Skeptical about the role of feminism

This is a very personal stand point, I will put that right up front. So get ready for an opinion piece.

It all started when an episode of Little Atoms went up featuring an interview with Kat Banyard called The Equality Illusion. I did not agree with many, if most, of the views expressed in this interview. So without giving a blow-by-blow account of how I felt about each topic covered I can safely say I had a reaction to its content that was not positive. Mostly what annoyed me was the absence of any debate. Feminism is a band wagon we must all climb abroad. Not just women’s rights, but a brand of feminism that appears to take issue with most facets of modern society. Not only that but takes some issues, such as body image, and makes them purely feminist. A stand point that can be put on shaky ground just by pointing out the existence of anti ageing cosmetics and cosmetic surgeries aimed solely at men.

Since then I have become more aware of ‘feminist’ blog posts on most of the skeptical blogs I would read on a regular basis, such as this one (I’d like to see a similar discussion on creepy girls too, if only to even things out). There was also a little hoo-ha on The Skeptics Guide to the Universe forum in which Hayley Stephens from the Righteous Indignation podcast was referred to as the ‘token female’. So it seems one cannot escape the gender debate within the ever expanding landscape of skeptical podcasts, blogs and forums.

Having been on of the two people who got Irish Skeptics in the Pub off the ground in Dublin, as a woman this annoyed me. On one hand being viewed by men or women as a ‘token’ or an oddity based on my gender alone (I’m odd, but not due to being a woman!) but secondly in a far worse manner. Namely the implication I need to be ‘spoken for’ in anyway. Up until this point I never thought of myself as a minority that desperately needed to be stood up for. I do not need another woman to tell me how I should and should not feel about my place within any community.

I will accept that perhaps I have been overly lucky in the company that I keep, or that perhaps I am blessed with manner that allows me to be oblivious to any form of chauvinist or gender biased prejudice. I refuse to go to a SITP meeting that I have organised and count how many women are at the table, or how many other perceived minorities might be in attendance and then use this a basis to measure success (whatever that means). In this I am what is referred to as a postfeminist. I fully acknowledge the sacrifices and hard work women in the past and today face in all societies, but I do not understand it’s place within the social and recreational boundaries of this community.

It has lead to all sorts of discussion about whether skepticism in pubs is a good idea, or in a park, a café, or in any number of gathering places people meet to socialise. The truth of the matter is no group can be all inclusive. I like the idea of events such as Ladies who do Skepticism but in light of the debates and viewpoints I have read lately I would be less likely to attend (let alone instigate) such gatherings. After all by having an event in a venue that puts a pressure on its participants to buy a beverage could be seen as discriminating against those on low or no income couldn’t it? Okay, I’m being facetious but you get me drift? Well maybe you don’t, but I felt something had to be said.

It had to be said because very few others seem to being saying it. I can only presume men fear reproach as much as some women might. I will state it now, I will not accept an argument that says that I am ‘betraying’ feminism. I believe all persons to be equal, to the point were no one should be made to feel different, not for their gender, sexuality, race, culture or any other category. No one should be made to feel like a minority by everyone turning around and pointing, then collectively wagging their fingers and tutting disapprovingly at what a shame it is there isn’t more like ‘you’ here.

I am a woman who watches Red Vs Blue, plays World of Warcraft, owns cuff links and does skepticism, so don’t make me feel any more odd than I need to…

Skeptical about the role of feminism

19 thoughts on “Skeptical about the role of feminism

  1. I pretty much agree with what you said; with limitations. I’m gender/race/sexual-attraction neutral in areas where none of those aspects plays a role; which very much applies to skepticism. If you were to replace your feminism with humanism (because masculinism can also be rejected) we would be much closer to an agreement. I might even share a Fish Feast with you, prior to a raid. :)

  2. Evan Harper says:

    I don’t really understand what you’re getting at here. It almost sounds like your overall point is, “I haven’t experienced male chauvinism within the skeptical community (or maybe I’m just oblivious,) therefore other people should stop talking about it.” I’m sure that’s not what you intended to write but it is hard to avoid reading your post that way.

    I don’t know what is meant by “taking some issues … and making them purely feminist.” It sounds like a strawman. (straw woman? strawperson.) Talking about something from a feminist perspective is not somehow equivalent to denying the relevance of any other perspective on the issue.

    I don’t know how “but dudes can do that too!” is supposed to be a rejoinder to anything. Why would every blog post about a creepy dude at a skeptic meeting need to be “balanced” with a blog post about a creepy chick at one? Is there any basis to assume that creepy dudes and creepy chicks are in equal and opposite supply at skeptical meetups? And even if there were — why would it be the responsibility of someone who brings up Issue ‘A’ to then spend expend exactly equal effort on issues ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D?’ Maybe they just understand issue ‘A’ better, or have more to say about it, or are more directly affected by it.

    You say that all people are equal, but you write as if “equal” means “exactly equivalent in every possible respect,” rather than “of equal worth” or “entitled to equal respect” or “deserving equal treatment.” It is clearly not true that men and women have equivalent roles in the skeptical movement, or in society more broadly. That is a factual claim which cannot possibly be denied. In that sense, men and women are very much unequal, and to say otherwise would be crazy.

    You approvingly cite “postfeminist” critics who “oppose simplistic gender constructs of binary opposition.” I can’t help but feel like that that’s exactly what you’re doing here — constructing a simplistic binary opposition, where anyone who speaks up for women is immediately supposed to be denigrating men.

  3. David K says:

    Actually, as someone who has had low/no income for the past while, the cost of travelling to a skeptic meeting and buying a drink once there has put me off going to one – but I accept this as one of the (minor) frustrations of being poor.

    My attitude is the same as yours, I think. “If you build it, they will come” – as long as a group is open, friendly and interesting, the people who want to come should in theory turn up and join in. Most skeptics are quite evangelical and want the movement to grow, (the numbers matter to them, in other words) but they also need to accept that wider cultural factors effect how many people will want to join in and who those people are in terms of gender/race/sexuality/culture. If the skeptic community wants to measure it’s success in terms of numbers (if) then it may need to change and evolve in order to reflect different perspectives – and a broader membership may increase the effectiveness of skeptic campaigns.

    I personally am not a member of the “skeptic movement”, although I aspire to be sceptical, I have a lay interest in science and I don’t believe in any kind of woo or religion. I’m not a member because 1) I have different priorities and I prefer to spend my activist time/money in other ways and groups that I think are more useful and I can add more to, and 2) I’m not a tech-geek or gamer. I also have no desire to see the skeptic movement change so that I could become an active part of it.

  4. 66steve says:

    well said B, cheers for coming out for those of us who are wary of the negative feedback. double-plus thumbs up!!

  5. Heather Cawte says:

    You’re not alone! I went through the feminism of the 60s and 70s, and am grateful to be in a position now where I no longer feel the need, for example, to do headcounts to see how many women are represented on committees etc – although I do still notice when things are all male.I know there is still discrimination, especially in other parts of the world, but I am delighted to see that women in positions of authority are beginning to be less of a cause for comment, and that, at least in the UK, it is much more widely accepted that both genders are as capable of independence as they are of support of each other.

    I worry about the plastic surgery/anti-ageing ads for men, though. This is not a step forward!

  6. sciamannata says:

    You have no obligation to be a feminist, obviously – though just as obviously, as a feminist, I think it’s a pity if you aren’t. (And as for “betraying” feminism, you have to be a feminist first…)

    It isn’t clear to me if you’re objecting to feminism as a whole, or simply to the emphasis on inclusiveness (of women as of other minorities) in skeptical activities. The second is certainly the only aspect you talk about, so maybe that’s what you mean.

    It would be extremely unfortunate if you were turned against feminism as a whole by an issue you have with a specific application of it. Because feminism is about a lot more than the representation of women within skepticism (a subject on which I don’t have an opinion worth mentioning), and it is very much still needed in the world.

  7. Dan Jacobs says:

    I completely agree with all of this.

    One of the things that bothers me the most is this concept of quotas. From the workplace to the Dáil, it’s everywhere. Companies would ideally want to hire based on who is the most suitable candidate for a given job. However, they are under increasing pressure to reach politcally correct quotas. The best candidate may lose out to a inferior candidate who happens to be a member of some “minority”.

    And now this is spreading into politics. Across the political spectrum, there are many calling for quotas for the number of women in the Dáil. The most common argument seems to go like this: “There aren’t many women in the Dáil. Therefore, the Dáil does not represent me or my interests”. This argument as utterly fallacious. Why does a difference in gender mean that a politician cannot represent you? What about the myriad other difference betwen you and the prospective politician. We don’t seem to be hearing arguments like “There aren’t enough dwarves in the Dáil; therefor my interests as a vertically challenged person are not represented”. Or how about “Why aren’t there more ginger people in parliament?” Worryingly, I *can* imagine people saying “There aren’t enough Polish people in the Dáil” or “There aren’t enough Muslims in the Dáil”. The same logic that brings us quotas for the number of women would be logically extended to bring quotas for all sorts of arbitrary attributes a person may have.

    Of course, this would be completely non-democratic. To impose quotas on a democratically elected parliament would be to ignore the wishes of the people, and artificially install more people of a certain “minority” group.

    I guess a side-rant would be the fact that it is of course not “politically correct” for me to say this, what with me being a white male. I also run the risk of sounding like I’m from the Daily Mail. Which I’m not. By the way.

    As for the whole feminism thing in general, I can honestly say that I don’t know what that term means. If someone says “I’m a feminist”, what are they saying? Do they mean “I think women and men should be equal”? In that case, I am, by definition, a feminist. But in that case, feminism almost becomes synonymous with… well, common sense. And the term loses all meaning.

    Or does feminism mean “Women are better than men”? This is certainly the feeling I get from many who would describe themselves as feminists. I’m sure this is just a vociferous minority, but that minority is most certainly out there. I really have no time for the “Men control us by the wielding of the phallus!” attitude.

    I agree that we should be “post-feminist”. If we accept the common sense definition of feminism, then that desired equality has near enough been achieved. The inequalities that persist in society are not ones that predominently subjugate women. For every case where someone may feel at a disadvantage because of being a women, there’s a case where a man would feel the same way. Or a black person. Or a Polish person. Or a ginger person.

    So instead of using the term “feminist”, we need some sort of new term like… “equalityist”. Except something that sounds better. Anyone care to come up with a better word?

  8. @Dan “So instead of using the term “feminist”, we need some sort of new term like… “equalityist”. Except something that sounds better. Anyone care to come up with a better word?”

    Yes. Humanist.

  9. Rebecca says:

    Hey all, spam filter went into overdrive so I just cleared the ‘backlog’.

    Right, I will probably write further on this but just a few bullet points:

    – @Red Celt Yes humanist is one term, egalitarian is another. Basically an attempt (as I doubt we will ever transcend difference completely) to put everyone on a level playing field, to put aside all difference. I don’t identify as a humanist, no particular reason, just don’t

    – @Evan, did you listen to the Little Atoms interview I referenced above? I think if you did you would get it. My main issue is with what I would term hyper-feminism. She argues that all aspects of the adult entertainment industry feed into a perception that society condones rape of women. Something I would term a straw man, as where would male gay entertainment fit, for example?

    – @Evan, well how about “creepy person”? It implies that only men can be creepy or intimidating. I don’t really follow your final argument. How can I be egalitarian if I don’t “stand-up” for men somehow? How can I talk about, frankly militant, feminism without talking about how men are reduced to two dimensional, knuckle dragging ogres? I was attempting to point out that constructing such flat representations of gender don’t stand up regardless of the standpoint you come from. I was attempting, perhaps I failed. So apologise for not having a doctorate level understanding of the history and nuances of gender studies (that sounds a lot more sarcastic than I mean, but I’m leaving it in there).

    @David, so very well put! Sorry it took so long for me to approve your comment. I also approve of your European spelling of sceptic, extra kudos for that.

    @Heather, it has too be a better time when you can just be a person in a room and not ‘the’ woman ticking a box or filling a quota.

    @sciamannata basically I believe we have reached a point (in Western European cultures) that I think we have evolved past the point of having to use the rhetoric and tactics of twentieth century feminism. It is a model that worked to get women the vote, to allow representation and voice to women but that now the time has come (in my opinion) for the tactics, language and motivations to change. We are not still fighting all the same battles, so perhaps we can change those tactics. In this I am really thinking about feminism and it’s application in modern Western Europe, as I can not speak knowledgeably to it’s application elsewhere. Huh tactics is my word of the day, it would appear.

    @Dan I think we could agree on egalitarian?

  10. No particular reason for not identifying yourself as a humanist? The rational thinker in me requires (or hopes for) a reason… although, I would feel too much like Mrs Doyle offering a cup of humanism (add a large number of “go on”s to the sentiment).

  11. Rebecca says:

    Well, lets put it this way. Words are as meaningful or as meaningless as any given person chooses to make them.
    Just as you don’t use egalitarian I don’t use humanist. These are constructed labels, one can choose to use or not. I do not object to the word I would just never use it as a self descriptor. It’s just that simple.

  12. Dan Jacobs says:

    While I am a humanist, it isn’t an appropriate term to use in this case. It doesn’t specify that I believe in egalitarianism. That *may* be implied, depending on the definition of the word you use. The word certainly brings with it a whole bunch of other meanings though, and while these meanings may apply to me, they certainly don’t apply to others who believe in egalitarianism. Someone who believes men and women are equal may not necessarily reject supernaturalism and religious dogma, for example.

    However, by simply using the word ‘egalitarian’ in my previous paragraph, I am, to a lesser extent, guilty of a similar mistake myself. Egalitarianism has many politcal and economic connotations that are not intended to be expressed in my usage of the term. As a result, I’d be slightly hesitent to describe myself as an egalitarian. (Though I’m open to persuasion here.)

    I would happily describe myself as a humanist — not because I happen to like the word, but because I fit the definition. I’m not going to choose to not ‘identify’ as something that accurately describes me, just for some arbitrary non-reason. The way I look at it is that if I said I wasn’t a humanist, I’d be lying. I am, by definition, a humanist, whether I like it or not.

    To disagree with logic like this makes it difficult to have a rational discussion. This is what postmodernists like to do. If “everything’s relative” and words don’t have concrete meanings, then what meaning can we ascribe to any text?

    As such, the term ‘feminist’ really needs to be defined before it is debated.

  13. Helen says:

    I don’t consider myself a feminist. I’m all for equality, not just for women though, for everyone in all areas of life but I don’t call myself a humanist or an egalitarian either. The Kat Banyard interview annoyed me too, what I got from it was the ‘all men are bastards’ type of hyper feminism as you called that does no one any favours. To take her point about the lack of gender equality in government, a 50/50 split of men and women is not equality, how many would be there just to make the numbers add up or ousted for the same reason? I want the right people for the job, not someone there because they tick the right box or to fill a quota.

    I’m not going to pretend I haven’t noticed the difference in ratio of men to women at the SITP meetings and every other skeptic event I’ve been to for that matter, but I would never consider not going because of it. Truth be told I’d be less likely to want to go to a Ladies who do Skepticism type event because of the name, so does this make me sexist? Any more sexist then said Ladies excluding men from the title of their group? I know they’re open to men too but you see my point. I’m surrounded by non-skeptics in my everyday life and it’s hard enough explaining or justifying my beliefs and non-beliefs to them, so when I do meet with like minded people, I want to know I’m there on merit, not because of or in spite of my being a woman.

    I’ve never listened to a podcast and thought of any woman as a token female on them any more than I think of Sam Ogden as a token male on the skepchick site, but then I don’t think in those terms in any walk of life. Why should I be bothered by the male domination? I’m still relatively new to skepticism and I want to listen to people who know what they’re talking about and read articles that entertain and inform me, I don’t care about the gender of the person.

    Maybe I’m terribly naive or maybe I’m just lucky to have never felt excluded from anything as a female and because of that don’t feel that gender is an issue for a lot of things.

  14. Storm L says:

    I found myself eager at first to hear Kat Banyard’s view but soon found it difficult to enjoy the interview. At least twice she posed a rhetorical question and then cut off any option for debate, implying debate is beyond the pale.
    For example, she said something close to but not quite like this:
    ‘Does anybody think such and such?’
    and then without a pause. . .
    ‘Of course not; it is absurd.’
    And yet it was an issue on which I myself am not sure.

    However, I wondered if I was just being too particular because her overall interview did not confirm my biases. How does one listen to strongly-held opposing viewpoints and remove one’s own biases? I’d have to listen again to give specifics, but I often thought while listening to the interview, ‘Am I suffering from confirmation bias or is she? Or both of us?’

  15. Rebecca says:

    @Storm L. I know what you mean, I got confusingly angry at the whole thing which I think made me ‘deaf’ to a lot of the interview. It sent my head spinning a bit. I think my main problem with interviews like this is that it was conducted by two men. Men are in the unfortunate position of not being able (or allowed) to comment on this brand of feminism without being painted in a horrific light one way or the other.
    I think this topic may require further examination, don’t you think?

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