Monday, 12 April 2010

A meaningful rant about being a female skeptic who doesn't like being "the cute one"

This past weekend saw lovely weather grace our gardens and my mum, brother and yours truly got out into the garden to sort out an overflowing shed and the odd bits of rubbish laying around the garden. It looks decent out there now but the downside was that my hayfever was playing up something awful. When this happens I tend to get all soppy and emotional and Saturday was particularly bad for this.

As I sat in my bedroom with my eyes streaming, my face itching, wheezing and sneezing editing down a piece of the latest Righteous Indignation podcast I stumbled upon a piece of the listener feedback section in which somebody commented on how I had a nice voice and my already irritated mind went into overdrive and I over reacted.

I went marching downstairs and moaned about it to my mother. Told her how people seeing me as a "cute, adorable female skeptic" had been bugging me for a long, long time and I'd had enough of it. MY already irritated mind was saying "quit! quit!" but the sane part of my brain was going "pfft. As if."

It's hard to explain to people who have never experienced social anxiety personally, but when it gets bad you can't even control the way you feel or the way you think. You know that what you are saying or what you are doing is wrong or not like you but you still do it. It's self destructive and it's difficult to stop (but it is possible.)

Instead of doing something completely irrational I spoke to people whose opinions I respect who gave me some great advice and when I had calmed down and reflected on the whole thing the next day I realised that although I had been overeacting with my initial reaction; there was an issue and it had to be sorted.

I can appreciate that female skeptics are a minority compared to their male counterparts and it's wrong. The Greater Manchester Skeptics recently held an event geared specifically for female skeptics to try and encourage more women to participate in their events which I think is hugely brilliant.

I might be alone in the following thoughts, if I am then so be it, however since I first became involved in Righteous Indignation and became vocal about skepticism I have watched as a pattern emerged that makes my skin crawl slightly. No offence.

Numerous comments have been made in the past year about myself being cute, adorable, sweet and lovely and although it's really nice to be complimented it gets a bit weird when it's me being female that gets peoples attention rather than what I have to say.

I've rarely heard any feedback about the stories I cover on Righteous Indignation (apart from that I recieve from my cohosts.) I put so much time and effort into researching my stories and yet what gets peoples attention seems to be the fact that I'm well spoken and "cute."

This is so upsetting that I can't actually put it into words. It's also quite creepy that people say things online to me or about me that they wouldn't dare say to my face. I am, afterall, a stranger and sometimes the comments are foul, rude and disrespectful. Being online and a vocal female skeptic doesn't mean that it's open game for being a jack ass.

I can appreciate how female voices in skepticism are rare, but if others are treated the same way (I don't know if they are, I'm just speculating...) then is it any wonder that women are turned off from becoming involved?

I'm not claiming that every man that I've spoken to or communicated with in the past year has acted this way; but some have and it's so demoralising that it's often made me question whether I should bother or not. Luckily though I feel very strongly about the things I cover, research and talk about so I do continue.

What's the point of this blog?

Well, I hope that it could serve as a polite request to back the hell off and understand that I am a good skeptic because I know bullshit when I see it; not because you think I sound cute, look adorable or am female. Have some respect please.

If it turns out I'm not a good skeptic for what I do or say then so be it; but I'd rather be classed as a good skeptic because of what I do rather than my gender.

That is all.


  1. Actually I think you are doing a favour to a lot of female skeptics.. it is wrong that the women in skepticism should be made to feel like 'token females', and that by virtue of such comments you mention are not interesting or have any useful role to play should they not be 'cute' or "adorable' 'sweet' or 'lovely'.

  2. I think unfortunately it seems fundamental that comments about female authors/presenters/public figures ultimately end up resorting to their appearance. You only have to look at the criticism Claudia Winkleman came under in the comments section of the Daily Mail website for having the audacity to accept a job presenting Film 2011. These are comments that are supposedly vetted.

    Rebecca Watson recently posted a YouTube video that dealt with similar issues after some of the comments she recieved on there about her appearance.

    It is a great shame either way but it all the more repugnant when in the form of criticism rather than complements. I would say if the worst you have been called is cute and that you have a nice voice then I would consider yourself lucky compared to other female skeptics who have had far worse.

  3. It's not so much what has been said that annoys me, cassus, but then fact it has been said at all :)

  4. Yes of course you are right. Sorry I did not conceed that in my original post!

  5. You bring up some great points, and I'm sure I've been guilty of this sort of thing.

    Women face a lot of challenges in the skeptical community and this is just one example of it.

    I'm sorry that you haven't gotten more substantive feedback on your work on RI. I know many times I mean to write in on one of the topics (or most often to give Marsh a hard time) but by the time I get to a computer I've forgotten all about it. I'm sure there are plenty of others like me who have great intentions but terrible follow through, for what little that consolation is worth.

  6. Although this comment may be undermined by the fact that I, nor my skills, have never been singled out on the basis of being well spoken and cute (as well as the fact that I haven't the guts to broadcast them!), but I would like to add something to the first comment.

    I would put forward that, without meaning to legitimise what has made you unhappy, it would be a great shame if you were discouraged from an endeavour that you clearly enjoy and feel strongly about because of such frustrating comments - even if they are, presumably, well-intentioned.

    I lack the knowledge of the skeptical community that you and the other commenters have so I am ignorant of this attitude towards female skeptics. From my experience in other not entirely dissimilar communities, however, I can see how demoralising not being taken seriously (or, perhaps more importantly, feeling as though you are not) can be.

    Having read that through, I am not entirely certain that I have made any sense at all. Largely because I am new to this area of thought and am therefore not yet very familiar with your work (and heaps of others!), but I think anybody who is serious and public about their views deserves a great deal of respect.

    (For what it's worth, as a radio nerd, different accents and ways of speaking are very interesting to me so having a pleasant voice is very much a Good Thing!)

  7. I think this just shows that skepticism is not immune to the problems women face in the real world. I have seen attractive female skeptics having problems with people not being able to get past their looks, but I have also seen older or less comely female skeptics being ignored. I'm not sure what is worse really. I think we have to remember that we skeptics can still be influenced by the prejudices that lurk out there despite our huge rational brains!