Why skeptics should care about gender and other "sensitive" issues

I think I’m in love with Crommunist! From his latest post, "The darkness before dawn":

You’ve probably guessed at this point that I’m talking specifically about the latest round in a long-line of dust-ups over the treatment of female skeptics and the subsequent dismissal of their concerns. It seems like every time anyone mentions anything to do (even obliquely) with Rebecca Watson, a chorus of idiotic voices arise. To be sure, the worst offenders are those who decide to use the opportunity to showcase their ridiculous retrograde stupidity, but there is always a depressing number of people who decide instead to accuse both sides of needing to ‘take it down a notch’ or wonder why we can’t just be ‘on the same side’ or that they have ‘better things to do’.

First of all, this fight is fundamentally a fight about how we address sloppy and uninformed thought processes, not just about sex and gender, but about how we respond to pseudoscientific claims. The comments section of pretty much any open thread about feminism will be replete with phony ‘explanations’ for why women are just not cut out for scientific thinking, or how assault victims are just in it for the attention, or how ‘uppity cunt’ or ‘bitch’ are just value-neutral generic insults that have nothing to do with gender. These are the ‘why are there still monkeys’ retorts of an unthinking mind presented with a reality that does not conform to their worldview laden with stereotypes and mental shortcuts.

This movement is deeply interested in these lazy thought processes, because they are the exact same type of heuristics that give us pretty much everything that makes religion so appealing and dangerous. It is unbelievably foolish of us to pretend that we can use our skeptical toolbox to decry (often derisively) the intellect of those who would devote their lives to Christian apologetics, but then not fight over the exact same lazy approach that gives us “Men’s Rights Activists”, “Race Realists”, Randian Libertarians, and any other group that wishes to avail itself of the fruits of rational inquiry without subjecting their own ideas to its critical gaze.

So no, we don’t have something ‘better to do’ than fight about feminism – it’s the exact same fight we’re having against religion.

(Emphasis mine.)

Something to ponder carefully (and yes, I’m looking at you, @JMAbrassart – though you’re definitely not the only one; but I used to think of you as a friend, and I wish I’ll be able to do so again in the future).

__

Note:

For more details, see this timeline and the subsequent detailed discussion at Stephanie Zvan’s Almost Diamonds, another blog of note. Read also Ashley Miller’s original post and its follow-ups to have an idea why some of us think there’s a problem. Oh, and for those who summarily dismiss Rebecca Watson for being (according to them) "divisive" and "rude": go read the actual statement she wrote on June 1st before presuming to judge.

4 réponses à “Why skeptics should care about gender and other "sensitive" issues

  1. Hello,

    Since you’re mentioning me by name in your blogpost, I will (re)state my position on this here. For me the real debate is not about harassment. We agree that sexual harassment is a big issue in society and something we should fight against. But there are many ways of fighting about sexism, and for feminism (or anti-sexism). I don’t say that there is no harassment going on in society or at TAM. I fully acknowledge that there is. I don’t say either that it’s not an important issue. And I don’t say it’s not an issue we should talk about in the skeptical community or outside of it.

    What I do say is that the way Rebecca Watson goes about making her point is the perfect way to alienate people who otherwise would be sympathetic of her position (like me for exemple). For exemple, she could just have made a simple phonecall to the JREF before writing her agressive blogpost against DJ Grothe. She could have stated her point without choosing to state that she will not go at TAM this year. She could have made her point without attacking DJ Grothe the way she did. And she doesn’t have to call "morrons" everybody that doesn’t agree with her (and no, sorry, she doesn’t do that only with people that insults her). And on top of all that she doesn’t have to be patronizing and condescending.

    In short, she could be promoting anti-sexism in a constructive way. Instead, what she does is dive in the controversies and then bath in it.

    You have to understand that it’s not because someone dislike’s Rebecca Watson (and PZ Myers)’s behavior that he’s misogynistic. I’m very sensitive to women’s issue and that’s why I’m closely following this debate on Twitter and elswhere. I do I get really annoyed by people who frame the debate as "either you agree with Rebecca Watson/PZ Myers or you are misogynistic". From the get go, it doesn’t create a good environnement to have a debate about this.

    So yep, I’m fed up by Rebecca Watson’s behavior. You can still choose to believe that it’s because I’m misogynistic and unsensitive to women’s issue. Or you can try to understand my real position on this.

    Skeptically yours,

    • "For me the real debate is not about harassment."

      Careful: you appear to be negating what you were just saying in the previous sentence about the seriousness of the harassment issue! Framing it as a disagreement between individuals or an issue of tone is misleading. Actually you’re nearly right, with an important nuance: it’s about how skeptical organizations and conventions respond to incidents of harassment (which are indeed inevitable, since all this happens in the larger context of society).

      "What I do say is that the way Rebecca Watson goes about making her point is the perfect way to alienate people who otherwise would be sympathetic of her position"

      I wonder why you keep making it an issue about Rebecca Watson, since it actually began with a blog post by Jennifer McCreight, followed by discussions on Kylie Sturgess‘s, Stephanie Zvan‘s and Ophelia Benson‘s blogs, and from there to the rest of the skepticosphere…
      The anger arose about what JREF’s D.J. Grothe posted on a public Facebook discussion, giving his opinion that some unnamed "prominent" women skeptics were giving TAM a bad name by their "irresponsible messaging" (sic), propagating "misinformation". A claim that was as insulting as it was vague (it also ignored the fact that discussions were currently going on to make constructive suggestions for the future, and also reporting real progress).
      He also claimed that there had been "no sexual harassment incidents" at TAM 9, which prompted Ashley Miller to post her rebuttal: yes, she herself had been victim of harassment there and she was surprised that DJ didn’t remember it since he was involved in removing the harasser from the scene…
      This brought to light the fact that there had been no paper trail of the incident, even though several witnesses confirmed Ashley’s version: wasn’t the staff briefed about the proper way to process a complaint? Not very professional, then. Worse, not only DJ didn’t remember the sexual harassment (he thought it was about someone being there without invitation) but his first movement was to try to make Ashley doubt her version of the facts. (Google "gaslighting" for more on what is actually a common silencing tactic toward women and disempowered groups in general.) This is not a pattern inspiring confidence in the ability of the conference organizers and staff to handle a complaint about as disturbing and personal an issue as sexual harassment.
      If you want to talk about Rebecca Watson, her implication began when she simply asked DJ specifics about who was propagating rumors about TAM and creating a bad atmosphere. A reasonable question, all things considered.
      But once again, the response by DJ made things worse: he quoted (out of context) part of a sentence from an interview RW gave to USA Today in September 2011, in the wake of the "Elevatorgate" incident, as an example of "irresponsible" communication. More shooting of the messenger of bad news, apparently! And misunderstanding her use of the concept of "safe-space", which is strange since it’s also widely used in the LGBTQ community: it’s not only about physical security but about respecting the voices of others, independently of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. If it transpires that at event X, there is no policy for prevention of harassment, or that the policy is not seriously implemented, it doesn’t make it feel like a "safe space".
      And then, and only then, did Rebecca Watson post about her disgust and intention not to go to TAM this year.
      In this post that you label "aggressive" (without specifics), she recapitulated the debate that had unfolded up to this point, reminded the readers that herself, the Skepchicks and the SGU had been supporters of TAM for years now, had worked with the JREF to bring women speakers and attendees to the event, both through fundraising and by taking part in panels and workshops (as did other Skepchicks, including Amy and Elyse), and that it was hard in this context to be told in a throwaway blog comment that she was part of the problem! Even worse, DJ had initially responded by more questionable comments, labeling "rumor and distasteful locker room banter, often pretty mean-spirited" and "just one or a few women recounting sexual exploits" (!) the instances of women confiding about their experiences of being harassed at cons. In view of those disparaging comments and the insensitivity (and sheer unprofessionalism) they betrayed, it’s no wonder she felt that the JREF was letting her down.

      For exemple, she could just have made a simple phonecall to the JREF before writing her agressive blogpost against DJ Grothe.

      Didn’t you follow the whole incident? All the statements by D.J. Grothe were made either on a Facebook page or in the comments of a blog post. And not even on the JREF official website, but on various people’s blogs! Why on earth should Rebecca have acted behind the stage when it was from the beginning a public debate?
      And I find it amusing that you and other detractors go on with the "she’s so aggressive" rhetoric and seem to believe that she started the whole thing instead of coming in at a late stage: maybe it’s a testimony to the strength and vitality of her writing!

      But then, you don’t seem to realize that the "she should have done this", "she should have reacted like that" may be well meaning (to use one of your words) but is actually condescending and rude. It’s one thing to say "I think what X did is bad", and a totally different one to offer unasked-for advice about how X should conduct herself, as if she was a child to be lectured by adults!

      "You have to understand that it’s not because someone dislike’s Rebecca Watson (and PZ Myers)’s behavior that he’s misogynistic."

      Ah, ha, lecturing me too? Maybe instead you should consider that I actually think you’re wrong for other reasons than "disliking" Watson or Myers! That, for instance, I think you (be assured that you’re far from being alone, but we happened to have had interactions in the past and I respect what you do in other areas) are displaying here and in your previous tweets and FB comments a skewed scale of priorities. Not to mention a lack of awareness of your own use of bad rhetoric.

      I do I get really annoyed by people who frame the debate as "either you agree with Rebecca Watson/PZ Myers or you are misogynistic". (…) So yep, I’m fed up by Rebecca Watson’s behavior. You can still choose to believe that it’s because I’m misogynistic and unsensitive to women’s issue.

      Like I said before, I don’t like your bad arguments because they are bad. Because when you post something like the above quote, you are just putting up strawmen and insulting my intelligence. Way to create a "good environment" for a debate!

  2. I think I’m in love with Crommunist!

    Let’s just stay friends for now, see where things go :P

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