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.