Encouraging Diversity in Atheism

I wrote last month about the importance of making non-white atheists feel welcome. I intend to continue banging that drum, and now I again have occasion to do so, thanks to this article from Religion News Service, “Atheists’ Diversity Woes Have No Black-and-White Answers“.

This article complements the last one I discussed. Alom Shaha’s essay was about being a person of color and an atheist, looking at the community from the inside. This one is more about looking in from the outside, how the atheist movement appears to the wider world when viewed through the lens of racial diversity. It also chronicles the struggles of some minority atheists to find a face like their own in a sea of white males:

“Anytime you go to an atheist meeting, it tends to be predominantly male and white. We know that,” said Blair Scott, national affiliate director for American Atheists, which has 131 affiliate groups. “We go out of our way to encourage participation by females and minorities. The problem is getting those people out (of the closet as atheists) in the first place.”

…But diversity remains elusive. As of late December, American Atheist magazine hadn’t been able to find enough black atheist writers to fill a special Black History Month edition for February. In another telling sign, the Council for Secular Humanism tried in vain to present a diverse array of speakers at its four-day October conference in Los Angeles. Most of the 300 attendees were white men, as were 23 of the 26 speakers.

It’s important to emphasize that this is not solely an atheist problem. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that Sunday at 11 A.M. was “the most segregated hour in this nation“, and the evidence suggests that little has changed. According to research, only 5% of American churches are racially integrated, and half of those are in the process of becoming all-black or all-white. Still, that doesn’t mean that we as atheists have no responsibility to address this issue – and at least most religious denominations have substantial black memberships, even if they don’t often mingle with white churchgoers.

Why is the atheist movement so racially homogeneous? The article mentions the theory I find most plausible: that the power of religion in minority communities is a cultural legacy of racism. In the past, racial and ethnic groups that faced hatred and hostility from a deeply prejudiced larger society turned to religion to encourage social coherence as a means of protection – an attempt to evoke sympathy and fellow-feeling from those who’d otherwise be biased against them. Even today, when minorities have greater legal protection, this attitude persists and leads to intense suspicion and exclusion of anyone who doesn’t conform to the community norms. (Writers such as Sikivu Hutchinson have suggested a similar explanation.)

There are two lessons that I think should be drawn here, and one is that we don’t have unlimited time to get this right. Stereotypes like this have a nasty habit of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies; after all, if “everyone knows” that all atheists are white people, that’s likely to discourage blacks, Latinos, and members of other minority groups from wanting to join us. (And if that conclusion doesn’t occur to them on their own, religious apologists will be happy to suggest it.) Atheism as a movement is still in its early stages, which makes it even more important that we take the effort and pay attention to diversifying now. It’s an effort that’ll bear fruit in the long run.

The other is that this isn’t a problem white atheists can solve on our own. We can and should do everything possible to present an inclusive and welcoming environment to atheists who are minorities, and ensure that they don’t feel out of place; and when they do speak up, we should do everything in our power to support them. There’s more progress to be made on all those fronts. However, the only way that religion’s power in minority communities will ultimately be broken will be if people who are members of those communities come out as atheists and push back against social pressure to conform.

Fortunately, there are signs that this situation is changing. These efforts are still in their beginning steps, but existing atheist and humanist groups are realizing the value of championing diversity, and people of color are organizing themselves as well:

A new group, Black Atheists of America, drew about 25 attendees at its first national meeting in October. Also last year, the Institute for Humanist Studies was born in Washington, D.C. with a goal of helping atheism become more diverse.

…some activists like [Alix] Jules are holding to a vision of integration. He chairs a newly formed diversity council for the Dallas Coalition for Reason, which includes the area’s 15 atheist groups. Last year, the coalition started targeted outreach campaigns to minority groups… Dallas’ Fellowship of Free Thought used to be almost exclusively white, Jules said, but now the group counts members with black, Hispanic and Middle Eastern backgrounds, including former Muslims.

If we keep at it, these efforts will naturally blend together, leading to an atheist movement that looks more like society in general and that incorporates a broader range of backgrounds and viewpoints. And that, in turn, means we’ll be able to more persuasively appeal to a larger number of people, speaking to them in the cultural language they’re most familiar with and phrasing our message in a way that more strongly resonates with their own concerns. In short, encouraging diversity in atheism isn’t just something we should do for the sake of political correctness, but a wise investment that will pay dividends down the line.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    I wonder if there is a way of seeking out a more diverse group of atheists in their natural environment; science labs.
    not that all atheists are scientists of course but we know that a much higher proportion of scientists are atheists than in other walks of life. Perhaps an atheist blogger with a sufficiently high profile site (can’t think of one at the mo…:) could canvas international science departments by email for ethnic and female atheists to guest post.

  • http://infophilia.blogspot.com Infophile

    I’d be careful about limiting it to science labs, Steve. It’s not as much as the lack of non-white, non-male atheists, but science as a whole still tends to be made up of mostly white males. It’s getting better though, not worse, so you’ll be able to find a number of female and/or non-white scientists, but there’s no guarantee they’ll be atheists. If you’re going to go the route of canvassing, I wouldn’t recommend sticking just to scientists. Look to universities as a whole, and try to use their mailing lists if possible (or the subset of graduate students). We don’t want to just end up replacing the white male stereotype for atheists with the stereotype that they’re all scientists.

  • Rieux

    Along those lines, Infophile, I wonder what the Secular Student Alliance‘s (or, more to the point, their affiliate organizations‘) ethnic makeup looks like. I’m a big fan of the SSA, and I have this (possibly wishful-thinking) notion that college atheist groups are less white-male dominated than “adult” groups are.

  • DSimon

    Info, I think I’d actually kind of like an “all scientists” stereotype. “Oh, those atheists; don’t you know they’re all white guys?” vs. “Oh, those atheists; don’t you know they’re all rational folk whose philosophy ushered in the technological revolution and led eventually to the invention of the iPhone and pre-sliced bread?”

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    science as a whole still tends to be made up of mostly white males

    But not in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, well possibly males but not white. Which is why I suggest trawling international institutions in the hope of coaxing someone out. We need strong voices and credible role models if minorities are to be persuaded to join the fold in any number.

  • Jormungund

    but science as a whole still tends to be made up of mostly white males

    My experiences in grad school contradict this. Most of the students are not white. Most are male, but women make up a sizable minority.

    In short, encouraging diversity in atheism isn’t just something we should do for the sake of political correctness, but a wise investment that will pay dividends down the line.

    Maybe this is just the cynic in me, but all these rationales for why we should engage in identity politics sound like excuses used to cover up a desire for political correctness.

  • Steve Bowen

    but all these rationales for why we should engage in identity politics sound like excuses used to cover up a desire for political correctness.

    No I don’t think so, and my radar is pretty fine tuned to political correctness. The more I see the way the world is going, from Tea Baggers in the U.S to Homophobic laws in Uganda and Sharia in Somalia we need to marshall as large and diverse an atheist voice as possible.

  • influential female atheist

    In another telling sign, the Council for Secular Humanism tried in vain to present a diverse array of speakers at its four-day October conference in Los Angeles. Most of the 300 attendees were white men, as were 23 of the 26 speakers.

    Ohhh no it didn’t. It didn’t invite me to speak, for instance. I’m a reasonably well-known Female Atheist, well-known enough to have done if all the better-known Female Atheists said No. Since 23 of the 26 speakers were male, we can see that the Council for Secular Humanism damn well didn’t try hard enough.

  • influential female atheist

    Maybe this is just the cynic in me, but all these rationales for why we should engage in identity politics sound like excuses used to cover up a desire for political correctness.

    Hello? It’s not a “desire for political correctness” in my case, for example – it’s a desire not to be overlooked and ignored and forgotten forever out of sheer stupidity and habit.

    Notice what that idea of a “desire for political correctness” assumes – which is that everybody who matters is already in the included group and in a position to talk about engaging in identity politics and desiring political correctness. That’s a mistake! Women are more than half the population, remember? White men are not most people, therefore it’s absurd to label concerns about this subject as a desire for political correctness. I don’t consider this subject somehow “yours” as opposed to mine. I don’t consider myself an outsider with her nose pressed against the glass. I consider myself entirely part of the discussion, while also excluded from the more public/social aspects of it out of sheer absent-mindedness. I don’t need anybody’s permission to object to the situation.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Maybe this is just the cynic in me, but all these rationales for why we should engage in identity politics sound like excuses used to cover up a desire for political correctness.

    Jormungund, this is like saying, “Obama’s health care reform law is bad because it’s socialism.” It’s an empty buzzword that’s meant to connote something disagreeable without offering a reason for disagreeing. Let’s say for the sake of argument that this post did constitute “identity politics”. Why would that be wrong? What is the substance of your objection?

  • bbk

    There were some good points this time around and in the article. It’s important to always clearly put this type of discussion in perspective, as you did with the MLK quote.

    I don’t believe that being apologetic and obeisant is an effective recruitment policy. Being remorseful for something that isn’t your fault, even if you’re a dirty old white man and everyone is angry with you, is not rational. So you may think that flogging yourself is a form of piety but people will think that if you’re sorry then you’re probably guilty. Hence when PZ Myers asked women to explain to us how we could be more welcoming, Ms Magazine cited it as an proof of our sexist nature. That’s counter intuitive but that’s reality.

    That’s what identity politics is about. Any sign of weakness is like blood in the water for people who want to exploit some difference to turn your friends against you. Clearly, we’ve seen it happen and know it will happen to us, so why pretend otherwise? I think it’s very relevant here, not just some empty buzzword.

    I side with the people who think that separate minority organizations are ill advised. There’s no good reason to believe that everything would naturally blend together. It could just as easily create weak, segregated atheist groups that take forever to unify. And I’m pretty sure the last thing you want is something akin to the NBRA which, if anything, serves to remind the world that no self respecting Black person votes Republican.

    If you think 5% of 10% is an auspicious start for a sustainable group, then I’m sorry for their cause. They’re either going to have to learn to be comfortable among white men (and vice versa) or there just won’t be enough numbers for the endeavor to become sustainable. Look at it this way. When the Titanic sank, third class women were a minority on the life boats, perhaps 10% of those saved. Perhaps they felt awkward and uneasy around their Hoity-Toity counterparts. But that shouldn’t give anyone a reason to suggest that third class women were discriminated against. Neither should it give someone the right to say that we have a problem just because the absolute numbers divided by race and sex look a certain way.

  • Alex Weaver

    Look at it this way. When the Titanic sank, third class women were a minority on the life boats, perhaps 10% of those saved. Perhaps they felt awkward and uneasy around their Hoity-Toity counterparts. But that shouldn’t give anyone a reason to suggest that third class women were discriminated against. Neither should it give someone the right to say that we have a problem just because the absolute numbers divided by race and sex look a certain way.

    You semi had a point until this part.

    O
    .
    o
    [sidewaysquestionmark]

  • Sarah Braasch

    I’m always really torn when it comes to these discussions. I think it’s the whole idea that focusing on our illusory differences will create unity and cohesion that I have a problem with.

    I don’t want to be treated differently, because I am a woman. I want to be treated with the same respect as everyone else. I want to be treated as a human being.

    If that’s what creating a welcoming environment for women means — then I’m on board.

    If it means creating a warm and fuzzy atmosphere, because women are soft and weak, then no thank you.

    Trying to reach out to this focus group called women creates the paradoxical effect of exacerbating the stereotypes, exacerbating the imagined distance between the sexes, exacerbating the problem.

    Having people make a concerted effort to include you means that everyone else in the room will assume you’re only there, because a concerted effort was made to include you. Not fun either. I have two undergraduate engineering degrees, so I know what it is to sit in a classroom of 98 guys and two girls (one of whom was me) and to have those 98 guys assume that you won your scholarship, A, etc., because of your gender.

    This reminds me of our heated discussions about what feminism means or whether or not I have the right to fight for the rights of dark skinned women. To me — feminism means gender equality.

    And, I think persons who feel like they have to track down pics of me online to determine my race before they decide whether or not I have the right to fight for dark skinned, immigrant women or if I am a racist colonialist are just as much a part of the problem as the KKK.

    I guess I am just very anti-tribalism, anti-cultural relativism. I think we should focus on treating everyone like human beings.

    Now, I understand that this isn’t happening, like, at all, across the globe.

    I just don’t think feeding tribalism to try to eradicate tribalism is the way to go.

    How does saying — “You’re Other, and I am recognizing your otherness and identifying you, almost solely, in terms of your otherness in an effort to make you no longer Other, but included, one of us” work? Short answer — it doesn’t.

    How bout we just acknowledge each other’s humanity and leave it at that?

    I guess I have a very unique perspective on this issue 1 — because (and this will probably be the only decent thing I have to say about JWs ever) I grew up in a racially integrated religious community, and race was, really, a non-issue for me, until I became older and realized that racism exists.

    And, 2 — I feel very tribeless. I have no allegiances to any one or another group or identity. I left it all behind me as a teenager. Every tie I had been saddled with by the accident of my birth I broke and fled from. This was not an easy process. But, now, in my mid 30′s, I feel very free. I feel like an individual. I feel human.

    It’s something I wish everyone could experience. But, I know that this is far easier said than done. It doesn’t even occur to me to think that I don’t have a “right” to go and fight alongside a group of dark skinned, immigrant, Muslim women for women’s rights as universal human rights, because of the color of my skin, or its lack of color. (And, it didn’t occur to these women that I didn’t have that right either. They were fighting for their rights as human beings, above all else. Which doesn’t mean that they didn’t use their identities to speak with authority within their Muslim immigrant communities.)

    But, I am a proponent of affirmative action policies — and I think diversity should be a compelling government interest, but I see this as a clear cut issue of optimizing our democracy. If any one “group” or entity or corporation or person or etc., etc., has a disproportionate amount of power, this entity, no matter which, will immediately seek to oppress the others. Human/civil rights violations always trail power differentials. Our American democracy was structured to minimize the effects of power differentials.

    How does this apply to our very loosely knit atheist “community”?

    I’m not sure that it does. But, I’m happy to have someone convince me otherwise.

    I am keenly cognizant of the edge diversity or minority identity can have in a political sense — the I speak from authority, I am one of you stance. So, as a pragmatic tool, yes, I get it.

    But, I’m afraid that this is playing identity politics, as useful as that sometimes is.

    Like I said, I’m torn.

    I will say, one thing we might want to think about – I am back in the analyzing legislative prayers business – and, I have to say that I have noticed a disturbing trend of having the black and other minority lawmakers give the legislative prayers. I can’t help but infer nefarious motives – that black lawmakers are being used as human shields. Their prayers tend to be the most sectarian as well. It’s like the legislatures are saying, “Go ahead. I dare you to criticize the religiosity of our token black legislators. Feel free to have the public condemn you as a racist jerk.” (Of course, this doesn’t deter me.)

    I think we want to make sure that we aren’t being sucked into that game of exploitation and obscurantism.

    Sorry — I pretty much wrote a book.

  • bbk

    You semi had a point until this part.

    It would help to know the entire context (I left that out – that was the point). Third class women were over represented on the lifeboats even though not as badly as other women, nearly all of whom were saved. Their percentage greatly outnumbered the percentage of second, third, and first class men. But that hasn’t stopped a few prominent writers (John Updike, for one) from suggesting that men took those seats from the remaining women and that the heroic stories about women and children first are an overblown myth.

    The moral of this statistic is that we could recruit every last person in a minority group to join an atheist club and yet you’d still hear stories about the lonely black man at an all white atheist event. Never-mind that half the time this lonely black man has a PhD and feels more out of place at a family reunion than in a group of atheists. The point is that at some point you just have to tell the John Updikes and Monica Shores that the kids are alright.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    Whenever this subject comes up we always fall into a debate about gender and racial politics. Sure it’s a minefield; as Sarah says the line between positive action and patronisation is a thin one and if the atheist “movement” is starting from a base of middle aged, middle class white males the opportunities for getting it wrong are many. But, largely liberal, egalitarian, educated and free thinking gaggle of individuals that we are, surely we can get past political correctness and deal with the reality.
    If Greta (I assume :) isn’t on the invite list to high profile conferences, someone isn’t with the program. Other effective ethnic and female atheist communicators must be out there. They may not be as vocal as Greta Christina or Ayaan Hirsi Ali or may not realise they have a reason to be, but unless someone explicitly offers a platform we’ll never know.

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com themann1086

    Ophelia Benson should be on any short list of conference invitees. She’s a great writer, and her blog is a daily read of mine.

  • influential female atheist

    But she’s not. She wasn’t invited to that conference that “tried in vain to present a diverse array of speakers at its four-day October conference in Los Angeles.”

    I don’t know who else wasn’t invited, but I suspect it was quite a few viable candidates.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    Talking of Ophelia Benson brings to mind another paradox. In Does God Hate Women she makes a very powerful case for religion’s role in the oppression of women. Religion is a feminist issue, possibly the feminist issue for the 21st century, but we don’t see feminists all over the media expounding the virtues of atheism. Why not?

  • Purple

    Someone up above asked about diversity in SSA. As part of a secular student group, I can safely say that there is a large diversity when it comes to gender, but it still remains white-dominant. As an Asian, I am usually the only non-white at the meetings. I feel though, that this is because the non-whites find their “niche” or “clique” in ethnic clubs, and therefore don’t feel any need to join an atheist/humanist club.

    What I’m trying to say is, as an Asian, I’ve spoken to quite a few Asians who are atheist (or at the very least, irreligious), but they don’t have any incentive to join the atheist club on campus.

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com themann1086

    Steve,

    Sadly, Amanda Marcotte doesn’t get many media invites. She’s awesome, and has written about how feminism and skepticism/atheism are, iirc, “two great tastes that taste great together” (or something). Also, I think your last sentence could be shortened to “we don’t see feminists all over the media”, period. The anti-feminist backlash has been pretty brutal in that regard.

    Purple,

    Are there any ways atheist clubs could create incentives there? Any time we’re not getting people who otherwise agree with us to join (for whatever reasons), it’s problematic.

  • Wednesday

    @ Steve Bowen: Just like any other social movement, feminism can be dominated by the concerns of members who only lack one type of privilege. So the concerns of white, straight, cis, and (sometimes) religious feminists get the most attention. Double-”minority” status can mean your concerns get buried even within the context of feminism/LGBT rights/civil rights/atheist movements. Also, being a double-”minority” or simply a less popular type of “minority” can mean that you’re more than twice as socially unacceptable, so you’re asked for strategic reasons to keep quiet. (See also: trans-exclusive ENDA.)

    (Quotation marks around minority because women are statistically a majority in the world, but are underprivileged in most places.)

    @ bbk: I still think someone at Ms Magazine has an ax to grind with science and atheism, and that should _not_ be taken as at all representative of feminism.

    @ Sarah: “It doesn’t even occur to me to think that I don’t have a “right” to go and fight alongside a group of dark skinned, immigrant, Muslim women for women’s rights as universal human rights, because of the color of my skin, or its lack of color.”

    *sigh* Okay, I suspect like this is directed at me and what I said earlier. If it’s not, and I’m getting all irate over nothing, then please correct me. But operating under the assumption that it is directed at me, I would like to say: I was concerned about unexamined privilege and colonialism, and choosing a group that’s a target for other reasons in an increasingly xenophobic country. And the fact that you’ve chosen to work with a group that only had pictures of white women on the front of the website when I looked at it. If you have examined your privileges and all that, then great, my concerns are unfounded. But if you accuse me of being racist* (against what race I’m not sure) for having that concern and exaggerate it to the point where you suggest I equated overlooking one’s privilege with a terrorist group, and insist that I had to go to great lengths to track down a picture when you’d previously posted one yourself that showed your hands… I mean, you could’ve just said “I was mindful of that to the best of my abilities and chose to work with a group that I think is careful about that, and is in fact run by members of the group you are so concerned about”, and then I’d have to drop those objections.

    * Please note that I am not insisting I am not in any way racist. Despite my best efforts, I’m sure that sometimes I react to people I perceive as being of my same race (white) more positively than I react to people who are not. I am saying that to whatever extent I am racist, being concerned about unexamined privileged is not part of that racism.

  • Emburii

    Amanda Marcotte is not actually a sterling example to use for diversity. The first cover of her book, “It’s A Jungle Out There’, was met with concerns by some POC and their allies. At first she dismissed this criticism, characterizing ‘those people’ as angry and jealous at her career. When she finally did talk to Seal Press about changing the cover, neither she nor the publisher did anything about the interior graphics featuring a blonde white woman dealing with dark-skinned jungle savages and rescuing a handsome white man from their cookpots. Then POC had to deal with white people and white feminists defending and promoting the book. Amanda Marcotte did eventually apologize, but some people still remember her initial reaction and how thoroughly the incident demonstrated the massive level of privilege even in a group that should theoretically know better.
    When people say things like ‘they should learn to be comfortable with us’ and ‘there’s no bias in the atheist movement’, as they did in Ebon’s last post, these same people may quite reasonably remember what happened last time they trusted a movement of mostly white people and decide that they don’t want to deal with the headache.

  • bbk

    @Wednesday, point taken, really. I actually agree with you that feminism shouldn’t be blamed per se. But I have to point out that conservatives are using a similar argument right now to distance themselves from the Tuscon shootings. I’m sure us males have used similar arguments against accusations of sexism (“he’s just one bad apple”). Personal axe notwithstanding, it’s still a good example of identity politics. The author’s target was the atheist movement, but her tactic was to turn women against men. Even Jen McCreight’s rebuttal unwittingly suffers from bias. She props up prominent atheist women and gives examples of atheist men trying to make amends for the failures of their kind. Seems like atheism can’t be defended without first agreeing that there’s a few “creeps” out there.

    @Emburii, so it’s guilty by association, then? You’re actually saying that we (white atheist men) are screwed for past wrongs, in this case, by a feminist woman. I get your point, and I’m sure there’s actually a valid example for your actual point somewhere, but not the one you gave. This is a recurring trope – men are bound to screw up because they’re men, so let’s shame them. Who needs proof? Maybe you have a second, inadvertent point – that some people won’t give white men a chance no matter what, even if no wrongs were ever committed by a particular group of them.** In that case yes, I fully support the idea for those men to be proactive to counter the bias against them. The first step is to start pointing out that atheism is not guilty of whatever it is that white men are guilty of. Don’t let that idea get established in the first place, while there is still a chance of stopping everyone with a personal axe to grind from letting it get established in the minds of minorities and women.

    **By the way, this is largely a Western phenomenon. If you look at other parts of the world, it’s not always white men who fill the role of hated majority in identity politics. It would behoove Western feminists and atheists alike to study other cultures to gain some insight into what’s actually happening in our own culture.

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com themann1086

    Emburii,

    I do remember that incident, actually. She apologized before the book was actually released, iirc.

  • bbk

    @Wednesday, one more thing. Look at how much of the atheist movement is actually headed by women. A good majority of prominent atheist organizations are founded and led by women. The vast majority of local chapters of every kind of atheist organization seem to me (unscientifically) like they’re organized by women, too.

    So I think it’s important to take a step back and ask a few questions before we jump to talking about all the things that white men can and should do to fix the direction that atheism is heading in. What exactly is it that makes the atheist movement a “white male” movement in the first place? Why was this never an issue before, in the days of Hypatia, Emma Goldman, Madelyn O’Hair, Ellen Johnson, whomever else? Why does it seem to be an issue now that prominent atheist feminists are making it an issue? Why does it seem to not matter that there are millions of Chinese atheists, that Obama is the son of a black Kenyan atheist, etc? Do we actually have a clearly defined problem or is it our own failure to look beyond our noses? Maybe it’s precisely the fact that 4 white men rose to prominence in the atheist movement that we have a problem. If no atheist had written a best selling book, we might not have noticed. But as soon as a man did it, then by nonexistent god in nonexistent heaven we have a male problem. Now we’re wide open for anyone who wants to disparage atheism to attack us for our white maleness. Maybe us white men should just go into hiding and stop speaking out against religion, then.

  • jemand

    @bbk…. I think you may have partially hit on something. In many ways, it’s not necessarily the atheist community ITSELF, that has a problem with diversity, but the wider culture insisting on portraying us as a white and male movement.

    THEY were the ones to pick “the four horsemen” and I think they picked it in a wider context of religious misogyny and discrimination. We didn’t all vote on “the most influential atheists” other people pointed them out.

    I think in looking for older, white male spokespersons to converse with, the wider culture and religious groups take their own biases with them…. most religious movements are headed by men, so, naming the leaders of the atheist movement as men builds into their argument that we are no different than they, that we are kind of a religious movement with faith and belief and whatnot and white male leaders just like catholocism and mormonism and whatever the hell else.

    In that context, atheists of whatever color and sex, standing up and saying to the wider culture… um, actually, we aren’t like you’re portraying us, is a good thing and will help our cause.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    @jemand
    perspicacious :)

  • bbk

    @jemand

    most religious movements are headed by men, so, naming the leaders of the atheist movement as men builds into their argument that we are no different than they

    You’re right. Accusing Dawkins or Hitchens of being the leaders of the atheist movement just paints a big target on their backs that people use to attack all of atheism. It’s a mere coincidence that they happen to be men this time around. When Madelyn Murray O’Hair was the voice of atheism in America from the 60′s through the 80′s, the same groups of people had no problem attacking her in spite of her being a woman. In fact, they attacked her for being a woman. Now they’re painting atheists as a bunch of scroogy old white men and attacking them for being men, whether it’s fair or not. And when a non-white atheist comes along, let’s say Reginald Finley, Hemant Mehta, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, it’s like it doesn’t even count. If we listen to them, it doesn’t count. We have to go hunting for the Mythical Non-White Atheist and ask him what he thinks about life but no matter how hard we try, it won’t actually count. But, given the history of atheism, I can just about guarantee that sooner or later another woman or minority will come to the forefront and the attackers will change their accusations with the greatest of ease. So that’s why I say that we discredit the attacker, not buy into the attack.

    As far as most rank and file atheists being white men, I ask again what’s the problem? Nobody accuses Christians of having a “female problem” when a majority of the followers who show up on Sunday morning are batty old women. We look at the organization itself, dominated by some of the worst anti-woman cretins on earth, and conclude that religion harms women. Why aren’t people using the same standards to judge atheists? This whole entire thing about the danger to the movement caused by white men is just completely contrived. As long as we push for atheism on the merits of atheism itself, diversity won’t be a problem.

  • jemand

    @bbk, I still think we should as atheists, at least try to set the mainstream media story straight, and mention prominent nonwhite and female atheists when in conversation about the atheist movement. For instance, I forget the exact details of the story, but I believe the atheist bus campaign was begun by a woman, but the mainstream media pins it on Dawkins. It would be nice to be able to point that out, and other examples, because I think it would make women and non-whites more comfortable attending atheist gatherings and such. And it would be so *easy.* We only need to start talking about what people are already doing, not even have to try anything new.

  • Emburii

    Atheism is not guilty as a movement, but it is made of of people who can be wrong and can harbor privilege and bias despite their best intentions. What can make atheism look bad to an outside observer is the way that any mention of diversity is met with wails about the poor white men are being persecuted, that ‘they’ just want to dominate things with ‘their’ unreasonableness. I noticed you missed my entire point about how the racist imagery in that book was passed over several times, that some white readers admitted that they hadn’t even noticed what it was actually about until POC pointed the situation out (and to head your inevitable misrepresentation off, they admitted this because they were willing to unpack their privilege. They weren’t bullied into it.)
    I met an atheist this past Sunday. He seemed like a nice guy, he knew Hitchens and Dawkins and we had a reasonable discussion…until he went into a flat-out rant on why it was all right to use gay as a derogatory slur. Hitchens himself has made misogynistic comments. And the gendered term ‘bitch’ is pretty popular for Sarah Palin. And when Ebon makes the second thread in, what, two weeks, more? about expanding our representation, you sob into your hanky about how persecuted you are, that you’re such a great person and there’s no issues here. Basically, you took a post that was supposed to be about inclusiveness, about bringing atheism forward as a valid option, and made it all about you.

    Here’s the point ——>

    <——— and that's you. Stop it.

  • bbk

    @jemand Yes, that’s perfect. I have heard the whole “Dawkins did it” trope so many times I could be forgiven for thinking the man is omnipresent. And yes, it could be so easy.

    @Emburii, nobody missed the point. The accusation of Privilege itself is stupid and nonsensical. It’s completely unfalsifiable. Anyone who denies the accusation is guilty of Privilege by definition. Well guess what: you’re Privileged. There, it’s like I just jinxed you. Don’t see how? Too bad – you are. Why? Because the moon is made of cheese, that’s why.

    Look, I’m an atheist, not a feminist. It’s you who are Privileged in thinking that just because you accept the world from a feminist perspective then the rest of the world does, too, and therefore has to converse with you on your own terms. What makes you think you’re right? So far, you’ve used an example of a female feminist to demonstrate that atheist men don’t know how to accept diversity.

    Seriously, if someone needs to go through an exercise of unpacking her Privilege to realize that images of dark skinned cannibals cooking white people stretches the “jungle” metaphor too far, then she must have her head full of so many dumb ideas that it hinders rational thought. All this proves is that being a feminist and understanding feminist theory is practically useless when it comes to practicing diversity. At least that’s what it says to me.

  • bbk

    @Emburii, I guess I’m not done.

    until he went into a flat-out rant on why it was all right to use gay as a derogatory slur

    Here you connect an atheist to anti-gay bigotry. Let me count all the things that you’ve missed. First problem I have with this is that it’s an unverifiable anecdote. Second, it goes against the general consensus in the LGBT movement that atheists are among the most welcoming and non-judgmental group to support their cause (including feminists!). Third, you seem to ignore the fact that many atheists themselves are gay, meaning that there already is diversity on that front. Fourth, gays are a great minority group to juxtapose against women or non-whites who are constantly let off the hook with the excuse that they are already so discriminated against in their communities that they risk too much with atheism. Sixth, if you actually listen to non-white atheists or non-feminist female atheists, they’re not the ones handing out that excuse for their religious counterparts.

    Lastly, “he knew Hitchens and Dawkins” seems to provide his credentials as a male follower of the old white men who own atheism. This stereotype is where you yourself go wrong on diversity. As long as you keep painting atheists as stereotypically homophobic white male followers of Hitchens and Dawkins, I will keep telling you that you’re just plain wrong.

  • Wednesday

    @bbk,

    Well, I’m not saying whoever’s got this axe to grind isn’t a feminist, or that e’s the only feminist ever who has had an anti-science agenda. But you have a history on this site of making nearly-universal and universal statements about feminists using badly-chosen samples, and a lot of people already think Ms. speaks for all feminists. So I felt it necessary to put your sample in context for other readers.

    Nobody accuses Christians of having a “female problem” when a majority of the followers who show up on Sunday morning are batty old women.

    Careful where you wave that universal quantifier, bbk. I have read articles on a couple pastors who have decided mainstream Christianity has feminized Jesus and too many churchgoers are women, so they’ve developed Super!Manly!Jesus to counter that message.

    @Emburii

    Atheism is not guilty as a movement, but it is made of of people who can be wrong and can harbor privilege and bias despite their best intentions. What can make atheism look bad to an outside observer is the way that any mention of diversity is met with wails about the poor white men are being persecuted, that ‘they’ just want to dominate things with ‘their’ unreasonableness.

    think you have it in a nutshell. Especially that first sentence – would you mind terribly if I use that in other exchanges?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I’m sure us males have used similar arguments against accusations of sexism (“he’s just one bad apple”). Personal axe notwithstanding, it’s still a good example of identity politics… Seems like atheism can’t be defended without first agreeing that there’s a few “creeps” out there.

    Well, that would be because those people obviously do exist*, and it would just make us look foolish to claim otherwise. Are you seriously asserting that no atheist has behaved in a sexist way, ever?

    A good majority of prominent atheist organizations are founded and led by women. The vast majority of local chapters of every kind of atheist organization seem to me (unscientifically) like they’re organized by women, too.

    OK, I think we need to review some basic facts here. The FFRF, the nation’s largest explicitly atheist organization, is 71% male and 95% white according to its own membership survey (this despite being founded by two women). As my original post pointed out, American Atheists has had the same issue, and the Council for Secular Humanism seemed unable to line up a slate of speakers that was more diverse than 23 out of 26 white men (how hard they actually tried is a matter of debate, but makes no difference to the point). Yes, women do play an important role in the atheist movement, and they’re getting more important all the time. That doesn’t mean that this is a solved problem and we no longer need to think about it.

    This is a recurring trope – men are bound to screw up because they’re men, so let’s shame them… some people won’t give white men a chance no matter what, even if no wrongs were ever committed by a particular group of them… Maybe us white men should just go into hiding and stop speaking out against religion, then.

    bbk, you’re arguing with the imaginary person in your head again. This post was a simple observation of the fact that atheists are less diverse than the population in general, and a call to engage in some self-reflection, ask ourselves if there’s anything we’ve inadvertently done to contribute to this situation, and discuss ways we might fine-tune our message to make it more appealing to women and minorities and thereby improve their representation among atheists. You, meanwhile, are acting as if we’re one step away from rounding up white men into concentration camps. Since I’m one myself, I can assure you, I’ll be the first to speak up if I ever see signs we’re heading in that direction.

    I don’t know why the idea of tuning our message to appeal to a broader range of people is so threatening to you. As Emburii said, this is not about you, and you persist in acting as if it is. The only advice I can give you is to relax. Go take some deep breaths, have a cold drink, and put your feet up. You’ll feel better, trust me.

    * Like, you know, that guy who claimed that the women’s suffrage movement was born of a sinister plot by feminists to outlaw everything that men like.

  • bbk

    I have read articles on a couple pastors who have decided mainstream Christianity has feminized Jesus and too many churchgoers are women, so they’ve developed Super!Manly!Jesus to counter that message.

    Okay, nobody who isn’t a bigot. There, qualifier modified to account for Christianity. No problem. Anyway you’re skirting the main point. Care to comment, agree / disagree?

    To clarify, I agreed with you that feminism wasn’t to blame for the Ms Magazine debacle. I suggested that this was was an individual using identity politics of men vs women to turn her readers against atheism. But if we agree on that, doesn’t it also help discredit the idea that atheism has a “male problem”? Why shouldn’t we let innocent atheist men off the hook for infractions that some individual male may have carried out? Just let them focus on being the atheists that they’d like to be. I know it goes against the theories of Privilege and Patriarchy, but after all that is the standard you seem to want feminists held to (I agree! Those are the right standards). Forgive me if I don’t understand how you draw those lines in the sand.

  • bbk

    Are you seriously asserting that no atheist has behaved in a sexist way, ever?

    I’m asserting that it’s irrelevant. Given other considerations, it really has no impact on the problem you’re trying to solve. Your own observations attest to as much.

    Moreover, if every atheist was a monstrous abomination, it would have no bearing on the truth value of atheism. It should therefore not be a consideration for anyone who is honestly considering to give up their religion.

    It’s a good principle to not be sexist. But women don’t care enough about sexism to abandon their extremely sexist religions for that reason alone. You’re a computer scientist aren’t you? I’m sure you’ve heard of Amdhal’s Law. AC/DC can get more women to wear devil horns at a concert than you’ll ever win by stamping out every last remnant of sexism among atheists.

    Like, you know, that guy who claimed that the women’s suffrage movement was born of a sinister plot by feminists to outlaw everything that men like.

    You’re beating a dead horse here. You’re taking the whole thing out of context and you’ve never considered the historical sources that support the notion that Suffrage and Prohibition were intertwined. That’s all I can say.

    The FFRF, the nation’s largest explicitly atheist organization, is 71% male and 95% white according to its own membership survey (this despite being founded by two women). As my original post pointed out, American Atheists has had the same issue, and the Council for Secular Humanism seemed unable to line up a slate of speakers that was more diverse than 23 out of 26 white men (how hard they actually tried is a matter of debate, but makes no difference to the point).

    I’ve addressed this point with Wednesday as well. The line of reasoning that you’re implying doesn’t always hold up very well:

    • The majority of military members come from economically depressed towns. It doesn’t mean that people from economically depressed towns are scaring off the rich sons of senators from the Army. It doesn’t mean those working class men are responsible for deciding which country we invade.
    • The majority of church attendees are women. It doesn’t mean that the behavior of those women is pushing the men out to atheism in droves. It doesn’t mean that these women are responsible for the sexist behavior of the church.

    You’d have to eliminate a lot of other possibilities before you can say for sure that atheist men really are a problem if you’re basing it just on the observations that you’ve made above.

    This post was a simple observation of the fact that atheists are less diverse than the population in general

    I have a simpler observation. Just invite more people to give up their gods. Eventually it will work. Don’t stress out over what you’re doing wrong, it’s not rational. There is no atheist bus and either way no one here is driving it. Look at the rate of atheists among people slightly younger then us and you’ll get a better glimpse of the future. This is something that’s largely out of our control. We are just the first of the beneficiaries of the societal forces that are pushing more people to abandon religion.

  • Emburii

    Wednesday, it’s fine if you use that phrase. I’m just glad I’m managing to communicate with someone.

    Guess what, bbk? I don’t have a problem with admnitting that I am privileged. We all are, in some way, but it’s not mean to make you fall down blubbering at the feet of the nearest disadvantaged person. As Ebonmuse put it, you’re talking to the invisible person in your head instead of actually listening to people. Privilege is a jinx. It’s not a dismissal. It’s just a reminder that you have grown up with different opportunities.
    The anecdotes I mentioned are unverifiable, perhaps, because this isn’t a scholarly paper with footnotes. You’re voicing your grievances (without references, let’s note, with vague comments of ‘many organizations headed by women’ without a list), and I in turn am sharing how atheists in general can alienate their audience and abrogate that message of tolerance without even meaning to. I list situations other than white males being racist because it all goes into privilege, unspoken assumptions of how people are or how things should be. It’s not that white males are evil, it’s that pretty much everyone has some area where they’re oblivious. Amanda Marcotte, despite being an atheist, has had trouble identifying points where white cultural images were being directly elevated and used to demean a non-white other. Hitchens seems to have absorbed the mainstream view that woman just aren’t quite as smart and can never have a sense of humor because jeez, they always get so mad at little comments. And the promising young white male atheist probably doesn’t mean to be homophobic, but maybe he’s used to saying ‘gay’ as a slur. It’s part of his mental landscape, but it’s a bad thing? So maybe when he thinks it, he feels guilty. Being guilty makes him feel bad, but blaming someone else for being too sensitive makes him feel better and is easier than rooting out years of heterosexual privilege.
    None of these people are bad people. You’re not a bad person, even if that’s the impression you may have gotten from discussions of privilege. But consider that Ebon’s post was about diversity, about listening to other voices and making room. Now look at what you’ve done; you’re in every other comment, talking about how white men are oppressed or how feminists blame all men for the acts of a few. You’re not listening to anyone, you’ve made this space all about you. This is a perfect illustration of Ebon’s point. You’re not meaning to exclude anyone and you’re not being hateful, but dammit your viewpoint is just so smart and self-evidently logical that you have to keep going. You’re a mainstream white male atheist. Now imagine a group mostly comprised of people like you. Now imagine someone who has been disadvantaged pointing out that there are some assumptions or language in everyday use that should maybe be rethought. Let’s look at your responses; privilege doesn’t exist, I’m not a bigot (you aren’t, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have unconscious bias)…said disadvantaged person is possibly going to look at this atheist group and conclude it’s not for them.

    Wow, talk about books. This post doesn’t even include the reasons why women are often more pressured into religion or find it more sustainable, but we could try that next time instead of assuming all equalists are anti-science?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Emburii,

    I’m just glad I’m managing to communicate with someone.

    I think your comments have been terrific, and I’m glad that someone else is also willing to step up and tell bbk to stop whining about his little white penis all the time. Every time diversity is brought up, he whines and complains about how everyone thinks he’s the devil, no matter how innocuous the OP or the message is and no matter how hard people try not to point fingers or blame anyone for anything. It reminds me of the religious fanatics that get all huffy over bus signs that say things like, “Don’t believe in god? You’re not alone.” Any affront to their sacred cow is a personal attack. bbk’s sacred cow simply happens to be the plight of the white male, and anything he can spin as an attack he will and does. Never does he realize that he’s simply feeding into the problems and stereotypes that he decries so much.

  • bbk

    vague comments of ‘many organizations headed by women’ without a list

    “• American Atheists — Madalyn Murray O’Hair (and later Ellen Johnson)
    • Freedom From Religion Foundation — Anne Gaylor (and now Annie Laurie Gaylor)
    • Atheist Alliance — Marie Alena Castle (and later Bobbie Kirkhart and Margaret Downey)
    • The Brights — Mynga Futrell ” – from Ms Magazine
    Plus many others…
    Secular Coalition for America – Lori Lipman Brown
    Rational Response Squad – Kelly O’Connor (co-founder)
    Camp Quest – Helen Kagin (co-founder)
    Atheist Bus Campaign – Ariane Sherine
    Military Religious Freedom Foundation – Leah Burton (board member)
    No Longer Quivering – Vyckie Garrison

    In my quick search, I found female officers, founders, or board members of every single atheist organization that I came across. You’d have to point me to an organization that deviates from this norm… Hope that helps…

    This post doesn’t even include the reasons why women are often more pressured into religion or find it more sustainable

    This post and the ones preceding it are about what straight white men can do to make it easier for women and minorities. The approach is perfectly in line with the type of patronizing, chivalric mentality that Ms Magazine presented when they wrote their piece titled, “Will New Atheism Make Room For Women?” Really? Who died and bequeathed atheism to straight white men? I’m asking that as a minority.

    I want to make it perfectly clear that you’re going down a path of making excuses. Plenty of women already switched to atheism and it would be no different for the rest. No one rolled out the red carpet for men to become atheists, either. Matthew Shepard was a gay man tortured and murdered by religious extremists. Yet there are so many gay atheists out there, many of them practically had to “come out” twice. Last I heard they’re over-represented in atheism versus the general population.

    I’m not saying that we should just sit on our hands and do nothing. I’m saying that we have to stop making excuses for willful ignorance and cowardice. And stop using the language of Privilege to describe atheist men as unwitting oppressors of everybody else. It’s callous, demeaning, and whiny. And it’s not going to get atheism anywhere. Here’s our chance to just be equal, to just treat everyone as if they had a brain, a set of principles, and a little bit of courage and some mutual respect for what everyone else had gone through to get to where they are at.

  • bbk

    Never does he realize that he’s simply feeding into the problems and stereotypes that he decries so much.

    I don’t care to solve those problems because they’re not real problems to be solved by you or me. I’m sorry but when I was 12 years old and I realized that religion was making me miserable, nobody moved to clear a path for my escape. Didn’t know that 20 years later it would be my fault for taking someone else’s seat in the great big atheist lifeboat. At that point I had no idea what atheism was nor had I ever met another atheist. When I first said that God wasn’t real, the whole world told me that I was wrong. I was beat for it, forced to go to church against my will, taunted at school by males, females, and even minorities, thrown in detention for refusing to say “under god”, it never ended. I have scars from my time in the Marine Corps when Christian fundamentalists tried to treat me with pillow parties. But when I was 12, I felt exactly like this: http://asilee.com/2010/10/03/leave-the-burning-house-a-letter-to-single-black-women/

    So I left. No different than anybody else who has ever felt that way. What I’m saying is this: just shut the hell up. Suck it up and carry on. I’m not whining, you ingrate. I’ve been through and seen more FUBAR shit in my life than you will ever experience in your worst nightmare. You either become atheist or you don’t. It’s not my damn fault if you don’t. It’s not my responsibility, nor yours, if anybody else does. It’s up to them. And you know what? Knowing that it was up to me was what gave me the will to go through with it. Had I thought that I should be greeted with a little atheist welcome aboard party, I would have waited in vain forever. And that’s the problem. Like this one woman wrote, a lot of these people are waiting around for someone to say “Yes, you are on fire. Maybe you should get out.” That’s her observation and that’s mine, too.

  • http://www.asilee.com Asilee.com

    Very inspiring story bbk.

  • influential female atheist

    This post and the ones preceding it are about what straight white men can do to make it easier for women and minorities. The approach is perfectly in line with the type of patronizing, chivalric mentality that Ms Magazine presented when they wrote their piece titled, “Will New Atheism Make Room For Women?”

    No, no, no, no, no. It’s not about “making it easier” – it’s about not systematically ignoring us. It’s about remembering to invite us to speak at conferences. It’s about conference organizers not saying, when asked why there are few or no women speaking, “We couldn’t think of any to invite.”

    It’s not patronizing, it’s not chivalric, it’s necessary reminding.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    I think that the reason BBK continues to ride this particular hobby horse is that Ebon and many commenters are over interpreting his position and reading into it attitudes he doesn’t have.
    Ebon keeps harking back to a previous thread where BBK correctly points out that the women’s suffrage movement also had strong links to the temperance movement. This was true in the U.K too. For example Rosalind Howard a significant liberal and agnostic campaigner for the vote was also a advocate of temperance. When she joined The Women’s Liberal Federation she insisted that Women’s suffrage and temperance both became cornerstones of their manifesto. There is nothing sinister in this, the two things were contemporaneous and fed off each other. But to suggest BBK was not reporting an accurate fact is wrong.
    As they say in Avenue Q; ” everyones a little bit racist” and I suppose everyones a little bit sexist too but we don’t do ourselves any favours by getting hung up on it to the point of inactivity.
    influential female atheist is absolutely right when she says

    it’s about not systematically ignoring us. It’s about remembering to invite us to speak at conferences.

    which is why being aware of lack of diversity is fine, keep bringing it up Ebon. I think all BBK is saying is that we shouldn’t waste time and energy indulging in white male angst. It’s a distraction.
    OK moving on…

  • bbk

    No, no, no, no, no. It’s not about “making it easier” – it’s about not systematically ignoring us.

    That’s great, but if you’re on a sinking ship and there’s a lifeboat floating in the water, do you need an invitation? Who, exactly, held out their hand for all the men who miraculously became atheist? Given that millions of men who become atheists do so as children, you’re trying to make me believe that that mature women are incapable of performing mental tasks that a 12 year old child can do in the face of child abuse from religious parents. And this is because of male privilege, of course. I’m really interested in hearing your version of this to really understand how it is that you believe that for our generation atheism is anything but an uphill struggle for anyone, male or female. What you’re effectively saying is that men don’t need any help but women do, making women dependent on men. So I guess that if it wasn’t for male atheists, atheism wouldn’t even exist. That’s not patronizing and chivalric? When you can make sense of your position for me, I’ll become a feminist.

    Anyway, you have to actually prove your claim that women are systematically ignored for speaking engagements and etcetera. If you can’t prove it then I have no reason to believe that it’s the case. The odds are against you here, given the undisputed fact that women are well-represented in atheist leadership roles. Nobody has ever said “we couldn’t think of any [women] to invite.” You just fabricated that, it’s a highly out-of-context claim and if you compared it to the process for finding men, you’d see that it was no different. If you were organizing a conference yourself, you probably wouldn’t be able to get any women either. I have a good explanation for why that is, but you wouldn’t like the answer.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    I don’t care to solve those problems because they’re not real problems to be solved by you or me.

    Yeah, I’m getting that. I’ve been coming to the conclusion that the reason that you keep complaining about being persecuted and everyone saying it’s your fault (when repeatedly told that no one is saying that but you) is because not only are you not interested in solving problems or seeing anything from anyone else’s point of view, but you want to make sure that others can’t solve problems too.

    Didn’t know that 20 years later it would be my fault for taking someone else’s seat in the great big atheist lifeboat.

    For the millionth time, no one is blaming you for anything. Of course, we’ve said that over and over, so either you’re too stupid to get it (which I don’t believe for a second) or you’re intentionally being dishonest in continuing to flog that dead horse.

    What I’m saying is this: just shut the hell up. Suck it up and carry on. I’m not whining, you ingrate. I’ve been through and seen more FUBAR shit in my life than you will ever experience in your worst nightmare.

    And you’ve obviously got the whining down from it. But, hey, let’s just go and tell people to shut the hell up and stop whining…perhaps you could set an example and shut the hell up and stop whining about the imaginary persecution of your poor, white penis? Or can you not walk the walk after talking the talk?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    I think that the reason BBK continues to ride this particular hobby horse is that Ebon and many commenters are over interpreting his position and reading into it attitudes he doesn’t have.

    Wait…what? It’s not over interpreting to point out that he keeps claiming that we are sitting here blaming him for everything, because he keeps claiming that’s what everyone is doing. It’s pretty clear, and all his whinging seems to stem from that.

  • bbk

    For the millionth time, no one is blaming you for anything.

    OMGF, you’re incapable of having any sort of discussion without talking about my penis. I dare you to talk that way to a woman just because I’d like to see how long it is before you’ve got a stiletto stuck in your eye socket. You really should shut up, really, because if there are any attitudes that should be decried by both sides, it’s yours. You’re a chivalric yes-man who thinks that women are going to respect you for trashing other men no matter what amount of hypocrisy it entails. I really don’t take you seriously. How could I? Most of your comments, like this one, just seem like you’re trolling for an angry response.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    OK it’s not my fight and I’m pretty sure BBK is ugly enough to defend his own corner, however futile that might be. But OMGF, unusually for you, you are projecting. BBK is making a general point from a personal perspective. That doesn’t mean it’s all about him. I don’t get that vibe from anything he’s said.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    OMGF, you’re incapable of having any sort of discussion without talking about my penis.

    Uh huh, which is why all these threads have to be about you and how you’re so oppressed for having one?

    You really should shut up, really, because if there are any attitudes that should be decried by both sides, it’s yours.

    Apparently, the only person who shouldn’t shut up is you?

    You’re a chivalric yes-man who thinks that women are going to respect you for trashing other men no matter what amount of hypocrisy it entails.

    Not at all. I’m taking you to task because you continually have to make this about you, because you continually have to be dishonest about my position and the position of others. I’m taking you to task because you’re a dishonest POS who can’t stop whinging about being persecuted for being white and male. Stop being dishonest and maybe we’ll actually start to take you seriously.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    But OMGF, unusually for you, you are projecting.

    I am?

    I don’t believe that being apologetic and obeisant is an effective recruitment policy. Being remorseful for something that isn’t your fault, even if you’re a dirty old white man and everyone is angry with you, is not rational. So you may think that flogging yourself is a form of piety but people will think that if you’re sorry then you’re probably guilty.

    You’re actually saying that we (white atheist men) are screwed for past wrongs, in this case, by a feminist woman… This is a recurring trope – men are bound to screw up because they’re men, so let’s shame them. Who needs proof? Maybe you have a second, inadvertent point – that some people won’t give white men a chance no matter what, even if no wrongs were ever committed by a particular group of them.

    Maybe us white men should just go into hiding and stop speaking out against religion, then.

    As long as you keep painting atheists as stereotypically homophobic white male followers of Hitchens and Dawkins, I will keep telling you that you’re just plain wrong.

    Why shouldn’t we let innocent atheist men off the hook for infractions that some individual male may have carried out?

    And stop using the language of Privilege to describe atheist men as unwitting oppressors of everybody else.

    Didn’t know that 20 years later it would be my fault for taking someone else’s seat in the great big atheist lifeboat.

    And this is because of male privilege, of course.

    You’re a chivalric yes-man who thinks that women are going to respect you for trashing other men no matter what amount of hypocrisy it entails.

    Seems pretty clear to me – and, that’s just from this thread. He was even more explicit in the last couple threads that even came close to touching on this subject. Besides, I have no idea what I would be projecting here. I’m attacking him for being a dishonest POS, not for being white or male. I’m attacking him for being a whiny so-and-so and for continually doing his best to drag these threads away from the topic at hand and into talking about him and his poor self for being so oppressed simply because he’s white and male. It’s ridiculous and dishonest and I don’t see why any of us should put up with his bullsh*t.

  • jemand

    ugh…. this thread, I think people are arguing past each other. bbk has said some things that rubbed me the wrong way and I think some of the people arguing him are also beating a dead horse (as am I for commenting here… once AGAIN.)

    But, bbk HAS been the one to come up with and post a list of ten influential female atheists with leadership roles in atheist-themed activities, nobody else. I think he probably could take a bit more time on that, and post I dunno, 30 or 40 names next time (save it and add, looks like we have this discussion regularly, apparently). I REALLY think in many ways the atheist community is ALREADY diverse, and it is partly a paradigm that is forced on us that we are a white male group. We aren’t. And simply pointing that out with names and examples, like bbk just did, (even though I do think he is sometimes whiny), is quite helpful.

    Some atheist blogs when they do online polls get more responses self-identifying as male… and some atheist conventions have a bias toward male attendance… but honestly, reading those particular blogs and attending conventions really aren’t all there is to atheism. I think that’s not necessarily most representative slice of atheism itself. In the US, at least, there are more male atheists than female, and more white than black, but I think the perception of the movement is less diverse than it actually *is,* even now.

    Ugh. And there are leaders and followers, and girls in fundamentalist families are taught more to be followers, and boys leaders… and these differences in sexually taught gender roles do tend to be stronger in religious houses, and bbk, just think about that, maybe you WERE more prepared, as a 12 year boy old raised in a fundamentalist house, to lead and break away and think for yourself, than a girl in that environment would be. Just statistics— PLENTY of girls break free as well. But seriously… 12 years is a LONG time, and fundamentalists are the most persevering in insisting on gender performance from their children. Sure, they don’t want a boy to leave the church, but some of the behaviors they DO insist on as masculine for a boy to perform do help in that.

    Secondly, all that religiously based child abuse was a bad thing, but it’s common because of the wider society. Oh, that’s where I was going with this. Some people are leaders, and others followers, this can be *partly* influenced by upbringing and environment, (which, might skew leading as male in fundamentalist circles, though not overwhelmingly) but others, just never will lead.

    If the atheist movement is ONLY going to be made up of leaders… it will not get all that big. It won’t become a pervading social mover. And it won’t change laws based on child treatment to protect humanistically based rights of children, and it won’t be strong enough to fight for church state separation to protect the rights of adult atheists either.

    We HAVE to have followers as well, and help them be comfortable in the movement. If you don’t want to help the followers get comfortable yourself, at least get out of the way when someone else wants to open the door to them. And yes, following traits can also be partly skewed by environment, and maybe it skews female, (though again, not overwhelmingly), but it really isn’t all that productive or helpful to go on about how 12 year old boys are more intellectually capable than adult women simply because this discussion exists.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    Oh! I know I shouldn’t but…
    OMGF In only one of your examples does BBK refer to himself, just this generic white male. For the record philosophically I agree with him that the identity politics trope is not helpful, especially when applied to a caucus of liberal, inclusive people who are interested in promoting atheism as a positive ideology. As I said his beef is (I think) that whenever we have this conversation there is no appreciation of nuance, he gets attacked for attitudes he doesn’t expound but are assumed. He is not an apologist for sexist attitudes and I suspect all he would like is an acknowledgment of this. As I said, moving on…
    There is a real issue here, and Ebon is correct to highlight it, in that in the west female and non white atheists are not fully represented. I say in the west because presumably Indian atheists in India have a significant non white membership.
    If there are blatant examples of racism and sexism within humanist and atheist organisations in the west, by all means lets call it. Let’s continue to point out that we want greater diversity in our ranks and on our platforms and then try to do something about it.

  • Mrnaglfar

    This post was a simple observation of the fact that atheists are less diverse than the population in general, and a call to engage in some self-reflection, ask ourselves if there’s anything we’ve inadvertently done to contribute to this situation, and discuss ways we might fine-tune our message to make it more appealing to women and minorities and thereby improve their representation among atheists.

    That “if” is the big question, isn’t it? It seems that some – if not most – people here are taking it as less an “if” question and more an assumption that there is something being done somewhere. However, I don’t think anyone has presented any good evidence that there is anything being done either inadvertently or intentionally. Simply tossing out statistics about the composition of a group or the gender and race of those speaking at conferences isn’t enough, as bbk correctly pointed out by saying the following:

    * The majority of military members come from economically depressed towns. It doesn’t mean that people from economically depressed towns are scaring off the rich sons of senators from the Army. It doesn’t mean those working class men are responsible for deciding which country we invade.
    * The majority of church attendees are women. It doesn’t mean that the behavior of those women is pushing the men out to atheism in droves. It doesn’t mean that these women are responsible for the sexist behavior of the church.

    In fact, I suspect it would be better to put the entire portion of the discussion about what percentage of men or woman are speakers at conferences aside. Those conferences are probably doing next to nothing to actually make people consider themselves atheists. I wouldn’t guess that the reasons some countries are more secular than others has anything whatsoever to do with the gender or racial imbalance at atheist conferences.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Why shouldn’t we let innocent atheist men off the hook for infractions that some individual male may have carried out? Just let them focus on being the atheists that they’d like to be.

    That’s the person in your head talking again, bbk. The only person who’s proposed putting all men on the hook for anything is you. It really is remarkable the way you persist in seeing this as a matter of people blaming men as a class, or blaming you individually, even though absolutely no one in this thread has done either of those things and several people have repeatedly told you that’s what we’re not doing. I can’t fathom why you’re having such a difficult time accepting this.

    …if every atheist was a monstrous abomination, it would have no bearing on the truth value of atheism. It should therefore not be a consideration for anyone who is honestly considering to give up their religion.

    It shouldn’t be a consideration, I agree. But that’s like saying that scientists should be able to get people to stop being creationists by just citing the evidence for evolution. They shouldn’t have to argue that accepting evolution won’t turn you into a selfish, drug-crazed hedonist. Unfortunately, this is the real world, and it often takes more than the mere recitation of fact or argument to sway people to your position. Often, it helps to tailor your message to the specific social circumstances and concerns of the people you’re trying to reach (which is as far as you’ll ever hear me go in agreeing with the framers). If you, bbk, don’t want to personally do that, that’s fine – but as I’ve already observed, what’s remarkable is how threatened you obviously are by the idea that someone else might do it.

    Since I’ve seen this confusion a couple of times, let me address it: I don’t think sexist or racist behavior in the atheist community is going to discourage women or minorities who have doubts about religion from becoming atheists. What I think it might do is discourage them from joining us – that is, coming out of the closet, publicly identifying as atheists, and allying themselves with freethought groups and supporting their legal and educational campaigns. This is important, because no matter how many atheists there are, we’ll never wield significant political power unless we’re organized and visible. That was the point of my post saying that paying attention to diversity now is an investment that’ll pay dividends later.

    You’re taking the whole thing out of context and you’ve never considered the historical sources that support the notion that Suffrage and Prohibition were intertwined. That’s all I can say.

    You said a lot more than that suffrage and prohibition were “intertwined”. You actually said this:

    Feminism has its roots in the Suffrage movement, which was a movement of radical Christian women who thought that giving women the right to vote was a necessary step in removing men’s ability to buy alcohol.

    So ask yourself this: if you were extremely resentful of men and had no compunction in taking away anything that they enjoyed – from alcohol at one point, and now pornography, and later you were going to fight against equal rights for fathers …

    No, sorry, I didn’t take that out of context at all.

    The majority of military members come from economically depressed towns. It doesn’t mean that people from economically depressed towns are scaring off the rich sons of senators from the Army.

    Yes, I think we can safely assume that everyone in this thread understands that correlation is not causation. But in this and all the other cases you list, there are other causal factors that explain the association. What causal factor are you proposing to explain why atheism has this demographic imbalance? Why is the FFRF’s membership 70% male?

    This post and the ones preceding it are about what straight white men can do to make it easier for women and minorities. The approach is perfectly in line with the type of patronizing, chivalric mentality that Ms Magazine presented when they wrote their piece titled, “Will New Atheism Make Room For Women?”

    I want to make it easier for everyone. I wrote a whole essay about the struggles of people extricating themselves from religion because I care about that suffering, and because I want to make that transition as easy as possible for everyone who ends up making it in the future. As it happens, I think that there are extra obstacles thrown up in the path of women and minorities – some from outside the atheist community, and some from inside it – and that’s why I think this merits extra consideration.

    When I first said that God wasn’t real, the whole world told me that I was wrong. I was beat for it, forced to go to church against my will, taunted at school by males, females, and even minorities, thrown in detention for refusing to say “under god”, it never ended.

    You’ve clearly described the suffering you had to go through to make it out of religion; no one is denying or minimizing that, and many people here have had similar experiences. Now consider that women and non-white people often have it even worse, due to the “double minority” effect Wednesday insightfully described earlier. The expectations placed upon them are even higher, the pressure to conform is even greater, the social penalties for noncompliance are even more severe. Sikivu Hutchinson wrote that within the black community, it’s often the case that gangsters and drug dealers are less reviled than honest, hardworking people who don’t believe in God. A similar principle holds in patriarchal religious communities: disbelief in either sex is treated badly, but women, who are expected to be submissive and obedient, face an extra-heavy burden and extra danger for going against the tide.

    Yes, if we do nothing, it will always be the case that a few determined people will make it out. But I don’t want the atheist movement to be just a few determined people. I don’t want to sit back and wait for people to find us, like we’re Shaolin monks sitting in a temple on a mountainside somewhere. I want the atheist movement to be as large, powerful and influential as possible, and the way we achieve that is by actively reaching out to people and encouraging them to join us.

    I would think that all the trials and tribulations you went through to become an atheist would make you more interested, not less, in studying what we can do to make this transition as easy as possible for people in the future and spare other people the ordeal you went through. Is this some kind of purity thing? No one deserves to be an atheist unless they suffer as much as you did for it?

  • influential female atheist

    God, does bbk have oatmeal for brains, or what?

    Yes it is true that women don't get invited to speak at conferences. I don’t, for one, so I know that all those conferences that have 23 men and 3 women haven’t tried hard enough to ask more women.

  • influential female atheist

    if you’re on a sinking ship and there’s a lifeboat floating in the water, do you need an invitation? Who, exactly, held out their hand for all the men who miraculously became atheist?

    You need an invitation to be a speaker at a conference! You can’t just show up and start talking. I didn’t say anything about women needing an invitation to be atheists.

    Godalmighty.

  • bbk

    No, sorry, I didn’t take that out of context at all.

    Ebon, I can’t respond to everything right now so I’ll stick to the old horse here.

    The tone in which I said it doesn’t negate the facts. Prohibition was rooted in contemporary Christianity of that era. Advocates of Prohibition were pretty much racist and xenophobes, having many ulterior political motives for banning alcohol. Suffrage and Prohibition were intimately intertwined. Suffrage also had its roots in Abolition and these women didn’t necessarily share all of the racist views that everybody else did. But here’s the rub – they didn’t exactly care about giving men a free choice setting their own moral compass. Prohibition was the male equivalent of the Hijab. That’s not an exaggeration and I stand by it. Similarly, their successors were intertwined with the movement to ban pornography a few decades later. They were all for it, I’m sorry. You had asked what “Christians” had to benefit from their war against porn. I countered by asking what feminists had to gain from it. Then came all the denials that feminists were ever in any way involved with anything so prude and that it had nothing to do with slighting against men to the point of being anti-male. I had to give some examples. That some of the fundamental motivators for the women’s movement over the years did in fact amount to anti-male policies which had little to do with women’s rights. That’s all that this was about. Not some vast sinister plot that you accuse me of making up. Just an observation about a few trends over the ages.

  • Mrnaglfar

    I don’t think sexist or racist behavior in the atheist community is going to discourage women or minorities who have doubts about religion from becoming atheists. What I think it might do is discourage them from joining us – that is, coming out of the closet, publicly identifying as atheists, and allying themselves with freethought groups and supporting their legal and educational campaigns.

    There’s a lot to say about that. First, I don’t think any sexism would have any bearing on people’s answers on anonymous surveys. Second, a lot more goes into public acknowledgment of being an atheist to the point where I don’t think any concerns of sex or race representation of a group or conference would have any impact; the first and foremost concern would probably be alienation from family, friends, lovers, and one’s community. Third, people have a warped conception on what it actually means to be an atheist. If the impressions I got from “Society Without God” are right, there are many culturally religious people who don’t actually believe in any of their religion, or believe so vaguely as to make it meaningless.

    But besides all that, before anyone would actually experience any sexism in atheist communities they’d already have to be a member, or in other words already pretty “out”.

    What causal factor are you proposing to explain why atheism has this demographic imbalance? Why is the FFRF’s membership 70% male?

    I assume that question is legitimate, which also leads me to assume you don’t have a list of empirically verified causes of gender imbalance, so we’re both just taking shots in the dark. I’d assume it has something to do with women being less inclined to throw away parts of their social circle than men; maybe men are more likely to enter certain fields in their education that lead them towards atheism, though that’s a pure guess.

    Yes it is true that women don’t get invited to speak at conferences. I don’t, for one, so I know that all those conferences that have 23 men and 3 women haven’t tried hard enough to ask more women.

    Coincidentally, I went overlooked as well – yet again, I might add.

  • influential female atheist

    Srsly. At this point there are lots and lots and LOTS of women who are obvious candidates. It’s just pathetic that the Secular Humanist Conference organizers said they tried in vain to get more.

  • bbk

    You need an invitation to be a speaker at a conference! You can’t just show up and start talking. I didn’t say anything about women needing an invitation to be atheists.

    No, I was thinking of both things. It’s true that you need an invitation to speak – but you have to ask for it! I’m serious! You have to actually call up the organizers ahead of time and tell them to put you into their contacts list. You know what else is good? Actually go to the conference the year before and meet them. If there’s no women attending the conferences, that explains a lot. They’re going to call the people they know, have networked with, and maybe send out a few invites to people who already happen to be all over the news. Are you all over the news? If not, then at least you better be a good speaker. At least that’s the case for men. They hate doing cold calls! Nobody likes making cold calls and even less people appreciate getting them. But that’s what they end up having to do for the women, and it’s actually harder than it seems. After they cold call the first dozen of the usual suspects and find out that everyone’s already booked, not interested, or outright irritated for getting cold called, they lose hope and give up. And by that time they’ve got to go into a meeting and pick their speakers so they can invite them and give everyone enough time to plan their trips. I guarantee that if you actually promote yourself a little more actively, you’ll get asked to speak.

  • Emburii

    Arghh.
    bbk, remember how you’re upset for being blamed for everything white men have done wrong, as you seem to think they’re doing? How about you extend me the same courtesy and not assume I’m that Ms. Magazine editor, that I am in fact a separate person who does not have an axe to grind against atheism and in fact wants to encourage our cause? I say this as someone who wants atheism to catch on, who wants the entire world to be in a good enough place that we don’t need anthropomorphic representations of fate or thousand-year-old literature.
    To go back to your lifeboat, atheism as a social movement is not a lifeboat floating on its own. Going for that lifeboat may involve swimming through a bunch of people who already have theirs that may ignore your pushing, or even unintentionally move into your path and not notice they’re in the way. Then, when you have your raft and ask them to move just a foot or two so that someone else can get through, they grumble about it or won’t hold out that hand because that’s be coddling or something. You keep accusing feminists of being condescending and then insisting that this applies to my arguments as well, so I’ll ask this: is holding out a hand to possibly save someone’s life, or asking you to hold out a hand as well, actually condescending? Or is it a recognition that life, like a freezing cold ocean, is vast and wide and bone-chilling and that people who have been slowly dying all their lives might need the extra hand up?

  • Mrnaglfar

    I was hoping to get the point across that being an atheist and a woman are not the only two criteria for being potentially invited to speak.

    Srsly. At this point there are lots and lots and LOTS of women who are obvious candidates. It’s just pathetic that the Secular Humanist Conference organizers said they tried in vain to get more.

    Not so fast. Here are some things to consider:
    (1) Women already make up only a minority of atheists as a whole, so there’s a shallower pool to begin with
    (2) It’s not like people organizing conferences just have a list of atheists and their genders and are picking at random. They’re way more likely to do their best and select well-known figures to draw a crowd, not to mention because they’ll be more likely to think of well-known figures to invite. So out of that already smaller pool of possible speakers, it gets smaller still when you subtract out the ones who may not have gotten their name out as well.
    (3) That pool also gets smaller when you consider that not everyone is equally qualified to speak or have something worthwhile to say. So we’re down more.
    (4) Now also consider that not every woman that gets asked to speak is going to accept that offer. Between travel, preparing something, other work, family obligations, or any other number of factors, people can just busy or lack the motivation to be a speaker.

    And even when all that is considered, I still fail to see why the gender of the speaker should matter. Unless there is evidence of deliberate sexism to exclude one gender or the other on the part of those selecting speakers, why should it matter what sex the speakers are? I thought the merits of what they have to say should stand on their own.

  • bbk

    @jemand, thanks for the helpful words and that’s a very insightful comment about leaders vs followers. It’s not entirely out of line with what I had in mind, either. The dynamic between leadership and follower-ship is complex and contain more than a few paradoxical concepts. You can describe either one completely in terms of the other and it takes skill at one to be good at the other. We can all be leaders and followers at the same time. But let’s talk about what followers do. They make a conscientious decision about who to follow. They’re not just lemmings waiting in a holding area for the first person with leadership skills to come along and walk them off a cliff… So what makes them follow? I contend that less powerful people of low social status choose to form alliances with the most powerful, highest status leaders they can find. It makes them feel safer and probably has a lot of very important benefits. This means that in a white male dominated society, everyone else will align themselves with the most powerful group of these. It also means that less powerful white men will branch off and form new groups that try to compete for power with the old guard. This branching off from the pack – deciding to abandon the old leaders and chasing after new causes and new ideas – can readily be interpreted as an act of follower-ship but should not be interpreted as any less courageous or proactive than if you thought of it as leadership.

    And here’s a simple observation – atheist men on the whole are simply inept when it comes to filling a real leadership role. We rarely attain high social status and when we do it tends to be very unconventional. When we get it right, we get it big (Bill Gates, Dawkins) but there’s not enough of us like that to form a strong social fabric. On the whole we’re a little awkward and a many of us would rather be loners toiling away in some cubicle or basement lab than interacting with large groups of people and taking charge of things. The “pressure” that compels women and minorities to stay within their traditional communities can readily be seen as the failure of atheist men to improve their social status. Those of us who are New Atheists are the more aggressive, competitive, forceful ones who are actively working to change the status of our lot. And it’s working.

    So you have to look at things from many perspectives to get the whole picture. When I hear about New Atheist men being too sexist, too aggressive, too opinionated, it usually comes from the apologists, priests, and politicians who would love for us to just keep quiet. But when it comes from people who are struggling to understand why women are underrepresented in our group, I can’t help but think that they’re getting it all wrong and offering us a false answer. Being more aggressive, more competitive, and taking charge of our future is what will pave the way for a friendlier environment for women and minorities to come into. These traits are lambasted because they’re stereotypically male and just about always seen in a negative light, especially when looked at through the lens of feminism. They’re not male traits, I think, and we should encourage women to be more aggressive and competitive and to step up as leaders. But until then we have to do whatever we can to actually improve our standing.

  • bbk

    And even when all that is considered, I still fail to see why the gender of the speaker should matter. Unless there is evidence of deliberate sexism to exclude one gender or the other on the part of those selecting speakers, why should it matter what sex the speakers are?

    Now, there, that certainly does matter. First, I do want to hear what women have to say – even if I may disagree – but I want to hear it. So even if the audience is all male and the women aren’t respectful enough to actually attend the conferences where they wish to speak, I still want to hear them. They’re half of the perspective even if they’re 1% of the numbers. Second, it does have a profound effect. In the end if we don’t let them speak then we’ll never “get it right”. I reject the premise that men are incapable of using their own eyes and brain to see how the world works, the idea that white males are guilty of “privilege” that renders them incapable of seeing the world as it is and thus must go through a post-modernist deconstructivist mental exercise to see that one and one makes two. But it’s not about that – it’s about communication and making it work both ways.

  • Mrnaglfar

    I do want to hear what women have to say – even if I may disagree – but I want to hear it

    I’m always happy to hear whatever anyone has to say if they’re offering a new perspective. I just don’t much care as to the gender of the source presenting it. Maybe it’s just the science-minded person in me, but when I pick up a journal article to read about a study, I don’t pay attention to the genders of the authors.

    Second, it does have a profound effect. In the end if we don’t let them speak then we’ll never “get it right”.

    I don’t know who the “we” refers to in that sentence. It certainly doesn’t refer to anyone who isn’t in charge of a decision as to who gets to speak. Of the people that do, I can’t imagine they’re all men either, and of the males that do, I don’t assume they’re sexists who seek to bar women from speaking, since I’ve seen no evidence of that.

    Who the source is can have an effect because of a kind of tribalism and groupishness, I would certainly agree. An atheist is probably more likely to trust an atheist than a Christian, knowing nothing else about the person. It can also have an effect if one person is capable of offering a perspective another one is not. Having not attended any atheist conventions I have no idea what there is to discuss there, but I’d be curious to know if there are any issues about being an atheist that one sex can speak on that the other cannot.

  • jemand

    bbk: “Being more aggressive, more competitive, and taking charge of our future is what will pave the way for a friendlier environment for women and minorities to come into. These traits are lambasted because they’re stereotypically male and just about always seen in a negative light, especially when looked at through the lens of feminism. They’re not male traits, I think, and we should encourage women to be more aggressive and competitive and to step up as leaders. But until then we have to do whatever we can to actually improve our standing.”

    I agree with this and think it’s really helpful. I *do* think being confident, assertive, aggressive, standing up to religion and other bullshit, is a good thing for atheists to do, male or female. My only quibble is you seem to have a fairly narrow definition of feminism because I don’t think “feminism” necessarily finds those traits problematic. A particular brand of femininity worshiping feminism aimed at reversing power roles rather than deconstructing power-over relationships in favor of more productive dynamics, might. But any decent feminism will be considered a specific, particular, *example* of humanism as a whole, and humanism validates and respects confident and assertive personality traits.

  • monkeymind

    I’d be curious to know if there are any issues about being an atheist that one sex can speak on that the other cannot.”

    Well, since most atheists began life in religious families, and given that the policing of gender roles is a major function of most religions, it’s hard to see how gender issues can be excluded from discussions of atheism. Many male atheists will have grown up with the experience of having their gender equated with the god-figure, for example, while most women have not. That has to affect the de-conversion experience.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Well, since most atheists began life in religious families, and given that the policing of gender roles is a major function of most religions, it’s hard to see how gender issues can be excluded from discussions of atheism

    Growing up with gender roles is more a general state of life, not one specific to atheism or religion.

    The more important issue to consider is that a man or a woman offering their specific growing up story can only offer an anecdote. While anecdotes are cute and all, they aren’t always representative of the wider population and drawing conclusions from them is a bad idea. To really present good data about different genders growing up with respect to religion and to draw conclusions from them you’d need a larger sample size. As we know, men and women are both perfectly capable of conducting and presenting such research. Accordingly, it’s to hard credit that as an issue that requires one gender or another to speak on.

    Unless you’re specifically looking for anecdotes, that is. I don’t care much for them as the topic of a conference speaker.

  • monkeymind
  • Mrnaglfar

    That’s an example of having more people working together as an effective group, not an effect specific to one sex or another. In that study women just happened to be display more social sensitivity – on average – than men. What you’d actually want would be for atheists to work together overall, not to get more women because they’re on average more likely to work together. Or as the article said:

    “So having group members with higher social sensitivity is better regardless of whether they are male or female,” Woolley explains.

  • monkeymind

    Mrnaglfar – do you have any reason to conclude that what was true in this experiment would not be true for atheists- e.g. that groups that contain more women would be better able to respond to a wide variety of problems?

    “To really present good data about different genders growing up with respect to religion and to draw conclusions from them you’d need a larger sample size. As we know, men and women are both perfectly capable of conducting and presenting such research.”

    I agree with this. In evaluating research, I would care more about the methodology, etc. than the gender of the person presenting. However, the choice of what questions get asked and are deemed to be worthy of answering can be highly dependent on awho is asking.

    Beyond that, it seems to me that personal memoir, history, and narrative have a fairly prominent role in atheist fora- or am I wrong? Most human beings are, after all, pretty interested in other human beings. And we do learn not just from data and statistics. “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” does communicate something that pages of statistics about the Gulag regime do not (and vice versa of course.)

  • Mrnaglfar

    that groups that contain more women would be better able to respond to a wide variety of problems?

    What you mean to say is groups with higher social sensitivity may be better able to respond to problems. That would hold irrespective of whether they were women or men.

    However, the choice of what questions get asked and are deemed to be worthy of answering can be highly dependent on awho is asking.

    That’s true, and still not something specific to one sex. Men and women can ask the same research questions.

    And we do learn not just from data and statistics

    This is true. We can also learn a lot of things that aren’t true by over-generalizing from anecdotes.

    Diversity of thought – which is really the goal here I’d think – doesn’t come from people just because they look different. The sooner we get away from that idea (and believe you me, we probably won’t) the better.

  • monkeymind

    I’m not making a case for essential differences here, Mrnaglfar. The data in the study suggest that the number of women in the group was strongly correlated to the number of socially skilled individuals, which in turn was correlated with better success in problem-solving.

    In the real world that people actually live in, increasing diversity of appearance (gender, class, age, ethnic origin, sexual orientation) is extremely likely to result in a greater diversity of thought. Can you give me a good reason why it is not worthwhile to try a strategy that is likely to result in progress toward this goal? It seems like it would be easier than re-training people in social skills.

  • monkeymind

    “This is true. We can also learn a lot of things that aren’t true by over-generalizing from anecdotes.”
    We can also get hung up in our own experiences when we don’t work to develop inter-subjectivity. See bbk for Exhibit A.

  • Alex Weaver

    I’d be curious to know if there are any issues about being an atheist that one sex can speak on that the other cannot.”

    The firsthand experience of the treatment which the society or societies one has interacted with prescribe for members of that sex.

  • Mrnaglfar

    The firsthand experience of the treatment which the society or societies one has interacted with prescribe for members of that sex.

    I thought I had covered personal anecdotes and why they aren’t really useful in #68, even if they can be entertaining or moving.

  • Alex Weaver

    Recognition of systematic differences in treatment, because as a member of the group affected you have far more reason to notice, is not the same as “anecdotes.”

  • Mrnaglfar

    Recognition of systematic differences in treatment, because as a member of the group affected you have far more reason to notice, is not the same as “anecdotes.”

    Perhaps you misread me. Just to clarify, I was referring to specifically whether there was any topic a speaker at a conference could speak on that required that speaker to be either a man or a woman.

    Any single man or woman can offer their own anecdotes about how they were raised, but an N of 1 is never a good sample. To find any systematic differences in treatment between groups you’d need a large, more representative sample. Formulating research questions, gathering that sample, conducting the research, and reporting on it is something that either sex can do just fine.

  • monkeymind

    Mrnaglfar, you seem to assume that sharing of data is the only reason for humans to interact, and all that has to happen for learning to take place is for data to be presented. Why do you assume this?

    Also, I have to point out that you seem quite satisfied with your own anecdotal account of why there are few women speakers at atheist conferences. You also seem spectacularly incurious as to why fewer women identify as atheists to begin with. Maybe part of the reason for coming together in meetings and conferences is to ask those kinds of questions and demand real answers? It’s not like atheist organizations are in a place to fund much real research at all at this point, but they could potentially push these kinds of questions forward. If women and minorities face do indeed face more backlash and social stigma for wearing the atheist label than white males, why is that not an outrage and a legitimate focus for atheist advocacy?

    I guess I feel motivated to de-lurk when these threads come up is because the discussion is so surreal (and btw, I do get that most non-cranks have bowed out because they have better things to do than go one more round with these guys)

    How is a member-supported organization like a lifeboat? Why is a raven like a writing desk? It makes no sense at all.

  • Mrnaglfar

    you seem to assume that sharing of data is the only reason for humans to interact, and all that has to happen for learning to take place is for data to be presented

    I do? Are here I just thought I didn’t want to attend conferences to hear someone’s personal story, or expect to take anything away from someone else’s story other than, “well, that’s your experience”.

    I have to point out that you seem quite satisfied with your own anecdotal account of why there are few women speakers at atheist conferences.

    My account is not an anecdote; it’s a series of hypotheses that could well be right or wrong.

    Maybe part of the reason for coming together in meetings and conferences is to ask those kinds of questions and demand real answers?

    If they want real answers they need to do real research. Without research, it’s all just speculation. I’m skeptical that unproven claims of sexism or racism of the atheist “community” has much at all to do with the demographics of conference goers. I think the issue of conferences themselves is a red-herring when considering the demographic points.

  • monkeymind

    Mrnaglfar, you’re really going round and round the central question – why isn’t the underrepresentation of women and minorities in those wearing the atheist label a legitimate focus of concern? Why assume that it’s “just the way things are”? Who will fund research unless it’s deemed a question worthy of concern?

    I don’t see anyone who is claiming that it is due solely or even primarily to racism or sexism within atheism, so that’s a red herring. Rather, it’s a question of whether to accept the status quo, or try to do something about it. Funding research would be doing something.

    If you were running a public health campaign, would you care that your message wasn’t reaching demographic groups disproportionately harmed by the disease in question?

  • Mrnaglfar

    why isn’t the underrepresentation of women and minorities in those wearing the atheist label a legitimate focus of concern

    It doesn’t concern me specifically because I’d rather see more atheists then care about their gender or race. Since I’d rather see more atheists, I’d like to see it expand to more of the population, men and women, black and white alike. Saying “we need to find more black atheists”, or “we need to find more female atheists” just comes across as singling out race or gender above other concerns for no good reason.

    The idea that just because atheists are primary white and male means that atheism lacks diversity is offensive to my sensibilities.

    What I don’t think is that the demographics have anything to do with sexism or racism from the atheist community, implicitly or explicitly; solely, primarily, or at all. What part of that point are you still missing?

    And yes, people here are claiming that sexism or racism is at least part of the reason:

    I don’t think sexist or racist behavior in the atheist community is going to discourage women or minorities who have doubts about religion from becoming atheists. What I think it might do is discourage them from joining us – that is, coming out of the closet, publicly identifying as atheists, and allying themselves with freethought groups and supporting their legal and educational campaigns.

    Yes it is true that women don’t get invited to speak at conferences. I don’t, for one, so I know that all those conferences that have 23 men and 3 women haven’t tried hard enough to ask more women.

    Stereotypes like this have a nasty habit of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies; after all, if “everyone knows” that all atheists are white people, that’s likely to discourage blacks, Latinos, and members of other minority groups from wanting to join us.

    When people say things like ‘they should learn to be comfortable with us’ and ‘there’s no bias in the atheist movement’, as they did in Ebon’s last post, these same people may quite reasonably remember what happened last time they trusted a movement of mostly white people and decide that they don’t want to deal with the headache.

    his post was a simple observation of the fact that atheists are less diverse than the population in general, and a call to engage in some self-reflection, ask ourselves if there’s anything we’ve inadvertently done to contribute to this situation, and discuss ways we might fine-tune our message to make it more appealing to women and minorities and thereby improve their representation among atheists.

    I don’t think I need to go on anymore.

  • monkeymind

    Sorry if I offended your sensibilities. Self-reflection is hard, let’s go shopping!

  • Maina Gachoya

    I am an atheist from Africa,kenya-Nairobi.
    Atheism here is a taboo though there are the scattered voices of reason,though very few.
    Articles such as this encourage us to push forth in our advocacy for reason.No doubt we have milestones to cover before we get a united atheists front,but watching how atheists in the west have managed to sort of come together in affliated groups,i am sure we will get there someday.
    Thank you for this inspiring piece.

  • Emburii

    Mrnaglfar, you said you want to see more atheists in general? This is why paying attention to barriers against diversity is in your best interests as well, because if people are more comfortable with a group’s overall behavior they might be more likely to join. If they feel included and respected as potential members, they’ll be with us. If they see themselves under-represented, and members arguing that this isn’t important at all, they might not feel welcome and they might not join.
    Of course, this is anecdotal and informal because what we’re discussing, personal interaction with groups and their characteristics is /going/ to be anecdotal, especially in a conversation of this format. If you’re not willing to consider personal discussions as a potential source of information, weighing them for useful data, what are you looking for? Multiple choice church exit polls only?

    And monkeymind, I brought up lifeboats because bbk seemed to like the analogy. Sorry if it seemed to veer off-course.

  • Mrnaglfar

    This is why paying attention to barriers against diversity is in your best interests as well, because if people are more comfortable with a group’s overall behavior they might be more likely to join.

    I don’t think there are any barriers against diversity that are erected by the atheist community.

    Also, there again is that little assumption that people who look different must be different. Diversity does not come from racial and gender demographics; I’m not sure how many times I can say that.

    If they see themselves under-represented, and members arguing that this isn’t important at all, they might not feel welcome and they might not join.

    When I think about signing up for something, be it a class or a conference, I don’t think to myself “I’m not going to go unless there are enough men there, and if there aren’t enough men they better be doing their best to find more men”. If the subject matter is appealing enough to me and I’m not met with outward hostility, the demographics are a non-issue.

    If you’re not willing to consider personal discussions as a potential source of information, weighing them for useful data, what are you looking for? Multiple choice church exit polls only?

    Personal discussion is a potential source of directing of information, it just may not always be a reliable one. If you want useful data on how to address an issue – say, why aren’t more women identifying as atheists when compared to men – you need good theory, good data, and good testing. Personal discussion is not enough. It’s helpful to use it to refine hypotheses beforehand and after the research, but it will not answer the question.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    When I think about signing up for something, be it a class or a conference, I don’t think to myself “I’m not going to go unless there are enough men there, and if there aren’t enough men they better be doing their best to find more men”.

    Correct. You don’t, because you don’t have to. That’s generally considered one of the privileges of belonging to the majority: society doesn’t constantly remind you of your race or gender, doesn’t make it highly relevant to your identity, and doesn’t single you out for different treatment because of it. Learning that this is not true for everyone is the first big step towards understanding the value of diversity.

    If the subject matter is appealing enough to me and I’m not met with outward hostility, the demographics are a non-issue.

    It’s certainly easy to say that when being in the minority is, in all probability, a situation you’ve rarely if ever actually experienced.

    I don’t think there are any barriers against diversity that are erected by the atheist community.

    If you want useful data on how to address an issue – say, why aren’t more women identifying as atheists when compared to men – you need good theory, good data, and good testing. Personal discussion is not enough.

    Need I point out that these statements are mutually exclusive? Unless you’re basing your statements on some study you haven’t told the rest of us about, you can’t simultaneously maintain that the atheist community isn’t doing anything wrong in regard to diversity and also that no one is qualified to pass judgment on why there’s a racial or gender imbalance among atheists.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Correct. You don’t, because you don’t have to. That’s generally considered one of the privileges of belonging to the majority: society doesn’t constantly remind you of your race or gender, doesn’t make it highly relevant to your identity, and doesn’t single you out for different treatment because of it.

    That all depends on the context; I may be part of the majority in one situation and the minority in another. All I have to do is drive a town or two over and I find myself very quickly in a context where I’m a minority, compared to the surrounding population. It’s not like as white men we’re always the majority no matter where we are.

    I would also point out that if women are treated differently than men in some situation because of their gender, then as a man I am also being singled out for different treatment based on my gender in that situation as well.

    Need I point out that these statements are mutually exclusive?

    I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive at all; One is a statement of skepticism and the other is a statement of what would ease that skepticism. If you say, “I don’t think god exists. If you want to make the claim god exists, you need to prove it with evidence”, I wouldn’t think you were contradicting yourself.

    Drawing from my limited personal (anecdotal) experience, I’ve not known atheists to exhibit outward hostile sexism or racism at any substantial degree; certainly at no higher level than the population at large. I don’t expect everyone (or myself) to take that as the whole story though. My experiences are merely my experiences, and could be totally off-base. However, until shown otherwise, I don’t make the assumption that the atheist community is a particularly racist or sexist group of people, nor that such hypothetical racism or sexism has anything to do with the demographics of people who call themselves atheists.

    Here’s a big reason I’m skeptical that sexism or racism of the atheist community is playing any part in the demographics: If there really were substantial atheist populations in the black and female communities that weren’t being represented or served by those in the white male atheist communities, why would blacks or women not form their own organizations to create a more welcoming environment, away from all those nasty racist and sexist white male atheists?

    The article you linked to mentioned that churches aren’t all that racially integrated, so I would ask why we don’t see such a phenomenon with atheist communities? Why are there not predominantly “black” atheist communities as well as predominantly “white” ones?

  • Emburii

    Mrnaglfar, as a male you are being treated differently. Most of the time people will actually listen to you when they might ignore a minority or less privileged person. They’ll give your words more credence. They might be less confrontational arguing with you, or they’ll give you more benefit of the doubt (I don’t have links, though I can start compiling a selection if you insist). That’s what privilege is! It’s not that you’re deliberately hurting other people, it’s that you are unconsciously given advantages by the majority that you belong to. Are there barriers in atheism specficially? No. But there is unexamined privilege among some of its members, that would make a less advantaged person decide that they might as well use their energy taking care of themselves or sticking with what they know. We want to be a more attractive alternative to them, not just one among many, and that takes fixing our biases. Acknowledging them is only the first step in that, but it is part of the progress.
    As for why minorities or disadvantaged folks aren’t making their own groups, at least some of that comes down to not wanting to completely shred previous ties. There was even an article, previously linked, that mentioned that! And considering that religion is linked into that minority in some cases, publicly renouncing it might leave them without any support at all. And that’s just the external factors, internally they might not want to announce or explore it because of guilt.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    Has anyon seen this list of the 25 most influential atheists (hat tip The Friendly Atheist)
    It runs like this

    1) Richard Dawkins
    2) Sam Harris
    3) Christopher Hitchens
    4) Daniel Dennett
    5) Stephen Hawking
    6) Steven Pinker
    7) Michael Shermer
    8 ) Peter Singer
    9) Steven Weinberg
    10) Paul Kurtz
    11) Lawrence Krauss
    12) E. O. Wilson
    13) P.Z. Myers
    14) James Randi
    15) Jennifer Michael Hecht
    16) Peter Atkins
    17) John Brockman
    18) Philip Pullman
    19) Barbara Forrest
    20) David Sloan Wilson
    21) Ray Kurzweil
    22) William B. (“Will”) Provine
    23) Kai Nielsen
    24) Susan Blackmore
    25) Richard Carrier

    I’ll leave you to draw the obvious conclusion.

  • bbk

    I don’t think sexist or racist behavior in the atheist community is going to discourage women or minorities who have doubts about religion from becoming atheists. What I think it might do is discourage them from joining us – that is, coming out of the closet, publicly identifying as atheists, and allying themselves with freethought groups and supporting their legal and educational campaigns.

    It sounds to me like at the heart of what you’re saying, it begs the question. You might be using the lower rate of atheist women to support your hypothesis for why there is a lower rate of atheist women. Not sure, but sounds awfully like it.

    I think that you are aware that even if one woman or a dozen women propose the sexism hypothesis, it’s still nothing more than that. This is the problem that Mrnaglfar has with anecdotal “stories” and appeals to authority of those with minority status. We don’t ask people who live under a power line to tell us whether or not it’s causing them cancer. That’s not proof. Neither is listening to women who suggest that sexism is a reason for them not being atheist.

    Please, don’t repeat your point that we still have to do something about it. I agree with you… if it works, let’s do it. I disagree that approaches based on treating sexism and Privilege work.

    @Emburii

    They might be less confrontational arguing with you, or they’ll give you more benefit of the doubt

    Really? That’s new to me. Read the responses to my comments and group them by sex. Women are much more likely to be reasonable and try to find common ground than the men who disagree. Look at OMGF and his continued remarks about my penis, even at Ebon and his off-putting remarks about imaginary people. Very few men (much appreciated btw) came out to support things they may have agreed with or to help me clarify troublesome points they felt I was misunderstood. The overall attitude is that we men are “ugly enough to defend [our] own corner”.

    If what you are saying is that women don’t know how to be ugly enough to defend their own corner, then you’re not truly fighting for equality. You’re fighting for chivalry. But there’s an added irony. You’re quite literally telling Mrnaglfar that he doesn’t know what it’s like because he’s not a woman, when, by using your very own rationale, you don’t know what it’s like for Mrnaglfar because you’re not a man. Mrnaglfar is right, though – anecdotes deserve no place in these discussions. They’re dangerous at best.

  • bbk

    @Steve,

    My conclusion:

    This list is limited to philosophers and hard scientists, professions often shunned by women. The most influential of these men doesn’t even come close to the level of influence that someone like Angelina Jolie or George Clooney have. Obviously, Friendly Atheist has a bias in whom he considers influential. Who is likely to make a little girl realize that it’s okay to be an atheist? Angelina Jolie… or… Steven Pinker? Where are the artists, musicians, actors, grass roots organizers? In and of itself it doesn’t seem like a consistent list (Dawkins at the top because he’s the most renown atheist, but Hawkins in the middle because he’s the most renown scienist?) At any rate this is someone’s opinion of who is influential based on their personal preference. Let’s not forget that Friendly Atheist is not a white guy.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Look at OMGF and his continued remarks about my penis, even at Ebon and his off-putting remarks about imaginary people.

    As if the comments haven’t been warranted? If my comments about you strike you as ridiculous, they are no more ridiculous than your complaints about being persecuted for being white and male (like when Xians claim they are persecuted in the US). It’s patently ridiculous and merits a response that shows it for what it is.

    And, if you aren’t arguing with imaginary people, then perhaps you can point out where anyone is accusing you of being racist, sexist, etc. That’s why I harp on you attacking strawmen. You continually cry about being attacked when no one is doing that. When it’s pointed out to you, you simply cry louder. That behavior is dishonest, illogical, and fallacious and only serves to derail your alleged goals as stated below…

    Please, don’t repeat your point that we still have to do something about it. I agree with you… if it works, let’s do it.

    Of course, the fact that you work at cross purposes to this idea, won’t listen to anyone else, and continually try to derail doesn’t bode well for anyone believing that you really do want to help the situation. It sounds more like you just want to whinge and complain and have others tell you how awesome you are. Ain’t gonna happen.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Mrnaglfar, as a male you are being treated differently. Most of the time people will actually listen to you when they might ignore a minority or less privileged person. They’ll give your words more credence. They might be less confrontational arguing with you, or they’ll give you more benefit of the doubt (I don’t have links, though I can start compiling a selection if you insist). That’s what privilege is!

    I never denied that I’m treated differently because of gender, it’s just a context dependent thing. On some subjects, in some crowds of people, at some times, those things might be true or the reverse might hold. It depends on what I’m saying and who I’m saying it to. I have problems with such blanket statements because it’s generalizing from the group (men) to the individual (me) strictly because of gender while doing its best to remain as devoid from context as possible.

    To be frank, I don’t know why you’re telling me this. We both should know that whether or not one has a statistically privileged position has no bearing on the truth value of what they say.

    As for why minorities or disadvantaged folks aren’t making their own groups, at least some of that comes down to not wanting to completely shred previous ties.

    Which is what I suggested as being one of the key reasons the demographics are the way they are. It has nothing to do with the atheist community not welcoming some people because of their race and everything to do with religious individuals not wanting to suffer the costs that leaving a religion can entail.

  • monkeymind

    Mrnaglfar, you have admitted you don’t even care to investigate the possibility whether or not women have, in practice, the same range of religious freedom as you do. That’s why it’s hard to take seriously your protestations that there is no sexism among atheists.

  • Mrnaglfar

    you have admitted you don’t even care to investigate the possibility whether or not women have, in practice, the same range of religious freedom as you do

    I don’t personally feel like conducting the research, no. I have other things I’m working on.

    What religious freedoms do women lack in the US that men have? I can’t wait to hear this one.

    That’s why it’s hard to take seriously your protestations that there is no sexism among atheists.

    You need to work on your reading comprehension. I never said there was no sexism among atheists, I said I don’t think sexism among atheists has any bearing on the demographics of those who identify as atheist. I’ve seen no one present any actual evidence that sexism has any effect, though there is seemingly no end to the speculation that it does.

    And my position on personally conducting research has no bearing on whether or not my suggestion that sexism from the atheist community doesn’t play a role in the demographics is correct or not.

    In fact, nothing in your little post suggests you have the faintest idea what you’re talking about, much less that you’re actually paying attention to the discussion.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    There’s certainly a strange bifurcation in this thread, isn’t there? On the one hand, Mrnaglfar and bbk are arguing that we can’t say anything about the causes of racial or gender imbalance among atheists without extensive scientifically rigorous research, which hasn’t been conducted. On the other hand, they’re sure that these imbalances have “nothing to do” (comment #94) with sexism or racism within the atheist community, so we don’t have to worry about them or take any special action to address them.

    I think that you are aware that even if one woman or a dozen women propose the sexism hypothesis, it’s still nothing more than that. This is the problem that Mrnaglfar has with anecdotal “stories” and appeals to authority of those with minority status.

    It’s not clear to me what you’re asking for, bbk. Even if we conducted a survey of a thousand randomly selected women and found that, say, two-thirds of them had considered atheism but were turned off by sexism in the atheist community, presumably you’d still be saying this doesn’t prove anything, since by your argument, perception of sexism isn’t proof of sexism. Do you deny this? What evidence would you need to see to change your mind?

  • Mrnaglfar

    we can’t say anything about the causes of racial or gender imbalance among atheists without extensive scientifically rigorous research, which hasn’t been conducted

    Not quite: we can speculate about it and propose different hypotheses to test. Until those speculations are borne out by solid empirical research, they’re basically things to shrug your shoulders at and give them a resounding, “I don’t know”.

    On the other hand, they’re sure that these imbalances have “nothing to do” (comment #94) with sexism or racism within the atheist community, so we don’t have to worry about them or take any special action to address them.

    I was hoping my language would carry my tone more adequately than it did. Or maybe you’re just reading something into what I wrote. In any case, to clear the air – since it needs to be cleared it seem – I’ll have no problem accepting the idea that these demographics are the result of the sexism and racism of the atheist community once I see the evidence for it. Right now – in the speculation stage – I see many possible theoretical faults with the suggestion that sexism/racism is the cause of these demographics, and competing alternative hypotheses appear more plausible. I won’t rehash them, since they’re already in my posts. Yes, my suggestions are speculation as well; I can accept that.

    It’s only responsible to demonstrate that sexism/racism really is at work here before anyone starts assuming it is and starts lending suggestions as to how the situation should be fixed. Anecdotes are not enough; simply listing the demographic breakdown is not enough. Suggesting we should be taking “special action” to fix this “problem” already assumes it exists and that the proposed course of action (making the community more welcoming how exactly? By singling out atheists for their race/gender and giving them special status for it?) will fix it.

  • bbk

    Even if we conducted a survey of a thousand randomly selected women and found that, say, two-thirds of them had considered atheism but were turned off by sexism in the atheist community, presumably you’d still be saying this doesn’t prove anything, since by your argument, perception of sexism isn’t proof of sexism. Do you deny this?

    No, I don’t deny it at all. That wouldn’t be very convincing for a number of different reasons.

    What evidence would you need to see to change your mind?

    Something that’s not a self-report survey. May I remind you of your post about the discrepancy in self-reported church attendance? Think about what you’re asking here and all the things that could go wrong with the answers.

    I don’t think it has to be fancy, but it does have to account for some of the real-life issues that are inconsistent with your hypothesis. For example, rate every religion by level of sexism and then compare the actual rate of conversion (self reported or otherwise) to and from vs the level of sexism.

    On the other hand, they’re sure that these imbalances have “nothing to do” (comment #94) with sexism or racism within the atheist community

    Actually, the burden of proof is on you. You may think that it does no harm to allege that sexist men are responsible for some problems, but I think that you haven’t proven it. You’re making an shaky claim and I’m rejecting your evidence. The self reporting seems to me like it goes against every other observable phenomenon (education, social status, growth of atheism overall, etc). Forget about any issue of disparagement of men and just think of it from both a standpoint of activist resources devoted to the issue you’re creating and from a PR standpoint wherein you might be agitating the masses and creating a perception that’s out of line with reality. Just how important is it to you for atheism to be synonymous with feminism, anyway? What if it buys you no additional women but splinters the men? I really don’t think you’ve thought about this, nor care.

  • bbk

    @Ebon

    Do you think that a woman like this (and many of the commenters) would answer a self-report survey accurately?
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jan/15/suzanne-moore-time-to-get-angry

    The levels of bias, bigotry (yes – man-hating), and lack of critical thinking here is appalling. But consider the one commenter who proposes that the rate of male incarceration is proof that men do more bad things than women.** See how demographics can be used to say whatever you want? If there’s a lot of men in jail, it’s because they’re evil. Not because women are privileged or anything like that. But if there’s not a lot of minority atheists – it’s… is it because they’re inadequate? Or? No – it’s because men are bad.

    But even more importantly, try to put aside your knee-jerk impulse to tell me that this article doesn’t represent feminists and just consider the undeniable fact that it does represent some portion of attitudes held by women. Let’s say just 10% of women buy into this woman’s attitudes or are at least influenced by them. Would you still want to put your money on a self-report survey or a collection of anecdotes?

    And now, given that not all feminism is like this article (far from it!), do you really still think that it’s fair to men in general and atheists in particular to proclaim that if we’re atheists, we should support feminism? This is supposed to help our cause (read that article again)?

    If you were an environmentalist, would you think it would help the fight against Global Warming if you said “to fight Global Warming, we should all be feminists. Men are causing the majority of harm to our planet”? I think that what you’re missing here is that while it seems completely harmless to you to try to pander to biases held by women, it can actually be a divisive distraction.

    **Counterpoint to that is the fact that one of the biggest portions of the prison population is there for drug use, but drug use is equal among both sexes. So why are the people going to jail for drugs almost exclusively minority men? Also consider the fact that a survey of court records revealed that men receive tougher sentences than women for the same exact crime. Add to it “crimes” that are exclusively male-oriented that have been created for the benefit of one sex over the other, such as missing child support payments, false rape claims, etc.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    I’m feeling charitable today…

    bbk, can you please clear up something you wrote:

    See how demographics can be used to say whatever you want? If there’s a lot of men in jail, it’s because they’re evil. Not because women are privileged or anything like that. But if there’s not a lot of minority atheists – it’s… is it because they’re inadequate? Or? No – it’s because men are bad.

    [emphasis mine]
    In the bolded part, can you please elaborate on who the “they” is? I’m hoping that the “they” is not “minority atheists” although that could be inferred from the sentence.

    Also, could you explain what is so utterly heinous about the piece you linked? I’m not seeing much there to complain about. The argument seems to mirror the argument that Ebon has with framing – she seems to be saying that feminists need to stop trying to appease everyone and start fighting for their rights. What’s objectionable about that?

  • bbk

    @OMGF,

    Alright, charity begets charity. Why do you hope it’s not minority atheists? That’s exactly what that meant. Of course, the whole thing was clearly sarcastic. That’s because I don’t actually agree with using this type of logic – clearly, I’m arguing against using this line of reasoning. I just pointed out that one could use the same exact reasoning to say anything they want. All that it reveals is the bias of the person making the argument. You’ll have to look in the mirror to see who is doing that. Hope that clarifies things.

    What’s utterly heinous about that piece? Seriously?

    Why is she a feminist? “Because men do horrible, horrible things.”

    What is feminism? “Angry Birds is the name of a game about birds and pigs. It is, as everything is now, an app. But I don’t want an app. I want a movement.”

    Her brand of feminism is about hating men. Nothing more, nothing less. She promotes the angry, hateful rhetoric of bigots like Dworkin and she denounces the ideas of egalitarian feminists as “lacking balls” (huh?). To her, men are pigs, they need to be eviscerated by a bunch of angry birds. Their rights don’t matter. They’re scum. To her, due process does not apply to men – they are guilty in her mind and cannot be proven innocent. I hope this batty woman gets so mad she actually does lay an egg.

    You, of course, don’t see a problem here. Good for you. That’s very revealing about you as a human being and as a male.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Why do you hope it’s not minority atheists? That’s exactly what that meant. Of course, the whole thing was clearly sarcastic. That’s because I don’t actually agree with using this type of logic – clearly, I’m arguing against using this line of reasoning.

    So, just to clarify, you reject both of the options you listed in the dichotomy you set up, correct? Because, I can see how someone could read it differently.

    She promotes the angry, hateful rhetoric of bigots like Dworkin…

    You mean the person she called “batty?” You want to read man-hating into this, and so you do. But, what she’s really doing is making a call for women to stand up and be counted, to speak out, not be deferential and polite. It’s no different than what most of us here are saying about atheism. Atheists need to stand up and be counted, we need to speak out, we need to stop being deferential to theists. When it’s time to fight for equal rights, docile doesn’t cut it whether it’s women or atheists or any other minority. That’s what she’s saying. You completely missed the point of the article, instead wanting to hear her say that she hates men and reading that into it in order to confirm your biases.

  • bbk

    You mean the person she called “batty?” You want to read man-hating into this, and so you do

    You’re dissembling. Here is the full quote in proper context:

    “God, how I miss those troublesome women like Andrea Dworkin and Shulamith Firestone. They may have been as batty as hell but they had passion. And balls. They were properly furious at the horrible things men do to women.”

    Again, her feminism not being about equality but about identity and someone to hate and blame. She fully endorses these women, dismissing their bigotry as some sort of playful eccentricity.

    Dworkin:

    “Under patriarchy, every woman’s son is her betrayer and also the inevitable rapist or exploiter of another woman”

    “Intercourse is the pure, sterile, formal expression of men’s contempt for women”

    “All personal, psychological, social, and institutionalized domination on this earth can be traced back to its source: the phallic identities of men.”

    “Men are distinguished from women by their commitment to do violence rather than to be victimized by it.”

    “Only when manhood is dead – and it will perish when ravaged femininity no longer sustains it – only then will we know what it is to be free. ”

    No, OMGF, nothing “man-hating” about this article or the views that it endorses… Why are you actually trying to defend it, again? It’s sexist trash. You don’t have to – you can still be a feminist even if you disagree with this garbage. On second thought… you also share an uncanny proclivity to attribute things you don’t like to men’s penises. All I was trying to do is point out that attitudes such as this do exist and are being actively promoted even now. So it should make us all pause and think very critically about where it is that women might be getting their impressions about sexism that’s supposedly coming from us.

  • jemand

    “Under patriarchy, every woman’s son is her betrayer”

    Is kind of insightful. The rest is spectacularly bad. I’m trying to figure out if it’s spectacularly bad in the way, say, Rand or Marx or Nietzsche sometimes is, a rather astonishing and surprising kind of wrong which can be eye-opening even as it’s complete bullshit…. or if it’s bad in the way Limbaugh and Beck and Palin or Shafley are, a completely boring wrong nobody with any self respect wants to listen to, not only wrong, but completely *uninteresting.*

    Honestly, she kind of seems like the spectacularly interesting bad, though. What do you think? Tediously boring incorrectness, or astonishingly new, self consistent paradigm which nonetheless is total bullshit?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse
    Even if we conducted a survey of a thousand randomly selected women and found that, say, two-thirds of them had considered atheism but were turned off by sexism in the atheist community, presumably you’d still be saying this doesn’t prove anything, since by your argument, perception of sexism isn’t proof of sexism. Do you deny this?

    No, I don’t deny it at all. That wouldn’t be very convincing for a number of different reasons.

    OK, I’m glad we’re clear on that. Just to restate bbk’s position, it’s that when trying to determine whether there’s sexism against women, the one thing we can never do is ask women. Thanks, I think that’s all we need here.

  • Mrnaglfar

    OK, I’m glad we’re clear on that. Just to restate bbk’s position, it’s that when trying to determine whether there’s sexism against women, the one thing we can never do is ask women.

    While I would be inclined to accept a self-report survey by women who don’t believe in god but don’t identify with the atheist community, let’s not lose sight of the fact that you don’t have that survey.

    While I would be inclined to accept such a self-report survey, it’s also worth making two further notes:
    1) When using self-report measures, there always exists the issue of those self-report measures not being accurate; biases of all sorts will creep into the answers. The questions would need to be asked very precisely to avoid leading people to answer the question one way or the other. What would be particularly convincing would be an open-ended style question that kept independently – one that does not prompt thoughts of sexism or racism – pointing towards perceptions of sexism or racism as a persistent reason women or racial minorities don’t associate with the atheism label.
    2) It’s important to differentiate between results that show a perception of racism/sexism exists, versus results showing actual racism/sexism exists. The former does not always imply the latter. It is a possibility that people can perceive all sorts of things that aren’t actually there, or fail to perceive something that is. There are some people who will see sexism in everything. It is also completely possible that attribution errors could be made; there could be people who don’t want to associate with the atheist community for other reasons, but consciously rationalize their desire to avoid the community – incorrectly – as being because of sexism or racism.

    As I said, I’d be inclined to accept self-report surveys, and I’d be more accepting the sounder their methodology was. But – again – that research does not currently exist, or if it does it hasn’t been presented here. Methodological issues could be better discussed were there actually something to talk about.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    You’re dissembling. Here is the full quote in proper context:

    “God, how I miss those troublesome women like Andrea Dworkin and Shulamith Firestone. They may have been as batty as hell but they had passion. And balls. They were properly furious at the horrible things men do to women.”

    [emphasis mine]
    I’m not dissembling at all. She’s specifically said that she admired their passion. She’s making a call for feminists to be more passionate and outspoken, so she calls forth two who were exactly that. You, of course, decided that she just wants to take liquor and porn away from men.

    On second thought… you also share an uncanny proclivity to attribute things you don’t like to men’s penises.

    Nope, I just call you out for complaining about your white, male persecution.

    I also notice that you didn’t answer my further question about clarifying what you said. Should I assume that you really do feel that minority atheists that simply “suck it up” and come out are inadequate (which is still being more charitable than what you wrote)?

  • bbk

    I also notice that you didn’t answer my further question about clarifying what you said.

    It doesn’t need clarification. You’re dissembling once again in order to get away from an argument that you’ve already lost. “What’s the matter? I couldn’t hear you? Come again?” It’s tiresome.

  • bbk

    As I said, I’d be inclined to accept self-report surveys, and I’d be more accepting the sounder their methodology was. But – again – that research does not currently exist, or if it does it hasn’t been presented here.

    Don’t get me wrong. If there was something sexist, racist, or unethical being perpetrated by the atheist community, I’d want to fix that right away, study or no study. But no one has pointed out anything of the sort. What’s the best that they offered in evidence? An anecdote about a group that said they tried hard to find female speakers, but might be lying? I haven’t seen any anecdote that didn’t beg the question. They’re all evidence of sexism – if there is sexism. And if you disagree with them, then that’s sexism and racism, too.

    So not only is there no scientific study, there really isn’t a convincing anecdote that can’t be explained away by a dozen possible alternatives besides the one they’re professing. That’s why I don’t take seriously these sort of Green Eggs and Ham proposals where I have no reason to assume that I’d be getting anything different than now. Do they proffer that they would do some critical analysis of their own position? If so, why don’t they do that now? I can only assume that they would refuse to address the same exact issues with a self report study that they seem to refuse to address with their anecdotes.

  • bbk

    @jemand

    “Under patriarchy, every woman’s son is her betrayer”

    This quote is the most reasonable of the bunch. It’s still utterly sexist and paints men with a very broad and coarse brush. But I have friends from very traditional families of various cultures – a mother raises her son by teaching him that a woman’s role and greatest reward is “in the home” and then as he grows up, he treats his own mother as a kind of naive simpleton. I’ve seen some mothers reduced to tears because their sons just can’t relate to this and develop a very stymied relationship. An almost inept, dysfunctional relationship where even simple things like “I’m sorry” are awkward and impossible. Their daughters don’t have this problem because the mothers raise them with a sense of sisterhood and oneness.

    So I can see why a person could come to this conclusion, even though it’s wrong. I would put it in the “rather astonishing and surprising kind of wrong which can be eye-opening even as it’s complete bullshit” category.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    It doesn’t need clarification.

    Wow, so you think that minority atheists are inadequate. OK, thanks for all the fish but I think we can all see where you’re coming from now.

  • bbk

    OMGF – you dolt, I’m a minority. My grandparents were orphans who didn’t finish grade school. I went to grade school while growing up in a refugee camp. My family has even been homeless, with 2 adults and 2 children living out of a 2 person tent. English is my third language, the USA my third home. I have refugee status and a green card. So take your dissembling pesky attitude and shove it. You’re disillusioned with masculinity and clearly you hate yourself. That’s the issue here. No one thinks minorities are inadequate, certainly not I, lest you think I think of myself as inadequate.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    You’re a white male, albeit not native to the US, and you have just said that you think minority atheists are inadequate. I asked you to clarify, and you did – re-affirming that you think they are inadequate. Sorry, but you had your chance and you affirmed what I worried you might actually be saying.

    You’re disillusioned with masculinity and clearly you hate yourself.

    On the contrary, I’m fine with who I am. It’s blowhards like you who would rather rant, rave, and accuse others instead of taking even a cursory look at themselves who I dislike. You’re so afraid to even entertain the idea that maybe you aren’t the paragon of rightness that you’ve set yourself up to be that even the mere mention of asking you to question yourself has you up in a tizzy and shouting “man-hater,” “self-hater,” and various other things at anyone and everyone who doesn’t toe your party line. When minority atheists see the ranting and raving that you do, I’m not surprised if some of them walk away with the attitude that there is some racism/sexism in atheism.

  • bbk

    Get real. OMGF, you use anti-male rhetoric that has no place in civilized debate and you claim that this is justified. You dissemble and lie about what other people said or believe. You use cheap rhetorical tricks that are well known among right-wing politicians: keep trying to force your opponent to denounce an inflammatory position that you accuse him of espousing. If your opponent gets sick of you because they see through your petty tricks, you just keep plowing ahead as if it must be all true that they’re bottom-feeder scum. You can keep doing this as long as you want and never actually talk about the damn issues. It’s a cheap ad hominem trick and you’re foolish to have tried it with me.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    OMGF, you use anti-male rhetoric that has no place in civilized debate and you claim that this is justified.

    O’Rly? Point it out.

    You dissemble and lie about what other people said or believe.

    O’Rly? Point it out.

    You use cheap rhetorical tricks that are well known among right-wing politicians

    Like asking you to clarify your position? Or do you mean like slinging around accusations of man-hating?

    If your opponent gets sick of you because they see through your petty tricks, you just keep plowing ahead as if it must be all true that they’re bottom-feeder scum.

    I don’t have to when you discredit yourself.

    You can keep doing this as long as you want and never actually talk about the damn issues.

    On the contrary, you are the one who has constantly avoided the issue and tried to steer the conversation away from the topic in thread after thread. Even this thread is now devolving into your personal flame war because it’s all gotta be about you. That’s what happens when you automatically jump to accusations and name calling when someone disagrees with you. It’s called trolling too.

    It’s a cheap ad hominem trick and you’re foolish to have tried it with me.

    It may be ad hominem to disregard what you say, but I’m pretty OK with that since you’ve pretty much shown yourself to be pretty intolerant of others and I generally don’t care for substantively engaging people like that. Whether it was foolish or not, I’d have to go with no, since I didn’t actually do what you are accusing me of, and you still came out and bared your soul for all to see, and we (or at least I) can see how ugly it really is. Please try some introspection for once.

    Now, can you stop trying to play flame war with me? I’m not interested in it. You’ve indicted yourself, and I don’t want to simply exchange insults. If you continue to attack me I may or may not defend myself as I’ve done here. I don’t expect you’ll actually back up your accusations or retract them when you can’t, but at least have the decency to try to refrain from such unruly behavior.

  • bbk

    O’Rly? Point it out.

    “tell bbk to stop whining about his little white penis all the time”

    O’Rly? Point it out.

    “Should I assume that you really do feel that minority atheists that simply “suck it up” and come out are inadequate ”

    This was in response to a comment that was crystal clear in the first place and had already been clarified for you the first time you tried to twist it.

    I generally don’t care for substantively engaging people like that

    No, you’d much rather troll. Apparently derailing other people’s discussions is a favorite pastime of yours.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    “tell bbk to stop whining about his little white penis all the time”

    Sorry, but that’s not anti-male, it’s simply anti-your-whining.

    “Should I assume that you really do feel that minority atheists that simply “suck it up” and come out are inadequate “

    Which was a question giving you a chance to clarify your views. I was giving you a chance to explain yourself, which apparently shouldn’t be done? I’m rather shocked.

    This was in response to a comment that was crystal clear in the first place and had already been clarified for you the first time you tried to twist it.

    It obviously wasn’t crystal clear…at least because I was trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. You are correct that had I not done so, it was pretty clear. I was simply shocked that you would come out and say something so intolerant. Either way, if someone is asking for you clarification, how does that constitute twisting your words? You have very odd definitions of things.

    Now that that’s done, no need to retract since everyone can see that you didn’t back up your baseless accusations. Now, please go do some self-reflection. We’ll all be better off for it.

    (Prediction: Thread closing in 3…2… – looks like you’ll probably get your wish bbk, that we’ll end up having to not talk about how to make ourselves more accepting to those who are different from us…)

  • bbk

    Dworkin:
    “All personal, psychological, social, and institutionalized domination on this earth can be traced back to its source: the phallic identities of men.”

    OMGF:
    “tell bbk to stop whining about his little white penis all the time”
    “could you explain what is so utterly heinous about the piece you linked”

    Ironically, you call upon me to do some introspection to discover my own sexist attitudes (that you keep trying to put into my mouth for me).

    This, OMGF, is actually really harmful to a productive discussion about women’s and minority issues. You’re introducing a large amount of hateful filth into the debate that no woman or minority here espouses. You espouse it, but you’re actually male. So you, with your crude chivalry, actually set back progress by pretending to represent either group. You don’t. And I just want to make that clear to everyone else – I don’t blame feminists for OMGF.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Ebon,
    I have a suggestion for a further topic of discussion:

    How do we distance ourselves from people who are in the atheist movement but who act in ways that may be off-putting to minority atheists? Hopefully a minority atheist would read this thread and see that the actions/thoughts/words of some are not representative of many/most atheists, but that may not be the case in other fora. I’d really like to hear suggestions of things that I can do or say to help distance ourselves from what I hope is the minority within the atheist community – especially if some of our female/non-white commentors have some ideas on this.

  • bbk

    Ebon has already tried a post like that. It garnered a lot of objections. A lot of the comments objected to the idea of redefining atheism to something more than a simple lack of belief in gods.

    But if you’re looking for suggestions from a minority, then if I may ;-) :

    1) Cut the chivalric sycophancy. Women and minorities don’t need white men to protect them.
    2) Stop employing extremist, bigoted tactics in the name of women and minorities as if it helps their cause rather than harms it.
    3) Stop dismissing the opinion of minorities who don’t agree with your chivalric view of the world.
    4) Stop trying to judge which minorities are more worthy of deference than others, as if you were in the position to arbitrate that.
    5) If you can’t treat your own peers with dignity and reason, then those who aren’t your peers will have serious doubts about your motives for treating them with such deference.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    No, you may not. I’d like serious answers, not projections.

  • jemand

    argh. There are a lot of good points in this discussion. OMGF and bbk have lots of post-sections of lucidity and helpful insights, but I don’t think they’re trying to give each other the benefit of the doubt or look for good things in each other’s points anymore.

    Of course, trying to be a peacemaker like this is a good way to get everyone to hate me lol. Maybe you should try to find something the other person posted that you actually agree with and build off of that for once?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Thanks jemand, but I’m really not interested in what bbk has to say. He’d rather point fingers and make all kinds of accusations and yell and scream. Additionally, the obvious intolerance, projection, and other issues are something that I don’t want to wade into. I’m just not interested in that.

    I would like if you had suggestions for the question I posed in comment #120.

  • jemand

    @OMGF, if you really aren’t interested in what bbk has to say, don’t read the stuff he posts anymore lol. I do that to some people, as well, so I get where you’re coming from but bbk isn’t one of them.

    Anyway, as for your questions in #120,

    “How do we distance ourselves from people who are in the atheist movement but who act in ways that may be off-putting to minority atheists? … I’d really like to hear suggestions of things that I can do or say to help distance ourselves from what I hope is the minority within the atheist community – especially if some of our female/non-white commentors have some ideas on this.”

    Well, I’m one of the women commenting here, though white, so I suppose I could give you what makes me more comfortable. It helps when fighting sexist attitudes sometimes to use social privilege afforded to men to overturn sexism… as in, sometimes the clueless dudes are more likely to hear another guy who says, hey, not cool dude, than take seriously a woman. So, if you see or hear something sexist or racist, call it out. Say, that makes me feel uncomfortable, please don’t do that. Sure, there may be differences of opinion and what you consider sexist some women might not, or you might not see everything that might be sexist… but it helps when women don’t have to call out EVERYTHING.

    On the other hand, when it is in person, it’s usually better to mention and diffuse. I would feel somewhat insecure if one guy says to another, hey dude, not cool, sexism, and then everyone allows it to escalate into a gigantic shit-fest. I’d be afraid someone would get hurt, feel that I could get hurt, feel that my presence might be derailing something that would go better when I wasn’t there, anyway, just not want to see a fight, feel like that itself was a negative example of masculine violence played out. Or something. I’m not necessarily making sense.

    But it’s helpful I think, for someone who is accorded some social privileges, to call out when they see someone else being marginalized… but I think it’s also important to do so in a way which diffuses the situation and makes it safer, rather than more out of control. If there is a particularly troublesome person, who’s combative and leers at all the women and calls non whites racist names and dismisses them etc, it’s best to just try to keep it low-key during the meeting, mention it’s unacceptable behavior, but the real solution is to un-invite them to the next meeting and stick to that.

    Women don’t necessarily like to feel like they are being fought over like some medieval prize for some crusading knight to win, even if the “battle” is being engaged on the field of “claim sexism.” This feeling is much, much worse in person than online, too. It IS nice when the men in a group take sexism seriously and make it a point to remove sexist behavior and attitudes from their own expressions and the groups they like to hang out in… but there is a wrong way to do this, as well.

    At least in my opinion!

  • bbk

    @jemand, well, I think you’ve put a silver lining on this dark cloud. That’s something I’ll willingly agree to as being a shortcoming of male-dominated groups. And there’s no need to look any further than my interactions with OMGF and Ebon… although in my defense I wasn’t doing it to stand up for women, just for myself ;-)

    But it’s so much more complicated in person. Men will run to the defense of women and start fights with other men over the slightest of perceived insults as long as they’re confident that they will overpower and persevere against the man who vicariously slighted them. They’ll take it even further if they’ve had a bad day, if they’re drunk, or if they think it will somehow get them laid. What I love more than anything are the men who pretend to defend women when it’s another dude who screws up in front of females, but when you talk to the same guy with no women around, they harbor incredibly sexist attitudes. They’re just out to stat a fight. Period. But it’s different when, let’s say, your boss said it. Then everyone sits around in an awkward, cowardly silence, looking at the person who was subjected to the derogatory remark to see if she’ll stand up for herself. And you can’t really un-invite your boss from the next meeting. Then everyone quietly goes up to the woman one by one and talks about how wrong the boss was and how they’re just itching to really, really do something about it. But never do. It’s all fangs and no bite when they see a little bit of muscle under the other guy’s sleeve.

    I think it would be helpful if women poked some fun at chivalric men, too, because it’s also not fun for men to have to fight over each other’s chivalry all the time. I think that chivalry is a slightly different issue than sexism in the sense that none of the parties involved necessarily hate women, but they all try to win a woman’s favor in a way that can make her uncomfortable. And because women themselves, even feminists, often encourage chivalry and reward chivalrous males. I fully support the notion that chivalry is a big issue among atheist men, but I don’t see that the same as being sexist or racist.

  • jemand

    yeah… everything’s more complicated when it’s humans trying to get laid. After all, sex predates religion and atheism by what, several billion years?

    But the guy who’s trying to stop sexism in front of me just to get into my pants or some female friend’s pants is probably one of the most annoying characters I can think of, and honestly, he’s not usually as subtle as he might think he’s being, either. Anyway, one of the best things I think men who want to stick up for women can do is to call out sexism and stand up for equality when they happen to be in all male groups. Because this way you can make the guy who’s really sexist but tries to hide it around women a bit more uncomfortable hanging out with you, and then maybe less likely to keep showing up when you *are* socializing with your female friends. It also is something women can’t possibly do for themselves, and so a way to help your female friends stay safe, especially if he happens to be the kind of guy who IS very subtle and can hide his proclivities for awhile, long enough at least to possibly get her into a dangerous situation.

    And I totally hear you about chivalry… and it is a bit more complicated because chivalry often is all mixed up in polite behavior and it is considered incredibly rude to object to aspects of it or manifestations of chivalry even if it makes you exceedingly uncomfortable or you can see it making someone else uncomfortable. However, polite behavior *can* be helpful especially for in-person groups, since following accepted social codes can reassure people that future interpersonal interaction is a bit more predictable than otherwise. However, when these codes of behavior are predicated on chivalry ONLY, and not on the intersection of traditional norms or chivalry and actual interpersonal *respect,* it can do more harm than good.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Thanks Jemand – that’s very similar to other things I’ve heard in different fora. (And, as a note, I kinda felt like I was calling out the sexism/racism that was happening in this thread.)

  • JAC

    Professional sports teams do not pointedly recruit more white players for the purpose of “diversity.” There’s no reason to do the same for atheists who are black or of any other race. Increasing attention on one group decreases attention on another group. Just keep this about atheism, and let the other pieces fall into place as they will.

  • bbk

    @JAC I think that’s a pretty bad analogy. Professional sports teams have a long history of discrimination and struggle for minorities and atheism has no such history – it has quite the opposite history, for example atheist Abolitionists. And I don’t see how trying to get people from outside of a tightly-knit social group to come out as atheists would in any way take away from a strict focus on atheism. How? That’s not what I have a problem with. I have a problem with people who read into things, assume malice where there is none, and try to address critics with an unquestioning appeasement. I have a problem with people who immediately deffer to Multiculturalism or Feminism whenever diversity is brought up, which is where I draw the line between a strict focus on atheism and a surrender to ideologies which have nothing to do with atheism. I see it as a cop-out. You can be a feminist or a multiculturalist, and that’s peachy, but you shouldn’t try to force other atheists to adopt those points of view and proclaim that anyone who would rather think critically through the problems on their own, as an atheist rather than as something else, is an enemy of all minorities.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X