Photography and Sexism in the Skeptical Movement

Brian Dunning has a recent project called, The History of Knowledge created to celebrate a milestone in his podcasting history. The project is a musical history of sorts meant to show how pseudoscience and the popular music of the day were and are interlaced within the culture. I won’t discuss the musical content except to say that my experience of indie punk was not at all related to conspiracy theories but I suppose I could see how an outsider to the movement could unfortunately make that comparison. Instead, I would like to discuss the album art Dunning has used to promote his single entitled, Energy.

This isn’t the first time Mr Dunning has put up an image of an attractive woman while simultaneously insulting the majority of all other women present. He did it when he opted to show a woman he said was, “easier on the eyes” instead of showing the actual photo of the first woman to fly in space, astronaut Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova. He later apologized. One could assume it was a poorly designed joke and forgive his insensitivity to the plight of women in the sciences and in skepticism, once. We all make mistakes. But here he has done it again. And this time it is arguably more demeaning and insulting.

Let me make this very clear. This is not solely about nudity and the female form. In my opinion, there is absolutely nothing wrong with artistically done nudes of women or of men. The human body is a beautiful thing. I don’t even think there is anything wrong with much of pornography when placed in the correct context. So before anyone says, hey what about those calendars the Skepchicks used to make, allow me to make a clear distinction.

Let me first explain to any new readers that for many years the Skepchicks released a yearly pinup calendar comprised of skeptics.

And with the exception of the first year, we released two versions. One version with women and an equal calendar with men. We included all body types and styles. I have posted a few examples of some of the images for those who are not familiar with our calendars to the right.

Now back to the distinction I wanted to make. Images send messages. An image of a beautiful naked body can send a message of the joy of life or of shape and form and light and shadow or of love and tenderness or loneliness or heartbreak or many other informative and moving messages. What you add to the image can have a strong effect on it’s meaning as well. The placement of the nude in the surroundings can, for example have a strong influence on the tone and the meaning of the piece of art or in this case the photograph. Is the nude in harsh light? Is the nude in a soft or warm environment? Is it black and white or color? Is it a safe environment or is there an element of danger? Photographers and other visual artists utilize all of these ideas and more to send a message to the viewer. It is all about context. And Dunning’s image is reinforcing a hierarchy with men at the top and women as nothing more than submissive servants whether it was his direct intention or not. A man in formal wear standing in a stately and dismissive pose high above a completely naked woman on her knees serving him, sends a message that women are lower, stripped of intellectual value, completely objectified and in this particular image reduced to mere servants or tray tables.

Unless Mr Dunning has reversed the image on the flip side of his single, with the young woman in a tux and himself completely naked and on his knees serving her, than I do not see how this photograph can do anything but send the message than his view is that women are of a lesser value and merely objects to be used in skepticism.

Let me end by saying we too were criticized for the Skepchick calendars. Many people said that we were objectifying the women in our images even though we treated men in the same fashion. It can be argued that there is just no way to put out an image of a nude woman without reducing her to an object in a heavily male dominated arena such as the case with the current climate of organized skepticism. I acknowledge that it is a complicated issue but I still feel strongly that there are much better ways to do things than what we have been exposed to here.

What do you think?

Did Brian Dunning fail the women of skepticism, again? Is there just no way to show a nude in a positive light until we have achieved equality for women in science and skepticism?

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. I very much dislike the Brian Dunning cover- it’s just awful.

    And what’s wrong with Valentina Tereshkova? She looks fine, to me. And besides, her looks don’t matter– she was the FIRST WOMAN IN SPACE. Who cares what she looks like, what she did was INCREDIBLE.

    What’s next, putting up a picture of a supermodel rather than Marie Curie?

    Ugh. Disgusting.

  2. I agree that the photo is sexist. Come on, it shows Dunning standing there like Captain Morgan while a pretty naked chick offers him her mystical energy. That said, skipping a photo of Markova for something “easier on the eyes?” That is absolutely inexcusable, and is more blatantly misogynistic.

    Can I widen the discussion a bit? I kind of bemoan the fact that Dunning has become such a face for the “skeptical community.”

    Though most of what he does on Skeptoid is pretty solid, I find him often to be smug, dismissive, and unwilling to respond to criticism, unless it is to mock the critics for LOLs. It’s been remarked on at Skepchick before, and (unfortunately) I’m sure it will again.

    Last year, I and other raged him in the comments (okay, mostly me) of the at this SkepticBlog post on Lady Gaga. I don’t know if I’d quite call it sexist, but it is most definitely terrible skepticism and dripping with unfounded assumptions and disdain for someone he appears not to care much for.

    I wish we could have more spokespeople who weren’t assholes.

    1. Your criticism is spot on, and exactly the same criticism I have of Dunning. He’s arrogant in a way that is dangerous for a public skeptic. We need that like we need a hole in the head.

      But I predict this issue will be ignored by the old white upper middle class men of the movement, as was the Krauss debacle. A sea of pedants will descend upon the subject, and drown us in waters of petty irrelevancies.

      And Dunning will still be on stages representing the rest of us.

      1. “I predict this issue will be ignored by the old white upper middle class men of the movement”

        Whoa now, is this sort of generalization not the kind of thing we’re trying to avoid here?

        I’m sure many old white upper middle class men are capable of rational, ethical thought, and assuming otherwise based on their age, class, and gender rubs me the wrong way.

        1. Like it or not, white upper middle class males are the majority demographic of our movement. Like it or not, it’s also the face of almost every leadership post we have. Like it or not, this is the most privileged demographic in our culture. Like it or not, sexism remains an issue largely ignored in our community.

          I merely propose that these collected facts probably aren’t unrelated. If bluntly stating that idea makes you squirm, then I’m probably onto something.

    2. Yeah, I listened to a couple episodes after I heard Dunning interviewed on the SGU and just could not take it. I feel the same way about Penn, actually…

      They’re on the right side, so I feel like I should support them, but I absolutely loathe ridicule over discussion. Ridicule may be effective as a tactic for some people, but to me it comes off as a power thing, and I am not down with that.

    3. I think Dunning is almost always correct in his conclusions, but he sometimes gets there the wrong way and with the wrong tone.

      Arrogance and mocking shouldn’t be in the skeptical arsenal. Skepticism stems from the knowledge that very few things are certain, and bold factual claims are often not based on evidence. Thus, skeptical positions should be tentative, and there is no room for arrogance in a tentative position.

      I think Brian does good things overall, but with a shift in his approach could do even better.

  3. What bothers me about this criticism:

    The assertion that any depiction of a woman becomes a stand in for all women, anywhere, everywhere.

    Do I like the image? Not really, no. But my interpretation was that the woman is meant to represent new-agey silliness, not female subservience.

    I consider myself a feminist. But I tend to feel largely alienated in feminist discussions, and this sort of thing is the reason why. Yes, sexism is real and pervasive. Yes, it is often unintended, and it’s good to make people aware of when they’ve been insensitive or perpetuated a negative stereotype. And yes, it would be entirely valid to interpret this as a symbol of male dominance.

    But I’m smart enough to realize that the intended interpretation was not a sexist one. So, I’m fine with this. I can let it exist. To insist that I should be offended, even though I understand what the image was meant to be, feels like I’m being told to be deliberately dumb.

    That is all.

    1. “But my interpretation was that the woman is meant to represent new-agey silliness, not female subservience.”

      Then why not use a bearded hippy in a poncho?

          1. As a bearded hippie in a poncho, I resent the implication that we are silly… Oh wait, never mind.

          2. Kammy, this times a thousand. Seriously, how is it NOT sexist to symbolize woo with a naked woman? How?

          3. Since always.

            While New Age ideas extol the idea that women can liberate themselves by following Woo(X), it is always – always – due to total submission of not just your mind, but also your body. Submit your body to this regimen of special foods, drink this holy water. Do these exercises, or perform these sacred dances. Women are very much subservient to men in New Age, despite what they say. Look instead at what they do: The driving forces behind control under the spell of New Age are actually quite simple: Money, yes. Power, absolutely. But with that power comes lack of accountability. Preachers, gurus, cult leaders – the list of male masters taking advantage of women whose critical thinking skills have carefully been removed over time is all too long.

            The criticism of Brian Dunning’s cover is based on where skeptical women come from: Women should not be treated like subservient sex toys. Of course they shouldn’t! But that is not what the parody is about: Look at how New Age women are seen and treated in the land of woo, and the parody is spot on.

          4. This is for Klaus.

            “Preachers, gurus, cult leaders – the list of male masters taking advantage of women whose critical thinking skills have carefully been removed over time is all too long.”

            Ah, yes, because preachers, gurus and cult leaders NEVER take advantage of the very logical male half of the species.

            That’s your argument? Women are more gullible, so of course they should symbolize woo.

            Ladies and gentlemen, I think I have identified Klaus’s real problem.

          5. No, that’s not my argument. I didn’t say that gurus, preachers etc. go for women because they are weaker than men. It has nothing to do with that, but merely the fact that the women are there.

            Depending on the type of New Age, there seems to be a marked gender distribution difference. There are always a ton of women, but few men, in the “soft” forms (e.g. psychics, healing, crystals), while the more “technical” forms of New Age (e.g. dowsing, psi research, phrenology, perpetual motion machines) seem to attract more men.

            See “Personality and cognitive predictors of New Age practices and beliefs”, Farias, Claridge and Lalljee, and “Beliefs in the paranormal: age and sex differences among elderly persons and undergraduate students”, Vitulli, Tipton, Rowe.

  4. Playing Devil’s Advocate here: the single is a spoof. Dunning obviously doesn’t actually think the stuff the song says about “energy” is true. Why isn’t the cover part of the spoof?

  5. It was my understanding that his comment about Valentina Tereshkova came about because he was giving a talk and a slide of her didn’t display. He made a poor joke to bridge the gap and cover for the technical difficulty. I was under the impression that he’d apologized.

    1. From the second paragraph:

      He later apologized. One could assume it was a poorly designed joke and forgive his insensitivity…

  6. Looking at the photo, I’d suggest that it’s meant to look ridiculous. Dunning is intending to portray himself as some sort of old-fashioned preening sexist idiot, in the same way as he’s making fun of the outmoded ideas he “espouses” throughout the song… Of course, not being able to see inside his mind, I can’t tell you if my interpretation or Amy’s is correct…

    1. I thought it was coming from Green Day’s American Idiot phase (which of course continues to this day.) I don’t know if Green Day actually buys into trutherism… but that album still sucks.

  7. I have nothing against naked pretty ladies flanking male musicians in music videos and album covers. Sex is awesome and if you as a hetero male artist are attracted to women why not include them in your boasting promo material? Its fine for women artists too.

    But this is different and creepy and weird.

    She isnt just a typical beautiful magician’s assistant, or lustful sexually healthy fangirl. She’s bowing down to him and averting her gaze and its weird. Taken in combination with the completely unacceptable insult to Valentina Tereshkova, I have no problem condemning this and suggesting that Mr. Dunning do a little soul searching and reconsidering of things.

  8. First of all, I’d like to say I wouldn’t know sexist if it smacked my bottom and called me Spanky.

    Now that I’ve gotten that disclaimer out of the way, I’d like to say that when I see this cover, I see some kind of strange merger of 1940’s Fred Estaire (?) with Millineial new age energy carp. To me, it says the exact opposite of sexism. To me, it’s equating the idea of energy being some weird cloud of power to the 1940’s attitude of subserviate women. If they are equated, then either Brian is saying the idea of women being inferior and to men is just as much woo as “energy”, or men are in fact better than women, and “energy” is real.

    Your interpretation may vary.

  9. He’s doing a take on the cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. Taking Mick Fleetwood’s position, he’s standing on a small amplifier instead of a footstool. This puts him in a position of superiority. I have no idea why he replaced Stevie Nicks with a groveling, naked woman. At best, this is a clumsy conceptual parody.

      1. I should have been clearer. I meant to point out that he took an image of a man and a woman presented as equals and changed it to an image of a woman appearing naked before a man as a supplicant. I don’t think she’s being held up so much as caught mid-movement in some odd dance. At any rate, I wasn’t defending the cover.

        1. As an aside, I find it odd that the cover being said to show equals, has Stevie Nicks practically pressing her crotch against Mick’s knee, her legs draped over his, while a pair of balls hang from is own crotch.

    1. Yes, Maki from Mad Art Lab asked him about it at NECSS and he responded dismissively essentially saying, Oh this from coming from the Network that made the Skepchick calendar. But this was just what I was told from Maki so I can’t quote him.

      I would love to hear Brian’s reasoning behind his artist choices and he is free to comment here anytime.

        1. I actually didn’t decide to write this until I got back to town. I didn’t have evil preconceived intentions, nor was I ignoring you. So I will ask now: Why would you take an image of two fully clothed people dancing and turn it into an image of you in a suit with a girl handing you an object while on her knees and completely nude? Why not you and the woman dancing like in the original? What was the reasoning in having her, unlike the original, naked? Do you think this could in any way send a message that women are considered lower status then the popular men of skepticism such as yourself?

  10. 2 days.

    That’s my pool guess for how long it takes Brian to respond with a “shouldn’t we all just keep our critism to ourselves?” post at Skepticblog.

    C’mon people, think of the movement. [/snark]

    1. If “the movement” is going to inform me that my place is naked and on my knees, then I will be forced to criticize at every opportunity.

  11. I think this photo is just a reflection of reality. Woo promoters are easy to spot because they’re all naked sexy women begging for skeptic man dick.

    Seriously. Watch ghost hunters.

    1. If by “ghost” they actually mean “skeptic man dick” then I totally need to start watching that show.

  12. I’ll stick with the comment I made when I first saw this picture five days ago because this image was not produced in a vacuum; it had an intended audience of thinking folk of both genders, not the 12-16 male demographic most sexist album art is aimed at. If it was intended as satire then it still failed IMO.

    “Because you know, the skeptic community never has any problems communicating its message with women; especially the naked ones bowing in pre-fellatio supplication before nattily attired gents. (fail)”

    1. I have to agree. If this is aimed at the skeptical market then that marketplace should be taken into consideration.

    2. I might be mistaken, but I think that’s how Brian always dresses. That’s not a tux he’s wearing, just his jeans and a dress-jacket.

      But other than that, it does have an (intentional or not) mysoginistic quality to it that isn’t working in his favor.

      Also: Look! Pics of me :p

    1. Me too, and I thought it would have been much funnier with a role-reversal.

      I haven’t listened to the song yet (I didn’t realize there were songs connected with the pictures), and have no idea if this interpretation makes any sense.

  13. I’m willing to believe the cover is intended to be satire, but as others have said, the satire falls completely flat while playing up all the worst sexist tropes out there. It doesn’t really matter if you aren’t *meaning* to be sexist if your end-product *appears* that way. I think of the ongoing conversation about male privilege in the scientific/skeptical community.

    As for the question of nudity and gaze, I vote we do a scientists’ Dejeuner Sur L’herbe with the clothed/unclothed pattern inverted.

    The last time I tried to comment, the entire site went down. If I replicate that experiment, I will consider myself banned for life. :(

  14. I don’t see a strong sexist image here, though I do see Amy’s point.

    I think the intended parody/salute to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors in the image is clear. But I’m having a hard time figuring out the parallel. On the Rumors album cover Mick Fleetwood stands with his foot on a footstool holding what appears to be a crystal ball into which Sevie Nicks as her “Rhiannon” witch character peers, presumably as the crystal ball diplays hints (rumors) of love, betrayal, and whatever else was going on in the band at the time.

    We have to replace rumors with energy in this case. Dunning’s foot is perched atop an amp, which I suppose symbolizes a modern (scientific) use of energy in contrast to (and superior to) the new agy “energies” espoused by flakes, which is symbolized by the woman. ???

    I’m not sure if that’s what he’s going for, but if that’s what it’s meant to portray, I don’t know why she has to be naked.

    Anyone heard or have the lyrics to the song. Perhaps there is a clue to what exactly the image is supposed to mean.

    1. ” Anyone heard or have the lyrics to the song. Perhaps there is a clue to what exactly the image is supposed to mean.

      I think if you play it backwards Stevie gets naked.

          1. Are you kidding? I totally got your comment. I was just making a joke. The “WTF?” was a WTF of surprise that I was suddenly naked.

            But as I always say, if you have to explain them they don’t go into the act.

  15. The nakedness seems gratuitous. I feel she could have been wearing hippie-ish clothes and it might make it feel slightly less sexist while maintaining the new-ageyness she’s supposed to represent.

    1. Exactly! Gratutitous. In light of the project this image represents, I don’t see any purpose for the nakedness of the woman or the poses of either character.

  16. I see a female superhero about to destroy an arrogant supervillain with an exploding vagina bubble. As anyone who as ever handled exploding vagina bubbles can attest it is not safe to do with your clothes on.

  17. OK, I get that this was a parody of the Rumors cover, mixed with a bit of what was probably supposed to evoke New Agey Earth Mother images, or some such thing. So I accept that it probably wasn’t intentionally sexist.

    The thing is, to my way of thinking, unintentional sexism isn’t really less problematic than intentional sexism; it’s just a different sort of problem (admittedly, maybe a less urgent problem, but ultimately not able to be meaningfully separated from the cultural context that makes the more blatant sexism widely acceptable).

    Indeed, I think someone who is actively aware of and engaged in fighting sexism understands that sexism can happen unintentionally and a certain degree of self-awareness and vigilance is necessary to avoid engaging in it. This does not strike me as an image made by people exercising any such awareness. To me, someone aware of sexism and actively fighting it notices something amiss in a picture of a naked woman kneeling before a clothed man.

    Also, is anyone else annoyed by the implication in the image that woo is feminine and reason is masculine? That strikes me as just as insulting (in its own way) as any other element of the picture.

    1. I’d agree that unintentional sexism isn’t as big of a problem as intentional sexism if prominent skeptics would admit when they’re wrong and apologize when things like this happen.

  18. If this was intended to signify an inherent superiority of skepticism over newage, it could have been done a hell of a lot better. I’ll say that.

  19. I don’t want to get into what everyone else has already covered well (the cover appears to be an attempt at parody that fails and insults, whether or not it was intentional). Perhaps if he didn’t already have the history he has in the subject more people would simply assume it was mere failure and not part of a pattern, but unfortunately he’s built himself a reputation he should be much more aware of.

    But I did want to comment on the interpretation of the indie punk song style’s connection to conspiracy theories. The song wasn’t meant to imply a real-world connection at all, just like the 50s music portion wasn’t meant to imply music in the 50s was about science making better appliances for women but not black people, that early-century chants were about astrology, or hair metal was about being self-centered. He merely used the style to represent a world viewpoint popular in a roughly similar time period. All of the songs were parodies, and none actually represented what was really being discussed in that genre of music in the real world.

  20. You can show nude women in a positive light. He just failed with this picture.

    At best this just looks silly, and at worst, he’s showing contempt for women.

  21. Sorry for the double comment, but I just had to add: I just looked at the photo again, and it’s odd what time and perspective can do to one’s reaction. The first time I saw it I generally laughed it off. Then in comment threads I recognized the reactions, but still defended it as merely parody and felt some of the reactions were extreme. Now I look at the cover and I’m really having a hard time seeing what I saw the first time. From his posture and facial expression to her blank look and what almost looks like she’s gifting her soul to him, it’s really hard to comprehend how I managed to find it innocuous when I first looked at it. It’s creepy as hell, and not in any defensible way. I still think it wasn’t meant to be what we’re now pretty much all seeing in it, and was genuinely meant as parody, but I also think it represents an epic fail in the process that should be taken seriously. More seriously than I initially did, and clearly more seriously than anyone with a stake in it will.

    1. I admire the hell out of this comment. You did a great job of laying out the process of you changing your mind.

  22. In other contexts I’d find that photo rather hot, that context would be in a BDSM photoshoot NOT a skeptical music single. It’s not the image itself that is the problem, it’s the context and message it sends in that context. So instead of turning me on it makes me cringe.

  23. I agree with quarksparrow. You cannot simply turn an image into the symbolism that you think it holds and then condemn the symbolism you imposed on the image. I agree that the image gives the impression of a man holding a position of superiority above a woman but there is no rational means from which you could draw the conclusion that Brian is advocating that men should be superior to women from this picture alone.

    Taking this kind of argument to any other situation and you can see the absurdity. For example, should we assume that the author of a fantasy novel that displays a king on the cover in front of a bowing crowd of peasants is advocating that kings are better than peasants? Should we raise concerns that the book is offensive to poor people in the past who were subject to a king? I would say no, clearly not, it is just a cover and nothing more.

    Or what if I took the opposite view? I could easily argue that this image is actually offensive to men because it makes men look like pompous a-holes who are full of themselves (because that’s what I think Brian looks like on the cover, and who knows he may have been going for this image). On this page you even have a picture of Phil Plait naked in front of a telescope. I could find this offensive by imposing upon the image the idea that it promotes the stereotype that a true man has to have a giant penis. Really, anybody can look into an image and find some way to turn the image into an offensive image.

    The point I am trying to get across is that in nearly any visual depiction we see some person could claim that image is offensive to them because it perpetuates some stereotype. Surfers could complain about the stereotypical image of the empty-minded surfer. Business executives could complain about the image of the cut-throat business executive. We have countless stereotypes in our society and when we create fictional works our fictional subjects often fall into one stereotype or another.

    I understand some stereotypes have greater negative societal effects, such as the stereotype that women are inferior to men, and so extra sensitivity is justified when an image is particularly abusive. However, to impose that stereotype onto Dunning’s image is simply not rational in my opinion. As others on this page have pointed out the context of the picture appears to be mocking the image on the cover rather than supporting it. Dunning is fighting against the image of new age energy and thus this is actually an attack on those who would seriously make a cover like that, Dunning appears to be attempting a parody of new age covers. In effect, the people who should be offended by this cover are new age energy believers whose views are being mocked.

    If you want to criticize this picture for being bad marketing, then by all means do so. I personally think the picture looks ridiculous and pompous and I would never want to be seen in such a pose and would be embarrassed to be have created that cover. I just don’t think you can really justify saying that the cover perpetuates the idea that women are inferior to men without totally ignoring the context.

    1. I appreciate your response but I think you are saying that the viewer can not pass personal judgment on any piece of art because there are many ways to interpret an image and I have to disagree. I think once art is put into the public sphere it is up to the viewers to take meaning from it and in this case I think that since the intended market is the skeptical community then this image (whether intentional or not) speaks negatively to the women who hold second fiddle to the men at this time. If you want to argue that Dunning’s intention was to mock new agers, which may be the fact, he could have done that without resorting to using a naked woman on her knees in contrast to himself fully clothed. The woman could have been dressed like a hippy which is still a stereotype but far less offensive.

  24. Love the photo.. can’t understand why people get their panties in a wad.. definitely do not want to look at a woman shaving her legs on a park bench (wtf?).

    What I think remains the same with almost any skepti-feminist post I seem come across: People need to lighten up.

    Sorry :\ You did ask ;)

    1. For the record, I do not have my panties in a wad. I’m actually mature enough to calmly and critically analyze a piece of art even without any panties on at all. There is more to woman and to a piece of art than simply the superficial aspects.

      1. Oh, come now, Amy, clearly any time a woman (or male feminist, for that matter) speaks out about anything, it’s only because our collective undies have gotten twisted and uncomfortable. There certainly couldn’t be any valid reason for seeing a naked woman on her knees before a dude as a (probably accidentally) misogynisitic image.

  25. Did Brian Dunning fail the women of skepticism, again?

    To me, the album cover looks blatantly sexist.

    So in that regard? It seems that way.

    Is it indefensible? Not sure, as I don’t have a particularly good grasp on the motives or context behind that choice of album cover.

    But that a solid defense is a requirement here?

    Hell yeah.

    Is there just no way to show a nude in a positive light until we have achieved equality for women in science and skepticism?

    I think that one’s an obvious ‘yes’.

    I’d go so far as to suggest that there must also be acceptable ways to show a nude in a negative light.

    For example, it should be acceptable to show a nude in a sexist light if sexism itself is the subject of the image.

    1. Bingo. I tend to think Dunning is more clueless than deliberate when it comes to sexism so I don’t think this was deliberate. However it’s not whether it’s deliberate or not, it’s about the impression it’s going to make on people and that isn’t going to be a good one for many women. It’s fine to be provocative, but if you’re going to do it be prepared for people to react to that provocation and make sure it’s worth it.

    2. Well… Yes and no.

      If all we want to do is look at the cover in isolation from Brian and discuss whether it is sexist or not (I think it is) then yes, Brian’s intentions are utterly irrelevant to that discussion.

      But if we want to cast stones in the form of cutting questions and accusations and complaints (Did Brian Dunning fail the women of skepticism, again? – and I suspect he did) then his intentions are relevant.

      That’s not to say that “I didn’t mean it to be sexist you silly wimmins, so calm down! LOL! KTHXBAI!!!!111eleven” would be a valid defense – because it wouldn’t. To the contrary, that would be damning evidence confirming that the album cover was designed from a position of ignorant privilege.

      But even so – if we want to involve Brian personally in the analysis of the cover, we should, well, involve Brian personally. His intentions and what the decision making process he went through to arrive at that image are a part of the context of the image – and we should take account of that context.

      So yeah. Not magical – but not entirely irrelevant, either.

      1. The amazing thing about intent in this context is that Brian could make his personal contribution almost a non-issue by saying it was unintentional and apologizing.

  26. I just have to say, if I released a podcast episode that caused such an intense, multi-faceted discussion on skepchick, I would feel a real need to chime in. Dunning is, overall, a force for good — but his lack of dialogue is disturbing….

    1. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time Dunning has simply ignored earnest criticism. That’s his prerogative of course, but maybe the it means he shouldn’t be held in such high regard by many in the skeptical community. If we can’t engage with criticism, then what is the point of calling ourselves skeptics?

      Side note: I am listening to your podcast RIGHT NOW, and I adore it.

  27. Freedom of speech includes the freedom to offend. Agreed that the image is either intentionally or unintentionally sexist. And the antidote to any form of free speech (including even hate speech) is free speech. The Skepchick and Skepdude calendars are a healthy antidote to Dunning’s images. And here’s a dilemma for some. What if an individual masturbates while ogling the Skepchick calendar pics? Does that mean that the images therefore treat women as soley sex objects and thus equivalent to the Dunning images? Or alternatively do the Skepchick images evoke healthy solitary sexual behavior that most skeptics likely enjoy and should actively promote with even more sexy images?

    1. Why does someone always feel the need to duck into these conversations and bring up “freedom to offend”? There’s no proposal from anyone here that should worry you about censorship. Free speech abounds!

      Freedom of speech also means we have the right to criticize a self-proclaimed representative of our movement for doing something absolutely stupid. If you can’t understand that, maybe you should go play with your Founding Fathers action figures while the adults talk.

  28. The image exists as it does because the artist wishes it to. He’s under no obligation to provide “equal time” for the other side. The artist is obliged to please none other than himself. If you find it objectionable, I suggest you peruse other art.

    I thought the whole point of feminism (especially of enlightened feminism) was that women have a choice?

    Some women like to be on top. Some don’t. Some men like to be on top. Some don’t. So long as options exist, and nobody’s being forced into a role they’re uncomfortable with, “So long as it harm none, do as thou wilt.”

    The pendulum has shifted. Now it’s wrong to show any image of a woman being degraded, even when it can be assumed that it’s being done consensually. Sorry, that’s taking choice away, as surely as when a woman is told that she shouldn’t aspire to be more than a secretary.

    1. Critiquing art that is geared toward a specific audience is not in any way taking choices away from anyone. That is ridiculous. And no one is suggesting censoring anyone either. Pointing out that something is sexist doesn’t have anything to do with what someone else does in the bedroom, how they do it or whether or not someone can continue to make or display their art. If you put art out for public consumption you open yourself up for critique. If you don’t want critique, keep the art in the studio.

    2. This feminist criticism exists as it does because Amy wishes it to. She’s under no obligation to provide “equal time” for the other side. The blogger is obliged to please none other than herself. If you find it objectionable, I suggest you peruse other blogs.
      I thought the whole point of your comment (especially posted in this context) was that readers have a choice?

      Some people are into their moms. Some people like dogs. Some men are aroused by sliced toast. Some prefer pickles. Why in the hell did I put this uncomfortably awkward paragraph in the middle of my comment? “So long as it’s irrelevant, write what thou wilt.”

      The pendulum has shifted. Now it’s wrong to criticize any image of a woman being degraded, even when it can be assumed that it’s being done honestly. Sorry, that’s taking choice away, as surely as it was when I demanded you not do the very thing I did in my own comment.

      P.S. AmateurScientist, THIS is a parody! :D

  29. The various comments calling for “freedom of speech” and hinting that Amy and others are wanting to censor Dunning confuse me. This is stuff you normally hear from religious people when you criticise religion — “You want to forbid religion! But we have freedom of thought! So there!” — but it always baffles me when the same completely non sequitur arguments show up within the skeptic and atheist communities itself. Criticising something DOES NOT EQUAL wanting to censor it! Dunning can do whatever the hell he wants within the confines of what’s legal, NO ONE has argued that he shouldn’t be allowed. What we’re doing here is exercising our right to criticise what he elected to do as rather insensitive to the issues females face in society as a whole as well as within the skeptic movement.

    Also, Riz S – “panties in a wad”? Way to dismiss a carefully worded, well thought through critique. Are you familiar with the term “master suppression technique”?

    1. Is wanting to shut down the anti-vax commercials so very different? Is advertising ” art “? Do they have a legal right to their opinion and the display of that opinion in Times Sq?
      Should we sign a petition to remove Brian’s single cover for ” Energy ” because it offends us? Should we allow Anti-vaxxers to advertise their opinion?
      Rhetorical questions perhaps.

      1. Oh yeah, shouting fire in a crowded theatre and by that I mean telling people that they shouldn’t vaccinate children SO PEOPLE DIE is totally the same thing as critiquing a piece of art. Thanks for that piece of wisdom. No, it’s not the same and no, we shouldn’t tell Brian to take down his art. It won’t murder babies. It’s just painful to intelligent women of skepticism and may deter new women from joining the movement, but we will survive and by discussing it hopefully people will learn to understand the issues a bit better.

        1. OMG!!! is your spring wound tight or what?!!?.. The ad in Times SQ is tantamount to yelling FIRE! in a crowded theatre! Because PEOPLE WILL DIE. That is a ridiculous comparison. Displaying the ad will MURDER BABIES…get some reason on.
          I disagree with Brian’s portrayal of people on his cover for the same reason I disagree with his song… It’s a misleading shit piece of work!.
          The same objection to Times Sq ad…it’s a misleading shit piece of advertising work.

  30. Another thought struck me: Those of you who are crying “CONTEXT!”, keep in mind a lot of people will never listen to the music, and parodies have to be obvious to work. I for one had no idea what the art is supposed to parody (I wasn’t even born when Rumours was released), and the new age symbolism is unclear at best. So when I first saw the photo it was just a naked woman kneeling in front of a man in a suit, with some half-assed visual effects.

    When it comes to marketing skepticism and the skeptical movement, one really has to think carefully about what one puts out there. First impressions are formed incredibly quickly, and if I was a newly minted skeptic who encountered Dunning’s album art, chances are I would think it represented the general tone of the movement. I would probably not have stuck around.

  31. This is so interesting, in light of several recent conversations over at P.Z. Myers’ blog. The attitudes of men in the skeptical movement with regard to women in the skeptical movement, and the seeming lack of said women in said movement, was discussed at length. I have a hunch Mr. Dunning’s “art” would not have been kindly received by most of the commenters there. It’s certainly not kindly received by me.

    There is still a thundering silence from Mr. Dunning in the comments on the Skeptic blog where this “art” was posted. Even though he’s put up another, unrelated, post on that site.

  32. Not knowing any of the actual players involved here, I wonder something. It is my understanding that after the comment at TAM, he wrote an apology that had been requested by the Skepchicks and sent it over, and he was greeted by silence. I don’t know this to be fact, I’ve only heard it from his side.

    Apologies are asked for here and rightfully so, but could his dismissal of these requests be a direct result of his previous apology being seemingly ignored?

    Is any of this true with the previous apology being a)requested, b)given and c) ignored? It doesn’t excuse bad behavior but IF TRUE, it could explain why he doesn’t feel the need to respond to criticisms from this particular site.

  33. So this immediately reminded me of the”Rumours” cover and then after that I thought of “Smell the Glove”. My initial feeling was that Brian just wanted to look like “Rumours” and didn’t put a whole lot of other thought into it, which makes the sexism unacceptable, since his intent is hard to find.

    I imagine Brian responding a lot like Nigel:

    Ian Faith: They’re not gonna release the album… because they have decided that the cover is sexist.

    Nigel Tufnel: Well, so what? What’s wrong with bein’ sexy? I mean there’s no…

    Ian Faith: Sex-IST!

  34. Ew. No, not being unreasonable at all. I hadn’t seen the cover before, but that makes me feel really uncomfortable.

    Not only that, but Brian Dunning’s podcast I always felt was a very approachable and human side of skepticism. This image seems to give a totally opposite message to what he normally tries to achieve.

  35. The whole point of the skeptical movement is for fellow skeptics to help each other understand things from a skeptical viewpoint. That means calling fellow skeptics on their non-skeptical behavior. If you want to call yourself a skeptic but don’t want other skeptics to call you on your behavior when you don’t exhibit skepticism, don’t pretend you want to be part of a movement because you don’t. Being a skeptic means changing your world view when it is shown to be wrong.

    As a guy, this image is not something I could imagine doing in real life. There is no woman I can imagine me wanting her to kneel in front of me, naked and in a subservient position while I am fully clothed. Not in reality, not even as a fantasy. All my fantasies involve 100% complete equality and wouldn’t creep me out if they actually happened. This would creep me out.

    If you don’t want to change your behavior when your behavior makes women feel like you are a misogynist douche, then you are a misogynist douche. If you want to remain a misogynist douche, then don’t complain or be upset when people who don’t want to associate with misogynist douches don’t want to associate with you. Don’t tell them they are wrong for not wanting to associate with you as you really are.

  36. As a man (last time I checked) when I saw the cover I certainly did not see the kneeling woman as representative of all woman and their natural subservient state. What I saw was a goofy picture where the photographer and subjects appeared to be having a bit of fun. I doubt it was intended to be representative of women in the skeptics community being subservient to man and I think in the end all the analysis’ I’ve read here tell us more about the people looking at the cover than the cover itself.


  37. As an artist the first image that came to my mind was a painting called “Truth”. Now in the painting called “Truth” the woman while naked is holding the light (kinda looks like a light bulb) of truth up high in her hands. While this photograph was obvioulsy a Fleetwood Mac copy, though missing those hanging balls that made the album cover SO controversial when it came out the first time (yes I am THAT old, and yes the album cover caused some comments)…I really made the jump that the woman represented the painting “Truth” with not a candle in the dark but her lightbulb.

    1. Yes, the hanging balls would have made it funny imo! And that painting you shared is beautiful. That would be a lovely concept to reproduce.

    2. But Kitty, in Truth she’s not kneeling and submissive but standing and apparently leading (though there are no followers in the picture, it looks like she is lighting the way to something.)

      In the Energy picture, it looks like she’s either making a religious offering (or perhaps receiving a blessing?) But Dunning is not looking at her or the energy orb, he is looking over her head into the distance.

      It is obviously a parody of something, doesn’t look all that much like either Rumors or Smell the Glove actually, so it is either poorly done or something else. (In Rumors, Stevie Nicks doesn’t look the least bit submissive nor is she in a submissive pose. On the Spinal Tap cover picture (which as far as I can tell, doesn’t actually exist), the guy is specifically described as thrusting the glove at the woman, much like someone would to a dog they were attempting to train. He is paying attention to the dog/woman and glove, not ignoring them completely.)

      It could be a parody of something else, and when we catch on, we’ll all think it’s brilliant (though if it takes this long to explain, that’s not a good sign.) Far more likely, it’s just a fail. I admit I’m pretty bad at getting pop culture references, but no one else has gotten this either.

      So come on, Brian, tell us what it’s supposed to be. We’ll help you make it much funnier and pointed and full of skeptical goodness instead of sexist and creepy. (If you are attempting to mock something that is sexist and creepy, your mockery should make people laugh at sexism and creepiness, not exhibit those properties.)

      1. Just want to point out that Brian’s post and many replies appeared while I was composing my comment. So it was Rumors after all. By Fleetwood Mac standards, fairly deficient in woo. (You Make Loving Fun talks about believing in magic, but Gold Dust Woman is about shattering delusions, so maybe it’s a wash. I don’t really get the connection, except to generic 70’s magical thinking. Fleetwood Mac or Heroes Are Hard to Find would probably be a closer fit. (Disclaimer: I had to look these up on Amazon. Fleetwood Mac is kind of a guilty pleasure, but I don’t actually own any of their records.)

  38. Normally Skepchick does good work in promoting scientific skepticism to the general public. Today you went a different direction.

    I disagree with the spin you’ve put on every incident in your post. When I made my original gaffe in my Solving the Missing Cosmonauts talk, I didn’t “later apologize.” I immediately apologized. Nobody was more thunderstruck than I was, and since I was no longer onstage, I tapped out an apology on my phone and sent it to both Twitter and Facebook. I did not then, and do not now, condone what I said; it was the unfortunate result of getting offtrack, flustered, and staring at the wrong slide under stress. But saying something stupid and regrettable is part of being a public speaker. You apologize if necessary, you learn from it, and you move on.

    One of your bloggers, I think it was Maria, asked me if I wanted to make a statement. I wrote a heartfelt apology to the community and brief bio of Tereshkova, and sent it right back. For some reason that still escapes me, Skepchick chose not to post it.

    But in personal penance, I did a bit more. At my next speaking opportunity, Dragon*Con, I gave a presentation about sexism in the Cosmonaut program and how it destroyed the careers and reputations of a number of women. I also blogged about it on SkepticBlog.

    Yet two years later, Skepchick is still dragging this out. Whatever; your priorities are your business.

    I also disagree with your characterization of the Skepchick calendars. The example photos you show here conspicuously do not include any of the full nudes that were in the calendars, suggesting that it was conservative. One of the full nudes you featured was my wife. You also fail to mention that the Skepchicks engaged me to take three of the photographs for the calendars, and also that it was only after public criticism that you introduced a SkepDude calendar in later years.

    Then there is your assessment of the Energy cover art, and here is where you really seem to be grasping at straws. Obviously it’s a parody of Fleetwood Mac’s classic Rumors album, but instead of Stevie Nicks dancing at his feet, it’s some kind of energy angel handing him an energy ball. If you have a problem with that parody, I’m sorry I can’t help you. This is not Spinal Tap’s Smell the Glove.

    Finally, I might also add, on a personal note, that it’s a little disappointing to find that this is the blog post you were brewing at the same time you were being so friendly to my face at NECSS. Nevertheless I enjoyed seeing you and Johnny as I always do.

    1. Actually, I did explain why we never posted your apology: because we never brought up the incident or your name in any post on Skepchick. Some of our commenters brought it up in the comments on another post about TAM. You were free to post a response there, just as you’re posting here.

      Also, the Skepdude calendar was added in year two. We didn’t do one the first year because we didn’t have a budget or time, or any men participating in the project at the time. Adding it had little to do with any “public criticism”.

      1. You WANTED to do a naked guy calendar in year 1, but didn’t because you “didn’t have the budget”. Uh-huh.

        The naked guy calendar in year 2 had NOTHING to do with all the criticism you got for your naked chick calendar. Uh-huh.

        You’re stretching, Rebecca… :-)

        1. Um, yes. How is it at all surprising that 12 women using their own money to produce a fundraising thing for TAM scholarships for women wouldn’t have the budget for twice as many calendars? I’m really not sure how that’s surprising, or what it has to do with your album cover.

    2. Brian, I am terribly sorry that you think of this as a personal attack. Why wouldn’t I be nice to you in public? You have done things in the past I didn’t like prior and we were still friendly as I am sure I and the Skepchicks have done things you may not like. I also mentioned in the post that you apologized for the TAM comment. I mentioned the prior incident in the opening paragraph because it seems to be a pattern. If it is an unintentional pattern than I hope you can see that you are upsetting people with these actions.

      Also, it is your specific artistic choices I am critiquing here in regards to the message they send and if you read the post you would realize that this isn’t about nudity. I have said that numerous times. It is about placing the woman on her knees while you tower above fully clothed. Stevie Nicks wasn’t nude and on her knees. A nude by his or herself sends a different message than the a nude in an environment with another person fully clothed. And I mentioned the critiques of our calendars. Come on Brian, don’t make it personal, try to see where we are coming from.

      1. ‘Did Brian Dunning fail the women of skepticism, again?’ No, none of the original post seemed personal at all.

        1. True. It would have been better if I said some random guy who represents our movement might be being sexist again. My point that I wanted to make to Brian was that we can disagree about an issue and still remain friends. At least I would hope that is the case.

          1. It would have been better if you had taken a step back, thought about it, then proceeded to look at the situation logically instead of posting a one sided hit piece on how Mr. Dunning is a sexist pig. There seems to be evidence that he isn’t, which you helpfully left out of your post.

            I was reminded last night as I mentioned this post that one of my female friends will not even read Skepchick, simply because the title of the blog carries (in her opinion) a sexist slur, and she has nothing nice to say about any woman that would call herself or allow herself to be called ‘chick’.

            I think she’s being silly, and I think you are too.

    3. Lots of defensive justification and personal swipes without an apology. This is a bigger issue than Skepchick or Rebecca, but making this an inclusive movement women are comfortable with is clearly a lower priority for you than your own ego.

    4. Brian,
      The personal issues you bring up between yourself and some of the Skepchicks aside, doesn’t the fact that this reminded some people of “Smell the Glove” set any flags for you? As others have said, sexism doesn’t have to be delliberate to be an issue. If you weren’t trying to parody sexism, why does your art remind some people of that specific plot point from Spinal Tap, which was an obvious comment about sexism? Since your work is parody, you could very well have been trying to make a statement about sexism, like Spinal Tap. If that’s true, just say so. Otherwise I think there is an issue worth addressing in a more level-headed manner.

      And this comment comes from someone who is still a fan (and donates to Skeptoid monthly) and is not intended as a personal attack of any sort. I’m hoping you will take this more seriously than your post implies.

      – Ben H.
      Houston, TX

  39. It’s a bit disconcerting to find myself getting a feminist rage-on only to discover that some facts were brushed over. Hard to see Brian Dunning as any kind of slavering misogynist after reading his response to a previous misstep.

    At the same time, there’s a reason why this album cover became immediately controversial outside it’s intended effect – It is sexist and it comes from a well-respected member of the skeptical community.

    The sexism conversation keeps coming up, over and over. The women within the community are confronted with examples on a regular basis. Each time we’re told that this one is a tempest in a teapot, that everyone is very sorry, didn’t intent any harm and doesn’t think that it represents a larger problem.

    It’s frustrating especially because the only solution is to continue to have this dialog, over and over. Fortunately, we have already seen that it works, the best example is the line-up for TAM9. Unfortunately, frustration can lead to over-personalizing the issue on both sides and it would be nice to see less of that.

    1. “It’s frustrating especially because the only solution is to continue to have this dialog, over and over.”

      Incredibly frustrating. I’m starting to wonder if this is a Thomas Kuhn paradigm shift kind of situation. You know, the thing where he quotes Planck, “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

      Maybe there’s just no hope convincing a generation that was raised being sexist that they’re being sexist, and we’ll have to wait a decade or so for the old guard in our leadership to be replaced.

      I find it especially frustrating that the older generation doesn’t seem to be willing to criticize their own thinking, and that they assert that they’re already being “skeptical” and “logical” about this “emotional” subject (a.k.a. excusing themselves from thinking critically about being sexist by saying in a sexist way that they’re thinking critically.)


    The next cover should be nothing but fully clothed dachshunds.

    Sigh. This seems like a non-starter to me. It’s direct parody. Out of context it might appear offensive, but it’s clearly parody. I leave it to others to decide how good a parody it is. Everyone should save the rhetorical bazookas for people who actually demean women.

    HJ (deceased)

  41. I’ll simply recommend to Brian that he make the next parody a bit closer to the original. Even when I’ve looked at both side by side, the similarities seem almost accidental. I never would have pegged this for a parody of Rumors. I see no reason to doubt Brian’s sincerity here. I just wouldn’t have picked up on what he was trying to say.

    1. I’m a huge Fleetwood Mac fan, and I’m with you on not seeing the imitation. Maybe if you confused the Rumors cover with their self titled cover… and then took off a woman’s clothes for no apparent reason.

  42. Mr. Dunning’s comments in this blog (and lack of comments on this topic on Skepticblog, while making several comments on another post on Skepticblog) are very disturbing to me. I will not enjoy his podcast in the same way again, and may just delete it. I might add that a person who begs for donations in every podcast might want to think twice about alienating a good portion of his audience by arrogance, never mind sexism. I’ve donated to RadioLab and This American Life. Just last week, Mr. Dunning almost had me convinced to send him a bit of cash. Never mind, not happening. Jad, Robert and Ira FTW!

  43. In my experience, sexism can happen with no awareness or malice on the part of the offender. It’s a natural consequence of privilege. To my mind, this, by itself, is not a huge problem: a bit of humility, reflection, and open-mindedness can go a long way towards curing ignorance or carelessness.

    However, if one’s response consists of defensiveness and rationalization, this suggests an unwillingness to learn why one’s behavior was problematic, which is an obstacle to improvement.

    And, of course, being dismissive of the views of women, especially regarding issues of sexism, is pretty darn sexist.

    Or, more briefly: as problematic as the original art was, Dunning’s response bothers me more.

  44. One of the things I like about the Skepchick calendar is that it challenges the idea that geeks cannot be sexy in the same motion as it pushes back against the idea that sexuality and stupidity go together in women. “Smart women also have sexualities” is a nice message.

    “Look at me standing over this naked woman and her silly woo” is a less nice message.

    1. Indeed, the intended message of the Skepchick calendars
      is that “Smart women also have sexualities” but also the unintended message of “what a gorgeous piece of ass” as the viewer then proceeds to jerk off. Neither you nor I have any control over the intended or unintended consequences of words or images. And that is the dilemma of free speech. I defend Dunning’s freedom of expression because I would want that similar freedom for myself and for Skepchick to publish whatever it feels like. I would even defend Skepchick for the unintended effects of the calendars.

      1. For me, that’s part of the beauty of the Skepchick calendars, actually. Even when you’re looking at a gorgeous piece of ass (male or female), you still know that that’s a person, and after you’ve wanked to your heart’s content that will still be a person, and the fact that you feel sexual attraction to him/her doesn’t negate that :)

  45. Is it just me, or is a bit of a disconnect between feminism and skepticism unavoidable?

    Skepticism is about empiricism and objectivity and facts. But for a man to understand skepticism isn’t about these, so much as reflection and respect and sensitivity.

    When a male skeptic is told by a woman “X is offensive for reasons A, B and C”, the “feminist” response is to listen to A, B and C, consider why they are offensive and why he hadn’t noticed the offensiveness previously. But the “skeptical” response is more about questioning and critically examining A, B and C. Solid instincts, of course, but feminism isn’t about being empirically correct as much as it’s about respect and understanding. What good is being “right” when it comes at the expense of personal relationships and social progress? Especially when there isn’t even an objective definition of “right” (eg, Sexism and Offensiveness are not objectively quantifiable).

    I think sexism will continue to be an issue
    In the movement until people (well, men, I guess…) recognize that the skeptical toolkit is not necessarily equally useful in all situations.

    1. Ah no. That is not correct. There is nothing incompatible between skepticism and feminism. The most important part of skepticism which you left out is trying to understand why you were wrong in the first place, a type of meta-skepticism.

      Only when we try and understand what our basic and fundamental assumptions are can we try and correct them. That is the problem of privilege, the privileged never get called on their fundamental assumptions, never have to question them, and so can be fat, drunk, stupid, racist and sexist as they go through life.

      Acting as if one has privilege is incompatible with being either a skeptic or a feminist.

      A skeptic can’t privilege his/her own beliefs, beliefs are always trumped by facts and logic. If you are unwilling to allow facts and logic to determine what your beliefs are, then you are not a skeptic.

      A feminist perspective is that each person has immutable privilege over themselves, and none over anyone else. If you want to exert privilege over someone else, or allow someone to exert privilege over you or someone else, then you are not a feminist.

      If you can’t reconcile your skepticism and your feminism, you are doing them wrong.

      1. Excellent post, and one I agree with completely.

        Just to be clear, I don’t believe that skepticism and feminism are incompatible or contradictory when done correctly: I identify as both (insofar as it’s appropriate for a man to claim the title of “feminist” for himself).

        I guess I was referring more to possible (mis)interpretations of skepticism on the part of certain skeptics, and how this might be one of the factors behind the skeptical community’s sexism problem. Hence the “ironic” quotes used when comparing the terms.

        Sorry I wasn’t clear before.

  46. This word “parody” gets tossed around easily, but I don’t think Dunning or some others in this thread understand what it means. A parody shows the absurdity of something by mimicking its conventions to comedic effect. “Airplane” is a parody of disaster movies. “This is Spinal Tap” parodies clueless rock bands.

    This cover isn’t a parody of anything. It reminds me of those awful “Date Movies” and “Epic Movies” where someone will pop up dressed as Snooki for no reason other than the fact that “Jersey Shore” exists. Simply referencing a thing isn’t a parody. It’s not even a joke. So excusing this cover as a simple parody is factually incorrect. It’s like a schoolyard bully saying he was only kidding after he punches you in the face.

    If this looked exactly like the cover to “Abbey Road” only with Ringo replaced by a naked women kneeling before Brian Dunning offering her treasures, it wouldn’t be a parody of “Abbey Road”. It would be a parody of the kind of cover art someone would make if he had no clue how normal humans perceive reality.

  47. I think free speech is a red herring here. As far as I know, everyone here defends Dunning’s right to free speech.

    The issue is what he does with that speech, his awareness and sensitivity to the various unintended subtexts of that speech, and his attitude in responding to commentary on or criticism of that speech.

    Dunning has, and should have, the right to express himself as he sees fit (short of harming others). The rest of us have the right to respond to that speech, and allow it to inform our opinions of Dunning.

  48. It is extremely unfortunate that a movement dedicated to social justice is often equated with the moral thought police particularly after the feminist sex wars of the 80s. And yes folks, back then I recall strolling by the Women’s Studies department back in college and read huge banners that said “Men must stop watching pornography”. It is all to easy to jump from a critique of a sexist image to imply that the feminist critic wants to ban that image. And I am guilty for often jumping to that conclusion. But then I quickly read an article by atheist feminists such as Wendy Kaminer or Susan Jacoby (who I think is the Skepchick godmother) and the message is loud and clear: feminism and civil liberties are totally united. And as Salman Rushdie has repeatedly stated, that freedom of speech has to include the freedom to offend as well as the freedom to be offended. That said, I would truly hope that Dunning’s images won’t derail Skepchick into the pit of prudery and that they will continue to exercise its right to offend and annually publish those raunchy calendars.

  49. So the image is a parody of the “Rumours” cover?

    That makes it all OK then, we should all just sit back and relax and remember that parody means “I can get away with anything I want because I’m winking at the audience when I do this.”

    For me, it’s just further fuel to the fire that suggests we need to get beyond having skeptical heroes, for the most part those heroes turn out to be Libertarian arse wipes without a shred of credibility, decency or even a conscious understanding of the world around them (yet beg you for money at the end of every podcast, despite contributing to ten minutes of output in a week, while much more honourable podcasts do just fine without such pandering.)

  50. So, yeah, I don’t find the picture all that offensive. While I am totally for us women being seen as more than sex receptacles for men, I don’t want to see us swing our opinion so far that it is in line with religious fundamentalists (that seeing women’s bodies is bad, bad, bad). And the whole pose thing of the women is in line with the whole new agey thing of being on your knees and holding a ball of light (I saw pics to that effect so many times when I was in to all that woo, that that was where my mind went to immediately when I saw BD’s pic you have posted). Everybody here’s got an opinion though, and I thought I would add mine.. :)

    1. Really? I have grown up in California, arguably the hippy-new-age center of the world and I don’t equate new age with a naked girl on her knees with a floaty orb. I have seen a lot of women standing over crystal balls or glowing in some fashion but naked on her knees, making an offering to a man above…I don’t recall ever seeing that. Maybe old religious paintings representative of offering to a God but then the people are usually still clothed and highly representative of subservience. And again, I have said repeatedly that it is not about nudity itself. It is about the context and the dialog that is created with the artwork. I think the human form is a beautiful thing and should absolutely be utilized in the arts.

      1. I think you may have missed out on the gist of chrisp’s point. She merely did not find the image sexist whereas you did. Similarly, you may find the Skepchick calendar fabulous, whereas others may find it sexist. And this is even despite the counterbalance of the Skepdude calendar. All too often feminists have argued that a Playgirl centerfold does not negate the sexism of the Playboy centerfold. We all have different POVs and we won’t all agree. And I guarantee you that there will never be a utopian age without images construed as sexist, racist, classist, etc…

        1. So we just can’t ever really agree, and since we can’t create a utopia, we can’t raise consciousness or improve on this issue. Sexism is impossible to even talk about. You tirelessly support Dunning’s “free speech”, but constantly criticize Amy for voicing her opinion on the issue. Sounds like you want Amy to just shut the hell up, and the rest of us to treat this as a non-issue.

          Funny how your half-assed “let’s not fight” position ends with the same result a flaming misogynist’s would, isn’t it?

          Oh, hey! I think there’s a Wikipedia entry about you:

          1. Ad hominem attacks aside, I don’t think anyone here would wants “Amy to just shut the hell up”. There are those who find Dunning’s image sexist and those who do not. BTW, I personally find the image sexist but if another disagrees with me, is that person trying to shut me up?

            Skepchick founder Rebecca Watson calls Christopher Hitchens an intellectual atheist and has blogged about his courageous fight against cancer. Yet the man is quite sexist in his views about women entering the workforce. He regards women as the “gentler sex” and should not work. The man is overtly sexist and me pointing this out may be deemed inappropriate given that the man is dying or because he is an atheist heavyweight on our side. Those opposing POVs are welcome but I would hardly regard those statements as “shutting me up”. And because we cannot create a utopia, am I not raising consciousness or attempt to improve on the issue of sexism?

            Ad hominem attacks such as “concern troll” is your way of shutting people up who don’t agree with you.

  51. Just for fun, though I suppose it would cost a lot…I’d like to see Brians beautiful wife fully clothed and standing in the same pose he’s doing and Brian down on his knees holding up the golden light bulb. I think having an alternative cover would be a plus. Not that he should…because he’s a smart guy and knows his audience. I say, do a cover in blackfaceif you want to… more power to you. An Al Jolson parody is his perogative. But know some people may object. That’s their perogative. I was once told the test of if some image was going to provoke or not was to say “ok what if it was an African American person?” If it fails the “African American person” test, it fails… where I worked that was the litmus test. But we were also dealing with the public and wanted to please the people that purchased our product.
    I look on skepticism as a business where I try to go overboard to be inclusive. however that’s how I roll. If he is going for a different audience, that’s fine. But he has to understand that when he’s not PC (oh bad word right, but not always) there will be controversy. In my art work I don’t always make people comfortable. Art, in my opnion, is something that produces an emotion. Dunnings cover works as “art”. I’m not sure his point was to come across as an artist or a skeptic in this case. Or both. Self expression is a good thing, but freedom of speech is also self expression, and that means freedom to critique.

  52. I think that pornography is a bad way to promote skepticism. It’s undignified, immodest, and it objectifies everyone who participates in it. It brings out the worst in both men and women. Maybe if Brian Dunning hadn’t been so quick to use a pornographic photo, he wouldn’t have got into so much trouble. Don’t do porn!

    1. You should check the dictionary definition of pornography, ’cause this is not it, and neither is the Calendar.

      Unless you’re mormon …

  53. “”While rapists are to blame for their crime and should be strung up by their balls,””

    No. That would be bad for men. If a man rapes a girl virgin who is not espoused, she should be forced to be a bride of his, he should never send her away, he should pay the father some money. And yes, girl, as in not yet a grown woman. Sweet young virgin girl. If you think that men should be punished rather than being given the young girl as his own, then why should any man complain when you are strung up by the anti-men pro-woman’s rights laws you support?

    Death To women’s Rights.
    Viva Men’s Liberties.

    Deuteronomy 22 28-29.

    Passage mechanically translated from hebrew:

    [quote]if he-meets man girl(hebrew word here means boy/girl/young) virgin who not being-pledged and-he-forces-her and-he-lies with-her and-they-are-discovered then-he-shall-pay the-man the-one-lying with-her to-father-of the-girl fifty silver and-to-him she-must-be as-wife(hebrew word is:woman) because that he-violated-her not he-can to-divorce-her all-of days-of-him[/quote]

    Word study: http://www.theologyonline.com/forums/showpost.php?p=1775059&postcount=2

  54. First, let me say I didn’t read the entire thread because, well…damn people, you sure are a wordy bunch.

    Second, have any of you who are criticizing and saying Brian Dunning is sexist ever actually spent any length of time talking to the man? I have on a couple of occasions and while he is a confident man, he is hardly sexist.

    Next time instead of attacking someone for something they’ve created, try talking to them first.

    1. Uhhh yes, I have spent time with Brian and I actually like him quite a bit. And it doesn’t matter if you like him or not. You can think he is the greatest man to walk the earth, still the artwork he produced sent a message. It may indeed be an unintentional message but even if so it needed to be addressed. Let’s assume he was completely unaware that he was sending a sexist message and some women were seriously offended. Does that make it ok? Doesn’t that make him ignorant as far as his art is concerned? Are we not critical thinkers here? And how can you know his intentions? If I am say, unintentionally racist with the artwork that I make, does that make it ok, or should someone be brave enough to stand up to me and inform me of my mistakes? Or should I be allowed to blissfully offend while insinuating I am fair and reasonable.

    1. I’m not sure I really understood the post (possibly because of the poor grammar), but I can’t really see the point of asking questions that have clearly been answered in the referenced article (“The same article talks about how the Skepchick calendar being different. Really? How so?”) and complaining about a workshop the author didn’t even attend.

      1. well, I think my posts indicate I think it was a confused parody…someone pointed out it is more like the Fleetwood Mac self titled cover (which has a man on his knees with a floating ball). Since the painting “Truth” is well known in artistic skeptic circles, I still think there was some influence there also. But just my guess.

        Still, I think that as art is defined as “something that produces an emotion” (or perhaps just good art). I also think good writing is something that “produces an emotion”, and also a response. The response is what someone has thought about after reading. Making people think is the goal of any writing, and in this case even if I agree or disagree with the response, I respect it. I posted the link because I respect Dale and I think the more sides heard on any controvery the more we all think.

        Part of me thinks the cover is great though as it’s really making people think and write about the role of nudity as art and as a projected image of the skeptic community. Also the role of nudity and when does “how much shows” or “the pose of the nude” change the nude from art to offense. It’s good voices are heard about this, even if agreement isn’t!

    1. Are you somehow insinuating that men can not be part of a bordello? Because a simple google search will show that is not the case. Otherwise, your comment is lost on me but thanks for linking to a post about a party we threw with a picture of Brian Dunning and others having fun at the event. See we all can get along!

      1. I am not insinuating that men cannot be part of a bordello.

        If Brian Dunning’s photograph is to be seen as expressing his misogyny and desire to objectify women, then how come a group of women can throw a party where the theme is expressively about objectifying women, and not be seen the same way?

        Is throwing such a party not insulting to the majority of all other women, present or otherwise? Is that not insensitive to the plight of women, in science, skepticism or otherwise? Is that not demeaning and insulting? Is that not reinforcing a hierarchy with men at the top and women as nothing more than submissive servants? Is that not sending a message that women are lower, stripped of intellectual value, completely objectified, and, in this particular case, reduced to mere sperm receptacles? Does that not express a view that women are of a lesser value and merely objects to be used wherever?

        I am missing something here, that is obvious.

        1. The Bordello theme was meant to be one of empowerment, referencing Firefly and other sci-fi/alt reality ideas of women who own their sexuality. As I recall, one woman (who wasn’t attending TAM) came to me with a concern about the party’s name, and I explained the reasoning behind it. I never heard back.

          If many women were offended even after understanding the reference, I would certainly apologize.

          Of course with anything that references female sexuality, there will be compelling arguments that it’s harmful, and if you want to debate the merits of the name of a party last year, you’re more than welcome to. This stuff is important to us, and we will base future decisions on the feedback we get.

          But even if you come to the conclusion that the name of last year’s party was damaging to women, that should not affect whether or not we agree that Dunning’s album cover is damaging to women, which is the point of the OP.

          1. Rebecca, if you do not think that, then you are demanding that Skepchicks are judged differently, more leniently, than other people. Because, how is the Bordello theme any different?

            It may be that the Bordello theme was *meant* to be one of empowerment; Personally, I really cannot see how a bordello can portray women who *own their sexuality* – prostitution is not exactly *empowering* women. On the contrary, as this Skepchick thread from about three weeks ago (tip: date your entries!) documents, prostitution is *bad*, and those extolling it are, perhaps, even *worse*, to the point of shaming their own profession:


            Rebecca, there are conflicting messages here: When Krauss defends someone who pays women for massages (if I understand it correctly, there wasn’t sex or even nudity involved), having served his sentence, that is an affront to scientists everywhere. When Brian Dunning posts a photo, intended as a joke – he made that clear, and anyone with a sense of humour should also recognize it as such – he is made the Sexist Villain of All of Skepticism.

            But when Skepchicks throw a bordello themed party, then that’s all about empowering women, referencing the idea that women own their own sexuality?

            I’m sorry, but where is the rationality in that?

          2. You’re wrong about so much that I’m not sure I have time to cover it all, but here’s an overview:

            1. No, we shouldn’t be held to a different standard as my previous comment makes blindingly obvious. If we did something wrong, I’m interested in hearing differing opinions and adjusting future decisions.

            2. Yes, there was sex involved with Epstein. Sex with underage girls. This is not simply prostitution and my completely appropriate criticism of Krauss has nothing to do with my feelings on whether or not prostitution in and of itself is a bad thing. We have at least one very empowered sex worker who comments on Skepchick . . . it is possible for a woman to work in that industry and be in charge of her own sexuality. I support and encourage those who do.

            3. If you felt the bordello name was damaging to women, you should have brought it up back when it was relevant and able to be changed if needed.

            4. No one made Brian Sexist Villain of All Skepticism. Get your hyperbole in check . . . Amy brought up some issues she had with him from the POV of a woman and an artist. Like it or not, her feelings are valid and worthy of expression, and they inspired an interesting discussion here. Discussions like this are what make me proud to run such an awesome, popular site that challenges people to think critically about their assumptions.

        2. I suspect it’s the same reason a black person can refer to themselves as “nigger” or a gay person can call themselves a “fag”, but a non-black or non-gay person cannot, because coming from them, that term would be considered derogatory.

          1. Uhm? This post was supposed to be a response to Claus’ earlier comment about the Bordello. It shouldn’t show up as a response to Rebecca.
            And this post in particular will make me look like a jerk when taken out of context … :(

          2. If we follow that argument, only prostitutes can throw a Bordello themed party, without it being considered derogatory.

  55. If you read what I posted, you would have discovered that I said nothing of the Bordello theme itself: I pointed out that it was in conflict with what Skepchicks had previously done. You don’t see a conflict, that is your prerogative. You don’t think criticism is valid, because it happens after the party was held.

    But criticism from the Skepchicks of Larry Krauss was also put forth after Krauss defended his friend. Criticism from Skepchicks of Brian Dunning was also put forth after Dunning had posted his photo.

    In this case, Dunning even apologized for the Tereshkova incident (not later, but right after it happened), yet he is still being lambasted for it, even having it dragged out again, in order to show a pattern of misogynistic behavior? What does a guy have to do, in order to get absolution from Skepchicks? Grow a vagina?

    As for the feedback, I think it is a wee bit odd to announce the Bordello party on Skepchick.org, turn off the comments, only later (oops!) to say that people should have voiced their criticism of it. Rebecca, you did not allow it. And you knew of such criticism, yet you went ahead with the party, defiantly changing absolutely nothing.

    However, the greater point is one you are still missing. I am sure that the Bordello theme was *meant* to be whatever you meant it to be. As was Brian Dunning’s photo: He meant for it to mean something.

    However, neither were *perceived* for what the intention was, were they?

    So, what is the difference? Clearly not in how either was *perceived*, but how it was *judged*. And by *whom*.

    Now, Skepchicks have every right as the other guy to voice whatever criticisms they feel are warranted. But please, stop pretending you are open to criticism, when you are not. Stop pretending to be rational, when you are not. And, fer crying out loud, stop using Skepchicks as a platform where you pretend to speak on behalf of women, scientists and skeptics. You do not speak for any groups, except Skepchicks, the group on this blog.

    1. Wow, so now I somehow, somewhere claimed to speak on behalf of all women, scientists, and skeptics? That comment was off the deep end. I’m not going to feed the troll any more.

      1. I can only refer to direct quotes:

        “Photography and Sexism in the Skeptical Movement”. “This isn’t the first time Mr Dunning has put up an image of an attractive woman while simultaneously insulting the majority of all other women present.” “One could assume it was a poorly designed joke and forgive his insensitivity to the plight of women in the sciences and in skepticism, once.” “Did Brian Dunning fail the women of skepticism, again?”

        And, from the Krauss article:

        “Lawrence Krauss Defends a Sex Offender, Embarrasses Scientists Everywhere”. “Krauss’ statement is extremely disturbing and makes scientists look like ignorant, biased fools who will twist data to suit their own needs.”

        Skepchicks do claim to speak for all women, scientists and skeptics.

  56. I think some of you may need to remember my post is a critique on a particular piece of artwork that was directly compared to artwork we released that received similar criticism. If you would like to discuss your personal dislike of me, this particular blog and it’s contributors, party themes or your hypothesis that we are closed-off, conspiratorial and cliquish in nature perhaps you should do that elsewhere. Maybe a conspiracy theory website or twitter would suit your needs? If you would like to discuss photography, art and it’s implications, sexist or otherwise, with or without the intent of the artist, I’d be happy to chat on this thread.

  57. Rebecca,

    If you and other’s on Skepchick are dead serious about tackling the issue of sexism in the skeptics/atheist community then why haven’t you blogged about Christopher Hitchens’ gender bias? He has opined that the “gentler sex” should not work as per this interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=thXnNVOrri8. He is a bulwark in the atheist community and his views influences many. And his hypocrisy is so blatant as he “defends” women oppressed under Islam.

    Why do you only sing praises of him?

    If Dunning gets such a slap then why doesn’t Hitch get a major kick in the head?

  58. Every experience is a learning one. So, how to move on from here?

    I take it that Skepchicks think that Dunning should apologize. But what about the photo itself? Should Dunning remove it, or keep it as it is?

    1. It is up to Dunning to do whatever he wants with the photo and I don’t think an apology is needed. I have said repeatedly that I wouldn’t expect him to remove it or censor it in anyway. This is discussion in which the intention was to raise awareness about the messages (regardless of intent) that art sends to it’s audience so we can all do better in the future.

      1. And how should Dunning do better in the future?

        Do you think there can be one work of art that could not be seen as offensive in some way by someone? Do you see where I am going?

        1. If you are going to try to argue that a naked woman on her knees next to a man fully clothed is not blatant sexist imagery or that my opinions are not valid because “someone will always be offended” then I’m bored with you already. Go read the comment thread and stop concern trolling.

          1. I am trying to argue that a naked woman on her knees next to a man fully clothed *can* be seen as blatant sexist imagery. Just think of Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, by Manet: That was considered shocking, when it was first exhibited. Today, it’s mostly ho-hum, considering what we are used to these days.

            And I haven’t said anything about your opinions not being valid. I don’t think anyone here has said anything to the contrary. It is a perfectly valid opinion to think that Dunning’s image can be seen as sexist. I do, however, object to the notion that it *just has to be* sexist, and I think that is what others who have chimed in are also saying.

            There are indeed different opinions here, all equally valid. We are, after all, talking about a work of art.

            But, back to your suggestion that we should all learn to do better. How should Dunning do better in the future?

          2. I think the problem is that sexism, like religious iconography, is ingrained in our western culture, to the point where you don’t even notice it any more unless you can somehow step outside your own cultural frame of reference and look at it with fresh eyes.
            As such, the addage “you have a right to be offended, but not a right to not be offended” doesn’t necessarily apply in this case. Or in a sense, it does apply, but we as men don’t have a right to say women shouldn’t feel offended, or why they shouldn’t feel offended. Or to just suck it up and move on because we can’t please all of the people all of the time.
            In a sense, if we don’t want to be dicks, we’ll recognise the fact this offends them, and remedy it. Or we could choose not to listen, and then they will stopp listening to us. I think that’s something we’re trying to avoid, so perhaps it’s worth looking into. No? We should at least strive to please most of the people most of the time in order to retain the audience we’re trying to reach.

          3. In which case, this is a storm in a thimble, since Skepchicks do not represent anyone but themselves, and they are very few, in the fields of women, scientists and skeptics.

  59. This bothers me for a different reason, in addition to what was stated here already: The man here (Dunning) is ostensibly portrayed as the rational skeptic, and the woman as the naked New Agey energy-believing type. Portraying a skeptic as a man, especially a real individual, is fine of course. Even portraying a woo-believing New Ager as a woman is absolutely fine on its own, but placing the two in contrast to one another in this already problematic way kind of highlights the stereotype, and it comes off as a little gross.

  60. Everyone is completely wrong about this picture. You all think it was intentional. Didn’t it ever occur to anyone that it’s a ghost picture? The women isn’t really there. The orb is a dead give-away.

    The fact that Brian Dunning claims it is a parody of Rumors is of no consequence. It is just an example of post hoc rationalization. The juvenile minds which you possess cannot comprehend the reality of ghosts.

  61. Well, I’m sure Disney never intended to have a penis on their poster for “The little mermaid”, but there it is, and once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it.
    There’s plenty of other examples like that.
    Likewise, I don’t think Brian Dunning intended to make an image of a naked submissive woman sitting on her knees before an authorative-looking man in a suit, but there it is, and once you’ve seen that sexist pose, you can’t unsee it.
    And I suppose at this point, Brian has two viable options:
    1) Realise that his CD cover art might be misinterpreted, and work on the composition to fix the problem. Or …
    2) Admit to the unfortunate nature of the composition, but explain to us why it’s too late now to change anything (e.g. the artwork has already been printed, etc…)
    Persisting in defending the work and repeating the statement that it’s an accident however, will not keep people from continuing to see the unintended message in future.

    1. Especially if those interested in perpetuating the idea that Brian Dunning is a sexist keep bringing it up.

      We already saw that with the Tereshkova incident: There was no ill intent, he apologized right away, but he couldn’t undo the presentation. Yet he was still lambasted for it later on. And if he so much as looks at another woman in the future, why, who knows how the story will be improved?

      “Rumours” indeed.

      1. You have no idea if Brian is sexist nor do I so YOU should stop bringing it up as well. It is the image that has sexist implications to some, whether YOU chose to see it that way or not. And next time you want to bring up a french masterpiece, simply because of the contrast between a clothed man and a nude female and compare it with the art in question at least try to understand the differences as to why each are/where offensive in their own time, for completely different reasons I might add! The female in the painting is confident, making eye contact with the viewer, represents sensuality, is on a level with the men in the painting and is the focal point. Not offensive by today’s standards at all, true. Empowering even. Then understand why it is through civil dialog that we can understand why we need to do better, when we know better. And in Brian’s case he could have done better. And if you ask me HOW again, I am going to laugh.

        1. I do understand why there are differences in perception of how females are viewed – that was my whole point of bringing up the painting. Because it can easily be seen as the woman is *not* empowered: What is she, a sex toy for the men, who don’t even bother to look at her, but want her at their disposal, when they see fit? Yeah, that was one of the reactions at the exhibition. Read Zola’s comment. Incredible to most, these days at least. Not back then.

          But, is there a right or wrong about it? No, because views on sex and morality are not absolute, they are very much relative: Where, when, who, what – it all depends, doesn’t it?

          You conclude that, because Brian Dunning makes a cover with a naked woman, he is merely reinforcing the growing rumour that he is sexist. Why, let’s just look at what he did the last time he was accused of sexism! He apologized! Whatta pig!

          I conclude that, back then, he stopped to think again – then agreed that the complaint could have merit – and apologized. That does not make him sexist – to me.

          And yes, Amy, this is clearly about Brian Dunning being sexist: You did not merely attack the image for being sexist, you went after the man.

          You took an earlier incident where he clearly acted the opposite of sexist, and turned that into yet-another-incident where Brian Dunning – the man – does something sexist. And you want your readers to believe that you weren’t arguing that Brian Dunning is sexist? Come on, have some respect for your readers.

          I am in total agreement about civil dialogue: But, really – take a look at how you wrote your article that spawned all this: You didn’t even ask Brian Dunning for his views, before you posted your article. That article was a hatchet-job, Amy.

          Write about rumours, don’t create them.

        2. Wow, I’m simply blown away by Le Dejeuner Sur l’Herbe. It is so sexy, hot and beautiful on so many levels. You, me and the vast skeptic empire would agree that it is a great painting. I see the men and women as equals and having a conversation while the women express their sensuality. Yet even today there are those who would denounce the painting as an example of patriarchy and the objectification of women. Why are the men fully clad and the women naked? Why are the women expressing their sexuality and the men are not? Why does it appear that the men are talking to each other and the women are mindless playthings? And on certain blogs that would be the interpretation and the various forum threads would agree. Would those of us like you and me who disagree and give reasons why therefore be “concern trolls”?

          If Dunning had done (no pun intended) something similar to Le Dejeuner Sur l’Herbe (and I wish he did) I guarantee that there would be some group who would find the piece sexist. And me saying the contrary should not be interpreted as shutting people up. In fact I would wholeheartedly welcome anyone who feels that Le Dejeuner Sur l’Herbe is sexist or offensive in some way. Those opinions are valid from their POV. But I get the sense at least on feminist blogs that engaging in such back and forth dialogs is interpreted as a misogynist concern troll trying to shut down the opinions of women. I love Le Dejeuner Sur l’Herbe and I would defend it tooth and nail as a great work of art but if I engage feminists who hold a contrary view that the work is sexist, then I am perceived as being part of the privileged patriarchy trampling on womens’ space. I will be denounced as a troll and that ends the conversation. Why? By the same token, if I make atheist claims about the non-existence of God, I am therefore a troll among theists. And this is exactly what Skepchick and other atheist blogs are fighting against ie. that atheists deserve that contrary voice and should not be denounced.

          When I stated that there will always be words and images that will always offend and that utopia will never be achieved, that should not be interpreted as a conversation stopper. I am merely stating that we are all free agents and we should always have the freedom to be (and not to be) offended and voice those opinions. What is wrong with that?

          BTW, thank you Claus and Skepchick for bringing up Le Dejeuner Sur l’Herbe. You all have great artistic tastes. I put it on the same level as the statues of Khajuraho. Yes, even a hardcore atheist like me can appreciate ancient Hindu erotica. And I’m a lapsed Hindu. Hope you all have similar sentiments. Or maybe not and that’s totally cool.

    2. It’s all too frequent that when a woman points out sexism, the response is “Jeez, can’t you take a joke.” or “Hey, you expressed your sexuality that one time, so I get to say or do whatever I want.” Just once, I’d like to see the response be, “Hmmm, I hadn’t thought of it that way. Let me think about what you’ve said.”. I won’t be holding my breath.

        1. The one where he said “Oh yeah?! Well what about your skepchick calendar? Oh, and it’s based on Fleetwood Mac, you just don’t you get it.” Cuz that just reinforces what I said.

          But it’s not just Brian’s comments. It’s many of the people who are joining in this conversation.

          1. Look again at what Brian Dunning said, not how other people recounted what he said. He *apologized*. Does anyone dispute that? What more do people want, a public drawing and quartering?

            If he did bring up the calendar, well….isn’t he entitled to point out what he thinks is objectionable? And how is criticism of the calendars countered? Basically with something along the lines of “OK, we see what you mean, but, well, you’re wrong, so sod off.” Look at both sides, now.

            As for the image: I haven’t seen *anybody* dismiss the idea that Brian Dunning’s image *could* be seen as sexist. I have, however, seen the exact opposite, that the image *just has to be* sexist, period.

          2. @Claus
            I didn’t see the cosmonaut incident, nor did I follow any ensuing conversations about it. It may well be that his apologies did not ring true to those that heard them.

            Even if he did make a sincere apology for past grievances, he certainly isn’t handling this criticism well. When called again on possible sexism his response was that Skepchick published photos of women expressing their own sexual power, and that makes him using a nude supplicant woman ok. With a sprinkling of “you just don’t get the parody”.

      1. It is also all to frequent if a woman says that she doesn’t perceive the sexism, she just doesn’t understand the issues at hand.

      2. Well just because a woman points out sexism, does not make it so. Everyone has their idea of what sexism is, there is no universal standard that i am aware of. Often sexism is whatever makes that particular woman uncomfortable. The only thing that would satisfy everyone is not showing any group in a negative light, ever. Which is ridiculous.

        The point is, you cannot expect everyone to share *your* particular interpretation of what is and what is not sexist.

        In this case, it is is not even a negative light. It is just a woman kneeling and unbelievably, the author is taking issue with this. To me at least, this is a case of the author reading too much into the picture and drawing the conclusion most offensive to her. I’m certainly not onboard with *her* idea of sexism. If you cannot see a picture of a woman kneeling without thinking “sexist” then you are simply too sensitive.

  62. The problem for me is not the image itself.
    The sexism that is being percieved (after all, offense is in the perception of the observer, that in no way makes it invalid) was, I’m sure, unintentional; the “joke” that dare not be spoken of again was off the cuff and, I’m sure, unintentional also, but it shows a pattern. I am not saying that Brian Dunning is a sexist as I do not know the man; from all I have heard from him he does not appear to be; however I do find a pattern of behavior from him and, let’s face it many skeptics, of flipancy toward criticism to be distrurbing.
    Nobody likes to be criticized, but as skeptics we should be able to assess which critcisms are valid and which aren’t worth responding to. We are all human, and some of us deal better with criticism better than others; I myself have become much better at admitting when I have used faulty data or have overstated a point since “joining the movement.”
    When someone is critical of you there are many ways to respond. Silence, dismissal, disagreement, snark, etc.
    Mr. Dunning has a history of defensiveness that, while human, does not do him any favors when it comes to his standing as a skeptic.
    When he uses a mocking and dismisive tone when dealing with the random crank that writes to him regarding a blog post or podcast, it is wholely understandable, but when a more valid criticism is leveled from someone within the skeptical or science communities, the same attitude seems callous.
    A simple, “I’m sorry you were offended, I disagree with your interpretation of the piece, and anything that could be construed as offensive was unintentional.” would have ended that part of the debate. I know that’s easy for me to say as the person not being criticized, but again there is a pattern.
    No one here should think themselves to be above criticism; we all have our particular passions, and rhetoric can get pumped up to 11 when hot topics are discussed.
    Just don’t say to someone something that you wouldn’t want said to you, it’s as simply as that really.
    In other words, can’t we all just get along?

  63. I’m a bit shocked at how Claus is being treated by the Skepchicks here. Yes, he is challenging and he and I have certainly had our disagreements in the past, but to dismiss his questions as “trolling” and then engage in character assassination by bullying tweets such as this one “rebeccawatson CFLarsen, now trolling Skepchick, once argued for weeks on JREF that people walk on drumsticks http://bit.ly/h8bqVz Best thread ever!” is shameful.

    1. Well said, Jeff.

      While I might not agree with everything he has said, his arguments are presented in a calm, approachable manner and the cries of “Troll!” are unfounded and indeed shameful.

  64. As a creator, and especially as an archivist and recording engineer of quite a bit of “indie punk” from the 80’s thru today, I’d say your experience with it is quite limited if you haven’t been innundated with conspiracy theories.

    I would say that except when I click on the link you provided, it had a video of Jello Biafra. After that, for you to state that ” I won’t discuss the musical content except to say that my experience of indie punk was not at all related to conspiracy theories but I suppose I could see how an outsider to the movement could unfortunately make that comparison.” means you are either lying or deaf. If there’s another possibility let me know.

    These guys are mostly friends and/or family to me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t grill them for the conspiracy stuff. Indeed, its some of the most fun arguments to really piss people off to get the most emotion out of a recording session. “hey why don’t you tell me why we didn’t go to the moon?”

    1. Wow. I’m either a liar or I am deaf because my experience of punk music was about standing up for what I felt was just and right and DIY culture and blue collar pride and not about conspiracy theories? I guess you and I perceive things very differently. And I was not commenting on the music recorded to go along with the photo in this post not the entirety of punk music.

      1. How about a refresher on what you wrote? ” I won’t discuss the musical content except to say that my experience of indie punk was not at all related to conspiracy theories but I suppose I could see how an outsider to the movement could unfortunately make that comparison.”

        It seems to insinuate that you’d need to be an outsider to make a comparison between “indie punk” (whatever that is) and conspiracy theories

        1. Clearly you have no idea what this post is about nor have you bothered to click any of the links provided or if you did you didn’t read them. Dunning referred to indie punk and conspiracy theory in his original post and his recording that was linked to. I already said it wasnt my personal view and I told you why. I’m not going to squabble over musical terminology. It’s not what the post is about. Look, maybe you’re into a different type of punk or you are younger than me and our experiences are different. Is it possible that you could find a link between conspiracy theories and punk. Sure, fine I’ll give you that. You could do that with heavy metal or classic rock too if you wanted to. Doesn’t define an entire genre and still wasnt what punk was to me so either stay on the topic which is sexism and photography in skepticism and be polite or kindly piss off.

  65. That post was explaining how punk music inspired me to stand up to people and be DIY and to be skeptical. I linked to The Clash in that post too. Get over it already. Maybe you see conspiracy, I see stand up to the government. Whatever. I don’t see what your point is other than you want to feel like you are right.

  66. Man, I don’t know how I got sucked in to this but the one thing I HAVE to bring up is that Dunning project used Green Day as the basis for their song that was supposed to represent “indie Punk” and conspiracies. Do you seriously think Green Day was a band know for promoting conspiracies? Can we at least agree that is a bit of a stretch? And is that even indie punk? Maybe really early Green Day but the song they were referencing seems pretty darn main stream to me.

  67. Instead of dismissing people who criticize Skepchicks as “trolls”, and changing the subject of this discussion to “what is indie punk anyways?”, how about considering ragdish’s suggestion above (04.17.2011) that Skepchicks begin criticizing Hitchens for his, shall we say, less-than-feminist views?

  68. I would say Green Day’s American Idiot and their support for the truth movement would put them in the conspiracy realm. I agree calling them “indie punk” is quite a stretch, but the same could be said of the Clash.

    Holy schnikies!!! its Claus!!!! If I see an indie punk on a plane…

  69. First of all, Brian Dunning is hardly “the skeptical movement”, so your head line is already misleading. Also, what skeptical “movement” there is (if there is one), it is made up of loose collection of individuals and organisations, it is not one monolithic body. So the actions of one skeptic has nothing to do with the movement.

    The picture is of a woman kneeling. “… it is reinforcing a hierarchy of men on top..”,no, that is what *you* have decided to interpret it as. You seem to have settled on the meaning most offensive to you, discounting all others in the process. You seem to be implying that one cannot show a woman in a disadvantaged position, without immediately doing the same with a man, in pursuit of “fairness” i suppose. Or really, that one cannot show a woman in a disadvantaged position period. Is that really what you are suggesting? Does that sound reasonable to you? Or do you think it is you that needs to stop reading too much into what is probably nothing?

    It is interesting that you go out of your way to mention that you included all body types in your calendar. Such painstaking political correctness must be difficult to live with. And that is all this is, political correctness. Are you seriously that sensitive that you cannot see this picture as anything other than an assertion of male dominance? It almost reads like a parody. Unfortunately this is what happens when a group has been oppressed for so long. Sometimes they overreact and see offence where there is none.

    Just because you personally do not like the way the woman in the picture is knelt does not make it sexist.

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