Afternoon InquisitionEvents

AI: The Weaker Sex

Sharon Moss, President of the Humanist Community of Central Ohio with Lyz Liddell, Director of Campus Organizing at the Secular Student Alliance recently did a guest post over at Jen McCreight’s, Blag Hag Blog called, When Gender Goes Pear Shaped. The article has gotten a lot of people upset. Men and women. Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait here.

What the F? Right!

In summary, it is an explanation of why the women (a minority) at the American Atheists’ Southeast Regional Atheist Meet in Huntsville, Alabama felt not only alienated but outright The Butterfly painting by Amy Davis Rothoffended during a discussion of HOW to attract more women.

There has been anger on both sides of this debate. In fact, part of the article has been removed because of an uproar as to whether or not one of the male speakers has been ‘mischaracterized’ and so the ultimate verdict is still not in yet. Those of us not in attendance are patiently waiting for the video and or audio of the event to be posted. But regardless of what that particular speaker said, the fact remains that there are still more men that women at skeptic and atheist events and part of it is because women are made to feel uncomfortable.

What I want to know are some HONEST FACTS from you guys. And by guys I mean men AND women.

First of all, tell me: Do you go to or have you ever gone to events like TAM or other atheist, humanist or skeptic conventions? Why or why not? Do you go to meet a sexual partner,  to make friends, to learn or for other reasons altogether?

As a man OR a woman have you felt alienated or intimidated because of your sex, gender identity, race or appearance?

What do YOU think we could do to make events and conventions more welcoming? Or do you think, F-it. Things are just fine as they are.

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

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Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics. She is the fearless leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Follow her on twitter: @SurlyAmy or on Google+. Tip Jar is here.

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117 Comments

  1. I’m not exactly sure what the best solution is, myself. And I wonder at how valid the stereotype of secular organizations as “old white guy clubs” is, especially given that women have been key figures in these organizations going back, really, to the Women’s Suffrage movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

    Maybe the national organizations could take a cue from those of us in the grassroots. Here in the Dallas/Fort Worth Coalition of Reason, there are eight of fifteen member organizations that were founded by, or are currently led by women. Within the Fellowship of Freethought in Dallas, our founding membership was nearly 50% women, and our founding board of directors was 90% women.

    Either the situation in Dallas is a significant outlier, or the national organizations just aren’t with it.

  2. I was not present at this event but started reading about yesterday.

    I have been to several skeptic conventions (not so much atheist ones, but ones where most attendees were atheist).

    I always felt welcome. But I am used to working with a lot of dudes, and have no problem interacting with males professionally or in a joking manner.

    I also am awaiting to see the video of the event. But right now, with what I have read, I really do think the woman (female) who has an issue with the term “female” seemed to be overreacting. If I had to adjust myself to everyone who I might offend, I might as well not speak. Ever again.
    I prefer an environment where we all feel comfortable to speak our minds, and then listen to people’s opinions. If the speakers were all saying “female” paired with “men” (rather than “male”), I can see that is something they may need to be made aware of, but do I think it was purposeful sexism? No way. And no reason to get butthurt during a discussion, but something to be raised to the speakers who might not have been aware of the terms they were using.

    And don’t run out of the room. That just makes me want to facepalm.

  3. male never been to TAM or similar and if I did it wouldn’t be to hook up.

    I have been the only man in a civic group and I can see how some one in a sexual minority might feel intimidated. After events I would be cleaning up but the women would just assume that a man wasn’t helping and just grab things out of my hand. It was bizarre and I’m sure they didn’t know they were doing it. Communication was a problem too . The women tended to talk more outside of the group so when ever we discussed something as a group I felt like I was coming in in the middle of the conversation.

    Now I know there are gender roles and I try and not re-enforce them but maybe I’m doing it and just not aware of it.

  4. Holy Wow. I just read that article and (most of) the comments right before you posted this AI. As it stands, I have not come to any conclusion other than there are some angry folks right now.
    I’m certainly going to keep tabs and see how it plays out and see what can be learned from it.

    The only conferences I have been to are NECSS 1 & 2. I attended to learn and to make friends. The only person I tried to hook up with was my wife.

    For the second question, I assume you mean ‘…have you felt alienated or intimidated because of your sex, gender identity, race or appearance?’ at a conference? If that’s what you mean, then no I haven’t. I’ve had a great time and made some friends. If you mean life in general, then sure. I was bullied as a kid, called names that I won’t type out, etc.

    For the third question, I think things are obviously not fine the way they are. The fact that this issue comes up again and again speaks to the fact that things aren’t ‘just fine’ and I think (hope) most people can see that.

    What can we do? As I only ever discuss this online, threads like this tend to become infected with victim-blamers, ‘It-was-just-a-joke’-sters, and the like and we end up spending half of the conversations dealing with them (like the ‘creepy guys at events’ thread from a little while back). I am and have been involved with groups and collectives for a while now that are pretty diverse and function very well and I’m not really sure what the ‘magic ingredient’ is. But it’s something I have been giving a lot of thought to lately without coming to any conclusions.
    I’m very interested to read everyone else’s thoughts on this though.

    Also, very nice painting Amy.

  5. I have never been to a TAM or other atheist meeting (though I’d love to) but I have to say that the thought of being essentially told to shut the fuck up and deal (about anything) would put me off in no time at all.

    If I did go, I’d go to learn. Definitely not to hook up.

  6. Hi there!

    GAH! Just Gah!

    Okay, as a male; (and you can totally call me a male, it doesn’t hurt me) I feel like I have been in situations where I’ve been made to feel like I’m the enemy. I’ve been told to read more feminist writings, I’ve been told that MY viewpoint suffers from “Male Privilege”, and that if I get a woman to agree to have sex with me, it’s a little like rape because she wouldn’t have the power to physically resist me if I decided to force myself on her. According to the Schroedinger’s Rapist Theory (http://kateharding.net/2009/10/08/guest-blogger-starling-schrodinger%E2%80%99s-rapist-or-a-guy%E2%80%99s-guide-to-approaching-strange-women-without-being-maced/), I am already a rapist until proven otherwise.

    Now, I don’t disagree with this theory. Oh sure, I should be able to approach a woman without having to introduce myself with: “Hi! I’m Craig! Totally not a rapist!!”, but I can completely understand how this sentiment came about. I don’t BLAME some women for feeling vulnerable in certain situations. It’s not their fault, it’s the fault of goddamn fucking bastard RAPISTS everywhere, who spoil things for the rest of us NICE guys. (whether I am a nice guy or not is still up for debate, however)

    But, the happy middle ground between: “Nice guy, harmlessly flirting”, and “Faceless violent abusive rapist” is NOT: “staring into her cleavage like some creepy 70s lounge lizard”. When guys say things like: “Hey, it’s a COMPLIMENT, you girls should really be flattered!” or: “I’m a guy! I am helpless before my biological need to reproduce, so you should just get used to it, missy!”, my stomach starts to churn a little. How would these guys feel if they accidentally walked into a gay biker bar and suddenly had “Driveshaft McGee” tell them that they should be TOTALLY flattered that he finds their tight little can so sweet?

    So YES, I do feel that some women are entirely too hypersensitive when it comes to a little harmless flirtation. I think part of that is because the media makes women afraid of the big scary rapist that’s hiding behind every lamppost. Most guys that I know are very respectful and very appreciative of women. But Gods yes, the creeps are out there. Again, I think that a lot of these creeps are probably harmless, but that doesn’t make them any less creepy. And when you try to JUSTIFY your creepitude by blaming it on biology? That’s just sickening. :(

    — Craig

    PS: And of course, if I ever ever ever come off as creepifying to you, please tell me about it. I promise I won’t tell you to “get over it”. >:(

  7. First of all, tell me: Do you go to or have you ever gone to events like TAM or other atheist, humanist or skeptic conventions? Why or why not?

    No, because I don’t like travel and I don’t like large groups of strangers.

    women are made to feel uncomfortable

    This isn’t possible. A person can have feelings and these may be in response to external stimuli or not. In the former case it may be a reasonable response or not. Reasonable would be a matter of opinion and hopefully discussion. Regardless one person cannot directly create feelings in another person.

    The difference is more than semantic. I can change the way I act. If I tell sexist jokes, or make unwanted advances, or step on your feet, or stare at body parts, or ignore you these are things within my control. These are things I can change. If you lead with “you made me feel uncomfortable”… first of all it isn’t true and secondly it doesn’t give me anything to work with.

    As you might guess this is a peeve of mine.

  8. @Draconius: I think part of that is because the media makes women afraid of the big scary rapist that’s hiding behind every lamppost.

    Unless you’ve actually been raped or sexually assaulted. Then it’s ok to be “entirely too hypersensitive?”

  9. @Draconius: According to the Schroedinger’s Rapist Theory, I am already a rapist until proven otherwise.

    Actually no, you both are and are not at the same time. And I have to say, you’ve got a lot of blaming the victim going on there dude.

  10. @Faith: Oh, no doubt! Although, I wouldn’t call that “hyper”sensitive, I’d call that: “exactly as sensitive as would be expected based on your past experiences.

    Sure, it gets a little unfair if you were to close yourself to perfectly nice guys after having been raped, but again, totally understandable. I still blame the bastard fucking rapist. :(

  11. @Draconius:

    It’s absolutely impossible for a woman to “win” in this society. If I assume a man isn’t a rapist when he actually is, not only do I get raped, but I also get blamed for bringing on myself, or get accused of lying for attention.

    If I assume a man is or could be a rapist when he isn’t, then I’m called hypersensitive or frigid or bitchy, and I also hurt someone’s feelings and I feel guilty about that.

    The truth is that rapists and non-rapists look pretty much the same. Most rape victims will here stuff like “you should have seen it coming”, but the truth is that rapists don’t walk around with big signs, and most of them don’t look like the creepy doodz who lurk in dark bushes. We have no way of distinguishing between “creepy but harmless” and “creepy and dangerous”.

    If you’re “harmlessly flirting” with a woman and she doesn’t like it, then just stop. If she doesn’t respond to it any way, then you should still stop.

    The stakes are higher for women, and it’s not just the rape, but the near-constant victim-blaming that happens in our society.

  12. Do you go to or have you ever gone to events like TAM or other atheist, humanist or skeptic conventions? no
    Why or why not? I’m not currently in the fina… I’m poor.
    Do you go to meet a sexual partner, to make friends, to learn or for other reasons altogether? I don’t think my wife would appreciate that.

    As a man OR a woman have you felt alienated or intimidated because of your sex, gender identity, race or appearance? N/A

    What do YOU think we could do to make events and conventions more welcoming? Or do you think, F-it. Things are just fine as they are. I wish I knew. I do want to add, without this being a STFU, that not all events are suited to all people. There is no excuse for boorish behavior least of all biology.

  13. I first decided to go to my local Skeptics in the Pub when Rebecca Watson was giving a talk. I didn’t know anyone who went or have anyone available I could persuade to go, but I thought F-it I can’t miss this. I now regularly go to Skeptics to learn, discuss, debate and make friends but not to meet a sexual partner.

  14. TAM was overall great. There was a small creepy vibe on the last day but the situation surrounding it was unique and it is impossible to draw wider conclusions. There were also a few individuals who were creepy, creepy creepsters but they were the minority. Also I’ve got my own huge issues with social anxiety. Judging someone else for theirs would be a bit rude and most of the creepy came from social awkwardness not a negative attitude towards women. Intention counts.

    But I no longer attend a local gathering because of a fairly disgusting situation that at the time blew my mind. While we were discussing the surrounding facts, it was as if I (and anyone else who disliked it) simply could not be heard. Boys will be boys and what’s the big deal, right? It was bizarre and frustrating. I didn’t handle it well.

    In all fairness to the group – those who disliked what was going on were about evenly split between men and women. Those who didn’t think it was a big deal were as well.

  15. @Catgirl: Well, there’s the problem. If you get raped, and then that someone blames you for “bringing it upon yourself”, then that person should be hit in the head with a tire iron. Repeatedly. I constantly fail to understand the whole concept of “victim-blaming”. It should never be a crime to not want sex. You could be the biggest raging slut in the world, and if just once, you’re not in the mood and the guy has sex with you anyway; no one should ever ever ever ever blame you for turning him down. That’s just common sense in my mind. But all too many people don’t seem to have that lick of common sense.

    And I didn’t mean to give the impression that MY type of flirting was “harmless”, and that all you girls should just STFU and take it because after all, I am a “Nice Guy” ™. I am irrepressibly flirty, but if anyone ever seems un-receptive to my flirting, I stop immediately! [nods]

    I just feel like it’s a double-edged sword sometimes. If I offer a friendly “Hi there!” to a woman, I put myself in the position of being a hypothetical creep/rapist/sleeze, and she’s either a clueless victim or a frigid bitch. We BOTH lose!! :)

    Sucks, doesn’t it? :(

  16. I used to have a pretty high opinion of Sean Faircloth, but dude, Don Draper! Really?

    Couldn’t you find anyone who was less of a womanizer? Like maybe Don Juan or Casanova.

    Even John Hamm thinks DD is skeezy, and he plays him!

  17. I have never been to an atheist or skeptical event, and this is a dramatic illustration of why I’m not interested. I don’t even do forums anymore (and while I read this site, I’ve only ever commented a couple of times).

    The discourse is not generally going to be feminist/anti-racist/etc AND skeptical.

  18. Never been to a TAM or other such meeting. Not that I’m not interested but I have other things to do and spend my disposable income on. If I did go it certainly wouldn’t be specifically to flirt.

    I can recall two occasions where I felt alienated because of race/gender. Due to an error in navigation I once wound up on a subway platform in the Bronx as the only white person in sight. I was not scared or concerned but, internally, I was quite uncomfortable.

    Quite some time ago, when I was a young, attractive and fit male, I occasionally had to work on some computer equipment in the sewing area of a car manufacturing plant. The area was exclusively staffed by women, many old enough to be my mother. I’ll leave to your imagination the lewd comments I received whenever I showed up. It did make me feel uncomfortable, but mostly because I didn’t know how, or whether, to respond. Again I never felt scared. Perhaps that’s the difference?

    I do think asking the question ‘how do we attract more <insert interest group here>?’ is the wrong approach for any organization. In fact, as this case shows, it’s almost self-defeating. If the organization offers what people want then they’ll come.

    @davew

    But what if my actions or words are deliberately designed to evoke an emotional response in another person? If I point a gun in your face would that not make you feel uncomfortable? What if said I was going to shoot you?

  19. I have never been. Mostly for money reasons. But there is a little residual dislike of large gatherings because of the church I grew up in.

    I would be open to making friends if I did go. Maybe even open to meeting a sexual partner, but I doubt there are many single gay women also looking.

    Making these more appealing to women: ?? I don’t know. Since it’s not sexism that keeps me away, I’m not sure. Pray for me to get a better job?

  20. My wife and I attended NECSS two years ago and the only discomfort I felt was that I seemed so much older than the average. I can’t speak for my wife on this but I can say she never mentioned any sense of discomfort or “otherness” to me.
    We will be going to our first “Skeptics in the Pub” this Friday. First person to say, “Grampa, get us another round” gets my skeptical boot up his or her ass. That my make them feel uncomfortable at a skeptical meetup.

  21. I have not gone to any Skeptic or Atheist conventions for the same reason as many here: I am poor. I would love to, for almost all of the above reasons except hooking up, as I am blissfully taken.

    The closest parallel I have is attending the World Fantasy Convention a few years ago. The fantasy/sf/horror community has become a lot more diverse in recent years, but it’s still pretty heavily skewed toward dudes. Socially awkward dudes. Growing up as one of the few girls in any of the given areas I lived who was caught up on all her X-Men and Doctor Who (and I am sure there are many women in the skeptical community who have had similar experiences. We seem to end up here), the reason I stopped hanging out in comic shops was because I actually wanted to talk about comics once in a while, not constantly fend off the advances of lonely geeks while simultaneously trying not to make them feel bad. However, for a few reasons (the rise of the paranormal romance genre being a huge one. Also, Anne McCaffery), more women have started showing up at fantasy and sf cons, and it takes a huge amount of pressure off. Now, women feel more like they are an important part of what’s going on, and their opinions are solicited. And they have the numbers to watch each others backs. Although there were a few times I felt singled out for my sex and specifically my sexuality (the guys from Nightshade books got a little skeezy and wanted me to pose for a pic in one of their snug-fitting tshirts), it was nothing like what I remember from similar events years ago.

    So (pardon my rambling, I am home sick today and Nyquil delirious), I guess my opinion is that although I fully support efforts to deliberately be more inclusive and try to rein in the creep factor, maybe these things can’t be forced and organically women will make themselves heard and start showing up in numbers large enough to make people change or back away slowly.

    Or maybe I’m delusional and don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. Go Team Sparkletits! I mean Skepchick!

  22. My wife and I have gone to TAM, TAM London, and many other skeptical cons. We go to meet with friends, make new friends, and to learn (and to party at the Del Mar Skeptical Bar). We do not go to meet sexual partners; unless you count each other :)

    I have never felt alienated or intimidated at these events (but, I am a straight white male, so…).

    In my opinion, something does need to be done to make conventions more friendly to women (and to people of color). I am not sure what that something is, though. I sometimes think we should just give it more time – but that seems lazy. OTOH, many suggestions I’ve heard seem contrived (a contest! a celebrity! a non-stereotypical food-consuming event!)

    Definitely word-of-mouth helps. And the very existence of the Skepchicks helps a lot, as well as their showing up to/organizing/participating in so many of these events.

  23. @NoAstronomer: But what if my actions or words are deliberately designed to evoke an emotional response in another person? If I point a gun in your face would that not make you feel uncomfortable? What if said I was going to shoot you?

    I’m not saying that actions don’t affect other people’s emotions. They can, of course. The effect, however, is indirect and predicable. Saying “I was made to feel uncomfortable” doesn’t convey any meaningful information. Saying “Pointing guns is rude and scary” is much better communication.

  24. @mac: I have never been to an atheist or skeptical event, and this is a dramatic illustration of why I’m not interested. I don’t even do forums anymore (and while I read this site, I’ve only ever commented a couple of times).

    THIS. But I have been to a couple of skeptical events and just choose not to go anymore. Maybe it’s just my geographical area, but these events are no fun. Too snarky. I also only read forums/blogs and rarely comment. More than any other type of site, seemingly innocuous comments in a skeptic forum seem to spark flame wars… and usually over nothing but semantics.

    When I first started reading about skepticism, I was employed in the beauty/spa industry. I reached out for some advice on a skeptic forum (not this one) about some practices I saw in my spa and got, “Well, what did you expect working in such a CAM-ridden field?!” Gee, thanks. I got the same sort of things at meetings. So I quit going.

  25. I have been to a few sceptical events, though not in the US but in Hungary. I found them mildly interesting as exposing and making fun of homeopaths, astrologers and similar fraudsters is not that interesting after some time. And frankly, i have always felt that the formerly mentioned guys were easy targets – a safe and lazy bet.
    As for sexist remarks, i did not encounter any – though i am a dude, so i might have not noticed. Nevertheless the conversations used to be very factual, so issues of gender could hardly come into it. And race could hardly become an issue either as everyone was of the same race. [Lack of diversity has its perks, you do not have to be careful, neither do have to take a lot of PC bullshit in consideration, no conversation will degenerate into blaming the others’ colour or whatever.]
    Regarding one of your main points: “women are made to feel uncomfortable” i have to express my doubts that this can significantly be ameliorated. I think being somewhat inconsiderate about others’ feelings or opinions helps being sceptical. It seems insensibility and a certain kind of indifference towards feelings and social conventions is a pretty frequent side-effect of scepticism [i am not exactly sure about direction of causation, but the correlation seems robust]. Thus i think if anyone wants to take part in sceptical activities should be prepared to tolerate some offences and social awkwardness.

  26. I’m female…er, a woman. I’ve never gone to a skeptic or atheist event but I do go to gaming/comic conventions each year. I started going to those before the relatively recent uptick of girl/female/women gamers back when they were primarily male events. I was never made to feel unwelcome, if anything the guys were pretty darn friendly and happy to see a gal who shared their interests.

    As for being intimidated/uncomfortable: I did encounter a few creepers over the years and by creepers I mean guys who hit on me but when I expressed my disinterest or that I was with someone they continued to press the issue to a level that made me have to get outright blunt if not rude. That kind of persistance is what creeps me out not the fact that someone finds me attractive enough to let me know.
    I’ve also had this at work where someone won’t let my no mean no and I felt protected enough by the law to straight up tell them that if they made one more gross comment I was filing a sexual harrassment complaint. I’ve never had anyone continue to be inappropriate in the work place after I spelled it out.

    What could make conventions more welcoming: just offering items/activities that appeal to various interest groups and demographics. I’m not saying atheist/skeptic cons aren’t doing that (especially since I haven’t been to one), it’s just a general idea.

    I go to gaming cons because I like gaming. I would go to an atheist con because I like atheism.

  27. @ Draconius: “I think part of that is because the media makes women afraid of the big scary rapist that’s hiding behind every lamppost. Most guys that I know are very respectful and very appreciative of women. ”

    Yes, most guys I know are also respectful. But this isn’t the point.

    Pick out the first 6 of the women in your life you think of: Which one out the 6 was raped? And how many of the other 5 has she shared her experience with? The media may scare some, but what’s scarier is hearing the stories of your friends.

    And then hearing, over and over and over again, about how “hypersensitive” you are.

    Just because you aren’t aware of Male Privilege (or white privilege, or cis, or 1st world, or class, or any other privilege) doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, and hasn’t shaped your worldview.

    That said, yeah, I like going to meetings and chatting people up – I just chat them all up as… um… people. If you hit it off with someone, then you hit it off and you can start flirting once you’ve established that friendship. It’s amazing that when you treat women (or men) like regular ol’ people, sometimes it even leads to happy, consensual romance…

  28. You know, there are other ways that women feel uncomfortable besides being threatened by rape.

    In fact, I’d say if you marketed an event as, “This year we’re 100% rape-free! Guaranteed!” You’d probably see fewer women than before.

    Women feel uncomfortable when the message is “You are not welcome” or “We’re indifferent about your presence”. Jokes that belittle women are certainly one way to keep them out. Also, showing them that they have nothing to offer in this community by having no women speakers… or the one token “quit yer bitchin’ we gave you a woman” speaker. And it’s not just men; there’s a small group of toxic women who work very hard to keep other women in their place… in the name of feminism.

    Things that help? Having events that clearly embrace women. Including talks and workshops that deal with women’s issues. Forming organizations that focus on women’s issues… supporting those organizations… shamelessly promoting those organizations.

    Get involved with your local groups and figure out if the ratio problems are internal or external. Is it a someone keeping women* away? Is it marketing? Is your programming irrelevant to women. Is it unwelcoming? Are your events even bringing in new people? Are they retaining people or is it the same 7 guys who have been showing up at Hooters for Drinking Skeptically for the last 6 years?

    (*or people of color or cat fetishists or whomever you’re looking to attract)

  29. I’ve been to two TAM’s and two COI skepticamps in Vancouver CA and a bunch of local SitP’s. Enjoyed the events and I enjoy people, discussion, learning new things and making new friends of any gender, sexual orientation or self identifying description. Not looking for sex (at TAM, my wife doesn’t TAM) and I don’t feel alienated. Then again not many largish, shaved head, goatee sporting middle age straight white men feel alienated at skeptical events. And I suppose things are not necessarily fine; but I don’t have any great advice other than some guys should be mindful and not act like jerks around women, or be afraid of learning new behaviors, or occasionally looking in the mirror whenever its called for with some perspective and rational assessment skills when it comes to women’s issues.

  30. Do you go to or have you ever gone to events like TAM or other atheist, humanist or skeptic conventions? Why or why not? Do you go to meet a sexual partner, to make friends, to learn or for other reasons altogether?

    I haven’t gone for lack of money. I’d like to go to meet more people like me. I wouldn’t be going to meet a sexual partner as I already have one.

    As a man OR a woman have you felt alienated or intimidated because of your sex, gender identity, race or appearance?

    No. No. I’m an atheist, of course I’m occasionally alienated.

    What do YOU think we could do to make events and conventions more welcoming? Or do you think, F-it. Things are just fine as they are.

    I really wish people with stop with the “we need to find more ways to make atheism/skepticism appealing to more women!” It makes me feel like my value as a member is dependent on my gender. I am a person first. The fact that I also happen to be female is far down the list of things that I am. If I see that an organization has made some sort of appeal to women, I am less likely to partake of whatever they’re offering. I don’t need special treatment. My brainmeats work just as well as anyone elses’. Don’t matronize me.

  31. I have not been to a convention or group meeting skeptical or otherwise because I dislike crowds and my wife is somewhat nonplussed by skepticism.

    That being said, I do work with women in a male dominated field. And every time this comes up on skepchick I am motivated to think about that fact.

    On one level I’d like to open a dialog about gender issues in our field , on the other hand it seems like that would be singling someone out as a representative of the gender.

    I could ask here what women think is the appropriate action (and of course read the advice already given), but then maybe I’d be treating women like the Borg collective, which I don’t want to do either.

    I could try to figure out what I would want in their place, but I personally like things the way they are, which I suppose could be what they want too, but it seems presumptuous to assume.

    As a result, as with any number of other similar and awkward topics, the most I do is think about the problem and do my best not to be an asshole.

    This combination of nonspecific generalized guilt and inaction leads to frustration and a general desire to avoid any interaction of any kind which in turn, if acted on, would just result in being a cause of the problem which causes the awkwardness I’d rather avoid.

    I’m a little afraid that I’m subconsciously acting on this awkwardness anyway (as studies indicate I must be) or overcompensating due to my fear of a non-existent subconscious bias.

    I’m definitely afraid that sharing this is only making this about me and my poor male insecurities as I have not answered the question asked nor am I a woman. of course you don’t have to read it. my heart is in what I think should be the correct place.

  32. I’m a girly-girl working in a male-dominated profession. In school, it was basically me, 3 other chicks, and a hundred-odd dudes. I saw it as basically a win-win for me: guys loved having a girl around, and other girls (and female professors) also loved having a girl around, and so I actually felt I got preferential treatment because of my gender. At work, clients (at least the male ones – I got along swimmingly with the female ones) tended to react less defensively with me than with my male colleagues (presumably because other guys brought out their competitive hackles, who knows).

    Only once can I say that someone was sexually inappropriate and the guy was just generally all-around inappropriate – so I told him off nicely and chalked it up to him being an idiot (and he eventually got fired for other reasons). I occasionally felt underestimated, but more because I look much younger than I am, and not because I’m female, and I secretly liked it anyway because it made all the subsequent things I said all the more impressive.

    Plus, studying and working alongside the occasional buff hottie has its perks, you know.

  33. @ Dale Husband “Speaking as a non-theist man:
    If I had to choose being championing feminism without atheism and promoting atheism without feminism, I would without hesitation choose the former and encourage the destruction of the latter.”

    DH FTW! And btw, I’m totally a fanatic atheist, but I’ll be first to defend you against Teh Atheist Horde…

    @ Elyse “or the one token “quit yer bitchin’ we gave you a woman” speaker.”

    Absolutely. This isn’t 100% about any single one of the issues being discussed in that frightening thread on BlagHag – it’s about the culmination of many, many issues. The token woman speaker, or the token “How to attract more [insert current minority represented here] to our meetings” breakout is absolutely an issue. Women being made to feel “Other” is absolutely an issue. The lack of representation of women in “award categories” and publishing contracts in skepticism and atheism and science: these are all absolutely issues. Some of the commenters on Blag Hag, and some of them on Pharyngula, and some of them on Skepchick, give us all hope that we can all finally agree that these myriad issues are real, and we can someday conquer them, together.

    Unfortunately, some of the other commenters on those sites absolutely terrify me and make me wonder if there’s any hope…

  34. Do you go to or have you ever gone to events like TAM or other atheist, humanist or skeptic conventions?
    No, never found 1 near my home and I have difficulty mingling with strangers.

    As a man OR a woman have you felt alienated or intimidated because of your sex, gender identity, race or appearance?

    (Male) No, but I do work in a department where I am in a distinct, visible minority. There are only 3 white, straight males in the department. The others are various combinations of female, nonwhite, gay male, lesbian. It`s an interesting place to work.

    Somehow deliberately aiming to attract more women seems to be wrong. I can’t help but feeling that such a policy would be condescending towards women. Plan for the best convention you can and they will come. But, that’s just one male’s opinion, for what it’s worth…

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  36. I’ve only been to a couple small events (SkeptiCal @ Berkley and PZ’s visit to Cupertino) and since I’m not looking for a new gal, wasn’t. Also my daughter was with me to both events and we were there to learn and experience the events. This and the Blag Hag post are thought provoking to me since I am an engineering manager of ~20 people, men and women. I like to think we have a respectful and professional environment for both sexes, but this is making me think about it…

    Ok… I think we succeed. For years we’ve been learning how to change from the formally white male dominated workplace to one that is very diverse. White male is not the majority there anymore. Not just my group of 20 but the whole building of 600. Not changing was not an option. One reason is I count on everyone to pull their weight, get the jobs done, bring me problems when they can’t solve them, work with everyone to get things done. The people without skill go away. I am left with very talented and responsible women and men who I depend on enormously. The ages of the women range from 20’s to 60’s and I know there have been comments about the looks of those people who are attractive (both directions) but it’s been years since I’ve heard of any harassment. I hear more from the anti-harassment training we have each year. But I am always aware of the interactions, mine with my team, the team with each other. Feelings get hurt when ideas don’t get adopted, but I honestly think respect prevails mostly. I myself have felt a little defensive in the past since I am a liberal in a conservative environment. But even that is changing.

    I don’t know how to MAKE events and conventions more welcoming. Like my workplace, by necessity it has to. Our community is small and needs everyone and looking down at anyone on our side is stupid. One of the strengths of the other side is loyalty to their kind, we really need to be also. Political correctness has it’s place in loyalty to our team, bringing up everyone, finding out everyone has the ability to not only contribute, but potentially better than yourself. The sooner the “white males” of the skeptical movement understands this the better.

  37. Now my serious answers:

    First of all, tell me: Do you go to or have you ever gone to events like TAM or other atheist, humanist or skeptic conventions?
    No, but I’m planning to go to NECSS this year.

    Why or why not? General lack of awareness and not being sure I would fit in.

    Do you go to meet a sexual partner, to make friends, to learn or for other reasons altogether?

    To learn and hopefully to make friends. (I think I’m getting better at that, mostly thanks to my local SitP.)

    As a man OR a woman have you felt alienated or intimidated because of your sex, gender identity, race or appearance? Assuming this applies to skeptical events, no. But I’ve only been to local events, and only for the last couple of years, no big events yet.

    What do YOU think we could do to make events and conventions more welcoming? Or do you think, F-it. Things are just fine as they are.

    The whole last third of the blog post was a list of things that could be done. Only one of the 460+ comments even mentioned them (just noting in passing that no one else had commented on them.) Most or all of the items are things I’ve seen my local skeptics group doing, or at least attempting to do. Could we do better? Absolutely! But they are definitely steps in the right direction, and now that I understand better what’s going on, I think I can do more to help.

    For example, in our book club, I’ve occasionally noticed some people who seemed to want to say something but were hesitant or too shy to speak up. In the future, if I notice such a situation, and I get a chance to talk, I’ll try to pass it to them by asking them if want to say something, rather than just waiting for someone else to call on them. I think a lot of people, especially new people get lost in the shuffle, even when the organizers are trying very hard to keep everyone involved.

  38. Oh just a heads up for those balking at people questioning the use of “female” instead of “woman”: sex =/= gender. Not every woman is female. Not every man is male.

    It’d be nice if the entire LGBTQ crowd could feel welcomed too while we’re at it.

  39. I think it’s great that the atheist and skeptic communities are frequently being self-critical of events and how to operate better. However, I would like to mention that this is an issue not exclusive to atheist/skeptic conferences.

    I’ve been a speaker at several anime/comic cons and attended TED’09 and ’10. That covers a range in quality from ‘fan-run events’ and ‘corporate sponsored cons’, to ‘$6k membership FREAKIN TED’. Anime conventions can have a 50+% of women and girl attendees, and TED is an incredible community of diverse TEDsters. But even at TED, there are still moments where a woman can be made to feel uncomfortable at one of the decadent evening parties with unwanted passes. And anime conventions have a bizarre behind-the-scenes situation where the predominantly white male guest voice actors seek out fan girls for groupie-like after parties and hotel room hookups.

    This isn’t to excuse it as “oh well, it happens anywhere”. I just want to make clear that I don’t think this is a problem that has anything to do specifically with atheist/skeptic events, but with running any kind of conference/convention in general.

  40. First of all, tell me: Do you go to or have you ever gone to events like TAM or other atheist, humanist or skeptic conventions?

    No.

    Why or why not?

    Too busy and live in a country where few major events are held (New Zealand).

    Do you go to meet a sexual partner, to make friends, to learn or for other reasons altogether?

    I do not attend public events with the purposes of meeting sexual partners – that is “ick.” If I were to attend, it would be because of the content of the event, and the noteworthy speakers. If I were to make friends there, that would be great. As far as meeting potential mates, my preference is to get to know someone very very well before making advances, and then only when there is complete trust on both sides and no pressure.

    As a man OR a woman have you felt alienated or intimidated because of your sex, gender identity, race or appearance?

    As a male musician, teacher, and public speaker, I have got hit on from time to time by both genders. Sometimes it’s flattering or innocuous, but other times it is very disturbing. If I were on an equal footing with someone, it would be the former. But if I was dealing with someone who was either a.) out-of-control emotionally and/or intoxicated, or b.) in a position of power over me (i.e. an employer or client), then the situation was very different. I remember once when a drunk old lady blew in my ear at a cocktail party. I basically got up from the piano, collected my money, and said “goodbye” to the host (and got hired back again frequently). And I’ve had my butt squeezed, gotten room keys and tips with mash notes attached, and so on. Once, a student’s parent gave me a “hug” goodbye after a meeting to discuss a group activity, and she tried to turn it into a clinch. But all this is mild compared to some of my friends who are still playing casuals (I don’t play anymore). The assumption is that “because you’re a musician, of course you’re easy.” Or “because I hired you, you owe me something and I’m drunk so what the hell.”

    You see the trend here and how it relates? When I was gigging nightly, all I wanted was respect. I think that’s what some of these women are asking. What would be so bad if women at these conventions were approached respectfully as equals, and then if there were sparks then things could lead to flirting? And if there weren’t sparks then they could just be left the hell alone, or, um, befriended without pressure? (what a concept)

    A convention should not be a meat market, and atheist men who pride themselves in their intelligent choices in life should be at least smart enough to realize that the 3 women out of 10 attendees are probably going to get more than their share of unwanted attention. Otherwise they are going to end up with no women attendees and a reputation for sleaze.

    What do YOU think we could do to make events and conventions more welcoming? Or do you think, F-it. Things are just fine as they are.

    As someone who has not attended, I can’t speak with any authority on the subject. But I have found that in general, group events that include many different perspectives on the organizing and executive team are usually the most inclusive. If women have representative participation on panels, chairing meetings, guiding workshops, and so on, then fiascos like the Alabama discussion might happen less often.

    And, um, guys, “female” is a gender description, not a person. A “woman” is a person. “Female” is what Martians are hunting for in bad sci-fi films. Don’t be a Martian. It’s not sexism exactly, but it is certainly stupid. Discuss “female” perspectives with the “women” in the audience; not “women’s” perspectives with the “females” in the audience. Got it? Good.

  41. First of all, tell me: Do you go to or have you ever gone to events like TAM or other atheist, humanist or skeptic conventions?

    I’ve been to Skepchicamp, TAM, and the skeptic track at GenCon. I go to learn, meet new people, and explore a new location. If I meet a woman, and things click, great. I don’t come in expecting that, because I understand that believe that women are primarily there as part of the skeptical movement.

    As a man OR a woman have you felt alienated or intimidated because of your sex, gender identity, race or appearance?

    No, but it can be intimidating because I’m not a scientist or magician.

    What do YOU think we could do to make events and conventions more welcoming? Or do you think, F-it. Things are just fine as they are.

    For the smaller gatherings, the group leaders should actively keep in eye on the participants. If someone is offending the guests, it should be dealt with right away. I don’t know about larger gatherings. Well, maybe the speakers should be aware that there are women in the audience, and act accordingly.

  42. I do go to these events. I mostly go to learn and to ask questions. I met my partner at the very first local atheist meeting I attended. Had I not, I very well may have been looking for potential partners at such events.

    As a man, I haven’t really felt alienated at all. I can understand why women might.

    For the local events that I run my approach hasn’t been special for women. I’ve just talked to them like they were goddamn human. I’m pretty sure that’s what most people want. I have an ok ratio. probably 55/45 or 60/40 men to women. Not a very racially diverse group though, living in southern Missouri and all.

  43. I think some women need to understand the male psyche (such as it is) a bit better.
    Most of the time we don’t go anywhere to pick up women or potential sexual partners (aside from clubs and such).

    BUT…the sex partner sensor is on ALL the time. Everywhere.

    We go to visit our elderly relative in hospital (for example) and we will check out the nurses.
    It’s almost automatic for some blokes.

    I don’t think that makes us shallow or predatory per se (although it probably is). It’s just a by-product of our evolutionary past IMHO.
    But I can see how it might make women uncomfortable so most men try to hide it and not be blatant about it.

  44. “Do you go to or have you ever gone to events like TAM or other atheist, humanist or skeptic conventions? Why or why not?”

    Never to a convention, only a couple of meetings of my local atheists group. I attend so infrequently because so many of the “regulars” behave like complete assholes. By “regular” I mean middle-aged men (I am one, BTW). At the last meeting I attended a drunken “regular” heckled the speaker (yikes!). I came specifically for the speaker for that meeting because he is one of my favorite authors. This behavior is also why I do not go to TAM or other conventions. Maybe if I could wear a button that read “I’m not one of the assholes who typically infest events like this” or words to that effect.

    “Do you go to meet a sexual partner, to make friends, to learn or for other reasons altogether?”

    All of the above, but I would like to think that I have better manners and can figure out how to relate to another person without acting like a frat boy. I do not expect or demand anything.

    “As a man OR a woman have you felt alienated or intimidated because of your sex, gender identity, race or appearance?”

    Intimidated, no. Alienated, only in the guilt-by-association sort of way. I really hate it when I’m hit with the blowback of someone else’s shitty behavior.

    “What do YOU think we could do to make events and conventions more welcoming?”

    I wish I had an ingenious answer. Formal social groups of all kinds have this problem. What I see in the report by Moss and Liddell is a conflation of desire and behavior by both sides. That’s too big to cover in a comment on a blog.

  45. First of all, tell me: Do you go to or have you ever gone to events like TAM or other atheist, humanist or skeptic conventions? Why or why not?

    I’ve gone to a couple events here in Houston. One was a year or two ago; we had someone from JREF talking at Central Library. I believe Sam was coordinating that one. I showed up, enjoyed the talk, and left.

    I also went to a Houston Atheists meetup in NW Houston. I more or less enjoyed that one, but there was one guy there who was REALLY bad at reading social cues. I read him as being an aspie trying to get out, but he made the entire meeting fairly uncomfortable for me.

    Do you go to meet a sexual partner, to make friends, to learn or for other reasons altogether?

    I certainly wouldn’t MIND meeting a sexual partner at something I went to, but part of it is to simply meet people. I find it problematic because of my somewhat uncertain status; I don’t fit in with atheists in general because I’ve got a number of unabashed superstitions (and find them fascinating in myself). I don’t fit in well with heathens because I tend to be skeptical of a lot of their magical claims (less so their religious claims, as most tend to be numinous rather than concrete).

    As a man OR a woman have you felt alienated or intimidated because of your sex, gender identity, race or appearance?

    Not particularly. At work, I am about the only guy there (technically, there are 4 of us of the 18 who work here… one is a part-time security guard, two are grandfathers, and there’s me), which sometimes leads to me being a bit outside of the conversation, but I brush it off. There’s never any active “You’re a boy so you can’t play” so much as “This is a part of someone else’s conversation that does not concern or interest you.”

    What do YOU think we could do to make events and conventions more welcoming? Or do you think, F-it. Things are just fine as they are.

    I’m an American, so I get to have opinions on things that don’t generally affect me. ;-) Seriously, though, it’s as I’ve long said: non-creepy people need to keep an eye out for creepy situations and people and diffuse them. People with creepy inclinations need to monitor their own behavior and stop it (something I have to do with myself frequently), but making an inclusive environment means non-creepy people need to keep an eye out for those stuck in creepy traps and help extricate them.

    Creepy traps can be anything. It may be a guy who won’t look at anything above the neck. It may be someone endlessly bloviating on politics. It may be the Angry Atheist who has found someone who will nod helplessly while they blather about the evils of religion. It may even be someone who’s had too much to drink and probably needs a babysitter to keep them from making an ass of themselves. If a community wants to function as a community, they need to keep an eye out for things like this and defusing situations before they become problematic.

  46. Do you go to or have you ever gone to events like TAM or other atheist, humanist or skeptic conventions? Nope. Combination of money issues and instinctive distrust of people in large groups.
    As a man OR a woman have you felt alienated or intimidated because of your sex, gender identity, race or appearance? Sure, sometimes.

    What do YOU think we could do to make events and conventions more welcoming? Or do you think, F-it. Things are just fine as they are.
    Take the gender out of the question, and include a couple of seminars on basic social skills for science geeks. The Skeptic community needs to learn how to communicate with non-geeks anyway.

  47. @PASmith:

    You know, my booze sensor is on ALL THE TIME. Seriously. I’m thinking about martinis right now.

    When I go out and I see someone drinking alcohol, I don’t ogle at their drink. I don’t walk up and touch their drink. I don’t sip their drink. Sometimes I have to accept that having a drink is not acceptable… like when I’m driving my kids to the pediatrician at 9am. I manage to not drink most hours of the day.

    It’s almost as if I think I’m responsible for my drive to drink… as if it’s possible to overcome it by merely THINKING about it. To the point where it’s almost automatic to not just dump a pint of whiskey into my coffee cup.

    Weird, I know… but I wonder if the same principle could be applied to men? Maybe they could turn it off or try to focus on what’s important right now? Or do you think they’re clearly just too apelike and stupid to figure that out?

  48. @Draconius:

    “Well, there’s the problem. If you get raped, and then that someone blames you for “bringing it upon yourself”, then that person should be hit in the head with a tire iron. “

    Yeah, that should happen and it would be fantastic, but I don’t see it happening any time soon. Victim-blaming is extremely pervasive, even among progressives. So unless you’re out there (metaphorically) hitting these people on the head with your tire iron of logic and progressiveness, then you can’t really sit back and complain about how awful it is for you and other innocent men.

    ETA: And that goes for all kinds of rape. If you hear about a woman who was drunk and went back to your male friend’s apartment, and he rapes her, you don’t get to pretend that just this one time she’s not credible because it’s your buddy.

  49. @Elyse:

    Aren’t you sort of confusing (conflating?) thought/impulse with action?

    You say: “Maybe they could turn it off or try to focus on what’s important right now? ”

    Well, no, we cannot turn off our R-complex anymore than you can. But yes, we can focus on what’s important right now.

    The more responsible and self-aware men among us can and do make the conscious decision to not act upon such R-complex-based impulses, hence, effectively telling the R-complex to shut the fuck up.

    I’m not certain, but I think you may have misunderstood @PASmith‘s comment, in that (in my understanding of it) he is saying these impulses exist, but that doesn’t mean we always act on them.

    To repeat: No man, no woman, can stop the R-complex from sending out its chemical messages — under any circumstances; any messages. What we all can and do do, men and women, is determine when and if or if not to act upon those messages.

  50. @ Elyse.

    To use your alcohol analogy I would equate the male drive to “check out” women (can’t think of a better term..sorry) would be more akin to an alcoholic’s relationship with alcohol rather than a normal person’s relationship with it.
    All the things you mention are things alcoholics have a hard time controlling for example. They drink and drive etc.

    Of course some men are able to control it much better than others. And the need to control it diminishes with age (and relationship status etc).

    I’ve never been to a Skeptic meeting but I imagine it to be well populated with exactly the type of male that finds it hard to turn down or turn off his “checkout-o-meter”. Namely men aged 20-35 with minimal experience with women and no steady relationship.

    I sometimes feel that women don’t and probably can’t understand how pervasive a man’s drive can be (not all men of course).

  51. “Maybe they could turn it off or try to focus on what’s important right now? ”

    You see that’s part of the issue.
    For women checking out the opposite sex is not important. Or not so important.
    So they can’t see why men find it important. But sadly in the list of things that men find important “looking at women” will always get a place no matter what else they are doing.
    The day Darwin drew his little diagram and wrote “I think” I can almost guarantee he also checked out his parlour maid or thought about Bessy in the local bakers for 5 minutes.

  52. I think about women all the time. It’s been a long time since I was with a woman, I work around a number of attractive women, and am friends with a few more. I also have a noted tendency to be creepy.

    You reign it in because you’re a human being, and being creepy towards other people is wrong on the basic rules of society. If you realize you’re being creepy, you take a step back and figure out how to uncreepify your behavior. You apologize if necessary.

    You’re still going to check women out. Do it all the time. But you reign it in, and don’t let it become your defining behavior. You’ll still grab a glance at a well-formed ass or some glorious boobs… but then you make sure you’re making eye contact and not standing too close.

    tl;dr: “Now let me tell you something, Streebeck. There are two things that clearly differentiate the human species from animals. One, we use cutlery. Two, we’re capable of controlling our sexual urges. Now, you might be an exception, but don’t drag me down into your private Hell. “

  53. @Danarra

    I think you may be on to something when you suggest “basic social skills for science geeks”.

    I have attended TAM and a few smaller events and (like any large gathering) the social interactions can be awkward regardless of sexual tension.

    Actually the only time I felt alienated at TAM8 was during the Skepchick party … but that was more because I didn’t know anyone and the rest of the attendees were with close friends. The other social events at TAM that had more structure like concerts, SGTU dinner, etc, had more established social behavioral “rules” and I found it easier to inject myself into those events.

  54. @PASmith:

    For women checking out the opposite sex is not important. Or not so important.
    So they can’t see why men find it important. But sadly in the list of things that men find important “looking at women” will always get a place no matter what else they are doing.

    I know right? Women hate sex. We only pretend to like it to get huge diamonds and get married so we can sponge off of some big strong man. We’d all prefer to sit on the couch and watch soap operas and play with our babies. Like I’m doing right now.

    I’m glad we’ve figured out the problem with women.

    What other problems can we solve? How about black people always yelling during movies? And what’s up with Indian headdresses? Do they really need all those feathers to just run casinos? I could use those to stuff my new pink duvet. I chose pink because it makes my husband not want to have sex. HAHAHAHA!!! He’s so trapped.

  55. I’m female, I went to TAM Oz last year, and it was my first TAM.
    First of all, there seemed to be an almost equal number of men and women – still more men, though.
    I felt absolutely fine the whole time and had a fantastic experience. At no stage did I feel alienated or left out or anything. I made lots of new friends, male and female.
    I wasn’t there to hook up, though if I had been there were some FAB guys there.

  56. What I read in Sharon’s article really surprised me. I have attended dozens of conferences and national events and hundreds of local events and never witnessed anything like this.

    If I saw bullying like this happen at an event, I’d stand up against it right then and there.

  57. @Elyse: I’m assuming we are talking about people who are older than 14 but I will tell you long long ago when I was 14 I really and truly could not stop myself from looking. I would agree it was nothing like not drinking alcohol (although I am not an alcoholic) and much more like trying not to eat the food right in front of you when you haven’t eaten in days (and I mean this absolutely literally as someone who has known not eating for days).

    There was a interesting/funny bit in a story on This American life about a trans man finding himself, during initial T treatment, staring at women despite constantly fighting with himself and having spent the previous portion of his life identifying as a vocally feminist lesbian who never would have dreamed of doing that same thing.

    Anyway, on specifically that point, it seems plausible that there is a portion of the adult male population that really can’t help themselves with regard to some skeevy behaviors to some extent.

  58. Let me summarize the BUUUUUUT WE LOOOOOOOOVE BOOOBIES SO MUCH argument:

    Women: We want to be treated as people and not like we exist just for your penises to make happy with us.

    Men: Sorry, what? I was staring at your tits.

    Women: Stop staring at my tits. I want you to treat me like a person.

    Men: Oh. I can’t do that. My brain makes me stare at your tits.

    Women: But we have a lot to contribute and we’re interested in helping your cause.

    Men: Then you’ll just have to get used to us staring at your tits. There’s not a thing we can do about it.

    Women: Really? You cannot find a way to treat me as something other than a fuck toy first and foremost? It makes us uncomfortable and drives us away from your events.

    Men: What? Your boobs are so great I can’t hear you.

    Women: I said that if you can’t learn to behave yourself, women aren’t going to be hanging around because all this tit staring is insulting and makes us uncomfortable.

    Men: *drool* Can I touch your boobs?

    Women: Nevermind. You’re right. I should be more understanding; this is clearly much harder on you than it is on me.

  59. Granted, the debate described in the linked article descended into some really inappropriate territory. I’m not defending the cheap-shots, the jokes or the insults. But what started the debate was, as the author said: “The all-too-common problem came up of a woman showing up to a meeting and every dude there hitting on her.” That’s what worries me. This is the seed from which all of that other vitriol grew. The article makes it seem like this is the root cause of women feeling alienated/dehumanized at these conferences.

    I’d like to attend an atheist/skeptic conference someday. Also, I’m a single guy. Someday I’d like to meet the right woman, fall in love, have kids, etc. Mind you, I wouldn’t go to an atheist/skeptic convention with the purpose of meeting women. But if it happened on accident, then great. At least, that’s what I used to think.

    But after reading the linked article, I’m worried that I have to be hyper-sensitive about flirting with women at such a convention. I could easily make it a point not to flirt at all; treat it like a business trip (despite what some others are insisting, it’s simple to avoid acting on impulses). Even if I’m not flirting, do I need to worry about the perception of flirting? If I talk to a man at one of these conferences, I don’t have to worry about this; I can just be myself. But if I talk to a woman, do I need to make it abundantly clear that she’s not being hit-upon? Do I have to throw up a barrier and treat her differently?

    I’m not defending men who treat women badly, or any man who actually goes around shamelessly gawking at a woman’s breasts. But if being hit-on is what makes some women feel dehumanized at atheist/skeptic convensions, then I’m worried that even polite, subtle flirting might piss some people off. So is it OK for me, a single guy, to go to a convention like this? I’m not there to meet women, but does the fact that I’m always on the lookout make me part of the problem?

  60. The biology argument is a load of bullshit for people who want to justify their behavior. Women check out men, sometimes in an unwelcome and pervasive manner that blows right past the creepy line right into harassment. I have seen it and been subjected to it myself. That said, men have a tendency to creep up to and past that line at disproportionate levels. This isn’t biology though, its socialization and power balance. I have no doubt that if the creepy dudes out there thought it would get their asses kicked they would some how find away to rain in their creepy/harassing behavior. Lots of sexual human beings, male-female-man-woman, regardless of where they fit on the gender/sexuality spectrum manage to live their lives with out being harassing and/or creepy. If you can’t control your behaviors, seek professional help.

  61. I don’t think anyone is saying flirting is an issue. There is a difference between being flirted with and hit on. The former is mutual, the latter is creepy. If you try and flirt with someone and they don’t flirt back, stop.

  62. @PASmith:

    For women checking out the opposite sex is not important. Or not so important.
    So they can’t see why men find it important. But sadly in the list of things that men find important “looking at women” will always get a place no matter what else they are doing.

    Really?

    You’re argument is “but you don’t understand! It’s different for boys!”. How is that even possible to know? Can you tell me if getting hit in the balls hurts more than giving birth? No, because you can do one or the other.

    Yes the story on this american life was interesting, but that was one transmens’ anecdote, ANECDOTE.

  63. The whole “we can’t help it” argument infuriates me. Why? I work in a male-dominated profession that’s full of science geeks. I’m sorry, but I’ve not experienced the same sort of things at math conferences and hanging around crowds of physics grad students that I have at skeptic conferences. There was a little at computer science conferences, but not as much. I hang out with people in these professions socially all the time – not all science geeks are socially inept in the way being described, in fact I would say that the vast majority are not.

    I agree with the posters who said that women do check out men as well, but this is about a power differential more than anything. Generally if guys think that being creepy (and this is what it is, most understand looking briefly but that’s different from staring at my chest when talking to me or being belittling while propositioning me) will have negative consequences, they don’t do it. If they felt that it would negatively impact the way others at the conferences interacted with them (not just the women being hit on, who are obviously too stupid to know what’s good/frigid/don’t understand men, but also the MEN around them), they would likely rein it in.

  64. oh sweet Jesus I know this is only going off topic, but just to be clear just because YOU can control a specific impulse in a specific context doesn’t mean that everyone else experiences life in exactly the same way. I find it very easy to not have sex with women other than my wife and even easier to not have sex with men but that doesn’t mean my experience sums up the entirety of the situation for everyone else. Free will is an illusion.

    Look, PASmith, I’m sorry you have a hormonal problem. I’m sorrier that you apparently think that all men have the same problem. If you are 14 there is a good chance it will pass, if not please halt any plans to go to any conferences.

    Dave P. everyone knows that if you have to ask if you are being awkward then you are. Although you might think that skepchick is interested in that discussion you are wrong. They want to hear your righteous outrage so get on that.

    mrmisconception your apology is not accepted please try harder or there will be no desert.

  65. Oh and also has anyone else noticed that right next to this conversation is a big old “Sponsored by” title underneath which is an advertisement encouraging us to sign up for a married -but-looking service? I think it sends the wrong message.

  66. I identify as female. I have never gone to an atheist or skeptic convention, mostly due to 1) only really becoming aware of fellow atheists/skeptics fairly recently 2) no money.

    However I’ve gone to lots of science fiction conventions for about the last 20 years. I also build canoes–a small community but one in which the genders are heavily mismatched.

    When I go to SF cons, I go 1) to talk about, and hear about, the subject (and to make, and hear, science fiction music, called “filk”) 2) to meet friends I’ve made at past conventions, and make new friends, but this last part just happens naturally.

    I have never EVER gone with the purpose of finding a sexual partner. Ick. I have, once in my life, fallen in love very rapidly and had that develop into a long term relationship but I’ve certainly never set out to do that and would be seriously creeped out if someone seemed to be trying to make that happen with me.

    I am lucky enough to be nearly six foot two, and don’t feel intimidated very often. On rare occasions a guy’s eyes are higher than mine and that is kind of novel–I might be intimidated except so far those rare guys have never been creepy. They were there to hear the speakers and make music too.

    On the other hand, I have *certainly* felt like I wasn’t welcome because I was female. Specifically when a man turned his back on me, when I’d been waiting my turn in full view for fifteen minutes, to ask a man who had just that second walked in the front door if he could help *him* find anything. And when I did, I walked out and never went back. There was another hardware store across the street that was happy to see me and treated me like any other customer. That hardware store got my business from that day to this, and the first one has gone out of business, and what became of the guy who ignored me I neither know nor care.

    If you want women at skeptic events, don’t make a practice of ignoring us when we have our hands up. Don’t make a practice of ridiculing us if what we say isn’t sufficiently admiring. Include women as panelists. Include women as *organizers.*

    And stop suggesting biology means women just have to put up with being drooled on. We all have a biological need to eat but it’s not okay to take a bite out of your neighbor. We all have a biological need to urinate but it’s not okay to pee on the floor. We all have human minds and part of what we do with them is direct our biological urges to appropriate times and places for expression.

    It’s fine to be attracted. What matters is what you do about it. What’s in your secret heart can stay your secret, and it should. Obviously every woman is different but I think most women want what most people who attend a conference want–to listen to the speakers, think and talk about what they had to say, learn something new, maybe make a salient point or two to the crowd themselves, make some friends and generally be social.

    I recommend against trying to interrupt any of these things to negotiate for sex or establish a pair bond. How would a man feel if he walked into a League of Women Voters meeting only to have the crowd (80% women and mostly old enough to be his mother, if not his grandmother) gather around him and stare at his crotch? Maybe he wouldn’t come back, right?

    Really, none of this stuff ought to be hard.

  67. @namidim: There is also an ad for micro-finance loans. Is that sending the wrong message as well? I mean, heck we aren’t talking about loans OR discreet dating services.

    We don’t have the luxury of getting to pick and choose the ads but we can choose what we post about and to keep the conversation on topic.

  68. To all of you who haven’t been to any conferences, I sincerely hope to see you all at an event soon.

    Please do not be discouraged because of this particular situation. Although it is unfortunately not unique, it is also not a constant occurrence and many of us are working very hard to make sure sexism and creepiness makes its way out of organized skepticism. I can understand not attending because of financial limitations but do not be intimidated away. There are many of us ready to welcome you all will non-creepy-open-arms. And we are working to make a better environment for all.

  69. I’ve only been to Skepticon 3, and I didn’t feel exluded at all (I am female). Of course, there were women organizers, speakers, and many in the audience. One talk was give by Debbie Goddard about the fact that the “face of skepticism” seems to be white and male. I think that this subject can and should be addressed, but certainly not by a panel made entirely of white men, and audience feedback from the same.

  70. I see this whole topic, and topics like it, as akin to tap-dancing in a minefield.

    If you make a point that someone disagrees with you it can be seen as a slight or an attack, emotions are high so anything that doesn’t fall neatly into ones particular viewpoint can be seen as belittling, and sarcasm can wither and die on the vine becoming the sourest of grapes.

    Well, that is just a grabbag of metaphors isn’t it?

    It is very easy, even for us skeptics, to forget that the rest of the world does not see things exactly like we do; to forget, or not know, that an underrepresented group exists and waiting to be heard; to believe that, gasp, your viewpoint may be wrong.

    Every time I see someone that I admire express an opinion that shows intolerance, ignorance, or blind stupidity I am reminded of this, for a short time, until I forget and have to be reminded (once again) when I find out (once again) that my worldview is not universal and the whole cycle starts at the begining (once again). The important thing is not that we forget, that is simply human, but rather that we learn something each time we are given new information; which is much harder than it sounds.

    Did I use the passive voice enough in that statement to not offend anyone? Of course not, this is the internet.

    I all goes back to the most fundimental rule of human rights. Treat others as you wish to be treated. Also known as the golden rule, it’s just that simple really.

    To bad it’s not that simple really.

    @namidim
    If I can’t have desert, can I have a mesa or at least a couple of foothills? ;)

    Oh, no. A glacier! I want a glacier.

  71. I’ve never gone to any of these conventions because honestly they strike me as being for the young, single, hip crowd and I’m none of those things. I don’t drink so I’m very uncomfortable going to skeptics in the pub, let alone these conventions where everyone, male and female, brags in advance, during, and after about how much drinking they’re going to do. I’m not anti-booze, I just choose not to partake and the last thing I need is to feel like a downer dweeb because my choice is different.

    That being said, I keep reading these stories of stupid, juvenile, sexist crap at such places. I’m all too aware that science etc. is still a man’s world and I’m too busy to muster up the time or fury enough to do much more than rant about it on my blog.

    Maybe if there was a convention in Austin on a convenient day and was fully family-friendly so I could bring my 5-year-old, I’d come. I’ve been listening to the PWR podcast and I’m envious of those who live in areas with stuff like that to do. But we make do with the tons of other fun, nerdy stuff to do in Austin so really, if the skeptic social community has failed to attract me, that’s kind of not my problem.

  72. Q1. I have never had the chance to go to any official conventions or meetings but I used to go to the meetings of one of the university’s science clubs and it was for the most part pretty good – talks or activities followed by mingling, pretty standard. I went for socialising with existing friends and meeting new ones, not hooking up.

    The group wasn’t very large but the gender ratio was probably about 3:1 M:F. Most of the time it was ok but it did get a bit intense at times – it sometimes felt like, as a woman, I was part of the star attraction. Also, the meetings always finished when the last woman left, which always made me feel a bit uncomfortable – like people were there for the wrong reasons.

    Q2. Yes. Mostly in either general “not feeling safe around strangers” ways, being hit on mercilessly and inappropriately and then being faced with denial when I call them on it, or in discussions at aforementioned meetings that turn to feminist topics and being faced with misogyny and insults from people you thought would know better.

    Q3. This is a good question, and not one that I have a tangible solution to. I don’t think setting guidelines or rules will help entirely, because a lot of people perpetuating these problems either don’t know they’re doing it or don’t think it’s a problem. Obviously calling people on it will help, especially if this involves bystanders intervening. I think education would contribute a lot – if we can help perpetuate ideas such as (for example*) feminist theory or, hell, even “women are people too!”, that’d go a long way.

    * I know the most about feminism but obviously this is applicable to problems associated with race, gender ID, people with disabilities, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.

  73. @coreyjf: I agree that a large part of this is socialisation rather than biology, at least as far as being obvious in one’s behaviour.

    I’ll fully admit to being a compulsive checker-outer, but being gay I learned from a young age how not to be obvious in doing so (and, I suppose, to restrict hitting-on behaviour to places and situations that are more obviously appropriate). Not only is this an experience most straight guys have never had, but staring at boobs as an act is completely pervasive in media (both in characters’ actions and in cinematography).

    I will admit, however, that if they are just hanging out there it’s hard (for me, anyway) not to look, even though I don’t find them sexually attractive in the least.

  74. I knew my view wouldn’t be popular but thought I’d chip in anyway.
    On the subject of boobs. They are designed for men to look at. Men are predispossed to look at them. If they weren’t designed for men to look at they’d be smaller and more like the breasts of chimps.
    Now of course I’m not using that to excuse men any sort of innapropriate behaviour. But I feel it excuses men from the occasional look at a time women might not deem it appropriate. And on the subject of looking…the men that say they don’t look when they are at important skeptic meetings. Or that I have a hormonal problem…well I think a lot of them are stretching the truth a little in order to fit in with the general tone of this blog. They look just like every other bloke.
    On the subject of women and sex. I never suggested that women don’t like sex. That’s a straw man if ever I saw one. I just suggested that the impulse to check out and “assess” the opposite sex is different between men and women. I don’t think that’s contentious is it? Seems self evident to me.
    I’m merely trying to give it a different perspective. That there will generally always be an undercurrent of sexual “bubbling” wherever there are men.
    I’m not suggesting this as some sort of answer to the problem but just that I think there’s just only so much that can be done about it.
    I’d imagine it wouldn’t take too many creepy men that take the checking out impulse just too far for a skeptic gathering to be deemed sexist or unwelcoming for a woman.

  75. Ah, my favouritest thing ever: “Women just aren’t as interested in sex/looking/whatever”. This is the story of my erased and minimized life!

    And I’m sorry to inform you, but my breasts were not designed to enthrall you (One wonders if you’ve ever noticed that they come in all shapes and sizes, too. Even chimp-like, I believe.).

  76. @PASmith:

    On the subject of boobs. They are designed for men to look at. Men are predispossed to look at them. If they weren’t designed for men to look at they’d be smaller and more like the breasts of chimps.

    Designed. For men. To look at.
    You cannot be serious.

    Are you just fucking around now?
    Seriously, are you?

  77. I hear this from some of my ‘dude’ coworkers. Both that no one can make, or give you to hold as your own, some other and outside emotion and various and general sexisms.
    Firstly, yes- no one can make you feel something else. That is true: so if women are saying, largely, that they are feeling uncomfortable, ogled, sexually intimidated, and dismissed because their gender, then this is, first, their personal experiences, which which seems to be a trend.
    I haven’t been to an atheist or skeptics meeting because I got hungry and wanted dinner- absolutely no reason. This attitude turns me off from going to one, as a skeptic, a guy, and a person who likes discussion and respects people.

    When a person ogles, talks down to, or generally dismisses, it is a statement of how they believe that this other being is not a person, that this other things us just around to be used. And while it great that manly-men distract with biology card, it is as insulting and even more childish. Even if the ‘biology’ excuse is factual, it has no place in society, in sub-culture that is based in rationality and humanism.
    The men that do this, in this social context (let me put that clause in here because context can shift, with a hypocritical other one), don’t believe being a full human, with thinking and acting, has a place for the ‘fairer sex’. Because? Vomit- that’s the best I got on why.

  78. @Skept-artist: Designed. For men. To look at.
    You cannot be serious.

    This has a ring of plausibility, but I think @PASmith put it poorly. The average breast is larger than it needs to be to perform its biological function. Yes? One possible reason for this is that large breasts advertise reproductive fitness or some other advantage. There are many traits in the animal kingdom that exist solely, as far as we know, to attract the opposite sex. (Although I am a little pressed to come up with human examples. Strong jaw line? Big bank account?) If males selectively picked these females a new norm is established.

    Even if this is true, so what? Where I differ is:

    But I feel it excuses men from the occasional look at a time women might not deem it appropriate.

    I disagree most emphatically. This whole discussion is about people being better than their biological programming… which is a good thing because I’m getting an urge to fling some poo.

  79. Hypothesis:
    On the subject of boobs. They are designed for men to look at. Men are predispossed to look at them. If they weren’t designed for men to look at they’d be smaller and more like the breasts of chimps.

    Data: The average breast is larger than it needs to be to perform its biological function.

    Just because a hypothesis or data looks sexist does not mean it should be rejected out of hand. A lot of sexism may indeed by programmed genetically into human males, just like a lot of racism may be programmed genetically into people in general. That does not mean we should blindly follow that programming. We also have brains and the ability to educate them.

  80. @Skept-artist: Pssh, that’s an ancient argument about boobs if ever there was one. It was very popular amongst the old white dudes in armchairs segment of anthropology. It’s also total crap. You can’t make a simply “big boobs = big fertility” and “boobs are for men to look at because apes don’t have them” connection because humans have this wonderful thing called hidden estrus. We don’t go into heat, so human women are, to a man, always potentially fertile. Our boobs indicate absolutely bupkis about our fertility to men. If I’m remembering correctly, breast swelling in chimps indicates infertility, as it occurs during lactation when the female chimp is unreceptive to mating.

    Nobody really knows why human women have sweater kittens. I quite like the simple theory that it makes it easier to breastfeed an infant while sitting upright, though there’s nothing much to support that particular idea over any other. It just has a pleasing simplicity to it, to me.

  81. @davew: I mostly take exception because using that phrase gives him the jumping off point that you mention at the end of your comment. And also makes me want to fling poo.

    @Amanda: Congratulations on being commenter 100! Also, you taught me a new word. And things about fertility.

  82. @Amanda:

    Breast swelling also occurs in human women during lactation… and during menstruation… and during pregnancy. These are also times when the swelling sometimes means “so tender I might punch you in the nuts if you so much as graze them”.

    Obviously, men need to study them closely to know if they are about to be punched in the nuts.

  83. @Elyse: I have to second Amy’s illegitimate COTW nom.

    Yeah, the writings about why boobs exist always compare them to cyclical swellings that apes may have, even though women have cyclical swellings (and lactation and pregnancy swellings) too. I don’t get it.

    @Skept-artist: Yay, I’m educational! Estrus is a great word.

  84. @Dale Husband: Must I point out that correlation does not equal causation.

    Someone around here asked why skeptics were so down on evo-psych not too long ago, I would like to say that, at least for me, it’s things like this. Any EP theorist can find data that correlates with their beliefs and their thoughts have to automatically be taken seriously regardless of how hair-brained they are.

    @PASmith: I see this as just another excuse to refuse to not behave ourselves and pass it off as “just part of our nature.” Bullshit!
    That sounds like the intellectually lazy bastard son of Ayn Rand’s ideas.
    Pure poppycock.

    If you like to look, fine. Just admit that you do, realize that staring makes you a pig, and stop trying to pass the buck to mother nature.

  85. Defenders of gawkers- This is how your argument is coming off.

    Clueless Guy 1: Females! Come to your skeptical meetings. Ladies welcome, bring girlfriends, please please tell us how to make you feel more welcome.

    Clueless Guy 2: But we will look at your tits, it’s a genetic imperative.

  86. Alright, here’s the way I see it:

    The problem here is that the presence and demands of women are making some men uncomfortable. They have a way of acting, jokes they tell, ways of approaching a woman that they think are fine and dandy and with which they are perfectly comfortable. But now women are challenging them on these things, which seems to have a couple of different results: defensiveness, because the men in question do not want to consider or admit the fact that their behaviors could be problematic; and anxiety, because nobody wants to feel like they are walking on eggshells. Indeed, that’s an extremely unpleasant feeling, to imagine that you might be judged harshly for an inadvertent slipup, so I can’t blame them on that count. The solution, in my mind, is (probably overly) simple, and twofold.

    1. Be open to discourse. Do not feel threatened when someone calls you on behavior that they take issue with. Do not fold like a card table either, but be open to alternate perspectives. Skeptics should be good at this.

    2. LISTEN. Just fucking listen to what someone has to say to you. If you’ve offended them, maybe they have a point and maybe you shouldn’t do that anymore.

    If everyone just let go a bit of the pride we all seem to carry around on these matters, we could welcome people into the group much more easily, knowing that with openness and communication it could change to accommodate everyone. The biggest keys to fighting the nastiness of privilege and the discomfort that minorities face are humility, followed by open communication. Of course, it’s a two-way street, and as exhausting as it may be, women/minorities/whoever do have to show a little bit of patience. Things won’t change instantly, but if we call people out on their bullshit, and said people are open-minded to being called out, eventually we should reach a happy unicorn-filled rainbow sunshine equilibrium. Right?

    Alright, I know, it’s a pipe dream. But I can hope. ::pours another drink::

  87. @PASmith: “On the subject of boobs. They are designed for men to look at.”

    Okay, let’s assume that’s true (it isn’t, but I’ll play). By the same argument, your penis is designed for sex and urination. If you’re not currently using it for either of those purposes, kindly remove it and set it aside.

    Either that or you need to acknowledge that just because a body part has a particular task for which it has been at least somewhat evolved (did you really think “designed” was going to win an argument here?), that doesn’t mean it has to be used for that task constantly.

    Also, if breasts do have a singular purpose, it’s feeding babies, not attracting males. That’s a secondary use.

  88. ok, 3 questions asked at the beginning of this post. Have I ever gone to an atheist or Skeptic event?

    No. I cannot even -begin- to afford that. There seems to be remarkably few UK oriented skeptic/atheist events and those that exist have frankly absurd price tags. Obviously that I have encountered. Maybe there’s great, free, UK based conventions, but I don’t know of them.

    Have I felt alienated based on sex, gender identity, race, or appearance?

    I’m a trans woman and I feel alienated based on gender identity approximately every time I have to deal with cisgender society, but perhaps that’s not quite the question being asked.

    What could be done to make these events more welcoming?

    Well, I’m poor and on disability allowance in the UK. I remember looking up how much tickets to the amazing meeting cost – if I recall, they closed in on £200. Maybe I was totally wrong and they were supercheap really? But that’s 1/20th my yearly income. I’m never going to get involved in a community with that kind of price tag, I just cannot afford it.

  89. @serenegoose: I agree that TAM is pricey but it is primarily a fundraising event. I know that the QED Conference put on by the Merseyside Skeptics Society had a ticket price of less than half that of TAM with many big name speakers and Skeptics in the Pub nights are often free with a speaker. I understand not have the extra money to go to all the events but I do hope that you can find a way to be involved.

  90. @kimberlychapman: I’m late to this party, but the alcohol-centered element of skeptical gatherings eliminates my desire to participate in the “movement.” There is some serious denial when it comes to the way the skeptical movement glorifies their alcoholic behavior. I related to everything Elyse described. That obsession eventually got the best of me. Forget the coffee, I wound up going straight for the tequila as my eye-opener. So grateful to be released from that living hell.

    But here is my deeper concern.

    Is there virtually no difference between skepticism and atheism? If a group of atheists holds a convention there is no misunderstanding about the ideological and philosophical position the participants are endorsing and promoting.
    However with skepticism, agnosticism is the default position, ideologically. Theoretically, a skeptic requires evidence to accept any claim. In practice, the “skeptical movement” has endorsed atheism as part of the agenda. Initially, the primary goal was to merely promote critical-thinking. Skepticism is a process, not a conclusion, supposedly. But most members of the movement agree that critical thinking skills can only lead to atheism when properly applied.
    For the non-atheist, the skeptical movement is openly hostile. There are so many theists who value critical-thinking, teaching evolution, separation of church and state, value modern medicine, don’t believe in ghosts or alien visitation, feel a profound sense of awe viewing images from Hubble, and even completely respect how an undesigned universe could make more sense to someone else. But the message is loud and clear that we are definitely not welcomed by the skeptical movement.
    When skeptics describe interactions with theists, it is a “debate”, not a conversation. I watched videos of the last TAM, and the moderator in a panel discussion was reprimanded for referring to Jesus. Seriously? “Skeptics” concluded that this man actually didn’t exist? Wow! Non-Christian theists are capable of an explanation that actually fits the evidence.
    I’m probably wasting my time here. If atheism has co-opted the “skeptical movement” sexism is not what’s hindering diversity. I can only conclude that the skeptical movement has no interest in attracting the millions of theists who would not dream of evangelizing you nor replace science textbooks with Bibles, but support the skeptical plight, theoretically. By all means, challenge all testable claims.
    ……back to lurking on the fringe where I belong…..

  91. I’m a lurker and enjoy reading these blogs.

    I don’t think I’d ever want to go to an atheist event on my own. It seems like the sort of culture where you need a friend who has your back in case the evening goes off course.

    It’s not the lack of a specific woman’s outreach that makes me feel that way, but the hostile “you’re a big baby if take offense at what we say” response to women who answer the “why aren’t there more women here” question.

    I have a lot of recreation choices, so I’m not going to deliberately choose one where I know I’ll probably have to face extra outsider stress if I go.

    The topics seem interesting, though. So if I had a friend who was going who asked me, I’d be more interested.

  92. It seems to me that the current atheist/agnostic groups’ failure to attract women and minorities stems from a lack of any concrete goals. Let’s face it. Most of these groups’ primary aim is to provide entertainment via religion bashing. These groups are against religion (which is fine and dandy) but are not for something concrete. For example, it is not their primary aim to promote scientific literacy. Then they would not necessarily be “atheist groups” but instead “scientific literacy groups” which I would imagine have greater women participants (eg. Eugenie Scott, Patricia Churchland, Susan Jacoby, etc..). Atheists from traditionally marginalized groups I would imagine thus have a hard time joining “atheist clubs”. What purpose would an atheist feminist have joining a group that has nothing more to offer than a secular feminist organization wherein atheist views are most welcome? Similar could be said of African American, LBGT atheists, etc..

    I have visited several atheist websites since 2005 and really the main focus of the forums are rants against religion and theists and not a lot else. At some point this must get boring and tiresome. Furthermore, the lionshare of the members tend to be atheist libertarians. The focus is more on individualism and how he/she can be a proud atheist and mock religion. These sites have little interest in the collective rights of women or minorities. Thus, mainstream leftist feminism does not take center stage. As a result, most of these sites end up being dominated by white men. And I would add that there is no holds bar on speech. Literally anything goes including anger or humor that puts off women. And the same is likely true at meetings wherein the end result is perceived sexism.

    Why are Skepchick, richarddawkins.net, pharyngula unique? Their primary aim is to promote scientific literacy which intersect well with feminist and minority issues.

    Atheist organizations can maybe take lessons from overseas counterparts. For example, the Atheist Centre in India has its roots in the country’s revolutionary movement which culminated in Mahatma Gandhi. A subsection of this group is VASAVYA MAHILA MANDALI, a women’s organization dedicated towards empowerment.

  93. I’m a man. I’ve been to a few local meetups that were male only. And I’ve been to both TAM London events as well as to QED.

    Apart from my wife most women I’m acquainted with are into various sorts of woo so I find it refreshing and nice to meet and exchange ideas with some who hold more rational views.

    And no, I’m not going to meet a sex partner although I might have been staring at some really awesome skeptical themed t-shirts worn by some really awesome skeptical women. Now I’m not sure if I should feel bad about that.

    Generally mixed company has a somewhat calming effect on the male participants of a meeting, but I think I’ve noticed that with skeptics this is less pronounced. Might it be due to lack of social aptitude with the geeky people? (This is just a wild hypothesis…)

  94. First of all, tell me: Do you go to or have you ever gone to events like TAM or other atheist, humanist or skeptic conventions? YES.

    Why or why not? TO MEET OTHER ATHEISTS, NETWORK, LISTEN TO FAMOUS FOLKS LIKE DAWK/HITCH ETC., AND TO UNDERTAKE THE EGG-HEAD INTEREST THAT I HAVE IN THE TOPIC OF ATHEISM AND RELIGION.

    Do you go to meet a sexual partner, to make friends, to learn or for other reasons altogether? NO, BUT WHEN I WAS SINGLE A SEXUAL PARTNER WOULD HAVE BEEN WELCOMED HAD ONE PRESENTED HERSELF. MAKING FRIENDS WAS PART OF IT – WELL, MORE LIKE AQUAINTANCES AND CONTACTS. YES, TO LEARN IS PART OF THE REASON FOR GOING.

    As a man OR a woman have you felt alienated or intimidated because of your sex, gender identity, race or appearance? NO, BUT I NEVER FEEL ALIENATED OR INTIMIDATED FOR ANY REASON.

    What do YOU think we could do to make events and conventions more welcoming? Or do you think, F-it. Things are just fine as they are.

    As for the last inquiry, the first thing we need to look at is whether the conventions or events are, in fact, no “welcoming?” The ones I’ve gone to are very open, people are very friendly and they are what all conventions and events tend to be. I don’t think women are in any way sent a message that they are not welcome.

    Sometimes, a person might feel intimidated even though the convention organizers and attendees are not doing anything that could be considered “unwelcoming.” We can’t assume that men and convention organizers are doing anything wrong, just because someone reports feeling alienated. Sometimes people are shy, lacking in self-assuredness or self-esteem, nervous, or whatever.

    If we can get away from the blame game, and not point fingers at men as if men are purposefully trying to make women uncomfortable, we might find a solution. Note, most men at these conventions would seriously love to have more women there. To add enough women to make the population 50-50 would nearly double the size of the attendance in most instances. Financially, that would make tremendous sense to the organization. Moreover, most of those that run most atheist and skeptic and humanist organizations have left-wing politics, and they generally want to be inclusive and fair. If any group feels alienated, it’s probably anyone who doesn’t hold to left-wing politics.

    I think the only thing that will increase female attendance will be that women become more interested in the topics discussed there, generally speaking. Any sort of special welcoming procedures for women will likely just come off as patronizing and silly.

  95. I’ve never attended one of these events. I’m a working mom, so I simply don’t have time. But, I will say that I am reluctant to attend any event that is comprised largely of men, for several reasons. Firstly, I find any room full of men, regardless of their views, intimidating on a basic, gut level, simply because they are generally larger, louder, and more aggressive with their opinions than me. Secondly, I’ve never attended a largely male event where they discussed anything I found even remotely applicable to me, my interests, or my life – basically, they just seem like intellectual pissing or dick waving contests, and I can do that at home on the internet in my pyjamas. And when participating in discussions in all male groups, anything I said would of course be taken as “the female view” simply because I was the only woman present. I’ve also been talked over, dismissed, and ignored in all male groups. So I tend to avoid them in favour of groups that are largely comrpised of women. So basically, the only thing such groups could do to lure me would be to have more women present in the first place, which could perhaps be encouraged by inviting more female speakers or having joint meetings with a local women’s club or organization.

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