Of pears and atmospheres

Jen at Blag Hag is attempting to clarify a few points about sexism and also hoping the drama will die now. I haven’t read all the relevant documents, but the gist of it is that there was a panel at a regional atheist meeting at which a woman objected to a bit of debatably sexist vocabulary and then all hell broke loose.

There’s a video of the relevant part of the panel, and I broke down and watched it this morning.

Here’s the thing. I can see that it’s not a slam-dunk that the word “female” is necessarily sexist…but by god that panel was sexist. It was sexist from the beginning (the beginning of that video, at least). It doubtless wasn’t intentionally sexist, but oh lordy was it sexist. It was reekingly obnoxious. I would have been out of there in about 30 seconds. Not to go cry in the toidy, just to get the hell out.

The panel was all men except for one woman, and that one woman pretty unmistakably found it futile to try to pull her weight. The trouble is that at least two of the men on the panel were loud and domineering and happy to do all the talking. Hello? That’s the kind of thing that has been silencing women for forever! The combination of total outnumbering and loud bossy “this is how it is” pontificating creates a thick fog of male butch macho guyishness that a minority of women just can’t cut through.

The atmosphere in that room was horribly locker-roomish. And it didn’t need to be. If there had been more women on the panel and if the men on the panel had been better chosen, things would have been different. As it was…it was just frankly repellent.

It annoys me that people still don’t get this. I remember being surprised forty years ago that people didn’t get this – even avowedly and energetically feminist men didn’t get this. Even avowedly and energetically feminist men would still cheerfully hijack conversations in such a way that any women present just gave up. Even avowedly and energetically feminist men would still listen to each other but interrupt any woman who started to talk. Even avowedly and energetically feminist men would still not feel the smallest discomfort that the women had fallen totally silent and that male voices alone filled the room.

That atheist panel in fact seems like a throwback to those days, when second-wave feminism was new and the men hadn’t quite re-learned old habits yet. That guy with the stentorian voice who did all the talking should get a clue. People who organize panels should leave guys like that off them.

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