The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Why the Skeptical Movement Needs “More Than Men”

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 5, 2012

**Note: for some background you may find reading my previous two posts on this issue to be useful…

Diversity in Skepticism: One White Guy’s Perspective

Note to My Fellow Men at Conferences: Women Don’t Dig Douchebags

********************************

Those of us who have been in the skeptical movement for some time have noticed something very interesting happening of late: the movement is becoming more diverse.  For example, when I attended my first skeptical conference, TAM 4 back in 2006, I noticed that most attendees were white men (I certainly have nothing against white guys, especially since I’m one of them).  By the most recent Amaz!ng Meeting this past summer, a mere five years later, I saw much more diversity, especially in the context of the ratio of men vs. women: about 40% of the TAM 9 attendees were women (while roughly half of the conference speakers were women).

Of course, I see this as a good thing.  But there will be some inevitable growing pains within the movement as the skeptical demographic grows larger.  Evidence of this fact is readily apparent from seeing numerous online arguments (some say flame wars) regarding various diversity issues within the last year or so.  Most of us will remember “Elevatorgate” and the ensuing discussion it set off; then there was the touchy question of how physicist Lawrence Krauss handled a situation regarding a friend’s run-in with the police over questions of inappropriate sexual behavior; and it seems the discussion set of by these (and other) situations shows no signs of abating.

Take, for instance, this recent blog post and related comment thread over at my skeptical colleague Stephanie Zvan’s “Almost Diamonds” blog titled “Dammit, DJ” (tip o’ the hat to Stephanie for letting me know I was invoked in the ensuing comment thread, hence this post).  I won’t go into the details here (read Stephanie’s post for yourself), but I would like to make a few quick, general remarks.

First, while some people within our movement seem to want to plant flags or “take sides”, I urge caution in this regard. I have seen some in the discussion of Stephanie’s post come down “on the DJ [that is, DJ Grothe] side” while others have come down “on the Rebecca [Watson, of Skepchick] side”, with many barbs and arrows slung back and forth.  I think this is a bit silly, folks.  I know both DJ and Rebecca, and I have worked (and partied) with both of them, and I can honestly say that I respect them both not only as skeptical colleagues but as social acquaintances as well.  I also think that both of them make valid and invalid points regarding this whole diversity issue; but I am willing to let them get out there and slug it out, because I view that sort of debate as not only critical, but fundamentally unavoidable, as the skeptical movement grows.  I, for one, am happy to see people such as DJ and Rebecca on the front lines of this argument.

Now, having said all of that, let me get to my second point: that is about the tone of these arguments.  I have seen far too many people act like utter assholes in these kinds of online disputes, to the point of seeing real threatening and insulting language being tossed about quite loosely.  It isn’t all one way (such things rarely are), but some of the most disturbing stuff seems to have been directed at women from men, so since I’m a guy I will briefly address that.

What is it about the Internet that brings out the worst in some people, to the point that they say the most foul and irresponsible things?  Men (and I use that term loosely) who try to use the Internet as a venue for spewing some of the filth that I’ve seen directed at some women are hardly worth the label of “men”, because that label only applies to mature males who are secure in both their manhood and their relationships with others (specifically, in this context, with women).  The douchebags who talk this smack anonymously are simple cowards, because I strongly doubt that most of them would ever dare to speak in that manner directly to a woman’s face in a public setting.  In short, the following picture describes these clowns pretty well…

Which brings me to my final point: the fact that these knuckle-dragging goons feel the need to use such thuggish language and behavior towards women illustrates perfectly well the need for more diversity within skepticism.  This also illustrates the need for more white guys like me to call out our fellow white male skeptics on this sort of bullshit and argue for more diversity.  Thus, I am happy to announce my involvement in a new effort to promote diversity and understanding on these topics via the More Than Men project: a project run by white guys with the purpose of speaking in white-guy speak to other white guys in the hopes that we can “talk to our own” and foster more understanding on these issues.  If you would like, I encourage you to check out the More Than Men website and consider making a contribution (not money, but thoughts) there.

So in closing, let me send a message to my skeptical brothers and sisters out there: guys, don’t be ashamed of who you are, but also understand that there is a profound need to understand things from a non-male, non-white perspective; and if you wish to grow the movement you cannot get around this need.  And ladies, please understand that it really is hard for some guys to gain this understanding of things from a non-male perspective; it takes time, and sometimes we will challenge you on certain points while agreeing on others.  And, quite frankly, on some things some men and women may never be able to see eye-to-eye, but we shouldn’t allow that to stop us from continuing the discussion.

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5 Responses to “Why the Skeptical Movement Needs “More Than Men””

  1. Matt;

    Thank you for taking a stand. It takes a brave person to do something like this. With your permission I’d like to cross-post this on Fledgeling Skeptic. The more people that get the message, the better.

    I’d also like to take the opportunity to mention that it isn’t just men that talk smack. I’ve seen women say some pretty horiffic things about others of our own gender. How can we expect to make any progress as a movement if we keep ripping at each other like this?

  2. […] Matt Lowry, who writes for me at the JREF blog, wrote an excellent post about this on his blog, The Skeptical Teacher.  I fully support his new project, “More Than Men” and urge you to do the […]

  3. Rabidtreeweasel said

    Yes, women do say horrible things sometimes, but I try to take note when that occurs of whether those things are said out of misandry(personally haven’t seen this) or if they are a response to misogyny(have seen this often and confess to doing some troll feeding of my own in the heat of the moment).
    In general, however, I would agree that the internet is a breeding ground for Asshatery, milarky and all around tom foolery. I dare say I have even noted several shenanigans.

  4. […] on The Skeptical Teacher… Why The Skeptical Movement Needs “More Than Men”… […]

  5. I’m glad to see some action being taken towards this. I’m also glad to see that this issue is being looked at as a male issue towards women. In my opinion, the problem of gender inequality needs to be looked at from both sides of the issue. One possible reason for this anger towards women online could be that the issues of men have been overlooked, often times with the sexist mindset of “you’re tough just walk it off.”

    This is not to say that there aren’t just angry people who hate for the sake of hate. But, I think if the skeptic community were to look at gender inequality from both perspectives and with the knowledge that both genders have issues then hopefully this trend of sexism can be stopped.

    Having said that, I’m going to start doing my part to deal with this issue. Thank you for posting this.

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