October 15, 2013

Atheist Women and the Price of Speaking Out

"The witch no. 1" lithograph
"The witch no. 1" lithograph (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Strong, confident, self-assured women are certainly present in the atheist, skeptic, and secular communities. You can find them in prominent national leadership positions (e.g., serving as co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and executive director of the Secular Coalition for America), and you will find them running state organizations. They are writing exceptional books and popular blogs. They run blog networks, and they do valuable work as secular activists in their communities. You will find them sharing their art, and you will hear them on blog radio. You will encounter them in your local atheist, skeptic, and humanist groups, and you can follow them on Twitter and Facebook. "Where are the atheist/skeptic/secular women?" They are all around you.

Unfortunately, some atheist women do indeed pay a price for their willingness to express themselves. You see, there are people right here in the secular community who feel so threatened by the willingness of some of these intelligent, assertive, and courageous women to speak their minds that they have developed special insults with which to target them. They call them gender traitors, sister punishers, and chill girls. Yes, they actually accuse some of these women of betraying their gender because they dare to hold different opinions!

The tactics used against these women vary, but they are aggressive in nature and can generally be grouped under the label of intimidation. Some have been subjected to relentless rage blogging; others have had their careers threatened. A few have had their identities publicly revealed, and more have had their reputations assailed online. Many have been placed on block lists and labeled "abusers" and "harassers" for the imagined sin of speaking their minds.

Worst of all, much of this behavior has been carried out by women (and men) who claim to be feminists and advocates of social justice. Their versions of feminism and social justice appear to involve sustained efforts to smear the reputations of women who are willing to express disagreement with them. Many secular leaders seem determined to ignore this behavior or appease those engaging in it. This position seems unsustainable to those of us who value the many contributions of these women and hope to hear more from them.

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