There’s been another “schism” in the skeptical/atheist… movement/community/thing.
None of these labels ever really seem appropriate, particularly for atheism when the only thing everyone actually has in common is a lack of belief in any sort of supernatural being, particularly the ones that are objects of worship in human religions.
Through the semi-regular squabbles, I’ve tried to stay out of it for the most part. I don’t have to talk to people I don’t get on with, and generally I don’t. It’s better for my blood pressure that way. Sure I love a good discussion, if people disagree that’s fine, we’ll probably all learn something. But I do not feel obliged to actively engage with stupid people and their idiotic opinions all of the time. It’s pointless and it makes me ragier (yes it’s a word) than necessary.
Anyway. I don’t really want to go into detail about the particulars of the new factions forming or the quibbles about them, but rather have a more general think about the kinds of people in atheist/skeptic/humanist circles and what kinds of ideals are common, as well as apparently too rare. Edit: some atheists/skeptics are being nicely vocal in their opposition to misogyny in our communities.
But I have the right to be a creep!
The main reason for the latest falling-out seems to be, in a nutshell, sexism. People who think it’s unacceptable in all its forms (forewarning: I’m one of those) and people who seem to prefer to protect their “right” to… well, be a total dick. People give snippets of well-meaning advice on how to treat people better, how not to come across in ways you may not intend. Apparently people would rather just carry on being creepy, rather than take said advice.
In an earlier post I talked about offending people and the sum-up of that is essentially: if you really care about tackling issues such as bigotry and prejudice – because they are, at their core, completely illogical and instead rooted in cultural power imbalances that are unjust – then you should tackle manifestations of these backwards attitudes where you find them. Or at the very least, not contribute to them yourself. Apologise for your mistakes (inevitably we all make them) and strive to be better, to make life more pleasant for everyone. It’s only sensible.
If you care.
I suppose the problem with things like atheism in particular is that there is no set of rules that go with it. Much as I have always maintained for myself that the fact this is our only life means we should probably be nice to people, not take lives away needlessly, and that sort of thing – doesn’t mean everyone else does.
However, the problem I have with people insisting that feminism is not a fundamental part of skeptical/atheist movements is largely one of hypocrisy. A lot of supposedly liberal rational-thinkers will rail against religiously motivated injustice – including those that affect women in particular. Yet, as Richard Dawkins showed us, a lot of people throw all of that out of the window when it comes to our own backyards.
The fact that there is a debate at all to me proves that there is a problem. If a bunch of supposed rational-thinkers can’t just say ‘yes, any discrimination against/harrassment of women should be addressed appropriately’ without bringing their petty personal dislikes into the equation – that is a problem.
A lot of people still don’t accept that there’s such a thing as a culturally pervasive patriarchy, that women face daily injustices that affect their everyday experiences, their work, their love lives and just about everything besides. People refuse to listen to women’s accounts, our perspective is so often dismissed, belittled, ignored.
Then people wonder why they get their heads bitten off sometimes when wading into discussions with really tired old comments about how the silly womens should do more to help themselves not get raped or why we should be caring more about men’s issues (no I’m not going to link to any MRA sites, they can fuck off).
Yesterday I had a bit of a twitter conversation with a few (male) friends on why – at least for me – equality (gender, orientation, race, whatever the current topic) should surely be an integral part of movements/communities/whatever that supposedly place a high importance on critical thinking and being rational and sensible.
My opening gambit was:
How is anti-bigotry/prejudice and harrassment NOT part of forward-thinking behaviour & ideas?!
Which some people liked, and some of course didn’t.
Now, one point raised was that there aren’t peer reviewed papers on every aspect of sexism. Well, sorry, but is social justice immune from criticial thinking just because of this? “If there are testable claims…” was also said. I guess there’s a problem there with people’s skeptical disdain for anecdotes and things that can’t really be represented on graphs. And there is actual social research on inequality, ethics etc., by the way. I’m sure you could go and chat with some historians for good sources and evidence, too.
I don’t know enough about ‘official definitions’ of these various philosophy-things, where they even exist, and many are indeed left out:
I just have to admit I don’t understand why, if people can agree that – for example – homophobia is illogical and wrong, religiously-motivated oppression of women is wrong, racism is wrong (without getting into protracted discussions of what is right or wrong for now)… why can you not agree that the instances of sexism that affect us in our lives still today are also important to fight? I’d rather not separate out all the things I think are important into such rigid definitions except for the purposes of focussed discussions, but I guess those definitions are more important to some people.
A lot of people hate that word. “I struggle in my life! How dare you use the convenient pigeonholes I was born into against me! You’re doing the same thing, you hypocrite!” – middle-class guilt, and similar. It’s pointless. Don’t succumb to it. There are a lot of things we can’t control in life, but we can moderate our behaviour. If you’re in a privileged group, just accept it and move on, don’t go around with a chip on your shoulder because that helps no one.
History influences our culture. Historically, men have had privilege over women. Religion has been a huge force in keeping that status quo all over the world. That history affects us today – around the world women are still second-class citizens, and while we enjoy relative equality in many ways here, it is far from fully equal, still. If you want to dispute that, please go away, read some stuff, talk to people, and come back later. So many people at the moment seem to be remaining wilfully ignorant of these facts, and it’s getting really boring.
When your privileges are challenged, it can be easy to take it personally. Many do. They take umbrage at the fact that they happen to be in a group afforded such privileges, which are being addressed where they are unfair. Toys fly out of prams readily. But talking about misogyny – isolated instances or pervasive attitudes – doesn’t mean that the anger and accusations are being directed at you personally. Unless you start deserving it. Then you shouldn’t be so surprised.
The best guys I know engage with feminist ideas, challenge sexism and misogyny when they see and hear it… they respect women. Because women are their family and friends and colleagues – their fellow humans. And our fellow humans are what make our lives interesting and worth living. For those who wish to identify as humanists, fighting for the rights of our fellow people is of utmost importance.
But as with any mishmash of individuals, there are a lot of people coming out of the woodwork who really do not share this drive to just not be dickish. It’s quite sad.
I’ve noticed a lot more of this lately. Now, as someone who was on the receiving end of rather a lot of it growing up, I would never knowingly participate in it, I would be disgusted with myself if I were to do so unknowingly. Whatever motivates people to be bullies, it’s unacceptable behaviour. It’s alienating, damaging and cowardly.
Why do people not wish to admit that descending into roles of online bullies is not okay!? For me, one of the most ridiculous aspects of this is that so many of these people would not dare to say such things to the women they target in person. They live in their heads, behind a computer screen, justifying their disgusting behaviour to themselves, spurred on by similarly bitter individuals. It’s a lot of talk, but when the talk includes threats it can have serious, negative effects on people’s lives.
What bullying is:
- repeatedly insulting and/or taunting people, including the use of offensive language in making negative personal comments
- making private information public for malicious reasons, including details of personal struggles with illness etc.
- harrassment and stalking; obsessively following people’s activity and documenting it, making derogatory comments about it
- putting someone down, diminishing their importance and character, belittling their achievements
What bullying is not:
- disagreeing with someone’s point of view/opinion
- holding people to account for unacceptable behaviour
There seems to be some confusion about this, with accusations of bully thrown around incorrectly and particularly ironically in many cases. It feels very much like a playground and I do wish people would step back and see that. Perhaps they’d be shocked, and I guess that’s why they don’t.
Unfortunately it seems in more than a few cases this is down to mental ill-health, and sadly people are still not getting the help they require. For some reason, in certain circumstances, they then lash out at others. Whether it’s a cry for the attention they need but do not get, a last resort when there seems to be nothing else to do, or some other reasons – I don’t know.
But what is upsetting is that even when some are told in no uncertain terms they are being unhelpful, hurtful, rude, malicious, they don’t stop. Perhaps it’s too much to admit that what you have said and done is wrong, on top of everything else. Hopefully help will come, and raging at people who don’t deserve it from behind a computer screen will happen less.
Sometimes it’s said that one should expect such behaviour in hugely geeky circles, where people can be obsessive, reclusive and lack social skills generally – accusations of ‘autistic’ and ‘Aspergers’ get thrown around too often, and while I see where people are coming from, I don’t like it.
The people I do know and have met who do live with ASD are invariably lovely, friendly people who are more than willing to have a social faux pas explained to them. That is not what happens when this sexism argument occurs – people have their errors clearly explained, but all that comes back is torrents of abuse. I do not think this is due to a nerdy inability to relate to other individuals, I think it is simply a product of our culture; otherwise sensible people have succumbed to the oft-invisible undercurrent of misogyny and refuse to admit it.
Now, that’s not to say that no one ever changes their minds. One person I was chatting to yesterday, while we were all bemoaning this sad state of affairs, openly admitted to having been horribly misogynistic in the past, but over the years had realised this and corrected it. There was also a facebook-based chat where someone’s friends all started chiming in about girls wearing ‘inappropriate’ clothes.
I linked a couple of things, someone else came in to tell them they were wrong – one of the two people took back their comments.
I’ve changed my mind. women aren’t like bike locks and it’s fucked up to suggest they should change anything. Also, this is not a thing I have encountered before so I wasn’t to know I had fucked up views on it.
So that was nice. More of that please, folks.
Thankfully, there are lots of good guys out there, and I’m always glad to get to know them and have such lovely people in my life. As for the rest of you? Go to the corner and think about what you’ve done, please. Apologise to the class. Now get back to work.