Member Spotlight: Corinne Zimmerman
Secular Woman is the kind of umbrella I need to cover many of the human rights issues I feel are important, and so it addresses my concern about not being able to help ‘everywhere’.
Born in Saskatchewan, Canada, Corinne was “technically” raised Catholic. Family on both sides followed this tradition. Out of convenience for her two working parents, Corinne went to a public school until 5th grade. The family moved soon after this and Corinne spent her remaining school years at a Catholic elementary and then a Catholic high school.
Since she didn’t have first communion classes at public school, she had to meet with the priest once a week for a few weeks to have private lessons. Corinne recalled receiving the book “Jesus and I” (which she still has), with a picture of Jesus and a child on the cover. Even at the age of 7, she found the ideas to be pretty implausible. Virgin birth? Resurrection? “Cannibalistically” eating the body of Christ every Sunday? Even in public school, she used to stand beside her desk in the morning and recite the Lord’s Prayer. She would to mutter along, wondering “Why don’t people just stop trespassing?” She also had a hard time trying to make sense of the idea that we are all sinners and are born with sin.
Throughout the rest of elementary school and high school, she remembers suffering through Religion and Christian Ethics classes in the same way that she suffered through Phys Ed. She didn’t care for it, but it was part of the curriculum. Still, she resigned herself to the idea that it was easier to just go along with what was expected. She particularly disliked the religious “retreats” they had to go on every so often. She tuned a lot of this out -- to the point that today she doesn't have many vivid memories of them.
Although she never had to shed the “trappings of religious tradition” it was a slow path to being able to say with certainty that she was an agnostic or atheist. She suspects that she was always agnostic, but it took some time in grad school to decide definitively that she was an atheist (and even then it took a while before she could say it out loud).
Corinne only became involved in the secularist movement in the past 6 months; prior to that she was too busy with her career and getting promoted. In fact she was recently promoted to full professor, and was feeling burnt out after years of workaholism. She’d said, “For the last 20 years or so, I have these recurring periods of existential angst where my main thought is, ‘I feel like there’s something important that I should be doing with my life…’”
Some time in the past year her local Borders store closed down and was getting rid of stock. One book she picked out of a sale bin was something like, “The Idealist’s Guide to Building a Better World.” One of the key insights she gained from that book was that she couldn’t do everything. When she would think about a cause that she could get involved with, she thought about all the other ones she wouldn’t be able to be involved in and went through a period of confusion and indecision. Once she gave herself “permission” to just pick something, she felt better. Corinne then started to make a list of causes that were important to her. In general, that list focused on human rights, broadly defined. She is opposed to the obvious homophobia and transphobia that she has seen for decades, and racism in the US and Canada always bothered her. It was a much longer path for her to take feminist issues as seriously. It wasn’t until graduate school that she really thought about those issues, and didn’t even call herself a feminist until a male friend taught her that it was okay to use that word. Corinne recalled, “I never really personally experienced overt sexism. During my undergraduate and graduate education, I never once felt like I was at a disadvantage because of my gender. Ten years ago, as a new assistant professor, I was assigned to teach Educational Psychology, which always includes a unit on gender and culture. I just didn’t get it. I was falling victim to the idea that “if it doesn’t happen to me, it must not exist”. But the more I read about gender, culture, privilege, and the more I opened my eyes to what was going on around me, I began to see how my sheltered view of the world didn’t accurately represent reality”.
On June 29, Corinne’s partner sent her an email with a link to the newly formed Secular Woman (SW) organization. It came as a bit of an epiphany. She had already preordered a copy of David Niose’s “Nonbeliever Nation”. From the blurb she was a bit surprised to learn that around 1 in 5 Americans are nonbelievers. Because there are so many churches in her town, and because of the way the news is presented, she would have never guessed the number was that high. During her 13 years in the U.S., she have often found herself responding to news items with comments like, “Wait…wasn’t this country founded on the idea of separation of church and state??”
On June 30th she joined Secular Woman. Her epiphany was this: Sexism is often justified by appealing to religion. Racism has been justified by appealing to religion. Homophobia has been justified by appealing to religion. History is riddled with cases of persecution for not holding the correct religious belief.
“Secular Woman is the kind of umbrella I need to cover many of the human rights issues I feel are important, and so it addresses my concern about not being able to help ‘everywhere’”.
Corinne decided that she wanted to become involved as a volunteer at Secular Woman on the membership committee. As a university professor, her first project is to become more involved in the Secular Student Alliance (SSA), and to promote communication between SW and the SSA. On October 1st, SW announced a two-week membership drive that will allow student members of the SSA or a campus affiliate to be eligible for free membership in Secular Woman. “I will be speaking at our campus SSA meeting to promote SW as a first step to trying to increase female participation in the SSA. The goal is to present SW as an inclusive group, explaining that men are welcome”.
We are excited to have Corinne as a part of the Secular Woman team!
Bridget R. Gaudette
VP of Outreach