In Defense of Sister Sites
In the comments section of Sarah’s recent call for writers for a new sister site for people with disabilities, a few commenters raised concerns that sister sites are counterproductive because they are “exclusionary” and “segregative” and “separate but equal.”
As the admin for the only sister site (so far) for a marginalized group on Skepchick, I have to vehemently disagree with this sentiment.
I don’t feel marginalized on this network. When I asked on the Queereka backchannel how the other writers felt about this sentiment, those who responded disagreed with it (and, of course, those contributors who did not respond before I posted this are welcome to disagree in the comments). I do not appreciate people who are not part of Queereka telling us how we should feel about our presence as a sister site within the Skepchick network. I really resent the idea that Rebecca is somehow trying to ghettoize us queer folk by providing a space for us to express ourselves.
Let me try to give a little insight into how things work with Skepchick sister sites. All admins of sister sites have the ability to cross-post anything posted on their sister sites to the main Skepchick page. This has been done more often recently than in the past, and it’s something we are actively trying to do more of. In that sense, then, we are not excluded from the main Skepchick site at all. Rebecca actively encourages us to cross-post to the main site and has never once told us to keep our content segregated on our own sister sites. Further, the way the site is set up right now, there are sidebars where you can see what is being posted on the sister sites. Right there on the main Skepchick site. One click away, just like any other article on the landing page. It’s not as if the sister sites are relegated to the margins and ignored. We’re right there on the front page, and all over the menu bars of each page. So, maybe it’s better to think of sister sites as an organizational scheme that divides certain kinds of posts into categories and not as separate sites at all. Sort of like how a newspaper is divided into separate sections—you wouldn’t call the “Sports” section and the “Arts and Lifestyle” section different newspapers, would you?
There are also very real logistical reasons for Skepchick’s organizational structure. Each site has an admin as a way of delegating responsibilities so that Rebecca does not have to take care of everything by herself. I’m not sure most people really understand the volume of traffic and e-mail that Skepchick receives. The Skepchick backchannel gets, on average, 75-100 emails per day. There have been days that I have been really busy and not checked my e-mail for a few hours and come back to 60 unread e-mails all from the backchannel. A lot of that is conversation amongst the 22 contributors to the main site, but it also includes submissions on the contact form.
Now imagine if we combined all of the contributors from all of the sister sites into one backchannel. That’s 22 contributors on Skepchick (many of whom also write for sister sites) plus 33 people from Grounded Parents, 8 people on School of Doubt, 11 people on Teen Skepchick, 16 people on Mad Art Lab, and 8 people on Queereka. And that’s not counting any contributors on the Swedish, Norwegian, or Spanish sister sites, nor account for discrepancies on the “Who’s Who?” pages. That would be around 100 people, give or take, on a single backchannel. And that’s before a bunch of new writers are added for the new disability sister site.
Imagine how much that would increase the e-mail volume, not only from conversations but also all the additional contact form submissions that would now all come to the single backchannel. I will probably have a nightmare tonight just having thought about the sheer volume of e-mail that would entail for myself, and I’m one of the least-publicly-engaged Skepchick writers as I’m not involved with any social networking. I cannot fathom how Rebecca, who gets multiple hundreds of e-mails per day, would be able to cope with that volume.
Aside from logistics, one of the main reasons that sister sites have been set up is to allow for specific spaces where particular interests can be discussed in more depth and detail. This has allowed those of us at Queereka to set up a safe space for queer people in the skeptic and atheist communities to congregate and discuss issues we find important without having to constantly engage in 101-level education in the comments. As I’m sure many of you notice on Skepchick, there’s a lot of 101-level questions that get asked about feminism, and that often derails conversations and can lead to all sorts of drama that detracts from the conversations we are trying to have. Sometimes, we just want to be in a space where we don’t have to worry about those sorts of things happening. And that’s how it works over at Queereka. We occasionally get a 101-level question, but for the most part, it’s people who are beyond that level engaging in conversations with each other in a safe space.
In the end, I am not trying to be dismissive of the very real and valid fears of further marginalizing certain groups of people. I just do not believe that that’s what’s going on at Skepchick with sister sites. I think this organizational structure works well, and I would appreciate it if people would stop assuming the worst about Rebecca’s motivations for setting up sister sites and, you know, actually ask those of us who are on the only sister site for a minority group (so far! I hope there are more to come soon, and if you have ideas you should definitely let us know!) how we feel about it before assuming to speak on our behalf.