Ask Surly Amy: Feminism, Is it Even Worth it?

Dear Surly Amy,

Sometimes I feel discouraged in regards to feminism or skepticism or both. I start to question my ideals and goals and wonder if they’re really worth it. Are women really less privileged or does it just seem like it? Am I using my gender as an excuse? Would society really be better off without religion in it? Most days I’m confident in my answers but some days I’m just not so sure. I’m just surrounded by people who don’t think feminism has any valid ideas, or that feminism has gone too far and now men are underprivileged. Why doesn’t everyone at least understand my viewpoint? Does that mean it’s the wrong one? What’s a skeptic feminist to do?


Dear Erika,

If I didn’t think it was worth it I wouldn’t be here right now.

Every single one of the writers on this blog dedicates and donates their time and energy to try to make the world a better place. None of the writers on Skepchick get paid for what we do. We are skeptic volunteers. Many of us have spent entire days and weeks being told how absolutely horrible and stupid we are, that we should just shut-the-fuck up, that our opinions do not matter and that even the facts we bring to the discussion are not relevant. Some of us have had our lives threatened. But we continue to write here, and we participate in events and we actively speak up because equality does matter and we all deserves a fair shot at life and the right to make choices for ourselves.

We speak up to the charlatans, misogynists and the bigots not because it is the popular opinion but because it is important.

We are not asking for special treatment. We are demanding equal treatment and some basic rights such as the right to make decisions about our own bodies and the right to love who we want to love.

There are many people in the world that don’t think women should make equal wages. There are people that think it’s ok to rape women and then blame their clothing or their belief system. There are people who think it is appropriate to force vaginal ultrasounds on these victims if they decide to abort an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy. There are people who say two people of the same sex should not be given the right to marry one another. There are people who would gladly watch you die from cancer as long as you pay them for their snake oil. There are others who think a mysterious, magical MAN in the sky has deemed women second class to men. There is a war on women being waged by the GOP. These are all issues that directly affect women each and every day. This is happening now. Not 1,000 years ago. Not 200 years ago. Not 50 years ago. Now.

Feminism is not about an angry mob of women bulldozing over men in all directions. That is often a smoke screen used to frighten people away from the fight for equality. We are angry about issues sure. But we are far from irrational. In fact, this website prides itself in being rational about issues. That’s our thing. That’s what we do here. Also? We want men to thrive. (Waves at Sam!) We love the mens. We just want the same opportunities they have. Feminism is about equality and leveling the playing field not about destroying an opponent.

People are always going to push back when you point out inequality. Privilege is not something that people want to give up. Why would they? But unfair advantages, misogyny and outright bigotry are things that have to be addressed and solved and organized feminism actively fights to fix these problems.

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide how you feel about these and other issues. I for one am going to continue to stand up and speak out for equality and I hope you will too.

Got a question you would like some Surly-Skepchick advice on? Send it in! We won’t publish your real name, unless you want us to and creative pseudonyms get bonus points! Just use the contact link on the top left of the page.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. Hat’s off, Amy. Keep fighting the good fight. I, and I’m sure many more, will be right behind you (and hopefully Erika) doing the same.

    I’m a man and I think that equality is important. For a variety of selfish and nonselfish reasons. The big one, though, is ethics – I can’t believe I was raised in a society teaching us that we can dream and do anything and we’re all equal and then, when I’m an adult, find out that this is a systemic lie. I feel less like breaking something whole and more fixing something that’s broken. It just isn’t fair, and it should be.

  2. Great piece, Amy.

    Erika: I understand how hard it can be to keep your resolve when surrounded by people who disagree with your positions. Stay strong. Keep reading the news if you need examples of why equality still needs to be fought for, whether for women, POC, GLBT, low income people, etc.

  3. Is it worth it?

    Unfortunately (well, fortunately), once you’ve figured out this stuff, if you try and live as though you don’t know it, you’ll just be miserable.

    Cognitive dissonance. You might feel like a fake. Basically, you’d just be pretending that your status as someone who goes with the quo is a privilege–when you know it’s not.

    There’s a saying in the Church of the SubGenius: “Act like an idiot, and they’ll think you’re one of THEM.” How far can you REALLY take that before you want to figuratively jump off a bridge?

  4. Thank you all so much. This actually brought tears to my eyes. Of course it’s worth it. I know it’s worth it, it’s just difficult sometimes, as I’m sure you all know better than I do. I’m so glad I found this website, it gives me hope for the future. I am so profoundly grateful. I wish I could express it better. I’m going to bookmark this page and look at it whenever I doubt myself.

  5. While I am supportive of same sex marriage, and enjoy reading the articles dealing with it here, I have never understood why same sex marriage falls under the umbrella of feminism. It’s more of a human issue than a specifically feminist one, isn’t it?

    1. Feminism tends to encapsulate the whole gender equality movement. Marriage discrimination is a form of gender discrimination: a man can marry a woman but a woman can’t. Feminism fuels my support for most LBGT causes.

    2. Feminism also deals with race issues, classism, etc. The FOCUS is gender equality, but most third-wavers realize that racism hurts gender equality as well as classism. Working to have equality for EVERYONE helps the cause of feminism:)

  6. “People are always going to push back when you point out inequality. Privilege is not something that people want to give up.”

    I agree. Selfishness is coded in our DNA and is hard to overcome. Suppose there was a man who wanted to give up or at least reduce his amount of privilege. What would this man do?

    1. I don’t think you can or should reduce your privilege. But you should be aware of it. And be aware of the subtle inequalities around us. And speak out when they happen.

      You can use your privilege to help those who are less privileged.

        1. Use your privilege to fix it!

          Use your Patriarchy Club Membership to get inside and change things… rearrange the tables. Change the napkins. Invite a black lady friend to a potluck.

          (I imagine PCM is a lot like my junior high ice cream socials)

          1. I think this is right, get in and infect the bigotry with the change virus.

          2. Yep. Feminist members of the PMC need to call out douches and speak up when asses bloviate.

    2. “selfishness is encoded in our DNA”

      Um, so is cooperation and fairness (perhaps even more profoundly, but at least equally). This idea of Darwinism as “dog eat dog” is, in many ways, a social construct that’s a defence of colonialism and exploitation of others. It’s a rejection of some pretty basic aspects of being social creatures.

      1. Where did he imply otherwise? Saying something like ‘Too much anger is bad,’ isn’t the same as saying ‘Being calm is impossible.’

        1. deus_otiosus I’m not accusing Dave of anything, just pointing out that (probably/often unconscious) prejudices against the humanities (often promoted in the sciences by the politically conservative, authoritarian and bigoted in power that want to retain privilege and exclude some group-there are also, obviously, people who challenge this). I’m also pointing to the fallacy that being an asshole to others is somehow more “genetic” than being cooperative (even sociopaths charm or force people to work with them, they NEED cooperation). Let’s not forget how science was often used in an authoritarian manner to “prove” how inferior women, the lower classes, black people, gay people, etc are meant to be. My point was that there’s often a sexist undertone to a general dismissal of the humanities (as if it wasn’t people in the humanities that first challenged science’s gender woo!) and ignoring of science woo-this is understandable from those who hate feminism (insert whatever other equality movement is relevant) simply because their entitlement and/or unearned authority is being challenged. In both the science and humanities, both today and historically, dogma can obscure (or manipulate) the evidence.

  7. The sad part is I am guessing that a lot of those writers who support the right wing (or as some people say Reich Wing) agenda for women (or against women) get paid. Santorum really changed my perception of the progress women have made. They have made terrific progress, when I was a child I was given the choice of nurse, teacher of mom (or nun). These were the same choices my grandmother had (she picked nurse and mom). Now, no one would tell a child those were the only choices. Indeed I was forced to take typing every year because my dad felt a woman that could type could always support herself. Looking at today I am “wow what changes!” but looking at the Republican candidates I’m “how do they get anyone to vote for them?” And yet people do.

  8. I’ll just put this here; Greg Proops on his podcast Smartsest Man in the World (an ironic title) recently said that you can tell when someone is getting ready to defend their privilege because they will call whatever it is they are about to oppose “controversial”.

    I wish I new the exact words he used but it was something like, “all controversial means is that a rich white man didn’t think of it.”

    He has a paranoid streak (that he plays up for laughs) but I have never heard any other man that is as feminist as Greg Proops. If you are looking for instruction on how to be a good male feminist (or even a female one, for that matter) give his podcast a listen.

    1. Oh, man! I didn’t now he had a podcast! I have always thought he was a very funny, intelligent man. Yay!

      1. I was going to listen to it today but I’m not sure if I can find it easily? Do you remember which episode it was? :D

        1. His producer gives his podcasts really weird names. I’m pretty sure that it is either the episode called “Papers” or the episode called “Magnets”. Both are from early this month.

          1. I just started “Magnets” because the description said he would be talking about Frothy, so I think this must be it. Either way it’ll be hilarious to hear what this man has to say about Frothy!

    2. Lovely! Also, if you’re on Twitter, follow @_praxis_ ! He is a fantastic male feminist ally. I will have to check out this Greg fellow.

  9. Erica, once the seed of skepticism/feminism has been planted, it is too late to go back even if you that is what you want. You can’t unknow what you know is right and fair. However, I do understand your frustration. My guess is that most skeptic/feminists have felt discouraged at times.

  10. Unfortunately, to some degree, this is the lot of the skeptic. We question and examine our own thoughts and perceptions just like we do everything else. We do if we are doing it right anyway.

    We lack the ease of stubborn certainty and yet we must deal with it in those around us. I think you would have to be made of stone to not feel discouraged from time to time, but we must not succumb to it. Ultimately, I don’t think we even can. As someone else said, once you go skeptic, there really isn’t any way to go back.

  11. Erika,

    Don’t feel bad about being discouraged from time to time or feel that by being so somehow makes you less of important person in the cause. You’re facing what is quite possibly the biggest and most long-standing form of oppression in human history. Not that I like to quantify these things, as any form of oppression is unacceptable no matter how rampant or small it may be. My point is that these feelings of discouragement are only natural. You’re up against a monumental force of bigotry and ignorance that’s backed up by an unbelievable amount of privilege and power.

    When people say things such as “I should be able to punch women in the face. Hey, equal rights am I right?” and actually think that’s a logical thing to say, you know you’re in it for the long haul. The idea that “feminism has gone too far and now men are underprivileged” is one of the most ludicrous things I’ve ever heard. This is just the beginning of a long list of unimaginably stupid things you’ll hear, a lot of which I’m sure you have already heard by now. Most people’s vision of a feminist stems from smear campaigns and caricatures from pop-culture which are completely divorced from reality.

    The reason a lot of us men seem to not quite “get it” is because it’s so ingrained in our culture in virtually every aspect of our lives from birth that it’s incredibly hard to notice it until you actually know what you’re looking for because of how deeply it’s embedded into the fabric of our society. The fact is, many of us legitimately believe that we are treating women as equals and not objectifying them. I used to believe so about myself until I actually took a deep look into what feminism was really about. To save a lot of typing and needless story, I’ll just say that I found out that I was way off-base. I used to pride myself by saying that I absolutely hated misogynism and yet at the same time I was being incredibly misogynistic myself and didn’t even realize it.

    The point? While there are many men out there who are lost causes for whatever reason or factors, the rest of us believe we are doing the right thing already so we just shut that part of our brain down. It takes other feminists out there to plant that seed in our head to make us really take a step back and objectively think about what we’re doing. So with that in mind, every single feminist is critical to the cause. I can guaruntee you that if you keep at it, you WILL make changes in the world. I didn’t start taking a serious look into feminist issues until reading about a certain elevator incident several months ago and today is my first time making a comment. The fact is, people like Rebecca Watson may not know how many of us she’s has educated but we’re certainly out there. You will be able to accomplish this as well. It’s a (mostly) thankless job so please, never quit. You’re doing more good than you realize. Take care.

  12. It might help to know that other things can be just as frustrating. I’m closely involved in my local LGBQT community, which involves some activism. Sometimes it feels like fighting a losing battle. It can be really tiresome. But little (and sometimes big) victories do happen. And that’s always nice, and helps you to keep going. Another thing is to look around you and take in those that are truly on your side. There are a lot. You’re not alone, both in the fight, and with the frustration of the fight.

  13. FWIW, feminism does change minds. It’s a process.

    For example, David Willis:

    He grew up a “mal-educated fundie boy from backwater Indiana”, and has been writing sex-positive, fairly feminist and queer-friendly comics for going on ten years (with it slowly evolving into that over the previous chunk of comics). It’s been exposure to ideas and questioning of his instilled values that brought him there.

  14. Don’t push aside your skeptical impulses to question ideologies (even feminist ideology), if you’re going to be a good skeptic, what you need is the cold, hard facts to comfort you when you feel these moments of doubt on whether or not feminism is a reasonable viewpoint.

    Remind yourself of the statistical gaps that favor men in wage earning, stem involvement, management employment, victimhood, etc.

    For a skeptic, the feminist viewpoint shouldn’t be based on a theory advanced by the humanities, we have facts to go off of, and the facts definitely show that feminism is necessary.

    I just wish those facts, statistical ones especially, were given a more prominent role in our discussions of the issue in the skeptical community.

    (I can even criticize myself on this, I mentioned them but was too lazy to go and dig them all up)

    1. Yeah, I agree. I linked to some stats in the post but we really need a trustworthy database that can give us reliable numbers at a glance. Like a “women and minorities in numbers” website or something. That would help when trying to express the reality of the situation without being accused of being “emotional.”

      We need more math!

      1. This needs to happen. The numbers are out there, the studies are out there.

        I wouldn’t know where to start or what to look for, but a list the information that would be most helpful would tell you where too look – Criminal Justice, Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychology, sociology and medical journals. This blog gets a lot of readers who don’t seem to have any understanding of why feminism exists to begin with. It would be so helpful to have an easy link to let them examine the evidence and avoid looking like n00bz. I also think it would help with the saltiness that comes from trying to make the same points over and over the hard way. Most of us don’t have resources at our fingertips to provide evidence that sexism is real and hurts real people in real ways.

    2. Sure, value evidence but snide remarks about “the humanities” show a lack of historical understanding (and knowledge of the facts) regarding social change and how it occurs. It wasn’t science that supported basic human rights in more recent times (that came after the activism) and, in many ways, the whole “science vs humanities” competition (or belief they’re antithetical instead of complimentary) is a result of a bastardization of Scottish Enlightenment ideals. It’s also not science that has led to more young people than older ones being comfortable with diversity. Besides, for most people who are sexist it’s not a particularly rational issue and they’re arguing from ego and emotion anyway-facts become meaningless in this context because, ultimately, the prejudice isn’t based on facts but on feelings/values and people die for that shit because it’s about personal identity and world view.

      1. I agree with you that the humanities serve a purpose. Natalie Reed has a pretty good blog entry on that (at least her elaborations in the comments section of her blog entry skeptical about skepticism does a good job of qualifying those remarks).

  15. There are topics where feminism and skepticism clash. Most recent example is the controversy about the health insurance of religious institutions paying for contraceptives. So I would not worry to much if you sometimes question your feminism.

    1. I don’t think feminism and skepticism ever have to clash, really, because neither is a concrete set of absolute beliefs/opinions. They are broad philosophies that are applied to other, specific situations. Even if you disagree with other feminists and/or skeptics on certain issues, it doesn’t mean you have reconsider your membership. You might want to reconsider your opinion, but you should always be prepared to reconsider your opinions, even if you do agree with other feminists/skeptics.

      1. Maybe an example helps: The fitness requirements in the army for women and men are different. From a skeptic perspective the shouldn’t be. Yet most feminist will try to justify the difference.

        1. Why isn’t it a skeptical thought to understand that different bodies behave and react in different ways? Being different does not mean you can’t be equal, which is what you seem to be implying.

    2. I don’t understand your assertion that the skeptical read on the brouhaha over contraceptive coverage clashes with the feminist read of the brouhaha over contraceptive coverage. It’s so vague, and it’s somewhat inflammatory, and it’s pretty obvious to me that it’s not true–I mean, skepticism will tell you that contraception is a money-saver, and that the Catholic bishops are distorting the First Amendment, while feminism will tell you that contraception coverage is a positive because it advances women’s autonomy.

      Long story short: I suspect you’re making shit up.

      1. I have heard some skeptics of the libertarian persuasion screaming about the first amendment on the birth control thing. I think it it’s isolated, and that they are wrong, but they are out there. I think they are missing the fact that these churches, by virtue of their tax-exempt status, are receiving (or rather not paying) government fund and are therefore not exempt from federal rules.

  16. This post reminded me of a question I’ve been meaning to ask. I want a straightforward, simple way to explain feminism to people (frequently women) who confound it with “feminazism” or misandry. Would it be accurate to say that feminism (as we practice it) is “a branch of humanism that deals particularly with gender equality and women’s rights”? Do you think it’s reasonable for me to compare humanism and feminism this way?
    I want nice ways to say “you’re wrong” to women who say “I like my life, therefore feminism is extreme/unnecessary.”

    1. “feminism (as we practice it) is a branch of humanism that deals particularly with gender equality and women’s rights”

      I like that a lot.

    2. My personal definition of feminism is as follows;

      Feminism is the crazy belief that women, all women, should be considered as equally human as men and should therefore be given the same opportunities and respect that is given to men.

      Not above, not better than, but equal to. I think some people believe those who oppose feminism when they say feminists want special treatment for women but that is simply their fear of having their privilege challenged manifesting itself.

      I think that single sentence gives the basic thought behind my version of feminism anyway.

  17. I loved this post, and, to both emmastaf and mrmisconception, I thoroughly agree!!

    I’m a 60 yr old male who has never understood how anyone could refuse to see that another person, whether male, female or transgender, and whatever “race”, who may have different talents, skills or even levels of intelligence would not be at the same time be recognized as a fellow human being, with the same desires, hopes and dreams as any other human being, and the same rights inherent. These would include the right to determine what is best for their own bodies, how best to support themselves and what best to believe in.

    I am often appalled and repulsed by fellow members of my species, and even more so by the male contingent. I wonder, reading the comments to Rebecca or any of the other women bloggers, writers and youtubers by members of my genetic persuasion, whether there is any hope for this species, or at least for this gender. But then I more carefully peruse the comments and responses and see that there are many men who value and appreciate people for being people, regardless of gender, sexual preference, transgender status or race, and judge them merely on the value of their arguments and how they treat others.

    In this I find hope.

  18. As I watch 5 old men testify in front of Congress deciding whether or not female contraceptives should be covered by insurance, I wonder where all the feminists went. I see Girl Scouts under attack by some ignorant State Senator, presidential candidate Rick Santorum saying a baby caused by rape is a gift from God, and women in politics being represented by Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter and Christine O’Donnell. I shrug my shoulders and wonder what happened? Lets face it, will there ever be a female Catholic Pope, or leader of the Mormon Church, or President of the USA? Of course not, well maybe President. But my point is there are entire religious, political, and social entities designed to keep women subjugated, and they work. I can’t believe women aren’t totally freaking out about what is being done and said in this country. I guarantee you that if women were trying to enact these laws and ideals against men, men would be freaking out. Keep fighting, but it doesn’t seem like most women care whether men control their economical, social, political, religious, and reproductive lives, or at least they aren’t showing it in the voting booth.

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