Does the media really care where the atheist women are?

I was so hopeful when I found Ms. Magazine’s piece “Will ‘New Atheism’ Make Room for Women?” It’s exciting enough when the media covers atheism (and is nice enough to put “New Atheism” in the silly quotes it deserves), but media coverage of female atheists is a rarity. Ms. Magazine has the potential to reach oodles of women who aren’t familiar with us atheist activists. If we want more women to be involved with secularism and skepticism and more atheist men to realize how many great atheist women are out there, we need coverage like this.

Then I actually read it.

To say it was disappointing is an understatement. It seems like this was the extent of the research the writer put into the article:

  1. Google “female atheists”
  2. Read titles on first page of results
  3. Play up posts that sound negative, downplay posts that are positive

Reading the articles you link to? Interviewing people? Pfft, what journalist does that? Writing a spin piece that will generate controversy and make atheists look bad will generate a lot more hits! Of course, I’m blogging about it… so congrats, Monica Shores, I guess you succeeded.

Just to prove I’m not some butt-hurt atheist afraid to acknowledge valid criticisms, let’s take this piece apart bit by bit, shall we?

If you’ve been following the rise of so-called “New Atheism” movement, you may have noticed that it sure looks a lot like old religion.

A warning sign after one sentence! The “atheism is a religion” trope is so overdone – if you really want to hear a rebuttal, go here.

The individuals most commonly associated with contemporary atheism—Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Victor Stenger—are all male, white and, well, kinda old (69, 61, 68 and 75). Sam Harris, another popular figure who bears mention, has the distinction of being in his early 40s.

There’s no official definition of New Atheism, but the general consensus is that while atheists were once content to not believe in God by themselves, “new” atheists are determined to proselytize so that others join their disbelief. They can’t abide by tolerance of religion, because religion is so insidious a force as to warrant constant criticism. Though they dare not hope for eradication of religion outright, they have expressed the wish that a belief in God become “too embarrassing” for most people to admit.

Definite use of weasel words to put “New Atheism” in a negative light, but whatever, that’s the least of this piece’s problems. Let’s move on.

Given the immense harm many organized religions inflict on women through outright violence and institutional oppression, it seems women may have more to gain than men from exiting their faith.

Yes, exactly! Wow, is Ms. Magazine going to argue that more women should be atheists? Is it going to talk about atheist women who have made those arguments? Is it going to highlight female atheists who deserve more attention from the media?

Yet no women are currently recognized as leaders or even mentioned as a force within the movement.

Um… what? No leaders in the movement? How about Ayaan Hirsi Ali, highly successful author and woman’s right activist? Or Lori Lipman Brown, founding director of Secular Coalition for America? Or Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-founder and current co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation? Or Debbie Goddard, campus coordinator at the Center for Inquiry? Or Susan Jacoby, director of New York’s Center for Inquiry? Or Wendy Kaminer, Secular Coalition for America Advisory Board Member? Or Lyz Liddell, campus organizer for the Secular Student Alliance? Or Amanda Metskas, Head Director of Camp Quest? Or Ariane Sherine, creator of the Atheist Bus Campaign?

And those are just some of the “official” leaders. You just wanted forces within the movement? How about the dozens and dozens of female authors, journalists, bloggers, videobloggers, podcasters, and comedians who you just conveniently forgot about?

I think you get my point.

The lack of lady presence is so visible that Conservapedia commented on it by noting that Dawkins’ website overwhelmingly attracts male visitors.

Yeah, an article must be excellent when it’s using Conservapedia to prove its point.

One study-supported theory is that there simply aren’t as many female atheists as there are male, while another is that new atheism is “off-putting” to women. Earlier this year, journalist Sarah McKenzie suggested that women aren’t socialized to defend their beliefs with the same vigorous and “militant” zeal expected of atheists, and proposed that the movement make space for traditionally feminine characteristics like “story-telling [and] empathy.”

McKenzie’s article garned much less backlash than a similar piece by Stephen Prothero, who irritated female unbelievers with his call to promote the “friendly” and “gentler” voices of faith-abstaining women.

Or maybe Prothero was more criticized because his piece was published in USA today, which is the widest circulated newspaper in the United States, and Sarah McKenzie’s article was published in the Sydney Morning Herald, which has 2 million fewer readers than US Today. I simply hadn’t heard about her piece.

Atheist Ophelia Benson criticized Prothero’s assertion that women are “more apt to tell stories[…] than to argue” as being dangerously close to relegating women to “weakness and passivity.” In the Washington Post, Susan Jacoby tackled a few myths about atheism while expressing unhappiness with “Prothero’s view [that the movement consists] mainly of Angry White Men.”

Holy crap, the author finally mentions some female atheists! …Except she only does so in the context of them defending female atheists and rebutting sexist remarks, not all the other wonderful writing they’re known for. Because you know, the atheist movement doesn’t have any female “forces.” Just females who feel isolated for being female.

But the predominance of white male v
oices is one point Jacoby couldn’t and didn’t refute.

Um, maybe not in that particular article, or maybe not Jacoby… but the issue has been discussed endlessly. Yes, there seems to be a predominance of white males, but many of us have suggested ways to improve diversity, and it seems to be getting better, whether you’re looking at demographics of local groups or panels devoted to women’s issues at conferences.

A quick search for female atheists will pull up such depressing fare as “Dating Atheist Single Women” and “Top 10 Sexiest Female Atheists.” (There is also a list for atheist males.) Unfortunately, such an overtly sexist mentality is in abundance; the loudest complaints about the absence of atheist women seems to come from atheist males who want non-believing girlfriends. In one unintentionally hilarious and cringe-inducing post, a blogger’s musings on the small pool of atheist women devolve into racy pictures of actresses with helpful points like “I happen to like petite girls, but a lot of guys are into more curves,” and “I don’t know who this girl is, but she’s redheaded and hot” alongside a picture of a paid model clad in a “Thank God I’m an Atheist” t-shirt.

This isn’t even an accurate representation of her “quick search.” The first link is just some dating site, nothing that has to do with the atheist movement. The second list is pretty skeevy, but it’s also years old. When Common Sense Atheism made a similar list a couple months ago, there was an internet shitstorm of men and women alike calling him out for the sexist post. And you know what? He actually apologized and took the original post down. If that’s not progress, what is?

The third link about wanting non-believing girlfriends actually links to a dating-related post I wrote, and the rest of his discussion was asking how to make women feel more welcome. Not exactly a “wanting non-believing girlfriends” themed post.

And the fourth link? Congratulations for finding someone’s anonymous, personal blog that no one else reads as your example of a sexist atheist. You’re right – there are some atheists out there who are sexist, or shallow, or assholes. But there are also Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Scientologists that can fit in that category too. Maybe if that blog had belonged to one of those male “leaders” or “forces” of atheism and went uncriticized by the movement, then you’d have a point.

The rest of the links that a “quick search returns” are all pieces defending, promoting, or wondering how we can be more welcoming to female atheists. But that doesn’t fit her theme of “atheists are big fat sexist jerks,” so she apparently didn’t feel like including those.

Progressive bloggers have pointed out that prejudice is a major problem within the movement, but few mainstream articles have gone as far to suggest that sexism, let alone racism, among atheist males might be a factor in keeping women away. One rarely addressed aspect online and in print is the preponderance of scientists, particularly evolutionary biologists, whose rhetoric can occasionally become reductionist and cliched. (Daniel Dennett, one of the aforementioned movement luminaries, implied that women’s “biology” is the reason for their exclusion from church hierarchies, as opposed to the churches’ stigmatization of that biology.)

That progressive blogger? Greta Christina, who is very popular within the atheist movement. Why not mention her by name, call her an “atheist blogger,” or acknowledge that she’s a woman? That piece on racism? Rant from a random Christian blogger, rather then the recent panel discussion about Science and Faith in the Black Community that actually discussed what it’s like being an African American atheist. That third link? Random people on an internet forum. Again, apparently random people posting anonymously on the internet are a representation of “leaders” and “forces” of the atheist movement, but published female writers and leaders of organizations are not.

That final link “criticizing” biological and evolutionary arguments? Doesn’t actually refute or critique any of the things Dennett or Dawkins say, other than just generally being uneasy about evolution. As a feminist atheist evolutionary biologist…you’re going to have to do better than that.

Christopher Hitchens, the only non-scientist of the high profile bunch, is notorious for inviting accusations of misogyny and racism by alleging that women are fundamentally unfunny and referring to Wanda Sykes as “the black dyke.American Atheists, an organization founded by a woman, appears to have entered an era of leadership primarily provided by white males. They also overwhelmingly favor white men for their magazine covers and everyone with a picture on the website, male or female, is white.

Follow the link. Apparently currently having a female VP and 4 females on a 18 member board is entering “an era.” 4 out of 18 is far from perfect, but it’s hardly entering some patriarchal regime. I guess Shores has psychic abilities to predict what American Atheists’ leadership will look like for the next ten years. That or she’s just conveniently ignoring all the organizations who do have diverse leadership (see above) and finding the worst possible example to further her own viewpoint.

Of course, atheist women do exist, as do atheists of color, and at least one (Ayaan Hirsi Ali) has written a best-selling book. Yet since the long-gone days of Madalyn Murray O’Hare (once the best-known U.S. atheist), none have the visibility and name-recognition of Hitchens and Dawkins. Sadly, there’s little indication that atheists are receptive to the suggestion that they might benefit from diversifying in color or gender. But unless they commit to fostering true inclusivity, they may continue to invite “deconverts” with one hand while pushing many away with another.

I find it incredibly ironic that she links to my long list of awesome female atheists, yet doesn’t make the connection that it means there are awesome female atheists who are active, appreciated members of the atheist movement.

The post on color? Adam Lee invited Sikivu Hutchinson, a well-known female atheist of color, to write a post to raise awareness for his blog readers. The post on gender? One of PZ Myer’s many posts pointing out how we need to make atheism more welcoming to women. Yep, that’s really “little indication that atheists are receptive to the suggestion that they might benefit from diversifying in color or gender.”

Do you really have any evidence of that, or is that just what you think from a cursory Googling? How about the Science and Faith in the Black Community panel I mentioned? Debbie Goddard’s talk on diversity in the freethought community? Greta Christina’s piece on what atheists can learn from the GLBT movement? How about PZ Myers and Hemant Mehta (a very well known non-white atheist you somehow didn’t include) who defend atheist women so frequently that I can’t even link to all of their posts that do so?

The community has reacted overwhelmingly positively to these pieces. I may get some trolls when I talk about feminism, but the vast majority of the responses are positive. Hell, I’ve been asked to speak specifically about women and atheism for at least four upcoming conferences so far. That’s not being receptive?

Sure, there are some atheists who are sexist. I just wrote a massive post about it, though I clarify that I think atheists are still less sexist than other groups. There’s room for improvement, but the movement is only getting more and more diverse.

But you know what I think is part of the problem?


Not just you, Monica Shores. But all of the media. You love to write pieces that spin atheism in a negative light to generate controversy. A schism or disturbance in a movement is news, isn’t it? Or maybe it’s more personal biases that make you create a rotten, distorted image of atheism. I can only guess. But you know why female atheists aren’t as well known?

Because you don’t talk about them, even in a piece about female atheists.

If you ask “New Atheists” who are actively involved in the movement – bloggers, writers, student leaders – who their favorite atheists are, their lists are quite diverse. We don’t just ramble off the names of the Four Horsemen like drones. I’d tell you how much I love Friendly Atheist, and Skepchick, and Greta Christina.

You are the ones who are only reporting about the men.

Maybe people would start associating female, or racially diverse, or younger people with contemporary atheism if the media actually started mentioning female, or racially diverse, or younger people. We’ve already published the books, given the talks, written the blogs, and garnered attention within our movement.

It’s your move to develop the association.


  1. says

    as an atheist in the media, i have to agree with all of this. i cannot begin to explain how irritating and maddening it is to constantly have to put religion in a positive light or treat it with kid gloves because i’m instructed to play to my audience.even being an atheist in the newsroom leads me to be shunned, (but usually not ridiculed,) for my assertions.i can tell you that you should expect to only get favorable press from the media when the movement has already won.sorry, not much those few of us among the media can do on that one. unless, of course, we don’t want to work.

  2. mcbender says

    Jen, this is an excellent post….I seem to be saying little else here these days, but I honestly have nothing to add. You did a very thorough job here.

  3. says

    This. And I can’t tell you how annoyed I am that it is now acceptable to use primarily online postings to form a legitimate, serious article in a major publication. Is it really that hard now to shoot off an email to someone asking for an interview? Or a phone call? Something? Because I have to say, a lot of what is posed online anonymously is a good example of the lowest common denominator of humanity’s thoughts, and just about any group can get grossly misrepresented by exclusive use of online postings to paint a portrait of them.

  4. Stevie says

    I care because of two reasons. Both focus, however, on depiction in the media as a valuable tool.1. As an atheist, I want my viewpoint to be portrayed fairly and accurately in the media.2. As a woman, I’m so tired of being polarized to being quiet and contemplative OR loud and bitchy. According to this article, I’m either one or the other.

  5. Quester says

    Bravo! This is both well written and much needed. Also, thanks for the link back to the list of recommends; there’s quite a few I hadn’t gotten around to reading the work of.

  6. Guest says

    oh FSM, this is friggin irritating.and people wonder why i didn’t do journalism! no thanks, i’d rather not write drivel like this!you SHOULD send this to Ms. in the letters bag. that article is awful!

  7. says

    Not to mention that fact that either way you are so irrelevant that people feel compelled to write articles about how you don’t exist. What a horrible piece of horribleness this was.

  8. says

    Fight the power!… I’m not sure who has the power in this case though. So we need to track down the monarch of newspaper and TV land. And really though, is there really much cause to fight them? Maybe we could all just sit down over tea and talk about it. I bet they like tea, royalty tends to like tea if you ask me. Either way, I’ve been generally discontent with the media’s loss of interest in research and investigation of what they report on, seems like investigative journalism died before I was even born. Its always good to know there are people that agree with you about important things like Gods and newspapers. Jen has 1000% support from me on this front.

  9. says

    But the media would never be accurate because it it by nature mostly designed for the masses, ie average American. And you know what an average American typically is. I don’t think I need to go into details about that. I’ll just sound condescending.Caring too much about media and what you are perceived, in my opinion, can be detrimental to a person’s self-esteem. A person’s self-worth is whatever they have done to themselves, not what other people think. If you value yourself by listening to others, especially the ignorant masses, you’ll lose your freedom, individualism, and the sense of self-worth. Depression and feeling of hopelessness are the inevitable result.

  10. says

    Not that I disagree with you, but there is also the media’s roll in information dissemination. I don’t see it as a question of whether the media wants to be relied on for information, but a question of whether it is. The media pretty clearly makes no attempt to disavow that roll. People do rely on it for information; It is understandably disconcerting when one finds a media outlet presenting information within one’s specialty or domain (by training or lifestyle) that is clearly false to the specialist, but not to the other readers. This seems to be a case of an article done without even nominal research into the topic. Or possibly, though I hope not, an open disregard for what they found in researching the topic, because it wouldn’t be popular. While this does fit the description of what the media does in terms of budget sheets, it falls short of what might be expected in terms of the roll it plays in society. A matter of professional ethics then maybe?Though yeah, setting your personal standards by what you see in popular media would probably drive you crazy in short order.

  11. says

    Then, we’ll need more atheist in the media and speak out. Right now, we have a lot of them out there, but to change the stereotype will take time, since the rich religious people are still in control of the media in the US.Before there is any public shift of opinion about atheism, we’ll have to target the segment of the population that are more rational and are willing to think.This way we can increase our numbers.

  12. hippiefemme says

    What I find most disconcerting about pieces like this is that I know some young woman is sitting at her computer, wondering if she should even bother coming out of the religious closet.She notes the similarities between her religion and new atheism. Her religion minimizes her contributions as a human being, but this article portrays the “new atheist movement” as doing the same. She can’t find a strong, female leader in her religion because of the patriarchal roots, but this article shows that she likely couldn’t find a female leader to whom she could relate, either. Her religion reduces her to chattel and objectifies her, but so do the new atheists with their “sexiest female atheist” lists.She notes the differences. Her religion offers her community, but new atheism doesn’t seem to want to welcome her or provide a social network. Her religion is generally accepted by society and her friends and family, but new atheism obviously generates distrust and dislike.The article in Ms., a largely respected and once incredibly progressively feminist magazine, illuminates these issues to help her decide. It doesn’t seem that difficult a choice once some journalist presents the arguments in this manner.

  13. Jmrunning3 says

    Hi, Jen. There was only one comment below the Ms. article, so I added a link to PZ’s post (where he linked to this page) and I added a link to your post dismantling the article. I appreciate your detailed post too!

  14. says

    This shit pissed me off! I called her out in my comment on that article. Here is what I had to say:You seem to have been very selective about the sources for this article. You obviously didn’t dig very deeply into the issue for if you had you would find that there are dozens upon dozens of female leaders in the “net atheist” movement. Please read this excellent post by Jen McCraigt (of Boob Quake fame) for specific examples:…. Sure there are sexist and racist people who are atheists, just as there are who are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc. Atheists are human, after all. If you want a good sense of how most atheist men feel about woman and woman’s rights, search PZ Myer’s blog at…. You’ll find that there is a strong support for women’s issues and right within the “new atheists” movement. In fact, PZ, Richard Dawkins, myself and many other men who are atheists are probably the staunches feminists I know.If you had spent actually researched this issue properly you would have found that the reality is much different that what you portray it to be. Next time how about doing your readers a favor and actually cite the leaders you refer to instead of anonymous posters on old forum threads.

  15. reeddlh says

    This article epitomizes why I quit subscribing and reading Ms. Magazine 20 years ago. They are the ones who got left behind. The “Gnu Atheism” has even reached my 91 yo father, who, believe it or not, “came out” to me about his life-long atheism just a few months ago. He has kept this to himself for 70 years, even when he saw me taking off in that direction when I was in high school. I am now almost 70 myself, and as a feminist for over 40 years, I have come to believe that the current atheist movement is the one thing that may finally pull the world’s women out of the aeons-old pit we have lived in. Religions are at the root of the world’s denial of women’s rights. ALL of them. The fading of religion in the world will pave the way for women to move forward, to stand equal next to men, as people.

  16. Gary JD says

    Monica Shores could have saved some time merely by writing, “I dislike atheists and I really hate men. Grrr.”

  17. Poor Wandering One says

    Ms. Appears to be restricting comments. Or at lease restricting the negative ones. Neither of my comments questioning the validity of using convervadreck as a source have been posted.

  18. CKG says

    I would like to add another point. She likes to to point fingers at American Atheist Magaizne for it’s covers, yet this claim of exclusion is patently false. For example, January/February 2010, April 2010, August 2008, and April 2007 have women on the cover. September 2007, July/August and February 2007 have various protesters including young women. In August and April of 2006 they have an interracial family on the cover. In April 2009 there is a Hispanic male on the cover and nearly every other issue dating back 4 years has a landscape, city photo, office scene, white male or graphic without anyone whatsoever on the cover. This alone makes her claims suspect. When she wrote, “They also overwhelmingly favor white men for their magazine covers and everyone with a picture on the website, male or female, is white.” “Everyone”? Really? Did she look at everyone? No, apparently not.

  19. CKG says

    Ignoring my typos, I should have written, ” In April 2009 there is a Hispanic male on the cover and nearly every other issue dating back 4 years has a landscape, city photo, office scene, or graphic without anyone whatsoever on the cover. The remaining issues do indeed have white males on them.”

  20. Rieux says

    The community has reacted overwhelmingly positively to these pieces.

    Consider this comment a reaction from a white, male member of “the community” reacting overwhelmingly positively to this piece.Also, you and so many of the female atheists you mention—I’m a big fan of Benson, Christina and Kaminer in particular—are fantastic assets to said community. And, though you didn’t mention her (perhaps because she doesn’t lead an organization, and in fact she’s now scaling back her pubic visibility), Julia Sweeney is awesome as well.

  21. says

    Another reason not to cite a Google search as evidence: since you posted this the Google search results for female atheists have changed, three of the top four are now Blaghag posts, including this one. Which kind of suggests that it wasn’t a heavily searched term in the first place, which may or may not say something about the movement, but does mean that the usefulness of those results to say something about the movement, given how easily those results change, is pretty much nil.

  22. deeniemaus says

    I was at least able to link to you from the Salon roundup, where there are a lot of comments.

  23. says

    PZ also makes a good point – that a lot of the lack of representation of women and people of color in atheism is representative of the society that atheists come from. Atheists, and especially atheist leaders, tend to be highly educated and the top atheist leaders are often academics. So the underrepresentation of women and minorities in academia leads to an underrepresentation in the atheist community, at least in part. Fix academia and you can expect to see a change in the atheist community. Heck, fix elementary education and you can expect to see a change in the atheist community. Atheists often come to their views through an understanding of science, and as long as we have girls at an early age getting the message that they aren’t supposed to be good at or like math and science we can expect women to be underrepresented in science and in the atheist community later on.

  24. Deen says

    But the media would never be accurate because it it by nature mostly designed for the masses, ie average American. And you know what an average American typically is.

    What, male?

  25. says

    I was appalled many years ago to find that the things I was taught in journalism school had no bearing whatever on how journalism is actually practiced. Good on you for pointing it out.

  26. Kevin Colq says

    I also posted a comment on Ms. Shore’s rant at Ms. but it doesn’t appear nor does Mr. Walker’s. The article indicates that five comments have been made but only one is visible, one that lauds Ms. Shore of course!I also checked out three other articles from Ms.Shore from Ms. All three of those had all of the comments that were indicated in the comment count…very strange or should I say, “Typical”?

  27. Tacroy says

    What I find most appalling about this article is the fact that, apparently, she wrote the entire thing without even bothering to fire off a quick e-mail to a couple of “new atheists” and ask them for their opinions on women atheists.Basically, the whole thing looks like something a middle schooler bullshitted before the night it was due.

  28. says

    I looked at Ms. Shores’ Twitter feed, and it seems like she’s being very defensive about this article. All problems with journalism aside, I would think that a journalist who had just dashed off a quick piece on the lack of women in the atheist community would respond to an outpouring of criticism from that community (and women in it) would be a bit more introspective and consider whether she was too hasty, and at least consider doing a follow up in which she actually talks to the women in the atheist community so she can address the real problems seriously instead of just using Google to replace her responsibility to do actual journalism. The fact that she doesn’t do this speaks to one of two things:1. A rampaging ego that won’t let her admit to a mistake (something we all suffer with from time to time).or:2. A preconceived notion and bias against atheism that she isn’t about to let be swayed by arguments pointing out that she didn’t actually interview anyone or get anyone else’s input on this in any way.Given that she starts with the old “atheism is like religion” canard, I’m inclined toward point 2.

  29. says

    OK, one more funny thing about Google search results as a research tool for gauging public opinion: this post is now the second Google hit for “Monica Shores”. Maybe it’s just me, but given her use of Google results in the article, I think that’s just hysterical.

  30. legistech says

    I don’t think those are mutually exclusive options, Gus. Actually, I suspect #2 might lead to #1.I feel a bit cautious about calling this bad “journalism”, since it’s clearly an opinion piece and in my opinion, just propaganda. However, even properly-done propaganda shouldn’t be done with such shoddy research.I guess I’d settle for, “ineptly done propaganda relying on wide distribution”.

  31. Tony says

    Any “journalist” who uses conservapedia in any context other than to comment about how ridiculous it is deserves nothing less than immediate firing.

  32. says

    After you comment the one glowing reply shows up. There is a thumbs up/thumbs down system in place and the glowing reply has a -23 rating as of this writing. Since our comments seem to be moderated out of existence (or to be generous, just held for a bit and haven’t shown up), we can at least down vote the glowing comment that does appear.

  33. says

    “What I find most appalling about this article is the fact that, apparently, she wrote the entire thing without even bothering to fire off a quick e-mail to a couple of “new atheists” and ask them for their opinions on women atheists.”I have to admit, I’m really not interested in hearing men say what they think about female atheists, for an article like this. I just don’t think it would prove much. There are a lot of people who think they’re really progressive and pro-woman or anti-racist or whatever until a woman or person of color actually challenges them on something.Now, there’s no excuse at all for not having contacted some female atheists.

  34. jgbel says

    Great post. Though since the voices in my head mention it (and it is obviously a prescriptive grammar piety which can be ignored), it should be ‘2 million fewer readers’ as opposed to ‘less.’ (Fewer, because ‘readers’ can be counted.)Did I say great post? Anyway, it’s almost like _Ms._ wasn’t really trying with their article.

  35. says

    Well, yes, an average typical TV-and-football-baseball-watching-and-beer -drinking American is male. And the media is designed for them.As I said before, I don’t want to go into details because some people will feel insulted. Let talk about how atheism campaign should focus:When I came across Jen’s idea of boobquake, I knew it was going to be great because boobquake is a perfect fit for an average American male.

  36. Azkyroth says

    Huh. I assume Ms. Magazine’s writing this post in self-defense (I admit I’m assuming it’s similar to all the “women’s” magazines I have thumbed through disgustedly).If women are told that the modern atheist movement isn’t welcoming to women, then they may be less likely to get involved in it. Which it is desirable to avoid, because women involved in atheism and skepticism may acquire, or have reinforced, humanist values and habits – particularly critical thinking and respect for one’s inherent worth and dignity as a human being. And critical-thinking, self-respecting women would be far less likely to waste their money on the “YOU NEED THIS TO MAKE YOU BEAUTIFUL SO YOU’LL ACTUALLY BE WORTH SOMETHING” shit that every “women’s” magazine I’ve ever seen apparently exists solely to sell advertising space for.

  37. says

    Hmmm…You’re right. My blog is personal, and I only get around ten thousand views a month. I’m hardly a big name spokesperson for the atheist movement. I’m just a dude with a penchant for science who writes about being human without gods.But I’m a little discomforted by the insinuation that I’m either an asshole, shallow, or sexist simply because I wrote a post about the existence of attractive atheist women. I don’t know if you read it or not, but the entire point of my article was to let atheist men know that there are a lot of attractive atheist women of all stripes — extremely intelligent, humanitarian, and yes, sexually liberated ones too. I also wrote a very detailed and thoughtful essay on why I am skeptical of the automatic tarring and feathering of anyone who writes such an article. Nobody seems to have mentioned that in either article, yours or the one you’re criticizing. You can find it here if you’d like to check it out: http://hambydammit.wordpress.c…You don’t have to agree with it, but I hope you’ll recognize it as a little more empathetic and thoughtful than something a shallow sexist asshole would write. At least some of us men who happen to like dating attractive women do spend quite a bit of time thinking about the impact our thoughts and actions have on society.All that being said, I think that from perusing your blog, you and I probably agree on far more than we disagree on. Keep up the good work, and good luck to you with your personal blog :-)

  38. says

    Excellent post, but you are ignoring the elephant in the bedroom. Theists by and large are misogynic, sexist is too mild a term, and, by God, everybody else is as sexist as we are.

  39. jgbel says

    So, when you say ‘theists,’ you of course mean only male theists, right? Which makes up what percentage of the population, and excuses what?

  40. jgbel says

    Pretty cringe-inducing. I got to “Before you start throwing burning bras in my direction,…” and stopped there. Then I tried again. It gets worse. Frankly embarrassing. If I was female, I suspect I would think even less of it.

  41. says

    This is my first time on Blag Hag, but I can tell you that it won’t be my last.I simply wanted to say that I applaud your call of ‘bullshit’ to the media that has yet again attempted to pit the sexes against one another. Taking the humanity out of atheism is their real goal, but they can’t throw us something and expect us not to think about it. By our very nature we question what’s in front of us.I reposted this on Facebook, and I’ll be back to read some earlier posts. :)

  42. says

    Not really, look at any religious site and see the number of females that buy into the “be submissive” role. I don’t have demographic data, I don’t think Pew Research has done a survey on submissive females in the churches. It excuses nothing. Bigotry and sexism has no excuse. But it is all too common among both genders in religious circles. Certainly more among the men, and men are more blatant and proud of their misogyny.

  43. jgbel says

    Yes, fair enough. Point taken. I don’t think society is, ultimately, structurally committed to the bigotry and sexism that is present, but it is indeed present and far-reaching. Which is to say, I take your basic point as saying that atheists do mirror society at large, despite some differences. Personally, I think it is fair to expect that ‘rational’ people should direct their energy and intelligence towards understanding the dynamics of power in gender, race, etc.. The fact that sexism et al. are rampant in society shouldn’t be used as a cop-out.

  44. says

    Quite so. This Hamby is complaining here and at Facebook and who knows where else about being seen as sexist, yet there’s that stupid bra-burning taunt just for a start. Oy.Not to mention the fact that a concern with “let[ting] atheist men know that there are a lot of attractive atheist women of all stripes” is in context weirdly sexist anyway. Why do atheist men need to know that there are a lot of attractive atheist women on blogs? Because men can’t be bothered to have a discussion with women if they suspect that the women are not attractive?

  45. says

    Well, I guess I am wrong, then. If you see me as sexist, I cannot change your mind by just saying I’m not. So I will respectfully leave you to your opinion.I’ve got a lot of female readers, many of whom are feminists, and quite a few of them interpreted my “bra burning” comment the way I intended it — as sarcasm directed at the *stereotype* of bra burning feminists, not at intelligent readers who know better than to buy the stereotype. But then, most of my readers are regulars who know my sense of humor, and know my opinions on matters of feminism and sexism. So I can definitely see how you could interpret it differently if that was the only post you read.If you suspect that my mention of sexy atheist women existing implies or even suggests that men will not talk to unattractive atheists, then… well… I don’t know what to say. In any case, Ophelia, I’m a fan of your writing, and I wish you the best. I don’t care if you’re attractive or not. You’re very smart, and I appreciate what you do for the non-believer community.Best wishes.

  46. says

    Yep, neither might nor popularity makes right. I have been fighting sexism for most of my life. From the male side, but from either side it ain’t easy fighting the prevailing mores.

  47. tuibguy says

    Not every journalist *has* to write this shallow, do they?I think Jen has a great point on this post, that if someone doesn’t see women atheists, they just don’t care to look too hard.

  48. says

    You liked Bookquake because it would appeal to males? I liked the idea because it pointed out absurdity and let women do something small and fun. I find initiatives like this so positive as they appeal to women.

  49. Aquaria says

    Take your religious claptrap and shove it. You’re one of the biggest purveyors of malignant sexism on the planet. You’re the problem, not the solution.

  50. Dan says

    Great reply. I loved it. I saw the Ms. article and did not like the short shrift that the author was giving to atheist women . I like reading a few atheist blogs and yes I am a man, and my favorite atheist blog is written by a woman. I immediately thought of another of my favorite atheist blogs that had a female author. I really don’t read that many atheist blogs so if off the top of my head I can think of these women who write the great stuff that makes me want to come back and read more, I don’t think the Ms. article author tried very hard to find any atheist women. After reading my Blag Hag for the first time, I may have another woman to add to my favorite bloggers.

  51. Texas Freethought says

    I’m love with your post, Jen.I discussed Monica’s Shores’ with some feminist ladies and I was appalled to find out that all of them agreed with Monica. The second I tried to dispute any of the “points” made by Monica, I was labeled “a sexist douchebag”.*sigh*All I can say is, thank you for sharing and leading the outrage over this article.

  52. says

    No, I like Boobquake because it spreads atheism faster. Boobquake is a package with three things in it: 1.boobs 2.humor 3.atheism. #1 and #2 make it spread faster.

  53. says

    Great post, Jen. I think it’s ironic that Ms. Magazine’s coverage of Boobquake is what led me to your blog in the first place. Did they forget about that coverage? I doubt it.

  54. says

    I was led here by all of the links in the comments of the original, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with what I found! I’m a feminist atheist and have always been very vocal about both, but thankfully, my disappointment about the original article soon turned to delight with this response. You’ve definitely made a fan of me.

  55. Hankpellissier says

    Hi Jen — my name is Hank Pellissier, aka Hank Hyena. I put on the first Atheist FIlm Festival in San Francisco in June 2009 and I designed the 2010 Atheist Alliance International calendar. I am now working on an Atheist-Feminist Conference to promote what you are talking about in this blog entry, and I would love your help. you can find me via

  56. says

    If I remember right, there was a “sexiest male atheist” list/calender to go with the “sexiest women.” Of course it wouldn’t be right if it were just women, but that’s not the case!Thanks for the article. :)

  57. says

    Hello Jen. Thanks for the excellent post. My troubles with this nasty article began with the title: “Will ‘New Atheism’ Make Room for Women?” It really is outrageous, and grossly unfair to everyone. It announces straight away that here is yet another essay in disseminating lies while pretending to make some serious points. A contemptible exercise in fostering ignorant prejudice. Well done for cutting it to pieces.

  58. Harry says

    Ms. Magazine is a feminist, humanist magazine – the opposite of those “YOU NEED THIS TO MAKE YOU BEAUTIFUL SO YOU’LL ACTUALLY BE WORTH SOMETHING” magazines. In theory.

  59. Adam says

    “Sadly, there’s little indication that atheists are receptive to the suggestion that they might benefit from diversifying in color or gender. But unless they commit to fostering true inclusivity”To be honest, I find comments like this to be racist and sexist. Why should I bother to check what someone’s ethnicity, sex, or gender is when admitting them to anything?

  60. P Smith says

    The only way the rabidly religious can make themselves look better is to denigrate and demonize atheists, not by promoting their own strengths. They can’t make themselves look better, so they have to make others look worse.Any objective study would show that atheists are the least likely to engage in sexism, just as we are least likely to be gay-hating (there is no such thing as “homophobia”), and least likely to be racist (having accepted human migration out of Africa). Finding atheists amongst those three groups is like finding a black person at a teabagger rally..

  61. Newfie says

    As a middle aged white male, I vow to cancel my subscription to Ms. Magazine!!/ great post, Jen

  62. Cannonball Jones says

    Excellent article, well done. And thanks so much for the link to the article rebutting the ‘athesim as religion’ trope. Pretty much the best concise takedown of the topic I’ve read!

  63. jamie says

    Hi Jen, I really appreciate your rebuttal of Shores’ article. I’ve been a female atheist for a few years now, but yet I still feel quite underrepresented in atheist circles. I also know that the American Religious Identification Survey (2008) noted that women only make up 40% of “Nones” which includes atheists, agnostics as well as those who just don’t affiliate with any religion (on the other hand women make up almost 60% of Christian denominations). I’m a graduate student in sociology and gender and women’s studies and I’m very interested in researching female atheists primarily because I do think there is some validity to the lack of women in atheist circles. I think a lot of the barrier is due to the role of gender in education. Now, are the number of women in atheist circles growing, yes, but I could also see how atheism is still relatively elitist in terms of race, education, and class. More research needs to be done on this in order to really understand what’s going on. I also think media plays a huge role in how atheism is perceived by the general public and to those who visit book stores and want to know more, they often do find books written primarily by white men. On the surface, this isn’t very comforting. I also think there are a lot of proactive female atheists out there (I fall in this category myself), but I honestly see so few of others that it’s really hard to form adequate support groups (my local atheist group is primarily made up of old white men). I think more women need to come out of the closet and participate, but I also see how many women may be “kept” from doing so because of ridicule and perhaps even childcare limitations.

  64. Gvicious says

    Thank you, Jen. Ms. magazine has really sunk to a new level of misguided. Their anti-science stance is equally misinformed.

  65. Wrenn says

    ” Apparently currently having a female VP and 4 females on a 18 member board is entering “an era.” 4 out of 18 is far from perfect, but it’s hardly entering some patriarchal regime. I guess Shores has psychic abilities to predict what American Atheists’ leadership will look like for the next ten years.”Eh. With David Silverman (the former spokesperson for American Atheists and) the new president, that’s highly unlikely. Oh. And he’s not a scientist, and he’s also only in his mid 40s (and really cute and fun to talk to… I can say that, his wife is also a close friend.)

  66. Aeryn says

    While I agree with some of your criticisms in the portrayal of atheism, you missed the overwhelming point that inherent sexism plays a part in why atheism may be off putting to women. When Sikivu Hutchinson wrote about being a black atheist, she discussed how privilege plays a role when it comes to issues of race the comments on were disgusting and displayed exactly what she is talking about:…Pointing out prominent female atheists doesn’t erase the problem of male privilege, which this article did a great job of pointing out. Calling for gentler female atheists is disgustingly sexist, and atheism needs to be criticized for it’s problematic attitudes on social issues. It doesn’t get criticized enough for this, IMHO. BTW, I’m a female atheist.

  67. anti-theist says

    THANK YOU.I would add Eugenie Scott (the director of the National Center for Science Education, and Carolyn Porco (the science adviser from Contact and Star Trek) to your list!I read that piece and I was infuriated. Worse yet to say that Dawkins (who often cites Feminist consciousness raising as an inspiration for him), Hitchens and others have LONG fought against patriarchal anti-woman and anti-homosexual elements of religion. To dismiss these men by virtue of being men is to be sexist in the extreme.Most annoying was the fact that I was reading an article that said bluntly that I, and many of my friends, simply do not exist. It made me want to rip my face off. The gall of feminists picking on atheists for being too “extreme” or “shrill” is bizarre, hypocritical and all out fucking perverse. I was ashamed that such a terrible article made it to print.

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