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.
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
- 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.
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.
12:30 How can incorrect data at congressional hearings?
One of the most important things we can do is correct the record.
How do you answer the comments that Stanton and Anthony were anti abortion?
Abortion was illegal and women died when they were done. They would not be anti abortion today. Medical science is just so different now than then.
Any reason why people lose authority when speaking on feminism and atheism?
I’m beginning to think we should read the comments in the internet. If people can only talk about I’m an atheist, what is the point of the movement? Social progress has come from people willing to criticize religion. It was about promoting reason and science and condemning bad practices. Slavery, Capital Punishment. We mean nothing if we don’t stand for progress in civilization. What do we build.
When did special treatment for religious organizations start?
1820s? Lobbying congress. Used to get mail on Sunday, but they stopped that. Didn’t know that. Theocrats knew the constitution was secular and pushed against.
Is it possible to be a religious feminist?
There’s a bifurcation there, they haven’t applied feminist critical thinking to religion. UUC and UU are creedless and easier to understand that overlap. Have they read the bible?
Should we promote these events as promiscuous assemblies? lulz
How did we get here?
Religion sanctified sexism. Religion is the greatest threat because it reaches beyond the grave.
The language in the bible about women is pornographic in the worst way, the sexual reviling of women in the bible, that’s where it comes from. That women are owned by men and they can tell us what to wear and rate us sexually and control our worth.
The bible rules permit promiscuity for men. Double standard is throughout the bible, including the NT.
Do you think the War on Women is the last big gasp for the religious right with the growth of secularism?
I’m not that optimistic, but they are desperate to keep us in control and go back to theocracy.
Lilith, first wife and feminist, do you know a history?
She’s apocryphal and a lot of fun.
These questions are delightfully short and to the point and not arguments.
Suggestions on getting hispanic women to get involved?
The most radical thing a freethinker can do is to come out. Let people know. Imagine the ripple effects. Atheists are at the bottom of the social pole, they haven’t changed in 50 years. Why? Many people have never knowingly met an atheist. Not enough to come out of the closet, you have to leave the house.
12:16 Anne Nicol Gaylor nothing fails like prayer
Sherry Matulis abortion advocate nearly died from a botched illegal abortion. poet.
Sonia Johnson From housewife to heretic. Mormon woman who called them to task for defeated the era. Her fantasy that no woman would go to church.
Barbara Enrenreich Think for yourself
Katha Pollitt writes for the Nation, wrote Reasonable Creature.
Taslima Nasrin Religion is the great oppressor and should be abolished.
Alice Walker essay about the bible
Ursula K LeGuin
Wendy Kaminer NPR
Ann Dryuan Sagan’s widow
Natalie Angier NYTimes
Sara Paretsky mystery writer
Ayaan Hirsi Ali writer of Infidel
Julia Sweeney Letting Go of God
Then people here.
12:10 Harriet Martineau first sociologist. Put her own name on her books.
Lydia Maria Child wrote Over the hills and through the woods.
Margaret Fuller transcendentalist. Died at age 40. Woman in the 19th century. Give me truth, cheat me by no illusion
George Eliot (Marion Evans) Very religious as young woman and lost her faith and stopped going to church as a teenager and her father kicked her out of the house. Human relationships are more important than dogma.
Elmina Slenker quaker.
Ouida Marie Lousie de la Ramee was as popular as Eliot. The dog of flanders. “The Failure of Christianity”
Ella Wheeler Wilcox poet
Charlotte Perkins Gilman “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Wrote “His religion and hers” 1923. What glory is there for an omnipotent being to torture and subjugate a lesser being, like humans torturing ants
Lucy N Coleman abolitionist. Always mobbed by ringleaders of ministers
Etta Semple and Laura Knox Kansas used to be the hotbed of Freethought. Town radical and then opened a hospital and never turned away tramps or fallen women. Controversial, against blue laws and capital punishment.
Susan Wixon freethought has always been the best friend that women have
Marilla M Ricker worked with Ingersoll, was an attorney.
Annie Besant. Shaw called her the greatest orator in England, possibly Europe. Had a bizarre conversion to theosophy.
Hypatia Bradlaugh Bonner running secular movements, working for many progressive causes. heresy makes for progress
Voltarine de Cleyre. Father converted to Catholicism and sent her to convent. She became a teenage freethought speaker. Talked about sex slavery and women owning their own bodies. Converted to Anarchism after bombings. God is deaf and his church is our worst enemy.
Emma Goldman. Crusader for birth control.
Lucy Parsons anarchist, may have been a former slave married Alan Parson after Hay Market Killings and he was then killed.
Margaret Sanger No Gods, No masters. Persecuted, jailed, censored, shunned. Introduced diaphrams. Helped create pill.
Marian Sherman MD missionary in India. A believer is not a thinker and a thinker is not a believer.
Dora Russell, married to Bertrand
Meridel Le Sueur
Queen Silver magazine. child lecturer challenged William Jennings Bryan to a debate, he did not accept.
Margaret Knight lectures on BBC about why kids shouldnt be raised with religion
Butterfly McQueen aka Prissy in GWTW, an atheist from early years
Vashti Cromwell McCollum took first case against religious instruction in schools and won it in 1948. “One woman’s fight”
Ruth Hermence Green skeptic guide to bible. “The christian torture symbol” to describe cross. There was a time when religion ruled the world it was called the dark ages.
11:50 Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Wrote Women’s Bible, which made her a pariah. She pointed to the church as the fountain of all anti-woman policies.
Susan B Anthony believed only in the creed of perfect equality.
Matilda Joslyn Gage part of the triumvirate of these. She founded a separation of church and state group, the first and short-lived. Wrote Woman, State and Church, which covered the history of the church hurting women. (1893)
11:45 The women’s movement was founded by women freethinkers. The churches opposed freedoms for women. Unsurprisingly. Women without Superstition is the book. It’s out of print and will be back next week. It’s limited to English speaking women who left writing, so it’s quite limited. British and American women mostly.
She has a power point. Woe to the Women, that’s a book. Eve was framed.
Anne Hutchinson first up. First heretic in North America, if you exclude Native Americans, but first out and out intentional heretic. She had meetings for women in her home, and some men came as well. And she got in a lot of trouble. Banished for sedition and heresy. Excommunicated and cast out as an American Jezebel. She had a settlement in Rhode Island briefly with a secular constitution.
Mary Wollstonecraft wrote about rationalist and into reason. Treat women as rational creatures. Died at 38 after giving birth to her daughter who wrote Frankenstein.
Frances Wright. Scottish heiress. First woman to address promiscuous assembles aka men and women. Abolitionist, women rights, edited “Free Inquirer” magazine, and atheist. Red harlot of infidelity. Awesome name, I think I should change my name. “Fill the vacuum of your mind!” turn your churches into halls of science.
Ernestine L Rose daughter of a polish rabbi. Canvasser for women’s rights. Also an outspoken atheist, probably the most in the 19th century. I was a rebel by the time I was 5. She kept her hair in ringlets. Her dad told her not to comb her hair on the sabbath and she said she would ask god. She did and said he didn’t say anything. Lollercoasters. In 1848 the married women’s property rights passed. Major speaker. Very famous and committed, the Gloria Steinem of her day. All children are atheists and would remain so without indoctrination.
11:38 Annie Laurie Gaylor and her mother had their eyes opened to atheism and anti-dogma POV by working on feminist issues and seen how their Wisconsin government was controlled by the Catholics. Freethought is a new concept, historically.
Voltaire was his own ACLU. He couldn’t save the life of a boy who failed to tip his hat to a religious procession. The consequence for women in this atmosphere.
11:30 By the end of this year, all of the states will have a state chapter. Starting in June. There are only two chapters right now. They will be doing local lobbying and conference calls. They all have websites already. I wish this was exciting.
Federal action that impacts women negatively
Violence against women act
There’s a photo of a sign from the reason rally with get religion out of my underwear sign and the woman holding it is the audience, she gets an applause
Preventative health service mandate
Big backlash against contraception mandate despite there are bazillions of reasons they are good for women
(I learned this week that hormonal contraception increases bone density, YES. Hurray annual exams? Good news, my ladybits are all good. Not TMI because it’s a women’s conference, deal/)
Educate, Influence and Share are her main goals.
Now onto State actions
6 states allow pharmacists to refuse to fill (YEAH SC)
21 states offer exemptions from contraceptive covverage
Only 18 states require sex ed to be medically accurate
Weekly Call every Thursday at Noon starting June
559 726 1300 code 199568
Promoting online stuff. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Cell: 202 674 7800
Office: 202 299 1091 ext207
And she exits quickly to catch a train to leave.
11:21 Edwina is up. She has the first Power Point. She is just going to talk about what the SCA is, as far as I can tell. She is definitely not Sean Faircloth in terms of exciting people. Reading hardcore from the power point. *deep breath* OK.
I talked to her a bit earlier, she is very talking pointy on setting up state affiliates. Gets a clap for saying we need many more allies and supporting groups. There aren’t many.
They are involved in several coalitions in DC. CARD, NCPE, SIECUS, National Advisory Board, IFPC, LCCR..
Key issues: Health and safety, education, military, tax policy, discrimination.
No denying care based on personal belief
No denying coverage
Religious child abuse
Religious substance abuse programs
Public funding of religious schools
Religion in public school curricula
Religious coercion of students
Military Chaplains (this is what we lobbied at the SCA thing last year)
Religious tax exemptions
Day of prayer
So help me God
Yes, this is just a list.
11:11 We’re in the middle of a break. Edwina is our first talk up after it. So. Yeppers.
Tomorrow I’m going to be getting up bright and early to do all of those things I haven’t finished doing tonight in order to only be woefully behind when I get back home on Sunday, because I’m driving up to Washington, DC to go to the Women in Secularism Conference.
I was going to just do a list of people who I am excited to hear speak, but then I realized that it was everyone whose name I recognized, which meant that basically everyone, so I’m just pasting the whole list here for you!
- Lauren Becker, educator and organizer, vice president & director ofCFI Outreach
- Ophelia Benson, author, editor, and commentator,Butterflies & Wheels
- Jamila Bey, author, editor, and journalist
- Greta Christina, writer and blogger,Greta Christina’s Blog
- Elisabeth Cornwell, evolutionary psychologist, executive director of Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science US
- Margaret Downey, activist and author, founder and president of The Freethought Society
- Annie Laurie Gaylor, author, radio host, and co-founder ofFreedom From Religion Foundation
- Debbie Goddard, activist and organizer, director ofCFI On CampusandAfrican Americans for Humanism
- Jennifer Michael Hecht, teacher, poet, and author of Doubt: A History
- Melody Hensley, executive director of CFI–Washington, DC
- Sikivu Hutchinson, author, teacher, and editor ofblackfemlens.org
- Susan Jacoby, journalist and author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism
- Jennifer McCreight, blogger atBlagHag
- Edwina Rogers, executive director of theSecular Coalition for America
- Bernice Sandler, author and nationally known expert on women’s issues
- Wafa Sultan, author and human rights activist
- Rebecca Watson, co-host ofSkeptics Guide to the Universeand creator ofskepchick.org
If you’re in the DC area at all, you should make an effort to come, it’s going to be AWESOME. Also, I’m hoping that I will get to meet Edwina Rogers. Really, really hoping that happens because I’d love to report what she’s like in real life.
I will be live-blogging, which will probably translate to Twitter: @ashleyfmiller
Yes, I’ve written an imaginary PR e-mail from Edwina Rogers, the controversial new Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America, based on conjectures and false hopes and a little bit of AbFab. It seemed the thing to do.
“I want to start off with an apology for something I feel like I, and the SCA, have done a poor job of. We’ve done a poor job of introducing me and an incredibly poor job of reaching out to opinion leaders in the atheist movement. Undoubtedly, the behind-closed-doors decision to make what was bound to be a controversial hiring decision should have been tempered by a more comprehensive and immediate introduction and explanation of why I, of all people, was chosen for this position.
I have identified as a non-theist for a long time, but I am very new to this movement. This is not because I don’t care about the issues you care about, I very much do, but they have not been my focus and, because of that, I really didn’t realize how bad things were until recently. My career and my focus have been very issue centered, some of these issues overlapped with my own secular beliefs, but the fact is that issue-focused work tends to create a very insular worldview. So, in many ways, I am a recent convert, not to your beliefs, but to your cause.
Which is where I have made another mistake. This community is very engaged and very well-informed and I have done my best to educate myself quickly, but there are things I have missed on the way. My recollection of statistics about Republicans from 20 years ago, for example, is not really the best gauge of Republicans now. Sometimes I forget that that was an entire generation ago, it doesn’t seem that long to me. And I have to admit that my claims that the majority of Republicans are pro-choice, OK with gay rights, and for the separation of church and state were as much a result of wishful thinking as they were of ignorance. I have had statistics shown to me that do indeed prove I was dead wrong on this front.
And I need your help on this front. I am trying, but I just am not as well-educated about this as those people who have focused on this cause their whole lives. I know the goals of the coalition and am well-versed in those goals and don’t doubt my ability to execute them, but as for the wider culture of the secular movement and the less specific goals thereof, I will need more time to learn the nuances, and I hope you will help me rather than condemning me for my neophyte status.
My final big mistake is that I’ve been trying to focus exclusively on my positives without acknowledging my negatives and without engaging with them openly and honestly. This is a fault of being in politics, it makes you quite the bullshit artist. I should have known better in this community than to think I could dance around questions without being called on it. So let me say that you are right. You are right that I’ve worked for and support a party that disagrees, in majority but not in totality, with many of your goals. But I was working for causes that I cared very deeply about, and I will not apologize for doing that. And I will not abandon my party because other people have taken it in a direction I disagree with. It is better for all of us if we can bring the party back in line with the goals of the secular community and I really do think that is possible.
So, just to recap, I haven’t done a good enough job introducing myself, I haven’t had the time to educate myself as thoroughly as the community is educated, and I have not been clear on acknowledging that there were some negatives to my background. That said, I think I bring a lot to the table that I hope you can appreciate.
I am an experienced lobbyist and I know the workings of DC very well. I have led coalitions in the past and had great success. Although my work with Republicans is difficult for many of you to accept, it gives me an in to people who might not otherwise be as interested in hearing what we have to say. And I am legitimately, passionately interested in promoting this cause. I did not simply apply because I needed a job — I had a job, one that was a lot less contentious — I applied because I have become aware of some of the horrible inequities in this country for people who are secular. I am just as horrified as all of you at the degree of influence the Christian Right has on the government, and I want to change that. I have the credentials to do the job from a strictly political side, but I promise you that I am here because I want to be, because this cause is important to me, and because I think that I personally can make a difference through this position with the SCA.
The SCA chose me because I was, in their opinion, the best person for the job. I wouldn’t dream of asking you to take it on faith that theirs was the best choice, but I hope that you can give me a chance and the benefit of the doubt for a little while. I look forward to talking with you at conferences and through our local organizations. Together, I really do think we can change this country in meaningful ways on important issues.