Wednesday, July 13, 2011

There's More To It Than Just Men Hitting On Women

The community seems to be cooling off on Elevatorgate now that TAM9 is here and those involved (Watson & Dawkins) will no doubt move towards reconciliation because they're sharing a common platform (and they're rational people). I've had some time to reflect on some of the points raised by the sorry affair and
wanted to express some thoughts I've had.

The whole point that Rebecca Watson made about men's behaviour and attitude towards women is bang on and I can't disagree; women who've expressed a wish that they don't want to be hit on should not be hit on and they have a right to be pissed off if ignorant twats ignore their wishes. The motivation behind making such a statement is that she has legitimate concerns about the underrepresentation of women in the skeptical movement.

However, I'd like to question the very reasoning behind this. Unless there is evidence that there exists a higher occurence of creepy, ignorant guys in the movement than in the population on average (which I have not seen presented) then perhaps things aren't as straightforward as some people believe and I would hate for us to be overlooking any other factors that may be putting women off.

If there are no more jerks in the skeptical movement than in any other sample of social groups then Watson's request for men to be more empathetic should be universalised and directed at all men everywhere. As a guy who considers himself a feminist this is something I can really agree with. But let us not forget that there are other situations where men are just as bad (if not worse) and yet there is no problem of women being underrepresented: bars and clubs, gyms, swimming pools, shopping centres, resteraunts, dance classes etc. This doesn't support the simple hypothesis that women don't go to places where men can be dicks. I'm not saying that any individual is advocating such a simplistic view of the problem, but the current arguments in the blogosphere suggest such simple mindedness when discussing the problem.

My view is that just like other communities, such as video gaming and sci-fi, the ultimate reason women are reluctant to join is because there aren't many women already in the community. It's a case of the chicken and the egg. A low number of a specific group in a community focuses all negative aspects on to that minority e.g. a few women get hit on my more men and ethnic minorities suffer increased prejudice; in both cases any perceived problems are magnified.

Therefore it is society as a whole that needs to sort itself out, not just the (usually) rational and intelligent community that has identified the problems. But we must also not be blinkered in our approach; we must identify all obstacles to new community members and discuss them in a rational and considerate manner.

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