Open Mouth, Attempt to Remove Foot

Posted July 19, 2009

If you have been following along here or at Skepchick you already know that I have taken quite a beating for both a stupid remark and an unpopular and poorly communicated view. I have apologized for the remark and I hope I have clarified my view. I have learned a few things and even, maybe, made a friend or two. At the very least, people are talking about something they seem to want to discuss, although it is somewhat removed from my intended message.
I was planning to let it be at this point, but since it seems to be all over the place I have taken the time to get it together, summarize it, and put it to bed. I will start with the easy stuff, move to the unmovable stuff, and end with what I think is my bottom line.
The easy stuff…
To those in the JREF forum, there is nothing to be defensive about. We all agree that we do not like the atmosphere at Mensa, so why are you so offended by my advice to avoid it? Take it or don’t take it. It is your slope to slide down.
By the way, a straw man misrepresents an opponent’s point. Since you have no point, it does not apply.
The unmovable stuff…
I do not subscribe to the slash and burn approach to feminism. I am not exactly one to keep my mouth shut (obviously) about anything, especially when I see injustice, but I am not what one would call a “militant feminist”. I want women to be respect and treated as equals. I simply do not agree with some women on how to go about promoting ourselves and that is not likely to change. It is not a bad thing, either.
Hopefully, few issues will arise in which I will have to choose between one cause and another. Regardless, as long as we can discuss and debate rationally, I see no reason we need to agree on everything and it would be a pretty boring world if we all did.
Note that, to me, this is not the same stance as “agree to disagree”. THAT really bothers me, as it means that we stop talking about it, and that is not what I am advocating.
The bottom line – and this is where I attempt to remove my foot from my mouth…
The post was not about one woman’s clothing, but I made that bed, so I need to clear it up.
My point was not about restrictions, dress codes, or even about sexual expression, if you can look beyond the cattiness of my remark for a moment.
Someone suggested in a comment that I must find Penn & Teller’s presence offensive or out of place – I do not. I like Penn & Teller. They are doing the work we all should be doing, and doing it well.
I am not against expressions of sex. I am against sexism, which is, from some reports, a small but significant part of the culture we created as a group this year.
My remark actually had little to do with sexual expression. It was not about showing cleavage, either. I would be just as taken aback to see a man dressed in a Spiderman costume at TAM. I would also celebrate his right to do so. Of course, I cannot help that I would likely think there was something seriously wrong with him unless he had either lost a bet or was about to participate in some sort of skit. I am human, that is how humans think, and whether that reaction right or wrong is somewhat moot (and not a very interesting debate to me).
I would celebrate his right to wear it as I exercise my right to criticize his choice to wear it in that context.
The mistake I made was adding totally unnecessary and uncalled for bitchiness and assuming I was not hurting anyone because nobody would read my lil’ ol’ blog entry anyway. Again, I am truly sorry for that and if anyone sees themselves in the description, regardless of whether or not it actually was you (which I do not think is possible; I believe I “remember” the face of one person, the blouse of another, the shorts of another… you get the picture, and in a very real sense that makes my comment even worse) I hope you will accept that apology.
I do not think that TAM should require suits or uniforms or any other kind of dress code. I strongly support personal freedom. What I am saying is that we, as individuals, should decide what we want in TAM and be aware of our contributions, regardless of how small, to making it happen. Attire is part of the overall tone and that tone is a factor in what people think is acceptable behavior; whether that is fair is really not the issue.
Science-y/Skeptic-y T-shirts and business casual attire, what most TAM attendees are wearing these days, set the kind of tone I would like to see continue. What I do not want is a tone which says that women are there to draw attention to themselves rather than the goals of the movement.
Cleavage is not the issue. The message one sends with it is. That is conveyed by how one displays it. There is a big difference between a low-cut blouse worn to accentuate one’s positive features and clothing worn purely for shock value.
For example, in my dream of the perfect conference, Heidiho is welcome to show all the cleavage she wants because I trust that her cleavage will say, if I can use an old cliché, “I am woman, hear me roar!” and not “I am woman, see me dance”. I LIKE that representation of women.
In the comments of the post by carr2d2, Blake Stacey said:

Who exactly decreed that TAM was to be a stuffy, academic event? It’s a social gathering of skeptics with a few semi-formal talks thrown in as decoration. You can tell, because the only time people are presenting papers is the last morning, when everyone is too hung over to care.

JREF = James Randi Educational Foundation. They offer continuing education credits for teachers. They offer workshops on Thursday as well as papers on Sunday, and the talks in between are mostly science-based. Just taking a close look at the speakers for TAM6, for example, will illustrate that point.
You may want TAM to be a nothing more than party, but that is apparently not what JREF has in mind, nor is it what I want, which was what I expressed in my blog entry.
Skepticism is very serious business. People are dying as a result of poor reasoning. For some of us, it is not a hobby or a social club. It is our work and our life.
It is nice that we can all get together and feel like a family, knowing that we are not alone in our way of thinking. It is great. I love it. But we can do those things while taking the mission seriously.
If your idea of the perfect conference is different than mine, then do your best to shape the culture into what you want. If you succeed and I do not like it, I will stay home (as I did for TAMs 3 and 4), fair enough?
At the moment, TAM is fairly close to what I would like it to be — a gathering of like-minded people who talk about serious stuff while we network, form cooperative groups, and bond during the daytime program. What happens during the gaps is not my concern, nor should it be anybody’s IMO. There are enough choices to please all of us, including drunken debauchery (in which I may actually participate when I am 15 years younger, a whole lot healthier, and my husband comes along).
I will attend Dragon*Con for the first time this year, and I fully expect to see Klingons and *insert sexy female sci-fi character here*. It’s Dragon*Con, for FSM’s sake. It’s not just about science and skepticism; it’s about sci-fi fandom, which carries a different set of goals. Attendees know why someone is wearing nothing but a thong, pasties, and purple paint; that is part of what people are there to see. They understand that such attire in that setting is not an invitation to do anything more than look, nor is it an indication that frat-style behavior is okay. That is the culture there, and I choose to participate in it. Hell, I If I had the time and a good idea, I would probably make a costume.


Disgusted with BS from BS on July 19th, 2009 at 21:12:

“Who exactly decreed that TAM was to be a stuffy, academic event? It’s a social gathering of skeptics with a few semi-formal talks thrown in as decoration. You can tell, because the only time people are presenting papers is the last morning, when everyone is too hung over to care.”

And all those presenters? Who were selected by Randi and his people? Randi himself? The keen ones who worked their ass off to get us Sunday papers? And people who travelled thousands of miles to attend? People who scrimped and saved to get the money to go? For what — a drunk-fest of popular kids showing off their tits for their own titillation?
Blake Stacey should find himself another conference. That’s all I have to say. If THAT is the sort of thing that’s being promoted, then they can have it — especially if that’s a fan of the ‘new skeptical woman’. Sheesh…

Zen66 on July 21st, 2009 at 05:20:

You should stop apologizing for one paragraph in an otherwise brilliant post. I debated myself about using the word ‘brilliant’ here. ‘Pro’ won for these reasons.
I have noticed your main complaint from the original post, the creeping competitiveness, present in many of the blog comment pages I go to. Especially JREF. A resent post at JREF concerning crop circles and the cost of woo garnered a thread of discussion which fed upon minutia within the article then degenerated into a hot debate involving Texas, shoot-to-kill’s, and Scottish trespass law. (note: I don’t blame a blog for the free posting of comments, it is the commenters I take issue with)
Secondly, there has been an ugly trend which I feel has been tainting peoples’ ideas of what a blog comment is supposed to be. It started in political blogs, this notion of having to right at all costs. Its inception came from the Right Wing where a destroy mentality exists. Their think-tanks brought rhetorical arguments into public discourse. These devices became so prevalent in political circles they spilled over into common use. They are now so institutionalized in the way we speak to one another that even sensible conversation has been reduced to a competition. You made the mistake of reporting on this trend oozing into the real world. (evidence of the rights’ destroy mentality will follow this post I’ve no doubt)
That is why your original post, to me, was brilliant. You illuminated a dangerous path for skeptics to walk down. One we need to change direction from at once.
Though in the future leave the catty stuff to those felines who don’t mind reaching up to the gutter.

Derek Colanduno on August 26th, 2009 at 06:10:
It is the many blog posts and stories like this I hear all the time about what goes on at TAM, it all makes me realize that I must be WAY too busy at TAM to even notice more than half of what is going on while there.
Since, I never see or am privy to 97% of what I hear. Or, I am just not invited to the frat house parties.

Bill Bartmann on September 3rd, 2009 at 09:13
Cool site, love the info.

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