I was recently listening to one of the newer The Bible Reloaded's Q&A videos and one of the questions was in regards to why there aren't more female atheists. Now, statistically the ratio of men to women atheists grows smaller by the year, but it seems that women atheists are certainly less vocal than their male counterparts. Why is this? And why are there still more men than women in the atheist community?
A couple of theories out there are that being indoctrinated into a patriarchal religion makes women less likely to reject a male god, women have been predominately less educated than men until recently, women are more group oriented than men and therefore seek out settings like a church community, women are more risk averse than men, women are forced into very specific gender roles within religious communities, a non-religious status for a woman is seen as a detriment to her being a good mother, churches cater to women, or men are more vocal and confrontational in their disbelief.
In all likelihood it is probably a little bit of all of this. But I would like to add another factor to the mix. Emotions and how religions manipulate those emotions to the detriment of women who have been socially conditioned to respond emotionally before using analytical thought. Women in the church and society are taught from a young age to embrace their emotions. Trust your instincts. Go with your gut. Don't be afraid to cry. Church becomes more than just a religious ceremony. It's where she cried, laughs, and is allowed to have "righteous anger" at the things of the world that hurt her. Her womanhood becomes intertwined with her religion, her virginity, marriage and children. She isn't encouraged to question or analyze her faith. The church service is geared towards creating emotional experiences so that, even if you do question, your emotional personal experiences tell you that the questions are foolish. Add to that a dash of patriarchy, a holy book that says women are subservient, and some hefty guilt centered around your feminine whiles, and it is no wonder that it is so difficult for many women to break away from the church.
I was in my late teens when I started to catch onto the emotional manipulation in the church. In psychology this is referred to as Mystical Manipulation, a concept that has it's beginning in sociology not religion. Church service usually started with an upbeat song. If the worship pastor was particularly good at his job, he would carefully craft the worship service for maximum emotional manipulation. Unlike hymns, modern worship songs are often a lot like chanting, repeating the same phrase or chorus over and over. Perhaps the worship pastor or even pastor will get up in the middle of the song and using the words of the song, tell the congregation how much they are loved. For best results, it is good if all three or four of the songs have the same theme. For a slightly ridiculous example, let's go with the theme of 'Shout to the Lord': When I Think of His Goodness, Shout, Shout it Loud, Shout to the Lord.
The songs start out fast, exciting. Get people on their feet. By the end of such a worship service, I promise even the most reluctant shouters may feel the need to let out a whoop or two. How could you not? You just spend the best part of a half hour singing about shouting to the Lord. Then the pastor steps forward and says something like, "If you love Jesus let me hear you shout! I can't hear you. Let me hear you shout! Praise God. Praise Jesus. Let's pray."
Obviously, this is an extreme example for a more charistmatic setting, but do you see all those people in the second video? These people are into it and there are a lot of them. When you are already an emotional person, being placed in a setting once or twice a week where your emotions are being cleverly manipulated in order for ultimate feelings is going to leave you on a constant emotional roller coaster. I want to state here too that I think this kind of emotional manipulation happens in almost every religion. In America, where women are expected to be irrational and emotional, it makes sense that they would also be the ones who carry religion for their families. Men are the "head of the household", but statistically speaking, it is the women who go to church and volunteer.
One of the things I used to really struggle with and still occasionally have to deal with is otherness within the female community. I don't enjoy getting my nails done or going shopping. You would have to pay me money in order to convince me to go to another god damned candle party. In church, I often felt like an outsider because I didn't fit in with the types of women who were activelly involved in church. These women seemed to live for bake sales and women's retreats. They were prayer warriors and gossips, all at the same time. They moved from one emotional high to another. Girl's movie nights centered around whatever was the newest Christian propoganda drama about marriage or heaven or praying. But I also understand that for these women, the ones who do feel a part, the church became a second home to them. A place to pour out their frustrations, to pray to a God who promises to listen and fix things, to commune with other people who feel the same way, to cry and laugh. In some respects, this can be a good thing, but I see an entire institution that uses manipulation tactics to keep people entrenched in archaic beliefs by creating carefully fabricating "experiences" and community. I used to believed I was a part of that community too, even though none of my long-standing friendships are with anyone I met in church.
Breaking away from such a community is difficult. By the time I left the church, all it had become was another volunteering obligation. I had made no lasting friendships and was annoyed by many of the women in the church. This is not the case for many women though. For my friend Loretta, the church was where she worked, volunteered, had friends, was comforted, found salvation, was prayed over, and in the end...condemned. She reached a breaking point in her thirteen year marriage where she tired of being treated like shit and instead of finding support all she found was condemnation. She knew that by leaving her husband, she would essentially have to leave behind a decade and a half of her life in the church. That takes some balls people.
Like I said in the beginning, I'm sure there are a number of factors that play a part in this and I think it is important that non-believers understand the level of emotional manipulation here. If you never believed or were never fully indoctrinated into a religion, it may seem so logical to think that all a person needs to do is open their mind, look at the facts, and they will see what you have seen. But the levels that some religions go to in order to create and keep their followers is quite powerful and it often takes a lot to break free from it.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.