Why Would Women Choose Not To Return To An Atheist And/Or Skeptical Convention?

There’s two highly-recommended blogposts and a video AND a comment on a publicly-available Facebook discussion that have captured my attention recently – and they have prompted an additional question from me.

From ICBS Everywhere - What Matters:

Newsflash: The issues addressed by the JREF and other skeptic organizations matter to me. They matter to others. They “matter”.

It is easy to wave the vague flag of liberal ideology, to throw out terms such as “marginalized groups” and claim to care about the well-being of others, but how does that translate to real progress? What, exactly, are you doing that “matters” more than the work you claim does not “matter”?

Mission Drift, Conflation, and Food For Thought:

If, for example, secular conferences take on gay marriage, why not polygamy? Do all skeptics, secularists, and atheists agree with me that polygamy should be legalized? How about an effort to eradicate marriage altogether? What about government-run health care? How about education? Is privatization the answer? What about charter schools? Education, after all, is a central issue for those who care about social justice, so why should skeptics and secularists talk about it?

I’ll tell you why: we do not agree on the solutions, nor do we agree on what is “fair” or “moral” in these areas. These are issues of values. Skeptics can discuss evidence regarding specific questions (e.g., whether outcomes-based teaching is effective), but skepticism cannot tell us whether or not the education of children should be the responsibility of the government. When groups endorse specific values and conclusions which cannot be empirically supported, they’re endorsing ideologies and, in the case of skepticism at least, rejecting the very methods they claim to promote.

Click on the links to read the blogposts in full and please consider commenting over there on them, as they do deserve to be read fully and in context.

The second is a video, which promoted me to post to its creator, FearBlandness, a link to a (2010) blogpost I made on the Young Australian Skeptics site about previous investigations I’d done into numbers of women on the stage and in the audience.  FearBlandness wants to know why in 2012 about the gender parity at conferences, particularly after her experiences at the recent Global Atheist Convention:

I recently read a discussion (that is publicly available on Facebook, as well as visible to non-Facebook members) about attendees of one particular skeptical conference, The Amazing Meeting. One comment has stuck with me, and it is by DJ Grothe. You can read the full context here:

Last year we had 40% women attendees, something I’m really happy about. But this year only about 18% of TAM registrants so far are women, a significant and alarming decrease, and judging from dozens of emails we have received from women on our lists, this may be due to the messaging that some women receive from various quarters that going to TAM or other similar conferences means they will be accosted or harassed. (This is misinformation. Again, there’ve been on reports of such harassment the last two TAMs while I’ve been at the JREF, nor any reports filed with authorities at any other TAMs of which I’m aware.) We have gotten emails over the last few months from women vowing never to attend TAM because they heard that JREF is purported to condone child-sex-trafficking, and emails in response to various blog posts about JREF or me that seem to suggest I or others at the JREF promote the objectification of women, or that we condone violence or threats of violence against women, or that they believe that women would be unsafe because we feature this or that man on the program. I think this misinformation results from irresponsible messaging coming from a small number of prominent and well-meaning women skeptics who, in trying to help correct real problems of sexism in skepticism, actually and rather clumsily themselves help create a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe, and I find that unfortunate.

[My emphasis in bold].

I’d hate for the drop in women attending a conference to be for those reasons too. I’d like to think, as the ICBS Everywhere posts demonstrate, that there’s people attending because we have concerns about issues in skepticism, atheism, secularism, what have you, that are concerns to everyone.


I’d like to know why women may go to a skeptical conference and not return – or why they may have the opportunity and choose otherwise. I’m not just talking about the JREF Amazing Meeting, I’m talking about such conferences in general. If you’d like to comment here, I’d appreciate it.

About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a former Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide. She regularly presents a news and current affairs show on RTRFM's The Mag (tune in on Tuesdays!).
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science. She files her nails while they drag the lake.