Is feminism skeptical? (or: are ninjas awesome?)

Meme: "We should be more skeptical of feminism. Who knows, maybe women aren't people after all"
Credit for this r/atheism meme to SallyStrange!

Every damn conversation we’ve had over the past several years in our respective atheist/skeptic communities that even approaches the topic of feminism, or discusses women in any way, seems to attract the sort of person in our communities who demands that we prove that feminism — the idea that women are human beings and should be treated with basic human dignity — is skeptical. Who evidently believes that the natural overlap between skepticism and feminism is insufficient for the topic to be broached. That the feminists in the skepticism community are not turning a skeptical eye to their dogmatically held beliefs that women shouldn’t be systematically mistreated or disadvantaged by any social structure that we humans have built.

This is, to put it bluntly, bullshit. To put it less bluntly, it is a category error.

Asking “is feminism skeptical” is identical to “are ninjas awesome”.

Bear with me. I have a point. Yes, many ninjas, in fiction and in reality, are awesome. Some ninjas are not, though — they exist merely as cannon fodder for the good guys in a piece of fiction. They are nameless set-piece drones designed to prove how awesome the main character is. Many fictional ninjas are given magical powers that don’t exist in the real world, and many ninjas are cast as evil murderers out for blood and mayhem. There are ninjas who will move in silence and infiltrate the enemy base unseen, and there are ninjas who will totally pull a full-frontal assault where they uppercut people and make their heads explode while a wicked guitar riff squeals in the background. There are also, like in Mock The Movie: Laser Mission, ninjas who inexplicably turn up in a garden and are killed seconds after being introduced. And I’m certain the Venn diagram of all real-life ninjas, and all awesome people, probably overlap to a significant degree. But then, there are many real-life people who practice ninjutsu who are simply incapable of effecting any change in this world.

Likewise, there are some feminists who come by their feminist ideals dogmatically, who advocate for social change that would not actually fix the disparities endemic in our system. There are some feminists who are feminists because they believe in egalitarianism and they see the pendulum swung too far toward patriarchy at the moment. There are probably even some feminists who, yes, hate men. (I’ve never met one personally, but I hear that’s what all of us are, so maybe there really is one somewhere.)

Does that mean every feminist is dogmatic? Or egalitarian? Or misandrist? Of course not. Like ninjas, feminists are a diverse group. They are tied together by one common thread — the practice of ninjutsu, or the belief that women are worthy of basic human dignity, respectively. Whether you’re skeptical or not is in fact a separate question. Just like one can be an atheist without being skeptical (think Bill Maher), or a skeptic without being atheist (Pamela Gay springs to mind), one can be a skeptic without being a feminist or vice-versa. And one can, most certainly, be all three of these things — feminist, atheist and skeptic.

The people who are asking “is feminism skeptical” are not, in fact, asking whether or not feminism itself is skeptical, they are asking whether being a feminist is compatible with being a skeptic. Given the vast number of people who claim both, I’d say so.

I’d even go so far as to claim that if you’re anti-feminist, if you like the gender roles or the patriarchal society we live in just fine, or if you just want people to shut up about how women are oppressed, you are in fact evincing an unskeptical attitude in your unwillingness to examine your personal cognitive biases.

Yeah, that’s right, that’s what I said. Soak it in. It’s more skeptical to be a feminist than it is to act contra feminism.

The Bride, from Kill Bill
"I know I haven't given you all a name yet, but could you please stop defining me in terms of what I am to Bill?"

Just like the Scumbag r/atheism meme image I included at the top of this post, evincing skepticism about whether or not women should be treated as fully human beings, is actually a terrible display of overwrought skepticism of the sort that leads to denialist hyper-skepticism. If we present evidence of ways that society — squishy and soft a science though it is — is actually creating a chilly climate for women, and we offer ways to improve society so those effects don’t happen any longer, the correct route is to question the evidence we present, and after interrogating that evidence to your satisfaction, accepting it. Being a skeptic involves actually accepting evidence when it is presented, not denying that evidence on specious grounds because it does not say what you want it to say.

We go through the identical procedure when someone shows us evidence for Bigfoot — they give us grainy footage of a guy in an ape suit, we’re going to say that’s insufficient, bring us something with a bit more meat. But if they bring us a corpse, or a live Bigfoot, or even a whole family, that should be sufficient evidence to accept that Bigfoot is real.

When someone shows you a study that women are asking for raises but not getting them, you don’t go on to repeat the trope that women aren’t asking for raises as often as men — that sort of assertion not only lies about the problem, but it creates a second problem in placing the blame on the victims of the misogynist behaviour.

When pointed to behaviours that disadvantage women disproportionately, you don’t balk at the use of the word misogynist — that sort of objection ignores the grievous crime against women, acting as though the crime of poor language (if it is even poor language) supercedes or is more important than the misogynist behaviour at hand.

When shown behaviours that are damaging to women, acting like your objections to the side points are more important than the objections to the behaviour itself is demonstrably unskeptical. Sometimes, pulling out the side concerns and discussing them is warranted (and usually more productive if done in isolation from the main concerns), but often, when taking the microphone on a topic for which someone has opened their private property to the public as a forum is seen — and rightly so — as derailing tactics, as a way to get everyone to stop talking about the really bad thing that the host really wanted to discuss. Derailment is unskeptical — it is avoiding the original topic because you, personally, and your personal biases, couldn’t handle that topic to begin with.

Or let’s say you’re assuming that the gender roles as enculturated into you by society are just fine and don’t need to change, that they can’t possibly be causing any of the problems we face in society where men are expected to be breadwinners and warriors and women are expected to be homemakers and baby factories; that boys like blue and girls like pink; that boys can play with LEGO and the regular plain old minifigs and girls need minifigs that look like dolls and LEGO blocks that are pastel colored. Those ideas are implanted into your psyche through long years of enculturation. If a feminist challenges these ideas, it is grossly unskeptical to not hear hir out. And it’s especially unskeptical to, rather than hearing hir out and examining the evidence for yourself, merely suggest that they have not done so then call it a day. Your work is not complete by merely calling someone unskeptical. If it was, we wouldn’t have a skeptics movement.

I don’t even need to get into how unskeptical it is to march into a conversation with a person who self-identifies by a single label and assume that they must, de facto, believe any number of things outside of the core tenet of that philosophy. To walk up to any feminist on Freethought Blogs and assume you must be talking to a clone of Andrea Dworkin is probably on par with marching up to a random theist and assuming they believe in the Abrahamic god and transsubstantiation and the inerrancy of the King James version of the Bible. You don’t know any of those things from the single fact that they believe there is one or more divine entities in this cosmos. You don’t know that we share any of Dworkin’s beliefs by our self-identification as feminists. You don’t know that we share all of, say, Christopher Hitchens’ ideals by knowing that we’re atheists. You don’t know that we share all of, say, DJ Grothe’s perspective, or priorities, by knowing that we’re skeptics.

You don’t know terribly much, in point of fact, about any person by looking at only one label with which they self-identify. Taking those labels in aggregate, you can find out a lot more about them. Knowing that a person is feminist means you know they are more likely to believe certain things, but does not mean you know for certain that they do. If you’re confused about this, try asking us. It’s the surest way to learn whether a given feminist is skeptical or not.

Don’t try this with ninjas though. If you happen to offend one of the awesome ones, you might get your head exploded by a super ninja uppercut.

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Is feminism skeptical? (or: are ninjas awesome?)
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172 thoughts on “Is feminism skeptical? (or: are ninjas awesome?)

  1. 101

    Additionally, the high tail in men on IQ tests hasn’t been demonstrated empirically. Despite that, some theorists (also the theorists doing racist IQ research) insist that there must be a high tail because a low tail has been measured. The researchers attribute the low tail to learning disabilities.

    If such a tail exists, it’s likely a statistical anomaly based on the fact that the tests are gender balanced. That is, the tests are designed not to demonstrate differences in gender. Assuming equal normal distributions of male and female IQs, and effects on test-taking of learning disabilities, you end up with a male IQ distribution that is spread out and slightly shifted to the low side. Because the test must be balanced, a pro-male bias must be introduced to compensate for the lowered mean. That, in and of itself, could produce a longer high tail for men than women have. All without changing the underlying equal distributions, just the tests.

  2. 104

    Considering your IP address has changed a great number of times already, I’m well aware you know how to use a proxy, Chris. You’ve just left us enough breadcrumbs to piece together who you are and correlate your actions with a large number of other sockpuppets elsewhere on FtB. And Skepchick, too, now that we have a Skepchick expat in our midst to correlate that bit of info.

    You have a hatred for feminism, and you’ve got cognitive biases out the wazoo, and you think that your research into your own issues gives you a unique perspective with which to smite all those delusional wimminz. Seriously, give your overzealous hyperskepticism a rest. This can’t be good for your stress levels. Just let women exist, and be treated with human dignity.

  3. 105

    Yeah, um, “schizotypy” runs into exactly the same problems as a construct that “psychoticism” does. And you still haven’t addressed the problems of measuring creativity. Those who have found links to actual mental illness, which includes depression, diagnosed more frequently in women.

    Perhaps you should take a step back and think through what you think you’ve got to say based on the evidence here. Right now, you’re just throwing out a self-contradictory (but nonetheless self-congratulatory) muddle. Really, as someone who has spent time on psychology research methods and design, I can tell you that you and your argument are a mess.

  4. 107

    See, there you go again, Chris. First you present a bunch of studies that rely on NHST, then you decide it means nothing as soon as someone presents studies you don’t like. Can’t you even see how that undermines everything you’ve had to say? You’re all but coming straight out and saying, “It’s only valid if it supports my idea.”

  5. 109

    The relevance of the racist IQ theorists is that they already have a long trail of bad design and sloppy reasoning. It doesn’t invalidate anything they say, but it does provide evidence that you should look at their statements closely and critically before basing any argument on them.

  6. 112

    You know, I’m kind of happy to let this thread sit exactly where it is. I think Chris has shown every card he has in his argument at this point, and I think objective observers have a good enough idea exactly what he’s arguing and where the flaws might be in his reasoning. And I think, on rereading the entire thread, there’s honestly precious little he could do to better his case short of becoming more and more abusive of his hosts.

    That’s not to say I’m going to shut it down, but to you, dear readers, if you folks honestly think there’s going to be any exciting revelations from this point on, I hope you’re as surprised as I am if/when it actually happens.

  7. 114

    I’d ask you where the hypocrisy was, considering you’re still free to continue to abuse me, but you’d probably just make up some more nonsense about how I’m claiming expertise that I definitely did not.

    Your past exploits are very relevant, Chris. They’re part of pattern recognition. They explain a good deal about your motivations for posting, and the cognitive biases you have.

  8. 122

    a) I didn’t sell your information.

    b) My sidebar says:

    I reserve the right to publish any contact, especially if it’s hateful or ridiculous.

    c) You pointed me to information showing that you were the same person as who was spamming PZ’s blog. Your information was already public.

  9. 125

    You need citations for the fact that schizotypy and psychoticism are both multi-factor constructs, with the factors having different relationships to gender and creativity? Really? Some expert.

  10. 128

    So tell them that you pointed me to evidence that you posted using your real name in one of hundreds of spam comments aimed at another blog, and I put two and two together using that publically accessible knowledge. I’d strongly recommend you make your next contact from your lawyer, rather than on this forum.

  11. 132

    You posted as Chris at Pharyngula here at Freethought Blogs. Thousands of witnesses. Your IP and email address which were used for the attack were posted after PZ cleaned up your hundreds of spam posts.

  12. 136

    At this point, I note that you have not engaged your lawyer. Your options, that I’m giving you here, are:

    1) I delete the content of every post by you, including under other names in the past in past threads where I know they were done by you (e.g. Pisstoff vdH), and I delete every reference to your LAST NAME ONLY; I also put you into moderation under every of the multiple proxies that you’ve sent messages to me through, and every email address you’ve sent messages to me through, to enforce that you never contact me again, knowing full well that you could continue to circumvent it with your Mad Proxy Skillz.

    2) You realize that YOU BROKE YOUR OWN PRIVACY, and BROKE THE LAW MULTIPLE TIMES, own up to that fact, and move along before the Streissand Effect hurts you too badly. You can even continue your discussion with Stephanie at that point if it’s really important to you, since you seem to be getting thoroughly drubbed and I’d like to see that continue.

  13. 139

    The saddest thing about this whole mess is that Jason’s original post is really very good, yet the majority of the comments have nothing to do with that post.

    True, but I almost don’t think you could have asked for a better living, breathing example to drive the post’s point home, really…

  14. 142

    I don’t even need to get into how unskeptical it is to march into a conversation with a person who self-identifies by a single label and assume that they must, de facto, believe any number of things outside of the core tenet of that philosophy.

    Followed by:

    Here is a fact I’d like to evaluate from two different perspectives, as a feminist:

    “Men score higher than women on inventories of psychoticism / schizotypy.”

    Evaluate it with this in mind first: “This makes men more likely to be delinquent losers, or simply insane.”

    Now evaluate it with this in mind: “The link between psychoticism and creativity is well-attested and so this also means that nearly all geniuses are men.”

    From which angle do you think a feminist is most likely to accept this fact?

  15. 143

    Just dump the spammer, Jason. He’s arguing in bad faith, he’s trying to play silly legal games, and he’s an asshole. Pretty soon he’s going to start posting German song lyrics so he can prove he’s an asshole.

  16. 148

    He picked option one, but not in so many words. I am proceeding apace with deleting his posts. I apologize to anyone who was following this thread, that I allowed him to spam us for as long as I did. I have an absurd tendency of feeding trolls when I should, really, just moderate from the get-go. Too bad I believe too much in free speech, and Chris opted to go with “burn his words to the ground” rather than continuing dialog.

  17. 149

    Mmmmmmm… Tasty libel…

    This was an excellent post, and it IS too damn bad that it had to be sidetracked by spam and bullshit. That you were as patient with the guy as you were is only admirable in my eyes, for everyone knows patience is a clear sign that you are dealing with a TRUE ninja.

  18. 150

    Chris, if the information Jason has “released” is inaccurate, than how can he be in violation of these terms of service that you imagine apply here?

    When you trolled my blog, I deleted all of the shit you wrote (I think … did I leave anything? Let me know, I’ll go and delete that too). “Releasing” information about you is not a violation of terms of service, it is rather a service to humanity.

    Personally, I hope Jason scrubs you into oblivion, though if he does, I would feel sorry for oblivion.

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