The secular community has been rocked by a firestorm over sexism in the movement. Blogs and tweets have flown back and forth between women speaking out about it and some men who disagree that it is an issue. Recently accusations of sexual assault have been leveled at some prominent men in the movement and at some conferences. Since there is such strong male privilege and a cult of personality in a lot of these groups, it seems these gender issues are beyond being fixed (at least until the current generation of sexist men die off). Maybe we need to have separate groups.
There have been plenty of articles and blog posts about the firestorm but not too many that examine the underlying issue of why it seems the sexism won’t go away in a movement that prides itself on freethought, evidence and logic:
Kim Rippere, founder of secularwoman.org, 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.”
Because of the eruptions over how to handle women’s presence in the movement, at the New York atheists’ meeting and in other circles, the idea of having a separate group and movement for women has been proposed, and almost universally shot down. The community compares the separation to Jim Crow’s “separate-but-equal” laws, or norms in Orthodox Jewish and other religious communities in which women “choose” (as the result of overwhelming social pressure and oppressive gender norms) to dress modestly and stay in the home.
But Rippere said it’s flawed to think the atheist community is progressive enough to look past gender boundaries. “Assuming we’re in some post-gender society is fundamentally flawed, because we’re not post-gender. Self-segregating with like-minded people is sort of what everybody does. I mean that’s what atheist groups do, right? Or else we’d just have a group called humanity.”
I don’t have much of problem having my thoughts and actions accepted because I’m in fact a white man. Our culture is biased to accept what white men think and do without much push back. When I’ve experienced push back, I haven’t had a problem with it because I personally believe in diversity in thought and action. I might feel sad because I didn’t get my way but that feeling passes soon enough because I believe that the consensus of the community is better for all of us.
One example occurred some years ago. During a discussion period of my local Humanist group, a woman complained that we [men at the meeting] were all just “a bunch of old white men with computers.”
She did have a point. Later I was able to laugh about it because I had been called many names in my life but “old white men with computers” was a new one.
Some men get very upset when their privilege is challenged. They get angry, defensive, and dismiss the challenge for no rational reason. For example, they require much more evidence or proof from women then they would from men.
It is much like what religious people do when their privilege is challenged.
Maybe we need to have separate groups since it seems we can’t get along and there are men who belittle and dismiss the issues women care about and tend to be bullies about it. I use to be totally against separate groups but because what has been going on the past couple of years, I’m starting to change my mind.
Someone on a atheist Facebook group wanted to know if it was a good idea to form another Facebook group titled “Caucasian Atheists.” Either because he was being a troll or just immature he couldn’t understand why his proposed group was racist and one titled “Black Atheists” or “Latino Atheists” wasn’t racist.
When you are part of the dominant “default” group, and you form a social group pointing out your group by name, it is seen as “rubbing other people’s noses in it” with the fact that you are part of the dominant group. That’s why there is no White History Month – also because White History is celebrated every month in some form – and why there can’t be a “He-Man Woman Hater Atheist Club”.
Separate groups for Black, Latino, or women atheists wouldn’t be “racist” because the different groups address specific issues and needs that either can’t be addressed or are ignored in the bigger general groups. That is happening today with the negative reaction to the sexism issue.
As long as you don’t actively prohibit people not in those adjunct groups from participating then I don’t have a problem with separate groups.
I would prefer that the men who can’t deal with equality just suck it up and move on but until that happens I think the best thing for the secular community is to have separate groups. It has been a sad time to be involved in the secular movement. Now I know how members of the Catholic church felt when they found out their priests either abused children or knew it was happening and did nothing.
In the meantime, those of use who want to have the general groups to be as inclusive as possible can work on getting that to happen so hopefully in the not too distant future we won’t need separate groups.