Another plaint about sexism-ridden New Atheism

Suppose you start with the assumption that the atheist community is riddled with misogyny and sexism, that this is the explanation for the paucity of women atheist “leaders” and participants, then ignore the prevalence of gender imbalance and misogyny in other areas, and mix in some postmodern jargon, some “research” that consists of anecdotes and citations of other people’s data that simply show that women are less atheistic than men—what do you get? You get a new paper in the book Sociology of Atheism by Landon Schnabel, Matthew Facciani, Ariel Sincoff-Yedid, and Lori Fazzino, “Gender and Atheism: Paradoxes, Contradictions, and an Agenda for Future Research.” (Reference below and free access via Google Drive). The paper is also highlighted and summarized on Facciani’s Patheos blog (According to Matthew) in a post called “Sociologists begin to study the exism-found within the atheist community.

Essentially, the paper is just a Salon article gussied up with academic jargon and some references, many of them blog posts. (The real citations to genuine academic articlse mainly document the higher religiosity of women than of men throughout the world). Here are the claims:

There are fewer women than men in “the atheist community”; this also holds for blacks compared to whites and gays and trans people compared to straight people. This is true for absolute numbers, but while there are about equal numbers of men and women in the world, indicating we need to study a cause for this differential representation, the authors simply mention different absolute numbers of whites compared to blacks and cis-gender men and women compared  to “queer- and transfolk.”  Well, of course there are fewer gays and fewer transfolk in the population as a whole, so differential numbers mean nothing here. What the authors need to show for their thesis (see below), but don’t, is that the atheist community includes lower proportions of black, gay and transfolk than among the population as a whole. They don’t do this, so we can immediately stop studying the issue with regard to those groups. What remains, and what the authors concentrate on, is the acknowledged paucity of women who are either vociferous atheists or in the atheist “community.”

The disproportionately low number of women in the atheist community is due to misogyny. While this is possible, the authors fail to document it with any data. Instead, they do what Salon always does: cite a few anecdotes that supposedly demonstrate misogyny in people like Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins. Even Elevatorgate is dragged in, citing Rebecca Watson’s unsubstantiated complaint that a man asked her to his room for coffee when both were in an elevator during an atheist meeting. The quotes from Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins are well known, and hardly demonstrate that they’re misogynists (remember, that means “women haters”, not simple sexists). There is the misrepresentation that Watson’s comment “guys, don’t do that” ignited a firestorm of misogyny in the atheist community, while in reality what happened is that people strongly criticized Watson not for that mild comment, but for her subsequent videos calling out a critic in the audience of a later talk, and saying that men who objected to what she said could simply go copulate with watermelons.

What we have here are the usual anecdotes, not data, and those anecdotes, like Harris suggesting that the paucity of women atheists might be due to differential aggressiveness, don’t convince anyone but the already converted that atheist leaders—much less atheists in general—are ridden with misogyny.

Further, it’s long been known that women are substantially more religious and far less atheistic than men, and this holds even in countries without a substantial number of atheists. Below are the data for Americans given in the paper. The relative heights of the bars show the proportions of men and women within a belief category:

Note the substantial disparity for the categories “atheist” and “agnostic”. This self-categorization has no clear connection to misogyny. Remember, the thesis is not that women are innately less atheistic, but that they are, because of misogyny, less likely to be members of atheist groups. 

Here’s what the authors say about this data, buttressing their preconceived notions:

Secular communities often argue that religion produces inequalities and marginalizes women, but within American atheism women are not far from being “tokens” by the standard proportion of 15% for a strongly skewed sex ratio.

The word “token”, of course, is loaded jargon that implies sexism. And the authors manage to find a sexist reason why women are more religious. (This is a suggestion, of course, but I could think of other reasons beyond sexism). I’ve cut and pasted their hypothesis because I can’t copy from the site or its pdf:

Well, that could be one explanation, but, as Facciani admits (see below), “it’s not a scientific study!”.  It’s further unscientific because they lack controls for other groups and because the article is tendentious, determined from the outset to implicate sexism. No other explanations are seriously considered for a gender imbalance in atheism.

I’m not sure why this male/female difference in religiosity exists, but it’s acknowledged repeatedly in the Schnabel et al. paper. Did they not consider that perhaps this could account for some part of the paucity of women in atheism, because fewer women are atheists? Depending on the shape of the frequency-of-religiosity curves of men and women, and the threshhold of nonbelief it takes to get you to participate in “the atheist community”, a small difference in religiosity could translate to a larger difference in participation. Or there could simply be a sex difference in innate preference, which is what Harris meant when he implied that atheism is an in-your-face, sometimes aggressive movement that might appeal to men more than women.

The anecdotes are just that—anecdotes. There is no random interviewing or surveying of women to see if they’re staying out of atheist organizations because of sexism, nor any controls about the pervasiveness of sexism in atheism versus other endeavors like antiracism or politics. In fact, Facciani, in the comments to his blog post, admits that:

As I said above, this paper is descriptive and provides an agenda for future research. It’s not a scientific study! The only data we have is from interviews from atheist women describing the sexism they have experienced within atheist circles.

So yes, there could definitely be other factors that create sexism in this space that is not caused by any unique aspects of the atheist community. And that is why I specifically said future research should try to find if this is the case. It’s an open ended question. We are definitely not assuming that atheists are more sexist than the general population. Again, atheists tend to be more pro-feminist according to several surveys. However, we do see instances of misogyny in atheist spaces so it would be interesting to see if there is some unique factor that allows for it to occur. But yes, it’s very possible that the sexism we see is not indicative of any unique factor and simply a product of a male dominated environment.

Yet the assumption that atheists are sexist (if not more sexist) than the general population pervades the paper. My general impression is that atheist meetings tend to be less sexist than other meetings I’ve gone to, like scientific meetings. Read the paper if you want to see their thesis. Further, they couch their “research” as if it were scientific, noting gravely that:

. . . . we draw on both previous research and original ethnographic data to explore gendered beliefs, interactions, and contradictions within atheist communities. In the ethnographic research that helps inform our discussion, field notes and interview transcripts were supplemented with a purposive sample of textual data collected from well-known atheist activist blogs [JAC: read “cherry picked accusations of sexism”], online new media, and popular atheist literature.

Atheists are ridden with misogyny as a byproduct of their love of science.  I find this risible because of the reasons they adduce for a scientific attitude producing sexism. Here are two examples:

and this:

This explicitly implies that women are either innately or socially programmed to be less rational, objective, or value neutral than men, and implies as well that there are other ways of getting knowledge than through science. The “other ways of knowing” claim is, of course, bogus.

At any rate, I don’t recognize any of the thesis here: that atheists regularly use science to buttress sexism. Have we seen this happening, not just occasionally but all the time in atheism?

There are no controls for the amount of sexism and misogyny in comparable groups, or in society as a whole. Now the authors don’t explicitly admit that atheism is more sexist or misogynistic than other groups or society in general, but they still claim that it is deeply permeated with these issues. Here’s one bit:

(The “expertise” claim is straight out of Pigliucci, who is cited).  Yes, there is sexism in atheism, as there is sexism in any movement that contains men, for some men are sexists. The important question is this: is atheism more sexist than other groups, or society as a whole?  While I don’t know the answer, my lived experience suggest that the answer is “no”.  But we’ll need data to answer one way or the other. And if atheism turns out to be less sexist than society, won’t that largely invalidate all the articles that implicitly claim that it is? Wouldn’t we then want to work on society in general instead of the “atheist community?” Granted, atheist meetings should be welcoming to women and minorities, and strive for some gender parity in who speaks. But there’s little doubt that this article, and all its antecedents in Salon and other places, call out atheism for being ridden with sexism, and, like this article, adduce “reasons” why this is so. The bogus accusations that Dawkins and Harris are misogynists sets the tone for the article. (They also snarkily drag in Dennett, patting him on the back by saying that “Dennett speaks with more tact”. Note that they don’t exculpate him of sexism, but simply say that he’s more tactful.)

Frankly, in the absence of data rather than anecdotes, I don’t accept the authors’ claim that sexism in the atheist community needs intensive study, for we don’t know its degree. If it’s minimal, we needn’t write a gazillion articles about it. And if it’s less than in other “communities,” I’d like to see articles praising atheists for being less sexist, and analyzing why nonbelief fosters acceptance of gender equality.

_______

L. Schnabel et al. 2017. Gender and Atheism: Paradoxes, Contradictions, and an Agenda for Future Research.  pp. 75-97 in Sociology of Atheism. R. Cipriani and F. Garelli, eds. Brill, Leiden/Boston

96 Comments

  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Good gracious, PCC(E) needs to get paid for posts like this.

    • Posted December 14, 2017 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      Or at least get some Stilwell’s Humbugs!

      • claudia baker
        Posted December 14, 2017 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

        Should I have them sent to your University address? Is so, they’ll be on their way today!

        • Posted December 14, 2017 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

          He’s in India, so I’d wait.

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted December 14, 2017 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

          Do they ship out of Canada?

          I’m willing to pitch in for a big load via PayPal – say the word… not sure how it’d work though, if at all good…

          • claudia baker
            Posted December 14, 2017 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

            I’m not sure if they ship out of Canada, but I’ll call Stilwell’s and find out. A one pound bag is not that expensive, so I don’t mind doing it. Maybe we could take turns – I’ll send some and then you could send some later on? Still not sure where to send them though. I assume to the University address.

            • ThyroidPlanet
              Posted December 15, 2017 at 5:21 am | Permalink

              A 16-dollar one-pound bag costs about 16 bucks to ship, but two bags is the same (if I’m running this right).

              … if anyone cares about shipping.

              Oh, I used 1101 E 57th Street, Chicago, IL 60637

              .. I didn’t realize U of Chicago is right there, thought it was way east…

              • claudia baker
                Posted December 15, 2017 at 10:21 am | Permalink

                Did you send some then? If you did, I’ll hold off for a bit. Thought I might send some of his other favourite: Maple sugar candy. He’ll have some nice surprise waiting for him when he gets back from India. 🙂

                That is the U. of Chicago address that I have too.

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted December 15, 2017 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

          Do you – or anyone else mind if I send a PayPal to pitch into a 1lb bag or so?.. not that I’m stingy, but….

          • Claudia Baker
            Posted December 16, 2017 at 10:35 am | Permalink

            I don’t know how PayPal works. I’ve never used it and I don’t understand how one can pitch in. Can you clarify for me?

            • ThyroidPlanet
              Posted December 16, 2017 at 10:54 am | Permalink

              Ugh – sounds too complicated.
              Never mind…

              But the idea is PayPal let’s you essentially send money to an email address (under which is an account), but … a PayPal user would know, so it’d have been over by now… I’m not asking anyone to up and make new accounts – I know I hate that…

              FYI
              “Pitch in” means to contribute to a single item as in a gift…

              … meanwhile this is not going the way I expected….

              • Claudia Baker
                Posted December 16, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

                Haha – yeah, sorry.

                I do understand “pitch in”. And it’s a great idea. I just don’t know how to do it via PayPal.

                Think I’ll just go ahead and send him some humbugs, but closer to the time when he gets back from India. Maybe someone else could “pitch in” with you to send him even more?

      • Craw
        Posted December 15, 2017 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        Oh man. I haven’t seen those since I was wee bairn. My grandfather liked them.

        • Claudia Baker
          Posted December 16, 2017 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

          My mother loved Stilwell’s humbugs. And I loved their chocolate, which, alas, they don’t make anymore.

  2. another fred
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    I put the words “testosterone”, “brain”, and “analytical” into Google and got 364,000 hits. Of the first few I perused some were scientific papers and some were articles in the popular press.

    There is a fairly large body of evidence that testosterone does make the male brain more analytical and less emotional (testosterone, brain, and tears gets 388,000 hits).

    Probably most of the readers of this blog are familiar with this research, but if you are not you might find this interesting.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted December 14, 2017 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      That is interesting. I understand that people going through gender reassignment report that aspects of their personality changes with hormonal injections. People getting reassigned to be male report that the testosterone makes them feel more aggressive and more sexually driven. Those getting estrogens feel more emotional.
      These facts are of course a problem for those who want to claim that the behavioral stereotypes between men and women are mainly cultural.

    • J. Quinton
      Posted December 14, 2017 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

      Not just the male brain; women with congenital adrenal hyperplasia show the same effects.

      What’s more: People with autism (typified with preferring systematizing over empathizing) are less religious than the normal population. Is that also sexism?

      • Posted December 14, 2017 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

        “Not just the male brain; women with congenital adrenal hyperplasia show the same effects.”

        A witch!! May we burn her?

        • BJ
          Posted December 14, 2017 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

          She turned me into a newt!

          …It got better.

  3. Posted December 14, 2017 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Sociology has combated the opinion that it is a faux science/topic of study since its inception. Criticisms abound as to hiding any true value behind opaque verbage, violating typical scientific norms, etc. This “paper” is yet another example of “just making shit up.” Where are the editors of these publications? Do they no longer see their role as being, in part, gateways separating sense and nonsense?

  4. Malcolm Morrison
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Sub

  5. Christopher
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    If women avoid atheism because of the alleged hidden sexism and misogyny then why the bloody hell are so many women religious when every religion is rife with overt and scripture-supported sexism and misogyny!? FFS!

    • JohnE
      Posted December 14, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      Great observation.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted December 14, 2017 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      +1

    • dabertini
      Posted December 14, 2017 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      They are forced. They have no choice. Free the women. Christopher Hitchens said it best: put women in charge of their reproductive organs and societies will thrive.

      • Posted December 14, 2017 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

        “They are forced. They have no choice.”

        Baloney. Many may have to adhere to the doctrines but you’re suggesting they can’t believe or not for themselves.

        Hitchens is right.

        • dabertini
          Posted December 14, 2017 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

          Are you kidding me? That is what organized religion is all about! There is ABSOLUTELY no critical thinking when it comes to religion. Children are brain washed and indoctrinated into believing. Women are treated as second class citezens. And name a religion that isn’t patriarchal. That is a toxic combination for women. Gee I wonder why women aren’t in charge of their reproductive organs? It certainly has nothing to do with religion. Ouch!

          • Posted December 14, 2017 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

            I don’t dispute that religion has all the nasty attributes you list, but that wasn’t my point nor the one you made in your OP.

            You are suggesting that women don’t have agency, that they themselves don’t believe in their faith and their faith is not held by them but is instead imposed upon them; “They are forced. They have no choice.” This is flatly false. It is also incredibly paternalistic to think they can’t come to their belief on their own, the poor dears.

            They *DO* believe, at nearly the rate of men.

            • dabertini
              Posted December 14, 2017 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

              Poor dears indeed. Are you suggesting that women aren’t controlled by the religious patriarchy? Are you suggesting that women aren’t intimidated by the religious patriarchy? I wonder what would happen if roles were switched? Right it’s determinism.

              • Posted December 14, 2017 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

                good grief. PLEASE try to re-read this conversation.

    • Posted December 14, 2017 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

      Maybe because of the assumption that god cares regardless of gender. A place in the afterlife where males are rendered neutral and god bliss prevails.
      Sounds like a nice place if enduring a sexist misogynist life, or simply observing a world where males seemingly are disproportionately the instigator of human misery.

      • BJ
        Posted December 14, 2017 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

        So they believe in religions that treat them as inferior in the hope that the religion is right and they will be rewarded with a lovely afterlife?

        Not to mention how illogical it is to think a religion that treats you as inferior will somehow produce an afterlife that does not adhere to its own rules.

        • Posted December 15, 2017 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

          Something like that… the Stockholm Syndrome comes to mind.

          These individuals are indoctrinated and environmentally reinforced to except this illogical behaviour.
          They are dominated by the love of a theology that slaps them and picks them up at the same time.

          So it goes, the over arching belief that god is goodness personified, with any action taken within the confines of that belief you can do no wrong.
          “his love of god makes him a good man” or say ” he’s off to hell, god will see to that”
          Simply put, suffer for the greater good for the rewards of the afterlife.
          Incidentally, I have a problem thinking of genders in the afterlife, what the hell for?
          I can’t see rampant sexual love gratification going on (no need for desires of the flesh)which makes the stance above even more illogical, if that’s possible.

  6. TJR
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    In one of our courses running next year the Continuous Assessment assignment is to give the students a Trial Report and ask them to explain the good and in particular the bad bits.

    Its tricky finding something of the right technical level which has enough bad bits for them to get their teeth into.

    If only we could use papers like this instead, we would have an unending supply of terrible reports for them to rip to pieces.

  7. Historian
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    The authors say that New Atheism “aims to replace democratic politics with scientific authority.” Rubbish! Probably, atheists believe that democratic politics should be informed with science, but this is hardly saying that they reject democratic politics. At this site, I have read hundreds of comments dealing with politics. I have not seen one rejecting democratic politics. Of course, it is many of the faithful who want to replace democratic politics with their interpretation of biblical law. Roy Moore is the classic example. For me, this article has the same credibility as Trump spouting about fake news.

    • Posted December 14, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      This and other things make it read like “polite pomo”.

  8. Posted December 14, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I don’t think the problem is sexism. I think the problem is that atheist meetings are frequented by a disproportionately large number of young, socially inept males. When you throw a few young women in the mix ( especially women who post on social media that the thing they enjoy most is having sex) there are bound to be problems.

    • Posted December 14, 2017 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      That’s essentially the business model of Skepticon.

      • XCellKen
        Posted December 14, 2017 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

        C’mon, Matt. Dr. Richard Carrier PHD’s moves on the dance floor were totally suave and smooth

  9. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I would only want to know what motivates these individuals to do such a paper and get some details on their faiths. That might just tell the whole story. Seems like a great waste of time with no conclusion that stands up. It very much reminds me of what the republicans in congress are attempting to do at this time concerning Mueller.

    • Posted December 14, 2017 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      It has the distinct whiff of misandry about it, but I would be willing to believe that these are well meaning but deluded people so blinkered by their ideology and who have not really thought through their accusations that they wind up saying some really stupid things.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted December 14, 2017 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

        I do not know about the blinkered ideology and if that is all it is…so what. It smells more like a purposeful smear to me. And by the way, another subject another huge mistake, the FCC has given the keys to the place to the corporations. If your internet slows down soon, you can complain to no one.

  10. Posted December 14, 2017 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Still waiting for Matthew Facciani to respond to my comments where I “problematized” his paper’s assertions and methodology.

    • Posted December 14, 2017 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know how you have the patience to argue with anyone on Patheos. It’s more and more like FTB by the day. They’ll be threatening you with a rusty porcupine if you go on.

      • Posted December 14, 2017 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

        I’ll give Facciani credit for always being willing to engage civilly, even if sometimes all he can do is parrot SJW dogma.

        A few members of the commentariat at Patheos:Nonreligious are starting to act like Hordelings or thought police. But I’m hoping to at least give some of these ‘warriors’ a taste of the pushback they’ll get, once they spout their nonsense outside of their echo chambers.

        And if they’d just declare themselves progressive leftist humanists, instead of trying to hijack atheism, I’d probably ignore them.

        • Richard Sanderson
          Posted December 15, 2017 at 9:12 am | Permalink

          I also dislike how certain Pharyngula basement dwellers like “wmdkitty” seem to think they rule the roost in the comments, over there.

          I like to tease kitty by reminding her of a blatent lies, via screenshots I have saved.

          • Posted December 15, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink

            A handful seek to purify the comment streams by flagging as “trolls” anyone who doesn’t toe the SJW line. Or just by shouting insults and foul language.

            Laughably, I’ve been labeled a trump supporter, a christian, an MRA, a bigot (about a thousand times), a homophobe and a transphobe. I’ll cop to the last one, as “transphobe” is defined as: ‘not wanting to have sex with Zinnia Jones.’

  11. Craw
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    I confess I don’t even read these kinds of posts anymore, since we see the same tired twaddle each time, but I admire our host’s persistence.

    The apt answer it seems to me is always the same. Is it true, and can we know it? If an idea is false it can be revealing to look at factors that make it widespread, but if an idea is true, and can be seen to be true, there isn’t any room for the “sociology of belief”. No-one studies the alleged “isms” of those who believe Elvis is dead.

    • Posted December 15, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Actually, I’d say that propagation of truths (or approximations to them) is interesting to study. Too bad most sociology of knowledge is pomo.

  12. Posted December 14, 2017 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    … there could definitely be other factors that create sexism in this space that is not caused by any unique aspects of the atheist community.

    Answer begging the question.

  13. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    My wife has been an atheist all her life, same as me. There, we have another study to prove nothing at all.

    • boggy
      Posted December 14, 2017 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      My dear wife and I are both atheists. It is the only thing we don’t argue about.

    • Craw
      Posted December 14, 2017 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      Gussied up there’s a publication here.

      A tandem auto-ethnographical analysis of reciprocal lived experience in which we eschew patriarchal notions of “control group” and “regression”.

      As a married couple you could probably work in something about intersection too.

      • BJ
        Posted December 14, 2017 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

        It’s so damn easy to write this shit and get it published. If you were so inclined, you could produce a paper every other day in the manner you suggested.

        And then you could be a celebrated academic!

        • Craw
          Posted December 15, 2017 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

          I find it a little frightening how easily I can whip up a passable pastiche. You look into the abyss and the abyss looks into you.

          But I do like my little intersection joke.

    • Craw
      Posted December 15, 2017 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      Dear lord. Here is what Facciani says in his response post, linked below:

      “One of our authors, Lori, interviewed atheist women from her local atheist group. That’s the ethnographic research briefly referred to in the chapter.”

      This is what he posts in DEFENSE of his stuff!

      So Randall’s research, talking to his wife regularly for decades, is arguably more extensive than this bunch’s “research”!

  14. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    “… a purposive sample of textual data …”

    No one living in a land that allows free speech ought ever to write (or to be required to read) a phrase like that.

    • darrelle
      Posted December 14, 2017 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      +1, as they say.

  15. Jon Gallant
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    The complaint that Schnabel, Facciani, et. al. do not report any CONTROLS is obviously rank scientism—as they say, the belief that science is THE method of inquiry rather than one among many equally valid ones. Schnabel et. al.’s musings represent another way of knowing, with its democratic politics instead of the cisnormative, hierarchical authority of stuff like controls, attention to sample characteristics, and statistics. Let us hope that the authors someday, perhaps soon, experience medical treatment and surgery based on other ways of knowing.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted December 14, 2017 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

      Nice one!

  16. Posted December 14, 2017 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    The atheist community has a far higher percentage of gay and transgender people than are found in the general population.

    As to women and ethnic minorities, if you want to know why there are fewer atheists among them stick your head through the door of your local church, mosque or temple. It’s a zero sum game. For every religious woman or minority ethnic there is one less atheist woman or minority ethnic.

    If women are choosing to follow religions that deny them bodily autonomy that isn’t atheism’s fault any more than it the fault of astronomers that more women follow horoscopes or the fault of the medical profession that more believe in woo.

  17. Liz
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    From the article in the black and white:
    “…men…can more easily sustain the loss of status that comes with affirming an atheist identity (Miller 2013).”

    It definitely wasn’t and isn’t the easiest thing. I never have, and still don’t, find any sort of social comfort related to atheism so maybe it was harder for me. I wouldn’t say there is sexism or misogyny in the little bit that I did see but I also really was never a part of it. I have no idea. I do know that a year or two ago, I read that elevator article with the man who asked the girl if she wanted to have a drink upstairs. I was reading her account and thinking (and I’m sorry), “Cry me a river. You connected with people who can intellectually stimulate you and they have accepted you and now a guy is asking if you want to have drinks. Please, you can’t be serious.” Richard Dawkins became my hero in that moment when I read his response to her. I was relieved also that he had enough sense to say something. I really don’t know what other women experience but I would imagine it would be the same in other organizations and groups, religious or not.

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted December 16, 2017 at 7:00 am | Permalink

      Other than Richards response it was the denigration heaped on a couple of young ladies who expressed opinions similar to yours that started the whole elevatorgate thing.

  18. Posted December 14, 2017 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    If you ask an SJW why there are more – or fewer – men participating in an activity they will respond ‘Because men blah blah blah…’

    If you ask them whe there are more or fewer women participating in that activity they will respond ‘Because men blah blah blah…’

    The answer always lies in men. Women are never treated as having desires of their own, they are apparently always responding to male behaviour.

    • Posted December 14, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      A movement that began with the goal of empowering women has morphed into one that infantilizes them.

      • Liz
        Posted December 14, 2017 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

        What movement? Atheism? As a movement has a goal of empowering women? Empowering women?

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted December 14, 2017 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

          He’s talking about feminism, obviously.

          cr

        • Posted December 14, 2017 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

          Feminism.

          • Liz
            Posted December 15, 2017 at 7:37 am | Permalink

            Ah. I see. I see.

    • Travis
      Posted December 14, 2017 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      Yes because feminism has always been about infantilizing and privileging women, even more than we already do in society. Hypoagency of women is a real problem (for both men and women) that these groups make even worse. The patriarchy model that they use to blame everything on men NEVER holds women accountable for contributing to our more traditional values (as if women are completely powerless and men do all of the choosing, politics, teaching and raising of children, too). As if men control every aspect of society. It’s absurd and frankly I find insulting to women. It’s just “internalized misogyny” keeping their empowerment at bay.

      So even as feminists cry that we view women as objects and not people from one side of their mouth the other is crying that women are always merely acted upon and don’t do anything themselves. They’re just empty vessels of the patriarchy.

  19. eric
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure why this male/female difference in religiosity exists,

    Neither do I, but I can think of a couple of potential factors having little to do with the rationality of the ideology. Like young males often being higher risk-takers than other sub-sections of the population (social self-ostracism is risky). Or like the act that the sexism in broader society could make the social safety net – as well as the promise of justice to come – of a religious community more appealing to those who suffer from that sexism.

    I think the same issues apply to African Americans, and I’d bet they are under-represented in the atheist community for that same last reason (substituting ‘racism’ for ‘sexism’). I would bet gays and trans people might be over-represented in the atheist community also for that last reason, but for them it’s the reverse – since religious communities often ostracize them, they have social reasons to seek out other communities who won’t.

    Another, maybe smaller factor is that women have been outperforming men in academics (starting around high school) for about 25 years now. Since the atheist population is relatively young, this could mean there are more males active in atheist communities than females simply because young women are spending comparatively more time on academics and comparatively less time (than males) hanging out in atheist chat rooms or going to atheist gatherings.

    • BJ
      Posted December 14, 2017 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      If you’re using your second potential factor and trying to apply it to women and LGBT people, I don’t think the math works. You say LGBT people would be willing to leave a religion because they would find more accepting people outside of it, but how is this not true for women who feel oppressed by sexism? Surely the sexism of their religion (and the texts they read in it, and the sermons they hear in their churches, and the values their religious community constantly espouses and enforces) would be far greater, thus causing them to leave for atheism.

      For this and other reasons, I don’t think this fits as a potential factor.

      With regard to the third factor: men who are in the atheist community seem to be more educated and engaged in continuing education than the average man outside of it, so somehow being so busy with academics that one simply doesn’t have time for atheism doesn’t make much sense.

      • eric
        Posted December 14, 2017 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

        how is this not true for women who feel oppressed by sexism

        Ah, sorry, I wasn’t clear; I’m thinking about the social support structure of the local congregation, not the theology of the church hierarchy. I think it’s still broadly true that congregations are going to be open and welcoming of straight women but, in many areas of the country, not so open to gays of either sex.

      • eric
        Posted December 14, 2017 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

        men who are in the atheist community seem to be more educated and engaged in continuing education than the average man outside of it…

        Using PEW’s numbers, 40% of atheists are 18-29. And women outperform men in college and grad school too, so that is exactly the age cohort in which one would expect outperformers to be more busy (than an ‘average’ person).

  20. Posted December 14, 2017 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Moreover, because Christianity is viewed as more feminine and atheism as more masculine….

    Yet Facciani et al. defame Sam Harris as “misogynist” for saying exactly that!

    • Travis
      Posted December 14, 2017 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

      One standard for me and another for thee

  21. Bruce Gorton
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    The “Less women because atheism is sexist” argument falls flat on its face the second you look at religion.

    Female clergy are still not allowed in the Catholic Church, Islam as a matter of faith considers a woman’s word worth half that of a man’s, ultra-orthodox Jews have kept planes from departing because they don’t want to sit next to women, India’s rape epidemic isn’t helped by Hindu traditional values.

    In fact when one talks about traditional family values, one talks about them as primarily religion – and those values invariably include that women shouldn’t be allowed to earn money, or vote.

    There are sexist atheists, but even in cases like extreme atheist authoritarian regimes…

    Russia liberalised divorce under Lenin, reduced that libseralisation under Stalin, who was softer on religion, and then, just this year, legalised wife beating under Putin, who is heavily tied to the Russian Orthodox Church. You tell me who is more sexist!

    • Posted December 14, 2017 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

      Yes, but if you’re a pack of entryists with an odious ideology that won’t fly on its own, you aren’t about to take over Islam or the Catholic Church. So you pick a small target, like atheist activism, to parasitize. Create a fracas with some staged incidents, declare your target has a sexism/racism problem, and designate yourselves as the solution.

    • Posted December 14, 2017 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

      India. Now THAT is a rape culture.

  22. Bruce Gorton
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    The “Less women because atheism is sexist” argument falls flat on its face the second you look at religion.

    Female clergy are still not allowed in the Catholic Church, Islam as a matter of faith considers a woman’s word worth half that of a man’s, ultra-orthodox Jews have kept planes from departing because they don’t want to sit next to women, India’s rape epidemic isn’t helped by Hindu traditional values.

    In fact when one talks about traditional family values, one talks about them as primarily religion – and those values invariably include that women shouldn’t be allowed to earn money, or vote.

    There are sexist atheists, but even in cases like extreme atheist authoritarian regimes…

    Russia liberalised divorce under Lenin, reduced that libseralisation under Stalin, who was softer on religion, and then, just this year, legalised wife beating under Putin, who is heavily tied to the Russian Orthodox Church. You tell me who is more sexist!

    • Bruce Gorton
      Posted December 14, 2017 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      Weird, double post.

    • Bruce Gorton
      Posted December 14, 2017 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      Weird, double post.

  23. Posted December 14, 2017 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    “The atheist community”. Only in America… I can’t remember when I last read sillier words.

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted December 16, 2017 at 6:54 am | Permalink

      Why? I was pretty happy to be at the World Wide Atheist Convention in Melbourne a few years ago. So were thousands of others.

  24. Steve Pollard
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    I’m afraid I don’t perceive an “atheist community” in the way that this article presents it. The activists in the “Atheism+” movement or similar are noisy but really not that numerous. What I see instead is reasonable people trying to find somewhere they can talk about their lack of faith, other reasonable people (such as our host) providing the space in which to do it; and an increasing number of people prepared to stand up and argue the case for a secular (not an anti-religious) society.

    I don’t see this article as much more than an exercise in pomo virtue-signalling. Still, they’ve got all the jargon, haven’t they? I wondered at first whether this was a Sokal; but then I realised that they really meant it.

  25. Harrison
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Theists have a vested interest in portraying atheism as morally bankrupt, more prone to “sinful” behavior, and damn the evidence.

    Along come the A-plussers who want to reshape organized atheism around themselves, but need a pretext to do so. And they don’t care if they shrink the overall membership of organized atheism in doing so because they’re just fine taking a bigger slice of a smaller pie. Suddenly they find themselves echoing longstanding conservative/theist talking points and not even thinking twice.

  26. Posted December 14, 2017 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    Misdiagnosis. There may indeed be sexism and misogyny in atheism, but it’s not an atheism problem. It’s a human male problem.

  27. Brian salkas
    Posted December 14, 2017 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    That one sentence that said “The absence of religion does not automatically lead to equality” is absurd. Not because it is untrue, but because it is so obvious. Even if atheists were found to be 20X less misogynistic than the general public, the aforementioned quote would still hold up. I’v go a great argument against oxygen:
    “The abundance of oxygen on Earth does not automatically mean that nobody will ever suffocate”
    so the implication is then the oxygen suffocates people because it does not stop 100% of deaths due to suffocation.

  28. Rasmo Carenna
    Posted December 15, 2017 at 2:20 am | Permalink

    When someone claims Sam Harris is sexist I stop listening. Not worth my time.

    • Nate
      Posted December 15, 2017 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

      Me too. Not just Harris, though. It is infuriating that there are folks that, despite years or decades of being a proponent of equality across the board, and because of one misstatement, one bad joke, one poorly-worded tweet, are branded a hater and dismissed. If only we were all as perfect as the most self-righteous SJWs among us…

  29. Matthew Facciani
    Posted December 15, 2017 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Hey Jerry, thanks for your comments! I actually agreed with most of them, but still wanted to clarify some things. Here is a follow up post if you or any of your readers are interested:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/accordingtomatthew/2017/12/atheism-sexism-sociology-reply-jerry-coyne-others/

    • Posted December 15, 2017 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      Fine, but if you want to correct or clarify what you said further, I’d ask that you do so on your own website.

      By the way, it was reprehensible to take those anecdotes about atheist “leaders” out of context and distort their meaning, and your interpretation of the “Elevatorgate” affiar is way, way off the mark. Perhaps you’d like to “clarify” this on your own website.

  30. Posted December 16, 2017 at 2:11 am | Permalink

    Christianity is seen as more feminine and atheism is seen as more masculine? What?!

  31. marvol19
    Posted December 16, 2017 at 4:53 am | Permalink

    Because I don’t live in the USA i can’t comment on gender disparity in IRL events, which seems to be the focus of this commentary.

    In my Twitter feed however the proportion of atheist/secular/sceptical women is close to, if not over, 50%. This also includes a very high % of POC (partly because ex-muslims “help” that number).
    And this is despite Twitter being known for its occasional hostility.
    Women are quite capable of holding their own!

  32. Michael Waterhouse
    Posted December 16, 2017 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    Intensive study needs to be done into the proposition that feminism ruins everything.

    There is at least as much anecdotal evidence that it does.

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted December 16, 2017 at 6:49 am | Permalink

      I forgot to preface this comment with, the fact of the great schism and diminution of what was becoming a growing dynamic movement and what if anything it is now, and why.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Jerry Coyne read the article so we don’t need to waste our time doing so. His post about it, Another plaint about sexism-ridden New Atheism, contains a couple of paragraphs that neatly sum up my first thought when I heard about the […]

  2. […] agenda for studying sexism within atheist spaces. After reading a few comments from my post and also seeing Jerry Coyne’s post, I’d like to clarify a few […]

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