In Defense of Atheist Men
There seems to be a growing number of young women in the atheist movement who have been accusing the men of our movement of rampant sexism. The latest target of these feminists is none other then Richard Dawkins, because he wrote a post that basically said what I tend to think, which is that I don’t think these new feminist really know what sexism is. The stuff they bring up, as evidence of sexism, doesn’t seem to me to qualify. Boorish and insensitive behavior on the part of men maybe, but sexism? Not really.
As we are discussing sexism – let’s start with a definition. According to Meriam Webster’s online dictionary (see: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sexism) – sexism is prejudice or discrimination based on sex. Or it’s behavior, conditions or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex.
I’ve been an atheist since my teens, and I’ve personally held paid positions within the Humanist movement, working for a while, as the executive director in a statewide Humanist association. I’ve been to conferences, met lots of people and never once have I encountered sexism within the movement. Lots of women hold positions of authority within the movement. We aren’t held back from executive positions because of our gender. And refreshingly enough, we are judged on the quality of our work, which is rather nice considering what women have to put up with in most jobs. In fact, it’s so nice not to having to deal with sexism, that I’ve resolved never to go back into the real world to work again.
But, my experience of a sexist free workplace heaven was in the Humanist movement. Perhaps the Atheist movement is different? It turns out it isn’t. There are lots of women holding leadership positions within the atheist movement as well and the executive leadership of most major atheists groups includes women. None of them I’ve spoken with report that they are treated as any less in their roles because they are women. In fact the president of the Atheists Alliance International is currently a woman. So, whatever this charge of sexism is, it isn’t about prejudice and discrimination, as that sort of sexism doesn’t appear to exist in the Atheist movement.
So these feminist atheists must be talking about the “behavior, conditions and attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex” sort of sexism. And again, I’m just not seeing it. Yes, there are boorish men that hit on women, and I’m not going to excuse that. But is that rampant? Is it sexist? And is it reflective of the culture of the Atheist movement as a whole? Do the majority of Atheist men only want women to be sexual eye candy? Do they really just want to keep us in our place of traditional stay at home moms? I doubt it. Again, there are lots of female atheists that are well respected and given leadership positions and treated well, including the leading purveyors on these claims of sexism.
So, the real question is why are some atheist women claiming they’re being treated in a sexist manner and why do they think this sexism is rampant and not just the result of a few bad apples. There are certainly a lot of women, like me, who don’t agree with their caricature of the movement as being sexist.
What brought this whole thing up was elevator-gate, which for those of you who aren’t movement people involved skepchick being hit on in an elevator at the Atheist convention that was just held in Ireland. Apparently, getting hit on in an elevator at a convention is sexist. Not because the incident was egregious or particularly rude, but because it is representative of the fact that atheist men appear to not realize how uncomfortable being hit on by men makes some, but not all, women. And this is a reasonable thing that we should be making atheist men more aware of. It’s unseemly and off-putting when atheist men scramble after any and all available atheist women just because she is an atheist and not because he’s gotten to know her and like her. But calling that behavior sexist, as unseemly and off-putting as it is, is rather ridiculous. Insensitive to the stresses and fears a woman might have, yes. Sexist? No.
I bring this up because Skepchick (see: http://skepchick.org/2011/07/the-privilege-delusion/), in her response to Richard Dawkins’ claim that the sexism charge being made in elevator gate is ridiculous, provides us with proof that there are horrid atheist men out there that just want to rape women. Her proof is an email from an anti-circ nut that was so upset that she disagreed with him, that he threatened her with rape. She then admits that almost all of the angry anti-feminine tirades she receives are from anti-circ nuts. So, why does she take the rage of anti-circ nuts and generalize their insanity to the entirety of the men in the atheist movement? I have no idea.
I’ve received threats from anti-circ nuts and I didn’t assume they were representative of atheist men in general because it was clear to me, after they talked about wanting to kill their parents, that they were, you know, insane. It never dawned on me that they were raging against me because I was a woman because it was abundantly clear that they were raging against me because I didn’t agree with them. In short, anti-circ tirades are not a result of sexism; they are a result of unstable individuals who have anger management issues and can’t handle being disagreed with. These tirades should not be generalized as representative of the attitude of atheist men in general just because some anti-circ nuts happen to be atheists.
I realize her example was to show us how atheist men should be more understanding of atheist women who hate it when men scramble after us because women, all women, have legitimate fears to a greater or lesser extent about the possible intentions of any unknown male. And skepchick, who says she has been inappropriately touched and who is apparently the recipient of unsolicited sexually explicit requests, has every right to feel that these are legitimate concerns that atheist men need to be more aware of. Every woman in the movement is aware of just how mad the scramble for atheist girls is . We’ve all been the target of these scrambles, even those of us who are married. And, we’ve all seen new girls be targeted as well. And all this scrambling is not because we have that wonderful combination of brains and beauty, but just because we are atheist and female. And yes, it’s insulting. And yes, it’s annoying and boorish and creepy. And yes, it would be super nice if our more aggressive and eager men stopped doing it and started behaving in a more civilized manner instead of like men who haven’t seen a woman in years. And yes, it would be nice if everyone in the atheist movement was a Humanist.
Regardless, the central question of elevator-gate is whether or not men are being sexist when they are being completely unaware and insensitive to the fears of women? I say no. They are not being sexist because they aren’t trying to perpetuate stereotypes or keep women in any particular social role. They are just being insensitive, boorish and rude.
And the reason I think this distinction is important is because, calling a good man a sexist doesn’t help fix the problem. It puts all our men, including the good ones, on the defensive. And, more importantly, it prevents them from hearing the very important message the men in our movements need to hear. And that is, the often aggressive eagerness some of our men have when searching for an atheist mate is annoying, insensitive, off-putting, boorish and sometimes scary, and that these idiots are hurting our movement.
Now – for those of you men, who are eager to find an atheist woman to partner with, please realize that you will probably have more success if you focus your romantic interests in a more selective way. In other words, look for woman with similar interests, and don’t just latch on to the fact that she is an atheist and female as your sole criteria for hitting on her. Everyone in the movement will thank you. Because seriously, men who do that are creepy and its because of you, there aren’t more women to choose from.
And – for women in the atheist movement: can you please stop doing sessions on sexism and focus on the real problem, which is that we have a lot of men who have no idea how to hook up with a girl without coming off as creepy? Let’s help them learn the skills they need to not be creepy instead of labeling them as sexist and writing them off. It’s not helping.