On being an Atheist AND a Feminist

On being an Atheist AND a Feminist December 22, 2011

When I named this blog, I chose to call it “Love, Joy, Feminism” and not “Love, Joy, Atheism” for a reason. I knew that I would be blogging about leaving fundamentalist and evangelical religion as well as blogging about leaving patriarchy, but I felt – and still feel – that my feminism is more important to me than my atheism. I thought about it and realized that I identify more – a great deal more – with a religious feminist than an sexist atheist. Fortunately, the main atheist bloggers I follow (The Friendly Atheist, Pharlyngula, and Blag Hag) are all also very feminist, as have been most atheist I have met and know today. Unfortunately, as I was reminded last week. that is not always the case.

Christopher Hitchens died last week. He was a prominent atheist writer, speaker, and thinker, and I did admire him in many ways. A new word was coined in his honor – “hitchling: a child void of religious indoctrination who is encouraged to read broadly and to seek the truth unapologetically” – and I very much want to apply this epithet on my young daughter. There’s a problem, though. Christopher Hitchens was sexist and anti-feminist.

Hitchens said that women aren’t able to be funny the way men are (i.e. comedians) because of their evolutionary development, without even thinking about the fact that we are socially conditioned and not simply products of evolution as well as the fact that his statement is rapidly becoming false anyway.

Hitchens said that women should raise children while men should work because women naturally know how to be mothers while men have no clue what to do with babies, without even thinking about the fact that this is also a result of social conditioning, and is today more and more no longer true.

Christopher Hitchens opposed abortion, making the conversation about “the unborn child” rather about ability of women to control their bodies and their reproduction, and only grudgingly said IUDs were acceptable.

Christopher Hitchens openly mocked feminists, and definitely did not count himself as one of them in any way. The line that takes the cake is this: “I’m not having any woman of mine go to work.” No. Just, no.

It is hard to admire Hitchens’s writing on atheism while being so abhorred by his ignorance and misogyny when it comes to women. Perhaps it is so difficult because the two positions – atheism and feminism – are both so important to me and to who I am. And so, someone like Hitchens makes me feel very torn.

And as long as we’re on the subject of sexist atheists, it’s not just Hitchens. Several months ago at a skeptics conference a woman named Rebecca Watson found herself in an uncomfortable situation with a male attending the conference, and spoke of it the next day, without giving a name, as an illustration in her talk on bringing women’s issues into atheist conferences and groups. The result was that many in the atheist community turned on her, calling her all sorts of sexist names and even threatening her with rape. The atheist blog world was alive with this controversy for weeks. Richard Dawkins himself chimed in, speaking out against Rebecca Watson.

The reality is that the atheist community is today and has long been mainly made up of white males. This is changing, fortunately, and we now see prominent atheist blogs like The Friendly Atheist and Blag Hag. Pharyngula frequently speaks on women’s issues as well, and this year the first skeptic conference made up entirely of women is being held.

Sometimes I get so tired of battling sexism with religious roots that it’s disheartening to have to fight it within atheism as well. I’m encouraged that progress is being made, and it is, but confused that we even have to have this conversation. It does make a point, though: sexism may at times be fed by religion, but it does not find its root origin in religion.

And that, readers, is why I titled my blog “Love, Joy, Feminism.” When it comes down to it, I hold my belief in gender equality more highly than I do my lack of belief in a God. When it comes down to it, I would much rather live in a world of religious feminists than a world of sexist atheists. Fortunately, I can be both, and I have many friends and acquaintances who are both atheists and feminists as well. But as Hitchens’ death reminded me, the two don’t always go together.

Rest in peace, Christopher Hitchens. I admire your thoughts on atheism and religion, but I think your thoughts on gender and women were complete and total bullshit, and I hold them in extreme disdain.

And as for the term hitchling? To be honest, I’m not sure I can see past the sexism of the man in whose honor it was coined. My daughter is indeed being raised without religious indoctrination and is indeed being encouraged to read and think broadly, but she’s also being taught that her lack of a penis should be no limit to her potential. And if I had to hold one more important than the other, it would most definitely be the second, not the first.

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