Heather is here for YOU!

Since a lot of people seem to be asking about this, I think I should explain why I sometimes feature my partner Heather and her videos on our channel. Many seem to think that this is just something I grudgingly indulge out of a sense of obligation. In reality, I’ve actually had to convince her to do this. She usually doesn’t want to do videos, because she thinks they aren’t good enough.

But I want her here, because she covers an area that I’ve often neglected: the explicit discussion of feminism. And quite simply, she’s better at it. To me, it’s like watching videos by QualiaSoup or AronRa – I look at her work and I think, I wish I were that insightful. Fortunately, we live together, so why shouldn’t we work together on this?

I find it really interesting that when I have featured various feminist ideas in my videos, hardly anyone has a problem with this. I suspect it’s because I’ve rarely used the word “feminism” itself – a term with an almost magical ability to turn people’s brains off. As soon as you say you’re a feminist, out come the standard array of reflex responses: “you’re ugly”, “you’re a bitch”, “you just hate men”, “why don’t you support everyone’s rights?”, “what about the men?”, “but men and women are different!”, “women are already equal!” – the sort of thing that most of us already have the good sense not to say about LGBT rights, atheist activism, and other issues I regularly discuss.

Somehow, this topic alone has managed to enrage more people than when I’ve recommended boycotting the Salvation Army, told preteens it’s okay to be gay because there is no God, suggested that transgender people shouldn’t have to tell anyone they’re trans before sleeping with them, and drawn Muhammad and then eaten the drawing. Apparently it’s much worse to call yourself a feminist and say that gender roles are mostly arbitrary, often restrictive, and usually disadvantage women. If that’s really the worst thing you’ve ever heard on this channel, then I’m pretty proud of Heather for accomplishing something that even I couldn’t do.

And as long as this is how people react to any mention of feminism, this tells me that more coverage of feminism is exactly what we need. We need more open discussion of what feminism actually is, why feminism is a necessary movement, why the issues addressed by feminism are important, and why being a feminist is nothing to be ashamed of. If this isn’t something you want to hear about, well, that’s your loss. But as always, we do hope that some people will at least make an effort to listen and understand. We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t think it mattered.

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Heather is here for YOU!
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17 thoughts on “Heather is here for YOU!

  1. 1

    Copying my YT comment again.

    I AM a feminist! I still found her positions indefensible! I am not being irrational, she made an unfounded falsifiable claim. I will rightly point that out and oppose her position.

    Added: She also made an argument based on anecdotal evidence to try and stereotype transpeople. I understand it wasn’t important to the point she was trying to make, but it’s something you, Zinnia, wouldn’t have done. We liked you for your rationality, even on the most sensitive and feminist issues.

    1. 1.1

      Beanybag, your claims are so falsifiable it’s laughable and hardly worth even addressing. The idea that women are feminine because they’re women and men are masculine because they’re men goes to pieces with even just one counterexample of a feminine man or masculine woman. Since they’re, well, everywhere, I think it’s time to put that old fairytale to bed, don’t you?

      Not all men who exhibit feminine traits or women who exhibit masculine traits can so easily be swept under the rug with the assertion that they’re gender deviant or otherwise improperly developed. Most characteristics that are considered feminine have masculine counterparts and likewise. The same behavior that is called “protective” when applied to men is called “maternal” when applied to women. “Nurturing” and “nesting” on women is “bonding” and “building a radical mancave” on men. We’re all doing the same things and frankly you’ve been hoodwinked into thinking they’re different.

      So look around you, read a thing or two, re-evaluate your definition of “rational” and come back to talk with the grownups.

      1. Thank you, I’m glad you think my ideas are laughable and hardly worth addressing, that’s very respectful of you. I also appreciate being called childish. I appreciate not being seen as an equal.

        It doesn’t go to pieces, there could most certainly be gender-based behavior that is influenced by psychology, even if it’s only probability based. Hormones certainly have an impact on our behavior. It’s not useful, I oppose gender roles unilaterally, but to say that all parts of a gender role are artificial is a claim I feel is unjustified. I don’t think we should think any less of people who don’t conform to gender roles since no one can conform completely. Deviates have no reason to be hated if they’re not doing anything harmful. I’m telling you, I am a feminist! I just think you cold be more rational and level-headed in your approach.

        In summary – yes, we’re all capable of just the same behavior and no behavior is necessarily ‘feminine’ or ‘masuline’. But certainly male gendered people are more prone to biologically masculine behavior probabilistically and this provides a biological/evolutionary grounding for many of our gender roles. Does that mean we should create expectations from those? No. Does it mean we should be X-phobic of those who deviate? No.

        1. Not all ideas are equal. You’re on an atheist blog network.

          The problem with saying that men exhibit masculine behavior is that once people actually start attempting to define it, it’s either obviously and demonstrably a product of socialization (men don’t cry in public! – oh wait aren’t they told that they’re women if they do?) or, when investigated closely, resembles exactly something that has an exact “feminine” counterpart (men like to barbecue, women like to bake, men like to bond with the guys, women like to hang out with their girlfriends) and then once you remove the gendered language they become completely indistinguishable from one another (men like to make food, women like to make food, men like to spend time with same-gendered social groups, women like to spend time with same-gendered social groups). Studies demonstrating the same activities performed by men and women – and by same I mean scripted and choreographed to be the same – are interpreted as being masculine or feminine respectively simply because of who said it. A man giving a presentation and laughing at his own joke is amusing and self-deprecating, a woman giving the same presentation and laughing at her own jokes is insecure and bitchy. Women going shopping are “gathering” supplies for the home. Men going shopping are “hunting” for their families.

          Even basic biological impulses aren’t so easily divided among genders. Men don’t always want to fuck women. Women don’t always want to be pregnant.

          And yet when people don’t conform to your ideas of masculine and feminine, however impossible to define, you conveniently slough all counterexamples into a “gender deviant” pile so you don’t have to acknowledge them. You’ve developed your very own unfalsifiable hypothesis. Women are feminine because women and when they’re not, they’re gender deviant. Therefore, you never have to acknowledge reality. That’s unscientific, irrational, and again, hardly worth acknowledging.

          1. Hmm, interesting. I suppose the behavior is not gender-based then, but is simply better described as phyiological? I reject most of the examples you gave, I only mean the most basic ones that are caused by hormones – biologically, men have higher testosterone and women have higher estrogen and these influence our behavior – testosterone causing more aggression and estrogen causes stronger emotions (to be over simplistic). But, if this isn’t best described by gender but by the hormones itself, then it wouldn’t make sense to label is ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, even if they largely correlate and are even caused largely by biological sex. I’ll give your ideas some more consideration.

            I would still appreciate it if you wouldn’t make assumptions about me. I identify as genderqueer myself and don’t know what gender I really fit into. I’m not entirely sure gender exists. But I thought the existence of these hormones could be grounds for an objective basis for gender norms. I know most of them are pretty crock, but I thought some might have a grain of truth. Is that so unreasonable to wonder? I can’t really say without fully sufficient research.

  2. 2

    I (male–was that a secret?) changed more diapers, did more feedings, read more stories, fixed more nightmares… Cuttlespouse (female–another secret?) doesn’t like babies, so it worked out just fine. She (Cuttlespouse) is quite feminine, and I am the Cuttlefish equivalent of masculine. No, really.

    You want to get between me and my babies? Good luck, cos you’ll need it. I am a very feminine man–or perhaps an androgynous one, if you want to advance your world view to a few decades ago. So the fuck what?

    As I have said so many times, in so many situations… I pity those who look at spectrums and see black and white.

  3. 3

    Zinnia and Heather,

    Neither of you, of course, are obligated to respond to the comments made on the video embedded within this post. But I was really struck by the fact that the vast majority of the negative comments weren’t the usual “bitch, cunt, slut, etc.” but rather common misuderstandings of feminism that could be pretty easily dismissed with a good video (like the ones you make). In particular, validating the people who complain that there are ways in which women are privileged above men by saying that yes, because of sexism, and totally within the realm of feminist analysis, there do end up being situations in which it looks like women get the better end of the deal, even though, overall, those gendered splits tend not to favor women and to be based on sexist assumptions. And furthermore, that feminism would ask that we *do* end those unfair situations, since patriarchy hurts everybody.

    I feel like there’s a really good opportunity here to show people that, as bell hooks said, feminism is for everybody. What do you think? Did that all make sense?

    1. 3.1

      And maybe that video or another one could have links and descriptions of all the science which shows the malleability of gender roles, but also the parts that are somewhat biologically determined? To placate all the people who want more facts instead of just theory (though, I love the theory).

      1. Forgive me if I’m butting in here, but I thought ‘Delusions of Gender’ by Cordelia Fine was a pretty good book, both in content, and in it’s enjoyability. Plus, she did a pretty good job of tearing down a lot of the claims made by authors like Gray (of the Mars/Venus bullshit fame) and Brizendine (of ‘The Male Brain’/’The Female Brain’ (with the oh-so-cute covers that featured brain-shaped tangles of (respectively) duct-tape and phone cords).

        More recently, I read ‘Between XX and XY: intersexuality and the myth of two sexes’ by Gerald Callahan. pretty good, but less talk about differences twixt sexes, and more about the biological processes involved in determining the sex of an individual, and the vast amount of deviation from the over-simplified binary-sex model portrayed as absolute by modern society (and why it isn’t absolute, and may not have always been that way).

        But I think that Fine’s book is better for arguing against this more recent backlash against feminism.

        1. For what it’s worth, I second the recommendation of Delusions of Gender. In case anyone would like to get an idea of what Fine is about before checking out her book, she did an interview for CBC Radio’s Ideas; the full episode can be heard here.

          Which is not to imply that I would object to Heather or Zinnia weighing in on the science purporting to support gendered behaviours and roles – the more it’s challenged and discussed, the better!

          I’ve really appreciated the point of view you both have brought to FTB. More Heather if she’s willing, please. 🙂

  4. 4

    Much of how men have acted in the past was an attempt to fit in with how their particular culture told them men were supposed to act. Much of how women have acted in the past was an attempt to fit in with how their particular culture told them women were supposed to act. Much of what women and men looked for in mates in the past have been what their particular culture told them to look for. The ideals of the past inform the current culture, and the pattern continues. That is all of what masculinity is. That is all of what femininity is. I don’t really see how any of that could qualify as objective.

    1. 4.1

      A friend posted this on FB last week, and it’s a very graphic illustration of how quickly cultural gender norms can change. Link: http://artofmanliness.com/2012/07/29/bosom-buddies-a-photo-history-of-male-affection/

      Briefly, it shows through photographs how much physical intimacy between male friends disappeared by the early-to-mid 20th century. Even with an intellectual knowledge of how cultural standards change (e.g. ‘boys-don’t-cry’ was apparently a Victorian invention, the historical novelist Patrick O’Brian has one of his characters, a Navy Captain, weep for joy) I still found it suprising to see such stark evidence of how relatively recently our culture underwent such a change.

      1. That’s amusing. My cousin recently complained to me that I’ve become too Americanized, by which he meant I’ve become too reluctant to show affection to other men, and he’s absolutely accurate in that. The American obsession with not looking gay was one of nastier bits of culture shock I ran into, and the ease of affection is one of the few things I miss from Saudi Arabia.

  5. 5

    I am a feminist in that I think that women and men should have the same rights and opportunities.

    This does not commit me to the view that the obvious differences between men and women are mainly cultural in origin. I could be a hard-core genetic determinist about sex-trait differences, but still be a feminist.

    One (of many) reason the word ‘feminist’ gets people going is because they have heard too many silly things from the radical social constructionist branch of feminism. This doesn’t go over well among skeptics, who tend to take science as the measure of what is reasonable, and do not take the results of science to be the result of capricious social forces.

    Biologically speaking, there are limits to the plasticity of phenotypes. Give me a cat zygote. No matter how I raise it, it will never speak English. It will never understand calculus.

    Similarly, no matter how much my friend’s parents tried to make him (born XX) act like a girl, it never felt natural, even when they forced him to take female hormones so as to stop growing facial hair and start getting his period.

    We don’t need to think that gender is a social construction to see the tragedy there. Things are more complicated than ‘alpha male’ versus ‘submissive female’, and we all know that, but it would be a mistake to link, as a kind of necessary truth, belief in social constructionism with feminism. As, among the reasonable, that would sign the death certificate of feminism.

    Sorry I’m sure this is a bit off topic, first time seeing this blog….very interesting topic I used to think about much more…

    1. 5.1

      Next time you decide to opine on a controversial subject, I suggest you get your reading up to date.

      Which feminists, precisely, deny that there are biological differences between males and females, that there is a biological basis for gender identity?

      What is it about feminism that leads people to believe that it’s okay to toss off your uninformed opinion about the subject without bothering to check whether your impression of it is 30 years out of date, or informed mostly by lies spread about its opponents?

      Hmmm. I wonder.

      1. Sally: You have read things into my post that aren’t there. What claims, explicitly, are you disagreeing with?

        On social construction of gender–
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_construction_of_gender_difference
        http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-gender/

        Whether such views are “30 years old” as you say (which, in fact, they are not), that doesn’t mean they aren’t still extremely prevalent (they are), and it especially doesn’t mean people on the right aren’t still reacting to such views and incorrectly taking them as somehow representative of feminism.

        Indeed, one of my points is that feminists in the skeptical community (this includes me) are in a unique place to dispel the myths about what feminism is, and combat the postmodernist/social constructionist/anti science threads that are quite real within feminism, and the very real attacks on straw feminism.

        My main point was that feminism is much simpler, and less ideologically loaded, than people often assume (in my first sentence I defined what I take to be the minimal conceptual kernel of feminism). Even to the point where I could be a hard-core genetic determinist evolutionary psychologist wacko but still be a feminist.

        I am not sure if Sally’s response is representative of the type of response people get to good-faith attempts to engage in a discussion. If it is, I see another reason why people would get annoyed when the topic comes up, and how it could easily descend into a flame war.

        1. Indeed, one of my points is that feminists in the skeptical community (this includes me) are in a unique place to dispel the myths about what feminism is, and combat the postmodernist/social constructionist/anti science threads that are quite real within feminism, and the very real attacks on straw feminism.

          I like when people disagree with me by appealing to their own authority. It’s especially amusing when they appeal to their own authority as skeptics. And let’s make something very clear: Just because an evolutionary psychologist said something doesn’t mean science said it, and just because somebody disagreed with the evolutionary psychologist doesn’t mean they are anti-science. Scientists are every bit as prone to social prejudice as anyone else and when they fail to control for that, they are just as deserving as anyone else of criticism. Failing to apply skepticism or criticize them because they have employed science is not only a failure to understand the very purpose of science, but a failure to participate in a crucial part of the process.

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