The Gender Disparity in Atheism, How Can it Change?

It is clear to many members of the atheist internet blogosphere that there is a noticeable gender disparity among participants in atheist activities (fora, blogs, comments, readership) online.There are also indications that this discrepancy is continued offline as well, in self-identification on surveys and in participation in atheist community groups. There is a similar disproportion in popular published material and mainstream availability of women in outspoken positions. These areas, yet again, are dominated by men and the demographic is only slowly changing.

This is not to say that women are not involved in high positions of leadership within the atheist community, nor that their input is disregarded. To say so would be farcial. Women like Margaret Downey, president of the Freethought Society, Lori Lipman Brown, the founding director of the SCA, Lyz Lidell in the SSA, Debbie Goddard representing both the CFI and African Americans for Humanism, Susan Jacoby repping CFI, and so many others speak to, write about, educate and organize atheists across North America. And there are many more across the world. There are numbers of female atheist bloggers, authors, and thinkers all with as much to say, if not more, than their male counterparts. Yet the truth remains that the population of today's New Atheism remains heavily skewed toward the male, many places in ratios hovering near 3:1.

This topic has clearly been on the minds of many. Hemant Mehta (The Friendly Atheist), Jen McCreight (BlagHag), PZ Meyers (Pharyngula) and many others of note in the blogosphere have considered this issue in lengthy discussion. Much of this buzz was initiated by Carrie Iwan and Rebecca Watson of Skepchick when they podcasted about sexism and sexist remarks made at The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM), a conference for skeptics hosted by the James Randi Educational Foundation, in 2009.

I am currently doing research with a professor at my school on gender and atheism. For us, discussion is great. What would make that discussion even better would be to have empirical data to help support the integration of more women (especially women of color, former adherents to non-Abrahamic faiths, etc.) into the New Atheist movement. It is not enough to hope that time will even up the ratios, they must be actively addressed and we will all benefit. We have the potential to create a survey that can reach an international population of atheists online. Our question to you then becomes this: what questions need to be asked of a large, trans-national population in order to help us get at the root of this issue? What do women need from the New Atheist movement? What keeps women who don’t believe in deities from identifying as atheist?

We have a decent idea of what female atheists now look like: they tend to be liberal, white, under 40, highly educated, from backgrounds of low religious orthodoxy. How do we provide welcoming environments for the women who may face different struggles it they came out as atheists? Many have noted that this issue is not only about being more inclusive to women, but also about being more inclusive to all diversity. New Atheism, at its heart, does not need exclusion or discrimination or hierarchy. It needs brothers, it needs sisters. It needs transgendereds and androgyne's. The long and short of it is that we need community.

Now, how?
EDIT: this is in the works, again. Up above is about three or four editions behind.... whoops. 

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Tags: address, atheism, disparity, gap, gender, survey

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Comment by Lana on September 14, 2011 at 11:34am

I'm new here, but I'm just going to wade in.  As a woman who by some definitions considers herself a feminist, I think it is perhaps useful to throw in my two cents.

 

Glen wrote:

I suspect that biological differences between the genders result in more male atheists. Females in general are more insistent that those around them practice religion. The emotional appeal of religion resonates to a greater extent in females. Men tend to be more independent and critical than women, attributes that are more likely to produce an atheist without exterior influences. 

For a man an atheist movement is not critical. A woman on the other hand, needs to feel part of a community. Or at least she should have a community where she is welcome. To accomplish mass apostasy we need to be outspoken, not so much about the falsehood and perpetuation of absurd lies; more so the GREAT LIE equating religion and morality.

 

 As a former fundamentalist christian who grew up as part of an active comminity, I can say that there are parts of that community that I do miss. As a young mother, it was even more a noticable deficit as I left the church. When I moved to a new town as a non-believer, I had no ready-made group who would wecome me (and my money) enthusiastically. They have programming for parents and for children. They are a massive self help organization that supports women particularly. I could not stay in it for reason of disbelief. But I understand why many women maintain belief in the unbelievable - it comes down to utility. I appreciate that this nexus has some groups for parents. The nexus as a whole may encourage more women to 'come out' merely because it is relatively anonymous and they presumably don't have to defend their reasons for disbelief within this group.

If the atheist movement (whatever that is) useful to women, it starts to outweigh the very real damage from ostracism that they will experience by their friends and family.  Women from more conservative backgrounds have a hard time with this.  They have been told by generations of men that they do not make the spiritual decisions for their family - the relevant male head of the household does.  So most women in 'literalist' communities don't feel competent to think for themselves outside the bounds of their religion.  I'm confronting this with my own twin sister right now.

Comment by G Smith on July 12, 2011 at 7:34pm
I'd also like to see the data.
Comment by sehkmet on July 11, 2011 at 9:42pm

Rikka,

 

Would it be possible to see the data from your survey identifying women atheists?

Comment by sehkmet on May 31, 2011 at 6:06pm
There are plenty of under forty atheists around.  Please don't assume that because you are personally unaware of them, they don't exist.  For many atheism is the logical progression of their feminism.  This is something a lot of under forty women don't understand.  Why do you want to divide us up this way?
Comment by Prog Rock Girl on May 31, 2011 at 5:34pm

Work harder, and you are guaranteed to get more money? Tell that to people who have had their workload double and are taking a paycut. Most people I've seen make a lot of money actually did less work but had the right friends and luck.

 

The statement stereotyping women as buying too many handbags with their husbands' money still makes me think he's just bitter about a divorce or being taken for a ride by some woman.

Comment by sehkmet on May 31, 2011 at 5:09pm
Wow, nice way to derail a topic guys (Bruce and Sendoro Rojo)
Comment by TNT666 on May 13, 2011 at 1:04am
Oh please! Economics??? University instruction in economics has no more validity than religious education. You are so sold on the status quo you are blind to its workings.
Comment by TNT666 on May 9, 2011 at 1:19am
And I do not attack "men in general" as you say, but patriarchy itself, which can be represented by both men and women, not exactly the same thing now. Your attacks onto me make me wonder why you even spend efforts posting on topics relating to the struggle of women, no matter the context. You "support" women, as long as they support your view.
Comment by TNT666 on May 8, 2011 at 2:17pm
Bruce or Tbyte, admitted anti-feminist, you should stick to the content of the post instead of attacking women posting here.
Comment by Grace Fitzpatrick on May 8, 2011 at 1:49pm

Admittedly, I have not read this entire thread, so I can't comment on what others have said.  However, this has been bothering me and as a mother on Mother's Day, I am going to say something.  I don't like the way some people refer to parents as "breeders".  This comes off as a derogatory term for mothers.  I don't really like it.  It doesn't feel very nice to be called that.  It doesn't feel nice to think someone may call you that just because you have a secret desire to have a family. 

 

Christians and other people of faith not only don't call the parents among them derogatory names, they exalt large families.  I'm not saying we have to do that.  Just don't say mean things about people who have or want to have kids.  It okay not to want to have kids, but it's also okay to have kids responsibly.   I, personally, don't think having 19 children is responsible (thinking of the Duggar family), but I don't find having two or three children irresponsible. 

 

I think it's starting to happen, but i think we need to reach out to families a little bit better.  In fact, I think we have more to offer parent GBLTs and most churches don't.  Women (and many men) consider their family the center of their life.  I think if the whole family feels welcome, then we'll get more people of all ages. 

 

The Church caters to kids.  I'm not saying we have to do that, but some programs for kids might be an idea to think about.  People use churches to socialize more than anything.  I have noticed that more children growing up in religion deconvert to atheism than atheist children convert to faith.  In fact, it is so rare, that when an atheist converts to religion, they have to make a huge deal of it, practically having it written up in the news paper.  However, when a person formerly of faith decoverts, we don't make such a big deal out of it, because it is a normal everyday occurrence for us.  So I think it's import that children are actually raised in atheism just like they are raised in faith. 

 

I think if we reach out to families more, women will follow.  Women make up the bulk of believers.  Men often only go to church reluctantly.  Men seem to naturally be more skeptical of religion.  Perhaps this is because men traditionally go to war and see the worst in people, while have and care for babies which is fraught with things that could go wrong for the people you love and care about the most - your kids.  I think women turn to faith out of fear.  I think if you could take the fear out of women, then you could remove the faith as well.  Faith is fear based.  Atheism is fearless.  It is very hard to live fearlessly - especially when you're a mom constantly worrying about what is happening or might happen to your kids. 

 

Now these roles are all changing, so perhaps Dads feel the same amount of anxiety over their kids as Moms do. I'm not a dad, so I can't speak for them.  Somehow, we need to find a way to ease this anxiety and provide support for anxious parents.  Because nothing turns someone to God like their child having a serious problem. 

 

One thing that I also find interesting is how few over 65 types we have in our mist.  Now there are some, but the church welcomes everyone regardless of age.  I don't think we are unwelcoming to older people, but perhaps we could find ways to be more inclusive of people of age and find ways to actively recruit older people, because I think they have a lot to offer any organization.  Perhaps some person of age could add their two cents here on how to help older people come out. 

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