Saturday, August 24, 2013
The Mean Girls of Atheism
Several years ago I watched Mean Girls, a comedy film about the toxic world of high school cliques and drama-rama bullying. Originally I viewed it as a fun and over-exaggerated take on the infighting and "us vs them" mentality of many teenage social situations. Certainly, as with any subject of comedy, there was a degree of inherent truth for the writers to play with, but obviously things were cranked up enough to make for more entertaining plot devices.
Strangely enough I find that as I watch the current infighting within the atheist and skeptic communities online that this film frequently pops back into my mind as a perfect metaphor for the divisive behavior and "with us or against us" bullshit being spewed by certain opinion leaders in the movement. More specifically, Mean Girls seems to encapsulate the girl-on-girl hostility I've seen aimed by women atheists and skeptics at other women in the movement who dare to question their opinions, and it's shocking to me that supposed skeptical thinkers have so easily succumbed to the base primitive instincts for tribal mentality and groupthink, complete with all the slander, mudslinging and "othering" one could expect from a high school lunchroom.
Now let me make something clear here, two years ago when the infamous "elevatorgate" incident occurred in Dublin at an atheist convention I initially fell 100% in line with Rebecca Watson. After all, the only thing she (initially) did was post a video mentioning briefly how uncomfortable she felt being trapped in an enclosed space and propositioned very late at night. As is typical, many people over-reacted, as so much of the internet tends to do about everything. Having been the victim of a real life stalker prior to this, I could empathize with the potential feelings one could have if an unwanted and awkward advance is being made at 3 or 4 in the morning in a space where there is no quick escape. To say that "elevator-guy" chose a bad place and time to make an offer like that is a fair assessment of the situation and I was amazed at the vitriol she recieved from so many for simply saying "guys, don't do that".
However, when Watson then used her platform to shame another female activist, Stef McGraw, as an alleged parrot of misogynist thinking for simply disagreeing with her, all my red flag warning indicators were quickly raised. Disagreement and questioning is misogyny? Disagreement and questioning is a sign of ignorance of basic Feminism101™? So did that make feminism an unquestionable dogma where you HAD to accept certain precepts to qualify or be qualified to speak on? Anyone who dared to question a voice of authority was the enemy? All of this seemed quite Orwellian, and also very reminiscent of the post-Korean War DPRK propaganda of North Korea my grandparents told me about that they witnessed many years ago while living in South Korea. All of this seemed quite contrary to the premise of free-thinking.
In the two years since I've only become more and more angered by the verbal assaults and smears I've seen prominent, smart and awesome women in the atheist and skeptic circles receive from a group of so-called "feminists" who appear to act as the judge, jury and executioner in the court of public opinion whenever they come under any scrutiny for any reason. Much like the Neo-Cons of the last decade who wrapped their political dogmas in imagery of flags and eagles to tar critics of the Iraq war as un-Patriotic terrorist sympathizers, these mean girls were quick to gain the support of a small, yet loud and angry, army of sycophants who would collectively claim that anyone critical of their particular view of feminism was either too stupid to understand Feminism101™, a scarred victim of The Patricarchy, or just a gender-traitoring token chill-girl who was trying to score some dick within the atheist/skeptic community.
This cancerous thinking, which has spread throughout the thought-leaders and followings of Skepchick, the Atheism+ movement, a few of the bloggers at Freethought Blogs (not all of them, alot of FtB avoids the drama bullshit) and their various allies such as Amanda Marcotte, was enough to cause me to drop the feminist label altogether. In the last 2 years I've seen almost all of the catty judgment and vitriol aimed at the other women I associate with online in the movement emanate exclusively from these supposed feminists and their followers.
Like the best Christian dominionists they project their bad behavior onto their critics and always strive to play the victim card over and over. They claim they are trying to stop harassment, all the while harassing the women who don't step in line with their dogmatic bullshit (and ignoring the harassing behaviors of allies like Greg Laden). I have yet to see one fucking worthwhile bit of real activism any of these self-serving twats has done in comparison to those they so often rally against (unless paid speaking at cons multiple times a year is the height of "activism"). Much like political and religious ideologues they have their own buzzwords and unquestionable presuppositions which have been honed into rhetorical weapons used to shut down and silence any objections. After all, one cannot speak heresy within the church and stand in good graces with the congregation, just as one need only dare to raise a politely worded objection to the dogmatic groupthink (or should that be un-think?) in these communities and be labeled as a misogynist, MRA, racist, transphobic, pro-harassment, rape-apologist piece of shit who needs to Check Their Privilege while the moderators gloat over how awesome they are for silencing all dissent in their ranks.
This is shocking behavior for people who claim to be fighting the magical thinking of the religious, the science deniers and those prone to accepting beliefs without question. It is the very height of irrationality and antithetical to skeptical inquiry. When one goes around telling the religious that no idea is beyond questioning and then turning around and allowing no questioning in their own spaces of their precious ideologies, are they actually any better than the Bryan Fischers, Eric Hovinds and Discovery Institutues of the world? When one constantly belittles and hurls accusations of misogyny at any woman who raises objections, I really have to wonder who the true misogynists are, although I think the word misogyny is being over-used and misapplied so often the actual meaning is becoming obscured and devalued. As such I'll simply label them with the term I started out this post with: Mean Girls.