Yes, I know I’m writing this… four? weeks late. Deal with it. Truth be told, I’ve had a problem putting the words together.
Something that has really come to a head in the skeptic community recently is its intersection with other social justice causes. Especially feminism, but also, to an extent, anti-racism, LGBT activism, and other related activism. And how we, as skeptics, treat those other activists. As an LGBT activist and feminist as well as a skeptic, along with quite a lot of other people, this causes tension.
For an example, at the beginning of last month, Paula Kirby released an open letter “The Sisterhood of the Oppressed”, which was… wow. Basically tearing into feminist skeptics and female skeptics for acting like “feminazis” — a term borrowed from Rush Limbaugh — and claiming that they had a victimization complex the size of Soviet Russia. And what really started this? Well, DJ Grothe, the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation, had a public falling out over several bloggers including half of the FreeThoughtBlogs and Skepchick networks, over harassment policies at The Amaz!ng Meeting. Grothe had stated there was really no reason for a harassment policy because he’s never received a report of harassment happening at TAM. Despite at least one prolific female blogger saying, yes, actually, she was harassed.
What the fuck?
Even if you’re in the friendliest safe space ever, you need to have a harassment policy. The world does not work on SimCity rules, where you don’t build a fire department until the first fire breaks out. It needs to be there. Harassment at any type of convention is common, and the skeptic community should know pretty damn well it’s a problem, especially after “Elevatorgate”. And women, sadly, are the target of most harassment. How many men have personal attack alarms? And how many women do? How many straight people, cis people, white people fear harassment, compared to queer people, trans people, people of colour?
This is privilege, guys. Check it once in a while.
And to claim that people are being feminiazis or FTBullies over this? Really? Oh, those oppressive feminists! Fighting for their right to be respected! For a movement that is mostly liberal or libertarian, it runs the risk of creating unholy alliances with conservatives to push and keep these historically oppressed minorities down. And without any sense of irony and despair at their arguments being appropriated. Even Andrea Dworkin felt a little sick when her anti-pornographic feminism was used to oppress women.
We should know better. We’re on the same side. Skeptics have a stake in the feminist fight, in the LGBT activist fight, in the progressive fight, because religious privilege runs through the opposition. The opposition, the patriarchy, lean on that “opiate of the masses” and bring out their Levitical law to keep women barefoot and to force gays into hiding. Why do you think most atheists are pro-choice, support equal marriage, etc? Because strip the religious dogma, and there aren’t really any reasons to support the opposite. You can’t argue that homosexuality is unnatural when evidence supports the idea it happens throughout the animal kingdom.
In Leeds, this conflict hit closer to home than most of us would’ve liked. Chris Worfolk, someone I would consider my friend, invited Steve Moxon, author of The Woman Racket (what a lovely title for a book) to July’s Skeptics in the Pub. You can read his justification here. This raised the ire of several feminist activists, including several of my friends but most notably FTBlogger Ophelia Benson (there’s a long chain of SitP posts, I suggest you read them). Basically, it turned out that Steve Moxon was not a savoury character, being, in the words of someone I discussed this with, “too racist for UKIP”. Eventually, the event was cancelled and replaced with a rather meta event called How should skeptics respond to controversy?
This was all a point of discussion at Leeds Atheist Society’s social the Tuesday before Moxon was due to speak. And while it was a civil discussion, I did feel that these people were speaking from a perspective of privilege. Yes, a right to free speech exists, but there isn’t a right to be heard, and I thought it was poor form to invite someone who ran the risk of intimidating attendees. Other attendees also opposed him speaking, but from the perspective that his work misrepresented research and he wasn’t really the best person to speak on the issue, given that he ran the risk of using it as a platform for unrelated bigotry and not adhering to skeptical inquiry.
And, as an hour or so wound on, the argument devolved into discussing similar issues in the atheist community, although someone did allege Rebecca Watson and Ophelia Benson were “radical feminists” — they’re really not — and the society’s new harassment policy that I had helped write, cognizant of the fact that events had started to be attended by LGBT Society and Feminist Society members in levels not seen since I started attending the university, including having two FemSoc coordinators (including myself) on the 2012–13 committee. Even if we didn’t have to use it, we knew that the policy had to be there.
Again, privilege: check it.
And the victimhood complex? Hoo boy. The entire use of the word “feminazi” is the reaction of the privileged to women talking about the radical idea that women are also people. Yes, atheists are oppressed — there is the famous study that found atheists as distrusted as rapists — but so are every other religious outgroup. And to claim that the religious oppression of atheists is equivalent to the religious oppression of women or the LGBT population.
Since I started drafting this a week or so ago, two things have come up: the first, is a blog post by Ashley Miller about how a SSA affiliate president received rather unwelcome comments. And the second, and most awful, is a post by Natalie Reed about how certain events, including the elevator incident, the constant lobbying of abuse at FTB members, and her own privacy being in danger of violation, make her so uncomfortable to be in the Atheist Movement™ that she wants no part of it any more.
The latter two issues have, for a central figure, popular atheist vlogger Phil “thunderf00t” Mason, who blogged once for FTB and got expelled by the network for, well, what can best be described as trolling over the harassment policy issue. And, indeed,Mason has not taken his expulsion from FTB kindly; he was discovered to have regained access to the private FTB mailing list he was expelled from. And he posted the content of several emails. You just don’t break a confidentiality agreement, you just don’t out people. Whatever the FTB team could do to Mason, it’s nothing compared to what he could do to several FTB members.
As I often do, I agree with Natalie. Fuck that Atheist Movement™. If it’s a choice between a movement of mostly white straight cis men too blind to see their privilege, and a movement that contains Natalie, Ashley, Ophelia, PZ, Greta, Zinnia, and Rebecca, where women’s issues, gay issues, trans issues, and race issues join with skepticism, give me the second movement any time. Why would you want to have the first? So, basically, I stand by the “FTBullies”. I stand by the “Sisterhood of the Oppressed”, and the “Approved Male Chorus”. I stand by human fucking decency.