I remember being quite shocked as a new atheist to find that there are more men who are atheists than women. This goes counter to several of my basic views, most primary among them being that I see religion as often being overtly misogynistic.
For a time, I even contemplated the possibility that religious women were living with a sort of cultural Stockholm syndrome, whereby women were religious hostages that had developed empathy for their captors.
I have since come to different conclusions.
My entire understanding of the situation was initially influenced by my own experiences, namely that I met far more women who were atheists than I met men who were. Outside of the example of my father being an atheist and my mother being Catholic, I knew not a single male who was an atheist until I went to college, while I knew a handful of female atheists.
Early on, I identified atheism with feminism. Religion is a patriarchal system, both theologically and socially. Religions tend to oppose abortion and insist on women being mothers ahead of having a career. Those on the political right tend to oppose atheism, while the political left is more likely to embrace secularism, and men tend to lean right while women tend to lean left.
So imagine my surprise when the more I dug into atheism, the more it seemed that atheist men outnumbered atheist women. It appeared as though women who clung to religion were self-loathing fools, and maybe they are.
However, I think what I am seeing is the tide shifting. I think the new generations of women who were raised in the 80s and 90s will ultimately become atheists at a higher rate than men, and I think this is tied to education.
Women did not used to go to college very often, but women now outnumber men in the higher education system. Atheism tends to be highest among the educated and affluent, and I predict there will be more female atheists than male atheists within my lifetime, as the women of the previous generations die off and all that’s left are the highly educated women of the generations leading up to, including, and following my own.
I just don’t think women are inherently more religious, nor does religion have anything special to offer women. Atheism itself is growing quickly, and there’s no reason for me to believe women will be turned off by atheism.
The “incident” involving a woman feeling threatened by a man asking her out in an elevator has little or nothing to do with atheism, but rather with men and women in general. It is absurd to think that women should or do feel uncomfortable about atheism because it is currently male dominated, and to any woman who does feel that atheism is particularly unfriendly to women, I would beg you to present to me any religion that is more fundamentally accepting of the notion of treating women as equals.
The fact is, there is nothing inherently masculine about atheism. To say that men are making atheism unfriendly for women is to almost suggest that women can’t handle being in a group composed predominantly of men. This, to me, is ludicrous.
Personally, I see the whole discussion of whether women feel uncomfortable at atheist functions as largely moot. For one, I see atheist gatherings as inherently missing the entire point of atheism, but that’s neither here nor there. Most importantly, I don’t think it would matter if some (or perhaps even most) male atheists were openly hostile towards women, because women are going to be drawn to atheism regardless.
I don’t think women can be kept out of anything. I believe (and hope) that all the old boys’ clubs disintegrate. I can understand how someone might feel that atheism is male dominated, especially if one puts stock in famous atheists (of which I know of far more who are male than female). However, you can mark my words: if atheism is, in fact, male dominated, it won’t be for much longer.