The Skeptical Teacher

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

Live Blog of WTFF Kickoff Event with Jen McCreight

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 22, 2010

**Addendum: If you’re interested in watching video of the presentation, check out this link to Vimeo. Hat tip to Bruce Critelli for shooting the video! 🙂


Well, here we are at the inaugural kickoff event for the Women Thinking Free Foundation (WTFF) at the Galway Arms in Chicago.  Our featured speaker is Jennifer McCrieght, author of the Blag Hag blog and the savvy skeptic behind the infamous Boobquake of 2010 🙂

We’re in the process of setting everything up, and we’ll be up-and-running in about 30 minutes.  The title of Jen’s talk is “What Boobquake Taught Us About Skepticism & Feminism”… stay tuned!

Btw, if you’re interested in following the event via live Tweeting with the Bolingbrook Babbler go to .@BolingbrookBabb

Our reporter from the Chicago Sun-Times just arrived!  The Bolingbrook Babbler just whispered in my ear: “Look at that, a press release that worked!” 🙂

It’s 7:25 and we’ll be starting the lecture in about 5 minutes.  We’re giving people time to settle, order drinks, and get some food…

Dr. Jennifer Newport, the Vice President of the WTFF, is now introducing the event officially, describing the WTFF and its mission.  She’s talking about how there seem to be not as many women in the skeptical movement as there should be, and part of what we’re doing is to get more female speakers in the skeptical movement.  She’s describing future WTFF events, such as our tour at FermiLab, the skeptrack at GenCon, Skepchicon at Convergence, and TAM!  There is also the WTFF Hug Me initiative, which is a campaign to promote vaccinations.

Dr. Jen is now introducing Jen McCreight – it would be Elyse Anders doing the intro, but she had her baby daughter, Delaney, just a day or two ago.  What a cute kid! 🙂

Jen McCreight giving us a recap of how & why Boobquake started.  An Iranian cleric stated that:

“Many women who do not dress modestly… lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity, and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes.”

Jen is talking about how this kind of sentiment seems to basically blame women for negative natural disasters.  She decided that this is a kind of hypothesis, and that perhaps she should set out to test the idea.  Her inspiration came from the famous attempt to commit mass-suicide by homeopathy back in April – a light-hearted mocking of the woo can be a very good way to get people thinking more critically.

So she made a quick blog post on Blag Hag before running off to watch House M.D.  She thought a few people in the skeptical & atheist blogosphere would be interested in it, and one of her Twitter followers asked to make a Facebook page on it.  After waking up the next morning, she found that the page had many thousands of fans.  The page & idea of Boobquake spread rapidly, and she soon started getting requests for radio interviews.  Emails from Ireland, Canada, and eventually CNN came in!  She started to, using the scientific terminology, “shit her pants!” 🙂

Once CNN found out about the event, Jen was interviewed by the BBC (which airs in Iran via BBC Persia), and a large number of other major news outlets (cable news stations, newspapers, etc).  But the coolest exposure was when she got mentioned on the Colbert Report!!!

Jen never intended the whole idea of Boobquake to even go viral and become so widespread and popular.  Even though the idea seemed silly, there are some lessons to be learned…

Why Did Boobquake Go Viral? (Thanks to Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist, for this list)

*memorable name

*light hearted and not threatening

*good timeline

*right spokesperson

*everyone loves a boob joke 🙂

Not everyone thought it was funny… there was apparently a counter-protest called “Brainquake” (not as funny-sounding) from some other feminists who thought that Boobquake was demeaning to women.  This is because they were worried that some men would demean the process by telling the would-be Boobquakers to “show their tits!”  And some of that did occur, but Jen said that it gave yet another opportunity to bring things back to the original question.  Some even went so far as to state that Jen was just a “so-called feminist”…

“Boobquake was playing right into the hands of venues such as Playboy, which I don’t think was at all Jen’s intention.”

— Negar Mottahedeh

But Jen thought it was funny that her boobs were even on the Playboy blog 🙂

Here’s what Jen looked like during the day of Boobquake… (hardly scandalous!)

Many women and feminists were very supportive, however.  Some of these supportive emails even came from Iranians!

Ironically, of those feminists who did protest Boobquake, Jen points out that the logic used by those feminists and the Iranian cleric is very similar…

Women dress immodestly

–> Men can’t control themselves

–> Men misbehave

–> This objectifies women (Causes earthquakes!)

–> Thus, women should dress modestly.

Jen also pointed out the fact that the terms “modest” or “immodest” are very fungible, meaning different things to different people.  For instance, some people consider women showing their hair in public to be immodest.

Nice quote:

“Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”

Jen was also saying that feminists should not be so set in their views as to make enemies of those who should be their allies.

Not only fellow feminists were critical of Boobquake…

*Sex appeal ruins science & skepticism too!

*Female skeptical bloggers get press because they are “hot”, whereas male bloggers get press because they are “smart.”

Jen goes on to say that female skeptics & scientists can be beautiful and sexy.  There’s nothing wrong with women being both good-looking AND smart; why does it have to be one OR the other?

Why is this the mentality?  Looks + Brains = Scary

Jen thinks that in order to get more women into the skeptical movement, we have to get over this mentality.  If we’re going to break the 75% male, 25% female divide within our community, we have to work together to break these stereotypes.  Part of this is incumbent upon men, but some of it is the responsibility of skeptical women as well.

The attention from Boobquake is going to last…

*about 2600 new Twitter followers

*5 times the amount of blog subscribers

*1000 friend requests on Facebook

*100,000 fans of Boobquake Facebook

*from 4/19 to 5/3, over 1,000,000 unique visitors to Blag Hag with over 2.6 million page views

This also has long lasting effects for the skeptical movement in general…

*increased readership

*speaking at skeptical events (like this!)

*publishing books

*links/connections to other skeptics

Not only that, but any other skeptical bloggers who made posts about Boobquake also got increased traffic & readership, and this helps the entire community in general.

Nice Slide:  Come for the boobs, stay for the smarts!

Q&A Session:

Q: What is Blag Hag?

A: She was talking with a gay friend who suggested that she do a pun on his blog name, and she said “What am I, a blag hag?!” and she ended up getting Pharyngulated a week later.

Q: How did the CNN interview go?  What happened with this?

A: Not very well.  Some of the best interviews were from the local student interviews she had.  CNN set up a Skype interview with Jen, and she had some of her friends in the background for the interview.  First, they couldn’t get the sound to work (it only went one way), so they had to do the sound via phone which was weird because her friends couldn’t hear the questions.

She felt almost verbally molested because the interviewer was asking crazy questions like “What would your boobs cause on the Richter scale?” and to shake her boobs back and forth for the camera.  The interviewer didn’t necessarily want to talk about the entire purpose of Boobquake.  At one point, she was berating one of Jen’s friends for NOT having her cleavage showing.

Basically, CNN missed the whole point.  Ironically, FOX News did a better job of the interview, though they did make a big deal out of the statistically insignificant Taiwan earthquake.

Q: Did you have a contingency plan in case there was a major quake that day?

A: Not really, though it would be awesome if there was one… my boobs cause earthquakes! 🙂

Jen also wanted to make sure all the attention went to some good causes, such as the Red Cross and the JREF receiving some donations as a result.

Q: Do you think there’s any ongoing issue at the intersection of science/skepticism & feminism that hasn’t been addressed?

A: Some feminists are anti-science in the sense that they believe it is an institution manipulated by men against women.  However, there are more and more female scientists who are having greater influence.  Some feminists rail against any kind of science which points out the differences between men & women, when in fact there are real differences (it’s why Elyse isn’t with us tonight!).

Q: What were some of the weird emails/comments you received?

A: The weirdest email she got was from a dad whose son went to Purdue, and he’s an atheist.  The father wanted to see if Jen would go out with him because he’s very shy and introverted.  Jen felt very sad about that.

There were also the kind of yucky emails that asked her to “come to New York to have sex with me” and whatnot.

Not to mention, the conspiracy nuts came out.  She was visited and spammed by some real weirdos.

Q: If you had to do it again, what would you do differently?

A: She wouldn’t have said “Do what you like, modest or immodest, it doesn’t matter if you have big or small boobs”.  She also would have been more proactive ahead of time about the number of earthquakes that hit every day and the statistics involved.  More specificity would have been better ahead of time.

Dr. Jennifer Newport is thanks Jen McCreight for coming to speak, and she’s also giving some much-deserved kudos to Elyse Anders and all the members of the WTFF board for organizing this and future events!

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