Sexism in the atheist community: not rational, not reasonable, not funny

// 3 March 2010

Those who are familiar with my comments on this site will know that I am highly critical of religion. This is mainly due to a lack of evidence for a god or gods. However, the misogyny contained within most holy texts, which I feel is endemic in the three major monotheistic creeds, is one of the reasons why I am so vocal in this criticism.

Today, though, I’m posting about the opposite problem: misogyny and sexism within the atheist community. I wish it didn’t exist, but it does, and I want to add my voice to that of Skeptifem, who flagged up this issue in November last year.

Atheism, as a movement, prides itself on being freethinking, educated and enlightened; however some of the most vocal proponents of this white male-dominated scene display disgraceful misogynist attitudes which are rarely publicly criticised by other atheists. Christopher Hitchens, a man who was recently very eloquent in his criticism of the Catholic Church at a recent televised debate, also wrote this Vanity Fair article – a ridiculous woman-hating salvo containing some disturbingly predatory language – and has referred to comedian Wanda Sykes as “the black dyke”. Bill Maher, star of the film ‘Religulous’, has also made plenty of nasty sexist comments, including “jokes” about domestic violence.

It doesn’t stop with the ‘famous’ atheists. Like any person subscribing to a particular worldview, I seek like-minded people. This is why I joined the forum at*. I was open about my feminism, thinking it wouldn’t be a big deal within a community of enlightened freethinkers; this was a mistake.

Last year, I started a thread asking users whether they had experienced sexism on the forum or within the atheist community generally. It was a simple enough question, and boy was I unprepared for the torrent of vitriol that was about to flow my way. I was told that I had a chip on my shoulder; I was pointedly asked, apropos of nothing, what I planned to do about the lack of male primary school teachers (?!); I was told I was oversensitive and overreacting, that if I found anything offensive on the forum then that was my problem, and that as I was openly feminist my posts couldn’t possibly be ‘innocent’ (!) and I should expect a hostile response (asking for it, perhaps?); I was also targeted by some female users who said that they weren’t offended, so I obviously needed to ‘lighten up’. Put simply, most of the replies I got wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Daily Mail or on an MRA website.

Eventually, drained by constant arguing, I ditched the thread and left the forum. Interestingly, I received a few private messages from female members who said that they had also experienced sexism, but didn’t want to post publicly about it for fear of the hostility turning on them. Some freethinking community, eh?

The presence of misogyny, sexism-apologia and anti-feminism within atheist circles makes me feel very let down and disillusioned. I feel that to be a sexist atheist is to be a hypocrite; as far as I am concerned, belief in the inferiority of women is as much a faith position as belief in all-powerful supernatural entities. It seems to me that while all atheists are happy to apply rationality to the idea of a god, some can’t – or won’t – turn the spotlight of reason onto their own presumptions and prejudices about our human life on Earth. That, in my opinion, shows weakness, cowardice and selfishness. How many people are being put off joining the atheist community by attitudes such as these?

For me, freethought is about questioning all assumptions about our world. I would like to see more women rise to greater prominence within the atheist community (such as Ophelia Benson, editor of Butterflies and Wheels, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Annie Laurie Gaylor, for example), I would like to see well-known atheists who do not make a habit of spewing misogyny, such as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers, be more openly critical of those who do, and fundamentally I would like to see debunking of all prejudices as standard within sceptical thinking.

The evidence for this happening is not encouraging at present – perhaps I will just have to ‘have faith’?

*I should point out that Richard Dawkins himself does not moderate or endorse any of the comments on the forum, and that is actually in the process of closing the forum I am referring to, in order to replace it with a more editorially-controlled version.

Comments From You

Jennifer Drew // Posted 3 March 2010 at 11:02 pm

Misogyny is now so widespread and accepted as ‘irony/humour’ we should not be surprised it has infiltrated many different organisations and networks.

It is par for the course for men to engage in misogynistic insults because women are not human but just butts of men’s sexualised insults. Woe betide any woman who dares to challenge men on their misogyny – since she will be called a man-hater. But men who engage in misogyny are not commonly termed women-haters instead their insults are applauded by other men and this in itself gives greater acceptance to the practice of men engaged in attempting to outdo each other in their contempt and hatred for women.

Whilst many women do not agree with men’s blatant hatred – because it is hate language directed at the larger human population – men are the minority, every woman knows that if she alone challenges a man/men his male cronies will immediately come to the woman-hater’s aid and dismiss the woman’s complaints as ‘trivial.’

Would these self-same men hurl racist or homophobic insults. Answer is no because racism and homophobia affects men whereas men who engage in women-hating does not directly affect other men. It is not men who are the ones being subjected to vile and hate language – hence it is seen as not valid from most men’s perspective.

Men are the ones responsible for condoning women-hating and remaining silent whilst other men engage in such vitriol serves to condone such acts. Men have the power to challenge other men’s actions but unfortunately only a tiny minority do so and these are never high profile powerful men.

ryutin // Posted 3 March 2010 at 11:25 pm

I generally like this website but I feel this article is wrong in a number of ways.

The presumption of anti-misogyny and rationalism is extremely problematic considering capitalism finds sexism extremely rational, not least in the way that current practices means that that capitalists dont have to cough up for childcare and the reproduction of the labour force meaning this burden falls heavily on the family especially women. Similarly these ‘new atheists’ of the hitchins and dawkins ilk never seem to allow for a discussion of the social and historical reasons for religious belief, customs or their politicisation.

It’s hardly surprising that their followers are bores when their tone is ‘look how clever i am compared to those stupid religious people’

Feminists should do better than allign themselves with the neo-con Ayaan Hirst Ali who wont even support the right of women in certain countries to not be murdered by american bombs.

this is a good critique of the fashionable atheism of the moment

Elmo // Posted 3 March 2010 at 11:32 pm

lol at the image of Richard Dawkins sitting up till 3 in the morning frantically typing and shouting at his computer, having to moderate an entire website himself

I think there are atheists who rely absolutly on the word of any and all science they encounter, and therefore take womens physicalities (smaller brain, shorter) to mean women must naturally be inferior. The kind of people who read in the Metro about brain gender differences and beleive it all. Theyre idiots, of course, and shouldnt represent athiests, but im pretty sure they exsist and have quite loud voices.

I think it proves the point that you should never assume that everyone who agrees with you on one point is not a complete idiot when it comes to other things.

Religous or scientific, if you want to beleive women are inferior, both provide plenty of material to twist (or ignore)to mean anything you please.

Pat Durai // Posted 3 March 2010 at 11:47 pm

here here!

I have stopped subscribing to most atheist RSS feeds (except PZ Myers and a couple of more scienc-ey blogs) just because I was so fed up of all the real vitriolic misogyny.

It’s really hurtful, because you would think that rational freethinkers would be free of that kind of horribly unrational behaviour…but there you go.

lou // Posted 4 March 2010 at 12:06 am

But on the other hand:


Akheloios // Posted 4 March 2010 at 1:10 am

Rebecca Watson, of ‘Skepchick’ and ‘The Skeptic’s Guide to the Galaxy’, has attempted on numerous occasions to confront this unpleasant sexism in the sceptical/atheistic movement and has been casually dismissed by her peers. She has rightly pointed out that female attendance and feminist issues have been side-lined in the popular sceptical and atheistic movements. It seems that even though the majority of ‘sceptics’ give lip service to scientific evidence and stand against theistic dogma, they still succumb to the tyranny of the majority. The majority in the movement at this time being, seemingly, libertarian males. I support Rebecca Watson, and her attempts to widen the discussion in sceptical circles, and deplore the current male dominance of speaking opportunities at sceptical/atheist events.

gadgetgal // Posted 4 March 2010 at 7:58 am

It’s disheartening – I’ve always admired Richard Dawkins, and although he’s not making any anti-feminist or anti-POC statements other people are making them using a website with his name on it, and there is still the problem of plugging various people like Hitchens and Maher without any kind of, I don’t know, warning label!

I really think we need to get him to speak up about this – I’ve seen various people saying they’ve contacted him, but no signs of a response. Do you know if anyone has received one yet? Because, if not, maybe we need to be giving him a bit more pressure to make a response. It may seem unfair, as they’re not his own personal views, but as the effective leader of the movement in this country he needs to speak up a little more about it, otherwise it still ends up reflecting upon him!

frankly // Posted 4 March 2010 at 9:05 am

An interesting post. I’ve not had a great deal of experience of online atheist forums, but I know a few atheists in real life who hold very traditional/misogynist views. Do you think part of the issue is that much of the UK atheist movement is gathered around white male academics? (i.e. RD)

It’s good to hear your voice and experience of this.

K.T. // Posted 4 March 2010 at 9:32 am

An athiest community is “a community of enlightened freethinkers”? No wonder religious feminists do not feel welcome here…

tom hulley // Posted 4 March 2010 at 10:00 am

As you say, Amy, ‘a torrent of vitriol’. Sadly, I think it is getting worse.

Comments to the ‘enlightened’ Guardian are not just sexist but nastily and arrogantly so. Some blokes commenting on here, on F-word, are not discussing but simply trashing.

Maybe these are the dying kicks of an extinct species but they are taking far too long to die.

Even (though this is no surprise) in the anarchist movement supposedly pursuing equal chances for all:


A J // Posted 4 March 2010 at 10:27 am

It’s worth pointing out that the forum had an awful lot of problems quite apart from misogyny, and that seems to have been at least part of the reason why RD took the decision to close it and create a new, more editorially controlled version (a decision which has apparently resulted in rather a lot of abuse being directed at him and, even more so, his web team – which maybe tells you something about some of the people who posted there…)

But I do agree that the domination of atheism by (largely) old white men, is a bit of a pity (though in most cases, not exactly their fault). I’d love to see more women atheists speaking up and speaking out, and perhaps people like RD could do more to help – it might well be to the benefit of the atheist movement as well as to the benefit of atheist women to encourage greater diversity.

gadgetgal // Posted 4 March 2010 at 10:35 am

@Elmo – right on! And the Dawkins image now running through my head is giving me a bit of a giggle, and I really needed that today, so cheers :)

You’re right, whether religious or atheist, people will always find their excuses to be sexist if they really want to be – that’s why it disappoints everyone so much when their respective beliefs/non-beliefs seem so to eager to fail them.

I think that because I’m an atheist (not anti-religious, since most of my family are members of various groups, I just don’t believe in supernatural beings and I’m really into science) I find this more offensive, since atheism to me is bound up with the laws of science, and there is no scientific basis for being sexist or racist (or close-minded, which a lot of the comments on seem to be!). All this does is give ammunition to people to either dismiss atheism as a religion of it’s own – because the only way you can truly believe there is a massive enough difference between men and women which justifies differing treatment is if you believe it with no evidence, thereby akin to belief in the supernatural – or dismiss it as just another group for white cis middle-class academic men to ra-ra each other for their cleverness, so it’s yet another thing that most of us have nothing in common with.

At the moment there are laws in some countries that even ban us from existing, or holding public office if we do, I would think that everyone who calls themselves atheist would be on-side about not othering the very few people who would openly identify as one of the most reviled groups in the world!

Elmo // Posted 4 March 2010 at 10:35 am

I second KT-i cant say i always feel hugely welcome in debates like these since im not an “enlightened freethinker”

Laura // Posted 4 March 2010 at 10:41 am

@ K.T. – Atheists do view themselves as ‘enlightened freethinkers’, but that’s not to say that Amy Clare or anyone else here thinks religious individuals or communities are necessarily unenlightened or incapable of free thought. It’s certainly not a view that I personally hold or endorse.

Please remember that blog posts at The F-Word express only the views of the individual blogger. There is no one ‘F-Word’ viewpoint and it is just as likely that other blog contributors will disagree with the content of a blog post as non-contributing readers or commenters.

mephit // Posted 4 March 2010 at 10:46 am

It is an interesting issue.

I post on an atheist/agnostic board and fairly recently we started a gender issues thread. You could have had anti-feminist bingo about fifty times. There were a few guys (well, one) with good awareness of feminist issues who were also pro-feminism, but most of ’em went straight to defensive, dismissive and ‘what about da menz’. Derail, derail, derail.

I think because it’s a board primarily populated with US atheists, most of them had a perception that they are a ‘persecuted’ minority (rightly or wrongly) and accepting privilege in another regard didn’t come easily (or rather didn’t come at all!)

Jessica // Posted 4 March 2010 at 10:59 am

I’m really glad that this article has sparked so many comments. I personally felt a little disappointed by the anti-religious tone, as I am a Quaker and a feminist. (I’m actually what they call a universalist, so I don’t personally believe in God or rely on religious text.)

The early Quakers were deeply religious and deeply commited to equality. Their interpretation of the Bible told them that women and men were equal in the sight of God. Quaker women owned property, travelled alone and ran businesses during the 18th and 19th centuries. It was their faith that told them this was the right path.

I know there are many many more examples of religion being used against women. Faith has been used in a horrible way and is still used as such. But I just want to put the Quaker example out there. Women-haters can find a way to use atheism to spread hate just as much as theists can, while those who are committed to equality are not always anti-religious.

cim // Posted 4 March 2010 at 11:05 am

Jennifer Drew: “Would these self-same men hurl racist or homophobic insults. Answer is no because racism and homophobia affects men whereas men who engage in women-hating does not directly affect other men.”

It may not be exactly the same ones, but I’ve seen lots of “liberal atheists” (men and women), use racist and/or homophobic language. That (some) men are affected by racism/homophobia doesn’t stop those forms of oppression happening, in the same way that the existence of heterosexual white women hasn’t caused sexism to disappear.

There’s even an example of racism and homophobia combined with sexism in Amy’s original post, where she quotes Hitchens.

jonny // Posted 4 March 2010 at 11:19 am

I’m a bloke, atheist, anti-religious, and sometimes active on threads or forums that discuss religion. I hadn’t noticed much sexism, but then as a bloke, I probably wouldn’t see it so much. I’ll be on the lookout for it in future, and make a stand when I do encounter it.

Amy Clare // Posted 4 March 2010 at 11:22 am

@K.T. and Elmo:

The intention of my post was to show that while the atheist community likes to think of itself as populated by enlightened freethinkers, this is not always the case in reality. Misogyny and sexism are the very antithesis of enlightened freethought.

I’d also like to point out that my views on religion are mine, not The F Word’s.

I can appreciate all those commenters who are religious oppose my views on religion, and that’s fine, so I’ve published a few comments which make this point (this is my first time modding comments so I hope you’ll bear with me). However I wouldn’t like this thread to be derailed into a debate about religion.

J // Posted 4 March 2010 at 11:29 am

Amy Clare said: “I wouldn’t like this thread to be derailed into a debate about religion.”

I thought the religion/athesist question was really interesting! Perhaps we could discuss it on a different thread?

Elmo // Posted 4 March 2010 at 11:38 am

dont worry, it wont be :)

Amy Clare // Posted 4 March 2010 at 11:46 am


At first glance, I’m happy to see the poll results at the top of that thread! Reading some of the posts, however, makes me wince…

K.T. // Posted 4 March 2010 at 11:50 am

@ Laura Woodhouse – thank you for clarifying. I wondered if blog posts had to go before a panel or editor before they were allowed through. There have been other posts where religious feminists were being rather dog-piled upon, so I was concerned when I saw that on here. Perhaps it would be better to highlight that the atheist community considers its members to be more enlightened and free-thinker, or to have put that in quotation marks?

@ Amy Clare – thank you also for the clarification – I would agree absolutely that “Misogyny and sexism are the very antithesis of enlightened freethought.” I’m very interested in reading other people’s experiences about misogyny in ‘the atheist community’, but mentioning religion in a discussion of atheism surely cannot count as derailing, can it? ;) I just think what you are saying will be investigated by more people if it is not harmful or hurtful, especially unintentionally.

Laura // Posted 4 March 2010 at 11:58 am

@ K.T. – You’re welcome. We’ll be publishing our Charter soon, which should help further clarify how things work. For the blog, we all have our own log-in and publish posts as and when without approval from any of the other bloggers (mostly for practical reasons, but also because we work in a non-hierarchical collective, so no one has final say on what is published. The rest of the site is edited by Jess.)

/derail ;-)

Elmo // Posted 4 March 2010 at 12:02 pm

ur welcome gadgetgal :)

Amy Clare // Posted 4 March 2010 at 12:35 pm


My post is about the presence of sexism and misogyny within the atheist community. It’s not about atheism vs religion, or atheist feminists vs religious feminists. Therefore a comment thread where religious feminists and atheist feminists go at each other would constitute a derailment in my opinion.

I can’t see anything at all in my post that could be described as ‘harmful or hurtful’. My personal views about religion are briefly included in the introduction in order to provide context; I then go on to describe the atheist community and my experience of it. I do not engage in any attacks on religious people in my article. In fact most of my article criticises atheists!

I note that you object to the phrase ‘enlightened freethinkers’ (and I did try to clarify things in my last comment), but please realise that this is how most atheists see themselves, and I’m merely communicating that. There is no insult to religious people implied by my use of those words. I do not think quotation marks are appropriate but I’m sure the regular F Word bloggers will let me know their opinion.

Like I said, I don’t want this thread to be derailed.

gadgetgal // Posted 4 March 2010 at 1:11 pm

@Amy Clare – grammatically it works with or without quotations, it depends upon how much emphasis you want to place on agreeing or disagreeing with the phrase (basically how much vitriol you want to inject into it). With quotations shows more anger on your part, without shows more disappointment – just depends upon how you felt when you wrote the piece, really. Since you later use the word “drained” and then are quite analytical in your approach to countering what was said to you I’d say it was more disappointment rather than anger, but either way is fine, it still gets the point across!

Amy Clare // Posted 4 March 2010 at 2:39 pm

I might add that I don’t believe there is anything wrong with describing yourself as a freethinker if that’s truly what you are. It’s what I describe myself as usually, as I think ‘atheist’ is too narrow a term and I consider myself to be sceptical and questioning about everything, not just a god or gods.

It is describing yourself as such and then going on to prove that you are the exact opposite (as in the sexists on that I have a problem with.

The word ‘freethought’ has a very specific meaning – it doesn’t mean that a person is able to think for themselves! It means that a person uses reason/logic/scientific endeavour to arrive at their beliefs about the world (so has much the same meaning as ‘sceptic’).

Also, the word ‘enlightened’ in this context is related to The Enlightenment (the historical period) which is again concerned with reason. It doesn’t imply anything about intelligence. I realise there are several possible interpretations of the word, though.

Hope this clarifies my point further!

Naomi // Posted 4 March 2010 at 2:46 pm

I’m very much not an atheist – my aim in life is to make religious institutions less sexist/misogynistic/patriarchal, less disablist, less homophobic, less racist and the list goes on (so I’m not setting myself any small task, then!). But I believe that these things are universal, and that we will encounter them in all spheres of life. Each of us has the chance to challenge them where we find ourselves. Whether you’re religious or atheist (or something else), you can choose to be part of the problem (of sexism, disablism etc) or part of the solution. Human choices. Human solutions.

(As for the primary school teacher comment: a good answer is to point out that while only 15% of primary school teachers are male, 45% of primary school *headteachers* are male. Patriarchy is a complex institution.)

K.T. // Posted 4 March 2010 at 3:16 pm

I have always wondered about opinions towards the Enlightenment among atheists – after all, Rene Descartes, Isaac Newton, Gottfried Leibniz, Immanuel Kant, Robert Boyle, John Locke, Carl Linnaeus, Moses Mendelssohn, Edmund Burke, Lavoisier, and Voltaire were all theists or deists of some description, and that is just off the top of my head. But I see that you did not intend to make any implications regarding the intelligence of religious believers; I do dislike the sometimes-exclusive language among prominent atheists – RD’s whole “Bright” agenda! – but to carry on would truly be derailing. :)

timothyjwood // Posted 4 March 2010 at 3:35 pm

First of all, Maher has done a lot of stupid shit, Hitchens is a total douche, and Wanda Sikes isn’t funny. I expect most of us can agree on at least this much.

Having said that, I think that this illustrates the point that the important thing is not that one be critical, but that one be self critical. For instance, the problem (in my opinion) with the catholic church is not that they believe silly shit per se, but that they have constructed a system of infallibility that prevents them from calling attention to a problem when their silly shit when it gets out of hand. It’s not a religious thing. It’s a social psychological group process thing.

Also, getting your sample from people who spend their days on atheist message boards is probably a pretty biased sample (looks around). I expect that the real world is significantly different. As an anecdote, the last meeting I attended of my local Secular Coalition group was actually at the vagina monologues. So, all is not lost.

Kristin // Posted 4 March 2010 at 3:40 pm

Thanks for this excellent post, Amy Clare. I am really disappointed in Christopher Hitchens, because not so long ago I read his book “God is not Great” and thought it was quite good. That article he wrote in Vanity Fair, “Why Aren’t Women Funny?” is appalling. Women ARE funny, his problem is obviously that they don’t find him funny! And no wonder, when he writes stuff like that.

He can’t be all that enlightened and free thinking if he’s incapable of reasoning himself out of all the negative social conditioning he’s clearly been subjected to. I find misogyny even more hurtful when it comes from places where I didn’t expect to encounter it. I’m glad you have highlighted this particular instance.

I’m also glad you’re going to be a guest blogger, I always enjoy reading your comments.

Amy Clare // Posted 4 March 2010 at 4:07 pm


You might not find Wanda Sykes funny (personally I do, so you might find not everyone agrees with you there), but she deserves to be called by her name, not by a racist/homophobic slur. Christopher Hitchens clearly thought otherwise and that is partly why I am singling him out for criticism in this article!

Jessica // Posted 4 March 2010 at 5:02 pm

A lot of sexist guys on facebook (considering the groups they join) are put down as atheist..

I think atheist can be tied neatly with those who worship evpsych. A kind of infantile way of looking at the world.

KB // Posted 4 March 2010 at 6:36 pm

I am an atheist because I don’t believe in God or any other supernatural being and also don’t like the position of women in many religions. However I think it is naive to assume that atheists are automatically going to believe in equality of women/ be feminists. In fact currently most validations of misogony and unequal treatment seem to centre around evolutionary (pseudo)science/psychology which often seems to afford men with natural traits which lead to ill treatment of women e.g. men are naturally promiscuous, therefore women should not expect them to be faithful. Generally i think both are about the misuse of whatever you believe in . i.e. religions can advocate equality (See Jessica above) and such evopsych often seems to forget that in arguing that certain beavhiours are natural seem to pick and choose (e.g.ignore the fact that most male mammals never get to have sex at all!)

timothyjwood // Posted 4 March 2010 at 9:00 pm

*advocates for the devil*

ok ok. granted… I don’t have a tv, so I’m probably not the best person to comment on whether Wanda Sikes is funny or not. I’ve not seen anything impressive so far but I really haven’t seen much.

Now, to put this as flatly as possible… Evolutionary Psychology isn’t in the business of offering “validations” or anything else bordering on morality. It is a science and as such it offers only explanation. It cannot comment on what should be, only what is, and anyone who says differently is peddling nonsense.

Natural does not mean moral and natural does not mean inevitable. It’s perfectly natural to take a shit wherever and whenever you damned well please. Lucky for us we’ve moved past it. Certainly some things about us are biologically determined (or so strongly influenced by biology that it may as well be). For instance, no matter how much a society reduces violent crime, men still perpetrate disproportionately. But we don’t really know where the reach of culturalization ends until we find it.

Having said that, you can chastise evopsych as much as you want but you do so at the expense of significant self understanding.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 4 March 2010 at 9:45 pm

I saw a male athiest try to defend rape on Daily Kos by using evolutionary psychology as an example. I.E “Ogg can’t help it when he sees woman in bikini.” I can happily report that he got piled on and flamed. He claimed to be married and had a young daughter, which makes me worry for his family.

Ev Psych is a load of crap, and I wish it’d go away.

(I do believe in God, but I’m convinced He hates me, which is why I’m not a Christian. )

Hannah // Posted 4 March 2010 at 10:06 pm

I’m pleased that there are people trying to open debate about the sexism of atheists and the comparison with their of criticisms of religious oppression is striking. Good article. Of course, this is the kind of thing we could have predicted given the type of people who monopolise debate on religion, loudmouthed men. It’s also possible that their style of debate (i.e. YOU’RE WRONG YOU’RE WRONG) is offputting to women, who, (without wanting to stereotype which maybe I am?) might prefer to have a discussion.

This doesn’t stop me from thinking that the whole atheist approach is misguided anyway.

If there’s no evidence for a God, there’s not much evidence that there isn’t one either. In these kinds of debates people always seem to be talking at cross-purposes because of their definitions of ‘evidence’, and I think most atheists are just as pigheaded as they claim religious people to be for expecting evidence that will conform to traditions of positivist proof. People are much too quick to want to stick a label on themselves, in my honest indecisive agnostic opinion.

zohra // Posted 4 March 2010 at 11:30 pm

Hi Amy

Sexism and misogyny are about power, not a lack of free thought, education or enlightenment. There’s no reason someone who is atheist wouldn’t have privilege and power, or wouldn’t be perpetuating inequality that they had learned just like everyone else.

Also, I think in suggesting that atheists should be (based on your surprise and disappointment) more likely to be un-sexist because they are, in your words, ‘freethinking, educated and enlightened’, does really promote the idea that non-atheists are sexist/more likely to be sexist because they are not those things – since atheists position themselves as those things in order to demonstrate how they are not like theists. And that’s a problem.

Schnee // Posted 5 March 2010 at 6:38 am

This was a fascinating article. Like Naomi, I am active within my religion in promoting gender neutrality and justice. I must say, it had never occurred to me that atheists might be just as sexist as some of the people and dogmas within religion. I find it kind of depressing. I can also see the point that at least those of us fighting to show that God is gender neutral, and that women are equal in status have something to focus on.

Oh, I also agree with Tom about the appalling vileness of many of the misogynistic comments on CiF.

Amy Clare // Posted 5 March 2010 at 9:32 am


“…inequality that they had learned just like everyone else.” That’s the problem, right there, in my eyes. That the people I am talking about are just accepting what they have learned in regard to gender, without questioning it. They haven’t questioned their role as members of a powerful group, or looked critically at power structures in society and asked themselves, is there any reason why men have more power than women?

This is hypocrisy in my opinion because atheists generally champion the importance of questioning what you see around you, and yet these atheists I have mentioned are not prepared to question some basic lessons learned in their upbringing regarding gender.

My article was not intended to imply that religious people are more likely to be sexist (and I have clarified my uses of the words ‘enlightened’ and ‘freethinking’ in earlier comments) but to expose the hypocrisy of those who say ‘look for evidence before drawing your conclusions’ and who then go on to rely on prejudice, authority and tradition when forming their opinions about women.

My surprise and disappointment comes from this hypocrisy.

gadgetgal // Posted 5 March 2010 at 10:18 am

@timothyjwood – the problems with evo psych have come up here before. It’s difficult to accept the truth of any of it because of the bias of the research and also the limitations of the studies, e.g. it being based (mostly) around groups of interviews with white, middle-class, American, college students, so, unless you have a wider basis of comparison, to try and make a blanket statement that most women do this or most men do and it’s in our genes is impossible – for example the research done on women liking pink more than men. Also so much is down to societal conditioning how could you know whether it’s nature or nurture anyway? And how could anyone discern from a person’s preference today what was going on 100,000+ years ago? It’s not very scientific, hence my argument that if you’re an atheist basing your sexism on that you’re not a very good atheist, since you’re supposed to be very into evidence, and GOOD evidence at that!

See articles here (and if anyone can let me know where the fantastic statistical analysis of why all statistics are faulty that would be great, don’t have time to look just now!)

But I’d say the biggest problem is the trap you seem to have fallen into yourself – evolutionary psychology is not science. People confuse it with science, but since it’s basis is recording people’s opinions, not any kind of chemical, biological, neurological, etc. etc. test, then it’s not science. It’s research, in the same way that the research carried out into men’s opinions of prostitutes is research, but neither one is science, therefore you can’t say that any of it is a fact of something biological, nor can it be used to denote anything other than generally what people think – to say anything is a product of evolution with no supporting evidence is just faulty logic. Show me the brain chemistry that proves women like pink then great, maybe we like pink because of evolution – show me a bunch of women who grew up with pink toys who SAY they like pink and you’ve proved modern social conditioning.

gadgetgal // Posted 5 March 2010 at 12:27 pm

Oops, sorry, didn’t mean to say that research into peoples’ opinions can’t ever be called science, but when it is called science it’s usually called “soft” science because they involve a heavy human aspect to them – evolutionary theories are (or should be) based on “hard” science to minimise the human factor as much as possible (in case any psychology or sociology students think I’m just slagging off what they do – I’m not, I’m just slagging off using it to say a biological theory has been proved!).

I get very emotional over science, seems a bit of an oxymoron, but there we go! :)

Rachel H-G // Posted 5 March 2010 at 12:34 pm

I think this says as much as, and possibly more about, internet forums per se than the atheist community.

Most of the major forums (Digital Spy, fark, the NME forums before they died, for example) go through periods of being absolute hotbeds of misogynist claptrap, fark particularly.

Sometimes, this is recognisable as co-ordinated actions by MRA groups, but more often, it looks and feels like socially-inadequate misogynists feeling braver than usual.

Kristin // Posted 5 March 2010 at 12:43 pm

Even more problematic than the evo-psych stuff and the biased, non-scientific ‘research’ is the motivation behind it. Why would you WANT to believe women like pink? Why would you WANT to believe that if a man sees a woman in a bikini he won’t be able to control his sexual impulses? Why would you WANT to believe women are less intelligent than men?

So you can justify discriminating against them. That’s why.

Mobot // Posted 5 March 2010 at 1:41 pm

As an agnostic, feminist, Religious Studies graduate, I find this fascinating on a number of points:

1: Amy Clare, I agree that it’s blatant hypocrisy for people to claim that they are led by scientific enquiry and yet refuse to question the received wisdom that helps to keep misogyny alive and well…

2: … but given the history of scientific enquiry and the root of the ‘enlightened freethinkers’ concept, this is hardly surprising. BOTH religion (and I use the term very, very loosely) and science (ditto for this term) have been historically dominated by middle class, university educated, straight, white men. Enlightenment thinkers and their positivist ideals (which many feminists have since taken issue with) were just as assured of their own moral superiority as religious leaders, and neither left much room for an equal view of women and men. The concept of a narrow demographic being able to ‘objectively view reality’ just shuts out the view from below and denies its existence because, of course, the straight, white men doing the rational, scientific enquiry could see things OBJECTIVELY… so silly women/POC/gay people etc. were just wrong if they saw ‘reality’ through a different lense.

3: this pop anti-religion culture is, by its very nature, not an inclusive project. It wants to construct ‘religion’ as a monolith and tar all ‘religious’ people with the same brush. I’m sure that any academic looking at religion from a sociological perspective would shy away from using such sweeping generalisations… after about 30 years of Religious Studies in universities (as opposed to theology), even the world’s leading theorists can’t agree on a singular definition of ‘religion’ because it’s just not that simple. The lines are blurred regarding what counts as religion and what doesn’t. People hold up caricatures of the ‘big 3’ Abrahamic traditions as representative of ‘religion’. Certainly many atheistic feminists I’ve met cite ‘religion’s’ treatment of women as a reason for their disdain. Fair enough – any feminist is naturally going to object to misogyny! But to take isolated examples (which, let’s face it, usually come from popular culture, the media, and dogmatic scientists with an anti-religion agenda, such as Dawkins) and judge the world’s – largely moderate and incredibly diverse – religious communities by them hardly demonstrates the kind of ‘rationalism’ claimed by most atheists.

4: I know I’ve already put in my tuppenceworth but just for fun, here’s my position on science/religion/the nature of reality… Without wishing to be disrespectful of others’ beliefs, I can’t understand how people (of all faiths and none) can be so very confident about the nature of reality. I understand but don’t fully relate to the concept of faith, and think it’s a shame that atheists often won’t admit there’s an *element* of faith in what they believe to be true. Just because you’re an atheist doesn’t mean you wander around testing everything all the time – you rely on assumptions and what you’re taught too. I think it’s crazy (again, no offence meant) to suggest that humans, who are inherently individual and thus, subjective, can see the world ‘objectively’. I’d go as far as to suggest objectivity doesn’t exist – you can probably tell I’m not a scientist! I believe our ‘reality’ is both socially constructed and constructive of our sense of self. SO from my perspective, it becomes impossible for people to be entirely ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ about the nature of ‘reality’, rendering all this religion bashing kind of pointless. Anyway, that’s a derail, sorry… but it’s vaguely relevant to feminism since there’s a lot of feminist enquiry that’s interested in women’s subjective experiences as a counter to this ‘masculine’, empiricist, post Enlightenment stuff which has dominated ‘western’ thought for so long.

5: Evolutionary Psychology is a joke.

timothyjwood // Posted 5 March 2010 at 3:14 pm

@ Kristin/gadgetgal “Why would you WANT to believe women like pink?”

No one is saying that, any of it. No one who knows anything about anything is going to suggest that liking pink would give someone an survival/reproductive advantage. and no one who knows anything about anything is going to interpret the field in such a reductionist manner. It is a social science and as such is exists in the realm of risk, averages, and predispositions… not determination.

Most importantly perhaps, no one of any standing is saying that men are more intelligent than women though some misinterpret it as such. As an example, my psychopathology prof tried to tell me the other day that women and men have the same sized brain. That’s ridiculous. Men have significantly larger brains, but he found that offensive somehow, that it implied something about smarts. But it plainly does not. Men have bigger brains but men DO NOT have bigger brains as a ratio of brain size to body mass. Bigger bodies (on average) need bigger brains to run them. Elephants have massive brains, but they’re not out there doing physics because they need most of that brain because they’re the size of a small dumptruck (more muscle fibers = more neurons to control them etc).

Evolutionary psychology is simply the merging of neurology, various branches of psychology and sociology, and evolutionary theory. It’s every bit as much a science as any of those fields are individually. It’s not all self report and we (researchers) are well aware of the limitations of self report data. It is nothing new in the philosophy of science. Also, people’s perceptions are a thing in and of themselves to be studied, and it can be a very powerful thing. All of this sexism is evidence of that.

Lastly (sry for such a long post… done with my coffee and I swear I’m gonna do work now) you are committing the same fallacy as those who reject evolutionary theory because a misinterpretation of it led to eugenics. People will always use science they don’t understand to justify their own biases. That doesn’t make it bad science.

zohra // Posted 5 March 2010 at 3:54 pm

@Amy Clare

You’re still missing the point – it’s about power. Not about a simple failure to ‘question what’s around you’. Oppression is much deeper than that – it is *not* (simply) about ignorance.

You have said that you didn’t mean to imply x about religious people, and that you’ve defined your terms, but really – those terms are meant in opposition to religious people. That’s the whole point. As I said, “atheists position themselves as those things [freethinking, educated and enlightened] in order to demonstrate how they are not like theists.” I disagree that you haven’t implied that religious people are not those things therefore, and for me, this explains how your analysis is incomplete. Sexism transcends ‘belief’/’faith’/whatever – whether you have one or don’t – because of power. To make it about Enlightenment is to misunderstand the ways that sexism perpetuates itself.

What @Mobot said.

gadgetgal // Posted 5 March 2010 at 4:13 pm

@Rachel H-G – good point! I feel like that sometimes looking at the comments on CiF, if anyone mentions certain buzzwords like “gender” or “sexism” in an article they all come piling in!

George // Posted 5 March 2010 at 4:28 pm

Woop go Mobot!

I would add, from a complementary philosophy of science perspective, that:

– “Religion” and “science”, for most of their history, have been so entangled that it would be extremely hard to view one without the other. Atheist science is a twentieth century phenomenon.

– “Enlightenment thought” isn’t necessarily to be celebrated …

– I am always startled that so many atheists cannot see how they don’t live up to the demands of their own epistemological projects i.e. they say that they are relying on empirical evidence and hard facts, when actually they are relying on the testimony of others.

Jessica // Posted 5 March 2010 at 5:10 pm

Timothy –

Evpsych isn’t a science, that’s ‘evolution itself’ you’re thinking about. It’s guesswork and completely susceptible to authority and bias. Which is exactly the opposite of science.

The very people who defined science said science is about ‘rejecting preconceived notions, rejecting authority’ at the core. How does evpsych fit into that? It’s enfuriatingly infantile when people use ‘evpsych’ to justify arguments in the interest, usually, of essentialising one group or another. Evpsych has its only use in the daily mail. Academics reject it.

Someone hypothesising women like pink because of a monkey’s ass ‘once upon a time’, is not someone of science, they’re simply given a lot of money because of what gains cheap interest. Whether it has any significant scientific grounds (it never really does) is neither here nor there.

It shouldn’t be given the benefit of the doubt in the name of science, ever, because it’s given way too much credence. Culture has the power ten fold to wipe out any biological instincts, e.g women with bald hair, men with facial hair – the stigma of these and no explanation for where the attitudes came from. Or the fact many animals never have the mating experience, and most female animals never reside along a male to raise offspring. This is never given light. Again evpsych breaks a rule for a definition of science: it’s too selective, and a definition of science, theories have to consider ‘all’ evidence. Evpsych is an insult to actual science.

Evolutionary psychology is evil in that it promotes pseudoscience to determine men and women’s roles, i.e. women’s role in an unflattering way. It picks and chooses with little evidence and conforms to pre- conceived notions. Nor can it be disproved, or do findings have the ability to disprove other theories. No way is it a science.

timothyjwood // Posted 5 March 2010 at 5:59 pm

@ Jessica/ anyones else who is bored enough to actually follow this discussion

You cannot reject evopsych on grounds like unfalsifiability. It is not a theory it is a field which encompasses a multitude of theories. It is also simply a fact. You cannot reject it without rejecting evolution. Our brains are evolved machines. You can take issue with the methodology, but when it comes down to it, all psych is evopsych.

“Culture has the power ten fold to wipe out any biological instinct” This is simply false. The brain is the medium of culture. There are (sometimes massive) degrees of freedom built into the brain’s design within which culture may act but you cannot go outside those boundaries without physically redesigning the brain. That’s not to say that we can’t fix a great deal of society’s problems within those limits.

“Evolutionary psychology is evil…”

The evidence is not nearly as unflattering as you seem to think, or as other’s may have misinterpreted. I think you are arguing against a strawman. I’ve never read anything that purports to do what the commenters here think evopsych does, (I’m not sure what your talking about with regard to baldness and the like) but I’d be happy to read over any link anyone would like to send me.

Kristin // Posted 5 March 2010 at 6:03 pm

Jessica, good comment. Of course this kind of thing is nothing new. The desperate attempt to prove women’s inferiority and the ‘inevitability of patriarchy’ by specious pop anthropological and sociobiological arguments (which ‘research’ always contains serious methodological flaws) has been going on since at least the 19th century.

To justify discriminating against any group, the group who wants to discriminate must look for ways to justify their behaviour.

cim // Posted 5 March 2010 at 6:23 pm

timothyjwood: could you give an example of a piece of evolutionary psychology research that you consider to be well-conducted, both in terms of the underlying psychology experiment and in terms of the evolutionary conclusions drawn from the data? (Ideally one where the paper is open access, so that everyone can see it)

Amy Clare // Posted 5 March 2010 at 7:06 pm


I didn’t say that power had nothing to do with sexism. It clearly does. That power, however, is based on and perpetuated by beliefs about the nature of men and women. If you ask a sexist to justify themselves they will say ‘well women are just different from men’ or something to that effect. Arguments with sexists have suggested to me that they really do believe this, they are not just making excuses because they like being more powerful. That these beliefs are self-serving for male sexists is obvious, and this discourages questioning but does not make it impossible. I called sexist atheists ‘selfish’ in my article precisely because they are letting their self-interest come first over their stated opinion that everyone must question their world. I have never said nor have I implied that oppression simply constitues ‘ignorance’. I think people can and do *wilfully* decide not to question certain beliefs they hold, and indeed that was the point *I* was making in my article, which you may have missed.

Terms such as ‘freethinker’ are *not* meant ‘in opposition to religious people’. The word ‘freethought’ has a definite meaning which I have already linked to, it is not meant as a slur or an insult but simply as the correct word to describe sceptical, evidence-based thinking. I have not opposed religious people with this word, I have merely described a way of thinking. How does the use of correct terminology oppose people? As with the term ‘enlightened’ – it was meant to refer specifically to The Enlightenment which was concerned with reason and logic. I have already said this.

As for these implications that I have apparently made… well, nowhere in my article have I said or implied that religious people are not educated, I have merely said that the atheist community prides itself on being so, which is true. I meant nothing other than that. I am not so naive or narrow-minded as to think that religious people are not educated (there is a prominent Christian particle physicist, for example) and nor would I say as much. Because I would just simply be wrong. I’ve already dealt with what I meant by ‘enlightened’ – and whatever definition you choose for that word, the fact I said atheists see themselves this way is not to say that religious people don’t.

However, one cannot be religious and a freethinker any more than one can be religious and an atheist, because of what the word ‘freethought’ means. It is essentially a synonym for ‘atheist’.

I think you are overstating somewhat when you say that atheists are so concerned with ‘demonstrating how they are not like theists’. Most atheists I know just want to figure out what they believe, personally, and stick a label on it, if appropriate. It’s not about opposing people, it’s just about describing oneself. If I don’t believe there is a god then no, I am not like a theist (in that respect at least). But so what – where’s the insult? Do theists position themselves as ‘having faith’ in order to demonstrate that they are not like atheists? Or is it just simply that this is who they are and what they believe?

Once again: in saying that atheists *see themselves* as ‘enlightened, educated freethinkers’ I am just relaying a fact, not passing a judgement on anyone who is not an atheist. Most readers have managed to get that, I hope.

I am happy to clarify any terms I used in my article which may have caused confusion – and in fact I have done so many times already – but I will not be painted as someone who is deliberately bashing religious people. I criticise ideas, I do not attack people, and may I remind readers once more that most of the criticism in my post was levelled at atheists.

Moreover my article was a blog post; a brief examination of my experience of sexism within the atheist community. It was not intended as an exhaustive analysis (a 700 word limit is not conducive to this, unsurprisingly) of all matters pertaining to sexism, religion and atheism.

Sexism *is* based on belief. The belief that women are ‘just different’ (and inferior) to men. It is based on faith, in that there is no evidence for it and nor does reasoning support it. It does not transcend those things, it is intimately bound up with them. How could sexism exist without an ideology to back it up, without the continual mythmaking and messages that make up people’s socialisation into a patriarchal world? This is what perpetuates the power imbalance. Exploding the myths is vital to opposing sexism.

I don’t have the energy for further debate on this. I don’t see how I can make the intention of my post any more clear.

Pat // Posted 5 March 2010 at 7:38 pm

I’m a physicist.

Like Amy Clare, I’m also an atheist and I was shocked by the discussions on the Richard Dawkins fora (before they imploded) that would so rapidly descend into thinly veiled sexism and “nice guy” tactics. One guy even suggested that feminism itself was sexist, since it excluded men!

I agree with Rachel H-G that a lot of it was a result of spleen-venting by socially inept misogynists.

Anyway, I’ve got a few questions.

@George: What do you mean by “atheist science”?

@Mobot: You bemoan “this pop anti-religion culture” as some kind of cheap flash in the pan, yet at the same time resort to fashionable (but meaningless) postmodern phrases: you suggest there’s no objective reality and that empiricism or positivism is masculine. I don’t understand this.

And I’m not sure what point you are making about science and scientists. For example, Thomson was the first to measure the mass-to-charge ratio of the electron in 1897. Are you saying we should abandon that knowledge because he was a white, middle-class man? And should we do so because a) his results, for those reasons, were inaccurate, or b) on principle? I can see the reasoning behind the latter, but not the former. Had a woman from the slums made that measurement, it would have yielded the same result. And in the context of the example I’ve given, what corresponds to “the view from below”? Is there another, equally valid value of the electron mass-to-charge ratio, or are there many?

Lastly, you talk about inclusive projects. While I agree that it’s important, in the interests of maintaining diversity, to be as welcoming as possible to feminists from as many backgrounds as possible, in the end I’m left thinking you (and zohra, in various posts) are simply asking for everyone to be more polite. That’s fine, but the same level of politeness should be applied to all subjects and debaters.

For many atheists, the bizarre contradictions of religion are just as baffling as those of sexism are. Shall we choose to include atheists in the discussion? Of course, I’m being cantankerous: all viewpoints are certainly not equal.

Respecting someone’s views and respecting their right to hold them are two very different things. I respect Nick Griffin’s right to be a racist, but I still think his views are factually incorrect (and, as it happens, puke-inducing). In the same way, I find claims about the existence and nature of god(s) to be factually inaccurate, as, presumably, do religious people about my views.

Is it bad form for me to say so? You decide. Again, we’re back to the topic of politeness.

Ho hum, that’s all from me. I’m getting hungry.

Anne Onne // Posted 5 March 2010 at 7:43 pm

OK, so science tells us that there are differences between men and women. Now, putting aside the fact that science is provisional and constantly updated, this does not mean that these average differences between two groups of people are a good or a bad thing. Some give an advantage to one, or the other. Many species have entirely different sexual dimorphisms. Evidently, the differences between the sexes don’t actually prevent people from doing many things (with the current exception of cis men giving birth). There’s nothing to actually suggest that tiny differences in the brain are universal, or hugely affect. someone was telling me about the difference in angling of the elbow in women and men (our lady arms are technically less straight), and how it meant women throw balls badly. As if she’d never seen an all-women’s netball team! Evidently it doesn’t actually stop lots of women from being able to throw perfectly fine, just like most women are fine at parking or spacial awareness or other ‘manly’ things!

Lots of atheists fall into the same sexist hole as theists, for the simple reason that they’re soaking in it. The Kyriarchy, that is. And that explains a lot of the sexist slants on science, whether discredited or not, in the past and present. I mean, if you want to believe one group are inferior, it’s not impossible to interpret any results to support your conclusion. Not to mention that whilst some Evolutionary psychology is genuinely intriguing and nuanced, there is a lot of ‘hey, we see this in people today, how can we attribute this behaviour to evolution?’ to the point where the effects of socialisation are sometimes sidelined because the conclusion that evolution is everything is a lot more media-enticing. Despite the fact most scientists in the bio field will tell you that genes and stone-age life actually don’t account for everything, thank you very much. The picture’s far more complicated than ‘it was the genes that did it!’.

Just a reminder that science itself is just a process, science gives no promises, and it also holds no moral judgements over one group over another. It’s not at fault for the way in which the media or even some of its scientists interpret the data.

timothyjwood // Posted 5 March 2010 at 8:48 pm


The boundary between evopsych and psych is clear in name only. On one end of the spectrum you have something like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is largely a malfunction of the HPA axis (the mechanism behind fight or flight) which leaves the patient in a constant state of hyperarousal. The science was the investigation of the effects and causes of the HPA axis. Almost no evolutionary investigation was needed because when you look at what the HPA axis does it has an obvious evolutionary rationale.

On the other end you have the (almost cliche) investigation of our mating behaviors. (see Men are more promiscuous on average than women. It’s not a value judgement; It’s just a fact. At the same time we have the fact that we are one of the few semi-monogamous animals, and we have much more paternal involvement than many other animals do. Population genetics can help us predict in what contexts each strategy is likely to maximize progeny, biology/sociology/anthropology help us to understand in what contexts we actually find ourselves, and psychology helps to attach subjective experience to the underlying evolutionary strategies.

We don’t think about our genes, we think about personality (commitment, motivation, intelligence etc) and beauty (skin tone, symmetry, etc). When you put this whole string of shit together you start to get a picture of why people explicitly and implicitly prefer people with good complexions for example. It turns out it’s one of the most important markers for a healthy immune system. So people with a subjective preference for mates with good skin tone had more offspring.

We’ll that’s all well and good, but it’s not genetic determinism. As a trite example… just go to the make-up/skin-care isle of your local store and you’ll see shelves and shelves of not-genetic-determinism.

Maeve // Posted 6 March 2010 at 10:14 am

Amy Clare, someone on another post wrote how feminists can’t seem to say anything without then having to fight ridiculous rearguard actions explaining what they did or didn’t mean. I think most people here perfectly get what you meant. You wrote a good post making valid points.Try not to let your energy and enthusiasm be drained by those who(for whatever reasons of their own) trawl through posts determined not to see the wood for the trees because they just want to pick on someone or something.

Denise // Posted 6 March 2010 at 10:44 am

Pat, Mobot was making the point that science has historically been dominated by white, middle-class dudes. That is a fact. It’s not to say that whatever they discovered was wrong just because they were white, middle-class dudes. But when some of the white, middle-class dudes started doing so-called ‘research’ to prove that just about everyone else was inferior to them, that’s when the problems started. When someone is hindered by, for instance, sexist or racist ideas and preconceptions, it makes it difficult if not impossible for them to think rationally in just about any way. We have seen and continue to see the unfortunate results of this every day. The results were and are more unfortunate for some than for others.

And no, had a “woman from the slums” (that’s charmingly put, btw) been the first to measure the mass-to-charge ratio of the electron, of course it would have yielded the same result. I just doubt that being this poor woman from the slums, she would have got the opportunity to receive a good education and get anywhere near a lab. All the white, middle-class dudes would have been laughing, ‘Ho ho ho, a woman from the slums! Ha ha ha! Who does she think she is, wanting to measure the mass-to-charge ratio of the electron! The very idea.’

I completely agree with you that the same level of politeness should be extended to all debaters. That’s why I am suggesting that you might like to re-read your own post and reassess its tone.

lilacsigil // Posted 6 March 2010 at 12:30 pm

timothy – Unfortunately, atheist groups in the “real world” (or what I prefer to call the offline world!) tend to be just as riddled with racists, sexists and homophobes, even if they’re a bit more subtle than they are online. I’m pleased for you that you’ve found a group that may not be like that, and wish I’d had the same luck!

Jess // Posted 6 March 2010 at 12:51 pm

Just wanted to say that I cannot read PZ’s blog comments because of the outright or thinly veiled misogyny – even if it gets ‘called out’ (usually weakly… and usually only by women) later on downthread. Gah even PZ’s posts are dodgy – I remember one showing off a picture he’d been sent of a nekkid sexxxay lady doing it with an octopus or some shit. Uh. What about a *man* being octopus-fucked? It’s never a man!! It puts a feminist right off.

Paddy // Posted 6 March 2010 at 12:57 pm

Men might well be more promiscuous than women “on average”. This may be fact, although I don’t know, because how could you definitively establish that? If it is a fact, is it necessarily a biological/evolutionary fact? Couldn’t it just be that men have much more opportunity to be promiscuous, and that such behaviour in them is encouraged, accepted and applauded? They are not judged and condemned for it and socially conditioned against it in the way that women are.

Pat // Posted 6 March 2010 at 1:15 pm

@Denise: You seem to have taken offence at what was meant as a completely innocuous phrase: a woman from the slums. It was meant only to represent as the polar opposite of a wealthy, middle-class man. Nothing more.

As for the rest of your post, I reckon any right-minded person would find it hard to disagree with you. My original objection was to the trendy idea that there is no objective reality (not to mention the idea that atheists rely on “an element of faith”, and that putting words in quotation marks makes vague statements more profound).

There’s really no need to chastise me. My point about politeness was this: would you be polite to a raving sexist? Presumably not. I wouldn’t!

The question is this: which subjects warrant politeness and which don’t? I happen to think vacuous postmodern babble doesn’t, but I’ll keep quiet in future since I really don’t want to offend anyone.

Amy Clare // Posted 6 March 2010 at 1:19 pm


Some of your comment is exactly what I’m talking about in my post. Simply saying ‘Men are more promiscuous on average than women’ and calling this ‘a fact’ without any acknowledgement of the myriad of social, psychological and biological variables that could make this true (if it *is* true), is not helpful, and sounds a lot like the ‘men and women are just naturally different’ belief that I’ve referred to in this article and thread.


I’ve allowed the discussion of evopsych in this thread thus far because I think it is relevant to why sexism exists within the atheist community. I’ve studied it myself, as part of my psychology degree, and I consider much of it to be rather spurious. What is particularly concerning in my opinion is that it tends to rely on ad hoc reasoning, and assumptions that every behaviour that exists must have conferred an evolutionary advantage at some point (so it is just a matter of finding, or more usually, conjecturing, what that advantage might have been). This ignores many things, not just socialisation, but the fact that some features of our bodies clearly show disadvantages (such as our oesophagi being right next to our windpipes, or the narrow birth canal that resulted from our ancestors standing on two legs), which have persisted because we survive despite them. Added to this, the evolutionary advantage or otherwise of a behaviour has no bearing on its moral desirability.

For example the idea of men being more promiscuous ‘naturally’ has been used to justify rape, and this is unreasonable because a) the evidence for this ‘natural’ promiscuity is questionable and b) whether rape is right or wrong is an entirely different question from why it might exist. The idea that something is morally permissible because it has evolved to exist is a logical fallacy. I believe it is known as ‘genetic fallacy’ in fact.

Like I said, evopsych is quite relevant to my post, however, I won’t publish any (more) comments which make simplistic assertions along the lines of ‘but women and men are just biologically different’ (because this is a feminist site after all) and I won’t allow the thread to be derailed into a nature/nurture debate!

@Maeve: thank you, I needed that!

Denise // Posted 6 March 2010 at 2:21 pm


I wasn’t chastising you or taking personal offence, I simply thought you seemed confused about what some other commenters had said.

Yes, I would be polite to a raving sexist. Even as I was locking up that person and chucking the key into the deepest part of the river! I am also polite to people who spout vacuous postmodern babble. But usually I just ignore or avoid them because time and energy are valuable resources which should not be squandered.

Amy Clare, I second Maeve’s comment.

A J // Posted 6 March 2010 at 2:44 pm

I struggle to see how men could be significantly more promiscuous than women ‘on average’. It takes two to tango, remember! These results always tend to boil down to men over-reporting the number of partners they’ve had, and women under-reporting. Both probably tell us rather more about the differing social pressures on either gender than they do about the reality of some evolved behaviour.

But I will say that while there is an awful lot of bullshit evopsych, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all evopsych is bullshit. It would be pretty bizarre if evolution hadn’t shaped the way our minds operate in some way.

But as Amy says, that can’t really be used to ‘excuse’ behaviour, or argue for a particular moral position. Richard Dawkins has always been extremely clear on this – evolution can tell us a lot, but it can’t tell us what is morally right and wrong. We have evolved sufficiently to allow our brains to move beyond mere evolved ‘instinct’, and take a considered view of how best to go about our lives.

One of the great advantages of atheism is that it doesn’t believe that morality is something merely given to us, whether by god, or evolution. It’s something humankind has to develop and consider through considered philosophical argument and debate.

Shea // Posted 6 March 2010 at 3:07 pm

Very good post Amy, very interesting.

I agree the atheist movement (if there is such a thing) has been monopolised by white, male, western academics. But I think the misogyny is a reflection of their male privilege and the misogyny inherent in society generally. Is it surprising to see it reflected in atheism and atheists any more than it is surprising to see it in religions (even those with a female deity)? I think for me there is a cogent argument that we are all human and all prone to irrationality and prejudice however much we believe ourselves above it. One of the key arguments against religion for me, has always been the divisive effect, creating spurious differences where there are none. For example the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. Is there any genetic or physiological difference between a Catholic and a Protestant? Of course not, it is the adherence to a hate filled book full of violence and misogyny that creates this.

I think the fact of misogyny in the online atheist community just points to the fact, that people will use whatever is available to them to re-confirm their own prejudices, be it scripture or evopsych.

Additionally I posit that this is largely because white, western , male dominated academia has come from countries with a predominantly protestant background (the US, the UK etc) which lacks some of the veneration of the female which comes from countries where Catholicism predominates (the worshipping of the Madonna). This is in itself obviously problematic for the madonna/whore dichotomy it presents and the fetishisation of motherhood & pregnancy. But to me it explains more of the overt misogyny and sexism that seems to prevail.

I second what you have said about the need for more female, non-white, non-western atheists to come forward and be predominant- but there is of course the issue of, will they be given a platfom and of course the issue that science — the repository of so many atheists is also heavily dominated by men.

@ Denise – I agree with you about poor woman being ignored and sidelined in the discovery of science. There are numerous examples of women who made scientific breakthroughs being completely ignored and or ridiculed. I think the accusations being directed towards Baroness Susan Greenfield at present is probably a good example of how the all male scientific elite look after their own and turn on anyone else when problems arise.

I’d like to point out aswell that Richard Dawkins has also been a victim of abuse on his own forum. Apparently he was called a “supperating rat’s anus” at one point. Nice.

timothyjwood // Posted 6 March 2010 at 4:44 pm

I apologize for monopolizing the comments as I have. I just get passionate about this sort of thing. If you’ll oblige me two quick points I’ll leave the issue alone. If not that’s alright. It’s your site afterall.

1. Rape is never justified, even if it does have an evolutionary advantage. This is in exactly the same manner that genocide is never justified even though it clearly has an evolutionary advantage. The science doesn’t say “tough shit, live with it” it says “this is why you have this problem that you have to work to get rid of”.

2. The interesting thing is not our promiscuity. Promiscuity is the rule among our cousins (something on the order or 90-95% of animals are polygamous). The interesting thing is that ~90% of us get married before the age of 40. And we love each other. Many of us mate for life. Elderly, infertile, and gay couples love each other without the need for reproduction. And we are so committed to the ideal of love that we are willing (rightfully) to wage a culture war to extend those rights to the lgbt community. This is equally our evolutionary legacy, and I wouldn’t want to live in a world where it was otherwise. Neither would I want to reject science because it illuminates those darker parts of us, for it illuminates our better angles as well.

Sarah // Posted 6 March 2010 at 5:00 pm

Thank you for this extremely well-written, thoughtful post! So many “open-minded, enlightened, free-thinking” communities still retain shreds — or huge swathes — of unchallenged misogyny. Atheist communities are just one of many supposed enlightened cohorts that haven’t bothered to address, let alone eradicate, sexism and its ilk.

It’s such an unchallenged part of our society, that no matter how free-thinking a person is, unless it’s brought to the fore of ones’ mind and aggressively rooted out, it won’t be addressed ever, even by people who think they are not sexist as a matter of course.

Pat // Posted 6 March 2010 at 8:17 pm

@Denise: Fair enough, although I’m not sure what aspect of other posts you think I’m confused about!

To bring it back to Amy Clare’s original post, though, what amount of criticism of religion do you consider reasonable? At no point does she criticise religious people, only religion, yet several religious people seem to have taken personal offence, somehow. It stifles the debate, that’s all I’m saying.

You would find it difficult, I think, to offend an atheist in the same way.

Religions perpetuate oppression. For example, it’s all very well saying that female genital mutilation predates Islam, yet it is perpetuated by Muslim communities. For that reason, it’s a Muslim issue as well as a feminist one.

That’s not to say that, amongst atheist communities, sexism doesn’t exist, but it’s certainly not enshrined in any kind of atheist dogma as it certainly is in some religious dogma, since no such atheist dogma exists.

K.T. // Posted 6 March 2010 at 8:47 pm

@ Shea

“For example the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. Is there any genetic or physiological difference between a Catholic and a Protestant? Of course not, it is the adherence to a hate filled book full of violence and misogyny that creates this.”

No. Just… no. Please find “A History of Ireland” and turn to page 1.

Ally // Posted 7 March 2010 at 12:30 am

@AJ: that logic only works if you assume everyone is straight. It is possible for gay men to be more promiscuous than gay women and therefore alter their respective averages.

Jessica // Posted 7 March 2010 at 2:18 am

Timothy, maybe you’re not likely to find issues with evopsych or see it as evil.. as a privileged male apparently unwilling to look at guesswork science used to essentialise women, you don’t have to and can merely find it a bit of banter. I also find it offensive to call this topic ‘boring’ when talking to me then later express your passion for continuing with disscussion.

Evopsych is not a science, and yes, this is determined by the reasons I mentioned. A ‘field of research’ does not a science make! Nor does your continual repetition of ‘that’s a fact’ at the end of every sentence make something you read in the daily mail a fact.

To deny evo psychology is of course not to deny evolution – natural selection. One is a science by definition, evopsych just cannot be said to be a science!!! Science has to have testable hypotheses, significant evidence that can be challenged. Evopsych is sophisticated culture made into biology, problematic by definition.

Certainly the only reason it seems valued so much is to explain away ‘mating rituals’, which everyone seems so obsessed with. So it’s valued for self- indulgent reasons, and sensitive to sexism for these same reasons.

You have a vast misunderstanding of culture if you draw a diagram of the brain and say our behaviour stops right there. The brain could be completely re- programmed by whatever culture it enters into. Life and behaviour as we experience it is just that, an experience of and reaction to the environment.

Mating instincts come second to experience and even in animals, have to be learned somewhat. So saying men are natural rapists, as humans, completely seperate from animals anyway is bull, as animals have to watch and learn. Why would rape be so innate to a man, but not animals?

Re Skeptifems criticizms // Posted 7 March 2010 at 4:21 am

Actually there has been some criticsms of the limitations of the ‘skeppchicks’ already by Skeptifem and they are dismissed even by Skeptifem as irrelevant and with other, wasteful, self-absorbed agenda than what they should have. Poor example to use of people who actually care.

Amy Clare // Posted 7 March 2010 at 5:09 pm


I think I’ve shown in my OP that sexism does exist in atheist communities!

I agree with you that there is no such thing as atheist dogma; rather the sexism seen in some atheists is more likely to be a result of accepting dogma of another sort, namely the dogma of patriarchy or perhaps of pseudo-sciences like evopsych. True scientific endeavour or sceptical thinking has nothing to do with dogma. This is why sexist atheists cannot really call themselves ‘sceptics’ (well they can, but they’d be mistaken).

I agree that certain readers seem to have taken personal offence to my OP, which baffles me somewhat, but as I’ve said, I don’t want to start a religion vs atheism debate here, and also I don’t think this thread is the right place to start discussing FGM! Or – @Shea and K.T. – Northern Ireland. (So no further comments on those highly emotive subjects will be published, sorry!)

I’d like to *try* and keep this thread reasonably on-topic if at all possible!

As an aside I’m quite astounded at how many comments this piece has got! Also I really do appreciate all the positive feedback I’m getting from commenters – thanks! :)

Mobot // Posted 7 March 2010 at 10:56 pm

Amy Clare, I’m glad that you wrote this to highlight sexism within the atheist movement, I hope I don’t come across as attacking you for your views. I also don’t want to derail from the point about *misogyny* (as opposed to religion vs atheism).

I get a bit wound up when people are scathing about religion, as demonstrated by my earlier post… most of the massive generalisations people make when they criticise religion are based on a narrow, dare I say, ill-informed view of what religion is. At the risk of sounding like a pompous asshole, I feel like I’m at least a bit informed about religion, having been raised by a church of Scotland minister, given (and promptly took up) the option to stop attending church at age 12 and ending up doing a Religious Studies degree to try and find out why people believe what they do.

As a feminist and a bit of a cultural relativist, I’ve often find myself torn about issues around women’s oppression within SOME religious communities. I don’t think that sexism and oppression exists because of religious beliefs, but religious leaders, like any other influential figures in society may of course use their religion to oppress. There are plenty of feminist women in any given religious community – if you ask any of them, they will no doubt tell you their feminism doesn’t exist in spite of their faith. Not everyone who isn’t an atheist is either oppressed or an oppressor!

Pat: yes it would be nice if you applied this politeness you mention to your posts rather than just throwing around indictments of other people’s beliefs. I said my ontological views (oh sorry, I mean ‘vacuous postmodern babble’) were *my beliefs*, not a reality that everyone else should wake up to. There’s no need to attack something because you disagree. That’s precisely one of the things that turns many atheists off about many religious communities. I have no problem whatsoever with atheism, only with people (religious and atheist alike) who are intolerant of those who see the world a different way to themselves. A person can be a tolerant atheist or a tolerant religious adherent, in the same way as misogynists come from all walks of life and have all sorts of ideologies. Show me a community where there is no sexism and I will happily pack up and go there. As for my enthusiastic use of inverted commas, this is not an attempt to impress with my profoundness (profundity? whatever…) but simply a way of showing that I am not using words uncritically. I am sorry if you’re offended by my punctuation :O And if I must be tied down to some sort of categorisation, I’m an agnostic socialist feminist with symbolic interactionist leanings. Not a postmodernist, okay?

Finally, atheists have no dogma?! I beg to differ.

Amy Clare // Posted 8 March 2010 at 2:21 pm


You don’t come across as attacking, yet I feel that you are another reader who may have misinterpreted my post.

It was not intended to be ‘scathing about religion'(it isn’t even *about* religion) and nor was I saying all religious people are sexists, or everyone who isn’t an atheist is an oppressor or oppressed and so on. I was merely saying that sexism – in my opinion – is a faith position, which means that the belief in the inferiority of women is not supported by any evidence or reasoning. (Note, I’m not using the word ‘faith’ to mean religion, the word in this context means ‘unsupported by evidence’.) So therefore if you have a group of people who say they endeavour to find evidence before forming a belief, who then unquestioningly accept arguments from tradition, authority or emotion when it comes to gender roles, you have a group of hypocrites.

I’m perfectly aware that it is possible to be rational about one subject and irrational about another. That’s what I’m highlighting in my post.

What would you consider to be atheist dogma?

Pat // Posted 8 March 2010 at 5:52 pm

@Mobot: It all comes down to politeness again, doesn’t it? You mention your beliefs (for example, that there is no objective reality) yet you say it’s not “a reality that everyone else should wake up to”. I don’t understand this. If I believe something that I know to be factually correct, and another person believes something that I know to be factually incorrect, then why not say so?

You also mention tolerance of other people’s beliefs. The same example can be used. It may be possible to tolerate someone’s views, but if only one view is accurate, then the other must be inaccurate. (For example, either there are gods, or there aren’t.) Although it might be possible to tolerate the view and respect a person’s right to hold it, it is not possible to respect the view itself.

Anyway, I apologise if I was rude. I guess I have a short fuse when it comes to some postmodernism.

Finally, what dogma do atheists adhere to, apart from the idea that there exists no evidence for gods?

timothyjwood // Posted 8 March 2010 at 6:31 pm


Not to be a bore. But there is a clear linear relationship between church attendance and intolerance (racism, sexism, homophobia, attitudes toward religious out-groups, authoritarianism). There is an especially strong relationship between religious fundamentalism and intolerance. See:

Allport, G. W. & Ross, J. M. (1967). Personal religious orientation and prejudice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 5(4), 432-43.

Altemeyer, B. (2003) Why do religious fundamentalists tend to be prejudiced? The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 13(1), 17-28.

Hunsberger, J. & Jackson L. M. (2005). Religion, meaning and prejudice. Journal of Social Issues, 61(4), 807-26.

Jackson, L. M.; & Hunsberger (1999). An intergroup perspective on religion and prejudice. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 38(4), 509-523.

Shea // Posted 8 March 2010 at 7:23 pm

I actually find the fact that there are sexist atheists to be quite reassuring, if depressing (stay with me).

The fact is these beliefs reflect human nature and the irrational, outdated prejudices of society. They are no more based on reason or logic than those of religious believers, but they confirm what is apparent in religion- the beliefs being espoused are human in nature. They reflect the prejudice and insecurity of human beings, they are not in any way a reflection of the divine (of course no such thing exists) or “science”. But instead demonstrate succinctly the abuse of the idea of a deity, or evolution by those who ought to know better.

In a way they present the best case for the need for”freethinking” that there is. (And demonstrate that there is nothing inherently more “enlightened” about atheists than believers.)

@ Amy Clare.

“So therefore if you have a group of people who say they endeavour to find evidence before forming a belief, who then unquestioningly accept arguments from tradition, authority or emotion when it comes to gender roles, you have a group of hypocrites.”


Atheist dogma? An oxymoron surely.

Davina // Posted 8 March 2010 at 9:02 pm

Not as oxymoronic as those T-shirts saying ‘Dawkins is God’…

I am quite happy with atheists as long as they stick with the science and don’t constantly spout on about how religion is stupid and the cause of all the evil in the world. What a load of crap. And no, I’m not religious, but I don’t write polemics/rants about how all religion is destroying everything in the world!

Re: Dawkins & feminism/sexism, I doubt you’ll have much luck. In The God Delusion he does at one point veer off topic and say something about how it’s so silly that some feminists like to use ‘herstory’ rather than ‘history’. I understand him not supporting it, but he couldn’t see the point of it… I got the impression he thinks this feminism thing is a bit ‘silly’.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 8 March 2010 at 11:56 pm

So, how do supporters of ‘evopsych’ end up explaining how it tends to translate into ‘get back in the kitchen?’

Every time someone does an evopsych study it tends to turn into a sciency explanation of the Flintstones- that to me suggests that people are skewing the studies to make them match their expectations.

And funnily enough, every single advocate of evopsych is male, as are the bigwigs in the field. Hmm..

Kite // Posted 9 March 2010 at 3:55 am

Ugh, libertarian males. They’re usually the sort who think that only they are the truly “unbiased” types of people, because they don’t have an “agenda” like feminists and anti-racists etc etc do. (Can you spell/smell P-R-I-V-I-L-E-G-E?) They tend to think that the only type of power is that that is overt, and anyone who “lets” themselves be oppressed is somehow mentally or physically deficient. (He-Man against the world!)

Have grown up with a father like this, and having done a major in the history & philosophy of science where I encountered so much more of the same, I consider myself having been thoroughly familiarised by this kind of thinking. I’m an atheist and skeptic and scientist, but I don’t think that’s proof against irrational unreasonable thought per se. Too many people who subscribe to those labels think that all human values simply derive from “logic” or a lack of, and hence everything can be fixed by righting the “logic”, as if there was objective empirical evidence for all that is the Right Way to think! Which serves to privilege the views of the privileged; because they mistake their (majority) reality for objectivity. Atheists might not be the majority in society, but in anything other than a belief in God, evolution, etc., I’m not shocked when one might turn out to be as boringly closeminded as a believer in their views on humans.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 9 March 2010 at 6:51 am

Weirdly enough, most of the findings in evopsych seem to mirror “The Flintstones” as suited to an R-rated movie. That makes me think that some of these guys (and it’s always guys) are selecting data that suits their prejudices. Now, that doesn’t sound like science to me. Just saying.

And if atheists cite evopsych to hang their prejudices on, that’s an even slimmer branch than “G*D told me so, now shut it woman.”

Amy Clare // Posted 9 March 2010 at 10:18 am

Sorry Davina, I’m not going to let you misrepresent Dawkins here! You’ve taken the ‘herstory’ comment out of context. In ‘The God Delusion’, what he says about feminism is:

“It was feminists who raised my consciousness of the power of consciousness raising. ‘Herstory’ is obviously ridiculous, if only because the ‘his’ in ‘history’ has no eytmological connection with the masculine pronoun… [However] herstory shows us history from a different point of view. Gendered pronouns notoriously are the front line of such consciousness-raising… Man, mankind, the Rights of Man, all men are created equal, one man one vote… English too often seems to exclude woman. When I was young, it never occurred to me that women might feel slighted by a phrase like ‘the future of man’. During the intervening decades, we have all had our consciousness raised… Feminism shows us the power of consciousness-raising, and I want to borrow the technique for natural selection.”

Doesn’t sound like he thinks ‘this feminism thing is a bit silly’, does it really? In fact he’s admitting that feminism has taught him something.

Denise // Posted 9 March 2010 at 10:47 am

Exactly, Amy Clare. I was just starting to froth around the chops at the out-of-context Dawkins quote, when I saw you’d dealt with it succinctly. Good stuff.

Oh-Holy-Mary-Mudder-O’-Dawkins-an’-All-His-Holy-Saints! Why don’t people check with the control tower before clearing themselves for take-off into the rantosphere.

Troon // Posted 9 March 2010 at 11:38 am

@Amy Clare

It is lovely to see you writing ‘above the line’ having read and enjoyed your comments on this site so much. I’m glad your first post generated such a wide debate, and hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have.

One of the things that has struck me about the debate here is that both sides accept the idea that ‘the truth is out there’ and reject any systems which stress the fragility of human understanding and knowledge (or characterise this position as saying nothing is knowable, which is totally different from nothing is ever fully knowable). This crowds out the many theists who would admit their position to be essentially faith based, stressing the unknowable nature of God(s), and the many atheists who accept that there is no evidence for God but that this is by definition the nature of (the Christian) God. It also leads to a huge privileging within atheist debate of ‘hard’ science with a subsequent partial rejection of social science and a total rejection of empirically based historical understandings of humanity which might challenge dodgy evopsych dogma (are men really more promiscuous -certainly depends on the society and the age range) or other arguments (religion as anti-science makes little sense from the point of view of twelfth-century advances in natural science when understanding nature was a means to understanding God). It is noticeable, for instance, that Dawkins quotes almost no historians or theologians throughout the whole of the God Delusion, which was the reason I gave up in annoyance despite agreeing with his views on modern society’s use of religion.

I’m not really sure where this is going, except to say it does not surprise me that both ‘communities’ end up being sexist, because surely the root of egalitarian thought from any one in any position of privilege is empathy for others’ position and an acceptance your own position is not the only ‘proper’ one. Any community arguing for a single truth detectable by a single method of knowing-atheist or theist-would seem to me to be downplaying the very values necessary to allow that feminist thought to develop.

timothyjwood // Posted 9 March 2010 at 2:37 pm

@ Politicalguineapig

perhaps you should check out this delightful article, five of the seven authors of which are women:

Or perhaps you should read this delightful quote by Leda Cosmides, one of the foremost researchers in the field:

“Those who have a professional knowledge of evolutionary biology know that it is not possible to cook up after the fact explanations of just any trait. There are important constraints on evolutionary explanation. More to the point, every decent evolutionary explanation has testable predictions about the design of the trait. For example, the hypothesis that pregnancy sickness is a byproduct of prenatal hormones predicts different patterns of food aversions than the hypothesis that it is an adaptation that evolved to protect the fetus from pathogens and plant toxins in food at the point in embryogenesis when the fetus is most vulnerable – during the first trimester. Evolutionary hypotheses – whether generated to discover a new trait or to explain one that is already known – carry predictions about the nature of that trait. The alternative – having no hypothesis about adaptive function – carries no predictions whatsoever. So which is the more constrained and sober scientific approach?”

Politicalguineapig // Posted 9 March 2010 at 3:04 pm

Troon: Well, back when Mr. Thomas Aquinas stepped out of the church to do a little observing of the natural world, science was fine. But when Galileo and Copernicus started lifting their telescopes, that’s when people started getting antsy.

Since the Fifteenth Century, most of the protests against science have had a religious basis. It took 500 years for the pope to apoligize to Galileo.

And as for the ‘soft sciences’: sociology merely proves that you can prove anything with statistics and psychology is a convenient way to classify the human mind. It isn’t just atheists who dislike those glib explanations.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 10 March 2010 at 6:09 am

Timothyjwood: The fact that the study is from Texas does not fill me with confidence.

After all, the place is filled with people who were spoonfed fundamentalist beliefs, and as a result, science education there is seriously suspect.

And adaptive biological processes have little, or anything to do with the mind. Yes, many people fear spiders and snakes because their ancestors lived in places with poisonous spiders and snakes.

But many people overcome those instinctive fears and some even keep spiders and snakes as pets.

I warn you, if this goes on, I’m going to get snappish. Telling me that I should like pink and date old men, even in a sciency tone, puts my back right up.

(I swear I’m not spamming, my comments just get eaten.)

Jessica // Posted 10 March 2010 at 10:47 am

I think Timothy needs to hear it again. We’re not born with male privilege to laugh off sexism – we can’t laugh hatred towards women off as something that ‘only occassionally happens’ in the field. We can’t laugh this off to see the good.

It’s just about explaining mating rituals to appeal to cheap mass interest, and by extension, women’s place as fuckable peices of ass. There; why any defence of it is *offensive* Timothy.

As for the links – oh look there’s women who write about evopsych and support sexism too. And the sun is a ball of fire!

Juliet // Posted 10 March 2010 at 12:01 pm

I don’t know why anyone bothers to engage with some commenters here who clearly have zero interest in debate and informed opinion, and want only to vent their overweening sense of (usually male) superiority. Which they are so overweened by that they can’t even recognise!

And puh-leese. No more evo-psychos!

Jessica // Posted 10 March 2010 at 12:37 pm

“Evolutionary hypotheses – whether generated to discover a new trait or to explain one that is already known – carry predictions about the nature of that trait. The alternative – having no hypothesis about adaptive function – carries no predictions whatsoever.”

These ‘predictions about the nature’ of traits are still straw clutching at best.. still backed by next to no evidence.

Of course people can fart a hypothesis out of nothing and call it a science because no theory at all is less sciency. I could say my TV is black because in flinstone day black rocks meant power. Wonderful hypothesis! It is still no pretext as a science to be rigorously challenged as a theory. Thus it is no science.Their fancy word twist on evopsych as a science sounds like the most pathetic attempt to get funding ever heard.

My black TV theory would be a ‘theory’, but no more science than the theory of St. Nicholas.

timothyjwood // Posted 10 March 2010 at 2:33 pm

I think the problem is that everyone here has read blogs and articles on the evils of EP, but no one’s actually read any papers in the field. Can anyone really point me to a paper that says all the terrible things everyone claims? It shouldn’t be that hard if it’s as bad as you think.

I’m not trying to defend an oppressive system. I was a gender studies minor. I know the paradigm. I just don’t see how this fits it, other than in vague uncited declarations.

gadgetgal // Posted 10 March 2010 at 4:15 pm

@timothyjwood – actually there’s an entire wiki page devoted to the controversies. It still seems to be unfinished, with citations needed and a note to state it’s unbalanced (it seems to be a little skewed in favour of it) but there are links to some research there. Don’t have time to look for anything else as I’m on my way home now but if you google “evolutionary psychology controversies” there’s quite a lot that pops up!

If you’re still having probs just write in again and I can let you have some of my links, they’re on my computer at home

Amy Clare // Posted 10 March 2010 at 4:17 pm


A few things. Firstly there is a big difference between morning sickness, which is a purely physical phenomenon, and a behaviour trait such as promiscuity, which is a more complex, psychological phenomenon and can be influenced by societal factors. Is this not the difference between evolutionary *biology* and evolutionary *psychology*?

I read many papers in the field during my psychology degree. My degree was some years ago, but part of it was the study of sociobiology / evopsych theories. As I recall, many of the papers I read were oversimplistic, and some made predictions about the same human behaviour which contradicted each other and even themselves. I have a stack of these papers still in my garage, plus critiques. I don’t have time to go and root them out and provide you with references, I’ll just have to hope that you’ll accept my word for it. Just because no-one has furnished you with critical references *yet* does not mean they don’t exist.

Other people have actually mentioned a study which was widely reported on this site among others, that appeared to find evolutionary ‘evidence’ that women prefer pink. It’s a real study, not just an opinion.

You might also want to read this post from Vagina Dentata, about evolutionary psychology.

timothyjwood // Posted 10 March 2010 at 4:43 pm

Well, it would have been nice if the blogger you cite had actually read the paper and not just the newspaper article. Which as best I can tell is somewhere along the lines of this or this. They’re actually rather feminist articles. Men prefer sites designed by men and women by women. Is that really surprising? The point that she is trying to make with it is that since web designers are overwhelmingly men, the internet represents a male hegemony of sites designed for male preferences. I think it’s a pretty interesting point.

Hunter gathers aren’t mentioned in either article. It’s not EP research. It telecom and web design research. The bit about evolution is simply her opinion she gave to some reporter. It’s not her field of study. But everyone is so eager to be offended no one actually read what she published.

This is what I’m talking about. Everyone is so sure that EP says what they think it says that no one bothers to check.

Amy Clare // Posted 10 March 2010 at 5:14 pm


I was actually referring to the picture on the blog I linked to, the evopsych bingo, not the story per se. I thought it was a funny way to show the cliches surrounding evopsych.

You say “everyone is so sure that EP says what they think it says that no-one bothers to check”, and yet in my last comment I told you that I spent a large chunk of my degree ‘checking’ this type of stuff. So do many psychologists, some of whom strongly criticise the conclusions drawn from evopsych / sociobiology. Just because you disagree with the critics, doesn’t mean that formal criticisms aren’t there, or aren’t rigorous, or are all based on what people ‘think’ evopsych is rather than what it really is.

I agree that there is a reporting problem in the media, quite often, but much evopsych research is in itself bad science.

Also, like I said in my last comment, there is a difference between evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology, morning sickness and promiscuity… and so on. In order to prove the validity of an apple, you can’t hold up an orange.

Judy // Posted 10 March 2010 at 5:32 pm

timothyjwood, this is a very interesting and relevant post. Every commenter here (I’m referring, of course, to those who have paid you any attention) is being polite to you and patient, even though you refuse to accept or acknowledge any points they make. You even state that you think ‘the problem is’ (what problem? not everyone agreeing with you?!) that people have ‘only’ read blogs and articles on evo-psychology and no papers from the field. In other words, according to you their opinions are ill-informed.

I don’t believe everyone is eager to be offended. But I do believe there are a lot of people eager to be offensive.

Paul // Posted 10 March 2010 at 5:44 pm


Amy Clare hasn’t ‘only’ read blogs and articles. She has a psychology degree and she knows what she’s talking about. She isn’t eager to be offended either, or she wouldn’t publish your comments and go on being so patient with you. I don’t think you’re contributing anything to this otherwise interesting discussion. The opposite.

I spy with my little eye something beginning with T.

Graham // Posted 10 March 2010 at 9:04 pm

Last year I posted a question to – a technical question about bacteria to the most technical subforum there – and was dismayed by the low level of debate and high level of hostility. So I’m not surprised at Amy’s experience on one of the more general forums. As for RD himself, although he is (or was) an excellent popularizer of science, I don’t think he is a particularly good or self-critical thinker, and religion and philosophy are not his area of expertise. There’s a review of The God Delusion at

which more or less expresses my view. It’s a long review, here’s a couple of quotes:

“As you may have noticed, Dawkins when discussing religion is, in effect, a blunt instrument, one that has a hard time distinguishing Unitarians from abortion clinic bombers.”

“Though I once labeled Dawkins a professional atheist, I’m forced, after reading his new book, to conclude he’s actually more an amateur. I don’t pretend to know whether there’s more to the world than meets the eye and, for all I know, Dawkins’s general conclusion is right. But his book makes a far from convincing case.”

So, anyway, for one reason or another, is a bad place to find good atheists.

Scientists *should* be able to turn their scepticism and critical ability on themselves and their position in society. (I prefer to talk about scientists not atheists because I don’t know how atheists-who-are-not-scientists think.) For example Albert Einstein said:

“Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.”

I think nearly all scientists would wholeheartedly accept this as long as it was understood to be about common sense notions of space and time, or the counter-intuitive nature of quantum theory. But too many of the same scientists would also say that when it comes to sociology and psychology, they rely on common sense, and let the Daily Telegraph do their thinking for them. (Though I think that scientists on the whole are better than average.)

Here’s some good books (see )

Alas, Poor Darwin: Escaping Evolutionary Psychology (with Steven Rose, Editors), Cape, 2000.

Science and Society (with Steven Rose), Allen Lane, 1969. Penguin, 1970.

Love, Power and Knowledge: Towards a Feminist Transformation of the Sciences, Polity Press, 1994 ISBN-10: 0745610013

And at the opposite end of the spectrum, if you want to see Evolutionary Psychology at its worst, have a look at Satoshi Kanazawa’s blog, eg the one titled Why is Health Care a Right?

Tim, your energy might be better expended arguing with Satoshi. If you choose to do that, you have my best wishes, no irony intended.

Elmo // Posted 11 March 2010 at 10:44 am

Graham, the Dawkins review sums up my opinions too. I find it so sad that the billions of religous people out there are all lumped together so often as having exactly the same beliefs- ie being abortion clinic bombers etc. How can billions of people be so easily pidgeon holed?

I think I’d rather read Darwins work. The only thing I dislike about Darwin is that he has the most impossible handwriting ever. Look it up, its terrible!

Im afraid it doesnt take a rational freethinker simply to not beleive in god-the two things are often tied together, but just not beleiving in a deity doesnt suddenly grant you a whole new world of intellectual thought, (unless atheism has rules, which would kind of contradict the point, surely?)

You can be an idiot and not believe in god, just as much as you can be a rational and accepting person who doesnt beleive in a god. It just depends WHY you dont beleive in a god, i think.

The same is true of religon, and I think that everyone is still trying to group relgious , non-religous, atheists, etc as one thing or another-but you just cant-one belief doesnt always dictate your other beliefs. People may argue with me here, because for many people it DOES dictate their other beliefs, but it doesnt have to, its simply the most common occurance-which is why plently of religous people do NOT believe in stoning people and adam and eve, and why not all atheists agree with everything Richard Dawkins says, etc. Similarily (sp? eek) you can believe in a god, but not beleive or agree with any religon.

Amy did anyone ever give any “scientific” reasons as to why they were so sexist? I would like to know if they tied their atheism to their sexism and saw the two as compatable. Not because I think this is true, I just want to know how their minds work!

aimee // Posted 11 March 2010 at 10:59 am

This article from the aforementioned website kind of sums up everything I hate about evo psych. “Very good neurological reason” eh? What are those then? Care to elaborate or just throw it out there as though it was fact.

The thing is that these people contradict themselves all over the place. If, like they say, men and women do have biologically different programming and are predisposed to certain things, then surely different professions and occupations would benefit from the unique qualities brought by both genders? If not, then it’s just social and they’re exacerbating an already crap situation.

Amy Clare // Posted 11 March 2010 at 11:22 am


Can I ask – have you actually read The God Delusion yourself? Because I *have* read it, and I disagree with the review you quoted. I think RD makes an excellent case for his opinions and nowhere does he equate Unitarians with abortion clinic bombers! There’s plenty of philosophy in the book and he presents the arguments very well, I think. Especially the moral arguments concerning, for example, moral relativism, and his debunking of philosophical arguments for god’s existence. I certainly found them convincing. He may not have studied religion as his specialism, but as a biologist he has had to deal with opposition to evolutionary theory from religious groups and so has had to make his arguments very clear – which he does successfully, I think. Also, just because a person hasn’t made their career out of a particular subject doesn’t mean that they can’t educate themselves and understand it. He’s clearly read the Bible because he can quote extensively from it, and actually he says that some of it should be studied in schools as literature! I wouldn’t even go that far. I don’t work for him by the way, these are my real opinions!

And I should mention again that the opinions on the forum aren’t anything to do with RD himself! But I’m sorry to hear about the bad experience you had – and I’m not surprised.


Some of those people I encountered were just openly hostile in an MRA kind of way (“feminists just hate men/ are sexist/ etc) but others did use evopsych ‘reasoning’, for example one man opined that the reason for male violence was because our female ancestors sexually-selected violent men (“so blame your grandmother”). One of the worst justifications for male violence I’ve ever read.

JenniferRuth // Posted 11 March 2010 at 11:46 am

I just wanted to second the recommendation of this book.

Alas, Poor Darwin: Escaping Evolutionary Psychology (with Steven Rose, Editors), Cape, 2000.

It really is excellent, although not without controversy. I believe that Richard Dawkins accused it of prioritising “ideology” rather than science. I disagree with this (I don’t think the politics of the various authors takes away from their scientific analysis of the faults of EP) but I guess you have to read it and make up your own mind!

Shea // Posted 11 March 2010 at 12:29 pm

@ Graham – and by that logic no one could comment on Islam unless they were an Imam or on Paganism unless they were a druid/shaman. And actually how necessary is it to understand the more obscure doctrines, when we are talking about religions aimed at the masses? I find the majority of the major religions fairly simplistic in their philosophy and morality, precisely because they need to indoctrinate more and more followers. The fact that holy books are made up and works of fiction (hence RD’s position that they should be studied as literature) hints that there is even less reason to study them in depth. I can gain a better lesson on morality and ethics through reading Shakespeare if I’m honest.

And as RD points out we are all atheists its just some of us go one God further!

@ Elmo – I agree with you that atheism doesn’t have the monopoly on freethought. But I disgaree that religious people are necessarily “freethinkers”. They are or must be bound by adherence to some of their religious rules and doctrines, therefore they are not totally “free” to scruntinise and disregard certain beliefs and practises. Basic humanity might lead most people to conclude that stoning someone to death is wrong, but there are still a huge number of religious people who believe homosexuality is *wrong* because the Bible/ Koran etc tells them this. And in truth if your conscience is your guide and your own moral compass is steering you, why do you need to adhere to a religion?

There is a very valid argument that we are conditioned to accept authority at a young age (even biologically programmed to do so). Because without listening to our parents and their instructions unquestioningly (i.e “don’t touch that it’s hot” or even my own family favourite- “don’t play near that fast flowing river- because a dragon lives there!”) we would end up hurt or dead. However as our brains develop we develop our own conscience and our own beliefs and we quite rightly question our conditioning and acceptance of authority. You clearly have as you are a feminist and so are not as accepting of the societal construct of “femininity” as someone not exposed to feminism.

I think that atheism is simply (as RD points out) another form of consciousness raising.

* I have also read the God Delusion and really liked it, I also disagree with the review posted. Certainly RD makes a better argument against god(s) and religion than many religious folk can make against atheism. My one point of contention is his proposition that inculcating religious belief into young children (such as the idea of hell) is more damaging than physical or sexual abuse. I think this diminishes the suffering of victim’s of abuse and frankly I don’t see how those who haven’t suffered abuse are in any point to give this assessment. That was the only real point I disagreed with him on.

I think alot of people who are put off by RD’s bluntness might find Sam Harris, more appealing. He makes many of the same, very good points, but in a less confrontational way (although he is very focused on the USA).

Elmo // Posted 11 March 2010 at 1:25 pm

Hi Shea,

I didnt say (or mean) that “religous people are necessarily freethinkers” but rather, that they arnt all *not* freethinkers, if that makes sense-ie you cant say all religous people are something, every religous person does this, etc because there are varying degrees of belief anyway. Once again I make the point that its absurd to put billions of people in one bracket-much like its absurd to bracket women.

Theres this idea that to be religous you have to follow every rule and every law to the letter and if you dont your a hypocrite and not truly religous. But that would be and is impossible and contradictorary. For me its like saying that every communist action represents socialist beliefs. Neither atheism nor religon should be defined by the radicals, but sadly they are. I know theres an undercurrent belief in many non-religous people that religous people are idiots. Lots of them are. Lots of them arnt.

Its certinely a fair point about not needing religon if you have your own moral compass. I do follow my own moral compass, the fact that I beleive in god (not as part of a religon) is neither here nor there in that case, its something I cant help (Im sure atheists dont have to try really hard to *not* believe in a god) But for those who feel they need guidance, religon will always be there to help/abuse/manipulate/inspire/ them. Its a massive, massive field that does many different things, some good, some bad.

You mentioned biological programming, and made some very valid points about why we obey others. Interestingly, I read somewhere (yes, probably the guardian, lol) that humans are hard-wired to beleive in deities. I’m not using this as an argument for or against god, (*prays no one starts an argument about it*) rather I think this is a biological survival method, and I think it explans why so many people still follow religon, for good or bad-the need to believe in something, even the abscene of belief itself, is very powerful.

Amy Clare // Posted 11 March 2010 at 1:27 pm


I had a look at the book on amazon, some of the reviews are quite scathing! It looks like an interesting book though and I might seek it out. I think some of the reviewers miss the point; it’s possible to believe that the mind is what the brain does, and that brains evolved, without then making the conclusion that every human behaviour must have a genetic origin and thus an evolutionary advantage.

My personal belief is that our brains evolved to be very good at learning from our environments, and adapting to them (the fact that we are born with very immature brains supports this). Particularly, learning about social norms and how to fit in with the group we find ourselves with. And of course, people vary in the degree to which they do this – imo this is affected both by genetics and early environment. Being in a strong group would clearly have an evolutionary advantage for any social animal, including us – but this doesn’t mean that every behaviour shown by that group, and copied by new members, has an evolutionary advantage of its own (modern day examples include smoking and binge drinking). Moreover, now we are less dependent on others for our physical survival, in general terms, we are freer to dissent – which can only be a good thing.

Which brings me onto my next point: evolution hasn’t finished. It’s still happening, and due to our intelligence and ability to discuss things, our society will consign some present behaviours and ideas to the evolutionary bin eventually. I’m hoping sexism will be one of these!

Sorry, bit of a tangent there! Finished now.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 11 March 2010 at 2:00 pm

tangent, but i think Elmo might be referring to this idea

Shea // Posted 11 March 2010 at 2:10 pm

Hi Elmo (sorry I forgot you don’t like the @)

A very interesting post.

The only thing I question is that it is religious people themselves putting themsleves in a bracket. I think the idea that people pick and choose in religion just shows how contradictory and illogical much of it is. Its less of a guide and more a smorgasbord of ethical & moral ideas and positions.

“every communist action represents socialist beliefs”

no surely, every communist action represents communist beliefs? Communism and socialism are different as you know.

who are the atheist radicals? I’d say there are none because atheism isn’t a belief system. Its the destruction of bad ideas not the imposition of new ones.

I think I’ve read the same or similar arguments about the need for a belief in God/ the supernatural. Certainly I think the Golden Rule (do unto others…..) and the sense of recipriocity that religion fosters has a clear evolutionary advantage. I read in the New Scientist that a belief in God could have conferred a survival advantage. They expressed it as “if you are always seeing tigers in the grass you are always running, but if you fail to see the tiger in the grass and there really is one, you are dead” (or words more eloquently put). I do think its fascinating.

“I know theres an undercurrent belief in many non-religous people that religous people are idiots.”

Yes I’ve gotten that sense too. I don’t think its fair or justified. None of us has the answers, so there is no need for arrogance by atheists.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 11 March 2010 at 3:15 pm

Elmo: The reason so many Christians tend to be lumped together as ‘abortion clinic bombers’ is that the fundamentalist fringe is quite loud and noisy. Most people in the U.S. who are raised outside churches get their exposure to religion by stumbling across Robertson, Falwell and Phelps. If moderate Christians could be heard above the noise, those perceptions by the mainstream would be quite different. (Same goes for Islam. Judaism does have it’s extremists, but they tend to be outnumbered and much quieter.)

timothyjwood // Posted 11 March 2010 at 3:26 pm

wow. Yeah, this Kanazawa wants *nn C**lt*r to be president. That doesn’t bode well for his judgement.

A quick g.scholar search and it looks like most of what he’s done is pretty abstract. He seems to be a well published on AIDS/HIV. Some of his stuff is a little out there but I can buy it to a point (although his statistical interpretation seems to be wrong).

However articles like this are highly suspect and highly open to misinterpretation. I don’t buy into the construct validity of IQ much less using tests like this as a proxy for it. Even so he got low correlations (r~.1). And there is obviously a disconnect somewhere when women who are supposed to have lower IQ’s are graduating college at a much higher rate. Whatever this IQ is, it doesn’t seem to have much impact on the real world. It would seem that what we have here is a biologist trying to play social scientist, and not doing a very good job. (and I would certainly like to see the evidence that men are better air traffic controllers than women). But… he is right in the sense that if science offends people so be it. My problems are not with his conclusions but with his methodology.

Having said that… just because this guy is a bad researcher doesn’t mean the whole concept of the field is bunk. You don’t throw out psychology because of The Bell Curve. The beauty of science is not that it can’t be wrong but that it is self correcting over time. Even if you fall on the nurture side of things, the brain is the medium of culture and so it influences it a good deal, and the brain is an evolved organ. There is surely some insight (however small) to be gained by an evolutionary investigation of the brain.

@Amy C – I don’t know that the line between evolved physiology and psychology is really that distinct. Things like the HPA axis that influences PTSD is clearly both an evolved physio and psychological mechanism. But you are right in the sense that the more higher level constructs you get to (like air traffic controller and general IQ) the greater you risk reifying something that has no basis in either psychology or physiology… and then justifying it post hoc.

Amy Clare // Posted 11 March 2010 at 5:17 pm


Please can we try and not let this debate get *too* technical? This is a comment thread, not a conference! We don’t really need to be told the value of ‘r’…

I’m happy to have the evopsych discussion continue as long as it is relevant to my OP (which I seem to remember was about sexist atheists!) but don’t particularly want the thread to descend into long, overly technical descriptions of particular people’s work.

Elmo // Posted 11 March 2010 at 5:51 pm

Hi Laura, yes, that looks like the kind of thing I was talking about. It would explain a lot about the world if it was true.

Hi Shea (lol, well done for remembering about the @ thing :)

I didnt mean that communism *does* represent socialism, but the two are often mixed up by a lot of people, and I think for lots of people communism is *seen* to represent socialism (not people i agree with, or are intelligent or fair, the kind of people who use the term “lefty loonies”), as a radical form of it. Er, hope that makes sense :s Basically, lots of people dont know the difference between the two.

No, lol, I cant actually think of any athiest radicals (apart from Mussolini, but thats a whole different bucket of monkeys), and im not suggesting there are any, I was basically trying to balance it out by mentioning athiesm and religon. I suppose for example there are athiests who disagree with Dawkins, or dont like his methods, or whatever, but he is the first athiest most people think of when they hear the word, the same as when some people hear the word “Islam” they think of 9/11. Not that im equating Dawkins with terroism, but you get my point! As Policticalgunieapig says, the loudest for each group are heard first and remembered for the longest.

Anyway, really interesting discussion :)

Ally // Posted 11 March 2010 at 6:51 pm

This all seems very strange to me. I am so used to being in environment where atheism is just what one can assume everyone subscribes to apart from small groups all subscribing to different religions (and different interpretations of those religions) that it is difficult for me to see atheists as a separate group or to view them as less likely to be sexist. It has never been something I have had to “admit” to, rather, religion is something I am accustomed to seeing stigmatised, and religious people are often forced to defend themselves from frequent, and often vehement intellectual attacks. I suppose the upshot of that rather badly worded post is: I am surprised that you are surprised.

Graham // Posted 11 March 2010 at 7:15 pm

@ Amy: No I haven’t read TGD, you got me there ;-) Though I have read other books by Dawkins, including his philosophical arguments about the existence of God, and have heard him on the radio arguing his political points about religion. I’ve read or heard him arguing against group selection, and wasn’t impressed. I’ve also read a biology book by the reviewer, and have some faith(!) in his opinion.

@Shea: I did not say Dawkins shouldn’t comment on religion. Apart from that I have no serious disagreement with what you said. I am an atheist – I seem to given a different impression somehow. I’d go for George Eliot rather than Shakespeare. She was atheist who recognised that sometimes the best people are believers.

Amy Clare // Posted 11 March 2010 at 7:28 pm


“She was atheist who recognised that sometimes the best people are believers.”

But not *because* they are believers, presumably.

Jeff // Posted 11 March 2010 at 9:17 pm

Probably not worth a comment but…

from Elmo:

“but thats a whole different bucket of monkeys”

Yoink! Totally stealing that most excellent phrase :P

Elmo // Posted 12 March 2010 at 9:34 am

why thankyou :)

Politicalguineapig // Posted 12 March 2010 at 5:40 pm

Elmo: You forgot Chairman Mao. Although, from what I’ve seen, Christianity in Asia is a whole different ‘barrel of monkeys.’

Anyway, I think atheism is just a way of changing one’s viewpoint. If a person is essentially a sexist, unpleasant fellow, it won’t make a difference whether he’s Christian, Jewish, Atheist, Muslim or a pagan. The only difference is how he manages to support those views.

Graham // Posted 12 March 2010 at 8:07 pm

I spotted this in Hilary Rose’s Love, Power Knowledge book. It underlines what Politicalguineapig just said.

In 1980, Secretary for State for Social Service, Patrick Jenkin said: “Quite frankly I don’t think mothers have the

same right to work as fathers. If the Lord had intended us to have equal rights, he wouldn’t have created men and women. These are biological facts, young children do depend on their mothers.”

HR comments that it “was perhaps overkill to draw on both creationism and biology to make his point”, but I guess he wanted to appeal to sexists of all philosophies.

Elmo // Posted 12 March 2010 at 8:32 pm

Def agree with that, Politicalguineapig. I dont really know much about Mao, expect that his book was one of the highest selling of all time (Im imagining this is because it was compulsary to own one in China), but i’ll be looking him up now, thanks.

Bryan // Posted 13 March 2010 at 9:34 am

Well the problem that she makes is her assertion that being an atheist and a sexist make you a hypocrite. If you really think about this it makes perfect sense, if you make the assumption that Religion is not only man made but made by men then the sexism can easily be explained. The sexism most definitely exist but it has nothing to do with religious affiliation, and everything to do with the psychology of being a male. Males have been the dominant species on this planet since man has walked upright and they still are today, and when your the dominant group you pretty much have a free pass to do/say anything you want. Being the dominant group for tens of thousands of years men can’t possibly understand the inherent disadvantages to being a less dominant group in this case a woman, and when Christopher Hitchens called Wanda Sykes “the black dyke” he couldn’t possibly understand how a woman would feel about hearing that(even if he was trying to be funny, which I’m not sure he was). As a black male I have the same issue with Hitchens when he talks about Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincolns saying that, “..they were the two great emancipators and Darwin was the greater of the two”. This goes back to the whole argument of being the dominant group, as a white male Hitchens couldn’t possibly understand how that would deeply offend someone who was of African-American decent. Hitchens is an intellectual hero of mine but he like all people has his flaws and I disagree with him on some things, but I don’t think anyone would willingly debate him on the subject of religion.

Davina // Posted 13 March 2010 at 12:44 pm

Amy Clare, I apologise for taking that quotation out of context. I read that book quite a while ago, and don’t really remember much of it, but that’s no excuse. So maybe there is hope if you and others who feel like you appeal directly to him. I hope as well you can get some atheist/freethinking male feminists on your side as well – if you know any? Men who don’t believe that “The chief task in life that a man has to perform is that of impressing the opposite sex”. Really, Hitchens? Including all the gay men/bisexual men/asexual men/non-believers-in-stupid-gender-roles in the world…

Amy Clare // Posted 13 March 2010 at 2:19 pm

@Davina: that’s quite all right. :) Many of the things Hitchens says make me want to break chairs…

As for freethinking male feminists – well, my boyfriend is one, so that’s a start!

Respectfully Disagree in this Case // Posted 8 July 2010 at 12:32 am

I read Hitchen’s article and it doesn’t seem so sexist. He puts forth a poorly made argument based upon a study which, if you think about it, does not address precisely the same questions as his article asks. Having said that, it seems to me he’s not so much a sexist, but more a bad writer who couldn’t make his piece interesting without inserting a few lame one liners about gender differences (see quote below). He does refer to some female comedians as ‘dikey’ but he also refers to men as stupid and even mentions Jews in a (possibly) derogatory light as well. The title of Hitchens’ piece and the general nature of his argument may appear sexist at first blush, but it seems clear that he is simply a poor writer trying to ‘spice up’ or colloquialize (if you will) a totally fair argument about a fundamental evolutionary difference between males and females. The actual merits of said argument are another matter. However, labeling the article “a ridiculous woman-hating salvo” is perhaps a bit hyperbolic. My fear about jumping to such rash conclusions is that overuse of the term “sexist” can degrade its meaning and detract from its significance when it is brought up in more worthy situations. Sexism is a real problem which occurs daily around the world. However, every time we label something as ‘sexist’ which is perhaps just misguided (not to say sexism isn’t misguided of course) but in good faith, we give credence to those who seek to discredit feminism and the ongoing struggle for gender equality.

Just my 2 cents…..

“Men will laugh at almost anything, often precisely because it is—or they are—extremely stupid. Women aren’t like that”

Natalie // Posted 2 November 2010 at 10:55 pm

Wow, I am really glad I found this article. I completely agree with you. As an atheist, I am very concerned and saddened by the amount of sexist comments that can be found on atheist forums. I also wrote a couple of things on the RD forum (when it existed and I might have seen your thread) and was really surprised by the attitude of other atheists there. I think it’s a big problem and I am glad other atheists share my view!

gracemargaret // Posted 26 January 2011 at 6:52 am

Amy Clare, I think we were on the RD board at the same time, I had exactly the same experience. I think the reason it’s so disappointing is that these prominent male atheists point out the misogyny in religion all the time to disparage it, so I was under the impression that a freethinker/atheist then would be against all forms of misogyny. I was wrong. I was called a bitch, a feminazi, and a ‘victim feminist’ among other things on the RD board.

Sam Harris also believes rape is natural (as does his fellow ‘Reason Project’ advisory board member Steven Pinker) and said that if he had a magic wand and he could get rid of either rape or religion, he would pick religion. (Not quite sure why he decided to pit those two subjects against each other(?)

I feel completely alienatated from the atheist/skeptic community because of the rampant sexism, and not just on the RD board. I prefer to focus my activism primarily with feminism now.

And Chris Hitchen’s original piece on why ‘women aren’t funny’ is nothing compared to his video rebuttal of the rebuttal to that article (you can find it on Youtube). All I can say is never throw your head back and laugh around him if you’re a woman, as that’s a sign of sexual submission and your open mouth is just waiting to be filled by you can probably guess what.

Sue Mayer // Posted 6 February 2011 at 11:25 am

Not only is there sexism and misogyny in the freethought movement, there are also many religious feminists who deliberately try to exclude freethought (including atheist perspectives) from feminist debate. I have personally experienced both over the past few years.

As the facilitator of the London Atheist Meetup Group I see it occasionally but very rarely, but from some feminists my support for WRTC on who with, when, where and under what conditions women have sex – and the ECP and Safety First Campaign – has led to my, and the Feminist Freethinkers Meetup Group, being excluded from some groups and events.

Elitism including on class, race and sex are rooted in the patriarchal religions as they have shaped cultures over 3000 years. see also;

JonelB // Posted 21 February 2011 at 10:30 pm

I hate dealing with this too.

And I was recently estranged from my university group when they denied Male Privilege, told me my opinion was unimportant and that I was a fool if I believed any of these “crazy feminazi manhaters”. Later, they were discussing me in private and, when I asked about it, they claimed I was paranoid and crazy and couldn’t say anything after “how I acted”, which was apparently against their wishes.

They claimed that no one except for me had an issue with such things. They claimed that I was dividing them when we need to stand together, that my opinion was pointless for now and we shouldn’t bother with tackling sexism or racism because they saw religion as a more important thing to deal with, while I would honestly rather us fix problems within the movement FIRST before we try to lord our “rationality and decision making”. I was also told that I wasn’t behaving rationally or free-thinkingly, and basically that I was no longer welcome at their meetings unless I could keep my mouth shut–like a good little trollop. I got a lot of “you’re overreacting” or “you’re making shit up” from them, and it upset me, but this is honestly the only group around here that I have to talk to, the only group I can be around, and now I’ve just lost them because we got into an argument about how women are treated and they refused–outright refused– to see the facts: that women are treated differently from men, that they’re seen differently. And, no, it’s not my fault, it’s not “wimmin’s fault” and I don’t even remotely enjoy the “attention” I usually get (catcalls about how fat I am, how ugly I am and how slutty and loose I must be).

No, we need to tackle this. Now, soon… Today would be nice but even near future would be preferable. The church has years and years of indoctrination and history of mistreating women and holding them as second-class citizens. We aren’t going to pull minorities by treating them just as badly and justifying it with other puerile reasons.

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