Rebecca Watson weighs in on The Amazing Randi’s complicated legacy. Randi was probably the most charming human being I’ve ever met, and like Rebecca, I always enjoyed our moments together, but…
Perhaps it was that stubborn disbelief that led to our eventual falling-out nearly a decade ago. As one of the more prominent female skeptics, I began campaigning for the male majority in the movement to be more accepting of (or to at least to stop randomly groping and awkwardly propositioning) women. Many men pushed back, sending me rape and death threats. When a man announced on Twitter a few days prior to 2011’s TAM that he planned to “cop a feel” if he saw me, Randi refused to even bar the man from attending. I felt like it was too late to drop out, so I attended and felt awful the entire time. I didn’t go anywhere alone. It was the last time I spoke at TAM.
Privately, Randi apparently complained to mutual friends about me pushing feminism, trying to change the culture of the movement that he had fostered for the past few decades. He thought that by asking skeptics to be better, I was making the movement look worse. I suppose I was, and in the years that followed the attendance at his conference dropped and Randi’s organization, the James Randi Educational Foundation, officially blamed me for scaring women away. Randi retired from JREF later, and though there were people involved who wanted it to go on as a charitable organization, it quietly disappeared.
It also didn’t help that some (not all!) of the people Randi routinely promoted and featured in his conferences were so awful that they drove me away. Being a sexist asshole was never an obstacle to being welcomed to Randi’s big tent. Sadly, that diminished his long-term impact.