Monday, February 28, 2011

Initiate Panic Mode

It's that time of the quarter again, so don't expect a lot of updates from me this week. This morning I got the lovely surprise that my end of the quarter departmental research presentation was being moved from Tuesday March 15th to Friday March 11th, eliminating four days of preparation that I would have really appreciated. On top of that our professor finally passed out our take home final exam two weeks late...and I have to finish that while scrambling to finish my research. Gah.

At least this means I'm done with the quarter much earlier, so I effectively get two weeks of spring break instead of one. If last quarter is any indication, I will be quite inebriated Friday night.

So yeah. No sleep for me this week, and if I blog at all it'll probably be while on the bus, which is about the only chance I'll have to read blogs or write my own. Though, I could use those extra minutes to read more papers... aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh!

Back to work. Yay grad school.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Import awards ceremony tonight!

...What? No, not the Oscars - who cares about those? I mean something much more important - The Bloggies!

Winners will start being announced at 8 pm EST (5pm PST) via their twitter feed and Facebook page. Blag Hag is nominated for Best Weblog about Religion - but I gotta admit, I think Friendly Atheist is the favorite in that category. Oh well, as long as we don't lose to Norse mythology or the person who thinks they're talking to their dead child's ghost.

Unfortunately I'm going to be a grad student recruitment dinner when the awards are announced. Well, I mean, it's great because I get to meet the prospective students and get free delicious food, but it will also be kind of rude for me to stare at my iPhone the whole time. I'll have to surreptitiously check it occasionally.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

How to make guys like you



Here that, ladies and gentlemen? Nerds = awesome to date.

...Now, if only I knew how to find the cute godless nerds in Seattle - I think we're all too busy hiding in our apartments reading blogs and playing video games to actually run into each other. What a conundrum.

Friday, February 25, 2011

It's the little assumptions

Via Geek Feminism Blog:Advertisement: Can you solve one of our puzzles? Can you explain it to your mom? We're hiring hackers with people skills.
Post It Note: My mom has a PhD in Math

It's amazing how often science oriented speakers or advertisements will say stuff like "Explain it so mom/grandma can understand." One of those things you take for granted until someone points it out to you. Does feminism have more important issues to talk about? Sure. But the little assumptions can add up.

I've found my new favorite atheist

And she's a 14 year old girl!



"There's so much violence that comes with religion. So you know what? Stop giving these things to children. Let them form their own decisions when they're older and actually have the intelligence and mental capacity to make up their own minds." This.

I'd say someone needs to tell her to start a Secular Student Alliance at her high school...but she may not even be in high school yet. I freaking love young activists. We are the future of secularism!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Save the date - April 2!

That's when Rock Beyond Belief will be rocking Fort Bragg, North Carolina! It's a completely free day of skeptical entertainment in response to the offensive and religious Rock The Fort.
It'll be featuring speakers like Dan Barker, Richard Dawkins, Margaret Downey, Dale McGowan, Hemant Mehta, Eugenie Scott, and meeeeeeee! And a bunch of great musicians, too (which does not include me, thankfully for ears of the audience). There are still cool events and information being added (you know there'll so be a hotel after party), so make sure to keep an eye on their official website.

If you're near NC, I hope you check out this event! Not only should it be a ton of fun, but it's a great response to the evangelistic event held last year. And who knows when's the next time I'll be anywhere near NC, haha.

And major props to Justin Griffith for being the major force in organizing this - and he just became a daddy a couple of days ago! Congrats, Justin! Best of luck controlling your atheist nature and not eating your baby.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I suck at titles

I'm doing a speaking tour in Minnesota in March, and if I don't come up with a title for my talk soon, my host groups are going to greet me with torches and pitchforks. Okay, it's not quite that bad yet - but I certainly am being a stereotypically difficult speaker at the moment. There are flyers to be made! It's odd being on the other side for once.

Anyway, I need your help. I'm absolutely horrible at coming up with creative, witty titles. My talk is basically about:
  1. Why women should give up religion
  2. Why skepticism benefits feminism
  3. Why atheists should be feminists
  4. Why women are underrepresented in atheism, and how to help fix that.
I am so excited to give this talk in rural Minnesota.

But right now my working title is "Atheism & Feminism," which is embarrassingly awful. Some fun titles my friends have suggested so far include:
  • Dispelling Fallacies and Phallusies
  • Denying The Man In Charge: Hey, It Worked For Suffrage
  • How To Be Cooler Than God: Respect Women
  • God's Lady Problem: Breaking up with abusive supernatural beings
  • Free Beer At This Talk
...Okay, maybe not that last one, though it would probably be effective.

Any suggestions, my lovely readers?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

On the bright side...

I had a blast at the Secular Student Alliance Southern California leadership summit. I don't exactly feel like writing a big summary at the moment, but I wanted to rub it in that I saw a bunch of awesome speakers and just got out of a hot tub. I think this photo pretty much summarizes my happiness:I heart everyone from the SSA.

Motherfucking Indiana

Seriously, we're just on a roll, aren't we? First no gay marriage, then ridiculous abortion restrictions...and now one of our Representatives, Mike Pence, is out to remove all government funding for Planned Parenthood. And it passed in the House.

I know this happened a couple of days ago, but I've been in conference la la land, so you get my rage a little delayed.

Feministe summarizes perfectly why we should care:

By law, federal funds haven’t paid for abortions since the 1970s, so the House hasn’t voted to cut abortion funding. They’re cutting funding for the entire Title X program — funding for contraception, cancer screening, STI tests, sex education, mammograms, HIV testing and diagnosis, and pregnancy screening and counseling. Title X is the only federal program dedicated solely to providing individuals with comprehensive family planning and preventive health services, particularly low-income families. Last year, 5 million people benefited from the services funded by Title X.

Planned Parenthood is the target of this legislation, and American women the primary victims. This isn’t about abortion — it’s about cutting access to health care for women. One in five American women has used Planned Parenthood’s services. The vast majority of care — more than 90% — offered at Planned Parenthood health centers is preventative. Every year, Planned Parenthood carries out nearly one million screenings for cervical cancer — screenings which save lives. Every year, Planned Parenthood doctors and nurses give more than 830,000 breast exams — exams which save lives. Every year, nearly 2.5 million patients receive contraception from Planned Parenthood — a service which prevents enormous numbers of unintended pregnancies and, by extension, an enormous number of abortions. Every year, Planned Parenthood administers nearly 4 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV — tests and treatments which save lives, extend lives, preserve fertility, and maintain reproductive health.

Fuck. Republicans. And Indiana, for spawning this filth. I am more and more ashamed to be associated with this state.

If you want to show your support for this amazing organization, you can sign Planned Parenthood's open letter to Congress here.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Hello, California!

After quite the initial adventure getting to the airport (fuck you, Seattle public transportation), I am now safely in Thousand Oaks, California. No, this isn't just some random vacation funded by my ample graduate student budget - though it will be a lot of fun. I'm here for the Secular Student Alliance's Southern California regional leadership summit.

I'm really looking forward to meeting all of the students and hearing the other speakers - Michael Shermer, Bobbie Kirkhart, Dan Barker, Sikivu Hutchinson, Darrel Ray, and many more! I'm also giving a talk, but since I was just looking for lolcat photos to add to my slides, I'm not sure I'm going to be as classy as everyone else.

And now that I've filled myself with fish tacos, I'm going to take a nap. I only got 2 hours of sleep last night, and I need my energy for all the godless debauchery that will occur over the next couple of days.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Goddamnit Indiana

This is not a good week for my old state. First, we're even closer to having an amendment to the Indiana constitution banning gay marriage. Because you know, a law isn't good enough when you're homophobic.

Now? New abortion restrictions have just won committee approval.
HB1210, authored by Rep. Eric Turner, R-Marion, was originally drafted as a measure forcing abortion doctors to tell their patients that "the fetus may feel pain" and forcing patients to view an ultrasound picture unless they said in writing that they did not want to.

An amendment by Rep. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, added many more provisions, including one forcing the health department to produce materials saying abortion can increase the risk of breast cancer, another saying patients must be told about opportunities for child care and child support payments and a provision saying abortions could not be performed after 20 weeks except to save the mother's life. The amendment was approved 8-5.

[...]Messmer's amendment says a relative of the woman, a county attorney or the attorney general could file an injunction against a doctor who performs or attempts to perform an abortion after 20 weeks.

"If you have an abortion provider providing post-20 week abortions across the state, it may take the attorney general," Messmer said. His measure also includes a provision saying that life begins when an egg is fertilized.
What. The. Fuck. I wish I was surprised, but frankly I'm not. At least there are some sane voices in Indiana:
Lawson and other Democrats said the supporters' testimony was based on faulty medical information. Planned Parenthood representatives said abortion does not increase the risk of breast cancer and that scientists and doctors have found fetuses cannot feel pain until well after 20 weeks.

A representative of the Jewish Community Relations Council testified that Jews do not believe life begins at fertilization -- they believe it begins at birth -- so codifying Messmer's definition would write religion into state law.

Opponents questioned whether the purpose of the law was really to make women more informed or more safe.

"I've heard it before," Lawson said. "They're not going to change my mind. They're bullies."
Props to Lawson (who's a representative from my home town's congressional district) for calling out these people for who they truly are, Planned Parenthood for actually using science in their arguments, and the Jewish Community Relations Council for supporting the separation of church and state. Some people in Indiana get it. Unfortunately it's not the majority.

Off my ASS for the SSA - FINAL RESULTS!

Starting weight: 186.4 lbs
Last week's weight: 174.8 lbs
Current weight: 173.8 lbs
Weight loss this week: 1 lb

Total weight lost: 12.6 lbs!

Wooooo! I can't believe what mild exercise, eating healthier, and eating less (no, you don't need three pieces of cake, Jen) can do. I know BMI isn't a perfect measurement, but as an estimate, today is the first day in years I've actually not been considered overweight for my height and age - just hit a BMI of 24.9! Most importantly, I feel better and I fit better in my clothes.

Though enough of all this subjective personal emotions crap - if you're like me, you want DATA!
(click here for larger version)

As you can see, I've marked some interesting events that affected my weight. I also should have marked all the events that I thought would affect my weight, but didn't - two other birthday parties, happy hour every Friday, the Superbowl, Indian food. I guess it just goes to show that an occasional beer or cheat meal won't completely derail you from your goals.

I also added a trend line because I'm a nerd. For all the fluctuations weight loss entails, I was impressed by the relatively high R squared value. And the equation ends up working out to losing about 1.45 lbs per week. See, I was on a healthy pace!

As for the competition between me and JT... well, he's actually been pretty sick for the last couple of weeks, so he's pulled out of the official competition. Doesn't want me to have to pay up because he's losing weight from illness. So... I guess by my personal standards, I win for reaching my goal? I guess we'll just have to buy each other drinks at this weekend's conference.

And as for the competition between me and Phil...well, I defeated him by a good three pounds ;) Sorry Phil - I know your wife was on Team Jen and potentially sabotaging you with her cooking, but you still have to pay up!

To everyone who's put up with reading these blog posts, or pledged to donate to the SSA for every pound I lost, thank you! I'm not done yet - I'd like to get close to my high school weight by the AHA conference in April - but I won't bother you guys with weekly updates.

Thanks again! I'm going to celebrate by falling off the wagon at the SSA SoCal conference this weekend, haha.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Clarifying the Pears

Jen’s Note: I posted Sharon and Lyz’s original article not only because I personally trust them as individuals, but because they are professional atheist organizers with tons of experience in dealing with groups and inclusivity. After watching the video from the panel and hearing the audio of Sean’s talk, I find no evidence that they purposefully misrepresented content. I do, however, feel that there was a bit of communication failure between most of the parties involved, which is why I wanted to post their clarification here.

The following is a guest post by Lyz Liddell and Sharon Moss. These are the views of individuals and do not represent the views of the Secular Student Alliance or the Humanist Community of Central Ohio.

Hoo. Boy.

Well, when we first wrote the article "When Gender Goes Pear-Shaped," we hoped it would get at least a little attention. But we weren't expecting the crazy amount of attention, comments, and - unfortunately - misunderstandings that came out of it.

So we wanted to clear up a few things about our intentions and our goals in writing the article.

Our intention in writing this article was to shed light on an issue our entire movement struggles with. With the number of blogs, panels, questions, and articles out there discussing how to make our movement more welcoming to women, we clearly have some serious room for improvement. The good news is that it seems basically everyone in our movement is on board with the idea of welcoming women. The trickier issue is dealing with those unconscious behaviors that can still make women feel uncomfortable - even though they are not intended to do so. It’s a conversation that we need to have and keep having. That’s what we - organizers with years of experience working with grassroots groups - were trying to address in our post.

We did NOT mean to make it sound as though any one person, organization, event or organizer was at fault or the focus of this article. Here's where our intentions were blocked by our inexperience in blogging - despite our best intentions, it did come across as though we were attacking the SERAM, American Atheists, the organizers, Sean Faircloth, and others. That was *never* our intent, and we want to apologize for not making that clear. We still think that the SERAM was a great event - in fact, we want to see more events like it! (Sold out, 200 attendees from all over, over a third women and almost half at their first event - awesome!) Likewise, American Atheists not only has a history and continuing practice of women in leadership positions, it is doing great work to improve our movement's diversity (have doubts? check out the speaker lineup for their national convention!), focusing on its niche as an activist organization, and providing support for local groups. While the issue we're discussing affects the entire freethought movement, we don't want anyone to come away thinking of AA, SERAM or Sean Faircloth as the bad guys.

There have been some accusations that we misrepresented what happened at the Sunday morning panel (read: that we were lying). The video of the talk was posted here. We encourage people to watch that video. It demonstrates both that the panel wasn't a terrible sexist monster, but also clearly shows the parts of the panel that concerned us - most notably, the handling of the audience member's question and its aftermath. We realize that our article made it sound like Sharon was the only person to follow the young woman - she wasn't the only one, but she was the first (and she couldn't very well see that others behind her also moved to help). The point we wanted to make was that she wasn't an event organizer but still wanted to help; not that the event organizers didn't help or didn't want to. (Unfortunately, the video of Sean Faircloth's talk is not up yet, but the SERAM organizers are planning to make it available soon.)

There also seems to be some confusion about our views on the Million Dollar Challenge (MDC) and the "female" v. "woman" language question. None of us were arguing against the point the MDC illustrates; it's perfectly true that in our society, women tend to be the gatekeepers of sexual activity. Our concerns were with the manner in which it was presented: encouraging the men in the room to look around at the women in the room and identify specific women they were sexually attracted to, then proceeding with the hypothetical challenge. Likewise, neither of us have a problem with the use of either "female" or "woman" when discussing gender issues. Our concern was with the way the woman asking the question was treated at the event. We are trying to make the point that if you're making fellow supporters of our movement that uncomfortable, then you're doing something wrong.

One last misunderstanding has come to our attention. There were several instances where we alluded to problems in the general movement that were taken as though they had happened at the SERAM. We didn't mean to imply that the audience at the SERAM was continuously staring at our chests; that didn't happen at this event. BUT, there have been numerous other events where it has happened and continues to happen, and we wanted to raise the issue. We also didn't intend to imply that there were instances of racism or anti-parentism at the SERAM. In our years of leading freethought groups, we have seen both of these behaviors at other events at different times, and mentioned them since they tie into the issue of making our movement more comfortable to newcomers. Again, our blogging inexperience interfered with the points we were trying to make.

You might be asking why we chose to focus on the SERAM so specifically if it wasn't itself the problem. Well, we chose to focus on these instances, at this event, for two reasons. First, they were recent and relevant - they were specific examples of specific behaviors that we have observed, time after time, that can and often do make women uncomfortable. Second, because we had to focus on something. If we had just posted an article about how “sometimes there's some stuff that makes women feel uncomfortable in our movement,” our post would have been ignored, or readers would have demanded to see the evidence. So we provided recent, relevant, specific examples that illustrated our main point: that we should work to make women in our movement feel more comfortable. If nothing else, we have succeeded in making enough noise that lots of people are talking about the issue - and that is our goal.

There will be no apology for making it clear that women often feel uncomfortable in our movement. If you are a woman in this movement and you find yourself comfortable, that's great! But just because you are comfortable doesn't mean that everyone is - and since our movement is growing SO rapidly, we need to pay attention to those who might not be as outgoing or outspoken - whether they be women, people of any age, less-educated people, racial minorities, LGBTQs, etc. These people are on our side, and we should make our movement a safe landing place for them.

For all the bad feelings that have come up out of this article, we want to emphasize that there has been some very constructive communication to go along with it. In particular, we have had great conversations with the SERAM event coordinators Scott Savage and Christie Swords; David Silverman of American Atheists; and Sean Faircloth at the Secular Coalition for America. Furthermore, we have received several messages from local group leaders telling us how glad they were that the issue was raised, or that they're planning to use our tips for improvement with their own groups. (Those tips are toward the bottom of the original article, if you only read the first part, the comments, a summary, etc.) We have also been thanked by lots of women (and men, too) who have felt uncomfortable in our movement but were too afraid to raise their voices.

It's been a rough ride. We're doing the best we can to make our movement a bigger, better, stronger one. We hope you'll forgive us our miscommunication and keep working with us to build a world where freethinkers of all types and kinds can flourish!

Even subconsciously skeptic

Last night I had a dream that I was hanging out with a group of friends, when God suddenly appeared to me in the form of a five story tall marble statue of an old bearded man, adorned with gold and jewels and bathed in warm light.

"Is this enough proof for you, Jen?" he asked, both confident and a tad bit annoyed.

"Come on," I replied, "how do I know this isn't just a hallucination? If you're going to go to the effort to give me proof, at least give it under controlled laboratory conditions."

Move over lucid dreaming. I sleep debate religious apologetics.

Though to assure you I'm not completely devoid of creativity thanks to atheism, my following dream involved traveling back in time to the Lost City of Atlantis, where they bred Pokemon-like creatures and were totally nonplussed by our arrival since they apparently get time travelers all the time.

My brain is weird.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

Here's a photo of me and my date:We met at the Seattle Atheists' Darwin Day celebration! Once I laid eyes on him, I knew I had to make him mine. Thankfully he only cost a dollar.

Don't judge.

Anyway, the event was really fun. About 150 people showed up to partake in the cake, games, and other various festivities. I ended up randomly being on the panel because they were one person short and needed an evolutionary biologist who has opinions about the "evolution wars." I may have an opinion or ten million in that area. It was fun.

But if you'll excuse me, I have some noodly appendages to go spend quality time with.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"What exactly is Christian about being gay?"

The Creation Museum recently hosted a "Date Night" for FamilyLife's conference in Cincinnati, OH. While usually I'd consider animatronic dinosaurs the true pinnacle of romance, the whole Biblical literalism thing sort of ruins the mood for me. But one journalist decided to check it out with friends, and posted about his experience on reddit:

I write for an alt-weekly, and in the interest of journalistic science went to northern Kentucky's Creation Museum for their couples' Date Night, which basically consisted of a talk by museum founder Ken Ham, a buffet dinner, a musical performance by a country music guitarist and truckloads of cognitive dissonance.

Our party consisted of myself, my girlfriend Shanna and our friend Brandon, who was to be accompanied by our friend Joe, who was himself running late. As a coterie of security guards checked the three of us in, they wanted to know where Brandon's date what kind of car she would be driving so they could keep a look out for her.

"Uh," I said, "his partner's name is Joe." (I don't know why I said it that way, it just came out. Joe and Brandon are heterosexual)

Needless to say, the security guard reacted with shock.

"Joe?" he said. "This is a Christian environment, and we can't allow them to attend. It will disrupt the evening for everyone."

When pressed, the guard reiterated that you can't be a Christian if you're gay.

"Can you tell me what exactly is Christian about being gay?" the officer rhetorically asked. Nothing, obviously.

Now, this is an anonymous post on reddit, so you have to take it with a grain of salt. Hopefully the author will link to his official write up for his job when it's published. EDIT: His article can be found here. But it's certainly not the first time we've heard this sort of sentiment coming from some Christians. You can't be Christian if you're gay, and your disgusting gayness is going to ruin the night for all these nice, godly people.

I don't know if the guards were from the Creation Museum or Family Life. The Creation Museum's website states "Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum are not affiliated with FamilyLife." Until we know, this isn't exactly great PR for them when they're trying to get tax payer money to fund their new theme park, Ark Encounter.

I'm sure the Creation Museum will release a statement right away saying that all homosexuals are welcome to their museum and apologize for the situation.

Off my ASS for the SSA - Week 6

Starting weight: 186.4 lbs
Last week's weight: 177.2 lbs
Current weight: 174.8 lbs
Weight loss this week: 2.4 lbs

I lost all 2.4 of those pounds in the two days following posting Sharon and Lyz's guest post. Wooo stress! It's amazing what it can do when decoupled with stress eating (more cake will make me feel better, I know!). But yeah, I'm not making that tactic a normal part of my weight loss routine.

But in positive news, I blew past the 10 pounds mark and went down one notch in my belt - back to the notch I used to use, but progress nonetheless! I really need to buy a new pair of pants, but the optimist in me is hesitant because hopefully even those will be too big in a couple more months.

The following week is the final week of my competition with JT. He's slightly ahead of me, and this last week won't be easy. My department is starting grad student recruitment, and I'm one of the hosts. That basically means I get to go to a lot of free dinners, lunches, breakfasts, and pub nights with the new recruits while talking about the department. I see extra exercising in my future.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What are you doing for Darwin Day?

If you don't have any fun plans yet, you can find fun events in your area here.

I'm having a belated Darwin Day celebration. The Seattle Atheists are having their party on Sunday the 13th. They'll be at the Juanita Community Club from 1 to 4:30 pm with games, prizes, food (including birthday cake!). The event is family friendly, so you can bring your kids too!

I hear there will be a game of "Phylum Feud," which I plan to own. Or more likely, be an embarrassed biologist when I fail miserably.

Though if you're on the opposite side of the country, you should check out the event Harvard is having. They're hosting the exclusive New England screening of Matthew Chapman's (Darwin's great great grandson) new thriller The Ledge. It's about atheism! And Christianity! And a "lethal battle of wills"! You can get more information about the free event here.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Yep, definitely not a ministry

Remember when Anderson Cooper interviewed Ken Ham, who repeatedly insisted that Ark Encounter was not a ministry, but a for profit organization that will bring jobs to the state of Kentucky?

Well, in a move that's not surprising to anyone who knows anything about Ken Ham and the Creation Museum, if you actually want one of those jobs, you're going to have to write a statement saying you support Answers in Genesis's statement of faith. No, it's not just being Christian. And no, it's not just believing the Earth is only 6,000 years old and that evolution is false. In addition to those highly important job related traits, you also have to accept moral judgments, such as homosexuality and pre-marital sex being a perversion, and actively attend church.

Not sure how they're going to enforce those last ones. Maybe part of the contract requires your bedroom be outfitted with one of those security cameras Ken Ham loves so much.

So...tell me again how it's totally okay for Kentucky to help fund a project that discriminates against gays and non-Young Earth Creationists?

(Via Pharyngula)

Nerdy observation of the day

I can still use my iPhone's touch screen while wearing nitrile gloves! Take that, mittens. And since I'm in the lab significantly more than I'm outside, this is a significant discovery. It's incredibly important to be able to change songs without drastically lowering my pipetting efficiency.

What? Going outside except to get to and from lab? Crazy talk.

Now I know why I like BLTs so much

From Abstruce Goose:Mmmmm...

This makes me even more motivated to throw the Darwin Day Dinner Party idea I've had in my head for a couple years. Everyone brings something they cooked, complete with a list of all the recipes, and you map out everything you ate on a giant tree of life, trying to cover as many orders of life as possible. Then you can look in awe at how millions of years of evolution (and a couple thousand of years of artificial selection) resulted in delicious food that's now sitting in your belly.

That, and we can always use one more excuse to drink beer - have to represent the yeast!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

When posts about gender go pear shaped

Yesterday I allowed Sharon Moss and Lyz Liddell to do a guest post on my blog. I rarely let people do guest posts, but I trust both of them immensely and have a great personal interest in making women feel more welcome in the atheist community, so their post seemed appropriate. They even waited a week before writing it, so they had plenty of time to think about their opinions and reduce a reactionary response. And while the comments have erupted into what I can safely call a clusterfuck, I'm here to stand by my decision to let that post go up.

I watched Sean's video. I have my opinions about his whole talk, and specifically about the Million Dollar Challenge as an evolutionary biologist and a feminist. I also have some thoughts on the whole "female vs woman" terminology debate. I'll likely expand on these later, because they're important topics (and as a blogger I'm compelled to give my opinions) but I want to focus on a different set of objections in this post*.

All voices must be heard, not just the ones supporting popular opinion.

Sharon and Lyz felt uncomfortable and unwelcome thanks to certain things that happened at the conference. That was how they personally felt. While I understand concerns that purposeful misrepresentation happened - something I do not support - I know Sharon and Lyz had nothing of the sort in mind. Others may just have been personally fine with the comments, and thus saw it as a misrepresentation. But if we want to make groups more welcoming, we have to worry about the people we're upsetting, not the people who already agree with us.

Frankly, the reaction to that post disappoints me more than whatever happened at the conference. It really illustrates how most of the secular community has no clue how to react tactfully to criticisms about diversity. To start on a positive note, what should be done when a woman says they were made uncomfortable by a situation?
  • Politely state that your original intention was never to cause offense or make someone feel unwelcome. I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt. Contrary to popular belief, I don't think all atheists are sexist assholes.
  • Apologize for the problem. You may not have intentionally done anything wrong, but this is the diplomatic thing to do.
  • Foster further discussion. Ask what in particular made them feel unwelcome. Ask them to expand on any points you didn't understand. Ask for feedback on how you can avoid this situation in the future.
  • Realize people who point out sexism are not out to blame individuals or event organizers, or even the movement as a whole. It is merely to highlight a larger problem so we can work toward fixing it.
Sharon and Lyz have had correspondence with the Alabama state director of American Atheists, and apparently he is doing many of the things on my "good" list and resulting in very productive conversations. I have also been talking to Sean Faircloth. While his initial reaction frankly fell into issue #3 below, he has been very polite and interested in feedback and discussion since then, which I really appreciate and respect.

On the flip side, it doesn't help to:
  • Automatically jump to conclusions that they're feminazis with an agenda to slander individuals and organizations (especially when they also praise those individuals and organizations in the same post). And yes, the vast majority of the commenters went straight to this viewpoint. All avenues of rational discussion? Obliterated.
  • Claim they're obviously wrong because you were there and you have a vagina and you weren't offended. Good, I'm glad everyone in the room wasn't upset... but women aren't all the same, nor does being one mean you understand sexism or feminism. Newsflash: women can say sexist shit too. Hell, I do sometimes - no one is perfect.
  • Flaunt how women and/or feminists have previously supported you or your conference. Look, that's great, but we're talking about a single incident, not your whole past. Again, even the most anti-sexism humanists can screw up every once in a while. Don't fall into the "But I have a black friend!" fallacy.
  • Belittle them by saying these issues are trivial. Is a poorly timed joke about "the weaker sex" as bad as issues like female genital mutilation? Of course not. But little things do matter, especially when added together. Those small remarks and uncomfortable gazes from the audience can add up to feeling like a second class citizen by the end of the day, especially in the context of other things going on in a woman's life.
  • Encourage people on your side to drown out the opposition. One, the argument from popularity is a logical fallacy, folks. Two, the pure anger in these comments completely discourage other women who also had problems with the conference to speak up. Who wants to admit they were also offended when the result is being mocked, insulted, and told to shut up? (Key word: drown out. Feel free to disagree, but is the vitriol necessary?)
  • Use triggering terms that have been traditionally used to oppress women's opinions - "irrational," "hypersensitive," "overreacting," "humorless," "hysterical" - especially without justification. If you think someone is being irrational, break down their logic and show their flaws. Resorting to these terms can cause many women to shut down discussion thanks to their history.
If a student who attended a Secular Student Alliance conference was deeply offended by what they considered a sexist statement in a talk, I'd take their concerns seriously, no matter how much I personally disagreed with them, because I want this movement to be welcoming. And if you can't understand that, then you are part of the problem.

To the conference organizers and (unfortunately) few commenters who actually managed to behave tactfully in this whole situation, thank you and keep up the good work. Your concerns are going to make this movement more accepting in the years to come. To everyone else? While I don't agree with it 100%, it would still help if you watched (or re-watched) Phil Plait's Don't Be A Dick talk. Just sayin'.

*I am going to consider any comments in this thread that debate the Million Dollar Challenge or "female vs woman" topics thread derailing, and both sides of the debate will be swiftly deleted. You have been warned.

Irrationality or Frustration?

My blood pressure has gone down a bit now that I've had a chance to sleep, but I want to address one point before I'm stuck in lab pipetting all day. Some commenters, even those who claim to generally agree with me, seem to think that I'm "irrational" and "overreact" to "little" sexist problems, which only proves I have a "chip on my shoulder."

Let me try to explain what it's like, in a context you may relate to better:
Imagine you have a science blog. You spend all of your time critiquing and poking fun at anti-science ideas, and your followers love those posts. But you're also an atheist, and occasionally you blog about that too. First you make little posts about religion that have nothing to do with science - and while a couple people may get upset or use already refuted arguments, you're able to reply to them and explain the situation patiently.

This goes on for quite some time, and more and more people start emailing you saying that while they didn't understand in the beginning, they now totally get where you're coming from - and some even agree with you! It's rewarding to know that your patience paid off, especially when that patience isn't always found at blogs explicitly devoted to atheism, which sometimes eviscerate and belittle any pro-religion argument.

But then one day you decide to write a post about the intersection of science and religion. Now many of your readers feel personally hurt. But to make matters worse, your blog post suddenly becomes very popular - now you have hundreds of people commenting on your blog, using the same old tropes that have been debated and debunked a million times before.

And since there's just not enough time in the day to respond to every comment (you do have a job, after all), you may make a general post about how all of their arguments are the same old crap. Maybe "same old crap" isn't the best phrase to use, because it incites them more. They start saying you just have a vendetta against religious people, and obviously have no rational responses to their arguments, otherwise you would have spent all day replying to them.

But really, you're just human. You're frustrated that you've spent years slowly educating people about a topic, but when you turn the spotlight on your own group, you realize you have so much work to do. And really, many atheist bloggers say you're not strident enough - if people get this upset by you, what would happen if they visited an exclusively atheist blog? You have many friends - also bloggers or important people in science - saying they totally agree or sympathize with your post, but they don't publicly say so for fear of also facing the wrath of these people. You feel alone in what you consider an important battle, facing an endlessly respawning horde.
Replace "science" with "atheism" and "atheism" with "feminism," and you have me.

So yes. When I read comments on posts about feminism or sexism, sometimes I lose my cool - because a cause that seems very important to me now seems hopeless. Because tropes like "you're being irrational," "you have no sense of humor," "you're overreacting," "most people didn't have a problem with it," "why don't you worry about things that matter," and "you have an agenda" have been historically used to silence women's voices from political issues like voting and birth control, to pointing out sexism on blogs and twitter. Hearing them is like hearing someone assert "But I didn't evolve from a monkey!" for the billionth time.

It's hard to remind myself that many of you don't realize that those are tropes and that they're so triggering to a feminist. I know I need to be more patient sometimes, but I'm human. Maybe you still won't agree with me about what I consider sexism or my views on feminism, but hopefully you'll understand why I get so upset when I realize my uphill battle is more like scaling Mt. Everest without climbing gear.

Monday, February 7, 2011

My favorite type of comment

From here*:
I love Jen McCreight--I'm a regular reader of her blog and a follower of hers on Twitter. As far as atheism/skepticism goes, I think she is generally spot on and very clever. Truly, I am a fan. But she has what I call the "feminist chip" on her shoulder, big time. I don't doubt her contentions (or those of her guest posters) about sexism in the atheist community and elsewhere. The site "fatuglyorslutty.com" shows how rampant and awful it is in the online gaming community. So, I sympathize, and yes, men need to behave much better. I believe that when people like Ms. McCreight & her guest posters get into a twist over silly, irrelevant linguistic semantics of language (and that's how this incident sounds to me after reading both accounts), that kind of ridiculous, butterfly-wings sensitivity detracts from more serious and legitimate concerns and problems that women face. It makes men like me take them less seriously on this issue, and surely that is the last thing that they want.
tl;dr I love Jen when she makes fun of religion, but I hate it when she makes ME uncomfortable!

If I wanted to lower my blood pressure, I would stick to criticizing religion. Circle jerks are much more pleasant. At least all the trolls that come out whenever I dare to whisper "sexism" or "feminism" really just prove my point - even in posts I don't write!

As for the guest post itself, I'm not commenting on it further until I get to watch the talk in question.

*That post is so full of fail it makes my head spin. Having a vagina doesn't automatically make you immune from being sexist, and disregarding others opinions makes you part of the problem. If you were the lone woman on the panel, no wonder it went so fucking poorly.

When Gender Goes Pear-Shaped

Guest Post by Sharon Moss, President of the Humanist Community of Central Ohio with Lyz Liddell, Director of Campus Organizing at the Secular Student Alliance

These are the views of individuals and do not represent the views of the Secular Student Alliance or the Humanist Community of Central Ohio.

If the freethought community doesn't have a problem with sexism, why did I just spend 20 minutes in the bathroom consoling a woman who was publicly insulted when she asked the panel a question about sexism in freethought communities? Note to dudes, it doesn't matter if it is sexism or biology, if you're making people who come to your group uncomfortable, you're doing it wrong. -- Facebook status, Sharon Moss, 1/30/11

I’m not one to post snarky facebook status updates. I generally view snarky facebook statuses as the realm of the powerless. And, damn, did I feel powerless.

Last weekend Lyz and I were at American Atheists’ Southeast Regional Atheist Meet in Huntsville, Alabama. This is the first regional conference America Atheists organized and the over the two prior days, it sold out with 200 atheists from as far away as North Carolina and Ohio. At a rough visual estimate, probably 30% of the attendees were women. When David Silverman polled the audience on Sunday afternoon, for about half of those in attendance, this was their first atheist conference of any kind. Clearly, American Atheists is on to something.Sunday morning’s first session was an “Attendees’ Choice” panel discussion, featuring five local group leaders. Attendees were asked to submit written questions ahead of time, and the most frequently asked questions were asked of this panel.

A panel of five guys and one woman discussed what an atheist group should do to attract more women. The all-too-common problem came up of a woman showing up to a meeting and every dude there hitting on her. First, the panelists grabbed a theme that had been floating around all weekend: that men hitting on women is just biological (therefore excusable), making it sound like a woman in that kind of situation should just STFU and get over it.

Then the moderator asked the women in the audience, as if it were a rewording of the same question, whether they would feel harassed or flattered if they showed up to an event and a few guys started flirting with them. We women in the audience, pressured to respond to the question at hand but feeling duped because we knew it wasn’t the same thing, gave an honest response. Sure, a few guys flirting with us is sexy. BUT!!! (we all screamed in our heads, even though the panel never let us say it out loud) 20 guys our father’s age blatantly staring at and talking to our cleavage is a totally different situation! It’s not sexy, it’s gross and creepy.

It was extremely frustrating. So I wasn’t surprised when the young woman who finally stood up and started challenging the panel snapped. First, despite her having her hand raised for most of the discussion, the panel never even acknowledged her or invited her opinion (despite soliciting the opinion of several guys both on and off the panel. Finally, she just stood up and started shouting to make her voice heard. Her question focused on the language the panel had been using - “female” instead of “woman,” and pointed out that it made us sound like livestock rather than people.

But did the panel address the question, perhaps looking for the point at which the discussion took on the word “female” so universally? Did they take the opportunity to discuss how things like language can make a group uncomfortable for women, and what we could do to make it better? No! The woman asking the question was viciously torn apart and ridiculed for even bringing it up. First, a combination of panelists and audience members tried to defend themselves by saying that feminists won’t let men use the word “women” off-limits because it has “men” in it. Then a commotion of everyone talking at once, which was cut off by one panelist’s definitive comment: “What do you want us to say, ‘the weaker sex?”

She got upset (and who wouldn’t be?) and left the room. I - a member of the audience, not one of the event organizers - went after her. While there were a few odd calls from the audience for the panelist to apologize, the moderator sort of awkwardly pushed the discussion on to a new topic, with an embarrassed air of “Sorry for the disturbance.” No apology, no discussing a better way it could have been handled. Not even a joking “This is how *not* to be welcoming” comment. Just “nothing to see here, move along.”

This wasn’t an isolated incident. In fact, almost the entire conference had a bizarre quality to it when it came to gender issues. If I had to point to when it started, I think it would have to have been in Sean Faircloth’s Saturday talk. This talk began well enough: a strong feminist position, an excoriation of Victorian moralist Anthony Comstock, mention of several areas in which the law imposes on women’s rights. But then it got weirdly uncomfortable. First, came the proposal of a new motto: “What Would Don Draper Do?” (Don Draper is your role model, seriously?)

Sean’s transition hinted strongly that men also face gender discrimination, which had huge potential to be really interesting (wow, a chance to talk about our society’s constraining, conflicting roles for men! *insert Greta fangirl here*).

[Jen's note: I've temporarily removed the section on the "Million Dollar Challenge" since there seems to be a lot of debate over whether it was depicted fairly. The Alabama Atheists are uploading the video of Sean's talk to make this situation clear. While I wouldn't let Sharon and Lyz do a guest post unless I trusted their judgement, I also don't want to misrepresent Sean Faircloth, so I'm waiting until I've seen the video.]

From there, the conversation wandered into a weird discussion about how men’s biology drives them to frequently (if not constantly) pursue sex, and since it’s biology, no one should get upset at, judge, or think less of men for any skirt-chasing they might engage in. (Because we never intellectually overcome our animal instincts in other areas of our biology, right?) The attitude in the room shifted: suddenly women were the bad guys for saying no to men’s propositions because it denies the men’s innate biology. Most of the guys in the room loved it, but as a woman in the audience - it was really uncomfortable. It was demeaning, frustrating, and not what you want to say to attract more women into this movement. And the attitude stuck around.

All these people got presented with a totally skewed perspective on our movement’s views on gender equality and sexuality. The message was loud and clear: it’s totally ok for guys to be assholes. Women should just STFU when men treat them like sex objects. The appropriate way to solve the problem of gender imbalance is to ask a bunch of guys about it (oh, and the entire problem is just because women won’t let men have sex with them whenever they want to). The way to handle women’s input is to ridicule them.

But there’s an even bigger problem here. Situations like this drive wedges between otherwise natural allies in our movement. That young woman is on our side - she came to this event at the cost of her time and money to get involved - and she was driven away. So are thousands of women across the country - for no other reason than because this movement can’t seem to figure out how to treat them like equal humans.

Why don’t we see more women in our groups? Maybe because when Jen McCreight showed up to an atheist meeting, guys in the group stood around comparing her to her photos from Boobquake. Why don’t we see more young people? Maybe because when a new parent shows up to a group event, other members make rude comments to her face about how her child is disrupting the meeting. Why are we so overwhelmingly Caucasian? Maybe because a black person shows up and hears a bunch of racial jokes.

We need to have these conversations, but there’s no reason to drive away people who are *on our side* by having them in completely the wrong way.

American Atheists created a real opportunity for members of local groups to come together, share ideas, get leadership training, and go home ready to take over the world. For many issues-- activism, law, supporting campus groups, the future of the atheist movement-- they were incredibly successful. I’ve been doing this for 10 years and I haven’t seen this kind of enthusiasm for the grassroots outside the college level. Ever. But there is always room for improvement. We lost a real opportunity for local leaders to share their experiences, successes and failures. Creating a more inclusive movement needs to be a priority at both the national and local levels.

From my own experience as the former president of Students for Freethought at Ohio State and as the current president of the Humanist Community of Central Ohio and from talking to other local leaders, the grassroots gets it. We want to be more inclusive and we’re taking the steps to get there.

Here’s what I’ve learned, both from my own experience and from talking to other local leaders. These suggestions aren’t just about being more accessible to anyone who isn’t a middle aged white man. Some of these are just good practices for running a group. Turns out running a more professional (wrong word) group brings in more people of all kinds.
  • Be a leader. Take responsibility for the tone of your group. If potential new members are being made to feel uncomfortable and aren’t coming back, you’re doing it wrong. As a leader, it is your job to prioritize the comfort of your attendees in programs, group dynamics, and communications. Try to put yourself in other members’ shoes and also ask for feedback.
  • Promote a sense of community. Take the time to socialize and get to know each other. If you’re group isn’t primarily a social group, thinking about adding some social time. Go to breakfast before the protest, compose your letters to the editor over coffee, or grab a pizza and beer after that lecture. When you know each other, you have each others backs. Being a jerk isn’t tolerated.
  • Moderate discussions. Make sure everyone has the opportunity to participate- new people, quiet people, etc. Don’t let conversation be dominated by one or two people who must “win.”
  • Embrace and accept different ways of communicating. Whether someone is an aggressive debater or not, make sure they’re still welcome. The other atheist in the room isn’t your enemy.
  • Encourage subgroups. Every event your group hosts doesn’t need to appeal to your entire membership. Many women appreciate women-only space to express their nonbelief and to connect with other atheist women. Here at the Humanist Community of Central Ohio, we started a subgroup book club called Reasonable Women. When it grew to have about 25 regular members and was beginning to be a little too large and unwieldy to function as a book club, we created a second group, Heathen Chicks, which is just a social group that meets at a local cafe. It isn’t just about creating women only space, for us, this has been a way to draw more women into other events our group hosts.
  • Foster women in leadership. Groups with women in leadership positions tend to have more women. Encourage women in your group to be visible in leadership.
Our movement is growing faster than ever, and we have more opportunities for growth and expansion than we have ever seen before. While hiccups like this can be frustrating, they’re also a great chance for us to make our groups, communities and movements even stronger. We encourage you to take a look at your group and see if there are ways you can reach out to women, younger adults, minorities, or other groups.

Because Indiana is just THAT afraid of the gays

Having a law making gay marriage illegal wasn't enough for Republicans from Indiana. Now a measure to add a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman has advanced out of a House committee. Because, you know, they just want to make sure it's super duper illegal for those homosexuals to marry.

Blargh.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sometimes I have the sense of humor of a five year old

Me: *heading to friend's birthday party* Hey, what sort of booze do you like? It's your gift.
Friend: Um, I like wine, and rum, and vodka.
Me: What kind of rum?
Friend: As long as it isn't clear and doesn't come in a plastic bottle, it should be fine.

Me: *in liquor store* I know nothing about good rum... How do I pick between all of the nice rums that are about the same price?
Bottle: MT. GAY RUM
Me: ...Hehehehehehe. ...Meh, that's good enough selection criteria *buys it*

Apparently it was tasty, and we (me and a bunch of straight guys) somehow ended up at an awesome gay bar by the end of the night. Subliminal messaging FTW.

And now I'm going to go watch a bunch of burly men in tight spandex pile on top of each other. Can this weekend get any more fabulous?

That look of disgust looks about right

Bill Nye the Science Guy, personal hero of mine and Humanist of the Year, recently visited the Creation Museum in Kentucky. And by visited, I mean he drove up, look a picture of the side-show, and drove off. How do we know? Because Big Brother Ken Ham was watching.

While I understand the need for surveillance cameras at any big building with a lot of traffic, it's a bit off putting that he'll slap any images from it on the internet. Here's Ham's proof:Yep, that seems to be the appropriate reaction to the Creation Museum. I can hear the thoughts running through his mind just by his expression. "The stupid, it burns! It burns!"

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Off my ASS for the SSA - Week 5

Starting weight: 186.4 lbs
Last week's weight: 178.6 lbs
Current weight: 177.2 lbs
Weight loss this week: 1.4 lbs

Getting there! Just two weeks left until the SSA SoCal conference. JT is currently beating me by a tiny bit, so I may be ramping up the exercise for the remaining time. Should have gone by percentage lost - it helps when you weighed more to begin with. *cough*JT*cough*

It's funny. I keep thinking about the happy dance I'll do when I make the 10 pound mark, but that'll still only put me at my weight when graduating undergrad. I'd need to lose another 15 to get back to my high school weight, when I was still out of shape and a little pudgy. I'd like to blame the ramen and peanut butter sandwiches that basically made up my diet for four years, but that doesn't excuse the grad school weight.

Oh well - I'm almost there!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

You know, maybe they're right

Maybe my profile picture on my blog is just begging for harassment and sexist comments. I mean, look at how slutty I look, what with part of my collarbone showing, and that big smile. God, I can't believe I had it up so long without noticing how horrible it is.

But I know a lot of other atheist and skeptical blogs have photos on their main page, so maybe it's not just putting up a photo at all - maybe I was choosing inappropriate content. After much consideration on what all of these photos had in common, I found some photos of myself that fit in better with the overall theme:
Not pictured: Multiple Livestrong bracelets, baggy cargo pants
I'm not sure which one I like better, though. What do you guys think? Bro Jen, Or Pseudo Penn Jillette? I personally prefer Bro Jen, but you can still see a hint of boob, which, I know, is totally unacceptable.

India: Astrology is a science

Why? Because their high court says so. So there.

Because we all know saying "______ is science" makes it so. Not, you know, if it's based on evidence or experimentation. I mean, come on. Astrology uses stars and angles. Super scientific.

And I thought it was just the creationists who used this tactic...


And these are the same people who hate burkas?

tl;dr Sexism is my fault because I don't hide that I'm female. From here and here:
"STOP TAKING EVERYTHING PERSONALLY. If you don't want people to make fun of your looks take your picture off your blog. No one would ever know you were a woman if you didn't constantly try to draw attention to your vagina. Grow up."

"Let's see. You don't want any comments about your breasts. One way to reduce the chance of that happening would be to have a picture that does not prominently feature your breasts."

"You have a picture of yourself on the side. The title of your blog is "Blag Hag". You have an icon of a girl beside your header. It's not a fair comparison. "

"Ok so heres your problem. Reddit for the most part still has a large view that women dont exist on the internet. The second problem is that reddit also has the strange notion that when women present something or an image or information they some how try to tie in a picture of themselves.... I came here looking for a good article and right off the bat... Theres your photo... I didn't have to click on an about you page or images. ITS RIGHT THERE trying to show something off. What is that, that your a woman? That you have a nice smile? What do you want me to think of how this is setup? Do I stop from the visual que to continue reading or do I get drawn to the pretty colors of the photo?"

"But what's really bizarre is that your blog is deliberately gender branded (titled "Hag" and featuring a picture of a cutesy girl at the keyboard), yet you complain when people notice your gender. But hey, it gives you something to blame other that yourself when you fail at something right?"

"This won't be popular, but you may want to reconsider complaining about sexist comments when immediately below your photo, you describe yourself (among others) as a pervert, and anyone who Googles you instantly finds "boobquake" attributed to you. You have every right to say what you want, but cannot be shocked when the idiots respond to a woman who brags about being a pervert. Probably confusing for the youngsters, making it more difficult to take you seriously."

"There is a simple solution to be not treated this way. Dont put up your photo in your blog. Dont tell your gender. Is it really necessary? Or on a second thought the comments like "nice boobs" are the better option? And you know this fact too, thus this post makes you an attention whore. (Or simply stupid for pointing out the obvious) "

"Don't post pics with tits hanging out and expect no reaction- NOT FUCKING ROCKET SCIENCE"
Wow, I forgot I needed to be totally neutered on the internet! Just how Hemant Mehta and PZ Myers don't show pictures of themselves and obsessively remove any mentions of them being male. ...Oh, wait.

Thanks for proving my point, guys!

Man, sometimes I revel in the power of feminism to bring out the trolls. How dare you criticize the in group!

What stereotypical response should I highlight next? Women claiming things aren't sexist because they don't think it's sexist? Comments about me being fat? You can't get rid of sexism so you should just shut up about it? Learn to take a joke? That I'm just an attention whore desperate for blog traffic*. The possibilities are endless!

*Did I mention I don't give a damn how many people read my blog, and I've gained basically no regular readers via reddit? Weeeee!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Vote for Blag Hag for Best Religion Blog in the Bloggies!

Holy crap! My blog was nominated for the Best Religion Blog in the 2011 Weblog Awards! I didn't even realize it until Hemant started smack talking me over twitter because Friendly Atheist was also nominated. I must defeat Hemant! Vote for me!

Though really, if Hemant won, I'd be happy too. I love his blog, and it would be awesome for an atheist blog to win the Religion category. It's great that two are nominated.

Wait...that just means we're going to split the atheist vote! Noooooo! Clever, Bloggies, very clever.

It's shit like this, r/atheism

I know this is just going to dig my hole even deeper, but I'm a blogger, so speaking my mind is what I do.

A couple of months ago I made a passing comment that I don't like the atheism subreddit that much because it comes off as very sexist. Sexist comments can pop up on reddit as a whole (sometimes heavily upvoted, to my dismay), but sexist comments on r/atheism affect me more. For one, I tend to hold atheists to a higher standard, so it saddens me when they act irrationally about gender.

But two, the comments are personal. Whenever I see that I got an uptick in traffic from reddit, I'm always afraid to go check the link. Because inevitably when someone links to my blog, many of the comments will be disparaging remarks about my gender or looks. Hell, even some of the positive comments are about my gender or looks, which are still annoying - can we please comment about the content, and not my boobs, please?

So I lurk around r/atheism, but I rarely comment and never post my own stuff because I don't want to deal with the flack. It's not worth the frustration usually. But today I did submit my post about atheism in high schools, because it's so important that I wanted to make sure a wide audience saw it. Young people are the future, blah blah.

But it also set up an accidental experiment. What happens when a female submitter links to her own post, and a male submitter links to his post featuring the same story? That happened when JT Eberhard linked to his post on Atheism Resource a couple hours after I linked to mine.

Let's compare! (at the time of writing this blog)

JT's Post:

121 upvotes
24 downvotes

1 comment with contact information (by JT) (5.5%)
4 jokes about the content of atheist clubs (22.2%)
5 jokes about high schoolers (27.7%)
8 relevant remarks about high school atheist groups (44.4%)

Jen's Post:

110 upvotes
44 downvotes

2 comments about the appearance of women/banging them (3.3%)
19 comments basically saying how much I suck (32.2%)
22 comments (a lot of them mine) defending me against said comments (37.2%)
16 relevant remarks about high school atheist groups (27.1%)

So JT gets mostly relative posts or light-hearted humor, while I get disparaging comments and thread derailing thanks to people trying to reply. At least there are people replying (and the bad comments are getting downvoted), but it's still frustrating. What woman would be encouraged to join this community or share posts when she has to deal with this shit all the time? And it is all the time - if you look at other Blag Hag posts people have submitted, there will always be at least some comments about my boobs, or how I have a deformed chipmunk face (I still don't quite understand that one).

It gets old, but I don't have a solution other than escaping to 2Xchromosomes (...which reddit mocks repeatedly). I just want to point out why r/atheism doesn't make me feel exactly comfortable, instead of people thinking I'm just another "crazy feminist" who's "hypersensitive" and "making up sexism that isn't there." I know the majority of people at r/atheism are fine, but the few rotten fruit are certainly ruining it for some of us.

Midwestern Snowpacolypse

Oh, wait, I don't live in Indiana anymore.


Neener neener.

Don't I work in a pretty building? Right on the water too! *salts those wounds*

Are you an atheist or agnostic in high school?

Or do you know someone who is? Well, exciting news for the younger godless folks - the Secular Student Alliance is making a push to start groups at high schools around the country!

Even in conservative parts of the Bible Belt, atheist teenagers are starting to organize clubs of their own. The Secular Student Alliance, a national nonprofit devoted to supporting nonreligious students, announced early success in its expanded efforts to foster groups for secular high school students. In the past month alone, five new high school groups have affiliated with the SSA, after it took four years for the first twelve to join.

The Secular Student Alliance already offers services to over 200 college affiliates, but says that high school atheists often face unique challenges including stronger pushback from parents and school officials. To confront these challenges, the organization hired JT Eberhard, former student activist and creator of the acclaimed Skepticon conference, as a Campus Organizer and High School Specialist.

“Every teenager deserves a safe space to meet with like minded peers, but hostile administrations and prejudiced communities are stonewalling them from having it,” said Eberhard. “We’re gearing up to give the students the backing they need. Our goal is to see 50 groups for secular high school students by the end of 2011.”

Educating students and teachers about the legal issues involved will be a key part of the effort. Students in conservative areas have difficulty finding a willing faculty advisor, who often report fearing career repercussions. But according to Supreme Court rulings on the Equal Access Act, schools cannot use the lack of a faculty advisor as a reason to bar the group from forming. The Secular Student Alliance is prepared to help mediate those situations and protect the students’ rights.

"While the law is certainly on our side, we would rather have social understanding than legal victory," remarked August Brunsman, the SSA's Executive Director. "We want to demonstrate to our fellow Americans that people who don't believe in a god are nothing to be afraid of."

Secular groups are encouraged to focus on activism, building community, education, service projects, and cooperation with other groups. The SSA provides such student groups with resources like group-running guides, activity packets, project grants, and a go-to staff member to answer questions.

The development of these new resources and the creation of Eberhard’s position were sparked by a grant from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, whose mission is to gain respect for freethinkers and ensure the complete separation of church and state.


As someone who started a college group, I can't stress how rewarding it was. Having hundreds of people thanking me for providing a voice of reason in the community and reminding people that they weren't alone meant so much to me. Your impact will have lasting effects!

And as someone who attempted to help a friend organize a Gay Straight Alliance in high school but failed thanks to bigoted push back from administrators... I wish I would have had an organization like the SSA to help me out.

If you're interested in starting a group, make sure to email JT Eberhard (JT@secularstudents.org). You don't have to be 100% sure yet - JT is an awesome guy, and he'll provide you with info about what starting a group would entail.