Late last night, a Facebook post from my friend, Australian author Margaret Morgan, grabbed my attention.
The image was so startlingly sexist and tone-deaf in the age of #metoo I could scarcely believe it.
Atheist Safehouse? The image shows eight rather intimidating angry men apparently ‘guarding’ this closed group of 42,114 members from unwanted intruders.
And, last night, the unwanted intruder was me.
Eight men! Where were the atheist women? Was this some kind of “Playboy Atheist” men-only club where women serve only as brainless bunnies to bolster the egos of a group of Godless incels? Or was this simply an aberration that could be easily and elegantly fixed by the admins with an ‘Oops! Yes, we screwed up. We’re fixing it now”.
Not a bloody chance!
For the past twelve months I’ve been working, behind the scenes, at the coal face of the #metoo movement, documenting cases of domestic violence ending in death and looking at incidents and the consequences of trolling and cyber-bullying. I’ve come to understand that, as long as women are not represented and treated equally in society, their physical safety, mental health and financial security will be severely compromised. In short, casual sexism like this normalises the inequality of women. This has serious consequences; the worst of which are poverty, gender violence and death.
The equal representation of women in public and private spaces matters. It matters because saving women’s lives and maximising their wellbeing requires a tectonic cultural shift in our society that starts with recognising women’s contributions. It is, frankly, inconceivable that a group which prides itself on intellect and reason would choose a composite photo showing eight men – mostly white – to represent its mixed-gendered membership of 42,114 members.
I joined the group last night in order to comment. Naively, I thought it would be a simple matter of drawing the issue to the attention of the admins and getting the photo changed.
“Why are there no women in the profile picture for this group?”, I wrote. “You do know there are atheist women, right?”
It immediately became apparent this was not a new issue for Atheist Safehouse. It also became clear the admins weren’t likely to take the elegant “Oops … we’re sorry!” option.
“Here we go again,” wrote a male member of the group. “Could not agree more, but have seen what moderators do about this.”
“O goodie, this again … ” groaned another, less supportive, man.
A female member said tentatively, “I did ask myself the same question.”
Emboldened, another woman chimed in, “Please put Tracie Harris and Annie Laurie Gaylor. Thanks.”
Others suggested Madalyn Murray O’Hair – but it took a few goes to get the name and the spelling right.
My friend, Australian atheist and intellect, Cushla Geary, confirmed what I was beginning to suspect:
“It’s one of the reasons I seldom contribute here – because the debates all too often echo the masthead.”
One male member said one might just as well argue there are no animals represented in the photo because ‘animals are atheist as well’ right? He went on to explain the image wasn’t sexist because the people represented in the photo had just been picked ‘randomly’.
Soon an admin appeared – a female:
“Please read the pinned post at the top of the page, there’s a section that says the debate on this topic is currently closed, due to lack of consensus.”
(I imagine the big, brave male admins ducking for cover in the cyber-trenches while they sent out the female foot-soldiers to throw grenades at the tiresome feminazi interloper.)
Lack of consensus? About what? Atheist Safehouse is a group of 42,114 atheists and it’s 2018 for Chrissakes! We’re in the midst of fourth wave feminism and the #metoo movement – focusing on combating sexual harassment, assault and misogyny. Yet, in a group of people who pride themselves on their intelligence and rationality , there’s a lack of consensus over whether an image that depicts eight blokes and no women sufficiently and fairly represents the atheist movement?
A male ally raised a pertinent question:
“How do you get ‘consensus’ when you regard the topic as ‘closed’, I wonder.”
I agreed, remarking that, surely, the idea that men and women were equal, and should be represented equally, was uncontentious.
At which point some genius suggested there should be a poll. Yes. Seriously. A fucking POLL!
It was suggested the matter should be put to a vote. Apparently, in this group, women’s equality is not a ‘given’, it is a privilege which can only be bestowed if the ‘consensus’ or ‘majority vote’ deems us worthy of inclusion.
“This is the most regularly asked question on the page,” said a jaded male member of the group, “and I guarantee you’ll be disappointed and dissatisfied with the vast majority of the answers. The powers that be have decreed that the subject is not up for discussion and a large portion of the group agree, so I’m afraid that’s how it’s going to stay.”
Naively, it occurred to me this group simply didn’t realise there were female atheist leaders. “Where is Polly Toynbee, Greta Christina, Karen Stollznow, Ophelia Benson, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Susan Blackmore, Sumitra Padmanabhan, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Susan Jacobs, Margaret Downey, Ariane Sherine, Debbie Goddard and more?” I wrote.
But the admins were unmoved. Another female admin chimed in:
“Chrys Stevenson, please go read the rules of the group and it will be explained as well as what is appropriate topics we allow. You are new but this topic has been hashed and rehashed. The banner stays as it is. Turning off comments for this post.”
Consider the gravity of this in today’s cultural climate:
The female admins of a group of 42,114 free thinkers shut down a discussion on whether women should be represented equally on their masthead.Not only that,they shut it down because people kept complaining and, instead of changing the damn photo, they preferred to just prohibit people from talking about it!
As a result of this ‘discussion’ I was quickly expelled from the group, as was my friend, Cushla, who stepped up to defend my position. Before I was banned – as I knew I would be – I made it known I had taken screenshots of the conversation and would bring the matter to public attention. That post was deleted too.
There was a time when I would have kept these kinds of disputes ‘in house’. I kept shtum for years over various atrocities within organised atheism for fear of bringing a movement I believed in into disrepute. But the atheist movement’s shameful stance on feminism is now well known. If organised atheism is seen as disreputable it is the fault of the misogynists, not those of us who call it out. The men (and women) who prop up the mean-spirited, myopic misogyny of groups like Atheist Safehouse are solely responsible for the crumbling edifice of a movement which once had promise, but is now rotting from both the head and its core.
If an atheist group of 42,114 (42,112 members now Cushla and I have been booted) cannot take the simple step of removing a single photo and replacing it with a more representative image, what hope is there that atheism can be rescued from the grip of the immature, socially inept, MRA man-babies who seem to have colonised the movement.
New Atheism is supposed to be about freeing the world from the irrational beliefs that hold back human progress. One of those irrational beliefs is that women are less deserving of equality, recognition and respect than men. And yet, in one of the largest atheist groups on Facebook, you cannot even discuss this issue – it is verboten. And 41,112 atheists choose to belong to such a group!
Tell me again how New Atheism is going to make the world a better place?