Rebecca Watson is sort of the Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton of the ‘skeptic’ world. She’s famous for no reason and not really qualified to add anything of any importance to anything. There are really only two reasons most Gnu Atheists even know who she is. First, she mentioned in passing something about a socially awkward guy making a pass at her on an elevator. From there a number of small feminist blogs made an issue of it. Second, PZ Myers jumped on the bandwagon in order to up his cred amongst his ilk because, apparently, he has decided to switch from being a leader amongst Gnu Atheists to a leader amongst the entirely unrelated feminists. (I’m fine with that. PZ is as bad at philosophy as Michael Hartwell or Jack Hudson; I’d rather not have a person who doesn’t even understand the difference between normative and descriptive claims leading things.) Soon after PZ almost single-handedly blew things out of proportion, he began lying about things and blaming others. It was rather pathetic, but not surprising given that we’re talking about someone who thinks that skepticism* and feminism are at all related.
Anyway. After being out of the limelight for more than a few hours, Ms. Watson has made a self-important post about why she won’t be attending the next TAM meeting. It started when the guy in charge of the meeting, DJ Grothe, made this post somewhere in the bowels of the Internet:
Last year we had 40% women attendees, something I’m really happy about. But this year only about 18% of TAM registrants so far are women, a significant and alarming decrease, and judging from dozens of emails we have received from women on our lists, this may be due to the messaging that some women receive from various quarters that going to TAM or other similar conferences means they will be accosted or harassed. (This is misinformation. Again, there’ve been on reports of such harassment the last two TAMs while I’ve been at the JREF, nor any reports filed with authorities at any other TAMs of which I’m aware.) We have gotten emails over the last few months from women vowing never to attend TAM because they heard that JREF is purported to condone child-sex-trafficking, and emails in response to various blog posts about JREF or me that seem to suggest I or others at the JREF promote the objectification of women, or that we condone violence or threats of violence against women, or that they believe that women would be unsafe because we feature this or that man on the program. I think this misinformation results from irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics who, in trying to help correct real problems of sexism in skepticism, actually and rather clumsily themselves help create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe, and I find that unfortunate.
I have highlighted what seems to be the most offensive portion. Apparently in Watson’s head, what Gouthe said was this:
DJ was blaming women skeptics for creating an unwelcoming environment.
(Yes, that is real. I was going to put in a fake, caricature quote, but the real deal is just as good.)
Reading skills, people. Get them. This really shouldn’t be that hard: Grothe said that a small number of people were guilty of fear-mongering without justification. That isn’t to say harassment doesn’t happen. It does. And it isn’t to say that the victim is at fault. Again, reading skills: It is to say that people are fucking fear-mongering. These skeptic-jacking feminists are the FOX News pundits of the Gnu Atheists.
Again, this shouldn’t be that hard to grasp. Grothe even quoted Watson from a USA Today interview:
“I thought it was a safe space,” Watson said of the freethought community. “The biggest lesson I have learned over the years is that it is not a safe space. . . ”
He disagrees that the environment is unsafe. I don’t really doubt him. The reports are few and far between of anything happening from his account, plus there is no reason to suspect that atheists and agnostics would be different from any other gathering of average Americans. But maybe every gathering of large crowds is hugely unsafe for women and everyone has just been oblivious. Quick, tell women to stop going to Wal-Mart!
But don’t try to argue any of this to PZ, skepchicks, or any other atheism-second people or groups. They’re all in a tizzy about this. And that gives me joy. I hope more of these people will cross themselves off the list for speaking at conferences and meetings and whatever else comes up. Gnu Atheism is interesting because it takes a hardline stance against religion from a scientific perspective. That is, it takes two descriptive angles: atheism and science. Separately, these things are fine and true, but together they can be made into a powerful normative case. The feminist faction, however, wants to take their pre-formed normative position and usurp the description of science – but not to a particular end. They aren’t interested in a strong incorporation of science into feminism but rather a strong mantle-claim. If they associate themselves closely enough with science, then maybe that objectivity will rub off on feminism a tad. It, of course, won’t be used in feminism, but the faux perception will be there. I don’t support any of that.
*”Skepticism” is a meaningless word at this point and I resent its use. Simply being open to the possibility that there is a God, as Dawkins and Harris and Coyne and Dennett and I are, does not make one a skeptic. We’ve already taken up our positions, just as global warming
deniers skeptics have. A real skeptical position is one where there is notable doubt. For instance, I was skeptical that this home brewed beer from Nate would be that good. (It turns out it is. Well done, old chap.)