I’ve been thinking about why so many women would be scared to identify themselves as atheists. Some women don’t have children, and have secure, reputable careers, therefore the threat of losing their jobs and family is moot. What else could keep these women silent?
I dived into my own experiences for some of these answers. In my family, there is a sense of parental failure because of my lack of belief in God. This is frustrating for me because that sentiment is never directly voiced to me. If my father would just say, “I think I failed you as a parent because you don’t believe in God,” I could rebut. My father taught me to look at things critically, and to follow the evidence. If the hypothesis is not congruent with the evidence, I must adjust my premise. It took many years and a lot of research to get where I am. Even now, my father and step-mother make passive-aggressive attempts to force me to participate in their Christian rituals such as prayer, thanking God, church gatherings on special occasions, and so on. I have several homemade cards that have either bible verses or other references to Jesus or God in them that have been sent to me.
Statistically speaking, most of a person’s family is going to be religious. To declare against that would create friction. For many women, family (and even extended family) tends to be very important. The concept of upsetting the delicate balance of the family life is frightening. A woman might not believe in God, go to church, or teach her children that biblical stories are fact the way that other mothers do, but if her mother-in-law were to hear the word atheist in reference to her daughter-in-law, that delicate balance would be thrown into limbo.
Love, tolerance, kindness, understanding…virtues like these are what Christians are supposed to display, yet when faced with someone who does not live up to their idea of what a human is supposed to be, most Christians are anything but. My own experiences range from being cussed at and called names on the internet to having some Christian extremist chase me down when they found out I was an atheist. I have no idea what they intended to do to me once they caught me (fortunately I reached a well populated area first), but I’m sure it wasn’t something Christ would endorse.
When I was attending the University of Oklahoma a Christian group was protesting against abortion. They did so by blowing up photos of aborted tissue and creating a morbid display roughly 20 feet by 20 feet in the middle of the campus. This display was strategically placed right in front of the public bus stop. Several young children were exposed to these graphic photos that may have traumatized them for life. These are the same people who, once this child they work so hard to ensure is born, they’d turn their back on him/her, voting against food stamps, social security, medicare, or any other help that child may need in the future. They are pro-birth, not pro-life. The worst part is, if they don’t get their way, if other people don’t agree with them, they start blowing things up…like abortion clinics.
It seems like women’s issues are at a forefront of Christian attack. A woman’s right to make her own decisions, to control her own body, has been under attack from Christians for a very long time. A woman’s right to raise her children how she see’s fit–without church or government influence, is now under attack as well.
With women’s rights being under attack and family values being so important to most women, the reasons for women to keep silent about their lack of belief is understandable. The issue I have is this: the more women remain silent, the less role models we have for the next generation. We have some wonderful guys: Richard Dawkins, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and many others, but in this day, we need women for young girls to look up to and relate with. As an adolescent, when the world is barely making sense, then your entire worldview begins to unravel and the only people you have to look up to and ask questions of are men? That isn’t right. We need women to help these girls make sense of the world around them.
I was looking around for more more to go on concerning some female role models within the atheist community. What I found was a bit frustrating. There are online communities for women who lack belief, but finding truly outspoken women who do not value their anonymity is more than difficult. Atheist Women and the Price of Speaking Out talks about the consequences many women deal with for speaking their minds on the subject of God and religion.
Salon magazine gives 5 reasons there aren’t more women in atheism, though I have to disagree with some of their assessments. In my opinion, their first reason is bunk. Most religious families give more to their church than they receive from it. A 10% income tithe far out ways the bag of groceries or bundle of clothes the church might give back once in a while. The second reason is just plain ludicrous. I have been a member of the atheist community for over 25 years. Rape jokes? Please…leave your idiotic stereotypes at home. I have no use for them in the real world. Men are over-represented in this society, but that’s about the only logical thing said in #3. It takes someone who has been raised religious and still believes that way to call atheism a “movement.” The “gender bias” the article is referring to has nothing to do with any “movement.” It has everything to do with the media. Even if a woman atheist does something wonderfully newsworthy, the media will gloss it over, cover it up, or do what they can to ensure that people do not see it. I had no idea that Rebecca Vitsmun had courageously saved her son from a tornado, as well as revealed her status as an atheist to a national audience, only 20 miles from where my family lives, until the video was posted on an atheist feed I monitor. Sexism is real alright, but the media needs to look in the mirror on this one, too.
I’m wondering if mass media might be one of our main issues here. Without mass media, would women be so afraid to reveal their true identities? Would the perception of a “gender bias” be so great, causing so many women to shrink into the shadows, rather than bring their thoughts and ideas out into the light? Would as many hopeful and inspiring stories of courage and ingenuity get lost and/or covered up by those who don’t agree with our lack of belief? With the human body constantly being objectified in the media, and women’s worth reduced to how pretty she is and how well she can please someone; would sexism be as prevalent without mass media?