TAM: For the Ladies?

Jen McCreight and PZ Myers have both posted on this — how welcome are women to skeptic events?

I want to say, before I get into some of the less flattering stuff, that I had an excellent time at TAM8 and I met a lot of really interesting, cool people, both men and women.  And many of the women there were strong, outspoken and hilarious, so even if the women are under-represented, they’re well-represented.  I say under-represented because there was a 20 guy long line to the men’s bathroom and no wait to the women’s bathroom.  If that doesn’t speak to gender ratio, what does?

Of course, there were the constant murmurs of how every guy wants to “bag a skepchick” and the winners of the skepchick party costume contest were the girls willing to make out with each other, but I generally accept that with just some eye-rolling.  There were comments I heard about the looks of the female speakers, but then people were making fun of James Randi and Michael Shermer’s height, so maybe that plays out.

I hang out with geeks, I like geeks, I like geek humor, and a lot of that is offensive if you’re easily offended.  And there can certainly be an air of sketchiness around some of those guys with less familiarity with social interaction, and I will say that TAM was a lot less creepy than Comic Con or Dragon*Con when it came to my average interaction with a strange dude.  People there seemed to be genuinely interested in what I had to say, and the environment seemed to be as deliberately nonsexual as possible most of the time.  Though I was occasionally asked if I was in high school, but ageism is a whole nother thing.

I was, however, really bothered by how the female psychic, Anita Ikonen, was treated and talked about.

I understand that the “other” in a skeptic convention is not going to be gender, race, or sexuality but opinion and point of view.  Someone who thinks that they have magical powers is automatically going to be the center of a fair amount of eye-rolling, derision and name-calling.  It’s natural for groups to behave that way, unfortunately, and I’m not here to say that I support the things Anita believes or even her behavior, I don’t know her that well.  But I will say that most of the insults and jeers thrown her way were all based around the fact that she was a young and attractive woman.

Someone called her, on her facebook page, a “psychic slut”.  Many people at TAM accused her of using her sexuality to her advantage, of sleeping around, of sexually getting off on attention.

I will break this down in a second, but let me make one thing very clear: No one, male or female, should ever call a woman a slut.  The intent of that word is to make a woman feel ashamed of her sexuality, to humiliate her, to make her feel degraded.  Not only does it shame the woman in question, it also makes every other woman scared of admitting to being a sexual creature.

It is the fear of being thought a slut that keeps women from accepting their own sexuality and it keeps victims of rape and molestation from feeling safe revealing that they’ve been hurt.  There is, in my opinion, no more hurtful word you can use towards a woman, it is as vile and low as the N-word.  And society uses it to keep women in their place, especially uppity women with opinions and beliefs you disagree with.

So, if you want to say this psychic woman revels in attention, fine, but you don’t get to start calling her names because you don’t like attractive women who are at home with their own sexuality.  You do that and you start driving away the skeptical women in the group.  I don’t want to be part of a group that slut-shames any woman who doesn’t agree with them, though I don’t think the majority of the skeptical group is guilty of that behavior.

I talked to Anita yesterday, I let her know I was writing this and she told me some other things that had happened to her.  She got turned away from taking pictures with a skeptic celebrity with a brusque, “I’m married,” as though she was trying to sleep with them rather than get a photo, and she was asked to send topless photos to a skeptic when they learned she was a psychic.  I know I just went off the other day on how skeptics don’t need to show a consistent face, but this behavior is completely unacceptable in any human.

The girl may be nuts, she may have HPD, she may be incredibly attention hungry for whatever reason, but that doesn’t make her a slut.  I know some people may have personal reasons to dislike her or the discord she apparently causes, but that doesn’t make her a slut.  And if you hate her, fine, and if you hate that the JREF brings her more publicity, fine, but you don’t get to go around complaining that she’s too flirtatious or that she gets all this attention just for being young and cute.  If people react to that in a way you don’t like, it’s their own fault.

This reminds me of the TDS kerfluffle.  Everyone is pissed at TDS for not hiring enough women or having enough visible women.  So, when does everyone get really vocal about it?  When TDS hires an attractive, sexualized woman.  Guess what?  Women have sex!  Women can have sex and be funny!  Olivia Munn is being punished and slut-shamed for pursuing a career in comedy because she’s not the right kind of woman.  You think that when you complain about it the only person you’re hurting is The Daily Show?  How would you feel if someone hiring you turned into an internet shit storm about how you posed in Playboy and just aren’t that funny on G4?

The feminist movement can really hurt women who aren’t the “right kind of woman”.  Women who are naturally thin (real women have curves), like to have sex (sex is men taking advantage of women), or really like clothes or barbies or the color pink.  It’s hard enough to be a woman, it’s hard enough to be different, can’t we let women be human?  Can’t we let them be sexual beings without trying to make them feel horrible about themselves?  Can’t we focus on the intellectual shit instead of petty bitchery?

Phil Plait Says Don’t Be A Dick

OK, so, Mr. Plait, who I am told is normally super super awesome and does genuinely seem like a nice guy, really irritated the shit out of me during TAM. And I say this with as much respect as possible and I acknowledge that this is my first exposure to him, and that people who know him and his work took what he was saying a bit differently than did I. He was basically saying that skeptics have a tone problem and more flies with honey and stop being assholes.

My level of being incredibly irritated with him for trying to be the Skeptic Tone Police has subsided a bit, partially because I think he didn’t mean it the way he said it. I think he was using general language because his argument was a little sloppy, not because he genuinely thinks no one should ever raise their voice in angry disagreement. To me, however, it sounded like he was saying “Christopher Hitchens, PZed and Dawkins have all got to stop being so strident and angry and dickish. Why can’t we all just get along?” But, apparently he was saying “The JREF forums are fucking hellish”. But I don’t read the JREF forums, so I wouldn’t know.

I agree that, generally speaking, you should be nice to someone you’re trying to convince if you’re having an argument with them to convince them. But, and this is important, that’s not the only reason you have arguments. Sometimes it’s to convince everyone else that you’re right, regardless of what the other person thinks. The internet is an amazing place where your arguments are all public. Sometimes humiliating someone who has a stupid point of view has the effect of convincing everyone else that you are right. Particularly if you can do it in a hilarious way. Hitchens made me OK with self-identifying atheist simply because he was such a hilariously snobby jerkface.

The entire speech was somewhat patronizing — here’s daddy figure Phil Plait telling us all to mind our Ps and Qs and not be so abrasive because daddy doesn’t like that. Pissed me off something hardcore having to sit through him lecturing me about being too mean to people. I felt the same way in a thread over on Pharyngula where people were saying women didn’t like how abrasive the skeptics/atheists are. It’s not true, I love it, it’s entertaining, it’s informative, it’s fun. I’m not a weak little girl, daddy doesn’t get to tell me to play nice with others.

And the fact is most of the people he’s talking about are people who are incredibly nice, polite and respectful in person. He’s got a problem with their online behavior. And frankly, it’s the fucking internet, that’s how people are and to fucking yell at a bunch of people who are really into the same thing you are because you don’t like the tone they take is a bit much.

AND I take issue with him treating skepticism as something we should be in charge of proselytizing. If I want to have an angry discussion about people hacking off little girls privates and be a complete dick to anyone who disagrees with me, I get to do that. Will that change people’s minds, I dunno, but it’s my way of dealing with the information and skepticism isn’t some fucking religion that has rules. His speech, more than anything, makes me a bit reticent to call myself a skeptic rather than an atheist because it makes me think he wants it to be treated as a religion, and that makes me very squeamish.

I know that this wasn’t the first skeptic event for most of the people in the crowd, but it basically was for me… and now I’m quite skeptical of this whole “Skeptic Movement”. I’m an uppity ginger, and I’m not joining any “movement” that tells me that who I am is not OK.

And, as I said, I don’t think that that was what he intended, I suspect it was at least partially him venting about behavior he witnesses online, and, as he doesn’t know me, I’m 80% sure it was not intended as a personal affront. Which is good, because then he’d be guilty of the behavior he’s denouncing. And probably he didn’t mean it was never OK to raise your voice in a crowded room, but that’s sure what it sounded like to me.