Sunday, April 22, 2007

Suffragettes

 
I started a little controversy over on Greg Laden's blog when I responded to the umteenth claim that militant approaches to a debate never achieve anything [Larry Moran]. I said,
Everyone keeps repeating this mantra as though it were the gospel truth. The historical evidence says otherwise. There are dozens of examples of things that used to be “militant” approaches that have become accepted standards today.

Here’s just one example. Do you realize that women used to march in the streets with placards demanding that they be allowed to vote? At the time the suffragettes were criticized for hurting the cause. Their radical stance was driving off the men who might have been sympathetic to women’s right to vote if only those women had stayed in their proper place.

Now I’m not saying that all militant approaches are going to win in the end. Far form it. Most of them are destined for the dustheap of history. What I am saying is that trying to shut down the “militants” on the grounds that they are counter-productive is not logical. It’s a way of “framing” the discussion to make it sound like your opposition to the militants has a scientific basis.
PZ liked the suffragette idea and expanded on it [We Aim to Misbehave] and [Rude Ladies].

Now Amanda Marcotte has picked it up at Pandagon [They didn’t realize that you got it the third time you asked with a pretty please]. Read her blog to find out just how "gentile" those women were one hundred years ago.
I see the Feminists For Life and their horrible project of trying to rewrite history so that suffrage-era feminists come across as pleasantly enamored of servitude is going well. It’s hard to generalize at all about suffragists, since, you know, the struggle went on for decades and incorporated thousands of women. One thing you can say with certainty is they were rude and offensive by definition, since for a woman to be proper, she had to accept second class citizenship uncomplainingly. But seriously, atheists aren’t even waving placards, much less holding hunger strikes, firebombing, or whipping some jujitsu on some cops.

More to the point, suffragists didn’t actually get very far until they did in fact start openly insulting men. Mere equality between men and women wasn’t considered reason enough to extend the franchise to women, but when the purity movement latched onto suffrage and started pushing the message that women were better than men, then things changed. Men were considered drunken, violent assholes who needed women’s civilizing hand to get them in shape. It was a sorry thing that it had to get to that point in order for women to get the vote, and hopefully the lesson has been learned for future reference.* Now, as PZ notes, the way different levels of oppression certainly demanded different reactions, so there’s no reason to fault the suffragists for any radical action they had to take in order to obtain justice. But it’s silly to think of them as sweet little old ladies who’d never hurt a fly. They put up with a lot of shit, from having vegetables pelted at them in public to having police arrest them in ways that maximized the violence and humiliation.
Please don't lose sight of the main point about the comparison between the women's suffrage movement and atheists like Dawkins, PZ, and me. We're not trying to justify our position by comparing it to that of the suffragettes (suffragists). All we're trying to do is destroy this silly myth that all social change came about by speaking softly and being nice to everyone. There are lots of examples where "militant" behavior triggered social change. It doesn't always justify "militant' behavior but if you're going to fight Dawkins then at least use sensible arguments.

31 comments :

  1. There are lots of examples where "militant" behavior triggered social change.

    Post hoc, ergo propter hoc. I'll lay odds that in most of those examples you can't actually prove what triggered the social change. Because it's impossible to know exactly what triggered any major social change. Society changes when society is ready to change, not an instant before. If you try to force change before its time, you'll have no more success than Nat Turner did.

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  2. What makes society ready to change, though?

    I'll tell you what, though. You can go hide in your closet when you see social injustice, and justify it by saying that there is nothing you can possibly do to change it.

    The rest of us will hit the streets.

    Afterwards, when change has occurred, you can rationalize it by telling us how our activism didn't do it -- society was just ready to change.

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  3. Militance means "combativeness, agressiveness". It need not involve violence.

    In fact, one can make a preety good argument that Martin Luther King practiced "militant non-violence".

    There's even a book with that name:
    Martin Luther King, Jr.: Apostle of Militant Nonviolence, by James A. Colaiaco.

    The thing that really epitomizes a militant is the their un-willingness to compromise on principles.

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  4. The rest of us will hit the streets.


    Okay, PZ. Tell you what: Why don't you go march for atheist rights on the streets of Tehran? Or Islamabad, or Riyadh, or Jakarta, or Cairo, or Algiers, or Tripoli, or Mogadishu. I think you'll come home with a new perspective. Assuming, of course, that you come home at all.

    Society changes when it's ready to change, and not an instant before.

    As for "social injustice" -- let's say that I've been there and received that -- and yes, tried to change it -- and no human being I ever met lifted a finger to help me in any way. Why should I lift one to help any other?

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  5. Anonymous says, In fact, one can make a preety good argument that Martin Luther King practiced "militant non-violence". I'll add Gandhi as another role model (for MLK as well as many, many others) who can hardly be called an appeaser yet was adamant about non-violence in both deeds and words. If you read his work and speeches, you'll find nothing like the sort of rhetoric you and PZ favor -- and he didn't mince words. He seems a good person to study if you want to build a powerful, lasting movement.

    My other thoughts on this subject are here.

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  6. wolfwalker says,

    Post hoc, ergo propter hoc. I'll lay odds that in most of those examples you can't actually prove what triggered the social change.

    Point taken. Let me rephrase. There's absolutely no evidence that militant behavior inhibits social change as the accommodationists (appeasers) would like to imply.

    On the other hand, there's plenty of correlation between social change and militant advocates who preceded it.

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  7. I'm supposed to go to a country where I don't have any roots and where I don't speak the language, and my failure to leave an impression there will validate your claims? That's a peculiar test.

    And you might be surprise to learn that this "society" of which you speak is made up of many individuals, and what changes society is changing people. We can do that.

    Trinifar, I don't think you can argue that either Larry or I want violent resolution. My mom (the Lutheran) and my sister (the Sunday School teacher) would probably stop sending me Christmas cookies if I started waterboarding Christians. And they make very good cookies.

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  8. "My other thoughts on this subject are here."

    For some reason, your page on "Saving Pharyngula" just died. It was working before, but now it's a 404.

    BTW, my own blatherings on the matter are on the post "A blockhead pontificates on feminists, MLK, and going too far" I'm sure you'll agree with the title if nothing else.

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  9. An interesting comparison. Maybe you should invent your own garment, like Amanda Bloom.

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  10. If you read [Gandhi's] work and speeches, you'll find nothing like the sort of rhetoric you and PZ favor -- and he didn't mince words.

    Hm?

    "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ"

    I can see a meanie atheist saying that, except maybe for the liking Christ part. Similar quotes abound.

    And what about implying that Western 'civilization' was nothing but - how rude! ;)

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  11. J. J. Ramsey writes,

    BTW, my own blatherings on the matter are on the post "A blockhead pontificates on feminists, MLK, and going too far" I'm sure you'll agree with the title if nothing else.

    There's everything but the kitchen sink in that posting. Let me just pick out one thing you said because it seems to be about me.

    Is it going too far to claim that "appeasers" like the NCSE claim that miracles are part of science? Yes, because it's false.

    I've mentioned that several Theistic Evolutionists make this claim but I don't recall claiming that the "appeasers" do. It doesn't seem like something I'd say since the appeasers are atheists. Could you point me to the correct reference? Perhaps you might consider changing your accusation if you can't find one?

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  12. Trinifar,

    You completely missed the point I was making above about militancy: that supporting militancy does not necessarily mean supporting violence.

    But supporting militancy in the face of calls for appeasement does make Moran and Myers philosophical soul-mates with distinguished (and successful) agents of positive change like MLK, the Suffragettes, Frederick Douglas and others.

    With regard to rhetoric:

    Ghandi:
    "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ"

    Atheist:
    "I like your Christmas cookies, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christmas cookies"

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  13. I'm supposed to go to a country where I don't have any roots and where I don't speak the language, and my failure to leave an impression there will validate your claims?

    No, PZ, the fact that you'd almost certainly wind up either in jail or dead, even if you did have roots there and speak the language, validates my claim. If the local government didn't get you, the local religious fanatics would. Those societies are not ready to recognize atheists, and so nothing you say or do is going to get them to recognize atheists.

    Larry: There's absolutely no evidence that militant behavior inhibits social change as the accommodationists (appeasers) would like to imply.

    On the contrary, there's at least as much evidence for that as there is for your position. I refer you to the long and ugly history of pitched battles between unionist workers and anti-union industrial barons. The more aggressive the unionists got, the more savagely they were beaten down. See also the American Indian Movement, which has achieved little in the way of improved conditions for Amerinds. See also the French Revolution, which resulted in a generation of ultimately-useless warfare and another half-century of monarchist rule, while across the Channel in Great Britain, ultimate power passed from the King to Parliament almost without anybody noticing. See also the several attempts to foment antislavery uprisings in the antebellum American South, along with the "Underground Railroad" which moved a few slaves to freedom but had virtually no effect on the institution of slavery. In fact, the thirty years prior to the American Civil War are a tour de force in how to fubar a major social/cultural shift -- every active step that either side took in a misguided attempt to make things better in fact only made things worse.

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  14. "I've mentioned that several Theistic Evolutionists make this claim but I don't recall claiming that the 'appeasers' do"

    I pointed this out not that long ago. See this comment.

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  15. Wolfwalker said:

    "there's at least as much evidence for that [the claim that 'militant behavior inhibits social change'] as there is for your [Moran's] position [that it does not]"

    Yes, indeed, everyone knows how unsuccessful Abraham Lincoln's militant stance was at putting an end to slavery. :-)

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  16. It is not at all clear whether the suffragettes advanced or retarded women's voting rights. The list of dates of women's voting does not show a clear correlation between suffragette activity and women voting year. 1918, 1928 UK! 1906 Finland!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woman_suffrages.

    As to women voting in Europe, the date is 1918 or a year later. This had little to do with suffragettes. The reasoning was that women would conservative, rather than men who whould vote socialist. Women voting rights were granted to STOP not promote social change. This strategy actually worked out as it had been intended: women did vote conservative.

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  17. It is not at all clear whether the suffragettes advanced or retarded women's voting rights. The list of dates of women's voting does not show a clear correlation between suffragette activity and women voting year. 1918, 1928 UK! 1906 Finland!

    Khrm, if I may. That is sort of like arguing that because a civil war was not needed to outlaw slavery in the UK, the US civil war had little to do with ending slavery. The conditions were different.

    Since there hadn't been a long tradition of universal suffrage for men, except for a very antiquated class-based system, extending the practice to women was arguably more painless in Finland. See here

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  18. wolfwalker:
    "No, PZ, the fact that you'd almost certainly wind up either in jail or dead, even if you did have roots there and speak the language, validates my claim."

    Let us split the claim twice, so that it is the basic one about local people marching for rights. I fail to see the relevance to the general situation, since the observation of a repressive society only confirms that it is repressive.

    But marching for rights in open societies when it changes is doable. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iranian_Revolution : "The revolution was unique for the surprise it created throughout the world:[11] it lacked many of the customary causes of revolution [...]"

    Unfortunately, there is no way to distinguish between yours ("when it's ready to change") and PZ's claims ("activism", "changing people") in practice or in its intended effect on things in this setting.

    But that aggressive approaches are beneficial is without doubt; Gandhi ousted the english, when other leaders failed to unite the people. That aggressive approaches doesn't stop change is without doubt; the suffragettes didn't stop woman voting.

    The question is if aggressive approaches are beneficial for atheism. Well, Dawkins et al have sold a lot of informative books, initiated public debates and other initiatives, and moved the Overton window.

    "I refer you to the long and ugly history of pitched battles between unionist workers and anti-union industrial barons."

    There is a world of difference between Gandhi's or Dawkin's aggressive approaches and outright war. I think there are plenty of evidence that large scale violence has often slowed or disturbed social change.

    One of the reasons to be against religion is that it suggests or promotes violence as a conflict resolution. (See the link above.) Let us not make the same mistake.

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  19. Based on the total lack of comments that Matt Nisbet has had over the last 4 days about his latest post on his blog, I'd say he has probably lost his audience on the framing debate.

    I'd say his 15 minutes of fame may be up.

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  20. "Yes, indeed, everyone knows how unsuccessful Abraham Lincoln's militant stance was at putting an end to slavery."

    You mean the Abraham Lincoln who said:

    "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union."

    Is it worth mentioning that supporters of women's suffrage like Frederick Douglass opposed moves to remove explicit gender restrictions from the 14th amendment and adding gender protections to the 15th?

    Were extremist suffragettes right to lobby against those amendments in Congress and in statehouses across the country on that basis? Was Frederick Douglass wrong?

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  21. "I'd say his 15 minutes of fame may be up."

    I was going to say the same for him as regards me personally. Of course, in my version it was "his 15 minutes of frame". ;-)

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  22. I read a quote today with some bearing on this
    Those who profess to favor freedom, yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

    Frederick Douglass, American Abolitionist

    I agree

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  23. "But that aggressive approaches are beneficial is without doubt; Gandhi ousted the english, when other leaders failed to unite the people. That aggressive approaches doesn't stop change is without doubt; the suffragettes didn't stop woman voting."

    Gandhi might have ousted the English, but his strategy was non-violence, exposing English violence, while highly visible. Neither did Gandhi totally succeed in uniting the people: British India got split into India and Pakistan.

    Aggressive approaches can stop change: the example is from long ago, but 1848 did not succeed in the countries in which it was most popular and most violent. Suffragettes seem to have had least influence in the countries they were most outspoken. Aggressive approaches might have an influence: if not too far out, and if articulate enough to influence and shift what is perceived as the middle ground. But that can only be done if the more aggressive approaches are perceived as the outliers of a continuum.

    There are two questions: one is how to deal with evangelical christian opposition to evolution, and the other question is whether it is beneficial to science to aggressively push an atheist agenda. Evangelical christian opposition to evolution can only effectively be dealt with by liberal christianity, whereas atheism of scientists only strengthens their internal conviction. Organized conviction systems don't disappear by outside attack: they disappear if the internal conviction fails. As to pushing an atheist agenda, is that the principal role of science?

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  24. Josh Rosenau,

    While Lincoln's rationale for writing the Emancipation Proclamation is very interesting, it does not address the point I was making above.

    I used the Lincoln example to challenge the claim that

    "there's at least as much evidence for that [the claim that 'militant behavior inhibits social change'] as there is for your [Moran's] position [that it does not]"

    So, specifically, how did Lincoln's militant behavior (read: Emancipation Proclamation) inhibit social change? (in this case, how did it inhibit ending slavery?)

    The fact is, the Emancipation Proclamation was militant and was very successful in bringing about social change.

    Whether ending slavery was Lincoln's primary purpose is another matter entirely.

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  25. Heleen says,

    There are two questions: one is how to deal with evangelical christian opposition to evolution, and the other question is whether it is beneficial to science to aggressively push an atheist agenda.

    Those may be your questions but they aren't my questions.

    My question is how do we deal with a world that's full of superstition and irrational thinking? Opposition to evolution is just one small part of that problem.

    Science is a tool that exposes superstition. If some of that superstition happens to have a religious basis than that's not a problem as far as I'm concerned. I don't make a distinction between criticizing the belief that wine can turn into water and the belief that homeopathy can cure cancer. [The wine into water example is just that—an example. Please, dear readers, don't launch into a discussion about more sophisticated religious beliefs. That's not the point.]

    The problem is that some people do make a distinction. They will criticize lots of superstitions but not those that derive from a belief in God. I'm not sure why that is but I think it has something to do with how people feel. Apparently it's permissible to make astrologers and UFO enthusiasts feel bad about their superstitious beliefs but it's not okay to make Catholics feel bad.

    Very few people seem to be able to explain why religion gets a pass. Perhaps you can do it?

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  26. Heleen says,

    Evangelical christian opposition to evolution can only effectively be dealt with by liberal christianity, whereas atheism of scientists only strengthens their internal conviction.

    Part of my problem is dealing with statements like this. Taken at face value it means that only liberal Christian scientists can speak out effectively against the extreme opposition to evolution. Surely that's not what you mean to say? Perhaps you could rephrase it so that I can see what you want atheists to do about the debate over evolution?

    And what do you propose to do about the fact that most scientists are atheists? I can see that it presents a problem for your way of thinking about the issue but what I don't see is a solution. Do you recommend that we try and hide that fact from the general public? Or, are you simply saying that atheist scientists would do well to conceal their lack of belief in the supernatural?

    Organized conviction systems don't disappear by outside attack: they disappear if the internal conviction fails.

    I haven't seen many examples of spontaneous conviction failure in the absence of outside pressure. Do you have some examples I could consider? Otherwise, I'm afraid I'll have to dismiss this as an unfounded assertion.

    As to pushing an atheist agenda, is that the principal role of science?

    No. It's often scientists who oppose superstition but that doesn't mean that science is anything more than a very good way of knowing.

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  27. Heleen:

    "Gandhi might have ousted the English, but his strategy was non-violence,"

    True, but it was aggressive. In fact, I think Gandhi places well between Dawkins, apparently considered aggressive, and suffragettes.

    "Aggressive approaches can stop change"

    Agreed. I noted as much: "I think there are plenty of evidence that large scale violence has often slowed or disturbed social change."

    Aggressive approaches might have an influence: if not too far out, and if articulate enough to influence and shift what is perceived as the middle ground. But that can only be done if the more aggressive approaches are perceived as the outliers of a continuum."

    Hmm. I don't know anything about Overton windows. Is that really the observed phenomena?

    I thought what the analyzers says is happening is that Dawkins is perceived as an outlier by being aggressive, and moving the extreme edge. Then the debate is filling up the new commonly acceptable debate space ("the middle ground"). And it certainly looks this way to me.

    "There are two questions: one is how to deal with evangelical christian opposition to evolution, and the other question is whether it is beneficial to science to aggressively push an atheist agenda."

    That is three different agendas (religion, science, atheism), and permutations and contexts are several.

    But Moran answered this, and the following conflation on science and scientists, eloquently.

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  28. Organized conviction systems don't disappear by outside attack: they disappear if the internal conviction fails. “
    I was talking about European Christianity, of course. The marked decline in church affiliation over much of Europe seems to have had three causes, of different strength and timing in the different countries and churches, but everywhere contributing. These causes are the 19th century rise of historical Bible studies by theologians, World War II and the post 1950 prosperity. 1. In the 19th century linguist theologians sorted out the writing order and probably writing history of the Bible, and pretty well undermined the possibility of a literal reading. This led to the bourgeois shifting from orthodox to liberal Christianity, or out. 2. After the war, no church had an answer to what had happened. 3. General prosperity and more education contributed to people’s independence, and the irrelevance of a hierarchical society. The attempt to bring the Roman Catholic Church up to date promised too much to the people, and backfired when the hierarchy had second thoughts.
    So, from social democrat countries to very conservative ones, church attendance fell as church doctrine seemed more and more irrelevant to modern life and church leaders could not cope. However, there was no outside attack and no atheist movement. In Eastern Europe, where there was an outside attack, the church survived. Poland is the most Roman Catholic country now, more so than Ireland and Spain, where the influence of the church declined, certainly after they joined the European Union. The Russian Orthodox Church survived, not only in the form of the time-serving hierarchy but at the popular level too. (So today we are treated to the Russian Orthodox burial of a Communist Party boss).

    “Part of my problem is dealing with statements like this. Taken at face value it means that only liberal Christian scientists can speak out effectively against the extreme opposition to evolution. Surely that's not what you mean to say? Perhaps you could rephrase it so that I can see what you want atheists to do about the debate over evolution?”
    Yes, I think that only liberal Christian scientists can speak out EFFECTIVELY against the extreme opposition to evolution; and I see that this is actually the strategy taken in the US. To make some headway in a discussion, a minimum floorboard of common notions is needed. If the opponent is only perceived to be insulting, nothing works. As to what atheists can do (apart from writing good books and teach) is to support people like Kenneth Miller and Keith Miller, not attack them. Most of Miller’s book is good science, and he does not let his religion influence his work. (Collins seems sugary sentimental, and I don’t think I’ll read his book). Another thing atheists can do is to insist on school exit standards: I believe this is actually a lot easier in the US than in Europe. And politically, try to prevent the public funding of religious education by home schooling.
    The blogs are exceedingly entertaining, but people might just read a blog that they agree to start with. Nobody will convince Dembki cum suis anyway. But a liberal Methodist minister might have convinced Dover schoolboard not to let themselves be duped by ID.

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  29. Perhaps a little late in commenting here, but I am astonished by the lack of mention of one of the most important feminists in the 19th century, one who certainly did not play nice, Victoria Woodhull. She and her sister Tennessee succeeded in a man’s world, Wall Street. They had an influential newspaper at the time.

    Victoria was also the first woman to run for president. She was often vilified, but she gave as good as she got. Here is cartoonist Thomas Nast depicting her as Mrs. Satan.

    http://historyproject.ucdavis.edu/imageapp.php?Major=WO&Minor=B&SlideNum=11.00

    http://www.theamericanview.com/index.php?id=302

    And doesn’t this ring a bell today,

    “Near the end of the 1872 presidential campaign, Woodhull would publish allegations that the nation’s most prominent and respected clergyman, Henry Ward Beecher, had been having an affair with the wife of Woodhull’s biographer, Theodore Tilton. In Woodhull’s estimation, Beecher was hypocritically preaching one tenet while living by another, even though his adultery was a far cry from Free Love. A subsequent trial over the case, which ended with a hung jury, became a sensational news story.”

    There is more here,

    http://www.victoria-woodhull.com/index.htm

    I recommend the biography by Lois Underhill, “The Woman Who Ran for President”. I haven’t seen any mention of Victoria on the feminist sites I looked at.

    From the previous site,

    “Victoria’s sex life was fodder for the newspaper, and it aggravated her. She believed in the right to privacy. One day around 1874 she was traveling from Washington to New York when a woman asked pryingly, “Oh, Mrs. Woodhull, is it true that you are a promiscuous woman?”

    Victoria replied, “Well, I do not know what you would call promiscuous. Let me ask you a question, and then I may be able to determine.” She continued, “Madame, I believe you have known at least four different men sexually. Is that true?”

    “Oh, yes! I am now living with my fourth husband.”

    Victoria turned away from her. “Madame, you are altogether too promiscuous for me!”

    Victoria was angered that a woman with four husbands was socially acceptable, while a woman who cohabitated with one man was an immoral woman:”

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  30. Torbjörn Larsson said:
    "I thought what the analyzers says is happening is that Dawkins is perceived as an outlier by being aggressive, and moving the extreme edge. Then the debate is filling up the new commonly acceptable debate space ("the middle ground"). And it certainly looks this way to me."

    If Dawkins would shift the extreme, and with it the definition of the middle ground without splitting the distribution, that would be great.

    However, our local experience is that Dawkins provokes an allergic reaction, not only with his recent book but with earlier books too - for instance, with the introduction to 'The Blind Watchmaker'. Our local chapter of ID started that way, with an orthodox professor in technical physics reading some Dawkins, spitting like an assaulted cat, and influencing others at the technical university. These people never got as far as reading Zimmer, even.

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  31. Heleen's comments are very interesting. Is she a girl?

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