Women in Conspiracy Theories

This is not a post about my PledgeMe campaign to attend a conference in Miami next year.

On Tuesday I gave three lectures at the University of Auckland, all three of which were on conspiracy theories. Afterwards one of the GTAs in the undergraduate Critical Thinking course asked me whether there are many, if any, prominent female conspiracy theorists, since she noted that the following slide was predominantly male:

Some conspiracy theorists of Aotearoa

That got me thinking: this was a slide of prominent conspiracy theorists in Aotearoa (by no means an exhaustive list – these people were chosen merely on my ability to find a higher enough res photo of them online) and yet it took me a few moments to come up with at least one prominent female conspiracy theorist from the Land of the Long White Cloud, Clare Swinney, who writes for Uncensored and has concerns about my work.

In my defence I did say that in other versions of the same lecture I have featured a slide about conspiracy theorists from outside Aotearoa, which does feature some female conspiracy theorists:

Some more conspiracy theorists

That’s Pamela Gellar (of “Obama is a secret Muslim, born in Kenya” fame) and Jenny McCarthy (“the MMR vaccine is linked to an increased prevalence of autism”) in amongst such luminaries as David Icke and David Bellamy. Yet, even then prominent female conspiracy theorists were hard for me to name, and I don’t think it’s because they don’t exist. I mean, there’s no reason to think that men or women (cis or trans) are any more or less represented in the field of conspiracy theories, especially since under my definition of what counts as a conspiracy theory every politically or historically literate person should consider themselves a conspiracy theorist.

So, like any good researcher who is feeling a tad bit lazy, I took to the internet.

which lead to a great discussion with @ghostattics as to why I might thank that.

Basically, it boiled down to this: let us, for the sake of argument, assume the reason I can’t immediately come up with name is not that I’m sexist and thus ignore the role women play in the conspiracy theory community.1 Perhaps, then, one reason why female conspiracy theorists are hard to name is that we treat the utterances of male conspiracy theorists more seriously than similar utterances by female conspiracy theorists. This isn’t a particularly outrageous claim (well, it shouldn’t be: studies of systemic sexism in public discourse suggest this happens all the time): the utterances of men just seem to be treated with more consideration than women. So, while conspiracy theories are treated (often undeservedly) with scorn, I think it’s reasonable to advance the hypothesis that they get treated with less scorn if advanced by men. Broadly speaking, in this kind of analysis women who put forward conspiracy theories are taken to be speaking irrationally, whilst men are just taken to be misguided.

(I suspect there’s also an analysis to be made here about People of Colour and conspiracy theories, but I will leave that for another day)

Now, obviously I don’t support that kind of analysis, in equal parts because I don’t subscribe to any essentialism about gender determining modes of thinking and because I don’t think conspiracy theorising is innately irrational (indeed, there are good reasons to think it’s a rather healthy thing to do in a democracy). So, consider this post a call for responses: give me your female conspiracy theorists, your women conspiratorial, your dames of damned data! I want to make my talks far more representative and thus avoid a rehash of Tuesday’s question (as pleasant as the conversation turned out to be). I’m particularly interested in female conspiracy theorists in Aotearoa like Clare Swinney (and, now I think of it, Muriel Newman), but international examples of the type are very much welcome.


So, thus far we have:

Mary Byrne and Pat McNair of the anti-fluoride movement.


  1. I mean, this is a possibility but I’m hoping it’s not