Archive for March, 2012

So there was this billboard in Pennsylvania put up jointly by the American Atheists and the Pennsylvania Nonbelievers, and I learned all about it from Kylie Sturgess at the Token Skeptic, in her post Is Anyone Else Talking About How Bloody Awful the American Atheists Inc. “Slaves” Harrisburg, PA Billboards Are?

Yes, I’m late to the party, and I know this is all old news now, but my thoughts have finally cohered enough to make my points, and so I am ready to talk about how bloody awful the billboard is and how bad the people defending it look. I will number my points so I stay focused, and I will employ bold font to add an element of design because I’m artsy like that.

In case you don’t want to click a link to read Kylie or the AA’s discussion of the billboard, I’ll just post it here as a picture (lifted from the AA Facebook page), at full size for maximum effect:

1. It is cultural appropriation.

If you are defending this billboard as a “good message” that is doing “important work” and is “not at all racist,” you need to read up on cultural appropriation and maybe you’ll understand why the NAACP and other people are offended when you take key images from someone else’s cultural heritage to serve your own purposes. If you already know all about cultural appropriation and are a cultural appropriation expert but don’t think this qualifies as “someone else’s cultural heritage” or “serving your own purposes,” consider this:



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True story: Sometimes people make mistakes because they actually don’t know any better.

True story: Sometimes people are sexist towards women and don’t even know it, because they’ve never learned what constitutes treating women with respect as a person (vs. treating women with the “respect due to them as ladies” or somesuch), and sometimes that sexist behavior causes a whole host of problems with real consequences, as in actual damage done to women in the long or short term.

Women often call out this behavior when it happens, in hopes of averting those negative effects, or at least in hopes of averting them in the future. And often, when women call out this behavior and go so far as to say that the behavior needs to stop, people (usually men) swarm out of the woodwork to explain and defend the people who committed the sexist act.

Not because the sexist act is defensible, no–of course not! And not because they personally would ever commit such an act–how dare you suggest that they are sexist! Outrageous! No. They come out of the woodwork to help the women understand why they’ve been victimized by sexism, so women can learn what unfortunate social environments or upbringings cause men to behave in sexist ways and so women can be more sympathetic to those poor sexists who don’t know any better, or because these guys feel sorry for these other guys, and want to give a brother a break and because these women are making it hard for them to do that. There are all kinds of things about sexism that men come out of the woodwork to explain, and all of it adds up to one stinking pile of Excuses.


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Edited by S. T. Joshi

Long Story Short: This book is a good primer for someone who has never encountered the kinds of writings about how women were unfit for public life, but it lacks context and it does not stretch far enough into the present day.

Why I Chose This Book: I was browsing the Prometheus catalog (a good source for books about skepticism) and the cover art caught my eye. I’ve encountered a lot of people online who really have no idea just how formally and officially prejudice against women has been constructed in academic and cultural spheres or for how long, and thought it would fit in well with the purpose of this blog.

The Book’s Strengths: This book is all primary sources. The editor has collected essays about the place and purpose of women from basically American and British sources, across a good stretch of decades, from men and women authors, and presents a pretty thorough picture of how ideas about women’s supposed limitations informed public opinions and policies. People like to think they know how badly women have been maligned, and these selections are most likely worse than the average reader suspects. It definitely sets the stage for what feminists have been so angry about and have been fighting about, and taken as a group it can shed light on how such arbitrary and ideological notions about Why Women X can seem so much like nature and logical consequences.


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By Bernd Heinrich

Long Story Short: I really meant to post more than once in February. I really did. But, you know, stuff. Made a totally awesome spreadsheet in Excel, though, with an amazing formula:


It was also color-coded. Learned all about conditional formatting, too, I did. Good times.

Long Story Short about the Book: This is probably a wonderful book that was just not for me, at least not for me during this particular January, when I was expecting I’d have some cozy dark-early winter times and got instead 80-degree weather with trips to the jacuzzi. I didn’t finish it.

Why I Chose This Book: A biologist friend recommended this book to me, and had said he’d found it very inspiring. What with winter coming up, and me always looking for recommendations from real people, I thought it would be the perfect thing for the season.

The Book’s Strengths: This was a book with a strong voice, told with great detail about a fascinating subject. It was almost a memoir, I thought, and the author had great passion for the subject, as well as a careful and thorough approach to the various explorations of how tiny little animals (and bigger animals) survived during the harsh winters of northern climates. It was peppered with pencil drawings from the author’s own notes, and it was full of interesting observations about the world, and I liked many of the connections the author drew between seemingly disparate things. I mean, I know we use trees for fuel and animals eat other animals, but I never explicitly thought about trees as solar energy containers or rabbits harnessing the sun’s energy for the benefit of the foxes, that kind of thing. (The author said it better, but the book went back to the library weeks and weeks ago.) The author lymoved between loving the natural world and conducting actual experiments about the natural world (like measuring the temperature of bird corpses to see how long they’d hold heat with that shape and that size in frozen temperatures, or sticking his head into tree trunks to measure the amount of squirrel droppings in order to estimate the number of animals using a shelter), with highly readable and almost poetic prose.


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