One of the comments I’ve seen repeatedly in the discussions about Atheism+ goes something like this: “Well, everybody is for social justice. That doesn’t mean we’re all going to agree on how to achieve it, though. What happens when we don’t?” Debbie Goddard hit us with a version of the question during the Hangout we did last weekend (transcript now available).
I answered Debbie then, but honestly, Jen covered this right up front:
Atheists plus we care about social justice,
Atheists plus we support women’s rights,
Atheists plus we protest racism,
Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia,
Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism.
We have an excellent way to address our differences. It’s the same way we settle our other differences–with science and reason. We look at the claims made by both sides. We determine whether each is internally consistent. If they are, we look at the evidence available to us, interrogate the methods used to collect it, and weigh it to determine which claims are true. Sometimes one side wins. Sometimes there is compromise because both have basic flaws. Sometimes everyone goes their own way because the evidence doesn’t exist yet.
It isn’t a simple thing to do, but it is what best gets us at the truth.
Many of the people complaining most insistently about the formation of Atheist+ are also among the number who claim that they are feminists, just “equity feminists”. They claim to be the true advocates for social justice. They claim that the “gender feminists” at FtB, Skepchick, and elsewhere are the oppressive force in this argument. We, of course, disagree. But who is correct? Is there one form of feminism that is based more on real-world data? Is there one that leads to more freedom?
It is worth noting that the term “equity feminism” originates in the work of Christina Hoff Sommers, who is aligned with groups working for conservative political causes, but that alone doesn’t tell us whether her philosophy is correct. In order to figure that out, we have to look at her philosophy itself. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines “equity feminism” thus:
Classical liberal or libertarian feminism conceives of freedom as freedom from coercive interference. It holds that women, as well as men, have a right to such freedom due to their status as self-owners. It holds that coercive state power is justified only to the extent necessary to protect the right to freedom from coercive interference. Equity feminists are classical liberal or libertarian feminists who hold that, in societies like the United States, the only morally significant source of oppression of women is the state. They hold that feminism’s political role is to bring an end to laws that limit women’s liberty in particular, but also to laws that grant special privileges to women. Some equity feminists see a nonpolitical role for feminism, helping women to benefit from their freedom by developing beneficial character traits or strategies for success, or navigating among their increasing options. Other equity feminists are socially conservative and argue that, while the state should not enforce them, traditional values function as bulwarks against state power and produce independent and self-restraining citizens.
At its most basic level, equity feminism appears to be fairly internally consistent. The devil, of course, is always in the details, which are short here. Either way, there are definitely truth claims here that can be examined.
- Is there coercive interference outside the state that leads to the oppression of women?
- Do laws that treat women differently than men grant special privileges instead of or beyond protecting from coercive interference?
- Does developing “beneficial character traits or strategies for success” eliminate any coercive interference so that no state (or local proxy for the state, given the scope of recent discussions) intervention is required?
- Do “traditional values” decrease state power?
- Do they promote “independent and self-restraining citizens?
So I’d like to lay out a challenge to those who feel that Atheism+ excludes them because it doesn’t recognize equity feminism as a legitimate form of social justice activism. We “gender feminists” have been backing ourselves up with data: studies on baseline inequalities, studies demonstrating coercive interference, studies on the oppressive effects of various social phenomena. (See the Pharyngula wiki, which contains many of these.) I haven’t seen the same from the people who feel we are excluding them unfairly.
Let’s change that. Equity feminists, give me data.
Normal commenting moderation doesn’t apply on this post. People who are normally banned get another chance. If you’ve got studies that back up your beliefs, post them here. They’ll get through, though associated insults won’t. Give me the best you’ve got that says you’re right and I’m wrong and women really are already equal in treatment.
Everyone else, hold off on the old battles for a thread. Save this one for examining the evidence we’re given. I’m sure there will plenty to critique on method. Let’s give this equity feminism stuff its fairest shot and see where we end up. As a cookie, there should be some top-level threads devoted to sifting the data. I’m more than happy to make some of them guest posts/promoted comments.
Everybody ready then? Go.