Responses to Skepchick Comments

Sorry, regular readers, but the aforementioned thread got really side-tracked, and I decided to move questions directed at me to this post, so avoid the clutter on the SkepChick site.

  • SicPreFixNo Gravatar // Oct 25, 2008 at 3:34 pm
    Are you saying that two identical types of behaviour acquire two very different meanings/definitions because of a power imbalance?

Yes. I don't believe it's proper to extract the behaviour from the context.
  • I can't help but feeling you are (perhaps) operating with a definition of the term sexist that is at odds with the definition as held by most dictionaries and maybe most people.
Yes, that is the case. I get my definition from feminists.
  • Are you proposing a sort of distaff Black Pantherism?
Of course not. Ad absurdum.
  • I'd be more than happy to hear/see a clarification, but, um, please don't call me names, okay?
No worries, SPF, I respect you. ; )
  • 153Reply to this comment russellsugden // Oct 25, 2008 at 3:55 pm
    @JRice: I think it is possible for women to be sexist. See Arial Levy's "Raunch Culture"
Excellent point, but slightly misleading. According to feminists, women cannot be sexist, but they can internalize sexism. There's a subtle distinction. If you don't understand, I'll clarify, but I think it's intuitive enough.
  • Also I think your maths for equality is flawed, as the power held by women collectively is a function multiple variables. You have begun with the conclusion that the sexes are of equal "worth" (which you don't define), you have assumed the populations of both sexes to be identical. You don't discriminate between potential power and power-in-action and so on and so on.
Well, of course. ; ) I was just using it as an analogy: when something is imbalanced, you must work to correct it. It doesn't fix itself.
  • 155Reply to this comment PHNo Gravatar // Oct 25, 2008 at 4:17 pm
    However, I don't actually think it's generally considered 'irony' or 'trying to be funny' to call someone else's opinion f^%$tarded.

This comment was lame on multiple levels. First, you're trying to brush aside the argument by calling out one insensitive jibe, which is lame. Second, you've "censored" FUCK but not TARD, and the really insulting aspect of that term is that is belittles retardation, which is another area where discrimination is rampant... so you're clearly sensitive to the wrong aspects... though that's probably in line with the (blissfully ignorant) sexist comments you've been making. Third, you're complaining because I've attacked someone's opinion? Opinions are always fair game. That's the point. I didn't call him an asshole. No. ...Though that's what I'm calling you now. Asshole. (I'm joking again.) : ) Fourth, I can't think of a case where "fucktarded" has been used where it wasn't meant to be funny. That's kind of the point of the word.
  • 158Reply to this comment ImaginalDisc // Oct 25, 2008 at 5:41 pm
    Isn't it simpler to define sexism as treating one sex as inferior to the other?
You could define sexism as "fucking a hole in a tree", if you really wanted to. But that's not how it's used in the context of feminism. ...And isn't that where the definition matters?

Rationalizing sexism based on who has more power, or on historical inertia is groundless.

How convenient for you to say so. In my book, ignoring power and historical inertia is not just groundless, but unconscionable.

You do not need to be a sexist to "balance" out male sexism.

The point is not to "balance out sexism", the point is to balance out power and privilege.


There's been another couple of comments on the thread which I want to address. I'm done with that post... it's gotten too cumbersome. ; ) (Any skepchick reading this? Perhaps pagination (50 per page, even) would be in order?) ...And the only people who seem to still be listening are the three or four people whom I'm arguing with about definitions.
The most eloquent of them is by the above-mentioned "asshole", who deserves a little more credit than I was giving him above. : ) (That comment irked me, probably because it forced me to write an apology! Heh.) He now writes:
what you’re calling sexism seems to be a very black-and-white one, where the power balance in an individual encounter is entirely irrelevant, and all that matters is the average power of one group in society compared to another.That is, if a woman who herself happened to be born with every privilege imaginable discriminated against a man who’d had innumerable disadvantages on the basis of his gender, you’d class that as ‘gender prejudice’, not sexism, and seemingly(?) think it wasn’t as wrong as sexism.
Well, I don't think that's what I've been saying, but that's certainly how people have been taking it. This argument really is ad absurdum. ...In particular, this isn't a case you'll ever see in reality.

For a start, I don’t think that’s what most people would understand by the word ’sexism’.
He hasn't been reading this post, but--yeah. That's what I said above, and gets talked about in the comments. It's a feminist's definition of sexism. Not all self-proclaimed feminists define it this way, but I think it's a very useful definition, and I will attempt to explain why in the rest of my remarks...

Also, it seems an unnecessary linguistic distinction to make, since if all you really want to say is “Sexism by women is less important than sexism by men”, you could just say that, and people could agree with you, or not.
This definition of "sexism" is really "prejudice". Re-phrased, “Gender prejudice by women is less important than prejudice by men”. And, yeah, I might say that's true. But it's not my point. Read on...

There’s no need to invent a new term in order to justify making a binary distinction between types of sexism, especially if that risks people viewing it as some sweeping-under-the-carpet exercise.
Here we go: I think it's very useful to redefine the term. There is already a term for what you're calling sexism: prejudice. Pre-judging, based on a generalization. The word fits, exactly like that, everywhere you and the others use the word "sexism".

Redefining sexism to mean "prejudice plus power" makes a very, very important distinction. It brings power into the equation. It helps illustrate the difference between two actions that will have two very different results. I think if you care at all about feminism, this is vital to understand. For me, it really shed a whole new light on minority rights, and it has done so much for my understanding of their disadvantages. It's a tool to help people like me (men) to examine and understand their privilege, and to try and avoid taking actions that might otherwise come across as harmless. In short, it's a first step toward solving the problem.
PH (the commenter I've just been quoting) strikes me as the person who might eventually "get this". I think his intentions are in the right place... but I think he's got a conceptual leap to make before he's on the same page. I hope the issue comes up for him a couple of more times over the next year, and he finally flips that particular switch.
Then there's I'm A Hedge, who's a commenter I really like. He's joined in the fray, and has this to say:
It would not be just to [punish] someone who happened to share a particular set of physical characteristics with the perpetrator.

Perhaps the disagreement here is whether we consider a person as an individual or as a member of a group. Justice applies to individuals.
I've spoken about this before, and think it's an important point: many people (most?) define feminism in the light of individuals. I think this is where the "sex-positive" feminists come from, in fact: they think that feminism means enhancing their personal power, and that sexism is when someone knocks them down because of their gender.

This is all well and good... for the person. But, for me, sexism and feminism are really social issues. Branches of sociology, not psychology, if you will. The approaches that you take to bolster an individual are very, very different than the approaches you take to bolster a portion of a population. Both are topics I'm wildly interested in. I think the personal approach is... well... simple (not easy, but simple). If that's how you want to think of these things: every issue in it's own little box, totally independant of the broader social constructs... I would probably agree with you on many issues. ...with one exception: blaming the victim. On that issue, I cannot agree. And I think this is something that comes up a lot. But that's for another post entirely. : )

I think it's much more useful, relevant, and important to put down the viewfinder and focus on society. ...That's absolutely what feminism is about, and what sexism derives from.

That said, I think it's close-minded to say justice must apply to individuals, and I'd like to hear some... uhhh... justification for that claim. : ) Why wouldn't you hold cultures to the same standards as individuals?

Oh, and for this post:
...perhaps must critically, it requires judging one sex as more or less deserving than the other, and assigning people worth based on their sex. No matter how you attempt to weasel around it that is sexism.
To coin a phrase, "my interest in your opinion has been fully explored", particularly on this topic. I can't help but feel ImaginalDick is getting so defensive because he's so easily empathizing with threats to men's power.


Greg Watson said...

Thanks for that JRice. I have to admit I still don't quite get it. It is, for me, a very difficlt concept to wrap my head around. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's a bit too abstract for me or something. Also, I must admit I'm not sure I agree with the feminist definition of sexism -- it has a mild aftertaste of Andrea Dworkin about it. Heh, heh. I'll have to ponder on that for a while.



Jen said...

You're braver than I for sticking with that thread. I had to abandon ship :)

Jeremy Rice said...

Thank you, Greg and Jen, for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate you both.

Jap said...

All of this seems to raise just more questions:

Are they saying that all women in skepticism are therefore skepchicks? Especially the bit about 'Skepchicks as the cheerleaders of the skeptical movement: pretty faces standing at the sidelines whose proper place is to support whatever the men at the top happen to be championing at the moment'
There are women involved in skepticism who are not skepchicks, for example. In fact, more than the skepchick bloggers.

One thing to do the calendar: another to demonstrate exactly where the funds go, who they have benefited and what the recipients of going to TAMs have done since then. They make a lot of vague statements about 'we will' or 'we have' but it takes more.

nails3jesus0 said...

I am a feminist and its a load of shit that you are trying to speak for all feminists. I do believe women can be sexist. I agree about a lot of what was said of the impact of sexism depending on who it is coming from so its not as though the definition of sexism needs to be changed in order to understand the point. dont act like you speak for me, because you dont. Your definition of sexism is not the same as mine and really feminists as a group are divided on many issues (including this one). pretending to have the 'correct' feminist opinion is innacurate. There are a lot of people who are for womens rights but feel like they cannot get into feminism because of things like this. you could at least aknowledge that there is more than one opinion on this so that people who disagree can still get involved if they care.

Jeremy Rice said...

Yup, it's also true that feminists are not a single united front, and that there are varying definitions of many things, including sexism.

I don't speak for her and I don't speak for all feminists, and I apologize for not making that clear.

Of course, nails3jesus0 doesn't speak for all feminists either. : )

Jeremy Rice said...

Thanks for the comment, Jap, but those are topics that should really be put on the thread, since they (seem to be) on-topic! ; )

actiasluna said...

nails3jesus0: I'm a feminist. And you, decidedly, do NOT speak for me. There are a lot of people who are for womens rights but feel like they cannot get into feminism because of things like this. To be honest, I couldn't give a rat's ass about them. If they are not going to "be for" something because it makes them uncomfortable? They were never really on my side to begin with. You don't do something because it's comfortable, or because you get accolades for doing it. You do it because it's the right thing to do.

Jap said...

"Thanks for the comment, Jap, but those are topics that should really be put on the thread, since they (seem to be) on-topic! ; )"

Want to hear the ultimate irony?

I have found that anyone who asks 'what if some women involved in skepticism don't WANT to be associated with skepchicks and their behaviour or (as raised) their cheerleader reputation' or asks about the calendar and what its achieved immediately opens themselves up to be attacked and attacked viciously, usually with ad hominems.

That's why it's not on the thread. Because it's seen as unfair and yet it's 'fair' to attack females for asking about it. But at least there are some blogs, where it can be raised. Thanks for that.

Jap said...

'actiasluna' - what if the 'right' thing to do can be achieved another way?

Say, by not calling yourself a skepchick or associating with them?

Are you still right? As a contributor to skepticism, as an individual? :)

Jeremy Rice said...

I think it's reasonable to say Skepchick isn't for everyone. Just because you're a skeptic and female doesn't mean it's a site that's right for you, will represent you well, or where you should spend your time.

As I've said elsewhere, you've got to take action that's important to you, relevant to what you believe in, and comes naturally as the "right thing".

If anyone was telling you (Jap) that you're wrong to feel Skepchick doesn't represent your point of view... they were clearly mistaken. : )

That said, I'm obviously a fan of them myself! : ) A few of them more than others... but on the whole, I like what they're doing.

But even then, I don't think they can or should be the end-all, be-all of female skeptics.

Jeremy Rice said...

Also, if you're subscribed to this thread of comments, you may want to re-read the post. I made a very long update to address the latest barrage of posts.

It will be my last, though: I'm not going to continue the discussion on Skepchick. Waste of time. ...I'll wait for the next time it comes up on the site. (Which likely won't be too long!)