(un)Becoming the Borg
In the debris of the last few days’ drama, I’ve been thinking a lot, and talking to friends with various points of view, and I think I have a better understanding of what’s happening here. The problem, as I see it, is popularity.
As the most prominent female-run skeptical site, and with our head honcho being part of a hugely popular podcast, we get a lot of attention. I think this makes some women in the skeptical community feel as though they are being lumped in with our particular brand and approach; that Skepchick has become the new stereotype for what a woman skeptic should be, and they fear that this somehow invalidates the good work they are doing in the eyes of Joe Skeptic.
This comes back to a problem I’ve addressed here before, about women being treated as the Borg Collective*, as though we all agree on how we want to present ourselves, and how we want to be perceived, and what it means to be taken seriously or to make a difference, what it means to be sexy and whether or not that’s even something we care about, or what magic words a man can say to us to get us into bed. The truth is, we’re all just people, and we’re out here, being ourselves and doing what we think is right in the service of furthering critical thinking.
It bothers me that, when faced with this perception, rather than fight the perception itself, people lash out at us. We aren’t perpetuating this idea. We wish as much as anyone that women didn’t have to worry about this kind of thing, but we’re not there yet. Here’s the thing, though. The answer is not in Skepchick unsexing itself, or in Skeptifem sexing herself up. Our real power to change things lies in our different approaches. To make us all the same is to feed the perception that all women are and should be the same.
I think some people are missing a key fact here. We here at Skepchick haven’t squeezed ourselves into any unnatural ideal in order to better sell ourselves. We’re being who we are. We came together because we saw what Rebecca was doing and we identified with it.
Intimately tangled in this web is the idea many of our critics seem to have that we are only popular because we push our sex appeal, that our audience consists mostly of drooling, horny men who couldn’t care less about what we actually have to say. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The Skepchick community is very diverse, is nearly gender equal, and while many of our fans do appreciate our sex appeal, they also respect us as people.
I think the thing that bothers me most is that it is very rare for a critic to stick around and actually have a discussion about whatever attack or complaint they’ve just lodged against us. I have to hand it to Barbara Drescher
for the great conversation that ensued in the wake of my post-TAM7 wrap up. But she is a rarity. It’s very difficult to take a critical comment as anything more than inflammatory trolling if the author is unwilling to follow up with a discussion. I, for one, take these concerns very seriously, and I want to talk about them.
There is another facet to what’s happening. I think that because of our popularity, we are perceived as some sort of snobby, closed off clique. This strikes me as incredibly odd, considering my history as The Class Rejecttm, but because of my history, I do understand it, I think. For those of us with social issues, and histories involving exclusion, harassment, and abuse, it’s easy to see a group of confident people and automatically assume that you are not welcome. I still find “popular” people intimidating. Put me in a room with any of my skeptical heroes and I clam up. I think, “Why on earth would this awesome person want to have anything to do with me?” I don’t think I’ll ever get over that.
I know it might feel scary at first, but seriously, we don’t bite (well, not unless you want us to ;)). And we’re all pretty approachable. We want to be your friend. And we want you to be part of our little community. It’s fun here. Somebody asked me today who the word “skepchick” could apply to. I replied that while I think Skepchick should be reserved for those of us on this blog, and people who have modeled for the calendar (for language clarity purposes), anyone is free to call themself a skepchick.
But of course I realize that skepchick is not a moniker that every skeptical woman wants attached to her, and we’re cool with that. Create whatever name you want, and you’ll have our support, if you want it. The bottom line is this: Despite all our differences, we are all in this together, and I think we share at least a couple of goals. Can we at least treat each other with respect?
*Thanks to our very own Tracy King for that brilliant analogy.