Though FTB has been the center of much of the controversy over feminism and atheism that has taken place over the last year and a half, I have generally chosen to be Switzerland. I find the stridently anti-FTB crowd to generally range from the ridiculous to the odious, but for the most part I’ve stayed out of the fights. This video from former FTBer Al Stefanelli, unfortunately, prompts me to do more than dip my toes in the water. It’s time to take the plunge.
It seems that, according to Al, I have unwittingly launched an “atheist cult” of “radical extremists” who are “giving a bad name” to “real feminists.” PZ, Jen, Ophelia, Stephanie, Rebecca and others, Al says, “appear to have an incredibly unhealthy vendetta against men in general, and as it appears, the entire Caucasian race as well.” This is not a straw man, it’s an entire straw universe, a bizarro world remarkably similar to the one inhabited by the religious right, where any challenge to their privilege is terrible persecution from “feminazis” and other unsavory types.
While listening to this, it seemed rather familiar. I’d heard such rhetoric many times and I’m sure you have too. But it probably came from Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson or some other religious righter that Al no doubt considers to be a neanderthal. When they say those things, we point and laugh with derision. When they claim that those evil liberal social justice activists really just hate white people, we know that they are completely, incontrovertibly, undeniably full of shit. What exactly is the difference between their positions and Al’s position here? None that I can see. It’s the same tired and, frankly, idiotic claim that those who fight against white male privilege must hate white males and seek to do them harm.
And can we stop all this nonsense about “radical feminism”? There really is such a thing and it is embodied by folks like Andrea Dworkin, second wave feminists who are anti-sex, anti-porn, anti-prostitution. Does that really accurately describe pro-sex feminists like Ophelia, Stephanie, Jen, Greta and Rebecca? If you really think that Rebecca Watson or any of the others he names hates men, you cannot possibly have met them.
While we’re at it, can we also stop with the constant and moronic references to witch burnings and inquisitions? Michael Shermer is not a poor persecuted soul being chased by villagers with torches and pitchforks, he’s a guy who said something very sexist and stupid and is being criticized for it. He had an opportunity to say, “Yeah, that was really dumb and sexist. I’d like to apologize for that and work with others to see if we can come up with a solution to make secular communities more inclusive and welcoming to women.” He chose instead to double down on the problem and make it considerably worse. We laugh when the religious right adopts the persecution pose; it’s no less ridiculous when done by one of our own.
Most disturbing to me was when he addressed me specifically:
I feel really bad for Ed Brayton. He’s actually a really decent guy and someone I’ve known for a while. He’s put an incredible amount of effort, time and personal expense into creating and developing Freethought Blogs. It’s gotta be incredibly frustrating to him to see his baby at the center of all this controversy.
I suppose I could be happy that he singled me out for praise, but I’m not. In fact, this mostly pissed me off. I feel like I’m being used as a prop in his morality play and I have no desire whatsoever to be called one of the good guys if others that I care about and mostly agree with are being portrayed as the bad guys. So let me make a few things as clear as I can possibly make them here.
Do I sometimes wish that FTB wasn’t ground zero for quite so much drama and controversy? Sure. Do I occasionally wish that others would have handled a particular situation with a bit more nuance? Sure. But some fights are worth having, are necessary to have, and the fact that it’s going to piss some people off doesn’t much matter to me. And if the best our enemies have to offer is a ridiculous caricature like the one offered by Al in this video, you will find me on the other side of that fence every single time.
When I first approached PZ about joining me in forming FTB, we immediately agreed on one thing — we wanted to make sure it wasn’t just another place for middle aged (in my case) or old (in his case) white guys to talk about atheism. That isn’t because we hate white men; after all, we are white men. It’s because our own experiences are limited and we believe that the secular community and society in general benefits from hearing other voices. Providing a forum for more diverse voices to speak out is incontrovertibly a good thing and it is something I remain absolutely committed to doing.
Sometimes I like peace and quiet. Sometimes I’d like to see the drama subside. But if the battle is against this monumentally stupid notion that feminists hate straight white men, and it appears that it largely is, consider the battle joined. I’m not disappointed that FTB is often the scene of controversy; I am disappointed that we still have leaders in the atheist community pushing the same twisted vision of feminists favored by the Pat Robertsons of the world.