The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘women’

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

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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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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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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.

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Help Send Women to The Amaz!ng Meeting 9

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 22, 2011

If you have been involved with the skeptical movement for any amount of time, then you understand that women are traditionally under-represented in those circles.  Over the years, there have been more & more women getting involved, but progress is slow and I am of the strong opinion that we should do all that we can to address this disparity as efficiently as possible.

So in the spirit of lighting candles, I want to pass along to you a project in which I’m involved with the Women Thinking Free Foundation and Skepchick Surly Amy: we are doing The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 (TAM9) grants for women.  In other words, eligible women can apply for this grant and, if they get it, they will have their expenses paid (that is, the membership & registration fees for the meeting, not hotel or travel) to send them to TAM9 in Las Vegas this coming July!!! 🙂

Surly Amy provides more details in her blog post over at Skepchick…

Putting our Money Where our Mouth is for Women in Skepticism

It is a fact that women are underrepresented in science and in skepticism and while I may not be able to change the world overnight, I can at least help to change things in my general vicinity right here and now. I have decided to put my money where my mouth is and quite literally get more women involved.

I have spoke with the JREF and I have pledged to pay, out of my own pocket for at least one other women to go to The Amazing Meeting 9 in Las Vegas this year. And I have bigger aspirations. I am going to try to pay for even more women to go!

I have joined forces with The Women Thinking Free Foundation to help me. They will handle the application process so I have time to implement phase two. Phase two is making awesome art you can wear.

I have made (and am in the process of making) a series of LIMITED EDITION TAM 9 Surlies.  Each is one-of-a-kind and hand-painted, ceramic-awesomeness made by me. I am rolling up my sleeves and getting to work to make a palpable difference.

When you purchase a TAM 9 Surly you help us raise the money for MORE women to attend TAM 9. Together we can encourage other women to learn about science and critical thinking AND YOU get an awesome, handmade, one-of-a-kind souvenir. Even if you can not attend the conference you are still a part of making this year’s event better than ever! WIN!

Last year, I helped raise $2,000 for the American Cancer society with the help of Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy. This year, I want to raise money for women in skepticism but I need your help.

You can help out the cause by purchasing a limited edition TAM 9 Surly here. Let’s level the playing field and learn about science and critical thinking together.

Or if you do not want a necklace but still want to help the cause you can click the donate link here and donate directly to the fund.

I can’t promise that I can raise enough for all the women I’d like to send to TAM this year but I promise, I will personally pay out of my pocket to send at least one woman.

More info about TAM 9 can be found here.

To apply for The Surly and Women Thinking Free TAM 9 Membership Grant please download and fill out this form. You can download it as a .doc fill it out and email it to: Grants@womenthinkingfree.org
We will notify the grant recipients via email.

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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.

Myths:

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

Read the rest of this entry »

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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?

Read the rest of this entry »

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AAP Follow Up Statement on Female Genital “Cutting”

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 17, 2010

I blogged a few days ago, in my post Two Steps Forward, One Step Back for Women & Science, about how I thought the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) really frakked up by appearing to give cover to some doctors who want to cater to some parents that want to engage in female circumcision (what I and others refer to as FGM – female genital mutilation).  It is worth noting that this new position on the part of the AAP is particularly striking, seeing as how FGM is against federal law in the United States.

Well, thankfully, the AAP has come out with a statement clarifying its position…

The traditional custom of ritual cutting and alteration of the genitalia of female infants, children, and adolescents, referred to as female genital mutilation or female genital cutting (FGC), persists primarily in Africa and among certain communities in the Middle East and Asia. Immigrants in the United States from areas in which FGC is common may have daughters who have undergone a ritual genital procedure or may request that such a procedure be performed by a physician. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that pediatricians and pediatric surgical specialists should be aware that this practice has life-threatening health risks for children and women. The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes all types of female genital cutting that pose risks of physical or psychological harm, counsels its members not to perform such procedures, recommends that its members actively seek to dissuade families from carrying out harmful forms of FGC, and urges its members to provide patients and their parents with compassionate education about the harms of FGC while remaining sensitive to the cultural and religious reasons that motivate parents to seek this procedure for their daughters.

It looks as if saner heads have prevailed over at the AAP.  You don’t put an end to a destructive, misogynistic practice based upon superstition like FGM by kow-towing to the people who engage in the superstition, and I’m glad the AAP has realized that.

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Two Steps Forward, One Step Back for Women & Science

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 11, 2010

This post is going to be one of those stereotypical “I’ve got some good news and some bad news” kind of stories.  Since I can do nothing to avoid the cliche, I shall sally forth…

Good News! America’s favorite birth control method turns 50 🙂

A world without “the pill” is unimaginable to many young women who now use it to treat acne, skip periods, improve mood and, of course, prevent pregnancy. They might be surprised to learn that U.S. officials announcing approval of the world’s first oral contraceptive were uncomfortable. …

But on the flip side, there is also Bad NewsGroup Backs Ritual ‘Nick’ as Female Circumcision Option 😦

In a controversial change to a longstanding policy concerning the practice of female circumcision in some African and Asian cultures, the American Academy of Pediatrics is suggesting that American doctors be given permission to perform a ceremonial pinprick or “nick” on girls from these cultures if it would keep their families from sending them overseas for the full circumcision.

The academy’s committee on bioethics, in a policy statement last week, said some pediatricians had suggested that current federal law, which “makes criminal any nonmedical procedure performed on the genitals” of a girl in the United States, has had the unintended consequence of driving some families to take their daughters to other countries to undergo mutilation.

So let me get this straight… within a few days of celebrating the 50th anniversary of “The Pill”, probably one of the greatest inventions for sex education of women ever & a great triumph for medical science, the AAP is recommending that its pediatricians consider endorsing superstitious, misogynistic nonsense (female “circumcision” – read “genital mutilation”) as a way of somehow appealing to people who want to mutilate their daughters?  Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

Wow… sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.

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Women Thinking Free Foundation Kickoff Event!

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 6, 2010

There’s a groovy new skeptical group in the Chicago region called the Women Thinking Free Foundation (or WTFF) which has the following mission: Our goal as an organization is to bring science, skepticism and critical thinking to the women of the Midwest. We’re planning some great events, campaigns and outreach programs to help provide women with the tools to fight pseudoscience.

Our first event is to host skeptical activist Jen McCreight, the author of the Blag Hag blog and creator of Boobquake…

Saturday, May 22 @ 7pm

Galway Arms – upstairs banquet room

2442 N Clark St

Chicago, IL

No ticket will be issued, names will be added to the guest list.

Limited metered parking available, $13 unlimited parking available in the Children’s Memorial Hospital Parking Garage at 2515 N Clark.

Tickets will be available at the door, as space permits, and may be purchased with cash or credit.

Questions? Please contact Elyse Anders – elyse@womenthinkingfree.org

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