“Atheism is hurt by its image as a hobby of self-important white men who can’t be bothered to actually listen to other people talk”. -Amanda Marcotte (excerpted from Christian Right Losing Women).
I guess I missed that.
I never had that impression of the New Enlightenment movement, even when dominated by the writings of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens who all exploded onto the scene after Harris’ End of Faith came out in 2004. The secular movement has always been a rather diverse experience for me being involved in campus secular student groups since 2005. The first group I was involved in was the Northern Illinois University Atheist, Agnostics and Freethinkers (NIU AAFT), founded by a woman!
And subsequent secular college student groups where I taught in Kentucky had women members, officers, including a president or two. And my first regional secular meeting was the KY Freethought Convention in Louisville KY in 2013. Here’s the speakers from that event. I’m the ugly old guy on the far left.
Notice anything about this speaker panel? This is goddam old timey religion infused patriarchal Kentucky and just look at the gender and racial and age diversity…once again secularism leads the way!
4 women, a black person and a self-described “little brown guy” (Hemant Mehta) and a female high school senior among us middle aged and old folks.
But again my meeting experience had been limited to the primarily campus student groups, and maybe the Kentucky Freethought group was a real exception.
As Amanda Marcotte also observed about the “old days” at the top end of the Atheist Movement:
“When I first got involved in skepticism and atheism many years ago, when nones were only 16
percent of the population, it was often awkward and alienating, and I felt like one of the few young women in a sea of older men. Now I’m not quite so young, and things have changed dramatically. No more hesitating about going into the bar after a conference, for fear it’s going to be a sausage fest. No more scouting the entire room for a woman, any woman, to talk to. While some conferences need to do more work to make women feel welcome, by and large the skeptic world is one where being female doesn’t make you feel weird anymore.”
I think the young have led the way and in the last few years, a host of prominent women have moved to the forefront of the secular movement…off the top of my head and in no way a comprehensive list… I can think of a whole slate of women I’m familiar with having watched their videos, heard them speak, read their blogs or books…Christina Rad, Jaclyn Glenn, Suvarenee, Jamilla Bey, Aayan Hirsi Ali, Maryam Namazie, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Greta Christina, Irshad Manji… I am of course skipping another long list of bloggers, writers, speakers I am not as familiar with such as Amanda Marcotte, Ophelia Benson and many others who have been very active in the movement as well.
The next regional secular meeting I’m planning to attend is the Gateway to Reason in St. Louis the end of this month and 6 of the 22 speakers are women, including 3 folks of color, a gay guy and all age ranges represented. Only a few speakers fit the bill of “old white guy.” So this New Enlightenment movement is not at all an old white guy sausage fest anymore. It is now a rather diverse movement in a lot of ways and at all levels.
I featured the anthropologist and M.D Melvin Konner’s new book, where I copped the paraphrased title “Women at Last” of this essay, in a previous article:
As Dr. Konner most eloquently writes the world will only benefit from women continuing to reach equality with men in every occupation, in politics, in world leadership.
I’d like to add “anti-religion” to that list, not religion, but secularism. We don’t need anymore religionists, male or female and religions tend to lock women out anyway or relegate them to second class citizenship at best, if they are allowed any say at all. Islam is hopelessly misogynistic and even progressive, liberal Xian denominations that “allow” women ministers are saddled with a hopelessly patriarchal and misogynistic charter, the damn Bible. Most religions are yet solid bastions of male dominance; Islam and Catholicism the two largest and both hopelessly out of date and misogynistic. Secularism, based in reason and tolerance is like science; an utterly egalitarian and democratic enterprise. Everyone has an equal chance to employ reason and contribute. There is no privileged class written into science or secularism’s charter. Women, young and old, black, white, yellow or brown, novice or expert…it doesn’t matter in secularism or science. Everyone, anyone can and do participate.
Speaking of science, which is practiced by mostly secular folks or at least those few truly religious people who do practice science leave their religion at the laboratory door and are practicing secularists while engaged in science. Well, a whole host of female science promoters are now making an impact in our modern culture:
Physics Girl, Emily Dawn Calandrelli, and now Science Babe. Whether they are directly part of the secular movement or not, what they promote is reason and evidence, not religious authority and superstition. So the New Enlightenment has a whole other parallel campaign of women promoting the same values of secularism.
Lastly, I recently surveyed the new and growing secular groups in the Chicagoland area and joined a few of them. One is headed by a woman, one a man, another a husband-wife team. And the 3 meetings I’ve been to so far have been damn near equal in gender representation. Women are becoming very active in the New Enlightenment even at the grass roots, non-student level.