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.

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  1. That’s so odd. I read the post shortly after it went online so I never saw those comments. I even tweeted a link to the page because I have online friends with disabilities that I connect to there. My perception of it was as you describe it (reality for the win!). Yeesh.

    • I don’t think there is any need to mock people for valid concerns zylla. (Reality for the win? Yeesh.)

      That being said, the way the sites are set up (the sidebar that links to articles on sister sites, coupled with the cross posting) has caused me to bounce to all of the sister sites as I’m reading. That function took me from initially seeking out only two sites to actively checking all of them every time I’m ready to read one. So, for me at least, it still feels like reading one big site broken into smaller categories.

  2. I certainly don’t always agree with people here, but it is a wonderful thing to provide voices to women and other groups not normally heard. I’m not sure of a better system – part of the “sister site” format seems to be something that organically grows from the original site. I’ve noticed articles being cross posted, but I would imagine the main site gets the most traffic. Some people are going to get less traffic than others – it is the way of the internet. Maybe some bolder indications of the sister sites? I could imagine it is confusing to newcomers that the top links are actual sites and not just collections of articles from the main site. I dunno – just throwing things out there.

  3. I like the format. Before I wrote here, I could put the main Skepchick site into my RSS and get stuff that way. Then when I started loving the Mad Art Lab stuff, because of cross posting, I could do the same for that. When I became aware of Queereka, I did that same for that.

    I’m a bit long in the tooth for the teen site, but still enjoy the material that makes it’s way to the main Skepchick arena, which is often. I have absolutely no kids (cat excluded) and little interest in parenting, but acknowledge that skeptical parenting is definitely an area that needs writers and some support in this world. I’m glad it exists, and has a venue here, even if I’m more of a cat person.

    As for visibility? Every site here in the Skepchick network is on the top of every webpage. The visibility here is great.

    Now that I write for Queereka? I can hand that Queereka URL to folks in the FTM and queer communities I run in. Sure there is great content in other areas of Skepchick, but the folks I hand this too are more interested in our community specifically. I think that’s great, and as more time goes by, maybe like me, they will grow to love the whole community.

  4. Not to mention that creating a sister site for a marginalized group allows members of that group greater control of the content. I’d like to see more articles addressing race issues in a skeptical context, but while I love Rebecca’s work, she would not be my first choice for the person in charge of that content. That is not her lived experience. Instead, it would make way more sense to start a sister site centering on race and administered by POC. (I really hope this happens!)

    • +1 there is a dearth of voices there. I’m very much interested in poor people issues and black people issues and criminal justice issues, but there isn’t a ton of voices there, which is to be expected, since atheoskeptics tend to be white and mid to upper class.

      • It’s also different types of atheism. Most Oglalas don’t identify as any particular religion, but don’t go as far to say absolute atheism (and would most likely say that the sun, the wind, and the lightning are real things). Which only gets worse when you hear one so-called ‘skeptic’ talking about ‘white Paleo-Americans’ or whatever. That was really my first introduction to the r/atheism attitude, years before Reddit was even a thing. Late 90s, I was just a teenager at the time.

    • I would like that to happen as well. I will forward the suggestion to Rebecca, though I’m sure it’s been floated before and I’m not sure why it hasn’t happened.

      Rebecca herself has even said one of the reasons she (and we along with her) created Queereka was for exactly that reason: she wanted queer people to have control over the content. I have no doubt Rebecca would agree with your sentiment that it’s not her lived experience and that such a sister site would need to be administered by a person of color.

      • Reminds me of years ago on Yahoo. I was appointed moderator of an American Indian club. (Yeah, back when Yahoo had clubs.) The original admin was deceased, and he’d left my friend Huhana in charge. She handed the reins over to me and a woman, also going with the idea of a gender balance, specifically because, while indigenous, she didn’t feel like she understood everything going on in the States (being from NZ).

  5. Great post Will, thank for this. As the admin for Mad Art Lab I can say that it has helped us immensely to have our own back channel to be able to talk about issues that interest us and to brainstorm for post ideas. Topics that are of interest to the Mad Art Lab contributors are not always of interest to people on Skepchick. Having the freedom to talk about art amongst artists has proven to be inspiring and motivational. Plus it’s nice to have our own landing page. If everyone posted on one site, posts would get buried in minutes, and a lot of great information would be missed by readers. I have to assume that sites like Queereka and the new disability site would experience a similar ability to flourish while also benefiting from the popularity of Skepchick prime.

  6. I love the Newspaper analogy, because I consume these sites much like a Newspaper. First I’ll go to Skepchick, read the interesting looking articles, then go to the other sites, and look through articles there. Eventually if I have time I’ll have consumed all the new material. I would welcome more posts about living with disabilities (Grimalkin has written some good ones recently), and a sister site will make it easy for me. Ultimately, checking 5 different sites which each may have a few new articles is a lot easier than scanning one giant list of new articles, and helps break it up into more manageable chunks, helping me get my skeptic on!

  7. Great post, Will. Yeah, I always saw sister sites as similar to (and both Rebecca and everyone on Reddit will hate this comparison) subreddits. Queereka, and whatever the disabled sister site will be called, reflect intersectionality better.

    Plus, there’s a lot of woo about disabilities out there, so it dovetails well with Skepchick’s mission. And having someone who actually has to deal with medical issues edit it helps. (As always, ‘stand with us, not for us’ seems to be the ethos around here.)

  8. In my case, the fact that it is not an all consuming over all site has made it easier for me to become a writer on Grounded Parents. Honestly I would have found it too much to take on.

    I just wish I could log in once and not have to do it on every site.

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