I’d like to see, but haven’t yet found, research that compares rates of sexism and other kinds of bigotry among atheists to that in the general public. It would be interesting to see comparisons on other social and ethical issues as well. However, empirical facts and rational analysis don’t justify patronizing, condescension, insults, discrimination, bigotry, male chauvinism and other displays of social illiteracy.
I haven’t found any statistics on rates of bigotry among atheists compared with the general public, but I did find a wide variety of articles discussing sexism and racism among atheists in general and Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and Shermer in particular. While I was originally skeptical or agnostic on the issue, I quickly learned something that clued me in, I think, to a broader point of view:
“But it’s not just women who are underrepresented at conventions, it’s also people of color. Would Harris suggest that black and Hispanic men, too, have a “nurturing, coherence-building, extra estrogen vibe” that makes the angry tone of Harris’s atheist activism off-putting? Presumably not. Presumably Harris understands that there are a variety of reasons for the underrepresentation of people of color, including both casual racism in the organized atheist community and cultural specifics in the wider society, none of which have anything to do with any sort of underlying psychological differences. And yet, when it comes to the underrepresentation of women in organized atheism Harris chooses not to consider either casual sexism in the organized atheist community or the cultural landscape women live their lives against. Instead, he jumps straight to presumed psychological differences between men and women.”
I took that as a kind of social (as opposed to scientific) illiteracy or lack of enlightenment on Harris’ part that I had not caught on to previously, probably because I have a similar bias.
Harris was asked why there were more men in his audience than women and he went right to biological and psychological explanations and ignored social- cultural explanations. He doubled down on that approach in his “Not the sexist pig” defense, and added a strong dose of condescension about putting women on pedestals. As the “Is Sam Harris Sexist” article points out, both those things are sexist and Harris doesn’t seem to understand that.
I started a conversation in The Sam Harris Experiment group which apparently got me expelled from the group. I posted links to some articles and made some comments such as:
Does the atheist community have a problem with sexism? This article argues that it does, both in the ranks and at the level of major public intellectuals like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. IMO there’s evidence of such a problem, but it may also be exaggerated in some quarters. Is it a case of rampant, over the top misogyny throughout the atheist community? Are atheists more sexist than the general public, less sexist, or about the same? As this article suggests we might expect a lot of common ground between atheists and feminists. If something is disturbing this natural alliance, what is it? Is the same old war between the sexes raising it’s ugly head here? There’s a problem for sure, and I’d like to see my fellow atheists step up to solve it with a minimum of denial and defensiveness.
Biology is one thing, equity is another. Scientific theories about sex differences are one thing, social intelligence is another. Could Harris use a little more of the latter?
It isn’t that biological sex characteristics are irrelevant, but that they are not AS relevant to the issue in question, inclusion and participation, as the social-cultural inequities. It seems that too many atheists, including Harris, are insensitive to or even clueless about this, at least in regard to sex. Placing the emphasis on biological and psychological differences just begs the question about what that should imply with respect to roles– separation and specialization, or affirmative action to achieve inclusion and diversity.
Is diversity necessary for a just society?