Friday, January 7, 2011

How NOT to respond to the gender gap

PZ recently made a post advertising the Southern California Secular Humanist Conference. While the poster was funny, I was a little disappointed in the list of names, and simply commented:
2/15 speakers are women? :|
Do I think that the event coordinators are sexist masterminds, purposefully plotting to exclude anyone with a preponderance of X chromosomes? Of course not. But I do think organizers need to be aware of these gender gaps. Some may be caused by subconscious sexism, but many are caused by a seemingly inescapable cycle:
  • Women aren't invited to speak at conferences...
  • So no one knows what good women speakers there are...
  • So when people go to plan conferences, all of the good speakers they think of are male.
Etc, etc, etc. One way to escape this cycle is to simply be aware of the problem, and work toward more equal representation. I'm not asking for 50% women exactly, but 13% is bordering on statistically significant from the expected distribution.

It's a big PR problem, too. You know how people keep asking where the atheist women are, or claim that atheism is a club for Old White Men? It's because they see events like this.

So how do you NOT respond to my concerns? Like the following commenter. I point them out because this type of thinking is way too common. Let me reply line by line:
Jennifurret, do you think the organizers are being sexist?
Not consciously or malevolently. Though the rest of your comment? That kind of is.
Should they seek out more women to speak?
Uh, yes. Already explained earlier in this post.
Do you have a list of such speakers you could give them?
I know you're trying to pompously assert that it's my duty as an Owner of Ladybits to solve this problem, and assuming that I've done nothing to help. But actually, yes, I do happen to have a giant list of awesome female atheists that is linked to repeatedly. Event organizers can feel free to consult it!
If you feel there need to be more women at such conferences, then by all means, go to such conferences. Get involved, write articles, get invited. I'd do it except I'm not qualified to be a woman, so you have to.
First of all, even if I was just some random commenter, this is annoying as hell. Obviously there are no qualified women to chose from already, so I should go and do the work to be at the same level as these deserving men. Thankfully this person proves my point (and makes them look like a total jackass) because I'm:
  • Involved. Board member of the Secular Student Alliance, popular atheist blogger, founder and former president of an atheist group.
  • Writing articles. Not just here, not just my popular piece on atheism at Ms. Blog, but actually published in an atheist book.
  • Getting invited. I currently have 7 upcoming speaking events, 4 of which are at conferences. I have a couple more that are potentially being worked out, one of them at a major conference.
This post isn't to just tell this person to go shove it. It's to illustrate how ludicrous and common this sort of thinking is. "Obviously women are underrepresented because they deserve it" is not only unhelpful, but an outright lie.

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