Friend of Skepchicktm Greg Laden was kind enough to put up a post to help promote Skepchicon, and it spawned some interesting discussion about what we do here at Skepchick. Most of it was stuff that’s been talked to death around here, about how we’re ruining skepticism with our bewbies. On this point, this is all I will say: There are many ways to be a woman in skepticism, different women have different goals and ideas on how to achieve those goals. We need to be secure in ourselves and stop cutting down anyone that approaches things differently if we are to get anywhere.
Skeptifem brought up a different point, though, that I think warrants some discussion. It’s something that’s been on my mind lately.
Oh, and as far as how smart all of the skepchicks are; this is another piece of the snobbery rampant in skeptic groups where intellect is equated with skepticism. Skepticism is a skill anyone can use to improve their lives, you really don’t have to be a genius to use it. Smart people can rationalize the hell out of things and be as not skeptical as any other person. Acting like it has anything to do with how smart you are alienates everyone. A focus on caring about the truth is something everyone can get behind, caring about the world you live in is something that doesn’t take any natural ability and is a really admirable quality of skeptics. Making it about intellect is almost like making it about how tall you are, it rejects people who could do some good based on an irrelevant quality.
Actually, I agree that intellectual snobbery does nothing for skepticism. Acting like we’re superior to believers and outright calling them stupid or silly is not helpful, and a person with a 150 IQ can be perfectly capable of believing in 100 irrational things. I think there is a nuanced discussion that needs to be had regarding the meaning and usage of the word “smart”, and the distinction between skeptical elitism and everyday intelligence.
I see a huge difference between ivory tower intellectual elitism (as in, “I have 85 letters after my name, from x, y, and z Prestigious Educational Institutions, therefore you are stupid and should grovel before me.”) and the plain and simple pursuit of truth on the part of everyday people. In fact, I think the latter example better defines the word “intellectual”, and is the quality that best exemplifies true skepticism. That’s not to say that all people with advanced degrees are elitist sticks in the mud: we’re down with the PhDs and the AAs and the GEDs alike. Look, it’s just a fact that some people have a higher IQ. And sometimes that fact is going to be a big factor in how those people’s lives turn out. Having a high IQ score or a schmancy degree doesn’t make you intelligent. Using your brain makes you intelligent. And using your brain to analyze claims and think critically makes you a skeptic.
Obviously, I can’t control how others perceive us, but I don’t think we’re presenting an image of intellectual snobbery. I see Skepchick as having two main aims: to spread skepticism and critical thinking to a broader and more diverse audience, and to offer a counterpoint to the way intelligent and independent women have traditionally been portrayed in our culture. In the service of that second goal, yes, sometimes some of us are going to talk about our intelligence, because for some of us, it’s a key part of who we are. What you won’t see us doing (and if you do see it, I do hope you will call us on it) is using intellect as a gauge for value.
I think a key to changing the perception that skepticism has a minimum IQ for entry lies in more average folks speaking up, especially people who work in fields other than science, which I’d like to think we’ve been doing more and more around here. Case in point: if you haven’t read my bio, I’ve been doing construction work for the past 10 years while working in fits and starts toward a bachelor’s degree. Yes, on paper, my IQ is high, but so far I’ve been far too lazy to use it in any kind of conventional sense. I’ve always viewed my intellect as something of a burden to live up to someone else’s definition of “potential”; it doesn’t make me better than anyone else, just more of a slacker.