Jean Kazez has a good post on the backlash against feminism today. She warns against exaggerating the size of the backlash specific to atheism, and says the issues boil down to skepticism about various claims. She then makes a distinction between two types of backlasher.
The respectable skeptic may be on board with all substantive feminist goals, but they lean very liberal on sexual issues and libertarian-ish on rules and codes. They may also have distinctive positions on purely empirical matters, like how often harassing incidents occur, and what the impact is of discussing them at blogs. Their views on what will advance the status of women may also be distinctive. It strikes me as inflammatory and distorted to accuse these people of misogyny, or even of being anti-feminists. Even if some of these people dress their views in provocative clothing, underneath it all they do not have troubling attitudes toward women.
The second group is another matter. These are people who are seized by a desire to attack women when there’s the least hint of a question about male behavior at blogs and conferences. The notion of codes being imposed on their behavior sends them into a rage. These are the people whose existence you have to find surprising … and very disturbing. At the very least, they’re seriously lacking in empathy. Some of them even seem to feel an awful lot of hatred. I don’t know how numerous they are, but too numerous–and their ranks seem to be growing too.
She thinks it’s important not to treat group 1 as enemies, because they’re not, and because doing so inflames group 2. I’m not sure about that second claim – I think group 2 are kind of self-inflaming. But the first one is right. But there’s a problem…
It’s the bit about the provocative clothing. Let’s call it provocation, for short, so as not to confuse it with the more familiar meaning of “provocative clothing,” which is obviously not what’s meant.
When provocation is repeated enough, or strong enough, or done at a turbulent enough time…Well it’s a problem. Endless jokes about coffee and elevators at a time when Rebecca Watson is being systematically trashed don’t seem like just casual harmless jokes – in fact what they feel like is, precisely, buried misogyny coming out of hiding. Maybe that’s not what they are. But how is one to know? By the same token, swapping jokes and taunts with group 2 also feels like misogyny coming out of hiding. Calling disagreed-with feminists Feminazis and Femistasi does too. So does endlessly tweeting and retweeting blog posts by people in group 2.
Group 1 doesn’t come across as quite as different from group 2 as Jean describes them. Now, this is in large part because they started small but took flack anyway – in short, they got pissed off. They got pissed off so they threw in their lot with group 2. They’re now quite entangled with group 2, although they’re certainly not identical with it.
So, I see what Jean is getting at, but I don’t know what if anything can be done about it at this stage.