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Sexism in Skepticism, or just Sex in Skepticism?

by Brian Dunning

July 5, 2011

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Donate Having myself been accused of being as big a sexist bastard as anyone inside the skeptic movement (a good summary is here as well my response to it [which to find, you have to scroll down pretty far, just search for the word cosmonaut]), I feel I might as well chip in with my thoughts about sexism in the skeptical movement. It's reared its ugly head again in the blog headlines over the past week or so.

I see no very little reason to expect sexism, racism, foodism, or any other -ism you can come up with to be any more or less represented in the skeptical community than in the population at large. Any community is made up of real people, and real people have just about every quality imaginable. Girls get hit on in elevators at every conference in every industry. That's life as a human being. People also get robbed and burglarized at skeptic conferences. Expect everyone who attends a skeptic conference to be some perfect human being, or even better than average, and you will be disappointed. Maybe we're less likely to wear Power Balance bracelets than the average Joe -- since that's on-topic for why we're all gathered together -- but we're no more likely to be loving, humane, selfless, honest, or to wear corduroy than average.

After my wife and I attended our first two TAM conferences, we almost considered never coming back. The reason is that we both received an unusual number of unwanted sexual advances -- interestingly, they were all from women (some of whom have personally been quite vocal in criticizing me for what they perceive as sexism pervading skepticism, but we'll save hypocrisy for a different discussion for a different day).

I've put a lot of thought into this. I've definitely considered whether sexism is more prevalent in skepticism than should be expected. I don't think it is. I think what we've got here is a large number of atheists and freethinkers. They show up in Vegas, figure "Hey, here's a thousand other freethinkers and atheists, with no religious inhibitions; that means free sex for all!!" And, consequently, they throw unwanted propositions at my wife and I left and right.

We're fairly mundane folks. We take our kids to soccer, we love family trips, we have breakfast for dinner on Friday evenings. We're every bit as unlikely as Rebecca Watson, or most any other reasonably normal person, to accept a random sex proposition from a stranger in the middle of the night. So please, don't expect us to gleefully accept your invitation.

I also remember a tremendous feeling of freedom and fresh air at our first TAMs (and at every TAM). You're surrounded by people who have gathered for a shared purpose. You don't have to watch what you say about alternative medicine or religion or sham business models. I felt like a dove being released, and if I had been single again I probably would have been right there with all the other single/available men and women running around expecting everyone to want to have sex with me.

I attribute this aspect of skeptic conferences to a shared lack of religious inhibitions and a glorious feeling of freedom. Those are both great things. In no way do I hold anything against our propositioners (if that's a word) whom we turned down, with the exception of one or two who don't seem to understand what "No thank you" means. I hope that everyone who wants to get lucky this year has success. Just please, have some class about it, understand the word no, and keep in mind that TAM attendees are real people.

I'm not always right and I'm certainly not perfect. I'm a real person too.

by Brian Dunning

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