However problematic the Salon article [entitled “From Hitchens to Dawkins: Where are the women of New Atheism?”] was (skimming over the actual contributions and existence of women in atheism and defining us instead by how we compare to prominent men and how western society has historically treated atheist women), it was something. However much being blamed by the media for what the media is doing is bizarre and ironic; it was something; a good thing. The fact that the question was even asked, gives us an opportunity to answer it.
We’re right here.
To the second point of the article concerning church-like structures among atheists, there is little fear that we will find ourselves powerless in a mock-up of Abrahamic religious female servitude and propriety. Even in the Unitarian-Universalist religious organization that often defines itself as “Post-Christian” and has strong historical ties to the Christian tradition and Christian ritual, women currently make up over 50% of the clergy and a strong majority of those preparing for ministerial service are women. Among the Humanist Celebrants, judging by the U.S. State directory, over 30% are women. The board of directors of the America Humanist Association are comprised of about half women and half men; with Rebecca Hale as president.
Let’s contrast that with the church association I grew up in: Women ministers 0%, Women deacons 0%, Women association presidents 0%.
While the church and church-like organizations that are friendly toward Secular Humanists and atheists may very well soon be actively recruiting men to maintain a diversity of leadership, the church of my childhood allows no one else but men to be in positions of power.
Where’s the parallel? I don’t see it.
To the point of sexism within movement atheism, however much the sexism within the movement exists, however much it has had real consequences, however abhorrent ugly and stupid it is, there is no comparison. Even the most vapid of anti-feminist gender-slur wielding internet evo-psyche fanatic blowhard atheists wouldn’t force a woman to die on a hospital bed due to a dangerous pregnancy because “abortion is wrong”. My mother resigned her membership in the religious association of my childhood because the official stance of that association is to stand there, watch her die, and call it God’s Will.
Why do you hear about sexism among atheists if the vast majority are not killing women or forcing them to needlessly die or throwing acid in their faces or selling them as child brides or any number of dehumanizing indignities visited on girls and women in the name of religion or cultural tradition? Because we think not-being-killed or tortured is a pretty damned low bar. Because a good number of us call sexism out in all its forms. We fight about it. We don’t go into denial. We don’t let it fester.
We’re uppity that way.
That conflict is certainly more entertaining than the suffocating, silent, and insidiously socially acceptable sexism inherent in bible-centered Abrahamic religions here in the United States. That type of sexism permeates society like a color-less odorless gas that’s easy to ignore until you realize you’re in a hypoxia induced stupor.
While many religious institutions are well known for fostering a culture of silence and of compliance for the good of the reputation and order of those institutions; a good number of us know better. We know that backfires, and more importantly, we know that isn’t right.
So yeah, you’re going to hear about it, whatever “it” might be. That doesn’t mean that it’s worse over here. It means we’re more prone to tell it like it is. We put the carcass out in the open so that it can be eviscerated, gutted and cleaned.
It’s a “free thought” thing.
To the point of the future, I see things differently. The article ended with, “Women have been preached at, by men, since the days of yore. Let us be wary not to give up the pulpit of non-belief too.”
As secular communities form socially supportive structures that were traditionally provided to society only to those who believed x, y, and z (or at least claimed that they did) and were often maintained through fear of the unknown and unknowable; religion (in its current form) will die. It will die because reality will not be denied. It will die because women and girls and the men and boys who love and respect them, will leave.
It’s already happening.
We’re right here.