AS70: Sexism in Atheism

The topic of sexism in atheism has warranted another episode. There was a huge response from Monday, and a huge range of response as well. I discuss a lot of the comments and emails I got, as well as the following blog post:

Is Sam Harris Sexist?

6 thoughts on “AS70: Sexism in Atheism”

    1. That blog link you posted is an absolute classic, very well written and she explains WAY better than me, some of the things I tried to touch on in my original comment for the last episode…

      I don’t really get your criticisms of it to be honest…especially the last one.

      If you try and make the argument that one of the reasons that there are more stay at home moms than dads is that women have more of a connection to their children than men (or if you argued they are more nurturing as Harris does), then I would just ask why we don’t fight that. If we know it leads to imbalances, if we know it leads to problems and inequalities, why go with it just because it’s natural? This is the naturalisitc fallacy.

      A big part of life is convincing yourself sometimes that what feels good or natural is actually bad for you. I think the point is, that the acceptance of the status quo as “as biological fact “, and opposition towards changing it, is sexism in itself. You may not agree but it’s a point to think about at least.

  1. I think your point about your experience of the automatic nature of sexuality is in itself a demonstration of the cultural difference effecting this issue. The Male part of culture encourages open disclosure of sexuality while the female part of culture fosters fear of disclosing sexuality. Traditionally this can be linked to male paranoia about raising children that are not their own, and female fear of abandonment. The more certain a guy is that the child is his the more attached as a father he will be, and less likely to leave. (Anyone taking issue with this should consider why labeling the cots in a maternaty ward is important. Does it really matter if the one you take home is yours? It’s still a baby isnt it?)
    The reality is that men and women like sex just as much, though there’s a spectrum from asexual to highly sexual that both populate. The cultural lens we see the sexual interest spectrum though distorts our interpretations. We see falsely identify the least sexual women and highly sexual men as “normal” while ignoring that there are just as many least sexual men and highly sexual women who are told there’s something wrong with them. In reality most people are somewhere in the middle of a bell curve but feel pressured to emulate the so called “normal” people out at the relivant extremes.

    For what it’s worth I think you’re correct that there are just fewer female atheists, though I suspect that may be more to do with female culture’s emphasis on socialising and suppressing one’s own devisive opinions for fear of ostracism. If there are any female readers I’d like to know if the female parts of this sound familiar to you, but I suspect men and women are psychologically more alike than we’ve been brought up to believe.

  2. I have friends that do not share my sensibilities toward religions, feminism, civil rights, etc; I don’t loose my nut over their differences, ride them off as a lost cause nor categorize them as an extremist. Rather, I use my relationship with them to discuss the issues and grant them insights they had not previously been exposed too. Over time, anyone who has come to know my viewpoints have become more aware of their ill-formed preconceptions and have softened their edge, so to speak.
    The problem with the feminist movement is that they go immediately to trashing someone who does not fall in lock step with their views. Dawkins may have a less feminine-positive worldview but that doesn’t make him on par with a misogynist who believes women don’t deserve equal rights or should be forced to wear burkas. We should be reaching out to one of the most influential and notable figures in the atheist movement to show him the error of his thinking, not alienating him with a barrage of insults. Once someone feels as if every word that comes out of their mouth is so thoroughly scrutinized, they disregard their accusers as being fanatical and unreasonable. They consider them as being irrational, fanatical, and nonobjective.
    The feminists lose supporters by attacking moderates for holding a different view that theirs. If your an atheist, most people disagree with you on a whole host of beliefs. But how do you communicate your cause effectively when you are vehemently attacking those who are not in lock-step with your worldview? This plays into the theists idea of the “angry atheist”, those who are intolerant and whose goals are to eradicate anyone who opposes them.

  3. There is another way a man can see a woman that is not all about sex… it is an artist point if view. Some women are as a sunset or sunrise (or such) with how heart stoppingly beautiful they are. I may see them and wish to capture their beauty in a picture or paint (well, pic; I can’t draw worthy a hoot) but that doesn’t mean I want to have sex with them. I will also want to see the person behind her creation; yes, creation as in what they wear or put on, do their hair, accessorize, etc. I want to learn what makes them, them. How and why they see themselves as they do, what makes them wish to express themselves in such a way, who they were and who they wish to be. I want to know the inspiration, the will, the brain, the woman behind her look. To deny such is to deny the very essence of what makes us people.

    Are my views truly sexist? I don’t think so… to some, I guess, they may be. As a man with eyes that do see, I am going to either like or not like what or who I see before me. Doesn’t mean I want to have sex with or dominate or hoard what I happen to find attractive to me. I may just want to appreciate it or her and gaze upon the beauty as long as I can; just as I would view a sunset before it falls to night, a tide before it rolls out to sea, a fawn in the woods prancing merrily. Appreciate and admire, I do, want to have sex with such… umm, NO.

    Another problem with the sexism debate lay in definitions. A sexist, a mysogynist are two totally different things. The terms may compliment each other but they are not interchangeable. There is a difference between sexes that go beyond boy and girl parts. The way our minds operate can be two totally different things. Men will be men. Women will be woman. That doesn’t mean we have to be disrespectful to one another. If I give an honest compliment to a woman, I will so so in what I believe is a respectful way, such as, “you look great (or incredible or whatever) in that outfit”. Saying such doesn’t mean I want to have sex with you, as some women may think. In this example, an argument could be made that the woman that assumes I am saying such just to have sex with her is actually the sexist one. Think about it…
    Some people, men and women, just look for reasons to be offended in order to justify how they may feel or what they think. For whatever reason that may be, I would say the true offense or trespass lays in he or she that gets offended. Some people, men and women, may not know how to express their admiration in “an acceptable way”. Granted, cat-calls, hoots, and hollars may be tactless and classless, but some may not really know another way to get themselves noticed by who they admire. Sometimes, perhaps most times, there may be more sexual overtones to their way of complimenting but such may not always be the way… For the “sensitive male”, the women who express indignation and outrage over even polite compliments really put men in an awkward position. It’s the old “damned if you do or damned if you don’t” scenario. How is a guy supposed to pay a compliment to such a woman without knowing if they are going to be offended or not? If a guy just doesn’t pay the compliment, some women will be offended and bent out of shape for seeming to not noticing them at all.

    What’s my conclusion? Just frigging relax, people! Sometimes a compliment is just a compliment. Maybe best to accept a compliment at face value without assumption and then talk to whoever to decide if they, or the compliment, are sexist, mysogynistic, and offensive.

    I, myself, will continue to pay compliments as I see fit in the most respectful way I know how. If the person of my compliment is offended, I would say the problem is more with her or him than with me. “You’re beautiful. You look great today. I love your smile. You have great eyes. Etcetera.”, are just words of admiration and appreciation. I’d say a person has a beautiful mind but it’s really hard to notice that upon first glances and meetings. You know?

    Perhaps, metaphorically, it was best said in Casablanca… sometimes “a kiss is just a kiss.”

    As far as there being more males than females in the atheist movement, beats me… Just from my own experiences and discussions I think there are probably just as men women as men atheistically speaking but men are just more vocal about it, perhaps due to the male confrontational ego and their wanting to prove they’re right. I can say that I have actually known more female atheists than I have male… perhaps due to the whole male domination thing all major religions have going on in them.

    Anyway, enjoy your show! I hope what I wrote above makes done kind of scenario as trying to type these things on an iPod can be a bit tricky.


  4. It seems to me that atheism doesn’t have a sexism problem in particular. I believe that it’s as apparent as in the population at large. Sam Harris didn’t give the best answer to these questions about women not reading his books, but I wasn’t offended by his remarks. But maybe this is due to my bias of liking a lot of Harris’ writings.

    My thoughts on the composition of atheist groups is that its mostly a historical problem. Since it has always been such a ‘boys club’ it’s more difficult for women to feel comfortable in atheist groups. It makes sense that mostly white men identify as atheist because I’ve even casually noticed that women and people of color also tend to be more actively religious. We don’t know exactly what draws people to religion but we can see that having privilege has always made it easier for people to distance themselves from religion.

    I can understand sexism or misogyny pushing women away from atheism but I don’t think it’s the largest factor. Plenty of religious groups who have similar problems with sexism don’t have this disproportionate amount of women problem. This is why I identify more as a humanist, I don’t see this issue being addressed by atheists because people aren’t really united by values.

    When it comes to actual organizations in the atheist community addressing problems with sexism (like harassment at cons) I stand by feminists addressing these issues. But I don’t think all these feminists combating with Sam Harris was very productive. It seems weird to tell feminists not to be so aggressive, but I’m just too much of a moderate and want to see people working together better. Harris probably balked at being called sexist, so I just wish more people would have told him that how he talked about the issue was problematic.

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