I’m thinking about the Romantic cult of the hero, and what a bad insidious idea it can be.
Yesterday Sara Mayhew made a rather pointed remark on Twitter.
If a retired US AirForce Col. who pioneered as one of the 1st female pilot and flight surgeons voices critique about your feminism, listen.
As for why the sex ratio [among atheists and skeptics] isn’t perfectly fifty-fifty, Hall noted: “I think it is unreasonable to expect that equal numbers of men and women will be attracted to every sphere of human endeavor. Science has shown that real differences exist. We should level the playing field and ensure there are no preventable obstacles, then let the chips fall where they may.”
I disagreed with that; Mayhew apparently thinks I should not disagree, on the grounds that Hall pioneered as one of the first female pilot and flight surgeons. She thinks I should instead “listen” and having listened, agree or obey. (I already had “listened,” obviously, or I wouldn’t have known what she said, and thus couldn’t have disagreed with it.)
I do (as I have repeatedly said) admire Hall a lot for the pioneering. But it doesn’t follow that I have to agree with her “critique about my feminism.” I don’t agree with it, and that’s partly because I think she is making her own pioneering the standard for others, and that that’s a seriously bad idea. Here’s why.
People shouldn’t have to overcome barriers that shouldn’t be there in the first place.
That’s all. People who do overcome barriers are admirable, yes, but it doesn’t follow that everyone should be admirable in that way, if the barriers are human creations that are not necessary and are in fact retrograde and unjust.
The Little Rock Nine were incredibly brave pioneers, and I admire them immensely. But they shouldn’t have had to be. It shouldn’t have required enormous courage for nine teenagers to go to school. Malala Yousufzai is brave beyond belief, but she shouldn’t have to be. Jessica Ahlquist bravely faced massive vicious harassment, but she shouldn’t have had to.
Nobody should have to put up with a bunch of shit to go to school or get a Constitutional principle enforced or take up a profession.
And most people don’t want to put up with a bunch of shit. The trouble with the cult of the hero is that it makes not wanting to put up with a bunch of shit seem cowardly or weak or self-indulgent – just less than what the heroic people do. That’s wrong.
It’s wrong because not wanting to put up with a bunch of shit is basically a moral view. Distaste for the shit is because the shit is morally wrong. That of course does not mean that people who do put up with it are endorsing it! God no. But it does mean that they shouldn’t make it a reproach to everyone else, the way Harriet Hall apparently is, and the way Sara Mayhew explicitly is.
No. Just no. Hall needs to be very wary of the idea that because she put up with a bunch of shit, other women should just shut up and take it. No, we shouldn’t. We should unite our voices in saying “remove the shit.” The shit is one of the preventable obstacles that Hall mentioned, and we need to get it out of the way. Women shouldn’t have to be hazed as a condition of entry into philosophy or math or computer science or gaming…or skepticism or atheism.