Feminist Atheist, or Atheist Feminist?

“Atheist” and “feminist” are two identities which don’t get along so well. It’s a shame, because both are unfairly stigmatized, and I think the “a-word” and “f-word” could gain a lot in a collaborative partnership. Which is why I (of course) claim both identities and discuss how both inform my work as a social change agent.

The trickiest thing — at least as far as the low-stakes issues go — is deciding how to present myself. Am I a feminist atheist, or an atheist feminist? The first noun will become the adjective, informed by the core identity of the second, whether or not I would wish it to be.

So is my brand of atheism an explicitly “feminist atheism,” or is my feminism informed by atheism, just as many schools of feminism are molded by an outside source (i.e. ecofeminism, Marxist feminism, Christian feminism, etc.)? I’m not being asked to choose between the two identities, but I am interested in how just changing the order of the words shifts the theoretical foundation in a significant way.

Give the options, I’d have to say that I think feminism reflects my core motivations better than atheism. The reason for this is simple: I could stop thinking, talking, and writing about atheism, and the supernatural would still be a lot of hooey. The ontological argument, while fascinating and important, is not the issue on which social change currently hinges. In contrast, to stop talking about feminist issues would be to surrender to a politically-regressive, theologically-oppressive movement prioritizing the cis-male of the species over the cis-female (and just forget about the trans* people). Giving up on feminism is a tangible step backwards.

Let me put it another way. Richard Dawkins is a rape apologist. I do not mean this pejoratively, even though that’s a pretty rotten thing to be. I mean that anyone who compares being a victim of sexual assault to being a drunk driver has clear, well-defined loyalty to rape culture. There is nothing essentially atheist about Dawkins’ victim-blaming, but there is something essentially misogynistic. If my primary concern was with the ontological argument, I wouldn’t care. But instead, as an embodied female, living in rape culture like a fish lives in water, I simply cannot “do atheism” without the bedrock philosophy that I am deserving of personhood. I demand to be seen as a whole person. If Dawkins feels the need to ‘splain to women how rape culture really isn’t so bad…well, forget him. No one died and made him god.

What is meant by feminism (in this space)? 

For me, feminism is a political philosophy which promotes choice in all things. In a consumer-oriented culture, choice is often reduced to “would you like fries with that,” so let’s specify choices as being related to embodiment.

Far-reaching conclusions can be drawn from this one philosophy: Stop-and-frisk is a feminist issue. Prison abolition is a feminist issue. Marriage equality and trans* liberation are feminist issues. Animal welfare is a feminist issue. Palestine is a feminist issue.

All of these issues are about how our embodiment is perceived and interacts with the world around us. Troy Davis and Trayvon Martin were both executed because of their embodiment. Those deaths are, in addition to being a racial issue and a criminal justice issue, a feminist issue.

I cannot be safe in my own body unless everyone else is also safe in their own bodies. Feminism means all of us or none. This, more than anything else, is the ethical commitment that gets me out of bed in the morning.

Atheism is the arena in which I would like to enact feminism. Atheism without feminism means absolutely nothing. You might as well go out and join the Quiverfull movement.