Why do the atheist and skeptic communities foster misogyny and racism?

Tweet by Richard Dawkins in defense of rapist Michael Shermer.

There has been a great deal of discussion on the constant stream of misogyny and racism coming from the leading figures of the atheist community (Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Sam Harris, Lawrence Krauss) and the skeptic community (DJ Grothe, Ben Radford).

The minority of representation of women and POC in the leadership and speaker lists of atheist and skeptic organizations is also an obvious result of the misogyny and racism in these organizations. The reactions to other events, such as the harassment of Rebecca Watson, has made clear that the atheist and skeptic communities are, by and large, against women.

I have seen a great deal discussed on these issues. I have not, however, seen a lot of discussion as to the why. People (like Sam Harris) have tried to argue that the issue of low representation of women and POC is the result of some inherent lack in the part of women and POC. This of course is misogynist nonsense.

One thing both these communities have in common is nerd culture. While one does not have to be a nerd to be an atheist or a skeptic, there is certainly a strong association between the two. It is well known that scientists have far higher rates of unbelief, and in general it seems likely that love of science and technology entails higher rates of unbelief as well.

The problem is that nerd culture, while glorifying science and technology, is very toxic and masculinist. There is a strong correlation between nerd culture and rape culture. The controversy over video game sexism and the attacks against female journalists, designers and programmers, as well as the depictions of women catering to the male gaze in video games and comic books, have demonstrated that.

Nerd culture means living in a world of male fantasy and rejecting the right of females to exist.

They live in a world of perpetually scantily clad superwomen who fight crime in ninja lingerie and kevlar camisoles. They live in a world where super-soldier women strike anatomically impossible fighting stances that show off not only their ample asses but their massive breasts. They live in a world where happiness is a harajuku schoolgirl getting the tentacle rape she so desperately deserves. They live in a world where the once feisty and feminist-era proud Princess Leia is nothing more than a cosplay centerfold.

Nerds are represented in the media as lovable weirdoes, so it may seem harsh to associate nerd culture with rape culture. But I defy any defender of nerd culture to name one aspect of nerd culture which is not demeaning or annihilating of female existence and female perspective.

Another thing they have in common is ultra-rationalism, which I have previously described. The ultra-rational is characterized by the belief that one is more rational than most people, while exhibiting irrational traits brought about by overconfidence. Because they adopt one position on a consciously rational basis, they take it for granted that their positions are based on reason, when this is generally not the case, or at least not noticeably more than non-atheists or non-skeptics.

One characteristic of ultra-rationalism is a complete bungling of the concept of burden of proof. They believe that personal experience, even when not used to prove a scientific point, is automatically invalid. The inevitable result of this mindset is that accusations of sexual harassment are trivialized or rejected, while “scientific” conclusions about women based on “just so” stories are widely accepted.

It is somewhat understandable that atheism is ultra-rational, since it is after all a reaction to theology, which has adopted all the trappings of logical argumentation (although, sadly, not the intellectual rigor that should go with it).

The third thing they have in common is white privilege. There are very few POC in these communities. Nerds tend to be white people who have the luxury of not needing a strong sense of identity (beyond being nerds), unlike POC and immigrants. For many people, religion is an identity and a community, and atheism does not measure up to that standard.

I don’t know about skeptics, but atheists certainly look down on other cultures, especially Islamic cultures. Accusations of Islamophobia have been issues at various prominent figures, including Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.

While I agree that the term Islamophobia is inadequate to describe this attitude, I certainly think bigotry and white privilege are good words when Richard Dawkins makes tweets like this, or Sam Harris says things like: “We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.”

Richard Dawkins, who has made himself a leading figure of atheism and evolution, is now also known for his misogynistic attitude, exemplified in his Dear Muslima mockery of a sexual harassment victim,
and his otherwise bizarre and illogical statements, such as when he called for tolerance of “mild pedophilia” or when he tried to classify rapes as “bad” and “worse.”

Of course, his ultra-rational defenders believe firmly that Dawkins is making perfectly logical statements, even though this is the kind of stuff we expect from someone who’s slipping away from reality.

What is the solution? It seems so far that the only viable solution is a “new wave” of atheism to replace “New Atheism.” Atheism+ is certainly a step in the right direction, although it may turn into the same kind of insanity as the “social justice” tumblr groups. That much remains to be seen.

10 thoughts on “Why do the atheist and skeptic communities foster misogyny and racism?

  1. Independent Radical April 1, 2015 at 03:22

    Many gender/race related critiques of the atheist movement (not yours, though, good work) seem to imply a kind of biological determinism. They rest on the assumption that rationality, science, scepticism, etc. are inherently white, middle class, male things that no woman or non-white person would ever take in interest in. It reality there is nothing inherently male (or masculine) about rationality and science. Rather society encourages male children to take an interest in such subjects while telling females that they have stupid, irrational (whoops, I mean “intuitive” and “sympathising”) brains and thus cannot succeed in such subjects. Thus movements related to science and rationality become male-dominated spaces.

    There’s also the fact that being anti-religion requires a disrespectful and irreverent attitude towards those that demand respect. This is a good thing when it enables people to criticise the powerful (e.g. religious leaders), but it also results in less powerful people, such as women and non-whites, being disrespected.

    That said, I don’t think the atheist movement or “nerd culture” is that much worse than the more mainstream masculine equivalents (e.g. violent/aggressive sports, mainstream hyper-sexualised music videos, action films, etc.) I think that any creation of a seperate male-oriented culture is likely to encourage misogyny.

    To the atheist movement’s credit, it is at least trying to address gender/race related issues within the movement and misogynistic/Islamophobic comments by its spokespeople provoke controversy within the movement. The fact that MRAs within the movement are furious about feminism and atheism-plus taking over the movement is a good sign, though unfortunately the atheism-plus movement is still very “sex-positive” (though overall somewhat less liberal than other supposed feminist movements.) I don’t think we need a new, new atheist movement as much as we need a reemergence of the radical, atheistic movements of the past (e.g. revolutionary socialism, anarchism and radical feminism), though many of the modern day organisations that claim to represent these movements have capitulated to society’s pro-religion viewpoint.

  2. sbt42 April 2, 2015 at 06:04

    Your comments reminded me about two things within the ‘nerd culture’ of which I recall.

    First: the big stink that came along with someone posting a livejournal entry (maybe?) regarding their opportunity to fondle a woman’s breasts at a fantasy/cosplay convention. I did a casual search and couldn’t come up with anything directly related (it was from a couple years ago), but this article from January of last year is fair content, and hey it even mentions the phrase “third wave feminism”:


    Secondly, I’d like to know your opinion. Do you think that ‘nerd culture’ is in some ways just the same as “mainstream culture” (within the context of treatment of women), only with an intellectual slant instead of (merely?) physical? What parallels – if any – might you draw in that comparison?

    • Francois Tremblay April 2, 2015 at 14:47

      “Do you think that ‘nerd culture’ is in some ways just the same as “mainstream culture” (within the context of treatment of women), only with an intellectual slant instead of (merely?) physical? What parallels – if any – might you draw in that comparison?”

      I think the male gaze in nerd culture is built out of frustration specifically, while the male gaze in mainstream culture is built mainly out of gender expectations. There certainly is a lot of anger there that is probably much less common in the mainstream. But in the end it doesn’t really matter: the expression of woman-hatred is pretty much the same.

      • Heretic April 3, 2015 at 11:47

        “I think the male gaze in nerd culture is built out of frustration specifically, while the male gaze in mainstream culture is built mainly out of gender expectations.” Makes sense. Per MRAs, nerds would be “beta” males and in the mainstream there are jocks or “alpha” males. I’m sure nerds consider themselves to be “nice guys” and the so-called “alphas” are, to them, “assholes.”
        “But in the end it doesn’t really matter: the expression of woman-hatred is pretty much the same.” I noticed in nerd/geek culture, males express frustration at a lack of “gamer girls.” But then, when they find some, they accuse them of being fake gamer girls, and refuse to accept them. They want to have their cake, and eat it, too.

        • Francois Tremblay April 3, 2015 at 14:09

          Well you know, they don’t play “real” games. Funnily enough, one of the people responsible for Call Of Duty has said that the men who play his game aren’t “real” gamers because they tend to just play COD and don’t play other games. LOL.

          • Heretic April 3, 2015 at 14:31

            The accusation of “fake gamer girls” is code for “I’m afraid of getting my ass beaten in video games, by girls.” Because then they’ll be thought of as “girls,” themselves, by their buddies. LOL.

            As for COD, I have heard of plenty of male gamers who stick with just 1 or 2 games. There is nothing wrong with focusing on certain games to get better at them. Where is their god now?

        • Francois Tremblay April 3, 2015 at 16:19

          Well you know, those fake gamer boys…

          • Heretic April 3, 2015 at 17:16

            She hasn’t yet met the fake gamer boys who have no skill, but are using their masculine wiles to get help and steal other gamers’ stuff. Cute video.

        • Francois Tremblay April 4, 2015 at 01:07

          You gotta be careful with gamer boys’ masculine wiles. They are Wile E. Coyotes indeed. Trying to get their dicks where they don’t belong.

  3. […] This situation would seem to favor the conservative-minded—those who like the way things are, or are generally inclined to accept normative values. In my estimation, conservatives tend to see “truth” as a property that is located in a consensus of the “right” kind of people—generally, the strong or serious people—as opposed to, say, something that is discovered (or approximated) through dialectics or debate, in the Socratic style, or through the weighing of every opinion, as believers in democracy would have it. Leftists, and particularly “politically correct” social-justice types, are thus perceived by conservatives as at base irrational, engaged in some sort of childish rebellion against common sense. This is true even of religious fundamentalists, who have no commitments to rationality—even though they may assume that their point-of-view must ultimately be valid on scientific, secular grounds—but it is also true of many secularist, “ultra-rational” types who claim rationalism as an identity as well as a practice. As Anarcho-Feminist blogger Francois Tremblay put it: […]

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