Department of Educational Psychology



Dena M. Abbott

Document Type


Date of this Version



Published in Psychology of Women Quarterly, Vol. 46:4 (2022), pp. 501–517.

DOI: 10.1177/03616843221115338


Copyright © 2022 Dena M. Abbott and Elyxcus J. Anaya; published by SAGE Publications. Used by permission.


Using a critical, grounded theory approach, we interviewed 31 atheist-identified women to ascertain the ways in which women develop and navigate an atheist identity and how their experience is influenced by patriarchal, hegemonic Christianity in the United States using a concealable stigmatized identity framework. Qualitative analysis resulted in six core categories: (1) Embracing Atheism as Liberation, (2) Escaping Christian Patriarchy, Challenging Atheist Patriarchy, (3) Low Identity Salience Provides Protection from Anti-Atheist Discrimination, (4) Expectations to Conform to Christian Norms, (5) Disclosure Requires Thoughtfulness and Purpose, and (6) Connecting with Other Atheists is Valuable and Elusive. Although atheist women experienced sexism within atheist communities that made connecting with other atheists challenging, participants viewed atheism as liberating them from religious patriarchy. Anti-atheist discrimination was common early in women’s atheist identity development, but not as frequent or salient over time. Rather, Christian hegemony and the expectation to adapt to Christian norms were more distressing than individual acts of anti-atheist discrimination. Therefore, concealment and disclosure were used to reduce personal discomfort and protect others’ feelings, rather than to avoid overt anti-atheist stigma. Integration with previous concealable stigmatized identity and atheism literature is discussed. In the interest of more equitable and healthy atheist communities for women atheists, community members and leaders are encouraged to dismantle patriarchy within secular organizations and center women’s voices and experiences. Clinicians and researchers can increase awareness of how hegemonic, patriarchal Christianity influences their professional work and the women they serve and eradicate such bias from their methods.