Feminist Women in Male-Dominated Spaces

Feminist women who operate or spend time in predominately male spaces (be they online or in person) frequently experience a decent amount of pushback. Some spaces are better than others, and I consider this forum to be one of those “better” mostly dude zones (heck, several of the men who are active on this forum seem to self-identify as feminist), but even here some interactions prove problematic, as has been brought up elsewhere over the years.

Thus, I think this thread is needed. This is not an accusation or a calling out; it is merely a chance to discuss the problems that plague women, particularly vocal feminists, in such spaces.

To get the ball rolling, here is a relevant piece:


That article was legitimately hard to read but I’m glad I did, thanks for sharing.

I actually remember the coffee elevator incident when it happened. Well sort of. I was never “in” the atheist/skeptic community so far as I followed what happened at conventions or even knew that there were conventions devoted solely to skepticism. However, reading a write-up of that incident shortly after it occurred and a few others related to it got me thinking, “hey, these people are kinda jerks”.

I just tried to find the writeup but failed, there’s apparently a bunch of them. Basically it showed that there was a targeted attempt to divide the atheist community between “real skeptics” (sexists) and those who aren’t. It wasn’t as clear at the time but it certainly is now that that attempt was very successful and that what’s left of the skeptic community is exceedingly toxic, sexist, gamergater-y, islamophobic, etc. etc.

I will happily go into detail on what I remember of the schism and the mechanisms of it and the who and the why but I feel like this isn’t quite the place for that, as it would shift the discussion away from feminists in male dominated spaces and towards a specific incident in the atheist community. (Also I feel like I should add that I’m not saying the skeptic community was ok before the schism, it wasn’t like, at all.)

I can say that this incident definitely impacted me personally, as it was big enough that it crossed my radar, and since hearing about I gradually stopped going to that place and identifying myself in that manner.

Does the “skeptic community” basically mean “new atheists”? Like Harris/Dawkins types? Because if so sexism is just one of many, many very good reasons to steer clear.


Yea, I think that’s one of the big differences between the Humanist movement which actively involves itself in Social Justice AND Skepticism and just plain Skeptic groups that don’t seem to care much about the Social issues. Rallying around Skepticism doesn’t prevent people from being Racist or Sexist folks. And when you are a small group rallying around a topic, there is a lot of “accept all Allies” because they don’t have a lot. This leads to people with Shitty other views being kept on. Much like how fandom and others had the same issues.

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It seems like for several decades now, the self-described “atheist/skeptic” community has been filled with bitter sexist men who are more interested in applying a false veneer of “logic” to their ridiculous butthurt rage about women not respecting and/or having sex with them.

Seems any male-dominated space will with high likelihood concentrate these shitheads into their extreme form, driving everyone else away. Male majority means a near critical mass of shitheads, due to the high percentage of male shitheads.

Look at gaming. Most local gaming communities are mostly men. They’re usually either shitheads entirely, or shitheads and crypto-shitheads who turn a blind eye to the shitheaded behavior instead of calling it out (for fear of fracturing their shitty community and having no one, not even shitheads, to game with).

Irrespective of WHY it’s true, I definitely believe that pretty much any male-dominated space will exhibit directly hostile behaviors toward women, and further will openly attack any female voice of criticism no matter how valid.


What’s a crypto-shithead? Like crypto-currency or cryptography?

I think like crypto-zoology.

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Another real issue is that whenever women bring this topic up, the conversation ends up being dominated by men saying the same thing the women did, yet magically getting more positive attention and traction…



There was a time back at RIT that I paid a lot of attention to the skeptic/atheist community, and it helped bring to my attention many things that were not true, that I never thought much about previously, such as fake medicine.

However, I never actually got involved in the community despite sharing an evidence-based worldview. Other than James Randi himself, every other prominent figure in the community I noticed was to some extent, a douchebag. Richard Dawkins, the deceased Christopher Hitchens, and others were all people I wanted nothing to do with. I thought about going to TAM at one point, and never went because I imagined it being a horrible time. What do you even do there? Go to Vegas for a tiny convention to hear people preach to the choir?

I’ve said this for years, but there is a fundamental problem with the way we build and define communities around specific interests that creates false stereotypes, dangerous spaces, and also alienates most who would otherwise be on board. I can describe the problem very well, but I have no solution other than to stay the hell away.


I don’t really have a solution either, other than being as inclusive and welcoming as possible to everyone who expresses interest. Inclusivity may be the magic bullet. The more people involved, the more false stereotypes can’t form, dangerous spaces aren’t tolerated, and people aren’t alienated. If anyone is toxic, the community basically ostracizes them.

To pick two specific interests, that’s exactly what separates good comic and gaming shops from bad ones. The good ones are thrilled that more and more people are getting involved in the hobby and actually cultivate a welcoming environment to anyone and everyone.

I went to two TAM events, both in London. The first was really good, as it was pretty small, with only a few hundred people, and Tim Minchin was doing a concert in the evening and there were other speakers I wanted to see. Adam Savage, Phil Plait, Jon Ronson, Brian Cox. Great.

The second one, a year later, I only went to because I happened to be in London that weekend and my brother was going so I could hang out with him. The second was much bigger, and I found it had all the niggling little things that I didn’t like about the first were magnified, and the things I liked about the first one were diminished.

What did I do there? Mostly listen to people feel smug about themselves for being clever and right, while denigrating everyone who isn’t them. I wrote at the time:

"At one point during a TAMLondon presentation the speaker said something like “And people who believe this are like stupid sheep… like they have a mental illness.” The audience laughed and applauded.

I just sat there, feeling quite uncomfortable."

It wasn’t all so bad, but I totally understand how easy it is for people to trick themselves into thinking they are right and just when applying a thin veneer of scepticism to their own beliefs and action. And judging by the other attendees, I can totally understand why women could feel uncomfortable there.

I didn’t follow a lot of the turmoil in the sceptical scene once the accusations started flying a few years ago. It seemed obvious what was going on… a circling of the wagons by the old white guys, seeing themselves as under attack by those not like them. That lead on to Atheism Plus and stuff I wasn’t interested in either labelling myself as or respecting those who were against it.

I just remembered I wrote a blog post about elitist sceptics here: http://www.lukeburrage.com/blog/archives/1433

I guess, looking back, it was what made me not want to identify as either a “sceptic” or an “atheist” publicly. I’ve got other more interesting words to describe myself now, hopefully mostly free of the negative/sexist/racist/elitist/etc connotations that I myself have in my head about the scene, partly from going to two conferences myself and mostly from what happened after, as outlined in the first post in this thread.


Our stories start the same but diverge at the, noticed who was and wasn’t a douchebag part. I read probably like 6 Dawkins books, 2 from Hitchens and maybe 4 from Harris. I never did any community involvement, but I definitely had the, I’m superior because I have an empirical worldview attitude for a little while. It wasn’t until very recently I even realized those big guys were a bit part of the problem. I always thought something like this:

The community has some serious problems but an evidence based worldview does not
The worldview, for me at least, descended from those big guys
Therefore those big guys must have no/few problems

The above illusion only dispelled for me pretty recently even if my identifying as an atheist ended many many years ago.

It started fading at some point and then I stopped identifying as an atheist, preferring to explain it every time as “I don’t believe in anything supernatural” whenever confronted. It’s actually way less combative.

I used to follow some skeptic blogs back in the day. It was easy and almost nerd fashionable to write about kooky psychics and Christian apologetics. But that’s stuff that’s easy to debunk, when bloggers tried some more nuanced subjects is when things fell apart. I remember one of my favorite blogs from back in the day wrote about how uncomfortable it was attending one of these groupthink sessions. It’s surprisingly still up: }- The Two Percent Company [] Rants -{

The answer to Ryan’s question, and the reason behind our reluctance to go into it, are the same: we were a bit embarrassed by what the audience exhibited at Randi’s talk. Not one of the audience questions or comments after his lecture was interesting, thought-provoking, or original. Several of them were self-congratulatory — either a kind of “I get you, Randi” thing, or a more “I’m blowing the skeptic horn loudly in my public life, as well” kind of comment. A few betrayed a deep misunderstanding of what Randi had said in his talk, or written on many occasions (and Randi’s bemused confusion was evident). At least two (both of those from the same guy) demonstrated that the querent hadn’t even been paying attention to the lecture Randi had just given (his questions were not only answered, but discussed at length in the course of the evening).

And we thought to ourselves — and discussed on the way home — “Is this what we would group ourselves with?” It was pretty disappointing.

We realized that we were right all along: grouping yourself with people you don’t know at all and have never even met in any meaningful sense of the word is inevitably setting yourself up for disappointment. And we realized something about ourselves. You see, we’re not antisocial; far from it, in fact. However, what we truly want out of human contact is to interact, not to “associate.” In the long run, actual interaction, rather than association by something abstract like “we agree on this, and disagree on this,” seems much more meaningful (and, therefore, satisfying).

This, it seems, is our staunch opposition to groupthink. Because, of course, the biggest curse of groupthink is that, no matter how many tick-marks you can make in the “Agree” column, all the way down the list…eventually, because we are human beings, there will be a difference of opinion between any two individuals. And those who crave being part of a group are going to be disappointed by that time and time again.


Notice the huge rift in gaming culture between conventions that have prioritized feminist viewpoints/speakers/content and ones that have eschewed it. They’re completely different worlds.

There’s a reason most gaming events are dead to me.


It’s eerie how close that comes to my own thoughts on the TAM event I went to. I wrote a few blog posts about my experiences with TAM, and in my earliest (kindest) review:

Image the scene: 600 science and scepticism nerds in one place at the same time. 90% of these were 20something and 30something white males, all with patchy beard growths, and with long hair that is more the result of simply not cutting it than any style decision…

The complaint comes from the fact that most of these people probably got into the subjects in question through inherently soloist internet activities, like reading blogs and listening to podcasts, and reading books. Which means that 90% of the delegates booked a single ticket to the event, traveled there alone, and stayed in a hotel room by themselves.

And then, during the pauses of the official events, a huge number of people didn’t bother speaking to each other! Sure, there was some interaction visible, and I struck up plenty of conversations myself, but about half the people stood around in the foyer, not talking to anyone!

Maybe I’m too used to juggling conventions and festivals, where the subject matter is intrinsically participatory: you are there because you like doing and learning, and the way to do either is usually a social activity, and that is besides all the other social activities and shows and events.

But the atmosphere at TAM was the opposite.

And here’s another big point: what the hell are two scepticism nerds going to say to each other?

“I think homeopathy is false!”
“Me too.”

End of conversation. Which is really weird, right? A conference centered around a method of enquiry that deals just in facts… it’s hard to get discussions based on massive differences of opinions going when the reason you’re at the same event is that you agree with the same message.

In the end it’s a self-identifying group of people who think they all think the same, or at least try to act like it. The truth is that everyone still thinks differently on any subject which isn’t totally shallow, like homeopathy… but everyone is tricked into thinking they are a community because they all employed the same thought techniques and methods to arrive at their different opinions.


I’m still amazed there is a skeptic “community”. I think, fundamentally, it doesn’t work like that. A skeptic “society” is a bunch of individuals. A bunch of individuals grouping together to call themselves “skeptics” as a group is co-opting the word.

I had to like this for irony.

I don’t think inclusion is a silver bullet. Here’s why:
Being included is hard work.
People in privileged/majority spaces like to tout inclusion and diversity initiatives, but it takes a lot of deep personal effort to actually be someone a non-majority person actually wants to spend time around. Meanwhile, those non-majority people have to do a lot of emotional labor heavy lifting, regardless of best intentions. They want to have fun and relax, but have to spend X amount of time educating people on basic shit to even win a neutral space. And majority people get miffed, defensive, hurt, etc because “I’m not a bad person” without realizing that for every hurt they feel. the other person has dealt with multiple identical interactions with majority people who just want to understand. Why can’t we all get along? I’m just joking. You’re overreacting. You don’t understand, let me explain … on a good day.

So if you’re creating a community & trying to be inclusive, make god damn sure you’re worth it. And if the majority of voices are white and male, take some time to examine why, because it’s not without reason.

P.S. This might be useful
P.P.S. I like Hemant Mehta



People such as no_fun_girl have repeatedly posted excellent resources and explanations around these kinds of issues in a multitude of threads. Yet rather than citing these resources when attempting to debate, many of you:

  1. Raise questions clearly already answered (often in detail) already
  2. Re-explain the “101” version of something already posted or discussed in depth
  3. Insist on taking a naive position

And this forum is still far better than most…

I see a pattern with nerd guys specifically. “Skeptic” issues and “feminism” issues both have a wealth of well-researched information and a long history of excellent discourse (to use two examples).

For reasons, shitty nerd guys have developed this very specific style of debate (which, “coincidentally,” overlaps heavily with literal Nazi argumentation tactics).

Let’s look at the skeptic “community.”

  1. Nerd guy sees a homeopath and realizes how utterly stupid homeopathy is (which is true)
  2. Nerd guy feels superior to this stupid concept and the “stupid” homeopath (more on that later)
  3. Nerd guy feels like he is a wizard for having seen through the scam of homeopathy, seeks out other wizards to prove his wizardry
  4. Pre-existing wizards tell the new wizard how smart and rational he is
  5. The wizards together now assume they are genius paragons of rationality for the sole reason that they rightly understood that an obviously fake thing was fake

This newly crafted wizard will now assume he knows everything about skepticism due to having been accepted by the skeptic community and by manifesting the shibboleths (mostly around making fun of stupid things like homeopathy). He’ll also studiously ignore more complex debunkings (probably because they make him feel like a muggle again). The existing skeptic community will just reinforce this.

So, when this wizard interacts with someone on ANY OTHER TOPIC, they assume that they’re so smart and they never do even the most basic research. They end up having no foundation.

Without a foundation, they’ll make statements that are clearly incorrect or misguided to anyone who has even a basic understanding of the topic. Then, if they are called out, they will DEMAND EVIDENCE to prove exactly why they are wrong.

When the long suffering feminist (for example) is tired of constantly explaining basic easily googled concepts and decides to just ignore him, he assumes he was right all along and his superior logic won the day.

Even worse, he becomes conditioned to always argue this way. The less he learns about a given topic, the more effective his argumentation becomes (in his eyes anyway). He starts to literally believe that he is so smart that no one can stand up to him.

He never realizes that people are giving up because he’s an idiot. He is a black hole of discourse. Anyone “included” in a community that tolerates these block holes ends up throwing energy into them forever while never accomplishing anything, or just remains silent. Silence implies complicity, and the community concentrates even further to a base layer of shitheaded wizards who take silence as agreement.

So… maybe we should make argumentation from ignorance a bannable offense?



To this, I would add that if someone is truly interested in cultivating a more diverse community, then they need to not only passively welcome/tolerate women/POC but actively participate in groups/communities of the people whom they would like to include in their community. For Geeknights specifically, Rym and/or Scott could invite more women/POC guests on to the show and they themselves could see if they could be on women/POC run podcasts or participate in those show’s forums/social media. Likewise, white male forumites who frequently (and likely unintentionally) require women/POC to educate them should maybe join communities/groups made up primarily of women/POC. There are plenty of women/POC geeks out there, yet this community seems to remain predominately white and male. If people in this community truly care about changing that, then a concreted effort should be made. If they are not, then the forum is merely welcoming/tolerant of women/POC, rather than actually “inclusive.”