Via Skepchick, a UK charity called Entangled Bank Events is hosting a "major science talk" in mid-November with the boast that "It’s never been done before in a venue of this scale." Astute readers will notice that the five headline speakers (Bill Bailey, Richard Fortey, Richard Dawkins, Richard Wiseman, and Quentin Cooper) are all men.
In the helpful FAQ, which includes such questions as "Is the event suitable for children?" and "Is the event accessible to wheelchair users?" and "Are there any opportunities for volunteers?" there originally was also the following question-and-answer (link courtesy of Google cache):
I am a fanatical, misandristic ‘feminist’. May I drone on about the lack of women in the line-up and despatch abusive, bigoted, mis-spelt, ungrammatical missives to the organisers and presenters?Apparently enough people pointed out that this wasn't particularly cute such that Entangled Bank Events got nervous and deleted the whole question-and-answer, and then enough people pointed out that the internet doesn't work that way such that Entangled Bank Events decided to clarify with this non-pology:
No. Please save your talents for Twitter and Facebook, that is what they are for.
We’re actually very disappointed that none of our female invitees accepted, but that is just how it was. As scientists we have no choice but to accept reality. Wanting something to be otherwise does not make it so.
Why are there no women on the panel?Oh, if only the lady-internets weren't so humorless!
We tried. We failed. The event was set up at short notice and as it happened, of all the excellent people we approached the only ones available on the day were men. We knew this wasn’t ideal and questions would be asked, so we tried to make a joke about it.
We tried. We failed. Should have been spotted by us, but as soon as our attention was drawn to it – via Twitter – we removed it. That only added to the confusion as some people saw the reactions without always knowing what was being reacted to.
So, sorry. It’s not through lack of effort the line-up is wide-ranging in the nature of their brilliance but entirely mono-gendered, but it is our fault the attempt at levity about it fell flat. And we do appreciate the efforts of all those who drew our attention to the error.
The thing that makes me laugh the most bitterly about all this is that an event which is ostensibly supposed to be about science and skepticism and understanding things is trying to deflect criticize by seriously claiming ("As scientists we have no choice but to accept reality. Wanting something to be otherwise does not make it so.") that scientists are helpless in the face of magical forces they cannot hope to comprehend, and that they are utterly unable to effect a change in the world, nor can they study and understand the causes of things in order to alter that which is into that which is desired. Science! It's apparently just like a straw-religion where the only action available to its followers is to cower in terror at the harsh immutability of a cruel, unchangeable reality.
The thing that makes me saddest about all this is that the (understandable) attention on this shitwipe of a "joke" (and note that "it was only a joke!" is the rallying call of all bullies everywhere) means that we necessarily have to spend less attention on asking genuinely probing questions about how the event miraculously ended up with only male speakers. Questions like "How many women did you invite to this event?" and "Did you ask the women who turned you down why they wouldn't attend or did you just assume there was a calendar conflict?" and "Was your pool of available lady speakers narrowed by one or more male speakers maintaining a blacklist against specific- and/or feminist- lady skeptics?"
The thing that makes me the angriest about this is that lady science-skeptic-atheist speakers are not stupid. There is no way, no plausible way, that an organization which would write the above "joke" and subsequent non-pology just picked up its misogynist coat of many colors after all the awesome lady invitees turned down their rainbow-scented invitations with outpourings of regret and much fist-shaking at their cluttered calendars. I will bet my hat that the invitations were just as whiffy with woman-hating as their FAQ.
And I will further bet my best shoes that the invitations in no way addressed the kinds of things which lady speakers tend to care about, like "Also, here is our anti-harassment policy" or "Though you will be sharing a stage with Richard Dawkins, we promise not to let him vent racism and sexism at you" or "Seriously, we are going to do our best to make sure Richard Dawkins doesn't start a grudge campaign against you". You know, the sorts of things that lady speakers might genuinely want to know about in advance when trying to decide whether to make room on their calendars for a scaled venue of bigness.
But this leads me to a larger point: Let's presupposed that Entangled Bank Events asked hundreds of lady speakers to their event, and asked in the nicest possible way with gift baskets of kittens and a 50-page paper on all the ways that Entangled Bank Events will make sure that the lady speakers have only a lovely time and aren't in any way harassed or harmed or heckled by their fellow speakers or their fellow speakers' fans. And let's presuppose that all those lady speakers still turned the event down, not because Entangled Bank Events wrote their invitations wrong or failed to anticipate basic needs. The onus would still be on Entangled Bank Events to ask themselves (and the lady speakers) why that is, and to then fix those issues.
Even if it's nothing more than a simple calendar conflict (HA HA NO), and somehow some of the biggest male names in science-skepticism-atheism were free, but absolutely none of the lady names in etc. etc. were free, then that's still a problem that Entangled Bank Events needs to seriously address as opposed to flinging their hands in the air and saying OH WELL in a sing-songy voice. Because diversity in your convention speakers is more than just a nice-to-have thing, up there with getting a caterer who offers the really snazzy double chocolate chunk cookies in addition to the crumbly sugar ones. Diversity in your "all proceeds go to charities and to scientific research and education" is kind of important in the sense that you're overlooking huge portions of humanity with your supposedly charitable outreach.
And overlooking huge portions of humanity is in itself is bad enough. But doing it while painting people who might object as hateful and mentally ill merely for objecting to their own exclusion is bullying, plain and simple.