Where are the Atheist Women?

woman looking up

Many atheist blogs periodically address the subject of dating. Not surprisingly, some atheists are interested in dating too. Even less surprisingly, many atheists living in predominately religious countries find dating to be a bit of a challenge, although this should be expected to vary greatly depending on where one lives within the predominately religious country. Some religious believers still regard atheists as something less-than-human, and this can make for some interesting first dates. I imagine this is why some atheists have resorted to online dating.

In my travels around the online atheist community, I have noticed that there seems to be a perception among many atheist men that there is a shortage of atheist women. "Where are the atheist women?" Is the atheist community really a "sausage fest," as some claim? And if so, why might that be the case? Perhaps the shortage of atheist women is only imagined. Or maybe it real but highly context-dependent.

One thing we should understand about the atheist community is that only a tiny fraction those who belong to it approach their atheism with a sense of activism. Among this minority within a minority of atheist activists, I suspect that women are underrepresented. Could this be why so many male atheists lament the lack of atheist women? That is, they are basing their calculations on what they see in activist groups while ignoring the bigger picture. I suspect this may be the case.

If I am correct that women are underrepresented among atheist activists, then we might do well to ask why. Is there something about secular activism, as it tends to be done, that is less appealing to many women? If so, is this something that could be changed? Independent of the dating topic, I think that secular activism would benefit from the involvement of more women simply because diversity is valuable. Women often have different ways of viewing the world, and we'd benefit from hearing more from them.

I'm not sure whether women are underrepresented among atheists in general, but I see little reason to think that they would be. They might be somewhat less likely to label themselves as atheists, and they might be underrepresented among many local secular activist groups, but that isn't quite the same thing. If I'm right, then the challenge for atheist men who would prefer a more diverse community is figuring out how they might make their activist groups more appealing to women. And you know what? Recognizing that not all of the women who might join these groups are interesting in dating people they meet there might be a good place to start.

Wait a second! Didn't I begin this post by talking about dating? Yes, I did. That was a setup for the point I am interested in making here. If atheist women are somewhat less likely to join local secular activist groups than men, I wonder if this might have something to do with some of them being less-than-thrilled by the prospect of being surrounded by atheist men desperately seeking women to date. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. I don't know about you, but I have no difficulty concluding that I'd want to steer clear of such groups too. I'm not suggesting this is the only reason some women might be reluctant to join such groups; I am bringing this one up because I think it would be far easier to change than some of the others.

If a local atheist group that was predominately male was interested in recruiting more women because they thought their group would benefit from having more women and not simply because some of them were seeking atheist women to date, I'd encourage them to consider how they could make what their group does more interesting and relevant to women. That might be helpful getting more women in the door, but it probably wouldn't be enough to keep them coming. For that, I'd recommend that such a group ask themselves how they can do a better job of valuing their female members - not just making them feel valued but actually valuing them. Would you continue to be part of a group if you didn't feel valued there? I wouldn't, and I see little reason to expect something different from women.

An early version of this post appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2009. It was revised and expanded in 2020.