On Optimism

On Optimism

The other day, an asshole named Jerry Conlon said this to Ophelia Benson:

Maybe a vial of acid would do you some good. You already look like you were set on fire and put out with a wet rake.

This upset PZ a great deal as it pushed him to recognize the fact that if the entire world were atheist, we would still have plenty of assholes. Conlon apologized, for what it’s worth (not much), and today PZ posted a bit of optimism:

Really. Look at American Atheists, the American Humanist Association, the Center for InquiryAtheist Alliance International and Atheist Alliance America, the Secular Coalition, the Secular Student Alliance, and the Richard Dawkins Foundation. They are not supporting these petty, resentful snipers; they are working towards a future in which those goons are irrelevant.

Unfortunately, his links only go to the main websites of those organizations and not to any evidence that those groups are doing anything that would make irrelevant those who harass many of us every day. While many or all of those groups may be doing good things to advance the rights and freedoms of atheists, few have taken any large steps to stop what’s happening to women. Some of them, like American Atheists and Center for Inquiry, have instituted anti-harassment policies. A few of them have employees who have participated in Amy’s essay series in which men speak out against harassment (specifically: Ron Lindsay, Barry Karr, Jim Underdown, Paul Fidalgo and Michael DeDora of CFI, Dave Niose [then] of AHA, and Dave Silverman of AA. It’s worth noting that Dan Barker of Freedom From Religion Foundation also wrote a piece). As far as I can see only one of them – AHA – prominently uses the term “feminist” on its site and in its organization in a way that takes it as a given that feminism is an integral part of humanism and progress. (EDIT: Though I do want to note that CFI is sponsoring the Women in Secularism conference, for which it deserves kudos.)

For the most part, these organizations work on their causes while pointedly avoiding what they see as a divisive quagmire. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, no. For years, I defended the JREF’s pointed disinterest in atheist topics because while I do think atheism is the natural outcome of skepticism and that the two are ultimately inextricably linked, I understand that there’s a benefit to an organization focusing resources on a particular goal while also appealing to a larger audience. But it would be silly to then congratulate the JREF on working toward some atheist or secular goal, just as it’s silly to congratulate these organizations that are not focused on fighting for women.

And then there’s the Richard Dawkins Foundation. Over on PZ’s post, I commented:

I guess if you’ve never been called a “feminazi” by Paula Kirby or had your inbox explode with rape threats thanks to Richard Dawkins, RDF wouldn’t look out of place on that list.

PZ replied:

I know that Dawkins’ comments have led to some very ugly results, and that Kirby just completely lost the plot, but considering that the RDF confines itself mostly to science education, I don’t think that organization as a whole is the ‘enemy’.

I could not disagree more, obviously. When discussing whether or not an organization supports “petty, resentful snipers,” it’s worth asking whether it keeps any on staff or whether the organization is named after one. Richard Dawkins’ comments have been the very definition of petty and resentful, including those he has continued posting on Twitter. Whether he’s retweeting victim blaming trash or coming up with his very own passive aggressive ways to denigrate a free vaccine program because Skepchick runs it, he has not only failed to stop the torrent of abuse aimed at me and other women in this movement but he has actively participated in it himself. And Paula Kirby of RDFUK has spent months defending her point that those of us asking for atheist conferences to be safer spaces for women are literally like Nazis and the Stasi.

Regardless of what RDF does for science (and I’m not sure what that is, exactly, though I do know that they donate substantial amounts of money to other organizations that actually do things), they are not to be counted among organizations that discourage harassment of women.

So while PZ finds optimism in the work these organizations do, I, for the most part, do not. I see anti-feminists who think those organizations stand for them. (Hell, I’ve seen misogynists cite feminist and Freedom from Religion Foundation co-founder Annie Laurie Gaylor as an inspiration.) I don’t think these people are stupid (though yes, many are – just look at the people populating my Twitter @ replies) – I think that secular organizations aren’t being loud enough in their support of women. I think often these organizations are being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century by a few progressive employees who want to do good at the risk of being seen as radical troublemakers.

And that’s where I find my inspiration: not in the large organizations but in the individuals who are strong enough to stand up for what’s right despite the endless hateful shit thrown their way. People like Ophelia Benson, Stephanie Zvan, Greta Christina, and Melody Hensley. People like Surly Amy and all the other Skepchick Network contributors. People like Amanda Marcotte, who in December recounted what it’s like to be a writer who happens to be a feminist:

6PM: This is approximately the time the first tweet was out accusing me of “ignoring” the situation I had learned about an hour and some change before and had already drafted an intro paragraph about and started researching. I made fun of how weird that was…

6PM-until this morning: This results in an absolute torrent of abuse from wingnuts, many insulting my looks, making sexualized jokes about me, calling me a “hypocrite” for supposedly ignoring a story I was writing about. About an hour into it, I turn off Twitter because it’s distracting me from organizing my thoughts and also it’s really unnerving, as a survivor of violence against women, to see folks like Ace of Spades get so excited at hearing about violence that they need to go find another woman to harass, to keep the thrill going. You know, under the cover of “outrage” about the supposed “ignoring” that’s going on.

The harassment Marcotte and other feminists experience is non-stop and at times overwhelming. Hell, I haven’t written a substantial blog post in ages, mostly because I have 800 tabs open filled with anti-woman bile and bitter hatred that I feel deserves to be exposed, but there’s just too much, and focusing on all of it long enough to write a post is exhausting. But the more individuals who stand up to fight this shit, the easier it gets. I could slack off on my blogging without worrying that the misogyny was going unanswered. I could take a break from supporting other women being harassed because I knew that there was a support network for them. I could block haters on Twitter without taking screen caps because now the Internet is flooded with the evidence of what we get every day.

But that’s because of individuals, not organizations.

Avatar of Rebecca Watson
Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org and appears on the weekly Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

62 Comments

  1. Avatar of Improbable Joe

    It isn’t enough to be theoretically opposed to sexism and harassment in an abstract way. If these organizations and their leadership think they are doing any good with their phony neutrality and silence in the face of real-life abuses, they aren’t worth a damn to anyone.

  2. Avatar of Grand Lunar

    “And that’s where I find my inspiration: not in the large organizations but in the individuals who are strong enough to stand up for what’s right despite the endless hateful shit thrown their way.”

    Almost like the relation some people have with government.

    I admire the strength those have that take on the hateful shit. You are all made of awesome.

  3. Avatar of donboc

    Excellent post, Rebecca. It’s disappointing to see that “skeptics” and atheists and liberals can be just as territorial and high-strung and defensive and offensive as anyone else. I’m sorry you and other female bloggers have had to deal with such ugly behavior.

  4. Avatar of simonsays

    FYI here is an interactive timeline I created a few weeks ago with all the milestones in the recent discussions about women in the secular movement: http://www.tiki-toki.com/timeline/entry/82972/Women-in-the-new-secular-movement

    Everything is sourced and indexed so folks can confirm or correct any inaccuracies.

  5. Avatar of Bjarte Foshaug

    Al Stefanelli recently wrote that:

    PZ Myers, Ophelia Benson, Stefanie Zvan, Rebecca Watson, to a degree Jennifer McCreight, Amy Roth, Melody Hensley, several people over at the Atheism Plus forum, a handful of others [...] have managed to not only drive people away from nonsectarian activism in droves, but have driven a wedge deep into what should be a unified cause.

    As I wrote at Ophelia’s blog, I just want to see the wedge driven all the way through. The greater the schism the better. Only when the last bridge falls burning into the abyss can we forget about “infighting”, and the scum who have been flooding every website, youtube channel, forum, and blog with toxic waste for nearly two years can fade into the normal “background noise” along with the religious right, the antiwaxers and the 9-11 truth movement.

    There is no possible benefit of having a movement that can begin to outweigh the cost of having to share it with the likes of “Dear Muslima” as well as Thunderfoot, Vacula, Stefanelli, Blackford, Stangroom, Kirby, Paden etc., and there’s no “community” on the planet that includes both them and me at the same time. If I had to chose between atheist organizations that included these people and no atheist organizations at all, I’d choose the latter any time.

    • Avatar of Will

      Agreed, and not only that, but I want to turn their typical tactics around on them. What evidence do they have that people have been driven away “in droves” from skeptical/atheist activism? Who are these people? Where have they spoken out about no longer being involved in activism because of any of the people listed above? Point me to the droves of people who are leaving these movements because women are demanding better treatment and that atheists and skeptics turn their critical thinking towards themselves.

      • Avatar of Bjarte Foshaug

        If somebody has been driven away by the people on Stefanelli’s list, I say “good riddance”. Here’s just a tiny sample from Stephanie Zvan’s petition against giving Justin Vacula a leading position in the SCA:

        “As a secular woman in PA this has absolutely destroyed my trust in the SCA. I’m sorry to say I feel extremely uncomfortable and unwelcome at the PA chapter. I looked forward to participating but no longer.”

        “I live only about an hour from Justin Vacula’s home town, Scranton, and his participation and leadership in local atheist/skeptic activities is a major barrier to my participation. I simply don’t trust anyone who posts on “A Voice for Men,” which has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a site devoted to promoting misogyny on the web, to treat me with respect. I’ve seen how he has treated other women who are part of the A/S community, such as Amy Lee Roth, and frankly I don’t want to risk having to deal with such a character.”

        “Justin Vacula and others like him are the reason I am using a pseudonym to sign this. It is not safe for a woman to have an opinion about secularism unless it involves toadying up to the MRA contingent. I am no longer active at my local meet-up or drinks in the pub because I was tired of hearing about how pissed they were that a woman decided to set boundaries for herself. After a very negative event, no male in the group would support me, even the ones who agreed it was wrong. It seems as if PA is looking to give women the same experience. I can not understand that.”

        “As someone brand new, I would be very hesitant to go to any gatherings where Vacula might be, and very hesitant to join in any discussions. His presence and his actions have made me feel unwelcome and are certainly driving people away.”

        “As a woman, I do not feel I am welcome in the Atheist movement, and the appointment of Justin Vacula to an official position for Secular Coalition of America makes me feel even less welcome. I think that it sends a strong message that the Secular Coalition of America would prefer if women would not participate.”

        BTW notice once again the disingeniousness of framing his own sectarian views as the default, “nonsectarian” (the cousin of “apolitical” and “non-ideological”) position. There is nothing “nonsectarian”, or “apolitical” or “non-ideological” about actively opposing everything except non-resistance to misogyny, sexism, harassment and bullying.

  6. Avatar of jpeoples

    I am not a feminist, and I don’t feel it is integral to current progress, albeit I do feel like it was at one point a contingently favorable development. I am also opposed to comments like that of Jerry Conlon.

    I don’t feel like feminist atheists have any conceptual space for people such as myself. Do you think it is possible for me to oppose feminism from being the status-qua of atheists and for me to be opposed to violence, threats and/or cruelty toward women?

    Can you name any individuals who have philosophical disagreements with you about feminism and its validity that you do not think are anti-woman or misogynistic?

    • Avatar of Marc Mielke

      If you are opposed to violence, threats, and cruelty towards women, in what way are you NOT a feminist?

      • Avatar of jpeoples

        I am not a feminist because I am familiar with many of the diverse opinions of various feminists, none of which can be said to be “true feminism.” Many of them I disagree with regarding their views on sexuality and gender. I don’t feel like any feminist I have read reflects my views adequately. Some feminists I may agree with on some points, but I disagree on others. The term is overly vague, and I don’t like to identify with vague ideologies. I’m not particularly interested in playing the “true feminism” game given it’s historical and lexical ambiguity.

        I feel like feminism actually contributes to gender conflict, and that many problems that feminists work to alleviate can be alleviated without ideological identification.

        The term is also just peculiar. There is no term like maculinism, that is aimed at establishing and defending equal, political, economic, and social rights of men. And of course, if one were to identify as a “masculinist,” one would also likely be considered misogynistic by many feminists. I am not interested though in identifying as a “masculinist”. And nor am I particularly interested in Men’s Rights Organizations. And I am perplexed why there cannot be inclusive organizations or ideological identifications that are concerned about all people, regardless of gender.

        There are many minority groups that oppressed in this world–gays, particular “races” and ethnicity, but feminism is quite unique in its having a term and ideological identity. I am bisexual(that is a simple classification of my sexuality), but I am not a “bisexualist.” I am racially mixed, but I am not a “mulattoist”. There are organizations concerned about the rights of gay people, but they don’t expect everyone who are for the rights of gay people to be part of this or that particular organization. In other words, one can be for the rights of gay people without having to being a member of GLAAD. And GLAAD will not call you a homophobe if you choose to support a different gay right’s organization. As Cortex below calls me a sexist for not being a feminist, something similar would not follow if I said I was not a member of GLAAD.

        Feminism is more than just opposition to violence, threats, and cruelty toward women; among other things it also theory about gender and sexuality.

        • Avatar of Bjarte Foshaug

          So many words. So few specifics…

          • Avatar of jpeoples

            Well, I dont think transexuals are frankensteins. That specific enough for you?

            Feminism is not a coherent singular ideology, it is a term that refers to a diverse array of individuals proposing competing ideas but all trying to claim the same identity with the peculiar term, yet there is no historical or etymological justification to identify their particular brand as true.

            I feel there is no rational justification for me to identify as a feminist–there are only many feminists proclaiming that if I do not, I am a sexist or misogynist. I am neither, so it bothers me, just like I’m sure being called a “fucking bitch” bothers them, even if they are not.

            It would be akin to “brights” going around telling atheists that if they didnt identify as a bright they were superstitious idiots that ate what they thought was their dead godman. After all wikipedia says “The Brights movement is a sociocultural movement that aims to promote public understanding and acknowledgment of naturalistic, unspiritual and irreligious worldviews, including equal civil rights and popular acceptance for adherents of such belief systems.” So according to the logic of Cortex and Will, anyone who doesnt identify as a bright must be spirtual,religious, unnatural, and want to oppress people who arent. And the concept of “brights” is even less troublesome than feminism because there isnt as much ideological conflict within those who identify.

            I gave you more “words.” Were they helpful?

          • Avatar of marilove

            Well, I dont think transexuals are frankensteins. That specific enough for you?

            What the fuck? What the hell does your opinion on transexuals have to do with this discussion? Why so fucking specific? Why transexuals? Why compare them to “frankensteins”? What kind of person thinks to say that in this kind of discussion!? Way to be offensive while trying to claim you’re an ally. Right.

          • Avatar of Bjarte Foshaug

            In the context of everything that’s happened in the nearly two years since the comment in my gravatar was uttered, whom/what you chose to criticize/distance yourself from says as much about your values as the specifics of the criticism itself. This was about how atheist feminists like Rebecca have been/continue to be targets of the ugliest harassment possible that doesn’t (yet) include physical violence. In that context what you find most in need of saying is how little you sympathize with feminism (making the whole discussion about you in the process), and when asked to provide anything other than vague generalizations that would make John Edward proud, the best thing you can come up with is a complete strawman. Nice derail, troll.

          • Avatar of Rebecca Watson

            OK, I think that with the “frankensteins” comment, this troll/ignoramus finally jumped the proverbial shark. And then “maculinism,” jesus. I’ll ban him now!

          • Avatar of marilove

            He just kept getting more and more convusing and incoherant as he went on. Sometimes I wonder what these ridiculous trolls are like in real life. What is even the point? There is so much out there on the internet. So much to see! And do! Why leave incoherant troll posts in a feminist blog if you don’t even like feminism? Sigh.

          • Avatar of marilove

            c.o.n.f.u.s.i.n.g. :)

        • Avatar of lamuella

          “There is no term like maculinism, that is aimed at establishing and defending equal, political, economic, and social rights of men.”

          It’s almost like men already have these things. Weird…

          • Avatar of Muninn

            you made me actually lol.

    • Avatar of cortex

      I’d be interested to know how you define “feminism.”

      According to Wikipedia, it’s “a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.”

      So while one may theoretically disagree with some feminists about some things without being a sexist, opposition to feminism itself makes you a sexist.

      • Avatar of jpeoples

        Okay…taking wikipedia as our starting ground, it defines feminism as “a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.”

        That does not mean that feminism is the only ideology concerned about these things or that feminism will be the only ideology or movement concerned about these things. And of course, feminism being a collection of ideologies, one could still disagree about how feminism views political, economic, and social rights for women among other things that feminists discuss, particularly sexuality and gender.

        So yes, maybe I would be sexist if feminism was the only conceivable movement or ideology that was or will be concerned about the the treatment of women, but that is ridiculous. I am concerned about the treatment of women, but my ideology differs from feminism.

        The black panthers were concerned about the rights of black people. But there were other groups also concerned about the rights of black people. If the black panthers called their ideology “blackism” and then defined it as a concern for black rights, would everyone opposed to “blackism” be racists?

        • Avatar of cortex

          You seem to be conflating organizations and ideologies. Supporting an ideological position or orientation is different from supporting a specific organization with the goal of promoting that position or orientation.

          For instance, I’m an atheist. I don’t like the Richard Dawkins Foundation. But I dislike them because Dawkins icks me out, not because I disagree with them about atheism being awesome. If I disliked the RDF *because* of their support of atheism, then I’d be anti-atheist.

          • Avatar of jpeoples

            Are you a bright Cortex? Read my reply to Bjarte.

          • Avatar of marilove

            What the fuck does being a bright have to do with anything? What the hell? Is that even a thing anymore? I feel like I’ve gone back to 2007.

            You are a troll, and yo make almost no sense. “Almost” is perhaps being generous.

    • Avatar of oolon

      “Can you name any individuals who have philosophical disagreements with you about feminism and its validity that you do not think are anti-woman or misogynistic?”

      Not aimed at me I assume, I’ll ignore the fact that disagreeing with the whole of “feminism” is by definition sexist, given its aims. But there are disagreements. I sometimes read Feminist Whores blog (http://feministwhore.wordpress.com/) she has criticised Skepchick, FtBs and A+! Heresy! Not once calling them a whole bunch of misogynistic slurs to my knowledge. I don’t agree with her on everything but she has some good points. I have also read things critical of this “side” from many other blogs that are well written and thought out.

      From the anti-feminists… Well they don’t accept basic things like calling a women a “Fucking Bitch” is in anyway sexist. Why? Because the woman was being a bitch of course! Harassment policies not needed. Why? Cos it would infringe on impromptu chomping on ladies legs, even though it wouldn’t. Etc, etc, etc.

      The “disagreements” would not be out of place on some sort of dystopian Lord of the Flies playground. So yeah, there are real disagreements, but they are drowned out by nasty noisy children vying for attention.

      • Avatar of Otoki

        Great response. I think a lot of people who say “I’m not a feminist BUT I support women having equal rights” just don’t realize that feminism isn’t what Rush Limbaugh says it is.

        • Avatar of jpeoples

          I disdain Rush Limbaugh. Although I do include Catherine Mckennon, Andrea Dworkin, and Mary Daly as valid, although not the total, voices of “feminism”. What about you? What are your feelings on Mary Daly? How do you feel about her conceptualizing transexuals as frankensteins trying to infiltrate the female world?

          • Avatar of victoriadashtwenty

            If you can name three bigoted feminists and none of them have been relevant since before I (and probably you) were born you may want to do some soul searching about where you’re getting your opinions. It’s like if somebody asked you who the vice president was and you thought it was Spiro Agnew.

            The name you’re looking for is Cathy Brennan. She posts naked pictures of transwomen on the internet without their consent and outs kids to their schools. Don’t you think it’s odd that despite her best efforts, she hasn’t managed to tarnish the good name of Feminism for you?

            If you’re old enough to actually have political opinions from the 70′s, it’s time to update your knowledge about Feminism. If you aren’t, then despite your dislike of Rush Limbaugh, it’s likely your opinions on feminism ultimately originated from him. He’s 62, and old enough to remember when Andrea Dworkin was a big name in Feminism.

        • Avatar of fenrirthewolf

          Yes, I personally do not call radicals feminist more like femithiest. And those would be the psychos who say shit like all men should be killed and blah blah, I think most people would agree that is not at all what feminism is about. I have noticed this on youtube a lot where people see some crazed dogmatic loon who claims to be a feminist and says some sexist bull shit and they think this person is the norm of feminism, its a real shame. It seems like these fringe fuckwits are doing the biggest harm to feminism, and in Sweden these crazy bigots known as the ROKS actually are funded by the government there is a documentry about them on youtube that’ll make you sick.

          • Avatar of fenrirthewolf

            Hear is the link, click the CC button for the English subs.

          • Avatar of Jack99

            Yes, the Norwegian model of treatment for violent men looks superior, based as it is on US and Canadian models, and having a 75% success rate.

            The Swedish model, absence of treatment on ideological grounds, seems bizarre, if this filmclip is to be believed.

            Nevertheless, all that seems to be completely off topic here as neither Rebecca nor any of the feminist women we are supporting shares the ROKS ideology as far as I can see.

          • Avatar of fenrirthewolf

            I know she is nothing like the crazies that are the ROKS, I was just saying that I have seen on youtube many people who think that that is feminism. Yeah sorry for drifting I wanted to see what the A+ crowd thought about this but they kicked me off for something stupid, I am still trying to figure out how this site works I am really new to all this.

      • Avatar of jpeoples

        From what I can see on the website, feminist whore, she is a feminist. I can’t imagine her having a problem with the validity of feminism. So the answer is, no, you cannot?

        As regard to the claim that disagreeing with the claim of feminism is sexist, read my response to cortex. And of course, I dont disagree with the “whole” of feminism, but I dont need to decide not to identify as one or not think it is best for “progress.” I don’t even disagree with the “whole” of Christianity. I can sympathize with the letter of James’ concern about the way the rich treat the poor. I still think Yahweh is a psychopathic character and I am not a Christian even though some Christians might say Christianity is about “concern for the least among us” as is Obama’s refrain describing Christianity.

        As for “anti-feminists”; I suppose I would be categorized as “anti-feminist”? I don’t call women fucking bitches. Do you call men dicks? What about asshole?
        Asshole is acceptable because it is gender neutral? But when is the last time you called a woman an asshole? This is actually somewhat important because there might need to be an acceptable pejorative term to describe someone who is aggressively and flippantly mean if we are going to effectively express our contempt.

        I am also by the way, “anti” libertarian, insofar as I disagree with its theory and politics. I have friends who are libertarians, most still dont call me a hater of freedom or a misanthrope.

        You present a caricature of “anti-feminists” which absolutely does not characterize me. It surely characterizes *some*. But then again, Christians sometimes characterize atheists as amoral, liars, and murderers. They put up Stalin and Mao as the iconic atheists. Well, they *were* atheists. And Im familiar with the common annoyance that atheists have, including me, when Christians bring up Stalin and Mao.

        • Avatar of OpenIDUser12

          I would think that objecting to feminism in general (rather than specific kinds of feminism) would implicitly be objecting to its core principles of women’s rights and gender equality.
          For comparison, how would someone be opposed to humanism in general without being opposed to one or more core principles such as the value of humans or morality?

    • Avatar of Will

      I really resent that people come into these discussions, toss out the old “I’m not a feminist, I’m interested in other things” canard and then they actively go on about how everyone else should feel the same way.

      My question to you is, even if you feel that feminism is “not integral,” why does that mean others cannot feel it is integral. Why must it be blocked? What, exactly, is it about feminism that will destroy atheism, skepticism, or humanism?

      If people don’t want to identify as feminists or think we live in a post-feminist society, there’s not much I can do to convince them. That they think that may or may not necessarily make them sexist. However, that’s not what’s going on here. These are explicitly anti-feminist and anti-women sentiments that are being fought against.

      So, it’s not that you don’t care about or think feminism is irrelevant that makes you anti-feminist, it’s that you’re on a feminist site telling feminists that feminism is irrelevant and trying to convince us that feminism is pointless that makes you anti-feminist. If you truly did not care about feminism, why are you here? If you were to go onto a theist site and tell them that theism is pointless and over, would they not be right to think you are anti-theist??

      PS, statements like this:

      So yes, maybe I would be sexist if feminism was the only conceivable movement or ideology that was or will be concerned about the the treatment of women, but that is ridiculous. I am concerned about the treatment of women, but my ideology differs from feminism.

      The black panthers were concerned about the rights of black people. But there were other groups also concerned about the rights of black people. If the black panthers called their ideology “blackism” and then defined it as a concern for black rights, would everyone opposed to “blackism” be racists?

      demonstrate your lack of understanding of what feminism is. To use your Black Panthers analogy, “blackism” (or as it is actually known, the African-American Civil Rights Movement) would refer to the whole of those ideologies under which BPs would fit (along with the NAACP, SPLC, SNCC, etc.), just as feminism is the umbrella term for myriad organizations and ideologies that seek equality and social justice for women. Just as queer rights would be an umbrella term to refer to the whole of LGBTQIAA+ movements, which certainly contain many different methods for achieving queer equality. In other words, feminism is not a single organization, but a social and political philosophy.

      Feminism is nuanced and contains many different approaches to this goal, but that goal is at the center of all feminist praxis. Just as equality and social justice for black people would be the core goal of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. So, yes, if you are opposed to those, you’re opposing the social, political, and economic equality of women or people of color, that certainly does make your opposition sexist or racist.

      When you say you are not a feminist, you are saying you are not in favor of equality and social justice for women, because that’s the main (and perhaps only) common ideology of feminism writ large. If you were to say, “I disagree X, Y, and Z feminist approaches, and here’s why” then that’s something very different.

      • Avatar of jpeoples

        I don’t recall rejecting the label “anti feminist” Will. I also said I was “anti” libertarian, if you read my posts. It’s a loaded word, but if it satisfies you to call me “anti-feminist” that is fine; just don’t confuse that with “anti-woman.” And I did not say I was “interested in other things.” I said I was also interested in many of the same things feminism is, but I do not think the term or identity is fruitful or accurately reflects my views–my nuanced views.

        “Feminism” unlike the African-American Civil Rights Movement has an identity term: feminist. “Feminist” would be akin to “Black Panther.” Women-Rights-Movement would be the umbrella term that is akin to African American Civil Rights Movement. One could have participated in the “African American Civil Rights Movement” without being a black panther. Likewise, a person could have and can participate in the “Womens-Rights-Movement” without being a feminist. In fact, there were people in the african american civil rights movement that did not feel the black panthers were helpful to progress. There are people in the women-civil-rights-movement who feel feminism(feminists) is currently not ideal for progress. And of course, “Civil Rights Movements” are post-historical conceptions. There are people who want to or are working to improve the condition of women, men, and transgender people, of people traditionally historically oppressed, who do not identify as feminists. I am one of them. But dont get me wrong, there is plenty of stuff that feminists do and have done that I support.

        I suppose you could say I don’t exist, kind of like what Christians say when they say atheists don’t exist.

        And although this is a feminist site, this is also a skeptic site right? I’d hope that such a site would be willing to consider my skeptical views. It needn’t of course, but I’d appreciate it. It seems you all did. Appreciated. I’ve got to go now though; I’m glad I had the opportunity to express some words.

        • Avatar of Will

          I have considered your views and have explained why I disagree with you. You’ve basically responded with a “nuh-uh!” and re-stated what you already said.

          We get it. You don’t like feminism, but you are pro-women’s equality. You’re nitpicky about a label, but you basically support what feminists are working towards. Good for you, congratulations, here’s a cookie.

          Can we move the fuck on now?

    • Avatar of victoriadashtwenty

      That’s not the deal.

      Many of us feminists started out where you are now. It’s easy to believe that there isn’t this seething undercurrent of bigotry when you haven’t been the target of it. All of that bigotry is directed at feminists, not women so it’s hard to imagine that that bigotry would be directed at you or the people you care about. It’s a different world when you stand up for yourself or people you care about and that hatred and bigotry is turned on you.

      You get to avoid that by not making waves and laughing along with the jokes. If you refuse to go along to get along, you might have the feminist label applied to you whether you like it or not.

      You’ve got to choose. Because pointing out that it isn’t okay to send death and rape threats to women is exactly the kind of reasonable, common sense thing that they’re angry over. It’s not any more obvious and common sense than claiming that sexual harassment happens at conferences or that having sex with a passed out stranger is rape.

  7. Avatar of gregladen

    Yes. This.

  8. Avatar of simonsays

    Loree, those are both EXCELLENT catches. Thank you.

    The tfoot thing will definitely go in.

    Re:Amy, I’ll add that as well. It is worthy of mention that she left TAM early and what led her to do this. Hall’s t-shirt and the other incidents are now a part of collective memory it seems.

    The Shermer article(s) will also be added.

  9. Avatar of vexorian

    I just think that now that atheists are threatening to throw acid at feminists’ faces is a great time for Richard Dawkins to finally retract “Dear Muslima” and admit it was really a stupid way to treat the problem.

    But that is not happening. Which is really lame.

  10. Avatar of captaintripps

    This is somewhat of a rewrite of something I said over at Pharyngula.

    Rebecca, I believe the organizations are on the right track and with the continued emphasis on social justice from people like you we’ll see more changes over the course of the next few years. In fact I’m ever hopeful that 2013 will show progress across a host of issues and spaces, particularly in feminism and online harassment. 2012 seemed to bring about their acknowledgement to a much wider slice of the population.

    Personally this emphasis has been heartening to me and I’m thankful that women like Ophelia Benson, Greta Christina, and you have taken on this discussion and all the attendant (and unnecessary) behaviour that comes along with it. You are not the only sources for my understanding of feminism by a long shot, but have been consistent voices that help me have these discussions daily.

    And I think that’s an overlooked aspect of this activism. So many of us aren’t activists, but we’re now able to have these discussions with friends and family. Anecdotally, these conversations are happening more and more and in very positive directions amongst people I know (female and male). I find that heartening and I certainly can see if similar discussions happen across the country (and world) it will have an impact in what our culture tolerates and how people behave.

    Now, unlike previous years, I believe there can be a significant muting of misogyny, a rolling tide against rape culture…hell, I even think online harassment and trolling are soluble problems where I didn’t before. Without this fight and a grudging willingness by these writers and activists to endure and engage the attendant petty (and often scary) bullshit being dished out from certain corners, I don’t think that would be happening.

    Thank you for that.

  11. Avatar of Ophelia Benson

    Aw thanks Rebecca.

    About Paula Kirby – you said “of RDFUK” but Robin (Elisabeth) Cornwell told me Kirby isn’t of it. She’s done work for it, but she doesn’t work for it. I don’t know for certain that that’s reliable, but then again I don’t think Cornwell would have told me it if it were just false. I posted it in public and I’ve never seen Kirby deny it – and since she was monitoring me closely at the time, I’m pretty sure she would have if she could have.

  12. Avatar of benjaminsa

    Thanks for continuing to highlight these issues. I am optimistic that if you keep shaming these organisations they will eventually change, and at a very minimum impose basic rules of conduct on all their spaces of interaction, these are clubs and membership is a privilege not a right. If you harasses and threaten others you get kicked out. I think most people would agree to this for homophobic or racist behaviour,
    but misogyny and sexism, no that is suddenly a divisive quagmire. I think it is going to change the fastest if it is done in the direct no bullshit manner of writers like Amanda
    Marcotte and yourself. What I find hilarious is that the complaints of division and tone, and are exactly the same in form that moderate religious people made against the New Atheists.

  13. Avatar of marilove

    “There is no term like maculinism, that is aimed at establishing and defending equal, political, economic, and social rights of men.”

    This is the funniest shit I’ve heard all fucking day. SERIOUSLY, dude? Way to not get feminism or its need. Like, AT FUCKING ALL. Of course you don’t “believe” in feminism; you don’t understand the concept. Even a little bit..

  14. Avatar of ragdish

    Despite Dawkins prior misogynist “dear muslima…” rant, the RDF site does venture into social justice issues. Indeed, there are articles and debates on women’s issues on that site that are surprisingly absent from this site. Case in point is Sean Faircloth’s excellent debate against Sam Harris’ support of gun ownership. Sean’s arguments about the impact of gun violence on women was IMO a total knock-out in the first round against Sam. I could be wrong but I did not see any of this on Skepchick. Indeed, RDF called out a prominent figure in the atheist movement who has IMO a covert love affair with the NRA and ignores the impact of gun violence on women. I realize that RDF does not overwhelmingly dedicate itself to social justice but with articles such as these would it not be fair to say that RDF is taking baby steps into the feminist universe?

  15. Avatar of Ztarr

    JREF was the first skeptic conference to put in place a harassment policy. They continue to have around 50% of women speakers at TAM (and they do more than speak about women’s issues).

    Melody Hensley gossips about women speakers constantly. She tweeted before CSICon that there are women who try to get male attention and more speaking engagements by “ragging on” Skepchicks. The claim that women criticism not out of an intellectual motivation, but by ladder climbing via male attention. At the very least “ragged on” is using a derogatory term related to a woman’s menstrual cycle.

    No one ever addresses the bullying of women BY women that goes on. It’s ignored or met with the attitude of “just a cat fight”. If Hensley was a man and made those comments it would’ve been taken seriously.

    • Avatar of Rebecca Watson

      Sara, while I’m happy you’ve moved from passive aggression to slightly less passive aggression, your near-libelous, semi-coherent (“ragging?”) whining isn’t actually welcome here.

      Dear lord, the irony of posting gossip about someone who gossips too much.

      • Avatar of Rebecca Watson

        Also it took me about 30 seconds of Googling to see that “ragged on” having something to do with menstruation is unlikely at best and at worst is an idiotic way to try and fail to score a cheap point.

        • Avatar of fenrirthewolf

          From what I can see its just anther term for nagging, so I agree that is a bit of a leap.

    • Avatar of pipirr

      I had the pleasure of seeing both you and Ophelia Benson at Eschaton. I’d happily go to a conference at which you were a participant and I’d be very happy to see people like Amy and Ophelia and Rebecca there as well. But how likely is that going to be in the future? I just don’t understand your strategy here; aren’t you limiting your options for future participation? Surely success in “professional” skepticism, or at least attendance on the conference circuit, requires that one try to rise above, rather than constantly complaining and calling-out people over a deleted tweet from six months ago. If you keep on drawing lines between yourself and others then it’s hard to imagine organizers will want you in the same venue as them.

    • Avatar of Ginger

      “No one ever addresses the bullying of women BY women that goes on. I” You mean like this? https://twitter.com/saramayhew/status/293856223051259906 Less than two hours after you made the above comment. Or was that disagreement and intellectual commentary?

      • Avatar of KellyM

        Great job, Sara Mayhew! You come over here to post some lies about Melody Hensley, whom you’ve been harassing for months. While doing that, you make up an etymology of a word to try to make Melody seem sexist. After that, you were compelled to make a mean-spirited, childish tweet about Surly Amy. You are an excellent spokesperson for the JREF’s handling of harassment. Maybe you could apply to be their Communications Director.

      • Avatar of Bjarte Foshaug

        The whole attempt at framing what the “other side” is doing as an “only disagreeing” is just so disingenuous to begin with, unless – of course – they mean “disagreeing with basic human decency”. The fact of the matter is that there’s no major point coming from the feminist side of the schism that a non-sexist could fail to agree with. (Paradigm case: There is no possible universe in which the comment in my gravatar could have sparked the reaction that it did from people who weren’t rotten to the core with misogyny and sexism. There’s simply nothing in that whole video that anybody else could possibly object to. There’s just not.)

        In order to “disagree” with any of the main points raised by feminists (respect women’s boundaries – and not only on the condition that they don’t interfere with your desire to have fun at women’s expense, make sure women are protected from harassment at conferences, don’t grope them, don’t objectify them, don’t bring up their level of attractiveness or “fuckability” in response to their ideas, their arguments or their work, don’t threaten them, don’t call them bitches and cunts, don’t spend months/years obsessively stalking them online etc, etc.), the only kinds of reasons available are the sexist, misogynistic, moronic kind, which is why the “other side” have yet to present anything even remotely resembling a real disagreement on principled grounds, and never will.

    • Avatar of Justin Harrison

      Sara,
      In fact, ‘ragging’ is–at least in the Australian vernacular–a contraction of waving a red rag at someone. Not a reference to menstruation (red cloth for other purposes has been around for quite some time), but in the sense of waving a red rag at a bull. To deliberately antagonise in the hopes of eliciting an angry response.
      We do as much to spoil the peace when we take offence as when we give offence.
      Chill.

  16. Avatar of Lilandra Nelson

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/why-women-need-secularism/2012/03/20/gIQAD59JSS_blog.html
    Perhaps you have forgotten Elizabeth Cornwell Executive Director of the RDF? She will be be speaking again at the Women in Secularism conference this year. While no one is obligated to educate Dawkins on the blindspots he demonstrated in his comments to you, he can’t be unaware that Dr Cornwell of the RDF is speaking out on women’s issues.

  17. Avatar of Timothy Clark

    Thank you Rebecca for this article. Optimism can only be had when progress is evident. I know PZ means well and I have tons of respect for him but I disagree with him about many of those organizations. As far as RDF is concerned, I lost all respect for Dawkins and stopped visiting that site years ago. I can’t speak on any progress they have had concerning women’s rights (if any). Support for science does not equate support for women’s rights in the atheist or secular community.

Add Comment Register



Leave a Reply