Plots, Posses, and Feminist Terrorist Fist Bumps


The plotting started well before I got to Science Online. I mentioned to Scicurious that we’d be flying in on my husband’s birthday. She insisted we needed to do cake. I countered with cupcakes and found some nearby. There was still a problem, though, since we wouldn’t be landing until after the cupcake shop closed and Sci wouldn’t have a car.

Scicurious was on the job. She recruited Princess. By coincidence (not a requirement for procuring cupcakes) Ben and Princess share a birthday. This presented Sci with her own problem. Princess doesn’t usually make a big deal of her birthday, but Sci didn’t want it going unnoticed in all the furious meeting and greeting of SciO Day One. I suggested letting Bora and Karyn know, as they’d make sure it didn’t stay a secret.

Birthday Cupcakes

"Birthday cupcakes for the win!" by Ben Zvan

As you can see, the cupcakes part of the mission was a success. So was making sure Princess was included in the birthday celebrations. Cupcakes in a hotel lobby bar attract attention. Everyone wanted to know why they were there. It might even have been more attention than she wanted, or maybe she just slipped away to say, “Hi,” as people came in.

The cupcakes were a success in an unexpected way as well. I had ordered a bunch, not sure who would be at the hotel the first night. Several of the people I’d mentally counted were either absent or stuffed from what I hear was epic BBQ. That left cupcakes to share.

I’m not huge on initiating social contact, but now I had an excuse. I flagged down people I slightly recognized from Twitter avatars and others who merely looked wistfully curious as they walked passed a table of people eating and laughing. Introductions were made, birthday wishes given. Then the litany began.

“Black forest, bourbon pecan pie, ‘hot’ chocolate (with pepper), coconut, banana, maple, chocolate, an–”

“You mean chocolate chocolate chocolate. What? That’s how you’ve been saying it.”

“Chocolate chocolate chocolate, and raspberry.”

Cupcakes make an excellent ice breaker.One of the bar staff was later heard to say, “Those scientists.. really know how to throw it down. They were here until 3am. With cupcakes.”

That was only the first of the Science Online plots in which I took part. The others weren’t as light as fluffy, and they won’t see the light of day nearly as quickly, but they were far more important. The reason for their importance was driven home to me even before the cupcakes came out.

The hotel bar at the Doubletree Brownstone in Raleigh is fully open on one end to the lobby. This meant a lot of waving to people as we were checking in and minimal time to change shoes in the room before heading back down for hugs and conversation.

It was in the lobby that I heard two disheartening stories from women involved in organized skepticism. After the past year, both these women are stepping back from their skeptical activities. The first story is very much not mine to tell, but the person I was talking to will make it known at the appropriate time and in the appropriate circumstances.

The second came from Bug Girl, whom I greeted with a hug and a “terrorist feminist fist bump.” She’s been fairly public about the fact that she’s taken a leave from Skepchick. She’s burned out on controversy after years and years of the stuff and tired of being a target not just of DDT-denialists and the like but also the skeptics who have refused to take her side even after years of her taking theirs.

That was…depressing, to say the least. It was also motivating, both in the sense that when some voices step down, more of us need to step up, and in the sense that I want to build a movement that doesn’t just accept the work these women have done but also rewards it. That means I spent a certain amount of the conference putting people together who can get things done. It also means I volunteered for a number of things (and reminded some people of things I’d already volunteered for), some of which you’ll see in due time and some of which will look very much like what I already do, just with a slightly different focus.

While those come to fruition, I can only hope that Bug Girl found SciO as reinvigorating as Zuska did. Zuska hasn’t been blogging for a while, after dealing with some heavy personal responsibilities, but the chatter and the camaraderie and the work everyone was doing in various sessions has brought her out of blog hibernation, with plenty to say. If her first post about the conference is any indication, this is going to be good.

There were a couple of sessions on these topics as well. They were directly addressed at the “Blogging Science While Female” session, run by Janet Stemwedel and Christie Wilcox. Christie has the Storify of the session on her blog. It was a good session, though it did have it’s moments of “but it’s not all men” having to negotiate the fact that not all bloggers want to set their boundaries in the same places. It also called out the need to separate these discussions into the validation and sharing of experiences (which tend to dominate a free-flowing session) and practical tips for dealing with harassment and derailing. There are already plots in the works to address this better next year.

Scicurious and Kate Clancy ran a session with a small amount of overlap, “Sex, Gender, and Controversy.” This session was more of a workshop on blogging risky topics. The Storify for this session is at Sci’s blog. There are a number of ways a topic can be risky, both politically and personally, but there were some concrete ideas for handling risk that came out of the session.

Kate discussed one of those in more detail at her blog, putting out a call for her “posse,” the people who used to interact in her comments before her blog moved to Scientific American‘s network, to register and be prepared to comment, both as a means of setting a community standard (which Kate herself promised to do by enforcing a stronger comment policy) and as a way of not leaving all the fights on the blog to the blogger. Expect a more formal method of putting out a call for that sort of thing on Twitter soon.

So the last year has been hard on women in the science and skeptic blogospheres. However, it has also made more people willing to fight (even as some have dropped out for some period of time), and it has given us all an awareness that we’re in the same situation together. That means we’re working together on solving these problems–or ganging up on people if you prefer. I don’t think we care anymore. It’s just time to get things done.

Cupcakes for the win!” copyright Ben Zvan. Used by permission.

Comments

  1. says

    Awesome Stephanie! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on all this and for mentioning my posse post. I hope we’re igniting people who don’t want to just gang up on trolls (because I do intend to just delete most of them from now on) but also want to have more of a conversation. That said, the posse independently decided they needed a hashtag to be able to quickly activate should any trolling need to be put down — #trollerderby. So be on the lookout ;)

  2. says

    Bug’s an awesome, awesome person. I hope some day she feels up to getting back into things, but I can’t in any way blame her for feeling exhausted and spent after decades of doing this work only to see the same old problems coming up again and again. Hell, I’ve only been at it a few months and I already feel kind of hopeless sometimes. It can often be difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But then, one does have occasional moments like the kind described in Greta’s post this afternoon, and you use them to keep fighting for as long as you can. Though sometimes you just have to put your own well-being first.

  3. says

    Heheh, that’s one reason I’m not so into the cupcake fad. I like more cake, less icing. But maple penuche, woah, that could convert me. Now I want to make fudge.

  4. says

    Very late to comment on this, but thanks for the sugar overdose disguised as a cupcake! It was so good to see you again this year and yes indeedy I did find Scio12 invigorating! Now if I can just stop having migraines long enough to write again…thanks for mentioning my post. Many thanks to all the peeps who talked me into going this year when I thought I shouldn’t because of silly issues like $$ and migraines and elder care.

    Also – #trollerderby is so awesome I could cry.

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