When women are represented equally within the skeptical community, the entire scope of the skeptical movement will change. It can’t not. A huge influx of people who have not traditionally had their desires made known are going to influence the culture and the decision-making process, and many aspects of the skeptical community that are taken for granted or actively valued are going to disappear. It’s not a future for the skeptical community that is discussed often, but it probably contributes to a great deal of anxiety about the recent talk of recruiting more women to active skepticism. It’s even more unsettling because it is nebulous and undescribed, and this undercurrent of nervousness about change is a major part of why the discussions about what needs to change to make active skepticism more appealing to women are so frequently toxic. Nobody knows what the monster looks like, and everyone is expecting something different.
It would probably be of great benefit for everyone in the skeptical movement to ponder the question of what they will lose when the demographics change. This introspection could be left to individuals, or people could decide to discuss the topic in groups. Acknowledging the drawbacks of social change is beneficial, and there is nothing to be ashamed of for articulating the things you wish would stay the same even though you know they can’t. I am not suggesting some kind of group therapy pre-nostalgia for the good old days before they are gone, either. Groups need to address the feelings of all members about impending transition, for practical and compassionate reasons. For example… Practical: If a culture has remained unchanged for a long time, it has settled into habits and attitudes that have promoted a sort of successful stability. Analyzing this stability specifically in light of what will be lost will reveal potential weaknesses of the new organization; spotting problems early can lead to quick solutions. Compassionate: Being sympathetic to the concerns of established members will improve group dynamics, because it will send the message that people look out for each other, and are invested in the longevity of the group and its membership.
Furthermore, voicing the benefits of the practices and attitudes that will likely disappear will enable the skeptical community to find ways to incorporate those benefits with new practices. It may be that concerns people voice about what they will lose will turn out to be unfounded, and that new and established members share more goals and values than they think they do. Exploring why people want to hold on to certain elements of skeptical culture will help leaders and members incorporate those motivations into their new policies and procedures (however informal they may be), so that people’s desire to work toward the goals that inspire them is not thwarted. There is always more than one way to achieve a goal; there are never only the two options of doing it the old way or not at all.Finally, focusing on what will be given up will draw attention to what will replace it, and people will get the chance to evaluate if the drawbacks outweigh the benefits or not. Prioritizing new and traditional values will give people an idea of what to expect from Fancy New Skepticism before they experience it, and reduces the chances that people will feel bamboozled by or resentful of or lied to about the changes that are coming. It will give people real control over how the transition will be accomplished. They might be thrilled when it happens, they might be disappointed, but they won’t be caught unawares.
Men and women within the active skeptical community need to ask themselves what they stand to lose when more women enter the ranks, and they need to answer honestly without fear of reprisal. This reflection should not be a long list of what they are mad they won’t get to do or have anymore so much as a thoughtful consideration of what they are worried the consequences will be for skepticism when they stop doing those things. Gender parity will affect everyone’s experience of the skeptical movement for good and ill, and everyone–new and established–will be better off if expectations for the change are proactively managed at the outset instead of reacted to by flustered people who didn’t realize what was at stake.