Tag Archives: feminism

Rationalism vs Atheism, Feminism & Other Religions

Perhaps my scientific training led to scepticism and the search for facts or maybe I was just made this way.

A colleague in my first job pointed out that maths is symbols and rules but any relationship between maths and reality is unproven, though backed by a lot of circumstantial evidence.

After an upbringing in a ‘Church of England’ style, relatively disinterested Christianity but little or no church attendance, I failed to find any evidence for the existence of a loving God. All the love and hate I witnessed was more sensibly attributed to humans and ‘acts of God’ to climate or accident.

I know that religion can make people feel more hopeful at the worst of times so I wanted to distance myself from increasingly militant atheism. I started describing my lack of religious belief as “agnostic atheism”. I’m not absolutely sure there is no God but I see no evidence that there is. My relationship to God is exactly the same as the one I have with creatures  who live underground on the Moon. I’ve heard stories but without further evidence, I’m going to assume they’re not there. The Bible is not better evidence than ‘The Clangers’, if we ignore any knowledge of who created the artifacts and what their motivation was. Describing myself by something I don’t think became increasingly ridiculous to me. When I started going to ‘Skeptics in the Pub’ events, I began to self-identify primarily as a rationalist.

Last week, I was catching up on the latest series of The Infinite Monkey Cage. Prof. Brian Cox said that in science there are no facts, only theories that haven’t been disproven yet. Religion and science have a common aim, to explain how and why things work. The difference is that once a religion has decided something, it becomes a sin to challenge it. Dogma gets treated as fact.

Science has theories and it constantly challenges them until no-one can think of any better ideas (for now) and everyone pretends they’re facts, because we like certainty but we are still kidding ourselves. I’m imagining religious fundamentalists, pointing at this, screaming “See! See! They know NOTHING!”.  The only people who can believe they KNOW facts with any degree of certainty are the religious. And they are not going to be swayed from their Knowledge by something as trivial as contradictory evidence. Their faith teaches them that believing, without a scrap of evidence, is the greatest virtue, that doubt is a sin to be prayed through. You can imagine the ambitious early churchman who made that rule up.

I know religious scientists. They separate their science from their beliefs and compartmentalise them, in different sections of their brain. Logic is not permitted in the religious baggage area. Many atheists try arguing with religious people, at a cost of great personal stress. You may as well try building a suspension bridge using magic. However, if you are arguing from a position of absolute certainty that there is no God then you are not being rational either, because science isn’t certain about anything. That is its greatest strength. ‘It’ learns continuously in a way that religious institutions are reluctant to and that is why religion is disappearing fastest amongst educated people. The places that God might be hiding are slowly disappearing. The odds suggest overwhelmingly that we should grow up, take responsibility for our own actions and fix any problems ourselves. Don’t pray, think.

And then I talk to feminists. I believe that all people should be offered the same opportunities; that as far as is possible we should strive to enable equality. But people are not equal. I have observed this, scientifically. Yet, if I had to decide who to throw out of an airship, I’m confident it would mostly be men, even without the archaic concept of male chivalry. Not all men are the same and not all women are the same. I get that too. And even when we do conform to gender stereotypes, we don’t know whether that was caused by nature or nurture so we just pick a side, based on faith. Faith must never be questioned. If someone produces evidence that conflicts with your belief, it is your duty to shout at it and attempt to undermine the messenger.

Some aspects of this ill-defined thing we call “Feminism” seems to have become a religion to some people. It’s strictest adherents are capable of holding totally conflicting beliefs in their minds without them ever meeting. And like other religions, it is impossible to question some of the more outlandish beliefs without triggering reflex protection mechanisms. “It says in the Bible…”, “Well you would say that, you reap the benefits of the patriarchy”. Or maybe I’ve thought about what you said and found it lacking and the fact I am a man is irrelevant.

“Not all feminists!”, I hear you cry. But some of them, and they are doing harm to a logical cause that I care about. Men don’t run around clubbing wild boars any more, leaving our little women safe in the cave. Our culture needs women working and men doing childcare as though they were equal. We need to grow up and discuss equal opportunities, like adults.

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Sexist Theory

In theory, I support feminism. That is to say that I believe that everyone should have equal rights and opportunities, as far as practically possible, though I accept that male breast-feeding is unlikely to arrive in my life-time so some asymmetrical allowances may have to be made.

I don’t think that any two humans are equal. Each of us is unique. The mechanism of evolution favours diversity, so there is wide variation in human capability across many axes of ‘capable’. I don’t find it in any way surprising that there may be biological as well as social differences between the sexes. You cannot say that all men are taller than all women but you can say this “on average”. That is not adequate reason to say that in a job which requires a large, strong person, women should be excluded. That is sexism. It may also be true that, on average, a woman is better at childcare than a man but that may be due to social conditioning or hormone levels. It is sexism to assume that one man cannot make an excellent nursery assistant.

I think there are 2 different types of human evolution occurring. One is political, intellectual, cultural and possibly moral. It moves fast. Ideas can be born, played with and die in days, hours or even a few minutes with the Internet to speed up our communication and super-charge our societal network. It has taken only a month for ‘national pride’ to be something every political party wishes to aspire to. The ideas don’t have to be the best, only to win over popular opinion.

The other evolution is provided by good old biology. It moves very slowly. That is why we’ve tried to give it up. Our fight and flight mechanism is rarely an appropriate response to commuting congestion but many more stress-related deaths will be needed before it is eliminated from the population; or perhaps society will decide that the aggression necessaary to win a knife-fight will take precedence. The two types of evolution are simultaneously interdependent: Politics will decide our biology, by defining the environment we evolve to fit and in conflict: what we think and what our bodies feel can be at odds.

So it was that I found myself, complaining on Faceboook about an act of sexism and minutes later, posting a public link to a Jake Thackray song that starts, “I love a good bum on a woman, it makes my day”. Is this, I mused, what they call “hypocrisy”?

We are all animals. Most of us experience sexual desire but “there’s a time and place for it”. There are also manners and rudeness and what some feminists call “rape culture”. Apparently, it’s a very unpopular opinion with nearly all men but I’m going to bravely come out and say that I am against rape. I think it’s wrong. Not only that, I don’t think I’d like doing it, at all. I guess I’m just weird.

I sometimes find newsreaders and musicians and other people who suddenly appear on the screen in my house to be quite attractive. I know that is Wrong because it encourages the horrible exploitation of women who look nice at the expense of those who don’t, in a way that would never happen with, say, boy bands or jobs that are considered to require a good brain rather than good looks.
The thing is, I can’t help it. I could pretend I don’t find beautiful women nice to look at, like men with jealous partners have to, but it wouldn’t be true. I could not mention it, in the way I hardly ever say “Wow, you’re ugly!” to a complete stranger I meet in the street but the fact is, I think we are designed at a fairly basic level to want to compliment people we quite like the look of, in the hope they’ll remember and if everything else goes pear-shaped later, maybe we might stand a chance there. Sometimes I think people even like it, if it’s done in a way that suits them, which is of course, completely impossible to predict.

Such casual flirting may be a coy look over the edge of a fan (this has NEVER worked for me) or a “Pwoar darling!” from a scaffolding tower(has that EVER worked for anyone? – sadly, I suspect the answer must be “yes” or surely they’d be too embarassed by now) but it appears we “just can’t help ourselves”, to differing degrees. Yes the object of our desire may be offended or simply physically repulsed by an unwelcome or inappropriate approach but society decides what is acceptable behaviour and there currently seems to be a huge mismatch between social manners and acceptable courtship behaviours that our generally permissive society has yet to resolve. Whether we practice our flirtation technique in preparation for our ‘one true love’ or whether wolf-whistling is actually an Alpha-male tribal bonding ritual, in which the apparent sex object is only symbolic and may as well be a cartoon character, may require further anthropological study.

Now, we come to the event which triggered me writing this post: a middle-aged, slightly overweight female comedian in a new frock she’d bought specially, went on TV to pick up an award and thousands of people tweeted to tell her what a mess she looked. How rude and insensitive! Subsequently, she wrote a reply in a TV magazine about how much they had hurt her and told them that how she looked had nothing to do with her job. Good for her. I wish more women would politely but firmly answer back, when it won’t put them in danger of further abuse.

I have made my peace with the sad fact that I will probably always find some people (including on TV) more sexually attractive than others and that is probably necessary for the healthy continuation of our species but that is not a fact TV executives should consider when employing people as newsreaders, or comedy clubs when booking an act, even if it will increase their audience, because those people will be there for the wrong kind of evolution.

In our turn, us men could all try not forcing any level of attention on anyone who clearly signals they aren’t interested, however confident we are that we “know they like it really” and we could all care a bit less about how other people look, certainly stopping well before the point of public abuse. We all decide what society’s standards are so let’s speak up whenever we think it could up it’s game.

Knocking 8 Bells out of the Working Day, For Sexual Equality

This morning, on the Twitter:

@Madelinep said to Professor @DrAliceRoberts, “We’re shoehorning women into careers designed for men with stay-at-home wives”.

@DrewbertG replied, “We’re shoe horning men into them too. If things are going to change for the better it has to be for everyone.

@Madelinep added “Women & men need work flexibility. The lack of women at senior levels tells the big story”.

I threw in:

@wootube “Idea: Make jobs smaller for everyone? Allow people to have 2 or 3 it they feel they have time?”

I want to expand on that here.

@DannaKo1 suggested the Twitter hashtag #workrevolution because the issue was wider than #womeninacademia. As a non-academic man, I feel honour-bound to agree.

My idea of feminism is that men and women, on average, probably have slightly different capabilities in some areas, whether due to biology or social conditioning but that no human being is average so individuals have the right to an opportunity to prove that they are equal to another person. I get very frustrated by feminists who refuse to discuss, for example, father’s rights, until The Patriarchy has been crushed. That doesn’t appear to me to serve equality well.

In purely practical terms, if society is structured to expect men to work until midnight ‘when the pressure is on’ but women have a legal right to leave at 5pm because they have childcare duties, guess who is going to be given the top jobs. Like many, I had a rant recently when a politician made a crass remark about mothers deserving to be paid less, presumably because child care meant they had less experience than someone who had stayed at work. Most feminists were disgusted that he considered a woman to be worth less. My objection was that he should have said “any parent who gives childcare greater priority than work”. Why isn’t that every father too?

I’d like to propose a solution: Assume a school day for under-16s will be 09:00 – 17:00. Adult education and the world of work moves to the system traditionally observed aboard ships – watches, 4-hour units of time. In the day time, these run from 08:30 – 12:30, 12:30 – 16:30 and 16:30 – 20:30. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship%27s_bell

When raising a child, instead of one parent stopping work and the other continuing, they have the option for parent A to work the first watch, leaving parent B free to get children off to school. Parent A works 1 or 2 watches and is available to pick the child up from school. Parent B works 1 or 2 watches after 12:30. Anyone can choose to work part-time, full-time or even 12 hours.

Now the radical part: every job is advertised as normal, specifying the number of watches required and when, if it matters. All candidates are considered equally and ranked. When the job is offered, the successful candidate, regardless of sex, has the legal right to say they wish to work less watches than required. Alternate candidates are then offered the rest of the watches, until the job is full. With an appropriate notice period, any employee has the right to reduce the number of watches they work. The watch becomes the unit of work instead of the day, the watch-year is the unit of job experience. Clearly, the impact of every role potentially becoming a job-share will be an additional management overhead but the pool of trained and experienced candidates for every job may be expected to increase considerably. An employee approaching retirement may choose to reduce watches, prior to retirement, allowing a replacement to be trained, in parallel.