Jen’s Blag Hag blog (origin of boobquake) is great. While the content is generally atheistic today it was overrun by talk of feminism and asshole-ary. It started with a guest post (that a lot of people in comment threads have mistakenly said was written by Jen herself) by Sharon Moss and Lyz Liddell. Sharon is the president of the Humanist Community of Central Ohio and Lyz is the Director of Campus Organizing at the Secular Student Alliance. The post basically expressed concerns about the way a conversation about gender turned into a full-out-cry-fest from one of the conference attendees because a) the panel was calling women “females” instead of “women” and b) one of the panelists asked if she’d prefer being called “the weaker sex”. Before that the panel alluded to some fairly sexist things including the fact that men hitting on women is biological and thus women shouldn’t be offended. It has since been removed but apparently Sean Faircloth made up a “Million Dollar Challenge” first challenging the men to try and sleep with women at the conference and then doing the same for women. I think, I have read in a couple places, the overarching idea was, for some reason, to make point that it would be easier for a woman to win that challenge.
Well people got all uptight about the whole situation and commentary is spilling in from all corners of the interwebz – the most controversial, IMHO is from the oddly named JesusFetusFajitaFishsticks blog where the author (a woman or female…or lady…or vagina-sporter) made a post telling all us feminists to get back into the kitchen and rethink our feminism. The post is offensive and vagina-sporting-author seems to have her panties all twisted up about the issue and thus presents it in a less than well-mannered and mature fashion. However, its entertaining so you should read it.
I think there are a few important messages to take out of all this.
1. Pick your battles, ladies.
To anyone who hasn’t taken a women’s studies course the issue between the words “female” and “women” might seem ridiculous and slightly (pathetically? incredibly? choose your own word) pedantic. I think women who DO understand the frustration between these words need to keep in mind that most people don’t. It might not be the right time or place to stand up in the middle of an atheist convention and start addressing a panel of un-feminist-educated speakers about their word use. This seems like a conversation better suited for the bar afterwards when you can discuss the issue one-on-one with the speaker and start a real discussion about it. It may have been better to challenge the panel about the issue at hand (atheists and women) rather than turning it into “ostentatious feminist issue of the hour”.
(The issue, I think, is about one connotating a gender of a women, rather than the biological status of a female where “gender” is much more difficult to define and all encompassing.)
2. Feminism and atheism… we expect atheists to be smarter
Given Jen’s more recent comments on what is happening surrounding this whole debacle I think that us feminists who are involved in the atheist movement expect more from our atheist-men counterparts. We often forget that simply because they are smart enough to be scientists, politicians or atheists that it means the they have fully thought out the issue of why being nice to girls is important. Au contraire mes amis…. It sounds bad, but I think we need to stop expecting so much from all the men in the movement. Not all of them have thought out issues surrounding women’s rights because their minds are elsewhere, additionally… I think we can all agree that not all have the social skills necessary to really empathize with the position of a women in certain instances. This doesn’t mean that we should STFU and take it, as people are telling us to do, but instead we need to be as patient as possible and attempt to educate people. Instead of standing up and screaming “I’M A WOMAN NOT A FEMALE!!!” and confusing the hell out of everyone around us… it might make more sense to explain at your local atheist-woman’s night that you can start (I did! …it was a flop…but at least I tried) or getting your local group to hold a lecture about feminism. If there is one thing I’ve learned about atheist groups it’s that they love to a) listen to a lecture and then b) go out and talk about it. Take advantage of this rare group of people are willing to discuss real topics.
But on the flip side, I think the men in the movement need to put in more effort to ensure that they’re not ostracizing people – and this goes back to the whole accomodationalist thing too. It’s not just about offending women – it’s about offending anyone. Think before you yap.
3. Sharon’s list of changes
At the end of the contentious post Sharon lists some things for atheist groups in general to keep in mind. It’s a good list and has unfortunately gotten lost in this entire vomit-fest of insults.
- Be a leader.
- Promote a sense of community.
- Moderate discussions.
- Embrace and accept different ways of communicating
- Encourage subgroups
- Foster women in leadership
4. Pitting women against women creates an unproductive atmosphere
Srsly ladies – by telling each other to STFU and all of this nonsense… you’re just making us all look a little bit crazier.
5. Don’t just brush it off
Feminism isn’t something that should be brushed off and you can’t just tell someone not to be offended. That is what has bothered me the most about this discussion (besides the fact that it took attention off of the real issue of women not wanting to go to atheist groups) is that people are telling each other that they have no reason to be offended…that its completely unwarranted. Well, to all those that said that – eff you! Some people are touchier than others and it would do everyone some good to be sympathetic to one another’s complaints! Especially leaders of organizations (there are some pretty pathetic comments from leaders in the American Atheist group…) it is unprofessional and embarrassing. Take a lesson from the event instead of getting all defensive about it, it will only make the organization and the movement stronger.
Anyway – it’s too bad this whole thing overtook an important discussion about making atheist spaces more inclusive to women. I think there are a few key things to remember:
1. Men – don’t hit on the women unless they obviously want it (ie: wearing low cut skirts, licking their lips when they look at you, wearing those sweatpants that say “slut” on the ass of them or are wearing a sign that says “shit ya, I want it”
2. Women – don’t get offended when the men hit on you… it’s because you’re pretty and they’re desperate to get laid. We all just need to relax and enjoy the love. (To avoid this issue all together, wear a fake wedding ring or just talk so much about things like Britney Spears, Fergie and general sports… the men will get confused, feel like they’ve lost what little masculinity they had left and leave you alone)
3. In all seriousness: be cognizant of creating an inclusive space. Tone down the offensive jokes (there are lots of funny science jokes to tell, I’m sure), look people in the eye when you talk to them and try and create discussions that advance our intellect….
AND REMEMBER: Feminism matters… It’s not over just because it’s 2011. There is still a fight to be won for so many women out there. One fight might be that they need spiritual (or lack of spiritual-ness) support and our organizations are where they could get it. Religions are horribly sexist and there could be a lot of women caught in that whirlwind, lets help them out by being friendly to them.