Atheism’s Misogyny Problem


This has left me numb. I can’t even muster up any anger at this point. I’m just… numb.

This has to go back to at least Elevatorgate, but probably earlier. What is coming out, now, however, is that major skeptic organizations, including JREF and CFI, are misogynistic.

Oh yes. I’m throwing that term out there for this one, and I’m not doing it lightly. I mean it. I absolutely, 100%, mean it. I’m not joking, I’m not exaggerating… I am dead. Serious.

They have some serious and major problems with women and how they treat them. They don’t trust women, they don’t think of them as fully human, and they don’t honor or respect them.

I’ve been suspecting this for a while, now, but to have it confirmed, and in such a depressing way… well… I don’t even know what to think anymore…

So what’s happened?


We should really start with Ashley Paramore’s video detailing her experience of sexual harassment at The Amazing Meeting. Her video has a happy ending, because it was dealt with really well. So kudos to JREF and TAM for that.

But then…

On August 6, Karen Stollznow wrote an article detailing how she was the victim of a four-year campaign of sexual harassment from a colleague of hers. She did not name this colleague.

But others did. On numerous private forums (a few in which I am a member), not only was the harasser named, but so were the organizations and the conference.

Then it all went public with PZ Myers.

The harasser was Benjamin Radford. You know, the guy who felt it was his duty to tear down a 4-year-old who complained of the genderizing of toys? They guy who deliberately distorted conclusions of studies on women’s eating disorders? The guy who dismissed concerns over sexual harassment and assault in schools, and generally picked nits over sexual harassment just so he could say that he was “over it”?

You know… that asshole?

But it gets worse…

See… we know the organizations and conference, as well. The organizations are the James Randi Educational Foundation and the Center for Inquiry. And the conference is, of course, The Amazing Meeting.

And Carrie Poppy, who, back in November of 2012, mysteriously up and left the JREF after only 6 months there, has sent an email to PZ Myers about her experience with all this, which she then gave permission for him to publish on Pharyngula.

I’m going to quote some choice points from her email:

Most of these details have to do with my former employer, the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). I left the JREF in November 2012, after only six months there. I quit in protest of a number of ethical issues; foremost was what I perceived as the president, D.J. Grothe’s constant duplicity, dishonesty, and manipulation. I did not believe he had the best interests of the organization or community he “served” at heart. This was difficult for me, as Mr. Grothe and I had been friends prior to my joining the staff. Yet, it was very clear by the time I left that my continuing to work there was being complicit in unethical behavior, including the kind of behavior of which Dr. Stollznow is now on the receiving end. I have not spoken very publicly about my experience at the JREF, for various personal reasons, but one of them was cowardice. I simply didn’t want to have to defend myself, relive the six months of misery I’d already endured, or be branded as on one “side” or another of an ongoing debate. I simply wanted to move on. But as Dr. Stollznow’s story, and others, came to light, I knew I couldn’t keep quiet any longer. Dr. Stollznow’s experience is too much like so many women’s in skepticism.

And now we know why Carrie Poppy resigned from JREF… in protest. Let’s continue…

I’m going to skip the facts she lays out. Please read the email on Pharyngula for them and more.

I wish I could say that I found Dr. Stollznow’s story shocking or unprecedented, but I cannot. In my time at the JREF, I witnessed continuous unethical behavior, much of which I reported to the Board of Directors. I was assured on more than one occasion by James Randi that D.J. Grothe would be fired (I hear Randi denies this now, though he repeatedly promised it to another staff member as well, and that staff member and I represented the entirety of JREF full-time staff other than D.J. and his husband, Thomas), but after several months of waiting and being asked to wait, it became clear that D.J. was not going to be fired. The list of problems that I sent to the board was so long that my pasting it here would be comical at best, but it is relevant to note that although I didn’t list it, Mr. Grothe’s prejudice toward women was one undeniable factor. My predecessor, Sadie Crabtree, had warned me about D.J.’s misogyny and disrespect for women coworkers (she even advised me not to take the position, due to this issue), but I thought myself strong enough to endure it. I underestimated the degree to which such constant mistreatment can beat a person down. As I mentioned, I only lasted six months.

The next paragraph is, for me, the most egregious one. I’ll be adding my own emphases, so all the bolds, underlines, etc are mine…

The final straw, for me, was that Mr. Grothe attempted to remove me as a speaker from the Women in Secularism 2 conference, going above my head (and Melody Hensley’s head) to her male boss, Ron Lindsay, and telling him that it would be bad for the JREF’s image if I attended a “feminist conference.” In defending his actions to me, D.J. told me he didn’t trust me to handle the event, saying I would be asked if he was a sexist (an unanswerable question in his mind, apparently) and that I might break down in tears crying about my own sexual assault, if the issue of rape arose. I was given no credit for the fact that I am a professional spokesperson with almost a decade of experience, that I have a successful skeptical podcast, am a published author, and that my personal assault experience makes my opinions on assault more relevant, not less. To him, I was a hysterical woman, nothing more.

That is why Carrie Poppy resigned in 2012.

Again, head over to Pharyngula to read the whole thing, including attachments of emails between Karen Stollznow and DJ Groethe among others.

As I said above, I’m numb. I’ve gone way past anger… even rage. I literally beyond that, now. I’m just numb. I’m disgusted, sick, depressed… and numb.

JREF’s done. I don’t see how that main national board can survive this. I will be shocked if DJ Groethe at the very least isn’t fired. As to the Center for Inquiry… I think it’s time that main board was replaced. Now yes, I really am calling for it. This time, I can say absolutely that no apology will suffice. Both CFI and JREF need new leadership… and badly. The boards of both organizations need to step down. ALL OF THEM.

The floodgates have opened. That much is obvious. Now I’m just going to sit back and watch as, inevitably, more and more crap comes flooding out. Because, mark my words. It will. Let’s not forget, folks… American Atheists is embroiled in a scandal involving racism, too.

The only question now is… what’s next?

BTW… it ended up on Jezebel.

You should read what Rebecca Watson has to say.

You should also really read Jason Thibeault’s write-up on this, as well.

Ophelia Benson has a few things to say about this, as well. Two things, to be exact.

Dana Hunter also has her own extremely important thoughts, and I agree with her wholeheartedly. We were way too forgiving.

And so does Jennifer McCreight! Two things, in fact. A note on that second post, though. You’ll note that half of it was deleted. In this post, she says why; she’s being threatened with a lawsuit by another serial harasser. If you subscribe to her blog via emails, then you’ll have read what was deleted. Please do not name that name here. If Jen can’t stand up to the threat, I’ll be even worse-off under the face of it. But suffice it to say, I know the name and knowing it just makes me even more numb.

Though I should say this… Jason Thibeault has named that name (I could be wrong, but I think Jason has more legal protection in Canada than Jen has here in the US)… he’s also named DJ Groethe in that post. Still… don’t talk about the first big name here.

I need to make to make an admission, here. I do wish I had that list of people to avoid. But I don’t ask for it, either, because it’s none of my business until it affects me directly and, so far, it hasn’t. That goes for all of you, as well. Sure, having that list, and having it public, would be wonderful. But we don’t live in a world where that is possible. We live in a world where the people making it public will be vilified and harassed and worse, even if the names on that list are proven to be what they are charged to be. So let’s not have anyone here asking for that list. Okay?

And now for some more commenting rules…

So here’s the rest of the commenting deal: no trolls, no naysayers, no deniers. Period. You may post here to discuss the details of this. Respectful debate can be had over various details, but there will be no brow-beating, no denialism, no constant posts of “evidence, please”. I am going to be a tyrannical dictator on this post and violate free speech so much you’re going to think me worse than God himself when I’m done… unless, of course, you’re only here to support the victims and discuss the cases. Then you’re gonna be fine. ANY “devil’s advocates” and “innocent ‘til proven guilty!” trolls and such will not make it through moderation, so don’t even bother. You are NOT welcome… period.

Oh and yes, I really do mean what I said in the title. I think we now have more than enough evidence that we have a misogyny problem, and at this point, I look at deniers of it in much the same way I look at Creationists, holocaust denialists, Global-Warming denialists, and so on. Also, if you are one of these deniers, I consider you to be part of the misogyny problem. And your gender has nothing to do with it.

Just sayin’…

I’m editing this to include a link to Miri’s wonderful post on sexual harassment and “learning opportunities”. You should read it.

About Nathan Hevenstone

I'm an SJW, Socialist, Jewish Agnostic Atheist, Foodie, and Guitarist. Hi!
This entry was posted in Activism, Atheism, Atheist Organizations, Bigotry, Bullying, Center for Inquiry, Education, Feminism, Free Speech, James Randi Educational Foundation, Law, Misogyny, Rape Culture, Secularism, Sexism, Skepticism, Social Justice, Trigger Warning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Atheism’s Misogyny Problem

  1. Pingback: The Atheist Sex Scandal | hessianwithteeth

  2. What has misogyny at JREF got to do with atheism? I haven’t found anything regarding specific communication with CFI on these matters, so I can’t comment on the claim that the misogynist in question is representative of CFI as a whole. And even if he were, what has that to do with atheism? If an Anglican priest molests a child, do people get up in arms about the Lutherans?

    @Nathan – I’m not sure to which secular you’re referring. I’ve not seen the secular community as a whole (which includes atheists and agnostics at the very least) always quick to jump on religious communities and claim that such problems do not exist outside religion or use such things to show that we’re good without a god.

    Assuming that there are communities out there making the claims you suggest, then I reckon they don’t represent the majority of the secular world. At most they represent the willfully ignorant and idiots. They certainly don’t represent me or anyone I know. There is no “we” being shown up as hypocrites, though there may be a “they” being shown up as hypocrites.

  3. jennydevildoll says:

    I can’t offer any immediate solution beyond the ongoing fight that also exists in spheres other than atheism. Honestly, when I first started reading of such incidents I was a bit surprised because I know people who identify as feminists and atheists both. But then again, I know people who identify as atheists who will sometimes carry over attitudes that seem based in the pervasive European/American Christian culture – that colors much of our culture, literature, entertainment, etc. even if we don’t consider ourselves part of that. It also occurs in the so-called “alternative spiritualities” (full disclosure- I have a spiritual path, though I known plenty of and have been raised in part by atheists.) There’s a lot of cultural programming that begins when we’re very young, and those years of baggage aren’t always easily shaken off overnight.

  4. Eric says:

    Clearly there is a problem. However, replacing the leadership is not guaranteed to actually address the problem. New leadership might easily be as bad, or worse. Actually addressing the problem will require the leadership to institute some systemic changes to redress it. What should those changes be?

    • The problem is that the curent leadership cannot be trusted to do anything other than enforce the current misogynistic status quo. You are 100% right that there needs to be systemic changes. But we need a leadership willing to bring about those changes.

  5. It’s ridiculous that we, in a society that prides itself on freedom and individual rights still deal with this kind of discrimination and harrassment. It’s not surprising that secular organizations are like this because mysoginy is still so ingrained in our culture.

    • I guess it is a bit surprising because the secular community is always quick to jump on other communities that have it, like the Catholic Church and so on. We use that to show how we’re “good without God”.

      Yet here we are, being shown up as hypocrites. Technically, at least according to the narrative we’ve presented the public, we should be better than this.

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