This suggestion is multi-pronged, so I’ll use subheaders for clarity.
Regarding the Feelings of Women Already in Skepticism
The women who are already actively participating in skepticism are constantly looked to for insight for what is keeping those other women from participating actively in skepticism. This is a good thing. Women know better than men what it is like to be a woman in the skeptical community without exception, and they should be listened to instead of argued with about their own experiences. And when the subject of why there aren’t more women in skepticism comes up, the people who care about the issue turn to the women in skepticism ask them why. The more sympathetic and rational people even listen to those women’s explanations.
It will occasionally happen that the conversation about why there aren’t more women in skepticism catches the fancy of the public at large, and women who do not normally actively participate in skepticism chime in. These women have different experiences about participating in skepticism that they try to share, and they know better–without exception–than anyone inside the skeptical movement what it is like to be outside of the skeptical community, including the women who are already participating.
It just so happens that the women who do not actively participate in the skeptical community often have criticisms of it, criticisms that the people happy within the skeptical community frequently resent hearing. These criticisms often include a component of recommendations for changing a popular behavior (including, but not limited to, not hitting on women at skeptical business meetings all the time and bringing pornography into the online skeptical environments). The people in the skeptical community have not found these facets of active participation to be particularly impeding, and they are often facets of active participation that many people find enjoyable enough to fight about keeping.
On Turning Women against Each Other
It is at this point that people in the skeptical community like to irrationally dismiss the experience of the women outside the skeptical community–remember, these are the women who know best about why they aren’t participating, and spoke up to answer a question you asked–by pointing to the experiences of the women in the skeptical community as a means to criticize the women who aren’t. Critical comparisons of outsider women to insider women include, but are not limited to:
- insider women don’t mind
- insider women like it
- insider women aren’t hypersensitive
- insider women aren’t ruled by their feelings
- insider women are better at science and math, and thus skepticism
- insider women know we don’t really mean it
- insider women have a sense of humor
This sets up a nice little diversion during which the outsider women try to explain themselves in opposition to the insider women, which with the right interjections can turn into an argument between the two groups of women about whose way is better for feminism and voila! You’ve ducked the question about why women are underrepresented in skepticism and yet you can still pretend the conversation happened. That way, you can feel justified criticizing the outsider women even more, and prove to yourself you don’t need to change.
Why You Shouldn’t Rely Overmuch on the Feelings of the Women in the Skeptical Community
The feelings of the women already inside the skeptical community are very good guides for what it’s like to be a woman in the skeptical community, and they should absolutely be heard. Nobody else, remember, knows what it is like to be them except for them. Where people go wrong is when they focus too much on what the women already participating in skepticism want, because those women are already there. They aren’t the ones being discouraged from participating. They aren’t the ones people are trying to reach. It’s too easy to assume as well that because these women are not deterred from participating that everything that goes on is not a “real” problem for women. Very often (I’d go so far as to suppose most of the time) the women on the inside of the skeptical community experience the same problems that are keeping other women out. Just as often, people not particularly interested in making their community less sexist assume that because some women stick around despite these issues, these issues don’t relate to why women are opting out (and that something is wrong with the women who do opt out). That is not the case. There are many reasons women participate in the skeptical movement despite sexism, and none of them are giving you permission to believe that sexism is not present.
Women already participating in the skeptical movement maybe have a higher threshold for crap than the women who are not. They may be consciously participating to address sexism from the inside, or maybe they haven’t thought about it all, or have decided that there is actually no sexism present. The women may hold a leadership role and benefit from the personal and professional opportunities it presents. Maybe they are conducting research for a graduate program–could be lots of things! Even though these women have found a way to move through the skeptical community, you can’t just point to the women who haven’t and say, “Be more like them and you’ll fit in fine.” You’re going to have to try to solve the problems that are keeping the outside women out, too, until they are happy with the solutions. Addressing problems only to the satisfaction of the women already involved will not make happy the women who are avoiding the skeptical community. If it would, you wouldn’t have an underrepresentation problem because they would already be there.