This thing about feminism and skepticism, and the idea that they make a natural pair…

I don’t think they do, really. I think they can be compatible, but I don’t think they’re made for each other.

You can be skeptical about any given social arrangement, but since feminism can be a social arrangement, that means you can be skeptical about feminism too. Or to put it another way, you can be skeptical about social arrangements and about proposed alternatives to those social arrangements.

Of course most of the justifications for social arrangements in which men as a group are above women as a group are stupid and don’t stand up to interrogation, and in that sense skepticism and critical thinking perhaps are allied with feminism. But that doesn’t mean there are no possible arguments for such arrangements. Some people like hierarchical arrangements, even if they’re not at the top of them.

Here’s one thing about equality as a social arrangement: it puts all the onus on individuals, and strips them of the excuse of their place in the hierarchy. That can be a burden.

In a way I think atheism is more aligned to feminism than skepticism is. Maybe that’s why I answer to the name “atheist” but not so much to “skeptic.” Monotheism is the ultimate in hierarchical arrangements, after all, with “god” perched on the point of the pyramid, looking down on everyone. “God” is male, so with him sitting at the top it seems as if men get the next layer and women are underneath god and men. But if you yank god off the top then there’s no particular reason to let men have the next layer, and in fact there’s less reason to think humans are sorted into layers at all.

But skepticism isn’t like that. Plenty of skeptics have been skeptical of equality – you know, equality is for losers, because winners don’t want equality because they are winners. Winning is the opposite of equality, isn’t it.

Michael DeDora has an interesting post about atheism, skepticism and social justice.



  1. says

    An element of skepticism (in science for example) is self-skepticism, though; so arguably, being skeptical about feminism should be one component of feminist skepticism or skeptical feminism, at least at a structural level.

  2. Stevarious, Public Health Problem says

    I disagree.

    The problem with skepticism is that there’s nothing in the concept of skepticism that implies that you should even bother uncovering frauds and debunking cranks. In fact, there’s nothing in skepticism itself that says you shouldn’t BECOME a homeopath or a faith healer.

    You need to couple your skepticism with compassion and empathy before it does anyone any good for anyone else. The modern skeptical movement actually has a great deal of compassion and empathy in it – look how hard it works to uncover frauds like Popoff and Burzinski! It just needs to have it’s field widened.

  3. brianpansky says

    yes, let’s remember that *values* are important in some matters. as you say, this is a social matter.

    values, knowledge/info, and reason. these three things are sorta important. if you forget about “values”, you might violate the is-ought problem.

    most skepticism is based around what “is”, and sometimes has little to do with values. but equality and stuff does have to do with values.

  4. Jason Dick says

    The only way to have skepticism be an ally of any moral argument is if there is some moral foundation that we (nearly) all agree upon, and that moral foundation can be used to build the argument.

    I do think that that exists here. I think that we generally believe that even if there are to be winners and losers, those winners and losers should not have arbitrary advantages/disadvantages just because of how they were born. Even in conservative circles, you hear people talking about how we should offer, “equality of opportunity.”

    As long as you have that agreed-upon moral foundation upon which to build an argument, then skepticism does really have a role to play here.

    If that agreed-upon foundation cannot be found, then there’s no argument to be had.

  5. brianpansky says

    hmmm, Stevarious said “I disagree” but basically pointed out the same thing I did while I agreed? maybe one of us missed something (tired, need to re-read)

    I used the word “values” and Stevarious used “empathy and compassion”. Empathy and Compassion are some of the values I think are good, so yea, very similar.

  6. Stevarious, Public Health Problem says

    I think the difference is that I was talking about Skepticism the movement, while you were talking about Skepticism the concept.

    Upon re-reading, I find that I was mistaken as to the thrust of Ophelia’s post and that she was definitely not talking about the skeptical movement. Which makes your statement more appropriate to the context.

    Ah well.

  7. says

    Ya Stevarious I think you’re agreeing with me, not disagreeing. And yes, I’m talking about skepticism as such; the method and/or the philosophical concept.

  8. Robert B. says

    Skepticism as a method has some obvious limits. Obviously you can’t just go around being wantonly skeptical about everything. The point is to be skeptical only about things that are false, while believing things that are true. Skepticism should properly be a tool in the minds of rational people, to deal with a world where nearly everyone believes in big dangerous falsehoods. It’s not a value for its own sake, just like I’m not an atheist for the sake of atheism but rather as a consequence of rationalism and humanism.

    Deciding how compatible feminism is with atheism or with skepticism seems a bit silly. People should make political decisions based on what they do believe in, rather than what they don’t. And if there actually are people who just believe in skepticism without anything behind it, that’s past “silly,” on into “misguided” and fast approaching the opposite border into “stupid.”

  9. Pen says

    You can certainly be skeptical about different ideas in feminism. For example there was the radical feminist movement of the 70s I got quite a lot out of but it had a general thread running though it that abandoning heterosexual relationships with men might work. I always felt that idea didn’t recognise the raw facts of sexuality. Or, you can be very skeptical about which proposed tactics for rape prevention, male-centered, female-centered or whatever actually work.

    I don’t really feel atheism has much to do with feminism. I don’t believe in any gods therefore… what? Well, I’m in a different position from women with religions, most of which are quite anti-women, but after that, I don’t know.

    I totally agree with the people who say you need values as well and neither skepticism, atheism nor religion seem guaranteed to provide them.

  10. Nomit says

    ““God” is male, so with him sitting at the top it seems as if men get the next layer and women are underneath god and men. ”

    I agree it looks this way from a Euro-American perspective, where ‘god’ generally means Abrahamic, but I don’t think it is true for most of the world’s population, and not for most of history. Priesthoods, on the other hand …

  11. says

    When I was a kid in church, I remember some people arguing that God wasn’t male or female in the way that we understand humans to be male and female. We just describe God as male because that’s how our puny brains can understand him. It was confusing to me then but now I just see it as really awkward mental gymnastics for people who want to believe in God but also want to see some equality between men and women.

  12. Martha says

    @ Ophelia: I find this topic very interesting, as I have finally gotten around to reading “Why Truth Matters.” Perhaps I’m reading into things with hindsight with respect to your co-author, but I was struck by how many times the opening chapter of the book used feminism as an example of an anti-skeptical– sorry, actually anti-sceptical– worldview. That and choosing Margaret Meade as an example of finding data to fit a conclusion seemed rather telling to me. I can’t judge the anthropology myself, but I’m pretty sure that some of the articles to which Stephanie has recently linked make it clear that Freeman did a hatchet job on Meade. At any rate, with so many other options to choose to demonstrate how bias can lead to bad science (say, phrenology), my impression was that these particular choices betrayed your co-author’s now-clear biases. But perhaps I’m being ungenerous.

    Anyway, I’m enjoying plowing through, however slowly!

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