Early this morning, I posted a critique of a post by Harriet Hall on SBM discussing the complexities of sex and gender. For those who may have missed previous posts, here’s a quick set of links in the order in which the posts occurred:

  1. Gender Differences and Why They Don’t Matter So Much” – Harriet Hall at SBM.
  2. Why Gender Differences Don’t Matter (and Other Myths)” – Me here at Skepchick.
  3. Sex, Gender, and Sexuality: It’s Complicated” – Hall
  4. Gender is Complicated (and Other Breaking News)” – Me
  5. I Am Not Your Enemy: An Open Letter to My Feminist Critics” – Hall

It’s getting to the point where this back-and-forth is making some extremely long blog posts. I do want to respond to this latest post by Hall because I think we can all make some headway on at least some of the issues brought up.

I will say right off the bat that this is the last time I’m going to respond in any length to Hall on this particular topic. Frankly, I don’t have the time or energy to continue in a never-ending back-and-forth, especially when it’s starting to feel as though we are talking past each other on some items and that we have fundamental disagreements on others. I will certainly engage with the comments section here, and Hall is free to contact me through the Skepchick contact form if she wants to further communicate.

Before I get into the meat of her post, there is one point I will concede to Hall. She points out that on her first post she admitted that there is much uncertainty in the literature on sex and gender differences. That is true, and I should have been more aware of that point in forming my response. The problem I had was that earlier in the post she promoted a problematic Scientific American article on gendered brain differences in an effort to explain how there are “real differences between men and women.” When I later read that she was hedging everything she’d previously written about “real” differences, I found it to be unconvincing. But ultimately she’s right: She did admit that the research is complex and at times perplexing.

My Problems with Hall’s Positions

She opens her latest post with this statement:

I have been falsely identified as an enemy of feminism (not in so many words, but the intent is clear). My words have been misrepresented as sexist and misinterpreted beyond recognition. I find this particularly disturbing and hard to understand, because I’m convinced that my harshest critics and I are basically arguing for exactly the same things. I wish my critics could set aside their resentments and realize that I am not the enemy.

It’s important to note that no one has directly identified Hall as “an enemy of feminism” by her own admission, but she is able to read the intent. Keep this in mind as we move forward and Hall is repeatedly offended at my reading of her position (e.g., her claim that I “attack her for things she never said”).

I do not have resentment towards Harriet Hall. I do not consider Harriet Hall my enemy. I don’t know enough about her to hold resentment or consider her an enemy. I’m actually quite a laid-back, amicable person most of the time and don’t hold a lot of animosity towards anyone. What I do know is that the little information I have about her past actions, her responses to people taking issue with those actions, her response to those people, and her current misrepresentations of sex, gender, and sexuality on a prominent science blog bother me. I chose in my previous responses to leave her problems with PZ Myers and Ophelia Benson for them to respond to (which, by the way, Ophelia has now done), and I’m not going to address those problems here.

Now, speaking of resentment, I wish Hall would not put scarequotes around my name, as if because I write for Skepchick that I am somehow not a real person or am using some weird pseudonym. Will is my actual, real name—no need to quote it. Whatever issues she’s had with PZ Myers, Ophelia Benson, Amy, Rebecca, or anyone else really has nothing at all to do with my criticisms of her positions. For someone who is fond of accusing me of fallacies, perhaps she should stop trying to poison the well against my criticisms by bringing up whatever disagreements she has with others that I am not personally involved with.

First he accuses me of not knowing the difference between sex and gender. I understand his definition — that sex is biological and gender is cultural — but I was trying to make the point that we often don’t know for sure whether a trait is biologically or culturally determined. And whether or not he thinks it’s acceptable, some people do use the words gender and sex interchangeably.

url-1Clearly, Hall does know the difference. But that did not come across in her first post. She consistently conflates the two categories, even after acknowledging that there are differences between them. I do not think it is acceptable to conflate them, which is why I pointed it out. I recognize that people do it, but that does not mean I have to accept it, nor does it mean they are correct.

He wants to dictate how I use language, yet he uses the word queer, a term most people in the LGBT community consider offensive. He insults me by saying I am ignorant of what gender means. He condescendingly explains androgen insensitivity syndrome to me, as if I hadn’t learned about it in medical school 45 years ago.

I do not want to “dictate” anything. I want to point out that the language used when talking about sex and gender matters. It does matter whether you’re talking about sex or gender. It does matter whether your language is essentializing or not. These are major problems that have been addressed at length in the literature on sex and gender.

I did not “condescendingly” explain (mansplain, if you will) AIS to Hall. I pointed out that the dichotomy she set up (“women have breasts and men have a penis and testicles. Women are XX and men are XY”) is way too simple and provided AIS an example of how those “real differences” she proposed are much more complex. She is not the only intended audience of my post.

As for chiding me for using the word “queer,” she later sort-of-apologized in the comments on her post. Apology accepted, though it was not entirely without problems, which mostly have been addressed in comments both here and on Hall’s post, so I will not go into any detail in the interest of space.

Female is a biological category. A mammal who is anatomically and physiologically capable of bearing children and lactating (or will be, if prepubertal) is surely in the biological category “female” even if she has not had those experiences.

We agree that “female” is a biological category, but we do not agree on Hall’s assessment of what that category entails. Again, someone with AIS is female-bodied, but is not anatomically or physiologically capable of bearing children. Hall herself admitted that these categories are fuzzy and not quite so clear, so I do not understand why she feels that this is a sticking point that she must declare that females menstruate, get pregnant, and lactate. Yes, some females do some or all of those things, but it is not necessary to do or have the potential to do those things to be female. That is the crux of my argument against her framing of sex.

What would he have had me say? “Female-bodied individuals are more likely to menstruate, get pregnant and lactate than male-bodied individuals”? That strikes me as an inelegant and unreasonable concession to feminist political correctness.

Yes, I would love for Hall to have said that. It strikes me as quite elegant in that it allows for variation and does not confuse gender with sex. It has nothing to do with “political correctness” and everything to do with striving for accuracy in our language on this topic. The statement “female-bodied individuals are more likely to menstruate, get pregnant, and lactate than male-bodied individuals” is a more accurate statement than “women menstruate, get pregnant, and lactate” because it better allows for the very real sex and gender variation that Hall is so adamant about focusing on.

url-3

I didn’t say I thought there was a simple clear-cut division. I didn’t even address that issue in my article.

Speaking of things we never said, I never said, “Hall said there is a simple, clear-cut division.” What I was saying is that, based on my reading of the first post by Hall, she seems to adhere to the belief in a gender binary with clear distinctions (“men have these traits, women have these traits” is a pretty simple and clear-cut division) as a real and accurate thing. This was confirmed in her second post when she said said there is no need to reject the gender binary because it is practical and useful.

Concerning the tangent on breastfeeding, that is mostly us talking past each other. She did not use the word “bonding” specifically, but the context of her discussion was that while most men cannot produce milk to nourish their children, they could still be nurturing. It seems to me that bonding is an important aspect of nurturing young humans. Despite her protestation, her comment was not limited to “breast is best [for nutrition/health]” as she was discussing nurturing, not feeding, nutrition, and the health benefits of breastfeeding (though she mentions this briefly).

I also should point out that my example of the Aka was mostly tongue-in-cheek, meant to point out that an assumption that only women allow babies to suckle is incorrect. I put “male breastfeeding” in scare quotes to indicate that I realize there is no milk production going on with the Aka but that it is still a form of bonding/nurturing through nipple suckling. There are also products created to allow men to “breastfeed” their babies using a vest with bottles embedded on the nipple spots. My point is that “women breastfeed, men do not” is an overly simplistic way to declare inherent gender differences.

In response to my claim that Hall is wrong that gender doesn’t matter, she said that’s not what she said. Yet the very title of her first blog post quite literally made the claim that gender differences don’t matter. I will take her clarification at face value that she was referring to how general gender differences in a population don’t matter much when looking at individual variation—a statement I agree with. Forgive my confusion.

However, this is not just a claim that Hall has made with regards to gender differences. Hall said in her first post that she does not want to be seen as a sexed/gendered person:

In a sense, identifying as part of a group of women only reminds people that we are women and only tends to delay the day when people will notice our accomplishments and not our anatomy.

Of course, I’ve pointed out ad nauseum that being a woman is not necessarily a matter of anatomy. But still, what Hall is advocating for here—whether she is doing it intentionally or not—is a gender-blind meritocracy where people are valued based solely on their accomplishments and not on their differences (in other words, a world in which gender doesn’t matter). And this is where Hall and I have a major disagreement. See, I do not find difference and diversity in a society to be a weakness, but a strength. Noting people’s differences and their accomplishments are not mutually exclusive activities. I do find it inspiring that Hall was a pioneer. She clearly worked hard against the injustices that most second-wave feminists fought against. But I also wonder why someone who is so adamant about not being recognized by her gender would have written a memoir based on her experiences as a female flight surgeon. It seems as if Hall is arguing out of both sides of her mouth: “Stop recognizing me as a woman, but don’t forget I was a forerunner for women in the Air Force.” Why is it acceptable for Hall to call attention to her own awe-inspiring attacks on patriarchy but not for feminist skeptics to get together and discuss the status of women in the movement? Why must we recognize Hall’s feminist achievements and pretend that it is no longer good or useful to recognize other feminist achievements by women?

Hall on Diversity and Conferences

Towards the middle of her post, Hall addresses the question I posed (and had answered) in my first post:

Would she begrudge queer people or people of color joining together in solidarity in the same way that she poopoos on people identifying as “women skeptics”?

It seems that Hall does not want multiple conferences that focus on the particular needs of subsets of people within the skeptical/atheist community. In her latest post, Hall says that she has no objection to minorities joining together in solidarity. But apparently only as long as they’re not talking about skepticism/atheism:

I have a personal preference to participate as an integral member of the general body of skeptics, rather than meet with a subset of women skeptics. I would be distressed if the skeptical movement were balkanized into ineffectiveness by creating separate meetings for every conceivable minority group.

Having a personal preference for certain kinds of conferences is fine. I doubt anyone would have a problem with that. However, that’s not what Hall has said in the past. The unsolicited opinion she posted on Facebook was in response to someone promoting Women in Secularism. They did not ask “who thinks having a conference for women in secularism is a good idea?” But still, Hall took it upon herself not just to express a preference, she also said:

Efforts like this tend to divide the secular movement. Why can’t we all just get along and cooperate on our mutual goals? I think conferences like this only tend to postpone the day when the sexes will truly be treated equally and no one will pay attention to whether a person has chest bumps or dangly bits.

That’s more than just a personal preference. That is an active call to cease having conferences for specific subsets of the skeptic/atheist community. She is saying that conferences like WiS are harmful to the skeptical/atheist movement. That’s more than a personal preference for general conferences, and I find it disingenuous for Hall to pretend otherwise.

Do we need a conference devoted to elderly transsexual black Hispanic scientists? OK, so that’s ridiculous; but at what point does it become ridiculous?

slippery slopeActually, it’s not up to me to decide whether there is a need for a conference devoted to topics of interest to elderly transsexual black Hispanic scientists. But you know what? If someone set up such a conference, I sure as shit wouldn’t tell them they’re harming the community. It’s one thing to think a conference is pointless and choose not to attend. It’s all together different to accuse the people involved with it of inflicting harm. It’s also not based in any empirical evidence I’ve seen! Anecdotally, it seemed like the first Women in Secularism was a huge success and many people genuinely and deeply enjoyed their time there. Why does Harriet Hall find it so destructive for minorities to gather together to discuss issues of importance to them? How does Women in Secularism take away from, say, Skepticon? The idea that creating multiple different kinds of conferences with multiple different foci is harmful just doesn’t jibe with me. I have not seen any evidence to indicate this is so. And I also must ask: harmful to whom? It certainly is not harmful to minorities to have a place to gather and have their voices heard!

Hall also says that she “said nothing about erasing identities from view.” True, she never said “let’s make people invisible!” The problem is that her position—that conferences organized for the purposes of bringing subsets of skeptics/atheists together in solidarity to address issues they find pertinent that are being ignored by the larger skeptical/atheist community—can have the effect of making people invisible. And to call their efforts to organize and have their voices be heard “harmful” plays into the rhetoric of social oppression, whether Hall intends for it to or not.

Different Understandings of Feminism

Hall ends her post with a plea and a declaration. I would like to take these point-by-point, and I will address them specifically to Dr. Hall.

Please read what I say, not what you choose to imagine I meant to say.

I did read what you said, and what I find problematic is the hidden bias in the way you’re talking about these issues. There’s a cognitive bias going on here that you are refusing to see or acknowledge. Also, just because you do not intend to say something does not mean your words will have your intended effect. So it’s not so much that I’m “imagining” what you meant to say, it’s that I’m viewing it from the perspective of the wider world in which you and I exist.

Please don’t try to argue about statements I never made.

I have not personally argued against statements you never made. I’ve argued against your misinformed statements and the consequences of your statements. You seem quite fixed on the idea that people are putting words in your mouth and building arguments around it, yet you do not seem to recognize how you yourself do this. You even started the post off with an acknowledgement that you do this.

Please try to understand that “I like to do it my way” does not equate to  “I’m accusing you of being wrong for doing it your way.”

Except, as I just pointed out, you did not just say “I like to do it my way” and you did accuse us of being wrong and, further, of actively harming the skeptical/atheist movement.

Please try to be civil and respectful and avoid insults.

I agree with you on this, and I certainly apologize for any insults in my posts. However, I find that this plea in particular is perplexing considering the T-shirt you wore at TAM. You were informed how insulting and disrespectful that was, and you refused to view the t-shirt in light of all the other stuff going on in the community. Instead of being civil (i.e., not wearing it anymore once you found out people were offended by it), you continued to wear it for two more days. Can you see how a plea for civility and respect and avoiding insults from you might be viewed with a bit of trepidation at the least? You seem willing to demand these things from others and wholly unwilling to do them yourself.

I am a feminist too, even though my brand of feminism may not meet your expectations of how a feminist should act. There are different roads to the same destination. Don’t disparage mine.

I certainly do not think you are not a feminist, and I’ve never personally claimed you’re not a feminist. I’m not in the business of declaring who is and is not whatever identity. What I’ve tried to point out is that your understanding of feminism seems to be mired in second-wave feminist thought. And in the same way that I criticize radical feminists, I will criticize second-wave vanguard feminists for refusing to acknowledge that feminism has greatly expanded from a focus on employment and labor and discrimination against women in work (along with the pervasive lack of intersectionality in second-wave feminist positions). I’m really not sure that the road you’re on and the road I’m on go to the same place simply because they’re both named “feminist.”

I don’t think I deserve your contempt and hostility.

I have no contempt for you, and my hostility is directed at your positions, which I clearly find to be highly problematic and often self-righteous and hypocritical. But do not confuse my strong (sometimes snarky and cranky) criticism with contempt for you as a person.

As for Hall’s ideas of common feminist ground, I think Ophelia has addressed it best in her post:

No one is talking about enforcing a requirement that equal numbers of men and women be present in any sphere of human endeavor. But, that doesn’t mean we should just look at any particular sphere of human endeavor that has a huge gender imbalance and conclude that it reflects pure choice and that’s all there is to it. That’s especially true when the sphere in question is a highly rewarded one, whether with money or status or intellectual stimulation or other such goods. (And that cuts both ways. There are vocations whose rewards are emotional and relational, where men may be scarce.) That’s especially true at this point in the timeline, because it’s just way too early. Maybe after many decades of effort to level all the playing fields, a time will come when it actually is safe to say “ok, this is how things shake out when there are no obstacles hard or soft,” but that time is not yet.

 

So no, nobody wants the job police to collar women who want to be poets and force them to be computer scientists. But that’s not the issue.

Ultimately, I hope that Hall will take some time to re-consider the points I’ve made. If she feels that I am making straw arguments, it might be useful to ask why someone who is fairly well versed in the literature on sex and gender would take issue with her points. I do not feel that I am making straw arguments here, and I do take that criticism seriously. I recognize that there is more than the literal words people write. There is a context—multiple contexts, actually—within which these blog posts occur. To pretend that they happen in a vacuum is naïve and has an obscuring effect.

But in the end, I do not write these posts because I want to change Hall’s mind. That would be nice, but my main goal is to point out to a broader audience how the ways that we think about sex and gender are often quite problematic—even research into these topics is often mired in cultural biases.

Even as a queer person, I catch myself thinking or saying heteronormative or cissexist things because it’s deeply ingrained in our ways of thinking. The best response is not getting offended when someone points these things out to me; it’s to recognize that I am a human who comes with cultural baggage that is impossible to shake. But that does not mean I should stop trying. And if Hall is as interested as I am in living in a world sensitive to people’s differences, I would hope she can find it in her to re-consider the inherent heteronormativity and cissexism in her positions and work to overcome those biases.

Will

Will

Will is the admin of Queereka, part of the Skepchick network. They are a cultural/medical anthropologist who works at the intersections of sex/gender, sexuality, health, and education. Their other interests include politics, science studies, popular culture, and public perceptions and understandings of anthropology. Follow them on Twitter at @anthrowill and Facebook at facebook.com/anthrowill.

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142 Comments

  1. Avatar of Otoki
    February 20, 2013 at 11:25 am —

    Thank you so much for pointing out “Harmful to WHOM?” in response to Hall (and others)’s claims that things like WIS are divisive and harmful.

    • Avatar of Will
      February 20, 2013 at 12:10 pm —

      Yeah, I find it such a confusing argument. It would seem to me like the more conferences there are that are spread out all over the place and address myriad issues would strengthen the community, not weaken it. But we all know this is not actually about saving skepticism from some serious threat. It’s about maintaining a certain status quo.

  2. Avatar of dr. dr. professor
    February 20, 2013 at 1:25 pm —

    While I think she’s right to be challenged & educated, she’s definitely right that you did a LOT of misquoting & flat out insults. You certainly could’ve done without those.

    • Avatar of Will
      February 20, 2013 at 1:28 pm —

      Care to give some specifics? Where, exactly, have I misquoted her or insulted her?

    • Avatar of Will
      February 20, 2013 at 1:31 pm —

      I’m also going to assume that by “flat-out insult” you mean that I called her names or said hurtful comments towards her, not that my tone was cranky or snarky. Please point out where I “flat-out insulted” her.

    • Avatar of victoriadashtwenty
      February 20, 2013 at 2:20 pm —

      I would also like to know. I had an objection to his post too, though I can’t remember what it was. I really hope there’s something there, because I’m pretty sure it was an objection to his tone, and I hate to say it, but I’m pretty sure I can’t find it because I read the byline.

    • Avatar of marilove
      February 20, 2013 at 3:00 pm —

      Usually you’re pretty reasonable, but I’m seriously not seeing ANY of this.

    • Avatar of Chris_H
      February 20, 2013 at 3:32 pm —

      You said:

      As an aside, Hall’s focus on breastfeeding as the penultimate form of bonding also does not jive with the scientific literature. According to this review of the literature, positive relationships resulting from breastfeeding is an assumption in the literature that is not supported by empirical evidence.

      What she wrote was:

      Men can’t breastfeed, but plenty of them enjoy nurturing infants. There is no reason they can’t bottle feed; there is no reason why two gay men can’t do a great job of raising an infant. There is no reason men can’t serve as primary caregivers for infants. But I don’t foresee a day when as many men as women choose that occupation. For one thing, although formula feeding is a viable option, breast is best.

      Focus? I counted the times it was mentioned, and it mostly this one paragraph.

      • Avatar of Will
        February 20, 2013 at 4:53 pm —

        I did not realize that focus was a quantity. Please enlighten me: how many times must something be mentioned to be considered a focus?

        That entire paragraph about breastfeeding is about nurturing (which, to me at least, is inextricably tied to bonding with humans). She is not focused on breastfeeding as a physiological act. She is focused on how breastfeeding is the best way to nurture infants. That is how I am using the word. I did not say her entire post is focused on breastfeeding.

  3. Avatar of Jack99
    February 20, 2013 at 2:50 pm —

    If anybody thinks Will is unjustified in being “cranky or snarky”, consider the context.
    Example, this http://phawrongula.wikia.com/wiki/TAM_2012_T-Shirt_Manufacturversy
    As others have said, context matters.

    • Avatar of marilove
      February 20, 2013 at 3:01 pm —

      Oh. SO THIS is who we must be charitable to? Ew. No thank you. I am not charitable TO BULLIES. Wow.

      I forgot all about this!

      • Avatar of marilove
        February 20, 2013 at 3:16 pm —

        And wait, was that Hall? I can’t always go to wikia.com from work and now it’s not working again. Ugh. Just want to make sure I have the details right so if I’m wrong, let me know :)

      • Avatar of Jack99
        February 20, 2013 at 3:36 pm —

        Hello, “Others”! Yep, there is a picture of Hall in the T-shirt, front and back, and a long quote from Ophelia telling Amy’s story.
        Certainly, my hackles were raised. Maybe it’s a good thing you can’t read it right now!

        • Avatar of marilove
          February 20, 2013 at 3:48 pm —

          Ugh. And yet WILL is being the meanie-pants? Yikes. Yikes.

          • Avatar of Will
            February 20, 2013 at 4:55 pm

            This is why I find her demand to be civil and respectful so hypocritical.

          • Avatar of marilove
            February 20, 2013 at 5:05 pm

            Christ, what an asshole.

            (her, not you!)

  4. Avatar of Moniqa Aylin
    February 20, 2013 at 3:11 pm —

    Thank you for elaborating on the importance of using accurate and precise language that means what it means, not necessarily what people want it to mean. There are arguments to be made for language/terms in transition, but for the sake of clarity and communication, use the words as they are definitively meant, not as they are warped by misunderstanding. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had this argument with people who misuse words and blame me for misunderstanding their intent.

  5. Avatar of mikerattlesnake
    February 20, 2013 at 3:13 pm —

    Any regular reader of SBM (which I am not really anymore) knows that Hall does not handle criticism well.

    • Avatar of Noadi
      February 20, 2013 at 10:00 pm —

      No she doesn’t. I still read SBM but I’ve learned to skip over her articles after I’ve seen her refuse to acknowledge errors in the past.

  6. Avatar of BlackCat
    February 20, 2013 at 3:48 pm —

    Thank you, Will. When I read Hall’s Response to Feminists, I was pretty disgusted. I, too, thought she seemed mired in old-school feminism. She definitely needs a brush up on Third Wave Feminism. Also, she doesn’t seem to understand that Intent is Not Magic. Just because you didn’t mean to hurt someone, doesn’t mean that you didn’t hurt someone.

    I didn’t know there was a controversy over her T-Shirt, as I just found out about it today, but without having read anyone else’s thoughts, I, too, thought that shirt was offensive and disrespectful. It basically erases other women’s experiences as skeptics, as well as women who’ve been harassed.

    Instead of arguing, she should be reading and learning. Skeptics should understand that they don’t have all the answers to everything.

    • Avatar of marilove
      February 20, 2013 at 3:54 pm —

      Oh, but we must be charitable to her! Argh! No. Now that I’ve seen that shirt (again; I saw it last year, but forgot about it!), I am reminded why I didn’t feel particularly charitable toward her yesterday, and why I don’t feel that way now…

      • Avatar of James Fox
        February 20, 2013 at 5:10 pm —

        I also remember the picture of Hall and her T-shirt quite well; and I still find it sad that someone with her history, voice and experience would choose churlishness and contention over positive engagement and a rational discussion of different opinions. I cannot imagine what she hoped to gain except to befuddle and alienate a lot of good folk who’d supported her for many years.

        • Avatar of marilove
          February 20, 2013 at 5:22 pm —

          It just was so … fucking CHILDISH. I’m being brought back to being bullied in grades K thru 8th grade. Anyone remember those gell-paint things that got all puffy and you made shirts with them? Imagine what fun bullies can have that, directed toward little ol’ me!

          It’s the same thing. Ridiculous.

          • Avatar of marilove
            February 20, 2013 at 5:22 pm

            Well, that was piss-poor grammar.

    • Avatar of Will
      February 20, 2013 at 5:05 pm —

      The thing is, even if she didn’t mean for the shirt to be offensive and was just wearing it with complete obliviousness to the current climate in the skeptical/atheist community, once she was informed about it the ball was in her court. Do I continue to wear it (for two more days) knowing it makes at least one of the people here uncomfortable, stirring shit up, and contributing to the climate of harassment and bile? Or do I do the “respectful and civil” thing and change the shirt and stop wearing it?

      She chose the former, yet now has the audacity to demand civility and respect from others, even when none of us are disrespecting her. I have been quite hostile towards her positions on sex/gender/sexuality, but I do not hate her or consider her an enemy. I just see her as another misinformed person with a platform who has done and said some ethically questionable things. Honestly, I am personally more interested in discussing the former, but I cannot avoid calling out the latter when she starts making ethical demands of me that she herself will not follow.

      • Avatar of marilove
        February 20, 2013 at 5:08 pm —

        The thing is, even if she didn’t mean for the shirt to be offensive and was just wearing it with complete obliviousness to the current climate in the skeptical/atheist community

        Is it just me, or is she oblivious A LOT? I am noticing a freakin’ pattern.

  7. Avatar of jarumeo
    February 20, 2013 at 5:11 pm —

    Will,
    I think part of the problem is that Hall’s understanding of gender is so far outdated that you would have to write her an entire book to catch her up to the point where you are starting. THEN, she might be able to understand where you are coming from.
    That is BY NO MEANS an excuse for her ignorance. A doctor writing on a blog called Science-Based Medicine should be current on her research BEFORE posting.
    Jane

    • Avatar of Will
      February 21, 2013 at 2:29 am —

      Yes, I think you’re right. Perhaps she could start with Anne Fausto-Sterling’s new book.

    • Avatar of SteveT
      February 21, 2013 at 10:54 am —

      I think one of the problems contributing to this is that (at least in my experience), the older you get, the farther back you can look in time and still have things feel “recent”. For me, now at the ripe old age of 46, the early 90’s seem like just yesterday in many ways, even though they are 20 years in the past! So I think it gets easier and easier to feel like you are up-to-date on all the modern research as you get older and older, and yet in reality you are more out-of-date all the time. And I think the problem only gets worse the older one gets. Hall may well imagine herself to be well versed in the current state of the scientific understanding of gender and sex, even if the most recent thing she read was written in the 70’s. This is not to excuse her in any way. People need to check assumptions like this before they start spouting off on the state of ANY dynamic filed of research. She botched that one big time!

      Just a word of warning to you younger folks out there. It’s surprisingly easy to find yourself the proud owner of a bunch of utterly outdated information.

      • Avatar of Jack99
        February 21, 2013 at 3:10 pm —

        Too true! Contraction of subjective time and the race towards the abyss accelerates alarmingly at 60. According to my grandfather, it’s because we always want it to be tomorrow, rather than living in the now.
        But that’s no excuse not to keep up with the literature and daily reading of Skepchick (and following the links) would do some good, surely?.

  8. Avatar of Tom Foss
    February 20, 2013 at 7:49 pm —

    I’ve really enjoyed this series of posts, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot. A few points I’d add:
    *Hall’s bit about your “language policing” sounds awfully ridiculous coming from a scientist. Imagine if, instead, it had been “And whether or not he thinks it’s acceptable, some people do use the words theory and guess interchangeably” or “And whether or not he thinks it’s acceptable, some people do use the words flu and cold interchangeably.” Those are true statements, but that doesn’t mean that in a discussion striving for scientific accuracy or clarity that such interchangeable use is warranted or correct. In science, we define jargon specifically for a reason.
    *One big problem with the whole meritocracy/”recognized for our accomplishments” bit is that the merits and worthwhile accomplishments have been decided by patriarchy. Traditionally “feminine” occupations and accomplishments have been (and still are) devalued by society, such that judging people by their accomplishments isn’t itself a fair system. No matter a person’s sex or gender, it’s a pretty big accomplishment to successfully raise a kid (or two or three) as a stay-at-home parent, but it’s not an accomplishment that’s rewarded by paychecks or recognition. Until “recognized for our accomplishments” is not a system slanted toward traditionally “masculine” accomplishments or fields that (for whatever reasons) favor men, it’s not really an ideal to which we should aspire.
    *It seems to me that the gender binary is a model, like, say, the Rutherford atom. For a time, it might have represented the research and evidence as people understood it. It may even still be useful as a shorthand, or useful in certain contexts. But we’ve learned in the intervening decades that it’s not all that accurate, and that there are better models that represent the actual complexity of the system with greater (but not perfect) accuracy. This is the basics of how science proceeds: we develop models to represent our understanding and update those models as our understanding improves. Why wouldn’t our understanding of sex and gender–especially in an age when we’re exploring genetics and neurology with greater precision and understanding than ever–also be subject to such updates?

    • Avatar of Will
      February 21, 2013 at 2:02 am —

      Agreed.

      I am not sure that binary sex/gender is a model per se. I think we base models on it, but really it’s more of an unconscious cultural bias. Not all societies work on a binary understanding of sex/gender, and the binary opposition of sex/gender (two separate genders, man and woman, that are complimentary) has not always been how gender has been “modeled” or thought about in the West (at least, that’s the argument people like Thomas Laqueur have made).

      The thing with most sex/gender differences research that I didn’t address directly in my posts is that they hardly ever define the terms sex, gender, masculine, or feminine, much less recognize that they’re working under a binary paradigm. So they’re all talking about different things, but they draw on people’s “common sense” understandings. Rebecca Jordan-Young’s book Brain Storm goes into this in detail. I highly recommend that book for anyone interested in the lack of scientific rigor in sex/gender differences studies.

      • Avatar of Erista
        February 22, 2013 at 11:52 pm —

        Would it be possible for you (or anyone, really) to point me at some examples of cultures that operate without a gender binary? I ask this not because I doubt it (I know it’s true) but because I’m interested in the ways that various cultures view and mediate genetics and sexual bodiedness in relation to societal roles and supposedly inherent characteristics. More examples for me to study would make me very happy.

        • Avatar of Will
          February 23, 2013 at 12:08 am —

          Sure. There are lots of examples in the ethnographic record.

          One place to start is what anthropologists refer to as the berdache, which is a word used to describe the various types of institutionalized multiple genders across Native North America.

          Another concept used to describe societies with multiple genders is third gender, though I find this term to be quite problematic. That link has a list of some examples of societies with multiple genders.

          I should also point out that American society is slowly shifting away from a binary model. See this story in NYT to see what I mean.

        • Avatar of Will
          February 23, 2013 at 12:23 am —

          I should also point out that most cultures do not base their ideas of sex or gender on genetics, so they are not really “mediating genetics” with anything. Thinking of sex as genetic is a historically recent and culturally specific phenomenon particular to scientific cultures.

  9. Avatar of Jack99
    February 20, 2013 at 8:10 pm —

    Or Newtonian physics vs relativity perhaps? Others have used that analogy elsewhere, maybe that one has been overdone. Maybe that one gives too much credit to “The Binary”.

    I would like to know what Will thinks of your analogy though.

  10. Avatar of chibi
    February 20, 2013 at 9:35 pm —

    From Harriet Halls Post
    ‘From reading what my critics in the feminist community have written, it seems to me we all agree on the most important things:

    That women should not just stay home and take care of kids’

    Erm maybe this should be – A woman has the right (as do men) to choose the future and life they wish to live so If a woman chooses to stay at home to look after the kids ( which I do by the way ) its is through personal choice and not because it is what society dictates.

    • Avatar of Will
      February 21, 2013 at 1:53 am —

      This is a really great point.

    • Avatar of trinity
      February 21, 2013 at 11:08 am —

      Her entire conceptualization of what feminism is and of what its goals should be is very firmly seated in the second wave. She seems to be ignorant of that fact.

      • Avatar of trinity
        February 21, 2013 at 11:14 am —

        Just adding to say, it isn’t wrong of her to be second wave feminist, but she seems to be ignorant of much of what third wave feminism has to say and ignorant of the fact that her concepts of feminism are second wave. I’ve noticed that comments on her post are accusing Will &c. of ageism, but I really don’t think it is ageist to point out when someone is not only out of date on her understanding of gender studies, but also of feminist thought.

        A lot of the development of third wave specific addresses second wave ideas and often critiques it. If she is sincere in trying to communicate, which I doubt, she should at least be willing to catch up on the current ideas within feminism and gender studies.

        • Avatar of Will
          February 21, 2013 at 11:43 am —

          Yeah, I saw that people were accusing me (and Rebecca) of being ageist yesterday over on Ophelia Benson’s blog. I’m not following the thread at SBM because no one wants to engage on the substance, they all want to complain about my tone or that I am uncharitable or whatever.

          Like I said over there:

          Without any sense of irony, people are saying “you’re being ageist! How dare you talk about her outdated views, you stupid young twit with no life experience!”

          It would be ageist of me to treat her with kid gloves because she’s older. It would be ageist of me to say “this old broad’s brain is obviously not working as well as it used to.” It would be ageist to give someone’s words and actions a pass because they are older. It is not ageist to point out how someone who is writing on a science blog about gender is using understandings of sex and gender from over 40 years ago.

    • Avatar of Ms. Daisy Cutter
      February 22, 2013 at 11:59 am —

      Chibi — there are two issues around this.

      First, while in an ideal world there would be government support for SAHMs whose husbands have died, become unable to work, or deserted them and their children, that is not the case now in the U.S. and in some other countries. Also, child support from deadbeat dads is notoriously hard to collect. I am quite frankly alarmed at all the third-wavers who don’t acknowledge that retreating from the paid workforce carries risks for themselves and their children.

      Second, there is the whole “I choose my choice” issue here. Women certainly have the right to work out whatever bargains they can in this patriarchal society. That said, choices are not made in vacuums. Why do so many mothers but many fewer fathers choose to stay home with the kids? Why is it usually the bride, not the groom, who takes the other’s name in marriage?

      • Avatar of Ms. Daisy Cutter
        February 22, 2013 at 12:01 pm —

        I should say “sufficient government support.” As I understand it, neither TANF nor disability payments are precisely generous.

  11. Avatar of lkl11
    February 21, 2013 at 5:34 am —

    I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is really paternalistic,’ well before I realized that the writer was male. Now I’m thinking, ‘This guy is so sure of his queer/feminist cred that he’s totally mansplaining what gender and skepticism are to an MD and long-established skeptic.’
    I was thinking, before I knew that the writer was male, ‘This is the first time I’ve been really disappointed with Skepchick.’

    • Avatar of Spiffo
      February 21, 2013 at 10:04 am —

      What points/arguments do you have a problem with, specifically?

    • Avatar of Will
      February 21, 2013 at 11:49 am —

      I think you’re using words that you don’t know what they mean.

      Paternalism would mean that I am in some position of authority over Hall and am restricting her freedom in ways that I think are in her best interest. I fail to see how that is a possibility. Also, women can be paternalistic as well.

      As far as my “cred,” I find it interesting that so far no one has engaged me on the substance of my criticisms. Every complaint, including yours, has been about my tone. If you think I am wrong or that I am somehow misunderstanding queer and feminist theories of sex and gender, by all means point it out.

      Assuming that because someone is an MD and/or that they have been involved in skepticism for a long time that therefore above reproach or magically more knowledgable about everything is not only fallacious thinking, it’s just plain stupid. Why would an MD know more about sex and gender than someone who studies sex and gender? As someone who is actively researching how the medical community interacts with queer people, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that most people in medicine have no fucking clue about queer people or about theories of sex and gender. Nearly all of them operate from culturally biased assumptions. I’m happy to point you to some literature in addition to the IoM report I’ve already linked to elsewhere in the comments.

      So unless you have some specific complaints about the substance of my post, there’s no need to comment here anymore. I’m really sick of the tone trolling.

      • Avatar of lkl11
        February 23, 2013 at 10:28 pm —

        Ok, that’s a good example of the *paternalistic* attitude. You are not correct that paternalism requires a position of authority; all it requires is a presumption of authority. For example, men (*not* saying you think this, just an extreme example to illustrate the point) who think that women only have abortions because they are ‘confused’ and don’t really understand what they are doing, are being paternalistic whether they’re in positions of authority or not.
        Wrt. mansplaining, it’s what you’re doing when you try to school Dr. Hall about the biology of chromosomal abnormalities or the physiology of some forms of physiological gender atypias. You undoubtedly know more than her about the queer experience, but you do not know more than her about the biology.

        • Avatar of Will
          February 23, 2013 at 10:43 pm —

          Okay, you have chosen to focus on the word “position.” Fine, paternalism can also stem from a presumption of authority.

          But that’s not the part of the definition that makes you wrong. I am not trying to restrict or otherwise affect Harriet Hall’s freedom in ways that I think are in her best interest. I don’t know what her best interests are. Therefore, I am not being paternalistic. It is not paternalistic to explain to someone that they are wrong.

          Speaking of which, point out to me where I “schooled” Hall about the biology of chromosomal abnormalities. I did no such thing</b. What I did was point out how she was wrong in a claim she made and used AIS as an example of why her statement was unnecessarily limited in scope. I did not explain to her what AIS was–that assumes that I was writing my post for her. I was not. I was writing it for a general audience in an effort to point out the problems with a blog post about sex and gender on a science website.

          Here it is, quoted from my original post:

          Biologically speaking, Hall’s dichotomy is still way too neat. There are plenty of examples that further demonstrate how Hall’s idea of the clear-cut division between male bodies and female bodies is not so simple. For instance, people with androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS) who are born with XY chromosomes develop female bodies because their cells are incapable of responding to androgens like testosterone. These individuals are not men simply because they have XY chromosomes! Some of them may be men, but others may not be. Regardless, their bodies develop externally as female bodies (they may have internal undescended testes and lack a uterus). But the thing is, however their bodies develop, that does not necessarily tell us anything about their gender.

          I never claimed or even hinted that I know more about biology than she did–I am quite sure that I do not. That does not mean that I don’t know anything about biology, and Hall having more knowledge about biology certainly doesn’t mean that she knows everything. Regardless, I was not pointing out AIS to her. I was citing it as an example of why her statement, “Women have two X chromosomes; men have one X and one Y” is factually wrong.

          I have no problem admitting when I say or do things that are sexist, ageist, paternalistic, ableist, racist, or whatever. But you’re totally fucking wrong that that’s what’s going on here.

          • Avatar of lkl11
            February 23, 2013 at 11:03 pm

            Using your own self-quote, above: you are not at all incorrect in your explanation, but you *are* telling Hall something that she already knows, and that you should assume that she already knows whether she wrote a blue-book on the subject in her prior post, or not. Every time you responded to her, you acted like a professor docking points because she didn’t hit every last datum.

          • Avatar of Will
            February 23, 2013 at 11:08 pm

            That’s your opinion and interpretation.

            So now you’ve moved from “you were being paternalistic and mansplaining” to “you were treating her like a student.”

            I don’t know how many times I have to point out to you that the intended audience of my post was not Harriet Hall. If I intended to talk to her about it, I would have commented on her post. Besides, her already knowing it makes it even more egregious that she would say something as simple as “women have XX chromosomes and men have XY chromosomes.” It means she’s not thinking critically or skeptically.

            It’s not an insignificant point. It’s an important thing to point out because it shows how her understandings of sex/gender are limited, heteronormative, and cisnormative.

            Anyway, I’m done arguing with you. Clearly you’re going to keep grasping at straws and repeating yourself as if it’s going to change my answer. I’ve made myself perfectly clear, and if you choose to ignore that, that’s now your problem.

          • Avatar of lkl11
            February 23, 2013 at 11:23 pm

            different ways of saying the same thing: paternalistic, mansplaining, professorial. You’re right that I’m repeating myself in an attempt to make a point – that’s the *purpose* of arguing. Are you pretending that you’re not doing the same?

    • Avatar of marilove
      February 21, 2013 at 11:53 am —

      You know what? Women can also take part in what is called “mansplaining” — and that’s what I get from Hall. She’s using HER “expertise” to act as if she knows best about this subject, when clearly, she doesn’t.

      • Avatar of Will
        February 21, 2013 at 11:55 am —

        Oh yeah, I forgot to engage with that word too.

        lkl11 clearly has no fucking clue what it means. It would be mansplaining if I started telling Harriet Hall all about surgery. It would be mansplaining if I started telling Harriet Hall all about the air force. It’s not mansplaining to point out that she’s clueless about the current trends in sex/gender research–that’s just a fact.

    • Avatar of jtradke
      February 21, 2013 at 1:02 pm —

      I spy, with my little eye, an APPEAL TO AUTHORITY!

      Whose turn is next? Am I the only one playing?

      • Avatar of marilove
        February 21, 2013 at 3:14 pm —

        Ironically, Will is clearly the one with authority for this subject matter!

        • Avatar of Buzz Parsec
          February 22, 2013 at 2:05 pm —

          But but but she has an MD!

          Seriously, Hall wouldn’t post on some weird new treatment for some relatively rare medical condition without checking out the latest best practice, so why is she writing so apparently off the cuff* and then doubling down on it? This is just so disappointing.
          [*] Her description of Shermer’s original comment that started all this.

    • Avatar of Ms. Daisy Cutter
      February 22, 2013 at 12:03 pm —

      Because straightsplaining totally isn’t a thing.
      Are you another second-waver? It would explain the shaky grasp of intersectionality.

  12. Avatar of Giliell
    February 21, 2013 at 6:43 am —

    Of course, that whole thing about breastfeeding (where the “benefits” are actually very much hyped) is one of the things that actively harms women and keeps them locked in stereotypical role.
    Breast is NOT FUCKING best.
    Best is a healthy and happy family, with healthy babies and healthy caregivers.
    The whole “breast is best” bullshit puts an extreme onus onto women to breastfeed, even though it might be difficult, and hurt, it hinders them from re-entering work because what evil wanna-be mother are you to deny your child your breast? Why did you even have a child when you’re not willing to propperly feed them?
    It hurts fathers who are automatically stigmatized as “less than ideal” caregivers, not matter how much she writes about “of course men can do that” because obviously they will never be the best for their child, only kind of OK.
    Everybody who says “breast is best” should be hit over the head with a nursing-bra.
    BTW, breastfeeding is only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing…

    • Avatar of shawnnn
      February 21, 2013 at 11:35 am —

      Yeah, the “breast is best” thing gets under my skin as well. My wife suffers from depression and went off her medication during pregnancy. She intended to breast feed but suffered complications from an infection from c-section and serious post-partum depression. She couldn’t even hold her own baby for for more than a few mintues at a time because of the pain. She also had to go back on her antidepressants. After this she still got shit from her friends about the fact that she wasn’t breastfeeding. That’s what she needed, guilt on top of everything else.

    • Avatar of Will
      February 21, 2013 at 11:57 am —

      Agreed 100%, and I did briefly mention the stigmatizing effects of assuming breast is best in my first post, though I did not go into any detail about it.

    • Avatar of lkl11
      February 23, 2013 at 10:50 pm —

      Ok, now you’re denying reams of scientific evidence in order to support a political view. Breast milk is undeniably better for an infant than formula; it might not be the best system for any given family, but all other things being equal, it is simply denialist to pretend otherwise. That does not mean that a woman who cannot, or does not breast feed, for whatever reason, is being a bad mother or isn’t doing the best that she can; it only means that under the same set of circumstances, breast milk is better than formula.
      Rather than spamming you with links off of pub med, I’ll just suggest that you head on over (www.pubmed.com) and do a search on “breast formula.”

      • Avatar of Will
        February 23, 2013 at 11:00 pm —

        Hall’s statement was vague at best. “Breast is best” for what/whom? It’s not best for bonding or nurturing. Breast milk is better than formula, but not in all cases all the time (for example, HIV positive mothers). And, as has been pointed out, the rhetoric around “breast is best” is linked to stigmatization of women who cannot or do not–for whatever reasons–breastfeed.

        So, if you want to strive for accuracy, how about “breast milk is usually the healthiest feeding option for an infant.” It leaves out the moralizing language of “best” and allows for exceptions.

        • Avatar of lkl11
          February 23, 2013 at 11:06 pm —

          10 seconds on pubmed, “breast formula HIV” :
          http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23053555
          quote:
          “RESULTS: A 1-mo increase in EBF {exclusive breast feeding} was associated with a 49% reduction in early infant mortality in the first 6 mo of life (RR: 0.51; 95% CI: 0.28, 0.93) and a nonsignificant 15% reduction in risk of HIV infection or death (RR: 0.85; 95% CI: 0.71, 1.01; P = 0.07) over the first 5 y of life. EBF was not associated with HIV infection (RR: 0.93; 95% CI: 0.76, 1.15).”

          • Avatar of Will
            February 23, 2013 at 11:23 pm

            5 seconds on CDC:
            http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/disease/index.htm

            Breastfeeding is NOT advisable if one or more of the following conditions is true:
            An infant diagnosed with galactosemia, a rare genetic metabolic disorder
            The infant whose mother:
            Has been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
            Is taking antiretroviral medications
            Has untreated, active tuberculosis
            Is infected with human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or type II
            Is using or is dependent upon an illicit drug
            Is taking prescribed cancer chemotherapy agents, such as antimetabolites that interfere with DNA replication and cell division
            Is undergoing radiation therapies; however, such nuclear medicine therapies require only a temporary interruption in breastfeeding

            When (baby age) and how HIV-positive breastfeeding happens is important. But even if I were to grant you that the risk of transmission is low or non-existent (which I am not willing to concede based on one study and I would have to do more research on it), there are other reasons that sometimes breast is not “best,” as described above. And you still don’t seem to grasp that I am also referring to the embedded moralizing of the phrase “breast is best” that stigmatizes many women. There are ways of talking about the health benefits of breast milk without the moralizing bullshit attached.

          • Avatar of lkl11
            February 23, 2013 at 11:30 pm

            You cite a page last updated in 2009, with a main source from 2001. As for whether or not “breast is best” is a moralizing statement, I demur; that’s *not* the argument I was responding to. There were several responses claiming, effectively, that breast milk isn’t ‘all that,’ and it was in response to those wishful posters that I weighed in on this tangent.
            Thank you for your time.

          • Avatar of Will
            February 23, 2013 at 11:45 pm

            And you cite a single study. And it’s one that I have not reviewed in detail. So pardon me for being, ahem, skeptical. I’ll stick with the CDC guidelines for now until such a time as I can do a more thorough review or they update their guidelines. Not that it matters much to me, as I have no plans to breastfeed anytime soon. =P

            If you don’t understand that the word “best” carries moral meaning, I don’t have much hope that you and I could ever come to any sort of understanding. Think about it, if “breast is best” and you are unable to do it, you are not best. That is a value judgment. It’s hard for me to fathom how you cannot see that.

            And the argument you think you’re responding to is not the argument that was made. Giliell said that the “benefits” (not the “health benefits of breast milk” but the benefits of breastfeeding, which given the context of our conversation I took to mean the idea that it is the best way to bond/nurture an infant) are often hyped. But, you know, you go on swinging at those windmills.

            Anyway, I’m done. Say whatever you want as I’m sure you will want to have the last word and then go away.

  13. Avatar of lauralina
    February 21, 2013 at 10:46 am —

    I’m surprised that she has against conferences for a “subset of people.” In medicine there all sorts of conferences for specialties within a medical field. It doesn’t take away from the big conferences. Actually, I shouldn’t be too surprised.
    I think the original intent of pushing breastfeeding was to counteract the belief (many years ago) that formula was better. I do agree, the message should be that it is worth trying breastfeeding as much as you can for the health benefits. However, if you are unable to, your child will still be fine. and you can still have a nurturing connection with your baby without breastfeeding

    • Avatar of Bryan Feir
      February 22, 2013 at 11:58 pm —

      As someone who’s been involved with SF conventions and the like for over half my life now (a scary thought, that)…
      Having multiple local conferences/conventions and more subject-focused conferences/conventions isn’t just normal, it’s INEVITABLE once the con-going population passes a certain point. When you’ve got several thousand people interested in a general topic, there will always be people who think some particular sub-topic didn’t get the attention it deserved because of all the other sub-topics that had to be addressed, or who can’t make it to the big con (either due to distance or cost) but can make it to a smaller, more local one.
      The World SF Convention averages over 5000 people, and has hit over 8000 in the past… that hasn’t stopped there being hundreds of local cons, as well as specialist cons that only look at one show, or that focus on particular sub-genres. People can only do so much to go to cons, so might as well give them the best of what they want, which means providing a lot of possible options.

    • Avatar of lkl11
      February 23, 2013 at 11:31 pm —

      *exactly.*

  14. Avatar of Improbable Joe
    February 21, 2013 at 12:52 pm —

    Dammit “Will”, why don’t you stop picking on Harriet Hall about her age! And by “picking on” I mean “not giving her a free pass on being wrong, just because she’s older and has achieved things.”

    Hall has fallen into the same trap so many skeptics do: because she’s got experience in one area, and years of participation has bought her respect, she thinks she can blather ignorantly on any and every subject without facing criticism from people who know more than she does on those subjects. Not only that, but she seems to judge criticism by its source rather than content, and since this is just someone named “Will” doing the criticizing she doesn’t have to take it as anything other than sniping from one of the unwashed.

  15. Avatar of jtradke
    February 21, 2013 at 1:22 pm —

    Thanks, Will. Really awesome series.

  16. Avatar of Jack99
    February 21, 2013 at 3:30 pm —

    Will, is there a name for your own multidimensional view of gender?

    • Avatar of Will
      February 21, 2013 at 7:30 pm —

      Hmm, I haven’t like come up with a name or anything. I approach gender from an anthropological perspective. I don’t even really think about it as a spectrum, because I feel like that is still too two-dimensional. I tend to think of it as a universe, like what is demonstrated in this awesome video (which goes into the ways that we’ve thought about sex/gender over time):

      • Avatar of Jack99
        February 21, 2013 at 9:43 pm —

        Yes, I see what you mean about a spectrum being too limiting – that’s the rainbow idea, right?
        The video looks good – I will check it out properly when I get home as there is no bloody sound card in this heap of shit PC at work!
        I do try to check out all your links, even quite difficult papers do not phase me, but to be honest books are a bit beyond me at this point. I have a backlog to catch up on next holiday.

      • Avatar of Buzz Parsec
        February 22, 2013 at 3:31 pm —

        A little nit-pick here: Actually, a spectrum is 1-dimensional, not 2-dimensional. A color wheel is 2-dimensional, but even that isn’t adequate for RGB because there are 3 independent variables. For both sex and gender, there must be many more, some of them continuous (like cultural upbringing, environment and epigenetic factors) and some discrete, but not binary, such as the chromosomes (XX, XY, XXY, XYY, XO, others?) and the presence of various (independent?) genetic issues like AIS. I think Hall was right about one thing, even if it wasn’t exactly what she meant. None of this should matter to treating everyone with dignity and respect.

        • Avatar of Will
          February 22, 2013 at 3:42 pm —

          Aren’t there two-dimensional spectra? I’m not a math person. At all. So honestly, when I said 2-dimensional, I was thinking more along the lines of a 2-d surface like paper or a computer screen that doesn’t take into account whats around it.

          But yes, you’re correct that what I was referring to would be better described mathematically as one-dimensional.

      • Avatar of Jack99
        February 23, 2013 at 2:46 am —

        Will, I checked out the video, Ira was great. I’ll never forget the little star with 3 liittle legs (with little feet and shoes on) resting on three different gender “continents”! What an unforgettable image! Ha!

  17. Avatar of etatro
    February 21, 2013 at 6:32 pm —

    Will – I realize that I am jumping into the lion’s den here, but I will give it a go and hopefully provoke some introspection.

    This is my reaction to you, Rebecca Watson, and 1-2 commenters on the SBM post who reacted harshly toward Harriet writing that “queer” is offensive to most LGBT.

    It really doesn’t matter what ALGBTICAL, or PFLAG, or any Queer Theory/Studies department says about ‘queer’. What matters is how it is interpreted in the wild. You are again demonstrating my point that “queer” as a term is accepted by limited group, to/from a limited audience. The vast majority of the LGBT population are not PFLAG members, or know of ALGBTICAL’s stance on “queer.” In fact, I would argue that their opinions on the matter are the least consequential. What matters are the scared kids in small towns across the country / world; the biggotted dad, the conservative mom, the football team, the bully, the preacher, etc. everywhere else but these protected sanctuaries. Most people exist outside of them. For whatever reason, you are refusing to acknowledge that Rebecca Watson was wrong in her criticism of Harriet. She, Will, and Audpicc are absolutely wrong to beat on her for this point in an attempt to de-legitimize Harriet’s main points (and for some reason, you are defending or apologizing for them).
    I alluded to it before, but I think I will articulate it now because it’s related (then I will go quietly into the night). I have a critique on the Queer Theory/Studies use of the word queer this way in academic departments on college campuses. First off – let me say that I believe in academic freedom, they are free to use name their courses/departments in whatever manner they think best without retribution or consequence. However, I am free to criticize the wisdom or utility of the tactic.
    By naming their courses “queer” -studies -theory -literature -history or naming their department “Queer -Something.” They are instantly bringing along lots of baggage around the word, including the negative connotations of things …. not belonging or -being out of place or not matching. That is fine, there IS a strong place for taking students out of their comfort zones, making them think, engage their pre-conceptions; learn about LGBT issues; challenge notions of sexual/gender identity. BUT — by naming their courses/departments with the scary name of negative connotations, they are limiting their audience. Who do they need to reach? Do you think that the kid who comes from Smalltown, USA will go home and talk to his family & friends about the causes and consequences of Stonewall riots that he learned in his Queer Theory 101 class? Would he from his Social Justice 101 class? Would he be inclined to enroll in the Queer Theory 101 class or the Social Justice 101 class in the first place? What about talking to his mom about “Yellow Wallpaper” from his Queer Lit. class or his American Lit. class? These departments (in my opinion) need to think about their goals and who they might be excluding or alienating. In doing so, do you achieve your aims? I think all you end up doing is preaching to the choir. You’re not going to reach the students who would benefit the most into those seats. It makes it hostile to them because “queer” is a dirty word, it’s what bullies called the effeminent boy or the tomboy girl while growing up; it’s how Dad referred to things that disgusted him. This is the self-ghettoization I was talking about. It’s a damn shame too. Because the very hearts and minds that might be won over by engaging in these idea are shut out by the hostile nature of the likes of Rebecca, Will, and Skepchick.

    • Avatar of Will
      February 21, 2013 at 7:26 pm —

      This is my reaction to you, Rebecca Watson, and 1-2 commenters on the SBM post who reacted harshly toward Harriet writing that “queer” is offensive to most LGBT.

      Rebecca, as far as I know, has not commented on Harriet’s discussion about the term queer. I don’t know what you mean by me reacting “harshly”–I was certainly annoyed that a heterosexual woman was lecturing me, a queer person, on using the word queer while simultaneously complaining that I was “policing” her language (which I was not).

      It really doesn’t matter what ALGBTICAL, or PFLAG, or any Queer Theory/Studies department says about ‘queer’. What matters is how it is interpreted in the wild.

      Why does it matter more how it is interpreted “in the wild” than by people in the LGBT community? I find your statement quite confusing. Do you insist that black people do not use the word “nigga” because it might alienate white people? Should black studies departments once again shift their focus to how white people feel? Why should queer studies people turn our attention to how non-queer people feel? We already know how they feel–it’s ubiquitous in our culture.

      You are again demonstrating my point that “queer” as a term is accepted by limited group, to/from a limited audience.

      I don’t see why this matters. The term has been reappropriated by people, including myself. I am free to use it as I wish, especially in reference to myself. Plus, I’m going to have to ask you to provide some data demonstrating how many or few people use the word. You cannot keep making assertions about how used or limited the term is unless you have some data to back it up. Otherwise, you’re just making shit up.

      What matters are the scared kids in small towns across the country / world; the biggotted dad, the conservative mom, the football team, the bully, the preacher, etc. everywhere else but these protected sanctuaries.

      Why do they matter more? Why should my language use be dictated by bigots and homophobes? Why should I be concerned with how my use of “queer” makes them uncomfortable? My fucking existence makes them uncomfortable. Should I just stop existing so that they can be more comfortable?? Further, why should I be concerned with how any other people in the queer/LGBT community feel about the word? If someone tells me they do not refer to themselves as queer and doesn’t want me to use that term when talking about them, I won’t use it. But Hall is not queer, and she does not get to decide whether or not I can use that word in reference to myself or others.

      She, Will, and Audpicc are absolutely wrong to beat on her for this point in an attempt to de-legitimize Harriet’s main points (and for some reason, you are defending or apologizing for them).

      Where did I *beat* on her? Where did Rebecca even comment on it? Harriet made a statement that is factually untrue and was called on it. She sort-of apologized, and I didn’t even really comment on it. Honestly, I wasn’t even that concerned with it because I run into a lot of people who aren’t aware that the word is re-appropriated. I’ve done many lectures on queer theory and sex/gender, and I always have people ask about using the word.

      Finally, your critique of queer theory/studies demonstrates a clear misunderstanding and ignorance of what it’s about. Using the word is supposed to bring along baggage. The word is supposed to be unsettling. The whole project of queer theory is to disrupt norms, not to uphold them. Queer theory is about turning normativity in “Smalltown, USA” on it’s head and poking holes in it. It is about making the preacher or bigoted father or conservative mother uncomfortable. Why would I want to make them comfortable when I am trying to disrupt their normative patterns of thinking?

      You need to go read up on queer theory before making a critique of the field, because it is clear to me that you do not understand it at all. And the fact that your argument is basically “give into hegemony and don’t scare away bigots and homophobes” is the same sort of bullshit that feminists are told about scaring away allies. It is not my job to make the oppressors comfortable–as a queer theorist, it is my job to make them uncomfortable.

      I am not the HRC out to gain friends in politics or “Smalltown, USA”. I am a queer person concerned with the heteronormative and cisnormative structures that underlie our culture, and my job is to disrupt them as much as possible.

      • Avatar of Jack99
        February 21, 2013 at 10:06 pm —

        Will, I find that comment quite inspirational. I also relished “I intend to flip this fucking boat over and expose its underbelly” on the other thread.

      • Avatar of Ms. Daisy Cutter
        February 22, 2013 at 12:11 pm —

        And the fact that your argument is basically “give into hegemony and don’t scare away bigots and homophobes” is the same sort of bullshit that feminists are told about scaring away allies.

        The Mattachine Society lives. Great comment, Will. (Or, should I say “Will”?)

    • Avatar of marilove
      February 21, 2013 at 9:39 pm —

      Are you trying to tell queer people to stop using the term queer? To stop identifying as queer?

      No.

    • Avatar of Ms. Daisy Cutter
      February 22, 2013 at 12:10 pm —

      What matters is how it is interpreted in the wild.

      And your credentials for determining what is “the wild” are precisely what, Dr. Goodall? Have they been updated since the 1970s?

      For whatever reason, you are refusing to acknowledge that Rebecca Watson was wrong in her criticism of Harriet.

      Because she was absolutely on fucking target in her criticism of Harriet.

      She, Will, and Audpicc are absolutely wrong to beat on her

      “Beat on her.” Poor Harriet, being beaten by all the incivil Skepchicks and FTBers!

      As for “hostile,” perhaps you should look at Harriet’s comment thread. “Windriven” in particular — it’s OK to put their name in sneer quotes, right, since Harriet has established this as acceptable discourse? — is absolutely loathsome. If I were a trans* person there is no way I’d want to interact with that individual.

    • Avatar of BeccaTheCyborg
      February 22, 2013 at 12:22 pm —

      Hmm. I’d say this is an interesting point. Except that I come from a small rural town, and identify as queer. Ahh, you say, you’re all edumacated moved to the city and stuff! Yeah, except I know a lot of other people who didn’t do the postsecondary thing, older people, younger people, working class people who also identify as queer.

      Please stop using us poor ignorant salt of the earths who are True Americans/Canadians to prop up your incorrect points. We can speak just fine for ourselves, kthanx.

  18. Avatar of greenstone123
    February 21, 2013 at 9:56 pm —

    I have read the final response that Hall has had, the response about the t-shirt. http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/a-final-word-on-t-shirts-and-teapot-tempests/comment-page-1/#comment-113248

    I feel that she is being disingenuous and that she is lying about her use of the word skepchick on the TAM t-shirt. I said as much. I am disappointed how she has handled this whole situation this week. As I feel that she is being disingenuous and is now going out of her way to lie, I am done getting my information from her.

    Will I think that you have done an outstanding job weathering the storm. Good for you and in that good for us all!

  19. Avatar of Timothy Clark
    February 22, 2013 at 8:16 am —

    I never knew all this animosity existed against skepchick. First off, I’d like to say that as a black atheist, I absolutely think conferences that address minority groups in the skeptic and atheist community should be promoted. I am not just a skeptic. I am a black skeptic and a feminist skeptic. This is what true solidarity is. Knowing that society is highly complex and that for each group that fights oppression, there are subsets that each fight oppression within those groups. Thank you Will for showing the various gender glyphs and that the gender binary has permeated our thinking. I’m curious of the voice that trans individuals have within the skeptic community.

    • Avatar of punchdrunk
      February 22, 2013 at 10:28 am —

      Some of the voices of trans* skeptics:

      There’s Zinnia Jones over at FreethoughtBlogs:
      http://freethoughtblogs.com/zinniajones/

      Natalie Reed has recently left the movement, but her archives are still up over there. Definitely worth digging through:
      http://freethoughtblogs.com/nataliereed/

      And, of course, there’s Queereka, one of the Skepchick sites – the LGBT tab at the top of the page.

      There’s also this post from last year at Shadow’s Crescent:
      http://shadowscrescent.wordpress.com/2012/08/21/how-skepticism-atheism-can-be-positive-forces/

      Other commenters might know more.

      • Avatar of Timothy Clark
        February 22, 2013 at 3:00 pm —

        Thanks!

        • Avatar of annabolic
          February 22, 2013 at 6:48 pm —

          I don’t know if she aligns herself with the skeptic movement, but Julia Serano is a research scientist in evolutionary biology at UC Berkeley. She wrote a thought-provoking book called Whipping Girl.

    • Avatar of sallystrange
      February 22, 2013 at 1:22 pm —

      Apropos of nothing… okay, well, apropos of you saying you’re a black skeptic: Are you aware of the Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers, coming up in two days, on Feb. 24th? Just curious if the word is getting out or not, and if you had an opinion about it. I only learned about it recently and kinda wish I;d found out earlier so I could promote it more. There’s a couple of good posts about it at freethoughtblogs.com/blackskeptics

  20. Avatar of etatro
    February 22, 2013 at 10:28 am —

    What Harriet was saying was that it is counter productive to have a separate conference at the expense of the bigger conference. They WANT women, LGBT, people of color at the bigger conference. Diversity is valued. It strengthens the conference when its attendees and participants are diverse. I attend neuroscience conferences regularly and there’s almost always an LGBT scientist social. There are specific categories for LGBT issues; and lots of women in neuroscience panels & events. It would be counter productive (and kind of insulting) if these events were moved to a separate (but equal?) conference. I think that is what Harriet (and others) are getting at. You can have your separate conference, but having it at the expense of the bigger one or moving your “women in skepticism” or “lgbtq issues in skepticism” panels and events to a separate conference — so that those attending the larger one will no longer have access; and attendees who most highly value these panels won’t have access to the panels and events in the larger conference. Fragmentation, rather than solidarity, I think, would be weakening to the enterprise.

    • Avatar of Will
      February 22, 2013 at 11:56 am —

      It’s a false dichotomy. There does not have to be either panels at larger conferences or individual conferences. There can be both. People can attend both.

      The problem that you and Harriet seem to overlook is that the current climate of the skeptic community has been quite hostile towards certain segments of the community in the past. It has not been through the good graces of those in power that our voices have begun to be heard. It is because we have stood up and shouted, often from spaces we have carved for ourselves.

      There are also still plenty of people who argue that there is no room in skepticism or atheism for social issues. If you think that those people will just sit by quietly while there are multiple panels addressing issues relevant to social minorities, you’re naive.

      Just because there are separate conferences doesn’t mean the organizers of the other ones have to stop making panels. If they do, that is not the fault of the social minorities, but the fault of those organizers.

      Further, I’m not convinced that “solidarity” (whatever that means in your mind) is the best strategy anyway. I don’t see the problem of having multiple movements addressing different topics under the rubric of skeptical/critical thinking. If there are skeptics who do not want to address social issues, that’s their prerogative. But they do not get to dictate how we use skepticism.

      • Avatar of marilove
        February 22, 2013 at 2:24 pm —

        Ah, yes, “solidtarity”. That generally means someone needs to shut up and be quiet so as not to rock the boat. All in the name of “solidarity”.

        It screams of, “Can’t we all just get along?” as if there isn’t good reason that we aren’t getting along!

  21. Avatar of etatro
    February 22, 2013 at 10:45 am —

    Will, I am sure that all of these queer studies -history -issue, etc. courses on college campuses are very self affirming and self-empowering to those already initiated and “in” with what it means to be queer. But I don’t think that serves the academic mission. You’re not going to change culture by setting up fences and shouting into your echo chamber. I think you totally missed my point when I said that the opinion of HRC, PFLAG, or queer studies departments on college campuses is the least CONSEQUENTIAL in practice. What matters is what people actually experience. These places are an extraordinarily narrow and limited. I think that being self-empowering is all well and good but it doesn’t seem to be a useful aim within the academic mission. We’re here to educate everyone (or as many people as possible). I think it’s a shame (and counter productive) to intentionally exclude at the door the young people who might be uncomfortable with the word “queer” from being exposed to all those ideas you have. They would benefit MORE from it than the people who are already hip to the lingo. What you end up producing are actually a bunch of narcissists who don’t care about and won’t engage (or are openly hostile to) with the issues facing the LGBTQ kids (or even straight kids who could be enlightened) from different backgrounds. For the record, I am a member of the LGBT community. For me, “queer” has a negative connotation as something that doesn’t belong. It’s used to describe misshapen lampshades and off-color upholstery. I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind with a comment, but I just think a grain of introspection is warranted.

    • Avatar of Will
      February 22, 2013 at 12:06 pm —

      How patronizing.

      I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind with a comment, but I just think a grain of introspection is warranted.

      And what the fuck makes you think I have not had any introspection or thought on this issue? The fact that I have a completely different view on it than you do? You think that means you’ve thought about it more than I have? Are you kidding me?

      I think you have no fucking idea what you’re talking about. You’re conflating HRC with PFLAG with academia. Those are three radically different things. If you think HRC or PFLAG have not had affects on the broader culture, then you’re living under a rock.

      I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about with your idea of an “academic mission,” but there are multiple facets to academia. Education is one of them, but there is also research and the production of knowledge. That does not always entail “educating everyone,” and not everyone wants to be educated! Do you accept being “educated” by Liberty University? Why not? It’s just their job to educate you! How dare you not listen to their message!

      You clearly don’t know anything. You don’t know what kinds of engagements I have with people. You aren’t even giving people a chance. I am regularly involved in education, and I’ve had plenty of people unsettled by learning about sex/gender and the word “queer” who don’t shut down, but become more curious. I reject your negative paternalistic view. My experience has been that people are smarter than you’re giving them credit for.

      For me, “queer” has a negative connotation as something that doesn’t belong. It’s used to describe misshapen lampshades and off-color upholstery.

      Two things. First, are you hetero and/or cis?
      Second, I don’t care if the word has negative connotations for you. It doesn’t for me, and I like it. I will continue to use it, and you need to stop fucking lecturing me about this topic because it is crystal clear to me that you know nothing about queer theory or history. You are arguing from a place of ignorance and self-comfort, grasping desperately for for reasons why “queer” is a bad word and we should stop using it. Your reasons are ignorant of reality, and I reject your premise.

      • Avatar of Ms. Daisy Cutter
        February 22, 2013 at 12:13 pm —

        Will – Etatro identified on Harriet’s blog as an older gay man. I think this is another example of “You kids get off my lawn.”

        • Avatar of Will
          February 22, 2013 at 12:38 pm —

          Ah, that explains it. They seem to be the the ones who complain about this the most.

          As a member of the Association for Queer Anthropology, there was much complaint a while back from some older gay men in the organization when the name changed from the Society of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists (SOLGA) to AQA. The change was meant to be more inclusive. But there is some resistance to queer theory and the word “queer” amongst some older “queer” anthropologists, namely because they still associate it with it’s pejorative usage.

          Like I said, I have no problem not identifying people as queer who do not like the word. But he is clearly ignorant of queer theory’s purpose and history, and I really do not need to be lectured on my usage of the term, or my deployment of the methods of queer theory.

          • Avatar of marilove
            February 22, 2013 at 2:29 pm

            What is funny is that at 31, I am not even THAT young.

            Also this cracked me up:

            “to intentionally exclude at the door the young people who might be uncomfortable with the word “queer” from being exposed to all those ideas you have.”

            Will! Young people might be offended at the word queer! No one can seem to point out any young people who actually ARE offended, but because two people so far have clutched their pearls, we better stop identifying as queer!

    • Avatar of marilove
      February 22, 2013 at 2:26 pm —

      “What matters is what people actually experience. ”

      You have sevearl queer people (including me and Will) TELLING YOU what we expreience!

      “to intentionally exclude at the door the young people who might be uncomfortable with the word “queer” from being exposed to all those ideas you have.”

      Who are these YOUNG PEOPLE who are going to be uncomfortable with the word queer?

  22. Avatar of etatro
    February 22, 2013 at 10:57 am —

    “I feel that she is being disingenuous and that she is lying about her use of the word skepchick on the TAM t-shirt. I said as much. I am disappointed how she has handled this whole situation this week. As I feel that she is being disingenuous and is now going out of her way to lie, I am done getting my information from her.”

    I also think that it’s antithetical to what skepticism is to just patently dismiss someone’s reasoned response as a “lie.” It’s the same thing conspiracy-mongers do.

    • Avatar of marilove
      February 22, 2013 at 11:31 am —

      Reasoned response? Please. Did you see that shirt? No. That was out of line. Who the hell does that sort of thing?! Look, people think I can be an asshole sometimes, and even I think that was t-shirt was a shitty thing to do.

      Reasoned response? I call excuses and justifications for bullying.

    • Avatar of Will
      February 22, 2013 at 11:57 am —

      Just because a response appears to be reasoned or rational does not mean it is truthful.

    • Avatar of Ms. Daisy Cutter
      February 22, 2013 at 12:16 pm —

      I think that it’s antithetical to skepticism to be fooled by a patina of “reason” and “civility” and defend a massive pile of bullshit.

  23. Avatar of Ms. Daisy Cutter
    February 22, 2013 at 12:31 pm —

    BTW, Harriet, welcome to memehood.
    Here’s a blank for anyone who wants to play.

  24. Avatar of etatro
    February 22, 2013 at 1:05 pm —

    I am not conflating HRC, PFLAG, and academia as being the same thing. Just that they are different (narrow) arena with which people actually live and experience the world. I think at public universities, it’s important to expose young minds to ideas that fall within queer theory to individuals who would otherwise not self-select into being exposed to those ideas. I think a hostile environment (e.g., dropping the F-bomb and being all in-your-face) deters from this. Fiat Luxe, not fiat luxe pro me. That said, I you are correct that generation of new knowledge and research are important academic pursuits and I respect your position. I believe in academic freedom but collegiality goes a long way. Insults aside, thanks for engaging/challenging me.

    • Avatar of Ms. Daisy Cutter
      February 22, 2013 at 2:10 pm —

      Thanks for ignoring my comment about some of the remarks by “Windriven,” which do not use the “F-bomb” — how I hate that expression, as if profanity were a weapon of destruction — are massively hostile toward people who don’t fit the binary. “Aberrations.” “Miserable little differences.” Yes, how *civil*, to call people those names. That doesn’t make for a hostile environment **at all**.

      You’re just another tendentious, pissy tone troll who can’t stand the fact that history has left you behind.

    • Avatar of Will
      February 22, 2013 at 2:26 pm —

      You know what’s also insulting?

      Talking to me like I’m a thoughtless person who has never considered the history of the word “queer.” Talking about rural people as if they’re backwards idiots who have no clue about anything until they show up to college (nevermind those who never do!). Talking about how academics do nothing to change the society we live in. Talking about being collegial while simultaneously being patronizing and holier-than-thou.

      Just because you didn’t use the word “fuck’ does not mean you’ve avoided being insulting, in-your-face, or that you’ve been collegial.

      • Avatar of marilove
        February 22, 2013 at 2:34 pm —

        Hilariously, I am from a really tiny little town in Arizona. Tiny. And this is Arizona, not exactly known to be the most gay friendly state, particularly in the smaller desert towns.

        And I know gay people in that tiny town … who use the word “queer” to self identify.

      • Avatar of marilove
        February 22, 2013 at 2:36 pm —

        Also: Fuck.

  25. Avatar of shawnnn
    February 22, 2013 at 1:53 pm —

    I’m sorry but some of Dr. Halls assertions about gender come across about as condescending as having a discussion about homosexuality as a mental illness. I’m pretty sure that pre-1973 the APA had plenty of rationalizations to classify it as such because it didn’t fit well with their views and assumptions about sexuality. “Hey, it’s useful to see it that way. Most people are straight.If we can cure ‘em we can help ‘em be normal.” And take a look at the history as how it got declassified. I assure you it wasn’t all academic and civil. It took a lot of pissed off people, backstabbing and politics. I’m not trying to say that is exactly what we should be trying to do here but getting kind of pissed off? I’m not so sure that’s counter-productive. It wakes people up, it drives and motivates people. I think there is plenty of precedent in society for that. Isn’t giving weight to precedent one of the points of SBM? Otherwise what separates it from evidence-based medicine. Well I’m pissed off and I think we can still do science just fine with more inclusive ideas about gender.

    • Avatar of Jack99
      February 22, 2013 at 2:33 pm —

      ” Well I’m pissed off and I think we can still do science just fine with more inclusive ideas about gender”

      Likewise. Towards that end I was thinking of suggesting to our Management that our upcoming new laboratory computer system should have a “Queer” category available. Presently the options are Male, Female or Unknown.

      A small step, but could have dramatic implications for the future. A bridge too far perhaps? I’d love to know what others think. I’d better have my facts straight for that attempt!

      • Avatar of Will
        February 22, 2013 at 3:25 pm —

        I like the idea, but is there a way to make it not an option system? As in, leave it blank for people to fill in themselves?

        If not, perhaps it’s better to have multiple options: Male, Female, Intersex, Trans, None, Unspecified perhaps?

        If it’s only going to be a baby step, I’d recommend changing “Unknown” to “Not listed”. But I like the idea! =)

        • Avatar of Jack99
          February 22, 2013 at 4:22 pm —

          Well, the info is gathered from forms the patient fills in and from other request forms the doctors fill in. These forms vary. There is always the option for a patient to cross out M or F and write in whatever they want. I sure would, but not everybody wants to flout the system. The Forms themselves are pretty much impossible to influence.

          The beauty of it is, the options available on the computer ultimately determine what info can be recorded and the timing seems ripe for this.

  26. Avatar of etatro
    February 22, 2013 at 2:57 pm —

    I don’t exactly recall Winddriven’s comments. I think the comments about Rebecca were way out of line and had no place in a rational discussion either. I wish that they had been taken to task for that. Rebecca Watson made a comment in Harriet’s thread about Harriet not understanding the nuances behind queer theory because Harriet wrote that “queer” is offensive to people in the LGBT community. (I think she’s right that it is insensitive and exclusionary to use the term most situations, you think she’s wrong, I respect your position). I think the problem with Rebecca’s comment is that it was a non-sequitor, maybe age-ist. Was she asserting that because Harriet wasn’t hip to the lingo of queer theory & queer studies, she’s not qualified to advocate for LGBT or women having a voice at TAM? It doesn’t make sense. Unfortunately, people on the SBM comment thread started insulting Rebecca in lots of unfair ways — mostly pertaining to drinking. That was unfair and ridiculous. It’s okay for old dudes to get smashed into the wee hours of the night and they’re the toast of the town, but a 30 something woman’s point of view is attacked on the basis of drinking. That line of attack should have been called out. Especially when a lot of the skeptic culture revolved around drinking (‘skeptics in the pub’). It was ridiculous and unfair. This whole thing frustrates the hell out of me because I really like Rebecca on SGU. There’ve been times where she’s said, “Yeah, we covered that on skepchick,” and the guys rolled on by as if they were re-inventing the wheel. That sort of thing has frustrated me too. I think these are the real axes to grind but whether or not Harriet knows that queer is acceptable to self-identified queers is slaying windmills.

    • Avatar of marilove
      February 22, 2013 at 3:01 pm —

      Well.

      Talk about mansplaining.

    • Avatar of Will
      February 22, 2013 at 3:04 pm —

      As has been repeatedly pointed out to you, it is not only people in queer theory and queer studies who use the word queer. It is well known outside of those areas that the word is reclaimed and is used as an umbrella term. It is not just the “lingo” of particular academic circles–the word has usage in the wider popular culture.

      So it’s not that Hall was just “not hip to the lingo” of one particular academic discipline, it’s that she did not know that the word had been reclaimed at all. Surely despite your dislike of the word (and obvious ignorance of what queer theory actually is) you know that it has been reclaimed before this conversation, yes?

      Also, you’re the one who is now hyper-focused on the word queer. I briefly mentioned it in my post, it has already been discussed and we’ve all mostly moved on. As I already said, I’m not that concerned with her lack of knowledge about the word queer. I am, however, concerned with her lack of knowledge about sex/gender research as long as she’s going to write blog posts about it from a scientific standpoint.

  27. Avatar of etatro
    February 22, 2013 at 3:23 pm —

    “Talk about mansplaining.”

    I’m not allowed to agree with you without being insulted?

    • Avatar of marilove
      February 22, 2013 at 3:46 pm —

      I wouldn’t call that agreeing. I’d call that trying to explain to us how we sould feel and wha twe should talk about.

  28. Avatar of etatro
    February 22, 2013 at 4:06 pm —

    I was trying to find common ground.

    • Avatar of marilove
      February 22, 2013 at 4:18 pm —

      No you weren’t.

      That sort of thing has frustrated me too. I think these are the real axes to grind but whether or not Harriet knows that queer is acceptable to self-identified queers is slaying windmills.

      That’s not trying to find common ground. That’s trying to dictate the conversation.

      Look, I don’t care that much about Hall’s opinion on “Queer”. Or YOUR opinion, for that matter.

      I am queer.

      I like identifying as queer.

      Deal with it.

      But it does make it very fucking apparent (oh no! F-BOMB!) that you and Hall are out of touch, by a large margin.

      And so I would very much appreciate it if you and Hall would both stop talking as if you know what you’re talking about, and as if we should listen to you.

      Also, what young people are offended by “queer”?

      You keep ignoring questions directly asked to you.

      Trying to find common ground, my ass.

  29. Avatar of etatro
    February 22, 2013 at 4:21 pm —

    In 1999, at my high school graduation, after the principal announced my name and as I was crossing the platform to get my diploma and shake hands with the superintendent, one of my classmates yelled “Queer!” loudly enough that it reverberated from the bleachers across the football field. To the 80 or so of my classmates and the several hundred attendees, that word had a specific meaning and it was not positive. I am not arrogant enough to believe that my experience is unique. I am not so much concerned for my own psyche, I’ve grown up fine (I think because I have a particularly accepting family). I am concerned about the other kids in the crowd who might be LGBTQ and their family and friends. There’s also the open minded hetero who goes to college and stays away from the queer studies classes & departments and never gets exposed to these ideas because they’re being vomitted from the mouths of narcissistic pricks. That’s what I think is the damn shame. Separately from that, Harriet was right that “queer” is offensive to some LGBT people. I also said (numerous times) that you are free to identify as queer and call your classes & departments whatever you want — but the vast majority of the world doesn’t operate there. I deal with students in science classes. I do not know whether someone yelled “queer” “hillbilly” “redneck” “freak” “slut” or anything to anyone. In most contexts, it’s inappropriate to use those terms because you have no idea what experiences are embedded in the grey meat behind the listeners’ skulls. One must err on the side of inclusiveness. I believe this is the context that Harriet operates in.

    • Avatar of Will
      February 22, 2013 at 4:32 pm —

      Wait wait wait.

      You graduated high school in 1999? Is that a typo, or the actual year?

      I also graduated high school in 1999. I was also bullied and called all sorts of names throughout my childhood, into my teenage years, and even into young adulthood. Hell, I’m occasionally called names by strangers in public even today.

      I am sorry that you experienced that moment, and I do understand why the word would have a huge negative connotation for you.

      But a lot has changed since then. Kids are much, much more accepting nowadays. There are GSAs all over the country. I wouldn’t be surprised today if someone yelled “queer” at some kid walking the stage at graduation that that kid would turn around and say “yeah, so what?”

      Hall did not say that queer was offensive to “some” LGBT people. I agree that it is. She said that it is offensive to “the majority” of LGBT people. That’s an empirical statement that requires verification.

      Finally, you say one must err on the side of inclusiveness, but you seem to fail to realize that LGBT is not an all-inclusive acronym. It leaves out a huge majority of non-normative people. This is why I like the word queer, because it gathers all non-normative people under one umbrella.

  30. Avatar of etatro
    February 22, 2013 at 4:41 pm —

    Yeah. I was equally surprised at being called as an “older gay male yelling ‘get off my lawn'”. I never mentioned my age, people just assumed.

    • Avatar of marilove
      February 22, 2013 at 4:49 pm —

      Well, Ms. Daisy Cutter said YOU identified as an older gay male. I wonder what she’s referring to. Did you call yourself an older gay male? Without mentioning your age?

      Because, look, I AM YOUR AGE, and perfectly okay with queer. As are my queer friends, who are mostly around my age OR OLDER, and who identify as queer.

      I am friends with two actual older gay men, and they identify as queer.

      It’s fine if you don’t want to identify as queer, but, no, we don’t need to change just becuuse it makes you uncomfortable.

    • Avatar of Will
      February 22, 2013 at 4:50 pm —

      Well, you know that in gay years we are fucking ancient. ;)

  31. Avatar of etatro
    February 22, 2013 at 5:08 pm —

    I never mentioned my age here or on SBM. Ms. Daisy Cutter was assuming based on the content of my comments that I was older. I thought it was interesting that I am the same age as you but our perspectives are so radically different. I have taken SO MANY HOURS of “Sexual Harassment Prevention” and “Principles of Community” training that my ears (eyes?) are tuned to sense and understand offensive language. My real concern actually is the open-minded hetero young person who is shut out from being exposed to ideas — which is why the ‘women in neuroscience’ or ‘lgbtq issues’ at neuroscience meetings should be AT the neuroscience meeting and not at a separate meeting. And same for skeptical meetings. Same for college campuses. I never would have taken a queer studies class in college but I am thankful that we had “comparative studies” (and my freshman comp class, taught by a feminist) whose content covered some of these issues.

    For what it’s worth, I’m going to take what I learned from this discussion to some of my friends who are more hip to the queer studies than I am. Maybe have a few drinks over it.

    • Avatar of marilove
      February 22, 2013 at 5:27 pm —

      I do not find that identifying myself as queer as “offensive language”. If some randome couch on the streets called me queer, maybe (although I’m a woman and so maybe it wouldn’t affect me the same as it might affect you; and dyke always seemed rather silly and that has also been reclaimed to a certain extent).

      Why can’t we have LGBTQ issue meetings at more than one program or conference or whatever…? That’s what Will seems to be saying, and I agree with him. Sometimes it’s helpful to have certain conversations in a safe, welcoming enviornment; we shouldn’t always have to cater to the “outside”, you know.

      • Avatar of marilove
        February 22, 2013 at 5:28 pm —

        randome couch! lol. douche, even. stupid keyboard is stupid.

    • Avatar of shawnnn
      February 22, 2013 at 5:38 pm —

      Whatever word you use the bigots will use it as an insult and it will become “offensive” by this line of reasoning. For better for worse queer is the term well accepted as an identity by many people.

    • Avatar of Ms. Daisy Cutter
      February 22, 2013 at 6:17 pm —

      Etatro: I apologize for reading into this comment. It really did make you sound a lot older than mid-30s.

  32. Avatar of mouthyb
    February 22, 2013 at 6:00 pm —

    I’m older than both of yeh, and I’ve got no problems with queer, since I’ve watched it be reclaimed and made a conscious effort to stay informed. :/

  33. Avatar of mouthyb
    February 22, 2013 at 6:04 pm —

    Of course, I occasionally refer to myself as a faggot (especially when gaming)– for me, it’s about reducing the sting of words used to try and harm me and providing a dissenting voice to the casual use of such terms online. For all I know, there’s another queer person playing who is being hurt by those terms, and my going after and mocking people who say things like that is, I hope, inspiring.

  34. Avatar of Erin Branscome
    February 22, 2013 at 8:33 pm —

    Thank you so much for these posts, Will.

    I don’t have words for how disappointed I am by Harriet Hall and Science Based Medicine. I love(d) that site, and really respect(ed) the people who posted there (including Hall). But even beyond the disagreements I have with her brand of feminism, and the way she has treated people in the community, I’m even more upset by a) her logical fallacies and misunderstandings of the basic issue in the original post, b) the multiple medical/scientific inaccuracies on a site that prides itself on up-to-date, unbiased, scientific information (kinda in the name), and c) her refusal to admit she was wrong, even when it was pointed out respecfully by multiple people, cited well, and was just pretty darn irrefutable. As gross as I find her sexism (and cissexism), her refusal to be rational is even more offensive. And because it was hosted at Science Based Medicine (not just once, which maybe I could have excused, based on her long history with them), and because other editors there supported her even in the face of overwhelming evidence of her error(s), that site is forever tainted. I won’t ever be able to have the same level of trust and appriciation for SBM, unless they chose to admit their errors and apologize.

    Seriously, how much psudoscience should you put up with from a website before you decide it can’t be trusted? Before it becomes just another biased, junk-filled quack medical site (like 98%* of the other medical sites on the web)?

    *statistic pulled directly from my ass, btw

  35. Avatar of umvue
    February 23, 2013 at 3:19 pm —

    A lot of electrons killed in the name of picking nit with semi-enlightened near allies and turning them into near enemies. To what end?

    • Avatar of Will
      February 23, 2013 at 4:14 pm —

      You call it “nit picking,” I call it striving for accuracy.

      To what end? Well, hopefully it has unearthed some unnoticed assumptions about sex and gender, particularly hetero- and cisnormative biases. I’ve had plenty of feedback to that effect.

      • Avatar of bcmystery
        February 23, 2013 at 7:05 pm —

        Science done well IS nit-picking, at least in part. It’s also about challenging preconceptions. No one likes to be wrong, but a genuine skeptic and scientist, I’d think, would want to be challenged and enlightened. I know I do, and appreciate the opportunity to learn and grow. Of course, I’m not a scientist and an amateur skeptic at best, so what do I know?

    • Avatar of sallystrange
      February 24, 2013 at 11:02 am —

      Sorting the actual allies from the fake ones.

  36. Avatar of Buzz Parsec
    February 23, 2013 at 7:17 pm —

    Isn’t nit-picking how us monkeys show affection and reinforce social bonding? (Or is it “we monkeys…”?)

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