Commenting on the CFI’s non-response

CFI finally responded to the Ben Radfort brainfart. It’s a really fucking stupid response, that I shall take apart now:

What is the cornerstone of CFI’s mission? Is it atheism or humanism? No, not really. Commitments to atheism or humanism or any other “ism” are conclusions we arrive at, presumably after consideration of the relevant evidence and arguments.[and feminism ain’t? Fascinating] The cornerstone of our mission is freedom of expression and critical inquiry.[Excellent. so now, I’m sure, you will thoroughly criticize Ben Radford for the complete and utter lack of critical inquiry in his rambling, right?] We see freedom of expression and critical inquiry as indispensable tools for arriving at an accurate understanding of just about any issue of importance, including, but not limited to, the truth of religious or fringe science claims. This brings me to the recent controversy concerning Ben Radford’s blog post on Free Thinking, as well as the related controversy about the blog Free Thinking itself.

The bloggers on Free Thinking, as has been stated on numerous occasions, and as readers of our blog are expressly advised, represent their own personal opinion.[what does “opinion” have to do with this? What happened to “critical inquiry”?] They do not speak for CFI. (Even this blog post is not technically official policy, as it has not yet been reviewed by the full Management Committee, but it would be appropriate to describe it as expressing my view in my official capacity as president & CEO.)[that’s… incoherent, actually] We intentionally adopted this policy not only because it’s practical (you can’t do a timely blog post if it has to pass through management review), but because we wanted our bloggers to feel free to advance novel and speculative ideas, arguments, and theories[sexism-denialism is novel? In which universe is that true? And why does the same not apply to the “novel and speculative” ideas of AGW-denialism, evolution-denialism, etc.?] without worrying about whether they’d get in “trouble” with management.

We also fully expected that some of the blog posts might make claims that some in our audience would dispute. Great! Isn’t that how the advance of knowledge through free expression is supposed to work? Jane makes claim 1A in her blog post; Joan politely points out in her comments that Jane has overlooked factors x, y, and z; and Jane then thanks Joan for pointing this out, revising her claim to 1B.[that’s nice, but has fuck-all to do with what happened, since “Jane” got pissy and pouty and doubled down on a truly idiotic claim. Again I ask, what happened to “critical inquiry”?]

This is an idealized version, of course. In real life, it’s more like this: Jane makes claim 1A; Joan calls Jane a fucking idiot; Jane calls Joan a moron and digs in her heels; Tom, over at another blog, yells that both Jane and Joan are stupid; Jane and Joan momentarily join forces to call Tom a sexist pig[I do wonder what this non-sequitur here is supposed to do? Are you saying “sexist” is an insult like “moron” and “idiot”, without an actual meaning?]; Frank says Jane has no business blogging and should be fired; Larry comes up with some obscure dictionary reference the relevance of which no one can understand; and someone using the pseudonym Weeenie10 with a cute Batman icon limits himself to typing in the word “fart,” and on it goes, for about 800 comments spread over 3 or 4 blogs.[this whole paragraph is a strawman of what actually happened; if that’s how you are trying to make your argument, you’re not doing it particularly well]

Isn’t the Internet wonderful?

Actually, it is. Near instantaneous transmission eliminates certain filters, so, yes, there’s a lot of junk that gets posted, including pointless insults, but there are serious commenters, and their comments can clear up some mistakes and steer a discussion in the right direction. Whether the exchange of ideas works efficiently, as in the ideal model, or in fits and starts, as in the real world, it often works.[except in this case, where incoherent, uncritical sexism-denial is being posited as an “opinion” and the idiot who did it is not changing his mind; while those who’ve pointed out that he fails at basic research, critical thinking, and the ability to take criticism are being castigated for being “mean” and wanting him fired]

Obviously, there are limits to what we’d put up on our blog, not because we want any limits on free expression, but because we are a donor supported organization and we have an obligation to use that donor money prudently[so if the Discovery Institute gave you money, you’d start allowign creationists to post? Or what the fuck is this line supposed to mean? Is this a very long euphemism for “addressing sexism denialism is mission creep”?]. So we’re not going to invite Joel Osteen, Deepak Chopra, Warren Jeffs and so forth to blog[ok, so you are either saying that you were lying about the whole “The cornerstone of our mission is freedom of expression and critical inquiry” thing and the deciding criterion is cash (who pays you for letting sexism-denialism be posted?), or you’re saying there’s a difference between the reality-denialism of religiosity and reality-denialism of sexism. Either way, this is not making you or the CFI look good]. These individuals can take advantage of the outlets available to them. Our bloggers are all, broadly speaking, working from a nonreligious or skeptical perspective.[“broadly speaking” meaning “sometimes not at all”? Because the complete lack of critical thinking skills and “skeptical perspective” in Radford’s posts is what people are complaining about]

One or more of our current bloggers could also conceivably write a string of posts clearly contrary to CFI’s mission and/or its official position on important policy issues. A blogger could, for example, argue that the Establishment Clause should not be enforced[erm… you do know that’s an actual opinion, right? the “should” kind of gives it away. We’re not arguing about opinions here though], that alternative medicine should be exempt from scrutiny, that women should not have the same rights as men, that we should prohibit gays from serving in the military, and so forth[still all opinions, some hateful some ignorant; nothing to do with sexism-denialism and lack of critical inquiry in sexism-denialism, as has been perpetrated by Radford]. Depending on the frequency of such posts, the person might be removed from blogging or other action might be taken. Again, this would not be because we’re opposed to free expression, but because we don’t see the need to fund a continual stream of messages that are contrary to our mission[you’re really confused. I though you said humanism and atheism weren’t part of your mission? Let me make this clear: if someone posted opinions that go against humanism, you’d eventually ban them from posting, but someone who exhibits complete lack of critical thinking is exempt?]. That’s never happened and I think it’s unlikely to happen because someone who found themselves disagreeing with several of our key public policy positions presumably would seek employment elsewhere.

This brings me to Ben’s recent post (or posts, as he had more than one, and the one that actually appeared on Free Thinking seems the least controversial). Some commenters have recommended that Ben be fired or removed as a blogger. Similar suggestions have been made, by the way, about Melody Hensley, who commented on Ben’s blog posts, either on Free Thinking or elsewhere.

First, by way of background, these recommendations are not unprecedented. Every few months I receive recommendations about firing employees, terminating individuals’ contracts, or ceasing all contact with certain authors or speakers. For example, I’ve previously been told (in public fora) that I should fire John Shook, Michael DeDora, and Melody, that I should remove Chris Mooney as POI host, that I should never invite PZ Myers to a conference again, that I should not allow Paul Kurtz to post on our blog (back when he was still with CFI) and that CFI should forever cut any and all ties with Richard Dawkins and Rebecca Watson (this last suggestion usually being made by different people)[were any of those criticisms made because the people in question were failing at the basics of critical inquiry or skeptical thinking, or just because their opinions pissed someone off? Because there is a difference]. I have declined to follow all such recommendations. I have declined all such recommendations because the reasons offered were either not worthy of consideration or essentially asked me to cut these people off simply because they were perceived to be on the wrong side of an issue.[I smell a strawman coming on; otherwise, this entire paragraph could have been excluded, as people are not calling for action from CFI because they disagree with Radford]

The fact that a person may be on the “wrong” side of a particular issue is not a sufficient basis, absent exceptional circumstances, for CFI to stop working with that person—especially when it’s not always immediately apparent what the “wrong” side is[and there it is, the strawman. it’s not disagreement that’s the problem; it’s that sexism-denialism is not actually a matter of disagreeing on matters of opinion or even policy, but about denying reality; and Radford did so in an especially non-critical, non-skeptical way that exposed his inability to do proper research; I mean really, children’s books? Ask Yahoo?]. We’re supposed to be free thinkers, not dogmatists.

Ben’s posts may exhibit some mistakes in reasoning and may have used some research that was unreliable. I think I can make these statements with confidence because Ben has acknowledged these mistakes himself, in part because some commenters pointed out some research he may have overlooked. (See, free expression does work—sort of.)

Based on this, I don’t see any reason to take any action.[I’m eagerly awaiting the day you let creationists, anti-vaxxers, AGW-denialists and 9-11 Truthers post on your site, as long as someone criticizes them and they offer sufficiently non-committal not-pologies]

Some commenters suggested there should have been an official CFI rebuttal. Why? An official rebuttal suggests that Ben was speaking on behalf of CFI and we needed to clarify that he was not, but as indicated, he was speaking for himself. Second, there were already rebuttals aplenty of Ben. PZ Myers, Rebecca Watson, and Julia Lavarnway (a CFI employee) had their own blog posts criticizing Ben and commenters on Ben’s posts did not seem to be at a loss for words.

And what is it CFI was supposed to rebut?[uh… the factually incorrect bullshit he wrote? I have a very hard time imagining you’d be asking the same thing if the post had been written by a creationist, anti-vaxxer, AGW-denialist or 9-11 Truther] Ben’s speculations about the hues of dolls’ faces? Presumably not.[why not? it’s factually incorrect, after all] What appeared to bother some commenters was Ben’s alleged sexism.[no; his sexism-denialism. why the fuck can’t you tell the difference?]

OK. CFI denounces sexism[nice but really fucking irrelevant to the topic at hand]. We always have and presumably always will. Stereotyping based on gender is wrong and policies and practices that promote such stereotyping should be condemned. Furthermore, attitudes that exhibit sexism are unacceptable, and we should work to eliminate such attitudes, including, to the extent they exist, such attitudes within secular/skeptical organizations
[this also has fuck-all to do with the subject at hand, which is reality-denialism, research-failure, and complete lack of critical thinking].
The problem is I doubt that Ben would disagree with anything in the above paragraph, nor did I see anything in his posts to suggest he would[might that be because you’ve attacked a strawman that had fuck-all to do with the criticisms aimed at Radford? Yes, yes I think it might]. Therefore, I’m not sure it counts as a “rebuttal.”

At the end of the day, it seems to me we had a controversial post (or posts) in which a blogger ventured some opinions[the denial that certain forms of sexism exist is not an opinion any more than the denial of AGW or of the age of the earth is an “opinion”], invited comments on those opinions, received comments that suggested he had erred in some ways, and then modified some of his opinions. This is not something we should decry. To the contrary, we should support a robust exchange of opinions.[]

Because of this recent controversy, CFIs Management Committee will discuss the future of Free Thinking this coming week. I have made plain my views, but we do have collective leadership at CFI, so it’s not inconceivable that the policies governing Free Thinking would change. I hope not, because I think any radical change would undercut what CFI stands for. There are already an ample number of institutions that provide the comfort of orthodoxy[not denying reality and scientific research is “orthodoxy”? Is it “orthodoxy” to accept AGW? Is it “orthodoxy” to accept the Theory of Evolution? because you can’t have it both ways: if accepting the reality of the sexism Ben denied is “orthodoxy”, so is the acceptance of every other well-established observation of reality.] for those want that sort of thing. They’re called churches.[fuck you, too]

So all this rambling to simply state: “I think sexism is a matter of opinion not of measurable and observable reality, so while we won’t let believers in the Yeti post, we will still allow sexism-deniers to post. Everyone who disagrees with me on this is a fundie.”


Get them while they’re young

Once upon a time, Lego’s were a genderneutral toy. Now they are no longer, as exemplified by the fact that Scheels has a set of children’s winter coats, with the “boys” coats having a lego design, while the “girls” coats have a butterfly design; or the fact that Lego now has “girls” sets, that come in pink boxes and have pink bricks, and are designed to make girly things.
And it’s not just Lego. The visit to almost any children’s toy site asks, as the first question before you can see the products, whether you’re shopping for a girl or a boy, or at the very least sorts all its toys into a “boy” and a “girl” category; the categories are usually non-overlapping, too. Because boys and girls are just SO different that they wouldn’t ever play with each other’s toys, and just picking from a general selection of toys might result in buying a toy for the “wrong” gender? And ads are just as bad, as This video explains (And looky there, Sweden comes out as the most progressive country again :-p). I’m sure the banning of ads to kids is helpful, but until stores stop gendering their toy-sections, and adults stop buying such highly gendered toys for their kids, the stupid gender stereotypes will continue, and will give adults an excuse to perpetuate the stereotypes; after all, all little girls naturally like to be told they’re pretty, right? Can’t be that they’ve been socialized from birth into this, right?


***today’s post is almost entirely made up from the gender: children/youth tag as Sociological Images. I encourage everyone to go look through the rest of it, because it’s really a fascinating topic.***

Masculinity links and thoughts

Fighting is so manly— this reminds me if some of the cultural narratives that lead to WWI. It was a war that was caused by a flimsy excuse, because the men in power at the time (most notably Willie II) were feeling emasculated by the peace they had been born into. And the same urge to become a “man” was visible in many of the young men who were also itching for a war to fight in. And even abroad, as far as the US, young men were itching to join the war-effort to become “men”. because according to the cultural narrative, that’s what being a soldier did: making men out of boys. Interestingly, this is a form of toxic masculinity that has been dying in many places, even to some degree in the US (though the narratives of how joining the military will make you a better “person” are still very much present). Unfortunately though, in some ways, the narrative still exists. Wilhelm II of Germany started a war to prove his manliness. And so did George II of America, since it’s very hard to interpret the Afghanistan war and especially the Iraq war as anything other than posturing to not look weak “in the face of terrorism”.

The Boy Code — this one made me think of the “be stupid” Diesel Jeans campaign. I’ve written before about how there’s always been a conflict in the Patriarchy about where educated men stand in the Manly Man competition, but it was always a conflict tempered by the fact that women weren’t allowed in higher education, thus at least making being highly educated a masculine domain. Now that women are all over higher education, and slowly gaining more ground even in the most masculine disciplines, being smart and educated has lost the battle to the “Wolverine” kind of masculinity completely. being stupid and aggressive and impulsive and perpetually angry is now the only way to be a Real Man. But the MRA’s still insist that it’s the feminists’ fault that boys now fall behind in many academic subjects.

Oh yeah, and also reminds me of a line from the movie Gran Torino, in which the actress playing a young Hmong woman says something along the lines of “our girls go to college, our boys go to jail”.

Colbert on telling candidates to “man up” — no comment on this one; just an apology to my non-american readers since IIRC Comedy Central can’t be watched without an American proxy.

No, it’s not my job to teach you

“It’s your job to teach me about feminism. Now do it.” is a square on the sexist-bingo card, and it’s a trope that pops up in just about any other subject of the culture wars, be it racism or evolution (think of all the e-mails PZ and other famous atheists get that basically demand that the whole universe be explained to the writers of the emails, personally)or any number of other topics. When being a n00b, the attitude of feminists/atheists/etc of linking to previous discussions, suggesting reading material, or just flat-out refusing to get into the discussion can be frustrating*, and look very arrogant, cowardly, and generally off-putting. But it is a necessary tactic, since one’s free time is a limited resource, and having the same conversations over and over, for the benefit of just one individual, is neither an enjoyable nor an efficient use of one’s time.

For that reason alone, places like Pharyngula are so very precious and important. It might be the culture of valuing evidence-based discussion, or the knowledge that the discussion there is read by many people (so that any argument can inform more than just that one individual being adressed), or something else entirely, but a place where many knowledgeable people are willing to share their knowledge in personal discussion, and where these discussions are archived for posterity, is a very valuable resource. Similarly, places like the feminism101 blog, or the TalkOrigins Archive make it possible to shortcut many conversations by simply referring the person to already existing, laboriously collected, answers to their n00b questions.

What I really wish we had were similar repositories for links to, and summaries of, various scientific papers that support many of the feminist points (the name-on-resume study, various scholastic achievement studies, etc.). I used to have a vast collection of links to such studies, but I misplaced a lot of them, and sometimes finding them again is impossible, or at least very time-consuming. A nicely alphabetically sorted archive of feminist causes and the science to explain/support them would be epically useful, and linking to the whole archive would be a nice little “I’ve got science, what have YOU got” Fuck You to those who insist that feminists argue from emotion alone.

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*I admit freely to feeling that frustration as well. For example, I would not be opposed at all if SC just stopped doing anything else and taught me everything she knows. But unfortunately, I’ll have to do it myself, and just be grateful for the book suggestions :-)

Toxic Masculinity (part two)

Ok, so this is gonna be finally that essay on Toxic Masculinity and sex that I said I was gonna write.

Sex and Toxic Masculinity are an idiotically complex, convoluted and messy topic. This is because Manly Men are supposed to have lots of sex; in order to do that however, they have to be involved with those horribly deficient and nasty creatures called “women” (because having sex with men is what women do*, and is therefore feminine and therefore must be avoided at all costs by Manly Men). Prolonged exposure to these “women”, and being seen in their company, and worst of all enjoying their company could lead to ball-shrinkage and possible loss of penis, and therefore must be avoided at all costs. So, how do you have lots of sex with women, but still avoid being contaminated by their womenness?

The answer usually is to treat sex as something you take from and do to women, as opposed to something you do with and for them. Once women become the antagonists in the sex-game, sex not only stops being feminizing, but becomes actively masculinizing because it means having men “conquer” and “vanquish” women; when sex happens, it means the man won.

This has several effects on people. For one, the constant need to keep sex antagonistic requires a vast amount of toxic sludge being poured onto women, and relationships with them. Once upon a time, being married was considered a must for a gentlemen and properly established man. Now it’s a trap existing solely for the purpose of “taming” the man-beast, which men are taught to avoid. It still isn’t actually true that men don’t want relationships and commitment, but the culture teaches them that they aren’t supposed to want them, and in the most toxic environments are pressured into either avoiding them completely, or twisting them to their benefit (i.e. reducing the partner to a domestic slave and incubator either verbally or in fact; cheating; pretending that it’s not a relationship, but rather this crazed chick chasing after you).

Two, the interpretation that sex is antagonistic puts rape on a continuum with actual sex. When sex is not ever considered to be actually mutually consensual, but rather something that a man tricks or pressures a woman into doing(learning how to lower her defenses by various means is the premise of this nasty little book, which is a prime example of the antagonistic interpretation of sex), rape simply becomes the most extreme form of “getting sex from a woman”; and the concept of date rape becomes invisible altogether, since without the concept of true consensus, the only difference between sex and rape is physical force.

Three, toxic masculinity shapes the way women who grew up with it learn to interact with men, and with other women. This ranges from a form of self-hatred (similar to the self-hatred exhibited by black kids in the doll tests) and hatred of other women that causes some women to prefer being “one of the guys” rather than make friends with other women, to extreme territoriality in relationships (i.e. if your boyfriend tries to devalue you and your relationship by demeaning you and cheating on you, your only defense becomes keeping your man on a very short leash, and keeping all other women (except those “loyal” and “subordinate” to you) as far away as possible from him; remaining single is not an option), to accepting the role of evil harridan, because it is the only way you can get cooperation out of a toxic male**. IOW, toxic masculinity creates toxic femininity. And this in turn validates and strengthens Manly Men’s low opinion of women. A fucking vicious cycle.

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*no, I have no idea how lesbians figure into this, precisely.

**all of these are situations I got to personally witness in this glorious place called ND. Seems almost the only exception were the religious folks, where the guys treat the women like precious, pure and fragile dolls, and the women acted this angelic role out *facepalm*

Toxic Masculinity (Part One)

Toxic Masculinity (Part One)

This was supposed to be a single post, but then that sex conversation broke out on Pharyngula’s Endless Thread, and issues from that kept invading this as I was writing it. Since it was all rather tangential to my point here, I cut those bits out and will make a separate post about toxic masculinity and sex some other day. This post is about toxic masculinity and environmentalism.

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Toxic Masculinity is one of those “patriarchy hurts men, too” things; the “patriarchy” part is the part where men are better than women; the “hurts men” part is where having your dangly bits between your legs rather than on your chest is a necessary but not sufficient condition for being a man. For that, you must under all circumstances and at all times avoid accumulating women-points by doing or saying things that are considered feminine; best is to do the opposite of “feminine”, which of course then would be “masculine”, and gives you man-points.

Now, what precisely is considered feminine (and therefore having its opposite considered masculine) is almost completely arbitrary, but it’s one hell of a long list. It starts at such relatively harmless things as peeing while sitting down, but it also includes things that have real consequences to men (hence the “hurts men, too” part), like the weird belief that going to the doctor is “girly” unless you’re bleeding to death (and even then, you’d probably get extra man-points if you just sew your wound shut with spiderwire), so men miss out on a lot of preventive care because it’s not manly, and they end up suffering health consequences. This goes double for mental health; men are still more likely than women to commit suicide, and toxic masculinity is a main reason for that.

Toxic Masculinity has other, broader effects as well. Something I hadn’t much considered before, but am starting to notice more because it touches on issues I find important, is that it affects how far and how fast progressive changes to society can be advanced. Toxic masculinity seems always at the forefront of every imaginable backlash to progressive politics, most obviously of course in terms of women’s and LGBT rights (because they clash with the very basis of patriarchal thinking). But it also clashes with efforts to become more environmentally sustainable.

I’ve recently read this article from my free monthly trial of Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture (because I’m dirt-poor, and can’t afford subscriptions to these kinds of things :-p ) about meat consumption and masculinity. It talks about three commercials (this and this, and a third one I couldn’t find on youtube) which show manhood attacked by “chickfood”, i.e. small portions, veggies, tofu, et cetera. “Chickfood” stands in contrast to “manfood”, which in the first commercial are giant slabs of red meat, and in the second one it’s a ginormous, fatty burger. Now, why precisely healthy food is chickfood I don’t know (it’s probably some weird hunter-gatherer pretension where meat=manly, greenery=womanly), but it being “chickfood” means men must avoid it in order to avoid turning into girly-men. Now, the first problem is simply that this manly food is unhealthy, so being forced by the rules of toxic masculinity to eat it or else turn into a girl is already bad for men, on an individual level. On a societal level though, this also means that shifting away from highly processed foods, giant slabs of red meat and other highly inefficient forms of food threatens toxic masculinity, and as such is being actively hindered by this “eating less meat will turn you into a girl” peer-pressure/backlash. At the same time, the words “sustainable” and “organic”, and “vegetarian” are considered essential chickfood labels. And god forbid you actually go to a farmer’s market! On a Saturday morning, when every self-respecting manly man is recovering from a proper hangover!

And the same goes for transportation: the humvee AKA Hummer is most “manly” vehicle; a Honda Civic or a Toyota Prius already makes you pretty girly; a bicycle turns you immediately into a “bike fag”. And for saving electricity (what sort of man doesn’t have a ginormous entertainment center?! or wears a sweater, like that girly-man Carter?!), and for recycling, and for recreation (ATVs are manlier than biking and hiking), and for a whole bunch of other things.

So, the big question is: how do you move forward in creating a healthier, more sustainable society when men are being told that doing so will make their penis fall off?

Toxic Masculinity (part two)