During a recent talk at the American Atheists Rapture RAM, about how to make the atheist movement more cohesive, David Eller brought up female video bloggers as an example. Unfortunately, his main reasoning for why they were good for the atheist movement was that they are pretty. Um..WTF?!
Jen McCreight, from Blag Hag, was at the event and was, justifiably, upset by his comments. During the Q&A she called him out on it:
“If you want to make the atheist movement more social, we have to be aware of the concerns of minorities, not insinuating they’re only helpful because they’re pretty and blonde. There are plenty of pretty blondes people can watch – these people are popular because they’re intelligent and witty.”
To his credit, David went on to offer a sincere apology in the comment’s Jen’s blog post, which I reproduce here:
“This is David Eller. I realized soon after the incident that I had violated one of my own most valued principles: just as I ask atheists to stop “speaking Christian,” so I realized that I had as a male unreflectively “spoken male.” It is exceptionally difficult, as anyone will admit, to see one’s own prejudices and failings. I recognize the male privilege on which my reference was founded, and I learned something from the occasion. Actually, I learned two things during the weekend: a Jewish man reminded me that “Judeo-Christian” is a Christian-privileged way of speaking about religion, since Judaism and Christianity are really quite different. So I am more aware now of both the Christian privilege and the male privilege in my speech and thought, and I will try to overcome and eject both.”
This is what should be done when someone puts their foot in their mouth. Admit you were wrong, own up to it, and explain what you’ve learned from it.
All of this illustrates how insidiously ingrained sexism is in our culture, where even smart, cultured, progressive people can say and do things that are sexist despite their best intentions.
I have labeled these things that cause us to unconsciously behave in a sexist manner Male Privlones. It is just my own little quasi-scientific sounding term. No, my intention isn’t to create some kind of pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo, bullshit phrases to prop up an unfounded, nut job theory. I just got tired of writing “ingrained sense of male privilege” all the time, plus I think it is sort of a silly term as well, which highlights the silliness of “ingrained sense of male privilege”. I just wish it wasn’t so socially destructive and corrosive.
Male Privlones are things that most of us have buried deep within our psyche from a lifetime of social conditioning and we have to constantly fight against them. Sexism runs very deep in our culture. Even the most enlightened feminist among us can find ourselves at least thinking sexist thoughts from time to time. Many of us, myself included, will have a thought pop into our brains that goes against everything we believe in. A simple example might be going to an emergency room or medical clinic and being treated by a female doctor. Some might have fleeting misgivings about being treated by a woman doctor, not because we believe her to be any less effective than a man, but because we come from a generation and culture in which only men were doctors. We almost immediately have feelings of shame flush across our faces as soon that stupid thought forms in our brains, but it is there, nonetheless. This is an example of stupid Male Privlones, and we must actively guard against them constantly in thoughts, words and deeds.
This is no easy task, but we have to keep trying to intercept these privlones as they arise. The bright side to this is that, hopefully, we are raising our children to not have these preconceived sexist notions. Hopefully within a generation or two, sexist thoughts will be very firmly in the minority. Only our constant vigilance will allow this to happen.