AS28: Misogyny in Atheism with Greta Christina

In this episode, I asked Greta Christina about the rift in atheism between feminists and for lack of a better term, anti-feminists. Greta provided a very sobering insight into the difficulty she and other women in atheism have faced.

You can find Greta’s blog here:

And her book here:

Then, I talk about the possible scientism of new atheists and whether or not the charge is accurate, or is even damning if true. This discussion is intended to be part of a longer one as I ran out of time.  The works I referenced are:

Pigliucci’s paper:

Coyne’s response:

8 thoughts on “AS28: Misogyny in Atheism with Greta Christina”

  1. Hey,

    As of these days I consider myself to be well entrenched in the same feminism camp as Greta, but it did take a lot of soul searching to get there.

    I was never part of the anti-feminism crowd, at worst I thought that feminism might be a little silly and extreme, but I recognized its historical value. Nonetheless, I felt rather hurt over the elevator-gate scandal. I consider myself to be average height and beauty, but I’m pretty socially awkward. I feel a lot of angst whenever I see a documentary/lecture/etc that talks about how much of a man’s sexual success is a product of being taller than average, being more symmetrical than average, or being more charming than average. As such, I had bought into a wide net theory of courtship- that a man in order to have any success sexually he needs to make as many attempts as possible with as many women as possible (obviously using some kind of tact in the process). I could totally see myself hanging out around someone I admire, but unable to get a word in edgewise in a crowd, and then only have the courage to approach that woman after the crowds dispersed naturally. When I heard the “guys don’t do that” comment, it felt like I was being told to just give up entirely. I couldn’t talk to women in public because of my status as the local wallflower, and in addition I was also forbidden from talking to them in private. I recognize now that wasn’t really the case, but the barb still stung at the time.

    One of the lessons I learned in the following weeks and months following was the fact that men really have a hard time appreciating the emotional impact of size discrepancy. Men are bigger than women and that’s really intimidating especially in closed quarters, apart from the crowd or in poorly lit locations. I might not be a sexual predator, and it offends me that someone might think of me like that, but women often need to prepare for the worst contingency. I think the best thing for any man to consider in his conduct with women is what it would feel like to live in a world where the only people sexually interested in you are 6-12 inches taller than you and against whom most physical struggle would be futile. Imagine the kind of behavior those giants would need to maintain for you to be comfortable in their approach, and then do the same when you approach a woman.

    Remember that its not that women don’t want to be approached, it’s that women need situations that level the playing field. That may sound discouraging to the wallflowers out there, but not all is lost. These days I’m in a fantastic relationship with a woman I love, whom I met online. The internet can be a great place to meet people when you have more elegance in the written word than in casual conversation with new people.

    Lastly, don’t ask for evidence that a woman has been harassed. I’ve heard that a few times from anti-feminists and people who refuse to affiliate with any group. If someone wants to make a public statement about a specific perpetrator, then yes, present that evidence. If a group of women say they’re not coming back to a conference next year because they were harassed, it’s meaningless to ask for evidence. I know we strive to be good skeptics, but that’s one place where you can give the epistemological benefit to the victims. Ask for the context of the harassment and what could be done to mitigate risk in the future, but don’t insinuate that nothing is happening to has happened just because there is no evidence beyond word of mouth.

  2. I as a male am speaking from a position of inquisitiveness and not from experience though as an Asian American I can speak very much so from an experience base of discrimination. It amazes me how like the bigotry I faced in a childhood of the 70’s / 80’s has raised itself again in the same sub group discrimination of Feminists in the Atheist community. I had Caucasian kids bullying me for not being White enough and the African American kids bullying me for being too White. This squeeze is all to common and denying its existence is like denying the wetness of water. It does exist and just because you can’t see it does not mean it does not exist.

  3. Hi,

    Here are my thoughts when I heard this interview. I was kind of shocked at first to hear how there is misogyny within the atheist ranks, but then it made me think. How could there be an Atheist code of ethics to rally around? The Atheist community is “valueless” because it is only a shared belief about one issue. If you really want to have a fair-minded community who cares, you need to be a Secular Humanist. Otherwise, I think it’s pointless to expect these people to treat women any better. You can’t assume that all Atheists automatically will accept Humanist values. People need to separate themselves from these “haters” and put on a better face!
    Thank you.

  4. I don’t think Greta misinterpreted your question. I can say this because I’ve participated in many discussions on her blog and elsewhere where these exact issues have been thoroughly hashed out. I think it was just that you didn’t have enough time to follow the thought through to its logical conclusion.

    Okay, so, the fault for the division lies with bigots, not with those who object to and speak up about bigotry. That was established during the interview. So, what to make of this “us vs. them” divide? Is it possible to resolve it?

    I depends on which divide you’re talking about. If the divide is between feminists and misogynists (or anti-racists and racists, or any other set of parallel groupings), I don’t think so. I don’t foresee a future (in my lifetime) in which bigots and bullies simply do not exist. While some of them may change their minds, more will spring up to take their place. If atheism is to become a grouping of people who offer welcome and social support to all atheists, regardless of skin color, gender, class, gender expression, or sexual orientation, then atheism is obliged to actively exclude people who are gung-ho to exclude people on the basis of race, gender, etc. Atheists (like any other group that’s trying to be inclusive) MUST choose, and the choice is stark: either the bigots go, or the targets of their bigotry will. It isn’t fair to ask, say, people of color to sit around and share space and resources with people who regard them as less than fully human and undeserving of basic human respect as a result.

    However, there is a divide that’s worth bridging, and that’s between the people who are sort of neutral on these issues and the activists. You know, the folks who say that they “think women and men should be equal” but also “maybe feminism has gone too far.” They just don’t see the need for feminist or anti-racist activism and so the outrage on the part of the activists disturbs them and puts them off. And it is, in fact this group of people that holds an enormous amount of power to make positive changes in the everyday experience of marginalized people with organized atheism. After all, the experience of being groped and sexually harassed at an atheist conference would be FAR different if, when a woman reports this experience, everyone but the groper himself turned around and said, “That’s terrible behavior, we don’t want that sort of thing happening in our community: anyone who is sexually harassing people must stop it or leave.” The really awful part is when you start talking about it and people immediately question whether you’re even trustworthy enough to describe your own personal experiences honestly and accurately, why you should just “learn to take a compliment” or “learn to take a joke,” or any number of excuses that allow sexual predators to operate without facing any consequences.

    In short, organized atheism needs to learn about the bystander effect and focus on encouraging the philosophy of standing up for others even when it’s not, technically speaking, “your” fight to take hold. Don’t bother reaching out to the bigots. Reach out to the bystanders! You’ll see positive results for everyone, much faster than you will in attempting to reason with bigots. I can tell you from experience, I’d much rather attempt to reason with a creationist.

    That’s my $0.02. take it as you will.

    1. I think that is an excellent analysis and I also think (hope) that I’m doing just what you’ve outlined here. I am trying to appeal to the men who are maybe turned off by feminists but who aren’t terrible misogynists themselves. Like you say, I think that group is large and important and I really hope that I am reaching them in my efforts in this topic. Let me know what you think I could be doing differently.

  5. I’ve tried to figure out how to reply to my thoughts on this and the followup statements on feminism and atheism, and I’ve realized I’m not intelligent enough to condense everything down, so instead I’ll make two requests:

    Go to Rationalwiki and lookup any article related to feminism, no criticism is allowed at all, also look at the page for Thunderf00t, and see how the page becomes a personal attack on him instead of attempting to be at all objective.
    Please get into contact with Thunderf00t and have a nice discussion with him about the matter. About his thoughts on feminism. Call him out for misunderstanding the context of the Rebecca Watson shit(the elevator incident happened at 4am? That sure adds some context to the matter).

  6. I have no wish to discuss the “rift” because talking about it is what fosters it.

    Rather I wish to acknowledge that there are multiple voices among freethinkers not all of whom are on speaking terms. I have the feeling that majority of leaders among the atheist community strive to remain on good terms with all. This requires an awareness of the points of view held by various people.

    As such I especially strive to to listen to all atheist voices – especially those I find challenging.

    Whilst I accept that statistically there must be misogynists and racists among atheists, and that such people are no benefit to the atheist cause, I have seen evidence that some people are very fast to denounce those who raise questions as “rape apologists”. This makes me feel deeply uncomfortable.

    On the question of explaining the “atheism+” point of view I have often find that those who are one step removed from it actually do a better job of explaining that point of view than “atheism+” people themselves. I might cite Ian Cromwell (@crommunist) and the Non-prophets podcast.

    As usual Greta was engaging and I enjoyed and I enjoyed everything she had to say. In terms of her upbringing I identify with her more than any other atheists. I all other respects our stories could not be more different and I appreciate the perspective she brings. I do feel however that all the perspectives that I have hinted at do not cover the range of perspectives that need to be listened to. For this the most compelling interview I ever came across was Mr Dragonbeard interviewing Erin Pizzy:

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