Before you read this, you probably should have read Rebecca Watson’s article in Slate yesterday. I’m going to give you a brief run-down, but her article is really worth the full read.
The gist: the skeptic community is not a particularly welcoming, pleasant, or even safe place to be if you’re a woman.
Skeptics are people, like myself and presumably a lot of you reading this, who believe in challenging irrational beliefs and scams: anything from psychics to homeopathy to organised religion, depending on your limits and your own areas of interest. If you think communing with the dead is a load of rubbish or that energy healing is useless and time-/money-wasting, you’re probably at least a bit of a skeptic. Welcome on board.
As a well-known skeptic writer/speaker who’s been involved in a few high-profile conflicts, Rebecca Watson is something of a lightning rod for misogyny. This is a shame, as she’s also a smart, outspoken woman with a lot to share.
But she is a woman, and therefore she bears the toll inflicted on most women who go around Having Opinions In Public.
You get sexualised. You get told not to worry your pretty little head about things. You get spoken over. You get treated as an ‘other’ – as not quite part of the club, even when you have the same right to be there as any man. And not all of this happens to every woman, and not all of it happens all the time, but enough of it happens to enough women to be a problem across any particular sector of society you care to mention.
That is something I know, and it’s something I’ve experienced, and yet I feel more disappointed to see it happening among skeptics than in most places. As Rebecca says in Slate,
I started checking out the social media profiles of the people sending me [hate] messages, and learned that they were often adults who were active in the skeptic and atheist communities. They were reading the same blogs as I was and attending the same events. These were “my people,” and they were the worst.
Generally, the demographics of the skeptic community skew young, liberal, and well-educated (this is my observation, but I’d be interested to see if there’s data on that). It makes some sense, anyway. Those factors usually – not always, but usually – mean that an individual is societally progressive: for my purposes here I’m going to read that as ‘in favour of granting equal rights to historical minorities’.
I don’t know if this assumption comes from my background here in Ireland, where most of the barriers to women’s rights down through the years were put in place by the Catholic Church and its influence on the legal and legislative powers-that-were. Young, educated, liberals are the most likely to have turned away from Catholicism and the folder of conservative societal views attendant thereon.
(I should add here, by the way, that when I talk about religion in Ireland, I mean organised religion and doctrine, not faith itself. I have no problem with people believing in God. I have a very big problem with people thinking I, and my body, need to believe in him too.)
To me, skepticism and feminism are two sides of the same coin. I believe in women’s rights, and I express that within the context of my country by arguing against religious influence; I don’t belong to organised religion, which leaves me free to fight for women’s rights. Two sides, one coin, no bull.
I don’t understand, then, how skeptics can understand ‘I am bereaved, I feel scammed by the person who told me they could speak to my dead auntie, and I wish they’d stop that,’ but not ‘I am a woman, I feel threatened by this set of behaviours from men, and I wish you’d stop it.’
I am [X]. I dislike [Y]. I wish it would stop. Why does it make more sense to skepticism, as a whole, in the former case than in the latter?
So that’s why it bothers me on a number of levels to see the abuse that gets directed at a writer like Rebecca. Such blatant misogynist vitriol is nauseating, and would be anywhere.
Seeing it from people who claim that they’re intelligent, rationalists, general cutters-through of society’s bullshit, is even worse.