This is not the subject I’d rather focus on. But I need to address some things, and I’d rather do it all at once.
The reason I joined American Atheists is because I’m an activist: I could have been satisfied with making videos in my spare time just for their entertainment or educational value, and whatever trivial notoriety that brings. But I want to do more than just that. I want to affect positive change on behalf of non-believers. The way I see it, religion has always been a net-negative against humanity. It’s a means of manipulation of the masses allowing for Orwellian political corruption, retarding or reversing progress in every application it has ever touched. It is the worst thing men have ever invented, and should be contested on every front. Religious faith should be replaced with reason, scientific understanding, and values that aren’t just secular but humanist.
That’s on the big scale. On a smaller scale, I have received perhaps hundreds of emails along with other messages over the years thanking me and others for helping people on a personal level, to escape the various restrictions of their former religious upbringing and/or mindset. That keeps me going. And the more I do, the more it seems I can do.
Some might think that in addition to all these letters of encouragement that I must get a lot of hate mail too, and I do. But surprisingly, not from believers, no more than like one email a year. So I don’t get much hate mail from my enemies; I only get it from my allies. I get volumes of hate from fellow atheists, and always only ever for one reason: Because I called myself a “feminist” rather than an “egalitarian” or an “equalist” or some other inapplicably vague or meaningless term.
Yeah. As if that’s a reason to hate someone. I thought I was very clear as to why I did that. But nobody pays attention, especially when they don’t really want to understand anything; they just want something to pwn.
I went to a “sexy secular” conference in Akron Ohio, and gave a speech called Reconsidering Norms. At that time, I had seen an awful lot of hate that was said to be dividing the atheist movement, hatred against feminism. That didn’t make any sense to me, not just because I know so many decent feminists, but also because I don’t see feminism the way millennials do. I’m in my fifties. I was born in 1962, when Kennedy was president. I remember when sexism was substantially more overt than any of today’s thirty-somethings could have seen.
At the same time, I didn’t know much about feminism as it is today. I couldn’t name even one of the extreme “rad-fem” misandrists that are reportedly out there: still can’t. Nor did I know anything about the different waves or theories of feminism. That is not to say that if I knew then what I know now that I wouldn’t have called myself that. I will not be bullied into or out of anything, but I can be reasoned with easily. Show me good reason to change my mind and I will. At this point, I’ve had so much harassment that it would be much easier just to say, “yeah you’re right. My bad”, and get on with my life. The problem is, I can’t do that because it wouldn’t be honest. To this day, I’ve still never seen one good argument as to why I should reject the feminist label, but I’ve seen plenty of truly pathetically ignorant and embarrassingly bad ones.
I hear that feminists are man-hating bull dykes. No, I know an awful lot of them, but none who fit that description. This complaint hasn’t changed since the 1960s, except that back then ‘feminists’ were referred to as “women’s libbers”.
I hear that feminists are ugly. That’s irrelevant and inaccurate. I know several sexy ones.
I hear that feminists hate sex. No, most of them want it, some just like a man would.
I hear that all feminists are women. Um Hello?
And my favorite: “Equal rights for women? What about equal rights for men?” I said EQUAL, fool!
When atheists can’t prove their opinions right or wrong and can’t agree either, they each say they other has lost their skepticism. It’s kind of like when Christians criticize each other for having little faith. So I’m often told that I’ve “swallowed the social justice KoolAid” and that I “have faith in the sexist feminazi religion”, and other such absurd allegations with no relation to reality. As if that even means anything. Don’t criticize me if that’s not convincing. If that’s the best you can do, how could you expect to change the mind of any rational person?
They even say that patriarchy is a faith-based belief. What can I do with someone that ignorant? Yet they justify their failure to present a decent case by pretending that I’m the one who’s irrational. Or dishonest. Anytime someone doesn’t understand what I said, they accuse me of being dishonest.
However, even though the arguments they use to try and convince me are pathetic, they do have some legitimate complaints that need be addressed. I always consider that my critics might be right in whole or in part, and I frequently re-evaluate my positions all on my own too. Yet I’ve been told several times that I need to be skeptical about feminism, as if I wasn’t already.
In the Q&A that day in Akron, I said that atheists are out-numbered, out-gunned, and out-financed by our religious opposition. So we’d better figure out how to get past this divisiveness if we want to achieve anything. I just wanted the infighting to stop, because it’s undermining all our own efforts. Ironically, that’s when the fighting really started for me. I lost 60 subscribers the day that video went up, and it has almost as many down-votes as up-votes. Absolutely every single video I’ve ever uploaded since then has been spammed by anti-feminist haters calling me a ‘mangina’ or ‘cuck’ or some other made-up bullshit they can’t justify. This is regardless of the type of video or the topic. Even our educational classroom supplement videos for children are spammed like this. Yet these same people criticize me for saying that they’re acting like a hate group. To my experience, they are. They do.
“The so-called “manosphere” is peopled with hundreds of websites, blogs and forums dedicated to savaging feminists in particular and women, very typically American women, in general. Although some of the sites make an attempt at civility and try to back their arguments with facts, they are almost all thick with misogynistic attacks that can be astounding for the guttural hatred they express.”
–Southern Poverty Law Center
Note that the SPLC, a compiler of hate groups, describes anti-feminist websites as being typically hateful to women. Given that the ones that “try to be civil” are said to be rare, and are otherwise “almost all” misogynists, then the haters are not the outliers; their hundreds of sites, blogs, and forums of guttural hatred against women appear to be the mainstream.
In my speech, I said that “Once you mention the word ‘feminism’, you’re stirring the coals of controversy, awakening a hornet’s nest of haters, and they will twist whatever I say today into something I never said, never meant, never implied.” I was correct.
Their first assumption was that I must have adopted all the tenets of 3rd wave feminism. I gave them no reason to assume that. So they shouldn’t have. But they still did even after I indicated otherwise. I have never identified with “3rd wave” feminism. Some say we’re currently still in the third wave of feminism, while others believe we’ve entered into a new, fourth wave distinct from the Riot Grrls of the ‘90s. However, I call myself feminist for the same reason as everyone else I know who does. It means only that I support equality of the sexes. That’s it. That’s all. And there is no justification for bullying anyone who identifies that way for that reason.
My critics accused me of speaking in absolute dichotomies. They think I said that if they don’t identify as feminists, then they’re sexist: as if I’d said, “if you’re not with us, you’re against us”. But I never said or implied anything like that: nor did I think it. I said that a feminist is defined as anyone who supports the idea that women should have social, economic, and political equality with men. I agree with that. So that definition applies to me. And that, as I explained, was the only reason I identified as a feminist myself.
Some say they’re not feminist because they don’t agree with feminism theory. But there is no requirement to adopt any additional doctrine. Feminism theory is an EXTENSION of feminism into theoretical or philosophical discourse. They use ‘theory’ in the scientific sense, as a body of knowledge and study of gender inequality. You don’t have to know about that body of knowledge to be feminist. But even if you dismiss that extension of feminism, then what is feminism without that extension?
Anti-feminists like to cite Christina Hoff Sommers as their champion. But she uses a very similar definition for what she calls ‘equity’ feminism, which is how she identifies herself. Her definition applies to me too, as mine does to her. They are essentially the same thing. But somehow it’s only OK for her and not for me. It’s still feminism and the original definition still applies. However, you don’t have to realize that or accept it, much less admit it. It’s the same with atheism. “Just ‘cuz I don’t believe in God don’t make me an atheist”. Yes, it does! The definition applies to anyone who supports that belief regardless whether they identify as such. That’s how definitions work. If it describes you, then it defines you. It doesn’t matter whether you like it or accept it.
I then pointed out the reverse. That the same definition in the negative is one who does NOT believe that women should have social, political, and economic equality with men. That essentially defines sexism. So what does that mean? I got my audience to laugh several times in this presentation, and this was one of those moments: when I pointed out that ACCORDING TO THE DEFINITION (and its negation) “if you’re not feminist, you’re sexist”.
I tried to make this speech comical, looking for laughs, and I got them. But I had no idea that people would misinterpret this one quip that badly. My wife often says, “I wish you hadn’t said that”. Because I have since been quote-mined and misrepresented and hatefully harassed over this misunderstood one-liner for a couple years now. But the fact is that no matter how my critics insist otherwise, I never implied that one had to ‘identify’ as a feminist. That doesn’t matter. I wish I had explained this during that speech, but I didn’t think I’d really have to. I thought it was obvious.
The anti-fems say “the definition has changed; it doesn’t mean what it used to”. But it hasn’t changed. Every feminist organization I’m aware of still holds to the same essential concept that I have just described. Yes there are “radical feminists” who might seem to take things too far. So what? Every collective has extremists, and every issue of women’s equality has historically been hard for most men to care about or accept. That trend will continue. They’re not always right either, and some of their comments irritate me too. So argue the issues how you must, and allow that some feminists might even agree with you.
There are also fringe groups who espouse unrepresentative tenets. For example, there is a European group who say that all feminists must promote Communism. But they are not representative. So the National Organization for Women, the world’s largest feminist organization is under no obligation to adopt any position for or against any sort of economic political theory, just ‘cuz some fringe group in Germany says so.
There are also misandrists, man-haters who call themselves feminists. These are the real problem. Because these are not extreme feminists: these are not the ones taking every aspect of feminism to its fullest extent. No, if you’re espousing the hatred of men in favor of women’s superiority, then you are not adhering to ANY aspect of feminism at all. This is not a “no true Scotsman” fallacy either. If you have no connection to Scottish nationality, have never been to Scotland or any of its territories, and aren’t related to anyone who’s been there either, then you’re not a Scotsman in any sense, and it’s not a fallacy to say so. Man-haters are extremists, but not feminists, regardless what they call themselves. None of the mainstream feminist organizations support misandry. Feminism is and always was about gender equality.
“But how can it be about gender equality if it focuses on women?” Of course the focus is on women, because women are the gender that has historically always been globally oppressed and still is today everywhere that feminism isn’t. Why are there fewer women than men in nearly every given industry, especially in the highest positions? Why is it that less than 10% of the world’s sovereign heads of state are female? Why are women the “weaker” sex to be herded off the boat with the children or otherwise infanticized? There have been very few occasions anywhere in the world ever where men and woman had roughly equivalent rights and powers, and no instances where women were dominant.
After I made that speech, some of my critics initially argued against equality, imagining that I somehow don’t know that we’re a sexually dimorphic species. Of course I know that. That’s why I specify the “social, political, and economic” qualifiers as important. I’ve said many times that I think unfair double-standards should not be imposed on the basis of gender, that special privileges should not be arbitrarily allowed for one gender but denied to another. That’s the entirety of my feminism right there.
I understand why some people don’t identify by a particular label. Neil deGrasse Tyson refuses to identify as atheist even though he knows full well what that word means, and that it definitely applies to him. He doesn’t want to be an atheist because he doesn’t want to be associated with assholes like me and the other atheists on YouTube: just like I don’t want to be associated with over-sensitive reactionary fems on Tumblr. But if fear of that association drove me to say that I am not a feminist, it would be no more accurate or honest than when Tyson says he’s not an atheist. I don’t think that the backlash of the blogosphere is sufficient reason to deny who you are or what you think.
At the same time, I myself don’t identify as egalitarian because (1) that word is too vague when I mean to be specific, and feminism is a subset of egalitarianism anyway. (2) I grew up in the cold war when the definition of egalitarianism did not necessarily mean “equal rights for all”; it meant that everyone had the same socio-economic status. That meant, (and Wikipedia will verify this) that egalitarianism required the redistribution of wealth such that everyone would be the same financial status or class. So I don’t identify as egalitarian because (to me) that word always meant something essentially similar to Communism. (3) I don’t need to come up with another word that means the same thing as feminism. That not only discredits historic heroes of the women’s rights movement, but the definition of feminism is also the definition of gender equality, giving women a hand-up instead of chopping men down.
Anti-feminists criticize me for arguing the definition, insisting that’s not the only definition. I’ve been told that Meriam-Webster has two different ones. So I looked. Both the simple and the full definitions are the same one I use but with the least important word paraphrased. Whether the position is referred to as a theory, belief, or advocacy doesn’t really matter. It can be all of those. Otherwise there’s one definition for the movement and one for the position itself. So yeah, there is still only one definition. Different sources may word it slightly differently but it’s always the same description.
However anti-feminists still say that’s not what the word really means. And they say this because some unrepresentative nobody somewhere is using the word wrong. They tell me that feminism is a poisonous religion of sexist bigotry represented by sex-negative professional victims who only want to deny men’s rights, and so on. Then they defend the argument by citing some weirdo outlier who says that “all sex is rape” or “all men are rapists”, etc. Why are they using the radical fringe to define the mainstream? Do they think atheism should be represented by Joseph Stalin or Jeffrey Dahmer?
Now look at the definition of anti-feminism: “Antifeminism may be motivated by the belief that feminist theories of patriarchy and disadvantages suffered by women in society are incorrect or exaggerated; that feminism as a movement encourages misandry and results in harm or oppression of men; or general opposition towards women’s rights.”
So anti-feminists are either simply sexist, (“general opposition to women’s rights”) or they allege that all claims of women’s inequity are either exaggerated or fabricated: that feminism is really a hate group dedicated to female supremacy and the suppression of men. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes a number of web sites making this claim, which the SPLC describes as false.
Think about that. According to this famous compiler of hate groups, the central tenet of anti-feminism is a false claim. One which misrepresents what feminism really is.
I’ve never heard from any feminist who holds the view that the antifeminists say they do. So far as I can tell, it seems that the majority of self-identified feminists say that I’m right about what the word means, both in principle and practice -when we’re talking about the mainstream. Then it really is about gender equality. I know a few activists who are feminist: that’s what my friends mean by that word. That’s what Tim Minchin means by that. That’s what Justin Trudeau means by that. That’s even what Christopher Hitchens and Kaley Cuoco meant by that, even though neither of them identified as feminist! That’s what the Nordic countries like Iceland mean when they brag that they’re the most feminist countries on earth. That is also what the leading organizations of the mainstream movement mean by that. I use the mainstream meaning from the real world, not the one I hear about from Tumblr.
And I know that other people know that too: YouTuber Jacqueline Glenn for example. She was under the wing of other outspoken anti-feminists and would not identify as feminist herself, because she says that some of them hate men. Well obviously regardless what those misandrists call themselves, those people are not feminists; they’re sexists. I would call them out for that, just like when Jill Stein called out Hillary Clinton for saying women should vote for her simply because she’s a woman. Stein said that was “an offense to the concept of feminism“.
Jacqueline Glenn made a mistake though, one that is illustrative of the whole problem. She exceeded the tolerance of anti-feminism by admitting what feminism really is and that it has some legitimate value: that she agreed with some aspect of it. So now she, like me, found herself catching hell from both extremes for the same reason: not about the issues, but only over whether she wears the feminist label.
You would think that her friend, T.J. the Amazing Atheist would understand that. He made a video criticizing me, in which he did pretty well. He only got a few points wrong, though he ran with them and would have embarrassed himself if he had shame. But near the end of that video, he said, “If you’re a feminist who believes in true gender equality, and doesn’t believe in double-standards, and you just want there to be total equality between the sexes, not only on a legal level, but on a social level, on a cultural level, then you know what? Stand by my side. Because you and I are fucking allies. Whether you call yourself a feminist and believe that, or an MRA and believe that, or a gender egalitarian and believe that, or a humanist and believe that. No matter what you are or what you identify as, if you hold to the idea of equality, then you should be my ally. Because I believe in it too. And we may quibble over what it means sometimes. We may quibble over what’s problematic, what’s acceptable, what’s not acceptable. But if we both ultimately believe in the goal of gender equality -without double-standards, without special exceptions, then we should just agree. Then the difference between us becomes a simple semantic difference of no real worth or importance.”
The popular YouTuber, Darkmatter2525 did much better. He said that he doesn’t identify as either feminist nor anti-feminist, which is why he can still speak sanely. Yet he described his position on gender equality as exactly identical to my own. But because he doesn’t use the F-word as a label, then he doesn’t get the hate that I do. It does seem to be all about the label, and it really does seem to be just about hate. Anti-feminists criticize me for using that label, saying that everything would have been OK if I had called myself by any other equity label other than feminist. Then they tell me I shouldn’t be concerned with labels. But I’m not the one who’s so concerned about the fucking labels; they are!
For example, when Alan Rickman died, his Harry Potter co-star, Emma Watson posted what she considered to be a sentimental thought on his memory. She quoted him saying “there is nothing wrong with a man being a feminist, I think it is to our mutual advantage.” Commenters reacted with hatred, with one posting, “don’t make us hate him”. This is an admission that they would love Alan Rickman right up until they heard that he called himself a feminist. Then, just like they did with me, they immediately hate him as if nothing else he did matters. They don’t even want to understand what he meant, which is obviously the same thing that I meant. They don’t care about that either. It seems that their hatred really is just about that label and nothing else. I’ve read posts saying that it doesn’t matter what I say, that I allegedly deserve all the hate that I’m getting just for using that label.
And I’ve been getting a lot of hate lately. Every day my Twitter feed looks like it was hacked by potty-mouthed pubescents, and there have been several videos posted in the last few weeks hating on me. None of them are justifiable. For instance, look at this guy.
He says: “…black feminist, white feminist, intersectional feminist, choice feminist, third wave, second wave, honestly all feminism is cancer. All feminism is divisive, social Marxist bullshit. All of it. All of it. All of it. All of it.”
I think he means all of it. I guess it doesn’t matter that my feminism isn’t any of that. At least we know how he feels about even the origins of feminism and the first wave, Susan B Anthony and women’s suffrage, (the right to vote) the right to own property, to operate a business, get divorced, and so on. To all the anti-feminists who say they believe in equality, if you want me to believe that you’re not just about hate, then you should have a talk with this guy, straighten him out.
Regarding me, he says he knows that I’m dishonest. He says he knows this because he assumes that I must have been exposed to morbidly-toxic feminists, and he thinks that I’m just lying about that. Let’s ignore for the moment that even if I had met the type of toxic feminist that he’s talking about, that still wouldn’t change the definition of the word as I or anyone else use it. But notice that he “knows” I’m dishonest only because he *assumes* I’m dishonest. This while he criticizes me for a lack of skepticism. Irony much?
The same thing happened when several anti-fems criticized me simply for being on FreeThoughtBlogs. Why? The first reason was the assertion that everyone at FTB had to be in lock-step with P.Z. Myers: that we all had to agree with everything he said, as if we were all of one “hive mind”. I heard this so often that whenever P.Z. and I were on stage together, I pointed out that I don’t agree with him about everything; that I don’t agree with anyone about everything. But that doesn’t matter. None of my allies hold all of the same positions or perspectives as I do. But as atheist activists, we have a common goal and a very powerful common enemy. So we’d better find a common bond if we’re gonna make any progress. If Bill Maher wanted to help out atheist event that I’m also involved with, I wouldn’t refuse his help just ‘cuz he’s an anti-vaxxer. I’m not going to turn away valuable allies just because they’re Libertarian or vegetarian, or voted for Hillary, or because of something they tweeted one time. I’ll even work with Men’s Rights Activists -for men’s rights. But I’ll do it as a feminist.
Some of the bloggers at FTB wanted to form a group that not only advocates atheism but other social justice issues too, particularly including feminism. They called the group “Atheism Plus”. So immediately I and everyone else at FTB were criticized as being for A+ regardless whether we agreed with that or not. To say nothing of the fact that that’s not a valid reason to hate someone anyway.
My friend, Matt Dillahunty initially liked the idea of Atheism+. But he quickly changed his mind and disassociated himself with that collective very early on. Yet for years afterward, I read many posts from anti-fems sarcastically taunting “When is Matt going to quit Atheism Plus?”. I answered some of them, “a long time ago, almost immediately. Where were you?”. But of course they didn’t care about the truth of the matter. I think they just troll to generate drama.
I too am frequently accused of being an advocate of Atheism Plus. However I never identified with that collective and stated my reservations publicly from the very beginning. To me at that time, Atheism Plus sounded no better than New Coke. So even though I will defend social justice on a number of fronts at once, I chose to identify as progressive instead. Now some anti-feminist atheists are criticizing Humanism, calling it “Humanism+” just for including feminism. But Humanism was always feminist as long as I can remember. This is nothing new. That’s why others said I should have identified as Humanist instead, because it means the same thing without using the F-word.
To me, feminism and atheism are entirely separate movements, but with a lot of overlap. Because each of the major religions has a systemic tradition of suppressing and oppressing women into silent submission to men, all men. Women raised in restrictive religious environments are often discouraged from getting an education or career and they’re conditioned to be dependent: often being manipulated into becoming baby-making machines until they wear out. That is exactly what patriarchy is, and religion seems to have invented it. Because the Bible denies women their human rights and treats them as chattel to be bought and sold and even used however their owners see fit. The more fundamentalist someone is, the more this continues. Women who recognize this pattern typically reject religion, becoming atheist.
Likewise, if you’re an antitheist, (as I am) and you intend to challenge religion on all fronts, (as I do) then you really should recognize this rampant misogyny, especially when it is perpetuated politically by all the major faiths. Religiously-motivated legislators have done all they can to criminalize abortion, censor sex education, deny contraception. And then when they face the inevitable result that they brought about, then they try to cut all social welfare programs benefiting unwed teen mothers and such. Considering this detrimental feedback loop they’ve created, it’s kinda hard to ignore what religion historically and typically does to women. So I thought that every antitheist activist would be on-board with those issues too, on top of attacking science denial, pedophile priests, Christianized history classrooms, and repairing the wall of separation between church and state. But it seems that many atheists do not share that opinion and rail against those topics whenever they’re brought up. I don’t know why.
For example, in my video, Pterosaurs are Terrible Lizards, I mentioned (as an aside) how pioneer paleontologist Mary Anning was denied membership in the Royal Society because of her gender. In the comments, someone demanded that I “prove that! Prove that patriarchy ever existed”. Seriously? I told him he could just look it up and see that the Royal Society didn’t allow women until almost 100 years after Mary Anning died. But of course there’s never a situation where they admit that I’m right about anything. They just move the goal posts and then pretend that I’m the one acting religious.
The first time I had an issue with this, I had never even mentioned feminism. Instead I was talking about parthenogenic reproduction, where even vertebrate species can be entirely female. So the female is the staple of the species, because males aren’t always necessary. There were some butt-hurt males who reacted to that by denying this biological fact and commenting that I must be sexist against my own gender!
I often hear anti-feminists say that women have already achieved complete equality in the west. To large degree, maybe. But even if they had, we would still believe in equality, right? I don’t think we should ignore where women are still being religiously oppressed old school even in the new world. We can also admit it even when it’s not related to religion. It’s not like feminists don’t still have legitimate issues here and now.
My teen-aged kids are gamers. Since she was a pre-teen, my step-daughter played under a male identity to avoid all the sexual harassment she otherwise got online. That and she complains about the overt sexism written into the games. Pointlessly-revealing armor, characters having to rape someone to gain a level, and of course sexually provocative cover art: to say nothing of what happens after the games get modded. Then it’s even more perverse. I never talked about feminism with her. That subject never comes up at home. But when she recently mentioned how sexist the games were, I asked her to show me, and I was impressed at the dozens of different types of sexist images she came up with in just a few minutes on her phone.
I have seen examples of feminists advocating for the rights of men as an issue of gender equality. In one case, it was even against female advantage. In the 1980s, there were legal firms who would not file a man’s case for child custody, “because the man always loses”, because Texas courts thought children need a mommy. Fathers were just supposed to pay child support. But these lawyers then said that there were feminists protesting the stereotype that women were always better care-givers, and that they shouldn’t be automatically seen as the the stay-at-home parent. The result of that protest was that a couple years later, such cases typically result in joint custody. And in the relatively rare instance that a man fights for primary custody, he is statistically more likely to win. I don’t think this is for reasons of sexism. Most child custody issues are determined by parental agreement. So if a man sues for custody, it’s because he feels there is a reason that can’t be resolved otherwise.
I have not seen anti-feminists advocating for the rights of women. What I mean by that is, they’ll tell you about every time that men or boys are disadvantaged. But when it comes to women’s issues, they’ll systematically dismiss or minimize every claim of inequity that any woman ever made, as if no woman in America had ever legitimately experienced any degree of actual sexism in the last forty years that wasn’t somehow her own fault. That includes when women get raped. Then the excuse is that it was her fault because of where she went, what she said, what she wore, or that she really wanted it. Or the significance is dismissed because “men get raped too”. Systemic statistical probabilities and predominant societal trends are not considered. Remember that the definition of anti-feminism requires that they discredit or dismiss every claim of feminism. If I say they’re behaving like a hate group, it’s because that’s how hate groups act too.
In video comments, Darkmatter2525 said that anti-feminists believed in the goal of gender equality, and he said no one would argue against that. Then SkepTorr said said that goal is fictional and impractical, unachievable. So yeah, they will argue against that goal.
I have never been one to promote hate. Back in the days of MySpace, my posted slogan was, “I sincerely do not understand hate, nor why other people fixate on negativity. It’s just not the way I think. There is a positive aspect to nearly all our experiences. If you can’t find something good, at least allow yourself to be impressed, because sharing the things you love is what will endear you to others. Seriously, nobody cares about what you hate, and you shouldn’t either.”
Likewise the motto of my podcast is that “everyone complains and anyone can criticize every suggested solution. But I want to talk to those who are actually taking action and doing something to fix it”. This makes it hard to find guests, as you might imagine. I’d love to talk to Lawrence Lessig or Elon Musk, who I see as very progressive. But I’m not Larry King. So I get who I can. And I’ll take suggestions.
I’m sorry to say that some of the names I know on YouTube only seem to be capable of criticism, whether it’s against religion or berating different political perspectives or discrediting scientific hypotheses, it’s always against something with few or no positive ideas, expressed interest or action to improve anything.
I however want to improve our situation as irreligious non-believers, whether that is by promoting critical thinking in education or demanding secular politics. That’s what the phrase “social justice” means. According to one University’s Department of Government and Justice Studies, social justice is “… promoting a just society by challenging injustice and valuing diversity. …[when] all people share a common humanity and therefore have a right to equitable treatment, support for their human rights, and a fair allocation of community resources.”
Notice that their definition of social justice is almost exactly like the current definition of egalitarianism. Yet everyone who tells me that they identify as egalitarian as opposed to feminist also seems to hate social justice. So they refer to activists as “Social Justice Warriors” or “SJWs”. That contradiction of their own position is pejorative, and an apparently meaningless insult since it isn’t defined, and I don’t fit any of the bins that my critics want to “other” me with. I’m not much of a social justice activist in any subject except for secularism. But I will challenge religion on all fronts. And even if I only ever promote equality for atheists, that is still social justice. It’s not a bad thing.
Years ago, I heard other YouTube atheists saying that “a house divided will not stand”, worried that feminism would divide atheism. But instead of fixing whatever problem they perceived, stopping it from happening, or minimizing the damage, it seems they’ve invested great energy into making it a self-fulfilling prophesy, and only exacerbating the situation. Not all of us are activists trying to achieve something. Some are only in it for the lulz.
But where this is important is that there are a number of skeptics groups, atheist groups, and humanist groups who voluntarily cancelled their big spring and summer events this year, so that everyone’s money and attention could be concentrated on one event, the Reason Rally in Washington DC. It was supposed to get atheists positive public attention as a socially conscious demographic worthy of politicians pandering to our vote. Yet there were hundreds of atheists who not only boycotted that event but were also actively working against it, thus working against the collective efforts and combined expense of the greater atheist community: even advising protesters how to troll the event. Of course they also spammed my video promoting that event, and my only other video about feminism, such that they are the only two videos I’ve ever made with more down votes than up votes. Normally there are at least ten times as many up-votes.
How many atheist anti-social justice boycotters will question that they spoke out against including LGBTQ rights as an issue on the Reason Rally platform after the obvious example of religiously motivated hatred of gays that resulted in the massacre of dozens of people in Orlando? This just a week after religious hatred of trans people prompted gun men and bombs in public restrooms. LGBTQ people could have told these critics all along that religion is a very real and present threat to their everyday lives. Would the Reason Rally protesters have listened or even cared had they been told this by LGBTQ atheists? There were myriad examples of religious hatred of LGBTQ before Orlando that were summarily dismissed without consideration as not being as important as science education. As if it is impossible for the freethought community to support anything else but the narrow couple of issues the instigators and followers care about.
Why did they do that? Because some of the speakers were identified to be feminists, like the apparent majority of all atheists and practically all of the organizers of any of our conferences or conventions. As if Penn Jillette or the Wu Tang Clan could be confused with feminist activists. There were speakers up there who had previously spoken against social justice! I myself arranged to have the speed-metal band, Motörhead on the roster, but the lead singer died in January. So this was not a feminist event.
The other problem the anti-fems had was that this event, like nearly every other conference or convention -had a code of conduct asking people not to be assholes. In reality it had no more impact on the event than the terms & conditions that nobody reads. It wouldn’t have restricted anyone from mocking religion; that was the purpose of the event. In fact, there is video of me mocking the preposterous beliefs of Christian protestors without one single reprimand by Reason Rally staff. I have since heard from a number of those people gloating over what a failure they though the event must have been without them. But the reality is that they missed out.
There was less of a crowd this year than at the last one in 2012 (though there were still several thousand in attendance), primarily (I think) because the District of Columbia scheduled us for the same weekend as A-Con and Comic-con. There is a lot of overlap between atheists and the nerds in cosplay at those conventions. That’s why two of my own kids didn’t go. If Lemmy of Motörhead was still alive, our attendance would have been more than twice what it was last time.
The point is that, anti-feminists do have some legitimate gripes which can’t be dismissed and should be addressed. Some feminists are at fault too, certainly. But we need to bridge that somehow. The way I see it, those who say they’re worried about feminism dividing atheism have been the most divisive, and have done the most damage to their own community. And they do it on purpose for reasons which are both indefensible and inexcusably trivial.
I wrote all this in the hope that I won’t have to keep clarifying the same points again and again. It would be nice to be able to get back to doing what I should be doing, and not have commenters constantly trying to start this same fight again. I’m done with it.
Aron Ra is a secular activist and science communicator making videos on Patreon.