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Oct 22 2013

Evolution of a feminist

I highly recommend Aron Ra’s video and commentary on his growth towards feminism.

I have to disagree with his conclusion, though (it’s OK — I think it’s a strength that we do not passively accept our Brave Leaders’ view). He points out that we atheists are a small minority in a sea of superstitious believers, and that we shouldn’t be fighting among ourselves. And, unfortunately, he characterizes this as a struggle over trivialities that are dividing the movement.

They are not trivialities. These are issues that we must resolve now, because they will shape how our movement evolves from this point on. I’d rather affiliate with progressive theists (although I’d be carping at them constantly about their goofball faith) than with atheists who want to rationalize women into subservience. We’re in a fight for the soul of atheism — and I want atheism to be something worth fighting for.

(Note: if you want to pile on Aron Ra for that last short section of his talk, and you want to do it without watching everything that precedes it, don’t. I’ve highlighted one bit that I disagree with; the rest is good stuff. Watch it all and read his blog post before you chime in on the conversation, OK?)

27 comments

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  1. 1
    Gregory in Seattle

    “We’re in a fight for the soul of atheism — and I want atheism to be something worth fighting for.”

    Quote for the win.

  2. 2
    Eamon Knight

    QFT: I’d rather affiliate with progressive theists….than with atheists who want to rationalize women into subservience.

  3. 3
    frankb

    Aron was going so strong for most of the speech and at the end he seemed to do an about face. Very odd.

  4. 4
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    It’s certainly true that the anti-feminists shouldn’t be battling the feminists in the atheist communities where this is happening.

  5. 5
    ludicrous

    Yeah very important video, more public men should do this. We can identify, that helps a lot.

    A blogger here could make an occasional invitation to commenters, “My feminist journey so far” It wouldn’t need to be lengthy, highlights, experiences that might be useful to other men.

    Unfortunately my old ears had so much difficulty with the poor audio on AR’s clip I gave up. Please folks, don’t worry much about the video, make the audio clear. Have a checklist, background noise, mike placement , turn off other mikes, keep others away from the mike etc.

  6. 6
    smhll

    I watched the video yesterday. It’s good stuff. I knew that the discussion of trivial or minor stuff was likely to spark discussion, and I kind of wanted to start it very gently.

    I appreciated the way he opened up and shared about how he was brought up. It was eye opening for me. (I’m roughly the same age he is, so there were historical similarities but cultural differences.)

    I appreciate that he talked positively and ACCURATELY about mainstream feminism. In almost every discussion of every controversy the extreme edge cases (like Soldanas and Dworkin, and worse if they misquote M French) get brought up to prove that the movement is bad. (Probably we see somewhat the same distortion when Manboobz picks MRA sentences or paragraphs to reply to. But I like Manboobz)

    I have also read AronRa’s post defending feminism and the comments this morning. I’m agreeing with what he has to say.

    I live in Northern California, within half an hour of Berkeley. I just don’t see demonization and discrimination to atheists happening in my personal life. I try to get that his circumstances are different. (I’m three quarters closeted about being an atheist, though. There is no closet enveloping enough to hide my gender, though.)

    I want to reject AR’s suggestion that feminist atheists can put aside our differences with atheists who have major problems with feminism. Especially when those problems are based on hostile entitlement and ignorance. (I appreciate what AR is doing to dispell ignorance.)

    The hostility and aggression that I see on YouTube comments on selected atheist videos is so repulsive and threatening to me that I personally am very reluctant to attend any atheist-oriented event when more than one of the guys who express those sentiments is going to be present. That may sound wimpy to you, but I have lots of other choices about how to spend my money. More choices than money every time.

    I get more dehumanizing crap for being female than I do for being an atheist. That stays my primary identification. I’m not going to set the same priority on that that Aron does. (My priority is higher he seems to be suggesting it should be.)

    Oppressive behavior has to stop. Shitheaded macho attitudes have to stop, or at least be set aside for the duration of the collaboration.

    The place to find synergy is probably combining feminists plus atheists in areas where theocrats want to control sex and reproduction. Maybe we can build strong cooperation there.

    When I’m fighting for rights and respect, no one who fights against me can be my friend and ally. I need a welcoming atheist movement, not an internet cesspit like YouTube comments. I realize all of those comments are posted by human beings, but I visualize them as feral trolls with malfunctioning empathy circuits. (And logic circuits that are being subverted by the desire to Win arguments.)

    I would like to see more atheists who aren’t female join in shooting down the bad logic and the misogynistic insults that are so commonplace. Many men and gender flexible people are doing a good job. But there are lots of lurkers letting atrocious, half-baked, emotional arguments stand uncriticized. It looks like indifference. Maybe it’s something else.

  7. 7
    gussnarp

    Aron Ra is smart, incisive, and skilled in logical argument. I’m very glad to have him generally on our side, even given a bit of waffling regarding internal division.

    I’ll also say that, important as atheism is to me, there are an awful lot of issues that are actually more important in the near term, like feminism.

  8. 8
    niftyatheist, perpetually threadrupt

    I’m only at 6 minutes in and I know there will be much to think about after viewing the whole speech, so I want to note this here before the thought is once again eclipsed by the other issues (issues which will press on me more because I am a woman who grew up in the same era): my heart is breaking for that little boy – the generations of little boys – whose fears and tender feelings and needs were crushed out of him because of toxic masculinity.

  9. 9
    diohuni
  10. 10
    gussnarp

    @diohuni #9: Not that your post actually dignifies a response, but had you watched and paid attention to Aron Ra’s speech you would have heard him say something that, if one takes the very worst possible view of all of PZ’s past actions, would still apply: “If you are sexist to an extent, then you are a feminist beyond that extent”.

    Not getting it right every time in every way doesn’t mean you’re not a feminist.

  11. 11
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    So…diohuni apparently dropped a turd that was cleaned up within 20 minutes. Nicely done!

  12. 12
    niftyatheist, perpetually threadrupt

    Finished. And now, No. Aron Ra, no. Disagreement about feminism is not “trivial”. I would argue that without feminism, the atheist movement is doomed.

  13. 13
    niftyatheist, perpetually threadrupt

    Oh crap. I responded (again!) before reading Aron’s blog post too. Mea culpa – and off to read.

  14. 14
    sherryreson

    Found my way here this morning via Laura Helmuth’s Slate post: Don’t Be a Creep Lessons from the latest terrible, sad, fascinating scandal in the science blogging world. …. I read that and wondered if PZ & Co had weighed in.

    Watched/listened to the video. Read Aron’s post. Agree with niftyatheist: “Disagreement about feminism is not “trivial.” Misogyny undermines trust among putative allies and corrupts the atheist movement.

    And I’m interested in hearing Aron unpack his point, his thinking about how this division is trivial.

  15. 15
    =8)-DX

    @sherryreson #14

    And I’m interested in hearing Aron unpack his point, his thinking about how this division is trivial.

    Loving the guy, I tend to interpret him to mean it should be fuckin’ trivial! That’s how it seemed to me, back in the day. I remember watching the famous Watson Elevatorgate video and thinking “atheists are awesome, we can overcome all of religious bigotry, including the sexism!” I was completely baffled by the negative reactions, I had no idea this could ever be anything but a trivial point of minor disagreement among atheists (of the nature of “ok, so some atheist dudes have problems meeting people and are akward when propositioning… we’re learning, cut us some slack! Great video, love ya Rebecca, you rock!”). This was also at a time when many public atheist figures and orgs talked openly in support of LGBT* rights and legislation. For me feminism seemed a logical auxiliary cause (let’s get rid of all the bullshit that culture says about women and gays!).

    I’m not gonna do a full story here – but suffice to say that I was brought up a Catholic with only brothers and had to slowly drag myself to feminism during my transition to atheist. I still laughed at “gender studies” language and propositions, but for me “equality” was the word I gravitated towards, trying to implement it in my married life and parenting. The whole RW situation and the hundreds of other examples of the sexism which many atheists cling to have however actually had a great positive effect on me: I needed that slap on the face. I needed to realise that just saying “equality” isn’t enough, one has to understand one’s own biases, listen to women, identify and break down predjudice. I understood that this was something I had to learn about and listen, just like learning how evolution works.

    We atheists are much more unwilling to let go of the identity “man”, than “Christian”. Thanks to AronRa for this video, no one should be ashamed to call themselves a feminist (or in some situations: feminist ally)

  16. 16
    profpedant

    I want to reject AR’s suggestion that feminist atheists can put aside our differences with atheists who have major problems with feminism.

    It was too ambiguously expressed, but I heard his statement as the precise opposite, that the “sexist atheists” should put aside their differences with the feminist atheists (i.e. that the sexist atheists should stop complaining about atheists advocating equality for all).

  17. 17
    smhll

    It was too ambiguously expressed, but I heard his statement as the precise opposite, that the “sexist atheists” should put aside their differences with the feminist atheists

    That is certainly what I would like to see happen. I’d march behind that banner.

    (In his speech AR said the word “trivial” without specifying which side of the argument he meant was trivial, or if he meant both sides are trivial, his statements. This bore some similarity to some of the things not-very-feminist atheists have said to feminist atheists before. Some of those prior statements (by other people, not AR in particular) have sounded like “Can’t we put aside our differences on gender and harassment and just unite on our Important Common Uniting Point, working to support secularism against religion?”

  18. 18
    niftyatheist, perpetually threadrupt

    It was too ambiguously expressed, but I heard his statement as the precise opposite, that the “sexist atheists” should put aside their differences with the feminist atheists (i.e. that the sexist atheists should stop complaining about atheists advocating equality for all).

    This is what I thought when he first said it. What made me uncomfortable and made me wonder was the several repetitions of how “trivial” the issue is. Based upon what went before – and having read some of Aron Ra’s stuff (including the post responding to criticism for this video) – I am inclined to agree with profpedant’s above statement, and especially with that the point was much too ambiguously expressed.

    I think maybe Aron Ra is still working through his own thoughts about this and therefore the ambiguity was not accidental. I do think he meant that it is the non-feminists’ disagreement which ought to be “trivial” but I think on at least some level (perhaps thanks to his upbringing in toxic masculinity) he recognises that the reaction of non-feminists within the movement toward feminists actually comes from a deep well of rage which is anything but trivial. Male rage is frightening not just to girls and women, but also to the men. There is the hesitancy to call out sexism directly because there might be an even worse reaction – and by worse, I mean a reaction of sexist men attacking not just women, but other men, too.(which of course we have seen with depressing predictability). I think men attacking other men is the “eating our own” that worries him. And I think it is a valid worry. This problem is not an atheist movement problem – it is a problem in human culture

  19. 19
    niftyatheist, perpetually threadrupt

    Ugh, Make that “not just to girls and women, but also to other men”

  20. 20
    QueQuoi

    After enjoying his videos for a while now, I am relieved that Aron Ra has given this talk.

    I was brought up as both an atheist and a feminist.
    As an art history major in college, I dabbled a bit in religion, because so much of the art I studied was myth and religion based. The thing that kept me from ever really considering any of the many religions I looked into was that not one of them treated women as equals.

    While I have a very hard time understanding feminist religious folk, I am still much more than happy to work with them on charities and other social justice causes. I am an open and out atheist with these folks, and while I occasionally get the “Oh, just come to church with me and check it out…”, or “Oh, there’s so much spiritual beauty you’re missing out on…”, I have never felt the hatred and vitriol from these people like I do from the anti-feminists on the web.

    I’m not sure who first said “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.”
    I’d like to add, “My atheism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.”

  21. 21
    Jackie, all dressed in black

    I’m in an area saturated in woo of various kinds. That includes feminist organizations. Chiropractors and creationists are a problem, but they are nothing next to the racism, poverty and misogyny in this area. This is why my _______ will be intersectional or it will be meaningless.
    http://tigerbeatdown.com/2011/10/10/my-feminism-will-be-intersectional-or-it-will-be-bullshit/

  22. 22
    aronra

    Just to clarify, I am *not* saying that we should shut up as if social justice issues aren’t important. At least I’m not saying that those of us with a justifiable position should shut up. I’m talking about the trollish haters spilling vitriol just to stir the coals and cause division. The arguments I have personally failed to avoid have all been so trivial that they hinge mostly on the labels at the expense of the ideal. Take the typical criticisms of A+ for example, and remember how we’ve been criticized simply for posting to FreeThoughtBlogs. That’s what I mean by ‘trivial’.

    I thought I made it clear in the video that I think anti-feminists hold an indefensible position. I have said so many times in different forums. While I fairly concede that both sides have multiple faults which I could point out, there is no balance in that comparison. I see this topic as very one-sided!

    After my speech, I mentioned to Greta that, at least when the prejudice is against other ethnicities, religions, orientations, or political perspectives, there is some rationalization given for the hatred, however weak it might be. But with the MRA types, I’ve still never even heard any excuse for a motive. I honestly don’t understand why they even exist, and I mean that sincerely. I should have my position more clear in the Q&A.

  23. 23
    juicyheart

    Let me say first, that Aronra is one of my favorite and respected personalities in the atheist movement. As is PZ. However, I disagree with the final portion of Aronra’s video as well. I think Aronra falls into a pit fall that’s been exploited by the anti-rw crowd for a while, and I think it’s time to expose this pit fall.

    Allow me to digress. I was a wrestler, and my dad was one of my primary coaches, and one of the things he taught me was that any move had four parts; the stance, the set-up, the execution and the second move. The stance is how do you position your body and weight to execute the move effectively. The set up is how do you manipulate you opponents body and weight into a position that yo can execute the move effectively. The execution is executing the move. And the second move is how do you respond to the out come.

    How does this relate to a social/political movement? Well, the stance would be who do you include into the movements base and how do you include them (are they arm candy or equals). The set-up would be how do you frame the issue. The execution would be taking an action that promotes you concern. And the second move is how do you react to the response of your action.

    The pit fall that I’m seeing is the 1st and 3rd parts of the movement. Aronra’s position in his video is to focus on the 3rd part, lets push and it doesn’t matter who’s pushing, just push. And that’s good as far as it goes. The problem is, this isn’t the part that RW and larger Freethoughts Blogs crowd are focused on: they’re focused on part one, who do you include and how do include them.

    This is an important distinction. How many times have you heard someone state the atheist movement shouldn’t promote feminism, and then turn around and ask why aren’t women joining the movement? The response has to be, no the atheist movement shouldn’t promote feminism, but if you want women to join you need to treat them as equals and with respect. You need to focus on the first part, your stance: who and how you include in your movement. And this is not a trivial matter. The peeps that want to allow women into the movement as armcandy, are not in the camp as those wanting to participate as equals.

    My view is that the movement should promote atheism,. And from a stance that is more inclusive than it it is exclusive. And if the contribution some MRAs/slymepitters are lost? Oh, we’ll.

  24. 24
    thewhollynone

    You have forced me to examine my loyalties, and they are feminist first, atheist second, and constitutional democrat (small d) next. I have been a committed atheist for a long time and am eager to support the atheist movement in any way that I can, but I find it difficult to tolerate the company of any person who uses either gender or race to deny the dignity and equality of all humans, however unintentionally. If such people cannot be re-educated within a reasonable time, it might be best to counsel them out before they damage the movement.

    Although I agree that the atheist movement in the USA is seriously outnumbered at the present time, particularly in Texas and in Mississippi, are we that desperate for adherents that we would make common cause with people who have not yet abandoned the ingrained prejudices supported by the religious mythology of the majority culture? Such people seem to have rejected god, but they have not rejected the privilege that they believe he has conferred upon them. I don’t know, maybe we need to accept them and tolerate them in order to grow our market share at this time so that atheism can become a more viable movement. We will hope to enlighten them by our association.

    It’s a not trivial conundrum.

  25. 25
    scimaths

    I appreciate that he talked positively and ACCURATELY about mainstream feminism. In almost every discussion of every controversy the extreme edge cases (like Soldanas and Dworkin, and worse if they misquote M French)

    How ironic that you hold accuracy up as being so important and yet repeat the same old bullshit lies about Dworkin. I’m curious, just what part of this, for instance, do you find “extreme” ?

    http://www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/WarZoneChaptIIIE.html

    Also, just for accuracy, it’s spelt Solanas.

  26. 26
    brucegorton

    I don’t think I could affiliate with either.

    I can support individual goals, I can support equality as a general cause, but I cannot really affiliate. I cannot keep quiet to maintain a house united, whatever the issue at stake is, because I think if we ignore the issues dividing the house we risk having it united in going the wrong way.

  27. 27
    Barb's Wire

    #6 @smhll wrote:

    “I would like to see more atheists who aren’t female join in shooting down the bad logic and the misogynistic insults that are so commonplace. Many men and gender flexible people are doing a good job. But there are lots of lurkers letting atrocious, half-baked, emotional arguments stand uncriticized. It looks like indifference. Maybe it’s something else.”

    Fantastic post made by smhll, start to finish. I particularly agreed with the part of smhll’s comment that I’ve quoted. I wish there were men on this site who could answer that question, but I suspect most here DO say something in response to misogyny and insults. It is why I appreciate these men, like PZ and Aron Ra and others. I know they DO take flack and vitriol from anti-feminists for it. We’ve all seen it.

    I was confused at the ending of Aron Ra’s video as well and soon after asked him if he would clarify, and he did by saying that he was trying to emphasize the need for civility and respectful interactions, and he further clarified his position in his post above. The fact is, the disagreements between atheists over details SHOULD be trivialities; but unfortunately because of the hateful anti-feminists, some of whom are held up as leaders in the atheist community, it isn’t.

    I’ve never felt as threatened as a female as I have during this last decade, but especially the last couple of years, and strangely enough most in the last year that I’ve identified as an atheist. I don’t think this is a coincidence. I’ve been around a few more decades than that, long enough to remember sexism, discrimination, patronization, barriers in employment, and rejection from a field of study I sincerely wished to pursue, only because of gender.

    Even during the times when women had to really fight for the rights we have now, I don’t remember this heightened a level of backlash vitriol; nor have I felt as vulnerable to hate and violence as I do at this point in time. Certainly the internet has made a huge difference; it has helped the anti-feminists and especially MRA’s find one another in what had previously been a small number of dispersed individuals, and it has allowed their hate to be far-reaching.

    I am far more measured in what I say lest I become a target. I didn’t feel the need to do that in the past. Their attempt at silencing women is a clear goal.

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