How Women’s Concerns Can Best Be Advanced within the Context of a Secular Agenda
Moderator: Jamila Bey
Panel: Soraya Chemaly, Susan Jacoby, Amanda Marcotte, Katha Pollitt
Jamilla: Want to think about history we’ve already lived, bring forward women’s concerns about secularism. Love intersectionality — we will benefit from it. Will just be a moderator, 50/50 talk and Q&A.
Katha: Longtime atheist, feminist, left wing person, written many blogs.
Soraya: Write regularly for Huffington Post and RH Reality check, exclusive focus on telling women’s stories.
Amanda: Writer/journalist, feminism and reproductive rights are big issues. And atheism.
Susan: See last talk. :)
Jamilla: Look at Paul Ryan. Anti-abortionist “personhood” platform was contrary to rights of American women. How did that affect women going to ballot boxes?
Amanda: Personhood rights for fertilized eggs implicates all rights for women — can be used to criminalize bad pregnancy outcomes. Already see women thrown in jail for having stillbirths, could be very dangerous.
Susan: Class is an issue overlooked in America. Would prevent in vitro fertilization, practice only for upper class. Something that could be used to prevent babies in these ways.
Soraya: In conversations in lead-up to election, quote was used “these are the times that try men’s souls” — but every time that’s the case, they tend to be in the context of stripping rights from women. Used in context about rape. Ryan stepped in to say “Rape is another method of conception.” Need to think about everything implied by this statement. Based in shame, autonomy, control of women’s bodies. Short, pithy sentence that can be unpacked deeply. Reflects subjugation of women. That’s the approach taken by an entire well-supported party, and that’s problematic for many reasons. Important to connect idea of personhood to that.
Katha: Horrible rape statements by republicans like “lemons of lemonade”, “legitimate rape babies are shut down”, or “abortion is never needed to save a woman” — they did not win, but they haven’t changed. If you fail to win, you huddle and rethink. Strategy has to be more complicated than that for them, because they can’t give up certain baselines — because it’s religion. They do very well in some states where they have all three chambers unless judges stop them.
Concept of personhood is a religious concept. There’s no definition of person that includes a fertilized egg — doesn’t have any of the things a person needs like self-awareness, feelings, A HEAD… it’s just not a person. It has one thing that’s very important — “a soul”. Don’t know what a soul is but apparently you get one when sperm eats egg.
Scientific version is “it’s unique DNA, just add woman, and stir.”
Nature’s very wasteful, most unique DNA doesn’t work. Implantation isn’t even when pregnancy is set — now it’s several weeks before fertilization, just to be safe!
Jamilla: Want to argue the point. When we look at political moving re Repubs on marriage equality, republicans say “we’ve got to understand that things change and we have to accomodate”. shouldn’t they come over on women topics?
Katha: They should, BUT, being against abortion is about “murder” where gay marriage is just “perversion”. It’s not as bad as killing… a little fertilized egg. Used to be Repubs were more in favor of abortion than Democrats til some shifting happened.
Remember not that many Repubs have endorsed gay marriage — this is like two. Marriage is a conservative act.
Susan: Glad you mentioned the soul. Justices don’t get why people don’t all consider abortion murder. Religious people believe soul is what makes us human. It is what, why, the thing that enables us to consider ourselves exceptional.
Very important to these people that they believe that once sperm meets egg, it gets a soul from God, and that’s what makes it important. Catholic Church were opposed to condoms, but some priests suggested that it’s okay to prick some holes in condom to allow God to possibly carry through his pregnancy plan anyway. Gay marriage and gay sex is just perverted souls, but abortion is killing an ensouled creature.
Repubs are just as opposed to contraception as abortion, too.
Amanda: Half of Repubs voters are stalwart religious believers. Used to have elaborate debates about whether it was right to go into politics, e.g. to “go into the world”. Now Repubs ARE that religious party. If they give up these issues, their voters would likely give up politics. (“YAY!”)
Soraya: Consider the fact that men can’t have abortions but they can get married. Cultural power that men have at large is also true in gay movement. They have power to advocate for change that women (even woman gays) don’t have. This change is possible because of that power.
(Everyone thinks I’m Muslim. Grown up Anglican and Catholic. Nobody knows unless I say so.)
Notable about drones and just war — women don’t have just theory of reproduction to parallel. Catholic approach to personhood renders all other arguments for reproductive rights meaningless.
Katha: Not all religions are pro-life. Can’t say religious people are against abortion. Many mainstream religions are pro-choice, even including much liberal judaism. Rules against saving mother’s life by aborting aren’t necessarily advocated by all. Many say fetus becomes a life when it takes a breath.
“Beatrice” had anencephalic fetus — was trying to get a legal abortion in El Salvador, supreme court was completely delaying. Became as dangerous to have baby as to not. And they just delayed until it became easy to say “no, she’s too far along.” Amnesty International basically watching internationally whether she’ll have the dangerous miscarriage or the abortion, whether she’ll live or die. It’s basically only Catholicism that prohibits — most other religions have wiggle room.
Amanda: “Means of Reproduction” — hearing more and more horror stories about excommunication of 9-year-olds aborting rape, but rapists are still in good church standing. Evangelical Christians are making headway in South American regions. Catholicism is competing by being more and more hardcore, sacrificing women to show how hard they are.
Jamilla: Want to talk about other issues compelling women to vote. How can Secularism help move those issues forward? Obama made big show of Fair Pay Act. Churches have sway over women because of economic issues. We know women don’t earn as much as men for same jobs. How can secularism help women plead our case, and steer women toward reason instead of church?
Susan: How is the earnings differential a secular issue? There is a tradition of secular thought descending from social darwinists descended through Ayn Rand. Not only religious nuts like Paul Ryan believe in Rand. Secular men, atheists, also worship Rand. A lot of people think all atheists are political liberals but it’s not true.
Amanda: Women are shown over and over to be more liberal in values, eg. social safety net. Secularists should keep that in mind. Religion provides a social safety net; lack of safety net is one reason women don’t choose secularism.
Susan: Religious make strong case for social safety nets because “god wants us to help the poor”. Not to say religion itself does not thrive on poverty though. Among proselytizing religions like Islam, charismatic Christianity, where they are gaining converts are in the poorest areas of Latin America and Africa. But I don’t think you can say religion per se is for or against a safety net.
Amanda: I agree — but a strong safety net helps a society move in a secular direction.
Soraya: Useful to invert the question you asked — what does secularism have to gain from a feminist agenda? Theatre poster saying “Mankind: the history of us all”. Children said “mommy please don’t.”
Economically, closing pay gap, making sure health conditions are adequately covered, help women. Studies in Europe show when women have greater equality, secularism is lifted with that. Don’t think opposite is true. No doubt that “the movement” has not had a male champion of women’s rights the way Robert Ingersoll was. If we had champions of women’s rights like Ingersoll, we would see growth of women’s rights in society.
Amanda: More people care about feminism than secularism. Feminism has more drift than secularism here, really.
Katha: Why are there more men in the movement? Because women have a movement already, Don’t have to reject god to reject personhood amendments. If you wanted to be a political person, you’d be a feminist, though you might overflow into secularism. Secularism doesn’t have as many real-world implications as feminism.
Susan: That’s why there are religious feminists. Opponents of feminists call it antireligious. Though they’re sort of right, various kinds of liberal religious people also adopt and adapt feminism.
Soraya: Yesterday, Ron Lindsay identified capitalist patriarchy. Things like capitalism, patriarchy, war, environmentalism, toxic masculinity in culture — these are things that disproportionately affect women who tend to make up the bulk of the poor in the world. I write about transnational feminism. Hard without homogenizing people’s experiences to talk about these things that connect us all. People marginalize these women’s issues, but the root of a lot of this is denialism. Most ageless denialism is the denial of women’s full humanity. Has butterfly effects into everything.
Q: How to women expect to achieve even the most minor gains in this political society? You’re scaring the hell out of us Canadians!
Soraya: Turns out most women are against the whole rape thing.
Jamilla: Considering gridlock on Capitol Hill determines what our kids are being taught… where is the silver lining? Is there a glimmer of hope?
Karla: Was criticized on Twitter for modernization theory. Do think that things are getting better. Regions of the country are improving. 11% of the population controls 47% of the power. Unfair, outmoded. But young people are more secular, tolerant. Not as pro choice as they should be though. But aren’t on board with “old man republicanism”.
Now that we’ve had two foolish wars, we probably won’t have another until people have had a chance to forget.
Susan: “I hope you’re right.” Number of problems with the idea that the old white men control the power — the young win only if they show up to vote.
Looking back on decades since 60’s, struggle for social progress is long. It requires you to show up not only once when candidate when Obama shows up, but at midterms too. Forces that are opposed to science and women’s rights and government are going to make gains without youth vote. (Does not give me pleasure to give pessimist’s case despite critics!)
All this joy joy joy in the secular movement that the None’s are growing faster — can’t count on people who don’t go to church to actually show up in the secular movement! Could be Nones because of lack of exposure growing up. Baby boomers raised kids to know and be nothing about religion. Nieces think calling themselves atheists is uncool. It’s sort of what comes from being surprised about not being able to get contraception. While they’re secular, they’re not activists. Sometimes “None” doesn’t mean anything but “None” and it’s not good for social activism.
Amanda: Research for piece in Daily Beast about millenial generation — they shun labels, activism, kinda lazy. Otherwise they’re great people. Much nicer than portrayed in the media. We can work with that a little — they love technocrats, apolitical people. Can be moved by people like Obama whos’ a “policy geek”. We can work with that. We can show evidence, and solutions, and that might work on them.
Soraya: I think we all live in a feminist world — where women go to school, earn money and buy stuff and vote — so clearly things are changing. Life’s better than grandma’s. But it gains slowly. Write every day about sexual violence, demotivating. If you say to a young person “do you call yourself a feminist”, they refuse the label. Same with “atheist”. No labels, at all. If you ask “do you live with a safety gap”, they say yes we do. (Safety gap: difference between men and women’s sense of safety while moving through time and space. Walking alone to house, thinking of keys as something to open door or weapon to defend yourself. 27% safety gap between men and women in US.)
Over 50% of people in their 20s don’t know what Roe V Wade is. No, 40%. Don’t know the name of it, though might know there’s a law protecting right to an abortion. “Not a way to cross a stream.” Goes back to question of education.
Susan: Not knowing the date, more like. They don’t know the order things came. Thought when Roe V Wade was passed, thought there would be strife for a while then it would go away. But it’s a soul issue. What people like my niece don’t know is how close it is in time since Roe V Wade. 40 years doesn’t seem very close in time when you’re young. The closer things are in time, the more fragile — takes a long time to solidify your gains.
Dark times if you’re pregnant at 18 50-ish years ago. If you don’t know how much better off you are now, you’re missing important info.
Karla: If you don’t know that things CAN get worse, you’re in a bad place. When you CAN’T get an abortion despite Roe V Wade, you’re going back to being in a third world country with gigantic economic disparities. Occupy was maybe a little beginning, but people won’t take their rights being taken away lying down.
Amanda: Thinking about how people don’t know how long these battles are — contraception is also being threatened by religious right. Tendency to think in mainstream discourse that contraception is controversial, that they don’t notice it’s BECOME controversial again. Historical memory needs to be more important.
Soraya: Need to figure out how to take over Texas Board of Ed. *applause!*
We for some reason culturally seed these children’s brains and imaginations. Massive disconnect I can’t figure out. Write to teachers asking if they’ll teach Vindication of Rights of Women.
(Texas is a battlefield for education because of the textbook craziness.)
Susan: After Scopes trial, fundamentalists were alerted and brought out of hibernation that evolution was being taught in Texas. They went to the major textbook publishers and fought to get Texas high school biology textbooks to remove evolution. Those textbooks get used everywhere. New edition replaced Darwin’s head with human digestive tract on “Biology for Beginners” cover.
Fighting the same fight over and over because of culture in Texas, where schools in other states buy them too.
Amanda: Religious right is effective at organizing despite being minority. Everyone dislikes them, not just atheists. Had saying — problem with Baptists is they don’t hold their head underwater long enough. *uproar*
They only care about four or five issues, and they lobby incredibly effectively on them. They vote for Rick Perry, but don’t like all the evangelicals that are put onto school boards as a result.
Soraya: Media is so niched, segregated, self-referential, that we don’t get same info. Have to go out of our way to learn what info others are consuming. Spent a month trying to only read conservative media. Set up lunches with people I knew opinions were different — we tried to educate each other. Focused on women / reproductive health / justice. When said things like “you know what personhood amendments in reproductive rights laws made by republicans mean”, they say “that’s impossible.” Then you show them evidence, and there’s silence. “What are you willing to trade when you vote for a world where people with money are willing to sell away your rights?” You have to be open to information that you don’t get to have conversations; you have to be open to those conversations.
Jamilla: Come up with a closing idea for this panel. We talked about a lot, some need convention of their own to discuss. How do we talk to our sisters who are not American?
Karla: How do we tie secular movements to other worthy causes? Religion has done a good job of that. Though they’re willing to let “Beatrice” die, on death penalty, they’re great — so they get points for that from liberals. Are good on helping poor. I think whether or not there’s a logical connection between equal pay and not believing in God — seems kind of silly that there might be — but politically, allying with good and popular causes is a good thing to do. Feminism would be a good one.
Soraya: Every story counts, every woman’s story counts. Transformative power of internet on womens’ issues — organic growth in local feminist movement all over the planet, and through the internet we can support one another without becoming colonial. We need to share our stories — women don’t do that enough. Need to be told that their stories are good.
I got too angry to care any more whether people liked what I said. Positive feedback for that.
Amanda: Agree with Katha — tendency in this movement to want ideas to follow one to the next. Politics don’t work that way. You need to make good friends, and feminists are good friends to make. Have managed to get POTUS on our side in a way that’s never been the case before. Grabbing onto that would be smart idea for secularists.
Susan: We’ve got to become more active not just in taking Texas school board back. Need to remember our history, e.g. that America was founded as secular. Religious freedom is a secular idea. Nothing more important for feminists and secular movement than to be involved in education at local and state level. If we can’t exert the kind of control the “disgusting people” do now in education, we will fail. Ignorance is our worst enemy.
I wish Obama would stop saying “The American people are not stupid.” *laughs* Stupid meaning ignorant.
Right has been successful at capturing language. Important in an educational sense. They’ve made feminist a bad word. A synonym for things they don’t like about pushy women. Don’t think any feminist or secularist should ever say “pro-life”. Co-opting an idea. “Pro Choice” is the wrong response. Sometimes “Pro Abortion” is the right answer! Sometimes we ARE pro abortion in certain circumstances!