The Pretty Problem
by Noah Lugeons
The atheist blogosphere is abuzz this week, as it should be, over the charges of sexism within our movement. Greta Christina had a thorough and thoughtful piece on it. PZ Myers threw in as well. I’m not going to rehash the charges, the apologies, the accusations and the resolutions. Suffice to say that it all centers around comments made by a rather attractive atheist vlogger, ZOMGitsCriss who does some pretty good videos while simultaneously being hot.
There hasn’t been criticism against her, of course, but rather against a number of thoughtless comments about how important it is to have more sexy atheists so that people would look at us more. I’m decimating the details here but if you want the skinny, feel free to check the links above. For my purposes, the bare bones sketch I just gave is more than enough.
See, it turns out that the church is having the same problem. They’ve discovered that having sexy vicars can help fill the pews with the added benefits that the molested boys will complain far less often. They don’t see this as a problem, per se, but it has to feel threatening if you’re the Raisenette centurion that she’s opening for.
I dont’ want to talk out of school or anything, but it appears they even have the same problem in broadcast news.
So let me make my point as delicately as possible. Unlike the news media and the Vatican, I think that the atheist community is moving in the right direction on this issue. Sexism is not an atheist problem, it’s a cultural problem that touches everything we touch. It is present in advertising, education, academia, entertainment, employment, religion, government and, of course, atheism.
We should be talking about these issues and we are, but it’s not fair to characterize that as the “first step”. It’s more like a first rocking forward in anticipation of lifting the foot. Talking is not stepping.
And this is not a new issue either. A number of small things have touched off this debate in the past and PZ Myers has been sounding the general alarm on this issue for some time. He’s strongly urged the inclusion of more women and minorities at atheist conventions and panels. This would represent an actual step and there is some evidence that it’s happening.
But a real step is in finding the common ground between atheism and feminism. I think it’s clear to everyone that the biggest common field in the Venn diagram of social issues here is abortion. Abortion is a right that is under constant attack from religious fundamentalism and far too often the atheists stand back in order to avoid the label of being politically biased.
There are a few secular arguments against the right to have an abortion. I don’t find any of them remotely convincing, but it is fair to acknowledge that the “Pro-Life” movement is not comprised entirely of rabid, inbred young-earthers. There are deeper questions of social and ethical concerns surrounding abortion than “Jesus wouldn’t want it!”, but those arguments are not heard in the echo chamber of fundies. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, all reasonable people recognize that a delicate moral line has to be drawn around the issue. But it’s impossible to have a reasonable argument with an unreasonable opponent, and good luck finding a reasonable religious extremist.
I don’t need to tell the liberals or the feminists why they should rabidly oppose the detestable wave of anti-abortion legislative trickery that is sweeping through America and, as Rebecca Watson points out, nobody should have to tell the atheists either. Regardless of your feelings or relative passions regarding this issue, the fact remains that religious fundamentalists stand on the verge of overtaking a right consistently upheld by the Supreme Court just because their god says no.
This fight need not only be about the right of a woman to exercise dominion over her own body. It need not only be about reproductive rights and equal respect for both halves of humanity, though that should be plenty enough to get everyone fired up. It is also about the ability of the religious right to trample upon the full freedom of American citizens and that is something that should have every atheist getting out their torches and pitchforks*.
*actual torches and pitchforks not recommended.