Interview with Soraya Chemaly

Soraya Chemaly is a feminist activist who writes about gender and culture. She appears all over the internet, in places like The Guardian, Ms. Magazine, CNN, Salon, and The Huffington Post, and sits on our Advisory Council. Soraya will be at Women in Secularism 3 where she will be talking about Gender and Free Expression, Intersectionality and Humanism, and Online Activism.

MO: Did you always want to do what you are doing? Did you fall into it? How'd you get here?

SC: I think the way my childhood experiences made being a girl cognitively disjunctive, particularly religion in my case, made it almost inevitable. I've studied theology, history, gender, feminism for as long as I can remember. At university, I founded a feminist magazine but then after school I started to work that had nothing to do with these subjects.  Then, about two years ago, when my children were on the verge of being teenagers, it struck me that we'd come to a standstill in terms of women's equality and parity, so I launched back in with a vengeance to make up for lost time!

MO: My family gets upset with me for deconstructing everything. Can you shut it off?

SC: Really can't! As I said to them long ago, this is not what I do, it's really is who I am. By asking me to stop (and they do!) they are falling into the classic trap that this perspective is tangential.

Mo: Harassment: We all get it. What do you get? How do you get through it?

SC: Street harassment has been a constant in my life since I was nine. I respond in different ways depending on the circumstances (because we all assess risk each and every time we feel the urge to respond), my mood, the place, etc. Now, a lot of the harassment I experience also happens online. There are people who really cannot imagine sharing public space – on line or off – civilly with women as equals.

Some, I ignore entirely. I figure, it's like bullying –  if you don't like my opinion,  it is not my problem, but your problem. Some of it I can't afford to ignore. One time in particular, I had to call the police. Another activist got death threats from the same person, we talked and it ended up with an FBI complaint.  We all have to assess risks. Some people have the wherewithal to ignore harassment and threats. What is sad and understandable, however, is when people stop talking or censor themselves as a result. This is problematic for so many reasons. As far as engagement goes, you only have so much time and energy in you every day. There are some who are never going to change their minds so why on earth would you engage with them?

MO: Over the last few years, we've heard "where are all the women in atheism?" How many atheist conferences have invited you to speak?  How do you think we should change the question to "why aren't you inviting women to speak?"

SC: I wrote this about that topic and recently, this, about the lack of women on tv, as experts, etc. Same holds true for conferences. I have never been asked to speak at another secular/atheist conference, but, in truth, I am not very immersed in the community. I think these issues are exactly the same in every industry and they have to do with deep structural issues related to whose time and work we value in society. 

MO: Getting more women to the top areas of the movement would be key to change. How would we do that?

SC: What is required to get women to the top is have specific plans to identify systemic inhibitions to parity and execute them with benchmarks. Getting women to the top might open a flood gate, but the gate has to be opened in order for them to get to the top in the first place. 

The immediate response, when someone says "where are the women," needs to stop being, "we are right here" which we've been saying for decades and change to, "if you are serious about diversity, where is your plan. If you are serious, you need to be able to say, these are the resources I am dedicating. These are the people, this is the time." 

MO: Every one of your articles seem to be link heavy from beginning to end. This has to take a stunning amount of research. 

SC: One of my defensive strategies for sure is to provide as much information as possible. If people want to argue with facts, then go for it. They can argue with the CDC, or the Department of Justice, or Cambridge, or whomever the source of information that I am citing might be. 

MO: How has Twitter changed activism? Especially corporate activism?  Twitter #FBRape campaign for instance.

SC: I think Twitter has been transformative for activists who, in the past, would have been unable to reach millions of people through media because they were marginalized.  The #FBRape campaign that we organized brought together more than 100 organizations and tens of thousands of people globally. That would never have been possible without the transformative power of the Internet and tools like Twitter. I don't really see Twitter as separate from the other social media that we rely on – each has quite a specific demographic reach that enables activists to reach the likeminded, catalyze conversation and debate.

MO: Twitter feminists are hilarious. Their hashtag appropriations are always amusing in a snarky way. Have you appropriated a hashtag? Have you had one overrun?

SC: That's true. It's hard for me to think now, there have been so many good ones! #Liberaltipstoavoidrape is a recent one that comest to mine. I haven't had one overrun. There was a lot of potential for that to happen with #FBRape, and we knew that, but it didn't happen, even with more than 50K tweets. I think it was because the graphic nature of what we were sharing and protesting spoke for itself.

MO: What are some of the other campaigns you've run?

SC: I try and focus activism time on two areas: media diversity and sexualized violence because our storytelling shapes imagination and ambition and violence is a tool used to regulate inequality.  To that end I try to support and participate in the activist efforts of organizations such as Stop Street Harassment, Take Back the Tech, Hollaback, FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, The Representation Project, the Women's Media Center and Everyday Sexism.

Insult Against Women

By Connie Torrisi

Recently, I read Greta Christina’s book, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? The book goes through a long list of things that make Christina angry toward religious believers. I must admit, that I also find many of the same things quite irritating. I become frustrated when people insist on believing in supernatural beings and a host of other superstitions that are totally lacking in evidential support.

But there is something else that makes me angry and irritates my feminist frame of mind: referring to god as a “pussy.” 

To call someone a ‘pussy’ is to say that the person is soft, weak, ineffectual, and inadequate. In other words, a pussy is not manly.

Men have used the term to describe women for centuries. While a pussy cat can mean soft, warm, cuddly and cute when referring to domestic cats, it has never been a term of endearment when referring to women. It is meant to designate women as less than equal, and less than desirable human beings.

When an atheist refers to god as a pussy, he is trying to make a specific point. I get that. However, I find the term “pussy” so derogatory, that I am not only infuriated, I take it as a personal insult. In reality, it is an insult to all women.

Men are in the habit of spitting out the word “pussy” at other men in order to degrade them as much as possible. It is an insult of the highest degree. To be a pussy is to be like a woman, and there is nothing lower on this earth than to be a woman.

Within the general category of Freethought, women need to elevate men’s awareness of such crude terminology. Freethought has no room for chauvinistic attitudes. 

I am no more comfortable with a Freethought male who regards women as subhuman than I am with a religious fundamentalist.

Freethought means to be open-minded, not locked into the assumption of   gender superiority. For this reason alone, such an organization as Secular Woman serves to isolate us from the vulgarities of men who are not yet totally freethinking.

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.

Secular Woman Denounces DDoS Attacks; Invites Others to Join

On February 8, Freethought Blogs (FtB), Skepchick, and Feminist Frequency websites were all hit simultaneously with DDoS attacks.  These attacks were targeted, designed to disrupt services, and ultimately to strike a misogynist blow against women; in particular, secular women.

In the simplest terms, a Distributed Denial of Service is when a server or servers are hit with repeated requests with the intention of disrupting normal traffic to their sites or services. They are intentional, they are disruptive and, most of all, they are illegal. While there are many different types of DDoS attacks, fundamentally all are silencing tactics used to take websites down and deny access to ideas, products, and services.  (More information can be found here: http://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/tips/st04-015).

Heina Dadabhoy – Skepchick: When we criticize those who harm and attack us, we are accused of censoring them. Somehow, I have yet to see DDoS attacks carried out against the very dedicated hate sites we are accused of silencing.

FtB, while filled with diverse viewpoints, is a well known atheist/secular blog site that has many blogs and writers that have a social justice standpoint.  Additionally, many haters and detractors have positioned FtB as one of the leaders of social justice within the freethought movement.  Whether or not this is true is not as important as the view of some that it is. For more information on the FtB DDoS please read our interview with Jason Thibeault and his post on the matter.

Ophelia Benson – FtB: Obviously we don’t know who was behind the DDOS attack, and maybe it was just a strange coincidence that FTB was hit along with Skepchick and Feminist Frequency. Maybe, but more likely it was not a coincidence but a deliberate choice. What do the three sites have in common? An annoying concern with equal rights for half of humanity. Such an outrageous distraction from important business must be punished.

Skepchick, another network that was attacked, was founded by Rebecca Watson. Watson is vocal about her feminism and is frequently personally attacked for speaking out about feminist issues.  Skepchick is also composed of multiple writers (including Julia Burke, who is on the SW board––but not writing this article), with a variety of viewpoints and outlooks.  They are a feminist atheist website that also tends to have a focus on social justice––both within and beyond the secular community.  Similar to FtB, in this case, what they actually write about isn’t as important as the space they inhabit for their detractors.

Rebecca Watson – Skepchick: We’ve always known that the hatred, slurs, death threats, and rape threats that we receive online are a concerted effort to silence us, as outspoken women who care about gender equality. The DDoS attempt is just another tool anti-feminists use toward that goal. Anyone who values free and open discourse should think long and hard about the use of all these tactics to stop women from speaking out against injustice.

Finally, Feminist Frequency is a site by Anita Sarkeesian.  Recently, she has been focusing on the depiction of women in video games and is no stranger to harassment and attacks.  She received (and continues to receive) a tremendous amount of financial and other support from the global community.  Feminist Frequency is explicitly a feminist website.

Amy Davis Roth  Skepchick: You can call us names, you can threaten our livelihood, you can photoshop us, you can even dox us in vicious attempts to frighten us into submission and silence. You can hide behind a computer screen and pull the plug on our websites using hacker bullying techniques. But what you can never do is stop us. Freedom, human rights, compassion and equality are on the right side side of history. That, I can promise you. Even if our particular voices from our websites are muffled, others will rise up in our place. Attempts to silence the women and minority groups who wish to be treated fairly, will ultimately be a failure. And these heavy-handed attempts to hush-up the agitators for change only show those who wish to silence and destroy, to be desperate and lesser than those who stand strong and speak loudly with wisdom and compassion. You can turn off one microphone, but voices in unison will continue to rise.

The motive behind this attack is easily discernable by looking at the targets chosen. All three sites are known for their strong feminist voices.  These three entities are conspicuous in what they have in common: outspoken voice for women which have been targeted by detractors.  It fits the pattern of harassment faced by women online, making this DDoS attack just another block in the Ways To Silence Women Online Bingo card.

An image of Eleanor Roosevelt with the quote: The battle for the individual rights of women is one of long standing and none of us should countenance anything that undermines it.

It isn’t just that these sites were targeted in concert.  It is that women are constantly being targeted for harassment, verbal abuse, threats, and more on the internet every day and very little is being done to change the nature of these interactions or to create meaningful legal remedies.While there are some who are working to make this better, (Cyber Civil Rights is one, Secular Woman is another), change is not coming fast enough for the women suffering consequences here and now, especially as the harassers lay claim to more resources.  As we all know, legal remedies are helpful; but what really needs to change is the underlying culture that devalues women and makes harassment and threats acceptable forms of “communication.”

Stephanie Zvan – FtB: What’s interesting to me is not the attack itself. That’s just the script-kiddie version of the attempts to undermine us that happen all the time. This particular offended soul threw packets at us instead of slurs or libel. Big deal. We adjusted to this, like we’ve adjusted to all the rest, and we got on with what we do.

No, the interesting part is that people have decided to use this attack as an excuse to attack us all over again. We note that three sites with feminist content get taken down Saturday night by one type of attack, and the usual crowd says we’re “playing the victim” and being “paranoid”–because attacks of an entirely different sort happened days later to other kinds of sites. It’s almost funny when people who spend that much time attacking feminists try to attack feminists for suggesting people might attack feminists. Almost.

Failing to denounce this new silencing tactic is tacit approval.  Being a bystander, in this case, is not a neutral statement.  Millions are watching; do the right thing.

FtBCon2: Secular Woman Track

Secular Woman's track at FtBCon 2 focused on sexual harassment laws, STEM, 2013 trends, women of color and social justice, and homeschooling.  Below you will find the video for each.

Sexual Harassment Law and You: In the past year anti-harassment policies have become more common at conventions as communities have begun to discuss how harassment can deter guests and ruin the convention experience. But how do these privately adopted policies mesh with America’s public anti-harassment laws? Ken White, attorney and legal blogger, will outline how American anti-harassment laws work, how convention policies supplement them, and how best practices can make them more effective.  There is also a related quiz.

Women in STEM:  Join a group of women working in the fields of science and technology as they discuss issues relevant to being a woman in STEM, how their atheism intersects with their science.

 

Trends in 2013:  Kim Rippere, Julia Burke, Elsa Roberts, and MA Melby will discuss trends and developments in 2013 at the intersection of social justice, feminism, and equality in the secular movement and beyond.

 

Social Justice and Young Women of Color:  Kim Veal (of the Black Freethinkers) will join Raina Rhoades (of Rhoades to Reality) to host a panel on the issues social justice and young women of color. They will be joined by Noa Jones and Georgina Capetillo. They’ll be discussing the topic and taking questions from viewers.

Religion and  Homeschooling:  A free flowing discussion about homeschooling, religion, and gender. Reprising the discussion from the 3rd Annual International Day of Protest Against Hereditary Religion.

 

An Interview with Women’s Leadership Project

SW: Why do the girls participate in the program?

WLP: The girls participate because they feel empowered by learning about the social history of feminists of color and connecting them to their lived experiences.  Many feel as though they’ve been shafted by mainstream public education’s drill and kill high stakes testing regime that shuts out meaningful critical engagement with the contributions, social capital, cultural knowledge, and liberation struggle of communities of color in the U.S. and beyond.  For  example, during our annual Denim Day outreach we don’t just address the objectification  and abuse young women experience in their daily lives and relationships but also examine the impact of media and social imaging of women of color.  Because white European women have always been constructed as the universal beauty and human ideal, Black, Latina, Asian, and Native American women are sexualized in ways that European American white women have never been.  Pretending like "all women" are oppressed by sexist exploitation ignores the role racism, segregation and white supremacy play in the way black and Latina women are  brutally marginalized in the workplace, denied access to reproductive health and demeaned/ marginalized in media portrayals of "proper" or even so-called empowered femininity.  When we address sexual harassment and sexual assault we contextualize them vis-à-vis the history of  exploitation and commodification of the bodies of women of color through slavery, imperialist  occupation and dispossession.

SW: What is the program focused on accomplishing?

WLP: We educate young women of color in feminist humanist practice.  We empower them to take ownership of their lives and communities by connecting the struggles of previous generations with their present and future.  We specifically develop curricula on women’s rights, social histories and activist traditions.  The program also focuses on peer education and training on HIV/AIDS prevention, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, reproductive justice, media literacy and safe space creation for LGBTQ youth.  
We also provide college resources for financial aid, tutoring, scholarships, job and internship opportunities and undocumented youth resources.

Two girls of color smiling into the camera. Both are wearing badges. One is wearing a medal.SW: What changes do you see in the girls as they progress through the program?

WLP: They become  more confident, they question and challenge social norms, and they begin to view themselves  as scholars, intellectuals and activists.  They learn how to collaborate with other groups, train  their peers, respectfully debate viewpoints they disagree with, and engage with adults as  stakeholders in the school-community.  They don’t accept the criminally low expectations that  mainstream society imposes on them, and, most crucially, they begin to think outside of the box about the kinds of professions and roles they’ve been told they’re best suited to.  We’ve  had a number of young women decide to be doctors, attorneys and academics as a result of their involvement with WLP.  We recently hosted a young African American planetary geologist (now a program manager at the California Science Center) who was literally the only black woman to receive a B.S. in astrophysics in her graduating class at UCLA.  Most of our students had never heard of a black female scientist, much less met one in the flesh.  I think being exposed to a cross-section of female of color professionals and hearing their stories struggling  with racism, sexism and homophobia in male-dominated fields has been invaluable to them.   But far more than just viewing themselves as high achievers they become critically conscious  of the way institutional oppression limits and dehumanizes their communities.  The schools  where WLP is based are at the epicenter of what has come to be known as the school-to-prison  pipeline.  Many of our youth see the devastating effects of mass incarceration up close and  personal.  They see their peers get sucked into the dead end cycle of low wage employment,  unplanned pregnancy, juvenile detention, probation and homelessness.  So our intense focus  on writing, public speaking, publication, peer education, feminist consciousness-raising and  college has a direct impact on their outcomes as well as that of the overall school-community.

SW: What cultural forces do you see the girls struggling with? One of the biggest is that sexism and misogyny don’t matter.

WLP: In the U.S., most girls are not socialized to "see" these forces  in their lives and reflexively dis-identify when they do.  One of the greatest challenges our  students face when they do peer training is framing sexual abuse and degradation as a human  rights violation.  Intimate partner violence, sexual assault and STD contraction is extremely  high amongst girls of color.  But because they are always told that racism is the "real" issue  in their lives, and that men of color "have it harder", they often overlook sexism and gender  discrimination.  Over the past decade prostitution and sex trafficking have become a major  factor for younger girls in our communities.  In addition, we’ve been having more discussions  about the impact porn culture and reality programming has on their lives and psyches.  Some  girls at the schools where WLP is based have even filmed themselves committing pornographic  acts because they are so starved for attention and validation.  Others are coerced into exposing  themselves online in order to please a "boyfriend" or adult predator who is exploiting them  for sex. Certainly much of the normalizing bitch/ho/pimp/hustler pop culture language in  mainstream media has facilitated these trends.  Girls see hyper-sexuality as a means of getting  validation and affirmation from males and this leads to destructive internalized sexism/ self-hatred.  This is especially lethal for African American girls because of the prevailing  historical association of black female sexuality with pathology, criminality and "welfare queen"  shiftlessness.

SW: What have you learned from the participants?

WLP: Feminist organizing and education in WLP is  driven by students’ lived experiences, community context and cultural knowledge.  Culturally  relevant teaching means that so-called adult experts/authority figures like me become students  in the teaching and learning process.  Unlike many of my students, I grew up in a middle class  family and never had to worry about whether or not I was going to go to college.  I was never  expected to sacrifice my education to be a breadwinner and/or primary caregiver, nor did I  have to struggle to find a place to sleep at night.  As an American citizen I’ve never had to  hustle to find financial aid resources for college while worrying about deportation.  And as a  straight girl my sexual orientation was never questioned, marginalized or demeaned by  teachers, textbooks and the general school-community.  Moreover, even though black youth  were criminalized when I was in school (hostile encounters with the LAPD were certainly a vivid  part of my upbringing), the experience was not as insidious as it is today.  Virtually every young  person we work with knows someone their age that has been involved in the system.  Whole  families have been destroyed by racist sentencing policies, leading to greater numbers of  African American youth being placed in foster care and/or becoming homeless.  This  perspective drives my work with youth in WLP and other programs.  Drawing from their own  experiences, the students help shape our curriculum and have an active role in developing  instruction.  The students lead these workshops and their frontline experiences with misogynist  dehumanization drive much of our in-class media literacy initiatives.  Students analyze how  specific images, songs, and shows socialize young women and men to view violence against  women as normal and acceptable.  They gain greater insight into and empathy about the  everyday inequities girls of color face.  Ultimately this approach allows us to explore feminist  alternatives vis-à-vis busting stereotypes, building healthy relationships, boosting academic  expectations and improving campus climate.

SW: How can the general public support the girls and your efforts?  

WLP: We’re trying to expand WLP into other schools to develop more feminist humanist programming.  It’s immensely helpful  when organizations and groups like yours promote our students’ work.  We’ve also been  working with Black Skeptics Los Angele to secure grant funding.  This year, BSLA launched  the First in the Family Humanist scholarship fund to support students that are historically  under-represented in the college-going population.  The fund provides scholarships for  undocumented, LGBTQ, foster care and homeless youth (for more information contact  [email protected]).

Senator Wendy Davis Leads “Unruly Mob” in Exercise of Democracy

Thanks to the bravery of Texas senator Wendy Davis, the Texas democrats, and hundreds of Texans in attendance at the capitol yesterday, Senate Bill 5––a bill that would have legislated widespread restrictions to abortion access––is dead. Secular Woman applauds this brave stand by Davis, whose filibuster last night that made national news and quickly garnered massive support on social media (including a tweet linking to the livestream from President Obama, using the hashtag #StandWithWendy.).

Though Texas lieutenant governor David Dewhurst suspended the filibuster at 10 p.m. last night, claiming Davis digressed from the topic at hand with her discussion of mandatory ultrasounds, the Democrats appealed the decision immediately, and the already-inspired crowd became even more animated.

Spectators filled the chamber gallery, chanting “Let her speak” for several minutes after the filibuster was suspended. The Austin Statesman reported that the senate struggled to vote on the bill “over the sustained and screaming protests from spectators in the gallery,” especially when Republicans motioned to call off all debate. Senators tried to vote on the bill, but the crowd continued its protests, exploding into cheers when State Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, challenging the ruling against Davis, asked, "At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?” The "people's filibuster" delayed the vote until the clock ran out on the session, the Statesman reported this morning; Secular Woman donated to RH Reality Check’s call for funds to help provide food for the protestors. Lt. Gov. Dewhurst expressed his frustration to the Statesman, remarking, "An unruly mob, using Occupy Wall Street tactics, disrupted the Senate from protecting unborn babies.” If the “tactic” he is referring to is democracy, he couldn’t be more correct.

Monday night, Davis tweeted, "The leadership may not want to listen to TX women, but they will have to listen to me. I intend to filibuster this bill. #SB5 #txlege" Beginning at 11:18 a.m. on Tuesday, and sporting pink tennis shoes, Davis began an eleven-hour filibuster against a bill that would have closed all but five of the state's abortion clinics, prohibited abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, forced clinics to upgrade to ambulatory surgical centers, and restricted access to medication abortions, reported the Huffington Post. The bill also would have required any doctor at a clinic to obtain admitting rights at a local hospital, reporter Ben Philpott told NPR. “In rural Texas… you don’t have a hospital within 30 miles of some of these clinics, let alone one that would then be able to give you admitting privileges.” While Republicans argued that the bill would help ensure women’s safety, it would effectively have shut down all but a handful of clinics in the state.

Secular Woman supports every person's right to bodily and sexual autonomy and opposes all attempts to criminalize or limit access to comprehensive reproductive services such as contraception and abortion. Our @AbortTheocracy campaign, which covered the session proceedings until the wee hours via Twitter, is specifically focused on the intersection of religious power and women's bodily autonomy and sovereignty and dedicated to terminating that connection by opposing religious influence in government. We stand with Wendy Davis and applaud her activism to protect women’s health in Texas. “Women are entitled to full and complete ownership of their bodies,” says Secular Woman President Kim Rippere.

The connection between full bodily autonomy and religious influence in government must be terminated so that women are free, empowered, and in control of their lives and their futures.

Davis began her filibuster by accusing the GOP of "a raw abuse of power," citing their decision to allow the bill to be debated without the required two-thirds support and accusing them of placing a political agenda over the well-being of Texans. “The reality of this bill is not to make women safer … it’s to force the closure of facilities across the state of Texas that would provide proper care to women,” Davis said. “The actions intended by our state’s leaders hurt Texas; they hurt Texas women and their families.”  

Texas rules for a filibuster prohibit leaning on one's desk, pausing, or straying off subject; warnings work on a three-strike system, reports NPR. Davis took no bathroom breaks, spoke with no food or water, and wore a back brace to avoid needing to lean. At one point Republican Sen. Tommy Williams  attempted to have her filibuster suspended because of the back brace. Democratic Senator Kirk Watson expressed support for Davis's filibuster, telling the Statesman,

There’s an assault on women in this state and this legislation is a prime example of that. It’s important that a woman who’s the mother of two daughters will be the one standing. We will all be there providing assistance and help.
 

Though The Texas Legislative Service originally listed SB5 as having passed on “6-26-13,” the listing was changed shortly after 1 a.m. to reflect passage before midnight; at 3 a.m., Dewhurst announced that although the bill passed on a 19-to-10 vote, it was dead.

“Today was democracy in action,” Davis told her crowd of supporters last night. “You all are the voices we were speaking for from the floor.” In response to Lt. Gov. Dewhurst’s “unruly mob” remark, Davis retorted, “I think that’s a disservice to the people who were here. The people who were here were justifiably upset about an attempt to infringe upon a constitutional right they hold dear, primarily one that would have an impact on women but also on the men who love them.”

Moving Our Community Forward

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more information, please contact: 

Kim Rippere, Secular Woman President: 404.669.6727 E-mail

Elsa Roberts, Secular Woman Vice President: 906.281.0384 E-mail – See more at: http://www.secularwoman.org/Statement_of_Objection#sthash.YyE3QrNS.dpuf

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

For more information, please contact:

Kim Rippere, Secular Woman President: 404.669.6727 E-mail

Elsa Roberts, Secular Woman Vice President: 906.281.0384 E-mail

After CEO Ron Lindsay’s remarks at Women In Secularism II, Secular Woman released an open letter detailing our objections to much of Dr. Lindsay’s speech, which we also communicated to the board of CFI. We were not alone; many of our membership and readership, as well as several prominent feminist and atheist leaders and writers echoed our sentiments. After several weeks of waiting, the CFI board of directors issued a non-committal response which we were far from satisfied with as it failed to address the concerns detailed by so many. Our response was to wait and see if further action resulted, as we saw how our entire community was fracturing and didn’t want it to become further divided.

So, we were pleased when we saw that Dr. Lindsay had chosen to issue his own apology for his remarks during his opening speech at Women in Secularism II. Apologies, in particular, public apologies are both imperfect and a challenging thing to engage in, but they are vital to healing hurt communities. Dr. Lindsay chose to be authentic in his apology, showing an understanding of the hurt caused and a willingness to listen to us and others who wrote to him with our concerns. We thank Dr. Lindsay for beginning to address our concerns and are hopeful of continued dialogue and understanding.

To further those objectives, we have some practical suggestions for moving forward as individuals and a community. We suggest that Dr. Lindsay and CFI continue to engage social justice on multiple levels, in particular focusing on core issues such as the concepts of privilege and intersectionality in a workshop or seminar; announce and commit to a WIS 3, a conference that women and feminists in the secular community highly value; and join Secular Woman in creating a joint task force focused on inclusion in the secular community.

We’re eager to see CFI grow into a leader in areas around intersectionality and inclusion within our community; developing the Women in Secularism conference was an exciting first step but there is so much more work to be done and so much yet to learn. This is an exciting and momentous time for our movement and CFI, so let’s build on the successes we are just now starting to make as a secular community and as feminists and social justice advocates within our movement.

Show others the path, help them take the first step, and help draw our online and in-real-life community together.

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Secular Woman is an educational non-profit organization whose mission is to amplify the voice, presence, and influence of non-religious women. For more information about Secular Woman visit: www.SecularWoman.org.