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At the World Atheist Convention in June 2011 in Dublin, Ireland, prominent atheist and skeptic Rebecca Watson appeared on a panel about communicating atheism, during which Watson talked about women's experiences and sexism in atheism. At the same conference, late at night, upon entering an elevator, a man asked if she would like to have coffee in his room.

After arriving home from her travels, she posted a video blog about the conference, which included a mild rebuke about being hit on by a strange man in an elevator at four o'clock in the morning. This sparked controversy and responses from dozens of web sources. The incident eventually became known as "Elevatorgate". Prominent atheist Richard Dawkins, of whom Watson had been a fan, posted sarcastic comments dismissing Watson's take on her experience as much ado about nothing. He compared the merits of her complaint unfavourably to the apparently more sympathetic plight of a hypothetical Muslim woman he addressed in the second person, thus both minimising Watson's experience and contributing to the Islamophobic narrative that Muslim women are invariably oppressed by their religion and culture. Dawkins' comments escalated the situation, with Dawkins becoming a target of criticism, including from Watson, who blogged that she was no longer a fan.

In September 2011 Watson reported that she was still being harassed, including by several blogs. The incident was somewhat revived in June 2012 when Watson opted to skip that year's "The Amaz!ing Meeting" because of a failure by the organizers to provide her with a copy of their policy or plan about handling harassment.