The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘men’

Sexual Harassment & Assault at Skeptic/Atheist Cons

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 31, 2013

I don’t often make posts about this particular topic, though I have definite feelings on the issue.  If you call yourself a skeptic and/or atheist and you’re involved in the movement, you would have to have been living under a rock for the last couple of years to have missed how the issue of misogyny, sexual harassment, and assault has come to the front of much discussion in our community.

What follows is a video made by a very brave woman whom I know, named Ashley Paramore.  I’ve known her for a few years through our mutual involvement in the skeptic/atheist movement.  She is a smart, beautiful, and talented woman who is quite passionate about skepticism/atheism, much like many of the women (such as those ladies at Skepchick and the Women Thinking, Inc) whom I have had the honor of meeting and working with these last few years.

**Please note: what is described in this video may be disturbing to some**

It saddens me to say that I personally know of at least two other women (as well as one man) who were similarly harassed and/or assaulted at skeptic cons in recent years.  In one situation, I actually had to get physically involved to stop the assault and eject the perpetrator from the venue.

Ashley is right: this sort of thing happens a LOT more often than many people might think.  And while I applaud the efforts of various cons to set up methods of dealing with such situations as they arise (and yes, I also have my criticisms of other cons for not doing so), the best thing to do is to create an environment where such harassment and/or assault doesn’t occur at all.  And for that, it takes all of us to be more aware of what is going on around us; it requires us to be willing to call out inappropriate behavior; it requires us to be willing to listen more and treat the experiences of women (and men, too) like Ashley seriously and in a non-judgmental manner; and it means that we need to provide support, either in public or private, for those who are willing to make a stand against such reprehensible behavior.

**On a personal note: I have found, as a man, that my experiences with women like Ashley over the years and their willingness to share their thoughts and experiences (as well as my willingness to listen to them) has served to deepen my love and respect for the women in my life who are closest to me.  It has made me a better husband, brother, son, teacher, and colleague, and I want to say to all of those women something I should have said long ago: Thank you 🙂

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

“How to Save the Polar Bears” Global Warming Panel from SkepchickCon 2012

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 17, 2012

Now that I’m back from TAM 2012, I am finally catching up on some blogging.  In this post, I wanted to share a rough transcript I made of another panel I saw the weekend before TAM at Convergence/SkepchickCon 2012 titled “How to Save the Polar Bears” – as the name implies, the subject was on how to address questions of the effects of global warming as well as climate change denialism.  Read on…

How to Save the Polar Bears

with Greg Laden, Shawn Otto, Maggie Koerth-Baker, John Abraham, and Desiree Schell (moderator)


Desiree: Let’s all commit now that climate change is indeed a real thing that is occurring. Greg, can you start with telling us the effects of climate change?

Greg: I’ll first talk about the effects of all the CO2 being released. The first effect is that it is warmer. For example, we are now experiencing the warmest year on record (so far). There are also likely to be drastic shifts in the weather patterns due to the amount of heat the atmosphere can hold. It probably means in more areas more rain in short bursts – so more droughts interrupted by heavy rains.

Also, the oceans will become more acidic, so organisms which are affected by high acid water will be hurt.

Finally, see level rise… glaciers melt, water expands, so the ocean level goes up. It could be a big factor in the short term.

Desiree: there are other more tangible effects like on agriculture.

Greg: yes, for example, many trees are getting killed by parasites because those parasites valve moved into regions (due to climate change) they never were before. Also, plants are drying out due to drought and this is leading to a lot of nasty wildfires.

People think that climate change effects is a future thing, but since the 1970s we have seen agricultural failures and desertification which are likely already linked to climate change. It is currently occurring.

Desiree: one thing that might change is disease patterns.

Greg: yes, many disease patterns have changed. Most epidemic diseases we as humans experience are due to things we have changed about our environment.

We have become a bit complacent about diseases, because in the 1930s we developed antibiotics. The problem is with the changes we are making now due to climate change, these disease effects are not so easily fought.

Desiree: Maggie, can you speak to power usage?

Maggie: the biggest energy usage we have now is buildings, more than transportation, and we use most of that energy to perfect our indoor climate (AC) which affects the outdoor climate, and so on. This also affects our power grids, because there is an increase in demand for electricity due to the higher temperatures. And the grid is much more sensitive than people think, and in these extremes you can get blackouts.

Desiree: Shawn, what was the political response to these issues?

Shawn: Nothing. An attempt was made in 2010 to address these issues, but about 500 million dollars was poured into Congress by the energy lobbyists to defeat any kind of climate bill. And the Obama administration had to make a calculated decision to go with healthcare reform instead.

There have been many on the right who have attempted to downplay climate change mitigation. Many people are pushing a “teach the controversy” argument against the teaching of climate change science. They wish to replace political opinion with actual science. There have been political attempts to make sea level rise “illegal” – North Carolina almost passed a bill making it illegal for communities to consider the effect of sea level rise unless the legislation gives prior permission, and if they do the community cannot go with the science
(about 1 meter in a century) but instead about 8 inches.

Virginia recently followed suit, saying we cannot talk about “sea level rise” but “frequent flooding” instead. This kind of throwing up political smokescreens is what is going on now.

In a way, you cannot blame the (public) corporations for this so much because they are required by law to pursue profits for shareholders on quarterly basis. So money drives a lot of it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Misogyny in the Skeptical Movement: “Don’t Feed the Trolls” Panel from SkepchickCon 2012

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 11, 2012

While at Convergence/SkepchickCon 2012 this past weekend, I did a lot of things, but one of the most fruitful and important was to attend the “Don’t Feed the Trolls” panel on the second day of the Con.  The panel consisted of a number of prominent female skeptics (Rebecca Watson, Christina Rad, Stephanie Zvan, and Heina Dadabhoy) along with a couple of male colleagues (Greg Laden and Jason Thibeault) discussing the issues of gender attitudes, sexism, and misogyny in the skeptical movement.  I think having these discussions in an open, public format is important, because there are a number of trolls out there who are not interested in reasoned, calm discussion on these issues; instead they are interested in intimidating those with whom they disagree and are attempting to silence them.

So, in an effort to light candles rather than curse the darkness, I wanted to share with you the discussion I was able to (very roughly – I was not able to get every word down) transcribe.  The talk was extremely well-attended (about 300-400 people were present) and the audience Q&A was very useful.  If you are at all concerned with these issues, please read my transcription and pass it along…

Don’t Feed the Trolls

with Greg Laden, Rebecca Watson, Jason Thibeault, Christina Rad, Stephanie Zvan, and Heina Dadabhoy


Rebecca: Rebecca is told that she should be raped, that she’s a prude, that she’s a whore, and so on.

Some emails from men have included how they would like to service her regularly. These kinds of comments have come through email, YouTube, Facebook, her Wikipedia page.

In short, the Internet is no longer a safe, fun place for Rebecca. It is where she works.

Greg Laden: one of the things that bothers him about Elevatorgate is that a friend of his was recently sexually assaulted on an elevator. So it happens. His main experience with trolls started in dealing with the evolution-creation debate online. Even more serious troll issues began two years ago in June when he and other bloggers were blogging about “rape month” (in the Congo). There were a lot of guys who were upset with him, because some of these men didn’t like the fact that he was pointing out that a lot of men do bad shit.

There are also trolls regarding the climate change discussion. There were people threatening to sue in England due to the libel laws. Greg points out that much of the stuff that goes to these blog comments is filtered and most of us never see the truly nasty stuff.

Definition of trolling (Stephanie): it started out years ago as goofy silliness, but in many ways it has now morphed into behavior towards trying to silence discussion. It is no surprise that many of the panelists are atheists and feminists, because those are groups a lot of people want to shut down.

Christina: there is a difference between trolls and haters. Eventually, I tried to go about ignoring the haters with their death and rape threats, but it gets very hard to continue. And sometimes you want to quit just to make it stop.

Stephanie: there is an idea that these trolls are just people in the Internet who are not dangerous. However, some of these people actually do try to find you in the real world. I put up a “do not talk to this person” post and this person ended up having restraining orders put on them.

Rebecca: in the past several years, there have been many high profile examples of men murdering women. In many cases, the offending males have a history of online misogynistic ranting. When she sees men doing this online, including very dehumanizing language, it makes her think of the potential danger.

Jason: one potentially probable death threat can be enough to stop you from going to a conference, for example.

Heina: I used to be Muslim, and once people figured out how I was blogging online, I was receiving threats about it. And I ended up taking down my blog due to the threats.

Least helpful advice in dealing with trolls…

Rebecca: “Don’t feed the trolls”
I now refer people who give this advice to a link on which why this is not helpful. It’s kind of like saying that a woman who doesn’t want to get raped shouldn’t wear a mini-skirt. Many people think that the trolls want attention, but what they really want is to silence me and other women like me. And it worked for awhile, because all the emails and comments started to pile up and it was wearing me down. Once I shared this stuff with my friends, it helped lift a weight off me.

Now, with haters on Twitter, I now simply RT and block. And now the haters have to spend their time blocking people who are pushing back against them. And if we can make this an issue for our community, we can increase the social cost of trolling. Now there are going to be consequences, and they will be put on a stage and be made to go on the defense.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in internet, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Thoughts on the Skeptical Movement, Sexism, and Misogyny

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 16, 2012

In recent weeks, it seems the controversy within the skeptical movement over misogyny and women’s issues appears to have heated up somewhat (that’s putting it mildly, I think).  While I do welcome this discussion and the debate it has kick-started, I wanted to comment on the one thing which really, REALLY chaps my ass about the whole thing: misogynistic Internet trolls.

Whether we’re talking about so-called Elevatorgate or the creation of sexual harassment policies by various skeptical conferences (which I fully support, because I think it is needed), it seems to me that these sort of discussions bring out the worst in some people.  And by “some people” I mean some men.  And by “some men”, I mean, specifically, the misogynistic Internet trolls who are basically bullies who want to slap a woman (or women) down for having the gall to publicly disagree with what they think women should accept.

Some of these men think that women speaking up about issues that concern them is somehow a threat to them, or a threat to what they perceive as their manhood, or a threat to their “freedom” and society in general; and some of these men decide to express their disagreement with these women through the worst kind of insults, ranting, and trolling I’ve ever seen.  It is a bully tactic intended to shut these “uppity” women up for having the audacity to hold an opinion contrary to their own.

And it makes me sick.  In fact, it makes me so sick that rather than continue in my own words, which would doubtless be laced with rage and profanity at these sorry excuses for men, I would like to reference an excellent source on the issue (many thanks to Jason Thibeault for posting this video on his blog): Video by Jay Smooth — Ill Doctrine: All These Sexist Gamer Dudes Are Some Shook Ones

While this video isn’t explicitly about the skeptical movement, it is about the broader issue of misogynistic Internet trolls.  My favorite part is right at the end of the video (at the 3:21 mark) where Jay Smooth says:

“No matter what scene on the Internet is your scene, if you are a dude on the Internet and you see other dudes in your scene harassing women or transgender people or anyone else who’s outside of our little privileged corner of the gender spectrum, we need speak up, we need to treat this like it matters, we need to add some extra humanity into our scene to counteract their detachment from their humanity.”

You said it, brother.  Gentlemen, let’s not allow these trolls, these pathetic excuses for men, these losers speak for our gender and represent us to the wider community.  Let them speak for themselves in their sad little corner of the Internet, and let us follow Jay Smooth’s excellent example and call them out for their lack of humanity.  Only by enough of us doing that can we hope to bring a more respectful tone to these important discussions.

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Catholic Bishops Decide to Declare War on Women Early… by Attacking the Girl Scouts

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 11, 2012

Oh dear evil Jeebus.  As if the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops – also known as the 21st century Inquisition – hasn’t done enough damage attempting to drag us back into the 19th century with their recent, moronic attacks against birth control and women’s reproductive rights, they’ve decided to go a few steps even further down the rabbit hole.  They have decided to declare war on women early… before they’re even women… by going after the Girl Scouts.

Girl Scouts under scrutiny from Catholic bishops

NEW YORK — Long a lightning rod for conservative criticism, the Girl Scouts  of the USA are now facing their highest-level challenge yet: An official inquiry  by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

At issue are concerns about program materials that some Catholics find  offensive, as well as assertions that the Scouts associate with other groups  espousing stances that conflict with church teaching. The Scouts, who have  numerous parish-sponsored troops, deny many of the claims and defend their  alliances.

The inquiry coincides with the Scouts’ 100th anniversary celebrations and  follows a chain of other controversies.

Earlier this year, legislators in Indiana and Alaska publicly called the  Scouts into question, and the organization was berated in a series aired by a  Catholic broadcast network. Last year, the Scouts angered some conservatives by  accepting into a Colorado troop a 7-year-old transgender child who was born a  boy but was being raised as a girl.

Some of the concerns raised by Catholic critics are recycled complaints that  have been denied by the Girl Scouts’ head office repeatedly and categorically.  It says it has no partnership with Planned Parenthood, and does not take  positions on sexuality, birth control and abortion.

“It’s been hard to get the message out there as to what is true when  distortions get repeated over and over,” said Gladys Padro-Soler, the Girl  Scouts’ director of inclusive membership strategies.

In other instances, the scouts have modified materials that drew complaints  — for example, dropping some references to playwright Josefina Lopez because  one of her plays, “Simply Maria,” was viewed by critics as mocking the Catholic  faith.

The new inquiry will be conducted by the bishops’ Committee on Laity,  Marriage, Family Life and Youth. It will look into the Scouts’ “possible  problematic relationships with other organizations” and various “problematic”  program materials, according to a letter sent by the committee chairman, Bishop  Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne, Ind., to his fellow bishops.

The bishops’ conference provided a copy of the letter to The Associated  Press, but otherwise declined comment. …

This is really starting to piss me off, and it makes me want to buy an assload of Girl Scout cookies in response to this B.S.  And then I want to get a bunch of friends together to put on a very public display of eating those cookies in front of a Catholic church in protest.  Sound like a plan?

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Freedom From Religion Foundation Implores “Liberal” Catholics to Leave the Church

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 4, 2012

In a recent post I wrote about the stupidity of the U.S. Republican Party attempting to kowtow to the religious ideology of the Catholic Church on the issue of women’s reproductive rights and contraception.  Since the whole fracas started, a number of polls have been released which show that not only have most (~98%) U.S. Catholic women used birth control, but most Catholics disagree with their own Church on this matter!

And that brings me to this blog post and a really bold move on the part of the Freedom From Religion Foundation: the FFRF’s Open Letter to “Liberal” Catholics to Quit the Church.  I think the letter makes a very powerful argument, and I reproduce it for you in full below… if you agree with this letter, please consider making a donation to get it published in the New York Times.

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

When Religious Stupidity Infects Public Policy: The Fiasco of the Catholic Church and GOP

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 19, 2012

I’ve waited for awhile to chime in on this particular subject for a number of reasons: partly because it makes me so angry that I wish to be as calm and rational as possible when I finally write about it, and partly because I have some (apparently vain) hope that the primary actors involved will pull their heads out of their asses.  Sadly, on that last point, it seems I am to be sorely disappointed.

“It’s all dudes.”  The Congressional panel testifying on insurance coverage for women’s contraception.  *Facepalm*

We all know the biggest social issue to flare up in recent weeks in the United States, which is the question of requiring insurance companies to cover birth control.  Apparently, the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops don’t like this much (never mind the fact that these insurance companies are secular businesses).   I would like to reference an excellent article written by Robert Shrum at The Week.  In his article, Shrum reveals the true motivation of the Bishops:

… The bishops could have welcomed President Obama’s compromise on insurance coverage for contraception — that religiously affiliated institutions don’t have to provide or pay for it, but insurance companies do. Insurers will finance the coverage but save money in the long run, since the cost of birth control is far less than the bills for unwanted pregnancies. Instead, the bishops reinforced their anathema, announcing that they were not “focus[ing] exclusively on the question of religious liberty” — the very cause that sparked the opposition to the original regulation, which required religiously affiliated organizations to provide employees with copay-free coverage for birth control. The bishops essentially revealed that their original cause was also a cover for opposing “the nationwide mandate of sterilization and contraception, including some abortifacients” — the morning after pill — which for them “remains a grave moral concern.” … [emphasis added]

So there you have it, folks; once the “religious liberty” question was addressed by President Obama by shifting the responsibility for covering birth control to purely secular insurance companies, the Bishops came out with their true intentions: to oppose ALL forms of contraception, not only for Catholics but for everyone, in the United States.

Holy… shit.  I don’t know what is worse: the fact that these deluded old men think what they do, or the fact that they think they have a chance of pulling it off.  Of course, perhaps that last point is probably related to the fact that the U.S. Republican Party has decided to grab onto this issue and take the Bishops’ side on it.  Shrum continues in his article:

… The unholy alliance of the bishops and the GOP threatens the party’s ultimate presidential candidate and its House majority — and diminishes its chances of taking the Senate.

Let’s translate this ecclesiastical speak: Bishops believe that birth control services should be denied to non-Catholics and Catholics alike. The bishops can’t persuade their own flock — among whom contraception is a norm, not an exception — so they attempt to enforce their doctrine through public policy. They even huffed that they “were not consulted in advance” about the president’s revised policy — and then demanded a law that would entitle institutions and employers to forbid coverage for any health service to which they had a moral objection — even if they weren’t paying for it. (Should an employer who is a Jehovah’s Witness be allowed to delete any insurance for blood transfusions — which Witnesses regard as biblically prohibited?) … [emphasis added]

Note the bolded part.  Believe it or not, the GOP has actually tried to introduce legislation that would allow any employer with a so-called “moral objection” to not pay for any insurance which covered things with which they disagree.  I’m not kidding; Shrum outlines this:

… In Congress, Republican leaders propose to do the bishops’ bidding by attaching the dubiously named Respect for Religious Conscience Act to, of all things, a transportation and highway bill. Instead of working on jobs, they’re laboring to restrict birth control. …

But think carefully about this, folks.  It isn’t just about contraception (the hot-button for the Catholic hierarchy, but apparently not for the 98% of U.S. Catholic women who have used contraception); if the legislation written by the GOP were to actually become law, there would be innumerable negative consequences beyond the cancellation of birth control coverage for employees of Catholic employers.  Imagine, with such broad and stupid wording in the law (does it even define “moral objection”?), the following scenarios:

1. Blood transfusions wouldn’t be covered for employees who work for a Jehovah’s Witness.

2. If you work for a Scientologist, kiss goodbye any chance at getting coverage for any kind of psychiatric-related care.

3. Those who got food-poisoning from a batch of bad ham might not get coverage on their hospital visit if their Orthodox Jewish boss got wind of it.

4. Suppose you got an STD and you’re not married; would your evangelical Christian employer cover the insurance costs for the treatment?

5. What if you work for a rabid anti-vaccinationist?  So much for your regular flu shot and vaccines for the kids.

6. Gay couples (married, in a civil union, domestic partnership) could easily see their health benefits evaporate simply because of the bigoted views of their bosses.  And do I even need to ask about what would happen to atheists?

7. Christian Scientist employers could pretty much just cancel ALL health coverage for their workers since prayer works better than anything, right?

Need I go on?  I think you get the picture, folks.  This is the sort of stupidity that results when you get politicians, desperate to gain traction with the populace, allowing superstitious nonsense to guide their policy decisions.  It is my hope that this backfires on the Republicans and Bishops both; to make that point loud and clear, the best thing to do is speak at the polls this coming November.

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

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.

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

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

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 4, 2011

In recent weeks and days, there seems to be another controversy raging within the skeptical blogosphere – this one concerning social interactions between men and women at conferences (and, I assume, in general).  In short, some guys are acting like douchebags and they’re not getting the message.  Since I just returned from Skepchicon/Convergence 2011 in Minneapolis where I spent a lot of time with the ladies of Skepchick, I wanted to put in my $0.02 worth on this whole fracas.

First, some background… It seems the whole thing got started when Rebecca Watson of Skepchick wrote about an encounter she had with a man in an elevator in Dublin.  Long story short: the guy propositioned her, and she said no; she also felt somewhat cornered seeing as how she was stuck, alone, in a metal cage with the guy.  Apparently, there were a number of people who thought she handled the situation poorly (especially by blogging about it and noting the inappropriate behavior on the part of the man in question).

Further, PZ Myers of Pharyngula – whom I also hung out with at Skepchicon/Convergence 2011 – has chimed in with his thoughts on the matter in a well-written series of blog posts:

Always name names!

The Decent Human Beings’ Guide to Getting Laid at Atheist Conferences (**If you read no other links, read this one!)

Oh, no, not again…once more unto the breach

I want to spend the remainder of this post just expressing my thoughts on this whole subject.  First of all, ask I stated earlier, I just got done spending four days with the Skepchicks at Skepchicon, where I was in the minority in terms of formal presentations – on every single panel I participated in, I was the only man.  I have no problem with that, because – as I stated in an earlier post about diversity in skepticism –  it allowed me to get a sense of what it is like to be in the minority and to see the various issues from a female perspective.

In addition, I spent a good deal of time with the Skepchicks in a social sense; I even shared a room with a couple of them for the conference.  During that time, I heard them open up about a lot of things that concern them as women, including the reaction from some men regarding this whole backlash against Rebecca Watson.  And that brings me to my next point…

In general, men are much larger and stronger than women, and this – combined with our built-in drive to have sex as much as possible – goes a long way towards explaining why it is that women react the way they do, especially when a guy is being a douchebag.  Think about it from a woman’s perspective, such as in the case of Rebecca in that elevator with the creeper: you are alone, you are smaller, you are weaker, there are no avenues of escape, and there’s this bigger, stronger, and clearly horny guy who wants to do you.  Now the creeper did take “no” for an answer and backed off, but the mere fact that he set up such a situation in the first place is enough to put a woman off.  In a very real sense, the woman in this scenario is likely to feel more like prey than anything else, and that’s not a good feeling.

Unfortunately, most men don’t have this experience because we are usually the “hunters”, but perhaps I can provide some perspective on this for my fellow hetero males.  Years ago, when I was in college, I went to a party with my brother where pretty much everyone was a gay man, except my brother and me.  The word had gone out that we were straight, so all the other guys knew we were off limits sexually and just there to hang out with our friends.  However, one fellow came to the party late and hadn’t gotten the message, and he apparently took a fancy to me.  Now, I know how to take care of myself, but this guy was bigger than me and very clearly interested in me – the fact that he was hopelessly drunk didn’t make things better.  All he did was leer at me from across the room all night, much in the same manner in which a drunken heterosexual man will leer at a woman, but it made me feel very uncomfortable.  I later relayed the experience to some female friends of mine, and their reaction was universal: that’s exactly what it feels like to be a woman!

Get the point, gents?

Allow me to relay another story about something which happened at the Skepchick party this weekend at Skepchicon/Convergence to emphasize my point even more.  I won’t go into much detail given the sensitive nature of the event, but it is worth mentioning, I think.  During the Skepchick party on Friday night, a guy came to the party and went around the end of the bar where drinks were being served and grabbed, bodily and quite aggressively, one of the women serving the booze – and she most certainly did NOT wish to be grabbed and groped.  Fortunately, me and one other person were keeping an eye on things and we immediately defused the situation by escorting the douchebag out of our party; we even went so far as to get him completely ejected from Convergence for his excessive douchebaggery.

My point is that we were in a situation where there were plenty of people around, the woman in question was not a small woman (she was, in fact, larger than her assailant), the situation was quickly and efficiently handled, and even then she was still rather disturbed and shaken up by the whole thing.  I’m certain it’s not something she will forget quickly or easily.  Not only that, but a lot of the other women at the party were pretty upset about it.  It put a real bummer on the entire evening, and I saw – once again – how it is that women can so easily feel threatened by guys who act like douchebags.

In conclusion, I want to try sending a clear message to my fellow men: women don’t dig douchebags.  It’s okay to be a guy, it’s okay to be attracted to women at conferences, it’s okay to flirt with them and even proposition them – provided they are interested as well.  It is NOT okay to be a dick about any of the above behavior.  Such behavior will quickly and justly earn you the title of douchebag.

So, a sensitive and thinking guy might ask, how do I go about behaving in an appropriate manner on these questions?  Here’s a simple solution: try talking to the women you know in your life and asking them.  And then – surprise – take their advice!  Think with the heads on your shoulders, instead of the ones beneath your pants, a little more and you may be surprised at how much progress you can make in your relationships with women.

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Diversity in Skepticism: One White Guy’s Perspective

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 8, 2011

Like many within the skeptical community, I have been reading with interest the recent discussion which has been waged (or, should I say, raged?) on the topic of diversity within the skeptical movement.  Apparently, it all goes back to this article – Why White Men Should Refuse to be on Panels of All White Men – which led to this blog post over at Skepchick.  It also seems that there is a bit of a “storm” of controversy swirling as a result of the discussion generated by these articles.  I think Amy Roth, the author of the aforementioned Skepchick article, articulated it well with the following commentary:

What do you think? Are women and minorities just being ridiculous? Are the majority of public panel seats going to white men because they are the authorities on the topics and have the most interesting and valuable things to say? Should the members of minorities politely and quietly wait in the shadows until someone asks us to be on a panel? Should white men in positions of power speak up and refuse to sit in these circumstances? Is this favoritism, racism or ignorance?

So, since I suffer from the delusion that people care what I think, I shall share my thoughts on the matter here.  To begin with, here are a few reasons why I think some might give a rat’s ass what I think about this issue:

1. I am a skeptic, some would say a slightly prominent one (I remain skeptical of this, but whatever).  As such I sometimes appear on discussion panels at skeptical events.

2. I am white (actually, there’s a surprise here – read on), and I am male.

3. I am on the board of the Women Thinking Free Foundation, a skeptical organization dedicated to skepticism in regards to women’s issues.

4. I am a high school and college teacher, and as such I am in a profession which includes (compared to many other professions) a relatively high percentage of women and ethnic minorities.

I think the question of diversity within the skeptical movement is one we, collectively, should be addressing right now (however messily and/or noisily), especially given the demographics of the wider population and related generational issues.  That is, a generation ago when the modern skeptical movement was in its infancy, it was no surprise that the leaders were white men.  At that time in pretty much any walk of life (on the professional level), most leaders tended to be white men – I’m not saying this was right or wrong, I’m simply stating it as a fact.  As time went on, more and more women and ethnic minorities rightly concluded that they could do the work and contribute to society in a positive manner just as much as the standard white male.  Since that time, society has evolved (in a positive way, in my view) on these issues.

Now there are those who think that perhaps the skeptical movement is a bit behind the times in this sense, while there are those who think there is no issue to discuss.  Personally, I find myself agreeing with certain aspects of both these views (the notion that one must be “on one side of the issue or the other” is a false dichotomy, I believe, as such complex issues are not black-and-white).  Allow me to clarify…

I do think that those of us who are beginning to take more of a visible leadership role should be encouraging diversity within the skeptical movement.  I say this for multiple reasons, some which are idealistic and others which are simply pragmatic.  I agree with the idealistic egalitarian notion that all people – without regard to gender, race, etc – should have a fair chance to rise through the ranks and present their viewpoints, because someone from a different ethnic background or with different gender experiences than me will be able to approach various skeptical topics from an angle that I, as a white male, simply cannot do.  Please note that I am not endorsing a woo-filled post-modernist notion that “all views are equally valid”; that’s not what we’re talking about here, folks.  We are all still bound by the idea that there must be some kind of objective reality out there that we can interact with and understand using the tools of critical thinking, science, and skepticism.

What I mean is that I must, as a reasonable skeptic, to be willing to consider that I have an inherently limited perspective on certain topics that is the result of my cultural upbringing.  Thus, on topics related to issues of sexuality, gender, culture, and so on I would do well to interact with those who have a broader and different cultural perspective.  In fact, of the times I have participated in various skeptical panel discussions over the years, I have found the most diverse ones to be the most fruitful.

There’s also a practical side to the issue as well: if we wish to spread the skeptical message effectively, then we need to be able to reach out beyond that stereotypical audience from one generation ago – the white male.  As society has become more diverse, so must the skeptical movement become more diverse in order to keep up and avoid being viewed as an anachronism.  For this reason, because I believe in the broad message of the movement, we must encourage more diversity in terms of attendees to conferences and – yes – for participants in speeches, panels, and workshops.

However, in our desire to become more diverse, I must add a note of caution: this has to do with the surprise that I mentioned about my ethnicity above.  We must be very, very careful about making assumptions and snap judgments regarding the background of, say, potential panelists because we skeptics all fall victim to the same biases as everyone else.  Specifically, I am referring to the question of the ethnicity (or, shall I say, the apparent ethnicity?) of a person.  Case in point: I have identified myself as a “white” guy all throughout this article, and – truth be told – I typically self-identify as white/Caucasian when I fill out paperwork and whatnot.  After all, don’t I look white?…

Well, here’s the surprise: I’m about 1/16 Native American, specifically Choctaw Indian.  But I’m betting that you never would have guessed that about me if I had never told you, right?  I certainly don’t look like what many of us might assume a Native American might look like, and there’s the rub.  We skeptics are humans first, and as such we have all the failings of our fellow humans – including the tendency to make unfounded judgments about people based upon their appearance.  Food for thought, folks.

In closing, I would like to share one more observation on this matter: the fact that the skeptical community appears to be having a lively discussion of this topic is a very good thing.  That is because it speaks to the fact that we are a growing demographic, and as a growing demographic we are pushing beyond the once comfortable boundaries into uncharted territory.  That makes some people a little apprehensive, but personally I welcome this development because as skeptics we should be willing to push the edge, especially when it makes some (and even us) a tad edgy.

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

%d bloggers like this: