ActivismFeminismMeta StuffSkepticism

A Fracturing Movement

Over at Atheist Neighbor, Devitek Pond recently put up an article about factions within the skeptical movement, and the problem of cohesiveness. He suggests that these factions are a huge problem, and that while individuals may have differing opinions, as a group we must “share the same goals and purpose”, however he says that thus far he has yet to see an answer to how to become a unified group. I agree that many people within the skeptical movement have been acting like a bunch of highschoolers trying to form cliques, but I also believe we should examine the claim that unity is necessary, before we start to make claims about how to become unified.

To begin, Pond suggests that “If you don’t want to stand up for women’s rights, or for education, or for any of the issues that are important to the progress of humanity, that’s fine–you can keep your damn mouth shut, though, because despite whether you want to or not, you’re gonna eat your vegetables. You are going to help the group, and doing so when you don’t necessarily want to is called making a sacrifice.” While there are certain elements of this sentiment that seem spot on (you don’t have to agree with all the pet causes in a movement to be part of the movement), he seems rather militant about suppressing dissident voices. There may be room for those who see a problem with supporting women’s rights to speak up.

However the problem today seems to be less with the fact that there are factions who don’t care or don’t want to be involved with interests of other factions and more with the fact that certain factions (women and minorities) are being actively stamped out (such as the recent TAM debacle). So the problem here is not different voices speaking out with their opinions. That’s pretty much always a good thing. The problem is that no one is listening to the voices that are always suppressed. And that is a problem. We will continue to faction if each group says that they will only pay attention to their own interests. If old white men continue to only remain interested in the issues facing old white men, then the group will splinter, because young lesbian women will want to talk about their issues, and middle aged black men will want to talk about their issues and gender-queer ex Muslims will want to talk about their issues. The problem here is not that there are so many people with so many opinions in this movement, and the problem is certainly not that some people are expressing the wrong opinion and other people are expressing the right opinion, so the wrong people should shut up and sacrifice for the right. The problem is a lack of listening.

Listening seems to be at the root of many of these splinters. When women like Rebecca Watson have asked conferences to instate harassment policies and the conferences don’t listen, we get splintering. When the old guard tries to express their fears and hesitations and the young ones only see close mindedness, we get splintering. And this is where the hard work and the sacrifice comes from. It comes from putting aside your own interests and truly listening to what other people are saying before picking up your own thoughts again and trying to come to a good compromising decision. This means every single type of skeptic has to be willing to be skeptical about themselves.

And that’s where I believe our movement has power. We pride ourselves on thinking critically, on questioning dogma, on moving past false beliefs. If any movement could learn to truly listen to other experiences and question our own to come to a better synthesis of information, it is skeptics. We already have the same goals and purpose: to think rationally and question unfounded beliefs, generally for the betterment of humanity. So now we need to put those goals into practice in our own community by starting fresh with our opinions and asking: how can we best serve the needs of all members of our community? What dialogue will take us the furthest? We’re smart people. I bet we can find a good answer.

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Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at


  1. July 25, 2012 at 7:38 pm —

    There may be room for those who see a problem with supporting women’s rights to speak up? No, I don’t think that there is.

    • July 25, 2012 at 10:10 pm —

      Well they also have room to be criticized heavily. I’m just saying that if people feel there are valid reasons for keeping skepticism and feminism separate, we should listen. Most likely those reasons suck, at which point we can use reason to rip them to shreds, but silencing people before hearing what they say (unless it’s rape threats, sheer misogyny etc) is just going to alienate people. But hey, just my opinion.

      • July 26, 2012 at 11:07 am —

        The problem is that “keeping skepticism and feminism separate” really just amounts to “if you want to be a part of the skeptic community then shut up about the feminism” and that, to be blunt, is just the same tired, old “shut up about the feminism” in shiny new skeptic-community wrapping. No, feminism and skepticism does not have to be an either/or decision. We can be (and many of us are) both and we should neither shut up nor should we be “making room” for those who are telling us to shut up.

        There is, after all, a big difference between listening to someone’s argument and embracing them into our community.

        • July 26, 2012 at 8:27 pm —

          Agreed. I personally don’t think there is any possible logical, good reason that someone could give to keep feminists out of the movement. However if we use the “shut up and sit down” line, then we validate it for them to. If instead, we use logic to illustrate why the opposition is wrong after listening politely to all their really bad reasons they think they’re right, then we are in the best position possible.

  2. July 25, 2012 at 11:02 pm —

    I got into a bit of a Twitter debate (Twibate? Twitterbate? Those just sound wrong.) about this after writing that post, and I’m really glad to see this response out there. My POV would definitely fall into the “militant” category, but the religious really are at war with us–I’ve been on that side of the fence, and we are definitely the enemy.

    That being said, I think we do have to listen to what is being said, and for your exact reason: to rip their arguments to shreds. It won’t win them over, but the ones we’re talking about here aren’t the ones we’re trying to persuade–ultimately, they are the ones we will pity for their beliefs.

    • July 26, 2012 at 8:27 pm —

      EXACTLY! Your last paragraph is what I’m trying to say.

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