A response to the organization Secular Woman

A response to Secular Woman’s article titled “Opportunity and Access in the Freethought Movement” and some assorted reflections on the current state of the online secular community

Secular Woman is an organization, launched in June of 2012, which aims to “amplify the voice, presence, and influence of non-religious woman.” I was initially supportive of the organization and helped promote it because I had hoped that this organization would provide a fresh breath of air to the discussion about women’s issues – something much different than what many have already heard from the likes of radical or gender feminists in the secular community who seem to believe that men, ‘the patriarchy,’ and misogyny are responsible for all or most of the problems women face.

When Secular Woman launched, I interviewed Bridget Gaudette — one the organization’s founders, formerly the group’s Vice President of Outreach (she has since resigned — who had said that the group wasn’t launched because of discussion of sexism and sexual harassment [which was, at the time, and perhaps still is, an ongoing theme of discussion in the online secular community]. The group, as it seemed, was going to focus on attracting more women to the secular movement, but was not going to blame men or ‘the patriarchy’ for the problems women face.

Fast forwarding to Feburary of 2013, Secular Woman has published a piece titled “Opportunity and Access in the Freethought Movement” which postulates that sexism, misogyny, male privilege  and ‘the patriarchy’ are responsible for the lack of participation of women in the secular community. In order to overcome the obstacles Secular Woman believes women are facing, they postulate that women should have 60% of leadership roles at all levels of national/regional/local organizations (how’s that for equality?), “be clear and vocal that women and feminist thought are rational,” and recommend that secular organizations “do not tolerate anti-woman rhetoric in [their] presence; speak out against it, immediately, directly, and without equivocation” among other concerns.

Organizations which do not adhere to the recommendations of Secular Woman, as it seems from the end of their article, are similar to those who oppose the Civil Rights Act of 1957,

The decisions you make now for yourself and your organizations are the ones that you will be looking back on in 30 years. Don’t be Strom Thurmond opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Be on the right side of history.

What evidence does Secular Woman put forth to support the idea that women are at such a disadvantage in the secular community?

In a section of the article titled “Reality Women Face in the Secular Movement,” Secular Woman argues that particular quotes, memes, and sentiments “represent some of the vitriol directed at women” and are created to “antagonize women.” Interestingly pictured is a photoshopped image titled CrucifixionPlus(Restored) which was created originally tweeted by Paula Kirby as a response to Atheism+ which was launched by Jen McCreight [pictured] (who has since seemingly withdrawn her support following a mass exodus from Atheism+ and its glaring failure) and supported by Richard Carrier [pictured] who infamously said that people are either ‘with us or against us.’


Apparently, Paula Kirby is representative of “some of the vitriol directed at women” and created tweeted this image to “antagonize women” (or so Secular Woman says). Nevermind the pictured males, of course. Other images linked, “Crazy Cunt Lady” by Franc Hoggle, a parody of the ‘crazy cat lady’ from The Simpsons, mocks Ophelia Benson – someone who writes various blog posts complaining about the use of the word ‘cunt.’ Another image, a Reddit meme coming from who knows who, seemingly has nothing whatsoever to do with the secular community.

Oh, the horror! Images ridiculing people (note: not all women) are posted on the internet! While I am not generally a fan of ridicule and tend not to use ridicule in my approach, I fail to see how these images are leading to — as Secular Woman proposes — misogyny, intimidation, silencing, keeping women from appearing in public, sexism, driving women away from the secular community, or being reluctant to join secular organizations.

First, it’s important to note that ridicule is not exclusively or disproportionately targeted at women. Critics of people like Ophelia Benson — whom Secular Woman included in their post — ridicule people such as Richard Carrier (pictured in this image), PZ Myers (pictured in this image), Greg Laden, ‘Lousy Canuck,’ and many more. Hell, I have even been the target (and still continue to be the target) of ridicule.

How, I wonder, is it possible to demonstrate that people are targeted because they are women? Instead, it seems to be the case that people are ridiculed because others do not approve of their behavior or attitudes. Ridicule — some may argue — may be crass, inappropriate, or not constructive. This is, though, what happens to people who share controversial opinions and is what seems to be the price of being a public figure. Ridicule, though, is not something exclusively targeting women. I was, for instance, the target of ridicule in December of 2009 following being publicly involved in church/state activism.

One of my detractors…

The ridicule I faced was not because of my gender (although there was some ‘male shaming’ involved), but rather was because people disagreed with me. There is a ‘trolling culture’ on the internet in which people, regardless of their gender, are targeted. People have called me a ‘dickhead,’ ‘not much of a man,’ said that I was ‘not being a real man,’ shamed me for not having a girlfriend, made fun of my appearance including my body size, made derogatory comments about me being gay (although I am straight), called me a ‘dickhead,’ a ‘punk ass,’ told me to ‘beat off with my gay ass boyfriends.’ A fellow college student threatened to “fuck [my] fat face up” and called me a ” fucking inbred atheist piece of shit.” This is only a sample of the hatred I have experienced.

Perhaps others are less assertive, more sensitive, or don’t have a ‘thick skin’ as I do. I understand this. It would be nice to see hatred go away, but it probably will not (and may even get worse). Those who express controversial opinions — no matter the topic — are likely to be subjected to ridicule and hatred.

Secular Woman’s article continues with a section titled “The Argument About What Atheism Really is…” responding to the claim that atheism is only about a lack of belief in god,

The atheism and secularism we are discussing is, in fact, a social movement; not simply a dictionary definition.

Secular organizations do advocate for social (and other) issues that are broader than a lack of belief in any god, including:  health and safety, education, tax policy, discrimination, government actions, military, international, complete and total separation of church and state, scientific integrity, human rights for all, promoting peace, reproductive freedom, women’s rights, LGBT rights, civil rights in America, etc.

So, the idea of this purity test fails before it begins.

This ‘argument’ rests on an equivocation; the word ‘atheism’ is used in two different contexts. Atheism is a lack of belief in gods while the ‘atheist social movement’ is something different. ‘Atheist social movements,’ though, do not seem to focus — or at least primarily focus — on many of the issues Secular Woman puts forth unless they are closely related with issues of separation of church and state, improving the visibility of atheists, or similar concerns.

It is interesting that Secular Woman would list “women’s rights” after “human rights for all.” Why separate the two? Aren’t women’s rights included in the subset of “human rights for all?” Why, also, doesn’t Secular Woman talk about how issues facing men including high rates of suicide, homelessness, incarceration, educational barriers and failures, lack of child custody, and unfair family courts? Secular Woman doesn’t talk about issues facing men for the same reason secular organizations do not focus on issues facing women. Secular Woman should address the concerns they put forth rather than dictating what other organizations’ missions should be and seemingly shaming them for not doing so.

The article continues, misrepresenting conclusions from the Secular Census,

Regardless of gender, all respondents who are or have been involved in the secular movement are asked: Have you ever felt unwelcome, discriminated against, or harmed in the secular movement? Women outnumber men 62%/34% in responding “Yes.” It is worth noting that women do not outnumber men when asked the same question about religious organizations with which they’ve been associated. It appears they are less comfortable in secular groups than in the churches they left.

The reasons for feeling unwelcome, discriminated against, or harmed in the secular movement are not outlined in the Secular Census nor does the question itself ask anything about what can be referred to as gender relations. Reasons women feel unwelcome, discrimated against, or harmed can be completely unrelated to gender. Ticking a box in a self-report does not allow one to understand what is going on in someone’s head; there is no elaboration provided for the thought processes which are associated with feelings of discomfort and the like.

Additionally, the reasons can be multifaceted and even if issues relating to gender are a problem, they may only be part of the problem while other reasons — as far as the respondents are concerned — are more important. Secular Woman believes they know the answer to the problems women face when they actually do not and cannot because respondents did not explain their thought processes.

Nearing the end of the article, Secular Woman lists “Specific Action Items for Inclusion of Women in the Secular Movement.”

1.1 Immediate and public consequences for harassment, bullying, and the like.

I wonder…where are the immediate and public consequences for women who label other women as ‘chill girls’ and ‘sister punishers?’ How about women who claim that women are “parroting misogynistic thought?” How about women who seem to insinuate that some women write to gain the favor of men? Should direct messages like these, from women, be rebuked? How about women calling other women ‘the dumbest person on Twitter?‘ I’m waiting for these “immediate and public consequences.” For Secular Woman, ‘harassment, bullying, and the like’ seems to be a phenomena initiated by men, targeting women; the blinders are on while women who partake in ‘harassment, bullying, and the like’ — seemingly according to the definition Secular Woman provides — get a free pass and are not part of the problem.


1.2 More national leaders consistently speaking out about inclusion, diversity, and women.


The lack of participation of women is not necessarily, by itself, evidence of discrimination/purposeful exclusion. Maybe women just are not interested in being publicly involved in the secular community. This is what appears, anyway, to be the simplest hypothesis – much simpler than the hypothesis that males are purposefully excluding women from participating in the secular community. After all, there are many areas in which males and females have varying levels of participation – and this has nothing to do with gender.

1.3 Increase the number of women to 60% in leadership positions at all levels of national, regional, and local organizations.  See study on gender deliberation (available via the Secular Woman website when this presentation is published).

How’s that for equality? I have a better recommendation: appoint people to leadership positions because of their merits and do not favor people of a particular gender. Secular Woman, recommending that women have 60% of leadership positions, intentionally advantages women over men instead of suggesting an even balance. Organizations might consider taking measures to include more women in positions of leadership such as allowing people to apply for leadership positions rather than merely internally appointing. Organizations may release calls for applicants and promote these calls for applicants throughout the secular community. Women are not, if open calls are put forth, excluded from applying or ascending to positions of leadership; there is equality of opportunity.


This article is the ‘same old same old’ propaganda from people who continue to assert unsubstantiated claims and believe that the problems women face in the secular community are because of misogyny, sexism, and ‘the patriarchy.’ Secular Woman has transformed from a group interested in advocating for women and working toward equality into an organization which wants to prioritize women and blame men for the problems women face. The false narrative that the secular community is particularly hostile toward women, which unfortunately may lead to fewer women participating in the secular community, is being advanced once again.

It’s time for members of Secular Woman who may have supported the organization from its start, when Secular appeared to be an organization worth supporting, to withdraw their membership. Secular Woman is no longer a fresh breath of air in the conversation surrounding problems women face, but rather is voicing the same narrative we have been hearing from Freethought Blogs and the Skepchick network. This narrative is coupled with a culture of fear and character attacks in which people are afraid to speak up because they will be the next ‘witches of the week’ – targets of character assassination campaigns, lies, personal attacks, and the like. This is the real ‘silencing.’

This is the face of modern feminism – hijacked by those who cast males as the oppressors of women. If feminism really was ‘the radical notion that women are people too,’ I would happily identify as a feminist…but it’s not that. Perhaps it is time to shed the label of feminist and work toward egalitarian concerns. While ‘not all feminists are like that,’ it is very difficult to ignore those with very loud voices and large platforms who are.

Justin Vacula

Justin Vacula hosts the Stoic Philosophy Podcast; serves as co-organizer and spokesperson for the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society; and has hosted monthly Stoic Philosophy discussion groups for the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia.

He has appeared on and hosted various radio shows and podcasts; participated in formal debates and discussions; was a guest speaker for college-level courses; was featured in local, national, and international news; and has been invited to speak at various national, local, and statewide events.

Vacula received bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology, a minor in Professional Writing, and the distinguished W.A. Kilburn Memorial Award for Philosophy from King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He is currently living in the Scranton, PA area attending Marywood University’s graduate-level Mental Health Counseling program and has worked with the Arc of Luzerne County’s Transition to Community Employment program as a teacher’s assistant and job coach alongside adult learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

He also plays poker; volunteers as a member of the website and media team for the Greyhawk Reborn Dungeons & Dragons campaign while playing at events in the Eastern United States; and enjoys metal music.

  • Disappointing. I was also hopeful about them at first. Then I saw them share that atrocious Myers article where he claimed people who criticize others on the Internet are somehow the same as an infamous mass murderer.

    I’m still on the fence about the label “feminism”. Having lived in liberal Madison for ten years surrounded by lefties, studied gender issues in college, having identified as a feminist and still having many, many personal friends who do too – I mean, who gets to keep the word? The angry drama bloggers and their readers, who don’t even have any background in academic feminist theory, attack people who should be their political allies, and totally suck at building a coalition for social change? Why should they have it??

    • xinit

      People (who aren’t PZ Myers) who criticize…

      • Yes thank you. PZ and friends of PZ are allowed to criticize, wield expletives, even use gender-based insults. It’s only uncivil or sexist when others do it.

  • Just addressing one part of this: I think there’s a case for groups advocating that secular orgs make a conscious effort to include women in speaker roles, leadership positions etc, rather than simply leaving it to the ‘meritocracy’. I’m fully on board with the calls to increase diversity, etc.

    Specifying proportions though, like 60% women, goes too far in my opinion. Let organisations manage themselves – I think in reality every organisation wants diversity (I can’t think of a secular leader who doesn’t) – and let them decide how they are going to achieve it. Give them assistance, yes, but don’t decree exactly what their gender proportions ought to be.

    • Skep tickle

      Specifying proportions doesn’t just go too far, it manipulates the
      makeup of these organizations in a way that is presumably intended to do
      far more than just make women more visible so that women otherwise
      hesitant to join will be more inclined toward involvement at the entry
      levels. Is there any other field that purposefully sets such a ratio,
      whether it be an interest group or a profession? (If so, it’s not
      coming to mind for me).

      Would setting a sex ratio even be legal? (That may vary by jurisdiction; in the US at least, I can’t imagine such a formula would stand up to a legal challenge from
      one or more people ousted from their positions, or who were not
      considered a candidate for a position specifically because of sex,
      whether male or female.) What would an organization do if there weren’t
      enough women who were both interested and qualified to step into
      leadership roles in that organization? Would they be fined? Would they be shunned? Would they have to coerce or shame women into taking on these positions, or draft women who had just joined the organizations? What a great outcome that would be (/sarcasm, of course).

      Besides which, setting a ratio that’s more-than-representative of women seems
      both patronizing and, well, “matronizing” to me. (Re patronizing: see
      the illustration of the people looking over a fence in the article at
      Secular Women’s website. Women are the little kid who needs to be given
      2 boxes to stand on?) I’m guessing at least some of the folks at
      Secular Women imagine the major secular organizations would put on
      kinder, gentler faces and use kinder, gentler tones with more women in
      charge. Is there evidence this is needed, or would happen?

      Besides which, I have a sneaking suspicion that not just any women would “do”
      to fill the 60% of seats. Just imagine the clarification that would be
      deemed necessary if this proposal gained any traction: “60% of
      leadership positions to be filled by women, chill girls and gender traitors need not apply”.

    • “I think there’s a case for groups advocating that secular orgs make a conscious effort to include women in speaker roles, leadership positions etc, rather than simply leaving it to the ‘meritocracy’. I’m fully on board with the calls to increase diversity, etc.”

      I see this already happening.

      • As I recall, DJ Grothe successfully balanced the ratio of male/female speakers at TAM to 50/50. Until Ophelia Benson backed out because she got some dumb e-mail from a fan and overreacted to it because she thought it was some kind of a threat. Then a bunch of other bloggers decided to boycott TAM because of whoknowswhat.

        • I think 50:50 doesn’t go far enough because you need to balance male:female speakers in terms of biomass, not just on the babsis of some absurd headcount!
          Ok, so I haven’t heard that argument made. Yet.

          What I found somewhat alarming (aside from mandating a ba’athist party style minority control of status positions) was the justifications for pursuing more women in secular organisations (a worthy goal) included women being better educted than men (more females graduating every year). Imagine, for a second, how this would come across if more men were graduating and this was being used to justify appealing to men, as opposed to bemoaning the patriarchal structures that would obviously be holding women back in education!
          Personally speaking, I am all for banishing bigotry but not for replacing one flavour of bigotry with another.

      • Actually, if you wanted to start out where secularism has its most glaring diversity problem, you’d look for proportional representation and visibility of African-American secularists. Under-representation of women, particularly white women, is not nearly so great.

    • “Just addressing one part of this: I think there’s a case for groups advocating that secular orgs make a conscious effort to include women in speaker roles, leadership positions etc, rather than simply leaving it to the ‘meritocracy’. I’m fully on board with the calls to increase diversity, etc.”

      I very much agree with this, but I don’t see it happening on the drama blogs, or people swearing at each other on twitter, or the silly petitions going around, or any of the other dumb things happening lately.

    • The thing is, they don’t even try to justify this, even though it’s inegalitarian on its very face.

      But I would certainly see no conflict in aiming for around 50% female leadership, speakers, etc. and meritocracy, since there are plenty of qualified women around. But some of the recommendations I’ve seen even fail at this – Amanda Marcotte, for example, is on their list of recommended female secular speakers. Excuse me, but when did Marcotte suddenly become a secular, atheist, or scientific writer? So now were not just supposed to make sure female secular writers and activists are represented, but suddenly we’re supposed to pick from feminists with no particular background in this area?

      • Gumby

        That’s always been my problem with all this. I’m all for diversity and equality at conferences, no sane and decent person would be against that. My problem is that this push for equality and diversity is a thin and obvious disguise that a few bloggers are wearing in a ludicrous attempt to make atheist and skeptic organizations feminist organizations. They claim they only seek equality and diversity, but their words and actions suggest just the opposite. Thus the recommendation of speakers who are feminist but have little to no qualifications to discuss anything of a scientific or skeptical nature. A certain blue-haired blogger giving a comically bad and anti-scientific presentation on evo-psych at a recent convention comes to mind.

      • Right – you see the same names every time. It’s as if they have only heard of a small handful of secular women (and of course they only get invited if they subscribe to the politics of the organisers) when in fact there are so many excellent ones who don’t get a look in.

        That’s my main worry – that ‘making women feel more welcome’ is what some people are calling the act of elbowing themselves and their friends into high positions.

        If they’re serious about doing what they say they want, then they should check the Philosophy and Science faculties at universities around the world. My Philosophy department was about 50% women, most of whom were secular/atheist and gave fascinating lectures.

  • Virginia Fell

    I don’t know how you thought Secular Woman was going to address women’s attendance without looking at the gender dynamics of the community. I mean, did you think that SW was just going to encourage cons to print everything a lady-friendly shade of pink? Give away free chocolate? Maybe have more speakers covering Female Interest topics like hair-curling and vacuuming?

    You wrote, “Secular Woman is no longer a fresh breath of air in the conversation surrounding problems women face, but rather is voicing the same narrative we have been hearing from Freethought Blogs and the Skepchick network.”

    I mean, I’m sorry that you have to keep hearing from all these women that predatory male behavior in community/activist spaces is really alienating for them. That must be hard for you. But maybe the fact that you have to keep hearing it is not a sign that more and more women are going mad with feminism without your guidance; maybe it’s a sign that something’s really wrong.

    To switch up the dynamics a little, if my friends who are people of color complain repeatedly about racism in a community space I share with them (say, in a gaming group or something), I can either do what you seem to be doing and say, “Well if I as a white person haven’t personally seen this racism, it’s not happening and y’all are imagining it,” or I can admit that since we’re talking about experiences that are less likely to happen to me that maybe I shouldn’t be judging from my limited experiential sample size and should at least consider the perspective that the people most likely to experience racism are the probable experts on experiencing racism.

    I’m sure you have a lot of women friends. I’m just wondering how many women in your own personal social circle would have to tell you someone’s behavior was a problem before you’d believe that they’re qualified to judge such things. Are you the kind of guy that women feel like they can come to if another man is being inappropriate and they need backup? Or is your blog an accurate representation of how seriously you take reports from women about their own problems?

    • “I mean, I’m sorry that you have to keep hearing from all these women that predatory male behavior in community/activist spaces is really alienating for them.”

      Who are “all these women?” Where are all these complaints? What are the incidents?

      • A handful of drama bloggers. That’s all I’ve seen so far. Most people who go to the conventions tell me that they’re fun and interesting, and nobody cares about the dumb Internet blog drama.

    • How do you feel about Greg Laden & Stephanie Zvan’s attempt to destroy Abbie Smith’s career, Melody Hensley’s attack on Sara Mayhew, Greg Laden & Stephanie Zvan’s attack on Maria Maltseva …….. This has nothing to do with men vs women. This is about sceptics not willing to fold to the demands of idiotic ideologues.

      • Please provide links to claims – I have to be fair here.

      • This is very important, the fact that it is NOT men vs. women. There are plenty of men and women on both “sides” of this.

        This really isn’t about gender or minorities. Most of the FTB/Skepchick people positioning themselves as the saviors of the downtrodden are in positions of privilege; white, straight, middle class or more… PZ Myers is the very epitome of privilege: white, male, heterosexual, cisgender, and he has tenure. And not in a field that has anything to do with social science, gender issues, etc., mind you. Being lectured on “privilege” and “social justice” by him is fairly absurd.

        No, this is just about a group of trouble makers on-line who get blog hits when they act like jerks and throw around holier-than-though rhetoric.

    • Skep tickle

      There are 2 parts to this: (a) the problem(s) or issue(s) and (b) possible solution(s). The skeptic community should be better able to define & describe the problem(s) and issue(s) than seems to be happening, but presumably it just goes to show how hard it is to see one’s own blinders and examine one’s own beliefs (and that goes for people on “both sides”), and also skeptics are (inherently?) leery of anecdotes and personal experiences. After defining and describing the problems and issues, it should be possible to share evidence that they exist and are widespread, if that’s the case.

      Discussion of possible solutions should only come after delineation of the problems and issues, right? Secular Women’s proposal for women, specifically, to fill 60% of leadership positions in secular organizations makes my jaw drop. (FWIW, I’ve been heavily involved for >10 yrs in admissions to a graduate program in a field that used to be mostly male and now is at least 50% female, and is also now more diverse in terms of race/ethnicity and SES than it used to be, and those changes have occurred without quotas.)

    • “Well if I as a white person haven’t personally seen this racism, it’s not happening and y’all are imagining it,”

      The biggest problem with this analogy here is that there have been OTHER WOMEN saying that there isn’t the rampant misogyny problem that the drama bloggers are trying to insist there is.

      They’ve mostly been shouted down, called names, sworn at, insulted, smeared, ignored, etc.

    • “I mean, I’m sorry that you have to keep hearing from all these women that predatory male behavior in community/activist spaces is really alienating for them. That must be hard for you

      I look at your writing here and I’m tempted to say, once again WITHOUT the snark and leave it at that.

      But to address your point, I’m seeing actually precious little evidence of “predatory male behavior” (and I’ll leave the vague and accusatory nature of that phrasing aside for the time being) in the secular community. There’s a lot of rhetoric about widespread horrible male behavior at conventions and the like, but very few actual solid reports about actual incidents, what reports do come to light are mostly pretty minor (e.g., Elevatorgate). Last year, DJ Grothe’s remarked that much of this perception had its origin in an “internet game of ‘telephone'”, and I’ve seen very little evidence brought forward in the last year to contradict that.

      But perhaps you know something I don’t – please do fill me in, or at least point me to a source where concrete examples of such incidents are reported.

    • Pitchguest

      It would be a breath of fresh air if any of those who claim systemic “predatory male behaviour” within the sceptic/atheist community could actually provide evidence for once. For once.

      By the way, bonus points for making a strawman about Justin Vacula at the end there. Real classy.

    • “I mean, I’m sorry that you have to keep hearing from all these women that predatory male behavior in community/activist spaces is really alienating for them. ” –> OK, predatory behaviour is a crime, where are the police reports, lawsuits or any verifiable evidence to sustain that allegations ? or is just pure high school-like gossip ?

  • Explain again why you want to attend Women in Secularism? At this point I’m confused why you wish to spend 3 days with people you seem to abhor. Especially when the idea of Secular Woman was born from last year’s conference.

    • Pitchguest

      First of all, must he have some kind of ulterior motive for attending?

      Second, he doesn’t mention Women in Secularism. He’s addressing the argument from Secular Woman that women should have 60% leadership positions at all levels of national, regional and local organizations. That is what he criticises with this article. That you refocus that criticism to his attendance of Women in Secularism and the purpose of attending that conference is a red herring and fairly dishonest conduct, especially since you don’t even address any of his focal points.

      Speaking of which, what do you think about Secular Women’s recommendation that women should have 60% in leadership at all levels in national, regional and local organizations? Does it sound fair to you?

      • I think my question is valid since he is questioning a group (which I am a member of) that was created due to feedback received at the previous year’s conference. Being that I will be in attendance in addition to many other SW members, I am genuinely interested in the answer after he’s written a post like this. Yes, I’d love to see 60% of leadership as women in atheist/secular/skeptical organizations but my personal opinion is that I’d be happy with just 50%.

        • “Justin will report on the events of the conference via Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, other social media, his website on the Skeptic Ink Network, and elsewhere. Recorded interviews and discussions will also be sought with conference attendees and speakers.
          Vacula, in accord with the conference’s policy — stating “Critical examination of beliefs, including critical commentary on another person’s views, does not, by itself, constitute hostile conduct or harassment. One of the underlying rationales of this policy is to promote the free exchange of ideas, not to inhibit it.” — will offer critical examination and commentary surrounding material presented at the conference by its various speakers who are slated to address how to “best advance both women’s rights and secularism.””

        • Pitchguest

          He’s criticising their ideas that attendance (or lack thereof) of atheist conferences or conventions has to do with the patriarchy (an unevidenced claim) and their unfair recommendation that women should have 60% at all levels in national, regional and local organizations.

          What does it matter if many Secular Women members should attend the conference? Attending Women in Secularism has nothing to do with what he’s addressing in this article, but he’s unable to criticise Secular Women without being questioned about his motives for attending said conference just because you happen to be a member?

          The question wasn’t whether you would be happy with 60% of women in leadership positions, the question was whether you found the recommendation that women *should have* 60% in leadership positions to be fair. I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t be evasive. Do you think Secular Women’s recommendation, or rather demand (it was a list of “items for inclusion of women in the secular movement” after all), that women should have 60% in leadership positions at all levels, in national, regional and local organizations is fair? Do you think that this demand is a pre-requisite for women to be included in the secular movement, as pointed out in the missive? Since you’re a member, you should be able to answer confidently. Don’t be coy now.

        • One more thing that should be noted – a recommendation if you like.

          I note you call yourself ‘Nicola Introvert’. So I offer it up as a
          suggestion that introverts, as a group, tend to be overlooked in
          conversation to quite a large degree. By their very nature of being less
          outspoken it may make some sense to have 90% of leadership positions,
          at all levels, occupied by introverts to make sure that introvert voices
          are heard equally to extravert voices.

          Or isn’t this a demarcation we are bothered about?

          • Are you really trying to compare a personality trait that I embrace with hundreds upon hundreds of years of systematic oppression?

          • noelplum99

            You may choose to embrace your introversion but that does not mean that introverts have not been underrepresented for thousands, not hundreds, of years.

            The piece Justin Vacula was responding to here seemed clear. It needed no historical context to make its case for a majority of leadership positions to be undemocratically assigned to a minority of the membership. It simply pointed to some research that, other things being equal, women STILL do not seem to get an equal voice in comparison to men.

            I put it to you that the same is true of introverts. If we populate our leaderships with equal numbers of introverts and extraverts I contend that the extraverts, by their very nature, will drown out the introverts and have a disproportionate say.

            Of course I gather that you are more concerned about sex than personality but let me put this to you: is what really defines you – what you choose to let define you – your biological sex or culturally assigned gender identity or are you really defined by your beliefs, your passions, your loves, your opinions and, most significantly, your personality? Personally, I see myself defined by my personality and my views, not by my sex, my sexuality or what I have between my legs. Therefore, if I could choose one single cause, amongst all the others, to champion diversity above all others it would be on those characteristics that REALLY define the person that we are – rather than all the label and pigeonhole bullshit.

            So yes, in a movement such as this what i would really like to hear from – what I would really expect to have something substantively different to offer other than more of the same but in a different shaped package – are groups underrepresented in terms of perspective and outlook and personality, rather than tiresome and substantially less relevant physiological differences.

        • Astrokid NJ

          Remember when PZ Myers attended some creationist talk at his local Christian Church (or was it a school?) and silently took notes and reported on his blog? And all his supporters laughed and high-fived? I would attend WIS for the same reason. But you should be thankful that Justin takes the high road and is lot more sincere than PZ or me.

          Why is it that you CANT EARN leadership positions for women? Is it because EARNING such a position is tough, and is typically in the realm of only a small percentage of men as well? You dont see us vast numbers of mid-level men complaining about highly-accomplished men at high levels. You dont see white athletes complaining about black athletes dominating all kinds of sports.
          The stock feminist response to this is the twisted narrative of Glass Ceiling (but no Glass Cellar.. yeah). There is never a call for equality-in-gender in garbage disposal workers, sewage cleaners, highrise window cleaners. Nor is there ever a call for equality in dating, propositioning.. those places where women have all the power due to their sexuality. When was the last time you saw a woman go down on her knee and ask a man to marry her, and offer him a diamond ring in the process?

          You can take for granted that I and many more will fight against ANY quotas for women. Yeah.. you are so shameless that you are demanding quotas now, given that you have failed merit-wise.
          Its been 50 years of feminism giving a massive leg up to women. And what exactly have they done for the progress of civilization as such? How many Nobel Prizes in science, or how many female Bill Gates/Steve Jobs etc have we had? Nearly Zero.. Zilch.. Nada. FFS.. there isnt even a single memorable high-art piece by a female, or even a world chess champion, or even a memorable stand up comedian.

          • I don’t think it’s true that there aren’t women who have earned the right to leadership roles if THEY WANT THEM. The issue is whether or not they are being prevented from attaining such roles, and I’ve seen no evidence that they are. The most ambitious women I’ve seen in secularism are patently unqualified, unaccomplished and possessed of a massive sense of entitlement. They aren’t fit to lick the boots of some of the women they are maligning as sister punishers. Ironically, it appears to be the cliquiness of the usual feminist suspects who are squeezing out scientifically qualified women.

          • Roseanne Barr, Ellen Degenres, Rosie O’Donnell, Whoopi Goldberg, Phyllis Diller, Julia Sweeney, Carol Burnett (if you count variety/skit comedy), Lucille Ball (if you count being one of the funniest women of all time, and a pioneer in television comedy). Peoples’ tastes are different, and we may not like each of them personally, but let’s not deny that they are certainly memorable! ;-)

          • Astrokid NJ

            I went back to watch some oldtime standup of Ellen, Roseanne, Whoopi and Sweeney on YT.. well.. I guess you are right in that it may more be a matter of tastes.. Other than Whoopi, I most certainly dont like their standup much. My choice of words ‘memorable’ was indeed poor.

        • So you’d like to see a minority of the membership vastly over represented, then? How about first doing a rigorous survey to find out why women are in such a minority in the first place. Otherwise, what you might be saying is that the men who are active contributors the community should be sidelined to engineer a position where women who couldn’t be bothered anyway might be attracted to the ‘movement’. It should be trivially easy to provide proof of harassment at events if it’s so pervasive. Interesting the response to Paula Kirby recounting her experience that it is very hard to get women speakers even in the absence of impediments. Seems that we are expected to buy the discrimination narrative sans proof while those with a contradictory message informed by actual professional experience are shouted down.

          To put it another way, there’s a big difference between identifying and removing impediments to women and forcing an artificial numerical equivalence just because it fits your idea of how things should be.

    • TheDevilsTowelboy

      I can’t speak for Justin, but my motives would be the same as for wanting to see David Irving speak. Why does there have to be a pre-requisite of “being in the choir” that is preached to? Are we not allowed to attend events out of morbid curiosity?

  • Clare45

    No-one so far has mentioned that there may be many other reasons that women do not participate in these conferences either as speakers or delegates. For example child care issues. Women with young children, particularly working women are just too busy.

    Another reason might be mixing socially with the type of women (or men) who frequent these conferences. I for one, am not keen on the heavy drinking bar scene that seems to be “de rigeur” at these events. Women might also feel uncomfortable with the possibility of being hit on by another woman, which could be a statistically more likely event at an all female conference.

  • Tris Stock @mygodlesslife

    Excellent article, Justin.

    I generally stay away from this debate (but for your own blog) because it is becoming increasingly irrelevant to anything I have an interest in.

    The vast majority – I should imagine – of those that take issue with groups like A+ and SW – amongst others – firmly support equality and welcome the idea of more women in the atheist movement. The actions of these groups heretofore, though, has done nothing to bring this any closer to reality. In fact, I believe that they have irreparably harmed their cause by displaying the very traits that they so vehemently oppose when gender or sexuality is not the issue. By that, I mean I can think of no one within these feminist groups that I would like to see as a leader, and would actively discourage anyone – regardless of gender or sexuality – whose cause is unrelated to atheism/secularism/scepticism, to be considered in any position within the atheism/secularism/scepticism movement.

    They appear to have other things on their mind. That is fine for them, but for the rest of us, we just want to continue our work regarding atheism/secularism/scepticism.

    It’s not rocket science.

  • AHermit

    As usual Vacula misunderstands, or deliberately misrepresents, the truth. Just one, especially egregious, example:

    “…Jen McCreight (who has since seemingly withdrawn her support following a mass exodus from Atheism+ and its glaring failure)..

    Ms McCreight didn’t withdraw her support from anything; she withdrew from public involvement because of the torrent of abuse she received for daring to question the status quo:


    “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.”

    That’s the problem you refuse to admit exists, Justin. And you contribute to it every time you tell e lie like that one,

    • Except for this:

      “I’ve grown reluctant to deal with the egos of skeptic celebrities and politics of skeptical organizations who, frankly, aren’t the great skeptics they think they are. But I’ll still keep writing and speaking about science and skepticism because, well, I find them important and interesting. I’ve realized I don’t need to be an official part of a group or a movement to do those things, nor am I personally responsible for spending my time and energy in improving a movement that is so stubbornly resisting improvement.”

      • AHermit

        That’s not a “withdrawal of support” it’s a withsrawal of personal effort. Not the same thing. And her reasons for withdrawing are not the “mass exodus” and “glaring failure” you invented for her. She makes her reasons very clear; it’s because of exactly the kind of sexist abuse you keep insisting just doesn’t happen and couldn’t possibly have anything to do with women not getting involved in skepticism…

        I really can’t decide if you’re actually malicious or just too stupid to see what’s in front of you.

        • I never claimed she withdrew her support because of the mass exodus or failure, but rather said she did this after that happened. When A+ launched, she was very supportive and said what I link below. She seemed to have recently sent a very clear message that she doesn’t want to be involved with groups or movements nor does she want to spend her time with them. That seems pretty clearly to be a withdrawl of support…unless you consider my lack of participation with any given group, movement, or organization and statement of not wanting to be involved to be evidence of support?

          “But the reason I’m not throwing my hands up in the air and screaming “I quit” is because we’re already winning.”

          • AHermit

            “She seemed to have recently sent a very clear message that she doesn’t
            want to be involved with groups or movements nor does she want to spend
            her time with them.”

            Yes, because the price she has to pay in terms of shit and abuse is too high.
            The kind of shit and abuse you keep insisting doesn’t exist.

          • Why do you keep insisting I insist the pushback she experiences doesn’t exist? I talked about it above…

          • AHermit

            Yes you talk about; in order to dismiss it and pretend that it isn’t really a problem.

          • Absolutely incorrect. The consistent charge has been that McCreight and her buddies have been using the actions of people NOT JUSTIN in their disagreements with Justin. Lots of people get threats of all kinds and how they deal with those threats, real or imagined, is their own damned business because neither Justin Vacula nor anyone else not doing the threatening is in a position to do anything. If you can’t look past the threats to discuss anything with other parties then you are effectively rendering yourself irrelevant. Unless it can be shown that any actual threatening or harassment is being done specifically to discourage women by any significant number of people active within the secular movement, we are looking at self-serving,disingenuous whining by McCreight.

          • TheDevilsTowelboy

            You sound like a holocaust denier. They can be pretty convincing too.

          • TheDevilsTowelboy

            Need I remind you of the kind of crap Jen McCreight gets up to for self-promotion and blog hits – like when she eavesdropped on a private conversation on Penn Jillete’s facebook wall, quote mined it and stripped context to be what it wasn’t, and organized a lynch mob –


            Tip of the proverbial vile iceberg.

          • Pitchguest

            Or like when she completely twisted the words of a friend of Penn’s, Mallorie Nasrallah.


          • AHermit

            I see. McCreight dares to disagree with the great Penn Jillette (and that;s all she did…disagree with him) so she deserves this kind of treatment?

            “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.”

            You have an odd idea of what constitutes “vileness…”

          • Karmakin

            It’s not that it doesn’t exist. The problem is that when you want to fight a culture war….people tend to fight back. That’s the nature of the beast, unfortunately. When you start promoting the concept that it’s OK to use social power and naming and shaming in order to fight for “good”, other people are going to start to do the exact same thing right back at you. And there’s often a lot of collateral damage all around.

            I don’t think that Jen is one of those people who particularly want to fight a culture war, to be honest. Maybe I’m too charitable but that’s the way I see it, and that’s why she’s trying to pull away from the whole thing. I can’t really blame her, to be honest.

            Don’t get me wrong. Shit and abuse are bad things. But there’s tons of it going around in every direction. That’s the point.

          • AHermit

            “Shit and abuse are bad things. But there’s tons of it going around in every direction. That’s the point.”

            Can you show me anything on the feminist side that comes close to the fake Twitter accounts, photo shopped porn images or threats that some of these women are getting? Are there whole forums dedicated to attacking SkepticInk and competing to come up with the nastiest insults to direct at the bloggers here?

            Spare me the false equivalence, OK?

          • Karmakin

            You’re right. It’s a false equivalence. But it’s still shit and abuse.

            “Misogynist” “Mansplaining” “You’re privileged” That only harassment against women is a bad thing. That only women need child care services. That every man is a potential rapist. That every woman is a victim. That culture has such a stranglehold on who we are that we are incapable of making our own free decisions.

            The entire ideology/movement is based on some pretty bigoted things IMO. Instead of breaking down the problem of oppressive gender roles, by putting people into these little boxes, all that ends up doing is reinforcing said gender roles.

            So yeah. On one hand you have a movement that’s bigoted right down to its core, and on the other hand you have people making some pretty juvenile jokes. So yeah. Sorry about the false equivalency. That’s what I get for trying to be generous.

          • AHermit

            ” only women need child care services. That every man is a potential
            rapist. That every woman is a victim. That culture has such a
            stranglehold on who we are that we are incapable of making our own free

            Bullshit. No one on the feminist side is actually saying those things. You have to work really hard to misrepresent their position this badly…

      • I don’t see this as an issue of “daring to question the status quo” leading to abuse. Do you think her evidence-free accusations and rampant accusations of sexism/misogyny/etc, character attacks she launched/participated in, the horrible idea of A+, her tone, and Boobquake had something to do with pushback? How about the nasty comments about humanists? How about alleging there are ‘dangerous male speakers’ in the community? How about the attacks on TAM/DJ?

        There are plenty of people who question the status quo (or write under the banner of feminism) and don’t experience such pushback you know.

        • AHermit

          There is plenty of evidence of sexism in the skeptical community; you just choose to ignore or dismiss (like any good conspiracy theorist…). I’m not aware of her attacking anyone’s character, and what the fuck does Boob quake have to do with it?

          As for TAM and DJ there were legitimate criticisms to be made there; that;s called challenging the status quo.

          And what you’re describing as “pushback” looks to me like harassment.

          • Funny how requests for concrete evidence bring accusations of victim blaming and ‘hyperskepticism’. What legitimate criticisms of D.J. Grothe were made? The most he can be accused of is a minor ovesight, and that’s stretching it.All we have seen thus far are claims of threatening emails and blog comments from unknown trolls, and comments which Watson’s drones have dredged up off the internet, most not even sent directly to her. The accusations of IRL incidents are very sparse. Why is monopad man still being claimed as a harasser when he is the victim in that whole incident? Surely the evidence of sexism is so plentiful it should be a doddle to prove. If you cite the hostility to bloggers like Szvan, then you need to explain why the vitriol directed at Mooney, Michael Ruse, Sam Harris, Ken Ham, Ray Comfort, Justin Vacula, PZ Myers and a whole lot of other men doesn’t count as sexism.

    • TheDevilsTowelboy

      “I can no longer write anything without my words getting twisted, misrepresented, and quotemined.”

      And, of course, the ridiculousness of anybody at FTB writing something like that is entirely lost on you.

  • Astrokid NJ

    In order to overcome the obstacles Secular Woman believes women are facing, they postulate that women should have 60% of leadership roles at all levels of national/regional/local organizations (how’s that for equality?)

    I ran into a pretty good post that throws some light on what feminists understand to be their RIGHTS, versus what the rest of us understand to be rights. Conflict between feminist advocates and the rest of us
    While the rest of us are just happy to be given equality of opportunity, feminists seem to think that their desires are their needs.. that their needs are their rights.. that their rights are to be accomplished by forcing others to do it for them.
    And they justify this by revision and corruption of history (oppression through the ages blah blah, Patriarchy Theory™), along with their other nutcase theories such as Rape Culture, Glass Ceiling. The degree of disconnect with real world data and experience is remarkable.
    It really is a shame that leaders of the evidence-based communities havent come forward to dismiss these nutcases as yet another group of conspiracy theorists.