Tagfeminism

Why I Drifted Away from the Atheist Movement

I don’t believe in god. And though I meditate and seek to develop a sense of myself as part of something much larger than myself, I don’t think of myself as “spiritual.”

I am, in short, an atheist.

But for the past few years I’ve been hesitant to call myself one. It’s not because I’m worried about being shunned by my friends or in my community. I live in a very secular city and work in a very secular industry. Few of my friends are religious, and those that are have been exceedingly tolerant of my beliefs — or lack thereof. A few of my colleagues are religious, most seem not to be, and, either way, almost no one is particularly interested in talking about it.

No, I’m loath to use the A word because the most vocal and visible proponents of atheism have strayed so far away from promoting reason, tolerance and secular values into promoting misogyny, xenophobia and far-right politics.

But for at least a couple years, from sometime in 2006 until sometime in 2009, I was a militant atheist, dashing off dozens of blog posts condemning religious thought for promoting murder and mutilation. I thought we. the atheists of the world, were railing against injustice and speaking truth to power.

Atheism felt just and true and important. But no longer. What happened?

Atheism as Justification for Xenophobia

Over time I sensed that for far too many people in the movement, atheism was if not a front then at least a rationalization for xenophobia or racism or both. As a long-time advocate of permissive immigration policies, that didn’t sit well for me.

I thought, and still do think, that one of the best ways a secular society can help those living under extremist religious regimes is to welcome them into our own countries. What I saw instead were atheists aligning themselves with bigots and Christian fundamentalists to promote xenophobic propaganda and reactionary immigration policies. I joined in with many other atheist bloggers in posting Fitna when it came out, but ended up feeling like a tool for doing so. That was probably the beginning of the end.

A Changing View of Religion

At some point I was swayed by Scott Atran’s critique of the New Atheist movement. He also advocated the use of positive role models for Muslim children, as opposed to the eradication of the religion, as a way of fighting terrorism, which made good sense.

Over time I also began to realize that I, like many other Movement Atheists, had been equating Islam as a whole with a relatively small fringe. Although I bristled at first at the term “Islamaphobia” since I think it’s entirely reasonable to critique religion in general and Islam in particular, I’ve come to realize that it’s a perfectly fitting term for what it describes: an irrational fear and hatred of all people who practice that particular religion.

When you spend a lot time reading about fatwas against Salman Rushdie, it can be easy to get paranoid about a grand international network of Muslim assassins out to kill anyone who criticizes the religion. But that doesn’t exist, and the fear-mongering of Islamaphobes does no one any good.

Meanwhile, I was developing a more nuanced view of what organized religion as a whole actually is, which I suppose I should save for another essay. Suffice it to say, I simply became less worried about religion as an institution.

The Monomania of Atheists

Then there was the monomaniacal focus on religion to the exclusion of all other social issues. I was particularly frustrated with what I saw as a lack of interest on the part of Movement Atheists in the root causes of extreme religiosity, such as poverty and lack of access to education. Given the broad overlap between atheism and libertarianism, I started to notice a tendency of atheists to blame poverty on religion, rather than vice versa. The end of religion was being promoted as a panacea that could solve all the world’s troubles.

I also developed a sense that Movement Atheists wouldn’t be happy with any other movement until they dropped all other causes and joined the crusade against Islam. Gay marriage in the U.S. was to take a backseat to the treatment of gays in predominantly Muslim nations. No feminist issues were to be discussed ever — not as long honor killing was still happening anywhere in the world.

Honor killing became a particular sticking point for me as I started to look into and think more deeply about “crimes of passion” (as they’re called when a non-Muslim man commits them) and lethal domestic violence in the U.S., and came to the conclusion that it had more to do with toxic masculinity than religion. That led me to fully embrace feminist thought, putting me further at odds with the atheist movement.

Shark Jump

By 2011, when Dawkins published his “Dear Muslima” comment — suggesting that women who complained about sexual harassment in the workplace should shut the fuck up because at least they weren’t having their genitals mutilated — I’d already drifted away, but it’s the nice illustration of just about everything that’s wrong with Movement Atheism.

Consider, for example, Dawkins extreme hypocrisy in writing that comment. He suggested that the incident that Rebecca Watson described — and the subsequent harassment she received as a result of daring to mention it — was so minor in comparison to the myriad ways that women suffer in other parts of the world that she shouldn’t even talk about it at all. But if people should only mention the worst of all abuses, then why is Dawkins even writing about a woman writing about her experiences? Shouldn’t he be writing about something more important?

The inescapable conclusion is that Dawkins was merely using atheism as a bludgeon to silence women who dared to speak out against abuse in the West because he the topic made him uncomfortable. He felt threatened by women, and did what he could to push the conversation away from the ways men abuse women in the West and onto a convenient scapegoat.

And we’ve seen that again and again in the atheist community in recent years, from the barbaric treatment of women like Jennifer McCreight within the atheist community to Dawkins’s rape victim blaming.

If there was a single shark jumping moment, though, it had to have been the controversy surrounding Park51, the so-called “Ground Zero mosque,” which was actually a community center that was to include — in addition to a performing arts center, swimming pool and gym, among other things — a large prayer room.

Movement Atheists thought the idea of Muslims praying inside a building two blocks away from the WTC site was so offensive that it should be illegal. Yes, the very same people who gleefully publish drawings of Mohammad to intentionally offend Muslims were offended at the very thought of someone praying in a room behind closed doors. Liberal values like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and property rights went right out the window. That was especially rich coming from the libertarians.

That whole ordeal, along with the movement’s vocal support of France’s burqa ban, laid bare the hypocrisy and irrationality of atheist movement. It was then clear that this movement wasn’t about fighting theocracy, giving voice to those oppressed by religion, or advancing the ideals of an open society. It was about imposing their own beliefs on other people. And I wanted nothing to do with it.

Bloodied Hands

I started writing this about a week ago, while thinking about the role of atheism in the overlapping reactionary, pick-up artist, GamerGate, and Men’s Rights Advocacy communities — recently dubbed the “Redpill Right.” It made me think about what I’d once had in common with those men, and what had changed.

And then today, three Muslim people were murdered in Chapel Hill by a militant atheist. Someone who wrote things on Facebook that sound not entirely unlike things I used to write on this very blog. That spurred me to finish writing it.

Of course there are those, like Dawkins, who will argue that actually, it’s about ethics in parking violations. But by Dawkins’s own logic, all atheists — myself included — now have blood on our hands, by making the world safe for extremists like Craig Stephen Hicks. And there’s probably some truth to that.

Which leaves me wondering where to go from here. There’s a case to be made that I, and all other non-believers who don’t share a reactionary, misogynistic view of the world should become active in Movement Atheism, to turn it around and make it safe for the marginalized. Maybe even change the minds of some of the worst offenders in the scene.

But I think changing those minds will be subject to the same sorts of backlash effects that I expect we’d see trying to convert the religious to atheism. And those of us who don’t fit in with this brand of atheism are simply best moving on. We can promote reason and secular values without the tunnel vision of Movement Atheism.

Better then to wander away and leave these sad, frightened men to shout into the darkness alone, with nary a god to hear them.

Mutation Vectors: Slackback Edition

Status Update

My tendonitis is flaring up and my stomach is killing me, so instead of writing up something new, here’s part of a Vectors that was originally going to go out November 29th, 2014 but that I didn’t finish due to …

This would have followed the Fantastic Death Abyss.

Browsing

This week’s must read: Deb Chachra on the 25th anniversary of the École Polytechnique:

There’s often a sense that women in the tech world make a big deal out of small events. But the myriad ways in which they are told their presence is illegitimate, that tells them that they don’t belong, is a constant pressure pushing them towards leaving technology (and game journalism, and the public sphere). In particular, when women in technology also have public voices, as with Anita Sarkeesian or Brianna Wu or Kathy Sierra, the pressure can be—is often intended to be—crushing.

I don’t think being a woman in technology is worth dying for, but I learned early that some men think it’s worth killing for.

Frank Serpico says the police are still out of control.

The Awl: the City That Split in Two

Vice: The Coming Blackout Epidemic

Listening

After posting about David Bowie’s Outside, I stumbled across Pushing Ahead of the Dame, a site written by one Chris O’Leary, dedicated to annotating every single Bowie song ever. There I learned about Leon a bootleg that may have been what Bowie originally intended Outside to be. And via O’Leary’s annotations, I’ve come to realize that OrpheanLyricist’s interpretation of Outside‘s story line is, though valid based on what was actually released, certainly not what Bowie had originally intended.

I ended up spending way too much time on this site. Here are the annotations for Leon and Outside.

Four More Reads on Rage Killing and Misogyny

Rage Killings in the Neoliberal World

UCSB: A Terrible Lesson in Digital Dualism and Misogyny

Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds

Dudes, Stop Putting Women in the Girlfriendzone

Let’s call the Isla Vista killings what they were: misogynist extremism

I’m reluctant to write about , because the media needs to stop inspiring copycat murders and because of the amount of confusion and misreporting that surrounded the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords.

But I think the issues Laurie Penny raises in her piece on the topic are worth discussing. Penny notes that this wouldn’t be the first time that a sexually frustrated man has used feminism as an excuse for a killing spree:

In 1989, 25-year-old Marc Lépine shot 28 people at the École Polytechnique in Quebec, Canada, claiming he was “fighting feminism”. Fourteen women died. In 2009, a 48-year-old man called George Sodini walked into a gym in the Pittsburgh area and shot 13 women, three of whom died. His digital manifesto was a lengthier version of Rodger’s, vowing vengeance against the female sex for refusing to provide him with pleasure and comfort. Online misogynists approved.

Up ’til now companies like Twitter haven’t taken seriously the threats and harassment that misogynist activists terrorize women with. Penny writes:

For the countless women and girls who have come to live with harassment as a daily cost of being in public and productive while female – let alone while feminist – the tragedy at Isla Vista has been a chilling wake-up call. I know I will never be able to tell myself in quite the same way that the men who link me to two-hundred-post threads about how I ought to be raped can’t actually hurt my body, no matter how much they savage my peace of mind.

We have been told for a long time that the best way to deal with this sort of harrassment and violence is to laugh it off. Women and girls and queer people have been told that online misogynists pose no real threat, even when they’re sharing intimate guides to how to destroy a woman’s self-esteem and force her into sexual submission. Well, now we have seen what the new ideology of misogyny looks like at its most extreme. We have seen incontrovertible evidence of real people being shot and killed in the name of that ideology, by a young man barely out of childhood himself who had been seduced into a disturbing cult of woman-hatred. Elliot Rodger was a victim – but not for the reasons he believed.

Full Story: New Statesmen: Let’s call the Isla Vista killings what they were: misogynist extremism

As to how much blame to place specifically on the “men’s rights activists” (MRA), “pick-up artists” (PUA) movements, I’m reminded of Leon Wieseltier writing about the idea ofcollective responsibility vs. individual responsibility in the case of Jewish and Islamic terrorism:

If the standpoint of broadly collective responsibility was the wrong way to explain the atrocities, so too was the standpoint of purely individual responsibility. There were currents of culture behind the killers. Their ideas were not only their own.

I’d also like to echo Chip Berlet’s comments on Democracy Now following the murder of George Tiller in 2009:

I don’t think the issue here is urging the government to expand its repressive powers. I think that’s a mistake. I think what we have here are groups of criminals and criminal individuals who need to be pursued and prosecuted, as appropriate.

And I think it’s important to understand that, for many years, clinic violence was not treated with the same aggressive attention by the federal government and state governments as other forms of vandalism and violence. And I think that that’s because the anti-abortion movement has a very large political and religious constituency that makes it very difficult for state and federal officials to try and actually enforce the existing laws that they should be doing.

See also:

The Failure of the FBI’s Right-Wing Terrorist Infiltration Program

What Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto Has to Tell Us About the “Lean In” Era

Haley Mlotek writes:

I cannot abide by that tone claiming ladies are just in this together: girls nights and other segregated socializing, grouping us by the most tenuous links, like that I was born with a vagina and live as a female-identified person, and that’s enough for the publishing industry to feel confident that Sandberg will speak to me. There’s a special place in hell for people who sincerely say, “Listen up, ladies,” which must be the last thing you hear before you enter the underworld, and, “We’re all in this together,” the first after passing through the rings of fire.

Haraway, by contrast, writes that “there is nothing about being ‘female’ that naturally binds women,” a welcome reprieve from a false sisterhood. In 1985, decades before Sheryl Sandberg left Google to work for Facebook and asked us to make similar leans in our lives, Haraway warned, “Work is being redefined as both literally female and feminized, whether performed by men or women. To be feminized means to be made extremely vulnerable; able to be disassembled, reassembled, exploited as a reserve labour force… leading an existence that always borders on being obscene, out of place, and reducible to sex.” The cyborg that Haraway wants to be is “an imagination of a feminist speaking in tongues to strike fear into the circuits of the super-saves of the new right. It means both building and destroying machines, identities, categories, relationships, space stories.” I would rather be that cyborg than ban bossy.

When I consider what a woman is — or what a woman should be, according to the peanut gallery offering helpful suggestions at a reasonable price — I wonder, like Donna Haraway, if the category we call woman is not already some sort of cyborg, a hybrid body made up of organic material and the implanted subconsciousness of those voices telling women how to behave, how to be better. These suggestions seek to make women robotic in their uniformity; voluntary Stepford Wives.

Maybe, instead, we should think of our consciousness as a circuit board that we are in control of. Instead of being something that must be formed, we can hold ourselves as individual units open to being rewired, to adapting to new advances, and not simply mechanisms who are in need of constant repair from some sort of patriarchal tool box.

Full Story: Buzz Feed: You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine

(via Today in Tabs)

What It’s Like to be a Woman at a Comic Book Shop

woman-in-comic-shop

Read the whole comic by Noelle Stevenson.

(via Metafilter)

Previously: If Male Superheroes Were Drawn Like Female Superheroes

Mindful Cyborgs: A Look Back at 2013

For our New Years special episode, our new co-host Alex Williams joined Chris Dancy and me for a reflection on our most popular episodes of 2013. Here we are talking about episode 12, our interview with feminist activist Shanley:

CD: Klint, did you . . . we had Shanley on. She’s one of the shows we’re going to talk about in a bit but you saw some of the things that happened at conferences. Defrag opened up their conference with a whole section on there will be no talk of this and there will be no [00:08:05]. Conferences with disclaimers, there’s a O’Reilly conference coming up called Solid and when you apply one of the things they ask you is are you gay, black or are you one of these things that we don’t normally have on stage because we’re going to instantly give you more credit in consideration.

When I filled out the Solid to speak at Solid, I thought to myself wow, this is kind of crazy. What did they call it back in the 60s and 70s when they moved people through government ranks because they were minorities? Affirmative action. There’s digital or affirmative action happening. It’s just really strange.

AW: Digital affirmative action, yeah.

KF: Yeah. It feel like it’s really late for it to be happening. When you said affirmative action happen everywhere else decades ago, there’s also an argument to be made that things are actually –

CD: Worse.

KF: – worse outside of the tech industry but I’m glad that all these things are getting more attention. I don’t know how it’s all going to play out but there’s definitely a strong reaction against all of it as well. The more women that speak out the more just misogynistic douchebag guys also like react to it and actually kind of double down on being pricks and I don’t know where it’s all going to end up. I don’t know if there’s a better way of addressing the issues.

I think that a lot of times people get carried away with attacking individuals over tweets rather than thinking more about the big picture but at the same time usually people need to be called out on for what they say. So, I don’t know

Download and Full Transcript: Mindful Cyborgs: The Beginning — A Look Back at 2013

Since recording the show, Shanley has launched her own tech publication Model View Culture. You can read an interview with her about the new endeavor here.

On Race and Sexual Violence in the Works of Alan Moore

Let’s get something out of the way upfront: I don’t think Alan Moore is a racist, homophobe or misogynist. But some of his works — particularly League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Neonomicon — have issues. Although it might seem silly to go after Moore when there are much worse offenders both in comics and other media (not to mention actual rapists), Moore’s work is a good case study of how even the most well intentioned, progressive writers can screw-up matters of race, gender and sexuality. And because he is perhaps the most highly regarded writer in comics, there’s a trickle down effect from his work. Moore refuses to listen to his critics, but maybe other writers can learn from his mistakes.

Last week Pádraig Ó Méalóid published an interview with Alan Moore in which he asked a few questions about sexual assault in his comics in general and specifically about his inclusion of Golliwog in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier.

Moore’s response is long and vitriolic, and misses the point entirely.

I can understand why Moore is so bothered by accusations of racism and sexism. He’s an old hippie who has put more consideration to identity politics and representation into his work than most comic writers of his or any other generation. He’s taken other creators to task for their sexism and homophobia. But even though he’s written some strong women and minority characters, he can and does get it wrong sometimes, and his reaction here is disappointing — not least of all because of the rhetorical style he employs.

Read More

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This isn’t ‘feminism’. It’s Islamophobia

Laurie Penny writes:

I am not writing here on behalf of Muslim women, who can and do speak for themselves, and not all in one voice. I am writing this as a white feminist infuriated by white men using dog-whistle Islamophobia to derail any discussion of structural sexism; as someone who has heard too many reactionaries tell me to shut up about rape culture and the pay gap and just be grateful I’m not in Saudi Arabia; as someone angered that so many Muslim feminists fighting for gender justice are forced to watch their truth, to paraphrase that fusty old racist Rudyard Kipling, “twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools”.

We are the fools, if we believe that accepting aggressive distinctions between nice, safe western sexism and scary, heathen Muslim sexism is going to serve the interests of women. The people making these arguments don’t care about women. They care about stoking controversy, attacking Muslims and shouting down feminists of all stripes.

For decades, western men have hijacked the language of women’s liberation to justify their Islamophobia. If we care about the future of feminism, we cannot let them set the agenda.

Full Story: The Guardian: This isn’t ‘feminism’. It’s Islamophobia

I dislike the term “Islamophobia,” but lacking a better term, I can’t help but agree — even though of I’ve been guilty of this in the past.

This form of hijacking is especially common in the atheist community, with the likes of Richard Dawkins and Pat Condell using it to dodge criticism of the community’s own treatment of women.

See also: American Muslims Have Mainstream Values and Honor killings and “crimes of passion”.

Mindful Cyborgs: Power and Privilege in the New Working Order

This week Chris Dancy and I talked to Shanley, a tech product manager and feminist in the Bay Area, about sexism and micro-aggression in the work place.

KF: How can people be more aware of what’s going on there? I mean, one of the things I was wondering about when I read it is how often managers are really intentionally doing this because I imagine there’s some element of desire to be the boss and express power in those ways but I’m guessing actually that there’s a fair amount that’s completely subconscious and that if managers were more aware of they actually would perhaps not do these things.

First of all, do you agree that some of it is unintentional and secondly like how can people become more aware of this stuff?

CD: One of the things I heard Shanley you say was when I become or when we become managers the things we observe so I think to Klint’s question is some of this just kind of picked up like lint on your mind because you’ve watched people manage?

SK: Yes absolutely. I think we tend to emulate what we see around us, we tend to try to emulate and live up to the mythologies around us. I think that most this type of behavior is not conscious at all. No one is sitting there thinking how can I make my team feel bad, how can I make them feel inferior, how can I make them feel less than … but there’s something amazing about that realization because it starts with this realization that like managers have a profound impact on the lives and experiences of their teams.

We know this is true because when you ask people about bad managers that they’ve had you see the tremendous negative impact that managers can have and not just affecting you as an individual but ask someone’s partner, their friends about the bad managers they’ve had and they’ll give you an earful too. And then you talk with managers and they have this really strong desire to really help their team but there’s a disconnect going on there. When you can sort of star in this shared position of being like okay, like this is a really powerful space, the space of interaction is really powerful. It’s something that sometimes goes horribly wrong but no one wants it to you and how can we sort of start from that position of like good intention but more awareness and honesty.

As always, you can find it on Soundcloud, iTunes or Stitcher, or download it directly.

Show notes and transcript are here.

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