Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Re-Blog: Dominant Male Atheist Leaders Seem to Have a Problem with Women

http://www.alternet.org/comments/belief/dominant-male-atheist-leaders-seem-have-problem-women

At first blush, it would seem that an atheist movement would be exactly the sort of thing that would attract many women. After all, much of the oppression of women—from forced veiling to restricting abortion rights—is a direct result of religion. Unsurprisingly, then, feminism has a long tradition of outspoken atheists and religious skeptics within its ranks. Suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton preferred “rational ideas based on scientific facts” to “religious superstition.” Major feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir argued that belief in God exists in part to “repress any impulse toward revolt in the downtrodden female.” Modern feminist writer Katha Pollitt received the “Emperor Has No Clothes” award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation in 2001, where she said that religion is dangerous because “it connects with very terrible social energies that have lain in civilization for a very long time.” 
But despite the natural and cozy fit of atheism and feminism, the much-ballyhooed “New Atheism” that was supposed to be a more aggressive, political form of atheism has instead been surprisingly male-dominated. The reason has, in recent years, become quite apparent: Many of the most prominent leaders of the New Atheism are quick to express deeply sexist ideas. Despite their supposed love of science and rationality, many of them are nearly as quick as their religious counterparts to abandon reason in order to justify regressive views about women. 
Sam Harris, a prominent atheist author who has previously been criticized for his knee-jerk Islamophobic tendencies, recently came under fire when he added women to the category of people he makes thoughtless generalizations about. Washington Post religion reporter Michelle Boorstein interviewed Harris, and during the interview she asked him why most atheists are male. “There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree instrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women.” He added, “The atheist variable just has this— it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.” 
There was an immediate uproar among female atheists, and understandably so, as Harris didn’t even consider that it could be atheism that has a problem, instead immediately assuming that the problem is women themselves. His reaction to the criticism, which was immediate and probably a bit overwhelming was not, however, a demonstration of the tough “critical posture” he characterized as “instrinsically male.” Harris replied to his critics with a hyper-defensive and tediously long blog post titled, “I’m Not The Sexist Pig You’re Looking For.” His strategy for disproving accusations of sexism was to engage in more sexist declarations, in the time-honored bigot strategy of saying it’s not bigotry if it’s true. 
First, he warmed up with the “women are humorless” gambit, declaring his “estrogen vibe” comment a joke that simply flew over female heads. He then moved on to produce an awesome cornucopia of sexist blather: Women’s value is their service to men. (“I was raised by a single mother. I have two daughters. Most of my editors have been women, and my first, last, and best editor is always my wife.”) Women’s inherent desire to serve rather than lead explains their second-class status. (“For instance, only 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women…How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices women make in their 20s or 30s to have families?") Putting women on a pedestal is better than treating them like equals. (“I tend to respect women more than men.”) Women who don’t defer to men are bitchy. (“However, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the mixture of contempt and pity my words elicited from this young woman.”) 
Needless to say, for women who reject religion because it so frequently portrays women as mentally inferior helpmeets who exist to serve men’s needs, Sam Harris is not offering any hope that atheism will give them a meaningful alternative. 
It would be nice to dismiss Harris as an outlier, but sadly, pompous sexism followed up by defensive posturing is the order of the day for the dominant male leadership of the loosely organized world of atheism. In a lengthy investigative piece for Buzzfeed, Mark Oppenheimer demonstrated that the problem extends beyond sexist condescension. Instead, the bros-before-hos attitude of much of atheist leadership is quite likely serving to protect actual sexual predators. 
While Oppenheimer focused on a number of prominent sexists in atheism, such as Penn Jillette and now-deceased Christopher Hitchens (who also was a fan of the “women are humorless” trope), he focused most of piece on accusations against prominent skeptic writer Michael Shermer. Oppenheimer quoted two named women accusing Shermer of sexually harassing them. A third named women had a more alarming accusation: That Shermer had taken her to his room while she was too drunk to consent to sex and had sex with her anyway. 
The reaction to Oppenheimer’s story was swift and did much to support the claim that the atheist community protects sexual predators, much like the Catholic Church did during the priest pedophilia scandal. Richard Dawkins, possibly the most famous atheist in the world, immediately went on a tear on Twitter, blaming victims for their own rapes if they were drinking. “Officer, it's not my fault I was drunk driving. You see, somebody got me drunk,” he tweeted, comparing being forced to have sex with the choice to drive drunk. 
When called out on it, he doubled down by suggesting that rape victims are the real predators, out to get men put in jail: “If you want to be in a position to testify & jail a man, don't get drunk.” 
For someone who is a supposed rationalist, Dawkins refused to even acknowledge the basic difference between making the choice to break the law and being the victim of a crime. But only for rape, of course. It’s unlikely Dawkins would think it’s your fault if you are standing there minding your own business, while drunk, and someone hits you for no reason. But if the assault occurs with a penis instead of a fist, in Dawkins' mind, suddenly the victim is the person at fault. 
Again, this situation is no outlier. Dawkins has spent the past few years using Twitter as a platform to rail against feminists for daring to speak up about sexual harassment and abuse. He not only rushed to Shermer’s defense regarding allegations of sexual assault, but rushed to Harris' defense regarding allegations of sexism, even though Harris’ sexism is so off the charts it becomes downright comical. Dawkins used to cling to the idea that he was an outspoken critic against the oppression of women, but lately he’s more occupied with praising professional anti-feminist Christina Hoff Sommers. 
There are many excellent feminist speakers and writers in the atheist movement, men and women who bring the same critical eye to sexism that they apply to religion. Most of them, however, are mostly known only within atheist circles. People like Dawkins, Shermer and Harris are the public face of atheism. And that public face is one that is defensively and irrationally sexist. It’s not only turning women away from atheism, it’s discrediting the idea that atheists are actually people who argue from a position of rationality. How can they be, when they cling to the ancient, irrational tradition of treating women like they aren’t quite as human as men? 
Sadly, this contempt for women coming from the top trickles into the ranks, allowing everyday misogynists who happen not to believe in God feel justified in their hatred of women anyway. Subsequently, there’s a thriving online community of people who live to harass not just women, but female atheists in particular, trying to drum any women out of the movement who want to be included as equals instead of as support staff for the male stars. Feminists like Rebecca Watson and Greta Christina, who upset the image of atheism as a “guy thing," are subject to a relentless drumbeat of abuse through social media by people who prefer an atheism that’s a little more like fundamentalist Christianity, where women know their place. 
It’s become so bad that artist Amy Roth created an installation where the walls and furniture in an 8 x10 room are completely covered by the abuse women receive online, currently on display at the Center for Inquiry in Los Angeles. (Full disclosure: I shared much of the online abuse I get with her.) 
If atheists believed in the afterlife, they would have to assume that Simone de Beauvoir and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are looking down upon us in horror, wondering how the good name of atheism has been so poisoned by rampant sexism. But since they are no longer around to judge us, it’s up to living atheists to strive to be more than a bunch of people who simply don’t believe in God, but stand up to irrationality in all its forms, including sexism. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"pro-life"

Because I don't feel like writing anything this month.  So here have an image macro:


Friday, August 22, 2014

Hypocrisy and the religious right

The fucking hypocrisy of the religious right in America is practically vomit-inducing at this point.  

Religious right households have a tendency to kick GBLT children out on the street so that they're homeless at a VASTLY higher rate than any other segment of the population.  At the same time, the people within the movement are attacking anyone who is homeless as lazy bums who need to get a job.  However, when the GBLT young adults try to get a job, the religious right is firing them from it just for being GBLT in the first place, and fighting tooth and nail against putting protections against that so that they can actually work and make a living-- all the while they're also also trying to tear down hate crime laws so that the violent criminals who attack homeless people can be as violently homophobic as they want and practically get away with it.

Jesus wept.

Misogyny and the press

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/07/gin-lane-magaluf-press-shame-women

Rebloggin' time:

Sex sells, but sexism sells even better. Last week the Sun saw no contradiction in slut-shaming an unknown teenager on its front page for "performing sex acts" on more than 20 men in Magaluf, while featuring softcore pornography on page 3. According to witnesses, the teenage girl was promised an exotic holiday which later turned out to be the name of a cocktail. This is exploitation in anyone's book, and yet the only story being told in the press is the story of a young girl's shame.
Hypocrisy oils the belching engine of modern media misogyny. The celebrity and tabloid press, particularly in Britain, has perfected a profitable combination of pornography and priggishness, whereby pictures of the precise acts of which the paper disapproves are printed in masturbatory detail. Look at how disgusting these girls are, the editorials seem to be saying – look harder. Look at the sex acts they're performing while drunk and vulnerable. Look at their parents crying. Look at the blurry cameraphone footage, so shocking that we're featuring it prominently on our website, with the flimsiest smear of pixels positioned to protect the paper from prosecution.
This has happened before. Last year, in the slow summer news season, extensive coverage was given to cameraphone footage of a teenage girl going down on a chap in a lime-green fedora at an Eminem concert in Ireland. The man pictured – arse out, two fists raised in triumph, grinning like an idiot – is considered a hero; the girl had a breakdown after the barrage of media bullying and was hospitalised.
This will happen again. In the age of the smartphone, members of the public are now doing the paparazzi's job for them, but they are only mimicking the same old sexual surveillance that has been the stock in trade of the print press for more than a century. In the first days of newspapers, editors relied on line drawings to illustrate the base morals of working-class women, breasts spilling out of dirty dresses, approaching gentlemen in stovepipe hats who are never held responsible for their behaviour. The shame, as always, is hers and hers alone.
Of course, the men featured in the footage will never be named, will never be made to feel bad about "performing sex acts" on camera. Why should they? Men's sexual behaviour is not policed in the same way: if a man and a woman have sex in public, he is a stud and she is a disgusting slut who deserves to die. It is unknown whether the drunken sex games of British tourists abroad have ever included young men going down on up to 30 women at once, but one suspects that if they have, the images would not be considered newsworthy, although they might merit some sort of award for lingual stamina.
The role of class hatred in this narrative deserves attention. The British press loves to hate women, but it particularly loves to hate specific, usually working-class, women who are singled out as symbols of moral degradation, offered money if they cooperate with the public humiliation which will happen with or without their consent. Journalists are currently descending on Magaluf, and we can anticipate a month or two of horror stories about a kingdom of sun and sin where the dignity of working-class women goes to die. Nobody is covering what goes on behind the scenes in Mustique or Monaco.
If there's one thing the tabloid press hates more than women, it's welfare recipients, but it saves up special stocks of loathing for people who are both. "White Dee" from the Channel 4 documentary Benefits Street has featured in much of the "Magaluf girl" coverage, for no other reason than the fact she once visited Magaluf. Readers were reminded of the precise amount White Dee claims in benefits, next to pictures of the single mother having fun on holiday, which is obviously not allowed. Poor people, and particularly poor women, are expected to be abject at all times.
The logic of misogyny is routinely used to undermine the social basis of welfare provision. The only way to ensure favourable coverage as a female in the public eye is to be young, white, rich and married to a member of the royal family. The antics of aristocrats and wealthy models, from Kate Middleton to Cara Delevingne, are covered by the same papers that profit from the sexual humiliation of working-class women – revering "good women" while demonising "bad women" and inviting readers to place themselves, their partners, relatives and friends, on that tired old scale.
Life at the other end of the scale of what the media deems acceptable femininity can hardly be stress-free – these women, too, are relentlessly harassed by photographers, their lives inspected for the smallest evidence of deviation from expensively maintained perfection. Their basic dignity, however, is deemed worthy of respect. The Sun even refused to publish topless photos of the Duchess of Cambridge, acquired by French Closer magazine – and not just out of pique that the French got there first.
Meanwhile, the many designer bikinis of "blonde celebutante" Paris Hilton were fawned over in the same issue of the Daily Mail that extensively charted the public humiliation of "Magaluf girl". Hilton has also featured in leaked sex tapes but, as Virginie Despentes observed in her important book King Kong Theory, she is of the class who can fuck in public without consequences.
Since the days of Gin Lane, sexual humiliation of women as a means of social control has been the profit model of the British press. The bottom line of papers across the political spectrum is shored up by slut-shaming, by stoking public anxiety over how working-class women in particular should behave. The message is clear: men can be as raucous as they like, but women, especially poor women, can only be sexual as long as they do not demand respect, pleasure or payment, as long as they understand that their bodies do not belong to them. If they slip up, they will be harassed to the point of breakdown. They are, after all, public property, and should know their place.