Why Atheists Should Be Feminists

I’ve been writing since the beginning of Daylight Atheism about the unique ways that religion harms women. Although men have also suffered innumerable harms from religious beliefs, they’re not singled out, treated as an underclass uniquely deserving of condemnation, the way that women are in almost every major religion’s sacred texts. That’s why I wrote in posts like 2006′s “Religion’s Harm to Women“:

There is only one realistic way to end religion’s harm to women, and that is to cut it off at the source: every feminist should be an atheist.

I still stand by this. But over the past year, I’ve come to the realization that, if we’re ever going to make progress rolling back the advance of fundamentalism, this equation also has to flow in the opposite direction.

The feminist cause has made enormous strides over the past century, both in law and in fact, but we have to face up to the fact that our society is still far from true equality for men and women. There’s still a persistent pay gap between men and women, and CEOs and other captains of industry are overwhelmingly male. Women are still judged on their appearance to an enormously greater extent than is true for men, and rewarded to the extent for which they’re willing to conform and act accordingly. And then there are the direct threats to women’s health and lives, including forced prostitution, domestic violence, honor killings, genital mutilation and rape, which are persistent in the West and endemic in the developing world.

And as atheists, we ought to have a particularly easy time recognizing the harm done to women in the name of God. Since our vision isn’t clouded by theological biases that excuse sexist treatment as God’s ineffable will, we can see the systematic degradation of women in the world’s religions: barring women from positions of authority, forcing them to wear dehumanizing clothing, teaching that their proper role is to obey men, and more.

But for all that, the atheist community isn’t completely free of sexism either. There’s still too much tolerance of sexist insults, in a way that would never be countenanced for racist or homophobic language. There are still too many notable instances of women being demeaned as less intelligent or less capable of skepticism than men, or in some other way inferior. And then, of course, there are the atheists who are just flat-out stupid bigots, like this one who thinks that the only reason women wanted the right to vote was so they could take away men’s right to drink:

Feminism has its roots in the Suffrage movement, which was a movement of radical Christian women who thought that giving women the right to vote was a necessary step in removing men’s ability to buy alcohol.

All these things individually may seem subtle or trivial, not worth our time to address. But the overall consequences are obvious and readily visible: the atheist movement has a significant imbalance of men, and the most prominent and visible atheists – the ones who get the lion’s share of media attention, the ones who are most often assumed to represent atheism as a whole – are all men. As Greta Christina says, when a situation like this arises, it’s almost never an accident.

And there are plenty of people who’ve noticed this, even if they’re not completely clear on the causes. Consider columns like this one, from Sarah McKenzie, calling for greater female participation in the atheist movement (HT: the always-incisive Ophelia Benson). Most of the column is excellent, but where I think she goes astray is this:

After all, girls are taught to be sensitive and emotional, to not cause trouble or be particularly forthright with their opinions. Women who dare to be aggressive or outspoken are often labelled as hysterical harpies, not worthy of being listened to and impossible to take seriously. We should hardly be surprised that some women might be reluctant to come out as atheists.

While I agree that women are underrepresented among prominent atheists, I don’t think it’s the case that it’s because women are put off by confrontational skepticism (though her point about women being attacked for being outspoken is well-taken). Rather, I think it’s because there is sexism, and tolerance of sexism, in the atheist community, to a greater degree than I’d like to admit – and women are quite capable of sensing that. It’s small wonder that they don’t always feel welcome. And what makes it worse is that this problem is self-perpetuating: often, men who notice this gender gap assume it to have some biological basis, as if women were “naturally” more prone to be religious than men – and this kind of baseless, unfounded just-so story exacerbates the problem still further.

This, of course, isn’t to say that there are no female atheists. There are many – I’ve linked to some of them in just this post – and they span the spectrum from peaceful and nurturing to assertive and ass-kicking. It’s not as if would-be female atheists are lacking for worthy role models. But more needs to be done, which is why I believe that atheists need to be feminists, both within our own community and in the wider world. We need to learn to recognize sexism, both overt and subtle, and to call it out wherever it appears. We have to be more diligent in recognizing and promoting the contributions of female freethinkers. And most importantly, we need to stop tolerating those among us who make ignorant remarks that stigmatize women and discourage them from participating.

The diversity of the atheist movement is its greatest strength. There will never be a council of elders or an infallible text dictating what atheists must believe, nor would I want there to be. But I think the atheist community can and should act collectively, by unanimous consent, to make it clear to sexists and other bigots that they are not welcome and that we don’t want them associated with us – similar to the way Larry Darby was collectively cast out after he revealed his racist, Holocaust-denying beliefs. We should do this not because it’s a decree imposed on us from above, but because we all recognize, using our own reason and best sense, that it’s the right thing to do, and that we stand to gain many more friends and allies than we stand to lose.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    With all that said, I’d like to open the floor to comments, particularly from women. Have you noticed sexism in the atheist community, and what advice would you give us in how we can best respond to it?

  • Katie M

    I’ve gotten nothing like that from fellow atheists. The only sexism I have ever encountered has been from Christians insisting that I’m just angry at God because he put me in a subservient role.

  • Chris

    There will never be a council of elders or an infallible text dictating what atheists must believe, nor would I want there to be. But I think the atheist community can and should act collectively, by unanimous consent

    Aren’t you contradicting yourself a bit here? I think the atheist community should act by majority consensus, but even families of 3-4 people have difficulty mustering *unanimous* consent on what to eat for dinner without imposing a hierarchical structure where one person makes the decision and everyone else has to shut up and eat it.

    If you make unanimous consent your standard for success, failure is a foregone conclusion.

    Of course, I agree that atheists shouldn’t turn a blind eye to bigotry within our ranks, whether sexist or any other sort. But completely eliminating it is an unrealistic goal as long as our species remains what it is. The most we can hope for is to give it no official or popular support, so that the people who harbor it have to hide it from polite company.

  • Scotlyn

    Sexism is a many-faceted thing…and some of its sources lie at the root of our most intimate sense of self, in as much as that sense is shaped by our gender and the interactions of our gendered self with others in our families, societies and cultures. “Making it clear to sexists…that they are not welcome,” might therefore be said, for some value of “sexism”, to exclude us all.

    I would find it a more useful statement to say that atheists should be open to explorating and understanding the interactions of gender and power, even when they are taking place within our own selves, and strive, wherever possible, to oppose any speech or action that removes power or autonomy from women and girls. And that atheists should understand the reasons why this would be to the benefit of people of both (all?) genders. And that, by so doing, we seek to exclude certain behaviours, not certain people.

    In answer to your question, I would say that, on balance, atheist discourse generally seems to be less sexist, and more aware of the problem of gendered power imbalances, than that of the general society, although exceptions can always be found.

  • http://www.noforbiddenquestions.com NFQ

    As a woman I have not experienced sexism in the atheist community. However, in light of my experience with programs designed to root out sexism and other forms of discrimination in other (more formal) groups I’ve been a part of … I feel like I should say that the active participants have rarely experienced it. It’s the people who stick their toes in the water and then get scared off by it. And it’s so hard to get their opinions and insights in polls, since they’re already gone.

  • phira

    As an atheist woman, I definitely appreciate this post a lot.

    I think that the first step to reducing sexism within the atheist/skeptic community is for male allies to speak up. In my experience, it’s also important for women to speak up, but when you have sexism within the community, you basically get a, “Stop overreacting, you overly emotional woman” reaction. What we need is for other people, including prominent men, to speak up and say, “Hey, what you said there was inappropriate because [insert brief explanation of inappropriateness here]. Please don’t say that again.” One of the biggest problems when you’re trying to make change is that people don’t always speak up, ESPECIALLY when the issue at hand isn’t necessarily detrimental to them.

    It’s essential that we create safe spaces, where everyone feels welcome, and everyone feels safe to engage in discussion. Little comments can make a space unsafe, even if the comments might seem harmless.

    Two things that makes me feel welcome when reading an atheist or skeptic blog are 1) posts that are dedicated to discussing sexism in some capacity (either within the movement or within religions), and 2) when the blog writer comes out and speaks out against sexism, especially against sexism in the blog comments.

  • http://sleepinginsundays.com Josh

    I like where you went with this, but with one caveat. I think any sexism within the Atheist/secular community stems from latent (and overt) sexism in our wider culture. We lack the inherent sexism that many religions are forced to contend with within their founding scriptures or theological claims. So, there’s less intentional sexism for us unbelievers (which you point out).

    You’re right, though, in that we need to use that place of freedom to stamp out sexism as most religions cannot. I just think we’re already a little better off in this department than wider society.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    As a male, I do think there is less sexism, especially of the blatant and obvious kind, within the atheist community than in society at large. I would compare it to the sexism that exists within the larger liberal community. It’s not very in-your-face or coming from feelings of bigotry; rather, it tends to stem from unexamined privilege and assumptions about gender roles. Considering the larger culture that’s not surprising, but it’s something to work on both as individuals and as a community.

  • Ravi

    We will have transcended sexism when each person is treated as a unique individual with a unique perspective, AND when the gender-defined propensities of BOTH genders (and of homosexuals too) are seen as strengths to society and not a threat or something to abuse. Now we are far from this and are faced with figuring out how to bring this aspect of our culture into balance. Political strategies may have their place, and the concept of sexism itself as well (as a way of labeling these abuses), but mostly this seems like a situation requiring mindfulness, and a sense of empathy, obviously qualities that are likely to provide benefits far beyond this particular issue.

  • http://krissthesexyatheist.blogspot.com krissthesexyatheist

    I think that GLBT, atheist, feminist should all be on the same team because our common opponent is the bible and xtians. The atheist community can take pages from GLBT and feminist orgs. and learn from them and their decades of activism. Atheist should support both feminism and the GLBT community and create a united front. Good luck to all.

    Kriss

  • http://blog.OklahomaAtheists.com/ D4M10N

    We did a show on the Oklahoma Atheists Godcast recently on atheism and feminism, but didn’t manage to go into enough detail for my tastes. Alas.

    I’m sure that some atheists have aceepted the gender roles of their upbringing, while others believe (not without evidence) that females are on average better at certain things than males. Even saying that is going to get me into trouble with the atheist community, but there it is. I find it disturbing that it is too often considered taboo (among the activist left) even to point to well-documented statistical disparities between males and females, which to my mind is an anti-scientific taboo. Equal rights does not mean equality in all possible ways.

    That said, I’m not in favor of any distinctions in terms of policy between males and females, with the possible exception of segregated restrooms and showers. I suppose we can keep those, although they do harken back to an unfortunate era of racism and segregationism.

  • DSimon

    Ravi, I agree; the sort of self-reflection that reduces sexism is just the sort that rationalists in general should value: that which reduces our own cognitive bias and helps us to better understand the truth of any given matter.

    I do have one criticism to make, though: to be more accurate and inclusive we should indicate in our language there’s a multi-dimensional range of gender identification rather than merely two binary genders. For this reason I tend to use (and to advise usage of) language like “where each person is treated equally regardless of gender” rather than “where each person of either gender is treated equally”.

  • Alex Weaver

    AND when the gender-defined propensities of BOTH genders (and of homosexuals too) are seen as strengths to society

    I’m not sure we’ll have defeated sexism yet if we’re still just assuming those exist.

  • Alex Weaver

    I find it disturbing that it is too often considered taboo (among the activist left) even to point to well-documented statistical disparities between males and females, which to my mind is an anti-scientific taboo.

    It is certainly taboo* to point to them, flatly assume they’re biological and deterministic, smirk, and say “see? Women aren’t being discriminated against, they aren’t as good at math, so OF COURSE there are more women in scientific jobs.” Unfortunately, since this is what follows “even pointing to” statistical disparities around 97% of the time, people have become a little bit trigger-happy, particularly since people who do the assuming and smirking and saying tend to dishonestly pretend that all they’ve done is “even point to” those statistical disparities when they’re sharply criticized for the assuming and smirking and saying part.

    *”taboo” is not the right word. “Frowned on” would be better.

  • Petrucio

    I do agree with most points raised here and with the importance of the topic.

    Whoever, I’d like to point out that it’s irrelevant that everyone getting the “lion’s share” of the media time are men, since there’s only 4 people getting it, and even if 50% of atheists where women, there would still be a 12.5% chance that 4 prominent atheists would all be men or all be women.

    And in this poster’s humble opinion, Ayaan Hirsi Ali (she’s great BTW) is getting more media time than Daniel Dennet right now. So either you can’t say only men are getting media time, or you’ll have to settle for a 25% change of simple coincidence if you only consider 3 people.

    And I also get a bit annoyed when everyone cries foul whenever someone points out that biological differences may be involved. I do agree that we shouldn’t simply latch on to that explanation and forget about it, but there are important differences between races and sexes, and we shouldn’t just pretent there aren’t to be politically correct. It MAY have some impact on the issue, and it SHOULD be considered as a variable in the equation.

  • Alex Weaver

    I do agree that we shouldn’t simply latch on to that explanation and forget about it, but there are important differences between races and sexes, and we shouldn’t just pretent there aren’t to be politically correct.

    No one’s pretending there aren’t “to be politically correct.” A lot of people are fairly annoyed at the unjustified la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you-ing of compelling evidence for social and environmental causes for most of the differences that are observed/measured and flatly presumed to be Biological And Deterministic, however, and at their objections being misrepresented as consisting of or masking a desire “to be politically correct.”

  • http://www.punkassblog.com Antigone

    This is interesting, because a thread at Phrangula recently evolved (or devolved) into a discussion of sexism among atheists who felt it was okay to call Ann Coulter sexist slurs, because, hey, Ann Coulter’s a terrible person. And, it’s mostly things like that really drive the sexism in atheist community- it’s okay for us to be sexist against not-us, and it’s okay to say things like “We want women because there’s more chances for sexual partners”. (This is the thread in question, if anyone cares: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/08/deep_rifts_among_the_wingnuts.php)

    As to “Important differences between races(!) and sexes” I’d like to have two points:

    1) We have no real way of isolating out cultural pressures and biological pressures. Even things like “Men are generally biologically taller than women” are starting to end up being kind of wrong because women are world-wide increasing in height faster than their male counterparts (it may be that women don’t get the same nutrients as there male relatives, or that there’s more pressure for women to eat less, or more pressure for men to eat more whatever). The gap between if you’re short and tall is less what XX or XY pattern you have and more “Were your parents tall”. Which brings me to point number 2:

    2) The differences tend to not be really good things to base actions and perceptions on because there’s a lot of overlap. To explain, say we take the fairly neutral statement: Boys are taller than girls (once they’re both past puberty). If you based, say hooks of various heights based on this idea, and put women’s hooks at the lowest spot, and men’s at the highest, you’re going to get a lot of people that this just isn’t going to work out. I often wonder if there might be some sort of link between things we don’t discriminate at if we looked at we’d find some sort “On average, X is better than Y” like, “On average, people with blue eyes are taller than people with brown eyes” or “On average, people with freckles are faster than people with tan skin” that people would respond “Why did someone spend money on a study like this” and never think to base their actions around it.

  • Sarah Braasch

    For the greater part, I adore the atheist “community”, such as it is. Hmmm. Sure. There have been a handful of comments that stunk a bit of sexism — more so at the beginning of my participation here than more recently. But, and I may be an aberration, but I’m not experiencing any prevailing or deep seated sexism in the atheist community. Can we make things better? Of course. Always.

    For me — in terms of the law, I don’t think there is any way to justify anything less than full gender equality.

    Of course, there are obvious biological differences between men and women (but, in truth, it’s much more of a spectrum than people realize), but, in the eyes of the law, they should still be treated absolutely equally.

    For example: healthcare. Ok. Sure. Women are going to make use of different services, especially when it comes to sexual and reproductive healthcare. So? All human beings should have full access to their sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights, regardless of gender. That’s what I mean.

    And, yes, if men are drafted into the military, then women should be drafted.

    And, what is this scatological obsession with separate bathrooms and showers in the US? Sophomoric.

    I am hard pressed to think of a single instance where I think there is some biological justification for treating men and women unequally.

    But, no, I don’t have a problem with job qualifications that require certain weight/height, etc. minimums, if they are really required to do the job. But, that requirement has nothing to do with gender.

    I do support affirmative action policies, but I see that as a provision for ensuring our liberal constitutional democracy. Tribalism is still alive and well. Affirmative action policies minimize the effects of tribalism by redistributing power, so that our liberal constitutional democracy doesn’t devolve into a majoritarian democracy and, then, communitarianism.

    So, I guess you can call me a hypocrite, if you like. But, I see it as a concession to pragmatism.

    This is the same reason why I think that diversity is a compelling government interest. To make sure that no one entity or class or group or person has too much power. Power corrupts and leads to oppression.

    This is the same reason why I think gender equality and desegregation should be compelling government interests. But, they’re not. Not yet. But, I’m working on it.

  • Alex Weaver

    I do support affirmative action policies, but I see that as a provision for ensuring our liberal constitutional democracy.

    You can also just see it as a morally compulsory response to the rational observation that it takes more to create a genuinely equal opportunity, in the wake of centuries of legally enforced discrimination and persistent, abiding prejudices, than to simply ensure that no one will tell you to your face you’re not getting the job because you’re black(/female/etc.)

  • Sarah Braasch

    Alex,

    I totally agree with you, except for the expression “morally compulsory”.

    That sentence is gorgeous without it, and troubling with it.

    When people start telling me that things are “morally compulsory”, I start getting very nervous and heading for the door.

  • Rollingforest

    There were several posts above about the nature vs nurture argument about gender differences. How do we tell which one is affecting the difference? Well, one good way is to look at brain studies. By looking to see how the brains compare and how the individuals change when that part of the brain has been injured, you can get a pretty good idea of what is caused by nature and what isn’t.

  • Alex Weaver

    I totally agree with you, except for the expression “morally compulsory”.

    That sentence is gorgeous without it, and troubling with it.

    When people start telling me that things are “morally compulsory”, I start getting very nervous and heading for the door.

    I’m not sure why; if an injustice exists there’s an obligation to correct it.

    By looking to see how the brains compare and how the individuals change when that part of the brain has been injured, you can get a pretty good idea of what is caused by nature and what isn’t.

    This is somewhat problematic given that the structural and physiological development of the brain is affected by environmental factors.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    Thanks for writing this. I have seen some instances of sexism among atheists, but not often. I suppose it’s just a case of there being good and bad people in every group. While there isn’t any dogma or official rulebook in atheism, I definitely think that any person (religious or not) should be in favor of equal rights for people of all genders, just because it’s the right thing to do.

    I think it’s appropriate to point out that the holy books do not give equal rights to women, no matter what some may claim, and that secularism and atheism are better.

    There are some attitudes towards religion, even among atheists, that bother me. There are those who will condemn discrimination between different religious groups (e.g. fighting between Christians and Muslims) but make excuses when the discrimination is going on within a group (e.g. discrimination against the women within a religious group). I think it’s important to make the point that even if there are some women who agree to the discriminatory rules (e.g. women who actually defend the idea that the man is the head of the household or that women should have to be covered up in a burqa) that does not give them any right to impose that on all women. When someone says that the treatment of women is a part of the “culture” of a certain country or group, it’s important to point out that it is only the belief of some of the people in that group while others within the group are being forced to follow it against their will. It should be pointed out more often that women have more rights in a secular society than in the theocratic ones all over the world.

    Thanks again for writing!

  • Kaelik

    Offhand Weaver, I’d point out that lots of people don’t believe in objective morals, so see no reason for the phrase morally compulsory at all.

    Other reasons might just be general skepticism of claims of morally compulsory because they are usually motivated by personal biases, or objections to the idea that actions, even like attempting to prevent a murder are not morally compulsory because some moral systems don’t require actions, only prohibit them.

  • http://fontofliberty.blogspot.com/ Rarian Rakista

    I’m an old-school humanist and believe in absolute political and legalistic equity and strive for equity in socioeconomic and other human endeavors such as my own little neck of engineering but feminism never appealed to me, after reading some of the empowerment books filled with deluded ideas about biology, psychology and philosophy that were outright nonfactual or illogical arguments, so long as they liked the conclusions, I decided no, that it was not for me.

    Misogyny is at the very least bad form and the very worst cruel and encouraged, depending on the culture or person espousing such beliefs but it can be attacked without resorting to reifying wishy washy arguments such as the tabula rasa argument being the cornerstone of many horrifyingly damaging books on feminist parenting.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Yeah. The problem with the hypothetical categorical moral imperative (sorry, Kant), is that it is indistinguishable from a personal revelation of divine authority. Neither actually exists.

    Just like the God concept, everybody thinks they’ve got the moral imperative on their side.

    Maybe in the future, if we manage to loose religion’s stranglehold on humanity, we’ll have morality wars instead of religious wars.

  • Alex Weaver

    Oh, I see, this is another one of those unfortunate conversational minefield situations where you use a word that has a specific connotation for certain people (“object” as a noun and “flaunt” are a couple more I’ve seen unfortunate fellow commenters deploy; I guess it’s my turn) and then no matter what you do, they respond to that specialized connotation, not to what you’re actually saying. I guess I’m done here then.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Whoa, Alex. We’re just having a conversation. No one’s attacking you.

    If it makes you feel better, people tell me that I am an idiot for saying the things I say all the time.

    But, I don’t let it bother me, because I know I’m right. ;)

  • Scotlyn

    I struggle to understand why people confuse an issue of justice and rights with an issue of similarity or difference.

    Either:
    a) there are no meaningful differences between men and women as such, with all differences being entirely individual, in which case we will derive the most benefit from our individual diversity by promoting justice and equality of treatment for all together with the full participation of each to the best of one’s desire and ability, or
    b) there are meaningful differences between members of the male gender, members of the female gender, (and members whose gender lies somewhere else), in which case we will derive the most benefit from both our gendered and our individual diversity by promoting justice and equality of treatment for all together with the full participation of each to the best of one’s desire and ability.

    Surely we no longer rely on the tribal imperative to only award rights to those who most resemble us? Surely such differences as exist among us, on whatever level and however caused, have no bearing whatsoever on the issue of our shared entitlement to the full benefits of participation in our societies?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Sadly, Scotty, there are those who have a vested interest in denying full participation to auslanders (so to speak), because they see society as a zero-sum game.

  • Alex Weaver

    Surely we no longer rely on the tribal imperative to only award rights to those who most resemble us? Surely such differences as exist among us, on whatever level and however caused, have no bearing whatsoever on the issue of our shared entitlement to the full benefits of participation in our societies?

    The principal issue with the “difference” line is that people with an emotional or material investment in the status quo will try to misrepresent the findings of differences as proving that the opportunity for full participation in society is already being provided equally to all demographics, and any disproportionality of the outcome is simply due to those alleged inherent differences rather than any inequality of opportunity.

  • Danikajaye

    As a person that so happens to be of the XX persuasion I do come across sexism within the atheist community. The funny thing is it usually rears its ugly head when we talk about eliminating sexism. For the most part I think people really don’t want to be sexist but it is so pervasive within society they do it by accident. They can’t see the forest for the trees. I most commonly see it when people use a word, phrase or idea that is historically steeped in misogyny but when people call them out on it they defend there use of it- “That’s not what I meant, that isn’t how I use that word etc. etc. How dare you call me sexist!”. A better response would be for people to have a good, hard look at the historical context and say “That isn’t what I intended but now that I look at it I see that it is tainted with sexism” and then contemplate that maybe they have been perpetuating sexism in some small way and try and eliminate it.

    I also find that a lot of atheists will use bad science to defend their sexism, as mentioned above by Alex, methinks.

  • Scotlyn

    As a person who also happens to be of the XX persuasion, I often suspect myself of being sexist. In that, for example, I just know that I am so a girl, and that I am most definitely so not a boy – but if I try to pin that down in words, I can’t explain it…it’s just something I know. And it often leads to statements, or at least unvoiced thoughts, that such and such is typical of a man or typical of a woman. Sexist?

    I am also the mother of sons, and that lends even more poignancy to the matter, as I wish them to grow to be fully, powerfully and joyfully themselves, but never believe that their sense of their manhood depends on the presence of a woman somewhere below them or supportively in their background.

    Re the deliberate obfustication of the discussion of justice with the discussion of sameness, I think, Alex Weaver, you’ve nailed the reason, and Thumpalumpacus, you’ve named the fear. (By the way it’s a bit spooky that you’ve addressed me by my RL nickname).

    But in a larger sense, one thing I know is that we will never get to the end of differences, and the ability to spot our differences even if we’re too polite to comment. So if we can’t root the fact of differences out of the conversation about justice, we’ll never get anywhere.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I would find it a more useful statement to say that atheists should be open to explorating and understanding the interactions of gender and power, even when they are taking place within our own selves, and strive, wherever possible, to oppose any speech or action that removes power or autonomy from women and girls. And that atheists should understand the reasons why this would be to the benefit of people of both (all?) genders. And that, by so doing, we seek to exclude certain behaviours, not certain people.

    Concur in part and dissent in part, Scotlyn. :) Yes, of course, our focus should be on ending sexism, not on finding heretics to burn. Since we all absorb sexist ideas from the surrounding culture, it’s almost inevitable that everyone, from time to time, will speak or act in a manner that could be construed as sexist. The real question is how the person responds if this is pointed out. If they realize they’re at fault and they’re willing to reexamine their underlying attitudes and change their behavior in the future, then no harm is done, and there should be no sanction against them.

    On the other hand, we can’t realistically expect that everyone will be willing to change their ways. There will always be refractory bigots who refuse to admit they’re acting in a way that’s sexist, or worse, who wear their bigotry as a badge of pride. It’s these people who should be informed that they’re not welcome among us. Fortunately, I think the number of genuine bigots is relatively small, and most people can change for the better if given the chance to do so.

  • Alex Weaver

    I most commonly see it when people use a word, phrase or idea that is historically steeped in misogyny but when people call them out on it they defend there use of it- “That’s not what I meant, that isn’t how I use that word etc. etc. How dare you call me sexist!”. A better response would be for people to have a good, hard look at the historical context and say “That isn’t what I intended but now that I look at it I see that it is tainted with sexism” and then contemplate that maybe they have been perpetuating sexism in some small way and try and eliminate it.

    I don’t think we should uncritically accept claims of this sort; that just opens the door to having the community held hostage by the person with the weirdest word associations. That said, as a general principle it’s worth keeping in mind, especially if we as a community can agree to LET IT GO AND STOP DOGPILING ON WITH ACCUSATIONS OF SEXISM when someone says “oh, no, that’s not what I meant at all, let me rephrase” and does so (Pharyngula threads in particular have a HORRIBLE problem with this).

  • Scotlyn

    Thanks Ebon for the comment. Here’s where I’m coming from.

    Being very, very honest, I don’t know if it is possible – even if it were to be kindly pointed out to me – for me to root out all sexism from within myself (if you define sexism as including my – I’ll go ahead and use the word – “belief” that gendered differences are somehow real, or at least meaningful) without sacrificing a deeply important part of my own sense of myself as a woman. I don’t even know if I could accept that I would be at fault for speaking or thinking in a manner that could be construed as sexist (at least in this way).

    What I do think I would like to root out in myself and others, and what I could accept as my fault if pointed out, would be any speech or action which removes power and autonomy from women and girls.

    And of course, since this general principle derives ultimately from a belief that all human beings are equally entitled to full autonomy and full participation not subject to the power or will of another, regardless of who they are, I would also apply the same principle to men if necessary (even though sometimes I do think of them as “different.”)

  • Chris

    That said, as a general principle it’s worth keeping in mind, especially if we as a community can agree to LET IT GO AND STOP DOGPILING ON WITH ACCUSATIONS OF SEXISM when someone says “oh, no, that’s not what I meant at all, let me rephrase” and does so

    I agree in general, but I think it is worth noting that some people deliberately adopt this as a strategy to get away from things they *did* mean to be offensive in the first place. So there has to be some middle ground between assuming the worst about people’s intentions, and letting them disclaim anything after they are called out on it, maybe based on patterns of behavior over a long period of time.

  • Sarah Braasch
  • Thumpalumpacus

    Once, long ago in an Early American History class taught by a by a black professor (VP of the local chapter of the NAACP, no less), in discussing the issue of mixed-race people, I, in my ignorance, referred to “half-breeds.” Dr. T—— immediately took me to task, in front of the class, and courteously eviscerated me.

    Mortified, I ‘fessed up to my ignorance, apologized, and took his explanation of my offense to heart. I had always thought of myself as not racist, but my use of the language in that instance was certainly racist, although my intentions were not. I certainly spent much time afterwards thinking of where I had failed.

    As much as I still cringe thinking of the incident, I’m grateful it happened, because it helped me to understand that one can carry a virus without falling prey to it. In this avenue, it seems to me, lies the (or at least a) answer to this issue.

    When one is informed of having tendered offense, to immediately defend the comment at hand without considering the offended party’s views happens altogether too often, and is a certain impediment to an individual resolution of the matter.

    I don’t think any general resolution of sexism, even in the freethought community, is possible, because everyone is capable of holding biases of which they’re not even aware. That doesn’t absolve individuals of making this effort, obviously.

  • Danikajaye

    Thumpalumpacus, I really love the virus/carrier analogy. That is why I am working to eliminate sexist, ableist, racist – the list goes on – words from my vocabulary. Even though I don’t think I hold sexist, ableist or racist beliefs I don’t want to help perpetuate any of those things with my choice of language. At the very least I sincerely don’t want to continue a process of dehumanisation or make any person feel “lesser than” with words that carry negative associations or a derogatory history. With so many other words out there that better describe what I mean why would I want to continue to use any of them now that I am aware of what they do to people? When I hear intelligent people defend using such words I usually think they are careless, stubborn, intellectually lazy or just plain assholes. Or maybe, all of the above.

  • Scotlyn

    Thumpalumpacus, I do understand your virus/carrier analogy. I guess my question is this. If a person, for whatever reason, feels that there are important and meaningful differences between men and women, however caused, is that person necessarily an enabler of the oppression-of-women-virus?

    “Race” seems different to me, as what we think of as “races” have no biological or genetic meaning, and are largely socially constructed out of the deliberate fetishising of certain visible “markers,” such as skin colour, which become imbued with social meaning of a divisive sort. Such fetishistic thinking can be unlearned, although the unlearning can be difficult and embarrassing, as you relate, and it seems to me that fantastic progress has been made in this regard.

    I do believe that many aspects of my gendered experience of being a woman are socially constructed in this same way, and could do with being de-fetishised and unlearned, and yet there are clearly differences between men and women that are biological in origin and that deeply affect our relationships with our own bodies – menstruation, the possibility of pregnancy and breastfeeding, menopause, etc – these are intimate experiences of only half the human race.

    I am a woman who can’t seem to ever keep her house clean enough, hates shopping, can look upon a handbag or a pair of shoes with utter indifference, and can read maps better than anyone I know. I certainly would never consent to anyone else setting limits on my choices “because I’m a woman.” But none of that changes my experience of myself as a woman-shaped human being. Which I think is different from the experience of themselves that man-shaped human beings have.

    My question is:
    Is it necessary for me to “admit” that women and men are totally interchangeable and not at all different really, before I can 1) be truly “liberated” and 2) properly oppose the oppression and disempowerment of women and girls.

    Because I would find such an admission to feel like a diminution of who I am. I would like to continue to glory in my difference while also persuing justice. Is that wrong?

  • Sarah Braasch

    Scotlyn,

    Glory away.

    The important thing is that we don’t want our democratic institutions glorying in gender differences (perceived or real), not to mention all of the other types of so-called differences (e.g. race, sexual orientation, etc.).

    Ideally, the law should only treat you as a human being or no. (I repeat without repeating my caveat above regarding affirmative action polices.)

  • Scotlyn

    Hi Sarah,
    Yes, of course, the law should treat us all as a human being, end of story. I absolutely agree.

    But I am more interested in how we, here, engaged in a discussion about removing sexism from within atheist discourse generally, untangle the complex issues of justice, and difference.

    Because “difference” science is used so often to justify oppression, we tend to come down hard on people who even mention differences. And this may result in people being unable to articulate their own experiences and insights. And it can be difficult to have any discourse about difference without getting bogged down by others in their justifications of oppression.

    But my feeling is that if our only route to justice is to resist all mention of differences and aspire to an interchangeable sameness, we will never achieve justice. (In the early days of 70′s and 80′s feminism, many of us were, in fact, trying to prove that we were really just like men, and THEREFORE, entitled to fair and equal treatment – it was, perhaps, an understandable step forward at the time, but it may have forced us into something of a cul-de-sac).

    There are many, many differences among humans that will forever resist eradication. Differences of resources, of physical and intellectual ability, of beauty, of character, of social connectedness. We must develop a language that allows the struggle for justice to be a struggle for justice for each and every diverse being. And we must resist the temptation to think that recognition of difference in any way detracts from the argument for justice.

  • Alex Weaver

    I agree in general, but I think it is worth noting that some people deliberately adopt this as a strategy to get away from things they *did* mean to be offensive in the first place.

    There’s usually a distinguishable difference, IE “aw, geez, I didn’t mean it like that, don’t be so sensitive!” vs. “oh…no, that wasn’t what I meant, let me rephrase.” The “let me rephrase” and equivalents are kind of key.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Scotlyn, I didn’t mean to say that any acknowledgement of the obvious (and to my mind mind, delightful) biological differences between the genders is being a carrier. I meant that allowing this understanding to creep unaccountably into social and cultural understandings of gender roles is a pretty good sign that one is at risk of supporting sexism. Sorry I wasn’t so clear as I ought to have been.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Hmm, “edit” key isn’t showing so I might strike the extra “mind” in my first sentence.

  • Boudicca

    Yes, I have experienced infuriating sexism/stupidity from my fellow atheists. On the way home from an atheist meet-up, while waiting for the bus with a couple of guys (from the same meet up), we were discussing the ‘nerdity’ levels of various groups (it was was startrek vs something the details aren’t important). One of the guys joked that the important distinction between the two groups was the number of single, young women. (wait for it – that was NOT the comment the pissed me off) it was the follow up comment which was iirc, “You know, WOMEN WORTH MEETING”.
    I was not impressed and shot back an extremely snarky comment agreeing that of course, there must not be any other reason to get to know a women other than to fuck her HA. HA. HA. (extreme sarcasm).
    What made it hilarious was that this particular moron was looking for a job in my field and a recommendation from me would have taken him a long way. What made it not hilarious was how the other guy came to his defence rather than calling him out on his extreme stupidity. (something along the lines of, “but then they might as well be guys…”) There was no apology forthcoming from either guy.

    I haven’t gone back to the meeting and am currently undecided as to if I will or not. Not because I’m uncomfortable around that guy and not because I feel like I can’t hold my own, but rather I feel like I have better things to do with my time. Between family, friends, work, and volunteering, I don’t need to be wasting an evening being disrespected and insulted by idiots who are only talking to me to try and get a date.

  • bbk

    Ebon, you have a decent blog and you write some intelligent posts, but no one should ever accuse you of being evenhanded when it comes to your red herring issues. If you want to close off a thread, close it off. But then why bring it up again?

    To be a reformer of any sort meant to support the cause of temperance. To be an “Ultra” meant to support the Maine Law, the prohibition of alcohol. Most historians pay temperance little heed and the Maine Law even less. Historians of the woman’s movement are no exceptions. Yet, just as one cannot understand the crusade for gender equality without looking at abolitionism, one cannot understand it without appreciating its deep, early, and abiding connection with temperance. http://www1.assumption.edu/WHW/old/NarrativeGuide.html

    So I’m a bigot? Thanks, that’s good to know.

  • Sarah Braasch

    The Op Ed Editor at the NYT seems to be tracking our discussions here at Daylight Atheism.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/25/opinion/25stansell.html

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    I agree with the thrust of this post but not the terms in which it was written. Yes I think atheists (well everybody really) should be feminists in the same way I think we shouldn’t be generally gender intolerant, or racist or otherwise discriminatory. However the post falls into the same trap many discussions of this type take, which is one of political correctness and dogmatic adherence to views on what is or isn’t sexist as defined by a narrow sample of activists.
    Calling BBK a bigot is unnecessary and is a conclusion that could not be reasonably reached from the comment thread linked to (which I followed assiduously at the time). Criticism of aspects the feminist movement does not necessarily mean opposition to feminism or support of gender discrimination.
    In the same way I disagree that the sexist language issue is an open or shut case. Language changes and what has derogatory connotations for some may not for another. However I’m closing the lid on that can of worms as I haven’t the energy to relive this thread
    I consider myself a feminist, but this does not mean total agreement with everything the movement stands for. Nor incidentally is my feminism a result of my atheism, although both may be the result of a particular mindset that values rationality and liberal values.

  • Wednesday

    I really appreciate this post, Ebon.

    I’ve seen pretty much every kind of *ism (sexism, racism, cissexism, ethnocentrism, etc*) in the atheist movement. Of course, the feminist movement struggles with -isms and their intersection as well. It’s unavoidable that a movement built of people that grow up and live in a culture that has so many ingrained *isms are themselves going to unconsciously share some of those attitudes.

    Scotlyn – regarding glorying in sex or gender differences, I’m going to paraphrase Feminist Hulk, and say that what we should reject is the cultural primacy of sexual difference and rigid gender roles, while allowing individual people to identify in those more conventional ways. So, if you glory in certain physical or other characteristics of cis womanhood as part of your identity, that’s fine and dandy. It’s only a problem if you use that to deny other people’s identities. :)

    *I’ve even seen some individual atheists express anti-atheist sentiment and arguments. It was only slightly less contradictory in context.

  • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

    I’m troubled by the suggestion that atheists must do—or believe—anything. I think you need a reminder of what atheism is. Boiled down, it’s a lack of belief in deities. That’s all, nothing more. To suggest that—and I got that sense from this article—to be atheists, atheists must also be feminists is quite ludicrous. To be an atheist, all I have to do is continue not believing in gods for the reasons that seem good to me. I certainly don’t need other people’s approval to be an atheist, and certainly not from feminists. Or feminist wannabees.

    Does that mean, as I will be accused, that I’m a hairy-knuckled reactionary who wants to keep women barefoot and pregnant and chained to the kitchen. Certainly not; I have no problem with women wearing shoes. Or even taking a break from the kitchen to wash the toilet.

    Seriously, though, I also have problems with the almost-implicit association between atheism and GLBT-rights movements. What does it have to do with atheism? I reject the assumption that an atheist must support gay marriage. I want discrimination against them ended, but whether I support gay marriage or not, it’s my personal opinion; I don’t want it dictated to me from on high by nameless, faceless people. Same with feminism. Who decided that? I have far more respect for women who die on the space shuttle than I do for those who sit in comfy offices, churning out Women’s Studies literature about how oppressed they are. I leave it at that.

    If individual atheists want to support gay marriage, or call themselves feminists, or be whatever else, or support any of others causes, well, that’s fine. It doesn’t matter. But I will never accept people—no matter who they are—telling me that, to be an Atheist, I must also be (Insert list of things here).

    I also think that it is an affront to Western civilization to link forced prostitution, domestic violence, honor killings, genital mutilation and rape as if these things happen with equal regularity everywhere in the world and are looked up equally by all men from all corners of the world. Yes, rape, domestic violence are great problems(to lesser extents forced prostitution with FGM and honour killings being virtually nonexistent) in the West, and we try to deal with it, but I will never accept the implicit suggestion that all men are guilty of it, in some respect, and should atone for it by becoming feminists. Do I feel sorry for the women who died in the École Polytechnique de Montréal massacre back in 1989? Absolutely. Do I feel any guilt over their deaths because it was a single—crazy—man did it? Absolutely not. For that exact reason I will never call myself a feminist.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I’m troubled by the suggestion that atheists must do—or believe—anything. I think you need a reminder of what atheism is.

    I think you ought to read my entire post before commenting to make sure you’re not expressing an objection I’ve already answered.

  • bbk

    Ebon, I don’t think you really answered that objection. You merely said that group consensus can be used instead of direct leadership and you provided examples to that effect. If anything, you raise the spectre of mob rule. That’s the same problem I have with feminism. There is no leadership, it’s just mob rule, and to idealize the movement and associate oneself with it while failing to criticize it puts one into a position similar to moderate theists who are at a perpetual impasse over the extremists in their midsts.

    The Other Weirdo, I disagree with you on the issue of guilt by association. It’s not a black and white issue. The Western idea of justice has a dichotomous way thinking about culpability. If you’re responsible then you’re guilty and should be punished, or else you’re completely innocent. Many feminists seem to interpret Privilege in the way that you’re reacting to, but I don’t think that that’s what the theory actually implies. Contrary to how some feminists present their ideas, I think that the theory of privilege (that one can be responsible without being guilty) implies that feminists can be just as responsible for sexism as otherwise egalitarian men.

    http://slacktivist.typepad.com/slacktivist/2010/02/all-are-responsible.html
    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/anger-in-the-age-entitlement/200805/guilt-vs-responsibility-is-powerlessness-vs-power
    http://www.nononsenseselfdefense.com/blame_responsibility.html

    Consider some examples of where privilege is applicable. Let’s say you make more money than a woman because you are a man, but you claim that because you are not a sexist yourself then it’s not your fault and therefore no corrective action should be taken on your behalf. If you do nothing to help resolve the situation and if you just play the victim card, instead, then you shouldn’t pretend to be perplexed when you draw the ire of feminists. But likewise, the same standards should apply to situations where women are typically privileged. It’s a good theory that has many applications, so I wouldn’t throw it away just because feminists use it to claim moral superiority.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I’m bothered some by the comments that feminists are this and feminists believe that. And, this is why I won’t call myself a feminist, because I don’t like what feminism means.

    Well, for the record, I spent the past year working for a women’s rights organization in Paris that fights for women’s rights as universal human rights without compromise.

    They want (and I want) absolute gender equality and desegregation. They don’t want to be protected or favored or assisted and they don’t want to blame anyone or demonize men.

    They just want equality and desegregation and secularism. Pure and simple and now. They don’t want to hear excuses or bs. They have no patience for obscurantism or cultural relativism.

    That’s the kind of feminist I am. And, I am proud to be.

    And, they aren’t sitting in any ivory towers writing treatises.

    They are marching in the streets.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Sarah, may I suggest “equalist”?

  • bbk

    Sarah, I love your thinking and your work. What you are doing demonstrates that women themselves can be just as responsible for upholding the systems that oppress them and that we don’t have to play dumb when religious apologists use cultural relativism to make excuses for sexism. That’s why I have absolutely no hesitations about supporting the burqa ban in France.

    What you are doing, in my opinion, goes against the feminist narrative of male guilt and female superiority. If France had gone along with that narrative, they would have blamed Muslim men for oppressing their wives and sought out a solution that singled out men for punishment while claiming that the religious freedom of women is beyond reproach. I recall that critics have said as much in response to your posts on the subject. Your critics have said that cultural relativism is no excuse for sexist men, therefore they have no qualms saying that it’s wrong for Muslim men to oppress women. But cultural relativism is just dandy when it comes to women, supposedly because they are the victims here and their personal choices don’t make them responsible in any way for the sexism that they face. To critics of the ban, it can’t possibly be that self-righteous or complacent Muslim women are responsible enablers in a oppressive system forced upon other women against their will. Therefore, a burqa ban is unthinkable. A practical secular solution is off the table unless it fits with a certain narrative. Well, that’s bs to me and I’m with you.

  • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

    bbk: What the hell are you talking about? I don’t know where you’re from, but where I’m from, salaries are a private matter between the employer and the employee(not talking about unions here). I couldn’t possibly know what another employee was making. Besides, which corrective action on my behalf would you advocate?

    Guilt by association. I remember when they tried making men feel guilty over that massacre merely because they were men. Should I reverse my long-standing policy of not guilting women by association to Susan Smith, merely because they are women?

    Yes, guilt by association can be a valuable tool, but not within biological, no-choice groups, such as sex.

    ebonmuse: Your answer didn’t merely not answer the objection, it intensified it in that last paragraph where you talked about unanimous consent and acting collectively. That smacks of group-think, and I thought that’s not what atheists are about.

  • bbk

    bbk: What the hell are you talking about? I don’t know where you’re from, but where I’m from, salaries are a private matter between the employer and the employee(not talking about unions here). I couldn’t possibly know what another employee was making. Besides, which corrective action on my behalf would you advocate?

    Easy there, you’re missing the point. First off, it’s complete BS that salaries are a private matter. Once you go there you’ve already lost the upper hand. Where I’m from? I was a sergeant in the Marine Corps where I knew what everyone else made and now I work for a publicly traded company where I can easily find out all the salary information that I need to negotiate with my boss.

    But let’s say we just know. The fact of the matter is that if your boss is discriminating against other employees in ways that you yourself would not approve of, then you should probably find out about it. What I’m saying is that it’s still your problem whether you get the short end or the long end of the stick. I’m not saying that you should be punished. I’m saying that if you figure out what’s going on then maybe you could also figure out what you could do about it. If you don’t then some angry feminists are going to come along and figure it out for you and it may end up being unfair to you when all is said and done. Taking responsibility isn’t a punishment. Pretending it’s not your problem actually makes you guilty of not taking responsibility and therefore in some way culpable. Sorry, but I don’t see another way out.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I like that word Thumpalumpacus suggested, “equalist”.

    Assuming you support equal rights for everyone, I suggest that whether you call yourself a feminist or not is mostly a matter of emphasis. It’s like the difference between calling yourself an atheist versus calling yourself a rationalist. One suggests a general opposition to unfounded beliefs; the other opposition to one type of belief that’s considered particularly pervasive and harmful, but the one doesn’t exclude the other. Similarly, you can support equal rights for all people while recognizing that women have most often been the ones on the short end of that stick, and focusing your efforts on them accordingly.

  • bbk

    In that case I could justify calling myself a black-male-ist http://news.uchicago.edu/news.php?asset_id=2075 and accuse feminists of being bigots if they fail to recognize that black men are really more disadvantaged than women. The point is, what’s in it for me? If feminists can claim that they don’t have to concern themselves with issues of equality that don’t directly benefit themselves, then why should anyone else support their cause? If someone calls themselves a rationalist and refuses to accept the atheist label, I don’t go around calling them a bigot. But that happens quite often with regard to feminism. There’s a wide chasm between a feminist and an egalitarian. While some feminists are egalitarian, others are quite opposite. When it comes to the latter, they behave like an atheist who refuses to accept global warming because it’s not an atheist issue or like a rationalist who believes in gods but still claims to be rational. The point is, feminism and egalitarianism aren’t as easily integrated as you claim.

    My fear is that a populist movement based on consensus and a special cause can easily be misguided or sabotaged. It happened to all the religions (even Buddhists!). It happened to the Bolsheviks. It happened to Civil Rights (homophobia, anyone?). It happened to every single immigrant group who turned against every other successive immigrant group. And it happened to feminism, if anyone would care to acknowledge it for a second without calling me a bigot. I don’t want it to happen to atheism. If you can name a single populist movement that turned out to be truly egalitarian, I’d like to hear about it. The verdict is still out on LGBT and they might pull it off, but I guess we’ll see how they treat atheists in the future.

  • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

    Easy there, you’re missing the point. First off, it’s complete BS that salaries are a private matter. Once you go there you’ve already lost the upper hand. Where I’m from? I was a sergeant in the Marine Corps where I knew what everyone else made and now I work for a publicly traded company where I can easily find out all the salary information that I need to negotiate with my boss.

    And thus the rub. If you have to negotiate, the whole argument gets blown out of the water.

    But let’s say we just know. The fact of the matter is that if your boss is discriminating against other employees in ways that you yourself would not approve of, then you should probably find out about it. What I’m saying is that it’s still your problem whether you get the short end or the long end of the stick. I’m not saying that you should be punished. I’m saying that if you figure out what’s going on then maybe you could also figure out what you could do about it. If you don’t then some angry feminists are going to come along and figure it out for you and it may end up being unfair to you when all is said and done. Taking responsibility isn’t a punishment. Pretending it’s not your problem actually makes you guilty of not taking responsibility and therefore in some way culpable. Sorry, but I don’t see another way out.

    I’m curious; you’ve presented a very clear-cut possible case. What would your solution would be to this situation?

    BTW, you’re wrong about the Bolsheviks, it didn’t happen to them; they were like that from the get-go. You can’t organize millions of people into something like that without a massive application of continuous suppressive and repressive force, and that’s something they should’ve known.

    And technically speaking, global warming(oh, we’re not supposed to talk about it anymore, it’s climate change now) isn’t an atheist issue. If an atheist wants to take that cause on, well then that’s fine, but I’d rather it were kept out of the general label of “atheist”. Which was exactly my point originally in regards to feminism, which implicit association to atheism I also wanted to avoid.

  • Scotlyn

    There is nothing about victimhood that implies moral superiority. Victims simply have less – less power, less resources, less connections – and that less (whether temporary or permanent) can add up to someone else taking advantage and overpowering them. The act of someone overpowering another is wrong. It doesn’t imply that the victim is right. (Some seemingly obvious dichotomies are illusory) The victim is just overpowered. That’s all. It should not be necessary to argue for some imaginary moral superiority of a victim, in order to make it an absolute wrong to overpower them, impose your will upon them, take away their power and autonomy, etc.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Scotlyn,

    Brilliant. I couldn’t agree more.

    There is another problem, which is a flip side to that coin, which is endowing some illusory moral superiority to victims in the aftermath of atrocity, which status is then used to assume power, which is then used to victimize the former oppressors, and the cycle continues. Lovely.

    The base problem is tribalism. Tribalism breeds the oppression of women.

    We will either grow up and learn to appreciate ourselves as a single, global human family of individual human beings / rights bearers, or we will probably not survive this century.

    The choice is ours.

    That’s why I find the conversation about “I don’t like feminism, because I think it demonizes men” all rather petty.

    We’ve got bigger fish to fry, people.

    If you want to save the world, embrace feminism.

  • bbk

    Okay, sure, point taken Scotlyn and Sarah. I’ve seen that happen. Even the Psychology Today link I provided can serve as an example. But that’s not the case here. The opposite does happen, too. Consider Israel – if you criticize Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, the ADL will come after you and play the victim card.

    The problem is a conflict of interest. Who says when enough is enough? We don’t have the typical judicial constructs wherein a disinterested third party can come in and weigh in on who really has more power and how equal we really are. This isn’t a problem early on when no progress has been made by the underprivileged group, but it’s a huge problem when either group has varying advantages over the other, both being privileged in some ways, to the extent where situations arise that one sub-group among the victims may be completely privileged in all ways over a sub-group belonging to the oppressors. There are excuses given, usually, such as you can’t compare white women to black men because it’s white men vs white women and black men vs black women – the point being made that you can’t stop helping white women but you still don’t have to help black men. At that point I can’t justify letting someone tell me “I’ll let you know when you and I are equal. Until then, you’re still the oppressor. If you try to fight it, you’re just proving my point.”

  • bbk

    There’s a second problem here, one of belonging. Who owns the cause of the victim? I could say that religiously enforced dress codes are not a feminist problem, they’re a secular problem. Ditto for genital mutilation. Ditto for forced marriage. Ditto for child indoctrination. Just because feminists now tackle religious issues from a feminist perspective doesn’t mean that those issues fall neatly under the feminist cause. Same for other issues that bisect society along more than just gender lines.

    You can’t just address female genital mutilation and turn around to say that male genital mutilation is not so bad, maybe even beneficial to women – yet that’s what happens on a regular basis. Likewise, it’s completely true that spending money on female education is more directly beneficial to ending poverty than giving money to men… but, is it just another feminist issue or a broader poverty issue? In other words does it excuse us from not also helping men who live off of less than $1 a day and also don’t have access to basic education? In other words, is it a feminist’s right to say when fair is fair, or shouldn’t we all be involved in those kinds of decisions? Should those issues serve as ammunition for feminists to say that it’s men who are without a doubt the universal oppressors of women?

  • Scotlyn

    bbk, I have great sympathy for the point I think you’re trying to make. Because I think you and Sarah are both correct. Your use of Israel’s dispossession and ghettoisation of Palestinians is a perfect example of Sarah’s point

    There is another problem, which is a flip side to that coin, which is endowing some illusory moral superiority to victims in the aftermath of atrocity, which status is then used to assume power, which is then used to victimize the former oppressors, and the cycle continues.

    And what makes that particular problem so intractable is the way Israelis still so strongly identify as victims vis-a-vis the Holocaust, casting a huge shadow over any possibility of realising an objective evaluation of their current status in the world.

    I personally am a feminist (with a very small “f”). I came up through the feminist movements of the 70′s and 80′s and 90′s, and was shaped by them, so I cannot now renege that label. Nevertheless, I think a lot of women who have the same experience would agree, that whenever we succumbed to the temptation to award ourselves moral “brownie points” as victims (a compelling enough temptation in the early days of discovering the “shape” of our condition) we lost our way. Personally, I don’t expect men to BE feminists. But I do expect them to oppose the disempowerment of women, based on their general sense of justice and right.

    That is why I’m trying so hard to fine-tune and sharpen up what the issues are (in my view), and remove the confusing distractions which take us down dead end roads. I think the OP is right in pointing out that religion, as most of us know it, has invested extremely heavily in the disempowerment of girls and women. (This does not necessarily mean that all men benefit – again, some seemingly obvious dichotomies are illusory).

    I think you are right that all issues come down to one single and basic moral premise – which is the entitlement of all humans to full participation and equal rights – and that means all these issues actually belong to us all. But different people will chip away at that from a place which is of most personal concern (naturally enough). And I don’t have a problem with that.

    I think the one thing I would be a bit wary of in your comment would be this:

    The problem is a conflict of interest. Who says when enough is enough? We don’t have the typical judicial constructs wherein a disinterested third party can come in and weigh in on who really has more power and how equal we really are.

    Is it a zero-sum game that we are engaged in? Do there have to be winners and losers? Or can we all become winners by preventing anyone from disempowering another and gaining a higher quality society to live in? (And as you can see from what goes before, I don’t mean by comparing our stories of victimhood to see who comes out on top – I mean stopping real and evident injustices).

  • Scotlyn

    Perhaps to say one more thing, bbk – if what you are asking is whether women are capable of being every bit as oppressive as men if the shoe were on the other foot? For myself, I would unhesitatingly answer – Yes, absolutely. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So the correct limit to my power is the start of the next person’s power over themselves – and vice versa.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Just out of curiosity, Scotlyn:

    Personally, I don’t expect men to BE feminists. But I do expect them to oppose the disempowerment of women, based on their general sense of justice and right.

    What do you see as the difference between those positions?

  • Scotlyn

    *puts on politician’s hat* I’m glad you asked me that….
    *takes it off*
    Ebon, the difference is subtle, but there is a difference.

    The word “feminist” means pro-woman. And there are (at least) two human genders. Is it possible for “pro-woman” to be read as “anti-man”? as “pro-female-superiority”? as “pro-female-male-equality”? I think the word “feminist” has occasionally garnered overtones of all three meanings (among others). So, out of self-love and a desire to promote “pro-female-male equality” I do happily call myself a feminist, even though I personally don’t hold with the “anti-man” overtone, and I only occasionally succumb to the “pro-female-superiority” overtone when I’m feeling a bit “misandrist” on a bad day – ;).

    But, I don’t see that it is fair to expect men to assume a label which, even only occasionally, has carried male-negative connotations. Men (including my two growing sons) are entitled to a sense of self-love, too – so long as it doesn’t come at someone else’s expense. On the other hand, I do, of course, expect men to oppose the disempowerment of women, because it is simply wrong for any human being, male or female, to be disempowered.

    In an ideal world, of course, the words “feminist” and “andrist” would have the same weight and meaning, and would both be positively inclined towards the more embracing “humanist.”

    Does that make sense?

  • Alex Weaver

    I like that word Thumpalumpacus suggested, “equalist”.

    Assuming you support equal rights for everyone, I suggest that whether you call yourself a feminist or not is mostly a matter of emphasis. It’s like the difference between calling yourself an atheist versus calling yourself a rationalist. One suggests a general opposition to unfounded beliefs; the other opposition to one type of belief that’s considered particularly pervasive and harmful, but the one doesn’t exclude the other. Similarly, you can support equal rights for all people while recognizing that women have most often been the ones on the short end of that stick, and focusing your efforts on them accordingly.

    I’ve suggested “personist” elsewhere, but perhaps it’s worth emphasizing that “humanism” properly incorporates the positions and attitudes the label “feminism” denotes (excepting those that are genuinely misandric, misosexual, attempts to put a positive spin on the patriarchal status quo, or attempts to hijack the positive feelings some people have towards feminism to sell them useless crap they don’t need).

  • Scotlyn

    Alex Weaver (and Thumpalumpacus) – very well put.

    And down with useless crap you don’t need being sold in the name of anything!

  • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

    This entire thread degenerated into a discussion of the benefits of feminism and guilt by association, whereas I only meant my original comment as an objection to linking of feminism and atheism. Just pointing that out.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    The word “feminist” means pro-woman. And there are (at least) two human genders. Is it possible for “pro-woman” to be read as “anti-man”? as “pro-female-superiority”? as “pro-female-male-equality”? I think the word “feminist” has occasionally garnered overtones of all three meanings (among others).

    Certainly. But I’d attribute that largely to the efforts of bigots who’ve demonized the feminist movement as consisting solely of spiteful man-haters, the same way that religious people have endlessly slandered and impugned the word “atheist”.

    The dominant class always perceives their own privilege as right and natural, and they’ll always view any attempt by a minority to claim equality or to end unjust practices as a demand for “special rights”. For that reason, it’s to be expected that smears like this will be aimed at any word we use to describe ourselves. That’s why I think it’s better to reclaim those words by using them ourselves and refusing to adhere to stereotypes, rather than try to find a new term that will inevitably be attacked in the same way. Hold that rhetorical ground!

  • Alex Weaver

    Certainly. But I’d attribute that largely to the efforts of bigots who’ve demonized the feminist movement as consisting solely of spiteful man-haters, the same way that religious people have endlessly slandered and impugned the word “atheist”.

    The dominant class always perceives their own privilege as right and natural, and they’ll always view any attempt by a minority to claim equality or to end unjust practices as a demand for “special rights”. For that reason, it’s to be expected that smears like this will be aimed at any word we use to describe ourselves. That’s why I think it’s better to reclaim those words by using them ourselves and refusing to adhere to stereotypes, rather than try to find a new term that will inevitably be attacked in the same way. Hold that rhetorical ground!

    In this case, though, the etymology of “feminist” really does lend itself to being misinterpreted by people on the fence as the movement only being “about” women, even if they understand that the idea it’s generally “opposed to men” is a distortion by its opponents.

  • Scotlyn

    But I’d attribute that largely to the efforts of bigots who’ve demonized the feminist movement as consisting solely of spiteful man-haters, the same way that religious people have endlessly slandered and impugned the word “atheist”.

    Partly – and it is kind of you to say so. But, it’s not entirely a smear. I can also say truly that the temptation to frame our own movement for the liberation of women in terms of opposition to men was often a compelling one, especially in the early days when, as I say, we were examining the shape of our condition and trying to understand the ways out.

    So, as a woman, I see it as natural for me to approach the problem of liberating humans using my own peculiar female perspective as my starting point – and therefore the term “feminist” suits me and suits where I am coming from. But the overall project IS ultimately human liberation, and I simply don’t see that it is fair to expect men to come at that project from a female perspective. I do expect men to sympathise with, and fight against, the plight of women who have been disempowered, but I expect that their masculine perspective, informed by a sense of our shared humanity, will lend a somewhat different “flavour” (can’t quite find the word I’m reaching for here) to their efforts.

    Nevertheless, I don’t disagree at all with your second statement –

    The dominant class always perceives their own privilege as right and natural, and they’ll always view any attempt by a minority to claim equality or to end unjust practices as a demand for “special rights”. For that reason, it’s to be expected that smears like this will be aimed at any word we use to describe ourselves. That’s why I think it’s better to reclaim those words by using them ourselves and refusing to adhere to stereotypes, rather than try to find a new term that will inevitably be attacked in the same way. Hold that rhetorical ground!

    Which may be why, after 30 years of being a “feminist” I’m happy for a chance both to claim the word, and to define it with more precision based on hard lessons learned over the years.

  • bbk

    Scotlyn, thanks for your insight and the disarming way in which you worded it.

    It’s ironic that the women’s rights movement started out by co-opting other movements. Not all Abolitionists and Teetotalers were grateful – some objected that entertaining women’s equality was a distraction from the cause du jour. It’s the same grounds on which today’s feminists object to men who co-opt feminism for any other cause. God forbid for a man to promote a type of feminism that advocates equal parental rights. It’s amazing how things come full circle – feminism started out when women had no right to their own children. Now those same kind of issues get dismissed as petty, unimportant gripes coming from a bunch of over-privileged bigots. Women can now be proud for tactics such as disrupting an Abolitionist meeting by storming out en masse and calling for alternative meetings to compete with the original.

    If feminists want men to be feminists then they sure as hell be prepared for men to criticize the parts they don’t agree with and co-opt it to fight for other causes as well. Feminists do align themselves with other causes that are wholly unrelated to female equality: child abuse, LGBT, various health concerns, etc. It’s only when men bring up an issue that feminists as a whole say thanks, but no thanks. Would feminists be willing to fight the Selective Service system? Would they join in full force to raise funds for Prostate cancer? The overwhelming response seems to be a resounding No! So forget it, it’s not the movement for me. Those are issues of gender equality as valid as any other. Why should I put a pink ribbon on my car if the women I’m helping wouldn’t do the same for me because they’re feminists first, egalitarians when convenient?

  • Scotlyn

    The one thing you need to be careful with, bbk, is the tendency to say “feminists” do this or that… like atheists, feminists are not a herd animal – they (we) are more goat than sheep. Every story about “feminists” did this or that, I know for a fact, has a back story of an endless never-resolved argument about the rightness of doing this or that. Your story, as it stands here, is just a bit too full of generalisations that are unhelpful and meaningless. (For example, I know lots of feminists who are active in the campaign for fathers’ custody rights, and who raise funds for men’s health issues.)

    What I think is that your position has arisen (as it so often does with us all) from some very specific encounters that you have had with people who are personally important to you, but that you found to be disturbing or dissatisfying. And, if I am right, and if I do now have your ear, allow me to ask you to undertake the following thought experiment.

    Replay the specific conversations with this/these feminist(s) you know, which you found disturbing or unsatisfying. Now remove everything from that/those conversation(s) that related to the question of whether you or her/they (assuming it was a her) was a more righteous victim. (As I said above the righteousness of the victim is a common political fallacy, but it hugely distracts us from what we really need to do). What’s left? Most importantly, could you truly happy for this/these persons to be just as powerful as you are? Could you truly happy to BE just as powerful as they are? Could you be happy that both parties can be powerful without it being at the other’s expense? Could you both/all then have agreed on a set of real injustices that should be put right, even if not everybody wanted to work on every aspect of these all at once? Maybe, if you do this honestly, you might discover that the gap between your personal march to justice is not as far away from feminism (or from that of the feminists in your own life) as you might think.

  • http://twitter.com/GGlick ANTLink

    Scotlyn, comments like your last one are why I’m glad you started posting here. From what I can tell, you’ve identified the discrepancy between bbk’s stance and other feminists’ on this site (like Ebon’s) better than anyone else has so far, and I think (hope) it will help reconcile the split and get us all on the same (or at least similar) page towards working for true equality. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience with us.

  • bbk

    Scotlyn, I would come to the opposite conclusion about myself. My personal encounters with feminists have been gratifying. I am in no way threatened by equality. I have gone to combat with women by my side. I have witnessed discrimination when my whole platoon was awarded combat action ribbons while the sole female corpsman who accompanied us was denied that recognition. I have, in fact, helped friends raise funds for women’s issues, accompanied them to take back the night rallies, ridiculed sexist men, etc. It’s not a personal bad encounter that has left a bad taste in my mouth.

    Rather, it’s the actions and statements by organizations like NOW that disturb me. It’s well regarded feminist intellectuals who seem to get away with astoundingly inane things. Those are the people I’m thinking of when I say “feminists do this.” It’s not so much of a generalization of what all feminists do as an indication that some seemingly well regarded ones do and that it has, thus far, in no way discredited them as feminists. I view feminism as a populist movement, which means to me that it is anything but beyond reproach. There is nothing ideal about any populist movement, period. Intellectuals who attach themselves to a populist label have to take into consideration that they’re bound by that label to all the dumb things that the worst members of that movement do. They have to take into consideration that having that label attached to their own ideas does not make them any more right or wrong, but by defending that label they defend things that they may not agree with themselves.

  • DSimon

    Intellectuals who attach themselves to a populist label have to take into consideration that they’re bound by that label to all the dumb things that the worst members of that movement do. They have to take into consideration that having that label attached to their own ideas does not make them any more right or wrong, but by defending that label they defend things that they may not agree with themselves.

    I don’t think this makes sense. For example, by associating ourselves with atheism, are we now responsible for the subset of atheists who are assholes? By associating ourselves with humanism, are we responsible for everything anybody does while calling themselves a humanist, even if they act in complete opposition with what we advocate of that philosophy?

    Identity labels, like words in general, are fuzzy-bordered sets. Any given feminist is not implicitly responsible for the actions or even the beliefs of anyone else who calls themselves a feminist, because those two people might well occupy quite different positions within that broad semantic space.

  • Sarah Braasch

    bbk,

    Hmmm. I think I’m going to need an example of something inane that NOW has said.

    Given what you recount as examples of your personal activism on behalf of women’s rights, I would think that you would support NOW.

    Now, while I agree with DSimon to some extent, I don’t completely dismiss your point about acknowledging the ideological underpinnings of whichever organizations and/or movements one might choose to align oneself with (e.g. religion, anyone?).

    I make the analogy of wearing a KKK costume or a hijab or burning a cross on your front lawn. Sure, you have the right to wear whatever you want or do whatever you want on your own property, but the failure to acknowledge the symbolic import of such garments or acts might not be the brightest move. You can say that burning a cross on your front lawn means celebrating the ascension of the Christ into heaven or that a KKK costume is about freedom or a hijab is about modesty and being close to Allah, but to refuse to acknowledge that these symbols represent bigotry and hatred and misogyny and genocide and slavery and segregation for millions, if not billions, of persons is a failing.

    But, I fail to see how this analogy extends to aligning oneself with the feminist movement.

    I think you are treading dangerously close to the position that pro women is anti men.

    I think you are going to have to provide me with some specific examples of modern day leading feminists or feminist organizations that have made explicit anti-men statements.

    I think you’re going to have a hard time doing so.

  • bbk

    DSimon, I think we’ve come full circle now to Ebon’s post. I have come around to the position where blaming a group for the actions of one of its members is generally wrong, but there are still exceptions to the rule. Blaming right-wing Christian fanatics for the actions of “lone wolf” terrorists is fully appropriate. The whole entire premise of lone wolf terrorism is that it is a strategy employed by a group to protect itself from the backlash against members who carry out their actual agenda. I don’t think any atheist would ever wish for herd of cat terrorism to enter the parlance of security professionals.

    Luckily, there are tell-tale signs that we can use to figure out whether or not the group agrees with what those individuals have done. They refuse to condemn the actions of the offending individuals, often saying that while they wouldn’t have done such things themselves, they can understand why the perpetrators did, given the inequities and demands their group is dealing with. In other words, even when confronted with actions that they don’t want to be associated with, they still use those as valid examples to further their agenda rather than just condemn the acts and leave it at that. I would point to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a rich source of examples of this mentality from both sides. I would point out the attitudes of Muslims around the world regarding terrorist acts in the name of Jihad. I would point to the anti-abortion Christians in America, the KKK, the Sovereign Citizen movement, the Tea Party among Republicans, and plenty of other examples that are pretty cut and dry. So that’s the general idea of what I suggest we use as a litmus test to navigate those fuzzy bordered sets.

    I think that as atheists, we do have to make it clear to any outsider that there are positions and actions that are indefensible. If we make this clear and we are open about it, that’s enough, I think. We can’t simply say that we’re not responsible for what one or two atheists do. That is to say, if atheists are ever going to be a political force that can defend itself against the onslaught of religious incursion into our lives, then we have no choice. Intellectually, we can argue all we want about how narrow the defining criteria for an atheist is and refer to ourselves as a herd of cats all we want. But politically, we can’t do that.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I also think it’s interesting (and sad) that staking out the position that pro women is necessarily anti men is still ok.

    If you were to stake out the position that pro black is necessarily anti white, so we should think twice before aligning ourselves with the civil rights movement, you would be verbally vilified into online obsolescence.

  • bbk

    Sarah, I would say that there are plenty of examples of inane things that self styled feminists purport.

    http://radicalprofeminist.blogspot.com/2009/03/jennifer-mclune-on-feminist-men.html

    http://bigthink.com/ideas/20864

    Those two links alone are reason enough for me not to align myself with that label and it took me 30 seconds on google to find them. To your point they’re not leading feminists, but in that case I could open up to a random page from a bell hooks book and find something inane (Off the top of my head I can think of her specifically blaming men and patriarchy for her credit card debt that resulted from her fashion obsession). I can point out the somewhat infamous Father’s Day issue of the Atlantic:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/are-fathers-necessary/8136/

    As far as NOW, I specifically detest their ongoing campaign against shared parenting. http://www.nownys.org/fathers_resp.html Not only do they distort what shared parenting is about, they make use of countless specious rationalizations and shaming tactics. The argument NOW uses against shared custody devolves into a diatribe of shaming tactics against man and leaves as the sole alternative that women be given custody by default because some men are alcoholics or beat their kids (as if women don’t). The single most egregious thing about this paper is the naturalistic fallacy that shared parenting is bad precisely because the current norm is for women to get sole custody. Let’s just back up a century or two, before child support payments existed and it seemed natural to award sole custody to men. NOW is treading on thin ice with their logic. It’s not the only thing NOW has ever done that has been less than egalitarian, but it’s a good enough example for now.

    As far as other anti-male famous feminist intellectuals… well, I’ll leave it to you as an exercise for the time being. I don’t think they’re hard to find.

  • bbk

    Sarah, you’re wrong in your analogy. Being pro-black doesn’t mean that I should be a Black Panther. Being pro-woman doesn’t mean that I have to be a feminist. Please click on my bigthink.com link. You’re presenting me with a false dichotomy. Feminism is not the only way in which a person can fight for justice and egalitarianism. It’s not even a blip on the map.

  • Sarah Braasch

    The Atlantic article and the NOW NY piece are attacks on gendered parenting and mandatory joint custody, not men.

    Yes, the article title in the Atlantic is provocative, but the author rarely chooses the title.

    I’m going to take a look at the other two links right now.

    I stand by my civil rights analogy. Actually, your last comment is a perfect example of where you go wrong.

    You don’t condemn the whole civil rights movement, because of the Black Panthers. (I’m not necessarily making any kind of judgment for or against the Black Panthers — let’s not digress)

    So, why do you equate all feminists (which means pro-women, BTW) with whoever it is that you see as being anti-men?

  • Sarah Braasch

    Is it that you feel that the feminist movement is an attack on traditional gender roles?

    Well, that’s true.

    But, I don’t have any problem with that whatsoever.

    I’m afraid if you equate attacks on traditional gender roles with attacks on men, well, then, of course, you aren’t going to like feminists very much.

    But, I’m afraid that you aren’t going to like the future very much either.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I love the Big Think Gloria Allred (sp?) piece.

    I totally agree. What’s the problem?

    She says that feminism is total gender equality. Yes!

    So, you’re either for gender equality or you’re not.

    You either recognize women as fully human or you don’t.

    You either recognize women’s rights as universal human rights or you don’t.

    Sure, you can define feminism in your own personal, special, individual way.

    And, someone can tell us that burning a cross on his front lawn is celebrating the ascension of the Christ to heaven.

    And, we don’t have to believe either of you. Or, accept either of these definitions.

    And, we can keep arguing about it, but I have to run.

    Feel free to rebut. I’ll leave it to others to pick up the slack. If they wish.

    Later.

  • bbk

    No, it is because the feminist movement only attacks traditional gender roles where it benefits women. I am in favor of attacking traditional gender roles from every angle and I oftentimes find feminism to be a distraction from that pursuit. I would argue that I can uphold just about every pro-woman position supported by the feminist movement without labeling myself a feminist. In that sense I support many feminist initiatives but I just don’t support the way in which the movement frames all of those initiatives.

    Take this as an example. I can make a very strong and convincing argument that supporting equal pay for women is just as good for men as it is for women. Bill Gates took such a stance when he spoke in front of an audience in the middle east that had put up a tall wall to separate the female side from the male side of the audience. When a man asked if Arab nations are capable of reaching their goal of building a competitive high tech economy, Gates said that he seriously doubted that it was possible if they only leverage 50% of their human resources. Gates didn’t have to be a feminist to say that, he just had to be the economic pragmatist that he is. Had he framed his answer purely around what’s fair to women, his greater point would have been lost.

  • bbk

    Sarah – feminism is NOT egalitarianism. Let me throw your argument back at you. You’re either an egalitarian or you’re not. If you want to be a feminist, fine. But why would you want to be, when you could label yourself an egalitarian, instead? What would it take away from your stance if you did that? If you prioritize women’s issues above all else, are you truly an egalitarian? Couldn’t you easily be an egalitarian and still retain the pragmatism of focusing on the low hanging fruit that would expedite the most positive outcomes? What additional benefit does labeling yourself as a feminist buy you that egalitarian wouldn’t? If your position is that feminism is truly equivalent to egalitarian, then why pick a gender specific label? Can equality be pursued on a gender-neutral basis or does it require an extremely gender-specific point of view? It’s the label that I’m against, not the equality. The label encompasses more than just equality, but it can and does encompass truly anti male points of view. So forgive me if I take a principled stance against it. You love the one link – great – but let me point out the huge conflict of interest that the lawyer who made that statement has.

  • bbk

    As for your response to the Atlantic article, the greater problem with it is how would you feel if the Atlantic published an article for Mother’s Day discussing the phenomenon of unfit mothers? Would that have been welcome or would that have been decried as bigoted?

    Just to be clear, the piece that took the cover of the Atlantic says that until it is proven to the author’s satisfaction that men are in some way beneficial to their own children, then we should all assume that they’re not. The fact that you don’t find this sexist is offensive to me already. The fact that you see this as an appropriate way to reflect the role of fathers on Father’s Day is even more offensive to me. The fact that you claim to be a feminist and call yourself an egalitarian but you see nothing wrong or even remotely anti-male in this Atlantic piece, that is just breathtaking.

    Your claim that this article only attacks gendered parenting, not men, is a farce. The article clearly states that single mothers do a better job raising kids than single dads (but ignores privileges and social services given to single moms but denied to single dads). It fails to mention that women and lesbian couples are more likely to physically abuse their kids than men. It fails to mention that women rarely provide the child support assistance to men that single mothers enjoy, that women are actually more likely to be delinquent than men if they are capable of supporting a child at all. As an afterthought, it claims that it’s easy enough to remove the financial support provided by fathers from the fathers themselves, as if the children deserve the father’s money but the father doesn’t deserve his own children. Without batting an eye, it points out that mothers refuse to give up their traditional authority and role as gatekeeper to their kids’ lives as a somehow proof of the fact that men are incompetent parents. It misses the irony It is basically a fully biased, sexist piece that simply attacks fathers, on Father’s Day, merely on the basis of their sex.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Ok. I’m going to make this quick, and then I’m banning myself for a little bit.

    But, I wanted to respond.

    This is actually something that I think about a lot. I constantly struggle with where to spend my time and exert my efforts. We’re in such bad shape. There’s so much to do. I actually think we’re f’d, but I’m not going down without a fight.

    My choice to focus primarily on gender equality, gender desegregation, and secularism is because of two reasons. Personal experience and also because I really believe that women’s rights as universal human rights (especially sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights) are the key to humanity’s survival.

    I actually don’t think we’re going to survive, but I feel compelled to try. You just can’t do everything. I could work on environmental issues and net neutrality, which are also very dear to me, but I have chosen women’s rights and secularism.

    Names are important. Language is important.

    I don’t think it’s enough to simply name myself an egalitarian.

    There is literally (I’m not being histrionic or hyperbolic) a gender genocide being perpetrated against the world’s women right now.

    Most women in the world live lives not worth living. They are sex slaves. The treatment of women in the world is unfathomable, abominable, unthinkable.

    I am making a statement when I use the word feminist. I am staking out an uncompromising position. I am making a strong statement. I am fighting for the world’s women. I am a warrior for the world’s women.

    But, again, I’m not fighting against men.

    I’m fighting for women. For the full recognition of their humanity.

    If women win, we all win. Men included. And, by win I mean have full access to their humanity and full control over their own bodies and lives and sexuality and reproductive choices.

  • Scotlyn

    @ ANTlink – thanks for warming the cockles of my self-love! Aw shucks.

    Hi, bbk. Firstly apologies for reading you wrong in terms of motivation.

    Second, to follow your argument, I have read the NOW article, and I wonder if there is a reason I’m reading it differently than you. I read it twice and nowhere does a “campaign against shared parenting” jump out at me. Instead it argues against mandatory joint custody. Since the court’s job is to do what’s best for the child, I agree that making anything mandatory in such arrangements would unnecessarily hamstring judges.

    What I do think is a fair point in the campaign for father’s rights, is the idea that there should be an end to the automatic assumption that it is more in the best interest of the child to reside with its mother than its father, all else being equal. While this point is not made in the NOW article, I don’t see anything there to contradict it either. Is there something wrong with my eyesight?

  • Sarah Braasch

    Scotlyn,

    Again — agree 100%.

    Take over. I am really really banning myself now.

  • bbk

    Scotlyn, that is because there is absolutely no such thing as a proposal to enforce mandatory shared parenting. That is a pure fabrication generated by NOW and it is completely misleading. Read the bills that they’re discussing. NOW is using a strawman argument to attack shared parenting. It makes their position even more egregious because they are, in fact, lying.

  • bbk

    The shared parenting bills in question do not change the stipulation that the best interests of the child come first, nor do they indicate that shared parenting is a requirement that must take precedence over the wishes of parents do not want it. Most shared parenting bills only stipulate that the default position should be shared parenting and that a family court must document their reasons if they decide to award sole custody. Essentially, if a father wants to share custody, a court should provide some semblance of due process for handling that request. That is what NOW opposes.

    In other states, other chapters of NOW have made similarly specious arguments. In Michigan, NOW claimed that shared custody is just a way of fathers to avoid higher child support payments. Even if true, it’s completely irrelevant. I pretty much think it’s sickening, but hey, that’s me.

    So do I support NOW? I don’t know. Should I? If I give them money, I would be doing so knowing that if I ever had to get a divorce, their organization would be in opposition to me solely on the basis of my sex. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

  • Scotlyn

    Ok – I guess I’ll have to read the bills they are discussing. And I will – but not tonight as its getting late.

    If you are right, then there is a need to give this particular issue more thought and certainly more nuanced attention. However, I personally can’t see any reason for feminists to oppose more equality between parents when it comes to the thorny issue of allocating child custody. Or should I be more specific and say I personally am completely in favour of full equality between parents in this situation.

    However, I can well imagine that both rationality and fairness would be the first casualties in the experience of anyone who actually finds themselves in this situation, because of all the fraught emotions that have brought the warring parties into court in the first place. Although I would disagree with making any such stance a matter of principle, I could well understand that both mothers and fathers will readily act in a “all’s fair in love, war AND in the war of love that is a child custody battle” when it comes to their own fight. Not a pretty sight…

  • bbk

    Incidentally – one of the authors of the NOW article I linked to has elsewhere called proponents of shared custody the Abuser’s Lobby. The other author has accused Senator Kennedy’s endorsement of Barrack Obama as the “ultimate betrayal” of women.

    If you’re so inclined, NOW has been taken to task for their opposition to shared parenting in editorials by Glenn Sacks, one of the main organizers of shared parenting initiatives.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    The NY chapter of NOW has been run by idiots for the past decade. They got torn to shreds on the “ultimate betrayal” bullshit by feminists’ sharpest voices (i.e. Amanda Marcotte)

  • bbk

    Hey, that’s good to know. But other chapters of NOW take pretty much the same stance on family law as the NY chapter. Unless they’re all idiots I’m not sure what other excuse they can have. Either way they’re still anti-male; idiots or not. I just learned that Amanda Marcotte is an award winning blogger, but that doesn’t strike me as a position of authority (i.e. leader of a feminist organization or intellectual whose writing is part of an academic curriculum – unless I’m wrong). It strikes me as the type of thing where feminists like Scotlyn and others commenting here can be a pleasure to interact with but the greater institutions that represent the movement still seem to suck.

  • Sarah Braasch

    (On a side note — NY Family Law is about as modern and gender neutral as Sharia — though there is a push for no fault divorce — I don’t know if it went thru yet. I just studied NY Family Law for the bar, and it is an embarrassment. So, I haven’t read these bills, but the current state of affairs is so antiquated, it’s ridiculous.)

    But, is this about a word, or is it about the movement?

    Would you be happy if all feminists started calling themselves women’s rights activists instead?

    No one is happy with every single position of any advocacy organization. I don’t agree with the ACLU on every single position they take, but I love the ACLU. I think they are offering an essential voice in the discourse on civil liberties in the US.

    There are orgs, which purport to represent atheists, and I don’t necessarily agree with all of the positions of all of these orgs, and I might not even care for some of them, or the people who run them.

    So?

    Should I be advocating that we drop the word atheism and/or the movement?

    bbk,

    I want to ask if you are actually advocating for something, or do you just like being a contrarian?

    You say that you are all about the women’s rights, but you seem to be opposed to feminism (both the movement and the word).

    Well, what exactly would your women’s rights movement look like then?

    How exactly does one fight for women’s rights without fighting for women’s rights?

    Sure — I could fight for men’s rights, but I’m trying to save all of humanity, and the best way to go about that seems to be to attack the problem of the complete lack of humanity for most of the world’s women, most of whom live their lives as sex slaves, if they get to live their lives at all.

    But, what I’m getting from you is that if I use any verbiage at all that indicates that I am fighting FOR WOMEN, then you are going to interpret that as being ANTI MEN.

    So, what does your women’s rights movement look like? I’m curious.

    I do think that you grossly misinterpreted both the Atlantic article and the NOW article. I hesitate to add that final sentence, because I don’t want to get mired in it. I’d actually prefer an answer to my prior question.

  • bbk

    I want to ask if you are actually advocating for something, or do you just like being a contrarian?

    “I’m glad you asked…”

    I advocate a thorough examination of all the big ideas that pervade society. I don’t think this represents a contrarian nothingness, but a desire for truth. I do advocate equality, or at least try to, but only from a personal standpoint. What does my version of a women’s rights movement look like? Pretty simple – first, do no harm. Don’t be evil. Don’t be a hypocrite. Those things seem to me like great starting points. Second, don’t make excuses. There are too many problems in the world for anyone to say that we don’t have time for them all. Hasn’t that always been the excuse? Anytime anyone wants to solve anything, someone else tells them there just isn’t enough time. We’d better find the time.

  • Sarah Braasch

    How is “don’t be evil” what your women’s rights movement looks like? I’m not trying to be rude, but I don’t begin to know what your last comment is supposed to mean.

    And, let me be clear, when I was talking about my personal choices, in terms of focusing my activism, because I am only going to live so long and am only awake for a certain number of hours in the day, I did not mean to imply that we should take a laissez-faire approach to all other possible concerns.

    I felt that I had to focus my energies. So, I went for the greatest possible impact issues (IMO), as well as personal passions.

    How do you only advocate for equality from a personal standpoint? What does that mean?

  • bbk

    Those are guiding principles. You can fight for the same thing but in a principled way. That’s the only thing I would change.

    It’s true that there are so many hours in the day. But there’s a great chasm between “I tried my best” and “why should I bother?” In the former case it serves as an explanation, in the latter it’s an excuse. When Abolitionists refused to let women speak, it was an excuse and it was pretty evil. They said slavery was more important, so they felt free to continue discriminating against women. Women weren’t happy about it, justly so. Should you expect that as a man I should be happy to support feminist causes if various feminists continually say that there just isn’t enough time for men’s issues? It just doesn’t seem like a great strategy for winning the hearts and minds of new allies.

    Let me point out the contradictory stance you take by agreeing with Gloria Allred about anyone who isn’t a feminist yet giving yourself free pass for not supporting other causes of equality that don’t seem interesting to you. Let me put it another way. If you only have time for feminism then you have no right to call me a bigot if I don’t have the time for feminism.

  • bbk

    Sarah, just one more thing (really). Let me explain how this all started for me. It started with a nagging question – where do Republicans come from? If liberals truly serve in the best interests of these people, how come we can’t convince them to change their votes? One of the things I realized is that divorce is a big deal. There are probably more than 2 million divorced men in America and each one of them has at least a couple unique married buddies who blame the plight of their friend on liberal feminist-inspired policies. Just imagine how pompous a woman like Allred looks to a man who has just had his children taken away from him by family court and had little hope of doing anything about it. As it stands most of the politicians who seem to support men’s rights are Republicans. It’s a shame because, being an issue of equality, it should be eagerly adopted by progressives and liberals. All those voters should be eager to vote for Democrats. They may not present the most dire injustice that needs to be corrected in the opinion of feminists who make various excuses for not doing anything about it, but these men sure as hell are a huge voting block.

  • ildi

    Just curious; when did feminist get re-defined as pro-woman? Back when I earned my feminist merit badge, it meant someone who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. Egalitarian sounds fine; nothing like switching labels to shake off the perceived stigma (e.g., liberal to progressive).

  • Sarah Braasch

    This conversation has turned into something sort of stupid, which seems to be how these things devolve.

    It has turned into, “my pain is worse than your pain, and if you don’t fight to alleviate my pain, I’m not going to fight to alleviate your pain, and I see the alleviation of your pain as causing me pain, so I am not going to fight to alleviate your pain.”

    Human rights is not a zero sum game.

    I fight for women’s rights, because I see women’s rights as universal human rights as being the key to saving our species.

    I agree that, in general, family law in the US is in an atrocious state. It is anything but gender neutral. I think it should be completely, and radically, revamped.

    I think we should rethink our entire notion of family. It is antiquated, and doesn’t work for the way people actually live their lives in the 21st century in the US.

    I think it is not the government’s business whom you love and with whom you have sex.

    But, I think living and financial and medical and child rearing, etc. arrangements could all be contracted.

    Why not? It would make everything so much more straightforward. We contract all other arrangements and agreements and relationships, so why not our living arrangements?

    You could contract to raise your kids and live with cousins or siblings or friends.

    Put everything on paper. If someone breaches the K, then you have access to the courts for remedies.

    The K could be time constrained. It could be dependent upon the kids.

    It would make family arrangements so much better.

    They wouldn’t be dependent upon mercurial sexual and romantic feelings.

    I’m not so concerned with either fathers’ rights or mothers’ rights when it comes to family law.

    My concern is the kids’ rights.

    Children need to be protected in a special way, because they are vulnerable to abuse.

    Family law should be predicated upon the needs and interests of the kids. Period.

  • bbk

    I could have told you it was going to be stupid from the first moment that someone implied that we should all be feminists or else. You’re complaining about the very things that you’re guilty of. Sure, feminism is equivalent to egalitarianism, but cause for equality X is just a petty match of who’s the bigger victim. No, I’m sorry, but from the very start it has been the defenders of feminism who have claimed to be the biggest victims. You’ll have to excuse me if I’m a little agitated by this. What seems to be happening is that you are confusing the pragmatic aspects of helping the feminist cause as it would result in the greatest good with the idea that it might be more righteous to be a feminist or even with the idea that someone could be a bigot if they don’t take up the cause. On the merits of pragmatism, feminism is a huge cause that dwarfs other issues around the world. Feminist concerns play a central role in issues of poverty, overpopulation, global warming, economic growth, and a host of other “big” issues. There’s no denying it. But that doesn’t make 50% of the world’s population the victims and the other 50% the oppressors. It just means we can do a lot by helping the former half. So yes, the language of feminism, the labels, the whole entire framework bothers me. It is counter productive, divisive, and leaves room for bigotry from both sides.

  • bbk

    I agree with you on the state of family law. It bothers me that so many women still refuse to sign a prenup, the common advice that women give each other is that they shouldn’t sign a prenup unless they have more money than the man.

    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080218132304AAeR39k

    I think the biggest resistance that you will find to your (actually great) ideas will come from other women and feminist organizations such as NOW. Welcome to having walked 10 feet in the life of a man…

    I wouldn’t even bother with contractual marriage. I’d go straight for childcare. The moment a woman gets pregnant (or, ideally, leading up to that moment) is when you’d want to sign a contract regarding child support, living arrangements, and all the contingent plans for job loss, illness, etc. Standing up in front of a priest and saying “for better or for worse” is just vague, ostentatious rubbish. There’s no need for marriage. We should work toward stripping away the privileges associated with marriage and stop discriminating against single people.

  • Scotlyn

    bbk, just for the record, I happen to agree with you that feminist v. bigot is a false dichotomy. As a word, “feminist” can embrace a whole range of stances including a kind of female chauvinism which, naturally enough, you and others would find objectionable. Perhaps a more neutral word that specifies recognition of, and opposition to gender discrimination would be “anti-sexist.” And to rephrase something I said above, I don’t expect men to be feminists, but I do expect them (and women) to be anti-sexist. And, also for the record, my feminist movement is made up of a bunch of loose-knit people who broadly find alignment along a range of issues relating to gender and power, particularly as experienced by women. But, I most definitely haven’t got any “greater institution” representing me. I haven’t paid into one, nor have I elected one. I just put my own voice out there into the mix of ideas, for what exactly what it’s worth – no more and no less.

    I did see one interesting proposal somewhere, I wonder what you think of it. It relates to the “choice” movement, and the idea that there needs to be a window, although we may disagree about how big that window is, when a woman who becomes pregnant can decide not to be. And the proposal is that a man who has fathered a child should equally be able to avail of a window in which he can refuse, forevermore, to be involved with that child. After all raising a child is a minimum 18 year commitment, so it is a decision that should not be made lightly.

    But, the idea is that once both father, and mother, having had the opportunity to renege, signed up to that child, then the child will assume an absolute entitlement from that moment until it is mature, to the best nurture and financial support that both those parents are able to provide – and that the parents individually contract with that child to so provide. This untangles the question of the relationship between the parents from the question of the entitlement that child has to both its parents care and support until it is reared – both jointly and severally (as I think is the legal parlance).

    May I say, though, that I personally have never encountered a human being, whether female or male, who has behaved well in the real context of a relationship breakdown. Granted, most of the people I know in that situation tried to behave well, but the aftermath of a relationship breakdown, especially where there are children involved, does seem to bring out the worst side of everyone. And if such personal experiences are what inflames this particular issue, then I don’t expect to see rational arguments coming out of either side of it just yet.

    That is why the courts have to be in a position to calmly, rationally, and with no gender bias, decide what is best for the child, and confront both parents with their parental responsibilities – whatever they are.

  • bbk

    That’s called the choice movement? Interesting. I think it’s important to achieve equal reproductive rights for men and women, but I don’t think it will happen in a hundred years. You’d have to get around the issue that a man’s reproductive freedom could incite a woman to choose an abortion. Rich white women probably wouldn’t care but it could have a different effect on others.

    To tell you the truth, I think that financing a child’s upbringing should be a societal concern, not a family one. It’s ridiculous and vengeful to dock the income of a man who himself is living below the poverty line to support a child who is bound to struggle anyway. People are completely irrational about this. Men should have reproductive rights (and I would love that), but we have to do more to help bring children out of poverty at the same time. Even the staunchest liberals will balk at financing someone else’s kid problem. So… maybe in a thousand years. Basically, if a man could have his rights with full societal backing in such a way that it wouldn’t bias the woman’s choice, then it could truly be a fair system. But we’ve been going back and forth on this for 200 years now. It’s always unfair to someone.

  • ildi

    No, I’m sorry, but from the very start it has been the defenders of feminism who have claimed to be the biggest victims.

    Who, exactly, are you referring to?

  • Sarah Braasch

    Yeah, bbk, I’m going to be honest with you, the more we try to understand and hear your side and give you a platform to air your views, the more comfortable you have become and (IMO) the more of your misogyny is showing.

    One thing you have definitely succeeded in convincing me of: you are NOT a feminist.

    Have a good night.

  • bbk

    Who, exactly, are you referring to?

    We’ve reached the end of the line for this thread and I don’t even know where to begin.

    I have learned the following from the subset of people who think that we should all be feminists.

  • Feminism is the same as egalitarianism, but generally it’s not good enough to call oneself an egalitarian without fully embracing feminism.
  • A feminist does not have to embrace causes outside of feminism, but can still call herself an egalitarian and claim that they are the same thing.
  • If you’re not a feminist, you’re a bigot.
  • A woman doesn’t have to worry about other things beyond feminism because she is allowed to choose what she fights for.
  • A man isn’t allowed to choose to worry about something else. If he does, it’s because he has the audacity to look for bigger victims than women.
  • Anything that a feminist does that is offensive to a man just means that the man is looking at the wrong feminists.
  • A criticism of feminism is an attack on women. (Ergo, women are feminists, except for Palin).
  • Scotlyn

    bbk, I guess I don’t recognise myself at all in any of the statements in your last comment – so I’ll have to disregard them. No point knocking down a straw woman – again. I definitely don’t recognise myself in this one either:

    “Even the staunchest liberals will balk at financing someone else’s kid problem.”

    Anyone who has listened to anything I’ve argued in the past while will know that I find the idea that we have no responsibilities for one another in the wider world to be, in short, “crab-bucket” talk – talk that hurts us all in the long run.

    Nevertheless, freedom and responsibility go together, and inasmuch as we claim, and exercise, our reproductive freedom, then the bringing of a child into the world will become the act of at least one, hopefully two, responsible adults. And that is the starting point of what a child needs. They need the personal attention and care of some individual person or people. Orphanages, communes, state care and kibbutzes do not provide good models of child-rearing. At best cold, clinical, impersonal. Not in a child’s interest.

    I guess now I’m trying to square the circle between your earlier comments to the effect that men should have a more equal role in parenting (which I totally support) and your later comments to the effect that it is vengeful and ridiculous for a man to be confronted with his parental responsibilities – which is it? Do you personally want to take more responsibility for your kids or less?

    Where I think social support is most effective, and most in the child’s (and the wider society’s) interest is for committed parents of chosen children to receive the external supports they need in order to give that child the individual care and nurture they need. Lots of us are raising children “below the poverty line” and doing it well. If you are a responsible adult who chose to have your children you just get on with it. No one has to “dock your wages” because you do it yourself. You do without and do without and do without some more so they get what they need.

    Note: I probably phrased the “choice” part of my comment a bit awkwardly, but I was trying to zoom straight towards what I consider to be a fresh and innovative idea.

  • Mrnaglfar

    the more we try to understand and hear your side and give you a platform to air your views, the more comfortable you have become and (IMO) the more of your misogyny is showing.

    I’ve been following this discussion and I’d have to say that bit is quite strongly phrased; I haven’t seen anything that appears to amount to misogyny. For the same reason I thought the initial phrasing:

    And then, of course, there are the atheists who are just flat-out stupid bigots

    was too strongly worded.

    bbk seems to be expressing a genuine desire for equality among the sexes. He makes a very good point about the benefits of using the word egalitarian (it’s gender-neutral) over feminist (which does not seem to have an comparable advantage over egalitarian) if one is truly concerned about equality and not the specific issues of one sex. I might be less sensitive to the issue than others here, but if what bbk is saying is to be considered bigoted and misogynistic than I’m pretty sure that a majority of the people in the world, men and women alike, can also be considered bigoted and misogynistic. Probably misandric too.

    I know many commenters would second this opinion:

    As a word, “feminist” can embrace a whole range of stances including a kind of female chauvinism which, naturally enough, you and others would find objectionable…And, also for the record, my feminist movement is made up of a bunch of loose-knit people who broadly find alignment along a range of issues relating to gender and power, particularly as experienced by women. But, I most definitely haven’t got any “greater institution” representing me.

    It’s a perfectly reasonable argument to make. Feminism can mean a lot of different things and represent a very wide range of views. What it also means is that to call oneself a “feminist” is to attach a label so open-ended to oneself that it’s almost all but meaningless. It also comes with a lot of loaded baggage once the conversation takes a turn towards who the true feminists are and which ones are just the crazy bunch that don’t represent the true feminists as a whole, or whether feminists are more concerned with women’s issues than they are with male issues, which is sexist in and of itself.

  • bbk

    Scotlyn, I hope that you didn’t see my final comment on feminism to be about you. I regret if you did, because clearly you are more of a Gloria Steinem – feminist that you are, you still think that men’s rights are important to promote (I don’t agree with Steinem on many issues, including her views on pornography, but I admire her for thinking for herself and breaking with other feminists time after time and generally I believe she is well intentioned and reasonable).

    I owe you a response about childcare and responsibility. As a child I lived in West Germany, where my parents had political asylum. Read about the social safety net that they provide to children. http://www.loc.gov/law/help/child-rights/germany.php I remember there being vouchers for clothing, eye glasses, food, etc. I could go to school wearing the same quality clothing that the other kids had and I did not feel stigmatized or different. It was only after emigrating to the USA that my parents had to clothe me in hand-me-downs and I started getting into fights at school over things like pink socks. At the same time, I don’t remember my parents ever fighting about money until they had to struggle to support their kids here in the US. And it doesn’t just stop at universal health care and subsidies to kids below the poverty line. University students are allowed to travel for free on trains within their state, for example. Hell – universities are free, even to American citizens who would like to study there.

    Yet:

    Inclusion of the family in the benefit schemes lives up to the German creed that the parents are primarily entitled to and responsible for raising their children.

    Do you see what I’m saying? I’ll repeat it just to make my point clear. It’s very vengeful to force low income fathers and their children to both live in poverty and to go so far as to send fathers to jail if they’re unable to pay as much as we as a society feel that they should.

    That’s the ideal that I espouse. Fathers and children can and should be responsible for raising their children and society is responsible for ensuring that all the families within that society have the resources to meet that responsibility. In the USA, we do neither of those things. We don’t view fathers as being responsible or even capable of or necessary for raising their own kids, but we see them as almost solely responsible for meeting the financial needs of the family. So like I said – I don’t think that it’s even necessary to allow fathers to “opt out” of child care as the “choice” movement suggests and I feel that this could have unintended negative consequences for the poor. Quite the contrary – we should do all that we can as a society to help keep fathers in their kids lives by not perverting that goal into an oppressive struggle.

  • ildi

    I asked you to expand upon your statement No, I’m sorry, but from the very start it has been the defenders of feminism who have claimed to be the biggest victims.

    And you come up with this?

    • Feminism is the same as egalitarianism, but generally it’s not good enough to call oneself an egalitarian without fully embracing feminism.
    • A feminist does not have to embrace causes outside of feminism, but can still call herself an egalitarian and claim that they are the same thing.
    • If you’re not a feminist, you’re a bigot.
    • A woman doesn’t have to worry about other things beyond feminism because she is allowed to choose what she fights for.
    • A man isn’t allowed to choose to worry about something else. If he does, it’s because he has the audacity to look for bigger victims than women.
    • Anything that a feminist does that is offensive to a man just means that the man is looking at the wrong feminists.
    • A criticism of feminism is an attack on women. (Ergo, women are feminists, except for Palin).

    Let’s substitute another civil rights movement for feminism and see how well your generalizations play out:

    • Integrationism is the same as egalitarianism, but generally it’s not good enough to call oneself an egalitarian without fully embracing integrationism.
    • An integrationist does not have to embrace causes outside of integrationism, but can still call herself an egalitarian and claim that they are the same thing.
    • If you’re not a integrationist, you’re a bigot.
    • A person of color doesn’t have to worry about other things beyond integrationism because she is allowed to choose what she fights for.
    • A white person isn’t allowed to choose to worry about something else. If he does, it’s because he has the audacity to look for bigger victims than people of color.
    • Anything that an integrationist does that is offensive to a white person just means that the white person is looking at the wrong integrationists.
    • A criticism of integrationism is an attack on people of color.

    How’s that working for you?

  • bbk

    Pretty well, actually. You seem to be implying is if a then b; Ca, therefore Cb. Seems to be the masked man fallacy or a false analogy. You’re substituting feminism for integration, but those two things have completely different contexts. Integration is a cause that specifically addresses one very particular injustice, whereas feminism is an ideological framework that tries to explain the mechanics of a vast system of oppression that feminists believe is responsible for particular injustices against women. What if I said that unless you support the cause of Black Panthers, then you’re a bigot because Black Panthers are against segregation and being for segregation is only something a bigot would espouse? How’s that working for you?

  • ildi

    Integration is a cause that specifically addresses one very particular injustice, whereas feminism is an ideological framework that tries to explain the mechanics of a vast system of oppression that feminists believe is responsible for particular injustices against women.

    This is where we disagree. Feminism, like integration, are both causes that address the oppression of disenfranchised groups. You seem to find the ideological framework of integrationists studying the system of oppression responsible for perpetuating injustices against people of color more palatable. Are they not similarly advocating a victim mentality?

  • bbk

    Let me further break it down for you.

    1) Tolerance of injustice makes a person bigoted.
    2) Ideology of group X claims to be against injustice
    3) Ergo, disagreeing with group X makes a person bigoted.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masked_man_fallacy

    A person can simultaneously be against injustice and still disagree with the ideology of group X. Group X is not an injustice. Segregation is an injustice, discrimination is an injustice, but feminism is an ideology.

    That’s it, though, I’m out.

  • ildi

    Feminism is a civil rights movement. There are a cluster of theories that attempt to explain why women are disenfranchised and what to do about it, but there is no one monolithic ideology labelled feminism. Your strawman feminist no more represents the entire movement than the Black Panthers represent the entire integrationist movement.

    You still have not given any examples how from the beginning feminism has fostered a victim mentality, compared to other civil rights movements you don’t seem to feel do so, but it sounds like you’re running away now, so my thirst for knowledge will remain unsatisfied.

  • Sarah Braasch

    ildi,

    Thank you. Yes. Exactly. Feminism is just another word for the women’s rights movement.

    Are there some misandrists out there? Sure. And misogynists and haters of every stripe.

    Maybe I was a little harsh with bbk, but feminism is not an ideology of misandry.

    This was the statement that pushed me over the edge:

    You’d have to get around the issue that a man’s reproductive freedom could incite a woman to choose an abortion. Rich white women probably wouldn’t care but it could have a different effect on others.

    I think I’m going to need an explanation for that one before I give bbk his women’s rights sticker back.

  • bbk

    Fine, I’m back. Sarah, men don’t have reproductive freedom. Not within the law or societal norms. The term reproductive freedom was coined by Gloria Steinem to frame abortion as a basic human right. Not wanting to raise a baby, then, is something that a woman is allowed to act upon, but a man has no choice over.

    Now, read my statement once again and think about what I said and how the rest of what I wrote follows from this. If men were to be granted reproductive freedom, it would have a drastically negative effect on poor women. Rich women have access to education, birth control, family planning, and are much more likely to find themselves in stable relationships. So if a man could legally refuse to provide child support to his own kid, then the women who would be rushing to get abortions would most likely be very poor. And this wouldn’t be a good thing.

    So do you have a problem with the fact that I believe that men do deserve to have equal reproductive rights or with the fact that I don’t think that equal rights for one group of people should be won at the expense of someone else? Either one of these concepts is anti-feminist, IMO, so I won’t be surprised if you find both to be problematic. But neither idea is misogynistic.

    ildi:

    You seem to have a lot of trouble keeping track of concepts. You’ve already added equivocation to your growing list of fallacious arguments, so please just stop. Integration as a movement that seeks to come up with theories about the causes of segregation is completely different from integration as an actionable goal, namely the goal of eradicating segregation. Now, it is you who chose to compare a hodgepodge of different theories held by a diverse group of ideologues to something as cohesive as integration. Not me. And yet, still, the number of disagreements among feminists is completely irrelevant to the fact that it is an ideology, a political movement, and NOT any sort of an injustice, the way segregation is. How much clearer can I be about this?

  • kennypo65

    Religion is just an excuse to be a mysogynist. Of course feminists should be atheists. However, if a woman wants to be considered an equal, then she must stop playing the victim. If some man says or does something that she finds offensive, then she should stand up for herself, not call her lawyer. You’re an equal and independent woman or you’re in need of protection, you can’t be both. I have a friend who was in an abusive relationship. I did what I was supposed to do in that situation; I beat the fuck out of the guy. Then I told her to leave him. She didn’t, so I told her she was on her own. Being treated equally means that one must be able to handle things without having some knight in shining armor coming to the rescue. I’m a firm believer that a woman doing the same job as a man should get the same pay. I believe that a woman is just as capable as a man in most respects(writing one’s name in the snow not withstanding). But that freedom comes with certain responsibilities.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    men don’t have reproductive freedom. Not within the law or societal norms. The term reproductive freedom was coined by Gloria Steinem to frame abortion as a basic human right. Not wanting to raise a baby, then, is something that a woman is allowed to act upon, but a man has no choice over.

    Heh. Ahahahaha. Ahahahahahaha.

    I’m trying to explain what is wrong with this, but I keep either swearing profusely or laughing uncontrollably. There’s also the problem of it being so wrapped up in wrongness that it’s impossible to make fun of. Someone else is gonna have to take a shot at this; maybe I’ll be more successful later.

    Hehehe.

  • Scotlyn

    bbk – thanks for comment 118 – you explained yourself pretty well I think (although you’ll hardly endear yourself to some of your fellow Americans by applauding European “communism” and free health care!). (I hope you think I’m more of a “me” than a “Gloria Steinem” or an anyone else, but that’s just an aside.) I do agree in broad terms with your formulation of fathers (and mothers) being supported by the state to enable them to BE parents. And I agree to a great extent with a re-distributionist style of governance, which prevents socially de-stabilising extremes of wealth and poverty, while allowing plenty of incentivisation in the middle for entrepeneurial spirits. And I agree that in the context of a libertarian-type, survive-if-you-can society, punishing poor fathers who default on child support by putting them in prison is wildly counterproductive. In fact there is little in that comment to disagree with.

    Just some interesting points to consider.
    1) re men’s reproductive freedom. You may not be aware that abortion is absolutely banned in Ireland, so women are still fighting here even for basic reproductive rights. This hangs on an amendment to the Irish constition narrowly passed by a bitterly fought referendum in the 80′s, which protects the life of the “unborn.” In relation to male reproductive rights, the following: A woman brought a case to the Irish Supreme Court, asking for permission to have an embryo implanted, which was created several years before and frozen. In the meantime, herself and her husband had separated, and he now refused his permission to have this embryo implanted, as he did not choose to be a father again (they did have one child from an IVF treatment prior to their separation). The court upheld his argument, but phrased it in terms that a non-implanted embryo does not qualify as “unborn” in Irish constitutional terms.

    Nevertheless, I think it is an interesting precedent for men who wish to establish a right to refuse to be fathers. My point above was that anyone’s right of refusal to parent should also be limited in time. The window in which men, as women, should be allowed to refuse to be a parent, should ideally not extend past the child’s birth or some agreed time before that. After that, having waived their opportunity to renege, those who have chosen to proceed with parenthood, must now fulfill the responsibility they willingly took on.

    re this:

    If men were to be granted reproductive freedom, it would have a drastically negative effect on poor women. Rich women have access to education, birth control, family planning, and are much more likely to find themselves in stable relationships. So if a man could legally refuse to provide child support to his own kid, then the women who would be rushing to get abortions would most likely be very poor. And this wouldn’t be a good thing.

    I think you’ll find that it is already the case that the numbers of women seeking abortions are skewed towards poorer women, who, as you say have less access to birth control and family planning, but no less need for them. I’m not sure I follow your argument here about how men’s reproductive freedom (which I’m also not sure how you define this) would change that.

  • Scotlyn

    Kennypo, you might be interested in my comment at no. 63.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Ugh. I want to comment, but — no time. no time.

    Super quick.

    bbk,

    I’m not giving you your women’s rights sticker back yet, but . . .

    I do struggle with the abortion issue and men. Here’s why.

    I am totally pro abortion. I love abortion. And, I believe 100% that a woman has to have an opportunity to consent to pregnancy.

    But, I think the man has to have the opportunity to consent to entering into a relationship with the fetus/baby too.

    But, I don’t know when that should take place — that opportunity to consent.

    It’s easy to say when that should take place for the woman. And, it’s her body keeping the fetus alive, so she has to consent to that and no one can force her into that relationship.

    But, I honestly don’t know when that decision should occur for the man. I think about this a lot.

    I am just waiting for the artificial uterus machines.

    Everything will be better when we have the artificial uterus machines.

    Later.

  • Jim Baerg

    This comment thread seems like a good place to recommend this discussion on Double Standards

  • Nathanael

    I’m going to suggest that these are some of the main causes of recurring sexism in the “atheist community”.
    (1) Atheists who are not really atheists on empiricist/rationalist grounds, and whose sexist beliefs arise out of the same irrational source as their irrational atheism. Not much the online “atheist community”, who are generally empiricist/rationalists, can do to address this, other than to treat these people like other people who are not empiricist or rationalist and get them thinking.
    (2) Those who are empirical and rationally minded, but have deeply embedded sexist memes and have never seriously bothered to look at the evidence that men and women are basically the same, mentally, and in most physical ways too, and should have equal rights. So they retain pseudoscientific sexist views, just as many used to hold pseudoscientific racist views. These people need to be shown the studies proving the lack of significant differences, including the ones about how almost all strongly “sex-linked” stuff is inculcated culturally from birth.
    (3) Those who are so sexist that they will continue to hold such views no matter how much evidence is given to them: irrational bigots who are bigots first and irrational *because* they are bigots. It’s not worth trying to get through to them, as you have to figure out what obscure emotional kick made them bigots.
    (4) Those who will say that men and women are equal and deserve equal rights, but have never seriously studied the theory of the patriarchy or how subconscious sexism and institutional sexism are perpetuated, or have been fed false lines about what feminism is. These people just need to be pointed to the Feminism 101 blog or bell hooks’s book _Feminism is for Everyone_. There are people in category #4 in this very comment thread.

    (Be warned, there are self-described feminists (sadly) who have drifted rather from the original Caroline Bird definition of feminism; these people are often called “difference feminists” but are basically from the obscure 19th century female supremacist tradition, which is entertaining as a historical note, but sexist and wrong. Luckily they’re a shrinking group, because they’re empirically wrong. More problematic is the fact that a number of feminist theorists — though not the majority — have got very confused about terminology and will confuse institutional sexism with sexism; they’re two fundamentally different things. Both of these groups help confuse people in category #4 and cause trouble for the anti-sexist, feminist cause. Sigh.)

  • http://asthegoodbookdothsay.blogspot.com/ Caitlin

    I’m an atheist woman, and I don’t believe I’ve ever experienced gender discrimination in the atheist community.

    On another note, I’d like to point out that the existence of a wage gap is not sufficient proof of discrimination. Women take breaks in their careers at a greater rate than men, are more likely to work part-time, and choose different career paths from men. We should not assume that men and women are unequal because they do not have the same things, since people don’t necessarily want the same things. I believe that the best we can do is to create a society in which all people have a variety of choices available to them, and I think that on the whole we’re doing that quite well.

    There are still issues, like domestic violence, which are a problem even in the United States, but I try to put this into perspective. I am glad that at least in this part of the world, the debates are about how to prevent and treat domestic violence and not about whether or not domestic violence is bad. I hope that this will be true in more and more parts of the world as time goes on.

  • ChrisC

    I think that the very fact we hear phrases like “emotional women” in common usage demonstrates the inherent sexism and misogyny in the atheist community. Let me explain.

    Part of the cultural mythos is that women own emotions, and men own strength. Emotions are demonized by men as being “female” when their fellows cross a certain boundary line of emotional control. The reason we don’t see this as misogyny is because everyone accepts this as truth– that women are emotional and men are strong, implying that emotions are weak and thus female. This is also part of the larger dysfunction of homophobia, and why emotional males are alternatively labeled “gay” or “sissy”, so forth.

    This is why a large part of misogyny and sexism is invisible to the larger population, because it is accepted as normal. Until we begin to challenge these mythologies we are going to be trapped in them.

    As for myself, I have experienced a tremendous amount of sexism and misogyny at the hands of male, and sometimes female, atheists and skeptics, even more so than from religious types. The reasons I think this to be the case are too complex for a comment, but it is clear that there is much work to be done.

    To my fellows who have not run into this quagmire, it is simply because you have not pressed the right buttons, challenged the really dearly held misconceptions about women. I have demanded equal say and standing, demanded that I not be considered by my body parts, been inflexible with males regarding the way I want to be addressed and conversed with. These actions have gotten me labeled “ball buster”, “mean”, “bitch”, “not a real woman”, “sex-hating cunt”, among many many other misogynist labels. When women dare to abandon the culturally acceptable roles of emotional enabler, nurturer, male-stroking apologist ready to make their vagina and breasts available for male attention, or challenge the fallacy that men “need” sex and thus have a right to access all the degrading, violent porn they wish or buy as much sex from as many prostitutes that they desire, you will inevitably run into the brick wall of male dominance and established hierarchy. I have hit that wall hundreds of times, because I believe that if you beat a wall enough it will eventually crack, and then fall.

  • ChrisC

    Some additional clarity– I have not had opportunity to read through all of the comments here (probably only about a third), so apologies if I have duplicated similar thoughts/comments. Also, I have about 1500 “friends” on Facebook, most of whom are male atheists, and this is the source of the majority of my experience of misogyny. It would be in a more “real” world context had I opportunity to travel to conferences or university where I might engage in debate face-to-face. But my small-town southern rural community has no such forum.

    Part of why I draw fire is because I post articles regarding the rise in domestic violence, female trafficking, escalating violence and degradation of women in modern pornography, the rape culture, modern day slavery, FGM, and other “hot button” topics that draw out the “but men are getting circumcised and that’s just as bad” types. In short, the hard statistics seem to send these guys into shame spirals combined with “but I like things the way they are and oh yeah women should be happy when I see them as a sex object”. It is infuriating and I often feel a great deal of despair for young women (as well as men) in their 20′s/early 30′s who are the primary targets of toxic culture.