For months, many in the secular community have been critical of discourse associated with very vocal advocates of those who speak and write under the banner of feminism (the squeaky wheel indeed gets the grease). Rather than engaging in critical inquiry, feminists have frequently shut people out of discussion and villified their ideological opponents and persons skeptical of feminist claims; dissent and dissenters — no matter how well meaning — are portrayed as sexist, misogynistic, anti-woman (although criticism of feminism is not hatred), rapists, and rape apologists. Men who are skeptical of feminism are often labelled as ‘mansplaining‘ and ‘speaking from male privilege.’ Women who challenge the rhetoric associated with feminism are branded as chill girls, gender traitors, and sister punishers.
While vilification of dissent and dissenters is often not conducive to inquiry, the worst element of feminism in the secular community may be its dogmatic nature. The best recent example of this can be found within a release from the feminist organization Secular Woman - an organization which purports to “amplify the voice, presence, and influence of non-religious women.” Secular Woman’s board of directors, including President Kim Rippere and Vice President Elsa Roberts, wrote (emphasis mine),
“At Secular Woman, the principle that “feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression” (Hooks, 2000, p. viii) is taken as a given, and not a topic for debate. As a secular feminist organization committed to understanding and exposing societal constructs that contribute to the inequality of women and other oppressed groups, we have no desire to listen to, respect, or continuously debunk overtly sexist viewpoints. Just as most scientists are not interested in debating the beliefs of creationists, we are not interested in debating gender-biased, racist, homophobic, or trans*phobic beliefs. [...] Those of us working to challenge systemic sexism should be under no obligation to listen to or be more charitable to our opponents.”
Secular Woman removes itself from the arena of reasonable discussion in a community which is supposed to value rationality, critical inquiry, and spirited debate aimed at reaching truth. Secular Woman absolutely refuses to engage with, listen to, or be charitable to their “opponents” who conveniently are labeled as “gender-biased, racist, homophobic, or trans*phobic.”
Secular Woman portrays those who disagree with their particular dogma as irrational – as if there can be no reasonable disagreement between critical thinkers. Even if it happens to be the case that all of the beliefs Secular Woman holds are justified and true [or whether they really are "working to challenge systemic sexism"], placing themselves outside of critical discussion and debate is not the way for a rational person (or a professional organization) to behave.
All of this dogmatic behavior from Secular Woman, interestingly enough, follows the posting of (and was a response to) “The Open Letter to the Secular Community” – a document signed by many leaders of prominent organizations within the secular community who call for more civility in online discussions which partially notes,
“The secular movement as a whole is friendly, welcoming, and committed to the use of reason and evidence as a means of resolving disagreements.”
“We seek to promote productive debate and discussion. We firmly believe open and candid discussion is the most reliable means of resolving differences of opinion and bringing about needed change.”
“…we should apply the principle of charity, which tells us to aim our argument against the best interpretation of the opposing arguments rather than picking off weaker versions.”
“We can become better at disagreeing by treating each other like reasonable human beings.”
I used to believe that feminism was, as I have been told, ‘the radical notion that women are human beings too’ and a movement for gender equality, but when paying attention and being skeptical of feminist organizations, prominent feminists, and feminist assumptions, I have hardly seen this. Rather, I have frequently witnessed dogma, irrationality, demonization of male identity, and extreme intolerance toward women who dare to disagree.
I have also been told that the ‘extremist rhetoric’ within feminism is confined to ‘extremists’ who have no clout, but that has similarly been falsified.
Perhaps there are some, as I am also told, ‘good feminists’ out there?
Perhaps ‘not all feminists are like that?’
Perhaps some humanists and gender egalitarians who do not imitate the discourse coming from Secular Woman and nevertheless label themselves as feminists?
I hope these individuals, if they exist, will speak up against dogmatic feminism and discard the ‘feminist’ label. I refuse to label myself as a feminist because its name has been sullied beyond repair. I will be happy as a humanist, a gender egalitarian, and a skeptic who is willing to change any and all of my beliefs — much unlike Secular Woman — provided good reasons.
Fare thee well, feminism.
Dogmatic feminism has no place in the secular community and, if left unchallenged, will continue to poison the community. Secular Woman is not the way forward for women (and men) in the secular community who value compassion, charity, critical discourse, and open-mindedness. I encourage members of Secular Woman to withdraw their membership and discontinue support. Follow Karla Porter‘s lead:
Secular Woman has much to learn from the secular community and from the Center for Inquiry whose mission statement is worth noting here (emphasis mine),
At the Center for Inquiry, we believe that evidence-based reasoning, in which humans work together to address common concerns, is critical for modern world civilization. Moreover, unlike many other institutions, we maintain that scientific methods and reasoning should be utilized in examining the claims of both pseudoscience and religion. We reject mysticism and blind faith. No topic should be placed off limits to scrutiny—certainly not fringe science and religion, which have an enormous influence on beliefs and conduct.
We also maintain that values are properly the subject of study and discussion as much as empirical claims. The Center for Inquiry studies and promotes human values based on a naturalistic outlook. Ideological doctrine and religious dogma have no more right to dictate our moral norms than they do to influence scientific research.
As always, feel free to comment below. Unlike Secular Woman, I have a desire to listen to people who may happen to disagree with me and encourage critical dialogue.