Living Our Secular Values

The following was originally delivered by Stephanie Zvan for the Day of Reason event organized by the Minnesota Atheists in the capitol rotunda in Saint Paul.

Hello, everyone! You may know I’m the associate president of Minnesota Atheists, but I’m here today as a member of the board of Secular Woman. Secular Woman is an organization of women and men dedicated to amplifying the voices and concerns of secular women within the movement and outside it.

Last month was the 100th anniversary of the birth of American Atheists founder Madalyn Murray O’Hair. O’Hair had something of a reputation for being a difficult person. Yes, really. She would have that reputation even correcting for the smaller leeway we give to difficult women, but part of her reputation was almost certainly due to her militant feminism. Among the many fights she took up was her fight against the idea that women were created for men’s pleasure.

As atheists, we understand that women weren’t created at all. We evolved. And I hope that after so many years of fighting for good education on evolution, we understand that evolution is not directed. It has no end goal. So any discussion of our secular values must be informed by the knowledge that women, like men, exist for themselves, not in service to others.

This means we value bodily autonomy. I’m referring to the current assaults on abortion and birth control, of course, but it goes further than that. We want women to make their own decisions about when or even whether to have sex and with whom.

It also means we want women to decide for themselves when to put their bodies at risk. You can’t see the current administration rolling back the ability of trans people to serve in the military and not know restrictions on women’s roles are coming. And the same is true for so many jobs and industries we’ve had to fight our way into because they were considered too dangerous for us.

It means we understand that women don’t exist to be pleasant to talk to or look at. When we see Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Ilhan Omar, who has championed secularism in these halls, or other women in the freshman class in the House subject to the same harassment so many of us have faced for speaking up, we see it for what it is and say it’s wrong. And we do the same when people try to cast “women’s issues” as a distraction or “special interest”.

These aren’t things the secular movement has always been good at. Too often, we’ve been content to benefit from the work of women without recognizing that work should also benefit the women who do it. You can see this when you look at our organizations and compare the people who do the work on the ground to those in leadership positions and on boards.

I’d like to stop here for a moment to recognize August Berkshire. Over the last several years, he’s worked to recruit just about every woman volunteering for Minnesota Atheists to take on the additional thankless task of serving on the board, including me. He’s made sure that those of us doing the work at least have the opportunity to make decisions that direct our organization.

This is one of the main projects of Secular Woman as well. With our Secular Women Work conferences here and workshops at Skepticon in Missouri, we’ve highlighedt the skills of women and genderqueer activists in the movement and helped them help each other to grow. And yes, we do also train men—at least those men who are able to learn from women—because this is going to take all of us.

With everyone’s help, we can put our secular values into action. Thank you.