More Women in Skepticism

I’ve started a new blog!

More Women in Skepticism: A Handy Guide to Addressing Sexism within the Ranks

I’ve started a blog to list strategies skeptics can employ to increase the number of women within the ranks. Each day I will post one recommendation that will hopefully provide insight into a woman’s experience within the skeptical movement and a suggestion for a behavior (either to engage in or refrain from) that skeptics can perform if they want more women working for their cause. I have found that it’s always easier to have a productive discussion if it is limited in scope, which my blog is. If all goes according to plan, it will be a space in which people can discuss a woman’s experience without hyperbole and derailment, and maybe open a few minds. I welcome comment and suggestions, especially from people who have experience recruiting members to organizations.

I used to listen to the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast, which is a weekly program presented by a panel of skeptics about topics within scientific skepticism. A recent upswelling of in-group sexism (ElevatorGate with Rebecca Watson and Richard Dawkins that you can look up) was addressed on the most recent episode (#312). (Archives here). By addressed I mean Rebecca shared what had happened to her and what Richard Dawkins had said that generated so much controversy, and then the panel discussed “sexism within skepticism” by saying that yes, there were not enough women in skepticism but that they didn’t want to discuss sexism too often because it might become boring, and that once a year was enough to bring it up.

Controversy about sexism in skepticism erupted on the podcast discussion board when it erupted everywhere else, but since the topic was mentioned on the podcast all threads about sexism in skepticism have been restricted to members only. (There are a few exceptions if you want to take the time to scroll through the General Discussion topic list page by page, but you can only perform a site search if you are a member.) These threads have been pulled–for technical reasons because the sudden onslaught of traffic was disrupting the usability of the site–out of the general discussion threads and hidden in a sub-forum that no person browsing the website looking for information about how the Skeptics Guide community is addressing the problem would even be able to see. This has the unintended effect of sweeping the community’s dirt under the rug, and suggesting to the public that sexism is not a problem. It also communicates to the public that people looking for ways to decrease the amount of sexism within the community are not invited to participate in the discussion. This is a profound disappointment, but it is the stance that the panel* and the website moderators have decided to take, and there’s not much I can do about it. So instead of making myself miserable over it, I decided to tackle the problem myself.  Hence the aforementioned blog.

*Panelist Rebecca Watson runs her own blog, Skepchick, where she and other bloggers address many topics within skepticism including sexism, particularly of late.

I think it’s pretty disingenuous, actually, to suggest that the topic of sexism in skepticism is boring to members of the skeptical community. Sexism is one topic guaranteed to bring out of the woodwork people who have dropped out of the skeptical conversation because they get it already that vaccines are good, creationism in the schools harms science programs, and Bigfoot doesn’t exist. I was only a participant of the SGU boards (not a moderator), but even I could see that board traffic had decreased since I’d started posting there. It was addressed explicitly once a few years ago by one of the moderators, and I noticed that recently another hidden thread**–the Games thread–had been opened up for public viewing for exposing more people passing by to the Mafia games (which are fun). I was surprised to see it go public, and I’ve been wondering ever since if it was a strategy to increase board membership because conversations were dropping off. It’s clear to me that skepticism in general–and this board is no exception–that people in the skeptical community are tired of talking about skepticism as a process, and have learned the critical thinking skills required to analyze claims about the world from within a skeptical framework. We get it already. People are ready to talk about the social dynamics within the group that is keeping it from being accepted as a serious movement. That’s why the topic triggers so much excitement. Shutting down and hiding the conversation about sexism is why it becomes so hysterical when it does break through. There are a year’s worth of frustration and confusion pent up to express. Plus it’s always the same stupid misunderstandings about and strawman arguments against feminism waste so much time–no one has the chance to learn anything at a leisurely pace, and because it’s all locked up behind closed doors it is very difficult for new voices to lend their insights to the discussion. But if there were a forum in which tiny topics could be discussed one at a time, well… visit my blog and see if you can contribute and/or learn something. I would appreciate the effort.

There really are so few women involved (for that matter, there is almost no diversity at all) that it negatively impacts the skeptical movement as an agent of change. It’s not outrageous to assume that the middle class white men who participate in skepticism now are basically all the middle class white men actually interested in participating. If skepticism wants to grow, it needs new members from new groups. Alienating women and arguing about your right to alienate women within your ranks is counterproductive. Half the people in the world yadda yadda (this is where a research paper would segue to classism and racism, too, but I’m already approaching TL;DR)… Do you really want to change the world or are you just in love with the sound of your own voice and always being right?

**There is also a Politics thread hidden because it was deemed that political discussions turned people into hotheads, which is true, and an Explicit thread where people can post pictures of what they like naked women to look like and what kind of sex they like to have and use lots and lots of curse words. It’s maintained so people can have a little fun without having to leave the discussion board; in essence, they pipe naked women in so they can have skepticism and porn in the same place, and they hide it from view so the public thinks it’s just an intellectual space for discussion. This is an unpopular interpretation of the purpose of the Explicit thread, but hey–it’s my blog. I will say that it seems tamer than it used to be, but then again all the threads are.

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