An unusually biting xckd comic has been making the rounds on the internet. It goes a little something like this
Unfortunately, this is pretty dead-on.
In a separate (though perhaps not unrelated incident), Gil Kalai asks why all the bloggers here are male. I left a flip answer on the comments page there, since I was already busy writing up a more detailed post on the subject.
The “real” answer (of course) is that it just happened that way. (More about what kind of answer that is below the cut).
The idea of the blog and the initial slate of six bloggers were dreamed up at a barbecue in the backyard at my house in Berkeley. I can’t comment on the selection process in too much detail (we weren’t entirely sober at the time) but I can certainly say women weren’t deliberately excluded, and none have approached us about joining the blog (as Chris did) and been turned down. After all, the bloggers are all who knew each other in person, talked about math regularly (or at least had at one point), and who I knew were interested in blogs/Web 2.0. I can’t think of any women who meet those criteria.
Now, I wish that was all I needed to say. But, the point rather cogently made by the comic above is that that isn’t good enough, that an unexamined “it just happened that we were all men” is never good enough. All of us, men and women both need to examine whether they’re being that guy in the comic. A lot of people seem to have picked up the idea that if you didn’t mean to be sexist (racist, etc.), then you weren’t. That is, that sexism is a deontological problem, not a teleological problem. As long as they don’t catch themselves being sexist, they are safe.
So let me be honest here. We probably didn’t do as well as we could have. After all, there are some female mathematicians who were in the same social/mathematical circle at Berkeley as the current bloggers, who we didn’t ask to join the blog. At least in my case, I think I can honestly say it was simply because I didn’t think they would be interested (and I seem to not be only one to have thought this). But maybe they hadn’t shown any interest in writing a blog (to the best of my knowledge) because no one ever asked them too. Probably, I should have. I really don’t believe it would have made a difference to the real world outcome in this particular case, but I would have felt a bit more sure I wasn’t listening to the guy in the comic.