Richard Saunders  (Facebook)
Natural Allies: Atheism and Human Rights (rough draft)
AUGUST 10, 2017 · PUBLIC
“Atheist feminism is a branch of feminism that also advocates atheism. Atheist feminists hold that religion is a prominent source of female oppression and inequality, believing that the majority of the religions are sexist and oppressive towards women.”
If atheists want to argue we can “do good without gods” we need to cultivate and demonstrate our moral, ethical, and social literacy, not just our scientific facts. We can begin by trying to reconcile various conflicts between atheists and other groups (such as feminists, minorities, or ideologies) with whom we might be natural allies if those conflicts were understood and resolved.
1. Resolving conflicts between atheism and feminism
Atheism and feminism both have variants, some of which have developed conflicts. These conflicts may be most notable in the case of New Atheists (NA) and Third-Wave Feminists (3WF). NA is sometimes characterized as the “militant” arm of atheism. [1] 3WF “contains internal debates between difference feminists, who believe that there are important differences between the sexes, and those who believe that there are no inherent differences between the sexes and contend that gender roles are due to social conditioning.” [2]
Steven Pinker differentiates two branches of feminism as equity feminism and gender feminism. “Equity feminism is a moral doctrine about equal treatment that makes no commitments regarding open empirical issues in psychology or biology.” [3]
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?
The social value of diversity is empirically proven via empathy (there but for fortune go you or I) and theoretically via the “veil of ignorance”.
Dawkins may think he’s being “the most rational man alive” when he says that not all pedophilia or all rape are the same. That is true in a technical sense, but it ignores the fact that society has adopted a zero tolerance policy for all behavior meeting the legal definition of pedophilia or rape. Criminal sentences rightly vary according to severity and other factors, but Dawkins remark angers those fighting for justice where it has often been wanting on those issues.

Richard Dawkins stands by remarks on…
I side with nearly all Dawkins’ science, but the man is a social dinosaur. He did eventually apologise for the Dear Muslima letters and say he was a feminist and everybody should be one, before he lapsed back into gender dementia on twitter and in interviews.

See: “Richard Dawkins has lost it: ignorant sexism gives atheists a bad name”

Richard Dawkins has lost it: ignorant…
FB friend: “the author cannot explain WHY IT IS A DISCRACE or WHY we should all be offended and on the side of the complaining woman who is disgusted by a stranger’s verbal proposition.”

Me: We should not all be (and most of us aren’t) offended by Dawkins’ behavior in the elevator, even if the woman felt creeped out. We ARE all offended by the Muslima letters you admire so much and by his pattern of behavior over many years. He chose the easiest accusation to defend himself against and managed to turn the defense into a disgusting display of male chauvinism.

FB friend: ” The answer is, of course: “the female victim is always right, even if no objective evidence was presented.”

Me: Neither you nor Dawkins can get away with using his slightest offense as a proxy for all the others.

“Brazen sexism is pushing women out of America’s atheism movement”

Brazen sexism is pushing women out of…
Atheism’s shocking woman problem: What’s behind the misogyny of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris?

As a movement, New Atheism seems like it would be so compatible with feminism — and yet that hasn’t been the case

Atheism’s shocking woman problem: What’s…