If you want more women in skepticism, and the women who are not actively participating in skepticism say that sexism–how it manifests, how it’s handled–is keeping them out of active participation, then you have to do something to address sexism. If it’s your priority to have those women fully participating in your community, then you need to proactively address the problems they designate as impediments.
Ignorance is no longer an excuse. The conversation about sexism has been going on in the skeptical community for a couple of years, minimum (and in science and technology at least twenty years, and in general society for at least fifty). Even the people who don’t agree that sexism is a real problem ought to be by now well-versed in the basic arguments: stop sexually objectifying women, stop assuming there’s a biological reason women aren’t more involved, do more to promote skepticism to women, yadda yadda. What everyone seems to do within the skeptical community, however, is nothing about it, at least not until a woman finds a platform to address the subject and then it turns into a conversation of reactions to instead of preventing against. At least, that’s what most people do. With the exception of a very few men, just about everyone has left sexism in the hands of the women to solve, which is not a great place to leave it if you are trying to get more women to participate in the first place.
For starters, women are such a small number within skepticism that there aren’t really enough of them to speak up as a group or create real consequences for the people who engage in sexist behaviors (consequences like embarrassment and shame, so people will stop doing those things–nobody’s getting booted out). It is very difficult for most women’s individual voices to be heard, and because there are so few women who are leaders within the skeptical movement, them making the same observations and suggestions over and over again starts to sound a lot like they are just particular people with particular problems–possibly unique to their celebrity–and it’s easy to ignore the general atmosphere that affects all the women in favor of focusing on the specific personalities and travel plans of these individual leaders. Furthermore, the bulk of skeptical women are not in active skepticism. If they are vocal and outraged outside of the community very few people can hear them; the ones who wander over just to make their points to an established group of skeptical people who has never encountered them before lack a fair bit of, well, street cred. They certainly face an uphill battle trying to be taken seriously as interlopers with a problem that doesn’t seem to interest most people in the community. Finally, the regular women within skepticism are active participants because they are interested in skeptical things. They get tired of always being the one to have to talk about sexism, especially when the conversations turn out to be such unpleasant events. It’s easier to put up with the crap instead of tackling the crap, and it leaves them more time for other things. And frankly, it gets old. It’s the same old conversation over and over, and they can predict at this point which skeptic that they know is going to say what, and they’ve run the experiment enough times to be confident of the outcome, which so far has been no change. (These are also women you are at risk of losing when they finally do get tired of it altogether.)
Meanwhile, sexism persists and women stay away (and some leave), and despite your wish to have more women actively participating in skepticism you don’t.
Men are going to have to take on this argument themselves. First of all, there are far more many men than women, so even if a fewer percentage of men than women care about the problem there are still more men than women to speak up and do something about it. The group tackling sexism within skepticism could literally double in size (or more!) if everyone who agreed it was a problem acted. Second of all, there’s this unfortunate fact that a lot of people ignore or disagree with statements that women make only to mysteriously hear or agree with the same statements when men make them. (There is proof of this everywhere. Just start looking around.) It’s appalling that this happens in a community so ostensibly proud of valuing the argument and evidence above bias and preconceptions, but it’s another predictable (and demonstrated) outcome that they will do this, and if a man telling other people that sexism is a problem for women in skepticism so the community gets more people to listen, then that means more people will be aware of–and ideally interested in solving–the problem.
But this is the most important thing:
When men start speaking out against sexism in the community, and start taking steps towards educating people about it and eradicating it, it lets women know that they are valued–not merely tolerated–as members. That the community is actually a community that considers the personal needs of the people who are helping further the goals as important to the success of skepticism. People who feel they are part of a functioning community are more invested in its success. It also frees up women from the role of being nags, blamers, crabby harpies, and Generally Unpleasant People for always Making Everyone Else Mad and Airing Dirty Laundry to the Already Dubious Public–a negative role that contributes heavily to negative stereotypes about women, and thus demeans them further within the group–and enables them to be full participants who can dedicate their time to actual skeptical projects. You know that adage,”Many hands make light work”? The more people who are calling out sexism when they see it and doing their best to end it, the faster the chore will go. And if that’s taken care of, you’ll have more time and energy available to the fun stuff.