— 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!
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