I tread lightly into this ‘issue’. And by issue I don’t mean sexism…the skeptic community is part of a larger society that IS sexist (although attempting to resolve that situation). We may have hoped to avoid the gender issues all social movements in history have faced but alas we are but flawed humans in that effort.
That said, we should use this as an exercise of our skeptic tool kit. To my thinking there are a few issues at play (I make to pretence to solve but to define).
First with regards to who feels offended or unsafe; that call can only be made by the ‘experiencer’. That they feel this way is irrefutable. As skeptics we often boast that our beliefs follow where the evidence leads. When we apply the scientific method to social and cultural issues it becomes harder, but not impossible, to find where evidence lies. With regards to ‘feelings’…like pain…it is impossible, logically impossible, to state that one does not feel what one feels.
Second, do the facts on the ground support an empirical support for such feelings? There are many factors that can be used:
a) Number of reported incidences and ‘convicted’ offenders
- Do we have hard numbers?
- If not, why not? And when will we?
b) Degree of anecdotal evidence
- Again, perceived threat is a real threat to the perceiver, so I don’t mean to shrug off this type of evidence as skeptics often do.
- That said, does the anecdotal evidence correlate with the empirical evidence?
c) To what degree does awareness factor into perception?
- As our community becomes more aware there is a problem, people become both more willing to report incidences and more sensitive to others actions. What may have been seen as harmless 5 yrs ago is now perceived as inappropriate.
(I suspect this accounts for the increased incidences of ‘innocent’ inappropriate behaviour)
- This works both ways, hostility (from men towards women) increases if they feel threatened or vilified. This can help reduce ‘inappropriate’ behaviour but at the expense of outright hostility. I am not defending this hostility but we must be aware of the issues before we can resolve them.
(I also suspect this accounts for the increased severity of hostile acts towards those perceived as ‘leaders’ of the equality movement)
Where much debate arises is when we ask if these feelings expressed correlated with the evidence. Many will dismiss isolated acts of ‘anomalies’ and they may be, but to make that call we must accumulate independent evidence. Even if empirical evidence is lacking, that only points to another issue…that these feelings are symptoms of other ailments. I, however, will assume the evidence supports such feelings; where does that take us?
Third; do people have agendas? We ALL do to a degree. It is not wrong that some women wish to forward a ‘pro-feminist’ agenda…as already stated we do live in a society that is unequal. There are a number (majority?) of men who support (genuinely or out of guilt) the cause of equality. I have always been a strong and ardent supporter of equality.
Some have the agenda to maintain the status quo, not necessarily to ensure male dominance but we are more comfortable (at least men in this situation) with what we know…it’s predictable. These people are not ‘evil’ or even ‘wrong’; mostly they are insecure. They have yet to understand or see the evidence that will allow them to accept change. Like those who complain about the ‘new atheist’ movement as “turning people off”; we need a full spectrum approach. We need the hard liners to ensure the issue is not swept under the rug. We need the moderates who will implement change and we even need the ‘soft sellers’ who will win over those ‘set in their ways.
Some and I suspect (hope?) a few are truly misogynistic and think women should be second class or “put on a pedestal”. These are the dogmatic; and I suspect there is dogma on both sides currently the male side has the upper hand. As good skeptics we have little patience for dogma. There is a cautionary tale to be learned from the atheists. There are a number of people who are ‘atheists’ who use this rational issue to promote racist dogma.
The real question, is not do people have or want to promote agendas, but
i. What are they trying to promote?
ii. Is that a good thing or bad?
iii. How representative is it of their constituency? Of the community as a whole?
As good skeptics, we know how often ad hominem attacks, appeals to emotion, appeals to tradition have led to ‘bad thinking’…to irrational actions. What is needed is to be as unbiased as possible when attempting to identify the real question to be asked. Only when we have found the right question(s) can we begin to find a solution.
Fourth, given the issues now (?) identified, what is the best course of action?
With regards to ensure perception and actual senses of security and equality; what can be done to attain this state? I think there has been a lot said about this by the female skeptic community. Some of it is ‘loud’, some of it is accompanied by ‘venting’, and a lot is I suspect associated with frustration. However, there is at the heart of it genuine issues that need to be addressed; issues that should not be diverted to debates over personalities or style.
With regards to those who are insensitive or uneducated, how best do we raise awareness and educate without vilifying innocence? From the side of the less-equal, it is easy (and not necessarily unjustified) to say anyone who resists movements to equality are actively or passively part of the problem. Agreed but to vilify or ‘shout down’; to start a ‘witch-hunt’ or ‘blacklist’ of people requires a larger degree of guilt. I grew up in a time and a place where racial ‘jokes’ were common place. They were not (by my generation) meant to as “real” commentary; although I suspect those who were the subjects of such jokes did not think them funny. However, there was no intent (by most) to be racist…through education and enhanced sensitivity these became (largely) artifacts of the past.
The action was not to attack those who ‘innocently’ transgressed but to educate and ensure the community reinforced this new social meme. Skeptics believe the best way to shed light on darkness is not to beat it down but to enlighten it through education. That most people who are ‘bad thinkers’ are so out of ignorance and tradition…that given evidence and logic they will come around to reason.
With regards to those who do not care or are outright antithetical to the issues; what should we do as a community to ‘deal with them’? I suspect it a fuzzy grey gradient from uneducated to complacent to hostile. I have just counselled patience and reasonableness; however there are those in our community who are not ‘innocent’ but aggressive and hostile. We should not be quick to judge but once judgement has passed we should not hesitant to condemn and ‘deal with’.
With luck in this thought experiment we have made progress. Given the issues identified and some courses of action, who needs to do what?
Those who are attempting equality must also accept the inertia to change and not be overly hostile or ‘quick to judge’ others actions. Of course this does not mean relent, retreat or slow down but realize that some of those who will be run over are innocent. It is the sad fate of those who lack equality that they are often called upon to have more patience though they have the greater cause for haste.
I made reference to judgement, what would be the criteria of conviction so as to ensure the ‘innocent’ are not unjustly harmed while still ensuring the ‘safety’ of the community as a whole? Who stands in judgement? What should constitute a mechanism of appeal that would be fair to the accused while not re-victimizing the offended? What would constitute rehabilitation? How would one who professed rehabilitation be re-admitted into the community?
I understand that some of these questions are not simple, binary or (often) enforceable; but there is value in the exercise to try and define them. All involved would then have a better idea as to what ‘explicitly’ is expected and what are the possible repercussions. Far too often we assume that ‘any one should know what appropriate behaviour is’. That is obviously not the case. We all believe that the majority of the cases of inappropriate behaviour were not done maliciously. A man who wishes to curry favour with a possible ‘partner’ (however that is defined) does not start by ‘offending’ them. Re-education, especially in the light of an unenlightened cultural background, will be slow and a presumption of ignorance should be our default assumptions until actions prove otherwise. We are attempting to create a better world not wreak vengeance on the past.
Those in dominance are the ones who must be most willing to change. They must also accept that they are not the ones best to judge IF there is a problem; however no solution will be achieved without their cooperation. We must accept that in the cause of change innocents will fall victim to unjust condemnation. As I have counselled patience to those currently wanting, so must the dominant group be patient when accused. Far too long we have taken comfort in our position… insensitive when we have trodden on the rights of others…unconcerned to injustices wrought by our collective hand. When balancing scales, many tribulations will occur but patience and stalwartly forward we must persist.
It is hard for the dominate group to stand back and let others take the lead. Part of being dominate is being in control; however to attain equality there must be a willingness to give that up. It requires a leap of faith of sorts to accept that others may know better than we.
Much as “white people” have to accept ‘reverse discrimination” (i.e. affirmative action) to balance the social scales with ‘non-whites’, so must the male community accept that not only must we be willing to give up the status quo, but further we will be called upon to do more than ‘our fair share’ because we have not been doing our share for quite some time. You cannot say “Well, okay we will now all be treated equally” because that ignores both the systemic inequality as well as those inequalities that ‘seep in’ from the outside society.
What is the endgame?
It may be utopian but when we say ‘safe environment’, ‘equality’, and the ‘absence of a hostile environment’…what ultimately, does that mean? It may be easy to say that it’s obvious, but objective reality proves that wrong.
This is an educational process as well as a cultural one. We may not nor can ever achieve utopia but at least we will have a better idea the roads we all travel. Elsewise I fear a community that lacks insight will be split and diminished as a consequence.