When women try to explain the ways in which sexism–certain, specific aspects and behaviors of sexism–has kept them out of active participation of skepticism, they receive a fairly consistent set of responses. Some people listen to what the woman say, show them empathy and try to change what they do; some people react angrily to the woman and dismiss them or blow off the problem as insignificant; some people listen to what the women say and then go to great lengths to explain why they’ve been doing these sexist things and why they will continue to do them, and offer other insights from the giving end of sexism to help the women better understand the situation they are complaining about.
Explanations range from these complicated assumptions about biological sex differences and the fate of the human race, some tap into a long cultural history of gender roles, and some describe how personality quirks of individual people make it just so much harder to move through life without doing those things. Each one of these explanations is full of details, and human interest, and tells a story about one person’s struggle to get by, and can teach women lots and lots of things they may not know about what it’s like to be sexist. In fact, some of these explanations is so detailed and data rich that you could spend a whole week analyzing them from a psychological and sociological perspective. There’s probably material for ten dissertations in these stories! But if you are trying to reach out to women who have been avoiding active participation in skepticism for a list of reasons they can articulate, spending a lot of time delving into these stories from the delivery side of sexism is a pretty big waste of time.
Knowing a hundred things about why people do the things that keep women out of skepticism doesn’t make it more appealing to them. Having a better understanding of why people want to continue being sexist doesn’t make being on the receiving end of sexism more palatable. A woman might perfectly comprehend why some guy really, really feels like his only option is to hit on her when she’s alone in an elevator late at night and still not want him to do it. She might appreciate all the reasons why a group thinks feminism is outside the scope of skepticism and still disagree with their conclusion. She might believe that you tried to get more women speakers on your panel and still judge you for not trying harder. Having a really, really good excuse for maintaining a sexist environment doesn’t obligate women to excuse it.
If you want more women in your skeptical community and those women have told you what needs to change before they join, and you just spend a lot of time talking about why it’s been like that, you aren’t helping to solve the problem. You’re just talking, and when you are done talking, these women aren’t going to overlook all the sexism and then just join your community. They are going to repeat their list of what needs to change. All you will have done is made the process of recruiting more women to active participation in skepticism take longer.
Your perspective of why sexist behaviors exist may be fascinating, but sharing it here is not helpful. If you want to help solve the problem of increasing the number of women actively participating in skepticism, either address the issues women identify as keeping them out of the skeptical community or state up front you are not willing to accommodate them. Don’t stall the conversation by filibustering. Let the women work with you to make your skeptical environment more welcoming or let them move on to another organization that will be able to meet their needs, and spare everyone the distraction of your off-topic tale.