Listening to the women in the group
#1
This post by PZ Myers on Pharyngula concisely explains a recent situation in the Atheist community in Alabama.

Read the original post by Sharon Moss and Lyz Liddell. And Ophelia Benson's follow-up.

Considering how complex this issue is even in the West where women are better represented in such groups than in India, how can we listen better?


"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#2
Thanks for bringing up this issue Ajita.

Here are some concrete steps that men can take:

1. Read up about feminism. The Feminism 101 blog is a good place to start, and also a good place to check back before you contribute to a discussion about women or feminism.

2. Understand what male privilege is. Here is some excellent reading material:
The Male Privilege Checklist
The Male Programmer Privilege Checklist (Written for the IT industry, but most of it applies everywhere.)
Helpful Hints For Dudes (part 1)
Helpful Hints For Dudes (part 2)

Seriously, you have to read this stuff to educate yourself. Go there, bookmark these pages, and revisit them frequently because it takes an active effort to check male privilege - it will not happen instinctively. And when you see another man in a freethought forum guilty of the same, speak up - and send them these links.
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#3
Thanks for the info, Sunil. Its going to be a challenge facing up to all that social conditioning, and I know it will be a life-long challenge.

I guess my opening post is too general and unfocused. I did have a specific agenda in mind, as far as Nirmukta is concerned. So let me try and place this in a specific political context.

The link to the post by PZ Myers provides context in the first paragraph. The disagreement began when the subject "what atheist groups can do to attract more women" came up. What I took away from PZ's article, from the perspective of promoting Nirmukta and freethought in India, is that we must listen to women on this topic. Instead of coming up with grand theories (of which where are many), we should just shut up and listen.

It doesn't help anyone if no women respond when such discussions are initiated, but it is also an issue when the men are doing all the talking thus deterring some women from speaking their minds. Huh

"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#4
Good Ajita and Sunil. It is a fact that very few women are seen in a Rationalists' meet. This is a part of a deeper problem when women have to take twice the trouble that men need to take to come out in the open and participate in an 'out of the ordinary' get together and then they are easily silenced by the mechanism of the group. It does not take so much trouble for a woman to go visit a church or a temple!
When the Chennai Freethinkers' met for the first time, there were three women in the group of 15 - and the two married women had come with their husbands and one girl had come with her father. So there it is....

It would help to bring more women to be part of the panel of speakers and it would help to encourage women to let their children tag along, in case they have no alternative caregivers, as long as the meeting is not a professional one. And more importantly the organizers should ensure that no woman is talked down to and no offending and condescending words are used by any of the speakers. This should not be very difficult if the speakers are sensitized to the issue.
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#5
If majority male atheists in India come from my background and class this is a non-issue.
- Our grasp of spoken English is generally poorer than women so there won't be any interruptions.
- We are more at home with pervert sexual behaviours if the woman is unknown. Familiarization makes it difficult gazing, leching or commenting with sexual innuendos.
Manju Vadiarillat
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#6
Geetha, thank you for your comments.

Quote:"This is a part of a deeper problem when women have to take twice the trouble that men need to take to come out in the open and participate in an 'out of the ordinary' get together and then they are easily silenced by the mechanism of the group."

The first part of this seems to be a larger social issue, but certainly one that needs scrutiny. But more importantly, how do we ensure that "the mechanism of the group" as you very aptly put it, does not silence any women who overcome the odds to participate in the important work of community building? We need to hear from other women- we need to hear discussions by women with each other on this topic!

I had originally started a private conversation on facebook with a bunch of progressive minded women and men, with the intention of getting some much-needed debate on this topic. Although that conversation did elicit interested responses, we have been able to establish very little regarding understanding or addressing the issue. In response to a question from Aarti, I did some digging and just posted this.

Quote:It does not take so much trouble for a woman to go visit a church or a temple!

Good point. I've read one theory that claims the reason why women are less represented in Freethought groups is the fact that they are better integrated socially than men are, and religion provides that integration. By the way, the analysis indicates that, regarding the numbers of our facebook page members, the difference between women and men is greatest for the 18-24 and 25-34 age groups. These are also probably the demographics that would have the greatest access to religious services. But there certainly are other factors in play here.

Quote:It would help to bring more women to be part of the panel of speakers and it would help to encourage women to let their children tag along, in case they have no alternative caregivers, as long as the meeting is not a professional one. And more importantly the organizers should ensure that no woman is talked down to and no offending and condescending words are used by any of the speakers. This should not be very difficult if the speakers are sensitized to the issue.

It would be nice to see more discussion from the women on this group on how to go about doing the things you have listed. This is the main thing that I have taken away from the original article, the follow-up by PZ, and the ensuing discussion.

But we are still at the stage of initiating discussion on the issue, let alone addressing the many specifics. And it is best that even this initiation come from the women! I must confess that it is very hard to not simply suggest solutions to the issue, but that would run counter to what this thread is about. Except in one area - "power". Since the members of Nirmukta with administrative power tend to be male, it is important that these male members with power are limited by the application of specific rules. I know some people are against such "quotas" for "minorities" in principle, but I doubt any Freethinker would challenge the idea that encouraging women to take up posts in administrative levels within Nirmukta is key to building a community of Freethinkers that can address and offer solutions to the social and cultural problems of our time.

Edit: When I say we need more women in positions of power in Nirmukta's structure, I'm implying that women who have been with us from the beginning are best suited to organizing and welcoming more women into the group. This is something that the men can best help by getting out of the way. Most of us, including the men, would really love to see some of the women take charge around here, determined to not remain in the background but play the vital roles of building social cohesion and making it easier for young women and men to become Freethinkers, as the fundamental infrastructure of our community is being put together!







"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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