Why Both of Sam Harris’s Recent Comments Were Sexist — Even If You Accept Some Degree of Innate Gendered Behavior

(As promised. Sorry this took so long.)

sam harris
Yes. Sam Harris’s recent comments about gender in the atheist movement were sexist. The original one was sexist; the second one explaining and clarifying the original one was sexist; several of the Tweets along the way were sexist.

And importantly, they were still sexist — even if you believe that some degree of gender difference in behavior or psychology is innate.

Let’s look at Harris’s first statement first, the one stating that “There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women” and that “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.”

Here’s why this is sexist.

There is a mountain of evidence showing that sexism is real, and that throughout our lives we get barraged with sexist gender expectations and gender policing. These socially trained and enforced gender roles begin at birth — people treat infants they think are female noticeably differently than infants they think are male, in ways these people are often not aware of and will often deny when it’s pointed out to them. This training happens in infancy, in childhood, in adolescence, and throughout our adult lives. It happens subtly and unconsciously; it happens obviously and overtly. It’s done to women, to men, to trans people of all varieties, to people who don’t identify on a gender binary. Link, link, link, link, link, link, link, link, link, link, link, link, link, link, link — and that list barely scratches the surface. We know this. It is not controversial — or it shouldn’t be. Harris himself understands and accepts it. (Interestingly, there’s some evidence suggesting that even in some non-human animals, gender roles are at least partly learned.)

It is also possible that there’s some degree of innate gender difference in behavior or psychology in humans. This is a more controversial and less certain statement (here’s a good summary of some of the thinking on the subject, with lots of citations) — but it’s not completely implausible. It certainly exists in other animals. If nothing else, the experiences of transgender people, many of whom feel they were born as a gender other than the one corresponding to the genitals they were born with, does suggest that some degree of gender identity and gendered psychology might be innate — although it also suggests that any of this innate-ness is incredibly complex, and does not easily line up with birth genitals or chromosomes.

Which leads me to my next point. Gender, and gender differences, are incredibly complex, and do not easily line up with birth genitals or chromosomes. And importantly: Any gender differences in humans, whether innate or learned or both, are very much an “overlapping bell curve” thing. (Or, to be more accurate, they’re multiple overlapping bell curves, since there are many different behaviors and psychologies that we commonly identify as gendered — verbal skills, spatial skills, a tendency to be co-operative, a tendency to be competitive, a tendency to be physically violent, many more.) The noticeable differences are on the far ends of the bell curves: gender is only a useful predictor in very large populations, and the majority of women and men fall into a range where gender is a largely useless predictor of behavior. (There’s a very good piece explaining this on Skepchick.) This is true even with a lifetime of sexist expectations and gender policing that’s done its best to push people into clearly divided gender camps. And importantly, humans seem to have a greater degree of social and learned influence on our behavior than most other animals.

So. Let’s say you’re asked why some particular human behavior — rearing children, enjoying harsh criticism, being the head of a Fortune 500 company, not reading Sam Harris — seems to be different in different genders. If your first and only answer is, “It’s innate,” that does two things — both of which are sexist.

1: It makes the “social training and enforcement” angle invisible.

2: It absolves you — and your readers — of the responsibility to do anything about it. Even if you believe that gender differences are a blend of innate and learned, zeroing in on the innate makes it easy to dismiss the learned part. “We’re just born different! It totally makes sense that women would be grossly under-represented in Fortune 500 companies! Women are just born to be more nurturing and less competitive! It’s innate! Why are you asking us to do anything about it?”

Why Are You Atheists So Angry
It’s flatly ridiculous to say that women disproportionately don’t read Sam Harris because he’s harshly critical of religion. Plenty of atheist writers/ podcasters/ videobloggers are harshly critical of religion, and have much more gender balance in their readers/ listeners/ viewers than Sam Harris says he does. PZ Myers, Rebecca Watson, Matt Dillahunty, Amanda Marcotte, Ophelia Benson, Alex Gabriel — I could go on. Not to mention me: I literally wrote the book on atheist anger about religion. And as far as I know, none of these people have the “84% male” gender imbalance that Harris acknowledges in his Twitter followers. Given that this is true, doesn’t it seem as if the gender imbalance in Harris’s followers has a more likely explanation than “women on average don’t like harsh criticism of religion”?

And it’s ridiculous to say that being “nurturing” has nothing to do with organized atheism. Tell it to the people running the many, many support organizations in our community: Darrel Ray at the Secular Therapist Project, Rebecca Hensler at Grief Beyond Belief, Andy Cheadle at the Secular Safe Zone project, Sarah Moorehead at Recovering From Religion, Robert Stump at LifeRing (the secular sobriety support organization), Vyckie Garrison at No Longer Quivering and the Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network, many more that I don’t have space here to list. For years now, movement atheists have been talking about how we need to create secular communities and support structures, to replace the ones people lose when they leave religion — and a whole lot of atheists have been stepping up to the plate. Atheism absolutely has a nurturing, coherence-building vibe. Either Harris thinks these support organizations don’t matter, which would be grossly insulting — or he’s genuinely ignorant about them, which would make him profoundly out of touch with the reality of on-the-ground organized atheism, to the point where he’s grossly unqualified to comment about it. (Kudos to Rebecca Hensler, founder and co-moderator of Grief Beyond Belief, for pointing this out in her excellent post, Sam Harris, Meet the Secular Support Movement.)

In other words: Jumping to the conclusion that Sam Harris has fewer female readers because women tend to not appreciate harsh criticism — and that this difference is innate — is sexist. And jumping to the conclusion that organized atheism has fewer women because women tend to prefer nurturing and coherence-building — and that this difference is innate — is sexist.

Which wouldn’t be such a terrible thing. We all have sexist ideas. Me, and you, and everyone we know. We all say wrong things sometimes — especially on the spur of the moment, when we’re on the spot and don’t have time to think.

Which brings me to Harris’s second piece — the one he did have time to think about, the one that was supposedly going to clear all this up, the one that was going to show once and for all that Harris’s words and ideas weren’t really sexist.

Yes, I think much of it was sexist. Here’s why.

First. If you say or do something that unintentionally hurts people, it is entirely reasonable to say, “That’s not what I meant — but I can see how you’d see it that way, I spoke poorly, here’s what I meant, sorry.” Again, we all mis-speak sometimes, especially when we’re speaking off the cuff, and spoken language can sometimes lose nuances of tone when written down.

It is not, however, reasonable to say (paraphrasing here), “That’s not what I meant — and you’re thick-headed and mean and paranoid for thinking that’s what I meant. Stop picking on me.”

It is not reasonable (and here I’m not paraphrasing) to accuse your feminist critics of being “determined to be offended”; to say that they are “looking for sexist pigs” (as opposed to, you know, seeing the reality of sexism everywhere around us every day); to accuse them of having “installed a tripwire in your mind, and you’re just waiting for people to cross it.” The idea that feminists are over-sensitive and are going out of our way to find sexism is one of the most common ways that criticisms of sexism get trivialized and ignored. Hint: You can disagree with our criticism without impugning our motivations in making it.

It is not in the slightest bit reasonable to point out that just 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women — and to use that as evidence of why status differences between men and women aren’t caused by sexism. Seriously? You can’t think of approximately 876,907 forms of sexism, both subtle and overt, that contribute to the under-representation of women running Fortune 500 companies? Such as — oh, say, to give just one example completely at random — the idea that valuing competition and criticism is more innately male? The inability to see this is seriously sexist.

It is not in the slightest bit reasonable to say that women mostly don’t run Fortune 500 companies because women in their 20s and 30s disproportionately do child rearing — and to again use that as evidence of why status differences between men and women aren’t caused by sexism. Again — seriously? You don’t know about the approximately 695,578 ways that women are pressured to do the lion’s share of child rearing, or are pressured to have children in the first place? It hasn’t occurred to you that there’s a wee bit of sexism in a social and economic system that (a) fails to provide child care for double-wage-earner households while (b) pressuring women to have children and rear them? (Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism has some excellent perspectives on this topic.) The inability to see this is seriously sexist.

It is not reasonable to claim that criticisms of sexism are ridiculous because you “tend to respect women more than men.” Actually, treating women more respectfully than men is a form of sexism. Look up “benevolent sexism” and “putting women on a pedestal” and how they do measurable harm. (Libby Anne — a former homeschooled evangelical Christian, brought up “in a subculture that purported to respect women a great deal — and even to hold women above men” — once again has some excellent perspectives on this at Love, Joy, Feminism.)

It is not reasonable to claim that criticisms of sexism are ridiculous because you have worked with women, have women in your family, and were raised by a single mother. Most people have women in their lives. It’s not an inoculation against sexism. (And yes, I know that Harris said, “I’m not saying that my fondness for certain women proves that I’m not sexist.” I just don’t know why else he would bring up that point.)

It is seriously not reasonable to say, “It is a measure of the ridiculous paranoia engendered by political correctness that in the second it took me to make that joke about my sex appeal, I worried whether my assuming that most women are heterosexual would offend some number of lesbians in the audience.” I am baffled at the idea that it’s “ridiculous paranoia” and “political correctness” to stop and think about whether you ought not to assume heterosexuality. Yes, not perpetuating harmful tropes often requires you to think about what you say before you say it. That’s not being “paranoid.” It’s being thoughtful. And the idea that this thoughtfulness is a terrible imposition — well, that’s pretty darned sexist, not to mention racist, classist, homophobic, transphobic, and more. (Also, FYI: The phrase “politically correct” is a knee-jerk way of dismissing concerns about social injustice without actually addressing them, and it’s a dog-whistle for retrograde assholes. Advice: Don’t use it unless you want to call out the dogs.)

And it is not the slightest bit reasonable to get mad at a Washington Post reporter because she didn’t throw you softball questions for the entire duration of your interview. It is not reasonable to accuse her of trying to “make me look stupid” and of having “paid me back” because she included three paragraphs about troubling statements you made on gender, in a lengthy and generally complimentary piece plugging your book.

It’s interesting to note that Harris originally claimed that women on average don’t like harsh criticism — but when a woman at his talk was bold enough to harshly criticize him to his face, and when she reasonably but firmly persisted when he refused to acknowledge that what he said might have been sexist, he accused her of being “determined to be offended,” and told her “It’s like you have installed a tripwire in your mind, and you’re just waiting for people to cross it.” When it comes to harsh criticism, this is exactly the kind of gender policing that women get on a daily basis. It’s almost comical for Harris to argue that a taste for criticism is innately male — and then, three days later, to tell us how he himself has policed women against it.

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Why Both of Sam Harris’s Recent Comments Were Sexist — Even If You Accept Some Degree of Innate Gendered Behavior
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144 thoughts on “Why Both of Sam Harris’s Recent Comments Were Sexist — Even If You Accept Some Degree of Innate Gendered Behavior

  1. 1

    You make so many good points.

    I think women are sick and tired of all the creative and pseudo-scientific reasons they are barred from power or nudged away from it. From religion we have the idea that Eve was tricked by a serpent and ate forbidden fruit and that Adam was made first and Eve just from a rib getting used as explanations for women deserving different outcomes. Then we get the “scientific” notion that women’s brains are in smaller skulls and the bumps on them are not bumpy in the most meaningful places (phrenology), so, gee whiz, women must have really different thinking abilities than men. Also you have to love the old idea that women couldn’t stand up to higher education because their uteruses would break free and wander loose in their bodies. (Eh, maybe that was a bad translation somewhere.)

    Making a big deal about gender differences is the wrong path. I implore everyone to emphasize common humanity, not have a “not quite as good, not quite a real human” box that everyone not on top of the existing status heap gets tossed into.

    Huh, I guess I am a humanist.

  2. 2

    Thanks for this link-rich post…I’ll be dipping in to those.

    I’ve been making this same argument elsewhere, where it has been suggested that people (those mythical radfems who are just ruining everything!) get upset when someone simply points out the obvious fact that men and women are different….DUH!

    Of course it’s not that; it’s the lazy use of obvious physical differences to posit similar psychological differences which safely account for the under-representation of women in whatever field of endeavor we happen to be talking about without having to account for all the demonstrable cultural and social obstacles placed in the way.

  3. 3

    Greata: I love your writing and your passion! have you ever thought of writing a book? With all of your estrogen vibes, I bet that book would be filled with righteous anger.

    Do I really need a sarcasm tag? fine /sarcasm (for the second sentence – not the first)

  4. 4

    For the reasons you mentioned, I would think it likely – though by no means certain – that there is some level of innate difference in behavioral tendencies between men and women, population-wise. But it’s absolutely certain that social pressures and biases have a huge role in shaping people’s identity and behaviors, and in determining how people view other people. And any tendencies that may exist don’t at all imply that men and women “should” take on roles and interests fitting with those tendencies. Population-level differences between men and women don’t explain, for instance, why men start to view women as dominating a conversation when 1/3 of a group is made up of women. They don’t explain why men are seen as assertive and women as bitchy. And they don’t explain why women are underrepresented in groups dominated by an old boys’ club that is uninterested in broadening the base of their audience, preferring to wave away different levels of engagement as just women being women.

  5. 6

    Gender, and gender differences, are incredibly complex, and do not easily line up with birth genitals or chromosomes.

    It’s as if “gender” is a social construct, a simplification we’re created and collaborated on to explain statistical patterns in human beings. Been there, argued that.

    It is also possible that there’s some degree of innate gender difference in behavior or psychology in humans. This is a more controversial and less certain statement (here’s a good summary of some of the thinking on the subject, with lots of citations) — but it’s not completely implausible.

    True that. Hope you don’t mind if I quote my favorite study on the subject again:

    The striking result is that 30% of the effect sizes are in the close-to-zero range, and an additional 48% are in the small range. That is, 78% of gender differences are small or close to zero. This result is similar to that of Hyde and Plant (1995), who found that 60% of effect sizes for gender differences were in the small or close-to-zero range. The small magnitude of these effects is even more striking given that most of the meta-analyses addressed the classic gender differences questions—that is, areas in which gender differences were reputed to be reliable, such as mathematics performance, verbal ability, and aggressive
    behavior. For example, despite Tannen’s (1991) assertions, gender differences in most aspects of communication are small. Gilligan (1982) has argued that males and females speak in a different moral “voice,” yet meta-analyses show that gender differences in moral reasoning and moral orientation are small (Jaffee & Hyde, 2000). […]

    It is time to consider the costs of overinflated claims of gender differences. Arguably, they cause harm in numerous realms, including women’s opportunities in the workplace, couple conflict and communication, and analyses of self-esteem problems among adolescents. Most important, these claims are not consistent with the scientific data.
    Hyde, Janet Shibley. “The gender similarities hypothesis.” American psychologist 60.6 (2005): 581.

  6. 7

    After all this time to thoughtfully consider his explanation, you have somehow released a response to what amounts to a very bad misrepresentation of his views.

    If you don’t believe Sam’s explanation, that’s fine. You could reasonably think he’s lying about what he meant in his intial statement, and discount his various explanations.

    However, what you are doing here is suggesting that his explanation of his comments does not make them any less sexist. I strongly disagree. The initial statement could certainly be interpreted as sexist, and if he truly was talking about “critical thinking” being intrinsically male than it would be a terrible statement indeed. However, I do think that his detailed explanation of his comments make them far less controversial, and I take him at his word about what his true beliefs are.

    From Sam’s response:

    3. My work is often perceived (I believe unfairly) as unpleasantly critical, angry, divisive, etc. The work of other vocal atheists (male and female) has a similar reputation. I believe that in general, men are more attracted to this style of communication than women are. Which is not to say there aren’t millions of acerbic women out there, and many for whom Hitchens at his most cutting was a favorite source of entertainment. But just as we can say that men are generally taller than women, without denying that some women are taller than most men, there are psychological differences between men and women which, considered in the aggregate, might explain why “angry atheism” attracts more of the former. Some of these differences are innate; some are surely the product of culture. Nothing in my remarks was meant to suggest that women can’t think as critically as men or that they are more likely to be taken in by bad ideas. Again, I was talking about a fondness for a perceived style of religion bashing with which I and other vocal atheists are often associated.

    How you can read that, and then continue to claim that he believes that women on average don’t like harsh criticism?
    He’s talking about a “perceived unpleasantly angry style of criticism”, that’s it. You also frame it as if Sam was talking about women not liking harsh criticism of THEIR ideas, when in reality he was referring to women not liking his style of criticizing OTHERS ideas. Your framing makes it seem like his comment was meant to be dismissive of women, because they don’t like to have their ideas criticized.

    You also criticize him for using the fortune 500 company example:

    It is not in the slightest bit reasonable to point out that just 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women — and to use that as evidence of why status differences between men and women aren’t caused by sexism. Seriously?

    However, Sam did no such thing. [emphasis added]:

    I am well aware that sexism and misogyny are problems in our society. However, they are not the only factors that explain differences in social status between men and women. For instance, only 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women. How much of this is the result of sexism? How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices women make in their 20’s or 30’s to have families? How much is explained by normally distributed psychological differences between the sexes? I have no idea, but I am confident that each of these factors plays a role. Anyone who thinks disparities of this kind must be entirely a product of sexism hasn’t thought about these issues very deeply.

    Sam is arguing that societal influences, including sexism certainly play a role, but that there is likely a biological factor as well, he does not speculate as to how much of a role each of these plays.

    It would be fair to criticize Sam for believing that biological differences between the sexes do play a non-zero role in aggregate preferences for various things, and average societal outcomes. If your counter argument is “No, it’s purely culture/sexism that is responsible. To suggest any biological factor is sexism” then make that argument.

    It would also be fair to criticize Sam as simply being wrong. “Actually, Sam. I don’t think that there are significant differences in terms of preferences for styles of criticism between the sexes. It’s probably far more to do with other factors.”

    However, you seem determined to criticize Sam for what he insists he did not mean.

  7. 8

    … jumping to the conclusion that organized atheism has fewer women because women tend to prefer nurturing and coherence-building — and that this difference is innate…

    … zeroing in on the innate…

    If your first and only answer is, ‘It’s innate’…

    “Innate differences” doesn’t appear to be Harris’ first and only answer; quoting his article:

    Some of these differences are innate; some are surely the product of culture.

    How much of this [gender imbalance in Fortune 500 CEOs] is the result of sexism? How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices women make in their 20’s or 30’s to have families? How much is explained by normally distributed psychological differences between the sexes? I have no idea, but I am confident that each of these factors plays a role.” [emphasis mine]

  8. 9

    @Jeff S
    Much like Sam, you are not getting it. What Sam Harris meant or didn’t mean isn’t the issue, but what he said and what he didn’t say.
    He said “blah blah intrinsically male blah blah oestrogen vibe blah blah”. Those were both sexist remarks because suggesting either of these is sexist, see above. If he had answered critics with “hey sorry, I answered off the cuff, those remarks were sexist, I apologise”, as everyone keeps pointing out til they’re blue in the face: it would have been no big deal. We all say things that on reflection we wish we hadn’t.
    But instead he defended himself as “not being a sexist pig” because of what he meant. It may not be totally fair to say “nobody cares”, but far more important than what he may or may not have meant is that he 1) made sexist remarks (that is remarks that are likely to reinforce existing prejudice and do real world harm to people) and 2) refused to take them back and apologise. Note: the apology is not required as some kind of ritual kow-tow, but to indicate a) understanding that the action was wrong (i.e. harmful) and b) one will try to do better in future. Neither of these seems clear from Harris’ further statements, much the opposite in fact.
    @ Greta
    beautifully written, as usual. And thanks for the linkfest.
    Except, of course, Sam can’t possibly be sexist as – apparently unlike other men? – he has a mother and a wife…

  9. 10

    @Jeff S,

    Sam’s exact words, as you cited them:
    “I was talking about a fondness for a perceived style of religion bashing with which I and other vocal atheists are often associated.”

    Your comment:
    “How you can read that, and then continue to claim that he believes that women on average don’t like harsh criticism?”

    You’ll have to clarify this for me. If I say, “I do not have a fondness for pickles”, that means, “I don’t like pickles.” The two phrases mean the exact same thing. When Sam says “a perceived style of religion bashing”, he is clearly spelling out exactly what he meant by “harsh criticism”.

    It seems I must be missing something, because I cannot fathom why you would
    1) quote Sam as saying that women are not fond of his “harsh-criticism” style of religion-bashing
    and then
    2) act as if you’ve presented evidence that Sam never said women don’t like harsh criticism?

  10. 11

    Delft

    Why must someone apologize for what others have misunderstood one to believe?
    In this scenario an explanation is what is needed, not an apology. Sure, it would have been nice if Sam had said something like “I’m sorry for wording my comments in the way that I did, and I understand how they could be perceived as being sexist, but trust me they aren’t nearly as sexist as you think!”
    The absence of this apology is not really worthy of criticism, unless your goal is to score some cheap points against Sam. Sam did acknowledge that it is not

    He explained why he didn’t hold the views that people who misunderstood his comments thought he did, which is more important than apologizing for causing the misunderstanding.

    It can be very frustrating to be misunderstood, and I can understand, given the criticism he was getting, that he wasn’t in the mood to offer an apology.

    It is not as if his critics are now saying “Ok Sam, we believe you are not sexist, but an apology would have been nice.”.
    His critics are saying “What’s that? You dare speak on this issue further? Now you are a DOUBLE SEXIST!”

  11. 12

    kevinkirkpatrick

    The phrase “women on average don’t like harsh criticism” infers indirectly that the criticism may be directed at their own ideas. If I was to say simply this, it would seem as if I was saying women don’t like to have their ideas challenged, or dislike critical thinking. This is how his initial statement was interpreted by some, which is why Sam is clarifying that it is not what he meant.

    Sam is saying that believes that on average men are more attracted than women to a harsh style of criticism of religion, not that “women on average don’t like harsh criticism”.

    One statement is decidedly more sexist than the other.

    If Greta is not making this criticism, I retract that portion of my criticism of her post.

  12. 13

    Sam is saying that believes that on average men are more attracted than women to a harsh style of criticism of religion, not that “women on average don’t like harsh criticism”.

    Jeff S @ #11: No. That isn’t all that he said. In his first statement, he said that on average men are more attracted than women to a harsh style of criticism of religion — and that the reason for this is innate. In his second statement, he explained that he actually thinks this difference is partly trained and partly innate. He also lashed out at the people who criticized his earlier sexist statement, accused us of going out of our way to be offended, continued to harp on innate differences as a significant cause of gross gender inequality, claimed that it was absurd to say he’d said sexist things because he has women in his life and because he respects women more than men, called it “ridiculous paranoia engendered by political correctness ” to think about whether the things you’re about to say perpetuate harmful ideas, and said that his interviewer was out to get him because she included three paragraphs about troubling statements he made on gender, in a lengthy and generally complimentary piece plugging his book.

    That’s what was sexist — as I explained, at length, in this very piece. How much more clear do we have to make it?

  13. 14

    Sure, it would have been nice if Sam had said something like “I’m sorry for wording my comments in the way that I did, and I understand how they could be perceived as being sexist, but trust me they aren’t nearly as sexist as you think!”

    Jeff S @ #10: Actually, it would have been nice if he’d said something like “I’m sorry for wording my comments in the way that I did, and I understand how they could be perceived as being sexist, but trust me they aren’t nearly as sexist as you think!” — and then NOT gone on to say even more sexist things, accuse his critics of going out of our way to misunderstand him, accuse his interviewer of setting traps for him, call it “ridiculous paranoia engendered by political correctness” to think about what you say before you say it, and reiterate the exact same sexist ideas he was being criticized for in the first place.

    As for the question of how to word a correction in a way that makes it clear that you actually care about your mistake and intend to be more careful in the future: I encourage you to read Some Thoughts on Intention and Magic. You might also look at my own recent acknowledgement of error, How Dare You Show Me My Mistake! My Reply to Phil Zuckerman About the Global Gender Breakdown of Atheism.

  14. 15

    You also criticize him for using the fortune 500 company example:

    Jeff S @ #6: Okay. I’m going to try to break this down. Here is what Harris said about women running Fortune 500 companies.

    I am well aware that sexism and misogyny are problems in our society. However, they are not the only factors that explain differences in social status between men and women. For instance, only 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women. How much of this is the result of sexism? How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices women make in their 20’s or 30’s to have families? How much is explained by normally distributed psychological differences between the sexes? I have no idea, but I am confident that each of these factors plays a role. Anyone who thinks disparities of this kind must be entirely a product of sexism hasn’t thought about these issues very deeply.

    In other words: “Sexism and misogyny are problems in our society. But they’re not the only factors that explain differences in social status between men and women. Look at the fact that only 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women! I’m confident that sexism couldn’t be the only explanation! After all, at least part of the explanation is that women in their 20s and 30s are disproportionately responsible for raising children — and that couldn’t possibly have anything to do with sexism! Even though there is extensive evidence demonstrating an extensive amount of sexism in our culture generally, and demonstrating how the sexist glass ceiling works specifically, anyone who thinks that this must be entirely a product of sexism hasn’t thought about these issues very deeply. You women, who have experienced sexism and misogyny first-hand on a daily basis since the day you were born, and many of whom have done a great deal of reading and study on the subject, haven’t thought about these issues very deeply. I, on the other hand, am a Deep Thinker, and even though I acknowledge that I don’t actually know what I’m talking about, I’m confident that I’m right anyway.”

  15. 16

    Greta @ #12

    Even in Sam’s initial statement he says it is only partially attributed to innate qualities. [emphasis added]

    There’s something about that critical posture that is [b]to some degree[/b] instrinsically [sic] male and more attractive to guys than to women

    Look, those words are there in the source article. I didn’t add them.

    Sam’s use of the the “women in my life” is a silly argument, and if would have been all he offered in response to the criticism it would have been a non-response. Citing examples of how not-sexist or not-racist you are is easy and unconvincing. Thankfully, the rest of his explanation was very detailed in explaining what he actually believes, and how this is different from what people misunderstood him to believe. His decision to include the reference to how much he actually loves women is puzzling, as it is not necessary. He did not say it was absurd to suggest he had said something sexist due to these things, as you have suggested.

    He even addresses this expected criticism in his post.

    I knew that this honest (and admittedly desperate) confession could be cynically viewed as a version of the “Some of my best friends are black!” defense. (It isn’t. I’m not saying that my fondness for certain women proves that I’m not sexist. I’m saying that I actually respect women more than men by default. Again, I’m not saying that this is necessarily good; I’m saying that it is a fact.)

  16. 17

    @Jeff S
    You’re still not getting it.
    Please understand: the issue is not what Sam Harris believes or doesn’t. The issue is what he said.
    He mentioned something about criticising bad ideas being to some degree “intrinsically male”. Also something about there not being so many women because of the lacking “oestrogen vibe”. This is not up for debate. What he said is a matter of record. It does not matter what he meant, this is what he said.
    Statements such as these cause harm. Why? Read the many, many explanations Greta, Ophelia, and others have given for this. It’s about reinforcing harmful stereotypes. Sam Harris may not have wanted to do that. It may not be what he believes. It is beyond the shadow of a doubt what he said.
    And instead of acknowledging that – no matter what he meant – this is what he said, it’s bad (bad as in harmful, we’re not talking about morals, but about harm) to say that, and promising he would try to avoid giving this impression in future, he sidestepped into an argument about who he is, what he thinks, what he meant, and that he has a wife and mother. Again: nobody cares. Intent is not magic. Sam Harris could be the fluffiest person in the world; saying these things would still be just as wrong (and probably more harmful than when known misogynists say the same things).
    .
    Say you do something harmful to the environment. Buy an old-fashioned spray can, whatever. (Do they still sell them?) Someone points out this is bad for the environment. And intstead of saying, “damn, I wasn’t paying attention, I’ll take care not to do that in future”, you go off on a rant about how good a person you are, that you’re caring for all these animals, and you do so much for the rain-forest. That’s Sam Harris for you.
    .
    But if people tell you “X is harmful” they’re not talking about who you are as a person or what you believe. They’re talking about a specific action they want you (everyone) to avoid. Avoiding something generally begins with acknowledging it’s not a good thing to do.
    Frankly, I don’t get why this is so hard to understand.

  17. 18

    HTML tag fail in the above, sorry about that.

    There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree instrinsically [sic] male and more attractive to guys than to women

  18. 19

    @Jeff S
    Ré “to some degree intrinsically male”
    Unfortunately this was his only go to explanation. (OK, along with his lack of sex-appeal, and the lacking oestrogen vibe). So while technically “to some degree” qualifies the statement, he nevertheless pointed only to “women are just different” as an explanation. Rather than offering other options, or simply saying “I don’t know”.

  19. 20

    On journalists “setting traps”: you often hear complaints along those lines from politicians after interviews where they’ve not acquitted themselves well, and it’s essentially a whine: “how dare you ask me questions that I don’t know how to answer!”

    We heard it from Sarah Palin after that excruciating interview where Katie Couric asked what newspapers she read. After a heavily pregnant pause, Palin couldn’t name any (or maybe just named one or two) and then said (paraphrased) “All of ’em I guess”. Once the satirists had had their field-day, Palin accused Couric of trying to trip her up or put her on the spot or somesuch nonsense – as if being able to speak publicly or off the cuff about how you stay informed as a politician is anathema to political life.

    Sam’s essentially doing the same thing with his “traps” remark. It’s highly likely he expected the interview to be a puff-piece for him and his book and was incensed that the interviewer would ask him about not-so-glowing moments from his past. That he simply expected to be treated far more reverently than he was is a clear expression of the privilege he’s attained through his work. Privilege in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course, but it often has the effect of modifying your expectations of others’ behaviour toward you. For someone well-known and respected like Sam, I suspect you’d get used to publicly expressed admiration from people, and for a journalist to then ask him something unexpected and challenging would have seemed impertinent – doubly so in the face of the strong criticism he has since experienced.

    Final thought: by claiming his critics were branding him a “sexist pig” when they were criticising specific attitudes expressed by Sam and not his entire character, he not only missed the point of the criticism but exposed new opportunities for it, most notably his defensiveness, intolerance to dissent and lack of introspection. Also ripe for fresh criticism was his misrepresentation of his critics: by implying an ad hominem with his use of “sexist pig” he could strongly suggest his critics were making personal attacks. As a bonus, the insult also carries cultural baggage from thirty/forty years ago, when many of the man-hating feminist stereotypes that are still used to tar feminists today were born. Thus with the use of “sexist pig” Sam is broadcasting to his fans, on two separate frequencies, that anyone criticising him can be safely dismissed as an unhinged radical.

  20. 21

    Jeff S-

    Harris may be the cuddliest, nicest, most humane person around.* What he actually said, both orally in the interview and in writing in his clarification, was sexist.

    *Of course he isn’t. He’s a libertarian with all the anti-humanist baggage that belongs to that ideology.

  21. 22

    Greta @ #14

    In other words: “Sexism and misogyny are problems in our society. But they’re not the only factors that explain differences in social status between men and women. Look at the fact that only 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women! I’m confident that sexism couldn’t be the only explanation! After all, at least part of the explanation is that women in their 20s and 30s are disproportionately responsible for raising children — and that couldn’t possibly have anything to do with sexism! Even though there is extensive evidence demonstrating an extensive amount of sexism in our culture generally, and demonstrating how the sexist glass ceiling works specifically, anyone who thinks that this must be entirely a product of sexism hasn’t thought about these issues very deeply. You women, who have experienced sexism and misogyny first-hand on a daily basis since the day you were born, and many of whom have done a great deal of reading and study on the subject, haven’t thought about these issues very deeply. I, on the other hand, am a Deep Thinker, and even though I acknowledge that I don’t actually know what I’m talking about, I’m confident that I’m right anyway.”

    I thought straw-manning was discouraged here.

    Look, I get that you are (hopefully) exaggerating for effect, but that doesn’t really help when trying to resolve what is truly a misunderstanding.

    You characterize Sam as gleefuly asserting that sexism cannot possibly be the only cause of different societal outcomes, as if this is the same as saying that sexism plays an insignificant role. He is not commenting on the relative roles each factor plays, as he is ignorant on the subject. From that you infer that he is minimizing sexism’s impact.
    Does he have to re-state that sexism is a huge problem in society after every sentence?

    Phil Zuckerman essentially did the same in his response to you regarding the atheist gender gap, and you seem to have agree with that, at least partially.

    It is not sexist to suggest that innate biological differences could play some undetermined role in the apparent psychological differences between men and women on average, or even societal outcomes.

    To make prejudgements about a woman due to these supposed innate differences is when it becomes sexism.

    Sam’s initial statement seemed to be sexist for that very reason, but I think his explanation shows what his true thoughts on the matter are, and that he did not intend for it to be interpreted in the worst way possible.

    It’s likely the case that Sam is too stubborn to simply apologize, and he thought he could explain it away instead, leaving his ego intact.
    It’s also likely that some of his critics are too stubborn to give him an inch of slack due to prejudgments about who he is, and in some cases, prior grievances.

  22. 23

    Jeff S @21

    You characterize Sam as gleefuly asserting that sexism cannot possibly be the only cause of different societal outcomes, as if this is the same as saying that sexism plays an insignificant role. [Emphasis added]

    You’re argument against strawmanning would be stronger if you didn’t indulge in the practice yourself. Incidentally, “gleefully” has three “l”s.

  23. 25

    Yes, not perpetuating harmful tropes often requires you to think about what you say before you say it. That’s not being “paranoid.” It’s being thoughtful. And the idea that this thoughtfulness is a terrible imposition — well, that’s pretty darned sexist, not to mention racist, classist, homophobic, transphobic, and more. (Also, FYI: The phrase “politically correct” is a knee-jerk way of dismissing concerns about social injustice without actually addressing them, and it’s a dog-whistle for retrograde assholes. Advice: Don’t use it unless you want to call out the dogs.)

    THIS. Thank you. I’m so sick of people who whine about how oppressed they are because they aren’t guaranteed immunity from criticism when they say something sexist, racist, homophobic etc. And the underlying mentality: “why should I have to worry about other people’s feelings?,” is just pathetic and self-centered.

  24. 26

    I still can’t get over the pop-cultural connotations of “Not the sexist pig you’re looking for”. What image does that call up? Obi-Wan Kenobi demonstrating how the Force has a “strong influence on the weak-minded”. He makes his interlocutor go away with a touch of deceptive mind-mojo and a wave of his hand. The Jedi mind-trick is, by definition, not a logical, evidence-based argument.

    The condescension is strong with this one….

  25. 27

    Great piece, Greta. You’ve spent more time than Sam, of Jeff S, deserve, but I will be referring to it often. Lots of great links and information. If you can read this and say “feminists are being over sensitive” or “it’s a witch hunt”, then I don’t know what to say. Thanks.

  26. 28

    Look, I get that you are (hopefully) exaggerating for effect, but that doesn’t really help when trying to resolve what is truly a misunderstanding.

    Jeff S @ #21: No. I am not exaggerating. I am analyzing. Admittedly with a snarky tone — but I am showing you how Harris’s remarks on this topic read. Here is that analysis one more time, without the snark.

    Harris said that sexism and misogyny aren’t the only factors that explain differences in social status between men and women — and the example he gave was the gross under-representation of women as leaders of Fortune 500 companies. Despite the fact that there is extensive documentation of how sexism creates institutionalized discrimination against women, including (although not limited to) a glass ceiling, this was the example he chose of how sexism couldn’t possibly be the only explanation for the differences in social status between men and women. In explaining this position, he gave as one partial explanation the fact that women in their 20s and 30s are disproportionately responsible for raising children — despite the fact that there is extensive documentation of how this phenomenon itself is a result of sexism, with women being under great pressure to be the primary child rearers and to have children in the first place. He said that he has no idea how much of this disparity is innate and how much of it is the product of sexism — and then said he was confident that each of these factors plays a role. (If he really doesn’t know how much of this particular disparity is innate and how much is the product of sexism, isn’t it possible that “how much is innate in this case” is “zero”?) And yet, despite his acknowledged confidence in the face of his acknowledged lack of knowledge, he said that his female critics — who have experienced sexism and misogyny first-hand on a daily basis since the day you were born, and many of whom have done a great deal of reading and study on the subject — must not have thought about these issues very deeply.

    Do you really not see the problem with this?

    You are focusing exclusively on one thing — the question of whether both innate factors and cultural factors likely play a role in differences in behavior and psychology between women and men. There is a huge difference between saying “Innate factors may sometimes play a role in these differences, in some situations or for some factors” — which I think we’re mostly all agreed on — and saying “This particular phenomenon, the phenomenon of only 5 percent of Fortune 500 leaders being women, is definitely a product of innate factors as well as cultural sexism. I’m going to use yet another example of cultural sexism to bolster this assertion, in apparent ignorance of how it is an example of cultural sexism, and I’m going to patronize the people criticizing me by saying they just haven’t thought about this deeply enough .”

    Look at it this way. What if he had said, “I am well aware that racism and racial hatred are problems in our society. However, they are not the only factors that explain differences in social status between black people and white people. For instance, only 1.2 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by black people. How much of this is the result of racism? How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices black people make to clean white people’s houses and to keep white people entertained? How much is explained by normally distributed psychological differences between the races? I have no idea, but I am confident that each of these factors plays a role. Anyone who thinks disparities of this kind must be entirely a product of racism hasn’t thought about these issues very deeply.” Would you have been okay with that? If not — then why was his statement on women okay? And if you are okay with that — then get the hell out of my blog.

    Also, please show me where I said anything about Harris’s making any of his sexist statements “gleefully.”

  27. 31

    Excellent dissection of the Argument From Bell Curves. I’m hardly an expert in feminism; I’m just starting to learn, really. However, as far as I can tell, feminism isn’t committed to the notion that you can’t possibly tease out some innate psychological differences when you aggregate very large data sets. What feminism does seem to be committed to is the idea that whatever wiggles you find in whatever bell curves are not even remotely significant enough to justify a stratified society with strictly-enforced gender roles. And that looks pretty damn clear to me.

    I suppose I could imagine a world where the sexes were just so different, where the bell curves just simply didn’t overlap at all, that there was practically no choice but to have such a stratified society. But that hypothetical world doesn’t look anything like our world. Equality isn’t just wishful dogma. Equality is the conclusion we should draw based on our best empirical understanding of ourselves.

  28. 32

    If I were to say, “There’s something about usury that is to some degree intrinsically Jewish,” would my “to some degree” qualifier mean I wasn’t engaged in anti-Semitic stereotyping?

    Would it help if I followed up by mentioning that some of my best friends are Jewish?

  29. 33

    Greta, regarding your analogy of the small percentage of African American who are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies;

    Roughly 25% of African Americans have a Bachelors degree verses roughly 40% of White Americans.

    So racism alone would be an inadequate explanation for the small numbers of African American CEOs.

    It may be the biggest factor, but not the only important factor.

    Just like sexism may be the biggest factor with women CEOs, but is it the only important factor worth considering?

    And many women choose to be the primary caregivers of their children because they find it fulfilling and rewarding, not because it is forced upon them. I don’t know those percentages, nor do you.

    Your ravings against Harris’s article are bizarre. There was indeed a molehill that needed to be addressed, but you turned it into Mount Everest.

  30. 34

    Commenter #31 with the gradeschool moniker has apparently decided not to read the words Greta wrote – and then re-wrote multiple times to accommodate aforementioned obtuse pedantry – for if they had, they’d realise that their concerns had actually been addressed. Multiple times.

    Anyway, #31, since you agree a molehill was present and needed to be addressed, pray tell us precisely how far you’d have gone in addressing it and where the “bizarre ravings” line, in fact, is.

  31. 35

    harryballs99 (#31)

    Roughly 25% of African Americans have a Bachelors degree verses roughly 40% of White Americans.

    So racism alone would be an inadequate explanation for the small numbers of African American CEOs.

    *facepalm*

    Congratulations, this is one of the dumbest things I’ve read this month.

  32. 36

    @harryballs99

    Holy shit. Never, not once in my life, not in my 15 years of reading internet comments, have I seen such a perfect exemplification of Poe’s Law. I’m not kidding here – your comment is almost beautiful in its ability to broadcast, in just a few short paragraphs, the profound depths of ignorance – of utter, privileged cluelessness – that exists on the farside of the rift.

    It’s almost too good. Please tell me, Mr. Balls, that you are genuine and stand by your comment. Tell me that, after hitting “Post Comment”, you circled back to reread your words and had that moment of personal exuberance, “Damn, I even outdid myself there; I can’t imagine how Greta could respond to that one!” [for what it’s worth, probably not for quite the same reasons, neither can I]

    Okay, I’m posting this now, just so I can go back and revel in your comment once more (something tells me it’s probably crossed some threshold or other that forces Greta’s hand, and may not be allowed to stand for long).

  33. 37

    Roughly 25% of African Americans have a Bachelors degree verses roughly 40% of White Americans.
    So racism alone would be an inadequate explanation for the small numbers of African American CEOs.

    Wow. In a perfectly frictionless world with no housing discrimination (now and in the previous generation) and no difference in the quality of schools and teachers in different neighborhoods, and no differences in the available household wealth (to pay for college) in black families, then maybe your point *might* be almost, partly logical. (But only a little bit.) But for now it’s pretty grotesquely removed from a reality in which there are many chunks of racism that influence the possibility of getting a college degree.

    (And, damn, I didn’t even mention the differential (aka discriminatory) discipline applied to black students as early as grammar school. That’s a serious series of hurdles to overcome.)

  34. 38

    Roughly 25% of African Americans have a Bachelors degree verses roughly 40% of White Americans.

    So racism alone would be an inadequate explanation for the small numbers of African American CEOs.

    harryballs99 @ #31 is disgusting, and has been banned. I do not tolerate overt racism in my blog.

    Jeff S: I hope you see what your thinking about gender looks like. This is what it looks like. I hope that makes you stop and think.

  35. 40

    “There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women”…“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 is nothing in Harris’s responses that saves him. He made this statement as a neuroscientist. A fucking neuroscientist. If that “to some degree” actually meant anything that could save him he would be the one actually citing papers instead of Greta. His explanations about these words really don’t do anything to assure me that he is not sexist. They don’t say why he used the words that he did. Instead his explanation goes on at length about why we should not believe that he really believes what his original words imply.

    Why would someone even bring up intrinsic gender differences so easily and readily when asked about why more men buy his books than women? Think about that. When faced with why women don’t buy his books, he had to go to biological differences. No matter how small the margin is on that “to some degree”, he thinks that degree is enough to explain why women might not like him so much.

    It just gets more insulting the more I think about it.

  36. 42

    In my view the defenders of Harris (to use shorthand), are focusing on the low hanging fruit, by challenging GC on the top 500 CEO part.

    I would like to see an explanation as to how Harris praising of women as heroes for having and rearing children, and how he “tend to respect women more than men.” is not sexist?

    This is sexism. Women are not better or worse than man, and in fact it reads as if Harris admits to holding sexist views. Putting women on a pedestal is sexist.

  37. 43

    Wow. Is this what Atheism has come to? Petty, manufactured accusations? Is this what stands for common man/women discourse in the name of equal rights for all?

    Harris did not say anything I disagree with. No, I did not read his secondary appeasement. Why bother when it is his initial comment regarding “innate” gender behaviour, specifically females, that have an an aversion to “harsh criticism” and that you conflate as a sexist land mine. Optics plays a large part in reality and between you and PZMeyers the zeal in which you try to malign fellow Atheists by ascribing sexist motives is depressing. I see no sexism in Harris’ comments. I am a male so would that make me sexist?

    Let me tell you about my simple, uneducated life (formally that is) and give a common man’s view on gender equality, even though I will have contravened Greta’s rules on how not to be a sexist pig. I am an Atheist, I despise all religions and when my wife watches me respond in social media on the ill effects of religion she asks me to tone it down, becoming apologetic for humanity that thrives on superstition. She will comment on her perceived harshness when watching/reading Dawkins, Hitchens etc. She is averse to confrontation and harsh rebuttals. Is she that way because she is a female and pre disposed genetically to feel that way? I would say yes but not because she is female. I firmly believe genetics plays the larger, if not the only role in her psychology. She is hard wired to think that way. She would never subscribe to any Harris, Dawkins or Hitchens blogs. She doesn’t like harsh criticism. Was she pressured to live the life of the nurturing mother and forgo a career in Fortune 500? Of course not and it is shameful that you, Greta, would imply that the majority of the female population have been pressured in to living a life that they don’t want to live.

    My 30 year daughter and 32 year old son have the utmost respect for their loved ones, their children and more importantly, respect for humanity regardless of gender. My wife and I would like to take credit for a nurturing upbringing but we firmly believe that genetics plays a larger role in determining values, common sense and gender equality.

    But as you state, gender equality is complex so why would you accuse Harris of being sexist or apathetic towards gender issues? Is it the 84% male subscribers to his website? Is it his initial comment that you have morphed into the proverbial mountain? This all reeks of victimhood and self promotion.

  38. 44

    Why doesn’t Greta attack her REAL enemies? Has the war on sexual inequality been won, so that now there is nobody to fight but your own supporters?

  39. 45

    Do you not find it a little curious, jmann @ 41, that in the summer of 2012 Michael Shermer was asked a question which received a brush-off answer using sloppy thinking and the immortal phrase “it’s a guy thing”?

    Then just recently Sam Harris was asked the same question and gave the reply of which you are aware, this time with the phrase “oestrogen vibe” and then a lot of humming and hawing in a follow-up piece.

    So both were asked essentially the same question – why are fewer women visible in atheism? – and each was asked in public and by a woman. Do you see the beginnings of a pattern here? Do women have questions which they wish to put to prominent atheists? Are they being answered?

    Whatever the answer to that may be, as Dr Shermer is a psychologist and Dr Harris a neuroscientist should we not expect from each of them (and both) a scientifically literate answer? Or, if the true answer is, “I have given no thought to that and quite honestly I don’t give a toss.” the courage to say so directly?

    The question is still there and very few who have rushed in with smelling salts and anecdote have come much closer to answering it.

  40. 46

    There are so many ways Harris could have answered the question, “why don’t women buy your books? ”

    He could have said

    “I don’t know. ”
    “I’m not sure that’s true. ”
    “Economic factors could play a role. ”

    I thought the same a few years ago, when DJ Grothe blamed a decline in women’s enrollment at TAM on irresponsible feminist bloggers, when much better explanations were ready to hand:

    “Why is the enrollment for women attendees down this year? ”

    He could have said,

    “The atheist and skeptic movement has been growing rapidly, resulting in a profusion of conferences to attend. We’re happy to share the wealth. ”

    “The economy has devastated a lot of folks in the last couple of years. People don’t have as much money for travel and leisure these days.”

    I don’t know why the first response has to be, “it must be something about the women. “

  41. 47

    @41 jmann

    I see no sexism in Harris’ comments. I am a male so would that make me sexist?

    No, your prejudice, your ignorance about biology and your unfounded presumption that many things are hard-wired is what makes you sexist, not being male. Once again, you are sexist because you are sexist, not because of your genitals, stop pretending that that distraction means anything.

    She is averse to confrontation and harsh rebuttals. Is she that way because she is a female and pre disposed genetically to feel that way? I would say yes but not because she is female.

    Holy fucking shit…
    So she is hard-wired to avoid confrontation but it’s not anything to do with being female, so even if that were true and that inclination was purely genetic (despite all the evidence to the contrary), how does that support in any way the idea that women are innately inclined to be less agressive or to dislike comfrontation?
    It fucking doesn’t.

    I firmly believe genetics plays the larger, if not the only role in her psychology.

    Yeah, you need to stop being so ignorant about the subjects you choose to talk about. That is a patently ridiculous thing to say.

    Was she pressured to live the life of the nurturing mother and forgo a career in Fortune 500? Of course not and it is shameful that you, Greta, would imply that the majority of the female population have been pressured in to living a life that they don’t want to live.

    Yes, she was pressured to some degree, you can be sure of that. Shame of you to ignore the fact that gender roles are a pervasive cultural force that does impact people’s lives. Note that Greta didn’t say they are necessarily successfully pressured, just that they are pressured, which they fucking are.

  42. 50

    Two things:

    1) Great work, Greta.

    2) What the…I…how…what are these defenses of Harris? If I were Harris and I read these comments by people defending me, I think I’d change my stance confident that simply zigging while these numbskulls zagged was sufficient rational grounding for a radical 180.

    Everyone has handled the specifics very well, so I will limit my response to total bafflement over these folks’ ability to base an entire worldview on the following position: “Surely genetics have to play some role.”

    Maybe. Probably. But WHAT role is the key. History has not been kind to these sorts of arguments — remember when women couldn’t participate in academia due to genetics? or the military? or the professional world? or sports? — so the folks wanting to argue that something innate explains why dudes (and fairly dense dudes, it appears) make up most of Harris’ fan base, you have a lot of work to do. You need to generally associate these personality traits with a genetic base, isolate this trait from societal influence, show that this trait is associated with sex differences, and then show that it determines the behavior in question.

    You cannot infer from an observed social imbalance –> genetics are responsible. It is a very, very bad argument. People are rightly calling Harris’ behavior sexist because, among other things, he skips all of those necessary scientific steps, quite blatantly waves his hand saying none of that is important, and concludes that women are just predetermined to behave a certain way.

  43. 51

    Maureen Brian (#43)

    Or, if the true answer is, “I have given no thought to that and quite honestly I don’t give a toss.” the courage to say so directly?

    Their lack of toss-giving is apparent from the fact that women have for years and years now been explaining, quite confrontationally, over and over and over again why we’re reluctant to participate in movement atheism. Instead of showing any signs they’ve seen and considered those answers, Harris and his pals trot out the very sort of essentialist just-so stories that women have said is one of the reasons we feel unwelcome. And by doing so, exemplify another reason women have given, which is that we’re not listened to or taken seriously.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~

    doubtthat (#48)

    so the folks wanting to argue that something innate explains why dudes (and fairly dense dudes, it appears) make up most of Harris’ fan base, you have a lot of work to do.

    Especially since they’re already unwittingly doing a grand job of explaining how the answer isn’t anything innate.

  44. 53

    I thought the same a few years ago, when DJ Grothe blamed a decline in women’s enrollment at TAM on irresponsible feminist bloggers, when much better explanations were ready to hand:
    “Why is the enrollment for women attendees down this year? ”

    This is a bit tangential, but he could have said “It looks like many of the women attending for the first time last year decided it was not worth it to come back.” (And the economy could be one factor in that. But just plain not liking the conference enough to spend a large sum of money to repeat the experience is the first explanation that comes to my mind in the case when attendance by women bumped up one year and then dropped down. I just don’t see how people who had already attended the con could have been misled by bloggers.)

  45. 54

    @jmann
    Your comment gives me no reason to feel any differently about Harris or his words. Despite your feelings it’s useless to me. I see the sexism in Harris’s words, I agree with Greta’s analysis. You do not but you spare no words pointing out what is incorrect or why. Your comment is an example of why I find people like Greta convincing, but why I find Harris and his defenders unpersuasive at best, and insulting at worst.

    Wow. Is this what Atheism has come to? Petty, manufactured accusations? Is this what stands for common man/women discourse in the name of equal rights for all?

    What is a “petty accusation”?
    Why is it a “petty accusation”?
    Define “this”?

    Frankly if I was on the fence I would not find this persuasive because it’s all emotion but no reasoning or explanation. I’m sure the emotion is quite real, but not useful to me on it’s own.

    What conflation and how is it a conflation?
    Why is optics important?
    Why would the fact that you are a male automatically make you sexist?
    I see no maligning without more so you will remain depressed.

    Why does your story make all of reality with respect to sex and gender like your experience of it? Anecdotes are the opposite of data because that is you pretending that reality is like your experience instead of you collecting many examples in an unbiased manner and showing a pattern. My experience of reality is different.

    But as you state, gender equality is complex so why would you accuse Harris of being sexist or apathetic towards gender issues? Is it the 84% male subscribers to his website? Is it his initial comment that you have morphed into the proverbial mountain?

    This is enough to see that you did not actually read her piece. I can not take you seriously at all. Greta gave reasons and you need to be able to show that you read them even if only to disagree with them.

    This all reeks of victimhood and self promotion.

    There are actually victims in the world and everyone with a message promotes it. You offer nothing to differentiate good and bad uses of victim claims and promotion.

    Saying things are true does not make them true.

  46. 55

    Wow, well said. I mostly ignored Harris’s response once I knew enough to know it was a classic “notpology”, so I was relatively unaware of just how sexist it was. How does he not get this? Oh, right, he doesn’t want to get it.

  47. 56

    I’m still having some trouble figuring out what is considered “nitpicking” around here, but I am being honest about what I find to be problems in jmann comment, and I tried to keep it all directed towards the topic. But if it still violates Greta’s #7 (or anything else) I accept that and do want to know why so I can avoid it in the future.

  48. 57

    @PZ 30,

    While I used to think the phrase ‘some of my friends’ invariably ends well, I did quite by chance find an acceptable use. As in “Some of my best friends are gay, which is why I would never consider voting for or supporting the bigoted Republican party”.

    Getting back to the original subject, where Harris goes off the rails is where he moves from asserting a difference to asserting superiority. The problem is that he is so clever he doesn’t need to think to win his arguments so he stopped bothering with the thinking thing.

    The problem I have with the Bell curve is that it makes the fundamental error of limiting intelligence to a one dimensional variable. But if you have twelve people who all think the exact same way, you have eleven people too many. It is the diversity in thought that matters and even more so as you go out to the tail end of the bell. One of the first things everyone learns at MIT is that there are people there who are a LOT smarter than they are. A few people discover over time that they are areas in which they out-think the other geniuses.

    Sam Harris was following the same approach as the phrenologists, equating difference with superiority.

  49. 58

    Harris did not say anything I disagree with. No, I did not read his secondary appeasement.

    Bemusement here. Given that the post was about both the original statement and the follow-up explanation, I find it, well, lazy to not read the “appeasement”. Not to mention this logical chain is riddled with assumptions and logical errors:

    1) Observation: my wife is non-confrontational.
    2) Generalization from specific: all women are non-confrontational.
    3) Unfounded conclusion: this must be biological, e.g. “hard-wired”.

    Coupled with:

    1) Personal opinion: I agree with Harris.
    2) Unfounded conclusion: I had no need to read directly relevant material before commenting.

    What has become of the atheist movement, indeed?

  50. 59

    Greta, I will be posting a response to your (and PZ’s) racial analogy today when I get a chance (at work).
    It is a good analogy and I’ve considered why it somehow feels very wrong when applied to differences between races and not nearly as wrong when it comes to differences between sexes.

    But first, let me say to Mr. harryballs99, that was a profoundly dumb comment.

  51. 60

    21 Jeff S.: “It is not sexist to suggest that innate biological differences could play some undetermined role in the apparent psychological differences between men and women on average, or even societal outcomes.”

    I’m pretty sure that’s the dictionary definition of sexist.

    Can we try that with other discriminators?

    “It is not racist to suggest that innate biological differences could play some undetermined role in the apparent psychological differences between whites and blacks on average, or even societal outcomes.” Welcome to the Bell Curve!

  52. 61

    @jmann 41:

    Let me tell you about my simple, uneducated life (formally that is)
    I firmly believe genetics plays the larger, if not the only role in […]

    Do you see the problem here? You admit to lacking formal education. AND YET you feel confident enough to “firmly believe” something about the incredibly complicated field of human genetics? It doesn’t actually matter how you end that sentence, actually. If you admit that you don’t have any real knowledge, any “firm beliefs” you hold on the subject are almost certainly going to be wrong. (Or at best, right for the wrong reasons.)

    Basically, read about the Dunning-Kruger effect and get over yourself.

  53. 63

    It is a good analogy and I’ve considered why it somehow feels very wrong when applied to differences between races and not nearly as wrong when it comes to differences between sexes.

    I suggest that this “feeling” stems entirely from the different degree of social acceptability currently attached to positing different cognitive capacities to people according to race vs. positing different cognitive capacities to people according to gender.

    This stems in part because biological differences like “gestates fetuses” vs. “produces sperm” seem slightly more likely to affect psychological/cognitive abilities than “has lots of melanin in skin and curly hair” vs. “has little melanin in skin and straight hair” do. But remember, that’s only because of our modern context. Go back not even 50 years and the latter phenotypical differences would have been regarded as strongly suggestive of different cognitive abilities between black people and white people. In reality, the track record for “gross phenotypic differences is evidence of innate psychological and cognitive differences” is about the same for explaining both gender and racial differences; that is, it’s really fucking lousy.

  54. 64

    Christina claims to have read and even links to Sam’s response article (titled “I’m not the sexist pig you’re looking for”). Then, she repeatedly, in several sentences, accuses Sam of not acknowledging that sexism contributes to the lack of women leading Fortune 500 companies. What? It could not be any clearer in Sam’s article that he acknowledges that sexism is certainly a factor in this. He does, however, suggest that there are other factors IN ADDITION to sexism. Christina apparently takes his suggestion of additional factors to mean that he doesn’t believe sexism is a major factor. This misrepresents Sam in the worst way, it is straw-manning, and frames him as an unthinking misogynist.

    It’s not crazy to think that some other factors can also contribute (perhaps to a MUCH lesser extent) to the lack of women CEOs. He cites child bearing as an example. (the following is my thought, not Sam’s that i know of) There are some women who willingly choose to become full-time mothers and have the economic luxury to relinquish their career to give this their full attention. (Full-time fathers are also a possibility, but in this culture, they are dramatically less frequent. This may not be entirely due to culture, there very well could be a special biological connection formed via the birth process, which has evolutionary advantages…) I don’t judge these women one bit. It’s fair to assume that some of these women, had they not given birth, may have went on to become extremely successful CEOs. Therefore, the unique female trait of pregnancy and birth could contribute, to some (lesser) extent, to the lower amount of female CEOs (or just successful women in general, business-wise). It is also said that being tall helps you get a job. Men are more likely to be tall than women. This, therefore, isn’t an example of sexism, it’s height-ism, which disproportionately affects women inadvertently.

    You won’t find a stronger defender of women than Sam Harris. The bulk of his criticism of religion is how it affects women negatively (and children, gays, etc). His constant defense of Ayaan Hirsi Ali is further evidence that his heart is in the right place (a figure that many PC atheists won’t stand behind, even though she is the perfect example of how religion can severely hurt women).

    Why is it so crazy to state that some “styles” of writing are more/less attractive to a gender? That’s what his main point was, and this is where all the criticism stems from. Is it wrong to say that “The Notebook” is more appealing to women, in aggregate? Is it wrong to say that “GI JOE” is more appealing to men, in aggregate? No? Then you have acknowledged that, in aggregate, men and women CAN HAVE different preferences. Therefore, since Sam was asked a POSSIBLE reason as to why he doesn’t have as many female readers, he merely suggested that his STYLE may not be as attractive to females, IN AGGREGATE.

  55. 65

    @Bub Rub

    Then, she repeatedly, in several sentences, accuses Sam of not acknowledging that sexism contributes to the lack of women leading Fortune 500 companies. What? It could not be any clearer in Sam’s article that he acknowledges that sexism is certainly a factor in this.

    Which sentences, how does Harris’s article acknowledge, and most importantly how does this excuse the original sexist comments?

    Christina apparently takes his suggestion of additional factors to mean that he doesn’t believe sexism is a major factor. This misrepresents Sam in the worst way, it is straw-manning, and frames him as an unthinking misogynist.

    Where? No seriously. I want you to point out the text of the misrepresentation because nothing you are describing is in my experience.

    You won’t find a stronger defender of women than Sam Harris. The bulk of his criticism of religion is how it affects women negatively (and children, gays, etc).

    Sam Harris as a general defender of women is irrelevant to if these statements are sexist. As a person who tries very hard not to be sexist, I am quite sure that I have and do in fact accidentally phrase things in sexist ways, and say things that are full-blown sexist because I have not examined something about myself carefully enough. This is because of the culture that I am part of that has imprinted itself up on me, and that I have let be imprinted upon me.
    Whatever religion is, it’s human social behavior. In light of that I’m unwilling to take any part of religion and automatically assume that it does not apply to atheists beyond the simple disbelief in deities (though many atheists do seem willing to functionally replace a deity with other things).

    Why is it so crazy to state that some “styles” of writing are more/less attractive to a gender? That’s what his main point was, and this is where all the criticism stems from. Is it wrong to say that “The Notebook” is more appealing to women, in aggregate? Is it wrong to say that “GI JOE” is more appealing to men, in aggregate? No? Then you have acknowledged that, in aggregate, men and women CAN HAVE different preferences. Therefore, since Sam was asked a POSSIBLE reason as to why he doesn’t have as many female readers, he merely suggested that his STYLE may not be as attractive to females, IN AGGREGATE.

    Try something other than “crazy”. The objections to his initial comments are more than that woefully insufficient paraphrase.

    “There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women”…“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.”

    The problem is the natural implications of the statement. One can point to gender differences in social phenomena, but one is also responsible for the content of those statements and their implications.
    *It was asked in response to a question about why more men than women seem to like his books. So Harris was either thinking “Why don’t women like my books” or “Why do men like my books”. A non-nuanced answer to this is automatically going bury a lot of human variation which is just sloppy, lazy, BS from a neuroscientist. I take paragraphs to answer things like this given the science we have. Frankly I’m just as offended at the implications about men as a man.
    *His response pointed to innate gender differences with only an undefined “to some degree” as a qualifier. The very fact that he left this undefined is good reason to think that it was not worth filling in to him. The size of these differences was nothing to him. The existence of them was all he needed to wave away women uninterested in his books by referencing biology, hence the “estrogen vibe”.

    You may have put a nice big “POSSIBLE” in all caps, but the problem was with the utter lack of reference to possibilities in what Harris said. He made a general statement about biology and criticism of the sort that is useless for taking actions that parse apart general human variation in a non-assuming manner. I refuse to ignore this.

  56. 66

    Yay, something to fisk.

    Christina claims to have read and even links to Sam’s response article (titled “I’m not the sexist pig you’re looking for”). Then, she repeatedly, in several sentences, accuses Sam of not acknowledging that sexism contributes to the lack of women leading Fortune 500 companies. What? It could not be any clearer in Sam’s article that he acknowledges that sexism is certainly a factor in this. He does, however, suggest that there are other factors IN ADDITION to sexism.

    Yeah, and those “additional” factors (such as the disproportionate leave taken by young men vs. young women to raise families) ARE sexism. Harris, by offering those explanations, without acknowledging that those are also examples of sexism, shows that he doesn’t know what sexism is and shoots his competing explanation in the foot. If we go by his explanation, there’s sexism as an explanation, as Greta Christina suggested, and then there’s the explanation Harris offered, which is also sexism, except he thinks it’s not sexism.

    Christina apparently takes his suggestion of additional factors to mean that he doesn’t believe sexism is a major factor.

    Nope, she takes his suggestion to mean exactly what she said, and I just said: that Harris apparently can’t recognize sexism when it’s right in front of his face, therefore his ability to tell whether sexism is a major factor, a minor factor, or something in between, is suspect.

    This misrepresents Sam in the worst way, it is straw-manning, and frames him as an unthinking misogynist.

    Stop lying. She frames him as an intelligent, thinking person, who has unexamined subconscious sexist biases.

    It’s not crazy to think that some other factors can also contribute (perhaps to a MUCH lesser extent) to the lack of women CEOs. He cites child bearing as an example. (the following is my thought, not Sam’s that i know of)

    So do you, apparently, otherwise you would a.) recognize the difference between child-bearing and child-rearing, something that Harris shifted on also, and b.) recognize the sexism inherent as positing child-REARING (not something that involves reproductive organs) as a reason for women’s absence in corporate boardrooms.

    There are some women who willingly choose to become full-time mothers and have the economic luxury to relinquish their career to give this their full attention. (Full-time fathers are also a possibility, but in this culture, they are dramatically less frequent. This may not be entirely due to culture, there very well could be a special biological connection formed via the birth process, which has evolutionary advantages…) I don’t judge these women one bit. It’s fair to assume that some of these women, had they not given birth, may have went on to become extremely successful CEOs. Therefore, the unique female trait of pregnancy and birth could contribute, to some (lesser) extent, to the lower amount of female CEOs (or just successful women in general, business-wise). It is also said that being tall helps you get a job. Men are more likely to be tall than women. This, therefore, isn’t an example of sexism, it’s height-ism, which disproportionately affects women inadvertently.

    This is basically what Harris did: offer some potential explanations as if they’re completely separate from sexism, without realizing that you’re actually talking about sexism. Taking 9 months (or even a couple of years, to be overly generous to your argument) to be pregnant and give birth shouldn’t disqualify you from 40 years of success in a corporate boardroom. Taking 10 – 15 years off from a career to RAISE children should, but then we’re back to sexism as the main explanation for why it’s women and not men who RAISE (not birth) children instead of running companies.

    The height thing–sure, it’s POSSIBLE. But, again, as Greta said in the original article, it’s not something anyone can do anything about (not about height itself, anyway), and offering this, when there are explanations that involve relatively plastic cultural values, which are subject to change, suggests an investment in preserving the status quo, not an interest in defending women from discrimination.

    You won’t find a stronger defender of women than Sam Harris.

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

    How lucky women are that this is a low-down, dirty lie, one that impugns the efforts and research done by literally millions of better-informed, more passionate, and more compassionate feminist activists of all genders around the world. Harris himself has admitted that he hadn’t spent more than 5 minutes previously wondering whether his work is appealing to women and/or why it isn’t. If he were REALLY the strongest defender of women, then we’d probably still be agitating for universal suffrage and access to birth control instead of trying to fix pay gaps and ensure access to abortion (and birth control).

    The bulk of his criticism of religion is how it affects women negatively (and children, gays, etc).

    This is evidence of nothing except that the poor treatment of women by religious men is a useful cudgel for Harris to bash religion with. It’s evidence that he dislikes religion, not that he particularly cares about the welfare of women. If you doubt me, I suggest you read Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism’s take on Harris’ sexism as it relates to the abuse of women by religious men.

    His constant defense of Ayaan Hirsi Ali is further evidence that his heart is in the right place (a figure that many PC atheists won’t stand behind, even though she is the perfect example of how religion can severely hurt women).

    AHA is definitely an example of how religion hurts women, but that doesn’t mean that supporting her is supporting women. The reason “politically correct” atheists don’t stand with her is because she doesn’t stand with us: she’s a right-winger, she’s not anti-war, she’s not particularly interested in feminism as a cause, except as it helps her, and she’s all too willing to allow her experiences to be used to justify racialized anti-Muslim bigotry. She shares Harris’ libertarian tendencies, and those of us who are “politically correct” (aka people who recognize the importance of language in shaping perceptions of reality and who wish to fight against bigotry by taking that into account) simply can’t get on board with selfishness masquerading as a political ideology.

    Why is it so crazy to state that some “styles” of writing are more/less attractive to a gender?

    Nobody said it’s “crazy,” the thesis is that it’s plain wrong to ascribe levels of attraction to different styles of writing to the functioning of one’s endocrine system.

    That’s what his main point was, and this is where all the criticism stems from. Is it wrong to say that “The Notebook” is more appealing to women, in aggregate? Is it wrong to say that “GI JOE” is more appealing to men, in aggregate? No?

    No, but it is wrong, again, to ascribe those differences to sex differences in the endocrine system, as opposed to or in place of better-supported arguments involving the effects of culture, socialization, gender roles, bigotry, and stigma.

    Then you have acknowledged that, in aggregate, men and women CAN HAVE different preferences.

    If only you’d bothered to read Greta’s article, you’d have realized that this possibility was never in question.

    Therefore, since Sam was asked a POSSIBLE reason as to why he doesn’t have as many female readers, he merely suggested that his STYLE may not be as attractive to females, IN AGGREGATE.

    Interesting that your defense of Harris relies heavily on misrepresenting Harris’ own position. First, Harris accepted, without checking, that there was such a difference. Then, Harris’ FIRST explanation was a vague grab at differences in hormones. This is blatantly false. Then, when called out about it, he granted that socialization and culture ALSO play a role, BUT first of all the people who are criticizing him are nothing more than greedy lying hysterical witches who are only criticizing him because they hate him (which is a sexist thing to say in response to criticism about your own sexism), and second, they’re stupid if they think that innate biological differences don’t play SOME role, even though he can’t actually point to evidence that supports the specific sort of biological innate difference that he went to as his first explanation.

    That was way more time and effort than you deserved.

  57. 68

    Greta @#36
    I strongly object to you immediately jumping at the chance to associate me with the idiotic and racist statements of “harryballs99”. That is not at all what my “thinking about gender” looks like. As soon as I saw that idiot’s post, I wondered how long it would take for someone to assume I’d agree with him due to us both presumably being on the “defending Sam Harris” team.
    Thank you for banning him.

    SallyStrange @#61
    You are bang on as to the differing levels of social acceptability attached to discussing inate differences between sexes vs races.

    Perceived innate differences both positive and negative have been trumpetted by both sexes frequently and openly in public discourse. The “Men are from Mars women are from Venus” effect, so to speak. Liberal minded people widely react to statements on inate differences between sexes with acceptance or at worst with “Let’s be careful not to over-generalize” but always react to similar statements on race with complete revulsion.

    Maybe it shouldn’t be that way…

    Greta @#27
    That there are certain innate differences in aggregate male and female psychology seems to be a widely held belief, and does seem to be supported by current science (although by no means settled).

    I see the problem with discussing possible impacts of innate differences between sexes (or races) as being that of a “slippery slope”. If people decide to use the existence of these innate differences to make prejudgements about people it becomes discrimination. Invoking supposed innate differences between races to argue that one race is superior to another has been used to justify the worst kinds of racism in world history.

    The Fortune 500 example is one where it is clear that the overwhelming causes of the issue are sexism and societal factors (gender roles, socialization) which are heavily influenced by sexism. Might there be some role that a “dominance” trait that the preponderance of scientific studies seem to assert exists innately in the male brain? Maybe, but its impossible to prove and it would certainly be an insignificant factor in the grand scheme of things. It could even be zero. However, to state that it may be a non-zero factor is not sexism. To use this to deny the real cause of the problem (sexism/society), or to make descriminiatory decisions based on this is when it becomes sexism.

    Sam Harris’ references to possible influences of innate differences are not discriminatory in themselves. His statement is more nuanced, non evaluative, does not discount societal factors, and makes no prescription for action/inaction based on the existence of innate psychological differences. He is not saying “calm down feminists, sexism isn’t a real problem and nothing can be done about the lack of women CEOs, its in their nature not to strive to attain a leadership position!”.

    I don’t think it is necessary to pretend that men and women are identical psychologically if the science shows it not to be the case. What is necessary, is resisting any urge make evaluative statements on men vs. women based on these differences. The minor innate differences do not make one sex better than the other, they just make them slightly different. If these differences should be discussed they should be given extremely low weight in terms of their influence of adult behaviour, as society plays the dominant role in shaping who we all become, and what becomes of us.

    I certainly can appreciate that women who have had to deal with sexism throughout their entire lives could be inclined to view any sort discussion of innate differences between the sexes as starting down the slippery slope to sexism.

    I still do not feel that Sam’s follow up explanation was not sexist, although I now recognize that parts of it do sit perched on that slippery slope.

    Now some of you will certainly say: “Why bother commenting from a position of ignorance regarding human behavioural psychology at all? Especially if the comment could quickly be used as a justification of sexism?”

    To that I must say…. good fucking point.

  58. 69

    Clarification of comment above

    Maybe it shouldn’t be that way…

    I mean to imply maybe BOTH should be met with revulsion, not the other way around. I re-read it and it sounded like I was saying the opposite!

  59. 70

    @Jeff S

    I think you make a good argument. My feeling is that Sam Harris over-emphasized innate biological differences while underestimating cultural factors. I’m pretty tired of similar arguments (from others) of the form “women’s hormones make them not as good as men at X.” He can take that line of thinking and stuff it, as far as I am concerned.

    I appreciate that you took a more thoughtful look at the CEO question than Harris did. His take on the 5% figure was pretty offensive.

    When he broadened his comments from who reads his books or his tweets to who participates (belongs?) in organized atheism, the topic acquired quite a long train of baggage relating to feminists fighting to be accepted in the atheist movement without condescension and scorn and grotesque hostility from some corners and pits. That hasn’t happened yet.

    And it doesn’t seem to be coming closer right now.

  60. 71

    @Brony

    Here are two sentences where she accuses Sam of not acknowledging that sexism contributes to the lack of women leading Fortune 500 companies.:
    “It is not in the slightest bit reasonable to point out that just 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women — and to use that as evidence of why status differences between men and women aren’t caused by sexism”
    “You can’t think of approximately 876,907 forms of sexism, both subtle and overt, that contribute to the under-representation of women running Fortune 500 companies?”

    Here is where Sam concretely acknowledges sexism as a factor:
    “I am well aware that sexism and misogyny are problems in our society. However, they are not the only factors that explain differences in social status between men and women. For instance, only 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women. How much of this is the result of sexism? How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices women make in their 20’s or 30’s to have families? How much is explained by normally distributed psychological differences between the sexes? I have no idea, but I am confident that each of these factors plays a role. Anyone who thinks disparities of this kind must be entirely a product of sexism hasn’t thought about these issues very deeply.”

    I have no idea why you would have me produce these quotes for you, if you read both articles then I don’t see how you could possibly miss them. It’s poor form. As for the original “sexist” comments, I assume specifically mean the “estrogen vibe” phrase, as that’s giving Sam the most flak. He addressed this in his article: “And though the phrase “extra estrogen vibe,” spoken in a tone that acknowledged its silliness, also got a laugh, Boorstein surely knew that setting it down in print would make me look stupid….It’s very difficult to speak the way one writes, but this unpleasant encounter with direct quotation gives me further impetus to try.” Much of the offending phrase was said in a manner that comes off very differently in print. He said “estrogen vibe” in a tone to specifically CONVEY its silliness, but in print it comes off as him condoning it.

    The quotes I produced show that she is misrepresenting him as he explicitly states that he is “aware that sexism and misogyny are problems in our society” and then Christina, in the quotes above, pretends he didn’t say this. I don’t know how to be more clear on this. Read Sam’s article, then read her article. You will see that his writing is not given a proper representation.

    Again, his initial comments were purposefully jokey/silly and the crowd at the event apparently understood this. His followup article though, is meant to be read in print and can be taken at face value. If you disagree with the straightforward points that he made in his followup article, then okay, but it is straw-manning to take his “estrogen-vibe” sentence as a serious stance, compared to the knowingly silly sentence that it was.

    Your later criticism (“i take paragraphs to answer things like this!”) does fit into the reality of that situation. He was at an interview, presumably the standard format that wouldn’t allow for an in-depth, hours-long lecture, full of all the right caveats. He simply assumed (wrongly, as is often the case) that people would take what he said in good faith.

    This whole article reads exactly as the tripwire-in-the-mind scenario. Look at Christina’s paragraph on the sex appeal joke – she entirely missed Sam’s point in her fervor to believe he is an ignorant sexist. Or look at this gem in the beginning of her article, “Given that this is true, doesn’t it seem as if the gender imbalance in Harris’s followers has a more likely explanation than “women on average don’t like harsh criticism of religion”?” So her strong implication here clearly something insidious…along the lines of “the more likely explanation is that Sam is a raging sexist and turns off all women from ever reading him!” Ugh

    Actually read Sam’s article (although, this attack-article will probably deeply bias that action, rendering it ineffective) and familiarize yourself with Sam’s work and you will indeed find that he is not the bad guy (sexist pig) you are looking for.

  61. 72

    IMO, there are two big white elephants in this piece that I have yet to see addressed by anyone on this blog (and if they have been addressed I apologize):

    1) What and where is the harm to women in what Harris said initially in response to why is there is a predominance of males in the atheist movement and particularly his blog site? Was it not clear in his first response, “…lack of sex appeal”, that it was a silly, unthoughtful remark and should be taken as such and his follow up “estrogen” comment is equally silly but truthful to an extent? This is piling on by likeminded, agenda driven journalists and bloggers. That is my view of this whole manafactured controversy. Show the damage done to the gender equality movement by his remarks. Do people honestly believe Harris was being sexist by those remarks when Harris has historically argued for and been sympathetic to women’s rights?

    The second elephant in the room is what is the right answer to the question why the male dominance in Atheistic thought? How about one of the anti Harris crowd explain that to me? You know, after you have had many hours to self censor any possibly perceived or misconstrued sexist remarks?

    I did eventually read Harris’ response to his initial criticism. Tell me, my supposedly fellow Atheists, what answer was your agenda requiring from Sam?

    As for the many criticisms and insinuations for my lack of intelligence and knowledge in subject matter(s) I will say this: I strive to learn on a daily basis and that is the best I can do. I am not stupid and if some of you think I am doing a disservice to Sam Harris by defending him the way I do, so be it. And for posters that want to specifically question and ridicule my knowledge of genetics, yes, my knowledge of human genetics does not extend beyond grade 12 high school, formally. So I base a lot of what I perceive as reality in this world through more than a half century of living and learning.

    Why do I firmly believe we are hard wired to behave the way we do? Because when I was a young boy and brought to Sunday mass I felt an immediate discomfort while sitting in the Church. I was too young to understand but I felt something wrong that I could not explain until I was older. My father beat me when I was young. I have never carried on that “cultural” tradition with my 2 children. I still love my father. In my teenage years I never succumbed to the “chase the girls mentality” and have always treated women with the respect they deserve as human beings. I have never been about “male competition”, testosterone driven pursuits.

    My kids, both with families of their own were raised without religion. Never have we discouraged them from pursuing what ever they needed to survive in this world. Both have recently converted to religion of their choice despite my wife and I disliking religion, especially me. So all this is to say that despite cultural upbringing, despite parental upbringing, despite the racism, sexism and all the worldly influences on my family and I, that is why I believe in a genetic foundation for who we are. We are genetically coded and I see this in my children’s respect for living their lives with human decency. And no, I don’t discount cultural, ideological, theological influence on human upbringing but it is up to an individual’s preset genetic code that has the most influence on doing the right thing. That is what I firmly believe. Prove me wrong and I will graciously admit error.

    As for getting over myself, as one poster put it, why? You think reading the Dunning-Kruger effect will help me in that regard, whatever you mean by it? Don’t assume that I don’t know how complex human genetics is. I speak from a common man background and despise some of the patronizing comments mentioned above.

    Here is a suggestion: why doesn’t someone on this site start a poll asking the everyday common man and woman if they found Harris’ comments sexist? I am sure that would better explain why I think this attack on Harris is propped up by resentful, jealous and agenda driven bloggers and posters looking to bring down a man who has done more to advance the secular movement and women’s rights than anyone on this site.

    Memo to self: do not post at wee hours in the morning under the influence : )

  62. 73

    [Part 1 of a post that became too long to keep together…]

    The OP is (IMHO, natch) one of the sharpest analyses I’ve read in (my minimal exposure to) FTB-land, primarily because Greta Christina focuses on Harris’s comments rather than making allegations about Harris as a person. Thus Greta avoids derailing the issue down the track of the Intentional Fallacy. We don’t have access to the inner workings of Harris’s brain — neither does he for that matter — and what he did or did not have in mind is essentially irrelevant to the meaning of the comments. To use metaphor rather than scientific description,
    a. “You don’t speak language. Language speaks you.”
    b. “We can’t read you. We can only read language”

    I think language is best understood by taking a measured view of Derrida (which is what people who actually ‘get” Derrida do, btw) that doesn’t throw the Saussurian baby out with bathwater of recognizing certain ideological forces at work in the way meanings get narrowed down, or opened up for that matter. That is, normal language is almost always both an imprecise mess AND dependent on culturally constructed semiotic structures of similarity and difference that are just THERE whether we realize it or not, like it or not, etc. There’s just usually more than one of these in play in any given instance and they bang into each a lot.

    Anyway, IMHO Greta’s analysis of what Harris’s original comments actually mean is spot on in tracing the ideological trajectories of his langauge. But I have a couple ‘issues’ with her analysis of his comments about his comments (which I will get to in part 2)…

    First:

    If you say or do something that unintentionally hurts people, it is entirely reasonable to say, “That’s not what I meant — but I can see how you’d see it that way, I spoke poorly, here’s what I meant, sorry.”

    is on the right track but doesn’t quite get there. It grants a bit too much importance to what the speaker meant, and supports the ideological illusion that speakers are the sole authors of their words, and interpretation too is personal and idiosyncratic — all the singular pronouns in “I can see how you’d see it that way.” Formulating the issue in this way dips too deep in the slough of bourgeois individualism. And it’s not exactly a question of being “reasonable”, as there’s still too much “I” “I” iyiyi in there. Efforts to improve the discourse pool by disowning what previous statements were (reasonably) taken to mean, and issuing new statements aimed at better communicating one’s thought are certainly laudable and to be encouraged, but it strikes me this is as much or more a moral question than of reason per se.

    Here’s my attempt to frame a proper ‘correction’, which is a heckuva lot longer than what Greta wrote, but hey, this whole language business is pretty complicated shit!

    “I now recognize my earlier statement generated legitimate interpretations that escaped my intent in producing it. Had I applied properly skeptical analyses to the historically rooted and culturally determined biases embedded in the language I had used, and my own biases in choosing that language from the various alternative forms I might have used to express my thought, I could have better filtered my statement to accurately reflect what I had in mind within the semiotic realities of the public arena in which the statement was offered. I specifically now appreciate that the language I employed speaks a history of material harm, and my speaking of it added to that harm. I am deeply sorry for any harm may words have caused, and the fact I sincerely intended no harm is no excuse. The words were wrong. I should have known better. I apologize for my failure to scrutinize my accuracy as well as harm, and I shall now try to do better. However, I hold no illusions that any human subjects can ever fully escape their received biases, and reach some realm of Pure Reason. As such, I cannot guarantee that any statement I may make in benefit of the best scrutiny I can apply will therefore yield a perfect communication of what I intended. Nor can I guarantee that my intent itself may still be shaped by social forces I can not apprehend, and not be as innocent as I take it to be. Therefore I continue to welcome any good-faith critique of my language, in the spirit of the Enlightenment ideal that engaged argument can move us all closer to Truth.”

    Oh course, if Sam-What-Ham said anything like that he’d immediately get kicked out of the simplistic-logical-positivism boys club, and wind up having to hang with Lacan-citing feminist theorists handing him Judith Butler essays and other stuff with a very estrogen vibe that he wouldn’t find as nurturing, coherence-building, or anything but WAAYY over his head. I don’t guess he’d like that very much, so I’m guessing he’ll just keep playing to his adoring fan-boys — and I do mean boys because whatever their age this crowd seems to have their emotional development arrested at about 15.

    [GROW UP, DAMMIT!!]

  63. 74

    Rlly thnk y, nd Jm Brnstn (wh y lnkd t t Skpchck), nd mny thrs rlly dn’t ndrstnd sttstcs. Brnstn sd:

    ccrdng t Sm Hrrs, wmn s grp hv mr strgn-vb thn mn.

    Bt Hrrs’ pnt s mrly tht thr r mr wmn wth “strgn-vb” thn mn – hrdly prtclrly dffclt “gnt” t swllw (thgh n wndrs why s mny strn t t s f t wr “cml”) gvn tht mr wmn thn mn hv “hgh” lvls f strgn t bgn wth. nd y dn’t thnk tht tht mght hv sm dffrntl ffcts n bhvr?

  64. 75

    Re # 72: Steers Mann is an old troll from the SlymePit who has been banned here before, and who doesn’t respect the concept of boundaries and is attempting to comment again. His comment has been disemvowelled, and he has been banned yet again.

  65. 76

    What and where is the harm to women in what Harris said initially in response to why is there is a predominance of males in the atheist movement and particularly his blog site?

    jmann @ #70: The idea that women and men have significantly different psychologies and abilities, and that these differences are innate, has done tremendous harm, for centuries. It had kept women out of academia, out of medicine, out of business, out of many many fields. (And it’s also kept men out of fields they might have enjoyed and been good at as well.) Perpetuating it does harm.

    The second elephant in the room is what is the right answer to the question why the male dominance in Atheistic thought?

    The question is actually why there are more male atheists than female ones, not why there’s male dominance in atheistic thought. There are lots of possible explanations. Having less power and privilege and agency (as women do) can make people turn to religion for consolation and support. Women are socialized to be less assertive and less independent, making them more vulnerable to religion. It could have to do with women’s expected roles as caregivers, or with the greater expectation that women work inside the home. There’s a cultural expectation that being religious and passing religion on to children is women’s work. The culture equates being religious with being civilized and moral (especially sexually moral), and it sees enforcing civilization and morality (especially sexual morality) as women’s work. Religion is one of the few arenas where women traditionally have some power and social status (women often do much of the day-to-day running of religious institutions, even though men are usually the most visible leaders). And there’s the pervasiveness of sexism and misogyny in organized atheism.

    Why do I firmly believe we are hard wired to behave the way we do? Because when I was a young boy and brought to Sunday mass I felt an immediate discomfort while sitting in the Church.

    That tells us nothing. As a young boy, you’d been learning and getting cultural training for years. And it definitely says nothing about hard-wired differences between women and men.

    And no, I don’t discount cultural, ideological, theological influence on human upbringing but it is up to an individual’s preset genetic code that has the most influence on doing the right thing. That is what I firmly believe. Prove me wrong and I will graciously admit error.

    This very pieces has link upon link upon link showing extensive cultural influence on gender roles, and showing how little evidence there is showing a significant or clear-cut innate difference.

    I speak from a common man background and despise some of the patronizing comments mentioned above.

    Actually, I agree with you here. I don’t like getting snarky with people because they have less formal education. I think it’s classist, and I’m going to ask commenters here not to do it. And after all, I only have a B.A., and that’s not in any science, and I still feel comfortable writing about it. However, when we’re commenting on a field we’re not formally trained in, we need to recognize that our knowledge is limited, especially if we’re basing our ideas on our personal anecdotal experience and not on actual science. That is essential to a good understanding of science — admitting when we’re wrong.

    My father beat me when I was young.

    I am so sorry that happened to you.

  66. 77

    SallyStrange (#64)

    Why is it so crazy to state that some “styles” of writing are more/less attractive to a gender?

    Nobody said it’s “crazy,” the thesis is that it’s plain wrong to ascribe levels of attraction to different styles of writing to the functioning of one’s endocrine system.

    And it doesn’t even begin to hold up when you consider popular writing styles from other languages and/or other periods in time.

  67. 78

    Bub Rub @ #69: Please see Comment #27 above. It explains in detail exactly what was wrong with the Fortune 500 company comments.

    The quotes I produced show that she is misrepresenting him as he explicitly states that he is “aware that sexism and misogyny are problems in our society” and then Christina, in the quotes above, pretends he didn’t say this.

    No, I understand that he said this. The problem, as has been repeatedly stated in this piece and in many comments here, is that he said this — and then kept returning to “but really, some of these differences have to be innate. See, look at this other example of sexism! That proves these differences must be innate!”

    Again, his initial comments were purposefully jokey/silly and the crowd at the event apparently understood this. His followup article though, is meant to be read in print and can be taken at face value. If you disagree with the straightforward points that he made in his followup article, then okay, but it is straw-manning to take his “estrogen-vibe” sentence as a serious stance, compared to the knowingly silly sentence that it was.

    It doesn’t much matter if the intent of the original comments was jokey. Sexist jokes are still sexist. But I also disagree. The fact that he wrote an article explaining and unpacking what exactly his comments meant would seem to show that at least the second set of his comments (the one about men being more innately attracted to harsh criticism, and women being more innately attracted to nurturing) had some serious intent.

  68. 79

    @jmann #70
    I am not the answerer you seek for your questions about white elephants, but as I’m totally sympathetic to the problems attendant to caring about something enough to be up into the wee small writing blog comments about it, I shall take a stab regardless.

    “What and where is the harm to women in what Harris said initially”
    It reproduces and recirculates ideological frameworks that have supported and continue to support the subjugation of women. ANY single utterance of this type, by itself, will be trivial in effect. But if you get enough little raindrops into a pool you can’t get out of, you drown in the storm. All you can do is take on the raindrops one at a time. If you like, the harm in what Harris said is embodied in how many times it’s been said before, and how many times it will be said again, and specifically how many times it will be repeated because Harris said it. If you can’t scream about Harris’s drop-of-water, you can’t scream at any drop-of-water, so you might as well be saying STFU. Yes?

    “Was it not clear in his first response that it was a silly, unthoughtful remark and should be taken as such?”
    No. I’d guess to most people who were in his presence and could read his body language and tone of voice it would have been taken as a gag. But as someone who used to get paid for making gags, I know there’s always gonna be somebody who doesn’t get ’em. And it’s as arrogant for me to invalidate that person’s experience by saying, “you’re just too clueless to get it!” as it is for them to think they have somehow parsed What I Really Meant Even If I Don’t Know It. So if somebody puts Harris’s comment on the Web w/o going into descriptive detail about the non-verbal context that would mark it as a joke, that’s pretty much SOP for human communication, and it’s going to get circulated via the Internetz.

    “Was it not clear his follow up ‘estrogen’ comment is truthful to an extent?”
    Oh, man. That is just such low-hanging fruit… I’ll just assume that came out at 4AM after several too many Shirley Temples.

    “Do people honestly believe Harris was being sexist by those remarks.”
    I don’t think there’s one answer to what folks objecting to Harris honestly believe. So I speak for my y-chromosome-equipped self. Some folks probably think Sam’s comments reveal some essence of his nature. ‘He is a sexist.’ I don’t think that’s warranted, but I also think its the wrong question. _I_ do honestly believe Sam’s remarks are sexist, as a matter of material fact, which doesn’t necessarily say anything about Harris, who is not himself, that big a deal. Is the difference between the person and the statement not clear?

    “What is the right answer to the question why the male dominance in Atheistic thought?”
    That depends on who’s asking, who’s answering, in what context, via what medium, etc. etc.
    For Harris, at that point, it seems the ‘right answer’ would have been “I don’t know.”

    ‘How should Harris have responded to his critics?’
    That fruit’s already fallen off the tree… He might have responded respectfully. Not assuming anyone who didn’t get his tone is an idiot. Taking the issue of male dominance seriously. Explaining any thoughts he may have still wanted to express about gendering in a non-judgmental manner. Interrogating and filtering his own biases instead of taking his perceptions of things as Truth revealed by Pure Reason… Maybe not doubling down on “Yeah, thank Darwin we don’t get our reason club messed up by that estrogen vibe!’ implications… How much more do you need?

  69. 80

    jmann (#70)

    I speak from a common man background and despise some of the patronizing comments mentioned above.

    Doesn’t feel very nice, does it. Now imagine 1 out of 10 men patronized you that way every time you tried to speak about anything, anywhere, ever, even if you had decades more expertise in the subject than them. Imagine that most of the remaining 9 out of 10 men were inclined to listen more to the tenth than to you. Imagine they considered you overemotional and unable to take criticism whenever you tried to assert yourself, however calmly, to the patronizing men.

    Tell me, do you think the consequences of that would be trivial? Or do you think they would be harmful?

  70. 81

    I strongly object to you immediately jumping at the chance to associate me with the idiotic and racist statements of “harryballs99″.

    Jeff S @ #66 Two things. One: I did not equate you with harryballs99. I equated your words with the words of harryballs99. You’re making a mistake a lot of people are making in these conversations: you’re equating “You said a sexist thing” with “You are a sexist.” A lot of people keep saying, “Sam Harris couldn’t be a sexist, he’s done good things for feminism before” — as if being a sexist of a feminist was an essential quality of self, something you unequivocally are, rather than somehting you do.

    Two: If you don’t want your words equated with idiotic and racist words, don’t say idiotic and racist or sexist things. Nothing you have said in your comment here shows how that comparison was unfair.

    Invoking supposed innate differences between races to argue that one race is superior to another has been used to justify the worst kinds of racism in world history.

    And invoking supposed innate differences between sexes to argue that one sex is superior to another — or even that different sexes have markedly different innate abilities — has been used to justify the worst kinds of sexism in world history.

    However, to state that it may be a non-zero factor is not sexism. To use this to deny the real cause of the problem (sexism/society), or to make descriminiatory decisions based on this is when it becomes sexism.

    Continuing to return to this explanation, again and again and again and again and again; continuing to argue for it; continuing to insist that gee, it’s a possibility, we can’t rule it out — yes, that is sexist. And I would argue that it is not possible to do this without denying the real cause of the problem, or making discriminatory decisions based on it. A huge amount of sexism is unconscious. Constantly hammering on “But what about innate differences? It could be partially innate! You can’t rule out innate differences!” keeps that idea in the back of everyone’s mind, all the time. And there are plenty of people who consciously do think that these innate differences are important. Hammering on about them gives that idea credibility.

    I don’t think it is necessary to pretend that men and women are identical psychologically if the science shows it not to be the case.

    You know what? The next person in this conversation who says “You’re saying that women and men are identical!” or “You’re ruling out possible innate causes!” is going to get banned. We have said and said and said: We’re not saying that. That’s not our point. Do we really have to make our point again? You know — the one I just made?

    Now some of you will certainly say: “Why bother commenting from a position of ignorance regarding human behavioural psychology at all? Especially if the comment could quickly be used as a justification of sexism?”

    To that I must say…. good fucking point.

    Thanks. So think about that point. Think about it for a while, before you keep arguing for an indefensible position. Maybe get into some conversations with feminists about it that aren’t argumentative and hostile, that genuinely seek to inquire about it rather than assuming that you know more about it than we do.

  71. 82

    I’m going to repeat something I said in my previous comment, in case it gets lost:

    The next person in this conversation who says “You’re saying that women and men are identical!” or “You’re ruling out possible innate causes of gender differences!” is going to get banned. We have said and said and said: We’re not saying that. That’s not our point. Read what we’re actually saying, and argue against that.

  72. 83

    So I speak for my y-chromosome-equipped self.

    sadmar @ #77: Quick note: Please remember not to use y-chromosome, x-chromosome, penis, vagina, uterus, testicles, etc. to mean “male” or “female.” Remember — trans people. Thanks.

  73. 84

    Again, his initial comments were purposefully jokey/silly and the crowd at the event apparently understood this.

    Bub Rub @ #69: Forgot to reply to this before. Actually, from what I’ve heard from more than one person who was at the event, several people reacted to his remarks with, “What the fuck? Did he actually say that? Please tell me he didn’t actually say that.” And Harris himself says that one women came up to him after the talk to say that she thought his comments were sexist.

  74. 85

    Greta Christina (#80)

    The next person in this conversation who says “You’re saying that women and men are identical!” or “You’re ruling out possible innate causes of gender differences!” is going to get banned.

    It’s refuted by the title of your OP, FFS.

  75. 86

    To preface this, having been raised as a woman (kidding), I am very non-confrontational. When it comes to complicated social questions, understanding them and changing them, such as gender inequalities in the atheist movement, I do not see how confrontational attitudes help achieve what wants to be achieved. The latter, I guess, gets complicated, as social expression of anger seems to get rewarded in our society (Tea party).

    I generally agree with all the arguments against Harris. I do bristle at lines that Harris’s statements are sexist because he takes the nurture assumption as justification for why women do not join the atheist movement. I agree it is a problematic line by Harris, tasteless, and a bad analysis, and he needs to be criticized and argued against for it. But there have been very well-meaning feminists in the past who have taken hook-and-sinker the nurture assumption or differential-characters about women to argue for a separate-but-equal position in society (Carol Gilligan, for one). I do not think we need to throw around labels of sexism at people who are trying to make good faith efforts to understand human beings and to better society. We should of course disagree vehemently.

    Conversely, there are sexists and “feminists” (say “biblical-feminist”) who buy uncritically into woman-as-nurturer to argue for certain cultural milieus. I do not think Harris crossed over into that, but I think it could be argued that he was tilting in that direction for similar reasons that such conservatives do. But people also tilt in those directions because we have poor understanding of human behavior and psychologies, and because they defend the immediate social world they see about them.

    I am not trying to shutdown criticism here, but I do think the manner of such attacks are not a good way forward. Being the cold, non-confrontational person that I am, I believe it is better to say: There is a problem here. These comments are unsupported and the culture they encourage us to reproduce is problematic to a large number of people. Here is a better way forward.

    It should of course be said more lyrically, but I would hope that with enough opposition that Harris would strongly consider counter arguments. I would argue that is the way friends and allies and fellow travelers get along in the world, while working to reshape it for all. But maybe I live in a safe bubble.

  76. 88

    Lyndon (#84)

    I do not think we need to throw around labels of sexism at people who are trying to make good faith efforts to understand human beings and to better society.

    First off, don’t make out “labels of sexism” to be more than they are. They’re not “attacks.” Reread this from the OP:

    And jumping to the conclusion that organized atheism has fewer women because women tend to prefer nurturing and coherence-building — and that this difference is innate — is sexist.

    Which wouldn’t be such a terrible thing. We all have sexist ideas. Me, and you, and everyone we know.

    The point is, sexism is bad, but it’s also common as fuck and everyone is susceptible to perpetuating it. Labeling something sexist isn’t about painting the speaker as a bad person and metaphorically pillorying them; it’s about pointing out what is wrong with what they said. It identifies who is hurt by their words and indicates the type of analysis they should apply to their words (and the thinking it stemmed from) in order to avoid doing those people harm in the future.

    Second, that is not what “good faith” looks like. “Good faith” welcomes correction and accepts responsibility for one’s off-the-cuff remarks. “Good faith” would have inspired Harris to care about why fewer women read his books long before it came up in an interview. It would have had him listening to the numerous, very vocal atheist women (Greta included) who have been explaining things like that for years. It would have kept him from saying “Anyone who thinks disparities of this kind must be entirely a product of sexism hasn’t thought about these issues very deeply.”

    If you want to extend everyone the benefit of the doubt no matter how often they betray it and explain each and every instance of their wrongdoing to them in as non-confrontational language as possible, you go right ahead. But please stop acting like calling something “sexist” is an attack that grievously wounds characters and justifies belligerent reactions on the part of the accused.

  77. 89

    Hi A. Noyd,

    Good luck trying to control the negative connotations of “you are sexist.” And I agree, we all are, we have a culture that is, and we have selves that probably cannot do without such as they are; especially when the word is taken to only mean “that which is damaging to the equal treatment of men and women.” That does not mean that the word will not be seen as a label, and a very negative, confrontational one at that.

    The same point about Harris’s wrongness on this issue can *easily* be made in non-confrontational language, that does not come out and say “that statement is sexist.” That is, calling their position sexist “is not about pointing out what is wrong with what they said.” If what someone has said is complicated, as pretty much all of these discussions about nature/nurture are, then the label of sexist is about the least effective tool you have for actually showing them why their statement is problematic. And where Greta and others give good analysis of why Harris is wrong it has nothing to do with using the word sexist.

    I was speaking about good faith to all interlocutors, not just Harris. It was also about feminists (Gilligan) and others who also make strong naturist claims at times. There are endless arguments both about understanding of human behavior and in organizing society, many of which people here will disagree with and argue against. It does not further the discussion by ending and saying, that person is making sexist statements. Most people are arguing for the best positions they can grasp, and we have to assume that they do want a more equal, robust society.

  78. 90

    Lyndon – if YOU don’t want to act as if the word “sexist” has valuable meanings and should be treated as a neutral label instead of fighting words, that’s your right. But let’s not pretend that you’re doing anything but reinforcing sexism and making the fight for women’s equality harder in the process. The request here is not for some way of “controlling” EVERYONE’S perception of the word, it’s for YOU, the individual, Lyndon, the person who is here talking to us right now, to cease engaging with the fiction that “that’s sexist” is a synonym for “let’s take this outside, asshole!”

    Can you do that? Because if not, then this discussion really is not for you.

  79. 91

    @ Bub Rub

    Here are two sentences where she accuses Sam of not acknowledging that sexism contributes to the lack of women leading Fortune 500 companies.

    He does not explicitly acknowledge anything of the sort.

    I am well aware that sexism and misogyny are problems in our society. However, they are not the only factors that explain differences in social status between men and women. For instance, only 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women. How much of this is the result of sexism? How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices women make in their 20’s or 30’s to have families? How much is explained by normally distributed psychological differences between the sexes? I have no idea, but I am confident that each of these factors plays a role. Anyone who thinks disparities of this kind must be entirely a product of sexism hasn’t thought about these issues very deeply.”

    That part I bolded is the only bit that actually has to do with talking about the role of sexism in these companies. He says he has no idea but all of the weight of his persuasion is based on pointing at the phantom “to some degree”, that now becomes an unspecified “I am well aware” with no detail (which we need to know if he actually is aware, and then an “I have no idea.” He is either aware or he is not. This is the opposite of explicit.

    As for Greta’s comments,

    “It is not in the slightest bit reasonable to point out that just 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women — and to use that as evidence of why status differences between men and women aren’t caused by sexism”

    “You can’t think of approximately 876,907 forms of sexism, both subtle and overt, that contribute to the under-representation of women running Fortune 500 companies?”

    These look fair to me. He basically asserts that “he is aware” (and later “I have no idea”) with respect to the role of sexism, and then talks about women making heroic sacrifices as if societal sexism is not part of that situation as well. Once birth is done children are a group concern and too much of society just want to pretend that it something for the wimenz. Yes he literally offered something affected by sexism as evidence for non-sexism factors.

    I have no idea why you would have me produce these quotes for you, if you read both articles then I don’t see how you could possibly miss them. It’s poor form.

    No to at all. It’s because I’m not a mind reader and I have a different perspective from you. You can either offer your characterizations of what someone else wrote, or you can show what they wrote and show why it was a problem. The “I have no idea why you…” stuff is a sign that you might have some issues with the perspective of others.

    As for the “silliness”, that is a crappy excuse. Things are not just “jokes” and what is funny for one is casual treatment of serious things for another (at the least). We use humor for reasons and often they have to do with reducing the discomfort associated with a subject. Some things should simply not be joked about because the underlying tension that is relieved by one persons joke will often be salt in a wound for another. If the humor aspect is true that honestly makes it worse from my perspective. Being casual about serious things is not something to be taken lightly and should only be superficially casual. The casualness should be deliberately designed to make people comfortable and carefully thought out, or this is the result.

    Your later criticism (“i take paragraphs to answer things like this!”) does fit into the reality of that situation. He was at an interview, presumably the standard format that wouldn’t allow for an in-depth, hours-long lecture, full of all the right caveats. He simply assumed (wrongly, as is often the case) that people would take what he said in good faith.

    Then this just reinforces what I already think. He is not a deep thinker on issues of sexism at all. He chose to speak casually about sensitive things and is rightfully getting burned by his ineptitude and unwillingness to realistically deal with the fact that some topics should not get casual answers. The honest answer would have been “I don’t know why women don’t like my books as much. “Good faith” is just another way of trying to insist that he gets a free pass because of intentions. Not meaning to bother people by making ignorant, sexist, inept statements does not excuse the fact that he bothered people by making ignorant, sexist, inept statements. Without a social price, he does not learn to avoid this.

    Sex appeal joke? See what I said about humor. Things are funny for reasons that have to do with pain, and fear. His point is totally irrelevant to why it was not funny to others. His point does not make magic stuff whisk away the pain and fear associated with assumptions about sexual orientation. Sam is being seen as a sexist because he is saying sexist things. There is nothing insidious about it, I find nothing wrong with the bits you pulled out.

    I read Sam’s article. The entire problem I had with your description of what you saw in the comparison between it and this post is that your description of it did not match any reality that I’m seeing and I still feel that way.

  80. 92

    Lyndon (#87)

    That does not mean that the word will not be seen as a label, and a very negative, confrontational one at that.

    Why the hell are you using the passive voice? I’m calling you out for privileging those negative connotations with your tone policing and your explicit acceptance of the idea that labeling something “sexist” is a provocative attack that can cause legitimate distress.

    Stop it.

    You don’t have to give up your favorite style of engagement; just stop sabotaging other people.

    The same point about Harris’s wrongness on this issue can *easily* be made in non-confrontational language, that does not come out and say “that statement is sexist.”

    That’s nice. You do that, then. I don’t want to be non-confrontational. I don’t want to have to avoid using whatever particular language the people I’m criticizing have decided, ad hoc and against all reason, is a devastating personal attack that justifies shutting down the discussion. I don’t want to appease the privileged or cede the terms of engagement to their fragile senses of self. I don’t want to have to divine and then honor the ever-shifting list of conditions that will avoid triggering a retalitory tantrum.

    I can set my own damn terms if I want. There’s nothing wrong with expecting privileged people to start from the assumption that they deserved being criticized or that their perspective is an inherently more biased one even though (or especially because) society tells them that they’re a member of a more objective class. Anybody should be able to say “this is the definition of [X] we’re using for this conversation” and have other participants honor that. It’s perfectly reasonable to establish certain minimum requirements for participation in a conversation with you and stop direct engagement with anyone who doesn’t respect you enough to at least try to follow them.

    If you would rather not set and enforce your own terms, then you don’t have to. (Good effing luck with that, but whatever buoys your barge.) But don’t go on like your preferred style is something that the targets of our criticism should expect from the rest of us.

    I was speaking about good faith to all interlocutors, not just Harris.

    You included Harris as an example of a person acting in good faith, though. And since none of his contributions in this matter have been in good faith, I question your ability to recognize the concept in the first place.

  81. 93

    The same point about Harris’s wrongness on this issue can *easily* be made in non-confrontational language, that does not come out and say “that statement is sexist.”

    Lyndon @ #87: Seriously?

    I am really tired of people showing more concern for people who say and do sexist, racist, classist, homophobic, transphobic, and otherwise marginalizing and harmful things than they show for the people being targeted by it.

    I mean — seriously? On the one hand, we have a fairly famous atheist, one with a big megaphone and a lot of followers, perpetuating harmful sexist ideas and then lashing out at his critics and doubling down on his sexist ideas, at a time when sexism in the atheist community has become a major issue.

    On the other hand, we have people telling this fairly famous atheist (sometimes using harsh language) that the ideas he expressed were sexist, and that he ought not to say things like that.

    And your greater concern is for the latter?

    You’re seriously saying that we shouldn’t even say, “Your ideas are sexist”? That’s too harsh for you? That’s too confrontational? Just how nice do we have to be to people who are pissing on us, and who continue to piss on us even after we tell them that they’re pissing on us and tell them to knock it off, and who impugn our motives and accuse of of looking to be offended when we complain about being pissed on?

    If that’s really too confrontational for you, I strongly suggest that you go visit another blog. This is my blog, and I set the tone, and the tone of this blog and its comments is one that accepts and even encourages passionate debate, while retaining a baseline level of civility. I’m sure you can find another online forum where nobody ever tells people who are being sexist that they’re being sexist, because it isn’t nice.

    And speaking of which: I am really, really, REALLY tired of being tone-trolled in my own blog. Do not do that, ever again.

  82. 94

    Oh, and as for this:

    It does not further the discussion by ending and saying, that person is making sexist statements. Most people are arguing for the best positions they can grasp, and we have to assume that they do want a more equal, robust society.

    Lyndon @ #87: How much more clear do we have to make this? Even if someone has the best intentions to foster an equal society — and based on my experiences over the last few years, I have no reason to assume that this is anywhere near universally true — that does not mean that all their actions or statements are going to foster this equal society. People can intend to not be sexist, and still say and do sexist things that actively interfere with their goal of an equal society. And being told “You said or did a sexist thing” is how we learn what the sexist things we say and do are, and how we learn not to do them. I mean, how on Earth do you expect people to learn not to say and do sexist things, if telling them “You said/ did a sexist thing, please don’t” is off the table?

  83. 95

    Brony (#89)

    He chose to speak casually about sensitive things and is rightfully getting burned by his ineptitude and unwillingness to realistically deal with the fact that some topics should not get casual answers. The honest answer would have been “I don’t know why women don’t like my books as much.

    It’s completely absurd how little we challenge whether people who aren’t in [Group X] can answer questions about why [Group X] does or doesn’t like something. And yet, I find myself answering such questions when I have no right. It really helps to see others called out for doing that so I can stop being thoughtless.

  84. 96

    Greta Christina (#91)

    I am really tired of people showing more concern for people who say and do sexist, racist, classist, homophobic, transphobic, and otherwise marginalizing and harmful things than they show for the people being targeted by it.

    Have you read the essay White Fragility [PDF warning] by Robin DiAngelo? I particularly like this bit from the section on “Entitlement to racial comfort”:

    Whites have not had to build tolerance for racial discomfort and thus when racial discomfort arises, whites typically respond as if something is “wrong,” and blame the person or event that triggered the discomfort (usually a person of color). […] White insistence on racial comfort ensures that racism will not be faced. This insistence also functions to punish those who break white codes of comfort. Whites often confuse comfort with safety and state that we don’t feel safe when what we really mean is that we don’t feel comfortable.

    And this from “Racial Arrogance”:

    Because of white social, economic and political power within a white dominant culture, whites are positioned to legitimize people of color’s assertions of racism. Yet whites are the least likely to see, understand, or be invested in validating those assertions and being honest about their consequences, which leads whites to claim that they disagree with perspectives that challenge their worldview, when in fact, they don’t understand the perspective.Thus, they confuse not understanding with not agreeing. This racial arrogance, coupled with the need for racial comfort, also has whites insisting that people of color explain white racism in the “right” way.

  85. 97

    @ A. Noyd
    I’m feeling similar and I’m looking for tools to call out this sort of stuff.

    Why the heck did Bub Rub respond to me and not SallyStrange up there? I’m the guy working on his filter for sexist behavior, I’m going to be flawed at best.

    I know that I have a privilege advantage that I can learn to leverage to break through these perspective, but this is seriously fucking ridiculous. I’m not the one with the actual experience and I’m still trying to fix things! Some of these people have no idea just how selective they are when it comes to how they actually respond to women challenging them. And when they do respond, I see no real resemblance between what they describe and what is on the page.

  86. 98

    Brony (#95)

    Some of these people have no idea just how selective they are when it comes to how they actually respond to women challenging them. And when they do respond, I see no real resemblance between what they describe and what is on the page.

    Part of the reason I find Harris’ gender essentialism so ridiculous is how often people online assume, based on the style of my engagement, that I’m male. And the second they figure out I’m not a guy after all, they change how they treat me. Nothing about me has changed, but suddenly what I say gets interpreted completely differently, if not discounted entirely.

    So not only is it obvious to me (and no doubt to a lot of women, especially those around FtB) that perception of gender differences is grounded in something other than reality, but given how the Facing a Lady script tends to be way more dismissive and patronizing and abusive, it’s much more comfortable and rewarding to engage an opponent who thinks you’re a man.

  87. 99

    @ Greta #81

    |So I speak for my y-chromosome-equipped self.
    sadmar @ #77: Quick note: Please remember not to use y-chromosome, x-chromosome, penis, vagina, uterus, testicles, etc. to mean “male” or “female.” Remember — trans people. Thanks.

    Well, I was remembering trans people, and because I was, I wasn’t wanting to mean “male” or “female” at all. As near as I can figure gender isn’t a dichotomy. I was just thinking that in addressing jmann’s questions I wouldn’t want jmann or anyone else to think I was speaking from the subject position of ‘having a woman’s knowledge or experience of patriarchy, sexism, gender discrimination, insert-other-valid-terms-here’. This thread has generally framed what it’s addressing as “sexism” and that was the term jmann had employed, and I take that to be referencing the subjugation of ‘women’ with the term ‘woman’ used as understood within the dominant culture — which is to say biologically female AND traditionally gendered as female. Which is to say I wouldn’t take ‘sexism’ to apply to what gets dumped on any human being with a ‘y’, which is not to say ‘y’s don’t get dumped on, and especially not to say all ‘y’ get dumped on as much or with the same stuff. On the other hand, no xx born now-trans-guy is ever going to have my privilege, which is not necessarily more privilege all other things considered, butdefinitely different… Frankly, this is hella complicated, and I’m confused and way too tired to make sense of it, and about the only thought I can muster is that imposing some simple rule in an attempt to keep people from being gender reductionist is itself gender reductionist. That, and also this would matter a lot more if I was using ‘y chromosome’ either seriously or positively, which I wasn’t. I took the word ‘myself’ and broke it up rather ridiculously by inserting a long character string between the syllables including a pun on the word ‘equipped’ — i.e. it was basically a self-deprecating Irwin Corey-esque joke coming from a place (my oddly wired head) where the biological identifier is a little meaningful and more than a little silly at the same time, but at least its accurate (I do in fact have a ‘y’) where I’m not sure a more culture laden term is anything but problematic. Maybe I should have taken it further and said “my y-chromosome-equipped badself”… (that would be a James Brown reference, in case you’re wondering). Or not.
    .
    And. no, I’m not going anywhere near ‘well you should have gotten the joke and you’re stupid if you didn’t.’ pls rvw wht sd jmnn bt ggs…
    .
    Quick note: re: “Please remember not to use…” I’m from Minnesota. We INVENTED passive-aggressive, dontcha know? The Minnesota Nice ice hammer. You betcha! So we don’t get to get all self-righteous when people pull passive-aggressive on us, cause that would be so hypocritical — all our children really are above-average so we’re too good to go there. [I bet somebody’s thinkin’ ‘well what about that Michelle Bachmann, she’s the biggest hypocrite there is!’ Well of course she is. She’s from Iowa.] Uff da! So .please remember not to use “please remember not to use…” on Gopher-Loons, cause we’re rubber, you’re glue, bounces off us and sticks to you! And then everybody will get along — real nice like we were at The Radisson — and we’ll send you over some nice hot dish to celebrate!

  88. 101

    @ Greta #81:

    Speaking as a trans person, I think the policing of language in our society is getting kind of out of hand. I can’t even keep up with acceptable ways of referring to myself! Does that mean I’m oppressing myself?

    And #16 about made my eyes pop out of my head. Intent doesn’t matter? It doesn’t matter whether a comment is used tongue-in-cheek, or to make a valid point, etc? (one thinks of the #cancelcolbert kerfluffle)

    And are we now (not speaking about Harris specifically now, but about how we discuss these things in general) not allowed to even make basic observations about differences between men and women? Can we not still say that the sex hormones we have running through us affect our emotions, behaviors, reactions, etc, in generally different ways? Because as someone with intimate, experiential knowledge as to how the different sex hormones affect us differently, I would have to say that would be ridiculous. Is that an excuse for anything? Of course not. But it’s a true thing that has to be accounted for an factored in (and not at all in the same category as Jews and usury).

    But basically, it feels like there are certain things we’re not allowed to say because Someone Might Get The Wrong Idea. Well, we’re not children anymore (hopefully). Hopefully, we learned the difference between implication and inference in our critical thinking class. Hopefully, we learned not to immediately read the worst into comments made in plain text by someone we don’t know. Unless, of course, we simply use the internet as a place to vent the rage we feel at real life.

    But as for Sam Harris, he may or may not be sexist, but he is certainly someone who likes to start fires just to watch them burn. So all anyone’s really doing here is entertaining him.

  89. 102

    Greta @ #79

    Jeff S @ #66 Two things. One: I did not equate you with harryballs99. I equated your words with the words of harryballs99. You’re making a mistake a lot of people are making in these conversations: you’re equating “You said a sexist thing” with “You are a sexist.”

    I am of course referring to you equating my opinion/words/views with those of harryballs99. I am not making any mistake here. This is a blog comment section, of course you can’t equate harryballs99 the person and Jeff S the person.

    Two: If you don’t want your words equated with idiotic and racist words, don’t say idiotic and racist or sexist things. Nothing you have said in your comment here shows how that comparison was unfair.

    You may well view my opinions to be idiotic, and you and I clearly disagree or whether certain things qualify as sexism or not.
    However, I have not said anything racist, which is the primary problem with what harryballs99 posted, in addition to it being a facepalm worthy argument as it cites one RESULT of racism as the CAUSE of another RESULT of racism and states that this somehow lessens the impact of racism on the second result.
    Please show me how I have said anything even remotely approaching racism in any of my posts here before telling me NOT to make such posts.

    I am objecting to you equating my relatively reasonable and entirely non-racist arguments (with which you happen to disagree) with an idiotic racist statement rife with ignorance made by someone with an obvious troll username, “harryballs99”. The reasons for you doing so are clear. It’s easy to dismiss my arguments if you can tar me with the views of a racist idiot who just happened to make a post shortly after mine.

    “See! You Sam Harris defenders are all the same! Are you reading that racist post that some guy with a troll username just made Jeff S? Well I hope you are, because those are your views now! MUAHAHAHAHAAHA.”

    If you think my argument is flawed, attack my argument (which you have done effectively in other posts), don’t point to some idiot’s post and say that its the “same sort of thinking” as mine.
    It’s an incredibly shitty tactic, and it’s one you unfortunately seem all too eager to stoop to.

  90. 103

    @77 sadmar

    No. I’d guess to most people who were in his presence and could read his body language and tone of voice it would have been taken as a gag. But as someone who used to get paid for making gags, I know there’s always gonna be somebody who doesn’t get ‘em.

    Pretty sure most of the people writing long posts about his comment saw the video where he makes the comment. He wasn’t joking, he was being 100% serious. Maybe wait until you have all the information before assuming people just “don’t get the funny sexist joke”.

  91. 104

    Please show me how I have said anything even remotely approaching racism in any of my posts here before telling me NOT to make such posts.

    Jeff S @ #100: m-/

    I didn’t say you’d said anything racist here. I said you’d said something sexist, which was directly comparable to the racist things said by harryballs99. To spell it out more clearly: I took Sam Harris’s statement about heads of Fortune 500 companies, the one you defended as not being sexist, and replaced the words and phrases about gender with ones about race, to show how appalling those ideas would be when applied to race. The hope was that this would make you (and others reading this) realize how appalling the ideas are when applied to gender.

    If harryballs99 is wrong to defend the revised statement about race, why is it okay for you, or anyone else, to defend Harris’s original statement about gender?

    “See! You Sam Harris defenders are all the same! Are you reading that racist post that some guy with a troll username just made Jeff S? Well I hope you are, because those are your views now!”

    I was not saying that. I was, in fact, critiquing your argument. I was doing so by direct analogy. If you don’t like it, then show me why the analogy is flawed.

    Again, for anyone who doesn’t want to scroll back and find the statements being referred to: Here is Harris’s original statement about heads of Fortune 500 companies (the one defended by Jeff S and others):

    “I am well aware that sexism and misogyny are problems in our society. However, they are not the only factors that explain differences in social status between men and women. For instance, only 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women. How much of this is the result of sexism? How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices women make in their 20’s or 30’s to have families? How much is explained by normally distributed psychological differences between the sexes? I have no idea, but I am confident that each of these factors plays a role. Anyone who thinks disparities of this kind must be entirely a product of sexism hasn’t thought about these issues very deeply.”

    And here was the analogous statement I wrote, the one where I replaced words and phrases about gender with ones about race (the one defended by harryballs99, right before I banned him):

    “I am well aware that racism and racial hatred are problems in our society. However, they are not the only factors that explain differences in social status between black people and white people. For instance, only 1.2 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by black people. How much of this is the result of racism? How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices black people make to clean white people’s houses and to keep white people entertained? How much is explained by normally distributed psychological differences between the races? I have no idea, but I am confident that each of these factors plays a role. Anyone who thinks disparities of this kind must be entirely a product of racism hasn’t thought about these issues very deeply.”

    If you find the second statement repulsive, why are you defending the first one?

  92. 105

    Can we not still say that the sex hormones we have running through us affect our emotions, behaviors, reactions, etc, in generally different ways?

    ckdhaven @ #99: What part of this was not clear?

    The next person in this conversation who says “You’re saying that women and men are identical!” or “You’re ruling out possible innate causes of gender differences!” is going to get banned. We have said and said and said: We’re not saying that. That’s not our point. Read what we’re actually saying, and argue against that.

    Sorry to do this, as you make some good points and it seems like you have some good ideas that I would like to hear more about, but I’d be a hypocrite if I enforced this based on who I do and don’t like: You’ve been banned.

  93. 106

    @ ckdhaven, #99:

    And are we now (not speaking about Harris specifically now, but about how we discuss these things in general) not allowed to even make basic observations about differences between men and women?

    What we’re not “allowed to do”* is draw meaningful conclusions about human society (CEOs!) or human behavior (nurturing!) from basic physiological differences (estrogen! pregnancy!) when one is already swimming in a veritable ocean of factors that powerfully explain bias in data (here, sexism). As Harris did with his “well, I didn’t spend 5 minutes thinking about it, but I’ll spout off anyway” remarks. Making these types of conclusions based on insufficient data and analysis reinforces stereotypes, and is useless in terms of explanatory power. More, it’s just freakin’ lazy!

    I really fail to get how this is so damn hard for some people to understand. Noting female hormonal composition/levels may be useful in treating ovarian cysts, but it’s damn well not useful for explaining complex patterns of social behavior.

    * Which, clearly, people are allowed to do. They’re doing it!

  94. 108

    I’m going to go ahead and respond to a banned poster–hope that’s not a problem.

    But basically, it feels like there are certain things we’re not allowed to say because Someone Might Get The Wrong Idea.

    I believe the idea is that now that you’ve been forewarned about the possibility of Someone Getting The Wrong Idea, you’ve hardly got grounds for complaint if you say it anyway and people, predictably, Get The Wrong Idea.

    This constant refrain of “but I’m not ALLOWED to!” would be amusing if it weren’t so tedious and also harmful.

  95. 110

    Greta @ #102

    I didn’t say you’d said anything racist here

    It was certainly strongly implied by this statement.

    If you don’t want your words equated with idiotic and racist words, don’t say idiotic and racist or sexist things. Nothing you have said in your comment here shows how that comparison was unfair.

    The problem is not that harryballs99 defended the scenario in your racial analogy, it’s that he defended it by using an argument that revealed tremendous ignorance and overt racism.

    I don’t feel it was fair of you to associate a particularly terrible and offensive defence of that analogy with me, who had not yet posted my own response to the analogy.

    I accept your use of the racial analogy as good criticism of Sam Harris’s argument that I was defending. It made me think about why it seems so much worse when applied to race.
    However, I do think your analogy makes a false equivalence between two of the supposed factors.

    How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices black people make to clean white people’s houses and to keep white people entertained?

    This statement is not equivalent to its parallel statement in Harris’ example.

    How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices women make in their 20’s or 30’s to have families

    Your inclusion of this loaded, highly racist possible cause in the analogy makes it not a good analogy. It makes it impossible to NOT think that the second example is horrible.

    However, if these two parallel factors are ignored (and they are not needed), your point still stands, and it was a good one. The race example still seems horrible, so why do I feel OK with the other?

    As I discussed in a prior comment, it seems to be a societal norm to discuss supposed innate differences between men and women and these discussions are not always considered “sexist”, while similar discussion about races is rarely had and is almost always seen as being “racist”.

    In sexism example there is at least widespread scientific acknowledgement of particular differences that could plausibly be linked with a greater nature to “dominate” or lead, there are no such scientific evidence of this between races. Thus it seems more plausible to be a tiny but non-zero factor. In the absence of evidence of an innate trait in the race example, one would be implying that some traits must surely exist that would explain the situation. This assumption could really only be based on racism.

    You acknowledge that “it is also possible that there’s some degree of innate gender difference in behavior or psychology in humans.”, but would you comfortably assert “it is also possible that there’s some degree of innate racial difference in behavior or psychology in humans.” ? I think it starts to feel like a slippery slope already.

    Plausibility and social normalcy of discussion are the primary reasons I feel that the race example feels repulsive while the sex example does not.

    I get that you disagree with me, but I hope you don’t actually equate my argument to that of His Excellency harryballs99 ESQ.

  96. 111

    Plausibility and social normalcy of discussion are the primary reasons I feel that the race example feels repulsive while the sex example does not.

    I see. So the difference between your defense of the sexist statement, and harryballs99’s defense of the racist statement, is that (a) you think it’s plausible that the the sexist statement is accurate, and (b) you think sexist statements are more socially normal than racist ones, and you think this makes it okay for you to defend them.

    Get the hell out of my blog. I am done with you. Banned.

    BTW, if anyone wants to fisk the rest of his statement for others who might be reading, go ahead. I need to go take a shower.

  97. 112

    I can’t think of anything useful to add, just wanted to come out of the shadows and thank Greta & other commenters for the thoughtful, intelligent conversation. I’ve been a feminist for almost 50 years and sometimes despair that we are hashing over the same old crap, but I am heartened that there are women who refuse to put up with that same old crap and call it ou!

  98. 113

    Posting this for Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy, who has been having technical problems with commenting here (problems I assure you we’re trying to fix):

    @ Jeff S

    The problem is not that harryballs99 defended the scenario in your racial analogy, it’s that he defended it by using an argument that revealed tremendous ignorance and overt racism.

    Yep, that is the problem. Guess what? It’s 100% exactly identical to the error in reasoning that Sam Harris made which you’re defending.

    Harris said only 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. He said he was sure sexism was the cause of some of that. Then he said women also make disproportionate sacrifices to have families as if that is distinct from sexism. The implication is that women choose totally freely to give up careers to have kids and not because they’re pressured to by sexist cultural attitudes.

    harryballs99 responded to Greta’s race analogy by listing the statistic that only 25% of black people have college degrees compared to 40% of white people as if that is distinct from racism. The implication is that black people are simply choosing freely not to attend college and that the disparity is not the result of the system being stacked against black people.

    It is exactly the same mistake Sam Harris made. I repeat: it is exactly the same mistake Harris made. And you are defending it.

    However, I do think your analogy makes a false equivalence between two of the supposed factors.
    How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices black people make to clean white people’s houses and to keep white people entertained?
    This statement is not equivalent to its parallel statement in Harris’ example.
    How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices women make in their 20’s or 30’s to have families
    Your inclusion of this loaded, highly racist possible cause in the analogy makes it not a good analogy. It makes it impossible to NOT think that the second example is horrible.

    You clearly have no idea how repugnant a sentiment this is so I’ll tell you: it’s really fucking repugnant. The fact that you had a more visceral negative reaction to the race example does not mean that the race example is more loaded and bigoted than the sex example. It just means you perceive it as worse. It means that the sex example is more culturally normalized. Read this closely and read it over and over until you get it: the arguments are logically equivalent and you only object to one of them. Stand in front of a mirror and repeat it until you’re as disgusted by it as I am.

    I get that you disagree with me, but I hope you don’t actually equate my argument to that of His Excellency harryballs99 ESQ.

    Too fucking bad. Harris’ argument is equivalent to harryballs99’s and you’re defending Harris.

  99. 114

    However, I do think your analogy makes a false equivalence between two of the supposed factors.
    How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices black people make to clean white people’s houses and to keep white people entertained?
    This statement is not equivalent to its parallel statement in Harris’ example.
    How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices women make in their 20’s or 30’s to have families
    Your inclusion of this loaded, highly racist possible cause in the analogy makes it not a good analogy. It makes it impossible to NOT think that the second example is horrible.

    So, Jeff S’s problem is not that the analogy is false, but that it so clearly illustrates how wrong he is for trying to defend Harris’ statement.

    I mean, at least with people of color doing domestic labor, there’s broad consensus now that it is work and people should be paid for doing it, though they may quibble about how much.

    As things stand regarding the labor of “having families,” i.e., caretaking of children, shopping, cooking, shuttling them to doctor’s appointments, entertaining them, is widely seen as not work so much as it is a joyous hobby that every woman just feels (estrogen vibe?) called upon to undertake at a certain point in her life. Saying that people who raise their own kids are doing work and should be somehow compensated for it (since them doing a good job benefits everyone in society) is not inside our societal Overton window at the moment.

  100. 115

    “Look at it this way. What if he had said, “I am well aware that racism and racial hatred are problems in our society. However, they are not the only factors that explain differences in social status between black people and white people. For instance, only 1.2 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by black people. How much of this is the result of racism? How much is due to the disproportionate (and heroic) sacrifices black people make to clean white people’s houses and to keep white people entertained? How much is explained by normally distributed psychological differences between the races? I have no idea, but I am confident that each of these factors plays a role. Anyone who thinks disparities of this kind must be entirely a product of racism hasn’t thought about these issues very deeply.” Would you have been okay with that? If not — then why was his statement on women okay? And if you are okay with that — then get the hell out of my blog.”

    Not sure if serious here, but using an example with clear inequality of opportunity between races as analogous to Harris’ conjecture of why an inequality of outcome between sexes exists, just doesn’t cut it. It actually comes off as dishonest and intentional hate mongering.

    “The idea that women and men have significantly different psychologies and abilities, and that these differences are innate, has done tremendous harm, for centuries. It had kept women out of academia, out of medicine, out of business, out of many many fields. (And it’s also kept men out of fields they might have enjoyed and been good at as well.) Perpetuating it does harm.”

    Speaking of academia and medicine, what has research on genetically male children born with cloecal exstrophy and surgically reassigned as female taught us? Not that one sex is superior or that only some gender roles are acceptable, but certainly that there are some significant, innate differences between the sexes (Damn those pesky prenatal hormones!). Acknowledging this and studying these differences is empowering, however delicate the potential for misuse may be. The benefits of the former and adequate realization of the latter need evolve in lockstep, much as it has for human understanding of race. What was one academic backlash to racism? “Race is a social construction with no biological reality.” Sure, the goals of such thought were admirable but the methods do more harm than good: For instance, ignoring the crucial role genes can play in identifying diseases, or the genetic reality of race (more diversity between members of a race rather than between races) which makes an excellent case for humanism (not that it needed more ammunition).

    It keeps being said that it isn’t being said that men and women are identical, but a statement as sloppy as the one quoted here is why people will respond as such.

    One last thing: I first came across Greta’s content via a Skepticon presentation with which I was thoroughly impressed, and still occasionally reference to this day. However the atmosphere created in this particular comment section, with threats of ban hammering, censorship and just the general vitriol and bile spewed at those who disagree with the initial post, is an alienating one. I can’t say I look forward to the attitude permeating the atheist community.

  101. 116

    Jeff [email protected]:

    In sexism example there is at least widespread scientific acknowledgement of particular differences that could plausibly be linked with a greater nature to “dominate” or lead, there are no such scientific evidence of this between races.

    You do realize there were a number of links contesting this in the OP, right?

    There’s also the minor problem that you’re arguing from popularity. Hundreds of years ago, the scientific consensus was that each race was fundamentally different. Therefore are we justified in saying each race is different?

    You seem to be forgetting that scientists are people too, just as prone to falling for bias as the rest of us. One reason why I haven’t commented on this thread much was that I was busy responding to a scientific paper someone posted at SkepChick that they claimed demonstrated biological difference. I instead argued that cultural influences have more sway than biology, are capable of wiping out biological differences, and at least some of what we’d point to as evidence for biology is contaminated by cultural homogeneity… and I did it with the dataset presented by the paper. Because the authors assumed a difference existed, though, they never noticed this alternate argument.

    So yes, a fair chunk of scientists do claim there are differences between the sexes. But I’m analyzed their examples, and not only have I spotted deep methodological issues and implausible assumptions, I’ve noted how the goalposts constantly wheel about for those arguing difference. It’s eerily similar to the scientific arguments about race.

    So I’m pretty confident in stating that any sex difference is either non-existent or too small to matter.

  102. 117

    However the atmosphere created in this particular comment section, with threats of ban hammering, censorship and just the general vitriol and bile spewed at those who disagree with the initial post, is an alienating one. I can’t say I look forward to the attitude permeating the atheist community.

    hushimoffendedbythat @ #113: Then go away. If you think having a comment policy and banning people who violate it — i.e., having boundaries — equals “censorship,” and that uncensored free speech equals the right of people not only to say whatever they want but to say it wherever and whenever they want to, including in other people’s spaces, and forcing other people to listen for as long as the speaker wants to talk, then you’re not going to be very happy in this space.

    Not that one sex is superior or that only some gender roles are acceptable, but certainly that there are some significant, innate differences between the sexes (Damn those pesky prenatal hormones!). Acknowledging this…

    Oh, wait. You’re going away anyway. As has already been discussed: The next person in this conversation who says “You’re saying that women and men are identical!” or “You’re ruling out possible innate causes of gender differences!” is going to get banned. We have said and said and said: We’re not saying that. That’s not our point. Read what we’re actually saying, and argue against that. Since you seem unwilling or unable to do that, and to respect that boundary, you are not welcome in this blog. Banned. Goodbye.

  103. 118

    hushimoffendedbythat @113:

    Not sure if serious here, but using an example with clear inequality of opportunity between races as analogous to Harris’ conjecture of why an inequality of outcome between sexes exists, just doesn’t cut it. It actually comes off as dishonest and intentional hate mongering.

    So you think there is no inequality of opportunity between women and men? Despite evidence from wages, media representation, hiring, politics, and health? There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll take the blunt approach: you’re delusional.

    Speaking of academia and medicine, what has research on genetically male children born with cloecal exstrophy and surgically reassigned as female taught us?

    Oh lookie, another person who’s overgeneralizing from David Reimer. Xanthë and I have already fisked that argument, so I’ll just direct you there.

    Not that one sex is superior or that only some gender roles are acceptable, but certainly that there are some significant, innate differences between the sexes (Damn those pesky prenatal hormones!).

    Even Evo-Psych researchers have been steadily distancing themselves from hormones, because human beings are fairly unique in showing a lack of behavior change due to them. There’s also pesky conditions like Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, where some people have hormone levels typically found in men but develop into women instead.

    Acknowledging this and studying these differences is empowering, however delicate the potential for misuse may be. The benefits of the former and adequate realization of the latter need evolve in lockstep, much as it has for human understanding of race.

    …. Wow, so you think there are inherent biological differences between races that effect behavior.

    We’re done here. Enjoy your ban!

  104. 119

    @ Jeff S, hushimoffendedbythat

    Switching one group or category for another (like Jews for Blacks, or sexists for racists) to show a connection is a pretty standard way to demonstrate a point via perspective shift. It’s a type of comparison (direct analogy I think) and totally valid. You can be offended if you want but frankly it looks terrible.

  105. 120

    You can be offended if you want but frankly it looks terrible.

    Quoting Brony for truth. I’m aghast that Jeff S actually seems to think that it’s an inappropriate analogy because he’s used to thinking of women as inherently inferior — excuse me, that it’s acceptable in society to discuss how women are inferior whereas it’s no longer polite to do so (publicly) about racial differences.

    Here we have a case study in how Dawkins et al do harm: they reinforce the norms that allow people to just ask those hard questions about how women just aren’t quite up to snuff.

  106. 121

    Ok, I lied in my previous comment, but I should’a Googled “cloecal exstrophy” first. So here’s a do-over:

    hushimoffendedbythat @113:

    Speaking of academia and medicine, what has research on genetically male children born with cloecal exstrophy and surgically reassigned as female taught us?

    Good question! Let’s look at some research on the subject.

    For about 25 years, neonatal assignment to female sex has been advocated for affected males to overcome the issue of phallic inadequacy, but data on outcome remain sparse. […]

    We assessed all 16 genetic males in our cloacal-exstrophy clinic at the ages of 5 to 16 years. Fourteen underwent neonatal assignment to female sex socially, legally, and surgically; the parents of the remaining two refused to do so.

    Now, if sex were a sharp divide, you’d expect one of two things: either something biological would force all of these assigned-female patients to strongly identify as male (say prenatal hormones, as per hushimoffendedbythat), or something biological would force all of these assigned-female patients to identify as female (say POSTnatal hormones, as it’s pretty much a given these patients were taking estrogens). If sex wasn’t a sharp divide, you’d get mixed results.

    Survey says…

    Eight of the 14 subjects assigned to female sex declared themselves male during the course of this study, whereas the 2 raised as males remained male. Subjects could be grouped according to their stated sexual identity. Five subjects were living as females; three were living with unclear sexual identity, although two of the three had declared themselves male; and eight were living as males, six of whom had reassigned themselves to male sex.

    So… eight of 14 wished to be male, while six of 14 remained female. Of the eight, two only identified “partly” male, with some ambiguity; of the six, one was ambiguous. Looks like sex is a messy, complicated classification with fuzzy boundaries, after all.

    My shock couldn’t even charge a nanobattery.

  107. 122

    Note from Greta: The handle “goodtobeback,” and the fact that this is a continuation of a previous argument, indicates that this commenter is someone who has been banned. Interesting, isn’t it, how people arguing against the feminist position so often have no respect for the notion of boundaries and of women’s right to set them. Anyway. Disemvowelled, and banned again.

    “Nw, f sx wr shrp dvd, y’d xpct n f tw thngs: thr smthng blgcl wld frc ll f ths ssgnd-fml ptnts t strngly dntfy s ml (sy prntl hrmns, s pr hshmffnddbytht), r smthng blgcl wld frc ll f ths ssgnd-fml ptnts t dntfy s fml (sy PSTntl hrmns, s t’s prtty mch gvn ths ptnts wr tkng strgns). f sx wsn’t shrp dvd, y’d gt mxd rslts.”

    Bllcks. N n clmd th dvd lmnts vrtn r tht th css f vrtn rn’t wrth stdyng; qt th cntrry ctlly. Bth th dvd nd vrtn r cnsstnt wth wht blgy prdcts n bnry, sxlly rprdcng, sxlly dmrphc spcs f p. Wht wld hv bn rlly ntrstng, nd ncssry t dmnstrt th grtr pwr (cmprtv t blgy) f, h lt’s g wth cltr nd scty, ths grt vls, n ns’ dntty, s f ll r mjrty r vn hlf f gntc mls srgclly rssgnd rmnd cntnt wth fml dntty. t jst dsn’t hppn.

    “S… ght f 14 wshd t b ml, whl sx f 14 rmnd fml. f th ght, tw nly dntfd “prtly” ml, wth sm mbgty; f th sx, n ws mbgs. Lks lk sx s mssy, cmplctd clssfctn wth fzzy bndrs, ftr ll.”

    Lt’s nt frgt th dtls hr: ‘Th prnts f ll 14 sbjcts ssgnd t fml sx sttd tht thy hd rrd thr chld s fml. Twlv f ths sbjcts hv sstrs: prnts dscrbd qvlnt chld-rrng pprchs nd tttds twrd th sbjcts nd thr sstrs. Hwvr, prnts dscrbd mdrt-t-prnncd nfldng f ml-typcl bhvrs nd tttds vr tm n ths sbjcts — bt nt n thr sstrs. Prnts rprtd tht th sbjcts typclly rsstd ttmpts t ncrg ply wth fml-typcl tys r wth fml plymts r t bhv s prnts thght typcl grls mght bhv. Ths 14 sbjcts xprssd dffclts fttng n wth grls. ll bt n plyd prmrly r xclsvly wth ml-typcl tys. nly n plyd wth dlls; th thrs dd s lmst nvr r nvr. nly n vr plyd hs. ch f th thr xcptns rprsnts dffrnt sbjct. Prnts ntd sbstntl dffclty ttmptng t drss th sbjcts — bt nt thr sstrs — n clrly fmnn ttr ftr bt fr yrs f g.’…’ll sbjcts lvng s fml xprssd dffclty fttng n wth fml prs (gntc fmls wth clcl xstrphy dd nt), lthgh ths cnvrtng t ml sx rprtd fw sbsqnt scl prblms wth fmls. ll 16 sbjcts dscrbd fw dffclts fttng n wth mls.’

    “S y thnk thr s n nqlty f pprtnty btwn wmn nd mn?”

    Ddn’t sy tht. Y’r vr-gnrlzng my wrds, nd Grt’s nlgy s stll pr fr th sm rsns t ws whn sh pstd t.

    “Ww, s y thnk thr r nhrnt blgcl dffrncs btwn rcs tht ffct bhvr.”

    Ddn’t sy tht thr. T clrfy: sd, r mnt t sy tht th dffrncs btwn rcs rn’t trvl bcs f ncssry dvncs n mdcn (thnk Ty Sch’s, Sckl Cll, cmptbl rgn dnrs), nd th mpwrng rlty f gntc vrlp btwn rcs (mr vrtn btwn mmbrs f rc) whch sqshs ts hstrcl mss. Ths, vs vrrctng t rcsm wth th fls dctrn f scl cnstrctnsm fr wht s ltmtly wrthy gl (sm trtn f qlty, hmnsm, tc.) bt whch dsn’t rp th sm rwrds s cknwldgng nd nlyzng trth. Th sm cncpt ppls fr th sxs. f w cmpltly gnr nnt dffrncs bcs f sxsm, thn w mss th mrk n hw t dl wth, sy, gntclly ml chldrn brn wth clctl xstrphy.

    “Thn g wy. f y thnk hvng cmmnt plcy nd bnnng ppl wh vlt t — .., hvng bndrs — qls “cnsrshp,” nd tht ncnsrd fr spch qls th rght f ppl nt nly t sy whtvr thy wnt bt t sy t whrvr nd whnvr thy wnt t, ncldng n thr ppl’s spcs, nd frcng thr ppl t lstn fr s lng s th spkr wnts t tlk, thn y’r nt gng t b vry hppy n ths spc.”

    Dd y rlly jst s th Crtmn dfns? ‘Whtv, whtv my blg d wht wnt?’ Tht’s fn, bt t wn’t brng th cmmnty tgthr thr. t’s bn fn pstng hr. G’dy ll 🙂

    http://.mgr.cm/Ggqm7.jpg

  108. 123

    Just how sexist is Sam Harris?

    1. Mild
    2. Annoying
    3. Very annoying
    4. Bad enough to write long blog post about.
    5. A danger to feminism and should be sent to a gulag for re-education
    6. This man should have a rotting porcupine shoved up his man-hole
    7. This man is an extreme woman–hater and should be castrated before being sent to a gulag for re-education
    8. This man is an extreme woman–hater beyond redemption and should be terminated
    9. All of the above
    10. None of the above

  109. 124

    Re twelvetones @ #121: Tedious straw-manning, putting actually hateful words into the mouths of one’s opponents, and refusal to actually engage with ideas being discussed. Comment moderation.

  110. 125

    Re comment #121,
    As I understand it, a straw man is an argument that misrepresents your opponent’s position in order to appear to refute it. I am not making an argument here at all. I have asked a question, albeit in a rather flippant manner. Moreover, I have not ascribed any words to anyone. I always use quotes when I do that.
    Flippancy aside, there are serious questions, namely how serious is Harris’s transgression? Is it mild, or serious? What are the ramifications? Will Harris’s remarks be a setback for the struggle for women’s equality and how much of a setback will it be? Are there degrees of sexism? Is Harris now an irredeemable misogynist and to be anathematized?
    Am I wrong to be asking questions? I’m new at this scepticism lark.
    P.S. apologies for the flippancy, is it verboten?
    Kind Regards
    Twelvetones

  111. 126

    twelvetones @ #123: On the barely plausible chance that you’re sincerely ignorant about this stuff, I suggest you look up “just asking questions” or “JAQing off.” By all appearances, that’s what you’re doing. Don’t. If you have sincere questions to ask about Harris’s comments and the pushback against them, ask them (as long as they’re not questions that have already been asked and answered eight hundred thousand million billion times). Don’t drag out tired, hateful, straw-man exaggerations of feminists’ points. And don’t think that tacking a question mark on the end of those straw-man exaggerations makes them any more acceptable.

    (Note to other readers: Yes, I approved this comment, it didn’t slip through comment moderation.)

  112. 127

    Thank you for your informative link, according to which “Just asking questions is the attempt to make wild accusations acceptable (and not legally actionable) by framing them as questions rather than statements. The strategy is to keep asking leading questions in an attempt to influence listeners’ views, irrespective of the answers given.”

    I fail to see I what way I am doing this. My questions were not leading, nor were they accusations. I’m in no way attempting to influence anyone’s views. On the contrary, I am soliciting people’s views on how serious the consequences of Harris’s comments might be. Perhaps this has already been addressed and I missed it. If so, I apologise.

  113. 130

    Just to clarify my point above, I’m bathing in Sam Harris getting burned, not Sam Harris’ weaksauce attempted burns of feminists.

    My bath is still warm and refreshing!

  114. 131

    Posting this for Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy, who has been having technical problems with commenting here (problems I assure you we’re trying to fix):

    twelvetones @ 125

    Thank you for your informative link, according to which “Just asking questions is the attempt to make wild accusations acceptable (and not legally actionable) by framing them as questions rather than statements. The strategy is to keep asking leading questions in an attempt to influence listeners’ views, irrespective of the answers given.”

    I fail to see I what way I am doing this. My questions were not leading, nor were they accusations. On the contrary, I am soliciting people’s views on how serious the consequences of Harris’s comments might be.

    OK, I’ll bite. Let’s look at your #121:

    The question itself is contradicted by the title of this post. This is about things Sam Harris said, not Sam Harris per se.

    Now let’s look at your options:

    The first 3 are completely vacuous. They’re subjective and would have no explanatory power.

    Options 9 and 10 don’t even make sense. The options aren’t all consistent with each other so obviously nobody would answer 9 and the fact that we’re here discussing it is evidence enough that nobody would answer 10 (except possibly people defending Harris).

    Options 5-8 are ridiculous and caricatured and none of us has the power to see any of them done, even if we cared to. The 6th in particular draws on an outdated trope regarding FtB which a) was only ever true about Pharyngula, b) is no longer true about Pharyngula and c) has never been true about FtB in general. You really couldn’t have picked a more obvious tell that you’re not asking in good faith. Leaving that aside though, the only reason you would include options 5-8 is if you wish to imply that some people here would sincerely choose those options i.e. an accusation disguised as a question.

    Option 4 is the actual extent of what’s actually happening. Greta wrote a long blog post about it and we’re now discussing it. Apart from being the truth, it’s the only option on the list that is both meaningful and possible (options 1-3, 9 and 10 aren’t meaningful and options 5-8 aren’t possible). If that was going to be a satisfactory answer to you, you wouldn’t have posted your inane question in the first place.

    It’s obvious that you think the answer should be somewhere from 1-3 or 10, probably 10, and that our answers, if we were honest, (according to your definition of the word which is probably something like “answers in a way that matches what I’ve already presupposed”) would range somewhere from 5-8. Again, an accusation disguised as a question. “An attempt to influence listeners’ views, irrespective of the answers given.”

    TL;DR You’re not nearly as clever as you obviously think you are.

  115. 132

    I really liked how you described the issue here. I was initially quite confused at what people found offensive about Harris’ blog post. I thought he was being too comical with his initial comments and understand why people chastised him for that. I feel like I interpreted the blog post differently than most because I make different assumption about Harris. I can see that a lot of people feel that he doesn’t take the issue of sexism seriously, but I had assumed he didn’t believe it affected atheist circles any differently than the population at large. We all agree Sam Harris isn’t well versed on the issues of sex and gender so I was never looking for anything profound from his post. It came across to me that he was trying to acknowledge that gender roles exist but not trying to push the sexes into said gender roles (thinking about average behavior).

    I can see what was problematic about his words now (I have a tendency to laugh things off and didn’t get why people were taking so much offense). But I think a lot of the drama here is because people expect Harris to be a leader in the atheist community. A lot of the criticism of Harris that concluded he views women to be inferior seems to be working under the assumption that he sees the atheist identity as ideal. I think this is why it was so easy for me not to be offended. I know Harris sees not believing in gods to be ideal but I have heard him express disapproval of atheism as an identity. He likes being a writer and discussing his ideas with people, but the ‘new atheist movement’ wasn’t planned by anyone.

    Hopefully Harris will come across critique’s like your’s and re-evaluate how he thinks about sex and gender.

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