May 30, 2013

Is the Secular Movement Hostile to Women?

Hostile Ambient Takeover
Hostile Ambient Takeover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Blogger Sarah Moglia (RantaSarah Rex) recently stated on Twitter that the secular movement is hostile to women. While I question the merits of depicting the whole of the secular movement in this manner, I am interested in hearing what she has to say. After all, there do appear to be pockets of hostility toward women within the secular movement, as well as in the broader culture surrounding us.

Sexism occurs in the atheist community, as does sexual harassment, and other non-sexual forms of harassment. It is great that there are plenty of women active in the atheist community who have not experienced any of this in our community and who feel perfectly safe and welcome. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that there are also plenty of women who have had far less positive experiences and who have come forward to talk about it.

I recognize that a few prominent voices in our community who describe themselves as feminists have acquired reputations for overreaction and hyperbole. I also acknowledge that some have defined harassment so broadly that they seem to equate it with disagreement and criticism. And yet, I think it would be a mistake to conclude that every woman who complains about sexism or harassment in the atheist community is lying, exaggerating, or overreacting. Many are accurately describing their unfortunate experiences.

When Sarah notes that she does not invite talented women to join the secular movement because she regards it as being hostile to women, this should get our attention. And once it has our attention, we should seek out additional information to help us assess the problem and generate solutions.
  • Is this sentiment widely shared among women in the atheist community?
  • How does the atheist community compare with the broader culture in terms of this sort of hostility? Are we worse, better, or no different?
  • Does perceived hostility prevent other atheists from inviting talented women to join secular organizations like Secular Woman or attend conferences like Women in Secularism? 
  • How is the perceived hostility affected by name calling directed at women who have had more positive experiences in our community than those described by persons with negative experiences?
  • How can we, as both individuals and groups, effectively reduce this hostility?
I am sure there are many other questions we could be asking, but these are just a few of those I'm surprised we aren't asking more often.

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