by Theryn Meyer
Epistemology is the study of how we come to know what we know, especially with regards to its limits and validity. Throughout history there have been two leading, often competing and conflicting, epistemologies – science (based on the scientific method) and religion (based on faith).
The Scientific Method describes the principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through empirical observation and experiment, the formulation and testing of hypotheses, the construction of theories, and the improvement of said theories based on new information obtained through the iteration of said principles and procedures.
Faith, on the other hand, can be described as the unwavering belief in a hypothesis or set of hypotheses that either fails the test of logic or the scientific method, is currently untestable via any available scientific means, or is by nature completely untestable.
Religion is therefore a personal set or institutionalized system of attitudes, beliefs, and practices based on unchanging and stationary dictums that are held or adopted by subjects based on the faith that such attitudes, beliefs, practices, and dictums upon which they are based, have been ordained by one god, multiple gods, or some higher power or authority.
From my observations, feminism operates inordinately more closely to a religion than it does to a science.
I have discussed in the past the religiosity of my childhood milieu. I grew up in a small, traditionalist Christian town in South Africa, where I had 30 minutes of Bible Study before class daily since elementary school, knelt in prayer with my brother and father before bed every night, and attended Sunday school every week. In my environment, faith in Christ was assumed without question. Like driving on the left-hand side of the road, it was a rule that everybody just seemed to agree upon, whether by choice or by pressure.
Around the age of 12, I suffered an intense period of depression that disillusioned me from my faith in God. I started questioning and scrutinizing the Christian ideological monopoly that was so pervasive in my daily life, and soon faced the repercussions of apostatizing myself from the overwhelming religious orthodoxy.
When I immigrated to Canada at age 17, I soon realized that I had relocated from an environment that was dominated by Christian beliefs, to an environment where one’s own and others belief in feminist claims was assumed without question. The reality was (and is) that everybody in Canada and most of the western world, with the exception of a small minority, are unquestioning feminists. Most people aren’t unquestioning feminists in the sense that they necessarily call themselves feminists without question, but rather in the sense that they hold many feminist assertions as obviously true, without question:
Women have been historically oppressed
Women have been historically oppressed by men
Men have been historically privileged
Men face no real problems today
Women are the primary victims of society, from domestic violence to physical violence
The experiences of living in environments dominated by a Christian and a feminist hegemony respectively, and having apostatized from both Christianity as a religion and feminism as an ideology, have given me great insight into the stark and often eerie parallels between religion and feminism.
The first correlate that struck me was the authoritative epistemological approach that feminism seemed to have borrowed from religious dogma:
Why is homosexuality a sin? Because god said so.
Why is sexual consent defined as an affirmative ‘yes’ after every sexual progression? Because feminists decided it to be so.
How do I know that committing adultery is an abomination? Because it says so in the Bible.
How do I know that there is a wage gap that is due to sexism? Because the professor proclaimed it in my Gender Studies class when she asked loaded questions like “How does the wage gap negatively affect women?”, rather than “Is there a wage gap to start with?”
Clearly these dictums have not come to be known through a procedure that pursues knowledge through a scientific method. Instead they have been ordained by an authority figure – an ordainment that does not invite challenge or scrutiny. Sure, sectarian disagreement on subsequent conclusions from such dictums may be tolerated, whether it be a radical feminist in dispute with an ecofeminist, or a Presbyterian Christian in disagreement with an Evangelical Christian.
However, the underlying axioms – that there is a God or that we live in a patriarchy; that non-marital sex is sinful or that women are an oppressed class – all remain assumed dogmatically, immune to scrutiny, and eternally stationary. In fact, dissent to a dictum or set of dictums, whether they be feminist or religious, are met with identical tactics of moral shaming and a power play of ethics. That is to say that one’s opinion that there isn’t a god, or that we don’t live in a rape culture, isn’t incorrect because it fails the test of reason, evidence, or the scientific method, but rather because holding such an opinion makes one an immoral person – a sinner destined for hell or a misogynist rape-apologist deserved of public shaming.
But the crowning glory of all parallels between feminism and religion, however, is the good old unfalsifiability fallacy, which is when a theory or hypothesis is devised such that it cannot be contradicted by the scientific method. LogicallyFallacious.com gives a witty example as follows:
I have tiny, invisible unicorns living in my anus. Unfortunately, these cannot be detected by any kind of scientific equipment.
Typical unfalsifiable sophistry from some religious folks may manifest itself as follows:
Non-Religious Person: I have never seen, felt, or experienced God or the consequences of God’s actions on my life. Everything I’ve seen, felt, or experienced can better be explained through reason, logic, and the scientific method.
Religious Person: Well that must be because you haven’t accepted God into your heart.
However, the only way of measuring whether one has accepted God into one’s heart is if one sees, feels, or experiences God or the consequences of God’s actions in one’s life in the first place. Not only is this logic circular, but it cannot be proven wrong in any way.
Feminists seems once again to borrow such tactics from religious folks in the following way:
Non-Feminist Woman: I have never seen, felt, or experienced the Patriarchy or its consequences in my life. Nothing I’ve seen, felt, or experienced denotes to me that I am part of an oppressed class.
Feminists: Well either you have unconsciously assimilated your oppression and suffer from internalized misogyny, or you haven’t been properly trained to spot the patriarchy.
In this way, feminists cover their asses and ensure the unfalsifiability of patriarchy theory by stating that every exception to their rule of patriarchy is just an instance of internalized misogyny, and therefore just another instance of patriarchy at work!
The parallels between religion and feminism must not be identified in order to denigrate people of faith. Personally, I don’t see any problem with holding personal beliefs that fail the scientific method, lack evidence, or simply cannot by their nature be proven or disproven, so long as it remains exactly that – personal. Epistemology – that is, how we come to know what we know – is a complicated matter, and the scientific method is far from perfect. However, it is the best method we have.
Most of western civilization has, quite successfully, established a clear separation of church and state. This separation ensures that beliefs which either fail the test of logic or the scientific method, are currently untestable through available scientific means, or are by nature completely untestable, aren’t universalized and enforced upon others. Unfortunately, there is no such separation protecting us from the religion of feminism.by