Why I’ll never return to JREF Forum or The Amaz!ng Meeting
I loved the JREF Forum. I loved TAM. I met my husband at TAM and continued our relationship on the JREF Forum.
I’ve made plenty of friends at the JREF Forum and at the two TAMS I’ve attended.
But recently, I’ve had enough.
First, the Forum.
I made the mistake of voicing my opinion regarding the theme of the Skepchick party at this year’s TAM. I found the idea of a Wild West Bordello hosted by a women’s skepticism group a bit distasteful. I tried to make it clear that I am sex positive, that I think women should have a right to be sexy, but just that I thought it was not an appropriate theme for a party at an event where women are already in the minority. By dictating the role of the women (i.e. prostitutes, i.e. sex objects) they basically reduced the women in attendance to their sexuality alone. The suggestion in the fine print of the invitation that other costume ideas are encouraged, still doesn’t change the fact that the THEME ITSELF is necessitating that women sexualise themselves with their very presence at the party. If the party were just “Wild West” themed and most of the women dressed as saloon girls or prostitutes, that wouldn’t bother me either. It leaves the option open and doesn’t necessarily sexualise all women who decide to attend. For me, it was the last straw with Skepchick. I don’t agree that the party girl image is effective in promoting skepticism. I think it’s nice someone’s out there saying “Skeptics aren’t all humourless old cranks” and but I don’t like that they are the most visible face of women in skepticism. They come across as cheerleaders to me, nice to look at, and I’m cheering for the same team, but I’d rather see more women players on the field. They come across to me as the popular girls in high school, and some are just as mean. (I think Heidi Anderson said it better than me in her blog.)This is not to say there aren’t some nice Skepchick people, but it’s the general image I have a the biggest problem with.
At any rate, by voicing my concern with this one issue, I stepped over the party line into the “against us” territory. I was labeled a hypocrite, a femi-nazi, a hater, anti-sex, anti-feminist. I was accused of being a troll, a drama queen and worse. Sure, I had a few people who were on my side, or who at least could understand my point of view, but the loudest, most obnoxious voices threw words at me that stung. My darling husband got into the fray to back me up, and after getting into several pointless arguments, he finally left the Forum forever. I followed soon after.
The Amaz!ng Meeting is expensive. Prohibitively expensive. I live in Australia now and getting together airfare alone is obscenely dear, and then there’s registration, hotel rooms, etc. I thought that the upcoming TAM Oz would be nice, but the cost of registration alone is insane, add to that the hotel room again and there is no way we could afford it. But when I think about the event itself, I don’t really feel the need to go again. My first TAM was truly amazing. It was the first time I was in a room full of skeptics, young, old, men, women. It gave me the sense of belonging I had only ever previously experienced at Church Camp. I made new friends and met my husband. It was fantastic. The next one, not so much. I saw it for what it had become: less a place to learn or get new strategies to teach critical thinking to the public, less about the work of doing skepticism, but a place to rub elbows with the skeptical celebrities. It was a place to see Penn and Teller, or the Mythbusters. The first time around, that was cool, but I’ve DONE it already now. I don’t need to do it again.
I attended the Global Atheist Convention this year. It was the same feeling I had at my first TAM, but instead of some pointless talks by the Skeptical Elite, there were interesting, varied talks about philosophy, social issues and science. It was inspiring in a way that TAM no longer was.
And so, I don’t need to go back.
This year, I see at TAM there are some good workshops and events that I hope will produce some positive things, and I’m glad that SheThought.com is building a profile as an alternative to Skepchick’s “smart is sexy” image of women in skepticism. But I won’t be there.
I hope all my skeptic buddies will still be my friends, but I’m ready to let go of my cherished JREFf community.