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.

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)

SATURDAY: I’m Speaking Against the War on Women

The following is from the press release from the SC part of the Unite Against the War on Women.  I will be speaking at the State House on Saturday, at some point between 11:30AM and 1PM.  If you are in South Carolina, please come, if you are elsewhere, please find your local event and participate.  It seems the white male Christian establishment is determined to take away women’s control of their own bodies, women and men need to stand up for rights that we shouldn’t have to fight for in the first place.

The religious right shouldn’t be imposing their version of sharia on my body.

South Carolina Answers the CALL TO ACTION: UniteWomen.org Rally at Statehouse 4/28

A rapidly growing movement called UniteWomen.org is poised to push back on legislative efforts to erode women’s access to equal pay, reproductive healthcare, and protection from violence, with protest marches and rallies across the country on Saturday, April 28. The SC Rally will be held on the Statehouse grounds, Gervais Street side, from 11:30-1:00, with live music beginning at 11:00. This action is joined by 55 concurrent events planned nationwide and includes many high profile state and national leaders – a historic event that South Carolinians are proud to join and support.

The newly-minted organization has garnered more than 21,000 members nationally in less than two months, demonstrating the tremendous political will and commitment across the country to fight back against attempts to turn back the clock on women’s rights.

In addition to the April 28 actions, UniteWomen.org is also looking long-term to future actions and activity for the group. “We will not suffer the burdens of those whose ambitions would be fulfilled by the destruction of the human worth of mothers, sisters and daughters of this great nation,” founder Karen Teegarden said.

This all hits close to home for South Carolinians. Governor Nikki Haley has made the inaccurate statement that “Women don’t care about contraception.” This is actually of great concern for our state, where 3 out of 10 women will become pregnant by the age of twenty and 58 percent of all pregnancies are unintentional. Unintended pregnancies have a huge economic impact on our state. Births to teen mothers alone cost South Carolina taxpayers $197 million annually.

In addition:

 Nearly half of new sexually transmitted diseases in SC are diagnosed in young people age 15 to 24. South Carolina is also considered an HIV “Hot Spot”, with the 8th highest AIDS rate in the U.S., and 1 out of 5 new AIDS cases here are in people age 25 and under, with minority women especially at risk.

Yet despite all of these grim statistics, legislative support remains for abstinence-only sex education, an obvious disservice to our communities. To make matters worse, for 6 out of 10 women of all ages in the state, family planning clinics are their only source of healthcare, yet the clinics remain a target for budget cuts and legislative restrictions.

The time is right for such an event to stem the rising tide against women’s rights. SC Rally Organizer, Chris Cherry, has only just taken the reins of the South Carolina event and found tremendous enthusiasm in the community. In addition to support from volunteer organizations all over the state, many community leaders are stepping forward to join in the fight to protect the civil liberties of South Carolina women. Pioneers of the women’s rights movement in the 1970’s have answered the call toaction and will be speaking at this rally. “This is a fight that we thought was already won,” Chris said, “and now it is more evident than ever that we have to be firm in our resolve to secure those protections for American women.”

Chris has appeared on Progressive Talk Radio 1230 with Frank Knapp and the Power Hour Call-in show to discuss the upcoming rally. She’s participating in a round table on the War on Women and women’s rights issues on Thursday April 19th at 1:00pm PST/ 4:00pm EST with Steve Gelder of New Dissident Radio (http://www.newdissidentradio.com/ listen live or podcast). Chris will have a follow-up interview with Frank and making announcements regarding special guests and speakers for the Rally on Thursday, April 26th at 5:44 pm. Contact her directly to book speaking engagements or for quotes.

A full list of national endorsements and national media coverage can be found at UniteWomen.org.

Richard Dawkins Welcomes Ratzinger

Joseph Ratzinger is an enemy of humanity.

He’s an enemy of children, whose bodies he’s allowed to be raped and whose minds he’s encouraged to be infected with guilt. It’s embarrassingly clear that the church is less concerned with saving child bodies from rapists than with saving priestly souls from hell. And most concerned with saving the longterm reputation of the church itself.

He’s an enemy of gay people. Bestowing on them the sort of bigotry that his church used to reserve for Jews before 1962.

He’s an enemy of women, barring them from the priesthood as though a penis were an essential tool for pastoral duties.

He’s an enemy of truth, promoting barefaced lies about condoms not protecting against AIDS, especially in Africa.

He’s an enemy of the poorest people on the planet, condemning them to inflated families they cannot feed and so keeping them in the bondage of perpetual poverty. A poverty which sits ill beside the obscene wealth of the Vatican.

He’s an enemy of science. Obstructing vital stem cell research on grounds, not of true morality, but on pre-scientific superstition.

Ratzinger is even an enemy of the Queen’s own church, arrogantly dissing Anglican orders as “absolutely null and utterly void,” while at the same time shamelessly trying to poach Anglican vicars to shore up his own pitifully declining priesthood.

Finally, perhaps of most personal concern to me, Ratzinger is an enemy of education. Quite apart from the lifelong psychological damage caused by the guilt and fear that have made Catholic education infamous throughout the world, he and his church foster the educationally pernicious doctrine that evidence is a less reliable basis for belief than faith, tradition, revelation, and authority. His authority.

Why do atheists always have to mock religion?

I was asked this question, sincerely, by a relatively new convert to fundie christianity who had been, throughout the evening, talking an awful lot about church and god and such.  I had gotten bored of that and, over the course of about 10 seconds, referred to the xtian god as an invisible friend, sky daddy, and had finally gone too far by calling Mohammed “Mo”.

He lashed out, very frustrated that I didn’t take the religion thing very seriously, after all I took atheism seriously, right?

I mock religion for the same reason I mock Twilight, though at least Twilight fans generally have the good sense to realize that the book they obsess over is fiction.  It’s very difficult not to make fun of someone with bad taste or who believes something that is obviously very silly, especially when the undertone of your every day life is that there’s something wrong with you for not believing.  And sometimes it’s just fun to make fun of something that is a sacred cow, because why on earth should I have to respect your sacred cows?  I just don’t see why I have to respect your belief that you’re better than everyone else because an invisible man in the sky wrote it down in a self-contradicting book.

I said it was the same as making fun of an adult who still believed in Santa Claus, but he claimed he wouldn’t do that.  I don’t really think the average believer wouldn’t mock someone who believed in Santa at the age of 30, and as believers don’t refrain from mocking other belief systems, I’m going to feel pretty safe in that assumption.

Religion makes factual claims about the physical world, and to be a fundamentalist of any stripe requires ceding your thought process over to something that is demonstrably false.  If you’re going to be a touchy-feely deistic type of believer who doesn’t fund the evil things religion does, then fine, but don’t ask me to respect you for brainwashing children, destroying civil rights, and being responsible for the creation of Christian Rock.

I’m not sure to what degree the average religious believer is willing to “take responsibility” for the religious doctrines they believe, the religious institutions they are members of and support financially, or the religious leaders they follow and thereby give power and authority to. I can’t begin to count how often I’ve seen religious believers disparage civil rights protections for gays on the argument that homosexuality is “chosen” without recognizing that religion is far more like a “chosen” set of behaviors than it is like an inherent characteristic like race or sex.

People say they adopt certain moral positions because it’s what their god wants and thus disclaim any responsibility for either the moral position or any of its consequences. People vote in certain ways because of what religious leaders tell them about the meaning of scripture and/or the will of their god and thus try to avoid personal responsibility for what the government does in their name.

It’s Called MUTILATION for a Reason; Cutting off the Clitoris of Young Girl is Evil

I am so angry.  I am so angry I don’t even know how to put it in words.  But I’ll make the attempt.  The American, AMERICAN, Academy of Pediatrics in the United States of America, in the year 2010, is asking the pediatric Doctors, you know the kind with Medical Licenses, to perform female GENITAL MUTILATION.

FGM is a harmful traditional practice with serious health risks that affects up to 140 million women and girls around the world. It is acknowledged internationally as a human rights violation and an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls. This practice involves the removal of various parts of female genitalia and is carried out across Africa, some countries in Asia and the Middle East, as well as in locations where FGM-practicing immigrants reside, including the United States. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated in 1997 that over 168,000 girls and women living in the U.S. have either been, or are at risk of being, subjected to FGM.

Unsurprisingly the people behind this nonsense are men, but my god, I mean, even men have to accept that this is a horrific practice.  This is from the pdf they released:

I sent the following letter, the contact information for these unbelievable idiots is at the bottom.

Dear Sirs,

How dare you? How dare you, in the name of “cultural sensitivity”, be so insensitive to the fact that millions of women have lost their lives, their ability to reproduce, and their ability to feel pleasure because of a barbaric tradition that you are now supporting. You are endorsing this behavior! Have you completely lost your mind? Obviously you’ve lost any perspective or moral guideposts.

In America, you are supporting the ritualistic abuse of children who aren’t old enough to decide what is right for them because their parents want to cut off their clitoris to prevent them from feeling pleasure. That is the goal of this behavior. It is disgusting, absolutely disgusting that you feel the need to be so accommodationist that you refuse to take a moral stance here. Cutting off women’s genitals is wrong. You know that.

First do no harm, do you not remember this oath? Tell me how you are doing no harm. Are you not harming psychologically all the poor girls, even if you’ve invented some sort of half-mutilation with no long term physical effects. Guess what, you’re saying that the medical community endorses the idea that women should not feel pleasure. This is the 21st century in America and you’re asking that doctors endorse behavior that wasn’t even appropriate 500 years ago. Will you next be endorsing leeches? Castration for good singers?

Do you not have daughters? I can’t help but notice you are all men. I hope you know that this decision isn’t just wrong, it isn’t just bad, it is evil.

Shame on you. I want a retraction. And an apology. And an individual apology to every girl who’s ever been wounded by this evil practice against their will. You should go door to door.

Ashley F. Miller

Errol R. Alden, M.D. FAAP
Executive Director/CEO, American Academy of Pediatrics
141 Northwest Point Blvd
Elk Grove Village, IL 60007-1019
Phone: +1 847 434 7500
Fax: +1 847 434 8385
Email: [email protected]

Please send copies of your letters to the American Board of Medical Specialties and the American Board of Pediatrics at the addresses listed below:

Kevin B. Weiss, M.D., MPH
President and CEO, American Board of Medical Specialties
222 North LaSalle Street
Chicago, IL 60601
Phone: +1 312 436 2600
Fax: +1 312 436 2700
Email: [email protected]

Alan R. Cohen, M.D.
Chair, The American Board of Pediatrics
111 Silver Cedar Court
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Phone: +1 919 929 0461
Fax: +1 919 913 2070
Email: [email protected]