Women in Secularism: The Good, The Bad, The Awesome

Earlier this year I had to make a financial choice — I could either afford to go to DC for the Women in Secularism conference or I could afford to go to Vegas for The Amazing Meeting.  I say this not to denigrate TAM, but I could not have made a better decision.  The Women in Secularism conference is far and away the best atheist/skeptic conference that I’ve ever been to.  If you missed it, and you probably did, you need to not miss it again.

One of the things that I have trouble with in this movement is the lack of focus on issues that “matter”.  I came to the secular movement from the LGBT movement, fresh off of the Prop 8 loss, I discovered that out-and-proud atheists also had a movement, and I was eager to join a fight that I thought impacted everything, including LGBT and women’s issues.  So I went to the OCFA conference, to local skeptic and atheist meetups, I went to TAM, to Dragon*Con’s Skeptrack, to the SCA lobbying training, I wrote about it here, I wrote about it for secular.org, I gave speeches.  In short, I got involved.

Photo by Brian Engler

This month is my two year anniversary of being involved with this movement and, as someone who cares deeply about social justice, it has very often been a very difficult movement to be a part of.  For me the great appeal of secularism, the great tragedy of religion, and my own personal passion for this cause is all centered around the fact that religion is the source of many evils or used to justify those evils perpetrated against humanity.  As was said several times over the weekend, UFOs and Bigfoot aren’t that important to me, skepticism is much more interesting when applied to issues that impact people’s lives in serious ways.  Children, minorities, people of color, women, poor people, the disabled, the elderly, LGBT, and other marginalized groups would benefit so much from having the tragic consequences of religious bigotry removed from their lives.

So when people in charge of important organizations speak on a panel at TAM to say that social justice isn’t and shouldn’t be within the purview of skepticism, or people in my local atheist group leave because they think it is inappropriate that someone posted a link to a story about the Rally Against the War on Women because who cares about that feminist bullshit, or important people in the movement tell me not to bother submitting something to TAM if it has anything to do, even tangentially, with women’s issues, I start to doubt why I am even involved.

This conference was the antidote to that.  If you are someone in this movement who wants it to be about creating change in the world, this is the conference you should have been at.  If you are someone who thinks all that atheists and skeptics should do is talk about is why the bible is stupid and why UFOs aren’t real, then it really wasn’t for you.  I think that UFOs and critiquing the Bible and all of that are important discussions, but I think they are a reflection of an old, traditional, white male scientist way of thinking, and it’s not why I want to be involved.

I know why I am involved, and this conference was it.  In reality, it wasn’t the “Women in Secularism” conference, it was the “Secularism for Social Justice” conference.  I am proud to have been a part of it.

HIGHLIGHTS (all quotes paraphrased)

  • Typing 13000 words while liveblogging
  • I place as much value on anonymous comments made on blogs as I do on statements of eternal love made after a late night drinking at a bar. – Susan Jacoby
  • This conference is a good start, the first of its kind, but these panels BELONG in regular conferences. There are places for these issues at every conference we hold. Especially on science and education. Things have not changed enough, and women are the primary educators and caregivers. Secular organizations, if they want more women, are going to have to address this. The reason men aren’t here isn’t because the conference isn’t welcome, but because men in the movement don’t give a shit about this. – Susan Jacoby
  • Both religion and sexism are hard to give up. They’re ingrained and it’s tough to overcome, especially because it’s not conscious. Giving up religion feels freeing, but giving up sexist beliefs as a man isn’t necessarily freeing because it means examining, acknowledging, and confronting privilege. It feels like reentering a place where you’re made to feel guilty. But sexism impacts men too, and men don’t seem to realize it. Men get called girly as an insult and are driven away from being themselves if they’re not “man enough”. They don’t care about reproductive rights. As though they don’t have to deal with getting a girl preggo. – Jen McCreight
  • Sikivu and Ophelia disagreeing strongly, and talking about it rationally and pleasantly.
  • Recognition of the underground acknowledgement of the bad guys in the movement and how women are afraid to speak up about it because it will hurt them instead of the well-known man.
  • Panel arguments that were over details of implementation and how to fight, not over whether there was a problem in the first place
  • I have never found a trace of morality in my own religion – Wafa Sultan
  • The complete rejection of the Prime Directive and everyone agreeing that helping women in other cultures is a moral duty, not cultural imperialism.
  • It’s cultural imperialism to help these women? Tell the to the girl who had her clitoris cut off, tell that to the girls who had acid thrown on their faces for going to school, tell that to the women being stoned to death for the crime of being raped. Tell that to them and then FUCK YOU.  - Greta Christina
  • Having a military base in Saudi Arabia isn’t imperialism but opening a school is? If you can invade a country how can you not open schools? We need more secular schools, not more army bases! – Wafa Sultan
  • Wafa Motherfucking Sultan.  For many personal reasons, it was a very difficult and traumatic talk to sit through and I was nearly sobbing by the end of it, if I hadn’t been transcribing, I’m sure I would have been.  I hope that this talk goes up first, it needs to be seen.
  • A lot of people are talking about issues that apparently have nothing to do with secularism, should Catholic hospitals get public funding and refuse to give the morning after pill, should black boys be frisked without probable cause in NYC, we are skeptics, we’re good with numbers, we should care about it. These stories, we who are skeptical, we who believe that morality does not come down from on high, we who understand that it is our obligation as humans to first do no harm and make sure that others are not harmed, have to — HAVE TO — tell our stories. – Jamila Bey
  • We’re so foundational. If I can convince people to spend more time thinking about things, using critical thinking, it’ll fix a lot of these other problems I’m fighting for. Because our message is so basic and foundational, I think that it is a part of everything else. – Debbie Goddard

NITPICKS

  • Some of the talks were either too broad and not focused enough.  I say this with absolute love, because there was not woman who spoke that I didn’t want to hear more from, but many of the talks were so detail rich on such a broad topic that they were very difficult to follow.  Annie Laurie Gaylor was particularly guilty of this, I’m afraid I didn’t retain very much of what she talked about because it was basically just a list of names.  Her argument, which was that women have historically been freethinkers, could have been made in a way that wasn’t as hard to follow.  I just didn’t know any of the names or have any point of reference.  Susan Jacoby did a lot of the using names without explaining who they are thing as well.
  • Using cards to take questions was great, but I didn’t have access to any and would have had to interrupt the session or leave to get cards to be able to ask questions.  I think there needs to be a stack under each chair.  Especially since my neighbors all grabbed all of the cards immediately when they sat down so I had none!
  • The talks were too long, I’d rather have heard shorter talks from more people and some of them felt a little stretched out, I’m thinking of Bernice Sandler’s in particular, but just generally I think hour long talks are excessive when you’ve got so many other people who didn’t get to speak.  The panels were the perfect length.
  • Attendance.  I would have liked to see a lot more men and people of color in the audience.  I said it was the Social Justice in Secularism conference, and I think that’s how it should be advertised, because it wasn’t just about women and it wasn’t just for women and women’s issues are human rights issues.  So much of what we covered this year was new territory for these conferences, I hope that the conference continues and continues to expand into covering topics like prison reform and drug policy — things that impact women even though they aren’t traditionally thought of as “women’s issues” and were brought up several times over the weekend.
  • I admit that, because I work in media and I study media, I am unusually focused on this, but I wish that there had been more time spent on addressing the representation of women in the media.  And if you need someone to rant about that next year, I’m sure I’m only one of a whole lot of women in the movement who could go on and on for hours.

Readin’ a list; Photo by Brian Engler

And my final complaint, which is not a nitpick and not the fault of the conference, is the tragic performance of Edwina Rogers, who literally read a list from an old power point presentation over the course of 15 minutes and then left the conference entirely without taking any questions.  She had been there before the speech, available to be approached, so she wasn’t hiding entirely and I wouldn’t accuse her of that, she was just avoiding having to publicly answer questions.  And she clearly was not hired to be a charismatic public speaker and I never missed the overly enthusiastic rabble rousing of Sean Faircloth more.  This wasn’t just my response, I heard this from several people who didn’t know anything about her background.

I also had the opportunity to meet her and I was disappointed in that as well.  She just threw talking points at me about opening state chapters, and she and Woody, her handler from the SCA, both acted like they didn’t know who I was.  This despite the fact that I was recruited by the SCA to be one of the the first bloggers for their organization’s website, I spent hours and hours last year with Woody, led a panel discussion for the SCA last year, and have sent them much feedback and, admittedly unsolicited, advice about Edwina.  If they don’t know who I am, it’s insulting, and if they do know and they acted like they don’t, that’s even more insulting.

That said, Melody Hensley did an amazing job with this and deserves all of the credit in the world.  Conferences, especially first ones, are incredibly difficult to pull off.  This was so much better than I had hoped for, I have come away impressed by everyone involved.  Well, almost.

I will be adding a list of resources mentioned while I was taking notes over the weekend, for people who want to read more or watch videos that were recommended.

SCA: Really? Seriously? What are you doing?

The communications director at the SCA has just posted a blog post about the importance of bipartisanship.  In which she somehow fails to mention Edwina Rogers once AND uses stats that prove exactly how wrong she is.  This is a nightmare.

I think that it is more reasonable to say that the secular movement needs to be “non-partisan” rather than “bipartisan”, but I agree with her conclusion — we need to be reaching out to everyone of every party.

However, the statistics she uses only serve to emphasize the point that the Republican party and Republicans in general are much worse on secular issues than others.

But the GOP is not comprised of only conservative Christians. Another recent study found that 34 percent of Republicans (and 51 percent of the general public) agree that religious conservatives have too much control over the GOP.

One cannot use a statistic that says Republicans are far behind the rest of America in thinking that there is too much religion in government as a positive stat on the Republican stance on religion. And you’re just comparing them to a statistic which they are a part of, compare them to Democrats (60%) and you see an even more telling difference.

Then, she points to 30% of nones who are Republican.

As a result, we haven’t been able to reach quite a few on the conservative side who are either nontheists, or who may be receptive to the secular agenda. And there are quite a few. Nearly 30 percent of “nones”—people who do not identify with any religious affiliation—identify as Republican.

To begin with, the nones include atheists, agnostics, secular unaffiliated, and religious unaffiliated.  Oh, religious you ask?  Yes, in fact over 36% of the nones are religious.  So there are more religious nones than there are Republican nones.

But let us move beyond the fact that having a no affiliation doesn’t make you secular, and address the fact that this is still less than a third of the nones. I’m not saying they don’t matter, but to act like this supports the idea that Republicans are not incredibly anti-secular is absurd.

Finally, and this is a horrific misrepresentation of the data, she writes:

Between the Republican “nones” and the 34 percent of Republicans that don’t like where the Religious Right is taking their party– that’s a lot of people we’re missing if we work with only the other side.

Firstly, there is no reason to believe that the nones and the 34% of Republicans don’t overlap entirely.  Secondly, the way it’s worded is incredibly unclear and makes it seem like the 30% nones is a percentage of the Republican party and should be added to the 34%, it at least makes it look like those two things don’t overlap. Finally, it completely overstates the percentage of nones in the Republican party.  Nones make up 16% of the population, and none Republicans would therefore be 4.8% of the population.  36.4% of the population considers itself Republican, making the nones maybe 13% of Republicans.  And again, no reason to think that they aren’t part of the 34% and no reason to think that they are secular.

To pretend that those happy to mix church and state aren’t the vast majority of the Republican party and establishment is disingenuous, at best, and at worst, it is a transparent lie in an attempt to get us to support Edwina Rogers. Misrepresenting statistics is not the way to rally the community around her.  And it wouldn’t hurt to make this more explicitly an endorsement of your new executive director, because not saying it directly makes this seem a lot less honest.

The SCA should stick to their main argument, which is that we should be reaching out to everyone regardless of party.  Instead they’re playing a game of Lying with Statistics and avoiding every opportunity to be straightforward.  I am so very disappointed in them.

And I want to like Edwina Rogers, I really do.  I love the idea of a Republican on our side, I really do.  But the constant dissembling from her and the SCA is making it absolutely impossible to be on their side, and it’s really quite heartbreaking.

What I would like to hear from Edwina Rogers

Yes, I’ve written an imaginary PR e-mail from Edwina Rogers, the controversial new Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America, based on conjectures and false hopes and a little bit of AbFab.  It seemed the thing to do.

Edwina Rogers, Executive Director of the SCA

“I want to start off with an apology for something I feel like I, and the SCA, have done a poor job of.  We’ve done a poor job of introducing me and an incredibly poor job of reaching out to opinion leaders in the atheist movement.  Undoubtedly, the behind-closed-doors decision to make what was bound to be a controversial hiring decision should have been tempered by a more comprehensive and immediate introduction and explanation of why I, of all people, was chosen for this position.

I have identified as a non-theist for a long time, but I am very new to this movement.  This is not because I don’t care about the issues you care about, I very much do, but they have not been my focus and, because of that, I really didn’t realize how bad things were until recently.  My career and my focus have been very issue centered, some of these issues overlapped with my own secular beliefs, but the fact is that issue-focused work tends to create a very insular worldview.  So, in many ways, I am a recent convert, not to your beliefs, but to your cause.

Which is where I have made another mistake.  This community is very engaged and very well-informed and I have done my best to educate myself quickly, but there are things I have missed on the way.  My recollection of statistics about Republicans from 20 years ago, for example, is not really the best gauge of Republicans now.  Sometimes I forget that that was an entire generation ago, it doesn’t seem that long to me.  And I have to admit that my claims that the majority of Republicans are pro-choice, OK with gay rights, and for the separation of church and state were as much a result of wishful thinking as they were of ignorance.  I have had statistics shown to me that do indeed prove I was dead wrong on this front.

And I need your help on this front.  I am trying, but I just am not as well-educated about this as those people who have focused on this cause their whole lives.  I know the goals of the coalition and am well-versed in those goals and don’t doubt my ability to execute them, but as for the wider culture of the secular movement and the less specific goals thereof, I will need more time to learn the nuances, and I hope you will help me rather than condemning me for my neophyte status.

My final big mistake is that I’ve been trying to focus exclusively on my positives without acknowledging my negatives and without engaging with them openly and honestly.  This is a fault of being in politics, it makes you quite the bullshit artist.  I should have known better in this community than to think I could dance around questions without being called on it.  So let me say that you are right.  You are right that I’ve worked for and support a party that disagrees, in majority but not in totality, with many of your goals.  But I was working for causes that I cared very deeply about, and I will not apologize for doing that.  And I will not abandon my party because other people have taken it in a direction I disagree with.  It is better for all of us if we can bring the party back in line with the goals of the secular community and I really do think that is possible.

So, just to recap, I haven’t done a good enough job introducing myself, I haven’t had the time to educate myself as thoroughly as the community is educated, and I have not been clear on acknowledging that there were some negatives to my background.  That said, I think I bring a lot to the table that I hope you can appreciate.

I am an experienced lobbyist and I know the workings of DC very well.  I have led coalitions in the past and had great success.  Although my work with Republicans is difficult for many of you to accept, it gives me an in to people who might not otherwise be as interested in hearing what we have to say.  And I am legitimately, passionately interested in promoting this cause.  I did not simply apply because I needed a job — I had a job, one that was a lot less contentious — I applied because I have become aware of some of the horrible inequities in this country for people who are secular.  I am just as horrified as all of you at the degree of influence the Christian Right has on the government, and I want to change that.  I have the credentials to do the job from a strictly political side, but I promise you that I am here because I want to be, because this cause is important to me, and because I think that I personally can make a difference through this position with the SCA.

The SCA chose me because I was, in their opinion, the best person for the job.  I wouldn’t dream of asking you to take it on faith that theirs was the best choice, but I hope that you can give me a chance and the benefit of the doubt for a little while.  I look forward to talking with you at conferences and through our local organizations.  Together, I really do think we can change this country in meaningful ways on important issues.

Best,
Eddie”

My Unite Against the War on Women Coverage

I am everywhere today, it seems.

I am quoted in the front page story of our local independent paper, the Free Times.

The couple watches as women’s advocate Ashley F. Miller, a doctoral candidate in mass communications at the University of South Carolina, stands at a podium on the State House steps and declares, “This is not just a war on women: This is a war on dignity … 88 percent of the jobs in the recovery have gone to men. Our poverty rate is 25 percent higher than men’s poverty rate. In South Carolina, we’re still only making 76 cents on the dollar.”

America, Miller says, could turn into a place where women in some states could be arrested for having a miscarriage, while the killing of abortion doctors in others could be considered justifiable homicide. (Indeed, lawmakers in Utah and South Dakota, respectively, have introduced legislation to such effect.)

I was interviewed for Voices of Russia Radio about the rally and why it is important.  I have actually managed to sit and listen to the whole thing.  I will try to get a transcript of this for you, I thought I acquitted myself quite well.

Finally! You can watch me give my speech from the rally.  Here is a livestream video of the entire event, my speech starts at around 57 minutes.

Unitewomen.org

This is not just a war on women

This isn’t just a war on women, it’s a war on dignity, it’s a war on common decency, it’s a war on the GOP’s own conservative principles.  When someone accuses liberals of being smug and turning our country into a “nanny state”, ask them which party thinks women are too stupid to make their own decisions about their body.

Ask them which party thinks a woman needs a sonogram, an intravaginal ultrasound, a lecture, and a 72-hour waiting period to be able to make a choice about their body.

This is not just a war on women, it’s a war against progress, it’s a war against economic recovery, it’s a war of obstructionism. It’s a war for gaining political points instead of actually helping people.

In 2011, there were 1100 bills about reproductive rights introduced at the state level; 135 passed.  So far this year, 45 states have considered 944 bills about reproductive rights.  Tell me, which of these bills created a job?  These jaded conservatives don’t think all of these bills will pass, they just want to prevent anyone else from actually governing.

Nikki Haley was almost right — women don’t care ONLY about contraception — so give us our rights so that you can get on with real legislation.

Women are not doing OK.  Our unemployment rate has stayed stagnate in the past three years.  88% of the jobs in the recovery have gone to men.  The rate of poverty for women is over 25% higher than that of men.  In South Carolina, we still make only 76 cents to the dollar.

This is not just a war on women, this is a war on the first amendment — on freedom of speech, on freedom of religion.

This is a war trying to force the Christian version of Sharia law into our secular constitution.

This is a war trying to make it so the 1960s never happened.  To take the US back to an imaginary time when women held “aspirin between their knees” and didn’t have sex.  Where it’s ok to repeal equal pay laws because “men care more about money.”  In a country where 2/3 of women are the primary or co-breadwinners of their family.  It’s a war to make women’s only function to be married with children.

To create a world where we can arrest women for having a miscarriage and make killing abortion doctors Justifiable Homicide.  Where Maryland can justify cutting pre-school funding because women should be at home, NOT working.  Where Wisconsin can introduce a bill designating single parenting as child abuse.

Where Arizona can demand women prove they’re taking birth control for a REAL medical reason, as though NOT GETTING PREGNANT wasn’t a real medical concern.  This in a country where a woman is fourteen times more likely to die in childbirth than if she lived in Greece.  That sounds like a real medical concern to me.

They want to create a land where Arizona doctors can legally lie to women if they think it will prevent them from getting an abortion.  Where wife beating is LEGAL in Topeka, KS.  Where the ER can refuse to save a woman’s life if it might kill her unborn child.

Where democrats are so afraid of the religious right that the Obama administration ignored science and the advice of the medical community and prevented Plan B from being over-the-counter.  WHAT IS SCIENCE FOR?  Apparently just for Christian Conservatives to dismiss as a “liberal agenda”, the facts so rarely being on their side.

This is not just a war on women, it is a war on facts, it is a war on reality, it is a war on America.  Where women are worth less than fetuses, where Congress fights for horse contraception but not for women’s contraception.  Where conservatives are either ignorant or liars about how birth control works.  Where Susan Komen would rather cut funding to save women from breast cancer than be associated with Planned Parenthood.

This is not just a war on women.  It is not a war on women’s rights, it is a war on human rights.

But it is not hopeless.

Planned Parenthood raised over $400,000 when Susan Komen dropped them.  Republican women are starting to speak out for women, women like us.  Women like Senators Olympia Snowe and Lisa Murkowski. Women like Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Though it had opposition — far more opposition than I am comfortable with — the Violence Against Women Act passed the US Senate.  And there are things we can do.  We can vote this November for the president.

The Supreme Court has four justices over 70 and Mitt Romney’s chair of judiciary appointments is Robert Bork.

Robert Bork, the man Reagan failed to get on the Supreme Court 15 years ago.  Robert Bork who doesn’t believe in the right to contraception, much less abortion, who thinks discriminating against women is QUOTE “not possible”, who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  I know who I don’t want putting people on our already too anti-woman court.

We can vote.  We can run.  We can refuse to shut up.  We can tell our friends, our lovers, our husbands, our brothers, our sons.

We can fight and we will fight.

We’ve been sitting still for too long, but now we’re standing up and we will not be silenced.  I can’t speak for you, but I have no intention of sitting back down.

Thank you.

(Speech given at the Unite Against the War on Women Rally in SC)

Send an Atheist to Church: Ashley survives Brookland Baptist Church

As part of a fundraising effort for a cancer charity, the local Pastafarians at USC group took donations, in exchange for which the atheist members agreed to be sent to church.  I was sent, along with three other students, to Brookland Baptist church, in West Columbia, SC.

Brookland Baptist Church

I have not been to church in a long time. The closest I’ve been in the last five years is probably the local Unitarian Universalist fellowship, but as their minister is an atheist, I’m not sure how much that counts.  I have actually been to Brookland Baptist before, at the very end of 2006, when John Edwards was speaking there.  I was highly skeptical of him, but after seeing him demand healthcare for all and declare we needed a way to be patriotic besides war, I absolutely fell in love.  Which turned out real well.

Back to the church:

Brookland Baptist Church is a largely African American megachurch, founded in 1902. On Sunday, not only are the parking lots full, but the lots across the street are not enough. The church claims 5,300 members, seats 1,600 on the floor and 500 in the balcony.

Dove with laser beams

I arrived before my fellow heathens and had to wait outside for them.  Initially, I was quite self-conscious because everyone was staring at me, but when I realized it was just because I was the only white person there, not because I was an atheist, it became less worrisome.  For better or for worse, church services seem to be very heavily segregated.  Just as you’d only find one or two African-Americans at your average Episcopalian service, you’ll only find one or two white people at your average Baptist service.  They were, despite the staring, very nice and friendly.

The rest of the cohort arrived and we were sent up to the balcony because one of our members wanted to film some of the service.  I was a little disappointed not to be in the middle of the throng of people, but also relieved that no one would be judging me for being on Facebook during the boring parts.

And boy were there boring parts!

I am a temporally minded person and therefore was already highly irked that the service started 15 minutes late.  I was even more irked when it turned out that the service lasted nearly two and a half hours.  I would have much rather re-watched The Hunger Games with that time!  How someone sits through that every Sunday is beyond me.

Aside from the absurd length, I didn’t really note too many significant differences in the structure and audience participation than the last time I went to an Episcopalian service.  Admittedly, that service was at one of the churches that left the American Episcopalian church to join the Rwandan one because they hate gays so much, but you know, Episcopalianish.  Brookland did, however, have one of the best announcement voices I’ve ever heard — it was like the “In a world” voice, but he was just reading the locations and dates of events.  It was awesome.

This is the song that never ends

There was a lot of singing.  Interminable singing while the collection plate went around.  As much as comedians joke around that the Anglican church is joyless, but the Baptist church goes crazy with the music, there was no evidence of that.  The musak style choir songs were not joyful, just very long.  Fortunately, I had a book, since we were subjected to what probably added up to over an hour of this.

We were, however, very fortunate to have attended the day that we did because the focus was on education and they were recognizing the scholastic achievements of their students.  I don’t know what there normal services and sermons look like, but this was a perfect illustration of how important churches are to the minority community here.  It’s heartwarming to see an institution take so much time and effort to help children succeed and overcome the shortcomings of their schools and local environments.  It is a real shame that, in most cases, the only place they can find this support is in churches.  I know I’ve said it before, but I will say it again, secularists need to pick up minority causes — they are basic human rights issues and we should be on the front lines supporting them.

The church gave out scholarships to graduating high school seniors, and then had a college graduate come and deliver the speech for the day.  Anrae Jamon Motes graduated from MIT in 2010 and currently works as a consultant; he came to give advice to students in the congregation.  He was fantastic.

Motes plays with legos; I love the internet

The entire thrust of the speech was about using education to empower yourself, especially economically.  This is an important message to this community, a community that does not generally have economic power.  He did not really talk about religion until the very end of the speech, where he focused on the support system that the church had given him.  Truly it is not faith that changes these people’s lives, but the actions and support of this community, and that’s something that is quite moving.

That said, he did give some of the credit to Jesus, but I was very impressed by how pragmatic and practical the overall message of the entire day was.  This was not a day about God’s achievements, it was a day about people’s achievements, and much more enticing to an outsider for being so.

At the very end, the deacon made a call for people to join at a protest/celebration for the arrest that has finally come in the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case.  There was a general call for people to be more proactive, to do more than just talk and complain and protest, to actually get out there and vote to change things.  Their goal is to empower people through evangelism, education, and economic change and they emphasized that their community “is about more than winning souls for Christ, it’s about changing lives.”  And to that I can certainly say, “Amen.”

Atheist Karaoke and Ashley Learns the Ukulele

On Wednesday night, I’m hosting a “Godless Karaoke” event in Columbia, SC.  What does being godless have to do with karaoke?  Absolutely nothing.  Except that I know a lot of super awesome people in the skeptic and atheist movements that really love music and karaoke.  I think there’s some sort of connection there, I’m going to figure it out.  Anyway, we definitely need to start some sort of atheist band.

About a month and a half ago, I obtained for Christmas a ukulele with the thought that it would be easier and nerdier to learn than the guitar, something I had failed at a couple of years ago.  I was listening to an old CD I found in my car, which has this wonderful song by the Nerf Herders, “Mr. Spock”, which I adore and I thought to myself, “If I could play this on the ukulele, that is about the most dorky thing in the universe, I love it.”

I have now recorded five songs on the ukulele on YouTube and here they are in reverse chronological order, starting of course with “Mr. Spock”.  If you’re looking for nostalgic, may I recommend the Kermit the Frog number at the bottom.  If you need additional nerdiness, we’ve got Tom Lehrer’s elements set to a possibly recognizable tune.  And if you need more Gaga or Stevie in your lives, there’s a little bit of that as well.

Boobaversary: In Defense of Plastic Surgery

Two years ago today I got a boob job. I feel like blunt is the best way to start this conversation.

Plastic surgery is usually the butt of jokes, it’s what celebrities do to themselves that makes them look like aliens. Sure, there are burn victims and cancer victims who get cosmetic surgery, but that’s just to make them look “normal”. If you’re a “normal” person who gets plastic surgery, it’s probably because you’ve got too much money, are incredibly vain, or have no self-control when it comes to weight. If a woman gets plastic surgery, she is stupid and skanky. If a man does, he’s kind of gay.

If you’re a feminist, you are betraying your sex by succumbing to the cultural pressure of normative standards of beauty.

I am admittedly biased, but I think plastic surgery is great, why shouldn’t we be able to do whatever we want to with our bodies? Tattoos, piercings, hair dye, nose jobs, whatever… why isn’t this a great thing? My reduction is one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

I introduced my procedure as a “boob job” for a reason, because it was a more aesthetic and emotional choice than a medical one. Even though reductions seem to be more culturally acceptable than augmentations, the difference is simply the direction I moved on the size scale.

I was a 32H and it was making me miserable. They were uncomfortable, there were no clothes that fit me, I always felt like people were staring at them, and the bras I had to wear were incredibly painful. I would get sores on my shoulders from where the straps dug in.

I hated my breasts. Loathed them. In fits of pique I would daydream about getting breast cancer so that I would have a reason to get rid of them entirely. Let’s just say I didn’t have a healthy working relationship with them.

I was already a D cup in 6th grade. By the time I was in high school, there were no local stores that actually stocked bras in my size.  Open stares were not uncommon.  And then there were the comments, shouts, and open groping from strangers.  I was a freak.

It took me nearly a decade from when reduction surgery was suggested to me and actually going under the knife.  It turns out surgery is really scary and you find that people are going to think less of you if you have plastic surgery.

I can usually weasel out of it because I had a reduction and not some other procedure.  I still feel obligated to emphasize just how much I had to get removed, to try to justify it.  I feel the need to tell you all that there was almost no fat in what they removed, so having more control over my weight wouldn’t have made a difference in my breast size.  I feel obligated to assure you that it was absolutely necessary, that I had macromastia, but in reality, I would have been fine without it.  Just not as happy, not as confident.

And while getting smaller breasts wouldn’t generally strike people as trying to fulfill the normative beauty standards, I immediately looked as though I’d lost 20 pounds. I think I look way more conventionally attractive now, which means that I’ve engaged in a hateful act that some people think is morally equivalent to female circumcision.

“Slicing up the body to conform to a societal ideal is inherently a woman-hating act, whether the offending body part is the clitoris or thigh fat.”

On the other hand, I no longer look like I’m smuggling party balloons under my shirt.  I can run.  I can buy bras that cost less than $150, or I can even just not wear one!  I can wear normal clothing and I am not immediately perceived as slutty for having enormous tits.

I recognize that there are a lot of cultural specifics to what we consider beautiful, but  I wasn’t trying to please anyone except for myself.  I’m still a freak, but now it’s for reasons that have nothing to do with my appearance.

Columbia women, afraid their husbands will be recognized, ban in-town sex shop

The first sex shop in the city of Columbia, SC may be shut down after members of the City Council voted to effectively ban sex shops from the city.

Unhappy wives had been appealing to the council for weeks after the “adult superstore” got its business license on December 4, citing their fear that having an adult store so close to their homes rather than on the outskirts of the city would lead their husbands to frequent such establishments more often and risk their friends at the Country Club seeing their cars.

Shelby, a conservative Christian and devoted mother of four, asks how she is supposed to explain it to her children.

Despite the fact that my children have never once pointed to a store and asked me what it was, what am I supposed to tell them when they do?  Do they really need to know that mommy met daddy when she was paying her way through college as a stripper?  Do I really want them to talk about it when playing tennis at the Club?

The beautiful building next door

The store, located in one of the busiest and ugliest corridors within city limits, is further off the road than anything nearby, but this is not enough for many of the anti-sex women in the town.  Ann, a retiree who lives nearby, is worried about her grandchildren.

I realize that there are nothing but shoddy buildings and fast food restaurants on the street, but there are some good American businesses, like check-cashing places designed to take advantage of the poor.  We don’t want a business supporting healthy sex lives, that’s not what Columbia is about.  Now, a gun store would be just the thing for that location.

Not everyone is against the store, however, and a few voices have come out in support, including Ashley, a local student.

Retroactively changing the law to punish a specific business makes these prudes much bigger a**holes than the ones undoubtedly on full display inside the store.  Think of the children?  What exactly do these people think they had to do to make their children?

A member of City Council, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “If they’d only given us free vibrators like we’d asked, it never would have come up for a vote.”