A Statement About HEADS

Since its founding in 2012, Secular Woman has worked to amplify the voices of atheist, humanist and non-religious women. We do this in part by participating in the annual conference attended by the leaders of national secular organizations. We have attended four of the past five meetings.

The structure of this year’s meeting changed after women voiced their opinions and concerns at last year’s meeting. Some of those opinions were unpopular and unwelcome, and during the meeting, the Chair of the Advisory Board of the Secular Coalition of America requested that the next meeting be available only to member organizations of SCA. SCA ran this year’s meeting, and the change was made, excluding Secular Woman and other smaller organizations.

People continue to write “where are the women” pieces about the secular movement after years of work to make us more inclusive. Women enter this movement, then leave with stories of being talked over, silenced, and valued for their bodies over their voices. As #MeToo continues to gather momentum, the leaders of this movement have changed the rules to specifically exclude Secular Woman, the only secular organization which focuses on the concerns and voices of women.

This move exemplifies the very reasons Secular Woman was created. We are here to ensure that women’s voices are heard, even if they sometimes make those listening uncomfortable. We are here to elevate more women to leadership positions, to bring their influence to bear at national levels. If this were happening easily, “naturally”, without a fight, our organization wouldn’t exist.

We at Secular Woman encourage the leaders of these organizations to walk back this exclusionary change. We fought for our seat at the table. We will continue to fight to regain it.

Take Our Survey

The new year is a traditional time to look back at what we’ve accomplished in the last year and forward to what we hope to accomplish in the next. Secular Woman would like your help doing that this year.

 

We’ve been quiet recently, but we’re trying to get better about bragging about our accomplishments. 2017 started with our president, Monette Richards, attending a meeting of secular organizations to represent the interests of women in the movement. We won’t say it was friction-free, but we made points that would otherwise have gone unsaid. The year ended with an update to our website and back-end systems to improve functionality and make updates easier in the future.

 

In between, we continued to host interesting discussions on our members-only Facebook page, ran the Secular Women Work track of workshops at Skepticon, and got mouthy when the secular movement decided our interests weren’t important. We also added two new board members to help us accomplish more in 2018. Please help us welcome Sam Farooqi and Stephanie Zvan!

 

We’ve already started working on projects for 2018, but we want your input on how we can do more. Please fill out this survey on what you’d like to see from us this year.

 

While you’re at it, please consider renewing your membership to Secular Woman. Your membership helps us help you (and keeps us from sending you another email soon when we run our membership drive).

Announcing New Board Members

Secular Woman is growing again! We are pleased to announce the addition of three new board members to our organization who have already begun to do important work behind the scenes. Our new board members are Bria Crutchfield, Marian Melby, and Felicity Kusinitz – if you are active in the secular community, especially the part of it that focuses on social justice you have probably heard of all three.
BriaBria is the founder of Minority Atheists of Michigan and the Detroit affiliate of Black Nonbelievers, recently returning from tabling at the American Atheists convention in Memphis for Black Nonbelievers. She is active on issues related to advancing opportunities for minority youth, working against police brutality, and creating space for black and other minority atheists in our community. Having been disfellowshipped from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, she also speaks on leaving the faith and her journey to atheism, most recently she talked about her experiences on Atheist Analysis.


 

 

FFelicityelicity is involved with the Boston Skeptics and works on issues of church and state separation, such as reproductive rights. With a background in biochemistry, Felicity currently is employed in the field of scientific instrumentation. Geek culture is also a home for Felicity, and she spends much of her free time at conventions like CONvergence.


 

M.A. Melby

 

 

 

Marian, or M.A. as many know her, teaches physics in Minnesota and is very active on secular and trans equality issues. She spent her early years as a devout Lutheran, but questions regarding her faith led her to atheism. Marian is an avid writer and has her own blog, Sinmantyx. She is also part of the Secular Woman Salon and writes for The TransAdvocate. Marian also works to lessen harassment of marginalized people on Twitter through her involvement with the Block Bot.

We are thrilled to welcome these women to our board and we look forward to the work they will do as part of Secular Woman.

 

Where We Stand – Voicing Our Priorities

SecularWoman LogoRecently Michael Nugent’s organization, Atheist Ireland, issued a statement formally disassociating from PZ Myers, alleging hateful and abusive rhetoric. This led to others supporting this statement to varying degrees (such as Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist, Ron Lindsay of CFI, and the Secular Policy Institute). The concept of formally disassociating from a person one has no formal ties with seems unusual to us, and we have no desire to take an official stand regarding what appears to be an extremely belabored personal disagreement regarding tone. We encourage others, in the spirit of fairness, to read Myers’ statements in their original context to independently assess Atheist Ireland’s claims.

However, one issue that has surfaced during this dispute demands our attention due to our understanding of events. Our stated values make it clear that we stand with survivors of sexual assault and those who believe and support them. We choose not to associate with those who align themselves with abusers rather than victims:

We affirm that everyone has the right to feel safe, confident, and secure in their personal and emotional interactions.

We oppose harassment, bullying, objectification, and other forms of aggression both physical and nonphysical in all settings.

We strongly assert that people in positions of authority within any community or organization should not attempt to dictate to victims of sexual assault and rape how or where they are allowed to share accounts of those experiences.

Although we take Michael Nugent at his word that this is not his intent, he has contributed to an environment that encourages victims of rape and sexual assault to remain silent. By insisting that PZ Myers was irresponsible for helping a woman publicly disclose that she had been raped by Michael Shermer, a disclosure that has subsequently uncovered a pattern of inappropriate behavior, Nugent appears to be focusing on making judgments concerning the victim and her choices, as if she is the problem to be solved.

Nugent has written post after post concerning his disagreement with PZ Myers, repudiating Myers as being “hateful”, and encouraging Atheist Ireland to disassociate from Myers. Nugent, however, appears to have spent little or no effort to visit such harsh judgments on those who have continued to obsessively ridicule and harass specific targets within the atheist and skeptic communities for years.

This is an extension of a systemic problem, by no means limited to the words of Michael Nugent, which has become brutally apparent within the atheist and skeptic communities in recent years. Women who speak about assault, sexism, or simply assert their own personal boundaries have been targeted by hate campaigns [tw] while a sobering number of our proclaimed leaders become defensive, insist that the victims remain silent to avoid embarrassment, and prioritize the reputation of men above the safety of women.  

The message that we are receiving is that “boys will be boys” and we had better shut up about it. Our answer is “No.”

 

Rending the Tent: The Expansion Continues

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As mentioned in Rending the Tent: A Statement from The Secular Woman Community, Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist published a piece by Kristine Kruszelnicki of Pro-Life Humanists without comment. Secular Woman offered to be interviewed by Mehta to allow his readers a different perspective on the human rights of women. Mehta initially refused to include a rebuttal or balance to his guest blog due to an admitted misunderstanding on his part. 

Mehta then invited a rebuttal of the previous post. Our submission was rejected by Mehta, since, apparently, it didn’t fulfill his requirement that we engage in debate.

Mehta set the table with anti-choice, anti-woman rhetoric, then dictated the exact terms under which responses were allowed. We respect Mehta’s absolute right to determine the content of his blog. We just question his decisions and what it means for the inclusion of women, feminists, and progressives in the atheist community. We have to wonder why Mehta gives greater voice to those he “disagrees” with than to those he states he fundamentally agrees with as he has repeatedly purported to be pro-choice.

Without an opportunity for explanation, the ProChoiceisProLife voice is diminished in comparison to the pseudoscientific, long-debunked falsehoods, and emotional arguments presented as reasoned and reasonable positions on Mehta’s blog.

Mehta chose to share an anti-abortion post with his audience. He chose not to share this one.


We at Secular Woman appreciate Hemant reaching out and clearing up the miscommunication over whether he was willing to host a pro-choice position on his blog. His apparent refusal was all the more alarming because it was unexpected, and we’re happy to see that part of this matter be resolved so easily.

Hemant asked for “A) a rebuttal to the specific things Kristine wrote about and B) the facts/data behind why being pro-choice makes sense”. While we understand why either of these might be considered the appropriate response to publishing a poorly reasoned, “pro-life” argument without comment, we feel those are not what the atheist community most needs right now. PZ Myers and Brianne Bilyeu have ably addressed the pseudoscience and non sequiturs of the original post. Avicenna has dealt with the humanitarian cost of “pro-life” stances. Commenters on the original post and across the atheist internet have made the argument that the bodily autonomy of people with a uterus does not disappear when that uterus is filled, the argument on which current legal rights are based, and they’ve done it repeatedly and well.

There is no need for Secular Woman to repeat the work of others. Instead, we would add our voices to those saying that playing at debate for the sake of debate on this matter is disrespectful to those nonbelievers (and believers) who face the possibility of unwanted pregnancy. Moreover, it adds to the voluminous threats to health and liberty they already face.

There is nothing that becomes new and fresh about the pseudoscience used to place unnecessary restrictions on abortion when the person using that pseudoscience is not religious. Nor is there anything suddenly newsworthy about the philosophical and emotional sleights of hand that confuse “person” with “human”, “fetus” with “baby”, or ending life with “murder” because they don’t come from a religious conservative. Using straw third-trimester “recreational” abortions to limit abortions well prior to fetal viability is a tactic decades old. Talking about the purported rights of a zygote, embryo, or fetus while treating the person gestating it as a uterus without rights is far older, as is the suggestion that women are not capable of understanding the ethical implications of their reproductive decisions.

These flaws in anti-abortion arguments have been documented and countered for as long as the arguments have been used. Tacking “secular” onto their description does nothing to make the arguments more valid or more worthy of being treated uncritically. We see no trend toward giving global warming denialists space to uncritically present their pseudoscience and poor argumentation simply because they aren’t all motivated by religion. We see no reason to do so with abortion.

In fact, we see compelling and immediate reasons not to. When we say we refuse to have a debate on the issue of abortion, this is only partly because the arguments of one side are so poor. We also refuse to dignify with the word “debate” those that are waging an assault on those who may become pregnant.

What do we mean when we say they’re waging an assault? We mean:

This is not a comprehensive list. Access to ethical medical care, bodily autonomy, and basic security are under a broad and constant assault. In this environment, we find it irresponsible and unethical to provide a platform for anything but the best available information and reasoning on the realities and ethics of abortion. Whatever one’s intended purpose, doing anything less puts people’s health, happiness, and their very lives on the line.

This is true wherever debates on abortion are hosted, but there are additional reasons to be clear and careful in one’s treatment of the topic of abortion in atheist, activist spaces. Despite some recent claims to the contrary, abortion rights have long been an area of atheist activism. Atheist groups have recognized the theocratic nature of the anti-choice movement, whether anti-choice organizations have explicitly called upon gods in their reasoning or attempted to hide their unconstitutional interest behind the pseudoscience and bad arguments adopted by the secular “pro-life” organizations. These groups, when crafting public policy positions, have rightly opposed the theocratic interference in our lawmaking.

This tradition has been one of the ways in which the U.S. atheist movement has made a clear break with the Christian culture in which it exists. As such, it has also been one of the few ways in which the atheist movement has staunchly stood by the interests of the women in this movement. Despite a history of erasing our past contributions and questioning our current worth, atheist women have not needed to worry that the movement to which they contribute was working against their interest in this regard. They have not had to take time out of their atheist activism to fight a threat to their rights in their own back yard.

Changing this now, either through planned action or reckless inattention, would be a serious setback for a movement that has gone through so much pain over the last few years in an attempt to become more welcoming to women. It would lead to additional turmoil, generate more bad press, and alienate the overwhelming majority of U.S. atheists who support legal abortion. For what? To provide a boost to pseudoscience and poor reasoning?

We at Secular Woman consider this a clear and easy choice. It is already the mission of most atheist activists to help others live lives based in the world’s realities. There is no reason to abandon that mission when the topic is abortion.

Rending the Tent: A Statement from the Secular Woman Community

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**UPDATED 2014-03-18 8:25 AM**

The Secular Woman Board of Directors and larger community hold a woman’s bodily autonomy to be out of bounds for debate, negotiation, or compromise. We therefore vehemently oppose any action which legitimizes, accommodates, invites, or welcomes anti-choice elements into the secular movement. We reject the argument that free inquiry demands consideration of anti-choice viewpoints. We reject the argument that the quest for diversity and growth in the secular movement means including those who question, deny, or advocate against the reproductive rights of women. We reject these arguments as forcefully as we reject the idea that the humanity of racial, ethnic, gender, or sexual minorities deserves closer examination by the secular movement.

Entertaining anti-choice arguments delegitimizes women’s humanity and bodily autonomy; which is why we have been disturbed and appalled to witness the President of American Atheists, David Silverman, commenting on the existence of secular anti-choice arguments during an interview at CPAC without providing any context as to the validity of said arguments. After acknowledging the arguments exists he stated that “You can’t deny that it’s there, and it’s maybe not as clean cut as school prayer, right to die, and gay marriage.” This statement served to position anti-abortion arguments as legitimate contenders alongside social justice arguments for marriage equality, etc.

Vision Statement: Secular Woman envisions a future in which women without supernatural beliefs have the opportunities and resources they need to participate openly and confidently as respected voices of leadership in the secular community and every aspect of society.

This resulted in reasonable and justifiable disagreement, backlash, and explanations by other atheists of why this statement dehumanizes women. Almost immediately after Silverman’s comment and the resulting push-back, JT Eberhard published a defense of Silverman and then Hemant Mehta* of the Friendly Atheist published a piece by Kristine Kruszelnicki of Pro-Life Humanists without any redress from Mehta.

At this point, the President of Secular Woman, Kim Rippere, reached out to Mehta to see if he would interview her to give his readers the viewpoint that secular pro-choice is pro-life.  We were stunned at his response. While he supports abortion rights, Hemant said, he is not interested in doing an interview or providing a balanced viewpoint to his readers. He condescendingly suggested that he could put us in touch with his guest blogger directly, and that she would be “eager to have the debate.” Our assertion remains that basic human rights of women are not up for debate!

Value: We support every person’s right to bodily and sexual autonomy. Gender expression, sexual orientation, and matters of intimacy are for individuals to determine.

We at Secular Woman have no interest in debating and arguing about a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions. Our stance is clear: abortions should be safe, legal, accessible, and shame free. Spending our energy debating with 13 people about women’s bodily sovereignty is wasteful; instead we will put our energies toward education, advocacy, and breaking down barriers to care.

In light of our recent exchange, it bears remembering that Mehta was also unenthusiastic about the launch of our reproductive rights project, @AbortTheocracy. When the project launched, he wrote that the image was too strong, worrying that our critics would see it as a baby-killing party.

Value: We oppose all attempts to criminalize or limit access to comprehensive reproductive services such as contraception and abortion.

While it is not our contention that either Mehta or Silverman are personally anti-choice (indeed Silverman announced clearly his pro-choice position in a blog comment), this exchange between Mehta and Silverman’s comments on abortion makes obvious that at least some atheists are unclear on why entertaining women’s rights as an issue that can be up for debate alienates and harms women while simultaneously giving fodder to those who advocate denying women basic human rights.

We are left incredulous at the failure to understand, at the complete lack of repudiation of the oppressive stance their comments and actions validate, and the disconnect between these men’s personal pro-choice stance and their words and resulting behaviors. What seems to be lost on Silverman, Mehta and others is that debating women’s humanity is not an academic exercise because our right to bodily autonomy is far from settled, legally or socially.

Overall, we are exceedingly disappointed with the recent talk surrounding women’s rights in the atheist and secular communities.  Atheism is already struggling with anti-feminism and atheist leaders and writers uncritically giving voice to anti-choice views will serve to further push women to the fringes of the movement – if they even bother to join at all.

During a time when women’s rights are being viciously attacked by conservatives (especially religious conservatives) at the state and federal level, it is appalling to see that leaders of atheists organizations are reaching out to those who reject women’s right to bodily autonomy and appear willing to use women as a bargaining chip to advance the atheist movement’s growth and support the so-called big tent. Big tents have their limits! A tent that includes people who reject basic bodily autonomy for over half the population is not big enough to include anyone else who values human rights. We agree that the atheist movement should be big enough to embrace different viewpoints but we draw the line at viewpoints that reject the humanity of women.

 


*On March18, 2014 Kim Rippere received this from Hemant:

Hi, Kim — I just saw your post on Secular Woman (http://www.secularwoman.org/rending-the-te…oman-community/) and I realized there was a complete miscommunication on my end regarding your email.

When I read your initial email to me, I understood it to mean that Secular Woman wanted to interview *me* about *my* views on the pro-choice side and the right to choose. I said no because I didn’t feel like my positions on those issues needed any clarification (I’m strongly pro-choice) — and that’s why I suggested you interview Kristine instead.

Reading your post and re-reading your emails, I realize you were requesting that I interview YOU about those issues, to provide the opposing perspective to Kristine’s piece. (That also makes your subsequent email to me make a little more sense.)

1) My apologies for misunderstanding what you were requesting. Had I understood correctly, my answers would’ve been different.

2) I would be happy to provide you (or a member of your group) a forum on my site if you were up for writing a response. But what I’d be interested in posting is A) a rebuttal to the specific things Kristine wrote about and B) the facts/data behind why being pro-choice makes sense. As with all posts on my site, I’ll work with the writer with edits.

3) Given this misunderstanding, I hope you can clarify your post to reflect that — and not state that I rejected a pro-choice perspective on my site. That was never my intention.

Please let me know that you got this? Thanks.

Members Speak Up About Ron Lindsay’s Actions

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Ron Lindsay, CEO of Center for Inquiry, opened his organization’s Women in Secularism2 conference, with an unwelcoming message. When faced with criticism, he did not act with grace and apologize. Quite the opposite.

Yesterday, we released our Statement of Objection to Center for Inquiry CEO Ron Lindsay’s Actions Regarding Feminism wherein Secular Woman outlined the conclusions we are forced to draw from the lack of apology or retractions concerning Lindsay’s statements and actions during Women in Secularism2. Today, our members are speaking up.

 

While some of the most notorious harassers and misogynists on the internet are rallying behind Ron Lindsay’s words, CFI’s supporters and donors, as well as the most of the organizers of this WiS–arguably the most successful and important thing CFI does all year–are furious and hurt; many donors are severing ties with the organization. As a former CFI employee I am ashamed and shocked. Until this weekend, Lindsay had ties with many of the most brilliant feminist thinkers in the movement. I fear his dismissive response to deserved criticism has ruined that. I hope Lindsay takes a look at the intellectual company he’s now keeping, and if that doesn’t concern him, it should concern anyone who wants to ensure CFI has a viable future as a relevant and truly progressive organization.

Julia Burke

 

“How disappointing to see Mr. Lindsay exploit an otherwise positive event for and about secular women. We looked for leadership and instead found divisiveness and arrogance – again.”

Anonymous

 

mr. lindsay, the reason many people took offense to your comments was because they were dismissive of the experiences of women.

this conference has a special focus on women.

if i and other people of colour are having a discussion about racism, and a white person pipes up with, “but latinos can be racist too!”, they are basically dismissing the experiences that we have had.

but the fact that a mexican kid picked on him in middle school pales in comparison to the persecution that people of colour in your country have endured.

when an event geared particularly towards women has a male speaker does the same thing by pointing fingers at women who have been meanies to a man, he is diminishing the experience of women who have received rape threats, death threats, outlandish sexual harassment and other attempts to chase them off from the movement that they have every right to be a part of.

i have found that when i shut up and listen is when i learn.

that is when i am more easily able to try and put myself in the shoes of someone else and gain the empathy that i need to work with them on any matter of social justice.

don’t get me wrong, i have also been told to shut up and listen.

but i can certainly understand the frustration that would lead someone to take such a stance, and i have found that by doing so, and when i say doing so, i don’t mean just shutting my mouth as i think of what to say next, but actually listening to the other person, the doors of communication have been opened on both sides.

Rogelio Tavera

 

Ron Lindsey-please re-read your opening remarks and think about whether you would have addressed a conference of African American humanists that way.

“Shut up and listen” does not threaten the free speech of white upper class men. Those men-men like you-have a disproportionate share of attention. You do not have to fight to be heard. You said on Friday that you had no problem with “listen”-your problem was with “shut up.” Lindsey-you can’t listen while you’re talking. How about you take “shut up and listen” as the ADVICE that it is.

Stacey Kennedy

 

I wasn’t at the conference, and I am hoping that perhaps next year I will be able to go. I look forward to meeting some of the folks that I have only interacted with online. I hear that it was a great time.

However, I saw that some attendees were “put off” by your opening speech. The focus, especially in context, was problematic. A few mentioned that they should discuss it with you. A couple wrote tweets or blog posts that they were disappointed in it, and engaged with what you said.

I felt that all of it was healthy discussion, until I read your subsequent blog-posts responding to the criticism which profoundly misstated the stances of the people you were responding to and were inappropriate in tone, especially considering your position. They read as extraordinarily defensive.

That was not a smart move.

Unfortunately, from my perspective as someone who engages primarily online, this situation seem eerily similar to other disagreements that have been allowed to escalate well beyond necessity, for all the world to see.

I request, with all sincerity, that you are introspective about what has happened in the last few days and take the time to charitably consider how others may have perceived your comments.

M.A. Melby

 

“Betrayed” is the only thing to come to mind, but I have Disnomia. It’s unfortunate how an otherwise awesome lineup of women was bookended with two speakers who made me regret spending the money to come here.

Anonymous

 

As someone who values CFI in many ways, I am trying to be charitable in how I understood your opening remarks. But your subsequent defenses make it impossible for me to do so. Dragging your critics into the hole you’re digging simply won’t help.

Please understand that there’s a difference between being told to shut up forever and being told to keep quiet long enough to listen with humility and compassion.

Michael Cluff