Rebecca Watson posted an article which she called “Seeing the Patriarchy” where she describes the casual sexualization of women in TV advertising and how any woman who is attractive who joins the atheist community through a public internet forum will be immediately bombarded with sexual comments and suggestions often of a highly derogatory nature. She uses as an example Jessica Ahlquist who when she was 16 filed a lawsuit against her high school to remove a religious prayer from the school auditorium. When Jessica just recently posted a picture of her face on Facebook showing an exaggerated happy and surprised expression she immediately was told to “like” Sexy Atheist so that she could post a “sexy” picture of herself that then would receive praise from various men complimenting her on how “hot” she was with various forms of sexual innuendo and humor thrown in.
Rebecca Watson rightly points out that this conduct of atheist men is highly inappropriate given Jessica’s age and that Jessica herself did not to invite this sexual focus upon her; she merely was expressing a lively and interesting personality in her photo. Still the reaction to her was completely predictable given that all attractive atheist women in the social setting of the internet are immediately seized upon as “sexy women” first with their other qualities being treated as having a merely secondary interest.
Where Rebecca Watson is wrong is in asserting that this represents “the patriarchy” or that observing this is “Seeing the Patriarchy.” What Mrs. Watson is seeing is the weakening of patriarchy and the results of feminism lessening men’s regard for and respect for women and women going along with men’s disrespectful behavior towards them in order to avoid being socially ostracized as “prudes.” Feminism is what shunned the feminine virtues of chastity and modesty and it is what freed men to look upon women as “sexual objects” rather than potential marriage partners. Women’s sexuality should not be viewed as “public property” to be openly celebrated over by men in public social settings as that devalues the true power and importance and meaning of the woman’s sexuality and it creates the danger of the woman being sexually exploited by men who have no deep love for her and who have not made the ultimate commitment to her through marriage that the woman has a right to before giving herself sexually to a man.
Patriarchy is where female sexuality is most highly cherished and protected. It is feminism that undermines the patriarchal respect for women which then leads to the spectacle of atheist women again and again being overtly and often aggressively sexualized in atheist public forums. Sexual liberation is at its root highly degrading to women as women are the ones then exposed to sexual encounters without the level of commitment from the man the woman previously enjoyed and would demand before any sex took place. What we are seeing with the overt sexualization of women in public atheist forums is just the degradation of women through “sexual liberation” applied to new social settings. Since patriarchy is particularly weak in the atheist community this is why the aggressive sexualization of women is more prominently and clearly displayed in atheist social settings.
The problem of the “objectification” of women that feminists so often complain about is not due to patriarchy, it is due to the weakening of patriarchy through feminism. Men having a sexual interest in women is a basic part of nature, so to is men being powerful in relation to women. It is meaningless to think of “patriarchy” as simply meaning “male power” because male power will always exist and be a reality. One might say that the sexual objectification of women is an expression of male power or is an expression of a fantasy of male power but just because something is related to “male power” doesn’t make it “patriarchy.” Patriarchy is a particular social system with a set of moral values designed to uphold and support the patriarchal social system. One of the characteristic moral values of patriarchy is a high respect and regard for female sexuality and a high emphasis being placed on restricting female sexuality to the sphere of life, namely marriage, where female sexuality best serves women and the interests of the family unit. Under patriarchy sexuality is viewed as an intensely private matter, not appropriate in public settings, and sex is strongly stigmatized whenever it takes place or is expressed in ways which undermine the social standards or public morals of the community. In other words under patriarchy sex is highly regulated and controlled so it is channeled as a force for good that supports marital family life.
It is feminism that cheapens sexuality and cheapens women in the process by undermining the power of one of the main assets and resources that women possess in the form of their sexuality. The sexual objectification of women is a byproduct of the weakening social restrictions on sexuality that feminism itself promoted, not patriarchy. Under feminism the inherent power of men becomes more predatory and less respectful towards women; this is because the inherent reality of male power hasn’t changed due to feminism, only how male power is expressed has changed. Since women in general are viewed with less admiration and more hostility by men in a feminist social setting this leads to the sexual expressions of men being less respectful and containing a greater predatory content. The reality of male power cannot be altered; what is important is that male power be directed in a way that is beneficial to women rather than a way that is harmful to women. Patriarchy is the mechanism through which the inherent power of men is channeled to the benefit of women. Feminism undermines this beneficial channeling of male power and leads to the leakage of male sexuality being expressed in inappropriate and potentially harmful ways.
Mrs. Watson again and again has condemned the hyper-sexualization of women in the atheist community and has pointed out the often nasty and aggressive content of the sexualized messages and insults and even threats that she has received. I can only condemn this kind of abuse that has been directed against Mrs. Watson. The way to bring civility back to the atheist community in how it treats women is to resurrect the patriarchal values that protected women from this kind of degrading treatment in the past. The women of the atheist community including Mrs. Watson herself are entitled to the chivalrous ethic of respect and deference in how they are treated by men. These public displays of sexual interest in women are highly inappropriate.