Where was I? There were some things I didn’t get to in the post this morning.
One of the things. Shermer is indignant about what I said about him. Here’s what I said about him.
You would think that nontheism and feminism should be a natural combination. Women have the most to gain from escaping religion, after all: monotheism gives men higher status, starting with their allegedly being made in the image of God.
But atheism hasn’t always been very welcoming to women. Maybe there’s an idea that men created God, so men should do the uncreating.
Mostly though, it’s just a matter of stereotypes, the boring, stubborn, wrong stereotypes and implicit associations that feminism has been battling since, well, forever…
The main stereotype in play, let’s face it, is that women are too stupid to do nontheism. Unbelieving in God is thinky work, and women don’t do thinky, because “that’s a guy thing.”
Don’t laugh: Michael Shermer said exactly that during a panel discussion on the online talk-show The Point. The host, Cara Santa Maria, presented a question: Why isn’t the gender split in atheism closer to 50-50? Shermer explained, “It’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it; you know, it’s more of a guy thing.”
I start with the stereotype – which is one that Susan Jacoby also talked about at the Women in Secularism conference – and then give an example of someone saying it. Well he did say it. I’m seeing a lot of weird explaining away, but that’s bullshit. I can easily believe he didn’t mean to say it, and that he would have put it differently if he’d been writing and thus had more time to think – but the fact remains that he did say it. And no, it doesn’t bear some other, less dismissive interpretation.
It reminds me of my brother-in-law, actually. Decades ago my brother and I were wrangling about a big desk that had belonged to my mother (a journalist) and that I said she had told me I could have, and my brother-in-law (older than both of us) suddenly cut in to say that a desk was a man thing. I don’t remember what I said or did; I remember only the rage.
No, a desk isn’t a man thing. No, wanting to stand up and talk about atheism isn’t a guy thing. No, wanting to go on shows about it isn’t a guy thing. Wanting to go to conferences and speak about it isn’t a guy thing. Being intellectually active about it isn’t a guy thing. They’re not more of a guy thing. I know this. I’ve done all the things Shermer lists, and I can think of a long long list of other women who also have. Saying it’s more of a guy thing is like saying the law is more of a guy thing, science is more of a guy thing, work is more of a guy thing, thinking is more of a guy thing. It is, in short, the same old shit. It would be pretty astonishing if Michael Shermer had never been made aware of an occasional whisper about this over the past 40-plus years.
So that’s one of the things. He said it. He could have just said it was a stupid thing to say, he was thinking on his feet and made a hash of it. But indignation at me for pointing it out? No. I don’t think he has a case.
The next thing. About the “why didn’t she email me?” again.
in journalism, as in science and all rational inquiry, there is an ethic of going to the primary source, and especially giving the person in question the benefit of the doubt. In this case, a simple email asking what I meant would have cleared up any misunderstanding.
I simply assumed he meant what he said. He could have emailed me asking what I meant, too, but he didn’t. Harriet Hall could have emailed me asking what I meant instead of emailing her thoughts to Shermer for publication. Everybody could email everybody about everything, but usually we address what’s on the page or in the podcast without emailing. That’s normal. Look at The Daily Show – it’s all about things people say.
That’s it. Back to stirring my witch’s brew.