Last week I got immersed in what turned into an acrimonious online discussion about the so-called misogyny problem within atheist circles. The debate was spawned after a fellow atheist friend posted this article on growing alt-right extremism within atheism, and I took exception to some of the comments which followed.
The point being put forward in the comments, in a nutshell, was that fewer women are involved in atheism due to the prevalence of misogyny, based solely on anecdotal hearsay. The comments were from activist women, and words/phrases like bulwark, harbouring, toxic masculinity, and gaslighting were being tossed around. I won’t digress into how they were misappropriating these terms from their actual meanings to reinforce their own worldview.
Just because women are underrepresented in atheist communities, doesn’t mean that misogyny is the reason for this trend. Considering these are people active in the skeptic and free-thinking community, I asked, “Where’s your evidence that atheism has become a ‘bulwark of misogyny’ that is ‘harbouring toxic masculinity’?”
Pointing out that they were conflating correlation with causality did not go over well. Well, of course, as a white male, how dare I question the validity of feminist claims? I must obviously be “privileged” and the inevitable attempts to shame me into silence began, because I am supposed to feel guilty over this radical left-wing tool called “Western male patriarchy.”
Yes there’s been brutality, but the brutality is in the minority. This sick portrayal of human history as nothing but male oppression and female victimage, this is a way to permanently ensure the infantilization of women. ~ Camille Paglia
Indeed, there is little (no?) evidence that misogyny is rampant within the atheist community. That is not to say that there are not isolated incidents of inappropriate conduct happening; and, of course, it should be remedied immediately when it is encountered. But, isolated incidents of boorish behaviour do not a systemic problem make, no matter how deeply such feelings of truthiness may be held.
Skeptic icon, Jerry Coyne, himself weighed in on this topic, stating in the article “Another plaint about sexism-ridden New Atheism” on his blog:
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. . . .
. . .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.
As one of the original poster’s friends commented: “If you are a racist, or misogynist, it’s not because you are an atheist. It’s because you are just an idiot. Stop blaming atheism.”
He’s right. This is the same argument that theists use in relation to murderous dictators: Stalin, Hitler, Mao, et al, were atheists; ergo, atheism leads to genocide. It would be nice if theists, and feminist atheists, would desist from mixing two wholly unrelated issues and branding them as the same. Rational thinking is the hallmark of the free-thought movement—let’s see some exercised.
The atheist movement has been at the forefront of campaigning hard against religious oppression of women, homosexuality, and a host of other outdated ways of thinking. We, by and large, are for freedom in all its forms, and wholeheartedly support women’s rights. So, let’s not tarnish the whole movement because of a few bad apples.