Here’s a crude paraphrasing of a conversation I’ve heard a few times lately, in blogs and comment threads. (The first speaker is female.)
“Men tend to outnumber women in the skeptical community. At events and meet-ups, most of the attendees and speakers tend to be men. I feel like women might be under-represented and may feel alienated from skepticism as a result.”
“Well then do something about it! Get more involved yourself, and try to get other women involved too, start your own group – just don’t keep moaning about it and expecting concessions to be made for you without your having to do any work.”
If the respondent is male, it’s hard not to see this as a fairly typical case of casual chauvinism. But other female skeptics seem to be the ones pushing this view at least as often.
I’m still yet to comprehensively describe my own position on feminism, but I should really get on with it, because it’s rare that I read anyone else’s opinions on the subject without at some point feeling compelled toward self-inflicted cranial trauma.
Rebecca at Skeptical Ireland has some complaints about the assumptions made by certain brands of feminism, particularly in response to an interview with prominent feminist Kat Banyard on the generally excellent Little Atoms radio show and podcast.
Up until this point I never thought of myself as a minority that desperately needed to be stood up for. I do not need another woman to tell me how I should and should not feel about my place within any community…
I refuse to go to a SITP [Skeptics In The Pub] meeting that I have organised and count how many women are at the table, or how many other perceived minorities might be in attendance and then use this a basis to measure success (whatever that means).
She has a valid point about the unhelpfulness of the obsession with quotas (which Dan Jacobs expands on in the comments) that some feminists seem to want us to hold to, and consider a vital measure of the fairness of any group project.
But… surely it’s not a complete red herring to consider whether women are being systematically excluded from a community. It has happened before. Not just to women, by any means, but they’ve been among the more notable targets of this kind of discrimination.
It should be possible to suggest that an infrastructure might have inherent biases which it would benefit us all to overcome, and propose ways we can work on fixing this together… without becoming a caricature and insisting that any men who gather in one place without inviting the same number of women are sexist and should be completely changing things by themselves.
Jen McCreight noted a recent Secular Humanist Conference which had thirteen male speakers and two female. It’s not insane to take this as a cue to wonder if members of the skeptical community – men and women alike – could be doing more to reach out to women who aren’t currently a part of the group.
It’s all very well saying that women should get more involved if they want to see more women getting involved, but does the attitude of the community make it clear that we really want them to? Or are we, at times, carelessly giving the impression that being white and male is the presumed default, and anyone who doesn’t fit the mould probably can’t really be down with this whole “skepticism” thing?
Rebecca’s right that patronising women and assuming they need help against the oppression of all those bastard men solves nothing. I don’t think that “sexism” is the most useful word to describe the problem, or that outright prejudice against women is nearly so significant a causal factor as lazy thinking and reflexive defensiveness against accusations of sexism.
But this isn’t the first conversation Jen’s had where she’s noted a gender disparity and essentially been told “Well, fix it, woman!” And that unhelpfully plays down the things that men can do to help.
I’m probably either a simpering liberal or a fascist pig, based on all this. Place your bets, folks.