Secular Students Week: Interview with Scholarship Winner Kendall Lovely

Kendall Lovely

Kendall Lovely

It is Secular Students Week this week — which means I get to share an interview with one of the students and I share with you that they’re fundraising! The SSA is trying to get 500 donations by the end of June 17 to unlock a $20,000 challenge grant — the great thing about this goal is that it’s about how many people give, not about how much they give, meaning that everyone can have a big impact regardless of how much they can give.

I was a member of the SSA as a PhD student, it’s responsible for my meeting many amazing activists, including my fiancé, and I am now on the board of the organization to help it meet its goal of being more social justice oriented.

If you’re looking to understand the work that SSA is doing on the ground and how it’s helping students, one of the Secular Student Alliance’s scholarship winners from last year, Kendall Lovely, took some time to talk about the scholarship, her activism, and the SSA.  It’s an interesting read whether you’re interested in donating or not, and I’m particularly excited about the way Kendall is dedicated to both secularism and feminism in her activism.  Close to my heart!

Why did you apply for a scholarship from the Secular Student Alliance?

I was looking for outside sources of funding, just enough to get through graduate school applications, and I thought that I could make a case for my activism through the SSA scholarship. I don’t often come across scholarships out there specific to the sort of organizations that I’m involved with as a secular person and a feminist, so I decided to give this one a try.

How has getting an SSA Scholarship helped you with your activism?

[Read more…]

Maya Angelou, Susan B. Anthony, and Ashley F. Miller together at last

Sometimes you’re doing a deep Google search on your own name and you discover new things about yourself — I discovered a Table of Contents that included me.

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An article I wrote about feminism and atheism that was published in CrossCurrents last year was put into a women’s studies anthology textbook — apparently the #1 one on Amazon: Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic and Contemporary Readings.  So now there is a thing about atheism and women in the most recent edition of, according to Amazon, the #1 gender studies textbook.  So hurray for atheism being included in discussions of gender in academia!

Of course, this inclusion happened last April and no one told me that it happened so…? I’m going to contact the editors of the book and talk to them to see if I can get some more information on what happened and see if I can get a copy for less than the $110 it’s going for.  I’ve asked my local library to pick up a copy and it looks like the school library has one that you can’t check out because it is required reading in a class.  I was contacted last year because my article was the required reading in that class, but I guess no one thought to mention that it was in a textbook rather than a journal.  Internet searching also reveals to me that the article has been cited in at least four academic papers and assigned in at least three courses.  That’s not bad for something that’s been published only 18 months.

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Anyway, so Ashley F. Miller of FreethoughtBlogs is listed and included as the same kind of feminist expert must-read in a major text as Maya Angelou, Gloria SteinemEmily Dickinson, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, bell hooks, Virginia Woolf, Audre Lorde, Susan Douglas, Jessica Valenti, Barbara Ehrenreich. Also, you know, Natalie Merchant, so there’s that. And more.

Torn between being confused that no one told me it existed, to ecstatic that I am considered anywhere close to the same caliber as these other writers and thinkers, to fighting down imposter syndrome, to super stoked to include this on my resume.  Gonna go die now.  And not just from the mono.  Will update if/when I find out more information or locate the Discussion Questions!  Discussion Questions, people!

Find me at CONvergence and SSA East


Picture courtesy Amy Davis Roth

Hello all

I will be speaking at both CONvergence and SSA East, and I’m getting an awful lot of stage time! This is a preview for anyone interested.


You can start looking out for me at about 1pm Friday at CONvergence.

FRIDAY, July 4th

5pm Paranormal Romance vs Urban Fantasy

With the popularity of paranormal romance, has romance become a fixture in most urban fantasy to a degree? What about the combo of romance, action, and magic keeps drawing readers? What’s out there for readers who want less kissing and more butt-kicking? Panelists: Ashley F. Miller, Cetius d’Raven (mod), Emma Bull, Melissa Olson, Rory Ni Coileain

7pm Coming Out Atheist

Join us to discuss what it’s like to come out as an atheist in various parts of the country, with different religious backgrounds, and the intersection for many of us with coming out in other ways, such as in sexual orientation and gender identity. Panelists: Ashley F. Miller, Heina Dadabhoy, PZ Myers, Debbie Goddard, Brianne Bilyeu

SATURDAY, July 5th

11am Evolution of Disney Princesses

They started out helpless (Snow White), and now they’re shooting arrows. What changed, and why? Panelists: Ashley F. Miller, Kathryn Sullivan, Michelle Farley, Windy Bowlsby, Madeleine Rowe, Greg Guler

SUNDAY, July 6th

9:30am Skepchick and FreethoughtBlog Readings

In room 2201

11am Protofeminists in Shakespeare

Shakespeare portrayed several intelligent, independent, and self-aware women–Juliet, Lady Macbeth, Katharine, Beatrice, Viola, Rosalind. We’ll discuss the problematic and the remarkably (for the era) fleshed-out aspects of their representation. Panelists: Elizabeth Bear, Ashley F. Miller, Greg Weisman, Joseph Erickson, Alexandra Howes

12:30pm Loving Problematic Media

Social justice doesn’t have to ruin your fun! We’ll discuss ways to be a literate fan of problematic media, from reality TV to video games, recognizing (rather than rationalizing) its problems, and still finding ways to enjoy it without getting defensive. Panelists: Rebecca Watson, Ashley F. Miller, Emily Finke, Courtney Caldwell, Amanda Marcotte

I will be leaving for the airport as soon as there are no more people with questions for me after this panel.




I will be at SSAEast for the entire program, I’m speaking in one of the 45 minute slots in union.

SUNDAY, July 13th

10:30am Feminism, Atheism, and Welcoming Women to Your Group

Women Protagonists in YA: A List and Resources


This is a work in progress, any feedback from the audience/readers will be incorporated into the list.  I am especially interested in finding any good works about female friendship.  Here is a wonderful tumblr devoted to diversity in YA.  Here is a wonderfully comprehensive list of protagonists of color in YA and another specifically looking at SF and fantasy.

Akata Witch – Nnedi Okorafor

I cannot recommend this book enough.  It deals with being an outsider on multiple levels — because of looks, because of talents, because of being a girl in a patriarchal society, and because of culture.  It’s about an albino girl in Nigeria, who was born in America and spent years there before being brought back to Nigeria with her family.  She discovers that she has magic powers.  Imagine Harry Potter, but based entirely on Nigerian culture.  I’ve not read Nnedi Okorafor’s other work, but I am going to as soon as I can.  The beautiful art above is from the cover of this novel.

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

While this book does have a love triangle in it, it is otherwise a fantastic dystopian novel with a female lead.  Katniss is smart and driven by her desire to help her family and herself.  She can be quite selfish and uninterested in the feelings of others.  These flaws make her far more interesting than many women in YA novels and far from a passive participant in the events.  She is also written with olive skin and dark hair, which many interpret as being a person of color but, at the very least, is resistant to the blonde haired, blue eyed tradition.

His Dark Materials Trilogy – Philip Pullman

These books are really fascinating from an atheist perspective, but also just a really good fantasy story.  The lead character is a pre-pubescent girl who is an expert liar.  Her journey is fascinating.  The book is also notable for the importance and fundamental goodness of the Gyptian people (based on Gypsies) to the storyline.

Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson

This is an incredible book about a girl who is outcast from her high school because she called the cops when she was at a party.  She called the cops because she had been raped, but she is unable to talk about it.  In fact, she doesn’t speak much at all.  The book is about her coping with what happened to her and learning to be herself again.  It was made into a completely watchable movie starring Kristen Stewart pre-Twilight.

Princess Academy – Shannon Hale

I am a sucker for books about princesses, especially if they’re princesses who buck the trend and do something totally unusual like have opinions and fight battles and refuse to get married.  The lead character of this book is a young woman who feels like an outcast and, in the end, does not want the prince and doesn’t get him.  The book is really about the importance of education for women and the role of one’s home and family.

Tiffany Aching Series – Terry Pratchett

My reviews of Tiffany Aching books are here and here.  I love Terry Pratchett, I hope some day to write something I enjoy as much as Terry Pratchett books.  Tiffany Aching is a marvelous lead.  Her first book is the most compelling, but I really wish that someone would turn Tiffany Aching into a TV series.  It’s like a pre-teen Buffy.

Equal Rites – Terry Pratchett

My review from a couple years ago: Third in the Discworld series and by far my favorite of them all.  This introduces Granny Weatherwax, who is my favorite Pratchett character, followed closely by Death.  Pratchett’s greatest skill as a writer, in my opinion, is that none of his characters are particularly attractive and they all have terrible flaws, but you like them and they never get over their flaws.  People don’t become pretty, or overcome their inherent selfishness or cowardice, they’re just regular people.

Harriet the Spy – Louise Fitzhugh

This is one of my favorite books. She also seems to be on the spectrum as well — she’s very into routine and order and not good at empathizing with others.  I tried to watch the movie version again recently and was unable to get through it, so stick to the book I think.  Many people read Harriet and her friends as queer as well.  I personally see far more traits of autism than indications of any kind of sexuality.

Enchanted Forest Chronicles – Patricia C. Wrede

This is a brilliant series about a princess who doesn’t want to be a princess and has no interest in boring princes trying to rescue her.  She runs away to live with a dragon because that’s much more interesting.  And the dragons are much more into gender equality than humans, teaching some interesting lessons about the roles of men and women.

Ella Enchanted – Gail Carson Levine

Despite the terrible movie, the book is actually a really good examination of societal expectations of women.  I really like Gail Carson Levine’s writing style, but her books are fairly short on people of color.

Coraline – Neil Gaiman

I love Neil Gaiman, and the character of Coraline is great.  The story is not my favorite, I thought The Graveyard Book, which was similar in tone, was a much better read.  If you like YA horror, however, you can’t get a much better character than Coraline.


On My To-Read

Divergent – Veronica Roth

Fault in Our Stars – John Green

Books by Tamora Pierce, not sure which

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown – Holly Black

Ash – Malinda Lo

Liar – Justine Larbalestier

Chaos – Nalo Hopkinson

Half-World – Hiromi Goto

Eon – Alison Goodman

Book of 1000 Days – Shannon Hale

TMI Review – Softcups / Complaining about my period

Taken From Naamah_Darling's Livejournal This is a post all about uteruses and the havoc they play.  Really it’s mostly about my uterus.  So, for some people, that may be too much information and, hey, that’s fine, just stop reading.  Because I intend to pull no punches.  Maybe I’ll throw in a picture of a flower or something.  But seriously, don’t read this if you’re going to be all like, “Ew, lady parts” or “Ashley is gross.”

Yesterday I had a long, involved conversation on Facebook about whether it was feminist to complain about your period or if it was buying into patriarchal notions of… something.  The conclusion was basically that hating your period is A-OK.  Which is good because I really hate my period.  It’s also fairly subversive to not be embarrassed of your basic bodily function, so I’m claiming it as feminist.  Look — it happens, it’s pretty gross, but it actually means my body is working, so hurray.  So take that, reviewing Softcups is my feminist FU to people who are bothered by my ladyparts.  SHAZAM.


I take Seasonale continuously, but every 4 months or so, I suffer from breakthrough bleeding that’s pretty heavy and will only stop if I relent and have a full period.  Basically I have to make a choice between continuous bleeding that’s relatively painless but never stops or 5 days of excruciating pain and massive quantities of blood that will ultimately stem the flow.  Hooray my body.


Supposedly the fact that I’m on birth control makes my periods not as heavy and not as painful.  I don’t remember them ever feeling worse than they do now, though, so I am skeptical of this supposed beneficial side effect.  It does mean that I have them less frequently, though, so that’s a relief.  If you’ve ever had a period then you know that the methods for taking care of them are fairly medieval — plug it up or wear some gauze.  Science has not made major advances in this field.

Ranging from ineffective to might as well shove a hand towel up there

Ranging from ineffective to might as well shove a hand towel up there

Pads are basically like wearing a diaper.  They are messy, especially if you have hair down there, and they are incredibly uncomfortable.  Then there are tampons.  If, like me, you have wildly varying days of super heavy uterine explosion and not too much going on down there, tampons can be difficult.  You have to predict your level of flow and, if you go super heavy in protection when you’re actually producing super light, it creates this crazy uncomfortable dry, scratchy vagina sensation that doesn’t go away for a while.  And I already have ridiculous sensitive, in need of hypoallergenic everything skin.  Not pleasant.  Oh, also they can kill you.

So a few years ago, I longed to branch out from my uncomfortable period solutions and tried Instead, which are now known as Softcup.  I was afraid of Diva Cups because reusing them seemed unsanitary but I was fascinated by the idea of a solution that didn’t involve absorption.  So I tried out Softcup and have never looked back.


In addition to the plus of no dry vagina and not wearing a diaper, there are other benefits.

When I have my period, I tend to need to use the bathroom a lot.  Cramps just make everything seem to move down there.  When I wear a tampon that usually means I just have to change the tampon every time I pee.  The physics of making that not happen are difficult and unreliable and I’m a little too OCD for that.  Changing your tampon every two hours is expensive and uncomfortable and also you’re not really supposed to flush them apparently, and that’s weird too.

With Softcups I just leave it up in there for 12 hours.  Sometimes there’s some leakage when I pee or poop, but it goes back into place on its own.  The only bad thing is that it does create a little bit of internal pressure which can require a little extra pressure when expelling waste, on either side.

You can wear them when you’re being intimate — though it’s good to warn people.  And also to have a fresh one to avoid leaks.  You can wear them swimming.  They’re also great if, like me, you’ve got the problem of there is no pad or tampon strong enough to get you through a full night on your worst nights.

I also can’t feel it at all when it’s inside, which is miles better than pads or tampons.

The bad: They can leak — it’s a good idea to wear a panty liner with them, especially on heavy days.

They are hard to find.  I went to four stores in DC before finding them.  CVS carries them, but I have been to CVSs that didn’t have any in stock.  It’s terrible to be starting your period without supplies and not know where to get them.  Especially if your period is super unpredictable like mine.  There’s supposedly a reusable one, where it’s one cup per period, but I can’t find it anywhere.

Taking them out can be kind of gross — but then, if you’re following the directions with tampons or using pads, those are pretty gross too.  Your hands will probably get bloody, though you can use gloves if you like.

Here's that promised picture of a flower

Here’s that promised picture of a flower

It’s OK to shoot hookers in Texas — but only if it’s dark outside

texasgunsIt’s hard to imagine, without knowing the story, how someone could shoot a woman in the back of the head and then, quite literally, get away with murder.  Actually, it’s pretty hard to believe when you do know the story because that is what has just happened in Texas.

Ezekiel Gilbert hired a woman from Craigslist to be his escort and, after having spent the time he paid for in his apartment with him, she left.  But they hadn’t had sex, so Gilbert wanted his money back.  Instead, the woman got into her car and he shot her multiple times.  She was paralyzed and ultimately died from her wounds and he was charged with the murder.

His defense said that it is perfectly legal because of the “nighttime theft” rule in Texas which states that it’s OK “to use deadly force to recover property during a nighttime theft.”  Now, he’d paid the woman she claimed for the time and he claimed for the sex, so it was really a dispute over whether he was getting what he paid for.  But instead of, say, suing or claiming fraud, he decided to shoot a woman with no weapons in the back because he didn’t get what he wanted from her escorting.  And he got away with it.

Here’s what I wonder.  Would any of this have happened if having sex for money was legal?

This is a big problem with underground, illegal economies.  When you pay for a special massage or escort service, sex isn’t clearly, necessarily in the cards.  Because, legally, it can’t be.  There’s no way that, if he’d sued her for not having sex with him, he would have won.  But, somehow, his understanding that there would be sex is enough justification for him to convince the jury that he was just trying to get money he’d been duped out of giving away because he had the expectation of getting laid.

Can you imagine a circumstance under which someone shot their dealer for not giving them the right kind of drugs?  Like the dealer sold the guy some perfectly legal version of pot, therefore the guy buying shot the dealer because he was expecting marijuana and then a court said, well, you didn’t like what you paid for, so it was fair to shoot the guy for not giving you what you really wanted.  There was an exchange of goods and services — you just thought you were getting something else for your money.

If prostitution (or drugs for that matter) was legal, there would be consumer protection, clarity in advertising, and protection for those selling the services. But apparently the only consumer protection now is to just shoot someone if they’re taking advantage of you.  Because your foolishness in falling for their scheme means that death for them is the appropriate action to take.  At least, according to juries in Texas.

Taking it Personally: Privilege and Women in Secularism

Illustration by Tom Gauld for The Guardian

Illustration by Tom Gauld for The Guardian

There is a tendency for people to take criticism of ideas personally.  It’s true of all people, though I noticed it particularly this weekend at the Women in Secularism conference.  People also have a bad habit of criticizing individuals rather than their ideas.  I do not claim freedom from this tendency, although I do work very hard to try to be clear in that distinction.  I do not like the speech that Ron Lindsay used to open the conference with, but this doesn’t mean that I do not like Ron Lindsay.  I don’t know him, he is quite probably a pretty cool guy generally speaking.

Of course, I am not the only person who took umbrage at his opening speech.  I wasn’t particularly upset by it, I just felt it was wrongheaded as an opening speech for this event in particular and demonstrated poor understanding of the cultural theory behind the terms of “privilege” and the intent of “shut up and listen.”   I think it’s inappropriate to use the opening speech to criticize the conference goals rather than introduce it. I also think that the way he talked about critical theory indicated a lack of familiarity with the scholarship on the subject and the power dynamics at play. At best it was terrible tone deafness which was then exacerbated by his position of power in the organization, his race and gender and socioeconomic status, and the fact that he was giving the opening address not a lecture.

I also agreed with Rebecca Watson that it was particularly bad for these apparent misunderstandings to be delivered by a wealthy white man who was part of the organization in charge of the Women in Secularism conference.  In other words, it was a poorly expressed, poorly timed message delivered by exactly the wrong person for the message.maiself

For stating that, I have been accused of being sexist, of having it out for men, for having it out for Ron Lindsay, of quote-mining, of being dismissive, of shutting down dialogue by calling people names, and just good old “fuck you” and “fuck off” from strangers. I am dogmatic and hateful and trying to tear people down.

Rebecca Watson has also gotten this kind of response, but far more intense, for level-headed criticism of the talk.  In response, Ron Lindsay felt the need to make it about how Rebecca Watson is a Bad Person.  (At least further accusations of quote-mining will be justified by the use of quotes):

Rebecca Watson inhabits an alternate universe.  At least that is the most charitable explanation I can provide for her recent smear.  Watson has posted comments on my opening talk at Women in Secularism 2.  It may be the most intellectually dishonest piece of writing since the last communique issued by North Korea.

Perhaps Watson was too busy tweeting about how “strange” it was to have a “white man” open the conference to pay attention to what I was actually saying

I’m just glad Watson didn’t notify security: “white man loose on stage, white man loose on stage!”

There are also places where it continues to be clear that he doesn’t understand the “shut up and listen” suggestion, but at least those aren’t unnecessary and unprofessional attacks on someone who has criticized something he said.

Now I’d like to offer some advice to Ron Lindsay: Shut up and listen.

  • Shut up because you’re just making this more and more of a PR disaster.
  • Shut up because you’re hurting Melody Hensley and the amazing event she put together.
  • Shut up because if you’re so busy coming up with ways to defend yourself, you’re failing to understand why people are upset.
  • Shut up because it is so very clear that you are not listening.
  • Shut up because you can’t talk and listen at the same time.
  • Listen to what other people in your organization have to say.
  • Listen to what other people in the cause have to say.
  • Listen to women and men who are upset about the opening speech.
  • Listen to criticism of what you said and remember that it’s not about who you are as a person, but the argument that you’ve made.
  • Listen because it’s the right thing to do.

I appreciate that there are those who somehow think that this “shut up and listen” thing means don’t use critical thinking, but it’s actually about defensiveness.  People always take things personally.  When someone says, “You’ve got privilege,” most of us want to yell, “I worked really hard to get what I’ve got.”  And most of us have worked really hard, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t privileged — learning to see the privilege is difficult, and to see it we’ve got to be willing to shut up for a little while and recognize the possibility that there are things that we didn’t know before.  In other words, if you’re not prepared to just listen for a little while, you’re going to spend the entire time trying to prove someone wrong instead of considering the possibility that they may have a point.

Ron Lindsay presents this as a war where either you “believe reason and evidence should ultimately guide our discussions, or you think they should be held hostage to identity politics.”  This negates the possibility that this is a fight between factions who think that reason and evidence point to the necessity of identity politics and those who refuse to listen.

Ashley Speaking in Chapel Hill Next Monday

If you are in the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill area and like Freethought Blogs and/or me and/or the topic of social justice movements and religion, then have I got good news for you!

I will be speaking at UNC-CH for their SSA (Secular Student Alliance) and SAGA (Sexuality and Gender Alliance) groups.

Monday, February 11, 2013
6:30pm until 8:30pm
Murphey 116, UNC

“Come out to hear Ashley Miller, a writer and tv/film editor, speak about religion’s interaction with women’s, gay, and minority rights, both the costs and benefits of religion to individuals in those groups, and how atheism as a movement has failed to be as strong an ally as they can be and how we can change that.

SSA and SAGA members are welcome to join us with Ashley for dinner before the event! “

A couple of things

1. Here is a brilliant post summarizing the treatment that many women in the secular movement have faced in the last several years and the negative effects of that treatment.

It’s a great piece, I am only jealous that I did not write it.

2. If you scroll down the page a bit until you get to Events — right above that is a place where you can donate money to FreethoughtBlogs.  As you may or may not know, everyone here blogs because they love it and tries to make time for it between their day job(s), school, and real life.  But, if you’d like to support FtB, and don’t feel obligated, I’m just pointing it out, there are some options to do so in the sidebar.

Two things, there you go.

Link Miscellany: -isms and -ists

Excellent things that other people wrote!

Fighting childhood cancer and the awful Stanislaw Burzynski at the same time!

With your help, the Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients plan to [raise] at least $30,000 by [Burzynski’s] birthday, then challenging the Burzynski Clinic to match whatever they raise, with the total amount going to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to support legitimate cancer research and science-based care, even for children who can’t afford it (a novel concept for Burzynski, who charges $30,000 just for one person to enter his “clinical trial” of antineoplaston therapy, a trial that has conveniently been in the preliminary stages for more than 30 years).

For more information and patient tales about the horrors and lies perpetuated by this clinic, peruse The OTHER Burzynski Patient Group.

Trickle Down Feminism:

The stakes are clear. Domestic workers, home care workers, nurses, and other largely female contingents must organize their workplaces or the work that most women do will continue to be undervalued, virtually unregulated, and precarious. The deunionization that has left about 88 percent of American workers without unions will drag the rest of us down as well.

And yet for much of mainstream feminist discourse, it’s as if the economy hasn’t shifted, or as if there’s nothing about it worth examining from the standpoint of gender.

Five polyamory myths debunked. (Credit to Brendan)

Racism within white feminist spaces. Let’s stop that, yeah? (via Andrew)

Nico Lang at WBEZ on transphobia in The Observer. Also the inimitable Lindy West.

Amanda Marcotte is coming to Northwestern. Pbthhh! (Unless you live in Chicago; then you should come!)

Rape prevention aimed at rapists works. It’s terribly shocking, I know. And, it just takes a few clicks to get permission to print out and use the ad campaign yourself!