Atheism has a sexism problem and we all need to help fix it

Atheism has a sexism problem and we all need to help fix it August 29, 2015

A popular atheist recently asked why his fans are mostly men on his Facebook page. The comments on that post were rife with sexism and pseudoscience on how women are too emotional and not rational enough for atheism. There were also attacks on feminism as well. Hopefully, this male atheist learned exactly why more women do not follow him as many atheist spaces are filled with sexism and misogyny.


That Facebook post is just one example as sexism in the atheism community has been well documented. Yes, sexism is everywhere, but we can and should address the sexism within our community. We as atheists are already a minority. We already face stigmas and discrimination. The last thing we need is to fight each other and think half of the population is inferior and not worthy of atheist-ing. I’m not asking for every male atheist to become a perfect feminist overnight or ever since no one will ever be totally free from their biases. However, we all (especially the men) can come together and make a concerted effort to fight sexism when we encounter it.

I’m sure there are many male atheists who are not sexist assholes; however, when men do not challenge sexism, they send a message that they are tacitly approving it. When men see sexism going on, we should take advantage of our privilege and call it out. It’s easier for men to call out sexism because we do not receive rape threats for merely voicing our opinions like women do. Instead of just dismissing the vile sexism throughout our community as mere trolls, we should have the courage to admit that we have a widespread sexism problem.

Atheist men can definitely call out sexism when we see something, but we can also actively listen to the experiences of women instead of assuming that we know what it’s like. We as atheists should be able to relate to discrimination even if we have both white and male privilege. Think about how annoying it is when Christians tell us that atheists face no discrimination and theists are actually being persecuted. It is equally absurd to say women do not face systematic discrimination. We all can and should do better.

[Featured image from xkcd]

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  • $136305622

    Great post! I am often baffled by the sexism among atheists online. I guess it goes to show you that there is no direct correlation* between sexist attitudes and religious belief. Assholes come in all “creeds”.

    *EDIT – changed “connection” to “direct correlation” – that was the original intent.

    • Richard Sanderson

      No. It does not show you there is NO connection between sexist attitudes and religious belief. Plenty of ex-religious people, women, will tell you sexism can stem directly from religious belief, and actual passages in Holy books used to back it up.

      Of course, it does not mean non-religious people can’t be sexist. That’s because there are numerous sources for sexism, inside religion and outside of it.

      • $136305622

        EXcellent point – I re-read my statement and realized I was not saying exactly what I meant. I have edited it and thank you VERY much for pointing out this problem with the way I phrased it! I typed the original too quickly 🙂

  • Brace yourself; MRAtheists are coming.

    • $136305622

      What is an MRAtheist?

      • It’s a term I coined myself. It’s a combination of MRA (men’s rights activist) and atheist.

        • $136305622

          Ahh – I don’t know why I did not see that!! Thank you.

        • Rod_E_Kelly

          Your mother must be proud!

        • Eshto

          You’re doing very important things.

        • whatever

          Brilliant! You should become a hashtag activist as classic Suey Park did!

    • AliKat

      Please tell me you are joking and MRAtheists do not come to Patheos. I have yet to see one here, though I have seen them elsewhere online.

      • Now that you’ve mention it, they mostly hang out on Reddit, YouTube, and the Slymepit. One or two have popped up in the Patheos comment section, though.

        • yazikus

          I can think of at least one that shows up fairly regularly at FA to bemoan his ladyless state, and also tell us why women are terrible. Also, anti-harassment policies at atheist conferences. I shall not name him here, lest he is summoned.

        • AliKat

          Good to know that they are uncommon here even if they sometimes do show up, and I was already put off from visiting their most common habitats.

      • ahermit

        Oh they turn up anywhere. All you have to do is say “Rebecca Watson” three times and they’ll swarm the place…

  • Tailored

    Thank you.

  • Lilandra Ra

    Thanks for this.

    • yazikus

      Has your blog gone live yet? I didn’t see it on the front page yet. Hope you are enjoying the new digs!

      • Lilandra Ra

        Yes it has. We love it! Aron is having a ball arguing with theists. Lots of useful space for all our projects too.

  • Ann Kah

    This is just a hypothesis, but I think that the vocal, overt atheists tend to be young…..and possibly that equates to “less social polish”. That’s the most courteous way I can translate a cruder terminology.

    • yazikus

      I think this is a part of it, but not all of it. Your comment makes me think of a young woman I know who was recently de-converted and introduced to all sorts of social justice ideas. In a very well meaning way, she was lecturing two middle aged Latinas about what appropriation and colonialism were all about. I cringed for her, but I have no doubt she’ll come around in time. The hubris of youth is usually short lived. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a sexism problem aside from that.

  • Leloi

    The ironic part is that the same exact arguments used in religion as to why women are “different” are the same arguments used by certain atheists I shall not name. “Wired differently!” To that I often link in the YouTube video of Neil deGrasse Tyson explaining the barriers and discouragement that keep minorities from pursuing STEM. “Wired differently” pops up there too.

  • whatever

    The situation is pretty bad, but not as bad as you think.

    Looks like FTB is heading down the tubes so soon as PZMyers exits atheism, a lot of sexist bullshit will exit atheism with him.

    • In what way is Myers sexist?(I’m sure the answer will be…interesting.)

      • Eshto

        How’s the rock. Has living under it been comfy for you?

        • Seems I was right. I got an interesting answer. An entirely unhelpful one, but interesting.

          • Richard Sanderson

            Have you read Michael Nugent’s numerous expose pieces on PZ Myers, fully citated and documented? BTW, do you post at Pharyngula, because his “horde” tend to be very protective of ‘Dear Leader’?

            Are you aware of the allegation made against him?

          • ahermit

            I think we’re all aware of your obsession Richard. This isn’t about you or Myers.

  • Debbie Robinson

    Well said. The first time I found atheism online I was shocked to see how nasty it was and sexist. The assumption that the world would be better off without religion … made me seriously question that assumption. Was relieved when I found other secular groups online.

    • Richard Sanderson

      Atheists have worldviews. Atheism itself is simply a lack of belief in a God. The world WOULD be a better place if people subscribed to liberal, secular humanism, rather than religion. Nothing at all to do with atheism.

      Atheism is a just a confusing label that means different things to different people.

      • ahermit

        Does that mean we should just shut up and accept sexism in atheist organizations?

  • smrnda

    what I find odd about the sexism. On one had you have atheist men who go the ‘atheism is just more of a guy thing’ along with the idea that the reason this is is because men are ‘rational’ and women are ’emotional’ or something. But if that’s the reason, then you’d think any woman who was an atheist or wanted to become active in atheism would get a big (and possibly patronizing) welcome. Seems more just hostility against women.

    • It is just hostility, or seems very much so. There are plenty of women atheists. It’s just that we tend to not need to grab large scale attention away from the sexist men & the non-sexist ones tend to not mind sharing the spotlight. In other words, there are atheist sexist jerks, just like there are Christian ones. Not really surprising…

  • Because conservative Christianity is so extremely misogynistic, people automatically assume that it’s opposite (?!?!?) must be completely non-misogynistic.

    In reality, there is no reason for this and there are plenty of sexist atheists. That’s not exactly unexpected. Mostly because the category, ‘atheists’ includes *everybody* who doesn’t fall into the category of, “believes in a deity as the ultimate cause”. Which means it includes a lot of the jerks, too, if only by accident of upbringing.

  • There’s a reason I use a pseudonym

  • Eshto

    What’s this facile elevatorgate nonsense, I thought you were smarter than this. You’re linking to BuzzFeed tabloid garbage about Michael Shermer and calling it documentation?

    Maaaatt. No. Stop this. This is trash. You can do better.

    • ahermit

      Stop whining.

  • Skeptical Calvanist

    I think too many Atheists have bought into the idea that somehow they are automatically smarter and more moral than Fundamentalist Christians. Unfortunately, this is no more correct than the Christians who think that everyone else is deluded; quoting Mark 4:12 – “seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.”

    In theory Atheism should make people easier to convince because they aren’t holding to the baggage of dogma. In practice, it seems that many MRAs and radical Feminists have made their activism a centerpiece of their worldview, and are just as dogmatic about it as any religious person is about their religion.

    Now while I don’t agree with everything that fits under the large umbrella of Feminist thought, I agree that Feminism is a good thing in general and certainly not the cause of the problems men face today.

  • Sally Strange

    It gets to the question that is constantly posed to atheists who are active in the movement: “What is the atheist movement for??”

    If it’s just a club to let already privileged people congratulate each other about being smarter than the rubes then sexism in atheism isn’t a problem and it’s incumbent on nobody to fight against it.

    If it’s a movement for social change, then presumably the goal is to make actual human beings have better experiences, all things being equal, over the course of their lives–and thus in this case, sexism in the atheist movement represents a dangerous failure of vision and a derailment from reaching the goal.

    What is your atheist movement for?

    • Michelle589

      Part of my decision of not believing in gods was in part not to be part of any philosophical group, and not to fall into a non-religious religion. As for social change, that doesn’t always have to have a religious or non-religious element to it. Stepping on other peoples necks to get your point across can be very ineffective.

      • Sally Strange

        Part of my decision of not believing in gods was in part not to be part
        of any philosophical group, and not to fall into a non-religious

        I’m not sure what this means. You didn’t want to be a part of some particular groups. OK. I don’t really understand how you define those groups though, so it doesn’t tell me much about your actual reasons for giving up god-belief.

        As for social change, that doesn’t always have to have a
        religious or non-religious element to it.

        Well… inasmuch as all things can be classified “religious” or “non-religious,” this is a false statement. If what you mean to say is that not all social change movements focus around religion or atheism, then, yes, obviously, but what is your point?

        Stepping on other peoples
        necks to get your point across can be very ineffective.

        It can also be very effective, as long as you have institutional power to back you. Again, what is your point?

  • Richard Sanderson

    The Atheism/Skepticism DID have a big problem with abusive bullies trying to hector people out of the movement, but most of these have been sidelined. The remaining few pro-harassers are scattered over at sites such as Pharyngula and Skepchick. These sites recently had another one of its purges, over TRANS issues, where another one of their bullies, Ophelia Benson, was thrown under the bus by a mob of angry harassers, because she was not PURE enough! OB was formerly part of the FreeThoughtBlogs network, where a lot of abuse in the movement originated. There has also been at least TWO bloggers at FTB who have had serious sexual assault allegations made against them. Also, several sites at FTB defend and justify a self-confessed child rapist who posts there regularly. This has severely dented challenges to tackle abuse and sexism in the A/S movement. But like I say, the likes of FTB have become irrelevant, and have very little influence in the movement. If you want more information, I’d recommend Michael Nugent’s numerous exposes of PZ Myers, and Hemant Mehta’s critical take.

    Thankfully, the atheist/skeptic movement is slowly ridding the toxic SJWs from the movement. They try to organise their own events (#sswwork for example), but these events flop and attract very few people outside of their own, and there is NO diversity at these events whatsoever.

    Meanwhile, TAM was a very successful event, free of the hostility and SJW dogma that so damages community cohesion and turns off women, non-whites, etc. from attending. The A/S movement needs to be a place where liberal, progressive views can flourish. The FTB/SJW axis stifle that with their bullying and abuse. However, we are winning…

    • Ace_of_Sevens

      If you leave out facts and just report the controversy, you make it sound very different. Remember how we feel about that when creationism is covered that way?

    • ahermit

      Way to rewrite history there Sanderson…

      But it’s not about you and your hate-on.

  • Edward Gemmer

    Atheism does have a problem with how its members treat people. For example, Greta Christina leads long discussions about shunning people and called on Richard Dawkins to apologize for talking about being molested as a child. This type of behavior is gross. It is tolerated in the community because every type of terrible behavior is tolerated in the community, not there is much community left.
    People are becoming more atheist and more secular. The “community” continues to turn off women, men, white people, black people, and every type of person.

    • ahermit

      Oh right, objecting to sexism is so much worse than the actual sexism…

      • Edward Gemmer

        Who said you can’t object to sexism?

        • ahermit

          Nobody. I’m just always amazed at the way some people spend so much time and effort looking for reasons to complain about the people who are speaking out against sexism. In a thread about sexism wouldn’t it be more constructive to talk about sexism instead of whining because someone wasn’t sufficiently deferential to Ricard Dawkins?

  • alwayspuzzled

    There is overlap between Christian fundamentalism and atheist fundamentalism. If the blogs and comments on Patheos are typical (of course, there may be some self-selection taking place), many (but clearly not all) fundamentalists (Christian and atheists) are driven by an overpowering need to be superior. They only differ in their choice of how to achieve superiority. For the Christian fundamentalist it is faith, or most often pseudo-faith. For the atheist fundamentalist it is reason, or most often pseudo-reason. Fundamentalist men (Christian or atheist) have the better deal, because they can feel superior to everybody on the other side and to the women on their own side. Fundamentalist women can only feel superior to the other side

  • Robert Templeton

    Eugenie Scott is rather awesome and the director of the NCSE.