I will start this post with a few simple statements of fact: society is and has long been misogynistic and many people within that society are personally misogynistic to one degree or another, knowingly or not. Atheists are part of that society, and the Atheist movement is a part of society…therefore some elements of the Atheist movement, and some individual atheists, will be misogynistic. It is not an condemnation of a movement of which I am a proud part to point out this fact.
I was not always as aware of misogyny and feminism as I am not, and I am nowhere near close to the end of my education on the topic. I can say that growing up with three incredibly intelligent and independent minded sisters and a very feminist father and an incredibly supportive and liberal mother really shaped my views of women, men, and society. I grew up without knowledge of patriarchal religion and I was never taught that being gay or trans* was in anyway different from my own sexuality. I was unschooled (i.e. I directed my own education at home with the help and support of my parents) until I started attending community college classes at the age of 16 so it was not until then that I even realized that people had a PROBLEM with other people’s sexuality. It had just never been something that seemed to me as a “difference”. People love. That is what I was taught. I know now how lucky I was to be raised this way, that most people do not get to go their entire childhood without encountering damaging hate of differences in people. I also know now how very naive I was. I think m autism had part in this…I tend to see people as uniform unless I really get to know them. It is literally almost impossible FOR me to see difference sometimes! That is one thing about my autism that I do like
I am now married to a wonderful, intelligent, gorgeous feminist atheist woman. She has also opened my eyes as to how women are viewed, and abused, in society. She is a pin-up model so I have seen firsthand how people, especially men who claim to be “open-minded” try to shame her for daring to be proud of her body and to take control of her sexuality. Her strength in the face of this sort of judgement, even at times from her own very conservative Catholic family, is inspiring to me and has moved me to look into more about feminism and issues of justice for women and for the rest of society.
I am a feminist not just because of the women in my life but because of myself, my own feelings, and the men in the world who are degraded and poisoned by patriarchal views. We raise boys to be rough and stupid and dense and to ignore their feelings and the feelings of others. We assume that any man who can express his emotions, admits when he is in pain, or stands up for women is a “pussy”. We also tell our young boys and men that gay, bi, and trans* men cannot, by definition, be masculine or strong and that masculinity is the ability to dominate and control others through physical power and manipulation. Women are the focus and the chief targets of the controlling grip of patriarchal mechanisms but both women AND men are the walking wounded; many men do not even understand how much their own minds and emotions have been hampered, even crippled by the social disease that is misogyny.
A case in point: the backlash against atheist blogger and activist Rebecca Watson when she dared to tell her story about being sexually harassed by a man (an atheist man) at a conference. Many male atheists, including one of the self-important “patron saints” of the “New” Atheism, Dr. Richard Dawkins, attacked her as essentially a whiner and other claimed she was undermining the Atheist cause (whatever that may be) by DARING to suggest that any freethinker could be a misogynist. Dawkins even suggested it was NATURAL that women will be constantly harassed, propositioned and given unwanted physical attention in public, even at a place where the participants declare their moral superiority to Religious misogynists. Skepchick blogger Sarah Moglia even reported that Dawkins threw a temper tantrum and blacked-balled Watson from speaking at the popular Atheist conference The Reason Rally! ( http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2013/09/05/richard-dawkins-blackballed-rebecca-watson%EF%BB%BF-from-speaking-at-the-reason-rally/)
Needless to say Rebecca Watson (and many others who do not have her fame or name recognition) fought back and stood her ground and in her case she become a leading voice in the Atheist community. This was after hundreds of rape threats, death threats, and insults online and in person. The idea that Atheism somehow inoculates men against being misogynistic is absurd and dangerous: it causes freethinkers to believe in a sense of moral superiority that is unearned and also causes the real issues facing women in the Atheist community to be ignored, laughed at or dismissed. We claim to be better than the senseless, reason-free hate and prejudice of the religious world. That claim is made laughable and impotent if we continue to ignore the problem of patriarchal ideas and misogynistic tendencies within the Atheist movement.
In my own personal experience, mostly in the Atheist groups I am part of online, I am constantly seeing some men, not all by any means, attack and belittle women who dare raise issues about patriarchy or who even use the word feminism. It is as though some atheist men think of themselves as beyond such petty concerns. I believe the truth is that when a woman brings up issues of misogyny and feminism it scares some men and forces them to confront the prejudices within themselves that they want to, need to, believe they do hold. Atheism is not served by believing that atheist are a priori morally superior in all issues or beyond the prejudices that infest and poison society as a whole. One of the major Atheist groups I was once a part of on Facebook, AANR (Atheists, Agnostics, & Non-Religious) is positively FILLED with people who harass women, degrade them, demand nude photos and even actively proposition them through messages and in person. Women were often ridiculed or appreciated only for the physical attributes that these men found desirable. There was even a supposedly “tongue and cheek” meme on the site where if someone brought up an issue, especially women, they would be confronted with this not too subtle misogynistic threat: TOGTFO. What does that mean? “[show us your] Tits Or Get The Fuck Out”. This misogyny was one of the reasons I left what was once the largest atheist related group online. This sort of vile misogyny is not limited to AANR buy any means; all around the internet and in groups in the real world, women are gaslighted, harassed, sexually objectified and taken less seriously just because of their gender. This has got to stop.
I am writing this not because I think I am immune to misogyny or patriarchal thinking. I am not. I am sure I have abused my privilege in the past and I probably will in the future. But at least I am aware of my own failings and want to overcome them. I want all atheists, men and women, to overcome this issue too. We are a remarkable community of intelligent, activist, largely kind and empathetic people who can have an enormous influence on society for the better if we choose to. Far too many atheist men have bought into the easy moral capitulation that is the MRA movement. NO MORE. Let’s decide that we are NOT yet past the demons that haunt the rest of society. Let us instead aim to lead by example and try and take on misogyny and patriarchy as a unified and progressive movement. We can create a better future for all of us. Feminist Atheism should not be a bad word.
NO MORE shaming women
NO MORE using slurs against women
NO MORE dismissing the concerns of women because they are women
NO MORE assuming that we are morally superior by virtue of our atheism
NO MORE using atheist groups, meetups, and conferences as a way to try and get sex from women
NO MORE supporting atheist luminaries like Richard Dawkins who refuse to confront their own prejudice
NO MORE treating feminism, patriarchy, and misogyny like they are four letter words