Jan 01 2013

A Taste of 2012

There was one fairly obvious theme on this blog in 2012. Anyone who’s been around for most of it knows I did an awful lot of feminist blogging. That started all the way back in January, when I interviewed Melody Hensley on Atheists Talk about the Women in Secularism conference. Feminism is always pretty overt at the ScienceOnline conferences in Raleigh as well.

Things really ramped up at the WiS conference, of course. My most-read post this year is the one I wrote during the conference and on the plane on the way home, when I realized an off-hand comment from Jen McCreight was going to be very big indeed. So I followed up quickly to put some of that energy to good use. I’m very happy to say it was successful, if not entirely easy going.

The calls of “witch hunt” started right away, so I explained what a witch hunt really is and is not. I talked about how to deal with the constant requests for evidence of sexism that don’t seem to stop when evidence is presented. I noted how that evidence is continually elided after being given. I pointed out that we’ve known harassing behavior exists in our communities for a very long time. I stated that staying out of the fight for equal treatment is a reasonable thing for some people to do–and what that actually looks like. I drew a parallel of sorts to show that people claiming not to be anti-feminist were treating feminism as contamination. And I put my foot down about being used as a weapon against other victims of harassment.

I kept talking about rape and consent, as I do. I went over the many, many ways in which one advice columnist gave terrible advice on the topic. I also created a flow chart for people who want to tell rape jokes that may help them avoid jokes that reinforce rape culture. I explained how consent and boundaries are important to understanding even something as simple as flirting. I also did little more than point to an important post on how victims of military rape are treated, but I think it’s worth doing again.

I spent a little time talking about sexism in entertainment media. One post of note has to do with Doctor Who and the way a season about parenthood was dismissed and undervalued by some feminists because it was about a “women’s topic”. I explained the “pink ghetto” more thoroughly in a follow-up post. I also found some art that just about everyone can agree is appalling. Oy.

I did my usual spate of science blogging. Early in the year, I was already talking about evolutionary psychology, one of my perennial topics. This time, it was a cultural anthropologist talking about the benefits of monogamy, using only patriarchal, polygynous cultures as the comparison. I returned to the topic at the end of the year, pointing out that not supporting a particular evolutionary psychology study is not advocating for a “blank slate” developmental view. I also took a look at a study that some people were using to support the idea that homophobes are just closeted gay people.

A couple of researchers and their recommended proxy suggested that their review of the literature said that stereotype threat wasn’t a real problem. I read the paper and discovered otherwise. The question of human races as “subspecies” came up again, and I talked to a biological anthropologist to make sure I understood what that would mean. I talked about how our default assumptions affect how we describe developmental processes. I also took a moment to appreciate CSICon’s approach to presenting contentious social psychology topics and to point to a blogger who handles these topics exceedingly well.

I turned a skeptical eye to a number of areas in which religion and its assumptions mess with our moral judgments about how we should live our lives. I took apart a video in which the claim was made that our society was “Hooking Kids on Sex“. I asked how much value there was in assuming that our spouses were always our best choices for next of kin. I spoke at a local community college about how the morality used to argue against abortion is ultimately secular (if often grossly wrong). I talked about the not-so-difficult task of balancing of rights in abortion, both with regard to parental notification (in text) and late-term abortion (in a podcast). I also did a workshop with James Croft at Skepticon on the ethical use of irrationality that was well-received.

Trolls were, as trolls are, a solid topic for the blog this year. In July, we did a panel on the topic of misogynist trolling at CONvergence/SkepchickCon. Leading up to that, I asked commenters to define what makes a commenter a troll and give tips for dealing with trolls. I collected some expert advice from around the web on moderating comments. I also wrote one of my most-linked posts earlier in the year on why “Don’t feed the trolls” is bad advice, based on a simplistic understanding of operant conditioning.

You can’t keep me from talking about politics either, especially not in an election year. I took the failure of of the petition to free Alexander Aan and turned it into an essay about increasing your political effectiveness that is now part of a curriculum. I still find that a bit weird. I also live-tweeted and collected Amanda Knief’s excellent and useful talk about how to lobby. I used Rush Limbaugh to make the point that the way we characterize our political enemies often has broader implications. I didn’t think I would ever have to explain to people why government censorship is a bad thing, but with the freeze peach crowd going wild, it turned out that I did.

I wrote about why we celebrate even small, late, imperfect victories. I did a multi-part series on why we should consider at least doubling Social Security instead of cutting it. The Senate election in Massachusetts prompted me to muse about my own Native American heritage and how neither talking about it nor not talking about it seems to do it justice. I had some advice for people who want a strong and enduring third party. Along with the rest of the country, the fallout after the Newtown shootings prompted me to talk about both the idea of stricter gun control and about how we think and talk about mental illness, particularly in children.

So how did you spend 2012?

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