Why I’m a Feminist First

Remember when I asked which you would find more rage inducing—a patriarchal atheist or a patriarchal Christian? Well, I have a bit of an update. In that very short post—more a conversation starter than a post, really—I offered this quote from a male atheist named Jesse Powell:

When I look at the relentlessly deteriorating family situation so obvious in the world around us today my conclusion regarding the source of this disaster is that American family life is being destroyed because of our willful disobedience against the natural order of relations between men and women. To put it simply; men are to provide for and protect women and women have obligations to obey men. Each individual man in turn has an obligation to obey the social rules that men as a collective decide upon for the community.

Some of you invoked Poe’s Law, arguing that this must be a parody, and others suggested that he was perhaps a ruse created by patriarchal Christians. I can’t say for sure that Jesse Powell is not a parody or a ruse, but he has resurfaced on a site titled, strangely enough, the Feminine Mystique. The site’s byline is “A Voice for Women” and it endorses “Traditional Women’s Rights Activism.”

In his piece, titled “The Atheist Case for Patriarchy,” Powell begins by responding to my post, makes his case for patriarchy, and then finishes as follows:

Patriarchy is consistent with evolutionary theory, it is a perfectly sound and reasonable basis for organizing society, and it is supported by a vast amount of statistical evidence.  Feminism on the other hand is only supported by empty assertions and wishful thinking that men and women despite all their obvious differences are in fact functionally the same.  Patriarchy is completely rational and consistent with the atheist’s reliance upon logically defensible models of reality and supporting empirical evidence.  It is feminism that is irrational and dependent upon magical thinking and superstitious faith in “gender equality” to be maintained.  I don’t personally care about how much “rage” I generate among atheist feminists; as an atheist I only care about where the evidence leads and objective reality.  The evidence supports patriarchy, this is why I as an atheist support patriarchy; it is as simple as that.

And this, if I may say, is why my identity as a feminist is so much more important to me than my identity as an atheist: Though I have seen people try to make the case, I don’t think atheism automatically leads to feminism. There are plenty of atheists out there who claim to be using “logic” and “reason” in their “refutations” of feminism. Sure, the vast majority of them don’t go anywhere near as far as Powell does, but Powell’s use of evolutionary psychology to defend the male-leader/female-nurturer dichotomy and other aspects of patriarchy is, in my experience at least, disappointingly widespread among male atheists  This is a whole different blog post, but perhaps this is why I found that this statement by feminist blogger Melissa McEwan resonated with me strongly:

I would say I felt exactly as welcome in movement atheism as I did at my Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, but that would be a lie. No one at St. Peter’s ever called me a stupid c*** because I disagreed with them.

My experience hasn’t been as negative as Melissa’s, and I’ve known many atheist bloggers and activists, both female and male, who are as passionately feminist as I am. But I’m still keenly aware that atheist does not equal feminist, and also that atheism is all too often sexist, classist, and imperialist. Because of this, I’m simply not as comfortable among atheists as I am among feminists. But then, I also I don’t think that the disappearance of religion would mean the end of things like sexism, or classism, or imperialism, or that one has to fight religion as a whole (as opposed to fighting specific religious beliefs) to fight these things, so I would rather focus primarily on feminist issues anyway.

Feel free to talk about whatever you like in the comments—if you want to you can refute Powell’s piece, or you can talk about your own experiences with the nexus of atheism and feminism, etc.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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