For many weeks now, I’ve been hesitant to comment on what has become known as “Elevatorgate.” If you’ve been under a rock, here’s the synopsis. Atheist blogger and feminist Rebecca Watson was propositioned in an elevator by a drunk guy late at night after a speaking gig at a conference. “Elevator Guy” politely (but awkwardly) asked her if she’d like to have coffee in his room. Rebecca took umbrage. Rebecca made a video.
In the weeks that have followed, Elevatorgate has become the biggest scandal in atheism since… well… I don’t know. But it’s been a huge deal. Men and women on both sides of the fence have lined up, swords drawn. The more radical wing of “atheist feminists” threatened to boycott Richard Dawkins — THE Richard Dawkins — because he used a little snarky language while admitting he didn’t understand why the whole thing was a big deal. The more “mainstream” wing of female atheists have responded with more than snark while informing Rebecca Watson that her brand of feminism does not represent them or their views. It’s just been ugly, and painful to watch.
One of the reasons I’ve waited this long to mention Elevatorgate is that I don’t want to comment on Elevatorgate. I honestly don’t believe there’s anything to be said that hasn’t been said ad nauseum. Those who side with Rebecca Watson, et al., and those who oppose them are unlikely to change their mind at this point, and that’s really just all there is to it.
Still, Elevatorgate has bothered me on a deep level, and I’ve found myself wanting to say something constructive about women in the atheist movement. It pains me to see what religion does to women, and now that the dust in the elevator shaft is settling, we seem no closer to the original question. If anyone happens to remember, we used to be very interested in figuring out how to attract women to the atheist movement, and encourage them to be actively and openly involved in secular causes. Like practically every other person in the “atheist movement,” I’d like to see more women at conferences, more women on podiums, and more women getting involved in any way they would like. But what is there for this one male atheist to say that hasn’t been said? The answer came to me last week when I was helping a friend data-mine for a school project.
One of my favorite atheist bloggers, Greta Christina, has been saying it for months, and PZ Myers has been acting as a megaphone, spreading the meme all over the internet. “Listen to women.” If you want to know what women are interested in, and what will draw them into the atheist movement, listen to them. What bothered me about that approach, however, was that the only women speaking loudly about women in the atheist movement were… Rebecca Watson and her stump-mates. And while their opinions are certainly important, they are not representative of all women. I know that because I’ve listened to a lot of women say so.
I decided to listen to women by doing some data mining of my own. For the past few years, I’ve been slowly accumulating Facebook friends, of whom, nearly all are atheists and agnostics. (Most only knew that I was an atheist, and found me through atheist groups like “American Atheists” and “Atheists Networking” on Facebook.) I’ve got over 2500 now. This is what scientists would call a representative sample. Since everything we say on Facebook stays on Facebook until five years after the earth is destroyed by our sun’s supernova, I also have a great reservoire of things female atheists have talked about.
I began my survey by selecting a hundred American female Facebook friends as randomly as I could. I then examined each for frequency of posts, and “open atheism.” I discarded any friends who either post very infrequently or did not have anything about atheism on their wall. I was left with 48 female atheists to listen to. I discarded all the mundane comments — “Hey, sweetie, haven’t seen you in a while, let’s have lunch,” for example. I kept track of shared articles, original wall posts, comments on photos, and other miscellaneous items which had “serious content.” I got a pencil and paper and made little scribbles for about nine thousand hours. Or nine. I can’t remember. I spent another three hours parsing all my little scribbles with Excel and making them into a coherent set of categories. The result is what I believe represents a very good sample of what women are talking about within the “atheist movement” over the last two months. Here are the top three results:
LEARN THE TOP THREE AT EXAMINER.COM: http://www.examiner.com/atheism-in-atlanta/women-the-atheist-movement
- Why We Have to Talk About This: Atheism, Sexism, and Blowing Up The Internet (gretachristina.typepad.com)
- The Watson Circus – Their Kampf (greylining.wordpress.com)
- What Rebecca Watson Did Wrong (dead-logic.blogspot.com)
- A Fantastic Response to Elevatorgate (patheos.com)
- Atheist Drama (dangeroustalk.net)