January 15, 2012

Sexism in the Atheist Community: Initial Objections

ObjectionsI have only written two posts so far in this series on sexism in the atheist community, an introduction to the series and an explanation of why I believe that sexism is a problem in our community, and I have already received quite a few objections. A few have come in the form of comments; many more have come via email, Twitter, etc. Some have raised important issues that map on well to future posts I have planned for the series, and it makes sense to address them at that time. Others have raised the possibility that a series like this is just a bad idea and that I am hopelessly deluded for even attempting it. It is this latter group that I'd like to address here.

1. There is no "atheist community" at all and saying otherwise may itself be a form of bias.

I have tried to explain what I mean by atheist community. I'm using this as an umbrella term to characterize many different atheist communities, and it is certainly true that there will be differences across these smaller communities. I disagree that my references to a broad atheist community imply that all atheists are the same. I have gone out of my way to make it clear that this is not even remotely what I think. Atheists are indeed a diverse group; I am trying to examine the issue of sexism in the broad atheist community. I am confident I can do so without suggesting that all atheists are exactly the same.

2. Sexism is not unique to atheism. Don't make it sound like the problem is only with atheists.

Sexism is certainly not unique to atheism. In fact, there is ample evidence that the broader culture of many countries is sexist. I have no desire to pretend that atheists are the only one with a problem. However, I do feel that it is important to address sexism as a relevant issue in the community I call home. The existence of sexism among religious believers does not absolve us from the need to look at what is happening in our community. That is what I am trying to do.

3. Atheists are not nearly as sexist or misogynistic as the religious.

Sexism and misogyny are widespread, especially on the Internet. I don't have any evidence that atheists are worse, better, or the same as religious believers when it comes to these attitudes and behaviors. I suspect that misogyny may be at least somewhat less common in the atheist community than many others; however, it is still a problem. In my opinion, calling out sexism and misogyny among religious believers while refusing to address it when has been brought to our attention right here in our own community would be a bit hypocritical. And so, I'm attempting to address it here.

4. Anything that appeals more to one gender is going to be biased toward that gender and will include more members of that gender. Of course atheism is male-dominated!

I'm not convinced that atheism or many of the common goals shared by most atheists do appeal to men more than women. This may be true for some small groups, but I suspect plenty of women are interested in atheism. The challenge for small, male-dominated groups is how to be more appealing to women. And even if a group does appeal more to one gender, I'm not sure that must translate into bias. The group could make an effort to be more welcoming of the other gender. At a minimum, members of the group could refrain from sexism.

5. Gender discrimination is a two-way street. Men can be victims too.

I agree. But this does not detract from the fact that women are coming forward to share accounts of sexism in our community.

I've heard many men claim that they are not sexist and that they are proponents of equality, and I've heard some of them become extremely defensive the moment a woman attempts to discuss sexism. What I have not seen, despite hearing quite a bit about it from a few men, is evidence of women claiming that all men are sexist monsters who cannot be trusted and are destroying society. A man who accuses women of misandry simply because they are attempting to raise awareness of sexism is trying to shut down a valuable endeavor and is contributing to the problem.

Next post in the series: sexism and misogyny

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