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Skeptics! Inspired by…skeptics! July 6, 2011

Posted by therealtinlizzy in Uncategorized.

It’s not friendly perhaps for me to start a post off (wait no – this is clearly going to be a series of posts) inspired by s/thing without fully explaining the back-story of the inspiration. However given my already-tendencies towards NeverEnding Story type posts (the never-ending part, not like the awesome luckdragons and giant turtles and oracles parts), re-re-re-hashing what others have already eloquently explained and opined on the matter is silly. So let me just set the backdrop and post links to the real stories, which will then be my spring board for later musings.

A sizable little tempest erupted this past week in the skeptic/science nerd community (and I use the term nerd lovingly and self-includingly) that highlighted the reality that even the most modern, forward-thinking, hard-science, yay-for-progress community of folks this side of my greatest science fiction dreams harbors that old obstinate little chestnut of sexism just as insidiously as any of the usual suspects on whom we’re always casting aspersions.

Skepchick extraordinaire Rebecca Watson is at heart of the brouhaha, with a pointed followup by Amanda Marcotte (of Pandagon fame). You should read their posts on the sitch  – in which Sir (wait is he a sir?) Richard Dawkins even makes a cameo-cum-central-figure appearance – if for no other reason that Rebecca and Amanda are damn witty succinct writers, and just all around women I admire and think of as amazing role models of awesomeness. But, more importantly, you should read their stories because the story is important towards setting your notions and expectations about what’s the what out there in the world in terms of women’s place and status anywhere – even in what should ostensibly be the most friendly of places for women to exist and move about as thinkers, scientists and generally intellectually-minded rational people.

The take away is how ridiculously difficult and nonsense-laden it remains for women, even in progressive communities and schools of thought, to a) expect to not be treated like dismissible kittens who are good for patting patronizingly on the head if they’re deemed to be quaint and cute, and b) be able, even in the most matter-of-fact, non-hysterical, chill manner, to hold men to standards of behavior and accountability where we women are more than fuck toys or eye candy for the boys in the room.

In other threads and buzz on the matter a couple of other rad women in the skeptic/science community – Stephanie of Almost Diamonds  and Bug Girl  – wrote an open letter to Richard Dawkins (here and here respectively) to which a flood of other women skeptics and science nerds have co-signed and added their own letters via comments on the posts and on their own sites.

I’ll close this post, and crack open the can of worms of other posts to follow, by saying this:

I left a community of women almost exactly a year ago into which I’d poured my heart and life and love and pretty much damn near everything for 5 years. I ended up leaving abruptly when some events transpired which made me realize unequivocally and inexorably that the sexism and misogyny – not only enacted by men but also by women towards their own selves, their fellow women and their own interests – was just as gobsmackingly and depressingly endemic and entrenched within this women-owned, women-led, women-run business/community/family as it is in the mainstream and the back channels where we expect it to be. This particular transpiration of events made me realize that the whole both monolithic and pervasive bundle of it was clearly beyond my ability to fix, change, influence or hold at bay any longer. My staying beyond that point would have been no different than staying in an abusive relationship.

Cheers to the Skepchicks, the lower-case skepchicks, and the guy skeptics/scientists out there (like PZ Myers) who Amanda Marcotte describes rightly as being “on the side of the angels.” Y’all have been an inspiration to me at CONvergence and beyond, and you’re just some damn fine, awesome and enjoyable human beings.


1. Keith - July 6, 2011

The thing that seemed to cause the most misunderstanding (it seemed to me) was the difficulty many people have in understanding the difference of asking a woman you don’t know up to your room for coffee, (which is a bit presumptuous, but not necessarily creepy) and asking a woman you don’t know up to your room for coffee in an elevator in the middle of the night.
I made a comment on one of the (many) posts about this to the effect of, “I wonder if Dawkins would feel comfortable in the middle of the night on an elevator after a large, shabbily dressed man asked him politely for $50.”
I also think part of the issue with people who found offense to the idea that men shouldn’t ask a stranger out in that situation is that they don’t seem to want to acknowledge some unfortunate truths about our society. Some tried to counter-argue by asking if it would have been ok if a white person was saying that black people shouldn’t approach them because it made them uncomfortable. (That’s a nice strawman you got there. I love how the nonsense brings out its eyes.) I think that argument, however, ignores the fact that the original poster’s problem wasn’t necessarily that it was a man who did this, (although it was put in that context for obvious social reasons) but that it was someone who was asking a pretentious question in a confined place in a society where sex and violence are closely linked.
Perhaps she could have stated it better by being gender neutral, however I’m sure she had no idea that this would cause such a shit-storm and can’t really be faulted for being specific. (And the likes of Dawkins should be smart enough to understand the larger point.)

therealtinlizzy - July 7, 2011

You’ve said it quite well, along with an analog to being approached by a scruffy shabbily dressed man asking RD for money. And also like you pointed out – it’s not just asking a question or being presumptuous – good lord no one would ever date or get laid if we couldn’t/didn’t ask direct questions of ppl sometimes. But it’s about the implication (which is so awesomely illustrated by the Always Sunny in Philly clip that Amanda Marcotte links to) present under certain circumstances, as well as context and like you said – the larger violence/sex linkage that’s unavoidably there in our society (or humanity perhaps). Anyway – yeah, we always hope and assume s/times those folks we so admire (like Dawkins) has his head on straight about such things – until sometimes we find out they don’t.

2. Bug Girl - July 7, 2011

I’m glad you enjoyed Convergence/SkepchickCon!

3. Stephanie Z - July 7, 2011

Thank you. Sometimes this feels like too long a slog, but it helps to know it makes a difference to someone else.

4. Ginny - July 11, 2011

I’m… I’m confused. What the flying fuck does genital mutilation have to do with creepy elavator come-ons? Like, at all? Is this his standard response to any complaint by first-world females? STFU bitch and be grateful you don’t have to wear the hijab? Like, atheists don’t have to give a shit about women because religious women have it far worse? Seriously, some rabid misogyny doesn’t so much anger me as just completely baffle me. Maybe my puny girl-brain just can’t make the connection.

therealtinlizzy - July 14, 2011

Yeah – exactly. sigh. And if you’ve been following any of the ensuing Elevatorgate, you’ll see how much more ridiculous and suck it’s gotten. Not so much on the front of otherwise-normal folks like Richard Dawkins, but in bringing the really terrible fuckfaces out of the woodwork (Reb Watson has posted a few really precious blog comments she’s gotten since.

But hey – those assholes were already assholes, not like they were just teetering -poised to go either the way of decent human or the total fuckface waiting for some such sitch to kick them one way or the other. I do think however there are plenty of truly well-meaning and decent good guys in the academic/skeptick community out there for whom this has been a really positive and eye-opening experience, and who are now quite aware of a perspect they weren’t before, perhaps even indignant and fired up on behalf of women – whether the women in their lives, theoretical women out there or whoever.

To make an omelette you have to scare a few assholes out of the dusty corners. Or s/thing 🙂


5. Curv - September 16, 2011

I periodically re-visit to re-read and remember. 😦
xox Curv

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