No, that’s not it

There’s one very odd new theme in the comments on Hall’s belligerent post yesterday. The theme is that her critics are being ageist and picking on her because she’s not young. (Last week she called herself a “tough old hen” as opposed to a chick, which as another tough old hen I quite like.)

yankee skeptic for instance.

The odd part is the emphasis on “You screwed up OLD LADY!” and how we are marginalized and not considered “with it” enough to play a part.  Yet this is truly part of what feminism is supposed to be fighting, women being marginalized after they are over 30.  When did, respecting people, explaining nicely (rather than DEMANDING an apology because hey, you just have not kept up with the lingo), and seeing we are stronger together rather than apart because a problem?

Ageism is quite the issue, but it is full steam ahead and we don’t care who we run over, at times.

Geek Goddess for another instance.

You are obviously just not young, hip, thin, cute, clever, or hard-drinking enough to be popular, and your experiences aren’t worthy. You aren’t even very smart (regardless of that medical degree you seem so proud of). I’m in the same boat. My advanced age means that my STEM degree, my years of working in a industry that is less than 5% female, and managing to rise to the top and earn a 6-figure salary, a company car, availability of a private jet, and bonuses more than most people’s salaries, means I also do not know a damn thing about what women have to struggle with to succeed in any business, must less a good-old-boy one. Having professors tell me that I was taking a slot away from a man, who MIGHT HAVE TO SUPPORT A FAMILY, wasn’t harassment or life-changing. (I spend all my salary on trivial things, apparently.) And since I’m no longer young, hip, thin, cute, clever, or hard-driking enough to be hit on in bars, I don’t understand the harassment that women face. Sometimes, when some of us state that we do not feel unsafe, or haven’t been harassed at a conference, not only are we accusing women of making it it, or exaggerating, etc., I hear the unspoken words “Of course YOU haven’t been harassed or attacked. Because you are not young, hip, thing, cute, etc.”  Yep, I was told this. The ugly unspoken little secret among some women.

Are you kidding? Seriously?

Does anybody call Harriet Hall Prune or Hatty McPrune? My “critics” call me Prune and Ophie McPrune. Does anybody call her cobweb cunt? My “critics” call me cobweb cunt. Do Hall’s critics make endless jokes about how sexually repellent she is? Do they constantly say how old and ugly she is? Do they do YouTube videos to say how old and ugly she is? Do they photoshop her head onto women in bikinis? Does she ever get anything remotely resembling any of this? Not that I know of. Not that I’ve ever seen. I get it every day.

Commenters picked up the theme and repeated it several times as the thread grew. A couple more –


What seems to have emerged here (other than the sadly predictable internet fustercluck) is a manifestation of an intergenerational schism in the skeptic movement. As a 49 year old feminist/atheist, I am old enough to recall the institutional barriers to women that are now illegal because of the heavy lifting done by people like Harriet. Will’s comment that Harriet “has had 40 years” to educate herself on the new terminology and other more pointed anonymous comments on Twitter and elsewhere reflect a systemic ageism on the internet, the arrogance of youth and relative inexperience, and a failure to recognize (they are too young to have seen it first-hand) that semantics are provisional at best and change over time.

Looking at posts by Will and Rebecca, I cringe to recall my own snark and the disrespect I had for my elders back in the day. I am grateful there is no permanant record of same, and I use threads like this to educate my teenage daughters, encouraging them to do some of their growing up away from a keyboard.

That’s not it. Sorry to burst the bubble, but it’s not. I’m a million years old [vide supra] but I don’t agree with Hall’s take – and I know plenty of contemporaries who also wouldn’t agree with it. That take was conservative 40 years ago and it still is. It’s not generational. It’s a view. Hall has plenty of young women on her team, and there are plenty of us cobweb cunts on other teams.

One more: Chris:

 It seems that the theme here is also dismissing the accomplishments of women breaking down gender barriers forty years ago, and at the same time reminding me why I hated high school cliques.

No. It isn’t. The theme is saying breaking down gender barriers is great, but also, women shouldn’t have to break down barriers in the first place, so just telling women to push harder while not “complaining” i.e. trying to say what the barriers are and why it shouldn’t be up to individuals to break them down, is not good enough.



  1. carlie says



    I am honestly floored. Can any of these people even point to any instances of ageism directed to anyone other than you? I just… the gall. Wow.

  2. thetalkingstove says

    I hear the unspoken words “Of course YOU haven’t been harassed or attacked. Because you are not young, hip, thing, cute, etc.” Yep, I was told this.

    Er…so was it unspoken, or did someone actually tell Geek Goddess? A bit confusing.

    Every response from the FtB/Skepchick side to “but I haven’t been harassed!” is along the lines of ‘Ok, but other people have, please don’t minmise or distract from the problem’.

  3. says

    My advanced age means that my STEM degree, my years of working in a industry that is less than 5% female, and managing to rise to the top and earn a 6-figure salary, a company car, availability of a private jet, and bonuses more than most people’s salaries, means I…

    … am a horrible braggart who apparently thinks that her opinion should be worth a six figure amount of worship.

  4. jackiepaper says

    Oh, FFS! From the same thread:

    The points of contention are small by comparison and it is irresponsible, in my opinion, not to put them into the context of the above areas of agreement.

    -Steve Novella

    What a clueless ass.

  5. says



    Are they just deliberately lying, now? I refuse to believe that they’re this blind and obtuse. so what other explanation is there besides outright lies?

    Just like the whole FTBullies bullshit… yes, there’s a hell of a lot of bullying, but it isn’t coming from FtB.

    Now this… yes, there’s a hell of a lot ageism, but it isn’t coming from FtB.


  6. says

    Yeah. Ageism? Really? In general, the arguments supporting Hall were fairly terrible in that thread, mostly being just some variant on the following:

    (1) Pointing out the inaccuracies in her statements is being uncharitable; we should just assume she meant the opposite of what she said.

    (2) Why do we need all these labels, shouldn’t people be appreciated just for being people?

    (3) Besides, Hall is older than all y’all so criticizing her for not knowing this new-fangled alphabet-soup terminology is ageist.

    For the first: pointing out inaccuracies is what skeptics do, if you can’t take it, well, find a better community for you.

    For the second, I don’t imagine the people proposing it object to, say, labels like “gay” or “straight” (or labels referencing race).

    For the third, I see no reason why my expectations of accuracy from skeptics should be predicated upon their age; moreover, I note that this is the internet, most commenters were anonymous, so I don’t know how on earth they could tell that Hall was older than the rest of us (certainly true for me, but not necessarily for all.)

  7. jackiepaper says

    I’ve been a huge fan of SGU .

    My enthusiasm for the show has been fading for some time.
    I’ve been disappointed by the handling of sexism on their forums and now this.

    I never used to miss a show. I remember crying when Perry died. I have buttons with the current cast’s little cartoons on them.

    It just occurred to me that I haven’t listened in a long time.
    I think I’m done being a fan.

  8. says

    I have chosen not to follow or get involved in that thread. It was clear to me from the first few comments that this was not going to be about my criticisms of Hall’s understandings of sex and gender but about how mean I am allegedly being.

    But I find all of this stuff hypocritical in the extreme.

    Without any sense of irony, people are saying “you’re being ageist! How dare you talk about her outdated views, you stupid young twit with no life experience!”

    It would be ageist of me to treat her with kid gloves because she’s older. It would be ageist of me to say “this old broad’s brain is obviously not working as well as it used to.” It would be ageist to give someone’s words and actions a pass because they are older. It is not ageist to point out how someone who is writing on a science blog about gender is using understandings of sex and gender from over 40 years ago.

    In response to the last quote you shared, I have noted in my last post responding to Hall that she certainly made accomplishments and broke down barriers for women. And she certainly should be respected for that. Betty Friedan made accomplishments too, but that doesn’t mean if she started arguing today that white heterosexual housewives in the United States tell us about the oppression of all women that I should accept her argument because, you know, she did awesome things 50 years ago. Hall also expects us to remember her gender barrier-breaking (I mean, her memoir is all about being a female flight surgeon!) while simultaneously expecting us to not see her gender but look at her accomplishments only. For someone who has written that book to argue that WiS is harmful because of its focus on women is extremely hypocritical.

  9. Aratina Cage says

    … am a horrible braggart who apparently thinks that her opinion should be worth a six figure amount of worship

    That’s just what I was thinking when I saw “six figure”. Jaw-dropping snobbishness!

    (3) Besides, Hall is older than all y’all so criticizing her for not knowing this new-fangled alphabet-soup terminology is ageist.

    That one was from a Pharyngulite, and was the closest thing to ageism I saw from our side. So what if she is “old”, she has had decades to get out and learn about LGBTQ people and everything that goes with it. That’s not due to her age but her ignorance and arrogance thinking she doesn’t need to learn about us before talking about us authoritatively.

  10. chrislawson says

    I’m not surprised at the double standards here. Does anyone else remember the time Jen McCreight was (i) exploiting her feminine attractiveness to accelerate her scientific career, and (ii) an ugly hag motivated by jealousy of pretty women according to the same critic in two separate comments mere hours apart?

  11. says

    What Will said. It would also be ageist to assume that Hall couldn’t possibly have been paying any attention to what was going on during those four decades.

    And it cuts both ways, too. Rebecca has pointed out that she herself was a “chill girl” through her twenties. Time and experience can cause people to notice structural inequities they hadn’t noticed before, or it can do the other thing. It depends.

  12. jose says

    I think you and Hall could have a traditional exchange, not unlike the Shermer-Piggliucci thing, only with disabled comments so we don’t lose focus. I think the main positions here are:

    – That is up to the individual to overcome discrimination;
    – That is up to the powerful whether to keep discriminating.

    But I can’t quite make them out because of the background noise.

  13. theoreticalgrrrl says

    ” Does anyone else remember the time Jen McCreight was (i) exploiting her feminine attractiveness to accelerate her scientific career, and (ii) an ugly hag motivated by jealousy of pretty women according to the same critic in two separate comments mere hours apart?”


    “I hear the unspoken words..”

    Hmmm…now people are getting slammed for words they never said? Or can Geek Goddess read minds?

  14. theoreticalgrrrl says

    I admire Harriet Hall’s accomplishments and breaking down barriers for women. She gets my respect for that, absolutely. I just don’t understand why she doesn’t believe women when they say they still face sexism…

    I agree with Jose, Ophelia and Harriet having a one on one conversation about these issues sounds like a great idea.

  15. says

    theoreticalgrrl, the problem is basically whether or not Harriet actually wants to have that conversation. Considering the fact that she used Will’s post at Skepchicks to shut down any consideration of such a dialogue, I’m going to assume that no, she absolutely does not want to have such a dialogue.

    She could prove me wrong, though.

    There’s also the issue of whether or not Ophelia wants to have that dialogue, and I’d say she’s well within her rights to not want to have it, considering… you know… everything

  16. jose says

    Well of course, I didn’t say THIS NEEDS TO HAPPEN, just that actual points get lost in the noise.

  17. Wolsey says

    I find that rather jaw dropping. I made a comment on Will’s post about how I found her to be out of date. I’m in my 40’s. The reason it appeared so out of date for me, was I have lived through the medical establishments views on sex and gender from my history as a nurse. She’s not the first medical professional to espouse outdated views. It’s not ageism to point out the science has shifted in the last few decades.

  18. Silentbob says

    As long as Ophelia is associated with Rebecca Watson I think any hope of “achieving friendly communication” with Dr Hall is very slim.

    Here’s Dr Hall:

    Please read what I say, not what you choose to imagine I meant to say.
    Please don’t try to argue about statements I never made.
    Please try to understand that “I like to do it my way” does not equate to “I’m accusing you of being wrong for doing it your way.”
    Please try to be civil and respectful and avoid insults.
    I am a feminist too, even though my brand of feminism may not meet your expectations of how a feminist should act. There are different roads to the same destination. Don’t disparage mine.
    I don’t think I deserve your contempt and hostility.

    And in response, here’s Rebecca taking 500 words to tell Dr Hall how immature and silly and ill-informed and undeserving she is, how suspect her personal hygiene is, and how far beneath Watson’s notice she is.

    Ever have one of those “Are we the baddies?” moments?

  19. jackiepaper says

    Silentbob, don’t wear yourself out going so far out of your way to avoid pertinent facts in order to skew the story to suit your preferences.

  20. says

    Silentbob, Rebecca is addressing the fact that, despite Hall saying, “All I did was say ‘I don’t identify primarily as female'”, that wasn’t all she did. If Hall wants to tell Will alone that he’s treating her as an enemy because he’s imputing views on sex and gender to her that she doesn’t have, that’s one thing. I don’t think it’s supported, but Rebecca’s response would be totally out of place if that were all she were doing.

    If she’s claiming that everyone else has been upset with her for that reason–and she certainly seems to be doing so–that’s bullshit. People got upset with her for the bizarre behavior of wearing the same t-shirt for three days in a row at TAM after being told that it upset someone else and why. That Hall won’t address why she wore the same shirt for three days in a row knowing that it was upsetting someone else doesn’t change that this is why people think she behaved like an ass.

    Rebecca’s comment takes that little elision on Hall’s part and makes it impossible for other people to ignore. Is that polite? Oh, hell no. Polite and holding people accountable for their actions are frequently incompatible. It is, however, more polite than maintaining a months-long fiction that people are upset with you for irrational reasons that have nothing to do with you acting like an ass. At the very least, Rebecca’s comment had the virtue of honesty.

  21. thetalkingstove says

    I don’t see anything wrong with what Rebecca wrote. Hall’s t-shirt stunt *was* very silly and childish.

    And she’s not telling Hall that her personal hygiene is ‘suspect’. Snarkily hinting that wearing the same t-shirt 3 days in a row might not be particularly pleasant is hardly a horrendous character slur.

  22. Deepak Shetty says


    Please don’t try to argue about statements I never made.
    Perhaps Dr Hall should have used her own advice when she made her I am not a skepchick t-shirt since noone called her a skepchick.

    Rebecca’s response is indeed a burn the bridges style of response displaying a great degree of contempt – but If i faced a fraction of the abuse she had , my response , and I suspect a lot of people on “the other side” would be far worse.

  23. says

    Also the “hygiene” issue underlines how pointed Hall’s wearing of the T shirt was. She was willing to wear the same shirt for three days in a row – conspicuously the same shirt, so conspicuously that no one could miss it – to enforce and underline a nasty dig at other people. Usually adults don’t wear the same shirt for 3 days in a row at a public event, because it’s not the done thing. Social convention dictates wearing a clean shirt. Making a point of doing the opposite emphasizes the original pointed nastiness of the dig.

  24. says

    In other words, Hall was saying “I’m willing to risk you thinking I smell bad because wearing this shirt with its hostile message is THAT important to me.”

    The hygiene issue is relevant, not because Rebecca thinks or was implying Hall is dirty, but because Hall herself was so willing to risk being thought dirty in order to punish some women she was angry at.

    (Why was she angry at them? Because DJ Grothe publicly trashed them and they publicly objected. Yeah that’s fair; that makes sense.)

  25. says

    They’re still doing the nonsensical untrue “ageism!!” thing on Hall’s post.

    People keep talking about Harriet Hall’s age and status in the skeptic community and, therefore, how her T-shirt was a sign that she was dismissing the experience of others while not knowing what those experiences are because she is unlikely to experience the same behavior because of her age and status. Basically, can’t know because too old and too important a figure in the community to know.

    Here’s a tip folks. People like Geek Goddess, Dr. Hall and I didn’t spring full grown out of the head of Zeus like Athena. And, organized skeptic and atheist activism didn’t start when Rebecca and the Skepchicks hit the scene. In fact, CFI was founded 37 years ago when I was 20 years old. Our participation with our fellow secularists and skeptics started long before Skepchick was formed. Furthermore, there is no evidence that after menopause there is a selective dementia that sets in which erases all memory of sexism that a woman has had to endure through the years.

  26. fastlane says

    Hey, I make well over 6 figures (US). So if I tell Geek goddess to fuck right off, she will, right? :p

  27. Aratina Cage says

    Why shouldn’t Rebecca Watson have a legitimate grievance against Harriet Hall? Watson founded Skepchicks–the very organization that Hall denounced for three days at TAM on her t-shirt.

  28. says

    Yeah, the “same shirt for three days” clearly shows the nastiness.
    Because she obviously hadn’t planned to wear that shirt for three days or she would have made three of them*. She made it for one day, got told how much she hurt and upset Amy and then went on to wear it just to hurt more

    *Should it have been indeed her plan to have exactly one shirt to wear in three days no matter what, I can only say gross

  29. Stacy says

    Hall told me (on Facebook) that she knew the shirt had upset Amy, but that Amy shouldn’t have been upset.

    Hall’s emotional intelligence is limited. Maybe that’s what it took for her to make it in the Army.

  30. sawells says

    Well, here’s another example of the problem all giftwrapped for us. For Hall to _display_ poor personal hygiene, by wearing the same Tshirt for three days straight at a con, is ok. But for Rebecca to _say_ that it’s poor personal hygiene, oh no, can’t have that.

    This displays both the “our leaders are above criticism” problem and the “the one who complains is the one making the problem exist” problem. I think they’re both symptoms of the authoritarian mindset.

  31. says

    I wore a T-shirt that said “I feel safe and welcome at TAM” with a big smiley face to indicate no hard feelings towards those who felt otherwise.

    That’s a lot of meaning to pack into a smiley face. But, you know, it’s all YOUR PROBLEM if you didn’t get that the smiley face meant “No hard feelings if you don’t feel safe or welcome.” Not Harriet Hall’s problem for being a shitty fucking communicator.

  32. jenniferphillips says

    Right Sally, and later:

    Why didn’t I just wear it one day and stop? Because the meeting was a large one, and one day would not have given everyone a chance to see it. And because people were still coming up to me on the third day to thank me for wearing it and ask if they could take a picture. In fact, on the last day, when I was no longer wearing it, people were still coming up to me to say they agreed with my T-shirt’s message. In fact, long after TAM I continued to get e-mail messages of support. I don’t have any statistics, but obviously a substantial percentage of people read it exactly as I had intended it to be read.

    (my bold)

    Obviously? Maybe. Or maybe a substantial percentage of people read it as a rude little dig against people they had a grudge against and were supportive of that perceived message. Clearly not, though. Clearly it’s all calm, rational people on that side, hysterical, hypersensitive harpies over here.

  33. says


    It was in that context that Rebecca Watson announced in June, 2012, that she was cancelling her plans to attend TAM in July. The reason she gave was that “I do not feel safe and welcome at TAM.”

    No. No no no no no. Stop telling us to “read more charitably” and start writing more charitably. That by itself is not the reason Rebecca gave. The reason starts from D J Grothe blaming her personally and specifically for scaring women away from TAM.

  34. kellym says

    Regarding Dr. Hall’s “I’m a skeptic. Not a ‘skepchick'”:

    The word skepchick predates the Skepchick organization. It was used at least as early as 1999, it was in common use on the JREF Forum for years before Rebecca’s first appearance there in 2004, and the Skepchick website wasn’t registered until 2005. I was thinking of the word in its earlier, more general sense, which is why I didn’t capitalize it. I have explained that my stance is a matter of personal preference and does not imply any disrespect for those whose preferences are different.

    Yes, it’s possible that Dr. Hall decided to criticize the use of a random word that no one had called her, and was not criticizing the Skepchick organization. But the front of Dr. Hall’s shirt was a direct rebuttal to a quote by the founder of the Skepchicks. And the Skepchicks raised thousands of dollars and were enthusiastic supporters of the JREF and TAM right up until DJ Grothe accused the founder of the Skepchicks of causing a decline in women’s attendance at TAM. Sure, it’s much more reasonable to read the shirt as just a slam against the dictionary word “skepchick.”

  35. Ulysses says

    I’m almost exactly two years younger than Hall and I know what LGBTQ means. I even know when the Q was added and what the two different definitions of the letter are.

  36. Wolsey says

    I’m a complete outsider, who at the time Hall wore that shirt to TAM, who had little knowledge about what was going on other than a few fly by blog posts in my more feminist reading sites.

    Yet to an outsider like myself, who had no perspective, the shirt was an obvious jab at something or someone. It was an obvious rebuttal, and at the time I had no idea to what. It’s disingenuous to backpedal now, after throwing down the gauntlet. Sadly, I’d have more respect for her if she just owned up to the barbed comment on her shirt, and just said that was the point. Either she is backpedalling, or really can’t understand the social/emotional fall out from that action.

  37. Aratina Cage says

    The lurkers support her in email.

    What do you want to bet that half of her lurking supporters are Sir BraveHer0 (elevatorGATE) and his Merry Socks sending her their deepest appreciations?

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