|"Atheist meetings? No thanks, cuz I don't like the ... " [fill in the blank]|
Rebecca Watson is still being bombarded with sexual and sexist insults at ERV. Ophelia Benson is saying it's intolerable to attack a woman with sexist epithets. Some people, like Russell Blackford, think the epithets are bad, but not that bad ... etc. etc. A lot of people are no longer talking to a lot of people over Elevator-gate. There are shifting alliances, blah-blah-blah....
I've been invited to speak about Elevator-gate at a local skeptics' group--and more generally about atheism and feminism. So now I have an official reason to think more about this, and I'm no longer just a run-of-the-mill obsessive-compulsive. (Phew, that's a relief!)
Recap of the whole story, and then some comments--
So... there's an atheist conference in Dublin, this past June. One panel is about atheism and women, and the first speaker is Paula Kirby--video here. The moderator raises the question why there are fewer women than men at atheist conferences. Kirby offers the view, based on "my years of being part of all this" that she hasn't seen men holding back women. She also says she's offended by the idea that women would be put off of atheism, and the atheist movement, because it's male dominated. Surely women aren't that easily frightened.
Later at the Dublin conference, there's another panel on communicating atheism, and both Rebecca Watson and Richard Dawkins are speakers--video here. Watson puts the topic of the panel on hold in order to respond to the question discussed by the previous panel--why fewer women in atheist-land? She rejects what Kirby has said as an argument from "ignorance" and an argument from "privilege" and claims that the explanation is (at least partly) that women get mistreated by men. To support this, she offers anecdotes--sexist rubbish from emails she's received from atheist men.
Still later at the Dublin conference, something happens to confirm Watson in her belief that women get mistreated by men at atheist conferences--she gets hit on in an elevator at four in the morning, despite having said, in the guy's hearing, that she's tired and wishes to go to bed; and also despite her message on the panel. When she gets home she puts a video on You Tube, which begins with a mention of Paula Kirby, and talks about the elevator incident -- video here.
She later speaks again at a CfI conference, refers back to the Dublin women's panel, and covers examples of harassment by atheist men, and also mentions the elevator incident. She's even more explicit than in the elevator video that the issue is why there are fewer women in the atheist movement. She tells the student leaders that this sort of overt sexism keeps women away--"that's why they're not coming out to these events." She also responds to reaction to her elevator video from a student activist named Stef McGraw. McGraw had said that there was nothing wrong with elevator guy's overture--her post is here. Watson says McGraw is "ignorant about feminism" and doesn't know the most obvious things from Feminism 101. Sexual interest is one thing, sexual objectification is another.
Later still, Richard Dawkins makes a dismissive comment about the elevator incident--here and then again here. And then, in turn, Watson dismisses him in a post called "The Privilege Delusion"-- here. "Thanks, wealthy old heterosexual white man!" she writes, and promises to stop buying his books. After that, the flood of comments for and against Watson begins, including a torrent of just the sort of sexual and sexist commentary she initially brought up in Dublin. It gets uglier, and uglier, and uglier...
Now for the comments (numbered, even!)--
(1) There's no excuse at all for the sexual and sexist backlash against Watson. It's inappropriate, disproportionate, inarticulate, and just plain ugly. Nothing she did or said justifies it, period.
(2) As much as Watson makes a legitimate point about misogynistic rhetoric that's been directed toward her, she's gratuitously dismissive toward people who see things differently. She dismissed Kirby as "ignorant" and "privileged"; McGraw as "ignorant of feminism"; and Dawkins as too wealthy, old, heterosexual, white, and male to understand.
PZ Myers has defended Watson on grounds that she was "civil" to McGraw and "polite and respectful" to Kirby, but he confuses the question of delivery with the question of content. Yes, her delivery is pleasant and in fact funny. She doesn't froth at the mouth. But the content is insulting. Instead of engaging with the ideas of people she disagrees with, she finds fault with the people themselves--they're too ignorant, too privileged, too unfamiliar with feminism 101, too wealthy, too whatever.
While I was away, some folks at Butterflies and Wheels raised the question how philosophers (like me) can be rattled by Watson's combativeness. Aren't philosophers combative too? Yes--very combative. But the rule is that one engages with ideas--it's off limits to dismiss a position as due to your interlocutor's ignorance or privilege or sex or age, or whatever it might be.
But, but, but... isn't it true that some people really are too benighted to "get it"--that they really do need to take Feminism 101? It's true, but dismissing someone in that fashion is a last resort, and certainly not permitted in direct debate between peers. Since Watson was responding to Kirby, McGraw, and Dawkins as peers, it was inappropriate to write them off in the way she did.
(3) Let's get back to the original question--why are there fewer women than men in atheist circles? Kirby's answer is essentially just negative: men are not holding back women. Watson says the opposite--male sexism and sexual harassment keep women from coming to atheist events. The message I see all over the internet is that feminists must agree with Watson. But no, surely not. As a feminist, I do care about the role women play, and whether it's justly or unjustly attenuated. I am interested in causes and explanations, and don't feel "beyond male vs. female" in the way Kirby seems to. But it doesn't follow I have to buy Watson's view of what makes the atheist community less hospitable for women than for men.
It could be that women are scared off by the prospect of dealing with sexism and sexual harassment. But there are lots of other possibilities. Perhaps the people you meet at atheist meetings argue too much--in their zeal to be ultra-rational and skeptical, maybe they don't know when to stop. Maybe the immense value attached to candor in the atheist movement stops people from properly valuing tact and diplomacy. Maybe people personalize debates too much. In fact, the issue could be even deeper. Perhaps women don't identify as atheists as often as men, and when they do, they identify as conciliatory, "live and let live" atheists. So they're bound to be less interested in atheist activism. If that's a factor, the atheist movement would have to change in fundamental ways to increase female involvement. You might have to examine some very basic things about the atheist movement, not just sexual and sexist antics that are extrinsic to it, to give women an equal role.
To speak a little more personally--I'm just one woman, and it's not clear to me which of my attitudes are gender-related and which aren't, but Watson is quite wrong about what makes me reluctant to come out to atheist events. I don't want any contact with neanderthal debaters like you see at many atheist blogs. It's got nothing whatever to do with fearing overt sexism or sexual harassment. I just don't want to run into Kevin, who wrote this about me at an atheist blog a little while back (with no complaint from the moderator)--
Jean: Let me clue you into something.
You will never win.
You cannot put the genie back in the bottle.
Live with failure every single minute of every single hour of every single day of the rest of your life.
I have no use for someone of your “intellect” telling me what I can or cannot say or learn.
And you will have to live with that abject failure forever.
Since the atheist blogosphere is full of Kevins, I'm a little reluctant to get any closer to "movement" atheists. I suspect more women would feel like me about this than men, and so--I'd like to suggest--it's not just overtly sexist epithets we should be worried about, as feminists. The whole style of interaction at atheist blogs is a problem.
After a while, I no longer cared about which side was right; I was so disgusted by the viciousness of the responses on both sides--the overt lack of rationality from what is supposed to be a movement based on it--I began to despair about our future. I've always hated and rejected the argument that atheists are like fundamentalists, but this argument sounds so much like the vitriol generated when religious sects disagree over doctrine that I am forced to reconsider whether the need to hate those who disagree runs much more deeply than I thought.
So now that you have a compelling reason to talk about it I won't feel inhibited about intruding on travels! I started to reply to your comment at B&W by saying travels are way more important than keeping up with blog discussions [you'd mentioned not being able to keep up because of travels]...but it looked as if it could be sarcastic so I think I ended up ditching the attempt.
The message I see all over the internet is that feminists must agree with Watson. But no, surely not.
Agreed. I disagreed with her about several things at the beginning, and I did one post saying I was getting off the train altogether. But then the avalanche of foul sexist name-calling changed the game somewhat, at least for me. Right now I think noisy solidarity is needed - not just for Rebecca's sake but for the sake of resisting foul sexist name-calling in general. I don't want that crap splashing on me any more than Rebecca does.
Watson is quite wrong about what makes me reluctant to come out to atheist events. I don't want any contact with neanderthal debaters like you see at many atheist blogs.
The thing about that is that at least some of the neanderthalism is a product of the internet rather than the atheism. It's typical of the internet, and it's not typical of atheism in real life, at least not that I've ever seen.
To be honest I suppose this train-wreck has motivated me to be more vigilant about my own neanderthal tendencies. I sure as hell don't want to wake up some day to find myself calling women "fucking bitch" and worse, so I should do better at tamping things down at my place, and in myself at other places.
I wrote the comment at B&W early in the morning at a B&B near Oxford--pretty silly, because it was a beautiful day and I could have been out taking a walk. But I was reading some of that ERV stuff (we briefly had wifi) and also read your post--and felt your bewilderment. Why can't people just straightforwardly say "hell no" to Abbie & Co's talk? I don't know. I think I can say "hell no" and then also go on to look at the whole debate and disagree with some of Watson's points and debate tactics. Though I do see your point--that what's needed right now is noisy solidarity. Just no--you can't talk about her that way! It's revolting. Even if all the ugly talk is some kind of a protest (I think that may be so), it's the wrong way to protest, and the fact that people can't see that is very worrisome.
About my own worries about atheist gatherings--seriously, I really don't want to speak in front of people who are inclined to be that nasty (like Kev, and like a lot of other people), even if they restrain themselves in person.
I think some of the excess nastiness could just be "internetitis" but I wonder if it's an offshoot of the idea that inhibitions about criticizing religion are to be lifted. That's gotten generalized to "all conversational inhibitions are to be lifted." I couldn't be sure of that though without comparing two internet communities ... and life is too short to do it. So I admit, I'm not really sure.
Is the honeymoon phase in skepticism over? Twin beds and separate vacations? I've only developed an interest in skepticism 3 years ago but find myself pulling back already. I've heard Rebecca Watson say some incredibly dismissive, nasty things about believers on the SGU. (The word "idiots" comes to mind.) The combative nature of atheists/skeptics has stopped me from attending local meetings as I have friends who are religious, some are conspiracy theorists, and others hunt ghosts. Are they uneducated fools? Hardly. A bit misguided perhaps, but our arguments are always of a respectful nature, something I haven't always found with skeptics.
Ha! You sound like you must be my long lost twin.
I think some of the excess nastiness could just be "internetitis" but I wonder if it's an offshoot of the idea that inhibitions about criticizing religion are to be lifted. That's gotten generalized to "all conversational inhibitions are to be lifted."
Could be. Probably is with some people, maybe a lot. I think with others (like me) it's mostly just getting irritable without the brakes that Real Presence applies, in other words, internetitis. I guess that's because I don't really think calling religion a big poopy-head is an effective form of criticism. Heh.
"But the content is insulting. Instead of engaging with the ideas of people she disagrees with, she finds fault with the people themselves--they're too ignorant, too privileged, too unfamiliar with feminism 101, too wealthy, too whatever."
I don't think that's a fair criticism. Watson did attack Kirby's assessment of sexism within atheist movements by saying that they were based on a fallacy, namely the argument from ignorance. (The argument from privilege is a more specific version of the argument from ignorance. Here, privilege makes one less privy to notice what one might not otherwise.) Watson pointed out how McGraw had misread Watson's statements, again, an attack on McGraw's claims.
As for Dawkins, well, referring to him as a "wealthy old heterosexual white man" is referring to him by a list of descriptors that make him privileged and thus make it easier for him to not recognize what are red flags to those that lack his privileges. Yes, she could have been more specific in pointing out the flaws in what Dawkins had said, but by that point, others (such as Phil Plait) had already done that, and she linked to them at the beginning of her own reply and indicated that she already agreed with what they had said. Her own analysis of Dawkins' claims would be mostly redundant at that point. Watson was far more insulting and dismissive to Dawkins than she was to Kirby or McGrew, but then, Dawkins was thoroughly insulting to her. He basically gave up any reasonable expectation of a respectful response when he wrote his "Dear Muslima" comment.
You made the same point about Watson vs. Kirby at The Intersection, and I responded that it's a real stretch to see Kirby as guilty of any fallacious argument from ignorance. She has years of relevant experience, not "simple" ignorance, as in knowing nothing about how atheist men treat women.
I do think it's arrogant and presumptuous to claim that your opponents suffer from biases, and you are free from them. Why shouldn't the opponent turn around and make some bias claim? Couldn't each one say Watson was suffering from confirmation bias, for example?
Besides, her theories about these people's biases are all shaky. What really entitles Watson to think she knows more about feminism than McGraw does? What's her evidence for that?
Why should she, a much younger woman than Kirby, assume that she has more data about how men treat women in the atheist movement? It could easily be Kirby who has much more data, even if both women do have data (and of course different data).
Again, why assume that Dawkins' wealth and maleness, and all that, are biases that prevent him from understanding sexism? Lots of wealthy (etc) men have plenty of empathy for women who are the victims of oppression and abuse.
She could have directly engaged the content of what these people said, but instead tried to write them off as faulty "knowers" and with no real basis for that assessment. I think calling that "inappropriate" was not going too far.
Excellent points. I couldn't agree more. Thank you for writing this. Here's another woman that feels exactly as you do.
"she gets hit on in an elevator at four in the morning, despite having said, in the guy's hearing, that she's tired and wishes to go to bed; and also despite her message on the panel." (emphasis mine)
There is not one shred of evidence that suggests that is true. Indeed, according to photographs of the bar, only three people were within normal earshot of Rebecca Watson: those seated at her table. She said they hadn't before spoken to one another; so, it's clearly not one of those. This means it had to be someone else in the bar.
In other words, this is a feature of the argument is that rank speculation people are just making up out of thin air . . . to fit a narrative.
Further, "'beyond male vs. female' in the way Kirby seems to" is specifically not what Kirby thinks. There's no "seems" to it; she has explicitly said that is not her claim. She said that men are not actively working to prevent women from progressing in the movement.
Indeed, she goes on to argue that even when recruiters (like she is herself) go out of their to not only identify potential female speakers/presenters/etc to efforts they categorically will not expend on trying to get a male speaker, many women still simply will not step up.
Furthermore, she said the issue she addressed, as related to the topic of her panel (a feat she can do by sticking to it which seems to quite often escape Rebecca Watson's ability to do), that so long as it remains true that men are not placing barriers to prevent women from participating, then she doesn't see it as a systemic problem. In other words, the door is open, the invites are sent out at the organizational level; thus, the only thing preventing women from stepping through the door is actually stepping through it.
Im glad youre interested in this topic. Immahappyforya. But you need to also understand that since you missed this fiasco as it was unfolding, you missed some of the context.
1-- Yup! I was mean to Watson. I stated flat out, initially, that I was going to rewrite my initial criticism of her behavior towards McGraw in a more 'constructive manner'. But I woke up that morning and saw, on McGraws blog, one of *the most condescending* comments I had ever read, left by Mz Watson. I stated flat out that if that was the way things were 'going to be', thats the way things were 'going to be'-- I have no problems fighting with the gloves off. But to then claim 'foul!' when one is getting beat, pathetic.
2-- Yup! I used the word 'bitch', in a very specific context:
"And worst of all... dammit worst of all-- Watsons comments in her speech re: McGraw were apparently completely unnecessary. The audience appeared to view her McGraw comments as separate from her actual speech, and Watson herself said that it was leik, only two minutes, for reals. So why the fuck did she bring it up at all? Why??? Cause it was the bitchy thing to do! McGraw said something Watson thought was bitchy, so Watson did something bitchy right back. Goddammit. As a woman in skepticism, Rebecca Watson, thank you so much for that. I really appreciate it. I really do. Irony is one of my favorite sources of lulz, and nothing is more ironic than someone embodying the stereotype they purport to be combating, especially when I myself am trying to combat those stereotypes. Faaaaantastic."
As a female speaker at atheist conferences who is also fighting to combat stereotypes, someone acting in a stereotypical 'bitchy' fashion pissed me off.
3-- Yup! I used the word 'Twatson'. A very mild political jab in response to 'Dear Dick'.
4-- 'Dear Dick'-- I am someone who has experienced several forms of sexual assault in my life. My emotions and experiences were ignored, and responded to with extraordinarily condescending remarks from PZ 'listen to women' Myers, as well as my favorite epithet in the history of ever, 'gender traitor'.
5-- When I became acutely aware of 'what was going down', ie, "Anyone who disagrees with a vocal fraction of the internet? Their emotions are not only dismissible, they are *wrong*. Intimidate dissent into silence." was the SOP, I did what everyone in the internet generation does- escalate the situation for the lulz. Wasnt hard at all because I was personally hurt by PZ Myers horrible behavior.
6-- Everyone and anyone on Watsons 'side' has been exposed as a hypocrite. From the image of Watson 'branding' (her phrase) 'FUCK YOU, PUSSY- REBECCA' on a mans chest, to PZ 'mansplaining' my/McGraws/any females opinion (and of course its not hard to find examples of him being non-PC), to Nanny Ophelia telling another female to "Fuck off" (and then deleting it without saying 'my emotions got the best of me, i shouldnt have dont that. im sorry'). You know what? I do use 'naughty words'. And I will continue to do so. I dont ask anyone to condone it. But to dismiss someone saying 'twat' in one sentence while comparing women who dont agree with you with sex-addicted non-human primates in the next breath (theyre only trying to get attention of the boys, and eliminate 'the competition', you see), I cant help but think those tut-tutting about 'naughty language' and how it 'degrades women' are crying crocodile tears.
Of course, none of this excuses Watsons decision to abuse her position as an invited speaker to personally attack a member of the audience.
If you are planning on speaking about this fiasco, since you missed it, I would suggest interviewing 'major players' before you talk about it.
Adding to ERVs list, let's not forget Watson used EG as an example of sexism in the skeptic community, and we have no idea if he is even a skeptic.
In addition to what ERV said, I am really appalled that PZ and all the rest, who were thundering down from the friggin' heavens about how no one had the right to dismiss Watson's feelings or thoughts, then did the *exact* same thing to Stef McGraw.
"Oh, see, Rebecca was nice, so CLEARLY you were *wrong* to feel "attacked" you silly little girl"
Because I know, when I'm going to criticize an idea, the first thing I do is say the person who put forth the idea is just parroting someone else. What could possibly be personal about implying they're too stupid to have their own thoughts, ideas, and feelings and must therefore use someone else's.
Why in my neck of the woods, ,saying someone is just a parrot is a high compliment indeed..OW...dangit, I just sprained my sarcastoiliac.
But that's okay, the anti-watsons USED BAD WORDS.
But it gets better yet.
PZ? When people didn't do like Big Daddy Myers said, he comes up with a lurvely bon mot about how he "knows things" about the anti-watson crowd, embarrassing things, but he won't release them because they're "personal". Yeah, thanks a heap Sen. McCarthy.
Of course, that's after an entire post that tries to enshrine what Watson pulled on Stef McGraw as THE RIGHT THING TO DO.
But that's minor, because, after all, the other side USED BAD WORDS.
Rebecca Watson posts some of the most ridiculous BS i've ever seen, (and I"m in IT, people lie badly to me all the time), about how what she did to Stef was a sign of "respect".
But hey, she's right, because she didn't USED BAD WORDS.
Greg Laden? is on a Fair Game tear of epic proportions, accusing me of trying to "DoS his blog" via OMG LONG COMMENT, (do note that ACTUALLY DoSing a site is a really real world crime, and a professional ethics violation on the scale of "deliberately falsifying data" accusation ) and accusing another ERV commenter on the "wrong" side of bragging about raping his girlfriend.
But never mind that, because the other side USED BAD WORDS.
And evidently, Ophelia Benson ended yet another post on this mess with "Fuck You Miranda" directed at Miranda Celeste Hale for...oh i don't know, none of her posts on this make any damned sense, but she ninjedited that last part out. (Note: unlike the rest, I've yet to get a screenshot of that one. So it's not yet AS verifiable as the others)
But hey, even though she used an impolite word, she didn't use any REALLY BAD WORDS.
Yeah, Abbie regularly uses OMG BAD WORDS, but given what the other side is pulling? "Twat" is on the "chewing gum in an elevator" level.
At this point, I sincerely wish my birthday was *not* March 9th.
Jean, thank you for an insightful post.
"Even if all the ugly talk is some kind of a protest (I think that may be so), it's the wrong way to protest, and the fact that people can't see that is very worrisome."
I will admit to very much being on the fence about that. And I'll tell you why. In my opinion, the degree of anger and vitriol being expressed towards Watson, whether in language we agree with or not, has somewehat exploded because a lot of people have rather suddenly come to the clear realization that Watson's primary rhetorical method is to bait, shame, insult, belittle, manipulate, and avoid debate and dialogue whenever and wherever possible. And as such, the anger level -- in light of her position of authority in the movement (and more on that later) -- has, I think quite understandably gone rather ballistic.
Now, in regard to her position of authority in the movement. That is another thing that has begun to make an awful lot of poeple very angry. Here is a young woman with no legitimate related academic credentials, no published scientific (or otherwise) papers, no profound tangible actions causing results, in fact very little real background credit, being asked to speak on science issues and other issues for which she has little to no real knowledge or even life experience of and she is being pampered, paid, jollied, and pedestalled by a bunch of real authorities who really should know better.
And that's just wrong; it is just wrong.
So, some of us are getting angry. And some of us are expressing that anger in language that is abusive, hostile, and just plain angry.
ERV's blog has been condemned for the nasty language on it. So all ideas are declared null and void.
There are ideas behind that language. And much of that "bad" language is in response to the dismissive and abusive language used by people like Rebecca Watson, PZ Myers, Greg Laden and Stephanie Z of the "Dear Dick" campaign.
Calling someone "Twatson" may be adolescent; but calling someone an idiot, a gender traitor, a misogynist, a troll etc is worse because it is directly aimed at stopping dissent. These are not arguments, they are labels used to dimiss and stifle any idea that goes against the groupthink. PZ is proud to ban people who disagree with him, and many others have been to ERVs blog to complain that she is not banning people. Banning people who disagree with you is not likely to result in a discussion, is it.
You have the right idea that people should be criticizing ideas, not personalities, but you are not looking deeply enough at the actual situation.
"She could have directly engaged the content of what these people said"
I'd say that with the arguable exception of Dawkins, she did engage the content, for reasons I discussed in my earlier comment.
"What really entitles Watson to think she knows more about feminism than McGraw does?"
McGraw jumped to a false conclusion--namely that Watson was against male sexual interest--that meshed all too neatly with a common misunderstanding of feminism as anti-sex.
"Why should she, a much younger woman than Kirby, assume that she has more data about how men treat women in the atheist movement?"
Quite simply, because she's heard lots of stories about women being mistreated, while Kirby apparently has not. For whatever reason, Kirby has missed some things that Watson has caught. Age doesn't necessarily put Kirby at an advantage over Watson. For example, people can be less inclined to make crass comments, propositions, etc., in the presence of their elders. I won't go so far as to say, though, that age is the reason Kirby has missed what she's missed, or even a sufficient reason, since there are a host of reasons she could have failed to see Watson had seen.
"why assume that Dawkins' wealth and maleness, and all that, are biases that prevent him from understanding sexism?"
I never said that they prevented him from understanding sexism. I said those privileges make it easier for him not to recognize sexist red flags. That's the difference between a hurdle and a brick wall.
Now as someone with male privilege, there are a lot of things that I don't have to worry about and wouldn't think to worry about if someone without such privilege hadn't brought it to my attention. I don't feel much need to worry about being date raped. I don't have to worry about people being more likely to listen to my male colleagues than me. It's highly unlikely that someone is going to leer at my breasts. And I can go on. For the most part, I can afford to be blissfully ignorant of problems like that because they aren't problems that I personally encounter in day-to-day living.
Justicar, Paula Kirby does say "I'm not interested in breaking up men and women ... I like to deal with people." That's not all she says, but it's part of what she says, and where I got the idea that she wants to be, in my words, "beyond male vs. female."
Abbie, I've never been able to get terribly concerned about the whole issue of how Watson talked about McGraw. Yes, it was a faux pas to criticize a student who was in the room, but couldn't respond. But not a giant faux pas, so not worth a giant response.
My way of summing things up focuses on a different issue--not the sheer fact that she criticizes McGraw, but how she does it. She writes her off as having an inferior vantage point, just like she writes off Kirby and Dawkins. There's a pattern there. Maybe it's "bitchy" (as you put it)--but it seems possible to make the criticism without using that word. (Sorry, I guess I'm no fun.)
Gator, etc., Re: hypocrisy. Yes, I see a lot of that. It doesn't justify all the sexist and sexual attacks on Watson. Two wrongs don't make a right, as they say. I am firmly against all the sexualized name-calling,
That being said, I am very puzzled by The Rules, as understood by Ophelia, PZ Myers, and others. There is also something very disturbing and offensive about some of the insults they apparently consider kosher.
Yes, let's have some examples (and this is meant directly for Ophelia). How can it be terrible, terrible, terrible to call Watson "Twatson," but for your lovely commenter Salty Current to say to me, "Fuck you're an imbecile"? Gross disrespect with a gender twist cannot be in a completely different category than gross disrespect that's gender neutral. People don't want to be dismissed because they're a "twat" or a "dick" but don't want to be dismissed as "imbeciles" either.
Calling someone "Twatson" may be adolescent; but calling someone an idiot, a gender traitor, a misogynist, a troll etc is worse because it is directly aimed at stopping dissent. These are not arguments, they are labels used to dimiss and stifle any idea that goes against the groupthink.
I agree about all those labels suppressing dissent, but "twat" probably suppresses dissent as well. People don't keep talking when they're bombarded with words like "twat"--they retreat to protect themselves. But the overall point is well-taken--it just makes no sense for people to object to gendered insults while making, approving, or tolerating non-gendered insults that are just as charged.
Two things that I think are important to add.
1. Rebecca said, in her video about the elevator incident, that this incident was indicative of “blatant misogyny” and that EG “sexualized” her. The thing is: we don’t know that. Even if EG was thinking about sex at some point during an encounter started off by coffee, that in no way implies he didn’t think of her as a complete and intellectual human being—indeed, he explicitly said he did. To suppose that EG saw in her the equivalent of a blow-up sex doll (as Rebecca suggested in a subsequent video) is in itself sexist (‘that’s what men are like’).
Richard Dawkins, in his original “Muslima” comment, explicitly reacted to the “blatant misogyny” bit, saying that if the elevator incident is misogyny, then that is belittling victims of actual, often enough violent misogyny. Which, on its term, is a fair point. Sadly, this explicit reference to ‘misogyny’, from both RW and RD, is never mentioned by supporters of RW, who are very fond of saying, ‘RW just told men not to do that kind of thing, that’s all’. It is not all, which is the only reason RD got involved in the first place.
2. In her talk at the CFI conference, RW not only spent more than one third of her time (roughly 17 min.) talking about the horrible things random commenters on the Internet say to her, which had pretty much nothing to do with her topic. She also abused her position as speaker to personally call out a member of the audience, who she knew didn’t have any opportunity to respond to the accusations and maybe point out errors in RW’s interpretation. We know RW knew because she said on the panel with RD that she had been in a similar situation during Paula Kirby’s talk, where she felt the Q&A was not adequate for a response, which is why she chose to do it when she herself was on the panel. Due to the setup of the CFI conference, Stef McGraw never had that choice.
And to add insult to injury, RW not only put Stef’s comment in the context of people promising to rape her (RW) and characterised Stef’s reaction as “parroting of misogynistic thought” (i.e. mindlessness), but then went on to say that Stef’s reaction made a lot of women who had experienced sexual assault be scared “because they know that you won’t stand up for them.” Which I find an outrageous accusation, made, in essence, simply because someone (strongly) disagreed with her interpretation of ‘sexualization’.
In her debates with McGraw, Kirby, and Dawkins, she had a choice. She could identify what each one said -- X -- and go after X. Or she could try to bring X under suspicion by arguing that flaws in these people made them say X. What Kirby said was a product of ignorance and privilege. What McGraw said was a product of not taking Feminism 101. What Dawkins said was a product of his age, gender, wealth, heterosexuality, etc.
She uses the second strategy a lot, and it comes across as insulting and dismissive. I also have to say that it comes across as a amateurish. You just can't have a substantive debate which consists of each side attacking each other's biases or objectivity. As I said, the other side can do the same thing to her--maybe she suffers from confirmation bias! The other side could say she sees incidents a certain way because that helps her support a theory she already has. This kind of back and forth "you're biased, no you're biased" is not the way to have a rational debate.
It's also a bad idea to go after the people themselves because she simply does not know what she claims to know about each person and their alleged biases.
As for the issue about Paula Kirby--I'm just repeating stuff I already said to you at The Intersection. Paula Kirby says she has years of experience and hasn't seen men holding women back. So she's not ignorant. She's not making an "argument from ignorance." She simply has a bunch of data different from Watson's. Sure, Watson should present her data too, as a challenge to Kirby's conclusion. But that could be done without making any reference at all to Kirby herself, without labeling her "ignorant" or "privileged." The labeling is gratuitous--just not needed at all for her argument.
Analogy--suppose I claim "Philosophers are never sexist", based on my 25 years in the field. Well, that's a lot of experience. Nobody should attack me as "ignorant" or "privileged." But of course if someone has a counterexample to my claim, they should just give it! My claim can be falsified without my having to come under personal attack. In philosophy that's how you do things--you're expected to focus on what people claim, not on the people themselves. Good idea!
@ Jean Kazez: you wrote:
"... But the overall point is well-taken--it just makes no sense for people to object to gendered insults while making, approving, or tolerating non-gendered insults that are just as charged."
You just made the point I really wanted to make. I'm sorry, but I am revolted by the concentrating on gendered slurs, while ignoring all the other slurs.
I've criticized Ophelia Benson in the past for using barely-veiled gender-based slurs, and I'ld love to point out a fair few threads on Pharyngula before ElevatorMania that are full of gender-based slurs; but getting off those for a moment, and onto slurs as a whole again.
The oft-repetition of the "vulgar" charge just makes me want to become my real prole self; it confuses classism and snobbery with real ethics. The oft-repeated "gender traitor", "fathiest", "betrayist", etc. etc. etc., hey, remind me again who actually started the slurs. It's a peculiarly Stalinist way of conducting things to draw up lists of "traitors".
Looking back on the entire history of ElevatorMadness; the reactions you yourself complain of come from people who were first roundly abused and bullied themselves. This is their way of striking back.
You might not like it or agree that's the way to do it. I would agree with you so far; I've kept myself pretty much free of petty alteration of names, and free of gender-based name-calling.
But to then only concentrate on that without actually looking at what else happened, its background, that strikes me as simply drawing false lines.
If you want to complain about slurs, this is the chickens coming home to roost. We all know about the repetitive use of slurs by some, and now it's come back to bite them in the bum -- which is why I am totally unimpressed by Ophelia Benson's stance on this.
And lastly, you're ignoring the fact that Stef McGraw was roundly ignored as an issue, then roundly abused by commentors when the issue was pressed.
Neither you, Jean Kazez, nor I routinely employ slurs. But I am not going to be impressed in the slightest by others who do routinely employ nonsubstantiated slurs who then suddenly pick and choose which slurs are allegedly allowable and which ones not.
Peter, re: 1, I hadn't noticed that aspect of what Dawkins said. "If the elevator incident is misogyny, then..." Is that a direct quote?
re: 2, as I said to Abbie above, I see the reference to McGraw as a faux pas, but not as one worth a giant response. It's what she says about McGraw that bothers me, not so much that she mentioned her when she couldn't respond.
"She could identify what each one said -- X -- and go after X."
I'm saying that she did do that.
"Analogy--suppose I claim 'Philosophers are never sexist', based on my 25 years in the field. Well, that's a lot of experience."
Experience in what, though? Publishing papers? Sure. Seeing trends in what philosophical topics have been discussed over the years? Easily. Knowing who is an expert in a particular subfield? Obviously. You could easily establish that your experience entitles you to say you are experienced in philosophy.
However, someone who is sexually harassed at a philosophy conference isn't necessarily going to talk to you about it. There's a good chance she'll keep it to herself, and possibly even think that her experience is exceptional because she hasn't heard other colleagues talk about similar experiences. She might talk about it to close friends or relatives rather than professional colleagues. You might have a professional colleague who harasses younger women away from your sight, and obviously doesn't want to talk about it in front of a woman who would disapprove. You might even simply be at a university where sexism isn't part of the local culture, while other places aren't so lucky. In short, there are reasons why your lack of personal experience of sexism in the field may not say much about its actual prevalence.
Furthermore, if I had seen philosophers be sexist and heard a lot of horror stories from others on the topic, then if you said that based on your 25 years experience, there was about no sexism in the field of philosophy, then I would describe you as ignorant on the topic of sexism in philosophy, because for a good chunk of those 25 years, you obviously missed something.
» Jean: Is that a direct quote?
No, I try to be rather fastidious about quotes. It is the content of his sarcastic “Muslima” comment. In that comment, he has two paragraphs of heavy sarcasm and a third one in which he explicitly links that to the word ‘misogyny’, in order to clarify what the sarcasm was about.
» Jean: I see the reference to McGraw as a faux pas, but not as one worth a giant response. It's what she says about McGraw that bothers me, not so much that she mentioned her when she couldn't respond.
Either is worth mentioning. But in any case, the point is that she made Stef feel embarrassed, just as EG made her feel creeped out. And just as EG should apologize to her, she should apologize to Stef. That many people think that it’s okay for her to do what she complained about re EG (even prefacing it with the same kind of disclaimer as EG used), and that anyone who thinks otherwise is engaging in some kind of unprovoked violent attack, that is more than a little strange.
JJ, Question for you--
I say "there is no sexism in philosophy" based on 25 years of experience. And let's suppose the most likely thing--I have been to lots of conferences, I have talked to plenty of female faculty and student, etc, but I simply haven't encountered sexism. (Who knows, maybe it was by some odd stroke of luck that I never ran into it.)
An opponent has data showing sexism. My view is that she should just present the data that challenges my claim, and skip calling me "ignorant" and "privileged." You say it's OK for the opponent to call me "ignorant" and "privileged." But what purpose does it serve? What is gained by using those labels, as opposed to just presenting the data?
Peter, Thanks for the link--I see what you're saying.
Re: the issue of "calling out" McGraw when she couldn't respond. I can see the point that there's a double standard (EG must not distress Watson, but Watson may distress McGraw), but I thought Abbie was using the business about Watson distressing McGraw to justify The Monument. And I think The Monument is a bit large (understatement), given the amount of distress Watson caused McGraw.
To be honest--I think Watson exaggerates her distress in the elevator--for example, she emphasizes she was in a foreign country. But, um, it was Dublin, and she lives in London. It's not like she was in Baghdad. Likewise, perhaps there's some exaggeration of the distress suffered by McGraw.
I dislike ageism. That is, discounting someone's opinion due to an overabundance or insufficiency of years on this Earth. No, that's not a non sequitur. It's a disclaimer.
This obsession with the naughty words derived from slang for female body parts is almost entirely about age. Ophelia Benson is not in her 20's anymore, it's fair to say. Neither is anyone who's been practicing philosophy for 25 years.
Someone who has grown up in an environment where particular words are deemed scandalous cannot easily see them as anything but, even when the times change, and they become, if not entirely common, definitely more so.
I've barely broken the back of my 30's, and even I'm too old to feel comfortable with those words.
There's another important point here, best illustrated with another word: hysteria. This is not a sexist word, no matter how hard some people try to make it so. It derives from the Greek for uterus, but the modern definition has nothing to do with that. A "hysterical" person, depending on context, is either showing extreme disturbed behavior, or being extremely funny. It doesn't mean anything like "acting like a crazy woman".
The point there is that etymology is a curiosity, not a guide to how words are used and understood. The English word "man" used to just mean any human, male or female. Sex was denoted by a prefix, which survives today in "women", but was lost for the male form, which reverted to the base word. So "chairman", really, isn't at all sexist. Right? Or do we not care about the etymology, but only that today, "man" today means explicitly male?
Claiming that both "hysteria" and "chairman" are sexist is trying to both have your cake and eat it, too.
Are terms like "twat" and "cunt" of the same nature? Clearly not.
Both are quite rough around the edges, but it varies by geography and generation just how bad they are. Both are used abroad much more casually than in the US. The French version of cunt (con) is so common and uncontroversial that many native speakers don't even know what it refers to anymore - it's just an insult word, synonymous with "twit", which any English speaker considers an innocent insult. That despite the fact that the latter is quite probably a corruption of "twat".
So if you're wondering how so many people can condone such sexist, misogynistic language, you need to first stop and ask a couple of questions:
1) Are these words sexist and misogynistic to everyone?
The answer is undeniably in the negative. That's a fact about the world.
2) It reasonable to apply one's own *feelings* about these words to assertions made concerning the motivations, beliefs, and character of others who do not share those feelings?
I think the answer to that all-important second question is an unqualified "No".
You can hate the words. You can say you hate the words, and that you wished the person who used them hadn't. But that's as far as you can go while still remaining sensible.
There are a great many people not being sensible lately.
Thanny, I don't think it's the exactly nature of the words that matters, it's the sheer sexualizing of the insult. I had the same reaction to Abbie's brainchild last summer--calling Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum "Mooneytits and Cockenbaum." "Tits" and "cock" are not wildly offensive words, but I don't like the whole notion of sexualized retribution. It's the virtual equivalent of using rape as a weapon of war--though I hasten to add that it's being "virtual" makes a huge, huge, difference. Still, the object of focusing on private, sexual body parts is to make a person feel especially humiliated and vulnerable. And by the way--the whole issue of vulnerability may be why the bit directed at Kirshenbaum was worse than the bit directed at Mooney. Women already feel vulnerable, because they get raped. So deliberately triggering a female opponent's sense of sexual vulnerability is particularly bad.
Do I think this way because I'm sooooooo old? Lots of young women think the same way, from what I can tell. They don't want to write a book (like Sheril) and then find their private body parts under attack, rather than their arguments. I kind of think this obviously makes sense.
JJ, I just wanted to add--I was discussing a hypothetical when I imagined saying "There is no sexism in philosophy" based on my 25 years of experience. That is not something I would actually say!
"And let's suppose the most likely thing--I have been to lots of conferences, I have talked to plenty of female faculty and student, etc, but I simply haven't encountered sexism."
But again, talked to them about what? If you (a hypothetical "you," obviously) are talking to female students, you may be talking to them about grades or coursework, and if those students are graduate students, you may be talking about collaborating on a paper. If we're talking about female faculty, you may again be talking about collaborating on a paper. Whether you talk about more personal things is going to depend on a lot of factors, and there are several factors that make discussing harassment to be socially shameful, embarrassing, inappropriate, etc.
Practically speaking, your extreme example of you believing that there is absolutely no sexism in philosophy is unlikely, but you could easily soften it to the case where you believe that sexism is rare in philosophy. In that case, you yourself might experience some sexism, but think it's just a relatively rare thing. You can easily have a scenario where each individual has experienced what they think is a "little" sexism, but because it's socially uncomfortable to talk about it, few people talk to each other about it and so fail to realize that all those "little" problems are commonplace. From what I've understood, that sort of problem has in fact happened and isn't such a far-fetched hypothetical.
"You say it's OK for the opponent to call me 'ignorant' and 'privileged.'"
I'd say that it would be correct, but to be fair, Watson, IIRC, didn't use those words. Rather, she said that Kirby used a particular fallacy that is denoted by the term of art, "argument from ignorance." She is pointing out a perceived flaw in Kirby's reasoning. And the reasoning is flawed. There are enough reasons for Kirby to be unaware of widespread sexism even when it is happening that her personal experience is a poor gauge of whether there is such a problem.
» Jean: I thought Abbie was using the business about Watson distressing McGraw to justify The Monument.
The Monument was actually a direct reaction to the “Dear Dick” letter and RW’s not-quite-call-for-a-boycott.
JJ, You keep trying to change the hypothetical so that I WOULD be guilty of a fallacious argument from ignorance, but in my hypothetical I'm not. In my hypothetical, I have been around the philosophy world for 25 years, I've been tuned into sexism, I've swapped stories, etc., and I find overt sexism rare or non-existent. So I say so. And my opponent happens to have other evidence.(Now we're getting closer to the truth, by the way--I have done all that, and in fact overt sexism IS rare in my experience.)
So--supposing the facts are what I said, what's gained by talking about ignorance and privilege? Nothing! Now, you will probably say my hypothetical has become a bad analogy, as refined, and Kirby didn't look around for sexism in the way I'm describing. But how do you or Watson know that? Watson just assumed it. And for what purpose? The whole topic of what Kirby did or didn't do was gratuitous anyway. Watson may as well have just given her counterevidence, and skipped the topic of Kirby herself! That's what really matters, not what intellectual errors and biases Kirby can or can't be charged with.
At the very least, I think you ought to agree that her style of argument is inflammatory. If someone has an objection to what I've said, it's one thing to just make the objection, another to tell me that I went wrong because my age blinded me, or my gender, or my wealth, or my bad grade in Feminism 101, or my falling into foolish fallacies. If somebody talks to me that way, they're effectively disqualifying me and claiming a superior vantage point. This is at least unwise as a debate strategy. It's saying "we're not equals here--you're in an inferior position to understand these issues." One reason it's a bad idea is because you can't possibly convince your opponent of this, whereas you might be able to convince them of problems with what they actually said.
"Justicar, Paula Kirby does say "I'm not interested in breaking up men and women ... I like to deal with people." That's not all she says, but it's part of what she says, and where I got the idea that she wants to be, in my words, "beyond male vs. female.""
Thank you for the response; I can see where you'd get that idea based on that phrase. I don't think it sums up Kirby's position, but I can appreciate you're not making the claim in bad faith.
It's just been that, um, so much distortion has attended the conversation, I'm not being super charitable in reading people on it. We are six weeks into the chicanery; it is, nevertheless, not appropriate that I paint you with the brush of those who've come before you.
"Quite simply, because she's heard lots of stories about women being mistreated, while Kirby apparently has not"
If this is your metric, where else might we expect you to accept it as valid? If a certain, say, priest comes up and tells of hearing many people who've talked to Jesus presumably your logic here would support the idea repetition when concentrated in one person by others makes the claim putatively more true.
I reject this line of reasoning as categorically fallacious.
"For whatever reason, Kirby has missed some things that Watson has caught."
If this is your standard of maybes and ifs, then consider that it's just as possible Watson is seeing things which aren't there. When you're a hammer and all . . .
"But the overall point is well-taken--it just makes no sense for people to object to gendered insults while making, approving, or tolerating non-gendered insults that are just as charged. "
It is apparently not well-taken by many. =P
Just expressing the idea that Watson might have made a mistake gets one labelled an MRA supporter. Not accepting on no evidence at all that she was "sexualized" and in "potential danger" gets one referred to Schrodinger's Rapist and labelled misogynistic and hating of women (they apparently don't know one means the other), and that one promotes rape culture and should consider one's self a rapist so as to know how best to approach women.
PZ Myers has several times said to me directly that the only reason I disagree is so that I can continue "cornering" women in "dangerous" places to "proposition" them for sex. I'm an exclusively gay male. He knows this. He's just lying to fit a narrative.
Welcome back from your trip. =^_^=
Justicar: "If this is your metric, where else might we expect you to accept it as valid? If a certain, say, priest comes up and tells of hearing many people who've talked to Jesus"
If one interprets "talk to Jesus" in a non-miraculous way, that is, someone basically praying to Jesus without him manifesting himself or talking back, then yes, a hypothetical priest reporting that his parishioners talk to Jesus would easily override the claims of another hypothetical priest saying that judging from his experience, no one talks to Jesus these days.
If you insist on interpreting "talking to Jesus" as a reference to something miraculous, then you are saying that reports of sexual harassment, etc. are akin to reports of miracles, with the unwanted implication that reports of harassment, like reports of miracles, are not credible on their face.
Either way, your analogy is awful.
"Either way, your analogy is awful."
I think his analogy is appropriate. Unless I am misunderstanding the argument, which I grant you is quite possible, it matters not what sort of tale is being espoused by the "jesus people" or by the "watson people". What matters is whether or not we believe the tale being told, any tale being told, as valid based soley upon nothing more than anecdote.
And the day that someone is granted scientific authority and/or topical authority based soley upon there re-telling of anecdotes is the day we might as well give up completely on such things as skeptical critical thinking.
J.J. Ramsey, I note that you do indeed engender the idea that if a sufficient number of people espouse a thing to be true, its truth value can be properly increased.
Further, my hypothetical, despite your deletion of half of it, and change in its premises, both major and secondary, does no work at all to bolster the idea that you're discussing this in good faith. You are positing additional claims not countenanced by the hypothetical to avoid answering the actual hypothetical which was posed.
And properly posed at that as it contained no improper premises.
An awful analogy it might well be. Your inability to properly read, however, does no work in making it as much.
Well I’ve not followed this issue closely, which I think has been an excellent idea. No doubt my lack of expertise on who insulted who and when and with what set of anatomical metaphors puts me at a severe disadvantage, but it seems to me that this entire enterprise can be broken down very simply. There are a few primary issues and some secondary issues:
1. How big of an issue is sexism in current active atheist communities?
2. How far does the anecdotal evidence supplied by two individuals go towards providing us with insight to #1?
3. How should we interpret a man asking a woman up to his room for “coffee and conversation,” when he does so at 4:00 in the morning in an elevator, especially as it relates to 1 and 2?
Some secondary issues/questions:
1. You started it, no U started it!
2. Who’s REALLY a big poo-poo head?
3. When people have started insulting each other is it worse if they insult each other on the basis of gender as opposed to more general faults?
I will now offer definitive answers!
Primary issue answers:
1. Good question. Let’s do study so we actually have some evidence!
2. Anecdotal evidence is anecdotal evidence. I’m pretty sure we all know how far anecdotal evidence goes towards establishing the truth of some proposition.
3. Open to interpretation. There is no fact of the matter to be found here.
Secondary issue answers:
1. NO U
2. Oh I think you know.
3. Yes it’s worse.
So we can move on now right? I jest. Go internets go!
Ha! You're good at this. I think you got it all right but I just want to refine "secondary answers #3." So--"Yes it's worse, but other insults are bad too." That needs to be said, because people get a little weird when they think something is worse. If A is better and B is worse, they stop thinking of A as bad at all. Whoops!
Thus you've got all sorts of wacky name-calling at blogs where the Good Guys hang out (as in, the non-ERV Guys), yet it's not recognized as bad at all, cuz it's not gendered. Ugh.
More and more, I like the rule at Feminist Philosophers, which is simply "Be nice". Gendered insults are out, but so are other insults. That's the rule you need to put in effect if you're going to have an inclusive and intelligent discussion. Yes, it sounds boyscout/girlscout-ish, but it's true.
I think what has left me the most gobsmacked out of this whole fiasco is that it appears to have been started by Rebecca complaining that the comments left on her Youtube videos were sexist.
I've watched the video of her talk, and setting whatever else I might want to say about it aside, the bulk of what she goes on about for the first fifteen minutes is comments on Youtube. Yes, she mentions emails. Yes, she mentions Stef McGraw. But unless I have seriously misunderstood what happened at the start of that talk, it was in large part about the comments section on Youtube. Which leaves me with two questions:
1.) Why should anyone assume that "87luvsBieber4eva" is a member of the atheist/skeptic community when they leave a comment on a Youtube video? (Not a real YT handle; one I made up to illustrate a point) and
2.) Has Rebecca ever looked at the comments section of YT before? Because when you lack the charm, wit, sophistication, and intelligence to hang out at 4chan, you leave comments on Youtube videos. I'm not saying I approve of the icky morass which the comments section usually is. I'm saying that the people who comment on videos at Youtube are predominantly cretins. Why are any of us caring about it, exactly?
"Because when you lack the charm, wit, sophistication, and intelligence to hang out at 4chan, you leave comments on Youtube videos." LOL.
@Jean re: "being nice." Being nice is a perfectly fine standard, but for myself, whenever I'm trying to resist the awesome pull of being an a-hole on the internet (a pull that is sometimes shockingly hard to resist) I don't ask myself "am I being nice?" I ask myself "am I actually making an argument as opposed to indulging in rhetorical flourishes?" (and lets face it: most insults are nothing but emotive, expressivist rhetoric).
The vast bulk of "argument" in comment sections is nothing more than wildly self indulgent rhetoric. I get it. I do. It's fun, and there are lots of people running around these parts with large vocabularies and excellent grammar.
I don't care about being a boy scout, but I do want to try and advance the discussion where possible. To me this blogging/commenting stuff is an opportunity to make progress on some interesting questions. But I'm afraid for lots of folks it seems like an opprotunity to show how moral and smart they are, or failing that, to show how IMMORAL AND STUPID their opponents are. Kind of like all those preachers they purport to hate.
Faust & Jillian,
I laughed about that sentence too, but what's 4chan? (I feel so old...)
I think RW was upset by Paula Kirby's saying she hadn't seen men holding women back, and was very eager to offer some examples of male bad behavior. But her examples were not carefully selected for relevance to the issue Paula was addressing--why there are fewer women than men in the atheist movement. Some bad behavior is everywhere that men interact with women, so doesn't much to explain why women avoid atheist conferences.
Faust, I'm actually (I'm pretty sure!) serious about this inclusiveness thing. Where there is a lot of verbal abuse (and it's not crucial that it be gendered), people are excluded, and I think women more than men, because they're more bothered by that sort of thing. Now, it's true that if everyone's nice, and conversations are inclusive, then people can still be just trying to win power struggles ... Fair enough! But, at least there's a better chance of being included in a rational conversation.
Well I can't disagree with that. Anything that improves the conversation is fine by me!
And you don't want to go to 4chan.
Yes, you want to. You have to!
Everybody should visit 4chan /b once in their lifetime. It makes them a better and cynical human being.
i'm afraid to look (she said in a small voice)
Look, child, look (he said, his tail twitching).
dot net fo'shizzle!
With picture of anime girl and swastika in speech bubble
Maybe that's enough 4chan (whimper)
I'm sure I've overstated the age angle a bit.
But I feel you've missed an important point. Namely, that an insult which, by origin, refers to a sexual body part does not necessarily refer to one when used in the present.
A perfect example is the term "dick", meaning an unpleasant male person. We all know it refers to a slang term for penis, but no one thinks of anything remotely sexual when calling someone a dick. That's very much the case in the UK with the word twat, where the insultee is a man, as often as not.
The simple fact is, insults tend to refer to "naughty" bits of human anatomy, and it's simply not reasonable to single out those which happen to belong to only one sex or the other as deserving more or less opprobrium.
Not even if we separate insults by sex, which is done even when the roots of the insult aren't sex-specific. That's why unpleasant men are assholes, while unpleasant women are bitches. It's no different than men being actors and women being actresses.
That's not to say that everyone using such terms is not sexist. Some certainly are, and some use them explicitly because they refer to feminine body parts. And it's important to note that those two statements are not synonymous - one can use a sex-specific insult, conscious of the origins, without being at all sexist. To think otherwise is to claim that "actress" and "waitress" are sexist terms. Yes, I'm aware that there exist people who claim that. But such people are not to be taken seriously.
I would like to take a moment to thank you, Jean Kazez, for stating your opinions reasonably. That's been in all too short supply on this issue, mostly on the side of Watson supporters.
Here's what I think may have happened. Please correct me where I'm wrong.
Some of us who have come to enjoy a good argument on the internet have adopted an argumentation style that goes beyond confrontation to outright mockery. It's a form of poisoning the well - it's not that we attack our opponents with NO substance at all; we just add a nice heaping spoonful of derision on top of the argument.
I freely admit to doing it in some circumstances. My personal politics are pretty left, and I have come to see some of what takes place on the political right in my country (USA) as a serious danger to principles I think important: tolerance, free expression, so forth. When I write about what I see as the threats certain right wing groups pose, I often do it with a good dash of mockery and insult. The truth is that I *want* the people I target that way to be tarnished with my insults (as well as my arguments). My reason for this is that because I think they're dangerous, I hope to discredit them. Better to be slinging insults than weapons.
You don't have to agree with my particular position to see the point I'm trying to make, I hope. I would think the approach would work just the same were my politics to the right, and I were targeting left wing thinkers I perceived as dangerous.
I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with this style of argumentation. I think it's what a number of skeptic blogs use against creationists, anti-vaxxers, and so on.
The problem with this approach to argument is that it is only ever useful against a group you have decide is an *enemy*. Irredeemable. Because when you use it, you cross the Rubicon. There's no going back and little hope of forgiveness.
I've used it against Bill Kristol and VD Hanson. I don't care if they ever forgive me for it, because I think they're dangerous (I'm also not arrogant enough to think either has ever read a word I've written about them, but that's a different matter). Dr. Myers uses this approach against folks like Ken Ham - and I think folks like him absolutely merit it.
You can see where I'm going with this, right? The problem seems to be that many have slipped into the habit of using this approach against people with whom they have disagreements, but people who are not actually outright ENEMIES. PZ Myers is not Ken Ham. Abbie Smith is not Jenny McCarthy. And yet it seems to me that this is how people have come to approach this disagreement.
I hope that nothing I've written here serves to further inflame this discussion, because that's the last thing I want to do.
I think, Jean's point about Paula Kirby and Rebecca Watson having different data points is very relevant to this discussion. In my experience, most people who go to professional conferences, restrict their socializing to dinner or thereabouts and get some sleep for the rest of the night. Probably spend some time in the night reviewing talks you attended that day and look into the background of talks scheduled for the next day. If you are going to present something yourself, tune your talks and slides a bit. This I presume would be most of Paula Kirby's datapoints. The number of people serious about a conference and spend their night drinking at a bar till 4AM would be a skewed sample at best. To suggest this sample provides any representative datapoint for that conference would imply that conference would be a booze cruise. To extrapolate it to scepticism would be to claim it consist of members of AA who fell of the wagon. Youtube comments represents a rowdy bar at best. If Rebecca Watson's data points come from these settings, they are let us say, not very representative. Paula was speaking from her experience about women in leadership in the business world and also recruiting women to take leadership roles in scepticism - it would be a safe bet that she didn't do such recruting at 4AM in a bar or try talking to foobar23biatch#* from a random youtube channel.
Apparently, Watson spend so much time at the bar due to a chance to finally put a face on some "online voices". Fair enough. But it does show very limited experience with things that happen in bars after-hours. I have been propositioned by strange women only at bars - something which they would probably not do sober. My housemate (a woman) was once propositioned by a woman at a neighborhood bar. What people vaguely familiar with you during the day might do when they meet you in a bar is hardly predictable. Everybody has their bar stories - unless you never go to a bar. If you didn't, you probably skipped being 20.
Nobody has suggested that either of the actors here were speech slurringly, walk stumbiling drunk. But semi-drunk is enough for some people to lower their inhibitions. And some even go to bars primarily to try and hookup with less sober people. May be not very ethical - but representative of conferences, they aren't.
Thanny, I don't think the origins of words like "asshole" really get completely lost. There's a charge to calling someone an asshole because it means ... what it does! There's at least a whiff of the original meaning there.
"It's simply not reasonable to single out those which happen to belong to only one sex or the other as deserving more or less opprobrium." I think there's a basic fact here that makes a difference--women get raped and go through life feeling somewhat more vulnerable. They're also objects of more discrimination. That may be part of the reason why most people do hear "c***" as a more offensive epithet than "dick." "T***" is offensive to me too. In the US it's pretty much like "c***". That may not be so in the UK, but ERV is up the road from me in Oklahoma. (Sorry for all the coy asterisks--I just do find those words offensive.)
I'm not going to go as far as eliminating "bitch" from my vocabulary, though it's a gendered insult. So I can buy what you're saying up to a point. On the other hand, in the context of the ERV threads, there's lots of other nasty sexual talk about Watson, not just the use of epithets. That stuff is just way out of bounds.
Thanks for your thanks. I appreciate people being (for the most part) calm and reasonable on this thread.
Jillian, I couldn't agree with you more. I have no trouble talking about Rick Perry in an "othering," mocking, insulting, "no going back" way. That's OK. He and I can just be enemies!
In the atheist community, just as you say, I can't object when PZ Myers does that about total nutcases if he likes. Fine with me.
The problem comes when you start seeing members of your own little community as The Enemy, and use the same ostracizing language toward them. It's also problematic when you get that sense of total righteousness too quickly and when debating what are actually complex issues.
I'm just repeating what you said, and said very well.
Ianbargain, Whatever anyone thinks about the elevator incident, it is a completely fair and relevant question whether what happened is representative, and whether that stuff happens at skeptics' conferences more often than elsewhere. Because Watson wasn't just telling a story, she was responding to Kirby, and the issue Kirby was discussing is why there are fewer women at skeptics' conferences.
Yes, I have something more like Kirby's data set, I have to say. No carousing at 4 in the morning for me. It's not unimportant what happens at 4 in the morning, but surely it's not typical. It doesn't reveal how things normally go at skeptic conferences.
I have to be honest though--I've never been to one. I've just been to philosophy conferences. Maybe the skeptic guys are total neanderthals 24 hours a day, but I kind of doubt it.
I do wonder though how real world skeptics compare to online skeptics. How do they conduct themselves during Q&As after talks? Do they rip into people and call them names, like they do online? As I say, that's the issue that worries me and makes me think, um, this may not be a world I want to get closer to. Except now I'm curious. If someone wants to pay me to go to an exotic location and talk about atheism (Ecuador? New Zealand? Hawaii?) I'm saying yes.
I have attended 9 skeptic conferences. Tearing into speakers during Q&As is atypical, even at TAM 8 when a "conspiracy theorist" asked a question. He was treated with courtesy by the speaker and the audience members. The only inappropriate behavior that I have personally witnessed was at a humanist conference by an audience member aimed at the speaker, Robert Wright. The comment was "Some of us have lives." It was a nasty remark, IMO, and Wright didn't bother to respond.
At TAM9 this year, I did witness unwanted physical contact between two people, but it was a woman who was overly friendly to a man. He handled it graciously, and, I'm sure, won't be making a video about it.
I think that what you are currently seeing is a problem that has been in the "online" community for a while. We just weren't noticing because the vitriol was directed at our "enemies" - the religious, pseudoscientists, etc. I never participated in discussions at Skepchick or Pharyngula because I didn't like the atmosphere. I didn't know about ERV until this situation arose. I have posted at ERV's because I had things to say and nobody paid any attention when I said them here, here, here, and now here.
I'm not happy about the language being used, but I understand the frustration, and I'm not in the least surprised that this has happened. We built a continuing level of more snarky and vitriolic discourse in our online community over time. We set up what we considered to be easy targets like religion, and we just kept getting more arrogant and nasty to our detractors. Now we have become our own worst "enemies". It's embarrassing!
That's my take for what it's worth which, admittedly, isn't much because I have absolutely no education in human psychology or philosophy. I've just spent most of my 55 years being rather shy, and, therefore, a people watcher. I've been watching Rebecca Watson, P.Z. Myers, and others for quite some time and was pretty sure, based on how badly we handled the Krauss/Epstein affair, that eventually there would be much more serious trouble. It happened even sooner than I anticipated.
The philosophical community you dwell in sounds peaceful. It's too bad I don't qualify because I think I would like it a whole lot better than where I've been hanging around lately. :)
Some excellent observations by Jillian. Here is a difficulty:
The question of who deserves or qualifies for the status of "enemy" is frequently the very question that winds up defining who the "enemy" is to a particular group.
Example: how you interpret the "elevator incident" signals a set of values that you hold, a set of values sufficient to label you as part of THIS group or THAT group.
Much better example: Francione believes that animal rights activists that use utilitarian analysis undermine the long term possibilities for real advances in the fight for animal rights. Therefore, utilitarians are REAL enemies. They are REALLY undermining the future of animals. Hence gloves are off etc.
The question of whether Francione is right in his analysis ALSO decides who is and isn't the enemy relative to his project. Thus we find that frequently people are "enemies" purely by virtue of a fight over how a particular community should be defined. It is no ACCIDENT that these fights are intra-community. They are fights over the definition of the community itself (who belongs, who doesn't).
Similarly "accomodationsm" in the atheist groups. "Fathiests" are, on the view of "serious" atheists, "enemies" of "real" atheism.
My sense at a distance from the RW affair is that RW is trying to carve out a space in the atheist movement where you get defined in part by your views relative to a particular feminist line, and that in order to be on the right side of this line you must hold certain views, and in particular certain views about how "atheist communities" relate to "women's issues." People who don't share that view are enemies.
That would be my tentative analysis anyway.
Ardent Skeptic, Thanks for the comment. I'm sort of a people-watcher too, so trying to figure out what this is really all about. I can't believe all the ERV-ers are truly misogynists. They just hate this one particular woman. But why...why so much? Still watching, still trying to figure it out.
Faust, The animal rights world is the other online community I'm fairly familiar with, so that's exactly the comparison I'd make too. Definitely things there can get very, very nasty. I think perhaps they are a bit more philosophical in their demonizing, instead of having a general habit of beating each other up. You're exactly right about who the enemy is, from Francione's perspective. I can also see there's a principle at stake in the way "gnu" types see "faithiests" as the enemy. Actually, what's going on is similar. The vegan abolitionists see so-called welfarists (I hate that term--it's extremely misleading, but it's in use a lot) as undermining their more radical objectives. Similarly, a "gnu" atheist like Jerry Coyne sees accommodationists like Mooney as undermining his more radical objectives. In both cases, someone's getting in the way, hampering progress, etc. So there's a reason for the anger.
Now, in the Watson situation, is anything principled like that really going on? I'm not sure. It seems more like a giant squabble, with lots of hurt feelings. I'm not sure that feminism is really the issue here. The issue is a particular person's way of drawing attention to her alleged victimization. I think many on the anti-Watson side are fine with feminism, but not fine with her in particular.
Why aren't they fine with her? I think she doesn't come across as carefully, soberly making her case, but instead makes too much of a few incidents involving herself. Or... is there seriously all this antipathy toward feminism itself in the atheist movement? I'm not sure. If so, that's bad!
"They just hate this one particular woman. But why...why so much? Still watching, still trying to figure it out."
Well, "hate" might be a bit strong. A complete and total lack of respect and a complete and total sense of disdian might be more accurate.
Perhaps some of the reasons for this are Watson's deeply offensive method of "dialogue", wherein she regularily plays condescending, dismissive word games with people with whom she disagrees; she baits, shames, insults, lies, and then dismisses (or bans from her blog) anyone who stands up to her often spurious, sometimes outright dishonest claims. And she does all this and more with the mystifying support of many of the movers and shakers in the skeptical/atheist/science community; all of whom really should know better.
So, in a word, perhaps she scares some of us because she is leading what looks like a pogrom (as Franc Hoggle points out on Grey Lining: http://greylining.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/cficsiskepchick-theory-of-courtiers/) against anyone who does not accept her rather ugly, misanthropic, and distorted view of feminism.
I think many of us are also quite disgusted with her rhetorical methods, which are deeply dishonest, tricksy, manipulative, insulting, and dismissive. Really, when one looks beyond her false stumbling speech style and "calm" words one can see a deeply nasty woman expressing a really chthonic view of the world and the people in it.
You forgot to compare her to Hitler. Sigh.
"But why...why so much?"
Beyond the general amplification of the rancor due to the "Internetitis" already described above, I see several possible contributing factors:
1. Watson's lack of direct engagement. She has shown a pattern of putting her case only when she's in a position of strength (e.g., on her own blog, and from the podium at the conferences where she spoke). When challenged, she has shown a pattern of not answering the challenges directly, and playing word games instead of arguing in good faith.
2. Watson's presumption to be speaking on behalf of all women, and her insistence (as perceived by the more skeptical among us) that her story, as told, can *only* be interpreted as objectification.
3. The perceived hypocrisy in her now absolutist stance on the issue, when she has, in the past, used sexualization to promote herself.
4. The perception that her behavior, along with Myers's, Laden's, and Benson's, betrays a fundamental principle that self-proclaimed skeptics should hold: openness to inquiry. That's seen as arrogant and hypocritical.
5. She has also served as a flash-point for the more general dispute with certain brands of feminism: the kind that appear to find it perfectly OK to have double-standards, and to use intellectually dishonest rhetoric to support those double-standards.
This list is probably not exhaustive.
To the best of my knowledge, no one had a problem with Watson's expression of her feelings of discomfort over the elevator incident. And most, from what I've seen, acknowledge that there is very likely some sexism in the atheist and skeptical communities. What we're questioning is the extent to which Watson's story has merit as an example of sexism, and whether the problem is as extensive as she, and others, have been positing.
Furthermore, by putting herself front-and-center in this controversy, Watson has become the personification of everything that the one side feels is wrong about the other (as ERV has for the other side, I suppose). Thus, she serves as the focus for any anger and frustration people may feel about those problems. Yes it's unfair. But in my opinion, if Watson had demonstrated some introspection, circumspection, humility, and empathy (which I would expect from a skeptic), and had not treated Stef McGraw so shabbily, then things wouldn't have escalated as they did.
Ardent Skeptic, That would be all very well (and penetrating, actually) as an explanation of some people being out of sympathy with Watson, or even annoyed, but what's on display is way beyond that. It's the way beyond part that aspect that I find seriously unfathomable.
Part of the hostility is at least explained by Watson's screed against Dawkins. Dawkins' writings have been a gateway for many people to more organized atheism and even those whose horizons have since broadened, retain a soft spot for him. Her criticisms of Richard were over the top to start with and they appeared worse as more and more information (dis or otherwise) started showing up.
The only complaint I have against Watson is - she doesn't seem to make proper use of platforms she is given. In the conference with Paula Kirby - she could have literally cornered every woman in the conference, asked them about their experiences and concerns and made a proper rebuttal (or even agreed with Paula if the overall response is positive/neutral). I wish somebody would do a survey like that. That would be more useful and productive I think.
Steadily escalating rhetoric is kind of the norm in these kind of flame wars - I think - once they cross a certain threshold. Everybody should chill, watch Mr.Deity, read Jesus & Mo and have coffee with a consenting partner.
The "way beyond" part stems from the Carthage delenda est, Keyser Soze argumentation style so many of us have adopted for use on our enemies, I would guess. In part, at least. And perhaps different standards on things - if you asked me which I would find more offensive, "fucking cunt" or "gender traitor", I would find the second more offensive than the first. Others would reverse that. I think there's some tit-for-tatting going on by people who have different standards for what is truly insulting.
And yes, Faust, I think some of the problem is where the "enemy" lines are being drawn. In my opinion, many modern feminists tend to draw them too narrowly, excluding people from the circle of allies for a poorly-timed "bitch". With the way things are in the US right now, anybody who is pushing back against the right-wing crazy gravy train is my ally, even if they annoy me most of the time.
In all honesty, this incident has caused me to rethink my fondness for this vicious, insulting style of argumentation, even for my enemies. I think if I gathered up everything I've written over the last ten years and made a word frequency cloud out of it, you'd probably find a giant "Jonah Goldberg" and "Cheetos stains" in the middle of it. I am not particularly nice toward my enemies. At least I've been careful about how I've chosen them. But perhaps that isn't quite good enough.
Another angle on the anger. This is a reason to be angry that makes sense to me, but it's not a reason I see being articulated anywhere. Watson was not just complaining about one elevator guy, and a few idiots sending sexist email. She was using those incidents as evidence--as you can see if you watch all the videos in the right order. Evidence for what? For the view that sexism in atheist men is at least part of the reason why there are far fewer women at atheist meetings. If you think about it, that implies atheist men are especially sexist, because there are lots of women elsewhere--there are lots (more than half) in religious circles, lots in liberal democratic circles, lots in the animal rights movement, for example. The upshot of what she's said is that atheist men, as a group, are especially sexist. Well, if sexism is bad, which sure it is, that's quite an accusation! And she's making it based on a handful of data. I could see being angry about that, though again, that's not the reason for anger I see people articulating.
"Evidence for what? For the view that sexism in atheist men is at least part of the reason why there are far fewer women at atheist meetings. If you think about it, that implies atheist men are especially sexist, because there are lots of women elsewhere"
That doesn't follow at all. For example, there are reasons for a woman to participate in a religious group even if it is more sexist than a roughly similar atheist group. She may feel that God is calling her to serve, or she may have internalized the sexism of the group, especially if she's been brought up in the group's religion since childhood.
OK, let's look at this more closely. Let's say we've got this pattern--
1. Atheism 70/30 (more men)
2. Catholicism 40/60 (more women)
3. Animal Rights 30/70 (more women)
Someone looks at the atheism statistic, has some data about sexist men, and concludes that's a cause of the imbalance. That is to say, they don't consider how sexist men compare to other factors as possible causes. They just point to sexist men.
What must they then say about the other two imbalances, to be consistent? I think they must say "fewer sexist men". They can't ignore other possible causes of the imbalance in line 1, and then suddenly taken an interest in other causes in lines 2 and 3.
"That is to say, they don't consider how sexist men compare to other factors as possible causes."
Or, maybe, it's taken for granted that the audience knows that other factors that would, say, make Catholicism have a roughly 50/50 M/F split in spite of the sexism don't apply to participation in the atheist movement.
I'm sorry, but it looks like you're stretching to find fault. First, you misquote Watson such that you turn pointing out the fallacy of argument from ignorance into merely insulting someone by calling him/her "ignorant." Now you're putting words into her mouth by suggesting that she's saying that atheist men are especially sexist. I expect that sort of thing from ERV's commenters, not you.
JJ, I think I'm being entirely fair.
(1) This is what I wrote:
She rejects what Kirby has said as an argument from "ignorance" and an argument from "privilege" and claims that the explanation is (at least partly) that women get mistreated by men.
The second time I talk about this, I simply abbreviate. But in any event, I have explained to you over and over again, here and elsewhere, why it is just groundless to think Kirby committed this fallacy. And I do take it to have been deliberate that Watson used the words "ignorance" and "privileged." This wasn't meticulous fallacy talk. It was cutting.
(2) Here's what I wrote on her view that sexism keeps women away from atheist meetings--
She tells the student leaders that this sort of overt sexism keeps women away--"that's why they're not coming out to these events."
That's a quote from Watson. Now, it's really quite wild to suppose she thinks sexism is a reason why women aren't coming to these events, and yet she'd say the amount is just the same as it is anywhere else. How could that be? It's not logically impossible to say that, but it's very odd. You'd have to suppose some strange things. Like--there's the same amount of sexism in atheism as elsewhere, but elsewhere other factors cancel it out, so women are deterred from atheist meetings, but plentiful at Catholic meetings and animal rights meeting. That's pretty wild!
No, when you say sexism is driving women away from atheist meetings, it just about commits you to the notion that atheist men are particularly sexist. You just can't offer that sort of explanation, and avoid that implication, without some very fancy, strange footwork.
So instead of my trying to be uncharitable, I think you're actually bending over backwards to protect her from criticism. It's pretty obvious her use of the words "ignorant" and "privileged" were meant to be cutting, and you can't easily avoid the inference from "sexism keeping women away" to "more sexism there than elsewhere."
"I have explained to you over and over again, here and elsewhere, why it is just groundless to think Kirby committed this fallacy."
You've tried to, but your explanations have had holes that I've pointed out. After they were pointed out, you claimed that I was "trying to change the hypothetical so that [you] WOULD be guilty of a fallacious argument from ignorance," but the problems in question were already present in your original hypotheticals. There was nothing in them to indicate you (the hypothetical "you," that is) would have swapped the sorts of stories that would bring sexism to your attention.
If anything, what you ended up establishing is that if one says, "In my X years of experience in field Y, I haven't encountered Z, therefore probably no X in Z," one is still committing an argument from ignorance if there are good reasons why one might not notice X, even if one isn't oblivious.
"You'd have to suppose some strange things. Like--there's the same amount of sexism in atheism as elsewhere, but elsewhere other factors cancel it out, so women are deterred from atheist meetings, but plentiful at Catholic meetings and animal rights meeting."
Point of order: Are we talking the number of women who participate in Catholic activism or who are Catholics period? You seem to have indicated the former earlier, but talk of "Catholic meetings" suggests the latter.
Anyway, why would I have to suppose some strange things? Compare these two scenarios:
* A woman is born into a Catholic family, raised Catholic, and gets taught by sermon and by example how things are supposed to be between men and women, and what she's taught is sexist. Does she feel quite comfortable with this? Maybe, maybe not, depending on how much she's internalized sexist attitudes. Does she have enough impetus to leave? Well, leaving would mean repudiating what she had believed since childhood--already a difficult thing--and it would strain or break ties to family and friends.
* A woman who is an atheist is interested in meeting like-minded people at a meeting. She goes there, finds that it's mostly guys, which already doesn't feel too comfortable, and that a few of those guys are giving her glancing leers. Everyone at the meeting ends up socializing, doing the usual small talk. It's not a tremendously horrible experience, but it doesn't provide what she was looking for, and it doesn't seem worth it to go again.
Note that in the case with Catholicism, there's a high cost to leaving that the atheist meetup lacks. The atheist meeting is a take-it-or-leave-it sort of thing, and so there's little incentive to stay even if it's only a little uncomfortable.
You forgot to compare her to Hitler. Sigh.``
Well, I think that is uncalled-for very unfair.
John, You accused her of starting a "pogrom"--your words. As I'm sure you know, a pogrom is a persecution of Jews, involving lots of killing. Surely the next step really is comparing her to Hitler, so my joke was perfectly apt.
"They just hate this one particular woman. But why...why so much? Still watching, still trying to figure it out."
Is it really so surprising that, amongst an atheist/skeptical community, there is a large number of people who take intellectual honesty very, very seriously? Far more seriously than questions of tact or etiquette?
Re (1): Even if Kirby did not look really carefully for sexism, and so missed some data, I don't think that would mean she had committed the fallacy of arguing from ignorance. That's a specific fallacy, not just what people do all the time when they have partial data and so reach the wrong conclusion. But we seem doomed to disagree about that...maybe that's enough on that subject.
Re (2): I think if we suppose equal numbers of sexist incidents at the three types of meetings (I mean simply going to church in the Catholic case), but women are deterred just from the atheist meetings, then the explanation cannot be just the sexist incidents at atheist meetings. To really explain what's going on, you've got to point out that women are drawn to the animal rights meetings by their love animals, so they ignore the sexist incidents...or some such. And they are drawn to Catholic meetings by all the stuff you mention. The explanation why they are deterred from the atheist meetings is not simply the sexist incidents, but the lack of any comparable attraction to what goes on at atheist meetings. Since RW didn't focus on those additional factors, but just on the sexist incidents, I think she implied atheist men are not merely as sexist as men in other situations (Catholic meetings, animal rights meetings), but especially so. The weight she put on sexism can't be reconciled with the idea that sexism is no more present at atheist meetings than anywhere else.
I know you're going to say you're 100% convinced:-)
Claiming "argument from ignorance" on the part of your opponent does put certain kind of burden of proof on you, does it not? The burden is probably heavier when your opponent has considerable personal experience in the relevant setting. I haven't seen any convincing argument that Watson has met such a burden.
The argument that sceptics conference do not provide enough value to justify participants willing to "put up" with other problems has larger relevance, I think. Attending these conferences does involve significant investment in time among other things. What do these conferences provide? Talks are often made available as video online. Opportunities to interact with speakers is matched to a certain extent in blogs by the same speakers. May be organizers should tell more about how women (and men for that matter) benefit significantly from attending these conferences as opposed to getting bogged down in nebulous stubmling blocks. We haven't had a large battery of women claiming similar problems as Watson in sceptic conferences. Is Watson such a typical representative of female sceptic demographic, that we should grant her a presumption of common experience. If so, why?
Ianbargain--nicely put, on both fronts.
Let me get this straight. Watson witnesses sexism in the atheist and skeptic movements personally and gets messages from other women who've experienced similar problems. She concludes from this that there is a problem with sexism in the movements that is discouraging women from participating. Nowhere does she say that atheist men are especially sexist, and in the video where she discusses "ElevatorGuy," she singles him out as an exception to the "ton" of feminists, "both male and female" (her own words), and the open-minded people who hadn't particularly thought about feminism but were interested in what she had to say on the topic.
So in spite of her saying not saying that atheist men are especially sexist, and even saying something that would point in the opposite direction, she is still supposedly implying that atheist men are especially sexist. Why? Because her audience is somehow supposed to think something like, "Hey Catholics are evenly split between men and women, and they're really sexist," yet not think about the vast differences between the incentives for staying with Catholicism versus staying within the atheist movement. And I am supposed to find this convincing?
JJ, Yes, you are supposed to find it convincing.
RW gave some examples of sexism, and then turned them into an explanation. In her words, "that's why they [women] aren't coming out."
If sexism really is why women aren't coming out to atheist meetings, even though they do come out to animal rights meetings, and Democratic party meetings, and tea party meetings,and Catholic meetings, etc. (and everyone does know they do!) then the suggestion really is that there is a worse problem with sexism at atheist meetings than at these other events.
You would not point to sexism as the reason women are not coming out, if you thought (a) the sexism is the same as elsewhere, but (b) women do not find the atheist meetings as interesting as all the other meetings. You would instead say (b) is the reason women are not coming to atheist meetings.
Suppose you're an atheist meeting organizer. You're jealous of the fact that women are coming to animal rights, tea party, Catholic, etc. meetings, in such larger numbers. What are you going to do about it? Reduce sexism, even though you think there's no more of it than elsewhere? No. You're going to work on increasing the positives at atheist meetings, so there's enough there to attract women. That's not to say you shouldn't reduce sexism and get rid of other negatives. Sure you should. But you shouldn't say sexism is "why women aren't coming out" unless you think there's particularly a problem with sexism in the atheist community.
Far from straining to find fault with RW, JJ, I think you are working too hard to avoid an obvious upshot of what she said.
Last sentence rewrite--
Far from it being the case that I'm straining to find fault with RW, JJ, I think you are working too hard to avoid an obvious upshot of what she said.
IanBargain, Sorry, I missed one of your earlier comments--another good one, actually. Above--August 11, 2011, at 1:11 (very auspicious date and time!).
Point of order: how do you know what the proportions of men and women attending Democratic Party meetings or Tea Party meetings are? And what kind of meetings are we talking about? One-off rallys? Discussions of the nuts-and-bolts of the party platform, getting out the vote, etc.?
Anyway, back to this: "If sexism really is why women aren't coming out to atheist meetings, even though they do come out to animal rights meetings, and Democratic party meetings, and tea party meetings,and Catholic meetings, etc. (and everyone does know they do!) then the suggestion really is that there is a worse problem with sexism at atheist meetings than at these other events."
Or, there are reasons why women might tolerate sexism at those other meetings more than they would at atheist meetings. We already discussed why Catholic women would tolerate sexism, even high levels of it. As for tolerating sexism at political meetings, there may be immediate issues, such as recall election campaigns or get-out-the-vote rallies, that are pressing enough to put up with whatever sexism is present. However, if one is attending an atheist meeting to find a "safe space," then one's tolerance for sexism is likely to be lower, since sexism obviously makes the space feel less safe. Even if the levels of sexism are similar at the various meetings, one's willingness to suck it up may vary widely from setting to setting.
What are we talking about?
Well, I've been involved in various local democratic party events, like "Elect Hilary" meetings at people's house; meetings where you make get out the vote phone calls (way more women); caucus meetings in Texas during the 2008 primaries (huge meetings at schools). There aren't male majorities at any of these things.
Re Catholic church "meetings"--data shows women go to church more than men. So presumably on any given day, there will be more women.
Re: animal rights. I teach this and have studied various organizations. The whole movement is female majority. If you go to an animal rights meeting (e.g. a Vegan Outreach recruitment meeting) the room will contain far more women than men. In my animal rights classes: more women than men. In the SMU animal rights club: way more women than men.
OK, so suppose sexism is equally present in all these settings, and in atheist settings, but women avoid atheist meetings because they consciously think "ugh, too much sexism." You might be right--they think that because nothing else is compelling enough to make them tolerate the sexism. Atheism is not as compelling to them as animals, politics, or religion. But if that's the total picture--sexism present, but no more present, and atheism not compelling enough to compensate, wouldn't an explainer point to the second thing?
I think so, and that's why I think when RW points to sexism as the explanation, it's natural for anyone listening to make the inference that she thinks sexism is especially prevalent in atheist settings.
Moral of the story--sure, reduce sexism. You should, because it's the right thing to do. But if you want to attract women, I think you've got to somehow make an atheist meeting as appealing to women as a political meeting or an animal rights meeting. Can you do that? Well, maybe not, to be honest. Women may just not care about saying "no God" as much as they care about who their political leaders are and how animals are treated. Is it possible this is actually a strength in women, and not a weakness?
Yeah, kind of a provocative suggestion there in the last sentence. Somebody should come and beat me up about it.
"However, if one is attending an atheist meeting to find a 'safe space'"
Ahhhh! So that's what they are for. I always wondered.
It seems (although, I may be wrong) as though you are willing to accept Rebecca's anecdotal evidence as proof of her conclusion. I'm not, especially when it is only anecdotal evidence presented with words like "lots" and "many". What do those words mean?...10 or 100 or 1,000 or Carl Sagan's "billions and billions". That's far too ill defined for me to accept Rebecca's conclusion.
Jean is right that we should do a better analysis of why there are fewer women at atheist conferences before reaching the "sexism is the problem" conclusion.
Jean, you are trying to understand why so much vitriol directed at Rebecca Watson in particular, especially with the use of gendered epithets. It seems way too personal. Agreed, it does seem way too personal. So, I am about to give you my personal perspective of Rebecca Watson.
Rebecca Watson is a menace -- a complete embarrassment to any of us who identify as skeptics. Moreover, as a woman, I have been personally bruised by Rebecca's lack of introspection, circumspection, and empathy before stating her opinions.
Of course, you should not listen to my opinion on the matter because I am one of those gullible "housewives" who would buy V-Steam according to Rebecca Watson. I suppose I should stay away from atheist and skeptic conventions until I acquire a job to prove that I'm not gullible and, therefore, worthy to be in Rebecca's presence.
Perhaps, you missed the tweet Rebecca sent when Richard Dawkins weighed in on the matter. Here it is:
"Apparently the secret to getting billions of Twitter and YouTube followers is getting Richard Dawkins to say something stupid about you. SCORE"
I am a women who wishes to be treated as an equal by everyone, both men and women. And, I take my identification as a skeptic very seriously. Skepticism isn't a game for attention seekers who spew unsubstantiated anecdotal evidence and demand that I accept it. If I don't, I'm a gender traitor, a misogynist, ignorant, or privileged.
Rebecca lives in her insular, Skepchick, world. She refuses to confront the arguments of her dissenters unless she is in a position of power. Anyone who disagrees with her must do so on her turf at Skepchick, or she will not respond.
Don't engage with Paula Kirby in the Q&A but, instead, misrepresent Paula Kirby's position during a talk of her own.
Don't engage Stef McGraw with a comment to Stef's blogpost but, instead, call her out at a conference.
Don't engage Stef directly about having "named" her but, instead, address the issue with a blogpost on Skepchick. (If she had talked to Stef directly, she would have learned that "naming names" wasn't Stef objection to what Rebecca had done during her talk, and this entire brouhaha could have been avoided.)
Don't engage with Richard Dawkins at Pharnygula where he commented but, instead, write a blogpost about it at Skepchick.
Do you see the pattern in her behavior?
You want to see well-reasoned debate, done in reasonable language from both sides. It will never happen when one side refuses to engage in "good faith" with the other but, instead, demands that dissenters walk into a henhouse where they will get pecked to death with rhetorical tricks, dismissive sarcasm, and called "concern trolls' or "brainless trolls" etc...
That isn't how skeptics should behave. I want Rebecca to either start behaving like one, or stop calling herself one. I have not resorted to using gendered epithets when referring to Rebecca but I, and everyone at ERV, know that our concerns and arguments will not be addressed directly, and with any tone of respect or even courtesy from Rebecca.
I have watched how Rebecca and her supporters have handled their dissenters through the years and I have never approved of the dismissive "snark" which Rebecca prides herself in. When someone refuses to truly engage others as equals, then ridicule of that person is the result.
Ardent Skeptic: "It seems (although, I may be wrong) as though you are willing to accept Rebecca's anecdotal evidence as proof of her conclusion."
Proof may be overstating it, but when I read a post by the Friendly Atheist about "How to Meet, Date, and Woo Atheist Women" where it mentions that at atheist gatherings,
"The problem isn’t that no one talks to the women; the problem is that way too many people talk to the women ... all at once ... the moment they step into the room.
"And most of the guys are creepy."
This problem was also noted by a guest post on Blag Hag about American Atheists' SERAM, where a panel discussed the "all-too-common problem" of "a woman showing up to a meeting and every dude there hitting on her." Worse, the panelists, made up of five guys and one woman, seemed to be suggesting that there was nothing wrong with this.
Jen McCreight, when listing dos and don'ts of when it's okay to be flirty or comment on a girl being hot, etc., pointed out that all her "don'ts" had happened to her, and these "dont's" included such things:
* "Do not reference my looks, boobs, or sexiness when introducing me for a talk or panel, especially when you would not do so for the male participants."
* "Do not come up to me right after I give a talk on communicating skepticism and tell me a perk of my presentation was that I'm easy on the eyes."
* "Do not make numerous comments about my looks in an intellectual blog post that happens to contain a photo of me that's not meant to be sexy."
Then there's Jennifer Ouellette's discussion of the chilly climate for women in traditionally male-dominated domains such as the hard sciences and the atheist/skeptic communities. She discusses Elevator Guy, but goes beyond that and mentions her own experiences with the skeptic/atheist community.
It is against that background that I judge Watson's anecdotes. The sorts of problems that she describes aren't unique to her. Now to be fair, we're still dealing with anecdotal evidence, so the full extent of the problem is hard to say, but the problem is certainly out there.
@J. J. Ramsey
No skeptic, to the best of my knowledge, has claimed that sexism does not exist in the atheist and skeptic communities, including Paula Kirby.
Rebecca & Co. have made the claim that sexism is why women do not attend atheist and skeptic conferences and that is why there are fewer women than men at conferences.
As a skeptic this is the kind of evidence I expect to support that claim.:
A study of the number of women vs. men who identify as atheists, skeptics or both.
A study of the number of women vs. men who have interest in attending atheist, skeptic, or both types of conferences.
A study of the reasons why both men and women do and do not attend atheist, skeptic, or both types of conferences.
A study of the experiences of sexism that both men and women have had at these conferences. (Both men and women have reported being harassed by WOMEN.)
You know, concrete evidence on which to draw conclusions and make well-reasoned decisions about the solutions to whatever problems are identified.
I am unwilling to accept that the plural of "anecdote" equals data. It doesn't. Anecdotes are not invalid, they are just inconclusive. To insist on the conclusion that "there are fewer women at these conferences because of sexism" is not supported because that conclusion is being based solely on anecdotal evidence. I will accept that some women do not attend because they have experienced sexism, but that does not mean that there are more men than women at conferences solely because of the women who do not attend because of sexism.
Jean, to be pedantic, I said it was like a pogrom, i.e., similar to. Nonetheless, you are sort of right. I should have used a different word.
Ardent Skeptic said:
"Anyone who disagrees with her must do so on her turf at Skepchick, or she will not respond."
While this is technically true it really should be noted and emphasized that the reason she does this is so that she can then ban the person who has the gall and the temerity to disagree with her, and furthermore, to then post slanders and lies about that poster. That is a favoured tactic of Watson and many of the other Skepchicks.
J.J. Ramsey, I think you are truly unaware of what the word hypocrisy means -- not yours, well maybe that too, but essentially the hypocrisy of such folks as those to whom you refer. Jen McCreight is deeply hypocritical about almost everything to do with this Watsonista mess, and Jennifer Ouellette posts several lies and misrepresentations in her Chilly Climate post.
While we all know anecdote is not the singular form of data, it is an interesting irony for me that this has come up at the time that it has.
I am an atheist, and a woman. I've been especially non-social for quite a few years now. Of interest to the whole feminist angle is the fact that I'm a childhood sexual abuse survivor, and that has played a bit of a role in my antisociality in recent years. I've been in counseling, working toward feeling and getting better, and I just haven't had a lot of leftover emotional energy for getting to know people. So since moving to a new city in 2006, I've pretty much stuck to myself.
My counselor and I have been talking about how it might be beneficial to me to start making some social overtures - getting to know people with similar interests, going out to some sort of social event designed to welcome newcomers so I won't feel too self-conscious. I'd been surfing around Meetup.com and thinking about checking out one of the atheist/skeptic gatherings nearby.
Then this happened.
I am incredibly disinclined to come out to any such gathering at this point. Not because I'm afraid of horndog sexist atheist men, but because I don't want to be pilloried as an evil misogynist if I reject the modern New Left analysis of social discourse. Which, by and large, I do.
It's not the men who have scared me off. It's the feminists. I don't believe I would be welcome at any sort of gathering at this point.
Jillian, Are you sure you should make that judgment at this point? It seems like a pity. The group I've been invited to speak at strikes me as a warm, mutually supportive bunch--with music, potlucks, nice community stuff of the sort people often get from church. I think I might become a member if it weren't for the fact that (nobody scream) I belong to a synagogue. I admit, I do worry a bit about what lurks there--might angry internet monsters jump out of the shadows, next time I speak there? But I haven't seen it, and maybe the answer is just plain no. For someone in your situation, that sort of community might be great. It seems like a pity to assume too much, based on bad behavior on the internet.
Re sexist incidents:
I am really kind of baffled about all of this talk about how frequent they are--I'm reacting to JJ's comment now, which is certainly interesting. Maybe I'm projecting...I don't know...but in the very-male-majority community I know best (philosophy), I really think overt sexism and harassment are infrequent, and it would make no sense whatever for women to avoid philosophy meetings or classes or talks because they were worried about sexism. Actually, I'll go further than that--I think male philosophers are actually better behaved than many other subsets of men. Now, atheist men are a different subset of men, but have some things in common with philosophers. (70% of philosophers are atheists, by the way.) So...
OK, I'm rambling. I'm just puzzled. I don't mean to ignore everything JJ said, but it does surprise me a lot. I would like to hear what other people have observed at atheist meetings, if they've been to any.
John, Thanks for keeping that simple!
Jean, it's still something I'm thinking over a lot. I do need to do something, I think - make some sorts of changes in my personal life. I'm just not sure I'm ready yet. Perhaps it's more accurate to say not that this incident decided me against getting involved, but that it made me hesitate. A lot. Where I was about ready to email some Meetup.com group leaders, I'll probably have to take another few months to ruminate on it before I do any such thing.
The irony of this in my particular case has just been tremendous.
I'm reading your character appraisal of Rebeca Watson and I'm left wondering "Why shouldn't the same be said of everyone else involved?"
Stef McGraw could have easily replied at Skepchick, sent Watson and email or pm on youtube, addressed what she had to say where the initial comment had been made.
Richard Dawkins could have chastised the skepchicks at their site for being hysterical and being bothered over some guys fumbled come on.
And why exactly is replying on your site instead of anothers an issue? This is one place she has to respond. Everyone else has the same thing, and likely, very overlapping audiences. Cross blog discussions aren't unheard of. And everyone involved could have sent an email/text/something.
The only person I can think of who isn't guilty of something is Paua Kirby who hasn't had anything to do with this so why her name keeps being mentioned is beyond me.
Are we all really just 9 year olds carrying around grudges against other kids we don't like waiting for them to explode? To be honest the dogpile on Rebeca Watson only seems more ridiculous to me when those who hate her explain why. How does this justify anything?
"Maybe I'm projecting...I don't know...but in the very-male-majority community I know best (philosophy), I really think overt sexism and harassment are infrequent, and it would make no sense whatever for women to avoid philosophy meetings or classes or talks because they were worried about sexism."
I wouldn't expect harassment in the meetings or classes, either, in part because of decorum. It would be weird in a formal conference to refer to a speaker, even a female one, as easy on the eyes, because, it's, well, formal. OTOH, Sheril Kirshenbaum and Isis have had problems at formal conferences, so formality and decorum are only partial inhibitors of harassment. Still, it seems like a lot of the problems happen at meetings that aren't as formal as the philosophy venues that you mentioned.
Offhand, judging from what I've read of Oubliette, Isis, and Kirshenbaum, it also seems like the problems that the skeptic and atheist communities have are similar to those in male-dominated technical fields, rather than those in philosophy.
Jillian, I think one of the things people want from joining some sort of community is a sense of being safe and supported within it. The internet mayhem over elevator gate, and mayhem I've seen over previous issues, could certainly make a person think twice about whether an atheist group could be like that. Yeah, your reaction is especially ironic, I can certainly see that.
Julian, I'm kind of thinking maybe you didn't read my post, if you think Paula Kirby had nothing to do with "this". The "this" I'm interested in is a sequence of events that begins in Dublin with Kirby's answer to the question "why fewer women than men" She replied, then Watson responded to her on three subsequent occasions. That's why I've mentioned her name.
JJ, Thanks for all your links. I need to follow them, to really get a grip on all this. You might be right about philosophy vs. male dominated technical fields. There are a lot of differences between philosophers as a group and, say, engineers (my husband is an engineer, and the two groups are night and day).
"That's why I've mentioned her name."
Sorry. The comment was pretty rushed. Stream of thoughts sorta thing.
Stream of consciousness.
Jillian I know where you are, I've been there. I suffered physical, sexual, and verbal abuse as a child. My husband was anti-social as well because he, too, had been hurt as a child. We are both skeptics and supported skeptic causes with money but never attended any skeptic gatherings. Then we decided to go to TAM3. It was wonderful! The upbeat atmosphere was truly inspiring! Now we have started our own local group for skeptics and thoroughly enjoy socializing with like-minded individuals.
At this year's TAM we talked with other local skeptic group organizers (several of whom are women) who are very unhappy about the message that Rebecca is sending to women. It is very negative and makes the skeptic community seem very unwelcoming to women or only accepting of women with the right kind of feminism. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pick a skeptics group that has only a social purpose, and one that meets for meals, like ours, rather than just for drinking. (Our members prefer the meal meetups because most of them don't drink, or drink very little.)
Think of what has happened this way -- What you are seeing is a sort of "moral majority" for feminism when, in fact, it's just a very loud minority.
I don't "hate" Rebecca Watson. However, I thoroughly dislike what she is doing as a self-identifying skeptic. Initially, I was giving her the benefit of the doubt because she was young and lacking in experience. I appreciated her enthusiasm, and hoped that she would grow as a person and gain some wisdom. That has not happened because she has chosen to insulate herself from having to truly engage her critics. Instead, she dismisses her critics with "snark" or only addresses them when she is in control and they are less capable of responding. I expect skeptics to be able to defend their positions on a level playing field with well-reasoned, evidence based arguments.
Great comment, Ardent Skeptic--I've really appreciated the commenters on this thread.
Going back to one of your links, which I just looked at --
I wrote about that whole business here --
I think there is such a thing as ECS--exaggerated complaint syndrome (just made it up!). That's a perfect example. The audience member complains that the panelists keep saying "female," as if women were livestock; if you watch the video, you see they use two pairs of terms-- female-male, and girl-guy. Why didn't the audience member notice that? It's ECS. People don't readily admit it, but it's kind of thrilling feeling outraged, so people sometimes make the most of small things.
Then you get another really weird phenomenon. Exaggerated Defense Syndrome (EDS!). Some men who feel attacked by complaints they see as exaggerated go into a furious rage and start calling women horrible things. So then you've got battling ECS and EDS. At that point, the misogynistic excesses caused by EDS do give women something to be more seriously concerned about.
It takes being just a bit reflective and sober to avoid all that, and the internet inspires just the opposite in people.
Ha! I like the ECS and EDS idea. I think with a little tweaking those ideas can explain alot of internet discussion in general.
In particular the way in which people manage to, over the course of a discussion about topic X, wind up talking about the discussion of X instead of X itself.
By the way, I don't think ECS generates as much EDS in other settings. For example, I used to be quite involved in Amnesty International, and went to a lot of local and regional meetings. If a woman had a case of ECS, I think people would just bend over backward to apologize and correct the perceived problem. There's no way they'd attack her with sexist slurs. I need a bit more of a theory here, to explain why atheist men have so much EDS and why it goes so haywire.
"Women may just not care about saying "no God" as much as they care about who their political leaders are and how animals are treated. Is it possible this is actually a strength in women, and not a weakness?
Yeah, kind of a provocative suggestion there in the last sentence. Somebody should come and beat me up about it."
If belief in one or more gods were equivalent in consequences to belief in Nessie, I'd have no problem with your suggestion.
But that's not even remotely the case. Religion poisons everything, including politics and the treatment of animals. The issue of abortion is an example of the former, and the cruelty imposed by kosher or halal slaughter exemplifies the latter.
It is not a strength to attack symptoms while showing no interest in the underlying disease.
Jean, I like your ECS & EDS hypotheses, and when you said the following, I thought perhaps I should give my perspective:
"By the way, I don't think ECS generates as much EDS in other settings. For example, I used to be quite involved in Amnesty International, and went to a lot of local and regional meetings. If a woman had a case of ECS, I think people would just bend over backward to apologize and correct the perceived problem. There's no way they'd attack her with sexist slurs. I need a bit more of a theory here, to explain why atheist men have so much EDS and why it goes so haywire."
I don't think it's atheist men who have so much EDS. I think it's skeptics who are pushing back at Rebecca and her supporters. Skeptics won't bend over backward to apologize and correct the "perceived" ECS problem. Skeptics demand proof of claims, most especially, ECS type claims.
Rebecca claims to be a skeptic. If she truly is, she knows that the burden of proof is on her to back up her assertions. She also knows that anecdotal evidence is unacceptable as proof for claims. We, as skeptics, have a responsibility to police ourselves and our own. If we don't, then we are hypocrites and have no right to complain when we hear anecdotal evidence being used to support the claims of the purveyors of pseudoscience.
Does this explain the gendered slurs? No, not really. But, can anyone explain to me why I am a ignorant, privileged, misogynistic, gender traitor because I refuse to accept Rebecca's claims without sufficient evidence? Ugly is ugly. I'm incapable of passing judgement on who wins the "Most Ugly" award because this entire affair is ugly. It's proof of how bad skeptics are at applying skepticism to themselves. Instead of learning Feminism 101, maybe we should be learning Skepticism 101. ;)
Here's my take on why the language got so ugly in this particular case. I don't know if you can generalize off of this to other cases of "Exaggerated Defense Syndrome" (which I love, by the way), but I am curious to know what other people think as to generalizing from this.
Skeptics are people who pride themselves on being amenable to rational argument. People defending Watson have made the argument that "gendered insults" create, sustain, and perpetuate misogyny. At least, that's what I have understood their arguments to mean. People upset with Watson have said, variously, either "No it doesn't" or "it can in some cases, but that isn't true as a blanket statement". This has been responded to in some few cases with statements that appear to mean "No, it is a rule that gendered insults perpetuate sexism and misogyny. Always." Argument then ensued on this particular topic, with the defenses of the blanket statement being unpersuasive to those angry at Watson. So, to express their contempt not so much for Watson, but for what they saw as the illogical stance of some of her allies, the use of gender-based insults vastly increased amongst those on one of the sides in this dispute.
This is just a reconstruction from memory, so I can't be sure about the accuracy. And I don't have time to go back through everything to find citations from where the discussions took place originally - I'm a schoolteacher and my summer break ends this weekend, so lots to do.
It's great reading through things here - it's given me a lot to think about!
Jillian: FWIW, that's been my interpretation of the whole thing too.
Jillian, I agree that the gendered slurs got worse when the, let's say, 'language police' made blanket assertions about such slurs perpetuating sexism and misogyny. And, I know you are right that there has been much dissent about this blanket assertion.
To add to your point, I think there was also a perception of hypocrisy on the part of the 'language police' for two reasons:
1) Some of the language being used by the 'police' was also incredibly foul, like F*** You, Mother F***er, etc...
2) The feminist platform being promoted and the way it is being promoted may be more likely to perpetuate sexism and misogyny than gendered slurs aimed at specific individuals.
Women can read men's minds and know that when a man says, "Don't take this the wrong way. But, I find you interesting, and would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my room for coffee?", that this is objectification because he is only interested in sex. Moreover, the sexual interest is solely because of the physical aspects of the woman.
Men must cross the street when approaching a woman so she won't be afraid. Women must be treated as equals but if you treat them as equals by, for instance, not crossing the street, you creep them out.
If you don't approach women in just the right way, the only way you can have sex is by using a sex toy or a watermelon.
All men should be perceived as potential rapists.
Any man who does not agree with my view of feminism is a misogynist.
So, if I were a man, I'd be pretty damned angry about these characterizations of men and the demands we make of them. Wouldn't generating this kind of anger help perpetuate sexism and misogyny, particularly, when some of these messages are being sent via YouTube which is not known as a place of great rationality and well-reasoned debate?
This whole affair ultimately distils to one of long-term integrity, versus short-term fame and ego-feeding.
Ardent Skeptic, describing her understanding of Watson's take on feminism: "All men should be perceived as potential rapists."
By that, you mean this:
"So when you, a stranger, approach me, I have to ask myself: Will this man rape me?
"Do you think I’m overreacting? One in every six American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. I bet you don’t think you know any rapists, but consider the sheer number of rapes that must occur. These rapes are not all committed by Phillip Garrido, Brian David Mitchell, or other members of the Brotherhood of Scary Hair and Homemade Religion. While you may assume that none of the men you know are rapists, I can assure you that at least one is. Consider: if every rapist commits an average of ten rapes (a horrifying number, isn’t it?) then the concentration of rapists in the population is still a little over one in sixty. That means four in my graduating class in high school. One among my coworkers. One in the subway car at rush hour. Eleven who work out at my gym. How do I know that you, the nice guy who wants nothing more than companionship and True Love, are not this rapist?
That's not saying that "All men should be perceived as potential rapists," in the sense that men being treated as rapists is a proper, ideal state of affairs. That's saying that given the prevalence of rape and the fact that actual rapists and wannabe rapists don't look obviously different from other men, it is perfectly reasonable for a woman to be on her guard around men she doesn't know.
And no, Elevator Guy wasn't expected to read Watson's mind, only hear her words. She already made clear on her panel that she didn't like to be hit on at conferences, and she made it clear at the bar that she was tired and wanted to sleep.
@J. J. Ramsey
The plural of assumption isn't facts.
Please give the exact point during the panel talk or the Q&A where Rebecca said, "She doesn't like to be hit on at conferences." All I heard her discuss on the subject of sexism in the atheist community was the sexist and/or nasty e-mails and comments via the internet she receives.
Please provide evidence that elevator man heard Rebecca state that she was tired and wanted to go to bed. If he did not acknowledge her statements, (Rebecca did not say that he had), then it is merely an assumption that he heard them.
Please provide evidence that when elevator man said, "Don't take this the wrong way but I find you interesting and would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?, he was, in fact, thinking, "Don't take this the wrong way but I think you have a hot bod and I would like to explore it in more detail. Would you like to come to my hotel room for some rumpy pumpy? Interpreting his statements to mean anything other than what he actually said is mind-reading. The JREF has a million dollar prize for anyone who can prove they have that ability.
As a skeptic, I refuse to accept assumptions as facts. I want facts to support the conclusion that elevator man was "objectifying" Rebecca.
As for your statement about Schroedinger's Rapist, you said:
"That's saying that given the prevalence of rape and the fact that actual rapists and wannabe rapists don't look obviously different from other men, it is perfectly reasonable for a woman to be on her guard around men she doesn't know."
"Doesn't know" or does know, if you read the preceding paragraphs in your response.
So, "be on guard" because rapists don't have rapist stamped on their foreheads so it could be any man. Therefore, it is reasonable to perceive every man as a potential rapist even though treating them as such is not a "proper, ideal state of affairs." Substitute every other vicious crime into these statements and we should be wary of everyone we know. No thanks! I don't want to live that way.
Ardent Skeptic, I actually do live that way, and will teach my daughter to live that way as well. Every man is a potential rapist, IF you don't know him, AND you can't get away from him, AND there are no witnesses or people to help, AND he looks capable of assaulting you (i.e. he's not an old guy in a wheelchair). Sad but true--I think it's only reasonable for women to go through life with that attitude, given the fact that rape is a common crime.
Jean, I accept that there are risks in life and people should exercise caution but I believe Schroedinger's rapist is too narrowly focused and too extreme. Most men are not rapists and, statistically, we know that rape by an 'unknown' man is not that common an occurrence.
I went on a 17,000/90 day road trip ALONE last year. I called it my squiggly road tour because most of my driving was on two lane roads along rivers and through mountains -- scenic drives taken to parks, forests, and wildlife refuges. All of the men I met were pleasant and supportive. A lot of them were excited about my "ride" (a 6-speed Mini Cooper S), and offered me tips on other places to go. Most of the women I met gave me grief about traveling alone and thought I was foolish for doing so. None of them expressed a positive attitude about what I was doing. I did not meet another woman traveling alone for pleasure.
I am an intelligent person and capable of exercising due diligence in regards to my own safety from all kinds of dangers. I locked my car and did not leave valuables in it overnight at hotels. I did, however, lock my car but leave valuables in it while sightseeing. I was willing to assume that risk because I couldn't possibly carry everything of value with me all the time. I didn't hang out in sleazy areas of cities or spend my nights drinking in sleazy bars. The biggest risk I assumed on this adventure was a traffic accident. I wore my seatbelt.
Rebecca assumed the risk of being in an elevator at 4AM in Dublin. It was reasonable for her to do so because it is, in fact, a low risk situation. Any 'unknown' man could have gotten on the elevator with Rebecca and done her harm but it was unlikely. The fact that elevator man spoke to Rebecca, and invited her to his room for coffee, did not increase the risk of being in an elevator with an unknown man.
I was on a lot of elevators in hotels with 'unknown' men while on my road trip. The risk was minimal, and I was willing to assume that risk. I was pleasant while interacting with these 'unknown' men, and many of them were helpful in keeping the doors open to make it easier for me to enter and exit the elevators (and buildings) loaded down with my luggage, photography gear, computer equipment, tour books, etc. None of them did me the least bit of harm by noticing my burden, expressing curiosity as to why, and helping ease my burden by holding doors open.
Yes, caution. But, if we fail to properly assess risk, it prevents us from enjoying life to the fullest. I chose to treat my fellow human beings with courtesy, not fear, while still exercising caution. I didn't advertise my 'aloneness' but I knew I couldn't hide it either. I choose to act as the strong, independent, pleasant woman that I am, and the men I met treated me as their equal. In my opinion, treating strangers with courtesy is a great way to minimize risk. People don't usually react badly to 'nice' people who show appreciation to others treating them 'nicely'.
Ardent, Now you've gone and made me jealous. I wanna take a huge long drive in a mini-cooper, maybe even alone! Actually, I have taken some long drives alone, but not for quite a while--across country once, across the southwest another time. In a Toyota Tercel...not so sexy.
Yes, we take risks, and that's reasonable. But it's reasonable to ask others not to cause us unnecessary anxiety. I can easily imagine that RW really did feel anxious in that elevator with that guy. Why shouldn't she tell guys not to do stuff like that? If you want to ask for "coffee," don't do it in an inescapable small space like an elevator. That's fine, as far as it goes.
I get skeptical primarily when I consider the fact that she was presenting that incident as data in support of a theory about attendance at meetings. Stuff like that, on her view, drives women away, and at least partly accounts for the lopsided M-F ratio at these things. I don't think she's established that--and of course it wouldn't be an easy thing to establish.
Ardent, since you've been to lots of skeptics' meetings (right--I can't find the earlier comment where I think you said that), what have you observed as the M-F ratio at these things? I'm looking for data (for my talk, which is in a few days), but might have to settle for asking a bunch of people for estimates.
Yes, I have been to many skeptics meetings. Besides the local meetups in my area (dozens of them over the last couple of years), I've been to seven TAMs, and taken three JREF cruises. I've been to just one AAI conference and one CFI/CSH conference.
I don't know the exact ratios for all the TAMs, but the number of women attending has grown; at TAM 9 this year, the JREF announced that 40% of attendees were women, which I believe is the highest level to date. If you need more data for past years, you should be able to get that by contacting the JREF directly. CFI and AAI may track that data for their conferences as well.
With our local groups, the numbers are usually pretty evenly divided between men and women. (At the last meetup we went to on August 10th, the men were outnumbered. 7 women and 5 men. We have had several meetups where that has been the case ;)
I have no problem with how RW felt in the elevator. She is perfectly justified in asking men not to do that to HER, and suggesting that, perhaps, it's not a good idea generally. My problem has been the insistence that this is a clear-cut case of objectification, and the labeling of anyone who doesn't agree with that interpretation as 'misogynist' (starting with Stef McGraw at the CFI Leadership Conference).
The women I spoke with at this year's TAM were unhappy about RW's message. It is very negative and is likely to push women away rather than draw them in. (I find it very ironic that the most vocal women complaining about sexism aren't ceasing to attend skeptic and atheist gatherings. Moreover, much of the anecdotal evidence they are providing from "other women" is from women with whom they are speaking at these gatherings. Comments like, "I've experienced sexism and I don't like it." To which they might just as well add, "But, here I am again.")
Where is the evidence of women who are no longer attending these gatherings because of sexism. I wonder if data like that could even be collected? It might not be easy to do, but shouldn't we at least try, before coming to any firm conclusion?
Ardent, Thanks very much for all that info--that helps. I contacted someone at CfI to get statistics on meetings, but haven't heard back yet. I also emailed and tweeted a few people who have been to a lot of meetings.
It seems like lately there's been a push to add more female speakers to programs. Plus, they're being pitched more to younger people. Both things are probably increasing female attendance. Pitching to young people helps because young atheists are more M/F gender balanced (I've been looking at some interesting data that shows that).
I was just thinking about exactly your last point--RW is a counterexample to her own theory. She's very bothered by sexist incidents, but not deterred from attending meetings by them. One wants at least a bunch of examples of women both bothered and deterred!
It's interesting that the people you spoke to were not fans of RW's. I was curious about that--it's hard to tell what "real people" are thinking based on what you see on the internet.
Yes, there has been a push for more women speakers at conferences. But IMO, we should be pushing for engaging, intelligent, speakers who have something to say worth listening to, regardless of gender. Carol Tavris, Elizabeth Loftus, and Eugenie Scott, who all spoke at this year's TAM, are fabulous! The fact that they are female has nothing to do with it. It's what they are doing that is interesting. Women invited to speak, solely because they are women, aren't always worth listening to, but some will continue to get a platform because they complain the loudest.
This talk you're working on sounds interesting. Any chance it will be available to the general public?
Very basic question--how important is it for atheist meetings, or atheists as a group, to be half female? Why is it important? Is it really? Those are actually hard questions....
I'm creating a powerpoint and might add narration and put it online. At the very least, I'm going to put up some interesting data here about women and atheism--Monday at the latest.
Thanks much for all your input here.
To add to what Jillian and Ardent Skeptic said: I have been to an international atheist conference but it's the recent patronizing and stifling attitude toward dissent on this topic, not any bad experiences at meetings, that has made me unwilling to attend any the future (of course, this is also anecdotal). I don't think these high-level scuffles should make anyone reluctant to join local atheist groups. I agree that it would be great to see some data.
Women invited to speak, solely because they are women, aren't always worth listening to, but some will continue to get a platform because they complain the loudest.
Are there really any women invited to speak solely because they are women? So they're just invited at random then?
I've seen this claim before, and I think it might be mistaken. I think the women who are invited to speak might have something to offer in addition to their woman-ness.
Of course it's not random. But if what they have to offer is not related to the subject of the conference, or in fact is the antithesis of that subject, I have to wonder.
If someone is claiming to be a skeptic, and is invited to speak on that subject, I would expect that person to actually demonstrate skepticism. The few times I have heard RW speak at skeptic conferences, for instance, she has talked about how to be popular on the Internet and how she cleverly worked offensive words into a radio show she submitted to an NPR contest. These didn't help establish her credibility as a speaker on skepticism, and frankly, I didn't find her talks worth listening to.
And with the Elevatorgate fiasco, her credibility as a skeptic has eroded even further -- demanding that we accept a claim based on anecdotal evidence runs contrary to what skepticism is. Yes, she claims to have a large following, and that seeming popularity may be appealing to conference organizers that need to fill seats. But to me, it's a matter of principle; I think it actually harms our goals if we sacrifice our principles merely in an attempt to increase ticket sales.
So yes, I think it does happen -- that the primary reason, if not the sole reason, that some women have been invited to speak has been that they are women who have complained that there aren't enough women at our conferences. Skepticism is very important to me, and I want to see it grow -- but not by betraying the very principles that skeptics advocate.
But that's a different claim. That's not "[some] women are invited to speak solely because they are women."
Your new claim is something like "people who are invited to speak about skepticism should do just that and not something else" and that RW has violated that (sensible) principle. That's a much more modest claim.
There's a difference between "some women are invited to speak solely because they are women" and "some women are invited to speak for what seem to be flimsy reasons."
I wouldn't disagree with the second claim. I always wonder why we don't see Katha Pollitt and Wendy Kaminer (for instance) on the lists for these conferences, though it's possible that they're invited and they say no thanks.
Er, but anyone reading Ardent charitably would have known that's what she meant. I suspect the three of us agree about this issue of flimsiness, and wanting female speakers to be substantive critical thinkers. RW kinda bugs me with her off the cuff style, which is entertaining, but not the way to present a tight, well-reasoned argument. I think if you're trying to explain low female attendance at meetings, it really does behoove you to go slowly, gather evidence carefully, get other relevant facts, etc., before pointing your finger at male bad behavior at meetings. It's not fair to these guys to be accused lightly, and also pointing your finger in one direction can mean overlooking what's off in another direction.
I think if people have quotas (speakers must be 50/50) they're likely to get into a person's gender being too large a consideration. Better to just raise consciousness about programs and seek out women who may have been overlooked. Like you Ophelia, you certainly should have a place on these programs. It's good the powers that be are starting to figure that out.
Just to put in a pitch for myself--as the author of a book about the good life without God, I'm not a bad candidate either. But especially for meetings in extremely far away places. I'd really like to visit Australia. Atheists of Hawaii should feel free to invite me too.
Why would you want to go to Australia and Hawaii? These are foreign places. They have shark infested waters and elevator ridden buildings.
But reading charitably in that sense is a value in philosophy but I'm not sure it is elsewhere, because it is also a value to be able to address exactly what is said rather than the most favorable interpretation that can be given. And frankly, I really wish people would stop talking about women being invited to speak solely or simply because they are women. Isn't it obvious that that's insulting? (It's notoriously insulting to say that about or to black people with reference to affirmative action.)
But yes, about better criteria. I'm ecstatic that Maryam Namazie is getting invited; I've been doing my best to publicize her for years. Katha Pollitt; Polly Toynbee; Joan Smith; Wendy Kaminer. (But, you know, conference organizers want yoof.)
Ian, I'm willing to take my chances. Paris Atheists should feel free to contact me good too.
Ophelia, I think charity is just part of normal communication. The speaker gives you something, and then it's actually a normal part of the work of comprehension (characterized in the part of linguistics called "Pragmatics") to make various interpretations and adjustments. You almost always have to get beyond what people simply say, in order to understand what they mean. When people refuse to do that work, it can be just a debate tactic--it slows things down, gets the speaker off course, produces frustration.
In philosophy people take the principle of charity a little further, the idea being that most philosophers worth reading are not dummies. So you seek interpretations on which, if someone seems to be saying Really Dumb Thing X, they're really saying Less Dumb Thing Y. This makes sense, if you're reading Kant or the like. It doesn't make so much sense on a daily basis.
"... frankly, I really wish people would stop talking about women being invited to speak solely or simply because they are women. Isn't it obvious that that's insulting?"
Yes, of course it's insulting. That's part, please note I said "part" of the intent of such a statement.
Take a breath and try to wrap your head around this: It's insulting because having mendacious, manipulative, shaming speakers like Watson hold forth with anecdotes as evidence, thoroughly off-topic tales designed to emphasize and sell her personal importance to the "movement", intolerantly unfair and out of place bashing of peers, etc., etc., is insulting. And intolerable.
And, frankly, for the anti-Watson dissentors to then be accused of sexism, misogyny, rape apologetics, and all other kinds of vile nonsense simply because they disagree with her mendacious anecdotes and/or her method of delivery is far, far more insulting to those of us who tire of her manipulative, deceptive, pretentious ways. Some form of soft retaliation seems to have its place.
Furthermore, frankly, some of us who use that statement also "wish people would stop talking about women being invited to speak solely or simply because they are women", but until the ticket-selling seat filling hypocrites and such woefully hypocritical ravers as PZ Myers stop selling Watson as an uber-authority of feminism, atheisim, and skepticism and any and all dissentors as misogynistic filth who must be banned from all conversation, some of us are, with regret, going to keep saying such things.
Ophelia, are you able to comprehend the gist of what I am trying to say here without reaching for your re-write, censor, delete button? If not, say so, and I'll try again.
Ooo, how scary! I'm starting to think we should counsel Ms Watson to go into politics. She may be relatively young and all but if she can craft such horrifyingly manipulative speeches (speeches that threaten to overwhelm our very thought process with poorly constructed arguments!!!) surely she could get elected to higher office easily. Think of it! An atheist on Capitol Hill with Ophelia Benson and the dastardly PZ Myers in tow flanked on all sides by the wicked Pharyngulite hoard.
They would ride through the city laying waste to the Republican agenda. The deep roots of Murdock would be pulled out and salt poured in their place. Folksiness would be rendered useless before a politician drinking side by side with service members and having a happy hour introduced before every hearing. Carnage not seen since Atila the Hun. What a glorious sight it would be to see Watson through Myers work her tentacles into every aspect of American life.
((If you decide to not let this through I completely understand, Prof (Dr?) Kazez. Despite the lack of humor I had to get it down. Sorry for side tracking.))
And, frankly, for the anti-Watson dissentors to then be accused of sexism, misogyny, rape apologetics, and all other kinds of vile nonsense simply because they disagree with her mendacious anecdotes and/or her method of delivery...
Ah no; no no. That's that "simply" again, and it's completely wrong. It's not simply because they disagree at all. I disagree with Watson about some things myself, as do some people who comment at my place. No, it's the torrent of ugly garbage that got dumped on her from almost the beginning of this fuss that gets the garbage-dumpers called sexist.
Some form of soft retaliation seems to have its place.
It's not "soft."
This place had one of the calmer discussions about this. Runs away scared.
Ah well, I think all the calm points had already been made in the first 100 or so comments, so the forces of chaos didn't get in the way. I s'pose it's time to be done with this subject now.
I thought it was a skeptical virtue not to care *how* an argument was made, but to care instead about the content of said argument. You certainly don't have to be friends with people who use language you don't like, but you can't dismiss what they say because they use language you don't like.
(Trying to keep to the reasoned tone which has been exemplified here)
When I read this link I thought of this (not this comment thread, which has on balance beeen quite good, more the larger conversation):
I haven't read through all the comments, but superb post, Jean.
I would add though that in my experience with Facebook atheists I have met enough women whose vitriol equals what one finds on some male atheist blogs and I have encountered as many men wary of atheists' reputations for anger as women. I'm not sure that's such a gendered thing.
What might be gendered is that a woman uncomfortable around aggressive atheists might be more especially put off by the prospect of being around a predominantly male crowd of aggressive people.
I have 2 comments – one on women becoming involved in the skeptic / atheist movement and one on Rebecca Watson.
1. Women in the skeptic / atheist movement:
Why are there less women in the skeptic / atheist movement?
I don’t know for sure, but I’m pretty convinced it has nothing to do with male misogyny and sexism. I’m nearly sure that it’s simply like other areas.
I’ve been in the Information Technology (IT) industry for over 30 years and it went from having hardly any women to having quite a few. I saw the same happen with Computer Based Entertainment industries – initially hardly any women in technical roles, today there’s quite a few.
It’s still not 50 % women / 50 % men – and it’s not likely ever to be, nevertheless, I remember in the early 80s many people were agonizing over how to get more women involved in IT.
The same complaints were leveled then - male misogyny and sexism – but in truth, IT was no more sexist than any other industry.
As usual, it the same things we always encounter – access, interest and the requisite amount of time passing so that things can change.
I think the real situation is that by-and-large, the atheist / skeptic movement is still relatively young. If it survives, then in 20 or 30 years, it will be bigger and more representational of both women and men.
2. Rebecca Watson and the elevator gate:
Perhaps I’m wrong but it seems that first and foremost Rebecca Watson is a feminist and secondly she’s a skeptic. Which is OK – that’s her platform.
However, it seems to me that she uses a particular type of feminism that has at its core the “male misogyny and sexism” argument.
My personal interpretation of what I’ve observed is that Rebecca Watson uses the “male misogyny and sexism” argument, or some variant of it, simply far too often. In my observation, it seems that it’s used in nearly all of her arguments.
In my view, everything that Rebecca Watson has said, has already been said by others - more eloquently and less confrontationally.
If there was a skeptic meeting where I live, and Rebecca Watson was the only guest speaker, I’d likely not attend.
Not because I dislike her, but solely because I find her extremely boring.
From my perspective she really adds nothing new to the discussion or conversation.
Your talk was excellent, and I've cut my favourite part of it here: http://youtu.be/EyMTI7MoWck Thanks again.
DIAL AN Atheist Larry declares it is sexist to start that the small samples of attendees at large Atheist conferences is representative of all Atheists. Having observed hundreds of local freethought groups around the country, not all are male dominated. The problem is symptomatic of a Patriarchal Culture, not unique unfriendliness of Atheist groups to women. But this article is a good start on confronting male privilege unchallenged in the mind of male Atheists. As a feminist man, my peers are few in feminist ranks. As a MR Mom for 30 years, my peers are few too. Few sociologist researchers have designed studies to get a good sample. All of this presumes too that the problem is a heterosexual one. Sexism is more than males hitting on women. Sexism is assuming one love style defines all life styles. Lastly, Atheists are in disagreement on how to define themselves. Christians like dictionary publisher Webster have mis-defined Atheists & few Atheists have enough pride to properly claim the right to define ourselves. African Americans have triumphed over negroes. American Atheists need to triumph over atheists, humanists, agnostics, Unitarian Universalists, Objectivists, secularists, FSM, Brights & the closet itself.
all skeptics are equal but some skeptichicks are more equal than others
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