When I sat down to write this morning, I set out to write a bit of gonzo journalism, a bit of satire regarding issues around skepticism, atheism and sexism. I had invented a character called Jerzy Schick, based on a the tall and talkative half of a big time Vegas magic show. I had developed a little world in my head in which the sexist male assholes of the world formed a liberation front to fight for their rights against evil people like Rebecca Watson and my friend Hayley Stevens. Then, I realized that I had no sense of humour left for this subject and decided to go with a more standard opinionated essay or rhetorical non-fiction if you must.
Over the past week, I’ve watched as another blast of sexist remarks and behaviors directed at a terrific skeptical activist woman took the main stage in the discourse in the skeptical and atheist communities. Hayley Stevens whose blog post 2011 describes what must be among the most productive years in this movement also wrote a year ending item named for Rebecca Watson. The second article, mostly links to other articles that favor Rebecca’s position was well reasoned but, sadly, seems to have cost Hayley friends and to catch a boatload of what is, in my opinion, completely misdirected criticism.
Meanwhile, Penn Jillette tweeted a link to a blog article written by a woman friend of his. This item contained little more than apologetics for male assholes and a rejection of the notion that people should treat each other politely and professionally. The standard technique of finding a single member of a minority group to help certify that you are not bigoted is fallacious, just because Herman Cain is a republican doesn’t mean that the majority of African-Americans support the GOP. One example is a sample size of one and statistically insignificant. If Penn’s friend can demonstrate that the majority of women support her attitudes, she still cannot ensure that a whole lot of people are made uncomfortable by a lingering sexism in the community.
I also want to learn why people, mostly men but some women too, feel that it is their right of free speech that permits them to say disgusting things about Hayley and Rebecca and other women but follow Steve Novella’s urging to avoid challenging other skeptics. In the past year, I’ve read exactly one blog post from a skeptic about Brian Dunning’s criminal fraud charges, alleged crimes that, if proven, suggest that the Skeptoid host has misappropriated millions of dollars and perpetrated the sort of fraud that we skeptics claim to oppose.
Meanwhile, James Randi’s lover has been charged with criminal identity theft , breaking US immigration laws, traveling on a bogus US passport and a number of other felony charges. Why is Dogma Free America the only skeptical podcast even willing to raise this story? My personal opinion says that Randi should have been able to marry his lover but, alas, we don’t have gay marriage in Florida and Randi and “Carlos” could have gone to Massachusetts or another civilized state where same sex marriage is legal anytime over the past five years or so but he chose to remain using some poor person’s identity.
I really enjoy Skeptoid and I admire James Randi immensely. What I can’t stop thinking, though, is that if Rebecca Watson or Hayley Stevens were charged in a similar fashion, that the skeptical blogosphere would turn on them. If Rebecca makes an off-hand comment about someone who makes her uncomfortable, her detractors, from the rank and file to the highest of heights, will blast her publicly in the most awful of manners. Some men threaten women in the skeptical community with death, while others choose rape as a vile alternative weapon and their only crime is speaking out about how they feel in certain situations. We can only wonder what would happen if either of these terrific skeptics were accused of stealing a million bucks or harboring an illegal alien.
So, for whatever my opinion is worth, I think that Rebecca and Hayley represent the best the skeptics and atheists communities have to offer. Read up on all of the very real things these two bad babes actually accomplished in 2011 and then ask yourself why it seems to be acceptable to blast them while maintaining silence on crimes allegedly committed by men in this community.