Thursday, August 05, 2010

Does atheism need more female voices?

Yes, I think so.

This article, although flawed (stereotypes women, generalisations), does raise some good points.

Why religion and atheism need smart women
August 6, 2010 - 6:52AM

The Vatican's recent revisions that put the ordination of women on par with child sex abuse drew howls of protest from around the world. In some ways, I think people are being a little unfair.

After all, the Catholic Church is just being true to form – it has actively discriminated against women since its inception. Perhaps rather than condemning the Church for this slip-up, we should be thanking it for the reminder that religious values and teachings have been used to incite, aid and justify discrimination against women throughout history.

From the orthodox Jewish prayer in which men thank God for not making them women, to the estimated 5000 Muslim women and girls who are shot, strangled, stoned, burned or otherwise killed by their own families every year in an effort to restore "honour", you can find countless examples from every one of the major religions to demonstrate their patriarchal basis and the inherent message that women are inferior to men.

But while it is women's lives that are so often restricted and harmed by religious practices, debates involving religion – both for and against – are still often dominated by men. Female atheists clearly do exist, with 2006 census data showing women compose nearly half of the Australians who label themselves as having no religion. But they always seem so quiet.

Part of the problem, I think, stems from the brand of atheism that is dominant today. Many people, especially women, might find it intimidating or unappealing.

While the religious can simply fall back on a position of faith to justify their own beliefs, atheists are not afforded the same kind of shoulder-shrugging, passive argument. Instead, they are expected to have a university-level understanding of every major religion, a thorough grounding in ancient and modern history, and a faultless knowledge of science. Atheists must be prepared to actively defend their non-belief, a process that by definition will offend many believers.

While there is most definitely a place for this so-called "militant" atheism, it is little wonder that some women might find it off-putting. After all, girls are taught to be sensitive and emotional, to not cause trouble or be particularly forthright with their opinions. Women who dare to be aggressive or outspoken are often labelled as hysterical harpies, not worthy of being listened to and impossible to take seriously. We should hardly be surprised that some women might be reluctant to come out as atheists.

All of this is not to say that there are no vocal or intelligent women out there talking about the role of religion, sharing stories about their own loss of faith and generally waving the atheist flag. However, we rarely hear the names of Dutch activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali or author Ophelia Benson mentioned alongside Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens.

How then can we redress the balance and create an environment in which more women are encouraged and inspired to align themselves publicly with science, reason and non-belief? How can we better engage them in discussions about the ways in which religious teachings are used to control female bodies and lives?

Perhaps we need to promote a different side to atheism that is not so much seen as looking back in anger, as it is about looking forward with hope. While it may be akin to sacrilege, maybe there is room for a type of atheism that isn't so much about being anti-religious, as it is about looking at questions of how to live, how to find meaning and how to end suffering. Maybe we could even celebrate and better use those characteristics traditionally associated with "femaleness", such as story-telling, empathy and understanding.

Clearly, not all believers are misogynists; equally, many acts of violence against women have been perpetrated by non-believers. However, as Jimmy Carter pointed out last year, religion remains one of the "basic causes of the violation of women's rights" and this is something that all of us must work together to tackle.

It's not a question of whether smart, rational women are out there – it's just a matter of encouraging them to stand up and make their voices heard when it comes to matters of reason and religion.

Sarah McKenzie is a freelance writer.

There are times I have reason to agree with this comment:

I'm an athiest who respects and understands the belief's of others. The reason that my views and opinions are private is because I respect those alternative views and have no wish to offend. If someone says to me "I'll pray for you" I have no wish to tell that person not to bother as their motive is good. If someone comes to my door selling me their religion I will politely say "no thankyou", unless they push it then they get the Wrath of Sue.

The part that irks me is that I know that my beliefs will offend some people and so I show them the respect of not offending them but I also expect the same in return. Unfortunately, time and time again, more and more religious people let me down by offending me, pushing their beliefs onto me, not accepting my own choices and beliefs. Their closed mindedness, discrimination, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, etc etc continue to make me believe that athiests are the moral, caring, open-minded, accepting people in this debate.

As I tell my children, sometimes you just need to use your manners and walk away. Sometimes I see atheists do this more than those of religious faith.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

Oh secular kids are often better at 'do unto others' than some of their Christian peers. Baffling.