Hayley is a Ghost

A meaningful rant about being a female skeptic who doesn’t like being "the cute one"

Posted on: April 12, 2010

This past weekend saw lovely weather grace our gardens and my mum, brother and yours truly got out into the garden to sort out an overflowing shed and the odd bits of rubbish laying around the garden. It looks decent out there now but the downside was that my hayfever was playing up something awful. When this happens I tend to get all soppy and emotional and Saturday was particularly bad for this.

As I sat in my bedroom with my eyes streaming, my face itching, wheezing and sneezing editing down a piece of the latest Righteous Indignation podcast I stumbled upon a piece of the listener feedback section in which somebody commented on how I had a nice voice and my already irritated mind went into overdrive and I over reacted.

I went marching downstairs and moaned about it to my mother. Told her how people seeing me as a “cute, adorable female skeptic” had been bugging me for a long, long time and I’d had enough of it. MY already irritated mind was saying “quit! quit!” but the sane part of my brain was going “pfft. As if.”

It’s hard to explain to people who have never experienced social anxiety personally, but when it gets bad you can’t even control the way you feel or the way you think. You know that what you are saying or what you are doing is wrong or not like you but you still do it. It’s self destructive and it’s difficult to stop (but it is possible.)

Instead of doing something completely irrational I spoke to people whose opinions I respect who gave me some great advice and when I had calmed down and reflected on the whole thing the next day I realised that although I had been overeacting with my initial reaction; there was an issue and it had to be sorted.

I can appreciate that female skeptics are a minority compared to their male counterparts and it’s wrong. The Greater Manchester Skeptics recently held an event geared specifically for female skeptics to try and encourage more women to participate in their events which I think is hugely brilliant.

I might be alone in the following thoughts, if I am then so be it, however since I first became involved in Righteous Indignation and became vocal about skepticism I have watched as a pattern emerged that makes my skin crawl slightly. No offence.

Numerous comments have been made in the past year about myself being cute, adorable, sweet and lovely and although it’s really nice to be complimented it gets a bit weird when it’s me being female that gets peoples attention rather than what I have to say.

I’ve rarely heard any feedback about the stories I cover on Righteous Indignation (apart from that I recieve from my cohosts.) I put so much time and effort into researching my stories and yet what gets peoples attention seems to be the fact that I’m well spoken and “cute.”

This is so upsetting that I can’t actually put it into words. It’s also quite creepy that people say things online to me or about me that they wouldn’t dare say to my face. I am, afterall, a stranger and sometimes the comments are foul, rude and disrespectful. Being online and a vocal female skeptic doesn’t mean that it’s open game for being a jack ass.

I can appreciate how female voices in skepticism are rare, but if others are treated the same way (I don’t know if they are, I’m just speculating…) then is it any wonder that women are turned off from becoming involved?

I’m not claiming that every man that I’ve spoken to or communicated with in the past year has acted this way; but some have and it’s so demoralising that it’s often made me question whether I should bother or not. Luckily though I feel very strongly about the things I cover, research and talk about so I do continue.

What’s the point of this blog?

Well, I hope that it could serve as a polite request to back the hell off and understand that I am a good skeptic because I know bullshit when I see it; not because you think I sound cute, look adorable or am female. Have some respect please.

If it turns out I’m not a good skeptic for what I do or say then so be it; but I’d rather be classed as a good skeptic because of what I do rather than my gender.

That is all.

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14 Responses to "A meaningful rant about being a female skeptic who doesn’t like being "the cute one""

Actually I think you are doing a favour to a lot of female skeptics.. it is wrong that the women in skepticism should be made to feel like 'token females', and that by virtue of such comments you mention are not interesting or have any useful role to play should they not be 'cute' or "adorable' 'sweet' or 'lovely'.

I think unfortunately it seems fundamental that comments about female authors/presenters/public figures ultimately end up resorting to their appearance. You only have to look at the criticism Claudia Winkleman came under in the comments section of the Daily Mail website for having the audacity to accept a job presenting Film 2011. These are comments that are supposedly vetted. Rebecca Watson recently posted a YouTube video that dealt with similar issues after some of the comments she recieved on there about her appearance. It is a great shame either way but it all the more repugnant when in the form of criticism rather than complements. I would say if the worst you have been called is cute and that you have a nice voice then I would consider yourself lucky compared to other female skeptics who have had far worse. http://scepticalbanter.com

It's not so much what has been said that annoys me, cassus, but then fact it has been said at all 🙂

Yes of course you are right. Sorry I did not conceed that in my original post!

You bring up some great points, and I'm sure I've been guilty of this sort of thing. Women face a lot of challenges in the skeptical community and this is just one example of it. I'm sorry that you haven't gotten more substantive feedback on your work on RI. I know many times I mean to write in on one of the topics (or most often to give Marsh a hard time) but by the time I get to a computer I've forgotten all about it. I'm sure there are plenty of others like me who have great intentions but terrible follow through, for what little that consolation is worth.

Although this comment may be undermined by the fact that I, nor my skills, have never been singled out on the basis of being well spoken and cute (as well as the fact that I haven't the guts to broadcast them!), but I would like to add something to the first comment.I would put forward that, without meaning to legitimise what has made you unhappy, it would be a great shame if you were discouraged from an endeavour that you clearly enjoy and feel strongly about because of such frustrating comments – even if they are, presumably, well-intentioned. I lack the knowledge of the skeptical community that you and the other commenters have so I am ignorant of this attitude towards female skeptics. From my experience in other not entirely dissimilar communities, however, I can see how demoralising not being taken seriously (or, perhaps more importantly, feeling as though you are not) can be. Having read that through, I am not entirely certain that I have made any sense at all. Largely because I am new to this area of thought and am therefore not yet very familiar with your work (and heaps of others!), but I think anybody who is serious and public about their views deserves a great deal of respect. (For what it's worth, as a radio nerd, different accents and ways of speaking are very interesting to me so having a pleasant voice is very much a Good Thing!)

I think this just shows that skepticism is not immune to the problems women face in the real world. I have seen attractive female skeptics having problems with people not being able to get past their looks, but I have also seen older or less comely female skeptics being ignored. I'm not sure what is worse really. I think we have to remember that we skeptics can still be influenced by the prejudices that lurk out there despite our huge rational brains!

[…] my blog post. As the female co-host of the Righteous Indignation podcast there have been times when really inappropriate comments have been made that shouldn’t have been made (and wouldn’t have been made if I was male) which is why there is a danger in making people […]

The Skepchicks over on the JREF might be interested in this. Might I point them to your blog? You may well raise very important points they would be interested in: they self-identify (unless the identity was imposed on them) as sceptic females, and certainly get a lot of the “hot ladeez” type comments from what I recall. I guess sexism exists in all communities…

cj x

Share away, though I’m sure it’s nothing that hasn’t been raised before.

Hayley, this is a wonderful post – thank you so much for writing it and I’m not sure how I missed it before.

I’ve had some of the same thing and it makes me feel so nervous and freaked out I can’t concentrate on anything important! I’m recovering from a long term illness and photos of me from that time are pretty shocking. Around then, a man told me – meaning to be sympathetic – that because of my small boobs, I would never make it as a science communicator. I’ve never forgiven that remark. I took it deeply to heart, which of course I shouldn’t have, but it enrages me that someone’s appearance is considered more important than what they actually do.

To complicate matters, one neat thing about that time was that I could go to the pub in all-male company, and I’d hear all sorts of things girls never usually hear and be trusted in a way most girls weren’t, because they weren’t thinking of me like that. Then as soon as some good-looking woman turned up they’d all act completely different.

Now I’m a lot healthier it’s much more complicated. I have the nasty feeling men are less honest around me than they used to be. I can’t even play a game of Scrabble without some man going on and on about my photo and will I send him pictures of myself. I mean, a compliment’s nice, but . . . can’t things just be normal? It makes me so self-conscious and I cringe when men look at me, and that’s really not what I need when I’m trying to set up a Skeptics in the Pub myself! Fortuantely I’ve given a few lectures and this stuff has never happened at one of them.

Anyway, it’s a great relief to know I’m not just an ungrateful sexless creature (as I have been branded as for resisting this line) and other women feel the same way. We’ve just as much substance as men, and just as much to say. Don’t be put off, Hayley, I’m really looking forward to hearing a talk by you! Rant over.

I think it just goes to show that being a skeptic doesn’t automatically make you a nice person. I’ve met quite a few skeptics that make my skin crawl, for various reasons.

Obviously, the anonymous nature of the internet allows people to remove their normal filter, but I still think it gets ridiculous. Every time Rebecca Watson got a marriage proposal on SGU, for example, I writhed with embarrasment for my gender.

As a side note, the review may not have been just based on your being a female. You DO have a nice voice; so does George Hrab, and I don’t find him particularly attractive…

Hayley, for what it’s worth, the fact that you have do have a good broadcasting voice just adds to the accesibility of the RI podcast. It is much better listening to interesting stuff when it is presented in a tone and manner that is easy on the ear. This isn’t sexist or demeaning, other podcasters (both male and female) have this quality as well. There are some podcasts that I just cant listen through as the presentation of the material, although it may be interesting, is delivered in a manner that is irritating for one reason or another.

The quality of the hosts of RI is an integral part of its appeal. The interaction between a male/female panel of hosts is different to a same-sex one – again not sexist, but a fact. This, coupled with the very obvious respect that all the members hold each other in (partly emphasised by the mickey-taking that goes on) means that if anyone holds your views as being of less worth because of your gender, then that is very much a problem they have rather than one that should concern you.

[…] of my past blogging here, here, and […]

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Hayley is a ghost

Hayley Stevens is an advocate for science-based research into seemingly paranormal experiences and occurrences. With a background in the pseudo-scientific research into ghosts, Hayley offers a unique insight into the strange world of ghost hunting through her experience.

She describes herself as 'a ghost hunter who doesn't hunt for ghosts' and this is her personal blog where she writes about ghosts, people, and other interesting things. Read more here.

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