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Where Are All of The Atheist Women?

February 27, 2008

I know what you are thinking.  There are atheist women out there.  Not to mention the American Atheists and Atheist Alliance International are both currently headed by women, and I am sure there are more female atheist leaders out there.  Most of us probably know at least one female atheist, even if we do not realize it. 

It is not that there are no atheist women; it is that there seems to be so few of them.  Every time I look at photographs from events that local atheist groups host, the male to female ratio is always much higher than one to one.  The smallest number of men per women I have seen is two, and I often see close to ten men for every woman. 

Maybe it explains why openly atheist men can sometimes have a hard time finding dates.

Why are there so few atheist women out there?  Are there really that many more male atheists than female?  Perhaps it is because our numbers are in fact equal, but fewer women are part of organized atheist groups.  Maybe there is a psychological reason, and women are either more likely to be in the closet if they are atheist because of the stigmas tied to atheism, or maybe they are less likely to consider themselves atheist for another social or cognitive reason.

Maybe there are in fact many more atheist men than women.  It is possible that if social behavior is on a bell curve, men have a wider range of behaviors because it was somehow evolutionarily adaptive in the past.  Men have practically unlimited reproductive capacity, since they can mate and fertilize women anywhere from every few hours to every few days.  Women, on the other hand, typically need at least a year to reproduce, and usually have only one child at a time.  This means that men are more expendable, evolutionarily speaking, and are able to take greater risks.  Maybe a wider range of social behavior for men is therefore a result of the way we evolved, and might explain why we tend to see more atheist men than women. 

Even if we are not sure why it seems that there are more atheist men than women, what do we do about it?  Does something need to be done about it?  Does atheist community building require at least near equal participation from women?  Communities of gay men might disagree, for example. 

One goal that I would like to set for the International Society of Atheists is to have equal numbers of men and women involved, although I am not yet sure how to pursue that goal.  It seems intuitively connected to the idea of atheist community building, although I do not know exactly why.  Hopefully in time I will gain more insight into the subject.

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14 Comments
  1. I’m right here, Andrew. 🙂

    You know, I think that there might be something to this. I am a sociologist of religion (and an atheist), and the trends in most countries around the world are that women tend to be more religious than men. You’d never guess this if you just looked at who runs the world’s religions, would you? It’s true, though. Women identify as religious more often, attend services more often, and feel a personal connection with a god more often than men do.

    Why? I can think of lots of hypotheses, but I don’t have any data.

    Women are usually the caregivers for children and religion is usually understood as being a source of morals. Maybe women are more religious because they think it’s better for the kids. Religions tend to be run by men and attended by women, maybe men are more comfortable bucking that authority than women are. Women tend to be more involved in informal sociality and religious functions are a major source of that, maybe women benefit more from the community of religion than men do. Boys are encouraged to study science more than girls are, maybe men are more likely to conclude in favour of science because of their prior experience with it. Atheism is correlated with education, which until very recently was reserved for men.

    All these are possibilities. Maybe if atheists could make a good case about morality not being derived from religion, and if we could get better at having communities, then we could attract more women. Maybe as more women get higher education and in particular study the sciences, more will deconvert. Maybe I am totally wrong. Who knows? It would make a neat study, though.

  2. Andrew Clapper permalink

    Thanks for the well thought out response, Natasha. I am indeed hoping that more women will be attracted to my (future) organization’s focus on community building. I noticed your hypotheses tended to approach the issue from sociological point of view, while mine are more so based on evolutionary psychology. Since evolutionary psychology tends to be presented as an alternative to the Standard Social Science Model, one will often see hypotheses that focus innate human tendencies rather than social conditioning and function, or at least a combination of all three. There is probably something to both approaches.

  3. Hi, Andrew!

    I am another female atheist, standing to be counted.

    I’ve been reading your blog and enjoy it very much. Keep up the good work!

    Natasha:

    You your comments are quite thought provoking as well. I would just like to address one thing:

    Maybe if atheists could make a good case about morality not being derived from religion […]

    This case has been made many times.

    Great stuff, both of you!

  4. Celeste permalink

    Hi Andrew!
    Here is one female atheist a former christian! I’m living here in the buckle of the bible belt too!
    Celeste
    Let’s get our voices heard!

  5. melanie permalink

    … I just happened to wander across your blog – thought I’d stand up and be counted as a nother female atheist. .

  6. Noor Zaheer permalink

    Dear Andrew,
    have been thinking about this myself for a long time now. being an atheist myself, I have often found that proclaiming it in the Indian society not only attaches a stigma of lose morals it also has one hounded by really crappy men who believe that since one does not believe in god one should be willing to sleep with them. after all there is no fear of retribution/punishment.
    In a patriachal society i think women feel safety in being protected by a male and god is that, isnt he?
    before we go on to atheism, which should be the final goal one would have to do away with all male gods, prophets, saints, hermits and the rest.
    it has been good reading your blog. would like to join the International Society of Atheists. It would increase the female count by a single head
    love
    Noor Zaheer

  7. Sonya permalink

    Greetings Andrew,

    I’m a female atheist, and proud of it. I’m also an African American, who was born and raised in the Bible Belt (Indiana). I’m an especially rare bird, since most female African Americans are completely consumed with ‘God’, and organized religion in general. There has been a long tradition of excessive religiosity, in the African American community. This benefited us, before we had access to education, voting rights, and job opportunities. But now, religiosity seems to be holding back African Americans, on the whole.

    I think it’s detrimental to African Americans, to center their lives around religion, rather than political strategies. A focus on progressive politics, rather than religion, would really make a concrete difference in empowering African Americans. The same goes for women, and other oppressed groups. It’s shocking to me, that most people don’t realize this. A belief in a male ‘God’, is
    part of the oppressive patriarchal value system. I find it especially repugnant, that religion encourages misogyny, and homophobia.

    Evolution has been proven time and time again. Creation has not.
    There’s never been proof of a heaven, hell, or a ‘God’. I have to wonder if religious people will ever wake-up, and smell the proverbial coffee. They seem to be a willfully ignorant bunch,
    which to me, is quite sad.

    Sonya.

    • Andrew permalink

      Thank you for your insight, Sonya! It is always great to hear from atheist women that find this posting. Your perspective as a female African American atheist is valuable.

  8. Lilith permalink

    Old blog but I know quite a few atheist women – myself included. We live in the south so we don’t advertise it as much. Otherwise we’d face regular exorcisms, proselytizing, and ostracism. Seriously, in the south, it’s one thing for a man to be an atheist, but a woman? How dare we!??!!? My guess is that locale will dictate on how open / vocal atheist women are. I know quite a few here in the Houston area but like I said, we keep it to ourselves. If you’re south of the Dixon Mason line, you’ll find us under rocks and floor mats.

    • Andrew permalink

      Thanks for your response, Lilith! After a couple of years of neglect for this blog, I have decided to recommit to posting on it. It’s too bad that anyone of any gender has to keep his or her atheism under wraps. I’m glad that you do know other atheist women in the Houston area, however. I can certainly understand how the cultural climate in the southern United States tends to discourage people from from being openly atheist.

  9. Lilith permalink

    Mason Dixon line, that it. (It’s what happens to me when people talk to me whilst I type).

  10. Just showing support. 🙂

    xoxo,

    Anna

    • Andrew permalink

      Thanks, Anna! This post has gotten a great response.

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  1. Where Are the Female Atheists? @ Atheist Peace

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