The murder of Debbie Constantino & the distasteful reaction of the “Paranormal Community”

debbie

News broke yesterday that Mark and Debbie Constantino and a third unidentified man are dead after Mark Constantino killed Debby, her male roommate, and then himself. The Constantinos were known within the US ghost hunting community and were advocates of Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) which is the incorrect belief that voices of the dead can be captured on recording devices.

This domestic violence murder-suicide has sparked an interesting reaction in some parts of the wider online paranormal community and I was extremely disappointed to learn that Steve Huff (who has featured on this blog before) was already declaring the fact that he intended to try and communicate with Debbie Constantino through EVP and Ghostbox because he claims that the best time for communicating with the dead is within 24 hours after death. His claim has made some people quite angry and the ‘Exposing Paranormal Posers’ Facebook page posted the below image with this message:

‘…To publicly exclaim he is going to try to capitalize the murder of Debbie Constantino, when her body has not even been cold, to say he is going to try to “capture” her “EVP” is ghoulish. Huff, you are exposed, and should be run out on a rail out of the paranormal community. You are a total piece of shit. And we at EPP have been getting reports on this pile of feces, and now we should have something soon. Share this far and wide. Steve Huff is a joke, and he must be run out of the paranormal field.’

Steve Huff graphic

Nobody is in a position from which they can dictate who is and is not part of a community, or who can and cannot participate in paranormal research no matter how far-fetched, irrational, or “ghoulish” the claims being made are. However, I have an idea, and it may be a radical one… but if we are going to start kicking people out of the so-called community perhaps we can first start by rejecting from it the men who would murder a woman and a man because said woman might be romantically involved with someone who isn’t him? Or perhaps we could start by rejecting men who send lewd, unsolicited messages to women they do not know? Perhaps we could take a stand against men in the community who harass women they do not agree with because being debated is an affront to their masculinity?

Just throwing it out there.

1 in 4 women (24.3%) and 1 in 7 men (13.8%) aged 18 and older[1] in the United States- where this murder-suicide took place -have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime, and the majority of female victims of intimate partner violence were previously victimized by the same offender. [2] We know that Debbie fits this bracket because in in August Mark Constantino was charged with kidnapping, domestic battery by strangulation, and domestic battery against Debbie.[3]

So, the question is… do we care more about our own sensitivities than we do the fact that people within the paranormal “community” are suffering the same? Debbie Constantino and her roommate should be (and are) more than just statistics, they should be a catalyst that makes us say “this is not acceptable within our community or outside of our community.”

Or we could just spend our time getting angry at people we think are being distasteful and making memes for Facebook clicks…

[1] http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_report2010-a.pdf
[2] http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ipv9310.pdf
[3] http://deadline.com/2015/09/ghost-adventures-guest-stars-dead-1201547175/

Free Speech Is Bittersweet And That’s The Whole Point

404 freedom of speech

When I started Project Barnum (the now defunct online resource into how to spot psychic trickery) I did so with a petition that urged theatres and performance venues to not host psychic stage shows. At the time there was some controversy with people suggesting that the petition was calling for the censorship of psychics (something Deborah Hyde suggested in an interview at the time) but that wasn’t the case.

With the petition I wanted to show that people were concerned about these sorts of shows but I look back now and can see that putting obstacles in the way of people getting a psychic reading isn’t going to stop them from getting a psychic reading, just as banning books won’t stop people reading those books. The best thing to do is to provide people with the knowledge that’ll help them understand the situation and ideas they encounter, and to meet misleading speech with accurate speech. The petition was a valid form of protest though and it did garner a response from one of the biggest theatre chains in the UK.

I’ve always tried to champion freedom of speech and freedom of expression and I was shocked when people started talking about censorship. I changed my approach with Project Barnum and instead made it something that people could use in their own best interests if they wanted or needed to and as a result several people managed to get their money back after seeing dodgy psychics and mediums. Win!

Why am I writing about this? Well, I wanted to give some insight into how my perspective of free speech has shifted over the years. I am very much of the opinion that if you want free speech then it has to come with no clauses. “I believe in free speech but not for them” just doesn’t cut it but it’s really easy to fall into the trap of justifying the silencing of a particular group or individual because of your personal biases.

In recent years there have been a spate of concerning censorship incidents at UK universities in which non-religious students have been censored because they offended religious students and women have been no-platformed because their opinions are deemed to be offensive and it’s unacceptable. You’ve a right to be offended but you’ve absolutely no right to have your offence catered to. Obviously there are times when a hate crime might be committed and that’s a legal issue, but these particular cases did not class as hate crimes and yet the offended students have their offence treated as though it was a priority. A priority over the freedom of speech and expression of the non-religious students.

Then, more recently, came the horrendous incidents in Paris and the on-going brutal murders of secular bloggers in Bangladesh.

Now, I’ve already taken a bit of a leap with this post. Censorship of psychics is hardly on the same level as the censorship (and murder) of atheists, right? True, but it’s still problematic and the moral of the story is there throughout. You can’t think it’s okay to censor one group of people and not okay for another group to be censored. Such a standpoint lacks consistency.

Anyway, I digress.

The whole reason for writing this post was because of my experiences in the last few weeks on Twitter. I made this following retweet in late July:

and I added the following comment to my Retweet:

At the time of the retweet I didn’t know about the drama in which author Ophelia Benson has been accused of being a TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist.) The retweet was made as a note of observations of an issue I have seen arising for a while now with friends and acquaintances of mine being added to the Blockbot along with racists, misogynists and homophobes for simply having a dissenting point of view, or for asking questions. My use of the phrase “scummy biology” was a nod to the number of times I’ve seen people called “cis scum” for just sharing an opinion.

Almost immediately I was called out for supporting TERFs and for “finding the suffering of trans people hilarious.” At this point all I had done was point out that the Blockbot is used by some to punish women for holding dissenting p.o.v’s but somehow I was guilty of a bigger crime. Then, a while later, I retweeted a series of tweets from Becca Reily-Cooper in which she discussed the treatment of Ophelia Benson as the accusation of her being a TERF grew into quite an ugly series of online attacks.

I don’t know the technical details of the whole Benson situation but I know enough to say that when asked if a trans-woman was a woman she didn’t offer a yes or no answer immediately and has apparently shared links to content that is considered by some to be “Trans-Exclusionary” in nature. Guilt by association, some might posit and I was about to become guilty of the same crime. After retweeting Becca I received several comments about supporting TERFs, defending the oppression of the “most marginalised LGBT group”, that such opinions were akin to racism, to people telling me that it’s okay for women to be silenced because they’re being offensive to marginalised people.

Earlier this year Peter Thatchell co-signed a letter in the Observer expressing ‘alarm at attempts by some trans activists to ban their feminist critics from speaking at universities and other institutions’. For this he was attacked online and received threats of violence and worse. He wrote of his experience in the IB Times ‘For me, free speech is one of the most precious of all human rights. It is the foundation of a democratic, open society. It should be defended without exception, unless it involves threats, harassment or incitements to violence … I have not endorsed any anti-trans opinions. I simply defended free speech for feminists who I disagree with, which is what genuine freedom of expression is all about. ‘

This is what my objections boil down to, too. For some people, just questioning the status-quo makes you an enemy and that isn’t a healthy approach to discourse. A lot of women I follow online have raised questions about biological definitions of being a woman and being female. Now, I personally don’t think it’s an issue to say that you were born female if  you were born with male genitals or vice versa. I don’t think it helps to be too caught up on technicalities about these subjects at all. I also have differences of opinions with a lot of women I know online and in-real-life about sex workers too (I think that many people accidentally objectify women while fighting against the objectification of women) but I don’t think people deserve to be silenced if they think otherwise.

Pointing out something you disagree with is great and I’d never suggest protest isn’t a valid form of expressing disapproval – but protest shouldn’t be a form of shutting people up. Having emotional reactions to things we do not like is fine because we are humans and it’s what we’re good at but using those emotional reactions as a basis for making decisions doesn’t always work out so well though, especially when those decisions come in the form of 140 characters on social media where you don’t even have to think twice about something before it’s out there for the world to see.

I think that half of the people who are accused of being TERFs or transphobic probably aren’t and it sometimes seems that the accusation of “TERF!” or “TERF Supporter!” is used to silence people who hold dissenting opinions or question what is being said. Paint someone as a TERF and nobody will listen to them and then you do not have to answer their criticisms, questions or their points. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book – in my particular field of research the same can be said of the accusation of being “a closed-minded skeptic!” or “a cynic!”

I understand that for people who have to deal with discrimination because of their gender identity having to deal with numerous criticisms or questions online can be exhausting, upsetting and overwhelming (with Twitter being particularly difficult because it is constant) but I still don’t think this justifies the way in which people are shot down for speaking out. You can disagree with people and what they say about gender, you can find them offensive and you can block them on your account if you want to, but to chase them off of a public platform (or to support those who do) can’t be justified.

If you have to engage with those you disagree with meet speech with speech, educate and debate. If something becomes a hate crime take the appropriate action, but to remove public spaces of any speech that you happen to find offensive or happen to disagree with cannot be justified as anything other than devious. To then accuse those who highlight this as TERFs or transphobic is disingenuous.

note: edits were made post-publishing to the paragraphs about Project Barnum

Humanists In “Some People Are Women” Shocker

BHA gender quote

Today is World Humanist Day, a celebration of humanist values that has been celebrated on June 21st since the 1980s. I’ve identified as a humanist since my late teens when I first discovered atheism and humanism and in more recent years I have become a member of the British Humanist Association (I literally renewed my membership yesterday.) The thing that is so great about humanism, in my opinion, is that most people are humanists without even realising it because they take their moral code and their ethics from outside of religious texts. They do good for the sake of doing good and that’s really cool. Or, as Dick McMahan once said, A humanist is someone who does the right thing even though she knows that no one is watching.”

It was this quote that I was greeted with as I logged into Facebook this morning. An old school friend of mine had shared it from the British Humanist Association facebook page where it had been posted to celebrate today.

BHA gender quote

But some people weren’t too happy that the quote had been chosen because it says “she” and not “he” or “they”, or that it had been posted on what is also Father’s Day in the UK with one man describing the use of the quote as “insidious”. It also seems that some folks just can’t accept that women are humanists too with another chap pointing out “A humanist should be just a human being-no gender interpretation of Humanism”.

bibbidy bobbidy fuck
I think perhaps this last dude has confused humanism with a cult somewhere that removes the genitals of its members? I don’t know. Humanism is comprised of people who identify as men and women so why on earth we’d ever censor the gendered language we use to describe humanists is beyond me. He and She are perfectly valid ways to refer to humanists because men and women are humanists. That’s how simple it is to resolve this non-issue.

Interestingly, the same quote was shared on the FB page of the Atheist Foundation of Australia and received a similar reaction. It is incredible how easily people are offended, to be honest. Most people accuse “the feminists” (often calling them “social justice warriors” in the process in an attempt to belittle their position) of being over-sensitive to “stuff life this” but clearly that isn’t the case here. If people had been offended that the quote used male pronouns they too would have been overreacting – yet if that had been the case I am confident that the people kicking off about the use of a quote with “she” in it would not have cared at all. Deep down they probably think they’re not prejudiced in any way, and yet any act of giving women- or in this case female pronouns – an equal representation as men or male pronouns is considered an “insidious” or unfair act which involves some pretty special reasoning on their part.

Women, as well as men, have played a large part in the history of the humanist movement and continue to do so today. Congratulations to Prof. Alice Roberts who was awarded the Humanist Of The Year award at the British Humanist Association conference yesterday, by the way.

Perhaps those who protested the use of a quote that included the word “she” may be shocked to learn that religions are routinely used as a reason for denying women power. As a result, women’s right’s activists and campaigners have to challenge religious beliefs and traditions as part of the secular movements as they fight for equality, and the humanist movement in particular has a history of supporting women’s rights – like the early suffragette movement, for example, right through to modern day campaigns.

But I’m not going to spent my time justifying the use of a quote that refers to “she.” I don’t need to. As another commenter on the FB post called Jill pointed out ‘can we not just celebrate this without people getting upset about the quote used referring to “she”; it was a quote from a man, Dick McMahan, so he had no problem and was probably trying to make a point, as we’ve lived for centuries in patriarchal societies influenced by organised religion where “he” is used as the default pronoun. Besides, for the first 6 weeks after conception, we’re all female anyway.’

Preach it, sister.

 

Can We Please Stop Arguing About Which Human Rights Matter Most?

human rights

Last week Ireland overwhelmingly voted in favour of a change to their constitution that will allow same-sex couples the same marriage rights as others. They were the first country to do this by vote which is both odd but also encouraging. Go, Ireland!

Victories like this one should be celebrated and cherished even though gaining the right to marry doesn’t solve all of the issues LGBT people face. I don’t believe that anyone who campaigned for the change to the constitution believed it would, but it’s a good start.

It didn’t surprise me to see people jumping on the celebration of this victory to point out how there were still other injustices in existence. Rebecca Watson, for example, sent out this tweet:

I understand fully where Watson is coming from with this but the timing is pretty bad and it doesn’t read well.  The tone suggests that those who campaigned for same-sex marriage don’t care about women having access to legal abortion and I’m sure that isn’t what Watson was suggesting, but that’s how it reads.

Personally I support campaigns for same-sex marriage, access to safe reproductive health care, access to education, evidence-based sex education in our schools, science education not interfered with by religious texts and much, much more… and just because I might talk about one aspect of a campaign I support at one given time, or just because on campaign might have been successful and I celebrate that doesn’t mean I don’t also care about those other campaigns too.

It’s easy to become frustrated, but I sincerely believe that the success of the vote in favour of same-sex marriage in Ireland should give us hope that the campaign for a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland which criminalises abortion by equating the right to life of a pregnant woman with that of an embryo or foetus will be successful too.

Seeing people discuss the tweet from Watson reminded me of a recent tweet from Graham Lineham that also disappointed me:

I’ve debated people on several occasions about how a female Doctor in the Doctor Who series would be great, and a few months ago I was also called onto the radio several times to talk about the all-female Ghostbusters movie because I’m an actual female ghostbuster, but I would happily see the Doctor remain a man if it meant that women in Ireland could gain access to safe and legal abortions. Suggesting otherwise is quite insulting… BUT I GET THE ANGER.

I GET IT. Of course we should be angry! We should be angry because Ireland just had to vote in marriage rights for gay people and there are people elsewhere in the world who don’t have those rights, or worse, get killed for simply being LGBT. This shouldn’t need campaigning. It should just be normal.

Women in Ireland have their lives put at risk by the archaic constitution that doesn’t see their worth beyond that of a vessel and women elsewhere experience worse. Here in the UK we just had to deal with MP Fiona Bruce MP’s trying to push through an amendment to Part 5 of the Serious Crime Bill is an attempt to undermine the 1967 Abortion Act and women’s access to reproductive healthcare. Now we’ve got to worry about the Human Rights Act being replaced.

We all have our battles to fight and not all of these fights are done in public. Since being trained as a campaigner by Oxfam I have written so many letters and emails to politicians and MPs about such causes that I’ve had to create a special filing system just for the replies I get. None of this is done in public which is proof, surely, that although gaining publicity for a campaign is a good way to gain support, sometimes campaigning happens away from social media too.

Let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that because people don’t seem to care about the cause you support it doesn’t mean that don’t care at all. We have to be really careful to not allow our anger to turn this into an Opression Olympics. We have to turn our anger into determination and we have to keep fighting the good fight.

I also don’t think it’s truly possible to order injustices in a rank of most worthy or needing of support. How do you compare women not being able to gain safe health care with secular bloggers being hacked to death? How do you compare gay people being attacked and killed with countries torturing and killing alleged criminals? How do you compare systematic child abuse within a religion with the church interfering with AIDS treatments? You can’t. To do so would be unfair because they’re all desperate issues that need our support.

So let’s feed off of the Irish victory from last week and allow it to help us push forwards and make this world a better world for everybody. Tweet, write blogs, donate money, write letters, go to protests, put a sticker on your car, talk to your family and your colleagues, vote when you can. It all matters. I may sound like a massive lefty but I can’t help it. Ireland just achieved something incredible and it makes the other challenges we face seem less impossible somehow.

Recommended Links

Abortion Rights Campaign, Ireland
Abortion Rights, UK
Amnesty International
British Humanist Society
Good Thinking Society
Human Rights Watch
Oxfam
Reproductive Rights
Stonewall
Terrance Higgins Trust
They Work For You (track your MP)

JREF In Forgetting-Women Shocker?

microphone

Some people have reacted in horror, anger and confusion as the James Randi Education Foundation (JREF) revealed the confirmed speakers for their 2015 conference, The Amazing Meeting. Why? Because there are 20 men and 2 women and, out of these 22 speakers 21 are white.

So much diversity!

There are more speakers to be announced for TAM 2015 and I can only hope that they are all the minority speakers otherwise this is just a startling under representation.

I was curious though. Is this really a one off? Or is the JREF just guilty of what so many others are also guilty of? I had just returned from speaking at the 2015 convention for the AHS Students Society where the topic of attracting more diverse members into non-believer communities came up during the panel session I sat on. With this in mind I had a look at some of the other skeptical/atheist/humanist/freethought conferences that I am aware of/attending/speaking at personally this year and this is what I found:

AHS Student Society Convention 2015
9 announced speakers  / 5 women. 4 men.

QEDcon 2015
19 announced speakers / 11 men. 8 women. panels tba.

SkepKon 2015
21 announced speakers / 12 men. 9 women. panels tba.

Centre For Inquiry conference 2015 
38 announced speakers28 men. 10 women. more tba.

BHA Conference 2015
10 announced speakers / 7 men. 3 women. more tba.

American Atheist Conference 2015 
40+ announced speakers / 20+ men. 20+ women.

NECSS
34 announced speakers / 18 men. 16 women.

SkeptiCal 2015
9 announced speakers / 4 men. 5 women.

European Skeptics Congress 2015 
19 announced speakers / 16 men. 3 women. More tba/calling for participants

Australian Skeptics Convention
11 announced speakers / 5 men. 6 women. More tba

Well that’s… damning, really. Other than the European Skeptics Congress that only has three women so far (mainly due to women approached being unavailable) the TAM speakers list stands out like a sore thumb. There has been so much discussion about diversity within the skeptic scene and skeptic movement in recent years and it is great to see so many event organisers putting in the hard work and finding interesting and diverse speakers to make their events reflect the audiences they want to attract.

Research has even shown that diversity (gender and racial) in speakers at non-religious conferences has increased from 2003 to 2014, as detailed in this paper written by Ian Bushfield and Chris Hassall.

…but this effort has to be consistent. The previous TAM was pretty diverse (despite women reporting they didn’t feel welcome), so what gives?

Hopefully TAM will be announcing more minority speakers over the coming months, but isn’t it a shame to launch an event with such an under-representative speaker list? It certainly raises a lot of questions.