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AI: I am a Woman & an Atheist & I Don’t Care What Society Thinks About It.

Did I get your attention? Was it brash enough? Should I add some insults to the mix? Or will I still be relegated to the mediocrity of this social change and freedom from religion movement because I don’t have balls?

There, I went and got balls.

An article that was originally published as “The Unbelievers: New Atheism and the Old Boys Club” was reposted yesterday as “Why the New Atheism is a boys’ club” in The Guardian. It got the attention of some of our readers who sent it in to us.

The article asks some questions we have heard before but they are still relevant and worth discussing.

Why is it that women in the atheist movement are not treated with the same respect given to the men? And if you try to say that women haven’t contributed in equal ways, be sure to read the article linked above and if you haven’t already, do familiarize yourself with Jennifer Michael Hecht and the book Doubt. Hecht’s book was a precursor to the “New Atheist” movement. Then, come back here and answer the following questions:

Why it is acceptable and respectable for men to be an outspoken members of the atheist movement but women are looked down upon or more often, simply dismissed for doing the same thing? Can women be respected as leaders of social change or does society demand that the voices of rebellion and change be those of men? And if so, why?

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Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics. She is the fearless leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Follow her on twitter: @SurlyAmy or on Google+. Tip Jar is here.

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68 Comments

  1. Because that’s the way it works in male-dominated fields everywhere, even progressive ones. There needs to be more spaces where womens’ voices are respected, like this site, and there needs to be more recognition from the mainstream.

  2. I think the only thing women are allowed be is feminists, it’s like tokenism in movies, this guy is the doctor, this one is the engineer, this one is the woman. We’re not supposed to care about it if it isn’t about women or kids.

    It’s great though, that it’s being recognized as a problem (by some, anyway) and that voices like the skeptchicks exist. If it wasn’t for all the great women in skepticism and atheism, I wouldn’t be involved at all. It would be too depressing.

  3. I’m a guy, and it’s simply not acceptable. I’m not perfect, I find myself excluding women in my own thinking sometimes, but when I notice it, I correct, and feel bad about doing so. All guys need to be more mindful of the blindness that makes them fail to consider women’s roles, not just in atheism, but in everything.

    Also, I just finished Hecht’s book Doubt, and it kicks ass. Next up, Jacoby’s Freethinkers.

  4. Hi there!

    As much as I hate to use Richard Dawkins as an example here, he does provide a pretty clear analogy.

    Richard Dawkins: [paraphrased] ‘I respectfully propose that maybe it would be a good idea if people didn’t believe in a God or Gods”.
    Theists: “OMG! Why are you so SHRILL!?! What is it about Atheists that makes them so angry and strident!?! Is it the soul-crushing sadness? Do you just need to know that God loves you?”

    Now when women speak up about … um … ANYthing, you get the same dynamic:

    Any Woman in the World: “I have an opinion about something other than shoes!”
    Any Man in the World: “OMG! Why are you so SHRILL!?! What is it about you that makes you so angry and strident!?! Is it PMS? Do you just need a man to love you?”.

    So when women talk about skepticism/atheism, it goes exponential. [nods]

    — Craig

    1. This reminds me of an article I read recently about gaslighting. Maybe it’s easier for media/whoever to take men more seriously because they’re used to women “be’n all crazy.” When a woman talks loudly about atheism, it’s easy to say she’s just being insane, like women usually are. When a man talks loudly about atheism, it’s like, “hey, where’s the fire”.

  5. It is weird for me to see stuff like this, because I’m kind of outside of this movement thingy. From my perspective, it is at least a 50/50 split. Of course, what I’m interested in and what gets the media’s attention are two different things, so I know my perspective is warped by my interests and leanings.

    Plus, and not for nothing, this seems to be almost a matter of class-based exclusions as much or more than sexism… again, from where I’m standing of course. After all, the way we can describe an old-boy’s club is generally “wealthy old white men who are members of the establishment” and only one bit of that is gender-based. Obviously sexism plays a part in the rest of the description too… but a lot of voices are being shut out and gender isn’t the only or always even the main reason.

  6. “Why it is acceptable and respectable for men to be an outspoken members of the atheist movement but women are looked down upon or more often, simply dismissed for doing the same thing?”

    Call it sexism pareidolia.

  7. Why it is acceptable and respectable for men to be an outspoken members of the atheist movement but women are looked down upon or more often, simply dismissed for doing the same thing?

    Because you’re intelligent and confrontational and atheistic and you’re still not having sex with us.

    Of course, we’re perfectly used to women not having sex with us – but usually that’s because girls are intimidated by the manly might of our confrontational intellects or because they are bigoted towards atheists. But those aren’t barriers to entry (hur hur) with yourselves.

    So that leaves us in a bit of a pickle. It’s almost like the problem might be us, something to do with our personalities maybe, or the way we treat women? But no, that can’t be. We’re nice, shy, self-aware sensitive types that don’t look down on women like those stupid religious types.

    So what could it be? Hmm…

    I know!

    It must be because you’re all female-chauvinist man haters. Yeah, that’s the ticket. It’s not a problem with us: It’s a problem with you.

    *happy sigh*

    Right. There’s that sorted out then.

    Can women be respected as leaders of social change or does society demand that the voices of rebellion and change be those of men? And if so, why?

    Seriously now.

    For some reason it’s easier to dismiss an angry and/or critical woman than an angry and/or critical man. I don’t know why. This isn’t limited to ‘other people’, I catch myself doing it too (and kick myself for it)… But I can’t really say why that is.

    I’d speculate that some of it has to do with the intimidation factor. I think that in the general case men are just more physically intimidating. Also in terms of voice – something about a raised male voice is deeper, louder, and grabs the attention more than a raised female voice.

    But I doubt very much that this would be the long and short of the story. There’s got to be something else to account for it – but I can’t think myself what it might be.

    1. Oh: Note for the second half of my comment, I took it for granted that women should be able to be the leaders of social movements on grounds that there’s no practical reason that should prevent them from doing so. I’d expect that across the curve that women would be equally as capable/incompetent as men.

      So there has to be some inappropriate barriers to women’s participation given the resistance some women are feeling in fulfilling that role.

      I was speculating as to what the barriers to this might be.

      Just wanted to clarify – on a re-read it sounded like I was justifying the status quo rather than trying to speculate what factors might contribute to it for the purpose of changing it.

  8. “Why it is acceptable and respectable for men to be an outspoken members of the atheist movement but women are looked down upon or more often, simply dismissed for doing the same thing?”

    From my personal perspective, as a male living in Kentucky, it is not acceptable and respectable for men to be outspoken atheists. Thems fitin wrds round here. You might as well invoke demons and read Harry Potter books while playing D&D and listening to Slayer.

  9. It would appear that most of the authors mentioned in the article about new atheism are also university academics. From my perspective as someone who’s worked in a field dominated by women, (social work/mental health) and having a spouse in academia, I’d have to say that academia has appeared to be a more sexist and misogynist work place environment than what I’ve experienced. I’m not sure if this has been a significant part of the problem, but it hasn’t helped. The human qualities that make for good leadership do not seem related to gender in any way I can conceive. And given the institutional sexism and misogyny endemic in most religions, you would think any movement claiming rational thought and critical thinking as core principles would divest themselves of the these thinking errors along with their religious beliefs.

  10. One thing that doesn’t seem to come up in the Guardian article is that both Doubt and Freethinkers are actually trying to do something very different to The End of Faith, TGD, GinG etc. They both are trying to trace a history if freethinking and skepticism as a historical trend and social force. This is not what Hitchens, Dawkins or Harris do. Moreover, there are male atheist authors who have written books with similar goals to those of Jacoby and Hecht which haven’t captured the imagination like the Four Horsemen’s have. So perhaps there’s something more than sexism going on here: the privileging of a certain form of discourse, a certain atheist narrative, over another one, which seems currently less compelling.

    One piece of evidence for this might be to look at those women and men whose work is being promoted. Looking at Freethought Blogs, for example, there are both male and female bloggers, but they all, in my view, promote a particular form of atheism and freethinking – lots of concern with the misdeeds and follies of the religious and the right in general, lots of concern with discussions internal to the atheist community, lots of church-state issues being raise, but very little engagement with the history of freethinking, little emphasis on community building, very little explicit talk of Humanism.

    So I think, in addition to sexism, there is the privileging if a certain atheist narrative that excludes some of our most powerful women voices.

    1. This is an interesting point, and I think it actually ties in quite strongly with what’s been said it being “about acceptable and respectable for men to be an outspoken members of the atheist movement.” A book about the history of atheism is less confrontational than a book that calls belief in god a delusion. Is it possible that we see fewer of this type of publication from women than from men for the same reasons that we see fewer women overall? That it’s less acceptable for women to engage the confrontational narrative?

  11. Q. Why it is acceptable and respectable for men to be an outspoken members of the atheist movement but women are looked down upon or more often, simply dismissed for doing the same thing?

    A. It totally isn’t. Likewise it isn’t okay for women to be raised up and cheered simply because they are women. Any woman who is an outspoken member of the movement deserves the same positive and negatives as a man. There is no “kudos” chromosome. Any guy that thinks women shouldn’t be like that is an anachronism.

    Q. Can women be respected as leaders of social change or does society demand that the voices of rebellion and change be those of men?

    Absolutely.

    Q. And if so, why?

    Well, I guess my “absolutely” was a little obtuse… ;) History is littered with women who were leaders of social change. Obviously history is a hell of a lot more littered with males in that role, but the one thing we’ve done in the past less-than-a-hundred-years is get over a lot of our prejudices. For what may well be the first time ever, the adjectives we use to describe others can be less important than the message they are promoting. I think this is a vital step in the social growth of our species.

    Not everyone will agree with me. Those who do not probably should get over that.

    1. That reminds me of an Onion article “Women Now Empowered By Everything A Woman Does”. The marketing drive to make everything pink (pink energy drinks?)in order to “empower women” actually belittles actual powerful women and their achievements. The attempt to monetize feminism actually weakens it.

  12. “Doubt” is a great book, but it wasn’t the polemical call-to-arms that was “The End of Faith” or “The God Delusion.” Neither was “Freethinkers” by Susan Jacoby, another excellent book.

    I’d propose a thought exercise. Let’s say that all of the prominent males in the secular movement (Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Myers, Grothe, Novella, Randi, Kurtz, etc.) decide today to stop any further atheistic activities and take up stamp collecting instead. If you were attempting to fill their “positions” with equally qualified female candidates, who would you choose? Who would be the top bloggers? Who would be the top authors? Who would be politically active? Who would lead the national organizations?

    I don’t know the answer to this, personally. I would like to think that there are enough qualified women in the secular movement to replace all the men, but I’m not sure that there are. But I do think that it should be a kind of a goal, at the very least, to have as many active women so that we can at least have the option of either gender for just about every position in the movement.

    1. I don’t really understand your thought experiment. What does “equally qualified” mean? What makes Greta Christina a less-qualified atheist blogger than PZ Myers? Is Susan Jacoby a less-qualified atheist author than Sam Harris because she is not a female version of Sam Harris? By the way, there are already women leading prominent national organizations (too many to name; see the Activists list here: http://www.blaghag.com/2010/01/large-list-of-awesome-female-atheists.html).

      If by “equally qualified” you mean “gets a lot of attention from the press,” then I would have to agree–we don’t have as many individual women who get as much attention from the press as those dudes you mentioned. But part of the problem is that our community is taking its cues from that press coverage. We should promote less prominent (in the mainstream) atheist thinkers from within; if WE’RE not paying attention to them, why should people outside of our community?

      1. You raise an interesting point about the extent to which certain individuals receive attention from the media, and from the masses in the movement. But are you sure that it’s the latter who are taking cues from the former? After all, is PZ’s notoriety due to the fact that he put a nail through a Eucharist, or that he has tens of thousands of readers posting his blog entries to their websites, discussion boards, and Facebook? In the grand scheme of things, he’s just an mid-level professor at a regional public university in the midwest. Yet because he has a popular blog, he travels more to speak about atheism than some Nobel laureates travel to speak about their research.

        I suspect that much of the “celebrity” within the atheist movement is artificially inflated due to the recent upsurge of de-closeted atheists, and to the ability of the internet to focus mass attention with viral speed. I’m not sure if bloggers in other communities enjoy similarly artificial popularity, but perhaps it’s also due to the fact that bloggers are consciously or subconsciously following the same controversy-seeking cues that drive the 24-hour news cycle? After all, it seems as if the most popular blogs tend to post nearly as often as CNN updates its story rotation.

        1. When I refer to the press or media, I actually mean bloggers more than I mean the mainstream press (apologies for miscommunicating).

          bug_girl makes a good point in the post below this thread about PZ’s popularity–namely, he was one of the first and he filled a niche (this is not to say that Pharyngula does not deserve to be popular). He gains readers through word of mouth.

          The cycle of celebrity, that I think we need to avoid, goes as follows: take someone like Dawkins, well-know both inside and outside of specific communities. A group is holding a conference and says, “Let’s invite Dawkins to speak, because he’s well-known and will attract lots of attendees!” It’s true that you need to attract attendees, but if you just keep inviting Dawkins, how does anyone else ever gain prominence?

          1. I fully sympathize with the cyclical nature of “celebrity” within the atheist movement. Someone starts a blog which attracts some number of readers, which then leads to a speaking engagement, which publicizes the blog, which increases the readership further, which leaders to more speaking engagements, et cetera ad infinitum.

            And yet if we are honest with ourselves I think we have to admit that this is now a popular movement, in which popularity is determined by the crowd. The upcoming Texas Freethought Convention has Richard Dawkins giving the keynote address on Saturday evening, and Sikivu Hutchinson as one of three concurrent Friday afternoon sessions. This is no mistake, and the organizers would frankly be foolish to reverse their positions, not because one is more or less credentialed than the other, but because one is significantly more popular. They want to sell tickets, after all.

    2. Yes, I think I need to perhaps elucidate what I was getting at in terms of “qualifications.” Taking the Greta/PZ comparison, one could say that to be a blogger, one need only be a capable writer and be able to post regularly. In that respect, Greta and PZ are equally qualified. But I, at least, have different expectations when I visit the former’s blog as compared to the latter’s. From Greta, I look for political commentary through a feminist or LGBTQ lens, sexuality issues, and top-down calls to actions. From PZ, I’m expecting shrill antagonism of conservative political figures, scientific peer review, and highly provocative polemics against religion in general and specifics. I’ve grown accustomed to the idea that PZ would put a nail through a Eucharist, but would be quite surprised to see Greta do something similar.

      So, if PZ quit today, where would I go to find a frothing mixture of high-level science blogging combined with liberal political diatribes? Is there a female blogger that does that already and could take over from PZ in providing the same kind of content? Would I read Greta’s blog with the same frequency that I read PZ’s blog? These are questions that I don’t have answers for, perhaps to my discredit.

      Or take Hitchens. The movement is likely to lose him in the near future. He has been established as a highly intellectual writer personally and intimately familiar with global politics who eagerly and eloquently antagonizes religion. Is there a female equivalent to him who could take over his column in Slate without missing a beat? Perhaps Ayaan Hirsi Ali, I don’t know. Again, an unanswered question in my mind.

      1. See, the problem you’re describing–who would take the place of these prominent male atheists?–isn’t a real problem.

        Even in the case of Hitchens, you seem to be assuming that the voice he lends to movement is crucial to the movement’s survival. Why does someone need to take over his column? I would love to read a column by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but she doesn’t need to fill Hitchens’ shoes–she has her own narrative to tell.

        “So, if PZ quit today, where would I go to find a frothing mixture of high-level science blogging combined with liberal political diatribes? Is there a female blogger that does that already and could take over from PZ in providing the same kind of content?” Why would someone need to? I’m a huge PZ Myers fan and I think his contributions to the movement are very valuable, but I don’t think that contributions of the sort he provides will make or break the movement. Are you saying that if PZ stopped blogging and no one else stepped in to serve as PZ v2.0, you would leave?

        The women in our movement have valuable narratives to contribute–not just as female doppelgangers of prominent male atheists. I believe that you agree with me, but your thought experiment could suggest otherwise.

        I do agree that we need fiery calls-to-arms, of the sort that PZ, Hitchens, etc provide. And we have female firebrands in our community. But part of Amy’s point in this post is that, even within the atheist community it seems to be less acceptable for women to take a confrontational position. (I think it’s even possible that if one did, people would either find it distasteful or shrug it off saying, “She’s just trying to be a female PZ.” Just speculating there, though.)

      2. It’s just a thought experiment; I fully realize that this is not a “real problem” that needs solving.

        What if I tweaked the experiment a bit, and supposed that each person of prominence within the atheist movement was the CEO of their own company? Their company exists to promote their own basic personal values, and take action to further their own interests. Let’s say then that every male CEO is going to retire, and wants to appoint a female CEO to take over their company. You’ve been tasked with finding good candidates who represent the company’s brand and values.

        I suppose the reason why I find this question compelling is because I suspect that the popularity of those who are prominent within the movement is due to their individual characteristics, their “brand,” as it were. But if their brand can be carried by someone from the opposite gender, then perhaps we can foster more specific development goals within the movement to promote more egalitarian celebrity.

        1. We’re repeating ourselves now. I still reject the premise of your thought experiment, which is that one person’s brand necessarily deserves to be carried on. You are saying that the best way to foster more prominence among atheist women is to have them carry the brand of popular male atheists, and I disagree.

          And again, I think that if some woman out there intentionally tried, she might be disregarded as a copy cat.

          1. Again, this is simply a hypothetical situation. I don’t actually believe that each male needs to have a female counterpart, nor should we try to do this in real life. I’m just trying to wrap my brain around the question of whether we could arrive at a point of maximal diversity in which something like this could happen; where there is a male and female perspective in every niche.

          2. Actually, I read the thought experiment a little differently.

            He’s suggesting that what’s currently getting us noticed is the shrill, loud, antagonistic, “you’re delusional if you believe in God” narrative of people like Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, etc.

            I don’t think he’s at all suggesting that if that narrative were to die, *he* would leave. I wouldn’t either. In fact, even though I’m a big fan of all those guys, I think we might be slightly better off as movement if we moved past that narrative.

            The general public, however, is only aware of that narrative. It appears to be all they actually notice. If we become any less shrill, they will assume we’ve died down and will just ignore us.

            I think what drzach is asking can be better phrased as “who would the public see as filling the shrill, argumentative narrative if the ones we currently have stop?”

        2. Part of the value of diversity is gaining diverse viewpoints. People with different backgrounds, experiences, perspectives and ideas. The value behind wanting more women in the atheist / skeptic community isn’t just to meet some kind of quota, or to have a Female PZ Meyers. It’s to have women’s voices included in the discourse… for the benefit of the discourse as much as for the women who are interested.

          The relative ratio of innies to outies isn’t what’s important, it’s the idea that currently this supposedly unbiased community is presently dominated by very specific perspectives and would be a whole lot better off if it benefited from other ways of looking at things, other ideas, other experiences. Including that wider range of perspectives would create a much better, less biased, more broadly informed and stronger overall community and discourse.

          It could also potentially attract more people to skepticism and atheism… when women, racial minorities, and LGBTQ folk look at the atheist and skeptic community, and what we see are a bunch of stuffy-looking, middle-aged, white, straight, cis dudes sitting around looking rather quite impressed with themselves, we don’t get the feeling that this community is for us, or wants us there.

          And sometimes it gets worse, and we’re met with prejudice, sexism, or the old “so… are you here with your boyfriend?” or “you’re a trans girl? how fascinating! But you know, if you have good spatial reasoning skills or mathematic ability, that’s good evidence that you must actually have a male brain” or “so… did you face a lot of adversity as a black scientist?” or whatever other trite questions we’ve become painfully accustomed to, coming at us from this supposedly enlightened community… well, then we end up pretty damn disillusioned and feeling like we don’t want any part of it.

          But having more diverse leaders will allow us to see ourselves reflected in the community, feel like we’re a part of it and are welcome, and will also help dissolve all the nasty sexism / racism / whateverism lingering around that drives us away.

          In short…by creating a more diverse community, the real benefit is getting a *more diverse community*, not just the same old community and same old views but now with some vaginas and breasts thrown in.

  13. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that “rationality” and “reason” and all that have been culturally gendered as masculine, while “intuition”, “spirituality”, “emotion” and other more woo-friendly things have been gendered feminine? Maybe it’s because even “radicalism”, “rebellion” and “fighting for a cause” have also been considered “masculine” traits? Or maybe it’s just plain old, regular, vanilla-flavoured “women are idiots / can’t handle science / aren’t good thinkers / can’t lead” misogyny?

  14. To speculate an answer a couple of questions above–

    I think there isn’t an exact female equivalent of PZ because of a bit of niche partitioning. Each of the major atheist voices has a distinct style and flavor (and I’m including Greta and Amanda M. there).
    PZ is big in the blogosphere in part because he was first–he arrived when the water was blue, and the territory was wide open. He colonized a huge niche space :)
    Blogosphere waters are now red with blood and sharks, and carving out a new space/online identity that is unique and new will be really, really tough for any newbies.

    I think a lot of women are with Improbable Joe, and feel like issues of gender, race, and class are just as or more important than religion–so we choose to write about that. And are atheists, but not identifying that as our primary identity.

    1. Well, that… and the reverse. I think that there are plenty of atheist women who probably identify more based on feminism, or racial issues, or class/politics issues, or some other thing, and the atheist or skeptical issues take a back-burner.

      So we don’t just have a problem with a lack famous outspoken atheist women, there’s also a bundle of women atheists who aren’t identified as such or who are considered “part of the movement”… like Janeane Garofalo (with whom I share a birthday!) who is famous an outspoken and is an atheist but not primarily identified as such.

  15. Unfortunately, we are all products of our culture, and we all absorb it when we’re children, when our brains are nice and non-critical, and if we never challenge those ideas, they will express themselves, consciously or unconsciously. So even people, who think they’re not sexist, racist, homophobic, etc., can unconsciously act that way without realizing it.

    Atheists or skeptics are no different than anyone else, and fall prey to the same follies that “regular” people do. That’s why it’s “acceptable” for women to be unnoticed, belittled, and dismissed in our culture.

    Shouldn’t atheists and skeptics try to rise above what everyone else thinks and does? I always thought that was the point.

    1. I think one of the big problems is that atheists and skeptics tend to THINK they’ve risen above everyone else.

      So when they get called out on sexism / racism / heterosexism / cissexism / able-ism / whateverism, they get very defensive. “ME?! A SEXIST?! No way! I’m an enlightened, rational, humanist ubermensch! It’s totally impossible that I could have unconscious biases, be unknowingly reinforcing cultural assumptions or engaging in any kind of irrational behaviour! Everything I do is perfectly reasonable!”

      When a group of people base their identity around the idea that they’re more rational and skeptical than most, it becomes very, very hard to point out their biases or unconscious motives or things that they’ve failed to question or think critically about.

      A skeptic is just as prone to biases, unconscious motives, unfounded assumptions, the inability to recognize privilege and the difficulty of understanding other people’s experiences as everyone else. The trouble is that sometimes skeptics think they’ve gotten “past” that stuff instead of committing themselves to constantly questioning and doubting and considering other possibilities.

      I sometimes feel like there’s two kinds of skeptics… there are those who embrace skepticism because they believe they’re totally rational minded people and/or think we ought to be a totally rational society. And then there are those who embrace skepticism because they know just how crazy and irrational and gullible we all are, and that we NEED skepticism to deal with that. I’m in the latter. The former kind of bug me a little.

      Of course, “there are two kinds of X” arguments or analogies are usually rather silly. But it felt like a good way to illustrate my point. I guess I can disclaim it by saying “there are two kinds of skeptics…[snip]…but not only two kinds”? *shrug*

      1. “I think one of the big problems is that atheists and skeptics tend to THINK they’ve risen above everyone else.

        “So when they get called out on sexism / racism / heterosexism / cissexism / able-ism / whateverism, they get very defensive. “ME?! A SEXIST?! No way! I’m an enlightened, rational, humanist ubermensch! It’s totally impossible that I could have unconscious biases, be unknowingly reinforcing cultural assumptions or engaging in any kind of irrational behaviour! Everything I do is perfectly reasonable!””

        THIS! And add to that, “Anything from your experience that might contradict what I say is just an anecdote.”

      2. Double ++ good! (Sorry, I’ve got Orwell on my mind for some reason.)

        A skeptic should be more aware of his or her cognitive biases, but many aren’t, precisely because of those cognitive biases. We aren’t Vulcans*. It takes work, introspection, and bouncing your ideas off other people to prevent or overcome them. Eternal skepticism is the price of skepticism. Oh, and a little humility. Thanks, Natalie, for helping us stay on target**.

        * Obligatory Star Trek reference.
        ** Obligatory Star Wars reference.

  16. I hope atheism as a movement will help drive society towards higher standards of equality in all areas (not just gender). We should be leading the way. We don’t have the excuse that a holy book is telling us that women should stand at the back and be quiet. We can all see that, objectively, women and men should have equal opportunities, and equal status. The sooner the movement tries to tackle this issue the better.

  17. I need to read Doubt. I’m gonna look for it at FAU’s library.

    Now… on to the questions.

    “Why it is acceptable and respectable for men to be outspoken members of the atheist movement but women are looked down upon or more often, simply dismissed for doing the same thing?”

    The only way I know how to answer this is because of history. Patriarchy rules the world, and has so for much, much longer than 2000 years.

    What’s more, however, is that, for some strange reason, it appears to be the natural way of things. Look at the animal kingdom. Nearly all primate “societies” are patriarchal. For whatever reason, the female being treated as a “second-class citizen” seems to come straight from evolution… it’s everywhere, not just among Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

    Now, the next thing I want to say, I’m going to say in all caps, because I want to yell it to ensure that no one can misread me:

    NONE OF THAT IS BEING SAID TO JUSTIFY MISOGYNY.

    Is that clear enough?

    Should I repeat it?

    No?

    Good.

    I do NOT like the way it’s turned out. In fact, here’s a status update I posted on Facebook yesterday:
    “I think that if the god everyone worshiped today was female, and the Bible had been written by women, and today’s religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc) were matriarchal, the world would be a much better place. In fact, I will go so far as to say that there would be less abortion, less divorce, less teenage pregnancy, less rape, and less sexism in general.”

    So just because I think there appears to be evolutionary roots for misogyny does not mean I think it’s justified. Rape might also have its roots in evolution; that doesn’t make it justified.

    I’m simply attempting to answer the question, and this is the best answer I have.

    Evolutionary roots or not, sexism/misogyny in the atheist movement desperately needs to be addressed in all it’s forms. It doesn’t matter if it’s from a tactless idiot in an elevator at 4 am in a foreign country, or a famous atheist author blatantly displaying his male privilege. It’s a problem, and it needs to be dealt with.

    As to the next question:

    “Can women be respected as leaders of social change or does society demand that the voices of rebellion and change be those of men? And if so, why?”

    I think women *should* be respected as leaders of social change. But I also think society demands (though incorrectly) that voices of rebellion and change be men’s voices.

    Why?

    Again, see my amateur rambling about a possible evolutionary root above (and note how I’m not confident enough to even call it a hypothesis).

  18. Well, it doesn’t help that I have recently heard more than a few male podcasters, bloggers, and posters lamenting that skepticism has “lost its way” by being conflated with atheism, liberal causes, or *gasp* feminism instead of taking on the real scourge of the world like psychics, faith healers, and Bigfoot.

    I am tired of those who are tired of the discussion. Don’t want to have the discussion? OK, change society and you can let it drop, until then you are going to continue hearing from those of us who make you uncomfortable. SO DEAL!

    1. “Well, it doesn’t help that I have recently heard more than a few male podcasters, bloggers, and posters lamenting that skepticism has “lost its way” by being conflated with atheism, liberal causes, or *gasp* feminism instead of taking on the real scourge of the world like psychics, faith healers, and Bigfoot.

      I am tired of those who are tired of the discussion. Don’t want to have the discussion? OK, change society and you can let it drop, until then you are going to continue hearing from those of us who make you uncomfortable. SO DEAL!”

      +1… infinity.

    2. Yeah, people who say shit like that are PART of the problem. Chances are if they’re tired of the arguments already, they’re part of the machine perpetuating the problem. The responses the the gaslighting article & elevatorgate seem to be very good examples of that.

    3. @mrmisconception: Hear, Hear!

      In case it has not been clear from previous posts, my position is this:

      Re “Liberalism”: the rest of the world is really pretty scared of how ultra conservative the US has become.

      So GO SKEPCHICKS!

      I like it when you talk politics, you are a voice of sanity amidst a scary freakshow.

      Re Feminism: I thought these battles had been fought and won in the 1970’s. Since then, we seem to have gone backwards.

      I am angry and upset at the way some of my own loved ones have been treated and will go in to bat for them and for y’all, my online friends (if I may be so familiar), despite what some say about “no male can comment”.

      Re Atheism: Religious fundamentalism seems to be a major source of the madness (read “denial of reality”) and should be opposed with vigour at the source and at every opportunity.

      So there.

  19. Here’s the problem. We white males of the atheist movement have chosen to forsake our white male privilege by and large. Many of us have lost friends, become estranged by family members and even lost or missed out on job opportunities because of our atheism / skepticism.

    So forgive us when we’re a little touchy about being accused of enjoying privilege with in the very community we’ve chosen over maximizing our birth right to our own benefit. We do this because we think it’s the right thing to do, even if it costs us our elevated status in society. We choose to be part of the most reviled minority in America because we believe in all of the things this movement represents. We’re here because we believe in science and free thought.

    I’m here because I believe in equality and humanism, liberal, progressive values and yes feminism. I personally am not offended or put off by the injection of feminist causes in to our movement, but I have at least some understanding and empathy for those who are.

    Is it at least possible that given the small data set, that the lack of female leaders with in the atheist movement has more to do with the talent that has pursued the limelight? Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris capture hearts and minds because they have the talent, and charisma to do so. Not for nothing, but my former wife’s first response at seeing Rebecca on youtube giving a speech was that she was a terrible public speaker. I disagreed with her because I think RW is hilarious and one of the primary reasons I still listen to the SGU since Perry’s passing.

    I’m just saying that it’s entirely possible that it just so happens that our most popular public speakers and writers are so because they simply are the best we have to offer, and not because they are men.

    Wasn’t it MMO that spurned this movement? Wasn’t it Rosa Parks that ignited the civil rights revolution?

    Did Barack Obama become our first black President by demanding equal treatment for black people in Washington or did he do it by being the best leader he could be?

    Did Hillary Clinton or Condoleeza Rice get where they are by demanding equal treatment for women or did they do it by proving that women were relevant in Washington through their actions?

    Does Nancy Pelosi spend her time commiserating about gender inequality or does she lead by proving day in and day out that Washington is not just a man’s world?

    Is Lisa Randall a physics professor or a feminist? Did she become so on some affirmative action grant or did she become so successful by being one of the best at what she does?

    These women achieve because they ignore barriers or blow through them through sheer determination of will. They focus on their goals and they achieve. You won’t hear a single one of them obsessing over their under-privileged birth status, because to them, it doesn’t exist.

    I fully support Skepchick in everything that you do, and loathe the scum who defended the elevator creep, but really, at some point we need some perspective here. I think Skepchick is starting to go off the rails and feminism is becoming your primary cause, which is great, but it diminishes your status as leaders in the skeptical movement at the same time; not because you are women, but because you have lost focus on what it was that brought you together in the first place, which was the defense of science and critical thought, albeit with a feminist bent. It’s now become an almost completely feminist activist website which is great and valuable and necessary in society, but it lessens your value as leaders of the skeptical movement if only because your message has become incoherent.

    1. So, I’m curious. Do you think PZ Myers is going off the rails as well since he has discussed all the same topics we have regarding feminism during the same time frames, including this one: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/09/27/atheism-has-a-sexism-problem/

      My last post was on evolutionary psychology and the one I wrote before that was about the facts and misconceptions surrounding gluten. I guess I’m just confused as to what constitutes too much feminism on a skeptical blog written by women.

      1. Amy: Not wanting to derail the current discussion, but I thought your Gluten thread was done in exemplary fashion.

        You chose an expert Medic with a great deal of knowledge and experience and holding a well reasoned and moderate position. Then you both monitored the thread actively. The result was a well reasoned and informative debate. Excellent approach!

    2. Many interesting points, Erik. But I personally like to read Skepchick precisely because it includes regular presentation of and commentary on feminist issues, as seen through a skeptical lens. There’s not much opportunity to find similar content in other locations, especially not where it’s curated by a diverse group of female writers.

      I also don’t think their feminism diminishes the Skepchicks’ standing as “leaders” in the movement, assuming that it’s even their goal to be such. Does the movement not have room for a feminist perspective at all? I’d like to hope that it does.

    3. I’m a bit confused by the binary nature of the examples you use. There’s a whole lot of ‘Either/Or’ examples there, but why?

      “Is Lisa Randall a physics professor or a feminist?”
      Cannot she be both?

      “It’s [Skepchick] now become an almost completely feminist activist website which is great and valuable and necessary in society, but it lessens your value as leaders of the skeptical movement if only because your message has become incoherent.
      I disagree. Skepchick is the same as it has always been. Why the binary? Why can the blog only be one thing?

      This type of rhetoric reminds me of the frequent comments that Phil Plait gets over at Bad Astronomy. When he writes about something other than astronomy, he will invariably get commenters telling him he has “gone off the rails” or this recent gem “So finally, this blog has been revealed to be not about astronomy or any science but about the writer’s personal politics and feelings. His blog his rules and all that.” from when he dared to express his feelings over the recent executions. Totally, provably, false assertion.
      I just don’t understand the fuss. Is there some ratio to which Skepchick should adhere? What is that ratio? Because as a long-time reader, I detect no change.

      1. I also find those false dichotomies to be a broken way of looking at the situation. However, there may still be a little truth to the idea that people who stubbornly pursue a very singular and “pure” goal tend to be noticed more than those who have a broader focus. To the extent that this is true, I think it represents an wider failure in society to place sufficient value on people who generalize their skills instead of specializing them.

        One other element to this is that the media of all stripes loves conflict, because conflict drives stories and acquires more views/sales. This means that in situations where there is no significant conflict of any kind, the media will work hard to create one by elevating someone’s personal attributes into a wall that clearly divides them from one or more aspects of society.

  20. Thanking you for the link for Jennifer Michael Hecht. Really interesting listening, check out the Point of inquiry interview, where she specifically talks about why she wasn’t considered part of the New Atheists. That this is the first thing I have listened to of hers. Given that I have listened to countless interviews with Dawkin, Denette, Harris and Hitchens clearly we have a problem.

  21. “So, I’m curious. Do you think PZ Myers is going off the rails as well since he has discussed all the same topics we have regarding feminism during the same time frames”

    PZ discussed these topics during elevator gate because it was an incredibly hot topic, and he’s a staunch defender of feminism, which again is awesome and I applaud him for it, but the vast majority of his posts do not center around feminism.

    It may just be my perception but it seems to me that as a long time reader I have noticed a shift in focus from skepticism to feminism, as if the occasional purely skeptical column is only thrown in to maintain the niche you’ve carved out for yourself as skeptical feminists as opposed to becoming just feminists.

    @drzach, absolutely it does and I think it should be a front and center idea in skepticism, as many of the horrible things done to people in the name of religion and pseudoscience disproportionately affect women.

    My whole post was about balance and focus. There is no magic ratio but surely the difference between a feminist organization that occasionally dabbles in science and skepticism and a skeptical organization with a feminist POV can be clearly identified, can it not?

    1. I find your perspective perplexing since “elevatorgate” happened because Richard Dawkins commented on PZ’s blog post. Prior to that it was just a typical weekly video posted by Rebecca.

      Maybe we haven’t changed but the view you have of us has.

    2. @Erik: You say, “My whole post was about balance and focus. There is no magic ratio but surely the difference between a feminist organization that occasionally dabbles in science and skepticism and a skeptical organization with a feminist POV can be clearly identified, can it not?, and that is a fair assessment.
      So what I did was, I went back to the beginning of September and counted all of the articles up to today and split them into Science or Feminism categories. If a story was about both, I would err on the side of Feminism. I counted every article, every AI, and each item from the Quickies. I left out “Cute Animal Friday” and articles from the “In Case You Missed It” feature.
      Here is how things stacked up:

      Science articles: 71
      Feminism articles: 28

      Now your numbers may vary slightly from mine if you perform your own count, but not by much I would imagine.

      1. Well I said up front it may just be my perception. I guess this is confirmation bias in action. Maybe elevator gate just burned me out on feminist issues a bit, but I’m not going to argue with numbers.

        Thanks for the count, something I should have done before speaking up. My perception was that the majority of posts were about feminism, but obviously that perspective is skewed.

  22. Groups like Skepchick and Greta Christina rock. So why don’t they have the voice like the old white godless guys? I think that higher profile women atheists don’t speak out. Folks like Eugenie Scott, Wendy Kaminer, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Susan Jacoby or even the former AA leader Ellen Johnson don’t seem to actively complain about this issue.

    Sorry Amy and the rest of Skepchick, but despite your intellect there are women of higher status in the media with far greater recognition who really don’t care about this issue. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is very vocal about the fate of women under Islam but I have yet to hear her speak of male favoritism in the atheist movement in the western world. The tide would certainly turn if she and other atheist women did speak out on this.

    I would also add that there are likely other factors such as money, fame and gravitas. If Phil Plait and Christopher Hitchens were giving a lecture about atheism at the same time, whom do you think will acquire the larger audience? Is Phil’s message any less important? Unfortunately I see a lot of immature hero worshipping of the 4 horsemen because of their books.

    1. Indeed fame has a lot to do with it. I was just having a similar conversation with someone about art. It is far easier to become a successful visual artist if you are famous for something else first than it is to just become a famous visual artist. What we need is a famous actress to decide to be an outspoken atheist. That would probably do the trick.

      I wasn’t saying that we should solely be discussing feminism as it relates to atheism although I realized the thread would inevitably go in that direction. The post was meant primarily to be about the lack of attention payed to women in atheism as compared to that of the men. I wouldn’t expect Ayaan Hirsi Al or any other prominent women to focus on feminism in western culture. The question was meant to be more focused specifically on why weren’t the women who wrote similar books at the same time as the men equally recognized for their contributions.

      I would definitely agree that fame and status as a precursor was involved.

    1. Actually, the stats might support your perception better if we counted comments instead of threads. Not that I want to do that cos my head asplode!

      But in that case, it’s not the Skepchicks’ fault, and probably not even ours as “the choir”, so much as that of the “anti-choir” that always seems to invade the feminist threads.

  23. The thing I can’t get past with this article is the Stephen Fry bit, and technically it is true; he did theorise that women don’t enjoy sex, jokingly, in a gay magazine and then prominently corrected those statements. One thing I think we need in the skeptic movement is to encourage people to correct mistakes (everyone makes them) and admit when they were wrong. If you then ignore that it really detracts from something I think is central to the movement.

    I would like to say that I agree with the majority of the article I just have nothing of value to add to it or the rest of the discussion here.

  24. People have an idea of what a woman is supposed to be like and when she doesn’t oblige, they become uncomfortable, even threatened. Especially the cerebral type (i find them more likely to consider atheism) who think they have the one up on women in the brains department. I run into a lot of these in my engineering classes. They must wonder what i’m doing there. He he.
    I believe a woman can be just as effective a leader for social change as any man. If she can persevere through the inevitable prejudice, her competency will speak for itself. But, sadly, this woman will need to be ready to go through hell and back.

  25. You know what the real problem is? It’s that atheists can’t keep their points concise.

    A big pet peeve of mine is when people pad their main point with 5 times the amount of words they need (which this article did). And this is something atheists LOVE to do. But you know what, it makes the atheists who don’t have enough time for excruciatingly long-winded debates not read it and miss the point entirely.

    So I plead with everyone here, stop with the tl;dr shit.

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