How to patronize the wimminz


William Hamby has a rather annoying article on women in atheism. (The annoying quality is probably inevitable. We get tired of being written about. We get tired of men saying about women. That’s probably unfair; we’d probably get tired of men not saying, too; but all the same – it gets tiresome having men say about women.) He bases it, for some reason, on the elevator thing – and as G Felis points out, he does it rather snidely. He makes an arbitrary and unexplained distinction between “radical” and “mainstream” feminists that boils down to agree-with-Watson and disagree-with-Watson respectively, and I have to say that’s not consistent with usage over the past four decades or so. Agreeing with Watson or anyone that a man hitting on a woman in an enclosed space at 4 a.m. is not entirely civil is really not a very good definition of “radical” feminism. Feminism gets a whole fuckofa lot more radical than that.

Anyway.

I’ve found myself wanting to say something constructive about women in the atheist movement.  It pains me to see what religion does to women, and now that the  dust in the elevator shaft is settling, we seem no closer to the original  question.  If anyone happens to remember, we used to be very interested in  figuring out how to attract women to the atheist movement, and encourage them to  be actively and openly involved in secular causes.  Like practically every  other person in the “atheist movement,” I’d like to see more women at  conferences, more women on podiums, and more women getting involved in any way  they would like.  But what is there for this one male atheist to say that  hasn’t been said?

Nothing. That’s kind of where the annoyingness comes in. It can’t help sounding as if atheism belongs to men and they’re patronizingly inviting us to join in if we’d like. I know that’s not what Hamby intends, but it can’t help sounding like that. I’ve never thought of it that way. I guess that’s one of the advantages of doing one’s atheism via the internet: you don’t need anyone’s permission or invitation, you can just do it. (Well, in my case with masses of technical help, but that’s a completely different kind of thing from permission or invitation.) You can just do it, and then there you are doing it, and you don’t need men liking to see more people of your type doing it.

One of my favorite atheist bloggers, Greta Christina, has been saying it for months, and PZ Myers has been acting as a megaphone, spreading the meme  all over the internet.  “Listen to women.”  If you want to  know what women are interested in, and what will draw them into the atheist  movement, listen to them.  What bothered me about that approach,  however, was that the only women speaking loudly about women in the atheist  movement were… Rebecca Watson and her stump-mates.  And while their  opinions are certainly important, they are not representative of all women. I  know that because I’ve listened to a lot of women say so.

What? What? Where’s he been? Rebecca and her (what are stump-mates?) are not the only women talking about women in atheism; not even close. That’s no closer to true than the claim about who “radical” feminists are.

So then what he did is, he collected his atheist women Facebook friends and looked at their comments and did a table or something of what they were interested in – and what they’re interested in is politics, family and sex.

Based on my little survey in my little corner of the Facebook Universe, it  appears that we may not be on the best track if we continue stressing feminism  and gender politics.  Above all else, these atheist women are talking about  three things:  Traditional politics, family, and sex.  Not sex-roles,  or sexual politics.  Politics, family, and sex. The topics that get the  most female commentary are those which intersect at least two of these.

So that’s what atheism should be about more, so that it will attract more women. Not feminism and gender politics, but traditional politics, family and sex. Atheism should be less radical and weird, and more mainstream and normal, to attract those stupid boring conservative traditional women.

I hope nobody pays any attention to his advice.

Comments

  1. Bruce S. Springsteen says

    How to attract women into the atheist movent? How about taking about atheism and letting anyone interested in that subject show up?

    Has anyone considered the possibility that, if women aren’t interested in going to atheist events and joining the organizations, it’s not up to men to figure out how to lure them? It’s up to women to come, make their preferences known, and implement them. Unless armed men are standing at the door holding them at bay, or the events really are the sleazy predator pools that some seem to be suggesting, I don’t know what “men” as a monolithic unit are meant to do. This ain’t the senior prom in 1953, where women have to wait to be invited, wait to get picked up, proffered a corsage, helped into the car and gently escorted to the dance floor. Tailoring events to suit women’s special needs sounds a tad like tailoring algebra to suit the French. Is this trip really necessary?

    In my case, I’d like to see a discussion of how the movement can engage more people who don’t have the money or time to blow on European convention jaunts. The whole dust-up has gotten a bit like watching the Rockefellers and the Astors calling each other snobs and battling in the box seats, viewed from here in the nosebleed section

  2. says

    What about realizing that women, just like any other group of human beings, are not all identical to each other? Personally, I’m interested in the topics he says his facebook friends are interested in, but I’m interested in feminism and gender as well. (Rather than being tired of feminism, I’m tired of how much it’s attacked by people who have convinced themselves it’s no longer needed.) What about welcoming women to participate, to offer their various views (which of course won’t necessarily agree with each other) rather than just wondering what to do to get more women in the audience by getting people to talk more about what most women like? (And it may or may not be most women, since it’s based on his facebook friends.)

    Something I’ve also noticed is that there are two different issues here: (1) Women being interested in atheism (i.e. the question of why, as far as I’ve heard, higher percentages of men are atheists compared to women). (2) Women who are already atheists being interested in, feeling comfortable and welcome attending, conferences, meetings, etc.

  3. Randomfactor says

    What strikes this white, male, privileged atheist is how easily Hamby was able to gather his information. Why, he didn’t have to speak to a single woman in order to draw his conclusions of what they’d like to see at conferences.

    Much easier than asking folks…

    My suspicion (not affected by, you know, asking anyone) is that most women atheists ARE interested in the same things most male atheists are: politics, science, survival of the human race, that sort of thing. The reason they fail to show up at conferences is not that the program doesn’t offer things for them to be interested in, it’s that other circumstances at the conferences are keeping them from showing up a second time.

    I remember Rebecca Watson remarking on one such circumstance a short while ago, but I guess the dust has settled on that again.

  4. says

    Has anyone considered the possibility that, if women aren’t interested in going to atheist events and joining the organizations, it’s not up to men to figure out how to lure them? It’s up to women to come, make their preferences known, and implement them.

    Unless the men are doing something that makes women (in general, statistically speaking, and not in specific) not want to come to the events, or join organizations. In which case, the women should be listened to, and it will be up to the men to implement the change (because they are the ones doing it, whatever it is).

    Making things easier for families to join seems like a good idea just in general. Men with kids will have a harder time making it to events as well (and it seems wrong to assume that they won’t).

    In my case, I’d like to see a discussion of how the movement can engage more people who don’t have the money or time to blow on European convention jaunts.

    Yes please, pretty please. I certainly don’t see a future that will let me go to any events, thanks to a (severe) lack of money. And I’d really like to go. I think it’d be a hell of a lot more interesting than the church conventions I went to growing up.

  5. Arthur says

    I’m like that guy Marc above.

    I wrote a few responses to Hamby, and to this piece, but I’m too annoyed to be coherent, so I binned them.

    Something to do with IT / atheist male nerds, influence of right wing libertarianism, simple naivety, I don’t know what.

    I haven’t been this frustrated and depressed about an internet issue since I was confronted by atheist computer nerds insisting that the Bell Curve proved the inferiority of African Americans.

  6. says

    Arthur: as an atheist male nerd in the IT field, I resent the accusation that we are all part of the libertarian nuttery. But I recognize that there’s a prevalence of libertarians that fit that bill, at the same time.

  7. Josh Slocum says

    Good lord. Rebecca (demurely) says “please don’t hit on me at 4 in the morning in an elevator” and she’s a radical feminist with “stump mates?” Fuck you Hamby. This faction among “us” is displaying Tea Party levels of cognitive dissonance and reality denial. I mean that seriously, not hyperbolically.

    Bruce and Nathan — I understand how you feel about not being able to attend European conventions. I don’t have that kind of money either. But nobody’s doing us an offense by having conventions that are out of our reach. To the Europeans, the US conferences are just as far away and unaffordable. All conferences are unless you live within a few hours’ driving distance. You don’t get to be piqued and pissy about that. :) And no, most of these organizations don’t have the time, money, or volunteers to do lots of little regional get togethers. Why do I know this? Because I run an organization that puts on a national conference every two years and it’s a bleeding miracle that we can even pull that off, let alone mini-meetings. Lots of people want things. Few of them want to work to make them happen.

    With the Internet and the rise of local skeptic and atheist groups, there’s plenty of stuff within economic and geographical reach to engage people like us. Really. If you’re sore because you can’t afford the convention, I get it, but be honest about that and don’t act as though the organizations have done us some harm.

  8. Bruce S. Springsteen says

    “Other circumstances” than substance keep women from attending or enjoying? Then a group of women who know what specific measures would remedy this should make a list, an actionable, clear list of things that will fix the problem. That a man who clearly has good intentions is trying to devise a way to indirectly coax out what is needed only shows that somehow, a clear, positive statement of what women would like specifically to be done has not spontaneously arisen, or been spread around well enough to get his notice. This shouldn’t be “Twenty Questions” or Charades. At some point, those with grievances have to demonstrate that solutions and reconciliation matter more to them than having their outrage validated, and set forth a bill of particulars that all can understand. “Don’t be a dick” doesn’t get us there.

  9. Josh Slocum says

    Also, each and every one of us can form an atheist or skeptical organization in our area if we’re dissatisfied with what’s out there. It can be an informal coffee meet up or a full-fledged nonprofit corporation (which isn’t hard, actually). With comparatively small and comparatively poor movements such as skepticism and atheism, we have to take responsibility for the work ourselves. There’s not a magic pot of money to seed local groups most of the time, and local/regional initiatives have to come from the ground up.

    We can’t see ourselves as disgruntled or “under-served” customers that Big Atheism isn’t taking care of. Big Atheism doesn’t have that much money or resources.

  10. says

    @Josh Slocum:

    Bruce and Nathan — I understand how you feel about not being able to attend European conventions. I don’t have that kind of money either. But nobody’s doing us an offense by having conventions that are out of our reach. To the Europeans, the US conferences are just as far away and unaffordable. All conferences are unless you live within a few hours’ driving distance. You don’t get to be piqued and pissy about that. And no, most of these organizations don’t have the time, money, or volunteers to do lots of little regional get togethers. . . . If you’re sore because you can’t afford the convention, I get it, but be honest about that and don’t act as though the organizations have done us some harm.

    I’m not sore, and I really hope I didn’t come across as pissy. If I did, I apologize. I’m aware of at least some of the difficulties in conference organizing, and don’t even know if there is something that could be done to help the less financially sound. It would still be nice if there was a conversation to see if there really was anything that could be done (scholarships, for non-students? cost too much I suppose).

    Like Ophelia said, we gots teh interwebs, and I’m on them, and I am involved with my local freethinkers group, so I’m doing what I can.

  11. Bruce S. Springsteen says

    Josh – I’m not piqued or pissy that I don’t get to go to conventions. Frankly they aren’t my style. The substance is available in other ways and after the fact,; the hobnobbing seems more about being seen and hanging out with the celebs and getting pictures taken, which is not my deal either. The organizations are not these conventioneers only, and the impression is often left that those at the events are the “movement,” and therefore a (drunken and needy?) reflection of the attitudes of atheists in general. Convention attendees are not a representative sample of humanity, or even atheist humanity. My point is that a lot of this looks like the upper clique in high school all pissing each other off, and expecting us groundlings in the rank and file to get incensed with them. The combatants are in danger of losing their broader audience, who will declare a pox on the whole lucky lot if they don’t get over themselves and play nice. Just sayin. No skin off my nose if they ignore me.

  12. Josh Slocum says

    Bruce:

    The combatants are in danger of losing their broader audience, who will declare a pox on the whole lucky lot if they don’t get over themselves and play nice.

    I have to say that I don’t understand what you’re referring to (I’m professing genuine ignorance, not criticizing you). You’re clearly concerned about something, but I don’t know what it is because you’re being very vague and general. As someone who runs an organization that has a conference every two years, but who spends most of his time doing much less “glamorous” things like talking and working with the rest of the members on mundane but necessary stuff, I guess I haven’t been exposed to the cult of celebrity thing you’re seeing.

    Nathan:

    On scholarships. . .that’s an idea worth suggesting to conference organizers. The conference I put on has a small fund to help local members attend who might not be able to otherwise. We can’t pay their travel, of course, but we can help with admission fees. Our criteria are:

    1. You must be a member of a local chapter that has not sent an attendee in at least four years

    2. You must first ask your local organization and its members to voluntarily chip in (either from the treasury or by donations from the volunteers) to help defray the cost. From experience I’ve learned this is a necessary step to coax people into really evaluating how much they value our mission. Are they only interested in coming if someone else pays for it, even if they have a fund that could help without hurting their finances? If so, they’re not going to get cash.

  13. Bruce S. Springsteen says

    Josh – Then we may be screwed, because I’m at the near end of whatever little eloquence I have. Let me try to be plain. Convention folks aren’t everyone, nor a representative sample. Neither, for that matter are those who spend all day arguing on the web. So to say that the atheist “movement” has a gender problem, because conventions and web blogs seem unbalanced and combative, looks a bit provincia and narcissisticl to those of us who live in the mundane world, but still believe in atheist/humanist ideals and want to support them. You confess without rancor that as an organization man, you have trouble getting my perspective. Well, that stands to reason.

    Elevatorgate and the shortage of women at conventions looks, from this angle, not like an earthquake of relevance and urgency, but a tempest in a club house. I am not trembling for the image and future of atheism, looking for meaning in the madcap farce of Mamma Skepchick’s Angry Birds squawking and launching themselves at the fortified bunkers of Dr. Porkins and his hunkered, grunting and stuffy pigs with their “I don’t get it” helmets. I got some laughs and groans out of the whole self-important extravaganza, and am now going back to my library, where serious things are under discussion. Let the women and men who need conventions figure out what they want from each other there. None of my business I guess, when all is said and flung.

  14. Josh Slocum says

    You confess without rancor that as an organization man, you have trouble getting my perspective. Well, that stands to reason.

    You need to pick your targets better, Bruce, because I’m not your enemy. “Organization man?” I work for a desperately underfunded nonprofit that operates on a shoestring budget and focuses on consumer advocacy. I’m not getting rich off it by any stretch of the imagination. I’m the executive director, IT guy, public policy guy, media spokesman, and chief-taker-out-of-garbage-and-recycling. Oh, I forgot, I also have a vast secretarial staff of one co-worker and a part-time person. Who don’t have time to be secretaries because they’re too busy answering the phones and doing real work along with me.

    Seriously-you’re flinging this shit at me? Dude, I’m working class too (maybe lower middle class). I was trying to draw you out for your perspective, nothing more.

  15. Josh Slocum says

    Damn it. I keep messing up the blockquoting. Second attempt:

    You confess without rancor that as an organization man, you have trouble getting my perspective. Well, that stands to reason.

    You need to pick your targets better, Bruce, because I’m not your enemy. “Organization man?” I work for a desperately underfunded nonprofit that operates on a shoestring budget and focuses on consumer advocacy. I’m not getting rich off it by any stretch of the imagination. I’m the executive director, IT guy, public policy guy, media spokesman, and chief-taker-out-of-garbage-and-recycling. Oh, I forgot, I also have a vast secretarial staff of one co-worker and a part-time person. Who don’t have time to be secretaries because they’re too busy answering the phones and doing real work along with me.

    Seriously-you’re flinging this shit at me? Dude, I’m working class too (maybe lower middle class). I was trying to draw you out for your perspective, nothing more.

  16. Pen says

    I’m just curious, but what does this guy think male atheists talk about? Seems to me it’s politics, sex and how crazy the christians are. When they aren’t going on about female atheists that is. There’s a considerable overlap there, even if I would prefer to see them stop talking about female behavior and start examining their own contributions (or lack of) to running families.

    If I managed to get the disposable income/childcare arrangements together to go to a conference I would like to talk about or celebrate the scientific worldview or humanist ethics. I don’t mind laughing at Christians in the bar. I don’t like guys hitting on me in an obvious way because then I have to let them know I’m married, and then they have to figure out how obvious they want to make it that they only had one reason for talking to me anyway (I’ve lost count of how often that’s happened)!

  17. SallyStrange says

    Pen, that was my response as well. You’re trying to tell me that atheist men are not interested in politics, sex, and family? That’s just dumb.

    I did include the phrase “herp derp” in my comment on his article. :)

  18. says

    What bothered me about that approach, however, was that the only women speaking loudly about women in the atheist movement were… Rebecca Watson and her stump-mates. And while their opinions are certainly important, they are not representative of all women. I know that because I’ve listened to a lot of women say so.

    So his problem with listening to women about these issues is that some of the women he hears disagree with some of the other women he hears? And his solution…is to listen to them?

    In other words, what we have here is a man who does not like what vocal atheist women are saying. So, he selectively listens to women who agree with his perspective, and then, to boot, takes a bunch of random Facebook posts from an undisclosed sample of his friends, without asking them for their opinions, applies his own analysis and no raw data, and declares himself the arbiter of what atheist women care about.

    Bra-fucking-vo.

  19. says

    . . .takes a bunch of random Facebook posts from an undisclosed sample of his friends, . . .

    He does describe his method of selection, and the number of women looked at (started at ~2500). He also mentions that a lot of them were women that simply found him through his atheist work, not women he knew personally, and goes into a description of how he narrowed down the sample. He also describes how he selected the posts he examined. I wouldn’t exactly call that an “undisclosed sample,” unless you mean names and other identification. But then every survey would be suspect.

    No raw data on the posts though, that’s true. Perhaps someone with a background in statistics can tell us if there are any specific issues with the methodology described. It looked fine to me when I read it, but I lack that background.

  20. says

    I don’t know, my experience is more that we have no problem with women attending or signing up for atheist activities, groups, or meetings. The tough bit is to retain them once they have attended, and not scare them away by behaving like troglodytes.

  21. Beatrice, anormalement indécente says

    Hello all! Now that you have conveniently moved to ftb, I’ve finally decided to stop lurking and join the conversation.

    NathanDST,

    I think that the biggest problem with Hamby’s method is that he didn’t actually ask women anything, he just examined some Facebook posts. Even more, those posts were not even necessarily about atheism, it seems he only made sure that they were made by women who are generally outspoken about their atheism. His selection also doesn’t sound very promising. While discarding this and that, it seems he managed to get a seemingly relevant sample of posts that might only by relevant to him in the light of what he wanted and expected to find. Ok, he didn’t include posts about going to lunch or just saying hello to friends, but how does that make what he did include relevant for atheist meetings, unless they were actually talking about atheist meetings?

    About statistics – I don’t think there exists a planet where that is even close to randomly chosen data. It’s much closer to cherry picking data. Not to mention that there is little to no proof (actually, none, but I was trying to give him the benefit of the doubt) of any kind of correlation between some random conversations on Facebook and the question why more women are not going to atheist meetings.

  22. Beatrice, anormalement indécente says

    Er, I should have written “of any kind of correlation between some random conversations on Facebook and the question what women would be interested to hear at atheist meetings” since that was actually what the author was trying to connect. Sorry.

  23. Noah the epistemic pinata says

    Meh, I found that article via a link on G+ and just finished posting a few complaints.

    I agree with Beatrice, his method is more-or-less useless. I’ll post part of my comments here, if you don’t mind.

    The problem with the question in general:

    I wonder why Mr. Hamby thinks his observations relate to the question: “how can we bring more women into atheism?” I can’t quite figure it out where he makes the connection.

    Is he suggesting that the topics at conventions are not popular enough? I’m not convinced that has anything to do with the lack of women: most of the topics at conventions tend to be about atheism. And it’s a safe bet that atheists interested in going to atheist conventions are interested in atheism, regardless of whether they are men or women.

    That is to say, first he has to show that topics at conventions relate to female attendance. There’s no reason to assume that this is the case.

    The problem with using Facebook:

    Culling Facebook status updates, even a random sampling, is doomed to bias beyond repair.

    Facebook posts are visible to you because your friends set them this way. By their very nature, they are posts that are selected by the author to be of interest to you. It’s worth remembering that you aren’t likely to be seeing all of their posts.

    In addition, your Facebook friends are skewed towards people who have had positive experiences with organized atheism- at least enough that they want to become Facebook friends with you.

    Where are the angry people who dislike organized atheism? Where are the apathetic people? Where are the female atheists who find you boring? They aren’t likely to be represented particularly well, are they?

    You see, when I look at the accounts of my female friends, I see posts about video games, internet memes, science, and snark. But this is what I should expect to see; these are topics that I am interested in. It makes sense that I have common interests with Facebook “friends” and that they intentionally show me topics related to my interests.

    Just as importantly, these friends don’t show me what they think I don’t want to see. For example, my feed is empty of libertarian posts. I do have friends who talk about Austrian economics and what passes for libertarian philosophy, but they (perhaps wisely) choose not to include me in the discussion.

    As you can see, Facebook is probably not the place to get an unbiased sampling.

    Even if we accept the premise and the data, which we shouldn’t, his conclusion re: feminism still doesn’t follow.

    The data doesn’t even appear to justify his conclusion re: feminism: “it appears that we may not be on the best track if we continue stressing feminism and gender politics.”

    The Facebook statuses don’t hint that women are not interested in gender issues. They suggest that his friends are interested in family, politics, and sex.

    Well hello, gender issues are directly related to family. Politics? Um, feminism, gay-rights, gender issues? These are a hot topic in politics these days. Sex, also, is directly related to gender studies. If anything, the status updates suggest that women may like to talk more about gender issues! Not less!

    Sorry for the long post!@

  24. SallyStrange says

    No apology needed, Noah. Thanks for being more articulate than I am in my dim-witted sleep-deprived state.

  25. Egbert says

    I think Hamby is making the mistake of thinking that en masse is the solution for the atheist movement, and not the quality of its arguments.

    By atheist movement I will assume “new atheism” because it’s not about all atheists, but those who want to promote some basic liberal ideals like equality and freedom.

    Hamby writes like another one of those gutless moderates to me, and that might explain why Ophelia finds him annoying. Moderates think they hold a neutral, balanced and objective position, and that those who hold either side of an argument are extremists or radicals. Accommodationists are moderates in the same way.

    But new atheism, or the ‘atheist movement’ is a polemic position and not a moderate position. That does exclude him and other moderates from voicing out for the movement. It also excludes all those atheists who support inequalities, religion and that which is opposite to the aim of the movement.

    So the movement, in a sense, is being lead by radical liberals, and the more radical the voice, the more aligned they are with the goals and aims of the movement.

    And, maybe, we need to face up to the fact that this is not really a movement about atheism, but about radical liberalism, but which particular brand of radical liberalism is it? I’m not so sure.

  26. Alernon says

    “Rebecca Watson and her stump-mates. And while their opinions are certainly important, they are not representative of all women. I know that because I’ve listened to a lot of women say so”

    FFS you shit eating pustule, we are women too. Not all women agree with each other. Go figure… we’re not a monolithic species.

    I still say fuck atheism, there’s no place for me in it.

  27. Algernon says

    *slinks back to Pharyngula where you at least don’t have to be silenced by argument ad populum at every freaking turn*

  28. Beatrice, anormalement indécente says

    It also excludes all those atheists who support inequalities, religion and that which is opposite to the aim of the movement.

    So the movement, in a sense, is being lead by radical liberals, and the more radical the voice, the more aligned they are with the goals and aims of the movement.

    I tend to read too much in people’s words, but this seems like not being very inclusive of various kinds of bigots is somehow not in alignment with the atheist movement, thus changing it into something else. Because the things for which you say people are being excluded are things that generally stem from religious thinking. So, I think they concern atheism quite a lot. Especially atheists who “support religion”. I’m not sure what you mean by that, but it sounds like those atheists are bound to feel a bit like outsiders at atheist meetings anyway. Not to mention that it’s nice to see how you jump from supporting inequalities to radical liberalism. I would expect that those who support inequalities (I assume between men and women since that would connect you to the topic at hand at least a little bit) would be challenged about those beliefs by other atheists, if for no other reason, then because a lot of that kind of thinking comes from religion. I honestly don’t see how questioning those people’s beliefs makes anyone a radical liberal.

    Other than that, what do you actually have to say about the topic? You know, women and their reasons for (not) going to atheist meetings. Unless you think that last paragraph Ophelia wrote wasn’t sarcasm and women are actually not interested in the atheist movement because of its terrible radical liberalism.

  29. Ophelia Benson says

    Algernon……..what? Here you’re silenced by argument ad populum at every freaking turn? Seriously? (Not least, I don’t even see how you were silenced at all, since you hadn’t said anything yet.)

    Beatrice – hi!

  30. Ophelia Benson says

    Egbert, I think you’re confused.

    To a considerable extent, atheism entails what you’re calling “radical liberalism.” It’s not true that “new atheism” is “really” (but covertly) about “radical liberalism” and not atheism. It’s closer to true that “new atheism” is compatible with liberalism as egalitarianism and human rights…but then so is non-“new” atheism, except when it bends too far in the direction of cuddling up to religion (cf Chris Stedman and Sojourners for instance).

    “New” atheism does tend to assume egalitarianism and human rights, but that’s not the same as trying to smuggle them in under cover of a fake commitment to atheism.

  31. julian says

    I hope nobody pays any attention to his advice.

    Oh that won’t be a problem. For me at least. Can’t speak for anyone else.

    Above all else, these atheist women are talking about three things: Traditional politics, family, and sex.

    Isn’t that sorta what everyone is talking about? Like, all the time?

  32. Egbert says

    I don’t think it’s fair to call me confused, when I’m trying to clarify and understand why atheists find themselves fundamentally disagreeing with each other.

    I may very well be confused, but I would like to understand how atheism entails radical liberalism? How do you make this inference? I think there are plenty of examples of authoritarian political atheists, or even religious atheists, so it seems a rather strange jump to me.

    I could very well say that the political activists within the atheist movement are the confused ones, by mixing atheism with liberalism.

    It’s a bit like confusing feminism with being a woman. There are plenty of anti-feminist women out there, and being a woman does not entail being a feminist.

    It also suggests that theists can’t be liberals or men can’t be feminists, although there may be a tendency to be sympathetic to such a political position if you’re the one suffering the inequality.

  33. Egbert says

    Beatrice,

    I’m not sure what you are asking me, but maybe my reply to Ophelia would help explain where I’m coming from.

  34. Ophelia Benson says

    Well I meant I thought you were confused in that particular comment, but ok, I could have just said your comment seemed confused.

    But trying to understand something doesn’t rule out confusion. You can be doing that and still be confused.

    I qualified the claim. I didn’t say “atheism entails radical liberalism.” I said “To a considerable extent, atheism entails what you’re calling “radical liberalism.”” I don’t much agree with your use of “radical” there, for one thing.

    I said ““New” atheism does tend to assume egalitarianism and human rights.” That’s the sense in which I think it entails what you’re calling radical liberalism. Do you think that’s wrong?

    You say you think there are plenty of authoritarian political atheists; but are they “new” atheists?

  35. maureen.brian says

    Bruce S Springsteen,

    Where have you been and why have you not been listening?

    PZ Myers ran a couple of threads not long ago which ended up full of constructive, imaginative, practical suggestions for making conferences more welcoming and agreeable.

    So, the preliminary work has been done. The list exists. We await some sign of the political will to use all that good information. And, no, you do not get to kick it into the long grass by asking the original question all over again.

    Here, have a link – http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/06/the_woman_problem.php – and there is more on that blog if you care to look for it.

  36. Egbert says

    Fair enough, Ophelia, your statement was more nuanced and not the way I paraphrased it. Indeed, I may simply be wrong in describing the politics of the atheist movement. It’s my attempt at trying to understand it and its divisions.

    As for new atheism, it has all the appearance of a popular movement (although not a majority movement) based on liberalism, and not particularly radical, although it has the appearance of being radical because of the phobic criticism heaped on it by moderates. [Other misunderstandings might be a result of the difference between atheism here in the UK and Europe and the States.]

    Since I view myself as both an atheist and radical (although not particularly outspoken) liberal (unless I am also confused about that) I could not help but be attracted to new atheism. I do support egalitarianism and human rights, but I can only justify them in a pragmatic way, I don’t know how they’re justified philosophically–another problem I’m grappling with.

    As for new atheists being authoritarian, this strikes me as the opposite of liberalism, which supports my interpretation of new atheism as a liberal movement (without perhaps the radical bit) but all movements and even humans have their bizarre contradictions and delusions, and sometimes liberals can behave irrationally, immorally and even authoritarian.

    That is why I’ve tried to push for a philosophical, political or ethical basis for the movement. If it really is promoting liberalism, then there is no need to seek some new philosophy, when that political theory is already established.

  37. Ophelia Benson says

    Egbert, you might be interested in Ronald Dworkin’s new book Justice for Hedgehogs.

    And sure. I don’t think new atheism entails authoritarian atheism, but that doesn’t in the least rule out particular new atheists behaving in an authoritarian way or being thoroughly authoritarian in their characters.

    On the other hand I think it’s fair to say that a distaste for authoritarianism as such is one reason new atheists are new atheists, while a taste for it is one reason theists are theists.

    That’s certainly the main reason I hate theism and god. I hate the whole system of setting up a magical absent unaccountable god and demanding constant submission to it and worship of it. Hate it hate it hate it.

  38. Egbert says

    Ophelia, thanks for the recommendation, I will put it on order. I share the same distaste, and it is mostly in authoritarian groups and their injustice and oppression of the vulnerable that horrifies me the most.

  39. L. Herbert says

    Hello everyone,
    A general suggestion:

    Please try to show more class than the subject of your ire. If you disagree with something he said, go to his blog and tell him in a respectful way.

    I personally don’t like some of his wording. But his heart is the right place. He wants more women in the atheist movement. He is thinking of ways to do that. He spent 9 hours collecting data. That is a man who really cares about something.

    Also, please try not to say, “Why doesn’t he just talk to women?” What would that article have looked like, “So, I talked to some friends and this is what they said.” That is not as interesting to me as looking at artifacts and actual secondary data. Yes, it is a small sample size, but I think 9 hours of free labor is enough.

    To be fair, I should let you know that I know William Hamby personally and G. Felis. I think we can learn something from Felis’s comments about the way to confront a fellow team member about something with which you disagree. With respect, facts, and suggestions.
    Best!!

  40. chigau (™) says

    L. Herbert
    9 whole hours.
    Collecting “data” from text-on-a-screen.
    Wherever is his Nobel?
    ——
    Why is the measure of ‘the number of women in the atheist movement’ equal to ‘the number of women who attend atheist conferences’?

  41. Ophelia Benson says

    Please try to show more class than the subject of your ire. If you disagree with something he said, go to his blog and tell him in a respectful way.

    I did, but I also wanted to talk about it in more detail here. Is that unclassy or unrespectful? I don’t think this post was all that ferocious.

  42. says

    we may not be on the best track if we continue stressing feminism and gender politics.

    I have no idea who this guy is. Has he been stressing feminism and gender politics? If not, whence the ‘we’?

  43. L. Herbert says

    Ophelia, I was not speaking about class in terms of your article, actually. I apologize if it sounded that way. I was more reacting to the comments.

    But I do have a question. What did you mean by “I hope nobody pays any attention to his advice.” You hope people ignore William’s request to include childcare into the discussion about increasing female attendance? Or you hope people ignore his indications that family issues are important to women and might increase attendance?

    I don’t think so. I think you agree with him about the main points of his article (just as G. Felis does) and you would actively work to promote both ideas within the atheist community.

    Interestingly, Blair Scott’s study of 198 women also found similar results. (So everyone that is saying there was no usefulness from William’s research might want to notice that it did act to validating Blair’s findings. Which is really cool for Blair). His little study would be called an exploratory study, meant to give some “face validity” or indications of patterns or themes.

    Are you saying individuals without a budget are not qualified to identify patterns and themes to inform policy or future research? Again, I don’t think so.

    William started his article by talking about Elevatorgate as a lead in to his thinking about what women want. I think the way he talked about it (or didn’t talk about it) was a turnoff for some, like my dear friend G. Felis.

    But I think it would be best not to ignore his article’s main points completely, but to take it (with Blair’s research) and utilize it as a “needs assessment” for future conference planning. It also opens the gate for more research. Maybe a female lead team of researchers? That would be cool too!

    Best!!

  44. SallyStrange says

    No, I’m sorry, but Hamby’s post is useless.

    1. Women talk about sex, families and politics. Okay, we already knew that, because we know women are people. I take Hamby’s self-impressed sense of revelation about this as evidence that he didn’t (doesn’t?) really see women as people.

    2. This means that women are likely to be turned off by explicit talk about feminism and gender politics. No, that doesn’t follow. Those subjects are intrinsically interrelated anyway. He didn’t even bother to ask his FB friends if that was the case, just took their propensity to discuss those things on FB as evidence that they don’t like “radical” feminism. That’s not even getting into how he treats women as a monolith, so that his small circle of friends are somehow elevated to speak for ALL women.

    Plus, he misrepresents the facts of Elevatorgate.

    There’s just no redeeming value to it at all.

  45. says

    Yes, everyone on the damn blogosphere has suggested including childcare when trying to increase female attendance. It would also have the side effect of allowing single male parents to attend, few though they are. The move is generally regarded as an excellent one, and has been kicked around by greater and nobler minds than William long before he suggested it.

  46. says

    That a man who clearly has good intentions is trying to devise a way to indirectly coax out what is needed only shows that somehow, a clear, positive statement of what women would like specifically to be done has not spontaneously arisen

    actually, what it means is that whenever a woman or a group of women clearly and unambiguously stated their grievances, the response is “no, that’s silly; give me a real reason”, or “no, this other woman said that’s not a problem, so tell me the real reason”.

    If you disagree with something he said, go to his blog and tell him in a respectful way.

    why? I don’t owe him any page hits or comments.

  47. SallyStrange says

    Oh, he cares all right. He cares deeply about finding some sciencey-sounding reason to dismiss “radical” feminists’ call for men to alter their own behavior in order to change the atmosphere. He cares about making sure that feminism and gender issues DON’T get more attention in the atheist community.

  48. says

    You’re really giving credence to the whole “man-hating” cliche when you write a response that essentially says, “Annoying man talks about women!!!”

    This has been quite a huge issue. It’s not as if he just pulled this topic from his ass. Why is it annoying that he gives a thoughtful account of what he’s found regarding it? It seems your only reason is that he happens to have dangling genitalia, which renders him annoying at best.

    You seemed to miss the point….

    From Hamby’s blog:
    “Perhaps we are excluding a large swath of atheist mothers who would love to come to events but cannot afford or arrange childcare.”

    “…it appears that we may not be on the best track if we continue stressing feminism and gender politics.”

    “If Elevatorgate has been anything to the women in my sample, it’s been a turn-off.”

  49. SallyStrange says

    You’re really giving credence to the whole “man-hating” cliche when you write a response that essentially says, “Annoying man talks about women!!!”

    The only people who give credence to that idiotic and dated cliche are assholes and misogynists. If you choose to use this post as fodder to confirm that, then that reflects poorly on you, not the post.

  50. SallyStrange says

    “Perhaps we are excluding a large swath of atheist mothers who would love to come to events but cannot afford or arrange childcare.”

    Duh.

    “…it appears that we may not be on the best track if we continue stressing feminism and gender politics.”

    Wrong.

    “If Elevatorgate has been anything to the women in my sample, it’s been a turn-off.”

    Wrong.

  51. Classical Cipher, OM says

    Please try to show more class than the subject of your ire. If you disagree with something he said, go to his blog and tell him in a respectful way.

    Don’t try this silencing bullshit here. This man, whose tone is polite and civil and calm, is telling “the atheist movement” that what it should do is shut me further out than it already has, by shutting up about what matters to me, because he’s decided that his female friends wouldn’t like to hear it. Frankly, the fact that he can pretend politeness – and you can suggest “respect” for him – while he is being this profoundly disrespectful is only adding to the offense. I’m an atheist woman and a feminist who does not feel welcome in the atheist movement. Mr. Hamby is only reinforcing my suspicion that when y’all say you want to draw women into the movement, you don’t mean me.

  52. SallyStrange says

    Mr. Hamby is only reinforcing my suspicion that when y’all say you want to draw women into the movement, you don’t mean me.

    And me.

    Note that these comments on Mr. Hamby’s post received no negative response from Mr. Hamby:

    Elevator Gurl, if he only wanted coffee (?) Do you think you are god’s gift to man? Oops, sorry EG, you don’t believe in god…or having coffee. —Douglas Posner

    —————————

    I watched her video. Not impressed. I would rather not attend meetings if these are the type of women they draw. Seriously. I am not into drama and assumptions (like she made about this man) I am into facts. That’s why I am an atheist. But…I do think childcare would be a big draw. :) —Valerie Hunsinger

    Either the atheist community is on board with the idea that women are people, or it is not. If it’s the former, then there will be room for me and SC. If it’s the latter, then people like Valerie and Douglas will dominate the movement.

  53. julian says

    It seems your only reason is that he happens to have dangling genitalia, which renders him annoying at best. -Jesus Fetus Fajita Fishsticks

    You are getting this from where?

    Women talk about sex, families and politics. Okay, we already knew that, because we know women are people. -SallyStrange

    This

    Sex, family and politics sounds like the 3 general topics 90% of all news headlines from the last 10 years would fall under. What exactly was Mr. Hamby expecting to find?

  54. SallyStrange says

    It seems your only reason is that he happens to have dangling genitalia, which renders him annoying at best. -Jesus Fetus Fajita Fishsticks

    No, Jesus. As the old saw goes, “I don’t hate men, I hate assholes. It’s not my fault if you think that being a man means being an asshole.”

  55. SallyStrange says

    What exactly was Mr. Hamby expecting to find?

    Exactly what he did find, to wit: women hate feminism. Women get turned off when other women speak up for their right to be treated with respect and dignity. Women like babies and families and sex and mainstream politics. Women happen to feel exactly the same way as Mr. Hamby about all these things. It’s science!

  56. Josh Slocum says

    Why is it annoying that he gives a thoughtful account of what he’s found regarding it?

    Thoughtful? Really? You actually find that thoughtful? And you wonder why feminists find your type annoying as all get out.

    Hello everyone,
    A general suggestion:

    Please try to show more class than the subject of your ire. If you disagree with something he said, go to his blog and tell him in a respectful way.

    A general suggestion to you:

    Do not barge in here and tell people what to do. Do not prescribe the ways in which we’re allowed to express our views. Do not ever (and stop that right now – I can see you typing, “But I was only suggesting. . .” stop it. )order us to express our sentiments in the way you find acceptable.

    And a general question:

    Who the hell do you think you are?

  57. says

    Women happen to feel exactly the same way as Mr. Hamby about all these things.

    We’re GOD. And we love abortion rights. And Margaret Braun’s cakes.

    ***

    (and stop that right now – I can see you typing,

    hee

  58. Carlie says

    Given that he thinks that “add childcare and maybe more women will come to conferences” is a novel idea of his, it’s pretty obvious that he hasn’t spent any significant time at all studying or trying to understand either this issue or the women involved in it.

  59. Ophelia Benson says

    This man, whose tone is polite and civil and calm, is telling “the atheist movement” that what it should do is shut me further out than it already has, by shutting up about what matters to me, because he’s decided that his female friends wouldn’t like to hear it.

    This. It’s classic “moderate” othering – calling people like me “extreme” and citing the “mainstream” as a way to other and silence and shut out people like me.

  60. Ophelia Benson says

    L Herbert –

    But I do have a question. What did you mean by “I hope nobody pays any attention to his advice.” You hope people ignore William’s request to include childcare into the discussion about increasing female attendance? Or you hope people ignore his indications that family issues are important to women and might increase attendance?

    I hope people ignore the things I picked out in my post – his bizarro version of “radical” and “mainstream” feminists; his “we” talk about women as if atheism belonged to him and his male buddies and women were outsiders; his claim that “the only women speaking loudly about women in the atheist movement were… Rebecca Watson and her stump-mates”; his goofy “research”; his conclusion that atheist women are interested in “Traditional politics, family, and sex. Not sex-roles, or sexual politics.”

    That’s all very clear in my post, so I don’t really see why you asked that question.

    I think you agree with him about the main points of his article (just as G. Felis does) and you would actively work to promote both ideas within the atheist community.

    I take the items I listed to be some of the main points in his article, and I don’t agree with him about them.

  61. Aquaria says

    Please try to show more class than the subject of your ire. If you disagree with something he said, go to his blog and tell him in a respectful way.

    I have a mom, thanks. I don’t need one pretending to be that on the Internet.

    IOW: Fuck off.

  62. 4theist4narchist says

    Guy is dumb as dirt. Since when is a sample of something as arbitrary as someone’s friend-list commentariat representative of 50% of the population of the world? I don’t want knuckledraggers like this guy representing me as an atheist or a male. He must have become an atheist by happenstance, because surely it wasn’t critical thinking that led him there. And then there’s this from Hamby: “If Elevatorgate has been anything to the women in my sample, it’s been a turn-off.”
    If it weren’t for spoiled little twerps who can’t live without their unquestioned male privilege, “Elevatorgate” would never have made more than a blip on the radar. Instead, you have all these crypto-chauvinists screaming, “Elevatorgate! Elevatorgate!” at the top of their lungs. A woman says plainly that it’s not always appropriate to approach her because she does not exist for the pleasure of the manchild, and you get a bunch of people bleeding out the ears. “How dare she try to cut off his balls like that! Why, in my day she would be beaten for her rebellion against the Men of this Earth! She is a cantankerous soul, and will nary make a good wife to soften his plow, what say you?!” *vomit*

  63. maria says

    You can’t possibly attract more women by ostracizing them, calling them deranged, making fun of their looks/photos, telling lies about them, disclosing private info, and dismissing their opinions as idiotic. So if your goal is keeping most women away, people like PZ, Laden, Diane Kennedy, and Ophelia are masters at it. Keep on with your pretend causes if that’s what gives you pleasure, though. It’s your right. But the doors are open, and if more women wanted to join people like you, they would. Guess what? WE DON’T.

    Please stop perpetuating the falsehood that most of those disagreeing with you approve of EG’s conduct(if the incident even happened). Every man I’ve spoken with has said he would never do that. The time and place was uncomfortable and inappropriate, especially given the topic of Watson’s lecture. But that’s a non-issue.

  64. says

    Maria – did you not notice that this post is more than two months old? I don’t see the point of commenting on it now.

    Meanwhile you could stop talking shit about me on Facebook. Just a few days ago you said I approved of people calling you a whore on my blog, which is complete nonsense.

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