Skepticism

Gender and the Skeptical Movement

Over the past few months or so, it seems like there’s been a lot of talk around here (and elsewhere) about gender. This being one of my pet topics, I thought this would be a good time to organize my thoughts and get a discussion going. Maybe all y’all can help me figure some things out. If you like it, I may even make a series of it. FSM knows there’s enough material…

I guess I’ll start off with something that sort of bothered me. I know it was like forever ago now, but did anyone else cringe at that bit of the July 9th SGU interview with Randi where they speculated (sans Rebecca) as to why the skeptical movement has trouble attracting women? It was weird. Nothing they said was necessarily disrespectful, and they seemed to be asking the question in a genuinely feminist way (at least they intended to), but I couldn’t help but get the impression that they were talking about women like we’re aliens or something, which strikes me as a huge reason for the problem which spurred the question. Maybe it’s just me. I do wish Rebecca had been there for that discussion, because I’m sure she would’ve had something more insightful to say than, “Well, women don’t like confrontation so they stay away, but we don’t want them to stay away ‘cuz they’re good at teh social stuff.” (I’m paraphrasing here, obviously.) I do love the SGU guys, and Randi, but that conversation hit me the wrong way.

And more recently, it was suggested to one of my fellow Skepchicks that the blog’s content has become too skewed toward “chick stuff”, rather than bringing women into the “mainstream” of the skeptical movement. It immediately struck me that part of bringing women into the mainstream is to make the mainstream aware of issues that affect us as skeptical women, some of which can go completely unnoticed to people who haven’t experienced them. You can’t attract people to the movement if you don’t take seriously the issues that they care about.

I think there’s an underlying tendency for some people to view Skepchicks as the cheerleaders of the skeptical movement: pretty faces standing at the sidelines whose proper place is to support whatever the men at the top happen to be championing at the moment. For the most part, I don’t think this is a conscious thing, but extends naturally out of the larger societal view of women as either sexy or smart, but not both. One of our main goals here at Skepchick is to change that view by being out there and showing our brains and our bodies, putting forward the issues that affect us, and having fun doing it. I’d like to think we’re succeeding at that, but sometimes I don’t know.

In light of the comment mentioned above, I wonder how many other people are simply blind to the brains aspect. I skimmed briefly over our articles over the past couple of months, and saw one or two items relating directly to women’s issues, but mostly a whole lot of news stories, commentary, and book reviews that I would consider to be of interest to the “mainstream” skeptical community, albeit from our various perspectives. Sort of makes me wonder if the commenter even really reads what we write.

I know of a few individuals in the movement who disagree strongly with our approach and seem to think we should emphasize the brains/body dichotomy, cutting out the sexy altogether in order to garner some “legitimacy”. I can’t think of a worse solution. As frustrating as things can get sometimes, feeding into the problem does not solve it. Besides, to do that (at least for me, though I’m sure my fellow Skepchicks would agree) would be to portray a false image. What you see of me here on Skepchick is not a contrived character constructed to make a point or get attention. It is just me (ok, I’m not really a cartoon). I am smart, skeptical, opinionated, and nerdy, and I also have fun (which includes the occasional drink or 3), enjoy my body and my sexuality, and I see no reason to hide any of these things.

My instinct is that if we just keep on being ourselves, unapologetically, things will change. I think things are changing, but socialized norms are tricky things to overcome. Also I think it is crucial that we talk about these things. Making skeptics of all genders examine critically how they think about these issues can only help root out previously unrecognized stereotypes and prejudices, and, hopefully, lead to a more diverse movement.

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177 Comments

  1. At the risk of sounding glib (which is all I have time for right now), keep having discussions like this until gender is no longer an issue. Seriously. The issue should devolve from “getting women into skepticism” to “getting people into skepticism”. I honestly don’t care how many free-thinkers are men or are women, just that the prospect is made equally attractive to everyone.

  2. Just a couple of things:

    First off this:
    I skimmed briefly over our articles over the past couple of months, and saw one or two items relating directly to women’s issues, but mostly a whole lot of news stories, commentary, and book reviews that I would consider to be of interest to the “mainstream” skeptical community, albeit from our various perspectives.

    I agree with this. If this site were mostly about women’s issues I wouldn’t frequent it. Sure I want to see equality and all that goes with it, but quite frankly the meat and potatoes of those issues don’t affect my life much. I think you all do a pretty good job of addressing a large area of interest instead of focusing on one or two things.

    Also:
    I think there’s an underlying tendency for some people to view Skepchicks as the cheerleaders of the skeptical movement: pretty faces standing at the sidelines whose proper place is to support whatever the men at the top happen to be championing at the moment.

    Well, not to be rude but isn’t that what this site is about? In fact, is that not what the whole skeptical movement is? Are we not all cheerleaders of critical thinking? My interperation being that since you are not performing experiments to debunk woo, you are just opinionating, guessing, or reporting. All of which seem like cheerleading to me. And that is just fine. That’s what I am in this race as well.

    I know of a few individuals in the movement who disagree strongly with our approach and seem to think we should emphasize the brains/body dichotomy, cutting out the sexy altogether in order to garner some “legitimacy”.

    I think some people will have a problem seperating a woman’s sex appeal from her intellectual worth. And I don’t think there is much anyone can do to change that. Some people just can’t help but view somebody based on X quality, regardless of any other aspect of their person.

    Some men are only ever going to look at women as sex objects and value them based on their prefrences. Just like there will always exist a KKK on some level. The best anyone can do is marginalize them.

    To that end, blending brains and beauty can only enhance societies impression of the total woman.

    But first you have to get rid of the high profile beauty queen morons who continue to stereotype women. [cough Palin cough]

  3. Honestly, as someone who is a skeptic, a woman, and a feminist, I wish Skepchick would do more to call out silly anti-woman shit I see in the skeptic movement from time to time. But yeah, I understand that I’m in the minority :)

    When I think about it, I guess I’d like Skepchick to champion a more inclusive tone, which y’all already do to a large extent. I read Skepchick (over other skeptical group blogs) because the posters don’t assume believers are stupid or delusional. I think that’s a positive attitude that has helped attract women (or at least this particular woman) to the movement.

  4. To be honest, I’m rather disappointed with the whole skeptical movement. I tried for months to get into it, but I found it was way too.. cold. There wasn’t much emotion except for anger and hatred towards the “believers.” This is why I continue to read Skepchick… women automatically add emotion and depth to the stories and issues, and as a woman.. that is something I need.

    Perhaps the whole reason more women don’t get “into” it is because it seems so masculine. I’ll admit I’m intimidated by the whole thing.

  5. I’m gonna take a wild guess that “chick stuff” is some sort of douchebag code for “feminism”, given that we only had, what, one post about shoes in the past six months?

    One of the problems I myself have with the skeptical community as a whole is a proliferation of alpha male libertarians, the kind who think that they’re so much smarter and more awesome than all the other plebes, so why should their special selves have to pay taxes or follow laws they don’t like (seriously, they need those 20 guns and the rocket launcher, because they’re manly men who have to defend their property!) or listen to what those annoying women who refuse to sleep with him (astonishing, really, considering how totally awesome and manly he is!) have to say. And I have to distinguish with the “alpha male” qualifier because, while I think all libertarians are silly, I don’t think they’re all misogynist douchebags.

    But, anyway, more to the point, there’s something about that “special snowflake” macho libertarian mentality that’s attracted to skepticism for the wrong reasons. Namely, because skepticism gives them an excuse to feel superior to other people and clothe it in the mantle of scientific correctness and intelligence.

    I think these guys are also what folk like AmberEyes mean when they say that skepticism seems “masculine” and “intimidating”. Because for macho skeptics, it’s all about being better than somebody else, and that can be very off-putting to someone who doesn’t care about all that pecking order bullshit.

    (Not that it’s only women who have a problem with that — I do, too, for one — but it’s a situation where the traditional view of the “skeptic” is at odds with what our culture expects of women.)

  6. @seaducer:

    Well, not to be rude but isn’t that what this site is about? In fact, is that not what the whole skeptical movement is?

    I see your point, but I have to say that’s not what I’m in it for. I’m in it to play, not stand on the sidelines and make the real players look popular. I’m guessing Carrie was using that term to draw a similar distinction.

  7. “And more recently, it was suggested to one of my fellow Skepchicks that the blog’s content has become too skewed toward “chick stuff”, ”

    I am fairly new to Skepchick — I’ve been listening to the SGU podcast for over a year now, but have only been frequenting this blog for a few months. And I DO NOT see this. This blog has quite a wide variety of posts. I mean, hell, the AI questions alone tend to be all over the place.

    I do not frequent typical “chick places” because I am not a girly girl and I do not care about normal “chick stuff” — which to me is fashion and gossip. Skepchick is SO MUCH MORE than “just chick stuff.”

    Honestly, I think whoever made that comment has a biased opinion already and probably thinks, because the blog has “chick” in the name, that everything is automatically about and for chicks and that’s that, and obviously does not read this blog regularly.

  8. @Joshua:
    @marilove:
    I think the skeptical community is large enough that everyone can find something to love and something to hate about the community. I don’t care who joins the community or for what reasons, so long as the ideas are propagated.

    People have biases; everyone is prejudiced in some way. People read their own information into posts and content. Some people make these connections and are right and some people are not. I don’t judge anything in the community by any one of its members. I also try not to judge anyone by one comment or one quote.

  9. @Protesilaus: Oh, I don’t know. Someone saying that Skepchick “has become too skewed toward ‘chick stuff'” obviously has not been keeping up on this blog, and/or already has a huge bias. Because … I honestly can’t recall any recent posts that have been “too skewed toward ‘chick stuff'”.

  10. Great post, carr2d2!

    I have a request though. Can we officially step away from the “skeptical movement” thing? The phrase just doesn’t sound right to me. It sounds like something skeptical is about to be shat out onto the ground. “Whoa, I just had a huge skeptical movement.”

    Yeah, that’s gross, but I think it relates to why women may still be seen as having to make inroads. A movement implies that there are leaders in some capacity. And let’s face it, leaders in a movement are usually the ones that started it or that have been around the longest. And those that have been around the longest right now are still old white guys.

    But I think instead we can take cues from people like Genie Scott and Neil Tyson — neither of whom identify as skeptics as much as they identify as scientists and critical thinkers — and focus on promoting a skill set instead engaging in something that by nature can be adversarial, like a movement.

    What I mean is, if we focus on showing people how to think critically, if we promote the brilliance of the scientific method, and if we comment on this blog about how that relates to all human beings, we will not only put the adversarial nature of a movement behind us, but we will eliminate those bullshit “why aren’t there more women in the movement?” discussions.

    You old farts asking that question are in a movement. And I say good luck with that. Knock yourselves out. The Skepchicks and their readers are not in a movement. Skepticism just happens to be what they do. They are taking critical thinking to the masses in their own way. And they’re doing it with style, humor, and while being as sexy as they damn well want to be.

    No one needs to make inroads into a movement to do that.

  11. If skepticism is to truly go mainstream it needs go multi stream. We need chick skeptics, dude skeptics, black/white/yellow/etc. skeptics, kid skeptics, retired skeptics, gay skeptics, straight skeptics, tranny skeptics, and plain old vanilla skeptics.

    I’ve been a skeptic since I was about 12 and saw Randi perform psychic surgery on Carson. I was lucky enough to have a dad that was able to explain to me who this guy was and what his point of view was. It truly changed my life forever.
    But over the years I continually found myself not really fitting in with the movement. I can’t really say why, we obviously shared a philosophy but at the same time I felt like I would never fit with that group.

    The first time I got a sense that I might be wrong about that was when I discovered Penn & Teller were skeptics. This was the first example (outside of myself) of skeptics that didn’t fit a certain mold.

    Over time I’ve discovered more and more of them and now see the movement on the cusp of growing exponentially simply because of groups like skepchik. You help show that skepticism is a way that a person views the world and has nothing to do with the length of their beard. Much like being gay, people are beginning to understand that skeptics are just like them, only they are attracted to reason instead of members of the same sex.

    And some of them are curious or are realizing they’ve felt that way all along.

    I say keep the sexy, it’s fun and I think I heard somewhere that it sells. And frankly we need more smart and sexy in the same package. If people don’t like it there are other blogs for them to read.

  12. seaducer: I think what Carrie meant is not that we’re all cheerleaders (which we are in a sense), but that some people see the Skepchicks as cheerleaders while the men of the movement are the ones really playing the game. IOW the women are sidelined and just used to attract attention.

    That may very well be true in some peoples’ minds.

    I read a lot of skeptic blogs, and Skepchick is one of my favorites. The content here is really good, there are lots of different opinions, and I find that I get to hear viewpoints that are not only different from mine but also from a POV that may not have occurred to me because my background is different than the authors’.

    And I’m not a woman, so right away that’s an important aspect of the opinions here. If I have a blind spot on some issue because of my gender (or race or education or economic status or political affiliation), then I need to know about it. I’m glad this place exists.

    I don’t read Skepchicks because the women here are hot, I read it because of what I said above. The content here is good. That’s the first and best criterion for me to read something.

    I don’t know exactly why there is such an imbalance of men versus women in the skeptic movement. Maybe it’s because it attracted stereotypical science/scifi/geek guys twenty years ago when it got started, and it’s only in recent times that it’s become cool for women to be geeks too. Every year I see more women at TAM, and DragonCon was close to 50/50.

    I find that very heartening. Breaking boundaries and shattering old paradigms is part of what skepticism is all about. The Skepchicks here are doing just that.

  13. Thanks for the great post. This is something that I have definitely been thinking about. I do find the sceptical movement intimidating at times. I have been on so many forums where all you get is constant tedious one-upmanship. On several occasions I have seen some poor newbie being attacked for falling for some logical fallacy even though they had stated that they were new to science and scepticism. Debate and the occasional argument is great, but so is supporting each other or using a little gentle criticism.

    I do sometimes find it hard to be taken seriously because in some ways I am quite girly (I don’t giggle all the time or fall out of my top, but I like glittery nail varnish, handbags and have a worrying fondness for Hello Kitty). But I am also intelligent, well-educated, sceptical and extremely bloody-minded. I am quite techy and can be geeky at times. I kind of feel that sometimes the more masculine women get taken more seriously, but I guess that has always been true that it helps to become more like men if you want to be taken seriously. I must remember not to take my Hello Kitty bag to any sceptical events! ;o)

    I really like this blog, because it takes scepticism seriously, but doesn’t take itself too seriously.

  14. I’ve been following this blog for a number of months now. First of all, I want to say that, as a mature male, I’ve found that around half of the people I deal with on a daily basis are actually female. In my opinion, that makes their problems my problems. Therefore, it doesn’t bother me when “women’s issues” are addressed, because they’re ALREADY “people’s issues”.

    Let’s face it, both women and men are being targeted by conmen trying to get us to enlarge certain parts of our anatomy. Certainly we can bond over that.

  15. Not to twist the subject away from feminism (and me of all commenters to do so), but I’d also like to chime in and say “the skeptic movement” evokes bowel imagery. …And makes it okay to poke fun at god on the sides of UK buses.

    Other than that, I would like to echo Amanda in saying a series on the topic would be beneficial.

    I think, in general, skepticism should lead to pro-gender outcomes. Meaning, once critical thought is slathered on enough slices of life, gender appreciation will also become the norm.

    Mmmn. Gender appreciation. Maybe this is a better term than “gender equality”, which is what I was trying to avoid saying, since my emotional scars still throb when I think of that AI. But the concept I was referring to was, I think more accurately, “equal gender power”. Still, you need both.

  16. I don’t see this site a skewed toward “chick stuff” at all. It’s definitely narrated from a female point of view, but if someone has a problem with that, they should probably not be reading blogs in the first place. I do think this site skews too much toward “comedy” though – everyone is always trying to be funny here. That annoys me.

  17. @Joshua:

    Women can be Alpha libertarian ars*holes as well e.g. Thatcher.

    What are the right reasons to be attracted to skeptisim/critical thinking? What’s so bad about want to have a coherrent logical outlook on life?

    I doubt anyone becomes interested in critical thinking to feel intellectually superiour to others any more than people become interested in chess so they can beat small children at it.

    Besides almost everyone who contributes here is a skeptic and while discussions have been vigourous (whats the point if we all agree on everything?) they’ve always been within the context of critical thinking.

    I think the reason the whole skeptical thing tends to be mainly men is probably due to the fact that those professions which apply critical thinking the most tend to be male dominated (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, STEM) and anyone who’s studied STEM at College will have had training in critical thinking (even if some where asleep when falsifiability came up :-) )

  18. Two more things.

    One, it’s great to see BA posting comments here. BA is the only other skeptical blog I read, actually! …Even if I’m still mad at him for making me lose a point on tkingdoll’s “Hot Skeptic” poll.

    Two, I don’t know if you read Slash7 (Amy Hoy’s blog), but she just posted about women in technology, and I think it categorizes the “mood” that carr2d2 was posting about in the podcast. Namely, that the motives of many men in skepticism are “How can I find a woman to date who will understand what a brilliant [analytical mind I have]?” …or, perhaps more diplomatically, “Women have innate abilities and a way of thinking about things that balance very nicely with male ones, and we’re missing out on that.” …Which may turn out to be bullshit way of saying “girls have boobs and I want to see them”. : ) Anyway, it is a long post, but I think it’s worth reading… if the point is a little vague.

  19. First, @ Joshua: I found myself nodding in agreement at your “alpha male libertarians” remarks. Very well put.

    Now, more generally: I *am* puzzled by the gender imbalance in skeptic circles (which I guess aren’t quite circles, since their asymmetrical), since smart critical thinkers I met in my university days tended to be women more often than men. Maybe this is a generational thing, and there’s just a heavy preponderance of men in the older age categories. Maybe there’ll be more balance as more people in the younger generations get involved.

  20. On the whole sexy/brainy thing. A quick straw poll of colleagues comes down against the calender of nude skeptics.

    To quote someone in the office : “How can you expect to be treated as anything but a sex object if you take your clothes off to sell your ideology?”

    I must admit I’m inclined to agree with her, your rationale must speak for itself, nudity is just an advertising trick and should sway sensible people either way. There I said it

  21. @TheCzech: Perhaps Sam’s comment isn’t eligible for a COTW, but it is eligible to promotion to a full post.

    And I think it’s a topic that’s been on plenty of people’s minds, so it would drum up lively conversation on its own

    …AND it would avoid derailing this discussion, which should really be about gender.

    So: I hosey Sam promotes his comment to a Post.

  22. @russellsugden: I couldn’t possibly disagree more. “How can you expect to be treated as anything but a sex object if you take your clothes off to sell your ideology?” is so incredibly close-minded, it makes my brain burn.

    (Phil, where’s that “the stupid, it burns” picture?)

    Wow, I’m actually too stunned to coherently argue the point.

  23. I was a geek girl long before I was a skeptic, so I’ve always been a proponent of the “sexy AND brainy” thing. It’s how I identify myself, and it’s who I’m going to be, and you can’t separate the two. To find a whole community of women and men who live by that here at Skepchick is just awesome.

    And yeah, I know that the term “skeptical movement” is kind of weird, but again, to find a community of people who think that science rawks and critical thinking is super-important has been such a wonderful thing.

    No, Skepchick does not focus on “women’s issues” and I like it that way. Like some of the other commenters here, I wouldn’t read it every damn day if that were the case! Just be yourselves, keep doing what you’re doing, and let the discussion roll on from there.

    Awesome post.

  24. @TheCzech:

    and

    @JRice:

    Thank you. I appreciate the kind words. Perhaps we can revisit my comments as a full post later. Right now, I’m really digging all the comments on this thread.

    Like this one:

    @GrumpyAmy:

    I do find the sceptical movement intimidating at times. I have been on so many forums where all you get is constant tedious one-upmanship. On several occasions I have seen some poor newbie being attacked for falling for some logical fallacy even though they had stated that they were new to science and scepticism. Debate and the occasional argument is great, but so is supporting each other or using a little gentle criticism.

    I know all too well what you’re talking about here. It goes back to the adversarial nature of movements I mentioned earlier. Folks often seem hair-triggered for a “I’m right. You’re wrong” type of response, even to newbies.

    I think that sort of behavior turns a lot of people off; men and women.

    My participation in some highly popular forums has diminished almost completely because of that attitude.

    Instead of taking the time to show folks (whether new skeptics or hardcore magical thinkers) how they might have looked at something the wrong way in a civil manner, so that they wouldn’t make that mistake the next time, there was way too much “get a load of this guy” going on.

    Of course, I’m speaking generally here. Not everyone is online for a fight or to feel superior to others. But I really enjoy the vibe on this blog more than those other places, because we talk about the same topics and issues, but there is a lot less of that attitude.

    And if anyone wants to call the type of discourse here “chick stuff”, then I say let the chick stuff roll.

  25. Hi there!

    Something about this post reminds me of the Great Joss Whedon’s response to the question: “Why do you always seem to write strong female characters?”:

    Joss: “Because you’re still asking me this question”.

    I usually like to think of myself as a feminist, even though I’m very much a boy-type-person. I agree with 90% of all the things that most feminists stand for. I think that women should get equal pay, that they should be treated equally in the workplace. I think that it’s mind-numbingly awful that the media seems to delight in characterizing Sarah Palin as a typical ditzy female, and not as the Right-Wing Christian Conservative Nutjob that she really is. (not that those stereotypes are incompatible, but come ON, who cares what she’d look like in a bikini?!) I thought we were past viewing women as some sort of weird mutation from the human species. I thought we’d matured! But it seems like we as a culture still have a long way to go.

    Okay, so why only 90%. [deep breath] This is where I get myself in trouble.

    Now, now … [cringe] Bear in mind that I’m generalizing here, and this is the one aspect of conventional feminism that I see a surprising LACK of, on this board, but …

    I was always of the opinion that chauvinism in our society comes from the tyranny of our patriarchal Judeo-Christian origins in this country. That women are meant to be kept DOWN, and that MEN are the superior sex. To that end, men are expected to be virile and sexual, whereas women are meant to be pure and virginal. A guy who sleeps around is a STUD, but a woman who sleeps around is a SLUT.

    The majority of feminists that I speak to, seem to think that this is unfair, and represents a double standard. A man who sleeps around is actually a DOG, and a MISOGYNIST, and should be ashamed of himself. :(

    But then a WOMAN who sleeps around is obviously DEGRADING herself, and allowing herself to be treated like an OBJECT, and should likewise be ashamed of herself. Like, really??

    It just seems to me that every time a feminist talks about degradation and objectification, she’s reinforcing the conservative judeo-christian stereotype of sex=bad.

    Which would explain why so many feel that the Skepchick calendar is shameful and objectifying, but the Skepdude calendar, is perfectly okay. It’s as if men BY DEFFINITION cannot be degraded by being naked. o_O

    Again, that’s something that I haven’t seen on this message board. I’ve seen a lot of posts about sex and sexuality which do NOT follow the typical American puritanism, and I think it’s great. I just wish that the majority of the feminist movement didn’t seem to think that women talking about sex and publishing nekkid calendars of themselves didn’t somehow threaten women’s rights for everyone. :(

    Okay, I’m going to stop talking now before you come after me with the torches and pitchforks. Somehow every time I talk about feminism, I wind up needing to hide in my basement for a few weeks afterward. [flees]

  26. Sorry that I’m just catching up on this very interesting post and discussion! I agree with the bulk of Carrie’s post, well done. When the issue first came up (behind the scenes at the virtual Skepchick HQ) I was happy to hear that Teek’s friend felt we were heavy on the “chick” aspect. I always feel that we can do a better job of highlighting the issues that specifically affect women. I think we do a wonderful job of hitting general news and info as well, with our own special brand of quirk and snark, but the fact that we’re all (but one) women is something really special, and not to be wasted. So, I love seeing more articles that specifically address issues that are important to women. I also feel that those articles are well-written and interesting enough to appeal to male readers as well.

    @muddgirl: You’re not in the minority. I, and a lot of other readers (judging by past surveys) would like to see Skepchick writers posting more unique, investigative content. Ultimately I’d like to get to the point where we’re actively investigating claims.

  27. @russellsugden: maybe it’s too ingrained for you to see, but your comment is based on the preconception that sexy and smart are mutually exclusive. the point of the calendar is not to lure people to skepticism via nudity. it’s to show that skeptics can be more than just brains with beards. it’s a celebration of skepticism and sexuality. i happen to think it’s pretty fantastic.

  28. @carr2d2: And, it’s not like you only had a chick calendar. You have a dude calendar, too! Dudes can be skeptical and sexy as well, just like women.

    Skepchick, to me, says that skepticism can be sexy. For ANYONE involved, regardless of sex.

  29. @Draconius: actually i completely agree with you. though i think you’ll find that modern feminism has largely done away with much of the sex-negative bullshit. but yeah, everyone should express their sexuality however they see fit, so long as they are respectful to their partners. let’s get over our hangups already!

  30. This is like the women in science thing. People are concerned that there are many more male scientists than female scientists. They see this as the problem, then seek a solution. A logical solution to this problem is to make efforts to get more women into science. Except that the gender ratio isn’t the problem, it’s a symptom of some deeper problem. It just let’s you know that the problem is there. Somewhere, there’s something that’s preventing women from getting into science. Not just any women, but the specific individuals who would be scientists if these barriers didn’t exist. (This, of course, assumes that the biology has a negligible impact).

    I remember seeing some old photo that I think was a bunch of Nobel Laureates (or something like that). It was all these old dudes with beards and suits. Also, there was Marie Curie. I thought that roughly half of those dudes shouldn’t be there. Somewhere, some other person who was more capable than them had been prevented (I don’t mean intentionally) from achieving their full potential. The reason they were prevented had something to do with them being female. (Again, this assumes the biology is not important). Somehow Marie Curie was able to overcome this, but she was the exception.

    Now it seems that every week I get an email about some new funding source specifically earmarked for women, or some workshop for women in science. It’s too late. This will either attract somebody who wouldn’t otherwise be interested, or it will simply give an unjust preference to someone because of their gender. Something prior to this has gone wrong. If something squeezes the curiosity out of girls, it can’t just be squeezed back in by discriminatory behaviours later. It would seem more effective to focus on encouraging the most capable people at all stages. What is the benefit of promoting less competent people simply because they happen to be women?

    I see parallels with the skeptic thing. “What can we do to more women involved?”. Figure out what you’re doing that’s keeping them away in the first place. Once you’ve figured it out, decide if it’s worth it to you to stop doing that. If it’s not something you’re doing, but something that’s happening at earlier ages/stages, then try to figure out what you can do to help remove these problems. And when some women do get involved, don’t complain and act all surprised if they act a little more girly than you are used to. Jiminy Cricket, it’s called “Skepchick” and they shouldn’t ever discuss “chick stuff”?

    I’m not here because of chicks or nude calendars, but just because there seems to be a higher concentration of rational, level-headed conversation than at other sites I’ve perused.

    I am a Hedge

  31. @Draconius: Well, I think that the problem is that it’s a little more complicated than that.

    There are many, many of what you might call “pro-sex” feminists: feminists who consider the patriarchal oppression and objectification of women’s sexuality to be an offense, and who intend to correct it in their own way (i.e., by enjoying having sex whenever they want).

    The problem, I think is the excess: at what point does an individual stop having sex just because she wants to, and start sleeping around because she feels obligated to, or is forced into through social pressures?

    Because the system we have right now is not one that simply abjects female sexuality–it divides it into a dichotomy between virgin and whore; a woman must exist either as an asexual, “pure” being, or else she must be sexually available at all times, and, indeed, define herself according to that sexual availability.

    The objection to women degrading themselves (Ariel Levy talks about this in her book Raunch Culture) is less about trying to re-oppress female sexuality as it is pointing out the societal pressures that lead to raunchy hyper-sexuality.

    Guys are actually in a similar position: the objection to a guy sleeping around is not any embrace of sexuality is bad, its the excess, and subsequent mistreatment of his partners, that’s the problem.

    All that is the tangled mess of sex theory is an attempt to extricate personal preferences for sex (or the lack thereof) from culture obligations towards it.

  32. @Im a Hedge: “What is the benefit of promoting less competent people simply because they happen to be women?”

    I can think of at least four.

    First, affirmative action works.

    Second, it is an appreciation of diversity.

    Third, you can’t change a system if you don’t change the system. Inviting those who haven’t been part of the system to participate will help change it for the better.

    Fourth, bias. The criteria that are currently used to “objectively evaluate” candidates is slanted toward the incumbent ideology, because it was created by incumbents, is defined by incumbents, and because incumbent attitudes and approaches are systematically evaluated as “better”. When you have larger participation by minorities, these are more likely to change.

  33. What skepchick has done (going all the way back to when Rebecca was doing this all by herself) is given people a unique perspective of the world around them, and as skepchick became larger by including more fantastic women (and one awesome dude) to write and share, their varied perspectives allowed anyone to be able to relate somehow. It doesn’t matter what’s between your legs, it’s about what is in your mind that truly matters, and that is what defines sexy :)

  34. @JRice:
    Your comment is feel good bullshit and you know it.

    If you were completing 50% more projects than a coworker, didn’t get a raise, and that coworker did just “to appreciate diversity” you wouldn’t put up with it year after year.

    Objectively, employees are evaluated by the most competent people, those who have proven their work ethic & skill set required to advance.

  35. @JRice:

    First, affirmative action works.

    I don’t want to derail this thread into an affirmative action discussion (though I acknowledge I raised the topic first). I’ll quickly summarize what I think, and maybe we’ll have an opportunity to go into greater detail in a future discussion. I only skimmed the link you provided, but I found the section where various definitions of Affirmative Action are presented. In general, I only believe one of these to be (potentially) just, that being, “outreach to broaden the pool of eligible individuals to include more members of specific groups”. This, too, can be unjust in application.

    Second, it is an appreciation of diversity.

    It may be, but that doesn’t make it just or produce any greater results (in terms of greater knowledge and innovation). I am also not convinced that diversity per se (look, I used latin – you must concede) is a legitimate end.

    Third, you can’t change a system if you don’t change the system. Inviting those who haven’t been part of the system to participate will help change it for the better.

    Yes, but I think this is the wrong place to be changing. You don’t want to change it just to change it. There’s a problem that you want to fix. If the problem you want to fix is the ratio of male to female, then AA-type actions can solve that problem. My point is that the male/female ratio is a symptom of a more significant problem, and simply tinkering with the ratio too far downstream does not correct the more significant problem.

    Fourth, bias.

    I’m glad you put this last, so we can end on agreement. If there’s bias that is working against the most capable, then it should be dealt with. If someone turns down a highly capable woman in favor of a less-capable man, that is a problem.

    I am a Hedge

  36. I really like this site and I never once thought of it as cheerleading for some undefined skeptical movement. I think intelligent women are far more fun and interesting to be around than dumb ones, but then I feel the way about men, too. I’m just not interested in being around dumb people of any gender. ;-) This is a very intellectually sharp and fun group to be part of.

    Ultimately, this issue will be around until we all learn to see and honor each other for what we are, not what we look like. That is one of the most compelling things for me about Star Trek’s Federation, as well as other s/f universes where that is the normal worldview.

    How the Hell can we expect intelligent aliens to even want to make contact with us when can we can’t even live with each other?

  37. … and to @Marilove, @carr2d2, @Braak, and @Writerdd:

    I totally realize that I am generalizing like a fiend. I know that not ALL feminists are sex-negative, and sure, there are sexist guys out there that do treat women like disposable masturbatory aids and should be smacked upside the head.

    But I’m still surprised that I do still see sexual negativity from those that I would have thought to be more progressive. It’s like when I meet people who worry about gay marriage. I just want to check my calendar to make sure I haven’t slipped back to 1953.

  38. the larger societal view of women as either sexy or smart, but not both.

    Okay, that line is the only one in the post that bothered me. I don’t see how you can have sexy without smart. Stupid isn’t sexy. Smart is sexy. Stupid is boring. Its boring in and out of bed. Boring sex is bad sex.

    Otherwise I really enjoyed what you had to say. Skeptic preach on sister.

  39. Being a feminist for years but a late comer to the Skeptical Movement (or whatever you decide to call it) I find the fact that there are not only women skeptics out there but loud, opinionated, well read, articulate, sexy, smart, awesome, and friendly women skeptics out there to be refreshing and empowering.

    Y’all give me something to aspire to.

    Is this blog too girly? Nope. Are there too many “chick” things going on here? Nope.

    At least not in my opinion.

  40. @braak: …who are conflating “sex-positive” with “hyper-sexualized.”

    This is something I have wondered about as well… I am a sex positive feminist who refuses to live by the double standard of negative sexual attitudes that society tries to instill. (The first time I was called a feminist actually was because I was engaged in a sexually positive activity.)

    I don’t think the calendars are a sign of hyper sexuality… I think that sex is such a HUGE part of who we are that to ignore its influence would just be silly. Combining sex with skepticism seems to just make sense, since we combine sex with everything else out there.

  41. @Kaylia_Marie: Yeah, I think that’s about right. It’s kind of why making a calendar like this, for example, and decrying the “Girls Gone Wild” phenomenon, isn’t really a double standard. I think there’s more to it than just, “You are either in favor of sex, or against it.”

  42. @Im a Hedge: I’ll agree that affirmative action (AA) (and I don’t think it’s THAT off-topic, as long as we watch ourselves) is, at some level, unjust. I think that’s the point. It’s kind of like redistribution of wealth. …Where a lib could argue that taxation is “unjust”–and on some level be right–the purpose of it is a redistribution of wealth.

    The same is true for AA, but it’s redistribution of power, rather than wealth.

    And I think diversity is a proper aim if the target level of diversity is to match the diversity of the population from which you are drawing your candidates. There are lots of problems with this, and I don’t want to go into all of them here, but on the whole, if you’re university (say) is in a population that’s 40% Hispanic, then altering your admissions criteria to reach a 40% Hispanic enrollment is justifiable.

    “My point is that the male/female ratio is a symptom of a more significant problem, and simply tinkering with the ratio too far downstream does not correct the more significant problem.” …And my point is that it is much better than doing nothing. : )

    Of course if you have a solution to the problem that’s further up the causality change, it would be preferable. In the meatime, AA works. ; )

    To draw an admittedly silly analogy (and feel free to argue with this point, it’s meant to be silly-ish), this is like forcing a depressed person to smile (even with Botox). Sounds silly! How could this solve the problem?!? It’s a band-aid! A feel-good bullshit answer, and I know it!

    …And yet it works.

    And as for turning down capable women, that’s clearly a problem. The more subtle problem is one of defining “capable” in a way that isn’t biased toward men.

    Also, on a personal note, I’m quite pleased to see you argue so well. I’ve long enjoyed your humor, so it’s good to know you have good form when you’re serious. ; )

  43. Eeesh. As much as I hate those “oops, I mean to say so-and-so” comments, I’ve gotta say:

    1) I meant “your University”… that’s a nails-on-chalkboard mistake, and

    2) “causality chain“, cause change makes no sense whatsoever and it’s not clear what I meant!

  44. I think a lot of what’s posted *is* because it’s important to women. But a lot of those things are also important to men. So I think another purpose (intended or not) of this website, is that it shows where we are the same as well as where we are different. So does it make it “chick stuff” just because Skepchick is talking about it? Sure. But does that mean men can’t relate to it? Of course not.

  45. Kimbo, exactly. It bothers me that the assumption seems to be that topics women are interested in are somehow “out of the mainstream” by definition. And I think that’s part of the problem, that women need to be brought into the “skeptics movement” as it currently exists, rather than making the community more inclusive.

    Personally, a big part of the reason why I enjoy reading Skepchick, is because of the tone of discussion here. As other people have pointed out, there does seem to be a culture of macho one-upmanship in the the male-dominated skeptical communities. On one board I browsed, there was also a lot of sexism couched in evo-psych terminology. Why would I want to join a group like that?

  46. Dunno. You’re talking about gender – but you might as well be talking about diversity in general. I was so excited to see some different colored skin at Dragon*Con – and yet when I went up to thank those folks for being there I couldn’t do much better than say that I appreciated their attendance, hoped they felt welcome – and they said they did.

    But white hetero males don’t have any monopoly on critical thinking. And I’ve heard it lamented frequently that women aren’t encouraged to enter math and science careers – but what about minorites and homosexuals and transgendered folks?

    EVERYBODY needs good critical thinking skills. Maybe everybody isn’t educated enough to enjoy the SGU, Skeptic, Skeptical Inquirer, Skepticality, the JREF… but Pen & Teller are fairly accessible, right? At least to white guys…

    Again with my lead in: Dunno. But it makes me happy to know that we’ve got Julia Sweeney, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson in our ranks.

    I celebrate diversity in our minority – but am glad to see anybody who shows up to stand for science, critical thinking and the pursuit of truth.

  47. @PeggyK: Kimbo, exactly. It bothers me that the assumption seems to be that topics women are interested in are somehow “out of the mainstream” by definition.

    Man, that’s so right on the mark. It’s like the default person is male! Which is totally screwy, since half of the default people are actually female. I mean no-one says that topics of interest to men are outside of the mainstream. OK, maybe Nascar. I’m not sure about that.

  48. Thanks for posting this Carrie. Great perspective and I hope this is just the first of a series.

    I know some of the feedback I receive about the calendars seems to be an less articulate wrestling with the brains or body falsehood.

    It’s as if some folks (or perhaps all of us?) have precise guidelines for what makes it ok to have one or both of these things be facets of the whole, and when that precision is challenged things get a little wonky.

    I’m always interested in the human interaction aspect of gender identity, and this is a perfect example of how subtle pressure can flummox our understanding of it.

  49. With any policy decision there are two broad questions. Does it work? Is it just? If the answer to both is “yes”, then we have a winner, and we would be confused by anyone opposed to it. If the answer to both is “no”, then we have a loser, and we would be confused by anyone in favor of it. When it’s yes/no or no/yes we get into more subtle areas, often involving value judgements. Of course, the question, “Is it just?”, will often include value judgements and various understanding of what is just.

    With AA, I think it is rarely, if ever, just. It is an attempt to remedy improper discrimination through improper discrimination. The perpetrator of the original discrimination is rarely the victim of the remedial discrimination, and vice versa.

    “Does it work?” involves considering lots of data (which I haven’t done), and also requires a careful definition of success. If adjusting the ratio of women to men in science is success, then it may work. If increasing knowledge and innovation is success, then I don’t see AA as likely to achieve this.

    So I answer the questions:
    Is it just? No.
    Does it work? Probably not (but I’m open to the evidence)

    So for me, it becomes an easy decision.

    Of course if you have a solution to the problem that’s further up the causality change, it would be preferable.

    […crickets chirping…]

    this is like forcing a depressed person to smile (even with Botox)

    Or give them Zoloft. Wait, that’s another thread…
    It’s not such a bad analogy after all. Do we want the person to feel better, or do we want the outward appearance to be less offensive?

    The more subtle problem is one of defining “capable” in a way that isn’t biased toward men.

    In some fields, “capable” may be necessarily biased towards men, in others towards women. Capable is what it is, and shouldn’t take gender ratios into account (in general. There may be specific cases where it’s valid to do so). Tying this back to the area that got me worked up, I fail to see how gender impacts one’s ability to identify new malaria vaccine candidates. Taking gender into consideration in this case can either be irrelevant, or result in delays in finding a good malaria vaccine.

    Also, on a personal note, I’m quite pleased to see you argue so well. I’ve long enjoyed your humor, so it’s good to know you have good form when you’re serious. ; )

    Aww, shucks…

    I am a Hedge

  50. @writerdd:

    It’s like the default person is male!

    While the default person is actually female. Which is why men have nipples, but women don’t have a scrotum.

    Maybe people are confusing us with fruitflies. The default fruitfly is male (kind of).

    I am a Hedge

  51. @Im a Hedge: Skipping the AA stuff, ’cause now it smells like it’s gone off-topic…

    “It’s not such a bad analogy after all. Do we want the person to feel better, or do we want the outward appearance to be less offensive?” Err… actually, what I meant was that smiling actually reduces the symptoms of depression. For the depressed person in question. Strange but true. Another example of this is actors who get really sucked into their roles.

    Going through the motions often actually makes the underlying changes. It’s one of those areas were correlation does have something to do with causation!

    But… this is also off-topic. It just happens to be one of the areas I like most about psychology, so I like to bring it up. ; )

    “I fail to see how gender impacts one’s ability to identify new malaria vaccine candidates.” …Because you don’t hire scientists based on their ability to come up with malaria vaccine candidates. That’s very much my point. Currently, we tend to hire scientists based on school grades and slick resumés and (largely male) references and male ideals of what a “good scientist” really should be.

    Patriarchy. It’s what’s for dinner.

    Uhhh …If you’re eating power.

    Okay, that totally doesn’t work.

  52. Joshua said:

    But, anyway, more to the point, there’s something about that “special snowflake” macho libertarian mentality that’s attracted to skepticism for the wrong reasons. Namely, because skepticism gives them an excuse to feel superior to other people and clothe it in the mantle of scientific correctness and intelligence.

    Why is this a “wrong reason”? Well, for starters, it suggests that they will turn off their critical-thinking faculties when they feel their superiority threatened. The stupid bullshit they say then has an audience (say, TAM 6) which it doesn’t deserve, thanks to the reputation they’ve built as a critical thinker. That can’t be a good thing.

  53. “I think there’s an underlying tendency for some people to view Skepchicks as the cheerleaders of the skeptical movement.”

    Hmm, maybe it’s the picture of the skepchick dressed in the cheerleader’s uniform in the 2008 calendar :) … Seriously though, as much as I like the blog, I am one of the people put off with the degree of hero-worship (certain writers, astronomers, etc.).

    “For the most part, I don’t think this is a conscious thing, but extends naturally out of the larger societal view of women as either sexy or smart, but not both.”

    I can directly attest, from personal knowledge, that skepchick(s) are, in the flesh, both sexy AND smart.

    “My instinct is that if we just keep on being ourselves, unapologetically, things will change. I think things are changing, but socialized norms are tricky things to overcome. Also I think it is crucial that we talk about these things.”

    In my opinion (again, I love the blog), there are certain areas which are often ignored but are begging for skeptical discussion, such as economics and politics. So when one skepchick decided to pose an AI about the financial bailout a few weeks ago, she actually did so apologetically. The issue is serious, and she should not have to apologize just because people tend to have emotional responses (often irrational) to political issues.

  54. Awesome post !

    Hmm, I always feel a bit fake saying ‘awesome’ with my British accent.

    Anyway, I wanted to chip in and say that I make an effort to write about things which I think affect or would interest women specifically, but are interesting generally (waxing, etc). We have a general readership after all. I think this approach works, but I also don’t hesitate to write about things which have nothing to do with women, without having to put too much thought into the balance. I think the site is very well balanced generally. If I wasn’t a writer here I’d certainly be a loyal reader. I see it more as a meeting place of geeks than a female thing I guess, but I do like the fact that we attract other geeky women, there are few enough of them in my immediate circle.

  55. @TheSkepticalMale: “In my opinion (again, I love the blog), there are certain areas which are often ignored but are begging for skeptical discussion, such as economics and politics.”

    The only problem with that is that some of the few times when those subjects have been discussed, it brought out the inner jerk in far too many people here.

  56. @TheCzech: Yes, but I find that skeptical discussion leads to critical thinking, which is the best cure for inner jerk disease … Personally, I’m here to be educated and challenged, not to be told I am right … Given the nature of skepticism (i.e., open-mindedness), I would like to believe that most of the other bloggers/commenters feel the same way and that there are no sacred cows.

  57. There are no topics that are not improved by the liberal application of critical thinking. One of the reasons I like this blog is that it brings up topics that I don’t read about anywhere else.

    There is a getting down to brass tacks element to getting more women involved with skepticism. A great deal of the woonackery advertising is directed at women. By being male dominated, the skeptical movement is underserving society.

    @ carr2d2: In reference to the SGU podcast avec Randi sans Rebecca, in my experience as a professional nerd, as far as a group of nerdy males like that is concerned, women are aliens.

    @ TheSkepticalMale: My grandfather once, literally, ate a sacred cow. It was terrible.

  58. @carr2d2 – From the other half of “the droids”, allow me to say how proud of you I am. This post was a long time in the making, and it is so great seeing it do this well for you. Without you carr2d2, I’d be lost in the deserts of Tatooine ~

  59. And more recently, it was suggested to one of my fellow Skepchicks that the blog’s content has become too skewed toward “chick stuff”, rather than bringing women into the “mainstream” of the skeptical movement. It immediately struck me that part of bringing women into the mainstream is to make the mainstream aware of issues that affect us as skeptical women, some of which can go completely unnoticed to people who haven’t experienced them. You can’t attract people to the movement if you don’t take seriously the issues that they care about.

    I think you got this exactly right. The implication I get from that commenter is that the women whom we are trying to “bring into the mainstream” are going to be “brought in” rather than actually affect where the mainstream is. If they want men to dictate where the mainstream of the movement is, and women to stand by and participate only when they have suggestions that the “mainstream skeptics” find acceptable, is it any wonder women are reluctant to identify with the skeptical movement?

  60. I think that for people on the outside looking in, who still have very gender-biased thinking, it may be difficult for them to actually see the skepchicks. I actually remember when I was young, hearing a friend of my grandfather’s once say to my mom that a woman should be ‘seen, not heard’. My dad, who was a mostly traditional redneck (with the apparent exception of some thoughts on women’s standing in relationships), even called him out on the absurd statement, and I remember not really being involved in the heated discussion that followed, but that the comment struck me as a near sentencing of myself to a life that seemed already laid out for me. I was taught as a kid that my calling was to essentially get married and have lots of babies and stay at home – not exactly something that sounds very thrilling for an ambitious and curious little troublemaker like me. The same guy that made that comment, though, was very talented at ignoring women and children and he sired his own set of offspring who were also quite good at the same thing. The women in that family were treated very poorly and (interestingly enough) seemed to simply accept their roles.

    I suspect that this kind of attitude, though not nearly as common now as it was back when my grandfather’s friend was young, may be affecting how people view science, skepticism and social movements. If someone’s brain is already geared to ignore something, it is tough to retune it to stop doing that and it may even take a few generations before that habit is no longer mimicked by one’s own offspring. It isn’t the case that the people in the SGU discussion thought the same way as that silly old man, but it is possible that they are somehow affected by it without even being aware of it.

    That being said, women coming out of the ether may very well seem like aliens when the previous world environment had been ignoring them. It is annoying when we see it tossed back at us, but it seems like the best we can do is keep helping them feel more comfortable for us being here. Just keep plugging away, they’ll catch on.

    Regarding the sexiness with brains, well, brains ARE sexy! Also, there are times when it is great to be taken seriously and times when it is great not to be taken seriously, there’s no reason why one post that should be taken seriously should be discarded when there are past posts that should have not been taken the same way. The variety found on skepchick is one of the reasons it is so appealing and being able to supply that diversity also shows that there is much more to the people it represents than just a serious academic discussion or two or three or five ….

    Also, why does sexiness always get pushed to the side when people think ‘serious’? Sex is neither serious or not serious so it is silly for people to try to make the entire group of sexual things that people do fall under either term. Not only does claiming that intellectual discourse is somehow devalued, when participants let out their sexy side, detract from the entire message sent, you’re unnecessarily reinforcing the idea that sexuality must be kept separate from valued human behaviors; you’re reinforcing the idea that sex is somehow taboo and a part of an evil human underbelly of behaviors. Stop that! We need sex and we need our sexual behavior even when we’re picking people’s silly ideas apart as we utilize information from great minds like Tyson, Plait, Hawking, Randi and whatever other random brainy people you can think of.

  61. Quote: “ok, I’m not really a cartoon”

    Well, I always feel as if everyone on the Internet are cartoon figures. It’s a distort of reality – I know – that gets on to me whenever I see a bunch of text next to a cartoon avatar. I guess the child is still somewhat in me.

    It’s how Internet has become a virtual reality environment of itself. But I digress.

  62. Draconius, Draconius, Draconius – Perhaps I shall escape the evils of Judeo-Christian misogyny and live in India … no, that doesn’t work … how about Saudi Arabia … heck no … China … a little better but … If you want to hate Christianity, go right ahead but at the end of the day the difference between abolishionists and slave owners wasn’t their religions, it was their humanity.

    Skeptical women are smart and sexy – you bet. And that is why there are more men in the movement than women … we include the slobbish, unsightly, terminally geeky, etc. All it takes to be a male skeptic is a pulse and the phrase “straw man”. But who knows, maybe Rebecca will equalize the numbers with her sharp witted comments on SGU driving us back into the shadows to roll dice and translate logical fallacies into Klingon.

    Alas, under the new regime I shall never be sexy enough to be skeptical … maybe Sylvia Brown has room for me?

    Okay, I was going to make a sensible, cogent point, but why ruin the sarcasm? Cheers.

  63. Carr2d2 remember how difficult it must be for self-confessed science geeks (myself included) to speculate on ways to ‘attract more women’. (sorry if this joke has been repeated a billion times)

    On a serious note, being sceptical should indeed serve the purpose of examining and correcting all opinion, sexism included. In the case you are describing with the whole brains/body dichotomy. I think it’s more a case of people being prudish rather than sexist. Being sexy does not remove legitimacy but it does make a blog more readable. Everyone should just admit they’re sexy and be done with it.

  64. @JRice:

    Skipping the AA stuff, ’cause now it smells like it’s gone off-topic…

    Agreed.

    Err… actually, what I meant was that smiling actually reduces the symptoms of depression. For the depressed person in question. Strange but true.

    I figured you weren’t going there. That’s the risk of trying to interpret, without reading too much into what people say. (I can actually support the fact that I know what you’re talking about .) Still, not a bad analogy, given the point you wish to make.

    Because you don’t hire scientists based on their ability to come up with malaria vaccine candidates. That’s very much my point. Currently, we tend to hire scientists based on school grades and slick resumés and (largely male) references and male ideals of what a “good scientist” really should be.

    I don’t think the grades matter for getting a job. Prospective employers don’t seem interested, they just want to know that you have the degree. Ideally, the slick resume indicates actual ability, but not always. The references are just to make sure you aren’t a jerk. The fact they may be largely males is just the same thing as there being more male scientists than female scientists. I’m not sure in what way male ideals would differ from female ideals regarding a good scientist, but I was trained almost entirely by female scientists, so I may have a skewed perspective.

    I am a Hedge

  65. @carr2d2:
    It’s not that I think smart and sexy are mutually exclusive, but rather sexy is of zero importance in skeptical terms.

    I’m neither for nor against skeptchick/dude calendars, its just I don’t get the point of them or why it is so important to demonstrate being both sexy and smart at the same time when being sexy, unlike being smart, is hardly a character trait of merit.

    I’m more interested in what you think and have to say than how you look. I just don’t care what you look like, I do care about whats going on inside your head a great deal though.

    The only way I can explain my position is to quote T’Pol from Enterprise: “Vulcans don’t take portraits, we are interested in a persons achievments and not their superficial appearance”

  66. @russellsugden:

    I’m neither for nor against skeptchick/dude calendars, its just I don’t get the point of them or why it is so important to demonstrate being both sexy and smart at the same time when being sexy, unlike being smart, is hardly a character trait of merit.

    It isn’t a character trait, it is a physical trait and it can be of merit, though not something of merit that is of any importance on an academic front. The thing is, being attractive is still valued and until we can shut off our sex drives entirely it will always matter no matter what we do. You may not want to see other people’s sexy side, but it is often the case that it is normal and natural for everyone to show that side. Thus, why should it be ok for anyone demand that such a thing gets shut off, even here (especially here).

    I’m more interested in what you think and have to say than how you look. I just don’t care what you look like, I do care about whats going on inside your head a great deal though.

    Much of our sexual beings happens to go on inside our heads.

  67. Why don’t we have more women identifying as skeptical? Poor planning, maybe? Actually, I think we’ve held too long to paternal ideology so that even now, we, as a society, discourage women from stepping outside their traditional roles.

    Maybe some men feel threatened. Many of the women, if not most, that I’ve worked with over the years have been better than I am at whatever job I had at the time. This might be because we filter out many women less than extraordinarily capable early in their careers.

    I, for one, am happy to see smart and sexy women being smart and sexy. I also think it’s fine if you happen to not be sexy, and to a degree that you don’t have control over it, not smart (as long as you aren’t willfully stupid). I don’t think we should bar any from labeling themselves skeptical thinkers for the way they dress or their sexuality (or for some, for a lack thereof).

    Being a skeptic, to me, isn’t about fitting someone’s preconceived notions. I see skeptics from many backgrounds and genders and enjoy the diversity and opportunity to learn. That said, there are the loud and highly visible group that fit the stereotype people seem to expect. I wouldn’t want them to go away, but I think it’s good to notice the rest of us, too. So Girly-Girl skeptics, Macho-Manly skeptics, and the many varieties between, are welcome in my Skeptics Party.

    I have known smart women, pretty women, smart-pretty women, and plenty of all the rest. I’ve known macho guys, smart guys, even a few that combine the two, and my share of the rock-for-brains. To bring in a thought from another forum, another thread, I welcome the unattractive, too (being one, I suppose, helps).

    I welcome any and all to step up and participate. Some, though, enjoy being the cheerleaders, and I welcome them too. I am beginning to believe, however, in our society today, we need more participants, more vocal skeptics, and not just loud atheists.

    Some skeptics are not so welcoming. I consider myself a skeptical thinker, but because I don’t call myself an atheist I often feel looked down upon. Mind you, I’m not a theist or deist, either. It isn’t something I define myself by in any sense. So if these fine folks don’t want to welcome me to their movement – not a problem. They’re welcome to my party, none the less.

    I should make it clear, my party is a virtual event; a life long celebration, even when I’m not actually celebrating, of life. We don’t have to meet up in person, or even at all, so long as you think clearly, wonder aloud and look at the universe in awe.

    We only do this once.

  68. I think this blog is doing a great job influencing the “skeptical movement”. I fit the stereotype of skeptics-a 40 something bald white guy. However, I enjoy reading an discussing this blog along with my wife and 2 teenage daughters. We are organizing a local drinking skeptically group, and we will be sure that it is inclusive with respect to gender and age. We attended London Skeptics in the Pub as part of a family trip last spring (we learned about it here on skepchick) and that convinced my younger daughter that this whole thing is OK.

    Anyway-you all are doing good work-the results may not always be obvious, but they are there, and will eventually bear fruit.

  69. @John Sandlin:
    @russellsugden:

    I tend to agree. I am not the kind of person (woman/person) who identifies myself as sexy. I just don’t. I like sex. Hell, I really like sex, and I have had enough partners who have liked having sex with me and who have used the word… but since the idea is so so so very subjective, I don’t tend to use it on myself.

    Ahh yes, but am I smart? Well… “only compared to some.” When I read this blog and others like it, when I talk to people and continue to try to learn I feel I am getting smarter but compared to the oodles of smart people out there…? I don’t know.

    So you have to be smart, sexy, girly, macho, or whatever… I think the point is to be trying, to be constantly learning, to be skeptical when it is appropriate… and that is the movement that I want to be a part of.

  70. No, no, this whole issue is a false dichotomy with a couple of subordinate logic fallacies and a very dull Occam’s razor. Or have I gotten too Gordian?

    I know, I know. It’s a groaner.

    Seriously though, if I understand my Pinker correctly, I think this all begins to approach a contradiction in brain function, so to speak. A sort of conflict of interest in critical thinking.

    Sex, sexiness, flirtation, attractiveness, physicality, and all that fun blood-and-guts reproductive-based my gene’s bigger than your gene body stuff is all more or less associated with, or sourced from the parts of the brain that are not exactly burdened by a golden reputation for high-level rationality: the R-complex; the pituitary; the fun-loving death-machine building pleasure centres; those chthonic dopa-miners etc.

    Whereas issues of critical thinking, skepticism, and all that cerebral cortexian, brainsy stuff is deeply, if not almost exclusively, associated with or sourced from the part of the brain where the act of, the very concept of, rationality is born.

    Surely much of the phenomena known as sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc., are sourced from the irrational brain bits that are ancestral hangovers from earlier evolutionary needs, then “rationalized”, in the sense of being put into a seemingly (though not really) logical set of supposedly rational actions by the cerebral cortex.

    And certainly brains and sexy can go together. But so what? Bucky Fuller was a first rate mathematician, he aslo liked oranges. There is a brains/body dichotomoy because, it seems to me, they are, in the various ways we are discussing them here, different, separate, individual entities.

    Part of what I’m trying to say is that much of the issues that are of concern in carr2d2’s original post are more than just “socialized norms.” They are issues born of different parts of the brain, some parts of which we have a great deal of conscious, rational control over; other parts for which we do not, and we simply do not evolve quickly enough to effectively and successfully catch up socially with that which is genetic.

    One can be smart and sexy; dumb and dull; brilliant and blah; credulous but come-hitherish; skeptical but sizzling, and any myriad combo therein derived.

    But there is no manifest relationship, and cannot be one, between either side of that particular, and metaphoric corpus callosum.

    Sorry if I am being confusing here. I’m trying to keep my word count down to something below biblical proportions. Also, I don’t really “know” what I am talking about here. I’m just expressing what I “think” about it: hypothesizing. I’ve got to get to work soon, so if I’ve ruffled any feathers I can rebut or apple-oagies later.

  71. Ok I think we’re thinking a little too much about the sexy/smart thing. I think the point (correct me if I’m wrong) is that women are often met with praise for their appearance and surprise for their intellect. There’s stereotypes that sexy women are dumb and smart women are plain.

    What I think things like the Skepchick calendar help promote is that smart women can still be sexy and that’s ok. Being sexy doesn’t take away credibility. And being a skeptic doesn’t mean you have to be all stuffy, lab-coated, and bearded. It helps show that we’re a fun-loving bunch. And I think it promotes looking past people’s initial appearance before judging their qualities as a human being.

  72. It’s simple logic.

    A. Randi has a beard.
    B. Randi is a skeptic
    Therefore,
    C. skeptics have beards

    For my next feat, I shall prove that Randi is a goat.

    A. Goats have beards
    B. Randi has a beard
    Therefore,
    C. Randi is a goat.

    I am a Hedge

  73. @Kimbo Jones:

    I know what you mean, I’m occasionally praised from brains and people are often shocked and appalled by my looks.

    I have huge beard envy as I can’t grow one at all, I only shave once a week (and thats more in hope than necessity) :-( I’d kill to have chest hair….

    and I think:
    “And I think it promotes looking past people’s initial appearance before judging their qualities as a human being.”
    is technically known as “The Hefner Defense” :-)

  74. As the origin of the comment about “chick stuff”, my comments were totally and utterly misunderstood. My point was that Skepchick has become nothing more than a social club for women. It is no longer a source of skepticism, and is certainly not “feminist”.

    The truly infuriating thing is that you use my comment to again support your ridiculous brains/body dichotomy. For starters, there’s nothing about this blog that screams “Brains!”. And what about women who aren’t obsessed with being “sexy”? Besides, the entire premise that men can only see women as either smart or sexy is a strawman AND a false dichotomy. Congratulations.

  75. I’m going to say something that may not be entirely politic. If I understood how you framed the problem of attracting more women the skeptical movement carr2d2, then I believe there is an ideological problem, and that problem is the classification of issues as either “chick stuf” or not “chick stuff,” which both men and women can be guilty of.

    I (fair disclosure, am a male at time of writing) have never gone looking for a “man’s issue” or “man stuff.” It’s never crossed my mind to affiliate myself with an ostensibly all-male group for activism or socialization, and it could be fair to say I’ve never experienced sexism against my gender. That would be false, however. I’ve been asked by a former employer to find someone to fill a vacancy, and to “make sure it’s a woman” and I’ve been not too subtly told that “we’re an all female officer and like it that way,” by a prospective employer. Those are discrimination issues, but those are not issues I look for as a skeptic.

    I look for issues that interest me, enrage me, or engage me. I find Female Genital Mutilation to be an appalling ongoing “human rights” issue not “chick stuff.” I’m pretty sure I’d feel as disgusted by it whether or not I had testicles. The ongoing struggle between reason and religion is a problem that affects us all, regardless of which gender we identify with. I applaud Skepchick’s achievements, but I can’t help but think that it unconsciously perpetuates the idea that skeptical women care about a set of problems that skeptical men don’t which is at odds with what it does so well – namely to show people that skepticism isn’t a mode of that that requires using the restroom with urinals in it, and to be pretty funny and informative.

    I wish I’d been there for the discussion that included the canard “Well, women don’t like confrontation so they stay away, but we don’t want them to stay away ‘cuz they’re good at teh social stuff,” because then I could point to suffragettes, the civil right movement’s women who went also struggled for equality for women, the women who join the military despite its reputation for sexism, women in the PTA, martial arts, politics, law, and all sorts of other fields that require getting in someone’s face.

    However, I don’t think that the influential men in the skeptical movement are generally being sexist, either consciously or unconsciously. Is it too impolite to suggest that the problem may be that some women view discussions about issues that are not explicitly about women as implicitly ignoring women? Maybe the reason more women don’t pay attention to the skeptical movement is because at least some women are socialized not to pay much attention to issues are aren’t specifically aimed at a female audience?

  76. Well I look at the gamer world. Right now 40% of gamers are women. My daughter works at a Gamestop. The majority of people that work there are women. They are able to carry on a good conversation about gaming and the latest games and releases (a must for an employee). At one time a woman working at a Gamestop was a rarity. But the Gamestop people one day said “heck, women now get this stuff too”. For a long time they kept hiring the typical basement living gamer geek (male). Now they find lots of gamers of both sexes, many of which do not live in basements. Maybe it’s generational? When I was young very few women were doctors. It was rare to go see a female doctor. I mean you had to LOOK for one. Maybe some people don’t get that women have caught up and can talk about any skeptic issue. We might focus some on child rearing or the stupid claims of cosmetics (read the small print). But I think that they need to get some female speakers and discover, “whoa, there are a lot of women that now get this stuff”. I mean you don’t need to go looking for women to speak at skeptic conferences, but maybe like Gamestop we need to stop looking at males first because we assume that a female will be harder to find.

    Confusing I know. Look beyond the usual pool and you’ll find that women have caught up more than you think.

  77. @Zygar: first, i will grant you that having heard your comment second hand, it is possible it was misconstrued and i apologize if that is the case. however, based on what you’ve just said again in your comment, i’m pretty sure i’ve understood you perfectly.

    please explain to me exactly how skepchick is a “social club for women”. at the time of our last demographic survey (last winter) we had more men than women hanging out in our little “club”. you’re leveling some pretty sharp criticism, which we are completely open to if you’d just give us something to back it up. how are we not skeptical? or feminist? give me something to show that you’re not just throwing insults for the sake of it.

    the intent of this post was to illustrate some problems that i see and start a discussion, and your comments happened to roll nicely into these issues that had been on my mind. again, i’ll admit that my understanding of your comments could have been interpreted in a biased way due to that thought process, but your tone here really seems to indicate that i’ve read you exactly right.

    i’ve been completely taken aback by the massive response the post has gotten, both positive and negative, and for the most part it’s been very civil and very productive, because most everyone has come into it willing to back up their arguments and ultimately willing to change their minds (myself included). i am perfectly willing to engage in further discussion with you on these points if you will grant me that same respect.

  78. @ImaginalDisc: well, the point, really, is that is the way the problem is being framed by others in the movement, and these same individuals seem to fundamentally misunderstand that the way they frame the question is completely indicative of the actual problem.

    i agree that there isn’t “chick stuff” and “not chick stuff”, but clearly somebody still thinks there is.

    identity politics are tricky, and i get what you’re saying about all female offices and the like, but you have to remember that these types of situations exist because women (and other minority groups) have been marginalized and have had to create such environments in order to do what they want to do and achieve what they want to achieve.

    just realize that for every time you’ve been told to “make sure it’s a woman”, numerous qualified women over the years have been passed over or not even considered for a job.

    it’s not ideal, but it’s worked. hopefully the time for that sort of strategy is nearing its end.

  79. @Zygar: You’re entitled to your opinion about this site, and I appreciate hearing it. But, your tone is really angry and bitter. What’s up? Last I heard from you, we were spending hours hanging out exploring Vancouver, and laughing till we cried in your rented convertible. I thought we were friends, but unless I’m completely misreading you, that comment is definitely not the kind of thing one friend would say to another. Is everything okay?

  80. carr2d2, Did I read this correctly? ” i get what you’re saying about all female offices and the like, but you have to remember that these types of situations exist because women (and other minority groups) have been marginalized and have had to create such environments in order to do what they want to do and achieve what they want to achieve.” From what I understand, you’re justifying and/or explaining sexism from women directed against men.

    That skirts dangerously close to a Jesse Jackson style indefensible positions such that “X minority cannot be racist or sexist because the historically weaker group can’t be racist or sexist.” It’s as wrong for a female executive to refuse to hire a man for reasons of his plumbing as it is for a male executive to refuse to hire a woman for reasons of her plumbing.

    I happen to work in a field that’s predominately female and such sexism is quite rare but not unheard of. I was trying to suggest that woman can be just as sexist and homo-social as men. I think at least some of the cause for a lack of women in skepticism lies with the associations that come with the label of “chick stuff.” There are at least some women who think that unless they’re being addressed specifically as women, the default audience is men. Women may be part of the reason that there aren’t more women in skepticism.

  81. @ImaginalDisc: i’m arguing why pragmatism has been used where idealism is slower to make strides. not necessarily that i think that is good or right, just that it has worked in some ways to advance minority groups. whether or not that is the kind of advancement we want is up for debate.

    no. sexism against men ultimately does not solve the problem because it perpetuates sexism in general. i was merely trying to bring into perspective some of the rationale behind this type of thinking.

    i personally think we’d all be better off to lose all our societal baggage and be totally gender blind, but that isn’t likely to happen soon, so we have to work within the system we have to try and fix it.

  82. I am constantly amazed that a forum which is supposed to emphasize critical thinking and skepticism so quickly descends into ideology etc.

    How does one lose one’s societal baggage or of more relevance, how do you lose millions of years of evolutionary adaptation? While I wouldn’t argue skepticism is biased toward males from an evolutionary standpoint as the evidence isn’t there, pretending like we have free will and gender is merely a social construct isn’t evidence based either.

    As for the brain being sexy, no, no, no. While I certainly agree that it is hooked into the whole process of attraction, I keep getting the feeling that “Brains are sexy.” is only slightly less insightful than “He’s a Libra.” Nine times out of ten it seems like retrodiction – merely a conscious narrative to explain the dance of hormones et al. If his or her smell didn’t tickle something primal, perhaps the explanation would be “He is a Pisces” or “She’s all occipital with no frontal lobe.”

    PS The way our brains are designed/evolved makes contradiction and hypocrisy intrinsic. We can be both sexist and enlightened, skeptical and a dupe, “chick” and “guy” – so why are we arguing like we have some grand unified enlightened consciousness – we’re skeptics not everybody else.

  83. @carr2d2

    I say I was misinterpreted because I wasn’t complaining that you talk about “chick stuff”. I was saying that your content is neither skeptical nor feminist.

    Specifically, the topics of blog posts focus mostly on what is going on in your lives. Little of the content is affecting things skeptical.

    As far as the feminism slant, I hardly consider the approach of this site to be anything empowering to women unless they fit within the conventional definition of sexy. Sorry. But your focus is on being sexy, not on being empowered.

    “we had more men than women hanging out in our little ‘club’.” You mean your fanboys?

    @Rebecca
    I’m sorry if you took this as a personal attack. It is not meant to be. The angry tone of my comments was probably mostly due to being totally misinterpreted, and then waiting about 2 hours for the darned activation email while I steamed. For that I apologize. Also, I am renown for my confrontational style of writing. We’re still friends, assuming I haven’t alienated you with my little rant.

    My intent was to say that I feel skepchick has lost itself. If I didn’t think it were fixable, I’d not have pointed it out.

  84. @ImaginalDisc: H-h-h-ho, boy. I was wondering how long it would take before someone posted a comment like this one.

    I’m not entirely sure I have the energy to do this agin, but I suppose no one else is going to.

    Sexism is privilege plus power.

    So, no women cannot be sexist, unless they are in a position where women have more power and privilege than men.

    In other words, when the scales are tipped so heavily in favor of one side, you can’t cry foul when the side that’s worse off complains. You cannot say “it should be a level playing field, everyone has to play fair” unless the side start out fair.

    Once there is balance, then you are within your rights to complain.

    That day ain’t comin’ soon. In the meantime, suck it up and shut your pie-hole.

    “Indefensible” my left butt-cheek.

  85. Sexism is treating one sex unfairly compared to another. Sexism does not require some larger power imbalance. It is an ugly attitude that merely requires power to reach full expression. A female executive who tells a prospective male employees “This is an all-female office, and we like it that way,” is being just as sexist as a male executive who refuses to hire a female applicant on the basis of her sex.

  86. Let me make this more pointed.

    “Once there is balance, then you are within your rights to complain.

    That day ain’t comin’ soon. In the meantime, suck it up and shut your pie-hole.”

    I see, so you don’t believe that is a man is not hired for a job based merely on his gender, that such a decision constitutes sexism? You’re proposing an endless cycle of bigotry, not equality.

  87. Let me do the math for you.

    Let x = the “worth” of a woman, and y be the “worth” of a man. We’ll both agree, these should be equal, right? That is x = y. Great.

    Now let’s say a is the power that women hold in society. And let’s make b the power that men hold in society. We want equality here, too. So, ideally:

    ax = by

    …But wait, if x = y, then a must equal b. But, again, I think we can agree that is not the case: women do not have equal power in our society. Alright, let’s do something about it:

    ax + i = by + j

    …Where i is “what we’re doing to empower women” and j is “what we’re doing to empower men”.

    What you’re proposing is that i should equal j, and thing will all work themselves out in the end.

    Let d = your idea.

    d = fucktarded

  88. One cannot apply bigotry against men to balance bigotry leveled against women. to deny employment, as the salient example, to a young man who wants to work in an office based solely on his genital arrangement is sexism. Trying to balance bigotry against people in one area by being bigoted against different people in another area only breeds mutual resentment and perpetuates the system of bigotry in the first place. This subject is tangential to the topic anyhow.

    Given the. . .I’ll be charitable to use “quality” and “your posts” in the same sentence, my interest in your opinion has been fully explored.

  89. Your interest in my opinion is moot; I have no illusion that I’ll convince close-minded folks like yourself that what you’re espousing is, in fact, sexist. What I’m talking about is for the benefit of the more open-minded onlookers.

    People like you want to define “fair” as “equal treatment”. This is a mistake. It’s a mistake because of the equation above: there cannot be “fairness” when the equation is already imbalanced. Fairness means “appropriate treatment”. And what is approrpriate is not always (perhaps not even often) equal.

    Your example is not sexism. It may be poor judgment, but it’s not sexist… unless it’s in the context where women clearly have more power enjoy more privileges than men, without measuring such things in a microcosm.

    Second, it ignores the fact that men have more privileges than women. On the whole, a man will be more “qualified” than a woman with the same innate abilities, because the man has the benefit of society working on his side: more opportunities, more encouragement, more “standards” in his favor.

    So to dismiss the passing over of a man who is, in light of those factors, “more qualified” is, in fact, justifiable.

    It’s awfully convenient for you, as a male, to ignore the disproportional power of our society. It suits you to say that the playing field should be equalized, because you start out with more, are given more, and passively benefit from more. How easy for you!

    It’s not being fair to let that continue. It is not appropriate.

  90. I just did:

    On the whole, a man will be more “qualified” than a woman with the same innate abilities, because the man has the benefit of society working on his side: more opportunities, more encouragement, more “standards” in his favor.

    …passing over a man who is, in light of those factors, “more qualified” is, in fact, justifiable.

  91. Then you are a sexist. You cannot show that the male prospective employee has benefited unfairly, nor is that relevant. You are judging him by his sex, not his value as a person or employee.

    You are part of the problem.

  92. ok guys…clearly you aren’t getting anywhere with this. you are arguing pragmatism vs idealism as though they are opposing forces (not that they can’t be).

    my take, as i’ve hinted at above, is this:
    ideally, we’d all love to live in a world where everyone started out with a clean slate and would never be judged by anything other than their individual merit. this world does not exist now, and probably never will.
    we live in a world fraught with all sorts of discriminatory baggage, and you’re kidding yourself if you think racism and sexism are things of the past. the reality is that we live in a non-ideal system, and if we want to make it better, we have to act to fix it, which sometimes has to take the form of affirmative action or “reverse discrimination”. of course that’s not the ideal solution, but it seems to be working.

    i would not have the job i have today if affirmative action didn’t exist. i do construction work. there are still, in 2008, a few men in my trade who don’t think i should be allowed to do this work, despite my skill or work ethic. this view was pretty much universal among tradesmen 20 years ago, when affirmative action started to force them to accept women and minorities.
    today, apart from the few holdouts, the majority of my coworkers respect me and my ability to do this work, because i (and the women before me) have had the opportunity to prove myself capable.
    if affirmative action had been ruled out as sexism, the highly sexist environment would have persisted, and many of my coworkers would never have had the chance to find out for themselves whether or not a woman could work beside them.

    so yeah. i’m basically a pragmatist. do what works, and as you get closer to your ideal, you can become more idealistic.

  93. I wouldn’t think of tackling an obvious bias in recruitment or training in a particular industry as ‘reverse discrimination’, especially if it was at the entry point to a particular career.
    Equally, I doubt it’s something that would much worry even the people who might find all but the mildest positive discrimination hard to support.

    However, if in any situation there is going to be significant positive discrimination, it should at least be done quite openly.
    If someone really is only going to employ someone from a certain disadvantaged group in a particular job, then that should be clear to anyone who might apply.
    If it’s less clear cut, and being a member of a certain group is considered as ‘preferable’ that should be made clear, along with some idea how much more or less preferable certain types of people might be “Would suit someone from group A with 3 years experience, or someone from group B with 1 year”.

    Personally, I’d *far* rather know in advance that I either had no chance or was looking at an unequal contest than find out at an interview, or wonder long afterwards what the arrangement actually had been.

  94. @JRice:

    So, no women cannot be sexist, unless they are in a position where women have more power and privilege than men.

    In other words, when the scales are tipped so heavily in favor of one side, you can’t cry foul when the side that’s worse off complains. You cannot say “it should be a level playing field, everyone has to play fair” unless the side start out fair.

    Once there is balance, then you are within your rights to complain.

    That day ain’t comin’ soon.

    Hmm. I’m trying really hard to get my head around that, but it just does not scan for me. It doesn’t seem logical to me, or sensible, or something like that.

    Are you saying that two identical types of behaviour acquire two very different meanings/definitions because of a power imbalance?

    That is how I understand/misunderstand your argument.

    I can’t help but feeling you are (perhaps) operating with a definition of the term sexist that is at odds with the definition as held by most dictionaries and maybe most people.

    Let me try to clarify my confusion for you, by asking some questions.

    Are you proposing a sort of distaff Black Pantherism?

    You may recall that the Black Panters of the 60’s proclaimed themselves to be militantly opposed to racism and in favour of racial and social equality. That was in fact quite far from the truth of the Panther’s real manifesto. The Black Panthers real goal was to simply reverse the social situation and ensure that “whitey” became subservient and diminished in society while the Panthers became ascendent.

    So, if I understand your agrument correctly, the Panther’s ideology would not be racist until they had achieved ascendency and continued subjugating whitey, even though the idoelogy did not change a whit in the interim.

    I’m sorry JRice. You often have a lot of really interesting things to say, but I just cannot get my head around that one. Try as I might, I just don’t get it.

    I’d be more than happy to hear/see a clarification, but, um, please don’t call me names, okay?

    Cheers.

    :)

  95. @JRice: I think it is possible for women to be sexist. See Arial Levy’s “Raunch Culture”

    Also I think your maths for equality is flawed, as the power held by women collectively is a function multiple variables. You have begun with the conclusion that the sexes are of equal “worth” (which you don’t define), you have assumed the populations of both sexes to be identical. You don’t discriminate between potential power and power-in-action and so on and so on.

    Were you being ironic and I didn’t get it?

    p.s. I’m NOT saying I think one less is worth less than the other, but that you can’t start with a conclusion about what you want and work backwards

    p.p.s I don’t think it’s possible to maths a solution to gender equality. It’s definately in the realm of unmathsable problems

  96. Okay, I’m going to take a stab at this.

    Let’s say I hate men (which I don’t). So I go around saying how men are incompetent and stupid and are only good for a quick thrill and mowing my lawn. That’s definitely prejudiced, right? But are the things I say going to resonate with people who hear them? Are they going to impact other people’s view of males? Are they going to change the common view of men? Nope, because it goes against the ingrained social knowledge that men are worthwhile and powerful people. I’d be speaking from a position of much less power, therefore these horrible prejudiced things I say wouldn’t have any effect other than to piss people off.

    But when a man says that women are worthless, stupid, and only good for a quick thrill, he is both speaking from a position of power and stating things that resonate with our own cultural experience and knowledge. At the very least, if we do not believe these things ourselves, we see all around us subtle and not so subtle allusions to these ideas in every day life.

    I think this is what JRice is getting at with stating that a minority cannot be sexist, racist, etc. I don’t know if my addition helps at all, but hey, I’ve got to flex my ill-used social science muscles every now and then.

    And since I have a feeling the conversation will try to veer that way: I think it’s stupid to say that men can’t do/aren’t good at “feminine” things. It sucks A LOT and when I rule the world, we won’t mock stay at home dads, male nurses, men who cry at sad movies, etc. Instead, we will shag them. If we want to.

  97. It’s *possible* that the ‘maths’ post started out as an attempt at some kind of Sokal/Bricmont-style irony, poking fun at the idiocy of people trying to use mathematics where it is meaningless.
    After all, if ‘worth’ is some abstract quantity which is *defined* to be equal for everyone, what could conceivably be the point multiplying anything by ‘worth’ in the first place?

    However, I don’t actually think it’s generally considered ‘irony’ or ‘trying to be funny’ to call someone else’s opinion f^%$tarded.

  98. @PH: Alright then, I’ll apologize for saying “fucktarded”, too. I knew it was risky. Didn’t expect to be called on it here, but I guess I have to concede the point, now that I have been.

    (BTW: I’m not ignoring anyone else’s point; I just don’t want to usurp the discussion any more than my tit-for-tat already has. …Time for other opinions to sound. I will reply in time. …Still, I thought this was important enough to warrant a quick apology. I done wrong.)

  99. Amanda,
    >>”I’d be speaking from a position of much less power, therefore these horrible prejudiced things I say wouldn’t have any effect other than to piss people off.”

    Wouldn’t have *any* effect? None at all?
    No-one would be influenced by you, even if they were, for example, a child, and you were their parent or teacher?

    At what level of power-equality in society might your words start to have an effect?

  100. Isn’t it simpler to define sexism as treating one sex as inferior to the other? Rationalizing sexism based on who has more power, or on historical inertia is groundless. Sexual discrimination in the workplace is entirely illegal, except for a possible argument being made in favor of affirmative action being sexism – which I wouldn’t make considering that’s what it took to get women and minorities into some sectors that wouldn’t allow them. You do not need to be a sexist to “balance” out male sexism.

  101. >>”Isn’t it simpler to define sexism as treating one sex as inferior to the other?”

    I’d go for a definition like that.
    The bad ‘isms’ seem to be a case of dealing with an individual based on prejudices about a group they may be a member of, rather than treating them on their own merits, and that holds true whether or not the prejudices might actually have any kind of basis in reality.

  102. I will address my thoughts on feminism here (warning: I swear a lot and I am not gentle about my opinions). I’ve decided it’s gotten off-topic.

    I will now attempt to stay on-topic. Which–correct me if I’m wrong–concerns Zygar’s comments.

    My point was that Skepchick has become nothing more than a social club for women.

    …And if it were, how is that a bad thing? I’m certainly enjoying it. I think it’s a good place for women who might be thinking dirtyskeptical thoughts to come test the waters. And a place for men like me who appreciate women to watch the process.

    It is no longer a source of skepticism, and is certainly not “feminist”. [later:] Specifically, the topics of blog posts focus mostly on what is going on in your lives. Little of the content is affecting things skeptical.

    I agree the Skepchicks skimp on the feminism. (Sorry; that’s my honest view.) I welcome them to ramp it up.

    But I’m not really sure where your disdain for their personal lives comes from. I thought that was the nature of a weblog. Well, that, and linking to relevant news.

    I’m not sure what you expect. You say it’s “fixable”, but… I disagree with what you have thus-far claimed is broken. Perhaps we need to hear your thoughts on how to “fix” it.

  103. Excuse me, but wouldn’t skepticism and demand for evidence based decisions go a long way towards eliminating prejudice and gender or racial bias?

    Intelligently addressed, bias and prejudice is actually an opportunity to promote skepticism and critical thinking. For example, I read a few years ago (I think in Gladwell’s Blink) about an attempt to eliminate gender preference in selecting musicians for orchestras, so they set up a screen behind which the applicant could play and the judges could listen without regard to appearance – more women got hired.

    The question ought not be how to get more women or more whoever promoted – it should be how can critical thinking be applied to ensure the best person gets the job or promotion? I know, I know, suggesting we actually use skepticism is bound to offend someone … but I can live with that.

  104. @Amanda: It is certainly possible for a minority to be sexist etc. Take for example the Islamic Dibandi sect, the largest islamic ‘school’ in the North of England. Their ideology is at the extreme end of anti-semitism, they are certainly homophobic (enough for it to be ‘ok’ to murder a gay man) and certainly sexist.

    Both Dawkins and Hitchens specifically mention the practices of “honor” killings, forced marriages and female genital mutilation going on in Bradford’s Dibandi muslim communtiy. Not to mention the enforced wearing of the veil (of course muslim women say its their choice on TV interviews, to say anything else would be suicide) and the strange disappearance of large numbers of muslim girls from west yorkshire schools around the age of 12, they can’t all have “gone to live with auntie in pakistan”.

    Trouble is, they are a minority so untouchable thanks to the London PC police. But their ideology is certainly sexist

  105. @russellsugden: This has the potential to get really side-tracked again, so I’ll just quickly state: this is a matter of intersectionality. So, yes, it’s absolutely possible for “a minority” to be sexist, because you’re talking about a religious and cultural minority. So while it’s possible to be repressed because of your religion, that doesn’t mean you don’t have, say, male privilege, not does it mean you aren’t sexist within your own subculture.

    So, yes, you’re correct that minorities “can be sexist”… as long as they aren’t women. : )

    But, again. Off-topic. Shutting up now.

  106. JRice, I don’t believe you’ve thought this through. “So, yes, you’re correct that minorities “can be sexist”… as long as they aren’t women. : )” Really?

    Really? So women can refuse to hire any men, demean, insult, ignore, and disenfranchise men – which are the very consequences of sexism directed against women that have galvanized feminists for generations – but it’s entirely OK, because the target of those attitudes and actions have dangly bits?

    Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

  107. @ImaginalDisc: Staying on-topic, you chide car2d2 for suggesting all-female offices were a legitimate response to an anti-female society. The reason women do this and men don’t is because men don’t have to. This is part of male privilege. It is an entirely appropriate response to create “safe spaces” for minorities.

    Again: “fair” does not mean “equal”, it means “appropriate”.

    It is entirely appropriate for Skepchick to create a “safe environment” for women who are interested in the progression of skepticism. You say you don’t go looking for guy stuff”, again, because you don’t have to. Society is already structure in a manner to make your life more comfortable.

    It’s a very difficult but very worthwhile process to examine one’s privileges! I recommend it to everyone, despite the fact that it’s uncomfortable.

  108. I guess the problem with ‘appropriate’ is that it’s rather subjective, covering anything from trying to correct blatant injustices, to almost any other action someone thinks they can justify.

    Still, as long as whatever is done is done openly, everyone knows where they stand and can at least debate the merits of some particular action if they think it might make things worse rather than better.

  109. When you wish to counteract a force in some direction, you apply a force in the opposite direction. The opposite of injustice is justice. It is not a different kind of injustice. Justice is not a delicate balance between counterposing injustices. It is the absence of any injustice.

    I am a Hedge

  110. Until you redefine “sexism”, I can’t.

    What you’re calling “sexism” is gender-prejudice. Women can be prejudiced against men.

    What I’m calling “sexism” includes an aspect of power.

    Once you make that leap, the answer to what you’re trying to ask (and how what you’ve asked is stupid) will become clear.

  111. @Im a Hedge: A really interesting comment, and I can’t say I much disagree. But remember that you typically do some pretty “ugly” things to bring justice… for exampe, putting a criminal in prison and taking away all of his rights.

    So you’ve gotta be careful with that line of reasoning. : ) To my mind, it is absolutely “just” to boost the power of women, even artificially, to reach a place where there are no longer imbalances in opportunities, privileges, and power. It is justice because there should be a balance now, but there isn’t one.

    How you go about that is open to debate, of course.

    For my money, “all women offices” and “Skepchick” are two perfectly acceptable vehicles in that direction.

  112. @JRice:

    But remember that you typically do some pretty “ugly” things to bring justice… for exampe, putting a criminal in prison and taking away all of his rights.

    This is done to the perpetrator of the crime. It would not be just to do so to someone who happened to share a particular set of physical characteristics with the perpetrator.

    Perhaps the disagreement here is whether we consider a person as an individual or as a member of a group. Justice applies to individuals.

    I am a Hedge

  113. Jrice
    >>”What I’m calling “sexism” includes an aspect of power.”

    The aspect of power included in what you’re calling sexism seems to be a very black-and-white one, where the power balance in an individual encounter is entirely irrelevant, and all that matters is the average power of one group in society compared to another.

    That is, if a woman who herself happened to be born with every privilege imaginable discriminated against a man who’d had innumerable disadvantages on the basis of his gender, you’d class that as ‘gender prejudice’, not sexism, and seemingly(?) think it wasn’t as wrong as sexism.

    For a start, I don’t think that’s what most people would understand by the word ‘sexism’.

    Also, it seems an unnecessary linguistic distinction to make, since if all you really want to say is “Sexism by women is less important than sexism by men”, you could just say that, and people could agree with you, or not.

    There’s no need to invent a new term in order to justify making a binary distinction between types of sexism, especially if that risks people viewing it as some sweeping-under-the-carpet exercise.

    I think people are actually bright enough to look at cases of sexism, and if relevant, factor in wider issues, which may sometimes be deeply relevant, and other times may be quite unimportant.

    Even if, in a particular situation, you want to concentrate on sexism against women, and that’s the only thing you want to talk about, I think it’s more productive to say that straight rather than saying “But* only* men *can* be sexist!”, unless what you actually want to achieve is the turning off of lots of people who might otherwise have been receptive, ending up with someone preaching to the choir.

  114. I’m going to have to stand by my original assessment of the idea that women can’t be sexist as indefensible. It requires making men suffer because – allegedly- all men benefit from the status quo. This falls apart under scrutiny.

    Firstly, it’s impossible to establish where or not a given man has benefited unfairly from male chauvinism. The very concept of justice is in jeopardy if one goes around discriminating against all men because some men have had it easy.

    Secondly, such an effort to “balance” sexism with more sexism leads to endless reciprocity where women feel justified in treating men like crap where and when they can, and men feel justified in doing the same.

    Thirdly, and perhaps must critically, it requires judging one sex as more or less deserving than the other, and assigning people worth based on their sex. No matter how you attempt to weasel around it that is sexism.

  115. ImaginalDisc
    It is a bit off-topic, but regarding your earlier mention of Suffragettes, that’s possibly an issue that deserves a skeptical thread all its own, since there does seem to be room for discussion as to how accurate the popular idea along the lines of “Hunger strikes + jumping in front of horses => votes” really is.

  116. It’s probably better in another thread, but it does seem that there’s a great deal of simplification in the popular idea of what happened, at least in the UK.

    As a general point, in *any* kind of struggle, the more a person has sacrificed, the more they or their supporters may feel the need to think that that particular sacrifice was vitally necessary, and that can prevent a more objective look.

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