Flickr photo by Ged Carroll

Why women are less likely to identify as non-religious

By Steven Simmons

The most recent SpokaneFāVS weekly Viewpoints asked the question of why women are more religious than men. I’d like to flip that question and answer why I think women are less likely to identify as non-religious.

I think it’s for the same reason that atheists and agnostics are much more likely to not only be men, but also identify as white. The answer is simple: Privilege.

Being non-religious is a very unpopular position. It can have catastrophic social and familial consequences. As with almost any injustice, the stigma against being non-religious falls less heavily on those who have privilege.

I don’t mean to say all women who are religious are so because of male privilege – just that the cost for them, should they choose otherwise, is higher.

One of the most compelling benefits that people get from religion is community. The potential of losing one’s community is distressing, and that effect, too, is amplified by privelege. A person protected by white male privilege can afford to be labeled with all the stereotypes that accompany being non-religious (being stubborn, willful, arrogant, rebellious, angry, etc). Those labels, when applied to women, become transformed, harsher, they go from mere distaste to condemnation.

These possible negative consequences likely keep some women from not only openly expressing their doubts when they have them, but from examining them in the first place.

As the non-religious demographic continues to become a larger and more visible segment of the population, and secular alternatives to religious communities grow, I believe the demographics of the non-religious will become more reflective of society as a whole.


About Steven Simmons

Steven Simmons considers himself a secular humanist and atheist. Born into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he began his journey away from religion at the age of 12 when it began to clash with his increasingly naturalistic worldview. Simmons is a long-time resident of Moscow, Idaho, where he is a board member of the Humanists of the Palouse. For the past several years he has been closely involved in the secular movement in the Palouse region where he works to create a sense of community and an awareness of humanist values to a relatively conservative part of the Inland Northwest.

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