When -Isms Collide: The Attempted Hijacking of Atheism by Radical Feminism

 — by tamerlane

On his atheist/science blog, Pharyngula, PZ Myers chronicles his ongoing junior high drama intellectual debate with feminist blogger Melissa McEwan of Shakesville.  McEwan initially took Myers to task for his snarky slam at Michele Bachmann.  Myers apologized profusely, took down the post, and asked for suggestions on how atheist men could to be more sensitive to women.  McEwan responded with a list of eighteen points, twitted over the course of eighteen minutes.  When Myers expressed “reservations” about the points, noting they applied neither exclusively to atheists nor men, McEwan accused Myers of only feigning willingness to “do better.”  Myers continues to grovel while McEwan chastises.  Which is kinda of funny, considering McEwan is greatly indebted to Myers for sponsoring her and her fellow radical feminists’ attempted hijacking of the new atheist movement.

I, too have considerable reservations with Melissa McEwan’s My Advice to Atheist Men. Disjointed and repetitive, it makes several, serious allegations of “systematic misogyny” among the atheist online community.  Her accusations are vague and overbroad, completely unsubstantiated by example.  Her language & approach are hectoring and not conducive to an open exchange of views.  Just another day in Shakesville, folks.


Feminism For Dummies (a.k.a., You Men)

McEwan begins by chiding atheist men for “engaging in misogyny yourselves” and informs them “you [don’t] get to be nasty in explicitly misogynist ways to women who aren’t ‘on your team.'” As evidence, McEwan provides a screenshot of a Pharyngula post wondering whether Michele Bachmann, mouth agape to ingest a giant corn dog, can disengage her jaws like other reptiles.  However puerile, Myers’ comment was a non-gender specific reference to Bachmann’s antediluvian beliefs.  By mislabeling it “sexual objectification”, McEwan cries ‘wolf’.  Indeed, Myers was perhaps the only blogger on the planet to avoid a sexual reference to that photo.  McEwan neglects to provide actual examples of “explicitly misogynist” conduct by atheist bloggers.

She then calls for “zero-tolerance policy for misogyny in your comments. No slurs, no misogynist narratives, no questioning women’s agency.”  A reasonable suggestion, except … does McEwan consider herself the final arbiter of what is misogyny?  Her answer will be: if one woman declares something misogyny, then it’s misogyny — end of discussion.  She also ignores the possibility that the nasty comments may be the work of  anti-atheists.  Further, McEwan’s tendency to use feminist neologisms like “women’s agency” in milieus where most people don’t know their meanings, much less have ‘bought into’ them, is adversarial.

In her list, McEwan intersperses sweeping condemnations of male atheist behavior: her humanity has been questioned; widespread misogynist attacks occur; atheist women “have been treated like a monolith”; women have been denied “opportunities … as contributors, as moderators, as guest posters”.  Typically, McEwan fails to provide evidence — apart from one tweet suggesting she go fuck herself.  Trolls happen, Melissa.  Besides, radfem atheists have a home of their own, Freethoughtblogs.com, run by Myers, where at least 13 of the 36 bloggers are female, including several feminists, LGBTPDQ activists, as well as male fellow-travelers.  Myers has systematically culled any dissenting voices from the blogroll.


I Win the Debate

McEwan links two Shakesville lectures posts as a primer “on how to effectively and safely communicate with women about women’s issues.”  In them, McEwan admits to an underlying mistrust of men for their “eyerolling and exasperated sighs in response to polite requests to please not use misogynist epithets”.  She repeatedly ridicules men who disagree with her for “trying to prove the point.”  Here we have the tautological “mansplaining” polemic.  The man says ‘but I’m not misogynist,’ and the radfem says ‘yes, you are.  You just proved your misogyny by denying it.’  No further evidence need be produced. Debate, disagreement, are stifled.

Atheist men are instructed to never “play devil’s advocate.  That is not compatible with a safe space for many women.”  McEwan uses “safe space” often, another neologism with a secondary meaning.  In practice, “safe space” equals: ‘You’re not allowed to disagree with me. I win the debate.’  When McEwan writes “[d]on’t appropriate or ignore women’s lived experiences. Let women be the experts on our own lives”, it sets up the polemic: ‘You’re not a woman, so you can’t understand.  I win the debate.’

Also forbidden is any attempt to discuss misogyny “objectively.”  In her “Feminism 101 for Dudes”, McEwan explains that asking a “woman with intersectional marginalizations” (yet another neologism) to discuss “in the abstract” an issue “is to fail to understand that one’s womanhood is inextricably linked to the other aspects of one’s identity.”  Ergo, all women’s assertions are subjective, hence irrefutable. I win the debate.

McEwan warns us “that there are privileged women in the atheist movement who may collude to marginalize non-privileged women ….”  Because any women who don’t share McEwan’s views suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, Patty Hearsts brain-washed by the Patriarchy/Kyriarchy.

“Don’t accuse women of overreacting when we are merely reacting,” McEwan admonishes. “Don’t accuse us of being oversensitive; maybe you are not sensitive enough.”  McEwan must first provide a benchmark for identifying an overreaction; otherwise, her claims are unfalsifiable.  (“Not even good enough to be wrong,” as Feynman would have put it.)  Further, her phrasing is confrontational, as it fails to acknowledge the possibility of a woman ever over-reacting or being overly sensitive to an issue.  The net effect is to shield McEwan’s assertions from scrutiny.

For McEwan, simply “not being a dirtbag” is not “sufficient action to consider … a straight (cis) privileged” man as her ally.  Total, unquestioned & blind acceptance of her positions is required.  In a final dig at Myers, McEwan complains “if you’re not willing to make the effort to make movement atheism more inclusive, don’t pretend that you are. Be a real ally, or don’t.” That’s bullying, and McEwan might consider rewarding the try, because wet rags like Myers are few and far between.  Instead, she punishes, alienating many potential allies.  No wonder McEwan’s infrequent forays beyond the echo chamber end so badly.


There Goes the Neighborhood

I first ran across McEwan in 2008, during the self-immolation of the PUMA movement.  A persistent theme in her blogging, shared by the denizens of FTB, is a desire to constrain the rules of engagement, to stifle opinions contrary to her own, and to portray any considered rebuttal of her assertions as a refusal to listen — and proof of misogyny.  In fact, McEwan, et al. deny the very right to question certain radfem constructs.  Even polite attempts at rational disagreement are routinely deleted from comment streams at Shakesville and FtB blogs.

Melissa McEwan is but one of a cohort of “Atheism Plus” activists bent on commandeering the atheism movement for their other socio-political objectives.  This is a bad idea.  Take politics for example:  Sam Harris and Penn Jillete are libertarians; Dawkins and Dennett are liberals; Hitchens was sometimes leftist, sometimes neo-con, always inflammatory.  Yet they found common cause in promoting vocal atheism.  And look how much they’ve achieved by staying on topic.

Radfems are especially prone to injecting their dialectics & intolerance where ever they go.  Skeptics and atheists, however, are especially immune to circular logic, unsubstantiated claims, and the stifling of debate.  Evidence-based reasoning and Post-Modernist woo do not mix well, and the A+ zealots have largely retreated to brood within the friendly confines of their online echo chamber.

Their hubris, however, is unabated.  Recently, A-plussers have spanked Richard Dawkins for supporting abortion rights but in the wrong way, and for his “racist” (sic) debunking of homeopathy and acupuncture.  Dawkins (a former patron of Myers, btw) has been on the A+ shit list since 2011, after he weighed in on a minor brouhaha known as “Elevatorgate.”  Dawkins was the keynote at an atheist conference in Dublin where a young atheist, Rebecca Watson (a.k.a. SkepChick) also spoke.  Watson lingered in the hotel bar, chatting with a few people until the wee hours, when she left and got in an elevator. A man who she’d been talking with followed, and asked her up to his room for coffee and further discussion.  Was he hitting on her?  Mos def.  Did he “sexualize” her?  Was it “misogyny?” No, and Dawkins was not alone in calling out Watson for hyperbole.  In response, the A-plussers declared a boycott of Dawkins, his international research foundation, and his numerous best-selling books. Good luck with that windmill!

(c) 2013 by True Liberal Nexus.  All rights reserved.

23 Responses to When -Isms Collide: The Attempted Hijacking of Atheism by Radical Feminism

  1. fionnchu says:

    Great post. No pearls of wit or wisdom to add but I note that only today on a fractious blog I lurk at (nearly ignored whenever I post), I learned of “Endism.” As in parroting, but like said bird, throwing back only the last phrases heard in a thread, as if to silence the opponent. “Safe space” and the Net don’t always overlap.

  2. Corby says:

    Your main complaint seems to be that the people you call “radfems” will “win the debate” unfairly. Maybe it isn’t always about debating, with winners and losers and a competitive attack on another’s thoughts. Maybe it is sometimes about self-expression or even communication and mutual understanding. In that case might not different rules apply?

    • tamerlane says:

      1) radfem is not my term; it’s theirs (look it up). I use it to distinguish from the vast majority of people who support gender equality but who don’t insist upon radical socio-political upheaval or call for a whaaambulance every time someone wears a T-shirt they don’t like;

      2) Not “win the debate unfairly” so much as refuse to allow any debate altogether;

      3) Not much “mutual understanding” going on when one side is busy quashing dissent and creating “101’s” to “train” the other side;

      4) “In that case might not different rules apply?”
      Ah, good old special pleading! This is the same lame excuse made for religious beliefs — my assertions don’t need proving because faith is ‘different’. So you can see why the unsubstantiated, unverifiable, answer-begging-the-question claims of radical feminism don’t fly with skeptics.

  3. conner43 says:

    Why do women who throw out the mysogynist label with great ease, expect only the utmost respect from men ?
    Isn’t that the same argument as used by Obamabots in painting every critic of their beloved a racist ?
    Both are worn out and tiresome. A bully is still a bully, no matter how they try to dress it up or justify it.
    If thoughtful women would devote more time to encouraging real financial and professional empowerment in their sisters, and less time excorciating men for imagined offenses, both sexes would benefit.
    Religious freedom also implies freedom from religion
    .The last 50 years have given rise to a matriarchal society where men are no longer needed, except perhaps, as sperm donors. We see all around us expamples of how well that has worked.

    • tamerlane says:

      Most women don’t. This is a very small, albeit very loud & internet-addicted, group with anti-social behaviors. They give real feminism a bad name.

      And you’re right — their claims of misogyny everywhere are no different than that asswipe Toure’s accusation that all whites are racist, and if you deny you’re racist, that’s proof that you’re racist.

  4. conner43 says:

    It seems that ‘atheism’ has taken on some of the same characteristics as religion. Intolerance and fervor come to mind, as well as shunning of the ‘other’..

  5. elliesmom says:

    Melissa McEwan subscribes to the “woman as victim” branch of feminism. She does not want to have to deal with any unpleasantness and expects everything in life to be stamped with “trigger warnings”. “Debating” would be more than she can handle. She is far too fragile. Her blog is quaint and not very helpful for anyone trying to understand anything about feminism.

    There is no intersection between atheism and feminism other than some atheists are women. The conflict feminists have is with organized religion – not with the absence of religious beliefs. Most religions have patriarchy built into their core. Take the patriarchy away, and their religious beliefs fall into disarray. There is nothing patriarchal about not believing in sky fairies.

    • tamerlane says:

      “Her blog is quaint and not very helpful for anyone trying to understand anything about feminism.”

      Worse, she preys on the fears of her “following” — some pretty damaged people — and milks them for money at every opportunity.

    • tamerlane says:

      “The conflict feminists have is with organized religion – not with the absence of religious beliefs.”

      An astute observation. I hadn’t noticed that important distinction before.

  6. gxm17 says:

    Sorry to disappoint Tamerlane but your post didn’t piss me off. I’ve pretty much given up on most feminist blogs as the level of group think is tediously hostile. I can’t even remember the last time I stopped by Shakesville or paid any attention to what goes on over there.

    I do agree with the point that there are elements of sexism within atheist circles but that’s because there is sexism pretty much everywhere. Personally, I try not to ridicule women in politics though someone like MB can make that difficult to adhere to; but unless I’m missing some additional context, Myers’ comment seems rather innocuous gender-wise. Unlike Dawkins comment, in response to Rebecca Watson, which was quite ugly and leaves me with the opinion that he’s a sexist jerk. (And even if he’s not a sexist, he’s certainly a jerk.)

    The term “mansplaining” has more to do with a patronizing or condescending manner and an assumption of rightness, not necessarily misogyny. A recent example would be the LZ Granderson column where he admonished women to stop fixating on equality and focus on just being happy (yes, I paraphrase, kinda). An even better example would be the MRA-type fellow whose comment I just had to respond to, how could anyone pass up this: “Men die more often…of virtually everything.” A sentence worthy of Monty Python, so of course I had to reply: Except being killed by your spouse. Which, as one would expect, devolved into further hilarity.

    • tamerlane says:

      I can totally picture that as a Python skit. Sounds like the guy was stumbling to remember the statistic that men are X times more likely to die on the job. True for what it’s worth, but sort of a fetish among the MRA community. Also a lame rationale for differences in pay scales — does that really mean the male roofer ought to earn more than the female ER nurse who treats him after he falls or shoots himself with a nail gun, all while she’s risking HIV infection from a room full of bleeding, oozing patients?

      Plenty of people reveal their ignorance as they try to ‘splain over the course of a debate. Mansplaining, though, kills any nascent debate by declaring every man an ignoramus at the outset.

      I love Dawkins, but won’t defend the ill-considered tone of his response to Watson. Besides, he missed the point: it’s not that her suffering paled in comparison to a muslim woman’s — Watson suffered no injustice whatsoever.

      Where do you get your data that more woman are killed in domestic violence than men? All the recent studies I’ve seen (US & UK) show that women more often require medical attention, while men more often end up hospitalized overnight or killed, as women are more likely to use a gun or heavy as a fight escalates. Also, while the incidence of spousal/partner violence is 50:50 male:female, woman are more likely to initiate a violent incident in a reciprocal relationship, and a majority of one-way violent relationships are female-on-male. In same sex relationships, violence is far more prevalent in women than men. On the bright side, 3/4 of relationships are violence-free! But, instead of laying the guilt at the feet of one sex or the other, society should try to understand and change the patterns that lead to domestic abuse.

      • gxm17 says:

        The data comes from the U.S. Department of Justice:

        “The relationship between the victim and the offender differed for female and male victims

        • Female murder victims (41.5%) were almost 6 times more likely than male murder victims (7.1%) to have been killed by an intimate (table 6).

        • More than half (56.4%) of male murder victims were killed by an acquaintance; another quarter (25.5%) were murdered by a stranger.”

        – “Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980-2008, Annual Rates for 2009 and 2010.” U.S. Department of Justice. (Page 10)

        According to this study, the use of guns in intimate homicide has dropped (page 17). In my passing knowledge of crime stats (no source), IIRC a large portion of the female victims of intimate homicide are strangled to death.

        Believe it or not, I agree with you. I’m very much a believer in the acculturation of violent behavior.

        When I gave the MRA-type commenter the stats, he went into even more of a rant. Apparently one of his myriad beefs is that women (on average) live longer than men and, to his mind, this is a gender equality issue and feminists show their bias by ignoring this issue. I didn’t have the heart, or the balls (pun intended), to point him to the articles on the increased life expectancy of Korean eunuchs. I did however try to cheer him up with the good news that as more men give up smoking, they’re closing the gap. He would have none of it and I gave up with him calling me a man-hating, racist (yep!) feminazi. As I said, much hilarity, and that’s just the short version.

        Tamerlane, you mentioned something after the Sandy Hook massacre and the resulting gun debate: Why are we so afraid? Which I think really nails it. It seems to me that Americans are swimming in an ever-growing undercurrent of fear and anger. And it’s destroying the discourse. Actually it’s destroying a lot of things but, since your post is about discourse, I’ll leave it at that.

  7. conner43 says:

    Tamer, aside from politics and any behavior that does harm to another, wth ever happened to “live and let live”. It worked fine for
    our parents’ generation. Far too many busybodies now think it is their job to ‘fix’ everybody who does not fit into their pre-coceived set of molds. “Good grief” said Charlie Brown.. and me.

  8. tamerlane says:


    Thanks for those data points. They seem to report prevalence, not incidence, but I’ll check out those studies. Strangling is such an intimate, deliberate way to murder/shut someone up; I bet it’s very common in DV.

    How quickly people jump to conclusions based on one stat, while ignoring ameliorative factors like smoking prevalence!

    Human live births exhibit a 1.3 : 1 male:female ratio. Mean life expectancy is higher for females, but that’s primarily due to a greater number of male deaths in early adulthood. Ethologists have pointed out that in all higher animals, the display of risky behavior by males is actually a sign of fitness — trading off the heightened risk of an early death for the heightened chance of breeding success. I need only look out my door as I type to see the tom turkey, who when I approach displays his tail with sang-froid while the hens scurry away. But that smacks of evo psych, which post-modernists abhor.

    “It seems to me that Americans are swimming in an ever-growing undercurrent of fear and anger. And it’s destroying the discourse.”

    The MRAs and the radfems both frame this as a win-lose proposition. I think we can find a win-win solution.

    • gxm17 says:

      You’re much better at that level of number crunching than I. Here’s a link with some incidence graphs if you feel like extrapolating.

      Click to access ipvus.pdf

      Yes, risky behavior (as well as bad health habits) and testosterone seem to be factors most studies point to, although I did run across one article that focused on Basal Metabolic Rate, which might get lumped in with testosterone as muscle increases BMR. The funny thing is that I now know more about male life expectancy than I would have if the MRA commenter hadn’t piqued my interest.

  9. tnt666 says:

    The horsemen “succeeded” by saying nothing, by not rocking the boat. In their pursuit of Humanism (godless Christianity), they managed to plaster Humanist ideologies on the atheist community. For those of you readers that are Humanists, you see no problem in that. But historically, Humanism is a Christian movement, and Humanism has not strayed far from its sources, other than being inclusive to the queer community. So the Humanist Horsemen managed to sell a false message… that atheists are “just like” faithers, but without gods (ok, just as “good” as faithers, which ends up meaning the same thing). The other massive failure point of the Humanist takeover of the atheist community has been its nearly complete embrace of modernism-capitalism-patriarchy-imperialism. So, males angry at females should instead look onto the recent history of atheist “mantras” and question whether it’s the horsemen themselves who have failed atheists, and the other 50% of the population is finally realising the lapse.
    It is absolutely pointless to call oneself atheist is one is simply going to follow along with all the ridiculous morality that has been imposed on society by faith/religion/patriarchy. When large numbers of female atheists are feeling man-handled by “I’m right you’re wrong” male Humanists, why are you surprised to see a backlash? I miss Madalyn Murray O’Hair, she not only denounced gods, but all the stupid value system that came with it.
    Of the horsemen, I do see Myers as the only one who perceives his own biases and is honest about them, and is willing to speak of them. The other horsemen… meh.

    • tamerlane says:

      1) I can’t imagine anyone who read God Is Not Great, The God Delusion, or The Atheist Manifesto describe them as “not rocking the boat”, or “simply follow[ing] along with all the ridiculous morality” imposed by religions;

      2) You really have no clue what humanism actually is, do you? Historically, there have been many movements labeled ‘humanism’, but you seem to conflate them all, along with modern religious and secular humanism, into one, monolithic “godless christianity”. WTF is that supposed to mean anyway?

      3) It’s fairly asinine to depict humanists as “just like faithers” when humanists reject the central tenet of religious faith — that truth and morals devolve from god — and instead affirm that truth and morals can be derived solely from reason and the natural world;

      4) Atheism can’t embrace “modernism-capitalism-patriarchy-imperialism” because no such creature exists;

      5) I’m not acquainted with any “males angry at females.” I think you’re projecting;

      6) I seriously doubt that “large numbers” of female atheists feel “man-handled”. What I see is a tiny fringe group of gender feminists raising a fuss because their pseudo-scientific constructs are rejected as unproven and unfalsifiable;

      7) PZ Myers is not, and never was, “a horseman.” He’s a minor hack who’s become a Raging Ass Hole to generate blog hits from angry gen fems who spend all of their waking hours online at echo chambers, instead of getting out in the real world;

      8) Had I tried to comment at Myers blog, btw, to disagree with him to the extent I just allowed you to here, he’d have gone apeshit on me before banning me to his “dungeon.” Now, who, again, is just like the faithers?

  10. pitbullgirl65 says:

    McEwen is a narcissistic bully. She threatens to flounce over minor stuff, and then her followers rush in to beg her not to go. Her mods are more concerned about making it a safe space for Melissa and the hell with everyone else.Here are some links to the madness: http://failfandomanonwiki.pbworks.com/w/page/58432745/Shakesville

    • Matt says:

      Thanks for the links. I recall skimming them when I wrote this. McEwan is a foul creature who manipulates & exploits her thralls, who are some very damaged people.

      • Also have you noticed that she isn’t even blogging very much?

        A few links from a around the web, a open thread and a question of the day, the daily pics of her pets, and her mods pick up the rest. I’ve noticed the only time she’s respectfully is donation time.

        The way her and the mods abuse the posters is appalling. And for gods sake, she needs to 86 the terms “garbage nightmare”, “whoooopps,” and her latest one “annoyfuck”. What is she 12? Gah. I was banned a few days ago: I consider it an honor. It’s up on STFUshakesville

        • Matt says:

          I suspect that many of the most active bloggers suffer from depression or bipolar. I once ran afoul of a serious tweaker by politely commenting contra their post — they went ape shit on me — “I wrote it at 4:30 a.m. — so what I forgot to cite the article — fuck you with a broom, you fucking asshole — you try writing a fucking blog, etc.”

          McEwan is clearly unstable. I also recall reading one of her Following writing how they’d just spent three days in bed, hiding under the covers, and probably should go back on the meds.

          I’ve been ignoring Shakestown for some time, as it doesn’t even make for lulz, it’s just sad.

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