Skepticism

“You have such Prady eyes…”

As an individual perennially engaged in thinking and analyzing the hows, whys, whats, etc. of gender issues and how they impact this skeptical movement that I find myself a part of, you can bet I have some things to say about The Amaz!ng Meeting 7 in this regard. My experiences over the past few weeks, organizing and pulling off Skepchickcon, and then attending TAM7, have brought these issues to the front of my mind once again, and I’d like to share my thoughts and ask you for yours.

I suppose I’ll start with the big question that always seems to come up: Why aren’t there more women involved in science and skepticism? Typical answers tend to point to differences between women and men: women don’t like/aren’t good at hard sciences, women eschew conflict, etc. I couldn’t disagree more. Over the past few months, I’ve come to believe strongly that the reasons are almost entirely related to subtle sexism (on the part of both men and women within the movement) and social networking (which I will address in a future post); both problems which I’d like to think are on their way to being solved, but we clearly still have work to do.

Let’s talk about sexism. I’ll start with an example from TAM7. It seems to me that a lot of men in the skeptical movement, well intentioned as they may be, have a tendency to look at women as though we are some sort of separate species; monolithic and mysterious, and that there is some sort of code they need to learn but can never seem to work out which will magically get them laid and make all women love them. This was evident in Bill Prady’s keynote address, both in the video clips from his show, The Big Bang Theory, and in his tragic dating advice for the guys in the room. Barbara Drescher does a good job dissecting the shows weaknesses in this regard, and also includes video of the most offensive bit of Prady’s speech.

While I think Drescher is spot on with this commentary, she also does something which, in my opinion, contributes to the unwelcoming atmosphere for women. Well, at least certain types of women.

Personally, I was taken aback by some of the women in the audience. I can hardly be called a prude, but some of the outfits in that room were far beyond what is appropriate attire for any kind of conference. What’s more, they were very poor, naive attempts at sexual expression that left me wonder just what kind of delusion-producing mirror they were looking into each morning and where I could get one. Just as an example, one woman (I would guess her age at about 20yo) wore a dressy black blouse with extremely tight cut-off denim short-shorts, thigh-high fishnet stockings, and 2-inch patent leather strappy spike heals which were at least 2 sizes too small. No kidding.

I honestly find it difficult to know where to begin here. You want more women in skepticism, but when they show up without properly camouflaging their sexuality you call them out on your blog? To me, this is all part and parcel of the same problem I touched on above of women (or at least attractive women) being seen as separate from (read: intellectually inferior to) men. Why is it that no one is blogging about the wide range of attire among the men at TAM7? I didn’t realize there was a dress code. Maybe we should all wear uniforms next year.

The fact remains that we belong to a diverse movement, made up of people who are by definition outsiders. Most of us have left our received traditions behind and struck out on our own in search of a more rational path. We are used to being seen as loud and obnoxious weirdos, and many of us revel in this fact. So yes, some of us dress a bit outrageously compared to what you might be used to. Part of the reason we come to events like TAM is to be with people who think like us; who accept us as we are, and this acceptance should include how we choose to express ourselves stylistically.

The answer to the larger societal problem at hand – the sexy/smart dichotomy – is not for all of us women to unsex ourselves. As women, we need to move away from the idea that there is only one acceptable way to be taken seriously as a woman in a historically male dominated arena. This may serve us in the short term, but in the long term it limits who we can allow ourselves and others to be, publicly, and it undermines any chance of ever being taken seriously as whole people. The solution as I see it lies in all of us just being ourselves, fully, and allowing each other the space to do that as well, without judgement.

Skepchickcon was a beautiful example of this idea at work. We had 9 panel discussions, running the gamut of skeptical topics, which were very well attended (by crowds approaching 50/50, I might add) and peopled mostly by women. We had productive discussions and debates, and many of the same folks who engaged in great discussion with us at our panels partied with us at night. I’m very proud of what we accomplished there, and hope to build on it for next year.

It may take time for some in the movement to catch on to this idea, but I think, ultimately, it’s the only way we will ever get to the equality we seek for our community.

Thanks to my cleverer half, Tim3P0, for help on the title.

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214 Comments

  1. Great post, Carrie. Sadly, Drescher’s perspective is not that unusual. It seems to me that to be taken seriously in skepticism and in other male-dominated environments, women are expected to suppress their individuality and particularly their sexuality. (I’d make a Twilight reference here, but I don’t want to be That Girl :))

    While I can understand that in a corporate environment, there are certain rules around attire and appropriateness, it blows me away that at a conference such as TAM, people believe certain ‘rules’ should apply.

    I had a conversation last night about the Skepchick party and the people I was with gave me the distinct impression that they had a lower opinion of the girls who wore bikinis or more revealing outfits. In spite of not knowing or speaking to any of them, they called them the ‘skeptical cheerleaders’ and dismissed them as intellectuals. In spite of the fact that it was a pool party and an entirely social event! And this was not just the men – the women felt this way as well.

    It seems to me that people want to genericize the movement such that the sex of the population doesn’t matter. I think the key is to embrace and take advantage of the diversity, appreciate it and enjoy it. I think Skepchick is an example of how diversity in a movement can be wildly successful and really powerful.

    The question that interests me is, do we need to play the game, to some degree? In the corporate world, I am well aware that it’s ‘easier’ for me to play like the boys. Because I’m somewhat a tomboy at heart, this is easy for me. And it has allowed me to get into the old boys club to some degree, or at least allowed the club to feel more comfortable with me around.

    Should the same be true for Skepticism or Science? Should we play the game and suppress our individuality and sexuality for a while, until we are taken seriously and it is normal for us to be around? I’m not sure I know the answer but I suspect it’s not one I’d be particularly happy with.

  2. I find the answers to your questions will never be found. There is evidence that suggests that there is an inherent genetic tie, and some that suggests they are more societal construction.

    As a skeptic one must both call into question any claim that suggests one over the other. I find equal offense when people suggest that women “just aren’t good at science and math” or when they suggest that its a purely societal division, spurred by a lagging 1950s stereotype of the role of the woman.

    I think the more important thing to do is to realize that people are in fact not equal. We need to focus on individuals and ensure that there are equal opportunities, but be cognizant that we may be pushing a large stone up the evolutionary mountain. Equal representation may not make sense. However, we must rid ourselves of ignorance and perceived gender roles.

    Now I’m just babbling. The point is, I try to evaluate the individual and remove any prejudice I might have, right before I try to bang them.

    jk!!! Solidarity

  3. Great post Carrie! I don’t mean to just skip over replying to it but my thoughts on everything you said still haven’t settled yet and there is something in Masala’s comment that I want to address before my brain derails.

    I had a conversation last night about the Skepchick party and the people I was with gave me the distinct impression that they had a lower opinion of the girls who wore bikinis or more revealing outfits. In spite of not knowing or speaking to any of them, they called them the ’skeptical cheerleaders’ and dismissed them as intellectuals. In spite of the fact that it was a pool party and an entirely social event! And this was not just the men – the women felt this way as well.

    I’ve noticed this kind of thing before in different settings. Do you think it might have anything to do with the odd (and incorrect) assumption that in order for these girls who wore bikinis to be attractive enough to wear them and look nice they must spend all their time concerned with their looks and no time studying more intellectual things? In other words do you think people might still think that geeky girls=not pretty and pretty girls=not geeky? How do we change this?

    Sorry for the ramble!

  4. I have a minor defense of what Bill Prady said. In general, it wasn’t the greatest thing to say, but what he was saying to the socially nervous guys (which there are several in the skeptical community) is that if someone introduces themselves as being a Pisces then it would probably be best to not tell them how Astrology is wrong as part of the initial conversation.

    No one on this site, or at TAM, would ever begin their introduction of themselves as being part of an astrological sign, so I don’t think he meant to say that guys should only tell women that they have pretty eyes when they first meet them.

    -Derek

  5. I’m torn. On one hand (admittedly prepped to hear sexist talk) I listen to the clip on Barbara’s blog and hear Prady saying that most women believe in astrology, have no interest in skeptical talk, and prefer vacuous pick up lines. On the other hand (trying to relisten with an unbiased ear) I hear him making fun of the stereotypical kind of guy that is attracted to this movement who can be awkward, does not know how to approach a woman he finds attractive, and may end up going into some mini-lecture because the only thing they feel confident in is their brain and they want to show it off.

    Let me be clear that I am well aware that there are plenty of men in the skeptic movement who do not fit this bill. But this stereotype exists because there are plenty of guys who really are like this to some extent. I’ve met tons of them, and some of them are my friends.

    In the end, all of the personalities in said story seem to me to be caricatures for the sake of a handful of jokes meant to connect with the audience and their experiences in the group. I do think it was mostly meant to connect with the males in the audience, without much consideration for the females. Hell, maybe Prady is (or has been) one of these stereotypical guys and so he picked something he was familiar with. I am leaning toward this explanation because, like the guy in the stories, he seems unaware of how to connect with the women he’s addressing.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with caricatures for a joke’s sake. It’s the meat of most jokes. And usually no one has a problem with this until the caricature is of a group they identify with. I just think, like his tv show, he’s really making fun of these stereotypical guys. Even (especially?) with his choice of women is used to make fun of the guys in an over the top way.

  6. @derekcbart:

    He also said that gorgeous women are either hookers or believe in astrology and that we, or maybe not be because I’m not one of those gorgeous women… I’m far too fat to ever get on one of his TV shows, don’t want to have honest intellectual conversations with men. We care about whether you think we’re hot.

    Guess what? Even the dumbest Pisces girl knows that “You have such incredible eyes” is nothing more than a cheap tool to get her to bang you. You know what else? She already knows how incredible (or not) her eyes are.

    Even if you have a “good message” it’s sort of important that you frame that message in something other than a disgusting and offensive stereotype (especially when your audience includes people who would take that offense very personally.)

  7. On the issue of girls who dress sexy being thought to be airheads…while silly as a generalization in the moment, I have certainly met girls that were trying way to hard to look sexy for attention sake. It’s one thing to express yourself and another thing to be trying really hard to get attention…and that can be somewhat of a fine line. Because so many women in our society try way too hard to be sexy, pinning their identity and confidence on it, it has become a stereotype and therefore easy to assume as a baseline.

    I’m not condoning the mindset of projecting stereotypes on people, but it is a perfectly natural thing to do – to categorize people. We generally categorize ourselves and others to be able to fell we belong, to identify with others, to distinguish ourselves from others with traits we don’t like, and just to be able to generally talk about people. The real key is to try to avoid treating individuals differently due to any preconceptions. I don’t see any hope of getting away from constantly categorizing people, in desirable or undesirable categories.

    That being said, I think there are a couple things that will have to happen to steer our society out of this girls-who-dress-sexy-do-so-because-they-have-no-brains mentality. One is for us (as a society) to become less prudish, making sex more natural and less taboo. I think we’re heading in this direction. Another is for women who have brains to dress as sexy as they want (and not sexier just for effect) and just rock it. At least/especially in social settings like conferences. I think many women don’t dress as sexy as they might like specifically because they don’t want to be viewed as stupid and shallow…so in their own way these women are adding to the problem. Of course there are women that just don’t have any desire, latent or otherwise, to dress sexy which is fine, too, of course.

  8. It’s a socialisation thing. Even today, little boys and little girls are brought up to enjoy wildly differing pursuits. Well, little boys are allowed to do pretty much anything un-effeminate whereas the proscriptions against what “nice” girls do are legion.

    Interestingly though, one of the big issues in the UK is that girls out perform boys across the board at school and university (it’s the size of the gap thats the issue, not that they do)

    Hopefully over the next couple of years, at least in the UK, there’s likely to be a leveling up over the next few years.

    I have to admit though that I find it very difficult to respect intellectually a women in Hot Pants, I’m too easily distracted by an attractive figure. It’d be much easier if women wore essentially the same clothes as men; trousers, shirts and jumpers.

  9. @stacie: Nicely put:

    I think many women don’t dress as sexy as they might like specifically because they don’t want to be viewed as stupid and shallow…so in their own way these women are adding to the problem.

    @derekcbart: I understand exactly why Prady made that comment, but without qualifying it with the acknowledgment he’s only speaking to those particular folks in the audience, it carries the assumption that he thinks those folks make up the entire audience. It’s not a very comfortable feeling to be dismissed or overlooked like that.

  10. As a male, I’m not sure I can usefully comment on sexism in situations like this. I am quite likely guilty of it myself and am unaware of it, since it’s never my intention. I’ll probably accidentally do it in this very post.

    The lack of women on the TAM stage this year is troubling. Last year was even worse. The JREF talks about getting more women on stage, but they keep not showing up while we get the same guys year after year. (I’m ready to take a break from Michael Shermer, myself.) Our first TAM had Carolyn Porco, who was wonderful. The next one had Eugenie Scott, who could do a whole conference by herself and I’d happily listen. And as much as I enjoyed Jennifer Ouellette this time, I can hardly blame concerned women if they are supposed to be happy with one woman speaker per year.

    Of course, it’s not all the JREF’s fault. Skepchick is probably the most visible group of women in skepticism we have, but how many Skepchicks submitted paper proposals? I know of one out of the 11 Skepchicks present — isn’t that about the same ratio we currently have on the speakers list? If you want to be an advocate of something, shouldn’t you do all you can to put yourself forward?

    Hmmm… I’m sliding off topic. Time to remember what the topic was…

    I’m not sure how I feel about some of the ladies’ clothing at TAM that Barbara mentioned. I am all for letting people dress like the want, social mores be damned. But if you wear something that obviously displays your cleavage, you are going to get a lot of people noticing your cleavage first. You can’t be surprised if you put on something unusual and then get noticed for your appearance.

    Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I don’t think many of the guys who come to TAM feel that women are intellectually inferior at all. But if you want to be judged on your intellect, it’s confusing when the first signal you send is “hey, check out these breasts.” Guys are all too happy to oblige, although sexuality so overtly on display is a huge distraction from any other qualities.

    For example, if you have a web page full of great content, but in one corner you have a bright, obvious, animated GIF, your eyes will be drawn to that GIF and it takes an effort to ignore it to get to the important part of the page.

    So — no one is demanding you camouflage anything. But your appearance is very much a part of your entire personal brand. You have to be aware of the message you want to send, and if it is the same message you actually are sending.

    As for BBT… well, I like the show. It’s funny. Hollywood has been SO AWFUL about both science content and stereotypes. It’s hard for me to crack on a show that tries to include quality science just because it has all the same stereotypes every other sitcom has had since Roseanne.

    Bill Prady said there was nothing in his complaint file: may I suggest you fill it? All he’s seeing are 12 million viewers a week and kudos from CBS – why would he do anything other than stay the course?

    Wow, this ended up longer than I intended. Apologies if I offended — certainly wasn’t the goal.

    1. If you’re not understanding how sexism is a problem enough, try this:
      re-read your own comment for false dichotomies. and I mean find ALL the dichotomies. BECAUSE THEY ARE ALL FALSE. That you identified one female speaker you found annoying as representative of women speakers in general so much so that you assume others will too IS AN EXAMPLE OF SEXISM AT WORK.
      That these dichotomies disappear when speaking about males because males are automatically either universal or abundantly diverse is the one of the perpetuating tenets of sexism in perception and in society. Think about that every time you meet a woman who confirms a stereotype. Do you note that she’s conformed to the stereotype or did you just find it validating of it? Do you notice when women defy stereotype? Does it distract or confuse or astonish you? That is sexism at work. You’re welcome.
      ps: I capitalize because I type slowly and am really bad at html. I had attempt typing “html” 5 times just now. my apologies if it comes across as overbearing. I will try to use asterisks, but that can be just as shaky.

  11. “Barbara Drescher does a good job dissecting the shows weaknesses in this regard, and also includes video of the most offensive bit of Prady’s speech.”

    Wow. If this was the most offensive part of the speech then the sexism was subtle indeed. On one level of course it was sexist. It was a joke about sex. And it was from a man’s point of view. The joke was skepticism is not the best way to pick up women in bars. I think it’s at least close enough to true to be funny.

    More to the main point, however, in a search for subtle sexism you run the risk of finding sexist pareidolia. I don’t think running all communication though a fine-grain sexism filter is going to accomplish anything. At best you might alter the speech patterns of people who are like-minded. The direct approach is best. If you want more women in science and skepticism then recruit them. Some may drop out due to sexism, real or perceived, but as Skepchickcon proves as the gender ratios become more equal the level of mutual respect and acceptance goes up. You accomplish what you want and you don’t face the quixotic task of attempting to alter human nature.

  12. Maybe we should all wear uniforms next year.

    If by “uniforms” you mean “schoolgirl uniforms,” then HELL YES.

    . . . ahem.

    I can hardly be called a prude, but some of the outfits in that room were far beyond what is appropriate attire for any kind of conference.

    “I’m not a prude, but I’m still uncomfortable when that. . . thing. . . happens in my pants.”

  13. I see two distinct issues here. One is that old American prudery, which is in the process of breaking down already. But there’s something more fundamental, too, which is that “sex is never just another issue”. It’s a hot-button, literally “by nature”, and it tends to distract people from anything else that’s meant to be “on the table”. Worse, our opponents know this, and have no qualms about exploiting it!

    “Toning down the sex” isn’t a moral imperative, it’s a strategic issue. At the same time, we don’t want to let our opponents write our strategies — much less control our behavior by proxy, at our own conferences!

  14. I think it’s ridiculous that women are expected to leave femininity at the door when they try to join what used to be men only areas.
    Men aren’t expected to dress androgynously or to elaborately hide their sexuality, and women shouldn’t be either.

    I did read heartening news that the gap between men and women in science and math shrank a little bit recently. Here’s hoping it continues.

    1. well, yes, but the cultural definition of androgyny *is* male-centered. For thousands of years variations of what we call *dresses* were considered the default garment because of their practicality and ease of wear. Now almost nobody is riding horses or trying to keep snakes out of their skivvies so much anymore, but the default androgynous garment is still pants? HUH? because “comfort” and “functionality”, as well as or concept of what’s neutral, are all determined by what’s thought acceptable for men.

  15. To be a little more serious than my last comment, I think it’s absurd to fret over somebody’s high heels while downstairs at the bar, the waitresses are going around in fishnets and corsets. Who exactly decreed that TAM was to be a stuffy, academic event? It’s a social gathering of skeptics with a few semi-formal talks thrown in as decoration. You can tell, because the only time people are presenting papers is the last morning, when everyone is too hung over to care.

    So, yeah, maybe spike heels and fishnets would be “inappropriate” for listening to a keynote at the American Association of Physics Teachers, but anyone who complains about their presence at TAM needs to recalibrate their Vegas-o-meter.

  16. @derekcbart: @davew: yes, the joke was very subtle, and i understand why you may not understand its impact, but it seems to have had the same impact on many women in that room: it made us feel as though we did not exist. add this in to a general environment with one female speaker, a presenter covering a female cosmonaut with a more attractive woman in his slides, etc, and it becomes part of a pattern.
    the big question here is why aren’t there more women in skepticism? and i think all these things show clearly that one reason is that when we do show up, we are ignored and dismissed.

  17. @Blake Stacey: “If by “uniforms” you mean “schoolgirl uniforms,” then HELL YES.”

    No no no no no no no…. AH! (Sorry, flashbacks to my Catholic high school past. All girl Catholic high school…. shudder.)

    Wait, what were we talking about?

    Okay, seriously, I agree that it’s tiring to hear the same old male/female dichotomy and possibly latent sexism. I didn’t see the whole of Prady’s speech, but I do gather that from the clip. He is, however, speaking to a subset of the male population that do have these issues, maybe feeling too “out of touch” to meet women. The BBT, which I love, by the way, speaks to those issues, too.

    My friend, who is also a female science grad student, and I disagree on the level of sexism in the show. I think she agrees more with Drescher’s opinion of it. I, however, personally do relate to the male characters quite well and don’t mind the lack of a good, female nerd character in the show, although it would be welcome. Prady just didn’t have the geek girl in mind when writing the show, and I don’t think that’s overt sexism.

    Is the dearth of women in science and skepticism truly alarming, the result of subtle sociological effects, or a real difference between the sexes? I can’t answer that, though I personally lean towards #2. But because I was fortunate enough to go to an all-female high school with a strong science program, maybe I just never had to face overt sexism myself.

    The turnaround about the dress comment made by Drescher dumbfounded me a bit, because it also seemed to be a sexist comment within itself! I would understand if this was an academic conference where the attendee was looking for a job or something that, gee, that’s not the best choice of clothing for that role. But I hardly think that TAM is the place to worry about such a thing.

    Gah, I’ve gotten to rambling again.

  18. I really liked this quotation from a commenter about three up (apologies, I don’t know how to make it indent as block quotation):

    “I’m not sure how I feel about some of the ladies’ clothing at TAM that Barbara mentioned. I am all for letting people dress like the want, social mores be damned. But if you wear something that obviously displays your cleavage, you are going to get a lot of people noticing your cleavage first. You can’t be surprised if you put on something unusual and then get noticed for your appearance.

    Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I don’t think many of the guys who come to TAM feel that women are intellectually inferior at all. But if you want to be judged on your intellect, it’s confusing when the first signal you send is “hey, check out these breasts.” ”

    This is simply an acknowledgement of reality. As a woman I feel strongly that women should be free to dress as they please – and men too – but that doesn’t somehow magically stop other people from noticing what we wear and reacting to it! It is not reasonable to expect the audience to look at a woman dressed scantily and sexually suggestively (as at least one woman I saw at TAM was dressed) and have as a first thought, “She’s a TAM attendee, she must be smart and thoughtful!” How absurd. Of course women must be free to dress any way they like, but they must be aware that people will respond how they respond – we demand respectful behaviour, but the inner thoughts are beyond the woman dresser’s control. She should consider that when she’s getting dressed in the morning.

    And this isn’t about women bowing to sexist demands. Everyone does this, it’s why we put on clothes in the first place instead of running around naked or in our PJ’s, which is surely more comfortable. We all agree there are certain basic standards of dress and both genders generally conform. (ie, we all wear pants.)

    Someone mentioned above dressing conservatively in the corporate world, and how this makes sense – this is the same principle that applies at TAM, an intellectual event. If you want to be seen as a fellow brain, don’t dress as a breast. Just dress like a person! Reserve the highly sexualized stuff for sexual times, like >99% of all people do.

    Maybe I just missed it, but I didn’t see any men dressing in a sexually explicit manner at TAM. There was one attendee who had a plush penis he was waving around, and I admit I dismissed him as non-serious and possibly a bimbo because of it. It was wrong of me to do so, yet at the same time I feel largely okay with my decision. Maybe he’s brilliant and interesting, but he’s also sexually inappropriate and I’m not comfortable with that. I’ll never know what he was like because the only side he presented to me was the sexual side, which wasn’t what I was at TAM for. This may be something like what the super-sexy women dressers experience. As the commenter I quoted noted, if the most noticeable thing is your breasts and legs, well, that’s what people’s first judgments will be based on. It’s just reality.

    PS: Prady’s speech was very offensive to me and I just don’t get the funny in a joke whose message was, “Women are for being f—ed, and since engaging their brains is sure to fail, best if you flatter them instead so you increase your odds of the f—ing.”

  19. standing there listening to Bill Prady talk insulted me on level that actually made me not even want to start watching his show. I have seen a total of two episodes of it and only really laughed during one of them. The reasons for this are simple: canned laughter annoys me (if you are funny, people will laugh anyways, one doesnt need to be taken on a leash and told when to laugh), and the other thing I cannot stand about it is the way women are portrayed on the show.

    And yet somehow when the person at TAM7 stood up and asked him why he writes women the way he does, he actually dug himself a deeper hole. My wife, Carr2d2, is fucking brilliant and her grasp of science and skepticism far exceeds my own on every level. The same goes for most every other woman I know (and most men). Point is, some of the things I have heard about skepchicks and women in skepticism are that they are not taken seriously in some groups (that they are nothing but “skeptic groupies”), this makes me upset and reminds me of the sport of Golf.

    Some people say the word golf stood for “Guys Only Ladies Forbidden”, and while one sees the occasional woman “allowed” to compete in the same event as men, they are still not treated as equals by some people. TAM is amazing, hell I love it and look forward to it every year (as A said at the party, “TAM is like skeptic christmas”), but having such a heavy lean towards the male point of view just reminds me of what I said about golf.

    Now we have Skepchickcon, which this past July 4th weekend kicked off a hugely successful first event. And as Carr2d2 plans the 2010 one (with a little help for favourite droid), we want to try and give that female point of view just as much a say as possible, while still respecting the male side. And who knows, come a few years down the road and maybe Skepchickcon & TAM will be the co-events of the year. I mean think of it as a Skeptic Hanukkah, with four days of skepchickcon followed by four more days of TAM. ~

  20. @phlebas: to be clear, i am keenly aware that when i wear a cleavage bearing top, people will look at my tits. i’m completely ok with that. what bothers me is the jump that seems to occur from people seeing my tits to people assuming that i have nothing more to offer.

    i ask you to look back on skepchickcon for a minute. my perception of it was that we were well received, both as partiers and panelists (and even when we did one panel in our pajamas). it’s possible that i’m deluded, or seeing things through different lenses, and i am honestly curious to know if you saw the same things i did.

  21. As someone who wears her cleavage EVERYWHERE (it goes with everything), I really do not like being told what is and is not appropriate. If someone can not take me seriously whilst my cleavage is showing, perhaps they need a blindfold. That said, I have never had any problems.

    I know EXACTLY who Dresher is talking about in her post. Many of us on Twitter know her, and love her, and it really makes me angry that this woman would judge her on her appearance. Sure, she dressed sexy, she IS sexy. She could wear a bag and be sexy. Or better yet, how about she wear a burqa?

    I was at TAM as well, and here is what I have to say about the weekend. Everyone likes to pretend that you can get 1,000 people together and NOT have sexual energy. That’s crap. The sexual energy in the room was crazy hot. You get that many people who are turned on by intelligence in one room, and some stuff is gonna happen.

    How about we just DEAL with it, instead of everyone pretending it is not there, and instead waiting to get drunk and release it.

    Also, speaking as a former and current bitch, I have noticed that whenever I am upset about another woman getting sexual attention from men, it is usually based in JEALOUSY! Learn to deal with your emotions lady.

  22. @heidiho:

    I’m fairly sure I know who she was talking about as well. And if I’m right, Dresher is a terrible judge of character… because that girl can smart circles around most people in ANY room. She’s fantastic and I’m honored to know her and be friends with her.

    If I’m wrong about who it was, I still feel the same way about the person I thought she was talking about… and wouldn’t have wanted to see her dressed any differently.

  23. I continue to vacillate on this topic myself. On the one hand, anyone should be able to wear anything they want. On the other hand, everyone is always being judged by the world based on exterior appearance. Men and women alike. @blogosaurus’ comment about Toby (the guy with the giant fuzzy penis) is a great example of this. Toby’s been to every TAM I’ve been to (probably more). He’s kind, funny, silly and smart. I’ve talked to him and interacted with him on the JREF forums.

    But at the end of the day, when I want to describe him to someone, he’s the guy with the giant fuzzy penis. To @phlebas’ point, it’s your brand.

    So I guess it comes down to how do people interpret brands? If someone dresses provocatively, I’m OK with the world seeing their sexuality as important to them and part of who they are. The problem, I think, is that sexuality then becomes the ONLY thing that people see and the person can be dismissed as a ‘bimbo’ or unintellectual because people can’t get past that.

    Is it different for other overt external statements? If someone dresses in way that isn’t sexually provocative but is outside of the ‘norm,’ (wearing a kilt, for example), are similar judgments made? Or is sex and sexuality such a big, mind-gripping thing that it’s automatically going to subsume everything else and cause stereotypes to form?

  24. @carr2d2:

    Writing a blog post which describes a woman only in terms of what she was wearing sounds like an excellent way to perpetuate the idea that the woman in question has “nothing more to offer.”

    @Tim3P0:

    Everything I have heard (and the few clips I have seen) of The Big Bang Theory suggests that its characters are significantly less interesting than the nerds I work with, hang out with and live with. Why would I waste my time on that?

  25. Wow, this just sums it up beautifully (Masasla Skeptic):

    “So I guess it comes down to how do people interpret brands? If someone dresses provocatively, I’m OK with the world seeing their sexuality as important to them and part of who they are. The problem, I think, is that sexuality then becomes the ONLY thing that people see and the person can be dismissed as a ‘bimbo’ or unintellectual because people can’t get past that.”

    This is such a good point. It’s totally unreasonable to dismiss a person entirely because of one aspect of their personality. I tend to take a pragmatic approach to this, which is that since the reality is we don’t have gender equality and people do stereotype, it’s only sensible to avoid falling into a stereotype hole (“bimbo”). But perhaps a better position would be, How can we change things so first impressions don’t close off all explorations of the person in question? Because everyone is sexual, but no one is *only* sexuality.

  26. @phlebas: “But if you want to be judged on your intellect, it’s confusing when the first signal you send is “hey, check out these breasts.””

    Why in the world does having nice breasts mean you should not be expected to be judged as a person on your intellect?! Are you saying the two are mutually exclusive??? That looking sexy *should* be expected to be interpreted as brainless?

    Showing cleavage should not be interpreted as sending any message other than “I’m proud of/comfortable with my body and sexuality.” A woman making herself look sexy is in no way a message of or reason to treat her as having more boobs than brains. Sure, it’s fine and appropriate (and perhaps unavoidable) to notice and appreciate, but then a guy should be able to move on and have no less expectation of having an intelligent conversation. Certainly the animated gif doesn’t make you believe there is no valuable content elsewhere on the page, or unable to focus on the rest of the information.

    Hopefully as sex becomes less and less taboo, men (and women) will have an easier time of maintaining proper brain function in the vicinity of a sexually appealing facade. We have made progress…I almost never silence a man with my flagrant flaunting of dainty ankles.

  27. @Masala Skeptic: to address this, and your above comment about whether or not it’s productive to “play the game”, well, to be honest, i don’t know.

    what i do know is that i prefer to be who i am, regardless of the consequences. maybe that’s stupid, but that’s just me. i’d like to think that we can change people’s attitudes.

  28. @stacie: cotw:

    Hopefully as sex becomes less and less taboo, men (and women) will have an easier time of maintaining proper brain function in the vicinity of a sexually appealing facade. We have made progress…I almost never silence a man with my flagrant flaunting of dainty ankles.

  29. @carr2d2: “yes, the joke was very subtle, and i understand why you may not understand its impact, but it seems to have had the same impact on many women in that room: it made us feel as though we did not exist.”

    Exactly. The issue is that Prady actually was not at all talking to or acknowledging the presence of women in the room. He was making jokes that were specifically tailored toward men – a presumptuous and poor decision on his part.

  30. @Blake Stacey:

    Writing a blog post which describes a woman only in terms of what she was wearing sounds like an excellent way to perpetuate the idea that the woman in question has “nothing more to offer.”

    and that’s exactly why i called out drescher and started this discussion.

  31. If polling data tends to show that women are more likely to report belief in things like miracles and astrology, what are we supposed to do about that preconception? I know that in my own dating life the women who DON’T mention astrology are few and far between, and that’s AFTER I’ve selected them for brains and nerdiness.

    Granted, the dudes in my life are statistically more likely to believe in UFOs or government conspiracies, but I tend not to date them.

  32. How we dress is unavoidably interpersonal because other people can see it – usually better than we can ourselves! There is a reason we dress at home in frumpy, comfy clothes but get dressed up to go out: outside, others see us! To say any individual dresses only for themselves is disingenuous (though perhaps unintentionally so).

    And I am confused by the commenters who take the position that showing cleavage (as one example of sexual dress) is not meant to be tittilating to others. Am I the only one whose breasts are sexual?

  33. @stacie:

    Although I agree that showing a nice bit of cleavage should be able to say “I’m proud of/comfortable with my body and sexuality.” and not “Look boobies!” But that may be the first irrational, hormonal reaction to the sight. I’m a hetero woman and yet if I see a lowcut shirt on a shapely woman I can’t help but think “Wow! Nice boobs!” as my first fleeting thought. Of course, I and most of the men and women here can go right past that thought and continue to find out more about the person, who she is, and have an intelligent conversation. But to deny that the first reaction may be sexual is ignoring a fundamental part of human nature.

    Maybe, like you said, we can move to a point as a society where it is acceptable to think “Damn, that’s hot!” initially then move gracefully into an intellectual conversation…. and have that be okay.

    But don’t ask me, really. I’m a member of the itty bitty titty committee…. ;-)

  34. @blogosaurus: “It is not reasonable to expect the audience to look at a woman dressed scantily and sexually suggestively (as at least one woman I saw at TAM was dressed) and have as a first thought, “She’s a TAM attendee, she must be smart and thoughtful!” How absurd. Of course women must be free to dress any way they like, but they must be aware that people will respond how they respond – we demand respectful behaviour, but the inner thoughts are beyond the woman dresser’s control. She should consider that when she’s getting dressed in the morning.”

    Now that is absurd. Just because it’s the status quo does *not* in any way validate it or make it something we should all just put up with. It’s fine if any woman does not feel comfortable bucking the system, but to then say to the ones that do that they should just accept the ridiculous leap of logic that sexiness equals brainlessness as a result of their wardrobe choices is completely counterproductive and not all progressive. If everyone had this mindset women would all be wearing floor length gowns, corsets so tight they would faint, and certainly wouldn’t be voting. Who knows, perhaps one day it *will* be acceptable for people to be naked in public if they choose. We’ve got the ankles, we’re working on the thighs…who knows what’s next?

  35. Stacie makes a good point – sexuality should not equal brainlessness.

    As I said above, I generally take a pragmatic approach of trying to acknowledge reality as it currently is. We need to find ways of changing the reality, and I’m not sure parading more sexuality is the way to do it – but the point stands!

  36. @stacie, @Nicole: I have always associated ‘intelligent’ with ‘hot.’ But not necessarily the reverse. I think the best part of the Skepchick community is that I’m beginning to associate boobs with intellectual conversation. It’s awesome.

    But that is not the norm! And the fact is that when you dress in a way that shows your sexuality, whether you are male or female, there *will* be a physical response from other people and most likely that will be the first response.

    The key, I think, is to stick around and typically you’ll find an even sexier brain there. I think that’s the association that will take longer to put in place.

    SkepchickCON was a good example. We threw pajama parties, sexy science parties etc where we were in heels and labcoats or silk pajamas. For some amount of that we were unashamedly using our physical attributes to sell skepticism. But we spent as much time discussing science, skepticism and ‘intellectual’ topics as we did doing body shots. And it translated. Many of the people who came to our parties also came to the panels.

    Come for the boobs, stay for the conversation, I say.

  37. @Nicole:
    I’m definitely not denying that boobs on display will get the reaction of “Me-ow!,” or some other appreciative thought. What I am saying is that the woman is not trying to send a message of, “This is all I got, so I’d like to draw your attention to my amazing neckline chasm.” She could merely be comfortable with her body and sexuality and be expressing that aspect of her personality. Why does sexuality have to be limited to our bedrooms? Why can we not, as intelligent people, acknowledge our sexuality in our everyday public lives?

    Appreciation is appreciated. Assumptions that brainy people hide their sexuality are illogical and unconscionable.

  38. <OFFTOPIC>
    It’s really too bad that he led with the joke that started all this, because deeper in his speech Prady had a good message that was repeated (albeit in different forms) in several presentations at TAM 7.

    I believe the way Prady put it was something like: “people’s beliefs are not a contest for you to win.” In other words, we shouldn’t be so quick to jump right down someone’s throat when we find they have a woo-woo belief. I agree with him on this. I think this is the #1 reason that skeptics gain a reputation of being cynical assholes, and it hurts us.

    I had some slides relating to this in my “Intro to Skepticism” workshop, and Penn Jillette made a related comment on one of the panels. But it was capped off by Steve Cuno’s presentation about branding on Sunday. We really do need to work on how skepticism as a whole is perceived by the general public.
    </OFFTOPIC>

  39. @blogosaurus:

    Showing cleavage IS supposed to be titillating, but not at the exclusion of all other positive traits a woman posses.

    Carrie and Tracy both wore very sexy, low cut shirts… and believe me, I appreciated the view… but I never once thought, oh man too bad they’re not smart. To think that either of these ladies lacks brains because of their spectacular racks is… well, just stupid. They are brilliant women. They are also quite attractive. The way they dress attracts attention, and shouldn’t it? If they can look great and attract people to them, isn’t that a great way to promote what they are trying to say? Far more efficient than wearing a long skirt and long sleeved blouse and hoping people will take you seriously because you look like an Oregon Trail character come to life.

  40. @blogosaurus: I really do think that the way to bust unreasonable taboos is to just fly in the face of them until people are desensitized. The only reason it is taboo is because people are unused to it, and the only way to get used to it is to see it as commonplace and normal. Certainly there is intelligent conversation that should happen at the same time. I believe this conversation can be spurred by the taboo behavior, and the more it is talked about, the more people will want to do it. However, I don’t think it’s likely we can just talk ourselves out of oohing and aahing at the sight of something rarely seen.

  41. @stacie: “Why can we not, as intelligent people, acknowledge our sexuality in our everyday public lives?”

    You just summed up the problem very nicely in one sentence. I’d like an answer to that, too! It’s something I’ve put a lot of thought into recently… and yeah, I got nothing. For me personally, that’s a worthy goal to inch towards.

    @krelnik:

    I appreciate the “off topic” comment because that’s yet another worthy goal to inch towards! Ack, so many things to want to do… where to start!!

    I can catch up on all these amazing talks (pun not intended til after I read it) when the DVD comes out, right?

  42. @krelnik: actually, tim, i did catch and appreciate that message as well. i think it’s an important one and i think it fits in with a general theme about being a skeptic without being an asshole that popped up a lot at tam. this is something i plan to write about in a future post.
    having said that, i don’t think that makes this discussion irrelevant or unnecessary. and don’t get me wrong: just because i criticize one aspect of prady’s talk doesn’t mean i think he’s a jerk or that he doesn’t have anything good to say. it’s just that in this post, i’ve chosen to focus on one facet of the convention.

  43. @carr2d2:

    to be clear, i am keenly aware that when i wear a cleavage bearing top, people will look at my tits. i’m completely ok with that. what bothers me is the jump that seems to occur from people seeing my tits to people assuming that i have nothing more to offer.

    But when we’re talking about first impressions, you have not yet offered anything other than your breasts. By wearing something that highlights your sexuality, that will be absolutely the only thing someone knows about you the first time they meet you. Talk to them, and sure, they will learn quickly that there is a lot more to you. But when they see you across a room, there is no other interaction and the only impression they are left with is “sexy!”

    And there’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s what you want to convey. If you want to convey something else, you have to actively do that. Unfortunately, there’s very little about intellect that can be gleaned from appearance, so you basically have to give people something other than physical appearance.

    If you don’t do that, you can’t get mad at someone who only knows you for your body.

    i ask you to look back on skepchickcon for a minute. my perception of it was that we were well received, both as partiers and panelists (and even when we did one panel in our pajamas). it’s possible that i’m deluded, or seeing things through different lenses, and i am honestly curious to know if you saw the same things i did.

    I think the whole con fell in love with all of you. I didn’t see much else apart from a few minutes of the MST3K bunch, but from what I could tell from partygoers and panel attendees, you guys were a huge hit.

    But look at what was different between Convergence and TAM:

    You actively worked to recruit Skepchicks and other skeptical women (like Pamela Gay) to attend and sit on the panels. One of the first impressions you made to all of those people were intellectual. You were insightful, witty, and engaging, as I know the Skepchicks are in general. You gave great panel and great party.

    But compare that to TAM. *I* know how busy you were with the wedding and planning for the party, but only because I was there with you. From the POV of the general TAM attendee who might know little about the Skepchicks, you were all bridesmaids and party hosts. Nothing wrong with that, but nothing that overtly displays your intellectual gifts.

    That was my point about putting yourself out there at TAM. That’s exactly what you did at Skepchickcon, and the results speak for themselves. You gave the folks in Minneapolis something besides your looks to latch on to.

    You want respect regardless of how you dress. You deserve it, but it’s not granted on demand.

  44. @phlebas:

    But look at what was different between Convergence and TAM:

    You actively worked to recruit Skepchicks and other skeptical women (like Pamela Gay) to attend and sit on the panels. One of the first impressions you made to all of those people were intellectual. You were insightful, witty, and engaging, as I know the Skepchicks are in general. You gave great panel and great party.

    But compare that to TAM. *I* know how busy you were with the wedding and planning for the party, but only because I was there with you. From the POV of the general TAM attendee who might know little about the Skepchicks, you were all bridesmaids and party hosts. Nothing wrong with that, but nothing that overtly displays your intellectual gifts.

    That was my point about putting yourself out there at TAM. That’s exactly what you did at Skepchickcon, and the results speak for themselves. You gave the folks in Minneapolis something besides your looks to latch on to.

    i’d be hard pressed to disagree with any of that. you’re right: we do need to try harder to be part of the action at tam. i think a lot of us are just burned out by the perceived (and real) attitudes of some of the “old guard”, and we need to fight harder.
    @krelnik: i wasn’t sure…glad we’re on the same page :)

  45. @phlebas:

    I guess at TAM we, or at least I, go in expecting people to know that we’re smart and funny and dedicated members of the skeptical community because of the work we do here, at Skepchick, every day. If showing off my boobs negates all of that, it’s a problem. But the problem isn’t my boobs and how much or little of them you’re seeing.

    We are sexy. We are fun. And one of the big turn offs for women getting into science and brainy-boy things is because of the image that women who do that are nerds; they’re not sexy and they’re not fun. If the message is that you don’t have to choose one or the other, we can’t play down the sexy. We can’t play down the party. We can’t say it’s mostly science or mostly party or mostly sexy. It’s all of it… at the same time. And that’s not trivial.

  46. I wonder if what was done with the Science Based Medicine Conference this year might be a way to go forward with the ideas here (about improving TAM). They scheduled their one-day conference so it would coincide with the first day of TAM (Thursday) in the same hotel, making it easy for folks to attend both. Maybe we could continue to extend further back in the week, i.e. adding more non-JREF sponsored events on the Wednesday before or even the Monday after?

    JREF also expanded the Thursday workshops from two to four this year for the first time. A Skepchick.org-sponsored workshop session would be a similar way to go with perhaps less overhead involved. I think we have an “in” at JREF that might help that happen. ;-)

    One logistical issue that I’m sure was a problem this year, and will continue in 2010, is the fact that CONvergence and TAM are one week apart.

  47. @carr2d2: “what i do know is that i prefer to be who i am, regardless of the consequences. maybe that’s stupid, but that’s just me. i’d like to think that we can change people’s attitudes.”

    I can’t comment on the tone of Prady’s entire talk or all of TAM7 because I wasn’t there. That clip was held up as the worst of it, and just didn’t strike me as an example of something to be fixed. Imagine how an alcoholic might feel about that joke with its casual reference to hanging out in bar or how a person with conservative morals might feel about his sly references to premarital sex. The only way to tell a joke without potentially offending someone is to not tell it.

    What I get from what you wrote is the problem at TAM7 was “subtle sexism” and the fix is “to change peoples attitudes”. I’m suggesting that you’ll make more progress by identifying both a more specific problem and coming up with a more specific solution. Was the problem a shortage of women speakers? Recruit more. Women attendees? Ditto. The great thing about volunteer organizations is there is always a shortage of help. I’m certain a few different people volunteering to help next year’s speakers can have a disproportionate effect. The same goes for publicity. More women will attend if women are actively recruited to attend.

    I want to point out as clearly as possible at no point did I say your perception was wrong. I am not a woman so clearly I cannot give a woman’s perspective. I am also not black, native-American, Asian, under-privileged, or suffering from any large deviations from the norm in body or mind. I am neither particularly young nor particularly old. I am more or less average weight and still have most of my hair. So before anyone accuses me of being completely unable to understand discrimination in any form I’ll freely admit it. I am so completely average and privileged that a barely know how to spell the word prejudice. On the other hand I have been alive for forty-mumble years and I have never seen a problem fixed by changing attitudes. Attitudes change in response to changing conditions. If the conditions change the attitudes of the testicles in the room will change along with them.

  48. @Jodi: “In other words do you think people might still think that geeky girls=not pretty and pretty girls=not geeky? How do we change this?”

    I haven’t read the rest of the comments, but I think we change this by being intelligent while wearing fishnets and a short skirt. :)

    Honestly, though, I can definitely say that people address this in different ways – some refuse to wear “business casual” to show that sexy can be smart, some wear more conservative clothing to be taken seriously… I think the real answer is to have more people be comfortable in their own skins.

    I am getting involved in roller derby – I love fishnets, short skirts, sex and full-contact sports. I am also an elementary school teacher – I love comfortable shoes, skirts long enough to cover everything when I sit on the floor, sharing, and honesty.

    I would feel just as comfortable discussing skepticism and science in either setting, or either outfit. I think where we need to be careful is when we project our own comfort level onto others… “I wouldn’t be comfortable going out in public looking like that, so she is clearly wrong…”

    I think because we are a minority, we feel as though all other women represent us. When they are doing something we wouldn’t feel comfortable doing, maybe we worry that it will be expected of us or that they are somehow making it harder for us by making us justify our own comfort level. In reality, though, the best thing to do is accept her choices and be confident in your own. This will show that there are a variety of PEOPLE (men and women) who are intelligent and think skeptically, and that’s probably the best view to have…

  49. @stacie:

    Why in the world does having nice breasts mean you should not be expected to be judged as a person on your intellect?! Are you saying the two are mutually exclusive??? That looking sexy *should* be expected to be interpreted as brainless?

    Jesus H, that is so not what I am saying. It’s good to know we still get knee-jerk reactions to topics like this to keep the discussion from being too productive.

    There is nothing about breasts, nice or otherwise, that says anything about intelligence. No one is disputing that.

    But when you showcase your breasts, you run the very real risk of people including them in their initial impressions of you. If you don’t give them something to make them realize there is so much more to you than boobs, then you are inviting them to free-associate what they know about you (i.e. boobs) with whatever stereotype they have.

    Then, later on, if your name comes up or they see you again, what will they say? “Oh, right. Stacie. The one with the nice boobs.” Until you actively work to overcome that, it’s going to be a barrier to that person thinking of your nice, supple brains first.

    Hopefully as sex becomes less and less taboo, men (and women) will have an easier time of maintaining proper brain function in the vicinity of a sexually appealing facade. We have made progress…I almost never silence a man with my flagrant flaunting of dainty ankles.

    At some point, you’re going to hit reproductive biology. An ankle, no matter how dainty, is not a sexual body part to most. While I can be in a room with a fully clothed carr2d2 and talk to her intelligently, I am not sure I could sit with her when she’s wearing two pasties and a thong and focus on what’s coming out of my mouth. But maybe I’m unusually perverted.

  50. @carr2d2:

    i think a lot of us are just burned out by the perceived (and real) attitudes of some of the “old guard”, and we need to fight harder.

    I understand. And I agree :) And I think it’s changing, although it never changes as fast as we want. I’ve noticed a marked improvement in both the male:female ratio and the average age at TAM since we’ve been going (though I think that’s unique to JREF among skeptical organizations).

  51. @“Other” Amanda:

    I think because we are a minority, we feel as though all other women represent us. When they are doing something we wouldn’t feel comfortable doing, maybe we worry that it will be expected of us or that they are somehow making it harder for us by making us justify our own comfort level. In reality, though, the best thing to do is accept her choices and be confident in your own. This will show that there are a variety of PEOPLE (men and women) who are intelligent and think skeptically, and that’s probably the best view to have…

    exactly.

    @phlebas:

    But maybe I’m unusually perverted.

    well, that goes without saying, doesn’t it? ;)

  52. @phlebas: I think that’s a great point. The JREF has been more successful than any other skeptical organization at attracting more minorities and women to the skeptical community and we should definitely not blame them. There were a lot more women on stage and in the audience at TAM than in past years and I think it’s important to remember that it’s not the JREF’s job to get more women involved. It’s the JREF’s job to promote skepticism. Now, the JREF has made getting more women and minorities involved one of its goals but at the end of the day, the responsibilty lies with us.

    @krelnik and others are right. We need to push ourselves to get more involved, in TAM and other events. And I think that’s exactly what we’re doing. But it’s easy to forget that we’re not there yet and that there is still work to be done.

  53. @phlebas: as a fellow skepdude, i agree that this is both a topic that we want to speak/comment on. But we also are in the tough spot of making sure we are both understood in the right context when all the reader sees is our words. I know what you mean and also wish that the changing would go faster, and yes it is slowly moving in the right direction with the likes of the Skepchick, and Pamela L. Gay, Eugenie Scott (there are many more, but I am tired and those were the first that came to mind) and all their fantastic contributions in skepticism and science. :)

  54. I am hungover, and somewhat foggy of brain at the moment. Nonetheless, I have got to have my say before this thread carries on to gargantuan lengths and I drift off to neverneverland.

    And yes, this is an angry post, because I am angry at the blazing ignorant avoidance of science that is being expressed in this thread. So, as such, I make no apology for the tone of this post; however I do make apology if anyone is personally offended by it. You shouldn’t be though, because it is just an intelluctial piece of bombast. What this angry post should do is make you think, and go to your local bookstore or library and pick up the books listed at the end of the post.

    Rarely have I seen a thread here at Skepchick that is so unburdened by the heavy-duty critical thinking involved in understanding human behaviour and its roots of evolution, chemistry, and the “game” of sex selection, sexual messaging, and so forth, behaviour that got every single one of us here, on the planet Earth, in the first place.

    Listen, have so many of you folks really decided, in some kind of feminism-based intellectual blockade, to ignore and dismiss everything that we as a species know (or think we understand) about evolution, sex selection, sex messages, visual appeal, etc., etc., etc.?

    There seems to be a profound, and I do mean profound, confusion here between issues of sexism and issues of behaviour and chemistry resulting from a simple process called evolution.

    There is also quite clearly an either intentional, or ignorance-based confusion between femininity and overt sexual messaging.

    Carrd2d said:

    … men in the skeptical movement, well intentioned as they may be, have a tendency to look at women as though we are some sort of separate species; monolithic and mysterious, and that there is some sort of code they need to learn but can never seem to work out which will magically get them laid and make all women love them.

    Women and men are different for crying out loud. And there are quite specific codes of behaviour and communication that are different for the sexes that control and underlie sexual messaging, which is the process guiding species procreation and survival.

    Why anyone would insist on assuming that anyone who perceives that difference is being sexist, or that anyone who perceives that difference is automatically assuming that women are inferior completely baffles me. Bolloks to that.

    Carr2d2, you appear to be completely forgetting evolution and chemistry, niether of which are cultural, social, or anthropogenic.

    Men are “designed” (I know that is technically an incorrect usage of term, but for this discussion it will suffice) via evolution to somewhat perpetually seek out women to have sex with. And women are “designed” via evolution to somewhat perpetually, send out messages to men that they “want to get laid” (I hate that term, but it seems to be favoured in this thread, so when in Rome….).

    While I love the vision of egalitarianism offered by the more rational aspects of the so-called Women’s Movement, I detest this convenient setting aside of the facts of biology.

    Carrd2d said:

    …part and parcel of the same problem I touched on above of women (or at least attractive women) being seen as separate from (read: intellectually inferior to) men.

    Having not been there, I have no idea what kind of outfits men were wearing. But, trying to stay on topic, I must ask: Were men wearing clothes that clearly stated “Look at my sexual design; I want you to want to fuck me”?

    Your rant reminds me a little bit of Ani Difranco’s completely ridiculous, utterly ludicrous rationale regarding wearing “fuck me” underwear in public. Look, like it or not, women (and to a lesser degree, men) are “designed” through evolution to send “I want you to want to fuck me” signals. They are also somewhat evolutionarily designed to find the most convenient and appealing ways to send that message, which in our time and cultures means sending that message through clothing that quite specifically states “Look at my sexual design; I want you to want to fuck me”.

    All of us, men and women, both heterosexual and homosexual tend to support, endorse, and partake in spreading that message at various times, through any means, but in a very large part through dress.

    There is a distinction, easily observed, between “being seen as loud and obnoxious weirdos, and … [dressing] a bit outrageously”, and wearing clothes that state “I want you to want to fuck me”. And that applies wether you are male or female.

    The level of disingenuous blather, and such complete dismissal and avoidance of chemistry-induced behaviour resulting from evolution in this topic is quite distressing.

    @Masala Skeptic said:

    … suppress their individuality and particularly their sexuality.

    No. It is not about suppressing individuality and sexuality, it is about being realistic and honest about the facts of sexual messaging, and how clothing, and presentation, and all sorts of factors play into that for both men and women.

    @Elyse said:

    Even the dumbest Pisces girl knows that “You have such incredible eyes” is nothing more than a cheap tool to get her to bang you. You know what else? She already knows how incredible (or not) her eyes are.

    Elyse, I have a lot of respect for you, I really do, but that comment just reeks of sexist generalizations and is mostly complete and utter bullshit! Lots of men, gay and straight and whatever all else, often tell women they have beautiful eyes, without wanting to bed them simpy because it’s true. Women are “designed” through evolution to have beautiful eyes. That is a simple, biological, and chemical fact.

    @earthbound01 said:

    Men aren’t expected to dress androgynously or to elaborately hide their sexuality,

    In fact they are. Men’s clothing is mostly designed to be sex-message-free, but heavy when it comes to other cliched and stereotypically favoured male attraction points, i.e., physical strength, dominance, business-go-getters, wealthy neuters, blah, blah, blah.

    @Masala Skeptic said:

    On the one hand, anyone should be able to wear anything they want….

    Pah! So, men should be able to walk in children’s playgrounds wearing overcoats with a hole cut in them so their dick can hang out? Women should be able to wear clothing in a men’s gym with their tits and genitals exposed? I think not.

    Women and men who intentionally dress in an intentionally sexually provocative manner indicating the “I want you to want to fuck me message” are, generally speaking, both perceived as brain dead entities by almost all of us because sex is a mostly brain-dead avtivity. So to speak — yes, yes, yes, good sex requires a good imagination which requires a good working brain, etc., etc., etc., but obviously that is not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about simple, R-complex brain function. Which is a concept or topic that inexplicabley seems to be missing in this thread.

    @stacie said:

    Why in the world does having nice breasts mean you should not be expected to be judged as a person on your intellect?

    Because in terms of evolution and brain chemistry, over which none of has any real or meaningful control (except in so far as resultant action, but not initial thought or feeling is concerned), that is what breasts have evolved to signal. Please note: I did not say that is the primary or soul function of breasts. I specifically am commenting on the message sending function of design, or to put it another way, over deep time human female breasts have, through selection, evolved into this form and shape (that drives ol’ Gabriel batshit crazy) that has a tendancy to sidestep rational thought and cry out “Brainless Sex; Brainless Sex; Brainless Sex.” Like it or not.

    @stacie said:

    Showing cleavage should not be interpreted as sending any message other than “I’m proud of/comfortable with my body and sexuality.”

    Nope. That completely and utterly ignores evolution and the role of sexual messaging in human behaviour. That statement, or more accurately the message it carries/quotes is, so to speak, an anthropegenic and false intellectual construction.

    @stacie said:

    Hopefully as sex becomes less and less taboo, men (and women) will have an easier time of maintaining proper brain function in the vicinity of a sexually appealing facade.

    In which instance we will have evolved into a species less conerned with species survival and species procreation, and become something else altogether different.

    Here is a list of some good books to read that will help inform on these and other important science-based matters:

    The Selfish Gene — Richard Dawkins
    The Blank Slate — Stepven Pinker
    The Demon Haunted World — Carl Sagan
    Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors — Carl Sagan
    Why Darwin Matters — Micheal Shermer

    I’m quite sure that some of you are just frothing at the bit to throw pithy ad hominems my way (Hi bug_girl /waves hand frantically …) , accusations of sexism, threadjacking, and who knows what all else, but please, before you do, go and read at least two of those books. Then come back and using some critical thinking, and research, slam my ideas, not me, all to hell and back if you want to.

  55. @phlebas and @stacie: : But if you were USED to see women in pasties and thongs around all the time, because it was socially acceptable, would the tongue-tied-ness fade away so that you could have an intelligent discussion without being overly distracted?

    I’d be inclined to guess no, and this goes for any of us. Even if we got used to living in a nudist colony there’s bound to be something that sends a sexual signal to the brain and then brain no worky. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Isn’t that part of acknowledging sexuality in our everyday lives?

  56. @Elyse:

    I guess at TAM we, or at least I, go in expecting people to know that we’re smart and funny and dedicated members of the skeptical community because of the work we do here, at Skepchick, every day.

    But how do you expect that to manifest? If you polled people at TAM, I have no doubt the overwhelming majority of them would agree with you.

    When at TAM did any of the Skepchicks get shat on? I think you have a great rep among JREF and the TAM attendees.

    But what were you expecting to be different at TAM? Apart from Rebecca, not many people there would know any of the Skepchicks on sight. Without having any previous ideas about you individually, you’re left with “look! boobs!” until they learned who you were.

  57. @SicPreFix: Okay, I’ve already read at least two of those books on your list, am I worthy to comment?

    I think you are putting a lot of emphasis on the biology/chemistry/evolution aspect which, although important, is not the driving factor in these situations. I agree that these are driving forces in our initial reactions to situations, and it’s important to understand that the brain goes “oo, sexy!” and that’s fine. But we are also talking about the resultant reactions, beyond the first impression, to seeing, for example, a supposedly suggestively dressed person and how we treat that person, act around that person, and/or blog about that person.

    Wasn’t it Dawkins, whom you reference, who said “We need to rise above our Darwinian heritage.” ?

  58. @SicPreFix:

    Elyse, I have a lot of respect for you, I really do, but that comment just reeks of sexist generalizations and is mostly complete and utter bullshit! Lots of men, gay and straight and whatever all else, often tell women they have beautiful eyes, without wanting to bed them simpy because it’s true. Women are “designed” through evolution to have beautiful eyes. That is a simple, biological, and chemical fact.

    I get that you’re angry, but you took that quote utterly out of context for what reason?

    People tell me I have beautiful eyes all the time. Because I do. And they do it without fucking me… and without wanting to fuck me.

    But if you are having a conversation, in a bar with a woman you’ve never met and you’re telling her she has beautiful eyes because you’re trying to have sex with her, she’s going to see through it.

    Which is the EXACT context of that statement. But as long as you preface that condescending oh-elyse-if-you’ve-ever-stepped-out-of-your-angry-woman-cocoon-you’d-understand rant with “I respect you”, I guess I can assume that you didn’t mean to insult me when you assumed that I’ve apparently never had an interaction with another human being.

  59. @Nicole: … not the driving factor in these situations.

    You could be right of course, but I am not convinced that it is not the primary driving factor, in the sense that evolution and chemistry are at the root of all our behaviour to some degree — I am not saying it is the sole source of behaviour, just, in my opinion, the primary cause or root.

    Wasn’t it Dawkins, whom you reference, who said “We need to rise above our Darwinian heritage.”

    I don’t know. It may well have been. But what was his context? What was his intent?

    To some degrees places like this very much (and somewhat successfully) play the role of trying to rise above our Darwinian heritage, but in my opinion, most of the sentiments stated in this thread do precisely the opposite, and in fact reinforce such phenomena.

  60. @Nicole:

    But if you were USED to see women in pasties and thongs around all the time, because it was socially acceptable, would the tongue-tied-ness fade away so that you could have an intelligent discussion without being overly distracted?

    Remind me to experiment on that at DragonCon :)

  61. @Nicole: I’d be inclined to guess no, and this goes for any of us.

    ————

    Cultures that are used to nudity don’t find it distracting, and clothing is no barrier to distraction in cultures that are used to clothing.

    That’s why the chadour. Islam is attempting to fight a battle that can’t be won.

  62. @SicPreFix: i think our disagreement is largely a semantic one.

    when i say the following:

    … men in the skeptical movement, well intentioned as they may be, have a tendency to look at women as though we are some sort of separate species; monolithic and mysterious, and that there is some sort of code they need to learn but can never seem to work out which will magically get them laid and make all women love them.

    i do not mean that i think there are no differences between men and women. of course there are. as a student of anthropology, this is one of my primary areas of interest.

    what i am getting at here is that i don’t think the average differences between men and women, in any area, are anything close to those represented in how society perceives these differences, and thus people would be much better served to try to avoid preconceptions based on gender when interacting with new people.

    i’m in no way denying the evolutionary forces at work in these matters; i’m simply trying to explore ways to get beyond them. i’d argue that this is part of our continued adaptation. as human culture and society evolves, we develop beyond our knee-jerk, evolutionary reactions. they still exist, but they become contextualized within a social framework that allows us to create a more productive community.

    maybe i’ve misunderstood, but it seems to me that you are arguing that the fact that something is natural or ingrained means that it is necessarily right and there is no reason to try to discuss it.

    dawkins himself discusses this fairly explicitly; emphasizing the fact that he is addressing what is, and not necessarily what should be. that is up to us, as a social species, to determine.

  63. @SicPreFix:

    That was not my intent at all, at all, at all.

    Here’s the thing. Regardless of the validity or lack thereof of your points, your tone and your attitude in that post completely cloud anything you’re trying to say.

    If you’re not intending it, then someone should tell you outright: you’re coming off as condescending and arrogant and using that tone is absolutely not going to get anyone to listen to the content of what you’re trying to say.

    Regarding what you’re trying to say: I don’t think anyone here disagrees that there’s an evolutionary component to this issue. I, for one, was taking that as a given. There are evolutionary imperatives for a lot of behaviors that we don’t consider acceptable or we handle via laws or social norms.

    The point is, we need to get past our ‘we’re just animals’ mentality because, as humans, that’s what we *do*. This conversation is about how do we do that and also, how do we improve the status of women in the skeptical community.

    Here’s a hint: Patting us on the head, telling us to read more books and throwing in a random aside slam at Bug isn’t the way to go. It doesn’t make you smart or clever or funny. It just makes you a douche. And it makes us less likely to even come close to listening to what you have to say. You’ll be dismissed FAR sooner than me or one of the other girls wearing a short skirt or showing cleavage, I’m afraid.

  64. @carr2d2 said:

    … our disagreement is largely a semantic one.

    Yes indeed, that may very well be. As I say, I am hungover and pissed off, so I may be misinterpreting perspective and semantics.

    what i am getting at here is that i don’t think the average differences between men and women, in any area, are anything close to those represented in how society perceives these differences, and thus people would be much better served to try to avoid preconceptions based on gender when interacting with new people.

    Fair enough. But if, please note I am saying “if” not “because,” our evolution and chemistry are at the root of all of our behaviour, can we really successfully or completely oversome these behaviours without some form of perhaps chemical reinforcement? That’s just a ponder, not a posit.

    i’m in no way denying the evolutionary forces at work in these matters; i’m simply trying to explore ways to get beyond them. i’d argue that this is part of our continued adaptation. as human culture and society evolves, we develop beyond our knee-jerk, evolutionary reactions. they still exist, but they become contextualized within a social framework that allows us to create a more productive community.

    But do we really, in a truly effective or substantive way, overcome our knee-jerk evolutionary reactions? Or do we just change targets? It is my belief that for the most part we just change (and rationalize) targets.

    maybe i’ve misunderstood, but it seems to me that you are arguing that the fact that something is natural or ingrained means that it is necessarily right and there is no reason to try to discuss it.

    No, not at all. And yes, you have misunderstood. And I knew that such misinterpretation would be one of the many risks of such a long and angry post, but I felt I must proceed.

    My point is not that “it is necessarily right and there is no reason to try to discuss it”, but that it is irrelevant, at best, and further damaging, at worst, to posit the wrong root cause and underlying meaning of the behaviour. To do so shifts the focus for change into the wrong venue, as it were. I know I’ve neglected to offer any alternative answers, which is a failing of my post for sure. But I also felt I had already gone on far too long, and was, as I say, risking far too many misinterpretations and minuderstandings, which as we can see are already surfacing fast and furious.

    By the by, thank you for your politeness. I should have been more gentle myself.

  65. I say this not to derail the conversation, merely to be tangential.

    Without meaning to sound caustic or condescending here, but why has there been no discussion of gender rolls? You may retort that this has been nothing BUT a discussion about gender rolls, but truthfully, it’s been about sex-rolls, not gender. Incidentally, if you go to a baker and they offer to sell you a “sex roll”, DON’T BUY IT! Trust me. I can NEVER go to Six Flags ever again!

    From what I can see, the skeptic community is a little behind (at least in pockets) of understanding, or even accepting the difference between sex and gender. In short, Sex: Biologically-defined. Gender: Socially-constructed. I find it’s these same little pockets that will be so quick to dichotomize a men/women dialogue that uses gender-laden language (also, “men and women” are not genders, I should say that now), and tends to be, at best, gender-ish (such as the acknowledgment that skepticism is a diverse community, and people can dress however the hell they want, free from the judgment of your damned socialized eyes), but falls short in understanding the spectrum of gender. (Even a psychiatrist I knew untrained in gender-studies wasn’t aware of the seven-gender spectrum). I hear an awful lot of language that is couched in an otherwise gender dialogue, but then proceeds to use the biologically-defined sexes, absent of gender subtlety (“Women” this, and “Men” that). When people say “men and women” in these sorts of contexts, what they really mean “masculine and feminine”. There’s simply much, much more to the story here. What I see in this thread is a confusion between the physical and social constructs, and (unintentional) attempts to overlap/conflate the two is what is causing the conflict/confusion/anger et. all.

    I know it sounds like a trifle, and I’m not in the business of trying to change the language (as per the post-modernist project), but wouldn’t it be great if we stopped using the mere two terms as prescribed by sex, and adopt the seven terms as prescribed by what society already has anyway? Part of the whole seven-genders thing is that fully allows for the fringes: A person can be in a state between two particular genders, and that’s perfectly fine. “Men and Women” doesn’t allow for that, (unless the more charitable “intersexed” gets brought into the debate, and even then, you still are stuck with three, woefully insufficient terms that disallow for subtlety) and I think that’s a huge root of the problem of deciding for other people what is appropriate for a woman to dress like. When you’re stuck in a Men-Women dichotomy, you can almost not help but falling into these tricky traps.

    The very language itself is extremely problematic. This post o’mine is not about ignoring the role of the biological, as my Canadian colleague (yes, we’re all colleagues up here….and hockey players), SicPrefix mentioned, but its about properly separating the biological from the social. Both have incredible importance so long as we understand the realms of knowledge that they occupy, and the realms that they cannot-overlap. There are great books out there describing the evolution of sex and sexuality, but there are equally important books out there describing the maladaptive nature of over-application of the scientific onto the social arena (and, of course, the other way around, wherein the social cannot fully intrude onto the scientific arena, as the post-modernists have yet to figure out)

    Hyoomanitees D’gree. I haz one.

    Okay, I’m done (for now). I sincerely hope I didn’t come off as too patronizing, and I don’t specifically disagree with anyone. Just trying to point out language issues that we skeptics tend to get tripped up over because of, as far as I can tell, an over-appreciation for naturalism.

  66. I wear ‘foxy’ clothing, not just to TAM but to other events too. I am confident and happy with my appearance, and I wear clothes that I like. Woe betide anyone passing a value judgement on me because this is what will happen…that person will lose out, and I might too. Yep, I will not get the benefit of knowing them (although they’re a jerk so why would I want to), and they will not get whatever benefits there are to knowing me. Some people quite like me.

    I wear low-cut tops. I have a great rack. I am happy for people to look. I am happy for people to say “nice rack”. I am not going to sleep with those people. I am equally happy to have compliments about my nice eyes, and equally am not going to sleep with those people.

    I am very clever. I know this because I have achieved an awful lot in my 33 years, and couldn’t do all the things I do without having more than average brainpower. Yep, I’m not just sexually and physically confident, I’m intellectually confident too! Therefore, anyone who wants to judge me poorly on either of those counts is not going to make a dent. My clients think I’m great. I do good work for them. Some of them probably think I’m hot and perhaps one or two want to sleep with me. That makes no difference at all to our relationship, and it makes no difference at all to my relationship with fellow TAM-goers. If I wasn’t myself, I wouldn’t be happy. If anyone wants to draw a line and decide what is suitable attire for a skeptic conference, I’d like to see the list, mainly so I can have a good laugh. I can’t imagine what such a list would look like. Skirts no more than one inch above knee height! Women with cup sizes larger than C must wear a bra at all times! Etc. Good luck to the idiot who tries to write THAT list.

    On the subject of women speakers at TAM: as much as I like to see diversity (because it makes for different viewpoints and tones), I am thoroughly against positive discrimination. Speakers should NOT be chosen for their gender, they should be chosen on merit. Who wants to know they’re only invited to speak at TAM because they’re a woman? Not me. Women happen to be under-represented in the fields that TAMs deal with. It’s hardly unusual that the speaker lineup represents the demographic of those fields.

    I didn’t like Prady’s comments much. I really really hated Brian Dunning’s comment that he swapped out a photo of a Russian woman because she was ugly. That’s the sort of crap that does harm.

  67. In my defense, I can only offer the following:

    It is not my “perspective” that women are expected to suppress their individuality or sexuality. That is NOT the point. The point is that how we present ourselves has IS a factor in how we are treated by others, whether you think that is right or not. This is the world in which we live and how humans are built.

    The purpose of TAM, at least so far, is not to provide an “anything goes” atmosphere for people who feel like social rejects, as some have suggested. It is to educate, despite what Blake said (& btw, that first comment was uncalled for). If you don’t like that, then complain to the organizers WHO OFFER CONTINUING EDUCATION CREDITS TO TEACHERS FOR ATTENDING, and moved the conference to summer so that more academics could attend.

    I did NOT discuss what people wore to parties or shows or anything else because, frankly, I think it is entirely appropriate to wear whatever the hell you want. That said, there is a reason we stand in front of our closets deciding what to wear – because what we wear communicates something about who we are. My beef is with the appropriateness of the message given the context, not with the message itself.

    Phlebas & blogosaurus are obviously better at communicating my point than I am, but #%$&, if you think that what you put out there doesn’t matter, step into my shoes for today (please).

    Heidiho & Elyse – it is obvious to me that the person of whom I was speaking is not the person you think it is and speculating doesn’t help or change anything. If you are assuming it was someone who posted a comment on my entry, it’s not. The woman I described did not wear what she described. Regardless, it’s understandable that you would be angry about my judgment of person you know, because you know them, but we ALL make judgments using the information we have, including YOU. Calling me “a terrible judge of character” when, in fact, I made NO judgment of character, is not exactly helpful, either. I judged her choice of clothing to attend a conference, nothing more.

    Here’s the bottom line: people use the information they have to categorize and to build schemas about the world. We do that because that is how we are able to operate and deal with the world. It is basic human nature. It is REALITY.

    How you dress says something about you, whether you like it or not.

    If TAM7 was my first experience at a skeptic conference (as it was for half of the attendees), the information I have to build a schema about what people expect from me and what I can expect from them is limited to what is in front of me.

    Women communicated to me that THEY felt uncomfortable and alienated by men at the conference whose conversation was littered with gay jokes and UNSOLICITED sexual innuendos. My post was an exploration of SOME of the SUBTLE ways in which a culture in which that sort of behavior is acceptable is built.

    I did not, and do not, assert that women are wholey responsible for the sexist attitudes, but pretending we should be allowed to walk around naked without men forgetting we have brains is delusional. If you really think that women have absolutely NO responsibility in what they present to others, nothing I say will convince you otherwise.

    But if you are having a conversation, in a bar with a woman you’ve never met and you’re telling her she has beautiful eyes because you’re trying to have sex with her, she’s going to see through it.

    And if you’re at a conference with people you have never met before THEY will make assumptions about you based on what you are wearing.

  68. I have commented, at length, on how I think evolutionary psychology is bullshit, in other places. And that is me speaking as someone who works in the evolution of mating systems.
    Yo, SicPreFix? How about you go read some articles about why the Just-so stories that try to explain why evolution makes us think certain things or act certain ways are flawed

    http://www.fredoneverything.net/BananaBoobs.shtml

    http://www.susanbrownmiller.com/susanbrownmiller/html/review-thornhill.html

    http://www.nytimes.com/1999/02/21/magazine/men-women-sex-and-darwin.html

    You are way off target. I also completely agree with the comments about sex and gender–they are two completely different things, and mixing them up is one of my pet peeves.

    To address a different topic:
    I work in a predominantly male field. In fact, when I became an entomologist,10% of the membership of the ESA was female. There were never

    I get really, really aggravated when people say that making the effort to look for good female candidates for a panel is a type of discrimination. We changed the face of our meetings completely by actively nominating women for positions and speaker slots. Most of the dudes weren’t *actively* discriminating against women–they just tended to pick/nominate their friends. When other suggestions were offered, they immediately recognized the value of the diversity.

    The issue of qualifications is completely moot.
    I am so sick of being told that I only got {insert topic} because I’m a woman. I got where I am because I busted my ASS. I also happen to work in a system where women are paid less, and valued less, than men. So my achievements are usually overlooked.

    The Urban League put together a nice pub about the benefits of Affirmative Action when Michigan had its Prop 2 on the ballot.
    http://www.nul.org/publications/policyinstitute/Affirmative%20Action%20Report%20-%20FINAL.pdf

  69. Wow, this thread is becoming hostile. What I thought was a thread about gender/sexual roles as told by visual cues and neutral-normative culture that discourages variety for people in certain arbitrary situations, turned out to be about the sociology of conferences. Guess I was a little off.

    @SicPreFix:
    I find some feminist theory to be nauseatingly self-righteous, and every time I read some Simone de Beuvoir or Judith Butler, I want to gouge my brain out. Most feminism tries too attach a political angle to the discussion, and although I find that it’s perfectly fine (even beneficial!) to do so, they often couch their language within words like ‘oppresion’ and ‘privilage’ instead of the words that I think are more relevant, “class” or “agency”. My feminist theory-fu is a little weak (I got sick of being called a sexist in every class because I can’t live the life as a woman, and that that inability make me inherently sexist because of my privilege…blech….), but as I understand it, the seven genders are:

    Masculine Male
    Feminine Male
    Masculine Transgendered
    Pangendered (or neutral Transgendered)
    Feminine Transgendered
    Feminine Female
    Masculine Female

    Lest it should be confused, this gender-spectrum exists on a horizontal continuum, not a vertical, hierarchical ladder that intrinsically places value.

    Also, it should be pointed out that there is some disagreement among the current wave of feminism (heavily influenced by post-modernists and post-structuralists) that these categories are still too restrictive. They would add, and not entirely without reason, a two more categories:

    Androgynous
    bi-gendered.

    I find these additions to be somewhat problematic, but I don’t wish to break an egg with a hammer here, especially since no one seems to have ordered the omelet.

    Contrary to popular belief, homo, bi, pan, or hetero sexuality does not enter into this at all, as all 7 categories can easily fit the four sexual preferences. (So a hyper-masculine male is just as likely to be homosexual as a Transgendered individual)….gender does not dictate sexuality, even if it can inform it.

    So yeah, my larger point is that we need a dialectical materialism here. We cannot deny the physical, or the social. But instead recognize that both inform the other, and to what degree.

    Do we really want this to be a discussion whether or not a woman should dress like a professional or a 3-dollar whore at a conference? There are larger issues at play.

  70. I have a couple things.

    1.) The dress standards bother me. I wasn’t at TAM, but I’m sure there were a lot of men there dressed… Frumpy. Why can we call out a woman for dressing provocatively but we don’t call out men who are dressed like hopeless dorks? I mean if we want to start placing social standards of dress on the skeptical community, there are so many other things that males wear that we could call out as “socially unacceptable” but yet they get a free pass because hey, they’re male!

    2.) Some men are just defective. I brought this up in a panel at Skepchickcon, a lot of the “geek/nerd” set who tend to be more into intellectual pursuits tend to be emotionally scarred by years of their own fear of women and rejection (or simply fear of rejection, go figure) so in their later years, having spent very little of their lives exposed socially to women, they get a very narrow and frankly incorrect view of women. It’s sad.

    3.) On another point, I think some people would wish to sweep human sexuality under the rug. You’d think, being enlightened, rational folks that we could embrace our sexuality rather than be shy of it or to hide it, but again, it seems like a subset of folks want to remove sexuality from everything because we’ve been raised in a religious society to say that sexuality is a filthy thing and that it should only be done in private with your married partner for procreation. Blah. It’s a holdover from the “religion days”. Another factor, and maybe this is a sensitive issue, and maybe this may come off as a little bit assholish, (even though I’m not in the “traditionally attractive” category) but I think that some people who aren’t “traditionally attractive” sometimes tend to get bitter towards those who are. So it’s an emotional reaction rather than a rational one. I think it’s something that we have to rationally discuss… Why do people react so strongly to women who are in touch with their sexuality or those who flaunt it?

    I guess this is a HUGE issue and obviously everyone has their own opinions on it.

    -BUT-

    Why can’t we just all do what makes us happy? Why can’t we mix smart and sexy? Hell, why can’t we allow smart to BE sexy? Why are some men so threatened by a smart woman? I love smart women! <3

  71. @autobahn:

    Another factor, and maybe this is a sensitive issue, and maybe this may come off as a little bit assholish, (even though I’m not in the “traditionally attractive” category) but I think that some people who aren’t “traditionally attractive” sometimes tend to get bitter towards those who are. So it’s an emotional reaction rather than a rational one.

    Not only is that awfully assholish, it’s also patronizing as all hell. That’s like when when Rush Limbaugh said that “Feminism was established to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream.”. It’s also extremely unhelpful, and even obscurantist.

  72. @autobahn-Thank you for this. I am tired of seeing geeky guys in the required T-shirts and jeans/shorts. It is the unwritten dress code at anything that deals with science/skeptic thought.
    I love it when I see something different-men in kilts and guys dressed in shirts with collars.

    As for being offended at TAM, I was more offended that there was one woman speaker than any of the jokes made by Bill Prady. If 30% of your attendees are women then shouldn’t you speakers reflect this? I know of great women authors, bloggers, and scientists.
    Instead the line up has a male centered deja vu line up: Penn and Teller, Michael Shermer, Phil Plait, Adam Savage, -the only woman who seems to be there multiple times is Rebecca and that is in conjunction with SGU a 4 to 1 ration of men to women. Not even a women moderator.

    So instead of worrying about what women are wearing, maybe we should be wondering who is speaking and why.

  73. As someone who was raised on institutionalized sexism (nobody does it quite like Orthodox Jews), and who started to learn to deal rationally with women quite recently, I unsurprisingly discovered at TAM that I still have a lot to learn.

    I befriended women for their brains who I wouldn’t have previously thought had more to offer than their bodies. I am ashamed of that, but confident it’s a lesson learned.

    I learned to temper my Libertarian leanings with an understanding that diversity may be worth a small price.

    And most of all, I learned from this thread that the next TAM will probably have more women, dressed sexier. And I will know how to handle it. And that’s all good.

  74. @SicPreFix: I think Dawkins’s intent is to distinguish that “survival of the fittest” is a notion that can be overcome… although that is also now known to be a misunderstanding of natural selection anyway. But I think it applies in this situation, too. Specifically with sex, we continue to feel and act upon sexual urges, even when using birth control to prevent what evolution naturally requires.

    @phlebas: Well it IS hot in Georgia, as I’ve learned.

    @Some Canadian Skeptic: That is hardly preachy but rather fascinating. I often forget, although I know, that there is a difference between sex and gender, though I didn’t know there were so many classifications. In reality, aren’t most traits just a continuous spectrum of possibility among all of us?

    @Tracy King: You rock! Can I have a lil scoop of that confidence? :-)

    @badrescher: I don’t see how making TAM more accessible and useful to educators and academics automatically means that the code of conduct must then mirror those of other academic meetings. Also, I would not agree that “how you dress says something about you.” It’s not that simple. There are two people involved in that communication process, and different people are going to interpret a manner of dress differently. You seemed to interpret that particular dress as inappropriate, whereas many here seem to think there is nothing wrong with it. Is one interpretation necessarily more correct?

  75. @Nicole:
    I did not say that making TAM more accessible automatically means anything. I responded to Blake’s comment, which implied/stated that TAM was just a big ol’ party.

    I also never claimed the right to dictate the culture of TAM. I simply discussed some of the factors which create it and MY OWN DESIRE that the culture remain at least leaning toward “professional”. If the organizers decide they just want a party, so they are, of course, free to go in that direction and I am free to stay home.

    Regarding what interpretation is “correct”, frankly, I never claimed that my judgment that it was inappropriate was anything other than my opinion.

    The point of the post was to discuss the culture at TAM and the factors involved. That’s it.

    I did indeed voice a rather catty thought (which, btw, I am quite sure we are all guilty of thinking) and I apologized for being a bitch in that regard. I can’t do more than that.

    My biggest regret that the remark resulted in a ton of readers who were so focused on my stupid mistake that many missed the bigger picture, but maybe that is a lesson I should have learned from Bill Prady. Ironic, isn’t it?

  76. I attended TAM7 for the first time, and really enjoyed myself. I really didn’t think about any sexism issues until the question was asked of Bill Prady about female characters in the series. I happen to like the series, and I don’t think it’s sexist. I was more concerned with some of the open hostility to theists than any gender issues.

    Specifically about TAM, I was amazed at the number of women there, and delighted. Honestly, I’m a big ol’ geekgirl, and I’m used to being way, way, way in the minority where ever I go – work (IT field) or play (comic book shop, etc), though it’s getting better, yay!

    I was also really happy that guys talked directly to ME rather than just including me incidentally in the conversation just because I happen to there with my husband.

    Regarding dress – this (excepting teachers there getting credit) is not a work convention. I can dress however I want as far as I’m concerned. For me it happened to be capri shorts and t-shirts since they pack easily, for the most part.

    What bothers me is the idea that if I show any cleavage, I’m suddenly saying “Hi, look at my boobs” and that’s all there is to me. Ok, where is the magical line where I go from floozy to respectable? How lowcut am allowed? Who is the arbiter?

    As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized I’ve gotten a rather nice rack, thanksverymuch, and I’ve started buying shirts that I think show it off tastefully. Sorry if anyone else thinks that makes me shallow. I think it just makes me old enough to know what I like and that I am beginning to have the courage to be who I am inside on the outside as well.

    I saw some of the folks wandering around dressing out of the “norm” of jeans and a t-shirt and everytime what went through my head wasn’t “oh look at the girl/guy trying to show off their body” but “Oh, how fun! They must be an interesting person” – be it woman in fishnets or guys in kilts.

    I’m really sad that this was even an issue.

  77. @Nicole:
    @phlebas and @stacie: : But if you were USED to see women in pasties and thongs around all the time, because it was socially acceptable, would the tongue-tied-ness fade away so that you could have an intelligent discussion without being overly distracted?

    I’d be inclined to guess no, and this goes for any of us. Even if we got used to living in a nudist colony there’s bound to be something that sends a sexual signal to the brain and then brain no worky. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Isn’t that part of acknowledging sexuality in our everyday lives?”

    I would actually love for it to be a requirement that everyone has to take a semester of life drawing class. It would allow people to realize that naked or nude != sex or sexy, they are actually two different concepts. Not that you can’t still find people sexy or attractive but after a couple hours of studying the nude body you do loose that “OMG naked person” rush, man or woman, permanently.

    I think it is far too easy to fall into the we are “sexual” trap. Of course we are, but that doesn’t mean we loose the ability to pay attention and be rational beings. If that were true no one would be able to do anything because, let’s face it, we probably run into at least four or five people each day we would find sexually interesting.

  78. I know I am late to the party but I just wanted to say a few things.

    As an artist and a skeptic I am very aware of the visual messages that are sent both consciously and subconsciously and many of the gender and psychological and sexual ramifications of our choice in wardrobe/appearance has been pretty well discussed here already.

    My small point and what I would like to remind everyone, is that our *job* as skeptics is to inform the public about misconceptions, dangerous products, expose lies and to encourage other people to understand the scientific method and ultimately to want be part of the skeptical movement. We, for the most part, want to help and inform the public. We stand in the shaky middle ground between science and pseudoscience which means we have one hand on a crystal ball and one hand on a lab coat because we need to communicate science to the psychics, the believers and the layperson. We should remember to be inclusive and expressive and not to alienate anyone based on their appearance. I have learned to treat a man or woman in rags the same as as someone dressed in Armani and pearls because (especially here in Hollywood where I live) you NEVER know who you are dealing with. The same goes for a woman in 6″ heels and a mini skirt or a man in sweat pants at a science convention. Wardrobe ultimately means nothing.

    As science communicators and as TAM attendees I feel it is our responsibility to look past sexual innuendo and first impressions based on image and remember why we go to TAM in the first place.

  79. @bug_girl:

    Naw, I didn’t think you were hostile at all. Thankfully, this didn’t divulge into the occasional Skepchick-slugfest, donning all the usual net-hats of anger, insults and craziness (remember those Libertarianism threads? yikes).

    @Nicole:

    In reality, aren’t most traits just a continuous spectrum of possibility among all of us?

    True, but the point of these particular exercises in nomenclature is not to prescribe internalized identities, (i.e: the way we see ourselves and our possibilities), but socially-prescribed identities. Think of a transgendered person who is stuck in the closet: Their entire lives, they might be a masculine male, but nce they make the heroic choice to come out, society will then put them into a new category, (it sounds cold when I say it like that, but that’s just what society does: compartmentalize). Anyone can make their journey along the entire spectrum (thanks to the materialist help from the physical sciences) these days, and that’s….well, that’s goddamned beautiful.

    And to your “That is hardly preachy”, I thank you for the kind words. I’m Canadian, and whether we realize it or not, we’re all encultured to be ashamed of our opinions, and to rationalize and effectively apologize for the audacity of having one. It’s not born out of politeness, as I think is often lovingly portrayed, it’s that we’re colossal pushovers…we like to operate from the shadows with the twin tools of passive-aggression and protectionism. I think we get that from the British: our audacious opinions comes from our American ties, and our British-ness makes us too afraid to share them. Our French-ness makes us add a little sprig of poison into the dialogue. We’re like “Loser-fraidy-cat Batman”. Jesus, even now, I feel like I’m being presumptuous just typing this much. God, I need to kick this. Maybe I should go back to New York City and re-learn my honesty.

  80. @Some Canadian Skeptic:

    I guess maybe I should be clearer:

    I find that some people from time to time judge what others are wearing (or not wearing) based off of jealousy rather than rational, logical reasoning. And that is something that we need to look at in these situations as well. I don’t know what you’re implying by calling it unhelpful, but I perceive that “unhelpful” tends to simply be a synonym for “distasteful”, which honestly doesn’t factor in with me when debating a point.

    I am not being gender specific with this, either. Guys do it all the time, too. But now we’re hitting another issue, as nobody ever seems to discuss guy-guy jealousy even though it’s there. :)

    I guess I just don’t want to imply that Barbara Drescher’s objection is based on this, only that it’s a possible reason for others to object to the way people dress, and we have to take it into account when analyzing what are the causes of these issues and what we can do to change the status-quo.

    If you still disagree that we should even look at this as a factor, then I don’t know what to say besides show me why we shouldn’t consider this?

  81. @autobahn:

    Well, I actually mean “unhelpful” to mean exactly that. It doesn’t forward the discussion at all.

    Here’s why your reasoning is problematic:
    1) It falls apart at the edges: what of “traditionally unattractive” people who don’t care what people dress like? What of “traditionally attractive” who are extraordinarily offended by the fashion-choices of another? And these questions are aside from the objectification that happens right at the outset that is based purely on the subjective nature of what it means to be “attractive”

    2) The term “traditionally unattractive” is clear enough, but it is fantastically narrow-in-scope, almost to the point of being a meaningless appellation. There are certain universal signifiers of a person’s physical attractiveness (after all, you were just talking about the physical, and I’m not condemning you here for not acknowledging people’s brains/personalities), but far fewer then you might think. A symetrical face is about the only thing that transcends many, but not all, cultural and temporal boundaries. Hair colour, height, weight, body fat, musculature, affectations….all these signifiers are temporary, transitory, subjective as hell, and heavily dependent on the coming and going of a given culture/age group/social class/education (yes, even education).

    3) If a person who you, or anyone else for that matter, takes your reasoning of unattractive people potentially speaking out of passion rather than reason, then debate stops. Several things happen: a) That “unattractive” individual now has to work a ber-zillion times as hard just to be taken seriously, and quite frankly, that’s your fault. b) You take the undeserved position of stepping into a person’s head and analyzing not their argument on its own merit (or lack thereof), but you super-impose a motivation onto them. It’s a bit like that jocky-guy at every bar you’ve ever been, hits on every woman using the filthiest language, and gets rejected each time, and convinces himself, or his buddies that “this bar is full of dykes”. It’s not our position nor our right to assume a motivation. If you think that a person is speaking out of some kind of bitterness, then you have to prove that, before you dismiss them, or even before you bring that to the table.

    4) Even though you didn’t say it in such brash terms, (and I thought the rest of your original post was just fine and respectful), it effectively says “Ugly people who criticize pretty people, or at least people unafraid to show off, are doing so because they’re bitter, jealous, self-conscious people, and that needs to be taken into account before we take them seriously….silly ugly people! Thoughts are for [pretty] kids!” That’s a road that I don’t think anyone should go down.

    5) I agree that people will unfairly judge another based on physical appearances (I’m a male who is 5’4″ for god’s sake! I live with these judgments on a day-to-day basis), but the bullshitty judgments based on appearances need to be brought down for their own lack-of-merit. If a person has a superficial problem over a superficial issue, then we’ve got to blow the doors open in that barn of shame. Engage the discussion and have a constructive discussion on 2nd wave feminism vs. 3rd wave feminism (which is what the original post was really about), freedom of expression or of sexual repression/oppression ….we can’t be in the business of saying “well, no wonder she hated that chick with the booty shorts, she’s fugly!”. That thought wouldn’t even enter your head if you (and by “you” I mean the “royal you”) thought the person attractive. How fair is that?

    It’s demeaning to say the very least, and downright horrible to say the reasonable.

  82. @autobahn:

    If you still disagree that we should even look at this as a factor, then I don’t know what to say besides show me why we shouldn’t consider this?

    Lest I spark some hostility on my own behalf, but you did ask. I think you’re reading too little into your comment, with the help of some phase-discrimination, we cancel each other out (I’m told that’s how it works). Ask a humanities guy a humanities question, be prepared to have your argument deconstructed to within an inch of its life. It sucks. And I can’t turn it off.

  83. @phlebas:

    While I can be in a room with a fully clothed carr2d2 and talk to her intelligently, I am not sure I could sit with her when she’s wearing two pasties and a thong and focus on what’s coming out of my mouth. But maybe I’m unusually perverted.

    You probably could eventually. One of the things I’ve noticed over my several years of nudism is that when the novelty of nudity wears off, you don’t obsess over it as much as at first. You still notice it, but you can still think of other things. The true-believer nudists claim that nudity is not sexuality, and to a certain extent they’re right. You can get past the titillation to a state where you’re not lusting after the other when they’re nude just as you can when they’re clothed.

  84. @bug_girl :

    I visited those links. I’ve not finished the Angier article — it’s long and rather repetitious, but I will. Anyway….

    Ponder the solemn fatuity of this. Does any reader over the age of thirteen believe that women with any sort of eyes have trouble letting a man know when they are interested? The authors need to get out more.

    Well Fred sure knows how to drift off target. Fred has quite completely misunderstood evolution theory regarding mating, in rather the same way that creationists misunderstand atheists. The theory behind the blue eyes business has nothing to do with conscious or unconscious behavior. It is a solely autonomaic reaction that is received and acted upon, without thought of any kind, via the chemistry of the brain, setting up a number of autonomic reactions, such as incresed heart rate, facial flush, increased blood flow to the tender parts, and much more. Fred needs to get out to the library and read more.

    Fred, throughout that article, is naively confusing conscious and socially and culturally formed/dictated norms, mores, actions, and behaviours with autonomic functions, and reactions and to a small degree subconconcious behaviours that are created, and/or influenced by brain/body chemistry. His entire argument is really a logical fallacy. It is also quite full of general errrors in logic, fact, and science, let alone critical thinking.

    He has even made the remarkably inane comment implying that behaviours that are clearly influenced through evolutionary change and brain/body chemstry don’t actually exist (or need to exist) because we have language, shampoo, and hair dies. What? And did our apish ancestors also have language, shampoo, and hair dies?

    Fred has completely, and I do mean completely, distorted the theory of evolutionary influence over mating behaviours. I am confused that you would post that link as something meaningful.

    Although I have not finsished it, I found that Natalie Angier essay to certainly be more scientific, and treats the subject with a bit more intellectual honesty and slightly more accuracy; however, like Fred, she bequeathes utter absolutes on all evolutionary psychologists (as though they are all in total agreement!?) that simply do not, to my knowledge, exist.

    Angier’s article was a very interesting read, but her political skew, and her rather righteous feminsist anger, come through awfully strong, and for me, cast doubt on the article’s, and perhaps her, credibility. Her anger makes it an even more difficult read than my monstrous post.

    And lastly, while she posits some very interesting theories, I can find no proofs or otherwise to give me a reason to give them any more credibility than the wilder theories of evolutionary psychology.

    As for the Brownmiller article, again, like Angier, it is a very interesting read. And probably quite accurate. She is certainly no dummy. However, what does rape have to do with this discussion? And I am a little at a loss to understand how a book review is supposed to inform me of my being in error?

    So, actually somewhat regretfully, I must say I am not at all convinced by those articles that I am even slightly off target. I tried though, I tried.

  85. @carr2d2:

    Personally, I was way more offended by the cosmonaut incident than by Prady’s comments. I wrote an email to the presenter saying that I think his audience could have handled a photo of the REAL Valentina Tereshkova (the first woman in space, dammit!).

    As for the clothing discussion, I think if you’re picking up guys at a nighclub, fishnets and boobs are awesome. At a science and skepticism convention, it’s distracting and inappropriate. I would say the same thing about a guy wearing tight pants or who had his chest exposed. It’s hard for me to take people seriously when they so desperately need others to look at their body.

  86. Almost everything you wear carries a message of some sort, a visual hueristic for others, be it football top, bowtie, or flat cap.

    There’s no getting away from that. If I went to a conference and wore a shell suit and liverpool top, I’d be make a visual statement about my credentials (I’d be identifying with a “tribe”) and I couldn’t really complain if no one took me seriously.

    I’m afraid the same goes for women too.

    @lysistrata: What’s wrong with T-shirt and jeans? It’s what I wear everyday when I’m not at an interview or funeral. I suspect their ubiquitous popularity is due to their being cheap, zero maintainance and comfy. Also i don’t have to think about what I’m going to wear, I just take the next clean set off the rack everyday.

    Ideally, I’d like to see everyone in jeans and t-shirt, it’d do away with all the bother about what people are wearing at any given time

  87. @hypatia:
    Damn skippy regarding the point that nudity does not necessarily= sexual. I’ve been naked in front of more strangers than I care to count when I worked as a drawing model to help support myself in graduate school. I’m pretty comfortable with my body. And I tend to dress “frumpy” because it’s comfortable. :) Well, maybe “funky frumpy” is more appropriate. I like color; my unofficial clothing philosophy is “she who wears the most colors wins.”

    You know, I actually had a hard time getting to sleep last night, thinking about this thread, and I had a carefully composed reply ready. But, it seems that all my points have pretty much been covered.

  88. @PeteSchult:

    You probably could eventually.

    Have you seen Carrie? :)

    One of the things I’ve noticed over my several years of nudism is that when the novelty of nudity wears off, you don’t obsess over it as much as at first.

    Oh, I know. You eventually get used to anything.

    But it would take some time together, and require some serious concentration up front for a naked person to just show up and start talking about some intellectual topic. It would, in fact, take much more time than if that person was dressed non-provocatively, because conservative clothing brings a lot fewer distractions.

    Which has been my entire point. If you dress in a way that demands attention, you have to work to refocus people’s attention on something other than your appearance.

  89. Oops. It’s too early.

    Append “and have me really listening” to the end of “But it would take some time together, and require some serious concentration up front for a naked person to just show up and start talking about some intellectual topic” above.

  90. I have been commenting over on Drescher’s blog as well, and feel the need to point out that she has apologized for her comments, and agreed that they were catty and wrong. I think we need to remember that the ultimate point of discourse is not a pile on, but a chance to let people hear our opinions and evidence, and have the opportunity to change their minds if they are swayed.

    What this shows me is that we need to venture outside our tribes, and get to know each other. When people get to know the girl wearing fishnets, they will realize how smart she is. After all, rationality is all about using your brain to think, not your genitals.

    That said, I will continue to rock my cleavage at all and any opportunity, and if you can not talk to me because of it, too bad. I enjoy it, and here’s a little secret I will admit – I like smart guys looking at my boobs. The smartest guys can then carry on a conversation with me as well as appreciate the boobs. It is a good filter for people.

  91. Society doesn’t change itself, people change it. If a society in which sexual self expression is acceptable is a laudable objective, then people need to express their sexuality publicly.

    By definition, such display is abnormal and is going to elicit insults, demeaning comments and the like. People who push the envelope need thick skins and/or a lot of self confidence. Some people are going to be uncomfortable with it, even when it becomes normal.

    If sexual display by other people is a distraction to you, that is your choice. You can choose not to be distracted. All it takes is a bit of concentration and self discipline for a little while and it becomes automatic.

    I take my ganders before a personal interaction begins. Once a personal interaction starts, my focus is on the person, not on superficial attributes.

    I am not a slave to my genes; my genes and I are partners. We get along quite well, and hardly ever squabble.

  92. @phlebas: “While I can be in a room with a fully clothed carr2d2 and talk to her intelligently, I am not sure I could sit with her when she’s wearing two pasties and a thong and focus on what’s coming out of my mouth. But maybe I’m unusually perverted.”

    The only way to know for sure is conduct experiments. Lots of them.

  93. @heidiho:

    I think we need to remember that the ultimate point of discourse is not a pile on, but a chance to let people hear our opinions and evidence, and have the opportunity to change their minds if they are swayed.

    absolutely. i have no personal beef with anyone i’ve argued with here, and i’d like to think we’re all adult enough to carry on a heated discussion without taking things personally. overall i think most of us have done that well.

  94. for those of you who seem to be expressing the opinion that it is simply impossible for a provocatively dressed woman to be taken seriously as anything more than a sex object, well, there is a good reason for my belief that you are wrong.

    skepchickcon was clear evidence to the contrary. many people came to our parties, curious about the drinks and the sexy skepchicks, and then showed up at our panel discussions to hear what we had to say. also, at almost any time during our parties, one could find at least one skepchick engaged in intelligent conversation with an attendee.

    i think having this fantastic experience juxtaposed to tam threw some of the problems with tam (as i see them) into sharp relief.

    and ultimately, phlebas is right: we need to be more of a stage presence at tam. and we can make that happen next year.

  95. @chimera: “As for the clothing discussion, I think if you’re picking up guys at a nighclub, fishnets and boobs are awesome. At a science and skepticism convention, it’s distracting and inappropriate. I would say the same thing about a guy wearing tight pants or who had his chest exposed. It’s hard for me to take people seriously when they so desperately need others to look at their body.”

    I disagree with this. When I see someone (especially an attractive woman) dressed in a sexy outfit, it doesn’t make me lusty, it makes me smile, and then I am done with it. I am not for ever after so distracted in their presence that I have trouble thinking.

    I also don’t think of them as desperate (though they could be), I think of them as comfortable with, and proud of their appearance (though that may not be the case).

    Finally, if an event, like TAM, doesn’t have an official dress code, then what is or isn’t “inappropriate” to wear should be up to the individual wearing it. I guess I should add “within their societal norms”, but that could evoke a whole ‘nother discussion.

  96. @phlebas: “While I can be in a room with a fully clothed carr2d2 and talk to her intelligently, I am not sure I could sit with her when she’s wearing two pasties and a thong and focus on what’s coming out of my mouth.”

    Yesterday I went to a clothing optional lake party, and then to a party at a resort where clothing was optional. Some people were making out. Lots of people were joking around and being silly (it was a party after all). But there were definitely some people who were having intelligent conversation. It’s possible. It happens. It’s not that one doesn’t look and notice the sexy naked parts; one does. But one also can set that train of thought on the back burner and speak intelligently for extended periods.

    I don’t think anyone on this thread is complaining about a first impression being ‘yay boobies’. It’s not about that person not assuming the woman is smart. It’s about the person assuming the woman is specifically not smart because she has chosen to look sexy.

  97. I think everyone can agree that having revealing attire does not preclude someone from being intelligent.

    I think everyone can also agree that if you dress in a way that people find sexy, people will assume you are trying to make people attracted to you. It is utterly illogical to assume otherwise.

    It is perfectly possible to see someone naked and have an intelligent conversation with them.

    Both intelligent and unintelligent people want people to be attracted to them, so I don’t see the problem.

    ___________________________

    On the topic of women in science and skepticism: as a biology student at a major university, I can say that in all of my classes and in the vaccine lab which I work at, the proportions of males to females is either 50/50, or skewed definitively towards more females than males. And all of my female classmates and colleagues are just as good, if not better, at understanding genetics, statistics, and the scientific method as I am.

  98. @stacie:

    It’s not about that person not assuming the woman is smart. It’s about the person assuming the woman is specifically not smart because she has chosen to look sexy.

    But we’re talking about TAM, aren’t we? There might be a few TAM attendees who feel that way, I would be a lot that it was a lot fewer than the average.

    All I have been saying from the very beginning of the thread is this: if you present an image that highlights something other than intelligence, then you have created a speed bump on the road to people realizing you have something else to offer.

    If you put on something that highlights boobs, people will not necessarily think that all you have is boobs. But showing a lot of cleavage is no reason to think you’re intelligent either. It is simply a powerful first impression.

    All of which is fine. If you are intelligent, that will become obvious quickly. If you want to give a first impression that includes breasts, go for it. It will all get ironed out soon.

    But we were talking about TAM which was a room with a thousand people in it. You are not going to interact with all of them one-on-one, so their ONLY ONLY ONLY impression of you is your cleavage. So it is extremely disingenuous if you get upset because someone you don’t know only thinks of you in terms of your physical appearance.

    And all of that is fine. Just be aware of your outer image, and realize that it is the only information a lot of people will have of you.

  99. @DataJack:

    “When I see someone (especially an attractive woman) dressed in a sexy outfit, it doesn’t make me lusty, it makes me smile, and then I am done with it. I am not for ever after so distracted in their presence that I have trouble thinking.”

    I’m glad that when you are around attractive women you are not forever distracted in their presence so that you have trouble thinking. That would be disturbing indeed, and of course not at all what I meant.

    The point is, we, men AND women, are judged by the way we choose to present ourselves, which is why we don’t dress provocatively at custody hearings or job interviews. Do you?

    I once went to the Rocky Horror show wearing nothing but a black lace bra, black lace panties, garter belt/stockings, sequined vest, and heels, I got lots of attention, and it was a blast. But I wouldn’t go to TAM wearing the same outfit, because I don’t want that image to be everyone’s first impression of me.

  100. @Tracy King:

    ” I really really hated Brian Dunning’s comment that he swapped out a photo of a Russian woman because she was ugly. That’s the sort of crap that does harm.”

    Traci:

    If you haven’t already, please consider emailing Brian and repeating what you said here. Right after TAM, I sent him an email saying the same thing, and although he replied to me, he was very terse and I did not get the impression he thought there was anything wrong with what he did. I think he needs to hear it from more than one person.

    -jen

  101. I was really going to leave it be, thinking I’d said everything I wanted to say, but I realize there is something missing in my clarifications.

    My point was not about dress codes or even about sexual expression, if you can look beyond the cattiness of my remark for a moment.

    Someone suggested in a comment that I must find Penn & Teller’s presence offensive or out of place – I don’t. I’m not against expressions of sex. I’m against sexism, which is, from all reports, a small but significant part of the culture we created as a group this year.

    My remark actually had little to do with sexual expression. It wasn’t about showing cleavage, either, since the outfit I criticized showed little skin and was not, IMO, “sexy”.

    I would be just as taken aback to see a man dressed in a Spiderman costume at TAM, yet celebrate his right to do so. Of course, I cannot help that I would likely think there was something seriously wrong with him unless he either lost a bet or was about to participate in some sort of skit. I’m human, that’s how humans think, and whether that’s right or wrong is somewhat moot. I’d celebrate his right to wear it as I exercise my right to criticize it. The mistake I made was adding totally unnecessary and uncalled for bitchiness and assuming I wasn’t hurting anyone because nobody would read my lil’ ol’ blog entry. Again, I am truly sorry for that.

    No, I don’t think that TAM should require suits or uniforms. I think that we, as individuals, should decide what we want in TAM and do our best to make it so (or stay home).

    Sciency/Skepticy T-shirts and business casual attire set the kind of tone I would like to see continue. What I do not want is a tone which says that women are there to draw attention to themselves rather than the goals of the movement (and the outfit, IMO, did that and not because it was “sexy”) For example, in my dream of the perfect conference, Heidi is welcome to show all the cleavage she wants because I trust that her cleavage will say, if I can use an old cliché, “I am woman, hear me roar!” and not “I am woman, see me dance”, and I LIKE that representation of women.

    If your idea of the perfect conference is different than mine, then do your best to shape the culture into what you want. If I don’t like it, I’ll stay home (as I did for TAMs 3 & 4).

    At the moment, TAM is fairly close to my ideal – a gathering of like-minded people who talk about serious stuff (because some of this stuff is deadly serious) while we network, form cooperative groups, and bond during the daytime program. What happens during the gaps is not my concern, nor should it be anybody’s IMO. There are enough choices to please all of us, including drunken debauchery (in which I would gladly participate at times).

    I’ll be at Dragon*Con for the first time this year, and I fully expect to see Klingons and *insert sexy female scifi character here*. It’s Dragon*Con, for FSM’s sake. It’s not just about science and skepticism; it’s about sci-fi fandom, which carries a different set of goals. Attendees know why someone is wearing nothing but a thong, pasties, and purple paint; that’s part of what people are there to see. That’s the culture there, and I choose to participate in it. Hell, I if I had time and a good idea, I’d probably make a costume.

    Perhaps I’ll post this on the blog as it is long (sorry) and, I hope, clears the air a bit.

  102. @badrescher: thanks for the clarification. this is a much clearer expression of your point, and i, for one, respect where you’re coming from.

    we do, however, clearly have different ideas about what tam should be, and that’s ok. here at skepchick, the way we’ve decided to address the problems surrounding women in skepticism is to be provocative with the intention of stirring up conversation and debate.

    when i show up at a conference in a short skirt, cleavage bearing top, and heels, as i did at tam, i do it specifically to draw attention to the fact that i am both sexual and interested in skepticism. whether or not people get that is up for debate, clearly, but that doesn’t mean i’ll stop doing it.

  103. @phlebas: “if you present an image that highlights something other than intelligence, then you have created a speed bump on the road to people realizing you have something else to offer.”

    In the hopes of not beating a dead and pulverized horse…This comment expresses the exact idea that I have a problem with. Why is sexy wardrobe a “speed bump on the road to people realizing you have something else to offer”? It’s so unnecessary and illogical to put sexy clothes anywhere on the path of realizations about what someone has to offer; especially intellectually. They just aren’t tied. Why in the world would someone question that a person who looks sexy might have more to offer? Why is sexiness perceived (temporarily or not) as a replacement for intelligence? It seems that one could notice the sexiness and just not make any assumptions either way about intelligence since intelligence is really not discernable at that point. It should make it neither more or less difficult to consider the person potentially intelligent.

    @badrescher:
    Perhaps the really beef is with the use of the word ‘inappropriate.” That is the word that makes it seem that what you later made clear was your own opinion is actually some kind of guide others should be following. Appropriateness of attire at an event is more typically (in my experience) a function of a few factors: the guidelines put out by the event, the intent of the participants (to get something from others (i.e. job, award, potential professional contacts) vs. to simply gain experience/knowledge), and basic social mores. Everything else is personal preference and opinion that is only relevant to oneself. Using the word ‘inappropriate’ in reference to opinion makes it *sound like* the opinion is being elevated beyond a mere preference, regardless of whether that was the intent.

  104. I am sorry to hear that even TAM was marred by the subtle but ever-present sexism which lingers in every gathering of multifarious people.

    But I must respectfully point out that your reasoning is a bit flawed or, if not flawed, upsetting. You said “The fact remains that we belong to a diverse movement, made up of people who are by definition outsiders.”

    While it’s true that atheism has always been a lesser trod path, skepticism is not. The doctrine and methodology of skepticism is the basis for our scientific methods and forms the most lasting arguments of philosophy. Of course this doesn’t suggest that every scientist or philosopher is a skeptic, only that ideals of reason and ambiguity are not rare.

    Sadly, we no longer live in a world where Bertram Russell could lecture to crowds of philosophical dilettantes. Indeed, popular media paints a very different picture. Its almost too easy to look around and think that we are adrift in a sea of hokum.

    But at the same time, it is irresponsible to say that skeptics are such a rarefied commodity that social norms do not apply. And the reverse is true as well. It is detrimental to the idea of skepticism to imply that it is mainly attractive to those already outside the mainstream, especially when the goal is to reintroduce it.

    Sorry to divert from the original intent of your post. You managed to sum up on ongoing frustration so succinctly.

  105. @Bookitty: your point is a fair one. i’ll be the first to admit that my own outsider experience probably colors the way i see others in the movement.

    though i have to say, i get looked at like i’m speaking swahili at least twice a week at work when i try to explain skepticism to people. yes, it may seem like common sense to those of us who are involved, and especially those among us who work in the sciences (which i do not), but i’m not so sure about the general public.
    i could be wrong, of course.

  106. @stacie: “””Why is sexy wardrobe a “speed bump on the road to people realizing you have something else to offer”?”””

    Because of adaptive pressure as observed on a standard Gaussian distribution. If you were to find a population P of individuals I, each of them with an organic feature x’ intended to terminate other animals from which to feed, you would conclude that P are most likely predators. Obviously, it may still be the case that P keep x’ as a vestigial adaptation and that crocodiles are vegetarian, but I think overall likelihood makes the former assumption justified all things being equal. The same applies to women/men: the more an individual cares about A, the less time she/he can spend on B. So, if the individual is successful, it is legitimate to infer that it must be thanks to A, such that, if an individual has a lot of A, it is fair to assume (but not to conclude) that it does not need, does not use or has no B.

    The problem is not the too high or too low number of very attractive women who are also intelligent, but the overall number of attractive women (or men) who are not.

    In fact, the same applies to men. Since I think you can assume that the intersection of the set of male skeptics with the set of men with a well-built “six-pack” has cardinality > 100, you cannot be reasonably expected to assume that a guy with a “six-pack” is a neurosurgeon (in fact, most aren’t).

    So, the same way that male skeptics cannot be expected to be sportsmen (except perhaps for the minority of them in one of the ends of the Gaussian distribution), female skeptics cannot be expected to be supermodels (same exception as above).

    In any case, this whole discussion seems unrelated to the question of why there are less women in the skeptical movement overall (regardless of their greater or lesser physical attractiveness). As far as this latter question is concerned, I cannot really say anything SicPreFix hasn’t already said, so I basically agree with his position.

  107. @stacie:

    Why is sexy wardrobe a “speed bump on the road to people realizing you have something else to offer”?

    Because first impressions are important.

    I don’t know how many other ways I can say it. Your entire outward appearance adds to your first impression, especially if you don’t get any face-to-face interaction.

    If you present someone with only a great body, that is all they are going to know about you. It is just as wrong to assume that the person behind the boobs is stupid as it is to assume the person is smart. All you are saying is “this is what I want you to know first about me.”

    And that is fine. By all means, give any impression you want. But you are better off if you are aware of the image you convey, to be sure it is the one you want to convey.

    I can’t think of anything else to say that I haven’t said four times already.

    If I saw you across a room filled with 1000 people, why would I assume you’re intelligent?

  108. @phlebas: i know you’ve said you’re done talking about this, but it occurs to me that the reason you might assume a tam attendee is intelligent is that she is attending a conference about critical thinking and science advocacy. i’m just sayin’.

  109. @phlebas: “If I saw you across a room filled with 1000 people, why would I assume you’re intelligent?”

    To quote myself where you quoted me earlier:
    It’s not about that person not assuming the woman is smart. It’s about the person assuming the woman is specifically not smart because she has chosen to look sexy.

  110. @phlebas: Christian, I agree with you. People, to some extent, should be judged based on their appearance, because they chose to present themselves that way.

    Aside from god-given attributes, the way you choose to present yourself is a powerful communication tool, and often more sincere than what you say or do.

  111. @carr2d2: I completely emphasize with your frustration. Trying to introduce mere logic into daily conversation can be stunningly frustrating. That brick wall is always harder than we think.

    Perhaps my concern is that relegating skepticism to an outsider’s clique makes a statement that rationality is for the bold and individualistic. (This may very well be the case, though I fear for my sanity if it is proved.)

    If the movement of skepticism becomes mixed in with other ‘riot grrrl’ fads, you could be alienating those women who have moved beyond such thing, women like Barbara Drescher.

    The solution is certainly not a dress code. Of course some, lesser evolved, people will still judge women by the archaic standards of fertility and attractiveness. That is their mindset but it has nothing to do with the woman being judged. Even if she is sometimes affected.

    If you have a community of people who are now being represented by those who dress or identify as outsiders, then you will be defined as such. Within the mainstream, there are numerous women who represent skepticism, or at least the application of logic that is the gateway drug to skeptical thinking. Perhaps it’s time to give them some focus?

    You could start with the blogger that started it all, Barbara Drescher. I would be very interested to see this topic covered thoroughly from both angles. Not a debate about wardrobe choices but a dialog of the expectations and disappointments of TAM.

  112. Also, briefly (no really!) It is completely irrational to judge a person’s intelligence by their clothing choices. We all have more than enough evidence that shows it to be a consistently flawed assumption.

  113. @Bookitty: well, i think the whole point here is that we are different, and that’s good.
    the main reason for my focus on drescher’s comments was specifically that she seemed to be implying that there was one acceptable way to be a woman in skepticism.
    i hope i’ve made it clear that i think there’s room for all of us, and at the end of the day, we are all on the same side in this battle.

  114. @Bookitty: Don’t you also run a danger of alienating the “riot grrrls” and others who don’t abide by the norms by saying that certain styles of clothing are something to be “moved beyond” as if they are lesser, inferior, unwelcome, and a phase to move past?

    It’s not like all the women there, or even a large number, were dressed like that. I’d say they were such a minority that giving their dress this much attention definitely runs a risk of running anyone with a streak of individuality off. What I hear is “Please, come be skeptics, as long as you look nonthreatening and easy for the mainstream to accept” and that’s as someone who does look fairly mainstream.

  115. @Skulleigh: Yeah, I can see that. It was not my intent but a quick re-read shows that is pretty much what I said.

    Perhaps I should say that I worry that skepticism will come to be associated ONLY with an outsider culture. Or worse, be considered a trend. Which is such a terrifying thought that it has clouded my judgment.

  116. @bug_girl:

    I was prepared to defend evolutionary psychology (being a biology student) until I read through all of your provided articles and realized what I think of as evolutionary psychology just is not what many people seem to be calling their own field.

    Have you read anything by Steven Pinker? Yeah, a lot of the crap those articles were responding to was just that, crap, but it is also silly to say we cannot say anything about human psychology based off of knowledge of evolution. I’ve never seen Pinker make an illogical claim about evolutionary psychology.

    A trivially simple example is our love of sweet and fatty foods. Many americans are killing themselves because high-energy foods that were rare and precious across evolutionary time are now abundant, and boy do we love pastries and greasy food.

    Clearly there are many useful applications of evolutionary psychology.

  117. The problem is not with women’s clothing choices and the problem won’t be solved with a dress code. The problem is some people’s inability or unwillingness to assess each person they meet as an individual.

    My question is: Did the blogger who called out the woman in fishnet stockings ever approach that woman and engage her in any way? Probably after speaking to the fishnet stocking woman, she would have seen there was more to her as a person than a quick judgment based on clothing would tell her.

    First impressions are just that – the first impression. If you find yourself put off by a first impression, don’t get to know a person, then find out later that there was much more than met your eye (and there always, always is more)…then you were the one who missed out on a valuable human interaction. Sucks to be you. Learn to look past that first impression crap. Make your judgment based on some of the other criteria that will be made available to you if you look past your prejudices.

    I’m comfortable with my sexuality and if you’re staring at my boobs when I’m wearing very little on them, its because I don’t mind. If I did I wouldn’t show them or I’d get your attention with my words.

    I spent a fascinating two hours on a nude beach with a man I’d never met before. I was naked and he had on swim trunks. We talked non-stop about a variety of topics – his so far fruitless search for the girl of his dreams, his work as a lawyer, my work as a dog walker, my experience being a 45 year old mother of a toddler, and on and on. He didn’t even glance below my chin. What that tells me is that men are perfectly capable of paying attention to a woman speaking, even if she’s standing there buck fucking naked with her hands on her hips. It’s not my responsibility to dress so a man has too much trouble remaining polite. It’s his responsibility to remain polite.

    It’s not my responsibility to dress so other women don’t judge me negatively, either. It’s their responsibility to get with the program and realize that there’s more to every person out there than meets the eye.

  118. @Bookitty: That’s a reasonable thing to watch out for, but I worry more towards the direction of driving off potentially skeptical theists than anything. It certainly kept me aloof for a few years as I’ve struggled with what I believed spiritually while still being interested in good science.

  119. Y’know, I’m sorry I missed a chance to weigh in on this in a timely fashion. Nonetheless:

    I’m a cashier. I’ve worked at the same grocery store for almost 2 years, and I don’t really love my job. But it has given me some insight.

    First; those who say clothing is a signal to others are right. It is, always, the first thing I know about someone when I see them. It does allow me to make a few quick, fairly accurate judgements about a person even before I talk to them. For instance, if someone walks up in entirely black clothing with chains on it, that person listens to a lot of heavy metal. If someone walks up wearing nothing but overalls, that person is going to be handing me some money I wish I didn’t have to touch.

    Those basic generalizations are not always right; black and chains guy could be going to a party or just have weird fashion sense, and overalls dudes might pay by credit card (alas, very rarely). They are a good starting point for me, though.

    Second, those signals mean different things to different people. Black metal fans might not be as put off by the guy wearing 70 chains as I am. Punks can estimate each other’s scene cred by patches on denim jackets. If I wear a witty t-shirt, some people will laugh and others will be put out.

    Third:
    Now, I come across all sorts of women every day, some dressed in prom-level finery, some in grungy sweat pants, some in shirts that let their boobs hang out all over the place, and everything in between. I have long since learned that women’s clothes are not indicative of their intelligence. But, for the woman with her glorious chest hanging out for the world to see, that is the first thing I notice. Depending on circumstances, it may be the only thing I notice. And that’s important to remember.
    (Of note here is that there is a big difference between a modest shirt that shows a little cleavage, and the phenomenon I’m describing. There’s a sliding scale, I just don’t want to bother with details at the moment because they’re irrelevant)

    You should feel absolutely free to wear what you want, when you want to (within certain social mores which you should accept for the convenience of all involved, not because they are somehow “right”), but I reserve the right to judge you in my mind on what little information I have, until I somehow get to know you better.

    How you dress says a lot more about you than just how you like to dress. It tells us a little about how you respond to the situation you’re in at the moment, it can say that you belong to certain groups, and it can say how highly you respect the people around you. Showing cleavage, and how much cleavage you show should you choose to, is an exclusively female aspect of apparel, but it falls under the same broad category.

  120. To expand on my own prior comment, and simplify a lot of very long comments:

    Surfaces are important. For any object, including living objects, and in particular humans, the surface is a fundamental part, and one that can’t be ignored when thinking about what that object “does”.

    For inanimate objects, surfaces affect weathering and wear, potential usefulness, durability, friction, and all sorts of other interactions with their surround. For living things, surfaces affect respiration and excretion, feeding capabilities, temperature response and regulation, defensive and offensive capabilities, and… social interactions.

    For humans, besides the more obvious functional aspects (see above), your appearance is a basic part of your social “aura”. Yeah, it’s all very well to say “people shouldn’t go by first impressions” — but notice, that’s an imperative, a behavior you wish to impose on others. Pragmatically, you don’t get to decide that! Human perception and psychology makes first impressions disproportionately important… and they can easily forestall any other impressions.

    Bluntly — you can’t control how other people respond to a given appearance. But as humans, you have a lot of control over your appearance — and you can use that to affect how other people respond to you. In fact, your appearance does affect how other people react to you, whether you like it or not. Control what you can control directly, and use that to affect how other people behave towards you.

    And if (as a woman) you choose to emphasize your sexuality, don’t gripe when a fair number of guys would rather look than talk, or when some people keep losing track of what you were saying, or when that shy geek boy runs for the hills!

  121. @Masala Skeptic: You mention that attire is more restrictive in the office but why should it be the case? If we want true freedom (and equality) everyone should be entitled to dress how they want. If we moved the focus from how people look to how people act, I think we’d see more social maturity.

  122. @Tim3P0: I agree with your comment (i’m doing a lot of agreeing today it would seem). I don’t care about laugh track that much but I do care about how people are portrayed in science (also in general) and I find it damaging to the movement to portray men as misogynistic geniuses and women as sex icons who are only at the same status as men because they are mean, evil or heartless.

    I think the panels needed more women and I also think they need to be WAY more representative of minority groups in general. I don’t think I saw anyone who was non-white in any photos or videos. That’s kind of scary because in the science communities I know that is definitely not how it is at all.

    Also everyone should read more bell hooks. ;)

    Stef

  123. Woo hoo the thread that keeps on going! Okay, I probably don’t have anything more of substance to add.

    @badrescher: I totally see where you are coming from and respect your opinions. And I’m glad I had a chance to understand where you are coming from! Hope to see you at Dragon*Con… I definitely do not have the balls to wear purple paint and a thong, I’ll be one of many in jeans and a nerdy tshirt.

    Maybe Tim and I will dress as Rose and the Doctor. Maybe.

  124. Oh dear god, no wonder you guys don’t talk about this often (which I really did not know until this thread). What can of worms did I open?

    It’s not about brains vs. boobs, people (men, especially). There is more to sexism than forgetting women have brains and you are not off the hook just because I laid a tiny bit of the responsibility on women or said that I don’t expect men to disentangle mixed messages at the speed of light. Want to address the homophobia? — don’t answer that, please. I’m just trying to make a point.

    Honestly? My point about that small contribution from women is not about dressing to look hot. It’s about dressing clumsily – sorry, carrie, I haven’t come up with the right word to replace “inappropriate”, but after using a thesaurus I agree that it is rather condescending, does not convey my meaning, and is itself inappropriate.

    Dressing to look great is a skill I don’t have, and I’m okay with that. I don’t really like to be ogled as some women do, so I don’t care if my clothing does not accentuate my bod. I compensate for my lack of fashion sense by dressing to draw attention away from my clothing/body. I tend to wear a lot of black at conferences and when I am in front of my class. That’s my way.

    It does not stop men from staring at my boobs when I talk.

    I am not okay with that because after years of studying visual attention I know that when they do that, their attention is shifted away from my words, at least for a moment. Men, you can deny that, but the science says otherwise, and it’s pretty definitive on this issue. I am not angry about it; I understand that it’s something that men struggle with, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.

    We ALL have to be aware of the messages we put out there and be careful about what we wish for. And we ALL need to work toward respecting each other – hot women and akward men alike.

    I really, honesty do not have a problem with hot-looking women who are proud of what nature gave them (or they worked their asses off for in the gym).

    What I have a problem with is when “look at me” is so obviously the message that it drowns out everything else. What happens, right or wrong, is that it backfires.

    I admire your (Skepchicks, etc.) efforts to change that culture by shaking it up, but if it works it’s a little like pouring peroxide on a wound. If it doesn’t, it’s like jumping from the frying pan into the fire (and taking the rest of us with you).

    I am not convinced it is the most productive means of achieving our goals, but I am willing to discuss it (some other time, though – maybe with some of you at Dragon*Con?) and, again, I admire your commitment, tenacity, and chickiness.

    In the meantime, if you ever hear me whisper “What was she/he THINKING?” feel free to call me on it and understand that I do not judge people by what they are wearing even if I sometimes judge what they are wearing (as we all do). I’m not perfect, but I like to think I’m always working on it.

  125. I waded through all this and decided to offer my views.

    First, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, I’ve been notified that my opinions or creds as a ‘skepchick’ in the older sense (not in the sense as ‘a regular blogger on skepchick.org’) are of little interest since I’m apparently too old to have any relevance. Boo-hoo, I’m not a 20- or 30-something. But my creds are valid: I am the director of an energy company – I worked my way up as an engineer in Big Oil to where I am now, managing a multi-million dollar business. TAM is a veritable chick-fest compared to my regular life, where I often go for WEEKS without having a conversation with another female beyond ‘howdy’ to our receptionist (or calls from my mother). The professional societies I belong to usually have 3-5% women. So what? Do what I do – go work in the junior high levels and try to get girls and minorities interested in math and science so they CAN go into those fields when they get to college. And if they are not interested, so be it.

    Frankly, I get little sick of listening to some women run around going ‘woo-hoo, I can show my boobs and still be taken seriously, and if not, screw you! Whee! But don’t you dare not take me seriously as an intellectual!”

    BFD. And you’re welcome. I was working as the only woman in a field location, being watched for mistakes, constantly knowing that every time I hesitated from getting my hands dirty, I was being judged for suitability to be included in the Good Ol’ Boys network of the rough-and-tumble oilfield. When some of you were crapping in your Pampers, or even before that. I’m not talking in the era of Donna Reed and double-stranded pearls, I am speaking of the 80s and 90s. The stuff I dealt with in those years is why many of you are able to do what you want to, now.

    I didn’t find it burdensome, and still don’t, to dress tastefully for work. I don’t think my inner Fem is being denied if I don’t show up in a bustier and garter. Really, I’d rather have someone glance at me and know that I’m in a position of authority, rather than wonder if I’m a brilliant woman who works as a phone-sex girl for my spending money. There’s not a single atom of me that feels I’m being repressed. I use different occasions for wearing my revealing stuff. That doesn’t mean I’m not sexy and attractive wearing a suitable blouse and jacket.

    Second, am I ‘insulted’ that there are not more women speakers at TAM? That’s stupid, but if you want to take offense at every little thing, that’s your right. You can’t insult me without my permission. Instead, why don’t you do something yourself that makes you worth being invited? You want quotas? I’ve sent the name of a brilliant and interesting neuroscientist to Phil to invite to TAM next year – complain to him. Really, there is a handful of people who choose the TAM speakers – do what you’re good at and email them.

    Third, I hired Tkingdoll to come over and rebrand one of my divisions, bringing her from London to Houston. So I put my actual money where my actual mouth is. And she’s everything she said, no exaggerations.

    Fourth, Dunning is a total dick. With ears. (Those of you who know me know that I seldom insult people, especially by name.) I stood next to him in the VIP line for the MDC, and sat close to him, enough to hear most of his pre-event conversations, during the challenge. One of my sons went to the Skepchick party (the good looking guy there…) and confirmed. And some of the posters here have even better stories. All women LOVE him, don’t ya know?

    (And five, my boobs are bigger than yours, except maybe Heidi and Elyse. So there.)

  126. @badrescher: I’d like to commend you on being such a good sport in this thread. It’s clear that you’ve heard & understood the arguments, acknowledged how you could have done some things differently and stuck to your guns with others. With mostly good humor, too. I love when people can discuss these things this way. Thanks! :)

  127. @geek goddess:

    First, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, I’ve been notified that my opinions or creds as a ’skepchick’ in the older sense (not in the sense as ‘a regular blogger on skepchick.org’) are of little interest since I’m apparently too old to have any relevance. Boo-hoo, I’m not a 20- or 30-something.

    You’re kidding, right?

    In my eyes, you’re thoughts and opinions are of tremendous relevence.

  128. @geek goddess

    I agree, if we want more women at TAM then more women need to step up or be nominated. Still, I want to hear from speakers who are qualified and who have something relevant to say regardless of gender (or age). I was very fond of many of the speakers this year, but as previously mentioned a select few were out of line with their comments and is it important that we address that and assure that our voices are heard in response. At the same time, I don’t feel as if women have in any way been discriminated against as far as landing speaker roles, there are just less women to choose from and it is up to us to change that.

  129. @StefanBourrier:

    You mention that attire is more restrictive in the office but why should it be the case? If we want true freedom (and equality) everyone should be entitled to dress how they want. If we moved the focus from how people look to how people act, I think we’d see more social maturity.

    I think in a professional setting, there are reasons for certain dress codes. Uniforms are a great example of this. A policeman or firefighter loses credibility if she/he is not in uniform. In the corporate world, things are getting more and more casual. At my company we can wear jeans if we want, but when we talk to customers, we better be in suits. It has become the social and cultural norm to dress in a certain professional way. Will that change over time? Perhaps. For the most part, I’m OK with the idea that someone in a business suit is more credible than someone in torn jeans and a t-shirt. Presentation counts.

    Maybe people shouldn’t judge others based on first impressions. But, the fact is, they do. We have socially defined norms that exist in various settings. As we culturally become more casual (women wearing pants is no longer a scandal), the socially defined norms will change.

    However, like it or not, they exist.

    Now, on the other side, you can wear whatever you want, But the fact is, no matter whether you’re dressed in a bikini or a burqua, people are going to get an impression of you based on your attire. That’s the fact of the matter. That impression may be positive or negative, based on the individual’s social and cultural viewpoint. For example, ‘she’s wearing a burqua so she must be Muslim, oppressed and stupid because she lets a male-dominated religion take over her life and her sexuality.’

    The point is, you have to be a) aware of the image you present b) be comfortable with it and c) be aware that it may be misrepresented by someone who has a different viewpoint or perspective. And hopefully, at a place like TAM, you can have a conversation about it and both people can come out of it more educated and reasonable.

  130. @geek goddess:

    …But my creds are valid: I am the director of an energy company – I worked my way up as an engineer in Big Oil to where I am now, managing a multi-million dollar business. TAM is a veritable chick-fest compared to my regular life, where I often go for WEEKS without having a conversation with another female beyond ‘howdy’ to our receptionist (or calls from my mother). The professional societies I belong to usually have 3-5% women.

    please don’t make assumptions about us younger women in the movement and where we come from. my day job is in what can be considered a final frontier of sorts for women: i do construction work. i am one of about a dozen women in a 500 member local union.

    I was working as the only woman in a field location, being watched for mistakes, constantly knowing that every time I hesitated from getting my hands dirty, I was being judged for suitability to be included in the Good Ol’ Boys network of the rough-and-tumble oilfield.

    believe me when i say i completely understand what you went through, because i’ve been through it, too: men gunning for me, waiting for me to make one tiny mistake so they could throw it in my face that i didn’t belong on a construction site. in those proving years, life was difficult. and it still is. every time i start a new job with a set of men who don’t know me or my reputation as a top-notch mechanic, i have to prove myself all over again.

    my point is this: please don’t take our desire to further certain aspects of this discussion as any sort of invalidation of the work you did and are doing every day in the service of forwarding women’s position.

    maybe it is not your intention, but it sounds a little bit like you’re saying that because you don’t think we’ve put in the kind of hard work that you have, we don’t have a right to bitch about anything. i don’t think that’s what you meant, but it sets off a generational dichotomy that in the end will not do anything but shoot ourselves in the foot.

    as i said above, we are all on the same side in this. or at least we should be. we may not agree on our messages and tactics, but we shouldn’t spend so much time tearing each other apart.

    thoughtful discussion is good, and i feel i’ve learned a lot from this one. what worries me is where some seem to be taking my words as some sort of personal attack, which they are not.

  131. @carr2d2:

    please don’t make assumptions about us younger women in the movement and where we come from.

    Not at all, I don’t make those assumptions. In fact, I think it’s more towards that *I* am somewhat assumed to be not relevant because I’m over the hill or not hip enough to contribute. Not ‘chick’ enough, as it were. We should all know better than that.

    Marsala said it more perfectly – you ARE judged on what you look like, especially in the things you can control like clothing styles. I also judge people that chew with their mouths open, drive drunk, open the doors for little old ladies, strange people waving guns on a city street, and so on. When you don’t have a chance to meet and talk, it’s all you have.

    Reminds me of my youngest son, who many TAM-goers know. When he hit his teen years, he became all about ‘wanting to show my true individuality and not fitting other people’s notions of what I should look like.” Yea, he was an individual, all right. I couldn’t tell him and his other ‘rebel’ friends from the back at 20 yards. It wasn’t about being an individual, it was about being non-conformist with the prevailing attitudes. Same thing, here, I think.

  132. @Masala Skeptic: I can agree that our society puts a lot of weight on how we dress. However the point I’m making is that we are arguing that people shouldn’t judge women based on how we perceive them, correct? How is that different than judging people on how they dress. It’s in the same realm of judging someone because they walk with a club foot. We might make a perception like, “this person probably can’t run fast” but that’s a far cry from “this person probably can’t do science”.

    You mention uniforms and well, they do serve their purpose to some degree, we can identify emergency personnel, etc. I think that’s a big difference from someone in a suit because business means money and money means spending and spending means buying things like suits. Until we can actually shed this nonsense we will be forever in that loop of discrimination.

    You mention –>

    Maybe people shouldn’t judge others based on first impressions. But, the fact is, they do. We have socially defined norms that exist in various settings. As we culturally become more casual (women wearing pants is no longer a scandal), the socially defined norms will change.

    That’s right, these things do change, but they change via becoming aware of them and shedding classist nonsensical ideas about how people should behave, not through some magical social change process. This discussion acts to cause this change.

    Ok.. now to the touchier burka conception. I’m not sure that it’s as simple as recognizing people will potentially think negative things about you. I can wear a hat inside and there is nothing to punish me for that. My grandparents might hate it with a passion but I will be unharmed. For someone who may be in a social environment where they would be harmed (physically or mentally) for going against those social norms, it’s not so straight forward, I think that might be it’s own discussion though. :)

    “presentation counts” .. Would you elaborate on why? Don’t forget to include your skeptical reasons. I’m not sure the idea of society being a certain way, and therefore something that should be accepted as such, is a very good moral conception. I am curious to hear more.

    Cheers,
    Stef~

  133. ,presentation counts” .. Would you elaborate on why? Don’t forget to include your skeptical reasons. I’m not sure the idea of society being a certain way, and therefore something that should be accepted as such, is a very good moral conception. I am curious to hear more

    As my friend Jason put it “Humans are not rational creatures, only creatures capable of applying reason at some times. Further, your choice of dress indicates your ability to assess the social situation you are entering. the wider the misjudgment, less impressive your social, and by extension, non-social, acumen may be judged to be.”

    There are many things we do that are social constructs, from a nudity taboo, to marital fidelity, to not picking your nose in public. That doesn’t mean they don’t have worth.

  134. @geek goddess: I was under the impression that Skepticism was about questioning norms and creating change. We can analyze all these issues, why should we care about nudity? Why should we care about marital fidelity? We accept common social taboos in the skeptic community like being atheist, not attending church gatherings or accepting that people have the right to their life choices. Outside that movement many people do not accept these things but we fight against them.

    Who gets to decide which ones we should shut up and follow and which ones we are standing up against?

  135. @StefanBourrier:

    I was under the impression that Skepticism was about questioning norms and creating change.

    ?

    News to me.

    Skepticism is about evaluating claims and determining what is true and what is not true. The movement is about getting people use skepticism; the only norm that is questioned is the norm of failing to reason and the only change we advocate as a group is getting people to do just that. Some may extend their goals, but skepticism itself does not ascribe value to anything, social norms included.

  136. I was under the impression that Skepticism was about questioning norms and creating change.

    Where do you get that idea? Skepticism is a provisional approach to claims, which involves gathering data to formulate and test naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena. That doesn’t mean it is about creating change or questioning norms, in and of itself.
    And why do all customs need to be stood against? Some of them fulfill needs.

  137. @StefanBourrier:

    Who gets to decide which ones we should shut up and follow and which ones we are standing up against?

    We seek truth, that’s it. We don’t tell people what to do with it.

    Skeptic activism is about educating the public about what is true. The reason many of us extend that to “fighting against” religion and alternative medicine is that those untruths are harmful to society and the individuals in them (us).

  138. @geek goddess:

    ..And why do all customs need to be stood against? Some of them fulfill needs.

    You can still be skeptical of customs. It doesn’t mean they need to broken down. I’d just hope that skepticism would reach a little farther into social issues and not just science ones.

    I can accept Skepticism as moral-less but I wish it wasn’t so.

  139. @StefanBourrier:

    I suppose no one should be forced to act morally but wouldn’t finding a truth and then not acting accordingly seem kind of odd? Delusional even?

    Skepticism and science are not in the business of ascribing values. We can define what the term “moral” means and describe what may fit that definition, but what you are talking about is assigning values, which is what religion, not science, does.

    You can still be skeptical of customs.

    We can be skeptical about whether or not people engage in customs or whether or not something fits the definition. We can be skeptical of whether a custom exists for the reasons people claim it exists. But we are not in the business of telling others what their customs “should be”. Again, religion does that.

    I believe if you think about it, you’ll realize that you really don’t want that.

  140. @StefanBourrier: I don’t think you’re understanding what I’m saying.

    I can agree that our society puts a lot of weight on how we dress. However the point I’m making is that we are arguing that people shouldn’t judge women based on how we perceive them, correct? How is that different than judging people on how they dress. It’s in the same realm of judging someone because they walk with a club foot. We might make a perception like, “this person probably can’t run fast” but that’s a far cry from “this person probably can’t do science”.

    I agree that people shouldn’t make judgments about a person’s intelligence based on their dress. I’m just saying that people do. That was sort of my original point – as women in the skeptical movement, should we ‘tone it down’ to fit in and be taken seriously, until it’s the norm that women are a part of skepticism and it’s not an issue any more. (I’m not advocating that; that is the conversation that interests me though. I think there are arguments on both sides).

    You mention uniforms and well, they do serve their purpose to some degree, we can identify emergency personnel, etc. I think that’s a big difference from someone in a suit because business means money and money means spending and spending means buying things like suits. Until we can actually shed this nonsense we will be forever in that loop of discrimination.

    What loop of discrimination? Businesses are supposed to make money; that’s how they survive, pay their employees and allow them to feed their kids. There are some social constructs around business and etiquette that mean it’s important to look a certain way to be presentable. Because, as I said, physical impressions do make a difference. Now, anyone in the real world knows that the slickest sales guy in the most expensive suit is useless if he doesn’t have the right information.

    You mention –>

    Maybe people shouldn’t judge others based on first impressions. But, the fact is, they do. We have socially defined norms that exist in various settings. As we culturally become more casual (women wearing pants is no longer a scandal), the socially defined norms will change.

    That’s right, these things do change, but they change via becoming aware of them and shedding classist nonsensical ideas about how people should behave, not through some magical social change process. This discussion acts to cause this change.

    I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying here but I think the whole point of this conversation is to bring these issues to the forefront and discuss them.

    Ok.. now to the touchier burka conception. I’m not sure that it’s as simple as recognizing people will potentially think negative things about you. I can wear a hat inside and there is nothing to punish me for that. My grandparents might hate it with a passion but I will be unharmed. For someone who may be in a social environment where they would be harmed (physically or mentally) for going against those social norms, it’s not so straight forward, I think that might be it’s own discussion though. :)

    I don’t think you got my point about the burqa question. If someone was at TAM wearing a burqa, can you honestly say you wouldn’t have some sort of pre-conceived notion about her, based on her clothing?

    I think part of the issue here is, we all want to decide what perceptions are ok and which ones are not. And that’s a matter of personal preference, and not something a group will agree on.

    “presentation counts” .. Would you elaborate on why? Don’t forget to include your skeptical reasons. I’m not sure the idea of society being a certain way, and therefore something that should be accepted as such, is a very good moral conception. I am curious to hear more.

    Cheers,
    Stef~

    Everything we do is part of our own personal brand. Like it or not, humans make judgments based on physical attributes. Part of it is evolutionary, part of it is a social and cultural construct.

    If you walked into a Best Buy to buy a laptop and you saw two sales people, one disheveled and messy, with greasy hair and a torn shirt, and one with neat clothes, clean cut and smiling. Who would you choose to help you, assuming you knew nothing else about these two people?

    Ok, this is WAY too long. Sorry :)

  141. @Masala Skeptic: This has gone way beyond my interest in the topic so I’ll try to wrap up a few things quickly.

    The “loop of discrimination” I was referring too is the way we say one sort of discrimination, sexism for example, is bad but then another, say social perceptions about dress, is not. I think the confusion is in being on different pages of this topic.

    As for the two people at best buy.. It’s unlikely I’d be in a best buy but assuming that for some reason I was and these were the sales people I was presented with I’d probably talk with the man in shabby clothing. The cleanly dressed chap may have gotten the job on his looks but somehow the shabby looking guy got the job so he must be remarkably qualified.

    If that answer is not adequate then I’d just go to who was closest to me. I’d feel like a hypocritical jerk if I made a decision based on someone’s clothes, proximity seems rather neutral.

  142. I still think an argument can be made that people not only do make judgments based on the way you choose to present yourself, but that they should.

    Clothing is a form of self-expression. Unless you’re completely clueless, you’re aware of social norms, you’re aware of how certain attire will be perceived, and you’re the one dressing yourself in the morning. Your clothing is not a god-given attribute, it’s a choice. Dress how you want – no one is stopping you, but don’t be surprised when people take notice.

    I don’t think anyone actually thinks that sexy women can’t be intelligent. I guess the fight here is over what our cultural norms should be? Well, obviously we’re never going to agree on that – everyone is different! And what makes one person’s point of view of what should be acceptable more legitimate than anothers’?

  143. @StefanBourrier:

    The cleanly dressed chap may have gotten the job on his looks but somehow the shabby looking guy got the job so he must be remarkably qualified.

    Ok, so you agree that presentation plays a part in getting jobs and that a shabbily-dressed person has to overcome his outward appearance and be particularly qualified to get the job. That’s my only point. Presentation and physical appearance makes a difference.

  144. @Masala Skeptic: I’m not arguing that people DON’T make these value judgments, I’m just saying that they SHOULDN’T.

    If a shabbier person knows more about a topic I’d rather deal with that person. Who cares how they look? Not everyone can afford nice clothing, does that make them somehow valued less? I keep hearing no.. except it would seem if they want a job. Or to be taken seriously at a TAM convention oddly.

  145. @badrescher: I wouldn’t say that religion creates values but that humans do, some of them being religious humans. We all have values and moral codes that we use to judge what is good and what isn’t, not just religious people. Some people get their codes from external sources and believe that those codes ultimately come from someone in the sky who made the universe, some get them from external sources and understand that they ultimately come from people from years ago but have persisted because they aided survival, some get them from their own observations of what behaviors on their part lead to their own and others’ happiness. I imagine there are other sources as well. But it is important to note that religion is not the only source.

  146. @PeteSchult:

    You’ve missed my point.

    Religions dictate values. Religious people follow them (or claim to, or preach them). Where else people get values is not relevant.

    Skepticism does not ascribe value to anything. Science and skepticism look for and determine what is true. There is no value judgment involved.

  147. @badrescher:

    Religions dictate values. Religious people follow them (or claim to, or preach them). Where else people get values is not relevant.

    Skepticism does not ascribe value to anything. Science and skepticism look for and determine what is true. There is no value judgment involved.

    That’s true, and going back to your post I see that you were saying that, but the wording seemed to imply that only religion produced values. That’s what I was correcting, apparently unnecessarily. :-)

  148. “@geek goddess:

    First, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, I’ve been notified that my opinions or creds as a ’skepchick’ in the older sense (not in the sense as ‘a regular blogger on skepchick.org’) are of little interest since I’m apparently too old to have any relevance. Boo-hoo, I’m not a 20- or 30-something.

    Wait..what? I think I’m older than you are!

    I’m not sure where you got the idea you have to be young to be a skepchick! If you’re talking about the JREF forum, that would explain it–that is rapidly becoming a toxic place :(

  149. Wait..what? I think I’m older than you are!

    I’m not sure where you got the idea you have to be young to be a skepchick! If you’re talking about the JREF forum, that would explain it–that is rapidly becoming a toxic place

    I’m 52, so I don’t know how that compares. *I* certainly don’t think I need to be young to be skeptical. But no, not the forum, I am fine there.

  150. As a woman of certain years…I heard his speech and went “oh boy, I guess we haven’t come as far as I had hoped” As the mother of a daughter that is a graduate student at MIT I’m so glad this idiot thinks she can’t possibly be sexy, but if she were sexy she could get away with being dumb.

    My daughter is socially confident and beautiful. So are a lot of her girlfriends at MIT and she met her fiancee while on a scientific expedition. Though goshers if she had asked him about his “sign” I guess she would have had a LOT more dates (or as he suggests, got laid a lot more). Yeah, don’t be yourself, be someone you hope can con someone into going to bed with you….

  151. “It may take time for some in the movement to catch on to this idea, but I think, ultimately, it’s the only way we will ever get to the equality we seek for our community.”

    I think Skepchick is great. However, I wonder about the way in which a forum that focuses on one more gender more than another (or that even juxtaposes gender with skepticism) contributes to the equality we seek for our community.

    I think sex is great and I think women are beautiful. I’ve always been a little confused about why many people believe that I can’t hold those values while simulataneously respecting women and their minds. Why must men choose? Why can’t we adore both a woman’s body and her mind? Why can’t a woman be both a sexual subject and cerebral force? In fact, I’ve interacted with many intelligent, productive women who enjoy being sexual objects, in the right contexts with the right people. The mutual exclusivity of the physical and the cerebral is just something that I can’t get behind. I feel that it does a lot of damage.

    A chauvanist is someone who disrespects women. Now, is chauvanism restricted only to sexual disresepct? Or can a man be chauvanist by disrespecting a woman in other ways? Of course, a chauvanist can disrespect a woman in many non-sexual ways. So, can a non-sexist man respect a woman sexually? Or does any appreciation of her sexual nature automatically constitute disrespect?

    “Why is it that no one is blogging about the wide range of attire among the men at TAM7?”

    Was there a wide range of attire among the men at TAM7? Usually male attire isn’t terribly varied. But I wasn’t there.

    If a person walks around a conference speaking loudly to all people in their vicinity about what they think, people likely will notice what that person thinks and may comment on what that person thinks, positively or negatively. People may also end up telling that person to tone it down because that person is being distracting.

    Now, what if a person walks around not emphasizing their mind, as in the above example, but rather emphasizing their body, say, by wearing “extremely tight cut-off denim short-shorts, thigh-high fishnet stockings, and 2-inch patent leather strappy spike heals” [sic]? Now are the people around them allowed to comment on what that person is emphasizing: their body? When someone puts their thoughts unavoidably on display, it’s hard to ignore their thoughts. When someone puts their body unavoidably on display, it’s hard to ignore their body. If a person doesn’t want attention, a person should not behave in a way that demands attention. And yes, whether you’re female or male, displaying your body will demand attention.

    I have no problem with people displaying their bodies. Bodies are great! We need less shame and tension about bodies. However, I chafe a bit at people who display their bodies then get upset when they receive a predictable and natural amount of attention as a result.

    (No, I do NOT believe that a woman who displays her body deserves disrespect. Nothing ever justifies disrespect. )

  152. @babelloyd:

    I have no problem with people displaying their bodies. Bodies are great! We need less shame and tension about bodies. However, I chafe a bit at people who display their bodies then get upset when they receive a predictable and natural amount of attention as a result.

    honestly, I don’t think that the girl in the fishnets has received anything near a “predictable and natural amount of attention”

  153. Throwing in my .02 as a non-affiliated skeptic, atheist and science-doing lady:

    For one, I’ve never understood the association between being comfortable with one’s sexuality and wearing revealing clothes. I am crazy comfie in my sexuality, think my body is fantastic and simultaneously do not think that there is a need to display it to whatever passersby.

    It reminds me of a discussion I had with a hijab-wearing Lebanese lab mate of mine. She was very ‘westernized’ in most senses of the word – highly educated, single and living on her own, etc. But she loved wearing hijab, believing that it freed her from a cycle of public sexualization.

    On the one hand, I definitely don’t think that strict proscriptions with regard to dress, whether forma or not, will have any positive affects. Making lady scientists out to be a bunch of sexless frumps is no good. But on the other hand, I just can’t agree with the notion that opting to advertise one’s sexuality should either go unnoticed in favor of less readily noticed qualities, or should be assumed to mean a lady has a positive relationship to her own sexuality.

    Is the only way to look hot via cleavage, short skirts and showing skin? Is this the new feminist goal, to never question the choices of women? To say that women and their choices be treated somehow differently than a man’s with regard to dress and appearance doesn’t seem productive to me.

    For example, a man who showed up wearing (what’s sexy for dudes… hmm… ok, no clue, so here goes…) a tight tank top, short and tight shorts and a buttload of cologne – is he owning his sexuality? Is he someone you would look at and think to yourself, ‘Now this is someone with interesting ideas!’

    My guess is…. probably not. Maybe if the tank top had a clever slogan or picture, but even then, it would be an uphill stroll for him.

    Finally, what has intrigued me about women who want to dress in a sexy fashion and do so with full feminist convictions is that it seems odd that some forms of women dressing sexy is considered objectification (say, Maxim magazine), while another form is considered the height of sexual empowerment. Consider that there’s no standard for us to really measure whether one form of sexualized dress is degrading and another empowering. Is it simply that a sexy woman in Maxim is dressed explicitly for leering male eyes, and the sexy scientist is not?

    None of this really touches on the assumptions of intelligence tied into wardrobe, but it’s something that I’ve always been curious about.

  154. Have you seen The Incredibles?

    You know the part where the kid sees Mr. Incredible pick up the car as says “That was aaawwesome?”

    That’s basically what I’m saying to myself after reading this thread…. great convo, enthralling topic, interesting individuals…

    Stimulating.. just how I like my Skepchick.

  155. @babelloyd:

    A chauvanist is someone who disrespects women. Now, is chauvanism restricted only to sexual disresepct? Or can a man be chauvanist by disrespecting a woman in other ways?

    You might want to check your definitions:

    Chauvinist:

    1. Militant devotion to and glorification of one’s country; fanatical patriotism.
    2. Prejudiced belief in the superiority of one’s own gender, group, or kind.

    What you a re referring to is specifically a sexist male chauvinist. But the world is full of all kinds of chauvinism and chauvinists, including, shiver me timbers, female chauvinists.

    Nothing ever justifies disrespect.

    Even fanatical Creationism? Fundamentalist astrologers?

    @palindromic:

    I think you have some good points, and some very valid queries too, including:

    Is the only way to look hot via cleavage, short skirts and showing skin? Is this the new feminist goal, to never question the choices of women?

    For example, a man who showed up wearing … a tight tank top, short and tight shorts and a buttload of cologne – is he owning his sexuality? Is he someone you would look at and think to yourself, ‘Now this is someone with interesting ideas!’

    Skepchick org is a great place for discussion of socio-cultural tempests, etc.; however, double standards do sneak in from time to time.

  156. @palindromic: @SicPreFix:

    These are strawmen arguments:

    Is the only way to look hot via cleavage, short skirts and showing skin? Is this the new feminist goal, to never question the choices of women?

    No one said the new goal is “never question the choices of women”, but rather to be less judgmental of them. Is there any reason to think less of a woman because she looks sexy and/or enjoys sex? No one expects you to look at a woman in a low cut top and think “Oh, she must have an IQ above 150, easily.” But to dismiss her out of hand because of that shirt is cynical and anti-skeptical.

    Just because other women have never felt the need to express themselves in such a way, doesn’t mean that no woman should. It also doesn’t mean that it’s petty for a woman to want to.

    No one said that it’s the only way to look hot, either.

    As a plus-sized woman, I have to work hard sometimes to be taken seriously as someone who is not fat and stupid… and there are people who, before meeting me, thought of me as smart and worthwhile to know, but upon seeing me, decided that I am, in fact, not worthwhile at all.

    On the opposite side of the coin, back in my young and thin hottie days, I was often lavished with attention but no one cared what I had to say.

    As women, currently, we are forced to walk a line where we are attractive, but not too attractive, but we can’t care too little that we’re unattractive. Look good, no not that good, getting closer, perfect, oh no you lost it either go on a diet or get out of here.

    We can be taken quite seriously as long as we play within the “hot or not” limits.

    Some of us don’t think we should have to.

    For example, a man who showed up wearing … a tight tank top, short and tight shorts and a buttload of cologne – is he owning his sexuality? Is he someone you would look at and think to yourself, ‘Now this is someone with interesting ideas!’

    If some dude came in wearing his workout clothes, I’d be confused. And I personally am offended by too much cologne because it brings on migraines… if he were wearing work out clothes AND too much cologne, I’d assume it was because he hadn’t showered after being at the gym and I’d want him to do so before walking into the conference room… because that’s the sanitary thing to do.

    But if a guy came in wearing the equivalent of a skirt and low-cut top – ass hugging jeans and a tight t-shirt, I don’t think any of us would think less of him or dismiss him for that. In fact, I met someone like that at TAM, and I never thought a thing about it. He happened to be sitting near me and we just started talking… about everything from Illinois highways to what he’s studying at Stanford.

    Why can’t we want that same thing for ourselves?

  157. @SicPreFixNo:
    No need for me to “check my definitions”; I clearly meant #2 that you quoted (without citation, interestingly).

    The English language is descriptive, not prescriptive. Regardless of what dictionaries may say, the commonly understood meaning of “chauvanist” is “male sexist chauvanist”. But, like you, I cite no source for that assertion. Just personal experience. But ask around. Be sure to use a large and random sample, though.

    ” ‘Nothing justifies disrespect.’ Even fanatical Creationism? Fundamentalist astrologers?”

    Correct. Disrespect is simply giving in to emotion. It’s never constructive. It doesn’t increase understanding or persuade anyone of anything.

  158. @babelloyd:

    I didn’t cite because I didn’t think it necessary, but if you want pedantry and specificity, here you go:

    chauvinist: 1. Militant devotion to and glorification of one’s country; fanatical patriotism. 2. Prejudiced belief in the superiority of one’s own gender, group, or kind.

    — FreeDictionary (online) at http://www.thefreedictionary.com/

    And for a slightly different take on it:

    chauvinist: bellicose patriot; fervent supporter of a cause; “male ~ist”, man showing excessive loyalty to other men and prejudice against women; so ~ism etc. ….

    — The Concise Oxford Dictionary, seventh ed., 1982

    chauvinism: exaggerated or aggressive patriotism. prejudice against, or lack of consideration for those of a different sex, class, nationality, culture, etc.

    chauvinist: person who exhibits chauvinism.

    — The Canadian Oxford Dctionary Oxford, 1998

    I had to sell my Shorter Oxford a few years ago, and my Websters is at work, so we’ll have to do without those.

    The English language is descriptive, not prescriptive.

    The language might be, but definitions are most definitely not, and correct usage with the goal of clear and unequivocal comprehension is more presriptive than it is descriptive, except in terms of pure narrative or lyrical content versus meaning.

    … the commonly understood meaning of “chauvanist” is “male sexist chauvanist”[sic].

    Only amongst intellectually and/or grammatically lazy folks, or perhaps semi-illiterates.

    I clearly meant #2 that you quoted….

    You may have meant it, but that isn’t what you said. As well, you asked a question, “is chauvanism restricted only to sexual disresepct” [sic], which also includes the limiting supposition that chauvinism is only men vs. women. I both answered the question (yes, it was rhetorical, I know) and corrected the false supposition.

    Pedantic I know. I’m just kinda like that sometimes.

    And too, the way this thread has been going, drifting hither and yon through the rough waters of socio-cultural this and political that, I thought it could nothing but help, however ugly it may sound, to adhere to very specific definitions so that I avoid misunderstandings on both my behalf, and that of others.

    Yippee.

  159. @Elyse:

    Thanks Elyse. But I think we’re beginning to talk to different focal points.

    And I am unclear how they are straw dog arguments — I’m not saying they aren’t, I am just saying I don’t see it. I’m very poor most of the time on seeing logical fallacies.

  160. @SicPreFix

    “correct usage with the goal of clear and unequivocal comprehension is more prescriptive than it is descriptive”

    ROFLMAO. Zup dog. Word to that , bra. U must use le mot juste, or Y write at all? If they dk wut u mean, its their fault! Definitions R immutable n uniform across time n space. I cn say wutever I want here, cuz no1 will get it neway.

    (+, ntimm, but in a discussion about *gender*, I’m unsure about why someone would mean “Militant devotion to and glorification of one’s country; fanatical patriotism” instead of “Prejudiced belief in the superiority of one’s own *gender*.”)

    Neway, didn’t mean to make a mountain out of a molehill, G.

    Peace

  161. It is sad and alienating when women’s clothing choices are critiqued and insulted, perhaps especially so when done by other women. Drescher’s comments were inappropriate and infuriating.

    However, I ALSO find it alienating and unwelcome to have my clothing choices (which rarely include close fitting garments and high heeled shoes) being referred to as trying to “unsex” myself or “properly camouflaging [my] sexuality”. My less form-fitting clothes ARE how I express my sexuality (and I am bisexual and find other women who dress the way I do sexy — they may or may not intend it as such and it is not for me decide whether it intended that way or not) nor is it intended as camouflage of my sexuality and I find that characterization of my choices to be alienating to me.

    A pity that your extremely valid critique of Drescher’s inappropriate policing of other women’s clothing choices had to include putdowns of the type of clothing she (presumably) would approve of.

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