Why I care when the media represents atheists as sexist

This comment by Amber Surface from my earlier post was so spot on, I wanted to highlight it here:

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.

We have the potential to reach so many women when something like Ms. Magazine talks about atheism. I’m not even asking for editorials that try to convince people to become atheists. Right now I’d settle for honest representation of the atheist movement and acknowledgment that female leaders do exist. Making just one more person feel less alone in their disbelief is worth it.

But no, instead they’ve probably scared off the female atheists, not to mention ones who “aren’t religious” or who are generally skeptical of organized religion. And those new female allies are going to have a hard time finding blogs like mine when Ms. Magazine continues to delete (or moderate?) every comment that links to my rebuttal post.

Journalism at its finest.

EDIT: Some readers say comments are finally getting through moderation. I still can’t see any, but it may be an issue on my computer.

I was just contacted by Ms. Magazine about doing a guest post on the same blog about women in the atheist movement to “rectify” the lack of female atheists in the original article. Obviously I’m taking them up on their offer – now I just have to try not to screw it up.


  1. says

    Jen, I think you should write a letter to the editor of Ms. Magazine; I also think you should make it an open letter that you post here.The fact of the matter is that the magazine was wrong, and now they’re doubling down on that by censoring people who disagree with them. It is the responsibility of the blogosphere to handle such idiocy from a publication that, as has been noted, is a respected publication when it comes to feminism.A magazine that censors and doubles-down when criticized cannot hope to honestly represent any viewpoint. If you author a letter here, I am sure that the editor of Ms. Magazine would receive many copies of it, and with any luck, it’ll filter to other blogs as well.They’re wrong – they’re wrong because there are women in the atheist movement (as you were kind enough to link in the previous post), and if one of them dares to stand up – someone who has had international media attention – well, they shut that down.Maybe they’re just pissed that More got the first profile on you.

  2. hippiefemme says

    You’ve made my day!I agree that you should send in an editorial, perhaps editing your earlier post to something slightly shorter for appropriate space. I also feel even more determined to revive an SSA chapter at my university. We have to create a community so that we can, in one strong voice, tell outlets like Ms. that they are wrong/misguided/biased.

  3. says

    I didn’t see any comments until after I posted one. Then I got one comment that absolutely loved that article. However, that comment has a negative rating. Let’s all go and vote it down further since it seems to be the only way we can respond.

  4. says

    As a longtime atheist, I do not consider myself part of an atheist movement, nor do I recognize or associate myself with this “new atheism” (a term I wasn’t even aware of until recently). For my own part, atheism is not a religion, or even an alternative to a religion; it’s just where I’ve come to. Some people find atheism through despair, some through reason and logic… some aren’t even aware that there was an alternative to begin with. I don’t believe atheism needs leaders, because the only thing most atheists have in common is that they are individuals who have rejected the notion that human life must be bound by supernatural laws. If it helps anyone who reads this and feels alone, well… you’re not. :) Take what comfort in that certainty that you may.Please visit http://www.the-brights.net/ if you want to find more like-minded people. This is the largest community supporting the naturalistic worldview I know of, and they are very welcoming of new people. No matter what you believe, or don’t believe, you’re only alone if you wish to be.

  5. Chris Slaby says

    Thanks for paying attention and calling someone out when they blatantly lie to prove a preconceived view! Fight the good fight! Logic, reason, and evidence are allies of gender equality, feminism, and women’s rights. Just because the the atheist “movement” isn’t where it should be in terms of diversity, especially gender diversity, doesn’t mean this was ever intentional. Thanks for speaking up and out!

  6. emote_control says

    I have to wonder if this nonsense is a deliberate strategy by Ms. to attempt to discredit the atheist movement. Any of the editors have any strong connections to religion?

  7. says

    I don’t think the author of this nonsense has ever heard of the term causal misattribution. When atheists try to expand, or even talk about what we (don’t) believe, that is deemed militancy. When we do so publicly, we receive condemnation and scorn.Most of the atheist leaders are academics who, due to longstanding historical prejudices completely unrelated to atheism, are mostly old white dudes.

  8. Clare says

    Just wanted to say thank you for highlighting these issues and for using your ‘voice’ to make a difference. And ditto above, you’ll do fine with the rebuttal.

  9. Buffy2q says

    My comment probably won’t be posted there but here’s what I wrote to them:You’d probably find more female atheists (and there are plenty) if you looked beyond the media-hype. BTW, there’s nothing “new” about the “New Atheists” except the fact that they’re no longer hiding in closets fearing for their livelihood (or even lives). They’re openly and proudly stating their position on gods. Funny how that’s considered a virtue if one has faith, but aggressive and uncouth if one does not.”Sadly, there’s little indication that atheists are receptive to the suggestion that they might benefit from diversifying in color or gender. “We’re not the problem. You might want to speak to the religious zealots who are working overtime to keep women and people of color firmly in their clutches, and to those who allow themselves to remain entrapped. We’re very receptive to everyone. But we don’t cajole, wheedle, threaten or lie to convert people. We present facts and allow them to make their own decisions.

  10. Serenegoose says

    That’s a great comment, Jen – Amber Surface is absolutely spot on. I was going to comment in the thread she left the comment in to the same effect, but I’m even more glad it got a post of its own, because it cuts right to the heart of the matter.

  11. says

    We have been on the fringes of the “new” atheist movement because we have been on the fringes of the academic disciplines that gave the “leaders” (as if we can be led) their credentials: biology, cosmology, philosophy, theology and magic (thinking of Randi here).Those few women who joined these professions just after the women’s movement opened them up are just now coming to the peak of their profession. But before they can speak out about religion, they have to be so well-regarded by their colleagues that they could publish a “God Delusion” and not feel a backlash. …or so close to retirement that it wouldn’t matter if their academic department punished them for attracting adverse attention.I would rather see the female point of view in atheism come from the female point of view in society and not from within the traditional male roles that have spoken out to now. Valerie Tarico is a an example. As a psychotherapist she brings a perspective to the religious discussion that the men have not addressed. Instead of debunking Genesis or positing logical arguments against the Trinity, she writes about the psychological aspects of belief. I find her arguments much more compelling than logical disputations, but maybe that’s because I’m a woman.Fundamentalism is a feel-good movement about “loving God” and being forgiven for being horrible people. It appeals to the psyche of people with low self-esteem, and if their self-esteem isn’t low enough, they will smack it down. Then they rescue them from the beatings they themselves delivered, with a psychological price of course. Nobody wants to believe that they’ve been manipulated this way. When they realize that religion is nothing more than a large-scale Stockholm Syndrome they’ll feel foolish and “played.” They’d much rather thrust and parry with Dawkins, Randi, Shermer, and Hitchens than open themselves up to an examination of their psychological needs and wants with Valerie Tarico.I have hope that our voice will get through eventually.

  12. says

    It looks like we need to create a replacement product packaged with atheism for women to satisfy the need for social life and community. This way we can take away the non-religious church goers, who like church for social reasons. I wonder how we can do that…

  13. says

    Oddly, I’ve never been bothered that Dawkins and company were old and white. I identify a lot better with Sam Harris than I do Sarah Palin. I guess my gender isn’t that important to me in defining my personality and beliefs. I also tend to be attracted to a lot of things that are typically “boy interests”: Science Fiction, action movies (especially with decapitations), video games, atheism, etc. Probably why people in high school thought I was a lesbian…but nevermind.

  14. says

    Give them heck, Jen. It seems like Ms. wants a world where men are afraid to speak up, and that’s not right. Men and women should speak up at the same time. Ms. could have added Greta Christina, The Skepchicks, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and your voice to the chorus of “New Atheists.” Instead they choose to bash the male figures.The “five horsemen” became famous not because they held women down, but because they were in a position to speak out. Many women and minorities aren’t in a position to speak out. I’d like to think that’s changing, and something that should be encouraged.

  15. ckitching says

    I just have to try not to screw it up.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about that. The bar has been set so low that you probably couldn’t trip over it if you tried. Just don’t cite Conservapaedia as a legitimate source, and you’ll be good.

  16. JM says

    Considering the fellowship and support of traditional theist religions, it isn’t so surprising that women often find a home in Wicca. I suspect that the ritual helps replace traditional services for some, too.As non-theists, we need to consider this. Off campus, there isn’t much but UU churches in most communities and some of them are definitely not non-theist, although they may welcome/tolerate non-theists along with anyone else who shows up and behaves nicely.

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