Skeptic-schism Saturday: …and Skepchick has left the building.
Rebecca Watson of Skepchick says:
“…the tragedy isn’t in the initial amount of harassment. It was (initially) only slightly more harassment than I had had to deal with in my every day life, after all, outside of this community. No, the tragedy is when the president of the organization that inspired me to join this community tells the world that women feel unsafe and unwelcome because of me.”
So, she has had enough. The original Skepchick has come full circle to see that perhaps building your image on the idea that “Smart is Sexy” means some guys will extrapolate that to mean “I’m smart, so please have sex with me,” and that unless you have an organisation behind you that discourages that notion, they’re likely to act on that assumption. Funny, how when I made a similar complaint about how Skepchick was conducting itself, I got roundly rebuked for even making such a suggestion.
Rebecca was part of the reason I got interested in Skepticism, but when I pointed out that setting up an environment in which women were inherently sexualised within a group that attracts a lot of entitled males, might not be a great way to set up a safe space for women, I got shouted down and driven out of the forum (though not directly by Rebecca herself).
This has been a long time coming. Rebecca Watson’s attitude about the way women are treated and represented in skeptic and atheist events has been changing a lot recently. Especially since what has been dismissively referred to as “Elevatorgate” put her at the business end of some vicious, nasty, misogynistic male entitlement. I don’t think she brought this on herself, but by reinforcing that entitlement in many ways through the activities of Skepchick she isn’t completely without blame. After all, for years the “Smart is Sexy” image has clashed with the women in skepticism who have felt that phrase alienates them. For many of us, smart doesn’t need to be sexy, it’s enough on its own. For a few more, we’re sick of our smartness being undermined by sexual or gendered comments. The response of Skepchick to these objections has been to say, “Well if you don’t like it, then go form your own organisation.” But now that all that campaigning to protect the privilege of sexiness has backfired, there seems to be a lot of backpedaling. Suddenly, they have found that empowerment that comes from sexualisation has depended on the approval of the men; once you say, “Hey, stop it,” or “Guys, don’t do this,” you are a “bitch” and a “cunt” and a “prick tease” and “deserve to be raped” for taking away their fun. Well knock me over with a feather.
But I know that, if I say that, I am missing the big picture, not to mention slut-shaming, victim-blaming and all that stuff that makes me go full-on FEMINIST HULK. I know the real problem isn’t what Skepchick does, or did. In some ways, I admit I missed this aspect of the big picture in my original objection to the Skepchick party’s theme. Yes, their attitude was problematic. But it’s the fact that this male entitlement exists in the first place that should get more attention. Yes, highlighting the contributions of ‘sexy’ women to the exclusion of women who don’t enjoy sexualising themselves contributed to that environment. But if I spend my time focusing on whether Skepchick’s new message about creating ‘safe spaces’ maybe seems a bit hypocritical in light of past actions, it seems to excuse the fact that if anyone suggests that maybe, some guys at these events are douchebags and that maybe, that’s why we can’t have nice things, they get verbally abused, bullied harrassed and treated like the enemy. Naming and shaming these particular douchebags is something that needs to happen so that we can manage this problem, without fear of being accused of ‘creating drama’ or dismissed as attention seeking (in spite of how, in the past, members of Skepchick have either engaged in it or condoned it). The point is that there are jerks out there that make it problematic by being jerks.
Yes, Skepchick could have noticed this earlier and could have been less concerned about promoting the brand and image and more inclusive to women.
Skepchick (the organisation) is a girl in a miniskirt, ordering shots at the bar and dancing to Ke$ha with her girlfriends. I may not like girls like that, but she is not the problem. The main problem is the sleazy guys who take the miniskirt as an invitation to come up behind her and grind on her butt without her consent. Sure, she’s not making it any better by looking at me in my t-shirt and jeans and saying, “Who let you in here looking like that? You’re reinforcing the stereotype of smart women!” But it is the sleazy dudes who make it not a safe space.
So I recognise some flaws in my initial argument against the Wild West Bordello. I still think it was a stupid idea, tacky and given how misogynistic some guys at these events are, maybe not in the best interest of all the women in attendance. But that was only part of the problem. The bigger problem was that the sexism and entitlement is there at all in the first place and everyone who jumped on me to tell me it wasn’t, are still doing that. And that just plain sucks ass.