Talk to enough women about what it’s like as they navigate through the skeptical community and you are going to hear a lot of the same stories. They get groped in line for coffee; they get hit on before they get asked their name; they receive requests to post pictures of themselves online; they have their arguments ignored only to hear them repeated by another person and then responded to; they are accused of stirring up trouble when they speak up to defend themselves; they are insulted or threatened when they decline a request for a date; they are insulted and leered at when they agree to a date too readily.
Yet somehow it seems people never really believe that these things happen to women as often as they do or that they happen often enough to be a “problem.” When women insist that these experiences do in fact constitute a problem, they are argued with. There are lots and lots of reasons that the woman is wrong including (but not limited to): it was just that one time; that woman over there likes it; it sounds like a personal hangup you have; I don’t mean it like that; you aren’t sensitive enough to the other point of view. There is a dearth of sympathy for why the woman is bringing up her experience in the first place, and the whole conversation usually concludes with a dismissal from the category Anecdote Is Not Data. Woman fails to present evidence to make her case, and everyone else moves along as if nothing had actually happened.
How many stories are required before anecdotes become data? Let’s say you don’t think one guy hitting on one girl in an elevator at four in the morning is a “real problem.” What if it happened to her ten times? What if it happened once each to ten women? Is ten instances enough to make it a real problem? How many times do how many women have to tell their version of the same story before you can do something about it? Remember, these are skeptical women–women whose judgment and critical thinking capacity is perfectly acceptable to tap into when they are fighting to keep creationism out of schools or convince their friends and family members to vaccinate children. These are women as schooled in evidence collecting and logical fallacy avoidance as you are. They know how to make an argument. But when they make a case for a problem that sexism within skepticism is causing for them, it’s brushed off. Why? Why this argument only?
If there is some minimum number of episodes skeptics require from a minimum number of women before they are willing to deal with these problems, please make it known. Also, please keep track of all the times women speak up about the problem, so when they reach minimum number (collectively or individually) the community can finally address it. Alternately, the community could believe the women the first time they speak up and not make them go through unnecessary grief and spare everyone the drama of repeating themselves.