goddamn atheist internet wars

There was a time in my life where I was very heavily invested in the secular/atheist corner of the blogging world.

It was many years ago now, back in my early days of undergrad (so, 2007/2008), so it was a very different world then than it is now, though many of the big names remain the same. I was always primarily a lurker–at the time, I had come to my lack of belief only very, very recently, and I was still figuring out where I fit in the grand scheme of things. What did I believe?

In my offline life, I worked through a lot of this through my involvement with Purdue Non-Theists, a group that couldn’t have been founded at a better time for me, and which constituted a significant part of my [sadly, rather meager] social life at the time. But as lovely as the meetings and the people I met there were, I’ve always taken a rather scholarly approach towards working through big ideas and conflicts in my life, which means lots of reading and writing and thinking.  There were books (on non-belief, on moral philosophy), of course, and a great deal of private journaling, but a lot of the reading material came from places like Greta Christina’s blog (which, of course, has since moved to Freethought Blogs) and Daylight Atheism. Hell, there even used to be a blog carnival, remember those things?

These days, I still follow the goings-on of much of that corner of the internet, but I’ve backed away a good deal. In particular, I have increasingly tried (though I frequently fail) to avoid getting emotionally invested in the in-fighting  that goes on between blogs/different factions of “the movement”. Not because I don’t believe those fights are important in certain ways, or even because I don’t have opinions–I most certainly do–but because I honestly don’t have the stomach/the emotional bandwidth to handle it. In particular, the fights about atheism and feminism have caused me to tear my hair out/facepalm/moan in despair… more times than I’d care to admit.

If you need an explanation on what I’m talking about… well, #1, lucky you, but secondly, go check out this or this or use the google machine, because I don’t have it in me to do a full recap. Basically, some women atheists had the balls to start saying things like “hey, the organized skeptic community is kind of a boys club, and maybe we should talk about why that is/how we can fix it”… and lots of people started losing their shit over it.

And this, over time, snowballed into a level of awfulness that has, at this point, generated orders of magnitude more ugliness than any of the other disagreements within the world of secular blogging.  And by ugliness, I mean a lot more than polemic blog posts–I mean harassment campaigns including rape and death threats, I mean whole blogs devoted to it and wars declared on entire blog networks. I mean Jen McCreight, (who, long before she was the writer of Blag Hag, I knew as co-founder and president of Purdue Non-Theists, a fellow 2010 Purdue biology grad, and for a year, as a friend in my apartment building), has been all but completely chased off the internet and out of the secular community because she couldn’t handle the stress of this horseshit on top of the stress of grad school… and she’s still being talked about and harassed.

I started writing about this today, not because I intend to enter the fray myself, draw traffic, or make this a focus of my blog… but because a number of bloggers who I follow are at the Women in Secularism conference this weekend, and a new episode of controversy has erupted over the opening talk there.  And–though I tried to have the self-control to not get involved–just a brief glance at the comment section on any of those pieces is enough to see that things remain as ugly as ever.

And it’s all so stupid… we’re seriously name calling and raging at each other because in a world of ugliness that includes fucking rape threats, some poor, put-upon men can’t handle the harshness of the phrase “shut-up and listen” being aimed in their direction. Are you fucking kidding me?


And it makes me sick. It makes me want to delete all the remotely atheism-related blog feeds from my feed reader and start pretending that that corner of the internet doesn’t exist.  I’m just so angry that we’re still fighting about this, so tired of giving a fuck about various entities personal vendettas towards one another, so exhausted simply watching my feed reader fill up with detailed play-by-plays of the latest round of youtube and twitter battles.

I won’t do that, because many of those blogs discuss a variety of issues that are all important to me, and because so long as I’m reading anything with even a remotely feminist message on the internet (which I have no choice but to do, #1: because the War on Women is a thing, and I care about US politics and #2: because I care about how feminism/misogyny/gender-issues affect relationships and personal lives, and I want to read about and discuss them), I know I won’t ever be free of this particular brand of nonsense.

I’m also not backing away completely because, though the feminism-in-secularism battle is in some ways its own brand of insanity… in reality it is part of larger phenomena. To be a woman on the internet with any significant following who dares to have opinions is to risk misogyny-laced threats. To be a woman in any group that is historically considered a boys club–atheists, geeks/nerds, etc–and be willing to talk about that is to risk a backlash. And most importantly, being female, in any country or culture, still makes you a second-class citizen in very tangible ways. Yes, that is much less true now than it was just 20 or 50 or 100 years ago, and yes, I live in one of the best possible places to be a woman in 2013. But this is still reality, and it’s still important, and I still have two X-chromosomes and a vagina, so this is my fight too.

On a day-to-day level, I have chosen not to make the place of women in secularism my fight. And in general, though I post articles and petitions with feminist messages/regarding feminist causes to my personal facebook feed and discuss those issues with people in my real life, I have chosen, thus far, not to make myself a significant player in these battles in the world of blogging. I’ve chosen these things because my heart is just not in it enough to make it worth the personal/emotional toll I know it takes to write about these things day in and day out. My heart isn’t even in it enough to wade into the comment section on these things 95% of the time.

But as much as I’ve backed off, as much as I do not give enough of a fuck about what any given individual personally thinks about PZ Myers or Rebecca Watson or Freethought Blogs to waste my Sunday afternoon debating trolls*… I appreciate those of you that do, even when you do it differently than I would choose to were I in your position. I appreciate that despite the backlash, there are people out there willing to fight this particular stupid tiny fragment of the stomach-churning fight for basic respect of women and women’s opinions that I really fucking wish was fucking over already.

And I guess I just wanted to say… thanks.  For dealing with the stupid bullshit when most of us can’t.

*seriously kids, I’m fine with some discussion here, but if you want really want to debate the nitty-gritty of the Women in Secularism conference mess, please go do it on PZ’s blog or Rebecca’s or whatever. I’m not in this to defend every individual thing that every feminist secularist blogger/speaker has ever said or done, I’m only taking sides in the broader sense of thanking people for giving a damn about my rights and opinions as a female. Also, disagree with me if you like, but if you are an asshole, I will delete your comment.


  1. I love reading your blog, Keely. I feel like every time I read a post, I learn something new and awesome about you. While it doesn’t surprise me that you’re an atheist, the last time we discussed religion, you were firmly in the Catholic camp still. Also, I’m fascinated by the fact that you belonged to a non-secular club. Despite my ridiculously early decision to be agnostic, and then atheist (at like 14, lol), I’ve never really been involved in the atheism/non-secular community in any way. Beyond the realm of my immediate family (who are all agnostic or atheist), it’s not something I go out of my way to discuss or share with others. Probably because I got a LOT OF SHIT for being an atheist at VHS, and I barely confided that secret to anyone. And I had some people I considered friends cut me to the quick with comments about my supposed lack of morality that still sting today.

    The anti-women sentiment in the atheism commuity isn’t news to me either, but I really only learned about it in the last year or so. It’s incredibly frustrating to think that so many highly educated people (read: mostly men) could be so blind when it comes to their own raging misogyny.

    And it’s learning stuff like that that keeps me from even venturing into that community. It’s hard enough being taken seriously as a geek girl–and I don’t even cosplay! I have so much anger and frustration concerning the whole “fake geek girl” meme, I’m not sure I even have it in me to join another fray.

    • Kait…

      There is actually a ton of awesome to be found in secular/atheist communities, just like there are totally awesome and welcoming geek spaces. I think that, in most cases, all this shit is at its most toxic online. Find a GOOD gaming group, or local secular organization, or whatever, and you’ll deal with relatively little of it. I mean when I was there, purdue non-theists was run by mostly women, and it was a reasonably safe space. There was a little bit of the guys-coming-just-to-find-atheist-girls thing, but any behavior that made people uncomfortable was firmly shut down by the group’s leadership.

      I’m not saying it isn’t a real problem, it definitely is. And it’s entirely reasonable to decide that you want no part of fighting for your right to exist in a group that is supposed to be something you are participating in for fun and friendship. I’m just saying I don’t think you need to give up on participating in these spaces… you just might have to be selective about where you go. Also, all the fighting IS making progress on some fronts…. a lot of geeky and secular cons now have solid anti-harassment policies in place to attempt to make them more welcoming places for everyone. It’s only a start, of course, but it is a better state of affairs than we had just a few years ago.

      Also, if you want to chat about religion, you know where to find me. 🙂

  2. It continually amazes me how many onlookers there are to all this drama we’re having. I actually got into the secular movement because of Elevatorgate/the harassment policy wars. I saw it going on last summer and was like, wow, this matters. But for many people, this has made them drop out of the movement or kept them from joining in the first place, and that’s really unfortunate.

    • It definitely matters, and like I said, I appreciate people like you writing about it. But I was around cheering Jen on when she started Blag Hag, and watching what this has done to her over the years (especially given that I knew her personally and knew how much more than me she managed to accomplish in college despite pushing through just as much personal/mental health bullshit as I did), and watching the drama surrounding Freethought Blogs… certainly made me think twice about diving into any of this too deeply.

      Not that I would necessarily be heavily involved either way… to a large degree most of us write about/do activism on the stuff we happen to be drawn to most, and personally I tend to be drawn towards talking about introspective personal bullshit and sometimes science education, at least right now. Maybe that would be different if the atheist blogging world wasn’t mired in this mess currently, but I don’t think so.

      It’s obviously not like the community is hurting for the lack of my blogging about this shit specifically… there are plenty of people doing a better job than I could already. What I could probably be usefully more involved in is stuff like commenting on blogs, going to conferences, and doing organizing stuff… which I would say I’ve definitely shied away from because of this mess. Which, you’re right, is really unfortunate.

      • Yeah, I definitely didn’t mean to suggest that anyone should feel any obligation to participate. I’m glad Jen dropped out because I think it was right for her, and I was REALLY annoyed at all the people being like “NOOOOO WE NEED YOU COME BACK JUST IGNORE THE HATERS.” That’s not the right way to be supportive, and I really hope that if I ever need to drop out, people will not say such things to me.

        • I knew you weren’t suggesting anyone had an obligation to be involved… any sense of conflicted-ness regarding what I should be writing or participating in is totally my own baggage. 😛

          As for the rest of it… totally. I would be sad if you stopped writing, just like I was sad when Jen did, but none of you owe anyone anything with regards to this shit. I fail to see how anyone destroying themselves over this serves anyone but ‘the haters’ in the long run.

        • Yeah. It’s the whole “if you quit then they win” thing. No. First of all, the only situation in which they “win” is if no reasonable voices are left, and one person dropping out won’t do that. Second, they certainly win more if we suffer than if we don’t.

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