Dear men: read this stuff kthx.


Dear beloved men:

Yes, I know you’re a liberal, feminist guy. You totally get it! You really do. For example, you regularly read my blog because you like what I have to say about various and sundry issues that shape our shared world.

But there is something you don’t get. You can never get it, not really. Because the world we share frequently looks very different through the eyes of women. Note that this doesn’t mean you see the world more objectively and women (or others) less so, nor vice versa. It means that, although we inhabit the very same spaces and travel the same paths, our experiences are objectively different.

Think of it this way: if you’re white in the USA, you probably do not live in fear of police, whereas if you’re black you do (for very good reasons that I’m sure I don’t have to explain to readers here). Your educational experience in public school settings is likely to be drastically different, from the physical infrastructure, access to quality materials and technology, to what happens if you get in trouble. I cannot ever really understand what it is like to experience the world as a person of color does. While we all inhabit a culture that reinforces white supremacy in a million ways 24/7/365—such that even very young black children internalize it—I cannot know what that experience is like as a person of color.

But that fact should not stop me from listening to, learning from and empathizing with people of color. Indeed, as someone with a conscience and a desire to make our world a better place, it demands it. It also demands that I leverage my white privilege to right the wrongs of racism, because people of color cannot.

I’m sure you can see where this is going: the same principle is at work with sexism. Like racism, it is not always blatant; much of it operates below the level of conscious awareness. This is why I need you—yes, you, my dear d00d—to listen to, learn from and empathize with women, and to leverage your male privilege to right the wrongs of sexism, because women cannot.

To that end, here are things I want you to read:

Why Women Smile at Men Who Sexually Harass Us. Olsen, H.B., Medium (Feb. 2016).

The White Knight Delusion. Wilkinson, A., The Baffler (Feb. 2016).

Abortion ban linked to dangerous miscarriages at Catholic hospital, report claims. Redden, M., The Guardian (Feb. 2016).

Buzzfeed Writer Harassed off Twitter for Urging “Not-White, Not-Male” Writers to Pitch to Buzzfeed Canada. Cox, C., The Mary Sue (Feb. 2016).

This Facebook post by Harper Honey (shared with permission):

Today I went to Target after work. I have been wanting to go for a while, especially since the launch of curvy Barbies….

Posted by Harper Honey on Monday, February 22, 2016

Trust Your Gut! Sara, M., Femnasty (Feb. 2016).

Not a Nice Story. Darcy (Guest Post), Love Joy Feminism/Patheos (Feb. 2015).

The remarkably different answers men and women give when asked who’s the smartest in the class. Paquette, D., Washington Post (Feb. 2016).

Conservative Trolls Have Been Suggesting Men Go into Women’s Restrooms to Help Legislators Discriminate Against Trans People. Brownstone, S., The Stranger (Feb. 2016).

NYPD Really Wants You To Know They’re Cracking Down On Subway Perverts. Chung, J., Gothamist (Feb. 2016).


When you read these things, you will notice that women inhabit a very different world than you do. We are not safe from gendered harassment, abuse and violence; not on crowded subway trains or at quiet bus stops, alone or with friends, at our jobs, in the toy aisle at Target, on the street, at small dinner parties, in public restrooms, on Twitter, in our own homes, in fucking hospitals. We cannot escape our gender and bias against it. We are routinely demeaned, diminished and degraded in virtually every facet of our lives, from cradle to grave, in countless ways, both blatant and perniciously, infuriatingly subtle. Most of us learn from a very young age that we can never, ever really let our guard down among men—nor, frankly, among women (and others) who support, consciously or otherwise, the individuals, institutions and cultural practices that perpetuate male privilege. Some of us may have made a devil’s bargain, but it is not an inherently irrational choice. I’m not sure it is a choice at all, at least for some.

And you will also surely have noticed that all of those links are from February alone. I made no special effort to seek these stories out; they were sprinkled among literally dozens of open tabs in my browser. It was only when I went to compile a link roundup last week that I realized how many they were in number.

Was that too big an ask of me, that you read all of ^that stuff? Well, consider your privilege: you can look away from any or all of it, any time. You can ignore all of it, without much risk (if any) to your career or your mental health or your physical safety or your life. We cannot. Ever. That’s why I want you to read it—all of it—even (especially) if you don’t want to: to give you some glimmer of what it is like for us to exist in this world. I am asking you to listen to, learn from and empathize with women, and to leverage your own privilege to right the wrongs of sexism.

Here is what that might look like:

Learn to see it for what it is. I’ve written before in some depth about microaggressions, and studies that reveal (a) microaggressions may be more harmful than overt bigotry, (b) racism, sexism, other -isms are mainly perpetuated due to unconscious bias, and (c) it is extraordinarily difficult to get (presumably well-meaning) people to realize they are acting in an unfairly biased manner. I won’t rehash all of that in detail here. But there are other behaviors that you might pay attention to. For instance, while you personally do not harass, abuse or rape women, people you know almost certainly do. These are not strangers hiding in the bushes: they are your fathers and brothers and sons, your friends and co-workers, admired professional colleagues and community members in good standing, who “would never do anything like that.” But don’t take my word for it: they will tell you so themselves. The d00d cracking “jokes” about physically/sexually assaulting women, or making “funny” quips about women as intellectually inferior, untrustworthy, manipulable, sex objects, obstacles to be overcome, etc., is telling you exactly how he thinks of us and treats us whenever he can get away with it.

Call it out when you see it. Sexist and predatory men take your laughter, however insincere, as validation. They take your silence as validation. They take shitty beer commercials that objectify women as evidence that their views are valid and the norm. One thing that can help change the culture in which unconscious biases flourish and predatory weasels operate with impunity is men shutting that shit down. In social situations: “Not cool, d00d.” “Wow, not funny.” “Did you just grab that woman’s ass? That is seriously messed up.” “What the fucking fuck is wrong with you, you fucking fuck?” In work and school situations: “Yes we heard you the first time Bob, but now we’d all really like to hear what Cynthia has to say.” “Rani just made that suggestion Malcolm, I’m glad you agree with her.” You see, when we do this, we are abrasive, oversensitive, humorless feminazis who cannot take a joke OBVIOUSLY. We need you to do it.

Believe us. When we tell you this shit is happening, all the fucking time, know that we’re not “playing the victim.” FYI: there is no reward for being a victim, much less one that somehow makes it worth being victimized in the first place.

You, my beloved men, are not “the enemy,” so much as the systems that uphold your privilege at the expense of ours is the enemy. I am asking for your help in dismantling them. Interrupting them. Burning them the fuck down.

Just as racism is whites’ problem to solve, sexism is yours.

You’re creative, and resourceful. I know you can and will find ways to disrupt and smash this shit to pieces. It might even turn out to be fun, if a little uncomfortable at first.

Thanks for your consideration.

Have a nice day.

What are we Talking About

Weekly Roundup: What Are We Talking About?

Straight from our Member’s Only Group to you, what we and our members are reading and discussing!

It’s been a busy week of sharing, discussing, and reading in our Member’s group this week. There is a petition circulating to elect a female president of the Royal Society; certainly a timely call in light of Tim Hunt’s sexist comments about female scientists. It’s also worth noting that there has been no female president since the society was established in 1660; we think it is time for a change!

Evidence has been uncovered that a U.S. Army doctor performed horrendous and torturous experiments on soldiers for many years, including inducing shock and likely sexually assaulting students under the guise of medical procedures. So far he is being cited for training he provided to students during the years of 2012 to 2013 but there is evidence to indicate that officials knew of his experiments as long ago as 2005 and allowed them to continue.

Juneteenth vigils and celebrations were held all over the U.S., taking on special poignancy in light of the terrorist violence in Charleston where 9 black people were slaughtered in church by a white supremacist. In Rhode Island, vigils were held to remember black women killed by police.

Finally, a woman’s face will grace the 10 dollar bill starting in 2020 (the 100 year anniversary of women’s right to vote) but we still can’t decide who should be on the bill. Can you?

And last, but far from least, we are getting so exciting about the Secular Women Work conference being held in Minneapolis from August 21st – 23rd. If you need a scholarship to attend the deadline for applying is July 6th!

White Chivalric Phallacy

[content note: discussion of violent hate crimes, e.g. lynching; quoting white supremacist killers]

On June 17th, a white supremacist murdered 9 black people at a historical black church in Charleston, NC. A survivor of the massacre reported that the killer told the church: “I have to do it. You’re raping our women and taking over the country.”[1]

So, first of all, let me make it absolutely clear that I categorically repudiate this use of my body as a justification for racist violence. I am hereby publicly stating my rejection of the spurious and racist “protection” from people who are no harm to me, by people who are much more likely to be a danger to my bodily integrity. And I urge white women everywhere to take that very same public stand.

But, as stated in what I believe is the facebook post that started the #NotInMyName / #NotInOurNames hashtags[2], the public rejection of this argument can only be a beginning. We white women need to talk about this; we need to talk about the fact that “raping our women” has been a tool of white, colonialist patriarchy for a very long time[3]. The racial and sexual “purity” of white women, the chivalric protector-role of white men, and the imagined animalistic aggressiveness of non-white men together constitute an important framework for the hierarchies of white patriarchy. When these hierarchies are threatened, anti-black violence in white woman’s name becomes the means to re-establishing them:

Lynching for rape upheld white privilege and underpinned the objectified figure of white women defined as “ours” and protected by “us” from “them” (Fraiman 1994, 73). These beliefs formed what Fraiman (73) calls the white chivalric phallacy: preservation of what masculine supremacy was refigured as protection of white females for white males. […] In this view, interracial sexuality destroyed what it meant to be a man because white masculinity was inextricably linked to race: To be a man was to be a white man who had sole access to, and the duty to protect white women. The lynching and castrating of African American men, founded on the protection of white women, was central to securing white male power and identity and, thereby, reconstructing a hierarchical masculine difference between white and African American men. [4]

Meanwhile in Europe, the same sentiment appears additionally as anti-immigrant xenophobia and islamophobia. Anders Breivik, the man who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011, was a white supremacist. Part of the extensive copypasta that is his manifesto dealt with the notion of an epidemic of Muslim immigrants raping white women:

The incidence of rapes carried out by Muslim men in Norway against non-Muslim women is many times higher than rapes by non-Muslim men. The rape frequency in e g Oslo per capita is said to more than five times higher than in New York City. And two thirds of these rapes are committed by immigrants even though they still constitute a rather small part of society.
In Brussels, Belgium, gangs of Muslim immigrants harass the natives on a daily basis. We have had several recent cases where native girls have been gang raped by immigrants in the heart of the EU capital. [5]

And let me repeat that this “white chivalric phallacy” is inherent to white colonialist patriarchy. It’s not just fringe elements and “lone wolf” mass murderers; it’s not just something from the history books of Reconstruction in the US. It is found ubiquitously, with not even much of an effort to hide it via dogwhistles. To use one example from the secular/atheist/skeptic community: Pat Condell, a YouTube personality once heartily endorsed by e.g. Richard Dawkins and still disturbingly popular in some atheist/skeptic spaces was one of the voices popularizing the meme of Sweden as the new “rape capital of Europe”[6] far and wide enough that it can still be commonly found in atheist discussions on any vaguely related topics. Similarly, the effects of this white chivalric phallacy are everywhere: George Zimmerman not being convicted of murder[7]; misogynoir and the tolerance of violence against black women[8][9]; the entitlement-and-hate aspect of a lot of MRA/PUA toxicity[10], violence targeted at white women who’d date an “inferior, ugly black boy” over someone like Elliot Rodger who is, after all, “descended from British aristocracy”[11]; et cetera. Silence in the face of all this will let it continue. We need to have an ongoing conversation about how to destroy the white chivalric phallacy instead of being its acquiescent tool.

TL;DR: this was a white patriarchal mass murder. It was textbook “white chivalric phallacy”. White women have a responsibility to stand up and refuse to be used like that; not just as individuals rejecting such violence being done in our names, but as a social class rejecting, uncovering and ultimately deconstructing the systemic role in the oppression of men and women of color assigned to us by white patriarchy. That is solidarity; that is intersectional feminism. Let us not be silent and remain complicit with white patriarchy on this.

– – –












Her•Story Secular Woman

Introducing the Her•Story Project

Her•Story Secular Woman

The mission of Secular Woman is to amplify the voice, presence and influence of non-religious women in all aspects of society. Ironically, one formidable obstacle to accomplishing this is a perception among some in the broader secular movement that women activists are some new and exotic species whose insistence on being heard and recognized as equals can be ignored or even brutally punished without any great loss to the secular movement itself. While this perception is plainly incorrect, the obstacle nevertheless persists.

It can take many shapes and forms. One particularly illustrative example is the pushback to instituting anti-harassment policies at secular conferences in order to address and mitigate the harassment and sexual assault many people have experienced in these venues, and that many others say drove them from the movement entirely. In one of the more hilarious and revealing instances, a prominent atheist dude proclaimed that such policies are fun-prohibiting rules promulgated by “dull,” “hypersensitive pencil-necked PC jockey” “killjoys”—despite the fact that conferences in virtually any other area of endeavor have instituted anti-harassment policies for the safety and enjoyment of all participants. Well, all participants except toxic and entitled creeps.

The Her•Story Project aims to counter the ahistorical narrative underlying this obstacle with an ongoing series of posts highlighting the contributions of secular women throughout history and into the present day. A second but no less important aim of The Her•Story Project is to inform and inspire younger generations of secular women activists. A chance encounter proved just how necessary this effort is.

Presentations at a CFI Women in Secularism conference by both Susan Jacoby and Jennifer Michael Hecht touched on contributions of women being routinely written out of historical narratives in favor of (no more or less worthy) men. A woman’s erasure turns out to be even more likely when she is a nonbeliever or otherwise unorthodox. (Similarly, atheist men also tend to be erased from historical narratives in favor of believers—this is religious privilege at work.) On a break after the talks, several attendees were perplexed—a few actually incensed—that they had never even heard of the extraordinary women discussed by Jacoby and Hecht. One way to remedy this is to read the book No Gods — No Masters: Women Without Superstition by Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-founder and co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), as well as FFRF’s daily e-newsletter Freethought of the Day, which regularly highlights secular women. Thus we are positively thrilled that FFRF has agreed to contribute profiles of secular women to The Her•Story Project. Said Annie Laurie Gaylor:

“We all owe a debt to the freethinking feminists who have dared speak truth to patriarchal religion, and who sparked and have nurtured the feminist movement. I’m delighted to see attention to the contributions and lives of secular women.“

Kim Rippere, President and Founder of Secular Woman added:

“The last place these women belong is the dustbin of history. Their contributions stand as a ringing testament to their wisdom and strength, all the more so for obstacles they so often faced solely on account of their gender. We celebrate their lives in the hope that each new generation of secular women activists need not keep fighting the same battles, over and over again, for the recognition and respect they deserve.“

We are committed to telling these stories, even as we forge our own. We will dispel the myth that secular women activists are a new phenomenon, and simultaneously expose the truth that women in the secular movement have been—and will continue to be—forces to be reckoned with. Our activism has always been a source of tremendous power, and like our many sisters who came before us, we fully intend to unleash it in the service of a more just, more secular world.

For everyone.



P.S. If you have read this far, consider this your invitation to contribute a profile of the secular woman of your choice. See here for publication guidelines and to submit a profile. For more information, contact Kim Rippere at [email protected].

Intersectional Feminism

Intersectionality – Black Feminists and the Uprooting of Kyriarchy

Intersectionality has become a popular concept in social justice activism in the recent years. Many activists, writers, and others concerned with social justice have incorporated this concept, sometimes as an actual working tool in their repertoire, sometimes merely as a label allowing another easy grab at the “ally” cookie jar. This widespread popularity is a positive development, in that looking at the whole kyriarchy[1] is a necessity when the goal is equality and human rights for everyone, not just for your own little social corner. On the other hand, popularity is also beginning to erase the people who developed the concept and the theoretical framework from which it arose, turning it into from deeply critical social theory into a fashionable buzzword.

Intersectionality is not simply the acknowledgment that other people are oppressed too, and that some people are oppressed in several different ways; it is a theoretical framework meant to uproot the kyriarchy by acknowledging everyone’s participation in the kyriarchy as both its victim and its perpetuator. It is, in that sense, literally radical. Intersectional theory is the creation of black women academics and activists who felt ignored and ill-served by both the anti-racism and the anti-sexism movements; it came about from the need of black women to fight for their rights as black women, instead of having to divide themselves up into single-identity bits in support of movements that never acknowledged the way racism and sexism affected them as genuine representations of those oppressions. While the concept is obviously applicable to intersections other than those of race, class, and gender, that is the intersection it evolved out of, and that intersection still provides the best context for understanding how intersectional analysis manages to address the very core of our social systems, unlike many of the frameworks that preceded it.

The two women most closely associated with creating Intersectionality Theory are Kimberlé Crenshaw, for coining the term, and Patricia Hill Collins, for creating the concept of a Matrix of Domination. Crenshaw is a Professor of Law at UCLA and Columbia Law School, who has worked within the framework of black feminist legal theory and critical race studies[2]. Her work focuses on the way institutions fail women of color as a result of inadequate framing of race and gender issues. In 1989, she wrote a paper criticizing the “single-axis framework” that dominated anti-discrimination law as well feminist and anti-racist social justice work as a framework that discusses gender and racial injustice only as they apply to privileged members of these groups. According to Crenshaw, this perspective not only erases black women and other groups suffering multiple oppressions from the discussion, it fails even at the single-axis job of properly describing and analyzing gender or race oppression, since it focuses on only a small part of the many ways in which racial and gender oppression manifest in our society[3]. She makes her case by citing three legal cases in which black women had sued because of job discrimination. In these cases, black women were told on the one hand that they must prove their case either as discrimination against all women and discrimination against all black people, and on the other that they were too different from black men and white women to be representative of all women or all black people in discrimination cases[4]. Crenshaw points out that a framework in which e.g. gender discrimination must always work the way it does for white women or else not count cannot adequately deal with the fact that black women sometimes experience discrimination similar to white women; sometimes similar to black men; sometimes as double-discrimination, stacking gender and racial oppression; and sometimes, as an oppression unique to Black women, an oppression that is not simply the sum of other oppressions[5]. It is in that paper that she compared oppression to traffic at an intersection, with violence that could come from any direction or all directions all at once. And it is in that paper that she described the kyriarchy as a house with a basement in which the oppressed are stacked, with those experiencing oppressions on many axes on the very bottom, and those experiencing only one kind of oppression standing on top of them, in reach of the basement-ceiling which is also the ground floor on which the un-oppressed stand; single-axis social justice in that metaphor is a hatch in the basement ceiling, allowing those who are high enough to reach it to climb up to the ground floor, leaving those further down (and therefore unable to reach the hatch) behind[6]. Intersectionality on the other hand is meant to be a ladder which would let everyone climb out, leaving the basement empty.

Patricia Hill Collins is a Sociologist and Social Theorist who wrote a number of influential books on the topic of Intersectionality, among them Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (1990); Race, Class, and Gender: An Anthology (2001, with Margaret Andersen); and Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism (2004)[7]. It is in the first that she presented the idea of a Matrix of Domination, created by interlocking systems of oppression and maintained, experienced, and/or resisted at multiple levels: the level of our own personal lives; the cultural or community level; and the institutional or systemic level. Collins describes how, because each person is situated in a different location within that matrix, their experience with and knowledge/understanding of the social system will be unique to them; that one of the tools of oppression is the substitution of the dominant perspective and understanding for all other perspectives, erasing and silencing subjugated knowledge and understanding of society; and that resistance to domination has to come from rejecting the dominant narratives as the universal experience of society and instead understanding them as just one of many situated knowledges produced as a result of one’s position in the matrix of domination[8]. Like Crenshaw, Collins also criticized single-axis narratives of oppression in which each person is either the oppressor or the oppressed. She presents the matrix of domination as a system in which people can function as both oppressor and oppressed, and in which systems of racial, class, and gender oppression are always present but not equally salient to each person experiencing them. At the same time, she rejects the idea that oppressions are simply stackable, and points out that playing Oppression Olympics does nothing to undo the systems maintaining the oppressive social systems[9]. Instead, she proposes to focus on the actual means by which the matrix of oppression maintains itself and how racial, gender, and class hierarchies interact within it, by analyzing the three dimensions of the matrix of domination: institutional, symbolic, and individual. The institutional dimension plays out in organizations like universities and social institutions like the education system as a whole, where in general white men still hold the most powerful positions, with white women often occupying assistive or second-tier positions, and women of color largely represented in non-academic job. The symbolic dimension is present in the way we assign concepts into boxes such as “masculine” and “feminine”, and how often these are actually specifically “white, straight, middle class masculinity” and “white, straight, middle class femininity”, and how this ideological sorting of concepts is then used as justifications for why things are the way they are; the individual dimension is the way we ourselves act within the matrix: do we resist them and connect to people who live in very different locations of the matrix, or do we accept the institutional niches and symbolic boxes? How do we manage the differences of power between individuals? etc.[10]

While Crenshaw and Collins are the most prominent black feminists and Intersectionality is generally considered to be their creation, they were not the only or the first to talk critically about the interactions of race and gender and the inadequacy of traditional social justice theories to address them. Toward A New Vision begins with a quote from Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider, in which she references yet another scholar when she says “the true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations which we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us, and which knows only the oppressors’ tactics, the oppressors’ relationships”[11]. Lorde is also the author of the memorable quote “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”[12] And before ever the term intersectionality was invented, Barbara Smith, feminist author and member of the Combahee River Collective, talked about the “simultaneity of oppressions” which affects black women in unique ways, and which renders white-dominated feminism inadequate to the task of dismantling patriarchy for all women[13]. Meanwhile Crenshaw’s writing refers back to the 19th century, citing in her papers the black feminist scholar Anna J. Cooper, who once wrote “I see two dingy little rooms with, ‘FOR LADIES’ swinging over one and ‘FOR COLORED PEOPLE’ over the other; while wondering under which head I come”[14].

In other words, black feminists have been critically analyzing the multifaceted nature of the kyriarchy for at least a century already by the time the mainstream of social justice activism (white and/or male as it tends to be) even noticed. And now that it has, I see that it has also begun reshaping it, making it once again most useful to those who are most privileged because they are not affected by multiple oppressions. I see it being used in many mainstream social justice spaces in ways that erase the concepts of complicity in the oppression of others with a bland notion of being “in it together”; and that ignore the uniqueness and varying salience of different oppressions to different individuals in favor of universal narratives and claims of one form of domination being the main or root cause of oppression. Just as the great leaders of the social movements are often whitewashed into harmlessness, so Intersectionality is being whitewashed, made palatable to people who cannot stomach the system-shaking implications of radical social justice. This is a disservice to this highly powerful theory, and it is an injustice to the brilliant black women who have created it. Let’s remember and re-learn the roots of Intersectionality and give credit where credit is due. Let’s not weaken its impact and usefulness by trying to cram it by force and distortion into existing social justice narratives, when what it really is is a critique and replacement for single-axis social justice.

– – –



[3]Crenshaw, Kimberlé. (1989). “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics”. The University of Chicago Legal Forum, Vol. 140, pp. 139-140

[4]Ibid., pp. 141-147

[5]Ibid., p. 149

[6]Ibid., pp. 151-152


[8]Collins, Patricia Hill (1990). “Black Feminist Thought in the Matrix of Domination”. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Boston: Unwin Hyman, pp. 221-238

[9]Collins, P.. (May 24, 1989). “Toward a New Vision: Race, Class, and Gender as Categories of Analysis and Connection.” Integrating Race and Gender into the College Curriculum: A Workshop. p. 6

[10]Ibid., pp.7-14

[11]Lorde, Audre. (1984). “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, pp.114-123. Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press. p.123

[12]Lorde, Audre. (1982). “Learning from the 60s.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, pp.134-145. Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press. p. 138

[13]Smith, Barbara (ed.). (1983). “Introduction”. Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology. New York, NY: Kitchen Table – Women of Color Press. p. xxxiv

[14]Cooper, Anna Julia (1892). A Voice From The South. Xenia, OH: Aldine Printing House. p. 96

Feminist 8 Ball and the Hard Questions

By Amy Cook

Dear Feminist 8 Ball,

Can you give the following questions the consideration they deserve?


Mike Buchanan*, UK

Dear Mike,

Thanks for writing! I received your list of questions and have provided the best answers available to me. Being an 8 Ball, the answers are, of course, succinct. Enjoy!


1. Are you a misogynist if you only hate feminists?

It is certain.

2. What is feminism in the modern era?

Outlook good.

3. How do radical feminists view the world?

As I see it, yes.

4. Are feminists less intelligent than normal women?

My reply is no.

5. Are feminists less attractive than normal women?

Why is this important to you?

6. Do feminists suffer from PPS (Permanent Premenstrual Syndrome)?

Very doubtful.

7. Why do feminists deny the different natures of men and women?


8. Why must taxpayers stop financing Women's Studies and Gender Studies courses?

You may rely on it.

9. What are the big fat feminist fantasies, lies, delusions and myths?

Very doubtful.

10. Are feminists delusional?

My sources say no.

10.a. Is the pope a Catholic?

Most likely.

10.b. Do bears crap in woods?

Concentrate and ask again.

11. How are feminists killing men and women?

Are you okay? Take time for yourself.

12. Are some feminists (e.g. Tracey Emin) a pain in the arts?

It is decidedly so.

About the Author:

Feminist 8 Ball knows that the world is at times disappointing and strange and may encourage supplicants to practice self care. Feminist 8 Ball also knows that we are all products of our experience and may encourage supplicants to challenge their beliefs and biases. Feminist 8 Ball also has a sense of humor which leans strongly towards word play and poop jokes.

*Letter fabricated from whole cloth, questions attributed to LW are excerpted from LW’s Very Important Self Published EBook.

Women Against Birth Control

Recently there has been a series of images circulating the internet depicting a number of women holding signs explaining why they do not utilize birth control. While one or two of the reasons given can be seen as rational (e.g. they want to be “organic” and hormone free), there are many of the statements that are not only highly illogical, but also downright offensive. Among those that fall into the latter category are statements like “because my body is a gift to my future husband and that gift includes motherhood” and “because [birth control] allows men to use women with no consequences.” There are nearly two dozen more images with proclamations like the aforementioned including “because I can control myself,” “because I am responsible and make mindful decisions accepting the consequences for my actions,” or better yet “because children are not an inconvenience, they’re a gift”. What these women seem to be forgetting, what a lot of people on the anti-birth control band wagon have forgotten, is that what is good for them is not good for everyone else, and how you act is not how everyone else acts, and it really is just that simple.

A favorite of mine that was posted is “because I don’t have to give up my womanhood to be a feminist.” By the time I got to this statement, I was already scrambling to pick my jaw up off the ground, but when I finished reading it, I was dumbfounded. I’m not exactly grasping what this woman seems to know as truth. First, since when does having children mean one cannot be a feminist, and second, since when does feminism require you to not have children and to use birth control? The answer to these questions is since never. Never have I heard the feminists I know say or imply that being on birth control is a requirement to be a feminist. The statement she made is just further proof to me that there are still an incredible amount of women who have been mislead about feminism, albeit what “feminism” means to an individual tends to be quite subjective.

Also referenced in a few of the photos in the series, although not cited or peer reviewed, were some interesting science and medical facts. Apparently, at least according to one of the women pictured, women get cervical cancer from birth control alone, and not from things such Human papillomavirus (HPV), which using protection and getting vaccinated can prevent. There is no link between the use of general birth control and developing cervical cancer. The link here is from an increased risk for developing cervical cancer due to long term use of birth control pills in women who already have HPV and leave it unchecked and the symptoms untreated. While I can’t address every single absurd claim of phony science in the photos, I feel like it should also be noted that the same sign also mentioned a link between birth control and breast cancer. This link is also an increased risk, but this was back in the 1970s primarily, when birth control had high amounts of estrogen, not so much with the low dose pills these days. But if hormones are what are deterring these women from birth control there are alternative no-hormone options.

A running theme amongst the images that I found to be exceptionally flabbergasting is the way the word “womanhood” is used, for example “because womanhood and fertility are a beautiful gift and I want a love that is self-giving and life-giving.” What saddens me is how many of the women pictured define womanhood not by the fact that they have vaginas, or feel themselves to be women, but are dictated by ancient value systems of whether or not they reproduce, as though having children is a measure of merit to how worthy one is of their womanhood. Womanhood does not equal motherhood. The two are not synonymous, will never be synonymous, and have never been synonymous. People who say or believe things like that are essentially reduce the countless number of women throughout history who have been unable to have children or have chosen not to have children to what? What exactly is it that these women are implying? Is a woman who does not have any children but is accomplished in other aspects less of a woman because she has not bore children? Many of these same women in the photo series also mentioned how they don’t use birth control because they only plan to have sex for the purposes of producing life (e.g. the one who said that her body essentially belongs to her future husband, and should be fertile and ready to reproduce).

Throw in the reference to Roman Catholic family planning and I can hear the church bells a-ringing.

Secular Woman Member Article

Ought Richard Dawkins be locked in jail? (Thought Experiment)

Secular Woman Member ArticleNow, obviously there is a taboo on the removing of fundamental human rights from anyone, but as freethinkers I think we should be able to ask this question without heated emotions but with cool logic.

Now let us assume that Richard Dawkins is growing senile in age, and what is more, through this causing a great deal of harm with his public outbursts. In particular, say, let us assume these outbursts are hurting the public image of atheism and thus strengthening fundamentalist religion. Well, there can be no doubt that the net harm done to Dawkins by locking him away and censoring his freedom of speech-in this one instance – would have a net positive if it caused more people to leave fundamentalist religion. What’s more, we could provide Dawkins with a Spartan existence out of his own wealth and donate the rest to much better causes, like the rights of oppressed Muslim women(let us call her Muslima for simplicity.)

Now it must be recognized that this is a restriction of Dawkins’s freedoms, but they are not nearly so bad as those conditions in North Korea. This is not a defense of course of incarcerating Dawkins, but rather a thought experiment that I think raises interesting questions about the rights of individuals versus that of the greater good.

Now I know many are afraid of a Stalin like crackdown on those asking this sort of question, legitimately, but I think as freethinkers we must have the courage to apply logic to these sorts of questions.

And if you disagree on my hypothetical involving Dawkins, please feel free to use Harris or Hitchens or whoever you like! It is only a philosophical thought experiment.

My Bad Feminism

Once you commit yourself to social awareness in your politics, words, and actions, it can be easy to think everyone around you has had all the answers forever and you’ll never catch up.

The truth is, however, everyone has been through phases that we’d now reject, and we’re all still growing and making mistakes and trying to learn to just admit our own errors without getting defensive. Most of all, we’ve all internalized problematic ways of thinking, and it’s hard to shake those mindsets while living in a world that frequently rewards and perpetuates them.

At SkepchickCON last month, Secular Woman vice president Elsa Roberts introduced me to Roxane Gay’s amazing essay, “Bad Feminist”––an exploration of the tension between feminist ideals and the complexities of real life, which she’s since expanded into a book. And at the excellent Science of Irrationality panel that weekend, Jamie Bernstein made the point that positive storytelling––using one’s own discoveries as a way to convince others, rather than causing them to dig in their heels with a barrage of “Well Actuallys”––can be the most effective way to be persuasive. She suggested approaching the conversation by trying to find common ground, using the “feel/found” script: “I used to feel the same way, but what I found was that…”

I was reminded of that good advice this week when Josh Spokes made an insightful Facebook post addressed to “Jaclyn Glenn and Others Like Her” who have hateful misconceptions about bisexual people. Instead of attacking, he admitted that he used to think the same things. This inspired many who saw his post to offer their own stories of mistaken attitudes and internalized sexism and bigotry, and what they learned. Josh suggested compiling the powerful thread, and here, beginning with his initial post, is the result. I hope it inspires more people to recognize how easy it is to fall into problematic patterns, and be proud of how they’ve grown.

To Jaclyn Glenn and others like her–

When I was much younger I said ignorant, vile, stupid things about bisexuals. Out in public. I said they weren’t real, that they were all posers who couldn’t admit being gay, that they were just ginning up controversy and no one should take them seriously. I gleefully echoed the most uncharitable, mean-spirited sentiments from people who cared more about shooting their mouths off than about the real people whose dignity and treatment by society was already threatened.

Yep. I said that with all the brash confidence of a 21-year-old. Some older people tried to persuade me to think more deeply. I didn’t listen. Because I was Young And With It and fuck them.

And it contributed to my popularity among that set. Everyone loves someone who’s witty and can turn a sharp phrase that echoes their personal prejudices.

In the real world outside the fan club in my head, I hurt a lot of people who didn’t need any more shit. Especially from ME and people who should have been allies. My behavior was *appalling*. It shames me to this day, and it should.

That’s you, Jaclyn Glenn, and others like you. That’s you, babe. Talk to me in 20 years.

– Josh Spokes

Growing up, the only time I really heard the word “feminist,” it was something my mother was griping about. For instance, “Feminists are the reason I have to pump my own gas.” In my twenties, I espoused the whole “Lean In” thing. I was seriously privileged and blind. I had no problem with the fact that a woman in my profession had to be three times as good as a man for half the recognition. Frankly, I was, and could see no reason anyone else couldn’t be too. I did not object when I found out that my base salary was a little over half as much as the males in the same position with the company. Instead I prided myself that I earned more because of commissions and bonuses.

– Becca Thomas

When I was in my late teens to late 20s, I was a triple threat; a Chill Girl, a the Token Non-threatening Black Friend, and a Poor Libertarian.

“Ugh, girls are icky, backstabbing, gossipy little twits who want accept me in their little club anyway.  And if they’re feminists? Please, buncha whiny girls who don’t have anything else to complain about. We got the fucking vote, right? You can own land and not have to get married to get laid.  If they’d just have sex like guys do, they’d be fine, right? Aren’t we supposed to all sex-positive?  That means fucking like the men! Don’t be such a prude!  I once read about some big name feminist named Dwakin, Dwo… whatever, who claimed that call heterosex is rape! Can you believe that shit? I’d never be a feminist.  I’m one of the boys! Bitch! Cocksucker! Cunt! Hah, hah rape jokes are so funny!”

“Man, black people are lazy whiners, I’d never be one of them!  I’m an Oreo, get it?  All of my white friends act blacker than me!  I don’t “do” black––unless it’s for a joke.  If you need someone to turn up the AAVE and act like an Angry Black Girl, I’m your girl!  Mm-hmm, sho’nuf. Slavery was, like, 300 years ago, we got the vote, and they need to get over it.  If I knew I got to college under Affirmative Action, I’d drop out.  I’d be offended; how dare they treat me like some number in a quota?  I got here all on my own, and fuck them other folk.  Oh, oh! I know this really funny joke: Why is aspirin white?”

“Yeah, I could qualify for food stamps, health care, maybe even some section 8 for a place to stay because I make minimum wage and I’ve got a chronic illness, but I’m not going to do that.  Nope.  I’m not some leech sucking the government teat.  I grew up on government cheese and projects and all that, and I’ll never stoop to that level again. I’ve got my pride.  None of my friends are on that mess. That’s just offensive that you would even suggest it! Leeches are the worst. Just you wait until the Libertarians gain more power. Everybody won’t pay a dime in taxes and we’ll shrink the government, and if you can afford to live, too bad!”

– Niki Massey

I used to parrot the lines “all girls are crazy” and “all my friends are guys because I couldn’t deal with all the mean girls and drama.” I blush at that thought because it was based on a model of female behavior that was enforced by the very guys and some of the girls I was hanging out with at the time. Ugh, I was so embarrassing.

Cait Quinn

Oh god, I did ALL the things. “If you wear low cut shirts, don’t complain if guys look”; “I’m not like other girls”; “I’m a girl but I prefer hanging out with guys”; “Girly things suck” etc. unto death.

Soooo much internalized sexism. So. Much.

Jade Hawk

I used to think bigoted things about trans people when I was that age. I only knew one and considering it was at least 15 years ago, she was pretty stressed out. I’ve since learned I was wrong, and I was an asshole.

– Deanna Joy Lyons

I was an engineer. Engineers are logical. Engineers don’t feel. Engineers just get the job done. Engineers (at least in Silicon Valley) make it work, no matter what the personal cost. Counting personal costs was unacceptably feminine. Feelings were unacceptably feminine. What’s really shocking is that I believed all of that garbage for an unconscionably long time, while I worked myself into a severe depression. Even on good depression meds and thinking more-or-less clearly, it took years more to fully shake it out of my system. Ultimately I had to escape the engineering culture altogether; I was getting too much reinforcement of unhealthy attitudes. I admire the women (and men) who can work in the field and not succumb to the BS.

Karen Locke


I transferred from a women’s college to a co-ed one. I immediately got a boyfriend, let my entire social life revolve around him, and after two years when we broke up realized I had few women friends or even just friends of my own.

In fact, I still don’t have close women friends like I used to. I’m trying to learn to nurture that again. I had kind of a bias against closeness with women for a while or something.

I always identified as a feminist, but for periods in my life I liked to make sure guys knew I was one of the cool women who don’t get upset about certain things like other women do.

Even a few years ago I was mad at a woman in a meeting who pointed out that the men were all talking over the women and not letting them talk. Not because I didn’t recognize that dynamic (and I had studied it in psychology), but because I took her efforts as patronizing to women. I can still understand my point of view back then, but now I’d more likely be the one trying to equalize the conversation not just think “well women just need to learn to be more aggressive!”

Ginger Pierce

I was always a feminist and never trusted women that said that they didn’t get along with other women. I think my most problematic issue with women when I was younger is I was terribly jealous of the way other women looked, painfully so. I was very jealous with my partners, wondering if I measured up to women that they were friends with or even women that were on television. That ended when I got out of a long-term abusive relationship and discovered myself. I found my own interests and passions in life and the jealousy ended.

Melody Hensley

I’m going to confess one of the worst things I did, which, funny enough, I was just thinking about yesterday. A group of guys I knew would play what they called “meat market” where they’d sit on a wall on a busy part of VCU campus and basically street harass women for hours. I PARTICIPATED in this a couple of times. I feel horrible about it now. This was one of the ways I proved I was “one of the guys.” I also equated feminine as weak and presented very masculine for a couple years. This is all so strange since I was immersed in the punk scene and very into women being tough and equal. But my picture of that was so fucked up.

Nicole Harris

I used to come up with nicknames for all my female coworkers (cupcake, muffin, cheesecake, cinnamon bun, etc.). It was moderately well received at the time to where every time a new girl was hired they’d always ask me what nickname I was going to give her. Ultimately I came to the realization that I couldn’t really reconcile it with my burgeoning feminism and just generally I didn’t want to be “that guy” anymore.

Tim Branin

My story is more about what I dismissed as “boys will be boys” in the 1980s, didn’t report or complain about to anyone, but which made enough of a negative impact that I remember it like yesterday––they were in fact sexual assaults. The first instance I had my tube top pulled off (and I was bra-less) at the freshman party at my residence. I was thankfully able to quickly get it back on. The second instance occurred also at the residence where some fellow male students were grabbing women’s crotches, including my own. I kept pushing them away, but laughed it off as I thought that’s what I should do. There was a third incident that was much more dramatic, which was being held at knifepoint by an angry ex-boyfriend of my roommate––angry because “she belonged to him,” according to him––until she promised to give him another chance. All of these things went unreported. There were many more instances of being grabbed, threatened, followed, but those are the ones I remember the most. I hate that I let them go, and normalized the first two in my mind and many others too. In essence I objectified myself. I’m glad young women are not doing that as much today.


I used to claim to hate bands fronted by women musicians because they were “less talented” than men––WTF? I still feel embarrassed to acknowledge I said that.

Melanie Elyse Brewster

I was extremely fem-antagonistic––looking down on “girly-girls” and seeing male-dominated activities as more worthy of respect than female-dominated ones.

It was sort of a confused version of rejecting imposed gender roles and admiring women who were pioneers; it got very twisted around until it morphed into full-blown misogyny.

I was involved in the Noise music scene for a while and routinely tolerated pretty horrid treatment as some sort of badge of honor that I could “take it”; and once asked if a band had any “power electronics” CDs primarily to impress them as being the exceptional woman who likes the harshest of the harsh macho-blah-blah stuff.

Eventually I realized that taking their crap wasn’t actually giving me the cred and respect, and place in the boys’ club, that I thought it was.

It did give me some insight into toxic masculinity though––routinely having people treat me nicely privately and treat me horribly publicly, because treating me with respect in front of other guys was considered demeaning.

M. A. Melby

I used to spout libertarian platitudes as fact. Seriously. Ugh. Ick.

– Jon Childress

To my great shame, I have not always supported marriage equality.

It wasn’t because I looked down on same-sex sexual activity, because I have been with numerous men, women, couples, and groups.

I took care of and buried a lot of friends in the ’80s and ’90s long before their time. They were far better people than I was, and the truth is that the world would be better off if it had been me that left it rather than some of them.

I don’t know why I felt that way, but I would give anything if I could go back in time and change that.

Rogelio Tavera

I saw that feminine was considered weak and I knew it was wrong. But instead of declaring feminine to not be weak, I declared that I was not feminine! I eschewed all things pink and “girly.” I held disdain for things girls did, like shopping and makeup. I became “one of the guys” and, to prove my worth, talked locker room banter as much as or more than they did.

At this same time, the only way I saw my own worth was through the eyes of men. Garnering sexual attraction was the number one way to measure self worth. So I did that as much as I could, which was a lot!

I objectified women right along with the men.

I referred to women as “females” while trying not to call them chicks or girls.

We all can have incomplete ideas about feminism, especially in the beginning stages of learning about it.

Monette Richards

In addition to trying to be “one of the boys” I used to think that sexism didn’t exist in the states, and women should just “suck it up.”

A few years ago I worked in a place that focused on social justice. I was hired before I even knew what those words really meant, but it was at a time when I was starting to learn about inequality and didn’t know what to google to explore it in depth. My job required a social justice 101 class and training where we learned about sexism, racism, ableism, etc.

My workplace was also extremely conscious of filtering out all the subtle biases and overt “isms.” Prior to that year I claimed that I had never been cat-called and had never experienced sexism, but now that I had a space to compare it against I became aware of all the cat-calling and subtle prejudices that I was receiving daily.

Earlier I would have told myself to suck it up––that cat-calling is just part of being a woman. But I realize now that it shouldn’t be a part of my experience; it doesn’t have to be something I learn to deal with; I shouldn’t accept that it is a consequence of being a woman.

– Michelle Huey


Interview with Amy Davis Roth

SW:   How did you get started making ceramics?

ADR: I first began working in clay by helping my mother, Charlene. At the time, my mother had a small home business that made porcelain awards for horse shows. I was really, very influenced by her work even though I probably didn't know it early on. Her highly detailed work has without a doubt influenced my artwork today.

As a young woman I opened an art gallery in North Hollywood, California. During the time I had the gallery I began making and selling small ceramic necklaces. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to run an art gallery and after a short stint and an unfortunate series of events, I ended up literally bankrupt. I had no car and no place to live. I had failed.

I got very depressed and I stopped making art.

A year or so passed by.

Then, I got a job as a waitress to try to start saving money to start my life over. I remembered how much I enjoyed making the ceramic jewelry in my mother's studio so I started making necklaces and wearing them into work. I had moved into a tiny one-room apartment and I didn't have any space to create. The necklaces were small and I could make them in my mother's backyard ceramic studio. It was perfect. It was during the same time period that I started learning about science and a few months later I found out about the skeptical community. During this educational period in my life I was able to find something that my artwork had been lacking, a purpose and a message.

At work, people fell in love with the jewelry. I had people buy them right off my neck! I literally couldn’t make them fast enough. Surly-Ramics was born! Within a few months I had started a new business, one that championed secularism and critical thinking and I no longer needed to wait tables.

I got a second chance.

I now work as an artist full-time. I design jewelry that advocates education and science and that celebrates the brave, emerging society of freethinkers, feminists and humanists that I find myself a part of. It’s nice to be able to carry around a small piece of art that represents the rational ideals that are helping to make this world a better place. I try to give back as much as I can to the community that has given me wisdom and so much inspiration to work from and so I use my art to fund-raise for many secular organizations, charities and various grant programs. Every year I use my jewelry to somehow help people or animals in need.

SW:   How do your secular and feminist ideals impact how you work and your final products?
ADR: I try to look at the entirety of my jewelry project as activist art. The people that wear my jewelry become active participants in the project.

It's all about the spread of information, learning and the joy of being part of a community of freethinkers. For example, if a person wears a piece with a scientific symbol or a mathematical equation, and a stranger sees it and asks about it, that opens up the door for sharing information and educating the public in unlikely and casual situations. That can have a real impact.

The same goes for the pieces I design that represent feminist and specifically secular or atheist ideals. The realization that your friendly neighbor is an atheist or a feminist and that they cherish those ideals, and wear the symbols in the same way that the religious folks wear crosses or a Star of David, often can have a very real and positive impact. We aren't like what Fox News or Rush Limbaugh wants you to think we are. We are just like you, only we think about things a little bit differently and base our decisions on empirical evidence. And again, it simply opens the doorway to a conversation and allows us to share science-based information. I'm always happiest when someone asks. "What does that symbol mean? Your necklace is lovely, can you tell me about it?"
Amy Painting Heisenberg

SW:  What are some new designs that you particularly like?
ADR: I have to admit that this time of year I often get sucked into the glory of spring and find myself wanting to paint and draw a lot of flowers but at the same time the re-boot of Cosmos has really got me excited and inspired. I'm really happy with all of my astronomy themed pieces and I have quite a few new pieces in the works.

Ceramic pieces featuring multiple planets

Cermaic piece featuring the words "Made of Star Stuff"

SW:  Can you give Secular Woman a sneak peak of what you are bringing to Women in Secularism?
ADR: This year for WiS I created a series of "We Can Do It" necklaces to give as a thank you gift to all of the wonderful speakers and volunteers at this year's event. And I will have a table set up with all of my regular designs as well, so if you are at the event please stop by, take a look and say hello.

Rows of ceramic pieces featuring Rosie the Riveter and the words "We can do it"

SW:  What projects are you working now?  How can everyone support them?
ADR: I am happy to say that I am really, very busy these days. I am always working on my jewelry and you can support that project by going to my shop here:

I am also in the process of designing a bunch of space themed paintings for the party room at SkepchickCon. SkepchickCon is what we call the science track at Convergence. Each year Skepchick organized an educational and fun filled science activity track and we have a four night party. This year rhe theme for the party room is 'Space lab" and I am helping with the decorating. More info on that event and info on how I am paying for a few passes for people to attend can be found here:

And in very exciting news, I just formed the Los Angeles Women's Atheist and Agnostic Group that will be meeting monthly at CFI West. The group will plan and execute art and activist projects in Los Angeles and be a friendly and safe space for women who are leaving religion and want a support structure. The group is still in it's planning stages but will begin meeting at CFI West the first Tuesday of each month starting in June. And I'm very excited to say that Skepchick and Secular Woman are signed on as official sponsors of the group. We also have our first activist art exhibit planned, but I can't release any info on that just yet. It's still top secret. 😉

I'm also planning on launching a Patreon this summer in the hopes that I can paint some large format paintings that are based on various aspects of science. I have recruited quit a few actual scientists and science communicators to help me insure that I am getting the science "right" in the paintings and that I am sending sending accurate messages. So my art will actually be peer reviewed in a lovely merging of art and science. As soon as I find the time I will launch that.

Speaking of art and science, I am also the managing editor of Mad Art Lab. Mad Art Lab is a sister site on the Skepchick Network and focuses on the intersection of art, science and secularism and there are some brilliant contributors there. Check out to see for yourself!

A strand of DNA on a yellow background surrounded by roses

SW:  What is the biggest challenge you are facing in the atheist/secular/humanist community?
ADR: Without a doubt, the biggest challenge I have faced is the blatant harassment and bullying that was directed at me because I dared to speak up about sexism in the skeptic and atheist communities. I am obviously not alone in this experience, and have witnessed many other outspoken women with an online presence get attacked and targeted with multiple year campaigns of hate. While this primarily happens online, I have seen it seep into the conference spaces and it certainly affects the targets in their daily lives. It has been a challenge to get the community to take notice and actually do something about it and those who have stood up against online harassment, sexism and bigotry have sometimes experienced significant backlash. Something as simple as creating a code of conduct policy for events has caused an uproar in some cases. I have seen many wonderful women simply leave our communities, just walk away over the past few years, because of the negativity and harassment they have seen. Most leave silently but their absence is certainly noticed. My hope is that organizations like Secular Woman, Skepchick and my new meetup group will create safe and spaces that will empower women and encourage them to want to participate more fully in the secular communities moving forward.

SW:  What inspires you?
ADR: Everything inspires me. But my true love will always be the interaction of science and nature and the beauty it reveals.