Harriet Hall has yet another post explaining why she’s right and everyone who thinks otherwise is wrong. She says this is the last post on the subject, and thank god for that. This final post is about the T shirt.
Like the other two, it’s not impressive. She’s astonishingly unwilling or unable to admit even that her intentions were not necessarily self-evident, let alone that she simply went out of her way to make a hostile public statement about some people who had already been on the receiving end of a lot of hostile public statements.
I didn’t want to talk about the T-shirt, but I’ve been repeatedly challenged to explain myself, and I’m afraid I can no longer avoid it. Steven Novella has recommended that we try to give other people’s arguments the most charitable interpretation. I hope my critics will do that, but I’m not optimistic. If past experience is any guide, they will misinterpret my explanation and put it in the worst possible light, which is why I haven’t offered it before.
See what I mean? It couldn’t be that the T shirt wasn’t as limpidly clear as she seems to think, no, it has to be that Other People are simply determined to be big poopy heads. It couldn’t be that her critics are increasingly irritated by passive-aggressive bullshit like that very passage, no, it has to be that they are determined to misinterpret everything she says.
That’s not a good start. That doesn’t make me think her explanation will be honest or that she will manage to be at all self-critical.
To set the scene for the T-shirt incident, there was a complex backstory involving Elevatorgate, Richards Dawkins, insults and threats directed at women, a perception that TAM’s anti-harassment policy was not being enforced, objections to a statement JREF President DJ Grothe made, accusations that Grothe had lied about reports of harassment, and numerous other incidents, many of which were blown way out of proportion. All this had left big chips firmly glued to shoulders.
Or not. That’s another bad start. Maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t our fault for being annoyed that DJ blamed “some women” for talking about women and harassment, maybe it was DJ’s fault for blaming “some women” for talking about harassment. If Hall can’t entertain even the possibility of that even for a second, her “explanation” is not going to be worth much. Maybe ours were not the only shoulders that had chips on them.
It was in that context that Rebecca Watson announced in June, 2012, that she was cancelling her plans to attend TAM in July. The reason she gave was that “I do not feel safe and welcome at TAM.” I was willing to take that at face value, as an “I” statement, not as a warning that women in general were not safe and welcome there.
Oh no no no no no. That’s wrong. That’s not the reason Rebecca gave – it’s much more complicated than that. The reason she gave was that DJ pretty much publicly spat in her face by saying she was one of the women scaring other women away from TAM, despite the fact that she had promoted TAM and helped fund women’s attendance there for years*. Hall must know that perfectly well. But I suppose it doesn’t do to mention it, because it doesn’t do to admit that DJ did anything wrong?
And that omission makes a mess of everything that follows. Hall’s story is that Rebecca just randomly said she didn’t feel safe at TAM, as if it were full of tigers and rattlesnakes, and Hall was just sending a counter-message on a friendly T shirt because she knew there were no tigers or rattlesnakes. But the first part is total bullshit, so the second part is too.
As an afterthought, I used the back of the shirt to express a long held opinion: “I’m a skeptic. Not a ‘skepchick.’ Not a ‘woman skeptic.’ Just a skeptic.” The word skepchick predates the Skepchick organization. It was used at least as early as 1999, it was in common use on the JREF Forum for years before Rebecca’s first appearance there in 2004, and the Skepchick website wasn’t registered until 2005. I was thinking of the word in its earlier, more general sense, which is why I didn’t capitalize it. I have explained that my stance is a matter of personal preference and does not imply any disrespect for those whose preferences are different. I even asked, “Please try to understand that ‘I like to do it my way’ does not equate to ‘I’m accusing you of being wrong for doing it your way.’” If I say I prefer to cook my chicken by stir-frying, that doesn’t mean I think you are wrong to roast yours, and I’m certainly not trying to tell you that you should switch to stir-frying. I can appreciate that both cooking methods can produce delicious meals.
Bullshit. I’m sorry to keep repeating myself, but bullshit. That would be credible if the slogan were actually about stir-frying, but it’s not credible at all since it’s not. And if she really seriously truly honestly meant it as just announcing a personal preference (but why? why there, and then? why on that subject?) then she could have just said she was terribly sorry, she didn’t realize it would be misconstrued. She could have stopped wearing it, instead of wearing it more. She could say that now, at least. But no. She’s still pretending it was just a random remark with no relevance to anyone at TAM. That is not even a little bit credible.
*Update February 22: I was vague on the details, and short on time, when I wrote that, but several people provided unvague details in comments. Rebecca owns Skepchick, which promotes Amy’s grants; for several years before Amy started raising money, Rebecca single-handedly produced Skepchick calendars, the sales of which all went exclusively to sending women to TAM; and then there’s edithkeeler’s contribution @ 28:
I went to TAM in 2009 (came all the way from Australia specifically to go to TAM – MEGA REAL SKEPTIC COOKIES PLEASE?) and won an auction at jref forums to have lunch with the Skepchicks the proceeds (several hundred bucks from me & there were 2 winners so double that total) of which went to scholarships to attend. General JREF scholarships, not the Surly Amy ones (IIRC) so yes actually Rebecca was involved in fundraising to send people to TAM, apart from Amy’s sterling work.
Rebecca herself had forgotten that one.