Feminism, Privilege, and Learning About Humility

This is a guest post from Patrick Mitchell, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Ashley F. Miller

One year ago, after one of the most agonizing struggles of my life, I finally shook off the chains of fundamentalist Christianity, leaving me free to explore ideas in a way I never dreamt possible: in color.  You see, in Fundyland™, everything is black and white: You are for me or against me, men are the head, women serve. Sex outside marriage is evil, sex inside marriage is required.

Drinking “gender role” tripe for 10 years from fundamentalist Bible passages and pastors, alongside the idea that feminism is the devil, served to create a large barrier for me understanding feminism in a meaningful way much longer than it took me to understand homosexuality wasn’t a sin, or that enjoying sex is natural.

Also, I’m male.

I have been wanting to distill my thoughts about feminism in the context of my atheism for some time, and on the year anniversary of my freedom, I figured it would be a good occasion.  This is an expansion of the thoughts I had on my own blog, and Ashley (who has strongly influenced my own feminism in positive ways) was gracious enough to allow me the opportunity for this platform.

Misogyny Is Everywhere

“Grow a pair,” “Man Up,” “Pansy,” are phrases that misogynist and Fundyland™ culture uses to denigrate the feminine and elevate the masculine.  Phrases I used to use without a moment’s thought that state unabashedly “Men are strong, women are weak.” And yet this could not be further from the truth.  I have seen women with more strength of character and resolve than dozens of men: these claims are demonstrably false.

Anita Sarkeesian’s series on Tropes vs. Women served to help me realize just how much misogyny has infected our culture, such that it is nearly hidden from view.  Traditional gender roles, defined by the apostle Paul and ignorantly parroted across the world today, are inherently sexist and entirely stupid. There is absolutely no reason why “Men are the head of the household” should be taken for granted.  In fundamentalism, everything is black and white.  In reality, there is color.

Women have the right to function in a relationship as they desire to define themselves. I have no right, no recompense, nor stature with which to demand (or even suggest) the way in which two genders interact with one another.  When one realizes that sexuality and gender itself is fluid, the archaic notion of ‘roles’ should promptly be defenstrated from any rational person’s mind.

And thus, I must continue to fight against my own past, the small-mindedness of my fundamentalist background, to see the opposite sex as a full human, lacking in nothing, whose values and expertise must and should be evaluated on her terms, not on mine.

I Am Privileged

The thing about the word privilege, is that its one of those things that is nearly impossible to understand until you’ve experienced life without it.  When I lost my faith, but more specifically when I became public about it, I learned what its like to be in the minority of wordview, to have people hate and judge me based on something fundamentally outside my control.

It’s not the same, but it knocked me down enough notches to recognize I was too stupid, too arrogant, and too blind to really know how well I had it.  This is the fundamental idea of privilege, be it white, male, cis, or rich (all of which I am).  Therefore I have an uphill battle to recognize it in myself.

The first time my own privilege reared its head was when I first read about Watsongate (in an uninformed rant on /r/atheism).  I thought it was the most infantile reaction, and was behind Dawkins for calling out what was clearly a childish plea for attention.

Then I read about Watsongate from Ashley’s perspective.  Thanks to the SSA here in our meager town of Columbia, SC, I knew Ashley personally and was more likely to respect what she had to say. She isn’t the type of person that gets behind idiots with bad ideas, so I read.  And I learned about Schrodinger’s rapist, and started to realize I’ve never felt fearful for my sexual identity being violated, and very rarely have I been objectified in a way that made me uncomfortable.  Then I learned about the statistics, numbers that run through feminists’ minds, that had never crossed my own.

And then it hit me: I didn’t know, and couldn’t know, what it feels like to be threatened.

So in the face of this fact, I did what any good skeptic should: withhold judgement, assess the facts, and change my mind if the facts deem it so.  And thus, I did.

The Skeptic Community Needs Feminism

First, let me say that I don’t use the word “need” to say that feminists need me, or anyone, to achieve their goals, in any way that denigrates their role or prior achievements.  Nor am I at all mature in this movement, so my commentary must come with a grain of salt.

But in this past year, after reading about the Rebecca Watson incident, after what The Amazing Atheist said, and the current debacle over TAM’s reporting policy, it is clear that there is a need for the voices of those who are actually aware and affected by the issues to speak up, and to have the attention of everyone when they say something.  On blogs, posts, walls, reddit threads, everywhere in the skeptic movement it is clear that there is a man-child level of misogyny that rivals our fundamentalist foes: women are routinely denigrated, slut-shamed, and recognized for their ability to reproduce rather than the quality and content of their discourse.  Ashley has obliged before on this issue.

This is a problem. A hill that the community faces, that will bring it to a grinding halt if we don’t take a step back and address the issues.  I would prefer that we all just became aware that calling people ‘cunt,’ ‘bitch,’ ‘slut,’ etc. is bigoted and stupid, but at the very least we should continue fighting to enact policies that protect the speech of sexual harassment whistleblowers.

The sad thing is, we look more like the religious than than skeptics and freethinkers when we treat one another this way.

The US Needs Feminism

The recent string of back-woods Bible-fueled insanity in this country highlight the need for us to shape the discourse of our nation towards recognizing misogyny and feminist-sensitive issues.  The uptick across several states in invasive and psychologically damaging procedures to dissuade (and disparage) women who seek abortions from having them in incredibly humiliating ways.

The Catholic Leagues attempt to take away women’s health rights by masking legalized suffering in religious terms means that atheist feminists are uniquely qualified to answer both questions: It is not alright to force women to suffer, and especially not because of a 2000-year-old delusional fairy tale.

Across this country, there are senators and Congressmen who have been elected who are so steeped in their own privilege as to render them incapable of representing 51% of the voting muscle of the nation.  This is a problem, and should be recognized and addressed by those of us with minds and eyes enough to see the problem.

Seeing in Color

After this year, I can recognize the beauty that is feminism, and the demon of my own ingorance that I need to continually stab until it rears its ugly head no more.  In my small way, I seek to educate others about the journey I’ve had and what it’s taught me.  To be sure, there are irrational sexists out there who would masquerade under the title of feminism, but their rantings do not make the issues any less important or real.  I have to check my privilege at the door to continue this conversation, and thanks to people like Ashley, Greta Christina, Sikivu Hutchenson, the Godless Bitches, and many others, I’m learning.

And I want to continue this conversation, for a long, long time.

About The Author


Patrick Mitchell is a 27-year old Electrical Engineering Ph.D. Student at University of South Carolina.  He became a Christian at age 16 and studied theology and apologetics, was president of USC’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and served as a lay minister and worship leader in multiple congregations.  His interests include History, Theology, Philosophy, Music, Engineering, and Psychology.  He blogs at his personal website, the Coffee Shop Atheist, writes for his School Newspaper, and is an officer of The Pastafarians @ USC, a SSA affiliate group.