There are many skeptics and atheists who are also people with disabilities. You may not see them at events often, but there are reasons for that. First, many disabilities are invisible. Someone may appear just fine but have limited stamina, mobility, hearing or even vision. Secondly, despite the many improvements to public life made since passing the American’s With Disabilities act in 1990, not all public events and spaces are as welcoming as they could be when you are a person with a disability.
As we all know, the condition of one’s body has little bearing on their mind and what they can contribute to our communities. As someone who helps organize a skeptical conference in Northern California I found myself thinking how event organizers can take some extra steps to ensure that we don’t miss out on hearing any worthy voices in our cause. I asked for some input from skeptics and atheists with disabilities and have a few ideas myself. So, what can we do to make our events accessible to everyone? (more…)
[NOTE: This was originally published in July 2011.]
In recent weeks and days, there seems to be another controversy raging within the skeptical blogosphere – this one concerning social interactions between men and women at conferences (and, I assume, in general). In short, some guys are acting like douchebags and they’re not getting the message. Since I just returned from Skepchicon/Convergence 2011 in Minneapolis where I spent a lot of time with the ladies of Skepchick, I wanted to put in my $0.02 worth on this whole fracas.
First, some background… It seems the whole thing got started when Rebecca Watson of Skepchick wrote about an encounter she had with a man in an elevator in Dublin. Long story short: the guy propositioned her, and she said no; she also felt somewhat cornered seeing as how she was stuck, alone, in a metal cage with the guy. Apparently, there were a number of people who thought she handled the situation poorly (especially by blogging about it and noting the inappropriate behavior on the part of the man in question).
By now, everybody in the atheosphere is familiar with the Jessica Ahlquist story, and especially the latest development in the saga. The sheer amount of bigotry, hatred, and blind, unthinking idiocy on display by citizens of Cranston is astonishing, made no less so by their calls for religious tolerance.
[A slightly different version of this piece was posted on Sasha's personal site. It is being reposted for this new audience.]
A problem that’s come up again and again in the skeptic and atheist communities is that of women being creeped out and their contributions being minimized because of guys objectifying them. You run in to a lot of men who have their feelings hurt and the arguments always seem to boil down to dudes so high on Axe body spray fumes that they can’t comprehend the words of anyone with a vagina. I’m a penis-owning, cisgendered, biologically male straight person. One of the tools at our disposal here at More Than Men is the fact that our social privilege gives us a louder voice than we probably deserve. Maybe we can use that power for good and I can explain a few things.
Texas demonstrates the conservative goal of shrinking government to the point it’s small enough to enter a woman’s womb.
“A three-judge federal appeals panel ruled Friday that the state of Texas can move ahead with enforcement of a law requiring doctors to provide a sonogram to pregnant women before they get an abortion.”
“As written, the law would require women seeking an abortion in Texas to view a picture of the embryo or fetus and hear a description of its development before having the procedure.”
This is horrific. The most benign interpretation of the law is that it infantilizes women, who it deems too stupid to realize what a fetus has the potential to become. “Oh, wait, it’s like a future version of me conceived through the fertilization of an egg by sperm — to be exact, a developing mammal after the embryonic stage but before birth? See, I thought it was one of those chestburster things from Alien. My friend Mabel has seen all the movies. She’s real excited about the prequel that’s coming out. Anyway, she told me that I’d want to get that taken care of but now that I see this picture and everything. Well, thanks for straightening me out. Do you validate parking, by the way?”
However, the comments from judges who have ruled on the case only reinforce that the law is intended as federally mandated coercion intended to prevent women from having an abortion.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a Pennsylvania case “held that the fact that such truthful, accurate information may cause a woman to choose not to abort her pregnancy only reinforces its relevance to an informed decision,” U.S. Circuit Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote in a concurring opinion. “Insisting that a doctor give this information in his traditional role of securing informed consent is permissible.”
I admit I’m impressed that a man with the name “Higginbotham” was able to overcome childhood bullying and ostracization and rise to the rank of U.S. Circuit judge, but I disagree wholly with his thinking here. “Informed consent” should relate to the woman’s health and include relevant information about any short or long-term effects (e.g. if the procedure could possibly result in sterilization and so on).
Pro-life advocates often claim that since a doctor will advise you of other alternatives to surgery, it’s appropriate for them to do the same regarding abortion. However, adoption is not a medical procedure, and once a woman is pregnant, that’s the only other option aside from keeping the child herself. Once she’s actually gone to the doctor, it should be accepted that she’s made the very difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy. If she wanted help with such a personal decision, she would reach out to friends and family. Her doctor isn’t her rabbi. He’s a physician.
Higginbotham demonstrates a lack of basic compassion that justifies his being born with the name “Higginbotham.” Yes, forcing a pregnant woman to “view a picture of the embryo or fetus and hear a description of its development before having the procedure” is not merely annoying and might cause her to be late for her hair appointment. It is actually incredibly painful and difficult for her. That fact does not justify doing it. Quite the opposite. And even if it’s occasionally effective and some women choose not to go through with the abortion, the law makes no provision for the associated costs of carrying the pregnancy to term or caring for the child once its born. You see, the people close to a woman who provide counsel and input would also be there to help her once she decides to go through with the pregnancy. This a serious decision that the government is sticking its nose into with the apparently clueless belief that it’s all just a minor inconvenience for a pregnant woman:
“Oh, la di dah, I guess I won’t buy that Coach bag and instead devote the next nine months to successfully bringing this pregnancy to term. No biggie. If I’m not able to raise the child myself, I will give it up for adoption at one of those Imaginary Republican Orphanages (as seen on TV) that will find a home for the child regardless of its health or race. Of course, that won’t be traumatic for me at all because I am just a child-growing machine and wouldn’t possibly become connected to my unborn child over the next nine months. And, really, can I please get an answer about the parking validation?”
If the government believes this type of psychological torture is appropriate in order to prevent people from doing things that are otherwise legal, I would propose a similar law requiring potential gun owners to watch news reports of children who died because of guns in the home.
Texas governor Rick Perry praised the new law, saying, “We will continue to fight any attempt to limit our state’s laws that value and protect the unborn.”
Too bad the effort to “value and protect” them ends once they’re born — especially if they’re women.
- Stephen Robinson
Writer of entertainment pieces, humor columns, trenchant satire, and the occasional Brechtian play. Recently transplanted to Portland, Oregon, I look forward to meeting creative folk in the Northwest. You can find and “like” me at www.facebook.com/ser1897.
One of the most often cited ways to encourage diversity within our communities is to promote diversity amongst the speakers we feature at our events. There has been a lot of high-profile success in this – TAM has been approaching 50/50 gender representation, for instance – but there still seem to be a lot of mostly-white, mostly-male speaker rosters and panels. One way that has been proposed for speakers to take action is for white men to decline an invitation to speak at an event or on a panel that lacks diversity. Those of us who organize conferences and events have even more power to make a change because we’re the one making invitations in the first place.
I can sense the comments coming in already.”But Sasha,” you ask, “isn’t that just establishing quotas? Aren’t we ignoring qualified dudes because we’re stocking our conferences with woman and minority speakers?” My answer is “No, don’t be so ridiculous and offensive by assuming that trying to create a diverse group of speakers means choosing less-qualified speakers in order to have more than white men talking.
Want to thank the people at More Than Men for having me. To start, I’d like to share a recent post from my own blog, then I’ll get to work on some original content. Enjoy!
You know, I had other things to do. Better things to do. I really, really wanted to stop being a complete asshole and actually answer my email, because I love my friends and I have been an irresponsible ass about that. I know I have, and I really wanted to get back on track and try to stop being a bastard to people I love.
Here’s the final part of the great video series from Greg Laden and friends. You can see part one here and part two here. (Greg is the submitter. Featured in this chapter are C. Anderson, Stephanie Zvan, Natalie Wagner, and Serena.)
If you would like to contribute a video, blog post, or anything else, check out how.