“Bring Your Girlfriends”, or How Not to Appeal to Women
As someone who has, more than once, been the token female at a skeptic and/or atheist-themed gathering, I’ve often been asked why women are often vastly outnumbered by men in such crowds. Lately, that question that evolved into inquiries as to how to make such meetings appeal to women. While the male to female ratio of the non-religious community as a whole plays a role in this, there is, of course, more to the story.
Part of the issue is that the self-identified skeptic community tends to be mostly comprised of white men in the first place, which gives women the impression that they might not be welcome. Some might argue that this is a Catch-22 of sorts and wonder what can be done, but let us not forget that a men-only environment can feel very hostile for a woman, especially if she is in the clear minority.
The fact is that many of the women I know who are interested in skepticism and atheism have been really put off gatherings due to some of the treatment they’ve received. Whether it is intended or not, there is a lot of casual misogyny and sexism that runs through these gatherings of mostly men.
Out of curiosity, I posted about it a little while ago on Facebook in the hopes of getting more people to talk about the issue of sexism and misogyny in the secular community. Unsurprisingly, other atheist women I know had stories to add to mine. Disappointingly (and perhaps also unsurprisingly), all of us who chimed in about it were dismissed by some of the white men who were reading along. It seems that the knee-jerk response is something like “you’re reading too much into it,” “women in [insert country that isn't in Europe or North America here] have it worse,” “lighten up,” “get over it,” “I have a wife/girlfriend and she doesn’t think I’m sexist” — basically, the women who speak up are told to shut up and deal with it because for some reason, our feelings on the matter don’t deserve to exist in those people’s eyes.
The bottom line is that until the men who dominate skeptic and atheist groups actually listen and seriously entertain the criticisms made of said community by women, women simply aren’t going to attend the meetings. This isn’t theoretical or hypothetical, either. I personally know at least half a dozen women off the top of my head who have stopped attending skeptic and atheist events because they’re tired of not only receiving shitty treatment, but not having their complaints taken at all seriously by those responsible as well as those who have the ability to make things better. The same that goes for racism goes for sexism: it only exists openly in an environment where it is considered socially permissible, and as of now, in many (but certainly not all) secular-themed gatherings, it is considered fine.
Until women’s concerns are actually heard, any attempt on their part to inquire into how to appeal more to women will sound more like a crude “where the ladies at?” rather than a real attempt at being inclusive. How to promote real inclusiveness is a topic worthy of discussion, but it seems to have at least something to do with women being a vocal part of the leadership of a group.
And yes, believe it or not, the title refers to what several women I know, including me, have been told at skeptic gatherings.