The Irony of Modern Feminism [Part 2b: Atheism+]

Posted on 2012/09/05

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Feature Image - The Irony of Modern Feminism [Part 2Atheism+]

The last post was a more macro-criticism about the ‘Atheism+ movement’.

Now I will list some specific disagreements that have to do with feminism.

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Wrong On So Many Levels

Last year, many people became aware of an exchange between Richard Dawkins a member of a blog-group ‘Skepchick’. He replied to one of her videos where she described how a man tried to hook up with her after one of these ‘atheist conferences’. According to Rebecca Watson, as she left the hotel lobby for her room at 4am, a guy got into the elevator with her asking if she wanted to head up to his room for coffee. She declined, and they parted ways.

Then, after describing this in her video, Watson advised that men ‘don’t do that’ because she perceived it as threatening behaviour. This began a debate in her comment thread about whether her advice is really feasible, or whether this was a situation that even merited advice. Some women might be flattered. The guy wasn’t trying to rape her, so, what did he do wrong? Did he commit a speech crime?

Watson replied in a video saying:

The point of me uploading that video previously was … to give advice on how we, as a community, might go about making our community a more inviting one to women. But a lot of you have no interest in that. [1]

So, if you disagree with her moral solution to her anxiety, then she thinks you ‘have no interest in [making our community a more inviting one to women]‘.

Richard Dawkins then suggested that asking someone for coffee is really a non-problem. She was in a public space – they were in an elevator which has buttons that allow you immediate access to a very public corridor. The man asked her a question, didn’t rape her, then left – probably rather embarrassed.

Here was her response:

[T]his person [Richard Dawkins] who I always admired for his intelligence and compassion does not care about my experiences as an atheist woman and therefore will no longer be rewarded with my money, my praise, or my attention. I will no longer recommend his books to others, buy them as presents, or buy them for my own library. I will not attend his lectures or recommend that others do the same. There are so many great scientists and thinkers out there that I don’t think my reading list will suffer. [2]

I don’t abhor Rebecca Watson for her moral beliefs. She may well be correct, and I am incorrect. Of course, I think I am correct, but I can well imagine being shown to be false.

What I do abhor her accusation that people who disagree with her ‘advice’ somehow don’t care about women.

And I abhor her call to boycott Richard Dawkin’s work. Can I presume she also doesn’t read any historical works, since most of these were written by white, privileged, male, sexist, homophobic, racists? And people who had absolutely no idea what ‘cisgender‘ or ‘transgender’ mean.

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The above example is characteristic of many views the radical feminists of Atheism+ seem to share. And while many commentators viewed the argument from a distance, ridiculing the exchange as somewhat trivial, in hindsight it appears to have been indicative of all else that was to follow.

Here, I think, are the three central dogmas of Atheism+:

  1. Hurt feelings, anxiety, and all other emotional worries, should be remedied by external influences.
  2. There should be more women (and other minorities) in ‘the atheist community’, and the white men within these communities are to blame. Consequently, their behavior must change, or a new community must form to exclude them.
  3. Anyone who disagrees with the above sentiments is anti-women, not interested in social justice, etc, and must also be excluded from the new community.

Let me provide some example to demonstrate these beliefs in action.

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Pity Party

During the Atheism+ Goggle Hangout last week, one of the participants (Estelth) commented that:

One of the things about these people who don’t want to give up their privilege … is your right to do something ends the second that what it is you’re doing hurts somebody else. The original phrasing is: you can wave your arms around but that right stops when you hit somebody in the nose. … That also applies to things like language. I could say all manner of words. I have the right to do that; I have the freedom of speech. But my right to do that ends the second that somebody affected by those words hears me. [3]

And what she said what wholly unchallenged by entire group.

This approach, as I have written elsewhere, is incoherent if we to have any kind of grown-up and serious debate. How is discussion even possible if every comment is to screened to (somehow) decide whether it might be offensive?

This is especially ironic for a bunch of atheists who make a habit (and, for some, and entire career) out of deliberately offending Christians.

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Diversity

Another presumption within the group, immune from criticism, is that affirmative action (or positive discrimination) is a desirable goal.

Part of the problem, they think, is the community itself. This is what Greta Christina,  from FTB, has to say:

Many humanist groups have a huge diversity problem. Many humanist groups are overwhelmingly made up of older, middle-class, college educated white men — and while the groups typically embrace the idea of diversity in theory, some individuals in them can be very resistant to the idea that maybe their lack of diversity is partly their responsibility, and that they should maybe consider changing the way they do things. [4]

What have men done? Well, they seem to make women feel unsafe, as Jen McCreight constantly reminds us:

don’t feel safe as a woman in this community – and I feel less safe than I do as a woman in science, or a woman in gaming, or hell, as a woman walking down the fucking sidewalk. [5]

There seems to be little concern with whether women actually are unsafe. In fact, I am yet to hear of a situation in ‘the atheist community’ where a woman was in any real danger.

What is of primary concern is that these women feel unsafe, and their emotional worry should to be remedied. By the behavior of men.

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Watch Where You Step

The presumption that men must do all they can to alleviate the anxieties of women was emphasized by Ian Brown during the same Google Hangout conversation as mentioned above:

I found it really surprising .. when there was that strong reaction. I remember a discussion we were having … When I, as a man, am walking around my neighbourhood [I presume he 'is a man' most of the time] and I see a woman walking, I’ll make noise, or otherwise just indicate that I am walking where I am so that she knows that I’m going about my business but has an idea of where I am. … It’s just something you do. you clear your throat, you make sure not walking completely in step. Maybe i’ll cross the street … just to give somebody a berth. The push-back was absolutely mind-boggling. [6]

However, it doesn’t take much imagination to think of a comparable example that demonstrate that this solution isn’t beyond criticism, as they claim it to be.

What if we applied the same considerations to old people walking down the street? Some might feel threatened by groups of kids hanging out playing. Every time they walk down the street, some of these old people are anxious that a group of kids are going to mug them. And sure, some kids do mug old people. But muggings are rare are some old people don’t mind kids play on the street.

Do we stop all kids playing on the street, or tell them its wrong, just because a proportion of old folks get worried? Is the worry of this minority itself enough to demand children change their behavior? Are there, dare I say, other problems that might be of more concern?

I don’t consider these questions to be sexist, when the answers presented seem so ill-considered.

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One of the enduring excuses for the ‘Atheism+ movement’ is that there needs to be a group that excludes the anti-gay, the racists, the sexists… all those who are ‘against social justice’. As we are all frequently reminded, ‘Stalin was an atheist’.

And their effort are potentially laudable, were it not for their dogmatic radical feminist views, preventing interesting discussion, while demanding men constantly edit their words and behaviors.

They seem to want to engineer a diverse group of people, at the expense of a diverse set of ideas.

At the centre of all this, behind all the feminism and the atheism, is a tremendous amount of hubris. The founder of FTB, PZ Myers, seems to have fostered an environment where smug insults are considered a sound substitute for an education in philosophy.

To give you a clue as to the extent of the arrogance, listen to this short clip where a Creationist asks PZ some questions:

“How do you know that your ability to reason is valid?”

An interesting question considering PZ constantly talks about ‘reason and evidence’ as ways to prove his beliefs. His answer? “Because i’m not a slimy motherfucker like you.”

I wonder what radical feminists think about you using ‘motherfucker’ as an insult, PZ…?

References

[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7m1sm8z7i0I

[2] http://skepchick.org/2011/07/the-privilege-delusion/

[3] (Esteleth speaking at 56:40)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZYhbj1RGKs

[4] http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2012/08/23/humanism-is-great-but-its-not-atheism-plus/

[5] http://freethoughtblogs.com/blaghag/2012/08/how-i-unwittingly-infiltrated-the-boys-club-why-its-time-for-a-new-wave-of-atheism/

[6] (Ian Brown speaking at 49:30)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZYhbj1RGKs

Posted in: Criticism, Feminism