There is just no nice way to say some things.

I ran across an interesting article over at skepchick today that I found interesting.

A Few Things To Stop Doing When You Find a Feminist Blog

The author poses several questions that she gets asked often and answers them, one question and answer in particular caught my eye.

Have you perhaps considered taking the oppressor’s face in your hands, gently smoothing back hir hair, softly and sweetly whispering your message in hir ears with lots of words like “maybe” “sort of” and “I’m not blaming you”? I think the people who treat you horribly would be very receptive to that. Just my two cents.

She answers this in the following way.  

I have considered this one! I have done this one. I have also tried not doing this. Funny thing: you get the same result either way. And that result is based on the person you are talking to. You know, based on the way they choose to react, instead of your tone of voice, kind smile, and Circadian rhythms at the time. Everybody has their own responsibility to choose how to approach the inequities of the world; many people choose to slough off that responsibility onto the messenger, because they can, because they have that privilege, because to listen to the messenger and agree with them means the immediate end of that privilege. 

Now, as a man I have to admit that in the past, even since becoming an atheist, I have said things that were rather ignorant on the topic of feminism.  Even in the last several years my views have evolved quite a bit, and I’m sure I am still less than perfect on this.  What made me realize I was wrong here was my own experiences as an atheist, and I think this answer is relevant to a lot of issues besides feminism.

As an I regularly hear much the same complaint from various people, not all of them are Christians or even religious, but they all say the same basic thing.  Perhaps people would listen if atheists were nicer.  In my experience, however, it rarely matters. I have written posts or had conversations where I have specifically said I am not saying something only to be accused of saying that very thing a few moments later, I have pointed out cases in society where religious people (often specifically Christians) are given special privilege or status in my country only to be told that by religious people that I’m wrong to complain or that this isn’t a case of special privilege at all.  Any conversation about our national motto inevitably ends with Christians telling me that the national motto being “in god we trust” does not amount the government giving special status to the religious and I should simply stop complaining because my complaint is stupid.   This is often followed by complaints about how Christian rights are being trampled in the country because they no longer have the right to force children to pray in schools.

No matter how nice I am the reaction is mostly the same, and these aren’t even conversations about beliefs.  These aren’t conversations where I am trying to convince someone that their religious beliefs are wrong, only that having those beliefs result in special  privileges in much of our society.

The reality is that human psychology is to blame for quite a bit of this.  None of us want to admit our failings, or admit that we benefit from a system that is biased in our favor.  For a very long time when some feminist came along and pointed some example of sexism I often reacted by denying it in some way.

My rationalization usually worked like this:

  1. Sexism is bad.
  2. If I supported sexism, or even indirectly benefited from it in some way I would be bad.
  3. I’m a good person.
  4. Therefore whatever you are talking about couldn’t be sexist.
It took me a long time to get over that line of thinking, I can’t even say I totally am over it, but I can’t help but think that many theists are reacting with the same line of reasoning, and insisting they socially privileged because of their belief sounds to them like I am saying they are a bad person.  I’m not of course, most people are generally pretty decent irregardless of their religious beliefs.  People usually support a system biased in their favor because they are so used to the privilege they are unaware they even have it, instead of special favor it is just the way things are.  Usually the hardest part of change is admitting to being part of the problem.
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