Sep. 19, 2012 - Issue #883: Best of Edmonton 2012
Women and pseudoscience
Rebecca Watson shines a skeptical light on it all
Fri, Sep 21 (6 pm)
Women's Intuition and Other
Presented by Rebecca Watson
University of Alberta, Telus 150, $5
Women are bombarded with a gamut of pseudoscience, from women's intuition to the Law of Attraction, not to mention the multitude of magical cosmetics so-called experts try to convince them they need.
People like Oprah have made their living—and a lucrative one at that—from marketing this pseudoscience to women, and Rebecca Watson, a secular activist and feminist, has set out to expose its irrationality.
"Women, I think, are socially conditioned to not be confrontational, to not tell people that something is bullshit, and at the same time, they've been socially conditioned to be mothering and compassionate and to focus on helping others above all else," says Watson, who is also the founder of Skepchick.org, an organization of women, and one deserving man, who write about science, skepticism, feminism, atheism, secularism and pseudoscience. Watson began looking critically at pseudoscience during college, when she was also working as a magician. She witnessed psychics who were essentially using magic tricks, fooling people into thinking they had supernatural abilities, which was a catalyst for beginning her skeptical investigations.
She began working with skeptics like James Randi, who was a magician decades ago and offers a million-dollar challenge to anyone who can prove they have paranormal abilities (it has yet to be won).
"I got involved with them and liked what they were doing, but I saw most of the skeptics who were on stages at skeptical events and speaking about skeptical issues were mostly men, and I realized that there were a lot of issues that directly affected women that weren't being addressed," Watson recalls.
For Watson, one of the most concerning issues of pseudoscience that she and her team at Skepchick investigate is vaccinations. Groups of people are becoming increasingly anti-vaccination, deeming them to be unsafe and cause conditions like autism. Watson notes that vaccinations have even been accused of being a form of government mind control.
"This has a serious, real-world body count to it. This is something that is actually helping to spread disease and to kill people, particularly babies," she says, adding scientific studies have proven time and time again that vaccinations are safe. "For instance, there are several places in the United States where whooping cough has become an epidemic in the last few years. Whooping cough is something that we could pretty much eradicate if people vaccinated their children and if people went and got their booster shots every five years as recommended. There's no reason for anyone to ever die of whooping cough."
Behind some of the concern are celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, who Watson says trump up a term called "mommy instinct," a form of women's intuition stating women don't need science or logic—they can simply rely on a magical instinct.
"She (McCarthy) ignored all of her doctor's advice and now tells people not to get vaccinated because she says she simply knows because she's a mommy, so it's bullshit that actually ends up killing people," Watson says.
Watson also targets The Secret, a book teaching people that if they want something, all they need to do is act like they already have it, and the universe will manifest their wishes. The book has been targeted at women in particular and Watson says at first glance, the book is innocuous, but is horrific upon further inspection.
"What they're saying is kids with cancer, they could get better, but it's really their fault for not asking the universe in the right way," she adds. "It's the worst and they just came out with another one in the last year called The Power. It's the exact same thing. They're like, 'How do we sell another million dollars of books to people? We'll do the exact same thing with a different title.'"
Aside from literature and instinct, Watson says the cosmetic industry has become one that feeds women's insecurities and tries to tell them they need certain products to look a certain way. In many cases, it's so men will notice and be attracted to them. Douches are one product in particular Watson has fun talking about.
"Douches are these actually quite harmful products that women are encouraged to shoot up into themselves and basically fire-bomb their vaginas," Watson states, noting it's been proven that douching can cause severe infections and even infertility. "The idea is that women are disgusting, women's vaginas are disgusting and we have to do everything to pretty them up so that men will love us."
By exposing pseudoscience to women, Watson hopes she is able to show them it is OK to stand up for themselves and realize they are capable of logic and critical thinking, something women have been conditioned to disregard in past generations.
"I suspect women's intuition got to be a thing because for a long time, women were told that they couldn't think logically, so women started to find this sort of power in saying, 'Oh yeah, I can't do that, but I do have this magic innate property inside me that allows me to have some other kind of power.' We don't need that anymore," Watson says, noting it's important to fight back and recognize that both men and women are capable of logic, because feeding into the idea of women's intuition supports the idea this is not possible. She believes this is a factor in so many women dropping out of the upper echelons of the sciences. "When we drop the idea of women's intuition, when we accept the fact that women can think critically, can be logical, I think we're going to have a better, more egalitarian society where women can pursue the professions that they want to pursue regardless of gender."
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