In Support of Feminism and Diversity: Atheists Speak Out

Last month, I created a petition calling on atheists to show their support for feminism and diversity. That petition, with more than 2,000 signatures, was delivered to the leaders of the largest atheist and secular organizations in time for the HEADS meeting at the end of January. I think it’s served its purpose, although I’m not planning to close it soon; anyone who still wants to add their name is welcome to do so.

The petition also attracted over 400 comments from people who wanted to further explain why they were signing. Most of these comments were excellent, and I want them to be seen more widely. In this post and over the coming weeks, I’ll be spotlighting some of my favorites.

I’m signing this petition because my skepticism guides my entire life, not just my opinion on religion. I am also skeptical about my society’s treatment of women and other previously marginalized groups, and the same values that make me question religious dogmas make me oppose the misogyny of today.
—Alexander Abbott

I am an atheist woman, I have two atheist daughters, one of our closest relatives is an atheist lesbian, and our family + a large part of the extended family are language minority atheists. This is directly about us: are we a part of this community or not?
—Ronja Addams-Moring

God is not needed for ethics. Social justice is part of ethics. Feminism is part of social justice.
—Manuel Garcia

Harassment, bullying and other exclusionary behavior are contrary to secular and humanistic ideals. We’re already a small minority. Deliberately alienating like-minded people is not only wrong, but also stupid.
—John Wathey

Simple. Because it is the right thing to do. Because in my opinion, the goals of A+ are laudable and will do pretty damned much to enrich the atheist/skeptic community, in contrast to the harassers’ efforts.
—A R

I have been interested in possibly attending some of these conferences, but as a woman I feel quite nervous and anxious about attending considering all the reports of harassment.
—Elizabeth Ocon

Because I consider myself a longstanding member of the community of atheists, skeptics and nonbelievers, and I want to be able to continue so to consider myself. Because I don’t want to see any more women driven away. Because I’m one of the targets of bullying, harassment and threats, and I do not enjoy it, and I know the other targets do not enjoy it either.
Ophelia Benson

Because this is one of the last acceptable prejudices in existence today, along with atheophobia itself. We in the freethought community cannot call ourselves progressive or enlightened in any sense while allowing these issues to go unaddressed.
—Heriberto Rosario

As the President of a Humanist organization and a feminist that has been on the receiving end of a sustained campaign of vicious harassment simply because I had the audacity to speak up, it is imperative that we stand as a community against this behavior.
EllenBeth Wachs

Anti-feminism and anti-diversity movements are about hate. Aside from the strong correlation between religiosity and these opinions, any movements or organization *must* repudiate hate in order to have any moral authority or validity.
—Sasha Pixlee

It is frankly absurd that this even needs to be said but plainly it does; we white heterosexual males are not the totality of the atheist movement, we aren’t even an especially important part of it. We are all in this together, and any person or portion that privileges a part of our movement over the whole does us all a disservice.
—Brian Murtagh

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.

  • Steven Carr

    The question is – why do atheists and sceptics harrass women in the atheist movement so much that they are often forced out, or forced to be quiet?

  • Steven Carr

    To echo one of the commentators ‘I have been interested in possibly attending some of these conferences, but as a woman I feel quite nervous and anxious about attending considering all the reports of harassment.’

    Who would go to a conference when they know they will be harrassed and bullied?
    I can declare that I wouldn’t go , if that was the sort of treatment that would be handed out to me.

  • Chris

    Stephen, I think there are two answers – The easy one: Too many atheists are misogysts. The hard one: Too many atheists are misogynsts because…?

    It’s the “Five Whys” principle – keep asking questions until you get to the bottom of it. Atheism as a movement has a misogyny problem. Is it because of the “boys’ club” level of gender disparity at conventions? Is it because the people who happened to start organizing first also happened to be misogynsts and built the movement for themselves? If there’s a trend that marks the answer to “Why are there so many misogynists in atheism?”, then we can move onto the next why.

    It’s good to make interim steps in the mean time, but we’ve got to keep pushing for the root cause so we can get rid of it.

  • http://www.noforbiddenquestions.com NFQ

    On the “why” issue: I’ve been one of few women in a number of activities I’ve participated in, including my chosen field of study/work. I think it’s safe to say that atheism doesn’t have an unusually high number of misogynists or prejudiced people of other stripes, compared to any other demographic subgroup — it’s just that we do have them, and we’ve started to actually stand up and take notice of the problem. So often we have the moral high ground, it didn’t even cross most atheists’ minds before.

    Maybe it’s the internet, maybe it’s a combination of modern technologies making the world a smaller place in general … but I think we’re also interacting with each other more often than atheists did (or were able to) in the past. That comes with some stark reminders about the human condition. I know I often assume that atheists are deeply intelligent, logical people who appreciate science, philosophy, and the quest for knowledge — because that’s what made me an atheist. (Cough. Guess that sounds a little conceited, but oh well. Try to look past that and see my point.) The thing is, not everyone who shares some trait with each of us shares all other traits too. Many atheists are logical, many atheists appreciate scientific thinking, many atheists want to make the world a better place for all us humans enjoying our all-too-short time alive here … but sadly those things don’t all necessarily go together.

  • Steven Carr

    ‘I think it’s safe to say that atheism doesn’t have an unusually high number of misogynists or prejudiced people of other stripes, compared to any other demographic subgroup …’

    Really?

    The report said that women in atheist/skeptical movements had far more bad experiences than women in religious groups.

    Perhaps this is a cultural thing. Living in the UK, I am simply ignorant of what happens in secular meetings in the US.

    I also only rarely go to secular meetings in the UK. On the couple of occasions I did, the male/female ratio seemed to about 2:1. Also, on the couple of meetings I went to, the agenda was not related to issues facing women at all. One meeting was a talk about science.

  • Adam Lee

    The report said that women in atheist/skeptical movements had far more bad experiences than women in religious groups.

    True, but women have always had strong-to-majority representation in the rank and file of religious groups (even if men hold the majority of institutional power). I think the better comparison is to other cultures and communities that have long been male-dominated and are starting to become more mainstream and diverse: science, coding, comics, sci-fi and fantasy, to name a few. In all those, there’s similar turmoil, similar instances of ugly sexism and harassment, and similar stories of men denying, minimizing and excusing that harassment.

    It’s plainly happening because some men in those cultures feel threatened by the idea of women gaining numbers and power, but why they should react in that way, I don’t know. I had hoped that atheists, having had long experience with unjust treatment from a religious majority, would easily grasp the arguments for why we should oppose unequal treatment based on gender. And to be fair, I think many have, but certain parts of the community have dug in their heels against the idea. It may well be that people come to atheism for different reasons, and the people who are defending sexism are those who only became atheists because they liked the idea of feeling smarter and thus superior to everyone else – hence their angry reaction to suggestions that they should behave in a more egalitarian way.

  • Steven Carr

    Adam is correct. Harrassment and misogyny are widespread in the atheism/skeptical movements.

    Many men in the atheist/skeptical movement only want to discuss issues related directly to men. This is not an inclusive way of proceeding.


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