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Posted by on Aug 23, 2012 in Atheism, Drama, Feminism, Freethought Blogs, Politics, Progressive Politics, Skepticism | 18 comments

Why are there so few women in the atheist/skeptical community and what can we do about it?

           One of the reasons there are fewer women involved in the secular movement is the constant attack posts on various blogs that go far beyond name-calling and focus on destroying people’s reputations, status, and careers. I am constantly emailed by women who say they’re afraid to speak up, or don’t want to disclose their names because of the fear of repercussions. The bullying behavior of certain atheist groups is out of control. Another potential reason is utter intolerance for any diversity of opinion on certain “sacred” topics. And a third reason is that there are simply less women in the hard sciences than there are men. This is bound to be reflected in a movement with science at its heart. While we can speculate about women’s interests and whether they are genetic or socially conditioned, this is a pointless exercise when it comes to addressing the issue.
          To encourage more women to participate, constant harping about how misogynistic this community is should stop immediately. The only misogynists I’ve seen in the movement are self-proclaimed feminist men who treat women as “different, weak, and special,” while at the same time trashing those women who do not fit their expectation of how a woman should think and act. We are all human beings, and courting rituals are normal. Crimes, on the other hand, should be immediately reported, although none has occurred outside of the online forums and blogosphere.
          As for anonymous internet threats of rape or violence, they should be reported to the authorities as well, especially if deemed credible. Attacks on individuals for expressing opinions should cease. In group/out group members should be treated with respect and an assumption of equality. Theists should not be bullied. Arguments should be interpreted most charitably so that the strongest argument prevails. And finally, while women’s rights should be advocated, men’s rights shouldn’t be ignored. Ridiculing concerns expressed by men does not help women. Diversity should be encouraged and accommodated in every way possible, but it should not be the primary goal of a movement that is inherently about something else.
          This isn’t that difficult. You don’t get a more inclusive and friendly movement through ostracism and bullying. You do it by being inclusive and friendly.
  • Great post!

  • This one is from the heart.

  • Mike C.

    Brava; you are speaking to me and saying what I’m thinking.

  • Candy

    Wonderful post! I’ve been one of those women afraid to speak out. This whole past year and a half has been like watching a slow-motion train wreck happening. People I once respected now absolutely appall me. Several women I know no longer call themselves feminists because they don’t want to be associated with these bullies and are disgusted by their aggressive willingness to try to destroy anyone who dares disagree. So glad that many in the skeptical community are speaking up now.

    • Don’t worry, you’re not alone, you’re in the majority. The women (and men) in power don’t want to lose it, and it appears that not believing in a god doesn’t mean that you can’t be brainwashed or follow demagogues blindly. Oh, and I’ve always been wary of the word “feminism” for this exact reason, though technically, I would be classified as slightly to the left of liberal/libertarian equity feminists. But I prefer to not use the word “feminist” at all, and to simply state my position on womens’ rights issues as they come up. And I am unequivocally pro womens’ rights, including the right not to be harassed and cyber-stalked by feminists who think their world view is the only possible one.

  • Darth Cynic

    What has often baffled me is the frequent admonishments by certain folks for men in particular to shut up and actually listen to what women have to say. But as soon as a woman deviates from these same folks preferred scripture and says things they don’t like, well they don’t seem so keen on shutting up and listening anymore. No it’s expressions of profound disappointment, insult and calls to shun as Brayton did for Kirby. Never seemingly noticing the disconnect between the principles they demand of others and their own actions.

    • It isn’t “Listen to the women,” it’s “Listen to the women we agree with.” It isn’t “Don’t post women’s home addresses, it’s don’t post the home addresses of women we don’t like.” And so on.

  • Egbert

    Things have gone way too far, and I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. I see this as a problem of identity, and it’s a process that repeats over and over, moving from individualism to group thought.

  • Copyleft

    Hmm. I agree with this, but I also caution this blog against getting dragged into the vortex of outrage and hatred that seems to swirl around this issue. There are people on both sides who are so angry and obsessed that they patrol the Internet looking for any relevant commentary, however well intentioned or tangential, in order to pick fights over it and restart the war again.

    As you note, it’s not productive. So don’t give them an opening to drag you in. Sorry to be a downer on what’s essentially a positive and productive post, but I’m just exhausted by it all.

    • You are right. But occasionally and dispassionately, the obvious needs to be said.

  • snafu

    Seems to me one reason would be that women have other itches to scratch. I guess that the set of problems that comes with being a woman is, for most people, greater than the set of problems that comes with being an atheist. If inclined to get involved in the first place, which campaign would you join, where would you commit your resources of time and effort – the atheist movement, or the feminists?

    That’ll filter off a goodly proportion of the candidate women, then. Likewise racial minority groups. We only have so many visible gays about because they get stick from religion in particular – enemy of my enemy and all that. And are you particularly poor? Then you’ve got way bigger fish to fry than a quarrel with the Church – off to the Labour movement!

    Thus the atheist community becomes a middle class white sausage fest. And that’s OK.

  • oolon

    Wow you must have some amazing misogyny-sensitive sunglasses to have seen *no* misogyny apart from some white knights. I’m pretty sure that is a sexist concept in itself btw.

    So in TFs thread, which you commented in, you missed these little fellas?

    “Which type of ‘feminist’ are you, twat? The kind that wants all men gelded? The kind that wants all men simply exterminated?”

    You know to be a misogynist you don’t have to literally hate all women? Hating a group of women called ‘feminists’ probably counts too….

    “As a heterosexual white male, I have long been the victim of radical feminism. I’ve been subject to false accusations of illegal activity (rape and sexual harassment) and threatened with castration many times. I’ve been dehumanized and portrayed in radical feminist literature as little more than a rutting, brain-damaged animal. And I am sick of it.
    Henceforth, whenever radical feminism claims victimization because of something I have not done, I shall respond in kind.”

    This one only hates radical feminists… Totally sane and justified 🙂

    Rape threats – how about Tims?
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2012/08/24/mencallmethings-fuckin-hoe-fuckin-feminazi-slut
    Or against Sally Strange?
    http://thunderf00tdotorg.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/ftb-and-the-conspiracy-to-defraud-drawing-a-line-under-this-pointless-crap/#comment-9837

    Of course you have never seen any of this?

    • I’ll refer you to my post on bad language, from last year. It’s one of the first ones in this blog. I’m not going to provide you with the list of names that I’ve been called during this debacle, but it isn’t pretty and includes many gendered epithets. As a survivor of both rape and childhood abuse, this can be very difficult for me to deal with. So I’m just going to repeat that I don’t approve of name-calling of any sort (though I’m imperfect myself), and that I believe we should behave like adults. No one can say what specific words or insults are going to truly wound someone. Thus, it’s better to stay away from all of them.

      Being opposed to a particular type of feminism is not the same as misogyny. And finding a particular personality distasteful isn’t misogyny. I mean, I’m not calling you a misogynist because you don’t like me, right?

      I certainly don’t approve or rape threats (in fact, I condemn them in every way possible), and I don’t approve of the tone of discourse on many blogs; I try to stay civil as a rule. But if I ever slip up, it gets blogged about, and posts where I try to defend myself reasonably or point out lies and/or mistakes are culled. My character has been grossly maligned, and it can be difficult for me to see past that.

      I haven’t followed or seen your links, but anonymous misogyny on the internet is not the same as misogyny in the community.

      • oolon

        “I mean, I’m not calling you a misogynist because you don’t like me, right?”
        -> I don’t dislike you, I don’t know you! I’ve read some of the things you have said and supposedly done and sometimes responded vigorously on both sides. One of the problems from my point of view is how easy it seems to be to take things personally on the internet – not your fault as it is endemic. I’m of two minds about Dan Finckes post which you seemed to like – I agree but where is the scope for me to be rude! I’m probably a hypocrite for saying don’t take things personally and then being very personal at times. Although when someone is reasonable I generally try and be reasonable in return. Maybe I’ll try in future to ridicule the ideas more and try not to ridicule the person.
        -> It made me laugh reading the comments on Gretas post where the evil oolon called her a cunt. People who I had argued with found it easy to believe I would say that even though I have been mostly staunchly feminist – one even said there was something ‘wrong’ about me 🙂 That is just human nature, if we argued in person you would pick up the cue’s from my body language that I’m not being agressive etc and it would not come across that I don’t like you or these other people. Maybe I need to re-read Finckes post!

        “…My character has been grossly maligned, and it can be difficult for me to see past that.”
        -> Keep trying, regardless of what I thought about the validity of Stephanies post on your ‘Laden Lie’ I think you handled that brilliantly. I would have gone in angry or in max piss-taking mode and lost any credibility – especially as I probably could not have admitted I was wrong like you did.

        “I haven’t followed or seen your links, but anonymous misogyny on the internet is not the same as misogyny in the community.”
        -> Our ‘community’, in that we are a bunch of atheists, is almost certainly representative of all prejudices? Also who cares if this is ‘trolling’ or the real thing, how do you tell a ‘troll’ from the real thing? Given both are pretty shitty is it not better to just condemn them all, trolls for providing cover and the real thing for being the real thing!

        • I think the difference between trolls and the real thing is intent and actual harm. For instance, it’s likely that the Diamonds post was written specifically to rank highly in Google searches for my name and to have a direct impact on my life and career. Otherwise, the whole thing was irrelevant to any issue or goal. I didn’t tell the lies as asserted, and there are far worse allegations about Laden on Pharyngula, as well as all sorts of FTB and non-FTB blogs. The fact that people are prone to assume the worst about him is not my fault. What I should have said, in retrospect, is, “If someone feels they’ve been defamed by me, they’re welcome to sue me.” And then I should have never looked back. Because now the owner of that blog gets to profit financially from her actions, and I played right into it by attempting to defend myself. Also, you have to realize that the posts that are most damaging to some blog owner’s positions (and I’m not referring to Zvan specifically) simply aren’t allowed through; the blog owner has full control of what can and cannot be said in the comments.

          That’s the difference between trolling and the real thing in a nutshell. One has intent to harm at its root (and it’s been my experience that it works quite well), while the other is merely obnoxious behavior that has no consequence other than causing annoyance. It should be filtered, blocked or ignored, rather than amplified and blogged about, thereby causing more of the same. There’s a reason that people say, “Don’t feed the trolls.” When you don’t, they vanish.

          Having said all that, I disapprove of trolling as well, but it can be handled far more easily than the other type of behavior. And that’s why the FTBullies meme exists.

          I did really enjoy and appreciate Fincke’s post, even though I disagree with him on various issues. Notably, those issues mostly have to do with methods rather than goals.

          I don’t think I disagree with you about much, from what I’ve seen. The people who try to walk the line in the middle end up getting attacked by both sides, unfortunately. That’s why I think that as an online community, we should be criticizing ideas, not people. We should also be allowed to be wrong and to change our minds. Otherwise, we’re not only alienating our allies, but becoming a laughing stock for our enemies (and creating new ones).

          I really hope that the owners of this network succeed in their goal of creating a “safe space” for reasoned discourse, where people aren’t afraid to express their ideas, even if those ideas are unpopular.

          As for me, clearly I haven’t been perfect, I’ve made many mistakes, especially when attacked, and I have to own up to them. I’ve also learned a lot, so I hope that will keep me from making the same mistakes in the future.

          And I’m very sorry that people have been cruel to you elsewhere. I haven’t seen you do anything to deserve it. I hope you stay and contribute your thoughts to this group of blogs, especially when you disagree with what appears to be the general consensus.

          Thanks for your comments, both here and elsewhere.

    • Vicky Caramel

      Oolon, elsewhere you have asked me if my concerns are ‘daft’, or am I just worried that they will claim to represent me.

      I am concerned about the caliber of the people behind Atheism+ and their supporters, and that they might be taken by less than charitable critics of atheism as representative of all of atheism.

      I’ll respond to you here (unfortunately for Bluharmony) because you have posted something of substance here with a ‘How about [this]?’

      In regards to the rape threat to Greta, that is what we call trolling. He even challenges her to ban him, which she could have done, instead she wrote an article about it, which makes it all worth while for the troll. Lets him know he scored a direct hit, he will be back. I’m going to assume you know what trolling is as I have seen you accused of it in many occasions.

      While I don’t condone trolling, it is a popular sport and is part of internet culture. It isn’t going away any time soon.

      I have been looking for examples of these death/rape threats, expecting them to be sinister and vicious via personal email, carried out privately. But what you have just drawn my attention to doesn’t impress me, I have seen lots of the same during my time on the web.

      I would think the appropriate response would be to delete/block/ban and move on. This has always worked for me and I have had a lot of these over the years. I haven’t felt the need to put everybody in the respective community under scrutiny, pick a side and rally them to me.

      Your second example is far more interesting. The first thing I notice is that language is almost identical to the first. This suggest that it is either the same person, in which case you have only managed to give examples of one troublesome troll, or somebody is copying them.

      I find it absolutely amazing how fortuitous it was that Sally Strange found this comment, read it, and put together a calm reply and was able to reply within under 60 seconds. I’m sure it is possible and I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. But I can’t help harbor a suspicion that this might have been a ‘false flag’ to prove a point. And I can’t help wondering if there have been other instances of manufactured evidence.

      So there you have it. The people who are heading this movement are professional activists who are at least partly web based, could be called professional bloggers. And yet they don’t know who to handle trolls? They are either inept or dishonest.

      And then you have their supporters, many of whom appear fanatical and frantic. Actually, Richard Carrier seems to fit that description, which is a real pity because he was just getting me interested in the debate again. I can’t get excited over cosmology and physics, but I think subjects like history and psychology are possibly more appealing to women.

      Anyway, the Atheist community at large appears to be pointing and laughing. Theists will do the same. It worries me that Atheism+ includes ‘atheism’ as part of it’s name.

      • oolon

        The caliber of the people is not high enough and you are worried critics will see them as representative of atheism? Atheism+ will be seen to represent atheism somehow?
        –> So what do you care about uncharitable critics? We are presumably talking about the religious and the uncharitable ones are usually quite happy to distort and lie to make their point. So the ‘caliber’ of the atheists is not a factor there – in fact one could say there are better targets?
        –> Which brings me to the next point, FtBs are embarrasingly jejune but the members on your ‘side’ of the debate are great leaders in the atheist movement by comparison? Surely you can think of a few things the slimepitters have done that would be great ammo to ‘uncharitable critics’? I know I can. So as a justification for your concerns… Well I’m not convinced.

        General trolling – best to ignore but you don’t condone it?
        –> Actually you may have an argument about the rape threats but those quotes were from two people who were repeatedly saying exactly those sort of things. If you want similar examples then manboobz.com has them in spades… They are all ‘trolling’? Nutty MRAs don’t exist?
        –> Any damage done? I’m very happy you can ignore and brush it off, I can too so the troll pretending to be me and calling Greta a cunt just made me laugh. Ain’t we lucky? Maybe for any example I give you think they *should* be strong enough to just ignore… Lots of examples here if you can stomach going to RWs site: http://skepchick.org/2012/08/speaking-out-against-hate-directed-at-women-michael-nugent/
        You see the problem here, just because you or I can ignore does not mean everyone can. Women being scared off from expressing opinions on the internet is a widely documented phenomenon. So if you just think they *should* be strong then why not support them if they cannot and damn the idiots trying to bully them off the internet regardless of their motives?

        Rape threat comments.
        –> I noticed that after re-reading too… Just one person trolling Sally and Greta, quite likely especially as I encouraged Sally to report it to WordPress then got trolled myself 🙂
        –> Sally was already actively commenting when the rape threat came in and she hardly wrote an essay – that she handled it calmly is shown in her general style there making Hanannibal look a bit of a failed child. Your bias is showing as no one would seriously believe she was trolling herself as well as Greta, and me!
        –> Even if only one person it does not make it ok? Unless he/she is responsible, Mabus style, for the majority of the internet hate 😉

        ‘The Atheist Community’.
        No *an* atheist community – according to FtBs own stats they get a few thousand regular readers. If *the* atheist community of 100’s of millions around the world is in any way represented by that number of readers then I’m a monkeys uncle. Always useful to remember you are part of a tiny insignificant internecine war between two relatively miniscule atheist factions. Or at least I think the hyperbole from both sides is put into perspective by remembering that.