May 1, 2012

Women and Combative Atheism

God is an imaginary friend

While writing about a radio interview with Anna Quindlen, Ophelia Benson (Butterflies & Wheels) offered us one reason who some male atheists might not think to include women in their activities: the "combative" nature of the atheist movement.
Atheism by its nature is “combative” – at least, active or outspoken or explicit or “movement” atheism is. Movement atheism is naturally combative.
Her central point was that we tend not to see women as combative and thus may not think to include them. I have a feeling that many atheists will instead focus on disagreeing with Benson's characterization of the movement as combative. I find this unfortunate because I think she's right.

Movement atheism (i.e., atheist activism) is inherently combative in the sense that it is about asserting ourselves and calling for change. If you think "combative" is too strong and sounds too close to "militant," I think you can replace it with "argumentative" or "assertive" without losing the meaning.

As Benson suggests, one obstacle to women having a greater role in the atheist movement may be the perception of some men that women are less interested in combative approaches. Fortunately, I've encountered more than enough assertive women - women who express themselves far better and more forcefully than I do - that I cannot question their importance to the atheist movement. The movement is strengthened by the presence of such women, and we need more of them.

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