The number of females in the freethought movement is disproportionate to the amount of males. When we look at leadership roles and who the spokespeople are, that number drops even more. I spent quite some time as the only female member of our local group’s officer team, and I attended quite a few meetups where I was the lone lady (or one of two) in attendance. However, this isn’t a problem that is specific to our local group (which has actually evened out quite nicely); I have friends from all over that tell the same tale.
So what leads to this? I have some thoughts.
- Lack of women in leadership positions. It gets old seeing your worldview continuously represented by people that aren’t like you. I’m not advocating for there being a token female in leadership, but there are qualified females that are able and willing to step into these roles.
- Making comments about women’s appearance. I remember once when we were going to do some presentation and the two people doing it were males. They came up with the idea that they should “make it look like a woman could do it too” and selected who they wanted to be that woman because she was “exotic looking.” I remember another meetup where a male asked me where “all the pretty young ladies” were at. These kind of comments are going to scare away your female members pretty quick; especially the ones that are new and might not already have an established relationship with the people making the comments.
- Uncomfortable staring. I have sat through many a lunch or conference session or whatever while someone stared at my chest. Yes, I have decent sized breasts. No, they’re not always covered up. But they don’t have to be, and whereas I’m okay with an admiring glance, continued staring makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Particularly when I’m acting in a professional capacity and I realize it doesn’t matter at all what I’m saying, just that my breasts are present.
- The assumption that everyone is there for a date. A girl showed up at a thing, it obviously must mean she wants your body.
- Bringing in all male speakers and lecturers. There are very smart and talented men and women out there; surely you can find a variety. It’s nice for everyone to see people that are like them; it makes them feel like maybe there is a place for them in the group, too.
- Sexism. Dealing with sexism is exhausting, and some women just don’t want to deal with it. In leadership positions, women are often called “bossy” or “bitchy” and sexism is frequently amplified.
There’s another thing that I’ve noticed as of late; women that don’t support other women. This is by no means a problem just in the freethought movement, but it resides there as well. It’s as though everything is a competition and there’s only room for one woman. I’ve seen cattiness, passive aggressive behavior, one-upping, and trying to shove the other female out rather than working together. Perhaps this idea has been created because often there is only one female on a leadership team, or because there are significantly fewer women in politics, and less women in leadership roles.
Here’s the deal: there is plenty room for multiple women. There is no need to tear each other down in hopes of furthering oneself. What we need to do is band together, support each other, and listen to each other. That’s how we will achieve equal positions and equal representation. When people stop worrying about what sex or gender someone is, and start looking at skills and ability, we will see a much more evenly weighted movement.
This is something I want to work on this year; an initiative to help support women in leadership positions within the atheist/skeptic/freethought movements. I’ve got ideas formulating in my head, and I’m hoping to find some time in the near future to start taking them from the abstract and creating reality. But for now, I’ll just say thank-you to all the women that serve in leadership positions within the movement, or who act as a spokesperson, or who come to meetings, volunteer their time and energy, or make a meetup a little more welcoming for someone else. A big thank-you as well to the men and women who whole heartedly support them, and don’t bring sex or gender into the equation.
Together we could rock this thing, if we could just start looking past what kind of genitals someone has.