The Woman Problem

It’s an odd way to put it, I know, but it gets your attention. I could have called this the Atheist and Skeptic Problem, which is more accurate, but leads people to start listing all of our problems, starting with how annoying we are, and just for once I’d rather not go down that road. So here’s the Woman Problem, and it’s not a problem with women: it’s a problem with atheist and skeptic groups looking awfully testosteroney. And you all know it’s true, every time I post a photo of some sampling of the audience at an atheist meeting, it is guaranteed that someone will count the contribution of each sex and it will be consistently skewed Y-ward.

Why? And what are we going to do about it?

Obviously, the way for us to answer these questions is for me, the loud and assertive male, to pontificate on the issues and tell the women what’s wrong here and how they can fix it. That would be the manly thing to do, after all — let’s take charge and tell the little ladies what to do so we don’t look quite so sexist when the all-male review prances about on the stage. More tokens, please, join us up here! Make us look good!

But no. I think the right answer is for us males to shut up now and then and listen. It’s not for us men to tell women how to fix our (both men and women) problems, but if we’re to have a lasting and equitable representation at the tables of atheism and skepticism, the guys who currently dominate need to step back and stop pushing.

I was thinking about this because I was reading Skeptifem’s take on the absence of female skeptics, and my first reaction was that it was pretty good, but I had some little disagreements here and there where I thought I could put together a quick blog post with plusses and minuses listed…but then I realized that these are the problems she honestly sees. These are real obstacles in both perception and reality, not an academic exercise. Shut up and listen, I told myself.

So I’m going to try something a little different. Instead of telling you my opinion, I’m going to forgo the essential principle of blogging (which is “Me! Me!”) and just ask people, especially women, to leave links to their godless/skeptical feminist blog or make suggestions or gripe or tell me what these stupid male-dominated conventions have to do to correct the imbalance. I know there are some great blogs out there run by women — Skepchicks and Greta and Ophelia and more — so share more wealth. Skepchicon 2010 is happening this weekend, so people can nag me there, too. I shall be a passive receptacle for your ideas.

I do have to make one suggestion (the testosterone compels me) for something I’d really like to see happen. Skepchicon 2010 is terrific, but it’s fairly small in scale. Meanwhile, Atheist Alliance International is sponsoring all these big noisy conferences, and lately they’ve been themed: Copenhagen was Gods and Politics, Montreal will be Atheists Without Borders. I think what we really need is a Women and Secularism conference, organized by women and for both male and female freethinkers, where the women call all the shots and bring together all these great homogametic speakers — while the women are always the minority at these conferences, there’s still always great talent, and looking over the lists of past speakers it would be easy to put together a stellar female cast. All we need is some uppity women with ambition to make it happen, and the application of a little pressure to the staff at AAI.

Oh, and guys: in this thread, unless you’re sincerely trying to be fem-friendly and make positive suggestions and ask for more information and read attentively, take a back seat for a bit, OK? It’s not that hard to do.