Sam Harris: Misogynistic or #EstrogenVibe Entrepreneur?

Sam Harris said something… well, interesting is a word.

There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree instrinsically [sic] male and more attractive to guys than to women,” he said. “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.”

Of course, as soon as some of us took to the Intertubes to call people’s attention to its wildly gender essentialist nature, others took to our corners of the Intertubes to tell us that we were wrong. Nothing sexist or misogynist — I’m sorry, “misogynistic” — about it.

The pedant who so bravely corrected me on my misuse of “misogynist” for “misogynistic” very misandrically asserted that the statement made sense because men are naturally more violent than women. Furthermore, he cited the term “evolutionary psychology” but provided no citations. Since neither assertion is very credible, how could such a blatantly generalizing statement be neither sexist nor misogynistic? It seems to blame hormones for a lack of participation by women in a community in the grand tradition of hysteria.

I think I have a theory: sex toys.

Now, stay with me, here. The line  “nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe” could have easily been a reference to a vibrator used to build solidarity and community. After all, human beings socially resemble bonobos, and those delightful apes use sexual activity to resolve conflict.

Perhaps we all misinterpreted poor Sam Harris. Just before he mentioned the vibe, he brought up his self-perceived “overwhelming lack of sex appeal”. Maybe he’s trying to, in his poor confused head, make up for his belief in his inability to turn atheist women on with a line of sex toys. Perhaps, given his Four Horseman status, it could be scientifically-developed and peer-reviewed? Is the Extra Estrogen Vibe an upgrade on the standard model?

I really hope he knows that he doesn’t have to do this.

You don’t have to be sexually appealing to foster inclusivity in the atheist movement. You, as a thought leader, don’t exist for sexual objectification. Furthermore, you don’t have to make up for perceived inadequacies in your sex appeal by providing a line of sex toys for the women of atheism, especially not ones that have some rather ciscentric assumptions behind them. You can promote your ideas rather than your sex appeal and shine on like the star that you are.

We believe in you.

Update: Commenter =8)-DX has posted a few designs for the sex toy line (link mildly NSFW)

Sam Harris: Misogynistic or #EstrogenVibe Entrepreneur?

37 thoughts on “Sam Harris: Misogynistic or #EstrogenVibe Entrepreneur?

  1. 2

    I agree with you about the narrow view of gender roles and gender related social identity in Dr. Harris’s statement; however, if I may play ‘devil’s advocate’, the statement did make me think a bit on how socially imposed gender roles and expectations may be impacting the gender make-up of activists in the secular movement. Our society, though we have made substantial strides since the 50’s, still reinforces gender-based behavioral norms.

    Under these norms, men are expected to be unfeeling (in a caring sense), quick to anger, rational (unimpeded by emotions), strong willed, leaders, etc.. These characteristics are often associated with the highly critical, rationality promoting, male atheist leaders. We’ve heard time and time again from the four horsemen their charge that religion exploits emotion. Women, on the other hand, are expected to be neurotic (experiencing a greater range of emotional highs and lows), irrational due to emotions, maternal and caring, and consensus builders rather than radicals bent on leading a movement to change the world.

    Harris may have been wrong to associate the aversion to the New Atheism movement with being a woman, and I believe that he was based on the fact that the association seems to be with socially reinforced behavioral expectations for women. I know a great number of women who are leaders in their non-theistic communities. They feel no aversion to the movement because they don’t buy into the nonsensical expectation that women should behave in a manner congruent with unjust standards born of a male dominated society. My wife is one of these people. She regularly encounters coworkers who are surprised that, among other things, I (the male) do most of the cooking and that I’m not terrible at it.

    The same applies to men who, for example, are uncomfortable with men being nurses on account of being raised in an emotionally repressive culture that teaches males that they are incapable of being nurturing and caring.

    This, I think, speaks to a broader issue. It demonstrates that, even in a largely pro-feminism movement, we are still plagued by restrictive gender roles and expectations of a bygone age wherein both sexes experience arbitrary behavior restrictions and women receive the short hand.

    1. 2.1

      First of all, this aptly describes how I feel about the “devil’s advocate” when it comes to men telling me about how something I find misogynistic wasn’t really a sexism. You’re not really doing that, but I know you, so I feel you have a right to know how many feminists feel about it. You could have easily left the reference to devil’s advocate out and posited your more favorable interpretation of Harris’s statement.

      That said? I’d agree with you if it weren’t for the fact that he cited hormones instead of upbringing or societal assumption. You’re citing a real thing that happens with gendered socialization, something against which I actively work within myself and other women. He’s citing estrogen.

      1. Wow this has made me so angry…Firstly YOU ARE BEING VERY SEXIST by telling a man he isn’t allowed to criticise you ^^^….Well Im female and IM telling you it isnt…are you going to call me ‘misogynist’ (sic) for that???? I would say that Sams comment was a generalisation but he has a point …Women just aren’t attracted to Atheism as much as men. Also ”misogyny” is the HATRED and FEAR of women….Not generalisation of them. Do you know where this was quoted from? Have you read the original interview? It was by a CHRISTIAN female student who gave Harris a very difficult interview. He is also right to state that if he were a misogynist he wouldn’t be so surrounded by women. What are your theories? that its patriarchy’s fault??? I have been involved in atheism online for over 10 years and have never experienced any misogyny or sexism ….I have experienced a lot of misandry in the form of ”feminists” like Rebecca Watson though. I suggest you stop moaning about things that are not what you say they are and start addressing the real issue….Why ARENT there as many female atheists(in the USA – we have plenty in the UK) as male???

        1. I didn’t say a man couldn’t criticize me — citation of where I said that, please. In my view, it reflects a hatred of women to claim that our behavior is dictated by hormones. Yes, I read the original interview and it didn’t help my view of things. Being surrounded by women doesn’t automatically make you not engage in misogyny, especially when you don’t even bother to name them and when they are all women who help you out in some way. I’m glad you haven’t experienced any misogyny/sexism but that doesn’t mean no one else has.

          How can you “experience misandry” if you’re “female”?

          I’ve discussed the “real issue” as you call it (i.e. the lack of female participation in the atheist movement) many times on my blog but somehow, that manages to miss everyone’s attention. Random people only seem to care to read the posts they think insult their heroes and that spark indignation in them.

  2. 3

    Comment one has an awful lot of paragraphs for a response to a jokey dismissal of another random offense from another random asshat of influence. Maybe I’ll read it eventually, but meanwhile I will chuckle at Heina’s vibrator jokes. xD

  3. 6

    Harris may have been wrong to associate the aversion to the New Atheism movement with being a woman, and I believe that he was based on the fact that the association seems to be with socially reinforced behavioral expectations for women. I know a great number of women who are leaders in their non-theistic communities.

    I’m confused… Are you agreeing or disagreeing with Sam Harris? Everything you said is disagreeing with him, but you said you’re playing devil’s advocate? I think most people would agree with you that Sam Harris said what he did because he is buying into reinforced behavior expectations. I hope you’re not saying you think he was just referencing reinforced behavior expectations. Because his statement that the “atheist variable” (whatever that means) has the critical posture that is intrinsically male rather than a “nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe” which, as Heina said, is siting hormones and is implied to be intrinsically female.

    (Awww I have be logged in even to post on the blogs that don’t need an account since I made one. Says I’m an imposter.)

    PS Yay Bonobos.

  4. 7

    … men are naturally more violent than women. … Since neither assertion is very credible…

    Eh? From domestic violence to international warfare, one gender shows up a lot more in the perpetrator category.

    Do you perhaps challenge the “naturally” part of that claim?

          1. Are you saying that men and women are (in general/on average) identical in regard to tendency for violence? I think that men and women are (in general/on average) very different in many ways and that tendency for violence is just one of them.

          2. “Because it simultaneously vilifies and excuses men regarding any participation they have in violence. Either way, not looking good.”

            I don’t see how you would think that it vilifies or excuses men. It’s simply a fact that men are by almost any measure more likely to engage in violence. That is extremely important to understand and account for if you have an interest in policies and practices that can be used to reduce violence. Only by understanding violence can you begin to fight and reduce it. (That’s *understanding* violence, not *sympathizing* with it. )

          3. People make the serious argument that violence, especially violence against women, ought to be permitted or excused because they think it’s some innate trait that all men possess. If that’s not a simultaneous vilification and excusing, I don’t know what is.

          4. Which people make this argument? I personally cannot ever recall hearing this before you mention it.

            And regardless of whether other people *do* make the argument you mention (i.e. that male violence is excusable because it’s often done by men), it doesn’t by any means indicate that anyone who makes the former point (i.e. that men are more likely to commit violence) are also arguing for the point you mention. Much so less that Sam Harris is making the same inference. It’s a complete non-sequitur.

          5. Camille Paglia types, for one, who are now being embraced by MRAs, who often make similar arguments.

            I never said that “Sam Harris was making the same inference.” You may be confusing what was said in my post about a Harris defender with my discussion of what Harris himself said:

            The pedant who so bravely corrected me on my misuse of “misogynist” for “misogynistic” very misandrically asserted that the statement made sense because men are naturally more violent than women.

            The “pedant” to whom I linked is hardly Harris.

  5. 8

    You know, you might think that someone like Sam Harris who advocates for a reductive biologically determinist view on human behavior would be less cavalier in throwing around terms like “estrogen vibe” to explain sex differences, when both estrogen and testosterone are well-established by behavioral endocrinologists to be important hormones for mediating behavior in both sexes. You might think that, anyway, if you were expecting an intellectually honest position, rather than just a post-hoc attempt to dress up his pre-existing beliefs with an imprimatur of scientific rigor.

    Maybe the pedants would be better served learning a little biology and critiquing the substance of Harris’s statements rather than fairly artificial grammatical distinctions.

  6. JEM

    So disappointing. I’m a Spiritual Atheist myself and I really like what Sam has said about spirituality, but this is just eye-rollingly bad. Why can’t people I like also be feminists?

    Also @biogeo: You’re really smart and cool.

  7. 12

    There’s apparently two possibilities here:

    1.) You don’t get the joke
    To me it is blatantly obvious that the “lack of sex appeal”-remarks is a humorous statement, not at all to be taken serious. Some people have problems understanding irony or sarcasm and need to be given an explicit explanation every time. Since you seem to employ sarcasm and irony yourself, I believe that instead your confirmation biases led you to assume that this was indeed a serious statement. No worries, it happens to the best! Better Luck next time…

    2.) You do get the joke
    If you *do* get the joke, yet write this blog post taking the statement at face value, you’re just being a jerk. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

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