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I Am Not Your Enemy: An Open Letter to My Feminist Critics

Note: The previous post is my usual weekly contribution to SBM. I am taking the liberty of posting this additional entry today on an issue that is peripheral to Science Based Medicine. If you are not interested in the recent squabbles within the skeptical movement, you will probably want to skip it. But it does respond to a detailed critique of an article I posted here two weeks ago, and some might find that of interest. We have seen the same kind of behavior on this blog, where commenters have responded not to what we said, but to what they wanted to believe we said.

 


 

I have been falsely identified as an enemy of feminism (not in so many words, but the intent is clear). My words have been misrepresented as sexist and misinterpreted beyond recognition. I find this particularly disturbing and hard to understand, because I’m convinced that my harshest critics and I are basically arguing for exactly the same things. I wish my critics could set aside their resentments and realize that I am not the enemy.

Two weeks ago I published an article on gender differences and the recent divisions in the skeptical community.  Ophelia Benson showed up in the comments. Not unsurprisingly, she disagreed with me about the Shermer incident, but then she said “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.”

I took that as a hopeful sign that friendly communication might be achieved, but my bubble was quickly burst by a hostile takedown of my article on Skepchick by “Will.”  His critique is demonstrably unfair. He attacks me for things I never said and tries to make it look like I believe the exact opposite of what I believe.

First he accuses me of not knowing the difference between sex and gender. I understand his definition — that sex is biological and gender is cultural — but I was trying to make the point that we often don’t know for sure whether a trait is biologically or culturally determined. And whether or not he thinks it’s acceptable, some people do use the words gender and sex interchangeably.

He wants to dictate how I use language, yet he uses the word queer, a term most people in the LGBT community consider offensive. He insults me by saying I am ignorant of what gender means. He condescendingly explains androgen insensitivity syndrome to me, as if I hadn’t learned about it in medical school 45 years ago.

He says:

having breasts, menstruating, getting pregnant, lactating, and having two X chromosomes are not inherently “womanly” things. Those are things that are more common to female-bodied individuals, but a person who identifies as a woman may go through her life not having or doing any of those things. Because “woman” is a cultural category, not a biological category.

Female is a biological category. A mammal who is anatomically and physiologically capable of bearing children and lactating (or will be, if prepubertal) is surely in the biological category “female” even if she has not had those experiences. I said “Women menstruate, get pregnant, and lactate.” What would he have had me say? “Female-bodied individuals are more likely to menstruate, get pregnant and lactate than male-bodied individuals”? That strikes me as an inelegant and unreasonable concession to feminist political correctness.

There are plenty of examples that further demonstrate how Hall’s idea of the clear-cut division between male bodies and female bodies is not so simple.

I didn’t say I thought there was a simple clear-cut division. I didn’t even address that issue in my article. It was already too long, and it was not the appropriate place to cover all the subtleties like intersex that I delved into in today’s post, “Sex, Gender, and Sexuality: It’s Complicated.” I covered the subject exhaustively there and made it abundantly clear that I don’t think there is a simple clear-cut division. I didn’t address equal pay or same sex marriage, either. That doesn’t mean I don’t support them.

a blind acceptance of research on sex/gender differences in brains, various developmental and health issues, and standardized tests

Not “blind acceptance” at all. I listed a number of such findings but then went on to explain that:

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.

And that uncertainty was reflected in my conclusion.

Then he goes off on a bizarre tangent about breastfeeding:

Hall’s focus on breastfeeding as the penultimate form of bonding also does not jive with the scientific literature.

What focus? I said nothing about bonding. All I said was “breast is best” and he agrees with me that there are health benefits. He talks about positive relationships from breastfeeding, maternal-infant bonding, and stigmatizing parents who can’t breastfeed.  Ironically, he echoes exactly what I myself said in an article on breastfeeding in 2010.

He takes issue with my comments about men choosing the occupation of primary caregiver to infants. I didn’t say I “dismissed” the possibility that there would someday be a 50/50 split. I said I didn’t foresee that happening (i.e., I thought the probability was low), and I think most reasonable people would agree with me. His argument that the number of stay-at-home dads has recently doubled is not very persuasive, since it is still only 3.4%. Then he cites ethnographic evidence of male breastfeeding (actually only one tribe, the Aka, where men allow infants to suck their nipples but do not produce milk), and he links to an anecdote about a transgender man who stopped his testosterone, became pregnant, and subsequently was able to produce milk from his remaining normal female breast tissue. He seems to be grasping at the flimsiest straws to refute things I never said. Why couldn’t he just have said a 50/50 split might seem improbable to me, but in his opinion it was not impossible? We could have agreed on that.

She’s wrong that gender doesn’t matter.

That’s not what I said. Of course gender matters.  What I said was that average gender differences in aptitudes and preferences don’t matter very much when it comes to deciding what an individual can and can’t do. I thought that was pretty clear.

Would she begrudge queer people or people of color joining together in solidarity in the same way that she poopoos on people identifying as “women skeptics?”

I never “poopooed” on anyone.  I have never criticized others for identifying as women skeptics; I only said I personally prefer to be identified as a skeptic rather than as a woman skeptic.

He quotes me out of context and then makes unwarranted assumptions. What I said about separate meetings was in the context of whether we need separate conferences for women in skepticism. I personally feel that it is preferable to embrace everyone in a unified conference. That is an opinion, and I’m open to changing my mind if it can be demonstrated that separate conferences yield better results. I’m not concerned that separate conferences will “erase straight white men’s voices from the movement”, but rather that they may reduce the contributions of women to the mainstream community discussion. If it is true that the only voices heard at general skeptical conferences are those “privileged by default” (which I don’t accept for a minute), it seems to me the answer would be to have the “unprivileged” voices heard in the general conference, not to create a separate conference where those other voices can preach to their own choirs.

He says:

The idea that minorities joining together in solidarity to speak about issues important to them is somehow divisive is horseshit.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but for the record, I have no objection to minorities joining together in solidarity in any way they choose. I have a personal preference to participate as an integral member of the general body of skeptics, rather than meet with a subset of women skeptics. I would be distressed if the skeptical movement were balkanized into ineffectiveness by creating separate meetings for every conceivable minority group. Do we need a conference devoted to elderly transsexual black Hispanic scientists? OK, so that’s ridiculous; but at what point does it become ridiculous? Think about it for a moment. Be fair. Are you biased against small minorities and willing to treat them differently because of their size? In my opinion it’s more productive to address everyone’s special concerns within the skeptical community as a whole. But that’s only my personal opinion. If any minority group, no matter how small, wants to have their own separate meeting, I certainly wouldn’t try to stop them.

 Is Hall advocating for a diversity-blind society where we pretend that differences don’t exist?

Of course I am not! Where did that come from? Nothing I said even remotely suggests that. That interpretation is offensive.

What Hall deems “mutual goals” aren’t actually mutual — they are the goals of a certain segment of the population, and for her to pretend that the goals she sees as important are the goals of the skeptical/atheist/humanist movements is not only arrogant, it’s evidence of  a patriarchal bargain.

The mutual goals I spoke of are the goals of skepticism, which presumably everyone in a skeptical organization must be invested in or they wouldn’t have joined. Within the skeptical movement, some individuals are more interested than others in issues like atheism, racial equality, and gay rights, but everyone can agree on the importance of critical thinking and the skeptical approach to all aspects of life. I am only echoing Jamy Ian Swiss’ eloquent plea in his speech at TAM 2012 for us to unite rather than divide, not to privilege other issues over skepticism within the skeptical movement.

Will failed to address the main points of my article. Notably, he didn’t comment on the unfortunate infighting within the skeptical movement.  Did he approve of how PZ Myers twisted what I said to accuse me of thinking “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.” Apparently he did approve, since he resorts to the same tactics, distorting my words to make it look like I meant the exact opposite of what I did.

Most of the commenters follow his lead.

One of the commenters says:

[Hall] seems to assume that erasing our identities from view will solve the problems of racism, sexism, and heteronormativity by, I don’t know, raising a generation that has never heard of a homosexual?

How utterly ridiculous!  I said nothing about erasing identities from view. Just the opposite: I was advocating keeping them in view of everyone by including them in a unified conference.

Another commenter says

Hall saying that men have larger brains is simply wrong. Taller people have larger brains. Men are on average larger than women, so they have, on average, larger brains.

The same words are wrong when I say them but right when he says them?! Instead of saying I am wrong, why not simply offer a possible explanation for a fact that we both agree on? (Actually, the evidence is mixed. Some studies found that men’s brains are still larger after correction for body size; some didn’t.)

And if you want a really surreal excursion into the thought processes of my critics, take a gander at this exchange  [the names of two participants were redacted].

Ophelia first says she can’t produce an e-mail and then says she can and will produce it if the other party OKs it. She quibbles about the definitions of “produce”, “copy”, “show” and then offers the irrelevant comment that an e-mail can be faked.

She says “I didn’t accuse her of lying; I just said she didn’t tell the truth.” (!?) She had questioned a woman’s perception of what happened at a secular women’s meeting because it didn’t match the “truth” of her own experience. What if a woman said women were sexually harassed at TAM and I said she “didn’t tell the truth” just because my own experience there was very different? Ophelia certainly wouldn’t have let me get away with that, but she didn’t seem to recognize the same offensive behavior in herself. She never answered my question. Instead, she accused the redacted people of derailing the discussion and blamed them for preventing her from responding to me.

In the comments one person used my famous t-shirt as an example of how

women get told not to complain or talk about the bad things that happen.

Another person with better reading comprehension wrote “Please explain how Harriet Hall’s t-shirt was “telling” women to do *anything at all*.” (It wasn’t. It was only a description of my personal thoughts, not a prescription for anyone else’s behavior). Then another commenter said

Harriet Hall’s T-shirt was brilliant! It encompassed free speech and equality. (just think we are all equal…we are all skeptics, not female skeptics and male skeptics but simply skeptics)

Hard to believe they were talking about the same message!

Another blogger has deconstructed a list Ophelia made of antifeminist tropes. He claims she sets up a series of straw men and tries to create problems where none exist. You can judge for yourself.

In a recent article on Neurologica, Steven Novella wrote about his similar experiences with divisions in the skeptical community, focused more on atheism than on feminism. There is a common pattern of distorting people’s words to create straw men, of seeking out things to argue about, and of disrespecting one’s opponents. He said (emphasis added):

When I made this point in a previous post PZ and others misinterpreted this as me saying that atheists come to their atheism by assuming a-priori philosophical naturalism, but I never said this.

It is common wisdom that those who are closest make the most bitter enemies, and this has depressingly seemed to be the case here.

Let’s dispense with dismissive and derogatory terms, focus on our common ground, and be tolerant of our diverse approaches to trying to achieve our common goals.

A Plea to My Critics in the Feminist Movement

Please read what I say, not what you choose to imagine I meant to say.

Please don’t try to argue about statements I never made.

Please try to understand that “I like to do it my way” does not equate to  “I’m accusing you of being wrong for doing it your way.”

Please try to be civil and respectful and avoid insults.

I am a feminist too, even though my brand of feminism may not meet your expectations of how a feminist should act. There are different roads to the same destination. Don’t disparage mine.

I don’t think I deserve your contempt and hostility.

I Am Not Your Enemy

From reading what my critics in the feminist community have written, it seems to me we all agree on the most important things:

  • That women should not just stay home and take care of kids
  • That we have come a long way, and the feminist movement has done much to improve the lot of women
  • That there are still obstacles to women in our society. (We can congratulate ourselves that many of the “hard” obstacles such as legal restrictions have been eliminated. Unfortunately, the ones that remain are “softer”, harder to identify precisely and harder to deal with effectively),
  • That we should endeavor to identify and remove the remaining obstacles
  • That it is unreasonable to enforce a requirement that equal numbers of men and women be present in any sphere of human endeavor
  • That society has much to gain from letting everyone, male and female, develop their individual talents in a field of endeavor that they have freely chosen.
  • That whatever average differences exist between men and women, whether innate or a result of cultural influences, averages are irrelevant when it comes to deciding whether an individual is qualified for a job.

In their quest for equal treatment, feminists have sometimes denied that there are any innate differences between men and women. And scientists have over-interpreted questionable and conflicting data to argue that there are many established biological differences. In the scientific search for truth, we can hypothesize that some innate differences probably exist and we can search for them. We must not be afraid to examine differences due to sex, gender, or race just because of political correctness or out of fear that our discoveries might be appropriated and misused for nefarious purposes by a group with a political agenda. It is just as foolish to deny the possibility of innate differences as to attribute everything to them.

Will’s critique of my article and some of the other recent incidents have left a bad taste in my mouth and have not served feminism well. Am I correct that we basically agree on the bulleted points? If I have somehow misread you and misinterpreted your position, please explain. If I am right and we are in essential agreement, I propose we concentrate on those points of agreement and try to move forward together.

 

 

 

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286 thoughts on “I Am Not Your Enemy: An Open Letter to My Feminist Critics

  1. Chris says:

    Dr. Hall:

    His critique is demonstrably unfair. He attacks me for things I never said and tries to make it look like I believe the exact opposite of what I believe.

    Some of us older women have been offended that a young man ignores the experience many of us had forty years ago. We noticed that there was some very weird reading comprehension issues to what you actually wrote.

    I noticed that you said “breast is best” after saying men can nurture babies. Both are true. Of course during the next week the NY Times had an article about male couples who had children getting breastmilk from the internet. There are sites to get untested excess breastmilk, plus there are others where tested (and/or pasteurized) breastmilk can be bought. So, that is a non-issue. Men have been proven to be nurturers. And at no point did your article say otherwise. Will needs to catch up that phenomena.

    He also needs to actually listen to us and our experience. I have personally had my competence questioned by my gender by those who did not even know that multivariable nonlinear second order differential equations existed at a time when my job description was to get the finite element data to solve several to predict their dynamic behavior. Perhaps he has had an older co-worker propose a sexual liaison in thanks for help with a computer analysis issue, I don’t know. A proposal that left me speechless when it happened to me (I and the other male engineer just a desk away stood there like deer in head lights… I did eventually say “Please save me from dirty old men.”).

    It is thinking like his that I dropped out of that ridiculous “Women’s Studies” class on “women and work” after working in a real factory as an engineering intern and talking to woman who really worked that has turned me off of some areas of the “social sciences.” Colonel Hall and myself do not need to learn about your “science” if it means ignoring what we have to say.

    By the way, I became a “traditional housewife” after the birth of my first child. There was no way I would have known that he would have multiple medical issues, and it turns out by just a factor of a calendar I made slightly less than my spouse (he graduated from college before me). But both of us have nurtured all of our children, including spending hospital nights with the oldest (he has been in several). It is just that I spent many more in therapy waiting rooms and dealing with insurance. It was just the luck of the draw. These are not things that can be dealt with by a nanny (and when I did the numbers, I would have brought a net salary less than the nanny!). I’m am sure Will will now tell me that I do not know the ins and outs of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, even though I have been part of several IEP meetings.

    But I still know more about applied mathematics and the importance of Euler’s Formula than dear hubby. He barely passed Diffy Q, but as a computer engineer he only has to count from 0 to 1. (it’s a joke, deal with it)

    I am also thankful that being a skeptic over thirty years ago, including a subscription to Skeptical Inquirer, made me immune to the nonsense peddled to parents with disabled children. This is the thing that has perhaps saved me from more grief and cash than anyone will ever know. I have been a skeptic much longer than any “skepchick.”

    Do not ever call my over fifty year old self a “chick.” I was insulted when I was called that as engineer twenty some years ago. That included one who engineer asked me what he should call me when I asked him to not call me that, and I told him to call me “Chris.” Is that so difficult?

    Oh, and another thing… I am going to quote a George Hrab character: “I’m old, what’s your excuse?”

  2. audpicc says:

    None of the other stuff youve said matters unless this point is made clear to you: “He wants to dictate how I use language, yet he uses the word queer, a term most people in the LGBT community consider offensive. He insults me by saying I am ignorant of what gender means.”

    There are tons of self identified queers. I am one. Generally the acronym is LGBTQ for this reason. Queer studies is an academic field. “Queer” has long since been reclaimed by gender-variant and sexual minorities. If you are so out of touch with LGBTQ people and ideas that you think our chosen word to identify ourselves and our movement is “a term most people in the LGBT community consider offensive” then I seriously doubt your knowledge of gender studies. It sounds pretty ignorant to me, and shows me that you are not willing to educate yourself on queer topics enough to get even this simple thing right.

    Conflating gender and sex is not just a matter of grammar or pedantry, it is an insult to gender-variant people. To say that lactation and birthing is a female endeavor when trans men lactate and give birth is an insult. Its not just about science or DNA at that point – its about a system of oppression that erases trans identities. By claiming that certain things are female you are being cissexist in a profoundly offensive way.

    I don’t care what is scientifically right or wrong if what you say is destroying the dignity, respect, rights and value of trans people. Reducing people to their genitals or chromosomes is doing just that.

    Instead of trying to defend yourself, why don’t you try apologizing to all of the queers and trans people you’ve offended with your original post?

  3. scarbunkle says:

    An excellent response, especially in combination with your regularly scheduled article. I was initially concerned by the criticism, but going back and rereading your original article, I can’t find anything particularly objectionable in it–it’s a well-cited piece which summarizes to “population level aptitude differences probably exist along sex-based lines, but we completely don’t know what they are yet, and they don’t even mean anything on an individual level.”

    I will, however, note that your statement that many in the LGBT community consider the term ‘queer’ offensive. While this was true historically, and some older members still consider it so, the term has largely been reclaimed, not only as an umbrella term for the community to help encompass pansexual, asexual, gender non-conforming, and other non-heterosexual, non-cisgender identities, but also as a flexible label to describe otherwise-unspecified non-heterosexual sexuality.

  4. J2T2 says:

    “(insert name) does not understand the difference between sex and gender”

    Does people still use this argument…? Amazing…

  5. windriven says:

    You could beg them to send you the Malleus Maleficarum that they use, read it carefully, perform copious and very public acts of contrition, and submit any future writings to Ophelia Benson and Will.I.Maybe before publishing anywhere.

    Or, you could just smile and cordially invite them to fornicate themselves.

    Personally, I suggest the latter.

    Who the hell made Ophelia Benson or whoever the hell Will is the grand arbiters of feminism? Pissy, self-absorbed, bloody-minded martinets.

  6. stbloomfield says:

    It always amazes me when people within the skeptical community don’t know how to argue properly and throw logical fallacies at people. When you remove the words he put in your mouth where does that leave his argument?

  7. windriven says:

    @audpicc

    ” Generally the acronym is LGBTQ for this reason.”

    No kidding? Gee, I’ve been around since the days when homosexual activity was illegal in some states and I’d never seen that acronym till today.

    “why don’t you try apologizing to all of the queers and trans people you’ve offended with your original post?”

    And just what was so offensive as to require an apology? Just what was it that Dr. Hall wrote that cut you to the quick?

    It’s a tough world out there, bucky. There are still plenty of neanderthals who joyously pummel gays (occasionally to death) who are just trying to live their lives. Yet you feel that your efforts are best spent lecturing Dr. Hall on the fine points of queer nomenclature?

    Perspective matters. Embrace it so you don’t come off as a puling neurotic.

  8. Janet says:

    I’m sorry you felt you had to defend yourself at all. Your writing was clear and concise to rational people. I don’t see where it’s necessary to agree with every word someone writes. For example, in your bullet points you say:

    “That women should not just stay home and take care of kids”

    “That society has much to gain from letting everyone, male and female, develop their individual talents in a field of endeavor that they have freely chosen”.

    Now, if I were like these critics, then upon reading the first statement , I might get prickly, and interpret that to mean that you have no respect for homemakers, (which should be dispelled not only by having read a lot of your work, but by the second quote), but touchy people don’t look at the totality; they seize on a phrase or word usage and build a big old mountain out of a molehill.

    I knew someone was going to jump in on your use of “queer” and I think that line of reasoning fits my example above. Breastfeeding is another topic where it is difficult to say anything at all without offending someone. Some people have extremely thin skins and cannot be placated unless you totally bend to views that are generally considered narrow, (or apply to very small numbers of people) to put it mildly.

    I encounter this type of thing when I write comments to articles about weight loss. I say something innocent enough like, “you have to learn to eat less” and I get stuff back that is 500 words of, “you hate fat people you bigot”, “if you want to be in a constant state of starvation…”, “you are in thrall to the medical community and should read (fill in the blank current diet book guru)”, and my favorite: “your words are arrogant in the extreme” (!)–I never get than one at all.

    It sounds trite, but you really cannot please all of the people all of the time.

  9. elburto says:

    There are tons of self identified queers. I am one. Generally the acronym is LGBTQ for this reason. Queer studies is an academic field. “Queer” has long since been reclaimed by gender-variant and sexual minorities.

    This. I’ve been out for 14 years, and even before that (while I tentatively dipped my toes in the waters of “Maybe I’m not straight” and sought online guidance) it was being used positively. In fact, it’s a pretty common identifier for newly out/questioning people to use while they figure out where exactly they fit in the sexuality spectrum. I mean hasn’t “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” been around since the 80s?

    Queer as Folk? Queer Eye for the Straight Guy? The former was *huge* in the UK when it came out (pun intended) in the late 90s. This is not a brand new phenomenon.

    There’s a sizable population of people who identify as “genderqueer” too, that term’s been around for quite a while.

    The truth is that many hurtful epithets have been taken back. “F*g” and “d*ke” being two of them. Just as various black and ethnic minority groups and people with disabilities have adopted slurs to take the power away from their oppressors, so have LGBTQ people. Since the 80s when, in the wake of the AIDS crisis, LGBTQ people became significantly more politicised and driven to make the point that we’re not going away, the ability to take hurtful language and reshape it has helped in the push to empower people.

    It is still used as a weapon by some people, of course, and for many older LGBT people it is not a term they would ever reclaim, due to painful incidents when it was freely used against them. That’s why it’s not an identifier that you can impose on someone else, but something chosen by queer-identifying people for themselves.

  10. Troyota says:

    Great and thorough response, Dr. Hall, but I’m sorry that you felt you had to do it. Nobody who had actually followed your writings would have made all those negative interpretations.

    “Will” seems to be such a magnificent feminist that he’s projected himself into a hypervigilant state. I think that Saint Paul wrote something about how it’s good to not take offense too easily. Let’s assume some mutual good intentions, shall we?

    And for some reason, this little scuffle reminded me of a favorite scene in the movie “Adam’s Rib” (1949):

    Kip: Well, good luck tomorrow, Amanda. I’m on your side, I guess you know that. You’ve got me so convinced, I may even go out and become a woman.

    Adam (aside): And he wouldn’t have far to go, either.

    Some of us need to lighten up. Keep on truckin’!

  11. elburto says:

    Oh and I’d like to point out that my comment above is not an attack on anyone. It’s more borne out of curiosity (over a perceived unawareness the reclamation of “queer”) and just some info on how it’s used by various groups and subgroups in the LGBTQ/QUILTBAG spectra.

    I honestly thought that this was common knowledge. I know that the situation in the US is pretty vastly different to the one here in the UK, but I assumed that usage of “Queer” as a reclaimed self-identifier was a given even for those not in the relevant communities.

  12. I think we all should remember the principle of charity, something which is often missing in these internal fights.

    When considering another’s argument it helps to give it the most charitable interpretation, to argue against the best possible argument on the “other side.” This is the antidote to the straw man fallacy. If you are not charitable then it is likely that you will waste time arguing against a position that was never articulated.

    Find common ground and be charitable. How many times have we as skeptics advocated this approach when dealing with the most dedicated charlatans or pseudoscientists? It seems like we should be able to extend the courtesy to others in our own community.

    My problem with so many of the exchanges that are fueling internal strife is that they are maximally uncharitable to the target of their criticism. This is very counterproductive.

  13. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    I should stop being surprised at how eerily accurate South Park is at predicting the future.

    One of the aspects inherent to the human condition is ingrouping and outgrouping. Another is the desire for easily-identifiable heroes and villains. The reality is, it’s very easy to find someone to hate, it’s harder to tolerate disagreements.

    @audpicc:

    There are tons of self identified queers. I am one. Generally the acronym is LGBTQ for this reason. Queer studies is an academic field. “Queer” has long since been reclaimed by gender-variant and sexual minorities. If you are so out of touch with LGBTQ people and ideas that you think our chosen word to identify ourselves and our movement is “a term most people in the LGBT community consider offensive” then I seriously doubt your knowledge of gender studies. It sounds pretty ignorant to me, and shows me that you are not willing to educate yourself on queer topics enough to get even this simple thing right.

    The reality is, terminology is different according to country, language and individual. Some might find “queer” offensive, others not. Not everybody is interested in the most up to date terminology for various groups, be they black/African American (as a Canadian, I have no idea what term is considered polite here, I stick with “black” but I’m sure that offends some), Native/Aboriginal, or any of the variants of human sexuality. Do you think Dr. Hall was trying to offend anyone? Perhaps a better option would have been politely noting that some people do find the terminology acceptable or offensive, rather than taking the alienating approach of calling her ignorant. I support the rights of homosexual people to be protected from discrimination (including discrimination against marriage, adoption and the like) but am not sufficiently interested in the topic beyond that to care what the most acceptable terminology is for everyone. I personally will usually stick with “homosexual”, or “gay/lesbian” but have to think about what a “transsexual man” means in terms of birth and/or genetic sex. Language is important, and you used it to attach a lot of negative associations to anyone who appreciates Dr. Hall’s work.

    Conflating gender and sex is not just a matter of grammar or pedantry, it is an insult to gender-variant people. To say that lactation and birthing is a female endeavor when trans men lactate and give birth is an insult. Its not just about science or DNA at that point – its about a system of oppression that erases trans identities. By claiming that certain things are female you are being cissexist in a profoundly offensive way.

    Only if it’s meant as an insult. Scientifically, “female” is determined by the sex possessing the larger of the reproductive cells. Realistically, you have to be biologically a female to give birth. In practice, most people who give birth are biologically female and have not undergone sexual reassignment surgery. Saying lactation and birthing is a female endeavour is both accurate in scientific terms and practical shorthand since the percentage of trans men who give birth is a vanishingly small percentage of everyone giving birth. English, one of the richest and most diverse languages on the planet, doesn’t have the words to deal with this. Claiming this is an effort to “erase” trans identities is a bit of an over-reaction, it’s extraordinarily difficult and space-consuming to try to cover every single base in every single case. And before you decide I’m attempting to “erase” trans identities rather than reflect on the realities and practicalities of language, I suggest you read my comment here.

    I don’t care what is scientifically right or wrong if what you say is destroying the dignity, respect, rights and value of trans people. Reducing people to their genitals or chromosomes is doing just that.

    Isn’t sexual reassignment surgery used by genetic and birth males to construct a vagina, in more than a small way, reducing people and identity to genitals? It’s complicated, and it’s different for essentially everyone. Science and humans in general are efforts to paper over continuums with categories, that don’t and can never work for everyone. It’s imperfect, it always will be, and it’s rarely an effort to deliberately offend.

    Instead of trying to defend yourself, why don’t you try apologizing to all of the queers and trans people you’ve offended with your original post?

    Why didn’t you choose to politely indicate some of the areas and groups her posts might or might not have applied to instead of assuming offence was intended? I would have read, with interest, your discussion of your knowledge and experience as a queer person and how it feeds into this debate as one among many stakeholder groups. Instead you decided the entire post was an attempt to offend all transsexuals. Transsexualism wasn’t Dr. Hall’s original focus, not every post can cover every topic, but certainly comments can involve a polite discussion of the complications of sex and gender and how it affects minority groups that have even less visibility than homosexual people. That would have been interesting, instead of alienating. I’m not saying transsexual people don’t have a right to be angry at their treatment and lack of recognition. I have no idea what your life is like and I imagine it is quite difficult in many ways. That being said, by assuming offence and seeking to cause hurt with your reply, you’ve now made me uninterested in learning much more.

  14. windriven says:

    I guess I was totally mistaken to have believed that the goal is a society that recognizes that we are all part of the community of humans, that takes us as we come and values us by our character and our contributions, that works to assure a valued place for everyone.

    Now I’ve learned that the unifier is not our shared humanity but the tiny, miserable differences that must be carefully noted and acknowledged and woe be to those who fail to frame that acknowledgment with exactly the right nouns and adjectives.

    Is this where the quest for social equality has taken us? Really?

  15. nybgrus says:

    I’m absolutely blown away by the boondoggle of a piece that “Will” has written. I am also blown away that anyone would think to tell someone like yourself or Chris that their opinion on the matter is definitive. Or really anyone that any opinion is absolutely definitive. That is certainly not a skeptical attitude.

    I for one consider myself a feminist and a skeptic (amongst other things) and part of that means that if someone more erudite on a topic than myself has something to say, I shut the fuck up an listen. Pardon my language, but as windriven said, it is mind bogglingly counterproductive and stupid. I may ultimately counter and discuss and refine points and hey, I may sometimes be more right on a specific narrow topic than you or Chris. I would consider that not a “victory” but a point of personal pride that I have learned enough to be able to civilly demonstrate to someone such as yourselves a finer point you may not have considered. And I know for a fact that you would be more than willing to accept such commentary. The “queer” term is one example. But the way in which audpicc approached it is downright insulting, counterproductive, inflammatory, and renders the point nearly worthless. Elburto approached it in a much more reasonable manner. We all make mistakes, no matter who we are. The best of us – such as yourself Dr. Hall – are happy to admit them and move on. The worst of us take the mistake to be some sinister conspiracy or, even worse as audpicc states that because you made an apparent gaff on a single narrow point, that the rest of your writing isn’t even worth considering.

    I’ll state it quite clearly now:

    Audpicc – that sort of attitude is inane, childish, asinine, and the same kind of bullshit that CAM purveyors and pseudoscientists use to try and discredit anything of actual value. Your statement is a boondoggle of a self serving rant that actively and directly undermines your entire point, taking something minor and blowing it so out of proportion as to overshadow all the incredibly good work towards common goals with which you agree that Dr. Hall has done and continues to do. I understand the impulse and the reaction, but if you want to be taken seriously grow up and show some maturity. There are vastly more productive ways to approach an issue.

    I reckon much like you, Dr. Hall, this is leaving a very bad taste in my mouth. My original comment(s) about the Shermer/Benson thing still stand – I think that initially Benson was merely using the slip o’ the tongue on Shermer’s part to illustrate a point; to the same end as I would have used yours on “queer” to do the same (perhaps she didn’t do as good a job as she could have, but we can extend a bit of the principle of charity here). But then it has spiraled out of control. And it is a damned shame. The correct urban dictionary term for this is getting ButtHurt which I am now awaiting the onslaught of criticism about how terrible a human being I am for using that term because undoubtedly there is some etymological reason why it is particularly insensitive and completely and totally undermines all the work I have ever done and everything I have ever written here at SBM and elsewhere.

    Bah. I’m more and more starting to see Dr. Novella’s point about “the skeptical tent” and indeed felt that Jamy Ian Swiss’ talk was quite moving and powerful after I had listened to it (even though I went into it having been tainted by PZ Myers’ take on it, I still managed to maintain some objectivity and feel he was doing exactly what we are seeing here).

    I am an atheist, an anti-theist, a feminist, a gay rights activist, anti-CAM, anti-pseudoscience, egalitarian, humanist, secularist, scientist, and by the end of this year an actual physician (eek!) but above all else I find myself most identifying with and primarily a scientific skeptic and rationalist. It is a process to get there, IMO, and I made mis-steps along the way. But I don’t think I ever had the vitriolic and provincial attitude that I have been seeing amongst the skeptic and freethought circles lately.

    Anyways, I’m done ranting at this point. Apologies for it. I just want to be clear that despite this bad taste and the fact that we are now squabbling amongst ourselves and our allies who share common goals in addition to the actual people and ideas we should be combatting, I still see good reason to persevere and keep fighting the good fight and I hope you do too Dr. Hall.

  16. muddgirl says:

    Isn’t sexual reassignment surgery used by genetic and birth males to construct a vagina, in more than a small way, reducing people and identity to genitals?

    Picking at ‘tiny, miserable differences’, as windriven would say.

    One reason that there is a move to refer to ‘gender reassignment surgery’ is that not all transgender people chose to surgically alter their genitals. Some only change their secondary sexual characteristics to enhance what hormones can accomplish in those areas. That’s still GRS. So no, transgender people do not inherently reduce people and identities to genitals. That’s a false assumption not based on facts.

  17. nybgrus says:

    My comment in moderation is certainly not as sophisticated and professional as that of Dr. Novella or WLU, but I enthusiastically agree with their points and echo them in my own comment.

    And elburto – I specifically mention that your comment was indeed a reasonably appropriate one an an example of a positive discourse in direct contrast to audpicc’s.

    In any event, I’ve said my peace in my own faulty way and will probably not comment much further on these topics. I do read the comments and learn from them, but one expression of my own exasperation with a devolution into a touch of profanity is more than enough.

    In fact, I’m feeling a bit embarassed at my own lapse in professionalism in that comment, justified as I feel it may be. WLU and Dr. Novella essentially echoed my own sentiments (I even specifically mentioned the principle of charity), and the remainder of what I wrote was venting my own frustrations at the ridiculous infighting. I’ll leave it at Dr. Hall’s discretion whether she feels the comment should be published or not. She’ll read it either way and much of it, including the conclusion, is directed towards her.

    In the meantime, I have better things to do than participate in such a squabble and despite my human compunction to partake I will go and do those things.

  18. Rebecca Watson says:

    Hi Harriet,

    I won’t bother commenting on the sex/gender argument, as Will is more than capable of handling that. I will echo a few other commenters and point out that your “queer” statement doesn’t do you any favors in convincing anyone that your knowledge of these topics is anything close to approaching Will’s.

    You didn’t mention me as a person included amongst your feminist critics, but I suspect many people reading this will assume I’m in there somewhere, possible because your t-shirt at TAM did directly call out my website and you’ve mentioned that incident specifically in your post. So, I figured I’d respond briefly because I’ve never really discussed it publicly and never talked with you about it at all.

    When you made your “I am not a Skepchick” shirt, I did consider writing a blog post about it. Then I changed my mind and I composed an email to you in which I explained my feelings on the subject, since you seemed confused by the reaction you received. I pointed out that no one to my knowledge had ever called you a Skepchick, and I had never asked you to become a contributor to the network. I then used an analogy in which I pointed out that if a physician like Steve Novella went to the effort to create a CafePress shirt that read something like “I am not a SkepDoc. I am a skeptic,” you would be confused, a little hurt, and, when he wore it three days in a row, concerned for his personal hygiene. Your hurt feelings would be completely understandable, especially if he did this following a year in which you received a nonstop avalanche of insults, slurs, rape threats, and death threats from skeptics.

    So I wrote the email, tinkered with it for a few days, and eventually I deleted it without sending. The reason was that after reflecting on it for so long, I came to the realization that while a week prior I held an immense amount of respect for you, I suddenly had lost that respect so completely that I had no interest in getting it back. I realized I was stressing out over someone who was so proud of an immature t-shirt she made that she wore it for an entire weekend. I realized that anyone who needs an explanation of why that was silly and hurtful doesn’t actually deserve an explanation, and they certainly don’t deserve real estate in my head. So I let others argue over it while I moved on to more interesting things.

    I’m writing all this to you now because I want to be sure that you know that I do not think of you as my enemy. In fact, I don’t really think of you at all. The most one could say is that when you are occasionally brought to my attention, as happened with Will’s recent posts, I simply think of you as ill-informed on social issues.

    So, having now spent ten precious minutes on the subject, it’s once again time for me to move on to more interesting things.

  19. M. A. G. says:

    Thank You. Awesome post Dr. Hall.

    Also, those are precisely the reasons I have mostly stopped reading other “skeptical blogs”. They become too entangled in criticizing other skeptics simply to either generate more “views” or just for spite. They do not read what others write carefully and are quick to give their opinion.

    One thing I’ve wondered, and I’ve discussed this with other psychiatrists, dentists and doctors at the clinic I work at; It’s amazing how we think we can multitask, when in truth, it decreases our productivity. We think we can read 3-4 articles at the same time, but while doing so, we miss the true point or the article. ADD is grossly misdiagnosed, and partly a cause of not having someone making sure your child sits at home doing his/her homework (if it weren’t for both my parents, someone would have definitely diagnosed me as having ADHD).

    1000 years ago humans recited stories as long as the Iliad from memory. 10 years ago I knew all the phone numbers of ALL my friends and acquaintances (at least over 75) by memory. Now… I depend on my phone and speed dial. I only remember 5 or 6 crucial numbers.

    Maybe we should stop, take a deep breath and reassess where we are. Because we sure as hell are moving fast, without a clear picture of where we are headed, and we are taking down everyone on our way. Even if they fight for the same cause.

    I don’t know if what I said has anything to do with any of this…. but there you go. My mind wanders.

  20. tigzy says:

    Hi Rebecca

    So that’s the best you can do, is it? Presume that Dr Hall would be hurt if someone wore a ‘Not a SkepDoc’ t-shirt in her presence, and in doing so make crude and unnecessary references to her personal hygiene.

    Pathetic.

    You post is a perfect illustration of why Dr Hall is justified in making sure people know that she is not a skepchick.

  21. sirfarmsalot says:

    Rebecca Watson said:

    “I’m writing all this to you now because I want to be sure that you know that I do not think of you as my enemy. In fact, I don’t really think of you at all. The most one could say is that when you are occasionally brought to my attention, as happened with Will’s recent posts, I simply think of you as ill-informed on social issues.

    So, having now spent ten precious minutes on the subject, it’s once again time for me to move on to more interesting things.”

    The condescension, ill-temper, and lack of grace packed into those few sentences resolves once and for all the issue of whether or not to pay further attention to you or this argument.

  22. superdave says:

    As I argued in my comment at neurologica, I think we need to take a step back and recognize that there is large body of scholarly work regarding gender studies and that we should defer to experts when our own knowledge in an area is deficient. That isn’t to say we can never comment of course, but just that we should tread carefully.

    @Rebecca
    I’ll just say I hope you reconsider one day.

  23. Harriet Hall says:

    I apologize to anyone who was offended by what I said about using the word “queer.” Unless the Internet and various dictionaries are lying to me, the word is still considered offensive by many people, although others have reclaimed it and embraced it. Is it fair to say that those outside the community should be cautious in applying the word until they have determined whether their interlocutor objects to it or not?

  24. Esteleth says:

    The word “queer” has two simultaneous meanings:
    1. A self-descriptive word used (sometimes affectionately) by people who are not cis and/or straight.
    2. A slur used against people who are not cis and/or straight by people who are cis and/or straight.

    The latter usage is, in fact, considered offensive. However, broad leeway is generally given to people who are LGBT to use “queer” (both as a self-descriptor and to refer to others like themselves), because of how it has been reclaimed. However, people who are not LGBT using “queer” may be questioned, due to the second meaning.

  25. windriven says:

    @Rebecca Watson

    You certainly know how to take all the pride out of defending you.

  26. yankeeskeptic says:

    “I don’t care what is scientifically right or wrong if what you say is destroying the dignity, respect, rights and value of trans people. Reducing people to their genitals or chromosomes is doing just that.”

    OK this is a skeptic issue, as well as an issue of wishing equality, but the above while probably just poorly worded is not a good skeptic response to an issue skeptics should be able to figure out. We think logically and scientifically.

    The odd part is the emphasis on “You screwed up OLD LADY!” and how we are marginalized and not considered “with it” enough to play a part. Yet this is truly part of what feminism is supposed to be fighting, women being marginalized after they are over 30. When did, respecting people, explaining nicely (rather than DEMANDING an apology because hey, you just have not kept up with the lingo), and seeing we are stronger together rather than apart because a problem?

    Ageism is quite the issue, but it is full steam ahead and we don’t care who we run over, at times. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Emotional responses, and easily hurt feelings, also do not make reaching a goal easier. Getting “side tracked” rather than “keep your eyes on the prize” is important.

    Harriet obviously took a long time with this article. She went into detail. It is well written, it is magazine quality, it is probably “old school” in that sometimes blogging is all the emotion of the moment, and this article was not emotion but clarity of exactly how she feels. It has no swear words. It is in a word “professional”.

    There are wonderful women writers out there, and whomever “will” is he/she does not represent the other viewpoint well. His felt a little too rushed. He also could talk to Harriet.

    Maybe our generation had to face the barrier to our success of the excuse “we can’t hire women they are too emotional”. So we learned to chill a bit. We learned how to write a response. We learned to take time. There are fabulous, and indeed well trained skeptic women writers. I know that their audience likes a good curse and the fun of irony and sarcasm. But if this is truly important to us, and indeed it is to me, let’s follow the lead of other rights movements and figure out how we can each do our part with our abilities, and respect others. Pointing at a tshirt and flipping out is nothing compared to the still daily struggles of women in the skeptic world to be accepted fully.

    I know my own experience has been one of having to “prove myself” with some articles I have written. It has been facing an old boys club not quite sure who this older women with boobs might be. What does SHE know? However, it’s other men, already there, helping me break down the barriers.
    I know there is a woman on OWN (I know, it’s a wonderful world of woo on there), but she was counseling women that were getting their lives together, and it was sounding like some Real Housewives fighting going on. The therapist STOPPED IT and said “I will not let you dishonor your sister in that way!” She was trying to show these women were in a bad situation in their lives, partly because they did not see they needed their fellow woman and her wisdom and power, more than they needed to keep competing endlessly in the way society has taught us.

    Also, I find feminist meetings and groups that refuse to have trans-gender speakers, or sometimes even allow trans-gender women to attend, disgraceful. It’s not about equality, or a fair playing field, for women, it’s about a fair field for all. Never again the “Give women the vote, as you gave it to black people.” and I refuse to go to any conference that does not give trans-genders a welcome.

  27. sirfarmsalot says:

    I’m a 53-year-old atheist gay farmer. I loathe the term “queer” as applied to gays. Others who want to “embrace” the term are free to do so, but keep your “theory” to yourselves.

    Dr. Hall, you owe no one an apology, but your doing so is a testament to your character.

  28. badrescher says:

    @Rebecca

    Interesting. I didn’t think that this post was about you at all, much less all about you.

    @Harriett

    I hope this is the last time you defend yourself to unwarranted and unreasonable criticism. I do think that it is sometimes a good idea to address these things, but the truth is that you could spend your life explaining, point-by-point, that these criticism are fallacious (mostly straw men, it seems).

    I think that most of us can say with confidence that a post with lists and pleas will not result in more careful reading or civil discussion. And I think that you are mistaken that any of your goals and values are the same as your critics. We all claim that what we’re after is equality for women (and some of us note that we differ in what “equality” means or how to achieve it), but I question whether that is just means to a different end that has more to do with attention, respect, and “being right”.

    Regarding sex differences themselves, your critics seem to want it both ways – there are differences, but there no differences? Or the only things that are different are things that nobody can say matter? It’s a bit confusing and, I find, an extremely shallow and self-serving approach. We certainly should not accept claims about anything, including sex differences, without strong evidence, but we all benefit from identifying those real differences and figuring out what they mean in terms of expected outcomes. And we all suffer when we ignore them or when scientific findings are reject outright because someone doesn’t like them or the way that they might be abused. That’s the creationists’ way.

    Finally, the concept of “gender blindness” is, I think, central to the conflict over your T-shirt. I contend that anything other than gender blindness is a recipe for sexism.

  29. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Heh, I read this one first, then I read Dr. Hall’s second post of the day.

    Sarcasm alert.

    Yes, clearly Dr. Hall has no awareness of the many nuances of gender, sex and whatnot. Clearly she meant her post to offend.

    To make another comment – it would be very, very helpful for everyone involved in the skeptical movement and really, all of life, to focus on ideas rather than people. Trying to paint Dr. Hall as a bad person because she has written ideas and opinions that you disagree with or are not sufficiently nuanced as someone who lives with, studies or has expertise in a particular gender, sexual, biological or any other identity seems to quite miss the point. A post about everything, covering every possible nuance on a topic, would be unreadable. Comments are immensely valuable for illustrating or pointing to those nuances. Webposts meant to be a relatively broad overview of a specific topic of necessity will not capture all naunces. A constructive discussion would point out areas and terminology that could be improved, and only point out areas of deliberate insult when it is obvious that insult was intended.

    PZ Myers may be an insensitive jerk (to some), but his criticisms of religion and how it impacts science are, from a scientific perspective, both interesting and insightful. Dr. Hall may have “thoughtlessly” oversimplified (in this post, but then again there is of course this one) the myriad ways gender and sex distinctions can be complicated by biology, neurology, psychology and sociology, but made several factual statements in both posts that can be contested, admired or refined. Abbie Smith may have a terrible potty mouth and more seriously be a dog person (eeeeeww!!!!!) but her knowledge of and ability to discuss virology are excellent and her posts astonishingly interesting to a non-expert like me. Perhaps rather than attempting to cause hurt and offence at perhaps minor and tangential issues, we could instead admire the good parts and suggest improvements for the remainder. The idea that you must respect a person to respect their well-expressed, science-based ideas is, sadly, wrong. Our heroes will always disappoint us (Hello President Obama! Your science and defence policies kinda suck!) and our villains will probably always undertake some action that is in some way beneficial somewhere (thanks for making the trains run on time Benito!*) so why not make delicious cheese out of the valuable idea-curds and discard the distasteful whey?**

    *two points – yes, Benito Mussolini probably didn’t make the trains run on time, and the exception to this rule is Hitler, who never did anything good the fucknuckle

    **yes, whey is a valuable source of well-digested protein, but there’s only so far you can torture a metaphor before it becomes counter-productive. Also, this is unlikely because as part of our chimp-based heritage, we are in fact apes and as apes we are quite terrible at this. But we could, maybe, try it once in a while. Take a step back. Take a deep breath. Contest a fact, not a personality.

  30. mousethatroared says:

    Really trying not to get sucked in but after reading Will’s article I wondered if both of us had read the same Harriet Hall piece. The bit about breast feeding in particular jumped out.

    Being an adoptive parent (who did not breastfeeding) I am very sensitive to issues of breastfeeding and attachment or bonding. I would have commented if I thought there was any suggestion that breastfeeding resulted in better bonding* or if I felt stigmatized.

    I thought it was pretty clear that “breast is best” reference was in regards to the content of breast milk versus formula, not at all bonding related.

    *Interesting tidbit – in this context “bonding” refers to the emotional connection that the parent develops for their child whereas “attachment” refers to emotional connection that a child develops to their caregiver(s).

    As to the difference between sex and gender. I’m sure that I have made many mistakes on this topic. I guess I have two choices. I can not talk about it…essentially closeting the topic, or I can accept that I will probably screw up. I hope that people will be generous and correct me kindly when I do.

    I hope when people unknowingly step on my toes when discussing a topic that I am sensitive too, that I have the presence of mind to be generous to them and offer any needed correction gently.

    But hey, everyone has bad days, sometimes I’m more snappy than needed. I also try to understand that happens with others. It seems like we should be able to get along with most people who are not habitually mean spirited.

    *Interesting tidbit – in this context “bonding” refers to the emotional connection that the parent develops for their child whereas “attachment” refers to emotional connection that a child develops to their caregiver(s).

  31. mousethatroared says:

    whoops sorry for the redundant asterisk error

  32. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    There are tons of self identified queers. I am one. Generally the acronym is LGBTQ for this reason. Queer studies is an academic field. “Queer” has long since been reclaimed by gender-variant and sexual minorities.

    I missed this until just now. I had always heard that the “q” stood for “questioning”, I didn’t know that it also could stand for “queer”. Thanks for informing me. Note that Armstrsong, 2002 and Blasius, 2001 apparently indicate this is perceived particularly among older homosexuals to be pejorative, insulting or hurtful, so perhaps be careful in its use.

    The wikipedia article for LGBT also includes “I” for “intersex”, which seems a valuable addition, and in India they add an “H” for “hijra”, the “third gender” found in some subcultures (though I believe similar subcultures exist; Nepal’s Supreme Court has apparently officially recognized “other” as a gender, Thailand has the kathoey, Oman has the Xanith and there’s lots more “third gender” forms throughout the world). “T” may also stand for “two-spirited”, or “transvestite”. “A” may be added to incorporate “assexual” or “allies”. “P” may be “pansexual” or “polyamorous”. “H” could also be “HIV-infected”. “F” for “fetish”. “B” for “BDSM”. “MSM” for “men who have sex with men” but prefer not to adopt a label. “C” for “curious”. Black/African American homosexuals prefer “same gender loving”, apparently because they believe the LGBCTBQHTAHPHITP to be too white-dominated.

    Truly, the gender and sexuality practices of humans are a heroic thing, and one that defies easy categorization.

  33. liebling says:

    Sometimes I find what you post to be pretty abrasive, but overall (as a feminist myself) I think you have a very genuine concern for the health and safety of others and want to blasphemize quacks to the point of discrediting them. I’m a fairy decent critical thinker (and a science student) so I can wade through what you say, look at the actual research, and weigh it against the “quacks” themselves and come to my own conclusions (which is, generally, on course with what you have posted.) I can see how people with less-than-flexible minds and very deep convictions could be oppositional to your writing and see you as coming down on women especially for being ignorant to scientific reasoning. The way I actually discovered your blog post was when I had to research for a women’s studies project on homebirthing. It was funny, because I was the one girl in my group who didn’t hold some naturalistic fallacy that homebirthing was the end-all-be-all of “perfect motherhood,” but I was also very put off by your broad-sweeping condemnation of the practice. It took me a while, but after hearing from so many rabid HB enthusiasts (including one girl who insisted that she give birth to her child in a dolphin tank because “the dolphin midwives knew best” :S) I kind of understood why you were so adamantly against it. Personally, I plan on having my children at home if it is possible, but I am under no impression that my pregnancy will require zero monitoring or that my body is “full of ancient wisdom, and will know what to do.” The homebirthing midwives in my province are trained at the top university (UBC) and get a full medical education, except it is concentrated entirely on caring for pregnant women and delivering babies in and outside of a hospital. My decision is based on my personal comfort level and beliefs, but my personal comfort would be thrown out the window if I was told point-blank that my pregnancy will require medical intervention. If I didn’t live in a city and have access to hospital care immediately, I probably wouldn’t plan on having a homebirth because I wouldn’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with a pregnancy complication. No, I’m actually studying the hell out of obstetrics material so I can gauge the safety of my decision. Those who blindly believe that “hospitals are evil” and “women know best” see your view as an attack on women themselves, not the naturalistic fallacy that *some* women fall prey to. Personally, I appreciate you calling out the selfishness and narcissism that too often is associated with something that should be about health and wellbeing.

    So, that’s just my perspective, as a feminist AND someone who disagrees with you about something, but is still a fan of your work :)

  34. windriven says:

    @WLU

    Hear, hear!!!

    And this made me laugh out loud:

    ” Also, this is unlikely because as part of our chimp-based heritage, we are in fact apes and as apes we are quite terrible at this.”

    It engendered a mental image of certain correspondents jumping up and down, teeth bared, shrieking and throwing feces. I will carry this image with me and refer to it when noisome and petty characters pollute a conversation with inanities.

  35. hero says:

    I have always understood ”queer” to be a [disparaging] term for a homosexual person. “Feminism” seems to have its own special jargon.
    Movements like Scientology have their their own specialist jargon. I see some strains of “feminism” as equally opaque with respect to their vocabulary.
    Redefining existing words is problematic.

  36. audpicc says:

    To all of those commenters saying “she didn’t mean to be offensive” or “you need to calm down if we are to take you seriously” y’all need to read some Derailing 101!

    “She didn’t mean to be offensive” – Intent doesn’t matter. Thinking that someone’s well wishes can alter the outcome of their behavior is like a reverse-ad-hominem. You can be the nicest most generous bigot in the world, and it wouldn’t change the bigot part. What she said is damaging to non-binary individuals. It is cissexist. Her ignorance or well-wishes won’t change that.

    “You need to calm down if we are to take you seriously” – my tone doesn’t need policing, thanks. I am allowed to be as angry as I want to be. It doesn’t change the content of my arguments. Tone policing is one of the most common forms of silencing minorities. Be careful who you tell to calm down, its almost always condescending and minimizing.

  37. hero says:

    I would like to suggest that some blog articles are deliberately inflammatory to attract blog hits, and advertising revenue. A technique to increase blog hits is by making the comments section a war zone.

    I recall that Mr Davis (CFI DC) was jubilant because the FTB hits were greater than the RDFRS.

    I would implore everyone to consider the use of browser plugs that prevent advert impressions and analytics.

    In addition to the cynical use of drama, I fear that some people have been gradually indoctrinated. A once erudite podcast cohost appears to now be a completely different person.

  38. boyofd says:

    @Rebecca — I am a fan of yours and a regular visitor (but very infrequent poster) on skepchick. I really enjoyed your description of the email you prepared to send to Dr. Hall, as it sounds very thoughtful, reasoned, and appropriately critical of one of Dr. Hall’s actions. It seems to me that it was a shame that you deleted it, and perhaps an opportunity to build understanding on both sides was lost. Maybe nothing would have come of it, but at least you would know that you gave it a chance.

    In contrast, I’m not sure that a drive-by, dismissive comment intended to demean Dr. Hall in front of her readers was nearly as well-thought out. What is done, is done, but I’m not sure how this advances your skeptical or feminist aims in any beneficial way.

  39. superdave says:

    @audpicc, you are correct that intent doesn’t change the quality of an argument but it can certainly help to clear up misunderstandings due to ambiguous language.

    About tone policing…you have a right to use whatever tone you want, but personally I try to limit my tone because when strong emotion drives writing it makes it harder to be objective.

  40. windriven says:

    ” Be careful who you tell to calm down, its almost always condescending and minimizing.”

    Calm down. I say that not because you are a self identified queer. I couldn’t care less about the state of your genitalia or genetics, nor about your proclivities.

    I say it because of this:

    “It doesn’t change the content of my arguments.”

    You are being argumentative in the sense of being disputatious but you have not mounted an argument in any meaningful sense.

  41. hero says:

    A common slur used by “feminists” against critics is to stigmatise obsession. Both myself and Sara Mayhew have been called obsessive because we use evidence to back up our assertions.
    Sara Mayhew produced screen shots (and only when pressed, after several months of misinformation).

    I use the Twitter and Storify API to capture conversations. The “feminists” hate this because tweets still persist in Storify entries, even when deleted. I have a deep passion for the truth and showing people when they’re wrong. Using evidence. I may be on the autistic spectrum — that is neither here nor there. To imply that I danger – from my bedroom in Europe – is absurd.

    I will never apologise for, or feel ashamed of being “obsessed”.

  42. alephsquared says:

    Is it fair to say that those outside the community should be cautious in applying the word until they have determined whether their interlocutor objects to it or not?

    Do you know if Will is queer or not? Because you seem to be assuming he is outside the community, which as far as I can tell is not necessarily the case.

    I took that as a hopeful sign that friendly communication might be achieved, but my bubble was quickly burst by a hostile takedown of my article on Skepchick by “Will.”

    Why do you place Will’s name in scare-quotes? Is he not allowed to be seriously identified using the name he has made available online? Or are you “Harriet Hall”?

    What would he have had me say? “Female-bodied individuals are more likely to menstruate, get pregnant and lactate than male-bodied individuals”? That strikes me as an inelegant and unreasonable concession to feminist political correctness.

    It isn’t “political correctness” or “feminist political correctness,” it’s just correctness. Period. Saying things more accurately may seem inelegant to you, but I find that skeptics in general admire accuracy. Saying that the fact that women menstruate, get pregnant, and lactate is an example of a “real difference” between men and women was simply incorrect and inaccurate. The fact that it more elegantly supported your point than a factually correct statement should not shield you from criticism for getting those facts wrong.

  43. Panthera spelaea says:

    @audpicc “What she said is damaging to non-binary individuals. It is cissexist.”

    Just because your feelings may have been hurt, mainly due to your deciding to take offence based on your unreasonable demand that everyone must be fluent in your particular jargon, it is overstating the case to call it damaging. What, apart from your hurt feelings, was actually damaged?

    I do understand that some individuals are unable to deal with normal life and demand special privileges and safe spaces, but when they venture to the scary outside world, they just have to take their chances like the rest of us.

  44. superdave says:

    @Panthera, I don’t think you are in a position to judge other people’s needs.

  45. audpicc says:

    @panthera spelaea

    I’m not being too sensitive when I say cissexism creates real harm. Trans women are more likely than any other sexual minority to be unemployed, assaulted and murdered. This is not due to some fraction of the heterosexual cis population that are criminals – this is due to a system of oppression towards gender-non-conforming people. To use language that further identifies trans people as “other” and to take away their identities by not addressing them or to reduce them to a set of genitals or chromosomes is violence against trans people. Women are getting murdered because cis people can’t get over the fact that some women have penises or ask for pronouns that are outside their small worldview. So don’t tell me that I’ve “decided to take offence”. It is not an unreasonable demand that everyone be regarded with respect and digntity. The way to strip a trans person of respect and dignity is cissexism – which is run rampant all over Dr. Hall’s articles.

  46. jcwelch says:

    When it comes down to it, I look at what the person has done.

    Dr. Hall actually broke down walls, removed obstacles and led the way in a group, The USAF, and a time, the 1970s and 1980s, when simply being a woman in her line of work was newsworthy. She did these things the way, I would hope, most of us would want to lead the way: working hard, doing good work, and showing by her work that the reasons given for denying various positions in the military were clearly incorrect.

    She did not sit on the sidelines and demand others change to suit her. She changed things. Women like, her, the class of 77-08, Col. Sally Murphy, Dr. Sally Ride, they didn’t just talk about changing institutions that were as patriarchal as could be. They went out and actually changed them. That’s still happening.

    The thing is, the women breaking barriers today don’t make the news. They aren’t all over blogs, or what have you. They’re too busy doing their work. They don’t just blog about change, they don’t just fly between conferences to lecture about change. They actually do stuff. They’re everywhere. A friend of mine was just made a researcher at VMware. That’s not notable except she’s the first woman to hold that job at VMware. Not an earth-shattering accomplishment, but important to the women who follow her.

    Even if I disagreed with anything Dr. Hall has said here, and I don’t, my respect for what she has actually done would be unchanged. The fact I disagree with her on one issue, or even many issues doesn’t erase her, or anyone’s accomplishments.

    How people view feminism is not “Highlander”. There can be more than one “right” answer. The fact that Dr. Hall’s views or my views or Barbara Drescher’s views or Rebecca Watson’s views on feminism don’t perfectly and completely align do not make *any* of us inherently wrong OR right. It makes us different people with different views.

    Someone disagreeing with me, especially on a topic like feminism which has, by any objective measure, a *wide* range of definitions and adherents, doesn’t create some “TWO ENTER, ONE LEAVES” situation. It does mean that I may have to deflate my ego a bit and allow for the fact that I am not the sole possessor of the “correct” POV on feminism, but I’m fine with that. I live on a planet with billions of people, most of whom are probably smarter than me. I long ago let go of the notion that I’m all that special, much less irreplaceable.

    It is this…mutation of thought, this destruction of an allowance that different opinions and points of view can all live harmoniously with each other that is behind the silliness we see here. O NOES, HARRIET HALL DOESN’T AGREE WITH ME, ATAAAAAAACK!!!! It’s childish, and it’s silly, and if you’re old enough to type vaguely coherent english, you’re to old to have that kind of thinking guide your life. I’ve disagreed with Barbara Drescher about stuff in the past, doesn’t mean i think she’s a bad person. We just didn’t agree on a point. Big deal. I’m sure that Dr. Hall may have some very odd ideas about what the best bomber the Air Force fielded was, (B-52 people, yeesh), doesn’t mean I’m going to dismiss her.

    Disagreement does not require demonization.

  47. Quill says:

    Steven Novella wrote:

    I think we all should remember the principle of charity, something which is often missing in these internal fights.
    When considering another’s argument it helps to give it the most charitable interpretation, to argue against the best possible argument on the “other side.” This is the antidote to the straw man fallacy. If you are not charitable then it is likely that you will waste time arguing against a position that was never articulated.
    Find common ground and be charitable. How many times have we as skeptics advocated this approach when dealing with the most dedicated charlatans or pseudoscientists? It seems like we should be able to extend the courtesy to others in our own community.
    My problem with so many of the exchanges that are fueling internal strife is that they are maximally uncharitable to the target of their criticism. This is very counterproductive.

    This! This times ten raised to a power that gives it enough voice so that even mice and rats understand it.

    Before a person engages in an argument with another person I think it very wise to remember that the other person -is- a person, pretty much like you, with thoughts, feelings, emotions, ideas and opinions. One of my favorite t-shirts has the slogan “We are Each Other.” I think that true from a genetic, social and psychological perspective.

    I’ll add one thing, the most uncharitable thing I see, in the attacks on Dr. Hall. I think one of her great strengths as a writer is her brevity and concision. It is obvious to me that when I read one of her posts that a lot of thought has gone into it and that she has distilled things into a clean, cogent set of paragraphs. She brooks no fluff.

    A person applying Dr. Novella’s wise words would, if they didn’t understand something she wrote, would simply ask about it. A simple question to find out the answer.

    In stark contrast, the uncharitable ones take that brevity and concision as an opportunity to insert whatever it is they either want to see or think they see, neither of which is there. As Dr. Hall asks “Please read what I say, not what you choose to imagine I meant to say.” Indeed so. That is the intellectually honest thing to do: see what is there, actually there, as best you can, and if you don’t understand something then ASK a question, don’t assume or use that unknown space as a place to shovel in your own…stuff.

    Parenthetically, even if I was regularly uncharitable and often given to spouting off, I’d be rather careful about what I said to someone who could pilot a B-52 bomber over my house. :-)

  48. hero says:

    Josh and April express their disagreement with the notion that Balkanisation is not a great thing.

    Josh expresses his displeasure that Harriet isn’t au fait with the vernacular of a tiny sub-culture.

  49. I am not qualified to judge this subject matter. I am qualified to judge the quality of Will’s writing and rhetoric, and I think it’s terrible: his article is tedious, shrill, and so laced with hyperbolic straw men that it really has nothing at all to do with Dr. Hall. His rudeness drowns out his point, whatever its merits.

    The most useful comment I’ve noticed here today is Dr. Novella’s:

    “My problem with so many of the exchanges that are fueling internal strife is that they are maximally uncharitable to the target of their criticism. This is very counterproductive.”

  50. Panthera spelaea says:

    @audipicc

    This is what you took offence at, right? Correct me if I’m wrong: “He wants to dictate how I use language, yet he uses the word queer, a term most people in the LGBT community consider offensive.”

    Somehow you see that as evidence of “cissexim” – I wish people would stop inventing neologisms, it makes communication very difficult – even when the term is controversial. While it has been re-appropriated to a degree in the 1990′s from its use as an anti-gay epithet, some LGBT people disapprove of using queer as a catch-all because they consider it offensive, derisive or self-deprecating because of its continuous use as hate speech. Other LGBT people avoid queer because they associate it with political radicalism, or simply because they perceive it as the faddish slang of a “younger generation.” So if a LGBT person told you not to call them queer, you’d assume they were being “cissexist” – whatever that may be – at you? Right. This is what I mean by your unreasonable demand that everyone is fluent in your particular jargon – and does not object to it as offensive. May I also ask who appointed you as the arbiter of correct language?

    Nobody is saying that prejudice can be horrible and violent towards LGBT people, but accusing Harriet Hall of LGBT-phobia based on her understanding of the term queer, a term even some LGBT people strongly disapprove is either mendacious or disingenuous. Or then you’re just making an unreasonable demand that everyone must use language in the precise meaning you have decided it must have.

  51. alephsquared says:

    Somehow you see that as evidence of “cissexim” – I wish people would stop inventing neologisms, it makes communication very difficult

    Yes, it does, if you refuse to look up words whose definitions you do not know. If you had looked it up, you would have been able to figure out that that’s not what the term refers to. So the rest of your comment is a non-sequitur.

    Also, do you want us to simply freeze language as-is now? Because every word you use right now was once….wait for it…..a neologism. Cis is a term that was invented to fill a lexical gap. It just means not trans (etymologically consistent with Latin, btw, so in another sense it is the exact opposite of a neologism ;))

  52. Panthera spelaea says:

    @alephsquared

    As you might infer from my name, I’m familiar with Latin, and can get the gist of the term. In my understanding it would mean heterosexual sexism. I just refuse to play word games.

    It’s obvious you did not bother reading the rest of my post. How about doing so now, or were you just looking for an excuse to dismiss it based on my refusal to pander to jargonauts?

    Of course I know languages change over the years, meanings of words change and new words are invented all the time. None of these changes are binding on anyone, and before a word becomes universally accepted, I don’t need to use it. Not even after that, if I don’t so choose.

  53. windriven says:

    @audpicc

    ” To use language that further identifies trans people as “other” and to take away their identities by not addressing them or to reduce them to a set of genitals or chromosomes is violence against trans people.”

    Isn’t identifying trans people as “other” precisely what you are doing by insisting on special words to define them? People are who they are, their identities aren’t created from labels. You may see yourself as a ‘trans person’. Fine and dandy but a little self limiting. Most rational people would see you as whatever else you are: a software engineer who gardens and reads Wordsworth.

    You see, the identity issues that so obsess you are of only passing interest to anyone other than close friends and the “fraction of the heterosexual cis population that are criminals” whom you oddly claim are not the actual problem. The rest of us, generally speaking, really don’t care. Do you do your job? Are you a contributing member of your community? Do you take your garbage to the curb on collection day? These are the matters of general interest, not whatever is going on in your underwear.

  54. alephsquared says:

    If you want to engage in conversation with people and do not understand a word used, you can either look up the meaning of the words they use or consistently misinterpret what they say. If you don’t want to engage, don’t.

    As I said, cis means not trans. Trans refers to gender identity, not sexual orientation, thus, so does cis. So “heterosexual sexism” is an incorrect interpretation off the bat: heterosexual refers to sexual orientation, cis refers to gender identity. There can be hetersexual cis people and heterosexual trans people and all sorts of combinations.

    I’m not trying to say there’s anything wrong with not knowing words or not being familiar with new words, just with assuming interpretations without any clear reason. The reason I didn’t respond to the rest of your comment is because it was going off of an incorrect assumption as to what “cissexism” was referring to, and was therefore, as I said, a non-sequitur when it comes to discussion of whether or not Hall’s piece was cissexist. Cissexism is:

    the belief that transsexuals’ identified genders are inferior to, or less authentic than, those of cissexuals.

    It has nothing to do with Hall’s understanding of the word queer whatsoever, rather, her insistence that statements like, “women menstruate” are accurate, when, in fact, they are not.

  55. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    @windriven

    It engendered a mental image of certain correspondents jumping up and down, teeth bared, shrieking and throwing feces. I will carry this image with me and refer to it when noisome and petty characters pollute a conversation with inanities.

    I hope I was one of them, I’ve thrown feces with the best/worst. To aid your mental image, I am 5’11″, have 32-inch biceps a complete six-pack and a 28-inch waist. Both my legs are cybernetic enhancements and my left eye is a a 6-petawatt laser. It makes me tired when I fire it. I fly using a cheeseburger-fueled biojetpack. Also, I don’t actually have genitals, I reproduce by budding.

    @audpicc

    To all of those commenters saying “she didn’t mean to be offensive” or “you need to calm down if we are to take you seriously” y’all need to read some Derailing 101!

    May I suggest you examine your own conduct. May I also suggest that, if you haven’t, you read Dr. Hall’s other post today, where she identifies numerous types of biological, psychological and cultural distinctions within sex and gender. Perhaps your comments on what is missing might be better placed over there.

    “She didn’t mean to be offensive” – Intent doesn’t matter. Thinking that someone’s well wishes can alter the outcome of their behavior is like a reverse-ad-hominem. You can be the nicest most generous bigot in the world, and it wouldn’t change the bigot part. What she said is damaging to non-binary individuals. It is cissexist. Her ignorance or well-wishes won’t change that.

    Intent may not matter to you, it matters to me. For example, your intent appears to be that of belittling and insulting Dr. Hall. Certainly it makes me take your message less seriously. Where you see bigotry, I see conciseness. In fact, you are projecting bigotry – that by not mentioning what you consider to be the most important part of sex, gender and identity discussions, that means Dr. Hall opposes the rights of the transgendered and supports their minimalization. You can raise the flag and thus raise awareness without belittling and (more importantly) without alienating. Think about it – for some people this may be the sole interaction they’ve ever had with someone promoting the transgendered/transsexual community. Your insulting demands and insistence on assuming malice paints all future interactions – from now on any transgendered/transsexual person will be “nice, not like that idiot form the SBM comments section” or “wow, they are just like that idiot from the SBM comments section”. Given the human propensity for confirmation bias, you’ve just set up a large number of readers to be predisposed to thing negatively of a community that already has it hard enoug. Fred Phelps needs rage and protests. I don’t think most of the people here do.

    I am allowed to be as angry as I want to be. It doesn’t change the content of my arguments. Tone policing is one of the most common forms of silencing minorities. Be careful who you tell to calm down, its almost always condescending and minimizing

    Absolutely, you can be as angry as you want. You’ll just be discounted as crazy, disturbed, unpleasant or irrational. Nobody wants to silence you. I’d happily listen to some of the difficulties you are aware of, or some categories missing from this or the other post. You’re choosing to rant all over an engaged audience instead. You have people who are interested in content, but you are not giving them any. Please, talk to us. Help us understand why you are angry. Just don’t be angry while you’re doing it.

    I’m not being too sensitive when I say cissexism creates real harm. Trans women are more likely than any other sexual minority to be unemployed, assaulted and murdered. This is not due to some fraction of the heterosexual cis population that are criminals – this is due to a system of oppression towards gender-non-conforming people.

    Agreed.

    To use language that further identifies trans people as “other” and to take away their identities by not addressing them or to reduce them to a set of genitals or chromosomes is violence against trans people.

    Exaggeration. In fact, insisting that a transperson be described in a specific way (your way) seems rather questionable. Your comment also implies that a transperson’s identity is solely that of “a transperson”. That they have no other interests, experiences or identities. That they can’t also be engineers, musicians, mothers, fathers, children, taxi passengers and someone eating breakfast in a diner. Certainly, trans people are “different” (in the trivial sense that all people are “different” and in the more meaningful sense that they are a significant minority that deviates from norms). The ideal world isn’t one where we adopt a box-ticking approach to diversity, including one of each of the following (black, white, disabled, asian, homosexual, heterosexual, transgendered, robot, coma patient, philanderer), it is one in which a person’s words and behaviour matter more than the groups they belong to. A world where I can be indifferent to a person’s transsexual status becaus they have equal rights and respect under the law and ideally within civil discourse. Failing to adopt your preferred terminology (which, I point out, missses several kinds of gender/sexual subgroups and several threads of feelings about the term “queer”) is not violence.

    I’m not seeing what language identifies “trans” people as “other”. Could you provide me with a brief quote? Again, your emotional rhetoric is preventing me from seeing your substantive point.

    Women are getting murdered because cis people can’t get over the fact that some women have penises or ask for pronouns that are outside their small worldview. So don’t tell me that I’ve “decided to take offence”. It is not an unreasonable demand that everyone be regarded with respect and digntity. The way to strip a trans person of respect and dignity is cissexism – which is run rampant all over Dr. Hall’s articles.

    It’s not an unreasonable demand that everybody be regarded with respect. You’re not asking for that. You’re demanding that Dr. Hall and everybody else here adopt and respect your preferred terminology, despite the fact that a) it offends some b) it’s incomplete c) not universally recognized as the preferred terminology by all within the group and d) within that group it is extremely unlikely the entire group will ever prefer or settle on a single group. Your insistence on a single term obscures diversity, of biological fact, of gender and of opinion. Not to mention, you’re reducing the chance of transsexuals being regarded with respect and dignity because you’re making it easier to discount your points as concern trolling and irrational ranting.

  56. rork says:

    I’m the kind of person who needs to be correct and feel superior, and will throw being effective or edifying out the window to obtain those ends, even to the point of insulting my allies on occasion.

    I think its a flaw though, and am trying to work on it. Got little sticky notes to remind me.

  57. superdave says:

    @willLawrence, Can you respect the fact that gender and sexuality studies has developed terminology and that it is appropriate to use the correct terms when referring to this field just as it would be to use the correct terms if referring to any other field?

  58. Tom Nielsen says:

    Harriet,

    Anyone who gets offended by the use of a word without even considering the context or the intent of the use, is wrong to get offended, and thus, you really shouldn’t care about these people, nor be apologizing to them.

    These types take more offence on the behalf of others, than the persons that could have “legitimately” taken offence would have.

    In these cases there is rarely any real reason for anyone to take offence. In reality the “take offence” subject is more a ploy to make the opponent look and feel bad/get defensive, and derail the discussion, than a legitimate subject for discussion.

  59. Geek Goddess says:

    I really liked your post, Dr. Hall. I have read your book and am well aware of what you went through in your career to get to where you are today. And I’m heartily sick of the squabbling that’s going on in the community, along with the pettiness and the two-year-old sandbox “you can’t be my friend if you’re friends with her” mentality.

    At first I was amused at the finer and finer mesh that people use to strain your posts through, looking for tiny and tiny bits to use as ammo. And then I was disgusted. And then really angry. It takes a lot to make me angry enough to want to rant at someone.

    You are obviously just not young, hip, thin, cute, clever, or hard-drinking enough to be popular, and your experiences aren’t worthy. You aren’t even very smart (regardless of that medical degree you seem so proud of). I’m in the same boat. My advanced age means that my STEM degree, my years of working in a industry that is less than 5% female, and managing to rise to the top and earn a 6-figure salary, a company car, availability of a private jet, and bonuses more than most people’s salaries, means I also do not know a damn thing about what women have to struggle with to succeed in any business, must less a good-old-boy one. Having professors tell me that I was taking a slot away from a man, who MIGHT HAVE TO SUPPORT A FAMILY, wasn’t harassment or life-changing. (I spend all my salary on trivial things, apparently.) And since I’m no longer young, hip, thin, cute, clever, or hard-driking enough to be hit on in bars, I don’t understand the harassment that women face. Sometimes, when some of us state that we do not feel unsafe, or haven’t been harassed at a conference, not only are we accusing women of making it it, or exaggerating, etc., I hear the unspoken words “Of course YOU haven’t been harassed or attacked. Because you are not young, hip, thing, cute, etc.” Yep, I was told this. The ugly unspoken little secret among some women.

    I’ve had it. Who am I? In the skeptical community, I’m nobody. I don’t speak, I don’t write. I’m busy running a business. A real one, that makes money, employs people, pays (a lot) of taxes. The only thing I do is write checks to support others in the skeptical community. I quit doing that last year. No one gives a crap what I think, and that’s just fine with me.

    A couple years ago, via Twitter, I responded to someone about a group not being inclusive, and used as example something along the lines of “Such as the Skepchicks not representing older women.” That’s a paraphrase. I didn’t think anything of it, until that evening, my fellow Houston Skeptics founder and part-time writer for the skepchick.org blog, Sam, called my cell phone and asked me “what the hell did you do to piss off the Skephicks?” I had no idea, but apparently I was being shredded for my remarks that were being taken as criticism. WTF When I got home, I tried to look up what was going on, and saw comments like “People hate us because we’re so accomplished”. Okaaaaay. Whatever.

    I took one of the two pictures that were widely circulated of you, Dr. Hall. I am distressed that it caused you so much grief, but I still think it was a great shirt. The first use of skepchick is NOT from the blogger site Skepchick.org. I found one here – 1999.
    http://www.magicdave.com/sccal/skepchicks.htm. Like it or not, the term is not copyrighted or original to Rebecca, so when she assumes that it was an attack on her, or on the various other come-and-go bloggers on that site, she is wrong. But, apparently, one is free to ascribe motives on other people, the proven inability of mind-reading to actually work be damned. What a hateful, snarky comment she wrote above. Makes me want to chastise Rebecca for vomiting so much, after nights of drinking, in her shared cabin on that cruise that her roomie had to help clean both the room and Rebecca, and paid the cabin attendant extra tips out of her own pocket for his trouble. Because, you know, that would be MEAN and spiteful. And belittling people because you disagree with them isn’t intelligent, or respectful, or professional.

    _____________

    I looked back over this, and have picked several trigger points that I predict people will jump on. *shrugs*

  60. Geek Goddess says:

    …including several typos, I see. Bifocals also make you unworthy.

  61. mousethatroared says:

    This thread is getting very confusing. Is the claim now that Harriet Hall is promulgating violence against transgender people because she said that women menstruate? I’m sorry, I don’t get it. Really, I have absolutely nothing against transgender folks, and would like for them to have the same opportunity for happiness as everyone. Could someone explain this in a clear way without all the heat…

    I mean clearly she wasn’t saying you need to menstrate to be a women…I can’t imagine her thinking that ;)

  62. Quill says:

    “Is the claim now that Harriet Hall is promulgating violence against transgender people because she said that women menstruate?”

    lol!

    I am confused, too. It seems to me the claim is now that t-shirts with non-copyrighted sayings on them violate feminist principles, are a refuge of dubious acronyms, and that Dr. Hall may be a secret cisgenderphobictransexualdenyingpilotwoman who clearly hates non-neutered puppies.

  63. ConspicuousCarl says:

    Well, mark me down as having changed my mind. Halfway through Harriet Hall’s post, I was thinking “one sure difference between men and women is that if a man had written what she wrote, one of the skepchicks would probably find a reason to call him a rapist.” But with references to racism, patriarchy, and murder flying about, I am starting to see how blurry the lines can get.

  64. karlaporter says:

    This is an appeal to not feel compelled to get sucked into the quagmire by Internet micro-celebs with emotional challenges. They have a toxic mutual admiration society that hopefully has a short half life. Please keep calm and carry on….

  65. phlebas says:

    There is a lot of equivocating about that t-shirt. While Rebecca didn’t invent the word “Skepchick,” that site arguably as staked out the common usage ground among the skeptical community. And I think that t-shirt is basically the starting point for this current round.

    Regardless of how you feel about Rebecca’s response above, I think it’s easy to understand why she and the rest of the Skepchicks would feel defensive and offended by Dr. Hall’s decision to wear it throughout TAM. Given that there was an on-going dust-up about sexual harassment at skeptics conferences at the time, and the Skepchick group was visibly part of it, the casual observer would have to do some mental gymnastics to find a message OTHER than “I stand in opposition to that group.” (If Harriet ever said she had a different message, my apologies. I missed it.)

    Of course, that’s fine. If Harriet felt it was necessary to be sure that no one assumed she agreed with the Skepchicks, that’s totally her call. From the Skepchicks’ POV, it likely looked like a passive-aggressive attack from an unexpected quarter. Whatever else you believe about the bloggers there, they and their regular commenters are a tight-knit bunch.

    You might not think their reactions are reasonable or warranted. But from where they sit, their defensiveness is not without cause.

    (All my opinions. I certainly don’t speak for the Skepchicks.)

  66. CaptainJaneway says:

    You didn’t mention me as a person included amongst your feminist critics, but I suspect many people reading this will assume I’m in there somewhere

    Yep. Now, why could that be, Rebecca?

    When you made your “I am not a Skepchick” shirt, I did consider writing a blog post about it. Then I changed my mind and I composed an email to you in which I explained my feelings on the subject, since you seemed confused by the reaction you received.

    Harriet was not confused, Rebecca. The Skepchicks and Surly Amy were the ones who were confused. It was the Skepchicks and Surly Amy who could not get their heads around the notion that Harriet had the shere audacity to wear a T-shirt that proudly boasted of her opposition to the shit-flinging the Skepchicks, Pharyngulites, and other bullies were producing before and during TAM2012. It was a little bit of pushback, and as well all know, Rebecca doesn’t like pushback, for she is above criticism, and thou shalt not make fun of the Skepchicks! That was the confusion – that a woman (or is that a “sister punisher”) stood up to your lot. Harriet got a lot of support that day. The majority spoke!

    I pointed out that no one to my knowledge had ever called you a Skepchick, and I had never asked you to become a contributor to the network.

    Rebecca, you totally misunderstood Harriet’s intention. Only a really stupid person could believe Harriet wore in response to not being a contributor to your network. Harriet wore it in response to a campaign of harassment and bullying towards DJ Grothe and TAM, where a small minority of the skeptic/atheist community attempted to speak on behalf on everybody else, and then presumed that any woman (or “gender traitor” as you call them) that disagreed was somehow part of the problem. Harriet wore that T-shirt to show her support for DJ Grothe and TAM. For that, she received a lot of support. You didn’t like that. Tough!

    I then used an analogy in which I pointed out that if a physician like Steve Novella went to the effort to create a CafePress shirt that read something like “I am not a SkepDoc. I am a skeptic,” you would be confused, a little hurt, and, when he wore it three days in a row, concerned for his personal hygiene.

    No, Harriet would not be confused by it, because that is a silly analogy. BTW, I get concerned about the “personal hygiene” of people who spend all day and night drinking at the bar, until around 4AM, etc.

    Your hurt feelings would be completely understandable, especially if he did this following a year in which you received a nonstop avalanche of insults, slurs, rape threats, and death threats from skeptics.

    Your hurt feelings were because another woman had the temerity to distance herself from your bullying and harassment of Grothe. The fact that you claim to have received death threats, etc. from “skeptics” (which skeptics?) DOES NOT make you immune to criticism and ridicule from others, including skeptics in the community. Dawkins has to put up with criticism, and so do you. It is called pushback. Get used to it.

    So I wrote the email, tinkered with it for a few days, and eventually I deleted it without sending. The reason was that after reflecting on it for so long, I came to the realization that while a week prior I held an immense amount of respect for you, I suddenly had lost that respect so completely that I had no interest in getting it back.

    My heart bleeds Rebecca. I presume you lost even more respect for Greg Laden after he sent threats of violence to somebody. Far worse than wearing a T-shirt, which you describe as immature.

    I realized I was stressing out over someone who was so proud of an immature t-shirt she made that she wore it for an entire weekend.

    I like the use of the term “immature”, since it comes from someone who sends ASCII “penisbirds” via email. Any accusation of immaturity from the Skepchicks and FTB crowd will simply be laughed at by the greater community. Rebecca has spent the last 2 years throwing her toys out of the pram, and then calls other people “immature”. No wonder the wider atheist/skeptic community has lost all respect for her.

    I realized that anyone who needs an explanation of why that was silly and hurtful doesn’t actually deserve an explanation, and they certainly don’t deserve real estate in my head.

    Yeah, because the Skepchick agenda should be sooooooo apparant to everybody. Just a pity that the winer community rejects it, isn’t it Rebecca?

    So I let others argue over it while I moved on to more interesting things.

    Really? Like what?

    I’m writing all this to you now because I want to be sure that you know that I do not think of you as my enemy. In fact, I don’t really think of you at all.

    Oooooh. You go girl. That infamous Rebecca snark comes out at last. The sad thing is, a LOT of people do think of you Rebecca, but sadly from your POV, it is in negative terms.

    The most one could say is that when you are occasionally brought to my attention, as happened with Will’s recent posts, I simply think of you as ill-informed on social issues.

    That’s OK Rebecca. We think of you as being ill-informed on everything.

    So, having now spent ten precious minutes on the subject, it’s once again time for me to move on to more interesting things.

    Yes, of course. Go and draw a “penisbird”, or something.

  67. alephsquared says:

    Is the claim now that Harriet Hall is promulgating violence against transgender people because she said that women menstruate?

    The short answer: no.

    The long answer: recall this from Hall’s last article

    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.

    Most, if not all, of these statements are blatantly false if one takes trans* people into account. There are men with “chest bumps”, women with “dangly bits”, men who menstruate/get pregnant/lactate, women who can grow beards, etc. etc.

    Now it is possible Hall is completely ignorant of the existence of trans* people, but given her medical training and skeptical creds, I doubt it. Which indicates that she felt it was unnecessary to insert any qualifiers into her above statements to acknowledge the fact that, while these can be, in general, distinctions between male bodies and female bodies,* they are not “real differences” between men and women (or not all men and all women.)

    Hall obviously has the right to choose to avoid explicitly acknowledging the existence of trans* people and trans* bodies which are counterexamples to her claims. But the criticism in response is hardly over-the-top PC-policing, merely the request that (hey, we’re all skeptics here, I believe) she try to be more accurate, precise, and correct in her statements in the future.

  68. alephsquared says:

    A minor correction to my post above:

    Most, if not all, of these statements are blatantly false if one takes trans* people into account. There are men with “chest bumps”, women with “dangly bits”, men who menstruate/get pregnant/lactate, women who can grow beards, etc. etc.

    It is equally important to note the converse: there are men without dangly bits, women without chest bumps, women who do not menstruate/get pregnant/lactate, men who cannot grow beards, etc.

    The inaccuracy in her original statement goes both directions.

  69. Skeptic says:

    “# alephsquaredon 19 Feb 2013 at 5:43 pm

    The long answer: recall this from Hall’s last article

    “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.”

    Most, if not all, of these statements are blatantly false if one takes trans* people into account. There are men with “chest bumps”, women with “dangly bits”, men who menstruate/get pregnant/lactate, women who can grow beards, etc. etc.”

    By which you mean that Hall is correct and that there are exceptions that do not disprove that there are general difference between men and women.

  70. alephsquared says:

    By which you mean that Hall is correct and that there are exceptions that do not disprove that there are general difference between men and women.

    Hall did not say general differences, she said real differences. So no, she is not correct.

    The things she cited can be differences between some men and some women, even possibly most men and most women, but they are not “real differences between men and women” (no qualifiers.)

    What she said, as she said it, is not true. It is not good science. I’m not trying to say she’s a transphobe because I do not believe that. I’m trying to say that she was imprecise in her generalizations resulting in an all-too-typical rhetorical erasure of trans* people (or even cis people, as there are cis men and women who do not fulfill certain aspects of her categorization.)

  71. Skeptic says:

    “# alephsquaredon 19 Feb 2013 at 6:19 pm

    By which you mean that Hall is correct and that there are exceptions that do not disprove that there are general difference between men and women.

    Hall did not say general differences, she said real differences. So no, she is not correct.

    The things she cited can be differences between some men and some women, even possibly most men and most women, but they are not “real differences between men and women” (no qualifiers.)

    Men and women are general terms to begin with. Your objection might be valid about an academic paper on transgender issues or some such, but to expect all the parenthetical precision you suggest in a more general setting is, I think, overmuch.

  72. mousethatroared says:

    @alephsquared – Thanks for your response I appreciate your taking the time. I guess I am still not getting you. I didn’t take the statement you quoted as being a rule for defining sex, only a sketch of the average physiology of human’s sex/gender*.

    If you wrote “Ears are extraordinary organs. They pick up all the sounds around you and then translate this information into a form your brain can understand**.” Should I complain that avoids explicitly acknowledging the existence of deaf people?

    *To be honest, I don’t quite get the appropriate use of these terms…to I’ll probably just combine them until I get it.

    **quoted how stuff works website.

  73. mousethatroared says:

    Oh sorry, looks like your response to Skeptic (which hadn’t come up yet) might be applicable to my response to.

  74. alephsquared says:

    Men and women are general terms to begin with. Your objection might be valid about an academic paper on transgender issues or some such, but to expect all the parenthetical precision you suggest in a more general setting is, I think, overmuch.

    The thing is, trans* people do not live their lives on the pages of academic papers on trans* issues — papers typically written, incidentally, by cis people. (I’m using the asterisk as shorthand, just so you know, since not all trans* people are transgender). Why is it so important to you that we not point out when our existence in the real world is dismissed or not acknowledged in a post about gender and/or sex in the real world? Like, seriously, what is so wrong about me pointing out that Hall saying “men have penises” (oops, sorry, dangly bits) is incorrect? And why is it so difficult for her, and for people defending that section of her post, to simply say, “yeah, y’know what? you’re right. That part of the post was wrong.”

    I really don’t think this is going too far overboard.

  75. nybgrus says:

    “Ears are extraordinary organs. They pick up all the sounds around you and then translate this information into a form your brain can understand**

    Sorry Mouse, that is blatantly not scientific and inaccurate. Certainly not skeptical of you. After all the upper limit of human hearing is in the 20kHz range so obviously not all sounds can be picked up and translated into a form your brain can understand.

    I myself am a 29 year old man (wait, male? cis-male? I don’t think I’m a tran-male, though since I am out of shape after a year of intense medical study and too much food I certainly have some unsightly bumps on my chest) who cannot grow a beard. I get the awful neck-beard thing and a lately a bit of a pencil mustache. But I can literally go days without shaving and nobody would be the wiser. So therefore I am deeply offended at Dr. Hall’s thoroughly unscientific statement.

  76. Robb says:

    I would also like to object to the fact that Dr. Hall failed to mention or account for the fact that some of our cetacean friends, as fellow co-habitant mammals on this planet, do not have easily recognizeable primary sexual characteristics (they are housed internally when “at rest”) and possess no secondary sexual characteristics at all. The term “dangly bits” is especially hurtful to them for this reason.

  77. alephsquared says:

    @mousethatroared here:

    If you don’t mind, may I answer your question with a question? If you wrote that somewhere and some deaf people responded saying that they’d been hurt, would you dismiss their concerns or would you say, “hey, y’know what, didn’t think it was a problem, maybe still not sure it is all that bad, but sure, let me amend my statement”?

  78. nybgrus says:

    It’s called the principle of charity alephsquared.

    I would expect a rational and skeptical deaf person to say, “well clearly she missed us but that wasn’t the intent nor the purpose, so despite my initial reaction being one of insult I am enough of a thinking person to get over it and not make a boondoggle of it”

  79. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Can you respect the fact that gender and sexuality studies has developed terminology and that it is appropriate to use the correct terms when referring to this field just as it would be to use the correct terms if referring to any other field?

    Yes, I can, but I can also appreciate that those terms may not be acceptable to all people who would be labelled by them. Human behaviour and sexuality isn’t chemistry, bacteria don’t blush but people do. People are reactive, so a term that is acceptable for one group won’t work for another (vis. “queer”). The “third sex” distinctions are not universally acceptable. A xanith would not want to be called a hijra, and the two do not occupy the same “niches” within their cultures (because their cultures are different). Not to mention, nonspecialists (like myself) may not be familiar with them. Were I referred to a set of terms that were universally acceptable, I would use them. I don’t think that is the case yet. And if I’m haughtily told I’m wrong and that there is one proper term to use, when it is manifestly not true, I am prone to dislike the messenger.

    Most, if not all, of these statements are blatantly false if one takes trans* people into account. There are men with “chest bumps”, women with “dangly bits”, men who menstruate/get pregnant/lactate, women who can grow beards, etc. etc…Hall obviously has the right to choose to avoid explicitly acknowledging the existence of trans* people and trans* bodies which are counterexamples to her claims. But the criticism in response is hardly over-the-top PC-policing, merely the request that (hey, we’re all skeptics here, I believe) she try to be more accurate, precise, and correct in her statements in the future.

    Have you read Dr. Hall’s other post from today?

    Her original statements are correct for the majority of whatever your definition of male, female, man and woman, the norms (really modes) that transpeople differentiate from. I made note of some of these factors in a comment. You really have no idea whether Dr. Hall “chose to avid explicitly acknowledging the existence of trans people”. You could ask, rather than assuming it was a deliberate slight. You could have assumed it was part of the inherent blindness of most of society to these often invisible minorities.

    The bottom line is – you are choosing to see it as an insult to be reflected back rather than a teachable moment for all of SBM’s readers. It really wasn’t a “request”, it was a demand accompanied by an insult, meant to demean and hurt. I’m sure it makes the insult-hurler feel better, I’m sure it makes them feel like a righteous warrior striking a blow for justice, I’m equally sure that it makes people less sympathetic to the righteousness of the cause. People are not purely rational, emotion makes a difference, and by trying to make Dr. Hall look worse, you’ve probably eroded much of the sympathy you might otherwise have eroded.

    Non-specific “you”, not alephsquared solely.

    The things she cited can be differences between some men and some women, even possibly most men and most women, but they are not “real differences between men and women” (no qualifiers.)
    What she said, as she said it, is not true. It is not good science. I’m not trying to say she’s a transphobe because I do not believe that. I’m trying to say that she was imprecise in her generalizations resulting in an all-too-typical rhetorical erasure of trans* people (or even cis people, as there are cis men and women who do not fulfill certain aspects of her categorization.)

    Science, in many cases, is statistical and deals with averages of people. Science attempts to define and categorize, but in making generalizations, it simplifies and generalizes. Science uses language to represent and describe, but language can never be perfectly precise and accurate, nor can language be perfectly concise while still being perfectly accurate. Science is responsible for illustrating that there are different types of men, women, maleness and femaleness, trassexuals, homosexuals and more. By generalizing, yes, it’s not strictly speaking accurate to all possible variations in sex, gender, biology and whatnot, but it does mean the post is readable.

    And why is it so difficult for her, and for people defending that section of her post, to simply say, “yeah, y’know what? you’re right. That part of the post was wrong.

    For me, this is part of it but another part is the unreasonable, damning, self-righteousness of the people demanding the apology.

  80. alephsquared says:

    You really have no idea whether Dr. Hall “chose to avid explicitly acknowledging the existence of trans people”.

    You are correct. I did not mean to infer any explicit intent on Hall’s part, but I realize that I did imply that.

    The bottom line is – you are choosing to see it as an insult to be reflected back rather than a teachable moment for all of SBM’s readers. It really wasn’t a “request”, it was a demand accompanied by an insult, meant to demean and hurt.

    I realize you said this was not explicitly direct at me, but I want to be clear: I’m not seeing it as an insult. Trust me, I’ve gotten insults. I’m trying to point out something that I felt was incorrect in her arguments.

    Science, in many cases, is statistical and deals with averages of people. Science attempts to define and categorize, but in making generalizations, it simplifies and generalizes. Science uses language to represent and describe, but language can never be perfectly precise and accurate, nor can language be perfectly concise while still being perfectly accurate. Science is responsible for illustrating that there are different types of men, women, maleness and femaleness, trassexuals, homosexuals and more. By generalizing, yes, it’s not strictly speaking accurate to all possible variations in sex, gender, biology and whatnot, but it does mean the post is readable.

    Sure. And maybe this is my fault: I’m a mathematician, not a scientist. I care about counterexamples. But even so, her argument was that these are obviously real distinctions between men and women, therefore such distinctions exist. The fact that the antecedent is false (these are not real distinctions) causes her conclusion to be false (at least in the absence of more evidence.)

    That said, I think I’ve made my point as best I can. Good-bye, all.

  81. Quill says:

    “Science attempts to define and categorize, but in making generalizations, it simplifies and generalizes. Science uses language to represent and describe, but language can never be perfectly precise and accurate, nor can language be perfectly concise while still being perfectly accurate.”

    Nice tautologies.

  82. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    @alephsquared

    I can live with that, I wish the discussion had started with those points. I’m still interested in what the nuances are, should you care to explain them. The more the diversity of human sexuality can be explored and explained, the less likely people are to take the pre-existing categories for granted.

    @Quill

    Ya, tautological and more than a little purple :(

    Do you actually work for the OED? I just finished Simon Winchester’s The Meaning of Everything. It was fantastic. I have two copies of the compact version, complete with magnifying glasses.

  83. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Dammit.

    “eroded much of the sympathy you might otherwise have eroded.”

    Last word should be “garnered”.

  84. Quill says:

    @WLU: My apologies for a two-word reply. I seem to have hit delete instead of return & just noticed the missing part, which was:

    But I think I see your point, that since all scientific description is metaphoric it’s impossible to achieve perfect precision in any scientific description. To use a metaphor, the map of a territory cannot contain everything in the territory.

  85. HRH The Wise and Benevolent Kov says:

    Personally, I find the sort of strident squabblemongering that led to Dr. Hall’s post–and that has sustained this Comments thread–to be tiresome. It is a testament to the thorn-in-my-side-y-ness engendered by said stridency that I have been motivated to post my first comment on this blog, on a post which addresses what I generally find to be a rather personal and distracting topic, namely the accusatory infighting between skeptical persons of late. My take is that all of this squabbling has approximately dick-all to do with skepticism, despite various attempts by Dr. Hall and some commenters here to bring a skeptical approach to bear, or hang the squabble within a generally skeptical framework.

    It certainly does highlight many of we humans’ emotionally driven rational shortcomings. I fail to see how Dr. Hall’s failure (if you can call it a failure) to address all known permutations of gender, sex, and sexuality can be honestly seen as condemnation, oppression, or marginalization of those not addressed specifically. Dr. Hall’s detractors (distractors? Inquisitors?) seem to be attacking her by assuming an unstated major premise on her part (disrespect, dismissal, condemnation, oppression, or hate of all things not cis [I learned that term today, for which I must thank the quibblers and squabblers]), and then turning this sin of omission into some kind of rampaging Straw Godzilla that must be stopped at all costs before it destroys their idyllic utopia of all-inclusive specificity.

    While it’s unfortunate that the non-cis (and I do honestly hope I’m using the term correctly; I am choosing “non-cis” as a way of identifying the population in a way that I, as a cis male man, understand, rather than as trans* whatever, which I don’t well understand, and if that choice of terms offends you, then I cordially invite you to take a flying fuck at a rolling donut) population has to deal with the ramifications of its lack of recognition, I think it’s something of a proverbial tempest in a teapot to portray a blogger’s lack of specificity as an indication that she’s a malicious Hitlerian vanguard of social and genderpolitical oppression. The teapot in question being the blogosphere, outside of which exists an actual world wherein actual actions affect actual humans.

    I also hasten to add that I think Dr. Novella’s comment was downright lovely, for what it’s worth.

  86. Chris says:

    WLU:

    Your comment also implies that a transperson’s identity is solely that of “a transperson”. That they have no other interests, experiences or identities. That they can’t also be engineers, musicians, mothers, fathers, children, taxi passengers and someone eating breakfast in a diner. Certainly, trans people are “different” (in the trivial sense that all people are “different” and in the more meaningful sense that they are a significant minority that deviates from norms).

    Then there are those of us who really don’t care if they are trans or not. I think I’d rather deal with the individual as they wish to be perceived. I have met two women engineers who were born male (that I know of). The first one I was told about, and my only comment was that she could perhaps hold back on the make-up (this was thirty years ago). The second was a very interesting older woman who had great stories, but I wished she did not speak so much about her change. It had been done recently and she was so excited she had an audience who were okay with it.

    Superdave:

    @willLawrence, Can you respect the fact that gender and sexuality studies has developed terminology and that it is appropriate to use the correct terms when referring to this field just as it would be to use the correct terms if referring to any other field?

    Only if they are willing to learn to use the my terms correctly, and actually understand what they mean. They will need to be able to tell me what the eigenvalues and eigenvectors represent, and which Fourier process switches between the frequency and time domains. Is that reasonable? :-)

    Seriously, these are not terms we all deal with in our day to day world. It also doesn’t help that something we were told with our young and nimble brains were insults are now proper terms. Obviously we didn’t get the notice to the changing vocabulary because we can’t think properly, and our experience means very little.

    And seriously, other than the insults of ignoring Dr. Col. Hall’s experience, and basically being told that older women like us do not know sexism, etc, I really don’t care about this whole mess. I really don’t actually care what Shermer or Benson said, to each other or at any time. I am just not interested in either of their interpretations of the social world.

    I will say this: I am very glad that a friend of mine ripped into me about the prejudice I had of homosexuals almost forty years ago just after graduating from high school. I was echoing all the muck I heard from my Army officer father. It opened my eyes, and gave me the opportunity to enjoy the company and friendship of several interesting people. I hope this old age isn’t going to make my mind become close.

  87. Janet says:

    So…..I finally looked up cis.

    Honestly, who knew we needed a word for agreeing with your gender matching your sex?–and how does one really know, anyway? Also, am I the only one old enough to remember the really old meaning of “queer”–as in “odd”?

    I wonder how some of the weirdly critical people who have appeared today manage to bring themselves to tick any box at all when confronted with “sex” or the now rather ubiquitous “gender”?

    Before anyone offers me a load of nonsense, let me make it clear that there are gay, queer, homosexual, cis, and maybe even trans people among those I love most–many of us sometimes wear the same t-shirt for a week!

  88. Skanderbeg says:

    Dr. Novella’s comment cuts both ways. Most on here assume that he was referring to Dr. Hall’s detractors but many if not most commenters here are guilty of it also. In other words both sides have vocal proponents who are being maximally uncharitable.

    Further I am disappointed in the dismissal that people are displaying for the ideas, definitions, and concept of ‘cis’ or ‘trans’. It is in poor form to be so dismissive. Definitions change, new words are added because of a perceived need. Claiming that you don’t have to use them if you don’t want, that the terms are too narrow or specific to a ‘field’ for you too know about, or that the definition has changed from when you were younger are all regardless and largely irrelevant.

    Some of you will argue that I am not being maximally charitable. Even skeptics love their straw men.

  89. Quill says:

    @ WLU: as to your question, I did have something to do with the OED Second Edition, but that was a while ago. I put it as a link on my screen name in hopes others not as familiar as you with its wonders might find out more.

  90. Quill says:

    Janet asked: “Also, am I the only one old enough to remember the really old meaning of ‘queer’–as in ‘odd’?”

    I remember that!

  91. mousethatroared says:

    @alephsquared – My apologies, I had to step away from the computer for a while and now my husband is longing for my presence on the sofa so we can watch DVR’d Daily Show. I’ve read your answer/question, though, and am thinking on it. will post a response tomorrow. Understand if you can’t get back to it, though. Cheers.

  92. Amy (T) says:

    Dr. Hall, thank you for all you have done, and do, as a doctor and a skeptic. I enjoy your posts and stories on here. I also don’t think you should even have to clarify you’re a feminist. When I think of women who broke barriers, were one of the firsts in their field, I don’t wonder if they considered themselves a feminists or associated with a group or movement, I’m just happy they did it, and made a path for more women. I’m sorry if some of this has been said, I didn’t read the comments because I have no desire to be part if the conversation, but just wanted you to know I’m a woman who admires your hard work, and I’m sure hard life in the Air Force.

  93. S. Madison says:

    Hi Geek Goddess,

    I’m not young, hip, cute, and hard-drinking enough to get hit on either. I still have the thin thing going, but it’s the way too thin variety that makes me unattractive (I know this because women have told me so).

    And, I understand where you’re coming from. No one gives a damn what I have to say either, despite years of participation in, and monetary support of, skeptical endeavors. I, too, am tired.

    That Rebecca can make such a self-centered and insulting rebuttal to Dr. Hall, yet still get support from any skeptics in this community is appalling. Her “feminism” messaging has been almost exclusively negative and, as a result, has been detrimental to the community. And now she expects to be taken seriously while railing against those who have earned our respect through amazing life achievements.

    Well, here are some words of wisdom for Rebecca from an old, unhip, uncute, too thin, person who has never been a hard-drinker.

    1) If you want to be treated with dignity and respect, you need to behave with dignity and a respectful manner towards others.

    2) If you want to be treated with empathy and compassion, you need to exhibit those qualities.

    3) If you want to be taken seriously you need to engage in well-reasoned debate and not use dismissive, insulting snark as your most common response to disagreement.

    4) If you want to be considered a skeptic, you must exhibit introspection, own your mistakes and apologize for them.

    I have watched Rebecca for years, and although I appreciated her enthusiasm, I felt she lacked wisdom. I hoped that she would gain some wisdom and, therefore, deserve her place on stage. Unfortunately, she has not. Rebecca is the antithesis of what we should expect as good role models for skepticism, because she refuses to listen to, and learn from, those who have acquired wisdom through education and experience. And, she seems incapable of reexamining her own thinking.

    How’s that for a rant, GG? I fully admit that it has nothing to do with Dr. Hall’s post and, therefore, is a complete derail. But I’m fed up with Rebecca’s antics and her dismissal of women like you and Dr. Hall who, through your intelligence and determination, have broken through huge barriers and made the world a better place for women. Rebecca, OTOH, is driving women away with her insistence that the community isn’t safe, and by her ugly behavior which women like you and I want no part of.

  94. Chris says:

    Geek Goddess:

    And I’m heartily sick of the squabbling that’s going on in the community, along with the pettiness and the two-year-old sandbox “you can’t be my friend if you’re friends with her” mentality.

    …snip..
    You are obviously just not young, hip, thin, cute, clever, or hard-drinking enough to be popular, and your experiences aren’t worthy.

    Gah, it is like being back in high school!

    There was a reason I got out of there a year early. Whatever I experienced in college as an engineering student in the late 1970s, was nothing compared to the bullying I experienced in high school because I did not conform. Now we are getting it again for not conforming to some kind of arbitrary standard based on language that has changed, and is possibly still fluid.

    I have a daughter who recently started college, and I have no idea where she falls on that ever changing alphabet soup of sex/gender gobbledygook. But here is the kicker: I do not care. What I do care is that she is happy, healthy and safe.

  95. DerekF says:

    And does anyone remember when “gay” meant happy? I recall a line in “Doctor in the House”, the first of a series of books by Richard Gordon, written in the early 1950s, where one medical student (cis heterosexual male), a perpetual student subsidized by a family trust as long as he is still a student as I recall, says to another that he “wants to change imperceptibly from gay young to dirty old man”.

  96. Chris says:

    DerekF:

    And does anyone remember when “gay” meant happy?

    I remember someone in my sixth grade class whose first name was “Gay.” This reminds me of the problem with one Christian website’s issue with Tyson Gay: Christian Site’s Ban on ‘G’ Word Sends Homosexual to Olympics.

    I would really love to go to TAM again. The first one I went to was TAM9. I could not go last year due to dealing with my son’s post heart surgery therapy (it ends this month!). But we are waiting to see how our finances will go with an engineers’ strike for the second time in twenty years.

  97. weing says:

    While watching “7 Psychopaths” I thought I heard Christopher Walken say that they no longer like being called “gay”. So, who knows what the term de jour is? I don’t care for word police.

  98. lilady says:

    @ Chris: See all the *fun and games* you missed by not attending the 2012 TAM Conference?

    You missed the spectacle that unfolded when a conference attendee *hit on* another conference attendee…and the drama that played out…and is still playing out.

    Rebecca, you need to get over yourself and do what grownups do when they are subjected to an unwanted *hit*. For cripes sake, you are thirty-two years old and at no time were you *in danger*…yet you *managed* to make yourself the center of attention. You need to take down those awful posts and screenshots of filth that were directed at you, that you keep placing on a separate website. If you haven’t figured it out yet, you are encouraging the creeps to continue their vile remarks.

    @ Will: I see what you did there on the Skepchick blog…you’ve had your *fun*…now just let it all go. BTW, I don’t care how you identify yourself, what your *equipment* is and how you derive sexual pleasure. What I do care about is your whining, b!tching and moaning about LGBT identities, while practicing the most blatant and unwarranted hypocrisy about Dr. Hall’s competence, her *supposed* prejudices and her age.

    Dr. Hall is uneasy with the use of the “Queer” word, as I am. Perhaps if you had lived through the 1960s, when when figurative and actual queer-bashing incidents occurred with alarming frequency, you might have a clue. I am also uncomfortable when black comedians use the “N” word, because I lived through the 1950s and 1960s when little black children were murdered when their church was bombed, when southern cops turned fire hoses on peaceful protesters…after they beat them with billy clubs.

    I’m sick of the “she said, he said, the parsing of each word, the pedantry and the nit-picking game” and the personal attacks on Dr. Hall.

    I’m with Team Harriet…and proud of it.

  99. alephsquared says:

    <blockquoteI have a daughter who recently started college, and I have no idea where she falls on that ever changing alphabet soup of sex/gender gobbledygook.

    People have died (lots and lots of people) simply because part of their indentity fell in what you term an “alphabet soup” of “sex/gender gobbledygook.” So you may not take it particularly seriously, and I certainly can’t make you, but please understand that this “gobbledygook” is deadly serious to a lot of us.

    But here is the kicker: I do not care. What I do care is that she is happy, healthy and safe.

    Then you are a better person than most. But you know what? If she does fall in the group of people referenced by that gobbledygook? One thing that will make her safer than people who have gone before is society respecting the identities of us alphabet soupers. It’s not a big step, but a great start is for people who don’t particularly care not to reduce our identities to “sex/gender gobbledygook.”

    And yes, I know, I’m sorry. I was gone. The law of the internet flounce has struck.

  100. Panthera spelaea says:

    @alephsquared

    Which do you think would keep Chris’ daughter happier and safer: that we carefully label every nuance of human sexual/gender behaviour and use those labels religiously, or that we hold such distinctions as not the determining characteristic of a person and concentrate on people as persons instead and not as sexual/gender labels?

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