Ladies, you need to listen to what Christian guys tell you to wear

They’re Christian, so you can trust them to have your best interests at heart. The Modesty Survey is a bizarre instrument created by asking young Christian women to put together heartfelt questions about their clothing (“Are bikinis immodest?” “Are jeans immodest?”), and then teenaged Christian boys are surveyed to get their opinions. Because, of course, the girls need boys’ advice.

Reading through the questions is weird: they’re phrased in different ways, but one of the most common motifs is the “stumbling block”. The boys are asked to judge whether an item of clothing is something that might cause them to think wicked thoughts…so once again, the women are to blame for inciting men’s behavior by wearing tight jeans or a strapless dress.

They’re also explicit about it:

We’re not telling you what to wear — we’re just telling you what we, as guys, have to guard against. It is God’s Word, your own heart and conscience, and your parents and godly friends who should help you decide what to do about it.

What they have to guard against? They should be plainer. “We’re not telling you what to wear — we’re just listing the stuff that will justify raping you.”

I get a Taliban tingle just reading it. It’s a far more generous document than anything Islam dictates — young Christian men do not want young Christian women to wear burkas — but in principle, it’s the same thing. It’s men declaring ownership of women’s bodies and telling them what to wear, with the the threat of justifiable sexual assault if they do not obey.

It is a little disturbing, though, to see that their logo has a picture of a woman with a veil over her face.

What fresh torment can we perpetrate on young girls?

How about breast ironing? When I first read about it, I wondered how it would even do anything — but then you discover that they heat stones until they’re hot enough to cause pain, and press these instruments of torture to their chest daily for months. And who carries out this sadistic abuse? Their loving mothers. To make them unattractive to men, who might otherwise get them pregnant.

Don’t watch the video if the sight of scarred breasts bother you.

One in four girls in Cameroon are having this done. It seems to me that sex education and prophylactics would be the less destructive way to prevent pregnancies, and probably more effective, but…did you know that approximately 25% of the population of Cameroon are Catholic?

The Woman Problem

It’s an odd way to put it, I know, but it gets your attention. I could have called this the Atheist and Skeptic Problem, which is more accurate, but leads people to start listing all of our problems, starting with how annoying we are, and just for once I’d rather not go down that road. So here’s the Woman Problem, and it’s not a problem with women: it’s a problem with atheist and skeptic groups looking awfully testosteroney. And you all know it’s true, every time I post a photo of some sampling of the audience at an atheist meeting, it is guaranteed that someone will count the contribution of each sex and it will be consistently skewed Y-ward.

Why? And what are we going to do about it?

Obviously, the way for us to answer these questions is for me, the loud and assertive male, to pontificate on the issues and tell the women what’s wrong here and how they can fix it. That would be the manly thing to do, after all — let’s take charge and tell the little ladies what to do so we don’t look quite so sexist when the all-male review prances about on the stage. More tokens, please, join us up here! Make us look good!

But no. I think the right answer is for us males to shut up now and then and listen. It’s not for us men to tell women how to fix our (both men and women) problems, but if we’re to have a lasting and equitable representation at the tables of atheism and skepticism, the guys who currently dominate need to step back and stop pushing.

I was thinking about this because I was reading Skeptifem’s take on the absence of female skeptics, and my first reaction was that it was pretty good, but I had some little disagreements here and there where I thought I could put together a quick blog post with plusses and minuses listed…but then I realized that these are the problems she honestly sees. These are real obstacles in both perception and reality, not an academic exercise. Shut up and listen, I told myself.

So I’m going to try something a little different. Instead of telling you my opinion, I’m going to forgo the essential principle of blogging (which is “Me! Me!”) and just ask people, especially women, to leave links to their godless/skeptical feminist blog or make suggestions or gripe or tell me what these stupid male-dominated conventions have to do to correct the imbalance. I know there are some great blogs out there run by women — Skepchicks and Greta and Ophelia and more — so share more wealth. Skepchicon 2010 is happening this weekend, so people can nag me there, too. I shall be a passive receptacle for your ideas.

I do have to make one suggestion (the testosterone compels me) for something I’d really like to see happen. Skepchicon 2010 is terrific, but it’s fairly small in scale. Meanwhile, Atheist Alliance International is sponsoring all these big noisy conferences, and lately they’ve been themed: Copenhagen was Gods and Politics, Montreal will be Atheists Without Borders. I think what we really need is a Women and Secularism conference, organized by women and for both male and female freethinkers, where the women call all the shots and bring together all these great homogametic speakers — while the women are always the minority at these conferences, there’s still always great talent, and looking over the lists of past speakers it would be easy to put together a stellar female cast. All we need is some uppity women with ambition to make it happen, and the application of a little pressure to the staff at AAI.

Oh, and guys: in this thread, unless you’re sincerely trying to be fem-friendly and make positive suggestions and ask for more information and read attentively, take a back seat for a bit, OK? It’s not that hard to do.

Atheism and sex and gender

I’m sad now. Jen has a video of Greta Christina talking about atheism and sexuality, and for several days I’ve been trying to get it to work…and no matter what I do, it won’t play. Greta is great, though, so it’s almost certainly an excellent talk…maybe it will work for you.

Jen also has the results (and more) of a survey of her readers, with the somewhat sorta kinda surprising result that even as a young feminist atheist writer, 75% of her audience are male. We need to encourage more women to participate and lead the atheist movement — speak up if you have suggestions how to increase women’s involvement. And telling us to be nicer and softer and gentler, as if women are somehow more delicate and need more coddling, is only going to make Elizabeth Cady Stanton spin in her grave. I’ve noticed that atheist women are quite good at roaring ferociously themselves.

The powerlessness of pink

Here’s another odd pink phenomenon. This is a page from a Toys ‘R Us catalog, illustrating some science toys, and note the odd distinctions being made. Both the telescope and the microscope come in special pink versions, just for the girl who is apparently more interested in getting an instrument that matches her nail polish than being functional, and note also (you may have to click through to see the larger image) that in every case the pink model is less powerful than the black and gray model.


There is a message being sent here. Being feminine, being girly, means you belong in a separate category in the science world, and it’s a category that needs less utility and more concern about appearances. I don’t get it, and I don’t understand how these kinds of distinctions persist. If my daughter wanted a telescope for a present, and I passed over the better version to get her the prettier one, I think she’d club me over the head with it and send me back to the store.

And then we’d have to send a rude letter to the manufacturer for shooing girls off into a pink ghetto.

The problem of the oblivious white male atheist

I have to recommend this criticism of sexism in the skeptical community: skeptifem points out that while we’re quick to outrage when someone like Bill Maher violates science norms, we seem to shrug off the fact that he’s been rudely anti-woman at times.

When someone does try to share the perspective of being a person of color or a woman in skeptic communities the majority of people in the groups I have encountered dismiss their viewpoint on extremely typical grounds. This article from has some really disturbing comments that illustrate exactly what I am getting at; an automatic opposition to the voices of people of color and women. Disagreeing isn’t the problem here, it is the outright dismissal and unwillingness to ask questions in order to understand the point of view she puts forward here. Having an actual discussion, or an actual willingness to understand her and then disagreeing would be a very different picture.

It’s a strange phenomenon. I don’t think the leaders of the atheist movement are consciously anti-feminist at all; it’s more a matter of being confident that equality is the right answer, appreciating everyone, male or female, working to promote rationalism in society, and then smugly assuming we’re done when we’re not. The Big Catches to bring in to an atheist meeting are people like Dawkins and Dennett and Hitchens — people who deserve their popularity and their reputations — but the women of atheism seem to be semi-invisible. Why aren’t we reaching out to, for instance, Susan Jacoby, and making her a more prominent face in atheism? She’s a wonderful writer, produced a book, Freethinkers, that was part of the early wave of godless writings, and every time I’ve heard her speak, she says interesting and challenging things.

The problem isn’t dismissal. It’s casual disregard. It’s being just enough pro-feminist that we lose sight of the real problems that women and people of color face.

One thing that would really help, I think, is if the grassroots spoke out a little bit more to remind us. Tell us who you want to hear who isn’t pale-skinned and full of testosterone; I’m not an organizer of meetings — I just get roped into these things — but one thing we noisy voices of atheism can do is name-drop when we get called, and ask if the inviting organization has considered X, Y, and Z for a lecture, too. So tell me in the comments: who are the deserving voices of the godless community who should be heard as much as the heterogametic ones who get all the press?

The curse of Eve

Fawziya Ammodi was 12 years old. She was a little girl in Yemen — she would still be in elementary school in the US, or would be just entering middle school. Twelve year old girls are still interested in dolls, and are maybe giggling over those gawky immature boys, and should be learning prior to the awkward business of growing up.

In Yemen, Fawziya was married to a 24 year old man.

She was pregnant.

She was in labor for 3 agonizing days — twelve year old girls usually aren’t physically developed enough to cope with childbirth, at least not with the relative (emphasis on that word, please, labor is rough enough on adults) ease of a grown-up.

She bled to death and died in pain. The baby died, too.

She was twelve years old, and won’t be getting any older.

The father, of course, experienced no discomfort, and is ready to receive consolation for his loss. He’s probably looking for a new wife, too. Maybe he’ll see the problem with child-raping, though, and will pick one who is a little mature.

Like a thirteen year old.

Licentious pants

A Sudanese woman, Lubna Hussein, is facing the barbaric punishment of 40 lashes for a crime against public morality: wearing pants. Not not wearing pants, but wearing pants. She was busted in the act of wearing pants while having dinner at a nice restaurant in Khartoum. They were green. I’m sure those little details have got your imagination churning away now.

This is an interesting case, illustrating the way some people feel that social mores are a club to be used to smash individual freedom, and how women especially are targets for opression. Hussein’s ‘offense’ was so trivial, and her punishment so disproportionate, that it highlights the absurdity and criminality of the strict traditionalist position. The story also has a poll that brings up another interesting point:

Should the UN step in and protect this journalist, considering she works for them?

Yes, they need to protect her and stand up for woman’s rights. 81%

No, she broke the law of the country. It is not for the UN to solve. 16%
I’m not sure. 3%

There is an issue of cultural autonomy here — we have this kind of ‘prime directive’ mindset that we shouldn’t be imperialists disrupting different societies. It seems to me, though, that when we’re talking about large groups of human beings who are being consistently oppressed by a bizarre historical and partly biological quirk like patriarchy, perhaps we have an obligation to meddle.

Bérubéan snark

Sometimes, it just takes a little sharp humor to clarify our current situation.

Well, to understand the Sonia Sotomayor fracas you have to realize that the timespace confundulum has actually fractured into two frozen moments, one having to do with the sudden appearance of emotional, abrasive Latinas and their strange cuisine amid the eating clubs of Princeton, and the other having to do with ungrateful women of color getting named to positions where they can dole out their reverse-racist versions of “justice.” Yes, that’s right, it’s always 1972 and it’s always 1993–and at the same time.

I didn’t get admitted to anything in 1972.  But in 1974, I was a freshman at Regis High School in New York, where I heard one of my more conservative classmates say, in the course of a discussion about affirmative action, that he had been the victim of reverse discrimination for too long.  Exasperated to the point of flummoxation, I noted in reply that (a) affirmative action showed up only yesterday, (b) you’re thirteen years old, d00d, and (c) you’re attending an elite, tuition-free Jesuit high school that does not admit women.  And the reason I remember that moment 35 years later is that it has never gone away: guys like Stuart Taylor and Fred Barnes are still thirteen years old, still the victims of reverse discrimination, and still questioning the credentials of smart women while campaigning for the protection of conservative white men under the Endangered Species Act.  Taylor graduated from Princeton in 1970; Barnes from the University of Virginia in 1965.  Neither of them had to compete with women for admission; Princeton started opening its doors to that half of the population in 1969, Virginia a year later.  That’s why guys like these worry so much about the decline of standards in college admissions since 1970, you understand.  Because things were tougher and people were smarter when white guys only had to compete with 44 percent of the population for admission to elite colleges, positions of power and influence, and so forth.

He also reminds us that Clinton caved in when faced with a similar situation during his presidency. Let’s hope Obama is made of sterner stuff.

The things you learn from Whirled Nut Daily

I never sign up for these things, but apparently many people think it’s hilarious to give crazy right wing sites my email address, so part of my daily flood of email is crap from places like WorldNetDaily. Most of it just gets a filter entry and I never see it again, but I have a soft spot for WND — it’s barking mad, full of the craziest deluded wackos with this strange sense that, since the Bush years, they represent the mainstream. I learn the wildest stuff from their mail.

Did you know that the Girl Scouts are out to turn your daughters into lesbians? It must be true, since WND says it is.

But here’s a perfect example of the strangely twisted minds behind WND. In one section, the author is complaining about one of the books the Girl Scouts use, called Girltopia.

In the next age group, for teens in the ninth and tenth grades, girls are taught about wage disparities between the sexes, and a lack of assets and senior management positions held by women.

“Girltopia” poses the questions, “When women don’t earn enough, what happens to their children?” and “How could everyone help create a Girltopia?”

Asked what the purpose of including a message of inequality served in the Girl Scout curriculum, Tompkins explained:

It’s to show girls what’s going on in the country and have them be part of the dialogue. A lot of girls just aren’t aware of what’s going on. I think that specific topic might be new this year, but in the broader scheme of things, it’s not that new. I’m sure it’s something that came up in the 1920s as well. Girls Scouting has been around since before women had the right to vote, so I’m sure these discussions were always part of this.

The text praises Renaissance author Sir Thomas More for his book “Utopia,” Mary Cavendish for her book “A New World: The Blazing World” about a utopian kingdom and 24-year Executive Director of Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood and feminist author Sheri S. Tepper for her novel, “The Gate to Women’s Country.”

“Girltopia” encourages girls to “let songs inspire you,” and as some examples, it provides lyrics to songs such as “Independent Women, part 1” by Destiny’s Child; “Hammer and a Nail” by the Indigo Girls – an “out” lesbian rock band; and “Imagine” by John Lennon. The curriculum also asks girls to create an avatar “to represent the ideal you in Girltopia” and features “Wild Geese,” a short poem by lesbian poet Mary Oliver.

I read that and was thinking that, hey, I’d like to read that — and those sound like strong, positive messages to send out to girls. Be aware of the real problems you face, but stand up for what is right. Good stuff.


And then I read WND’s assessment of the book…and it’s exactly what makes these rascals such a bizarro mirror of the real world.

“This book was so depressing that I don’t know what I would have done as a teen reading it,” Garibay said. “The sense of hopelessness abounds in ‘Girltopia.’ The positivity, the enthusiasm and the vigor of youth is completely destroyed by data found to further the Girl Scout USA’s feminist agenda. It plants seeds of despair and hopelessness in today’s girls.”

I don’t quite see it. All I learn from WND is that conservatives are obsessed with lesbians, and somehow equate them with despair.