October 07, 2014

Atheism and Feminism: The problem with conflating the two


You don't have to wade far into the history of feminism to see a strong tradition of nonbelief. Women like Stanton (quoted above), Ernestine Rose, Helen Hamilton Gardener, Susan B. Anthony and Simone de Beauvoir all rejected religion, seeing it as a source of oppression. Stanton's outspoken beliefs nearly got her written out of women's rights history--and Rose's actually did.

Today it's not unusual to see the words "atheist" and "feminist" close together. In my Twitter bio, you'll see them, in fact.

And yet, this can pose a problem as a blog on Oxford University Press points out:

On rare occasions when female atheists appear in the media, they are invariably feminist activists. This is hardly a problem but unfortunately it leads to a conflation of feminist activism and atheism, which in turn makes the ‘everyday’ female atheists invisible. It also encourages stereotyping of the most simplistic sort whereby the feminist stance becomes the primary focus while the atheism is treated as an add-on. But the two do not necessarily go together, and the women may not see them as equally central to their lives.

For me personally, my atheism is prioritized over my feminism. That may be obvious from the number of posts devoted to belief and nonbelief versus those devoted to feminism, but I'll state it for the record.


The process of coming to nonbelief is what freed me to fight for other passions. No longer did I have to love the sinners in the LGBT+ community but hate their sin. No longer did I have to accept that an ancient creation myth determined my status as a human being. No longer did I have to accept being inferior simply because of my sex. No longer did I have to default to believing that I am flawed and broken and in need of saving.

It was my atheism that was my breaker of chains. It was, indeed, my Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen.

We've had a lot of talk recently about atheism and women and whether women are able to find as much fulfillment in atheism. I'd like to share another quote from this OUP blog post:

Atheism does the same for my interviewees. The task of a sociologist is to de-familiarise the familiar and to find the unexpected in the everyday through the grace of serendipity. Female atheists find empowerment and means of expression in their atheism, while at the same time defining it for themselves, rather than relying on the prominent male figures in the atheist community. While on the surface they lack the structure present in religious communities of women, they create networks of support with other women where atheism is but one, albeit a crucial one, feature of their self-definition. 

I haven't been able to get involved yet, but look forward to joining our local secular alliance's new humanitarian group. The group plans humanitarian efforts around our area, to put our secular community in a position to help people in need or to fight for social justice.

It's easy to bander back and forth different ideas on why women tend to be more religious than men, but at the end of the day, I truly think it comes down to the sociological aspects. Religion not only has a stronger hold on women--remember, we are the ones that ate that first damned fruit and gave it to the male, we are the source of temptation--but it also provides women with benefits that atheism does not. Strong community, support, even affordable daycare--all of these help to make  religion a primary choice.

It's not an inherent fact of our biology, and I believe as we see more atheist communities--like the Sunday Assemblies--taking off and organizing we'll be able to equalize the playing field for women and men so that neither has to give up some of the better aspects of religious organization.

To wrap it up, the OUP blog is an interesting read. I've linked it above.

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