Monday, December 7, 2009

Female skeptics get shout out in USA Today

USA Today ran a great piece on friendly atheism today. While it contained the typical "What's better: Aggressive, mocking tactics, or peaceful, accomidationist tactics?" false dichotomy, there's a new spin. Women, they claim, are bringing a softer side to the movement, and we should embrace their efforts.

Now, I don't think this is automatically stereotyping and saying that all female skeptics are passive and afraid to offend. Ariane Sherine is behind the controversial atheist bus campaign, and female bloggers can have some piss and vinegar in their posts (of course, I would never do such things *halo*).

But the article does have a point. Much of the work done by female skeptics (check out the list at the end of the article) has a positive spin, which can be easier for the general public to digest than stuff by Dawkins or Hitchens. Don't get me wrong - I think "aggressive atheism" is just as important - but that a good cop/bad cop sort of technique will work the best.

Should female skeptics forever be the diplomats? No, but it's an open niche we can fill for now. If this is the best way to start getting more integrated into the atheist movement, the ultimate goal being a 50/50 sex ratio and females whose names are as well known as Dawkins and Hitchens, I'll take it. Appreciation will continue to grow.

So congrats, ladies! Let's keep up the atheist girl power. (And Hemant. You go...guy?)

And no, I didn't make their list of awesome female atheists ;) Not yet, at least! Maybe the project I have planned for winter break will launch me out of the blogosphere (and yes, I included that vague hint because I'm evil).


  1. I'm involved in the general skeptics movement rather than the atheist movement, and there's a lot of overlap between the two. However, it seems that among skeptics the gender imbalance is slight and a lot of the leaders are female. Rebecca Watson would be on the obvious examples.

    As to the notion that female atheists are generally more diplomatic, frankly, I don't see that. At least in the blogosphere gender seems independent of where people stand on what approach (if any) atheism as a movement should take.

  2. Let me know if I can be of any help on your winter break project (ooo, how cryptic and tantalizing!)

  3. Yay for women skeptics! And yay for more of us speaking up!

  4. 50/50 ratio?

    can we aim for 70/30 f/m? XD

  5. Whatever this project is, I support it. Yes, even if you decide to light someone on fire, I'll support it. I stand by my generic statements.

  6. To assume that Skepticism equals Atheism is the mistake that the article is making.
    There's a lot of female skeptics out there who are more inclusive and less condemning of religious beliefs unlike the 'Blasphemy Challenge' that Wattson did. That isn't the direction that atheism or skepticism should be heading in.

    I'd suggest people start looking at the likes of Swoopy, Eugenie Scott, Dr Susan Blackmore, Dr Ginger Campbell, Harriet Hall, Dr Rachael Dunlop, Kylie Sturgess, Dr Karen Stollznow, Vicky Hyde of NZ Skeptics, Carol Tarvis, Barbara Walker and many, many more who are mor inclusive and wouldn't be offensive on the stage with Wattson's 'put a bullet in Susan Sommer's head' attitude that she displayed at Skepticon.

  7. Anon,

    People like Sommers are causing deaths. Off the cuff remarks like that especially given that Rebecca was running on about three hours of sleep and was off her timezone seem to hardly constitute evidence of a problem. Moreover, many of the people she was talking about in her talk, such as the people advocating the vaginal vinegar injections, are actively harming people. There's a good reason to be pissed off.

    So it isn't hard to make a distinction between the Blasphemy Challenge sort of situation and the rest. Moreover, as a publicity point the BC was quite successful. Sometimes being confrontational works. It can get people thinking and help make others who would otherwise be intimidated feel able to stand up and speak.

    To use an example which may not be ideal but should get the point across: Did moderates or confrontationalists help get civil rights for blacks in the US in the 1960s? The correct answer is both. The loud protests were as helpful as the reasoned calm discussions. That's true for almost any movement. You need both the confrontationalists and the moderates to succeed.

    In any event, if the confrontationalists think they are correct, I see no reason for them to be quite. There's be a tendency for people to essentially tell the more loud new atheists to shut up. That's not ok. You can disagree with people. But they still have every right to their opinions and to say them loudly.

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  9. I'm glad I'm not the only one to see some troubling gender essentialism in that article:

  10. All hail the godless vagina!