Saturday, July 31, 2010

Want more skeptical atheist women? Defend us

People in the skeptical and atheist movements often ask, "Where are all the women?" We're here, but we're still a minority. The next question someone will ask is, "How can we get more women to feel welcome?" Greta Christina hit the nail on the head during her talk at the Secular Student Alliance conference:

Defend us.

I don't mean you have to act like our knight in shining armor, swooping in to save us frail women when someone says something particularly nasty. Implying that we can't defend ourselves is belittling. But joining us in calling shenanigans on sexism helps us feel welcome.

For example, Greta commented on why GLBT people felt so comfortable in the atheist community. Whenever she would read something homophobic in a forum or blog comments, a swarm of straight allies would descend to rip that idiotic argument to shreds.

When you're in the minority, it helps to know that even the majority has your back. For one, it gets tiring being the only one defending a certain topic - and when you're already in the minority, you can devote a considerable amount of time and effort to its defense. For once Greta didn't have to lift a finger, and that felt good. But more importantly, it lets you know that you have allies. It's a lot easier to feel comfortable in a community when you know others got your back.

Life isn't quite as pleasant when you go around assuming all men are misogynistic pricks. And the vast majority of feminists do not believe that, despite our man-hating stereotype. But that stereotype is so persistent because there are women who are on their guard - I'm sure we've all met at least one by now. But when you think of it, it makes sense. When all women see are either misogynistic men or silent men, it's easy to incorrectly lump the silent ones with the misogynists.

The same thing happens with Christians. Christians who are homophobic, misogynistic, and downright nasty are in the minority. But when pro-gay, feminist, friendly Christians are silent, we wrongly assume that the silent ones are the same as the unsavory ones. It means a lot to see a Christian group actively defending gay rights because it makes gay rights seem less like a secretive minority agenda.

And the same holds for women. The more men rip apart sexist arguments without needing prompting, the more comfortable women will feel. I love it when a sexist asshole comments here and is absolutely obliterated by my blog readers - it makes me feel safe in my community.

Now, I don't mean you should blindly defend everything any woman ever says. Women can be wrong too, and yes, even women can say sexist things sometimes. But I do recommend counting to ten before calling out a woman as saying something sexist. I've seen a lot of comments here and elsewhere who think they're calling out sexism, but are actually pretty damn sexist. If you feel like you need to brush up your knowledge on sexism, I'd recommend the Feminism 101 FAQ.

I think PZ is an excellent example of an ally. For example, take the end of his post on the Girls Gone Wild "implicit consent" debacle (emphasis mine):

As you might guess, skeptical women are clear that this was a violation, and they can reasonably feel threatened by such a decision, but even worse — they can feel threatened by fellow skeptics and rationalists who react inappropriately to this case. I was left feeling rather queasy about the discussion on the JREF forums. A good number of people did respond appropriately, deploring the decision, but quite a few others react by either making jokes about breasts (way to make women welcome, guys), or by legalistic analyses that justify it in various ways, which all boil down to the "she was asking for it" defense, with a bit of the "she was too greedy to ask for so much compensation" argument.

Look. It's simple. Violations of personal liberty are wrong. There is no reasonable excuse to justify pulling someone else's clothing off in public, against their will. There is no reasonable excuse for profiting off such actions. Don't even try to defend it, accept it and move on. Don't make jokes about the inherent humor in assaulting women. Don't make it easier for women to be made uncomfortable in the presence of men.

[...]There has been a lot of discussion of "dicks" in the skeptical community lately, where "dicks" are people who are rude and brash. I think we've been using the wrong definition. If you're someone who does any of the above, or who thinks with a pretense of calm rationality that we can justify what happened to that woman, then you are a DICK with capital D-I-C-K.

So, men, if you want more women in the skeptical and atheist movement? Call out the dicks.

This is post 15 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

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