Sorry I’ve been mostly absent from the blogohedron these past few days. I’m actually hard at work on a WordPress plugin to allow for ad-free subscriptions, and over the past several days, I’ve been pouring my (sadly, waning) blogosphere time into that plugin instead of blogging. (Why my blogosphere time is waning, however, is a different story — one I may even get to tell you about shortly. For right now, suffice it to say I’m doing my damnedest to keep a bunch of plates spinning, and some things need more attention right now.)
In lieu of my writing anything of my own, I will gladly link to people who’ve written things I wholeheartedly agree with. Over at Love Joy Feminism, FtB Expat Libby-Anne has written a bang-up post on the difference between “equity feminism” and “gender feminism”, and she hit on a meme I can honestly say I actively desire to have propagated — equity feminism could be better described as “libertarian feminism.”
I’ve noticed something as I’ve watched the conflict over feminism play out in the atheist blogosphere. Rather than “equity feminism” I would call it “difference feminism” or maybe “libertarian feminism.” I don’t really have a good label for exactly what’s going on, but vjack is right that there are some people in the skeptic community who reject the feminist focus on questioning and challenging gender roles. Here is an example from prominent skeptic Harriet Hall:
I think it is unreasonable to expect that equal numbers of men and women will be attracted to every sphere of human endeavor. Science has shown that real differences exist. We should level the playing field and ensure there are no preventable obstacles, then let the chips fall where they may.
Kuhle made this same argument in his article when he argued that there are natural differences between men and women and derided the idea that gender roles are socially constructed. Kuhle’s line of reasoning is why some people argue that it’s only natural that the vast majority of engineers are men and that the the fast majority of stay at home parents are women. Men are just better at spacial reasoning, after all, and women are perfectly evolved to care for children! Based on this same sort of argument, Michael Shermer responded to a question last summer about why speakers at atheist conferences generally tilt male by saying that
it’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it, you know, it’s more of a guy thing.
It’s hard to tell when going of fairly short statements made in blog posts or comments, but the idea seems to be that if you ensure that there is equality before the law, it shouldn’t matter that men dominate in STEM fields and in leadership positions, or that that women find themselves doing the majority of the childcare. We shouldn’t bat an eye or ask why – instead, we should just accept this situation as natural and inevitable because men and women are different.
She ably deconstructs the whole argument as one of language, which I’ve argued myself in the past. It’s as though people are intentionally confusing language to prolong a conflict that, one would think, should not go on as long as it has before people come to an amicable agreement that certain behaviours are counterproductive or antisocial — it’s only gone on as long as it has because people want to avoid facing the consequences of certain behaviours and are using language as the most readily-available baffle for conversation. And their goal in doing so, as far as I can tell, is to forestall any actual societal change necessary to achieve a more perfect equality. This is entirely in keeping with the libertarian ideals of letting the “free market” continue to advantage those that it advantages. And it smacks heavily of a cargo-cult mentality — the libertarians subscribing to this “equity feminism” like the ideas of equality that feminism seeks to achieve, and are envious of the positive social aspects of feminism that have led to real change even where “feminist” has long since been converted into a slur by right-wingers and antifeminists. So, they build entire constructions in order to co-opt whatever positive parts of the movement they can absorb while simultaneously trying to cut down the existing feminism that has achieved those goals. It’s building the trappings of feminism without any of the infrastructure and expecting that’s enough.
There’s one minor point I might quibble with, but otherwise still largely agree:
Furthermore, I do think we need to be careful when we accuse those who disagree with us of being sexists and misogynists. This is partly because we risk applying these labels unfairly (and in doing so watering them down) and partly because doing so risks closing down conversation rather than opening it up.
I’ve made the same argument in the past, that one should be careful about calling people “sexist” or “misogynist”. However, at the same time, I’ve come to learn that if you say “that thing you said was sexist”, even if it is empirically so (as was the case with Michael Shermer’s inelegant phrasing she quoted earlier), that person may still react as though you’ve called them a sexist. If I were to suggest a name for this phenomenon, I’d call it the Smooth Principle. Identifying a behaviour is often enough to make the person go full whargarbl with “witch-hunts” and “feminazis”. As a result, no matter how hard you try to be careful about not unjustly name-calling, the narrative is already set. If you criticize a person’s behaviour, there’s already a ready-made outrage engine primed and waiting for them to engage in their defense.