I was going to sit this one out, since other people have already said most of what I was going to say on the subject. (Soraya Chemaly especially hit it out of the park, IMO.) But I’ve been asked to make a comment on Katie Engelhart’s widely-discussed “Where Are The Women Of New Atheism?” piece in Salon: I was just going to give a quick quote, but it turned into a blog post, so here it is.
My main problem with Engelhart’s article is that it conflates several different questions… and proceeds to respond as if they all had the same answer. Why do proportionately fewer women self-identify as non-believers? Why do women who do self-identify as non-believers participate in the atheist community at proportionately lower rates? Why are there proportionately fewer women in positions of leadership and visibility in the atheist community? Why is there so little media attention given to the women who are in the atheist community, and who are in positions of leadership and visibility?
These are not the same questions. They have different answers — answers that are related and connected, but not the same. Some of them have to do with issues of sexism within the atheist community… and some have to do with issues of sexism in society in general… and some have to do with the intersection between the two. (IMO, Soraya Chemaly’s response in Salon did a bang-up job of addressing them.)
I mean, come on. You’re asking why the mainstream media doesn’t pay attention to female leaders in the atheist movement… and the answer, “because the mainstream media is totally fucking sexist, with a well-documented history of ignoring women in any situation” isn’t even on the table?
There are lots of prominent female atheists. Lots and lots and lots. In no particular order: Teresa MacBain, Jessica Ahlquist, Jamila Bey, Maryam Namazie, Taslima Nasreen, Amanda Knief, Amanda Metskas, Amanda Marcotte, Lyz Liddell, Susan Jacoby, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Rebecca Goldstein, Rebecca Watson, Rebecca Hensler, Rebecca Hale, Debbie Goddard, Katherine Stewart, Ophelia Benson, Julia Galef, Lauren Anderson Youngblood, Lauren Lane, Lauren Becker, Ayanna Watson, Mandisa Lateefah Thomas, Maggie Ardiente, Jennifer Bardi, Valerie Tarico, Libby Anne, Beth Presswood, Jen Peeples, Tracie Harris, Lindsay Beyerstein, Sarah Moglia, Ania Bula, Kim Rippere, Jennifer McCreight, Ashley F. Miller, Sikivu Hutchinson, Zinnia Jones, Miri Mogilevsky, Kate Donovan, Charone Paget, Heina Dadabhoy, Stephanie Zvan, Dana Hunter, Brianne Bilyeu, Chris Rodda, Yemisi Ilesanmi, Kylie Sturgess, Nicome Taylor, Desiree Schell, Melody Hensley, Vyckie Garrison, Soraya Chemaly, Bridget Gaudette, Cara Santa Maria, Ashley Paramore, A.J. Johnson, Jennifer Micheal Hecht, Wafa Sultan, Sylvia Broeckx, Indra Zuno, Amy Davis Roth, Shelley Segal, Naima Washington, Carrie Poppy, Harriet Thugman, Cristina Rad, Laci Green, Mina Ahadi, Naima Cabelle, Margaret Downey, me, loads more than I’m leaving out because there just isn’t room or time. The fact that Katie Engelhart doesn’t seem to know about us, or that the mainstream media isn’t reporting on us, doesn’t mean we’re not here, or that we’re not a significant part of this movement.
Do we need more? Hell, yes. Do we need to deal with the sexism and misogyny in our movement? Hell, yes. Many of us are already working on this, have been working on it for some time — and we’ve gotten results. (Atheist conferences with all- or mostly-male speaker lineups used to be common: now they’re a rarity. And female attendance at atheist conferences has gone up significantly.) But if Salon wants to address the issue of why female atheists aren’t getting enough attention outside the atheist community, maybe they could start by not illustrating an article on women atheists with pictures of Dawkins and Harris and Hitchens.