Why Free Conferences Are Important — And Why You Should Support Skepticon

Atheist and skeptical conferences matter. They help us find each other and create community. They give organizers and activists a chance to network. They give people who are closeted a place to be themselves, if only for a weekend. They generate ideas. They spread ideas. They’re a testing ground for ideas. They inspire and energize people. Miri Mogilevsky has a great piece on why conferences matter, in case you’re not persuaded.

Conferences are also, much of the time, expensive. And that means that all these wonderful benefits are only accessible to people who can afford them. The high expense of conferences isn’t the only barrier to marginalized people who want to participate in our community and our movement, it’s not even the most important one — but it is a barrier, and it’s not trivial.

This is why I am so tickled to see the increasing trend in our community of free conferences.

And this is why I’m asking you to donate to Skepticon.

skepticon 7 logo

Skepticon is the mothership of free conferences in the atheist and skeptical community. In seven years, it’s grown from a small local conference by and for a student group, into one of the largest, most recognized, most awesomely fun conferences in our community. And it’s become a model for other free conferences.

But free conferences are, obviously, not free to put on. It’s like public radio — it’s funded by the support of generous donors like you.

Please donate to Skepticon. You can make a one-time donation, or get set up to automatically donate a small amount each month. (Or a large amount each month, if you can manage it.) Help keep this free conference going — and help it continue to inspire other free conferences like it. Even small amounts help — they really do add up. So donate whatever you can.

skepticon 7 tshirtYou can also support Skepticon by buying one of these awesome T-shirts. 100% of the profit goes back to Skepticon, and if you order now or soon, they’ll ship them before the event.

And if you register for Skepticon by October 17 (yes, even though it’s free, they want you to register, it makes it easier for them to plan if they know how many people are coming), you get get a free lanyard & badge. So if you’re planning on coming, register now! Skepticon 7 is Friday November 21 to Sunday November 23, and speakers this year include me me me, PZ Myers, Jamie Kilstein, Cara Santa Maria, Hemant Mehta, Heina Dadabhoy, Amy Davis Roth (“Surly Any”), Dr. Nicole Gugliucci, Ben “Sweatervest” Blanchard, Sheree Renee Thomas, Kayley Whalen, Daniel Bier, Peggy Mason, Dr. David Gorski, JT Eberhard, Scott Clifton, and Melanie Brewster.

skeptipromPlus this year they’re having Skeptiprom — it’s going to be the best prom ever, as they’ve taken out all the raging teenage hormones and added a crapload of glitter and skepticism. This thing is going to be mega-awesome.

And if you can’t make it — if your sister is getting married that weekend or something (pfff! shabby excuse) — please support them anyway. Think of it this way — if you can’t go this year, you might be able to go next year, and supporting it now means they’ll be able to keep on doing it!

Srsly. If you can, donate now.

Sam Harris is Just Factually Wrong — Globally, Atheism Has No Gender Split — UPDATED WITH IMPORTANT CORRECTION

VERY IMPORTANT CORRECTION: It looks like I was mistaken about the global gender breakdown of atheism. Details here. I still think the bulk of my criticism of Harris was correct and fair — I think his remarks were sexist, even if you do recognize a global gender split in atheism (which I now do), and even if you do accept some degree of innate gender difference between women and men. But when it comes to the specific question of whether there really are more male atheists than female atheists worldwide, it seems likely that I was mistaken, and that the study I was citing was an outlier. My apologies.

Sam Harris is just factually wrong. Globally, there is no gender split in atheism. Globally, women and men are religious, not religious, and convinced atheists at about the same rate. In fact, globally, women are slightly more likely to be atheists than men (although that difference is small, probably too small to be significant).

In case you haven’t already heard this: Sam Harris recently gave an interview to the Washington Post. When asked why the vast majority of atheists — and many of those who buy his books — are male, he said this:

“I think it may have to do with my person slant as an author, being very critical of bad ideas. This can sound very angry to people..People just don’t like to have their ideas criticized. There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree instrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women,” he said. “The atheist variable just has this – it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”

Why Are You Atheists So Angry? coverThere are a lot of possible responses to this. The first one that springs to my mind, and to many people’s minds, is, “Fuck you, you sexist, patronizing asshole. You think women don’t take a critical posture? Come talk to some women in the atheist movement, and we will give you an earful of our critical posture.” The second response that springs to my mind, and to many people’s minds, is, “Do you think that maybe — just maybe — the fact that not that many women read your books might have something to do with the fact that you say horrible sexist bullshit like this, and we’re sick of it, and we don’t want to hear it, or anything else from you, ever again?” And the third response, from me in particular, is, “Do you seriously not know that the person who literally wrote the book on angry atheism — Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless — is me, a woman? Have you seen the cover art for that book? Would you really not describe the woman standing on the soapbox labeled ‘REASON’ with her fist in the air as, quite literally, a critical posture?”

But it’s also very, very important to say this, since it’s something that even a lot of feminist atheists don’t know: The gender split in atheism is not universal. It seems to be an American phenomenon. It may exist in some other countries as well — but globally, women and men are religious, not religious, and convinced atheists at about the same rate. According to the WIN-Gallup International “Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism 2012,” August 6, 2012 (PDF, Table 8, page 20 of 25), when asked, “Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person or a convinced atheist?”, 60% of men and 57% of women said “A religious person.” 23% of men and 23% of women said, “Not a religious person.” 12% of men and 14% of women said “A convinced atheist.” (“Don’t know/no response” got 5% from men and 6% from women.) [Read more...]

All Greta’s Books On Sale During Mega-Epic Book Tour!

I’m currently on a mega-epic book tour for Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why: I’m speaking in Grand Rapids, MI; Farmington Hills, MI; Cleveland, OH; Amherst, NY; Columbus, OH; Cincinnati, OH; and Indianapolis, IN. (Tour details are here — if you’re in or near any of these cities, come say hi!)

So I’m putting the ebook editions of all three of my books on sale! The sale will last through the tour — the last day for these low, low prices is September 18. If you’ve been thinking about buying any or all of these books, now’s the time!

Coming Out AtheistThe ebook of Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why is now just $7.99! You can get it on Kindle (that’s the link for Amazon US, btw — it’s available in other regions as well), Nook, and Smashwords.

why are you atheists so angryThe ebook of Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless is now just $5.99! You can get it on Kindle (again, that’s the link for Amazon US, it’s available in other regions as well), Nook, and Smashwords.

BendingAnd the ebook of Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More is now just $5.99! You can get it on Kindle (once again, that’s the link for Amazon US, it’s available in other regions as well), Nook, and Smashwords.

These sale prices apply only to the ebook editions, not to the print books or audiobooks. Again, these sale prices will be good through September 18. Happy shopping!

Greta Speaking in MI, OH, NY, and IN, Sept. 10-17! (Akron Cancelled; A Few Other Changes.) Plus San Francisco, Charlotte NC, Sacramento, Springfield, MO!

I have a mega-epic speaking tour coming up this week in the Midwest and East! I’ll be in Grand Rapids, MI; Farmington Hills, MI; Cleveland, OH; Amherst, NY; Columbus, OH; Cincinnati, OH; and Indianapolis, IN.

A couple of changes: The Akron event, unfortunately, has been cancelled. The topic for the Columbus talk has changed: it’s now going to be “Atheism and Sexuality.” And the topic for the Cincinnati talk has been expanded: I’m now going to speaking on both “Coming Out Atheist” and “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?” (More briefly on each topic, obviously.)

I’m also going to reading in San Francisco at Perverts Put Out! on Saturday, September 20, along with Sherilyn Connely, Lori Selke, horehound stillpoint, Xan West, hosts Simon Sheppard and Dr. Carol Queen, and more. And I’m going to be speaking in Charlotte NC at the Carolinas Secular Conference; Sacramento CA at Sacramento Freethought Day, and Springfield MO at Skepticon!

Here are details about the upcoming tour, as well as my other upcoming speaking gigs. If you’re in any of these cities, I hope to see you there! [Read more...]

Trans People, Pronouns, and Choosing Between Social Justice and the Chicago Manual of Style

Chicago_Manual_of_Style_15th_editionWhen it comes to the pronouns we use for transgender people, which is more important — treating marginalized people with basic respect, or following the Chicago Manual of Style?

I recently wrote a column for The Humanist magazine, Trans People and Basic Human Respect, in which I made the case (a case that should have been obvious but regretfully isn’t) for treating trans people with basic human respect, including accepting their own evaluation of their own genders, and using the names and pronouns they prefer.

Tom Flynn — executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, vice president for media at the Center for Inquiry, and editor of Free Inquiry magazine (for which I am a columnist) — has written a reply. He generally applauds the piece, and says that he mostly agrees with it. But when it comes to pronouns, and using the singular “they” for trans people who prefer it, that’s just a bridge too far. Flynn objects to anyone — trans, cis, anyone — using the singular “they,” on the grounds that “it unnecessarily degrades the clarity of our language in regards to number.” (Read Flynn’s piece for a more thorough explanation of his concerns.)

As you might guess, I strongly disagree. That’s putting it mildly. I disagree on grammatical grounds — and far more seriously, I disagree on social justice grounds. Flynn’s understanding of the linguistics behind the singular “they” is just flatly wrong — and his take on the social justice issue is distressingly retrograde. [Read more...]

So You Think You Can Dance Nudity Parity Watch, Season 11 — The Final Roundup!

sytycd logoAs regular readers know, I’ve been watching Season 11 of So You Think You Can Dance, the mixed-style dance competition show, and have been documenting whether the women are generally expected to show more skin than the men.

The season is over, the winner has been announced — and I’ve added up the total routines over the season, to see how many of them had women more naked than men, how many had men more naked than women, and how many had rough nudity parity between the male and female dancers.

In this final roundup, I have only included routines that included both women and men: i.e., I have not included same-sex routines or solos. I have also not included guest performances. I have only included male-female routines of the competitors, in routines that were part of the competition.

The totals:

Women more naked than men 8
Men more naked than women 0
Nudity parity 2

Woman more naked than man 56
Man more naked than woman 1
Nudity parity 11

(For those who are curious, I break this down by different dance styles a little later in the post. For the routine-by-routine documentation, read the individual posts in this series.)

So the answer, in short is yes. Assuming that this season is representative of the show in general, then the female dancers on So You Think You Can Dance are, in fact, generally expected to show more skin than the men.

A lot more.

In group routines, greater female nudity outnumbered nudity parity by four to one. In couple routines, greater female nudity outnumbered nudity parity by five to one. And there was literally one — count ‘em, one — routine this season in which the man showed more skin than the woman.

When I started this project, I suspected that the show didn’t have nudity parity. I did this documentation project to see if my perception from past seasons were accurate, or if it was just confirmation bias. But while I expected that I’d find a nudity imbalance, I didn’t expect it to be quite this glaring.

Four to one in the group routines. Five to one in the couple routines. And that’s the imbalance between “more female nudity” and “nudity parity” — not the imbalance between “more female nudity” and “more male nudity.” Of the 78 relevant routines in this season, there was literally one in which there was more male nudity. I will say that again, in case you missed it — ONE.

sytycd-armen-way-and-marlene-ostergaardI wrote about why this matters in my original post in this series, and I’m going to say it again here. [Read more...]

So You Think You Can Dance Nudity Parity Watch, Season 11, Episode 14

sytycd logoAs regular readers know, I’m watching the current season of So You Think You Can Dance, the mixed-style dance competition show, and am documenting whether the women are generally expected to show more skin than the men. (I give a more detailed explanation of this project, and why I’m doing it, in my first post in the series.)

Before I get into the breakdown of the relative nudity or lack thereof in this episode, I want to give the producers of “So You Think You Can Dance” kudos for the opening number. This was the most same-sex-oriented routine I’ve ever seen them do, and it was obviously about same-sex marriage: the men were mostly dancing together, the women were mostly dancing together, they were doing so in very romantically and couple-y ways, they were wearing white, and the music was that wedding cliche, “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Nigel even more or less acknowledged it as such, in one of his pieces of self-congratulatory blather about how mind-bogglingly amazing his show is.

so-you-think-you-can-dance-s11e7 opening group number

It’s a drop in the bucket compared to what it should be. It’s actually pretty pathetic that “So You Think You Can Dance” has been going on for eleven seasons, and this is the first time (as far as I know) that the U.S. edition has had any same-sex routine about love or sex. (Same-sex routines in the past have always been about friendship, competition, anything but love and sex.) Still, it was a Good Thing, and I’m going to praise them for it and encourage them to do it more.

So. Here are the nudity parity results for Episode 14, the Final Four performance finale. [Read more...]

A Woman’s Room Online: An immersive experience of the daily harassment women face online

Content note: images based on threats and harassment

A Womens Room Online photo

This art show by Amy Davis Roth sounds hugely powerful. If you’re anywhere near the L.A. area, I strongly encourage you to see it.

I am building a free standing 8ft by 8ft office space, from the ground up on, the 2nd floor of The Center For Inquiry-Los Angeles. The room is intended to be an average office that a woman would work in. It is simply a normal office space, with a door, desk, chair and a computer and other small objects that one might have in a workspace, but this particular room has been transformed to clearly show the viewer what it can feel like to be targeted in your place of work, over multiple years with aggressive online stalking and harassment.

The room and its objects are blanketed with actual messages sent to, or publicly posted about the women who have contributed to the exhibit.

The messages are all real and were sent to or publicly posted about the women from July 2nd, 2011 up until now.

It’s your turn to read them. What has been sent to us, will now be on display for you.

And yes, before you ask, some of the images for the show come from my own files.

More information about A Woman’s Room Online: An immersive experience of the daily harassment women face online is at the link. The exhibit will be at Center for Inquiry-Los Angeles (2nd floor) 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Sept. 13 – Oct. 13. The opening reception is on Sept. 13 at 7:00 pm. See it — and please spread the word about it. If you know media people in the L.A. area, please let them know.

Trans People and Basic Human Respect

There’s something that’s been puzzling me. I’ve been thinking about cisgender people who get upset about transgender people. (“Cisgender,” for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, is the opposite of “transgender”; it means someone whose gender identity corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth.) Some cis people object to the new vocabulary many trans people are advocating for or are simply making use of—changes in names, pronouns, and so on. Others object to the very existence of transgender people: they think gender is solely and entirely determined by the genitals we were born with, and that any other perception of it is just nonsense.

Here’s what’s puzzling me: Why do these people care?

Let’s assume, purely for the sake of disproving the assumption, that trans people are somehow mistaken—that they “really” are the gender they were assigned at birth based on their genitals, and it’s silly for them to think otherwise. I obviously don’t think that—I think it’s a horrible opinion, deeply offensive, and out of touch with well-documented reality. But assuming that this opinion is true will help me demonstrate just how wrong it is. So for the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s true.

So what? How could it possibly affect you? What business is it of yours? If someone else is identifying with a gender that you personally think is “wrong,” how does it harm you in any way?


The Humanist magazine coverThus begins my latest Fierce Humanism column for The Humanist magazine, Trans People and Basic Human Respect. To read more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

The “Coming Out Atheist” Donation Recipient for August 2014: Freedom From Religion Foundation

Coming Out Atheist coverAs some of you may already know, I’ve pledged to donate 10% of my income from my new book, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, to atheist organizations, charities, and projects.

Here’s why. I got lots of help with this book, and working on it felt very much like a collaboration, a community effort. (To some extent that’s true with any book, but it was even more true with this one.) Because coming out is really different for different atheists, it was hugely important to get detailed feedback on the book, so my personal perspective wasn’t completely skewing my depiction of other people’s experiences. So I asked lots of friends and colleagues to give me detailed feedback on the book: either on the book as a whole, or on particular chapters about atheists with very different experiences from mine (such as the chapters on parents, students, clergy, people in the U.S. military, and people in theocracies). Many people were very generous with their time helping out: they put a whole lot of time and work and thought into a project that wasn’t theirs, because they thought it would benefit the community. And, of course, I had the help of the hundreds of people who wrote in with their coming-out story, or who told their coming-out story in one of the books or websites I cited, or who just told me your coming-out story in person.

freedom-from-religion-foundation-logoI want to give some of that back. So I’m donating 10% of my income from this book to atheist organizations, charities, and projects: a different one each month. Each month, one of the people who helped with the book gets to pick the recipient. The recipient for August 2014, chosen by Lee Hays Romano, is Freedom From Religion Foundation. [Read more...]