Does feminism have an excluded middle?

Rebecca Watson recently posted a summary of her life in the skeptical/atheist community on Slate. The comments left in response by readers are, sadly, not surprising. The discussion on Slate is not that different from the discussions that have been taking place in the atheist zone of the blogosphere for the past 16 months.

Broadly, people (whether on Slate or elsewhere) agree or disagree with Rebecca’s position. Those who agree that sexism exists and is a problem make a fairly straightforward argument. However, those that disagree seem to be a more diverse bunch. There are certainly some who are happy to present as sexists or even misogynists; they may or may not be trolls. If they are trolls, according to one argument, they can be ignored. I’m not convinced. If they are not trolls then there is clearly a problem – one that is easily expressed: Some people are sexists.

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Congratulations, trolls and misogynists

…for your work here is done. You have managed to chase away an excellent young blogger with your unrelenting harassment. Jen McCreight quit last night:

I love writing, I love sharing my ideas, and I love listening to the ideas of my readers. But I simply no longer love blogging. Instead of feeling gleeful anticipation when writing up a post, I feel nothing but dread. There’s a group of people out there (google the ironic term FtBullies to find them) devoted to hating me, my friends, and even people I’m just vaguely associated with. I can no longer write anything without my words getting twisted, misrepresented, and quotemined. I wake up every morning to abusive comments, tweets, and emails about how I’m a slut, prude, ugly, fat, feminazi, retard, bitch, and cunt (just to name a few). If I block people who are twisting my words or sending verbal abuse, I receive an even larger wave of nonsensical hate about how I’m a slut, prude, feminazi, retard, bitch, cunt who hates freedom of speech (because the Constitution forces me to listen to people on Twitter). This morning I had to delete dozens of comments of people imitating my identity making graphic, lewd, degrading sexual comments about my personal life. In the past, multiple people have threatened to contact my employer with “evidence” that I’m a bad scientist (because I’m a feminist) to try to destroy my job. I’m constantly worried that the abuse will soon spread to my loved ones.

I just can’t take it anymore.

I don’t want to let them win, but I’m human. The stress is getting to me. I’ve dealt with chronic depression since elementary school, and receiving a daily flood of hatred triggers it. I’ve been miserable. And this toxic behavior is affecting all parts of my life. With this cloud of hate hanging over my head, I can’t focus or enjoy my hobbies or work. It has me constantly on edge with frayed nerves, which causes me to take it out on the ones I love. I spend most of my precious free time angry, on the verge of tears, or sobbing as I have to moderate comments or read what new terrible things people have said about me. And the only solution I see is to unplug.

So, vile scum, do you feel happy now? Have you got a glowing sense of accomplishment? Are you virtually high-fiving each other? What’s next? Are you going to put your feet up and retire, or will you shift your attention to other champions of equality and social justice?

I have a suggestion. Go away and don’t come back. Enjoy your freedom of speech, but do it in a place where people who are full of awesomeness do not have to attend to it. This is exactly why Jen proposed the idea that became Atheism+: to define a space you do not get to destroy. Though Jen may have stopped writing about atheism and feminism, she has started something new, and the idea will continue to grow, even if she takes a less active role.

Jen: I am sorry to see you go. I have been reading blag hag for years now and know that you are an important part of the freethought/atheist/skeptic movement. I hope you come back. More importantly, I hope that you can cope with all the hate and move on, knowing that you have the support of thousands of people who have enjoyed reading what you have written, and have been inspired by your words and ideas.

Check your privilege! Part 2

In my last post, I discussed white privilege and how to find out if you have it. Now I want to turn to another kind of privilege, one that is particularly relevant to the atheist community right now. I have already talked about the many recent examples of sexism and misogyny that have dogged atheism recently. Now I would like to talk about sexism in the light of male privilege. Before getting into the details of male privilege, I would like to highlight a recent issue: the one that gave rise to Atheism+.

When Jen McCreight said

I don’t feel safe as a woman in this community – and I feel less safe than I do as a woman in science, or a woman in gaming, or hell, as a woman walking down the fucking sidewalk

a whole can of worms opened up. Many people understood, sympathized, or empathized with Jen’s statement. Other people blew up, arguing that this was a ridiculous statement: how is it possible not to be safer at a convention – in a room full of people – than walking down the street? Another class of response was to ask for evidence: what is the evidence that you are safer on the street than at a con? The latter two types of response are missing the point. Jen did not claim that as a woman she is safer on the street than at a con; this would have been a claim that could be supported or refuted with evidence from research on the relative frequency of assaults on women in different settings. Neither did she claim that as Jen McCreight she is safer on the street than at a con. I doubt there is any published research on this question, but Jen would be able to offer up data regarding all the times she has been attacked in different settings. Of course, this may not satisfy the most hyper-skeptical among us as these would be anecdotal data. But why am I even making the distinction between Jen-as-a-woman and Jen-as-Jen-McCreight? This distinction is relevant because, in the context of a public atheist/skeptic event, she is not just one of many women walking around. She is a woman who has

“received sexual invitations from strangers around the country”,

who has been

“repeatedly told I can never speak out against people objectifying or sexually harassing me because a joke about my boobs was eternal “consent”,

who has received

“hundreds of comments accusing me being a man-hating, castrating, humorless, ugly, overreacting harpy”,

who has

“become used to being called a cunt or having people threaten to contact my employers because a feminist can’t be a good scientist.”

In short, she is a public figure in the atheist/skeptical/freethought community who has received many threats of violence. Given this, I can see how Jen may feel less safe in an environment where there is a chance that there are a few individuals who recognize her by sight and wish her ill than in an environment where she is anonymous. This does not seem irrational.

I now want to stress that her claim was not that she is less safe in the atheist community than on the sidewalk, but that she feels less safe in the atheist community than on the sidewalk. This claim does not belong in the class of claims that require, or can be supported or refuted by, evidence. If I were to say “I have a headache” or “I feel sad”, no-one would ask me to provide supporting evidence. People would be happy to accept these statements without challenging the truth-status of these claims. Why? First, because they of little consequence, which I do agree is not true of Jen’s claim. Second, because they are my subjective feelings, and we are typically happy to allow that people have subjective experiences that may not be true for the rest of us at this time, and this second reason is true of Jen’s claim. The key difference, however, is that when I talk of headaches or sadness, others can easily simulate what it feels like to be me because they have probably experienced both of these feelings themselves at many different times in their lives. However, it is not the case – and I am happy that it is not the case – that all of us have felt threatened in the way that Jen describes. This is because we have not been subjected to the same abuse and threats that she has. This makes it potentially harder to simulate what it feels like to be Jen. People who have received threats and have been in public spaces in which those who have issued the threats may also be present will probably have a much easier time simulating what it feels like to be Jen.

All of this talk of phenomenology, alluded to in my last post, is essentially the problem of other minds. If I want to be hyper-skeptical, I can make the argument that I have no way of knowing that other people (or animals) have thoughts, feelings, or any kind of conscious experience that is in any way similar to what I experience.

Given the subjective nature of the claim of feeling less safe, adducing the threats received by Jen is not even necessary for accepting that her feelings regarding specific places or situations may differ from other people’s. It is quite possible that Jen could feel safer in one situation than another even if she were not well-known to the atheist community and had not been the recipient of harassment.

The example I have discussed is a specific case of a more general problem: empathizing with others, or – if empathy is not possible because one has no similar experiences to draw upon – accepting the idea that different people have different experiences. That was the point of the White Privilege Pop Quiz, and it is also the point of Barry Deutsch’sMale Privilege Checklist:

1. My odds of being hired for a job, when competing against female applicants, are probably skewed in my favor. The more prestigious the job, the larger the odds are skewed.

2. I can be confident that my co-workers won’t think I got my job because of my sex – even though that might be true.

3. If I am never promoted, it’s not because of my sex.

4. If I fail in my job or career, I can feel sure this won’t be seen as a black mark against my entire sex’s capabilities.

5. I am far less likely to face sexual harassment at work than my female co-workers are.

6. If I do the same task as a woman, and if the measurement is at all subjective, chances are people will think I did a better job.

7. If I’m a teen or adult, and if I can stay out of prison, my odds of being raped are relatively low.

8. On average, I am taught to fear walking alone after dark in average public spaces much less than my female counterparts are.

9. If I choose not to have children, my masculinity will not be called into question.

10. If I have children but do not provide primary care for them, my masculinity will not be called into question.

11. If I have children and provide primary care for them, I’ll be praised for extraordinary parenting if I’m even marginally competent.

12. If I have children and a career, no one will think I’m selfish for not staying at home.

13. If I seek political office, my relationship with my children, or who I hire to take care of them, will probably not be scrutinized by the press.

14. My elected representatives are mostly people of my own sex. The more prestigious and powerful the elected position, the more this is true.

15. When I ask to see “the person in charge,” odds are I will face a person of my own sex. The higher-up in the organization the person is, the surer I can be.

16. As a child, chances are I was encouraged to be more active and outgoing than my sisters.

17. As a child, I could choose from an almost infinite variety of children’s media featuring positive, active, non-stereotyped heroes of my own sex. I never had to look for it; male protagonists were (and are) the default.

18. As a child, chances are I got more teacher attention than girls who raised their hands just as often.

19. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether or not it has sexist overtones.

20. I can turn on the television or glance at the front page of the newspaper and see people of my own sex widely represented.

21. If I’m careless with my financial affairs it won’t be attributed to my sex.

22. If I’m careless with my driving it won’t be attributed to my sex.

23. I can speak in public to a large group without putting my sex on trial.

24. Even if I sleep with a lot of women, there is no chance that I will be seriously labeled a “slut,” nor is there any male counterpart to “slut-bashing.”

25. I do not have to worry about the message my wardrobe sends about my sexual availability.

26. My clothing is typically less expensive and better-constructed than women’s clothing for the same social status. While I have fewer options, my clothes will probably fit better than a woman’s without tailoring.

27. The grooming regimen expected of me is relatively cheap and consumes little time.

28. If I buy a new car, chances are I’ll be offered a better price than a woman buying the same car.

29. If I’m not conventionally attractive, the disadvantages are relatively small and easy to ignore.

30. I can be loud with no fear of being called a shrew. I can be aggressive with no fear of being called a bitch.

31. I can ask for legal protection from violence that happens mostly to men without being seen as a selfish special interest, since that kind of violence is called “crime” and is a general social concern. (Violence that happens mostly to women is usually called “domestic violence” or “acquaintance rape,” and is seen as a special interest issue.)

32. I can be confident that the ordinary language of day-to-day existence will always include my sex. “All men are created equal,” mailman, chairman, freshman, he.

33. My ability to make important decisions and my capability in general will never be questioned depending on what time of the month it is.

34. I will never be expected to change my name upon marriage or questioned if I don’t change my name.

35. The decision to hire me will not be based on assumptions about whether or not I might choose to have a family sometime soon.

36. Every major religion in the world is led primarily by people of my own sex. Even God, in most major religions, is pictured as male.

37. Most major religions argue that I should be the head of my household, while my wife and children should be subservient to me.

38. If I have a wife or live-in girlfriend, chances are we’ll divide up household chores so that she does most of the labor, and in particular the most repetitive and unrewarding tasks.

39. If I have children with my girlfriend or wife, I can expect her to do most of the basic childcare such as changing diapers and feeding.

40. If I have children with my wife or girlfriend, and it turns out that one of us needs to make career sacrifices to raise the kids, chances are we’ll both assume the career sacrificed should be hers.

41. Assuming I am heterosexual, magazines, billboards, television, movies, pornography, and virtually all of media is filled with images of scantily-clad women intended to appeal to me sexually. Such images of men exist, but are rarer.

42. In general, I am under much less pressure to be thin than my female counterparts are. If I am fat, I probably suffer fewer social and economic consequences for being fat than fat women do.

43. If I am heterosexual, it’s incredibly unlikely that I’ll ever be beaten up by a spouse or lover.

44. Complete strangers generally do not walk up to me on the street and tell me to “smile.”

45. Sexual harassment on the street virtually never happens to me. I do not need to plot my movements through public space in order to avoid being sexually harassed, or to mitigate sexual harassment.

45. On average, I am not interrupted by women as often as women are interrupted by men.

46. I have the privilege of being unaware of my male privilege.

I agree with the vast majority of these statements. As with the White Privilege test, the point isn’t that I am a sexist, or that I can choose not to have this privilege. The point is that I should now be aware that I have male privilege, and have some minimal idea about what women may experience. I still do not know what it is like to be a woman, but I am aware that the phenomenology of being a woman is not the same as the phenomenology of being a man.

You may be a woman who does not agree that all of the statements on the list are representative of your experiences, but that does not mean that this is true for all women. Jen McCreight recently blogged about Richard Dawkins retweeting the following:

I’m a woman & an atheist blogger, & never experienced sexist abuse from fellow atheists. Maybe because I don’t assume they’re misogynists?

Jen then quotes a nice critique:

From Veronica at Purple NoiZe:

Good for you Lucy. Good for you. There are numerous women who have, but I’m glad you’re not one of them.

The problem, however, with this tweet is of course the second sentence. Lucy seems to be saying that either is the abuse imagined, i.e. that the recipients interpret the abuse as sexist while it is actually just for laughs or something. It is a little tricky to treat death and rape threats as funny jokes, but I suppose if you’re naive enough you could manage it. The other option is that the abuse women receive online is caused by women assuming these people are misogynists, therefore the sexism is really the victim’s fault for being so uppity. The classic victim blaming that we so often see of rape victims.

As well as the victim-blaming implied in the second sentence, this is good example of the point I am trying to make: just because you have not experienced something or have not felt a particular way in a situation, it doesn’t mean that other people haven’t.

Note that all the arguments I make in this post can be applied to Rebecca Watson’s experiences as well.


The Male Privilege Checklist is copied from Barry Deutsch’s site, where he explains the reasons for compiling it:

In 1990, Wellesley College professor Peggy McIntosh wrote an essay called “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”. McIntosh observes that whites in the U.S. are “taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.” To illustrate these invisible systems, McIntosh wrote a list of 26 invisible privileges whites benefit from.

As McIntosh points out, men also tend to be unaware of their own privileges as men. In the spirit of McIntosh’s essay, I thought I’d compile a list similar to McIntosh’s, focusing on the invisible privileges benefiting men.


Thanks again to Corinne Zimmerman for inspiring this post.

Atheism+, misogyny, and the trouble with trolls

There has been a lot of conversation about Atheism+ over the last week. Excellent summaries of the arguments against Atheism+, and rebuttals to those arguments are presented by Jen McCreight, Greta Christina, and PZ Myers.

Many of the discussions have been about whether A+ is really just the same as humanism. In addition to the verbal rebuttals linked to above, Jason Thibeault uses a nice set of Venn diagrams to make the same point.

Per Smith uses this diagram in illustrating his scholarly analysis of A+ as a sectarian movement. (Note that although it may seem that he is criticising A+ for being sectarian, he points out in the comments that he is describing a fairly common phenomenon, not making a value judgment over whether it is a good or bad thing.) What caught my interest, however, was not Per’s description of sectarianism, but one of the comments:

The biggest problem with this, is that is places ‘other miscreants’ in with misogynists etc. When we are actually talking about tolls. Trolling is a sport, the aim of which is to get a reaction out of people who are perceived to be pompous and thin skinned. In other words, to get drama out of drama queens. Within the rules of this game, no tactic is considered too underhand….

…In fact noting is sacred, anything from antisemitism to child abuse and be used or abused, and to ‘spout your own views’ is considered a ‘troll fail’. Therefore a troll may threaten rape, but this does nothing to inform us of his/her views on rape, misogyny or anything else. It doesn’t even indicate that the troll disagrees with the views of the person they are trolling.

I think Vicky makes an excellent point; let’s look at this more closely. Many of the opinions that atheism+ is a response to may be opinions voiced by trolls. Those opinions are therefore not representative of “actual” opinions, but rather reflect the fact that a troll can find some rich pickings by voicing nasty opinions about women and sexual assault, for example.

There is a somewhat philosophical issue here: how can we tell if someone is trolling, as opposed to voicing his actual opinion? Most of the time we can assume that when people say things, the content of their speech match up (to a reasonable extent) with the contents of their attitudes and beliefs. Of course, people do lie, and it can be hard to ascertain whether someone is telling the truth or not. But trolling is a special case. The motivation for a troll to respond with “chicks are bitchez!!!”, or a slightly more subtle “atheists are just like religious fundamentalists”, is to provoke a response. And the troll may or may not be lying. That is, the contents of his mind may or may not bear some correspondence to the words.

So when a blog commenter makes a statement, we cannot always know if he is a troll or whether he is reasonably sincere. How we categorize these statements informs how we respond. A sincere statement should be responded to with a link to the eleventy places where that particular argument is dealt with, at least. A troll can be ignored (but see the paragraph at the end of this post) , and should not be counted as evidence that atheist/secular/skeptical/humanist men are misogynists/racists/privileged etc. Or should he? As mentioned above, it may well be the case that the troll, whilst trolling, is actually making statements that reflect his attitudes. In which case he should be counted as one of the atheists etc. who are misogynists etc. But we cannot always tell.

Do these distinctions matter? Does the suspicion that many of the voices speaking out against the “evils of feminism” may not be sincere alter what we consider to be an appropriate response? Is atheism+ necessary if all the jerks within atheism/skepticism are trolls? My answers to these questions are “maybe”, “no”, and “yes”, respectively, but this is partly because I really don’t get the troll mentality. I get why people (usually adolescents) engage in pranks. I get why a pompous voice of authority can be an alluring target. What I don’t get is the “anything goes” approach. I don’t get how it’s OK to say hurtful things to victims of rape or any other abuse or injustice. I don’t get how it’s OK to pick vulnerable targets, find the things that are most hurtful, and attack those targets with passion and glee.

The very fact that trolls exist, and that they consider victims of rape, institutional sexism, or any other kind of misogyny to be valid targets is a problem. It’s part of our culture. While trolls may not be sincerely stating their beliefs, the fact that anyone considers their behavior to be acceptable is a real problem, and it is a problem that is plausibly entwined with the problem that there are people who do sincerely hold the values espoused by the trolls. In reality, it is extremely unlikely that all the misogynist comments that have been made regarding feminism and atheism+ are from trolls. As Greta Christina points out

I am getting very tired of people responding to these posts by saying things like, “Don’t give them attention. Don’t feed the trolls.” This has been addressed at length, in the #mencallmethings: “whore” comment thread, and elsewhere. (Here is a very good short video on that subject, summing up why “don’t feed the trolls” is a terrible response to sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, or other group-based hate.) The tl;dr: This is not a few trolls trying to get attention and stir up any kind of response. This is a sustained campaign of misogyny, aimed at driving feminist women out of a community. And ignoring it does not make it go away. Ignoring it gives it tacit consent. The only way to deal with it is to point it out, and shame it, and make it clear that our community does not tolerate it. When you respond to a woman speaking out about misogyny by saying, “Don’t feed the trolls,” you are essentially telling us, “Stay silent about the misogynist shit you have to deal with on a daily basis.”

And do watch the video Greta linked to.

Atheism, therefore Feminism

Does being an atheist imply that one is (or should be) a feminist? The answer, according to me, is “yes”. Like many others , I implicitly thought that people who were skeptics and atheists, who rail against the oppression of fundamentalist religion, must stand for a whole bunch of Good Things and against a whole bunch of Bad Things. I assumed they were for liberty, justice, and equality, and against racism, homophobia, sexism, and misogyny.

It turns out that I, and the many others, were wrong. In case you missed it, one bit of the internet has spent some considerable proportion of its time discussing sexism and feminism. The bit of the net I am talking about is the section of the blogosphere centered around the freethought and skepchick blog networks .

A year ago, Rebecca Watson said “Guys, don’t do that” and craziness ensued . The subsequent debates about what is or isn’t acceptable behavior and what does and doesn’t count as sexual harassment led to discussions about sexual harassment policies at conferences . In June 2012, Rebecca explained why she wouldn’t be attending a conference.

Later in June, freethoughtblogs added Thunderf00t to their roster, and he immediately started spewing all kinds of nastiness about sexual harassment. In early July he was booted from the network, and in August it was revealed that he had access to confidential information about freethought bloggers . This led to a very distressing post by Natalie Reed.

Then there’s the campaign against skepchick Surly Amy . And the “feminazi” name calling aimed at freethoughtblogs and skepchick. And probably a whole bunch of other stuff that I don’t remember or didn’t see, given the vast amount of traffic on sexism and feminism.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, and don’t have several hours to read everything I linked to above, here’s the brief summary: it turns out there are many people in the atheist/skeptic community who really hate feminists and feminism, and are willing to wish horrible fates on women who dare to argue that sexism exists within the community and should be dealt with.

So, given the fact that many people who identify as atheists, skeptics, and freethinkers clearly do not identify as feminists, why should I claim that atheism logically implies feminism. Well, there is a sense in which it doesn’t. Atheism means not believing in gods. Nothing else. From a definitional standpoint, arguing that atheism implies anything other than not believing in gods is incorrect. However, atheism as a movement has moved beyond the dictionary definition of the term. A lot of people have stated that dictionary atheism isn’t enough, and that being skeptical should go beyond debunking bigfoot, Loch Ness monster, or alien sightings. What is missing from the old-school of skepticism and atheism is an interest in social justice.

Yes, tarot readers and mediums do prey on their customers, and shouldn’t get away with it, and of course we should be combating religious institutions’ interference in secular life. But we should be asking ourselves why we care about these things. We could say we care about religious interference in secular American life because it is unconstitutional/illegal, and we could argue that the whole point of the United States is freedom of religion, and this is true but, again, it is a narrow technical explanation. If true, then people in other countries should not be trying to promote secularism and we shouldn’t care what happens in those countries as they do not have legal protection against religious influence.

We care about the influence of religion, not just because it violates laws, but because of the real-world outcomes. These include outcomes that atheists and skeptics have been working against for decades, such as the dilution of science education in order to weaken evolution and promote creationism. A good science education is incredibly important, but there are other negative outcomes to fight against as well. Anti-choicers are largely driven by religious motivations, as are those who do not want gays to marry. Those in the middle east who do not like the idea of girls getting educated, and who don’t want women driving, using cell phones, going out in public on their own, or wearing what they want are driven, at least in part, by their religion.

We care about what happens to people who belong to minority ethnic groups, what happens to gays, what happens to the poor, what happens to the starving, what happens to inhabitants of war-torn countries, and what happens to women all over the world for a reason. That reason is not that their suffering is caused (or aided and abetted) by religious individuals and institutions. The reason is that we care what happens to people: we do not like to see others suffer. Why? Because we are moral beings with empathy.

I have often heard the argument that morality derives from faith in the divine, and that atheists in particular have no reason to be moral beings. In fact, just recently one of my friends was relating an anecdote about a conversation he had in his workplace. My friend’s atheism was mentioned by one colleague to a second colleague; the second colleague turned to my friend, shocked, and asked whether my friend was really a nihilist and whether he really thought that life was meaningless and that we have no reason to behave well towards others.

One of my earliest memories of my teenage proto-atheism is my reaction to these words from chapter 9 of The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge :

Now that we know that the only thing on the other side of the sky is more sky, the idea of an afterlife has finally been slid into the history books alongside the rest of the quaint and forgotten religions. With heaven and hell gone we are faced with the necessity of making a heaven or hell right here. What with societies and metatechnology and allied disciplines we have come a long way, and life on the civilized worlds is better than it ever was during the black days of superstition. But with the improving of here and now comes the stark realization that here and now is all we have. Each of us has only this one brief experience with the bright light of consciousness in that endless dark night of eternity and must make the most of it. Doing this means we must respect the existence of everyone else and the most criminal act imaginable is the terminating of one of these conscious existences.

My reaction: Oh, wow, that is so evidently true. And coherent.

I was thinking about this quotation just a few days ago. The next day Harry Harrison , the author of the Stainless Steel Rat books, passed away .

My point (I realize that it may not be clear yet) is that atheism does not end with the dictionary definition. I find it hard to see how one can state “I believe in no gods” and then move on without considering the implications. The passage quoted above was the first implication that was made clear to me. This is all there is. There is not afterlife, no eternal reward; putting up with oppression and abuse in the hope that it will all be alright in the next life is tragic. Oppressing and abusing others, whilst offering them hope of some karmic balance in another life, is criminal.

Another implication of atheism is feminism, as described by Amanda Marcotte :

It was atheist thinkers who I first encountered who had an explanation for gender that comported better with the real world evidence. Simone de Beauvoir, author of the seminal text “The Second Sex”, laid out a rationale for feminism that was firmly rooted in her atheist existentialist philosophy. To wildly oversimplify her extremely long argument: There is no God. Therefore, there is no higher authority telling us what we are here “for”. Therefore we have the right to define our own purpose for ourselves. There is no rational reason that this right should only be extended to men, because again, there’s no higher power assigning one gender the role of leaders and the other of servants. Thus, women are equal to men, and as a matter of human decency, should have the same right to self-determination. Elegant, persuasive, and above all other things, logical and evidence-based. Atheism, by all rights, should lead to feminism, I thought. It’s just what’s rational.

Other implications of atheism relate to reproductive rights and gay rights:

Anti-choicers insist that the debate over choice is a theological one over when “life,” i.e. ensoulment begins. If the public at large understood that a substantial percentage of Americans don’t believe in souls at all, then it would be much easier to see why the theological question of when “life” begins has no place in the law at all. Same story with gay rights; if you don’t believe in a supernatural higher power assigning gender roles and telling us what sex and marriage are “for,” then there’s no argument against equality for gays and lesbians.

This is why so many people were so shocked and confused when a number of men and women who identify as atheists started a campaign of verbal harassment, abuse, and threats against other women and men who identify as atheists and feminists. The confusion derives from the incoherence of an atheist taking an anti-feminist stance. As Amanda Marcotte puts it,

a not-insubstantial percentage of atheist men have convinced themselves they can both not believe in a god and somehow still conclude that women were put (by who?) here on Earth for the purpose of pleasing and catering to men. And that therefore women who rebel against that by, say, demanding the right not to be sexually harassed just because some guy feels like it, are evil witches who need to be fiercely attacked. All these years, irrational sexists have thought they needed a God to rely on to tell women that our bodies belong to men and not to us. But it turns out that plenty of men feel that they themselves are the only authority needed to take away this basic right of women’s.

Paul Fidalgo, the Communications Director for the Center for Inquiry, also points out that there has to be more to atheism than disbelief :

This movement (not merely the community of heretics, but the movement) is about lessening the power of religion, superstition, and credulous thinking because we want to live in a world guided by facts, science, and reason, because (and here’s the part I might lose some of you) we want to live in a world that maximizes human happiness, morality, freedom of thought and expression, and equality. Atheism and skepticism for their own sakes are not “causes.” They are not, in and of themselves, worthy of a movement. But we pursue these goals because we know they will bring about a society in which we are more free and equal, and in turn we will be more fulfilled and enriched as a result.

This quotation comes from one of fifteen (so far) statements made by men in leadership roles that have been posted on skepchick, in response to a request made by Surly Amy. These statements are just one of several positive things that have emerged from the discussions of sexism and feminism (although I do want to be clear that lots of *very* negative things have happened too, as outlined at the beginning of this post). A second major outcome is the formation of Secular Woman , a society whose mission is “to amplify the voice, presence, and influence of non-religious women”. A third outcome is in progress: it is fairly clear that the sense of direction and identity of the atheist movement is changing. I think it has been moving beyond the “second wave” of atheism spearheaded by Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett for some time, but recent events have put a sharper focus on issues that go beyond whether there is a god. Jen McCreight is calling for a third wave of atheism :

It’s time for a wave that cares about how religion affects everyone and that applies skepticism to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, politics, poverty, and crime. We can criticize religion and irrational thinking just as unabashedly and just as publicly, but we need to stop exempting ourselves from that criticism.

The future of atheism will, I hope, be a movement that both implicitly and explicitly stands for humanism.