If you’ve been on vacation, you may not have noticed the firestorm erupting over an incident on Reddit’s atheism subgroup. If you’re not the internet junkie type, Reddit is a social news site where members link to stories in particular subject groups. R/atheism is the site’s atheist subgroup, with over 350,000 members.
A few days ago, a fifteen year old girl posted a picture of herself with a book by Carl Sagan. It was titled “What my super religious mother got me for Christmas.” (LINK) If you’re like me, you look at the picture and think, “How awesome is that! A mom being openminded and loving towards her teenage daughter!” Until I read the comments, I would have thought that’s what most people’s reaction would be.
I’m sorry to say I placed far too much faith in humanity. I’m still having trouble coming to grips with some of the things redditors said to her, and still grasping at straws trying to come up with an explanation for it all.
- Brace yourself. The compliments are coming.
- Bracin’ mah anus
- She is fifteen years old. ABORT THE MISSION. ABORT THE MISSION.
- The jeans I’m wearing are older then her. But then again, they’re full of holes.
- Aaaaaaand so is she…
By the way, the picture at the upper left of this page? That’s the picture. If we were talking about a girl wearing a skimpy bikini, posing seductively, I could understand why men would think sexual responses were in order. But there’s nothing remotely sexual about the picture, except for the fact that it’s a girl. And that screams misogyny.
In fairness, I could probably leave this story at a few jerks being jerks if this had been the extent of the jerkiness. These comments are rude, misogynist, and unbecoming of people who like to claim that a godless moral system is better than a Christian one. But it’s not enough (in my humble opinion) to generate an outcry. Part of blogging and putting yourself out there is that there will be rude comments. I’ve gotten hundreds, maybe thousands of them in my years of atheist blogging. Some have reflected people’s perception of my sexual appeal or abilities. They were not kind. But I’ve gotten over it.
The thing is, that’s not where the comments stopped. Not even remotely.
- Well, 15 is legal many places, including my country, so I’ll only have to deal with abduction charges.
- You call it kidnapping. I call it surprise adoption.
Ok. We just crossed the line from wildly inappropriate and misogynist to criminal. Even in anonymous forums, the FBI takes threats of rape and kidnapping seriously. And even in anonymous forums, normal adults know better than to say such awful things to a child. At this point in the thread, I was struggling for a reason — ANY reason — why someone would do this and think it would be a good thing. After all, I pride myself on trying to understand every side of a story before I make my judgment. But I’m stumped on this one. The best I can come up with is that these are sociopaths with no concept of human empathy, and I’m ashamed to be associated with them, even if it’s only as a member of R/atheism.
I could stop the story at this point, and it would be enough to be outraged about. But that’s not the end of it by a long shot.
- “Relax your anus, it hurts less that way.”
- “Blood is mother nature’s lubricant.”
- “BITE THE PILLOW, IM GOIN’ IN DRY!”
- I’d put billions and billions in your pale blue dot.
- I’d occupy her habitable zone
- I’d go at that so hard, my entire body would appear blue on approach
- Upvote for creative use of Doppler effect in sexual allegory
- I’d read that book so f***ing hard to you.
And yes… each of these comments got plenty of upvotes. One got almost 2000. There have been hurtful parodies of her picture. There have been so many sexual innuendos, invitations, and threats, it’s sickening to look at. And just to add insult to injury, someone took the next obvious step and blamed the girl for… well… being born female:
- “Dat feel when you’ll never be taken seriously in the atheist/scientific/political/whatever community because you’re a girl. :c”
There is one good side to this story. In nearly a week since this whole thing started, there are some good changes on the page. The most recent comment at the time of this writing reads: “It is so awesome to know that your mom accepts you and will get you a present that reflects your interests!!! It’s just nice to be understood. Sorry about the cruddy comments from people on here. a fellow geek.” You have to scan down the page a bit to get to the rude content, some of which has been removed at the curiously sober discretion of the posters. But don’t you worry… there are thousands of screen-shots documenting the full scope of the atrocity.
In over a decade of atheist writing, I have never found myself in this awful position. I suddenly feel ashamed to be associated with one of the largest internet atheist communities. I find myself loathing large groups of men who call themselves atheists. I am appalled that I have spent so much time over the years fighting a battle against the blatant misogyny in Christianity, only to be slapped in the face by my own philosophical brothers.
Well… here’s what I have to say to you, any of you who might have taken part in this. SHAME! How dare you waggle your anonymous internet genitals in front of a child while invoking the label atheist! How dare you spit on what so many of us have worked so hard to accomplish! HOW DARE YOU, when you know as well as anyone that we are still the only minority that it’s OK to hate!? How dare you indulge in your sick, infantile displays of repressed mommy issues, and your latent hatred of women, even though it’s your own fault for not putting the Cheetos down and leaving 4chan for twenty minutes to try to get a date with an age appropriate woman!? How dare you try to associate yourself with me, or any of the thousands of bloggers who fight for women’s rights — those of us who oppose hate and misogyny!?
There is simply no excuse for this. Internet anonymity does not excuse it. The girl being a girl doesn’t excuse it. The fact that it’s only a couple thousand out of three hundred thousand doesn’t excuse it. It is inexcusable.
As a final note, many — including myself — have pointed out that as the atheist movement grows, there will be inevitable instances of people doing bad things while wearing scarlet As. This is undoubtably true, and this incident surely reflects the phenomenon. I have no doubt that most of these posters are fringe dwellers, angry malcontents, under-socialized. I’m sure porn is the only sexual outlet for some of them. I take comfort in the fact that even in r/atheism, sanity seems to have won the day. But let me make this abundantly clear: This is not your mommy’s basement. This is not your daddy’s church. This kind of behavior will not fly in this community, and you will find no sanctuary should you continue to indulge your sick fantasies while invoking our name.