According to the latest Less Wrong survey, 83.1%, or about four-fifths, of the LW population are men.
The interesting thing is that if you look at trans people the ratios are reversed. 86% of binary trans people in the LW community are trans women; that is, the gender gap between trans women and trans men is larger than the gender gap between cis men and cis women. Among nonbinary people, the gap is smaller– 67% of nonbinary people identified their sex as male. However, LWers are the sort of contrarian assholes who will put down a sex not matching their assigned sex at birth after they’ve transitioned (8.3% of trans women identified their sex as ‘female’), so it is anyone’s guess what the actual ratio is.
Nevertheless: we don’t have a gender gap. We have an assigned sex at birth gap.
I think that is significant evidence against the “misogyny” explanation. Cis women face misogyny; trans women face an intersection of transphobia and misogyny called “transmisogyny,” which usually has far graver effects. It is difficult to imagine what form of sexism would drive off cis women but attract trans women. I mean, think about the canonical examples of Sexism In Less Wrong. Are we arguing that cis women are driven off by (perceived or actual) sexist stereotypes in evolutionary psychology, but trans women aren’t driven off by those stereotypes and the implicit statement that they don’t count as women? Cis women don’t want to hang around neoreactionaries because they are monomaniacally obsessed with sluts, but trans women are totally okay with a movement that had a scandal with the charming name of “Trannygate”?
That leaves us with biology or socialization, but I would like to give some cautionary notes for both explanations.
First: trans women are not the same sex as cis men! The causes of transness are not fully understood, but they seem biological; while pre-hormones trans women’s brains are more similar to cis men’s in some ways, in other ways they are more similar to cis women’s. Once they’ve started taking hormones, their brains may change further. Sex hormones are scary powerful. Trans people on hormones have reported various psychological changes, most commonly changes to libido and emotions. Here’s a good roundup of studies about the differences in trans brains. I don’t understand what most of those studies mean, so I expect y’all to report back to me what I should believe.
Second: most trans people do not have an uncomplicated ‘male’ or ‘female’ gender socialization. After all, children assigned male and assigned female do not grow up separately: everyone learns what boys and girls are supposed to do. For myself, and many trans people I’ve talked to, social dysphoria made us internalize the socialization of our non-assigned gender– even before we came out to ourselves! Of course, this is not true of all trans people; both dysphoria and gender socialization are very personal, very individual things. And it doesn’t just matter what you internalized, it matters how people treat you, and they treat children assigned male as boys and children assigned female as girls. But it’s still enough to complicate theories based on the idea that trans women internalize childhood gender socialization in the same way cis men do.
Further, gender socialization doesn’t stop at puberty. The transition process is sometimes described as a crash course in gender socialization: a frantic cram session about how to walk, how to talk, how to dress, how to act, to get people to treat you as your identified gender (and, in many cases, to avoid the danger associated with being read as trans). And a post-transition trans woman may have years, perhaps decades, of being read as and treated as a woman. All of that has an effect.
My personal hypothesis is that it’s about interests.
In my anecdotal experience, interests seem to go by assigned sex. Trans women play video games. Trans men write fanfic. Trans women become programmers or mathematicians. Trans men get gender studies degrees. The one exception seems to be the lesbian community, which trans women who want to have sex with women have an obvious interest in; even so, many trans men stick around the lesbian community, despite missing some very basic qualifications for entrance.
And LW’s interests are very male. Computers? Male. Math? Male. Philosophy? Male. Transhumanism? Oh god so male. Thus, we get a lot of men and trans women.
One step in the right direction is HPMOR, as fanfic is very female. While 24.7% of cis men and trans women were referred by HPMOR, 32.3% of cis women and trans men were. Writing more rationalist fanfic might allow us to recruit in a very female-dominated community.
Furthermore, it seems like we ought to play up aspects of Less Wrong that overlap with female-dominated interests. The obvious one is psychology. While psychology is a core part of Less Wrong’s mission, in practice it often tends to get downplayed in favor of math and AI. Making a deliberate effort to talk more about psychology might allow us to appeal more to women.