Critiquing Social Justice Theory

December 30, 2013

I want to bring to the attention of my fellow true liberals a post I’ve written on another blog, where I critique a young feminist’s own critique of certain concepts central to social justice activism:

Specifically, I address the worth of Gender as Performance, Rape Culture, and Privilege as scientific models.

(Note: don’t anyone be put off by the blog’s name — this post has nothing to do with atheism!)

I invite you all to read my piece, and tell me what you think.

— Matt

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When -Isms Collide: The Attempted Hijacking of Atheism by Radical Feminism

March 21, 2013

 — by tamerlane

On his atheist/science blog, Pharyngula, PZ Myers chronicles his ongoing junior high drama intellectual debate with feminist blogger Melissa McEwan of Shakesville.  McEwan initially took Myers to task for his snarky slam at Michele Bachmann.  Myers apologized profusely, took down the post, and asked for suggestions on how atheist men could to be more sensitive to women.  McEwan responded with a list of eighteen points, twitted over the course of eighteen minutes.  When Myers expressed “reservations” about the points, noting they applied neither exclusively to atheists nor men, McEwan accused Myers of only feigning willingness to “do better.”  Myers continues to grovel while McEwan chastises.  Which is kinda of funny, considering McEwan is greatly indebted to Myers for sponsoring her and her fellow radical feminists’ attempted hijacking of the new atheist movement.

I, too have considerable reservations with Melissa McEwan’s My Advice to Atheist Men. Disjointed and repetitive, it makes several, serious allegations of “systematic misogyny” among the atheist online community.  Her accusations are vague and overbroad, completely unsubstantiated by example.  Her language & approach are hectoring and not conducive to an open exchange of views.  Just another day in Shakesville, folks.

_

Feminism For Dummies (a.k.a., You Men)

McEwan begins by chiding atheist men for “engaging in misogyny yourselves” and informs them “you [don’t] get to be nasty in explicitly misogynist ways to women who aren’t ‘on your team.'” As evidence, McEwan provides a screenshot of a Pharyngula post wondering whether Michele Bachmann, mouth agape to ingest a giant corn dog, can disengage her jaws like other reptiles.  However puerile, Myers’ comment was a non-gender specific reference to Bachmann’s antediluvian beliefs.  By mislabeling it “sexual objectification”, McEwan cries ‘wolf’.  Indeed, Myers was perhaps the only blogger on the planet to avoid a sexual reference to that photo.  McEwan neglects to provide actual examples of “explicitly misogynist” conduct by atheist bloggers.

She then calls for “zero-tolerance policy for misogyny in your comments. No slurs, no misogynist narratives, no questioning women’s agency.”  A reasonable suggestion, except … does McEwan consider herself the final arbiter of what is misogyny?  Her answer will be: if one woman declares something misogyny, then it’s misogyny — end of discussion.  She also ignores the possibility that the nasty comments may be the work of  anti-atheists.  Further, McEwan’s tendency to use feminist neologisms like “women’s agency” in milieus where most people don’t know their meanings, much less have ‘bought into’ them, is adversarial.

In her list, McEwan intersperses sweeping condemnations of male atheist behavior: her humanity has been questioned; widespread misogynist attacks occur; atheist women “have been treated like a monolith”; women have been denied “opportunities … as contributors, as moderators, as guest posters”.  Typically, McEwan fails to provide evidence — apart from one tweet suggesting she go fuck herself.  Trolls happen, Melissa.  Besides, radfem atheists have a home of their own, Freethoughtblogs.com, run by Myers, where at least 13 of the 36 bloggers are female, including several feminists, LGBTPDQ activists, as well as male fellow-travelers.  Myers has systematically culled any dissenting voices from the blogroll.

_

I Win the Debate

McEwan links two Shakesville lectures posts as a primer “on how to effectively and safely communicate with women about women’s issues.”  In them, McEwan admits to an underlying mistrust of men for their “eyerolling and exasperated sighs in response to polite requests to please not use misogynist epithets”.  She repeatedly ridicules men who disagree with her for “trying to prove the point.”  Here we have the tautological “mansplaining” polemic.  The man says ‘but I’m not misogynist,’ and the radfem says ‘yes, you are.  You just proved your misogyny by denying it.’  No further evidence need be produced. Debate, disagreement, are stifled.

Atheist men are instructed to never “play devil’s advocate.  That is not compatible with a safe space for many women.”  McEwan uses “safe space” often, another neologism with a secondary meaning.  In practice, “safe space” equals: ‘You’re not allowed to disagree with me. I win the debate.’  When McEwan writes “[d]on’t appropriate or ignore women’s lived experiences. Let women be the experts on our own lives”, it sets up the polemic: ‘You’re not a woman, so you can’t understand.  I win the debate.’

Also forbidden is any attempt to discuss misogyny “objectively.”  In her “Feminism 101 for Dudes”, McEwan explains that asking a “woman with intersectional marginalizations” (yet another neologism) to discuss “in the abstract” an issue “is to fail to understand that one’s womanhood is inextricably linked to the other aspects of one’s identity.”  Ergo, all women’s assertions are subjective, hence irrefutable. I win the debate.

McEwan warns us “that there are privileged women in the atheist movement who may collude to marginalize non-privileged women ….”  Because any women who don’t share McEwan’s views suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, Patty Hearsts brain-washed by the Patriarchy/Kyriarchy.

“Don’t accuse women of overreacting when we are merely reacting,” McEwan admonishes. “Don’t accuse us of being oversensitive; maybe you are not sensitive enough.”  McEwan must first provide a benchmark for identifying an overreaction; otherwise, her claims are unfalsifiable.  (“Not even good enough to be wrong,” as Feynman would have put it.)  Further, her phrasing is confrontational, as it fails to acknowledge the possibility of a woman ever over-reacting or being overly sensitive to an issue.  The net effect is to shield McEwan’s assertions from scrutiny.

For McEwan, simply “not being a dirtbag” is not “sufficient action to consider … a straight (cis) privileged” man as her ally.  Total, unquestioned & blind acceptance of her positions is required.  In a final dig at Myers, McEwan complains “if you’re not willing to make the effort to make movement atheism more inclusive, don’t pretend that you are. Be a real ally, or don’t.” That’s bullying, and McEwan might consider rewarding the try, because wet rags like Myers are few and far between.  Instead, she punishes, alienating many potential allies.  No wonder McEwan’s infrequent forays beyond the echo chamber end so badly.

_

There Goes the Neighborhood

I first ran across McEwan in 2008, during the self-immolation of the PUMA movement.  A persistent theme in her blogging, shared by the denizens of FTB, is a desire to constrain the rules of engagement, to stifle opinions contrary to her own, and to portray any considered rebuttal of her assertions as a refusal to listen — and proof of misogyny.  In fact, McEwan, et al. deny the very right to question certain radfem constructs.  Even polite attempts at rational disagreement are routinely deleted from comment streams at Shakesville and FtB blogs.

Melissa McEwan is but one of a cohort of “Atheism Plus” activists bent on commandeering the atheism movement for their other socio-political objectives.  This is a bad idea.  Take politics for example:  Sam Harris and Penn Jillete are libertarians; Dawkins and Dennett are liberals; Hitchens was sometimes leftist, sometimes neo-con, always inflammatory.  Yet they found common cause in promoting vocal atheism.  And look how much they’ve achieved by staying on topic.

Radfems are especially prone to injecting their dialectics & intolerance where ever they go.  Skeptics and atheists, however, are especially immune to circular logic, unsubstantiated claims, and the stifling of debate.  Evidence-based reasoning and Post-Modernist woo do not mix well, and the A+ zealots have largely retreated to brood within the friendly confines of their online echo chamber.

Their hubris, however, is unabated.  Recently, A-plussers have spanked Richard Dawkins for supporting abortion rights but in the wrong way, and for his “racist” (sic) debunking of homeopathy and acupuncture.  Dawkins (a former patron of Myers, btw) has been on the A+ shit list since 2011, after he weighed in on a minor brouhaha known as “Elevatorgate.”  Dawkins was the keynote at an atheist conference in Dublin where a young atheist, Rebecca Watson (a.k.a. SkepChick) also spoke.  Watson lingered in the hotel bar, chatting with a few people until the wee hours, when she left and got in an elevator. A man who she’d been talking with followed, and asked her up to his room for coffee and further discussion.  Was he hitting on her?  Mos def.  Did he “sexualize” her?  Was it “misogyny?” No, and Dawkins was not alone in calling out Watson for hyperbole.  In response, the A-plussers declared a boycott of Dawkins, his international research foundation, and his numerous best-selling books. Good luck with that windmill!


(c) 2013 by True Liberal Nexus.  All rights reserved.


Not My Agenda

August 23, 2011

With his radio shows, The List and Talking With, John Smart provides a great service  by interviewing a wide spectrum of political activists, religious leaders, and other persons of public import, offering a virtual agora for open discussion, exchange of ideas, and debate.

On the July 27, 2011 edition of Talking With, Smart interviewed Amy Siskind, co-founder of The New Agenda (“TNA.”)  Siskind’s comments were at once obfuscating and revealing.  TNA’s singular goal is to increase the number of women elected to office.  While every true liberal would welcome such an increase, TNA’s method of achieving it is  counterproductive to promoting gender equality, and dangerously corrosive to our society in general.


Replacing (R) & (D) with (XX) & (XY)

Describing itself as an organization dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls by bringing about systemic change in the media, at the workplace, at school and at home,” TNA vaguely sets its goals as achieving “safety and opportunity for all women by addressing issues which unite us and by advancing women into leadership roles.”

TNA claims it is a “non-political” organization.  But aside from the token bio of an athlete or link to some actresses charity, (plus a blog devoted to the standard denunciations of society’s affronts to women), TNA is primarily devoted to supporting political candidates.

We also know, from Siskind’s own telling of the story, that TNA’s founding members were political activists: Democrats, feminists, but most importantly, Hillary Clinton supporters.  Once upon a time, they fought for things like universal healthcare, social programs, a fair tax burden, gay rights, protecting the environment, and, naturally, women’s choice.  That was their old political agenda.

Following the Democratic Party’s rejection of their beloved candidate, these women readily abandoned their former principles to embrace a new agenda — help elect women of any political stripe.  TNA doesn’t give a damn what your position is on women’s rights or any other issue.  if you’ve got the XX chromosomes, you’re deemed a better choice for the office than any man could ever be.

If any doubt remained whether TNA has replaced the traditional Left vs. Right political struggle with the battle of the sexes, one need only look at TNA’s perverse labeling of races — “Solid Woman”, “Likely Woman,” “Leans Man,” etc.


Searching for Sexism in All the Wrong Places

An additional objective of TNA is to oppose sexism against any female candidate.  A laudable goal, considering the many & egregious instances of sexual stereotyping in the media and politics.  Sadly, TNA can often be found tilting at windmills, attacking sexism where none exists.  Let’s look at four examples among many:


1) Gypsies, Tramps and Sluts

As proof of Siskind’s theory that “powerful woman are always diminished by being thrown into one of three categories” — either “bitch,” “ditz” or “slut/whore”, she pointed to the accusations of two extra-marital affairs (i.e., “slut”) made against then-gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley. Siskind dismisses out-of-hand the possibility that these affairs actually may have happened.  Yet the allegations by her former speechwriter and another GOP politico were made in some detail, were backed by sworn affidavits, and were considered credible enough to be investigated by at least one local paper.

Moreover, in Haley’s case, such questions were entirely germane.  Haley ran on a “family values” platform, while a large part of her appeal lay in her image as a wholesome mom and obedient, Christian wife.  Haley had also publicly censured her predecessor & erstwhile mentor, Mark Sanford, for his own affair.  To expose the hypocrisy of such a “family values” candidate is no more sexist than to investigate the illicit affairs of Jon Edwards, Arnold Schwarzenegger … or Ted Haggard.


2) Shut Up, Bitch!

Back in 2009, TNA got its panties all in a wad over the perceived sexist slight of TNA’s official Hlllary surrogate, Kirstin Gillibrand.  On the occasion of the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, Gillibrand, like every other Democratic Senator, had been allotted five minutes to read into the record a brief, sugar-coated, meaningless endorsement.  The notoriously long-winded Gillibrand “was just over 6 minutes and 15 seconds into what was to have been her five-minute speech” when chairman Patrick Leahy was seized by such overpowering misogyny as to gently remind Gillibrand that her time was up.  When the loquacious rookie senator demanded “a minute more”,  the wimminz-hatin’ Chair gaveled her.

TNA provided this “typical example of sexist behavior” from Leahy, who “apparently … didn’t take his anti-grumpy meds yesterday morning”  — ouch, Amy! Talk about bitchy — with a thought bubble: “Sigh, young lady, what YOU have to say is simply not worth the time of day. Finish off so someone important (e.g. a male senator) can speak.”

Except that Gillibrand was the last speaker before the vote. Except that every other senator came in near or under the allotted five minutes.  Nah … had to be the sexism.


3) The Shrill Word

Like other “gender-degrading” language, use of the word “shrill” has been banned by TNA as a “description of a woman’s natural vocal range:”

As we all know, the word ‘shrill’ has a very negative connotation when used to describe a woman or a woman’s voice. The term ‘shrill’ has recently been used by the media as a purposeful weapon against female candidates, although never male candidates.

This disparaging adjective is a textbook example of gender-coded language that has been around for a long time…. This type of language is demeaning, misogynistic, and reminiscent of the Victorian era” and so must never, ever be used again. By anyone.

Except for TNA members, like Amy Siskind, who are allowed to call each other “shrill.” Siskind here:

I was driving my kids to their post-camp pre-school dental appointments when my cell phone rang.

Cynthia … was calling to let me know that she was hearing that McCain would announce shortly AND that he had picked a woman!

On the way back from the dentist, the phone rang again — Cynthia was so excited when she called. She was screaming that is was Palin – we both shrilled with excitement.

This must be like how it’s OK for niggahs to call each other “niggah,” but we can’t.  I don’t quite understand the logic, but how could I, seeing as I’m not a Shrill.


4) American History For Ditzes

On Talking With, Siskind accused the media of unfairly peppering Sarah Palin & Michele Bachmann with hard “questions on historical figures and Paul Revere” that male GOP candidates were not asked.  In Siskind’s world-view, this can only be due to misogyny, and totally unrelated to:

  1. The Tea Party claiming philosophical heritage from the American Revolution;
  2. Both Palin and Bachmann exhibiting a glaring igrorance of said American Revolution by making outrageously false statements.

Siskind’s argument might be more persuasive had she presented examples of male TP figures bolloxing American History, and then highlighted the double standard in treatment.  Yet she didn’t (or couldn’t), and instead copped out with her standard interpretation: that every attack on a female candidate is always a sexist attack.


Abortion Is Never an Issue (Unless Amy Says it Is)

TNA insists that abortion rights should never be a factor in women’s voting.  TNA’s 2008 epiphany was that Choice v. Pro-Life only divides women, diverting them from their common goal of helping women everywhere beat men.  So, TNA will never make a candidate’s stance on abortion an issue in a campaign.

Except when Siskind endorses a candidate, as she did with Meg Whitman over Jerry Brown.  The “non-political” TNA felt justified in breaking its no-endorsement pledge because one of Brown’s (female) staffers used one of the FORBIDDEN WORDS to describe Whitman — “whore.”

So, in a Huffy Poo article, Siskind exhorted women, especially former Hillary supporters, to back Meggers — “a working mom” (ROTFLMAO) over Brown and his “long track record of sexism.”  Siskind pointly referred to a decades-old Brown comment implying ambivalence on women’s choice, then falsely claimed that Whitman had never changed her position, when in truth Meggers had flip-flopped at least twice that year.

OK, except when Amy Siskind gets really mad, supporting a woman’s right to control over her own body is not relevant.  Why?  Because GOP “women understand women’s issues. Plain and simple.”

  • That’s why TNA favorite Sharron Angle advised the victims of rape or incest to “make a lemon situation into lemonade”;
  • That’s why TNA favorite Kelly Ayotte dragged Planned Parenthood before the Supreme Court in an attempt to save a New Hampshire law requiring parental notification prior to abortion on a minor;
  • That’s why TNA favorite Nikki Haley voted repeatedly to make all abortions illegal, then as governor vetoed $56 million in education spending;
  • That’s why TNA favorite Sarah Palin nominated a known perpetrator of sexual harassment for the position of Alaska’s public safety commissioner.


Qualified for Pub[l]ic Office

Siskind insists that Michele Bachmann “is very qualified to be President.”  This ‘qualification’ must be Bachmann’s pudenda, since in most circles, a career House back-bencher with zero legislation and marginal real-world experience is not considered “qualified” to be POTUS.  Unless, it seems, you’re a woman (or half-black), then you’re bumped to the head of the list, past truly qualified candidates.

In 2010, TNA lamented the low percentage of female candidates, but gushed giddily about how the GOP was “quietly filling its ranks with women.”  But as I pointed out following the midterms, in 2010 the Democrats still lapped the GOP 2-to-1 when it came to running women.  Yet for some unexplained reason, TNA displays an undue fondness for the GOP.


“I luuuv Susana Martinez!”
Siskind exclaimed on Talking With.  And what’s not to love?  She’s got tits and a snatch, thus meeting all of Siskind’s rigorous requirements for public office.  It’s just icing on the cake that Martinez also:

  • Opposes federally-funded abortions;
  • Opposes any form of gun control;
  • Supports an amendment banning same-sex marriage;
  • Supports school vouchers;
  • Vetoed $56 million in education funding;
  • Opposes any tax increases; advocates reducing corporate taxes to ‘create jobs’.

Not to mention that Martinez is a rabid global warming denier and anti-environmentalist who:

  • Accepted $220,000 in contributions from gas & oil donors;
  • Moved to gut state pollution regulations;
  • Named a conspiracy crackpot as environmental chief;
  • Violated the state constitution by ordering that new environmental rules adopted by the state not be published.

TNA had declared the 2010 New Mexico gubernatorial race a “guaranteed win for our side because Martinez’ opponent, Lt. Governor Diane Denish, was also female.  Yet Siskind and TNA displayed an unmistakable preference for the Republican.

Why was TNA so lukewarm about Denish?  She had a track record of helping families and young children, and advocated expanding early education funding and nutrition programs.  She was pro-environment with a plan for creating green jobs.  She supported single-payer healthcare with universal coverage for every child. Denish was heartily endorsed by the pro-choice Emily’s List.  As Lt. Governor, Denish lobbied for the passage of DNA sampling known as Katie’s Law — the same Katie’s Law TNA wrongly credits then-county DA Martinez with introducing.


Goodbye, Earl

The real reason behind TNA’s embrace of the GOP?  Revenge, ‘plain & simple.’`  In the minds of these women, the Democratic party was their loser husband, Earl, his rejection of Hillary the last straw in a long and abusive relationship.

When will the women of this nation stop accepting “guilt gifts” from the men in their lives who act abusively?

So these ladies worked out a plan, and didn’t take long to decide that Earl had to die.

When will we finally deliver the tough love and consequences for improper behavior?

Enter the dapper, older gentleman, McCain, to whisper the sweet nothings that these jilted pumettes craved.  Yes, we care about you.  I sooo want a woman as my running mate!  I value your input and your support.   Thelma and Louise  Siskind and co. fell for it hook, line and sinker.  It meant abandoning every liberal principle that fosters women’s rights and real gender equality, but the sweet taste of revenge (maybe with some fried green tomatoes on the side?) was worth it.

Disgusted with Earl’s  the Democratic Party’s sophomoric and sexist “Liberal Dude Nation” antics, TNA has decided to get back by throwing themselves into the arms of another man Party:   “Democratic (and newly Independent) women are finally saying: Enough!  If this keeps up, in 2012, former and current Democratic women might just be pulling the ‘R’ lever.”

And there we have it:  the sad, embarrassing spectacle of alleged modern woman, Amy Siskind, displaying the archetypical, emotional, irrational fury of a woman scorned.


Sexual Apartheid

TNA’s home page prominently features this definition:

sex•ism

Prejudice, stereotyping or discrimination on the basis of sex.

Yet selecting candidates solely on the basis of their their gender — the very agenda of The New Agenda — is sexism in its most raw and ugly manifestation.  “Sexism has no place in this great country,” insists Siskind. Yet, on Talking With, out of the other side of Siskind’s mouth came “voting on gender is a relevant criteria.”

“How did we allow such a high level of acceptable sexism to exist and flourish?” asks Siskind.  That query is a bit of joke from “a lifelong Democrat” who admits she voted GOP for the first time ever “for one reason: McCain selected a woman as his running mate.”

TNA’s smug pride in removing the “divisive” Choice issue is overshadowed by the far greater divide they create by pitting one half of the population against the other.  Is the goal is to establish a political landscape where men & woman are treated equally?  Where, as Siskind claims to seek, “all the candidates are put on equal footing” regardless of gender?  If so, then TNA is heading in the absolute wrong direction by prioritizing gender in its selection and treatment of politicians.

Two wrongs don’t make a right.  The New Agenda is wrong, very wrong.


(c) 2011 by ‘tamerlane.’  All rights reserved.