Where the Women Are…Not

Melissa McEwan at Shakesville is the latest atheist woman (in a very long line indeed) to give her personal answer to “Where are the women?” She starts by explaining why she isn’t part of the church. It isn’t just because she isn’t a believer.

The religious community in which I’d been raised did not allow female ministers, did not allow female presidents of the congregation, did not allow female elders, and did not, for most of my childhood, even allow female lectors to read the selected Bible readings during the service each week. Women were for teaching children—and for cleaning: Communionware, the kitchen, maybe a vestment.

I started asking questions about this disparity at age 7, possibly earlier. I got the usual bullshit answers that are used to justify these things. I was good enough to be an acolyte (especially since there were precious few teenage boys willing to do it) and scrub the toilets—both of which I did countless times—but not good enough to be ordained. I was less than.

Further, my objections to being told, on the one hand, that we are all equal in the eyes of god, and, on the other, that my gender nonetheless rendered me incapable of serving god in every capacity available to men, were greeted with contempt—and sometimes outright hostility. One minister told my mother that I needed to stop asking questions. Another told me I was “divisive,” at an age that required my looking up “divisive” in the dictionary when I got home from church to understand his meaning. Another told me that my rebellious attitude would find me pregnant or dead by the time I was 16.

Even then I found the conflation of the two…interesting.

This was a community of which I did not want to be a part—and I left it, even before I knew, with clarity and certainty, that I am an atheist.

Then she talks about what she found in movement atheism. Many of you can probably guess by now. You should still go read it.

Thanks to Sarah, who made sure I didn’t miss this post.

Where the Women Are…Not

5 thoughts on “Where the Women Are…Not

  1. 2

    The final line is the kicker:

    I would say I felt exactly as welcome in movement atheism as I did at my Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, but that would be a lie. No one at St. Peter’s ever called me a stupid cunt because I disagreed with them.


  2. 3

    In terms of religious institutions, yes, asking questions is often viewed as rebellion. I was raised catholic and my experiences are very similar to Melissa’s in that my questions and concerns were rebuffed as being rebellious or improper. The priest at our local parish told my mother that I was a faithless hellion and she needed to get her daughter in check if I was to ever find a husband to put up with my wild feminism. I came to atheism because of that feminism, because I could not see reason in forced inequality and the bible seemed the work of immense human bigotry. Sadly, I still find that codified bigotry re-branded in the actions of a certain percentage of atheist leaders. It’s funny how the inconvenient aspects of religion are cast off but those power structures that keep people obedient and dissent silenced seem to stick around. I guess there will always be more work to do.

  3. 4

    Melissa is wonderful. Her writing is straightforward and articulate. She turned me on to feminism which lead to my admitting my atheism. It wasn’t until recent I discovered she was an Atheist. I didn’t bother to read archives of Shakesville or I probably would have known. Either way her atheism is just one more reason why she’s so, so great. Thanks to her there is at least one safe place where people can have normal discussions that don’t turn into women having to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury of men that what they say is actually true.

  4. 5

    I have a theory that EvoPsych is so popular among the brand of atheists to which Melissa is referring because it gives them a replacement justification for what that they used to have in their church to feel superior to women.

    Also, religion enforces that “don’t call the woman a cunt [even though she carries the sin of Eve and is here to be your helpmeet]” by a very dogmatic stance about being “right with God” and not “sinning” (and by cultivating a sense of godlike entitlement wherein you behave benevolently to those things that are obediently beneath you). It doesn’t teach empathy or basic common decency as the reason to treat women like human beings–Abrahamic religions, at least, are so entrenched in the women-as-lesser-and-sinful that they really can’t connect on that basic human decency level. So, when some smug guy leaves his church, “treat women with respect” is just another “dogma” from which he is “liberated” and he still has the empathy deficit from not learning to see women as equals or partners during his youth with the church.

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