So it's the middle of the week (a short week here in the US) and it looks like it's time for a little chat. First, go read Sister Isis on the Dawkins's idiocy. In case you weren't keeping up, the basic story is that Skepchick Rebecca Watson (of whose work I am a bit of a fan) openly wrote about an uncomfortable incident in the greater context of sexism in the skeptical community. Famed biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins responded to her in a horridly sexist, belittling, "get back to the kitchen and STFU" manner. And now there seems to be a bit of an imbroglio in the skeptical movement. Thank God; it's about time.
We all may suffer from the incredulity of privilege. Just as we don't often notice the air we breathe until it's taken from us, we don't often notice the "isms" that we swim in. Patriarchy, like racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, undergirds everything in our society (some would argue that patriarchy is actually the basis for all other -isms). It is so much a part of our society that even outrageous acts can seem normal. When you step back and look objectively (skeptically, if you will) at gender and society, you can see that ours is a culture that views women as sex objects first and people last, in which sexual violence is a normative cultural tool used to control women. To you who are unfamiliar with this view, it helps to read a bit from those who are more familiar with it.
Feminism is both radical and obvious. It overturns many of our basic assumptions, assumptions that are so much a part of our society that we see them as fundamental truths. But it's really, really obvious once the veil is lifted. And for those of us who benefit from cultural assumptions such as patriarchy and homophobia, we may have little occasion to notice something is wrong. But we are drunk on it, deceived into complacency. Those who value justice because it is right, who value human rights for all humans because it is simply right, we must all speak out whenever we can.
In my work I am confronted daily by sexual violence, financial entrapment in relationships, and other horrors, horrors people are easily blinded to and blinded by. We blame the victim either because it may benefit us to eschew change, or because we are relieved it wasn't us---this time.
One of my hesitations about being labelled a fervent skeptic is that the community is often skeptical of everything except its own beliefs. It houses the same sexism, racism, and other societal norms as any other community---skepticism, which at its best can help to remedy these, is simply not immune to human foibles. It is not enough to promote skeptical thinking, a value of empiricism over faith. We must use these tools to root out some of the most irrational "memes" we encounter. Which is more harmful, Creationism or racism? Which is less rational? Why must we fight one and not the other?
Brava, Rebecca. Hopefully, the skeptical community isn't dominated by porn-surfing nerds ignorant of the real world. We all should apply our thinking skills to everyday problems, not just our pet inconveniences.