It has been a few weeks since I originally published “The Skeptical Boys Club” on the significant under-representation of women in Skepticism. It generated some serious response, criticism, and discussion. At the time, I tried to focus the article on the information I gathered, but tried to restrict the injection of my personal motivations for being interested, my thoughts on possible causes, and my thoughts on possible solutions. In the first case, those motivations were not immediately relevant. In the latter cases, I have no reason to believe that my thoughts on these matters have any value, and to put it next to “impressive” looking graphs might give those ruminations an inappropriate appearance of authority.
There has been some more recent interest in “The Skeptical Boys Club” by some individuals for whose thinking I have tremendous respect (but not always agreement, which is healthy) and whose thoughts on feminism, skepticism, and women in skepticism is infinitely more developed and considered than mine. After all, I can really date my intense interest in these types of issues quite accurately to precisely 28 months ago (more on how I know the date so precisely below). That is not much time to form a fully coherent philosophy of life.
So, I thought I would take this time to share some of my reflections from the experience of conceiving, researching, writing, and getting responses to the article.
1. I know the methods used to generate the data in “The Skeptical Boys Club” are not as rigorous as they could possibly be. There are a lot of very serious issues with Facebook data. This is not my area of research, which means two things. First, I was doing this in my extremely limited free time. Second, I have no expertise with these issues. I would be perfectly happy to have my conclusions completely refuted.
2. I was motivated to look into this issue by two things. First, my first visits to the Cambridge Skeptics in the Pub showed a shocking under-representation of women. The male-female ratio was worse than 5-1. Second, there has been a great deal of debate about women in Skepticism. While major Skeptical organizations claim that this issue is very important, but it was difficult to find any concrete, publicly available efforts to really understand the issue. I found this both ridiculous and frustrating. I do recognize that some will disagree that this is not an important issue, but that does not mitigate against measuring the phenomenon. As a scientist, I collect data on things that I think might be important, not just things I “know” are important. So, I went after the kind of data that I could actually get to with zero resources: Skeptics in the Pub Facebook group membership.
3. Roughly twenty-eight months ago, I definitively became a feminist. I am not personally invested in the intense philosophical debate about the definition of “feminism”. Nor was I, prior to this time anti-feminist. I was for equality, I just was rather apathetic. Then, an anatomical ultrasound told us that we were having a daughter. Since then, we have had a second daughter. So, for me, feminism is simply defined. I want my daughters to be able to do anything they want and become the people they want to be, dependent only on their capabilities, not on their sex.
4. I find it very easy to imagine that some individuals find the Skeptical community unwelcoming, because I’ve experienced unintentional, unwelcoming behavior myself. Skeptical culture overlaps significantly with Geek culture, which is not known for its positive attitude toward Jocks. I happen to be a Geek and a Jock, which has meant that I have spent a significant portion of my life having one group with which I identify being hostile toward another group with which I identify. Jock culture has its own issues, but we are talking about Skepticism here.
I’m not looking for pity. Society at large is excessively supportive of athletes, even if particular sub-cultures are not. My self-esteem is not in danger. It won’t make me “not come back”. It does illustrate how we do unintentional things that create negative emotions in others and make them feel unwelcome. Not everyone is going to feel “attacked” in an area where they have the rest of society supporting them. I’m going to back this one up with an anecdote.
Great Real Sports profile on openly gay rugby player Gareth Thomas. It still baffles me how homophobic the sports world still is. #pride
What follows is my effort to describe my immediate and lingering emotional response, not to hyper-analyze the post or critique Swoopy, as i do not think my response reflected her intent. I am also not going to argue that rugby is welcoming to homosexuals, but one of the highlights of the Gareth Thomas story has been how supportive his teammates and the sport has been. There is a difference between outward homophobia and failing to create a welcoming environment. At some point, my friends in rugby can no longer be exceptions to a general statement. They are the community. How am I supposed to respond to a statement implying that, on average, my closest friends and I are homophobes?
I am completely certain this was not the intent, but the emotional response is faster than the rational response. The result was to leave me feeling defensive and excluded.
5. There is also the general problem of having events that appeal to diverse people. As a family guy who works all day, Skeptics in the Pub is not a particularly attractive event. Because of the timing of these events, I have to decide if I want to see my daughters for more than twenty minutes that day, or if I want to sit and watch a lecture.
So, those are my not necessarily coherent thoughts. Enjoy.
1: I consistently adopt the convention using an upper case “S” in “Skepticism” to indicate the organized Skeptical movement (see I did it again) and the lower case “s” to indicate a personal philosophy of critical thinking. Think Catholic vs catholic in different versions of the Apostle’s Creed. Hopefully, through this convention, I can make it clear that I am concerning myself with under-representation of women in the organized Skeptical movement, as opposed to a supposed but unevidenced under-representation of a skeptical, critical thinking philosophy among women.
2: And, to put it in writing. No, I do not wish she was a boy, nor is there any regret. In fact, I am now glad they are both girls, simply because it guarantees that the rest of society will not be able to project onto me their belief that my existence would only be justified by having a male child. The Frogger and Bell are phenomenal human beings. Full stop.
3: It has been my experience that people frequently conflate the behavior of fans with the athletes. At some point, in the future, I may write on the very different perspective of the athletes performing the sport, relative to those cheering for them. Personally, my experience in athletics has severely curtailed my ability to be rabidly partisan sports fan. That being said, GO BUCKS! and GO DEVILS!
4: I can have a beer both places, and the amount of adult socialization at the Cambridge Skeptics in the Pub is currently not significantly greater.