How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Feminists’ Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Freethought
It’s been five years now since I first became involved with the rationalist movement. And for most of those five years, I felt like I belonged. I never intended to be an activist and I’m not much of a joiner, but atheists were so actively recruiting women, that I immediately got sucked in, and before I knew it I was doing a presentation on a panel at DragonCon (definitely not my cup of tea). Mind you, I’m a terrible public speaker and should never be invited to do such engagements. Ever. Unless they’re in my area of expertise. And even then, beware: I might faint from stage fright.
Until I realized that this movement had become about feminism and no longer cared about skepticism, secularism, equality, or rational thought.
You see, my previous atheist activism was non-existent. I’ve never believed in god, and I assumed most people were like me. Having grown up in Communist Russia, that wasn’t a particularly unusual way to be.
I’ve never fully considered myself a feminist because I was one of those teenagers who just wanted to fit in and didn’t care much about school, politics, or anything other than a good party. As I got older, I became more aware of the importance of women’s rights and equality in general, but I also felt that I was very lucky to be living in the West, where real misogyny and oppression were almost nonexistent. In fact I found that I cared far more about racism and discrimination against LGBTQ people, since these things were significantly more pronounced and pervasive in the States. However, I also understood that sexism and gender problems remained, and that they wouldn’t be solved by bickering on the internet. And scarier still, I believed that straight white men were valuable human beings who should have rights too.
So I started speaking up about dirty little issues like diversity of opinion and rational discourse and critical thinking because I thought messages like “please let’s debate this civilly” would be simple for skeptics and rationalists. But I was naive. Like clockwork, every feminist I disagreed with called me a sister-punisher, a chill girl, a liar, a handmaiden of the patriarchy, and a slut-shamer. Despite the insults I received, I continued to publicly support rationalism and stress that the haters were just a tiny minority. I thought this flood of abuse I had never experienced before was just a consequence of being an extremely annoying internet voice, and had nothing to do with these movements in particular. I can’t count how many times I told myself that people who act like twits on the internet are actually nice in person.
But now I recognize that I was trying to convince myself that this is true.
I don’t feel safe as a human in this community – and I feel less safe than I do as a human in the legal profession, or a human shopping for designer shoes, or hell, as a human walking down the fucking sidewalk. People boiled over with rage at the suggestions that online harassment and abuse of others should cease. PZ Myers, a prominent blogger and a biologist who’s published at least four papers, blamed men (aka rapists) and chill girls for all the problems on the internet and elsewhere. I’ve become used to being called mentally ill, as well as a bitch, an attention whore, a sick puppy, a misogynist, or having people try to destroy my reputation because I tagged someone in a Facebook post they didn’t like, complained about defamation, or commented on the wrong blog.
I now realize I was never truly welcome in this movement. I just managed to unwittingly sneak in before the feminists realized I had a different opinion on a few far-left issues.
I was exactly what a Feminists’ Club wanted for a scapegoat. I was a woman who didn’t fully support their cause…
I don’t want good causes like secularism and skepticism to die because they’re infested with people who see issues of dogmatic ideological feminism as being of primary importance. I don’t want Deep Rifts. I want to be able to truthfully say that I feel safe in this movement (even though I’m rational enough to realize that we live in an unsafe world and true “safe spaces” don’t exist). I want to help teach the misandrists, misogynists, racists, homophobes, trans-phobes, and downright trolls in the movement that there are better ways to behave and more productive and enjoyable ways to live. Atheists throw up billboards claiming they’re Good Without God, but how are we proving that as a movement? Litter clean-ups and blood drives can only say so much when you’re simultaneously threatening your fellow activists with assault and attempting to trigger PTSD.
It’s time for a new wave of freethought, just like there were different waves of feminism. I’d argue that it’s already happened before. The “first wave” of freethought were the traditional philosophers, freethinkers, and academics. Then came the second wave of “New Atheists” like Dawkins and Hitchens, whose trademarks were their brilliant prose and unabashed public criticism of religion. Now it’s time for a third wave – a wave that isn’t just a bunch of middle class, educated internet geeks congratulating themselves for the fact that they figured out there’s no magic daddy in the sky. It’s time for a wave that cares about how religion affects everyone and that applies skepticism to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, politics, poverty, and crime. We can criticize religion and irrational thinking just as unabashedly and just as publicly, but we need to stop exempting ourselves from that criticism.
Changing a movement seems like a mighty task (especially when you lack a witty name – New Wave of Freethought doesn’t have a great ring to it). But the reason I’m not throwing my hands up in the air and screaming “I quit” is because we’re already winning. It’s an uphill battle, for sure – in case you’ve forgotten, scroll up and reread this post. But change is coming. Most public intellectuals already realize that dogma and freethought are incompatible, and though they support equitable feminist principles, they are not willing to throw away the work of many because of the irrational fears of a few. I’m speaking with many others in the hope of starting a process of healing between atheists who have been waging online battles against each other, and I’m optimistic that eventually we’ll all realize that we have much more in common than not. And although the response from the haters might seem louder and viler, they’re now vastly outnumbered by supportive comments (which wasn’t always true). This surge of hate is nothing more than the last gasp of a faction that has reached its end.
There will inevitably be people who use this post as evidence of some misogynistic conspiracy and will hunker down even more. There will be organizations, conferences, communities, and individuals that will never care about civility and true equality. There will be some that continue to devote their free time to harassing and threatening the rest of us instead of going outside for a walk or reading a book. Though these people claim to love reason, no amount of reason will ever get them to admit that they’re wrong. So to them, all I have to say is have fun as you circle jerk into oblivion. Keep unintentionally or intentionally excluding alleged sexists, intellectuals, men, women, minorities, libertarians, moderates, republicans, non-feminists, and progressives while cluelessly wondering why you’re losing members, money, and clout. The rest of us will be moving on.
If you’re ready for this new wave of freethought, now is the time to speak up. Say that you’re ready. Vocally support organizations and individuals that are already doing it right. Firmly criticize the inappropriate and hateful behavior so the victims of such actions know you’re on their side. Request that your organizations and clubs evolve, or start your own if they refuse.
The Feminists’ Club may have recently ruled the movement, but they don’t own it. We ALL can.
(A big thank you to Jen McCreight for the original idea, and for a good bit of the parodied text. I hope you get back to blogging soon, if you haven’t already. And I’m glad that you’re advancing women’s causes and rights by becoming a scientist yourself. Best wishes to you.)