I wrote about this at my old blog here and here. I still don't have any great solutions and I'm still bitterly disappointed at the responses from commenters. It feels like we're fighting a losing battle. That said, I've also gone on record to state that I have not experienced a great deal of this at the local events I've attended. Almost every person in our groups has been kind and decent. I count myself fortunate.
I cannot, however, say that about my interactions online. On one of my favorite blogs, I attracted the unwanted attention of a guy who thought it was fun to attack everything about me. I had shared my story of mental illness and how religion had seriously impeded my treatment. This guy proceeded to tear into me, calling me terrible names and claiming that I was just making up the story for attention (because such things just don't happen). It got to the point where every time I posted a comment, he attacked me more and more viciously. I was using the handle "Skepticat" at the time and he took great delight in calling me "Skepticunt" and various other epithets while attacking my character and my motives. After several other commenters and I complained, he was given a warning to stop and he did.
Yet it comes as no surprise to me that this guy is still an asshole and is still making comments on that site to assure that no woman ever really wants to leave a comment there. This is his response to a well-written post on sexual harassment in the atheist community:
If this is really such a big problem in the Atheist community than why haven't any Atheist females had anything to say today?Is this the Atheist Revolution,or the Feminist Revolution?I want names,dates,places,witnesses,and reliable fact check able proof that this is happening.Otherwise it is just hearsay,and we can move on to real Atheist issues.Yawn.
Yes, assholes are a HUGE problem in the atheist community and this guy is one of them. He uses words to create a hostile place where no woman feels safe sharing a personal story or taking a stand on an issue. Why have no atheist females posted on there? Probably because he ran them off with his rudeness. Notice how, to him, other people's feelings and problems aren't "real Atheist issues" and bore him. That's because he's a fucking asshole who doesn't care about anyone but himself as far as I can tell.
The real pity here? His comment currently has 6 thumbs up.
It's not the person who smiles at me, who speaks to me, who stares at me, who offers to buy me a drink that makes the atheist community hostile. It's the person who doesn't listen to a word I say unless he's using those words to tear me apart further. It's the person who isn't interested in how I feel unless he can find a way to trample those feelings even further. It's the person who feels like he's entitled to dismiss my concerns out of hand because I don't matter.
These assholes aren't here to build community - they are here to further their own particular agenda regardless of the cost to other people. They are here to get their egos stroked because they get off on their smug self-righteousness. And, whether we like it or not, they are everywhere. They permeate our community and we need to find a constructive way to deal with them.
Why bother? Because I refuse to let assholes ruin everything for everybody, particularly for me. I'm just as important a part of the atheist community as he is and he's not running me off. You want to know what the best way to combat harassment at these events is? It's a two-pronged approach: 1) Do not be an asshole or tolerate asshole behavior. 2) Encourage more people - particularly minorities - to show up. We need more folks, not fewer. We need better folks. We need folks willing to stand up for each other. We need folks who have morals. And, above all, we need to learn to listen to each other and show some damned empathy. If we want to be a bunch of hateful, sexist, self-righteous assholes, we might as well have stayed in our religious communities. After all, they can blame God for the things they do wrong. Who do we blame?