Atheism+ and Misognyny

atheism plusI’ve been an atheist for quite a few years, but raising kids didn’t afford me the time or leave me with the energy to do anything but “be” an atheist. I knew there were others (besides Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov), but I assumed that other atheists were unobtrusively living their quiet, isolated lives, giving others the space to believe whatever nonsense was flapping inside their brain cavities. It wasn’t until quite recently that I learned, not only are there plenty of free-range atheists, they have been flocking together.

I try not compartmentalize myself or others, to distill anyone into an easily sorted whole, but as a society breaking off from a larger collective into smaller, more elite blocs seems to be an evolutionary necessity. Calling ourselves “The Blue Team” is too broad, we are naturally drawn apart into shades of blue. The atheist community is a rainbow of blue and I am, for my own education, attempting to differentiate the subtle variations. At the moment I’m learning about AtheismPlus.

Here’s what I’ve gleaned so far:

AtheismPlus is a very young movement that identifies itself as a “new wave of atheism” which aims to mollify the old atheism by focusing on social justice, specifically the “misogyny, racism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, ableism and other such bigotry inside and outside of the atheist community.” The primary catalyst behind AtheismPlus seems to be a new wave of feminism, an ism that has been vilified, with varying degrees of severity, since women fought for the right to vote (or, as some would argue, the beginning of time).

Throughout history (I’m guessing, I’m not that old) a movement driven by the passion (or anger) and arrogance of youth is bound to be a teeny bit self-righteous. “We may have discovered the wheel all over again, but this wheel is better! Let us tell you why your wheel sucks…” For that reason alone I will not confront (at this time) the underlying message that all other atheists don’t give a shit about anyone but themselves. Instead, let’s talk about misogyny, a word that is being overused to the point that it’s losing the full impact of it’s true meaning: a hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women.

Gender discrimination and the sexual objectification of women are social ills, not abject misogyny. For example, a man (Richard Dawkins) may be an insensitive, arrogant bastard who has no qualms about talking shit about a particular woman, and still not be a dyed-in-the-wool misogynist. A man (Richard Dawkins) may flippantly dismiss a young woman’s feelings of being treated as a possible sperm receptacle without believing that she somehow asked for the advance and deserves whatever happens. I know this from experience: as a young woman, at one time or a hundred you will be objectified. A socially retarded guy who hits on you isn’t necessarily a brute who can barely conceal his hatred of women. He’s just a socially retarded guy. Every human being can be a total asshole at one time or another. Most men don’t hate women, they simply weren’t taught how to be respectful of another person’s space or feelings. Don’t waste your time being pissed at the sexually frustrated, insensitive fuckwits who leave vicious comments on your blogs. If the goal of AtheismPlus is to counter true misogyny, make sure you’re fighting the real thing, otherwise you’re doing the entire atheist community a disservice.

4 Comments

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4 Responses to Atheism+ and Misognyny

  1. Frankly Curious

    That was a wild ride! You ended someplace I wasn’t expecting. Personally, I’ve always had problems with the word atheist. Of course:My Life as an Atheist Outcase

    But I feel much more comfortable self-identifying as a humanist. That’s not just true on a sociological level. It’s also true on a spiritual level. We are, after all, the portals through which the universe exists. I will spare us both any discussion of Descartes and Kant.

    You are onto something here though. There is a strong strain of fundamentalism in the ‘new’ atheist movement. I’ve run into that time and again. I’m not quite the right kind of atheist, even though I consider my atheism far more painfully gained since I didn’t come to it via the abandonment of religion but rather as an active search for the truth.

    If there is a problem with the atheist movement as such, it is that the movement is a middle and upper-middle class group of mostly men. The bottom line is that in our culture everywhere it is easier to be white, male, and straight. And as long as straight white males like me fail to understand that, there will continue to be problems.

  2. Andrea

    The reason I don’t identify myself as a humanist is that it implies ‘faith’ in humanity. That said, I’m not disparaging the diligent efforts of the millions of individuals throughout the world working to save our damaged environment and improve the lives of others.

    That I call myself an atheist rather than a humanist in no way implies a lack of social empathy, nor does it mean that your atheism was "far more painfully gained" because you didn’t abandon religion. Questioning the religion in which one is raised is not a painless process and does require an active search for the truth. It takes more courage to walk away from a belief system in which fear plays such an important part than to wonder about the meaning of existence.

  3. Frankly Curious

    @Andrea – ‘Painful’ was not the right word. I should have said ‘harder’; but I know that you’ll disagree with that as well. But I am arrogant. I do believe that I approach this stuff in a much more nuanced way than the atheist community generally. There is a simplicity of thought that bothers me. It is amazing because many and even most of these people are really smart about other aspects of atheism. But I am used to it. Just look at Sam Harris’ practical politics.

    One final thought: There is a big difference between ‘losing religion’ and ‘finding atheism’; Christopher Hitchens (I think) used to say that it didn’t make sense to have a word like atheism; because there was no word, for example, for not believing in astrology or fairies. But I disagree. I don’t see my atheism as the absence of belief. It’s actually a very complex and beautiful approach to the nature of existence. But then, I’m at heart a mathematician and when you think about such matters, it is math and not science. Bluntly: the majesty of the universe is science, the existence of the universe is math. Most atheists get lost in the science and miss the math. That’s what I’m saying. But the atheists can counter this by noting that mathematicians are mostly nuts. And that’s true!

  4. RJ

    This is a very late comment, but hurrah. I really think that leftist and social justice movements unnecessarily cost themselves support by insisting on trivially false nonsense.
    The distinctions between misogyny, sexism, and gender-correlated suckiness are important, and I see them get blunted or denied all the time – not just by Atheism+.

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