Part 2 - Sexism and Secularism

    Sexism is not confined to men. Non of us are immune from the effect of the cultural conditioning There are men and women, gay and straight, young and old who maintain sexist attitudes and are overt or covert in expressing them.
    It would be surprising if secularists were very different from the rest of the population, we are all formed by our culture. But it could be expected that people whose views put them apart from the majority of public opinion on religion if nothing else, call themselves freethinkers and rationalists would be likely to have considered the effect upon society past and present in excluding women and would be less sexist than the general public.
    Who are secularists? What other dominant themes make people likely to be atheist and reject religious attitudes and prejudices, and the discrimination that flows from them? Jews, homosexuals, ethnic minority peoples and women. While there are many Jews and gays in the movement, people from minority ethnic backgrounds are usually close knit communities that often have strong religious affiliations, there appear to be few women - a stranger phenomenon!
    The movement has a list of honorary associates who agree with the stance of secular humanists. The list printed in the New Humanist Summer 2002 stood at 52. Of that number 5 were women. This reflects the educational and employment bias of the past, but it is time that the movement recognised  more women atheists. If women journalists such as Polly Toynbee, Joan Smith, (both of whom are now associates) Mary Riddell and the many eminent women scientist and writers are anything to go by, there is no shortage of women who "have the stomach to use the forthright, uncompromising language" or do not "choose to pussyfoot around with subjects that are of little interest" to the male freethinker. Nor are women writers any more likely to demand payment for writing for the journals than are men, as has been said! (comments made about women from an influential freethinker)
    Nothing in this audit says anything about the relative stances of the organisation and their effectiveness, far from it. The current differences may flow from different recruiting policies, but where there is a significant discrepancy between the men and women involved in them, their practices and attitudes must be questioned.
    We have no control over the extent to which the organisations to which we belong practice sexist policies or harbour sexist attitudes, that restrict women's ability to participate. By its very nature sexism prevents us from influencing matters until such time as we can change the structures and/or attitudes that affect us. This is but one way of letting anyone who practices or supports sexism inside the secularist movement that their activities are not going unnoticed or unremarked.
    It is also important to make it very clear that there are some practices that pose as anti-sexist that actually make things worse. Notably the promotion of women regardless of their actual commitment to secular humanist ideology damages the reputation of women secularists. When women are promoted within the movement, only because they are female and not because they are good secularists plays into the hands of those who want to exclude women, on the grounds that they are less able or less committed.


'Institutionalised' - more than personal prejudice, it is where the procedures and structure of an organisation, favours discrimination against individuals or a group of people on irrelevant criteria.

'Sexism' - Is prejudice and discrimination against women on grounds of their gender. An assumption that they are inferior to men and that their place is in the kitchen and not as equals in discussion and decision making.

'Feminism' - is the word for those of us who uphold the right of women to equal status and value. We do not accept that women should continue to be treated unfairly because they are women by individuals , society, or the state, and that women have a right if not a duty to participate fully in all the social and decision making institutions. In any given situation the correct position is that women are not inferior to men  and the male perspective is  not "the norm".

'Secularism' is the movement that ensures freedom for religion, and freedom from religion, and demands that the state be neutral in matters of religion. Not favouring or subsidising one religion or sect over another, or any of them over the non-believer. It does not exist to get rid of religion, but for those who want to believe in the supernatural, it should be a private matter between consenting adults, not a dominant factor in public life as it is at present day Britain.

Most secularists are atheists who are aware of the hideous history of religion through the ages, and its malign role in human affairs, including its role in war and the oppression of women. At all levels sexism discriminates against women, personal, family, community and state level, religious attitudes as to the role of women, result in their exclusion not only from its own institutions, but from decision making institutions of all kinds.

'Sectarianism' is the opposite of secularism. It is the domination  by one religious sect, cult or group to the detriment or exclusion of others, of other sects or no religious belief. It is not against private belief, but against the distorted thinking of superstition and its dominant political position  maintained by privilege, advantage or state bias.

The curse of sectarianism, has had devastating consequences for human kind. Millions have suffered and died in the name of religion, in internecine warfare, inquisitions, conquests such as those of the Conquistadors in South America, the Crusades Inquisitions and wars in Europe, and missionary conquests on every continent. All in the name of the great god of war and the men who fought for his supremacy. Women have been at the forefront of the suffering caused by their exclusion from rightful participation in the running of society.

For more definitions of Atheism, Secularism and Secular Humanism on Teachers Notes on

See also &

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