It’s easy for some people to brush off claims about sexism within skepticism on the grounds that “feminism” isn’t “scientific.” Skepticism has been associated in the culture at large (and within skepticism) as the cousin of the scientific method and technological advancement, and good skeptics always demand that claims be backed up with reason and evidence. Making complaints about sexism often comes in the form of anecdotes, however, and for people who are either very reluctant to admit to sexism within skepticism or else who downplay its affects or significance, criticizing feminism as unscientific and thus out of skepticism’s range wraps up the matter to their satisfaction quite nicely: they can say they are treating the matter as it should be treated and then they can ignore everything they hear.
There are problems with this approach. First of all, feminism is a philosophy. It is not supposed to be scientific, and dismissing it as unscientific is sort of a nonsequitur and is pointless. Nobody makes the claim that it is scientific(is that a strawman?). Feminism is about beliefs and values, such as believing that women and men should have equal rights and protections and valuing this belief enough to fight for it. It doesn’t require proof, or data, or predictability, or falsifiability, or repeated results. You either believe that women and men should have equal rights and protections or you don’t. You either value this belief enough to fight for it or you don’t. You can be a skeptic and not believe that women and men should have equal rights and protections; you can be a skeptic and not value gender equality enough to fight for it. Feminism has absolutely nothing to do with what skepticism is about.
If you are a member of a skeptical community that wants more women to join and yet does not value (or hold) the belief that men and women should have equal rights and protections enough to fight for them, do not expect more women to join. You don’t have to want more women to join; that’s your decision to make. If that’s not a community you want to have, though, you’re going to have to incorporate feminism into your community’s philosophy.
On the other hand, sexism can be documented by science, at least so far as the scientific method has been adapted to the spheres of psychology, sociology, law and judicial review, educational theory, history, medicine, and other avenues of rigorous research and peer-review. There are, as I’ve said before, thousands of published articles printed in hundreds of academic journals, dozens of which are dedicated to the topic of sex and gender. There is ample evidence of sexism–deliberate and institutional–in every professional endeavor, particularly in the science and technology fields (where the imbalance between men and women is particularly glaring and where the people are already in a data-collection mindset). If it’s accepted as a given–I haven’t done or looked for any research on this, but the idea is bandied about as pseudofact–that the skeptical movement draws heavily from the science and technology fields, then it’s very highly likely that the prejudices and sexism of those fields will be largely repeated in the skeptical movement. Why wouldn’t they be? People don’t view women one way at the lab and a totally completely different way at a skeptical conference or online. And it’s the same people in both places.
Of course it is true that no one has yet published a peer-reviewed, longitudinal study of the prevalence of sexism within the skeptical community. It’s true that women complaining about sexism in skepticism can’t provide that kind of evidence, but that doesn’t make them unscientific with baseless claims and assertions. Alternately, refusing to consider the problem of sexism within skepticism until you have that kind of evidence does not make you scientific. Women making claims of sexism can find empirical data to support their interpretations of the negative experiences they endure because of sexism in skepticism, and they can provide anecdote after anecdote of women reporting shockingly similar events all across the skeptical community, and they can predict with great accuracy what a conversation about sexism with skepticism would sound like (and run the experiment again and again and again). Meanwhile, the sexism deniers (yes, I intend all connotations of that word choice) are the ones who enter the conversation with a hypothesis based on what they want to belief about the skeptical community and hold on tight to that belief no matter they hear or read. They find ways to massage data to fit their predetermined hypothesis instead of going with the simplest explanations, and toss out data that undermines it. Fudging, I believe, is one term for it.
So we’ve got on the one hand people who adhere to the philosophy of feminism who can harness scientific data about sexism in society and make strong correlations to sexism within skepticism, and people who behave as if critiquing feminism as unscientific means something and who fudge data to fit their preexisting hypothesis. I don’t think it’s the feminists who are misusing the scientific method to prove their point.