Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On Hitchens

Reading the various reactions to Christopher Hitchens' death has been interesting, both within and outside the feminist blogosphere.

I've seen klassy Christians dance on his grave. I've seen some, including a feminist, talk about what a fun drinking bud he was. I've seen some argue that he was a great rhetorician, and others that he was a lousy rhetorician who hid his poor arguments in fancy words.

What is interesting is that I haven't seen anyone suggest that Hitchens should be kicked out of the atheist club, along with all of his writings, because of his flawed humanity. I'm not suggesting he should be. I'm making an observation that people seem willing to accept imperfection in male non-feminist thinkers, while demanding perfection from feminist thinkers.

However, when feminist theologian Mary Daly died, non-feminists took it as a given that her views were "misandrist" and therefore everything she ever wrote was flawed. One dude even kicked her and her works out of feminism entirely. Feminist bloggers, including myself, were quick to add "I of course don't agree with everything she ever said" disclaimers on our posts about her passing.

My view is that we should recognize and use ideas and arguments that are valid, while rejecting and calling out those that are problematic. Unfortunately, it seems as though a feminist's intellectual and person failings are used to discredit her (and it's usually a her) entire body of work.

Is this done on any large scale, across the political spectrum, with male non-feminist thinkers?

I don't think so. And I wonder why this is? Is it because their flaws as thinkers aren't readily recognized as flaws? When Christopher Hitchens wrote that women aren't funny, was he seen as just courageously telling it like it really is? Despite his reputation for being a courageous truth-teller, Hitchens seemed to lazily accept his culture's biases and stereotypes about gender. But I don't see someone's perpetuation of, and complicity in, such biases as brave.

Katha Pollit makes an observation:

"So far, most of the eulogies of Christopher have come from men, and there’s a reason for that. He moved in a masculine world, and for someone who prided himself on his wide-ranging interests, he had virtually no interest in women’s writing or women’s lives or perspectives. I never got the impression from anything he wrote about women that he had bothered to do the most basic kinds of reading and thinking, let alone interviewing or reporting—the sort of workup he would do before writing about, say, G.K. Chesterton, or Scientology or Kurdistan. It all came off the top of his head, or the depths of his id. Women aren’t funny. Women shouldn’t need to/want to/get to have a job. The Dixie Chicks were 'fucking fat slags' (not 'sluts,' as he misremembered later). And then of course there was his 1989 column in which he attacked legal abortionand his cartoon version of feminism as 'possessive individualism.' I don’t suppose I ever really forgave Christopher for that."

I don't have much to say about Hitchens' passing, but I hope he is in peace.

I say that as someone who stopped being a fan of his after his women aren't funny piece, a piece that helped open my eyes to how many men within the atheist/skeptic movement have serious male privilege/sexism issues and that those who dominate such movements don't appear to have a genuine concern about inclusion.

I suppose Christopher Hitchens is partly responsible for my burgeoning feminism. This might seem like an appropriate place to express gratitude for that, but what's better than awakening someone's feminism is not being sexist in the first place.

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