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Lazy writer is lazy

Salon’s Katie Engelhart has a perplexing question: Where are the Women of new Atheism?

Where were the women?

Why, they were right there: stolidly leading people away from the fold. They were irreverent bloggers and institution founders. And scholars. Around the time that the Dawkins-Hitchens-Harris tripartite published its big wave of Atheist critique, historian Jennifer Michael Hecht published “Doubt” and journalist Susan Jacoby published “Freethinkers“—both critically acclaimed. And yet, these women, and many others, failed to emerge as public figures, household names. “Nobody talked about [Doubt] as a ‘phenomenon,’” Hecht has noted. “They just talked about the book.” What gives?

Credit where due: At least Engelhart links to Jen McCreight, Skepchick, Secular Woman and the Amazon page for one of Ophelia Benson’s books. Without mentioning any of the individual women involved by name, other than Hecht and Jacoby as above.

And without a single mention of the misogynist campaign within New Atheism to silence women through constant harassment and occasional worse behavior. It’s as if Engelhart’s wrote a piece asking the question “Why Do So Many People Have Bullet Wounds?” with no mention whatsoever of people who commit assaults, or even of guns.

Those of us who’ve been in the blog world for a while might be excused for feeling a sense of déjà vu.

Nope, it’s not that the women in the movement have persevered in the face of outrageous contempt that eats up time and emotional energy they could be spending getting shit done. It’s because they have “failed to emerge as public figures, household names.”

I expect Engelhart had the best of intentions. But her article did whatever the opposite of “helping” is.

There are of course other aspects of the article that could be profitably dissected. Help yourself to the chum, oh fair denizens of the shark tank.

Comments

  1. says

    historian Jennifer Michael Hecht published “Doubt” and journalist Susan Jacoby published “Freethinkers“—both critically acclaimed. And yet, these women, and many others, failed to emerge as public figures, household names

    I really enjoyed the spot with Jennifer Michael Hecht on NPR. I think there was one with Susan Jacoby, too. They both made me run out (or click over to amazon) and buy the books, which I enjoyed and learned from.

    they have “failed to emerge as public figures, household names.”

    Military historian John Keegan pointed out (“The Face of Battle”) that narrative descriptions of conflict often have this weird break, in which the disposition before the action is described in detail, the maneuvers are described in some detail, but the actual results are simplified tremendously in order to gloss over (literally!) the horror that actually ensued. I think that there’s a certain amount of that going on, here. They just failed to emerge You know, like, “it didn’t rain yesterday” – sort of nature taking its course.

  2. ludicrous says

    Off topic, sorry,

    Trying to get back to the online conference pages, can’t find a link on the front page.

  3. Tethys says

    Enter “New, New Atheism”: the next generation, with its more spiritual brand of non-belief, and its ambition to build an atheist church.

    Lazy writer indeed, at least she makes it clear in the first paragraph. Are any of the horde interested in a more spiritual brand non-belief?
    *crickets*
    Yeah, me neither.

    I am not interested in church of any type. If I wanted church, I would go to a meeting of Quakers where using your brain and humanism are valued above “faith”.

  4. coelsblog says

    And without a single mention of the misogynist campaign within New Atheism to silence women …

    Doesn’t this count as a “single mention”?:

    “Others have looked to sexism within the Atheist community (read: Elevatorgate).”

  5. anteprepro says

    And without a single mention of the misogynist campaign within New Atheism to silence women through constant harassment and occasional worse behavior….It’s because they have “failed to emerge as public figures, household names.”

    I think you are mischaracterizing the article. For example, the sentences after the “failed to emerge” quote seem to me to suggest that the “failure” in question is not a question of merit or the actions of women. It implies bias on the part of how someone becomes a public figure or household name. That there is something that makes it so that, with comparable messages from both a man and a woman, the message from the man gains more cultural clout. The article follows that paragraph with mentions of men, centuries ago, talking about how rare and/or horrible female atheists were, which I think reinforces that point.

    I am not sure if it was supposed to logical link with this, but later on they have a paragraph saying:

    In a 2011 article in Bitch, journalist Victoria Bekiempis made the provocative claim that the “showboating [Atheist] boys’ club” is a media construct. She notes that around 2006, several news articles were published describing Dawkins et al. as a “band of intellectual brothers”: Atheism’s bullheaded bro-elite. That image—with its tidy narrative and ready stock characters—stuck. Bekiempis’s advice: “Let’s reframe. For every mention of Hitchens, counter with a mention of Hecht.”

    It all seems to suggest that the answer to the question for why women are so rare in atheism leadership is Cultural and Media Bias. The article is a little mealy-mouthed and all over the place. It isn’t quite as Strident ™ as I would like, but I don’t think it as bad as you suggest, or even for the reasons you suggest. It does really seem about right to me.

    Some of the good bits from the article:

    In the end, a female atheist was more than a walking blaspheme. She was a tear in the social fabric—and a menace to all…

    Others have looked to sexism within the Atheist community (read: Elevatorgate)….

    Susan Jacoby, author of “Freethinkers,” has pointed to a kind of inter-movement antagonism. In an attempt to win over right-wingers, she argues, Atheists have been too timid in their assertion of women’s rights. Of course, history teaches that movements for change, even when they conceptually overlap, don’t always hold hands. Too great are concerns about alienating supporters and diluting the cause brand….

    But if Atheists are going to use “church,” as a word and an organizational model, they should pay heed to the long legacy of women’s oppression and torment that the Church represents. New Atheist churches should be active in their inclusivity, aggressively seeking out diversity in leadership and attending directly to issues of women’s rights….

    Women have been preached at, by men, since the days of yore. Let us be wary not to give up the pulpit of non-belief too.

    Well, I suppose giving undue relevance and implicit praise to these Secular Churches (some of which were explicitly founded by comedians ) is something worth complaining about. But I think its conclusions on the issue of atheist women sounds pretty damn good.

    #deeprifts #hivemind

  6. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    With disgusting irony, the comments on the Salon article are highlighting the very obvious, primary, number one reason women don’t get cred that the writer somehow didn’t grasp.

    Sort the comments by date to see oldest first. You get Madalyn Murray O’Hair was a total bitch, she poisoned the reader for female atheists forever, she was super irritating and that’s why she provoked someone into murdering her, she’s not fully biologically female but party harpy. . .

    I can’t take it.

  7. says

    coelsblog:

    And without a single mention of the misogynist campaign within New Atheism to silence women …

    Doesn’t this count as a “single mention”?:

    “Others have looked to sexism within the Atheist community (read: Elevatorgate).”

    It’s in the ballpark, but it’s only a reference that makes sense if you already know what she’s talking about. Sexism exists everywhere. Coordinated, vicious misogynistic campaigns to marginalize individual women as examples to others are different.

  8. says

    Tethys:

    Are any of the horde interested in a more spiritual brand non-belief?

    :Thinks back to all the ferocious, multi-page threads over humanist chaplains, atheist churches and what not:

    That would be a no.

  9. A. Noyd says

    Kind of hard to become household names when even articles asking where the women are mention over four times as many men as women.

  10. =8)-DX says

    They literally used Dawkins’, Harris and Hitchens’ mugs as their intro shots. Why not fuckin’ *show* some of the lady atheists you’re trying to write about?

    There has to be a problem with media if one has to go to google images to find out what Jennifer Michael Hecht and Susan Jacoby look like. Being seen is important to being heard.

  11. jeanettegarcia says

    I’m no household name but I am quietly spreading my atheist poison amongst my women friends, who surprisingly, feel freer or braver to ‘come out’ with their own atheistic leanings.

  12. carlie says

    How does one get a job writing crap?

    Because there are many people who seem to do just that, and for major publications as well as in smaller venues. I want one of those jobs. It’s money for nothing and chicks for free, man.

  13. says

    Ms Englehart fumbled on this one, IMO.
    1- An article discussing the absence of prominent women in the atheist movement is not served by having images of men but *no women*

    2- She appears to place importance on prominence, but what does she mean by that (and why should it matter)?
    Is prominence determined by how many books one has written or individual book sales? Is it determined by the number of speaking engagements? Is it recognition in the eyes of J. Q. Public?
    Plenty of women in the movement have written books, or are political activists, or speak at conventions.
    Is it a matter of degree? Does she feel that women have not achieved a level of fame similar to Dennet, Harris or Dawkins? Do their contributions not count until they reach some arbitrary level of achievement? Would that even be necessary to be prominent?

    3- She only touches on the Misogyny War, but that is no small internal battle. That almost certainly affects the prominence (actual or perceived) of women.
    I suspect the treatment many female atheists have experienced within the movement factors in the perception of their absence from prominence.

    So she identifies the problem (though for the benefit of those who do not understand the need for diversity, perhaps touching upon *why* prominent women are needed would have been good), and offers a few explanations (insufficiently fleshed out), but then what? What about solutions to the problem?

    Ms Englehart does mention a small number of female atheists (all three of them), but she missd a great opportunity to highlight many more.
    A Google search turns up a great resource compiled back in 2010 by Jen McCreight:

    In a perfect world, we shouldn’t have to have a separate list for female atheist activists. Some commenters even said such a list was “patronizing” by insinuating that women couldn’t play with the big boys. But when other polls, lists, and posts seem to forget our existence, every little bit of awareness helps. We have just as insightful things to say, but we need people to listen. Once more people realize this, you’ll start seeing more females listed amongst the likes of Dawkins, Hitchins, Harris, Dennett, Myers, etc…

    So, without further ado, here is a list of some great female atheists who you should check out if you haven’t already done so:

    http://www.blaghag.com/2010/01/large-list-of-awesome-female-atheists.html?m=1

    McCreight goes on to highlight female bloggers, activists, comedians, and authors ( Julia Sweeney, Amy Davis Roth, Catherine Deveny, Taslima Nasreen, Amanda Marcotte, Sikivu Hutchinson, Kathy Griffith, Annie Laurie Gaylor and many more are listed).

    Jen’s blogpost is the first listed on a search for ‘prominent female atheists’, so it ain’t hard to find.

    In the end, the article comes across to me as half hearted. There are many women of varying levels of prominence in the movement already. More voices are important in helping shed New Atheism’s ‘boys club’ (which broadens its appeal) but the irony of this article is that it continues the status quo rather than helping topple it.

  14. morgan says

    Tony, IMHO you excel as a Culture Critic. I would pay to read your writing. Keep up the great work. I’m a fan.

  15. F [is for fluvial] says

    failed to emerge

    Well, teh men make certain they emerge, what with their skill and will to power, their destinies are fully under their own control. It’s more of a guy thing, not so much for women. They just don’t try hard enough, and are naturally less noticeable than men. Protective coloration or something.

    Yeah, I’ve got your failure to emerge right here. Its true name is Spot the Fallacies.

  16. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    I din’t read the article yet, but it appears to have failed to mention that Dawkins, Hitchens and Dennett were already pretty famous before they started writing about atheism. Dawkins and Dennett already had a bit of rock star status in the fields of biology and philosophy, respectively. And Hitchens was already a widely read writer and tv pundit. That seems like a pretty good starting point for explaining why they are household names while the female writers in New Atheism, are not yet.

  17. w00dview says

    carlie:

    How does one get a job writing crap?

    Because there are many people who seem to do just that, and for major publications as well as in smaller venues. I want one of those jobs.

    I have always wondered how easy it must be to write reactionary drivel for wingnut publications like the National Review and WND. Just now, I already have fact free, whiny, paranoid rants circling around in my head that the readers would eat up. For example, Endangered Species Act: the ultimate form of welfare? If those so called endangered species just pulled themselves by their bootstraps and learned to live around their human superiors, it would help stop them sucking on the government teat. Just like those hard working, rugged individualist species like raccoons, coyotes, seagulls and rats. Also any liberals supporting the ESA are hypocrites because they believe in evolution. If evolution was actually real why don’t the endangered critters just EVOLVE to live around humans, huh? But if they admitted that, then they would have no excuse to tell you what to do with your property. So instead they get to teach kids they are nothing but animals having gay abortions and the spotted owl gets to live the good life on YOUR tax money!

  18. left0ver1under says

    This isn’t just about denying there are vocal women atheists (i.e. the “writer” wants to pretend they don’t exist). The clown who wrote it is saying the same thing about women atheists that she would say about women christians – that women are “less intelligent” and shouldn’t or can’t speak out. It’s as much an attack on women in general as a false labelling of atheism as a “white man’s game”.

  19. David Marjanović says

    I din’t read the article yet, but it appears to have failed to mention that Dawkins, Hitchens and Dennett were already pretty famous before they started writing about atheism. Dawkins and Dennett already had a bit of rock star status in the fields of biology and philosophy, respectively.

    Uh, scroll back up: Dennett isn’t mentioned. Instead of “Four Horsemen”, the quote at the top talks about “the Dawkins-Hitchens-Harris tripartite”, strongly implying the author doesn’t even know Dennett exists.

    Was Harris famous before his “Letter to a Christian Nation”?

  20. razzlefrog says

    I think part of the reason why (especially right wing) media can sometimes resist showing female atheists and insist there’s a “women are believers” problem is because a religious movement devoid of women is doomed to fail and everyone knows it. No one would be intimidated by a new Protestant denomination comprised entirely of 300 men, because religious traditions are less likely to get passed on without female adherents. Now, atheists, obviously, are not religious, but their ideas function in much the same way: they need spreading.

    Also, as a woman, I keep sensing there’s a masculine undercurrent where “you have no women on your side” is an indirect way of religious men insisting male nonbelievers are less appealing, less attractive, less male by fault of not having enough female trophies to flaunt.