As I might have mentioned, I’m on an 18th and 19th century freethinker spree. I’m taking great pleasure in reading the words of atheists and not-atheists-but-at-least-in-the-same-zip-code heretics. It’s refreshing, knowing we’re walking a trail blazed by super-sharp thinkers of the past, and seeing how they dealt with the same old tired arguments we hear ad nauseum today. Of course, there’s the corollary: they dealt with this shit, why do we have to keep dealing with it? But religion is like kudzu, and it takes the effort of more than a handful of heretics to weed it out.
Since I got the Kindle Fire, I’ve gone on a spree. I can impulse-download all sorts of books for free. These are things I wouldn’t have spent money on before, because the authors are long dead and I’d rather give my scarce dollars to living ones. Also, they could be damned hard to find. But they are now things I don’t have to budget for, and so I can go wild, filling my virtual library with previously-unattainable works that have great value now.
There’s just one problem: my library’s filling up with dudes. I like men. I’m loving the men I’m reading. It’s just that, y’know, they’re only half the story. I wanted women’s words, too. And Skatje had posted a whole list of female freethinkers, which would surely make it easier to track down works by women, even if they hadn’t come up by simply searching “atheism,” right?
I spent a whole Friday night chasing down women on the internet, and all I got was a lousy handful of books. A pittance. I kept running up against walls. I’d see in Wikipedia that this or that woman was an author of all sorts of delicious-sounding books, or had been a lecturer, and I’d think, “Fantastic! I’ll go find that. I’m gonna love reading her stuff.” Only the Kindle Store had no idea who I was talking about. Project Gutenberg disavowed any knowledge of her existence. Even Google Books, which often listed works that didn’t exist on the other two, didn’t have copies. I found a few where I could pay lots of dollars to get a reprint. A paper reprint.
And perhaps that wouldn’t bother me quite so much if it weren’t for the fact that volunteers have lovingly tracked down the works of so many men, painstakingly digitized them, and offered them up for free, because they’re out of copyright and hard to find and deserve to be made widely available. You would think, from the dearth of the same sorts of books and collections of lectures by women, that women aren’t important enough to be granted the same treatment. No one seems to think women’s words matter quite as much. And that seems especially true for women’s words on freethought.
I can’t tell you how much this infuriates me.
These women were too often ignored and denigrated in their lifetimes. A smattering of people gave them the time of day and acknowledged their worth while the rest of civilization wished the damned harpies would shut up and get back to the whole baby-making business. Now they’re being ignored again.
At some point during the night, I got the brainwave that, while so many of their books and essays and lectures weren’t available through the usual channels, Infidels.org often had hard-to-find things by famous freethinkers. Surely they’d have some of these atheist and freethinking women. Surely.
They have three.
Out of 55. Fifty-five authors on that list, and three are women. Granted, there might be a female or two hiding behind pseudonyms. But three identifiable women out of fifty-five people is appalling. There’s no excuse. Women authors weren’t quite as numerous as men, but there were enough of them that you can do far better than 5.45%.
This has made me determined that, should I become wildly rich, or at least rich enough, a portion of my income will go to pay the salary of some poor detail-oriented person who’s willing and able to track down these women’s works and get them digitized. And we’ll also be tracking down the non-white freethinkers, and getting their works online. This shit’s ridiculous. We need to stop ignoring the contributions of so many people just because they’re not the gender that’s got bits dangling between their legs, and folks with skin that can be used to set a camera’s white balance in a pinch.
I’d do it myself, but I know I don’t have the temperament for this sort of thing. But I’ll tell you something: if some soul starts a crowd-sourcing project where they send out paper copies for people to digitize, I’ll sign up to do at least one work.
While we push for greater diversity in the movement today, we need to recognize the diversity it had yesterday. Women and people of color existed as freethinkers back then. Let’s make sure they’re not ever forgotten.