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Posted by on Dec 5, 2012 in Feminism, Nonsense | 10 comments

Let’s Confirm Negative Stereotypes About Women

First, let’s get this out of the way: I’m no fan of Jean Kazez and I’m obviously biased, so take everything that follows with a grain of salt.

Next, for context, I’d like to remark that Kazez has stated in the past that some arguments are impossible to read because the sexist language offends her finer sensibilities, and that paternalism toward women isn’t misogyny because everyone likes babies. (I’m paraphrasing.) Personally, I think that babies are smelly, annoying and gross, unless they happen to be your own. But apparently Kazez doesn’t allow for this possibility.

Now, I present for your reading pleasure her remarks on Watson’s Skepticon 5 speech and Ed Clint’s response, with only the first sentence and video omitted. If this post is of any interest to you, then I’m sure you’re already familiar with the video. Enjoy!

A lot of people seem to be impressed with this excoriation of Watson, by one Ed Clint, but I’m not so impressed. In fact, I’m amazed.  If Watson’s talk amounts to “science denialism” then there are piles of books and articles that belong in the trash with the classic instances of denialism–holocaust denialism, climate change denialism, and evolution denialism.   If Watson is a denialist, so is Cordelia Fine, author of Delusions of Gender —  Fine also subjects a huge pile of science to a withering critique.  If Watson is a denier, so is Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, author of The Woman that Never Evolved–she also critiques existing science for being biased by prevailing gender norms.

A denialist cheerleader is going to be Jerry Coyne, who writes  “I am a fan of ‘feminist science criticism’: the idea that women can sometimes point out male biases in research strategies and in the interpretation of scientific results” in a post supporting Slate writers Emily Yoffe and Amanda Schaffer, who had trashed a science article on rape.  And let’s not forget people who have critiqued science for its racist biases–if feminist critics of science are denialist, we’d better call Stephen Jay Gould a denialist too. That’s a lot of denialists!

Right. None of them are denialists.  Rebecca Watson is not a science denialist.  She’s simply engaging in feminist science criticism, with a focus on how media and business interests stoke the fires of sexism. It’s a separate question whether she’s doing what she’s doing well, but the kind of thing she’s doing is perfectly legitimate, and in fact valuable.

The other objection we get early in Ed Clint’s post is that she has the wrong credentials. “Watson is known for her blog website, as co-host of a popular skeptic podcast, and for speaking at secular and skeptic conferences. But Watson holds no scientific training or experience.” (Holds?  Whatever!)  Again, you have to be consistent. If it’s a problem that Watson has insufficient science credentials, it’s got to be a problem that Emily Yoffe and Amanda Shaffer aren’t scientists, and neither are my favorite science journalists, like Robert Wright, Matt Ridley, and Natalie Angier.  Many people make excellent pundits and popularizers, without first getting degrees in the relevant subject. No–come on!–Watson’s lack of science training isn’t really an appropriate basis for complaint.

I’m afraid I lost interest in the post soon after the bits about denialism and Watson’s credentials, so can’t tell you what I think about the 50 billion errors Clint claims to have found in the talk. Listen for yourself. It’s fun and interesting, and you simply have to love the way Watson’s hair and top match the lectern.  (Emphasis added.)

Now I’d like to present some stereotypes about women that, frankly, offend me. Then I would like to point out how Dr. Kazez confirms them:

1. Women are illogical.

Kazez argues that just because some people make valid feminist criticism of Evolutionary Psychology, so does Watson. Just because some A’s are B doesn’t mean all A’s are B. Stereotype confirmed, and by a PhD in Philosophy, no less.

2. Women are bad at and/or uninterested in science.

Kazez doesn’t bother to read Clint’s well-researched, well-reasoned, and well-documented scientific paper and bases her conclusions on feelings about perceived misogyny. Stereotype confirmed.

3. Girls only care about what they look like.

Applying the principle of charity, I’m going to assume that this is satire, but Kazez actually concludes by stating how Watson’s hair and clothes match the podium.  Stereotype confirmed?  As an aside, however, little bothers me more than when people comment on how women look as opposed to what they say, especially in a professional setting. (I am, on the other hand, happy to get compliments when going on a date.) I hate it when people do it to Clinton, I hate it when people do it to Palin, and I hate it when people do it to Watson. We still live in a society where women are valued primarily on looks. Let’s show some “feminist solidarity” and not contribute to the problem, shall we?

So please, Dr. Kazez — and I’m being serious now — please stop confirming and perpetuating negative and harmful stereotypes about women, while some of us are trying to fight them. Because when you do that, it really hurts my feelings. (And, BTW, stereotypes about men are sexism too.)

*Edited to correct my error.