Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

A few yards of cloth

Jul 16th, 2012 11:15 am | By

A young woman finds an exciting new path to liberation. She takes to wearing the hijab.

 …before you race to label me the poster girl for oppressed womanhood everywhere, let me tell you as a woman (with a master’s degree in human rights, and a graduate degree in psychology) why I see this as the most liberating experience ever.

We know. You’re taking control, you’re being seen for who you really are instead of as a female human being with hair and a neck.

My experience working as a Faiths Act Fellow for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and dealing with interfaith action for social action brought me more understanding and appreciation of various faiths. I found that engaging in numerous interfaith endeavors strengthened my personal understanding about my own faith.

Do you think she uses the word “faith” enough times in that passage? Maybe a few hundred more would get her point across better?

Tony Blair, you have a lot to answer for.

I am abundantly aware of the rising concerns and controversies over how a few yards of cloth covering a woman’s head is written off as a global threat to women’s education, public security, rights and even religion. I am also conscious of the media’s preferred mode of portraying all hijabi women as downtrodden and dominated by misogynist mullahs or male relatives who enforce them into sweltering pieces of oppressive clothing. But I believe my hijab liberates me.

Despite the reality of the misogynist mullahs and the conservative male relatives – she “believes” the hijab liberates her, and faith can move mountains, so there you go.

For someone who passionately studied and works for human rights and women’s empowerment, I realized that working for these causes while wearing the hijab can only contribute to breaking the misconception that Muslim women lack the strength, passion and power to strive for their own rights.

No, that’s not accurate – that “only” is wrong. Working for women’s rights while wearing the hijab can also for instance send the message that you’re confused, or that your religion trumps your commitment to women’s rights, or other possibilities that you probably don’t like.

In a society that embraces uncovering, how can it be oppressive if I decided to cover up? I see hijab as the freedom to regard my body as my own concern and as a way to secure personal liberty in a world that objectifies women. I refuse to see how a woman’s significance is rated according to her looks and the clothes she wears. I am also absolutely certain that the skewed perception of women’s equality as the right to bare our breasts in public only contributes to our own objectification. I look forward to a whole new day when true equality will be had with women not needing to display themselves to get attention nor needing to defend their decision to keep their bodies to themselves.

Uh huh, but the hijab isn’t the opposite of baring your breasts, it’s the opposite of baring your hair and neck.  Different thing. It’s very easy to refrain from baring your breasts without putting on a hijab. There are lots of ways you can attempt to secure personal liberty in a world that objectifies women without wearing a hijab, and wearing one is in many ways a very bad way to attempt to secure personal liberty.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Jul 15th, 2012 3:21 pm | By

A longish time ago we talked about the idea of doing book discussion threads, or was it Shakespeare threads. One of those. Inspired by Pamela Gay’s urgings to make the world better and do something, let’s get to it.

Let’s start at the top, with Hamlet.

We’ll talk until no one has anything left to say.

I’ll start.

Biggest thing: it’s not [just, or primarily] about A Guy Who Can’t Make Up His Mind. That’s become the boring soundbite about it, and it is very damn boring. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about a million things, and that one is more incidental than most of them.

It’s about everything. I think I mentioned when we were talking about Shakespeare before that I once developed a fascination with Hamlet, and spent several months reading/watching/listening to it and related things (the rest of the plays, other playwrights, Elizabethan writers in general, secondary stuff). That’s partly because it’s about everything.

Such as



Time, and the erosion of love over time

Grief and loss, obviously



Family, romance, friendship




Appearances, and deception (or “seeming” as Shakespeare liked to call it). “A man may smile, and smile, and be a villain.”


Lies, deceit, trickery



Your turn.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

What Pamela Gay said

Jul 15th, 2012 12:54 pm | By

Pamela Gay has posted the text of her instantly-famous TAM talk – and oh man is it a stemwinder.

She starts with the bullied school bus monitor, and the people who changed her life in response. She moves on to the 5th grader forbidden to give his winning speech on same-sex marriage, and the internet outcry that made the principal feel compelled to let the student give his speech after all.

She moves on to people getting together to do good things, like “the Virtual Star Parties that my dear friend Fraser Cain hosts and that I and many others participate in.” She talks about hope and despair, dreamers and trolls.

Doing what he does isn’t easy. It’s a lot easier to do nothing… easier to lose hope that anything can even be done. And there are people out there who would encourage despair.

If, like me, you’re a child of the 80s, you may remember a movie called “Neverending Story”. It came out when I was a dorky little kid. This movie contained a certain giant wolf who totally understands trolls and their effect of creating their own great nothing in the world. (link) When asked why he is helping the great nothing destroy their world, this wolf responds, “It’s like a despair, destroying this world. … people who have no hopes are easy to control.”

Looking around the internets, I see a lot of people sitting around trolling, and a lot people experiencing despair. There are YouTube videos of people complaining, and blog posts of people expressing their hurt, and in many cases there are legitimate reasons for people to be upset. There are people dying because we’ve lost herd immunity (link). There are lesbian teens in texas being killed for falling in love (link). There are so many cases of abuse that it hurts to read the news. There are lots of real reasons to be frustrated about the world we live in and it is easy to complain… and it is easy to lose hope.

It is dreaming that is hard.

That makes me choke up rather.

She urges us to change the world, and gives moving examples of people doing that. (They remind me of one she didn’t mention: Wangari Mathai, one of my great heroes.)

She urges us to do amateur astronomy if we want to, and offers helpful tools, such as her own CosmoQuest.

Then she talks about trolls who try to mess all this kind of thing up.

She talks about Anita Sarkeesian. She quotes from that New Statesman piece by Helen Lewis that I quoted from the other day.

And then she gets to the part where she needed real courage to say it.

This talk is one I struggled to write. To finish this talk I have to step out of my comfort zone and give an honest acknowledgement that trolling isn’t something that just happens in nebulous random places on the internet and it isn’t just people being verbal in their close-mindedness. Sometimes things are more physical and more scary. As an astronomer, at professional conferences, I’ve randomly had my tits and ass grabbed and slapped by men in positions of power and by creeps who drank too much. This is part of what it means to be a woman in science. With the creeps I generally hold my own and get them to back off like I would with any asshole in a bar. With the people in power… I commiserate with the other women as we share stories of what has been grabbed by whom. I know as I say this that it sounds unbelievable – and how can we report the unbelievable and expect to be believed?

This isn’t to say women shouldn’t go into astronomy. It is just to say that in the after hours events, you sometimes need to keep your butt to the wall and your arms crossed over your chest.

Some of you have to have power to stop discrimination and harassment. It pisses me off to know that as strong as I am, I know I’m not powerful enough to name names and be confident that I’ll still have a career.

Which is exactly what Jen said – before the mountain of shit hit the fan. Exactly.

It’s often hard for women and minorities to rise to positions of power – to break through that glass ceiling. This is in someways a self-efficacy issue, where the constant down pouring of belittling comments and jokes plays a destructive role in self confidence. At my university, I’ve heard tenured faculty laugh that there is a policy not to hire women into tenure track physics positions. They do this in front of the junior faculty.  I’ve heard people joke that the reason I’m in a research center rather than in Physics is because I have boobs. It’s all said with a laugh. So far, its been nothing actionable or against the law. But it hurts, because I know the women who work for me, strong awesome powerful women like the Noisy Astronomer Nicole Gugiliucci and like Georgia Bracey are going to be hearing this, and it is going to effect their self esteem as they look to build their own carreers. I know it hurts my self esteem. And I know there is nothing I can do to change the reality I am in.  I could move to another university – I could change which reality I’m in – but that would leave behind a university devoid of women role models who are capable in physics and computer science, the two fields that my students come from. I stay, and I try to be the example of a woman doing things that matter. I try to say Brains, Body, Both – it is possible even in computational astrophysics.

Thank you.

Here in the skeptics community, we, like every other segment of society, have our share of individuals who, given the right combination of alcohol and proximity will grab tits and ass. I’ve had both body parts randomly and unexpectedly grabbed at in public places by people who attend this conference – not at this conference, but by people at this conference. Just like in astronomy, it’s a combination of the inebriated guys going too far – guys I can handle -  and of men in power being asses.

I know that there has been a lot of internet buzz over the last two years about these issues. This community is filled with strong women. A Kovacs and MsInformation are two ballsy women I draw inspiration from. These are just two of the many SkepChicks, and many of the Skeptical and scientific podcasts have female hosts. When they see something wrong, they ask for ways to protect people from being hurt. And they do like Surly Amy did and raise money to get women here – women who together can support one another so that when we go home we have a network of women to turn to to support us even at a distance. These are women who react to  problems with a sharp word and a needed call to action that is designed to fix the problems

I know this is an uncomfortable topic. An I know that my talk is going to provoke some of you who don’t think I should air dirty laundry. But I see a problem and I can’t change it alone.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Changing our society takes all of us. Doing something is being that guy, and I’ve had two different guys be that guy for me, who jumps between the girl and the boob grabber and intervenes. Doing something is donating to get more women here, and to get more minorities here, and making a point to admit, we’ve got problems – we’re humans – and saying Stopping Harressment Starts with me. (see endnote 2, below)

We can make TAM a place that is focused on inspiring skeptical and scientific activism – that is focused on how each of us can in our own way make the world better. We can put this bullshit behind us, and we can try to rise above the problems that plague so many conferences in every field. We can be the better example.

We can make TAM a place that is focused on inspiring skeptical and scientific activism – that is focused on how each of us can in our own way make the world better. We can put this bullshit behind us, and we can try to rise above the problems that plague so many conferences in every field. We can be the better example.

Read the whole thing – I know you will, because you can see from this how good it is, and you know there are more videos and graphics.

I feel a whole lot less isolated now. Pamela rocks.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Bishops marked tardy

Jul 15th, 2012 9:41 am | By

A dog ate the bishops’ homework.

Most of the bishops’ conferences around the world have missed a Vatican deadline on drawing up anti-abuse guidelines, it emerged yesterday.

But Mgr Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s top investigator of clerical sex abuse, said that without counting Africa “more than half of the conferences responded” to the May deadline.

Or even better, you just decide not to count any of the late ones, and that way you can say all the conferences responded to the deadline. Dropping all of Africa just to get to more than half seems inefficient.

More than 4,000 cases of sexual abuse have been reported to the doctrinal office over the past decade, the office reported earlier this year. Cardinal William Levada, former prefect of the CDF, said those cases revealed that an exclusively canonical response to the crisis had been inadequate and that a multifaceted and more pro-active approach by all bishops and religious orders was needed.

Ahhh that’s a tactful way of putting it. A less tactful way of putting it would be to say that trying to deal with child rape by hiding it from the police was both criminal and immoral. (I love the idea that actually informing the police of the rape of children by employees is a “multifaceted and more pro-active approach” – it makes it sound like a motivational meeting, or a retreat to a spirit lodge with sauna attached.)

Bishops’ conferences have been encouraged to develop “effective, quick, articulated, complete and decisive plans for the protection of children”, bringing perpetrators to justice and assisting victims, “including in countries where the problem has not manifested itself in as dramatic a way as in others”, the Vatican said in November 2010.

Bishops’ conferences have been encouraged to do what they should have been doing all along and treat crimes as crimes, assault as assault, child rape as child rape. Golly gosh gee wow, how impressive.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Another Alex speaks up

Jul 14th, 2012 3:52 pm | By

Alex Gabriel has an excellent, thorough, detailed, courteous reply to Paula Kirby.

He makes an important point at the beginning that has been steadfastly ignored both by Paula and by many of her supporters in this dispute.

I know that, as I think your letter hints, feminist skeptics including at FreethoughtBlogs have disagreed with you before and may have been barbed. But I’d like to point out those comments were always qualified: PZ said FtB was criticised ‘by no less a person than Paula Kirby’; Rebecca Watson referred to ‘the esteemed Paula Kirby’; Ophelia, on the idea FtB was totalitarian, said ‘the sad thing is that it’s Paula Kirby calling us that’. I typically make a point of not speaking for others, but I don’t think anyone on this side of the dispute likes being at odds with you – certainly not how we to like scrap with, say, creationists.

I certainly don’t. I said more than the bit that Alex quoted.

Paula’s a terrific writer. She was very nice to me at QED, despite the defriending last year. We were on a panel together, along with Maryam and (don’t laugh)…DJ Grothe.

Paula’s never given the smallest nod to any of that, and she has also never reciprocated. She called me very nasty names, and there was no prefatory regret or acknowledgement of an ok quality or two; no reservation or mitigation of any kind. Yet I’ve seen people announcing things like “It’s an FTB rule that you never say anything good about Paula Kirby.” That kind of lying and double standard gets me down.

I particularly like the part where Alex addresses Paula’s claim that we (we Oppressed Sisters) see a conspiracy everywhere, and that in fact women are unwilling to speak in public and we hold ourselves back.

As your reference to WiS acknowledges, many skeptical and atheistic women have gained prominence and are regular speakers on the conference scene. This is very different from your struggle to find female speakers: we know as a matter of fact that many skeptical ones exist, and accept invitations to speak when they get them – but conferences still frequently suffer from gender-imbalance. At worryingly many, no women give talks at all.

Why is this, when it’s obviously not that women are unwilling? Because they can’t accept invitations they don’t get. You’ve told us your experiences; here are mine.


The first time we met was at the atheist student group I used to run, when you did a talk for us (an excellent one) on moral problems with Christianity. Yours was the last talk of the term, during which, if memory serves, half a dozen or so other guests had spoken. They were all male.

The same was more or less true of the next term, and at the week of events when you came back and spoke again there were twice as many men as women giving talks. Had I and the dozen or so other organisers conspired, in twilit rooms at witching hour, to keep women out? Of course not. But it was still our fault, and in hindsight – forgive the pun – a serious cock-up.

At events promoting godlessness and skeptical thinking, I believe we should show how diverse our community is. Is there something wrong with male speakers? Clearly not – no more than with, say, physicists giving talks. But if all or two thirds of a conference’s speakers were physicists, that wouldn’t reflect the breadth of the skeptical movement. The people onstage should, I think, be as varied as the people in the room – or as varied, as the case may be, as the people we’d like to have in the room. So why are they so often not?

Because when groups of men like the one I was in are running events, they don’t always think about this. I didn’t.

It doesn’t help that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: that when lots more of the speakers we knew about were men, lots more of the ones we invited and therefore hosted were men. We threw out the names of all the interesting people we wanted to invite in our very first meeting, brainstorming at lightning speed – and of course, we ended up with a shortlist that was as unbalanced as our long list.

I’m not suggesting we bar potential speakers because they’re male, or become draconian. But I am suggesting guys in organising groups put time into specifically researching female atheists, to the point of being able to write an A4-length list of speakers they’d like to host who aren’t white men. (Try it, other readers. I can do it.) Because when we have to think of interesting godless people and our minds run toward those groups by instant default, we propagate the existing imbalances.

It’s not a conspiracy. It’s thoughtlessness.

We know this is true. PZ used to report this all the time – that he would tell organizers, “Hey, you need to get some women to speak,” and they would always look befuddled and say, “Uh……we don’t know any.” He would sigh and give them some names. That would be the end of that.

Now, at last, it is changing. It’s been changing for a couple of years. That’s partly because we – we Oppressed Sisters – did some yelling about it. Why, exactly, is this a bad thing?

I don’t think it is. I don’t see how it is. I don’t see why Paula is so furious about it.

Maybe she and Pamela Gay could have a chat. Seriously.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Better taste

Jul 14th, 2012 2:59 pm | By

I gather (via Twitter) that Pamela Gay gave a great, standing ovation talk at TAM just now.

Pamela Gay just gave a talk highlighting the sexual harrassment in the skeptic community and called out for change! #TAM2012

Thank you @starstryder for tackling the harassment issue head-on at the #tam2012 podium, elegantly, eloquently, & w/many other great ideas!

@starstryder Thank you x a million. I wondered if anyone would say it. You knocked it out of the park. #TAM2012

Thank you, @starstryder!! That was exactly what #tam2012 needed and you were exactly the woman to do it. Inspiring.

@starstryder knocked it out of the park. Smart, measured and impassioned decimation of the trolls

Over hearing women sharing TAM harassment stories in the restroom. I think @starstryder‘s courage is contagious #tam2012

My friend Mya says she clapped until her hands hurt.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

De gustibus

Jul 14th, 2012 12:52 pm | By

I was flicking idly through the channels yesterday evening and I hit the Comedy Channel just as Tosh.0 was starting. I’d never seen it, never had a thought about it before the other day, but given the other day, I decided to have a look, see what he’s like overall, when not raging at a woman who interrupted his act. I think I managed less than two minutes. It was shitty sneery let’s hate everyone stuff, and then he asked, “when is it ok to make fun of the handicapped?” and a bit of video played while he shouted “Now! Now!” and everybody laughed, and bang I changed the channel.

That was quick. He makes it way obvious what he’s like, and what he’s like is disgusting. It’s shit. It’s nasty little boy in a bad mood stuff, turned into a whole performance, to an audience. It’s designed to make everything horrible. It’s loathing and contempt elevated to a principle.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Talk to Alex

Jul 14th, 2012 11:20 am | By

Michael Nugent reports that Alex Aan has sent a message to his supporters, saying that their our support helps him, that he would feel alone without it. He also says that

Atheist Alliance International is very active on this issue, and will forward messages of support to Alex if you email info [at] atheistalliance [dot] org with “Message for Alex” in the subject line.

So I rushed to do that, and you should too.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Jul 13th, 2012 6:28 pm | By

Next (that is, this next, approaching, this year) November 30 to December 2 is Eschaton 2012, in Ottawa, presented by the Centre for Inquiry Ottawa. Look who will be speakers!

and more to come….

Eric! Udo! Crommunist, PZ, Larry Moran, Genie Scott. Good eh? I didn’t know Eric and Udo were going, so I’m excited.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Hanifa Safi killed by a bomb attached to her car

Jul 13th, 2012 11:08 am | By

The BBC:

A prominent female Afghan politician has been killed in a bomb attack in eastern Afghanistan, officials say.

Hanifa Safi died after a bomb attached to her car exploded as she left her home in Laghman province. Her husband and daughter were injured.

As the provincial head of the Afghan ministry of women’s affairs, Safi had for years been a leading advocate of fair treatment for women.

She had been known locally for going out without her head covered.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Quick, before they escape

Jul 13th, 2012 10:22 am | By

Another repetition of the hissy finger-pointy meme that (deep breath and then say along with me) FTbloggersareevilbullies.

I should have written this post a few months ago…I am ashamed that I didn’t write about this months ago. It is with more than a little apprehension that I say the following: I think there might be some truth to the seemingly outrageous claim that a few of the bloggers at FtB are acting like bullies.

To be clear, the majority of those writing for FtB have not been doing any detectible bullying. In fact, I am referring to a relatively small group of about 4 or 5 at most. Based on the comments I’ve seen here and on other atheist blogs, as well as the email I’ve received, I am fairly confident you know who they are. So while I am of the opinion that FtB and any other blog conglomerate is generally a bad idea, this is not an indictment of the entire FtB team.

No no, not at all…But then why say FtB at all? Why not just talk about the specific blogs instead? “FtB” doesn’t blog anything; specific blogs do. Talk to them, don’t talk to the umbrella.

Then there’s the lack of specifics. There are three links to posts – one each of PZ’s, mine, and Jason’s – but there are no quoted passages. There’s a lot of very stale, recycled-looking generalization, with no particulars at all. The generalization is so recycled that it’s even labeled as such in places -

From what I have seen for myself and heard from others, they quickly dismiss ideas different from their own…Phrases like “groupthink,” “hive mind,” and “echo chamber” have been used when describing these few FtB bloggers. There was talk of this well before Kirby…I have heard from many people who are questioning whether they can continue to support FtB as long as they promote the few bloggers to which I am referring.

People say, therefore it must be true, so I will say too, without troubling myself to give any particulars at all, even to illustrate what the hell I’m talking about, let alone actually demonstrating it. Buzz buzz buzz, whisper whisper whisper, ooooooh doncha just hate that FTB.

There is also the fact that at least some of that buzzbuzz is coming from a very small but very dedicated and very obsessed group who hate the mythic beast FTB out of all proportion to its actual evil or importance. They are having some success in creating an impression that Everybody Thinks FTB is terrible – so people like this Atheist Revolution feel “ashamed” that they didn’t get out ahead of the curve and talk smack about FTB “months ago” – as if it were some urgent duty left undone as opposed to a stupid spiteful campaign of cyberstalking.

There’s one item I want to dispute directly.

Kirby deserved flak for the “feminzai” slur. Isn’t that one of Rush Limbaugh’s words? She should have known that this would color everything else she wrote, even though some of her points were valid. But I do think it should have been okay for her to raise the issue of bullying without being ripped to shreds over it. Based on the prolonged reaction to her letter, I’m not sure this was the case.

That’s stupid. She didn’t just “raise the issue of bullying” (and it’s debatable whether there really is an issue separate from the campaign to make it an issue); she called people a lot of very rude names including Nazi and Stasi in the process of claiming that they’re bullies. That’s why she got harsh responses. Since there is no rude-names-free version of Kirby’s discussion of “the issue of bullying,” it’s not possible to know how that version would have been received, and it certainly makes no sense to scold us for not addressing a version that doesn’t exist. The sneering epithets are interwoven into the “Oppressed Sisterhood” article, and that’s the article I and others criticized.

I could always just get a T shirt made up…

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Murder is murder

Jul 13th, 2012 9:11 am | By

Women held a rally in Kabul on July 11 to protest violence against women. Radio Free Europe words it strangely though.

Dozens of women have rallied in Kabul to condemn violence against women.

The protest on July 11 follows the public execution of a young married Afghan woman in Parwan Province who was accused of adultery.

That was no execution. That was a murder. There was no trial, no judge, no jury, no defense, no due process of any kind. There was just an accusation, followed by a public murder. Yet RFE calls it an execution twice more, before finally calling it a killing at the end.

It was a murder.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Personal attacks on prominent female skeptics for discussing harassment

Jul 12th, 2012 5:26 pm | By

Religion News is interested in our little spats. (Well it would be, wouldn’t it – except that JREF and TAM actually aren’t atheist, and are a bit hostile to atheism, at least at TAM.)

Officials for The Amazing Meeting, or TAM, said Wednesday (July 11) that women would make up 31 percent of the 1,200 conference attendees, down from 40 percent the year before. A month before the conference, pre-registration was only 18 percent women, organizers said.

The explanations are many — the bad economy, that women, as caregivers, are less able to get away, and that more men than women identify as skeptics, whose worldview rejects the supernatural and focuses on science and rationality.

But in the weeks preceding TAM, another possible explanation has roiled the nontheist community. Online forums have crackled with charges of sexism in TAM’s leadership and calls for the ouster of D.J. Grothe, the male president of the James Randi Educational Foundation, TAM’s organizer. In June, Rebecca Watson, a skeptic blogger and speaker, canceled her TAM appearance because, she said on her blog, she does “not feel welcome or safe.”

Other nontheists — both male and female — have shared stories of unwanted sexual attention at nontheist gatherings, including propositions for sex and unwelcome touching. Chatter has ranged from calls for more women to attend nontheist events to personal attacks on prominent female skeptics for discussing harassment. Meanwhile, two more skeptic/feminist bloggers announced they will not attend TAM.

Two? Who’s the other one?

The current hullabaloo can be traced to May’s Women in Secularism Conference, a first-of-its-kind gathering for nontheist women. On a panel examining feminism and nontheism, Jennifer McCreight, an atheist blogger, said women speakers at nontheist events warn each other privately about male speakers who make unwanted sexual advances.

“They brought up a concern about harassment at conferences and I was not aware of that problem,” said Ron Lindsay, president of the Center for Inquiry, a humanist-skeptic group that organized the women’s conference. “Maybe I should have been. But once I became aware of that concern it wasn’t that difficult to come to a decision that we should have a policy in place to deal with that.”

So they did, and so did other organizations. But…

As these groups and others unveiled their policies, members of the skeptic community asked whether TAM had one in place.

And that’s where things got ugly. In an appeal to assure women that TAM is welcoming and safe, Grothe made comments that upset some in the community. They accused him of underplaying, and even ignoring, reported harassment at past meetings, and of “blaming the victims” of the alleged incidents. Grothe apologized to Watson on her blog, Skepchick.

“I believe strongly that women’s voices need to be taken seriously in the atheist and skeptics movements, that any reports of harassment or assault at atheist and skeptics events need to be taken seriously and recorded, and acted on effectively, and that those who make reports of such harassment shouldn’t ever be blamed for such,” Grothe wrote.

Asked to comment for this story, Grothe said he stood by his online remarks.

Too bad the article quotes only the later remarks, not the ones that “upset some in the community.” And pathetic that DJ said he stood by his remarks.

Many skeptic women say they have no plans to abandon the conference or the broader nontheist community.

“We may not be able to ever completely solve misogyny online but we can absolutely do a better job ensuring that our physical events are welcoming and safe spaces for women and minorities than we have been,” said Amy Davis Roth, a longtime skeptic who has helped raise almost $8,000 for grants to send 22 women to this year’s TAM.

“Anti-harassment polices are a good start because it sends the message that event organizers want everyone to feel safe and that harassment will not be tolerated by our community,” she said.

Which is why it’s a pity that TAM still doesn’t have one. It has sarcastic T shirts, instead.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped…

Jul 12th, 2012 4:29 pm | By

Jessica Valenti explains (more patiently than I could) why most rape jokes are not funny (and what kind are).

But here’s the thing: threatening women with rape, making light of rape, and suggesting that women who speak up be raped is not edgy or controversial. It’s the norm. This is what women deal with every day. Maintaining the status quo around violence against women isn’t exactly revolutionary.

The woman who was the target of Daniel Tosh’s “jokes” tells what that was like. Tosh told some rape jokes (not the funny kind), and she disrupted his routine by yelling, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!”

After I called out to him, Tosh paused for a moment. Then, he says, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…” and I, completely stunned and finding it hard to process what was happening but knowing I needed to get out of there, immediately nudged my friend, who was also completely stunned, and we high-tailed it out of there. It was humiliating, of course, especially as the audience guffawed in response to Tosh, their eyes following us as we made our way out of there. I didn’t hear the rest of what he said about me.

It’s reminiscent of Michael Richards’s racist “jokes” yelled at another heckler a few years ago. That was a career-ender. Will the same apply to Tosh? I don’t know, but I doubt it.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Boy am I glad I’m not in Las Vegas

Jul 12th, 2012 2:41 pm | By

Want to see why? This is why.

Picture credit “Karl Withakay”

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

A charisma deficit

Jul 12th, 2012 10:40 am | By

How poignant. A Catholic priest in Poland put up that giant statue of Jesus but it didn’t do any good. People in Poland are still wandering away from the church.

Just past the Polish border, passengers traveling by train from Berlin to Warsaw can see Jesus. He is 36-meters (118 feet) tall, made of concrete, and towers over the surrounding fields near the town of Swiebodzin, a gilded crown perched nobly on his head. His gaze is directed over the Recaro plant, which makes car seats…

Well that could be your problem right there. Maybe his gaze should be directed over a plant which makes bicycle seats, or zippers, or napkin rings.

The plaque at the base of the giant religious statue says that Jesus Christ is the true king of Poland and will rule for eternity. It is not for nothing that the country is, in the eyes of the church at least, Europe’s most Catholic nation.

Yet despite the monumental redeemer, Swiebodzin has not become a pilgrimage site. “The statue has not triggered a tourism boom yet,” confirms Waldemar Roszczuk, editor-in-chief of the city’s newspaper and publisher of a regional Internet publication.

I’m telling you, it’s that car seat plant. Thinking more broadly here, maybe Jesus’s gaze should be directed over something that’s not a plant at all, but something more attractive to tourists – an insurance office, a shopping mall, a meadow full of wild flowers.

After joining the European Union, Poland turned to the West and embraced the Western lifestyle more than almost any other country. Nowadays, Polish women dream of careers, self-fulfillment and children. Hundreds of thousands of young Poles live together without being married. In booming cities like Warsaw and Poznan, gays and lesbians live their lives as openly as in Berlin or Madrid.

“More and more taboos are falling by the wayside. But the church reacts by hardening its positions even further,” says Barto.

And putting its giant statues of Jesus next to plants that make car seats.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Hello sailor

Jul 11th, 2012 5:11 pm | By

Brilliant. The Washington Monthly does a big ol’ serious thinky article on Y No Wimmin at policy events, forums, and conferences around DC, and before people can even get to the serious thinky words they get an eyefull of a pouty babe with big tits in a tank top.

The comments below the article are mostly pretty annoyed.

H/t Katha Pollitt

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Farida broke all barriers

Jul 11th, 2012 3:52 pm | By

How miserably sad and depressing. Farida Afridi, an activist for tribal women in Pakistan, was murdered today. (You know how. You don’t even need to look. Leaving home for work. Guys on motorcycles. Guns. Died on the way to the hospital.)

Along with her sister Noor Zia, Farida was committed to social change and economic emancipation for women from the platform of a welfare organisation called the Society for Appraisal and Women Empowerment in Rural Areas (SAWERA). Both women were among the founding members of the NGO and had a Masters degree in Gender Studies.

Due to tribal customs and traditions, women in the area remain mostly restricted and unable to achieve their true potential, but Farida broke all barriers and relentlessly worked for women’s development. “We have lost a great member of our team,” said Lal Jan, the technical advisor of the organisation.

The sisters faced tough resistance when they told their family about the path they had chosen for themselves. “We told our parents that we would work in accordance with our religious and cultural traditions, assuring them that we would never let the family honour suffer because of our line of work. Finally, they agreed,” Noor had said.

Syed Afzal Shinwari, project coordinator in Community Appraisal and Motivation Program (CAMP), said that SAWERA started small but is now an influential organisation. “Because of this brutal act, women in Fata will be discouraged to work and development will come to a halt,” he said.

You can go back and read an optimistic article about them from last September.

If it weren’t for the support of their father and the persistence of their mother, Farida Afridi and Noor Zia Afridi would not be able to read a single word of this article. But today, the two are not only final year students of MSc in Gender studies and holders of MBA degrees, but are also determined champions of women’s education and empowerment.

Farida and Noor’s long struggle against discriminatory tribal customs started when they were school children. “After we completed our primary education, our male family members wanted us to stop going to school,” says Farida. But the girls’ parents were adamant that they would continue their education.

Since then, equal status for women and children’s rights have been issues close to their hearts. It was to win these rights that the two established the Society for Appraisal and Women Empowerment in Rural Areas (SAWERA) in the Jamrud subdivision of Khyber Agency in December 2008.

And this is their reward.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Practicing being more assertive

Jul 11th, 2012 11:01 am | By

I’ve been wondering what Richard Dawkins thinks of Paula Kirby’s salvo against the Sisterhood of the Oppressed and the Approved Male Chorus. I expect a lot of people have, seeing as how she’s the executive director of RDF-UK. I’m sure we’ll never know, in the sense of being told in so many words. But possibly there are hints…he did a tweet today quoting and endorsing praise of Paula’s Washington Post blog post from last year, Religion lies about women. I RTd it with a “Ditto.” I liked (and posted about, and wished I’d written) that article last year, and I still do.

But I don’t see any RTs of the salvo against the Sisterhood of the Oppressed. That’s possibly a hint. Or it’s possibly just discretion and a disinclination to spit in the faces of friends and allies, such as the people who run CFI and the people who were speakers at the conference and attended the conference. But then…if it’s that, it is in fact a tacit opinion of Paula’s salvo, because Paula’s salvo conspicuously spits in the faces of all those friends and allies. Consider some of them – Margaret Downey, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Wafa Sultan, Susan Jacoby, Jennifer Michael Hecht…You can see how Richard wouldn’t want to insult them by calling them the Sisterhood of the Oppressed, or his many friends and allies at CFI who organized and hosted the conference by jeering at the whole idea.

Anyway, that article. Take a passage from the article -

In the eyes of the Abrahamic religions, the archetypal woman is Eve: disobedient, unreliable, easily led astray, and a seductive temptress of man – man being more noble, yet easy prey to the wiles and seductions of his weaker mate. Woman is the source of danger, the one who corrupts him, the conduit for all that is evil in the world. She is dangerous … yet irresistible; and this very irresistibility makes her more dangerous still. But you will notice that the dangers of sexual temptation are not to be faced equally by men and women: no, religion demands that it is the woman who bears the burden. Solomon, we are told, had 700 wives and 300 concubines, and David had a more modest yet still energy-sapping five wives and 10 concubines, yet neither of these has become a by-word for male insatiability. Jezebel, on the other hand, has become synonymous with sexual excess, despite this not being among the vices attributed to her in the bible story.

Indeed. And? What about it? Why criticize it? Aren’t we supposed to ignore all that and just focus on being strong and determined ourselves? From the salvo:

I did a sociology module as part of my degree many years ago: I know the arguments about socialization and normative values, and structural discrimination and all that malarkey. All I can say in response is that, while all these things may be true to a greater or lesser extent, banging on about them does not even begin to help women achieve their goals. If we, as women, externalize the reasons why we are not being heard as much as we say we’d like to be, and seek to put the blame on other people, nothing is going to change or, at the very best, it is only going to change painfully slowly. It is a simple fact of life that it is always easier to change our own behaviour than to persuade other people to change theirs.

So why bang on about religion? Why bang on about the Abrahamic religions and their view of the archetypal woman? If it does not even begin to help women achieve their goals, as Paula claims, then why did she trouble to write that article?

So there is an alternative, and it is this alternative that I would urge women to seize with both hands – whether we’re talking about how we interact in our jobs, in our social lives or in the atheist movement. And that alternative is to take responsibility for ourselves and our own success. To view ourselves as mature, capable adults who can take things in our stride, and can speak up appropriately. To really start believing that we can do whatever men can do. To stop seizing on excuses for staying quiet and submissive, stop blaming it on men or hierarchies or misogyny or, silliest of all, “privilege”, and start simply practising being more assertive.

You could re-write that last sentence to say “To stop seizing on excuses for staying quiet and submissive, stop blaming it on men or hierarchies or misogyny or Abrahamic religions or, silliest of all, “privilege”, and start simply practising being more assertive.” Why would the added item to stop blaming it on be out of place? It seems to me to fit perfectly well. If Paula thought then that it was worth saying how religion described women and what it told them to do, why does she now think it’s a big mistake to say that? I would seriously like to know.

In truth I have a very hard time even understanding the thinking in that passage. The idea that social and cultural factors just don’t matter, or that even if they matter it’s much better to ignore them and simply push harder – I can’t think my way into it. It seems like thinking breathing doesn’t matter. We live in the world, we’re embedded in the world, everything we have and do and think about is part of the world. We can’t just detach from it and do everything in glorious isolation.

I’m practicing being more assertive when I say that.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The Louis CK of Indonesia

Jul 11th, 2012 9:59 am | By

Boy, the chief justice of the Indonesian Supreme Court has a weird sense of humor. He told Angela Merkel (who is in Indonesia on a visit) that the Indonesian constitution guarantees the rights of atheists. Orilly? How does he explain Alexander Aan then?

Supreme Court chief Mahfud MD is telling the vesting German chancellor that the Indonesian Constitution gives people the freedom to be atheist or communists.

Mahfud was answering Chancellor Angela Merkel’s question about the freedom of religion and democracy in Indonesia during a visit to the Supreme Court on Tuesday evening.

“Since its inception, the Supreme Court has guaranteed the freedom of atheists and communists in this country, as long as they do not disturb the freedom of people of other religions. Freedom is equality.” Mahfud said.

Something seems to have gone wrong then, because Alexander Aan is in prison, serving a two year sentence for saying God doesn’t exist on Facebook. 


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)