There’s an article making its rounds the Internet. I’m no fan of the title – Why Atheists Have a Serious Problem with Women – but I gave it a read-through, and I find myself in agreement with what it has to say about an inclusive community for everyone, women and men alike.
And then the comments. Oh, the comments. They form the bowels of the Internet, it seems, 99% of the time on news media sites, and this instance is no exception. What’s more unfortunate, however, is that so many of them exemplify the very problem described by the article. The biggest and most common response seems to be summed up in this comment:
really, get over it. i know alot of sexism still exists which sucks & is not fair; but most people aren’t like that anymore. stop being on the defensive, maybe you’ll get a better reaction, by inviting behavior you create it. should i not look at a woman i find attractive because it might offend her?
Repeatedly, the idea of “I don’t see it” and “that just doesn’t happen often anymore” is the line issued from the mind of someone who has not even researched the issue of sexism, much less experienced it themselves (for those fortunate enough to have not endured outright sexism, I encourage you to read Delusions of Gender).
Sexism is a particularly virulent behavior in our culture – one that, unlike most things, really does transcend barriers – racial, sexual, political, and religious (and, yes, I’m including atheism in that last category). We are all products of our culture, and, by and large, our culture has a lot of sexist ideas woven into it – some more obvious than others. Atheists in our communities, being wrought from that same fabric as everyone else, are just as susceptible to engaging in sexist behaviors and ideas as anyone else, any sense of superior rationality be damned.
Are we better than we were fifty years ago? I’d say so. Are we where we should be? Hardly. We’ve got epidemics of sexism abound in our society, and some of it happens in our own backyard (extreme trigger warning). Burying your head in the sand anytime someone says that there might be a problem with sexism in our community and careening into hyper-skepticism and insisting in unheard-of levels of evidence for what is, unfortunately, a very un-extraordinary claim does nothing to solve the problem. Cry “mission drift!” if you want and rhetorically ask “why can’t we all get along?” if it makes you feel better, but if you’re also going to wonder why your local atheist meetup is overwhelmingly male, you’re going to be wondering that for a long time.
Pretending that atheists are rational, skeptical automatons who are incapable of committing sexual harassment or, worse, telling people who have been harassed that they should just “be more intellectual” and “stop being ruled by your emotions” is, quite honestly, a straw Vulcan (and more than a little bit of victim-blaming in the latter case). Atheists are not magically imbued with a sense of social propriety nor a supernatural ability to just brush off targeted harassment, and, until we’re willing to acknowledge this and fix these problems inside our own community, we’re not going to be easily able tackle any large-scale problems as a united community.
Let’s not sacrifice those we should help by building a community on the altar of “avoiding mission drift” or maintaining our own self-satisfying idea that “we’re above all that”, because, try as hard as we might, we aren’t always the next step in gender and sexual evolution that we want to be.