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tigtog (aka Viv) is the founder of this blog. She lives in Sydney, Australia: husband, 2 kids, cat, house, garden, just enough wine-racks and (sigh) far too few bookshelves.

This author has written 3414 posts for Hoyden About Town. Read more about tigtog »

41 responses to “Atheist women’s numbers matter. Be counted in the Atheist Census Online.”

  1. Deborah

    Okay then…. I had decided not to do it, because I’m not active in atheist on-line communities, and I find it all quite US-centric. But you’ve convinced me that it’s the right thing to do.

  2. Deborah

    And an excellent use of my time on a Sunday morning (smirk).

  3. Megpie71

    While I’m not an atheist myself (I identify as pantheist pagan, even if it’s a highly non-ritualised version of same) I have to wonder at the people who are attempting to declare atheism as a “guy thing”. I mean, didn’t we throw out those Georgian and Victorian labels of men as “rational” and women as “emotional” back in the early days of feminism? Certainly by the 1970s? But here they are, attempting to prop this particular superstitious belief back on it’s feet again and give it another run.

    Which, to me, counts as an irrational behaviour. Just sayin’!

  4. mimbles

    I couldn’t remember if I’d done it or not! Had to go check my emails, yep, there’s the verification email. (This is why I don’t delete emails till they’re at least a year old – memory like a sieve.)

  5. Helen

    Already done!

  6. angharad

    I don’t think of myself strictly as an atheist either, but I filled it out a little while ago. There is a question in there about how you identify (atheist, agnostic, humanist etc) that from memory seemed to include some things that were not really atheistic.

  7. tree

    Done. I am amused by the enormous percentage of respondents who identified Catholicism or other Christian religions as their background. I’ve been saying there’s nothing like Christianity to create an atheist. Now I have proof!

  8. Eivind

    The census is interesting. Sure, the numbers are low, and the results are skewed towards those who are active on the Internet, and especially those who are active in atheist-settings on the Internet.

    But the cross-country data are still fun to compare. Only 8% of the atheists in Iran say that their background is “no religion”, 15% do in USA, but over 40% do in some European countries.

    Partly I guess it’s just that there’s more nones in Europe, but I do think that also helps exaplin why the stigma of calling yourself an atheist is less. (stands to reason that there wouldn’t be much stigma in calling yourself an atheist if your grandmother does the same thing)

  9. Lauredhel

    The religious background thing is difficult to answer. Sure, I was baptised and confirmed, but it’s not like we actually attended church or said grace before meals or prayed before bedtime. “Ethnically Anglican” is the closest I can come to describing it, but there is no nuance in the question.

  10. tigtog

    I like “Ethnically Anglican” – me too – I never ended up being confirmed, because the catechist said something logically indefensible and I balked only a few weeks before it was supposed to happen. It was, ultimately, all down to me reading a book on comparative theology aimed at older children/young adults and having questions arising from that reading, and I suspect that the catechist had (in the mid-70s) never been trained for the sort of questions that arise from that sort of introduction to critical thinking, and he decided to fall back on responding in a blatantly condescending, dismissive and exclusionary way (he kicked me out of scripture class). Poor strategy for winning hearts/minds.

    So is not quite 11 years (the diocese was High Anglican) of growing up attending Sunday School at the local Anglican church (on the weekends when we weren’t bushwalking or folk festivaling) enough to qualify as a “religious” background? Or is it just a cultural background? I don’t know.

  11. SunlessNick

    I mean, didn’t we throw out those Georgian and Victorian labels of men as “rational” and women as “emotional” back in the early days of feminism? Certainly by the 1970s? But here they are, attempting to prop this particular superstitious belief back on it’s feet again and give it another run.

    Just what I was going to say.

  12. angharad

    I would classify my father as ethnically Anglican, but I think back then everyone in England who wasn’t specifically something else was assumed to be CoE, whether they were actively practicing or not.

  13. c.fairy

    How can anyone, regardless of gender, be “interested in atheism”?

    A lack of belief, passively or activity arrived at isn’t an “interest”.

    Adherence to faith (traditionally man-made and man-enforced, or otherwise) isn’t a passing interest or hobby either.

    There is, of course, some evidence that women are the more religious gender, which is no small irony given that formal religions are deeply misogynistic. This though, is surely deeply embedded in cultural circumstance. Perhaps women have so little here on Earth, they traditionally have an inclination to wishful thinking for whatever comes after life.

  14. Gunnar Tveiten

    You can be interested in the problems faced by atheists. You can be interested in the harm caused by religion. You can fight for clearer separation of church and state. You can (attempt to) send flowers to Jessica Ahlquist. You can protest against special priviledges heaped on those adhering to the mainstream religion. You can attempt to show how ridicolous it is to give special consideration to religions by inventing “joke” religions like Pastafarianism, and insist that your religion is treated with the same respect.

    In practice, when people do such things, they might say they’re interested in atheism – even though if you’re feeling very nitpicky you can say that technically they’re not.

  15. c.fairy

    I was responding to the alleged male claim that women are ‘not interested in atheism’.

    In any case, an interest in faith or lack of faith isn’t the same as being an atheist or being a Catholic or what not. Mere interest isn’t really the point.

    I’m sure Hitchens would chuckle at any such mild suggestion.

  16. tigtog

    How can anyone, regardless of gender, be “interested in atheism”?

    A lack of belief, passively or activity arrived at isn’t an “interest”.

    Lack of belief in itself may not be an “interest”, but unbelief raises various philosophical questions which many people enjoy discussing/debating as one of their interests. These philosophical questions then often lead into activist avenues, especially in countries where atheists face persecution (and in support of those who are persecuted for their lack of faith), and atheist activism is certainly an interest.

    Adherence to faith (traditionally man-made and man-enforced, or otherwise) isn’t a passing interest or hobby either.

    Nobody claimed that it was. Why have you added the word “passing” to the word “interest”? Many people have deep and abiding interests that last their whole lives – interests are not necessarily simple whimsical pursuits.

    There is, of course, some evidence that women are the more religious gender, which is no small irony given that formal religions are deeply misogynistic. This though, is surely deeply embedded in cultural circumstance.

    Women do appear to have higher attendance numbers at religious meeting-houses in most cultures, but are you so sure that this is really about having more faith than men? Perhaps what is actually deeply embedded in cultural circumstance is which activities are considered to be a socially acceptable way for women to gather in community with each other, and very many communities where religious gatherings are the only game in town for that. Maybe a very significant number of women who insist on attending church/synagogue/mosque/meeting every week simply just really feel the need to spend those few hours away from domestic demands.

  17. c.fairy

    Gunner – intrigued at your thought that atheists face particular problems!

    In France, no. Most European countries, that is, a majority, no. Australia, thankfully never.

    America, yes, I gather, but it’s not clear what, if anything that means in day to day terms.

    Other countries, sure, but I’d suggest they have religious problems … rather than atheists being the ones with problems. :-D

  18. c.fairy

    Sorry, I think you’re still grasping a flippant comment about an intellectually sloppy assertion that women don’t show an “interest” …

    Clearly a lot of women do show much interest in faith, hey, even the wonderful Judith Lucy went there.

    By and large, women have not written or engaged in the rational versus faith debate. That much is true, now that I think of it. In itself there is no obvious reason, other than that some highly articulate men have dominated the charge. So far. Not making a lot of ground though. Change is slow, slow, slow.

  19. c.fairy

    To avoid continued misunderstanding or ambiguity, the post reads:

    Because I’m seeing it play out in the comment sections of pro-feminist atheist/skeptic blogs right now – anti-feminist contrarians are using the current gender breakdown on the Atheist Census (as of writing it’s just over 25% women) to argue that this “proves” that women just aren’t as interested in atheism etc as men are …

    This is, of course, silly and simple thinking, and evidence of nothing at all.

    I was merely over-reacting to a logically meaningless point, as discussed in the post.

  20. Gunnar Tveiten

    Atheists clearly do sometimes face “particular problems”, I didn’t say anything about which countries, but you are of course right that the extent and nature of the problems vary wildly by location.

    The problems are indeed less in parts of Europe, compared to USA – and USA are less compared to places like Iran. But I don’t think it’s true to claim that the problems are fully solved anywhere.

    Scandinavia is one of the most secular societies on the planet, but that doesn’t prevent a long list of special considerations for religious folks from existing. It’s true that the remaining problems are fairly minor, certainly -very- minor compared to those facing people in relgious dictatorships.

    It’s possible to live in Scandinavia – and be interested in the problems faced by atheists in USA, in Iran, in Kuwait and in Tunisia. Geography does not block interest.

  21. tigtog

    By and large, women have not written or engaged in the rational versus faith debate.

    If you’re only looking at who has published best-selling books and thus become an atheist celebrity who gets lots of speaking engagements, then I could see how that might appear to be true. Joanna Russ had a few things to say about why there might be a disparity in those numbers that has nothing to do with who is engaging in actual writing versus whose writing gets pushed to the forefront.

  22. c.fairy

    But I don’t think it’s true to claim that the problems are fully solved anywhere.

    ??

    I made no such claim.

    I was more interested in what these problems supposedly are, and provided some framework, if you had chosen to address that point of interest.

    Geography does not block interest.

    ??

    No, it doesn’t and given my interest and knowledge of such things across countries, I’m pretty sure I didn’t state or imply that geography blocks interest.

    This is too bizarre to engage with.

    Still have no idea what problems atheists in Oz could possibly face. Sure, organised religions have no end of economic and legal out-clauses, wrongly and unfairly, but that’s not a problem for me or any other atheist – that’s a matter of politics and democracy.

  23. tigtog

    To avoid continued misunderstanding or ambiguity [snip]

    Going by your clarification, I wasn’t misunderstanding your nitpick at all. I’m extremely happy to move on to much more interesting points of discussion, but I continue to disagree with the totality of your pedantic exercise.

  24. Megpie71

    c.fairy:

    By and large, women have not written or engaged in the rational versus faith debate.

    Or, more accurately, they haven’t been listened to when they’ve attempted to – either because they’re “not qualified” (by not being priests, rabbis, vicars, bishops, archbishops, or popes) or because they’re being talked over the top of by those “highly articulate men”, or because they’re being silenced by cultural truisms about how “women aren’t rational” (there’s that Georgian attitude cropping up again – why does it keep coming back?), or because they’ve been instructed to remain silent in the presence of men by their religious faith, or because when they do speak up, they get censured for it, or any number of other reasons why.

    One of the most passionate and articulate atheists I know is a woman – it’s my mother, who grew up Christadelphian, and married a man who was a minister in the Church of Christ. Mum and I had a lot of interesting discussions about religion, and the way that people use religion as a social “mask of decency” when I was growing up. She was the one who put me on to Sydney Carter and his music – “When I Needed A Neighbour” and “The Devil Wore A Crucifix” are still two of the most articulate and concise deconstructions of Christian religiosity I can point to. She was the one who pointed out a lot of the little hypocrisies inherent in a lot of received Christian practice.

    However, she didn’t discuss this with my father (or at least, not in my hearing) and she certainly didn’t discuss it with her (Christadelphian) father and brother. It just wasn’t worth the strife and disruption it would cause, as far as she was concerned. She made it clear to her parents (and to our father) that she didn’t want either myself or my brother proselytised to, and she was able to cry off going to church for most of my childhood by virtue of working night shift on Friday and Saturday nights (which meant she slept on Saturdays and Sundays – and Dad looked after us kids).

    Just because women don’t speak up in the public square, or the church hall, or the academic journals, don’t assume we’re not interested in a subject.

  25. c.fairy

    Published in the same year, if you want a serious book – Women of Ideas and what men have done to them by Dale Spender (an Australian) – which I read at the time. It makes for very depressing reading, but essential.

  26. c.fairy

    Arrh, so men can be “pedantic” (or did you mean argue semantics, or to be pernickety) about anything a woman says, but women aren’t allowed to, or are dismissed, if they do the same with male assertions.

    Good-o.

    Got that.

    And this is why many men won’t knowingly engage with women online!

    Sheesh!

  27. Gunnar Tveiten

    You said: “intrigued at your thought that atheists face particular problems! In France, no. Most European countries, that is, a majority, no. Australia, thankfully never.”

    I interpreted this as a claim that atheists do not face any particular problems in France, “most European countries” or Australia. If you didn’t intend to claim that, please clarify what you intended to say.

    I disagree with that claim. Atheists -do- face issues in all of those places, even though I agree the problems are minor compared to those living in USA or Iran.

    I can give a few examples from Norway.

    Ordained ministers (in any church) are exempt from military service — leaders in secular organizations are not.

    By law it’s more restricted what things I can do on sundays and on christianitys holy days than on other days in the year.

    Our constitution, §2 says that every inhabitant enjoys freedom of religion – but also that the lutheran church is the state-church and that inhabitants who follow this church is obligated to raise their children with the same belief. (in practice, this paragraph is sleeping – but just the fact that it exists in an insult and an example of an “issue”)

  28. tigtog

    c.fairy, I had no idea whether you’re a man or a woman when I engaged with your criticism of my phrasing used to summarise the situation as the (female) author of this post. After the above comment I’m still not sure how you identify gender-wise, since the first paragraph appears to imply that you’re a woman, but the penultimate paragraph appears to position you as a man.

    So perhaps the gender of either of us isn’t as important to my disagreement with you as you think suggest.

    Speaking with my moderator hat on now, you are veering close to derailing the thread to be all about arguing with you. I don’t want that to happen. Please stick to talking just about the way that many people spend their time and energy on activities specifically related to their atheism, please.

  29. c.fairy

    GOOD GRIEF!

    THE POST – THE BLOG THREAD – SPOKE OF MALE COMMENTS.

    That’s what I was quoting from. Nothing to do with my gender. (But obviously no one is allowed to nitpick what men say!)

    Seriously, this is way outside my ability to follow the logic.

  30. c.fairy

    I already anticipated the supposed “problems” for atheists in a previous comment.

    And yes, all examples given are matters of politics, economics, democracy (or not democracy, depending on the country!), and affect all citizens, whether they are believers in a deity or not.

    These things are not matters only for atheists, they are for society to determine.

    In the US – “In God We Trust” – certainly a problem for every American, and I doubt a special concern for atheists, other than as an irritant, like an annoying childish ditty. Of course, it’s greatly more serious than that, as it speaks to something shockingly uncivilized and deluded about humans, but that’s for some other blog.

  31. tigtog

    GOOD GRIEF!

    THE POST – THE BLOG THREAD – SPOKE OF MALE COMMENTS.

    That’s what I was quoting from. Nothing to do with my gender. (But obviously no one is allowed to nitpick what men say!)

    I wrote the blog post. There are various words that are inside quote marks, and then there are many other words that are not. The words interested in atheism are not inside quote marks in the original post. The words that are not inside quote marks were written by me as a summary of what is happening elsewhere, and I am not a man.

    So the phrase “interested in atheism” that you are nitpicking is not a quote of what men say, you are nitpicking what I said. I don’t accept that “interested in atheism” is, as you claimed, a logically indefensible and ridiculous way to describe people who discuss atheism online and in meetings elsewhere identify as atheists, in the context of discussions happening in atheist forums where people discuss atheism with each other.

  32. tigtog

    P.S. You’re allowed to nitpick what I said in principle, although I think we’ve gone far past the “agree to disagree” station for this particular journey, but please don’t tell me that my own words were written by a man.

  33. tigtog

    These things are not matters only for atheists, they are for society to determine.

    Nope. When certain aspects of society imply that atheists don’t matter, or are not welcome, and non-atheists mostly don’t even notice these things are exclusionary, then it’s atheists who are going to mostly be the ones who have problems with those things.

    For instance, we’ve written several posts on this blog about problems with the procedural aspects of how Special Religious Education is handled in various Australian state public schools: where parents have to opt their children out rather than being an opt-in class, and where it’s made very difficult for children who don’t go to SRE to not feel a sense of exclusion and often shaming (this also affects children whose faith tradition is non-Christian in small schools where Christian SRE is the only option provided, and that’s not fair either, but that it’s a problem for those families as well doesn’t somehow make it not an atheist problem at all).

    As another example, the creationist lobby here doesn’t have the same power/funding as in the USA, but they’re still always testing the boundaries of having Creationism taught as “just another theory” in science classes.

  34. The Kittehs' Unpaid Help

    I’m sure Hitchens would chuckle at any such mild suggestion.

    My instant reaction: who gives a toss what that bombastic creep thinks (or thought, if you don’t believe in the afterlife) …

    /snark

  35. Aqua, of the Questioners

    I signed, but I’m not sure it proves anything. It’s so obviously mainly being signed by people who are already part of the online atheosphere, which a lot of women avoid. (I know there is at least one atheist group on Ravelry. Are they participating in this?)

    I noticed there were 8000+ Australian signatories, and the press release at the time of the last census included about 8000 something self-stated atheists (and a similar number of self-stated agnostics), in addition to the 2.5 million who checked the “no religion” box. (There may also have been other self-descriptors that would be relevant).

    Unfortunately, I can’t figure out if ABS will let you break those down by gender, so we could find out the gender ratio of the people who chose to describe themselves on the census as “atheist” or “agnostic”.

    I’d note that although it’s a truism that more women identify as religious than men, the actual difference from ABS surveys isn’t all that large, and I found one survey that indicated that religious men spent more time per week on religious activities. http://www.abs.gov.au/Ausstats/abs@.nsf/7d12b0f6763c78caca257061001cc588/FA58E975C470B73CCA256E9E00296645
    This left me wondering if the average amount of time spent on religious activity by gender comes out as the same! (Slightly fewer men, doing slightly more, vs slightly more women doing slightly less.)

  36. tigtog

    I notice that in that ABS survey, there doesn’t seem to be any inclusion of cleaning/decorating the house of worship or catering/setting-up/clearing-away for fellowship gatherings included as part of religious activity. That domestic support work doesn’t look like it would be counted in the unpaid voluntary work section either, because that appears to cover only formal programs of charitable outreach activities.

    From my own experience helping out for church rosters at mr tog’s church (regularly for a while many years ago, hardly at all any more), the time spent on that domestic support work is when the women have the most opportunity for social interaction with each other unmediated by childcare responsibilities. (I should point out that there were also some men in that church volunteering for the cleaning/catering roster, but only retired men who were accompanying their wives – there were single women on the cleaning/catering roster, but no single men.)

    Sorry, got off on a tangent. Your point about the smallness of the percentage difference between men and women who identify as religious/non-religious in Australia is well made, and thus that small disparity goes nowhere near to explaining why there’s such a large disparity between the number of men and women identifying as atheist in the Atheist Census.

  37. Feminist Avatar

    On the ‘women are more religious thing’, this comes from studies that show women are more likely to attend church (or other houses of religion) on a regular basis, rather than about what people choose to identify as per se. This has been particularly true historically and one of the reasons given is that religion has been a useful power base for women – despite most religions placing women in a secondary role to men.

    So, for example, something being against religious dogma trumps obedience to husbands in the power stakes, allowing women to refuse husbands for religious reasons. Thus a married woman could take a temporary vow of chastity (say for lent) and be able to refuse sex during that period. Moreover, many women learned how to get religious institutions to intervene on their behalf in all sorts of contexts, so utilising institutional power on their own behalf. Moreover, certain religious rituals could be very useful to women – such as the need to be churched after childbirth, which usually took place four weeks afterwards and during which period women did no work. This religious practice gave birthing mothers vital recovery time that they would not otherwise have.

    This is not to mention the fact that for many women, especially those who did not work, religious activities could be their main contact with the world outside the family, providing friends, babysitters, family and a support network. This could be a very difficult thing to give up when you are then left relatively, perhaps completely, isolated.

    Finally, I think that many men were relatively happy to let their wives ‘do’ religion for them- thus maintaining their beliefs and often the power religion gave men- without having to do the ‘work’. Thus they could benefit from support and friend networks, but without showing up every week. This is not to say that women’s religious beliefs were not genuine, but rather to demonstrate that they had quite a large investment in maintaining those beliefs beyond the spiritual.

  38. tigtog

    This is not to say that women’s religious beliefs were not genuine, but rather to demonstrate that they had quite a large investment in maintaining those beliefs beyond the spiritual.

    Furious agreement. This is not to say that religious organisations fostered these background benefits for women purely from the goodness of their hearts, or even from a dispassionate weighing up of social benefits/justice. It gave them a hook into the support of women for the religious hegemony which the churches etc would otherwise have struggled to find.

  39. The Kittehs' Unpaid Help

    I’m not going to fill in this form – I really, really dislike too much of what I’ve seen on specifically atheist websites, and I’m dubious about whether there’s any real recognition that religious/atheist are not the only damn alternatives.

  40. tigtog

    I understand that reaction, TKUH. At the end of the day this is just an internet poll after all, anyway. The options they provide for folks to choose as preferred self-descriptors are Atheist, Freethinker, Humanist, Rationalist, Secularist, Agnostic, Non-religious and Other, btw – I think it’s a problem that they make you pick only one (I’m all of those!), but I guess if they’re interested how you most commonly describe yourself when people ask you about your unbelief, it’s a reasonable range.

    * * *

    Too many of the major atheist/skeptic sites/groups skew not only USA-centric but also hard Libertarian (with all the “nobody’s the boss of me” posturing that entails), and their failure to acknowledge/refusal to remedy how offputting that stripe of Libertarian posturing (with it’s concomitant attitude that anything that’s not actually illegal is fair game) can be for many women, while they complain that not enough women come to their gatherings. This is what has ended up with the DeepRifts™ that exploded when Rebecca Watson said “Guys, don’t do that” and ended up with Jen McCreight founding AtheismPlus as a place for those who want more from their atheist communities than just rejecting religion and mocking woomeisters – they want skepticism about the social status quo more generally and how to create unbelieving communities as viable social models as well, and the Libertarian-dominated groups just don’t want any nasty nuanced social justice analysis cluttering up their nice simplistic atheism/skepticism.

    The main problem is that the AtheismPlus folks, other than having prominent anti-harassment policies in place for meetings/conventions, are perfectly happy to be largely ignored by the Libertarian Atheists, but the Libertarian Atheists refuse to ignore them – they want to silence/expel them.

    It could be handled so simply – the AtheismPlussers can go to the program tracks they’re interested in, the Libertarian Atheists can go to the program tracks they’re interested in, there’ll be some program events that everybody will want to see, and folks with different ideals/goals for their movement could just weave around each other and cope with agreeing to disagree like grownups and watch the numbers of interested attendees expand as the program tracks become more diverse. But the Libertarian Atheists are very loudly against any Codes of Conduct above and beyond reporting actual crimes to the police, and they’re just not going to ignore people who feel differently.

  41. The Kittehs' Unpaid Help

    Ah yes, the old “libertarian” as in “I get to do what I want, when I want, to whom I want” but nobody else gets any rights at all. How very familiar.

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