#Genderweek – A 21st Century Boy

asbcCm1398849261What is it like, what does it mean, to be a man in the 21st Century?

A lot of what is bandied about in discussion of gender is anecdote, which I find horribly frustrating since anecdotes are necessarily subjective and are practically useless for determining the actual truth of anything. However, I’ll annoy myself for once by giving my subjective experience and opinion on my life, growing up from 1975 to today and what it’s been like for me.

A little background then.

I am British, of normal gender expression, white, male and heterosexual. To many people that would make me the enemy.

I am, however, also a house husband, involved in a creative profession for my work, am out-earned by my wife and, until I got ill, took care of most of the looking after the house, making meals and all the rest. I want kids – apparently a rare things in a man.

Pretty much from the get-go, being a boy of nerdy and cerebral interests, I was bullied on the basis of being too feminine, not being manly enough, not liking football and other sports and – at a younger age – having a Betty Boop kiss curl. Liking some popular things like Star Wars etc wasn’t enough to compensate for all that really and it all only gets worse once puberty sets in. That’s when you have to more aggressively defend your sexuality, not necessarily because you hate or dislike gay people, but more to assert and advertise your own heterosexuality. The pressure on guys does come from other guys, but also, hugely, from the girls you’re seeking in your first, clumsy, faltering steps to get the attention of.

It’s weird, today, to think that nerdish pasttimes are considered a boys club, given the amount of shit you absorb over the years telling you how unmanly it is to like to read, draw, geek out over science fiction etc – again, much of it from women as well – but that also explains the defensiveness of the geek community. It has been a masculine safe-haven for the unmasculine male for a very long time. Safe from having to perform for men or women or endure judgement, bullying or shaming. This is less true today than it was, but it is a part of the culture and I wish more people who elbow their way in and try to change the community instead of add to it would give the same consideration to that, that they do to their own spaces.

Into adulthood and you’re a bit more secure and confident in your sexuality but you still have to be performative in it. Especially if you’re not a manly man and double-especially if the only people to really hit on you in clubs and bars are gay men. It is wearing and constantly reassessing what level of flirting is appropriate and acceptable is a minefield. The world, in many ways, seems out to get you. Some of these seem petty, but amount to the ‘microaggressions’ some feminists talk about, others are more serious.

  • Women unjustifiably acting terrified of you when you happen to be walking the same way or waiting behind them to use the ATM.
  • Having to stand on a train or bus rather than sit next to a woman who is, again, unjustifiably terrified of you.
  • Risking being ‘outed’ on social media for sitting in a comfortable way on public transport.
  • Being unable to share off-colour jokes with friends.
  • Having ones hobbies and other spaces invaded, unilaterally, and forced to change.
  • Never being allowed to strike back physically or verbally when such comes from a woman.
  • Being subjected to enormous scrutiny when applying for certain jobs, far more than women in the same fields.
  • Little to no educational assistance despite plenty being available for women – even though they’re already advantaged there.
  • Lower priority access to medical care.
  • Being told off for bringing flowers as a token of affection as that’s sexist somehow.
  • The same for opening doors.
  • Being held accountable for the presumed actions of indirect ancestors hundreds of years ago in a perverse version of original sin.
  • Insults and accusations merely for being skeptical of feminist or gender oriented claims or pointing out flaws in methodology.
  • Media representations of men growing progressively more insulting and terrible in favour of women, and this going unchallenged or remarked.
  • Concern over men’s rights and issues being summarily dismissed with hypocritical fervour.
  • The ludicrous idea of ‘patriarchy’ as an all-pervasive, male conspiracy.
  • Offence culture and censorship.

I can’t say that I’ve ever been inherently advantaged, as a man. The ongoing pressures to conform to certain gender norms and the judgements for not doing so are on me as much from women as from men, even though I’m married. I am interested in gender relations issues, yet I can’t comment or question without insults, dismissal and comments about my appearance. Any disagreement is not tolerated. I’ve lost job opportunities due to being male and feel that I have to apologise for simply walking down the street. Judgement and wariness is now so ingrained I barely feel I can look at a woman – because apparently objectification rays shoot out of my eyes as though I were a sexist version of Cyclops.

As a man it feels as though one must constantly apologise for taking up space, for being attracted to women, for daring to look, for enjoying pornography or making crude jokes. Women seem to demand access to male spaces while denying access to female spaces – using the same justifications in both instances. There seems to be endless legislation to advance, protect and extend women’s rights but not for men. A moral panic over a non-existent rape culture infects society and especially academia, leading to the erosion of men’s right to a fair hearing and the enforced participation in awareness courses of dubious providence. There is a very real threat that a man’s right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence in sexual conduct legal cases will be eroded or even overturned – this already being the case in many academic tribunals. As someone into ‘kink’ there’s a very real threat my sexuality will be criminalised at a time when alternative sexualities are otherwise being embraced, and this despite consent being baked in at every level to the BDSM scene,

What is the role of a man when ‘men’s work’ is less available, when women are told they can do everything a man can and men are told they are worse than useless or everything that’s wrong with society? What is the role of a man when taking on traditionally feminine roles – such as child care – earn him the scorn of men and the indifference, suspicion and disapproval of women? Why are we still expected to sacrifice everything for women and children when we no longer receive the commensurate rewards for doing so? Why are so many things a choice for women but a duty for men and why is this seen as the ever nebulous ‘privilege’?

To be a man today is to be blamed for everything, past and present. To be a man today is to endure endless insults without the capability to push back. Interest in these issues is brushed off – provided you don’t agree with the slightest thing – and the only acceptable position seems to be obsequious self-loathing for the crime of having a penis.

Men’s Right’s Activists, like feminists, have some good points but, like feminists, seem consumed by bitterness and ideology.

So what is there to do? Where is the place in this world for a) a heterosexual, conventionally gender identifying person who doesn’t conform to the roles and b) someone interested in gender issues who isn’t a feminist, or an MRA but is a skeptical enquirer?

I don’t know.

I think that ‘I don’t know’ is the position a huge number of other modern men are in and the lack of a male identity while simultaneously being constantly hated simply for being male has certainly contributed to my depression and anxiety.

I don’t know what the answer is either. So many of us are, quite simply, adrift.

 

Patriarchy? What Patriarchy?

Guys

I recently stopped following Laurie Penny on Twitter because in the aftermath of Trollmageddon no amount of political agreement on broader topics was worth putting up with the disagreement on ‘feminist’ issues (scare quotes used with reason). Laurie is normally on the more reasonable side of things but in the context of the stupidity going on (which you can see me discuss in earlier posts) it was simply too much and not worth the anger and frustration.

Still, lots of people I follow have time for her and retweet a lot.

Today she’s asking:

Which on the face of it is a good question to ask, but betrays a certain bias in the use of the term ‘Patriarchy’.

In feminism, Patriarchy is defined as:

All forms of feminism define patriarchy as an unjust social system that is oppressive to women. As feminist and political theorist Carole Pateman writes, “The patriarchal construction of the difference between masculinity and femininity is the political difference between freedom and subjection.”In feminist theory the concept of patriarchy often includes all the social mechanisms that reproduce and exert male dominance over women. Feminist theory typically characterizes patriarchy as a social construction, which can be overcome by revealing and critically analyzing its manifestations.

To ask, then, how ‘Patriarchy’, a system that is supposed to exalt men and oppress women, hurts men, disarms its own point. ‘Patriarchy’ wouldn’t harm men, so if you’re claiming it does you’ve eliminated the idea of Patriarchy from the discussion from the get go. It is an inherently ridiculous question most often encountered as a statement instead: ‘Patriarchy hurts men too’ and if you change it slightly that inherent ridiculousness becomes even more apparent:

Plutocracy hurts rich people too.

Or…

White supremacism hurt Caucasians too.

The idea that there is some global conspiracy of men doing things purely to benefit men has about as much cachet as David Icke’s theories about the world being run by ‘invisible space lizards’.

The idea, the concept, the promulgation of this idea of ‘patriarchy’ is harmful in and of itself. It places blame on a gender, others men, justifies poor treatment of them that leaks back up into academia and judicial decisions. It puts a sort of ‘original sin’ upon men simply for their chromosomes and having a penis.

 

It’s all a matter of perspective anyway, anything you can characterise as a male advantage can be seen as an imposition. Military service is a great example with women seeing themselves as restricted from entering or performing certain duties and men seeing themselves as imposed upon to serve or be drafted. It’s all in how you see it.

Kyriarchy is a much better term for the interlocking set of roles and expectations that we find ourselves in. One that doesn’t damn or blame men. Unfortunately its not a particularly well known term. How about we stick to ‘How do gender roles hurt men?’ rather than placing the blame as is inherent in the term Patriarchy? That would be a great start.

There’s plenty to talk about it, but phrasing it as ‘How does Patriarchy hurt men?’ is like a Christian asking an atheist ‘Why do you hate Jesus?’. The questioner is assuming certain things about the person answering.

guys2

Feminism & Socialism: An Open Letter to Laurie Penny

solidarityDear Laurie,

We had a bit of a spat over on Twitter about the fallout from the Socialist Worker’s Party rape scandal. Not over the rape or the scandal itself per se (which is pretty obviously beyond the pale) but over Feminism and Socialism and the interface between the two. We also fell out over your proposal as to the examination and discussion of Feminism as a whole and the possibility of a space in which men could ask questions without being shot down.

My only comment on the SWP scandal itself would be that I do not find it that surprising that things turned out as they did. When a small(ish) ideological group rejects the society it finds itself in it cannot remain ideologically pure while calling to the society at large for help with its problems. When something like a rape – or other crime – occurs they will look to deal with it internally. The problem with that is that in a small group everyone is interconnected to a much stronger degree than in a larger society and it’s far easier for bias and political concerns to override the necessity for justice. We see this even in our national judicial system, let alone in small fringe groups. It is disappointing – but almost inevitable – that things turned out as they did.

Moving beyond the SWP to more general terms there was something you said about the join between Feminism and Socialism that I wanted to comment on but felt I could not because of the inevitable backlash whenever a man comments on Feminism.

I’ve decided to stick my head over the parapet anyway because I’m an idiot, clearly.

You said:

@Pennyred: Socialism without feminism isn’t socialism that’s worth having. We must fight sexism within the left, whatever the cost. #SWPconf

@Pennyred: Feminism without socialism has internal logic, but limited usefulness. Socialism without feminism makes no sense whatsoever.

 Such statements are a problem for me because Socialism (non-Marxist) is predicated upon the premise of equal opportunity, egalitarianism and equal rights for all human beings regardless of gender, race, wealth, class and so forth. In fact it is committed to redistribution and evening of rights and privileges as much as it is material wealth.

Feminism, for all its pretensions to the contrary, does not seem to fit this definition. Feminism is specifically concerned with the rights of women, not with the rights and equality of all human beings. It seems obvious, to me, that this is at odds with the stated aims and goals of Socialism.

Why?

Well, consider this diagram. (fig 1).

fig1

Feminism is concerned with:

A: Areas in which women have less advantage than men.

B: Areas in which men have more advantage than women.

Feminism is not concerned with:

C: Areas in which women have more advantage than men.

D: Areas in which men have less advantage than women.

If Feminism were to achieve its goals completely it would result in a society where women had all of the advantages and none of the disadvantages and men had none of the advantages and all of the disadvantages. This would not be egalitarian. (fig 2).

fig2

Now, of course, many will claim that this is a misrepresentation of Feminism and that feminism is:

@c_richardson_nz: And feminism isn’t about absolute right and absolute wrong, it’s about accepting difference & being inclusive.

To which I answered “*Bitter Lol*”, and very nearly answered “Is it fuck.”

Whether you like it or not the Feminism that I encounter every day is not inclusive or accepting of difference.

The Feminism I encounter every day is arrogant, condescending, interfering, censorious, po-faced and unwilling to brook any question or examination. It brushes off any query or disagreement by calling it ‘derailing‘, it seeks no common ground and dismisses any and all concerns about arenas in which men suffer from inequality and disadvantage. It even dismisses and ignores science on ideological grounds, something I’m far more used to finding amongst creationists and deem to be just as unacceptable on grounds of ideology as religion.

It both amused and irritated me that the typical angry-white/right-male seems to have tapped into my disagreement with you.

I am not angry at Feminism because I am some right wing conservative and Feminism is all lefty-pinko liberal nonsense. I am angry at Feminism because I am a nonsensical lefty-pinko liberal and I find Feminism to be archly conservative, censorious and closed-minded.

  • If Feminism wants to stifle creativity.
  • If Feminism scoffs at and ignores the inequalities facing men.
  • If Feminism is anti-sex and anti-pornography (despite people like my friend Nica Noelle).
  • If Feminism is anti-Science (see earlier link).

Then I want nothing to do with it.

Show me an egalitarian Feminism and I’m all over it. Show me a Feminism that fights just as hard to remove female privilege as male privilege and to help men to equality where they are at a disadvantage and I’ll shout it from the rooftops.

Where’s male reproductive autonomy for example?

At the moment, at least in this country, a woman has all the agency when it comes to the choice to have a child or not. A man has no choice, no voice, no say in this whatsoever.

Obviously we don’t want men to be able to force their partners to carry a baby to term.
Obviously we don’t want me to be able to force their partners to have an abortion.
What if the conception is an accident, the result of a one-time thing and the man absolutely doesn’t want a child though?

At the moment he’s out of luck. He’s now on the hook for life to a child he never wanted and a woman he may want nothing to do with.

Where are men’s reproductive rights?

Why is circumcision laughed off as a non-issue?

Where are the woman clamouring to shoulder their load of the dangerous and shitty jobs that men overwhelmingly perform?

Why aren’t women eligible for the draft?

In the US women can now choose to opt for frontline combat duty as an opportunity, something that men in a similar position do not get the same degree of choice over:
“No general, actually I’d rather work in supplies than go over the top if it’s all the same to you.”

Why will all the above meet with eye-rolling and dismissal or even worse, the patronising and insulting phrases: “Patriarchy hurts men too” or “Men need Feminism”.

Why would such a thing be called Feminism though? By privileging the concerns and issues of one subdivision of humanity, Feminism is absolutely not Socialist.

You talked about wanting to set up a forum in which men could come and ask about Feminism without being shot down or summarily dismissed. Yet a few tweets later you said this to me:

@PennyRed: I don’t think we have anything more to discuss here. You seem very angry at feminism in general.

This is a dismissal and provides us with no progress. You show no interest in the reasons I might be (legitimately) angry at Feminism but expect me to listen to why women are angry at ‘patriarchy’. You just want to shut down the discussion and escape because I am pissed off. This doesn’t get us any progress. You gain no understanding of my point of view and you have absolutely no chance of convincing me of your point of view without having engagement with mine.

I’ve intimated above, in vague terms, why I’m angry at Feminism (or at least the Feminism that I encounter day to day). Some of those reasons are personal (I’ll spare you the details), some are related to my work (writing and game design), others are even broader (internet culture, anonymity, free expression, art, scientific method and debate in the public arena).

If you’re seeking to set up such a forum and yet within a very short time are shutting me down because I’m angry then that project isn’t going to get very far – or at least not serve any useful purpose. Limiting such a forum to simply asking questions is somewhat patronising and assumes that the other party just needs educating before they will agree with you. It’s actually possible to be fully aware of what the other side thinks and believes and still to disagree with it – and that’s not always due to pigheadedness or unwillingness to learn.

For this idea to serve any useful purpose it needs to go further than that and to allow a forum in which Feminist ideas can be challenged, examined, torn apart and put back together without being an echo chamber. Yes, it would need to be moderated and, almost certainly, that moderation would be used to hit legitimate arguments and challenges over the head as well as trolling and shit-stirring, but it’s still got to be worth a try.

If it’s just a soapbox though, it’s worthless.

If you think I’m being unfair or combative above then point it out, but I can only go on my empirical experiences. If the attitudes and actions I talk about aren’t Feminism, then you need to get that message to the Feminists who are representing you or to more vigorously assert your own definition.

I find myself agreeing with you a lot of the time, but not when it comes to these topics.

If you can’t convince me, an educated, left-liberal socialist who would have called himself Feminist up until a couple of years ago, then what hope do you have of getting through to people who actually oppose you? An inter-gender consensus on equal rights for both genders has much more potential for positive change than the division that Feminism or Men’s Rights engenders (no pun intended).

Pax,

Grim

Male ‘Slut Shaming’

This is all a bit ‘What about teh menz?’ but it’s important to me and it’s related to factors that have contributed directly to my depression issues.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time thinking about this issue since it occurred to me to write about it. I’ve agonised over whether to even broach the subject at all because it’s just that contentious and dangerous to do so. It took me three days just to get up the courage to talk to my wife about my intention to write it and what would be in it and we had to negotiate a bit over the content because I tend to over-share.

I want to talk about sexual shaming. Slut shaming if you will.

However, I want to talk about the sexual shaming of men and the demonising of male sexuality, rather than that of women.

Slut shaming gets a lot of press and a lot of attention but the tribulations of expressing male sexuality don’t really get looked at at all, save in a negative light. There’s almost a new… taboo around discussing it. Male and female sexualities are seen very differently and the expressions thereof treated very differently indeed.

I’m going to draw on some of my own experiences to explain some of this. Not to try and claim that my experience is universal but, rather, to make the points relatable and as a jumping off point for discussion. I’m not going to go into as much detail as I could, partly due to my own reticence but also because I’ve been asked not to.

This just further goes to show what a fucked up situation this all is.

I am concerned and worried, deeply so, about the way male sexual interest and sexuality as a whole is treated and reacted to. It seems to me that it is always taken as threatening, as an imposition. You can’t look at a pretty girl, comment that she’s lovely, or even – it seems – ask her for a drink without being viewed as no better than a raiding Viking intent on rape and pillage. Every ounce of concern and thought goes to the lady’s reaction and possible offence and none to the feelings of the guy or the effect upon him of being treated like a criminal.

As a result, as a man, your sexual personality, your interest, gets bottled up, hidden, frustrated. If you’re in a relationship it’s assumed you can’t so much as look at someone else without upsetting them. You can’t ogle someone attractive without being told you’re objectifying or dehumanising. That goes double for pornography and – even more concerning for me – fantasy art.

The disparity in the way the genders are treated in this instance is certainly not in the man’s favour.

If a woman likes porno, erotica, sexy outfits, whatever, she’s seen as exciting, autonomous and in control of her own sexuality. Girls can go out shopping for sex toys and it’s no huge thing. She can go out for attention, being aggressively sexual in a way that would never be accepted for a man and it’s brushed off. If she oversteps his line, no big deal, if a guy oversteps her line, all hell breaks loose. A guy is supposed to be happy with any sexual attention from a woman, or not to let it bother him. Well, it is a bother when someone else’s girlfriend plops her arse down in your lap and tries to kiss you. Even if she is hot.

If a guy admits to buying porn or toys for his own satisfaction he’s creepy, disgusting, a failure as a man because he can’t get laid. A flasher-mac wearing saddo, a panty-snifffing reprobate. Admitting you need something to get you off and deal with your frustrations, or – heaven forfend – that you like it, whether or not you need it, is an admission of failure and – if you’re with a partner – it’s even seen as an insult to them.

If you’re in a relationship and there’s any disparity in desire then, really, there’s little wonder that one partner or the other might seek relief elsewhere. Better that they use porn than have an affair, right?
Typically it’s the male desire outstripping that of the woman, though it can happen the other way around, and if a man resorts to porn then it’s an insult. He doesn’t really love you any more. He doesn’t find you attractive, he’ll be off and away with another woman. Which in all likelihood is bollocks. It’s much more likely he’s just not getting enough and needs an outlet for the tension that doesn’t make him seem like a sex pest to the woman he loves.

For whatever reason these safety valves, these ways of coping, are considered off limits or hurtful to a relationship rather than a way of preserving it and keeping the peace. People break up over it. People are hurt and insulted by it and can’t understand how a man can jerk off over one thing and still find his soulmate sexy in her own right.

If you doubt that there’s a gender disparity here, take the example of Ann Summers parties.

Women can get together, as groups, play dress up in sexy outfits, get the opinions of their peers, buy sex toys etc all in their own living rooms.

Now imagine a group of thirty and forty something men getting together for a ‘Man Summers’ party. Waxing each other’s backs, trying on posing pouches and getting each other’s opinion on what’s sexy.

If you have any reaction to that other than amusement or disgust then I don’t think you’re being honest.

This is bad enough if you have entirely conventional desires and needs. If you just like pretty girls and want to have sex with them you’re already being regarded as some sort of barely restrained (wo)man-eating tiger or something. A pitbull who needs to be muzzled, licensed or ‘done’.
Suppose, though, that you’re a man who happens to be turned on by BDSM or rough sex, let alone anything stronger? Consent is a huge thing for these communities but even so, these sorts of desires are going to be considered beyond the pale for many and admitting them is going to be tantamount to wearing a sign on your head saying ‘Kiddie fiddler’ for all the reaction they’re going to get.

It’s not even as though these sorts of desires are unique to men. According to a variety of studies somewhere between thirty and fifty percent of women have rape fantasies.

It is, rightly, never assumed that this means that a woman wants to be raped.

If a man likes violent pornography, rough sex or rape fantasies the expectation is different. The alarm triggers go off and it is going to be thought they’re a risk. It’s going to be thought that because they enjoy the fantasy they’re going to want to do the deed. They are not afforded the same understanding of the difference between reality and fantasy that a woman is.

Why the disparity? Why is one ‘just’ a fantasy and the other a risk? How is such a person supposed to even dare to articulate their desires, their kinks, their turn ons without getting the kind of reaction normally reserved for homosexuals by the Westboro Baptists. Think of the danger involved in just finding people of similar tastes. The risk to partners, friends, family if you get found out.

It must feel much like it does for people who are gay. Afraid to come out, judging themselves by the standards of others. Shamed, guilt tripped without even saying or doing a thing. Afraid of the reaction to their sadism, masochism, dominance or submission.

I know that, for me, nothing more than a need to use pornography has wracked me with guilt, worry and concern for my partner. It has felt like a betrayal. I have reacted to it as strongly as I would have from having an affair. That’s certainly fed into my depression and self-loathing and exacerbated suicidal feelings of worthlessness.

So, then, from personal experience I can say that shaming of male sexuality and outlets can certainly be directly harmful and is grossly unfair. Because not having an outlet is also psychologically harmful. Just look at the Catholic Church for ‘Christ’s’ sake. We get so caught up in concern for women’s feelings – because that’s what men do – that we just suck up our own hurt, pain and shame and don’t speak up. It’s not healthy and it’s not right.

I don’t particularly buy into this objectification argument either. Maybe I’m some twisted, unique, freak of nature but I’m able to separate the item – the porn, the character, the image, the film, the erotic passage of text – from the person that makes or stars in it. The stimulus is the object, not the person.

I’ve known a handful of people who have worked in porn, fetish modelling or as camgirls. I know another fistful of lady erotica writers. Most of them are wonderful people (hey, they’re people, there are going to be a few arseheads), no different to anyone else, and I don’t treat them or think of them any differently just because I’ve seen them naked, seen them fuck or have read their fantasies written out in explicit prose.

Newsflash.

If you’re even slightly attractive (and even if you’re not) and you have friends or peers of the opposite sex, some of them have almost certainly had masturbatory dreams or fantasies about you to rival any porno. Yet they still treat you as a human being, despite having put you through erotic contortions in the burlesque of the mind’s eye.

Why would it, or should it, be any different for people who’ve done it on film?

You know Christian Bale isn’t Batman. Right? What’s the difference? He beats up the Joker for our gratification, Jenna Jameson takes a facial for our gratification. The entertainment doesn’t define the person.

Maybe it’s because consent is, traditionally, in the hands of the woman and the man is supposed to be the initiator? Is that why male sexuality is seen as dangerous and aggressive because we’re supposed to be the proactive ones? Because it’s on us to make the move?

Why isn’t the harm that sex-shaming does to men being recognised? Can this partly explain the rise in young male suicides? It certainly nearly helped end me.

Why are we expected to suck it up, accept the insults and suspicions? Why should we accept being feared for no good reason? Why should we just suck it up that a woman’s step is going to quicken, or she’ll pretend to talk on her phone if we happen to enter an underpass behind her? Why do always put women’s needs and feelings ahead of our own?

Would you not feel a slight pang of guilt for clutching your purse tighter as you passed a kid in a hoodie, especially if he were black? That would be racist or classist, wouldn’t it?

It doesn’t seem very fair to treat men as foul and slavering beasts. That’s also the rationale behind racial profiling and the stop-and-search laws that have lead to race riots. This kind of profiling creates dangerous levels of resentment and anger.

It doesn’t seem very egalitarian.

It seems more than a little sexist and for me, at least, it makes me unbearably sad and hurt.

If you want to discuss any of the points raised in this post you’re welcome to do so in the comments or privately.

Does Atheism have a Problem with Women?

How perceptive, did you figure that one out on your own? When I kidnapped you or when I tied you up with leather straps? OF COURSE I’VE GOT A PROBLEM WITH WOMEN. Everyone has a problem with women because women taunt and tease because they are attractive and they punish you for being attracted. You claim to be a pro-sex feminist but would a feminist of any stripe be so deliberately risk taking? You dropped out of college, set up this freelance social work of yours, started bailing people out of jail and trying to reform them. Surrounded by dangerous, desperate men and look where it’s gotten you. 
– Mr Gone

No. Atheism doesn’t have a problem with women. Atheism is just ‘I don’t believe in god’ and nothing more. Atheism in and of itself has nothing to say one way or the other about women other than, perhaps, to remove the basis that many religions claim to have to oppress women – or to be fair to oppress anyone for any reason.

However… there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle about this issue over the last few months, I won’t publicise the non-events that caused the fuss any more, but the overall issue is worth talking about.

So, to answer the title:

Q: Does atheism have a problem with women?

A: No. Atheism has a problem with orthodoxy.

Expecting some sort of unity from atheists, however much PZ Meyers might like the idea, is going to be tricky because like it or not the only all-encompassing definition of an atheist is that ‘dictionary’ one, not believing in god. That’s it.

I mean, here’s me, a loudmouth atheist, disagreeing with one of the leading lights of New Atheism about the definition of atheism itself. I trust my point is sufficiently made simply by saying that.

Given that this is all that really unites us little wonder that we don’t all agree on lots of things. The Hitch hates Islam more than he hates cancer, which has lead him to some viewpoints on intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq that make many of us (Atheists do tend to be peacenik liberals after all) quite uncomfortable.

There’s dissent even over the sheer strident nature of New Atheism, simply standing up and saying ‘No man, this religion bullshit is bullshit’ is too much for some atheists who’d rather quietly and meekly get on with their lives without rocking the boat.

So, we disagree, often violently, with each other over atheism itself.

Expecting such a diverse and rumbustious group to unquestioningly, and as a whole, accept feminist concepts, many of which are – like it or not – questionable or debatable, without subjecting them to the same sort of scrutiny that this community puts to any other beliefs or ideas presented to it is, frankly, stupid.

I suppose there’s an assumption taken that anyone who agrees with you on X must agree with you on Y and Z as well. Well, that’s clearly a silly position to take but I think also that within a community that’s – generally – pretty liberal and progressive its taken for granted that you’ll automatically agree with anything presented as a liberal or progressive issue.

When you don’t, somehow, that’s shocking.

It probably doesn’t help matters any that women are more often culturally and societally constricted from speaking out, rocking the boat and being confrontational which leads to a relative under-representation in the movement and a more accommodationist stance that is less popular with New Atheism.

Feminism, and to a lesser extent LGBT issues, have often spun off into their own theories and ideas in a relative vacuum, insulated from meaningful criticism. When some of these ideas bump up against other communities its natural for them to be questioned. Particularly by people who are fearless enough to question other orthodoxy with even more power of tradition and social censure behind it.

It doesn’t help, one little bit, that this natural and understandable questioning, examination of claimed statistics, methodology etc is dismissed as ‘mansplaining’ or on other spurious grounds, ironically the same kind of baseless dismissal that will cause rabid frothing from the other side.

So, to recap, atheism doesn’t have a problem with women, atheism is just ‘not believing in god’. Atheists do tend to have issues with claims that they’re not allowed to examine or subject to scrutiny and with being expected to agree with something ‘just because’.

Now. Would anyone like to go for coffee?