A Statement About HEADS

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

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

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

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

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

SecularWoman Logo

Rending the Tent: A Statement from the Secular Woman Community

SecularWoman Logo

**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.

Implications of Gender Disparities in Secular Leadership

By Elsa Roberts

Earlier this year, Secular Woman compiled the number of women and men working for 15 secular organizations in a staff or board capacity. We found that staff were comprised of 46% women and 54% men while the boards were 31% women and 69% men. The leaders of these organizations were 29% women and 71% men. In every capacity men outnumber women, particularly when it comes to positions of power and leadership (i.e. boards and heads of organizations). This disparity in sex has far reaching implications. Policy, strategy, and goals for organizations in the secular community are affected when the voices of those with more privilege are represented at a rate higher than the voices of those with less privilege. For example, does a secular organization make the target of their separation of church and state about nativity scenes or about religious exemptions to providing women with birth control and abortion as part of their health plan?

When oppressed groups are the minority voice their perspective is often overshadowed by those with more privilege and more social capital. This means that critical issues are not addressed and that the focus of an organization can become myopic – because they are only considering a subset of issues defined as “secular”. Expanding our movement to ensure that women, people of color, working class people, etc. have a voice means allowing our movement’s goals to expand and shift. It means thinking about what constitutes a secular issue in new ways, and it means expanding our notions of what an issue that “everybody” cares about and what everybody is affected by is

This is an exciting time in the secular movement. Like many important social movements before us we are experiencing growing pains as we recognize that our movement must change and expand to include the interests of new members, to become an equitable movement that values social justice and understands the effects of systemic oppression. As atheists we are in a unique position to link instances of systemic oppression with religious influence.

This year Secular Woman is making women’s maintaining bodily autonomy a priority, connecting the ways that religious influence in government is hollowing out women’s liberty and impeding equal access to medical care. Women’s issues are our issues. It’s time we stopped categorizing the issues that directly affect half the population as “special interests” and secular organizations can lead the way by incorporating issues that affect women into our platforms. Let us embrace the women in our midst and promote a culture of equality and insightfulness and take this movement to the next level!

SecularWoman Logo

Six Obstacles Standing Between American Women and the Secular Movement

SecularWoman Logo

The following article is a condensed republication of the original piece by the American Secular Census July 31, 2012. Read the full analysis on the American Secular Census website.

The American Secular Census, the national registry of demographic and viewpoint data recorded by Secular Americans, periodically releases statistics related to current topics of interest in and about the secular movement. Spirited online discussion of misogyny and sexism during the summer of 2012 led us to focus on data concerning women’s participation in secular events and organizations.

In May we published statistics related to the Census question Have you ever felt unwelcome, discriminated against, or harmed in the secular movement?  Responding “Yes” were 11.4% overall and 14.4% of women.

For this more detailed July analysis of women’s experiences in the secular movement, we zeroed in on information provided by those who described themselves as either “aware of organizations and events but have not participated” or “former participant[s] who [are] currently inactive.” We hoped to learn why women stay away (or go away) from the secular movement. We also looked at how women on the Census compare with registrants overall in terms of their secular self-identity, their “out” status, and their assessment of the secular movement’s strengths and weaknesses.

Note that women represent 40% of American Secular Census registrants in this snapshot, up from 29% on June 7th and down from 41% on February 3rd. These statistical variations highlight the ongoing, dynamic nature of the American Secular Census as new registrants create accounts and record their demographic and viewpoint data.


  • Most women respondents not currently active in the secular movement are aware of groups and events but do not participate. A smaller percentage were involved at some point but are now inactive. For both of these subsets, insufficient time is cited most often as the main obstacle to participation.
  • Other obstacles named by women outside the secular movement are inconvenient eventsinsufficient moneybad experience with group, person, or eventnot a joiner; and lack of childcare.
  • A non-trivial number of women respondents admitted they are not really sure why they haven’t participated in the secular movement.
  • Although not the top response, lack of childcare was the one factor to emerge as a disproportionately women’s concern. Just 39.1% of all registrants submitting this Census form were women; yet women represented more than 61.1% of the “lack of childcare” responses. No other selection showed a gender imbalance this marked.
  • Women are more selective about revealing their nontheism to others. Fewer women described themselves as “completely open” compared with Census registrants overall, while more women acknowledged being closeted in certain situations.
  • Most women Census registrants consider atheist to be their primary secular identity, followed by secular humanist and agnostic. Almost 3/4 of those who chose agnostic were women, suggesting a gender preference not seen with any of the 20+ other identities offered.
  • Both overall and among women, Census registrants say that the secular movement’s most effective work has been facilitating friendships and a sense of community. Both overall and among women, the secular movement’s weakest impact is felt to be in the sphere of political influence.
  • Women currently involved in the secular movement and those with a history of involvement were just as likely as Census registrants overall to see no disadvantage to participation: a little over 53% for both groups. This trend suggests that involvement in the secular movement can be as satisfying for women as others, once obstacles to participation are overcome.

Read the full analysis on the American Secular Census website for more detail about these datasets:

  • Women who are aware of organizations and events but have not participated
  • Former women participants currently inactive
  • Women’s openness about their nonbelief
  • Women’s primary worldview identity

– Mary Ellen Sikes, Secular Woman VP of Operations, is also the president and founder of the American Secular Census. Register here.