Feminism Made Me An Atheist

Over on FtB, Greta recently posted a short little blurb about a comment she received. The comment was encouraging, as it said that the poster had changed his mind about feminism and feminist issues because of the writing, speaking, videos, and concerns of FtB, the Skepchicks, and the overall dialogue that has been taking place in the skeptic community recently. Greta asked for other stories like this one: how has the feminist conversation in the movement changed your perspectives? What difference have we made?


I think this is a great project. It’s always heartening to hear that your hard work has paid off in some ways. However I don’t have one of those stories to share. Of course I have absolutely learned more than I can explain from the patient and intelligent voices promoting social justice issues in the skeptical community. Zinnia Jones and Natalie Reed have schooled me on trans* issues in a way I never would have gotten otherwise. My conception of feminism has gone from standard white woman feminism to one that strives (although often fails) for intersectionality. I have learned to be sensitive to the racism that is often deeply a part of atheism and feminism. I’ve become more cognizant of disability, autism, poverty, mental health issues, and even gender relations. But I never needed converting to feminism and social justice, as those were my first loves. The more important story, the complement story is how feminism made me a skeptic.


My life has been a story of feminism. I was brought up by a bona fide hippie 60s feminist who refused to change her last name upon marriage and was the primary breadwinner in our family. The concept of acting differently from my brother was bizarre to me, and I grew up happily oblivious to a great deal of the sexism around me simply because I was so convinced of how stupid it was. The older I got and the more aware of reality that I got, the more feminist I became. When I hit teenage years, my mom and I often had long heart to hearts about sexism, women’s issues, reproductive rights, and other feminist issues. I was not in need of any feminist indoctrination upon coming into the skeptical movement.


Fast forward about 5 years from my full indoctrination into feminism, and you’ll find me sitting at a table in a conference room at St. Olaf College at my first SANRA (St Olaf Atheists, Non Religious, and Agnostics) meeting. I had only showed up because one of my favorite professors was speaking, and because yeah, I was an atheist, but the idea of organized atheism held little appeal to me.


At this meeting I found myself excited about the kinds of issues and questions they were tackling, and heard about Pharyngula. So off I trooped to that little blog and found that it dealt with all sorts of issues that I loved, women’s rights foremost among them. My next biggest interaction with the skeptical movement was applying to write here and being accepted. The more I read of the Skepchicks, the more I knew that these were the kind of people I wanted to be around, people who were skeptical about real, important issues, people who wanted to improve the world through rational thinking. I was a philosophy major, so I had a pretty good understanding of argumentation and rationality, but I had never seen it applied in such a wonderfully important way to such relevant problems. And I certainly had never seen it labelled in a way that brought many people together to fight for rational thinking to improve lives. It was exciting, and got me interested in writing and conversing with these people, because I too wanted to be able to work for the betterment of society. I too wanted to be able to use my reason and my mind to tell people why sexism was stupid. I too wanted to learn more through rational thinking so that my social justice could flourish.


On the other hand, Richard Dawkins, The Amazing Atheist, and DJ Grothe? They held no appeal to me. I would not be a part of the atheist movement if I had not first met atheists who were using their rational thinking to improve the world. I would not be a part of the atheist movement if it weren’t for the feminists here. People like Greta, Rebecca, Stephanie, Miri, and Kate were the ones who got me excited enough to want to be at conferences, to write for more sites, and to even want to pursue working in the skeptical movement. Even more importantly, all my lovely friends on the Teen Skepchick backchannel are the ones who have kept me going: Mindy and Melanie in particular have gone out of their way to make sure that all the younger writers here are cared for, safe, and know that they can speak their minds and have back up if fallout should occur. They have kept us from the cut throat attitude of much of the atheist movement, and it is only because of the protection of this community that I ahve continued writing.


The knowledge that there are women in the skeptical movement, that these women are interested in speaking up about feminist issues, that these women want social justice to be at the forefront of skepticism and humanism, and that these women are making the movement safer for the rest of us is the only reason that I am here. If they had been silenced, the atheist movement would have lost one very motivated and very passionate individual (yours truly).


I’m glad we’re telling stories now, because I want to hear more stories like mine. I’ve heard too many of people being frightened away and bullied. I want to hear about the people who have held you up and protected you. I want to hear about the good, the people who will hear your complaints and confusions, the people who keep you excited about being a part of this movement. The Skepchicks were my first line of defense for most of my time in this movement, but since then my network has grown, and I can’t emphasize enough that the open and honest discussion about the problems in the community has drawn me in, not pushed me away. Feminism has turned me into a skeptic.

Featured pic is yours truly and Kate Donovan, one of my favorite feminist atheists out there.

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Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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