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Jun 02 2012

Skepticism gone wild

There’s such a thing as hyper-skepticism (as Jason calls it) – as skepticism pushed past (or steered right around) reasonable skepticism into its own opposite, questioning items that there’s no real reason to question. Evolution by natural selection is one such item; Obama’s birth in Hawaii is another; the utility of vaccinations is another; the superiority of non-alternative medicine to alternative medicine is another.

The reality of casual contempt for women is another. The fact that that reality makes at least some women feel less than “safe” is another.

Salty Current elucidates in a comment at Jason’s.

It’s not a safe space when women publicly talking about the problems of harassment and misogyny are accused by prominent people in the movement of doing it as some sort of self-promotion or drama-stirring for attention or blog hits, or when the behavior cited in their examples is ignored, dismissed, or excused. It’s not a safe space when women who talk about these issues publicly then have to face a stream of vicious, misogynistic attacks and slurs.

No, it’s not.It’s odd the way this fact keeps getting brushed aside. Streams of vicious verbal attacks feel like steps on the way to worse attacks, including violence. That’s not batshit crazy, you know, because sometimes streams of vicious verbal attacks are exactly that.

 

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  1. 1
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Hey – thanks for the nod!

    Streams of vicious verbal attacks feel like steps on the way to worse attacks, including violence. That’s not batshit crazy, you know, because sometimes streams of vicious verbal attacks are exactly that.

    And as I was just saying over there, the relative absence of harassment or physical assault should be the absolute minimum expected for a space to feel safe and be somewhere not avoided by many women. An environment can be extremely hostile even if it’s not physically threatening, and people rightly want to steer clear of such environments.

  2. 2
    Skepgineer

    “accused by prominent people in the movement of doing it as some sort of self-promotion or drama-stirring for attention or blog hits”

    Point of fact: DJ did not say that. He explicitly said he thought the complainants were well-meaning, i.e. not doing it for self promotion / drama-stirring.

    The blogochamber telephone game exaggerates the hell out of everything.

  3. 3
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Point of fact:

    I think as skeptics, it behooves us to be a bit more generous with others in disagreement, to be slower to vilify, and to engage in less scorched-earthing. I know it may be good for blog hits, but it is bad for skepticism and in my view, is antithetical to our values.

  4. 4
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Another point of fact: Grothe is not the only prominent person in the movement.

  5. 5
    woo_monster

    D.J. Grothe,

    What I do think is precisely what I have said: that I believe some of the controversies in the atheist blogosphere (certainly not limited to topics related to feminism or sexism) appear to me to be fomented for the hits that result. If I am wrong, and blog hits are no motivation in writing such posts, I will happily stand corrected.

    From Greta Christina’s Blog, comment #90. Link:
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2012/01/09/two-questions-for-dj-grothe/#comment-51593

  6. 6
    Aratina Cage

    OT: Welp, I triggered the spam filter again, so I’ll just let you know, Ophelia, that Rebecca linked to a very funny web comic on Twitter a few hours ago that I hope you got a chance to look at. It is so relevant to an incident you went through recently where a man who you didn’t know tried to order you to smile when you walked by as if you were there to do his bidding.

  7. 7
    Sheesh

    Skepgineer, before you post again on this topic, I expect we’ll see a retraction.

  8. 8
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Point of fact #3:

    I read the whole thing on Facebook, as I often do such controversies on FB — even if I rarely surf the atheist blogs because they often seem to present controversies, possibly unduly fomented just to drive readership (and who can fault professional writers for wanting to drive traffic to their words).

  9. 9
    Aratina Cage

    And glancing at that link to Greta’s where DJ says that Greta treated the instigator “unfairly”, I also want to say that it frustrates me immensely to see gay men participating in this skepticism gone wild about women’s experiences of harassment and often leading with the verbal attacks.

  10. 10
    Sheesh

    Well obvs, when a gay dude says he was bullied, his word is his bond; a lady in an elevator needs the video tape. Amirite?

  11. 11
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    From Greta Christina’s Blog, comment #90. Link:

    Jesus, just read the several quotations from him GC presents towards the end of that post! I’d forgotten the extent of it.

  12. 12
    woo_monster

    Jesus, just read the several quotations from him GC presents towards the end of that post! I’d forgotten the extent of it.

    Yeah, I forgot how bad it was as well. I am trying not to get wrapped up re-reading those threads. Just glimpsing at them briefly, I recall how pissed I was. Maybe tonight after a few beers.

  13. 13
    Aratina Cage

    It must be something like that, Sheesh. Or maybe they treat other gay men who say they have been harassed or bullied with the same kind of condescension and skepticism gone wild. (It makes me think of the people who say that Matthew Shepard wasn’t slaughtered and left hanging like a scarecrow because he was gay and his killers hated gay people.)

  14. 14
    Aratina Cage

    Skeptifem #321 on that thread at Greta’s also has quite a bit of info on sexual harassment that was going on at, guess where? TAM!

  15. 15
    Sheesh

    (Right, and not to get into the weeds, but those are the same sorts that deny “hate crimes” even exist, by definition, etc.? I mean, aren’t those deniers way more “out there” than garden variety MRA/PUA-sympathizers, which seem, I dunno, everywhere? The normal people I know don’t deny that hate crimes are “a thing”.)

  16. 16
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    And glancing at that link to Greta’s where DJ says that Greta treated the instigator “unfairly”, I also want to say that it frustrates me immensely to see gay men participating in this skepticism gone wild about women’s experiences of harassment and often leading with the verbal attacks.

    And there’s something a little strange going on in that the subject of their sexual orientation seems to come up so frequently in these discussions. In the thread I link to above there are a couple of examples – one there and one linked to from another thread – of Grothe pointing out that Long is gay, and Hallquist’s latest quotes Grothe mentioning that he himself is gay. I’ve seen it wielded as some sort of attempted gotcha in these discussions when it’s not at all relevant to the argument, and found it odd. It’s like some people think being gay makes you somehow immune from sexist or misogynistic attitudes or behavior or gives you such special insight that you can recognize them better than women and tell women what’s what.

  17. 17
    Pteryxx

    re the old GC thread: Wow. Hallq was right in there defending DJ Grothe to the hilt, as he’s doing again now at his own blog.

  18. 18
    Sheesh

    SC, “It’s like some people think being gay makes you somehow immune from sexist or misogynistic attitudes or behavior or gives you such special insight that you can recognize them better than women and tell women what’s what.” Sure, sure, because the schoolyard trope that the uninformed carry with them forever is that a gay man is just a woman trapped in a man’s body. I shit you not. See also, transphobia!

  19. 19
    Sheesh

    (That’s why all gays are so fashionable and fabulous donchaknow? Like, all good women are fashionable. Blah blah blah.)

  20. 20
    Pteryxx

    (That’s why all gays are so fashionable and fabulous donchaknow? Like, all good women are fashionable. Blah blah blah.)

    Argh. That’s why I’d just as soon stay a small dinobird; it’s much easier than trying to figure out if I’m a gay guy or a lesbian.

  21. 21
    Jason Thibeault

    Thanks for the link, Ophelia.

    Yeah, I’ve noticed the “but I’m gay” defense as well. By pointing out one area of privilege, that inures him to accusations of privilege in other areas perhaps? I don’t know.

  22. 22
    Jason Thibeault

    Pteryxx @17: at least he’s not using Harry Potter fanfiction as a rhetorical club against his myriad strawpeople this time.

  23. 23
    Silentbob

    @ 16 SC, @ 21 Jason Thibeault

    Are you sure you’re not just pretending not to understand?

    Two of the most common accusations hurled at any man who gets into a disagreement with a feminist are:

    - he’s a “pick-up artist” who wants women malleable so that he can manipulate them into satisfying his own sexual needs,

    - he’s a geek who can’t get laid, so he bares a grudge against women because he blames them for his sexual frustration.

    The only relevance of Grothe’s sexual orientation is that is makes it difficult to credibly apply these well-worn, knee-jerk responses to him.

  24. 24
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    @ 16 SC, @ 21 Jason Thibeault

    Are you sure you’re not just pretending not to understand?

    Two of the most common accusations hurled at any man who gets into a disagreement with a feminist are:

    - he’s a “pick-up artist” who wants women malleable so that he can manipulate them into satisfying his own sexual needs,

    - he’s a geek who can’t get laid, so he bares a grudge against women because he blames them for his sexual frustration.

    The only relevance of Grothe’s sexual orientation is that is makes it difficult to credibly apply these well-worn, knee-jerk responses to him.

    I’m not going to bother with your strange loaded question or silly premise, and this will probably be my only response to you. In cases in which this speculation is invoked* to account for sexist or misogynistic statements or actions, a response that the person is gay is reasonable in contesting that particular assumption (but doesn’t fundamentally change the statement or behavior in question). In cases in which people haven’t speculated in that way, noting that someone’s gay is totally irrelevant. It’s stupid as a defense since there are sources of sexism or misogyny outside of sexual “conquest” or frustration. We live in a sexist and misogynistic culture. Straight women can say and do sexist and misogynistic things, so there’s no reason to think being a gay man makes you immune or particularly aware.

    *Sometimes with good reason, as when the person has said things that support that interpretation.

  25. 25
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Moreover, in both cases I was referring to it was pointed out by them and their defenders explicitly as part of a claim of some special understanding and ally status that would supposedly make sexism or misogyny unlikely – Long the gay women’s studies major and Grothe “as a gay man I feel I’m sensitive to issues of sexism and homosexism.”

  26. 26
    echidna

    The only relevance of Grothe’s sexual orientation is that is makes it difficult to credibly apply these well-worn, knee-jerk responses to him

    Here is one thought: he may simply not care for women, making it very easy for him to absorb mainstream misogyny without any qualms.

  27. 27
    Silentbob

    @ 24,25 SC

    OK, I apologise for the insinuation in the “strange loaded question”.

  28. 28
    Aratina Cage

    Yeah, I don’t know what it is that is causing gay men to use their sexual orientation as a shield against the accusation of misogyny or why so many seem unable to understand why sexist slurs and gaslighting and shooting the messenger are not OK when it comes to women’s personal experiences, but all of those points everyone brought up are worth considering.

  29. 29
    Josh Slocum

    I can vouch for the fact that a lot of gay men seem to think they can’t be sexists or misogynists or enablers thereof on account of their gayness. Stupidly, I went around believing that for a long time and getting all pissy when someone dared suggest to me I was being a blind, privileged ass. So, yeah, I CAN’T BE SEXIST CUZ GAY is a thing. A very, very unfortunate thing, but a widespread thing.

  30. 30
    emily isalwaysright

    Also, the male homosexual community has a long history of misogyny actually. Gay rights activists had to do a lot of work in the early days to meliorate this in order to unify to create a strong movement.

  31. 31
    SallyStrange

    Yeah, gay guys are totally not immune to sexism, though, like many people who are oppressed along one axis but not along others, it seems to take a lot for them to realize this. (White feminists and their decades-long, ongoing racefail are the classic example of this; I am not immune either, as one of those white feminists.)

    Did you know that gay men can sexually harass women? It’s true! A gay dude groped my breasts drunkenly at a party once, with the disclaimer that “It’s okay, I’m gay!” You know, I don’t like having my breasts groped by anyone I’m not making out with/fucking, it really doesn’t matter who you are.

    So. Yeah, Grothe’s failure to grok this is disappointing and off-putting.

  32. 32
    Ophelia Benson

    Aratina @ 6 – I don’t see your comment in the spam filter, so can’t rescue it from there.

    Now to find Rebecca’s cartoon…

  33. 33
  34. 34
    Robert B

    I don’t assume anybody who should know better, does know better. Not anymore. I’ve seen the skeptical sausage being made, and it ain’t pretty. DJ should know better, but clearly doesn’t. When his biggest supporters are saying the hateful things they have said over the last year about anybody that dares expose the problems of the community, you have a problem. Its like getting an endorsement from the Phelps cult. It should be a huge warning sign that you are doing something wrong and need to fix things now.

    I wonder if he can see that from where he is sitting…

  35. 35
    Siverly

    Please. Less opinion, more scholarly citation?

  36. 36
    Pteryxx

    Siverly: citations in the article linked in the OP.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/lousycanuck/2012/06/02/the-further-hyper-skepticism-stalling-our-conversation/

    See also, chilly climate research, extensively linked here:

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cocktail-party-physics/2011/07/20/is-it-cold-in-here/

  37. 37
    carlie

    Please. Less opinion, more scholarly citation?

    Please. Less condescension, more reading the information that has already been provided to you?

  38. 38
    HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr

    Josh @ #29: Oh yeah. I’ve seen that a damn number of times.

    SallyStrange @ #31: (Trigger warning for sexual assault) Yep. I was assaulted in the bathroom of a queer-friendly club by a dude. it was fine that he was in the women’s room “because he was gay”, and he couldn’t possibly have cornered me with his friends and stuck his hands up my skirt in there “because he was gay”. Yeah no.

    Robert B @ #34: That’s about it, yeah.

  39. 39
    Critic

    I don’t think we should call it “hyper-skepticism”. I don’t think it has anything to do with skepticism at all. If anything, it’s a refusal to be skeptical about assumed ideas – refusing to rethink one’s religious views on evolution, refusing to accept a black man as president, refusing to believe that the atheist community isn’t immune to sexism.

    Skepticism is about analyzing the merits of a claim based on the value of its evidence. In all those above examples, the superficial appearance of skepticism is much more about defending an alternative belief that has shittier evidence. The hyper scrutiny creationists apply to evolution has obviously not been applied to their own presuppositions. What you’re calling “hyper-skepticism” is really just cognitive dissonance.

    I think skepticism is purely a good thing, and we shouldn’t let people confuse it with denialism.

  40. 40
    Pteryxx

    What you’re calling “hyper-skepticism” is really just cognitive dissonance.

    Under the surface, it is, but I think “hyper-skepticism” refers to a specific set of false justifications that look credible to skeptics because they are familiar: discounting firsthand experience as anecdotal, demanding proof or hard data, attacking subjective interpretations. Those tactics have their uses, but they aren’t appropriate here.

  41. 41
    Emptyell

    I would characterize this “hyper-skepticism” as anti-skepticism. Kind of like:

    “So you’re skeptical of my (religion, climate denial, anti-vax, alt-med……………). Well I’m skeptical of your skepticism. So there. We’re even.”

  42. 42
    Deen

    @Emptyell in #42: more like “you can’t even prove you’re not a brain in a vat, so nyah!”

  43. 43
    Critic

    Under the surface, it is, but I think “hyper-skepticism” refers to a specific set of false justifications that look credible to skeptics because they are familiar:

    Oh, I see what you mean.

    Still, it’s probably a mistake to play into the confusion.

  44. 44
    screechymonkey

    You could also call it “selective skepticism.” For example: “YOUR claim that the skeptical community is not a safe space is bad skepticism because it’s only supported by anecdotes and personal opinions, but MY claim that the reason fewer women are registering for TAM is scaremongering by attention-seeking bloggers is perfectly sound because here, look at these anecdotes I have!”

  1. 45
    Freethought Blogs | 0penwide

    [...] Skepticism gone wild There s such a thing as hyper skepticism as Jason calls it as skepticism pushed…. [...]

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