“Bring Your Girlfriends”, or How Not to Appeal to Women

“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.

Attendees of the UC Irvine Atheists, Agnostics, and Rationalists Club's quarterly barbecue.

And yes, believe it or not, the title refers to what several women I know, including me, have been told at skeptic gatherings.

Heina Dadabhoy [hee-na dad-uh-boy] spent her childhood as a practicing Muslim who never in her right mind would have believed that she would grow up to be an atheist feminist secular humanist, or, in other words, a Skepchick. She has been an active participant in atheist organizations and events in and around Orange County, CA since 2007. She is currently writing A Skeptic's Guide to Islam. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.


  1. This strikes me as ironic. I consider sexism/racism and skepticism to be mutually exclusive. Is the modern Charlatan a misogynistic skeptic?

    • Exactly, I was thinking the same thing. As a man, I find it deplorable that men can form rational arguments against religion, homeopathy, etc, but can’t work up enough logical brain juice to figure out why something might be hostile to women. I personally admit to making mistakes in treating a woman but the reaction should always be to apologize, show reasonable sympathy, and listen.

      I think it’s a combination of factors why you end up with people like this in the community. Some could be generational, some could have come to atheism as a radical negative reaction to a religion rather than as a rational skeptical realization and aren’t truly skeptical, and some simply are misogynists who have a blind spot for this. As a community we aren’t perfect but at the same time, when trying to grow one’s community you end up letting in less than perfect candidates.

      • This. Unfortunately, as some poster in the Sacrificing Privilege comment thread demonstrated, some skeptics thing anything that isn’t rooted in STEM is not skeptical, or not worth talking about, or not scientificky enough to be “real”.

      • This. Unfortunately, as some poster in the Sacrificing Privilege comment thread demonstrated, some skeptics thing anything that isn’t rooted in STEM is not skeptical, or not worth talking about, or not scientificky enough to be “real”.

        • Emporsteigend is banned now, btw. Didn’t know how to take a hint. Or more accurately, didn’t know how to take 57 hints.

          • Good riddance.

    • Not really, just think about the fact that women were kept out of science for a long time, by men who were actual scientists, thus, more or less skeptics. Maybe this is a social/cultural issue, which should be adressed as such.

  2. Further, a skeptics are keen to have a good argument with logical reasoning. So when a skeptic resorts to “gaslighting,” it is doubly disappointing and hypocritical. I’d liken it to the anti-gay Republican caught having an homosexual affair.

  3. I’ve seen this happen and is why I stopped attending a local event in Toronto. They gave a lecture on sexual dimorphism and while the speaker sure seemed to think he was clever he offended a huge part of the audience, both men and women.

    That’s the part of the problem that seems to get overlooked, the sexist attitude doesn’t just drive away women it drives away everyone that finds the attitude distasteful.

    That night in the meeting I saw that every person I thought I could enjoy a conversation with was leaving, some during the lecture. I could see that this group would never change so I never returned.

    I hope all of us that left that night can find a place for us to hang out.

    • That’s really depressing. When I moved to Toronto, I was really looking forward to attending skeptic-themed stuff. But once I arrived, I heard nothing but reasons to stay away.

  4. I wonder if there is a generational component to this. The skeptics student group at the university where I work has lots of female members.

    • There definitely is that element to it. The picture I linked of a club with female attendees is of a campus atheist group.

  5. Firstly, there didn’t used to be any Skepchick or female skeptics community to be a part of. The other thing I found is that some older women who are “professional skeptics” express the very worst of the boys club type mentality – I would say this has to do with generational differences and having to adapt to work in a very male environment but then I also know plenty of older women who simply avoided the whole “men’s club” dynamic of skepticism.

    dashwood – I think you’re right that there’s a generational component, and that this plays out in more ways than one. I’d suggest that, historically, women who are skeptics and atheists tended to be busy working on women’s rights and attempting to get some economic and legal equality. For the longest time, women didn’t had the privilege of spending lots of time talking about theory – we’ve had very practical battles to wage against various institutions – not just religion, but in academia (including science and medicine) and even in our homes (when we don’t have a supportive family or partner). This also means that we don’t attribute all the evils of the past to religion, we are aware that systemic oppression of women, queers, people of colour and otherwise identifiable Others is more complex than just “religion is responsible for all the evil in the world” (I’m not saying it hasn’t been a significant player but obviously religion is something that people – mainly men – made up so the problems of religions are obviously human problems created by humans). Women and queers are much more likely to point out biases and problematic behaviour or beliefs that can challenge the authority of even skeptics vis a vis certain issues – we’ve all seen or experienced this kind of backlash, the most obvious one to mention being elevatorgate and the belittling of women’s concerns. Fortunately, the skeptics community has come a long way thanks to both men and women who are challenging the status quo so we can talk about these things openly.

  6. We had this problem in my local humanist group of it being completely dominated by men. The group is structured so that there are multiple meetings on various topics through the month.

    The problem of women not coming was largely solved after a woman in the group wanted to start a monthly meeting for women only. We had lots of women on the mailing list who never came to events at all, but some of them started coming to the women’s group. Then over time that really helped with having increased female participation at all the meetings.

  7. I have to say I really don’t like this article, and not because I think your wrong, you really do point on an issue that I think is true and needs to be addressed, it’s just while reading I noticed you never gave any examples of the sexism you say were part of theses skeptic gatherings. You mention how you and other women are on the receiving end of “shitty treatment” and having your opinions dismissed, well then why not tell us about these experiences? what exactly happened? You also say you have a Facebook post where women actually gave you examples of said sexism, so where’s the link or screen shots of those posts, let us read them, give us males a little insight into what experiences you’re having. You make a substantial claim but without any specific archetypes to examine anyone who disagrees with you can just say your position is invalid because you have no proof.

    • See, this sort of immediate “proof or it didn’t happen” response always happens in response to allegations of sexism within a community. When a bunch of women get together and say “shitty stuff happens to us because we’re women”, why should we have to provide documentation EVERY TIME we try to have this conversation? Can you not understand that this sort of thing is exhausting and harms efforts to make an unwelcoming community more welcoming?

      • There is a difference between wanting proof and wanting an example.

        I once tried to read a blog about how people in a certain town were reacist. As I did not have expericence in that town I wanted to an example of how the racism manifested (it can have many forms afterall). However, for the portion of the article the writer focused on how people respond to the accusations of racism, not the racism itself. I may have found the article interseting, but with no context the post was too disorienting to read and I gave up.

        That said, I have also seen the all too easy trap of giving an example on the internet. The readers see it not as an example but as ‘proof’ and then the entire thread gets derailed focusing on the example, and harping on if the it is “really sexist”. Eventually the thread devolves into a mixture of semantics and anecdotes and nothing gets addressed.

        • racist*

        • I thought, initially, of doing a post that was a list of examples and my breakdown of them, but as I mention in another comment, those don’t necessarily do as well as you’d think. I got a lot of “well, I don’t see why that’s sexist and I’ve never seen that personally anyway” responses, which further, well, infuriated me.

          • UGH. I hate that. The examples are to provide context and show where you are coming from. NOT as proof that can make or break your argument.

      • I’m not sure how you can take my comment and surmise that it said “proof or it didn’t happen” but not only did I never ask her to show proof but I also never said her experiences didn’t happen with out it. What I did say is that she needs to elaborate on what happened, give instances where she felt that a person was being specifically sexist. Doing that will not only help men understand what things they do or say are offensive to women but also keep away those who would undermine this article by using the reason “she gave no examples therefore she has no proof”

        also I take issue with this statement you made: “When a bunch of women get together and say “shitty stuff happens to us because we’re women”, why should we have to provide documentation EVERY TIME we try to have this conversation?” I’m not sure but it sounds like you’re trying to say that because women face sexism a lot then they should be believed by default and that it’s offensive to ask them to elaborate on what happened. If you didn’t mean that, then I apologize for misinterpreting your words but if you did, well… really?

      • All he wants is an example to see how he could’ve missed all the sexism and misogyny that has been going. If sexism was actually happening, this should be easy enough.

        • Well, I guess I could do that post I’d been thinking about with specific examples, even though generally, the response to such things is “well, I personally don’t think that’s sexist.”

        • Notice how we’re spending a lot of time discussing whether or not it’s reasonable to provide examples and how we’re NOT TALKING ABOUT the issue at hand? The actual sexism? This is why it’s crap to say “I just want examples”. Because now YET ANOTHER CONVERSATION ABOUT SEXISM has been derailed by the demand for proof that sexism is actually happening.

          You know what? We go here every effing time we talk about sexism on the internet. How about you just take our word for it, that it exists?

          • I understand your frustrations, as a woman skeptic and fellow feminist, but I ask that you take a step back and examine what you’re saying here from a skeptical viewpoint? We *never* accept arguments that are made on a basis of “just trust me on this” from anyone else, so we really should not be making it a habit within our own community, even if we feel that we are right.

    • What kind of proof do you want? A list of specific sexist statements? A list of names of women who have experienced sexism? The point of the article is that men need to listen to women when they bring up problems, not explain them away or dismiss concerns. Which you are doing, by telling the author that here arguments really aren’t convincing and that you want proof.

      There is sufficient evidence everywhere–particularly on this website–of sexism (and other -isms) within the skeptical movement. You can read all about it on your own time; it will give you plenty of insight into what experiences we are having. Meanwhile, it doesn’t matter if “you males” are convinced or not that sexism is keeping women away. Women say it is. If you want women in your movement, you have to solve the problems they identify. But here’s a freebie example of being on the receiving end of some “shitty treatment”: A woman speaks up to point out a problem she and her friends have with a group of people, and a member of the dominant group tells her that she hasn’t done a good job of explaining herself instead of telling her he feels bad she feels shut out or asking her what he can do to help.

      • Thank you for making this point. Even when I posted my specific examples on Facebook, which was for the benefit of doubters, and had people respond with their experiences, the ultimate response of many of the men at whom the post was directed was “welp, I don’t think those things are sexist and I’ve never seen them so sexism doesn’t exist.”

      • as I previously stated I never asked her to show proof, all I asked was for her to give some examples of the sexism she experienced.

        I also don’t think the point of this article is “that men need to listen to women when they bring up problems” I think it really aims to try to get men to understand that there need to be a conscious effort to curb the underlying sexism that exist at these gatherings. I just don’t understand how you can achieve that if you don’t discuss what specific events happened that you felt were sexist. I can’t speak for most men but I can say that I personally am not asking to be “convinced” of sexism I am however asking for help understanding what offensive behavior was being committed and the only way I know to do that is the know what happened.

        oh and I am kind of offended that you would imply that my comment was sexist towards the author. Not once did I dismiss any allegation she made or infer that her opinion was invalid simply because it didn’t offer up the information I needed. I don’t see how asking her to elaborate on her experiences can be interpreted as offensive, just ask yourself this, if another women told you a bunch of men were being sexist towards her, wouldn’t you want to know what happened?

        • The problem, as I’ve pointed out in several other comments, is that citing specific examples generally just gives men more ways in which to marginalize and erase women’s experiences. My fourth paragraph addresses that. It’s annoying to put together a list only to be told “I don’t think what you listed is valid.”

          I could try, but I’m telling you, there is no satisfying a lot of people.

          • I understand where your coming from, I’ve seen the same thing with topics on atheism, where you’ll give all the examples and proofs in the world and yet still the people you’re discussing this with won’t even budge on there stance. Then after awhile you’re exhausted and feel like all that work you put into justifying your position was all for nothing because you realize that no matter what you say they’re gonna stand firm in their beliefs.

            I think that maybe you see it the same way when you come against that wall of opposition from the men that comment on your facebook note(some I think might just be there to troll you), and you’d be right there is no satisfying men who don’t want to change. But the way I see it is those aren’t the men you’re actually trying to reach, you’re actually reaching the man that usually won’t make any comment at all, the man who isn’t hard set on his views and is there just reading through the comments. When he reads that discussion he’ll see that your the one who provided the examples and the thought provoking argument, if he’s smart he’ll see your stance as the right one. And Just like that, all those guys who tried to dismiss your argument just became a catalyst of change for a guy who was actually paying attention to what you were saying. The way I see it when you’re arguing against sexism, you should give it all you got, elaborate on your experiences, find examples from other people and share them then offer up the most convincing argument you can, it’s the internet you never know who may be reading or who’s mindset you may have changed.

          • I wouldn’t say that any of those guys are trolls, especially since all of them are my real-life friends. This was on my personal FB page. The very men who kept asking me to cite my examples were the same ones who, when faced with the examples, kept insisting that the examples weren’t good enough for them. It is incredibly hurtful and demoralizing to be told by friends, not trolls, that your position isn’t legitimate even when you’ve done so much to try and persuade them otherwise.

    • One example is right in the title. It assumes that all women have gaggles of female friends whom they can just call upon to attend meetings where men want more of a female presence.

      Plus, using the term “girlfriends” to refer to platonic female friends of women? It’s a way to make female-female relationships invisible. If I say “I have a girlfriend” it could easily be interpreted as “I’m straight and have a good friend” rather than “I’m in a relationship with this woman.” It’s a form of sexism and queer erasure in which straight men and women participate.

      • you know I never really thought about the meaning behind how we use the word “girlfriend” I completely glossed over that in the title, and you know what, I have to say you’re right. I mean, it just automatically assumes all women have there group of friends like we always see portrayed in the movies and television. Oh wow, that last sentence just made me realize how often that stereotype is portrayed in the media and reaffirms my hatred of sex in the city.

        also do you have a link to your facebook page, I would really like to read some of the things being discussed there.

        • It was a FB note I posted a while back on my personal page, which cannot be readily found.

          I am, however, willing to post a new entry where I go over examples.

      • Thank you so much for this response. I have always despised the term “girlfriends” when used in this manner. Why can’t I just say “my friends”? Why must I quantify “female” friends as somehow different than my “normal” (read: male) friends? It’s beyond irritating….. We have shoes and women’s shoes. We have bicycles and women’s bicycles. We have friends and girl/female friends. For once, why the %@&$ can’t the default just work for everybody? “I went to dinner with a friends.” Why on earth should this need to be specified by gender?? arghhh /end rant

    • One example that was provided was of having ones opinions dismissed. As you cited in your comment.
      If you know what sexism is in our culture then you know the sort of treatment that she is talking about.
      If you do not then perhaps you should say so.

  8. As to WHY a lot of these guys are sexist, I believe it’s partially because a lot of neckbearded guys attend. Neckbeards tend to have been rejected a lot in their life sexually and have some resentment towards women and take it out on women when they get the chance (i.e. ‘shut your whining mouth’). I have this opinion of them because I lived with many during school, and most of them were sexist.

    Not that this is the only reason, but I at any Skeptic gatherings I’ve gone too, I have definitely noticed a very high percentage of neckbeards and many of them tend to have the “I’m sexist because of my lifelong rejection” attitude.

    • Neckbeards are people too.

      Perhaps judging people by a single attribute is not solely the perview of those with extraneous cervical flora.

      BTW- “cervical”, it’s not just for your cervix.

      • I’d shy away from blaming it on so-called “neckbeards.” A lot of the worst sexism I’ve experienced has been at the hands of married, employed, and sometimes well-known (at least in the secular community) men.

      • I think part of the problem in the atheist community is that (particularly older) skeptics seem to think all social problems come from the church/religion – it’s all about how it’s “their” problem and never a matter of it being “our” problem. Just like how women being in the workforce is generally all about women conforming to the system in place rather than changing the system so it is comfortable and gives equal opportunity to women. (It’s a bit like how access to affordable childcare is still a feminist issue, even though it obviously benefits a whole family and both male and female children, as well as male and female parents.) It’s as if by blaming all issues of patriarchy, sexism and oppression on women, one doesn’t have to address it in any personal way that has to do with one’s own behaviour, privileges or secular society at all. You can maintain all the privileges that you’ve inherited from that system (and religion/colonialism), while also pretending you’re some kind of intellectual rebel for saying there’s no god/s (which isn’t nearly as controversial as people who make a habit of fighting with true believers may think). It’s kind of a safe way to be “the bad boy of _insert academic specialty”, it’s not like there’s any risk of losing any privileges and it certainly gets lots of attention! Being able to be self-critical and open to examining one’s own biases (and openly acknowledge them) seems pretty basic to any form of skepticism or critical thinking to me – not to mention discovering interesting things about oneself, society and all kinds of things.

        All that said, there is an aspect of fish not noticing the water they swim in to some degree but, once you’ve had something pointed out to you and you simply try to rationalize it away or demean the person who is reflecting back to you something that says something that confronts your self image as a “good person”, then you’re committing wilful ignorance (aka bigotry). And, if you’re claiming to be an expert on water then being unaware of the water you’re swimming in eventually ends up making one into a hypocrite.

      • Neckbeards invented Linux, how could I not love them. However, I stand by my statement that the community tends to draw sexist-because-of-rejection guys.

        However, I agree, sexism pervades the whole community. My thought on that is that just because you don’t believe in god doesn’t preclude you from being a bigot.

  9. I understand that it exists, I just don’t know why it does, especially in the skeptic/atheist communities. Especially in these extremes.

    Then again, through most of my life I’ve tended to get along with women more easily than men. Yet I’ve seen the reactions on Skepchick forums, other skeptic, atheist, science forums, news forums, comics forums… it’s everywhere. Guess we’ve all still got a long way to go, “baby”. :(

    • Because it exists in our (western) culture. Just because we’re skeptical, doesn’t mean we’ve been remotely critical about our pervasive culture.

      Skepticism isn’t about examining only safe things. Skeptics should examine everything.

  10. As a male skeptic who tries hard not to be a dick, and has asked for pointers and feedback on how to not appear to be a dick and was told (essentially) “if you have to ask, you are one”, the frustration goes both ways.

    I have zero doubt that the woman I was communicating (via email) with did feel like I was being dickish. I don’t need any “proof or it didn’t happen”, what I needed was some information on how I could change my behavior so I wouldn’t be interpreted as being a dick. I know I didn’t have any intent to be a dick. I know that if I was doing something dickish, my intent would be to change my behavior.

    In my experience, people who are real dicks, don’t ask for feedback on how to not be dickish. Maybe that is not the experience of other people. I don’t doubt that some people could ask for pointers on how to not be dickish, so they could be even more dickish, but would be able to get away with it better.

    People who don’t have much experience or have only bad experience with other genders, don’t have the experience to communicate with suave and debonair with them. Unless they get experience, and feedback when they behave badly, they never will be able to.

    I think that a lot of the problem is people that are new to being skeptics. Until one is mature in one’s skepticism, it can be difficult to appreciate the limits of one’s knowledge and be able to say “I don’t know”, especially when other people are talking about things that sound crazy but which they are very sure of (like nitric oxide ;). The reason skeptics get together is to share knowledge through a mutual exchange of ideas. As the barmaid says:


    When someone does something dickish at a skeptic meeting, point it out to them. I understand that we are not in the post-misogynous society that I want. The data really does confirm that there is a society-based stereotype threat that adversely impacts the achievements of women.


    There is a link where the paper can be downloaded. It is pretty clear that it is the condescending attitude that women can’t be good at STEM that is driving women away from STEM where they have just as much ability as men.

    • First of all, I really appreciate the fact that you are trying to be more inclusive as a person. Asking for feedback is a good thing, and this post actually started as a response to someone who did want feedback.

      However, I will say that it’s not as simple as “When someone does something dickish at a skeptic meeting, point it out to them.” I’ve done so in the past and was generally shouted down by others and/or met with total incomprehension, disbelief, and sometimes even anger. I have tried different approaches, from humor to earnestness to delicacy, but some men simply cannot brook the idea that they aren’t being anything but unquestionably perfect.

      Most recently, I called a guy out for insisting that women were “complicated” while men were simple, a statement that simultaneously dismisses women and narrows men’s options. I pointed out that as a straight guy, he has never dated men and thus cannot know what it is like to deal with being desired by and feeling desired for men. Romantic attraction and relationships are complicated no matter what the gender. His response was denial. It got awkward very fast.

      • What we need to do is change the atmosphere at skeptic meetings until it is “just as simple” as pointing out misogyny.

        If people appreciated that some are as defensive about their misogyny/religion as they are about their religion/misogyny, then we might be able to make some progress.

        In other words, religion and misogyny have a lot of similarities. They are culturally based, have no basis in science, are used to control people, and are used to justify the privilege of those with privilege in the status quo.

        A skeptic should be ashamed for holding to a culturally based system with no scientific basis that serves to control people and maintain the privilege of those with privilege.

        • daedalus2u, FWIW, I’ve never noticed you being dickish. Usually, people are talking about derailing, condescension, willful ignorance, that kind of thing. I haven’t seen any of that from you, around here. I don’t know how representative your comments here are, of course.

          Nobody has to be suave or debonaire to not be a dick, just open and aware.

          One more thing – do I remember correctly, that you’re on the spectrum? If so, your need for specifics should really be accommodated, I think.

          • Yes I am on the spectrum.

  11. Thank you for posting this article. The exact same thing has been happening at my atheist/skeptics club. As a male who heard the news of sexism and misogyny happening, I had to take a whole week to go through the 7 stages of grief to finally accept that it had been happening right under my nose. (I’m not stupid right? ) The one thing I wish this article emphasized more is the total and complete obliviousness of many male members when it comes to this issue. It’s not that we silence the females or don’t listen, it’s that our personal experience goes against what they have to say. Being told that my personal experience doesn’t matter was hard to accept and took at least 3 females to trump it.

    PS: I also didn’t know that neglecting to shave and breathing through my mouth had negative connotations. (Maybe I am stupid…) I was probably falsely associated with sexism and misogyny because of that.

    • Neglecting to shave is sexist? Unkempt maybe but I am very doubtful that women would laud say a racist atheist like neo-Nazi Tom Metzger because he uses a Gillette razor and breathes through his nose.

      • I didn’t say that neglecting to shave is sexism. I’m saying that if a woman were to guess what type of person you are, not shaving and breathing through your mouth isn’t going to encourage good conclusions.

        • But you’re being judged on the basis of your appearance. Indeed, the progressive atheist women at those meetings would IMO judge you on the content of your character. It would be racist to assume that an African American wearing a hooded sweatshirt is a crook. Similarly it would be sexist to judge a woman based on her attire.

          • In an ideal world, I agree that this prejudging shouldn’t happen. But in the real world, our brains are wired to make these kinds of associations. So, it would be best to not take any stupid risks.

          • Isn’t that the same logic by which skeptic white men are incapable of sexism because they are skeptic?

  12. I have never been to an atheist/skeptics meeting. Are such meetings the same as attending a medical grand rounds or a research seminar? No doubt there are sexist men in Medicine who would be dismissive of women colleagues. But in medical colleges there are strict rules that force individuals to leave their bigotry baggage at the door or else be sacked. If I attended a talk on say trinucleotide repeats in Huntington’s disease given by a woman professor, we are all ears, we listen and we learn. When I have attended meetings on medical student curriculum, we discuss issues regarding racism and sexism and strive towards a zero tolerance policy. All of us attend mandatory talks on diversity and sexual harassment in the workplace. At my alma mater, there is a Dean dedicated to gender and ethnic diversity. All of this works and 50% of medical graduates are women. And if it works in medical schools to ensure diversity why is not employed in the skeptic/atheist movements?

    It seems to me after reading threads such as this and on other sites that atheist/skeptic meetings are unprofessional frat boy entertainment venues solely geared towards deriving pleasure from religion bashing. Is it the anger and hostility towards religion and the supernatural that brings out the worst in some atheists? I’ve seen hatred of theists rather than thoughtful, collegial criticism of theism. Does this breed a strain of misogyny and anti-feminism? I don’t know and I could be dead wrong on this. Like I said, I have never attended these meetings. But maybe the whole skeptic/atheist movement should make a cultural shift towards the diversity path cleared by say Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Carl Sagan. And the meetings should have codes of conduct that promote an inclusive atmosphere and bar those that violate those rules.

  13. The thing that I’ve noticed over time is that, as a man, things like this completely escaped my notice until someone pointed it out and ripped away my rose-colored glasses.

    And every time I lose a set of those, there’s another under them, hiding something else.

    The trick, I think, is that most people aren’t really mindful of what they’re saying. They don’t think about how they’d feel if the situation was reversed. To the recipient, it’s not just joke, they don’t need to lighten up, and it’s not just a turn of phrase. Everything from “dead baby jokes” (and their ilk) to offhand comments about bringing girlfriends or spouses reinforce a kind of misogynistic bulwark that tells women they’re not welcome.

    I’ve noticed a similar problem in a lot of online discussions about economics that’s helped make me more aware of the sexism around me by way of example. I’m essentially living in poverty, and a lot of discussions about economics and ‘what’s wrong with the country’ assume that all the participants are able to care for themselves without problems, they already have jobs, etc, and the views of those of us who aren’t in the same situation are essentially disregarded because we just hate the system, want something for nothing, or don’t know how to manager our money.

    Being Othered isn’t ever fun and it doesn’t do any good. The culture of shame may be necessary for some things, culturally, but we should be using it to promote equality, not to ruin it. These little things are what keeps the bricks of the patriarchy in place and everyone involved in the skeptical community should be aware of the effect they have on everyone else.

    Even a meeting of only men shouldn’t include casual misogyny, let alone one that wants to include everyone from across the gender spectrum.

  14. Besides the obvious sexism in culture at large, there seems to be an element of skepticism that wants to focus on the easily-dismissed stuff like Bigfoot and UFOs, and wants to avoid bagging on the theists too much or having political discussions about race, sex/gender, or class issues. And if that means that their meetings are dominated by upper-middle class white men, well… yay! If you can keep out folks without advanced degrees, even better. It is a lot more fun to have a club where you never have to worry about someone criticizing you or your buddies.

    • I call that kind of skepticism like fishing in a bucket with dynamite. It isn’t very satisfying and you don’t have anything of value after you are done.

      • I guess it depends on what your goals are. If you like having a social club where you’re on top, you set the tone, and you get to boot other people out, then a lack of diversity is probably pretty damned satisfying. If your goal is to pack butts in seats and keep your paid membership numbers high, aiming at the “middle class white guy without strong contrary beliefs” demographic might be the way to go.

  15. There’s the other aspect too, if you recognize the privileges of your own upbringing, you have to acknowledge that maybe you’re not successful JUST because you’re intelligent and work hard. The 70s wave of feminism and queer rights in the 80s had to look at and address issues of racism, and white and economic privileges, within their own organizations – the atheist and skeptic movements are just reaching this stage and it’s mainly because more a more diverse range of people are getting involved (thanks at least partially to the internets).

    • This is an important point, I think. Learning from the mistakes of other movements. You mention the queer rights movement… that’s a great example of the consequences of fucking up inclusivity. Even today there is STILL ongoing bitterness and resentment within the LGBT community… about gender, about race, about class, about certain identities being considered more archetypical and normal and “real” and good for the movement than others, etc. And it has severely limited our ability to move forward. Let’s try to have the skeptic and atheist movements deal with these issues of diversity BEFORE they start to fester into long-standing grudges, eh?

  16. Accepting the reality that many women who participate in skeptical groups and events have similar experiences, the question remains: what to do about it? Putting myself in the shoes of an organizer, what steps can be taken to address what appears to be a serious issue. I can think of a few things: (1) Recruit women into leadership positions; (2) Recruit women speakers; (3) Try to steer some–not all but just some–discussions into areas that might be of interest to women, like perhaps anti-scientific attacks on birth control, alternative health remedy purveyors preying upon women, etc. I think that suggesting concrete steps to take to address the problem is a helpful way to think about if. Just saying to other skeptics things like “recognize your privilege” will have much less impact.

    • Good point. The problem, however, is that people don’t see it as a problem at all. You’re assuming that organizers are aware of the problem and care about it. They will only want to take steps to rectify the situation if they acknowledge that there actually is a situation. In my experience, as it stands, most such groups deny that there is a problem with sexism when confronted with complaints from women, then complain about the lack of female attendees.

  17. Ha – strangely enough I made a video on exactly this topic today. Leaning more towards harassment, but the same applies. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yuP2b4xGgNI)

    That being said I completely agree with you. I find it incredibly disappointing when people don’t get it. I think we still have (unfortunately) a long way to go before this problem starts to get resolved.

  18. I suspect most of those insensitive, misogynist guys you meet at these meetings are not truly sexist. When one attends a sceptical or atheist meeting one is actually participating in a group which is basically self-selected for disregarding certain social norms, feelings of others, insensitivity. Clearly, it is much easier to become an atheist if one doesn’t care what the polite society thinks about proper beliefs. One needs to be somewhat offensive and inconsiderate to tell his neighbour that he is a bloody fool to believe in homeopathy. And please, do not tell me that one can tell these things in a more polite, considerate way – sure it can be done, and it is probably more convincing that way. But that is more difficult, besides, most of us has this curse of being somewhat socially blind, which, on the bright side, makes being sceptical much easier. Debunking others’ beliefs is inherently offensive and tactless. So in summary one should expect at a sceptical meeting a lot of men who are to some extent social misfits. Some do not care about people, some are just blind to most feelings, or just unable to guess the emotional state of others and maybe some normal guys too.
    You might also suspect that most guys who attend such meetings think that generally our society is irrationally obsessed with feelings – instead of facts obviously.
    So what happens next? Here come a few gals who get offended [please note, they were by all likelihood truly offended] and demand that their feelings be considered.
    But don’t you see what that means? Heeding their feelings and demands would just make the whole gathering rather pointless. Since, you see – we make fun of people who feel their life energy flow through their chakras [and that is clearly offensive and we mean it]. And frankly, most of the time we are expected to heed your feelings. Why can’t a sceptical gathering be free of such considerations – just, you know, to satisfy our feelings for once.
    You are obviously free to organize your own gathering.

    • You’re funny.

      I’ll just do this real quick:

      You might also suspect that most guys who attend such meetings think that generally our society is irrationally obsessed with feelings – instead of facts obviously…
      Why can’t a sceptical gathering be free of such considerations – just, you know, to satisfy our feelings for once.

      Also, don’t conflate social awkwardness with a willingness to harass.

    • So… basically… our feelings about sexism are as irrational and dismissible as chakras and homeopathy? Because it might not be intentional, but that’s the comparison that you’re making here.

      • Well… yeah. Chick feelings mean less than dude feelings. You know, the same way that white feelings mean more than black, Hispanic, or Asian feelings. The same way that rich feelings mean more than middle class feelings mean more than poor feelings. The way that the feelings of someone with a doctorate mean more than the feelings of grad students, which mean more than an undergrad’s feelings, which mean more than the feelings of someone with no college education at all.

        For God’s sake, learn your place!

        • +1, as the kids say these days

        • Judging by how they’re working us to death, i’d say professor feelings are indeed worth more than grad student feelings :D

    • You are obviously free to organize your own gathering.

      And we do. We take all our time and talents somewhere else, where we are listened to and welcomed for our abilities, and then the skeptical movement wonders what to do because there’s no diversity and there aren’t many women around and why the general public is slow to catch on to skepticism’s benefits.

      If you are going to go through the motions of pretending to recruit women to your cause, you have to consider what they want from you. The skeptical movement is trying to bring them in; the women aren’t trying to bust in. If it’s the goal of the skeptical movement to get these women to participate, it’s the responsibility of the skeptical movement it make it a place women want to be. It’s not women’s problem they aren’t joining. It’s the skeptical movement’s problem. And if women are clearly identifying the reasons they are not actively participating and solutions to the problems they encounter, and the bulk of the skeptical movement blows it off or waves it away, that is also the skeptical movement’s problem.

      But if you don’t care about making women feel welcome, be honest about it. Don’t worry about if admitting it will offend people, especially if you think skeptics are supposed to be offensive and inconsiderate, and that paying attention to how other people feel–even skeptical women–would make the whole gathering pointless and more difficult. Just be upfront, and state clearly that you do not care to make skepticism welcoming to women, and that they are free to go elsewhere, and they will oblige.

      • Well, I do not care if women or minorities or whomever feels welcome at such gatherings. Fortunately for you I am not a representative member of sceptics and you will not have to suffer me in person.

        • Your personal feelings are not what this piece are about. Instead, it’s addressed to men in skeptic community who both engage in unchecked sexist behavior and then wonder why women don’t attend.

          • Although i don’t behave in a sexist manner towards women, it just so happens that most skeptics i know (young ones at least) are scientists/science nerds, just like me. Consequently, at least i, as far as i can tell, behave awkwardly towards women in a social situation. That might make them feel uncomfortable.

    • I…I don’t even know where to start, probably with how you threw skepticism out the window when you started your reply.

      See, there’s a problem here. You’re doing the same thing that religious wingnuts have been doing for centuries, things that skeptics find infuriating and fascinating at the same time. You’re participating in the greatest book selling tradition since St. Augustus, possibly even before that.

      You just took up the mantle and became the next Man Apologist. You’re defending the Patriarchy by saying, “Well, I don’t know. It’s not really sexism and it’s not all that bad.”

      You don’t get to decide that. The harassed get to decide when they’re harassed, and then conversations with those who are harassed develops into what we identify as harassment. We then explore harassment over time to see what the root causes are. It starts, however, with listening to those who were harassed. This is true in all things when it comes to social interaction. That means when a woman says to you, “That was misogynistic”, you listen. You accept what they said.

      Now, as a participant member in the skeptical community, when invited to, you can help create a plan of action to fix the problem (that is, the REAL problem, not just uppity women complaining about poor, uneducated menz). Just like any social problem, it should be handled with tact and diplomacy, and it should include all social members in the conversation. Especially those who have been on the downside of the system for the most part.

      You do not, however, get to tell the victim that they’re not victims.
      You do not, however, get to fix the victim’s problems for the victim.
      You do not, however, get to tell the victim that their attacker should be forgiven because they did not know.

      If the attacker doesn’t know, they get educated. If they continue, ostracize them for not acting like a rational human being and not adjusting to the society as it’s evolved.

      But if you notice there, the victim isn’t ostracized or told they’re overreacting or that it’s their problem. That’s because they’re *victims*.

      Don’t apologize for them. Reread the article and listen to it this time. Don’t just hear it and look for things to argue against, actually listen to it.

      • “The harassed get to decide when they’re harassed”

        Well, in most civilised places people delegate the right to judge to third parties, namely judges, since the involved ones might not be particularly objective about themselves.

        • No, in most civil societies, we use the justice engine to create an adequate punishment for the crimes committed but in justice the crime itself, when it comes to harassment, is defined by the person who suffered harassment.

          Look up any federal law on harassment, or ask a lawyer what “hostile work environment” means.

          • Really? What if I should decide that your comment made me suffer so much emotional distress, that I firmly believe that you maliciously harassed me? Then, by your definition I would have been harassed. That’s preposterous.
            I am not familiar with US law – not being American, but if it is truly as you claim to be, I am glad I do not live there.

          • “Really? What if I should decide that your comment made me suffer so much emotional distress, that I firmly believe that you maliciously harassed me? Then, by your definition I would have been harassed. That’s preposterous.
            I am not familiar with US law – not being American, but if it is truly as you claim to be, I am glad I do not live there.”

            Then you would be harassed and we should find a way to resolve our differences.

            We have a few facts here to start with.
            First, you don’t think that the victim has a role in determining harassment, while I do. I respect your feelings on being attacked and I sincerely want to make amends.
            We have a core disagreement; you believe women are not directly harassed and can be encouraged to join through various carrot programs. I think that there’s a core misogyny that still exists in the culture, which is reflected in what women say. I would say that my position is more based on available data than yours, but I’m willing to discuss it.
            And now I’m offering a plan of action; you tell me what it is that offended you, both in my behavior and wording, and you help me examine it and then we discuss the data and merits of our disagreement.

            I’ll keep checking to see if you do tell me what offended you, then let’s discuss data. I love data.

          • And now I’m offering a plan of action; you tell me what it is that offended you, both in my behavior and wording, and you help me examine it and then we discuss the data and merits of our disagreement.
            Was it irony? I really can’t tell.
            Obviously I am not offended. But in your framework there is no point in examining the facts since I am the “victim” so I get to declare that I was harassed, and being the arbitrator of my own victimhood I can just say that my feelings were hurt. As I said such a system is preposterous.

          • No, there is still value in examining the facts. You might be offended in my framework, but by examining the facts we can prevent future offense. If you continue to claim offense even after steps have been taken, we know that you’re insisting upon attention for validation or for nefarious purposes. I couldn’t presume your hypothetical reasons to take advantage of my hypothetical framework in our hypothetical situation.


            Your current stance, as an opposition of mine, provides no redress of grievances when someone is harassed, and you’re requiring a privileged source to determine what constitutes harassment (and no source you can offer will be unprivileged – everyone has some kind of privilege, even if it’s just a thicker skin and a survivalist attitude). In that framework, people who are harassed by the majority will be kept from complaining due to the harassment not being…harassy enough. Look at the US military in comparison to any other military; there’s a reason that news sources from Al-Jazeera to the BBC have commented on the US Army’s problem with sexual harassment and rape.

            Returning to our hypothetical, if you were victimized, claimed that you were a victim, and we entered into arbitration we would still have *facts* to examine. We know the things I did say, we know how you responded, and we can poll uninvolved parties to determine how they would respond to the same actions. We have the current situations we were in before and after engaging in discussion. We have the facts that we both used to bolster our arguments.

            And in light of that last sentence, here we are again, surrounded by women who have said that they do not want to go to skeptical meetings because men harass them. This isn’t just you or me claiming victimhood, but many people from many situations for largely the same reasons. They’re being harassed, and that’s the only logical conclusion to reach. In order to prevent harassment, we need to listen to them to find out what they feel victimized by. There may, occasionally, be real situations of misunderstanding – no law is absolute – but that doesn’t change the fact that we, the harassing group by association – cannot determine what harassment is and what harassment isn’t as it would be a conflict of interest and an abuse of power.

            QED. :3

    • “Why can’t a sceptical gathering be free of such considerations – just, you know, to satisfy our feelings for once.”
      “You are obviously free to organize your own gathering.”
      If you want to completely disregard any modicum of tact, that is your prerogative. However, you can’t expect such a meeting to have female attendees. The entire point of this piece was to address men who ask me why more women don’t attend such meetings, not to tell people “hey, we women want to participate, here’s how to act.” You can’t behave crassly to women and expect female attendance to increase.

      • “you can’t expect such a meeting to have female attendees”
        I don’t. To be precise I expect very low attendance.

        I actually do not think proportional representation should be a goal of sceptics.
        Why do some men lament about the lack of women at sceptical meetings? Probably they hope if there were women at such gatherings they could pick one up. Well that’s more wishful thinking than not – there are places for meeting people and the guys who are unsuccessful there, will likely be similarly unsuccessful with the women at the sceptical gathering too.

        • Then this post isn’t even directed at you. Read it: it is addressed to men who create a hostile environment for women then wonder as to why women don’t attend. Also, read my entire comments. They point this simple fact out to you.


          You don’t care about the issue and perhaps don’t even consider it an issue. As such, how to deal with it isn’t on your radar. All you seem to want to do is insist that men should be able to act as they want with no regard as to the sexism in which they engage that alienates women. Okay, fine. You don’t have a stake in this at all since you’re apathetic. Let those of us who do worry about it. You’re coming across as a troll.

          • I reread the post and probably you are right. It was not directed at me. Sorry about that.

            And a more constructive remark: Maybe the men who ask you about how to increase the number of women are not the same ones who are wont to make tactless remarks. The problem is, there are non negligible amount of guys like me at such events who prefer speaking freely to being polite. I do not really see any solution short of losing either the jerks or the women.
            One could say that the answer is easy – let’s get rid of the jerks, but these jerks are not marginal to the sceptics (at least around the circles I know).

  19. Here’s one example of rampant sexism in the skeptic community that we hear over and over from multiple male sources, both on the podium and on the floor: credulous acceptance of the claims of ‘evolutionary psychology’ whenever it supports the status-quo assumptions of males as more rational, intelligent, etc; males as wanting sex and females as wanting resources; women as incapable of spatial reasoning; etc, etc, etc. Much of the ‘research’ in this field is as poorly conducted as the ‘research’ that alt. med people point to to bolster things like acupuncture, but skeptical men seem to be incapable of applying their skepticism to this particular field.

    There is very little as annoying as being told to your face, with full seriousness, that (for example) you are more emotional because of your gender and thus cannot be expected to be taken seriously (And when you then leave because you don’t have time for that bullshit, the men behind you nod to each other and say, ‘see how quickly she got angry when presented with the Truth? Proof that women are more emotional.’)

    • In thinking about this (in the context of the post over at PZ’s), I don’t really care about all this biology crap. So what if there is a math gene on the Y chromosome (which there isn’t), how does that authorize or justify treating human beings without a Y chromosome different than human beings with one?

      I don’t want to live in a world where different people have different rights based on their genes, or who they are, what gender they identify with, how good they are at math, how big their tits are, whether they have hair on their necks, how fat they are, how fast they can run the 100 m, how much makeup they wear, whether they smile or not, how much money they have, what they got on their SATs, whether they can juggle, what imaginary friend they have, what real friends they have.

      I am just thinking out loud, but if there was a pin that people could wear at skeptic meetings, indicating agreement to be as non-sexist, non-judgmental, and skeptical about the way they are treating people and open to being criticized about their behavior and accepting that criticism and trying to do better the next time. This pin would give victims license to be up front with calling out people for behavior that was interpreted as being unacceptable.

      The way it would work, when someone wearing such a pin does something unacceptable, the victim tells them, explains why it was unacceptable, and then takes the pin and turns it back in. The former wearer of the pin has to not speak about the incident (i.e. not mansplain why the person should not have felt the way that they did feel). The former wearer of the pin has to then buy a new one or be treated as someone without a pin, i.e. someone who has not agreed ahead of time to be willing to apply skepticism to their relationships with other people. My thought is to make the cost to redeem a pin very cheap, ~$0.10 or so.

      This is still an idea in flux, one way might be to have a unique identifier, so the victim can write down what the unacceptable behavior was so the person could get feedback on that specific event. Maybe a person gets 10 pins for $10 initially but needs to pay $0.10 to redeem each pin that is taken.

      An alternative would be to put unique identifying number on name badges, and people then report incidents with an approximate time and a (confidential?) report gets made at the end of the meeting.

      My thinking is that many people would be shocked at how they are perceived, but that would be a good thing.

  20. The title has sprung out an idea from the corners of my mind.

    What if the men at these conferences are ‘required’ to actually bring their wives/girlfriends/partners or maybe daughters/sisters along. Maybe make it as an incentive, – “bring two atheists at the price of 1 and 1/2″ or something like that.
    Even if few among the partners will accept, from few of the men asking, I am certain it will constitute an improvement over the situation you have described.

    • Women aren’t property. You can’t make a rule forcing men to bring their women with them because women aren’t objects to be carted around at the will of the men in their life.

      You have to entice them like any other person looking at the (ugh) marketplace of ideas. That means not treating them like objects.

      • How can you understand from that anyone should force anyone else to do anything? Or that women are considered property?
        I suggest reading that one more time, specially the last part. I could write it longer, I presume and in more blank language to leave no room for interpretation, but alas my language skills are not that great.

        I talked about incentives for the men – which as it was pointed out are in majority at these events – to bring along – not through pressure of any kind, in other words if they are interested about the subjects at hand -, their partner/close relative of a female gender.

        This should act not only as a number game in which ‘sides’ get more balanced, but also female friend/partner/relative can act (metaphorically speaking, not like a puppy) to make these men see some things from a different perspective or even even-out their mob mentality.

        Calling upon the men that actually participate at these events to even think about the existing imbalance through such a ‘scheme’ is an improvement.

        I do not know why, but now I feel the need to say:
        - nobody is forced to do anything
        - only people interested in the actual topics should in general participate at these events

        also, men have feelings too – just throwing that out there, no reason what so ever, just because I feel like doing it.

        • I know a lot of married and otherwise “taken” straight men who come to such events whose wives and girlfriends refuse to attend for the reasons I outline in the OP.

          This isn’t a matter of baiting men into “bringing along” their female SOs, it’s a matter of making it so that women *want* to come of their own volition. If we scheme to have straight men bring their female partners without working to change the misogyny and sexism in the environment itself, all we’re going to have is a lot of disgruntled wives and girlfriends refusing to attend again.

          • It is my opinion that numbers will help change the situation. Trying to change the meetings environment to better suite women without having a representative number of them looks too much like the work of Sisyphus.
            Do not interpret this like ‘it is okay to have things as they are if women are not present in great number’, because it is not what is meant.

        • Where did I get the women are property vibe?

          “What if the men at these conferences are ‘required’ to actually bring their wives/girlfriends/partners or maybe daughters/sisters along”

          Let me rephrase this.

          ‘What if the men at these conferences are ‘required’ to actually bring their own equipment/clubs/balls or maybe golf carts along’

          See how objects fill in perfectly for where you put women?

          If you can replace the generic person in question with an object, you’re turning them into possessions in most instances. Not all, but most. You’re robbing the people in question of their own Agency.

          Men don’t bring along the women in their lives. The women join them to attend something. The women have their own Agency, get to make their own choices, and are not chattel to be carted around by their owners.

          So I suggest you reread what you wrote again and keep in mind what Agency is and how wording affects your interactions with the people around you. This is what causes problems – the lack of mindful communication – and the apologetics around it are simply disgusting to someone who has any interest in the written word and in skepticism.

          • Point taken.
            I think the problem is the way I use language. Also how people decode it, or how they choose to decode it.
            You choose to understand it that way, and I find it, in the light of your explanation, that you had a reasonable interpretation.
            That is not to say that I agree with your interpretation of what I said.
            Instead of “‘required’ ” maybe I should have written “incentivise”; and instead of “bring” I should have written “ask” [...] if they want to come along.

            No matter what, it seems though that the idea crumbles in dust if what Heina is generally true about women related with the attending men, refusing to come to these meetings.

            Wish I understood exactly how these meetings take place and how they are organized logistically, then maybe a better idea would come.

            Do we have a single thread/list with straight forward, simple formulated ideas of how to tackle this specific issue?
            I find that there is too much exposition of the issue(s), and too few proposals on how to deal with it. But it might be just an impression, after all I have yet to read all the things said on the site.

          • I don’t want to be one of those guys saying “You’re reading to much into to this” but you are reading to much into to this comment. You’re entire argument here is semantic. It’s based on the fact that the words “Wife”, “girlfriend”, and “partner” are nouns and in the English language it’s easy to replace a noun referring to an object with a noun referring to a human or vice versa. The phrase “Bring you girlfriend” is not sexist just because it’s interchangeable with “Bring you’re golf club.” It’s also interchangeable with “Bring your pals” or “bring your boyfriend” in which case it’s reversed so clearly this particular phrase, if oppressive at all, does not oppress one gender exclusively. Yes, the phrase is not accurate in that rarely in these cases do we put a bag over the head of any of the above mention people and drag them to our events. But if I said to my friend, male or female, “I’m bringing you to an even” rarely would I expect to be berated about how I’m objectifying them.
            I don’t disagree with you on your point about mindful communication, there are many examples of casual turns of phrase that have sexist connotations that are not considered often enough by the speaker. But I happen to think you chose an exceptionally poor example to respond to.

    • That’s uncomfortably reminiscent of “ladies’ nights” at bars. Why not make it so that we women want to come of our own volition?

  21. I can’t for the life of me understand this. In Iran, a totalitarian Islamic theocracy, 70% of STEM college students are women. Yet here in the democratic West, women are not represented among atheist/skeptic groups that promote STEM. Are the Islamists less misogynist in this regard?

    • That probably has more to do with the work environment than STEM fields necessarily. This is true in both Iran and the west.

      It’s been shown that women perform as well as men up through high school but post-secondary education shows women starting to leave STEM fields. The studies I’ve seen link this to the culture around the upper echelons of the STEM fields and how they’re ‘old boys clubs’.

      In Iran, that culture doesn’t exist and there are certain laws that the culture enforces that don’t create soft barriers to women in pursuing employment and education in STEM, but at the same time most women who get that education are never going to use it due to the way that women are treated as tokens for marriage contracts first and valuable researchers second.

      It’s got less to do with if Islam is less misogynistic and more to do with here the misogyny begins and ends in either culture.

    • You are mistaken, as far as i know, in Iran there is a rule that states that in any university the ratio of men to women should be 6 to 4.

  22. There’s a particularly idiotic (and ignorant) fallacy that gets trotted out about emotions and rationality – and that I see all too often being thrown around in atheist/skeptic circles. Anyone with even a basic knowledge of neuroscience and cognitive science vis a vis emotions, reasoning and decision making knows that there is not really a distinct “emotion” vs rationality” divide in decision making or really any aspect of life. However, people with a poor grasp of cognitive science may fall for the “men are rational because they don’t express emotions” fallacy (incidentally, a somewhat oppressive belief to men too). The same guys who are sexist to women because we don’t automatically denigrate emotions or believe in some ideological fantasy about rationality that is belied by our current knowledge about cognitive processes, are oppressive to other men who don’t conform to their ideological (and usually culturally predefined) idea of “what a man is”. I think this “real men are rational” fallacy is what attracts some of the MRA types to skepticism, where they quickly reveal that the fallacy of the “real men are rational” beliefs (our aged academics often don’t seem to be able to do much better, even if they’re slightly more eloquent and tends to take the form of paternalistic talking down to women about women’s rights).

  23. I have never felt comfortable with sexism talk. I don’t think I understand the issue in full and this post and comments only increase my aversion to the issue.
    Someone asks for an example and gets a “no, you’re going to dismiss it, like everybody else”. So no example. Someone suggests we bring wives and no, “they aren’t property”. The recent/biggest trigger to my non-conformity was the infamous “elevatorgate”.
    Yet, Rebecca recently posted about Hitchens’ passing and jokes about being blown away and *thus* offering to bear his children. Hitchens also invites her out, but hey, this is not an elevator, this is the Hitchens only being kind, so no problem. Later, the SGU wants an interview, so they send Rebecca forward (since she had interacted), but this can’t possibly smell like good old baiting.
    Please, I’m not trying to insult anyone. I’m saying that contradicting arguments and behavior prove that there is no good/clear cause.
    I do expect to be scoffed at for this, and rational women will still have my full support. “The cause” will still not.

    • The comment suggesting that people bring wives also suggested that people get discount admission for bringing them, plus it implies that we’re just things to bring along. Instead of trying to bait men into bringing women, why not work to create an environment where women want to come of their own volition?

      As for examples, you may have missed this, but I agreed to make a post where I cite examples. I am currently in the process of soliciting personal stories relating to women’s experiences with sexism and will make the post soon. I was just apprehensive (and still am) because in the past, when I’ve cited examples, they’ve been dismissed.

      As for Hitchens vs. the guy in the elevator, well, the difference is context. No one is saying that you can’t hit on women, just that asking them to your room alone in the wee hours in a foreign country while you’re isolated in an enclosed space is probably a bad idea.

      • Thank you for your kind reply.
        Regarding the discount admission post, I think you mention something that is key for the whole problem: “implication”. I don’t think a discount implies anything, but its only (to me) a creative suggestion. Perception (time, location, etc…) also lead to different implications on the elevatorgate.
        If there is anything more flawed than human perception, it must be the interpretation of such perception.
        I did read you first offering to make a post with examples and I will read it with interest when it is out.
        Words are “cold”, but I hope we can all bring all of the issues involved to a good end.

        • It probably seems like a creative suggestion because you’re no in the group being considered an enforced tag along.

          Think about it this way; what if you could make all the decisions you could make now, and no one would ever disagree with you, but before you actually made them (whether it be going to the restroom or buying a house), you had to call your mother first and vet it with her. She’ll always agree but you *must* tell her first.

          There, even if you have the illusion of making your own choices, you have no Agency. You live at the behest of someone else. Even if it’s a comfortable life, even if it’s mostly directed by you, it’s not *your* life.

          When you look at something like that, always consider what it’s like from the other direction. Try to imagine yourself in a situation where you’re the one being ostracized. Imagine hearing all the comments as if they were expressly directed at you. Imagine if you were person that this group of people wanted to “trick” into joining them at their convention/pub meeting/get together/picnic.

          Also consider why you want those people to join you in these places. Do you want women to come to atheist and skeptic conferences because you want to hit on them, because they’ve got good ideas and you want them to participate, because you think the movement needs more visibility, or because you’re tired of hearing the same complaints about not enough women from all the men you’ve seen there before?

          Every set of implications, every offhand comment, every talk title…all of these little things create the walls that people see when they look at these kinds of events. Whether the walls are problems or not depend on if they feel that these little things are hostile to them. If they’re inclusive, or at the very least not exclusive, then you’ll see more people from every minority attending. But just like a $250 lunch keeps the economically disadvantaged from attending, the Bring Your Wife line keeps women from attending. They’re implicitly told they’re outsiders and the conference isn’t for them.

        • In regards to the discounted admission/”bring your girlfriends” suggestion, yes, there is an aspect that you’re missing. The commenter attacked the suggestion as objectifying because it was phrased poorly, but beyond that, it’s not a very productive suggestion at all. Many of the men (and women) who attend these gatherings do have wives/girlfriends/female friends who are skeptics or who might be interested in the material presented. The problem is that a lot of them have attended one or more of these gatherings in the past, been exposed to blatant and uncontested acts of misogyny, and have decided they’re not interested in attending any more such events. I’ve seen comments from men as well who have made similar decisions after witnessing similar actions. Making it cheaper to attend for the people who are actively staying away without first changing the culture that supports the problems they’re avoiding will do exactly nothing to entice them to attend. Correct the problem, change the environment, let the word get out from attendees, and they’ll be more likely to give it another shot, even at full price.

      • In addition to writing a post with specific examples of sexism within skepticism, you might also consider starting a Twitter hashtag along the lines of #SexisminSkepticism or the like. It would be a place for individuals to report it as they experience it, and reading through the list on Twitter might give people who are curious a good idea of the variety and the experience of sexism within the movement, and perhaps universal experiences would reveal themselves.

        As has been stated above, too often do posts about specific examples of sexism within skepticism turn into tortured debate about whether the post author (usually a woman) is a reliable witness or if the behaviors describe represent “real” sexism. The hashtag #MenCallMeThings caught on when it was being discussed the kind of online response women bloggers get from online commentariat; perhaps a hashtag on this subject would have the same success. What’s nice about Twitter is it’s straightforwardness. You can certainly engage in conversation about tweets, and conduct debate, but the format eliminates a lot of the unnecessary pontificating and splainin’ from people who don’t want to listen.

        • Do you agree that in part the problem is that atheist/skeptic groups at this point are a disparate disorganized ragtag bunch filled with star bellied sneetches who solely derive pleasure from angrily bashing chakra healers? Barring Skepchick, my apt description of various groups would seem to provide fertile ground for the privileged to both consciously and unconsciously turn away women and minorities. That is, if your message is not about damning sky-daddy, then you to will be among the damned. So discussions such as sexism and racism are all too quickly dismissed.

          There is only one requirement to be an atheist–don’t believe in God. And to be a member of most atheist/skeptic groups, that is the only requirement. But for women and minorities, it is a disbelief in the supernatural plus a number of other things that belong under the banner of social justice. So how can atheist/skeptic groups evolve to be more inclusive?

          IMO, the key is unification under an umbrella of postive goals. Rather than always be against something, atheists/skeptics should represent positive secular missions for the general population. So what are all of us generally for? We all support STEM and there is a sociocultural drive to promote STEM diversity. There is a social justice imperative. Indeed, if atheist/skeptic groups are united to STEM organization(s) with political backing (likely from those that are left of center) of diverse leadership, then there would be very little room for misogyny.

          I am advocating a top-down change to atheist/skeptic organzations that involves marrying them to existing STEM organizations that already have women and minorities in leadership positions.

        • What a fabulous idea! I’m going to use it (:

  24. I’ve had my share of unwanted comments about my breasts/etc sent my way by plenty of atheist/ skeptical men I’ve met at one event or another (And I’ve had more than one unsolicited penis pic sent my way).

    Most guys at these events are indeed white and male. Most of them are also pretty awesome, and many I still talk to even though I may not go to many events. Heck I ended up dating one. It’s a shame that a few bad apples ruin it for everybody.

    I’m glad you spoke about race, too. Something I will never forget was the time I was speaking to a man from an atheist group and we began to discuss immigration.

    He let it be known to me that it was only “logical” that those of Mexican decent in the States to carry a “special” form of identification… because the “problem illegals” were all Mexican any way. My objections were shot down as being “too emotional and not skeptical.” By the way, I’m Mexican, and I come from immigrant stock. :P

    That said, even in feminist communities I find the same problems I find with the general male dominated ones I’ve been in. My experiences as a woman have been dismissed time and again because, I suspect, it comes tempered with my experiences as some one who is also poor and brown (Contrary to what some folks believe, these are not mutually exclusive.)

    Experiences that are valued in certain feminist communities (I’m not free from confirmation bias, I’m afraid) are those of white, cis-gendered upper middle class and middle class women who have the luxury of a good education. Other women of color have told me they stopped trying with these groups, and many go to Chicana and Womanist groups instead.

    Side Note: I find class to be a big issue that is often overlooked in many of these communities (feminist/skeptic/atheist).

    I’m glad to say I have not seen this with Skepchick, (I’m assuming the skeptical bent prevents things of this nature from occurring to some extent) which is one reason I read this blog everyday.

    I’m happy to see this blog post. Keep it up <3

  25. I hate to seem contradictory but Rebbecca’s post seemed to be enough to convince me that there is sexism and misogyny in the atheist community.

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