I’ll mince no words here: the premise contained in the title of Sam Harris’s response to #EstrogenVibe (you can easily find his piece if you want to read it) doesn’t offend me — it disgusts me to my core. As it’s on his personal site, the title can’t be blamed on a clickbait-hungry editor or website, either. He defensively chose to claim that atheist feminists like me are constantly and eagerly looking for a sexist pig to chide.
Speaking personally, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
While sexism wasn’t why I left Islam, part of the reason I started to question Islam was the anti-woman attitudes I found both de facto and de jure within it. I remember, as a child, being puzzled by the verse in the Quran that claimed that men were a degree above women. I looked around me and saw that my boy cousins, all older than me, earned bad grades, misbehaved, and were cruel to those younger than them — how could they, of all people, be automatically considered a degree above me? To add insult to injury, they mocked me for being as studious, well-behaved, and religiously devout as I was.
As I got older, the more sexual matters of Islam’s gender inequality started to bother me. Why was Muhammad so eager to point out that there were there more women than men in his vision of Hell? Why were women not granted the right to sexual consent when it came to their husbands? Why were Muslim men permitted to marry non-Muslim women but not the other way around? Why were Muslim men allowed to have sex with their female slaves with impunity? What if I died before I got married; would I be a virgin for all eternity?
Though I somehow found ways to justify and rationalize all of the above, it weighed heavily on me.
After years of struggle, it was a philosophy course on the origins of Christian theology that dealt the death-blow to my deep faith in Allah and in Islam. I was happy to unburden myself. No longer having to consider myself inferior due to my gender left me feeling deliciously light. Leaving Islam was a painful thing in some ways, but, in this one way, was unequivocally joyous.
The painful parts of becoming and being an apostate were what led me to seek atheist groups where I could eat openly and spitefully eat pig as well as talk freely about my apostasy. I absolutely expected that they would be male-dominated. I did not expect for each of them to include at least one version of That Guy, and for That Guy’s behavior to be so indulgently tolerated in the name of “acceptance.” I did not expect that leaders of these groups would not only engage in benevolent, Nice Guy, and/or unintentional sexism, but also would bristle at my careful, tentative attempts to call attention to it. I did not expect to be sidelined and overlooked along with the other women in the group. I did not expect for all of this to be justified by a form of “science” that seemed to remarkably resemble the status quo. I did not expect to find sexist dogma among the allegedly secular and rational.
When I started calling the aforementioned behavior what it is (i.e. sexism and misogyny), I did not expect to be told that I needed to cite examples. I did not expect that I would need to point out, when giving those examples, that the problem wasn’t men joking or hitting on me. I did not expect for the response to my examples to be tsk-tsking about how my “anecdotes” were “pseudoskepticism.” I did not expect for actual data on the matter of sexism in secular groups to be dismissed as soon as it came up.
This wasn’t the community I was looking for. I was looking for a community free of at least the toleration of sexist pigs, if not the sexist pigs themselves. It turned out that I would have to join others in order to build the community I was looking for.
I may not have been looking for any sexist pigs when I found them, but I don’t want to have to eat my bacon with a side of sexism anymore.