I am tremendously honoured, surprised, and deeply flattered to accept Secular Woman’s award for Man of the Year 2013. It is particularly gratifying to be so named, considering the other names put forward as their award recipients. I have always been grateful to anyone who reads or otherwise notices my work toward racial and gender equality, and to be named with such distinction is not something I ever expected.
As the secular community grows, like all political movements it must begin to look inward and reflect on its actions. For those of us whose motivation toward a secular world is grounded in humanist values, we must periodically turn the lens of scrutiny and the tools of inquiry upon ourselves and interrogate whether we are living up to our own values.
Among the foremost of these is the idea of ‘equality’, and what that means to us. To some, equality means nothing more than “treat everyone the same”, a definition that seems laudable at a superficial level but which, upon any amount of honest scrutiny, is deeply flawed. We do not live in a world where a ‘level playing field’ exists. We live in a world in which individuals are treated according to shopworn stereotypes about the social group they belong to; whether that is race, class, sexuality, and of course gender. In many cases, such treatment happens even in the absence of intentional or conscious malice. The forces arrayed against members of minority groups are simply not the same as those arrayed against the majority, and an “equal” response to those forces will only serve to perpetuate these discrepancies.
Just as we know, from the laws of mechanics, an object in motion stays in motion until it is met with an opposing force, it follows metaphorically that social systems that have been in motion for generations will not stop exerting influence merely by ‘taking our foot off the gas pedal’. The inertia inherent in patriarchy, in white supremacy, in theocracy, must be met by an opposing force that is equal to the task of stopping them. We cannot respond to such powerful and deeply-ingrained systems with mere passivity with the expectation that merely ‘not being part of the problem’ makes you part of the solution.
So what, then, must be our response? How can we contextualize and achieve the equality that lies at the heart of a humanist value system? Can the tools of inquiry and activism that we use in our struggle against religion inform the way in which we respond to other oppressive systems? Are there similarities between theocracy, heterosexism, cisnormativity, patriarchy, and white supremacy? Can we demonstrate the courage and honesty required to see the ways in which we ourselves, as well-intentioned but non-omniscient beings, participate in and benefit from these oppressive systems?
The effort that I put into my anti-misogyny advocacy, such as it is, is grounded in the belief that the answer to these questions is ‘yes’. Just as the waning strength of religious institutions would not have been possible without the prolonged and often fraught efforts of our ideological forebears (and yes, our contemporaries), we will not see the eradication of other oppressive systems without a comparative effort to counter them by motivated and dedicated people. We can and should be those people.
There is value, despite the repeated assertions of those who claim otherwise, in examining ourselves and our institutions to ensure that we do not slack in our efforts toward true equality. By making secular communities more welcome to groups that do not see themselves represented proportionally, we make our advocacy and activism more accurate and relevant to the diverse array of peoples and groups who share secular values, but may not have their voices heard by those claiming to be their (our) representatives. Our community grows in numbers and comprehensiveness when we make our spaces responsive to the needs of members of minority groups. Diversity can be our strength.
As I aver above, this kind of strength will not and cannot come without the active effort of members of both the majority and minority. It is for this reason that I am proud to ally myself with Secular Woman, whose approach to anti-misogynist advocacy and activism matches my own. There is an important dual role that male anti-misogynists (a.k.a. feminists) can play in this fight: first, we can exploit the amplification of our voices that our male privilege (however unintentionally-gained it may have been) affords us to put women and their voices front and centre in discussions where they might otherwise be absent, and secondly we can speak to the ways in which patriarchy harms men and boys. We have a part, beyond simply listening and absorbing, to play in the struggle for equality.
I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the work of three men whose advocacy and work has been highly influential on my own thinking:
- Robert Reece, contributor to ‘Still Furious and Brave’
- Anti-Intellect, of the eponymous website
- Edwin Hodge, former co-blogger and author of ‘Skeptical Cubefarm’
As my own full-length blogging winds down, I hope you will look to these resources as being both supplementary and complementary extensions of anything you’ve found valuable in my own work. Of course, I can still be found on Twitter.
Again, I would like to express my deep gratitude to Kim, Nicole, and the whole board and membership of Secular Woman for this honour. I view it not as the conclusion to the work I have done, but an invitation to continue it undeterred. Thank you, and I will do my best to live up to this recognition.
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