Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for July, 2011

There are a few online skeptical hidey-holes I pop my head into, and I saw a peculiar question posed in one. A skeptic was frustrated by all the recent hubhub stirred up by ElevatorGate (a Google search will give you all the information you need about ElevatorGate if you don’t know what it is), and the general request by some women to some men that they change some behaviors. Which behaviors, you ask? Well, mostly the ones that make women feel like they are assessed by every guy they encounter at skeptical business meetings for their value as mates or lays rather than as skeptics or critical thinkers, and the ones that make them think that the prettier they are the more likely it is someone will pay attention to them. There is a large group of women who object to such behavior, and who have stated in no uncertain terms that it’s a large part of why they usually avoid skeptical business meetings or other skeptical group environments. This focus on sex is an element of hostility within the skeptical culture. Reactions to that news ranged from shock to anger, and the aforementioned frustrated skeptic asked…

So should we be ourselves or should we be welcoming?

Oh, false dichotomy, thy name is ubiquity!

There are many problems with the framing of this question, and with the idea that skeptics are either nice or authentic. They can be themselves or they can make women feel more comfortable. I know there’s this popular character from skeptical (male) folklore who is gruff and cantankerous but superfunny (once you cotton to his sense of humor) and very generous and will buy you a beer just because he likes ya but he’s gonna tell you like it is straight up and he don’t pull punches for nobody and he respects women so much that he treats ‘em just like men! (In skeptical folklore there are no historical, social, or political circumstances that put women at disadvantages, so it’s OK to do that.) In skeptical folklore, that’s just his way. If he looks like he’s not welcoming, it’s because you just haven’t gotten to know him. If he seems kind of creepy by disregarding your boundaries, he’s not–he’s friendly with everyone! It might also be that you are judging him on first impressions (which is bad and shallow and totally unfair and probably sexist against men, amirite?, but I digress). Maybe you have these personal hangups that are preventing you from seeing his true spirit that are totally in your head and that nobody should have to accommodate. Maybe you’re just a controlling bitch who doesn’t like sex who wants everything done your way regardless of how long everyone else has been around doing it the other way. Asking Gruff Skeptic to hide his true self is rude, and wrong, and goes against skepticism, but if that’s what it takes for you to feel welcome, well, hey. Sure. Whatever. I guess that’s not so much to ask. Uh, welcome. Happy now?

This false dichotomy is problematic for reasons beyond the fact that it is a logical error. In fact, rather than actually present the question as a legitimate one that cuts to the core existence of skepticism and reflects a real philosophical quandary, it turns out that it’s just another way to blame women for not participating and to remove the responsibility for solving the problem from the people who cause it (actively and passively) to the people who are ostracized because of it. I will resort to another numbered list to explain why.

  1. To thine own self be true! In skeptical folklore, Gruff Skeptic’s faithful companion is Rugged Individualist. Skeptics are people who valiantly resist the complacency of superstition and stand out from the gullible masses, isolated sometimes by their critical thinking prowess but very, very brave for living up to their values. To ask them to not be themselves (by being welcoming to women) is to ask them to subvert Reason Itself. Personal integrity is paramount; if you are going to cave into the hurt feelings of outsiders by being welcoming instead of being yourself, why be a skeptic at all?
  2. If skeptics have to suppress what it is like to be themselves (by not always hitting on women at skeptical business meetings or by giving up their skeptical website pornography forum) in order to make women feel more welcome in skepticism, and if they are <angry, incredulous, reluctant> about being asked by women to rein in the (non-skeptical, superfluous) behaviors so that the women feel comfortable interacting in skeptical spaces, then it’s clear they prefer the behaviors to women’s feelings and that women actually aren’t welcome at all (unless they tolerate/endorse/approve of those behaviors). Welcoming women requires sacrifice, not compromise. Being asked to give things up you like is an affront, not a gesture towards community.
  3. Framing the question as an either/or sets up a situation where you are either a skeptic or you are welcoming. There is no acknowledgment that you can be a skeptic and be welcoming. Nope. If you are welcoming to women you are not being true to yourself, and everyone knows that skeptics are true to themselves. (See above.) The question pits insiders (real skeptics) against outsiders (women who want to change their culture).
  4. Being welcoming to women means you can’t be yourselves, so if women join the skeptical community because it became welcoming to them, that means women will have made skepticism dishonest. If women were really skeptics, they wouldn’t want to undermine the movement like that. But they do, so they aren’t. It’s logic.

From chatter like this you’d think women were out to dismantle skepticism instead of contributing to growth. Remember–it was the skeptical movement who set out to recruit more women to active participation so they could better meet the goals of skeptical business. It was the outsider women who pointed out how dropping the Sex Club with a Skeptical Problem act might actually make the whole movement more efficient (with fewer distractions and a larger membership), and it was the insider skeptics who complained about prioritizing business ahead of sex. It makes you wonder, then, who the skeptics actually are. If you have to choose between being welcoming to women and being yourself, maybe the skeptic isn’t you.

Read Full Post »

Oh, skeptics! Always wanting more women to participate actively, never wanting to do much about it. There are a lot of reasons people don’t want to do much about it, and not all of them are pure meanness. (Only one of them is pure meanness.) Sure, there are a lot of people with psychological barriers to addressing sexism directly (which means the best case scenario for most people is that they’ve been enabling it), and there are people who wish the community were already well-balanced but can’t figure out what to do. Because starting conversations about it can start flame wars (and who wants to go through that?), and because most people don’t meet as skeptics except in artificial environments established by skeptical leaders (in person and online), there is a real hesitancy to shake things up. People don’t like to go to other people’s houses and pick fights; they don’t like to go to other people’s events and argue with a conference agenda that has been set probably for more than six months or go to a website and complain about the tone when it’s obvious that it’s a volunteer effort. Women in particular do not want to appear in a space where they are a minority and start speaking up about what they don’t like. When they aren’t outright told to like it or leave it, they are reminded that their feelings are wrong and ganged up on. (They usually leave.)

Women wish that leaders would make this a bigger priority, but nobody likes to tell skeptical leaders–very few of whom have no day job–what to do. Leaders make huge investments in time and resources so that skeptics have places to gather, and no one wants to seem ungrateful. Also, leaders generally tell other people what to do, and though it can go both ways between leaders and followers, it often doesn’t when most people are generally satisfied. But leaders can’t know everything, and because they are mostly men they see as normal mostly things that men like, and because women are underrepresented in the community and in leadership, problems caused by sexism do not get very much top-down attention. And because leaders seem not to care much about it, the skeptical community as a group seems not to care much about it either.

This is not a condemnation of leaders. Here are some very ordinary reasons skeptic leaders may not very often directly address sexism in the ranks, even if they care about it:

  1. They don’t perceive it.
  2. They don’t realize how common it is.
  3. There are buffers between the leaders and the skeptics, maybe moderators who do all the hands-on work of running a discussion board, or staff between the directors of organizations and their membership base or clientele.
  4. They think they are already doing something about it.
  5. It’s not a priority.
  6. They tried to do something about it, but weren’t effective.
  7. They want to do something about it, but are already stretched so thin.

Each one of these circumstances is very difficult to change from the outside. Waiting for leaders to overcome the obstacles that stand between them and solving the sexism problem means that skepticism is going to be awash in sexism for a long time.  The thing is, no one has to wait for leaders to act before they can act. Women know this; the women who want to feel more comfortable actively participating in skepticism have been trying raise awareness and suggest effective strategies to implement change. But these women are very often accused–in no uncertain terms–of falling prey to emotions, causing trouble, making skepticism look bad, and derailing the skeptical movement. They are labeled rogue skeptics with non-problems who don’t appreciate how good skepticism has made their lives already, and when leaders (I’m looking at you, Richard Dawkins) don’t express this outright they almost never speak up to defend the women. And everyone else in the skeptical movement takes that as confirmation that the women who complain are outsiders, and that they (everyone else) can be content with what skepticism is right now.

But no one has to think that. Just because leadership hasn’t given explicit permission to start addressing sexism doesn’t meant that skeptics shouldn’t. The onus for change is on everyone. Everyone. The leadership group of skeptics is probably the tiniest group of people in the whole community, and although they act as lodestones around which everyone can gather they do not participate in the community like everyone else does. They can’t know what it’s like to be Average Skeptic because they are not. It is very beneficial when leaders take to heart the importance of speaking out against sexism, but it is not required. If you are waiting for there to be an official skeptical manifesto to eradicate sexism and a call for all noses to put themselves to the proverbial grindstones before you do your part to eliminate sexism, you are perpetuating sexism by enabling it.

Stop waiting for your leaders to make addressing sexism or recruiting women a priority. If you care about this issue, and if you care about the women that sexism, you can start advocating against sexism today. It will make a difference.

Read Full Post »

When women are represented equally within the skeptical community, the entire scope of the skeptical movement will change. It can’t not. A huge influx of people who have not traditionally had their desires made known are going to influence the culture and the decision-making process, and many aspects of the skeptical community that are taken for granted or actively valued are going to disappear. It’s not a future for the skeptical community that is discussed often, but it probably contributes to a great deal of anxiety about the recent talk of recruiting more women to active skepticism. It’s even more unsettling because it is nebulous and undescribed, and this undercurrent of nervousness about change is a major part of why the discussions about what needs to change to make active skepticism more appealing to women are so frequently toxic. Nobody knows what the monster looks like, and everyone is expecting something different.

It would probably be of great benefit for everyone in the skeptical movement to ponder the question of what they will lose when the demographics change. This introspection could be left to individuals, or people could decide to discuss the topic in groups. Acknowledging the drawbacks of social change is beneficial, and there is nothing to be ashamed of for articulating the things you wish would stay the same even though you know they can’t. I am not suggesting some kind of group therapy pre-nostalgia for the good old days before they are gone, either. Groups need to address the feelings of all members about impending transition, for practical and compassionate reasons. For example… Practical: If a culture has remained unchanged for a long time, it has settled into habits and attitudes that have promoted a sort of successful stability. Analyzing this stability specifically in light of what will be lost will reveal potential weaknesses of the new organization; spotting problems early can lead to quick solutions. Compassionate: Being sympathetic to the concerns of established members will improve group dynamics, because it will send the message that people look out for each other, and are invested in the longevity of the group and its membership.

Furthermore, voicing the benefits of the practices and attitudes that will likely disappear will enable the skeptical community to find ways to incorporate those benefits with new practices. It may be that concerns people voice about what they will lose will turn out to be unfounded, and that new and established members share more goals and values than they think they do. Exploring why people want to hold on to certain elements of skeptical culture will help leaders and members incorporate those motivations into their new policies and procedures (however informal they may be), so that people’s desire to work toward the goals that inspire them is not thwarted. There is always more than one way to achieve a goal; there are never only the two options of doing it the old way or not at all.Finally, focusing on what will be given up will draw attention to what will replace it, and people will get the chance to evaluate if the drawbacks outweigh the benefits or not. Prioritizing new and traditional values will give people an idea of what to expect from Fancy New Skepticism before they experience it, and reduces the chances that people will feel bamboozled by or resentful of or lied to about the changes that are coming. It will give people real control over how the transition will be accomplished. They might be thrilled when it happens, they might be disappointed, but they won’t be caught unawares.

Men and women within the active skeptical community need to ask themselves what they stand to lose when more women enter the ranks, and they need to answer honestly without fear of reprisal. This reflection should not be a long list of what they are mad they won’t get to do or have anymore so much as a thoughtful consideration of what they are worried the consequences will be for skepticism when they stop doing those things. Gender parity will affect everyone’s experience of the skeptical movement for good and ill, and everyone–new and established–will be better off if expectations for the change are proactively managed at the outset instead of reacted to by flustered people who didn’t realize what was at stake.

Read Full Post »

Women speaking up about the sexism they experience in skepticism has caused some pretty tense conversations. Women don’t particularly like bringing up things that bother them, or explaining to people–some of whom are friends–why they have merely tolerated or actually feared what seems like perfectly ordinary interactions from other points of view. These conversations bring up emotions of all kinds, ranging from shame and embarrassment to anger and defensiveness on all sides. People do not like to hear that they’ve been hurting women, however inadvertently, and women do not like to relive even the most benign unpleasant experience.

It’s understandable that people–especially the people on the receiving end of the news that a woman has experienced sexism at their collective hands–would not want to have this conversation, and might even employ some strategies to deflect it. One such strategy is to turn criticism back onto the criticizer, by complaining not about what the woman is saying but instead on how she has chosen to say it. Instead of actually addressing the woman’s concerns, they turn it around and say that she could have said it better. Sure, they get why she’s mad, but maybe they tell her she’s just not polite enough when she is addressing them. Maybe she shouldn’t speak too generally about a problem only some people–not them–are causing, and be more careful not to lump the innocent with the guilty. Maybe she should have taken up her problem in person with the people who caused it before making a video about it on YouTube. Maybe it would have sounded more like a legitimate complaint if she hadn’t been friendly earlier with the people who caused the problem.

Sure, sure, what the woman had to say was important, but no one is going to listen to her until she’s been schooled in a little bit of diplomacy. They tell her to clean up the rough edges, practice a little more gentleness, then try again. What’s that, they ask, when she restates her message less politely and adds another suggestion to its tail? She doesn’t like being told what to do? Well, she just told other people what to do, so now they can logically write her off as an ignorable, tactless hypocrite.

This kind of dismissal is not productive, and it is very provocative. Ignoring what a woman is actually saying and reminding her how women are supposed to act if they want attention will prove her point that she experiences sexism. And falling back on the excuse that her delivery was so inadequate you couldn’t understand her point fools no one, because you’ve demonstrated that you understood her by the way you structure your helpful suggestions. All you are doing by blowing her off is making the problem bigger, and more or less guaranteeing that the next time you hear about it she’ll be less diplomatic on purpose. She might even be less forgiving of past errors.

If a woman decides in advance to ask you for help with her presentation skills, or solicits advice on the best way to bring up a sensitive topic, by all means advise her all you want about tone and timing and audience and medium. If she speaks out before consulting you, and you deem that she is too emotional or aggressive with her delivery, it’s probably because the topic is very, very important and she cares a whole lot about it, and thus you ought to make even more effort to hear her through your annoyance or defensiveness. Skeptics are rational, logical people, after all; keep your head and you can probably help women solve their problems. They might even start to consider people in the skeptical movement allies.

Read Full Post »

A big reason cited by women for not participating actively in skepticism is a lack of empathy for their position. They’ll be asked by people within the skeptical community what is keeping them from participating, but when they state their reasons, they are argued with or ignored. Consider this common example: Women say they don’t like to go to skeptical business meetings (particularly conferences) because they spend as much fending off sexual come-ons as they do learning about skeptical ideas. They consider it a problem for a number of reasons:

  1. It’s distracting. They invested valuable time and/or money to hear a speaker and mingle with professionals, and every time someone hits on them they miss a chance to do that.
  2. It’s insulting. The people who approach them at skeptical business meetings to hit on them care more about their vaginas than their brains.
  3. It’s hostile. Being hit on once by a stranger in a place you thought was professional is bad enough, but when multiple men come up to you for the same reason, in an environment of mostly men, you start to wonder if there are any allies who would take your side if things went sour. (And things do go sour.)
  4. It’s boring. The people who troll professional settings to hit on women are not clever, or suave, or charismatic, or creative, or unique, even if they think they’ve stumbled on this great idea that will set them apart from the other men who are trying to hit on women. It’s all just the same old thing, and it’s not entertaining to be the audience for it.

The degree to which people object to this behavior being labeled as a deterrent to women’s active participation in skepticism varies, but it’s rare that a woman can say this and not be argued with. Usually, people arguing with her become so obstinate and tangled up in their nets of logic and rationality they had hoped to snare her with (for the goal of her recanting, I guess) that a person who agrees with the woman will tell them to just be more empathetic and see it from her point of view.

Which often leads to someone looking up and then posting a definition from an online dictionary:

empathy (n)

2. the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner

Oh, you mean empathy, they’ll say. I completely empathize with those women. In fact, I would love it if women hit on me all the time and wherever I go. I’d even be flattered if gay guys did it. It’s flattering and exciting. Then they turn around and demand “empathy” from the women who aren’t sensitive to how rarely they get hit on by women, and how it’s so hard to be a man in a culture that expects them to make the first move.

This is not empathy. This is wishful thinking. Not once do those people sit and imagine how it feels for those women to be distracted, insulted, and bored in a hostile environment. They haven’t made an attempt to experience those feelings at all. They have not sat and imagined how they feel when they show up at an event with one goal in mind and people play tag team the whole time they are there, to the extent that they have to spend as much time asking to be left alone as they go working on their goal. No, what they do is hear “So many guys want to bang that woman!” and think “I wish that many women wanted to bang me!” and they tell her she has no cause for complaints. They’ve projected their fantasy onto her, and then criticize her for not being titillated by it. They continue by asserting that most men share this fantasy, which does not sound like empathy. It makes attending professional meetings dominated by men scary.

As much as I hate to make my example about how constant sexual propositioning is a problem for women seem stronger by providing an example of how it hurts men, too, I think it’s fair to point to Hollywood (and other) celebrity men who are the unwilling recipients of demands for their attention all the time. If a man hearing a woman complaining about too much attention at skeptical business meetings can’t empathize with her, maybe he can empathize with them. Celebrities are hounded by individuals beyond all rational levels of toleration. They are harassed day in and day out for no other reason that they stand out in a crowd. They receive threats by mail and in person, and the only good thing about it is that they tend to have enough money to hire people to protect them, who can act as buffers between them and the unwanted attention they receive. No empathetic person says they’d love to be in the position of a celebrity among the paparazzi; no one blames them for trying to eat calmly at a restaurant with their family without being harassed (regardless of intention). Of course not! Those are just people, trying to get their work done like anyone else, asking for a bit of privacy and common courtesy as they go about their day. After all, Tom Hanks is just a person.

If you can empathize with Tom Hanks regardless of whether he’s attempting to participate in your skeptical community and help you meet your skeptical goals, you can empathize with the skeptical women who feel barraged at male-dominated skeptical events by reminders that they’d fit right in if they’d put a little out. They’re people as much any male celebrity is. And they are people you know.

Read Full Post »

Disclaimer: Now, I’m no scholar, or philosopher, or political scientist, and I don’t consider myself well-broached in topics beyond Feminism 102 stuff, so the claims I am about to make about sexism maybe are not accurate. I welcome clarification and correction from people who actually do know about it, and hope that I get my point across even if I misuse terms or flat-out miss important arguments in the global conversation about sexism.

There are two phrases you often hear in these long, complicated, heated discussions within comments sections and discussion boards about sexism:

1. The patriarchy hurts men.

2. Sexism hurts men.

I agree with the first. The patriarchy, by creating and policing gender roles and punishing the people who defy them, does hurt men. But these damaging aspects of the patriarchy have not resulted in an underrepresentation of men in the active skeptical community, so I will leave this conversation for someone else to conduct.

I disagree with the second. Sexism does not hurt men.* Sexism hurts women, full stop. There is no special kind of shit that magically rolls uphill, even if the patriarchy hurts men too. Sure, maybe there are individual men who receive negative treatment or are victims of individual, prejudiced women, but that’s not sexism. There’s no social sanction for it, and the very next woman that man encounters is not very likely to repeat the behavior (unless he’s stumbled into a coven of manhaters who have taken over the whole town). Suffering a personal insult from one person is not suffering from sexism. Earning less money than a female coworker at the same position is not sexism against men. A selection committee making extra effort to schedule women speakers at a conference is not being sexist against men. Until men are being harmed as a group and can prove it, with laws of averages and stuff backed up by surveys and data from longitudinal studies and evidence like that, and can frame it as a coherent narrative with lots and lots of quotes from women that reveal how they consider men an underclass and why there are perfectly rational (perhaps biological) reasons to perpetuate the difference in political power between the two groups, stop claiming that sexism hurts men. Bad things happen to men, sure, but when a woman treats a man badly for no other reason than that he is a man, she is prejudiced. Someone being mean to a man does not signal systemic oppression.

*Racism does not hurt white people, either, and classism doesn’t hurt rich people. Homophobia doesn’t oppress straight people, undocumented residents aren’t displacing citizens, and the disabled are not successfully shoving their accommodationist agenda down abled people’s throats.

Don’t collect personal anecdotes of all the times women have been mean to you to argue about the validity of women’s experiences of sexism, particularly when they are explaining their experiences of sexism within the skeptical community as a deterrent to membership after you’ve asked them what’s holding them back from active participation. Don’t try to shut them up by calling them hypocrites because regular sexism is just as bad as reverse sexism, and thus all people within skepticism are on an equal footing and women demanding special treatment are being unreasonable. There is no reverse sexism. And if individual people have been mean to you, deal with it when they are being mean to you and move on. Either brush it off and forget about it because you don’t really care what strangers say to you, or call them out for it because you are fed up or relish confrontation, but don’t nurse the grievance as ammunition you can use to shoot down arguments of the people trying to dismantle the status quo. If you really cared about how the patriarchy was really hurting men (cared more about that then how the patriarchy mostly benefits men, that is), you’d acknowledge that fighting one-way sexism is one strategy for dismantling the patriarchy.

Read Full Post »

This suggestion is multi-pronged, so I’ll use subheaders for clarity.

Regarding the Feelings of Women Already in Skepticism

The women who are already actively participating in skepticism are constantly looked to for insight for what is keeping those other women from participating actively in skepticism. This is a good thing. Women know better than men what it is like to be a woman in the skeptical community without exception, and they should be listened to instead of argued with about their own experiences. And when the subject of why there aren’t more women in skepticism comes up, the people who care about the issue turn to the women in skepticism ask them why. The more sympathetic and rational people even listen to those women’s explanations.

It will occasionally happen that the conversation about why there aren’t more women in skepticism catches the fancy of the public at large, and women who do not normally actively participate in skepticism chime in. These women have different experiences about participating in skepticism that they try to share, and they know better–without exception–than anyone inside the skeptical movement what it is like to be outside of the skeptical community, including the women who are already participating.

It just so happens that the women who do not actively participate in the skeptical community often have criticisms of it, criticisms that the people happy within the skeptical community frequently resent hearing. These criticisms often include a component of recommendations for changing a popular behavior (including, but not limited to, not hitting on women at skeptical business meetings all the time and bringing pornography into the online skeptical environments). The people in the skeptical community have not found these facets of active participation to be particularly impeding, and they are often facets of active participation that many people find enjoyable enough to fight about keeping.

On Turning Women against Each Other

It is at this point that people in the skeptical community like to irrationally dismiss the experience of the women outside the skeptical community–remember, these are the women who know best about why they aren’t participating, and spoke up to answer a question you asked–by pointing to the experiences of the women in the skeptical community as a means to criticize the women who aren’t. Critical comparisons of outsider women to insider women include, but are not limited to:

  • insider women don’t mind
  • insider women like it
  • insider women aren’t hypersensitive
  • insider women aren’t ruled by their feelings
  • insider women are better at science and math, and thus skepticism
  • insider women know we don’t really mean it
  • insider women have a sense of humor

This sets up a nice little diversion during which the outsider women try to explain themselves in opposition to the insider women, which with the right interjections can turn into an argument between the two groups of women about whose way is better for feminism and voila! You’ve ducked the question about why women are underrepresented in skepticism and yet you can still pretend the conversation happened. That way, you can feel justified criticizing the outsider women even more, and prove to yourself you don’t need to change.

Why You Shouldn’t Rely Overmuch on the Feelings of the Women in the Skeptical Community

The feelings of the women already inside the skeptical community are very good guides for what it’s like to be a woman in the skeptical community, and they should absolutely be heard. Nobody else, remember, knows what it is like to be them except for them. Where people go wrong is when they focus too much on what the women already participating in skepticism want, because those women are already there. They aren’t the ones being discouraged from participating. They aren’t the ones people are trying to reach. It’s too easy to assume as well that because these women are not deterred from participating that everything that goes on is not a “real” problem for women. Very often (I’d go so far as to suppose most of the time) the women on the inside of the skeptical community experience the same problems that are keeping other women out. Just as often, people not particularly interested in making their community less sexist assume that because some women stick around despite these issues, these issues don’t relate to why women are opting out (and that something is wrong with the women who do opt out). That is not the case. There are many reasons women participate in the skeptical movement despite sexism, and none of them are giving you permission to believe that sexism is not present.

Women already participating in the skeptical movement maybe have a higher threshold for crap than the women who are not. They may be consciously participating to address sexism from the inside, or maybe they haven’t thought about it all, or have decided that there is actually no sexism present. The women may hold a leadership role and benefit from the personal and professional opportunities it presents. Maybe they are conducting research for a graduate program–could be lots of things! Even though these women have found a way to move through the skeptical community, you can’t just point to the women who haven’t and say, “Be more like them and you’ll fit in fine.” You’re going to have to try to solve the problems that are keeping the outside women out, too, until they are happy with the solutions. Addressing problems only to the satisfaction of the women already involved will not make happy the women who are avoiding the skeptical community. If it would, you wouldn’t have an underrepresentation problem because they would already be there.

Read Full Post »

Note: Anyone who has been raped is the owner of that experience, and can downplay or joke or mock or disparage or present it in absolutely any way that he or she wants. This post is not aimed at that person.

Want more women in any endeavor dominated by men? Stop defending rapists. Stop:

  • denying that rape culture exists
  • making rape jokes or humorous rape allusions
  • telling women they are irrational to be afraid of stranger rape or to let that irrational rear direct their behavior
  • saying that rape isn’t as bad as murder
  • one-upping women’s conversations about how the rape culture affects them with statistics about prison rape
  • suggesting that 1 in 6 women in the United States being raped in her lifetime is not that bad of a statistic
  • writing pretend math with variables to represent the likelihood of being raped and the likelihood of being killed afterward, to show how close to 0 the outcome is
  • imagining there’s an epidemic of false rape accusations that hurts men
  • claiming that there is any kind of “gray area” between consent and non-consent
  • blaming victims
  • getting huffy about being called a “potential rapist” and equating linking to the blog post “Schrodinger’s Rapist” to Nazi behavior by calling it online feminism’s “Godwin’s Law”

Stop defending rapists.

Fun Fact: Whenever you engage in any of the aforementioned behaviors, you are defending rapists against women!

Why on earth would any woman want to align herself with a group of rapist defenders? Do you understand why perpetuating the rape culture within skepticism keeps women away? Do you have any idea the message it sends? The next part of this post will get complicated, so bear with me, but pay attention and think about what you are reading, and if you are confused ask for clarification before arguing. I might not be accurately expressing my thoughts.

Rape is not about sex. It is about power.

Rape is a way for men to demonstrate to women that yes, indeed, they are the sex class* expected to be available to men at all times. It’s what they are for. Brains are nice if you got ‘em, but really… men have sexual needs, and they need to fulfill those needs because it’s their nature, and the powers that be have arranged it so that women will be made available to them. Sure, some women may have enough political agency to avoid having their bodies coopted (in person or in images) for the purpose of gratifying men’s sexual urges, but even they aren’t safe from being reminded–via rape, by some man–that their desire for privacy is of less value than a man’s right to assert his political position over them. It’s been a tool of oppression employed for millennia by men against women that devalues women as human beings. Want to show a conquered people that they’ve really, truly been conquered? Cart off their material goods and rape their women to compromise their usefulness as breeders of the next generation. This works as an insult to men because women are infrastructure, not full participants of the population. Women as infrastructure is the idea that justifies honor killings, and it’s what drives in a lesser extent the view of some skeptics that more women would be beneficial to skepticism because it would make it easier for them to get laid.

*I’ll ask you to look up two posts for more detailed discussions on this idea by more experienced bloggers who have thought through this matter with more insight: “A bit of lighthearted fun” by Twisty and “How not to attract feminist allies” by skeptifem. I would be happy to discuss why I agree with them.

I am not equating “getting laid” with honor killings. Neither am I making it up that many men want more women at skeptical business meetings because it’s too much trouble for them to meet women in “real life” (and who chastise  women who object being sexualized in professional settings because those women are not properly sympathetic to poor awkward men who have a hard time getting laid). In both points of view, women are considered infrastructure, not people. They are objects to obtain for reasons that benefit men.

When you defend rape (see again the list above), you support the existence of a sex class and perpetuate the idea that women are there to serve men. You may not realize that you are supporting the existence of a sex class or that you are defending rape, because that is an inherent aspect of the rape culture through which you move. It looks normal to you. If the idea of women as a sex class abhors you, and you feel outrage that someone should try to label you a “rape defender,” review the list of behaviors above. Are you doing those things? You probably have done some of them out of habit–lots of people have. Don’t spend a lot of time beating yourself up over past behaviors now, though. Spend the bulk of your time figuring out how you are going to change, and then immediately stop doing those behaviors. Because rape defenders are disgusting, and women who object to being relegated to the sex class are not going to hang around and enable them–even if they are skeptical women who agree with your skeptical goals.

You are at a crossroads here. You can take a lot of offense at what I am saying and write me off, or you can recoil in horror at the extent to which rape culture has permeated your thinking and continues to harm half of the world’s population, and stop defending rape. You can stop being disgusting.

Read Full Post »

Women in skepticism really are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. When they broach the topic of why there are so few women in skepticism, they get answered that if they feel there’s a problem, they have the freedom to solve it. When they start to solve the problem of increasing the number of women in skepticism, they get criticized for not doing enough to help other people get involved in skepticism, and for–wait for it… wait for it…–being sexist against men.

Here are some things people do to complain about women helping other women get involved in skepticism:

  1. They whine about a thread popping up to address sexism on a discussion board. Sure, it’s OK to have an entire subforum dedicated to playing games or talking about music, and no fewer than twenty threads kvetching about the anti-vaccine movement, but when women start a thread to examine what characteristics of the skeptical movement might be discouraging women from participating, they get greeted with comments like “OMFG NOT THIS AGAIN” or “Shouldn’t you be discussing how to increase the number of participants in the skeptical movement in general?” or “All you are doing is sending the message to men that they aren’t important” or “Addressing sexism is not a skeptical issue” (but listening to music is?) and other common derailment techniques.
  2. They whine about women-only spaces, where women congregate to discuss their problems and their strategies for solving them (without input from men), and complain that if women really wanted equality they’d let men in.
  3. They whine about grants established for the purpose of sending more women to skeptical events. Applications for these grants are limited to women, because allowing men to apply would not support the goal. I mean, duh. If they sincerely believed that men needed to be actively recruited to the skeptical movement, nothing is stopping them from establishing their own grants to send them there. If they believed that women were better represented than another group (and they are), they could set up a grant for another group and maybe even work with the group of women for mutual support of diversity. But they don’t.
  4. They whine about event organizers who a goal of  recruiting more women speakers at events, and belittle the qualifications of the women who are selected to present without subjecting the male presenters to the same intense scrutiny about their presentation topics and their particular fields of expertise.
  5. They express actual anger towards women who give advice about how to behave at skeptical meetings if one’s goal is to increase the number of women participating in skepticism.
  6. They insist that  sexism will sort itself out in a couple of generations and there’s nothing to do for it, and that women trying to hurry along change within the skepticism movement only makes the movement look bad to outsiders. (It’s true, women broaching the topic of sexism within skepticism does make skepticism look bad in the public’s eye, but not for the reasons they think.) On the other hand, it’s very important to actively campaign against anti-vaccine sentiments instead of letting time (and resurgent diseases and dead children) sort it out in a couple of generations, because sickness hurts people and raising awareness gets result. But actively trying to change skepticism? Nah. Those women are just spinning their wheels.

If you don’t care if there are more women in skepticism or not, stay out of the conversation women are having with each other about getting more women in skepticism. The worst thing that could happen is that men will only make up fifty percent of active skeptics.

Read Full Post »

There is a pattern that frequently appears among skeptics, which I will paraphrase as briefly as possible to get to my point:

WOMAN: It’s creepy. Please stop.

SKEPTIC: What are you afraid of?

WOMAN: <Statistics about violence by men against women>

SKEPTIC: <Statistics about violence by men against men> More men are killed by men than women are. It is irrational for women to fear violence from men.

Let’s just say for the purposes of this post that more men are killed by men than women are killed by men. I don’t necessarily think that is true, and there’s a lot of how you frame the argument to find the data, and I’m not going to contest any link someone posts here about the number of men who are killed annually compared to women and I’m not going to provide any statistics of my own. I just want to address this notion that women are wrong/irrational/hysterical to fear being approached by strange men when they are alone in elevators because out in the big bad world, more men are killed by men than women are. This argument is trotted out to prove that women’s feelings about being safe are unfounded and easily undermined by science and evidence and logic.

There is a problem with this stance: If men and women alike are victims of violence at the hands of men, and men are more often the targets of male violence, then men should also be afraid. In fact, it is irrational/illogical/unscientific for men to not be more afraid of encountering potentially malevolent strangers than they already are, if the dangers that men face at the hands of men are so much worse than the dangers faced by women. Women aren’t the ones in denial of the evidence–men are. Women concerned for their safety are actually facing up to the dangers that these statistics portend, and taking action by speaking out against them. Men, on the other hand, go on the record saying they don’t live in fear and don’t take any extra steps to protect themselves, even though it is far more likely they’ll be killed. Does that sound reasonable to you? No. So why do they bring it up?

These male-on-male violence statistics aren’t thrown into a discussion because men are trying to explain to women how moving through the world makes them feel, and how the behaviors of other men impact their sense of well-being in a public or private space, and how they want to raise awareness of this common concern. No. It’s a silencing strategy. Women express their thoughts, and people attempt to silence them by pointing out simultaneously that women are foolish to fear violent men and how rampantly violent men run through society. It’s a ludicrous argument from a logic point of view, and it is unbecoming to the skeptical mindset to resort to it in order to have the last word. The only purpose of even voicing such a poorly designed argument is to make women’s objections to the creepy things people do to them seem silly, so that people can keep doing those creepy things to women that they want to do without fear of criticism. You know, because of logic and evidence.

Crap like that turns away skeptical women from active participation because it is offensive, and because it shows poor thinking. If the skeptical community wants to attract those skeptical women, it’s going to have to do better on both accounts.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 55 other followers

%d bloggers like this: