Sunday, August 18, 2013

Yeah, about that A-word....

So I read this article, "Why Do Atheists Have A Problem With Women?" by Stephanie Stark.  And my first reaction was a cynical laugh, and a mutter, "ah, I can help, but do you have a few years to let me list all the issues?"

I liked and want to continue to write on Stark's article, but in the interest of brevity, I'll pick one part for now.  This was the genesis (1) of this post.  Stark quotes Kim Rippere of

Kim Rippere, founder of, said the rifts can be partially attributed to the nature of skepticism and the lack of belief in anything at face value. “A lot of the problem has to do with hyperskepticism, which is the idea of ‘how much evidence do you need to understand something?’ Skeptics are someone who uses critical reasoning skills and how much evidence do you need to make the decision about something, whether it’s accurate or not?” she said. She admits, “There is also a pervasive underlying issue of sexism, which is to a large degree the mirror of what we see in society.”
Surely Stark was on a deadline, or a space restriction, or something, so I can't fault her for not writing into this more.  I will, instead.  

Many things anger me, but hyper-skepticism is one of the top ten.  When I see or hear someone employing that, I know good and damn well they are not polishing some grand sword of rationality and cutting through BS - they are just too comfortable to get out of their armchair of Dearly Held Worldviews.  That's all it is.  They don't want to do the heavy lifting of examining their personal assumptions and looking at evidence they may not like.  Accepting that sexism is a huge problem in the well known parts of the atheist/skeptic communities is not an exotic, sophisticated thing.  You just have to get over yourself and, oh, I dunno, actually apply reason and rationality to your beliefs.  See if they hold water in the face of overwhelming "reports" to the contrary.   


Atheism does have a problem with women. And LGBTQ people.  And POC.  And anyone not in the mythical American middle class.  Atheism as we in the fold know it, and as non-atheists know it, has long been and remains the province of white middle class cis men.  There are many reasons for this, some of which I'll go into, but what's pissing me off the most is the failure of imagination on the part of the Atheist establishment, and related establishments.  

Just in terms of non-belief alone, they fail.  I wish I could get a bullhorn and point it at select thinkers, events, and groups:  You, presumably, know the freedom, the liberation of letting go of religion and abandoning the the concept of a deity. You know how much this can benefit a person, and how just plain good it can feel (barring any de-conversion trauma).  You know how lovely this can be, and how much human potential can be reclaimed by counteracting the influence of generations of hidebound, conservative, hateful, and violent beliefs.  You know the massive, society wide impacts of secularism and how they can improve a culture. You know all this good stuff, micro to macro level benefits of atheism, and yet you still cannot stretch your mind to include in this rainbow of goodness anyone who doesn't look, talk, think, fuck, or plain exist like you.

Any atheist and/or skeptic, any flavor of nonbeliever who doesn't immediately want to fling open the doors of this potential is no better than the worst stereotype of a priest (or rabbi or imam if you roll those ways). It feels like this: once more, there's all this potential for progress, justice, and happiness, and yet again, we have to navigate some Cerberus of patriarchy (2) just to get in.  


This problem feels analogous to breast cancer awareness in the US.  We are awash in pink merchandise, we are asked to be "aware" and "raise awareness" of breast cancer.   It's quite chic in some circles, the ubiquitous pink ribbon becoming even more widespread and mindlessly disseminated than the original red Aids ribbon was.  In the middle of this pink storm, we are asked to "hope for a cure". 

But how often are we asked to fund universities and other facilities actually doing cancer research?  How often are we asked to vote on legislation that will benefit actual people dealing with cancer, as well as their families?  How often are we asked to contribute to funds that will help offset the costs of care, or lost wages, or simply buy groceries for a month for someone's family so they don't have to worry?  Not that often.  But we are asked to buy Another Pink Thing and Be Aware.

And, in a broad way, we seem to be fine with this as a culture.  Cancer itself used to be a dirty word, and now it's one of the most popular banners to wave.  But we've already fought that battle.  You can say "cancer" on the street, it's ok now.  Good!  Now for the next step, actually constructing or putting into use support mechanisms for the people coping with this disease.  Time to put all those warm fuzzy feelings into action and benefit some real people with the sum total of decades of research and policy, right?  Right?

Nope!  That would discomfit far too many people.  So our uni's suffer, our researchers need to chase funding, and every breast cancer patient who's not independently wealthy or incredibly lucky has to not only deal with an awful disease, she or he has to worry about keeping their meds and a roof over their head.  Well done.  We have more than enough money and brain power to solve these problems, but instead just coast along with status quo because it's comfy for a certain few.


So to apply all that to the problem of Atheism, I keep coming to the conclusion that keeping this "community" in its current sorry state is just plain comfy for certain people in it.  I'm as impatient with raising awareness of women's (or other) concerns in the atheist world because people already know good and damn well what those concerns are.  It's simply more beneficial to ignore them.

Coming from an American perspective, and all the tics and limits that has, I can't see any further need to *inform* anyone of the human status of half the damn earth.  Every misogynist knows this, but they operate on a misogynist script anyway, because it benefits them, from perverse pleasure to socioeconomic advantage.  If it wasn't so profitable to consider women subhuman and create conditions that reflect that hate, no one would subscribe to that set of beliefs.

No one needs to actually convince anyone that sexual harassment at cons is a problem - they fucking know. No one needs to convince anyone that having secular childcare options for working parents would help tremendously and offset the influence of churches - they fucking know.  No one needs to convince anyone that women get the short shrift in labor from government to academe to retail and domestic labor - they fucking know.  No matter how much trolls whine, it doesn't matter - this is as plain as the nose on your face or the lack of god in the sky (har-dee-har-har).  All the proof you need is in front of your face, or a short web search away to the necessary studies and reports.  Hyperskepticism in this case is not expressing a genuine demand to be convinced, but refusing to accept uncomfortable possibilities. As Upton Sinclair said (and all skeptics should well know), 

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!" 


I'd be perfectly happy to leave the regressive elements of Atheism and skepticism in the dust, but they do have the biggest pulpits, the most air time, the biggest presence.  The jackasses are actually the welcome wagon for new Atheists, new skeptics, or people that are neither but want to learn more.  Or people that are  neither, and don't want to learn more, but just need to get a bead on these weird folks talking about weird things.  Or the people in charge of actually making changes in our society.  

One good way to start deflating the appeal of this religiosity is to not look like whomping assholes to non atheists.  I do not mean appeasement here, but what I do mean is looking at what religious institutions are doing for their followers and seeing if there's any way to employ some of those things in a secular context instead of just mocking them for belief.  For instance, some synagogues and churches allow women to be rabbis and ministers (or pastors for that matter - prestige!).  As a woman, I can understand the appeal of having some sort of place of power in the community.  I get why this is a draw.  But then you look at atheist events, look at the books being published, look at the ones getting on the news - our "pastors".  Who are you going to see more of?  Be honest.  Promotion of  atheists views and voices outside the /white/cis/wealthy demographic is important to both expend the intellectual validity of the movement and to not just be the other side of the religious fundamentalist coin. Without treating that person as your personal font of info, you can indeed learn a lot from them.  All the info and various perspectives you need to see the problems clearly are already there.  On the practical side, you can't expect to deflate the appeal of religiosity if "atheism" does not earnestly and uncynically offer an option for those marginalized by religion. One of the biggest pop culture complaint about athiests is that they are "just like the religious", proving that sentement true via heavy patriarchy is going to be an Achilles heel and undermine any attempt to combat the harm of religion.


There is still untold misery bought about by hyper-religiosity in the US.  We are a very religious nation, with all the attendant baggage about gender and sex and that's troubling.  I'd like to see that subside and more secular, humanist mindsets employed vis a vis legislature, and policy "on the ground" (everything from safe abortion access to trans-inclusive restrooms).  There is no conceivable need to make our populace suffer so much.  There is no one coming to save us, so we must do it ourselves. We must make oppressive, religion-based thought and policy less appealing.  We should not still be reinventing this wheel.  It's 2013, there's plenty of evidence and we're running out of excuses - it's time for atheism to join the future.


(1) HA!  Genesis!  See what I did there!  #Abrahamichumor

(2) I suppose that'd be more kyriarchy than anything else, but this is what happens when you blog before coffee :)

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