Women’s Intuition and Other Fairytales

The other day I mentioned that I wanted more secular orgs to speak out on women’s rights, and I called on a few of the biggies like CFI to do more in that regard. I really love CFI and I think they already do a lot of good and still have so much potential. In fact, I gave a talk there back in April called Women’s Intuition and Other Fairytales, in which I talk about the specific kinds of pseudoscience aimed at us. I’ve embedded the video after the jump and also posted a comment from Lauren Becker, which I didn’t want to get lost in all the responses to my previous post:

Hi, Rebecca,

I agree that organizations promoting science and secular values should be very vocal when it comes to women’s rights – and I’m happy to say that CFI has been doing this for years.

Sometimes the work is done in the form of blog posts and commentary:

But the real work has been done by our CFI Office of Public Policy. For years they have issued White Papers/Position Papers on numerous issues important to science and secularism, including public health and contraception, and the importance of appropriate sexuality education. These papers are distributed to decision-makers and legislators, and they are also a resource for our CFI branch leaders who engage in state and local advocacy work.

CFI’s OPP has also lobbied extensively:
* for the protection of reproductive rights and accurate sex education
* for increased funding for sex education and prevention of HIV/AIDS, other STI’s, and unintended pregnancies
* for H.R. 1144, the “Fullfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Act”
* for the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, to ban pay discrimination and discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability in the workplace
* AGAINST unjust bans on abortion coverage
* AGAINST the “provider refusal” regulation that would permit reproductive health professionals to refust their services on religious/ideological grounds

Sometimes this lobbying was done in person on Capital Hill, sometimes it was through “Action Alerts” to our members, and sometimes it was both. It was also often done in conjunction with other organizations, which not only advanced the specific cause, but also increased awareness of our cause for science and secularism among those other groups.
We have also responded to amendments on the stimulus bill, the appropriations bill, and the budget that would affect women’s reproductive freedom.

I am particularly proud of the work some of our CFI branch leaders have done to advance women’s rights, especially people like Reba Boyd Wooden, the executive director of CFI-Indiana. During this recent string of attacks on women, Reba attended many of the state legislative session about these bills, she spoke out against them, she kept her CFI people informed, and, perhaps most importantly, she added CFI-Indiana’s “heft” to a network of Indiana groups who were advocating against the terrible legislation, a network she is well-tapped-into because she also serves on the board of the Indiana ACLU.

Other branch leaders are similarly plugged into their local ACLU’s, AU’s, and other orgs in order to amplify the science and secular viewpoint in public policy discussions. They also work hard to create relationships with their local representatives. For example, CFI-Southern Arizona recently presented an award to Senator Krysten Sinema, in part for her work in support of women and women’s health issues (but also for a lot of very sound science votes). This follows a series of similar awards granted to federal legislators by the CFI OPP over the past few years. Many recipients have been women and many were cited for the support they give to women and women’s issues – and now they all know about the huge block of constituents who support policy based on science and secular values.

Of course there is always more that needs to be done – there are so many ways to impact public policy – but it’s impossible to ignore the costs of all this work. CFI has had to cut back on its lobbying work due to lack of funds, but we continue to do as much as we can because, like you, we DO think it is important.

(We’ve also done good work for LGBT rights, but that’s a whole other post…)

Keep up the good work,

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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  1. I am glad that you posted this seperately from the other thread as I’m sure there are some who stopped reading after a diatribe or two. *sheepishly raises hand*
    It is important to point out the orginizations that are most responsive, and giving a non-defensive list of examples as to how they are addressing women’s issues is as responsive as you can be.
    Bravo CFI, and Bravo Rebecca.

  2. I watched your “Intuition” lecture, and just wanted to say a quick thank-you.

    All the best,

    electrical engineer
    son of a wonderful mom who was atheist

  3. Hi Rebecca,
    I just watched your presentation on Women’s intuition. I think you missed a point, though the first question in the Q&A touched on it. Women have been systematically ignored by the “rational establishment”, making it impossible for women to use reason and logic to advocate for themselves, or to put their knowledge forth (classic example being ‘hysteria’ misunderstanding women’s oppression as something medically wrong with them).. it made it extremely difficult for women to have voice. Since then, feminists have done a great amount of work using reason, logic, and also power making it possible to understand women’s experience through reason and logic, but back in the moment it wasn’t possible for many women to explain their experience through those means. Still at times I think men and systems of power systematically thwart women (and other minorities as well). It seems like “Women’s intuition” is functional as a way for women to advocate for themselves in the face of systematic thwarting by the establishment. If this is the function of the concept, then it doesn’t serve to talk down to a woman “I know you are rational and capable of reason and logic, please use it, because you’re clearly not.” (your suggested response for the first questioner) when the system you are asking her to use is aligned against her.

  4. I had not heard of CFI and am glad to now be familiarized with it.

    Thanks for the video. I had not heard about the lack of evidence for woman’s intuition. In particular, I was inspired by the letter from the mom that had written about not having the ‘mommy intuition superpower’. I am putting this in my skeptical tool box.

  5. I’m glad you debunked the whole “Atheists do not engage in magical thinking” myth. Atheists do not engage in one very specific form of magical thinking, possibly several different forms, but like you said, no one’s immune to them all.

    Thank you for that.

    And I congratulate you on keeping a mostly straight face during the Q&A.

  6. “You know what your problem is? All you bitches think you’re better than me because you have magical intuition. How the hell can I smack some dumb bitch down when she starts thinking she better than me?”
    “Hello, Strong and Capable Man Towing Company? My radiator is leaking and I’m on the side of the road… what? No don’t send anyone out. I was just wondering if you could listen to my problems for a few hours. I’ll intuitively fix the radiator myself… Yes, I understand that after I hang up you’ll hate me for stringing you along as ‘just a friend’ when you clearly want to fuck me because I called about my car… oh… fine then, send someone out. Make sure he’s a good listener. Really. I’m only going to want to talk to him”

    1. Holy crap, those first two questioners were annoying. I kept hoping Rebecca would handle the first one by going, “Dude, they know there’s no women’s intuition. They just want you to go away because you’re creepy as hell.”

      And did you catch how the second one obliquely compared women with car trouble to little tiny children who can barely form a sentence? Classy, man. Classy.

  7. I’ve always seen “Women’s Intuition,” when used by educated professionals, as really meaning, “I have my reasons, and I don’t want to argue about it.” or “…, and I don’t want to tell you.” (…and since I’m a logical guy who likes to argue, that would mean about the same thing. ;-)

  8. Loved your brief history of douche. Also appreciated your analysis of stereotypes and their effects on behavior. However, I found your discussion of intuition less than convincing. You seemed to place intuition in the same realm as magical thinking and supernatural explanations. In so doing, you ignored the relationship between “intuition” and subconscious brain activity. For example, by reflexively dismissing the use of vision boards, you ignored their practical use as tools for tapping into the subconscious mind. There’s nothing magical or supernatural about quieting/ bypassing conscious thoughts in order to gain insights from one’s subconscious.

  9. Amazing talk! I love your definition of a douche as something that harms women. Now we just have to lobby to get it in the dictionary.

    I think the example of nurses and intuition was a good one. When making decisions in a fast paced and sometimes life and death situation we have to rely on past experiences. There is no time for research and careful analysis. After the situation is dealt with, we can then evaluate, analyze, and preform research to determine if what we did made logical sense. This helps sharpen our skills or so called intuition for the next big event. Every time we feel that we are using intuition in a situation, we should ask ‘Where is this coming from and does it make logical sense?’

  10. Excellent talk! However, I have a little quibble with the part of your talk that dealt with douching. While I agree that douches are usually harmful to women, I have to point out that in some situations douching is actually a medical necessity. For example, my partner has recently had Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS), so not only does she have to be careful to douche regularly in order to prevent infection now while she is recovering, but because her vagina is not self-cleaning, she will also have to continue douching for the rest of her life. So I think that saying douches are harmful to women, full stop, without mentioning that caveat erases trans women (I hope no one will start arguing that they are not “real” women), as well as any other women in a situation where douching is medically necessary.

    What would be better, I think, is to say that douching is harmful to *most* women, because vaginas are *normally* self-cleaning, although there are sometimes instances where that isn’t true. The advertising for douches is certainly horrendous, and that kind of thing should be put to a stop, as should any other products aimed at making money by making us think our vaginas are dirty and disgusting, and must be cleaned and given a “fresh” scent. Women should instead be taught that they should only douche if a doctor tells them that it’s medically necessary.

    As a side note, one thing that really bothers me is that I’ve found that the Summer’s Eve brand is the ONLY available option in several pharmacies. It’d be much better to have reusable douche kits more widely available, so that you can choose exactly what liquids go into your body, if you have to have any going in at all.

  11. Thanks Rebecca. I really enjoyed this talk and am glad the concept of women’s intuition is getting critical attention. I think it damages women’s abilities to participate in rational discussion by encouraging us to use it as an excuse to back up our arguments, rather than paying attention to the actual strength of those arguments. It also serves as a poor substitute for any real power, a distraction handed to us like a shiny sparkly toy to distract us from attempts to achieve true equality – much like the idea hammered into us from birth, that our sexuality and ability to turn men on is a source of power and control that we should recognize and feel lucky to have so we should just be happy with that.

    I do see why women’s intuition is an attractive idea. I poked around paganism, Wiccanism, New Agey spirituality for a while because after being steeped in patriarchal evangelical religious dogma, divinity was something I related to power and the idea that women could have some essence of divinity was attractive to me. I’m also sympathetic to those “alt med” moms who have had to deal with inattention or even sexism from doctors, having their concerns waved away and being talked down to, who try to find solidarity among other moms with similar experiences. The best way to combat this inequality is to try to keep driving home the message that we can use tools of skepticism and rational thinking too, we’re not limited to relying on our gut reactions.

    One more comment – the guy who said that he’s been told that a woman calling him to discuss car problems is just looking for a sympathetic ear really annoyed me. He’s either clueless or being willfully obtuse. Women are looking for a sympathetic ear when discussing personal problems, we don’t need men to get all pissed off and fight our personal fights for us, or offer solutions on how to handle people, and if we’re looking for advice on that we’ll ask. Suggesting that discussing a mechanical problem is somehow similar to sharing a personal problem is just asinine.

  12. Intuition. I was thinking a little more about this and why some women may claim they have this “power” and not deny the idea when men or other women suggest it. Your explanation in the video, about how women have been suppressed (being told to shut up and have babies) perhaps touches a little on it.

    I think there’s more to it though. A lot of the so called “power” that women have is a kind of passive power that women can only have if granted by men and ideas of propriety.

    I will never forget the time I was visiting a historical site (where Washington had lived at one point) and the tour guide presented a thin couch to be used as a “fainting” couch for ladies. She said that, “Women used to have this power being able to faint whenever their husbands disagreed with them, have their husbands dote upon them and then get their way.” Of course she went on how those horrible feminists had ruined that for modern women.

    So coming from the idea that women are frail, sentimental creatures to (some) modern day men wondering if when something breaks they really want the man to fix it…or if they want to faint and have him rescue her? Well, I’d say that the majority of mentally healthy women want the damn thing fixed.

    In conclusion (to an overly verbose reply):
    When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
    When life gives you sexist pigs,
    make bacon.

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