Another Sea-Monkey Theorist

Almost two weeks ago now, I promoted a couple of things on this blog. One of those things was an atheist conference, specifically the Women in Secularism conference coming up this May. The second was my radio interview with Melody Hensley of CFI DC about the conference.

I’ve been doing and promoting Atheists Talk for quite some time now. I’ve had people tell me a guest’s book wasn’t his best. I’ve had people say they weren’t impressed with a particular guest. This is the first time I’ve had someone say the topic of my show shouldn’t even exist.

There seems to be something ‘off’ about this. I think it’s great that there are women in secularism, but in the end, so what? Do women really need this masturbatory congratulationism? Cool that there are women in this movement, by why do they need a party? I’m not saying there aren’t exceptional women in secularism, there are. But this seems to be celebrating the fact that they are women, more importantly than it celebrates the fact that they are exceptional.

After the Mallorie Nasrallah incident, again and again we were told “no one is asking for special treatment” and any claims that we specially placating women, and pinking up the place were summarily dismissed. This however seems to be a perfect example of that. Especially considering the theme of the .org is pink. And is a conference for women specifically at the exclusion of men.

So what is the deal? Do women want to be equals here, or do they want special recognition simply for the fact of being born female?

There being a general lack of any supported argument in the comment, I asked the commenter whether he was suggesting there was already parity in these conferences that would make this one special “placating.” I ignored the suggestion that we somehow needed his permission to have a party. I ignored the fact that he acted as though the only reason for inclusion in the speaker list was gender. I ignored the insinuation that there was anything wrong with “pinking up the place.” I ignored the assumption that an all-female speaker list excluded men from any participation in the conference.

Instead of reacting to any of that, I invited him to make a case based on data. His response? To contend that only mixed-gender and female-only media exist in secularism and skepticism. Also to compose data-free hypotheticals about what would constitute real parity based on gender ratios in the “secular movement.”

So I provided information on the gender ratio of “nones” (people with no religion) in the U.S. Then I provided the gender ratios of several large atheist conferences in the U.S. in the last year, as those are typically the closest thing we have to secular conferences. He theorized. I went to the data.

Then and only then did our gatekeeping commenter go to the data. Admittedly, he didn’t do it very well, attributing survey data to a blog network that hosted a post on it and messing up his math. However, that’s trivial compared to the other problems with his citations. Where he had wanted to talk about the gender ratio of secularism before, now he only wanted to look at the gender ratio of atheists, whose numbers better supported his idea. On the other hand, when it came to gender parity in conferences, he cited TAM, which is avowedly not an atheist event.

He also seemed to have no idea how to average the percentage of female speakers across multiple conferences. Any conference that had 100% female speakers, even in an environment in which women are underrepresented, had to be a strike against parity. He also managed to contradict his own argument that there’s nothing for a conference on the contributions of women in secularism, particularly historically, to make up for:

And while it was lamentable that previous conferences were almost exclusively dominated by men, it is unlikely that this was a policy, nor were these conferences specifically to self congratulate the achievements of men in secularism to the exclusion of all else.

Citation needed.

Then he fell back on opinion.

And yes, i do still think having a conference in which a set of speakers from a minority group speak at the deliberate exclusion of all others. With the express purpose of that conference to ‘celebrate’ contributions to the movement by that minority is masturbation.

I pointed out that by that reasoning, atheists shouldn’t have conferences at all. After a comment by Jason sent him further into the land of un-evidenced assertions on topics for which data exists (affirmative action might result in less-talented women speaking instead of more-talented men, we can’t fix the underrepresentation of women in atheism because we have no idea why it happens, ensuring representation of minorities involves “condescension” and is only done for appearances’ sake), he told me I knew that wasn’t his argument. For the record, I don’t see the difference between atheists and atheist women as minority groups–except that he only belongs to one of them.

He finished up with a couple of gems:

You have been fairly hands off in this discussion, that’s your prerogative,…

Why, yes. Yes, it is, and no amount of insinuating that there’s still something wrong with that is going to change it. He made the claim. He can do the heavy lifting. Or, really, any lifting at all.

…but i would be interested in your opinions on these subjects.

I have a couple of opinions here. I’m all for more secularist conventions, both general and more narrowly focused. I’m rather fond of the idea of a community that can support multiple discussion. Even parties.

I’m also of the opinion that this particular commenter is no longer welcome on my blog. I gave him plenty of opportunity to have a data-based discussion on a topic that was important enough for him to comment here. Instead he persisted in asserting data-free and data-resistant opinions–the very definition of bias. Without any further education of this random commenter who thinks CFI and I should both cater to his whims, I’m calling him a sexist twit who isn’t contributing to anything but wasting my time when I have better things to do. He and anyone he can get to agree with him can go “masturbate” somewhere else.

Now, who wants to tell me I’m ruining skepticism?

Another Sea-Monkey Theorist

13 thoughts on “Another Sea-Monkey Theorist

  1. 1

    I’ve always wondered what the numbers are of people who use the term “masturbatory” as a negative comment who also espouse being pro-sex/sex positive. I mean if there is a genuine comparison to be made then the only way to justify using it negatively is if you think masturbation is negative.

  2. 2

    His last post is practically a textbook on sexist hand-waving. We shouldn’t even attempt to deal with sexism our community because:

    – It’s worse in other countries!
    – It’s worse in religion!
    – Until we can make it not worse in other countries and religions, fighting this in skepticism is pointless!
    – Speaking out against sexism is the exact same thing as setting quotas!
    – Working against sexist privilege is just giving privilege to someone else. It’s sexism all over again!

  3. 3

    Now, who wants to tell me I’m ruining skepticism?

    I will.

    Of course, ‘skepticism’ meaning “a bastion of white male nerds who gleefully jump at the chance to yell at Sylvia Browne and point out the idiocy of In Search Of… but cry whenever someone challenges their pet beliefs” needs to be ruined.

  4. 4

    “You must be this empirical to ride my comment thread”? Hm. I certainly do like empiricism. And it is your comment thread.

    Also, I’m totally down with celebrating “minorities” (by which he should have meant “underprivileged groups”, since I think women are in fact a slight majority.) You mean we’re no longer wasting the aggregate brilliance of over half the human race? Score! That’s totally worth a party. (Of course, we are sadly still wasting some of it, but less than before. Besides, I like parties.)

  5. 5

    Sounds like you gave this guy enough rope to hang himself and he cheerfully did so. I have no problem with banning for refusing to concede or moderate a position that is completely unsupported in *addition* to being objectionable to you and quite probably prejudicial (certainly knee-jerk).

    In a perfect world the terms and conditions by which you can get banned from a given blog would be transparent. But this is a blog, not a forum, and it’s your soapbox, no one else’s. I have seen a blog banning or two recently that made me roll my eyes, but it’s their right, not much you can do. Failure of the bannee to reason sufficiently is better than the banner simply crossing an arbitrary and impossible to perceive threshold of patience with a dissonant view.

    Forgive the generalities: I didn’t have time to click all the links do I can’t claim to have great knowledge of the argument itself.

  6. 7

    BrianX, I think that needs punctuation. I’m having visions of hairy bear type blokes in tutus doing the stomp dance and stomp box percussion. Which is cool, but I suspect not what you meant.

  7. 8

    Forgive the cross post, but since we’re discussing the same comments here, I thought I’d cross post this observation.

    Reading through earl mcbakersfield’s comments I’m struck by something. He is in a way arguing both for “affirmative action*” implicitly while explicitly misrepresenting the other side as wanting to practice affirmative action. Let me explain.

    Earl says he thinks the only fair distribution of speakers is proportional to the percentage of men and women in the atheist and skeptical communities. That is to say, that he is explicitly arguing for quotas in who has a voice, while saying that those who are trying to be mindful of inclusive objectives are ignoring qualification in favor of quotas.

    The opposite is actually true. If we were truly being blind to gender as he suggests, you could very well end up with a 9:1 ratio of female to male speakers assuming you were looking solely at qualifications alone. (As it’s entirely possible that without unconscious selection bias, the available speakers best qualified could be women.) So by insisting that we aim for an ideal representation of 7:3 or something similar, he is arguing for “affirmative action” quotas.

    Of course, Stephanie and Jason are sensibly pointing out that oratorical ability, published works or acclaim within their movements should not be the only criteria by which we form these groups. (Particularly because these things, and our perception of them, are highly influenced by internalized sexist attitudes in greater society.) One of the things they’re arguing we consider is whether the composition helps us successfully achieve stated goals. By that measure, minority speakers are better equipped-better qualified-than their dominant group counterparts when we are attempting to create a more attractive environment to a varied community.

    Moreover, on a purely skeptical viewpoint, one might argue that minorities (sociologically speaking, since by percentage, women are hardly a minority) are better at ridding themselves of irrationally held assumptions tied to privilege because they are less likely to be blind to harmful and scientifically unsupported injustices.

    * Note that this is a misrepresentation of this term meant to demonize and it makes me crazy. Earl is referring to strict quotas, and not affirmative action as it functions in reality. Actual affirmative action is not simply the idea that your workforce should be representative of the local population by percentages (quotas) but also includes other elements. One of the requirements is that employers advertise for jobs in varied communities to get a range of qualified applicants. For example, you cannot simply advertise a new high paying job in publications that are only circulated in affluent, mostly white circles and meet standards of affirmative action. Affirmative action is a varied group of protections meant to ensure that you provide equal opportunity to people who are not privileged in the current inequitable social system.

  8. 11

    I must admit I have a soft spot in my heart for those guys.
    They truely believe that for every job in this world there’s only one person who’s best qualified to do it, that it is objectively meassurable who that is and that’s pure coincidence that this one person is almost always a straight white guy.
    I guess he’s colour-blind, too.

  9. 13

    MRAs seem to think that an all male speaker list should be just fine for women and not exclude women

    so… following his own “logic” why would an all women speaker list exclude men?

    oh, that’s right.

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