feminine atheism

I recently came across an article called “Pink Atheist” by Nica Lalli, in which she says that atheism is dominated by the voices of men.  (She calls them “Navy Blue Atheists”.)  I will extend this to say that atheism seems to be dominated by the often strident voices of men and feminists (not mutually exclusive).  There is a distinct lack of femininity.  Most of the atheist blogs, books, and discussions I’ve seen are dominated by masculine voices– emphasizing reason, arguments, and proof.  Most commenters on my blogs are men.  On many atheist discussion boards, feminine traits or discussions are eschewed in favor of concrete, hard-edged arguments.  I no longer visit the Richard Dawkins Foundation website because I just found its constant biting tone too wearing.

I am a feminist.  I realize that feminism and femininity are usually considered at odds, but I am both, and I think they can be compatible.  Atheism is usually accompanied by feminism, and therefore lacking in femininity, a lack that hurts us.

Masculine atheism is not a bad thing.  In a way, I think it’s natural for the public face of atheism to be masculine, and feminist.  I need and like that side of atheism.  I’m a scientist, and I love talking about probability and the hard edges of God’s nonexistence.  I think Leaving Eden, my first blog, is rather masculine in tone.  And yes, I think it’s really funny to joke about eating young children.

But I need a feminine atheism too.  I like talking about things like love and souls and feelings without having to pin them down and frame their perimeter with facts.  When I go to the bathroom to have a cry because I’m really stressed out, what I need to say is “ow”.  (Thank you, Helen.)  And like Nica Lalli,

I have no interest in telling anyone what they should or shouldn’t believe in. What interests me is how people come to believe what they believe, how they got to where they are—whether they dwell in a place of religious belief or not.

Christianity, more than atheism, has a place for both masculinity and femininity.  Atheism, being reason-based, doesn’t have as much of a feminine side, or a friendliness towards femininity, perhaps seeing it as antithetical to rationalism.

What I need is to hear and share personal stories.  What I need is to explore all the things that I think, feel, and experience as a woman, within the context of atheism, and find a way to express and appreciate them naturally, not supernaturally.  I can think of many different interpretations of what that might mean, and I really hope that other feminine atheists will speak out and say that the masculine voices that dominate the atheist scene don’t always speak for us.  We have our own voices too, and if we can make a place for feminine atheism as well as masculine atheism, I think it can be really exciting.

Nica Lalli calls this “Pink Atheism”.  I would call myself a Pink Atheist, except that I hate the color pink.

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17 thoughts on “feminine atheism

  1. blackskeptic

    Wonderful post. I apologize for the vague response, but I’ll subscribe to your post and be posting comments :) I’m so glad that there’s a more feminine voice to atheism and that it is being explored. Thanks for this blog :)

    Reply
  2. vjack

    I think this is an excellent idea. As I read the post, I kept wondering how you would define “feminine” and how it could be translated to material on atheism. You did not disappoint, and I feel like I now have a clear idea what you are saying. I may be male, but I agree with you completely.

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  3. Lily Post author

    Thanks, vjack. Femininity is by no means limited to women either, just as masculinity is not limited to men. I was influenced by a leadership course I took in which we worked on balancing our masculine and feminine leadership styles. Even if you’re working with all men or all women, the most effective leaders have the best balance of both feminine traits like nurturing and relationship-building, and masculine traits like competition and goal-centeredness.
    Besides the importance of being inclusive so that everyone feels they have a seat at the table, I think that even the most masculine atheists will be lacking something if there is no feminine side presented.

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  4. Helen

    I’m glad ‘ow’ works for you.

    Along with femininity, poetry, beauty and awe and wonder are also missing from a strictly reason-based framework. (Perhaps some of these overlap) It was very encouraging to me, as I was moving away from Christianity, to find atheists who appreciate poetry and beauty and experience awe and wonder.

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  5. Kaleena

    This is really beautiful and I agree whole-heartedly!

    I’m glad that we feminine, feminist atheists can add some positive feminine energy to this world!

    Reply
  6. Lily Post author

    Thanks, Kaleena. Feminine energy is totally what atheism needs! Thank you for saying that, because that’s the sort of thing that I feel would get me kicked out of the old boys’ atheist club. It would definitely get me kicked off some atheist blogs. But that’s what makes us women, and I shouldn’t be ashamed of it.

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  7. Shad B.

    Again, I might be intruding but I decided to look through at least a couple of your posts.

    There may not be a “feminine” voice when discussing such topics but there is certainly that sort of voice in the people making those arguments. You might want to revisit the Richard Dawkins website and listen to one of the videos where he and one of his old friends start chatting about a variety of topics. They actually explicitly mention emotions.

    Richard Dawkins even mentions such emotions in the first chapter of his humorous book The God Delusion where he describes his feelings while looking at the stars or the world as it is. It is almost inescapable (and certain foolish) to deny and reject one’s own feelings and emotion as being anti-anything.

    I used to be a religious person but now that I look back on those days, I find that I wasn’t as in touch with my emotions then as I am now as an atheist. I find that, as an atheist, I’ve accepted that as I grow older I seem to know less and less about everything. Not that I am not gaining knowledge but I am gaining an awareness of how much I don’t know. There are many things that I have to say, “I don’t know” to. That mystery, and that response, came with coming to terms with being an atheist.

    That’s my take anyway.

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  8. Lily Post author

    I know that Dawkins speaks often of awe and wonder, and he was the one who made me realize that there could be that side of atheism. Carl Sagan as well. But even in their best writings about awe and wonder, I still feel something missing. Their words just seem too measured to me, too controlled. This atmosphere makes me feel that if I say anything that gives a hint of supernaturalism, it will be picked apart by both Christians and atheists. Men can have feminine traits, but I need the diversity of women’s voices. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that women tend to be more religious than men. I definitely feel that there’s a feminine sensibility that is either not being expressed or not being explored in atheism.

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  9. Shad B.

    Supernaturalism isn’t inherent in emotional reactions. There is often talk by plenty of scientists of a spiritual response to the world. One of which that can little be explained, tested, or theorized on. That isn’t in the least bit supernatural. And words, to some degree, should be measured. Public discussions such as the one atheists are often known to participate in have very little use for emotional responses. Atheists are often heard speaking out against certain political and religious subjects. Such responses, such reactions as the ones emotions afford, are usually reserved for private showings among friends and family.

    Spiritualism is meant to be dealt with and expressed in private. Not in the public forum. That’s one of the goals of an activist-atheist. To put religion and spirituality back in its rightful place: in the home behind closed doors. One can do little to prevent the practice of such feminine sensibility but it certainly isn’t something that needs to be shared with the world.

    Maybe I’m not quite understanding you. If you’re speaking of only wanting a prominent woman atheistic voice so that you can better relate to her… I suppose I can understand that. But, spiritualism and other such feeling are, as they should be, reserved for private practices.

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  10. Lily Post author

    Shad, I respectfully disagree that emotions and spirituality should be kept private. And I think you contradict yourself, because even Dawkins’ measured words about scientific wonder and awe are spiritual words. If only measured facts, arguments, and objective issues are discussed in the public forum, there would be no room for individuality or creativity. There would be no room for expressions of awe and wonder, because awe and wonder are, after all, emotional reactions. I want more of that, and more like that. I want to share these and other emotional reactions with atheists, and how am I supposed to do that if there are no other atheists in my family or social circle, where you say these matters should be confined?

    Have you read the last chapter of Billions and Billions where Ann Druyan writes about Carl Sagan’s death? It’s beautiful, and spiritual. It brings me to tears every single time I read it. Maybe you think that’s the kind of thing that shouldn’t be aired in public, but I wish more atheists would write about experiences like that.

    Reply
  11. Shad B.

    I wasn’t referring to putting all emotions and spiritual feelings in the private in all manners and respects; only when discussing the sciences and anything to do with fact vs fiction. For religion, its “evidence” is only in the feelings and emotions of its believers. Atheism is inherently rationalism. My main point of arguing, which I seem to have not explained very well (which happens quite often with me and I thank you for pointing these things out), is that when speaking of atheism you do not speak of feelings. Feelings are irrelevant to it. Feeling aren’t the point of it. It wasn’t a feeling that drew me to atheism. It was through using my mind, analyzing many different things, that brought me to atheism.

    All people feel. All people have spiritual feelings. We all go through a lot of the same experiences. Whether it is a theologian speaking about them or an atheist, there is a relation that we can make there. I guess I just don’t understand the importance of having an atheist speak about these things when it’s spoken about plenty in every other forum and done so, undoubtedly, by some atheists although they don’t speak with that label.

    I don’t believe in coercing/convincing people through appealing to the emotions and feelings and it is because of that, that I don’t see the need in having the forum you propose. Atheism itself doesn’t, and I don’t think should, have a forum discussing such things. It isn’t the concern of it.
    Feelings and spirituality are your own and you can discuss them freely without pinning them down (as many do, I’m sure, in the company in friends and family). I’m a very private person anyway, so maybe I’m not coming from the place you’re looking for. I don’t understand airing it out in public like that. I’m a writer so I deal a lot with airing emotions and feelings… but they aren’t direct and they aren’t solely mine.

    I hope that rambling mess made some kind of sense.

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  12. Mikayla

    I’m a bit troubled by your article, but I’m having a hard time pinning down exactly why. I’m a female atheist myself, and I’ve been asked (a while back) by the organizer of our local atheist meetup what my opinion was on why there are so many more men than women who are prominant in atheism. I really had no clue at all, and I’m very reluctant to say that it’s because men are more rationalist and women are more emotional. I see myself as both highly rationalist and very emotional. I tend to keep the emotional part more to myself and closest friends and family.

    Even being an atheist I have found I love yoga. And to me it is not just a workout–I really do love and appreciate the spiritual aspects as well. I find it physically, emotionally, and spiritually challanging and refreshing. I would have to admit, however, that I would feel rather nervious about talking about yoga at my atheist meetup. Too many who are there seem to close up at any mention of ‘spirituality.’ But hey, that is where I am now, and I enjoy it. So, maybe this is my feminine side showing? Is this the sort of thing you are refering to as feminine?

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  13. Alice

    I agree with you, Lily. After I read “Infidel”, I realized that there was no big female public face of atheism. It’s something that bothers me about the church, and so I was extra-disappointed to realize it’s the same in the non-religious world– I think there are probably even MORE women in religious leadership roles. It’s not only that I need someone to identify with, as a guest here said, though that is a part. But there is a BIG feeling of relief and belonging when, for example, I go into an Episcopal church and see a woman performing the sacraments, or when I see Lori Lipman Brown go up against Colbert. I love that, and I want that feeling as an atheist.

    Women hold up half the sky. Being a woman is just as natural as being a man, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of in either.

    Reply
  14. Lily Post author

    Mikayla, that is exactly what I mean. There is a general reluctance among atheists to talk about spirituality, such as your experience with yoga.
    I too am both rational and emotional, but I’m definitely more emotional than most men, and most male atheists. My point is that we shouldn’t feel pressured to have to ‘tone it down’, or tone down our spirituality, in order to seem more legitimate as atheists.

    Reply
  15. Edward T. Babinski

    Also,

    There’s the female head of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Anne Laurie Gaylor (sp)

    And a female started a lobbying group in D.C. for non-theist rights.

    And a female started the first freethought campus group at the college where I work.

    And the local meetup group in my town of non-theists (check other such groups via meetup.com) contains a fair amount of women. And has had a number of young women attend meetings to share their stories, though more of the younger women didn’t return to meetings regularly.

    Reply
  16. Pingback: Evolving (to create) God « peaceful atheist

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