Friday, July 22, 2011

You don't need religion to be sexist

Atheists love to criticize religious folk for their sexist practices - for demanding women be silent, to not teach, etc. (I Timothy 2:11-14). We are particularly amused by fundamentalist Christians criticizing what the Qu'ran may or may not say about the treatment of women, when the Bible has verses like:

And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire. (Leviticus 21:9)

But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoreth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. (I Corinthians 11:14)

Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works. (Revelation 2:22-23)

But people that believe in a magical invisible friend don't have a monopoly on sexism; sadly, lots of Atheists can be not-so-rational when it comes to their ideas about women.

Linda Henneberg, a science communication intern at CERN in Switzerland wrote a blog post about her experiences at the laboratory as both a woman and a non-PhD physicist:

I was very excited to be at CERN for the summer. I am still excited. I love it here and I wish I could work here forever. But I did not expect to be uncomfortable or creeped out on a weekly basis. I did not expect to be hit on by a large proportion of the men I saw in a social setting. I did not expect that CERN would start me on the road to being a cynical feminist, a type of person I previously dismissed, but which I now understand.

Ouch. Henneberg's blog further inspired a blog on the Scientific American web site by Jennifer Oullette on how hard women have it in the science/skeptic universes:

I am very comfortable in male-dominated environments, and accustomed to being the only woman in the room. And yet I have had far more negative experiences with men in the skeptic/atheist community than anywhere else.

Ouch again!

I have to admit that the only gathering of skeptics I've been a part of was a tour of a whiskey distillery in Portland, Oregon with Pastafarians, so I can't speak to this at all from experience. The closet I've come to a community of Atheists is in the comments section of the Friendly Atheist, a blog by Richard Wade which brought these other blogs to my attention. If it weren't for Richard, I'd never know this sexism-among-atheists was an issue, but now I do, beginning with his reporting on the nasty backlash faced by one woman who talked online about being frightened by a guy at an Atheist/skeptics meeting hitting on her in an elevator at 4 AM.

Richard Dawkins didn't help AT ALL with his completely out-of-touch, sexist comments of his own:

The man in the elevator didn't physically touch her, didn't attempt to bar her way out of the elevator, didn't even use foul language at her. He spoke some words to her. Just words. She no doubt replied with words. That was that. Words. Only words, and apparently quite polite words at that....Rebecca's feeling that the man's proposition was 'creepy' was her own interpretation of his behavior, presumably not his. She was probably offended to about the same extent as I am offended if a man gets into an elevator with me chewing gum.

Wow, Dawkins. For a scientist, you sure can be a Dumb Ass!

Sexism always rears up where I least expect it. And then often doesn't show up at all where I'm on my guard. I work in aid and international development, and I'm sorry to say I have to watch everything I say and do, and take care what invitations I accept, in oh-so-many situations. Not so much when I'm around locals - no, it's with other aid workers! By contrast, I attend motorcycle rallies for people who travel internationally by motorcycle, and so far, it's been incredibly empowering - I've had men walk up to me specifically to tell me how much they admire me for riding my own bike and could they give my email address to their wives they are trying to convince to ride?

Many in the skeptics community aren't reacting well to being called out for sexist practices and attitudes. But, then, most individuals and many communities react poorly to such an accusations - no one likes to be called prejudiced. I hope all these women scientists and Atheist female bloggers will keep coming forward and sharing their stories - the more specific, the better. I think it's only through continuous sharing that, eventually, our community will accept that we might need to work on ourselves regarding this issue.

Except for Dawkins. I don't have much hope for someone who equates being propositioned in an elevator at 4 a.m. with the annoyance of standing next to a gum chewer. Geesh.

No comments:

Post a Comment