Today in Fashion Friday, we have a double treat — a post about fashion, AND a post about inclusivity in the atheist movement! All in one!
So I got this email the other day, from the organizers of Skepticon, asking for help promoting their advance T-shirt sales (help I duly provided). I took a look at the site, hoping that I wouldn’t see what I knew I probably was going to see, hoping that this time it would be different. And there it was.
No women’s T-shirts.
This drives me up a tree. I have a drawer full of atheist conference T-shirts that I pretty much never wear, because they’re men’s t-shirts and they look like crap on me. And now it looks like I’m going to have another one.
Before I start my rant, I’m going to be very clear right up front: I think Skepticon is an amazing event, one of the most inspiring and fun gatherings we have. And the Skepticon organizers are awesome. They’re doing something really difficult — putting on a major, national-level conference, one of the largest atheist/ skeptical events in the calendar — and they’re doing it for free. They’re also doing something I (a) think is hugely important and (b) personally hate doing and totally suck at — on-the-ground, in-the-flesh event and community organizing — and my hat is off to them. Ditto the other conference organizers, the other organizations, the other local groups, the other student groups, who have this same T-shirt problem.
And I’m also going to be clear right up front: This isn’t just about Skepticon, or even mostly about Skepticon. Skepticon happened to be the event I was looking at when the straw broke my camel’s back. But LOTS of other conferences, organizations, local groups, student groups, do this exact same thing. Just last month, at the American Atheists convention, while they did have women’s shirts for sale, the free goodie-bag T-shirts were all men’s shirts. And I’ve seen it again and again and again. This isn’t about Skepticon. This is about every atheist conference, organization, local group, student group — and there are a LOT of them — that sells or gives away T-shirts… and only does it in men’s styles.
Folks — this is not okay.
When you only have t-shirts in men’s styles, it is a nearly perfect symbol of the attitude that the atheist movement is for men.
When you only have t-shirts in men’s styles, it is a nearly perfect symbol of the attitude that this should be a “one size fits all” movement, and that this size should be the size it already is: a size that comfortably fits men, and that women have to awkwardly fit ourselves into as best we can.
If you think this is only my issue — think again. I sometimes give talks on diversity in the atheist movement, and when I do I often mention the T-shirt issue — and it almost always gets a HUGE round of applause from the women in the audience. And don’t tell me that the T-shirts are “unisex.” “Unisex” T-shirts means “men’s T-shirts that we’re trying to pawn off on women.” “Unisex” T-shirts is just giving a different name to the problem, and pretending it’s a solution.
I understand that there are economic issues here: when printing T-shirts in bulk, it’s more expensive to print them in more than one style. There are ways around that — the assorted “print on demand” sources, like Cafe Press and Zazzle — but there are reasons why that doesn’t always work. So here’s a thought: If you can only afford to print T-shirts in one style… why not make it a women’s style? Men can wear women’s T-shirts, too, and some men even prefer them (just as some women are fine with men’s T-shirts, and even prefer them). And sure, a lot of men don’t much like women’s T-shirts and don’t think they look good in them — just like lots of women don’t much like men’s T-shirts and don’t think we look good in them. Why should it always be women who get the suck end of that stick?
And even as I type those words, I can feel the discomfort and resistance radiating out from the Internet. “Men, wearing women’s T-shirts? EWWWW! That’s weird! It makes sense for women to wear men’s clothes sometimes — but it’d be totally bizarre for men to wear women’s clothes!”
And I want to ask: Why is that?
Why does it make sense for “male” to be the default that women fit themselves into — but it’s weird for “female” to be the default that men fit themselves into?
Why is it that if women complain about only being offered men’s T-shirts, we’ll almost certainly be seen as vain and shallow and trivial for caring so much about our looks… but if men complained about only being offered women’s T-shirts, it’d almost certainly be seen as an entirely reasonably objection to an unacceptable imposition?
And why do we find androgyny more acceptable in women than in men? Why do we think it’s reasonable and even attractive for women to look like men, and to aspire to look like men… but we think it’s weird and demeaning and laughable for men to look like women, or to aspire to look like women? Why do we think it makes perfect sense for women to be more masculine, but we think it’s absurd for men to be more feminine? Why do we think it makes perfect sense for masculinity to be not only the default, but the ideal, to which both women and men should aspire?
Never mind. I think I answered my own question.
I realize this is a small thing, a first-world problem if I ever heard one. But sexism isn’t just about the big things, wage discrimination and domestic violence and so on. It’s the summation of lots of little things, the barrage of slights and insults and degradations and casual dismissals we deal with every day. (Watch “Mad Men” sometime to get an idea of what I’m talking about.) This is one of them. It gets up my nose — and based on my experiences mentioning it in my talks, it gets up a lot of other women’s noses as well.
So if you want to tell women, “Sure, you can come to this event, but this is basically a boy’s club and you’ll just have to fit yourselves in as best you can,” then keep on only having men’s T-shirts. But if you want to tell women, “You’re welcome here! You’re every bit as much a part of this movement as any man!”, having women’s t-shirts is a great way to do it.
Please, please, please — Skepticon, American Atheists, every other conference and organization and local group and student group — find a way.