Over the past few months or so, it seems like there’s been a lot of talk around here (and elsewhere) about gender. This being one of my pet topics, I thought this would be a good time to organize my thoughts and get a discussion going. Maybe all y’all can help me figure some things out. If you like it, I may even make a series of it. FSM knows there’s enough material…
I guess I’ll start off with something that sort of bothered me. I know it was like forever ago now, but did anyone else cringe at that bit of the July 9th SGU interview with Randi where they speculated (sans Rebecca) as to why the skeptical movement has trouble attracting women? It was weird. Nothing they said was necessarily disrespectful, and they seemed to be asking the question in a genuinely feminist way (at least they intended to), but I couldn’t help but get the impression that they were talking about women like we’re aliens or something, which strikes me as a huge reason for the problem which spurred the question. Maybe it’s just me. I do wish Rebecca had been there for that discussion, because I’m sure she would’ve had something more insightful to say than, “Well, women don’t like confrontation so they stay away, but we don’t want them to stay away ‘cuz they’re good at teh social stuff.” (I’m paraphrasing here, obviously.) I do love the SGU guys, and Randi, but that conversation hit me the wrong way.
And more recently, it was suggested to one of my fellow Skepchicks that the blog’s content has become too skewed toward “chick stuff”, rather than bringing women into the “mainstream” of the skeptical movement. It immediately struck me that part of bringing women into the mainstream is to make the mainstream aware of issues that affect us as skeptical women, some of which can go completely unnoticed to people who haven’t experienced them. You can’t attract people to the movement if you don’t take seriously the issues that they care about.
I think there’s an underlying tendency for some people to view Skepchicks as the cheerleaders of the skeptical movement: pretty faces standing at the sidelines whose proper place is to support whatever the men at the top happen to be championing at the moment. For the most part, I don’t think this is a conscious thing, but extends naturally out of the larger societal view of women as either sexy or smart, but not both. One of our main goals here at Skepchick is to change that view by being out there and showing our brains and our bodies, putting forward the issues that affect us, and having fun doing it. I’d like to think we’re succeeding at that, but sometimes I don’t know.
In light of the comment mentioned above, I wonder how many other people are simply blind to the brains aspect. I skimmed briefly over our articles over the past couple of months, and saw one or two items relating directly to women’s issues, but mostly a whole lot of news stories, commentary, and book reviews that I would consider to be of interest to the “mainstream” skeptical community, albeit from our various perspectives. Sort of makes me wonder if the commenter even really reads what we write.
I know of a few individuals in the movement who disagree strongly with our approach and seem to think we should emphasize the brains/body dichotomy, cutting out the sexy altogether in order to garner some “legitimacy”. I can’t think of a worse solution. As frustrating as things can get sometimes, feeding into the problem does not solve it. Besides, to do that (at least for me, though I’m sure my fellow Skepchicks would agree) would be to portray a false image. What you see of me here on Skepchick is not a contrived character constructed to make a point or get attention. It is just me (ok, I’m not really a cartoon). I am smart, skeptical, opinionated, and nerdy, and I also have fun (which includes the occasional drink or 3), enjoy my body and my sexuality, and I see no reason to hide any of these things.
My instinct is that if we just keep on being ourselves, unapologetically, things will change. I think things are changing, but socialized norms are tricky things to overcome. Also I think it is crucial that we talk about these things. Making skeptics of all genders examine critically how they think about these issues can only help root out previously unrecognized stereotypes and prejudices, and, hopefully, lead to a more diverse movement.