The longstanding disparity between men and women in atheist and skeptical groups is being accompanied by recent charges of sexual harassment in at least one quarter of this movement. The Amazing Meeting (TAM), an annual conference in Las Vegas for skeptics, humanists and atheists, has reported a dwindling number of women who attend. The reasons for this decline—attributed to the downward-spiraling economy and the fact that men are less spiritually inclined than their female counterparts—have lately been overshadowed by accusations of sexual harassment.
A recent Religion News Service article (July 12) reports on these accusations at TAM and other atheist and skeptic events, with a number of women speaking out and claiming that they have been subjected to unwanted advances. Rebecca Watson, a skeptic blogger and TAM speaker, called off her presentation on account of not feeling “safe.” In response to her statement, TAM’s organizer, D. J. Grothe, called for common ground to be reached between the negative reports and the efforts that are being made to assure women that all of them should feel welcome.Since the exchange, the blogosphere has been busy with debate between those siding with Watson and those supporting Grothe’s defense.
In response to Watson’s claims, Richard Dawkins, a new atheist leader and renowned British biologist, responded with the cutting remark that she should “grow a thicker skin.” Despite the attacks, an effort has been made to raise awareness of these growing concerns. A recent Women in Secularism conference addressed some of these issues. The article also reports on the instituting of anti-harassment policies by many atheist and skeptic organizations in the wake of the allegations and ongoing controversy. Overall, although numbers of women are down at TAM and they are a minority in the general skeptic and atheist population, women continue to play a prominent role at these events and in several atheist/skeptical organizations.
—By Caitlin Maddox, an Oklahoma-based writer and history student
(Religion News Service, http://www.religionnews.com/culture/gender-and-sexuality/do-atheists-have-a-sexual-harassment-problem)