious arguments of “women’s natural roles” (though I have not seen it as being quite as pervasive). I think the problem is that “abstract” tends to leave a lot of room for sexism that is dismissed as not really being sexism.

      • KittySnide says:

        At least things like sexism are agreed (at least in the abstract) to be bad among atheists. That’s still a step up from groups where everyone agrees that women are and should be subservient to men, etc. Sooo… golf clap for the atheist dudes? :p

        This doesn’t make sense, though. Sexist Christian people still insist that sexism is bad and that they aren’t sexist. If that was the benchmark for “not sexism” I’d call for a round of golf claps for a lot of the people who went to my evangelical alma mater.
        The dudes (and ladies!) who earnestly told me that I should be content to submit to my future husband in “all things”, as he would be the “high priest of the home”, also were very adamant that they weren’t sexist, and that they believed that men and women were absolutely equal! They just had “different roles”. which of course is crap.
        My bar for “golf clap deserving” is a lot higher than “is against sexism”. because most people say they’re against sexism, and that usually just means I have to work way harder at getting them to recognize sexism when it’s actually there.

      • I’m not sure lip service about “sexism is bad” from men who turn out to be misogynists, harassers and rapists is a whole lot better than the straight-out misogyny from those who think sexism is the nat’ral order of things. At least the latter are easier to spot earlier.

        I sometimes wonder if the atheism of some of these guys is more of a “Wahhh! I’m not given the power and privilege these religious dudes are!” than any actual concern for wider issues that don’t affect their privilege. Racism? Sexism? Homophobia? All the isms one can think of that don’t hit white cis het abled dudes? Not important, it’s much more important that everyone stop having any religion at all … and still, of course, acknowledge the dudely superiority of said white guys.

      • Alara Rogers says:

        Actually I see a big difference between Richard Dawkins’ “mild pedophilia isn’t bad” and the Pope’s. Richard Dawkins says “Mild pedophilia happened to me and it wasn’t that bad.” The Pope says (or said, not sure about the stance of the current pope) “Mild pedophilia is being inflicted by guys who work for me and it isn’t that bad.”

        I can forgive Dawkins. He’s being an asshat and generalizing his experiences into what Should Be True for everyone. But he’s a victim of molestation who’s engaging in one of the classic mental defenses, the Honestly It Was No Big Deal defense, to protect himself against psychological damage. The only reason this is even a problem is that the man has a megaphone and apparently too little understanding of human psychology to recognize that his conscious subjective feelings on the matter are a. part of a defense and b. not shared by all or even most humans that endured what he did.

        Dawkins is doing damage because he’s a loudmouth with a soapbox and therefore he can project his personal issues outward, but they are, in fact, his personal issues, and he has the right to have an opinion about sexual molestation, having been a victim (he doesn’t have the right to speak for all victims just because he’s a victim, and that’s why he’s doing damage, but he certainly has the right to express his feelings about what *he* suffered.) The Pope was covering up for evil men who worked for the Catholic Church out of the evil desire to maintain the power and supremacy of the organization at the expense of innocent children. Yeah, the Pope is a *lot* worse. Even if Dawkins *did* have the level of influence the Pope does, the fact that Dawkins is reacting out of being a victim himself and the Pope was reacting to protect a powerful organization at the expense of the powerless means that the Pope would have been a lot worse.

    • shfree says:

      Honestly, I can’t bring myself to look at all that shit, it is just too infuriating the last time I went. I think it is because so many of them are focused on debating every. last. thing., that all matters have to be divorced from emotion because pure reason IS superior, (and coincidentally men seem to get to determine what pure reason IS) that lived experience gets to be dismissed as trivial to the large, theoretical discussion. Because that is the most important thing, the large, theoretical discussion. Well, unless a man’s reputation is on the line, then screw the large theoretical debate, they must go over her account with a fucking fine toothed comb, because they must debate. every. last. thing. And gaaaaaaah.

      It reminds me of when I got into it with a classmate about logic vs. rhetoric in a philosophy class. I think it took him thirty seconds to hit Godwin.

      • victoria says:

        …that all matters have to be divorced from emotion because pure reason IS superior, (and coincidentally men seem to get to determine what pure reason IS) that lived experience gets to be dismissed as trivial to the large, theoretical discussion.

        Funny how reason and logic are held to be superior over emotion and intuition, and also happen to be socially coded as “masculine” traits.

      • Donna L says:

        Yeah, well, when a lot of men claim that men aren’t emotional, they seem to forget that anger is an emotion too.

      • moviemaedchen says:

        Bingo. This is why I am slightly skeptical of the claim made above that atheism/the atheist movement is never ever causative of sexism. Because when an implicit or seeming foundational principle* of a movement riddled with sexism just so happens to perfectly mirror an already-existent sexist social hierarchy that privileges A over B because A is deemed masculine and B feminine? I doubt you can so easily separate that from the dynamics of the movement itself. (It also treads a bit close to the No True Scotsman line for my comfort.)

        *(The principle in question being, roughly, not that rationality and logic are good or necessary, but that they are definitively better than anything irr-/non-rational, illogical, emotional, lived experience, etc.)

      • EG says:

        atheism/the atheist movement

        The principles you cite may be foundational to the current atheist movement as it constructs itself, but no, they are not foundational to atheism. The only principle of atheism is not believing in any gods.

      • Yeah, there’s a difference between atheism and the atheist movement, and the difference is the happy support of isms vs EG’s single principle. It’s also 99% of why Val, a lifelong atheist, breaks out in hives of contact embarrassment whenever anyone mentions movement atheism around her, and she’s not the only atheist I know who does that by a long shot.

      • moviemaedchen says:

        Er, I get that. I worded my post badly – I should have written out ‘atheism as constructed by the current movement’ – because I do see, in the way it gets informally defined there, a strong dose of “there is no god and belief in god is irrational and the irrational is totally bad! And if you’re an atheist you have to agree with this because it’s Logic!” Or in other words what I see being called just “atheism” in the current movement is less simply “belief in no god” than something more akin to “belief in no god Because such belief is irrational and just emotional and therefore is to be avoided, since only Logic can deliver anything of value.” Which does reflect the tendency to devalue things like emotion, but yeah of course isn’t part of the strict definition of atheism as such. Which all got condensed into a ‘/’ in my brief time to write a comment. I should have waited to be more clear.

      • Willemina says:

        “there is no god and belief in god is irrational and the irrational is totally bad! And if you’re an atheist you have to agree with this because it’s Logic!”

        The jump-across-the-table-frothing-at-the-mouth kind of basis for membership is what drove me out of the whole movement or community thing. That aspect of Atheism isn’t limited to the apologists for various social -isms and it’s pretty downright frightening at times. I got tired of being relabeled as “really an agnostic,” or “weak atheist,” I don’t believe and that’s good enough for me.

        I also get pissed that emotion still gets thrown in to “irrational.” We have feelings for a reason, and not all of them are so suspect as to undermine an entire chain of action.

      • Willemina – back in the day when I was agnostic-almost-atheist that sort of thing put me right off, too. I subscribed briefly to the Australian Sceptics’ magazine, but dropped it pretty fast. It seemed just too mean-spirited.

        It also seems the AssholeAtheists™ have a problem with anyone finding comfort or happiness in anythingotherthanatheism. Because that’s weak and sheep-like and irrational and probably girly, too.

        Gah, I’d better stop ranting there or it’ll turn into a wall o’ text and get offensive.

      • Forgot to add – what the “I iz totes rational” crew forget is that we can’t function without emotions. We can’t make even trivial decisions without them.

        Plus, of course, it’s sheerest hypocrisy, because as pointed out upthread, emotions coded as masculine are GOOD and RATIONAL; it’s the ones with girl cooties that aren’t.

      • Alara Rogers says:

        Word, Donna. The whole “men are logical and rational, except that men are justified in killing people when they get really mad and also in fucking people when they really want to regardless of how the other person feels because men get overwhelmed by anger and lust and everyone should just accommodate this” makes me see red. You cannot have it both ways.

        Fortunately for me I can play that game. I am probably considerably more disconnected from emotion than the average human man; I’m a genius with Aspergers who idolized Mr. Spock as a child and I *still* define most of my own emotional states as fluxes of chemicals that are inherently meaningless, and I can out-rationalize most people on this planet. So when I get into debates with these people, I am more than willing to pull the “You’re only saying such ignorant, irrational things because you don’t understand SCIENCE” shit on *them.* And I’m actually better at it than they are because, unlike them, I actually *do* understand science. For instance, I understand that evolutionary theory of human psychology doesn’t actually say the majority of the things that so-called proponents say it says (when you try to argue a point about human behavior based on a. human behavior selected from a specific culture b. human behavior selected from a specific time period c. human behavior as it’s interpreted by people with an obvious bias d. human behavior as opposed to primate behavior when the evidence suggests that the primates in question are biologically similar enough to human that there is no particularly good reason to assume the strategy adopted by the primates wouldn’t have worked for humans, you’re inherently doing bad science because you’re cutting out most of the useful data points.)

        Of course, it’s probably pointless because no matter how well you can out-argue the trolls, they just come back with the *exact* same argument you shot down and no acknowledgement that you’ve cut their argument to bits. But I like to think that, by debating trolls with cold, calm rationality and actual facts, I’m providing ammunition to others on my side and swaying the opinion of non-trolls who might have been kind of leaning toward the troll perspective because they’d never really been exposed to a rational argument expressing why that perspective is stupid.

        Also, it’s fun. I suppose I can sometimes be something of a reverse troll; they enjoy coming into other people’s spaces and stirring shit up, I enjoy stirring *them* up when they invade my spaces.

        (I’ve been known to take it to some devil’s advocate level of extremes, I admit. One time I argued against Steven Pinker’s argument that men do art in order to woo women, and therefore women don’t have an evolutionary imperative to create art, by using that idea to argue that men *have* no inherent artistic sense or talent and are just driven by the desire to get laid, and only women actually have a true aesthetic appreciation of art, therefore women who choose to create art are purer artists driven solely by the love of the work, as opposed to men who just want sex out of it. It was bullshit and I admitted as I was making the argument that it was bullshit; it was a reductio ad absurdum of Pinker’s argument where I basically said “if you accept Pinker’s argument you also have to accept that only women can be true artists or appreciators of art,” and I was making it clear that my point was to take down Pinker and not to seriously argue that men are incapable of artistic appreciation… but yeah, it was kind of an extreme and sort of trollish in itself. :-))

        Oddly enough, men who think they are hyperrationalists don’t like it when you sneer at them, use your superior knowledge of a scientific subject and greater rhetorical ability to club their argument over the head, and call them hysterical, irrational and ignorant. I wonder why not? :-)

      • AnthroBabe says:

        Trigger warnings about being a transgender person and harsh criticism.

        Bingo deux! These men can be so full of themselves and their “superior” intellectual abilities (look at me, not succumbing to religion!) that they forget that their actions and words hurt people. I know from 1st hand interaction. My group discussed (on Facebook, yes I know) Chelsea Manning’s situation. Flying Spaghetti Monster, but they were fucking clueless, ignorant, and downright sexist assholes about her desire to be called a woman. Chelsea doing this for a publicity stunt? Check. Taxpaying men not wanting “their” money going for her hormones? Check. This was deemed an elective thing and not “life threatening” (this one got me the most)? Check. I wrote a comment about how anyone who was a transgender person would NOT be comfortable with the group. I believe I was..um..ignored.

  3. karak says:

    I don’t know this Jason Thibeault guy at all, but looking through his blog shows me that he seems to be a great skeptical ally of all kinds.

    It makes me weirdly happy to see skeptic and what seems to be a white male skeptic, totally being a fucking awesome ally. Especially because I’m not atheist, skeptic, or agnostic and this reminds me that people don’t have to be clones of me to be a great ally.

    • moviemaedchen says:

      This.

      • Fat Steve says:

        I am at least two of those things (male and atheist,) but I too was impressed with his blog. I don’t trust the ‘atheist movement’ because I don’t put too much faith in any large organizations. However, I think it’s good that people in this so-called movement like PZ Myers and Mr. Thibeault are adding their voices to the female skeptics who’ve been saying things like this for years, as I do know quite a few women who do really get value out of being part of this movement (to the extent of attending skeptic/atheist events and gatherings.)

  4. anna says:

    So is there going to be an index of rape apologist claims? That would be great.

    (Why don’t I make one? Don’t have the time or the expertise.)

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