It's fair to say there is a certain overlap between the New Atheist movement and feminist ideology. Most atheists tend to lean towards the left and most activists are male. This led to several debates within the movement over how to recruit more female members. These debates in turn revealed certain tensions over the 'wimmins question' which erupted during the Atheist convention in Dublin.
It began with Rebecca Watson, a speaker at the Dublin conference, being propositioned for sex in an elevator at 4am. She described this experience in a video blog as a "good example of what men in our community should strive to avoid". The video reignited the feminist debate and several responses were posted. On her blog Watson notes :
"I was pretty frustrated, seeing a young woman who I’m sure is intelligent be so incredibly dismissive of my experience and that of other women in this community, and so uneducated about the fundamentals of feminist thought. She ends the video by asking, “What effect do you think it has on men to be constantly told how sexist and destructive they are?
When I was discussing the video with friends the next day, I was blown away to be told that there were other student leaders who had expressed similar dismissive attitudes recently on Facebook and on other blogs. An hour or so prior to my talk, someone sent me this link to a post by Stef McGraw on the UNI Freethinkers site. I added a paragraph of that response to a slide for the intro to my talk, in which I hoped to call out the anti-woman rhetoric my audience was engaging in.
On Naming Names at The CFI Student Leadership Conference - Skepchick
The incident began to grow. 'Anti-feminist' thinking withint the new atheist movement was hotly debated and proved decisive. Then Richard Dawkins got invovled with his charasticis subtley :-
The Privilege Delusion - SkepchickYou may recall that I related an incident in which I was propositioned, and I said, “Guys, don’t do that.” Really, that’s what I said. I didn’t call for an end to sex. I didn’t accuse the man in my story of rape. I didn’t say all men are monsters. I said, “Guys, don’t do that.” Cue Richard Dawkins‘ response:
Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and . . . yawn . . . don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.
Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so . . .
And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.
This is especially interesting since Richard Dawkins sat next to me in Dublin and heard me talk about the threats of rape I get.
PS: Some are wondering if it was really Dawkins, and yes, that was definitely confirmed by PZ Myers. Also, some of you are wondering if I’m criticizing all rich, white, old, etc men when I call out those attributes. No! I am merely illustrating the unbelievable height of Dawkins’ privilege.
Now we had a breech between heavyweights like Dawkins and Myers. Dawkins response caused the outrage amoung feminists as among Christains when he compared organized religion to 'child abuse'. And the rift grows deeper :-
The Privilege Delusion - SkepchickThat’s where you come in. You, dear reader, have been incredible. You posted in response to Dawkins on the Pharyngula thread, bravely battling both him and the hoards of clueless privileged people who didn’t get it. You emailed me to tell me to keep talking. You introduced yourself at SkepchickCon and told me how much you loved Skepchick and SGU. You wrote blog posts and made videos and were kick ass, and you made me realize that Dawkins is not the present. He is the past.
So many of you voiced what I had already been thinking: that this person who I always admired for his intelligence and compassion does not care about my experiences as an atheist woman and therefore will no longer be rewarded with my money, my praise, or my attention. I will no longer recommend his books to others, buy them as presents, or buy them for my own library. I will not attend his lectures or recommend that others do the same. There are so many great scientists and thinkers out there that I don’t think my reading list will suffer.
Despite the fact that I’ve seen hundreds of comments from those of you who plan to do the same, I’m sure Dawkins will continue to be stinking rich until the end of his days. But those of us who are humanists and feminists will find new, better voices to promote and inspire, and Dawkins will be left alone to fight the terrible injustice of standing in elevators with gum-chewers.
The debate still rages on. One side believes atheism should entail and promote feminism. The other, well, disagrees. PZ Myers responsed with link to Schrodiners Rapist :
Guest Blogger Starling: SchrödingerWhen you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist. You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.
This form of extreme feminism views all men as potential rapists, encourages this view in all women and expects men to act accordingly. Others, such as myself, believe this is an extremely poisonous and unfair view.
The debate still rumbles on. I myself don't agree the new atheist movement should promote feminist ideology. Others disagree and the fledging political movement could tear itself apart (Note : I'm an atheist but don't follow the new atheist movement). Feminism it seems, is a very divisive issue among atheists.