Friday, March 23, 2012

Defending Sexism at The Reason Rally (or, Who's Exempt from Skeptical Inquiry?)

Reasons for God (RfG) has issued a response to the Friendly Atheist's post which is a response to various complaints about various speakers at the Reason Rally. RfG says "Mehta’s argument is that the documented sexism of some of the biggest speakers [Richard Dawkins, Penn Jillette, Bill Maher] is just not a big deal! ... Therefore, it is still worth having them speak because 'we need big-name celebrities to attend.'"

I have heard the argument that big-name speakers deserve to push out other speakers.  To me, that reeks of appeals to authority, and it's also a pretty effective "shut up, that's why" tactic.  (RfG claims that the Westboro Baptist Church was also officially invited to attend.  Frankly, that point is moot, since there's no way they wouldn't have planned to attend in any case.)

At this point, RfG takes the time to point out that anyone can be sexist (true) and that atheists attempt not to be sexist, in general (also true). They seem to imply that sexism is caused by atheism and sexism is in spite of Christianity. Ha!

Anyway, on to the main show.

Point #1: Is it true that Bill Maher, Penn Jillette, and Richard Dawkins have all made blatantly sexist comments?

In shortyes.

Moving on...

Point #2: Are these comments representative of a broader problem with the atheist movement?

Yes, but this is where the answer isn't a simple Google search away. Let's zoom out past the atheist movement. Let's even bypass Christian culture. Let's zoom out to any level of society, really, even the entire world. What do you see? Gender inequality to varying degrees, with very few exceptions. That means we should apply that skepticism we so often apply to religion needs to be turned onto ourselves when someone makes the claim that we've somehow uniquely (seemingly from magic) achieved a community free from sexism.

Point #3: So what does it say about The Reason Rally that an organizer of the event is arguing that a higher standard—such as “no sexism”—should not disqualify speakers?

These "questions as points" are getting irritating.

Anyway, RfG writes what sounds like an excellent intro to this issue, but then places it at the end of their post with an air of finality, as though we can dust off our hands and walk away from this issue.  The reason is, they don't really care about the success of the atheist movement, they're just looking for their "CHECKMATE, ATHEISTS" moments.

Screw them, here's where we get down to the heart of the matter:

Actual Point: Nobody is exempt from having the skeptical toolkit applied to their issues.

Nobody. Even when we're trying to get a huge group of people from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences together.  And you know what really says "lulz, I get an exemption, u mad bro?"
If we got rid of every speaker who held an irrational belief, there would be no one left on that stage.
So deal with it.
Oh okay!

No wait, no. I don't have to "deal" with it, I can talk about it and anyone else can talk about it and even RfG can talk about it, because it's there and it's not exempt. Maybe you're worn out.  Maybe you have listened to a thousand complaints and need to turn off your email so that you can get some work done before you address complaint number one-thousand one.  Everyone has their limits.  But atheists are as entitled to talk about atheism as atheist leaders are.

After all, this rally is about us. We're the ones the politicians need to represent and the media needs to understand.  We will not travel across the nation to be told that our experiences should once again be second-class status and that our voices should fall into the background.  We will not exempt anyone from skeptical inquiry.

So yes, the rally is going to bring a whole lot of differences together in ways previously unseen.  But it is our right to expect more from each other, from our leaders, and from our future.  We will not be silent.  We are atheism.

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