Why Conflicting Opinions Help Our Movement February 10, 2011

Why Conflicting Opinions Help Our Movement

This is a guest post by JT Eberhard. JT is a Campus Organizer and High School Specialist for the Secular Student Alliance. He is also a contributor to Atheism Resource.

I attended the American Atheists’ Southeast Regional Atheist Meet (SERAM) at the end of January, excited about AA’s newfound focus on local groups, grassroots organizing, and finding a niche for their organization.

Sharon Moss and Lyz Liddell, both of whom have been involved in our movement for years, noticed several instances of certain behaviors that made them uncomfortable as women. These behaviors aren’t something that had only been seen at this event; they are trends that have turned up over and over again through the past decade, at all levels of the secular movement — from tiny student groups to national organizations to online communities and beyond.

Our movement is not very good at handling gender diversity, and as we’re growing, it’s becoming more and more of a problem. Sharon and Lyz wrote an article afterward calling for people to step back, recognize the problem (because you wouldn’t be asking “how do we get more women?” if it weren’t a problem), and to talk about it in an effort to help make it better.

The article, which levied many criticisms including some directed at Sean Faircloth‘s presentation and handling of a “Million Dollar Challenge” anecdote, was posted on Blaghag and in a flash a firestorm erupted. People were pouring in to defend one side or the other — and they were aghast that leaders in the secular movement could publicly (and in no uncertain terms) criticize one another.

Lament though people may, I think this is fantastic. This is what the secular movement has so right that religious organizations have so wrong.

None of us believe our conflicting opinions are backed by the same divine source (a source which assures us that he is not the author of confusion), so all we can do is voice our position and fight about it until the dust subsides and we’re left with whatever ideas have withstood explosions. And if you do it privately, you’re denying the masses a powerful catalyst to refine their positions on the issue. So let religious people play the politicians and worry about whether or not hurting someone’s feelings with honest criticism serves them personally. We need to speak our minds openly and honestly without hamstringing ourselves on account of hurt feelings. Getting people talking is our chance to improve ourselves and our cohorts in the secular/atheist movement!

Sometimes you’ll be wrong, and that’s ok — you’ll (hopefully) change your mind and improve. Sometimes you’ll correct someone who was wrong and make the movement you support stronger. This ongoing process is necessary and it is precisely what gives us our edge over religious people, as they tend to value the conclusion more than the effort put into making sure it makes sense.

Social change is preceded by an inability for people to escape the issue. When they read the newspaper, it’s there. When they turn on their TV, they see the activists. Whether or not you agree with Lyz and Sharon, they are doing the same thing for feminism. If people are passionate and talking about an issue dear to you, you are winning. This is how it will be with gender equality, how it presently is with gay rights, and how we are making progress for atheism. Like cockroaches, bad ideas do not do well in the light, and we owe it to ourselves to see if our beliefs can survive it (and to challenge the beliefs of our fellow atheists).

There was once a time not long ago when if you had a question about religion you went to a representative of that religion such as a pastor or priest and had a long road ahead if you wanted to investigate their answer. With the rise of the Internet, that time has passed. Now everybody knows the horrors of the Bible that religious people would otherwise obscure. The fact of the matter is that nowadays if a religious person makes an indefensible statement in public, they cannot get away with, and this inability to hoodwink people in public is a large part of why religion is slowly on the decline.

So it shall be with other bad ideas.

What we should all take pride in is our ability to foist our own positions under the spotlight the same as the Bible, and there are several ways to do it: talk to people, be boisterous, start a blog, write a letter-to-the-editor. It’s not always easy. As I found out with Skepticon, you will never please everybody, and some people are all too eager to come after you personally rather than after your ideas. It takes courage to speak your mind in front of a national audience. Whether I agree with their position or not, I’m proud of Lyz and Sharon and am actually giddy that so many people are venting their thoughts and refining them.

Your beliefs, tempered by the fires of reason, can change the people around you, and through them your ideas can change the world. I say treat them like they matter that much. This is precisely what Sharon and Lyz have done.

"I didn't watch the debate because I just couldn't be bothered. I heard snippets from ..."

MAGA Cultist Josh Bernstein: If Biden ..."
"https://uploads.disquscdn.c..."

MAGA Cultist Josh Bernstein: If Biden ..."
"I watched as well and have the CNN reactions playing on another monitor. Apparently, there ..."

MAGA Cultist Josh Bernstein: If Biden ..."
"They say this when China & Russia actually want Trump to win because he licks ..."

Bachmann: China Hid Pro-Biden Ballots in ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • RTH

    So let religious people play the politicians and worry about whether or not hurting someone’s feelings with honest criticism serves them personally. We need to speak our minds openly and honestly without hamstringing ourselves on account of hurt feelings.

    There are at least two problems with this quote.

    First, there is a question of how “honest” Lyz and Sharon’s criticisms were.

    Second, concern about avoiding “hurt feelings” has been a major theme of this controversy since the beginning. Jen’s most recent contribution is that it’s wrong to say that a woman is being “hypersensitive” because that word has traditionally been used to “oppress women’s opinions.” Apparently, it’s a “triggering term” that causes many women to “shut down discussion thanks to their history.” (“Irrational” is another of her oppressive words to be avoided. It’s a sad day for atheism when that word becomes verboten.)

  • Claudia

    Like I mentioned on the previous thread on the subject, what drives me crazy about these things is the tendency to concentrate on the details and lose sight of the big picture.

    There are many people who claim to want to know how to make the movement more attractive to women. Then, when confronted with concrete examples of things that make actual individual women uncomfortable, will go to great lengths to prove why that particular complaint is invalid. The other side jumps right in too, trying to find fault with every word and gesture without neccesarily offering good alternatives.

    – I don’t like being come onto at every event – Well that’s just a biological impulse and plus you wouldn’t mind if it were Johnny Depp.

    – I find your use of “female” objectionable – You’re being oversensitive. If a guy complained about that, he’d be laughed out of the room. What would you rather we use, “the weaker sex”?

    And so it goes. I might even agree with some of these arguments, but they solve absolutely nothing. Debate is great, and sometimes its fun just to throw ideas around, like in a lower thread about taboo subjects. However, when the debate is about how you run the movement and especially how you open it up to people who don’t feel included, debate should be oriented towards concrete steps. Instead it falls into point-scoring and at the end of the day it doesn’t matter who’s won, because the next day nothing will have changed.

  • Janice in Toronto

    “The fact of the matter is that nowadays if a religious person makes an indefensible statement in public, they cannot get away with, and this inability to hoodwink people in public is a large part of why religion is slowly on the decline.”

    I hate to burst your bubble, but people can and do get away with it. Here’s just one egregious example:

    http://www.xtra.ca/public/Toronto/York_Regional_Polices_rabbi_under_fire_for_antigay_comments-9731.aspx

    Unfortunately, Canada is not immune to religions bigotry…

  • Thank you JT, and thank you Hemant for posting it. 😀 *cheer*

  • Claudia

    Just in case it doesn’t get linked, I would direct everyone to this, for Jen’s commentary, which I loved.

  • @RTH There is nothing wrong with the word hypersensitive, the problem is the context in which it is used.

    Women’s feelings are constantly and persistently devalued. When a woman gets angry, how many times have you or your friends said that it must be her “time of month”? Know what that implies? It implies that what the woman is feeling angry about isn’t legitimate and that the only reason she is angry is because of biology and hormones. Do you have any idea how insulting that is? It is just as bad as people insinuating that men can’t control their sexual desires because of their hormones. That is absurd. Men are perfectly capable of overcoming hormones and to insinuate otherwise is rude.

    The context in which “hypersensitive” is often used with women is when a man says something that is deeply offensive, say “feminazi” and when said woman gets upset, said man says that it was just a joke and she is just being hypersensitive. Right there that woman’s feelings of anger were completely devalued. She was shut down as simply overreacting and what she was upset about wasn’t upsetting at all.

    Words can hurt and they are used to hurt men and women. I can only speak for women, but when somebody told me that I was only upset because I was on my period, I was even more infuriated. You have no idea when a woman is on her period so to even suggest that is why she is angry is insulting. The words that Jen outlined are the same thing. Women’s feelings are constantly shut down. Women are told in public to “smile” for the benefit of some old man. Women are told they are just being hypersensitive when cat-calling upsets them. So yes, it is triggering.

    And I’m sorry, you may not think the criticisms were “honest” but your opinion doesn’t rule the roost, as you seem to suggest. A bigot is still a bigot whether they believe in God or not.

  • The secular movement should be about process versus end results. People will have conflicting opinions about all the issues of the day. The secular movement should be focused on how the conflicting opinions are dealt with (the process).

    What we don’t want is a process where a certain group of people write down their opinions and call it “scripture” and then try to force all future generations to adhere to those opinions (even if some of those opinions are good).

    We want the opinions to be tested and thrashed out in the marketplace of living in the real world. If they are good, then we use them.

    Of course a secular person can also be an advocate for a particular opinion but they should wear the advocate hat instead of the secular hat when they do so.

  • Tizzle

    I think Mr Eberhard is being a bit pie-in-the-sky optimistic, but for the most part I agree with him. There will always be a few people who refuse to learn anything (I won’t name screen names), but I think the majority of people in this community are capable of accepting criticism, Eventually, anyway.

  • ewan

    She was shut down as simply overreacting and what she was upset about wasn’t upsetting at all.

    Sometimes that’s certainly a problem, other times people will say that someone is being over-sensitive, or is over reacting, or is imagining slights where there are none, because the person complaining actually is doing that.

    That’s why it’s unhelpful to say things like “you can’t use that language, it’s triggering” as opposed to making an argument of the form “you’re wrong; here’s why”.

  • I agree with RTH about the word “irrational.” I reserve the right to use that word on any woman or man who exhibits that trait. If you don’t want to be considered “hypersensitive,” then don’t demand control over my vocabulary. I understand many of the other complaints, but this one is clearly going to far.

    I also agree with what Claudia says about losing sight of the big picture, even though I admit that my above statement could be considered a contradiction. It’s hard not to focus on these details. I think we have to remember that our individual sensitivities are going to be different. A response from a genuinely insulted person may include a comment or action that triggers a pet peeve of my own, and therefore really irritates me. But is my pet peeve more important than a person’s genuinely hurt feelings? To be honest with you, it usually feels like it is. This is where reason needs to come into play, and this is where it’s the hardest to apply it.

    Not Guilty said something above that I’ve probably heard a million times: “It implies that what the woman is feeling angry about isn’t legitimate and that the only reason she is angry is because of biology and hormones. Do you have any idea how insulting that is?” I imagine anybody with a half working brain can imagine how insulting that is. It’s almost insulting to assume that anybody can’t understand that. Yet Not Guilty probably wonders to herself WHY THIS STILL HAPPENS if this point is clearly understood. My frustration with having to experience this argument over and over does not mean that it isn’t a real problem.

    I guess the best thing we can all do is empathize. Surely there’s been a situation in everyone’s life where we’ve felt marginalized and unimportant. Here’s mine: I’m a redhead. When I was in high school, I heard a radio DJ who said that “there’s no such thing as an attractive redheaded man.” At my job, I heard a lady on the phone consoling a friend who just split up with her boyfriend “well he was a redhead anyhow, you only went out with him because you felt bad for him.” I’ve had girls say to me “you’re kind of cute, for a redhead.” I can’t watch Million Dollar Matchmaker because the lady on the show is constantly making fun of and perpetuating ancient stereotypes of redheads. I have a thousand more examples. Yet if I speak out about this, I’m being “too sensitive,” and I’m just a typical angry redhead with a chip on my shoulder. So I just don’t say anything about it anymore. Surely, somebody is bound to even comment about how this isn’t even the same thing, and how ginger mistreatment is nothing compared to the mistreatment of (insert any other marginalized group here). I’m used to that too.

    If everyone looks deep, I think we all know what this sort of thing feels like to some degree. The point I’m making is that it’s NOT ok to treat anybody as less than an equal in any situation.

  • Claudia

    @Jerry, this is totally off topic, but what the fuck is it with redhead prejudice? I only became aware of it recently, thanks to Tim Minchin. I was sure it was a joke at first, but it appears like actual redheads are actually treated badly for it. If someone told me not to fret over an ex because “they’re a redhead” I would be simply dumbfounded. You might as well say “Fuck that guy, he was curly-haired anyway” Huh? What are you smoking?

  • Villa

    I think internal disagreement is great. But that particular example seemed to push things in the wrong direction.

    A lot of the comments seemed remarkably like the debate-derailing tricks we see from the religious.

    For instance, Sharon Moss’s gave a description of the Million Dollar Challenge. Some replies said that her description was substantially inaccurate. The debate shifted, almost immediately from, “is this description true?” to “does disputing that claim hurt people’s feelings?”

    How many thousands of times have we seen this dodge used by apologists?

    So, I think we gained by having internal debate. But at the same time, I worry that putting too much weight on ‘being offended’ will stifle more healthy debate than it allows.

  • Claudia, first of all, I’m impressed that somebody actually read one of my comments. You deserve some sort of award for having a huge attention span.

    On your “off topic” question: I’m not sure what it is with “gingerism,” but it’s not nearly as bad in the US as it is in England. My personal experiences haven’t been traumatizing, just very irritating. Over there, it seems they’re often traumatizing. I agree with you though, it’s quite dumb.

    Also, great point Villa. I was thinking the same thing but couldn’t find the words. Parts of this argument remind me of when I used to attend church.

  • Sorry that I don’t feel like we should all have a big hug over this topic. After reading the blog post by Sharon and Lyz as well as viewing the video of the event I have reached my own opinion.

    Words are a powerful tools when used to make an argument. Thus, there is much debate over the proper words to use in polite conversation. This recent transaction is the first time I have ever heard of someone getting upset over the use of the word “female”. The use of this word has no intended sexist content. I would also like to point out that people also use the word “Ladies” with no intended sexist content. (yes – I have been attacked for using this word)

    People who are offended at the use of these rather mundane words are simply being too easily offended. They are looking for a fight and they are claiming the use of these common words as evidence for their position.

    We should not pander to such silliness. Some things should cause us to be offended. Intentional hurtful acts are offensive, but exaggerated claims should not be given respect. We should be respectful of someone’s feelings, but not if they are promoting an idea that is overblown and exaggerated.

    Sharon and Lyz owe the world an apology for making this little scuffle into the latest internet craze.

  • John D,

    As I commented on the original post on BlagHag:

    I find it VERY lame that women were referred to as “females” during this event. You want to talk about stereotypes? Well, when a bunch of science-crazed atheists start universally referring to human women as “females,” it just makes us all look like a bunch of socially pathetic virgins, and I won’t stand for that! That alone makes me want to go back to calling myself agnostic.

  • Snuggly Buffalo

    Red was always my favorite hair color, for men or women. Apparently I had somewhat red hair as an infant, but it turned blonde later in childhood. My facial hair is still dark red, though, and I’ve actually had people think I dye my hair due to the difference in hair color.

    A bit more on topic, having come from a fundamentalist, right-wing home, I try to keep my opinions out of these things anymore and just listen. As I’ve heard it put before, I’m rather awash in white male privilege, to the point I’m not sure I’m very well equipped to recognize what’s offensive or inappropriate from a minority’s point of view.

  • CatBallou

    Few tactics can sabotage a discussion faster than accusing someone of “overreacting” or being “too sensitive.” When someone tries that shit on me, I ask to see the Sensitivity Meter.
    There is no “appropriate” level of sensitivity. There is no universal standard.

  • Our movement is not very good at handling gender diversity, and as we’re growing, it’s becoming more and more of a problem. Sharon and Lyz wrote an article afterward calling for people to step back, recognize the problem (because you wouldn’t be asking “how do we get more women?” if it weren’t a problem), and to talk about it in an effort to help make it better.

    In this paragraph lies a problem I’ve seen since the beginning of this whole situation.

    If it were a man who stood up and made the same complaint, and then ran off crying, he wouldn’t get anywhere near as much sympathy or create as much debate. Why? Because he’s a man, and the atheist movement has no problem attracting men.

    These women are only getting all this sympathy and causing all this debate because of 1 reason and 1 reason only: They have vaginas.

    If we really want to strive for equality, shouldn’t we be treating women the same way we would treat men? Why is it that in a fight for equality, we are always being pushed to treat women with more sympathy and delicacy than we would treat men? That doesn’t sound fair nor equal to me.

  • Baconsbud

    I agree conflict can help any movement. It causes people to think,as it did me a few times in the past year or so causing me to reevaluate my position on some issues. The problem I see is that to many people want to try and control the language used during the discussions. What is really needed is a course on writing ideas down without abusing anyones sensitivity. I know I seldom reply to comments on here because it is really easy to have your head bitten off just because you haven’t got a good command of the English language. I am just a HS grad and English was one of my worst subjects. If you really want the movement to make a large leap forward you will need to look at attracting the people that seem to be shunned here.

  • Freemage

    Larry: Seriously, look up the term “privilege”. U haz it.

    If there’s only one woman (or only a few) in the room, then they’re already going to feel marginalized, simply by the numbers. If something is sufficiently aggravating to them that one speaks up about it, the rest of the group should at least address the subject respectfully, and, where it does not compromise core values, would also be wise to yield.

    Mocking the person speaking up simply ensures that you are, in fact, going to have a situation where the person decides that they no longer wish to associate with you–congrats, you’ve just shot yourself in the foot.

    There’s a key concept here–I’ve heard it expressed before as “arguing to win”. This means you keep your true goal in mind, first and foremost, and not worry about scoring points. If the goal is, “Let’s expand and diversify the group,” then any argument that drives away members of the populations you want to attract is, by definition, a poorly chosen one.

    Let me rephrase the point a bit–if the subject of the women being called “ladies” and “females” is so trivial… why are so many menz getting so butthurt about it? If it’s a trivial thing, it should be a trivial thing to change.

  • Tizzle

    I never thought about “Gingerism” before. If I have any attitudes about it, I’ll readjust them. Because certainly there would be no logical or biological basis to discriminating (or making unfunny jokes) against them.

    *I think I’m posting this mainly to show what a good response might look like*

  • Freemage – I consider myself a feminist and I am a man. I really want to do what I can to help women achieve 100% equality in work, society, law etc. The reason I get “butt-hurt” over the topic of the use of the words “ladies” or “females” is that I am in no way being sexist when I use these words. I am being falsely accused… so I get upset. It’s called truth and justice.

    Feminists are turning away many of their male advocates by nit-picking us to death. Please, it is helpful to focus on real problems and by weeping over the use of the word “female” some women perpetuate the worst possible stereotype of women.

  • if the subject of the women being called “ladies” and “females” is so trivial… why are so many menz getting so butthurt about it? If it’s a trivial thing, it should be a trivial thing to change.

    So your argument is that we should change every trivial little thing if even one person has a problem with it?

    Alright. In that case, I have a trivial little issue with the chairs at these atheist events not being comfortable enough. It offends me as a wider person, and therefore if you don’t change this trivial little thing, you are being disrespectful and getting butthurt over something that you shouldn’t be because it’s trivial.

    I agree with John D. The reason we are getting butthurt over this is because it’s an unfair accusation. When we use these words we are not intending to be offensive or in some way asserting our dominance over females.

  • TheG

    @Jerry
    I’m also a redhead! That episode of South Park (“Gingers have no soul!”) made me fume, but it eventually grew on me.

  • Villa

    Mocking the person speaking up simply ensures that you are, in fact, going to have a situation where the person decides that they no longer wish to associate with you–congrats, you’ve just shot yourself in the foot.

    I half disagree.

    You’re making the standard accommodationist argument. If a tactic drives anyone off, it has failed.

    But, I’m not convinced this is a good rule. Everything we do will bother someone. One person felt that the panelists were too caviler about the women/ladies thing. Other people thought that the panel was light-hearted and enjoyable.

    The only way we can be sure to not-offend anyone is to sit in total silence or to take every issue as if it were gravely serious. And that’s a guaranteed loss.

    Instead, we need to focus on net-effects. So, a divisive tactic is fine, so long as it wins more people than it loses.

    Then, if I want to criticize someone, I need to go beyond, “you offended me” and argue, “you offended me, and many other people are likely to feel the same way.”

    This is no longer just my opinion. I’m just one person. Instead, we care about what other people are likely to feel. And this becomes a question of fact. And, “no, other people are less sensitive about that topic” is a valid position. It may not be right. But we can’t dismiss it out of hand.

  • Freemage

    So your argument is that we should change every trivial little thing if even one person has a problem with it?

    Alright. In that case, I have a trivial little issue with the chairs at these atheist events not being comfortable enough. It offends me as a wider person, and therefore if you don’t change this trivial little thing, you are being disrespectful and getting butthurt over something that you shouldn’t be because it’s trivial.

    Assuming that there were two equally available sets of chairs to begin with, why DON’T we switch out to the chairs that are more comfortable for a greater number of participants?

    Of course, most of the time, you’re dealing with whatever chairs are available at the hall, and usually it would cost considerably more to replace them with something more comfortable. And doing so immediately would bring the current seminar to a halt, as the group has to stop and have all the chairs taken out, and new ones brought in.

    Thus, a switch of chairs would be non-trivial. A change of language choice, on the other hand, requires no more effort than the decision most humans make when they decide that, for instance, swearing a blue streak on the job is probably a bad idea. It’s a zero-cost situation. Which brings us to…

    I agree with John D. The reason we are getting butthurt over this is because it’s an unfair accusation. When we use these words we are not intending to be offensive or in some way asserting our dominance over females.

    As the saying goes, “It’s not about you.” There’s no accusation of dominance assertion (at least, there isn’t one at the outset); rather, the women in this case are stating outright how the language in common use at these seminars makes them feel. You, and your fellow-travelers, are then telling them to stop being irrational and hypersensitive.

    There’s really only two explanations:

    1: You actually ARE trying to express dominance, and thus it would cost you something to change your language;

    2: You’re an insensitive and immature prat who doesn’t give a damn about how your actions affect others.

  • Freemage

    Villa:

    The difference lies in a portion of my post you didn’t quote. I specifically stated that we should never sacrifice our core values in making accommodations.

    PZ Meyers doesn’t piss on the shoes of theists when he encounters them. Hell, normally, he probably doesn’t even call them ignorant idiots. This is because he’s not an asshole. He can still hold true to his beliefs and values while not being rude.

  • Rollingforest

    Gender issues ALWAYS cause drama, especially in liberal communities. Why? Because liberal communities are more prone to questioning minority experiences. But gender issues are very subjective and very personal, so accusations of bias fly everywhere because we are ALL bias. We need to be civil to each other and stop worrying about who is bias or who is bigoted. Facts and discussion alone should be sufficient.

  • @Jerry, I know what you are referring to re. being a redhead. There was an incident in the news awhile about of punk-ass kids engaging in South Park-esque “kick a ginger day”. I wanted to kick those kids out of school. My mother always said I should have been born a red head (resorting to the stereotype about tempers) and I can’t say I understand any notion that redheads are somehow less attractive. Also, I would never belittle your feelings with respect to the discrimination you experience. I mock Christians who claim discrimination in North America because they just don’t like that they can’t be bigots.

    In all honestly I see the reference to “females” as irksome and I might have made some sarcastic comment, but I certainly wouldn’t have flipped out over it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t support the woman who did. Just because I don’t understand how a person feels, doesn’t mean it isn’t legitimate. I will call privilege out when I see it, but to tell somebody they are being irrational for having an emotion that they can justify (even if I don’t get it) is rude.

    I accept that this topic derails the big picture but the reality is, atheists are trying to attract more women to the community and crap like this doesn’t fly. There is a good reason why I spend more of my time in the feminist, albeit sometimes religious, blogosphere rather than the atheist blogosphere. I still worry about being told I’m being hypersensitive for calling out rape apologists. My feminists friends and I just accept that some of us believe in God and some don’t. I don’t hide my non-belief just like they don’t hide their belief. But there is much more mutual respect among feminists than I find in the atheist community at times.

  • Kerrie

    I don’t see how the word “females” can be taken as a marginalizing insult. One of the problems I have with the liberal community (and I’m definitely a liberal) is the hypersensitive awareness of “offending” anybody – and the highly sensitive nature of the members. The effect of this is a severe limitation of communication as we have to pick our words carefully and always remember the list of verboten topics. It can be exhausting! There are people who would benefit from developing a thicker skin.

  • @Freemage – you have stated the following:

    “There’s really only two explanations:

    1: You actually ARE trying to express dominance, and thus it would cost you something to change your language;

    2: You’re an insensitive and immature prat who doesn’t give a damn about how your actions affect others.”

    I believe you are over simplifying. I am not trying to express dominance and I am not an immature prat. I believe that it is nit-picky and silly to be offended at the use of the word “female” in the context of the meeting in question. By pointing out that this language is offensive it makes me feel like you will never be satisfied by my behavior. Even when I am tying to be open, honest, and inclusive, I feel like I will get badgered for mistakes and offensive I cannot even predict. It is frustrating to me and I am tempted to say “Well… I will never satisfy this person… so perhaps I will not even try.” Please Freemage, give me some credit that I do want to include women as being 100% equal to men.

    All I am claiming is that fussing over the word “female” is nit-picky. This is all I have accused people of. By sharing my opinion on this you have concluded that I am either trying to force my dominance or that I am an “immature prat.” Nice! Can you see how this might make it hard for me to share the love?

  • Tizzle: That’s kind of what I was getting at by even bringing up the redhead thing (phew, it was slightly relevant after all). Your response is an excellent example of how our attitudes should be when facing a situation where somebody is offended.

    The G: I was also offended by the South Park episode for about 15 minutes. Then I kind of started seeing it as commentary on racism all together. Unfortunately, some people didn’t get the commentary, and it inevitably became the cartoon version of “Full Metal Jacket,” where some folks just used it to arm themselves with insults they wouldn’t have thought up on their own.

    Not Guilty: I agree with what you’re saying. And the thing is, I didn’t even really have to go to the redhead thing for an example. We’re all atheists, and most of us have experienced some sort of snap judgement due to our lacking religion. Telling somebody that they’re “overreacting” for feeling marginalized because jokes are made at their expense when they try to express themself (even if it appears like an overreaction), or telling somebody that they’re just going to have to deal with insensitivity because there are more guys than girls, that’s just not what atheists should be about. For example, how is this any different than being told by your teacher or principle to “get over it” and that you’re “just being too sensitive” if you speak out against a school led prayer? After all, you’re in the minority, and nobody else seems to have a problem with it. Atheists everywhere would gladly unite over that injustice.

  • Freemage

    Kerrie: The problem with “females” is that “female” should be an adjective, not a noun–a woman is a “female human being”. Referring to women as “females” reduces their role to their gender. The rough correspondence would be refering to “blacks” instead of “black Americans” or “black people”. The goal is to generally emphasize the personhood of the subject.

    JohnD: In most high schools in America, the term “gay” is used as a broad-based pejorative. The individuals doing so very often are not homophobic; they may even have gay friends and support gay rights, and generally be laudible individuals. But they are still acting in an immature and insensitive fashion by using the term as a casual slur.

    The mature and sensitive reaction to being told that some conduct of yours is causing offense would be as follows:

    1: Assure you meant no offense. Congrats, you got this step right.

    2: Examine the behavior from the other person’s perspective. If you’re not sure where the offense is being generated, ask, politely, explaining that you want to get a better perspective on it.

    3: If the behavior is one that can be changed at no cost to you, then for the love of non-existent Gods everywhere, CHANGE IT. This applies even if you don’t really get the explanation you received in step 2–if you’re unwilling to modify a behavior that literally can be done effortlessly, then it tells the other person they are in no way, shape or form worth your time.

  • Freemage – In fact, I do have many gay friends and gays in my family. I do not use “gay” in a pejorative way. For example… I do not say something like “Oh – that shirt is so gay!” I am opposed to using the word gay in that fashion.

    I would also be opposed to using the word “female” in that way. It is clearly an attempt to make a negative judgment when in this context.

    But, the story is complex. (back to the use of “gay”) If I was shopping for a shirt I might say something like “That shirt looks too gay for me.” Now, this could easily be misconstrued to indicate a negative connotation. It does not. It is simply a statement that admits the fact that some styles of clothes may indicate a man is gay. This is a subtle but important difference.

    So, I return to the meeting. The use of the word female was never used in a pejorative way in the meeting. Most people agree with this and if someone reads the meeting this way I claim they are missing the clues. Someone offended in this way, and enough to ask such a question, is likely to have an unusual view of communication. They are looking for an offense at every turn.

    It is about context and intent. There was no ill intent or context during this meeting. Fighting a battle of the use of the word “female” in this case shows how some people will “die on every hill” to pursue their political agenda. It is tiresome and frustrating to say the least.

    I will make one clarification. The man who made the “weaker-sex” joke had a choice. He could have simply told the offended woman he disagreed with her. This would have been a better choice. But, other than the fact that he made a risky joke, should we conclude he is a misogynist. I don’t think so. Perhaps he should apologize for picking on the woman. (but not until a retraction on the initial post by Sharon and Lyz).

    In the mean time I will not tiptoe around the secular world. Perhaps I will step on someones toes along the way. This may be accidental and it may be on purpose. To me, playing the game of PC speak is no way to bring more women into the secular movement. It is a death by 1000 cuts.

  • Brian Macker

    “PZ Meyers … This is because he’s not an asshole.”

    I beg to differ. He’s a big asshole.