Mea culpa: critical question omitted from the “Understanding the world of atheists” survey

How can the atheist movement (to the extent there is one) be more gender inclusive in terms of its public face and its organizational leadership?

I would like to candy coat this by saying “better late than never” but that would be disingenuous.  Or I could blame it on my XY chromosomal makeup, but that would ignore the fact that gender roles -and hence gender-biased behavior- are social constructs.  So I’ll just blame it on being an imperfect researcher (which I most definitely am).

So here goes,

How can the atheist movement (to the extent there is one) be more gender inclusive in terms of its public face and its organizational leadership?

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  1. Posted December 21, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    To further elaborate on a previous commenter’s point of more inclusive meetings and events, I would like to share my view.
    I’m a breastfeeding mother of 2 young children. I’m likely to have a 30 minute drive to get to a population center large enough to have other atheists. If I add up the drive there, the time at the event and the drive home, I’m past the pop-out-without-baby point. I have to have my baby with me, and he’ll have to breastfeed at some point during the event. If I don’t know ahead of time that the event is baby friendly and breastfeeding supportive, I’m likely to just not bother.
    Baby friendly doesn’t have to mean complete acceptance of colic screaming infants, but I think people have forgotten what normal interaction with that part of our species should look like. My baby sleeps a lot, occasionally coos and waves. He likes to crawl a bit and put things in his mouth, really, he doesn’t spend much time screaming. None of his common states are incompatible with most social gatherings, but every time I mention that I’ll be bringing the baby I get cringes, like they are envisioning the inconsolable screaming baby on an airplane bit.
    Just the view from my porch, thanks for hosting the discussion.

  2. Posted December 20, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    At a minimum, the bylaws of national atheist organizations should require that the top positions in the organizations (CEO, president, etc.), as well as the positions of those who represent those organizations in public (public affairs, etc.), alternate those positions between the sexes on a regular basis.

  3. Posted December 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    I think that a combination of proactive and reactive is needed.

    Proactive is doing things like: inviting female speakers, ensuring you’re not (unwittingly) advertising exclusively to white men either by location or content of your adverts, ensuring that your meetings are (and feel) safe and accessible for women. Many organisations are doing this stuff already.

    REACTIVE efforts don’t seem to be being done much though. Things like: banning members who make other members feel unsafe or unwelcome, actively discouraging within your group the embrace of dodgy pseudoscience about how women are innately uninterested in atheism/stupid/cockteasing whores (delete as applicable). Distancing yourselves from people who make stupid public statements about this kind of thing, etc.

  4. Posted December 20, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    As an older women I have no problems when attending meetings, but the rampant sexism on social media sites probably, I think, deters a lot of women from participating in physical groups. There’s a time and place for men to express their feelings about women sexually; atheist meetings are not one of them.

  5. Posted December 20, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Others have already made good suggestions on the topic of gender inclusion. So I want to I want to state that if you’re going to host an event, please try to make it accessible to people with disabilities. If you’re an organizer, please be prepared to answer questions regarding accessibility, please be open to hiring an interpreter. Also, for the record, accessible is not “only one or two steps.” One or two steps makes it impossible for me, a wheelchair user, to attend. I understand that sometimes it is impossible to accommodate people due to budget constraints, venues, whatever. But please think of these things beforehand.

  6. Posted December 20, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Another oversight in your survey is that when you provide a list of states for people in the US, District of Columbia needs to be an option. While it’s not technically a state, there are people who live there who live in the US.

  7. Posted December 20, 2012 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    As pretty much a life-long atheist, I have never considered myself part of a “movement,” but as simply an individual living out his life as best he could (like most of us). Along the way, I have met other atheists of both sexes, doing pretty much the same thing. While I regard coming out of the godless closet a good thing, I probably would not join any out-of-the-closet organizations; I am a most unclubbable man. I am not even on Facebook or Twitter. But in answer to how atheists should treat female freethinkers, I can only say “with respect.”

  8. Posted December 20, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    “How can the atheist movement (to the extent there is one) be more gender inclusive in terms of its public face and its organizational leadership?”

    First, don’t treat a atheist meeting as a way to get a date and having no interest in why the atheist (not the woman) is there. I’ve dealt with a lot of mostly men groups (gaming, historical recreation, etc). Do not think I’m just there to have boobs for your pleasure.

    Encourage women to simply attend and this will lead to leaders. This means when some jackass attacks a woman for simply being that, to speak up and reject that nonsense. However, I find that if there are no women standing up for such positions, there is no good reason to stigmatize the men for doing so. Someone has to, so if they’re willing, good for them. But they have to work to make things less annoying for women.

  9. Posted December 20, 2012 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    You ask:

    “How can the atheist movement (to the extent there is one) be more gender inclusive in terms of its public face and its organizational leadership?”

    But I don’t know of any way in which the atheist movement is NOT ‘gender inclusive’. Is there some sort of gender bias in the atheist movement?

  10. Posted December 20, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Acceptance that the gender ratio is down to those already involved and a willingness from members to change how they act to make the group more inviting.

  11. Posted December 19, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    I’d say just inclusive. “Gender inclusive” leaves out other collectives we want more involved in atheism as well and it is a bit unfortunate since gender and the rules it imposes on people make for one of feminism’s main enemies.

  12. Posted December 19, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    Quit making assholes important members of atheist communities and organizations. If a leader in an atheist organization has a track record of racist, sexist comments, fire his or her ass.

    Don’t make excuses to keep that person. Deal with it as seriously as any professional organization would if their spokesperson committed a similar gaffe: it only makes women less interested in sticking around if that person is retained.

  13. Posted December 19, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    I’ve yet to find any local groups to attend, although if I could find one I’d consider it. It’s very simple for me. Don’t oggle me, don’t harass me, and don’t treat me differently because I’m a female. Nationally I know there has been a subset of men that are defending their perceived right to speak inappropriately to women. TAM just dealt with this over the past year, and there were some really rude men trying to defend their right to treat women at a convention as potential dates, not as equals at the convention.. I don’t mind being a minority within a larger group. Just treat me equally and don’t condone anyone who thinks it’s ok to harass me, proposition me, or in any other way behave inappropriately me or any other women at a gathering.

  14. Posted December 19, 2012 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    One way to start being more inclusive of women is to START BEING MORE INCLUSIVE OF WOMEN, particularly at the top levels of the organizations. Invite/appoint women to the leadership boards of the organizations. Invite women to speak at meetings and conferences. Have women’s discussion groups at meetings and conferences where women are a majority of the panel. Allow women to speak without talking over them or shutting them down. Leaders must insist on making atheist meetings a safe space regardless of gender (or race or sexual orientation).

    I like MrPopularSentiment’s suggestion of using mixed-gendered (and mixed-race) images on the groups’ websites, blogs, and informational material. Promote women bloggers in addition to male bloggers. These steps should help bring in new female members when they see that women are included in the groups’ leadership, activities and websites. Additionally, it would be a good idea to talk to the women in your organizations to see what they need in terms of support and discussion topics. Listen to their ideas. If women start to feel that their ideas and contributions are valued, they will participate and contribute more.

  15. Posted December 18, 2012 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    I guess in reading the response above there would be some people (mostly women) who are probably hesitant to go to a possibly all male meeting, it wouldn’t bother me though whether it was mainly men. I would go to the meeting with the thoughts that no matter who is there; men, woman, black, white, Asian we all should generally have the same beliefs, and as rare as that is to find I would not be so choosey as to reject the meeting because it does not consist of many or any of a specific gender or race. My shot response to the question is, that would be part of the, “leader’s” role, if any is including opinions of all genders and/or ethnicity through nice questionnaires like you’ve developed here.

  16. Posted December 12, 2012 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

    This actually came up in a discussion I was having on facebook today. I was explaining that there was a fairly substantial lag between my knowing of a local atheist group and my coming out to an event, and the reason was that I was afraid I’d be showing up to a big “sausagefest.” I even e-mailed the group to ask about gender ratios, but received no response. I finally bit the bullet and showed up at an event (held in the “neutral territory” of a music festival so that I could observe unnoticed and walk away easily if the group didn’t look appealing). I was very glad I did because – while there are far more men than women in the group – I met so many of my closest friends through being a part of the group.

    While I was still deciding whether I wanted to come to an event or not, I “cyber-stalked” the group. At the time, they had a terrible website that really didn’t offer much information, so it failed to put me at ease. What I would have liked to have seen would be pictures of past events showing a mixed gendered (and preferably mixed-race, though that’s a separate discussion) gathering. Knowing that other women would be there would have made me feel much more comfortable taking the plunge.