Prompt: How can atheism be beneficial to women?
My first thought is to say that yes, atheism does benefit women. The rejection of a god or gods along with the misogynistic traditions and beliefs that are present in many religions should be beneficial to women. However, misogynistic themes that are perpetuated by religion have so thoroughly soaked into American culture that atheists are not immune to being raging sexists. Even so, I do think that atheism tends to go along with other qualities and skills that are often helpful in realizing that women are not treated fairly and help them be more proactive in taking steps to fix the inequality.
For example, many atheists start out by questioning some part of their religion. It does not matter what it is about their religion that they begin to question; it teaches them the valuable skills of skepticism and critical thinking. This translates well to thinking about our society and questioning why women and men are treated differently. Many find that there are no good secular reasons for this disparity and come to promote feminism, which typically benefits women.
Atheism also benefits women because it is a disunited group. While religions have texts which instruct people on how to live, atheism has no such feature. This allows women more freedom because there is no one document that all atheists follow which demands women be subservient to men or tells them how they dress or how to plan their families. Among atheists, women are allowed to do those things if they wish, but the important part is that they are not being told that they should or must. This is also a benefit for a society as a whole; when everyone, not just men, can choose how to contribute to society, the potential for improvement is doubled.
While some could argue that atheism does not directly benefit women, it seems to me that feminism and atheism are a natural fit. They both encourage challenging the status quo and thinking critically. As a woman and an atheist, it is my hope that the two groups will continue to work together to achieve these goals.
Kayla Martyn is a third-year biology major.
For centuries, religious tradition and dogma have been used to justify oppression and violence against women. Holy books, like the Christian Bible and the Quran, frequently refer to women in terms of property ownership and control. And although many of the followers of these faiths probably dismiss these references as archaic, there are some who, even today, use them to justify control over women’s bodies, including violent acts against them, and, in some cases, murder.
In many parts of the world, including Britain and Canada, Sharia law is gaining popularity. The premise of Sharia law and Sharia courts is to settle disputes based on Islamic law, which heavily favors men. In real-world terms, this means that in divorce disputes, women will likely lose their children and in disputes about abuse, women usually have no recourse. This may in part explain the rise in honor killings: retaliatory murders of women and children by their male relatives. According to the UN, there are an estimated 5,000 honor killings committed each year. These homicides, justified by religious belief, happen all over the world, not just in the Middle East, and may be on the rise in the U.S. and Europe as well.
The Catholic Church isn’t free of blame either. Though their modern methods of control may be less terrifying than being beaten and murdered in honor-killing style, they may be more damaging to the feminist movement. Just this year the Catholic Church fought a health care mandate for birth control in the United States; they were not entirely successful here, but in other parts of the world including Africa and the Philippines, their campaign against contraceptives has had very damaging results. The Catholic Church has a great deal of worldwide power, but it seems odd that one man in a funny hat living in Rome should have any authority over when and if a woman living thousands of miles away becomes a mother.
What sets apart the atheist/free-thought communities from religious communities is their long-standing commitment to equality. Secularists have been fighting for women’s rights since the 19th century, a fight that will continue until women’s bodies and their destinies are their own, and violent acts against women are not granted religious immunity.
Caitlin Page is a fourth-year cultural anthropology major.