Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

God damn it, smile!

Sep 16th, 2011 12:11 pm | By

Ah, perfect. Woman is out in the world on a bright sunny day, at the wheel of her car, and a guy in a van shouts out his window at her -


With that one word my amiable Sunday-morning state of mind was
lost in a mushroom cloud of stranger-hate. What crime did I commit to warrant
attention from such a dolt (story of my life)? I was squinting in the sun.

See? See? See? This is what I’m saying. It’s exactly what I’m saying. I was just walking up the street, mind elsewhere, as one does, and as one is allowed to do, and some total stranger shouted at me for not smiling.

I am so pleased to find that I’m not alone in not liking strangers telling me how to arrange my face.

I know I’m not the only woman who has experienced the “Smile!”
phenomenon. Mention such an incident to any woman on the planet and prepare for a stream of obscenity-laden anecdotes and suggestive hand gestures.

In the top ten of female peeves it’s right at the top. I’d rather hear a frat boy scream, “show me your tits” than have one more middle-aged nincompoop command I say cheese in precisely the same spirit of “fun” that a movie cowboy pulls out a gun and tells the town drunk to dance.

(To be fair, I already knew I wasn’t alone in not liking strangers telling me how to arrange my face, not least via comments on that post. But it’s pleasing to see it treated as common knowledge.)

Weirdly, I’ve noticed these hyper-concerned male citizens aren’t exactly smiling when they offer up their unsolicited advice. In fact, they look pretty serious about their desire to see the world’s female population walk around with a goofy grin pasted on their faces.

Precisely. Angry neighbor guy was savage with his  unsolicited advice.

I can’t help but wonder if it’s that desire to see every woman behave as if she were ready, willing and able that’s behind the old “Smile” edict. I also think that the kind of man who yells it out is labouring under the impression that it’s a woman’s job to try and look pretty at all times and when she doesn’t he sees it as his civic duty to apply the corrective.

H/t Benjamin Nelson.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Record numbers of women are living in poverty

Sep 15th, 2011 5:26 pm | By

Tom Martin please note. (Not that he will.)

When the U.S. Census Bureau released the latest poverty statistics this week, the news was predictably bleak—or at least the news that people were given. But there was a little something the major media omitted from their coverage.

That minor detail? Half the population.

The larger half.

And when it comes to the latest economic data on women, the news is even worse than most people seem to realize. But you couldn’t learn that by reading The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, neither of which even mentioned women in their front-page stories about the rise in the poverty rate, which has soared to its highest level since 1993.

Yes but what about the menz?

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Even more dialogue with William Hamby

Sep 15th, 2011 4:08 pm | By

September 15: I somehow overlooked Bill’s last entry so here it is now, six days after it was written.

September 5 or whatever it was: We had an interesting discussion over the past couple of days about atheism and feminism and how to reach the mainstream, so I invited him to do a dialogue here. OB

William Hamby

Ophelia, you’ve brought up something that’s been near and dear to me, but which I’ve kept largely under my hat for a couple of years now. What you called your “branch of the movement” – the nerdy bloggy type – is the branch most directly responsible for the entirety of the movement so far. The iconoclasts, scientists, coffee house philosophy geeks, Aspies (Asperger syndrome, as you know, is linked to atheism,) etc… They were the ones who didn’t give a shit what society thought because they had already shunned many of the “trappings” of culture in the first place. So it wasn’t a big thing for them to flaunt their big brains and tell everybody they were atheists.

Maybe I’m over-simplifying, or stereotyping, or committing some other philosophical sin. But the point remains strong. It was not American Idol fans that started the atheist movement.

I maintain, however, that we need American idol fans to grow the movement. After a while, we simply run out of scientists and blogger nerds. We wouldn’t be outliers if there were millions of us. And at some point, a movement – no matter how compelling – simply reaches a dead end if it doesn’t have mass appeal.

When I wrote recently about my (admittedly quasi-scientific) observation of atheist female friends’ wall posts, what I was really doing was scratching the surface of a bigger issue. Sure, I wanted to get at what the “average atheist woman” was talking about because there’s a lack of women involved in the atheist movement. But I believe what we really want – need – is simply more people. The current discussions about women in the movement are microcosms of what we should be discussing on a large scale.

When Blair Scott did his direct survey of 198 women a while back, his findings were… hmm… how to say this… stereotypical. To quote him:

“I asked, “Do you think the Freethought community is a “men’s club?” Seven
percent answered “yes”. I asked them why they thought it was a “men’s club.”

Here [is a] typical answer.

Allison: “I often try to avoid conversations that demand constant logic proofs and arguments. It’s not that they can’t be entertaining, but for me and most women I know, it’s not a bonding activity or something that most women I know do for fun. Perhaps it is a basic difference between how the sexes operate, but just the style of communication in a heavily male-dominated group can alienate a woman just by style: not content.”

I think there’s a certain social science imperative to examine the atheist movement in painful detail and focus on growth. I’m just a white male atheist, but I’d give up the “male activity” of ever again pointing out an appeal to authority or a tu quoque if it meant we’d get not only more women in the movement, but more people in general whose days are not passed constructing syllogisms. The Republicans have one thing fantastically right – they don’t care a whit what their constituents talk about as long as they vote Republican. I wonder if the atheist movement sometimes focuses too much on rhetorical perfection and misses the proverbial forest for the trees.

My article drew mixed responses – from enthusiastic support to accusations of blatant misogyny and sexism. We men and women are arguing amongst ourselves about who has the high road. Who’s the more oppressed. Who’s being a jerk. There are much better targets of our ire than each other. (Rick Perry?) Yet, we’re penning long diatribes like this one when we feel like we’ve been attacked unjustly for trying to do something to help. And then we get chided for not having thick skin. And then we chide back… ad nauseam…

And at the end of the day, we’re still just a bunch of nerdy bloggers, and by all accounts… most people are just not interested in what we’re arguing about. I think a lot of pain and anguish could be saved if we did empirical research instead of playing hunches off our own pet topics. You know, target the people we want, and market to them the same way that Coke and Major League Baseball and Sex and the City market to their target demographics. And when it comes to attracting anyone to the movement, be it women, or teens, or the local Plumber’s Union, I think in these terrifying political and economic times, the best thing we can do is spend as much time listening – empirically – to everyone who is not yet part of our movement, and figuring out how to draw them in.

Even if we don’t get to talk about syllogisms.

Ophelia Benson

But what do you mean by “grow the movement,” Bill? It seems to me we already have American Idol fans, inevitably, because the movement is growing, in the sense that there are more self-declared atheists and more people who don’t feel they have to hide their atheism. Not all atheists are going to consider themselves part of a movement, to say the least. That’s one of the many good things about making atheism more normal and mainstream: it will become something people just are, without having to make a song and dance about it. That’s already how it is in Europe, Canada, Australia, and other such fortunate places. Movement atheists often seem crazy to people in the UK.

Most atheists are always going to be people who are more interested in other things, so it seems inevitable that the people who run whatever movement there is will be nerdy outliers. The people who are interested enough are the people who are interested enough. Who else would do it?

Maybe you’re saying the nerdy movement types repel the mainstream types…but even if they (or we) do, will that mean fewer people will actually be atheists? Or will it just mean that fewer people will be atheist bloggers or the like. The latter might be true, but does it matter?

Republicans are brilliant at getting people to vote for them, that’s true, but then atheism isn’t a political party, so I’m not sure why that’s relevant. It would seem odd to say the atheist movement doesn’t care a whit what atheists talk about as long as they vote atheist. Atheism isn’t a political party and the atheist movement isn’t a political movement in the electoral sense. The reality is that the atheist movement does care what atheists talk about, because that’s all there is to the movement. It’s fundamentally an epistemological movement, not a political one. It just wouldn’t make sense to decide to stop talking about how we know what we know and whether we do know what we think we know, in order to attract more people who would rather gossip.

So I can’t really agree with you that we should market atheism the way Coke markets Coke, if only because atheism doesn’t taste good or give you a tiny hit of cocaine. But maybe I’m just misunderstanding what you mean by growing the movement.

William Hamby

What do I mean by “grow the movement?”

Ultimately, I think the purpose of any equality movement is to grow to the point of obsolescence.  The “founders” of the atheist movement may or may not have purposefully set out to start an equality movement, but that’s what we have on our hands now.  We want equality under the law, to be sure, but more than that, we want to be accepted and embraced by society at large.  We don’t want to have to hide our Facebook updates from our families and bosses.  We don’t want to have to endure thousands of death threats when we protest being discriminated against.  We want real equality.

Certainly, every individual atheist is not required to participate in the equality movement.  I suppose that’s half the point.  Even so, I do think there’s a “lead, follow, or get out of the way” ethic to the whole thing.  That’s where growth comes into the picture.  Psychology informs us that friendship is one of the most effective cures for bigotry. If we follow this to its logical conclusion, we realize that an effective — maybe the most effective — path to equality is for most Americans to have atheist friends.

Here’s where the whole thing resembles a snake eating its own tail, though.  Philosophically, we affirm that we just want to live and let live.  That attitude extends to our fellow atheists.  If they don’t want to be activists, they don’t have to be activists.  Only… we kind of need them to be activists, because our opponents in the equality fight are extremely well organized and funded, and they own popular media.  It can be argued that those who do not at least publicly identify as non-believers are contributing to the bigotry.

This is what I meant when I said that we can sometimes get lost in “proper philosophy” to the point of missing the point.  The atheist movement is not just a philosophical movement.  This, I think, is the foundation of my basic disagreement with your response.  Because of the existence of “The Family” and other Christian political groups in power, it’s also a political movement.  Because religion is a force for oppression of women, the atheist movement is a feminist movement.  Because Christianity is almost always contracted during childhood, the atheist movement is a “save the children” movement.  There are real-world consequences to not achieving political and social goals, and whether we like it or not, each of us bears a portion of the moral responsibility for failure.

I find your statement about the absence of an “atheist party” curious.  There is also not a “feminist party,” but was not Obama’s “Birth Control Mandate” a win for feminists?  Like any equality movement, the ultimate goal is not to have an “equality party.”  The goal is not to need one.  However, in the interim, political affiliations are not just advantageous.  They are indispensable.  In America, we only have two choices, and the Democratic Party is the one that is not consciously and blatantly allied with religious extremism.

Mainstream appeal requires mainstream membership.  Mainstream membership is the first sign of impending obsolescence for an equality movement.  And more importantly, mainstream membership is necessary to bring any secular political goals to the Democratic Party Podium.  I recognize that not all atheists agree with me on this.  We have our Libertarians, our Greens, and so forth.  Unfortunately, that just reinforces my point.  The next president is going to come from either the Democratic or Republican party.  That’s just a fact.  And until one party represents the wishes of a secular constituency, we don’t have enough secular constituents.  We won’t have that many secular constituents until we figure out how to sell secularism to the mainstream.

The good news, I think, is that there are plenty of people in America who don’t really give much thought to religion or atheism.  The bad news is they show absolutely no signs of getting together with us on any kind of progressive socio-political reform.  And I would argue that without socio-political reform, the secularization of America is just a pipe dream.  Maybe it can be done with a few dozen bloggers and a couple thousand donors to American Atheists, but I can’t imagine how.

It seems to me that you are advocating a “stay the course” kind of approach.  Am I understanding you correctly?  We’ve got our conventions, and they’re growing.  We have a few bloggers who get ten thousand hits a day.  We get a blurb on FOX News three or four times a year.  Rachel Maddow has a news show.  It is true that we have a lot more today than we did five years ago, and it’s true that we are showing every sign of growing.  I’m just not convinced that we’re doing more than recruiting the remaining iconoclasts.  I don’t think that’s enough to make a wholesale change in American culture.

Ophelia Benson

I agree that the atheist movement wants equality and that that’s part of what makes it a movement (or what puts the “new” in new atheism – the two are much the same), but I don’t agree that that’s all it is or all it wants. You didn’t explicitly say that’s all it wants, but you seem to be claiming that it has morphed into a movement that is primarily about equality. I don’t think that’s true. I know it’s not true of my gnu atheism; I want equality but I want other things too. I want ideas, policy, commitments, public life in general to be based on reasons and a certain amount of thought as opposed to dogma or habit or the string-pulling of emotive advertising. I want supernatural beliefs to be seen as out of place in grown-up public discourse, especially political discourse. I want theism to stop being a ticket to acceptance. I want to argue for all those positions.

In a way I want those more than I want mere “equality.” I want the substance more than I want the form. I want the realization that atheism is the more reasonable view to spread more than I want mere “tolerance” of atheists to spread. That’s a very long-term goal, but then atheists in the US have to expect that.

So yes, as you say, I think our basic disagreement is about the nature of the atheist movement. I agree with you that it’s “not just a philosophical movement” and that it’s also a political one, but I think we differ on where the emphasis lies. I suppose I think that the political aspect of “new” atheism is a faintly absurd accident, while the philosophical aspect is central. Atheism is inherently an ontological claim, not a political one.

Of course you’re right that religion is currently very political, but the political opposition to that is secularism rather than atheism. This is highly useful because it doesn’t require atheism: theists can and do support secularism.

I recognize what you say about the Democratic party, but unfortunately it has no real consequences for values like secularism, because the Democratic party is way too busy trying to woo the right to pay any attention whatsoever to the left.

No I don’t think I’m talking about “stay the course”; I’m talking about not trying to turn atheism into something “mainstream” in the manner of the DLC in hopes of recruiting more people. You apparently see “the remaining iconoclasts” as a somehow stable and finite group, but I don’t. Iconoclasts are made, not born, and most of us alive now are wild iconoclasts on a hundred subjects compared to our grandparents. The idea of racial equality was once marginal and weird; so was feminism; so was gay rights. The margin can spread into the center, so it’s not always necessary to make the margin more like the center.

William Hamby

I mentioned yesterday that there’s a certain “lead, follow, or get out of the way” ethic surrounding an equality movement, and I think that’s the most relevant response to most of what you’re saying. As she often does, Greta Christina recently articulated what I have been feeling but unable to say. She used a show of audience hands to demonstrate pretty conclusively that being a “firebrand” does help to change minds. Confrontation need not be rude, but without confrontation, there is very little positive change. The theme of her presentation was basically a plea to the accommodationists: We understand that you don’t like confrontation. We understand that you like living and letting live. Please extend the same courtesy to the firebrands. Stop criticizing them for doing something that is necessary, and more importantly, something that works, and has worked in every equality movement. Ever.

I think the same plea can be invoked here. Politics, marketing, and… for lack of anything better… playing down to the crowd… are not for everyone. Even in the Republican Party, there are still think tanks concerned with the philosophical questions underpinning conservatism. There is — and I suspect there always will be — plenty of room for big thinking, and encouraging others to do big thinking. Especially in a movement like this one founded on the principle of free thought. And you are certainly correct that it’s secularism that drives political machinery, not atheism. However, secularism not founded on at least the driving principles of atheism is impotent to offer a rational argument for its existence. Secularists need atheists.

What concerns me is the political expediency that seems to be so pressing as to demand more than a gradual acceptance of critical thought. We have to go back to Lyndon Johnson to find the last consecutive Democratic presidents, and that wasn’t because of an election. Before that, it was World War II. This would be a trifling matter of civic interest if we weren’t staring down the reality that even if Obama is re-elected, the Republican Party will continue handing us candidates like Perry and Bachmann, and one of them is very, very likely to win in a mere six years. Recent polls have shown that an appalling number of people still believe in the Garden of Eden as a literal place and not evolution as a scientific fact. And somehow, despite the internet being bombarded day in and day out by verifiable, easily discovered facts that prove Rick Perry a howling liar of the worst kind, he is a realistic threat to Obama in the next election.

There is, and has been for many decades, a Conservative Christian plan to take over the U.S. government. There has been no counter-plan for returning it to a secular foundation. Democratic presidencies can be characterized more as delays than opposition. And as you correctly point out, Obama and the Democrats are no paragons of secular values.

There are many of us who believe that the U.S. is at a crossroads, from which there may not be realistic hope of return in this generation if we pick the wrong course. We believe that the fear-mongering instant slogan age of Republican politics presents too great an emotional obstacle to free thought to expect it to catch on en masse. In short, we believe that it will take sweeping changes to the political environment before any significant changes in cultural values can take hold.

To be sure, this is a question of free will — and ironically, one worthy of discussion in the ivory towers. Many of us “gnu” types think environment shapes minds. Some atheists believe in changing minds, which will then shape the environment in a more rational fashion. Certainly there’s truth to both sides. It’s nature/nurture redux. But again, when we’re faced with the realistic possibility of a Dominionist president whose political agenda is as lunatic as his religious dogmatism, I just don’t know if I trust one side of the coin to do all the work.

You mentioned racial rights, and I think that’s a great example for the principle I’m advocating. Was it a majority of white Americans gradually accepting the rationality of an integrated society that created an integrated society? Well… no. Not really. Certainly there was an underground societal impetus driven by such rational thought. But the actual integration happened legislatively — with much wailing and gnashing of teeth by white Americans. A Democratic President passed the Civil Rights act of 1964. With the help of grass-roots activists like Rosa Parks and political orators like Martin Luther King Jr, legislators were able to erode the social opposition to “separate but equal” policies. By 1970, racial discrimination was illegal practically everywhere. And racism was still a pervasive problem. It was the continued practice of integration that eventually changed the minds of the populace — not a subtle insinuation of progressive ideas.

There had been plenty of intellectualizing and plenty of pleas from progressive think tanks for rational policy. Plenty of it for a hundred years since Reconstruction. It was having an effect, to be sure. The minds of many Americans were softening towards blacks. However, it took actual legislation as a catalyst to create wholesale change. The same was true of the suffrage movement. We are on the verge of legislation ending legal discrimination of gays.

In short, I believe the “change through changed minds” approach has to do one of two things: Either justify itself as a viable macro-solution (which seems… a daunting task in light of the history of equality movements), or recognize its part as a cog in a much bigger wheel. At the very least, I would ask those who like constructing syllogisms to keep a path clear for those of us who believe twenty million voting secularists are better than two thousand atheist bloggers when it comes to creating immediate and long-reaching change. If we figure out how to sell “fast-food” secularism… please don’t yell at us for selling out. We’ve done our deep thinking on this matter, and the evidence suggests that gaining equality first will lead to easier acceptance of our intensely rational ideas. It’ll be our little secret that we’re still as nerdy as we were when this whole thing started, and that we’re counting on the fringe to spread to the center on the nice highway we helped each other to build.

Ophelia Benson

Well, Bill, I agree with you about our political situation in the US (though keep in mind that gnu atheism is not just a US thing, to put it mildly), but I don’t see its relevance to this discussion. What are you claiming? That if gnu atheists stopped talking about feminism there would be a turn to secularism and reason in the US in a few years?

You surely can’t be claiming that, because it’s too absurd; it would be what philosophers call “uncharitable” to read you as saying that. But what are you saying? It seems to be something along those lines, at least – and that just makes no sense to me. What does gnu atheism even have to do with the political situation in the US, more than any other movement or set of ideas? What is the connection between the dire situation in the US and atheists ceasing to talk about what you call “radical” feminism or gender issues? I don’t get it.

It seems to be a kind of war room, political operative, let’s get real, managerial idea…but I for one am not even a little bit interested in that. It makes me tired. It’s always about abandoning just about everything that matters in order to win just this one presidential election; it never works out; and it’s not worth it.

I’m not in charge of Democratic strategizing, thank god, and as far as I know neither are you. I don’t see why either of us has to worry in a nuts and bolts kind of way about how to turn the US political situation around. Of course if you want to do that, knock yourself out, but I don’t think that imposes a duty on you to tell the atheist movement how to do likewise.

William Hamby

Of course it would be “uncharitable” to suggest that’s what I’m saying.  And I suppose in acknowledging this fact, I’m also clarifying my actual position.  As a side note, and in line with said position, of course “gnu” atheism is not exclusively an American phenomenon.  And no, I am not a Democratic strategist.

But someone is.  And that’s the important thing to recognize.  Somewhere there are rooms where career politicians talk about their next four years, or ten years, or even fifty as a political party.  Furthermore, there are a lot of atheists for whom politics is a going concern.  And as I said, if politics is not your thing, then that’s absolutely fine.  If the entirety of the “atheist movement” is a giant wheel, then blogger philosophers are one cog, and feminists are another cog, and political activists are yet another.  For those of us for whom politics is a going concern, whether as writers or activists, or strategists, the next election has to be an issue of immediate concern.  Without winning this election, there’s no talk of winning three in a row, or four.  Without this one, it’s just huddling down in a bunker for another four years to try to survive.  Yeah, that’s a bit of a drastic thing to say, but as a metaphor, it’s not really that far from the truth.

I can only vote once.  In as far as my direct contribution to the American political system, I don’t have much going for me and neither do you.  Political activism is sometimes a lot like tilting windmills.  But as in every equality movement, some people do have more power than others.  Rosa Parks was no strategist, but her actions inspired many legislators.  We atheists can’t cause any giant ripples by sitting in the “wrong seat,” but we can still make lots of political waves, as American Atheists have demonstrated with the WTC suit.  And when the waves are made, some of us atheist bloggers will spend all our time trying to figure out how to get millions of people to agree with our political agenda.  Our choice of topics will reflect that, and if we leave any topic out, or suggest that one topic or another is not appealing or important to us, it doesn’t mean we’re trying to “disrespect” those for whom it is important.  It doesn’t mean that we’re sexist, or racist, or any other -ist.  It means that over here on this side of the giant wheel, it’s not something that we feel is the best thing for *us* to be talking about *right now.*  More importantly, it doesn’t even suggest macro-importance.  That is, maybe political activist atheists are the minority of atheists, and our set of important topics doesn’t represent a majority.

I don’t want to invoke the American Atheists without being a spokesman for them, so I will say this carefully.  American Atheists was the organization that got me thinking about activist growth, and that was in large part due to talks by feminist speakers like Greta Christina.  The question was:  How do we encourage lots of female participants at conventions like these?  (At least, that’s the way I heard it.)  When I wrote my piece on what women were talking about, it was from this perspective.  When I found that female Facebook topics were dominated by “traditional politics,” not “gender politics,” that was an indication to me that many women believe political immediacy and expediency are extremely important topics right now.  My suggestion was not for all atheists to stop talking about feminism.  That is — as you say, absurd to the point of insulting.  Mine was a suggestion of priority for a specific group.  For those whose goal is to grow an activist group with socio-political leanings, my data indicated that a focus on these topics might be the most appealing to the most women when compared to specifically feminist issues.  My data suggested that atheist mothers might be an untapped resource, and that childcare might be one of the simplest and most effective ways to facilitate their involvement.

For you, on the other hand, a “nerdy blogger type” who finds politics distasteful, well… there’s no way to say this other than to say it… I wasn’t talking to you.  Your blog is a great place to talk about feminism, and I think it’s extremely important for you to continue doing so.  I hope your audience doubles or triples with the change to Freethought Blogs.  You and I have different immediate goals, and I can’t predict the future enough to say if one of us is doing something ultimately unproductive.  I rather think that both of us are doing great things for a country that needs to have great things happen.  In the end, both of us at least intend to do something good.

On the specific question, I could be wrong.  Maybe my data is shit, and lots of women would be interested in joining activist groups if we focus on feminist issues.  The point of my research and article was to call the question.  Based on the mixed response it appears that I’ve said some things that resonate with at least some women.  Some of the opposing responses have been… a bit over the top, from more people’s perspectives than just mine.  But that’s a great thing!  I’ve got thick enough skin to take being called a sexist a few times if it sparks a genuinely productive conversation.  In the end, what I want is a secular America.  I trust that’s what you want, and what the vast majority of feminist atheist women want.  We’re each pulling on different strands in the web, and seeing if anything shakes out.  It’s a multi-front battle.  I hope that most of us can recognize this diversity as a strength, and try not to alienate each other for having different priorities.

Ophelia, you’ve been more than kind to offer me this space to speak my mind, and I feel like I’ve said everything I know to say as well as I can say it.  I’ll happily waive comment to your final word.  I wish you the best, and look forward to “mixing it up atheist style” in the future, should the opportunity arise.  Thank you again.

Ophelia Benson

Thanks Bill, and sorry for being so late posting your last reply.

I don’t really think it is a particularly important thing to recognize that someone is a Democratic strategist. That may be partly just because I already do recognize it, so I don’t see any urgent need to do what I already do. But it’s also because so what? There are lots of Democratic strategists, and that’s not something I want to do, nor is it something I admire or respect very much. That’s the only sense in which “politics is not my thing.” In the broader sense I’m very political, but I’m not at all interested in politics as a horse race, and I really loathe the way electoral politics in the US has become almost all process. To be perfectly honest your thinking seems to be infected with that way of thinking about politics: we have to spend every minute thinking about “the next election” – despite the fact that it’s more than a year away. I think it’s futile getting that obsessed with a process that is so badly arranged to begin with.

So you seem to me to be fundamentally changing the subject. You’re talking about the next election, but for some reason you’re doing it by writing about atheism. I don’t get it; I don’t see the point.

I don’t think you can do what you’re trying to do here – I don’t think you can both tell atheists in general that a particular topic is “not something that we feel is the best thing for us to be talking about right now” and claim that you don’t really mean anything by it. I don’t think it will work. You may mean it, but I don’t think it will come across. If you say atheists shouldn’t be talking about feminism right now, it’s too much to expect that people won’t see that as anti-feminist. You can’t do both, as the useful saying goes.

That’s especially true if you do it without spelling out that you’re talking specifically about electoral political strategy, and nothing else.

You say you weren’t talking to me, but that too wasn’t clear in your Examiner piece. That kind of thing never is clear, actually, unless it’s said pretty explicitly. I thought you were – I thought you were talking to atheists in general and “movement” atheists in particular, and I take myself to be both. So when you tell me you weren’t talking to me, it looks as if you’re trying to do that annoying centrist-Democrat-thing of trying to marginalize everyone you take to be too non-centrist to be useful. The Democratic Party is all too good at that, and it gets up my nose when amateurs try to join in.

You did use the word “we” a lot in the Examiner article, after all. Who was that “we”? If you weren’t talking to me, who was that “we”?

Since the above was your last reply, that has to be a rhetorical question. Thanks very much for accepting my invitation to do this; I think it’s made a great post.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Attack of the male-blaming biases

Sep 15th, 2011 11:41 am | By

Tom Martin tells us about the tragic misandrist sexism at LSE and in feminism generally.

…a close analysis of the core texts shows all the old, male-blaming biases are still there.

Patriarchy theory – the idea that men typically “dominate” women – is omnipresent, when research shows women tend to boss men interpersonally.

That’s an idiosyncratic and wrong definition of patriarchy. Patriarchy is a system, not a description. It’s a system by which men have authority by right and women are subordinate. It’s not about what happens “typically”; it’s about what it supposed to happen: it’s a web of laws, customs and traditions.

Texts highlight misogyny but never misandry, its anti-male equivalent – despite research finding that women verbalise four times more misandry than men do misogyny. And the core texts highlight violence against women only, despite decades of research showing that women are more likely to initiate domestic violence.

Again: misogyny is not just about what happens in conversation (what women “verbalise” more than men do), it’s about systems, culture, norms, laws, hiring patterns, the media. As for violence…please. Whatever women initiate, men are not the gender most at risk from domestic violence.

…discussions about actual men’s issues are generally absent across curricula.

Except for the fact that human issues have always been taken to be men’s issues and men play a vastly disproportionate part in dealing with them, so that discussions about those issues are male-dominated by a huge margin. It’s fatuous to pretend otherwise.

In a world which verbalises four times more sexism against men than it does against women, it’s high time gender studies set a better example, so we all might emulate it.

I call bullshit on that particular “statistic.”

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Men are being silenced

Sep 14th, 2011 5:14 pm | By

A guy is suing LSE for sexism.

The man, 39-year-old Tom Martin, based in London, began pursuing an MSc degree in gender, media and culture at the LSE’s Gender Institute in October 2009. He withdrew six weeks later, citing “anti-male discrimination” in the coursework.

“Its programs actively block men’s discourse and perpetuate the men-bad, women-good dialogue,” Martin told me by phone yesterday. “I want gender studies to be more inclusive for men.”

Its programs block men’s discourse?! That’s so terrible, when men have been silenced for so long. What’s that men-bad, women-good dialogue though? I’ve never heard of that. It sounds like a hell of a boring dialogue, as well as kind of stupid.

Martin, who calls himself a “feminist” and a “men’s rights activist,” said he did a line-by-line analysis of the core texts taught in the gender classes and decided they were “overwhelmingly negative on men, blamed men for women’s perceived inequalities, and complained about misogyny but never spoke about misandry [which is defined as the hatred of men].” Martin declined to provide me with a list of the texts.

Ohhhhh that. Right. Now I know where we are. (I spent a fair amount of time there myself recently. Funny what a malodorous place it turned out to be.) He calls himself a feminist MRA and he thinks women have gone past equality into privilege and that “misandry” is comparable to misogyny (and he keeps his list of texts a secret).

While Martin claims he’s after egalitarianism only, some of his views may raise eyebrows. “I don’t buy that women were oppressed by men historically,” he said. “There’s a perverse incentive in gender studies to preserve the inequalities that women face.” He also believes that men are the “victims” of prostitution, that women “volunteer” into sex trafficking and that women’s “hysterical” fear of rape damages equality.

Check check check. He’s learned his lines well.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

You could tell the story in your sleep

Sep 14th, 2011 3:33 pm | By

Another familiar story. Religious men walk out of official ceremony in protest because women ___. Their bosses dismiss them. Clerics say it’s an outrage.

The details barely matter; they’re interchangeable. In this case the men were military cadets in Israel; their bosses are their superior officers; the women were singing; the clerics are rabbis.

At some point during the evening, two female soldiers got up to sing. When one
of them began singing solo, dozens of religious soldiers got up and turned to
leave the auditorium.

Pointedly sending the message that the female soldier was a harlot. That should be good for morale.

H/t Ezra Resnick.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Anointing the sick with oil

Sep 14th, 2011 3:14 pm | By

Familiar story. Couple belong to church that “preaches faith-healing and rejects modern medicine in favor of prayer and other spiritual practices such as anointing the sick with oil.” Couple lets infant die instead of getting medical help.

David Hickman, the couple’s infant son, died in 2009 from a bacterial infection in his lungs. Born two months premature, weighing only 3 pounds and 5 ounces, David only lived for an agonizing nine hours. David, slowly succumbing to the infection in the Hickman’s home, was surrounded by female church members who are considered midwives, although there is no evidence these unlicensed, supposed “midwives,” have any medical education.

Couple goes on trial. Defense is expected to argue that the infant’s death was unforeseeable  and that the couple are the victims of religious persecution.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

HPV vax will make your daughter a SLUT

Sep 14th, 2011 11:29 am | By

It’s so impressive – not in the least surprising, but so impressive – when candidates for elected office cheerfully put other people’s lives at risk in the hope of gaining an advantage over a rival.

Like Michele Bachmann.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is continuing to attack the 2012 frontrunner for mandating that young girls get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine…

Social conservatives argue that the vaccine, which protects against a sexually-transmitted disease that can lead to cervical cancer, encourages promiscuity. Perry’s decision has already riled up conservative activists; it might be Bachmann’s best hope to win back those voters.

And that’s reason enough to make irresponsible attacks on a public health measure.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Training dominion-oriented daughters

Sep 13th, 2011 5:29 pm | By

Libby Anne spotted another deeply sinister picture of a female human being on a Vision Forum DVD.

Will you look at that?

It’s all the more sinister because it’s so effective – the colors and patterns are pretty, and they pull us in.

Libby Anne is scathing.

It appears from the cover of this DVD that daughters take dominion by doing laundry. Nice. I mean seriously, thought goes into cover images like these (we hope), and someone really truly honestly decided that the best image to represent dominion-oriented daughters is a little girl doing laundry. Because, you know, that’s how women take dominion. By doing laundry. Interesting.

This made me wonder. What pictures do they put on DVDs on raising sons?

No laundry.

And there’s something else. Take a good look at that picture. That little girl has no mouth – it’s been covered up by her stack of laundry. Vision Forum has given her a niqab made out of a pile of clean clothes. No wicked feminist back-talk coming out of her, you can be sure.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Canada thinks about assisted suicide

Sep 13th, 2011 4:15 pm | By

The Globe and Mail has an editorial saying “Make the right to die legal, with protections.”

Time and again, opinion polls show a large majority of Canadians support the idea that the terminally ill should be able to decide when and how they die. They believe that competent adults in unbearable pain, suffering from an illness that will never improve, have the right to die with dignity.

And yet the Canadian government is no closer to resolving how – or if – to reform the law against euthanasia; no politician is brave enough to champion such a contentious cause, or even to launch a national debate probing public opinion.

But if that’s what the polls show, why does it take bravery? Why is the cause so contentious?

No doubt because it’s not a matter of majorities but of religion and religious influence. Religion, you may possibly have noticed from time to time, has power and influence that is out of proportion to its popularity. This is all very suitable, no doubt, because its power and influence Come From God, meaning, they are not Of This World, so naturally they get to trump measly stupid little humans.

Research shows that, in places where assisted suicide is legal, there is an initial spike in requests. However, the number then diminishes. “Many people, once they know that if all else fails, this is an option, they won’t make that call. The stress is gone,” says Udo Schuklenk, a Queen’s University professor who chairs the Royal Society’s committee on end-of-life decision-making in Canada. The committee will release a report this fall.

“Often when people talk about end-of-life decision-making, the assumption is, it’s about pain,” he adds. “But it’s not. The concern is more about losing control over the quality of their lives.”

Quite, and it’s a reasonable concern.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Mark your calendar

Sep 13th, 2011 12:58 pm | By

Speaking of Janet HeimlichThink Atheist recorded an interview with her recently and will air it next Sunday September 18 at 5PM Pacific/8PM Eastern. You can find all past and future shows here.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

When they are in PR mode

Sep 13th, 2011 12:37 pm | By

I no sooner say that thing about the pretty picture out front and the kicks and blows behind the curtain when I read another example via Ed Brayton. The Reconstructionists are saying why the Dominionists are so scary while they (the Recons) are thoroughly reassuring.

There is no doubt, however, that the 7MDs do have a goal of top-down control of society. This is explicit in their literature in many places. The exception to this is when they are in PR mode: then they downplay and even completely deny that they believe in dominion….

Riiiiight – as so many control freaks do when they are in PR mode. The pope do, theocracies that sign up to CEDAW do, Michele Bachmann do. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Reconstructionists do.

Meanwhile, as Ed says, there’s a good deal of hilarity in one bunch of theocrats calling another bunch of theocrats “theocrats.” Back here on planet earth they all look like dangerous lunatics who would make life hell if they could.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Do the right thing, Tunisia

Sep 13th, 2011 12:14 pm | By

A bit of good news, potentially (though it could be just window dressing, or good intentions, or doomed): Tunisia “has become the first country in the region to withdraw all its specific reservations regarding Cedaw – the international convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.”

This is an important step, Brian Whitaker continues.

It reverses a long-standing abuse of human rights treaties – especially in the Middle East – where repressive regimes sign up to these treaties for purposes of international respectability but then excuse themselves from some or all of their obligations.

Saudi Arabia, for example, operates the world’s most blatant and institutionalised system of discrimination against women – and yet, along with 17 other Arab states, it is also a party to Cedaw. It attempts to reconcile this position through reservations saying it does not consider itself bound by any part of the treaty which conflicts “with the norms of Islamic law”.

In effect, the Saudi government claims the right to ignore any part of Cedaw it doesn’t like.

Seriously crappy and infuriating thing to do – sign something agreeing to protect equal rights for the sake of the prestige while intending to let equal rights go to hell. It’s much like the pope and the Vatican talking impressive bullshit about their compassion and their deep anguish for everyone who has suffered from yak yak yak while in fact protecting the very people who cause the suffering. It’s much like a lot of things – impressive bullshit out front and brutal self-interested cruelty and indifference behind the scenes.

The point of international conventions such as Cedaw, though, is that they take precedence over local laws. Countries that sign up to them are expected to amend their local laws in order to comply with international standards, not exempt themselves from selected parts of the convention.

If you’re going to exempt yourself, don’t sign up. If you’re going to sign up, don’t exempt yourself.  Fair’s fair.

Tunisia hasn’t gone all the way though. You know what’s coming next…

One possible hiccup is that the government has retained one general reservation which says Tunisia will not take any legislative action which conflicts with Chapter 1 of the constitution. Chapter 1 includes a statement that the country’s religion is Islam – which could lead to some Sharia-based arguments for keeping the law unchanged – but Human Rights Watch suggests this is unlikely. Until now, Tunisia has not used Chapter 1 as an excuse for maintaining laws or practices that violate Cedaw.

Here’s hoping.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Forgive but prosecute

Sep 12th, 2011 5:40 pm | By

From Janet Heimlich’s Religious Child Maltreatment website, a post about the abuse of forgiveness.

But the practice of forgiveness can be abused, and nowhere is this more apparent than in cases of religious child maltreatment. All too often, pious adults who learn that a child has been abused fail to do the right thing. That is, instead of reporting the incident or getting the victim counseling, they urge the child to forgive the perpetrator.

I did a post on this subject more than six years ago, about the Amish, via this article.

It is sinful for the Amish to withhold forgiveness—so sinful that anyone who refers to a past misdeed after the Amish penalty for it has ended can be punished in the same manner as the original sinner. “That’s a big thing in the Amish community,” Mary said. “You have to forgive and forgive.”

That horrible trap has stuck in my mind in a way that few things do.

More about life among the Amish.

What were the bad parts?

-The rape, incest and other sexual abuse that run rampant in the community

-Rudimentary education

-Physical and verbal abuse in the name of discipline

-Women (and children) have no rights

-Religion–and all its associated fear and brainwashing–as a means of control (and an extremely effective means at that)

-Animal abuse

Oh. Adds up, doesn’t it. And she hasn’t yet even gotten to the part about education.

I loved learning, and cried when I couldn’t go back to school the fall after graduating from Amish 8th grade. The Amish do not send their children to formal schooling past 8th grade. A Supreme Court case prevented forcing Amish children into high school on grounds of religious freedom.  I knew that, by US law, I wasn’t considered an adult until eighteen. I didn’t want to wait until then to go to high school.

For four years, I tried to come up with a way that I could leave before turning eighteen without my parents being able to take me back, so I could go to school.

Well done US Supreme Court – you made it impossible for that girl to go to school, by granting her “community” the right to take her out without granting her any right to say no thank you.

And there’s Chuck Phelps at that mad Baptist cult-church in New Hampshire.

A woman says she was sexually assaulted as a teen and that the pastor of her church told her to forgive and forget instead of doing what the law required: report it to authorities.

The woman’s allegation surfaced after a recent trial during which a prosecutor suggested the same pastor, the Rev. Chuck Phelps, didn’t do enough to help a rape victim.

That’s Tina Anderson, whom we read about a few days ago.

Too much forgiveness and not nearly enough accountability.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Picky picky

Sep 12th, 2011 4:52 pm | By

From Rethinking Vision Forum - a look at Vision Forum’s recklessness with data when it comes to women’s survival. They  recommend refusal of surgery for women with ectopic pregnancies and they use bad stats to do it.

I was ASSURED informally and emphatically that National Right to Life In NO WAY supports the Vision Forum position on withholding treatment in the case of tubal pregnancy.

So Vision Forum, like the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, thinks women should die along with their fetuses rather than terminating the pregnancy.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Bangladesh ties up some loose ends

Sep 12th, 2011 11:08 am | By

Bangladesh has a new broadcasting law, which will make things tidier there. The basic idea is to forbid just about everything.

[3] National ideology or characters cannot be criticized,

[4] The father of the nation [Sheikh Mujibur Rahman] cannot be criticized in any of the programs.

[5] No individual can be criticized in the programs.

[6] No criticism will be allowed on national ideologies and goals.

[8] No program can be aired which would provoke deterioration of law and order situation.

[10] Programs related to trafficking in women, forced prostitution, rape etc will be barred from broadcast under the new law. This law will also stop broadcasting investigative reports on such issues.

[12] No program or content on mutiny or demonstration can be broadcast on television channels.

Pretty thorough, wouldn’t you say?

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

His brazen feminist mother-in-law attacked him with vegetables

Sep 11th, 2011 3:56 pm | By


No Longer Quivering has a section for nlq stories. There are a lot of stories. I’m reading chapter 2 of one story, by Tess Willoughby.

It was the year when we went to a conference and met a pastor who advocated corporal punishment for wives, and Nate took to his teachings like a duck to water…

Nate and I were part of the Christian separatist movement of the late ’80s and early ’90s, rooted in the belief that liberals and “secular humanists” would destroy the moral fiber of America. Christian separatists— right-wing religious splinter groups including white supremacists, Y2K survivalists, secessionists, reconstructionists, and so on—believed that the upstanding patriotic Christian Americans needed to separate themselves and create a fortress of Christian homes where the true leaders of tomorrow would be raised…

When I was eight months pregnant with Jack, Nate ordered me to pick a paperwad up off the living room floor. I refused, and he took me by the forearm and “lovingly compelled” me to pick up the paperwad, while murmuring sweetly in my ear, “I’m sorry, sweetheart, but you need to learn obedience.”

I was enjoying a cozy kitchen chat with my mom when Nate interrupted with this remark: “A woman is to be under a man at every stage of her life—her father, her husband, and then, if widowed, her son.” I looked at Nate in stupefaction.  The idea of a son’s authority over his widowed mother was a new one, even for me.

My mother had been shelling her garden peas during Nate’s little speech. She stopped, repeated “under. . .a. . .man,” and began hurling fresh peas at Nate’s balding head. Then she stalked out of the kitchen. I was ordered to gather the peas and pack the car—my visit home was over.

Incidents like these had convinced Nate that my Mom and Dad were not Christians—at least, not biblical Christians. They were a bad influence on his family.  They needed to be shunned.

And that’s the fun part. Then she gives birth to Jack, and Nate wants to sleep but newborn Jack keeps crying so Nate -

Read on.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

How to mess with children’s heads

Sep 11th, 2011 3:03 pm | By

Raise them on a book called I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris. Libby Anne explains.

As a girl, I was told not to “give away pieces of my heart.” That meant that I was to make sure not to fall in love, because if I fell in love with someone I would give him a piece of my heart, a piece of heart that I would now no longer be able to give to my future husband. I would essentially be emotionally cheating on my future husband. In order to keep myself pure, I had to guard my heart and my emotions carefully.

Practically, what this meant was that ever time I had a crush on a guy I knew I felt incredibly guilty. I believed that I was giving away a piece of my heart, and I would never get it back. I was so afraid to love, too afraid to even want to start a relationship. I must, must, must keep myself pure! I thought to myself time and again. Turn your eyes away! Turn your thoughts away! Guard your mind! More chores, more homework, more searching for wild herbs and learning how to can – anything to stay away from boys and any thought of guy-girl relationships! I must keep my heart pure!

This book is very popular in conservative evangelical circles, so there are lots of messed-with young people out there.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The very very Baptists

Sep 11th, 2011 1:26 pm | By

The Facebook group Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) Cult Survivors (and their Supporters) is interesting.

You know what I’m talking about. You went to an IFB (Independent Fundamental Baptist) church three times a week. The Christian school you attended was connected to your church/cult, or you were home-schooled. Your church was committed to the “Doctrine of Separation” and strong discipline. You believed Billy Graham was the “bad guy” and that all other churches and religious organizations were/are disobedient and in “sin” (i.e. you were taught even the Southern Baptists were/are “compromising liberals”). Your church also controlled nearly every aspect of your life. Your family may have even needed to get permission from the pastor before going on vacation (if you dared leaving in the first place). If you are female (heaven forbid), you most likely wore long skirts and the IFB clothing item known as “culottes” most of your life whenever you went in public (you even went swimming in them).

You’re familiar with most if not all of the following:

“Bus Ministry”
Gospel tracts
King James Onlyism
“The Bible says, ‘Touch Not God’s Anointed’ and that means ME!”
“Let me tell you something big boy, you rebel against your parents and you go down across town to that Southern Baptist Church and let me tell you something, you’ve stepped out of the will of God! You hear me? You just want to hear that mamby, pamby preaching from those preachers who water down the gospel of Jesus Christ and that is nothing more than your rebellious heart crying out in your SIN!”
“Pants on women is sinful!”
“Christian Contemporary worship music is demonic!”
“Rock music played backwards tells you to kill your parents!”
“Going to the cinema is a sin!”
“Billy Graham has done more damage to the cause of Christ than any other man alive! He’s a heretic!”
Screaming, ranting, and raving pastors

And much much much more.

You know…it becomes more and more clear, the more I dig into this, that there are a lot of people being harmed by whacked-out fundie christianity in the US. I sort of vaguely assumed that they were mostly happy inside their bubble – I thought they shouldn’t be, but mostly were – but that was a lazy thing to think.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

I do like a nice mission statement

Sep 10th, 2011 4:22 pm | By

Cool; Vision Forum “Ministries” has a mission statement. Its title is

Preserving Our Covenant with God through Biblical Patriarchy and Multi-Generational Faithfulness

What covenant? They think they have a covenant? How can you have a covenant with someone you’ve never met or had any kind of bilateral communication with? And how can you sign multi generations up to anything? Why do future generations have to be “faithful” to something you’ve agreed to?

Item 6: Reinforcing Godly Masculinity and Femininity

Meaning, masculinity and femininity as seen in High Noon. All men are to be like Gary Cooper and all women are to be like Grace Kelly. Simple.

Item 7: Understanding Family Culture as Religion Externalized

With Daddy as God. Simple.

Item 9: Developing Biblical Worldview Through Presuppositional Thinking

Oh that’s a really good one. Decide what you presuppose first, and then develop your biblical worldview; that way no actual thought is ever required.

Item 10: Training Character by Hebrew Discipleship and Home Education

Say what?

Item 13: Preparing Men to Stand in the Gates

The better to smite the feminists and atheists.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)