By Robin Marie on September 10, 2013 | Discuss
A few weeks ago, we discussed the recent rape allegation in the atheist community on the podcast. Not surprisingly, we received a lot of feedback, some positive, some critical, and some rather disconcerted – and I would like to address the primary themes from the latter two categories.
I’m going to divide this into two portions – one that addresses issues particular to the discussion on our episode, and one that (much more importantly) will address the larger issue of sexism in general.
On the rarity of false rape allegations: Several listeners expressed concern that I did not cite a report for my claim that about only 10 percent of rape allegations are false. You can find a full report on this issue right here. According to this report, I actually misremembered the estimate of false allegations – turns out that rigorous research on this question estimates the rate of false reports to be somewhere between 2 and 8 percent, rather than 10.
On Mr. Deity’s video responses: After the recording, I was informed that Brian Dalton had made a second video clarifying his remarks. As I wrote in the comments, I was happy to discover that his original video was not quite as awful as I originally believed, but still find the content of the video to be disturbing and depressingly consistent with the dismissive and belittling way so many people respond to women who come forward with rape allegations.
I certainly did respond emotionally to seeing this video – which I think was completely appropriate – particularly because it was shocking to see someone who I have met and talked to at conferences respond so poorly. I did not mean to suggest that Dalton’s video was on a par with the great moments of historical injustice – as one commenter seemed to take me as meaning – but that as a personal experience, it threw me for quite a loop.
On my statement that I am inclined to believe the allegation: I was aware, when I decided to state that I do believe the allegation, that this was going to upset many people. It was a conscious decision made before the podcast recording, and not in the heat of the moment, for that precise reason. I want to make clear that I do not know that this allegation is true; but as we do for so much else, when presented with a question we cannot answer definitively, we must consider the evidence and then make a guess. Many people prefer to take the stance of withholding judgment – and while I have some sympathy with this position, I also feel that withholding judgment is, in itself, a reflection of one’s overall assessment of the larger social context. And my assessment of the social context of this particular rape allegation and, rape allegations in our society in general, is what leads me to believe the allegation.
First, there are the details of this case in particular. The people involved in bringing the allegation to light are people who, as Jason Thibeault over at Lousy Canuck explains so well, I have a great amount of trust in. That Myers knows this woman personally especially factors in to my assessment that this cannot be written off as a vengeful or confused woman who has some kind of ulterior motive outside of protecting women in the community. This is not just some random person on the internet. She’s someone who people whose judgment I trust have come to trust themselves.
Second, there is the context of sexism from within the atheist and skeptical movements for the last several years. As I’ve written about before, the problem is chronic, much more than merely a matter of “perception,” and incidents of sexual assault, harassment, or sexist behavior have been attested to – openly – by many women and men on many occasions. I’ve also personally witnessed behavior at conferences that was ill advised at best, and creepy at worst.
Finally, informing both of the above points is my larger understanding of sexism in our culture and the ways in which it tends to amplify the voices of those denying the problem and belittle or quiet the voices of those speaking up. To fully unpack this, however, we have to delve more deeply into some of the responses to the allegation that speak so powerfully to these larger problems.
On the silencing of women.
Historically, the voices of women speaking out about their experiences of being treated as less than fully human have been met with two strategies – denial, or outrage. Today, the latter response is often trivialized as the result of grumpy trolls looking for someone to bully, and the fact that they are particularly fond of bullying women written off as mere coincidence or juvenile insecurity. This is a grave mistake, but I would like to spend more time talking about the first response – denial.
Currently, few people take the position that sexism – and all of its attendant consequences – does not exist at all. Thankfully, the feminist movements of the past 150 years have made that unacceptable in most polite company. However, there are still many, many people who will acknowledge the existence of sexism, but only in the most abstract, theoretical sense. Sexism – so the discussion goes – certainly is “a problem,” and rape is “a horrible thing,” but when it comes to specific acts or specific claims, they get much more uncertain about this whole sexism thing as an actual, concrete reality. Women who are harassed, dismissed, or belittled by peers are merely “overreacting,” it is said, or “reading too much into this.” So when evaluating such incidents and claims, many people find it more likely that women are simply imagining or manufacturing things, rather than experiencing the very real consequences of a cultural tradition of subjugating and dehumanizing women that has hundreds of years to its credit.