Skeptic, Skepticize Yourself

There is a very intense discussion going on at Pharyngula right now concerning the reactions to a pro-atheist cartoon that depicted a dialogue between a religious bunny and an atheist bunny in which the atheist bunny is smart and rational and the religious bunny is stupid and irrational. Pretty early in the comment thread discussing the cartoon itself, someone pointed out that it was unfortunate that the cartoon propagates a misogynist trope by having the silly religious bunny be wearing feminine attire and use pink dialogue bubbles, while the rational atheist bunny is wearing masculine attire and uses blue dialogue bubbles.

A shitstorm then ensued, initiated and powered by a bunch of d00ds (1) flat-out denying that the cartoon could be propagating misogynist tropes, (2) flat-out asserting that all that matters is the intent of the author, and (3) flat-out asserting that even if the cartoon might be propagating misogynist tropes, it isn’t important and bitchez should STFU. Each of these things is, of course, totally false.

Unfortunately, PZ decided that the significance of this shitstorm is that “sometimes a bunny is just a bunny” and not that d00ds are constantly belittling the misogyny that permeates every single aspect of our patriarchal society and telling bitchez to STFU. As a skeptic, PZ ought to scrutinize his own reaction to the “tempest”, unpack the influence of patriarchy and misogyny on that reaction, and apologize for getting this so wrong.


  1. Smok says

    This is the most interesting development of elevatorgate yet.

    Those who have been demonized and “othered” because they disagree with substantial portions of the elevatorgate narrative have now been vindicated. The prosecutor in chief, PZ Myers, joins the ranks of those he demonized.


  2. says

    UGH. It’s like they’re the editors of Nature.

    Except, at least the Skeptic’s convention right after Elevatorgate made a flat out statement against misogyny. So that’s one up on Nature. At least the people in charge know not to be misogynistic asshats, even if the rank and file still think a woman has no right to politely ask not to be propositioned in an elevator at 3am.

  3. says

    I’m less than impressed with his “oh, well if the INTENT was to belittle women, then OF COURSE it’s sexist” acknowledgement in comment #430. Things harm women regardless of the INTENT. Ed Rybicki is all over the internet saying of course he never INTENDED to be sexist therefore his story must not be sexist and any woman who says it is is hysterical. But guess what, Nature publishing that story still harms women, as does their refusal to apologize.

    Meyers’ argument then assumes that whenever one person is supposed to look smart and the other ridiculous they have to be separate genders. If one wanted to avoid misogyny when having an idiot and a straightman, one can do what comics have often done and have two guys. One could mix it up and have two women (which would be even more exciting since women are generally only depicted talking to each other about men). If one is doing cartoon animals, one could have two different animals! The possibilities are endless and don’t require the feminine person being an idiot. And yes, if the patriarcial stereotype is that female is silly and male is smart, then we should specifically not reinforce that stereotype. And we should not denigrate anyone who complains when those negative stereotypes are reinforced.

  4. PSG says

    I was very hesistant to open and read this post, but I’m glad I did. I was also very disappointed by PZ’s reaction to the comments. It’s hard to be constantly surrounded by these little things and even harder when your allies tell you to “lighten up” or some such thing. I expect that from “MRAs” but not from men I respect as feminists.

    Thanks for saying something, and thanks for confirming our reasonable reaction to a prevalent trope. It means a lot.

  5. says

    To clarify, as far as I could tell from my read on the comments: PZ admitted he was wrong about CPP’s #1, because the author declared intent, but is still denying #2 and #3. PZ, in fact, only admits #1 because he denies #2.

    Were there further revelations I missed?

  6. Michael B. says

    As valid as the criticism is, I have to say that I hate it when a trope becomes so overused and/or politically sensitive that one is barred from ever using it again, even if it can reflect a real life situation. Then again, I guess reality is unrealistic.

  7. Pramod says

    As a skeptic, PZ ought to scrutinize his own reaction to the “tempest”, unpack the influence of patriarchy and misogyny on that reaction, and apologize for getting this so wrong.

    Good point, CPP.

    PZ got better.

    He did? Can someone please post a link?

  8. ChasCPeterson says

    the creator of this bunny cartoon is indeed a sexist ass

    Interesting conclusion from your link.
    The cartoonist wanted to photograph hir daughter’s cute baby bunnies for a cartoon allegory taking place in a world of children’s toys. Has to decide which role to assign to the (already dressed) baby bunny in a dress and which to the baby bunny in overalls.
    Now it seems to me that a true sexist ass wouldn’t even think about it; would just assign roles according to patriarchal-sterotypical gender tropes and then be surprised (and, evidently, angry) when it was pointed out.
    This cartoonist didn’t do that. (S)He thought about it. And decided to appeal to data (go ahead, you can g**gle “women men religious” yourself and find plenty of real data). The decision was made to reflect reality rather than to make an additional rhetorical point.

    Now it seems to me you can castigate the cartoonist for not being enough on board with the feminist agenda to consciously and deliberately assign roles that do not reflect (and, arguably, perpetuate) particular sexist stereotypes.

    But I don’t think that makes the cartoonist a sexist ass.

  9. NY Expat says

    For posterity’s sake, since we’re discussing PZ’s reaction to what happened:

    The MRAs are…well, MRAs, but Comment #2, which PZ singles out as the origin of the derail, isn’t saying that the piece is “unfortunate” or “disappointing”, as commenters (and Physioprof) later claim. It says the piece “sucks”.  Unlike the first two adjectives, “sucks” means that it’s irredeemable, which means any discussion of other aspects of the piece is unnecessary.

    So yes, the derail starts at Comment 2. It gets worse after that, but let’s not whitewash the history of what happened.

  10. lylebot says

    Unlike the first two adjectives, “sucks” means that it’s irredeemable, which means any discussion of other aspects of the piece is unnecessary.

    The comment you’re talking about says “that would suck [if there were an implicit sexist message]”. I have no idea where you’re getting “it’s irredeemable” or “any discussion of other aspects of the piece is unnecessary”. There’s no universal implication of value in the word “sucks”. (This is pretty trivial compared to their hypocrisy about feminism, but I’ve noticed that self-proclaimed “skeptics” also tend to make a lot of claims about language that go against all evidence of how people actually use language.)

    Can’t we can all agree that it does indeed suck when a positive message is undermined by an implicit negative message? Regardless of whether it’s intended or not?

  11. NY Expat says

    lylebot: Comment 2 pretends to be a conditional (if A then B), but it’s clear the commenter has no doubt that the predicate is true (A, therefore B).

    So C2 isn’t saying that it would suck, they’re saying that it does suck.

    As far as “suck” not implying “irredeemable”: When someone says that something sucks, is it said to encourage or curtail further inquiry? If someone likes something that you think sucks, does that distinguish their taste as faulty, or merely different? That would be the smell test of common usage, and I stand by my understanding of it.

  12. says

    @ ChasCPeterson

    Actually, if that idiot had actually done his/her research, s/he would have realized that there isn’t that large of a difference between male and female religiosity. Only about 4.8% difference in the US, actually. That’s hardly enough deference to purposefully perpetuate this old, tired trope.

    And, as you should know, the number of women (and women in leadership roles) in the atheist community is growing.

    Don’t just assume this something is true because you googled something and glanced at a few shitty articles (like the creator of this comic appears to have done). Find the real statistic and think about it for a while and you’ll realize that your initial assumptions are often wrong.

  13. ChasCPeterson says

    Dear StarStuff:
    I was talking about data, not assumptions.
    recent data
    older data (2 links).
    According to George Gallup Jr.:

    A mountain of Gallup survey data attests to the idea that women are more religious than men, hold their beliefs more firmly, practice their faith more consistently, and work more vigorously for the congregation. In fact, gender-based differences in responses to religious questions are far more pronounced than those between any other demographic categories, such as age, education level, or geographic region. The tendency toward higher religiosity among women has manifested over seven decades of scientific polling, and church membership figures indicate that it probably existed for many decades prior to the advent of survey research in the mid-1930s.

    Or, here; these guys seem to have made a career out of it. Collecting data on the subject, that is.

    You, on the other hand, linked to a single blogpost* and cited only the datum for the sex difference in professed atheism. The question was not about which sex or gender is more likely to profess atheism. It was about which sex or gender is more likely to be religious.

    But let’s check out your data anyway, since at least you brought some to the table. What does that ‘only about a 4.8% difference’ (not–note–zero, and in the predicted direction) indicate? That’s the absolute difference between the % of males professing atheism and the % of females professing atheism. That’s because only 6% of males professed atheism compared to only 1.2% of females! The sex ratio of male to female atheists was 5! Even the ‘not religious’ column supports my assertion and not yours: 28.9% of males, 20.1% of females.

    Not only a google-fail but an own-goal.

    Have a nice day.

    *p.s. ask your buds over at Pharyngula how they feel about Razib Khan some time heh heh heh

  14. says

    *I hate the hell out of Razib Khan, but in the limited case of presenting a single study at a time, I haven’t noticed him doing it wrong. In these limited cases, if I had no better option than to link to him, I would. Would you not?

  15. ChasCPeterson says

    I’ve linked to Khan plenty of times; he’s like the only guy who posts actual data bearing on various arguments in which I have found myself embroiled.
    One time I remember I was arguing with a sociologist and a wannabe anthropologist about geographic patterns in human genetic diversity, and I linked to a post of Khan’s showing exactly the sort of data that I had been trying to describe, and in response the anthropologist sez “Oh, don’t listen to Razib”.

    [See, that was just more evidence for my contention, which I have since tried to give a rest, that rhetoric often trumps science in practice of the ‘social sciences’. Didn’t even look at the data (which, as I recall, I linked with the <a> title “Look! data!”).]

    so, yeah, that was another pointless chain-yanking flourish; sorry.

  16. Lexic says

    Dear ChasCPeterson:
    I would like to point out something in your data that you might consider. If you compare your “recent data” to your “older data” you will see that the percentile difference between gender religiosity is shrinking. There is a 3% decrees in the gender gap for “religious affiliation” and a 6% decrease in the gender gap for “Religious importance.”

    In fact recent studies show that women are losing their religion at a faster rate than men.

    African Americans also top the charts in there religiosity when compared to White’s.

    If the marginalized groups in society are hanging on to religion stronger than those of privileged classes what responsibility do we have in changing society’s acceptance of stereotypes? We have affirmative action because we know that race and sex does not create the economic opportunity gap we see in our country and we need a more even playing field.

    So why not affirm a strong message for future generations of women that they can represent science and logic by: (for the time being, while the stereotype persists) making the female bunny the voice of reason. If we can’t, then I stand by my right as an Atheist, Woman working in the field of science, to let out a very strong and public cry; because I am tired of the message.

    *disclaimer- I’m dyslexic and did not have access to a reviser before posting this. Your patience with any spelling confusion would be greatly appreciated.*

  17. says

    I’m embarrassed by this whole episode because I forwarded the cartoon to my friends without *even noticing* the implied gender of the bunnies. Thinking back, I assumed they were both female. I am not sure why, because looking at it again the gender intent is obvious. Maybe it is because I was putting myself in the role of the skeptic bunny when I read it, and didn’t look at it for very long.

    I was disappointed by PZ’s response to this, although I haven’t read the comment referred to above so I will reserve some judgement there. He is usually so switched on to this stuff- obviously this isn’t on the same level as the elevatorgate stuff, but it connects by the same thread to the huge amount of online abuse/erasure of issues the d00dz dish out.

  18. Blitzgal says

    Uh, why didn’t he just take the damned clothes off the bunnies? Then neither one of them would be gendered and the freethinking aspect of the cartoon would indeed be the main message.

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