The official blog of University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics

No offense, fellow white guys

If you read a lot of atheist blogs, you probably already heard about what happened over the weekend at a rapture-themed skeptics conference. Basically: white guy gets up on stage, makes a lot of comments that more-or-less reduce the value of atheist women to their sex appeal (complete with boob jokes), and gets his ass handed to him during Q&A.

For more, see Greta Christina & Jen McCreight (the Q&A ass-hander)’s posts about it.

This was actually one of the more minor blowups over misogyny in the skeptics movement. There have been worse. But these things just keep happening, demonstrating that there’s a lot about white male privileged that the movement as a whole has yet to absorb.

So here’s what’s been bothering me lately: the difference between the diversity of our Facebook members and the diversity of our actual meetings. Eyeballing the Facebook list, it looks pretty evenly split gender-wise, and there’s some racial diversity, but the meetings are 90-100% white guy. 

I know individuals have reasons for not coming to meetings. I understand that people have class/work/family responsibilities. But isn’t it a little bit worrying the overall split between those who do and don’t show up falls so sharply along gender and race lines?

SASHA is trying to be the public face of non-belief on this campus. We can’t perpetuate the myth that non-believers are all white males. This is not ok. We need to be seen as the diverse group we really are.

I have my own thoughts on what we could do better, including the way we act at meetings, but I’m another white guy. So I’d like to ask all of the women and all of the people of other races: what would make a SASHA meeting enjoyable for you?

What activities do you like to see the group organize?
What topics do you want to see discussed?
What issues do you want to see SASHA take up?
What opportunities are we missing?

And if you’ve ever come to a group and had a bad experience, or just felt generally ill at ease (or even bored), by all means share your story. Tell us how to serve Mizzou’s freethinkers better.


21 comments on “No offense, fellow white guys

  1. ElectricHarpsichord
    May 25, 2011

    I, personally, haven’t been to any of the meetings. I’m a member of the Facebook group, but the group’s managed to make me not want to come to meetings. The sheer amount of vitriol and anger that I see on the page makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable. I want the groups I attend to promote acceptance and safety, not disdain and intolerance.

    And to give you an idea of my demographic: I’m a white, pansexual, transgender boy. I’m female-bodied and identify as gender-optional and/or female-to-whatever (FTW!) Having a space where I feel safe is very important to me.

    • Steve S
      May 25, 2011


      Could you explain a little bit about what constitutes a safe space for you? The SASHA members are interested in creating safe spaces, but we’re a little clueless as to how it’s done. Any advice would be very helpful.

  2. Steve S
    May 25, 2011

    I proved my own point by completely forgetting gender identity. I notice I also left out sexual orientation, now that I think about it.

    And yes, we are an argumentative bunch. I hope we don’t come off nearly as angry in real life, but my perspective isn’t the best for judging that.

  3. Scott Weber
    May 25, 2011

    Steve s., I think you make some great points, and have some good ideas about them. I was a member of The Rationalists Society of St. Louis from about ’02-’09. I’d say the meetings were about 85% male, and of those, mostly 50 years old and older. / I think it’s kinda a guy thing to want to face off and prove oneself right and win. And, our kind (ie, rational-valuing, computer-using males) really like to use intellect a LOT. It can get a little…thin, for some people more than others, too.

    • ElectricHarpsichord
      May 25, 2011

      Scott, that is incredibly sexist.

      • Scott Weber
        May 25, 2011

        Testosterone plays a part in basic biology. Differences exist, especially statistically in groups, even though individuals may never be defined specifically. Sex exist, in all its reality and variations.

    • ElectricHarpsichord
      May 25, 2011

      Males and females (and intersexed individuals) all have testosterone. What you’re referring to is the socialization accorded to males, who are encouraged to compete and develop privilege, while females are discouraged from competition in lieu of peace-keeping.

      I am female-bodied, whatever-identified. I did debate in high school for three years, and went to nationals once. According to you, because I am female, I shouldn’t want to “face off” or “prove [my]self right and win”. And yet I did just that.

      • Scott Weber
        May 27, 2011

        You wrote: “…What you’re referring to is the socialization accorded to males, who are encouraged to compete and develop privilege, while females are discouraged from competition in lieu of peace-keeping…” Yes, exactly! Male socialization (which could be included in what I referred to as socio-cultural) is partly due to biology, ALTHOUGH, it may have little or nothing to do with biology! Usually, however, it does. that’s the group trend. As Jerry said below, “…Gender (i.e., the social construct) probably has more to do with it than biology, I would almost guarantee, but to some extent social constructs are self-selected based on biological differences. As a result, biological differences can reinforce social differences…” The biological and sociological ARE intertwined, even if to varying degrees in different contexts.
        You wrote: “…According to you, because I am female, I shouldn’t want to “face off” or “prove [my]self right and win”…” No. I’ve said individuals vary, but GROUP tendencies may show a particular pattern. You, or anyone in particular that I don’t know, I would have no idea about. I would never “should” you, but as a conjecture I might “maybe” you as a member of a particular group or from your self-description.

        I try not to do or attempt ‘facing off’ and ‘prove right and win.’ What I love is discussion of topics. I like to think that I’m rather innocently inquisitive, and love to hear conjectures, counter conjectures, etc, put on the table for discussion. This has been fun and enlightening.

  4. Scott Weber
    May 25, 2011

    This is interesting. Anyone else care to posit a theory on why so many white males make up such a majority of atheistic, face-to-face groups? (In this instance, sample size is only 2, of course – SASHA, and the Ration. Soc. of St.Louis. Is it like this overall, beyond our little MO community?)

    • Jerry Winn
      May 27, 2011

      First of all, I’ve never felt that we were a particularly argumentative group. We’ve had some heated debates with religious visitors, but with rare exception, everyone was a good sport. A lot of context is lost in, well, text- people like me who may come across as highly argumentative (and I am, to a degree)- can’t demonstrate our actual tameness like we can in person. Someone who has been to a few meetings is more than likely totally aware of how harmless we all are. A bit pretentious, if anything, is the worst of it.

      Case in point, I would imagine Scott doesn’t consider that he’s being argumentative, and if you were having the same conversation in person you’d likely have to agree, but it’d be easy to misconstrue that here.

      As for sex differences, they do exist and biological differences are thought to contribute to the ways males and females manifest aggression and expression differently. That can explain why most of a sex behaves a certain way, but there’s no law as such that all individuals of a sex will possess those traits. Influence is not determination.

      Gender (i.e., the social construct) probably has more to do with it than biology, I would almost guarantee, but to some extent social constructs are self-selected based on biological differences. As a result, biological differences can reinforce social differences.

      In the case of other races, I’d imagine it’s almost wholly due to the greater prevalence of religious homogeneity within minority racial groups.

      • Scott Weber
        May 27, 2011

        Well said Jerry. In my experiences with net text and then in-person, innocent discussion often can and does come across as arguing. My intent is not to argue or prove or win, but discuss. Truth-seeking is interesting and even fun! / Also, good points about sex, and you present them so clearly, articulately. Thanks.

      • Scott Weber
        May 27, 2011

        You wrote: “…As for sex differences, they do exist and biological differences are thought to contribute to the ways males and females manifest aggression and expression differently. That can explain why most of a sex behaves a certain way, but there’s no law as such that all individuals of a sex will possess those traits. Influence is not determination…”
        For myself, that sums it up nicely.

  5. Steve S
    May 25, 2011

    I’d be happy to speculate, but my speculations aren’t worth much. I’d rather hear what more women and minorities think.

    And I think we should just totally crush the “women don’t like atheism” or “women don’t like to debate” myth right now. Seriously. Let’s not blame biology for our group makeup. It’s a weak excuse.

    • Scott Weber
      May 25, 2011

      Yes, I hope some others chime in. When there at least SEEMS to be a sex difference, and we say it’s NOT a difference because of sex (whether biologically based, or, socio-culturally based), my curiosity grows as to what it IS that makes the sex line so demarcated. And in this case, there seems to be a race difference, too. (ie, white males). Again, why? I would think in the latter case it has to do with socio-cultural differences rather than any biological skin-color differences, to put it rather bluntly.

  6. Scott Weber
    May 25, 2011

    Oh, another thing: But cannot we ‘blame’ biology for some group makeup? We are biological, after all, and probably completely so (ie, no ‘spirit realm’ that rules over the physical, right?)

    • Steve S
      May 25, 2011

      You know what I meant.

      • Scott Weber
        May 26, 2011

        Actually, I think I did not. / I really think biology determines many facets of one’s being, and though there is always variations in individuals, there are definite tendencies, one being in the sexual natures we have. Likewise in cultural natures we have. We CAN legitimately make general statements that generally hold, about groups. This includes “Men” and “Women.”

      • Scott Weber
        May 26, 2011

        I’d like to add, I agree with you that we can NOT say “women don’t like atheism,” or “women don’t like to debate.” My point was that since this – and perhaps nearly EVERY? – atheist group is “mentally argumentative” in nature, and THAT may appeal more to white, American male tendencies. Just my theory to attempt to explain the original post’s descriptions of the group’s heavy skew toward white males. But I’d love to hear other thoughts on what it could be caused by. (I find it a genuinely interesting phenomena; I’m NOT trying to be argumentative, in the “asshole” sense.)

  7. Doris
    May 28, 2011

    25/f immigrant (atheist) here. My college (dude) roomie started the college Objectivist club (another white-male circle-jerk) and I was buddies with the college atheist club founder and yes, it was always all males.

    The first factor is that women have religion drilled into them in a way that males absolutely do not. That’s not the main point here, but the fact is that more women end up religious than men, and it’s NOT because they’re bad at science, more vulnerable, or just willfully ignorance.

    Second, and more to the OP’s point, the point of these social atheist groups is to find social acceptance. Women tend to have better social support. It has nothing to do with intellect – it’s all about stupid ego. Why would you spend time sitting around agreeing on one minor point? Most atheist groups don’t do volunteer service or anything stimulating – they just bash religion. It’s been done, guys, and it’s bor-ing. Most of my male atheist friends don’t frequent these groups either – they are also busy otherwise.

    Overall, it seems that these groups attract the lonely and disillusioned – perhaps these people were gifted and unrecognized all their lives, or grew out of religion as adults and are sad/angry because of it.

    Why do such groups often attract only the males? Well, male suicide rates a lot higher than female – there are probably just more lonely guys. Also, the women who DO straggle to these groups face a lot of resistance or sexual aggression – staring, questioning, etc. The guys tend to be dogmatic. The most obnoxious thing they do is finding pseudoscience to support their own beliefs – just like another group we often make fun of, eh? “Women have less testosterone and are less argumentative.” It is infuriatingly ignorant. Why would I expose myself to that BS?

    I actually had a guy ask me “why a girl would come to” the atheism meeting. WTF. Frankly, I was there because I had made the snacks to support my friend, but F that.

    And finally, let’s not forget that women tend to be the breadwinners. There are about 12 million single mothers in the US currently, they tend to be responsible for supporting elderly parents, etc. Not only do they not have time to attend meetings, but they have less time for reflection/introspection generally. It’s very sad.

    I hope this helped? Basically, these dudes need to get a life instead of sitting around wondering why women aren’t coming to their circle-jerks.

    • Steve S
      May 29, 2011

      So, basically you’re telling us the group shouldn’t exist, and that we’re all lonely, needy guys. That’s helpful.

      I can understand why SASHA has only appealed to a small handful of people so far. But you know what? I LIKE that small handful of people. I enjoy our interactions, and far more of it is based on mutual interests and sense of humor than on anger or loneliness, no matter how our snark might appear online.

      But it’s time for the group to expand, and become more than a place to blow off steam. What I’m asking for are real suggestions to make SASHA into a group that accommodates and supports all types of non-believers. And seriously, trying to figure out theoretical reasons why women don’t like atheist groups in general is not helping, whether we blame hormones or society.

      The fact is, there are plenty of atheist groups with diverse memberships. The fact that SASHA’s membership in particular is nearly all straight white male means that the problem is with SASHA. We need suggestions relevant to us, not theories on the state of atheism in general.

      If you don’t like what we’ve been, tell us what you would like us to be. That’s the whole point.

    • Jerry Winn
      June 16, 2011

      Someone is making a case for the argumentative woman, I take it? You raise some decent points, but do so in the same way that yourself and others condemn… and our group isn’t even like that. Our group is one of humor, philosophical/scientific development and personal growth. And personally I find it contemptible to disparage social networking efforts on the basis that they exist to quell loneliness– that’s a GOOD thing, which you even seem to acknowledge. That is generally one of the purposes of any organization, overt or otherwise, and should not be looked down upon for the value it provides as if those who benefit from it are pathetic.

      As for gender differences, and the thing I came here to share, I’d like to draw attention to the distinction between individualism and collectivism, something probably many are already familiar with in terms of culture. Individualistic cultures emphasize self-sufficiency, independence, personal ambition and success, etc. Collectivist cultures emphasize group cohesion, community, and generally identify successes and failures as those of the culture itself. The U.S. is probably the most individualist nation in the world; however, this (and I have no citations, but I would bet my left nut) probably applies primarily to the males. Increasingly it applies to females, but traditionally women in the U.S. and other individualist cultures have been saddled with a more collectivist role (e.g., fostering positive relationships, raising the family, setting up social events). This DOES tend to discourage certain positive traits like creativity and ambition which could explain manifold differences in gender performance. (This is not to discourage collectivism, which in other ways is superior to individualism).

      Now, arguably this distinction between men and individualists and women as collectivists has existed in varying cultures for quite some time, and we might hypothesize that this has genetically favored those traits for men and women in some way (I don’t know if genes cluster practicably in this way or not, however). The point being that in such societies, women who conform to their collectivist role should be more likely to succeed in reproduction while the same goes for the individualistic male, and thus social and biological differences co-perpetuate.

      While some take a less than liberal liking to the idea of androgyny within sexes, I think the ideal in terms of equity is that each person is comfortable in both of these “roles” and that this most benefits society and the individual as a whole person. Personally I consider myself pretty androgynous– certainly one would not have to look hard to find me playing a more maternal role than is stereotypical, and the converse could be said about my significant other, who is a headstrong, ambitious, highly intelligent (and militantly atheistic) woman. She has actually given reasons for not attending in the past, most of which I think comes down to precious little time (a problem I have lately myself) and having to drive back to campus from work, but I could probe her for other insights.

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This entry was posted on May 25, 2011 by in Uncategorized.
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