Skepticism: Tits or GTFO*?


Originally posted at SheThought.

I hate writing about feminist issues, because every time I do I get accused of being a feminazi or caring more about women than men, or of buying into victim culture, or any number of accusations that come with the territory.  Feminism isn’t generally my main issue, and so I’m always hesitant to distract from all the other things I care about by getting into knock down, drag out fights about why should I care about how women are treated or how they’re portrayed in the media.

Occasionally, of course, I do write something about feminism, because I’m upset enough to ignore the warning lights in my head that say I’m going to have to deal with a lot of BS because of it.  As you might imagine, this post is me ignoring those warning bells.

Skepticism has a woman problem.  It’s been said more than once, it’s been pointed out countless times, and it’s being addressed in a lot of positive ways that should absolutely count in its favor.  I don’t want to dismiss or underplay the fact that there are a lot of men in the movement who care a lot about this issue and are actively working to fix it.

That said, the amount of privilege and harassment I see coming from a number of the powerful men in the movement is really distressing.  The assumption that young women are taking advantage of older men or that men have the automatic right to presume sexual interest and the right to sexually harass young women is a problem, and it’s a problem within this movement, not just outside of it.

This problem came up today, because Lawrence Krauss, a respected scientist and one of the featured speakers at TAM9, defended his buddy Jeffrey Epstein, a man who plead guilty to hiring underage girls, some as young as 13,  to have sex with him.  Krauss is skeptical of the claims because he always thought the girls around Epstein were 19-23 and apparently thinks it’s ok to have sex with a 13 year old so long as you think she’s 18.  He also doesn’t seem to understand that a 13 year old having sex with a powerful, rich man has been coerced into it, no matter what.  Ignorance is no excuse there, it’s rape and it’s taking advantage of a child.

He is also skeptical of the claims made by the prosecution, despite the fact that Epstein plead guilty and they did an 11-month sting operation documenting his activity.  And they have his, apparently horrific, diary.

It gets worse.

DJ Grothe, on the Skepchick article about this, comments , saying basically that he doesn’t know anything about the situation, but he lied about his age when he was under 18 so that he could get laid, so maybe underage prostitution isn’t that bad.  I appreciate that he’s not saying that sex with a 13 year old is OK, he specifically says it isn’t, but since that’s what actually happened, I’m really not sure why he felt the need to defend Krauss.  Nor do I understand how he is also missing the power play aspect of this.  Epstein took underage women who were not prostitutes and coerced them into sexual acts, using money and power.  This is not acceptable behavior, even if you’re OK with prostitution and 16-year-olds having sex.

This isn’t a question of the legality of prostitution or what the age of consent should be.  This is a question about abuse of power, non-consensual sex and sex trafficking of minors.

I wish I could tell you that this blindness to abuse of privilege and power existed only in response to this one issue, but it permeates the skeptic movement.  Many of the men in this movement are guilty of abusing their power to take advantage of the women in the movement or to hurt them when they won’t agree to sex, or turning a blind eye to the behavior or other men who are guilty of similar behavior.

If I could tell you all the horror stories I’ve heard, all the individuals who have been mistreated, insulted, taken advantage of by men in this movement, you’d be shocked.  If I told you the number of men I’ve been told that I need to be careful around because they have a “problem with young women”, you might not believe me.  Unless you’re a woman, and then you’ve probably heard some of it yourself.

I believe these stories because I’ve been at the receiving end of some egregious behavior and I’ve seen a lot of it with my own eyes.  The women in the movement ignore it because it’s less important to us than our desire to be part of a community that matters to us.  Hell, I don’t even feel comfortable talking about it because I know it’s going to make me unpopular, I don’t want to list anyone’s name because I just don’t feel comfortable with the backlash that would come with it.  I can’t bring myself to do it and I feel absolutely ashamed for that.

When a powerful scientist asks a young women who is trying to be taken seriously in the sciences if she’d like to be his next mistress after meeting her once,  that’s an abuse of power.  When a powerful man implies he’ll help a woman out if he sleeps with her, that’s an abuse of power.  When a powerful man implies he will blackball a woman if she doesn’t sleep with him, that’s an abuse of power.  When a powerful man dismisses or insults a woman because she doesn’t want to sleep with him, that’s an abuse of power.  There’s a word for coercing women into having sex.

I doubt this will be read by powerful men in the movement, but if it is, I just want to say that you have a responsibility to set an example as to how women should be treated and where their value should come from.  If you think women are only sex objects and you only care about the young, pretty ones who don’t seem too frigid, how on earth are we going to be taken seriously by everyone else?

Why is it that when I go to conferences I have to be hyper-vigilent to the behavior of men whose opinions I respect?

*http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=tits+of+gtfo

EDIT: I would like to say a special thanks to the men who have reached out to me, male support on these issues helps make sure we know it’s everyone’s problem, not just a woman problem, and also reminds women that there are a lot of guys who’ve got our backs.

Comments

  1. ashleyfmiller says

    Well, he’s not in the skeptic movement, no one would confuse him for not an asshole, and I promised my mother i’d avoid talking about him because the threats were disturbing her

  2. says

    Fair enough :)

    More seriously, speaking as a total outsider with half-assed opinions, I think it would do the skeptic movement good to wrangle with this thing in the open. Here’s why:

    1) You and I have talked before about how easily the teacher-student dynamic can take on an erotic charge, even if both participants in the dynamic aren’t feeling it. This can lead to misunderstandings at best and outright abuse of power/authority at worst. No school, church, or club is immune from this. It is just one of the messy aspects of being human.

    2) Any organization that organizes itself in a vaguely pyramidal fashion, with a few folks commonly-accepted to be at the top by virtue of whatever, will find some, if not many, of those folks getting used to a certain level of privilege/deference/accommodation. This is not evil, or an indictment of pyramids (which, we all know, are awesome, especially the ones on the other side of the Stargate), it is again, human nature.

    3) As that Gnostic Text The King of Kong teaches us, people of the most dubious achievement can still attract sycophants and defenders who are driven by their own need to have conferred their admiration on a worthy subject.

    4) One of the outsider knocks against skepticism is that, like MENSA, it is about a group of people who exist for the purpose of gathering to congratulate themselves for being smarter than everyone else, when the truth is that they are not; they are just superior jerk-faces. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    So, the skeptic movement is suffering from problems that arise out of 1, 2, and 3; and when they respond to it by behaving with the same silence, hostility, defensiveness, and blame-shifting as other groups/clubs/churches, it tends to inflame the perception of 4; since if the skeptic movement’s whole philosophy is about honesty and open debate, they would be, you know, talking about this stuff when it happens, instead of ignoring it and pretending that they aren’t like everyone else in being vulnerable to 1, 2, and 3.

    Which means that, from where I stand, you do skepticism as a whole good when you write posts like this one. But hey, I never joined MENSA either, so what do I know?

  3. says

    Just as I posted a few minutes about religion, I am generally amazed at how misogynistic some people can be. Above everything else you’ve said, I think it’s important that you haven’t specifically categorized powerful scientists or even skeptics into some sort of anti-feminist or sexist cohort. People are people, and those who do or say bad things can be tossed out into the cold without taking the rest of the rational, even-handed group with them.

  4. Larry Clapp says

    FYI, link to Urban Dictionary is incorrect, “of” instead of “or”.

    Good article. Sorry to chime in with something minor and unrelated, but thought you’d like to know.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Ashley F. Miller Harassment at TAM9: Ashley Miller links to a post from last year about some harassment she experienced at TAM despite DJ’s protestations that no harassment was ever reported. DJ Grothe says this is the first he’s heard of it, but Ashley replies that the event itself actually directly involved DJ’s personal intervention. She had discussed the event previously in 2010 and alluded to it in 2011. […]

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