My Talk on Atheism and Dating August 9, 2009

My Talk on Atheism and Dating

I’m about to start the Secular Student Alliance Board meeting, so I’ll be away for a couple more days, but PZ Myers posted my talk on Atheism and Dating on his website.

I haven’t had a chance to see it yet (it’s always weird to watch yourself…) but you can let me know what you think.

I was told later that the word “midget” is a slur. My bad. I should have used the words “little person.” Or perhaps omitted that story altogether…

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  • Ruthless Benedict

    I don’t think the story was the problem, but it seemed as if you emphasized the fact that the woman was a “midget” and that it would be ridiculous to consider dating a little person. It would have better to emphasize the fact that she had been on Springer, not that she was little. It made you seem ignorant and judgmental, but after years of reading your blog, I know you are neither. As atheists, we are looked down upon by so many people and it is only detrimental to our cause to judge others for something they have no control over, such as a physical disability. But, we all make mistakes and I can see you were just trying to warm up the crowd with a funny story. The rest of the speech was really entertaining, sounds like a great conference!

  • JulietEcho

    Hemant! Any little people (or “midgets” as you so elegantly put it) who meet you from now on absolutely have the right to kick you square in the nuts.

    Sure, the girl from your example was dishonest by not disclosing such a major fact about herself, but you made it sound like it would be an automatic deal-breaker for anyone in your shoes, which it isn’t.

    The rest of the presentation was pretty good (and nice pictures), but we totally cringed at my house when you told that first story.

    Now, the Springer thing is totally different, and no one who’s been on Springer has the right to kick you in the nuts.

  • Chris

    Looking for Atheist women in particular is probably a bad strategy. Gender ratio is one of the single biggest factors outside of your control that goes toward determining your success with women. That’s why if you’re going out it’s best go to bars where the gender ratio is in your favor. Atheism is particularly male dominated so you’re cutting your odds down by a lot.

    And really – I know you write about it on a day to day basis and everything, but to most reasonable people, their religious views are just kind of…there. Until you get to the fundamentalists, on a day to day basis your life is pretty much the same whether you’re atheist or catholic or christian, at least in my experience. It probably matters most when you get to raising kids (so far down the road it’s not really worth worrying about right away), and I think as long as you marry someone somewhat reasonable then it’s likely you’ll be able to comprimise. Most fundamentalists you’ll never get along with anyways since you’ll probably have so little in common with them in other areas of life.

  • Well, that was unkind.

    It isn’t just your use of the word “midget” that has everybody up in arms; it’s your disrespect and lack of empathy for a whole category of people defined not by their character, but by a physical attribute over which they have no control.

    Nobody is saying you’re morally required to be attracted to little people. But to publicly ridicule an often antagonized population (“did she go up on you?”, “I helped her climb it like it was Everest or something”) and characterize them as the epitome of bad surprises on a date… don’t you think that if such a person were to stumble upon this video, she would rightfully feel hurt?

    Such callous ignorance isn’t the kind of thing that can be patched up with a footnote on a blog entry, it’s the kind of thing that you should be far too embarrassed to post on your blog to begin with.

  • Ubi Dubium

    “Midgits” are specially blessed by the FSM (pesto be upon him) so that’s not a slur if you are Pastafarian. Now the Springer thing, that’s creepy.

    I think the challenge is not finding specifically atheist dates, but how to weed out those who would find absense of religion a deal-killer. And those who have been on Springer, or would like to be.

  • Andrew

    “helped her climb the passenger seat like it was Everest”

    What, was that supposed to get a laugh or something? This just makes atheists look really bad, and I really hope this video doesn’t spread very far.

  • medussa

    Who was your audience??!
    Obviously, your presentation was geared towards guys, not one word of encouragement for the girls.
    But it also seemed to be geared towards total nerds, with no social skills or interests other than atheism (reminding them to read the a paper? Take up a sport?).
    Now, I know these folks exist, but how did you get them all into one classroom to give the lecture? How do you advertise for “Find a girl, even if you’re an atheist boy nerd, Intro 101”?
    I’m impressed.

    My apologies to nerds, I don’t mean to diminish them, I’m just acknowledging an overemphasis on brain matter, and a lack of social skills.

  • :: Or perhaps omitted that story altogether… ::


    Or better yet, stop treating people like that. It’s not just a matter of not telling such stories in public; it’s not living them, too.

    I tried to ride past that story to see what else you had to say, but between it being SUCH an obvious ridiculous deal-breaker that she could think it reasonable to date you, making fun of her for not being able to get into your car without assistance, and the HI-LARIOUS joke your friend made and you felt a need to pass on to us, I decided that I didn’t have enough respect for the way you treat other people to want to know what you had to say about dating.

  • OK, maybe I’m more politically incorrect than others, but that opening story had me laughing out loud. The whole point wasn’t that he was on a date with a “person of less-than average stature”, it was that we’ve ALL had dates that were really awkward, and here’s Hemant’s version.

  • nonfictions

    I agree with the 1st comment (Ruthless Benedict). I’m not going to be too hard on you because in general, save for a few frat boy-esque posts, your blog is fantastic and my life is better for having it in it.

  • jemand

    you should DEFINITELY have left out the jokes about her stature. You could have told the story purely by saying that she had been featured on the Jerry Springer show!! That would have been crazy enough and made your point about online dating without ANY mention of her physical size. The jokes on that were totally harsh.

  • I rather think what’s important is that Hemant is admitting he made an error – we call can screw up, and say things that aren’t proper.

  • Carlie

    I wouldn’t say anything elsewhere about it that I wouldn’t say here too, so I’ll repeat what I wrote at Pharyngula. That first story was really rude and uncool and makes atheists look pretty bad. The whole point of it was “ha ha, she was short and isn’t that funny”. If you had focused on the Springer part, ok, but the emphasis was definitely on her height being the amusing part. I couldn’t really watch the rest after that, so it definitely detracted from whatever else you were trying to say. Everybody has to be taught to be tolerant to people not like themselves, so I assume you simply haven’t had much contact with Little People and haven’t thought about it before. This story is a good intro to the subject. The story has a little whiff of oppression olympics about it, but here’s a relevant quote:

    “Even if LPs could ban the word “midget” — or find the perfect term to describe themselves — neither mockery nor bias nor movies like this one would magically vanish overnight. What would really help stop the laughing and pointing at the “midget” on the street? Advocates within LPA agree: the understanding that people with dwarfism are actual humans, not mythical creatures or comic relief.”

  • As an atheist who has a disability, and as the child of a mother who has several disabilities, the presentation just disgusted me. It is like, wait a minute, is this the same Hemant that I’ve known since 2005?

    I don’t mean to be rude, but you should have left the dating topic to an atheist who was actually engaged or married. Those people could lend insights in actually maintaining relationships, not just talking about encounters gone sour.

    And to Veritas, it’s not like Hemant just made an error. This YouTube video has already been viewed nearly 600 times. I can guarantee you that it will be watched by a midget, or the parent or a friend of a “little person”. In short, it has the potential to ruin somebody’s day.

    Let me give you a true story. Friday, I went to a doctor for a debilitating medical condition that I have. My Mom, who was also there, is a friend of two of their receptionists, a mother and a daughter.

    Apparently, the daughter found this really hot guy who also went to see my Doctor. The daughter receptionist asked her Mom what was wrong with him, and she said “Oh, you really wouldn’t want a date from a person going to this doctor!”

    This was relayed to my Mom and me, and the message was “People like you are not worth of dates!” I found this encounter really depressing, and I have struggled with feelings of worthlessness and depression for the whole weekend. In short, like many of the midgets who will hear this, I felt like life wasn’t worth living because nobody would date someone with my handicap.

    In short, when we demean people with disabilities, we send the message that they are second class citizens. I have suffered from a medical condition my whole adult life, and I know what it’s like to be a member of a victimized group. What you did, Hemant, was very wrong, and you should write a public apology for your remarks.

  • Yeaaah, I would have omitted the little person story. You could feel the awkwardness in the room during that part… I think if you would have just stuck to “internet profiles don’t always tell the truth” as the message instead of making the little people jokes, it would have been okay.

    And as for the room being filled with atheist nerds…yeah, pretty much. The day I find a room full of atheists who aren’t nerdy, I’ll die of a heart attack =P

  • I was appalled. I just switched it off; an advantage of watching something cruel and offensive on your computer. I kept thinking of what the girl herself would be feeling if she sees it — which is very probable. It was much much worse than merely using the word “midget”. The whole attitude shown was dreadful.

    Sorry. Had to be said.

  • Philbert

    I reckon that anyone who volunteers for Jerry Springer can probably survive hearing a couple of jokes from the likes of Hemant.

  • Andrew

    “I reckon that anyone who volunteers for Jerry Springer can probably survive hearing a couple of jokes from the likes of Hemant.”
    This isn’t about that individual. It’s about an expressed attitude towards an entire class of people.

    Like others here, I couldn’t get past the opening.

  • Aj

    “Midget” only means a small person. People just really want attention and to be judgemental over petty bullshit with feigned offense. You can shove your “offense” up your hole. Hemant should probably leave it out so cry babies don’t go ape shit and off topic.

    I find the misfortune of others funny. I think this is probably at the expense of them, so this I can’t condone it. However I liked the “go up on you” comment because of the word play and that while it acknowledged a physical attribute it wasn’t pointing out a misfortune. Unless you think giving Hemant a BJ is unfortunate.

    It’s completely fair for Hemant to not want to date midgets if he doesn’t want to, and to think the absence of this information in a profile on a dating site was deceitful. He was rather kind to stick around.

  • Um… AJ. I did’t seek out Hemant to dump on him. He asked for what people thought. I am a regular reader of his blog and a fan of his book. HE ASKED for opinion, and he’s received it. If he hadn’t asked, I would not have bothered to say anything.

    It’s not off topic — it is what Hemant asked for. It’s not “ape shit” … most responses have been a lot more polite than yours. It’s not feigned or self absorbed; I suspect that the biggest reason for the negative reaction is empathy, which is just the opposite.

    The “go up on you” was funny; but it wasn’t just a generic joke. It was in relation to a specific girl who is easily identifiable.

    You can disagree by all means. You can say that anyone who appears on Springer has forfeited all further right to respect.

    But I don’t agree; and Hemant asked what people thought. He’s found out, as I presume he wanted.

  • Aj

    There seems to be some confusion about my comment.

    I assumed Hemant asked for comment on what his talk was about i.e. atheist and dating, not on the part where he warms up the audience with some jokes. Of course it’s off topic, it’s about midget related offense not “atheism and dating”.

    Ape shit doesn’t mean the opposite of polite. It wasn’t directed specifically at any of the commenters here but in response to Hemant’s post, it was generally at people who don’t like words, in this case “midget”. I disagree very much that it’s about empathy.

    Jokes about specific people are fine, there’s nothing wrong with people giving Hemant BJs, and I’m sure Hemant will agree with that sentiment. I didn’t mention Springer at all, I don’t think it’s relevant.

  • Chris

    Bottom line is I think the midget jokes don’t look good for Atheists and doesn’t belong on 2 of the most popular Atheist blogs. Regardless of whether or not people like to be politically incorrect on their own, it’s just something that all the anti-atheists are probably gonna use against us – certainly it’s not “friendly”.

    But Hemant, don’t quit your day job. Your talk was funny at times (and maybe that was the point) but in general it seemed like your dating advice was for hopeless nerds.

  • Mariana

    For shame…that opening story made you sound just as intolerant and insensitive as religious people are accused of being.

  • Dan W

    I definitely think it would have been better to omit the “midget” story. It may come across as intolerant to some.

    Other than that, I thought your presentation was pretty good. It did appear like your speech was, in some spots, similar to advice for people who have less experience with dating/socializing, for example geeky people like me. But I liked most of it.

  • Chris said: “Looking for Atheist women in particular is probably a bad strategy. Gender ratio is one of the single biggest factors outside of your control that goes toward determining your success with women. That’s why if you’re going out it’s best go to bars where the gender ratio is in your favor. Atheism is particularly male dominated so you’re cutting your odds down by a lot.

    This is idiotic advice.

    You are cutting your odds by a lot, but I don’t like odd girls, and theists are odd. The *whole point* is to cut the odd.

    I can play a lottery with good odds offering a prize that I FUCKING HATE AND WANT TO SET ALIGHT WITH GASOLINE, or I can play a lottery with bad odds that at least has a prize worth winning.

  • Now you know how those of us who didn’t know “negro” was a slur felt.

  • LKL

    I’m repeating a story I told briefly over at Pharyngula:
    My best friend at University was 3’11 3/4″ tall. The ‘jokes’ at the beginning would have her in tears if she ever had the misfortune to see them; she was a beautiful, bright, strong young science major, but she was terribly insecure because of the way people treated her. She hates the word ‘midget’ because it is associated with circus side-shows and the short servants of royalty (treated like pets) in the dark ages.

    She ended up marrying a fundie and joining a semi-cult-like Christian group, because they were more accepting of her as a human being than any other social group she’d ever bee been a part of.

    It’s sad that atheists can’t be as accepting as a bunch of fundie creeps. Given our lack of biblical handicapping, we should be able to do better for other human beings.

  • medussa

    Wow, Chimaera, I don’t even know how to respond to that, but I know I need to.

    Learning respectful vocabulary is a process, not something that is learned by osmosis. Hemant, and many others of us here, just learned a more respectful word than midget, which is how learning happens. And I’m assuming all of us will continue to learn and adapt to the social and political changes occurring in this country, which we are trying to be a part of, after all. And that all means new vocabulary.

    How long ago did you find out that the word Negro was sorely outdated? Last week? Then it was indeed time you learned. 30 years ago? Time to let it go.
    Keep on learning and growing.

  • Peter

    I can’t understand how people are so incredibly offended over this… I can understand saying it was somewhat distasteful, but geeze! It’s like he was telling jokes about raping her or something, the way you people are reacting.

  • Aj


    For shame…that opening story made you sound just as intolerant and insensitive as religious people are accused of being.

    I can understand insensitive, especially for the Everest joke, but I’d really like a justification for why you think Hemant is intolerant, especially since he went beyond his duty and stayed on the date. If anything he was being the opposite of intolerant in his story. If we should get upset about words it should be words being thrown at us like “intolerant” when it’s completely unjustified.

    The implication that Hemant was just as intolerant as religious people I hope is not refering to their treatment of gays. If it is, you need to step the fuck back and actually think about what you’re equating.

  • I thought the whole talk was well presented and funny. There were a couple of things to improve on but then nobody is perfect. The comments seem to focus on your story that features a person of limited stature. Putting aside the joke at their expense as this has been covered already I wonder why she felt it necessary to exclude her height from her profile.

    Maybe she thought that it said nothing about her as a person but restricted access to potential mates. In a similar way that atheism or even your skin colour restricts your own access to potential mates. Whatever the reason there is a parallel here that is worth exploring.

  • Tom

    Putting aside the joke at their expense as this has been covered already I wonder why she felt it necessary to exclude her height from her profile.

    By choosing the word “exclude,” you display a callous ignorance to this person’s situation. This implies that you are entitled to know that this person is “of limited stature,” or whatever the hell pc term you like. All people should be entitled to a normally developed body, but she was not. Now, who is really screwed here, Hemant or the girl? Why did Hemant not include his important stipulation of knowing what you look like from the neck down? It’s his own damn fault, and you want to blame it on some imagined sneaky exclusion.

    In dating, if you don’t do your homework and you are disappointed, it’s your fault.

  • Matthew

    I liked it. Can you post a copy of the Powerpoint? Some of the (obviously funny by the crowd reaction) slides were hard to make out.

  • Tom, read the rest of my comment before going off on rant. I’m not seeing any winners here. There is nothing “wrong” with being short any more than there is with being brown skinned or having a hair lip.

    I’m suggesting that there are social pressures on people to conform. These limit people’s willingness to date short people or atheists or anyone else who is not is a “normal” category. So what do we do? We hide these things in the hope that we’ll get lucky and it won’t make a difference in the end, that our unusual characteristics don’t define us as people.

    Hemant shouldn’t have joked at anyone’s expense but he’s already said as much. I’m more interested in the parallels between attitudes to dwarfism or something like race (obvious, external differences) and attitudes to atheism (an internalised attitude or opinion) when it comes to dating. It seems clear that both make a difference to the initial choices that people make but also that they are not insurmountable.

    The short lady hid her height on her profile and Hemant hid his religious opinion on his profile. Both seemed to gain more access to dates as a result. For people who are seeking mates can you blame them for a lie of omission? Either of them?

  • selfification

    Naughty Hemant – you referred to them as “Atheist babies”. Dawkins would disapprove and would call it child abuse 🙂

  • AxeGrrl

    hoverFrog wrote:

    The short lady hid her height on her profile and Hemant hid his religious opinion on his profile. Both seemed to gain more access to dates as a result. For people who are seeking mates can you blame them for a lie of omission?

    Here’s an interesting scenario……

    Imagine if the little person had a similar ‘visceral’ reaction to Hemant upon finding out that he’s an atheist ~ then imagine her giving a talk about dating and relating the anecdote in a kind of (unwittingly) mocking way towards his atheism.

    (I don’t know if that elicits any ‘revelatory wisdom(s)’ at all, but it’s always interesting to imagine a reverse scenario, now matter what the situation 🙂

    The essence of the issue here seems to be this truth about ‘blind’ dating:

    what some people consider to be ‘irrelevant’ personal characteristics, others see as being very relevant and/or ‘worthy of note’ when it comes to describing oneself.

    Who ‘should’ decide what’s relevant-to-know? the person with the characteristic in question or the person meeting them for a blind date?

  • @medussa
    You obviously weren’t in on these conversations last year:

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