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Oct 26 2010

Feminist blogging & putting atheists on a pedestal

You need thick skin to be a blogger – or really, to interact with people on the internet in general. The “Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory” sums up why pretty well. One way I keep my sanity is to not read the comments when people share my posts on sites like reddit, though sometimes I slip up out of curiosity. Let me just say, the Encyclopedia Dramatica article on boobquake is so unflattering, it’s flattering.

Usually I’m okay. But I’ll admit, sometimes the trolls and assholes can get to me, especially if I’m already in a bad mood for some other reason. I have a better time handling douchebaggery here, since my readers tend to eviscerate the comments reeking of stupidity. But it’s not foolproof.

If there’s one thing that will ensure I’ll have a bad day, it’s posting about feminism.

Until now, I couldn’t figure out why sexist comments here upset me so much.

It wasn’t because they were shocking – they’d fill up the antifeminist bingo card almost instantly. They’re so predictable that some of my readers will even preemptively comment with stuff like, “Misogynistic comments and oblivious sexism in 3… 2…1…” And when I see those tired arguments elsewhere, I usually just facepalm and move on.

It wasn’t because they were popular – I deal with a much lower frequency of assholes than “official” feminism themed blogs. And I have many supportive, understanding, and empathetic commenters who help restore my faith in humanity.

It wasn’t because they disagree with me – religious apologetics or conservative viewpoints don’t make me want to tear my hair out anywhere near as much.

It wasn’t because they were rude – in fact, the obviously trollish ad hominem attacks (usually about my appearance) are the easiest to brush off.

So, why? Why do the horrible comments about feminism literally make me want to scream, but equally horrible comments about atheism or science just induce mild frustration? I figured it out when sexist comments were recently aimed my way at an atheist meeting. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard such things in person, but it was the first time I’d heard it in person at a godless gathering. It clicked.

I expect better of atheists.

I’ve put us up on a pedestal.

It makes sense why I would think this way. Based on personal experience, non-theists do tend to be less sexist than the general public. For one thing, we lack the anti-woman rules perpetuated by most major religions. On the contrary, humanism is explicitly supportive of gender equality. It’s also hard to be a sexist skeptic, since there is no evidence to support sexist ideas. Ideologies that support gender equality and skepticism go hand in hand (even if you want to debate the name said ideology should have, because the “f” word gives you hives). And it’s hard to be an unskeptical atheist. Most atheists don’t believe in god precisely because they’re skeptical of religion and the supernatural.

Unfortunately, there are exceptions. Even though we don’t have sexist religious tradition, we can still pick it up from our surrounding culture. And not all atheists are skeptical, nor do all skeptics apply that skepticism to every area of their life.

So when I see some of my predominantly godless readership perpetuating the same fallacies, it’s frankly disappointing. I had deluded myself into thinking we were above that – that I could feel totally comfortable within this group – but I was wrong. If I toe the line and keep criticising religion, I’m fine. But if I dare to mention women’s issues, I’m effectively told to get back in the kitchen. It brings the worst out of people.

Some days it can really bring me down, but ultimately it just motivates me even more. It illustrates why combining my interests in feminism and skepticism is so important. It’s not just about showing women why atheism and skepticism is the better option for women, which I still would assert. It’s about showing skepticism why sexism is not rational, and making the atheist movement more welcoming to women.

I’m critical because I know we can do better. It may take a lifetime to find out, but hopefully I’m right.

68 comments

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  1. 1
    Fiona

    Hell, I’m an atheist woman and sometimes have to check my assumptions about how the world should work, as things are still so ingrained.

  2. 2
    Jaki

    You’re right Jen. We can do better. (…and you’re helping!)

  3. 3
    Rev. Ouabache

    Misogynistic comments and oblivious sexism in 3… 2…1…Sorry, I just wanted to be the first to say it.

  4. 4
    Lordcustard

    why ascribe any traits to an atheist?the only thing you an reasonably assume is that they don’t believe in god. Anything else you’re just fishing.

  5. 5
    Susan

    I think her point is that atheists should be better at reasoning themselves out of irrational cultural conditioning. I don’t think that’s fishing. I think it’s a logical assumption.

  6. 6
    jagannath

    Pedestals are nasty things, anything you put on them uses that to bludgeon you down, sooner or later, generally when you least expect it. Personally, I have little expectations of people calling themselves atheists, they are for most parts about as obnoxious, vindictive and unfriendly as any without the A in front. They just lack one set of self-justifications for being a jerk.Ain’t I a stinker :)Being an atheist really is no panacea for human foibles.

  7. 7
    a Nadder

    Do you find that the occasional comment on the same post that Actually Gets It reverses your gloom or do you just react neutrally to it because that’s what you expect an atheist to say?

  8. 8
    Sam Cook

    I think conflating skepticism and atheism is a bad move; there is a high correlation but there are many, many outliers. I have a large number of hippy-esk friends, many of them are atheists i.e. they don’t believe in god(s); this doesn’t stop them having some damn strange ideas. A personal favourite was a hippy mathematician/programmer, I’m pretty sure he was an atheist, but he did believe in astrology because of the “fractal nature of reality”….In general humans should be better at reasoning than they appear to be; everyone can do it but very few do.

  9. 9
    Michael Brown

    Your problem in a nutshell: you can take the theism out of the person, but you can’t take the person out of theism.That is, compared to a lifetime of acculturation, shaking off one discrete belief, even if it’s belief in God, is easy. People carry around a whole spectrum of unexamined assumptions, unexamined because they were for the most part inculcated before the age of reason. And for most of the people reading this blog, those assumptions derive from a culture that is steeped in 30 centuries of misogynistic monotheism.And some people are just assholes.

  10. 10
    Sam Barnett-Cormack

    It’s a difficult situation; there’s an inherent desire to elevate groups to which you feel you legitimately belong – not egotistical (well it is, but…), it’s just natural.And yes, the expected correlation between atheism and scepticism is logical, but it’s also not absolute, so there will be exceptions; further, just being a sceptic doesn’t render you immune to socialisation. One has to realise that something is an illogical socialised position, or just socialised at all, before scepticism can be applied to it. Similarly, just because someone is sceptical doesn’t mean that they’re actually that good at applying logic, at least when they’re not sitting down and approaching it deliberately.In the case of feminism, there is a category that I know I sometimes fall into, of a “sympathetic dick”, so to speak, who indeed supports equality and so on, but fails to see the existing, or remaining, inequality. They look at society and see all of the asymmetric handling of gender in favour of women, and assume that that means we’ve arrived; of course, if we’d arrived, there’d be no need for any of that asymmetric stuff (well, except the stuff related to biological differences, like maternity). This seems to be the most common dick category that women fall into, as well.And of course, then there’s the fact that one can be an atheist and still be pretty stupid.I do think I remember reading something about people describing common characteristics of groups, and in the cases where they were in the group they tended to give characteristics that were firstly more positive, and secondly were characteristics they saw in themselves. No idea when or where that was…

  11. 11
    Ben G.

    Hey, just remember, closed-minded assholes come in all shapes and sizes, just like awesome free thinking people come in all shapes and sizes. Don’t get caught up on the theist or atheist part, or any other details about the assholes for that matter.My father always said to me, and yes this is one of those trite mushy dad sayings, “There will always be someone, no matter where you go who will try to insult you and make you feel bad. The consolation is that those kinds of people aren’t worth your time and never will be.”Don’t let ‘em steal your joy.

  12. 12
    R.

    Atheism (unless the term is conflated into, or is used in the sense of being agnosticism) is also a belief system. Claiming with absolute certainty that there is no God (or divine agent/cy) requires a leap of faith. Scientific scepticism may suggest that we err on the side of intellectual caution regarding religiosity, or that we tentatively assume or work on the premise that there is no God, but it seems unlikely that it outright denies Him/She/It. It’s a case of probability, not possibility. However, taking a position of uncertainty can make it more difficult to combat theistically derived prejudice. If somebody states that X is bad because of G, then it’s easier to counterclaim that G is an unreal property, as opposed to “I am uncertain as to the validity of G, although it seems implausible to me personally”.Seems like atheism may require a greater burden of proof, but offers more severe criticism of irrational products of faith. At-least at a superficial level.

  13. 13
    Valhar2000

    The Encyclopedia Dramatica article is just made of win! I particularly love this sentence:

    Three times as many overweight male geeks turn up in the hope of seeing actual breasts IRL. (That they aren’t related to and don’t have to pay to look at.)

    Do people really do this? It just seems unbelieveable to me. Why would you go to such lengths to maybe-kind-of-possibly-more-or-less see little bit of cleavage when you can go to xhamster.com and see all the cleavage you want (plus pretty much anything else, be it male, female and everything in between) for free?Either there is a lot of unjustified hand-wringing and stereo-typing going on, or people are even dumber and more pathetic than I gave them credit for (which is saying something).

  14. 14
    Valhar2000

    And Encyclopedia Dramatica giving other people Troll of the Week awards? That is just too good to be true!

  15. 15
    Marcusbailius

    I have a saying, which is, “People are people”.Some of these atheists may be thoughtful and considerate, but just because they are atheists, doesn’t mean they will automatically be thoughtful and considerate. I’m sure you can draw the Venn Diagram as easily as I, with the universal set of People, containing the sets of Atheists and non-Atheists (overlapping? We’ll call them Agnostics!) and the set of Thoughtful/Considerate people probably spread across the whole bunch. (although there are certain groups within the non-Atheists where being thoughtful and considerate, and non-sexist, is pretty much a requirement of their particular religion.)So don’t be surprised at what you find. When you get to my age… (!)

  16. 16
    Andrew Hall

    Religion exacerbates our species tendencies to be a**holes. Religion is an autocratic structure that feeds into our worst aspects such as: groupthink, confirmation bias, and a general lack of critical thinking. However, even if you had a world without religion people would still have the “a**hole instinct”.

  17. 17
    Type

    Nothing is as maddening as having awful or ignorant people in your “group”. You expect jerks on the other side of a debate, but they don’t make you want to scream half as badly as having jerks on your side. Nothing feels as horrible as hearing a*holes profess to stuff you hold dear. But, alas, better get used to it. I don’t see the ratios between “our side” and “their side” changing very much in any discussion–political, religious, tastes great/less filling–but the percentage of d*bags on *all* sides is rocketing.

  18. 18
    mcbender

    I definitely do this as well (in terms of expecting better of atheists than the general population, and/or conflating atheism with intelligence and/or scepticism). Sometimes I’m not even aware I’m doing it.Then again, I very often find myself disturbed by the patently obvious (and definitionally true) fact that 50% of people are below average in intelligence, especially when I consider what the average is. That’s true in any group, and with respect to any metric – 50% of the people in it are worse than the average. Our average might be higher, but that doesn’t tell us much about that particular 50% of our group…

  19. 19
    Egoistpaul

    Is this the reason you go to gay bars? lol.Ok…. I’ll be serious. I think you need to implement a “filter” when dealing with non-theists. It means you invent a mechanism that can select the people you want to interact with and at the same time rule out the kind of people you don’t want to be with. I know you watch House. How do Dr. House pick the doctors to work in his team? ;-)

  20. 20
    James Walker

    Like you, Jen, I have just assumed that feminism and skepticism go hand in hand. I guess that just shows is that you can assume anything and have to check your assumptions at the door when dealing with skeptics and atheists. This is actually the skeptical approach, when you think about it. Someone with experience in conducting research should try to find out skeptics and atheists feelings about feminism. Lets look at this like we look at everything else, scientifically and skeptically.

  21. 21
    Michael LaRowe

    The perpetuation of sexist ideas by friends and loved ones kills me. It’ s fully cultural, as they will often subconsciously violate these norms when acting in a rational manner, but it is still grating. However, there are a few things that are either learned behaviors or natural things that do separate men and women, though I find it’s usually in terms of arousal or other natural shifts in mood – and I’m not necessarily referring to “that time of the month” since most women are no more or less bearable and it’s long been a scapegoat for chauvinists to justify discrimination.I’ve forgotten my point. Oh yes. I sympathize with your difficulty. It’s painful to see those we respect or whose opinions we value acting like buffoons.

  22. 22
    Methodissed

    You give feminism a positive friendly face, which is sure to have a positive impact. It’s too bad that you need thick skin for this endeavor. It’s sure to get thicker over time, which will make things easier. Keep up the great work. :-)

  23. 23
    Epizephyrii

    No, Atheism is NOT a belief system. Pretty much any sane Atheist that you encounter will not claim absolute certainty that there is no god(s) (except for maybe PZ Myers). If you have read the God Delusion, the best example is Dawkin’s 7 point scale in which the end result is that like unicorns and leprechauns we are 99.99% sure they don’t exist, but we’d be willing to change our minds if evidence presented itself.BTW, what relation does any of this have to do with the current post? Or are you just trolling?

  24. 24
    Perle

    I’m glad you’re posting about this Jen. If I had to go through what you are going through, I would probably blow a gasket too. It sounds incredibly infuriating.

  25. 25
    BeamStalk

    I think you have handled yourself very well, better than I would have in your shoes.

  26. 26
    n0b0dy

    I hear you about the pedestal thing. I’m glad you wrote this. I’ve been going through a similar situation in my workplace. One of the Co-PIs (at least not mine, but I still have to deal with her) on this grant I’m under is something of a feminist icon, not so much for being a feminist so much as for being the solitary female trailblazer from her generation (that anyone has heard about; of course there were others) in our field. So of course I expected at least a bit of a feminist clue. It was really disheartening to find out that she’s an unabashed victim-blamer. That isn’t meshing well with my current bout of PTSD. I go to our meetings and everyone else (all males) are perfectly considerate and moderately well versed in feminist issues whether they label them as such. And then she comes in with her seniority, dominates everything, creates a toxic environment, and turns me into a pile of mush. All while believing that she must be an important feminist because people keep telling her she is because she’s the only well known woman in her generation in our field. It’s disheartening. And it’s troubling because there aren’t a whole lot of woman in our field in my generation either. People who haven’t worked with her keep telling me how lucky I am. I just feel like she’s really close to running me out. And all this is despite the fact that I’ve dealt ok emotionally with similar behavior from professional male colleagues in the past.

  27. 27
    Scott

    It actually never occurred to me that atheists would be sexist rather than sexual, like any humans. I suffered the same disillusionment with women in general early in my dating career (such as it has been). To me, this revelation indicates a human tendency rather than one that’s restricted to any specific group, creed, race, class, etc. I’ve found assholes everywhere I’ve been and been surprised — or disappointed — by the behavior of people of whom I expected better or more. Part of the problem was my expectations, I understand that. But why the widespread jerkery? I guess gonads are the great leveler, though they need not be. My enthusiasm for people in general has been attenuated by such disappointments combined with my expectations of humanity/sensitivity/intellect/sexual compatibility/ [fill in trait here].

  28. 28
    LS

    For what it’s worth, your writings on sexism, feminism, and privilege have had a very positive impact on my own life. While most of the tenants of feminism were things I’d come to on my own through philosophy, I wasn’t really faced with concepts such as male privilege and the importance of modern feminism until earlier this year. Many of my initial interactions regarding these topics were not very productive. Due both to my lack of understanding, and encountering feminists more interested in breaking me down than helping me understand. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that knowing YOU subscribed to some/many of the ideals perpetuated by modern feminism allowed me to realize that my experience was probably not an accurate reflection of what feminism is, or at least what it can be. Through the things you’ve written and linked, and through my further studies inspired by that, I’ve been able to improve my understanding a great deal. I, for one, look forward to each post on feminism from you.

  29. 29
    Azkyroth

    Oh, cripes, not THIS shit again.

  30. 30
    Miss Minty

    I also had a similarly disappointing experience yesterday on Facebook. I was shocked to discover that an acquaintance of mine is a seriously BIGOTED atheist. @SamCook up there is right, though…atheism does not equal skepticism.Keep on keepin’ on.

  31. 31
    zen

    I’m a regular ‘contributor’ to a couple of atheism discussion forums*, and I can tell you there is no dearth of stupidity amoungst atheists/skeptics. Speaking to the comments from R. and Epizephyrii above, there are a number of atheists for whom atheism is in fact a belief system with the ‘leap-of-faith’ based in the absolute confidence – or, ‘knowledge’ – that there is no god. On the Dawkins scale, these people go to eleven. Much like their theistic counterparts, they loathe and ridicule even the most committed atheists (like me) for admitting ‘sure, I could be wrong’. On those forums, I’ve read atheists who were racist, misogynist, and homophobic – none of which make any sense in the context of a person claiming to hold humanistic principles. But, people are people. You shouldn’t be surprised that people will rationalize anthropological stereotypes. For your entertainment value – and edification ( No, I don’t get anything for plugging these, I just thought some of you might find it interesting.):Atheism vs Christianity – a Google discussion forum that’s been around for about 6 years, and sees generally around 5000 messages per month. Moderated by a team (two atheists, two xtians). Spam and personal threats are deleted and said contributors are banned. Still a rather contentious environment, and a representative sample of atheists/theists across the intellectual spectrum imho.http://groups.google.com/group…The BDSM fans here might find these interesting:Atheist vs.Theist – http://fetlife.com/groups/8082Atheist/Agnostic and Kinky – http://fetlife.com/groups/1732Both those groups are forums in Fetlife.com, a BDSM social networking site with discussions groups mostly involving the BDSM and fetish/roleplaying lifestyles. Both atheism groups are heavily moderated. Since the nature of a BDSM website of course lends itself to lifestyle tolerance, you’ll have everyone from submissive male cuckolds to Lesbian Dominatrices to submissive female animal fetishists to Dominant “50′s household” males contributing. It’s a safe site, I’ve been a member for a few years and get no personal tracking traffic (way better than alt.com).Interestingly, I’ve had many of my more intellectual discussions in the Fetlife groups. I’m not a sociologist, but it seems people who have come to terms with their sexual inner being are generally be much more rational, tolerant, and generally intelligent. I guess that says a lot for the effect of freeing ourselves from repressive religious and sexual mores.

  32. 32
    Jen

    They do reverse my gloom, but it usually takes at least a couple nice comments to make up for a crappy one.

  33. 33
    Jen

    I think it was to prove that I didn’t feel like kicking puppies after reading it. …Right?

  34. 34
    Ian

    Great post Jen! I support your stances and want to see better atheists too.

  35. 35
    Crommunist

    There is a false dichotomy in both racism and sexism (and I’m sure heterosexism and any other -ism) – that the choice is between being sexist and not sexist. We don’t have the option of being non-sexist, as we are born into a sexist cultural narrative. The choice is to be sexist or anti-sexist, racist or anti-racist, heterosexist or anti-heterosexist, and so on.It’s a tough thing to admit to yourself that you can be a female sexist, or a black racist, or what-have-you, but recognizing the role that those biases play helps bring them out of the subconscious where they can be directly addressed.@Jen – blogs like this that bring these issues out in the open and spark discussion among otherwise-uninterested people are absolutely key. I’m rooting for you.

  36. 36
    zen

    “Do people really do this?”Certainly they do. Seeing real live girls in 3D is way better than any porn you can watch in 2D. That’s why the ‘exotic dancing’ industry does so well (at least in my area), even though (generally speaking) men are not allowed to touch either the dancers or themselves in a strip joint (brothels not withstanding). The real question here is why a person would spend several hundred dollars a month on internet porn sites when they could have actual real sex for less than half that. Businesses like this: http://happyendingz.blogspot.c… Are still doing well, not in spite of the internet, but because of it.

  37. 37
    KTSA

    peeps always wonder why feminist atheist are angry, well, because “you” made us angry. Keep up the good work Jen,Kriss

  38. 38
    jimmyboy99

    Of course it’s disappointing Jen. You find ‘members’ of a group you strongly and emotionally belong to, acting like dicks and it is upsetting. The temptation to get into some True Scotsman stuff is strong. But…it’s life. There are idiots out there. Atheists and sceptics perhaps more so than other groups in a way given that all that connects us is a demand for evidence and a rejection of nonsense. That’s it.But…we have to just get on with it. The people we feel strongest about often disappoint us the most – because they can in a way. We give them space to do so.Just in case you didn’t know, by the way, there are plenty of chaps like me, who find feminism deeply intimidating too. Feminists might remember that…? I am always really worried I will have retained some old view without challenge, or will say something, that will expose me to judgement and ridicule when I am with feminists. While I know that is my issue really, and not the feminists’, it is helpful if those who are pretty sure of their ground remember that there are lots of blokes out there like me… Well intentioned but sometimes not quite on message.

  39. 39
    Nonsy

    I recently had a vaguely similar problem when I joined a gay forum. You had gay members defending religion, which isn’t so much offensive as pitiable.Someone started a thread about some incredibly overt sexism in an upcoming video game, and you had members rudely dismissing it with stuff like “Who cares?” or insulting the “whiners.” Then you even had people who agreed that it was sexist still making mildly sexist comments when making their points. Somewhere else, I saw a gay woman complaining about the flamboyant gays and how they’re bad for the movement and all that nonsense.All this was a real slap in the face for me, because before that point I had this idealized image in my mind that the gay community, feminists, and the like knew we were all in this together. All the issues are interrelated, and I hate seeing people who fail to recognize this.

  40. 40
    Buffy2q

    Sadly even when we take religion out of the equation we’re still dealing with culturally ingrained nonsense. We haven’t come as far as we like to think.

  41. 41
    Greta

    What Jen said about the pedestal. I also would add another reason that I get disproportionately upset when atheists exhibit sexism, racism, etc.:I care passionately about this movement. I want it to flourish. And I’ve seen enough in other social change movements to know that sexism, racism, etc. can seriously hamper a movement. I think we have a unique opportunity to nip this problem in the bud now, fairly early in the atheist movement’s growth, before it becomes a millstone around our neck ten or twenty or fifty years from now. (Yes, I know, I’m mixing metaphors. Suck it up.) And it’s frustrating to see people resisting and even actively opposing those efforts.These are hard enough problems to address, even when people acknowledge that they’re problems and have excellent intentions to do something about them. They’re made harder to deal with when people stick their fingers in their ears and chant, “I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you” when these problems are brought to their attention. And they’re made ridiculously hard to deal with when people get actively hostile about them.It doesn’t just upset me because I think atheists should know better. It upsets me because I think it’s hamstringing the atheist movement.

  42. 42
    Greta Christina

    What Jen said about the pedestal. I also would add another reason that I get disproportionately upset when atheists exhibit sexism, racism, etc.:I care passionately about this movement. I want it to flourish. And I’ve seen enough in other social change movements to know that sexism, racism, etc. can seriously hamper a movement. I think we have a unique opportunity to nip this problem in the bud now, fairly early in the atheist movement’s growth, before it becomes a millstone around our neck ten or twenty or fifty years from now. (Yes, I know, I’m mixing metaphors. Suck it up.) And it’s frustrating to see people resisting and even actively opposing those efforts.These are hard enough problems to address, even when people acknowledge that they’re problems and have excellent intentions to do something about them. They’re made harder to deal with when people stick their fingers in their ears and chant, “I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you” when these problems are brought to their attention. And they’re made ridiculously hard to deal with when people get actively hostile about them.It doesn’t just upset me because I think atheists should know better. It upsets me because I think it’s hamstringing the atheist movement.

  43. 43
    JulietEcho

    My sympathies. I agree with the others here who’ve mentioned that it’s infuriating to find yourself on the same “side” or in the same category as some unsavory characters. I’ve actually always been a bit neurotic about books I love – if someone who’s a complete jerk mentions that *they* love the same book/author/series I do, I’m suddenly really angry. I think, “How can they possess the capacity to enjoy something so wonderful?” And then I remember that people are complicated, and maybe they enjoy the books for different reasons, and then I just hope I don’t run across them again.Anyway, working with a jerk (or working FOR one) can be toxic, and I hope that you find the place/method/people you need to combat that toxicity.

  44. 44
    Brown Dirt

    People are mammals, therefore it never surprises me when they act like animals.

  45. 45
    Rollingforest

    I think pushing feminism is very important in today’s society. However, I think we do need to be honest that there is a problem on some liberal blogs that people take whatever is on certain feminist blogs as dogma (this happens for other political groups as well with their own causes). If someone disagrees with them, they say “Oh they’re a dick” or “Oh they’re sexist” or some other ad hominem attack. They never attempt to actually rationally consider the situation. I support gender equality, but some hard core members declare that I’m “not a true feminist” because I don’t support everything they do. This is the same kind of bigotry they claim to be against. It is very similar to the McCarthyist witch hunt bullshit that you see in religious groups who try to “purify” themselves of anyone who doesn’t fit the party line. Yes, ignoring sexism is bad and we should point out where someone is wrong if they are, but playing the victim is just as dishonest (Jen is well aware of the faults of past second wave feminists who decried that porn is naturally “degrading” and that women shouldn’t be allowed to like it). We need to be rational about the world and come up with proven claims instead of ideas that fit our preconceptions. There have been times when I’ve posted ideas on some blogs frequented by hardcore feminists and have been declared sexist, but when I post the same ideas on my facebook page, liberal female friends give positive comments. So it seems to me that it isn’t the ideas that are bad, just the small community who bad mouths anything that doesn’t fit their ideology. We need mainstream honest proactive feminists, not fire breathers or people who want to play the victim all the time. (This isn’t to say that Jen always does this. Most of the feminist issues she posts are legitimate, but sometimes I disagree and that needs to be okay. Evidence not ideology needs to be the final decision maker. May the best theory win.)

  46. 46
    JackieB12003

    Very insightful post, Jen. I get the same feelings about my passion of animal welfare. I meet someone who I think really loves the non-human animals and wants to help them, but then am disappointed to discover that it’s only “their” animals they love. Disappointment in humans. But, I’m an optimistic person by nature, so I try not to let it get me down. And then there are those who are role models for the rest of us and inspire me to do better.

  47. 47
    Azkyroth

    I think there’s a complicating factor, namely that feminism is a movement for social change, which means that feminism partly means telling people how they should act. This is substantially similar (albeit different in connotation) to “telling people what to do” and unfortunately feminism, like any other prescriptive value system, can be exploited rather easily by people who enjoy “telling people what to do” with all the connotations of that phrase.In other words, even feminism can be hijacked to bully others (or, with more advanced group dynamics, to bully “The Other”). The root causes for this bullying are varied; some bullies who wrap themselves in the flag of feminism are, at root, sort of shell-shocked: they’re justifiably angry at someone, somewhere, but don’t demonstrate any awareness or concern as to whether whether whomever they’re taking it out on actually has anything to do with it, or is even not a more-than-halfhearted ally – while they genuinely believe in their causes, they divide the world into “us” – themselves, those they’ve somewhat arbitrarily declared to be trusted allies (who can sometimes, but not always, get away with openly disagreeing with them on something) and the cloud of sycophantic “Me-Too“s that surround them – and “The Enemy,” a category which includes the entire spectrum from their actual ideological and social opponents to allies who ever dare to break ranks on anything. Others seem to have only the most shallow and superficial concern for feminism as a cause – some of these seem to be concerned principally with drawing attention to themselves, and some seem to be flat-out antisocial (in the clinical sense). The Greater Internet Fuckward Theory probably accounts for much of why this sort of behavior seems more blatant and prevalent online.To her credit, I haven’t seen Jen doing any of this.

  48. 48
    ME

    I do not think there is any thing wrong with putting types of people of a pedstal. We (atheist and skeptics) should be better people. Alwasy. We should alwasy try to be better than we where a month ago. There is only one way for that happen and that is for people to push other people to be better. Put them on the pedstal and then push them higher.

  49. 49
    spudbeach

    Getting rid of god doesn’t wash away all of one’s sins, just one. There are still plenty of reasons an atheist can be a jerk.

  50. 50
    a Nadder

    Yep, makes sense — us humanfolk are loss averse after all. I guess that’s a sign for supporters to engage in anti-trolling, often if I agree with something I don’t bother commenting to say that I do, I’m sure most are the same. I bet you have heaps of silent readers who are actually eloquent (if dormant) supporters of gender equality!

  51. 51
    Nic

    Please Jen, keep that motivation going. Between yourself and Greta Christina (whom I see above, hello!), you’ve furthered my understanding of many feminist ideas, and made me more aware of previously unnoticed male privilege (as I’m white, male and in my mid thirties, I get a lot of it).Although I don’t think I started out particularly sexist, I think I am less so now – and the positive changes are down to you both, Jen and Greta: as I already respected your intellects due to your intelligent, insightful and humorous writings on atheism-related topics, when you wrote about sexism, I paid attention.You both rock. Thank you.

  52. 52
    Oneiric

    I was trying to read your comment in good faith until I came to this:”when I post the same ideas on my facebook page, liberal female friends give positive comments”And that seemed to me the typical privileged male response to accusation of sexism – I have female friends. Or my female friends don’t think I’m sexist…. It’s the conflation of female for feminist…(Newsflash: Women can be sexist and anti-feminist too!)And that’s when I realised I was finding it hard to parse most of what you’d posted in that comment as anything except an attempt at Bingo…”I support gender equality, but some hard core members declare that I’m “not a true feminist” because I don’t support everything they do.”Parses as pretty close to:”Feminists have got it all wrong. I’m an equalist.”"playing the victim is just as dishonest “shoots:”You’ve just got a victim mentality”through the eyes…”We need to be rational about the world and come up with proven claims instead of ideas that fit our preconceptions “,especially after complaining about (unamed) feminist blogs, splashes across the page and drops little dribbles of putrescence on:”Women can’t be objective about gender issues” and”You’re being silly and emotional” and”I’ll tell you what wrong with feminism.”And in general I’m getting the feeling that:”This isn’t to say that Jen always does this. Most of the feminist issues she posts are legitimate, but sometimes I disagree and that needs to be okay. “just managed to cross out:”But I want to talk about this. Listen to me!”Of course, I may be mistaken and have totally read that wrong…But it seems to me you’re derailing a discussion about how atheism doesn’t necessitate feminism (even though it would be great if it did) with a general gripe about feminist blogs (and I stress that these blogs remain un-named and un-linked to) only because ‘feminism’ is the common link. And that reads a lot like clueless male commenters that get torn to shreds on feminist blogs (for good reason).

  53. 53
    Speffles

    I’m de-lurking, which is fun. Coming from the UK this whole debate has a very US slant to it (in my eyes anyway). I wasn’t raised in a religous environment and religion isn’t at the forefront of our culture in quite the same way. Although most people in the UK believe in a god(s) fewer of us are actively religous. I don’t assume that the majority of people I meet are religous and there are a*holes everywhere. So when they turn out to be a*hole and atheist I’m less surprised. It’s perfectly possible to be irrational and an atheist if your upbringing lacked a religious structure. I’m fairly certain I’ve been both in the past (although not to sexist, racist type extremes).

  54. 54
    Azkyroth

    You could read it as the poster, who I don’t believe identified their gender, agreeing that it’s not safe to assume “on my side” means “agrees with me about everything.”

  55. 55
    Azkyroth

    PS: the bingo cards, as I understand it, are intended for stress relief, not as a substitute for considering (and rejecting if appropriate, but considering) an argument on its merits.

  56. 56
    Jeffrey A. Myers

    I have the same tendency – I expect more from those who are skeptics because I expect them to have used their brains to arrive at a more rational set of beliefs. I am always appalled when I read some of the more strident atheist skeptics (generally angry blog commenters) call for reeducation of or sterilization of people of Faith – I expect better. I’d expect more egalitarianism and gender equity as well, but sadlly that is not always the case either.

  57. 57
    Rollingforest

    @Oneiric“I was trying to read your comment in good faith…”I appreciate that.“Newsflash: Women can be sexist and anti-feminist too”Yes, but this is less common among liberal women.“(bingo square) Feminists have got it all wrong. I am an equalist.”I never said feminists are all wrong. I think that Jen is right about the inappropriate behavior of the boys in her recent posts. In fact, I agree with most of what Jen has posted on feminist, but not all of it. And unless I am disproven, I have a right to my opinion. Writing people off as a “dick” when they don’t agree with you just shows how close minded some people can be. “(bingo square) You’ve just got a victim mentality”Well, unless it can be shown logically, then maybe in some cases people do. Evidence is needed, not ideology.“(bingo square) Woman can’t be objective about gender issues”I think women can be objective about gender issues, but some of my opponents apparently don’t think men can which is a big part of the problem. “(bingo square) You’re being silly and emotional”I never said that. Stop creating straw men.“(bingo square) I’ll tell you what’s wrong with feminism”If a person has a rationally supported opinion, they have every right to point it out, no matter who it angers. (I’m sure it is of no consolation to you that I am trying to reform feminist instead of oppose it)“(bingo square) But I want to talk about this. Listen to me.”See above.If you want some specific disagreements then here you go:1.A lot of feminist terminology is very political instead of academic (the term “patriarchy” usually refers to a government or religious system, not a culture. The term “male privilege” shouldn’t be used in cases like car insurance and the draft where men get the short end of the stick and “rape culture” is degrading to those who do get raped by equating those who watch sexy TV commercials with rapists. 2.Many feminists dismiss of all evolutionary psychology without considering the evidence because it goes against the blank slate ideology3.Instead of focusing on stopping human traffickers, many feminists (and to be honest a lot of other people too) want to ban sex work all together because they believe it impossible that a girl might choose to be a sex worker and so decide to make the decision for her.4.Third wave feminists say they are more supportive of sexuality but still often criticize commercials with sexy females in them (see Jen’s post on the Super bowl commercials from Feb 7th 2010) while rarely criticizing commercials with handsome men in them. (we need to make sure that people respect other people’s body image, but that doesn’t mean we should ban all beautiful people from TV) 5.Some feminists latch on to false internet memes and spread it around like it is proven fact (such as the disproven idea that more spousal abuse happens around the super bowl. Because the super bowl is seen as a male activity, it is easy for some feminists to latch on to anything said that is bad about it, even if they don’t have pesky things like facts)6.Some feminists support candidates because they are women rather than regardless of their gender which is supposed to be what feminism teaches (Yes I know a lot of races and religions to this, but it doesn’t make it good) (although I am heartened that woman as a whole seem to choose their candidates based on policies and not just back Sarah Palin because she is a woman)So there you go. Like I said, efforts to support a woman’s right to be a CEO, lawyer, or president of the United States are something we need to get behind. And we need to work to stop sexual harassment. But as you can see from the list above, feminism can have some bad ideas attached to it. We need to jettison the bad and keep the good if we are going to succeed.

  58. 58
    JM

    The first time I heard the term “feminazi” was from an avowed Libertarian who was sort-of atheist. He hated feminism and loved Rush Limbaugh. He was against abortion and thought it should be illegal, although he deeply resented laws against pot, taxes of all kinds, etc. I don’t know his background, but I think he was raised Catholic. He definitely married a Catholic, albeit in a non-religious Las Vegas ceremony. I think he was simply too arrogant to carefully consider whether his opinions were consistent.

  59. 59
    Azkyroth

    I am always appalled when I read some of the more strident atheist skeptics (generally angry blog commenters) call for reeducation of or sterilization of people of Faith

    I’ve never seen this…um, ever. WTF?

  60. 60
    Azkyroth

    Now most of these complaints, unfortunately, I can’t really agree with, though I’ll emphatically endorse #3. #5 sounds reasonable but I suspect there’s more to the story or stories, and #6 I’d conditionally concur with (I remember seeing a lot of attempts to blow off any criticism of Hilary Clinton based on her record or policy positions as “misogyny” in 2008, for instance).

  61. 61
    jose

    There are people who went through the rational thing. They would read Sagan and stuff. They got the point of asking for evidence, and now they are used to look into themselves asking for evidence against their own ideas and prejudices.Other people just didn’t think too much about it. God was cultural background, tradition, folklore. When God vanished from their brain, it wasn’t a big deal, it didn’t have implications. The rest of their universe remained untouched and so they didn’t learn self-criticism. I think you’ll find that those macho guys didn’t go through amazing deconversion stories or anything like that.Also, sexism and denialism are in a way like revelation, first hand knowledge (just an anecdote to us). They know it because they’ve seen. It gives them a kind of visceral feeling that what they say is obvious and okay–that’s how the world is! Why can’t you see it? You mix up anecdotes and lack of self criticism, and you get an irrational, often ridiculous position held like it’s the most natural thing in the world, and some visceral freaking out is to be expected when you defy it.

  62. 62
    Sakkiidit

    Aside from the fact that it’s bad that people act like that, for that I apologize on behalf of my gender. All I can say is that at the (singular) atheist meeting I was at no one acted like that.To top this mess off, theists like to take advantage of that. Example:http://www.truefreethinker.com

  63. 63
    James

    Anyway, the comment I posted was completely off topic, but I really needed to get that outta my system

  64. 64
    James

    OMG off topic post didn’t show up. nvm then.

  65. 65
    Azkyroth

    I know exactly what you mean, in reference to both atheists and feminists. Every time I start feeling comfortable with the commenting body on Pharyngula it goes through another spasm of disgusting high-school-style wagon-circling, in-group-out-group bullshit. >.>

  66. 66
    Katy

    I think it’s also fair to expect that people who have rejected the religiosity that tends to try to define gender roles to also reject the gender roles that often have little purpose other than to support the religious hierarchy. Please note that I’m coming from a Mormon upbringing – and gender roles are strictly defined – even Halloween “cross-dressing” is explicitly prohibited. So to me, when I finally realized that I didn’t have to subscribe to the male-dominated social hierarchy, that included both the pretend gods and heavens AND the primary role of a woman as a mother and wife, with marriage and children being the most important thing a woman can do in life. So perhaps that’s part of the expectation Jen is expressing – if you reject the spiritual dogma, we all hope that you would reject the social dogma as well.

  67. 67
    Lindsay

    If I wasn’t sitting in a public computer lab right now, I’d be clappin’, because this was beautiful. I often feel the tension between feminism and atheism, since I’m very passionate about both of those facets of myself, particularly with atheist responses to feminism. I also feel that they’re perfect bedfellows because so many anti-feminist ideas are rooted in religious constructs, especially with LGBTQ issues, which become more salient with every passing day.Yet, when I first discovered feminism and realized that it really “made sense” to me (gross understatement, I know, but it’s hard to encapsulate that moment), I shared this with two of my closest atheist friends, who had been influential in my (re)consideration of theism, one of them called me a “Feminazi.” I wanted to cry. Not only was he tossing around a term coined by that loathsome Limbaugh, who he hated so much, I just hadn’t expected it at all. Since that time, I’ve realized that, despite the fact that I’ll always feel that deep compatibility between feminism and atheism (because it’s there for me, damnit!), a case needs to be made for it. And that’s precisely why I love this post, and this blog.

  68. 68
    Oneiric

    @ Rollingfest: I’m sorry for the late reply, but this is exactly the thinking I was talking about.1. That is BS. It’s the equivalent of the accomodationist criticisms of New Atheism regarding tone. Culture is a tool used by the ‘system’, in the same way that organizations try to use their culture as a tool to keep the system stable. How else do you get many diverse people to see things the same way or in similar/compatible ways? And the fact it that the current culture is anti-women. If you’d like a convenient description of rape culture: (Wikipedia)Rape culture is a term… describing a culture in which rape and other sexual violence (usually against women) are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media condone, normalize, excuse, or encourage sexualized violence.Do you understand how ads and TV shows which encourage the view that a woman’s body is not her own and is somehow public property – “She was wearing a miniskirt, she asked for it” – also end up encouraging rape and thus contributing to a rape culture? That may not be true of all ads. And that’s not the only criticism levelled at ‘sexy’ ads, but it is true of a surprisingly large number.Do you understand how it’s important to use words that shock and grab your attention?Do you understand how quibbles about the language used rather than the actual issues being discussed (i.e. the systematic subjugation of half the population) is a red herring?2. Most of evolutionary psychology that we’ve come across so far is post facto rationalization of phenomena we observe. That’s why a lot of evolutionary psychology is often looked at with a slightly jaundiced eye by most of the skeptically inclined. Feminists reject it even more strongly because of the supposed evo-psych reasoning that PUA dirtbags use.3. Most of the sex-positive feminists I’ve seen are pro-legalised prostitution. Some others see legalised prostitution as a more complicated issue than just of banning or not, but see the pros of legalised prostitution over criminalised prostitution. Of course, there are others who think even consensual sex is a form of rape since women have been conditioned to provide sex. You’re deliberately looking at one part of a very diverse movement on a specific issue where there are lots of different opinions. Disclaimer: I’ve been more exposed to the sex positive side of the issue than not, so it is possible the movement is more anti-legalised-prostitution than it seems to me.4. Do you understand that most of the commercials out there use attractiveness as the only gauge of a woman’s worth? Do you realise that most of them pretend that only women under 30 or 35 are or could be attractive? Compare that to how many grey haired men you see or how many men portrayed to be useful there are.Do you understand that the normal patriarchal culture we live in pushes a paradigm of ‘pretty women’ being good and ‘useful men’ being good, attractiveness being secondary? While women without ‘conventional’ good looks are treated as the ‘one you should never turn into’, that’s not true of men. It just reinforces the concept of women existing for sex and men existing to put bread on the table. That’s restrictive and part of what feminists fight.5. I don’t know what you’re talking about there. Am not familiar with the meme. Possibly because I’m not American.6. Those aren’t feminists. Feminism isn’t about voting for a woman over a man. It’s about making it possible for a woman to be in a position to be voted for like that (among other things).Although it was a victory for feminism that a woman was even considered viable as a presidential candidate, I’m not aware any particular bias towards Hilary because of that. I do believe that she was criticised a little for not being more pro-woman. I also know that some criticism of her got sidelined for no reason as attacks on her because she was a woman. So like Azkyroth, I’ll partially agree about Hilary. But the next part is pure BS. Do you mean to tell us that there really are feminists that support Sarah Palin? Srsly?? The same Sarah Palin that wants America to follow the misogynist teachings of the Bible to the letter? The same Sarah Palin that wants to give women the freedom to make their own choices as long as those choices are to keep producing babies?”If a person has a rationally supported opinion, they have every right to point it out, no matter who it angers. (I’m sure it is of no consolation to you that I am trying to reform feminist instead of oppose it) “Where’s the evidence you cited in your post? It was entirely about your opinion. You through out a number of problems you had with feminism without saying who or where you had those problems with. You were vague about who exactly chased men off their pages calling them ‘sexist’ or ‘dicks’ and used the same brush to paint the entire movement, WITHOUT PROVIDING EVIDENCE. Why do you think I called you on it? (Btw, I called you out on painting the movement black without evidence. That’s not the same as saying you have no right to speak or shutting down the conversation. Would appreciate it if you’d try not to falsely equate those very different actions.)”“(bingo square) You’ve just got a victim mentality”Well, unless it can be shown logically, then maybe in some cases people do. Evidence is needed, not ideology. “Read your own lines about that once more and point out the evidence for your claims, please:”We need mainstream honest proactive feminists, not fire breathers or people who want to play the victim all the time.”Do you see your implication is that most mainstream feminists are fire breathers and want to play the victim? Do you understand that claiming things like that about a movement doesn’t help improve the movement unless you show specific problems that could be addressed? And do you see that’s doubly important to notice when it’s a movement by and for a section of society that’s been suppressed for yonks?”Evidence not ideology needs to be the final decision maker. “And then:” “(bingo square) You’re being silly and emotional”I never said that. Stop creating straw men.”What do you think implying it’s ideology behind a person’s view rather than evidence says? That they’re driven by rational thought? Or that they’re letting they feelings get the best of them?I like the way you say my post had no logical basis when I was merely pointing out the suspicious similarities between your post and the bingo square. (Your post itself was my evidence, btw – hence the specific quotations and direct references to the parts of the bingo grid they seemed to fit so well).For the record, I’m male. And a yes, a self-described feminist.@Azkyroth: I’ve not commented here before, but I’ve cut my teeth over at Pharyngula (don’t post too much though..), so my troll radar is a little sensitive. I think, you’ll agree, that in this case, I was rather on the mark…

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