I’m certainly not the first person to suggest that perhaps all this sturm und drang regarding the proper place of feminist ideals within the skeptical movement is just the rabble-rousing of an angry fringe. It’s not really insightful to suggest that the bulk of skeptics–the true skeptics, who are very concerned with accomplishing skeptical goals–find the all the hullabaloo about “calling out” sexism and “hijacking the movement” with “personal grudges” and generally “behaving like spoiled children who don’t know how good they have it in this world” to be a huge distraction–HUGE!–that prevents them from getting their skeptical work done. It’s definitely been suggested explicitly to me that I’m making mountains out of molehills, and I don’t speak for all women in the skeptical movement and that my Handy Guide isn’t very applicable to the skeptical community because it presents my specific beefs about what I personally don’t like as universal issues, and that the best thing for skeptics to do is let me ramble on without engaging me until I wear myself out, and then just sweep it all into the dustbin.
These arguments could be making some very good points. It is entirely possible that my quirky sense of injustice is unique to me and has no bearing on anything else. I’m just finding trouble where I want to, out of boredom or delusion or a highly Westernized sense of middle class woman entitlement or plain old cantankerousness, and if there are so many fewer active women in the skeptical movement than men, it’s for reasons entirely different than the ones I give that require solutions entirely different than the ones I suggest. Such as Ladybrains! and Who cares what the gender balance is? I care about ideas!
And if you’re a mainstream skeptic who likes coasting along and doesn’t really care about sexism and misogyny in the community and is content with the status quo, the path of least resistance is to label me a crackpot and turn your skeptical attention onto topics worthy of skeptical consideration. And if you’re a mainstream skeptic who does care about sexism and misogyny but doesn’t really want to take any responsibility for it, the path of least resistant is to quarantine my thoughts within the boundaries of the label “bones to pick.” And if you’re a mainstream skeptic who really doesn’t want to take responsibility for sexism and misogyny and is starting to bristle under the cognitive dissonance of claiming to approach all things rationally and skeptically and being faced with evidence of sexism and misogyny from lots and lots of women, the path of least resistance is to lump us all into the category of a Fringe, hovering around the edges, blowing in the wind and fluttering about with the smallest shakeup.
And that’s cool.
But are you sure we’re a fringe? Are you sure that I’m a crackpot with weird ideas about the world that have no bearing outside my own head? Are you totally sure? Have you tried to estimate the population within the skeptical movement of people like me, with an alphabet soup of variables arranged in some kind of Drake Equation for the Feminist Age? Have you made any effort to find out from skeptical women sitting this whole skeptical movement out why they’ve removed themselves? Have you made any effort to find out from skeptics within the movement if they agree with you or with me? Have you assessed whether your confidence in representing mainstream skepticism is reasonable? Have you given any thought as to maybe you’re the one looking for confirmation in an echo chamber instead of the Oppressed Sisters and Their Approved Male Chorus? Any thought at all?
Are you sure you aren’t the fringe? Because, you know, it could be you instead. It’s possible that the skeptics lamenting how often women lament sexism, and how disruptive it is that they won’t just get over it already are the ones who are the crackpots, who are assuming that their personal beefs with the skeptical movement have universal significance, and whose proposed solutions to these problems are best left on ignore.
And that’s cool, too. I mean, interesting things happen in a fringe and there’s no shame being part of one (plus that’s where the best summer movie plots come from). But dismissing observations about a woman’s experience within the skeptical community and suggestions for fixing problems she sees on the basis that she’s just some proverbial sidewalk naysayer with a sandwich board is not a rational thing to do until you’ve done some investigating on how many people she might actually speak for, and pursuing that investigation across a wide range of sources. As in, not just a couple blogs you’ve already got bookmarked, or a posed question to your Twitter followers or Facebook friends, or some after-meeting asking around at your local skeptics group, or some official declaration about The State of Things by some Official Skeptical Person. Because unless you’ve done that thoroughly, and sincerely, you have no foundation to stand on when ruling on the practicality of my points. None at all. Which is bad if you want to call yourself a mainstream skeptic who presents the best face about the skeptical community to society at large (as opposed to the scrabbling gaggle of harpies who are ruining it for everyone).
It doesn’t matter to me if I am in the fringe or not; I said a year ago when I started this blog that I was going to speak only for myself, and that you could take my advice or leave it. So, before you ask, no. I haven’t done all this surveying and research and I have no idea if I’m speaking in an echo chamber and I don’t even care. But I’m not the one out there claiming to be superrational and free of biases and skilled at the kind of critical and scientific thinking that leads to true results, and I’m not the one out there fretting in public about the number of women coming to skeptics’ events and expressing actual bafflement as to why. I’m not the one that needs to identify who’s occupying the fringes of the skeptical movement. But I will admit, before you ask, that I have my suspicions. Yes, I do.