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Feb 05 2013

Repairs under way

As you may have seen via this comment on A fabulous Manly Meal, Harriet Hall has a long post on Gender Differences and Why They Don’t Matter So Much. The key point is -

Average Differences Don’t Tell Us Anything About Individuals

The point that often gets overlooked in these discussions is that gender differences are averages for the group. They are irrelevant to a discussion of what jobs any individual woman is qualified for or interested in. And it doesn’t mean we can predict what proportion of men or women will gravitate to any given area of human endeavor.

Precisely. I keep saying exactly that.

But even more interesting than the post, perhaps, is a comment by David Gorski (Orac, you know). It’s the 8th one down – there are no permalinks for comments.

To be fair, in another article Shermer did rather foolishly inflame the issue by calling the issue a “witch hunt” and including a mind-numbingly silly and gratuitous Nazi reference:

http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=fi&page=shermer_33_2

It was not one of Shermer’s finer moments, I’m afraid.

Also, to be fair, there is a misogyny problem in the skeptical movement. It’s hard not to come to that conclusion if you spend some time perusing the Slymepit:

http://slymepit.com

We’ve given Gorski a hard time here a few times lately (on and off) for not calling out Shermer’s Nazi reference when he did call out a considerably milder one of mine. (Milder in the sense that I didn’t compare Grothe to Nazis, I compared blaming women for complaining to blaming Jews for complaining in 1936 [i.e. Nazi but pre-Final Solution] Germany.) So there we go: now he has. Fair’s fair.

But what he says about the misogyny problem and the slyme pit is even more striking. Exactly so, and thank you for saying so. Seriously.

Stephanie recorded a lot of examples the other day, ending with one for me.

 acid cunt prune

 “I’M A BIT OF A CUNT WHEN I’M ON ACID!!!”

Geddit? I’m ancient and disgusting, I’m a cunt, and I deserve some acid. Funny stuff.

Yes, we have a misogyny problem in the skeptical movement. If the sane part of the skeptical movement explicitly distances itself from that kind of shit the way David Gorski did, then the problem will become much smaller.

66 comments

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  1. 1
    Anthony K

    Should any of the Slymepitters show up to whine and cry about being unfairly described as misogynists, just imagine David Gorski is saying so with an outstretched middle finger, just like FREE SPEECH Dan from Straya Cunts.

  2. 2
    eric

    Hall’s point was also made by Gould in (in hindsight, the somewhat inappropriately titled) The Mismeasure of Man. Though Gould was focused on the bad science behind race-based generalizations and the book The Bell Curve rather than sex-based differences, the exact same argument applies: you will very often be wrong if you go by average measures in cases were you’re comparing two groups with (a) close averages and (b) wide distributions. A and B are both true for most sex- and race-based characteristics (assuming for sake of argument that the difference you’re interested in is real, which it may not be).

  3. 3
    Gnumann+, out&proud cultural marxist (just don't ask me about Gramsci)

    This is good.

    It would of course be better if Harriet Hall realised that while gender should be irrelevant for any given position, it isn’t. Paper after paper documents that women have to achieve more to be judged equal to men. Sticking ones head in the sand or pointing to the fact that it was worse back then does not help.

    And that’s even before we’ve discussed how the criteria for any given position is set.

  4. 4
    Udo Schuklenk

    I have been following this for awhile now. Completely bizarre, why would anyone of sane mind post stuff like the image you reproduced above? It’s a mystery to me. I mean, how about going after patriarchal sexist outfits like the Roman Catholic Church instead? What’s wrong with these people?

  5. 5
    adriana

    This is indeed great news!

  6. 6
    mythbri

    @eric #2

    I quite enjoyed The Mismeasure of Man, and in the paperback edition I own, Gould has a prelude in which he acknowledges the gendered title. Indeed, he did spend some time in the book itself talking about how phrenologists used average skull size to determine intelligence, and how this was held up as proof of women’s intellectual deficiency (i.e., “it’s more of a guy thing”). Gould’s focus was on race and de-bunking The Bell Curve, so I understand why he didn’t focus more on sexual discrimination there.

    But he does acknowledge it in later editions.

  7. 7
    michaeld

    I’m not entirely sure why the conversation took almost 2 months (?) to get this far but better late then never.

  8. 8
    mythbri

    @Udo #3

    I would agree with you, except that I would say that no one deserves this kind of harassment. Criticism, yes – let’s criticize patriarchal religions. We have evidence on our side, and sure, our criticism can get heated.

    But not harassment on level with the Slymepit.

  9. 9
    Aratina Cage

    I’m actually a little stunned Orac did show some consistency on this topic. Better late than never, though I wish he would have publicly addressed it to Shermer on Shermer’s blog/column, but good enough for me if it is good enough for you, Ophelia. :) His nod to the problem we have with the slimepit was also long overdue coming.

    Also, good to see Dr. Hall willing to discuss her thoughts on this one matter publicly. I hope to see more of that, too, instead of quirky, rudely ambiguous t-shirt slogans.

    As for Dan, Straya Cunt, I hope someone knows who he really is and where he lives so none of the rest of us ever have to worry about the possibility of running into that creep at some atheist meet up.

  10. 10
    Xanthë, Amy of my threads

    Positive statements from Drs Harriet Hall and David Gorski? This is pleasing to see, and a vast improvement over snarky digs via T-shirt.

    Also being an Australian, I’m embarrassed to have any association (however distant, one hopes) with a countryman as benighted and contemptible as FREEZE PEACH Dan, who lists his location as Straya Cunts.

  11. 11
    jenniferphillips

    I hope someone knows who he really is and where he lives so none of the rest of us ever have to worry about the possibility of running into that creep at some atheist meet up.

    Aratina Cage, that’s the beauty of it, isn’t it? “Dan” of “Straya Cunts” doesn’t ever have to worry about nasty things turning up in his email–or actual mail–box. He’s carefreely anonymous! Hurrah for consequence-free FreezePeach!

    I keep looking at the explanatory sentence “Jerry Conlon this is how you mock Ophie without giving her victim points!”

    So, just so we’re clear, Ophelia: NO Victim Points will be awarded for your depiction, for the purposes of amusing random Others, as a cunty prune. Also none for the belittlng nickname or the plainly stated goal of mockery.

    Thank you, pit people, for the lesson on how to do ‘threat-free’ comedy. My sides still ache.

  12. 12
    Ophelia Benson

    Udo, I don’t know. I can never figure it out. I would think eventually self-disgust would kick in, but it doesn’t.

  13. 13
    Aratina Cage

    Right, jenniferphillips. After all, earning Victim Points is everyone’s goal here, isn’t it? But how can one earn them if the bar is set so incredibly high? (Well, I guess Dan is tacitly admitting that Ophelia did earn some by being propelled over that bar, brushing against it as she sailed past, thanks to Conlon, but what about the rest of us, huh?) Dan spoiled it for all of us by allowing retconning (“Acid? ACID!”) to cancel out Victim Points (see also the practice of retconning to earn Victim Points–something the slimepit does well: “Dick? DICK!” “Pop-tart? POP-TART!”). What a jerk.

  14. 14
    Wowbagger, Designated Snarker

    The more people who aren’t directly involved with FTB/Skepchicks/A+ who are willing to point at the Slymepit and say ‘here are the misogynists who are making the atheist community unwelcoming’ the better.

  15. 15
    jenniferphillips

    I guess Dan is tacitly admitting that Ophelia did earn some by being propelled over that bar, brushing against it as she sailed past, thanks to Conlon, but what about the rest of us, huh?

    That’s because she’s a (*breathy sigh*) Professional Victim.
    We amateurs can only stand in awe and hope an apprenticeship opens up at some point.

    Wowbagger, I agree. The roiling, festering piles of evidence there should make it fairly straightforward for people to explicitly separate themselves from those sentiments, whatever other substantive criticisms/differences of opinion may exist. Someone at the pit recently suggested that Blackford and/or Stangroom may have made such a move recently; that is, plainly stated that he/they did not approve of the content there. There were no links or screenshots to follow, but I’m guessing it was either skepticink or twitter-derived.

  16. 16
    Ophelia Benson

    The Professional Victims’ Union is very tough! We don’t let people in just for the asking. No indeed. You have to know somebody – preferably a relative – already in the union. Our union is tougher to get into than SAG.

    Yes, Stangroom tweeted very qualified limited disapproval of some content at the mildew pit the other day…in a tweet he prefaced with “Stephanie Zvan is an ignorant bully but”.

  17. 17
    michaeld

    Oddly lately my google ads keeps showing a course from a local college in “victimology” turns out its a real 1 year program… just in victims rights and support not being a victim.

  18. 18
    jenniferphillips

    Yes, Stangroom tweeted very qualified limited disapproval of some content at the mildew pit the other day…in a tweet he prefaced with “Stephanie Zvan is an ignorant bully but”.

    Well how nice that he can neatly separate himself from only the very worst, and bear no responsibility for all that paved the way there.

    Here’s another example of this, from the weekend: Pitters were very quick to distance themselves from a ragey, threatening outburst (reproduced here), to the point that the original content was actually modified (FREEZE PE…oh, wait), but were oblivious to how people might expect an approving audience for such things at that place. One has naught to do with the other, I’m sure. How very unskeptical of me to believe otherwise.

  19. 19
    Wowbagger, Designated Snarker

    Once they get to the point of not prefacing things with ‘So-and-so from FTB/Skepchick is a bully…’ and just flat-out condemning the misogyny we might start taking them seriously again. Conflating the two issues is weaksauce.

  20. 20
    Ophelia Benson

    Not going to happen. They hate us like poison. Reasons are obscure.

  21. 21
    Ophelia Benson

    But now for some reason Gorski is bullying me again, so that’s the end of that attempt at conversation.

  22. 22
    Aratina Cage

    But now for some reason Gorski is bullying me again, so that’s the end of that attempt at conversation.

    He is always right, you know. There is no conversation, just him relaying “facts” to us ignorami.

  23. 23
    A Hermit

    There’s an excellent comment over there by someone named Sunil D’Monte. In part:

    I wanted to recommend the book “Brain Storm” by Rebecca Jordan-Young (Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Brain-Storm-Flaws-Science-Differences/dp/0674063511/). It’s a thorough investigation of the field of “brain organisation” i.e. hardwired brain differences by sex and sexual orientation. One of Jordan-Young’s premises is that because these studies are _observational_ studies (as well as questionnaire studies) and not true experiments (by necessity – you can’t ethically subject human beings to varying hormone treatments and then control their growth environment), it isn’t enough to pick a few studies (as typical proponents do). You need to do a _synthesis_ of all the work done, and see if any conclusions can be made. So she did a synthesis of 400 of the most-cited studies in the field upto 2008, and also interviewed 20-odd of the most cited scientists. And what she found was that the claims of hardwired sex differences in the brain are _not_ supported…

    …I disagree with the conclusion “it is unreasonable to expect that equal numbers of men and women will be attracted to every field of human endeavor.” Unless what you mean is, “given the sociological status quo, it should be no surprise”….

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/gender-differences-and-why-they-dont-matter-so-much/#comment-110889

  24. 24
    scoopdotorg

    Congratulations. You play a staring role in a new video by Mykeru.

  25. 25
    bad Jim

    Questions like “what are women like?” or “what are blacks like?” are generally unuseful because they’re bad questions. By their very nature they’re question-begging, assuming that the distinction being examined is susceptible to the sort of investigation being attempted.

    For example, we all know that Obama didn’t do well among white voters, except that he actually won most white voters in the northeast, split them evenly in the west, and was only a little behind in the midwest. The vote total was skewed by his overwhelming rejection by southern whites, who have a historical aversion to candidates from Illinois, or something.

  26. 26
    Tim Harris

    ‘The/ permeated spectra of hatred dominate/ all the wavebands, algal to hominid./ Do not take this as metaphor.’ J.H. Prynne

  27. 27
    'dirigible

    “Our union is tougher to get into than SAG.”

    Misread as “unicorn” on first reading.

  28. 28
    Bjarte Foshaug

    But now for some reason Gorski is bullying me again, so that’s the end of that attempt at conversation.

    Gravity appears to be back as well.

  29. 29
    rnilsson

    Is there no Orac-immunization program? Myself, I lost touch with his blog some months ago so I would probably not need that shot. But maybe others might benefit.

  30. 30
    theobromine

    It recently occurred to me that the “It Gets Better” initiative is based on the idea that the odious nastiness that goes on among kids and teens is considered unacceptable among mature, reasonable adults, so the kids are supposed to take comfort in the fact that if they can just make it through highschool they’ll be free to be themselves. I’m now wondering if this is a false premise and a false promise.

  31. 31
    Bruce Everett

    I have the strangest suspicion that self-disgust was achieved long ago in these people, and what we’re seeing is the dissonant, back-to-front result.

  32. 32
    rrede

    Results of a fascinating study showing that girls as a group outperform boys in a lot of countries (NOT the US) reported on in NY TIMES:

    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/02/04/science/girls-lead-in-science-exam-but-not-in-the-united-states.html

    I plan to keep link bookmarked to smack down the trolls in Manboobz who pop up all the time saying how women don’t/can’t do science, it’s SCIENTIFICALLY proved!

  33. 33
    jenniferphillips

    Ah, great link, rrede. Thanks! And perfect timing for me to reference for the upcoming high school symposium for Women in Science and Engineering I’m participating in next week.

  34. 34
    Aratina Cage

    I think there is a strong whiff of too much ego over there at present for repairs to go any further. Seems what repairs there were are quickly devolving into a shouting match over how you should have divined Shermer’s intent rather than taking it at face value (as, I remind everyone, the panel’s host did!).

    From what I’ve seen, from the collection of particular men who cannot be wrong and will scream at you and bully you if you dare step out of line from their POV, I think Rebecca Watson is a far stronger person than I have ever known for putting up with them all these years. Who knew?

  35. 35
    jenniferphillips

    ugh, the comments over there are ghastly. ‘Gender feminism’ has been trotted out, with recommendations of Hoff-Sommers’ book attached. Some Rebecca hater is just trolling away, linking to Justicar videos and banging on about the dictionary definition of ‘misogyny’. *headdeskinfinity*

  36. 36
    Martha

    #32 Thanks for that link, rrede. As a female scientist, I find this fascinating, especially that the situation is better in Asia and N. Europe than in the US and Western Europe. With respect to math, I’m told that Asian cultures emphasize the necessity to work hard to succeed in math, while we in the US tend to assume people are either good at it or not good at it. Almost 2 decades of university teaching in the sciences have convinced me that this is ridiculously untrue with respect to both math and science. Moreover, the attitude that natural ability is the sole dictator of success in STEM areas just means that anyone with a lower confidence level will simply give up as being “bad” at it.

    #35 Jennifer, I don’t know whether to feel worse for your head our your desk! ;-) But thank you for the warning; I’ll stay well away from the comments there.

  37. 37
    Martha

    Also, re self-disgust, I think the more often one has engaged in a behavior, the harder it is to see the behavior as wrong if one sees oneself as generally good. So people tend to harden their resistance to avoid the conclusion that they’re behaving like assholes. No matter how justified that conclusion may be.

  38. 38
    Ophelia Benson

    Yes, sigh. Even Steven Novella apparently doesn’t know how to read, or is pretending he doesn’t. “You said ‘exactly’!! That’s just as bad as what Shermer said!!!” Godalmighty. And I don’t think he’s even read the damn article. If you read the damn article it’s clear that it’s not about Shermer.

  39. 39
    jenniferphillips

    Martha you’ve nailed it. US girls are far less likely to get help in Math (and Science) if they’re struggling, far less likely to be encouraged if they’re succeeding. It’s better than it was when i was fighting my way through the naysayers to pursue a science career, but the change is very slow and the ‘girls can’t do math’ myth is still in play in my kids’ schools, sad to say.

    I just broke down and left a comment at SBM (I’m registered on wordpress under my old ‘nym Danio). I can only headdesk for so long before the dam breaks ;)

  40. 40
    jenniferphillips

    Ophelia yes, he seems to get that in one comment, and then he backtracks to the ‘equal bad’ position in the next comment. Weird. I guess it’s a small sign of encouragement that he and Gorski are both unambiguously calling out the sexism and misogyny. This is the first I’m aware of them having done so, anyway.

  41. 41
    NotAnAtheist


    The point that often gets overlooked in these discussions is that gender differences are averages for the group. They are irrelevant to a discussion of what jobs any individual woman is qualified for or interested in.

    Are they relevant.. to anything? If they are not relevant at all, why ever study them?

    Usually its the case that if “On average X is true (for a sample in a given population)”… its reasonable to assume that given a (randomly) drawn sample from that population that X is true. One will be right on average. That’s just simple mathematics.

  42. 42
    MKandefer

    Ophelia,

    I think Steve has a legitimate point. I think an average reader could leave your article thinking that you are accusing Shermer of believing women are inferior in intelligence and ability to advocate for skepticism/science (i.e., he is a sexist). I do not believe you meant this, but can see how one could think it only reading your article. I also think that the average listener after hearing Shermer’s response to the question could conclude that he made a sexist claim. I do think a more charitable interpretation is that he was commenting on the current state of affairs, without going the extra mile of explaining that this is regrettable and why that might be the case. I do think he should have gone the extra mile. I also think you could have been more careful in clarifying that you do not think Michael Shermer was a sexist in your article, just that he said something that could be interpreted as sexist. Either way, there seems to be an avenue where agreement can be reached. There were mistakes made by both parties in communicating effectively that are understandable.

    I have nothing to add to the witchhunt commentary Shermer made after these events. Both you and the Steve already agree on these matters. As do I.

  43. 43
    Shrikant

    This is a complete aside, but comments on SBM do have permalinks — they’re accessed via the tiny ‘#’ to the left of each commenter’s name.

    So the link to Dr. Gorski’s comment would be: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/gender-differences-and-why-they-dont-matter-so-much/#comment-110882

  44. 44
    Lyra

    Yeah, I was bothered by Gorski/Novella reaction. Let’s say you weren’t careful enough with the words you chose (something I don’t agree with). Well, this still reeks of victim blaming to me. Shermer is the one who said something sexist or if we give him the benefit of the doubt he said something at least easily construed as sexist. You called him out. Before anyone gives you shit for how you did it shouldn’t Shermer get at least twice as much shit first? Bah.

  45. 45
    jose

    I think Salty Current had a blog post discussing the supposed average differences, she said those differences were many times talked about as a given to defend pretty much Hall’s point, but that they were didn’t actually come out of the data. I don’t think this “men are better on average but that shouldn’t matter” argument it’s as settled as we realize.

  46. 46
    Ophelia Benson

    I also think you could have been more careful in clarifying that you do not think Michael Shermer was a sexist in your article, just that he said something that could be interpreted as sexist.

    No. I said he said something; I nowhere said he is something. The burden is not on me to prevent every possible misreading. There’s more of a burden of that kind in academic writing, and especially in philosophy, but that kind of writing is intolerably tedious for a normal educated-reader magazine.

    And as I’ve said, the article is not about Shermer. Going into great detail about the context and stipulating everything I didn’t mean would have unbalanced the article drastically and made it unreadable – and, ironically, more focused on Shermer.

    I quoted you above. I then said No. Do I have to stipulate now that I’m not negating you as a person?

  47. 47
    Ophelia Benson

    Or to put it more bluntly – because I’m in a filthy mood today – it would be downright stupid to read what I said as a general claim that Shermer is sexist, and I hate writing that assumes the reader is stupid, especially that stupid. I won’t write that way. I refuse.

  48. 48
    MKandefer

    Ophelia,

    Thanks for the response.

    [quote]The burden is not on me to prevent every possible misreading.[/quote]

    I agree that would be a onerous burden. However, that wasn’t the suggestion. The suggestion Steve is making is anticipating interpretations a reasonable reader could make, not what any conceivable reader could make. Now you may argue over whether or not it is reasonable or not to conclude that. Clearly, you feel only “stupid” people would. I do not. Given the context of your article as a piece about the sexist stereotypes present in atheist communities and that one of your motivating examples being of Shermer’s utterance, I can see how many readers of the magazine could come to the conclusion that Michael Shermer is being called sexist. I don’t think they are stupid (i.e., slow of mind), just not completely informed (i.e., ignorant). I can’t say if I would or would not be one of these stupid people as I read your article after your clarifications on the blog and thus have prior knowledge that aided interpretation.

    Regardless, Steve claims “many people [he has] spoken to took it that way.” Since this was in the context of a discussion of average reasonable people, I presume he thinks they are reasonable people as well and represent the average reader of the article. We probably won’t be able to do a good analysis of what the average reader took away, and since you would also say many people didn’t have that reaction, I’m sure, it’s a moot point. However, do you think it’s productive to just cast aside these people as “stupid”, or do you think their is value in getting the perspective of the people Steve has spoken to about the issue and using it to inform future writing on the subject?

  49. 49
    Ophelia Benson

    No. No. No. I did not say Shermer is sexist. No, it is not “reasonable” for people to decide that’s what I was saying when I didn’t say it.

    It might be reasonable for them to conclude for themselves that he is sexist – but that’s a different thing. It’s not reasonable to conclude that that’s what I said.

    This is all such fucking bullshit – it’s so transparently obvious that people are making up all these special rules that they don’t apply for one second when reading an article about the Tea Party or the pope or creationists, because it’s [gasp] Michael Shermer, and we can’t let some stupid bitch point out something sexist he said. God no. Must protect Michael Shermer at all costs. He’s a “leader of our community” and he’s like a god.

  50. 50
    Ophelia Benson

    Here for example is what Steven Novella – another “leader of our community” – most recently said about what I wrote:

    I acknowledge that “it’s more of a guy thing” was a bad thing to say and deserves to be criticized. But that is not the equivalent of saying that girls are stupid.

    Criticizing a public figure in his community for saying something horribly sexist that they did not say or even imply is – yes – charitably on the same order of magnitude.

    Just look at it. “Criticizing a public figure in his community” – spoken like a true priest.

    Michael Shermer is not above criticism.

  51. 51
    MKandefer

    Ophelia, Thanks again for the response. You said:

    Just look at it. “Criticizing a public figure in his community” – spoken like a true priest.

    A more charitable look at what he said includes: “I acknowledge that “it’s more of a guy thing” was a bad thing to say and deserves to be criticized”. Do you really think Steve ascribes to the view that some people are beyond criticism, like a priesthood?

    He also went on to say: “for saying something horribly sexist that they did not say or even imply is”. Basically, he doesn’t think that Shermer said that “girls are stupid” or “imply it”. He rather thinks that Shermer’s statement is one about intellectual activism, not being intellectual. You can find the appropriate context in the post that was a reply to:

    I understand Ophelia’s point. It is reasonable. I am addressing what she wrote, not saying her underlying point is invalid, not saying that Shermer’s off the cuff remark was not unfortunate and counterproductive, but that she made statements that were as misleading and easy to misinterpret as the very statements she was criticizing.

    She wrote: “Don’t laugh: Michael Shermer said exactly that during a panel discussion on the online talk-show The Point.”

    So, according to her, Shermer said “exactly” that women are too stupid to do nontheism. I don’t think he said exactly that. I don’t think he even implied it. She got the context wrong also to bolster this misinterpretation (this is a simple factual mistake).

    Don’t you think accusing Shermer of saying “exactly” that women are stupid is similar in kind and magnitude to Shermer saying intellectual activism is a “guy thing?”

    Sorry, I can’t figure out how to do direct linking to this comment. :/

  52. 52
    Ophelia Benson

    I know what he said. I saw it. I read it.

    Of course I think Novella holds the view – probably without examining it very closely – that some people merit extra exemption from criticism, since he just said that in the bit that I quoted!

    You want me to read everything “more charitably” – yet Novella read me with inappropriate literalness.

  53. 53
    Argle Bargle

    Shermer said that women are not as intellectually active as men. How more “women don’t do thinky” could he get without using the words “stupid” or “non-intellectual”? Of course I’m reading Shermer literally since I don’t think he’s above criticism, especially when he says something sexist and then whines about Nazi witch-hunting McCarthyism.

  54. 54
    MKandefer

    Ophelia, I think you missed my point. You said:

    that some people merit extra exemption from criticism, since he just said that in the bit that I quoted!

    But my point was Steve didn’t say that. In fact he said that opposite, that Shermer deserved criticism for what he said, int he quote you provided. What Steve said doesn’t deserve criticism is the notion that Shermer was claiming ” girls are stupid”.

  55. 55
    Ophelia Benson

    For fuck’s sake. I gave the whole quote. I commented on part of it. Of course he said that; it’s right there. That’s what I’m talking about. It’s an absurd, abject thing to say even though he doesn’t mean it as “you can’t dispute our leaders on anything ever.” I’m addressing one part of what he said. I’m allowed to do that.

  56. 56
    Ophelia Benson

    I like the way I wrote the article. Mkay? I wouldn’t change a word of it. No, I wouldn’t even change “Michael Shermer said exactly that” to “Michael Shermer invoked exactly that stereotype” – not now. Not after all this bullroaring and lying and special rules making.

  57. 57
    Martha

    Yeah, that’s the hard part, isn’t it, Ophelia? No matter what you said, if it was about a well-known atheist invoking a sexist stereotype, there would have been an uproar, and the anti-feminists would have twisted your words as much as they felt necessary to make you look bad.

    And no, folks, that doesn’t happen in the same way to men (or at least white, straight, cis men) who make similar statements. Which means that comments from men who don’t understand that they would never be subject to this kind of outcry are somewhat annoying no matter how good their intentions. Clueless at best, patronizing in the middle, and utterly fucking infuriating on the far end of the scale.

    People, if you’re going to nit-pick at what Ophelia said, take a few minutes to think about that. Please.

  58. 58
    Lyra

    Are you allowed to say anything Ophelia? This is beyond cartoonish. Shermer said something sexist and you said so. Wordgames wordgames wordgames and it’s your fault. Please don’t lose faith Ophelia some of us know how unfairly you are being treated.

  59. 59
    Tim Harris

    MKandefer, you ‘subscribe’ to a view, you don’t ‘ascribe’ to it. And, Ophelia, I really shouldn’t bother about MKandefer as he or she goes on and on like a tap dripping at night that you can’t turn off or drills away like a pub bore who likes arguing, is uninterested in truth, and is happy to drill away on anything even though everyone’s eyes are glazed and they are no longer listening.

  60. 60
    Glendon Mellow

    What Shawn #58 said.

    I am still staggered by the reasonable people I have admired for some time contorting themselves into ever more useless knots to absolve Shermer and bully you into some sort of false middle ground so that they can look as though they are reaching across the aisle.

    (I realize I just mixed about 3 metaphors in one sentence; I paint surrealism; deal.)

    It’s ridiculous. You called Michael Shermer on saying a sexist thing. Then it’s all witchhunts and persecution claims, and a not unrelated amount of horrid horrid misogyny thrown your way, and they expect *you* to apologize for being rude? Or something?

    Time for some of these often brilliant people to check which leg they’re standing on.

  61. 61
    Ophelia Benson

    Yeah. Steven Novella’s bullshit is just one drop too many right now.

  62. 62
    SC (Salty Current), OM
    The point that often gets overlooked in these discussions is that gender differences are averages for the group. They are irrelevant to a discussion of what jobs any individual woman is qualified for or interested in. And it doesn’t mean we can predict what proportion of men or women will gravitate to any given area of human endeavor.

    Precisely. I keep saying exactly that.

    I realized a while back that this common argument is really a sneaky rhetorical ploy. It serves three purposes:

    1) It allows the writer to infer that innate differences of some relevant sort exist without providing or defending evidence, while at the same time disarming challengers. If you agree with the statement in a general way (and who wouldn’t? even if such differences existed, this would be correct), you’re tacitly acknowledging the existence of said differences. Everyone now agrees they exist, and there’s no point in arguing about their nonexistence anyway, because they’re irrelevant! Neat trick.

    2) So it forms part of their silly gender/equality feminism binary. The differences (which we’ve all now acknowledged exist – wink, wink) don’t matter because individuals – wherever they might fall in their category’s range – should be allowed equal opportunities.

    3) It enables them to completely sidestep any discussion of how belief in such differences and the constant droning about their alleged existence (odd for people who think they’re so irrelevant) affects people’s lives, contributing greatly to inequality even under hypothetical conditions in which legal and institutional constraints are absent.

    I’ve come to be deeply suspicious of anyone making an argument with this structure.

  63. 63
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    And by infer, I of course meant imply. :)

  64. 64
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    He said he thought it probably was 50/50, and suggested that the perception of unequal numbers might be because attending and speaking at atheist conferences was more of “a guy thing.” They might have asked him to explain what he meant. They didn’t. He didn’t mean to say it was encoded in the male DNA. He was simply recognizing a reality of our society: male/female interests and behavior tend to differ due to all sorts of cultural influences.

    a) Yeah, right.

    b) If that’s what he meant, he had all the opportunities in the world to clarify.

    I admire them, but I choose not to join them, for the same reason I have never joined women doctors’ or other women’s groups. It’s a matter of personal preference…. As for the word “chick,” I’ve never liked it. I think calling me a “doctor” or a “bird colonel” (for the shoulder eagle insignia) shows respect but calling a colonel a “chick” would be inappropriate and disrespectful. Especially at my age, where I would be better classified as a tough old hen.

    This is remarkably disingenuous as a supposed explanation for what she did.

  65. 65
    Paul W.

    Hmmm… I just saw SC’s comments, and this is somewhat redundant with hers, but…

    Call me a radical “gender feminist,” but the general thrust of Hall’s article doesn’t sit well with me. The quote in the OP isn’t representative of where the article seems to be going.

    When she repeats and stresses that “it is unreasonable to expect that equal numbers of men and women will be attracted to every field of human endeavor,” that is easy to read as a defense of “equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome,” and as anti-affirmative action.

    I agree that we shouldn’t generally have arbitrary across-the-board 50/50 quotas, but it seems to be missing the underlying issue.

    People who believe in affirmative action and other positive steps to make things more equal tend to think that when you see very unequal outcomes, it suggests that the opportunities aren’t really so equal—e.g., that women are being discouraged from participating in the skeptic movement in various ways, not being invited to speak often enough, etc.

    People who don’t believe in such positive steps tend to think that unequal participation either reveals unequal interest (and that’s that) or that maybe there is a problem, but it’s not one you can or should do anything about to ensure more equal outcomes (the libertarian thing).

    Hall seems to be in the latter camp, and making an argument for that side, without actually addressing the question of what unequal participation really signifies—does it just reveal different interests or abilities between groups, or that we’re doing it wrong if the participation is not more equal? How much inequality of outcomes should we take to be “just how it is,” and how much reveals that we should do something about it?

  66. 66
    athyco

    Ophelia quoted MKandefer’s thoughts on her writing, but I was struck by his slant earlier in that paragraph.

    I do think a more charitable interpretation is that he was commenting on the current state of affairs, without going the extra mile of explaining that this is regrettable and why that might be the case. I do think he should have gone the extra mile. I also think you could have been more careful in clarifying that you do not think Michael Shermer was a sexist in your article, just that he said something that could be interpreted as sexist. Either way, there seems to be an avenue where agreement can be reached. There were mistakes made by both parties in communicating effectively that are understandable.

    MK wrote these 107 words on the “understandable” mistakes by atheists Michael and Ophelia. MK chose “charitable” for Michael, said that his explaining “[t]his is regrettable” is “an extra mile,” and unfortunately, did not note that “why that might be the case” is precisely the explanation that he failed—without a sexist stereotype—to make.

    For Ophelia, however, MK chose that–in her article about sexist stereotype–she “should have been more careful in clarifying,” and that Michael’s words “could be interpreted.”

    I have nothing to add to the witchhunt commentary Shermer made after these events. Both you and the Steve already agree on these matters. As do I.

    Should you choose to write again, MKandefer, I suggest that you first write that addition. In keeping with your polite “thanks” and two “charitable’s,” pardon me to hellnback, but I believe that your addition to the witch hunt commentary would cause you great angst with no one else around to direct towards being more careful in clarifying and interpreting.

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