The problem of the oblivious white male atheist

I have to recommend this criticism of sexism in the skeptical community: skeptifem points out that while we’re quick to outrage when someone like Bill Maher violates science norms, we seem to shrug off the fact that he’s been rudely anti-woman at times.

When someone does try to share the perspective of being a person of color or a woman in skeptic communities the majority of people in the groups I have encountered dismiss their viewpoint on extremely typical grounds. This article from has some really disturbing comments that illustrate exactly what I am getting at; an automatic opposition to the voices of people of color and women. Disagreeing isn’t the problem here, it is the outright dismissal and unwillingness to ask questions in order to understand the point of view she puts forward here. Having an actual discussion, or an actual willingness to understand her and then disagreeing would be a very different picture.

It’s a strange phenomenon. I don’t think the leaders of the atheist movement are consciously anti-feminist at all; it’s more a matter of being confident that equality is the right answer, appreciating everyone, male or female, working to promote rationalism in society, and then smugly assuming we’re done when we’re not. The Big Catches to bring in to an atheist meeting are people like Dawkins and Dennett and Hitchens — people who deserve their popularity and their reputations — but the women of atheism seem to be semi-invisible. Why aren’t we reaching out to, for instance, Susan Jacoby, and making her a more prominent face in atheism? She’s a wonderful writer, produced a book, Freethinkers, that was part of the early wave of godless writings, and every time I’ve heard her speak, she says interesting and challenging things.

The problem isn’t dismissal. It’s casual disregard. It’s being just enough pro-feminist that we lose sight of the real problems that women and people of color face.

One thing that would really help, I think, is if the grassroots spoke out a little bit more to remind us. Tell us who you want to hear who isn’t pale-skinned and full of testosterone; I’m not an organizer of meetings — I just get roped into these things — but one thing we noisy voices of atheism can do is name-drop when we get called, and ask if the inviting organization has considered X, Y, and Z for a lecture, too. So tell me in the comments: who are the deserving voices of the godless community who should be heard as much as the heterogametic ones who get all the press?


  1. CosmicDust says

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    I see that the group most affected by religion is ‘women’, (children are too young to realize the abuse they are going through!!!) and women, denouncing religion, has more importance in spreading the message against religion. And it’ll be even more effective, when we atheists use the people who are actually affected to spread the message, rather than a high-level intellectual who wouldn’t connect to the religious audience.