Calling Atheist Women: The Public Needs You

A couple years late, I came across Christopher Hitchens’ 2007 article on why women are “backward” in generating humor. I was duly pissed off, but I’ll keep my entire unhumorous rant on the subject to myself, because otherwise I’ll never make it to my intended destination: the union between atheism and women.

A woman commented on the Katrina vanden Heuvel post I discussed on Tuesday, saying that atheism shared the same ol’ male-dominated network as religion. As fervent a feminist as I am an atheist, I wondered: is that true?

The four big names of what’s been dubbed the “new atheist” movement are best-selling authors Christopher, Richard, Sam, and Daniel. The Bible was clearly written by men, and it’s looking like the tracts of atheism are following in that patriarchal tradition.

And yet…freed from Eve-demonizing faiths, atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, and humanists served a major role of the women’s rights movement. American Atheists was founded by school-prayer challenger Madalyn Murray O’Hair (think the new atheists rile people up? O’Hair called herself the “most hated woman in America”), and the Freedom From Religion Foundation was launched by a mother-daughter duo. Female writers do exist in atheist bookstores, such as Annie Laurie Gaylor and Katha Pollitt, with works focusing on the place of women in freethought vs. fundamentalist traditions.

Though some churches in the U.S., like the Episcopal congregation, have grown out of their misogyny and now ordain female priests and bishops, religion has a poor track record with women, and entrenched institutions find it hard to catch up with modern equality, even with progressive men and women working within their ranks toward change. Atheism is a logical place for women to thrive because it doesn’t have to deal with that sexist baggage–there’s no one text riddled with sexism for liberal scholars to try to explain, no one text at all to bow down to as “the word” on atheism.

But as a belief system whose explanation rests entirely in the hands of its followers, the who’s who of atheist stars does matter. It’s not so much about individual flaws and foibles as the need for missing voices (in another post, I could comment on their racial homogeneity in the same manner). Whether or not Christopher Hitchens has penchant for promoting sexist/borderline misogynistic stereotypes in his writing, the voices of public atheism are too testosterone-filled–even if raised in defense of women, it’s better that the ladies take the floor, too.

The last thing we need is another boys club.

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