Journalist hunts the elusive woman atheist

Secular Woman responds to the Salon piece on where oh where oh where are the women atheists.

Last week Salon writer Katie Engelhart asked, “Where are the Women of New Atheism?” Since she couldn’t seem to find many, or mention by name most of those she did acknowledge, we decided to give her a hand by rounding up several leaders in atheism and interviewing them ourselves. (We are taking submissions as they come in; please see the contact information below if you would like to participate!)

Most of us made much the same point – the one made by “she couldn’t seem to find many, or mention by name most of those she did acknowledge.” We said it’s stupid to keep asking where the women are when there are so many right out in plain view, and it’s even more stupid to talk about how they’re overlooked when you overlook them yourself.

Kim Rippere said it.

When we are not asked to appear, are not asked for our input (even on a piece supposedly about us), and are sidelined and ignored it is difficult to be or become prominent. Salon merely mirrored the typical media dance in dismissing women in favor of men––even in a story about women.

Amy Davis Roth said it.

It seems to me that almost every year the same article is written, asking where the atheist women leaders are. Then, every year women from the secular community speak up and say, “Look! Here we are and here are other prominent atheist women fighting for social justice and speaking out! We are right under your nose!” And then next the year the same article is written featuring photos of a very specific group of prominent men in the movement and once again asking where we are. Instead of just asking were the atheist women are, without actually looking, perhaps it’s time journalists realized that writing articles about the women who are here and are making a very real difference will encourage even more women to come forward. We are only invisible to the society at large because the media chooses not to focus on us.

Monette Richards said it.

The author should, perhaps, read this article and ask “Where are the atheist women?” because they weren’t named in the title, or in the links to their works or in the picture. The title named men. The pictures were of men. Women’s works were linked to namelessly. The author quotes Bekiempis, saying, “Let’s reframe. For every mention of Hitchens, counter with a mention of Hecht.” Yet, Hitchens was mentioned four times (without counting the picture caption), while Hecht only got in three times. Interview more women. Mention more women by name. Use pictures of atheist women, especially when talking about atheist women. We can, at least, start with the little things?

Noelle George said it.

If we want to increase the number of women involved in atheism, let’s celebrate, recognize, and appreciate the outstanding women who are contributing now. This will not only strengthen our movement from the inside, but it will also draw in talented people outside the movement who want to contribute. This goes for all underrepresented demographics, not just women.

It’s not that women aren’t involved, and it’s not that quality women aren’t involved. But the very question “where are the women” discounts every woman who is here now.

Teresa MacBain said it.

As an atheist woman among many atheist women, I’m insulted! Our movement has a large number of female leaders who are changing the landscape of freethought and making our community more diverse. I was honored to be a speaker at the recent Women in Secularism 2 conference, which celebrated the reality of atheist female leaders in the freethought world.

Mandisa Thomas said it.

Articles that pose the question asking about a specific demographic should be well researched, and indicate an exhaustion of all avenues. If writers really want to know about the diversity of the atheist community, there’s plenty of information and organizations to choose from. Our hard work shouldn’t be in vain.

And others said it. I said it. Most of us said it.

I wonder if journalists will ever learn.


  1. johnthedrunkard says

    What’s missing is the elusive creature called a ‘Journalist.’

    They used to walk the earth, writing their own text rather than copy/pasting publicity handouts. They actually sought things called ‘facts’ rather than parroting whatever opinion their editor has set them to limn for the day.

    Where have they all gone?

  2. says

    They actually sought things called ‘facts’ rather than parroting whatever opinion their editor has set them to limn for the day.

    True story: my days as a two-a-day print journalist was at the leading edge of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I was the paper’s medical reporter at the time. My assistant city editor was a lesbian (semi-closeted, she never “came out”, but she dated a colleague from another department pretty openly). She was terrified of the stigma HIV/AIDS was giving to the gay community.

    So, she routinely had me chasing stories like “I hear you can get AIDS from mosquitoes. Check it out.”

    Then I’d check it out and write a story debunking her misinformation. It frustrated her no end; but I did end up with some pretty good pieces.

    Probably these days, she would have had me write a story about mosquitoes being vectors for all sorts of diseases, so why not AIDS? Without even needing to chase down the pesky “facts”.

  3. Lofty says

    The people who write the stories aren’t the slightest bit interested in finding women atheists. Their writing is slanted to deliberately marginalise women. They just pretend women atheist leaders don’t exist to reinforce the blinkered world views of their clients.
    You can’t claim these people are unable to find names using a simple google search. This is first order dishonesty and propganda.

  4. says

    Hmm. That triggers the old “never attribute to malice what can be more efficiently explained by stupidity” bromide. I think it’s just failure to think. Cara Santa Maria did the same thing – said she had a terrible time finding women atheists to talk on her show when in fact she had asked only two.

  5. Claire Ramsey says

    You know I was thinking the same thing – simple stupid laziness and lack of curiosity. It looked to me like Katie Englehart didn’t want to find any women atheists, didn’t want to name the ones she covered up with websites, and didn’t feel like working any harder on that article. Why work harder when you know you will have the same assignment/topic in a year or so.

    Really stupid.

  6. says

    Maybe this is my naive maleness slipping through, but on the whole, I thought article was pretty good. The title could have been better phrased, but they’re meant to grab readers attention at the expense of the actual content of the article (which is a problem as those who are ignorant of the atheist movement and read the title, but don’t read the article, will just enforce the false meme that there are very few women in the atheist movement).

    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?

    So, obviously “Where were the women?” is the wrong question, the question is: “Why haven’t prominent atheist women reach the same level of public recognition as Dawkins-Hitchens-Harris?”

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