Many people in the skeptical movement worry aloud that attempts to increase the power women have within skepticism will decrease the amount of power that men have. They are all for equality, sure, and for “empowering women” just so long as it does not come at the expense of “disempowering men.” It’s all fine and well to help women, but not if it hurts men unfairly, because that would be, well, unfair. These people express these concerns when it is brought up that special efforts should be made to make skepticism a more welcoming environment for women, and when it’s said that skepticism would be better off if more women were participating.
“Empowering women within skepticism” is a vague phrase that refers to a lot of different things. When women have more representation in skepticism (say, half), they will have more power to freely participate. They will be treated as professional equals, they will have equal time to express themselves, their words will be taken with equal consideration, the issues they value will be addressed equally often, they will not be judged by different standards, and they will be shown equal respect as human beings. This kind of environment–in which women as a group are treated as intellectual resources instead of tolerated as guests and groupies–empowers individual women because it enables them to be creative and outspoken, it drastically lessens their fears about being able maintain their personal boundaries (and, sadly, sometimes their safety), and it paves the way for them to take on leadership roles. Right now, most women do not have this power in skepticism, because the skeptical community has not prioritized creating an environment in which women can do these things (in great part because the values of the skeptical community are set by the people in it rather than out of it; yes, it’s a vicious cycle). If women are empowered to participate, skepticism’s membership will increase, and it will have a broader focus that can reach more segments of the general population. This makes the skeptical community stronger.
In short: When the skeptical community truly welcomes women, they will be empowered as a group because they will be fully represented in membership and leadership and can direct skepticism to address their needs too, and they will be empowered as individuals because they will have more opportunities to work as skeptics without being distracted or intimidated by things like hostility and sexism. When they encounter hostility or sexism, the community will support them towards solving the problem instead of attacking them as creating a bigger one.
Which brings up to how empowering women will disempower men. Yes, it’s true. When women as a group are represented within skepticism in equal numbers to their presence in the general population, they will want to spend half of skepticism’s time working on the projects they value. They will want to assume half of the leadership positions and speak for half the time at skeptical meetings, and fill up half the space in the newsletter. Right now, even though they only represent half of the general population, men make more than half the decisions about what projects skepticism should pursue. They hold more than half of the leadership positions and they speak more than half the time at skeptical meetings, and they appear in more than half of the space in the newsletter. When women are fully represented in skepticism and claim their half of the power, the power that men as a group have will be less. They will be disempowered. I don’t know how much control they have over skepticism now (85 percent? 75 percent?*), but they are going to lose a large chunk of it. The amount of their power is going to go down. Probably pretty far down–all the way to half. When women as a group are fully represented in the active skeptical movement, men as a group are only going to be in power of half of it. But that’s OK. They really shouldn’t have more than half of it now (and they really shouldn’t be complaining so vehemently about having to share, but that’s just like my opinion, man).
*I don’t consider the number of female attendees and speakers at TAM to be very representative of the skeptical movement, so please don’t bring up “40%” and “50%” respectively in response to this post, even though the progress TAM has made with improving said numbers is admirable and encouraging and a good model for what other skeptical event organizers should aim for.
But that’s just the power that men as a group will lose. Men as individuals have nothing to worry about. When women as individuals are fully empowered within the skeptical movement, it will not affect the level of individual men’s empowerment at all. They will still be able to address the topics they value, assume leadership positions, express themselves, take risks, and have their personal boundaries respected just like they have always had and just like they have now. Their opportunities to work on skepticism without encountering distractions or hostility will be unchanged, and they will continue to be valued as humans, allies and as skeptical, intellectual partners. They will lose none of these privileges by extending them to women. Unlike the dynamics of two groups of people sharing power (see above), individuals interacting with each other is not a zero-sum game.