Hunting for the elusive atheist woman

Jen McCreight said what’s wrong with Ms magazine’s blog post asking whether gnu atheism will make room for women. Jen did it, so I don’t need to. But I’ll go over some of the ground anyway, because I feel like it.

If you’ve been following the rise of so-called “New Atheism” movement, you may have noticed that it sure looks a lot like old religion. The individuals most commonly associated with contemporary atheism—Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Victor Stenger—are all male, white and, well, kinda old (69, 61, 68 and 75).

I have been following the rise of gnu atheism; I’ve even been participating in it, in my own small (but noisy) way; I have not noticed that it sure looks a lot like old religion. It takes more than having a lot of people who are male, white, and kinda old to make something look like old religion. It takes quite a lot more. The US Congress also looks like that; so do many corporations, law firms, universities, unions, insurance companies, and other institutions. I’m white and kinda old myself, and I choose not to consider those attributes disqualifiers, or symptoms of religiosity.

The four guys named are all Names; they have published best-selling books. No women have yet published atheist best-sellers of the kind that Dawkins and Hitchens did. That’s not obviously a sign of sexism. Vanishingly few people have published atheist best-sellers of the kind that Dawkins and Hitchens did. The fact that Dawkins and Hitchens did doesn’t mean that women were excluded from a club.

That’s not to say that atheist women are not overlooked; I think they are; I think people who organize atheist conferences don’t invite enough women; but that’s a separate issue.

There’s no official definition of New Atheism, but the general consensus is that while atheists were once content to not believe in God by themselves, “new” atheists are determined to proselytize so that others join their disbelief.

Yes, but you see, the general consensus tends to be based on stupid prejudices and on manufactured consent – it’s not born, it’s created. “The general consensus” is a product of media recycling of hackneyed formulas that everybodyagreeson without bothering to think about it. Any fule kno that noo atheists are rude and strident and militant and intolerant, so that’s “the consensus,” so yet another journalist repeats it, so it becomes even more the consensus, world without end amen. “The consensus” is indistinguishable from the backlash.

We’re not “determined to proselytize” – we’re determined not to be silenced. There’s a difference. I tend to be determined not to let religious truth claims go unquestioned, but that again is not the same as proselytizing. If there were fewer religious truth claims flying around, I would be doing less questioning of them. It is Because They Are There.

Given the immense harm many organized religions inflict on women through outright violence and institutional oppression, it seems women may have more to gain than men from exiting their faith. Yet no women are currently recognized as leaders or even mentioned as a force within the movement.

That just isn’t true. Lots of women are mentioned as a force – Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Rebecca Watson, Greta Christina, Susan Jacoby, Lori Lipman Brown, and on and on.

PZ, like Jen, points out that Monica Shores didn’t even talk to any atheist women.

So don’t blame the Old White Guys, and don’t regard their gender and age as a debit. What we need to do is promote more equality, and make a positive case for freethought. The Ms article could have explored that by talking to some of the many people involved, and could have even talked to the many prominent female atheists out there, and said something about the direction we’re going, rather than where we come from.

Maybe it will do that as a follow-up.

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