Sunday, May 19, 2013

Women Behaving Like People

Women behaving like people continues to shock and outrage society in general.
The past year has seen a rise in pushback against persistent sexism in a variety of groups, including the gaming community, the New Atheists, and the Skeptics.  Let met admit up-front that I am of two minds on this.  Most of me sides with the women and men calling out the misogyny and male privilege that has resulted in women being harassed, threatened, and silenced for so speaking out.  On the other hand, it's nice to see groups, especially the arrogant and ridiculous New Atheists get called on their arrogance and ridiculous pose as intellectual elite.  The expressions of anti-Islam attitudes are being called out, which is a good thing; yet there continues to be expressions of surprise that this kind of bigotry accompanies other bigotries as well, including cultural, pro-Western biases as well as misogyny and the expression of male privilege.

The latest example, thanks to a link from Lawyers, Guns, and Money, involves a post written by Rebecca Watson at Skepchick reacting to a speech given by Ron Lindsay at a conference called Women In Secularism 2.
In his talk, Lindsay didn’t give any examples of men who have been silenced, though he has promised to provide some. In the meanwhile, the audience is forced to examine the only example provided: Lindsay himself, a white male who is CEO of one of the largest skeptic organizations in the world and who delivered the 30-minute introductory lecture at a women’s conference. There doesn’t seem to be much danger of his voice being silenced, though of course I may not be aware of some behind-the-scenes campaign to drive him into obscurity.
Meanwhile, nowhere in Lindsay’s speech did he mention feminists like Jen McCreight, who has been so bullied and harassed that she did in fact quit attending conferences and she quit blogging and being active on social media in the hopes the anti-feminists would finally leave her alone. They didn’tThat is silencing. Nowhere did Lindsay mention that every day I and other feminists get slurs, rape jokes, and death threats from fellow skeptics and secularists. That is an attempt at silencing, though it is an attempt that will not work until the day one person follows through on the threat.
When faced with my criticism of his tone deafness, Lindsay didn’t hesitate to include me in the list of feminists trying to shut him up. He seems to be confused, assuming any discussion about how race, gender, and other attributes influence our outlook and our biases is a call for people of privilege to have no say. This is quite obviously absurd – I myself am incredibly privileged as a white, straight, cisgendered, able-bodied, middle class educated American, but do I demand that I and anyone like me never engage in discussions of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or class? Of course not – I merely hope that we engage in these conversations with compassion and understanding, ultimately encouraging the people directly affected by those issues to have a voice and an audience.
The idea that talking about privilege as a social reality is somehow oppressive is no different than being told that calling out racism is the real racism, or that pointing out that defending legal discrimination might well be evidence of bigotry is not a personal attack; it's crap, in other words.  Guys like Lindsay, while certainly well-intentioned, tend to miss the point that when someone else notes they are speaking from a perspective of social and cultural privilege, it's just that.

What is not at all pretty, however, is the barely-repressed rage one reads in comments at the Skepchick article.  That a woman had the audacity to call out a man seems to stir something horrible in some people.  The discussion at LGM is far more restrained, and by and large favorable to Rebecca Watson (which is one reason I visit there a lot; even their trolls are fun).  At the heart of the discussion, however, is the largely unexamined idea that, being privileged in one way - feeling superior because they are skeptics rather than gullible goofs like us religious types - won't somehow extend to the rest of their lives.  Skeptics and atheists will just naturally be better at all these things (remember how the Soviet Union decried the sexism and racism in the United States, all the while being pretty horrible on these matters?  I thought not) including how men relate to women.  And since it's men telling everyone how much better they are, it must be true.

It is odd that the sexism in these groups comes as some kind of shock.  At least some of us in the religious communities, recognize the reality of sexism and struggle with it openly; for some reason, a woman pointing out that the skeptical/atheist community has similar issues is just wrong, as many men are quite willing to explain, with force if necessary.

The fact is these prejudices are inherent, particularly in groups whose membership is preponderantly male.  I'd be more surprised if there wasn't widespread misogyny in such groups.  The least that can be done, I suppose, is allow women to behave like people without it becoming somehow oppressive to the powers-that-be.  It is working out pretty well in some churches; shouldn't these folks strive to do at least as well?

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