I've not wanted to wade into this Rebecca Watson / Richard Dawkins / Steff McGraw / Jen McCreight / just about everyone kerfuffle, but things are getting about as heated as they can without a cage match. I generally dislike blogging on these meta-issues of skepticism, because I feel smug when I do it. And yet, I say these following words with humility, and I beg your indulgence.
Full disclosure: I consider Rebecca a friend. She and another Skepchick blogger Carrie once drove three hours, across to the Canadian side of the border to come to my house for what was effectively beer, pie, and coffee, so I'll put it out on front street: I may not be entirely unbiased here.
|See? Bestest. Friends. Ever.|
That being said, here are some simple lessons that I hope we have all learned:
1) Calling someone a "rape apologist" serves no one. Smarten up, and don't do that.
2) Just as when Randi publicly questioned climate science a little over a year ago, Richard Dawkins displayed some extraordinary insensitivity and ignorance to feminist issues. When our heroes get stuff wrong, it reminds us not to practice the hero-worship and sycophancy that we all aspire to avoid.
3) Feminism needs to be discussed. Skepticism is too big, too important, to not discuss it. I see too often in comment threads and in some blogs (no, I'll not be naming names here, sorry) where people (usually white, straight, and male) talk of being tired of feminist issues being discussed, because it's not really a problem. The idea that because we're a science-based community, then equality and evidence is our M.O. To be sure, women and visible minorities do receive an equal, and fair hearing in our lot. So why then, is there still such an imbalance of the genders and the colours? Well the answer is simple, but no less challenging: we have equality, but we don't have equity. The outcome of our collective input still favours those with white skin, and penises. Of if you like, Whitey McPenises.
4) If problem A is 10 serious, and problem B is 3 serious, it's still okay to oppose problem B. One does not subtract problem B from A in order to assess how serious a situation is. Feminism is not a zero sum game, where lots of oppression somewhere makes a little oppression seem like people should not complain.
5) Women have a different set of shared experiences then men do. I am normally loathe to speak of identity politics and post modernism with any sort of weight, but here it applies: It is wrong, ethically, morally, and culturally to assume that the male standard(s) of social interactions can be any sort of measuring stick against what is largely (but not uniquely) a female experience. Men: stop it.
6) Atheists have often trumpeted (or parroted) the words of Dawkins with respect (or lack of respect) to religious persons, and too often have the religious been labeled as 'crybabies' when called out in the biting way that only Dawkins can deliver. Maybe now we feminist atheists are getting a taste of the sting that the religious feel when Dawkins insults them, to cheers of applause from atheists. Respect: It's time we all learned it, and not to define others by what they believe, but by how they act.
7) Don't let the extreme right wing, or any armchair political analyst fool you: "radical feminism" is not a body of thought in the feminist literature, at least not in the way you are being led to believe. What they call "radical feminism", I call "white guy thinks vaginas are out to take his job away". Radical feminism is about abolishing patriarchy, not men. During this whole affair, nowhere did true radical feminism come into play.
8) It's fine to "just ask the question" about why one simply cannot push the elevator button to escape, if your intentions are *truly* out of intellectual curiosity. But it's also a huge leap of arrogance to assume that a) you already know the answer and more importantly, b) you can ask that question without a broader understanding of the cultural context of said question. This is feminism 101: Understand the history and context, then see if your question still applies. More often than not, feminist issues are not simple, and they have more baggage behind them then most are prepared to admit, or accept.
It's easy to denounce religious-motivated female genital mutilation; this is the extreme. The hard part is seeing gender power imbalances in the mundane, everyday experience. Men: we don't experience life the way women do. We just don't.
Special shout-out to Stephanie Zvan who compiled a helpful list of links in a recent post, where you can read many links and get more context about what happened, what didn't happen, and why feminism is still an urgent, important issue.
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