Recently I attempted to debate a point about male/female privilege with an atheism-plusser on r/DebateAtheismPlus. You can view the thread here, but to summarize, it was a gigantic exercise in frustration for me.
The points I was trying to make were:
- There is no such thing as blanket "male privilege" that all men have, and no women have.
- Most alleged examples of male privilege are really just wealth privilege. If Richard Branson is a billionaire, and he has a penis, and I have a penis, does that make me a billionaire? Of course not!
- The much-ballyhooed gender wage gap is based on faulty and simplistic interpretation of the statistics. When you compare apples with apples, instead of e.g. comparing the salary of a part-time community college teacher with an Ivy League tenured professor, the loudly-trumpted N-cent gap (where N increases with every telling of the story) actually shrinks to within the margin of error.
- While sexism undeniably exists, to scream "the whole of society is sexist" and make knee-jerk assumptions of all-pervasive sexism as both the description and explanation of everything that happens in both the workplace and the broader society, is mindless and unhelpful.
Unfortunately, no matter how clearly I tried to express myself, I might as well have been banging my head against a wall. Pwrong, my antagonist, has cocooned himself in fem-plus dogma and simply will not entertain any thought that contradicts that dogma. Nor can he recognize how internally inconsistent this dogma is, or how it is ultimately insulting and infantilizing for women.
A perfect example was when I challenged the implicit assumption that there is some vast male conspiracy by employers to steal 23% of every woman's paycheck. If it is so easy for employers to pay men more than women for the same quality work, I asked, why would anyone ever hire men? His response: because they assume that men will do better quality work. Even when I pointed out the blatant contradiction in assuming "the same quality" and "better quality" at the same time, he just couldn't - or wouldn't - see it.
Another point of frustration for me was his refusal to understand the well documented fact that women, in aggregate, make less money than men in large part because they freely make different choices and trade-offs between career and family - and very often have more flexibility than men, and more freedom to make such choices. Doesn't sound like sexism to me, unless it's a case of anti-male sexism - but I very much doubt that Pwrong would ever concede that there is such a thing! For him, "sexism" is the knee-jerk answer to every question, just like "goddidit" is for religionists. When confronted with a counterexample, just label it "benevolent sexism", include it under the all-encompassing rubric of "sexism by men against women", and carry on regardless!
When I pointed out that women often have more freedom than men to tip the work-life balance in the direction of family rather than career, his reply was essentially: "Why does society force women to choose this way?" Obviously the answer he was fishing for was that women are pathetic, helpless, agency-less victims who are brainwashed by Teh Patriarchy, and forced out of the workplace so that employers can continue throwing money away by paying men more for the same work. He can't seem to imagine that women can freely make their own choices based on their own values, nor can he see how insulting and patronizing to women his blinkered assumption is. (And his willful ignorance of Economics 101 reminds me of a point made by Thomas Frank in What's the Matter with Kansas - the right-wing defenders of capitalism, ironically, try to take economic realities out of the equation and recast the conflict between the 1% and the 99% as a "culture war" and a "war on religion".)
Perhaps most frustrating of all was his tactic of dishonestly misrepresenting my position. "I'm saying that the wage gap is due to sexism by society and sexism by employers. Schrödinger's Therapist is claiming it's 100% due to sexism by society." God damn it! I've been saying all along, very clearly, that it's NOT SEXISM!!!
This whole exchange strengthened my suspicion that Atheism♀ is basically another religion, with Rebecca Watson as its Jesus Christ figure, PZ Myers as its pope, and radfem as its gospel. Skepticism, rationalism and critical thinking fly out the window, and "misogyny" is the battle cry for every situation.
As an atheist, I've often noticed that religionists believe in their religion for emotional rather than logical reasons, and are heavily emotionally invested in their beliefs. It's not necessarily that they're stupid, but people have an amazing ability to compartmentalize their brains. They can be paragons of rationality in general, but as soon as you touch on the area they are emotionally invested in, they respond viscerally as if their identity, even their very existence is threatened. The syndrome is as evident in fem-plus as in any fundamentalist cult. For whatever reason, they have a deep emotional need to play the victim card - a need that trumps reason and evidence at every turn.
One interesting thing I learned is that at least some plussers dislike the radical feminist label, even though it seems to me that the definition of this movement - the ideology that male oppression of women is a "transhistorical phenomenon prior to or deeper than other sources of oppression, not only the oldest and most universal form of domination but the primary form and the model for all others" - is perfectly aligned with the constant complaints of misogyny, oppression and victimhood emanating from the fem-plus forums.
However, plussers apparently redefine radical feminism so that transphobia is its core, defining characteristic. This strikes me as a little disingenuous, but whatever. I have to wonder if transphobia would be an issue at all, if Natalie Reed and Zinnia Jones weren't top-tier "Freethought" Bloggers. Clearly, this whole never-ending shitstorm is much more about tribalism and "us versus them" than about any principled or even coherent position. In any case, I will try to avoid equating Atheism♀ with radical feminism in cases where it could cause confusion - my preferred term, anyway, is victim feminism.
Another thing I learned is that there is apparently some huge, earth-shattering difference between "having privilege" and "being privileged". Good luck figuring that one out!
Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment, but I've just kicked off another debate in r/DebateAtheismPlus - Has the Schrödinger's Rapist meme backfired? We'll see how it goes!