Ouch, anti-feminists, you made me sad

The latest noise the MRAs have been pouring into my mailbox has actually been effective in their goals: I find it very depressing. If your intent is to fill me with despair, you win!

First, some background. Y’all have heard of Cathy Young, right? She’s one of those anti-feminists who claims to be a True Feminist™, like Christina Hoff Summers. She’s one of those people who seems to hate the idea of consent, and spends most of her time writing about evil, man-hating feminists — she’s one of the sources of mischaracterization of feminism, of the sort that misogynists love to regurgitate.

Barry Deutsch takes her to task on her weird definitions of feminism.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines an anti-feminist as “One opposed to women or to feminism.” Cathy doesn’t oppose women, but you’d have to impossibly distort her work to argue that she doesn’t oppose feminism; virtually all her writings on feminism are attacks on feminists and feminism. The OED offers a second definition: “a person (usu. a man) who is hostile to sexual equality or to the advocacy of women’s rights.” Cathy isn’t hostile to equality (and she’s not a man!), but her writing clearly is “hostile to… the advocacy of women’s rights.” She thinks women already have virtually all the rights they need, and therefore further advocacy is unnecessary.

In the introduction to her book Ceasefire!, Cathy concedes that in one area – the family/work balance – women might still have a legitimate complaint. But virtually all other concerns that justify a “case for continued feminist activism,” she dismisses as illegitimate. There’s a big difference between criticizing some feminist views, and denying that there’s a legitimate need for a women’s movement at all. How can anyone who doesn’t see a need for a movement for women’s equality, be a feminist?

Deutsch also wonders about this myth of man-hating feminism, which Young tends to favor.

But this brings up something I’ve wondered about for quite a while. When I read MRAs, as well as “conservative feminists” like Christina Hoff Sommers, a narrative history of feminism tends to emerge, which goes something like this: Once upon a time there were the suffragettes, who were libertarian or conservative and they were Good. Then came the second wave feminists in the 60s and 70s, who fought for equal pay and the like, and they were Good. But in the 1980s came the Evil “gender feminists” or “victim feminists,” who turned feminism into man-hating victimology, and feminism has been Bad ever since.

But curiously enough, when reading Sommers and others, it quickly becomes apparent that most of their examples are from 60s and 70s feminism. And so Sommers makes a big deal of the word “ovulars,” a term from the 1960s that no one but Sommers herself uses nowadays. Dworkin, Young’s example, peaked in influence and prominence in the 70s, became a hugely controversial figure within feminism in the 80s, and pretty much faded from prominence after that. Most of the feminists I see quoted as proof of how awful and man-hating feminists are (Robin Morgan, Germaine Greer , Marilyn French, etc) came into prominence in the 60s and 70s.

Are we all up to speed, then? If you’ve ever heard MRAs pontificate sagely about how they are “equity feminists” but not “gender feminists”, terms that Sommers popularized, or accuse feminists of hating men, or of being professional victims, you’ve been hearing the echoes of conservative anti-feminists like Cathy Young. Their claims are nonsense, but they resonate well with the men who like their sexism endorsed.

That’s familiar. It’s a bit sad. But here’s the article I find most discouraging, an old review of one of Cathy Young’s books…a very positive review.

"Girls are not silenced or ignored in the classroom," Young writes. "Medicine has not neglected women’s health. Abuse by men is not the leading cause of injury to American women; the courts do not treat violence toward women more leniently than violence toward men. Gender disparities in pay and job status are not merely a consequence of sex discrimination. The ’80s were not a "backlash decade’ but a time of steady progress for women and, generally, of strong support for women’s advancement."

Young spends much of the book proving these assertions in a way that makes you want to cheer aloud. Finally someone has shed light (and reality) on all those bogus and overstated women-as-victims-of-patriarchy claims.

One just has to sigh at the misrepresentations and dishonesty. But this is what really gives me little hope: that article is by Robyn A. Blumner. This Robyn Blumner.

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science U.S. today announced that Robyn Blumner has been named Executive Director, effective February 5, 2014. Blumner will replace the interim Director, Edwina Rogers, who also serves as the Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America. 

Blumner is a longtime columnist and editorial writer for the Tampa Bay Times in Florida. She has an extensive background as a public advocate for church-state separation, the rights of atheists and other nontheists, a spectrum of civil liberties and civil rights causes, economic and racial justice and other progressive causes. Her nonprofit experience includes having led two statewide affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“I am delighted to have Robyn Blumner leading the Foundation in the U.S,” said Richard Dawkins. “Her published writings show her to be a strong, unapologetic atheist with the vision to pursue the imaginative aims of the Foundation, while her legal background and non-profit experience equip her to put them into practice.”

You win, MRAs, misogynists, and other pig-like beings, you win. I’m going to curl up in a corner somewhere and weep for a while. Go celebrate.

But I’ll feel better later, and get back to fighting.


  1. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Ugh. If Christina Hoff Summers is a feminist, I’m an anti-feminist.

    And if Blumner gets to define atheism, I’m sure as hell anti-atheist.

  2. doublereed says

    That article is from 1999. Maybe she’s changed her attitude in 15 years especially being involved with the issues in the atheism movement.

  3. susan says

    The only reason I’m glad I ever bought any of that guy’s books is it gave me the opportunity to toss them in the trash later.

  4. says

    I’m guessing it is not that likely she’s changed given she wrote this in 2005 .. http://www.sltrib.com/opinion/ci_2545867

    Based on this balls from the Harvard President too …

    Laurence Summers lecture was a pseudo-scientific tour de force if that Grauniad article is to be believed. To defend that is in itself pretty bad, but then stating…

    There is nothing to fear from acknowledging that men and women have different psychological tendencies. What we should fear is the hysteria that occasions the speaking of uncomfortable truths.

    Yergh, “uncomfortable truths”, like those climate denialists espouse? “Psychological tendencies” and “choices”, still never occurs to question where they come from. She frames it as if how much is “biologically determined” is known, or if it’s biologically determined at all!

    Still not all bad, it waxes and wanes from bits like this …

    Group averages tell us nothing about individuals. It would be unfair and unfounded to judge someone’s abilities and potential based solely on his or her group identity. If, on average, males are better than females at math – and generations of SAT scores would suggest so – that says absolutely nothing about whether a particular woman is better or worse than a particular man. Plenty of women are superior mathematicians.

    To a raw assertion that… “discrimination alone cannot explain why women make up only 9 percent of working engineers” … Oh really? How did you determine that? Seem that she has seen much faster adoption of diversity in other academic areas so if just *cannot* be discrimination. So there!

  5. Stacey C. says

    Given Dawkin’s recent track record especially his ‘crush’ on Jaclyn Glenn, I wouldn’t be surprised at anything. SIGH.

  6. Roberto Teixeira says

    I honestly am not surprised, though. I’ve long felt like Dawkins himself doesn’t see minorities’ issues as important–or valid, even–so I don’t find it surprising that his foundation would share the same values. Sad? Yes. Surprising? Not at all.

  7. karmacat says

    These writers seem bothered by seeing women as victims. It is almost like a reaction formation as if they are saying, “I can’t possibly be a victim, because women are not oppressed.” I’m just wondering if they can’t tolerate the idea of being vulnerable. This is just speculation on my part, of course. I just wonder what influences a person’s perception of an issue.

    Also, there is this idea that if you are a feminist then you are against men as if there is a zero sum game between men and women. There is also no nuance to their arguments. So they say girls are not silenced in the classroom, but does the treatment of girls in classrooms vary across regions and type of subjects. I wonder what these women would say about rape culture, but I’m afraid to find out

  8. says

    Wait, people stll had hope? What the hell?! I feel sooo buch better for abandoning it, and fighting because it’s mostly pretty enjoyable and certainly can’t hurt, even if it doesn’t make the world or the people in it any more decent. But actual hope, in the age of Obama and Dear Muslima? Gone the way of the dodo, I’m afraid.

  9. Anthony K says

    And you can’t avoid the fact that he writes like an angel.

    PZ, you should really take a look at this thing called Twitter the kids are all about these days. Richard Dawkins is on it.

    The real unavoidable fact is that his editor edits like an angel.

  10. says

    Judging from a cursory review, while she’s expressed some hostility toward lookism, there’s been a steady gender-essentialist line in Blumner’s writing. From calling on people to “accept” innate “gender tendencies” in the late ’90s to more recently creating a stir by saying we need more “girly men” (who embrace “feminine” care and compassion and relationship-diplomacy) in charge of foreign policy, she seems unable to get past essentialist thinking.

    And those views are, of course, right at home at the RDF. The more informed I become about this history, the more I’ve come to realize that Dawkins and others in this group have long been deeply involved and politically outspoken in pseudoscientific reactionary politics. Even when they haven’t explicitly sided with white male supremacist arguments, they’ve been quick to turn their rhetoric against those opposing them.

  11. says

    It’s fascinating that a critical piece about Blumner’s “girlie men” article was written by Cathy Young:

    Whether more talk and less force would be a good approach to our problems is a question for another day. But it’s a question of human values, not male or female ones. Once gender is introduced into the debate, we run the risk of reducing complex issues to Mars- Venus platitudes.

    Of course, “we” only run that risk if we essentialize gender. If we can talk intelligently about culture, about patriarchy and capitalism and the gendered “social characters” they require and reproduce, introducing gender is necessary to moving forward.

  12. mildlymagnificent says

    It is almost like a reaction formation as if they are saying, “I can’t possibly be a victim, because women are not oppressed.” I’m just wondering if they can’t tolerate the idea of being vulnerable. This is just speculation on my part, of course. I just wonder what influences a person’s perception of an issue.

    I think that denial of vulnerability drives a lot of people. Whenever I’m in a conversation where the subject of violent-first-husbands comes up, it’s a bit of a toss up what’s going to be said. Most of us are more or less resigned to a horrible part of our history we’re glad we’re done with. But a few are still, maybe decades after the events, really really strong in their statements. One of which inevitably turns out to be “Whatever doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” All very sad.

    Another big influence on people’s perceptions is total unfamiliarity with any life but their own. The number of people who say that there’s no need for divorce, follow a simple rule like “never go to bed angry” and all will be well. These are people who simply can’t imagine fights, arguments or disagreements that get completely out of hand. Similarly, younger people aren’t aware of the problems of property ownership and financial restrictions that used to apply to women, so they’re able to dismiss the whole project of feminism as unnecessary or indulgent just because they can’t imagine that women whom they know ever suffered any such disadvantage.

    The rest is all down to motivated reasoning of one sort or another.

  13. brucegee1962 says

    Dear MRAs:

    If you wish your critique of feminism to be taken seriously, it isn’t that hard. Simply

    a) quote a self-proclaimed feminist
    b) who is still active today
    b) and who is highly regarded by other feminists
    d) in a quote of enough length to get the gist of her overall argument, rather than just a snippet.

    If you do so, then I’ll at least look at your argument. I may not agree with it, but I’ll give it a fair shake. If the main representative of feminism for you is someone like Dworkin, or more likely, the imaginary evil feminist who only exists inside your own brain, then I really can’t be bothered.

    And of course, everything above applies equally well if you substitute the words “biology” and “biologists” for “feminism” and “feminists” above. Or “atheism” and “atheists.” Or any other topic where you don’t want to come across looking like a dumbass.

  14. samgardner says

    Crip Dyke @1

    The Dawkins foundation doesn’t define atheism.

    And I hope you were being facetious. Blumner may clearly have been wrong, but that doesn’t mean everything she ever says is wrong. That would be a particularly extreme form of ad hominem.

  15. says

    Yesterday, I watched an anti-feminist video by Glenn. The video and the comment section… I was shaking my head in despair while scrolling down. It was almost indistinguishable from the nonsense at the AVfM FB page. I get the impression that their idea of “extreme feminism” can be a feminist that criticizes one or more of their ideas, and not the content of the criticism. And now this? I was already done with Skepticon after hearing (maybe 20) guys in one day rip on Greta Christina for either being “divisive” by being critical of some behaviors, or “trying to be our mom” because she did a talk about activism burnout.

  16. says

    @jesseneedham – at Skepticon? They seem quite decent to me (though I could do without one of their speakers at the upcoming conference). Generally they’ve been quick to react to injustice, and be on the side of feminism, e.g. when Lindsay gave his speech.

    Or was it participants at Skepticon?

  17. robro says

    Anthony K @#10 — What are the chances that his publicist handles his Tweets? There are even services for that. However, your point is well taken about editors and the quality of the final product. And, there’s always the possibility of uncredited assistance with the writing. It’s not unheard of for big name writers to actually be a team of researchers, writers, editors, reviewers, and so forth. On the other hand, his name is on some comments that I’ve seen that showed his disdain for feminist issues, so he lost a lot of creditability with me.

  18. says

    Krisjan. They were participants, not the speakers or organizers. I’m sure there are far more decent people attending Skepticon than not. It was just a bad experience for me. Including a drunk guy at the hotel, who came for the event, tried to force himself on my girlfriend. I left first thing the next morning. It was too much crap for me to tolerate.

  19. says

    Sorry to hear about your experiences Jesse. I plan to attend Skepticon for the first time this year and hope to not run into similar experiences.

  20. says

    I think it was last year that several of the inane trolls attended — I think it included the guys who go by the names birdterrifier and d4m10n. Not that the general audience doesn’t contain the potential for assholery, but one thing that’s happening to a small degree is that some people go to troll and cause grief. Like Justin Vacula at Women for Secularism.

    They have a strong anti-harassment policy. Incidents like the drunk guy should be reported to the con, or you can also just shout it out in public — there are lots of people who’d provide support.

  21. says

    Here’s a description of an incident that plainly illustrates that “gender disparities in pay and job status” are still very much with us.

    Lyndsay Kirkham was just trying to have lunch with her son and his father on Monday when she overheard a group of IBM executives at the next table say, “We’re not hiring any young women because they just get pregnant again and again.” Shocked and appalled, she started live-tweeting the encounter. First picked up by The Daily Dot, Kirkham’s story has since ballooned into a bigger conversation about the tech world’s gender and racial inclusion problem.

    Kirkham told ThinkProgress that, based on the conversation, she believed the executives had the assumption that men aren’t good parents or that men don’t or can’t parent children as well as women. “They were looking for ‘mature’ women who, in their opinion, were less likely to have any more children,” said Kirkham, who checked for alcohol on the table because she couldn’t believe the executives’ candor.

    She said she didn’t get the executives’ names or titles, but that they were likely from human resources, or at least familiar with the jargon, based on repeated talk of pensions, holidays, time off and job benefits. IBM hasn’t returned ThinkProgress’ repeated requests for comment. Kirkham also said she hadn’t been contacted by IBM, which has a large corporate office in Toronto.

    Kirkham, a Toronto-based copyeditor for Demeter Press and freelance writer and developer, believes that her experience has highlight a systemic problem. “It’s rampant,” she said. “Workplace issues around equality [in technology companies such as the] gaming industry are everywhere.”

    Since tweeting the incident, and pointing out that everyone at the table was a white male (a woman joined later), Kirkham has gotten some backlash from the public with people calling her racist. But her response is that “It doesn’t get more privileged than a bunch of white dudes talking about women. Race is also very much so a part of this.” […]


  22. Joy inTorah says

    I always laugh when MRA’s misdefine radical feminism. It’s hilarious. If it wasn’t for radical feminism there’d be no liberal feminism. Each wave has its distinct contributions and is all valid as an approach to women’s liberation.

    The waves do disagree with each other on some important theoretical issues, for example gender and how to place the buying and selling of sex within a larger cultural context, but that’s really about it.

    When I see people balking at radical feminism and they’re liberal feminists just trying to win an argument with an MRA, it really saddens me. That kind of ignorance is much worse to witness than some asshole MRA telling everyone men and women are pair bonding. LOL