Neverending Facepalm – Virtual Skeptics 20 and feminism

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Yeah, we went there on Virtual Skeptics episode 20. My fault. It’s holiday week so some were busy traveling but we planned our normal get-together without much thought in mind of what we might talk about.

I had a story about Jehovah’s Witnesses quietly giving up on the taboo of blood transfusions, especially for their children. They realize they can’t win against the courts. Their main issue is that it not be disclosed to their community. The doctor’s hand takes away their decision to refuse treatment. And… we drag another nonsense religious belief (that kills people) kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Then, I air my post-Festivus grievance – the overwrought talk of feminism on what were originally skeptically or atheism-themed online areas. It’s not the subject that bothers me – it deserves discussion – but the way things have been going (I can’t say progressing because they have simply gotten worse).

I have avoided talking about it but have been labeled anti-feminist by a few loudmouths who think they can push their values on everyone else, even stating their word is gospel over women who have built careers in a very male dominated field, as I have. This is a difficult issue that is currently all about VALUES, not so much evidence at this point. That’s were we get into trouble. Besides that, all nuance is out the window. Several who wish to make this subject their platform or their sole commentary eschew subtleties,  respect for others’ opinions, and professionalism a good bit of the time. We discuss whether it’s a good idea or not to address “women’s issues”. It’s certainly a double-edged sword, as special guest Barb Drescher notes.

The topic is broken into two parts in the broadcast with some trivia questions in between – that almost NO ONE GOT! But I do need to make a correction to the rhino story. They may poison the living animal’s horns or the specimen horn stolen from museums contain toxic preservatives. See this link.

And then we go back to the feminism topic. I’m not sure what to think it, I make clear it’s not my area of research or expertise. All I know is what I’ve experienced in my own life. And that I am not pleased by what I’ve seen from several female and male “skeptics”. It’s been a failure. So, I’ve not talked about it much and I don’t intend to inject my opinion anywhere unless asked. I wish there was a better way to discuss it but it’s uncomfortable and fraught with peril to even mention it. For a freethinking community, that’s the most awful thing of all.

Please watch and let me know what you think. Compare this discussion to others you have seen take place online. I’m fully aware of which types of rhetoric gets the hits but which do you prefer?

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9 thoughts on “Neverending Facepalm – Virtual Skeptics 20 and feminism

  1. It certainly felt a bit awkward (because I think that nobody wants to be misunderstood) and trying to cram complex thoughts into sound bites for a podcast if really tough (as my rambling clearly shows), but I am glad that you brought it up.

    We didn’t really discuss the things that are bothering you (and me as well), but I think that we were at least able to show that the issues are just not as simple as we would all like them to be.

    For my part, what I am bothered most by is not even the way that discussions of gender issues have taken over the internal conversations in the community, but the way that the ideology (the values you mentioned in your post) have infiltrated the work. Science is value-free (ideally) and any criticism of abuse of scientific findings to promote ideology should be directed at the abuser, not the findings. Otherwise, there is little left to separate us from promoters of pseudoscience except a label.

    • idoubtit

      Unless we rant, rave, name-names and sling-shit, that’s not interesting enough to pay attention to. Now I’m left wondering about how this got to be center stage as it is…

  2. D.W.

    I watched from 3 to 4 a.m. I’m a newbie to the feminism/skeptic controversy, and should admit that I think I missed the mark with my initial response to the subject. I’d be on your side, Ms. Hill, as you seem to be more in a position to know what’s going on, than I, as a casual observer and newcomer would be. I’ve occasionally heard ideas that were grouped into the category of “Feminism” that I found disturbing, which I won’t get into, but seemed to me to be gross generalizations, sweepingly condemning all men, and very sexist towards men in their nature. That’s really a shame, too, because there is still a lot of “Equality” to be had, and doling out contempt where it isn’t actually deserved doesn’t seem like a wise way to go about doing things. It just makes for more animosity and is counter-productive to Skepticism, Gender Equality, and life in general. All of us have bigger fish to fry. Name calling and pettiness shouldn’t be a part of ANYONE’S agenda, least of all US : the sagely Skeptics.

  3. I wish you could have gone on a bit further on the feminism issue. I thought you all brought up good points and did it without the slander and gossip. I think we really need that kinda voice in the debate.

  4. It was a very fun gathering. I liked what was said about feminism, I agree that outreach is important to correct for disparities, but that the discussion so far has been unprofessional and probably counterproductive. Beyond that, I also agree that it shouldn’t be focused on so much. I didn’t need the whole episode to be about it and I wasn’t left feeling that you needed to get further into it. It’s already been blown so far out of proportion as it is.

    I laughed very loud at the quiz game, I was at home cleaning while I watched, and yelling stuff like “aliens!” “cannibals!” Haha, very fun, thank you. This was my first of these, will be watching more.

  5. It really is a sad state of affairs when certain viewpoints become dogma in the skeptical community, and when unqualified speakers get away with spouting BS and claim to be victims of misogyny if they are called out. Surely that’s the antithesis of what skepticism is supposed to be all about. It’s good to see the issue being addressed in a calm, common-sense way. Definitely prefer this kind of discussion to the flamefests.

  6. I liked the section on feminism (or as it is being interpreted and acted upon in some sections of the skeptical community).

    The part that I recall best was Sharon talking about her experience as a data point. I had a similar experience.

    I was not aware of the person’s POV before I talked to her (I know now that it was a mistake to have made my opinion known to her.)
    I related that I personally have never felt harassed at a skeptical/atheist conference. That I always felt welcome and knew that if I DID have a problem, I had many friends there who would help me out.

    She told me that this did not matter. We need to listen to the people that are saying they are harassed.
    I mentioned that if only the voices of people who feel there is harassment at conventions or in the community are heard, it will be a skewed view of reality. She actually started getting angry. By her words, she was implying that me mentioning my experience is like telling people who have had differing experiences, liars. I knew at this point, there was no reason to continue, her mind was made up.
    (She also said I looked like I could take of myself…meaning my experience is not as valuable as a less “strong” female. I knew she wanted to say it was because I am fat, but she couldn’t without be called an “ableist”) ;)

    But this episode upset me. There are a lot of people who have not gone to skeptical or atheist conferences because they hear that they are not safe…even though the stories are anecdotal, without specifics, and generally told by someone who was not a victim or witness.

    In addition, once these stories are told, even if it comes out later to have been incorrect (the infamous up-skirt photos that never happened), many people only heard the original story and not the correction.

    Thank you for the thoughtful, non-hyperbolic discussion.

  7. If anyone wants to cheat, jump to 17:18 (though I’d encourage you watch from the start, as it happens to be really interesting!)

    It was a very dignified discussion; careful phrasing. I shan’t do any major spoilers, everyone should watch it.


    @Comment-1 (Barb, Sharon)

    Another way to phrase it might be to substitute the word ‘dogma’ for ‘values’. Anyone who deviates even very slightly from the dogma is severely reprimanded.

    One of the cardinal sins appears to be the ‘I’m female and I’ve never experienced…’ statement; illustrated in this poem (listen to the audience moans)

    I think one symptom of this dogma creeping is lexicon. Special words or phrases like ‘othering’

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