During the evening entertainment at a skeptic conference I once attended, a feminist comedian was performing a brilliant routine when the question ‘can we be skeptical of feminists?’ appeared on the conference hashtag from a clearly disgruntled male attendee. I raised the point, in response, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, sure… but feminism isn’t ufology. When you treat perfectly acceptable claims with the same skepticism normally reserved for extraordinary claims you run the risk of closed-mindedness if you’re not careful.
Recently, the US Skeptic Magazine site shared a review of Milo Yiannopoulous’s book ‘Dangerous’ which seems rather out of place. The review itself seemed accommodating to sentiments like:
‘ … the political left now pushes social taboos, seeking to restrict expressions of heterosexuality for its alleged contribution to “rape culture.” In this framework, straight white males have become the new “bourgeoisie.” So-called third wave feminism has been in the forefront in promoting this narrative,’
‘Moreover, having sex with a priest at age 13 did not prevent him [Milo] from having and enjoying sex for the rest of his life, as he abundantly makes clear. Although some might find his attitude on this topic insouciant, his message may be useful in the sense that it encourages people who have suffered abuse not to define themselves by their victimization …’
It’s baffling to me why such statements- and why the review itself -is even on a skeptic website. It just doesn’t seem to be in the right place at all. Then I remembered the Skeptic Magazine previously ran an attack on gender studies based on a hoax paper published in a journal. Turns out it was more of a lesson on the shoddy journal practices than on gender studies, but that’s not the point being discussed here. The point I’m trying to make is that organised skepticism has an entitled boys problem and those who appear to feel the most entitled are those with the biggest platforms.
Something like skepticism, as an approach to assessing claims and being proactive about tackling harmful misinformation, should be as free from ideologies as possible, and yet certain sections of organised skepticism (read: American, male, rich, and famous) seem to specifically target feminists, “identity politics” and some areas of the LGBTQ community – namely trans* people while writing fond reviews of problematic public figures such as Milo.
Does nobody else see this as a massive issue? I think this is a massive issue!
The treatment of concepts such as third-wave feminism and male privilege as extraordinary claims which require Sagan’s famous ‘extraordinary evidence’ is concerning and stems, I believe, from a reluctance of certain individuals to treat themselves with the same skepticism they happily use to scrutinise others with. To do so would require self-reflection which is hard to do when you’re always right. However, if you cannot maintain an open mind enough to question yourself, your actions, and the conclusions you are reaching should you really be considered a cornerstone of the modern skeptic movement?
In the past, this sort of behaviour would have caused me to reflect on whether I truly belong in the skeptic movement but I now realise that it isn’t me who should be questioning my place here. I know where I belong, but I’m not sure skepticism is the right place for entitled boys anymore.