Is ‘Female’ An Offensive Term?

I stop focusing on this site for a week and all hell breaks loose in the blogosphere — sexism, feminism, who said what, whether something was interpreted as intended — I haven’t kept up with much of it myself.

But this video came to my attention, so I’ll just put it out there.

Some background: This is a panel discussion at the American Atheists Southeast Regional Atheist Meet (SERAM).

At the 4:05 mark, they reference Sean Faircloth‘s speech from the previous day.

At the 8:10 mark, a woman raises the question of whether the use of the term “female” is offensive.

Hope this contributes to everyone’s understanding of what did and didn’t happen.

Now, back to Speech work for me.

(Thanks to Scott for the link)

  • http://blaghag.com Jennifurret

    I just wanted to pop in and say the whole “female vs woman” terminology debate has been discussed within feminist circles since the 80s. It’s not a new issue, though not everyone agrees one way or the other.

    Not going to say how I personally feel about it, just hoped to provide some context before anyone felt compelled to go “Who would even think that?! *I’ve* never heard that before?!” and use that as a reason supporting their argument.

  • http://dubitoergo.blogspot.com Tom Foss

    I’ve always seen “female” and “male” as adjectives, while “woman” and “man” are nouns. So it’s offensive to my grammatical sensibilities.

  • Lucas

    In the context of the speech, using the word “men” to describe human males and using the word “females” to describe women sets up a significant juxtaposition that shows some kind of a bias in judgment of value.

  • http://jesusfetusfajitafishsticks.blogspot.com/ Mary

    I’d like to point out that the term “male” is being used as well.

  • http://www.bradleclerc.com Brad

    Am I the only one that prefers “FeMan” now thanks to the Onion News Network?

    Though, of course, I don’t get a vote ;)

  • http://failbookfail.blogspot.com/ Marissa

    Even staid, apolitical usage guides advise against using “female” interchangeably with “woman.” It hearkens to so many bad undercurrents in our culture — like the “seductionists” who treat women as creatures to be hunted, calling us “females” like we’re prey on the savannah; or icky phrases like “female trouble.”

    As a general rule, it’s not good to take an adjective that describes a marginalized group and employ it as a noun. This is why sensitive people don’t talk about “blacks” or “gays” or “transgenders.” I have no idea why, in English, using an adjective as a noun sounds so pejorative, but there you have it.

  • DA

    You know, Christianity spent centuries fighting over very specific substitutions of meaningless terminology. Constantine’s big headache was choosing between the proto-Catholics and Arians, whose argument was literally based on the addition of ONE Greek letter that changed the meaning of a word from “similar to” to “the same as” to determine whether Jesus was made up of the same substance as his dad. People were killed over this!

    If we say “woman” there’s a certain sect of people who will be offended, if we say “female” there will be another. It’s so stupidly trivial that that it’s practically a religious dispute. Feminists in the rest of the world actually worry about real issues, amazingly enough. The American scene, by and large, prefers semantic circle jerks.

  • ChrisZ

    Males and females refer exclusively to sex. This means that these words can be used for animals, which is where the woman who raised the offense issue got her offense from, the idea being that men and women convey humanity as well as sex. But there’s something else that those terms convey, and that is age. Male and female are still the only terms that can refer to all male and female humans without going with “men and boys” or something. So men and women are exclusive terms to some extent where male and female are not.

    In this particular instance, the speakers referred to themselves as males several times as well. They also used “guys” a lot, which there isn’t a female equivalent for. The woman on the panel used the term “females.” In this short clip, I don’t really see where the offense would come from, unless you just think that the term is inherently demeaning, which I don’t think it is.

  • Heath Holden

    @Lucas & @Marissa – Note that it was not men & females. It was males & females. If “female” is sexist in that sense then so is “male”.
    0:25 – 0:30

  • Mackrelmint

    As a biologist, it’s a pet peeve of mine when people refer to men or women as solely males or females. The terms male or female apply to individuals of any number of species and are not unique to humans so I understand the frustration expressed by the woman in the video. “Female what?” I and she seem to want to ask. Female frogs? Female bats? etc…
    In a discussion about how to increase the ranks of women in atheist group memberships, sensitivity to these concerns, particularly when expressed by a member of the group concerned, is appropriate.
    In answer to Hemant’s question, I don’t get offended when I hear these terms used, but if I took the risk of speaking out at a meeting in front of an audience to express my concern, I might be offended at not being taken seriously or being mocked in response.
    (Disclaimer -I didn’t have time to watch the entire video and skipped ahead after the first five or so uses of the term “females” in the first few minutes to the section where the woman raised her concern. The response given to her by the man at the microphone was unintelligible.)

  • cat

    While the issue is debatable in general, context matters and the context here is a group composed primarily of men discussing (and dismissing) women’s concerns about being objectified and discriminated against. A lot of this shit is offensive even if it had been said using the term woman.

  • http://camelswithhammers.com Camels With Hammers

    I’ve always thought it was demeaning when I hear men describing wanting to meet “females”—it’s like you’re not even going to discriminate between women and not-yet-women-girls here, just anything “female” will do??

  • Nick Andrew

    I think it’s very sensible to follow what Tom Foss said above: use “female” and “male” as adjectives, “woman” and “man” as nouns.

  • pirmas407

    To me, “females” just sounds impersonal. Nothing really more than that. “Women” at least sounds personable. But I await being told I am wrong.

  • Matt

    I’m glad to finally have some context on the firestorm I’ve been watching unfold.

    IMO, all parties involved have at least something to apologize for. At first I liked the way the panelists were addressing the issue of men blatantly ogling women who were newcomers to the group, and they even made me laugh a few times.

    A few of their jokes after the 5 minute mark made me cringe a little, and I don’t like the segue into the topic of romantic relationships forming within an atheist group – getting to know someone as a person and falling in love is really not the same thing as leering at and hitting on a newcomer.

    The woman who asked the “female vs. woman” question seemed to be reading something into the panelists’ word choice that wasn’t there – I doubt most of the people in attendance were even familiar with the terminology debate that Jen mentioned (I certainly wasn’t until she posted the comment). As such, they wouldn’t have expected that calling her a “female” would be triggering – and she might not have known that they hadn’t given much thought to the semantics of it all. I don’t think it was fair of her to assume they meant offense by it, but it’s also not fair to ridicule her for being offended by it.

    Heath Holden’s “weaker sex” comment, while obviously sarcastic, was in extremely poor taste.

  • CanadianChick

    I’ve been told for a long time that woman was a female human, just as doe was a female deer, and that when referring to humans, woman was the appropriate term.

    I think referring to people by adjectives sometimes sounds pejorative because it can be marginalizing (if that’s the right word). It’s taking the collective person, with all the adjectives that might apply to them, and picking one to group them, often the least important, interesting or distinctive about them – especially when that adjective has been the basis of discrimination.

    While I don’t usually get upset when woman and female are used interchangeably, I do understand that for many women it is an important issue, and not one to be dismissed cavalierly or insultingly.

    I’ll refrain from any comments on the rest of the video, since it’s atopical.

  • Vanessa

    I think the panel handled her question terribly. Maybe they didn’t see the problem with it, but they shouldn’t have responded by making jokes. That’s the biggest problem here – even though they don’t mean to offend, they actually make it worse by trying to dismiss it.

  • RTH

    One of Jen’s most popular recent blog posts seems relevant.

  • Disconverted

    “DA” nailed it.

  • GaR

    I’m not about to stop using either, though I’d agree with Tom Foss, I guess.

  • Courtney

    I’d like to echo what Marissa said above and add that ‘females’ is also the common term used in MRA (men’s rights activist) spaces to dehumanize women, which may contribute to its triggering/offensive effects.

    Also, CanadianChick and cat are right on in their points about referring to a (mythical) collective and the context of a group of primarily men dismissing women’s concerns.

    DA: Keep working! You’ll get a bingo soon!

  • Vas

    8:10… Awkward. You can see it in the audience reaction before the dude made the lame joke.

    Really it seem to miss the point of the conversation, which sadly seemed to be about people getting hit on. I think the larger question is about making a more welcoming and comfortable environment for women as members and leaders, within atheist organizations. Now how a panel of guys would ever be able to begin to suss it out is beyond me. At times most everyone on the panel had awkward moments. The conversation ended up being guys telling other guys, “don’t be a dick” I’m pretty sure that is not the the answer to the problem. Heck I’m not even convinced there is a problem as I’m not a member of any atheist, et. al. groups, and I’m not a woman. Maybe someone who is both could clue me in on this situation. Is there a problem and if so what exactly is the malfunction?
    V

  • darlene

    What struck me was it seemed the men were doing most of the talking about how women should or should not feel, with the take-away being “guys are just guys” and “biology” and “look, some even get married, so that’s alright then”.

    And when a woman did stand up, she was mocked and dismissed by the male panel, with the comment “weaker sex” actually being used as a barb.

    Really? Because if you are asked to change your terminology the best response is to say “Oh, I could be calling you so much worse, so you should be grateful”?

    What I perceived was a panel looking for validation rather than insight…

  • corhen

    i found watching the video that they talked about “males” and “females”, if they had said Men and females, maybe slightly, but it is simply the feminine version of “male”, with no real stigma attached

  • RTH

    @Marissa:

    Sensitive people don’t talk about “gays”? I’ve truly never heard that.

  • http://chandays.blogspot.com Larry Meredith

    is female is a derogatory word, why do activist for women’s rights call themselves “femanists” instead of “womanists” ?

  • RTH

    Marissa said:

    As a general rule, it’s not good to take an adjective that describes a marginalized group and employ it as a noun.

    Does that mean that the name of this blog should be changed to Atheist Friend?

  • DaveS

    I think context and intent should be factored in here. Sure, it was a bad joke, but the guy was clearly trying to relieve the tension introduced by the woman’s question. She made everyone uncomfortable by voicing a perceived and, let’s face it, petty point of semantics. That was a discussion for another time. In the preceding discussion there was no intent to offend any partcipants, regardless of gender.

    @Melissa

    I’m gay and the term ‘gays’ has never been offensive to me or anyone I’ve ever known. Trust me, we ‘gays’ have been called ALOT worse!

  • Dan W

    Having watched the whole video, it seems like the panel discussion was fairly inoffensive and not sexist. They used terms like “female” and “male” together, “man” and “woman” together, and so forth. Their response to the woman’s question asked at 8:10 may have been tactless, but the question seemed fairly silly to me anyway. It just seems like one person asking a question that is way outside the point of the discussion and I don’t get why this got blown into such a big deal. I read the guest post on Jen’s blog, and having seen a video of the event it seems like they exaggerated this thing to the point of ridiculousness.

  • Courtney

    Larry,

    It’s ‘feminists’ and I believe the term has its origin in the French language. The French word for ‘woman’ is ‘femme.’

    Some advocates for women’s rights DO identify as womanists. This term was taken from a book by Alice Walker, and is primarily used to describe the experiences and perspectives of African American women, though I gather that it is sometimes used by other women of color.

  • Dan W

    Correction: the guest posters on Jen’s blog didn’t so much exaggerate about this little incident- they flat out lied. They turned one woman’s off-topic question about semantics into a huge fucking deal, making it out like the whole panel discussion was sexist when it wasn’t sexist at all. This should never have become such a huge issue. I’m pissed at how moronic so many people are being about this.

  • Darlene

    I have been on message boards and comment sections of blogs where the difference between atheist and agnostic was bitterly debated.

    Even now the Gnu atheist v. Militant atheist v. Dictionary atheist v. Accommodationist v. Sceptic is being hashed out; and when people attach the wrong definition to a word WATCH OUT, ’cause the fingers fly across the keyboard…

    And it comes down to: don’t tell me what I am. I define my atheism (and it isn’t a religion, btw). 

    So that’s okay, but a woman isn’t given the same right to define herself? Not just a belief or an ideology, but a description of a political and sexual gender orientation that carries with it so much baggage and implication and history…

    And that–being asked to define what one wishes to be called–is okay for an atheist but not a woman?

    One of the privileges of a privileged group is not having to worry about definitions; and marginalized groups get to decide what to call themselves…and individuals always get to decide how they wish to be defined and addressed.

    That is basic courtesy, and respect. 

  • http://www.inside-story.co.nz/ Sarah Robot

    Feminists in the rest of the world actually worry about real issues, amazingly enough. The American scene, by and large, prefers semantic circle jerks.

    Sorry, DA, but you don’t get to determine what is or is not a “real” or important issue for everyone else. Terminology may not be a significant problem to you, and that is your prerogative (and perhaps your privilege), but your objection is one which has been used to silence feminists for a long time (“why don’t you address the IMPORTANT things [as determined by me]!?”) and is not helpful. I suggest you look up Finally Feminism 101 if you want to know more :)

    Personally I prefer the term “woman.” In some contexts, “females” is appropriate, but it did seem odd to use it in that discussion. The subject was supposed to be atheist women – why not refer to them as such? Female is very general and reduces us to our sex, which is triggering for many women and seems inappropriate if you’re trying to make us more comfortable being part of free-thought groups.

    @Matt: I didn’t get the impression she was assuming they intended offense, just that she found it offensive. Intent doesn’t actually matter; if it wasn’t meant to be offensive, and they truly didn’t realise it could be taken that way, they should have stated so and apologised. It really isn’t hard to do XD

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

    This whole debate is silly and a waste of time.

    SOME people just look for things to take offense at, and the woman in question here certainly falls into that category.

    Female… woman… whatever.

  • dwasifar

    Darlene says: “One of the privileges of a privileged group is not having to worry about definitions; and marginalized groups get to decide what to call themselves…and individuals always get to decide how they wish to be defined and addressed. That is basic courtesy, and respect.”

    Is it?

    Okay then. Out of basic courtesy and respect, I have decided you must define and address me as “His Lord and Majesty Dwasifar, Master of All He Surveys.” I am an individual, after all, and thus I get to make that decision.

    And I promise to stand up at your meetings and hijack the discussion if you don’t.

    If you haven’t figured it out from context, count me in with the minority here who vote that the issue is trivial and pointless. Is it offensive? Maybe, slightly. Was the objection relevant? Barely. Does it help anything to pick this kind of argument when there are much bigger fish to fry? Certainly it does – it helps our opposition, who love to point out how atheists can’t agree on anything and waste their time on trivial squabbles over minor points.

    As we are doing here, right now.

  • DA

    Oh man, the intellectual prowess of the “bingo” meme! Shit, I’m powerless against THAT. I take it all back, American feminists are intellectual powerhouses I hadn’t reckoned with and would never just resort to a “shut up, THAT’s why” argument.

  • S-Y

    “Female” is no more offensive than “male”…

    Seriously though, next thing you know, the word “gender” becomes offensive. Then, the word “human” becomes a slur 500 years into the future. 0_o

  • Tizzle

    Leaving aside the ‘female’ v ‘woman’ question for the moment, I didn’t think the panel addressed the question at all. I think they seemed to say that women or females should put up and deal with being hit on, because it’s a biological imperative for males or men to hit on chicks. And that the group is partly for meeting other singles.

    It’s hard to imagine that the arguably somewhat excessive use of the word female was the question-asker’s only lament. I kind of like that she walked out after a man quoted the bible at her. I mean, how many times did I wish I could do that when I was in church?

  • RPJ

    Mackrelmint:

    “Female what?” I and she seem to want to ask. Female frogs? Female bats?

    Context in English is an important part of a thought. Other languages conjugate their words to describe certain grammatical devices but English often ignores this on relies on context. If you can’t figure out what a thought is from normal context usages, you either need more English lessons or you’re being a snarky ass.

    So, is “female” being considered an inconsiderate terms with unneeded connotations now? I was always under the impression that it was a neutral term, “impersonal” as one of the commenters here put it, which is one reason why I use it often.

    Personally, I’d feel awkward to be called a “man”. Technically it’s true, but I’m not old and my masculinity is pretty weak; I’m too old to be called a “boy” though, so I’m most comfortable being “male”. I get the strong impression from most of my…female…friends (who largely shun makeup, dresses, and traditional domestic inclinations) would feel just as awkward to be called “woman”.

    Beyond my sheltered circle, do those whose gender is described as “female” (whatever other traits they may have is irrelevant atm) find offense at “female”, or prefer “woman”?

  • http://www.inside-story.co.nz/ Sarah Robot

    @dwasifar

    If you haven’t figured it out from context, count me in with the minority here who vote that the issue is trivial and pointless. Is it offensive? Maybe, slightly. Was the objection relevant? Barely. Does it help anything to pick this kind of argument when there are much bigger fish to fry? Certainly it does – it helps our opposition, who love to point out how atheists can’t agree on anything and waste their time on trivial squabbles over minor points.

    You may personally choose not to pursue the issue, and that’s your prerogative. Obviously the woman in the video felt it was important enough to mention, and she should have been treated with respect.

    Personally, I don’t think anyone should not stand up for something they believe in just because the “opposition” will put a negative spin on it. If the point is so trivial and minor, why don’t you all just agree that 1. it may offend some women to be referred to as “females,” and 2. you’ll try to remember this in the future and act appropriately? The fact that it is even such a problem for people to do that in the first place seems to me to indicate that this is a bigger deal than you want to think.

    @S-Y

    “Female” is no more offensive than “male”…

    The way Hermant has phrased the question is misleading and doesn’t address the real issue. I don’t think anyone is claiming that “female” in itself is offensive. However, in this context, referring to women by their sex is in fact more offensive than calling men “males” in the sense that it has a great deal more social and historical baggage behind it. You can’t say “Calling women females isn’t offensive because calling men males isn’t offensive” because men have historically been the privileged group in this situation.

  • Robin Price

    “Female” is not offensive to me, BUT “woman” is, as it is derived from “Woe is man.” To me this sounds like females are a nuisance and a bother to men. I do not use that word. NOR do I use the word “vagina” for the female anatomy, as it means “sheath.” Sorry, I do not want my body, to be referred to and objectified like that. I am the rare one who likes the “c” word that rhymes with hunt. FAR less degrading than having our anatomy referred to as a place for a man to put his sword.. :)

  • Richard P.

    Knowing this will do me no good…

    From listening to the video, this is more a case of projection than any kind of insensitive sexist banter.

    There is a lot more projection of some persons own feeling of inferiority being pushed onto those around them than any act of sexism taking place.

    Even the weaker sex comment, yes I agree it was insensitive, but he was not inferring that women are weaker, he was asking, if I can not refer to you as a female, to signify a gender difference, what the hell can I call you that will make you happy?

    Seems like a hell of a lot of projection to me.

    And yes I did read every single part of the web page on gender essentialism too. That seemed like a whole shitload of projection too.

    I’m sorry if you feel inferior, I can’t help how you feel. Just like your not responsible for my feelings, I am not responsible for yours. Just because you feel that way; don’t project your insecurities onto me. I don’t think your inferior. Your twisting my words to fit your agenda doesn’t make it true either.

  • http://defendingreason.wordpress.com/ Ben

    I think the woman who raised the issue has a point. Listening to the discussion in the video, the men were referred to primarily as “men” and a few times as “guys”, and a couple of times as “males” (never as “boys”); but the women were primarily referred to as “females” and few times as “girls”, and only a couple of times as “women”.

    If “male” and “female” are impersonal, then using “female” more than you use “male” can easily be seen as devaluing to women, especially if you’re talking to a room half-full of women and use the term “girl” more than “woman”. It’s not that the word itself is offensive, but the discrepancy in it’s usage compared to “male” can be in any given context can be.

    Even the weaker sex comment, yes I agree it was insensitive, but he was not inferring that women are weaker, he was asking, if I can not refer to you as a female, to signify a gender difference, what the hell can I call you that will make you happy?

    How about the word “woman”?

    Just because there are worse things in the world, doesn’t mean people should settle for “not quite so bad”. It’s not that word “female” is inherently offensive, as I mentioned above, but if we’re not going to refer to men and women in the same manner then we have work to do.

  • Claudia

    I’m going to blatantly jump the comments and say I DON’T CARE. I am dumbfounded that this has become the subject of the conversation, when it is quite patently the least significant issue.

    Isn’t it a more significant issue that merely a conversation about bringing more women into the movement has brought forth a deluge of resentment, defensiveness, outrage and counteroutrage?

    Isn’t it more significant that even though the stated goal of all involved is to improve the obvious gender disparity, we seemingly prefer endless WWF debates?

    Isn’t it more significant that a community that bills itself as being intellectual and interested in complex, context-aware debates, would rather spend the better part of three days discussing ONE aspect of terminology that may or may not have been misunderstood by ONE woman in ONE event, instead of discussing the broader context of the community as it relates to women?

    Hemant, I understand that you looooooove debate. You’re taking time off to coach it for fun. So I get that this is entertaining sport. But if you actually care about the actual problem that is supposedly being discussed, I beg you to, once you’re back, write posts, or invite others to do so, or both, actually discussing the broader context of the issues that this incident has brought forth. If you do that frankly I don’t care if you call me “missy” in the meantime.

  • trixr4kids

    @DA

    I take it all back, American feminists are intellectual powerhouses I hadn’t reckoned with and would never just resort to a “shut up, THAT’s why” argument

    DA’s brilliant argument: Theologians in the Middle Ages argued over semantics, ergo all arguments over semantics are trivial. Some women will be offended by being called women (huh?)

    Throw in an unsupported claim that American feminist wimmins never talk about anything really important (and really, that’s not at all a dismissive, “shut up, that’s why” tactic. No, really, it’s not.)

    Yup, you’ve sure put us in our place with your amazing ratiocination. Mighty impressive. Now run along, there are ever so many marginalized groups in the world that need an insightful guy like you to explain to them which topics they may worthily discuss.

  • DA

    ‘How about the word “woman”?’

    Some feminists object to THAT word moreso than ‘female’ (and I’m not making this up, this has been argued to me before), because gender is an artificial construct and/or its linguistic roots are objectionable and demeaning. It’s an unwinable game trying to please people who parse all language looking for things that will piss them off.

  • DA

    Trix
    Do you have an actual argument in their anywhere?

    And of course some American feminists do have important concerns. But the movement as a whole (and especially its internet presence) are just spoiled white upper-middle class whiners who spend their time harping on unimportant semantic points. I realize as a man my opinion is meaningless on this because I’m just a big evil asshole intent on oppressing you, so why bother arguing with me anyway?

    And playing ‘bingo’ like pretty much all web whetorical memes, is retarded. If you disagree, you can say why, but just yelling “bingo” shows you have nothing to say.

  • Richard P.

    then using “female” more than you use “male” can easily be seen as devaluing to women, especially if you’re talking to a room half-full of women

    Why is using one word that denotes gender over another word, mean that the person is of less value? Does not context have any place in the decision as to what this means.

    Is a young girl less valuable than a young woman? Is a young woman less valuable than a middle age one. Who is it that assess this value? Is there a book?

    Who is it in the conversation that is making these value judgments? Why do women demean their own value by judging themselves less valuable simply because of a word.

    The truth in this whole matter lies in what the woman on the panel said. “I think they said that because they think the men are thinking that already.”

    If your making an assumption about what I am thinking, without any verification on my part as to what I mean, and you don’t believe me when I tell you that is not right, then how is that my responsibility?

    How about the word “woman”?

    Maybe at the time it didn’t fit within the structure of the sentence. Female flowed in the sentence better than woman, could that be possible?

    I am pretty sure that those on the panel were not picking there words with the consideration as to the value they were affording the females in the room.

  • DA

    On second thought, I withdraw myself from the discussion. I’ve been down this road before; I’ll just get tarred as some kind of conservative MRA no matter what points I actually raise or what my views/values/actions are.

  • Tizzle

    I realize as a man my opinion is meaningless on this because I’m just a big evil asshole intent on oppressing you, so why bother arguing with me anyway?

    DA–I wonder what you’d think of a Christian joining this blog to tell us atheists how to run our show. What issues we should care about. Whether we should call ourselves new/gnu atheists, or agnostics, or whether to capitalize or not. Etc.

    If not, why are you telling feminists what issues to raise, and how to run their shit? See, the feminist movement has its own problems and issues and infighting and whatnot. They have to determine how to reach out to a more diverse crowd, and how to move forward in this century and incorporate a global community.

    The individual feminists I know care about way more than just semantics. The strawman feminist that I hear made fun of online all over isn’t anyone I know.

  • Richard P.

    (amending the end of last comment)

    Because if they were I am fairly sure you would have heard the word “goddess” in there a few times.
    Particularly from the guy second from the end on the right side.

  • Tizzle

    Well, DA, we were typing at the same time. I won’t be offended if you don’t respond.

  • DA

    If you’re interested in discussing it further, I’m okay with an email exchange. I just don’t want to do the thread/comments thing anymore.

  • RPJ

    Why is using one word that denotes gender over another word, mean that the person is of less value?

    As I have known it, “female” and “male” clinically denotes gender, while “man” and “woman” refer not only to gender, but to humanity and certain cultural norms associated with them. If a group refers to “men” and “females”, then it is not equality of terms; the difference seems to imply that men are people while women are a statistic.

    I didn’t catch any particular pervasive difference in the amount of video I watched, though.

  • Emburii

    Rather than ‘guy’s, they could have used ‘folks’. Unisex, fills the same informal niche…

    Military drill instructors only use the term ‘female’ for women recruits, deliberately so. It’s easier to sneer, and is impersonal in a way that ‘woman’ is not. Maybe if the men doing the panel had tried some rehearsals, or run their questions past a woman rather than just including one as a token, they would have had the problems with their word choices explained more politely. Instead it’s a perfect example of privilege; ‘You’re just being unreasonable because we couldn’t be arsed to put some effort into our attempts at diversity and bridging. Next you’ll be saying we could have asked one of the population we’re talking about. Madness!’

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    If I use “female” or “woman” and you’d prefer me to use a synonym I’d appreciate it if you’d tell me. That is all.

  • http://www.inside-story.co.nz/ Sarah Robot

    Conversations do not happen in a vacuum. You can’t separate this one panel from centuries of inequality and cultural conditioning just because they were “not intending” to be offensive. There is a lot of subtext in the terms they were using that doesn’t magically disappear just because they don’t intend to express those sentiments. If you actually care about not offending women and treating them like equals, try listening to them and taking them seriously instead of derailing the conversation. Trust me, it helps.

  • http://www.inside-story.co.nz/ Sarah Robot

    Huh, sorry. My computer did something weird when I tried to edit that last comment. It was meant to read:

    @Richard P.

    I’m sorry if you feel inferior, I can’t help how you feel. Just like your not responsible for my feelings, I am not responsible for yours. Just because you feel that way; don’t project your insecurities onto me. I don’t think your inferior. Your twisting my words to fit your agenda doesn’t make it true either.

    Protip: Not everyone who experiences something differently to you is “projecting.” Additionally, when someone finds something offensive that you do not, it may be that you are unable to understand why they view it that way because you are in a position of privilege. This does not mean that you personally think of them as inferior, or that they themselves think they are inferior. Privilege is something we all have through no fault (or effort) of our own. It’s about social structures, not conscious prejudice. However, it does mean that you may need to make an extra effort to listen to what other people are trying to tell you, because it may be something that you truly have no experience of.

    For example, you’re displaying a great deal of privilege right now by dismissing the woman’s comments as “projection” (i.e. imaginary) and suggesting that we (women who object to the term “female”) feel inferior and are therefore oversensitive. While I’m sure some women do feel inferior, your comment was a complete non-apology; it puts all of the blame on the people who are upset and utterly disregards any part the offend-er plays in the situation. Too, you seem oblivious to the fact that this is not about you, your feelings, or what you think about women. It’s about the women who feel offended by what was said in the discussion, and what can be done to avoid this happening in the future.

    Why is using one word that denotes gender over another word, mean that the person is of less value?

    Conversations do not happen in a vacuum. You can’t separate this one panel from centuries of inequality and cultural conditioning just because they were “not intending” to be offensive. There is a lot of subtext in the terms they were using that doesn’t magically disappear just because they don’t intend to express those sentiments. If you actually care about not offending women and treating them like equals, try listening to them and taking them seriously instead of derailing the conversation. Trust me, it helps.

  • gribblethemunchkin

    Ditto Hoverfrog.

    This debate seems bizarre to me, its something i’ve literally never heard about before. That the term female could be considered derisive has simply never occured to me. Of course i can see how it could be made so with context and intonation, much as male could, much as woman could.

    Female though is a useful word. It covers both girls and women, much as male does for boys and men. As for distinctions between species since a dog can also be male or female. Thats a ridiculous arguement, when discussing atheism clearly we are referring to humans. Context people, context.

    A much better discussion (women in atheism/getting hit on/getting more women in atheist groups/etc) has been washed away by something so trivial it seems silly that someone actually raised an eyebrow, let alone an objection.

    I am of course male (or a man if you prefer) and hence have never been on the end of anti-female/woman bigotry although i’m perfectly aware it exists. But is this really a fight thats worth having, is it actually an offense to feminists (amongst which i count myself) to be refered to as female?

  • Charon

    just hoped to provide some context before anyone felt compelled to go “Who would even think that?! *I’ve* never heard that before?!” and use that as a reason supporting their argument.

    How about feminists actually figure out what “woman” and “female” mean and agree on it? Then you can lecture everyone else about it… Until there’s actual agreement on your end, “I’ve never heard of this before, and it seems like silly semantics” appears to be a decent argument.

    Arguments like this are one reason I hesitate to call myself a feminist (if I’d be allowed, as a male – sorry, man), and why a lot of women I know have the same hesitation (mostly highly educated, liberal, independent, and all-round awesome women, I might add).

    As a physicist, I use definitions of “work,” “energy,” “action,” “force,” etc. that are very precise and often not what people usually mean in casual conversation. But I can define them, and explain exactly why physicists have those definitions. And all of us physicists agree on them.

  • http://selfra.blogspot.com dantresomi

    While I admit that maybe that was not the forum it should have been bought up but it was how the issue was addressed.

    This is how Theists treat us when we bring up issues that are important. We should better than that.

    Even before the question, many sexist statements were thrown around..

    Some of us need a lesson on male privilege

  • Micro(7)

    It’s just like using the word ‘homosexuals’ to refer to gay people. Calling straight folks ‘heterosexuals’ doesn’t level the playing field, because ‘a heterosexual’ doesn’t hold the same negative connotations as ‘a homosexual’.

    One can argue there’s a smaller difference in derogatoriness between the words ‘males’ and ‘females’ then between ‘heterosexuals’ and ‘homosexuals’.
    But to be certain about that requires a man to overlook the fact that it is normal and common that privileged people don’t see the negative connotations in the marginalizing terms they use when referring to non-privileged people.

    And the derogatory language is harmful precisely BECAUSE it is perceived as derogatory by those* it refers to, not the tellers, who are often well-intentioned.

    So when members of a marginalized group tell you your language makes them uncomfortable, you don’t get to shrug it off saying that you’re comfortable.

    And lastly, let’s assume the woman was just totally, insanely, plain-freaking-WRONG, ok?
    The event is basically about ‘what makes women so uncomfortable in our circle, discouraging them from participation?’. And when a woman says what she finds uncomfortable, her concern is turned to a joke. Still. Fucking. FAIL.

    * Marginalized people, not a zealous majority, being offended by criticism from minorities

  • Emburii

    Hoverfrog’s request is fair enough, a rational and respectful way to handle different preferences. But that’s not what the men at this panel did. They did not apologize or note the difference of opinion, and instead rebutted with something truly awful. Funny; instead of addressing such bad behavior, most of the commentary revolves around how the woman was being ‘oversensitive’. ‘Funny’, but not unexpected.

  • http://molotovcocktailparty.net DiscountDeity

    Well, I’ve never heard of this debate before, and I personally see the issue as a bit silly. In fact, I generally fail to see the point of getting upset over words as opposed to thoughts, actions, attitudes, and ideas.

    But here’s the thing: I’m a straight white dude. I have no real understanding of what it is to be marginalized in society, and what sort of baggage goes along with that, so I can’t speak to any issues connected to that with any real firsthand knowledge.

    Which means I am in no position to be telling women (or gay people, or people of color, or whomever) what they should and shouldn’t be discussing, or what they should or shouldn’t be worried about, or whether or not they are “correct” in being annoyed or upset by any particular words or actions or whatever.

    Other people have experiences I haven’t had, and those experiences inform their thoughts and feelings in ways I can’t appreciate. I should listen to and recognize the legitimacy of their feelings before I go stomping in to explain why they’re “wrong”. And, for that matter, I should express my opinion without insulting, ignoring or invalidating others’ opinions. That’s just basic respect.

    • NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

      You’re a white d00d?! REALLY? I coudn’t tell from the long-winded mansplaination and the fact that you commented even though you admit to having NO REAL UNDERSTANDING of what women face, every day, from the cradle to the grave.

  • Simon

    Does anyone know who the panelists where by the way? I could only surmise that they were members of local Alabama atheist communities (one of them mentioned his Birmingham group). Are these folks leaders or just members etc?

    I think the ‘female/woman’ debate is only one of many things at play here (and probably not the most important in itself):

    1) The panelists were clearly dismissive to the woman’s question when she obviously felt strongly about it. I think it would have been much more appropriate to simply say something like ‘duly noted’ and/or ‘we’ll take that into consideration’. If you’re in a leadership position you know that what may seem insignificant to you matters to others. Very often one person brings up a concern that is thought (but not verbalized by others). At the very least err on the side of caution and look into it later.

    2) Most of the male panelists seemed uncomfortable discussing women, sex, relationships, etc in an adult manner. This is the impression they gave me anyway.

    3) At the very beginning the actual question (second most popular) being asked was made fun of by the moderator himself: “when a female enters into an atheist group that is predominantly male, does she feel like a sex object?” He was probably paraphrasing variations that were submitted. I don’t know if that’s his general style, however to me it came off like he just didn’t take the question very seriously.

  • Steven

    S-Y says:
    ““Female” is no more offensive than “male”…”

    I have to disagree, as I find male deeply offensive – all I ever get are damn bills. Sadly, that’s about as serious as I can get about this kerfuffle over “woman” vs “female” word usage. If I could inject some uncommon sense, would you refer to your partner or friend as a “female” or a “woman”? I’d say my wife is a wonderful woman, or a wonderful person. I’d never refer to her as a “female” – that’s how I would describe my cat. Female might be technically correct but it carries different connotations than woman(as does male vs man). It is a description of gender only and doesn’t bestow humanity the way that the word woman does.

  • TychaBrahe

    I’d like to address one point that I see most people glossing over to argue about the definitions of words like “female” and “woman.”

    The purpose of this seminar was supposedly to address why there are so few women in atheist groups. For example, it was claimed that women sometimes feel harassed and treated as sexual objects at atheist meetings.

    Then a woman stands up and says, your use of this language feels demeaning and dismissive to me. Now, it may be that many women present feel this way and she is the only one who has the courage to bring it up. It may also be that she has her own issues that are coloring her experience, and it’s not a real problem for most of the women in attendance. But rather than taking her concerns seriously and treating her respectfully, a male panelist makes a joke about it. He was incredibly disrespectful, dismissive of her concerns, and demeaning to her sensitivities.

    I submit to you that attitudes like his are a big part of why women don’t attend atheist meetings.

    Being an atheist does not mean that a person is automatically more evolved than theist members of our society. But I think this discussion showed that you can be an atheist and still feel fine making sexist jerky comments.

    And for all those people who say that “female” is a perfectly fine word, I suggest to you that “boy” is also a very fine word. I use it without hesitation to refer to my 3- and 6-year-old nephews. (It can be used in the third person or second, as in “The boys said….” or “Boys, com to dinner.”) However, in our society, it has negative connotations when used to describe Black people, and I am always careful to refer to juvenile Black males as “young man.” You may argue that these added connotations are stupid and not part of the dictionary definition of the word, and I would agree. But to argue with a Black person about how Black teens shouldn’t take offense at being called “boy” is dismissive of the very real emotions and concerns of Blacks.

  • http://www.criticaleyepodcast.com/ Tom Hand

    Let’s not forget that at least one of the panelists is ex-military, and another is married to ex-military. When I was in, a bit more than ten years ago, when they did the EO (Equal Opportunity) briefings the word “Female” was the preferred moniker. I point this out to show that the panelists- and I know most of them personally- were not using a word they thought Could be viewed as offensive.

    “Female” is a neutral gendered word- conveying nothing except gender. It is not dehumanizing, and this was not a Scientific discussion, so usage of “laws of cant” are irrelevant.

    Privileging the Dogma of one person/group over the Facts of another is Wrong.

  • http://Whowilldefendgod? John D

    I will not claim that I have conducted a scientific poll here, but I politely asked my wife and two daughters what they thought about someone being offended at the use of the term “females” to refer to women. Now, my family are all non-theists and we always have been (just as a reference point). We are somewhat active in the secular “movement” with my youngest daughter considering starting a SSA group in her high school next year.

    So, here is their reply (paraphrased). “It sounds like they are a lunatic!”

    I just wanted another perspective on this topic from a group of women. I consider them to have a sort of “average” opinion on this matter. I did not ask a professor nor did I ask a feminist activist. Just three more or less average non-religious women.

    So, based on this simple feedback I will make the following comment to women in the “atheist” movement and feminists in general. If you want people to take you seriously, and not sound like a lunatic, you should not be enraged at small offenses in the use of the English language. You should interpret people for what they intend and not dice and slice their language.

  • http://www.criticaleyepodcast.com/ Tom Hand

    @Tycha- Did you watch the video? Misrepresenting the facts was the original problem.

    The lady/woman/female/person-with-2-x-chromosomes asks the audience is anyone else “is bothered by the usage of ‘female’?” Most of the video is a crowd shot, and there’s not only no raised hands and no roar of agreement. In fact, there’s no auditory indication of agreement at all.

    “Female” is not even close to equivalent of “boy”. “Boy” and “girl” are equivalent. “Female” and “Male” are equivalent; and I would point out that, in the video, there is a lot of self-referential usage of the term “male”.

  • Frank

    I’m glad Hemant posted the video, and having seen it I think this woman’s concern about language was unfounded. I think female is a good example of a scientifically detached word, describing a class of things without any normative implications. I also don’t think it is any more or less appropriate to use it as a noun or adjective. The dictionary lists it as both, and neither feels more or less natural to me.

    The suggestion the woman made that the word female somehow equated female humans with female livestock seems particularly out of place to me. Humans are animals, we share common ancestors with livestock, so there is nothing problematic about having one word that can be used to refer both to humans and to livestock. Tacking offense at such a word strikes me as suggesting that humans should have some metaphysically special perch, and that runs up against the naturalistic worldview that is at the foundation of this movement.

    That being said, even though this woman’s concern was irrational, her emotions were real, and the so the “weaker sex” comment was inappropriate.

  • WhatPaleBlueDot

    I have a novel suggestion. Before you open your mouth or utilize your keyboard, take a moment to consider that other persons are worth respecting. And if someone tells you s/he doesn’t feel respected, you respond kindly instead of mocking him/her. A difficult concept, I know.

  • Mackrelmint

    RPJ (@ 1:31AM), I’m certainly not being a “snarky ass” when I point out what the use of “male or female” means to me. Those are the boxes I check on my field data sheets when I am doing research on whatever study species is involved and so to me, they do not denote the humanity of the subjects involved. Of course, I understand context and I know how to tell if human males or females are being discussed, which is why I also said that I don’t take offense to the use of these terms, even if I wouldn’t use them.

    The larger issue is how the woman who spoke up was responded to. A simple polite acknowledgement of her concern is all that was required, regardless of whether the panelists agreed with her. That isn’t what happened and that is why this is being blogged about.

    • NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

      “A simple polite acknowledgement of her concern is all that was required, regardless of whether the panelists agreed with her.”

      …yep, and men won’t even do that. THAT’S how much they give a shit about women. But, they’re really TRYING! /s

  • Eric Pepke

    I have some sympathy toward not using the term “female” as a noun, though the reason I have it is that the feminists I encountered in the 1980s an 1990s consistently used “male” as a noun, whereas they referred to women as “women” or sometimes “wymyn” (with “womyn” being the singular). I didn’t find it deeply offensive, but with repetition it rankled.

    I note that when men brought this up, aforementioned feminists thought that they were being ridiculous and refused to change their usage. I would have more sympathy if those women demanding respect were to have shown some, which they didn’t.

    I have no sympathy toward turning casual usage in a quasi-conversational format into a histrionic exchange which has little purpose other than saying that men are scum. This is no doubt why the aforementioned feminists consistently used the term “male” in the first place, because they wanted to dehumanize men.

    What this really boils down to is what used to be called the Battle of the Sexes way back when it was acceptable to talk about such things.

  • http://Whowilldefendgod? John D

    I agree that the man on the right was being impolite with his joke. He was trying to be funny, but he was poking fun at the woman who was complaining about the use of the word “female.” I suggest that he should have just let this issue go. In his defense, I think most people in the audience thought the complaint was trivial and silly and so did the rest of the panel including the woman.

    This whole exchange is somewhat typical of the emotions that follow this issue. There are a few women (I think it is a minority) who have very strong demands of atheist men. They complain about things like the use of certain words. Even when men reach out they get slapped. Granted, much of the times our attempts to be inclusive are full of mistakes and fumbles, but it is very disappointing that so many strong feminist women have no interest in cutting us some slack.

    Give us a break please. We really do think women are our equal. If you think we are being impolite please let us know, but please don’t pick us to death. Most of us are trying.

    • NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

      “WE REALLY ARE TRYYYYING, GIVE US A BREAK!” Liar.

      Fucking disingenuous, lying liar. Cut YOU some slack? Please.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    I think that TychaBrahe pretty much nailed it. The point is the dismissal of the woman’s concerns. There is plenty of room for debate around the use of the word “female,” but that’s not the primary issue here. The issue is the dismissal of the person’s concerns, offhand, in a joking and disrespectful way. I doubt that the panelists intended to be jerks about it. But it came out that way, and it illustrated precisely why the atheist movement has difficulty attracting more women.

    @John D: You can’t separate this issue from the context, you know? I have no doubt that plenty of women would answer that the use of the word “female” is not offensive. But the real issue is the context: that a woman’s concerns were being dismissed jokingly and condescendingly. And this:

    So, based on this simple feedback I will make the following comment to women in the “atheist” movement and feminists in general. If you want people to take you seriously, and not sound like a lunatic, you should not be enraged at small offenses in the use of the English language. You should interpret people for what they intend and not dice and slice their language.

    is a precise illustration of the problem: you, as a man, decide to tell women exactly how they should think, feel, and act, and you express that you won’t take them seriously if they don’t meet that expectation. That’s an expression of male privilege.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    I think the problem was that the panel had 5 men and one woman. If it had 5 women and one man, then everything probably would have been fine. Any discussion about how to make group meetings (that have more men than women) more comfortable to women needs to be led by women. Perhaps that is the immediate lesson to learn. Then work on addressing the larger problem which transcends religious belief (or lack there-of).

  • BlueRidgeLady

    My opinion. Female and male should be used as adjectives, not nouns.

    “female atheists”= ok
    “atheists females”= not ok

    Maybe it’s because I have spent a lot of my time in the south, but the use of “females” to describe women has never been in a positive sense, it’s always been men talking about women as if the word “female” is an object or an animal, and that doesn’t sit right with me.

    • NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

      Because it’s an INSULT. Period. your instincts are spot on. and, thank you.

  • http://cramandballwell.com Jerry Ballwell

    I’m glad we finally get to see the video. One thing I noticed is that they used the words “male” and “men” interchangeably just as often as they used “female” and “women” interchangeably.

    Personally, I find the use of the word “female” in this context to be very awkward. I just can’t take people seriously when they refer to women as “females,” simply because I find it creepy and very Steve Urkel.

    Two things that should be obvious to most people:
    1. The panel didn’t seem to intend to make light of anyone’s plight.

    2. They managed to make light of somebody’s plight.

    I don’t think we’re even having this discussion if the guy on the right doesn’t make a public joke at the expense of a person who’s obviously already upset. That was a poor decision. If I put myself in her shoes, as somebody who’s not on the panel, but who had one moment to express her opinion, I’m going to be pissed off too. Everyone else has the option to blow past the ladies problem, and that’s exactly what happens. The panel just goes about being the panel, and they have complete control over the direction of the conversation. This lady is marginalized completely by this action. She has no opportunity to defend herself or respond. Who wouldn’t be upset?

  • RTH

    It didn’t seem as though the “weaker sex” joke was a dismissal of the woman’s concern. Rather, it seemed to be an attempt to use humor to lighten a moment that had been awkward for everyone.

  • BlueRidgeLady

    Those suggesting that it’s just a semantics thing with grammar should really consider that language does matter, especially when dealing with a marginalized or formerly marginalized group, in this case the one woman.

    Unless you are aware of it, it can be easy to miss, and I think a lot of people miss it.

    One example of language being biased- it’s common for reports (even in court) to use passive language when reporting rape. “Sally was sexually assaulted” instead of “Jim raped Sally”. That says a lot. It takes the responsibility off of the rapist and it is almost questioning the victim as to why someone raped her. There are subtleties in language that a lot of people aren’t even aware of. Now consider a lifetime of these subtle biases. I’m not saying this case specifically, but it seems this thread has too many “you girls really are too sensitive” sentiments in it.

  • allison

    I can tell you that as a woman listening to that panel was making me feel rather uncomfortable, and I can understand why the woman spoke up. That’s a shame in a panel where I gather the context was trying to get more women to come to these conferences and to return once they’ve been to one.

    It’s less that the word female was used repeatedly and more how it was used. In a sentence where someone was talking about male atheists and female atheists (and there were some of those), I don’t have a problem. There were, however, many times when the juxtaposition was more along the lines of “a female walks into a room full of men” and that sort of language really does speak to the way women are being viewed and treated. Thus far in listening to the panel, there was only one man on the panel (the one who said his group was predominantly female, and yes, I’m fine using female as a group descriptor) whose default was to refer to women as women. The other men were referring to “female” or “girl” preferentially when referring to an individual…..and using girl to describe a grown woman REALLY gets my goat.

    I think that the woman who asked the question articulated her concern poorly in saying that it’s like being viewed as animals, though I know what she meant. It’s more along the line of feeling as if you’re being observed as an exotic, of being viewed as an object of study rather than as a person. Though her concerns were perhaps not phrased as well as they should have been, the joke in response was inappropriate, insulting, and in fact was an extension of the very sort of behavior about which she was expressing concern. She had proposed the alternative of woman, so this wasn’t an instance for a “what CAN I call you” joke.

    I also noticed that though there was a woman on the panel she was not saying much and the discussion was dominated by the men on the panel. While some of the solutions being proposed were good ones, I do think that having more representation and more than one female perspective available was probably warranted given the nature of the discussion. It really gave the appearance of tokenism, which is another thing that should be avoided when having a discussion about making members of a minority group feel welcomed and comfortable.

    Richard P wrote:

    I’m sorry if you feel inferior, I can’t help how you feel.

    Richard, I would assert that a panel discussion about how to bring more women into the movement as participating members is absolutely the time for women to talk about how the language used, the way we’re approached, and such make us feel. This was ostensibly a panel devoted to discussing women’s perceptions when they walk into a meeting, talk, or panel discussion. I suspect that the use of language in this manner is also the sort of thing that would be overlooked on a survey, whether formal or informal, and these discussions were clearly dealing with some sort of survey results.

    • NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

      “I’m sorry if you feel inferior, I can’t help how you feel.”

      TEXTBOOK GASLIGHTING.

  • Lisa

    I am a trans woman. I am a woman. I am currently mostly male. Male and female refer to your sex: a combination of your chromosomes, your genitals, your hormone balance, etc. I say mostly male because I am on hormones which have started to effect my sex. But I am completely a woman, because woman is a word that refers to my gender, which is an internal experience independent of sex. The use of females in the video was inaccurate, because what was meant was women. When what is meant is actually female – when medical status is actually relevant to the discussion (though it rarely is outside of a doctor’s office) – then there is nothing offensive about it.

    • NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

      Nope. Wrong. You sound like every other man trying to rationalize misogynist language. EVERYTHING about your words screams PRIVILEGED MALE.

      You can dress up, trowle on makeup and fetishise women-as-toilets all you like- but you are a MAN, and always will be.

  • jemand

    to me, “female” is a fine word as a descriptor of a noun. “Female contributors” “female members” etc I don’t think is offensive.

    Disengage it from another noun, and use it on it’s OWN to refer to women, and the word leaves a bad taste in my mouth and often comes across as offensive.

    Perhaps because it’s often used as a dismissive term, perhaps because it feels like bad grammar melded with bad social science, I don’t know.

  • http://Whowilldefendgod? John D

    @Lost Left Coaster – I am not feeling the love here. Of course I have male privilege. I also have white privilege. I do not deny that some things go my way just because I am a white man. This does not mean I am not a feminist. I do support 100% equality for men and women.

    All I am asking is that I be met part way along this journey. The original blog regarding this meeting was very accusatory. It was hyperbolic and exaggerated. Using me (and other men) as a punching bag will not encourage me to want to spend time with you.

    Most men in the secular movement want to do their best. Men and women are not perfect and we all make mistakes.

    Some atheist men in the secular movement will go overboard from time to time. Their behavior should be kept in check. Men and women agree that aggressive behavior and harassment must be controlled. At the same time it is important to not seek more offenses then men intend.

    This comment from you illustrates my point:

    “This is a precise illustration of the problem: you, as a man, decide to tell women exactly how they should think, feel, and act, and you express that you won’t take them seriously if they don’t meet that expectation. That’s an expression of male privilege.”

    You are claiming that any time I tell you how to behave I am using my male privilege. This is not true. We all have to work together to agree on appropriate social rules. That is what this discussion is about. When you tell me not to use the word “female” I at least consider it. I consult with others and try to decide what to do. If a consensus determines that this word is acceptable in a certain context then I will continue to use it. This is not male privilege. You have falsely accused me… but I am getting used to it.

  • Mark C.

    I didn’t watch most of the video, so I can’t comment on the proportion of “male” to “female” and “men” to “women” usage.

    However, as others have stated, the panel’s reaction to the woman, especially after she had been skipped over previously in favor of men, should not have been as it was. We want more women in the movement, and we are doing both male and female atheists a disservice when we openly ridicule them for expressing their opinion on something that deeply affects them.

    That said, you can see in my previous paragraph how I use the terms under debate. “Male” and “female”, when not used in a scientific context (e.g. check boxes on a form), I nearly always use as adjectives. “Man” and “woman” are not adjectives, and they are specifically reserved for adults, or teens when preceded by “young”. If I’m making sex-based generalizations, I’ll use “male” and “female”. However, I don’t tend to make sex-based generalizations. Usually when someone does (and not in an appropriate scientific context), they’re either trying to make an excuse for why members of their sex can act in some way that is offensive to members of the other sex, or they’re demeaning the other sex.

    Offensive generalizations are, of course, also made with the other set of terms, but they have age as a context, as well. Perhaps no less offensive, but there is something of a qualitative difference, in that nothing is being claimed of all the relevant people on Earth at every time in their lives.

    Sex-based generalizations in common (i.e. not scientific) usage, in my tentative opinion, are probably implicitly comparing human members of that sex to non-human members of the same sex, perhaps usually in an attempt to, as stated before, keep one sex above the other or actively demean the other. For example, someone might say “it’s the female’s job to raise the young”. This seems to convey a normative message of inescapable obligation to women, while at the same time making excuses for why fathers shouldn’t or needn’t take part in child rearing.

    Half of the population is female, and if our culture were better than it is currently, atheist groups would have a roughly equal proportion in their membership. Language usage is part of culture. Language shapes and affects everyone’s psychology. Language is extremely important in the context of equality in the atheist movement, and the issue of its effect on people should not be understated or casually dismissed. Our culture is still heavily biased toward one sex, and those of us who are members of that sex can find it very difficult to notice the privilege conferred on us solely due to language usage maintaining old prejudices. Yes, there are certainly some things that are ridiculous — everyone is human, as they say — but this particular case is not such an instance, and extremes don’t give us license to dismiss the opinions of an entire side.

  • JB Tait

    It is also partly context, intent, and who is saying it. If a boss refers to the staff as his “girls,” his relationship can be interpreted as derogatory, but if one of the staff members says she is going to have “a night out with the girls,” then it isn’t.

    • NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

      Nope, it ALWAYS IS. Calling grown women “girls” is insulting and infantilizing. the context it’s within? THE PATRIARCHY.

  • The Captain

    I have to agree with others here, that this is indeed one of the stupidest, most hypersensitive arguments ever.

  • Grimalkin

    I take absolutely no offense at the word “female.” This is all a misdirection – the discussion we should be having is not about whether the term “female” is objectively more offensive than the term “woman.” This is about context, about how the words were being used, and about how women were being treated overall (language use playing a part).

    The setup of the discussion illustrates perfectly the issue I’ve had, as a woman, in atheist groups. We get a bunch of guys (and a token female) to talk about “The Female Problem.” I’m sorry, but when the subject is the female experience, it needs to be led by women. Men are welcome to join, but women need to be the leaders of the discussion. The fact that it was set up as an overwhelmingly male panel tells me, right off the bat, that there was something to be concerned about.

    Secondly, when a woman from the audience tried to express her personal concerns (even if they were, for the sake of argument, completely irrational projections) she was laughed at. Her experiences were the topic of discussion and she was deemed not qualified to offer her perspective. The fact that it was a panel of men telling her that her experiences didn’t qualify her to speak about what women experience makes it doubly concerning.

    The fact that the word “female” was being used so much gave me the image of a bunch of scientists dissecting a specimen. Yes, that’s offensive, even if the word “female” objectively isn’t. We have an out-group feeling qualified to discuss the “problem” of the in-group and using overly scientific language to do so (even if only half-joking). That’s a problem.

    The discussion was poorly set up and poorly executed. It’s a perfect example of why it took me so long to get involved in the atheist movement.

  • JulietEcho

    I don’t think it’s a hypersensitive argument – it may seem minor to (a) women who just aren’t bothered by it or its implications and (b) men, but I think it seems like it’s coming out of the blue because usually women let it slide – perhaps fearing they’ll be accused of hypersensitivity.

    As others have pointed out, “female” is an adjective. It doesn’t distinguish between female infants and female senior citizens. It can be applied to other species, and often is. It doesn’t include personhood in its scope. I’ve personally noticed that most of the men I know who use “female” instead of “woman” are among the most socially inept and in some cases misogynistic. I don’t think this is coincidental.

    I also think that the whole “some people are going to be offended either way” argument is crap. Sure, there might be a handful of women out there who have a beef with the word “woman” – but there are (clearly) droves of us who are offended and insulted when people call us “females” instead.

    In short, when referring to people, don’t refer to them by using adjectives related to their appearance/parts. Don’t say “blacks” or “handicappeds” or “blondes” – and don’t say “females” either, for the same reasons.

  • Siamang

    I think the main issue is really that a serious panel should have been covering this issue, and not a panel of oh-so-clever jokesters. (also, lots of Y chromosomes on that dais).

    Context is important. This comment about word semantics is probably the one thing the commenter came up with to attack… but clearly it was within a context of her sitting and listening to this serious issue treated like it was not serious.

    So while I think the specific attack is a bit obscure, and the theatrics a bit much, there’s a real point here.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    @John D: I’m almost flattered — my feminism must be pretty complete, because apparently you thought I am a woman. I am a man, but I understand that that was not at all clear in my comment, and my name is completely gender neutral. So no worries there.

    But this troubles me:

    Using me (and other men) as a punching bag will not encourage me to want to spend time with you.

    Again, this is why we talk about privilege, because these things leak out without any realization: you’re implying there that the woman’s concern should be about making you want to spend time with her (in an atheist meeting or some other context like that, I assume). That’s kind of a troubling assumption. I mean, I would hope that we can all get along and all want to spend time together as a big happy community, but I still find it odd that you put this priority on women making you want to spend time with them. I have a feeling that a lot of women won’t share this priority (and I don’t in any way mean that personally, I mean in a general sense, they’re not making their number one concern that men would want to spend time with them — surely that takes a backseat for many women to things like confronting sexism and standing up for oneself and one’s fellow human beings).

    Also, I just want to remind you that I expressed in my comment a willingness to leave the word “female” aside, because that isn’t the real issue here. The issue is that this woman was upset over something and was not respectfully responded to by the panel — she was ridiculed by at least one person (the weaker sex comment was deeply offensive). And your comment, I’m afraid to say, was no more respectful, because you essentially said that she was a lunatic for being offended. I’m not even saying that I agreed with her reason for being offended. I’m just saying that dismissing her concerns offhand like this does not, in any way, imply meeting part way on the journey, as you say. You want her to address this issue on your turf. That’s why I brought up the term privilege in the first place.

  • http://Whowilldefendgod? John D

    JulietEcho – You make this claim:

    “Don’t say “blacks” or “handicappeds” or “blondes” – and don’t say “females” either, for the same reasons.”

    My reply is “You have got to be kidding!”

    I have many fiends of African decent and I call them “Black” when the subject of race is discussed. They do not care if I call them “Black”. I know because I have asked this question over and over. This is not a trivial conversation either. My daughter’s boyfriend is black, his family, her friends, my friends. I am very certain they are okay with this. (Besides… it takes a ridiculously long time to say “African Americans”.)

    It is only the most bizarre and trivial hair-splitting that makes the word offensive. It is overly picky and it is a meaningless made-up problem that does not exist.

  • Guest

    @Grimalkin:

    “The fact that the word “female” was being used so much gave me the image of a bunch of scientists dissecting a specimen.”

    I agree with this. And many people may not mind because “oh hey lots of us atheists here are scientists” but not all atheists are scientists. I have plenty of women friends who are bordering on that agnostic/atheist line who are in the arts and humanities and many would not appreciate being spoken of in that way.

    I do think that the atheist movement should start thinking about how to behave in order to retain those who come in and check us out. This may mean that even though some issues matter only to a small minority of people in our group, we should take them into account. i.e. do we want woman (including feminists/womanists)to stick around? people of color? LGBTIQ? people with disabilities? Hopefully we won’t have to wait for those in these groups to build up to a high enough threshold that we then start beginning to care about their opinions, needs, and what offends them.

  • Villa

    Secondly, when a woman from the audience tried to express her personal concerns (even if they were, for the sake of argument, completely irrational projections) she was laughed at.

    Have you watched the video? For good or bad, the panel was joking and being light-hearted all the way through.

    If it had been a Very Serious panel that mocked her out of the blue, that was different. But the panel was going for light-hearted banter for 8 min. They were joking about pretty well all of the points raised by everyone.

    The panelists couldn’t know in advance which questions are deeply personal. So, we only have two options as far as community standards. We can require that all atheist discussion are treated as Grave and Very Serious. Or we can accept that some discussions will involve joking about people’s points and thus are ill-suited to touchy and deeply personal complaints.

    Her experiences were the topic of discussion and she was deemed not qualified to offer her perspective. The fact that it was a panel of men telling her that her experiences didn’t qualify her to speak about what women experience makes it doubly concerning.

    I disagree. The question was not, “Do I feel this way?” It was, “do any other people feel this way?” They didn’t deem her unqualified. They simply disagreed with her assessment of other people’s feelings.

    And, I feel like there’s a fallacy in your critique. It’s the same one used when Christians dismiss people’s positions because of a lack of ‘spiritual discernment’.

    The only people who are qualified to comment on theology are those with ‘spiritual discernment’. How do I know if someone has it? Why, they agree with me. Thus, 100% of qualified people agree with me, and I’m right.

    Here it’s ‘experience’ or ‘awareness of privilege’. We can’t declare this qualification after-the-fact. A male-panel can have useful insight into the ‘female/women’ topic. Or it can’t. Those are the two options.

    If they do have useful insight, then it’s unfair to say, “How dare those men comment?”. They commented because she specifically asked for their opinions.

    If they do not have useful insight, then why ask for their opinion in the first place? Their opinion is irrelevant, even if it happened to line up with hers.

  • JulietEcho

    @JohnD – I don’t mean as an adjective (i.e. “my black friend”), I mean as a noun (i.e. I’m friends with a black.”)

    Same goes with the word female. “My female friend” is fine – it’s used as an adjective. “I’m friends with a female” is where there’s a problem.

    Taking about “the blacks” is a sign of racism (or is interpreted as such), and talking about “the females” is a sign of sexism (or is interpreted as such). I think far more people are unaware of the inappropriate connotations regarding “females” than “blacks” though, so I’m usually willing to chalk it up to ignorance and failure to know the difference between adjectives and nouns in that particular case.

  • Grimalkin

    @Villa – Once again, why was a panel put together to discuss “The Female Problem” composed overwhelmingly of men?

    I never said that men aren’t capable of offering valuable insight into women’s experiences, but that’s not what we’re seeing here. We’re seeing a situation where men are given primacy in the discussion. How is this not an issue?

    I’m also not saying that joking is bad (what is it about gender discussions that always brings out the “can’t you just take a joke?” attitude?). I’m saying that, when discussing WOMEN’s experiences, having an almost all-male panel that then goes on to dismiss a woman’s experience is not acceptable.

    This is nothing like “spiritual discernment.” The discussion was centred around women’s subjective experiences – something that men simply do not have access to. When the question is “what do women feel?,” you don’t get to dismiss women who answer in a way you don’t expect or agree with. Whether legitimate or not, this woman felt that way (and, honestly, I can see where she was coming from).

  • Sarah TX.

    I am continually surprised at the ability of (usually white, usually male) atheists/skeptics to be so unquestioning of a huge part of their life – their cultural privilege.

    Skeptics, especially – so many of us skeptics are all “You can’t be a religious skeptic!” From the same principal, I will state that you can not be a non-feminist skeptic.

  • Circe of the Godless

    Lost Left Coaster – thank you for your comments, it is so good to know there are really great men like yourself out there who just see ‘people’ as people, not just as male or female.

    I always feel on threads like these that many men think they’re just getting bashed for the sake of it when they can’t see that their comments are actually quite offensive.

    The fact that your comments are right on track, and that you are a man, makes it plain that there is a big difference between yourself and these other types of commenters (the ‘women are just too sensitive’ crowd)

  • Eric Pepke

    @Grimalkin:

    “Once again, why was a panel put together to discuss “The Female Problem” composed overwhelmingly of men?”

    That’s pretty simple to answer. The panel was put together first and then the audience chose a topic for them.

  • Villa

    @Grimalkin

    Once again, why was a panel put together to discuss “The Female Problem” composed overwhelmingly of men?

    This is nothing like “spiritual discernment.” The discussion was centred around women’s subjective experiences – something that men simply do not have access to.

    It is one thing to dispute a speaker’s credentials.

    The fallacy is, “These people disagreed with me thus they lack credentials.” or “We know an answer is informed because it agrees with me.”

    If you want, you can argue that a male panel is generally unqualified. But then it’s weird to complain about a specific answer being ill-informed. We’ve asserted that the speakers aren’t qualified, so any answer they could give would be ill-informed.

    When the question is “what do women feel?,” you don’t get to dismiss women who answer in a way you don’t expect or agree with. Whether legitimate or not, this woman felt that way (and, honestly, I can see where she was coming from).

    I think there are two separate claims here. 1: I feel X, and 2: Many people feel X.

    It’s entirely possible that #1 is true and #2 isn’t. If someone asserts this then, my opinions are ‘dismissed’ as being not-representative of a large group.

    I’m not being told that I don’t feel a particular way. Just that the person replying doesn’t think my view is especially common.

    As to joking, how would you distinguish questions that are fair-game for banter, and ones that must be taken very seriously? We can know after the fact that a speaker was putting their heart on the line. But we can’t know this at the instant someone stands at a microphone.

    The only rules I can come up with are, “Atheists may not joke about some topics,” or “Use context. Questions raised in sessions with banter are fair game for banter. Ones raised in serious-contexts should be taken seriously.” But, the latter rule would not have prevented this problem.

  • http://Whowilldefendgod? John D

    @JulietEcho – you state:

    “Same goes with the word female. “My female friend” is fine – it’s used as an adjective. “I’m friends with a female” is where there’s a problem.”

    This is the finest on hair splitting. I have a decent grasp on the English language, but it takes a literature professor to dance to your tune.

    PC rules a far to subtle for me. I guess I am destined to offend people.

    Let me get this straight:

    It is okay to say the following:
    - My daughter’s boyfriend is black
    or – My daughter’s boyfriend is a black man

    But it is not okay to say:
    -My daughter’s boyfriend is a black

    WTF. This is truly ridiculous.

  • Siamang

    That’s pretty simple to answer. The panel was put together first and then the audience chose a topic for them.

    Okay, then the next step is simple as well.

    At least half the panel should have said “let’s get some female voices up here, I’m going to step down. Who wants my chair?”

  • Siamang

    It is okay to say the following:
    - My daughter’s boyfriend is black
    or – My daughter’s boyfriend is a black man

    But it is not okay to say:
    -My daughter’s boyfriend is a black

    Actually, this is right. One and two are okay, third is not.

    Seriously, can you not hear the difference?

    WTF. This is truly ridiculous.

    No, actually it’s the rules we’ve been playing by in America for about the last 25 years or so.

    You can say you don’t like the rules, but yes, that’s how they currently are.

    Say “a chinese man” not “a chinese” or worse “a chinaman”.

  • RTH

    JulietEcho & Siamang:

    I hear people say things like “a group of three whites and three blacks” all the time. I don’t think this “rule” you describe is as universal as you think it is.

    The main alternative to “blacks” is “African-Americans.” However, it is insufficient in many cases because it doesn’t apply to most of the black people in the world. Also, it does sound awkward to say “a group of three whites and three African-Americans” because the terms aren’t parallel.

    Finally, I must point out that “African-American” is an adjective to the same extent that “black” is an adjective. Both of those terms are adjectives, except when they are used as nouns.

  • Siamang

    I think it’s more universal than you think it is.

    It’s not exclusively used. But then, neither is any speech.

    Language use is fuzzy, and rarely cut and dried or neat and parallel.

    I hear people say things like “a group of three whites and three blacks” all the time.

    Sounds like police-officer shorthand. Under what context do you hear this all the time? What region do you live in? Do you hear black people using that?

  • Eric Pepke

    ‘At least half the panel should have said “let’s get some female voices up here, I’m going to step down. Who wants my chair?”’

    Actually, not a bad idea.

  • RTH

    Siamang:

    I would like to know what your basis is for thinking that the rule that “black can’t be used as a noun” is more universal than I think it is. Is it something more than your personal experience?

    The context in which I hear (or read) the example I gave varies greatly. Mostly, I was talking about what I hear on national TV or read on blogs, websites, etc. from many different regions. I live in the southeastern U.S. in a town that is about half white and half black. Where I live, blacks and whites both mostly use “black” and “white” as nouns as well as adjectives.

    I’m not sure what police-officer shorthand is. However, the police chief in my town is black.

  • Eric Pepke

    The more I think about Siamang’s idea, the more I like it. I think that if I ever were on such a panel, I would do that. I cannot control what other men do, as I don’t think that men have the same solidarity that women say they do (I also don’t think that women have the same solidarity that they say they do.) Still, it would be interesting to see the reaction.

  • RTH

    Siamang’s idea about adding more women to the panel once the topic was chosen does sound like a good one.

    My only concern about it is that the members of those sorts of panels tend to be chosen with some care based on their demeanor, speaking ability, knowledge of how the group actually works, or some other relevant criteria. If you just took volunteers from the audience to serve on the panel, there is a danger that you will end up with some panelists who really should have remained audience members. Of course, I guess you don’t really even have to have a panel. You could just have one moderator (a female one, perhaps) and open the floor to anyone who wants to speak.

    My guess is that, in retrospect, the panelists may wish they had done something like Siamang suggested. However, at the time they probably didn’t want to act like they were ducking the issue or passing the buck. (It is okay to say “buck” in this context, isn’t it?) They had agreed to discuss the issues that were chosen.

  • allison

    Eric, I have to agree that some of the men in the panel should have stepped down. Really, though there were good ideas being proposed by the men on the panel, the way things were set up it was inherently going to be very problematic for the one woman on the panel. It had to be quite awkward for her, as anything she said in such a context was likely to be taken as representative of all women’s experiences. As a result of this panel makeup, as soon as she said that the word female being used the way it was didn’t bother her, well, obviously other women shouldn’t be bothered either! We’ll just move on now, shall we? Let’s make a joke while we’re at it, because this concern can’t really be serious.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

    I’m inclined to think that “female” is more off-putting than offensive. It’s suboptimal language use. I don’t think the panelists should be expected to say everything perfectly, but if someone points it out they should just politely stand corrected. Admitting error, isn’t that one of those secular values?

    I was far more annoyed at the comment about how men hitting on women is just biology. Ugh.

  • Tom

    It’s of my opinion that many males (I’ll call them boys) commenting here are motivated to dismiss this controversy through undisclosed sexism. It just seems this way given how their flow of logic just doesn’t add up. They don’t want to share the position of power in society, they want it to be their’s, exclusively!

  • Tizzle

    I guess I am destined to offend people.

    No kidding.

    I am not the pc police, and have no wish to be. BUT when I first meet people, or if I am in a public speaking setting, I make sure my language is appropriate and inoffensive to everyone. It’s not a difficult concept.

    Also, this is the first time ever I really know what “mansplaining” is. I won’t name names, because I’m not getting in any specific arguments. What a waste time it is to preach to the overly zealous (that could work both directions).

  • Tom

    Ok.

    I have a challenge. To all the creatures reading who carry a Y chromosome:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PwZuRphUCk

  • http://www.bolingbrookbabbler.com William Brinkman

    My thoughts:

    I wasn’t aware there was a controversy over the use of Women/Female. So this debate has taught me a lot. To me, I never thought of it as offensive, but the way panel uses the word “female” sounds very awkward.

    Now the use of the word girl to describe an adult female. That is offensive. I learned not to do that as a teenager. The male panelists should have known better. I grew up in the Bible belt, so that’s no excuse for the panelists either.

    Also, I understand men wanting to help with women’s issues. I was on the board of a non-profit dedicated to promoting skepticism among women. Still, a panel on the concerns of women with only one women on the panel? Did it ever occur to the organizers that something wasn’t right? To me the panel comes as across as a group of men condescending to deal with the concerns of women.

    The “weaker sex joke” was uncalled for. Especially when the questioner was upset. Instead, they could have agreed to disagree. Maybe questioner shouldn’t have cried over the panel. That’s personal,and I’ll probably never know her well enough to know. Still, the panel should have know that if you’re trying to attract women into the group, and a women is telling you one of the reason they have a problem with your group, then listen to her and take her seriously!

    What really gets me is that American Atheists was founded by a women, and a female president saved the organization when it was on the verge of falling apart. Of all the atheist organizations, this is the one that should have known better than to put on a panel like this.

    I don’t claim to be the perfect feminist, and I do have a problem with some forms of radical feminism. Still, I can see that this panel, though well meaning, had a lot of problems.

  • chanda

    i agree with tom. it seems that (most) men will never understand this. the woman in the video had every right to be offended. the way her concern was handled was offensive. and many of the comments on this post are offensive. it’s ok to say you don’t understand why she was offended, but to say this issue is not important when it was generated such heated debate is a deliberate sidestepping of the issue. ugh. especially in the context of the discussion on how to make women feel more comfortable in atheist groups.

  • RTH

    chanda:

    Most of the heat from this debate came from the way that it was reported at Blag Hag.

    From the video it does not appear that the questioner’s offense over the use of the term “female” generated much heat at the actual event.

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    Huh. Over 120 posts in about 8 hours. Usually Hemant gets 15-20 on a topic, at the most.
    Delicious how many people pounded out posts several paragraphs long about such a “trivial” issue that is a “waste of time”…….

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Honestly, I think this entire debate is ridiculous. “Males and females,” “men and women,” “boys and girls,” “guys and girls,” etc. are all fine with me.

    Personally, I prefer being called “female” (adjective) rather than being labeled “a woman,” but I don’t see a problem either way. IMO, neither is derogatory or offensive. I’ve also never felt oppressed or marginalized simply because I’m female, so perhaps I’m missing whatever is making other people so upset about the terminology.

    • NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

      Bask in your ignorance.

  • John

    Excuse me ladies. Perhaps one day I will fart in public and offend you all. As for this inane and useless drivel… I have had enough and don’t care if we go to the same meetings. Good night!

    PS – William – yeah. American Atheist was founded by a woman. Her name was O’Hare…. look it up! She could curse almost anyone into the ground and would not give a rats-butt if someone called her female. I suspect she would have told the cry-baby feminists to piss up a rope on this one. Peace!

    • NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

      Please die soon.

  • http://www.inside-story.co.nz/ Sarah Robot

    @John

    Fortunately, most of us would probably prefer not to be at the same meetings with you anyway.

  • John

    Cool Sarah Robot – please stay away from me. I doubt I have time for you. More important problems to solve if you know what I mean. World hunger, global warming, destruction of the rain forest… and… oh yeah… use of the word female.

  • Sarah

    @RTH

    It didn’t seem as though the “weaker sex” joke was a dismissal of the woman’s concern. Rather, it seemed to be an attempt to use humor to lighten a moment that had been awkward for everyone.

    Making a joke to defuse a situation is one thing, but if you’re dealing with a woman who is seriously pointing out what at least she discerns as a problem at a panel discussing women’s issues, is it really acceptable to respond with a joke that’s not just offensive to her, but potentially offensive to every other woman in the room, whether or not they agree with her?
    Or are you going to say that we all should have laughed at “the weaker sex?”

  • Drew M.

    @Robin Price

    “Female” is not offensive to me, BUT “woman” is, as it is derived from “Woe is man.” To me this sounds like females are a nuisance and a bother to men. I do not use that word.

    I cannot believe you are offended by a piece of inaccurate folklore. A ten second Google search and a modicum of critical thought is enough to disprove this incredibly stupid belief.

    You may want to honestly research other things that offend you.

    Start here and work on curing that ignorance.

    And here’s more:
    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=woman

  • Rebecca

    Ok, having watched the video, here are my thoughts:

    (1) The men dominated the discussion. The one or two times the woman on the panel spoke up, she seemed timid and once she asked permission to speak.

    That they were unaware that they were acting this way **during a panel on the lack of women in atheist groups** is telling.

    (2) The men joked and downplayed the original question presented, which is a very common (and loud) complaint among female atheists. Boys will be boys, really? And most annoying, the assertion that it’s a good thing for these groups to serve as dating scenes, because it’s so hard to meet godless girls these days.

    How about these groups are meant to be a place to meet other interesting atheists? If something more than that develops, great. That’s not what women get turned off by.

    (3) THEY ASKED for the opinion of single women in the audience. When one nervously spoke up–and you could tell she felt shaky bringing up this but thought it was important to say–they quickly squashed her concerns, in the most rude and dismissive ways. They essentially said, “Ok, sit down and shut up, you’re being too sensitive. Does any other touchy woman here feel that way? No? See. STFU.”

    Did they really think this was going to ENCOURAGE any other women to speak up?

    In fact the entire panel discussion reminded me of something like when your boss asks you what you think of his leadership, then gets nasty when you mention a few problems.

    Here’s the thing. I wasn’t at all bothered by the word “female” in the conversation. But I *definitely* understood why she felt upset by the underlying dismissive, dominating behavior on the part of several panelists.

    If you want more women in atheist groups, you need to make the effort to listen to them when they tell you why they’re not coming. This panel was a disaster.

  • LKL

    I was only mildly annoyed with the language used by the panel (even the ‘just biology’ part) up until the ‘weaker sex’ comment that everyone pretty much seems to agree was over the top. However, as is often the case I am rather disgusted by the mansplaining that is taking place in this comments section – basically, there are a lot of guys trying to claim that the woman who asked the question in the video didn’t have a right to be offended, that she was hysterical, and by extension any ‘female’ here who sympathizes with her, or who was also annoyed by the language, is overreacting and not to be taken seriously.

    • NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

      “any ‘female’ is overreacting and not to be taken seriously.”Fixed it for you.

  • Eric Pepke

    @allison:

    Eric, I have to agree that some of the men in the panel should have stepped down. Really, though there were good ideas being proposed by the men on the panel, the way things were set up it was inherently going to be very problematic for the one woman on the panel.

    I’m not really big on “should” statements myself, especially in the context of a panel of obvious amateurs at a convention which, despite having put up a billboard, attracted a scant 200 attendees. SIGGRAPH, sure. I expect someone to be in charge of this stuff in a professionally run conference with tens of thousands of attendees. But people tend not to listen to me anyway, and I’m used to that.

    I’ve also not met the woman on the panel (sorry, I don’t know the names of the panel members), and so I have no estimation of her character. I’m used to very strong women in atheism, who don’t take crap from anybody, such as Pat Cleveland, Janice Rael, and others. I think that American Atheists has a tradition of that as well, especially with Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who I think could have dominated a panel with a hundred men on it.

    I’m uncomfortable with using “female” as a noun, but I’m also uncomfortable with using “male” as a noun, and I’m especially uncomfortable with the concept that some woman must be a shrinking violet just because she’s a woman. I find that, too, a form of sexism, albeit one that doesn’t get mentioned very often.

    I’m just saying that I think it’s a great idea, and if I am ever in such a situation, I’ll do it. That is because, actually, I don’t know if having more women on such a panel would improve it or forestall an explosive offense-reaction. I’d like to find out.

  • Julie

    I read about halfway through the comments, and just wanted to pick out those that I felt were the best/most relevant for those that don’t want to read through all of them and just skim to the bottom:

    Really? Because if you are asked to change your terminology the best response is to say “Oh, I could be calling you so much worse, so you should be grateful”?

    Listening to the discussion in the video, the men were referred to primarily as “men” and a few times as “guys”, and a couple of times as “males” (never as “boys”); but the women were primarily referred to as “females” and few times as “girls”, and only a couple of times as “women”.

    And lastly, let’s assume the woman was just totally, insanely, plain-freaking-WRONG, ok? The event is basically about ‘what makes women so uncomfortable in our circle, discouraging them from participation?’. And when a woman says what she finds uncomfortable, her concern is turned to a joke.

    I’d like to address one point that I see most people glossing over to argue about the definitions of words like “female” and “woman.”

    The purpose of this seminar was supposedly to address why there are so few women in atheist groups. For example, it was claimed that women sometimes feel harassed and treated as sexual objects at atheist meetings.

    Then a woman stands up and says, your use of this language feels demeaning and dismissive to me. Now, it may be that many women present feel this way and she is the only one who has the courage to bring it up. It may also be that she has her own issues that are coloring her experience, and it’s not a real problem for most of the women in attendance. But rather than taking her concerns seriously and treating her respectfully, a male panelist makes a joke about it. He was incredibly disrespectful, dismissive of her concerns, and demeaning to her sensitivities. I submit to you that attitudes like his are a big part of why women don’t attend atheist meetings.

  • Grimalkin

    @Rebecca – Exactly. EXACTLY!

    The whole thing was poorly handled from the beginning, and it was poorly handled in a very specific way. This has turned into a “big deal” because the event, and the backlash that’s sprung from it, are so perfectly illustrative of the panel’s topic.

  • BlueRidgeLady

    Some of these comments are so frustrating. Some of the people I am reading to be men REALLY DO NOT GET IT. There is so much privilege in the way, and very little attempt at empathy. The wording I guess is debatable, but the attitude and dismissive responses are EXACTLY what the root of the problem was at the meeting, and now some of you are dishing it out here and then implying that those of us who have shared women/female perspective on the matter are just whiny bitches. It’s absurd.

    Very disappointing to see these same mindsets in the atheistic community.

  • http://atheistreadsbible.blogspot.com/ Jude

    Gosh, people, none of this matters. Not *at* *all*.

  • http://atheistreadsbible.blogspot.com/ Jude

    I take back my previous comment. I hate the term “woman” and prefer the term “female.” I find the term woman offensive (or at least, ugly), probably because of negative connotations acquired through being one.

    • NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

      And THIS MAKES ME SAD. If you ever doubt we live in a woman-hating patriarchy, look no further than this: “woman” is considered an insult. By women themselves.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Although topics like these always bring out the requisite trolls, it’s really refreshing to see how many people on this thread get the point.

    What I don’t understand is why any atheist would dismiss women’s concerns. We should know exactly what it feels like to be on the other end of those casual, contemptuous dismissals – you’re hypersensitive, you’re a habitual troublemaker, you’re acting like the PC police, you should just suck it up and take it – because they’ve so often been used against us by the religious majority. We have no right to expect to be listened to and taken seriously by people who don’t agree with us if we’re not willing to grant the same basic courtesy to others as well.

  • John

    @Ebonmuse – There are very few trolls on this post. If you are implying I am a troll (since I am one of the most vocal) then you are dismissing me and claiming my position is of no value.

    Nice double standard.

    Oh, and trust me, I do get the point. The point is that a few women are destroying the feminist movement by making up a bunch of bull-shit social rules so they can spend their time complaining about how unfair the world is. Screw that. If you come up with a legitimate complaint I will listen. If you just want to complain about my use of certain words then I have no time for your childish foolishness.

    It is this type of strange behavior that makes me hesitate to call myself a feminist. If being a feminist means I have to nit-pick other peoples word choices then I want no part of such inane silliness. The feminist police squad can just count me out.

    • NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

      Fuck off, troll.

  • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

    I rather like Ebonmuse’s comment. I think that it’s an important practice to think through the forms of marginalization and prejudice one faces in life and use those experiences as a window of understanding into others’ experiences with marginalization and prejudice. Empathy goes a long way toward understanding.

    I watched the video just now. The biggest problem by far is that the panel had only one woman. I think that a panel which consists of a far more balanced ratio of women and men would have created a far different tenor in the discussion. The problems witnessed in the discussion flow directly from the social mechanics of that imbalance of representation.

    I’m trying to imagine a discussion of racism and ethnic prejudice conducted by a panel of people who consist of a group of white people with one person who is not white. How well would that discussion flow, I wonder?

    The discussion surrounding the use of female as a noun when referring to women is not a new topic by the way. I remember reading about this conflict in other contexts quite a while ago.

    Also, Lisa’s comment about the language choice of female vs. woman and its relevance to trans women is quite valid, but I see that people skipped past her words without comment. I too am a trans woman. I physically transitioned many years ago, but there was a time in my life that using “female” to represent all women would have excluded me in spite of being a woman. So, this language choice cuts across the T in LGBT issues, as well.

    Language is important because if forms a foundation of written and auditory symbols that we use as tools in organizing and expressing our thoughts. An inadequate foundation of language can have the effect of placing limitations upon our thoughts, our understanding of ourselves, and our understanding of the world. This is why issues surrounding language wind up being such a flash point when discussing various forms of oppression.

    To return to my original point, however, the issues that women face in atheism, linguistic or otherwise, can not be effectively discussed if it is filtered through men’s perspectives. Get more women involved in these panels. The dynamic will not shift until this very basic issue is addressed.

    Perhaps some trans people should be included, too? Maybe some genderqueer people? Just a thought…

  • Eric Pepke

    @RTH:

    My only concern about it is that the members of those sorts of panels tend to be chosen with some care based on their demeanor, speaking ability, knowledge of how the group actually works, or some other relevant criteria. If you just took volunteers from the audience to serve on the panel, there is a danger that you will end up with some panelists who really should have remained audience members. Of course, I guess you don’t really even have to have a panel. You could just have one moderator (a female one, perhaps) and open the floor to anyone who wants to speak.

    I see your point, and I realized it beforehand, but I don’t see it as a problem. In fact, I think it makes it an even better idea.

    Look at the context. The panel was about getting more women involved. Not good debaters or good rationalists who just happen to be women, but women per se. It’s not about the quality.

    But we do know something about the quality from the reaction. There’s a great deal of emphasis given to the woman who, if the blog is to believed, got upset and had to be consoled for 20 minutes in the toilet. There is little emphasis given to the women who laughed at the snarky comment about “the weaker sex,” nor to the woman who immediately afterward pointed out that sometimes women come looking for men.

    In other words, the woman who behaved most like the traditional stereotype of women is being presented as the one most typical of women, and so we’re being told to accept that stereotype as true and target everything to that stereotype.

    Not to mention the fact that any men remaining on the panel will be those who chose not to step down, which appeals to my sense of irony.

    If that’s what people want, then let them have it. It might be fun to watch.

  • Circe of the Godless

    John : “It is this type of strange behavior that makes me hesitate to call myself a feminist”

    Don’t worry your pretty little head darling, there’s no danger of anyone EVER calling YOU a feminist

  • mikee

    Atheists are so used to having their views dismissed by christians and other religious adherents, it is disappointing to see this womans comments dismissed out of hand and with such careless humor. Humor such as using the comment “weaker sex” is subjective and what one person finds amusing can offend someone else.
    Would it have been that difficult to have acknowledged the womens point and to have said something along the lines of “why don’t we use the term “woman” for the rest of the meeting?”
    If men are serious about wanting more women to join atheist groups then why not listen to what women have to say? if not then discussions about wanting more women to join atheist groups is just rhetoric.

  • John

    Haha Circe of the Godless – So YOU are the feminist police????? How did you get to wear such a badge? Did you get special PC training?

  • Baconsbud

    First off I didn’t watch the clip. I was wondering how the panel was selected? Were names drawn from a hat? Was the panel elected? Was the single woman on the panel seen as a token by the other women? I think there is just way to much we don’t know to try and make claims. Yeah the joke was probably in bad taste but how often have women done the same kind of thing when they are in the majority? Come on ladies which of you have told jokes at mens expense when you were in the majority? Why do we only hear about male privilege but the women never speak of the privileges they have?

  • Mel

    I think focusing too much on the language problem (while not invalidating the woman’s concern) is taking away from the real issues: That there was a poor choice in panel selection as far as man/woman distribution and that an audience member had her views dismissed instead of answered/taken seriously. This video gives an example of poor communication skills and shows some individuals blatantly ignoring a fundamental rule of public speaking, “Know your audience.”

  • John

    Baconsbud – you should really watch the clip. Notice how many people comment that the use of “female” in the context of the meeting is okay (including men and women). Also, notice how many women laugh at the “weaker-sex” joke. The joke was funny… just watch the audience. Was the joke rude?… probably.

  • allison

    Rebecca, I think you’re spot on. There were so many problems with that panel, and language was a minor one but the context made me more uncomfortable with the use of language.

    Eric, I appreciate where you’re coming from with the atheist women who kick ass and take names, who are able to laugh this stuff off, etc. I’m trying to figure out a good way to phrase this, so bear with me…..do you really want to restrict the group to only women who feel comfortable kicking ass and taking names and who want to spend most of their time at the group meetings doing so? If that’s the goal, then sure, the group may be succeeding at drawing in such a group of women. However, just like men do, women come with a variety of personalities. Watching that panel, do you feel as if the men had to battle to get a word in against each other? Did they need to be “warriors” to get their point across? Do you think any one of their views was automatically taken as the view of ALL atheist men?

    I can be a warrior, but frankly I’m going to choose what I want to be a warrior about. This panel was talking about how it’s a great place to find like-minded people, and it might be worth considering that if you’re feeling you have to fight other members of the group to get yourself heard, if you’re feeling as if when you do speak up you’ll have to fight because you’re being belittled, if you’re feeling as if concerns that you’re being treated as a sex object when you walk in the door are met with justifications for why many of the men are treating conferences and regular meetings as a dating service, well, you’re likely to decide that the group isn’t worth your bloody time and energy. Why would I want to go hang out with people I have to fight against? I have better things to do! If I’m there at an atheist conference, ostensibly I’m saying that I would prefer to use my fighting energy to fight for atheism, not to fight against atheists.

    While I think the woman who asked the question was over-reacting when she ran away in tears, again, watching that panel made me uncomfortable. If the goal was to act in a manner that would make the group attractive to women, it failed.

  • Baconsbud

    I doubt i watch it but then again I am one of those that like to see peoples reactions to things more then the things they are reacting too. The things I have gotten from the comments here is that there are some people who feel we should know what they find offensive. The problem is they keep changing what they find offensive or they won’t let us know ahead of time that it is offensive. They sound a lot like these theist that say atheist are intolerant when they tell people what is actually in the bible. I find these types of discussion to be wasteful since we all do things that offend others. Instead why don’t people list anything that they might find offensive and then try to live in the real world where we are all offended but seem to be able to work though it for the most part.

  • dwasifar

    Apparently all superstition has been successfully refuted, all disagreements with the faithful resolved, and all religious political influence in the world nullified.

    It must be so, if we have nothing better to do than debate this.

  • Brian Macker

    This is perhaps the most stupid issue I’ve ever seen. This is PC nonsense, and the idea of “X privilege” is religious claptrap. As an rational atheist I find none of this appealing, and think those who fall in for it are idiots.

    Reminds me of a discussion where some feminist was trying to claim that in school the girls were discouraged and that it turned out that she was great at math and never got any feedback from her teachers on what a math wiz she was. The point of course was to play the victim and make out males as the bad guys.

    My simple question to her was “Didn’t you ever take any tests in school?” That shut down her incredibly stupid line of reasoning. It was quite apparent she wasn’t bright enough to see the obvious contradiction with her claim. She was merely projecting evil motivations on others as an excuse for her own inadequacies.

    I’ve visit sites that promote these “X privilege” claims and they are equally vapid.

    • Nunya

      Oh, look: more gaslighting and mansplaining from Privileged White D00d.

      Snore…

  • Rebecca

    This is PC nonsense, and the idea of “X privilege” is religious claptrap. As an rational atheist I find none of this appealing, and think those who fall in for it are idiots.

    Really? You totally disagree with the concept of privilege?

    Just last week, I realized that I avoid talking with my 4 year old about race, because it seems he’s too young to understand the complexity behind it, and he hasn’t quite picked up on exactly what makes people “different” races yet.

    (He understands that some of his friends look very different from others, but when I press him to explain, he doesn’t talk about skin color and can’t quite put his finger on the difference.)

    I spoke with his daycare provider (who is African American) about it, after she sent home a Scholastic handout for MLK day that showed pictures of segregated buses, etc. She made the comment that black families don’t really have a choice in explaining race, because their children are confronted with the issue from the earliest ages. Plus she mentioned studies that have found that black children tend to have very low opinions of their skin color, attractiveness, etc., absorbed just by living in our screwed up world, and parents must address this and work on building pride in who they are.

    For my child, learning about race is a gradual process that involves building empathy and understanding and solidarity. For hers, it’s necessary for survival.

    That, in a nutshell, is privilege.

    In what other light would you explain it?

  • allison

    Well, Brian, you might notice that we were asked what we think. Frankly, I normally just dismiss these people as jerks and choose to hang out elsewhere. *shrugs* If you want to know why women stay away from these events, it might be better to stop being defensive for a moment and listen. I went to conferences and meetings when I was younger and ultimately decided I didn’t like dealing with the garbage and had better ways to spend my time.

    I guess it’s a real shame for the men who are at these events and hoping to meet like-minded women. Female atheists aren’t as rare as male atheists seem to think. I personally have never had a difficult time finding other female atheists, and I’ve lived all over the country. These women aren’t particularly interested in hanging out with men who talk down to them, call them girls, and treat them primarily like sex objects. They’re not interested in playing the victim, either. So….they’ll hang out with people who don’t treat them in the manner shown.

    I’ve been an open atheist and skeptic all my life and groups like this have never gotten the way of that. I just don’t see the point in attending their meetings or in associating myself with a group of people who act the way shown in the video.

  • Baconsbud

    Rebecca I think you bring up a good point. Yes, as a male there are some privileges I have but some of them are given to me by females themselves. Females also have privileges given to them by males but not for the same reasons. All groups within society have privileges and all are repressed to one degree or another. I am lucky because I am in the group with the most privilege and less repressed but it shouldn’t be that way.

    Off topic some but you brought up the thing about race. I have been working on a theory about racism and feel what you said touches on it. Most minority groups learn racism while us in the majority are taught racism. It is one of the toughest things in the world to get past but I think we cam all do it. In regards to your child, I would say all you can do is not teach him/her racism but to try and focus on all the good the many races have done within this country.

  • allison

    @dwasifar, as someone who hangs out with fairly large, predominantly female, atheist groups online I can tell you that only two of the atheist sites I hang out at (this is one) are discussing this panel at all. The other, run by women, focuses less on the language used and more on the attitudes shown by the men on the panel.

    Frankly, the other groups don’t really give a rip about what American Atheists does at its meetings. They’re irrelevant at the informal gatherings of atheist women I do attend IRL. I live in the Southeast, and if they’re looking to attract more women they’re doing a miserable job of it.

  • http://Kellyinjapanese.wordpress.com Kelly

    I only caught one instance in which they said “females” and then “men.” Really, they were just trying to vary their language use. It struck me as the same type of word-exchange that I’ve heard in many college classes when the professor isn’t sure if the students classify as girls and boys or women and men.
    The panel’s reaction, however, was terrible. Ridiculing someone who feels offended is very unproductive. They could have simply stated their reason for word choice. It sounded like the audience as a whole was on the panelist’s side until they started making fun of the woman with the question.

    • Nunya

      Ridiculing someone who has been insulted and is RIGHTFULLY offended is called GASLIGHTING. Men do it to women all the time. In fact, half of this thread is men gaslighting women. Ugh.

  • Brian Macker

    “Really? You totally disagree with the concept of privilege?”

    Way to equivocate. “X privilege” and privilege have about as much in common as “white justice” and justice. When you add a word on the front it changes the meaning.

    Ironically, the concepts of white privilege and male privilege, are about gaining a privileged position for certain kinds of arguments, and certain genders, and races.

    I’ve covered my distaste for this Marxist derived concept in the past, and as you can see I think it is baloney.

    • Nunya

      You sound like a pathetic, flaccid little prick.

  • Brian Macker

    “Ridiculing someone who feels offended is very unproductive.”

    Seemed like the ridicule was highly productive. The issue, the laughable idea that the panel had bad motivations in using the word female, was dropped when the audience laughed at it.

    Why this one sided concern with feelings? Why not chastise the questioner on how it might make the panel feel to imply they had bad motivations in using the word female. Were the ridicule not so well deserved we could have interpreted it as a emotional defense, a kind of verbal tear drop on the part of the panelist, that came prior to the questioner breaking down in tears herself. She might as well have stood up and called them all a bunch of sexist pigs.

  • Rebecca

    @Brian Mackey – The link is helpful, thank you. I suspect that there are entirely too many things we disagree on for the “privilege” discussion to be particularly worthwhile, but I do want to clarify that when I asked if you disagree with the concept of privilege, I did mean “X privilege.”

    There are many words that have different meanings in different disciplines, and in fact, it’s why we have multiple dictionary definitions for many words. Sometimes words are borrowed and adjusted and repurposed to fit a new concept. It’s the nature of language. Only pop-business authors make up their own words for everything. :)

  • Daniel K.

    Seriously, dear females, girls, women, ladies, princesses you really are too sensitive if you find any of the discussed issues offensive. Just ridiculous the whole debate.

    First, the weaker sex response was awesome. Female is the weaker sex, nothing to be offended about for stating the obvious.

    Second, the idea of men to hold back with hitting on women to increase female members is hypocritical. If any woman seriously thinks men should suppress their sexuality because she may feel uncomfortable, then she is a hypocritical, uptight bigot. That is the equivalent of men expecting women to hide under burkas. I call it the I-can’t-deal-with-my-sexuality-or-that-of-others-so-everyone-should-suppress-it-mentality

    Third, females vs. women is a linguistic issue. Personally, I find it weird to refer to women and men as females and males myself. However, I do not find it weird to hear someone else doing it because I know what the person wants to convey. You know, message received. That is language, depending on your environment you will use words differently from the way other people use them.

    If your criteria for joining an organizations is the specific words it chooses and not the ideas and values it promotes and represents you should join the church instead. There women are called women and get love and salvation and redemption from the almighty caring God….sounds good ha?

  • Brian Macker

    Of course I disagree with x-privilege, it’s nonsense using word games in an attempt to justify the violation of others rights. If a sub-culture has evolved to make its members feel ashamed of themselves that does not mean other groups are privileged. Calling it x-privilege is a way to secretly and implicitly inject an equivocation into any argument on the subject. Just as you did.

    Facts have falsified the hypothesis that blacks have such bad statistics for the reasons given by these questionable hypotheses. It’s quite clear based on actual statistics and using scientific principles of falsifiability that the bad statistics are due to culturally learn choice patterns followed by individuals in the black community and not discrimination by other groups.

    The types of theories you are accepting when applied have actually made these statistics worse, not only for blacks but for whites too. Statistics like out of wedlock births.

    These lefist theories fail to explain the facts. For example, these theories cannot explain the differences in performance of west indian blacks in this country from american blacks who share sub-cultural traits with southern “rednecks”.

    West Indians who migrate here not only suffered under more brutal forms of slavery but they are on average darker skinned, and have to overcome all the obstacles that immigrants from third world countries have to overcome, such as the language barrier. Yet, in terms of statistics they out perform whites. Right off the boat they outperform culturally southern blacks, and after a generation, once they overcome language and other immigration issues, they do even better. That can not be explained by racism and Thomas Sowell recognized that.

    Economist Sowell has covered this in depth in books that are not available online like “Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality”.

    Of course, these same West Indians are then made fun of by liberals for their industry, for example those SNL skits on Jamacians. The gist of which was that Jamacian parents were ridiculous to expect their children to achieve and hold down multiple jobs if need be.

    If you truly care to solve a problem then you should take care to understand it properly. Some people actually do that, like Thomas Sowell.

    This victimology helps no one and in fact harms them in the sense of the parable “Give a man a fish he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” To teach a man that he doesn’t have a fish, not because his culture denigrates learning how to fish, but because someone isn’t giving him a fish he deserves to get, can only aggravate the problem.

    Of course, using the crazy intellectual rules of the left they can always dismiss Thomas Sowell as an Uncle Tom, and not bother to address his quite sound argumentation.

    Sowell has also addressed issues of gender statistics, and found leftist theories falsified.

  • allison

    Second, the idea of men to hold back with hitting on women to increase female members is hypocritical. If any woman seriously thinks men should suppress their sexuality because she may feel uncomfortable, then she is a hypocritical, uptight bigot.

    Or she’s not interested in you and is telling you to bug off. Or she’s not looking. She may not even be interested in men.

    That is the equivalent of men expecting women to hide under burkas. I call it the I-can’t-deal-with-my-sexuality-or-that-of-others-so-everyone-should-suppress-it-mentality

    No, it’s realistic. There’s a reason I don’t go to singles bars – I’m not looking. If the men are going to treat an atheist meeting as their dating service, I’m not going to be interested in attending for the same reason. If what I experience when I attend a meeting is a bunch of men hitting on me, I’m not coming back.

    It’s not that I’m offended, but that it’s not what I want to do. When I’m interested in sex I’m hitting up my partner, not you.

    As I said, some of the ideas the men proposed were decent. I particularly liked the idea of having singles gatherings separate from the regular meetings for those who are interested. I understand that some people are indeed looking for that sort of companionship. However, many are not and it’s nice if that can be respected as well.

  • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

    Reading through all of these responses has affirmed a growing realization for me: people’s belief and non-belief in a deity plays a small role when compared to other key values and perspectives. I’d rather spend my time with a bunch of folks who actually understand and care about multiple forms of prejudice and oppression rather than a group of people who only share my disbelief in a god but are largely clueless about the experiences of those outside of their particular demographic slice of humanity.

    C’est la vie.

  • Daniel K.

    @ allison

    Or she’s not interested in you and is telling you to bug off. Or she’s not looking. She may not even be interested in men.

    Here you suggest it yourself, telling him to bug off. So hard to exchange words? Let men be men, don’t expect us to turn off our sexuality because princess can’t open her mouth. Hitting on women doesn’t mean to harass them needlessly, just trying to get into her pants, whats the harm. If a woman is lesbian or not looking and expects men to not hit on her, I suggest wearing the sign “not interested in men” on the forehead then. How else is man supposed to find out, mind reading?

    No, it’s realistic. There’s a reason I don’t go to singles bars – I’m not looking. If the men are going to treat an atheist meeting as their dating service, I’m not going to be interested in attending for the same reason. If what I experience when I attend a meeting is a bunch of men hitting on me, I’m not coming back.

    Seriously, you don’t have an idea how social interactions work, do you? I suppose at work you only talk about work, and to talk about books you go to the book club, and in the kitchen you talk only about cooking. You expect men to only hit on women in locations designated as “single” or if women somehow wordlessly grant permission. Good luck with that, you better stay home all life. Or you could deal with it like other women do, you know, talking.

    It’s not that I’m offended, but that it’s not what I want to do. When I’m interested in sex I’m hitting up my partner, not you.

    Congratulations, you found a partner. And because the world centers around you every man knows that and should immediately cease all advances towards you. Also there should be no such behavior in majesty’s presence. Good luck singles in the world, there is only one place left for flirting, single bars.

  • Aj

    I don’t understand the argument that female is an adjective. Firstly, it isn’t just an adjective it’s a noun because people just made it a noun. Lets not pretend English is static or you don’t use grammar and language that has shifted in recent decades. Secondly, if you have a problem with referring to people by their characteristics, then you would have a problem with “woman” as well, and I can understand that point at least but since the subject was “sex” it was appropriate.

    The argument about female not distinguishing between child and adult, human and another species, is ridiculous. We use context constantly, and if you can’t grasp the context in the above video the problem is monumental, and yours. “Who would even think that!?” remains a valid argument. Semantics can be argued because no one is right unless they break their own rules, yet this argument is deep in WTF territory.

  • ThilinaB

    I seriously didn’t need to hate this politically correct BS any more than i already did.

    No matter what word people use to say anything, it seems like someone will find it offensive (some words obviously are offensive, but most are not). The evolution of the different words needed to describe the same thing because of people being offended is ridiculous.

    “female” is a word used to describe a particular gender, nothing more, nothing less. It doesn’t even tell the species of the creature being described. How anyone finds this offensive is beyond me (Using a word in an offensive manner is different from an offensive word).

    Can’t wait for someone to start claiming the word “The” is offensive, and that it should be removed from the English language.


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