Tuesday, 5 February 2013
Atheism and Feminism: Bristol AASS Discussion
Last Tuesday, discussion writers Caitlin G and Olly M brought us a challenging discussion on atheism and feminism. It covered a broad span of topics including sex, gender differences, the ethics of equality, religious sexism and sexism in secular society too. We started with definitions: what is sexism? What is feminism? What is the patriarchy?
The subject of objectification brought about some debate, what it was and whether pornography and strip clubs were more or less responsible than Page 3 and the media fixation on what female public figures wear. One member of our group told us about how she had worked at an estate agent in Texas which required women staff to wear make-up and how she had been sent home when she refused to comply one day. She was also required to dye her hair red because they already had blonde and brunette staff and wanted clients to be able to pick whether they did business with “the blonde, the brunette or the redhead".
The most contentious topic of the evening (which continued later on Facebook) was sex and gender differences, what they are, whether they exist and whether they are determined by genetics, culture or chance. This is a topic which suffers from terrible reporting, where gender biases are framed as “men are like X, women are like Y, therefore unpleasant behaviour, Z, is somehow justified”. This sort of thinking falls into two traps. First, gender biases tell you nothing about individuals. If it is found that 75% of boys prefer playing with trucks rather than dolls (controlling for culture, etc) then what can you infer from this information? It doesn't say that boys should never play with dolls, it doesn't say that any boy who does so is somehow disingenuously male. This leads into the second problem; this sort of logic tries to make a statement about how the world should be from observations about how it is, breaching the is-ought gap. It is only possible to justify biological determinism for behaviour which negatively affects others if you deny rational agency as well. A disposition towards certain behaviour does not absolve us of the responsibility to negotiate rights and get the consent of others whom those actions are likely to affect.
Finally we looked at how atheism, humanism and secularism intersect with feminism. The link with secularism, seeking equality for all regardless of religion, is the most obvious one with religious organisations granted privileged exceptions from equality law and allowed to exclude women from their higher ranks. This leads to the outrageous outcome that 26 seats in the House of Lords, those of the Bishops or “Lords Spiritual”, are reserved exclusively for men. The link with Humanism is strong too, with a commitment to equality and human rights for all.
The next event is "Evan Harris: Secularism in 2013" tonight (Tuesday) at 6:30pm in The Frank Lecture Theatre, Physics
Don't forget to book tickets for the AHS Convention in London from the 1st March. Speakers include Polly Toynbee, Natalie Haynes, Robin Ince, Jim Al-Khalili Andrew Copson and Keith Porteus Wood!