Friday, October 17, 2014

Atheism With A "White Male" Problem? Yes!


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Yes, Atheism does have a "white male" problem - meaning far too many white males to African-Americans, and especially females.  I noticed the dearth of females over all the years I attended Atheist conventions and conferences dating from the early 1990s. Generally, one would see about three white males to every female, and even the primary presenters would be white males.

Why does this imbalance exist? A piece in salon.com ('5 Reasons there aren't more women in atheism',  July 29) lists the following - and I will respond to each:

1) Women are more devout because they have to be. Women’s religiosity is directly related to economic security. The lack of a social safety net means that women, who are still responsible for the bulk of elder and child care, often need to rely on religious organizations to support themselves and their families

This is basically true, and one reason the preponderance of female atheists seen is from higher socio-economic levels, many in the $75,000 - $100,000 income range or higher. Thus, these women needn't worry about projecting a "halo" effect wherever they go since the probability is low they will ever have to rely on church-based charities or religious organizations for a safety net. The same is not  true for low-wage workers, who may not only require food stamps for their families but also supplies from food pantries  - many operated by religious charities.

2) Sexism is real and has an effect on women’s participation and leadership within the atheist community. Rape jokes and sexual harassment, as penalties and tools to silence women, exist in atheist and secular groups as well as religious ones

Yes, sexism exists everywhere - even among rationalists, of which atheists are perhaps among the strongest manifestations. However, in all my years attending atheist conferences, parties, etc. I've not seen or heard "rape jokes" or sexual harassment. Generally, male atheists at all these gatherings were well behaved and the female atheists of such powerful identities-personalities that  they likely wouldn't have tolerated any such nonsense. So I believe this reason doesn't apply to the same degree as (1)

3) Men of all ideological persuasions are overrepresented in media — why should atheists be any different?  .....We see more male atheists because we see more malesProminent atheist and secular men benefit from media that grossly prefers the speech of men.

Well, true - but that is a problem of the media, as noted by Robert McChesney (The Problem of the Media) and many others. For whatever reason, the corpora-media emphasize and exalt the male voice over others, probably because of a misplaced belief it is more authoritative and the male has more credibility.  I confess to being guilty of this viewing bias as well. For example, when I see the smiling, winsome female physician who often reports on CBS News, her continuous smile for me detracts from her creds. Meanwhile a seldom smiling or non-smiling doctor - like Michael Agus - is taken much more seriously. Why? I don't know - but perhaps this is a reflection of the media bias, but also the tendency of females to smile too much when on the air. (I tend not to trust over-smiling individuals in general)

4) Atheism and secularism are part of a movement, with leaders, on Earth. This social movement is no less subject to norms than anything else and we live on a thoroughly patriarchal planet. Have you seen pictures of any of the major economic summits in the world

True, but again this ties in to (3). If the patriarchal emphasis wasn't present then it is logical to expect the media emphasis on male voices wouldn't be either. One feeds into the other. Perhaps also the fact that females doing the same jobs are paid only 79 cents to every dollar the male earns is also part of this. What we need is an entire transformation but where must it begin? With the society or the individual? The classic paradox of what comes first, the chicken or the egg

5) It’s no exaggeration to say that managing sexism is exhausting, depressing and distracts from work women could be doing as visible spokespeople of fighting for higher and equal pay, or immigration policies that include uneducated women, or ending sexual predation, or advocating for the right to control our own reproduction. All of which, by the way, would probably contribute to the growth of secular and non-religious culture.

True, but again, this is not genuinely independent but links in to (3) and (4). If the patriarchal paradigm wasn't predominant women would be paid equally to men, and also sexism would recede and we'd see greater female representation, not only in the secular sphere but also in business, economics and scientific conferences.

Now, I will list my own reason:

Women are more sensitive to moral issues and are likely cognizant that - by a large majority-  Americans view Atheism as an amoral or immoral philosophy (see, for example, the most recent Pew Forum on Religion survey). They are thus wary of taking on such baggage, given many are already caught in the crossfire of our politically polarized society. This is distinct from (1) because it cuts across all economic levels and one finds higher income women as sensitive to how they are perceived morally by the society as lower income women. (As an example, my wife - an atheist in every way one could be defined - yet refuses to call herself one.)

In other words Atheism, to reach these women - must show it can rise beyond the negation of deity and is also a positive moral force for good. The optimal way, as I wrote in my book, Beyond Atheism, Beyond God, is to support social justice causes.  What do I mean by this?

According to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz:  “the upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year and control 40 percent of the nation’s total wealth”.

Conversely, the bottom 80 percent of Americans own just 7 percent of the nation’s wealth. Stiglitz notes that while the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall

 By any measure this economic inequality is a corrosive, long term evil, given it reduces people’s choices and indeed can incept criminal acts for economic self-preservation. This also dovetails with the salon.com quote of Walter Bristol, an atheist interfaith activist, who wrote last year,

Economic inequality is one of the most imminent issues facing Western society today. Any progressive movement that chooses to dismiss it is and will be rightfully dismissed themselves.”

This has become the warp and woof of today's white -male heavy atheism as it has become enamored of free market Neoliberal capitalism and libertarianism.  (Both of which eschew the "entitlement" state )

To me, this is the core of the issue and problem for modern atheism which has become too enmeshed with capitalist economics and libertarian BS especially.

To quote the 2013 salon.com article again:
"It’s time for the atheist movement to get off the political sidelines. It’s time to truly help this country become a better place to live for all its citizens"
 
And when it does "get off the sidelines" look for a dramatic increase in female atheists!

See also:

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/04/atheisms_white_male_problem_a_movement_needs_a_moral_cause_beyond_glamorizing_disbelief/

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