The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘Rebecca Watson’

SkepchickCON at CONvergence this July!

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 2, 2013

I’m happy to announce that once again SkepchickCON will be taking place at CONvergence this July.  CONvergence is a four-day science fiction and fantasy conference held every summer in the beautiful Minneapolis, Minnesota area.  And specifically, SkepchickCON is a series of science and skeptic-oriented panels and events organized and run by those lovely ladies of skepticism, the Skepchicks. I will also add that yours truly will be appearing on a few panels as well 🙂

For more information on the various panels, events, speakers, and panelists – as well as an opportunity to contribute to SkepchickCON – read on…


Image source

SkepchickCON is the science and skepticism track of CONvergence, a four-day science fiction and fantasy conference held every summer in the beautiful Minneapolis area. This year, we’ll have panels on everything from food science and mythology, science vs. religion, and penises of the animal kingdom to a live riffing on Prometheus with Rebecca, PZ, and MST3K’s Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett.

We’re also hosting more interactive workshops than ever—bioluminescence with microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles, hands-on astronomy with Nicole Gugliucci, and geek art with Mad Art Lab.

Plus, every night, you can meet the Skepchicks and other scientists and skeptics in the Skepchick Sideshow party room, where we’ll have more info on science and skepticism as well as delicious chemistry demonstrations by mixologist Anne Sauer.

You get four days of science, skepticism, and all-around geektasticness for the cost of a CONvergence badge—$60 for all four days if you register by May 15, 2013. In addition to SkepchickCON events, the badge gives you access to everything happening at CONvergence, including all panels and workshops, multiple themed parties, the costume masquerade, and more. …

Click here to read more

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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.

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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.

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Skepticon 3 – The Biggest Skeptic Event EVER?

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 13, 2010

I wanted to pass this along from my friend Phil over at Skeptic Money. If you’re able, see if you can make it; sounds like it’s going to be epic 🙂

Skepticon 3 – 1,800 Skeptics! It Will Be The Biggest Skeptic Event Ever And It’s FREE!

Skepticon 3 is coming Nov 19 – 21 2010.  The event was limited to 500 guests and as of last week it was sold out and there was a waiting list.  All of this and there is still over 3 months before the event.   If only they could afford to get a bigger space.  Well Polaris Financial Planning, the only investment company that specializes in helping skeptics plan for retirement, has stepped up with a donation to put Skepticon 3 in a place that will hold 1,800 skeptics.  Skepticon 3 is now on target to be the biggest skeptic event ever!

Here are some of the reasons to love Skepticon 3

– It’s in the heart of the bible belt!

– It could have as many as 1,800 skeptics in one place!

– This skeptic convention does not give religion a free pass!

– It’s FREE!  Donate Here.

And…. There is an amazing list of speakers!

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Feminism & Skepticism Panel at The Amazing Meeting 8

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 15, 2010

While at The Amazing Meeting 8 this past weekend in Las Vegas, one thing I did was attend the workshop on “Feminism & Skepticism” which was hosted by my pals over at Skepchick. Included in the discussion were Rebecca Watson, Carrie Iwan, Maria Walters, Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy), and Debbie Goddard. Included in the discussion were a variety of topics specific to women (most of which I honestly had never thought of, seeing as how I’m male), along with some fun related to what Rebecca called “Angry Vagina Craft” – LOLZ 🙂

In any case, I decided to attend partly because I am a board member on the Women Thinking Free Foundation, and also because I’m curious to see skeptical things from a female perspective.  I transcribed what I could of the discussion, and I include it below for your edification…

Feminist Skepticism Workshop @ TAM8

  1. What Skepticism is and isn’t
  2. Feminist topics that skeptics can love
  3. Angry vagina craft time
  4. Skeptical topics that feminists can love
  5. Group talk (w/ ray gun of verbosity)

Feminism: (dictionary definition) the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of sexual equality.  This is the kind of definition that Rebecca and many other women go by.


  1. Feminists are man-hating assholes
  2. Feminism is incompatible with skepticism
  3. Feminism is obsolete

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Convergence/Skepchicon Day 3: Women as Skeptical Activists

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 5, 2010

On the third day of Convergence/Skepchicon, I attended the “Women as Skeptical Activists” panel discussion.  On the panel were Rebecca Watson (moderator), Maria Walters, Jennifer Newport, Debbie Goddard, Carrie Iwan, and Pamela Gay.  Especially since I’m a board member of the newly-formed Women Thinking Free Foundation (WTFF), I found the discussion especially interesting.  Read on…

Women as Skeptical Activists

What does it mean to be a woman as a skeptical activist?  What does it mean to be a woman in a subculture which is predominantly male?

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