Michael Shermer is displeased with me. It’s about this thing from last August.
And speaking of videos…I didn’t watch all of that one on The Point the other day, and yesterday a Facebook friend, Mavaddat, pointed out a later segment when they talked about Y no women. Michael Shermer explained:
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, you know, it’s more of a guy thing.
I quoted him in the column I wrote for Free Inquiry the same month. He’s replied to the column today.
I’ll just comment on a few things.
I would like to use this opportunity to address a larger issue at hand, starting with another important point that Benson also failed to mention, and that is Cara Santa Maria’s own comment that she made after reading the viewer question and before I answered: “In putting together this panel I had a hellova time finding a woman who would be willing to sit on the panel with me to discuss her atheism. Why is that?”
It’s because she didn’t ask enough women. Shermer emailed her later to ask her about it, and she told him
“In my search for panelists on the show, I did reach out to a couple of high-profile female atheists local to Los Angeles, but none were available to join.
Two. That’s not very many. That’s not enough. It’s not nearly enough to justify even the claim that she had a hellova time finding a woman who would be willing to sit on the panel, let alone any broader claim that women don’t do atheism so much.
Anyway. Shermer goes on –
We must remember that we are all subject to the same cognitive biases as those whom we criticize in religious and paranormal cohorts, and keep in mind that in journalism, as in science and all rational inquiry, there is an ethic of going to the primary source, and especially giving the person in question the benefit of the doubt. In this case, a simple email asking what I meant would have cleared up any misunderstanding. (Skeptical Inquirer columnist Kenneth Krause did just that after reading Benson’s article, and that removed any doubt for him as to my position.)
Is that true? Is it true that in journalism, as in science and all rational inquiry, if X says something, there is an ethic of asking X what X meant?
I don’t believe it. (Get me, I’m a skeptic!) I think people get quoted all the time without further inquiry. That’s because very often that’s the issue – what was said, what people heard, what got out there into the discourse. Shermer said what he said. I wanted to address what he said. So I did that.
Farther down the page –
Perhaps unintentionally, Benson makes a strong case that something other than misogyny may be at work here, when she asks rhetorically if I would make the same argument about race. I would, yes, because 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.
Ah no that’s not what I said. I didn’t ask if he would make the same argument – I asked if he would say the same thing. Then I helpfully spelled it out.
Would Shermer have said that if the question had been about race instead of gender? Would he have said “it’s more of a white thing”? It seems very unlikely.
The difference is obvious, yes? I don’t believe he would say “It’s a white thing.” I think he would hear it before he said it, and stop. My point was that he didn’t hear “it’s a guy thing” in the same way.
There’s a lot of stuff about tribalism and witch hunts and purity, which is frankly mostly bullshit. Not totally bullshit, but mostly.
And so does John Loftus – totally non-tribal, of course. It begins with some friendly advice:
When will the witch hunt end? I’ll tell you. When atheists kick people like Ophelia to the curb just as people ended the real witch hunt in the 18th century.
Kick kick kickety kick.
Maybe he should give atheist women the benefit of the doubt, too. Maybe he should figure that we’d really like to visible and invited to panels and all that, just like men.
Oh, but no, being entitled to an individualized benefit of the doubt must be another “guy thing.”
Josh, Exasperated SpokesGay says
This “witch hunt” terminology—for christs sake Shermer said “Malleus Malleficarum”—annoys me no end. It’s so perversely inapt. It’s shit.
You happy Blackford? U haz meme now.
@Ophelia and Josh: I read about the response over at PZ’s blog, and the “witch hunt” crap was what leaped out at me as well!
Hope you don’t mind a cross-posting/copied comment!
* * *
t’s not only tribalism; it’s a WITCH-HUNT.
He really went there.
The first subhead is A Secular Malleus Maleficarium.
He uses “witch hunt” (or its plural) four times.
So in his construction of things, Ophelia Benson is apparently the Grand Inquisitor hunting down innocent (male atheists) to burn at the stake, like witches.
Helped presumably by the other feminists/inquisitors.
He’s taking one of the most blatant examples of historical oppression of women in Europe and….casting himself as the VICTIM.
I had to read that three times before believing it, and yep, lots of denial, ducking, and false equivalencies.
It’s not always that the original statement is that bad–but the defensive rhetoric tends to show even more sexism and racism, providing even more evidence.
For the witch trials….I think I’ll go back to my student papers. They’re looking better by contrast.
Greg Laden says
I find it interesting that Shermer (and Grothe?) so easily attribute the reaction of the many women who seemingly did not bother with TAM this year to irrational thinking, as part of his defense against the suggestion that he suggested that women weren’t intellectually engaged in this community.
Ophelia Benson says
rrede – I don’t mind at all; on the contrary, I read your comment at PZ’s with that “want” feeling one gets when reading apt comments. Want satisfied!
Greg – I want to get back to the part about TAM, later. He mentions DJ’s blame-the-women move without, apparently, grasping its relevance to the issue at hand.
Did we ever do a survey or something showing the women missing from TAM were specifically because of TAM and not people going to other events (women in secularism for example) or an effect of the bad economy which might affect women more then men? or any number of other factors?
Kausik Datta says
I can haz RAGE!
Fuck that noise. Seriously, how can these so-called “skeptics” be so deluded and rationality-challenged? I went over to the link to Shermer’s essay and was stupid enough to wade into the comments, as if Shermer’s idiotic essay, full of half-truths and misrepresentations, wasn’t enough to raise my blood pressure. I wanted to comment but then decided against it – because of the sheer volume of stupidity that I’d have to deal with.
What. The. Fuck! Was Shermer asleep during the past year and a half? Is this Word from the Holy Arse of Grothe that we are supposed to accept – words that Shermer accepts uncritically?
Again, misrepresentation of the facts that Shermer seems to have accepted uncritically. Protests related to Dr. Hall were associated with her abominable and insensitive treatment of Surly Amy – nothing to do with any mythical ‘feminist party line’.
The fact that the world doesn’t contain a certain desired population demographics is not by design or choice. On the other hand, the secular, skeptic, non-theist community – via the person of its leaders – has the choice of being inclusive, and making an effort towards that end. It is not good enough to be complacent about an overwhelming preponderance of white males in the community; it is important to seek the voices of different groups to be equally representative within the community. Why is that so difficult to comprehend?
Ah, an MRA, with pointless blabber.
And you know that… how?
WTF does that even mean – “left the skeptic field”? I’d rather hear from this “masters degree niece” herself, but the question to her aunt is: did “Watson, PZ, Benson” put her off science, and combating creationists? Are you sure that this wasn’t a case of lack of conviction to begin with?
Sigh. Expressions of gross misogyny within the skeptical community – as we have witnessed for the past year and more – cheapens the whole community and reduces its worth. If you are interested in talking about Bigfoot, by all means talk about Bigfoot where/when it is appropriate to the context, but understand that the skepticism, rationality and other such ideas/states of mind cannot really be compartmentalized. The feminist movement within the skeptical community is but a natural extension of rational and humanistic ideas. You acknowledge that “trolls and crazy dudes are an issue”, but just because they don’t affect you directly, you discount them and their effects on the rest. Look at the Shermer commentariat. Quite a few of them didn’t give credence to Ophelia’s receiving a threat, just as many in the skeptical community did not want to give credence to Rebecca’s feeling discomfited and harassed in the elevator. Why is that? Is it because you think your personal experiences trump theirs? Are you so bereft of natural human empathy?
Seriously, fuck that noise.
No, DJ and his supporters never did check to verify his speculations. They were accepted quite, um, unskeptically.
I think it would be pointless to try now, because I’m sure that after DJ made his idiotic comments, and everything else went down, then some women decided not to go to TAM specifically. I’m one of them. Before he opened his yap and blamed feminist discussion for declining TAM registration I’d considered going.
Seriously? I’m an officer of my school’s SSA, in the Deep South. Besides me, we have one other active female member. Both of us are largely closeted outside school. This isn’t because there aren’t other skeptic/atheist women. My major is full of them. It’s because the stakes are too high, not because women are dumb.
Interesting that he cites Kenneth Krause as being satisfied. Kenneth Krause has written columns explaining how women are different in crucial ways than men – the ‘science’ shows that we want to go into caring occupations, not things like math and science. There were problems with the studies he cited, some of them glaring, but he accepted them uncritically. So I’m sure he’s the right person to tell us how we (women) should feel about Shermer’s comments.
I’m really sick of hearing about all the people that have been “turned off of atheism/skepticism/you name it” because some people believe that women should be treated like people, and say so loud and clear. This is anecdotal evidence, and yet these supposed skeptics accept it immediately, without question. Harriet Hall as a spokesperson for women is not evidence; it’s one person’s opinion, and one who does not speak for all of womankind.
If there is anyone likely to turn me off this movement, it’s all of those who persist in telling me that their sexist comments really aren’t sexist, if only we could see it, and weren’t so blinded by the idea that we are people, too (that, of course, is NOT the words they use, so don’t accuse me of misquoting them…I’m merely taking my interpretation of what PZ, Ophelia, Rebecca, etc are saying, and substituting it for what the people pretend they are saying).
Yesterday afternoon, I had to endure an extended lecture from a (male) architect about how evolution works, because I (a biologist) don’t understand the concept as well as he does, because I don’t understand that women are hardwired to have babies and cook, American Indians are hardwired to dance rain dances, and Orientals are hardwired to put bombs in their babies diapers to hand to white soldiers during wartime, while males (white males, obviously, based on the rest of his discussion) are not as hardwired, and therefore are more flexible in the world to do all the (important) things that are actually not done by instinct. When he cited Erich van Daniken, and said “some scientists don’t accept van Daniken”, I pointed out that I know of no respectable scientists that take him seriously. He made it clear that he (a white, male, architect) is much more qualified to determine who is a reputable scientist than I am (a female with a Ph.D. in Biology). This is real. This is what we go through. And the attitude of people like Shermer, Dawkins, and others simply minimizes and ignores the real, day to day crap that many of us have to take. And if Harriet Hall doesn’t see that, well, I’m happy for her. But the rest of us live in the real world, not the ivory tower of academia (yes, I teach for a college, but it’s a small, regional college. World of difference).
PZ Myers says
You know what’s really weird? How all these kooks simultaneously rant that I court controversy for all the traffic and glory and money (hah!), while also claiming my traffic is hurt and shrinking because of all the controversy.
My traffic has been essentially flat for the last year, other than the usual fluctuations. They’re simultaneously wrong on both counts!
Abso-fragging-lutely. After DJ’s comments, I decided never again to attend TAM or give financial support to the JREF as long as he is at the head. I would rather give my time and money to organizations and conferences that take sexual harrassment seriously.
Tom Foss says
John Loftus needs to learn his history. “People like Ophelia” weren’t kicked to the curb in the real witch hunts. Pretty sure they were mostly hanged.
But hey, the side that’s the target of the over-the-top violent rhetoric, that’s the invectosphere.
Claus Larsen says
May I ask why you didn’t email Shermer and ask what his position was?
Well you just asked it anyway so no point asking permission to ask your question anymore 😛
Ophelia Benson says
Claus Larsen – have you asked Shermer why he didn’t email me and ask what my position was?
How anyone could not read/say that and immediately cringe in embarrassment/shame I don’t know. In the past year it’s certainly become clear that there are ‘folders full of women’ just laying around who would be available to speak and write about such issues if someone were prepared to look outside their own wee circles.
It’s all just so sadly oblivious. Even if there ARE fewer women involved in the movement lets just pause and ask ourselves if there are cultural reasons for that (society in general as well as within the movement) before just plunking down that ‘women’ aren’t intellectually active.
As an aside an anecdote that doesn’t really mean shit but seems appropriate. I had some cousins who were deeply religious in a very understated kind of way. It was notable that the men all got together once a week to hold a bible study session to debate the meaning of blah blah blah, while the women got together several times a week to raise money for local community groups, volunteer, organise events, cook meals for neighbours who needed help etc. I’m not saying it’s intellectual vs nurturing at all (although there may well be an element of that culturally), maybe it’s just about being practical and engaged. In our society many women find themselves still loaded with traditional roles even as they take on non-traditional roles. This equals higher workload. You want something done? Give it to a busy person. Not necessarily as visible, but very practical.
Rob, you’re absolutely right about women available to speak and write. I have never been to an FFRF convention that didn’t have at least one woman speaker – and not usually the same as before, so there may be quite a few 😉 Perhaps the fact that one of the co-presidents there is, in fact, a woman makes it easier for the organizers to actually see the women? Or that they give an award every year to the Freethought Heroine of the year? This seems to go unnoticed by those who claim there aren’t any prominent women to ask…if they want prominent women, they could start with Annie Laurie Gaylor, and just begin moving through the list she surely could give them.
I dunno. Is it okay to witch hunt people like John Loftus for saying ridiculously stupid things? I think there should be alllowances for that. Though I will retract that if in principle it is wrong.
Pierce R. Butler says
Harriet Hall, … who lived through and helped bring about the first-wave feminist movement…
Having first-hand knowledge of such pioneers, has the remarkably durable Dr. Hall asked herself whether her pals Susan B. & Elizabeth & Lucretia & Matilda & the rest would perhaps have found real reason to give Grothe, Sherman, et al a good talking-to?
Ah, yes. When feminists say something* without having umpteen peer-reviewed scientific studies to support it, it’s irresponsibly blogging. When Grothe says something without any evidence to support it, it’s just speculation.
*– And yes, I know that these “secular feminists” in fact weren’t saying that the events “were not safe for women.”
No Light says
Claus – why does Ophelia owe you an explanation?
As for Loftus, wow. “Stupid bloody hysterical females saying we hate them. Ugh. I wish they could be tortured, burned, drowned and hung. I mean, it did the trick on those uppity Salem bitches”.
Ophelia Benson says
Oh, he just wants me to be kicked. Quite mild really. 😀
Tom Foss says
I guess what I’m seeing, and what’s bugging me, is this whole conservative/libertarian attitude/mindset that seems to fuel one side of this whole debacle. The Shermers (and Grothes, and Halls, and Dawkinses and so on) seem to be flavors of “I’ve got mine, and I got it all by myselfs, and I worked hard for it, so if you can’t get it, then it must be because you’re defective, not working hard enough, not thick-skinned enough, so tough cookies.”
It can’t possibly be that society forces different groups to start with certain advantages and disadvantages, it couldn’t be that different people get different breaks and different obstacles to overcome, and it certainly shouldn’t be that we should actively work to make it easier for those who follow. If I had to endure it, you should have to endure it, and I’m certainly not going to try to make it any easier for you.
It’s frat hazing rules. “I had to run the spanking gauntlet, and no one helped me out! Why should they have it any easier?”
Leaving aside, of course, that no one gets where they are without tons of outside help, and that the entire “bootstraps” thing is a pernicious lie built on a physical impossibility, which trades the complexity of reality for a comforting, ego-stroking simplicity that appeals to the just-world fallacy.
But noticing that, well, that would require critical thinking and skepticism, and we can’t have that.
Anyone who believes the JREF and/or skeptic movement is dominated by libertarians is living in a fantasy land. I know PZ dislikes libertarianism so it’s a cheap way to try and gain favor, but as an actual libertarian, I can tell, the skeptic movement and events like TAM are mostly straight up Democrats.
Indeed Shermer himself ran into that once when asking the audience their political views and there was a a few republicans a minorty of libertarians and a majority of democrats.
I hate the whole “why didn’t you email me privately” shtick. To me it smacks of a private gentleman’s club. “Why don’t we settle this privately, just entre nous? No need to let the public see us disagree, or be perceived to be in error.”
The guy, Kenneth Krause, who emailed Shermer to ask about the “it’s a guy thing statement”: his questioning, and the answer, are tucked neatly away from view. The gentlemen are satisfied;it’s just rude to debate this any further. And the statement goes unquestioned, unless some rude feminist sticks up her head to say something publicly. And she may feel very lonely indeed in doing it.
I call bullshit on the “make statements in public, only question in private.” It reeks of exclusivity and in-group protection. I think I remember you, Ophelia, commenting on the same thing, when Vacula did the same to Surly Amy.
Tom Foss says
Jacksonp: dominated? Certainly not. But it’s no secret that some of the biggest names (and loudest mouths) in the movement, like Shermer and Penn & Teller, are hardcore libertarians.
Lol, I never knew Democrats was a political leaning…
“Hi, I’m a communist.”
“Well hi, I’m a Democratist.”
F [disappearing] says
So, we have a wall of text and obfuscation, with no actual answer to what Shermer actually meant, regardless as to what sentence preceded the “guy thing” comment. Which doesn’t even matter, as he was saying he thought that in fact, the ratio was 50/50. Then he goes on to claim that being a skeptic and/or public speaker is “more of a guy thing”. How does acknowledging his guess at a ratio have anything to do with the latter?
He’s an awfully sloppy thinker, as is anyone buying his bucket of tripe. Apparently, he’s also a crap speaker who should be replaced whenever found on the menu.
Shermer’s overreaction speaks volumes. I’ve often caught myself saying something stupid that came out of my personal prejudice without going through my critical faculties. On reflection, I’ve sometimes recognised that I was full of shit. Sometimes other people have been necessary to force that reflection. And sometimes I’ve argued a stupid thing way beyond the point that everyone but me recognised it was stupid.
Nobody doesn’t do this. But as skeptics and freethinkers, we have a responsibility to recognise when we’re doing it or when we’ve done it. When someone says “sewiously, you’re full of shit” our responsibility is to ask ourselves whether that’s true. Sometimes it *is* true and that’s, you know, *learning*. Sometimes it’s not true and… well, it vindicates and bolsters the process we use to decide what’s true. This is the default state of skeptical thought and we all believe we act that way.
But we don’t. We accumulate baggage. Shermer in particular seems to be an accumulator of this sort of baggage.
He could have said “yeah, I tripped over my privilege, now let’s talk about why I did that”. But instead he invented some nonsense about sex ratios and said even stupider shit that he can defend even less.
I can’t respect people who use such elaborate arguments to avoid admitting that they fucked up. I fuck up most days, don’t you?
FFS, this comment sounds preachy, doesn’t it? But people like Shermer seem more intent on maintaining their position as a supposed (and sometimes earned) authority than on…well… telling the truth. Pisses me off.
Claus Larsen says
Come now, that is hardly a serious answer.
The fact of the matter is, you thought he was of a certain opinion on a subject, based on an incomplete quote, and wrote about it. He wrote his piece, explaining that you are wrong about where he stands.
A simple email to Shermer, asking him what his position was, would have cleared up any confusion about the matter. That is how it is usually done, especially among people who know each other.
So, why didn’t you contact Shermer?
On a side note, why did you not include the first part of the quote? It is fair enough if you didn’t have the full quote available to you at the time of writing, but now that you do, and with Shermer’s explanation of his position, do you think your piece is still valid?
Claus Larsen says
Ophelia does not “owe” me an explanation. I am asking, quite simply, as a reader and a skeptic, why she didn’t contact Shermer and asked what the meaning was, before she wrote her piece.
She can answer, or not, that is her privilege.
Aratina Cage says
Claus, come off it. There was no reason to dig deep into what Shermer meant or to move a public conversation to private.
Timon for Tea says
I don’t think this analogy is very useful because race is a purely social category, it doesn’t really exist scientifically speaking, but sex differences are real (some of them), so there is no like for like comparison. It is plausible to ask ‘is this phenomenon caused by sex difference’, but nonsensical to ask the same about race. Better analogy would be to ask if he might have said ‘it’s more of a girl thing’ if the situation were reversed and it seemed that many more women were appearing at conferences etc. I don’t find that hard to imagine. In fact it is the reason generally given for women’s domination of literature courses at university, for example.
My dear little fellow, why is OB the person who has to take a public conversation private?
And while we are having this nice little chat, why have you contacted OB publicly rather than just asking her in private?
Now run along, there’s a good boy.
Claus Larsen says
Aratina Cage & ‘dirigible,
It isn’t a question of moving a public conversation private, but merely to clarify what Shermer meant. Before you write a piece and publish it, it is customary to check your sources, to see if you got it right.
As for contacting Ophelia Benson in public, I have to, since I do not have her email.
This ‘why didn’t you just email him privately’ nonsense reminds me of several months ago when Richard Carrier challenged Bart Erhman’s ‘trash talking’ about Jesus mythicists. Some (including a couple of friends) insisted that Richard should have privately emailed Erhman to sort things out instead of blogging about his objections.
This was after Erhman has repeatedly said his piece trashing Carrier’s (and others’) work in interviews for NPR and several major newspapers.
So, remind me again why we’re supposed to take a public dispute private?
Claus Larsen says
I do not know about others, but I have not said anything about taking a public dispute private.
I have asked why Ophelia Benson did not contact Shermer and ask for clarification about the quote, before she wrote her piece.
Given the fact that the words preceding what Ophelia Benson quoted contradicted what she thought Shermer meant, emphasizes the need for this quick fact check.
Claus, did you email Shermer to confirm that Ophelia did not email him before writing her piece last August before publicly asking Ophelia why she did not email Shermer before writing her piece so that Ophelia could make sure that Shermer was speaking English as understood by most English-speaking people?
If not, why not?
It’s now an unwritten law that everyone must privately email anyone who said anything publicly to see whether they really said what they said before commenting on it. Otherwise people might just comment without email confirmation, and that would be bad.
Claus Larsen says
If you do not think it is a good practice to verify quotes before you write about them, then we shall have to disagree.
Claus, are you saying that Shermer was misquoted?
Claus Larsen says
Shermer made it clear that Benson had shortened the quote, to the effect that it changes the meaning Ophelia Benson got out of it.
A simple email could have cleared up any misunderstandings there might have been about Shermer’s position.
Maybe you ought to watch the actual footage of the video, provided in Ophelia’s Aug 2013 blog entry, started at about 11:30? http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2012/08/women-dont-do-intellectually-active/
Ophelia’s quote of Shermer seems perfectly accurate, and there’s no quote-mining or misunderstanding apparent.
Claus Larsen says
That was the first thing I did. I always go to the source, if at all possible. Clearly, Ophelia Benson has misread Shermer completely.
If you listen to what he says, throughout the whole program, he in no way says that women are inferior to men, in any way, shape or form.
The whole thing is based on a deep misunderstanding of what Shermer’s position is, a misunderstanding that could have been avoided, if Ophelia Benson had contacted Shermer and asked for clarification.
Stephanie Zvan says
This is Claus’s thing, by the way, being professionally obtuse on questions of feminism. You can try explaining things to him, but none of it will make a dent. He’s started from his conclusion.
Clause, it’s nice that you have a magic interpreter that explains what Shermer really meant rather than what he actually said. If only the rest of us had such a gift, and even better if it were synced to yours.
Did you also read Ophelia’s statement, above, that she doesn’t think it’s her responsibilty to ask the speaker what he meant before commenting on what he said?
Ah, I was just getting trolled. Nevermind, then.
Claus Larsen says
What conclusion about feminism is that?
Claus Larsen says
We do not need a magic interpreter to explain what Shermer really meant. All we need to do is read his response to Ophelia Benson’s piece.
What’s with people and their desire to kick you, seriously.
Ophelia Benson says
jose – obviously it’s that I’m peculiarly irritating!
Aratina Cage says
This “contact so-and-so first before writing about what they said” is exactly the kind of thing that people did NOT do when Rebecca Watson said, “Guys, don’t do that.” Then, they (pre-slimes) tried to turn it around on Watson and say that she should have discussed the issue privately with the people who were publicly discussing (in writing and video) what she had said instead of responding to it publicly at the conference. That sparked the “always name names” post by PZ.
Now we see Ophelia being subjected to the same double standard. I think this call to hold private conversations over a public statement is too convenient for people who have a problem with certain vocal women. At least when the conversation is kept publicly transparent, the MRAs and other jerks can be held accountable for what they say.
Look, if you are friends with someone who says something iffy or downright isty, then by all means talk to them about it in private. Otherwise, keep the conversation public so we are all informed.
Aratina Cage says
Which Ophelia did by going over the video of him saying it. She got the words right, didn’t she? At least give her that! She checked the source and made sure it was right. She linked to the source, even. She did all that before publishing what she had written about it.
Aratina Cage says
What? What are you talking about? Shermer said immediately before _the statement_ that he thinks the number of atheist women and men are equal. That has nothing to do with calling the willingness to talk about it to the Huffington Post a “guy thing”.
And–AND–if you watch the clip, you will notice that the interviewer herself understood Shermer to be making the same statement that Ophelia (and pretty much the majority of viewers) understood him to be making. Go back to the video clip (it’s linked in the original post, which is linked above). Go back and watch it again starting at time index 11:30.
Woo_Monster, Sniffer of Starfarts says
We read the response. It was one giant double-down followed by unrelated accusations of tribalism and witch hunts.
I’m waiting for the apology for claiming that skepticism is a guy thing. Pointing to a hack-job quotemining of some other speakers’ jokes (which.. gasp.. were about sex), is not an apology, it is a distraction and diversionary tactic.
Ophelia Benson says
This new meme of “why didn’t you email him to ask??!” is utter bullshit. Notice that Larsen says he didn’t email me because he doesn’t have my email address – wtf makes him think I have Shermer’s email address?! For that matter what makes Shermer think I have his email address? – since he’s the one who started the meme.
I don’t have Shermer’s email address.
But I wouldn’t have emailed him if I had had it. He said what he said, and what he said is what I was talking about. We are allowed to talk about what people say. People do that all the time.
I don’t know Shermer. I’ve never had any kind of contact with him – not email, not Facebook or Twitter, not comments on blog posts – nothing. I don’t know him from Adam.
Another rapidly spreading meme is that I called him sexist and/or misogynist. I did not. That’s a fucking lie. Even Jacques Rousseau is repeating it, while calling me “uncharitable.”
I didn’t allege that he’s sexist. I used what he said as an example of stupid limiting stereotypes about women. That’s because it is.
It reminds me of Tim Minchin’s entirely excellent line about throwing intellectual tantrums in the supermarket aisle of one’s self regard.
Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says
Bingo. Shermer’s pissed because he’s wrong, everyone knows it, but he just can’t spine up and admit it. Because stupidly bigotted reasons.
Claus wants to know why you didn’t just shut up and take it like a good girl, but he’s way too dishonest to ask THAT, so he asks why you didn’t e-mail Shermer to ask Shermer to repeat what the video says.
Can I just point out that witch-hunting is a guy thing?
Testing witches by having them stripped in front of the congregation and pricking them with pins was well-paid and like many well-paid jobs, the guys kept it to themselves.
In fact, when a woman called Christian Cadell wanted to take up that career she had to disguise herself as a man. Then when she was unmasked she was convicted for a crime.
Female witch hunters have traditionally been very much in the minority which makes it unlikely that Ophelia is one.
OB: 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.”
GB: So, Ms. Benson you start off by suggesting that because some social psychologist makes a claim about alleged associations, this is therefore proof Shermer (in making an observation about some possible average difference in behavior between the two sexes) is engaging in a stereotype.
Which is, frankly, poor thinking, unless it’s just dishonest rhetoric.
OB: Don’t laugh: Michael Shermer said exactly that during a panel discussion on the online talk-show The Point. The host, Cara Santa Maria, presented a question: Why isn’t the gender split in atheism closer to 50-50? Shermer explained, “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; you know, it’s more of a guy thing.”
GB: No, he didn’t say “exactly that”, and it’s patently dishonest of Ms. Benson to claim that he said “exactly that”, or meant anything remotely like “exactly that” or even “approximately that”. As he was forced to mention in his response (because you truncated his comment in a manner which twisted his following remarks), the *very first thing he said* was that he felt the split was likely 50/50. His follow-on comments were to the point that women generally, and in specific cases on these issues more likely than not, less outspoken then men. This is hardly earth-shattering news–even the host bemoans her problem finding outspoken women. (I see you have further accused Ms. Santa Maria of not doing a good job in her search, but is it really fair to take such a brief comment and conclude that this is all she did? You presume license to make very large assumptions.)
You’re right about “exactly” one thing: no one should laugh at these sorts of distortions. They aren’t civil; they’re indecent and shouldn’t be tolerated by humanists (or anybody else).
OB: It’s all there—women don’t do thinky, they don’t speak up, they don’t talk at conferences, they don’t get involved—it’s “a guy thing,” like football and porn and washing the car.
GB: No Ms. Benson, rather, it is all in your head, since pace your snark he *did not make any such allusion*. It amazes me that someone could run a blog for over a decade and not know, or pretend for rhetorical reasons not to know, the meaning of the phrase “more of”. Let me explain. “More of” means “more likely”, in this case the cohort of males being “more likely” to do certain acts than females. It is not an absolute; rather it could mean a 51/49 split. It could mean a 80/20 split. It could NEVER mean what you are claiming he meant. Never. Which is why I suppose you had to cut the word away. Whether or not this makes you a clever wordsmith, it surely makes you a dishonest one.
OB: It’s incredibly discouraging, that kind of thing. I thought (naïvely) that stereotypes of women as stupid and passive and bashful had been exposed as, precisely, sexist stereotypes decades ago, at least among intellectual and political and progressive types. I thought everybody knew they were not just wrong but also retrograde. Would Shermer have said that if the question had been about race instead of gender? Would he have said “it’s more of a white thing”? It seems very unlikely.
GB: Well, you need to mine that “seem” again Ms. Benson. In fact you just stumbled into showing precisely why quick, brief, extemporaneous observations about the relative sizes of groups or cohorts *don’t* actually mean the commenter is a bigot, believer in stereotypes, or whatever. Because “it” actually IS more of a white thing. It’s kind of obvious, you know. Trying to conflate supposedly calling women stupid with recognizing that certain groups have certain traits (including the trait here to be in some measure less vocal or assertive than males) might arouse the faithful but it won’t fool honest skeptics and secularists and, well, civil people generally.
I happen to volunteer at the local CFI outpost and often tend the door. One day I counted the Hispanic/Latino-sounding names on our mailing list. The total came to about 1 1/2 percent of the membership…a remarkable number for a place like Los Angeles (roughly 50% hispanic) even allowing for the problems with my methodology. I took to asking my pal Sergio how we might change that situation, and his response was to lament how hard he’d tried and tried to provoke interest in our activities. But all the usual suspects, the Spanish-speaking press, his friends and family–just about everybody shrugged off (at best) his entreaties. Our ideas are to some communities unwelcome when not outright offensive (how can this be news?).
Where else do you find people who understand this situation? How about among African American skeptics? Yes, I have heard directly from female members of a local group exactly that…Blacks and particularly Black females are (less…! note, again a probability!) likely to want to attend a lecture on some obscure matter concerning science or skepticism, on account of the fact that there are so many OTHER deep problems in the community.
So what it really “seems” is that you cannot accept, for ideological reasons, gender differences be they biological, sociological, or unknown, be they good or bad, be they malleable or not.
So, taking a page from this “Crommunist” ally of yourn, I hereby invite you to retract your comments and issue a direct apology to Shermer immediately. Nobody is saying “women are stupid”. Everyone (except, it seems, you and a band of often snide acolytes) is saying that there is an (unenumerated yet real) difference in the participatory behavior of women and men *in general terms*. Perhaps in doing so you’ll recognize that we…”everyone”…is NOT your enemy.
But then, that’s the nice thing about enemies, isn’t it? If you go searching for them, they’re sure to be found…
Ah, I see we have a follow-up by post by Ms. Benson:
OB: I see that thanks to Michael Shermer I’m going to be having to do extra clean-up of falsehoods and misrepresentations for awhile. That’s skepticism for ya.
Here are some.
GB: Ms. Benson wants Shermer to start taking responsibility for people posting on his blogs and twitter feeds? How refreshing…will we see this generally on FtB? I hope not for her sake!
On the @michaelshermer talk where he’s allegedly sexist: http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/12-12-12/#feature … – ‘it’s more of a guy thing’ seems descriptive, not normative.
OB: No. I didn’t allege that he’s sexist. I didn’t draw any general conclusions about him at all. I quoted what he said as an example of dopy stereotypes about women; I did not go on to say “therefore he is a sexist.” The column wasn’t about him.
Also, since the column was about stereotypes, it doesn’t really matter all that much whether Shermer’s remark was descriptive as opposed to normative. Stereotypes are descriptive, but that doesn’t make them benign.
GB: I beg your pardon…you directly accused him of holding and promoting a supposedly offensive sexist stereotype:
“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. The host, Cara Santa Maria, presented a question: Why isn’t the gender split in atheism closer to 50-50? Shermer explained, “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; you know, it’s more of a guy thing.”
It’s all there—women don’t do thinky, they don’t speak up, they don’t talk at conferences, they don’t get involved—it’s “a guy thing,” like football and porn and washing the car.
It’s incredibly discouraging, that kind of thing. I thought (naïvely) that stereotypes of women as stupid and passive and bashful had been exposed as, precisely, sexist stereotypes decades ago, at least among intellectual and political and progressive types. I thought everybody knew they were not just wrong but also retrograde. Would Shermer have said that if the question had been about race instead of gender? Would he have said “it’s more of a white thing”? It seems very unlikely.”
GB: So, we have a “stereotype”. It is “offensive” It is said to be held by Shermer. It is “sexist”. But, this is not supposed to be an allegation that he is “sexist”?
What amazing double think. Are you trying to be cute? Unless we are supposed to believe Shermer goes around spinning junk beliefs he doesn’t hold for our amusement, the obvious inference is…according to you he’s a gender-based bigot.
Shermer on being called a ‘misogynist’. Agree with him, but still not sure why he’d say ‘a guy thing’, (unless joking): http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/12-12-12/#feature …
No. I didn’t call Shermer a misogynist. I didn’t draw any general conclusions about him at all. I quoted what he said as an example of dopy stereotypes about women; I did not go on to say “therefore he is a misogynist.” The column wasn’t about him.
GB: The section where the word “misogynist” appears is a general discussion about a certain recent trend in secularism, and in it he makes general observations about claimed bigotry etc. He doesn’t say Ms. Benson called him one. It is however true that many of the FtB blogophilesl like to fling the word offensively at people (men and women) for merely disagreeing with their narrow ideas and conceptions about human behavior.
OB: It’s funny; Jacques R accuses me of hyperbole, being incendiary, reading uncharitably, drama, misinterpretation – yet he manages to accuse me of calling Shermer sexist when I didn’t. So it goes.
GB: No, no aspect of your FI column is funny; it’s revolting and a bit sick. You should own up to your words and thoughts, or learn to write with a great deal more care.
It would be the humanist thing to do.
GregB, it is a lame schoolyard bully who, when someone says he’s wrong, instead of addressing the issue, retorts “are you calling me a liar?”
There is a difference between saying that someone has made “dopy stereotypes about women” and calling that person a sexist. It is the same difference between saying someone is wrong, and saying someone is a liar. The first asserts that something is not true. The second jumps to a conclusion as to why they said it.
Well, comment #61 certainly contains a lot of words. Many many words.
Pointing out that somebody said something sexist (or, more precisely, something stereotypical about a group) is “uncivil” and “indecent” and “revolting” and “sick.”
Once again, for anyone who missed it, or who (ahem) didn’t read it carefully–Ophelia’s column that started the hysterical talk of witchunts:
Notice that in that column Ophelia also criticized something once said by Audre Lorde.
OMG OPHELIA CALLED AUDRE LORDE A SEXIST MISOGYNIST!!1 INDECENT!!
As I said in the “Morning Clean Up” thread, if Audre Lorde were alive I somehow doubt she’d double down and go into full-on defensive hyperbolic mode over the fact that OB thinks she said something stupid once.
(Hey, let’s all rush to poor Michael Shermer’s defense! It’s true nobody’s said he deserves to be raped or kicked in the cunt, but somebody said he said something SEXIST. And that’s positively uncivil dontchaknow.)
Aratina Cage says
Hey GregB, go back and watch Shermer say it. Watch as he says it. Watch the reaction from the only woman there. That is how 99% of viewers saw it. You are the 1%.
Hey Arantina Cage, go back and watch the only female present say (at around 12:10) that she had a “helluva time” finding a woman to sit on the panel” and discuss atheism. Then you can catch Shermer (at 12:18) saying “It probably really is 50/50”. He then elaborates that it is probably a matter of who is more likely (kindly note: MORE LIKELY) to be outspoken etc and summing with the comment that it is “more of” (NOTE) a “guy thing”. If you actually, honestly watched this part (at 12:27ish) you’d know that you can’t see any reaction, because the camera isn’t on her, and when the view switches back to the broad panel she merely asks him why he thinks that is the case,
So, is it a “stereotype” if it’s true? Not “women don’t do thinky” in Ms. Benson’s baby talk (constant use of which DOES suggest a certain amount of immaturity) but “women tend to be less outspoken on this”. And if you honestly feel this way (instead of just being another pack animal) you should then be blasting the interviewer, You should be blasting others, like black and hispanic atheists, for lameting similar differences. You should be blasting numerous others for making this same self-evident observation.
But you won’t; it’s all about being a good FtB gangsta, right?
@Stacy So many words, such a poor rejoinder! But you should be glad you are in a forum where your own words won’t be censorially clipped mid-stream (a bad habit for some individuals).
Stacy: Pointing out that somebody said something sexist (or, more precisely, something stereotypical about a group) is “uncivil” and “indecent” and “revolting” and “sick.”
GB: Nope, you got nuthin’ You see”evil stereotypes” like Jesoids see Christ on Doritos. Exciting no doubt, but is it true? Sorry, it’s crap. Shermer didn’t do any of those things and you and the gang are (intentionally?) twisting his meaning.
Ms. Benson edited his brief comment in order to find a post-Thanksgiving turkey to slay. You and the gang seem to be eating it up, stuffing and all.
Stacy: Once again, for anyone who missed it, or who (ahem) didn’t read it carefully–Ophelia’s column that started the hysterical talk of witchunts:
GB: Oh, yes, do read the column, the column by Shermer, and the ENTIRE clip (not the one disgracefully edited by Benson). Kindly do.
Ophelia Benson says
GregB – we know “the only female present” – the presenter, Cara Santa Maria – said that. However she later said that she had invited all of two women – so in fact she did not have a helluva time finding any women to take part; she didn’t even try.
What do you mean “note: MORE LIKELY” – that’s not what he said! Why are we supposed to note your gloss on what he said?
You were at my talk at CFI-LA, right? You’re the one who asked me why I brought (or was it dragged? I don’t remember) feminism into skepticism when feminism is just dogma, right?
Cut the “gangsta” bullshit.
Stacy: (Hey, let’s all rush to poor Michael Shermer’s defense! It’s true nobody’s said he deserves to be raped or kicked in the cunt, but somebody said he said something SEXIST. And that’s positively uncivil dontchaknow.)
GB: Nope, you evidently know very little about this matter. It’s because a prominent blogger drummed up her own fantasy notions of what Shermer supposedly meant, sneakily editing along the way.
Now you know a tad more…lucky you!
I can hardly wait for the attack on the interviewer for ratifying Shermer’s common sense observation that women are less outspoken than men on the issue, and the necessary follow-up on latino and black skeptics for making the same claim.
Will you be at the front of that pack too? Will Benson?
Ophelia Benson says
GregB posted 67 while I was typing 68.
GregB – do not call me a liar. I did not edit what Shermer said. I quoted it accurately.
And it has nothing to do with post-Thanksgiving. I wrote the column in August, for a print magazine. The magazine came out two or three weeks ago. Shermer posted his “response” on December 12.
And to repeat – do not call me a liar.
Ophelia Benson says
And for the third time, GregB – do not call me a liar. I did not sneakily edit.
Ophelia’s critical public parsing of a Big Man’s public words? Shameful! Revolting! Dishonest!
It’s funny how he’s the only one here using the term “evil.” He seems to think accusing somebody of sexist thinking is some extraordinary and horrible calumny. Meanwhile he’s the one throwing hyperbolic accusations of evil behavior around.
Self-awareness. Greg lacks it.
GBNew: Unfortunately, I do not live my life permanently online, and so I can just now get to this:
OB: – we know “the only female present” – the presenter, Cara Santa Maria – said that. However she later said that she had invited all of two women – so in fact she did not have a helluva time finding any women to take part; she didn’t even try.
[OB commenting on my addition of the word “likely” in explaining Shermer] What do you mean “note: MORE LIKELY” – that’s not what he said! Why are we supposed to note your gloss on what he said?
GBNew: I’m very sorry, but that is what “more” means. It means, as I also posted, a tendency. It does not mean an absolute. I added “likely” because, odd as it may seem, apparently some people in these threads don’t seem to understand that. “Gloss”?; show me where the word ever means anything OTHER than a relative likelihood:
1. in greater quantity, amount, measure, degree, or number: “I need more money.”
2.additional or further: “Do you need more time?”
The word “more” is intrinsically an expression of relative size. Period. But you decided that “more” means
“women don’t do thinky” etc, claiming that he said “exactly that” etc.
Now it seems to me there are only two possible interpretations of your August post. Either the speaker (Shermer) is “perpetuating” sexist stereotypes but doesn’t hold them, or he is in fact claiming them.
Are you denying you implied the former?; then let’s first look at the latter.
Directly after saying “I think [the ratio of female/male atheists] is probably about 50/50” (which YOU edited; which comment completely destroys this baby-talk business about “thinky”) he makes a couple of widely held observations about the relative outspokenness of atheists, summing with his “guy thing” comment.
*Widely-held*. It is *widely-held* that certain groups, be they gender, race, or ethnicity, are not as likely to speak up on this matter. It’s a PEDESTRIAN OBSERVATION. If you are saying “all perpetrators of gender stereotypes say ‘x’; Mike Shermer says ‘x’; therefore Mike Shermer is a perpetrator of gender stereotypes” you are committing a logical fallacy. Such a claim is invalid on simple inspection.
On the other hand, if you are saying that “anyone claiming a ‘stereotype’ is correct is guilty of promoting
said stereotype, you then need to indict practically everybody, for saying what they merely observe. “Everybody” includes, as I mentioned, Black Skeptics, my Latino friend Sergio, the interviewer…everybody.
Which is ridiculous.
OB: You were at my talk at CFI-LA, right? You’re the one who asked me why I brought (or was it dragged? I don’t remember) feminism into skepticism when feminism is just dogma, right?
GBNew: That’s correct. My, word does travel–I didn’t so identify myself (though I have no problem with that). Actually though I’m glad you brought this up, because, in another, earlier column you also mis-characterized my question. I specifically said “things like feminism *and libertarianism*, mentioning these as two (of many; of endless) ideological concerns that didn’t mix well with “skeptics”. A good skeptic tries to be an good examiner of pathological and/or dogmatic thinking, the meat of ideologies but the bane of critical thinkers. In your follow-up post, however, the “libertarian” part seems to have been chopped away which totally misconstrued my question. Sorry I was out of the country at the time but I couldn’t respond to this example of “confirmation bias via editorial fiat” in a timely manner.
Now, upon thinking about this whole business in light of the above, I guess the most “charitable” (and most likely…something many of your commenters seem to forget can be simultaneously true) thing is that you didn’t actually “lie”; you really do hear what you want to hear on these issues, and the rest gets left on the mental editing floor.
Well we all do it. We all make mistakes. You, me, Shermer, Einstein, Elizabeth Loftus, Joe the Plumber. We swim in them. I think you obviously, very grotesquely misconstrued Shermer’s comments (either logical or inferential–you are a philosopher no, you took logic classes yes?), and it is not in the slightest difficult to see why he’d take great offense (further still since he is some on your blog are being allowed to accuse him of criminal acts). In other words, you made a howler of a mistake, and it would be nice if you admitted it.
OB: Cut the “gangsta” bullshit.
GBNew: Then “tribal” if you like. It’s another common observation that blogs generate this kind of funneling effect, a hail, hail, we’re all buddies here” and the naysayers, or even the honest skeptics are kept on a short leash (and mostly for amusement).
So anyway, again I apologize for calling you a liar, particularly because that deflects attention from what. I claim is the clear case that your characterization of Shermer’s words is inexcusable–in any way other than a gross case of biased thinking.
One last thing, the interviewer is now also being accused of various things, on the basis that she said she had a “helluva time” finding women for her show. Except, that isn’t exactly what she said. She made a brief comment about “high profile” women.
“High profile”. “Brief comment. We don’t know about her other efforts and you are making assumptions. We don’t know that she didn’t make entreaties to lesser-profiled atheists, or whether or not that was acceptable in the format she choose. Both assumptions. Both unfair. And both born of the briefest of comments, using criteria you sure don’t apply to your own posts or the posts of your commentators.
Ms. Benson, it’s great that you go after the Pope. It’s great that you discuss the latest disgusting news out of Uganda. It’s not great when you, consciously or (apparently un-) consciously drum up these ludicrous mountains out of (at best) microns. You only make the Pope smile and those nasty Ugandans chortle.
And that’s damn lousy.
Ophelia Benson says
GregB – first, if you comment further, could you please format your comments the normal way? With blockquotes? Your way is very difficult to follow.
Second – you asked me why I drag feminism and libertarianism into skepticism?
Really? You’re right, I don’t remember it that way. But it makes no sense. I don’t drag libertarianism into anything, because I despise it. I think if you had asked me that I would have started by saying something like “Huh? Libertarianism? Me? I don’t.” I’m pretty sure that didn’t happen.
Are you sure that’s what you asked? Memory is very fallible, you know.
Last – I’m not making assumptions. Cara Santa Maria said she asked two. I’m going on what she said. That’s not an assumption.
Ophelia Benson says
Oh drat, there’s also 3 and 4 and maybe 5 – that’s a long wordy comment with a lot of detail, much of it wrong and/or irrelevant. But two or three specific items…
No I did not “edit” it. That’s calling me a liar again. I didn’t include it, but that doesn’t count as “editing” it since it came before the part I quoted. I didn’t include everything he said in the video; that doesn’t count as “editing.”
Not including it doesn’t change the meaning of what he said.
I KNOW. That’s part of my point. Of course it’s widely-held; of course it’s pedestrian; and that’s the problem. That’s what the column as a whole was about – widely-held, pedestrian stereotypes about women that teach all of us – you, me, Shermer, all of us – that women are…whatever it is: passive, domestic, emotional, relational, diffident, inarticulate, intuitive, more interested in shopping than ideas; whatever.
No. Not a bit of it. No, I’m not a philosopher. No, I did not take logic classes.
That’s other words all right. No I didn’t. I quoted what he said, and I said it was a stereotype about women. No, that is in no sense “a howler of a mistake.”
One last thing – I think this is 7 now.
I keep correcting this; it gets tiresome. It was not a post, it was a column. There’s a difference. A column is commissioned, and read and approved by editors. It was a column for Free Inquiry magazine.
I think Ophelia quite clearly said that Shermer expressed a sexist stereotype. Why do you imagine she denies it? Because you are confused about the difference between someone expressing–and therefore perpetuating–a sexist stereotype and “being a sexist (or misogynist)” which Ophelia did not claim?
“The meat of ideologies”? That’s the sort of sloppy thinking you’ve demonstrated over and over again. “Ideology” means “a system of ideas and ideals.” You are not ideology-free. Skepticism is not ideology-free. Indeed, it is the unspoken assumptions of the background ideologies influencing skepticism that feminists are challenging. It’s time you apply your critical thinking skills–such as they are–to your own ideologies.
I dare you to write, in your own words, Ophelia’s point about what Shermer said. Go ahead, show us that you understand your opponent’s position. Preferably succinctly, and without posturing.
Put it this way: are you aware that people can hold sexist ideas without being aware that those ideas are sexist? That they have background assumptions that they haven’t examined and may not even be conscious of?
Saying that somebody said something sexist says nothing about the individual’s intent, and it does not automatically imply that they’re committed to a belief in the superiority of men or dislikes women.