Warning: I’m about to voice my opinion on feminism and misogyny in the freethought community. Get out while you can. I know I should keep my mouth shut like I have done for the whole last year, but I’ve I decided not to take my own advice anymore.
When I was a little boy, (we’re talking 1971 here) my deeply religious babysitters told me that women could never fly fighter jets because of alleged differences in their depth perception, or their physical center of gravity altering their sense of balance, or the ways in which female brains reportedly processed information differently than the brain of a male.
This is just one example of sexual inequality being alleged as a biological fact. While I concede there are a few things most women can’t do as well as some men -owing to a proportion of upper body strength, that just might be the limit of justifiable reasons for gender restrictions. That is as much credence as I can give to that. So women shouldn’t be expected have fair odds against men of equal weight in a boxing ring. What about beyond that?
I knew a woman who was six feet tall and could bench 270lbs. She could be an ambulance paramedic because she could meet the criteria -where a lot of men could not. That’s what matters. Maybe that’s how my metric differs from the norm of earlier generations. Now what if the job is not physically demanding in that specific area? How could there be any difference then? I don’t think there is.
I know of one case where a female pilot killed 20 people in a helicopter crash. I doubt her gender could have played any role in that at all. If it was her fault, I would sooner blame the fact that the military put a difficult and dangerous multi-million-dollar aircraft in the hands of a teenager. Perhaps any pilot who was old enough to qualify for commercial insurance should have done better?
My wife often laughs at me for being “roaringly heterosexual”, but I am also one of those atypical freaks who finds intelligence sexy. Cute cannot compensate for dumb, and one certainly is not the other. If a woman shows that she is actually smarter than I am, oh honey! I know; there are not many other men like that.
It’s not about sex either. There are many women in the secular movement with commercial-grade comeliness, and I am proud that they count me among their peers, but that’s not the criteria by which we are associated, obviously. Some of my favorite heroes are women; Boadicca, Hypatia, Ruslana. When I say that I respect a woman for her mind, I actually mean it, and not in the same tongue-in-cheek fashion as saying that I read Playboy for the articles.
At the same time, I can’t simply turn off hard-wired hormonal responses to sexual stimuli. For example, it has often happened that I may be amongst a number of sharp-witted women intellectually analyzing subjects of scientific substance with profound perspective, and there I am, suddenly –helplessly- focused on some elegant lass who casually passed with a fabulous ass, and befuddled my brilliance, rebooting my brain in mid-debate. I don’t always possess the necessary class to conceal such embarrassing distractions discretely.
Still I won’t support or defend a policy prohibiting or inhibiting women from wearing ‘sexualized’ clothing at skeptics conferences; vendors or not, doesn’t matter. I know it’s mostly nerds at these sorts of things, but it still doesn’t take that much research for anyone to figure out how to blend in or stand out appropriately. I wouldn’t dictate how someone else dresses. Speaking personally, even having such a rule seems unnecessarily prudish.
I have even heard a suggestion that speakers in skeptical events should be prohibited from engaging in carnal liaisons with any attendees who were not also on stage. This is just absurd. The excuse is that there is supposedly some unequal power issue which leaves those in the audience being treated like doe-eyed sycophants –not by the expectedly exploitive speakers, but by the policy itself. I know from experience that occurrences of adulation are relatively rare, and typically concern only legally responsible adults. So why should there even be a rule like that one?
Mind you, while I have been on stage a few times myself, I have no bias on this point to influence my objectivity. I am married, and my wife and I prefer not to ‘swing’. Another reason I might avoid such judgments is that I have the advantage of sufficient social skills that I know there are behavioral boundaries. Even if I’ve had a few drinks, I still know there’s a line there, and I don’t always need to venture toward it. A lot of other people aren’t aware there should even be a line, and that’s only part of the problem.
Even though I’m neither popular nor important enough to be invited to TAM or Skepticon, it sometimes happens that I am asked to participate at atheist events. Once I even shared the stage with Richard Dawkins and Rebecca Watson at the same time. That was a stunning revelation. Watson was supposed to talk about ‘communicating atheism’, but instead she used her time to explain how uncomfortable feminism is in the secular movement. What was shocking about that were the comments on the video once it was uploaded to my channel. Anyone who thinks she exaggerated, or who doesn’t believe there is a problem with sexism in secularism need only read a few of those posts, especially the early ones; they vindicated all the horrible things she listed about the vile sexist threats she spoke of.
Understand that I do not say any of this to fit in or be popular. I don’t think it is possible to comment on this topic at all and still be popular in this movement anymore. But I sincerely do not understand hate, nor why other people fixate on negativity. It’s just not the way I think. There is a positive aspect to nearly all our experiences. If you can’t find something good, at least allow yourself to be impressed, because sharing the things you love is what will endear you to others. Seriously, nobody cares about what you hate, and you shouldn’t either.
So I don’t get the sort of mindset which sets any demographic as being superior or inferior to another in vague general terms. Specific arguments of that sort are at least possible, though I can’t remember ever seeing one. Being a white male from a fairly insular upbringing, I may not be very observant of that sort of thing. There were a lot of bigots in my own family once upon a time, but now my more-ethnic friends have to tell me about the prejudice they’ve encountered, or else I wouldn’t know that still goes on.
I was equally unaware of misogyny, and by that I mean REAL misogyny, not just guys being heterosexual. There has to be socially acceptable means of having a healthy sex-life, of seeking and inviting partners to pursue such basic biological drives with mutual benefits. No, a misogynist is not simply responding to his hormones; he is making a hate claim, portraying women as subordinate, subservient, insufficient, and somehow deserving of disrespect or even abuse. I honestly do not understand how even the most hateful bigots can take that stance.
The shocking part of all these recent controversies to me is not that misogyny exists outside the world and works of Martin Luther, but that it somehow thrives today, and that it still exists in the freethought community of all places. How could it? Who else has a more progressive perspective, with the most tolerant attitudes, and the most advanced ideas? How could such a despicable disposition, so repugnant, so medieval, remain at all in any group that includes so many Star Trek fans? Have we learned nothing from the next gen?