On the gender inequality of “safe”

Our Lady of Perpetual Win, patron saint of internet awesomeness, has written a post on a topic I bet is near to the heart of most male geeks, discussing inequality in how relationships are defined before both parties actually get to weigh in on their intentions.

This is the phenomenon in which a (generally young) woman dismisses her behavior around a guy as “Oh, that’s just so-and-so. He’s safe.” It always sounds like it’s meant to be a compliment, but there’s very little like it to bring out the bitter in a guy even decades after the fact. It took explaining the concept of “safe” to the wife of one of these friends for me to really figure out why.
The men aren’t being asked whether they have any sexual interest and whether they’re okay with it being put on hold. They aren’t being asked where the limits of their comfort with the women’s behavior are. They don’t have an option to say, “No,” except by walking away from the situation. These guys might still choose to engage in flirtatious relationships for the fun, but the choice should be theirs every bit as much as it is the women’s. With the unilateral declaration of “safe”-hood, it isn’t.

It’s another one of those sociological minefields where I suspect the problem stems from blowback from feminists’ reasserting of control (not that I dislike that reasserting, on the contrary), but can sound far too much like whinging. Or sexist. Or merely anti-feminist. Or completely made up. It’s far too easy to dismiss that the inequality even exists, but as someone who’s been declared “safe” before even getting the chance to make any sort of effort at showing romantic or sexual interest, I’m sure it does. I mean, I certainly don’t want to be seen as unsafe. But I want a say in whether I get turned into a virtual eunuch right off the bat, right?

I’m glad Stephanie, yet again, “gets it”. Even if I’m not really sure what “it” is, exactly.

Three resources in fighting the skeptical fight

In the afterglow err… aftermath of the non-debate discussion had on my last post demolishing astrology’s foundation, there are several posts you would benefit from reading, for various reasons.

First, What You’re Doing Is Important, by Surly Amy of Skepchick.

We skeptics are not contrarians, we try to make the world a safer place and to encourage advancements in technology and medicine. We strive for intellectual enlightenment not solely for ourselves but for everyone. We are one-part science communicators and one-part consumer protection advocates. But even with these idealistic good intentions we are often times the odd woman/man out at parties or around the water cooler. We are looked at as naysayers and argumentative, faithless, curmudgeons out to ruin fun and hope for everyone else. We are called know-it-alls or incorrectly considered close-minded. We are after all the ones that stand up and speak out when the majority wants to believe in homeopathy or angels or some sort of warm and fuzzy magical thinking. We burst bubbles, we dispel myths and sometimes we squash the fun of irrational fantasy. We explain how things really are. This outspoken bravery in the name of rationality often places us in the minority and that can be a very lonely and difficult place to be.

There’s also an anecdote about how a woman’ life, and the lives of her soon-to-be-birthed twins, were directly saved by medical science, and how if the couple had believed in natural childbirth, homeopathy, the power of prayer, or any of a number of other pseudosciences, all three of them might have died. Spreading skepticism is not JUST about bursting people’s bubbles. There’s a tangible utility factor.

Also, at Quiche Moraine, Mike Haubrich discusses the fundamental incompatibility between science and religion in Knowing the Problem of Induction, and a pullquote is relevant to the astrology discussion if you only replace “religion” with “astrology”:

In order to maintain confidence that a causal relationship between natural phenomena has been established, one scientific method that I learned was to disprove a null hypothesis using statistical tools to analyze my data. If the null hypothesis is not disproved, that means that the proposed hypothesis probably establishes a causal relationship and my investigation has yielded a good answer within a specified confidence interval. In other words, by following a scientific process, an investigator has come up with a good explanation for why something is so, or how something works.

This is only one of the methods that scientists use to discover how things work, one of the ways that people discover “how the world goes.”

Religion promises knowledge based on non-verifiable acceptance of authority, resignation to “mystery,” and the record of inscripturation. Apologists for religion promise to provide “other ways of knowing” that aren’t limited to verifiable, positivistic methods. Religion, in general, tells people that we can know for certain that the supernatural exists and interacts in measurable ways with the natural. Religion explains, in its “way,” the creation, miracles, interventions in personal lives and through catastrophic natural events. The explanations are authoritative but not testable nor replicable through any reliable means.

The post is an excellent primer on the problem of induction, as the post suggests, to boot. Do read it if you have any inclination to argue that science is compatible with religion.

And finally, given that much of the astrology argument devolved into netiquette (thanks in no small part to anonstargazer’s tender sensibilities), it’s good to know that Stephanie Zvan of Almost Diamonds (aka Our Lady of Perpetual Win) wrote On the Utility of Dicks. Therein, she explains why it’s acceptable to be aggressive about defending rationality, regarding the recent fight the Twittersphere tried to spark between Phil Plait and PZ Myers over Plait’s talk at TAM8.

Then a friend gave me Flim Flam. James Randi told me how people had lied to me under the guise of nonfiction, under the guise of science. He was, in fact, kind of a dick about it. That’s not a very nice book by any definition of the word. It uses name-calling. It sneers.

But oh, it was exactly what I needed. I needed it both for the information it gave me and for the anger and vitriol. Without Randi’s vitriol, I wouldn’t have been able to make the clean break in thinking that I did. If he hadn’t been so clearly and visibly and sometimes nastily angry about the perversion of systems that were meant to uncover and convey the best knowledge we can have, I’d have been faced with the choice between a more classical skepticism, doubting everything that came my way, and clinging to the idea that what I believed had to be true.

The fight rages on many fronts. Sometimes being a dick WILL win you a convert. The fact that so many people seem to have such a vested interest in telling others that are ostensibly “on their side” to stop doing what they’re doing because they’re “not helping”, is rather galling. Especially since the assertion is made without proof, and there’s empirical evidence that some people respond better to an aggressive defense of rationality than to a milquetoast, wishy washy one.

Tomorrow we’ll do something a bit less heady, I promise. Keep fighting the good fight, in the meantime.

A few blogospherics before bed

Just a few quick, interesting things (a short RCimT, if you will) before I hit the hay.


I bet Russ looks something like this.

If you haven’t already seen it, check out Jim Gardner’s multi-part review of Joe Cienkowski’s tract really-short-book Atheism is a Religion – Evolution Is Their ‘Creation’. As an added bonus, I clash with some random anonymous dude here in part 2 over some specious claims about the ability to be “true-agnostic” like True Neutral in D&D. Amusingly, later in the same thread, a steady-stater named Russ shows up to talk about how light can get tuckered out, and how he knows better than the scientific consensus through his self-education in particle physics and cosmology over the past 41 years. And guess why there’s a scientific consensus about the big bang cosmology? That’s right, a global conspiracy for money! Of course!

Our Lady of Perpetual Win, AKA my evil overlord, has a fantastic meta-analysis post about how alliances are formed and maintained on the blogosphere, and what can be expected from allies — and conversely, what CAN’T be expected in any fairness. And here I just thought you went around collecting minions from willing subjects. Suffice it to say, expecting a nascent community of otherwise outcasts to act monolithically is pretty counter-intuitive. Though I guess if you were really supposed to collect minions, you could expect at least some measure of uniformity in action. Stephanie also reposts a salient piece from last year about allies, containing this most-choice quote:

The people we need to reach, in the mainstream or in other marginalized groups, are not monolithic. We need as many ways to reach them as there are people to be reached.

So, again, quit elbowing the people on your side of this argument. Just because they do things differently, doesn’t mean that method is inherently wrong or will damage “the movement”, if there even is such a thing.

And finally, George W, a frequent commenter, takes it upon himself to enter dialog with someone that confronted PZ Myers, PZ ignoring him, and the Pharynguloids going rabid over him thereafter for his troubles. While I don’t personally care for the whole tone debate, this is exactly what Stephanie means by that pullquote above. There is some utility to the slavering hordes at Pharyngula. There is also utility to my making fun of, say, the more fundamentalist Sunni Muslims for believing some fan-fiction about their prophet and threatening people for drawing him as the logical extension to that belief. Likewise, there is utility to those cases where someone honestly, and without malice, offers their hand to the person on the other side of the debate, hoping to educate them about how the universe actually works and how splendorous it is unfiltered through religious dogma.

Mind you, there are some cases where the person you’re trying to lift out of dogmatic belief has no intention of ever leaving it. Sometimes you have to live and let live. It’s why I do not argue against the sillier beliefs on other people’s forums unless the owners are known quantities and, well, already proven allies (so to speak). I advertise, instead, hoping people with sincere beliefs will come to me seeking enlightenment. Or sometimes, just seeking a fight. You get some depraved and tenacious loonies this way (search for Zdenny on this blog!), but every once in a while, you get a genuine discussion with someone that genuinely wants to know more about the universe, and those make it all worthwhile.

Happy Birthday Stephanie!

I capitalized the B just for you.

Stephanie Zvan of Almost Diamonds (AKA Our Lady of Perpetual Win) celebrates another lap around the sun today. She posted a new story entitled Fighting the Frost, which is sure to sap my productivity for the next hour or so while I try to read chunks of it in between doing actual work. Join me in reading it, and in wishing her a happy birthday.

RCimT: Friday catch-up day

There’s a ton of stuff on the interwebs worth reading right now, and I have to play catch-up a bit. Bear with me, blurbs will be short. I expect a link back to this post sometime later today from Mike Haubrich, who likes to syndicate my Friday Random Crap in my Tabs, so go over there and read his stuff when you get the chance, as it’s all uniformly excellent and I can’t pimp him enough.

Check out Where’s Poppa?, part 2 of a great series on the lack of evidence for any deities (much less the Abrahamic god Yahweh). The master linking post is here.

TV Guide has to be very sneaky about political commentary. I love Probably Bad News… great site, always full of LOLs.

This is probably my favorite Greg Laden post ever. It’s the next part of his Falsehoods series, in case you haven’t been following, in which case go read them all. The post is about how the rich are actually out-reproducing the poor in the States, putting the lie to yet another racist polemic.

Neurologica explains how facts are NOT anti-religious, it’s just that religions based on falsehoods have to assume that the facts that contradict them are intended to affront them because otherwise their foundations will crumble. The example used is of the Krishna denying the moon landing ever happened, because according to their scriptures, the moon is further away than the sun and space travel is impossible without first dying. This is used to illustrate why Christians have their heads up their asses about evolution. Fun times!

Three interesting articles on Daily Galaxy: Stephen Hawking musing on non-carbon-based alien life, Harvard figuring out that plate tectonics is probably a prerequisite for finding habitable Earthlike planets, and DNA evidence suggests we were almost wiped out as a species about 70000 years ago.

Heaving Dead Cats takes a study about confirmation bias and applies it to religious asshattery, as though nobody’s ever thought to do that before. Great read, though!

How do you teach your kids not to masturbate in public without stunting their natural sexual development? If anyone knows the answer, it’d be Greta Christina, but there’s further musings on the topic at Life Without a Net, linked above.

Our Lady of Perpetual Win has posted a very bitter pill to swallow, in the form of a short story that you may want to sit down and have a glass of whiskey before reading. Because you’re going to think twice afterward.

A mutant gene is apparently responsible for Fragile X syndrome. That isn’t news in and of itself, but tracking down the gene responsible is.

An anthropologist with a mind for meta has undertaken a study to explore the evolution of Darwin’s theory of evolution. This is specifically for those people that think Darwin is some kind of prophet and his materials are taken as dogmatically true.

PZ Myers’ I Get Email series pretty well covers all the fundie tropes, but there’s nothing funnier than a letter that consists of “blah blah unrelated qualifications blah blah anti-intellectualism yadda yadda Pascal’s wager dobby dobby God Bless.” Like that’s going to shake PZ’s lack of faith.

Over at Balloon Juice, DougJ discusses the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, probably falsely executed based on some egregiously spurious pseudoscience about fire.

And last, but by no stretch of the imagination least, Dan J kicks the shit out of the health care lies that are floating around the wingnut world. Oh, and also out of the idea that one can convert an atheist to religion, when said atheist reasoned their way into their non-belief to begin with, by explaining exactly how one “deconverts”.

Happy Friday!