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Gender Differences and Why They Don’t Matter So Much

Several incidents have recently created divisions within the skeptical community.  The latest one was over a casual comment Michael Shermer made in an online talk show. He was asked why the gender split in atheism was not 50/50, “as it should be.” He said he thought it probably was 50/50, and suggested that the perception of unequal numbers might be because attending and speaking at atheist conferences was more of “a guy thing.” They might have asked him to explain what he meant. They didn’t. He didn’t mean to say it was encoded in the male DNA. He was simply recognizing a reality of our society: male/female interests and behavior tend to differ due to all sorts of cultural influences. Among other things, women might find it more difficult to attend meetings because of lower incomes and the need to arrange for babysitters. Watching sports on TV with other guys and beer is a guy thing too, but not because it’s hardwired into the male brain. It’s a guy thing because of customs and attitudes in our society.  And it certainly doesn’t mean women are less capable or that societal influences can’t be overcome.

Nevertheless, Ophelia Benson assumed Shermer meant:

that women are too stupid to do nontheism. Unbelieving in God is thinky work, and women don’t do thinky, because “that’s a guy thing.”

That’s not what he meant. It’s not fair to judge him by one off-the-cuff remark. His record stands for itself: there is not a hint of sexism in his writings and he has always fully acknowledged women’s intelligence and their ability to think critically.

In a rebuttal article, Shermer quoted me:

I think it is unreasonable to expect that equal numbers of men and women will be attracted to every sphere of human endeavor. Science has shown that real differences exist. We should level the playing field and ensure there are no preventable obstacles, then let the chips fall where they may.

PZ Myers called this “a sexist remark.” He went on to say:

So sex differences are real, and we should just pretend that we don’t see sex and gender everywhere we look?…..

By the way, I hate the phrase “Science has shown” followed by some irrelevant fact…

There is no reason anywhere to think that women have less capacity for critical thinking, or that they are intrinsically more gullible and therefore more likely to be religious, or that they are less rational and so less suited to careers in science.

I was taken aback. I never suggested any such thing. I don’t think women have less capacity for critical thinking or are more gullible. And I certainly didn’t think I had made a sexist remark.

Neither did the man who e-mailed me to say:

It sounds like a perfectly reasonable statement yet Mr. Myers finds fault with it. He seems to criticize your statement in ways that aren’t clearly implied in that quote. He does say that “Science has not shown that women have significantly different cognitive abilities.”, and my sense is that he takes it as a given that there are no significant differences between what a female might be interested in or capable of compared to males (other than the obvious physical differences).

My correspondent referred to an article in Scientific American that showed a number of differences between the male and female brain.  He asked if I would write about what the latest science really had to say about gender differences. I thought I had better try to do that, and try to explain the misunderstanding.

Men and Women Are Different

No one can deny that there are real differences between men and women. Women have chest bumps; men have dangly bits. Women menstruate, get pregnant, and lactate. Men have more testosterone and can grow beards. Women have two X chromosomes; men have one X and one Y.

Science has shown numerous less obvious differences. For instance, men’s brains are larger (but for intelligence as for penises, size doesn’t matter). The information in the Scientific American article about other brain differences is fascinating; you might want to read it now and then come back.

Boys are more likely to be autistic, to be dyslexic, to have Tourette syndrome, and to have ADHD. On standardized tests, boys have better spatial skills and girls have better language skills. Women are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Heart attacks tend to cause different symptoms in men and women. The effects of drugs can be different in men and women; this is why there has been so much criticism of drug trials that were done only on male subjects.

Some of these are innate differences grounded in genetic, anatomic and physiologic realities. And epigenetics tells us that environmental factors can influence how genes are expressed, not only in the individual but in the offspring.

Some Differences Aren’t Hardwired

Other observed differences may not be inherent; they may well be due to cultural influences. We are finding out that many things we used to attribute to nature can be better explained by nurture. These cultural influences can be very difficult to tease out in studies, and mistakes have been made.

Are men really more aggressive? In most species, males are more aggressive than females. Castration of males usually has a pacifying effect on their aggressive behavior (just think of stallions versus geldings). Science told us men are more aggressive than women, and I assumed that was true. But recent studies have made us question that assumption.

Studying aggression is tricky. How do you measure aggression? Is it different from assertiveness? Do increased testosterone levels cause aggressive behavior or just facilitate something that is already occurring? Assertiveness and competition are influenced by societal expectations. Adults are more likely to engage in rough-housing with boys. Girls are encouraged to avoid physical combat and to use other tactics like communication and negotiation. That’s a wise strategy for girls since they aren’t physically as strong. There are new studies showing that girls are as aggressive as boys or are aggressive in different ways. Differences are less in some cultures than others. The evidence is conflicting: I don’t think we have a clear answer yet.

Are boys really better at math? The accepted wisdom was that boys are better at math and at spatial skills and girls are better at language skills. A recent study looked at 86 countries and found that math scores are determined by culture, not biology. In some Middle Eastern countries, girls did poorly but boys did worse. Both boys and girls do better in countries with greater gender equality. Old assumptions about greater variation in ability in males and about the superiority of single-sex schools did not fit the data. The studies are far from conclusive; for one thing, we could ask how reliably math scores reflect innate math ability.

What does this mean? Studies disagree with other studies, every scientist’s methodologies are criticized by other scientists, researchers’ choice of what to study influences results, and brain imaging studies may not mean what we think they mean. There is very little in current science to hang a hat on; the field is in flux. I frankly don’t know what to believe at this point. I think what all this means is that true innate differences in ability and personality between the sexes are fewer than what we had previously perceived through the biased lenses of our culture and society. More study is needed. I think we should expect to find some true differences, because of the evolutionary pressures on the different roles of men and women early in the development of our species. Factors like the demands of childbearing and infant care must necessarily have led women to different behaviors and preferences to improve survival.

It’s wrong to interpret any of the data as showing women’s inferiority or superiority. It’s equally wrong to interpret the data as showing no differences between men and women. Carol Tavris wrote an entire book about such misinterpretations, The Mismeasure of Woman

Average Differences Don’t Tell Us Anything About Individuals

The point that often gets overlooked in these discussions is that gender differences are averages for the group. They are irrelevant to a discussion of what jobs any individual woman is qualified for or interested in. And it doesn’t mean we can predict what proportion of men or women will gravitate to any given area of human endeavor.

Women can fight. On average, men are bigger and stronger. But an individual woman can be bigger and stronger than an individual man. Now that combat jobs are being opened to military women, there will be many women who qualify and are motivated. There will be many men who are not qualified or motivated. On average, more men will be qualified. Naturally, there will always be more men than women in combat jobs, and I don’t see that as a problem.

Men can’t breastfeed, but plenty of them enjoy nurturing infants. There is no reason they can’t bottle feed; there is no reason why two gay men can’t do a great job of raising an infant. There is no reason men can’t serve as primary caregivers for infants. But I don’t foresee a day when as many men as women choose that occupation. For one thing, although formula feeding is a viable option, breast is best.

We used to hear some of the most ridiculous reasoning about jobs women “couldn’t do.”  They were too emotional, less rational, they would go all weird during menstruation, they lacked intellectual capacity, they were too delicate, they would have nervous breakdowns, they would become masculinized. In 1874, Harvard professor Edward H. Clarke predicted that women seeking advanced education would develop “monstrous brains and puny bodies [and] abnormally weak digestion.”

As recently as 1974, there were objections to my assignment to an ATH (Air Transportable Hospital) unit because “women can’t lift as much weight” and “the guys like to take their shirts off in the field and use swear words.” I was sorry to see some of the same old tired, silly arguments recycled as objections to the recent policy change about women in combat.

In the 70’s I heard a man say there were a lot of jobs a woman simply couldn’t do, like garbageman or butcher or taxi driver. Another man protested, “Hey, my mother was a taxi driver, and she was a good mother!” As more women go into those jobs, attitudes change.

Women in Medicine

The first woman to attend medical school in the US was Elizabeth Blackwell in 1847. The faculty had no intention of admitting women. They let the students vote, saying that if even one man objected, she would not be accepted. The students thought it was a joke and voted unanimously in favor.

Progress was slow, and the percentage of women physicians actually decreased during the first half of the 20th century. In 1949, only 5.5% of entering medical students were women. I lived through a period of transition enabled by 3 developments: Title IX prohibited federally funded institutions from discrimination based on gender, the women’s movement happened, and effective contraception gave women control over their fertility. When I started medical school in 1966, 7% of the doctors in America were women. Today approximately half the students in medical schools are women.

There’s a ways to go. Women are still less likely to reach the highest academic echelons or leadership positions or to become surgeons.  We need to try to understand why and to look for remedies like better childcare options and prejudice-reduction training. But it’s now abundantly clear that women can be doctors and they want to be doctors. I see medicine as a field that is particularly attractive for women. I anticipate that even more women will naturally gravitate to the profession as they see more female role models in the media and in real life. If the percentage of women surpasses 50%, will anyone start calling for reverse affirmative action to reduce it? What should the percentage be? 50% women? 60% women? 80%women? We can’t know until all the remaining barriers are truly gone.  It will all sort itself out eventually. As I said, remove the preventable obstacles and then let the chips fall where they may.

I Am Not a Sexist

I was criticized for using the word “preventable.” I meant that in two ways: obviously we can’t prevent an obstacle if we have not yet been able to identify it; and there are some obstacles, like pregnancy and breastfeeding, that are not so preventable. But that doesn’t mean we can’t help women to deal with them, to work around the physical restrictions, to make their lives easier, to facilitate women’s life choices. And it doesn’t mean we should be complacent and stop trying to identify any remaining obstacles. More than one of my critics somehow managed to misinterpret my words to mean that I wanted barriers, that since I had had to overcome hardships I wanted other women to suffer as I had suffered. My statement of support for women was perceived as a sexist attack on women. I find that bizarre and hard to understand.

Steven Novella recently wrote about the divisions in the skeptical movement and the different conceptions about what it should be and should do.  There have been some online eruptions about feminist issues, with over-reactions and regrettable behavior on both sides. I’d like it all to die a natural death, but I do want to clarify what I meant by these words:

I’m a skeptic.

Not a “woman skeptic.”

Not a “skep-chick.”

Just a skeptic.

I applaud the accomplishments of feminist organizations. They have performed a great service by raising consciousness and enlisting more women in skeptical pursuits. I admire them, but I choose not to join them, for the same reason I have never joined women doctors’ or other women’s groups. It’s a matter of personal preference. I personally prefer to be identified as a member of the larger whole rather than singled out in a smaller subgroup. In a sense, identifying as part of a group of women only reminds people that we are women and only tends to delay the day when people will notice our accomplishments and not our anatomy. As for the word “chick,” I’ve never liked it. I think calling me a “doctor” or a “bird colonel” (for the shoulder eagle insignia) shows respect but calling a colonel a “chick” would be inappropriate and disrespectful. Especially at my age, where I would be better classified as a tough old hen.

We all want the same thing: for women to be treated fairly and to have the opportunity to reach their potential in a freely chosen field of endeavor. There are different styles of activism, and my personal style was not the one many other women chose. I knew my interests and talents didn’t lie with politics or public confrontations. Considering who I was and where I was, I fought discrimination in the only way I felt was a viable option for me at the time, the only way I thought I could personally accomplish something, even if only in a small way. And I did. I took my rightful place in a male-dominated field, quietly persevered, did a more than competent job, served as a role model, and paved the way for others to follow. There were no “hard” barriers to overcome, no regulations prohibiting me from what I wanted to do; but there were plenty of “soft” barriers in the form of discriminatory language and treatment that made my life more difficult. If you are interested in the details, they’re all in my book Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon. 

I got into a discussion with a woman on Facebook. She said all the advances in women’s rights were made by political action, not by individuals like me. She said my personal experiences were meaningless and I shouldn’t even try to talk about the subject, since I didn’t have a degree in gender studies like she did. Some feminists would consider me an Uncle Tom and a coward, and criticize me for not following the same course of action they did.

I offer 3 anecdotes to illustrate that my approach did accomplish something:

  1. A teenage girl went home and excitedly told her mother she had just seen a woman doctor (me) working in the ER. She had always been interested in medicine and had planned to become a nurse; but it had somehow never occurred to her that a woman could be a doctor. Seeing me inspired a change in her career plans.
  2. At the end of my internship, my evaluator wrote that my performance was so good that it had convinced them to ask for more “lady interns.”
  3. I wrote to a woman doctor who had done the same residency where I had been the first female and who was currently working in the hospital where I had been the first woman intern (indeed, the first woman doctor, the only woman doctor in the whole gigantic medical center). I asked her what problems she had encountered as a woman in the Air Force and in medicine, and she didn’t even have the faintest idea what I was talking about.

In speaking about his personal brand of skepticism, Steven Novella said “I don’t pretend that anything I have done is the right way — it’s just the way I have chosen because it fits me”.  That’s exactly what I mean. He and I are in tune with Frank Sinatra: I did it my way.

Conclusion

  • There are probably some inherent gender differences in aptitudes and preferences.
  • We can’t yet define what they are.
  • It doesn’t really matter very much, because
    • The average tells us nothing about the individual
    • We can work to overcome differences due to nurture
    • We can compensate to some extent for differences due to nature.

I say again: it is unreasonable to expect that equal numbers of men and women will be attracted to every field of human endeavor.

In his Inaugural Address, President Obama said “Our journey is not complete.” He was talking about society’s acceptance of homosexuals, but it’s true of society’s acceptance of women, too. And our journey will only be delayed by misinterpreting the science of gender differences, imposing arbitrary 50/50 goals, or squabbling amongst ourselves. I hope we can lay these disputes to rest and cooperate towards our mutual goals.

Women can be anything except fathers, and don’t rule that out just yet!

 

 

Posted in: Evolution, General, History

Leave a Comment (209) ↓

209 thoughts on “Gender Differences and Why They Don’t Matter So Much

  1. PianoFish says:

    In high school the girls were told there were 2 things they couldn’t be: Pope and President of the United States, and the second one was because we were British.

  2. mobilis says:

    If one is going to judge Shermer then of course it should be on his entire record rather than one off the cuff remark. That doesn’t mean that the remark itself can’t be criticised. What he actually said, of course (you seem to have sanitised it a bit), is

    “It’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it, you know, it’s more of a guy thing.”

    I doubt anybody would have responded with anything more than an eyeroll if it weren’t for the “intellectually active” part, and possibly the suggestion that women aren’t prepared to stand up for their beliefs. Sure, he might not have meant it the way it sounds, but surely if a person unintentionally gives offence with a poorly articulated statement then the appropriate response would be to explain your meaning and apologise for the offence, rather than attack the person who points out the offence? Shermer’s pugnacious response to some fairly tepid criticism of an unfortunate remark has damaged my opinion of him a great deal more than the original remark.

    I also think that your statement about most men not “wanting” to be primary caregivers because “breast is best” is a little odd. Why would that affect a man “wanting” to be a primary caregiver, as opposed to informing his decision on whether to give effect to that “want” or not? It sounds a little more as though you are of the opinion that men OUGHT not to be primary caregivers because breast is best, which is a little too much biological essentialism for me.

    In any event, the inability to breastfeed is hardly an insurmountable obstacle. The breastfeeding phase of a child’s life is relatively brief, there are several ways for a non-lactating caregiver to feed an infant breast milk, and in the final accounting, the benefits of breast milk, especially in a developed country and all the more so in a developed country with strong social support systems, are not so overwhelming that there aren’t innumerable different considerations that may outweigh the benefits of breast feeding even if the caregiver is a lactating female. The inability to breastfeed is a paper thin barrier compared to, for example, the social implications of a man choosing to be a primary caregiver.

  3. Beowulff says:

    Note that Ophelia Benson was speaking about the stereotype that “women don’t do thinky”, and that Shermer confirmed the stereotype with what he said. She didn’t claim that he actually believed the stereotype. In fact, she pointed out a little later that if he had thought about it a bit longer (for example using the “just substitute ‘black’ smell test”), he probably wouldn’t have said it.

    But I don’t want to dwell too much on that issue, but rather address the rest of the article, which was quite good on the whole, and look forward. In that context, I want to ask: what (soft) obstacles do you see currently for women to fully participate in the skeptic and/or secular movements? When you say “remove the preventable obstacles and then let the chips fall where they may”, without mentioning any of the obstacles (and, in fact, including an anecdote that basically says “what obstacles?”), you appear to suggest that we’re past the “removing the obstacles” phase, and in the “seeing where the chips fall” stage. This, of course, is one of the points of contention in the feminist/anti-feminist debates. There are hints in the article that suggest you don’t actually believe that all obstacles are gone, but I would appreciate if you could clarify: what obstacles do you see today, and what do you think might be done about them? Thanks.

  4. vexorian says:

    Shermer’s remark is still very regrettable. There may be differences between men and women’ aptitudes, but to just assume that “conferences are a guy thing” seems to be a rushed conclusion. There are certainly fields in which the proportion between men and women in conferences is not nearly as disparaged as atheism/skepticism’s. The rushed remark seems to be a simplistic way to get rid of any suspiscioun that there are barriers within atheism/skeptical groups that are preventing women participation.

  5. mousethatroared says:

    I admit, I hate it when the skeptics start talking sexism. It often seems there is so much heat, drama and umbrage delivered with that extreme pickiness that only a skeptic can deliver. – it’s hard to really get to the meaningful part of the topic.

    But this is a good post taken on it own…I suspect that there’s more backstory and will be future ramifications that other bloggers will criticize and spin, that I will never see. Because, you know, I hate it when the skeptics talk about sexism. So It’s not a topic I follow.

    “The point that often gets overlooked in these discussions is that gender differences are averages for the group. They are irrelevant to a discussion of what jobs any individual woman is qualified for or interested in. And it doesn’t mean we can predict what proportion of men or women will gravitate to any given area of human endeavor.”

    Just wanted to say thanks for this. It IS often overlooked, not just in gender differences, but it seems to me with ALL averages for a group, and that drive me batty.

  6. lyda says:

    I really have no awareness about the preceding controversy, but I like what you wrote about your own experiences.

    In the political realm I generally find moderates/centrists annoying because of their outspoken disrespect of those who are more radical and outspoken. Think of MLK Jr’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Your article seems to present a more moderate push for equality and yet you also express support for those who come at it with different methods. You defend yourself and your actions – which as you note have made their mark – but you do not bash the work of others.

    I wish more moderates in politics could follow your lead.

    The overall movements for equality need the radicals who forcefully push the envelope. Those who march, who do civil disobedience, who speak out loudly at every opportunity.

    But those movements also need the people who quietly, often anonymously, slowly chip away at the views of the thoughtless ignorant. Those who don’t really believe in prejudice but unthinkingly practice it just because up to then it had been the default.

    For progress to be made, we need a lot of moderates and we need a few radicals. There’s no need to embrace or work together, but there should be some respect between them. Your article showed respect and (for what little it’s worth) earned my respect. My world is a better place not just because of those who loudly push for equality but for those who quietly push for it too.

    I hope the others involved in the earlier skirmish read this article and think that over.

  7. pharmavixen says:

    There’s a term on the feminist blogs, “Mansplaining,” that might be applicable here, when a man explains something to a woman in that arrogant tone, like, how could she not get it?

    On skeptical (and other) discussion boards, I have been bemused by the number of men who think they are more of a feminist than I am. Not to get into my feminist creds, but like Harriet, I’m not so young, I was studying math and science when few women did, and I entered a profession that is traditionally male-dominated (though not so much anymore). Some of these guys get really nasty. I found it hard to read PZ Myers’ post.

    And I 2nd mousethatroared: “The point that often gets overlooked in these discussions is that gender differences are averages for the group. They are irrelevant to a discussion of what jobs any individual woman is qualified for or interested in. And it doesn’t mean we can predict what proportion of men or women will gravitate to any given area of human endeavor.”

    I think for some male feminists (if we may call them that) it’s about jumping to easy conclusions in order to shame someone you perceive to be stepping out of line, thus displaying your solidarity with the group. In other words, mob mentality.

  8. David Gorski says:

    I really have no awareness about the preceding controversy

    Be grateful. The conflict has been doing a lot of damage.

    To be fair, in another article Shermer did rather foolishly inflame the issue by calling the issue a “witch hunt” and including a mind-numbingly silly and gratuitous Nazi reference:

    http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=fi&page=shermer_33_2

    It was not one of Shermer’s finer moments, I’m afraid.

    Also, to be fair, there is a misogyny problem in the skeptical movement. It’s hard not to come to that conclusion if you spend some time perusing the Slymepit:

    http://slymepit.com

  9. windriven says:

    Suppose for a moment that this is a direct quote:

    “It’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it, you know, it’s more of a guy thing.”

    All we can learn from this (at least in isolation) is that Schermer is a bit of an arrogant ass. Nothing much new there. That does not zero out his many contributions.

    But Schermer clearly doesn’t ‘get’ feminism. He pays lip service to it in the semi-apologia Dr. Gorski linked but seems to ignore that what equality women have achieved has been hard-earned, often clawed from the grip of “old white guys.” Note to Schermer: as an old white guy yourself, if you aren’t working to assure equal opportunities for everyone in the field in which you are a leader, then you are part of the problem.

    That is not to say that equal opportunity need be the sole focus of one’s every action only that it should inform every action. Knowing that something is right is meaningless without acting to advance it.

  10. DugganSC says:

    I may have to look around a bit to see if I can find it again, but I ran into an article not so long ago that was discussing the issue of early retirement in the medical community and how it was unbalancing the system. To sum things up, the medical system assumes that most doctors, after spending 10+ years in schooling and internships, will stay in the medical field for several decades. The funding assumes this kind of a pattern with much of the education being heavily subsidized by governments and hospitals. The catch is that doctors are retiring, or at least reducing their hours considerably, earlier. They’re serving their required term and then dropping out of the game and going into retirement or semi-retirement.

    How does this relate to gender differences? Well, as you mentioned, one of the big differences between the sexes is childbirth. There are some hard limits on how long you can delay getting around to children, so female doctors are in a situation where they either have to serve their minimum (most of the subsidies requiring X years of service in the local community) and then step away, or have children early and then try to get back into it. The latter is complicated by the huge amounts of debt accrued through medical school, even with scholarships and subsidies. And, with the way that the medical field keeps changing, taking a few years off, even if you can manage to balance your medical and family duties, can leave hustling just to catch up, let alone excel.

    The problem is not entirely a male/female thing. Doctors of both sexes are reportedly simply burning out earlier as I understand it. All kinds of factors could be raised from increased bureaucracy to the cost of malpractice insurance (and the need to order all sorts of unnecessary tests as insurance against having to use malpractice insurance). One could point out that today’s doctors are coming from the “me” generation, Generation X and the Millennium Generation, which have a stereotype of not subscribing as much to the idea of duty (personally, I don’t subscribe so much to the generational theory, but mentioning it as a possibility). But it’s reportedly a problem, a drain on the current system, and one which may eventually make it more expensive just to attend medical school if these subsidies go away.

    *half smile* And… I think that I may have drifted from my point. Blame it on me being mildly feverish from the latest flu strain. Anyhow, there are some gender differences to be sure, and it will be interesting to see how it all pans out.

  11. The Scientific American link leads to a Page Not Found… I’m guessing it was by Doreen Kimura? Anyhow, I wanted to recommend the book “Brain Storm” by Rebecca Jordan-Young (Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Brain-Storm-Flaws-Science-Differences/dp/0674063511/). It’s a thorough investigation of the field of “brain organisation” i.e. hardwired brain differences by sex and sexual orientation. One of Jordan-Young’s premises is that because these studies are _observational_ studies (as well as questionnaire studies) and not true experiments (by necessity – you can’t ethically subject human beings to varying hormone treatments and then control their growth environment), it isn’t enough to pick a few studies (as typical proponents do). You need to do a _synthesis_ of all the work done, and see if any conclusions can be made. So she did a synthesis of 400 of the most-cited studies in the field upto 2008, and also interviewed 20-odd of the most cited scientists. And what she found was that the claims of hardwired sex differences in the brain are _not_ supported.

    SBM readers should really read this book, it’s right up their street – well researched and goes into heavy scientific detail about how these scientists do their work. Jordan-Young’s background is in fact in epidemiology and sociomedical research. Here’s a short paper by her which covers some of the same ground:
    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12152-011-9134-4?LI=true

    I disagree with the conclusion “it is unreasonable to expect that equal numbers of men and women will be attracted to every field of human endeavor.” Unless what you mean is, “given the sociological status quo, it should be no surprise”. Furthermore, I think it is absolutely _desirable_ to have diversity, and that we need to take _proactive_ steps (including the much-maligned affirmative action) to increase diversity. The reasons being twofold:

    1) Instrumental diversity – diverse groups perform better. Diversity is good for any occupation/group/organisation. See “The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies”
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0691138540
    2) Personal fulfilment – taking proactive steps to increase diversity ensures that sociological pressures and social-cognitive biases don’t come in the way of people who belong to under-represented groups.

    Finally, on a personal note: I’m male and I’ve worked in the software industry for 14 years. As you know, it’s a field that is heavily male-dominated. The sex-typed-interests explanation is routinely trotted out to explain the lack of women in my field as well. Other than the reasons I’ve given above, there’s another reason this argument really annoys me: a majority of the men in my field are not interested in it either. The percentage of men who are really interested in programming, who can code well, is really small. The others just sort of “fall” into the field because it’s a good career that pays well and has a high status. But no one questions their presence at all; it’s a boys’ club and they’re socially entitled to be there. Here’s a good post by one of the luminaries in the field, Martin Fowler, arguing for diversity:
    http://martinfowler.com/bliki/DiversityImbalance.html

  12. Logiwonk says:

    Honestly, I’m getting a little tired of how willing PZ Meyers is to misrepresent his fellow skeptic’s comments in pursuit of the next “big controversy” in the Skeptical Community. I respect the fact that you folks here at SBM continue to engage in dialogue with him in a measured and respectful way (even if he doesn’t return the favor), but I’m just as glad that I don’t have to.

  13. mousethatroared says:

    “Finally, on a personal note: I’m male and I’ve worked in the software industry for 14 years. As you know, it’s a field that is heavily male-dominated”

    As a contrasting anecdote’ I used to work as a creative person in technology/web development. The companies I worked for did both creative and software development and both department were pretty close to 50/50 gender wise, although due to small numbers it varied at different times.

    I guess my point is that even in professions that are traditionally gender dominated there are often segments that are more diverse. It would be interesting to see if comparing those different segments of a profession give us any meaningful information on the barriers in those fields.

  14. Janet says:

    Oh my!

    Shermer certainly exposed some possible sexist tendencies (or maybe just a pompous ass who has nevertheless contributed much to skepticism), but some women seem to be awfully touchy and unforgiving over casual remarks.

    I, too would like to applaud HH’s statement about the difference between individual women and group averages. What seems important to me is that any individual woman is so vastly much freer to choose how to live her life than I was. As far as how childbearing affects these choices, perhaps the most remarkable change of all is that women can now choose not to have children at all–without joining a convent.

    My internist has three small children and works two to three days per week. This is sometimes inconvenient, but I work with it because I think it’s important to support policies that enable women who choose to do two jobs. I suppose her taking this route will slow her progress–does this mean she is a victim of sexism? Her husband is specializing and she is not. Does this mean he is an overbearing sexist pig and she is being kept down? I think they are doing exactly as they wish and are happy with their choices. It is not a lack of childcare options (they have a nanny) or anything systemic. My doc simply found that she adores her children and wants to see more, rather than less, of them in their early years. There are a number of female physicians at this clinic following a similar career curve. Call me what you will, but I applaud it.

    Why should men be accused of sexism because some women freely choose to spend less energy on their careers than their families for a few years? Perhaps the system can do more to assure that women can more easily resume their career paths after time away, but I don’t have enough information to state that outright.

    As to skepticism, I had no idea there was any sex bias. Is it established that there is? Just because women don’t attend conferences doesn’t mean they are less skeptical. And here in Milwaukee, the gender split on football (Packers anyway) is just about even I’d say.

    Finally, anyone who has the slightest awareness of HH’s career path should be ashamed of themselves for even implying that she is any way sexist–and I took a whole bunch of Women’s Studies classes in the 70′s before I chose a major.

  15. Eugenie Mielczarek says:

    I’m delighted that Title IX was a benefit for Harriet. It was one of the items I fought for while serving on our university’s athletic council. Pre title IX male varsity members received jacket and sneakers, women varsity were required to pay for theirs. Many women put their jobs at risk suing for equal pay, arguing for equal employment in academia, equal research opportunities. Many were too frightened to take the risk. I think the distinction is being cursed ( some might say rewarded) with an ‘activist’ gene.
    Eugenie Mielczarek

  16. Philosofrenzy says:

    @ Logiwonk.

    “Honestly, I’m getting a little tired of how willing PZ Meyers is to misrepresent his fellow skeptic’s comments in pursuit of the next “big controversy” in the Skeptical Community. ”

    Well said.

  17. Philosofrenzy says:

    @ Harriet Hall

    Thank you for a thoughtful, well-written article: a breath of fresh air, given the context.

  18. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Even a lot of the dichotomous things we say are unarguable about males and females are, if examined carefully enough, actually untrue. Men can lactate. “Men” can have bumpy bits (a person who is genetically XY may have breasts due to androgen insensitivity or breast implants to match a gender identity they feem more comfortable with). The quotes around “men” are to indicate that this category is problematic – a person who is genetically XY may look like a Playboy playmate. Are they a man or a woman? People with breasts can grow beards (with and without surgery or hormones). What about hermaphroditic people, are they men or women?

    “Maleness” and “femaleness” are really continuums that overlap in large (math ability, nurturing and body strength) or small (lactation and beard growth) ways. And that’s just talking about biological differences, once you get into gender it’s even more complicated, to the point of meaninglessness. If you’re not at work, look up “Buck Angel” and really think about what is going on there. Really think about the effect of modern surgery, hormones and gender equality are on abilities, identities, characteristics and meanings of the words masculine, feminine, man, woman, male and female.* And since a lot of the difference that people get worked up over (math, interests, engineering degrees, science participation) are areas of extensive and changing overlapping continuums, while there may be some truth in aggregate, as Dr. Hall says – like so many things it comes down to individuals rather than groups.

    Factors like the demands of childbearing and infant care must necessarily have led women to different behaviors and preferences to improve survival.

    And while this is true, it’s also to a certain extent trivial – the enormous variety of cultural expressions on nearly every measure shows that almost any evolutionarily history we have for behaviour can probably be overcome. Polyandry is a practice in some Tibetan societies. In certain Middle Eastern cultures women control the purse strings. I watched Argo over the weekend, and one of the prominent images was of an Iranian woman in a hijab driving in a jeep holding a machine gun.

    We all want the same thing: for women to be treated fairly and to have the opportunity to reach their potential in a freely chosen field of endeavor.

    I would replace the term “women” with “people”, ’cause I’m a pedantic nit-picker :)

    As for people disappointed by Shermer, Myers and even Dr. Hall, and how this reflects on the skeptical movement – skeptics are humans. Humans are flawed. Skepticism is not religion. There will be differences of opinion and our leaders will say things we disagree with. One thing skepticism should address as a regular topic of interest is the fact that nobody will be right all the time, and you won’t always agree with them. I dislike the tendency to try and paint our leaders (political, skeptical, feminist, whatever) as being all good, all bad, or on a good or bad side. For me, skepticism should be about evidence for conclusions and the conclusion or argument itself being valid or not. While I think that Israel has a right to exist, I also think that the Israeli government has done some rather horrible things to the Palestinian. Conversely, I think exactly the same thing of Palestine. Barak Obama has done some good things for America, particularly its (lack of a) health care system, but he’s also dropping drones on a variety of countries in ways that are quite horrible and cause tremendous suffering (the fact that it is against long-term American interests is the least objectionable part of that policy in my mind). Osama Bin Laden was shot in the face (yay!) based on evidence from polio vaccinations (holy shit what a bad idea). The Dalai Lama is the charming, happy, peaceful, rightful ruler of Tibet…whose predecessors were not elected and had a policy of preventing modernization iwthin the country. Everything, everyone, and in particular every idea should be judged on its own merit, not on the basis of belonging to a specific group. Shermer may have a lot of good ideas, Myers may do a lot of good opposing creationism, that doesn’t mean every action they take and every opinion they express is a good one.

    *And note that I put the male/masculine/man first in each word pair. Tsk, sexist. I should be beaten with sticks.

  19. Ophelia Benson says:

    Dr Hall, I think your opening paragraph is a little unfair. You give an incomplete summary of what Shermer said and then you say what he meant, as if you had direct access to his mind. Then you go on to say that I “assumed” what he meant – while not mentioning the fact that I quoted him directly, and without providing the quoted line yourself. I didn’t “assume” anything. I didn’t say what he meant; I said what he said.

    Then you say – and this is the part I really want to disavow – “It’s not fair to judge him by one off-the-cuff remark.” Of course it’s not, but I didn’t judge him. I did judge that one sentence, yes, but I didn’t judge him. I made no ontological claim about him at all. He was talking in real time, as opposed to writing, and it’s easy to say clumsy things when talking in real time. My article was not about Shermer, it was about stereotypes and especially about the one that popped out in that sentence of Shermer’s.

    I like the rest of this article a lot. I particularly like the point about averages and individuals, which is one I make all the time.

  20. idoubtit says:

    I suppose it’s good to talk about this but I’m not convinced it is anymore for various reasons. All heat, no light, as someone else mentioned.

    There are PLENTY of women skeptics and atheists around doing positive things instead of bickering with others. I choose to be one of those. If skeptical controversarians want to continue with this topic at the expense of doing actual skepticism and making a difference in the public sphere, they can keep at it. I have more important things to do. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to support those who do a good job leading by example. Like Harriet.

  21. Adriana says:

    In my opinion, Shermer’s remark was sexist, which of course does not imply that he himself is sexist. The remark is sexist no matter who said it. And as such, it is criticizable. If I had said such a thing, especially the “intellectually active” part, I would have just apologized, period. We all say stuff that we should not have said, occasionally. Unfortunately, the event becomes another opportunity to enter a into a he said/she said war with other atheists or skeptics. This article is no exception. It’s lamentable that this is going on in communities that pride themselves in the use of reason, but cognitive bias in favor of friends or allies is a very human thing, and it is thus unavoidable. I also find Dr Hall’s remark sexist as well, and of course I’m not suggesting she is sexist. The remark is sexist because it is unhelpful, and to a young girl or woman aspiring to get into a male-dominated field, especially the “preventable obstacle part”, likely suggests that there are innate deficiencies that are not preventable. It falls into the category of stereotype threat. As a no-longer-young scientist, I chose as a matter of personal preference to associate with women’s right’s organizations because I believe they have been very beneficial as a whole for girls or women wishing to become scientists. It’s the same thing for other minority-oriented organizations. They aim to level the playing field and combat stereotype and their threat to performance. As Dr. Hall, I too would much rather be known as a “scientist” than as a “woman scientist.” My gender has nothing to do with my love for science, my cognitive abilities, or my personal preferences as to what I’m passionate about. As a matter of fact, I do cringe whenever I am presented as a “female scientist” or a “Latina scientist”. One day, these qualifiers will make no sense or add anything about the person. But for the time being, we are not there yet. Therefore, I do not oppose being labeled a “female scientist” if my example can help others achieve their life-long dreams.

  22. David Gorski says:

    Of course it’s not, but I didn’t judge him. I did judge that one sentence, yes, but I didn’t judge him.

    Quite honestly, this strikes me as hair splitting when viewed in light of the totality of the exchange between you and Shermer.

  23. Ophelia Benson says:

    But surely Dr Hall meant what I wrote in the Free Inquiry article, didn’t she?

    Looking again, I see that she didn’t actually say that. She didn’t mention where I wrote about it, in fact, or link to it. Probably an oversight, but not entirely helpful.

    The totality of the exchange of course includes some pretty wild accusations that Shermer made against me when the article was published – as you point out yourself!

    But as for what I wrote in the article, no, it’s not hair-splitting at all. In fact it’s rather important, because Shermer himself reacted as if I had called him sexist, and I hadn’t. There *is* an important difference between criticizing an act or an utterance and making a generalization about the person who acts or utters.

  24. Ophelia Benson says:

    Oops. I replied to a comment by David Gorski, but I don’t see his comment now. Sorry.

  25. Quill says:

    I didn’t know anything about this controversy but am nevertheless happy it caused this post of Dr. Hall’s to come about. Lots of things I didn’t know and some interesting personal history. I wish people could simply respect all people as people and not go about the bother of dividing everyone up into subgroups. Classifying things is great as a method of identification but I think it falls short with people and leads to more divisions than anything else.

    One minor note about the President’s inauguration speech and his repeated refrain of “Our journey is not complete.” Most people may remember the unprecedented references to gay rights that Dr. Hall concluded with and may think he didn’t reference women, but in fact it started out like this:

    It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began, for our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.

    Source: Washington Post online transcript.

  26. Jacob V says:

    Schermer’s comment consisted of his explanation of his perception which appears to me to be nothing more than a very typical gender stereotype and worthy of criticism. I’m sure Schermer would like to take his comment back, however to pass his remarks off as merely an innocent explanation of how people do things differently and engage in causes differently seems a bit like shruggery to me.

  27. Sastra says:

    I’m very pleased to see Harriet address the issue and respond directly. It’s so much easier to have discussions which move forward when people do that sort of thing. I liked the post — thought it was clear, thoughtful, and as scientific as one can be when dealing with the messy topic of gender differences.

  28. mousethatroared says:

    @WLU – what at thoughtful comment. (among many thoughtful interesting comments). Just a idea on…

    HH said “We all want the same thing: for women to be treated fairly and to have the opportunity to reach their potential in a freely chosen field of endeavor.”

    WLU “I would replace the term “women” with “people”, ’cause I’m a pedantic nit-picker”

    I don’t want to fault Harriet Hall’s excellent article, but, because I have a son AND daughter, I DO often think about how gender stereotypes impact both genders. I remember when my Mom was a teacher in the 70s and 80s it was thought that men were not well suited to early education. Now we are seeing more men in early education and I think the diversity is an improvement for everyone. Other traditionally female fields are seeing more men as well. I hope that both my son and daughter will be able to follow their interests and strengths with less social pressure based on stereotypes.

  29. DugganSC says:

    As a side note, I believe that there is at least one medical field where there is consistent sexism and that’s gynecologists. Whether due to market pressure (I know several women, including my wife, who are uncomfortable with the idea of being examined down there by a male) or general bias, it’s my understanding that men are less likely to be hired and receive less pay in that field. I guess the question is, is this sexist? If so, is it something that we should address by artificially adjusting the numbers by forcing hospitals to hire a certain quota?

  30. Ophelia Benson says:

    I think social justice could pretty easily accommodate an exemption for any line of work that requires directly handling the genitalia of one sex but not the other. :D

  31. David Gorski says:

    OK, then let’s take this example: Female urologists. Yes, they take care of women, too, but the “bread and butter” of most urology practices tends to be overwhelmingly made up of male complaints and diseases. In the case of urology it’s prostate cancer, benign prostatic hypertrophy, and erectile dysfunction. So if it’s OK for a woman not to want a male gynecologist, is it OK for a man not to want a female urologist? Or how about male breast surgeons? There is male breast cancer after all; so your definition doesn’t really apply, as it doesn’t for the female urologist given that urologists do take care of females.

  32. simonsays says:

    @DugganSC:

    Where are you getting your data suggesting women ob/gyn’s are “less likely to be hired and receive less pay”? I looked it up and according to slide no. 4 here, men earn 14% more than women in this field, which is admittedly a lower difference than other specialties it seems: http://www.medscape.com/features/slideshow/compensation/2012/womenshealth

    If we’re going based on anecdotes I have met many women over the years who told me they would prefer a male doctor period. This includes their ob/gyn.

    As David pointed out urologists are almost entirely devoted to treating men.

    FWIW My own anecdotal experience from working in a profession (medical books) where clientele was almost all MD’s in Greece (I left in 2004) is that I have not once ever even met a woman urologist. Unlike gynecologists where men are quite commonplace. Though I found a 2008 NY Times article that says that in the US this is changing and apparently estimated that now 20% of all urologists are women: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/09/health/09urol.html?_r=0

  33. Ophelia Benson says:

    That’s why I included the “but not the other” – trying to avoid the trap!

  34. JJ Borgman says:

    I, for one, raised in a conservative apostolic Christian church, have learned to ignore the gender of the professional and let them get about their business of resolving my problem. I even find many of them willing to give you some space or time if you’re having anxiety over the situation…”bedside” manner is not dead.

    I think I learned that lesson from “My Cousin Vinny”.

    Many procedures can be uncomfortable simply because it involves another human being regardless of gender.

    It seems a poignant lesson no matter the topic.

  35. mousethatroared says:

    On the topic of gynecologists…As a consumer I have to say that this is one of the topics where the individual you are dealing with is very important – IMO. I’ve had good and not good experiences with both female and male gynecologist/reproductive endocrinologists (another field where alot of “handling” is going on). The best gyn that I ever had was a woman, but she was also slavic, middle-aged and had a tremendous bedside manner, something that her female partner did NOT have.

    That said, if I have to go to a new practice and I have to choose someone blind, I’ll choose the woman. Pretty much on the basis of the fact that I will be a little less anxious going in. But if I got a good recommendation on a man, I wouldn’t hesitate to see them. Most of the women I know seem to be similar, although I do know women that would default to a man.

    I will say that the one area I have found that I have a distinct gender preference is with therapists, (social worker, psychologist). I’ve had a couple of women social workers and one man (all CBT) and I just could not get comfortable with the man. It wasn’t him, he made some good recommendations, but I just couldn’t feel easy enough to have a genuine dialogue with him and I felt like it undermined the process. Not sure if this is common.

  36. Angora Rabbit says:

    As an older woman scientist I’d like to endorse what Dr. Hall said with respect to models. As a woman scientist, I have an obligation to help advancement by serving as a model and by making change at the individual level. To paraphrase Newton, by standing on Dr. Hall’s shoulders (I’m a generation behind her) I have achieved more. Because of her generations’ efforts, I have an obligation to pay it forward by helping the next generation to advance further.

    I wanted to say this in the context of Dr. Hall’s aforesaid exchange on Facebook. As someone also with a minor in feminist thought, leading by personal example creates far more change than any tome of political theory. The gal at Facebook was way off-base. Change happens at home, at work, at the individual level. We lead by example.

  37. Alia says:

    @mousethatroared
    I think that when choosing therapists, many different factors play a role. Some therapists might say that if you had problems working with a male therapist, that’s more the reason to work with him – to tease out why, what caused this problem. And sometimes a male therapist may become for their client a kind of a father figure, which may or may not be good in therapy – and conversely, a female therapist might become a mother figure, which will also play a role.

  38. baldape says:

    I completely side with Michael Shermer / Harriet Hall on this one; I see nothing at all sexist in Michael Shermer’s remark. In fact, I’m glad to have their read on it, and absolutely plan to raise my daughter to understand that being intellectually active is more of a guy thing.

  39. baldape says:

    Sorry, that should, of course, be “Dr. Harriet Hall”. I guess it’s not a qualifier I really I expected to need in front of a name like “Harriet”, what with intellectual activity being more of a guy thing.

  40. Adriana says:

    I forgot to mention: I detest the word “chick” as well!

  41. masakari2012 says:

    To provide an example of what Harriet Hall asked Ophelia last week on facebook:

    Harriet Hall: “Why is it acceptable for you to dismiss the perceptions of other women as lies, when you won’t let anyone “on the other side” do so?
    http://images.wikia.com/phawrongula/images/9/91/Harriet_Hall_vs_Ophelia_Part_1.jpg

    Ophelia dismisses Sara Mayhew’s tweet about what other women experienced…
    http://images.wikia.com/phawrongula/images/6/6f/Ophelia_denies_experience_of_others_-_hypocrisy2.png

    Their hypocrisy is amazing! Speaking of hypocrisy, some of the most of the sexist and ignorant statements I’ve seen in this whole drama came from the Skepchick/FTB camp. I can think back to Greta Christina’s blog where she wrote that she’s trying to help men get laid, as if writing that in her blog is going to influence men to listen to her because men are mindless creatures easily persuaded by sex. Then there’s the “Dear Dick” letters to Richard Dawkins, but they would object if anyone calls RW “Twatson”. Either both should be wrong, or both should be okay.

    The list goes on and on. PZ’s “objectification” of women is okay, but when someone else does it (or not even for sure did it), then it’s not okay. FTB’s still associate with Greg Laden even though Greg Laden threatened Justin Griffith, but it’s not okay for FTB’s adversaries to associate with people they don’t like. Melody Hensley and Surly Amy picked on Sara Mayhew using gender-based stereotypes, but when people stand up to Melody Hensley, then they’re bullies.

    Hoorah, Colonel Hall! Bravo Zulu on this blog! *hand salute…. ready, two*

  42. David Gorski says:

    That’s why I included the “but not the other” – trying to avoid the trap!

    It was a simple question, not a trap. I asked it because I did notice your rather clumsy and obvious qualification of your answer.

    Be that as it may, if you did view the question as a “trap,” the “trap” clearly got you; that is, unless I’m misinterpreting your answer, which I interpret as your thinking it’s sexist for a male patient not to want a female urologist or a female patient not to want a male breast surgeon. If I have misinterpreted, I’m sure you’ll correct me. If I haven’t, perhaps you can explain the discrepancy between the OB/GYN as opposed to the specialties of urology and breast surgery. Seriously. I’m curious.

  43. David Gorski says:

    FTB’s still associate with Greg Laden even though Greg Laden threatened Justin Griffith

    I thought Greg Laden was booted from FTB.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2012/07/01/major-changes-at-freethought-blogs/

  44. Chris says:

    Dr. Hall:

    She said my personal experiences were meaningless and I shouldn’t even try to talk about the subject, since I didn’t have a degree in gender studies like she did.

    Oh, ugh. For starters, I attended the same university as Dr. Hall about a decade later and majored in aero/astro engineering. I was not the first woman to graduate from that program, they had women in their program for decades. Which is why there were several chuckles one morning when I came into work early in the 1980s when some local journalist made a cute little list of of little known facts. One was that there were absolutely no women aerospace engineers, not a one. He did not have an answer of why he did not bother calling the office in Guggenheim Hall of the university ten miles from the newspaper’s offices. The guys where I worked thought it was funny that I did not exist.

    When I was in college in the late 1970s I worked about five months as an engineering intern for those supporting a manufacturing site. The engineering offices were right above where parts were being machined, etc. Being a very poor student (and that job paid for my last two years of college) I had a very long bus ride to work. At the bus stop and on the trip I got to know some very interesting people who worked on the factory floor, including women whose job was to polish parts prior to finishing. So I got acquainted with these very interesting women.

    When I went back to classes I signed up for a Women’s Study class on women and work. It was a bunch of regurgitated bovine excrement. No one cared about anyone’s actual experience, but just in the writings of some blowhards. Ugh. So I dropped the class, and replaced the social studies requirement with a much more interesting class the next quarter: History of the Atomic Bomb.

    Since I spent too much time telling other engineers to stop calling girlie, chick, sweetie, etc. I also hate the word “chick.” One did ask what he was supposed to call me, and I told him “Chris.”

  45. masakari2012 says:

    [quote]I thought Greg Laden was booted from FTB.[/quote]

    Yes, he was, but I said they “still ASSOCIATE with Greg Laden….”.

  46. After composing and deleting probably ten comments, I think what I want to say distills to this:

    I love everybody and I want us all to get along.

    There! Wasn’t that helpful?

  47. monkeymind says:

    David Gorski,

    I’m not Ophelia, but I think you *are* misinterpreting her answer. I think she is saying that individuals of *both* genders should have a say in who handles their genitalia.

  48. Ophelia Benson says:

    Dr Gorski, I was joking. I apologize for joking. I thought a civil discussion was going to be possible; my mistake.

  49. pharmavixen says:

    @ Chris:
    “When I went back to classes I signed up for a Women’s Study class on women and work. It was a bunch of regurgitated bovine excrement. No one cared about anyone’s actual experience, but just in the writings of some blowhards. Ugh. So I dropped the class, and replaced the social studies requirement with a much more interesting class the next quarter: History of the Atomic Bomb.”

    This makes my day. Thank you!

    I also hate “chick,” though I drop in on that blog sometimes. I’m thinking “chick” doesn’t have the same negative connotations for younger women; ie, they’ve probably never heard something like, “Why would a chick take physics?”

  50. mousethatroared says:

    @Alia – “I think that when choosing therapists, many different factors play a role. Some therapists might say that if you had problems working with a male therapist, that’s more the reason to work with him – to tease out why, what caused this problem. And sometimes a male therapist may become for their client a kind of a father figure, which may or may not be good in therapy – and conversely, a female therapist might become a mother figure, which will also play a role.”

    Ohhhhh, let me tell you about my father, errr or not.

    I think that this is what I was getting at, rather indirectly. I was looking for the exception to “the rule” that gender differences don’t matter much, that individual skills and interests are key. It seems to be that some part of the function of a therapist is affected by their gender and that gender’s symbolic place in the patient’s “issues”… This is different than most professionals were the skills required are not genuinely related to gender. The therapist is partly playing a role.

    This is just speculation…maybe I’m FOS.

  51. pharmavixen says:

    Speaking of Skepchick, I surfed over there, and Rebecca has posted an article about the whole Sherman thing, called, Reminder: I Am An Object:

    “Michael Shermer isn’t told every day by atheists and skeptics that he’s worth nothing aside from the sexual gratification his body could offer someone. He isn’t told by atheists and skeptics that he deserves to be raped and abused. Atheists and skeptics don’t spend hours drawing images of him in dehumanizing positions. ”

    Why does Rebecca Watson draw so much vile attention?

    http://skepchick.org/2013/02/objectified/

  52. Angora Rabbit says:

    Thank you so very much for this thread as it is a topic I’ve been puzzling over for some months. And what I’ve been puzzling over is, why aren’t there more women in the skeptic movement? Which is what I think is the original question. I read the magazines, I read the websites, and women appear to be in a minority (hard to tell sometimes with anonymous names, mea culpa). I’ve considered attending TAM, but when I look at the presenters and images I don’t see a lot of women (until this past year, which was a nice change).

    The reason I’ve not attended a skeptics conference is the discourse on the Skepticblog website. The comments are often in-your-face, confrontational, and I find the level of discourse uncomfortable to read. My leisure time is limited, and if the posts are representative of the conference attendees, then these are not people I’d like to spend time with. I don’t want to spend several days in confrontation. Frankly, I’m not even comfortable posting on that site. I can’t imagine spending several days with those people.

    Does this reflect my socialization? Yeah, likely. But it makes me sad that the environment doesn’t appear to be welcoming, and if I’m spending $1500 to attend TAM then I want to know that it won’t be disappointing, and that I will be respected.

    Let me add that the discourse here at SBM is quite the opposite, and kudos to the Powers That Be for creating a positive blog environment.

    So yes, there are fields that do not equally attract the sexes. But my personal experience is that this particular area could attract more diversity if more attention was paid to the skeptic culture. For every me who is brave enough to post and say this, how many women are reading this and nodding “uh huh” but not posting?

  53. monkeymind says:

    Ugh, that sounds like a very frustrating Facebook conversation! I don’t think that everyone who sees value in political organizing and public confrontation devalues the contributions of trailblazers like you. I certainly don’t. As a mother of a future scientist who happens to be a young woman, I hope she can display both quiet perseverance and the courage to publicly confront bigotry when necessary.

    You write “our journey will only be delayed by misinterpreting the science of gender differences, imposing arbitrary 50/50 goals, or squabbling amongst ourselves. I hope we can lay these disputes to rest and cooperate towards our mutual goals. ”

    Is anyone advocating for arbitrarily imposed 50/50 goals? What I’m hearing is people saying that the discussion shouldn’t *stop* at “it’s a guy thing” or “I think it is unreasonable to expect that equal numbers of men and women will be attracted to every sphere of human endeavor. ” And it sounds like that you actually agree with that too! Am I reading you correctly? It sounds like you are not against the idea of identifying preventable obstacles to women’s participation in atheism/skepticism, and helping women overcome them. Sounds like common ground to me!

  54. Chris says:

    Angora Rabbit, I attended TAM a couple of years ago and it was a blast. I did meet some amazing women (some of older and wiser ones got together for a while to talk). I don’t read many of the comments on Skeptiblog, most of the women I met at TAM post on the JREF forum. They included a chemistry professor, an engineer, nurse, and on and on.

    I confess I like using a neuter name, especially since I am not too fond of my full name. It was a bit fun to hear reactions when the engineer someone was looking for did not sound like they expected.

    My daughter is planning on changing her first and middle names to ones where gender is not discernible.

    pharmavixen:

    I’m thinking “chick” doesn’t have the same negative connotations for younger women; ie, they’ve probably never heard something like, “Why would a chick take physics?”

    When I was doing my engineering internship at a factory I was often asked why I was majoring in engineering. I told them that it paid better than science. (sorry, scientists… I did start out majoring in oceanography, but that department had a picnic for incoming freshman to their department and laid out the reality)

  55. niftyblogger says:

    It’s nice to read something optimistic and encouraging about women, and surprising to find it here. Thanks Harriet Hall. I know you guys hate me on here but thanks for this article. It helped me feel a lot less angry.

    One thing I will say though, is that an employer of a certain comedy TV show was given a demand to hire 50% women for his writing staff and so he did, begrudgingly. He said he never hired many women because he believed women didn’t want the jobs. But he found 50% women, and said “when the other men on staff were out having beers and had license to be as misogynistic as they wanted they all agreed that this quota hire ended up to be a really great thing.” So, sometimes those 50/50 goals, depending on the career track, are not a terrible idea. It basically gives the wheel of change a good hard spin.

  56. Chris says:

    pharmavixen:

    Why does Rebecca Watson draw so much vile attention?

    Because she dares to speak her mind. The most vile seem to be a minority of ill mannered young men who hide behind internet anonymity. If you confront them in real life they do one of two things: cower or are too stupid to realize they are stupid (a rare few do get violent). I encountered some of them when I was in college. One guy thought it was funny to see what I would do if he said the most vile sexual things to me, I basically ignored him and I am not sure he actually managed to graduate from the department (the junior class started with 70 students, and about 35 graduated).

    I do not agree with everything Ms. Watson says or does, but no one deserves the treatment she has been given.

  57. mousethatroared says:

    Angora Rabbit “Let me add that the discourse here at SBM is quite the opposite, and kudos to the Powers That Be for creating a positive blog environment.”

    Hear Hear!

  58. masakari2012 says:

    People on the internet receive nasty comments all of the time. I’ve received many nasty sex related comments, and I’m a guy. Also, there are MANY other women out there who do not receive as many vile comments as Rebecca Watson. Some of the reasons as to why Rebecca Watson receives nasty comments is because:

    1) she says really stupid things. People who say stupid things on the internet will attract attention and hate, just as religious people on the internet.
    2) she has let the whole internet know what the things are that would piss her off. That caused trolls from all corners of the internet to come hurdling across bridges, eagerly looking to generate responses from her.
    3) she has tarred and feathered people as “misogynists” and blocked them. That tactic, in turn, infuriates immature people, and causes them to create another account, and come back with more aggression, over and over.
    4) she’s a professional victim. Most of the comments which she cites are not “threats”, but her crying wolf generates more responses. Most people who don’t give in to “emotionalism” can see it. Even DPRJones, who tried to stay out of drama for as long as he could, said it in a podcast, and he was with her the night the elevator incident happened. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lX7GcUrDCMY

  59. windriven says:

    @masakari

    I’ve been irritated by things that Watson has said from time to time but I’m at a loss to remember a single thing she’s said that could be characterized as ‘stupid’. Will you please provide an example?

  60. Dreaded Anomaly says:

    A few remarks on the initial “controversy”:

    The gender split in atheism has been measured, and it is not 50/50. The most recent results from the Pew Research Center show that, within people who identify themselves as atheist or agnostic, 64% are men and 36% are women. http://www.pewforum.org/unaffiliated/nones-on-the-rise.aspx (Gender statistics are given on page 37 of the full report, linked at the top of that article.)

    The idea that speaking at conferences concerning socially unacceptable topics is “more of a guy thing” should not be controversial. Anyone who has studied the gender gap in academia (or experienced it for themselves) knows that is a primary cause of this gap. Men are more likely to speak up for their positions and publicly promote themselves. Much of this may be due to socialization, but getting caught up in “nature vs. nurture” is often unproductive. There are better questions to ask: should we require that women be just as argumentative as men in order to succeed in academia, or should we try to change the social environment entirely?

    It deeply saddens me to see so many people who identify as feminists display, loudly and consistently, an inability to distinguish descriptive and prescriptive statements. (For examples of this, just read the comment threads about this and other similar “controversies”.) Scientific research only ever makes descriptive statements. Recognizing that the gender ratio in atheism is not 50/50 does not imply that we want it to be that way, or that it should be that way. We first have to understand reality in order to improve it.

    Staking the core thesis of gender equality on the claim that there are no significant non-anatomical differences between men and women is a foolish move. It just opens up another avenue for anti-feminists to reject gender equality when that claim is inevitably and repeatedly proven false. Instead, we should fight for gender equality on the basis that all people have equal moral worth, regardless of any biological or social differences.

  61. Chris says:

    Yes, windriven, it seems to some it was stupid to tell guys that it is uncool to ask a woman they just met to their room in the middle of night.

    Granted, I did find it scary as a college student at a bus stop late at night (about 10pm) after leaving a theater performance to be asked by two guys if I wanted to go with them. Fortunately they accepted my “no.” But it was still scary… especially since the theater program I saw was not worth the free ticket I had been given by a drama student.

    I do disagree with Ms. Watson from time to time, but much of the backlash was childish.

  62. masakari2012 says:

    windriven, if you can see this comment, then know that I did respond to you, but my other comment is in moderation, probably because I provided links. So instead, I’ll post my comment here, without the hyperlinks….

    windriven, I’ll provide a couple of dumb things that she said or did.
    She once said that Galileo was executed by the church. She later acknowledged her mistake, but that was after everyone pointed it out, and laughed at her. You can search her video to find the original, but I’m not going to link to hers to contribute to her ad hits. Instead, I’ll link to this one. (insert Integralmath’s video: Rebecca Watson, Renaissance Chick)

    She claimed a particular feminist student was “parroting misogynistic thoughts” because that student disagreed with her on the elevator issue. I’m not going to mention the student’s name, because I don’t want to contribute anymore to her name popping up on google searches. That’s what caused a lot of backlash, and not what people like Chris would have you believe. It’s the fact that disagreers were called misogynists, rape-supporters, and rape-apologists for having a different opinion on the elevator issue which is the stupidity of it all, and then led to all of the other nonsense that followed, when clearly there are women who don’t share the same opinion as these quasi/psuedo-feminists.
    She simply nodded in approval while Sikivu Hutchinson (called the Four Horsemen) said: “super-star, white male atheist” who’ve “institutionalized a very narrow prescriptive, white supremacist, patriarchal version of atheism”. Richard Dawkins is a white supremacist??? I’m upset for Richard Dawkins to have that line hurled at him, and I’m not even white. (Youtube video: The Intersection of Non-theism and Feminism | CFI’s Women in Secularism Conference 2012 – Start from 45m40s)

    Then there was the EvoPsy video, which Ed Clint’s blog addressed. (insert Evolutionary Psychology, Clint, Watson, PZ Myers and going about things properly)

    The list goes on, but I probably shouldn’t stray too much further away from Colonel Hall’s topic. And for that reason, this will most likely be my last post.

  63. Chris says:

    Masakari, have you shared your youtube channel with your mother?

    Videos are subjective, especially with creative editing. You would seem less childish if you actually linked to her writings on her site instead of third party pages. Your evidence is lacking in real substance, and clarity.

    Again, many of us disagree with Ms. Watson. Much of it has to do with common errors due to youth and inexperience. What she encountered was common for some of us, and the backlash was mostly from a dedicated minority. The minority I was much too familiar with.

    I know it is a minority, mostly because those guys seemed to disappear due to not being able to stay in school, or being removed from the workplace. Most of the men have I encountered are decent human beings. Which is why I get peeved at the premise that as a parent you must make sure your daughters are independent confident adults, and that your sons are not serial rapists. As the mother of two sons, it is a stereotype I can do without.

    Which one are you? Do you want to spend your time persevering on what see are flaws in others, or are you willing to accept that adults can disagree, still be friendly and move on?

  64. Chris says:

    I need an editor: on what you see are flaws in others.

  65. Linda Rosa says:

    Thank you, Harriet, for this essay.

    There is something that may serve to explain the tensions with which the skeptics are dealing, and that is the fact that there are different types of feminists.

    Most women are “equity feminists,” such as Harriet and myself, who are mainly concerned with equal opportunity and rights for all people, both for men and women. (Children’s rights is an issue for another day.)

    In contrast to the equity feminists there are what Christine Hoff Sommers calls “gender feminists”: those who tend to be academics; want government to provide preferential treatment for women; believe that all females are victims and men the enemy; and are actually “gynocentric.” (I’m seeing a lot of this sort working as lay midwives today.)

    I recommend Sommers’ “Who Stole Feminism?: How Women Have Betrayed Women” (1995). The gender feminists hate this book, but Sommers is, in my opinion, convincing in her critique of gender feminist and their research which she found fraught with flaws and misrepresentations.

  66. mobilis says:

    “Staking the core thesis of gender equality on the claim that there are no significant non-anatomical differences between men and women is a foolish move. It just opens up another avenue for anti-feminists to reject gender equality when that claim is inevitably and repeatedly proven false. Instead, we should fight for gender equality on the basis that all people have equal moral worth, regardless of any biological or social differences.”

    As Harriet has demonstrated, it isn’t easy to determine which differences are anatomical or biological and which are not. Differences that exist between men and women also exist amongst men and women respectively. The take home message is, I think, to be “skeptical” or critical of any automatic assumption firstly that any observed difference between individuals is sex-based and secondly that any observed differences in the sexes is innate.

    This is why Shermer’s initial comment was unhelpful, to say the least – “Why are there more men skeptics?” “Because more men are skeptics/skeptical”. Of course, as Harriet points out, it was an off the cuff comment, and hopefully Shermer and the skeptical movement generally is capable of more insight, if given the opportunity to consider and debate the question. Unfortunately, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Shermer’s unpreparedness for the question means that it is something that he had not given much consideration before, and that the subsequent response of both Shermer and a large element of the skeptical community means that they are not prepared to give any consideration to the question now (or ever).

  67. masakari2012 says:

    Ah, damn WordPress. It didn’t like my codes. Let’s see if I could do this right.

    test…

    Masakari, have you shared your youtube channel with your mother?

  68. masakari2012 says:

    Masakari, have you shared your youtube channel with your mother?

    My youtube channel? I don’t see what my youtube channel has to do with anything, but if you must know…. they are simply mirrored videos which were removed due to false flagging campaigns by feminist groups. There was one of them which I didn’t agree with, but the outright lies from feminists groups made the video worth mirroring.

    And actually, I’ve discussed some of these issues with my mother, sister, friends, and relatives, just to see what the opinions are of others. They all think that FTB/Skepchick are crazy. Their remarks about them are actually worse than what I would say, and ironically I’m the only one out of us that’s involved in the skeptic community.

    Videos are subjective, especially with creative editing. You would seem less childish if you actually linked to her writings on her site instead of third party pages.

    I already stated that I wasn’t going to give her the ad hit by linking directly to her video, but you can go to her channel and find the original video, which had something to do with Rick Perry, if I remember correctly.
    The next link was the original CFI video, where Rebecca Watson nods in agreement at stupidity.
    But I did make a mistake, and shared the wrong link for Ed Clint’s Evo Psy blog. Just google: ” Science denialism at a skeptic conference Ed Clint “. It contains a link to the original video, in case you wanted to watch it too.

    What she encountered was common for some of us, and the backlash was mostly from a dedicated minority. The minority I was much too familiar with.

    It was originally a few feminists and their supporters who disagreed, one with a youtube video, and one with a blog. Then Rebecca Watson used her stage time at a conference to falsely label one of those disagreers who was in the audience as parroting misogynistic thoughts. This caused some people who couldn’t think for themselves to look down on the person, which caused others to defend the person, which caused more people to get involved when PZ Myers and Abbie Smith got involved, then subsequently Dawkins.

    As the mother of two sons, it is a stereotype I can do without.

    Glad to hear it. I dislike that meme which comes from feminists that sound like “So, when did you stop beating your wife?”, with the assumption that the default state of a man is a rapist or a wife beater.

    Which one are you? Do you want to spend your time persevering on what see are flaws in others, or are you willing to accept that adults can disagree, still be friendly and move on?

    I’m a person that doesn’t like injustices, and I hate to see people wrongfully attacked. That’s why I got involved in these discussions. I’ve seen people get falsely accused of things for simply disagreeing with the dogmatic feminist ideology, and then blogged about. Some of those people have no voices to defend themselves against the witch hunts.

    Also, I don’t see what this has to do with anything. Are you going to argue against the points and links that I provided?

  69. kathy says:

    One of the difficulties women experience in the armed forces isn’t being mentioned, and that is sexual harrassment from male members of the same force (maybe also female). I’ve lifted the following two quotes from today’s New Scientist – Rebekah Havrilla was a sergeant in the US army’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal :

    “She served in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2007, working with infantry and Special Forces units, dealing with anything that could explode.”

    “Havrilla reckons there should be one physical standard across the board. “I know a lot of men who couldn’t meet certain physical standards, and I know a bunch of women who could. If you can do it, great. If you can’t, move on.”

    “While Havrilla was in active service, she was often the only woman in the EOD unit. She says this contributed to her having little support when she experienced sexual harassment. “I got stuck with some bad apples, and had to deal with it,” she says.

    “Havrilla now works with the US Service Women’s Action Network national help line. She says she sees more trauma associated with sexual violence than with combat.”

  70. kathy says:

    Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit – ‘Pologies!

  71. lyda says:

    Regarding the comments about gender v equity feminism.

    This is the divisive stuff Dr. Hall’s article could have gone into, but did not. The descriptions of the two sides was emotive and designed to elevate one and slam the other.

    Take the gov’t intervention bit. I live in Ireland in a house built in 1999. It has three entrances and all three have a step. Why? It’s not like the step will block mice from sneaking in. It won’t make much of a difference on flooding – besides I’m at the top of a hill.

    It was built that way because of inertia. No one changed the plans because no one had to. Apparently today those steps would not exist – and a pointless barrier to people in wheelchairs does not exist in newer houses. All because of gov’t intervention.

    Right now VAWA is before the US House. That’s gov’t intervention and it has made a huge difference in people’s lives. So has Title 9. So has the Family and Medical Leave Act. Nordic countries have a much better representation of women in the upper echelons of society because they have, gasp, quotas. If the finger has been on the scale for centuries you’re not going to gain balance in society simply by removing said finger – social inertia is a powerful force.

    I’ve disagreed with people I suspect you’d term “gender feminists” in the past. I likely still do for the same reasons. But disagreeing and dismissing out of hand are two different things. The general direction they’re nudging society is a positive one. Respect that enough not to demonise and caricature them.

  72. windy says:

    “Nordic countries have a much better representation of women in the upper echelons of society because they have, gasp, quotas.”

    This is not correct. Norway has a quota for female board directors in large companies, for example, but the other Nordic countries also do much better in this regard than the EU average without quotas. Overall, the better representation of women owes much more to family leave, availability of daycare and other support than quotas. Nordic countries have also achieved high proportions of women in elected office without quotas.

  73. BillyJoe says:

    Lyda,

    “For progress to be made, we need a lot of moderates and we need a few radicals. There’s no need to embrace or work together, but there should be some respect between them. Your article showed respect and (for what little it’s worth) earned my respect. My world is a better place not just because of those who loudly push for equality but for those who quietly push for it too.”

    I agree with this assessment, except that you actually need a lot of radicals, not just a few.
    In a thread on Neurologica recently ( http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/pz-replies/ ), we called them The Activist and The Diplomat, and most seemed to agree that both are required to achieve change. So, yes, why the conflict we so often see between the two?

  74. Coel says:

    Dear Harriet,
    You’re right, PZ’s take on your quote was simply wrong, he accused you of having said something that you quite clearly did not say (at least, not as I read it). Thanks for the thoughtful and informative article here.

    On the other hand, I think you exonerate Michael Shermer a little too much, the wording he used (which you don’t quote in full) was unfortunate and gave a sexist impression. For anyone interested my own take on the saga is at
    http://coelsblog.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/on-sexism-ophelia-benson-michael-shermer-hyperbole-and-my-stumbles-into-the-rift/

  75. mousethatroared says:

    masakari2012
    “Some of the reasons as to why Rebecca Watson receives nasty comments is because:
    1) she says really stupid things. People who say stupid things on the internet will attract attention and hate, just as religious people on the internet.”

    Personally, I’ve only heard of Rebecca Watson* briefly, I’m not really concerned with how stupid her comments were or were not. I do need to point out that in my social circle* sending threatening sexual comments/email or pictures is considered to be aberrant (creepy) behavior regardless of what kind of things the recipient said.

    I’m hoping that maskari2012 just mispoke or I am misreading, because I can’t imagine wanting to hang out with any “community” where sending hateful or abusive messages in response to “stupidity” is accepted as the norm.

    *Which I consider to be pretty normal professional midwestern.

  76. nybgrus says:

    I myself am a vociferous “equality feminist.” I also believe that Dr. Hall has exonerated Shermer a bit too much merely because the focus was too narrow. The initial statment made was, absolutely, exonerable (is that a word?) and would be worth little more than a passing footnote. We have all said dumb things or unintented things. Myself many a time. Benson was merely pointing out that the comment slips out so easily due to the underlying misogynistic hegemony of our culture. So pervasive is it, that even an intelligent educated skeptic could fall prey to it in a mere passing comment. That was it.

    Shermer could have, and should have, responded with a comment saying that of course he didn’t mean it in a sexist way and boy does that misogynistic hegemony suck! End of story.

    Instead he chose to respond, as Dr. Gorski pointed out, with cries of witch hunts and Nazis. And then doubled down on it when Benson explained her original post in case it wasn’t clear.

    The comment is an absolutely understandable slip, merely a talking point and nothing else. His responses after are dissapointing.

    I am not sure what is “going on” these days, with people who should know better reading far too deeply and reacting far too quickly and over the top (like PZ and the Jamy Ian Swiss video – I finally watched it and rather than feel excluded [since after all I am an activist anti-theist myself] I felt inspired and even moved). It almost seems like we are trying as hard as we can to “out-skeptic” our brethren, be “more feminist” or something. Make sure everyone knows how incredibly egalitarian and skeptical we really are.

    Maybe this is a symptom of the fact that many of us – especially those who would make it to the top – have a “Type A” personality and we all are, after all, human (except for me, my fiance calls me an alien, but in a good way*). In any event, I do think it is counterproductive. We should be able to and welcome others in examining everything we say and critiquing it – regardless of whether it is right or wrong. We should also be willing to extend the principle of charity to others.

    I don’t know. I know how I like to act, where my priorities are, and can evaluate the best parts of everyone in our community (and outside it) to emulate whilst eschewing the bad parts. We of all people should know how to do that and should not identify ourselves with our ideas. That’s what we criticize theists for doing regularly after all!

    Anyways, that’s about all I have to say on the matter. Though I can certainly see why certain people are getting tired of this – I have rather quickly.

    *That is humor…

  77. windriven says:

    @masakari

    I guess you and I have rather different definitions of stupid. I tend to lean to the primary definition: slow of mind.* By that measure your characterization of Ms. Watson still doesn’t seem to fit.

    As to elevatorgate I ask you to look at the outline of events objectively. Woman gets in elevator. Man in elevator doesn’t know woman yet asks her to mash nasty bits with him. The inherent supposition is that the lady involved has such low self esteem that her calculation will be that she has no better chance for intimacy than that offered by some random drunk with a swollen penis and a flaccid brain.

    How stupid of her to be offended!

    Twist things around a bit and ask yourself this: what outcome would you expect if you asked some random guy in an elevator to fellate you?

    *Merriam-Webster

  78. pharmavixen says:

    Masakari, I can kinda sorta see parts of your argument, as I don’t always agree with Rebecca myself; however, your comments could be interpreted as victim-blaming. Whenever someone sends Rebecca an email of her head photoshopped onto a naked porn star getting multiply violated, or posts tweets playing on the theme of, “You deserve to be raped,” Rebecca wins the argument. No matter how provocative she is, no matter how unfair she was, whether or not she lied, or how much people think she over-reacted to a teeny tiny transgression, the abuse she receives gives her the moral high ground every time.

    Because here’s a fundamental difference between men and women: when men venture into the public sphere, their greatest fear is of being humiliated. The florid over-reaction to some of Rebecca’s writings reflects this fear IMV. As for women? Our greatest fear is being raped and killed. So when I read these nasty postings that Rebecca receives, like many women, I find it terrifying; the threat is more than implied. And many women less pugnacious than, say, myself, would be intimidated from making any forays into the public sphere.

  79. kb says:

    Thanks Dr. Hall for being, as so often, the voice of Reason.
    To add to the discussion something more of content, rather than reciprocal bashing and name-calling, I’d like to address the issue of gender differences in maths and sciences and recommend watching or reading the fantastic debate between Steven Pinker and Elizabeth Spelke. It is from 2005, so possibly familiar to many, but just as relevant today. Pinker begins, Spelke rebuttals. I think she is more convincing, and the studies since then seem to support her position, but make up your own mind based on the evidence:
    Transcript and slides: http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/debate05/debate05_index.html
    Video: http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k69509&pageid=icb.page334500&pageContentId=icb.pagecontent698262&view=watch.do&viewParam_entry=28700&state=maximize#a_icb_pagecontent698262

  80. masakari – you actually nicely demonstrate the obsessive bias against Rebecca that, as others have pointed out, all too clearly makes her case for her.

    We all make mistakes. Anyone blogging etc on a regular basis will make mistakes. Rebecca will, in my experience – and the example you give – correct errors when pointed out. What else can you expect.

    Your characterization of events is not fair. I encourage anyone interested and not familiar with “elevatorgate” to view Rebecca’s original video. She gently advised men not to hit on women at 3am alone in an elevator, especially right after that woman just gave a talk about how women feel hit on at skeptical conferences. She did not call the guy sexist or misogynist or claim she was victimized or anything like that. She essentially said – it’s creepy, which it is. Everything that followed was a result of gross overreaction to that video, that then took on a life of its own.

    The response of Rebecca and other female skeptics to the abhorrent misogyny, threats of rape and violence, and constant harassment may not be optimal – but really, until you have walked in their shoes, don’t be so judgmental. It is largely blaming the victim.

    Your other points essentially amount to not agreeing with Rebecca’s brand of feminism and her liberal politics. That is fine to disagree, but it doesn’t make Rebecca “stupid” and saying it does tells us more about you than her.

    The saddest aspect of this entire controversy is that the absolute worst elements of our movement – online misogynists -are poisoning our community and any rational discussion about what is already a complex and thorny topic. We can’t have a meaningful discussion about the nuances of feminism without emotions and personal attacks steamrolling over all rational discourse. We have to chart a course out of this mess.

  81. Ophelia – I agree with the apparent consensus here. Michael’s comment was ill considered and pointless, inviting misinterpretation in an already controversial area. But I do think rational discourse requires charity in interpreting the statements of others.

    Likewise – your characterization of what Michael said was ill-considered and invited misinterpretation, in my opinion. You say that you only stated that Michael’s statement was sexist, not that Michael himself is sexist. It is true you did not explicitly state that he is a sexist, neither did you explicitly state that you were not saying he is a sexist. The average reasonable person would probably interpret your post as implying that he is sexist.

    In other words – you made the same kind and magnitude of error that you are accusing Michael of making.

    I do have to also point out that in your post you made a factual error. Michael’s statement was not in response to the question of male/female ratios in the atheist movement (he said he thought it was 50/50), but rather to the host’s statement that she tried to get female atheists for the panel but they all refused. This does not rescue his statement from being clueless, but it puts it into a different context.

    If we are being charitable to what he said, it does not come anywhere close to your claim of saying that women don’t do “thinky” work or that “thinky” work is a guy thing. In the right context, he was just referring to the willingness to be publicly confrontational, without any comment as to cause. He still should not have ventured a brief answer to such a complex question, nor taken the host’s anecdotal experience as representative. But it was not fair to say that he was saying women don’t do “thinky” work.

    Do you still stand by that characterization, or would you modify it in light of subsequent discussion?

  82. @ pharmavixen “…when I read these nasty postings that Rebecca receives, like many women, I find it terrifying; the threat is more than implied. And many women less pugnacious than, say, myself, would be intimidated from making any forays into the public sphere.” Yes. This.

    @ Steven Novella “The saddest aspect of this entire controversy is that the absolute worst elements of our movement – online misogynists -are poisoning our community and any rational discussion about what is already a complex and thorny topic. We can’t have a meaningful discussion about the nuances of feminism without emotions and personal attacks steamrolling over all rational discourse. We have to chart a course out of this mess.” And this too.

    From here on the periphery, it looks to me like one thing that’s happening is that the entire gamut of sexism gets conflated with the very worst rape threats etc. So milder instances, like tone-deaf “it’s a guy thing” comments get conflated with rape threats. And mild, “guys don’t do that” comments get conflated with being accused of rape.

    I’m wondering (broadly, larger-societally) if there’s some sort of age-related disconnect with sexism where younger-ish folks are more likely to call out mild background-radiation type sexism and older-ish folks are less likely to know what the hell they are talking about. (I count myself in the enlightened older-ish cohort.) Anecdote: I attended a public lecture series at a teaching hospital. In opening the first lecture, a silverback doctor told a sexist joke about the cognition of teenage girls. Because they’re so emotional… har har. I’m pretty sure his fourth-year students who were not that far removed from their own stints as teenage grils found it appalling. The audience reaction broke down exactly as I described. The only people who laughed were his age and older. Women seeking status and what not. I sent a private, back-channel email identifying the joke as sexist and explaining why it made me uncomfortable. I’m pretty sure he had no idea what I was even talking about. Still, I did not get rape threats in response.

  83. M. A. G. says:

    Very good post Dr. Hall. Somehow, I don’t get how skeptics, who usually like taking everything into context, took Shermer’s quote OUT of context. I also don’t get these (I’ll call them “Tough Feminists”) in which they criticize every little thing they don’t like as being “sexist”. We would all have been better served if Ophelia Benson would’ve talked to Dr. Shermer in private and told him. Maybe he would have made a correction in a subsequent column, and the skeptical community would not be in this childish ridiculous kerfuffle.

    Besides…. I agree with Dr. Hall. Men and Women ARE different, but that does not mean they can’t do everything (or most everything) the opposite sex can do. But culture dictates what people like. My wife is an accomplished Dentist (as am I). We both work, she recently bought her own practice (we work at separate offices) and is tough as nails when she needs be. I love sports, she does not. I love a good action war film every once in a while, she hates them (At least we both love foreign dramas…) She also loves fashion, high heels, good food, dressing well, and the finer things in life. I don’t care for fashion, but I do like to dress well, and I think that the speakers in the skeptic community would do us better by dressing well instead of giving conferences in “T-shirts and Jeans”. Well dressed people are taken more seriously than others. I also read a lot from SBM, Freethought Blogs and other “Skeptical” blogs and magazines. She couldn’t care less. She would rather spend time reading InStyle and Vogue, and Victoria’s secret too. I like a guy’s night out every once in a while, and she like a girl’s night out. I go to shady digs, she goes to fancier ones….

    Tough feminists do not like my wife’s “Lipstick Feminism”. So even within feminism there are discrepancies and arguments. They don’t like the “sexualisation” of women while these “lipstick feminists” think their sexuality empowers them.

    Sexism exists because of various reasons: First, men dominate most areas of the workforce. Wherever women dominate, you see less men and less sexism. You may also notice difference in decoration BECAUSE WE ARE DIFFERENT. I guarantee you, my office is different than my wife’s. Even our rapport towards patients is different.

    Second, and this is biologically speaking, humans are one of the few species (if not the only one) in which the female sex is more attractive. You can go back to the renaissance, a period in which even men wore make-up, and women were always trying to use sex to their advantage and show off their womanly features.

    I think it’s good that we’re different, it would be a very very very boring place if it weren’t.

  84. Dreaded Anomaly says:

    Reply to mobilis:

    “As Harriet has demonstrated, it isn’t easy to determine which differences are anatomical or biological and which are not. Differences that exist between men and women also exist amongst men and women respectively. The take home message is, I think, to be “skeptical” or critical of any automatic assumption firstly that any observed difference between individuals is sex-based and secondly that any observed differences in the sexes is innate.”

    Perhaps I was unclear. I meant to use the phrase “non-anatomical differences” to indicate any biological differences (e.g. psychological) which don’t fall into the basic category of anatomy, which everyone acknowledges is different between the genders. Of course any specific difference may or may not be biological, as I pointed out in my comment. The suggestion that a difference is sex-based or innate is not necessarily an automatic assumption, though, and there is a difference between being skeptical and critical and being in denial. A measured gender ratio of nearly 2 male atheists for every 1 female atheist certainly suggests a sex-based difference. It would not surprise me if the difference were mostly socialized, but it also would not surprise me if there were some innate component. The human brain is a complicated thing.

    “This is why Shermer’s initial comment was unhelpful, to say the least – “Why are there more men skeptics?” “Because more men are skeptics/skeptical”. Of course, as Harriet points out, it was an off the cuff comment, and hopefully Shermer and the skeptical movement generally is capable of more insight, if given the opportunity to consider and debate the question. Unfortunately, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Shermer’s unpreparedness for the question means that it is something that he had not given much consideration before, and that the subsequent response of both Shermer and a large element of the skeptical community means that they are not prepared to give any consideration to the question now (or ever).”

    That is a gross mischaracterization of Shermer’s comment and, quite frankly, it is irresponsible to talk about the issue without having actually watched the video to understand the context. Shermer was specifically addressing why he thought Cara Santa Maria found it difficult to find women *to sit on the panel*. He was answering the question “why are there more *vocal* men skeptics?” with the well-studied observation that men tend to be more vocal. (Note that Shermer points this out himself in his rebuttal article, linked in this blog post.) Of course, there are nuances to this observation – women tend to be more vocal in a group when that group is closer to gender parity. Sean Carroll makes a comment related to this shortly after Shermer’s comment.

    Here is a transcript of the context surrounding Shermer’s comment, for those too busy to watch 20 seconds of a video:

    ——

    The question:
    “Atheist groups always consist of a bunch of (mostly old) men. You are very nice middle-aged men, but you are mostly men. In atheism we don’t have a rule that makes a woman worth only 50% as much as a man and we don’t make women stay silent and only ask their husbands questions. We in atheism supposedly treat women was equals. So why isn’t the gender split closer to 50/50 as it should be?”

    Cara Santa Maria:
    “And I think that this is a valid question. I personally don’t have any statistics on this, but I can tell you in my experience when putting together this episode and putting together this panel, I had a hell of a time finding a woman who would be willing to sit on the panel with me and talk about her atheism. Why is that?”

    Michael Shermer:
    “I think it probably really is 50/50. It’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it; you know, it’s more of a guy thing.”

    Cara Santa Maria: (simultaneously)
    “That’s really the question. Who’s an outspoken atheist.”

    ——

    He even prefaced his comment by saying “I think it probably really is 50/50″, despite the existence and prevalence of research showing otherwise. Maybe he has never seen any of this research, but I doubt it. More likely, it was a concession to the vocal minority (I hope) of feminists who are unable or unwilling to distinguish between descriptive and prescriptive statements. Of course I don’t *want* a large gender disparity to exist among atheists, but currently it does, and if we want to change that, we first have to understand *why*. You can’t analyze a phenomenon if you insist on pretending it doesn’t exist.

  85. MKandefer says:

    Hi Steve,

    Good points. Rational discourse does require giving charitable interpretations and “steel manning” our interlocutor’s arguments. Given that, wouldn’t you agree it isn’t very rational to go away from Ophelia’s response to Shermer thinking she was criticizing him as being sexist, and just his statement? I think you meant the “average person” and not the “average reasonable person”, who presumably extends charity of interpretation. I suppose there could be subtle differences between a “rational person” and a “reasonable person” in your mind I’m not ware of, but I don’t make such distinctions in mine. Put another way, if the average reasonable person is to conclude Ophelia was saying Shermer was a sexist, then the average reasonable person should also conclude that Shermer was making a sexist remark; if both Ophelia and Shermer have made the same type and magnitude of error.

  86. baldape says:

    Steven Novella,

    You make a very reasoned and level-headed response, and I’m with you ALMOST 100%.

    Here’s what I can’t get passed. The statement, “being intellectually active is more of a guy thing” is an incredibly sexist statement to make. There is literally no other way to parse it than, men are better at thinking than women (unless you believe that “thinking” is something different than “intellectual activity”). I think you agree with this, but yet, you are knocking Ophelia for pointing out that Michael Shermer said something incredibly sexist.

    If Michael Shermer said something that was incredibly sexist, do you think Ophelia should NOT use that as an example of people in the atheist community saying incredibly sexist things? Why not?

    If you don’t think Michael Shermer said something incredibly sexist, can you let me know whether there’s any issue with me teaching my daughter to believe that “being intellectually active is more of a guy thing”? If so, what is the issue?

    Thanks!

  87. shawmutt says:

    Whatever happened to not feeding the trolls?

  88. baldape – in context I think Michael meant by “intellectually active” being “activist” – the context being, agreeing to be on the panel to discuss atheism. Not “thinking.” This is partly being charitable, partly looking closely at the context (which Ophelia misrepresented), and partly knowing Michael’s vast written history.

    MK – there is no way around the subjective nature of this assessment, whether it was “reasonable” to conclude from what Ophelia wrote that Michael was being sexist, not just that the statement was sexist. In other words, I have no data to prove my position to you. My anecdotal experience is that many people I have spoken to took it that way.

    But don’t miss my main point – she was not explicit. She could have said – I am not accusing Shermer of being a sexist. Just like Shermer could have said – I am not saying women inherently are less activist or confrontational. Same kind of mistake.

  89. MKandefer says:

    Steve,

    Thanks for the response. I agree, with your main points (and did not miss them, but acknowledged them generally as good points). I just did not agree with your characterization of what is reasonable using your own criteria for rationality. It’s a minor point not meant to detract from the many good points you made. Such as the one you reiterated in condensed form in your response (i.e., “[Ophelia] was not explicit. She could have said – I am not accusing Shermer of being a sexist. Just like Shermer could have said – I am not saying women inherently are less activist or confrontational. Same kind of mistake.”).

  90. baldape says:

    Hi Steven,

    I can concede that Ophelia’s criticism could’ve been so qualified, e.g. “I am not accusing Shermer of being a sexist, but intentionally or not, he did say something which reinforces a nasty sexist stereotype.”

    However, if I understand you correctly, parsing things your way and adding in your qualifiers, you’re saying that Michael would have been speaking more clearly by saying:

    “I am not saying women are inherently less activist or confrontational than men, I’m just saying that being activist and confrontational is more of a guy thing.”

    See, I don’t see those as the “same kind of mistake”. There’s something much more problematic about Michael’s mistake. Specifically, the qualification “fix” you suggest for Ophelia’s comment quite neatly complements what she says. The qualification “fix” (and charitable word parsing) you suggest for Shermer’s words utterly contradicts what he says.

    Sort of like, let’s say the statement “The Star Wars movies were simply awful.” was deemed problematic. Depending on the problem, we might agree that it can be fixed with, “I’m not saying George Lucas is a bad producer, but the Star Wars movies were simply awful.” But regardless of how it’s problematic, we can all agree that it is not fixed with “I’m not saying the Star wars movies were particularly bad, I’m just saying that they were simply awful.”

    Thanks again!

  91. Calli Arcale says:

    This is a good article, with lots of food for thought. I was particularly struck by the comment about choosing not to join women’s doctor’s groups — and suddenly I realize that’s exactly why I’ve always felt a little peculiar about invitations to women’s engineering groups, even though I support things like “Girls In Science”, a Girl Scout related activity held at the Science Museum of Minnesota every year and supported by KMSP (the local Fox affiliate, though they started out as a UPN affiliate, before Fox bought that network). I think it’s great to get girls into science, but I do tend to worry about creating female enclaves. I want male and female engineers to work together, not split off into gender cliques.

    Shermer’s statement, as quoted, doesn’t strike me as sexist. It’s a valid observation. My impression upon reading that was that indeed, speaking out and being interested in skepticism does tend to be more of a guy thing. It does prompt additional questions: why is that a guy thing, and should we seek to change that state of affairs? My opinion is that it’s a guy thing for social reasons (mostly, I think, it’s just that boys are generally more permitted to gravitate to less conventional interests than girls are), and that we should indeed seek to change that state of affairs. I do believe that 50/50 is a reasonable target, but I don’t believe we should get too hung up on what the actual ratio is at any given moment. It’s a measure that can be used to get a feel for progress, but it’s not really the point.

    I’m an engineer. We have metrics to gauge how well programs are performing. We report on how many defects are detected in a given time period, how many are “escapes” (injected in one phase of the project but detected in another), growth of the defect tracking system over time, how long a defect remains in a particular state (analysis, implementation, test, etc), and so forth. I have seen project leads get a bit too obsessive over the analysis time metric. The goal becomes to keep analysis time under 30 days. Is this productive? Probably not. Analysis over 30 days generally puts a project into yellow or red (depending on how many there are) on the defect measures report, and this gets unwelcome attention, but what if there is a reason it is over 30 days? The measure gives you a crude way of judging performance over time, but if achieving a certain value in that measure ever becomes your goal, you’re doing it wrong.

    I think the same is true of gender equality. 50/50 seems like a good target. But we should not obsess over how far we are from it. The numbers aren’t the important thing; they’re just sort of useful for tracking purposes. Can a woman make a living as a doctor/engineer/pilot/whatever? Can a man be respected as a stay-at-home parent? These are much more important. When we are judging the individual rather than their group, we will have made progress.

    We do need the activists, the feminists who will open the doors and do their level best to steamroll the barriers. But we also need the regular folks, the women who will be brave enough to actually walk through those doors or it won’t mean anything. The idea of their being a “right” way to be a feminist puzzles me, and the situation with Rebecca Watson got seriously out of hand. There are so many things that need doing that surely we need people who do lots of different things. We should not be slamming others for doing it their way.

  92. Chris says:

    masakari:

    Also, I don’t see what this has to do with anything. Are you going to argue against the points and links that I provided?

    The links you posted were not primary sources. They are second hand, and edited portrayals. If you wish to accuse someone of saying something, you need to link to the original words. That means giving the webpage that is actually authored by the person, with a direct quote. That is part of Skepticism 101: do not accept second hand evidence.

    It is my opinion that the videos that you mirrored on the youtube channel with your ‘nym were childish and insulting. Just like the irrational responses Ms. Watson received when she politely said “Guys don’t do that” after describing an uncomfortable encounter. That is the real injustice. Rational adults do not spend their time creating videos depicting rape of someone they dislike.

    Let me repeat this for at least the third time: I do not agree with everything Ms. Watson says or does, but no one deserves the treatment she has been given.

  93. simonsays says:

    @Steven Novella,

    Here’s what Ophelia wrote in relation to Shermer (some of the italics and formatting isn’t transferred but text is copied verbatim):

    You would think that nontheism and feminism should be a natural combination. Women have the most to gain from escaping religion, after all: monotheism gives men higher status, starting with their allegedly being made in the image of God.

    But atheism hasn’t always been very welcoming to women. Maybe there’s an idea that men created God, so men should do the uncreating.

    Mostly though, it’s just a matter of stereotypes, the boring, stubborn, wrong stereotypes and implicit associations that feminism has been battling since, well, forever. The social psychologist Cordelia Fine sums them up in Delusions of Gender: “Measures of implicit associations reveal that men, more than women, are implicitly associated with science, math, career, hierarchy, and high authority. In contrast, women, more than men, are implicitly associated with the liberal arts, family and domesticity, egalitarianism, and low authority.”

    The main stereotype in play, let’s face it, is that women are too stupid to do nontheism. Unbelieving in God is thinky work, and women don’t do thinky, because “that’s a guy thing.”

    Don’t laugh: Michael Shermer said exactly that during a panel discussion on the online talk-show The Point. The host, Cara Santa Maria, presented a question: Why isn’t the gender split in atheism closer to 50-50? Shermer explained, “It’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it; you know, it’s more of a guy thing.”

    It’s all there—women don’t do thinky, they don’t speak up, they don’t talk at conferences, they don’t get involved—it’s “a guy thing,” like football and porn and washing the car.

    It’s incredibly discouraging, that kind of thing. I thought (naïvely) that stereotypes of women as stupid and passive and bashful had been exposed as, precisely, sexist stereotypes decades ago, at least among intellectual and political and progressive types. I thought everybody knew they were not just wrong but also retrograde. Would Shermer have said that if the question had been about race instead of gender? Would he have said “it’s more of a white thing”? It seems very unlikely.

    The full article is here: http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=fi&page=benson_33_1

    I would encourage all participants to read what Ophelia actually said and in what context it was said.

  94. baldape says:

    Steven, thanks again for the reply. My last thought on this, as I try to convey to you (and the readership) exactly why your response, for all it gets right, still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

    “Yes, the one driver was heavily intoxicated. And yes, he was speeding, weaving wildly, and crossed into on-coming traffic. But the other driver was going 3 mph over the recommended safe speed limit. So, both made mistakes (the same mistake, really, of not being perfect drivers). Can we really blame one or the other for the collision?”

    That statement bothers in the exact way that your sentiment (which I hope I’ve accurately paraphrased below) bothers me:

    “Yes, Michael Shermer spoke poorly, and wound up using words that reinforced a nasty but-all-too-common sexist stereotype. And yes, he compared Ophelia to the Nazi’s when she pointing out that he had done so. But Ophelia, in claiming to be criticizing Shermer’s words, failed to explain to her audience that that meant she wasn’t characterizing Shermer personally. So, both made mistakes (the same mistake, really, of not being perfect speakers). Can we really blame one or the other for all this fallout?”

  95. Quill says:

    I don’t think I’ve seen an Ophelia lamented this much since Queen Gertrude and Laertes at the funeral.

  96. baldape – you are not characterizing my position fairly at all. I never defended Shermer’s statement. It was clueless, invited misinterpretation, and was ill-considered. I even said he probably should not have ventured a brief answer to such a complex and controversial topic. He also took the anecdotal premise at face value. I never even addressed his later responses, so don’t see how you can even bring that in at this point.

    I don’t think, given the context, what he said, and his background, that Shermer meant to imply anything sexist. At worst he was saying that guys are more willing to be publicly confrontational (with no implication for nature vs nurture).

    Ophelia wrote:
    “The main stereotype in play, let’s face it, is that women are too stupid to do nontheism. Unbelieving in God is thinky work, and women don’t do thinky, because “that’s a guy thing.”

    Do you really think that Shermer was in any way implying that women are stupid, are too stupid to “do nontheism”, or are not cut out for “thinky work?”

    I think I am being charitable, if anything, in saying this was the same magnitude and kind of error as Shermer. And, I will now add, this was in writing, which Ophelia herself admits gives time for well-thought out points, while Shermer was speaking off the cuff.

  97. masakari2012 says:

    Since I have plenty of you to respond to, and there’s only one of me, don’t be upset if I didn’t get to everyone, and every single point.

    mousethatroaredon

    Personally, I’ve only heard of Rebecca Watson* briefly, I’m not really concerned with how stupid her comments were or were not. I do need to point out that in my social circle* sending threatening sexual comments/email or pictures is considered to be aberrant (creepy) behavior regardless of what kind of things the recipient said.
    I’m hoping that maskari2012 just mispoke or I am misreading, because I can’t imagine wanting to hang out with any “community” where sending hateful or abusive messages in response to “stupidity” is accepted as the norm.

    I’ve read her “threats” list, and I only saw one or two that could qualify as threats. Other than that, they were mostly just nasty comments left by others trying to piss her off by telling her exactly what they know she doesn’t like to hear.

    I didn’t say community, but let’s go with what you’re saying. It depends on what you define as “community”. Also, we don’t know if every person who leaves nasty comments are atheists, trolls, or atheist-trolls. They could be Christian. They could even be allies of Skepchick or FTB, posing as someone else, trying to generate drama.

    windriven

    I guess you and I have rather different definitions of stupid. I tend to lean to the primary definition: slow of mind. By that measure your characterization of Ms. Watson still doesn’t seem to fit.*

    No. We have the same definition. Rebecca Watson is “slow of mind”. I’ve provided sufficient links to show for that. Most people would say she’s stupid. Okay, so you don’t. So what? Moving on….

    As to elevatorgate I ask you to look at the outline of events objectively.

    What makes you think I haven’t. I have looked at it from many angles, and asked many different men and women for their opinions, getting mostly opinions similar to mine, and fewer opinions in the other direction.

    Woman gets in elevator. Man in elevator doesn’t know woman yet asks her to mash nasty bits with him. The inherent supposition is that the lady involved has such low self esteem that her calculation will be that she has no better chance for intimacy than that offered by some random drunk with a swollen penis and a flaccid brain.
    How stupid of her to be offended!

    That’s not what happened. The dude in the elevator asked her for coffee. The way you strawmanned the situation is disgusting. Maybe coffee meant more, maybe it didn’t. But we don’t know what he meant by it. It could have simply meant coffee. Not everyone thinks the same way.

    And if it were a proposition for sex, and he took no for an answer, then so what?

    Twist things around a bit and ask yourself this: what outcome would you expect if you asked some random guy in an elevator to fellate you?
    *Merriam-Webster

    I already twisted things around and asked myself questions. But I didn’t take any of the twisted versions as the true story, which you did with your strawmanned version of what happened. If I were a guy in an elevator who got hit on by a man or woman, and they took no for an answer, then everything is fine. That is precisely the way it should work. And you know what? Women have made propositions towards me in the past, and I denied it. Some, I’ve accepted. What’s the big deal about this?

    Actually, I know what the problem is. Some people have subjective rules as to how they should be propositioned, and when it can happen. If it doesn’t happen in the ways they think it’s okay, then they get upset. And some of these women claim to be speaking for all women when doing so (when they clearly don’t represent all women, seeing as how the original objectors were women). I don’t mind if a man or woman wants to tell others that they feel uncomfortable about some propositions. But they don’t need to tell a whole gender what or what not to do, when there is disagreement from both genders on this subjective issue.

    Steven Novella

    Your characterization of events is not fair. I encourage anyone interested and not familiar with “elevatorgate” to view Rebecca’s original video. She gently advised men not to hit on women at 3am alone in an elevator, especially right after that woman just gave a talk about how women feel hit on at skeptical conferences. She did not call the guy sexist or misogynist or claim she was victimized or anything like that.

    You obviously didn’t read the stuff that was said afterwards when she was defending herself against disagreers, and you must have missed the part where a particular feminist disagreer was labeled as parroting misogynistic thoughts.

    She essentially said – it’s creepy, which it is.

    That’s subjective, which is the whole reason for this apparently never ending debate. Some people (both men and women) think it it, some do not.

    Everything that followed was a result of gross overreaction to that video, that then took on a life of its own.

    I’ve already explained some of the details above.

    The response of Rebecca and other female skeptics to the abhorrent misogyny, threats of rape and violence, and constant harassment may not be optimal – but really, until you have walked in their shoes, don’t be so judgmental. It is largely blaming the victim.

    What actual “misogyny” was there? Misogyny is the hatred or fear of women. Are you referring to troll comments which were left to provoke, by people who knew such comments would piss her off? If so, then there’s no way to know for sure if they are misogynists, or just mean intended people saying things to generate a response from her. Her so called “threats” that she showed everyone weren’t even threats. If that’s so, then I guess I’ve received many threats online by people telling me that they hope my uncle rapes me, including all of the violent things I’ve received. If ANY OF THEM were actual “threats”, the police would do something about it. In one of her videos, she said the police didn’t do anything about it, but I would like to see this so called “threat” for myself.

    As for “harassment”, they put themselves out to the public. When people put themselves out there, they will receive feedback. The problem with Skepchick and FTB is that most of what they say is stupid and doesn’t reflect the positions of the people they presume to speak for, which leads to this next point….

    That is fine to disagree, but it doesn’t make Rebecca “stupid” and saying it does tells us more about you than her.

    It’s really amazing that I could point out all of these things, her professional victimhood, her evo psy nonsense, her agreement with a woman calling Richard Dawkins a white supremacist (REALLY???), and I’m wrong for calling her stupid?

    The saddest aspect of this entire controversy is that the absolute worst elements of our movement – online misogynists -are poisoning our community and any rational discussion about what is already a complex and thorny topic.

    Again, what “misogynists”? This term has been thrown around so liberally that people who are not even misogynists have been dragged into this drama because of the false labeling. If you mean to say “sexists” instead of misogynists, then say it. But I suspect you mean to say “misogynists” meaning anyone who disagrees with a woman who claims to be speaking for equality (when that’s not the case, and that can be disputed)

  98. By “misogynist” I mean people who say “I wish someone would rape you, you stupid cunt.” Is that not explicit enough? Saying we don’t know if they really mean it is irrelevant. Saying this is not a “threat” is clueless, simply because it doesn’t say “I am going to rape you on Tuesday.” Rebecca has received those also, btw. This is not calling anyone who disagrees with you a misogynist – it’s calling violent anti-woman rhetoric misogynist.

    Characterizing what she has been subject to as “feedback” is also absurd. It is harassment, even online stalking, by any reasonable definition. It is meant to silence. Some of it explicitly is about silencing her, asking to have her kicked out of one venue or another.

    Your denial of the reality here is astounding, and again says it all.

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