I was talking to a friend about these images of gender imbalance in the speaking parts in General Conference. In trying to convey how alienating such an overwhelmingly male meeting can be for women in the audience, I posed this hypothetical: if there were a meeting as female as general conference is male, would men in the audience perceive it as a meeting for them, that related to them, where they felt comfortable and welcome? Or would they perceive it to be a women’s meeting? 
It occurred to me that this isn’t merely a hypothetical. We do have a meeting that is mostly female, the annual Relief Society meeting. Although we understand it to be a women’s meeting, there is actually more male participation in this “women’s” meeting than there is female participation in the meetings that are supposed to be for women as much as they are for men, the general sessions of conference. This is illustrated in a newly updated infographic (click to enlarge):
With 25% of the speakers at the women’s meeting being male, and only 8% of the speakers in the general sessions of general conference being female (this excludes Priesthood Session, which is 100% male), there are three times as many male speakers in the women’s meeting than there are female speakers in the meetings that are supposed to be for men and women. If you include prayers and other speaking parts (as shown in the infographic), the women’s meeting has about 50% more male participation than the sessions for “everyone” have female participation.
Men, can you imagine attending a meeting as female as General Conference is male? Have you ever done so? Feel free to share experiences from work, school, or other contexts. What did it feel like? Did you feel your concerns, ideas, and perspectives were adequately addressed? Did you feel comfortable? Did you feel the meeting was just as much about and for you as it was for the women present? In my field, which has a very low percentage of women, there is an annual conference for women. When it was held in my city, a female colleague of mine (one of just two others in our organization of 50-100) urged our boss to attend to hear some of the speakers talk about women’s issues in the field and just see what a room of 1,000 computer scientists who happen to be women looks like. He declined, saying that being one of just a few members of his gender in the room would be really uncomfortable for him and despite whatever benefits there might be to attending he just couldn’t imagine doing it. I’m not sure it ever occurred to him that that is exactly how we felt in our staff meetings!
Women, if you are like me, you did not fully consciously realize just how unbalanced this is. How can we be more clear in our vision despite the sexist views of society that we have internalized? How can we find the courage to speak up and ensure that our viewpoints and voices receive the attention they are due?
Fortunately, the ratios in the inforgraphic above may be changing soon with the introduction of a new format for the women’s meeting, starting in April 2014. According to the church’s announcement, the once-annual YW meeting and once-annual RS meeting will be combined into a twice-annual women’s meeting for girls and women aged 8 and up. Now that the pool of eligible speakers for this meeting will include the RS, YW, and Primary presidencies, perhaps the percentage of male participation in the women’s meeting will be less. Of course, what would have even greater impact is for the percentage of women’s participation in the general meeting to better reflect the percentage of women in the audience.
 This post concerns General Conference. One might think that our local sacrament meetings, with typically 50/50 gender ratio on the talks, would be better. Elouise Bell’s classic piece, “The Meeting,” is a gender-swap hypothetical to show how unbalanced things are there as well. Please consider this sentence the prose version of some kind of effusive hug/heart emoticon expressing my admiration of Elouise Bell.