Go to enough atheist websites and meetup events, and you’ll notice something: there sure are a lot of men! Now people are people, don’t get me wrong - atheism isn’t a “male thing” or a “female thing”. Making efforts to include other genders* shouldn’t be at the exclusion of making men feel welcome too. On the contrary, the more women we bring into the atheist community, the more people we’ll have altogether, and the stronger the community will grow. Everyone wins!
I read a very insightful list about how to encourage women in Linux. I invite you to read the original, but I’m creating a similar list for atheists. This is mostly written to a male audience, but it’s very applicable everyone. Hopefully many of you will find this helpful.
*The original post was directed toward woman involvement, but genderqueer people often feel left out as well.
List not in order of importance - each point is an equal part of the whole.
Don’t tell sexist jokes. Most men I know would say they don’t do this. Some of them don’t, but some of them only think they don’t. Ask yourself: if the genders were different in this joke, would it still be funny? If so, then reverse the genders in your joke, and then tell it - it should still be funny. If not, then you probably should scratch it off your list.
Do protest sexist jokes. If you hear a joke that doesn’t pass the “gender reversal” test, call them out. Yes, people will say you’re just being sensitive or a spoil-sport. They’ll get over it.
Don’t call people bitches. People do overhear how you talk about women and other genders, and it affects their involvement in the group.
Do show some respect. The cliche advice is to treat every woman as if she were your sister/mother/daughter/grandmother. Again, women do overhear - if you treat everyone with respect, man and woman, she’ll have no cause to stay away.
Don’t take the “microphone” away. If someone is trying to find her place in the group, or is asking questions or feeling confused about something, don’t take over for her. Society already sends enough messages to women that they aren’t competent enough to do things for themselves. By avoiding this, you’ll be making a positive impact on her decision to keep getting more involved.
Do give directions and explain them clearly. This shows that se is worth your patience, and that you respect her intelligence. It will also empower her to have the tools she needs the next time around, so she’ll be less likely to need anyone’s help.
Don’t make sexual advances. Imagine if you were to walk into a house of worship while wearing an anti-religious t-shirt. You’d feel like you constantly have to defend yourself at every turn. That’s no way to relax and feel comfortable and accepted. Women often feel the same way when men make sexual advances: they suddenly have to be on the defense at a time when they’re trying to open themselves up to connecting with the community.
Do act friendly. Most men and women like to have friends of any gender. Being friendly is a great first step to validating their humanity.
Don’t whine about the lack of women in atheism. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t bring the topic up. But don’t complain about it: don’t whine, don’t lament, don’t talk about how inconvenienced you are by the gender gap. Women aren’t going to join as a personal favor to you, they need to do it for themselves. Plus, it makes the women who are already there feel like you’re expecting them to meet your personal needs somehow, or that they’re being overlooked completely.
Do encourage gender diversity in atheism. Everyone likes some support now and then. :)
Don’t stare when people who look different from you arrive. They already feel a bit out of place, this only serves to solidify that feeling.
Do treat new arrivals politely. Smile and greet them. This sends the message that not only do they not stick out, but you’ve been expecting them!
Don’t treat women stereotypically. They’re just as diverse as men are in their interests and attitudes. You won’t know what they’re really about till you get to know one. Also, avoid treating genderqueer people as if they’re men or women.
Do treat women as normal people.
Don’t criticize too much. In a world where far too often women are told that they’re less competent than men are in male-dominated fields, criticism is less likely to be appreciated at face value. This isn’t to say that you can’t ever disagree with her. Only try not to make it a challenge of your superiority verses hers.
Do compliment. Don’t invent things to compliment, but try to see the good things people are doing, and show that you notice them. If people go without validation for long enough, they’re liable to think nobody cares and simply give up.
Don’t invite only male speakers. This is a HUGE issue, one I really ought to place at the top of the list, except that it applies to only 1% of readers who organize events. When you have 9 male speakers and only 1 woman speaker (or worse, none), you’re sending out the message that “Atheism is for men.” The rest of us would do well to hammer this point to event hosts at every opportunity until we see results.
Do ask women to speak. Don’t say you can only find men - that means you’re not looking hard enough. At the very least, you could find a few people from within your local community to each give a short 10-minute presentation or story. This also shows that you care about the grassroots, not just the most popular names in atheism.
Don’t make your meeting hard to attend. Women are more likely in our society to be the primary caretaker of young children. This need must be addressed if you want women to feel included. The issue of child care cannot be ignored. If at all possible, find a way to incorporate children (what better way to influence our future generation?). Also, make sure you’re not picking too many male-dominated locations, such as sports bars.
Do make meetings easy to attend. When in doubt, ask your members what works best for most. Be sure to vary times and places if possible, so that those who work evenings and weekends will still be able to make it to the occasional morning event.
Don’t make new people feel unwelcome. They don’t know what to expect, so they’ll likely sit along the outside and talk very little. That can make them seem uninterested, but more likely it’s newness.
Do help new people get involved. Tell them about all the different ways they can find their niche, and guide them into it. Help them find a reason to get motivated, and the community will grow.
Don’t underestimate girlfriends or wives. Don’t assume that the girlfriend/wife is only coming to meetings because her man is there. She’s not an accessory.
Do treat girlfriends and wives as independent people. She’s here because she wants to be. She’s not just a Mrs. Atheist. She has her own ideas and expectations, and her own desires to fit in. Respect that she’s her own person by asking her questions even if her boyfriend/husband has already given his opinion on the same topic.
Anything you’d like to add?