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.

Hiding Women’s History

By Connie Torrisi

Under the current educational standards across the United States, students are taught history in a plethora of omissions, egg aerations, out right lies and glossing over of the events that shaped America.

History, according to how we teach today, was created by men. Women have been virtually non-existent in terms of historical accomplishments.

 It is not as if women contributed nothing toward the development and betterment of our country. Granted, most women were chained to domestic roles that allowed little time for pursuits outside the home. Husbands and fathers and other male relatives strongly discouraged women from pursuits beyond the front door.

But there were, in fact, many women who managed to break free of restrictive, traditional roles and make impressive and lasting contributions to society.

If it were not for Susan B. Anthony (1820 – 1906) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815 – 1902), women may never been granted the right to vote or to own property. Anthony and Stanton were the pioneers of the long quest for women’s rights.

But, what have the schools taught us about Anthony and Stanton beyond their efforts to obtain woman’s rights? What have historians glossed over or avoided entirely about these two women?

Stanton was a freethinker. She was strongly resistant toward organized religion. She clearly believed women were discriminated against and subjected to second class status by Christianity. As she grew older, she became more outspoken against religious dogma and in 1895 published The Woman’s Bible. The book was not well received by the women’s suffrage movement and even Susan B. Anthony wanted to distance herself from the radical views of her lifelong friend.

Anthony, on the other hand, is depicted as a woman who chose not to marry in order to devote herself to obtaining the right to vote for women. Having freedom from domestic limitations and not being subjected to a husband’s rule may have been some part of Anthony’s overall strategy. However, evidence indicates that Susan B. Anthony was a lesbian. Her decision not to marry may not have been solely for the sake of personal freedom. No one knows whether her close friendship with Stanton included unrequited, romantic feelings. What is known, however, is that Anthony had a long term relationship with a woman named Emily Gross.

Although Gross was married, she managed to travel and spend a great deal of time with Anthony. Gross was not actually involved with the woman’s suffrage movement, yet was at Anthony’s side extensively. According to Lillian Faderman, author of To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done for America – A History, (Houghton Mifflin Co., 1999) Anthony made her feelings for Gross known in correspondence to friends and referred to Emily as her ‘lover’.

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Station are only two participants in the vast army of women who contributed to our history.  While the essence of their contribution is taught in schools, other aspects of their lives are hidden and ignored. Is it necessary to point out that Susan B. Anthony was a lesbian or that Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a freethinker?

We need to know such information in order to bring women’s history out of the closet.  By avoiding and denying the existence of lesbians and freethinkers, the truth about human diversity remains hidden.

All history is served up in bits and pieces. Events are sometimes taken out of context and facts are changed or eliminated. In practice, historical figures are often portrayed as adhering to the same social, political and religious beliefs. Except for some larger-than-life male figures such as George Washington, historians simply ignore anything that falls outside the expectations of the majority.  Common sense tells us that Lillian Faderman can not be the first and only researcher and writer to discover lesbians strewn throughout history. Common sense also tells us that Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-founder of Freedom From Religion Foundation, is not the first to discover a multiple of female freethinkers who sought to awaken the minds of the masses.

Women’s History is slowly being removed from the grip of bias, half truths, and indifference. Young women today have greater opportunities to learn about the hundreds of women who took active roles in forging history.

The fact that Susan B. Anthony was a lesbian and Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a freethinker does not make their contributions to the world any less significant.  For me, in fact, knowing that some of my favorite female heroes were lesbian and/or freethinkers makes them all the more dear to my heart.

As we enter Women’s History Month this year, we have the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the women who came before us: we have the opportunity to view them at deeper level than ever before.

As cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead expressed it:

“If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.”

The gifts that Anthony and Stanton (and others) left us are forever a part of our society and culture. To acknowledge their diverse human attributes is to thank them for all that they gave.

On the Loss of False Male Privilege

by Trinity Aodh

False Male Privilege is experienced by trans women prior to transition.  It only affects us externally, and only until our presentation changes.

Back in May, I traveled to Women in Secularism 2.  It was far from my first time getting somewhere by greyhound bus, but it was my first time taking one while presenting distinctly feminine, as I generally opted to travel while presenting androgynously even after my transition.  I arrived at the bus station early, only to find out it was running late, leaving me at the station for well over an hour and a half.  I passed the time listening to music and texting, generally trying to ignore the world around me.  A young man was sitting on the other side of the station on a laptop when I arrived, and he stayed for about half an hour before putting away his computer and getting up to leave.  On his way out he stopped in front of me and started to talk to me.  I looked up and took out one headphone, assuming he might be from out of town and asking for directions.  Instead he asked me what kind of music I like, and what I was listening to, even asking me to show him some, indicating the earbuds I was using (gross…).  Eventually he gave up and left, only to come back a minute later without his things to try again, asking me what concerts I had been to and other small talk before finally giving up again after too many single word answers.

The bus itself was fairly empty, and the ride uneventful apart from being late and nearly missing a connection.  I arrived in DC, found my way down to the metro and started reading the machine to figure out how to buy myself a ticket that will get me to my friend’s house.  Two men immediately came over, and started explaining the machine to me as if it were something I was incapable of figuring out, including asking such personal information as where I was going and why I was in town, stuff I didn’t think much of giving out at the time.  The metro ride itself, to my friend’s house and then to the conference and back everyday, was constantly full of stares.  One man, riding with what I assume were his wife and children, spent the entire thirty minutes we were on the train staring very intently at my thighs.  Other times I’d occasionally catch whispers between groups of men about the “chick with red hair.”


Arriving back in Pennsylvania, my ride from the bus station to home fell through, and I wouldn’t have another one for about six hours.  I decided to walk a couple miles to an area with some shops to pass time.  While walking next to the road I noticed an unusual frequency of people honking their horns.  For an area with such a small population, and so little traffic it wasn’t usual to hear it every couple minutes as I did.  It finally struck me as a single car honked passing by, with no other cars or people in the area: it was all being directed at me.  Why was more obvious when a man in a red convertible pulled over to offer me a ride, with an expectant “are you sure?” when I declined.

Not a single thing listed is something I had experienced while male-presenting, and none of it was pleasant.  An even worse set of events happened just a couple weeks ago, walking by myself on my way home through a more populated city.  I passed by a crowded bar with a few men outside smoking cigarettes.  One of them looked at me, his eyes obviously going straight from my breasts to my butt.  He said “Hey there, sweetheart” followed by something I couldn’t quite make out.  As I got past him I muttered “I’m not your sweetheart” under my breath, quiet enough he likely didn’t hear.  I got a few feet away and I heard him yell behind me “Hey!  Where the fuck do you think you’re going?”  I quickened my pace without turning around, and my hand instinctively rested on my knife.

As I got to the corner where I needed to cross, I heard two men coming up behind me laughing, both wearing tuxedos.  They looked at me and said “Don’t worry, we’re not going to creep you out… well maybe we’ll creep you out a little” and one stepped towards me reaching his arm out.  I backed up putting distance between me and him, and refused to blink until after they crossed.  The traffic light cycled once more before I crossed, and made my way to my bike, thankful the rest of the way wasn’t as populated.  Riding home, on the empty path I got one more comment, shouted anonymously from some home nearby.  “Hey good looking, going for a bike ride?”

In the span of ten minutes, I was persistently harassed in a way I never experienced previous to transition, by people treating me as they would any other woman passing by.  I never felt more terrified of the people I passed on the street previous to transition including when a man once pulled a switchblade and demanded my wallet while I was still in university.  These people weren’t interested in my purse or my jewelry, they wanted my body, and that made me feel incredibly small.

All else being equal, the levels of harassment from strangers on the street I experienced before and after transition went from a single attempted mugging to nearly every man I pass staring, whispering, or shouting about my body, or even outright threatening me.  To treat anyone this way is unacceptable even if it were just one incident, and the reality is far worse than any isolated encounter.  The world is teaching me that it does not value my comfort or safety as a woman, and I have little choice but to listen.

Thinking Freely

by Connie Torrisi

Long before I understood the meaning of such terms as freethinker, agnostic or atheist, I knew I could not buy into the concept of religion. I was only thirteen when I intellectually separated myself from the Catholic Church and its mumbo-jumbo dogma.

I hated parochial school with its emphasis on religion and the supernatural. Pointed questions about religious teachings were waved off with non-explanatory responses such as “God works in mysterious ways.” 

I resented the Church’s attitude regarding girls and women.  Emphasis was placed on what was assumed to be God’s plan: girls were to grow up to be mothers and housewives. Boys, on the other hand, were destined by God to explore, create and achieve. Long before the women’s liberation movement began, I was outraged by this overt discrimination against females.

Throughout my adult life, I rarely gave religion much thought except when it was involuntarily forced into my consciousness.

One day, after a discussion about the existence or nonexistence of God, a friend and I decided to embark on a quest, of sorts, in an attempt to discover the truth about God and religion. We began our individual quests and occasionally provided each other with brief updates on our progress toward personal enlightenment. About ten months later, – my friend reported that she had completed her quest. Her conclusion was that she was unworthy of salvation and condemned to hell. 

“I’m going to hell because I’m gay,” she said woefully. “The bible says so. God hates gays.”

“But you always say that God made you as you are,” I said. “He made you gay.”

“Yes, but, you’re supposed to fight against being gay. You’re not supposed to act on it sexually. If you do, you fail God’s test.”

“Isn’t he stacking the deck by creating you gay in the first place?” I asked.

“I guess so, but God has his reasons.” she replied.

“It doesn’t make sense,” I said.

“It’s not supposed to,” she answered.


My friend ended her quest, but I went onward, taking courses in religious studies and reading authors like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchins. I even read parts of the bible, only to find myself continuously disgusted by the bible’s depiction of women, not to mention the violence and questionable measures of justice. Eventually, I reached the point where I was no longer on a spiritual quest, but rather a search for others who shared my vision of a world without religious superstitions and dogma. While I don’t claim to have reached full enlightenment in all matters, I do believe I have found the answers I was seeking regarding religion.


Before I began my quest, I saw religion as detrimental to individuals and society as a whole. Religion placed too much emphasis on dependency on supernatural beings such as gods, angels and demons. Religion caused people to focus on the promise of an afterlife, rather than living in the present. Religion encouraged people to hate one another because of the “my god is mightier than your god” collective attitude. And, sadly, religion destroys the individual’s ability to think and to reason freely. Religion creates lazy minds; it is easier to accept on blind faith than it is to use the power of reason.

Religion is a destructive force in human history. The Crusades, the Inquisition and the witch hunts were all part of human intolerance for diversity and freedom of choice. In modern times, religion is the force behind 9/11 and many of the subsequent acts of terrorism that are becoming more frequent.

Reaching the point where it no longer felt freakish identify myself as an atheist hasn’t been easy. Friends have not always reacted well to my anti-religion sentiments. Coming out as a nonbeliever often draws a stronger negative reaction than does coming out as gay or lesbian. In the twenty-first century, atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and humanists, are the latest sub-group to be subjected to hatred and hostility.

History has shown that t intellectual laziness leads to the abuse of power. When people do not use their ability to think and reason they often become victims of that abuse of power by those who seek to maintain political, religious and societal control.

Human history is filled with examples of religion-based crusades and inquisitions that resulted in the torture and murder of millions. Such slaughters cannot be allowed to happen repeatedly. The way to prevent history from repeating such horrors is to encourage the demise of superstition and belief in the supernatural. Instead, our focus must be geared toward promoting critical thinking, starting in the schools. Just as religious leaders know that they must install their dogma into young minds, critical thinking skills must be taught at an early age in order for children to grow into free-thinking adults.

The fact is that our educational system does not teach critical and logical thinking. Students are not taught to evaluate the facts and form their own conclusions. Instead, they are handed ready-made conclusions that society expects them to accept without question. This is especially true for religion, where faith is valued above reason.

To be a Freethinker means to stand away of the crowd, not inhale religious nonsense and a host of silly superstitions. To be a Freethinker is to accept having only one life to live, and that is the life we are currently living.  To be a Freethinker is to let scientific evidence be the basis for drawing conclusions. And to be a Freethinker is to form opinions based on reason, not based on fear of retribution from an invisible supernatural being.

To be a freethinker, then, is to be truly liberated from the chains of religious dogma.

Member Article: Jesus and an Atheist Plea For a US Pathway to Citizenship

By Dr. Kristi Winters

This is my plea to Christians who would cite US immigration law as moral justification for opposing a pathway to citizenship. I will show how a teaching attributed to Jesus can be used by Christians and non-Christians alike to support a view that morally requires a pathway to citizenship.

During an August town hall meeting Congressman Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R- Tenn) was asked a question by 11 year-old Josie Molina, whose undocumented father is facing deportation. “I have a dad who’s undocumented, “she said. “What can I do so he can stay with me?” The Congressman thanked her for her question. He responded ‘the answer still kinda remains the same: we have laws and we need to follow those laws, and that’s where we’re at” (Lee, 2013).

After the media picked up on the exchange Congressman DesJarlais gave a statement which read, in part, “I felt I owed Ms. Molina an honest answer to her question. We are a nation of laws and breaking those laws have consequences. While this country has always had a generous immigration policy, we simply cannot condone individuals coming here illegally” (Marginol, 2013).

Later I saw this coverage on the Rachel Maddow show (Maddow, 2013). A crowd protested at a detention facility demanding the temporarily stop to all deportations while a pathway to citizenship is debated. After the protest finished a bus began to exit the facility. The crowd realized the bus carried people for deportation and the protestors spontaneously decided to sit in the road to stop the bus.

I was struck by the instinct of the protestors who empathized with the suffering of the families of those strangers on the bus. Their suffering was a direct result of the application of the laws that Congressman DesJarlais used as his moral justification. In that moment realized that Jesus and I shared a common view of how people should see the law. I would now like to show how Jesus and an atheist can find common ground on interpreting the law.

The teaching is found in Mark 2:27-28 (also Matt 3:1-8 and Luke 6:1-5).[i] Jesus and his disciples are walking through a field and some of his disciples began to pick the heads off grain, presumably to make food.  Some Pharisees are also hanging out near these fields and they question Jesus as to why his disciples are doing something unlawful on the Sabbath.  Answering a question with a question, Jesus asks them about King David and his companions who, when they were hungry, took the Bread of Presence and ate it even though that was unlawful for anyone but the priests. Jesus then says, “The sabbath was made for people, not people for the sabbath. Therefore, the son of man is lord even of the sabbath.”[ii] [iii]

I want to focus on these sentences: “The sabbath was made for people, not people for the sabbath. Therefore, the son of man is lord even of the sabbath.” I will first present a Christian theological interpretation, and then I will look at the passage from an historical Jesus perspective. 

In Christian theology one purpose of this passage is to establish Jesus’ right to interpret the Law. The other conveys that Jesus’ interpretation of the Law focuses on the spirit rather than the letter. I quote here from Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology entry for ‘Sabbath’:

‘…by stressing that the Sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27) Jesus gives an indication as to its true meaning. That is, he places it against the universal horizon of God's intent that it benefit all creation and not just Israel’ (Elwell, 1996). What I want to highlight here is that the sabbath, as part of the law, was meant to benefit humans, not harm them.

How does this relate to immigration in America?  It goes to the use of the law as moral justification for tearing families apart. If American Christians look to the Bible for their guidance on how to interpret laws, what they will find is Jesus demonstrating an interpretation of Jewish law that promotes human good. I don’t think anyone, Christian or non-Christian, could watch this video and think that putting family members on opposite sides of a wall is good (Unitedwestand, 2013).

I also want to explore this passage from an historical perspective. Professor Bart Ehrman, an expert in the New Testament, points to this passage as one that scholars think very likely goes back to the historical Jesus. His argument is very compelling: this passage actually makes more sense in Aramaic than it does in the Greek translation.

“The sabbath was made for people, not people for the sabbath. Therefore, the son of man is lord even of the sabbath.”  Ehrman (2012) points out the confusing inclusion of ‘therefore’ which means ‘as a consequence’ or ‘as a result’ (Random House, 2010). He writes, ‘I sometimes tell my students that when they see the word therefore in a passage, they should ask, what is the therefore there for?’ (p. 89). The problem is solved by translating this passage back into the language of Jesus: Aramaic. Aramaic uses the same word, barnash, to mean both “man/human” and “son of man.” We can re-write the passage to get closer its original version: “The sabbath was made for barnash, not barnash for the sabbath. Therefore, barnash is lord even of the sabbath.” 

The ‘therefore’ now makes more sense.  Humans are lord of the sabbath because it was created for them; humans were not created to be slaves to the law. This interpretation puts the moral responsibility on humans to interpret the law in life-affirming ways.

These two interpretations, one based in Christian theology and one from an historical approach, converge on the same moral point: the law (or the sabbath) is meant to promote what is good for people; it is not a good in and of itself.  If questions arise as to how to interpret the law (or the sabbath) then we must be guided by the knowledge that it was made for humans, and it should be interpreted in a way that furthers human good.

Our laws are there to protect people, not to harm them.  When our laws are harming more people than they are helping, Jesus prods those who follow him to examine their hearts and conscience. I therefore cite Jesus in my plea to Christians and ask them to consider the moral consequences of opposing a pathway to citizenship. Is the law doing more harm than good when thousands of Josie Molinas are parted from their mothers and fathers? 

Hiding behind the law will not protect us from the moral responsibility of supporting policies that result in children and parents reaching out to embrace through the walls of a fence. As an atheist, I stand with Jesus on this issue. Do what is good for human life, for families and for the well-being of so many children. Support a pathway to citizenship.


Ehrman, Bart (2012) ‘Chapter 3: The Gospels as Historical Sources’ Did Jesus Exist? Harper Collins E-pub edition. Pp. 69-92 of 365 pages.

Elwell, Walter A. (1996) Baker's Evangelical Dictionary. Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI

Lee, Traci. (2013) ‘Crowd cheers as GOP rep. tells girl her dad should be deported’ Martin Bashir, MSNBC.

Margolin, Emma. (2013) ‘GOP rep insists 11-year-old’s undocumented dad has to go’ Thomas Roberts, MSNBC.

Maddow, Rachel. (2013) ‘New generation of activists fight rights abuses’ The Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC.

Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary. (2010) ‘Therefore’

Unitedwedream (2013) ‘Operation Butterfly Reunion at the Border’ YouTube.

[i] Mark is the earliest of the four gospels, and therefore the closest in time to the historical Jesus.

[ii] I do not use modern practices of capitalization such as ‘Son of Man’ since these do not appear in the earliest and best manuscripts.

[iii] Webster Bible Translation.


Member Article: Why the GOP Should Worry About the Shutdown Gender Gap

By Dr. Kristi Winters

It is no secret that the Republican Party has a problem with women voters and an edge with men. President Obama won women voters by 12 percent and lost men’s votes by 8 percent in the 2012 election. That cumulative 20 point difference between men and women voters was the largest ever observed since Gallup began collecting data in 1952 (Gallup, 2012).

However, that aggregate data obscures important variation. Known as the ‘marriage gap’, single and married women’s voting patterns differ.  Romney did better among married women than Barack Obama, 53 percent for Romney to 46 percent for the President. The opposite was true for single women, 63 percent of whom voted for Obama (McDonnell, 2012).

Another socio-demographic cleavage between women’s votes is race.  White women were more likely to vote for Romney than the President, 56 percent to Obama’s 42 percent.  Women in every other racial category were far more likely to support the President: 96 percent of black women and 76 percent of Latinas (Wilson, 2012).[i]

These figures help up to build up a mental image of the women who are most likely to vote Republican: white, married women.  Add in the information on religiosity (especially belonging to an evangelical form of Christianity) and income (the higher it is the more likely you are to vote Republican) and we can refine the picture of the reliably Republican woman voter even further. 

That is what makes the results of a poll published this month so shocking to me. It seems that on the issue of a government shutdown, the GOP is manufacturing its own, unnecessary intra-party shutdown gender gap.  And it’s a big one.

David Winston conducted a national survey of 1,000 registered voters between July 31 and August 1, 2013 (York, 2013). Respondents were given the following question: ‘Some members of Congress have proposed shutting down the government as a way to defund the president’s health care law.” People were then asked to indicate if they were in favor of that idea or opposed to it.

For all respondents to the survey, 71 percent indicated opposition to the idea, 23 percent favored it.  For Republicans, 53 were opposed and 37 percent were in favor.  But what I found fascinating was the internal Republican gender gap the survey found.

Republican men narrowly support the idea of a shutdown, 48 percent in comparison with the 41 percent who oppose it. This number would indicate that the GOP is not wrong in pushing the idea of a shutdown, and this view reflects the plurality view of its base. It would seem to indicate that Senators Mike Lee and Ted Cruz reflect the views of the people who elected them.

And you might be right in thinking that until you look at the numbers for Republican women in this survey. A whopping 61 percent of Republican women oppose a federal government shutdown in this survey, compared with only 29 percent who support it.

The Mike Lees and Ted Cruzs of the Republican world are not speaking for all Republicans.  They are Republican men speaking to other Republican men and ignoring the views of, what this survey suggests, is the view of the vast majority of Republican women.

After the 2012 election, an election characterized by the phrase ‘war on women’ and the meme ‘binders full of women’, the Republican National Committee published the results of a deep introspection – some called it an autopsy – of their 2012 election cycle.  In their ‘Women’ section, they wrote, ‘…when developing our Party’s message, women need to be part of this process to represent some of the unique concerns that female voters may have’ (RNC, 2013:19).

If we compare the political strategies offered by radical Republican members of Congress to these polling, the results the obvious conclusion is that the GOP hasn’t yet begun to listen to the women who voted for them, let alone women who do not identify as Republican.

Republican women might favor smaller government and less regulation, but they still want government to function. Those Republican women’s voices might not be the loudest in the room in a town hall meeting, or the most radical on issues of shutdown but Republican women are paying attention. Based on these poll numbers, if the GOP attempts to play chicken with the daily operations of the federal government those silent voices of women could turn into disappearing support at the ballot box.

As Congress reconvenes after the summer recess, elected Republican men, you have been warned.  Defy the silent majority of women in your party at your own peril (and voter base).


Online sources:

Gallup. (2012) 'Gender Gap in 2012 Vote Is Largest in Gallup's History.’

McDonnell, Meg. (2012) ‘The marriage gap in the women’s vote.’ Mercatornet.

Republican National Committee. (2013) ‘Growth and Opportunity Project’ Republican National Committee.

Wilson, David. (2012) ‘The Elephant in the Exit Poll Results: Most White Women Supported Romney’ Huffington Post.

York, Byron. (2013) ‘GOP poll finds strong opposition to government shutdown.’  Washington Examiner.

[i] In this dataset all other races were collapsed into a single category, of which 66 percent of women of all other races supported the President.


My Body the temple, my body the toilet

Fifth article in Secular Woman’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month Series

by Jennifer Forester

When I was five, I decided that I wanted to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour, and I went through all of the motions: I asked him into my heart, assumed he accepted, and was baptized before the congregation. I remember vividly how afraid I was to be baptized; the thought of the water closing in over my head filled me with panic, but somehow I went through it, understanding that I had been washed in metaphorical blood and was now sin-free in the eyes of God. What was not possible for me to process in my gloriously naïve five-year-old brain was that, in return for the unconscionably horrifying experience of vicarious redemption, I had agreed to surrender my will to a being who could not express his will to me excepting through the men who controlled what ostensibly came from him. My body was to be a temple, a living sacrifice to God, and no one ever explained to me that, in the end, the difference between person as temple and person as toilet are negligible: they are both things. Neither have the will to decide what will and will not happen to or in them, and neither have the capacity to protest when their will is violated.

Naturally, being five, I didn’t hear much about sex, although I was raised much more openly than most of my Christian peers. The twisted fascination of the religious fundamentalist with the myriad manifestations of sexuality did not start to interfere with my awareness of the conflict between my Christian faith and my own desires until early in my adolescence as I—who had precociously noted the beguiling nature of my masculine peers years before my body signaled any sort of readiness for their attentions—became the recipient of male attention, welcome and unwelcome alike. As men began following me when I walked in public, as boys began to return my affections, the exhortations to purity began. Boys would want to do things to me, but I should not let them. I was to remember, at all times, that my body was a sacrifice to Christ and a gift to my future husband (who, presumably, would be returning the gift; at least there was no double standard in my household). What negativity did not seep down from my mother, who at the least had a truly egalitarian vision of mutual abstinence for Christians, worked its way in from elsewhere, poisoning my understanding of my body and its new, unfamiliar hungers. Sex was something that boys would want to do to me; it was not something that I would do or share. There was never any conception that I might be getting what I wanted out of some hapless boy; no, I was a vessel, for my God and for the men who would try to use me. My virginity would be a sacrifice to the man who would love me enough to wait until I was married, but a sacrifice it would be.

At fifteen, rather than losing my virginity in a thoughtless moment of passion as did so many of my fellow Evangelical kids, I made the calm, rational decision that I was ready to have sex with my fiancé who, at fourteen years old, was obviously as equipped as I was to enter into a healthy, mutually fulfilling sexual relationship. We spent days getting our plans together, making sure that we would have a plausible excuse to feed our parents—who were most certainly not in on this or supportive of it—and that we would have condoms, unlike our less fortunate peers who did not plan ahead. Although I was still a Christian, I never felt the cognitive dissonance, guilt, or fear that I should have had about this decision; somehow all of that didn’t leak down to me. No, what was missing for me was a concept as powerfully positive as the abstinence-only guilt is damaging: I lacked a model of consensuality. Lacking this, he and I, two children with only our religious and cultural messages to go by, proceeded to have sex in precisely the way that you would expect. He held me still while he painfully thrust in and out of me and then, while I lay on the floor bleeding and weeping, feeling every bit the living sacrifice I had pledged to be, he told me to put my clothes on so that he could play video games.

This never struck me as odd, never felt like the stab in the back that it should have; after all, I had simply transitioned from temple to toilet, and it was natural that he would use me in the same way that God used women: as an uncomplaining dispensary for bodily fluids and ideas about myself. The time before he finally, irrevocably raped me, under circumstances that I could point my finger at and say, “Yes, that was it!” was filled with a thousand little transgressions.

The time he wanted to have sex in a practice room and I was afraid that we would get caught, but he told me that I would do it if I loved him.

The time he convinced me to perform oral sex on him—an act I found repulsive at the time—by telling me that he would find someone else to do it if I wouldn’t.

The time I was about to move to another state and he broke down and cried until I would have sex with him in a movie theater because “he would miss me so much.”

The time he broke up with me but told me that he still wanted me and, as I wept, he pulled my shirt off of me and proceeded to use my unresisting body.

The times I fell asleep at his house and woke up with him rubbing his penis on my lips, the time his idea of experimenting with BDSM was to hold a butcher knife to my throat while I cried out that he was terrifying me.

This, all of this, building to the time when I would finally say the word “no” with enough emphasis that this constant, unrelenting assault on my body and mind became something that I would be able to, once and for all, definitively attach the word “rape” to, even if it took until a year later for me to be able to do so. I, the teenaged version of the good Christian five-year-old who pledged her body as a temple to the Lord, functioned as if I had pledged my body as a toilet for the boy-man whom I loved every bit as much as I had loved Christ before. My consent, my will, were irrelevant, and so I treated them as such, hollowed myself out to make room for the verbal abuse and the affection and the hatred and the jizz, if only he would love me the way that Christ had when I had given up my right to consent in my youthful naivete.

It’s enough to say that he held me down, that he called me a bitch, that he told me that I fucking wanted it and that I had it coming; it’s enough to say that I bled again this time and that I tried to fight him off. What’s striking isn’t the violence of what he did or the extreme duress under which it occurred. No. The part of what happened that is so shocking is that the only difference between the time when he finally raped me for real and the time when I consensually lost my virginity is that he cursed me and I fought back. The rest was the same: the bleeding, the pain, the fear, the utter disregard for my humanity, the casual walking away. There was little difference, to me, between what I called rape and what I called sex; I had never been given a model for it other than “what married people do,” leaving me with “crying and bleeding on the floor” as my default for what unmarried people did. My options were to consent to cry and bleed on the floor, or to be forced to do so. I laid myself out on the altar and called it consent, not knowing that there were other options. It was what good Christian girls did when abstinence failed them.


Susan Epperson

Ninth article in Secular Woman's Women's History Month series.

by Jamie Bougher

In 1928, the state of Arkansas passed a law. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad law. Or, well, at least it was a pretty discriminatory, anti-science law. Same thing. The law made it

…unlawful for any teacher or other instructor in any university, college, normal, public school or other institution of the state which is supported in whole or in part from public funds derived by state or local taxation to teach the theory or doctrine that mankind ascended or descended from a lower order of animals, and also that it be unlawful for any teacher, textbook commission, or other authority exercising the power to select textbooks for above-mentioned institutions to adopt or use in any such institution a textbook that teaches the doctrine or theory that mankind ascended or descended from a lower order of animal. (Alvin W. Johnson, Frank H. Yost. Separation of Church and State in the United States. Univ Of Minnesota Press; Minnesota Archive Editions edition. ISBN 978-0-8166-5965-4

Pretty blatant, huh? Tragically, the law stayed firmly in place for almost forty years. In 1965, Little Rock Central High School adopted a new textbook that contained a chapter about Darwin and evolution, and then required that the chapter be taught. The Little Rock biology teachers found themselves in a difficult situation. Follow state law, refuse to teach the chapter, get fired for violating the district’s curriculum. Follow the curriculum, teach the chapter, get fired for violating state law. Not a pretty picture. Lucky for all of us, the Arkansas Education Association (or AEA, an affiliate of the National Education Association) was totally on the case.

One of the biology teachers who was going to be required to teach the EVILUTION chapter was a classy young lady by the name of Susan Epperson. The AEA asked her to be the plaintiff in the case they were going to bring against the state law. In a December 2010 ACLU interview with Epperson, she explains:

The AEA needed a biology teacher to be their plaintiff. […] At the time, in 1965, there were civil rights struggles going on in the South. One of the complaints was outside agitators. The AEA didn't want the plaintiff to be a teacher from out of state and I was from a small town about 90 miles from Little Rock. I think they were also looking for a Christian believer. Because some people equate believing in evolution with being an atheist, the AEA wanted to demonstrate that one can believe in God and also believe all the scientific evidence for evolution.

Ah ha, strategery! And, actually fairly effective. The case was first brought to the Chancery Court in Pulaski County. And they won rather handily. The court held that the law was unconstitutional. Their argument said the law “violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which protects citizens from state interference with freedom of speech and thought as contained in the constitution's First Amendment” (quote from wiki page). I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not entirely clear on why they couldn’t call it a violation of the First Amendment directly. But hey, a win’s a win! Or…well, it’s a win until the state appeals to the Arkansas Supreme Court and has the Chancey Court’s ruling struck down (they argued that “the statute was a valid exercise of the state’s power to specify the curriculum in its public schools”). Bummer. Predictably, the AEA appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, who decided that the Arkansas Supreme Court was quite wrong, and that the Arkansas law was clearly designed to protect a particular religion. My favorite quote:

[T]he state has no legitimate interest in protecting any or all religions from views distasteful to them.

So the side of good wins and all is well. Epperson was actually not directly involved in the appeal process. She attended the U.S. Supreme Court hearing as an anonymous audience member. Since that time, Epperson has become a fierce advocate for evolution, reason, and science. She harnesses her faith (she is still a Presbyterian) and her credentials (Epperson is an instructor at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, with multiple degrees in biology) to help fight against the too-common belief on the part of the religious that evolution must be rejected outright. The secular movement is lucky to have inspiring women like Susan Epperson on its side.

Women in STEM

Seventh Article in Secular Woman's Women's History Month Series

by Tammy Walker, read more of her thoughts at her blog Free Thinking Ahead

The history of women in STEM fields–science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—is a history of women overcoming gender discrimination. A number of recent studies have highlighted the gender disparity in these career fields. The US National Science Foundation's 2013 “Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering” report notes that while women have studied STEM subjects in greater numbers since the early 1990s, and more women graduate from college than men, women still earn far fewer STEM degrees than men. Additionally, women, according to the report, hold more professorships than they have previously, though they are less than a quarter of STEM full professors.

Other studies have noted the persistence of bias against women. In 2012, Yale researchers published a study in PNAS that examined gender bias among STEM faculty. Faculty members were asked to rate student applications for a lab manager position. The student was rated more favorably when assigned a male name than when assigned a female name by the researchers. Still other studies point out gender as a factor in the treatment and consideration of faculty and students.

In spite of the disparities and biases, the history of women in STEM is also one in which women have been able to overcome societal obstacles such as lack of support and discrimination to contribute to our knowledge of the world. Highlighted here are just a few examples of the many women who have made an impact through their scientific work.


Scientists: Daughters, Wives, Sisters, Mothers

Before the 20th century, women often participated in scientific discussion and discovery though their male relatives and correspondents. Denied access to university educations, these women scientists and natural philosophers gleaned what they could reading books and learning from tutors, often their fathers and brothers. These women learned and contributed by engaging their counterparts, men and women, in conversation over household dinners, in salons, and through written correspondence. Although their work was most often done outside universities, women still added much to the discussion and to knowledge about their chosen topics.

Seventeenth century English aristocrats Margaret Cavendish and Anne Conway fit this pattern. Cavendish, also one of the first science fiction authors, discussed scientific matters with her husband, who supported her writing. Her work consisted of writing that critiqued the works of her contemporaries. Conway, educated at home by tutors, benefited from her brother's Cambridge education. He introduced her to Henry More; More and Conway corresponded on Descartes, and she influenced More's writing on the philosopher. Elisabeth of Bohemia, a seventeenth century princess, corresponded with Descartes directly, asking challenging questions of him. His book Principia is dedicated to her.

Astronomy, especially, was passed from husband to wife, father to daughter, brother to sister. Polish astronomer Elizabeth Hevelius and German astronomer Maria Winkelman, both working in the 17th century, assisted their husbands with mapping the sky and making discoveries. Caroline Herschel, sister to William Herschel, followed her brother into the field in the late 19th century. She assisted her brother in his work, and, though on her own, she discovered star clusters, comets, and nebulae.


Women Helping Women

While women working before the late 19th century often followed their male family members and correspondents into scientific studies, the women made important contributions in their own right. And as much as they needed the approval of men, they also benefited from the support of women. Mary Somerville, contemporary to Herschel, performed experiments and wrote on physics and mathematics. She introduced Ada Lovelace to Charles Babbage; Lovelace eventually wrote the first programs for Babbage's proto-computers. Lovelace also benefited from her mother's insistence that her daughter receive a rigorous education in mathematics, which allowed her to contribute to that field.

The 19th and 20th centuries saw increasing educational opportunities for women. One important factor in this rise was the establishment of women's colleges. According to the Women's College Coalition, almost all women scientists working during this time were educated at women's colleges. Included in the faculty at these colleges were women who had received their training from their male relatives, including American Maria Mitchell, an astronomy professor at Vassar. Mitchell learned astronomy from her father in the early 19th century; her parents believed that their daughters should have the same access to education as their sons. This permitted Mitchell to not only contribute to astronomy but to the education of women who would follow her into that field.


Women in STEM: Present and Future

The gender gaps in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics persist, but communities are making efforts to support women in STEM and girls who aspire to pursue careers in these fields. The National Engineers Week Foundation, for example, promotes Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, most recently on February 21, 2013. Their programming included corporations and governmental agencies working with schools, clubs, and museums to invite girls to participate in hands-on activities, talks, and job shadowing. Women in Technology, an organization whose aim is to advance women working in technology, has a committee that supports girls who are interested in STEM careers. Many local groups exist to support women in STEM fields as well.

Despite the relatively low numbers of women in STEM fields, there is reason for optimism. The US National Science Foundation's 2013 report also indicated that more women are earning PhDs in mathematics and computer science than in previous years, and women study biology and the social sciences at about the same rate as men do. The history of women in STEM is a history of women facing challenges, but it is also a history of progress.

Lucy Parsons, Revolutionary

Forth article in Secular Woman's Women's History Month Series

By Jadehawk – Follow her on twitter (@IAmJadehawk) and check out her blog

Lucy (Lucía) Eldine González Parsons was a woman of Hispanic, Native American, and African American heritage, married to a white Southerner who would later become one of the Haymarket Martyrs; a woman who fought against specific oppressions of women and people of color, but who also believed that class oppression was the cause of all other oppressions; a woman who, over the course of her life, would be a socialist, an anarchist, and lastly, a communist. For all these reasons, histories of social movements tend to dismiss and ignore her entirely. So perhaps it's the actions of her enemies that shows most clearly how important a figure she was: Chicago Police tended to refer to her as "more dangerous than a thousand rioters" [1], and the FBI raided her personal library, confiscating all her writings and reading material shortly after her death [2]. Clearly, she was a notable enough annoyance to those defending the status quo.

Lucy González was born in 1852 or 1853 in Texas, possibly into slavery given the "one drop rule" that applied at the time [3]. In 1871, she married a well-connected Southerner named Albert Parsons, who was involved in helping freedmen register to vote. This and other pro-African-American actions meant persecution by the Klan for the mixed-race couple, and so, in 1873, they left Texas and moved to Chicago [4]. This was a time of great social conflict in the US as a result of an economic crisis very similar to the one we've just gone through: one of the largest banks of the time collapsed, causing a depression and mass unemployment, which was then used by the rich business owners to slash wages, bust unions, fire people, and otherwise destroy the ability of working people to support themselves, all the while enriching themselves throughout the crisis [5]. Lucy and her husband settled in the poorest worker neighborhoods of Chicago, and became increasingly involved in the labor movements and politics of the time.

At first, Lucy Parson's role was limited to hosting the meetings of the union and socialist activists in her home. In 1879 however she started writing articles for the various labor and socialist papers active at that time. In these articles, she criticized the mistreatment of veterans of the Civil War by men who had stayed home and profited from the war; sharply attacked abuse of servant girls by their upper-class mistresses[6]; campaigned for the 8-hour-workday; and supported the efforts of the Working Women's Union to gain "equal pay for equal work" for women, as well as better working conditions and shorter hours – women at that time worked in conditions worse than the men, for less pay, and for more hours. She also put women’s suffrage on the Socialist Labor platform, and gained access for women to the workers' unions [7].

Her perhaps most revolutionary article, and the beginning of her more active involvement in the labor, socialist, and anarchist movements came with the article published on the front page of inaugural issue of the Alarm in 1884. Written in the aftermath of one of the coldest (and consequently deadliest for those without shelter) winters in Chicago, “A Word To Tramps", it was a call to arms (literally and figuratively) for the masses of unemployed and homeless in Chicago, to "Learn the use of Explosives" [8] rather than die from cold, starvation, or suicide. The article was reprinted as a leaflet and distributed widely. At that time, she also begun to speak at, and organize, protests. She was an excellent orator, considered "as a rule, both frightening and beautiful in her intense earnestness" [9].

As a result of their activism, Lucy Parson's husband was arrested as part of the Haymarket Affair. Lucy Parsons campaigned across the country to free the arrested men, gathering financial and moral support for the men. Everywhere she went, police barred her from entering meeting halls, arrested her, and otherwise tried very hard to prevent her from speaking, considering her a dangerous agitator [10]. And even though ultimately her campaign to free her husband and the other Haymarket Martyrs was unsuccessful, her tour across the country had contributed greatly to her efforts at organization and radicalization of American workers. It was also only the first battle she fought for the rights of political prisoners. As part of the communist International Labor Defense, Lucy Parsons worked in the 1920's and 1930's on the defense of the Scottsboro Boys, nine teenage boys framed for the rape of a white woman; Angelo Herndon, a black man who had led a march of 10000 in Atlanta, protesting Depression conditions; and a number of other black victims of a racist justice system [11]. In fact, during her time in the labor, socialist, anarchist, and communist movements, Lucy Parsons did not only agitate for the rights of "the worker" in general, but took on the specific oppressions affecting women and racial minorities. Through her work in the Working Women's Union she fought for the rights of women to be treated equally as workers, and she fought for women's reproductive freedoms, the freedom to divorce, and against the scourge of rape in marriage [12]. On the eve of the tragic Haymarket event, she led a march of several hundred women, demanding the eight-hour-work-day. In Freedom, the paper she begun to write and edit in 1891, she spoke out against atrocities against blacks committed in the South:

Never since the days of the Spartan Helots has history recorded such brutality as has been ever since the war and is now being perpetrated upon the Negro in the South.

Women are stripped to the skin in the presence of leering, white-skinned, black-hearted brutes and lashed into insensibility and strangled to death from the limbs of trees. A girl child of fifteen years was lynched recently by these brutal bullies. Where has justice fled? [13].

She also had the distinction of being only the 2nd woman to join the International Workers of the World (AKA the Wobblies), and was a main speaker at at the IWW's first ever convention in 1905, where she advocated a general strike of workers as a tactic in the struggle against exploitation. She was the first labor leader to do so in the US [14].

Lucy Eldine González Parsons died in 1942 as a result of a fire. She was buried, appropriately enough, next to the Haymarket Monument[15]. She was a relentless fighter for the rights of workers, women, and people of color, and she deserves to be remembered as an important contributor to social justice.

[1] Mirandé & Enríquez, p. 92

[2] Ahrens, p. 181

[3] Weir, p. 571

[4] Ashbaugh, pp. 13-15

[5] Turkel, p. 116

[6] Ashbaugh, pp. 32-33

[7] Mirandé & Enríquez, p. 94

[8] Parsons, p. 2

[9] Chaplin, quoted in Mirandé & Enríquez, p. 92

[10] Turkel, p. 122

[11] Ashbaugh, p. 258

[12] Mirandé & Enríquez, p. 95

[13] Parsons, quoted in Ahrens, p. 70

[14] Mirandé & Enríquez, p. 94

[15] Turkel, p.123

Ahrens, G. (Ed.). (2004). Lucy Parsons: freedom, equality & solidarity – writings & speeches, 1878-1937. Chicago, IL: Charles Kerr.

Ashbaugh, C. (1976). Lucy Parsons: American Revolutionary. Chicago, IL: Charles Kerr.

Mirandé, A. & Enríquez, E. (1979). La Chicana: The Mexican American Woman. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Parsons, L. (1884, Oct. 4). A Word To Tramps. The Alarm (Newspaper). Chicago Historical Society People's Exhibit 18.

Turkel, S. (2005). Heroes of the American Reconstruction. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company Publishers.

Weir, R.E. (2013). Workers in America: a historical encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.