Results for the Most Influential Female Atheist of 2011

In past years, the vote has been closer. But I don’t think anyone will be surprised by 2011’s Most Influential Female Atheist:

Rebecca Watson

She blew away the field with a whopping 233 votes. And she earned the recognition. I don’t think Rebecca knew quite what she was getting into when she made that initial benign comment, but her perseverance through the resulting shitstorm was amazing. She exposed the reality of sexism in the atheist and skeptical movement, alerting people to the problem and inspiring social change.

But one of the reasons I love doing this poll is because multiple women are recognized, and I often learn about a lot of new ladies that deserve my attention. Here are some of the runner ups:

Greta Christina (105 votes) – For her “consistent excellence”, especially her talk at Skepticon: Why Are Atheists So Angry? “Even when she’s writing about something that has pissed her off, she never comes across as snappy or condescending.”

Jessica Ahlquist (48 votes) -“For trying to make my high school abide by the Constitution, as well as for inspiring other young activists.” “Because of her courage in facing a school full of antagonistic believers every day.”

Maryam Namazie (25 votes) – “For her brave and public leadership against the rising tide of radical Islam in Britain (and elsewhere).” “For doing what she does with grace and style and always remaining a strong, inspiring and positive force of nature despite the horrific hateful racism and misogynist bigotry that’s continually thrown her way.”

Natalie Reed (19 votes) – “A real trailblazer into what was previously (and still is) an issue of near invisibility in our community: transgenderism.”

Ophelia Benson (18 votes) – “I find her blog, Butterflies and Wheels to be greatly influential and informative for me personally.”

Aliaa Magda Elmahdy (17 votes) – “For the single most audacious act of protest against theocracy this past year.” “Who else has enraged and entire country? Who else has raised awareness so globally? Who else now lives with very real death threats?”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (13 votes) – “She is the most courageous person I’ve ever heard of, and though she didn’t do anything to garner much publicity in ’11 (which may well be a *good* thing, given the desires of the many people who wish to see her brutally murdered), her shadow looms large across the whole of skepticism. She sits astride the ‘respect’ the faithful demand, providing the ultimate counterexample to the fatuous bleating of ‘peace’ and ‘love’ mumbled so soddenly. Every day she draws breath is a victory over the medieval cowards who wish to see her destroyed for standing up and daring to strike off the shackles of ignorance that hold far too many people in bondage.”

Amanda Marcotte (13 votes) – “Because she’s so good at articulating and elucidating things that I subconsciously pick up on but haven’t quite thought through.”

Godless Bitches Podcast (10 votes) – A group award for Beth Presswood, Jen Peeples, Tracie Harris, and Lynnea Glasser. “This gives me more to think about in any given week than just about anything else.” “It’s a wonderful show and wonderfully educational.”

Thanks to everyone who voted! And thanks to those of you who voted for me – I really appreciate it :)

2010: Ayaan Hirsi Ali
2009: Tracie Harris & Jen Peeples

New game: Trolling, or just that stupid?

It’s a question I often ask myself as I’m reading blog comments. This particularly facepalm-inducing instance occurred last night, as Greta Christina and I were giggling like 5 year olds over Santorum jokes. I then received the following tweet from Ed Clint, President of the Illini Secular Student Alliance:

I’m sure many of you would be delighted to explain to Ed how giggling about innuendo used to ridicule politicians with bigotted, homophobic, misogynistic platforms is different from reducing (almost always) women to nothing more to their genitalia and joking about a traumatic crime that affects 1 in 5 women, with said joking contributing to the culture that blames victims and encourages rapists.

So: Trolling, or just that stupid?

“I have gay friends”

Someone uttering that phrase should set off alarm bells, especially if that someone is a politician. It almost always translates to “I know you all see what I did/said as homophobic, but really, it’s cool!” Rick Santorum’s oldest daughter is the latest to remark about her gay friends in a Huffington Post interview, and Dan Savage makes an excellent point:

What really interests me about the HuffPo interview, however, is Elizabeth’s claim to have gay friends. Elizabeth Santorum—follow her on Twitter@esantorum2012—has gay friends. Just like her father. And Rick Warren and Joel Osteen and Donny Osmond and Sarah Palin. All the high-profile homophobes seem to have gay friends. Or at least they claim to have gay friends. No one has ever met—and no reporter has ever asked to verify the existence of—one of Rick Santorum or Elizabeth Santorum or Rick Warren or Joel Osteen’s gay friends.

[…]Political reporters? When Elizabeth Santorum says, “I have gay friends and they support my dad because they agree with him about family issues,” i.e. her dad’s opposition to gay people having a families of their own, your immediate response should be a request for the names and phone numbers of some of these gay friends. Because that claim requires checking out before you put it in print or pixels. Reassure Elizabeth you’ll quote her friends anonymously to protect them from potty-mouthed gay bloggers, they can talk to you on background or whatever, but tell her that you’re going to need to verify the existence of these gay friends. Because you’re a journalist, not a stenographer. You’ll either catch Elizabeth Santorum in a revealing lie—what does it tell us about this moment in the struggle for LGBT equality that even homophobes like Elizabeth and her dad perceive a political risk in being perceived as homophobic?—or you’ll land a fascinating interview.

Spot on.

And while we’re at it, can the media please stop referring to politicians like Santorum as running on a platform of “family values”? How is it “family values” to refuse gay people the right to form families? Represent his platform for what it is – homophobia. Don’t accept the labels these bigots want you to use.

The straw woman of the skeptical movement

Let’s break this one down sequentially:

1. Penn Jilette tweets a link to a “really wonderful” article his friend Mallorie wrote about her experience in the skeptic community.

2. I click said link.

3. I nearly vomit while eating my dinner because the article can be summarized as “I’m a woman who doesn’t feel uncomfortable in the skeptic community, therefore all those other women who complain are humorless, overemotional, and anti-sex. Don’t listen to them, listen to me because I’m part of the boy’s club!”

4. I get in a twitter fight with Penn Jilette and he actually responds, insisting that she’s “just right.” Yes, I know, my life is weird. He is totally bewildered by all the people trying to explain what’s wrong with her article.

Penn Jilette is a major celebrity in the skeptical movement and has traditionally played a major part in The Amazing Meeting, including throwing his Bacon and Donut party to raise money for the JREF. I know he cares about it, so I want him to understand why this article is so terribly, terribly wrong. Let’s break it down:

For as long as I can remember I have been welcomed in to communities which were generally considered “sausage fests”. If not for the constant noting of this fact I would have never noticed. You guys were always just my friends.

As I’ve gotten older these subcultures have become more vocal about wanting to include more women, the discussion has become “how can we make the community more welcoming to women”.

As a woman who has been here all along this is distressing to me, I love you guys for who you are, from my table-top strategy gaming group though my political debate forum right in to the skeptical community. You have never been anything but awesome and welcoming. Who made you think you weren’t?

The women who are seen as nothing more than sex objects and whose views and opinions are ignored or dismissed. The women who give talks and receive compliments about their appearance before the content of their presentation. The women who are sexually harassed by big names in the movement and are too afraid to speak up lest her social life or career is ruined. The women who make it clear that sexual advances are personally unwelcome, yet have their boundaries disregarded. The women who blog that are silenced by gendered insults and threatened with sexual violence, rape, and death threats.

The outspoken women who aren’t as lucky to have had awesome, comfortable experiences like you.

I am here, in my various communities because I like you guys, and I like the basis of the movement. The idea that you have to set time aside to cater to me, because my vagina imbibes me with some special needs is becoming increasingly insulting. These communities are about our minds, not our genitals and as far as I can tell my mind is just like yours.

Here’s the first straw man. No one is asking for communities to cater to our special needs, because being treated as equal is not a special need. We’re asking for exactly what you claim to want: recognition that these communities are about our minds, not our genitalia.

More recently I have noticed a trend among men in my communities, you seem to have been told that you’re  awful and need to change. Again, apparently because your genitals imbibe you with an inescapable assholism. Please never believe this lie. With all my heart I beg you to not make monsters of your gender. I like your jokes. I like your humor. I like the casualness and ease that no gender distinction has allowed us all over the years. You have never hurt or insulted me, you have brought me years of joy, wonderful debate, and stimulating conversation. By forgetting to see me as a woman, you have treated me as an equal, as a comrade, as a friend.

Again, straw man. No one is saying all men are evil misogynistic assholes, and that this is a trait somehow biologically predetermined by the presence of a penis. Were saying that the select men who are treating women poorly need to cut it out and treat us like human beings.

If your jokes or teasing manner offend some people, so the fuck what? Someone will always be offended by jokes, never let them make you believe that you are guilty of something worse simply because of your gender. If you want to make boob jokes thats fine by me, you have after all been making dick jokes since you were old enough to make jokes. Plus they are funny as hell. If you want to go free and uncensored among a group of like minded people, if you want to try to acquire sex from a like minded person, awesome, do it, sex and friendship are amazing. You are not a monster for wanting these things.  You are not a monster for attempting to acquire them.

Third straw man. This has nothing to with dirty jokes or flirting. Scroll back up to that paragraph I wrote about the kind of women who are asking for change. That’s what we’re upset about. Not crass jokes. I am the skeptical movement’s fucking patron saint of boob jokes. Don’t tell me that’s what I’m complaining about.

I type this with all of the warmth and sorrow of someone entangled in the most beautiful of bromances. I love you guys. And I’d like to slap the silly assholes who have given you the idea that you have mistreated me.

With all of my heart I beg you: Do not change. Do not change for me, do not change for someone else. You’re wonderful, just the way you are. If the day comes when you censor your language around me, when dick/fart/vagina jokes are not allowed because of my delicate gender, my heart will break as I wave goodbye in a search for a more open, natural, candid community that does not insist on seeing me first for my gender. And if you want to tease me because I am shedding a little girlish tear though an odd smile as I type this, thats ok too. But don’t ever stop being you.

Yeah, just do whatever you want! Who the fuck cares if you’re hurting people. If you’re racist, great. Homophobic, splendid. Sexist, woohoo! Because you should never change your behavior to try to be a better human being.

I did not enter this relationship with the intention of changing you all. I am enough of a grownup to know that is a terrible idea. I entered because I love science, truth, questioning, and curiosity. I love candor, and occasionally rough humor, I love the ingroup demeanor we have with each other. And I have stayed because you never insisted on seeing me as a girl.

And there’s the first part of a declaration of being part of the boy’s club. “Thanks for not seeing me as an icky girl.”

I came because I love what we are about, and I love you guys too. Don’t ever adulterate yourselves in an attempt to try to lure more vagina possessing patrons. I can think of nothing more tragic and disingenuous.

Keep joking with me, keeping being open and awesome and curious and funny, keep trying to fuck me, because I cant think of any reason why I would rather fuck someone else, we are after all human. I assure you I’ll return the favor.

And there’s part two: “Keep trying to fuck me.” That statement effectively communicates “I put out, unlike those sexless naggers, so you should keep me around.” It’s a straw man in itself, since no one is telling men to stop flirting or trying to get laid. We’re asking that you respect the boundaries that we clearly state, understand when no means no, and time your advances for appropriate social situations. Flirt with us in the pub night following the group discussion, not while we’re organizing a campaign to fight the anti-vax movement.

And I’m not sure how this logically flows with her insistence that guys don’t see her gender or treat her differently. Unless the whole skeptical community that she’s addressing is bisexual, and she’s the only one in on that secret.

In conclusion: Don’t ever let someone make you feel bad for being you, for being male, for being funny, don’t ever believe the lie that us delicate girls cant take being hit on, cant keep up with the filthy jokes, cant argue you blue in the face, and need special treatment. I love you guys. Don’t change.

Don’t ever believe the lie that those topics are what skeptical women have been shouting about for the last couple of years.

I’m glad there’s a woman out there who has had nothing but lovely experiences in the skeptical movement. I hope the number of women who feel that way grows and grows. But I hope none of them totally disregard the experiences of other women like Mallorie has. It’s salt in our wounds that Penn felt the need to promote this. Has someone so involved in the skeptical movement really not been listening to what we’ve been saying?

The Most Influential Female Atheist of 2011

It’s the time again for top ten lists and random end of the year awards. Here at Blag Hag, it means it’s time to recognize the wonderful women of the atheist movement.

Why bother with a women-only poll? Because despite their accomplishes, women are still frequently overlooked when we acknowledge people in the atheist movement. I originally started this informal award because of end of the year “Top Atheist” lists that always seemed to exclude women. We’re certainly getting better: the gender ratio at cons is getting less skewed for attendees and speakers, and women’s issues are gaining more and more attention in the movement. But there’s still room for improvement. The main public figures of atheism are predominantly men, and calling out blatantly obvious issues of sexism results in the internet exploding (not to mention, you know, rape and death threats). And yet again, end of the year round-ups forget that women exist.

But this year we’re going to do something different. Instead of me giving you a list of women to choose from, you get to vote for whoever you want, and as many women as you want. This prevents the cries of “Why didn’t you include lady X?!” and “How am I supposed to choose between awesome person Y and awesome person Z?!” Just comment below clearly listing the names of who you vote for. Once the votes stop trickling in, I’ll make a new post announcing the results.

And of course, feel free to add why you’re voting for these amazing atheist women. What did they do in 2011 that made them noteworthy? What posts, or articles, or talks, or campaigns stuck out to you? How did they personally affect you?

Feel free to consult the Large List of Awesome Female Atheists. It’s sorely in need of an update, but I have a feeling this poll will help me with that.