As part of my fifth anniversary post, I included a survey where I asked readers to list their gender and their age, mainly just to satisfy my own curiosity. The results of the age poll, to my pleased surprise, formed a very neat bell curve (I have more computer-savvy older readers than I had guessed!).
This wasn’t the case with the gender survey, however. I was expecting there to be a gender disparity, and there was, but it was much larger than even I had anticipated. With the poll now closed, the final results stand at 81% male and 19% female, with about 1% who don’t identify as belonging to either category.
Granted, this isn’t a scientific poll, and there are lots of different factors that could have biased the results. Nevertheless, I think this huge gender disparity is a result that’s in need of explanation, and like any good scientist, I’d like to propose several different hypotheses to test.
Hypothesis #1. There’s a large male-female disparity in atheism generally, and the poll results simply reflect that fact.
This hypothesis is almost certainly part of the truth, but it can’t be all of the truth. According to the ARIS researchers, the non-religious segment of the American population is about 60% male (the percentages may be different in other countries, but I expect that a majority of my readership is American). Thus, if my visitors were a good statistical sample of the population, I’d have expected that same 60-40 split. But the gender disparity on Daylight Atheism is greater than that, which means there must be some other cause at work.
Besides, this hypothesis doesn’t really explain the gender disparity as much as reiterate it. Why is it true that nonbelievers are predominantly male?
Hypothesis #2. There’s a male-female disparity on the Internet generally, and the poll results simply reflect that fact.
Again, I think this hypothesis is part of the explanation, but only a small part. To further satisfy my curiosity, I cross-referenced the data for people who answered both polls, which yielded an interesting pattern:
As you can see, although there’s a gender disparity in every age group, it’s substantially larger among respondents above the age of 30. Below that age, men outnumber women by about 3-to-1, while above that age, it’s more like 6-to-1.
According to Pew surveys, it’s true that more older men than older women are online, but this only applies to those above the age of 65. In all younger age groups, the percentages are virtually identical. Therefore, it’s probably not a general, society-wide pattern in internet use that produced the discrepancy on my site.
This possibility could be generalized to the hypothesis that women are socially conditioned to be less likely to speak up, to identify themselves, and to make their voices heard, especially when in the presence of men – something often noted by feminists. But while I think this may be a problem in general, I’m skeptical that it played a major role on this blog.
As I said, this poll wasn’t scientific, and it’s possible that differences in self-reporting might have further tilted the outcome. But on a blog, everyone’s comments occupy an equal space; no one can interrupt, shout down or talk over anyone else. It’s not even obvious what gender other commenters are, unless people deliberately comment under their real names or choose a gendered pseudonym. Whatever unequal social pressures may exist on men and women, could they really extend to something as simple as clicking a button on a poll?
Hypothesis #4. Something about the subject matter or content of this site, in general, appeals to men more than to women, or makes women feel as if they’re less welcome than men.
This is the hypothesis that I find the most plausible, and the one that troubles me most. Am I doing something to make atheist women feel unwelcome or uninterested?
If so, I’d like to fix that. But I don’t know what that thing might be, and I don’t expect it would be easy for me to discern it. After all, it’s difficult to notice your own presuppositions, except in the rare cases where circumstances are designed to bring them to the fore. But once they’re pointed out to you, it’s usually possible to deliberately make an effort to compensate for them.
That’s why, if you have an opinion about what I should be doing differently, I’d like to hear it. I’m especially interested to hear from female readers, although – and I mean no offense by this – you’re the outliers!
If we can come up with an answer to this question – if we can determine what a blogger like me should be saying or doing differently to appeal to women as well as men – this information will be beneficial not just to this site, but to the broader atheist movement, which is still struggling with issues of fairness and gender balance. By ensuring that we’re framing our message to appeal to all segments of the population equally, we can make the secular community larger and more influential, and in the long run, this can only be a good thing for us.