Events

Women at TAM: The Results Are In

One of our goals here at Skepchick HQ is to get more women interested and involved in skepticism and science, and as a part of that I like to keep an eye on skeptic events to see how many women are showing up. It’s kind of tough since most events don’t have participants fill out surveys, so usually you just have stand off to the side and count boobs, then divide by two. Ideally, you end up with a number similar to the number you get when you count up all the testicles and divide by two. Given a large enough sample size, the abnormalities should cancel one another out.

(The boob/testicle counting is a joke, but I know some of you are currently Googling the rate of mastectomies vs. orchiectomies, and I applaud your diligence.)

Anyway, Randi just mentioned the number of women at The Amaz!ng Meeting this year. At past TAMs, I was only able to guess by being the perv in the corner staring at everyone and adding in my head, then comparing my number with that of others. In general, we all thought the percentage of women slowly grew from TAM3, to TAM4, to TAM5, to TAM5.5, with estimates ranging from 20% to 35% over that period. I was worried about TAM6 due to the utter lack of women speaking, but hopeful that all those new women I had met at SGU, Skepchick, and Skeptics in the Pub meet-ups would still make the rate go up. Sadly, Randi says that women made up 29% of attendees this year. Blah.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s not necessarily the JREF’s job to appeal to women. It is their responsibility to not discriminate against women, and I think they do a fine job of making TAM fun for everyone. In addition, they can take strides to make the program more appealing to women by maybe having more than one speaker with the dreaded double-x chromosome.

I do think that regardless of whether or not JREF puts more focus on improving the diversity of future TAMs, the responsibility lies mostly with us. By “us” I mean Skepchick, other skeptical organizations, and you as an individual. The JREF will listen to your feedback, so let them know you want to see more women at TAM7. If you’re part of a skeptical organization, you can concentrate on increasing your diversity — if we get enough smaller meetings that reach out to women, we’ll increase the chances that those women will want to attend larger meetings like TAM, regardless of how many women happen to be speaking that year.

Other groups are making it happen, like the New York City Skeptics. On July 26, they’ll host Lori Lipman Brown for their ongoing lecture series — she’ll be their third female speaker out of four speakers this year. (And remember, the Skepchicks are hosting an afterparty!) Their Drinking Skeptically meet-ups have been attracting 50% women — that’s a goal all groups should hope to reach.

For the record, I don’t think that getting half the attendees at any meet-up to be women is the most important goal of the skeptical movement, nor do I think it’s the only indicator of how effectively we’re reaching women. We could be reaching a much larger number of women, but they’re just not that big on Vegas, or pubs, or whatever. But, I think it’s important and inspiring to see it’s possible to get that 50/50 male/female split. I hope more people pay attention to what groups like the NYC Skeptics are doing so we can keep refining our approach and get more women involved.

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Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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17 Comments

  1. It’s kind of tough since most events don’t have participants fill out surveys, so usually you just have stand off to the side and count boobs, then divide by two. Ideally, you end up with a number similar to the number you get when you count up all the testicles and divide by two. Given a large enough sample size, the abnormalities should cancel one another out.

    I was trying to be more accurate, and actually count vaginas. I should apologize, though, if I surprised any of you there. It was hard to do as a passive test.

  2. “More kudos to NYC Skeptics for hosting our own Rebecca Watson as a speaker.”

    The kudos belongs to Rebecca, who agreed to hop on a Greyhound on shirt notice when our original speaker unexpectedly cancelled (incidentally, our original speaker was also a woman).

  3. Well, you should note that anything you do to attract more women to a nerd event, will, by extension, attract more men. I mean, if you think about it, each skepchick at TAM probably accounts for a hundred men turning up to meet her.

  4. But…I love those little granola bars.

    Michael, it was totally my pleasure! Except for the bit afterward where I crashed from the lack of sleep and food and abundance of alcohol. This time, I’m coming in the night before and sleeping! Knowing is half the battle.

  5. Unsurprisingly, for a group of mostly men, skeptics tend to have male-centric perspectives. While I feel we do better than a lot of other groups, I think it would be beneficial to bring in more feminist ideas. Skepchick does this to some degree, but I’m thinking, bring in someone like Amanda Marcotte.

  6. Venue might have something to do with it. I’m fine with Vegas and pubs, but I would be at LEAST as likely to drive the hour to Portland for a weekend lunch get-together at a good restaurant that had a bar but wasn’t *specifically* a bar.

  7. One of our goals here at Skepchick HQ is to get more women interested and involved in skepticism and science, and as a part of that I like to keep an eye on skeptic events to see how many women are showing up. It’s kind of tough since most events don’t have participants fill out surveys, so usually you just have stand off to the side and count boobs, then divide by two. Ideally, you end up with a number similar to the number you get when you count up all the testicles and divide by two. Given a large enough sample size, the abnormalities should cancel one another out.

    Your logic is flawed. Ideally you only want to count one boob each. That way you only have half the work. With males it is much easier to count the penises as they tend to block the testicles anyways. You might have to move it aside to make sure there are really two. The other problem I see is with the math, the dividing by two. There is a well known saying among nerds that you do not drink and derive. Thus the math can become problematic. If you are drunk anyways, an additional problem can be that you accidentally count the females twice by actually counting the other boob on some. This may or may not be a problem if you want to get the percentage of woman counted up. I agree with SkepGeek just count the vaginas.

  8. Here’s a lady who plans on attending the next TAM :-D

    And hopefully the NYC meet-up on 7/26 also. What can I say, now that I’ve met Rebecca in person I feel urged to meet the rest of you as well. :)

  9. It is a shame that not a lot of women are involved in these events. As a feminist and a science geek, I found that skepticism and attending TAM are wonderful. I truly felt like an equal but also was treated very respectfully by the gentleman I encountered and met. It was empowering for me, sharing this experience with my husband, who regards women like Rebecca, Tracy, and Dr. Harriet Hall with a high amount of respect, not necessarily because they are women, but because they have wonderful innovative ideas.

    My husband and I are discussing gender differences as I type this (he’s totally down with the G-Y-N) and he makes a very valid point- look at the idea of “wisdom” that is geared towards women- go to the mag section of your fave bookstore and you most likely will find images of “sage” women depicted as Earth Mother types with crystals and witchy poo outfits, not in lab coats. Look at the talk shows- when was the last time you saw a woman on Oprah with a legit science background? . I sometimes question the motivation behind the marketing and the gender roles that are portrayed by the media. Although I do not think the motivation is intentionally malicious, I sometimes feel like these depictions are the things that are keeping women “back” so that they don’t explore critical thinking and science and thus achieve increased respect and equality in society. A lot of our female friends are into “women power” parties where gals sit in circles and talk about goddess love and obtaining strength through yoga and chi alignment. Needless to say, we’re the downers at a lot of these parties because we question the validity of the woo that so many of them hold sacred. (Well, I questioned. I politely decline a lot of invitations to these parties, as most of the time my husband is not invited because he has a pene. I have yet to be ostracized from a meeting of our skeptics group simply because I have indoor vs outdoor plumbing.) I guess my point is that I see true opportunity in skepticism as a way to enhance feminism. And at TAM, I felt supported by both genders in achieving that goal in a way I’ve never experienced before.

  10. Not to rock the little man in the boat, but I see some flawed methodology here.

    Counting boobs may throw off the number if they include “man-boobs.” This is not always a problem but to be fair I did notice more than a few man-boobs at TAM. Not that I was looking.

    As for counting vaginas, that may seem to be a more accurate count, but of course the problem is that you can’t actually SEE vaginas, as they are internal. So unless there was some big orgy party at TAM I wasn’t invited to (and why wasn’t I!?) where everyone was naked, the vaginas would not be seen in a cursory crowd inspection.

    No, if you’re going that route, you are much better off counting vulvas, which at least has the benefit of being external. Not to be too technical about this, but if we are going to criticize others’ methodologies, we should have our own house in order.

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