There’s a class of criticism of Atheism+ that says, “Oh, they shouldn’t co-opt the word ‘atheist’. They should just call themselves what they are, ‘Feminism+’.” Or “We wouldn’t be so upset if they’d just be honest and call themselves, ‘Feminism+’.” We’re not really atheists, you see. Because we’re feminists. And if we don’t clearly label themselves as feminists–instead of atheists–we’re being dishonest and misleading the people watching them.
It took me a while, but I finally figured out what was so familiar about it. It’s the one-drop rule rewritten for our situation.
Now, before we go any further, let’s set out the limits of this analogy. Noting that these ideas have common intellectual underpinnings and implications does not mean that they have similar consequences or that the social milieus in which they happen contain similar threats.
What is does do is strongly suggest that “atheism” is a word that conveys certain…yeah, that’s right: privileges. It further implies that feminism is to be viewed as a taint that disqualifies one from claiming those privileges.
What are those privileges? I’m not entirely sure, as this atheism purity test has only been around a few weeks in its current, blatant form. I can make some judgments, though, based on the behavior of those who have always been around asking why bloggers don’t stop talking about feminism in favor of only talking about atheism (and science, politics, and logic, which apparently don’t taint atheism).
Atheism confers the privilege to speak and be heard, obviously, because the taint of feminism removes that. It confers some right to consider one’s self superior to the “sheep”, or at least to be considered rational and thoughtful as a default. It confers the privilege of being treated with politeness and even deference by the untainted while simultaneously being abusive. It confers an absolute right to shape the future of our shared movement, irrespective of education or skills.
Atheism, as it turns out, is pretty kick-ass. I want to be an atheist.
Sadly, that will never be. You see, in addition to:
- Hosting a radio show that represents atheists to our local community
- Writing about the power dynamics of religion
- Teaching college students about religious skepticism
- Speaking about science, critical thinking, and secularism at conventions and conferences both inside and outside the movement
- Maintaining membership in several secular organizations
- Raising money for my local atheist group
- Promoting the events of my local atheist group
- Promoting actions people can take to make their voices heard by politicians
- Making sure my political representatives know where I stand on issues of secularism
- Working for and donating to political candidates who oppose the Right’s theocratic inclinations
- Promoting other writers and speakers within the movement
- Writing a blog where people can show up on a daily basis and feel a little less alone
I…where was I? Oh, right. In addition to all those things and some more that I got tired of typing out, I am also a feminist.
Therefore, I am not an atheist. I don’t get to speak and be heard, be assumed to be rational, be entitled to decent treatment, to have a say in how our movement progresses.
Greta Christina, with her popular book on the topic and regular features about atheism on numerous sites? Not an atheist. Jen McCreight, with her seat on the board of the Secular Student Alliance? Not an atheist. Ophelia Benson, with her multiple books and her knack for getting people to look at what is going on in Muslim theocracies? Not an atheist. PZ Myers, with his raft of conversions among readers of his blog who came to argue and stayed to think? Not an atheist.
No, you see, we’re feminists. No matter how much we do as atheists, we’re feminists. If we call ourselves “atheist”, we’re being dishonest. We’re lying. We’re hiding the truth from…whomever the self-proclaimed keepers of those privileges are who are so affronted by the idea that they might hand something to someone unworthy. Someone made unworthy by feminism.
Many of the people who want us to be more “honest” about atheism+ will tell-you they’re not anti-feminist. If that were true, feminism would hold the same place that philosophy or science or secularism has. Feminism is, after all, another common path to accepting atheism. Pointing out the misogyny of most organized religion is another means we use to justify fighting its influence. Important atheist thought and activism came out of the various waves of feminism.
Needless to say, that isn’t the position feminism currently holds within atheism as a movement. The idea of putting feminism in that place is what’s causing the current ridiculous commotion. And whatever people are saying about their feelings about feminism, their actions are telling this: Feminism, to them, is a contaminant. It is a disqualification from participation in atheism, because allowing the two to mix produces something that is no longer pure enough to be called atheism.
And they need us to be honest about feminism so they can continue their quest to push us out.
Image via Surly-Ramics. Used with permission. Some rights reserved.