Libby Anne, a fellow Patheos blogger at Love, Joy, Feminism, wrote a great piece about how some atheists seem to care selectively about sexism. She writes:
…I have felt for some time that atheist activists are frequently only willing to call out sexism when they see it in religion. It’s one more way they can point to how thoroughly horrible religion is as they call for its demise. But the moment an atheist woman says she has encountered sexism at atheist conventions or at atheist gatherings, she is lampooned and derided, called all manner of names and even threatened with rape or death. But isn’t this the kind of thing these same atheists criticize religion for?
She goes on to say:
Frankly, I feel used. These atheist activists are the sort of people who want to use my story as proof that religion is horrible to women but aren’t willing to listen to what I have to say about sexism in our culture at large. They are the sort of people who are eager to use the shooting of young education activist Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban to prove how horrible religion is for women but somehow fail to mention that Malala is a Muslim who speaks of drawing her inspiration to fight for gender equality from the Koran. This is not standing up for women. This is exploiting women as merely a tool in a fight against religion.
Stories like this is why I often feel skeptical of atheists who are exceptionally vigorous about the evils of religion, especially if they’re relatively silent about other harms in the world. It comes across as extremely disingenuous if abuse only seems to matter when it can be used to attack religion, and this attitude seems to extend more broadly than sexism.
I’ve heard from ex-fundamentalists who only seem welcomed in atheist circles if they’re speaking negatively about their past faith. Any ex-fundamentalists who seem to recognize the good as well as bad in their religious backgrounds have trouble finding spaces that welcome them. I’ve heard from LGBTQ friends who have had their homosexuality thrown in their faces so someone[1. let’s be real, it’s almost always a straight, white man] can criticize them for not being more critical of, not just fundamentalist religions (which would be exploitative enough), but religion full stop.
You don’t care about women if you only talk about sexism to criticize Islam. You don’t care about LGBTQ rights if you only talk about homophobia to criticize evangelical Christians. You don’t care about black people if you only talk about racism to score points against the Bible. Part of being inclusive of underrepresented groups is not treating them like tools to wield to so you can prove your point.
NPS contributor Dean Roth wrote about this at length at Queereka:
We aren’t your spectacle, we aren’t your token “saved fundamentalists who saw the light.” LGBTQ people aren’t “so lucky” that we left our “oppressive” or “unwelcoming” religious communities and “found atheism.” Writing our stories for us along this narrative without giving us space to tell them ourselves tells us that you don’t truly value our voices. . .
Your one transgender panel speaker is great, but you haven’t maxed out yet. Keep going. And stop promoting ex-believers as your poster children for atheism (unless that person is willing to take that responsibility of their own volition, like Nate Phelps). Stop pointing at Muslimish or Beyond Faith or Women in Secularism as proof that people can “overcome” oppressive religion and join the “right side.” A lot of us don’t see ourselves that way, and we would appreciate it if instead of trying to use us as pawns in your fight to “win” against religion and prove that you can offer something better just by the sheer fact that we exist, you would offer us space to heal, to talk to our peers, to share our own experiences in our own time and in our own way. If you truly care for people who are leaving religion and looking for a community of nonbelievers that will embrace them, be kind and patient and let us create the parameters and spaces that work for us. Don’t assume that you’ve done a better job than religious communities just because marginalized people who happen to be nonbelievers exist. We need more.