Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Flames of Feminism Rise Again

I'm not sure what recent event, if any, prompted this latest video rant by Thunderf00t but he comes out swinging at the Skepchicks and PZ Myers once again.

I've previously shared some of my thoughts about the feminism struggles in our movement, but this video really brought out a few issues that I feel deserve more discussion. 

Title: Why "Feminism" is poisoning Atheism

The video is essentially one long rant about how "Feminists" [sic] are distracting from the real issues by freaking out over every little non-issue and resorting to draconian countermeasures that are equivalent to those of creationists and opponents of free expression.

Ultimately, I disagree with Thuderf00t on all of that, but I can understand his perspective and why he has come to these conclusions.

Let us examine the typical exchange about feminism using the issue that kicked the discussion into full gear as an example: "elevatorgate."

Step 1: Creepy socially clueless guy makes Rebecca feel uncomfortable in an elevator.
Step 2: Rebecca reasonably suggests in a small aside on her vlog: "guys-don't do that"
Step 3: PZ Myers and others look at this and other incidents and suggest more strongly that this is a pervasive problem of culture that guys think it's okay:
"There is an odd attitude in our culture that it’s acceptable for men to proposition women in curious ways"
Step 4:  Richard Dawkins chimes in with his "Dear Muslima" comment snidely insinuating that problems like this are relatively minor compared to the problems women face around the world where genital mutilation are widely practiced. While it's quite likely that Dawkins was just trying to bring some global perspective into the conversation, he implied that because there are larger issues to focus on that we should pay these smaller concerns none at all. Worse yet, he implied that the women who were hurt aren't really being hurt at all and should stop whining about it. Neither of these claims is valid or even remotely acceptable.
Step 5: Team Watson and Team Dawkins form. Team Dawkins thinks Team Watson is overreacting, Team Watson takes the existence of Team Dawkins as evidence that there is a pervasive patriarchy in the skeptic movement and redoubles their efforts.
Step 6: Repeat

I've seen this pattern repeat several times now over the same issues. The cycle has become a self-sustaining yelling war where both sides take the other side's increasing volume as good reason to shout louder themselves.

There is a general culture of inequality and gender stereotypes that we need to be aware of. Our movement leadership is dominated by men, though thanks to proactive efforts by feminists to raise awareness on that front. What the Skepchick style feminists (I hate grouping into an us vs them mentality, but for clarity I will) have done because of this positive feedback loop of anger is skipped over the consciousness raising part of feminism and jumped straight to addressing the problem. Then they are shocked and surprised that so many people like thunderf00t don't see that there's a problem!

I identify as a feminist because I recognize these are issues we need to proactively combat. It would be wonderful if we could wave a magic wand and instantly remove all the subconscious biases and gender stereotypes, but that just won't happen. I truly think that feminists like PZ and Rebecca share this exact same goal, but because of the positive feedback loop they are fighting against the wrong enemy.

Stop treating people like thunderf00t as deniers or as people who are perpetuating a culture of anti-woman sexism. Instead, take the chance to educate them about the problems that they can help solve.

Feminists of all people should be aware of how perception of intent means much much more than actual intent when determining the reactions and opinions of others. Thunderf00t picks out a lot of good examples of feminists sending mixed signals or overreaching the message a bit. Take notice and see if we can improve our communication skills a bit.

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