Women in Secularism conference: a summary, part 1

Daughter-spawn here. I recently got back from CFI’s Women in Secularism conference in Washington, D.C. I’m just going to do some brief summaries/impressions of the talks/panels for those who were not one of the lucky 200-some people in attendance.

The first talk was by Susan Jacoby (author of The Age of American Unreason and Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism), entitled “The Dearth of Women in the Secular Movement: Let’s Look in the Mirror”

I unfortunately missed the first half of Jacoby’s talk, but she seemed all over the place. Jumping from discussing the history of secularism and feminism to the difference between the atheism and skepticism movements (the skeptic movement tending to be more conservative and male-oriented) to the recent case of an Arizona Catholic high school softball team forfeiting because the other team had a girl on it. I was having a hard time finding a cohesive theme in her talk. Rocky start to the conference, IMO.

This was made up for by the next session, a panel moderated by Annie Laurie Gaylor, with Ophelia Benson, Sikivu Hutchinson, Jennifer McCreight, and Rebecca Watson: “The Intersection of Non-theism and Feminism”.

Hutchinson provided a welcome racial minority perspective here. She talked about how disproportionately affected by sexism minority women were and are; how historically black women’s reproduction was strictly controlled by slave owners, how black and Hispanic women are seen as “dangerous breeders” and the recent laws regarding “chemical endangerment” and such are targeting them. I don’t think she really established a link between what she was talking about and secularism, but it was interesting nonetheless.

Hutchinson also criticised the secular movement for promoting scientism, saying that scientism generally excludes racial minorities and women, even throwing out the accusation of white supremacy.

Watson and McCreight discussed their experiences with introducing feminism into atheism/skepticism, and the backlash that results. The complaint when they do so is basically “this is not science/atheism, so it doesn’t belong here”. McCreight made the case that the goals are similar. Religious belief is irrational and not fact-based, and so is sexist belief. If your goal is to promote rational thinking, feminism is an inevitable part of that. But unfortunately, the difference between the two is that giving up religion feels freeing, whereas giving up sexist beliefs often feels more restricting.

Benson talked about how at some point, some of the feminist movement stopped pushing for equality, and embraced a “Okay, we’re not equal, but we’re different in good ways” attitude, which created the common stereotypes of women being more caring, better at emotions, more family-oriented, and so on. This attitude, perpetuated by a lot of women’s studies academics, has been harmful to women in secularism since none of these supposedly “good” stereotypes are advantageous for secular activism, so women are passed over.

The next talk was by the new head of the Secular Coalition for America, Edwina Rogers: “Religiously Motivated Legislation Particularly Harms Women”. Turns out the title was misleading. This 15-minute talk served more as an advertisement for the SCA. Most of it was discussing plans to expand to more states, the staff structure of the organisation, affiliated organisations, and so on. Then she whizzed through lists of the issues that SCA is focused on lobbying about — contraceptive access, violence against women, pharmacist and employer exemptions, and so on. She had to be somewhere else, so she couldn’t do a longer talk, but I’m not convinced that was a bad thing.

Next up was Annie Laurie Gaylor, “The History of Women in Freethought”. Great talk. I had no idea the extent to which women had been involved in the past. It’s sad how many of these women have been forgotten, and it wasn’t due to lack of contribution.

She talked about how the women’s rights movement was founded by female freethinkers. Since the lack of legal rights and lower social standing that women had were of biblical origin, it was the women who left religion who were the first to speak up.

She gave brief bios of a large number of female freethinkers: Anne Hutchinson (the first female heretic in North America, excluding Native Americans), Mary Wollstonecraft (who wrote the first book talking about women’s rights), Frances Wright (“Turn your churches into halls of science, exchange your teachers of faith for expounders of nature”), Ernestine L. Rose (who had a large hand in the Married Women’s Property Act), Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage (who founded the first feminist organisation to advocate separation of church and state).

Josephine K. Henry, Clara Colby, Lillie Devereux Blake, Mathilde Amneke, Ella Elvira Gibson, Helen H. Gardener, Harriet Marineau, Lydia Maria Child, Margaret Fuller, George Eliot (Marian Evans), Ouida (Marie Louise de la Ramée), Sharlot Hall, Elmina D. Slenker, Zona Gale, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Lucy N. Coleman, Etta Semple, Susan H. Wixon, Marilla M. Ricker, Annie Besant, Hypatia Bradlaugh Bonner, Voltairine de Cleyre, Emma Goldman, Lucy Parsons, Margret Sanger, Marian Noel Sherman, Dora Russell, Meridel le Sueur, Queen Silver, Margaret Knight, Butterfly McQueen, Vashti Cromwell McCollum, Ruth Hurmence Green, Catherine Fahringer, Barbara Smoker, Meg Bowman, Barbara G. Walker, Madalyn O’Hair, Kay Nolte Smith, Anne Nicol Gaylor, Sherry Matulis, Sonia Johnson, Barbara Ehrenreich, Katha Pollitt, Taslima Nasrin, Alice Walker, Ursula K. LeGuin, Wendy Kaminer, Ann Dryuan, Natalie Angier, Sara Paretsky, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Robin Morgan, Julia Sweeney, Jamila Bey, Susan Jacoby, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Sikivu Hutchinson, Jessica Ahlquist.

So much for the “there haven’t been very many female atheist activists” excuse for not being able to name five. For more on the subject, Gaylor has a book called Women Without Superstition.

So I’ll conclude part 1 here, and have part 2 up shortly, but there was something else I wanted to talk about. During the previously mentioned panel, Jen mentioned getting emails from women warning her about which male speakers at secular conferences that women should avoid. And from my talking with other people at the conference, it sounds like there are quite a few stories of well-known speakers being misogynistic or sleazy.

That’s a problem. It’s a problem that anyone is behaving that way, and it’s a problem that they’re not being called out on it. Several times the importance of calling people out on their actions was discussed at this conference, but this just isn’t being done.

If the issue is that individuals who’ve had these experiences are worried about backlash, or career suicide, I’m sure we could work out a way of anonymously publishing at least some of this information. If the issue is a fear of hurting the secular movement at large, I just don’t think that’s something to be greatly concerned about. So a speaker is called out for his comments or actions — they have the option to admit wrong and apologise, or to defend themselves, or to deny it. But at least there will be some amount of accountability. It might deter future misconduct, and conference organisers and attendees can make an informed choice about who to invite or support. There’s no shortage of good speakers to replace them.

Seriously, we need to do something about this.

The great renovation

My Scienceblogs site is a-changin’. National Geographic has been working behind the scenes to convert and move all the old data to a newer and prettier website, and the final surge of fixes is going into place tonight and tomorrow — so don’t bother commenting over there for a while until it’s all stabilized.

I suspect it will all go smoothly (and the new site is looking good) except for a little bit of drama. NatGeo has informed Abbie Smith that they want the ERV slimepit posts taken down, according to Abbie’s own account on facebook. There are various accusations as well that it’s us here at FtB who are responsible for the complaints that are bringing it down — which is not true. All along, NatGeo has been telling me that there will be new Standards & Practices rules at the National Geographic-branded Scienceblogs site — it’s why I took proactive steps to move all of the new godless anti-religion content to the new site at Freethoughtblogs. I’ve said since last August that there were posts that bugged our new NatGeo overlords, and that there were changes coming.

Abbie Smith is in denial. Now, in addition to implying that Sb crew at FtB are responsible for shutting down the slimepit, she claims I’ve been lying about the imminent changes.

NatGeo have been just fine. Not being sarcastic. PZ was blatantly *lying* about censorship from NatGeo last year.

So I said NatGeo would be lightly censoring content last year. This year, NatGeo is telling Abbie Smith to censor some offensive posts. Therefore, in Abbie Smith’s world, I was lying when I said NatGeo would be asking us to censor some content.

I don’t get it.

Another Rock Beyond Belief?

The first Rock Beyond Belief was a phenomenal success, but they need a do-over because there was something important missing: ME. So they just had to fix that and schedule Rock Beyond Belief 2 for next summer, in San Diego, California…only this time, I’ll be there. Rockin’.

I’m going to have to insist that Lt. Connlann Myers also be allowed to attend. He’s based in California, it shouldn’t be a problem.

A little light entertainment

It’s another day of flying about for me (and tomorrow, there’s even more flying across the Atlantic), so here’s something to chew over: My Telekinesis, a site dedicated to explaining how to do all kinds of magical things with the power of your brain. It even has instructions! I was all keen on trying to levitate while I wait for the next leg of my flight, but the first step I was supposed to take was to “open my third eye”. I’ve only got two. I don’t think it was fair of the author to lead us cripples on like that.

I also noticed that the author had to explain that his technique works best when you’re asleep. Nice — I should contribute an article explaining my amazing mental power, called “dreaming”.

Being the kind of guy I am, I jumped straight to the article about evil powers. It wasn’t very helpful.

    Dark Bomb

First take all of your energy and convert it into darkness, if you dont have energy then you should draw mana from the darkness. Then lift your hands over your head and pull all the darkness energy into your hands. You should do this until it is feeling very heavy. Then make it unstable by making it to where it will explode on contact. To do this simply imagine it like a bomb. Then throw it hard against a target or down on the ground. It will hurt you and everything else in its way.

It’s got 350 comments, and they aren’t all “Bwahahahahaha!” There are people enthusing over using this power against bunny rabbits and people — somehow, the idea of some nerd concentrating really hard and waving his hands at me (or a bunny) doesn’t scare me very much.

(via rationalbrain.)

Why I am an atheist – KillJoy

I am an atheist because, as my brother once said, ‘If it don’t gel, it ain’t jello’. Religion and supersition in general just does not gel. I see no reason to believe in gods or the supernatural. It took me some time and and a good deal of exploration to come to that conclusion, but in the end there is simply no evidence.

No correlation with experience. There are far too many holes in the theory, if you will. Its a simple as that.


Did everyone draw Mo today?

Hey! It’s Everybody Draw Mohammed Day! I’ve been been engaged in this meeting all day, so I haven’t had time to do anything — although, I think I should get a pass since I spent an hour listening to Maryam Namazie giving a ferociously anti-Islamist talk, which I’m sure was far more offensive to the fanatics than any doodle I could possibly scribble up.

But OK, I’ll just steal something someone else drew: here’s a picture of Mohammed by Rashid al-Din, a 14th century Persian. That should do the job.

Or you could just read Jesus and Mo for a while.

#INR2 … done

Whew. Good meeting. You should have been here — it ended with a major bang with Seth Andrews blowing us away with some gorgeous video (Sagan!), Maryam Namazie wringing us out with her passionate opposition to the injustice of Islam, and Lawrence Krauss telling us how exciting it was to be insignificant residents of a universe that arose from nothing and is hurtling towards nothing. Now I’m exhausted, but I’m staying here in Kamloops for one more night, with beer to dispose of (I’m like Jesus, only instead of loaves and fishes, beer magically manifests itself in my hands every time I turn around. Which makes me greater than Jesus.)

I think we’ll be having an evening of the remnants of the Imagine No Religion 2 crew and speakers and attendees chattering happily over alcohol. Look me up if you’re still around.

Let them have coathangers

He had to be named Bubba. He just had to fill every possible stereotype of the Southern good ol’ boy, the shallow, narrow-minded redneck who treats his women like he treats his dogs. Only he’s a state representative, elected to serve in the Mississippi congress — and Bubba Carpenter is proud to have stripped medical services from the women of his state.

We have literally stopped abortion in the state of Mississippi. Three blocks from the Capitol sits the only abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi. A bill was drafted. It said, if you would perform an abortion in the state of Mississippi, you must be a certified OB/GYN and you must have admitting privileges to a hospital. Anybody here in the medical field knows how hard it is to get admitting privileges to a hospital…

It’s going to be challenged, of course, in the Supreme Court and all — but literally, we stopped abortion in the state of Mississippi, legally, without having to– Roe vs. Wade. So we’ve done that. I was proud of it. The governor signed it into law. And of course, there you have the other side. They’re like, ‘Well, the poor pitiful women that can’t afford to go out of state are just going to start doing them at home with a coat hanger.’ That’s what we’ve heard over and over and over.

But hey, you have to have moral values. You have to start somewhere, and that’s what we’ve decided to do. This became law and the governor signed it, and I think for one time, we were first in the nation in the state of Mississippi.

“You have to have moral values.” I agree. I truly wish Bubba Carpenter had some.

It’s not just coathangers. Poor women will also use clorox, turpentine, quinine, misoprostol, and back-alley butchers. They’ll bleed out, they’ll have perforated bowels, they’ll suffer unbearable agony, they’ll die. These are “moral values” at work. And note that he even acknowledges the other inequity: if they’re wealthy enough to go out of state (read: Republican), they won’t have to worry about the coathanger. This is open warfare on both women and the poor.

Bubba let slip the naked truth about the Republican agenda. The video of his statement is on youtube, but I suspect it won’t be for long: they’re scrambling to hide it away right now. I suppose it’s good that they exhibit a little shame, but it seems to be embarrassment that they were caught openly expressing what they think, not shame at their callousness.

Why I am an atheist – Joe

I was brought up to be a Christian, taken to a protestant church from the time I was born until I went off to college. Everyone in my family is a Christian, indoctrinated into the faith with bible stories every night and prayers at every meal and nearly every public event. Christianity was part of who we were and part of my personal identity. I believed, and I prayed, and when I prayed I knew what God wanted me to do.

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