President’s Column: Where are the Atheist Women?

Published by Minnesota Atheists on

By Jeannette Watland

Headshot of Jeannette.

It’s a familiar scenario. You go to an atheist event and walk into a room full of men. There may be a few women, but in many cases men make up the majority of atheist groups. Why is this? There is no original sin in atheism. There is no book telling us women are inferior. We don’t force our women to cover up for religious reasons and women can hold office in these organizations with no questions asked. Atheism seems like it would be the perfect platform for empowerment. So why is it that these groups have such a hard time attracting more women?

In order to answer this question, some generalizations have to be made. I don’t fit into any of these generalizations, and many other women I know don’t either, but these are theories I’ve heard on forums and other discussions on the topic that may be worth exploring, even if they aren’t true. The first possible reason could be that there simply are not as many atheist women as there are men. Religion has aspects that appeal to emotions. Women have been characterized as being more emotional and empathetic. Would women be more naturally drawn to religion because it meets their emotional needs? Second, it could be very plausible that there are as many atheist women as men, but the aggressive and negative nature of many atheist groups is a major turn off for women. Nothing turns me off faster than ridiculing religion. Am I an abnormality, or is this a common trend? Or is the problem simple? Maybe women just don’t feel like hanging out with a bunch of boys.  

Whatever the reason, atheist women need to represent. It’s not as if we don’t have any wonderful women role models to lead the way. Historical figures include Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Elizabeth Cady-Stanton, and Margaret Sanger. Present day women include Margaret Downey, Annie Laurie Gaylor, and my own personal icon Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Minnesota Atheists have their fair share of amazing women. Cynthia Egli (past president of Minnesota Atheists), Crystal Dervetski (one of the hardest working organizers I know), and Stephanie Zvan (blogger and past host of Atheist Talk). So I urge all atheist women out there: Get involved, be vocal, and become leaders. Show the world we can do what the men do…better.

Minnesota Atheists

Positive Atheism in Action Since 1991