The new issue of Free Inquiry is out. It has a special section on the Women in Secularism conference. I did an article for that section, based on my part at the conference but not restricted to it. It is online.

The basic idea is that the stereotypical idea of women is not very well suited for overt rebellion against god.

The main stereotype in play, let’s face it, is that women are too stupid to do nontheism. Unbelieving in God is thinky work, and women don’t do thinky, because “that’s a guy thing.”

Don’t laugh: Michael Shermer said exactly that during a panel discussion on the online talk-show The Point. The host, Cara Santa Maria, presented a question: Why isn’t the gender split in atheism closer to 50-50? Shermer explained, “It’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it; you know, it’s more of a guy thing.”

It’s all there—women don’t do thinky, they don’t speak up, they don’t talk at conferences, they don’t get involved—it’s “a guy thing,” like football and porn and washing the car.

Dude, your shit was in our way. It’s as if you’ve never heard of the self-fulfilling prophecy. That seems impossible for a skeptic, but there you go – dudely skeptics seem to misplace their skepticism when explaining why you don’t see so many women in the Atheist Clubhouse. No, it’s not because it’s more of a guy thing; it’s because so many people think it’s more of a guy thing and keep saying so and keep forgetting about the many many women who do stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, be intellectually active about it. (Can you say “do be”? No. But sometimes you need to, so I do it anyway.)

It’s not more of a guy thing. Move the fuck over, and you’ll find that out.




  1. says

    I didn’t say they were.

    It’s still a stupid thing to say. It’s like saying “cooking – it’s more of a woman thing.” Yes of course it’s “more of a woman thing,” because that’s a convention. It’s stupid to treat a convention as dispositive when it ought to be the very thing you’re questioning.

  2. ismenia says

    I’m sick of hearing that this or that is “a guy thing”, “a lad thing” or “a boy thing”. It’s basically saying “not for girls”. Because men like to be reassured that some things are still their domain.

  3. jamessweet says

    Another reason to MTFO: Let’s assume for sake of argument that “it” is “a guy thing”, to a certain extent, i.e. that all other things being equal, fewer women would be interested in speaking up about nontheism than men; and also assume that there is an unwelcoming atmosphere towards women that is also keeping women at bay (the observation that the former can inherently lead towards the latter has profound implications, but I’m starting to digress). Even if that were the case, if you want more women in skepticism, which of those causes should you focus on? If you focus on the former, the absolute best you can hope for is to accomplish nothing (and in all likelihood, you will do harm; see my first parenthetical remark). Focusing on the latter, on the other hand, is likely to yield at least some improvement — even if the “guy thing” hypothesis holds.

    In other words, the already-questionable accuracy of Shermer’s conjecture is irrelevant anyway, at least if your goal is to expand the movement. If in some distant future, the skeptical movement has done everything possible to make a more welcoming environment for women, and it is still majority male, then maybe we’ll worry about the “guy thing” conjecture. Until then — it can only be counter-productive.

  4. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Here we are, steeped so thoroughly in it that commenters like Peterh still can’t see it even when it’s painfully simply and clearly pointed out.

    You’re right, O—it’s just fucking acculturated blindness. Would never fly if you substituted race/sexuality terms for gender.

  5. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Sorry Peter. Understand that it’s genuinely hard to know any more. People one thought were reasonable consistently shock and surprise, turning out to be raging misogynists. It’s understandable that my guard is up.

  6. says


    if you want more women in skepticism


    if your goal is to expand the movement

    This is the question we need answers to first. I’m not entirely certain that some skeptics want more women in the movement. They want to not be criticized for gender imbalance, sure–I know they want that–but actually more women? I need to be convinced that it’s a real goal of the people who explain so definitively why there is no balance.

  7. says

    Yah no. That’s part of what I get from that glib, happy “it’s more of a guy thing,” for sure. I think guys like Shermer decidedly don’t want more women in skepticism. A judicious few more hotties, yes, but just a lot more generic women who won’t necessarily be all that hot – yeah no thanks.

  8. peterh says

    Just to clarify a bit: my first comment was based not on Ophelia’s comments but on the quote she posted. I did not make that very obvious, hence the very real possibility of mistaking the thrust and basis of what I said.

    These unintentional slips of the keyboard happen often & I certainly have my share of them.

  9. says

    This is often summed up with Audre Lord’s aphorism—“the Master’s tools will never dismantle the Master’s house”—a fact that perhaps demonstrates the result of eschewing logic.

    Wrong. Lorde (note the final e) was speaking about bigotry within mainstream feminism, not inveighing against logic.

    In her essay “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” Lorde attacked underlying racism within feminism, describing it as unrecognized dependence on the patriarchy. She argued that, by denying difference in the category of women, feminists merely passed on old systems of oppression and that, in so doing, they were preventing any real, lasting change. Her argument aligned white feminists with white male slave-masters, describing both as “agents of oppression.”

  10. says

    Then maybe you should have taken the original meaning into account, considering that you continue,

    Why on earth would the Master’s tools not dismantle his house? If he goes to town or gets drunk and falls asleep in the corn crib, his tools will work very nicely.

  11. says

    Also, Wikipedia. Your citation from Wikipedia is not a conversation-stopper either. Try the actual essay, instead. It’s available on Google books.

    It’s just a shitty metaphor. Yes, one can see what she was getting at, but she chose a shitty metaphor to say it. It just doesn’t work, for the reason I indicated. It’s not true that you can’t dismantle X’s house with X’s tools. A metaphor that doesn’t work is a dud metaphor.

    And the idea behind it makes sense for some things but not others. When it comes to epistemology, it sucks.

  12. johnthedrunkard says

    I know this is a song I keep singing here, but I’ll note again that Shermer is a partially recovered Randroid. I wouldn’t have thought he would say such a damn’fool thing, but now I know.

    There really does seem to be some link between ‘libertarian,’ ‘winner take all,’ Glories of the Free Market, thinking and misogyny in atheist groups.

  13. demonhellfish says

    @17 Thank you, Ophelia, I’d always thought the “master’s tools” thing made no sense at all, and was worried I was missing something important. I’m glad to hear somebody sensible agree that it’s broken.

  14. says

    I suppose it’s theoretically possible to read Shermer’s statement as just a banal tautology? After all, it’s surely true that the answer to “why isn’t the split 50/50” is “of the relevant population, it is mostly men,” which could almost maybe possibly probably not be the intended meaning?

    Grasping, as they say, at straws…


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