If you follow social justice movements online, you might call 2013 the Year of Speaking Out. This remarkable year saw an unprecedented level of public conversation about harassment, inclusion, intersectionality, and what it means to be a feminist. Frequently forgotten, drowned out, and ignored voices made themselves heard, and trending discussions of power, privilege, and identity used the increasingly popular activist medium of twitter to educate, challenge, and make change. For those of us who identify as secular feminists, it’s been a hell of a year.
Certain organizations saw a significant rise in female leadership and employment this year (see the attached file at the bottom of this article for more details). The American Humanist Association saw a nearly 65 percent increase in female board members from 2013, and the Center for Inquiry increased the number of women on its board by 55 percent. Secular Coalition for America now has a 100 percent female staff––an increase in female staff of 80 percent since last year.
The following organizations are to be applauded for having over 50 percent women on their staff and/or board:
- Secular Coalition for America,
- Atheist Alliance of America,
- Freedom From Religion Foundation,
- American Ethical Union,
- Camp Quest, and
- Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy.
Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy, the Richard Dawkins Foundation, and Secular Coalition for America all increased their female representation from zero, and are to be commended. Of course, these are general trends; many of these positions are elected democratically and the demographics are not always within the board or leadership's control, but the trends do represent more women in active roles in the movement, and they are encouraging.
Women Share Harassment Stories, Spur Conversation about “Trust But Verify”
Secular women including Karen Stollznow, and Amanda Knief bravely spoke out about their experiences with harassment in the movement, while women from the science world, like Pamela Gay and Danielle Lee, did the same. Their stories paved the way for conversations about how to address and prevent harassment at conferences and other events, and brought to light a challenge within our communities: what should “trust but verify” look like? When dealing with harassment, which is usually difficult and sometimes impossible to prove––what if there’s no third-party witness? What if there’s no physical evidence?––how can we ensure that we treat lived experience with respect without undermining critical thinking? At what point is evidence adequate, and at what point does the search for adequate evidence protect, and harbor, misogyny, and how do we change that? Who gets to decide what types of evidence are valid and what, if anything, can be dismissed?
Twitter Becomes Intersectional Social Activism Hub
Using Twitter’s assets of instant sharing, international access, and the ability to follow trending topics as a conversation, social activists challenged white feminism and supremacy this year with powerful hashtags on privilege and inclusion. Among these were #solidarityisforwhitewomen, a conversation about how white mainstream feminism fails women of color; #solidarityisfortheablebodied, a discussion of ableist privilege and misconceptions about mental and physical illness; #secretlivesoffeministas, an endeavor to highlight Latina feminist identity; #fasttailedgirls, a look at messages about sex and the bodies of young women of color; #notyourasiansidekick, a reaction to stereotypes about Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, especially with regard to gender, sexuality, and the “model minority” problem; #lifeofaMuslimfeminist, a challenge to both anti-Islam feminism and sexism within Islam; and #fuckcispeople, a conversation about cis privilege and transphobia. These hashtags were an accessible, inclusive, and crucial forum for marginalized voices to educate and speak out.
Discussions of transphobia and cis privilege also raised awareness of the oppressive behavior of “TERFs,” or “trans-exclusive radical feminists,” a fringe group of “feminists” who deny trans* identities and often go so far as to harass, abuse, and violate trans women. TERFs are using the Internet’s atmosphere of anonymity to target and abuse trans women, and like all forms of cyberbullying and online harassment this behavior must be addressed and stopped. White mainstream feminism has historically been too safe a space for transphobia; it’s time to change that.
Female Politicians Speak Out Against Republican War on Women
In response to Republicans’ redoubled efforts to roll back reproductive rights, particularly in Texas, Ohio, and Wisconsin, female politicians and activists fought back hard in 2013. Most widely followed was Texas senator Wendy Davis, who in July filibustered a bill that would close down most abortion clinics in Texas; Davis filibustered for thirteen hours to stop the bill from being voted into law, and inspired Texas women––and reproductive rights advocates around the country––to take a stand for abortion access, with as many as 100,000 people following the filibuster via video and twitter. Considering Texas Governor Rick Perry’s anti-abortion stance and disparaging comments toward Davis, it was revealing that his wife Anita Perry stated her belief that abortion is “a woman’s right”; Perry later insisted that she misspoke.
Secular Woman’s @AbortTheocracy project, which is focused on terminating the influence of religion on women’s bodily autonomy and sovereignty, was founded in 2013 as Secular Woman’s avenue for advocating for reproductive freedom and fighting against the Republican war on women.
Rape in India Stirs Awareness of Rape Culture
The fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy intern in Delhi in December of 2012 went to trial in 2013 with the world watching; protests in India gave voice to rape survivors and challenged the predominant rape culture in the country. The perpetrators were found guilty and the victim was posthumously awarded one of the 2013 International Women of Courage Awards by the US State Department. The tragedy spurred improvements to the Indian legal system and discussions about rape culture, street harassment, and all violence against women throughout 2013.
We at Secular Woman will be following these trends with interest, hoping to see a secular movement with more women in leadership roles as we work to amplify women’s voices and influence and support women who are fighting for social justice around the world. We commend the women who stepped forward in 2013 to act, challenge, lead, educate, and fight oppressive systems, and we recommit ourselves to doing the same in the coming year.