Freethinking for Dummies

Skepticism, secular humanism, social issues

Atheism and Gender Equality (or lack thereof)

I read a guest blog post at Blag Hag by Sharon Moss, President of the Humanist Community of Central Ohio with Lyz Liddell, Director of Campus Organizing at the Secular Student Alliance, about their experience at the American Atheists’ Southeast Regional Atheist Meet in Huntsville, Alabama. In it, they explain the sexism they encounter while there.

What is ironic is that the sexist attitudes were most evident at a panel about how atheist organizations can attract more women. I’ll let them explain in their own words:

A panel of five guys and one woman discussed what an atheist group should do to attract more women. The all-too-common problem came up of a woman showing up to a meeting and every dude there hitting on her. First, the panelists grabbed a theme that had been floating around all weekend: that men hitting on women is just biological (therefore excusable), making it sound like a woman in that kind of situation should just STFU and get over it.

Then the moderator asked the women in the audience, as if it were a rewording of the same question, whether they would feel harassed or flattered if they showed up to an event and a few guys started flirting with them. We women in the audience, pressured to respond to the question at hand but feeling duped because we knew it wasn’t the same thing, gave an honest response. Sure, a few guys flirting with us is sexy. BUT!!! (we all screamed in our heads, even though the panel never let us say it out loud) 20 guys our father’s age blatantly staring at and talking to our cleavage is a totally different situation! It’s not sexy, it’s gross and creepy.

It was extremely frustrating. So I wasn’t surprised when the young woman who finally stood up and started challenging the panel snapped. First, despite her having her hand raised for most of the discussion, the panel never even acknowledged her or invited her opinion (despite soliciting the opinion of several guys both on and off the panel. Finally, she just stood up and started shouting to make her voice heard. Her question focused on the language the panel had been using – “female” instead of “woman,” and pointed out that it made us sound like livestock rather than people.

But did the panel address the question, perhaps looking for the point at which the discussion took on the word “female” so universally? Did they take the opportunity to discuss how things like language can make a group uncomfortable for women, and what we could do to make it better? No! The woman asking the question was viciously torn apart and ridiculed for even bringing it up. First, a combination of panelists and audience members tried to defend themselves by saying that feminists won’t let men use the word “women” off-limits because it has “men” in it. Then a commotion of everyone talking at once, which was cut off by one panelist’s definitive comment: “What do you want us to say, ‘the weaker sex?”

She got upset (and who wouldn’t be?) and left the room. I – a member of the audience, not one of the event organizers – went after her. While there were a few odd calls from the audience for the panelist to apologize, the moderator sort of awkwardly pushed the discussion on to a new topic, with an embarrassed air of “Sorry for the disturbance.” No apology, no discussing a better way it could have been handled. Not even a joking “This is how *not* to be welcoming” comment. Just “nothing to see here, move along.”
From there, the conversation wandered into a weird discussion about how men’s biology drives them to frequently (if not constantly) pursue sex, and since it’s biology, no one should get upset at, judge, or think less of men for any skirt-chasing they might engage in. (Because we never intellectually overcome our animal instincts in other areas of our biology, right?) The attitude in the room shifted: suddenly women were the bad guys for saying no to men’s propositions because it denies the men’s innate biology. Most of the guys in the room loved it, but as a woman in the audience – it was really uncomfortable. It was demeaning, frustrating, and not what you want to say to attract more women into this movement. And the attitude stuck around.

All these people got presented with a totally skewed perspective on our movement’s views on gender equality and sexuality. The message was loud and clear: it’s totally ok for guys to be assholes. Women should just STFU when men treat them like sex objects. The appropriate way to solve the problem of gender imbalance is to ask a bunch of guys about it (oh, and the entire problem is just because women won’t let men have sex with them whenever they want to). The way to handle women’s input is to ridicule them.

This whole experience would be laughable, like something from a bad Saturday Night Live skit, if it weren’t for the fact that it really happened, and happened in the context of a discussion of how to attract more women to the atheist movement.

This sort of thing makes me ashamed to be a man, not to mention a white, middle-aged, male atheist, and rightly so. The insufferable sense of male privilege permeates the description of the conference and I can only imagine what it must have been like to be a woman in attendance. I can tell you that had I been there I certainly would have, for one, apologized for my insensitive and idiotic fellow white males, and then I would have ripped them a new one for being to fatuously insensitive to 30% of the audience present.

I believe that if atheist organizations want to make their organizations more open and welcoming to women, they need to, first and foremost, actively seek out women to be, not just members, but organizers. I know, that is putting the cart before then horse, but they must at lease try to truly understand the discrimination and sexism that woman face in our society. They need to educate themselves on this subject and take what they learn to heart.

There is no excuse for these kinds of sexist attitudes or behavior at an atheist conference, unless these are some kind of male only atheist organizations, in which case, who needs them?

February 8, 2011 - Posted by | Humanism, Skeptical | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 Comments »

  1. Thanks for this . I have been appalled by some men’s attitudes – I left Christianity hoping for an equal world and was horrified to see the same old crap in the atheist camp. ” girls are naturally less intelligent that’s why they go to church ” No you twat, church has free childcare and you don’t get touched up.
    Treat women right and they’ll join you.
    Also try to understand that liking men and sex doesn’t mean they will sleep with any man – ESP not the older ones who think we are gagging for a father figure…

    Comment by Sas | February 8, 2011 | Reply

  2. Ps lots of men don’t like sex and will make you feel bad for asking for it. Strangely they lie about that to their male friends.

    Comment by Sas | February 8, 2011 | Reply

  3. Sas, I agree with you completely. Men need to understand that just because a woman is sexually liberated doesn’t mean she will sleep with everyone, especially them. Yes, biology is powerful. Yes, males evolved to try to have sex with as many females as possible in order to pass on their genes. But to use this as an excuse to treat women solely as sexual objects is disingenuous and wrong. This only supports the theists’ contention that atheists are all amoral darwinists. We are moral creatures who have the benefit of intelligence and rational thought to rise above our evolutionary imperatives, especially when they interfere with our ability to responsibly interact with each other.

    Comment by Jay Walker | February 8, 2011 | Reply

    • Thanks ;)

      “males evolved to try to have sex with as many females as possible in order to pass on their genes.”

      so did females – if you look at the stats an awful lot of babies are by different males both in the animal and human worlds. It makes evolutionary sense to keep switching fathers.

      Having said that I’d be careful not to read too much into evolution – I think we’ve been there before

      Comment by Sas | February 8, 2011 | Reply

    • This objectivising of women is the worst thing about the non church world – in my Christian bubble I never saw any porn (which is always for boys) and most of the lads were really sweet – nothing to prove because bible already says they are superior so (because most men decent) they almost overcompensate by being chivalrous . By contrast atheist lads feel the need to dominate girls because they have started at a level playing field. Equality isn’t what a lot if them want they’ve got to get you under and public porn is a great way of wrecking girls confidence – the same lads freak out if they see naked men tho.
      Sort out atheistic sexism get decent communiy spirit including childcare and the women will join

      Comment by Sas | February 8, 2011 | Reply

    • I can’t stress this enough – many many women go to church for the childcare. It’s exhausting having kids but childcare is insanely expensive. We had women at church who hated god talk but the thought of putting your feet up and having a chat for four hours while kind people look after your kids is irresistable. Does that make ‘ religious’ women less intelligent ? I think not.

      Comment by Sas | February 8, 2011 | Reply

      • Which is just more evidence that religion is a human social invention. I have no problem with people who attend church, synagog, mosque or whatever for the social interaction it provides. We are social creatures and the need to socialize, especially where there is material benefit involved is overwhelming and shouldn’t be faulted or made to be anything more that what it is. To assume that women are less intelligent because the choose to do so is just another example of misogynistic thinking.

        Comment by Jay Walker | February 8, 2011

  4. [...] Sas, I agree with you completely. Men need to understand that just because a woman is sexually liberated doesn’t mean she will sleep with everyone, especially them. Yes, biology is powerful. Yes, males evolved to try to have sex with as many females as possible in order to pass on their genes. But to use this as an excuse to treat women solely as sexual objects is disingenuous and wrong. This only supports the theists’ contention that atheists are all amoral darwinists. We are moral creatures who have the benefit of intelligence and rational thought to rise above our evolutionary imperatives, especially when they interfere with our ability to responsibly interact with each other.
 Comment by Jay Walker | February 8, 2011 | Edit | Reply [...]

    Pingback by Comments on Atheism and Gender Equality « Freethinking for Dummies | February 8, 2011 | Reply

  5. [...] ones who think we are gagging for a father figure…
 Comment by Sas | February 8, 2011 | Edit | Reply [...]

    Pingback by Comments on Atheism and Gender Equality « Freethinking for Dummies | February 8, 2011 | Reply

  6. [...] Strangely they lie about that to their male friends.
 Comment by Sas | February 8, 2011 | Edit | Reply [...]

    Pingback by Comments on Atheism and Gender Equality « Freethinking for Dummies | February 8, 2011 | Reply


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 391 other followers

%d bloggers like this: