Are you one of the skeptics talking about how tired you are of the “drama” between Rebecca and D.J.? I hate to break it to you, but what you are doing and saying is part of what is dragging these discussions out so long.
Something women and especialy teenage girls thrive on. consisting of any number of situations that have an easy solution, wich would bring a fairly good outcome, but these girls choose another, shitty, bad way to deal with it, again consisting of backstabbing, blackmailing/gossiping/betraying their friends, or the all-too-common “I want to break up with him but i still love him!”
it drives men and what i like to call “normal” girls nuts.
The above definition is the top-rated for “drama” currently at Urban Dictionary. It isn’t a definition you’ll find in the major dictionaries, but it’s a very common use. The next several definitions are similarly gendered. The fact that I’ve seen it in use in skeptical fora and subreddits isn’t surprising. They have already earned reputations as places where misogyny is tolerated.
It is disturbing to see similar characterizations used among the broader community, however, even if many of them don’t intend to evoke the gendered nature of the word. The implication that what is happening right now with D.J. Grothe is some sort of personal tiff between him and Rebecca Watson is…well, it’s discouraging. It is, once again, a reduction of broad societal problems and philosophical disagreements on the shape of our movements to a he-said/she-said that can be endlessly argued over in minute detail without ever addressing, much less resolving the actual issues involved.
The word we should be using if we want to accurately describe what’s going on is “conflict”. Yes, I know conflict isn’t any more appealing for a lot of people. It’s uncomfortable and messy. It involves sorting through words and claims, not just their emotional valences, to identify the issues rather than the personalities involved. Still, if there’s any hope of settling these issues–if not broadly then on a community-by-community basis within the movement–those issues have to be both identified and discussed.
So what are the issues? Let’s take a look.
How is sexism to be addressed within the skeptical and atheist movements?
This discussion has gone on far longer than the year since Rebecca said, “Guys, don’t do that.” PZ asked almost a year before for input from women on what kept them away and what needed to be fixed, and the discussion was ongoing before that. Those comments have been gobbled by the platform change at ScienceBlogs, hopefully temporarily, but it isn’t hard to find the issues women have identified as barriers to their participation online or in person.
- Social interactions that are focused around a woman’s looks or sexual availability instead of the same skeptical, atheist, or just geeky topics that dominate the conversations among men.
- Generalizations about differences in intelligence, rationality, or competence of the sexes.
- Appeals to the naturalistic fallacy to prescribe particular social roles to the sexes.
- Failure to create events that can accommodate those who are primary caretakers for children.
- Failure to have female speakers or speakers on topics that are of greater relevance to women.
- Direct hostility toward women in the forms of shouting-down women who speak and sexual harassment.
- Assumptions that the male experience is universal, and thus “correct”, when it comes to discussing these issues.
If any of these are new ideas to you, let me know. I’ll show you where people have attempted to find solutions to these problems.
Does the movement or any community within it have to address any or all of these issues? No, of course they don’t. Each community is welcome to decide how welcoming they want to be to women. It really is about time, however, that these conversations be had directly, consciously, and openly, so women can decide which communities they want to participate in.
How is harassment to be addressed within the skeptical and atheist movements?
I mentioned harassment already, but I want to talk about it separately because it is such a prominent part of this particular conflict. I think it’s well-established at this point that harassment occurs in the skeptic and atheist movements and that event organizers are not always aware of this harassment for multiple reasons. That still leaves multiple questions to be considered, however.
- It’s been asked how we know whether harassment within the movement is better or worse than harassment in the rest of our societies. Is this something we need to know before deciding whether to take action?
- If we do decide this distinction is important, how do we collect the information needed? How do we overcome trends toward under-identifying and under-reporting harassment that have been demonstrated in scientific research on the topic?
- If we decide this is worth addressing whether the situation is better or worse in our movements, what do we want to do about it? Do we want to adopt the kind of harassment policy that is ubiquitous in business and common at entertainment and social events? Is there another approach that makes more sense?
- If we adopt a policy, how do we best make sure that event attendees are made aware of the policy?
- How is it appropriate for our leaders–both thought leaders and leaders of our organizations–to talk about this topic? Is it appropriate to talk about problems within these movements in public venues? Is it appropriate to publicly issue opinions on claims of harassment without a full picture of those claims?
Again, these are decisions that individual communities will have to make. They are also decisions that will form the basis for whether these communities are considered welcoming to women.
Who can be criticized, and who is allowed to critique?
This issue has been mostly implicit in discussions in the last couple of weeks. I’ve only seen one person address it directly, commenting that she found the assumption that people who attended TAM would have input on its organization to be unfounded. It is, however, a real point of conflict that is adding to general ill will. It’s also an issue with a history that goes beyond the current conflicts. It’s about time that some of these questions were addressed directly if they’re not going to continue to be problems.
- Is there room for the concept of “loyal opposition” in the skeptical and atheist movements?
- Is there some amount of good a person can do for these movements that puts them beyond criticism, either generally or from people who don’t meet some criteria of importance themselves?
- Is there a certain amount of criticism a person can generate that puts further criticism from them in the category of something that does not have to be considered on its merits?
- Is there some other kind of hierarchy in our movements that determines who gets to set priorities for who can ask questions and who can decline to answer them?
- How responsible are people for the behavior of those who agree with them? For those who pay only marginal attention to what is said?
- Is there some degree of politeness or accuracy or good faith that is required for a point to be heard?
The answers to these questions may be harder, in part because we haven’t discussed them a great deal on their own. That doesn’t mean, however, that clashes in unspoken assumptions don’t get in the way of settling every other conflict we have to address. They do, and the only way to solve this is to bring the questions to the forefront and give them their own space.
How do we move forward?
This is really the whole point of this post. Sometimes we’re conflict averse because we don’t like the emotions involved. Sometimes we avoid conflict because we’re afraid we’ll lose. But the one reason we can’t avoid conflict, not on these issues, not anymore, is because we’re hoping it will resolve on its own.
There are fundamental differences embodied in the questions I list here. They won’t disappear because we don’t like looking at them. The only way to move forward is to address them. The process won’t be pretty, but can it be any worse than the system we’re dealing with now?