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Atheist feminism is a movement that advocates feminism within atheism. Atheist feminists also oppose religion as a main source of female oppression and inequality, believing that the majority of the religions are sexist and oppressive to women.
The first known feminist who was also an atheist was Ernestine Rose, born in Poland on January 13, 1810. Her open confession of disbelief in Judaism when she was a teenager brought her into conflict with her father (who was a rabbi) and an unpleasant relationship developed. In order to force her into the obligations of the Jewish faith, her father, without her consent, betrothed her to a friend and fellow Jew when she was sixteen. Instead of arguing her case in a Jewish court (since her father was the local rabbi who ruled on such matters), she went to a secular court, pled her own case, and won. In 1829 she went to England, and in 1835 she was one of the founders of the British atheist organization Association of All Classes of All Nations, which "called for human rights for all people, regardless of sex, class, color, or national origin." She lectured in England and America (moving to America in May 1836) and was described by Samuel P. Putnam 3 as "one of the best lecturers of her time." He wrote that "no orthodox [meaning religious] man could meet her in debate."
In the winter of 1836, Judge Thomas Hertell, a radical and freethinker, submitted a married women's property act in the legislature of the state of New York to investigate ways of improving the civil and property rights of married women, and to permit them to hold real estate in their own name, which they were not then permitted to do in New York. Upon hearing of the resolution, Ernestine Rose drew up a petition and began the soliciting of names to support the resolution in the state legislature, sending the petition to the legislature in 1838. This was the first petition drive done by a woman in New York. Ernestine continued to increase both the number of the petitions and the names until such rights were finally won in 1848, with the passing of the Married Women's Property Act. Others who participated in the work for the bill included Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and Frances Wright, who were all anti-religious. Later when Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton analyzed the influences which led to the Seneca Falls Convention on women's rights in 1848, they identified three causes, the first two being the radical ideas of Frances Wright and Ernestine Rose on religion and democracy, and the initial reforms in women's property law in the 1830s and 1840s.
Ernestine later joined a group of freethinkers who had organized a Society for Moral Philanthropists, at which she often lectured. In 1837, she took part in a debate that continued for thirteen weeks, where her topics included the advocacy of abolition of slavery, women's rights, equal opportunities for education, and civil rights. In 1845 she was in attendance at the first national convention of infidels [meaning atheists]. Ernestine Rose also introduced "the agitation on the subject of women's suffrage" in Michigan in 1846. In a lecture in Worchester, Massachusetts in 1851, she opposed calling upon the Bible to underwrite the rights of women, claiming that human rights and freedom of women were predicated upon "the laws of humanity" and that women, therefore, did not require the written authority of either Paul or Moses, because "those laws and our claim are prior" to both.
She attended the Women's Rights Convention in the Tabernacle, New York City, on September 10, 1853, and spoke at the Hartford Bible Convention in 1854. It was in March of that year, also, that she took off with Susan B. Anthony on a speaking tour to Washington, D.C. Susan B. Anthony arranged the meetings and Ernestine Rose did all of the speaking; after this successful tour, Susan B. Anthony embarked on her own first lecture tour.
Later, in October 1854, Ernestine Rose was elected president of the National Women's Rights Convention at Philadelphia, overcoming the objection that she was unsuitable because of her atheism. Susan B. Anthony supported her in this fight, declaring that every religion — and none — should have an equal right on the platform. In 1856 she spoke at the Seventh National Woman's [Rights] Convention saying in part, "And when your minister asks you for money for missionary purposes, tell him there are higher, and holier, and nobler missions to be performed at home. When he asks for colleges to educate ministers, tell him you must educate woman, that she may do away with the necessity of ministers, so that they may be able to go to some useful employment."
She appeared again in Albany, New York, for the State Women's Rights Convention in early February 1861, the last one to be held until the end of the Civil War. On May 14, 1863, she shared the podium with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and Antoinette Blackwell when the first Women's National Loyal League met to call for equal rights for women, and to support the government in the Civil War "in so far as it makes a war for freedom".
She was in attendance at the American Equal Rights Association meeting in which there was a schism and on May 15, 1869, she joined with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucy Stone to form a new organization, the National Woman Suffrage Association, which fought for both male and female suffrage, taking a position on the executive committee. She died at Brighton, England, on August 4, 1892, at age eighty-two.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage
The most prominent other people to publicly advocate for feminism as well as atheism in the 1800s were Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage. In 1885 Elizabeth wrote an essay entitled "Has Christianity Benefited Woman?" arguing that it had in fact hurt women's rights, and stating, "All religions thus far have taught the headship and superiority of man, [and] the inferiority and subordination of woman. Whatever new dignity, honor, and self-respect the changing theologies may have brought to man, they have all alike brought to woman but another form of humiliation". In 1893 Matilda Joslyn Gage wrote the book for which she is best known, "Woman, Church, and State," which was one of the first books to draw the conclusion that Christianity is a primary impediment to the progress of women, as well as civilization. In 1895 Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote The Woman's Bible, revised and continued with another book of the same name in 1898, in which she criticized religion and stated "the Bible in its teachings degrades women from Genesis to Revelation." She died in 1902. The right to vote was won for American women in 1920, and after that feminism of all types in America largely lay dormant until the 1960s.
Atheist feminist Anne Nicol Gaylor cofounded the Freedom From Religion Foundation in 1976 with her daughter, Annie Laurie Gaylor, and was also editor of Freethought Today from 1984 to 2009, when she became executive editor. Aside from promoting atheism in general, her atheist feminist activities include writing the book "Woe To The Women: The Bible Tells Me So", first published in 1981, which is now in its 4th printing. This book exposes and discusses sexism in the Bible. Furthermore, her 1997 book, "Women Without Superstition: 'No Gods, No Masters,' was the first collection of the writings of historic and contemporary female freethinkers. She has also written several articles on religion's harm to women.
In 2012 the first "Women in Secularism" conference was held, from May 18–20 at the Crystal City Marriott at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia. Also, Secular Woman was founded on June 28, 2012 as the first national organization focused on nonreligious women. The mission of Secular Woman is to amplify the voice, presence, and influence of non-religious women.
In August 2012 Jennifer McCreight founded a movement within atheism known as Atheism Plus, that "applies skepticism to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, politics, poverty, and crime." It has a website.
- History of atheism
- Criticism of religion
- Gender and religion
- Religion and domestic violence
- Christianity and domestic violence
- Islam and domestic violence
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