Originally posted at SheThought.
Occasionally, of course, I do write something about feminism, because I’m upset enough to ignore the warning lights in my head that say I’m going to have to deal with a lot of BS because of it. As you might imagine, this post is me ignoring those warning bells.
Skepticism has a woman problem. It’s been said more than once, it’s been pointed out countless times, and it’s being addressed in a lot of positive ways that should absolutely count in its favor. I don’t want to dismiss or underplay the fact that there are a lot of men in the movement who care a lot about this issue and are actively working to fix it.
That said, the amount of privilege and harassment I see coming from a number of the powerful men in the movement is really distressing. The assumption that young women are taking advantage of older men or that men have the automatic right to presume sexual interest and the right to sexually harass young women is a problem, and it’s a problem within this movement, not just outside of it.
This problem came up today, because Lawrence Krauss, a respected scientist and one of the featured speakers at TAM9, defended his buddy Jeffrey Epstein, a man who plead guilty to hiring underage girls, some as young as 13, to have sex with him. Krauss is skeptical of the claims because he always thought the girls around Epstein were 19-23 and apparently thinks it’s ok to have sex with a 13 year old so long as you think she’s 18. He also doesn’t seem to understand that a 13 year old having sex with a powerful, rich man has been coerced into it, no matter what. Ignorance is no excuse there, it’s rape and it’s taking advantage of a child.
He is also skeptical of the claims made by the prosecution, despite the fact that Epstein plead guilty and they did an 11-month sting operation documenting his activity. And they have his, apparently horrific, diary.
It gets worse.
DJ Grothe, on the Skepchick article about this, comments , saying basically that he doesn’t know anything about the situation, but he lied about his age when he was under 18 so that he could get laid, so maybe underage prostitution isn’t that bad. I appreciate that he’s not saying that sex with a 13 year old is OK, he specifically says it isn’t, but since that’s what actually happened, I’m really not sure why he felt the need to defend Krauss. Nor do I understand how he is also missing the power play aspect of this. Epstein took underage women who were not prostitutes and coerced them into sexual acts, using money and power. This is not acceptable behavior, even if you’re OK with prostitution and 16-year-olds having sex.
This isn’t a question of the legality of prostitution or what the age of consent should be. This is a question about abuse of power, non-consensual sex and sex trafficking of minors.
I wish I could tell you that this blindness to abuse of privilege and power existed only in response to this one issue, but it permeates the skeptic movement. Many of the men in this movement are guilty of abusing their power to take advantage of the women in the movement or to hurt them when they won’t agree to sex, or turning a blind eye to the behavior or other men who are guilty of similar behavior.
If I could tell you all the horror stories I’ve heard, all the individuals who have been mistreated, insulted, taken advantage of by men in this movement, you’d be shocked. If I told you the number of men I’ve been told that I need to be careful around because they have a “problem with young women”, you might not believe me. Unless you’re a woman, and then you’ve probably heard some of it yourself.
I believe these stories because I’ve been at the receiving end of some egregious behavior and I’ve seen a lot of it with my own eyes. The women in the movement ignore it because it’s less important to us than our desire to be part of a community that matters to us. Hell, I don’t even feel comfortable talking about it because I know it’s going to make me unpopular, I don’t want to list anyone’s name because I just don’t feel comfortable with the backlash that would come with it. I can’t bring myself to do it and I feel absolutely ashamed for that.
When a powerful scientist asks a young women who is trying to be taken seriously in the sciences if she’d like to be his next mistress after meeting her once, that’s an abuse of power. When a powerful man implies he’ll help a woman out if he sleeps with her, that’s an abuse of power. When a powerful man implies he will blackball a woman if she doesn’t sleep with him, that’s an abuse of power. When a powerful man dismisses or insults a woman because she doesn’t want to sleep with him, that’s an abuse of power. There’s a word for coercing women into having sex.
I doubt this will be read by powerful men in the movement, but if it is, I just want to say that you have a responsibility to set an example as to how women should be treated and where their value should come from. If you think women are only sex objects and you only care about the young, pretty ones who don’t seem too frigid, how on earth are we going to be taken seriously by everyone else?
Why is it that when I go to conferences I have to be hyper-vigilent to the behavior of men whose opinions I respect?
EDIT: I would like to say a special thanks to the men who have reached out to me, male support on these issues helps make sure we know it’s everyone’s problem, not just a woman problem, and also reminds women that there are a lot of guys who’ve got our backs.