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A letter to Michael Shermer

This morning I was pointed toward a post written by Dr. Michael Shermer, a prominent skeptic, author, and neuroscientist. In it, he responds to an article by author and fellow FTBorg Ophelia Benson in which she sharply critiques the acceptance of stereotypes about the agency and willingness of women to speak up in skeptical circles, using a snippet of an statement that Dr. Shermer said in an interview: that while the gender ratio of non-belief is probably roughly even, it may be that men are more willing to speak up about it, which is one explanation of why it is more difficult to book female atheists for interviews.

I encourage you to read both Ophelia’s article and Dr. Shermer’s response first. My response is below:

Hello Dr. Shermer,

I remember watching the interview in question and being annoyed by your response to the question of why it was more difficult to find female atheists to join discussions. Your response, that speaking out might simply be “a guy thing”, was non-controversial but nonetheless disappointing, because this is not a question about which there is no information. You are, by your own admission, aware of the growing role that feminist discourse has been playing in the skeptic community overall in the past number of years. And yet, despite your awareness of its existence, your response betrayed no hint that you had listened to or understood anything that had been said by those voices – which is not to say that you haven’t, but there was certainly nothing in your “guy thing” response that suggests you have.

Let’s rewind the clock a bit and look at the context into which your statement was spoken.

A number of years ago (and I will freely admit that I don’t know how many years, as someone who is relatively new to this particular discussion), skeptics became aware that their community was strongly skewed toward a particular demographic: older white men*. As skeptics are wont to do, people began to ask “why is this the case?” From that question, a discussion began – what could the skeptical community do to address the gender disparity and increase the number of women in active roles?

Now I was not in the room, or even in the movement, when these discussions initially happened. As a result, I don’t know (nor do I really care) who initially said “well skepticism is a guy thing – women aren’t as active within the sciences, so there are fewer of them. Nothing to be done about it, chaps!” What I do know is that someone said this, and I know that because this line of ‘reasoning’ has been used as an explanation for disparities of all kinds stretching back into antiquity. It was (and still is) used to explain the lack of visible minorities at the top of academia or business, it was (and is) used to explain why there were fewer female politicians than male ones – it is the ‘go-to’ explanation whenever a group who had been historically excluded is not proportionately represented once active exclusion stops.

The reason why this explanation is so seductive is perhaps twofold: first, it has a certain amount of casual plausibility. It certainly may explain why some women are not active in the skeptical movement – a simple question of who is socialized to be aggressive, versus who is socialized to be passive. Nothing particularly controversial there, right? The second reason, however, is the problematic one: it excuses any semblance of responsibility on behalf of the group to make any adjustment to its behaviour. The door has been opened; women are keeping themselves out. Oh well, nothing to do about it.

That explanation was more or less in vogue when I entered the online skeptical community, but it quickly gave way to a new idea: let’s ask women why they’re not participating. In response to this new line of inquiry, a number of recurring themes began to emerge. Some women felt perfectly comfortable and welcome within the community and felt no need for it to change. Others gave different explanations: financial burdens, conflicting time pressures, lack of interest. Still others pointed out that skeptics were drawn from a segment of the population that has a male bias – fewer female scientists means fewer female skeptics. It’s not exactly rocket surgery.

However, one simply could not ignore the sizeable portion of the community who pointed to a culture of harassment, dismissal, and in many cases outright hostility that existed within the population of skeptics. Women who were treated as objects when attending conferences; women who had been verbally or physically assaulted at meetups, often with no response from the organizations hosting the events; women who were subjected to disgusting and terrifying behaviour in online forums for simply speaking up about a topic they were interested in.

You said in your article that the only way to answer the question of why women don’t attend events is to do a full survey. I disagree – that may be the best way to identify the size and scope of problems but it is hardly the only one. Even granting the validity of your statement for the sake of argument, studies of this topic have been conducted: harassment and mistreatment of women for being women is a problem within the community. Even by your own standard, this explanation of the source of the discrepancy (at least in part) cannot be ignored. And yet your response did completely ignore it.

Others, however, focussed on that explanation as something that we could fix. We may not, for example, be in a position to fix gender stereotypes in society at large, but we sure as hell can start to do something about harassment and assault. This discussion requires an understanding of gender and its sociological underpinnings – in other words, feminism. Conversations about socially-constructed gender roles quickly and necessarily expanded into a conversation about patriarchy – a culture of male entitlement to women’s bodies, of male supremacy, of the policing of what it was that we were being subtly taught about how men and women “should” behave. All of these pieces and more were necessary to redesign our community events to make it possible for those women who feared the prospect of harassment and assault for their mere existence in the skeptical sphere to feel safe enough to participate.

And this aspect of it is what frustrated me about your interview, but more so your response to Ophelia’s article. Without wanting to delve too much into it, and certainly without wishing to speculate about your motivations, I found your response to be particularly tone-deaf and at times riddled with straw men arguments**. Even the lede of your response, in which you (or the editors of eSkeptic, I am not sure) state that you have been vilified as “the embodiment of misogyny” is grossly inaccurate. Ophelia used your statement, whose truncation does not affect her thesis whatsoever, to demonstrate the fact that stereotypes are offered and accepted in the place of evidence when attempting to explain gender inequalities. Your explanation that speaking up (not, I am happy to agree, being a non-believer) is “a guy thing” is part of a cluster of stereotypes that ignores a wealth of knowledge about the role that discrimination and other kinds of social punishment plays in behaviour that falls along gendered lines. Rather than saying “I don’t know,” or “there are a lot of reasons”, you instead pivoted immediately to “it’s a guy thing” – a problematic response for a skeptic, I’m sure you’d agree.

At the risk of going on forever, I wish to address two more elements of your response that bothered me. The first stems from this statement:

…I do not believe that the fact that the secular community does not contain the precise percentage of blacks, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans as in the general population, means that all of us in the secular community are racists, explicitly or implicitly.

I would not accept this argument from Newt Gingrich in defense of the GOP, and I doubt you would either. What the recent election showed us pretty clearly is that nobody in the Republican Party thinks that any of them are “racists***” , and yet their policies and their rhetoric are obviously racist, and their voter base is profoundly monochromatic as a direct result. This is not a controversial statement – even some voices within the Republican Party are beginning to admit that. I do not know, therefore, why you think that this argument holds up when discussing the skeptical community. There are profound gender-based and race-based disincentives to participation in many spheres, especially those that are dominated by white men. Your response to those disincentives is, again, to say “nothing to be done about them”, and that in the absence of “some other evidence” you feel no obligation to make any changes. That is your prerogative, of course, but people of colour and women are aware, and have been aware of what these disincentives are, and what the voices of those who are not willing to listen sound like. Like the Republican Party, you are free to deny any obligation on your part to listen and adjust – but it would be hypocritical of you to then profess bewilderment when those groups do not participate (and inaccurate to explain it as “a white thing”).

The second, by way of closing this letter, stems from this statement:

Is there anything I could say that would not confirm readers’ beliefs? Denial is what true witches (and bigots, racists, and misogynists) do.

This couplet is absurd in the extreme, and maybe now that I have pulled it out from the rest of the paragraph maybe you will see the problem: you assume that denial or silence are your only options. A few days ago I was taken to task for a careless attempt at humour at the expense of people with cognitive disabilities. While I didn’t see the harm in the ‘joke’, a number of people were understandably quite upset with me. My instinct, of course, was to defend myself by explaining the joke, or by trying to justify it, or by complaining about the tone of the criticisms. That is natural – I do not see myself as “a bigot” or having any active antipathy toward people with disabilities. However, because I know that my intention is immaterial when it comes to the harm my statement causes, I knew that my denials would not serve me at all. Instead, I gave them the benefit of the doubt**** and tried to understand the comment from their perspective. As a result, I apologized and edited the offending line.

I was not asked to debase myself, or wear sackcloth and ashes, or get kicked out of atheism, or any of the paranoid fantasies that are conjured by that segment of the skeptical community who belligerently obsess over the social justice conversation. I was asked to apologize. And I did. And then nothing else happened. You had (and probably still have) the option to do the same. Your way forward is to simply acknowledge that your statement was an unfortunate error, that you acknowledge that your use of stereotype was mistaken, and that you will try to have a better response to the question if you are asked it again in the future. That’s all. You are not being burned at the stake, Dr. Shermer – you are being called upon to recognize your mistake and apologize.

From my experience with you and your work (and I am a fan), I think you are capable of a mature, thinking response, and I look forward to hearing one from you.

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*Whether this awareness was born of well-intentioned introspection or the repeated insistence of female skeptics is a worthy discussion, but one that does not affect my thesis, and is best saved for another time.

**The most notable of which was your repeated admonishment for us to focus on the “real misogynyists” and the “real racists” – a derailing tactic that is better suited to a speech at the Republican National Convention than it is in a discussion among learned people.

***A red herring term that I deplore for reasons I explain here.

****A concept that I see from your response you understand, but that you evidently think should be applied to you but seemingly not to anyone else.

Comments

  1. says

    I was going to post this to Shermer’s site, but apparently my work proxy means they won’t allow me to post there.

    So I’ll post what I had to say here instead:

    Crommunist, as always, has level-headed, insightful things to say.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist/2012/12/12/a-letter-to-michael-shermer/

    A simple backtracking apology and then addressing what really affects women and people of color when it comes to participating in skeptical and/or atheist communities would have been a much better response, in my opinion. I honestly don’t care to take sides, but I do expect allies to listen when the minorities they are affecting have a problem with actions or words the allies have done or said.

    There has been progress made in the community, assuredly. But do we stop there just because no one is telling women or minorities that skepticism isn’t their thing? I don’t think we should. I think until inclusivity is no longer controversial efforts need to continue.

  2. iainmartel says

    Agreed with all of your points and criticisms, except one: when you call Shermer’s claim to have been vilified as the embodiment of misogyny “grossly inaccurate”. Look at what Benson actually said:

    The main stereotype in play, let’s face it, is that women are too stupid to do nontheism. Unbelieving in God is thinky work, and women don’t do thinky, because “that’s a guy thing.” Don’t laugh: Michael Shermer said exactly that during a panel discussion on the online talk-show The Point.

    Benson is saying that Shermer said “exactly that”, where “that” is that women don’t do thinky, and where “women don’t do thinky” means “women are too stupid to do nontheism”. But for all that is genuinely wrong about what Shermer has to say on this topic, it must surely be admitted that he said no such thing. And I don’t think it’s inaccurate to characterise the accusation as one of intense misogyny.

    This is an important point because this kind of vilification is precisely the worst way to change people’s minds. Shermer may be misguided and stubborn, but I think he could be on the right side of this issue, if carefully persuaded. You end your letter with a call to Shermer to recognise his mistake and apologise, but he didn’t make the mistake Ophelia Benson called him out for, and she doesn’t seem interested in getting a correction from him. Perhaps they both owe an apology.

  3. says

    I’m confused by your use of the term “vilification”. Who has been “vilified”?

    he didn’t make the mistake Ophelia Benson called him out for

    He most certainly did – he was being “called out” (I would use the term “identified”, but we each have our several axes to grind) for using lazy stereotypes about why men and women engage in certain behaviours. Which he did. And yes ‘women are just not as intellectually engaged in atheism as men are’ is a hair’s breadth from “women no thinky”.

    Perhaps they both owe an apology.

    Humour me: what do you think an appropriate apology from Ophelia would look like?

  4. iainmartel says

    The disinterested reader of Ophelia Benson’s article will come away with the clear message that Michael Shermer thinks that women are stupid, are no good at logic and reasoning, and are too afraid to speak in public. Given that those views are deemed reprehensible by most of the intended audience, the effect of the piece is to vilify: to lower people’s estimation of Shermer.

    Shermer did not say that women were stupid, or any of the other things Benson accused him off (implicitly or explicitly). The lazy stereotypes Shermer used were the ones you called him out for, not the ones Benson used: he simply assumed that women weren’t interested in the issues and activities, without considering any other reasons that women might not engage with atheism – such as the lack of a safe space. But there is a world of difference between saying that women aren’t interested in an issue and saying they aren’t capable of engaging in it. Both may involve stereotyping, but only the latter pegs women as inferior. (Anecdote: my wife is a philosopher, so is used to intellectual warfare. But she refuses to have anything to do with the atheist movement because she sees it as full of angry guys belittling the religious for their lack of reason. It is a guy thing to her – but not in a good way.)

    I’d say Shermer owes an apology for all the reasons you (but not Ophelia) give; Ophelia owes an apology for grossly mischaracterising Shermer’s statements.

  5. says

    A disinterested reader of my blog will come away with the clear message that I hate white people and think that they’re the source of every problem ever. I know this, because I get tweets and comments from those people. Should I begin drafting my apology to white people? Or is it possible that I am not responsible for people who read halfway through arguments and then get angry about some funhouse mirror version of them?

    I find it interesting how much of the conversation has become focussed on Michael Shermer and whether or not he is an evil human being. Ophelia’s post wasn’t about him – she used a statement by him as an example of a larger trend. He shows up in one paragraph. The overwhelming majority of her post focusses on identifying and discussing and critiquing a specific behaviour, and yet the response has been “you’re vilifying Michael Shermer!” The focus of her article is incredibly clear to me, and he ain’t it.

    there is a world of difference between saying that women aren’t interested in an issue and saying they aren’t capable of engaging in it. Both may involve stereotyping, but only the latter pegs women as inferior.

    Actually Ophelia discusses this exact issue in her post. Maybe give it another read?

  6. says

    Great post, but will he read it? I hope so, but I’m not convinced an apology or admission of error is possible after his post digs in for a battle. Much like Justin Vacula who clearly stated his apology, even for errors he admitted to, was contingent on PZ, RW, everyone else apologising first! It is John Loftus’s favourite theme at the moment as well, atheism+ has got to apologise and start over, Ophelia has to apologise and start over. Everyone else needs to apologise first, I remember having this opinion when I was a kid and apologising was the worst thing in the world as I had to admit I was wrong. Now I think learning is contingent on admitting when you make a mistake as anything else leads to denial-ism and a closed mind.

  7. says

    Well he is on Twitter right now taking repeated aim at his own foot with a giant shovel-gun, so maybe my estimation of his maturity was a bit generous.

  8. iainmartel says

    A disinterested reader of my blog will come away with the clear message that I hate white people and think that they’re the source of every problem ever.

    No, only someone who already “knows” that could take that message from your posts, and they would really have to ignore most of the content. Ophelia states several times quite explicitly that her target is the stereotype that women can’t do logic and reason and argument, and she states that this is “exactly” what Shermer said.

    As I said at the outset, I agreed almost completely with your criticisms of Shermer’s remarks. I didn’t have anything to add there. What I thought was interesting was that you seemed to believe that you and Ophelia were making the same point, when you weren’t. She is talking about the “retrograde” stereotypes of women as innately intellectually inferior, which I don’t see playing a role in your argument. And that’s why you don’t see her remarks as a mischaracterisation of Shermer, or as “vilifying”.

    I have no interest in defending Shermer – I dislike many of his views as much as I think you do. I commented only because I’m interested in getting people beyond the tribalism that I think Shermer is right to warn against. There is a lot of witch hunting on all sides going on in the atheist skeptical community at the moment, and it is immensely damaging. If we are to get beyond it, while also making progress on the very real issues of discrimination, etc. that you and others are working so hard to address, we need to find ways of not triggering everyone’s defense mechanisms all the time. Your posts, I find, are helpful in this regard; Ophelia Benson’s, I thought, was decidedly unhelpful.

    Actually Ophelia discusses this exact issue in her post. Maybe give it another read?

    I assume you are referring to the discussion of difference feminism. Again, this discussion is all in the context of the view that women aren’t good at logic, etc. – and the absurd postmodernist view that being illogical is just another way of knowing. This is a red herring: it does nothing to show what’s wrong with the view that, while women are perfectly capable of logical reasoning (or science, engineering, etc.), they just aren’t interested in it. Your post addresses this view (which seems to be Shermer’s view); Ophelia’s article doesn’t.

  9. says

    I guess I’m having a lot of trouble seeing the substantive differences between what I wrote and what Ophelia wrote, but if you find this view more helpful than hers, then awesome.

    There is a lot of witch hunting on all sides going on in the atheist skeptical community at the moment

    I had to put on 3 extra pairs of glasses so I’d have enough eyes to roll at this statement. “Witch hunt”? Michael Shermer is being executed at the stake? He’s being cast out of the village? He’s suffering any consequences at all besides being publicly scolded?

    If someone is doing something wrong and harmful, and someone else points it out, the fault is not shared on both sides when the first person throws a tantrum.

  10. says

    I commented only because I’m interested in getting people beyond the tribalism that I think Shermer is right to warn against. There is a lot of witch hunting on all sides going on in the atheist skeptical community at the moment, and it is immensely damaging

    Wut? For tribalism I see people on two sides of a debate, for ‘witch hunts’ I see strong criticism from PZ and Ophelia etc. What is reasonable about comparing a blog post with words in it (even Ophelias snark of destruction) to a ‘witch hunt’! Also in what way is it immensely damaging? I’ve seen no stats for people abandoning the atheist movement because PZ or Ophelia said nasty things about them (I don’t think even John Loftus followed though with his threat to go back to theism because PZ was mean). A lot of people seem to get their jollies from solely commenting on the ongoing ‘tribal witch-hunt’ on the Slymepit and nothing else, so it keeps them engaged, albeit not with anything particularly productive.

    …we need to find ways of not triggering everyone’s defense mechanisms all the time

    Maybe we need people not to be defensive at a bit of valid criticism, no matter how it is framed? I know there are a chorus of morons chanting ‘#FTBullies will destroy your career’ so people get defensive at a sniff of a ‘witch hunt’ from FtB — but again who takes morons on twitter comparing words to ‘witch hunts’ seriously?

    Why should the polemicists in the community, like PZ and Ophelia, constantly have to be on their guard not to ‘trigger’ peoples defence mechanisms. Passionate criticism and opinion is a good thing rather than tepid, maybe you meant this maybe you didn’t, views. When the best you can come up with is that Ophelia was right to criticise but maybe made an incorrect assumption in what she criticised then first of all the criticism was justified? The response from Sherman is to acknowledge that and then engage in a discussion about nuance about stereotypes he was or was not thinking of? Although either way he is wrong…

  11. says

    Witch hunt? Looks more like a debate team. Until one side is dragging people off, torturing confessions out of them before a show trial and then executing them I don’t think people get to keep using the term witch hunt.

  12. bertrussell says

    Ya know, I honestly can’t tolerate this anymore, and by this I do include many of the bloggers and commenters here. All this is accomplishing is making it very difficult, if not impossible, to work as a social movement.

    I’m not going to be visiting this network for a while. Hopefully everyone, including Shermer, because he was out of line, gets their heads out of their asses when I decide to check in to see how things are.

  13. F [disappearing] says

    A disinterested reader of Shermer’s response article will see that it is utter crap. It would still be utter crap even if he were right about the situation. It’s full of misdirection and non-sequiturs, non-explanations, and a void the size of the Moon where “what he really meant by what he said” should be.

    All he would have to do, whether truthfully or not, is to say that he meant it was a guy thing still, given our current cultures. Adding the thought that this is something that really should change would be bonus. He’s supposedly a skeptic, after all. And apparently doesn’t read his own books, since he can’t identify the weird thing he believes, or simply state that he misspoke.

  14. Rinus says

    I interpreted what Shermer said as more of an observation of the facts. Not at all unlike pointing out that atheism seems to be a white people thing when talking about the best-selling authors, most popular speakers, etc. It’s not the same as saying that black people are “too stupid to do thinky stuff”.

    I think he dropped the ball, in that, making that observation alone is rather pointless. It’s the start of a conversation, not the end of one. Pretty sure the best way to keep him out of the conversation, though, is claiming he said that “women don’t do thinky” or “women are too stupid to do non-theism”.

  15. Rinus says

    Ugh, clicked submit instead of review.

    What I wanted to add was: imagine if Ophelia had been present at that discussion. Imagine that, after Shermer said “it’s a guy thing”, Ophelia had asked him “why is a guy thing, Micheal?”

    Do you think Shermer would have replied with “because women don’t do thinky and are too stupid for non-theism”?

  16. says

    Shermer did not say that women were stupid, or any of the other things Benson accused him off (implicitly or explicitly)

    Nah, he just said we weren’t intellectually active, that’s more like we really could think if we wanted to, much better

  17. Rinus says

    Not sure what you mean by that, really. I think it’s likely that whatever answer Shermer would have give, it would not have been along the lines of “women don’t do thinky” or “women are too stupid to do non-theism”. Or do you feel I’m giving him too much credit?

  18. says

    I suspect that some of Shermer’s views stem from his libertarianism. There seems to be an underlying belief in libertarianism that people who haven’t achieved, were not capable of achieving and that what some of us might see as leveling the playing field, he sees as favoring the undeserving.

    I subscribe to Skeptic magazine and have bought many of Shermer’s books, but it’s getting hard to justify either. I don’t think the skeptic community has to be about feminism, but I can’t imagine giving my money to someone who thinks that concerns about inequality and harassment are somehow more damaging than the harassment and inequality themselves.

  19. says

    Rinus, I mean that Shermer had this wide open opportunity to tell us what his statement meant, with tons of time to put together considered language, appropriate qualifications, and evidence. Instead, he cried, “Witch hunt!”

  20. says

    “Nah, he just said we weren’t intellectually active, that’s more like we really could think if we wanted to, much better”

    …Yeah, more women could speak at conferences if they wanted to, because the only impediment to doing so is self-imposed. Stop trying to be victims of your own choices.

    The same organization that provided the study cited in the original article, also did this study:

    http://www.secularcensus.us/analysis/2012/07-31

    Notably, only 7% in july of this year were former participants but now inactive, and of that 7%, only 25% of those cited bad experience with group, individual, or event. The number one reason was insufficient time, citing lack of childcare (a problem that has partly been remedied by that other pariah Richard Dawkins). The second reason? Inconvenient events.

    That translates into “I’d rather do X than attend/participate in this event”. Unless these events or event organizers are inflicting these women with children or other priorities, I fail to see how Shermer’s statements represent some failure of empathy on his part.

    Even supposing that 2% (25% of 7% aproximately) were prevented somehow from attending or engaging due to some perceived or actual slight, that doesn’t come CLOSE to justifying the claim that discrimination is the engine keeping women from participating. Indeed, it appears far more likely that women are choosing other activities because those are more important to them.

  21. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    There is a lot of witch hunting on all sides going on in the atheist skeptical community at the moment

    I am absolutely fascinated how testerical these boys are. One very mild criticism is a “witch hunt”? And, somehow, it’s *WOMEN* who are irrational and overreacting?

    The mind boggles. One mild criticism and these boys are acting like they’re being tied to stake and feminists are lighting the match. The wouldn’t survive a single hour as women.

  22. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    Addendum: which is meant to mean – given all the psychotic abuse that Benson, et al have been the target of over the last 2ish years, if Shermer falls apart over one mild bit of criticism – and his fanbois as well, apparently – they really couldn’t hack is as female bloggers.

  23. gatoprecambriano says

    Interesting how often some people reacts to criticism of the tipe: ‘Hey X! You said shit and crap you know? Shit and crap are unclean and smells bad’, with responses like: ‘How dare you call me shiter and craper? I am not such. I’m a clean person.’, followed by reactions like: ‘It’s preposterous to sugest that X have intended to shit’, ‘To call X a shiter is an unaceptable villification’, ‘Bullies!’, and so on.

  24. says

    …Yeah, more women could speak at conferences if they wanted to, because the only impediment to doing so is self-imposed. Stop trying to be victims of your own choices.

    Yes, if we look at what happens to thise women who do speak (hi Jen, Rebecca, Greta, Stephanie, Ophelia, Amy and many more) we can clearly see that there’s absolutely no downside to this, that nobody will ever threaten you with rape and publish your home address or such a thing…
    Clearly, it’s all just in our heads.
    Silly women!

  25. gatoprecambriano says

    Come on! Case closed. Just COMPARE what Shermer said with what Sean Carrol said (around 12:37, just after Shermer’s “it’s more of a guy thing”):

  26. Rinus says

    Stephanie:

    [quote]Rinus, I mean that Shermer had this wide open opportunity to tell us what his statement meant, with tons of time to put together considered language, appropriate qualifications, and evidence. Instead, he cried, “Witch hunt!”
    [/quote]

    Absolutely.

    My point however, was that Ophelia had just as much of an opportunity to simply ask him to clarify what he meant by “it’s a guy thing”. Instead, she went for the “Shermer actually said women are too stupid to do theism”.
    That was what I meant in my previous post. Had Ophelia simply asked him to clarify his statement, I very much doubt there would have ever even been a conflict. Or perhaps there would have, if Shermer is actually of the opinion he’s been made out to be, but atleast you’d actually get to quote him directly, rather than putting words in his mouth.

  27. says

    @27

    Agreed. Lets look at what happens to these women. Those women were raped? Assaulted at the conference? Assaulted at their homes? Groped? How many were discriminated against, and in what ways? Any?

    No. Some internet trolls said mean things to them on the internet. (cue worlds smallest violin) Their travel expenses were paid, they arrived and participated unmolested, and returned to the safety of their homes without incident. Come. Off. It.

    The rates of violence in any given US city, when extrapolated down to the size of these conferences, would render the prediction that we should have at the very least one or two incidents of actual sexual assault at these things. That’s just running the numbers. There have been zero, despite reports of an inordinate amount of vitriol on the internet.

    How many times does nothing have to happen before we can this perpetual victim routine? At what point do we say, “yeah, actually, it IS all in your heads” or rather, on your blogs.

  28. says

    Assaulted at the conference? Assaulted at their homes? Groped? How many were discriminated against, and in what ways? Any?

    Yes? Is this a serious question?

    That’s just running the numbers. There have been zero, despite reports of an inordinate amount of vitriol on the internet.

    Yeah… that’s running the numbers stupidly. Assault doesn’t happen in a uniform distribution across all populations. And ‘zero reported’ doesn’t mean ‘zero happened’, especially when there are brazen crime fighters like yourself to make sure that it was REALLY assault, and that it was REALLY unwelcome, and that it was REAL discrimination.

    Why wouldn’t people speak up about that, with Holmes-like sleuths like you on the case?

  29. says

    @Lee

    So do you think we should repeal our laws against threatening people? Last time I checked threatening people was wrong whether or not people followed through on them.

    @gatoprecambriano

    Sean Caroll talks about how the lack of women might be self reinforcing (there are few women so we don’t invite more women).

    Then he mentions the need for equality of opportunity followed by (slightly paraphrased) “I think that right now maybe they don’t either for institutional or societal pressures and we should work to reduce those pressures.”

    While not perfect its much better then what Shermer has given in my opinion.

  30. says

    “Assault doesn’t happen in a uniform distribution across all populations”

    True. Some population sets have far higher, some have far lower, incidents of assault. I would just like to point out, again, that the population in question appears to fall under the latter category. Not sure how this helps your case….

    “And ‘zero reported’ doesn’t mean ‘zero happened’”

    So we’re to draw conclusions based on data not in evidence? I’m no sherlock holmes, but that doesn’t seem prudent. I take this to mean that you’re asserting they DO occur, but are swept under the rug? Care to support that with…..anything?

    “So do you think we should repeal our laws against threatening people? Last time I checked threatening people was wrong whether or not people followed through on them.”

    And yet, none of these people who “threatened” physical violence have been brought to justice, or even reported to the authorities so far as I know. Strange, no? Maybe, because, having read some of them, there’s no reason to suppose that these individuals have any intent to carry out said threats? Perhaps, because 99% of them aren’t actual threats of violence, just mean-spirited insults?

    Nah, it’s probably proof of rampant discrimination in law enforcement.

  31. says

    Nah, it’s probably proof of rampant discrimination in law enforcement.

    I’ve always wanted to ask: does it hurt to be that stupid, or is it just like… one of those things you get used to after a while?

    So we’re to draw conclusions based on data not in evidence?

    Maybe, because, having read some of them, there’s no reason to suppose that these individuals have any intent to carry out said threats? Perhaps, because 99% of them aren’t actual threats of violence, just mean-spirited insults?

    You’re fun.

  32. says

    @Lee

    Or its a problem with the internet being a big anonymous international free for all and there being limited police budgets.

    I’m glad you don’t think these are threats though….
    Trigger warning

    DUMB CUNTS, RAPE THE LOT OF THEM

    Somebody get some of Khadaffi’s rape squads

    These people makes me glad rape exists.

    From the comments section of this video here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iARHCxAMAO0

    From canadian law on threats “That is, the prosecution must show that he was aware of the words used and the meaning they would convey. It also must show that he intended the threat to be taken seriously, that is, to intimidate or strike fear into the recipient. It is not necessary that the person making the threat intend to carry it out or be capable of doing so. The motive for making the threat is equally irrelevant.”

  33. says

    “You’re fun.”

    That’s it? You could point to a testimony of an incident that was ignored. You could point to an assault on the person of any woman, or anyONE, at any of these places. You could point to an attempt at all of the above. You could have done any of these things, and I’d have to change my views.

    Why do you think folks like myself take you less and less seriously by the day? This is a SKEPTICAL movement. How on earth do you think we’re going to respond? “Blogger said it, I believe it, that settles it”?

    You have my email, pepper it with the information required to change my mind, and my time is yours; my cause is your cause. But keep abusing commenters and pretending you don’t have to justify your claims, and you’ll continue getting people like me calling you on it.

    I’m listening. Say something worth listening to.

  34. says

    Why do you think folks like myself take you less and less seriously by the day?

    Because you’re a dickbag?

    my cause is your cause

    Oh I seriously doubt that.

  35. says

    @36

    Only someone who doesn’t know the difference between a keyboard cowboy and real violence would categorize that as a threat. You’re privilege is showing.

    @37

    So since 56% of rapes go unreported (leaving aside how they know this), we’re to conclude, ipso facto, that some women have been raped at these conferences? This “fact” is supposed to convince me that there’s a problem at these conferences? That unreported rapes, inferred from statistical averages inferred from god knows what information, are intimidating women into not attending/participating?

    Notsureifsrs.jpg

  36. says

    @40

    Ok, this is my last post.

    “He also kept touching me, which I found very disconcerting. Fortunately, I was eventually rescued, and he was asked to leave, but it was pretty gross.”

    A drunk guy was following her around, and was finally kicked out.

    What was I thinking, totally rape. That would terrify me into silence too. Please accept my sincerest apologies.

  37. says

    You’re right. It’s far more reasonable to conclude that even though assault is dramatically underreported all over the place, is dismissed by authorities when it is reported, and is socially punished by pretty much everyone whenever it’s talked about, skeptics are MAGIC and that doesn’t happen at OUR events because we’re such groovy folks who would never do anything like that. This makes perfect sense to me.

  38. says

    Aha, so it wasn’t assaulty ENOUGH to qualify under your definition! Got it.

    Tell you what: you go play over there with your friends, and I’ll be over here, actually listening when people say they have a problem they’d like to see addressed. I will even do you the courtesy of continuing not to care what you and your buddies think of me.

  39. Laurence says

    Lee… Wow…

    The kind of attitude you have towards this thing is one of the very reasons why women might feel uncomfortable. At every corner you dismiss the problems and issues that women are going through by saying that “well, it’s not rape so it’s no big deal.” That’s a pretty shitty attitude. That’s kind of like telling bullied kids that they should buck up because at least they haven’t had any broken bones yet. It’s a pretty shitty attitude.

  40. says

    I’m mildly amused, several people have pointed to Sean Carol and I’ve gone through what he said several times. I have yet to get a response from anyone after that.

  41. says

    While it’s great to see people engaging on what constitutes a threat under different federal laws in North America, I have something to tell you. I hope you’re sitting for it, because I wasn’t when it happened to me.

    A man approached a fellow skeptic, who was standing physically isolated by just enough of a gap, from the rest of the protesters he was picketing with. I overheard them starting to get into a verbal altercation, and as I turned, I distinctly heard the man call this fellow skeptic a faggot, tell him that women don’t trust him, and that he’s all alone.

    I stepped in between them. I told this fellow skeptic to stop responding to him. I tried to make myself the target because I could see how triggering this was for my fellow demonstrator (despite the fact that he’s a straight, cis male, and I, a queer trans who is most frequently socially read as either a cis woman or a trans woman (both are inaccurate), was in my underwear. My fellow skeptic didn’t listen to me and kept antagonizing the man while I stood between them. A detail I will never forget, as we are no longer on speaking terms because he continued to do this to DOZENS of feminists of both cis male and cis female varieties, and on two separate occasions towards me thereafter (he had already done this once to me before).

    Well, the man finally realized why I was standing between them, trying to make myself a target, because I’ve dealt with people like him all my life, and I know how to take the power out of his hands VERY quickly. He began antagonizing me — he said “Look at you and your fake tits. Could you get any more gay?” and I responded with sarcasm and body-positivity. He then said, so angry and so close to me, that spit was flying out of his mouth and onto my face, that if I touch him with my sign, he’ll “smash [my] fucking head in with it.”

    You want to know what happened when I called 9-1-1? Police showed up, took a look at the picture someone else had taken of the guy, and drove off immediately. The man was arrested later that evening, but the 9-1-1 call was never filed, so charges couldn’t be pursued. When that same man showed up again 2 weeks later, literally fishing for a fight from more than a dozen people (who were all smart enough by this point to swarm him instead of leaving themselves physically isolated for him to pick off as he pleases), shouting threats at everyone and pacing around us with his fists clenched, police arrived at the scene to inform us that by protesting in public, we’re relinquishing our charter rights to be free from criminal harassment.

    Not only is this wrong, it’s complete bullshit. But this is what police do — they avoid doing work, they avoid bringing charges up against someone until a physical violation has actually taken place, and then they will avoid doing their job in that case too. Cops are pigs, and this is just one reason among many, why people say it.

  42. Rinus says

    Cops are pigs, and this is just one reason among many, why people say it.

    Nice one. Keep fighting the good fight against bigotry and whatnot.

  43. jfraatz says

    [[ …I do not believe that the fact that the secular community does not contain the precise percentage of blacks, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans as in the general population, means that all of us in the secular community are racists, explicitly or implicitly.

    I would not accept this argument from Newt Gingrich in defense of the GOP, and I doubt you would either. What the recent election showed us pretty clearly is that nobody in the Republican Party thinks that any of them are “racists***” , and yet their policies and their rhetoric are obviously racist,]]

    I’m sorry, but this notion is simply idiotic. Harping on identity distributions over positions is in itself racist and a little anal-retentive to boot.

  44. Sheldon says

    Holy sheep shit Batman!

    Do you realize the can of worms you just opened by attacking perhaps the most intellectually disciplined skeptic in the atheist community??

    Now I realize that science and skeptics don’t have priveleged priests, but the #1 advocate of that idea is Michael Shermer. After having read most of his books, it’s obvious that Michael is the kind of person who is his own biggest critic and just to be sure he has others scrutinize his work for errors he missed.

    You on the other hand, can’t claim to be in the same league as him, quoting unscientific polls, and quoting scientific polls out of context.

    You better hope he doesn’t see this and respond, or he’ll make you look like the poser that you truly are.

  45. says

    Hey, have you considered removing alcohol from the equation at these conferences? I read through the claims of harassment, and the common denominator appears to be the effects of alcohol, rather than a culture of legitimizing mistreatment of women.

    I still disagree with your arguments, but it seems like this would be a pragmatic approach worth trying.

  46. says

    It is one approach. I think it focuses on distal rather than proximal causes of misbehaviour, and thereby misses the problem. I’ve worked at bars – it’s trivially possible to have people drinking and not molesting each other. It simply requires attention and foresight on behalf of duly-appointed security. Every bar I’ve been to that has a reputation for assault also had lax security; conversely, the bars that I’ve been to that have good reputations were the ones where security was attentive and professional.

    Also, considering the dumbass things I hear sober people say to and about women within this community, I doubt very much the efficacy of such an approach, except insofar as it might prevent the very worst manifestations of the problem.

    It’s also perhaps worth noting that such an approach would be wildly unpopular among pretty much everyone, but that’s not necessarily a deal-breaking factor for me.

  47. says

    “Also, considering the dumbass things I hear sober people say to and about women within this community, I doubt very much the efficacy of such an approach, except insofar as it might prevent the very worst manifestations of the problem.”

    I guess my reading of your take on the issue is that there is this dangerous environment for women, which is the proximal cause of non-attendance. Leaving aside whether this is borne out by the evidence you’ve provided, the few cases of discomfort that link out to harassment all have alcohol in common (since Christina Rad’s experience was harassment by a woman).

    So if preventing harassment is the highest priority, the lack of alcohol shouldn’t be an issue, but it does need to be tested. We’re all familiar with the effects of the substance. If we eliminate alcohol, and the problem doesn’t change, then we are left examining a smaller pool of variables(progress by any standard).

    My 2c. Lets approach this like skeptics :)

  48. says

    Yes, that is one approach. OR, we could institute harassment policies and see what effect that has, since it’s the best explanation for the problem (and has demonstrated efficacy in other environments). Which is, to my knowledge, what orgs are doing.

  49. says

    Well now I’m just plain confused. In your original post, you didn’t call for harassment policies; you didn’t go after Shermer for not being on board with instituting those policies. No, the solution is feminism, and the problem still remains despite the harassment policies already in effect.

    “We may not, for example, be in a position to fix gender stereotypes in society at large, but we sure as hell can start to do something about harassment and assault. This discussion requires an understanding of gender and its sociological underpinnings – in other words, feminism. Conversations about socially-constructed gender roles quickly and necessarily expanded into a conversation about patriarchy – a culture of male entitlement to women’s bodies, of male supremacy, of the policing of what it was that we were being subtly taught about how men and women “should” behave. All of these pieces and more were necessary to redesign our community events to make it possible for those women who feared the prospect of harassment and assault for their mere existence in the skeptical sphere to feel safe enough to participate.”

    So clearly, this isn’t about harassment policies. Supposing that this is about “a culture of male entitlement”, that wouldn’t account for Christina Rad’s experience, nor does it explain why alcohol is present in all cases.

    I’m simply suggesting we remove one variable, alcohol, that has been demonstrated to make people behave in ways they otherwise wouldn’t, and test the “entitlement” hypothesis. If it’s not just alcohol, if this hypothesis of yours is the proximal cause, nothing should change. The harassment should persist.

  50. says

    I didn’t “call for harassment policies” because I didn’t “call for” anything. I described what the process has been (and continues to be) on why it’s ‘difficult’ to find women to speak up about atheism. Conventions are only one small part of that – the survey I posted was specifically about cons, yes, but it’s entirely plausible that they reflect attitudes outside those specific events. To my knowledge, Dr. Shermer hasn’t taken a position on harassment policies (I’d imagine that he’d be for them, but maybe that’s just blind optimism on my part).

    The “harassment at cons” thing is an example of a conversation that happened recently about how to respond to a specific topic. The conversation about women being involved in the skeptical movement more generally can and should take a similar approach: listening and responding to address the problems we can solve as a group, even if we can’t fix all of society at once. Feminism is part of that discussion and response.

    if this hypothesis of yours is the proximal cause, nothing should change. The harassment should persist.

    And, as I pointed out, since harassment happens from sober people both inside and outside of cons, the “no booze” policy is unlikely to make a meaningful impact on anything except the most egregious cases of harassment. And your conclusion doesn’t follow from your premise. If we outlawed smoke breaks at work, we’d see a reduction in the number of cases of lung cancer, but smoke breaks don’t cause lung cancer – cigarettes do.

  51. says

    We could also see if the color the walls are painted or the type of music playing effects harassment. We could also run around seeing if the number of vaccinations you’ve had impacts your tendency to harass. There are lots of completely secondary things we could check for correlation or we could expect people to be adults who are responsible for their behavior (including their level of intoxication) and hold them responsible for misbehaving, just as we’d do for any other breech of the events’ policies.

  52. says

    Again, lots to disagree with, but focusing on problem solving.

    And, as I pointed out, since harassment happens from sober people both inside and outside of cons, the “no booze” policy is unlikely to make a meaningful impact on anything except the most egregious cases of harassment

    Since it’s a bajillion (calculated to the third decimal place) easier to just remove alcohol from these venues than it is to convince everyone of feminism, why aren’t we doing the things that will “make a meaningful impact on…the most egregious cases of harassment”?

    Wracking my brain for a good reason not to make such an impact, comin’ up dry.

  53. says

    If we placed everyone in full 17th-century body armor, we’d also stop the worst cases of sexual assault. Will you join me in my idea to mandate body armor at all skeptic cons?

    And “convincing everyone of feminism” isn’t the proposed answer to harassment and assault at cons, so I’m not sure where that statement is coming from.

  54. says

    Since it’s a bajillion (calculated to the third decimal place) easier to just remove alcohol from these venues than it is to convince everyone of feminism, why aren’t we doing the things that will “make a meaningful impact on…the most egregious cases of harassment”?

    This is puzzling to me. Why is telling people not to harass other people “feminism?” Why don’t you just call it being a decent human being? Why are you assuming booze is the reason for all harassment? Why aren’t you simply cracking down on the people doing the harassing? Why is a policy against harassment a bad thing?

  55. says

    We could also see if the color the walls are painted or the type of music playing effects harassment.

    That’s not very fair.

    we could expect people to be adults who are responsible for their behavior (including their level of intoxication) and hold them responsible for misbehaving, just as we’d do for any other breech of the events’ policies.

    How is this in any way a response to anything I’ve said? Of course we should have and enforce event policies, especially if it’s been shown to make an impact. The problem with this is that, were that the solution, Michael Shermer would be on firm ground with his statement. The vast majority of women who do not participate cite other priorities, or lack of childcare, rather than harassment. But some do cite harassment, and the instances of harassment that have been produced have all been cases of drunk people (both men and women). None of the stories specified the wall color, or the music playing, and we can be reasonably confident that those varied in each case.

    So we have the RDF and SI tackling the childcare problem, we remove alcohol from the venues to deal with the “egregious” cases of harassment, and enforce harassment policies for the rest.

    That still leaves a non-trivial population of non-participants who, by their own admission, would prefer do other things. That doesn’t strike me as a problem we should spend a lot of time and energy on, and it resonates well with Michael Shermer’s statement that maybe they simply don’t want to.

  56. says

    If we placed everyone in full 17th-century body armor, we’d also stop the worst cases of sexual assault. Will you join me in my idea to mandate body armor at all skeptic cons?

    Why the flippant attitude? Is it just because I don’t agree with your sociopolitical goals? Can we not reach across the aisle and fix the problems we agree on without turning every discussion into a circus?

  57. says

    You’re reducing “activity within the skeptical movement” to “going to cons”. I’ve tried at several different points to explain to you that that’s not the whole movement. Con-going is only one way in which people participate, and actually has zero to do with either the question Dr. Shermer was asked or the answer he gave. I raised it as an example of a time where we asked a question, listened to an issue, and then formulated a response based on what people had said. If properly-enforced harassment policies do not have an impact on people’s reported levels of comfort attending events, then we will have to try something else. Maybe alcohol prohibition, although I imagine that will create problems of its own making.

    And yes, if the policies work, there will still be women who don’t attend, but there will be fewer who don’t attend because of things that we can control. That’s the point. We may not be able to fix everything, but there are some things we can.

  58. says

    Why is telling people not to harass other people “feminism?” Why don’t you just call it being a decent human being? Why are you assuming booze is the reason for all harassment? Why aren’t you simply cracking down on the people doing the harassing? Why is a policy against harassment a bad thing?

    You quoted me, but you don’t appear to be responding to anything I’ve said. Misquote, maybe?

  59. says

    @66

    actually has zero to do with either the question Dr. Shermer was asked or the answer he gave.

    HUH?

    It’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it

    Where do they get the figures of participation? Blogs? How do we know that more men are active in the movement than women?

    I assumed he meant conference participation. The study you cited was specific to conference participation. Most of your comments (43 on especially) dealt with conferences/events. Indeed, beyond the citations of harassment at conferences, all you’ve got are mean things people said on the internet. Harassment policies aren’t going to do much about that, nor is “telling” trolls to behave going to get much done.

    We may not be able to fix everything, but there are some things we can.

    They why treat an honest suggestion, which you conceded would be efficacious, with such a tripe answer?

  60. says

    You are aware that I’ve seen your comments on IntegralMath’s Youtube video, right? Your pleas for maturity ring a bit hollow…

    Quote the immature one?

  61. says

    Misquote, maybe?

    No, not at all. You mentioned feminism, as if it’s a monolith that’s required in order to get people not to harass and instead suggest keeping people from drinking. Why are you blaming alcohol for the harassment? I ask because while you apparently endorse harassment policy(something you said in a comment after I posed my questions), you seem more inclined to address things that make harassers more likely to harass than to address the harassment itself.

    And I’ll add a general agreement with Crommunist that cons are only a small part of skepticism and that while not many women attend them, that doesn’t mean women aren’t inclined to be skeptical.

  62. says

    which you conceded would be efficacious

    Perhaps selectively efficacious in a tiny group of incidents, that does nothing to change the larger behaviour, and would be extremely contentious if not impossibly impractical. Like I said – body armor would also be efficacious, but that doesn’t make it automatically a worthwhile policy.

    How do we know that more men are active in the movement than women?

    Did you watch the interview? Dr. Shermer was asked a question about why it was so hard to find a woman to book on the show. He made the claim that women are less active. Take it up with him if you disagree, I guess. Judging by my admittedly-selective participation, and the overwhelming majority of information that I hear from other people, there are far more men involved in this community than there are women, particularly in leadership roles. We’ve had years of this discussion – is this the first time you’re hearing about it?

    And yes, conference participation is one that gets the lion’s share of the attention, and I used it as an easily-retrievable example of a specific thing where we could take action.

    Indeed, beyond the citations of harassment at conferences, all you’ve got are mean things people said on the internet.

    Actually no, what we have is the original issue of it purportedly being harder to find women who are outspoken about their atheism. And so we ask the question “why is that?”, and feminism has to be part of how we explore that question. I don’t think this is a complicated issue, and you don’t seem to be unintelligent, so I am confused why this is so difficult for you. Maybe I am doing a poor job of explaining my position.

  63. says

    Why are you blaming alcohol for the harassment?

    you seem more inclined to address things that make harassers more likely to harass than to address the harassment itself.

    We may not be able to fix everything, but there are some things we can.

    and

    that doesn’t mean women aren’t inclined to be skeptical.

    Who made that claim?

  64. says

    Shermer said something dumb and doubled down on it. He’s getting called out for doing so.

    He doesn’t have do engage in self-flagellation or prostrate himself before the Goddesses of Atheist Feminism™ or abase himself before the Almighty FTBullies™. He just has to take a step back, admit he said something dumb, say he’s sorry and try not to do it again in the future.

    Am I missing something here?

  65. says

    Who made that claim?

    Which one? The final one? Shermer did. Which is what the original posting addressed and the reason I wrote “In general”, meaning I wasn’t addressing you.

    As for the rest of the quotes, I don’t know why you’re simply quoting me but I can see you aren’t willing to engage, so I’ll let those questions sit unanswered.

  66. says

    Forgive the length, but I’ll wrap up with this one. (Timid Atheist, your answers are in here, if you can spot them).

    extremely contentious if not impossibly impractical

    I’m genuinely curious about this type of pushback. These events are surrounded by bars throughout the city. If folks want their alcohol fix, they can do it elsewhere. Impractical? “Sorry, bar’s closed”. Maybe there’s something I’m missing here? What’s more important: stopping “egregious” harassment, or attendee’s ability to get spinney?

    I can certainly see why people who disagree with you about the extent of the problem would find it contentious, but I’m flatly astonished that you would find this on par with forcing people into 17th century armor.

    We’ve had years of this discussion – is this the first time you’re hearing about it?

    No. There have been some reasons cited for this, including women’s greater representation in religious groups over men’s(meaning the 50/50 figure isn’t “representative”). Your camp has been citing harassment, at cons and online. Of the instances of harassment at cons, I pointed out that they all appear to involve alcohol, so lets ditch alcohol at these events. So far as harassment online, that’s a completely separate issue.

    Now you view both problems as a sociopolitical struggle for women. I do not. However, it’s not really important that we agree on that. What is important is that we work together in fixing the problems we agree exist with solutions we agree will help solve those problems. If the threshold for changing the paradigm is all-or-nothing, I’m afraid this problem will remain intractable for as long as political divisions exist.

    And yes, conference participation is one that gets the lion’s share of the attention, and I used it as an easily-retrievable example of a specific thing where we could take action.

    Correct, and yet we’re not. We’re still arguing about it.

    Actually no, what we have is the original issue of it purportedly being harder to find women who are outspoken about their atheism. And so we ask the question “why is that?”, and feminism has to be part of how we explore that question

    Feminism is one hypothesis. There are far more problems with that ideology than you’re probably going to admit, or that I’m going to get into a long discussion about here. It’s not at all clear to me that feminism has a role to play in a situation where women are choosing not to participate in greater numbers than men. So to say feminism is relevant here is to assume that women’s free choices aren’t the cause, which would be the substance of the debate anyways.

    I don’t think this is a complicated issue, and you don’t seem to be unintelligent, so I am confused why this is so difficult for you. Maybe I am doing a poor job of explaining my position.

    This might be the problem. The implicit assumption that intelligence and thoughtful reflection would necessarily yield the same political/social conclusions. That’s a rather arrogant attitude, to be blunt. This is an exceedingly complicated issue, as all sociopolitical issues are, and it’s hopelessly parochial to assume that there’s one right answer.

  67. says

    Correct, and yet we’re not. We’re still arguing about it.

    Actually, people ARE taking action. They’re just not taking YOUR action. Because your action is an unnecessary overreach that doesn’t address the core of the problem.

    It’s not at all clear to me that feminism has a role to play in a situation where women are choosing not to participate in greater numbers than men.

    That “choosing not to participate” bit is the reason why feminism is applicable to the situation. Because the way that we understand the relevant factors that influence “choices” requires us to address issues that are gendered. To express it as “women’s free choices aren’t the cause” is to essentially disavow any responsibility for changing one’s behaviour at all. What we see is that those groups and organizations that make these kinds of adjustments end up encouraging greater involvement among those groups they reach out to, and those groups/orgs that stand on this “unexamined free choices” hill end up continuing to make the same mistakes.

    In other words, people are free to refuse to incorporate feminist ideas into their operational infrastructure. They will see the gender situation remain essentially unchanged, because they do not see it important to change their own behaviour. Unchanged behaviour will result in unchanged outcomes. But if you want to diversify the movement, at some point you have to stop pretending as though you already have all the answers and that it’s everyone else’s fault that they’re just not “intellectually active” enough to participate through their own “free choice”. I freely choose not to associate with groups that repeatedly demonstrate that my feelings are not important – you’ll find that other people are smart enough to make the same calculation.

    The implicit assumption that intelligence and thoughtful reflection would necessarily yield the same political/social conclusions.

    I wasn’t talking about our conclusions, actually. I was talking about the fact that you’re talking about only cons/meetups and I’m not.

  68. says

    You’re killin’ me :)

    Because the way that we understand the relevant factors that influence “choices” requires us to address issues that are gendered.

    But Crommunist, that’s precisely what’s at issue here, the infantilizing assumption in putting the term “choices” in scare quotes. Contra-Sally, feminism doesn’t just propose the solution to an agreed upon problem, it claims to outline the problem itself. Now, my first comment here cited a survey from the same organization that you cited from. In that survey, of those who do not and never did participate (70% or so), harassment and demonstrating that their “feelings are not important” didn’t even make it onto the map. Of the 7% who did participate, but no longer do, only 25% of them cited these, among other, concerns.

    Perhaps you can construct a narrative in which those women who choose to spend time on family, career, and other pursuits, are simply blind to the forces that compel them into that behavior. To that I say, “Good luck”. But that is your burden, because aside from asking women what they want, I don’t know how else we can embody the principle of treating them like people. Telling them what they should want doesn’t seem to me to rise to that principle, nor does dismissing what they expressly prefer to do.

    I took that as the spirit of Michael Shermer’s comment. Is it just impossible, on your view, that more men than women would be interested in being intellectually active in this skeptical movement? And further, if it’s the culture at large that is conditioning these desires, how will changing the face of the movement change those desires?

  69. says

    Lee, the problem is that there is an assumption that whatever worked for the predominantly white, middle class, male, straight members of the community are the default needs of the group, and any attempts to address the needs of other types of members have to be viewed as potentially harmful, in the same way that communities like Santa Monica, California, might view the nativity scene as having addressing the needs of a group that has always set the tone of the community. Just because it worked for years within the community and may still address the wishes of the majority, doesn’t mean it’s right or inclusive. Atheists are a small minority of most north american communities but having policies that actively alienate them are wrong regardless. You wouldn’t accept an argument like “maybe atheists just aren’t as community minded, so let’s ignore them.”

    The same is true of the freethought/skepticism/atheist community. Women, people of color, and LGBT individuals may still be a small percentage of the overall community but that isn’t an excuse to maintain policies that make them feel unwelcome or harassed. Arguing that maybe those people just aren’t cut out for it, or blaming alcohol are just ways to maintain the status quo. You can cite a questionnaire that showed that the people asked didn’t view harassment as a concern and that may be true of the people asked or may be a product of how the question was asked, but clearly, plenty of people are sharing their concerns about harassment so one can only assume you are cherry picking here.

  70. says

    because aside from asking women what they want…

    And there are a lot of women saying that they want to be listened to. And when they talk, they talk feminism. They talk about not being listened to. They talk about being talked over by men. They talk about having their ideas dismissed. They talk about being overlooked for leadership positions. It’s not a problem unique to the skeptical movement, but it’s not a problem that we don’t have.

    Is it just impossible, on your view, that more men than women would be interested in being intellectually active in this skeptical movement?

    It’s an extraordinary claim, and I won’t believe it until I see some extraordinary evidence that controls for other explanations; the kinds of explanations we find when we look at why women “aren’t intellectually active” in sciences, engineering, business, computing, the military, politics, etc. That’s not an “infantilizing assumption”, it’s a view of gender that’s grounded in reality rather than libertarian fantasy.

  71. says

    Lee,

    Hi. I’m female. I know that means what I’m about to say is completely irrelevant to you, but I’ll try anyway.

    I get harassed. Pretty much everywhere I go. At some places, it’s worse than others. Computer stores. Sports bars. Conventions.

    And you know what that ends up tending to mean? It means the effort to attend regarding transportation, childcare, etc… just isn’t worth it to me. Why would I bother trying to overcome those obstacles when I’m just going to get talked over, ignored, harassed, dismissed, belittled, and objectified? I can get all that just by signing on to voice chat in any video game. So why should I bother? Frankly, I’ve got better things to do, and I can get the same bullshit at much classier joints.

    So if you ask me why I don’t go, the answer is going to be because frankly, it’s not worth the time and energy it takes to get there. We’ve explained the rest countless times. You and your ilk just refuse to hear it, and ya know, explaining the obvious to you for the fiftieth time often isn’t worth the time and effort either.

    In short, we stay home, because the likes of you and your hero Shermer have made it clear we aren’t welcome. So why should I bother to pay a babysitter to attend your convention?

    Do you get the picture yet?

  72. ksolway says

    Benson said:

    The main stereotype in play, let’s face it, is that women are too stupid to do nontheism. Unbelieving in God is thinky work, and women don’t do thinky, because “that’s a guy thing.” Don’t laugh: Michael Shermer said exactly that during a panel discussion on the online talk-show The Point.

    In reality, Shermer merely said “that’s a guy thing”.

    He definitely didn’t say that “women are too stupid to do nontheism. Unbelieving in God is thinky work, and women don’t do thinky”.

    So Benson is straight-out lying.

    Shermer didn’t offer any explanation as to why men might be more interested in atheism.

    So this is exactly the kind of irrationality and witch-hunt mentality that Shermer was talking about. And this why I am an anti-feminist, and a strong opponent of the culture of FTB and atheism+.

    If it is the case that men are more interested in atheism – which certainly appears to be the case – then it might be for genetic reasons, or social reasons, or a combination of the two.

  73. says

    @85

    Hi. I’m female. I know that means what I’m about to say is completely irrelevant to you, but I’ll try anyway.

    If you’re not going to read what I write, or listen to what I say, such that you think this is an appropriate response to my comments, I’m not going to respect you in like fashion.

    @84

    Could you please notate when you edit a comment?

    As to the substance of your edit, again, I haven’t seen it, it doesn’t show up on the survey I cited, and there’s no reason to suppose that these things are happening on a socially unacceptable basis. If you can lay out specific instances, point to the causal forces, we’ve got something to talk about. The dismissal of ideas, the talking over, the passing over for leadership positions, are experiences shared by both genders, and exacerbated no less by feminists themselves.

    You’re welcome to say that women honestly representing their wishes is an “extraordinary claim” in need of a vast burden of proof, but I ain’t biting.

  74. says

    If you can lay out specific instances, point to the causal forces, we’ve got something to talk about

    You want me to prove to you that sexism exists? Seriously?

    And as far as you “biting” or not, I think you severely overestimate the level to which I care about your opinion. Especially when you consistently misrepresent my statements like this.

  75. says

    Thanks for letting me know. I’ll make sure to schedule in time for a good long cry over the loss of your support, random person I’ve never met.

  76. Rodney Nelson says

    Lee, I was particularly impressed with your post #87 where your sneering dismissal of WithinThisMind’s explanation of why she doesn’t go to conventions. It must be a guy thing for guys like you and your buddy Shermer to sneer at women.

  77. ildi says

    Lee:

    Only someone who doesn’t know the difference between a keyboard cowboy and real violence would categorize that as a threat. You’re privilege is showing.

    I think you’re a bit confused; it’s actually you who is showing privilege by not understanding why those types of cyber-bullying only have the effect of keyboard cowboy antics on you. I think you may also be making the “excluding the middle” fallacy? Is there a “zero-bad” fallacy? (Not to mention total lack of empathy you demonstrate with your insistence that threats must be evaluated through “your special eyes.”)

  78. ildi says

    HaifischGeweint:

    If I’m understanding you correctly, your personal experience demonstrating that what constitutes a threat is interpreted differently under different laws is as follows:

    A man came up and harassed one of your fellow protestors at a protest; you were unsuccessful in diffusing the situation, partly because this fellow sceptic can’t step back from a fight. In fact, you no longer associate with this fellow sceptic for not being able to ignore a harasser, as this same behavior has caused problems on several other occasions. In any event, you called 911 because of the threatening behavior of the man. He was arrested later, but charges didn’t stick because of procedural errors. The same guy showed up two weeks later at another rally and continued his harassment and threats. This time he was swarmed by more than a dozen people so he couldn’t pick on individuals. Cops are called again, but this time they didn’t arrest him because now they’re saying it’s ok to make threats at a rally.

    Cops are lazy pigs.

    I don’t think your example shows what you think it does.

  79. Martha says

    Awesome OP, Crommunist, and thanks for wading into the muck on this one. I’m sure I’m not the first or only one to say it, but it makes a big difference.

  80. says

    @92

    Seriously?

    Somebody get some of Khadaffi’s rape squads

    Am I to be maligned as “privilege blind” if I doubt whether Khadaffi’s rape squad is inbound?

    Come. On.

    @89

    You want me to prove to you that sexism exists? Seriously?

    Ignoring the fact that this happens to men as well, and it’s not sexism unless it’s done because of the person’s gender. So…no, you need to prove that it’s happening for sexist reasons. Lest we lose sight of what “it” is,

    They talk about not being listened to. They talk about being talked over by men. They talk about having their ideas dismissed. They talk about being overlooked for leadership positions.

    Just re that last statement, a case was brought before the supreme court against Walmart for that very reason. It was thrown out because the plaintiffs couldn’t show that sexism was the reason for less women in management positions.

    Especially when you consistently misrepresent my statements like this.

    Yeah, ditto.

  81. says

    @96

    Blame comment 36, then. That either is, or isn’t, a genuine threat worth taking seriously. What’s it to be, Ildi?

  82. ildi says

    Blame comment 36, then.

    Except that comment 36 has nothing to say about the rationality of fearing threats from the dead. Nobody is talking about that but you.

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