Amanda Marcotte’s presentation at Women in Secularism 2 “How Feminism Makes Better Skeptics” is based on the idea that historically secularism and feminism have been tied together; that many of the early feminists were atheists; that scientific based empirical data tends to support the feminist point of view, and that secularism can do much more good in the world if it directs itself to feminist issues. A lot of the focus in Marcotte’s talk was about how feminism benefits the third world in terms of reducing over population and promoting economic development.
The whole idea that rationalism or scientific evidence supports the feminist world view is based on ignoring a whole broad area of life; family indicators in general; and it is based on selectively interpreting the data that is left. There also tends to be a lot of confusion about cause and effect. Most of all what might be called secondary effects are ignored. There is the idea that the man has a rational will and the woman has a rational will and whatever the two consenting adults come up with must be good and right. Children are largely ignored in this equation and human nature is largely ignored in this equation. What is ignored most of all is the dynamic where men provide resources to women in order to support women’s family role. Indeed the very idea of women having a family role in the first place seems to be something feminists want to deemphasize.
There is another odd aspect of feminism, this idea that women getting what they want benefits everybody or is somehow universally a good thing. If women aren’t given what they want this is then decried as oppression and a cruel restriction on women’s autonomy. Men are also oddly absent from the feminist world view; men are treated as if they don’t exist or at least men’s interests are treated as if they don’t exist as a separate entity with value in their own right.
Some interesting quotes from Amanda Marcotte’s presentation:
How Feminism Makes Better Skeptics
1:09 to 2:34; 4:17 to 4:49
“Sexism is probably one of the longest standing popular beliefs that needs to be challenged. In fact I would say all of human history is basically sexist. It’s like religion. It’s thousands and thousands of years of bullshit just sort of piling on top of each other. Standing up to patriarchy, standing up to sexism is not easy and it does not make you popular, I have definitely found that to be true.
Anti-secularists; like religious people in this country [the United States]. And I don’t wanna just say religious, but like, the kind of people that want to make religion part of our government, that want to impose their faith through law on everybody else; are so obsessed with gender. In fact I would say that’s more important to them than any other issue. They basically want to protect straight male privilege. They spend all their time passing laws about abortion and contraception and they try to ban gay marriage. Everything is about sexuality, everything is about gender. School prayer and things, those are important to them. But in terms of the amount of time that the theocrats of our country spend on different issues; I would say 90% of it is gender related. The other 10% are things like trying to get evolution [creationism?] in schools and whatnot.”
“They [Seneca Falls, 1848] made a list of demands in this document that basically said they took it as a given that women were equal to men and that hundreds of thousands of years of men taking women’s identity away by not letting them inherit property, by making them civil non-persons when they got married, by not letting them work. By not letting them control their lives, that that was a violation of human rights. I think all that seems obvious to us now but in 1848 it was not.”
First off on what basis does sexism need to be challenged? This is simply an assertion with no background given as to why “sexism” needs to be challenged. Sexism in the context here simply means men and women are different with men having some comparative strengths and women having other comparative strengths. This to me is an obvious reality and so therefore doesn’t need to be “challenged” at all. Marcotte says “I would say all of human history is basically sexist.” This is a remarkable statement. How can “all of human history” be sexist if sexism is unnatural or abnormal or something other than the natural order of life? Marcotte also condemns those who “want to impose their faith through law on everybody else.” Don’t feminists want to impose their feminist laws on everybody else? Marcotte seems to want to stigmatize religious based moral values as somehow being inferior to “secular values” or “reason derived” values such as feminism.
As far as the religious right being “obsessed with gender” that is probably a fair assessment but it also makes perfect sense. Gender relations and the family more broadly is where the greatest amount of trouble in the rich Western countries is coming from. It is also where the greatest immorality and self-destructive behavior is coming from. It makes perfect sense for the religious community to focus on the areas of life that are most suffering from the lack of adherence to traditional religious practices; the area of life most in need of correction being gender relations. As far as the religious right wanting to protect “straight male privilege” it needs to be seen that “straight male privilege” as Marcotte refers to it is the foundation of a healthy functioning civilization. Society cannot operate without men being privileged in the masculine sphere because male privilege is a necessary resource men need to have to be able to care for their families and establish order in society overall. As far as the “straight” or heteronormative part; it is the heterosexual family unit that creates and provides for the needs of children and it is the heterosexual dynamic between men and women that motivates men to take on their proper productive role within the family and on behalf of society at large.
Regarding the Seneca Falls convention; to say that they “took it as a given that women were equal to men” on what basis is men and women being equal a “given?” I assume that by “equal” is meant interchangeable or functionally equivalent in this context. Men are not equal to women; men are better at some things and women are better at other things. There are certain responsibilities that the man has and certain responsibilities the woman has. The idea that the traditional practices of the past constituted “men taking women’s identity away” is quite strange. This assumes that women’s identity can only come from the masculine sphere, can only come from women taking on the behavior and roles typical of men. The traditional practices of the past were meant to insure that men supported women in their identity as women; these practices enhanced women’s identity within the feminine sphere.
Marcotte again and again sets up religion and feminism as being mortal enemies of each other; the implication being that atheism is the natural ally of feminism. Furthermore since atheism is based on rationality this means that feminism is derived from rationality and that by extension atheism naturally leads to feminism. In the political sphere at least in the United States conservative religion and feminism are definitely on opposite sides of each other on political issues. Religion is also where the anti-feminist pro-patriarchal revival is going on. There is a form of anti-feminism that is specific to the atheist community and is not really found in religion at all; this being the Men’s Rights Activists or MRAs. There is a distinct difference however between MRAs and religious style advocates of complementarianism or patriarchy. That is that MRAs are opposed to protective male responsibility on behalf of women while religious style patriarchy is very supportive of the male provider and protector role (what I call Chivalry).
So in practice Marcotte is right; that atheism and feminism go together in the current and past political scene and that religion and sexism have gone together as antagonists to feminism. I think there is a surprising reason for this however. Feminism is irrational while traditional family values is rational. The thing is that religion actually has a more solid intellectual rational foundation to its beliefs regarding morality than atheism does at the present time. This is because of the religious conception of God that atheists as a whole have no equivalent to. What is God in the religious context? God is absolute truth or objective reality. Atheists have no counterpart idea of what “absolute truth” or “objective reality” is. This means that atheists make it up as they go along and have a very simplified version of moral concepts that do not operate as an integrated organized whole and do not take into account the many different parties involved who are secondarily affected by one’s choice of actions. The rejection of God is not the rejection of irrationality and superstition; it is instead the rejection of absolute truth and objective reality. Feminism then thrives on atheism because feminism is based on the denial of objective reality; that men and women are different from each other and that the differences between the sexes leads to different roles and responsibilities for the sexes.
It is not a necessity that atheism be a tool that feminism can exploit. Atheism can indeed embrace objective reality and develop within itself a God concept capable of providing to atheists a functional model of life. At that point, when atheism truly represents a rational mode of thinking, atheism will no longer be feminism’s friend. At that point atheism can then kick out feminism and join the religious in supporting society’s need for a return to traditional gender roles.
Women in Secularism 2
Held May 17 – 19, 2013 in Washington, D.C.