“I am not a Skepchick”

My boyfriend asked me “Do you really want to get into this mess?”. Well, not when you put it that way…then again, not wanting to get caught up in the nastiness that has been “The Great Geek Sexism Debate” is exactly what has kept many rational voices out of the conversation. Anyone voicing even a hint of critique towards the accusations that freethought meetings have a problem with widespread sexual harassment has been demonized and labelled misogynist/gender-traitors. Even if, like me, you don’t disagree that harassment occurs at conferences and policies need to be put in place to deal with it, but are concerned with the hyperbolic rhetoric and with-us-or-against-us attitude toward the issue. I want to see harassment taken seriously and dealt with, but I don’t agree that calling the president of the JREF a “douchebag” who doesn’t care about “vagina owners” is a helpful approach to the problem. Just because I don’t agree that TAM is an unwelcoming, unsafe, place for women doesn’t mean I think there is no problem at all. And voicing my opinion that the issue is nuanced and the debate has become polarized shouldn’t result in me being called a “lying fuck face” “Stepford wife” “gender traitor”.

This is why I came to admire Harriet Hall for her controversial TAM2012 shirt. Women who have felt unwelcome at events shouldn’t be afraid to raise their voice in concern for fear they’ll be ridiculed. But it’s also unfair to paint all women as having the same experience, that we all fall under the same umbrella, and you can assume that you can take one approach to a group of people simply because they share the same gender. The women who feel welcome and safe at freethought events shouldn’t be ridiculed or subject to malicious labeling either.

The message of Dr. Hall’s shirt resonates with me because it addresses the most important thing to me about feminism and equality; that you can’t make assumptions about my thoughts, feelings, and experiences based on my gender. I don’t consider myself part of a subset of skeptics because I’m a woman. What I want is to be viewed as a human individual. My experiences aren’t going to be the same as yours just because we share the same gender.

I don’t like the lines being drawn in the sand. I don’t like losing friends (that share many more opinions, interests, and goals with me than what we disagree on) because they label me as on “the wrong side” of one issue, and treat me as if we are enemies on all issues.

io9’s recent article “The Great Geek Sexism Debate” incorrectly stated that The Amazing Meeting didn’t have an anti-harassment policy, “Many atheist meetings (though not TAM) have created anti-harassment policies.” Not only is TAM not an atheist event, it was the first skeptic conference to implement a harassment policy, in 2011, at TAM9. The article also failed to mention Dr. Harriet Hall’s TAM2012 shirt, which was one of interviewed Amy Roth’s reasons for “feeling humiliated and shamed for speaking out about feminism”.

When I’ve voiced my opinion online about the issue, I received many private messages of support from people saying they’ve felt the same way, but were too afraid to add their voices. I would’ve like to have seen Dr. Hall, a great science role model, interviewed in io9’s piece, as a strong voice on the other side of what they title a “great debate”.


Some of the responses to this post are examples of exactly the kind of attitude that has become divisive in this issue.

As you can see, Amy makes fun of my appearance by taking a shot at me for having matching shoes and taking instagram photos of myself (aka, I’m vain). Her later justification for the mean spirited tweet was that she was responding to my attack of her. But in the above post, you can see yourself that I mention Amy only once; to point out that the io9 post neglects to mention the “I’m not a Skepchick” shirt that Dr. Hall wore, which Amy took issue with.

CFI-DC Executive Director, Melody Hensley chimes in to proclaim that I get my speaking gigs by sucking up to “boys” and attacking Skepchicks. This is the kind of attitude I’m tired of seeing. I don’t disagree that harassment happens, I disagree that name-calling, line drawing, and demonizing is a helpful approach to the issue. In fact, I think it’s harmful. I haven’t attacked, belittled, teased, or treated Amy, Melody, or any other voice in the discussion as my enemy that I can justify being mean to. But their tweets show that they believe I deserve their malicious remarks.

The cognitive dissonance is overwhelming…that women who claim to be fighting for feminism and defending hatred against women would think to reduce an international award-winning author, CFI and TAM speaker, and TED Fellow, to a vain shoe-obsessed girl motivated only by seeking attention and approval of boys.

37 Responses

  1. Ryan Grant Long Says:

    Thanks for this. 🙂

  2. badrescher Says:

    I am not sure that it’s inaccurate to say that TAM2012 had no policy; there was no written code of conduct adopted for that specific event. Instead, the JREF did what was (imo) the only appropriate thing to do and what no other group in the greater “rationalist” community has done: hired someone with expertise to help them make the right choices.

    I was very disappointed in the iO9 piece. The author not only failed to present the view of what I believe is a majority of the community, she misreported the events she wrote about – from when and why Dawkins commented on ‘elevatorgate’ to what happened (and did not happen) to Amy Davis Roth at TAM2012. Since her facts were incorrect, she also did a poor analysis.

    Dawkins’ comment was certainly dismissive, but it is clear to me that he was responding to the amount and level of viciousness going on in the blogosphere more than Rebecca’s initial, innocuous “Hey, guys, don’t do that.” How could she conclude that the viciousness occurred because he somehow sanctioned it (and that if he hadn’t commented, it wouldn’t have happened) if the mess was well under way when he commented?

    And I don’t condone the fake Surlies at TAM, but the author failed to note the atrocious behavior that provoked their maker to do it. The story is lopsided and inaccurate.

    I keep hoping that reason will prevail, but I have to admit that I have underestimated the power of shallowness.

  3. Sara E.M. Says:

    @badrescher: TAM9 had a code of conduct. The first of any event of its kind.

  4. Joey Haban Says:

    Anyone who thinks Harriet Hall is anti-feminism needs to be straitjacketed into a chair and have her autobiography read aloud to them. Proof that group COMPLETELY lost its mind was when they started attacking Dr. Hall. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad, offensive, and narcissistic.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    I don’t think it is fair to accuse a single side of drawing lines in the hand and expect us to take you as not taking any side.

    For example, you accuse:

    “Anyone voicing even a hint of critique towards the accusations that freethought meetings have a problem with widespread sexual harassment has been demonized and labelled misogynist/gender-traitors.”

    Your claim that it is everyone doing so is really a shame. This post seems to be missing that misogynistics were really the first to draw lines on the sand. I am sorry, but leaving out the whole part of how those claiming not to feel comfortable being harassed constantly (And getting their lives threatened) shows a very partial view of things.

    You claim that it is unfair to paint all women as being uncomfortable. But I do not really remember anyone claiming so. Surely there are women that feel comfortable and thus events like TAM have a good host of Female speakers and attendants. But that’s not the issue at hand here.

    The problem is that we have a whole side of purported “rational voices” who make a big deal of people calling others a misogynist but would rather look away when skeptics and atheists make rape jokes, rape threats, post addresses, and etc. And of course, you get offended when anyone claims that such a sort of behavior makes the community a bad place for women.

  6. Moira Lawrence Says:

    re:Anonymous (#5)

    “but would rather look away when skeptics and atheists make rape jokes, rape threats, post addresses, and etc.”

    I saw the link to Amy’s address posted on a blog, and Justin should not have done that, even if he was honest about it being to show how easy it was to find (to end the calls his challenge to Amy’s DMCA complaint was to get her address) It just looks creepy and could make a person already feeling stressed even more so.

    That being said, I really have to question your rape jokes and rape threats from skeptics and atheists. Were these trolls on twitter, etc? Were these real threats? If the latter, they need to be reported to the authorities. And they certainly do not represent the skeptic or atheistic community as a whole. Whomever made such remarks or threats, or people who have supported those remarks or threats are responsible. I know if I saw rape threat, I would not ignore it. Nor would anyone else I know.

    The trouble is, I hear about these threats supposedly from skeptics, but I never see them. I see trolls of course, who could be anyone unfortunately, and their tweets are hurtful. But I think this constant discussion of these un-sourced threats makes it appear to be a major issue that should cause women to fear certain conferences, when that MORE than likely is not the case.

    I do not hate the Skepchicks, but I am also not a skepchick. My desire to not be counted in their number is not because we disagree on many issues (we agree on most things in fact) or that I am a “chill girl”, but because I disagree with part of their world view on human interaction and their speed to go after percieved enemies.

  7. prepagan Says:

    I’m afraid I was not previously aware of you 🙁 but have started to pay more attention and will be referring my daughter to you. I’d like her to feel reassured that an interest in ‘girly stuff’ is entirely compatible with interests in more serious issues.

    I’d also like her to have access to more positive role models rather than those whose default tactic appears to be playing the victim card.

    Many thanks for your article – stay strong!

  8. badrescher Says:


    “Your claim that it is everyone doing so is really a shame.”

    She did not claim this.

    “You claim that it is unfair to paint all women as being uncomfortable. But I do not really remember anyone claiming so. Surely there are women that feel comfortable and thus events like TAM have a good host of Female speakers and attendants. But that’s not the issue at hand here.”

    You may not feel that the situation was painted that way, but many of us feel that it was. I have read many comments from people who have never attended TAM, but now believe that it is basically a sexist grab-fest. That is indeed one of the most important issues at hand here.

  9. badrescher Says:

    “@badrescher: TAM9 had a code of conduct. The first of any event of its kind.”

    Yes, and gender parity on the stage.

  10. Claus Larsen Says:

    Gender parity is something Skepchick.org has never achieved themselves, or even strived for.

    The Irony is strong with this group.

  11. Irony Says:

    Does anyone make fun of and call out George Hrab for posing with Sara with his matching shoes at the last TAM or constantly getting photographed with his styles or appearing naked at Dragoncon twice on stage? Is his publicist skeptchick proud to promote his vanity?

    Does anyone make fun or or call out Phil Plait for schmoozing up to the Mythbusters, Wil Wheaton and other famous geeks?

    Does anyone remember who first gave the skeptchicks their first chance on podcasts and skeptic conventions and talks and tours? Clue, they weren’t women. And some of those promoting men they had as boyfriends or married or currently even live with.

    Skeptchicks are proud of not attending talks at skeptic events and only selling their goods. They are proud of being ignorant. You should give them the same respect which is none.

  12. bluharmony Says:

    I’m not saying this to get sympathy, but only to point out the constant hypocrisy:

    1. My home address was posted in the comments section of Laden’s blog (by someone other than Laden during a heavily-moderated thread);
    2. I was similarly made fun of for my facebook photos and vanity;
    3. The names I’ve been called include bitch, attention whore, mad dog (with an apology to dogs), and every possible accusations of mental illness; and,
    4. Attempts have been made to ruin my reputation and career with libel.

    This is disgusting behavior that goes far beyond internet trolling and it needs to stop. Destroying, degrading, and humiliating women is not what feminism is about.

  13. Tristan Says:

    Interesting to note that @SurlyAmy seems to have deleted the offending post (suggesting she realizes it was wrong), yet I see no sign of any apology. The immaturity on display is astonishing.

  14. brian t Says:

    As a “normal” atheist guy, I’ve watched this whole “debate” with horrified fascination and helplessness. Why helplessness? Because my natural response to a problem is to look for something I can *do* to help, but there’s nothing I can do – and I can’t stop doing something I’ve never done in the first place. My voice is not welcome there: the one time I tried to say something on one of the FTB blogs, along the lines of “stop feeding the trolls”, I was accused of endorsing every form of mistreatment of women throughout history. All I can do is step back and let the “interested parties” fight it out amongst themselves.

  15. Geek Goddess Says:

    That first picture is one I took with my iPhone (https://twitter.com/GoddessGeek/status/223613333172006912/photo/1) and posted during TAM. Apparently it was the first of her shirt, and I keep seeing is posted everywhere.

    I liked her shirt. I didn’t, for a second, connect in my mind that she was talking about Skepchicks, the group, as much as ‘skepchicks’ as a self-identifying term. RW didn’t coin that term. In fact, my friend Ellie was in a calendar MANY years ago, ‘skepchick’ but the pictures were of business attire-clad women – scientists, librarians. I’m going to hunt her down and find it, and post it.

    I sat with Dr Hall later in the day, and she said ‘I’m being vilified’. She wanted to point out that SHE had never been harrassed or grabbed at TAM. That women didn’t need to fear attending. It wasn’t against the group. That’s why I took the picture. I wish I hadn’t posted it.

  16. Geek Goddess Says:

    Ok, I can’t find the picture, but here is a forum post from 1999 discussing a Skepchick calendar!


  17. To Irony Says:

    To the comment by ‘Irony’:

    If your point was that we are not cruel about George Hrab about his style or to Dr Plait for his networking skills, and questioning why are people not showing that same consideration to Sara, then point well made. It’s also well known that some of the men who helped promote skepchick’s popularity now regret it, like Watson’s former husband.

    I hope that was your point, not just more bullying of other skeptics. We don’t need more us and them attitudes, there’s enough going around as it is!

    However, I think you missed out a big issue underlying all of this.

    The skepchicks didn’t like the way Dr Harriet Hall wore a shirt advertising her views. This is confusing to me because Dr Hall was a guest on their podcast, which to me is a friendly and supportive action.

    What has changed since that tine?

    What made Dr Hall say enough is enough?

    The skepchicks have stuck to their guns when it came to actions at conventions that have been criticized in the main and not apologized for them, so do they want an apology from Harriet Hall?

    I would like to hear Harriet’s views on why she does not call herself a skepchick and if the other silent voices who constitute our role-models in skepticism can finally talk about skepchicks behavior and what they approve or disapprove of.

    Are there well known skeptics who draw the line like Harriet has done but just weren’t photographed doing so? Can that be encouraged to maybe put a stop to all this bullying, because if Sara and Harriet can’t who can?

  18. Geek Goddess Says:

    Dr Hall’s shirt also said ‘not a women skeptic, just a skeptic’. She was NOT singling out ‘skepchick’

    I found it – the 1999 calendar of ‘SkepChick’, which had nothing to do with Watson et al


  19. Mark Says:

    This once again highlights why I only stay on the edges of the skeptic movement. The number of times Sara Mayhew, Kylie Sturgess, Sharon Hill and others like them has said something that has brought me back in is getting hard to count. The people willing to say “Maybe there’s another point of view” is important to the people like me who are on the edges and only seem to see two big camps, neither of which they entirely agree with.

  20. LadyGrey Says:

    They seem to undermine any remaining credibility they had left with each new blog/tweet.

    These women do NOT represent feminists, or atheists, they only represent their own interests.

  21. Sharon Hill Says:

    I did talk to Harriet Hall. I admire her greatly considering her career accomplishments (as well as women like Carol Tavris and Elizabeth Loftus who take controversial stands with dignity AND references!). Our exchange was via private email so I don’t feel at liberty to quote it but her opinion of what it means to be a female skeptical activist meshes with mine. I was glad to find others who understand what it means to pursue a career in a not-so-women-friendly field. She was stating her opinion of a rather long and complicated buildup of issues over many years. She was eminently qualified to say what she said. I am disgusted when the media, bloggers and tweeters just skim the surface and assume something outrageous and pass that on. I have refrained from writing about this topic because it’s difficult, emotional and complicated. I’m not sure anyone can write about it well. And, of course you get pummeled and taunted if you do. But I appreciate those who try to rebalance the views.

    I think that long-term contributions are effectively what gets remembered after all the temporary attention to a person is gone. That’s what I focus on. I suggest we all do that. If you value quality, it’s not hard to see who works at producing it. Male or female (why should it matter?). Good work is good work. Commentators saying dumb or hateful things CAN’T derail that unless you let them.

    Sara: I’m glad you didn’t let those unhelpful tweets derail you either.

  22. Mike C. Says:

    Thanks for these thoughts. I’m wryly amused to think that some on the other side are quick to say that men need to realize that each woman is a discrete individual (the issue how men are all lumped together is left lying on the floor). And yet when it comes to recognizing women as discrete and worthy individuals as regards to this topic…well, you either toe their line or you’re a gender traitor who must be lynched.

    It’s sad there’s bullying going on but it’s really seeming that it’s happening to folks on every side of this issue. And yet it seems to only matter when it happens to folks who support one view.

    As a guy on the sidelines, I often feel wary of trying to get involved…on one hand, it seems needed, on the other I’m scared of being dragged down, of developing a “white knight” complex, of all sorts of things. I talked to a fellow who’d never been to a skeptic event but seemed to sincerely believe they were snake pits of harassment, groping, and probably rape. He went on and on about how women had to be “protected” from that and I realized he had the view that women were frail, delicate, helpless flowers who needed a big strong man like him to protect them and be their champion. And I realized that’s a sexism of its own. Some women I knew were repulsed by that attitude; a couple started ranting about how awful it was to be harassed at events, and I just wondered what they did about it, or were they doing anything at all, or if they did want a white knight. I don’t know. If a guy gropes a lady at an event and she wants to slap him, jab his foot, or direct a knee to the groin, I’d probably just cheer her on.

  23. CommanderTuvok Says:

    Re: the Surly address issue.

    I think Justin realised he made a mistake, and several people on “that blog” said so.

    However, there is another “address” issue regarding Surly Amy.

    Amy placed DMCA notice against a Twitter user. The Twitter user counter-filed using his actual name. As soon as this happened, “somebody” leaked his name and set up another Twitter account to reveal the information.

    Now, it could just be a coincidence, and the timing unfortunate, but it would raise an eyebrow if Amy released any information gleaned from a DMCA counter-notice.

  24. warriormom Says:

    skepchick used to be a blog with differing women with differing views but committed to critcal thinking and skepticism. It at one time was a name of strong women that decided to “Borrow” the name “skepchick” to have a party in a hotel room at TAM2. Should be noted the police did not raid and kick out anyone….
    what is sad is that men, really nice supportive men of the Rebecca and the skepchicks, are telling people “wow, seriously, she’s near a break down. You have to lay off.” Pity is not what a leader wants. Obama didn’t get up and say “hey look at these gray hairs! I’m exhausted, and I can’t take anymore disagreement…”. I think, that when moderate disagreement, non violent non abusing language disagreement, is discouraged because “they can’t take anymore!” …then how much oppression of free speech is it going to take? How about winning people over, respecting a moderate amount of disagreement by people that do not use bad language or threats of violence, and yes we all will continue to denounce those that use abusing language and threats of violence. Over regulation and loss of freedoms that should be those of every human being from birth? no…the price is too high if that is the price that must be paid. when the skepchicks say “THIS is what we demand, THIS is what it will take for us to be happy, NO we are not willing to tolerant any sacrifice ourselves with any discomfort or compromise in any way …we will not respect the rights of others for civil freedom of speech…” then people are going to go “the price is too high.” They think “they will never be happy…” When protective men tell people at TAM “seriously she’s near collapsing” and you read blog posts where the leaders write “I am mentally a wreck, if disagree with me in any way, even a moderate civil way, you are a cruel person tormenting a fragile person”…what is one to do? A lot of people have said “I cant’ even write anything about this anymore, what if one of the women has to be hospitalized? Better to just ignore the whole thing.” People are kind, but no one ever won any rights by saying “Wow, I’m a mess, please don’t argue or disagree in anyway.” I say, NO ONE agrees with the idiots and honestly bad people that post horrible things and invade privacy by posting addresses (on both sides). But most people agree that freedom of expression and speech is too rare in this world of oppression that it should ever be given up lightly. Sometimes, freedom makes us uncomfortable. But it’s way more comfortable than totalitarian rules of “how” people should dress, and how they should even act (like “Dirty looks” someone said that people should not give “dirty looks” to skepchicks at conferences, HOW is that to be enforced?).

  25. Cathryn Says:

    Thanks for speaking up. 🙂 More of us should.

  26. jj Says:

    Somebody accused you of sucking up? Really? Wow. “The stupid is strong in that one!”

  27. Responding Says:

    @CommanderTuvok – None of that had to be done to get Amy’s address, she filed a trademark for “Surly-Ramics” that is public and includes her address.

    No counter-DMCA needed to be filed to get that information. It’s been public since she registered the trademark.

  28. Amira Says:

    I’ve already mentioned on 2 separate blogs in the last 6 months that at CFIcon last year I felt uncomfortable around Rebecca Watson and her entourage. This was all pre-elevatorgate. I was hanging around with a male JREF employee for a couple of days at CFIcon. Every time I passed by RW and her group there were whispers and snickers. Steve Novella and PZ Meyers were with them the whole time. I introduced myself to both of them while I was at CFIcon and asked them to friend me on Facebook a few weeks later. Both men denied. I felt that RW and group looked at me like some kind of groupie. After I wrote about this many months later, I was sent an e-mail by a very prominent female speaker (not at CFIcon) saying she felt she was treated exactly the same way in the past. I mentioned in my last comment on this subject (last week) that I felt RW was a slut shamer and a misogynist. Interesting how these ladies treat women.. irony anyone? Pretty repulsive. Tomorrow morning, I am canceling my hotel reservations for the coming CFIcon.. I’m sick of this. Good thing I never bought my tickets to the conference yet seeing as they’re non refundable. I’m done. Good night and good luck Atheists..

  29. Amira Says:

    p.s. Melody Hensley should resign immediately.

  30. Jay Says:

    There has always been this sexist, and racist attitude on the left (and I identify as liberal) that the Left is, must be, the party of feminists, of women, of people of color, of gays.

    And that women, minorities, and gays that do not identify with the left a) do not exist, or b) are brainwashed, or c) are somehow traitors to women, people of color, or the LGBTQIA movement.

    At the heart of it, how can such arguments be anything less than sexist and racist? How can a skeptic take them seriously?

    The flipside of this is that *because* we accept that feminists *must* be liberals or that people of color *must be democrats* that gays must be liberals, we endorse the Democratic Party doing very little for these groups, because where else are they going to go?

    It’s high time for these assumptions to be recognized as wrong, sexist, and racist.

  31. Dave Rideough Says:

    We all need to chill out, stop being whiny skeptics and get back to just being skeptics.

    Jesus motherfucking Christ….

  32. Crioca Says:

    Great post, I felt you really drove home the point you were making.

    My own impression of the Skepchicks is they’re following the ‘high school clique’ formula, whereby a small minority of individuals use selective bullying to intimidate the rest of the group into going along with their behaviour.

    Thank you for making a stand on this, more than anything the atheist/sceptic/freethinker movement needs people willing to do what you’ve done.

  33. David Byron Says:

    It’s beyond time that skeptics started being skeptical of feminism. Start with the self-serving and unlikely sounding claim that feminism is about equality (instead of merely advancing female interests over men), or that people who act like RW are not representative. Most ordinary people are extremely skeptical of feminism. Only about 20-25% of women identify as feminists and most women reject the idea that women any worse off than men are. Bbut for some reason the skeptic community is not at all skeptical of feminism.

    If you want to see what some actual skepticism about feminism looks like try this (it’s a bit slow getting going):


    It’s time skeptics called this crap what it is: a bunch of irrational women trying to shove their pseudo-religion on to everyone else, using various forms of emotional blackmail.

  34. ignoramus012 Says:

    It’s unfortunate that many so-called “skeptics” are really just ideologues hiding behind supposed rationalism. I’d like to believe that people who espouse critical thinking so widely would be able to refrain from this kind of groupthink, let alone resorting to insults.

    I live in the DC area and have been to a few CFI-DC events in the last couple years. My interactions with Melody Hensley have been positive and it surprises me that she would act in such a way.

  35. USAFA99 Says:

    Air Force Officer here. Dr. Hall was an Air Force flight surgeon. Calling a female a “chick” in the Air Force, particularly an officer, is a huge no-no. I get that some people have adopted the term and “owned it” in a different context (the self-monikered “skepchicks”), but to someone of Dr. Hall’s age cohort, “chick” could be considered pretty condescending.

    I’m not saying the military is perfectly egalitarian, but at its best, it strives to be. The Air Force had women in combat positions before any other service did. Position, experience, and rank are primary indicators of how you contextualize things people say instead of gender and race. She’s coming from that culture, however long she had been out of it, it will always be a part of her.

  36. Sara Mayhew stands up to Rebecca Watson | Richard Reed's Blog Says:

    […] the bullying orchestrated by Rebecca Watson and co. As a result of this, she herself has been bullied and insulted by “Surly” Amy Davis Roth and Melody Hensley. The two ladies in question deleted their […]

  37. Feminists Attacking Women | West Coast Atheist Says:

    […] blog post, with updates that include screenshots of Melody Hensley making the damaging accusation: http://www.saramayhew.com/blog/index.php/2012/09/i-am-not-a-skepchick/ I hope you treat this situation with as much seriousness as it deserves. I respect CFI very much […]

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