As an individual perennially engaged in thinking and analyzing the hows, whys, whats, etc. of gender issues and how they impact this skeptical movement that I find myself a part of, you can bet I have some things to say about The Amaz!ng Meeting 7 in this regard. My experiences over the past few weeks, organizing and pulling off Skepchickcon, and then attending TAM7, have brought these issues to the front of my mind once again, and I’d like to share my thoughts and ask you for yours.
I suppose I’ll start with the big question that always seems to come up: Why aren’t there more women involved in science and skepticism? Typical answers tend to point to differences between women and men: women don’t like/aren’t good at hard sciences, women eschew conflict, etc. I couldn’t disagree more. Over the past few months, I’ve come to believe strongly that the reasons are almost entirely related to subtle sexism (on the part of both men and women within the movement) and social networking (which I will address in a future post); both problems which I’d like to think are on their way to being solved, but we clearly still have work to do.
Let’s talk about sexism. I’ll start with an example from TAM7. It seems to me that a lot of men in the skeptical movement, well intentioned as they may be, have a tendency to look at women as though we are some sort of separate species; monolithic and mysterious, and that there is some sort of code they need to learn but can never seem to work out which will magically get them laid and make all women love them. This was evident in Bill Prady’s keynote address, both in the video clips from his show, The Big Bang Theory, and in his tragic dating advice for the guys in the room. Barbara Drescher does a good job dissecting the shows weaknesses in this regard, and also includes video of the most offensive bit of Prady’s speech.
While I think Drescher is spot on with this commentary, she also does something which, in my opinion, contributes to the unwelcoming atmosphere for women. Well, at least certain types of women.
Personally, I was taken aback by some of the women in the audience. I can hardly be called a prude, but some of the outfits in that room were far beyond what is appropriate attire for any kind of conference. Whatâ€™s more, they were very poor, naive attempts at sexual expression that left me wonder just what kind of delusion-producing mirror they were looking into each morning and where I could get one. Just as an example, one woman (I would guess her age at about 20yo) wore a dressy black blouse with extremely tight cut-off denim short-shorts, thigh-high fishnet stockings, and 2-inch patent leather strappy spike heals which were at least 2 sizes too small. No kidding.
I honestly find it difficult to know where to begin here. You want more women in skepticism, but when they show up without properly camouflaging their sexuality you call them out on your blog? To me, this is all part and parcel of the same problem I touched on above of women (or at least attractive women) being seen as separate from (read: intellectually inferior to) men. Why is it that no one is blogging about the wide range of attire among the men at TAM7? I didn’t realize there was a dress code. Maybe we should all wear uniforms next year.
The fact remains that we belong to a diverse movement, made up of people who are by definition outsiders. Most of us have left our received traditions behind and struck out on our own in search of a more rational path. We are used to being seen as loud and obnoxious weirdos, and many of us revel in this fact. So yes, some of us dress a bit outrageously compared to what you might be used to. Part of the reason we come to events like TAM is to be with people who think like us; who accept us as we are, and this acceptance should include how we choose to express ourselves stylistically.
The answer to the larger societal problem at hand – the sexy/smart dichotomy – is not for all of us women to unsex ourselves. As women, we need to move away from the idea that there is only one acceptable way to be taken seriously as a woman in a historically male dominated arena. This may serve us in the short term, but in the long term it limits who we can allow ourselves and others to be, publicly, and it undermines any chance of ever being taken seriously as whole people. The solution as I see it lies in all of us just being ourselves, fully, and allowing each other the space to do that as well, without judgement.
Skepchickcon was a beautiful example of this idea at work. We had 9 panel discussions, running the gamut of skeptical topics, which were very well attended (by crowds approaching 50/50, I might add) and peopled mostly by women. We had productive discussions and debates, and many of the same folks who engaged in great discussion with us at our panels partied with us at night. I’m very proud of what we accomplished there, and hope to build on it for next year.
It may take time for some in the movement to catch on to this idea, but I think, ultimately, it’s the only way we will ever get to the equality we seek for our community.
Thanks to my cleverer half, Tim3P0, for help on the title.