Episode 8: Why Feminism Matters

Episode 8: Why Feminism Matters

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Richelle McCullough, Leslie Saunders, Ashlyn Noble and Robert Shindler discuss the relevance of feminism in Canada and why feminism should matter to skeptics.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Economic Inequality in Canada | Being a Woman on Twitter | “Elevatorgate” | An Example of “Nice Guy Syndrome” | Another Example of “Nice Guy Syndrome” | Manboobz | Sex Offenders and Lads’ Magazines Use the Same Language

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THIS is why we need women in skepticism!

This is cross-posted from Subspecies.
There is a lot of post-Elevatorgate buzz about women in skepticism, including the announcement of a conference to specifically deal with women in secularism, more specifically the lack thereof. A lot of people who think that this is a non-issue have said that women (and other minorities in skepticism) will join the movement when they want to, that women simply aren’t interested in hearing about it. (And if you don’t think people actually believe this, please read the comments on the “Women in Secularism” announcement.) Since secularism is about self-improvement and education, I’m going to call Bullshit! on that. Yes, part of the problem is an environment in secularism that is intimidating to women, a lack of prominence for female skeptics, and so on. But the inverse of that is the amount of woo that is promoted to women.

Manitoba women use the health care system more than men, averaging 5.4 physician visits annually (4.4 for men), and 85% of women see a physician at least annually (79% for men.) Even healthy women of reproductive age receive birth control from their physician, have annual Pap tests, get mammograms, have prenatal consultations, and use health care services before, during and after childbirth. Women who are sick visit their physicians more frequently than men with similar illnesses. Women are more likely to be injured due to domestic violence (1 in 5 Manitoban women have been victimized by their partner in the last five years). Women are more likely to be proactive with their health, seeking screening and taking preventative measures more often than men. Now here’s the scary bit: almost 1 in 5 women in Manitoba consulted a CAM practitioner in 2003 (the most recent data). Only 1 in 10 men did the same! These statistics are in reality even worse, as the analysis excluded chiropractic, which partially covered by the province and therefore “not alternative.” Women are more preoccupied with their health, more concerned with prevention, and therefore more likely to be taken in by quacks.

Here’s a figure from the report I’m getting my data from:

The higher the household income, the more likely the women would seek CAM (here denoted CAHC for "health care"). Men did not seek more care as it became financially feasible.

In other words, as women were able to afford it, likely due to both increased income and increased private insurance coverage with the better paying jobs, more women were using CAM. I certainly would be interested to see if the discrepancy is access in lower income brackets, or a lack of awareness.

Well, maybe, you helpfully offer, chronically ill women are more likely to use CAM, and the wealth changes represent their ability to try unproven treatments for their disease! Nay nay….

The majority of women using CAM are healthy!

So what now? We have a bunch of healthy, wealthy women who are out there spending money on homeopathy and reiki and healing meditation and detox regimens and spiritual communicators. Why is it our problem if women want to waste their money on unproven crap? Well, because it’s not right, and it’s not fair. We don’t teach girls to ask questions, we tell them to trust authority, we tell them that their problems aren’t important, we tell them that they’re not an important part of the skeptical community, and then we proceed to laugh at them for finding a sympathetic ear and falling prey to placebo effects!

Worst of all, thanks to “integrative” “medicine,” woo is pervading our hospitals. While walking through the Women’s Health Centre, I saw a poster for upcoming health workshops being hosted at the Centre that made me do a double take. Yes, sponsored by Alberta Health Services, you can take a $40, 2-hour workshop in Reiki (“massage for your soul!”), a $190, 12-hour class in Feng Shui, or a $48, 3-hour workshop entitled, I kid you not, “Talking to Your Angels and Learning How to Listen,” run by Sandy Day, who claims to be a Reiki Master, Shaman, and Intuitive Healer. This is not some backwoods hand-waving Natural Healing Centre Of Happiness and Puppy Dog Kisses, this is at the biggest teaching hospital in the city, the centre for the high-risk pregnancies, for breast cancer: the medical hub! Or, on Wednesday, September 17th from 7-9 pm, the classroom for “Energy Medicine – The Internal World.” Oh but don’t worry, in tiny text:

Women’s Health Resources does not support, endorse or recommend any method, treatment, product, remedial center, program or person. We do, however, endeavour to inform because we believe in the right to have access to available information in order to make informed individual choices.

Now, call me skeptical, but I’m pretty sure if I wander over to the Urology clinic, I somehow doubt that I will see the same advertisements promising healing touch lessons for prostate problems.

For more than one reason, really. (zpeckler@flikr)

If we don’t teach our girls to question, and if we don’t ask our women to think, stuff like this is only going to get worse. No amount of half-assed disclaimery is going to change the fact that misinforming anyone is the opposite of giving them an informed individual choice. Talking about the dangerous of being teleported to Neptune by devious extraterrestrial cows does not come into discussions of which car you’d like to buy. Yes, you should be aware of the pros and cons of every car, and yes you should be free to make that choice, but having some random loon come in off the street to convince people that our Bovine Neptunian Overlords only abduct people who drive Chevies is pretty much the opposite of informed consent, particularly if the random loon also happens to sell Toyotas. Why is the Women’s Health Centre not bringing in drug companies to give presentations on why everyone should be taking Lipitor? Perhaps because there is a major conflict of interest when you are essentially charging people to sit through a sales pitch? And this is actually a bad example, because at least Lipitor actually has demonstrable, independently reproducible benefits!

So yes, we do need more women in skepticism. We need women standing up for themselves, saying that they are tired of all this bullshit being thrown at them. Without female allies telling Oprah to go stuff herself and Dr. Oz to take his reiki elsewhere, the skepticism movement will never succeed at exposing fraud in CAM. Women’s voices don’t just deserve to be heard in skepticism, they need to be heard, for the sake of everyone’s health.

Is there a problem with sexism in the Skeptic’s movement?

If you would have asked me yesterday I would have said no.

I feel like I can judge people pretty well when it comes to issues of sexism. When our skeptic group meets at the bar we talk very openly about many “feminist” issues including pornography, prostitution and female politicians(good and bad) If there were sexists among us I think I would have known. I think the first sign that the men in our group aren’t sexist is that when these issues did up; they are usually brought up by men and are never actually referred to as feminist issues. They are simply topics worth discussing.

Today my answer has changed. Like a lot of people, I base my views on what I see around me. I had seen nothing but the good side of men in the skeptical movement. I had no idea that there would be such outrage at a women who said nothing more than she felt uncomfortable at being asked out for coffee by a guy she didn’t know at four in the morning in an elevator. This says to me there is a problem…. a pretty big problem.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about Rebecca Watson was out drinking with a group of people. Around four in the morning she decided to turn in and headed to the elevator to go to her hotel room. A random guy (who was in the hotel bar she just left) followed her into the elevator and said something to the effect of “don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting. Would you like to go back to my room and have coffee and we can talk more?” Rebecca said that this is the kind of thing that makes her feel uncomfortable and asks guys not to do things like this. Here is the video where she talks about it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKHwduG1Frk&feature=player_embedded (It’s closer to the end)

From here controversy ensued.

I heard the response to what she had said before I had actually seen the video. It really bothered me. To me it boils down to Rebecca saying she doesn’t like this kind of behavior and she thinks many women don’t like this kind of behavior, so if you want to “have coffee” with her or other women who are like her… don’t go about approaching her in that manner. I have no idea how this = man hater.

So what’s the problem?

There seems to be an easy common ground to reach. I hope most would agree approaching a women you don’t really know in an elevator is a not a good idea, and most would agree that it would make a woman feel uncomfortable.

Lets start from there. I think that we can all agree that a women, or man, or child should be able to talk about something that makes them feel uncomfortable. I think (hope) that most people can agree with this. I also think that there are many men who fear that by asking a women out for coffee they will be branded as sexual predators. I think that this is where the problem lies.

Earlier this year in Winnipeg there was a case (that in spite a 1988 Supreme Court ruling that said women do not invite sexual assault through their appearance) in which a man got a lighter sentence because the women he raped was drinking and dressed in a tube top with no bra, high heels and makeup, I should also mention that the assault took place in 2006 and the sentence is now being reconsidered again… in 2011. Men who are afraid of being thought of as sexual predators need to keep this in mind when they look at what should and should not make a women feel uncomfortable.

I think we all need to look at the reality of the situation. Things kind of suck if you’re a girl, I think that most men would agree. I also think that women in our attempts to protect ourselves sometimes will view men as sexual predators when in all likelihood they aren’t, and that isn’t fair to that man.

So what’s the solution?

I don’t think that this is a male/female problem. I think this is a “no one want’s to be treated unfairly” problem. I think it’s unfair of women to assume every man is a potential rapist and I think it’s unfair of a man to think it’s unfair for a women to assume a man is a potential rapist when he puts her in a situation that makes her feel uncomfortable. Yea, I know that might have not maken much sense, let me try that again.

So what’s the solution?

Maybe we should focus on the justice system. If we had a supreme court ruling that said women do not invite sexual assault through…. no… wait. I guess we do have that ruling…. lets try one more time….

So what’s the solution?

Maybe it’s the men who need to be the bigger man. If they could talk to their friends and sons and the guys at work about what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior, women wouldn’t have to say it as often and then be accused of “bragging” when we talk about guys hitting on us, and how we don’t like the ways we go about it. A lot of the men I know do this. Men are always going to have boy talk and women will always have girl talk…. if men would start shooting their buddies down for being creepy, I think that would stop a lot of the girl talk. A lot of the men in my life do exactly that.

I have a feeling that a lot of the men in our skeptics group have also had conversations with their buddies that went to that effect. Maybe that’s why we have so many women in our group compared to other groups.

Maybe all women should always wear tube tops with no bra, high heels and make-up. If we all dress the same judges can’t say we invited the situation anymore than any other women… I don’t know how that would go over with my safety rep. who says I need to wear a safety vest and steal toes at all times… I did find one place that sold steal toed high heels, but heels don’t work well with freshly laid sod….. ahhh that won’t work either…..

So what’s the solution?

I don’t know.

I hope there is a solution. I’m pretty sure that whatever the solution is it involves no one over reacting… No one throwing out accusations…
I know it involves better communication.
I know it involves both sides letting things go.

I also know it starts from setting an example.

If anyone has made someone else feel uncomfortable in our skeptics group it would be me. So I will apologize.

At a semi-recent bar night (after a totally innocent comment by a male member of the group that went something to the tune of “What would be the point of X-ray glasses? So you could see some chicks bone structure?”) I am the one who said I would love it if there were glasses that could only see through cloths because my breasts look much better in a push up bra than they do when they are just hanging loose. I am sorry for my comments and I am sorry if I made anyone feel uncomfortable.

I am also the one who went up to two female members of our group and started stroking there hair. Just because one member had gotten a short(er) hair cut and the girl sitting next to her had long curly hair and I wanted to see if there was a different texture in there hair… that was pretty creepy of me; I’m sorry to both of you.

I’m sorry for announcing at a very early meeting that I watch a lot of porn… no one needs to think about me watching porn.

And I’m sorry that at a recent filming I told the gentlemen who seemed nervous about accidentally touching my cleavage when putting on my mic. that the reason I wore that dress was that I was hoping for a cheap grope. I’m sure I made you more uncomfortable and I’m sorry.

“Feminism” is a Dirty Word

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. (Colossians 3:18)

Flora, who recently supplied us with a guest post about geocentrist Robert Sungenis, has posted a new article on Subspecies about the “F” word.

The reality is that we are not done fighting that fight. Sexism may not be overt – federal law prevents that – but what has replaced it is something that I will term “rational sexism.” It’s the sort of principle that is all the more harmful because even the individual that holds the views can justify them as fair. It’s sexism masquerading as reason. How else could you explain that women – even educated, intelligent and skilled women – consistently make less than their male counterparts, are promoted less, are elected to political office less frequently?

Check it out!