The Unlikely Misogyny of Atheism

October 12, 2011
Will Loewen |

Do you think Tina Fey is funny?  How about the recent hit movie Bridesmaids, which was written by women, for women and has many "funny" women in it's cast?  Well if you do, then Christopher Hitchens would like to disagree with you.  He doesn't think women are funny at all.  You might be thinking, "Well, he's entitled to his opinion."  Well, he doesn't see this as his opinion, he sees this as scientific fact.

Hitchens included an excerpt from an upcoming book in the National Post recently.  You can read it here.  In it he basically argues that women aren't funny and that there isn't any reason to be offended by that because it's simply the product of evolution.  After all, weaker men who couldn't attract partners with their strength developed humour as an alternative mate finding strategy.  Of course the evolutionary skills that women have developed all have to do with child bearing, and humour couldn't possibly help with that.

This reminded me of another incident.  At a recent conference for skeptics and atheists, a young women was invited to give a presentation on why women were underrepresented in these circles.  After her presentation and a lengthy chat over drinks with other guests, she excused herself at 4 am and headed to her hotel room.  She was followed to the elevator by a male guest who, after some chit-chat, invited her to his room for coffee.  She interpreted this as a sexual advance, which it almost certainly was.  She noted afterwards on her blog that this was inexcusable and exactly the kind of thing that undermines women in leadership at these gatherings.  A number of people scoffed at her statement, including another prominent atheist, Richard Dawkins.  He sarcastically compared her plight to women living under the Taliban in Afghanistan.  To say this caused a rift in the atheist community would be an understatement.

This came as no surprise to Christians who have observed Dawkins' less than cordial response to those that dare disagree with him.  What came as a surprise to me is that I'm sure many women would view both of these as misogynistic views held by prominent atheists.  If there was a singular atheist institution, these two men would be among its champions.  So why are they doing what we Christians have done so famously for so long?

Traditional Conservative Christian misogyny and this new atheist misogyny don't seem all that different.  Most of the leadership roles/positions of prominence are held by men.  Women will feel excluded by this mindset, but these men will insist that their views are not merely their opinions but backed up by indisputable facts.  The leaders are against them and the established writings are research are against them.  What are the poor women to do?

I hope that your response as you're reading this is a mix of two things; that the majority of atheists and maybe even the majority of Christians are not generally anti-women.  I think that puts us in the same camp though.  I trust that many atheists will set aside perfectly good scientific evidence and embrace a position that affirms the multivariate skills, abilities and rights of women.  They may not trust us to do the same, and if not, we understand.

But this is where we should differ.  Our view calls us to see all people as beloved beings created in God's likeness and that men and women are created to be helpmates for each other and not adversaries.  The challenge has always been to see that first and use that as a basis for reading other gender related texts.  We should see that first as a core aspect of creation.  That is not at the heart of evolution, and so when atheists value women, and of course almost all of them do, they do so whether the science tells them to or it doesn't.

Author Name: 
Will Loewen
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