Where are all the women atheists?

An image has been making the rounds of the atheist blogosphere; it’s a “periodic table” of atheists, listing prominent atheists. Out of 101 atheists listed, only 13 are women. Even Emma Goldman is missing. Annie Laurie Gaylor, has reported that her husband, Dan Barker, is a more highly sought speaker than she is, despite the fact that Gaylor co-founded the organization (with her mother, not with Barker) and has written more books on the subject.

Why are there so few prominent female voices in atheism? What can we do to solve the problem? (Needless to say, there are some prominent female voices. It’s just that women make up 50% of the world population but only 13% of prominent atheists.)

Posted: June 30th 2011

George Locke

I’ve spent the last few weeks looking into this issue off and on, and the best examination of the problem I’ve found comes from Greta Christina: part 1 part 2. (Thanks to WEIT reader Steve Caldwell for pointing me to these links.) I can recommend the Bitch article linked to in the question as a relatively balanced take from outside the movement.

The basic gist of of Christina’s remarks are that when a privileged minority (white men in our case) holds power in a certain group, this privilege tends to perpetuate itself unless active steps are taken to change the situation. Part one of Christina’s essay goes over the mechanisms by which this power is perpetuated. In part two, she discusses possible solutions and presents compelling reasons why the atheist movement should take this issue seriously.

The most important thing I’ve learned in my researches is that when someone tells you that she is feeling the effects of your privileged ignorance, you need to listen, not to say that every charge of sexism/racism/whatever is going to be accurate. Jen McCreight of blaghag pointed to this parable to explain why this is the case. It’s a bit corny and long, but it gets the point across.

Posted: July 12th 2011

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Ophelia Benson www

One reason there are so few prominent female voices in atheism is that most of us don’t get invited to speak at conferences and the like.

Posted: July 10th 2011

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SmartLX www

Unfortunately, a certain amount of chauvinism exists in atheist communities as in any other community which isn’t actively feminist. Without religion women in these groups have no huge doctrinal handicaps, for example ridiculous dress codes or orders to be subservient, but they’re still competing with men for attention.

This list has many of the female atheists who have achieved some level of prominence, and it’s nearly seventy women long which begins to approach the ninety-odd men on that periodic table.

What people need to do is invite these women to speak and contribute as much as possible, and listen to what they have to say. I don’t mean tokenism, where you invite one woman for the sake of having a woman, I mean proportional participation and equal respect.

Men undeniably have control of and power over many atheist groups and events, and what’s required of them is not easy for most men: they must relinquish some of that power, permanently.

Posted: July 6th 2011

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