You may have heard the brouhaha about the Google manifesto in which an angry white dude expressed his dismay at having to work alongside women because they have cooties. Unsurprisingly, a huge number of people are supporting this man because as it turns out, men and women do not have the same anatomy (who knew!), and therefore it cannot be sexist to say that these anatomical differences render women unsuitable for careers in IT. I mean, it’s just basic anatomy, for fuck’s sake! How can it be sexist to point out that women have boobies and plumbing and hormones (gross!) and neurosis?! That’s not sexism, it’s science!
This “it’s just biology that women can’t do tech jobs” mindset dovetails with the resurgence of discussions about genetically based racial IQ differences, a conversation that in some circles has never gone away but was given a boost recently when New Atheist messiah Sam Harris interviewedThe Bell Curve author Charles Murray. There are a lot of reasons why Murray’s work and Murray himself are controversial, none of which I want to go into in detail here, but which are summarized and impeccably cited here. So it was with that endorsement of Murray in mind that I tweeted this:
Big thanks to Sam Harris for legitimizing the idea that save for occasional exceptions, half the human race is genetically unfit for IT jobs
Let’s be frank: In his interview, Harris all but prostrated himself before Charles Murray. He stated unequivocally (and incorrectly) that Murray’s work is scientifically undisputed and his methods unimpeachable, and he fawned over him as a pure-hearted hero whose only sin was to seek earnest answers to important but uncomfortable questions. Harris railed against Murray’s critics as universally dishonest SJW ideologues driven by out of control political correctness, with nary a scientific or statistical leg to stand on in opposition to Murray’s conclusions. In doing so, Harris gave his enthusiastic endorsement to the worldview that society is right to treat people according to their (assumed) genetic strengths and weaknesses. Murray’s own work – the work that Harris extolled as scientifically beyond reproach – envisions a world in which blacks, women, and others quietly accept their proper roles based on their genetic limitations. It’s just a coincidence, naturally, that white men are genetically more suited for – well, everything that results in wealth and power.
So when I credit Harris for playing a role in advancing the clearly widely held belief that women are biologically unfit for IT jobs, it’s because he DID play a role. By not just normalizing but canonizing Charles Murray, Harris has given the green light to efforts to deny the existence of racism and sexism because science itself says women and POC are less intelligent and, therefore, rightfully excluded from domains that create wealth and influence. Whether or not he personally thinks the world should work this way is beside the point when he heaps breathless praise and aggressive promotion upon – and therefore emboldens – individuals who by their own admission think it should.
As far as Harris’s protestations that even if we know that, say, blacks are dumb compared to whites, we should still judge people as individuals, these are hollow platitudes. For one thing, public policy is shaped by, and in some cases predicated upon, the probability of certain things being true; if it is widely accepted as likely that black people are dumb compared to white people, then policy related to how blacks are treated (in the justice system, employment, higher education, etc.) will look very different than it would absent such an assumption. What’s more, “reserve judgment because not every black person / woman you meet will be dumb” is hardly an egalitarian outlook, and things like the anchoring heuristic will make it extremely difficult if not impossible for POC and women to convince their white male counterparts that they really are just as intelligent – and it goes without saying that once white men have been told to expect inferiority, the burden will always lie squarely on POC and women to prove their worth.
I realize that many of Harris’s more dishonest acolytes are shrieking “When did he ever utter the words ‘women are unfit for IT jobs?!’ That’s right, NEVER!” And they’re right that to my knowledge, he has never uttered those words. But he has given his imprimatur to biological determinism, with the full knowledge that people will use that against marginalized populations for their own benefit, and will cast aside even disingenuous pleas to view each person as an individual. I am not suggesting that Harris is singularly responsible for this state of affairs – that would be absurd and unfair. But he cannot disavow his own role in this outcome.
I have watched with alarm over the past several months as a growing number of atheists who fancy themselves Rational Critics of Islam™ have taken to coupling criticism of that religion with attacks on western feminists. Take, for example, the recent hashtag #SaveDinaAli, a worthy cause in its own right. Dina Ali is a young Saudi woman who attempted to flee her country’s system of male guardianship, but was intercepted in the Philippines by male relatives who beat her and forced her to return to Saudi Arabia where her fate remains uncertain. A number of prominent atheists decided to use the hashtag not only to raise awareness about Dina’s plight, but to exploit it in an attempt to shut down western feminist voices.
To start with, it should matter to these so-called rational thinkers that such statements are flagrant logical fallacies (strawman, relative privation, and hasty generalization, to be exact). This should send up red flags about their rationalism bona fides at the very least, given that sound argumentation was once considered a necessary skill in the atheism toolkit and a person would have to be either appallingly bad at or simply not care about logic to be packing the same three fallacies into tweet after tweet.
It also calls into serious question the authenticity of one’s advocacy for Dina Ali if out of 140 characters ostensibly intended to raise awareness of her situation, a person can spare only 12 for Dina and is compelled to use the other 128 to express contempt for an entire subset of women. Honestly, it takes some spunk to declare yourself a savior of Saudi women when you can’t even write a single tweet that expresses only support for them and nothing else—not to mention gross ignorance about how advocacy works to think that shitting on one cause is necessary to advance another. Remember that ad campaign by the American Cancer Society where they declared that the parents of premature babies who give money to the March of Dimes are selfish, privileged assholes who want people to die of cancer? Me neither.
What troubles me the most about this trend is how it seeks to set western women as adversaries against their sisters in the Muslim world, exploiting the troubles of the latter simply as a vehicle for tearing down the former. “Western women have it so easy,” they say. “Western women have no problems. They’re too self-involved and too obsessed with petty grievances to care about the oppression of women in the Middle East.” Of course plenty of western women actually do have problems, and not all of them are trivial; so when we hear those accusations and understandably put a hand up to say, “Hold on there, hoss, that’s not quite true,” they seize that objection as proof positive that we in the west think we have it just as bad as women who live under sharia—even though no one has actually said this, or even thinks it.
Attacking western feminists who are concerned about, say, the evisceration of women’s healthcare in the US because women in Saudi Arabia live under sharia is exactly the same thing as attacking someone for raising awareness about birth defects because cancer kills more people. By this “reasoning” only the absolute worst atrocities in the world should ever be addressed, in which case curing diseases or fighting Islam would likely not even make the short list. Moreover, as low as my opinion tends to be about humans in general, even I will admit that most of them are capable of thinking more than one thought at a time. I can be outraged by legislative assaults on women’s bodily autonomy here in the US while at the very same time being outraged by what happened to Dina Ali, and no matter what the anti-feminists claim, I can do something about both of them; I do not have to choose one or the other (and to suggest that I do is yet another logical fallacy). On the other hand, constant attacks that misrepresent and undermine feminism not only do nothing to help women like Dina Ali—they compromise our ability to effect change on important issues closer to home, such as reproductive freedom and pay equity. (I’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether that consequence is a feature or a bug.)
Here, though, is what strikes me as the real crux of the issue: Conflating the legal status of women with the lived experiences of individual women. Literally no one—at least, no one with a shred of intellectual honesty—would argue that in general, women in the West have better legal standing than women in the Muslim world. That is a given, and the constant accusations by anti-feminists that western women don’t understand this basic truth are simply lies meant to discredit western feminism. That being said, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the life of every individual western woman is objectively better than the life of every individual Saudi woman, or that the only women who know hardship are those who live under sharia. Crimes like child sexual abuse, rape, and domestic violence are not constrained by national or religious borders; they may be treated differently by the legal system and economic status may influence access to treatment resources, but the trauma they inflict on their victims is not so easily predicted, categorized, or dismissed. Said another way, telling a Canadian woman “At least you were just raped and not raped AND stoned for adultery” should strike every reasonable and ethical person as not just lacking in empathy, but as downright cruel in how it both minimizes the violence of her assault and scolds her if she has the audacity to not feel all that lucky. Moreover, there is absolutely nothing to be gained—least of all for the women that these anti-Islam crusaders purport to fight for—by such attempts to measure and quantify degrees of suffering and assign it more or less validity based on whether it was caused by Islam.
It is worth noting that the “yeah, but sharia” brigade that is so eager to silence western women over issues of misogyny that still exist in the West because women in Saudi have it worse seem to have an odd blind spot when the subject is no longer the status of women. I, for one, struggle to recall any of these same characters shrugging off Milo Yiannopolous being disinvited from speaking engagements on college campuses because Raif Badawi had it a lot worse.
Are there things that western feminists get wrong? Absolutely. Are there examples of excessive pearl-clutching over grievances that really are petty? Of course. Are these challenges unique to western feminism? Not by a longshot. Do I have to choose between fighting for my sisters at home and my sisters abroad? Hell no. I don’t have to choose; I won’t choose; and I will continue to speak out against anyone who says I must.
I will never, ever vote for any candidate who is not pro-choice. No matter what else a candidate may have going, if he or she opposes a woman’s right to choose a safe, legal abortion, I’m outta there.
This came up recently in a discussion with a “Bernie or Bust” guy who was saying he sees no difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Setting aside the fact that such a remark is either absurdly disingenuous or appallingly ignorant, I pointed out that even if on every other issue Clinton and Trump were identical (which of course they aren’t), Clinton is pro-choice, and that should be sufficient to tip the scales in Clinton’s favor.
This man then proceeded to lecture me – one might even say to mansplain – how abortion rights is an important issue, but income inequality is really the greatest challenge faced by Americans today and why it is narrow-minded and “selfish” (his word) for me to assign a higher priority to reproductive freedom. Eventually and perhaps inevitably he played the “you’re just voting with your vagina” card, at which point the conversation was over.
I quietly seethed over this exchange for a while and had almost forgotten about it until yesterday, when Donald Trump declared that as president he would seek to ban abortion and punish the women who had them. This seemed par for the course for Trump and for the GOP candidates in general, all of whom are rabidly anti-choice and who unquestionably delight in the idea of retribution against women who have abortions, but are politically savvy enough to express those intentions in code. What truly sparked my outrage was not the comment from Trump but the response from the messiah himself, Senator Bernie Sanders.
In an interview with Rachel Maddow, Sanders agreed that what Trump said was “shameful” and reiterated his position that “women have the right to control their own bodies.” But he then launched into a diatribe explaining why we shouldn’t be distracted by the proposals of a major presidential candidate about the limits of women’s authority over their bodies so that we can focus on the real issues.
“But what is Donald Trump’s position on raising the minimum wage? Well, he doesn’t think so. What is Donald Trump’s position on wages in America? Well, he said at a Republican debate he thinks wages are too high. What’s Donald Trump’s position on taxes? Well, he wants to give billionaire families like himself billions of dollars in tax breaks . . . Any stupid, absurd remark made by Donald Trump becomes the story of the week. Maybe, just maybe we might want to have a serious discussion about the serious issues facing America.”
Um, say what now?
Let’s get something straight here. I am a woman who has past her reproductive usefulness. The likelihood of my getting pregnant, even if I wanted to, without extensive and very costly medical intervention is effectively zero, and even with such intervention would still be remote. Abortion services are just not something I am ever going to need for the remainder of my days. But whether I personally would be inconvenienced by the inaccessibility of abortion is not the issue.
The proposition to restrict or deny women access to abortion is only partly about the actual act of abortion. The more insidious and more relevant implication of anti-abortion policies is this: They declare women to be less than fully human. A policy that says decisions regarding whether to proceed with a pregnancy are better made by distant bureaucrats with ideological axes to grind and political agendas to advance, rather than by the woman whose body, health, and future are at stake is a policy that relegates all women, no matter their reproductive status, to a lower class standing. It is a philosophy founded on and inextricable from the idea that women are inherently incapable of making sound moral decisions and are not entitled to the fundamental human right of bodily autonomy. It is an unambiguous declaration that women are neither capable nor deserving of self-agency. In other words, it’s not really about abortion so much as it is about what value our society assigns to the life of a woman.
I agree with Sanders that we do indeed need to have “a serious discussion about the serious issues facing America.” I for one can think of no more serious issue than whether my government will continue to view my person – and that of my daughter – as entitled to equal treatment under the law as a full citizen of the United States and as a human being. Because a discussion about income inequality is moot if women are forced out of the workplace to have babies and raise children they can’t afford, or into prison or an early grave for opting for an illegal abortion.
Now that I have stopped seething over it, I feel compelled to respond to Dwight Longnecker’s September 15 article explaining why abortion is “more serious than simple murder.” Yes, that’s right, folks: The destruction of a clump of non-viable cells with no consciousness or nervous system is a worse transgression than the mere deliberate taking of a living, breathing, sentient human life. While Longnecker’s position does appear to be in line with Church doctrine, which allows priests to absolve the sin of murder but requires a bishop to absolve the sin of abortion (the pope’s year of mercy notwithstanding), it is nonetheless reprehensible and further evidence (as if we needed it) of the yawning chasm between religious dogma and basic human decency.
Let’s begin by reiterating, for the gazillionth time, that about 90% of abortions in the U.S. occur within the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, with nearly half of those being within the first six weeks. Almost all the rest occur between 13-20 weeks, and only about 1% occur after 20 weeks. (The Guttmacher Institute has these and more statistics here.) While reliable data on why women seek abortion after 20 weeks are hard to come by, one major reason is that many of the tests that identify severe abnormalities cannot be done until 20 weeks. Remember too that the pregnancy is an embryo for the first 10 weeks of gestation. This means that for very close to 100% of abortions, what is being destroyed is not the chubby-cheeked, fully-formed, full-term infant shown in anti-choice propaganda, but a tiny lump of tissue somewhere between an eighth of an inch to three inches long that has no nerve endings and is completely unable to survive on its own outside the woman’s body. And this is what we are told is worse to destroy than an actual person. Let’s look more closely at the qualities he says apply only to abortion and see whether they are not also true of “simple murder.”
The crime is pre meditated [sic] – Even if the woman in the crisis pregnancy is young and ignorant, the others involved in the crime are not. The person procuring the abortion–maybe the father of the child or the parent of the woman who is pregnant–know what they are doing. The abortionist and his staff know what they are doing and usually the woman also knows what she is doing. If the crime is planned and premeditated the culpability is greater.
In June of this year, a Maryland woman poisoned her young son by forcing him to swallow at least one full bottle of pills, and then once he was dead she stuffed his body into her car before setting it on fire. She has been charged with first degree murder – and yet is somehow less culpable in the boy’s death than if she had had an abortion.
The helplessness of the victim – An unborn child is unable to resist the crime. They are trapped in the womb and completely vulnerable. A crime against a helpless victim is worse than one against a person who can fight back or resist in some way. This is a raw action of violence of the strong against the weak and so the crime of killing is compounded.
In November 2014, a 255-pound man killed his seven-month-old infant son by kneeling on him and crushing him to death because the baby had been “fussy.” I wonder how Father Longnecker presumes this baby was able to “fight back or resist” an assailant who outweighed him by a factor of 20, or by what criteria he determines the baby was not “completely vulnerable.”
The innocence of the victim – An unborn child did nothing wrong. The unborn child did not offend against anyone. The unborn child is innocent of any crime at all and yet it is destroyed by the guilty. A crime against the guilty is bad, but a violent crime against the innocent cries out to heaven because of its wanton wickedness.
Homicide accounts for 7.2 infant deaths in the United States. However, whereas their embryonic counterparts “did nothing wrong,” these babies apparently have had the opportunity to commit some offense that makes them less innocent. Or perhaps the mere act of emerging from the womb taints them with original sin, making their killings cases of “simple murder” rather than of “wanton wickedness.”
The natural duty of care for a child by the parent is violated – a mother and father have a natural and inborn duty to care for the child they have conceived. This natural duty of affection, love and protection is violated by abortion. In abortion a mother and father kill their own child. Therefore the killing is compounded by the sin of betrayal of trust and the destruction of one of nature’s most strong and inviolable relationships: the relationship between mother and child and between father and child.
Six-year-old D’Naja Fields was beaten to death by her parents in July. The aborted embryo feels no fear or pain and is unaware even of its own existence, let alone any bond with parents. Little D’Naja felt every bit of the terror and physical and emotional pain that her parents inflicted on her over the course of her short life and horrific death, yet we are to believe that the betrayal against the embryo is the worse offense.
The sanctity of the family is violated – The family is the locus for human flourishing, security, peace and happiness. Abortion violates the family bond and destroys the happiness and security that should begin in the womb and extend to the home. If the womb is not safe for a child, why would the home be safe for a child? If the womb is a place of violence and killing how can the home be a place of love and security?
In the fall of 2014 three-year-old Scott McMillan was tortured by his parents for three days until he died. He was safer in the womb than outside of it, where he had neither security, happiness, nor peace.
The sexual act is violated – A child is the result of what should be a self giving, secure and tender act of love between man and woman. The child should be the fruit of that action. An abortion not only kills the child it violates and interrupts the natural fruit of the sexual act.
Children are not just the result of the sexual act; they are frequently victims of it. 80% of perpetrators of juvenile sexual abuse, evidencing the ugly fact that all too often sex is not a “tender act of love between a man and a woman” but a traumatic and sometimes fatal act of violence between an aggressor and a helpless victim – a victim like Allorah Warner, whose father raped and murdered her when she was only 19 days old.
Society is damaged – A healthy birth rate means a healthy society. To kill the next generation is to kill the future. Society cannot prosper without children and young people and if the children and young people are killed before they are born society, in the long term, is damaged.
Abortion is not killing the next generation in the US: Of the roughly 6.6 million annual pregnancies in this country, about 18% end in abortion, roughly the same percentage as end in miscarriage. Furthermore, nearly two-thirds of abortions are sought by women who already have at least one child, making the argument that humans will go extinct due to abortion rather absurd. Additionally, one wonders whether Longnecker considers the fact of homicide being in the top five causes of death for children aged 18 and under as a sign of a damaged or a healthy society.
The human person is devalued – Instead of seeing each life as sacred abortion treats the human being as a weed to be pulled–a problem to be solved. When the child in the womb is killed every human being dies a little. The result is a change in our attitude to individuals. Those who are weak, vulnerable, helpless and poor can be trampled on. Those who are needy, dependent, disabled and suffering can be eliminated.
The culture of American right-wing evangelicalism has done more to trample the weak, vulnerable, and poor than legal abortion could ever do. Consider the high degree of overlap of the states with the highest religiosity and those whose legislators refused to expand health care for the poor under the Affordable Care Act; those with the most permissive gun laws (and most gun deaths); and the highest numbers of death penalty executions.
The human body is violated – Even in death the human person is to be respected and the human remains treated with dignity and respect. Abortion shreds a baby’s body. It chops up a baby and sucks or scrapes it out of the mother’s womb. The remains are burnt, sold, shredded or just thrown away. If human bodies are treated like scrap humans will be treated like scrap.
First, I’m not sure how often Longnecker visits the current decade, but non-surgical abortions have been available in the US for fifteen years now and account for about a third of all abortions. But what if 100% were surgical? Those of us who are old enough remember well the case of Adam Walsh, a six-year-old boy who was abducted, strangled, and decapitated in Florida in 1981. But we don’t have to go back 34 years for an example of a child’s body being “chopped up” – just a week before Father Longnecker wrote his article, the severed head of a toddler was found in Chicago; more body parts have since been recovered. Or, he could Google “dismembered children” and still have to choose – the one in Colorado? Or Louisiana? Or the other one in Louisiana? Or California? Is the termination of an embryo that does not even have limbs (let alone a functioning nervous system) really more gruesome than the dismemberment of a living – or dead – child?
God’s law is intentionally disobeyed One of the first commandments is “Be fruitful and multiply”. A new child is life. A new child is a gift. A new child is the future. A new child is hope. A new child is innocence. A new child is a blessing. Abortion kills all these things and in disobeying God, God is also aborted from life and society. It is not a co incidence [sic] that where abortion thrives atheism soon follows.
I seem to recall another of god’s commandments making reference to not committing murder. Then too are the passages in the bible that indicate life begins at the first breath (Genesis 2:7), and provide a recipe for abortion (Numbers 5:12 – 31). These would seem to contradict the good father’s claim that abortion is a more grievous sin in god’s eyes than the killing of the already born. With regard to his claim that “where abortion thrives atheism soon follows,” this is of course refuted by the fact that women who obtain abortion are only slightly less religious than the overall population of American women, and that the most religious states in the union do not have the lowest rates of abortion. Or did Longnecker accidentally give away the game with this statement, revealing that his true concern is not with the lives of the unborn, but with the growth of non-belief?
One has to wonder what kind of person thinks that it is preferable for a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term and then murder her infant than for her to take some hormone pills at 6 weeks gestation to expel a tiny clump of cells from her uterus – which is, of course, precisely the claim that Longnecker has made. In the morally normal universe such outrageous cruelty would be swiftly and unequivocally rejected and its sponsors relieved of any further claim to moral authority. But as is forever evidenced by the statements and behavior of the faith-deranged, we do not live in the morally normal universe – we live in the universe where people honestly think abortion is worse than murder, and where those people hold political power and cultural influence. And that, friends, should frighten us all.
This article was originally published by Rationality Unleashed on October 16, 2015.