Elsa’s SMART ride

Changing the culture is key.

I’ve been an atheist since my teen years and my non-belief forced me to truly evaluate and create my own sense of morality and values to live by. One of the values most important to me is the right of all people to engage in sexual expression in a healthy way, free from the shame religious belief has brought. Judeo-christian attitudes about sex and sexuality have worked to create a culture where women and men are shamed by their bodies and their desires, especially if they identify as LGBT. These toxic values pervade our culture and have resulted in misinformation in the classroom (abstinence only sex education) and hateful legislation (DOMA).

While these things may not seem to be directly related to HIV/AIDs I believe they are. People who are HIV positive feel shame and experience stigma in large part because they have a disease that is commonly communicated via sexual activity. And, we continue to have new cases of HIV/AIDs because, even when people have access to condoms, they don’t always use them due to the cultural shaming (and misinformation) around sex they have experienced their whole lives.

I believe the way to change this is to have more information- not less, to have more services, and more dialog on HIV/AIDs. Changing the culture is key, and one of the most effective ways to do that is through education (and treatment and support programs for those living with HIV/AIDs).

That’s why I’m riding in the SMART ride this year. The SMART ride is a 165 mile ride for HIV/AIDs in South Florida and they give 100% of all their donations to Floridian charities that do prevention and services work around HIV/AIDs. Florida, in particular, is in need of these services as we are one of the states with largest population infected with HIV/AIDs.

As a rider, my goal is to raise at least $1,250. I can’t do it without my friends, my family, and all of you in the secular community. So often religious people believe that if you don’t believe in god then you don’t have morals anymore. Together we can show them how wrong they are. Donate to rider 508 to help eliminate HIV/AIDs and show the world that secular women and men care!

Elsa Roberts- Vice Chair of Outreach, Secular Woman

A White Woman’s Privilege

"Privilege". It wasn't a term that I’d heard until 2011, when I began working with SlutWalk, a global movement focused on ending rape and rape culture. SlutWalk was ignited by a Toronto police officer telling campus group that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

What does privilege mean in relation to gender, race, class, sexual orientation, and so forth? When people say “white privilege” or “male privilege” or “x privilege,” what are they attempting to communicate?

This was not readily apparent to me, and many times the word “privilege” was used as a weapon, a way to push someone away, as an accusation, a way to shut down conversation, and to silence. It is not always used or received as a term that invites mutual exploration and understanding.

While my first experiences were off-putting, I have explored this idea over the last year. I don’t recall the circumstances under which I first encountered this word, but I do clearly recall being baffled, hurt, and confused about this word being virtually spat at me. Slutwalk was not universally appreciated (what an understatement) and some organizers and participants did not come onto the feminist and sexual assault scene with years of experience in the cultures of sexual abuse prevention and/or feminism. So, sometimes, the language (meaning as indicative of privilege, the approach to ending rape, and more) that SlutWalk planners was not preferred. SlutWalk organizers received quite a bit of feedback on their education privilege, race privilege, and socio-economic privilege, among other categories of privilege.

Personally, at some points it seemed to be a bloodbath. Here were 20-something women grabbing the mantle of feminism (and more), struggling to put on marches, and learning the ropes. All the while being metaphorically pummeled for never having grappled with the notion of privilege. Who was doing the pummelling? Feminists, sexual assault advocacy groups, “men’s rights activists,” a variety of anonymous internet people, groups devoted to racial equality, mainstream media, and more.

My role in the SlutWalk movement was amorphous; early on, I could not find my place. When I finally did, it was so behind the scenes that less than 250 people realized I was involved. I started a Facebook group, which was the first and continues to be the only place that SlutWalk planners are able to gather and talk about their experiences, to learn, to grow, to openly and yet not publicly talk about their realities.

Within this group I was called privileged and read hundreds of postings on the internet with people throwing this term around. In some ways, I was lucky. Because I wasn’t a front line person trying to navigate this landscape I had the opportunity to learn in my own way in my own time. But still, I was confused, angry, and mystified by the use of this term.

Ultimately, I pondered on the meaning of privilege. I decided to figure out how this word was part of my life and reached out in my confusion. This was the turning point.  My desire to actually understand and learn was the beginning. Isn’t it always? Like many others I think I am open-minded and work for diversity, equality, and more. To accept that there was learning in this arena was huge; in retrospect it changed my life. At the time, I was simply trying to understand.

I posted online about my experience with the word. This was a helpful response to my query:

Having certain privileges isn't an indictment of your character, and it doesn't mean you've never suffered. And no one privilege universally outweighs another. You and I have certain privileges because we are white (or at least will be taken for white by most people — obviously I do not know your ethnic background), and certain disadvantages because we are bi (well, I use "queer," but I mean something similar.) This means when a person of color is speaking about what it's like to be a person of color, their insights about POC should likely have more weight than ours. And when we're talking about queer issues, straight people should probably lend us an ear. But the most oppressed person (and I'm not even sure how we'd determine who that is in any given situation) doesn't get a "Most XYZ!" award or automatically win the argument. Ideally, talking privilege doesn't have to result in an argument — I have had some amazingly productive discussions since I've been able to recognize my privilege and listen more. It helps with figuring out how to ask the right questions when it's time to speak.

I finally came to the conclusion that what privilege really means is differences in personal identity and background, differences that confer unearned social power and advantages upon those who possess privilege, and that arbitrarily and unjustly disempower and disadvantage those who lack privilege. We all have different experiences in life, those experiences need to be understood when communicating, and our points of view are different because of our histories. When I hear privilege with this meaning, it makes sense.

Part of my struggle to understand this word is inherent due to the amount of privilege I have experienced in my own life!

Here is a short list of my privileges:

  • Upper-middle class growing up.
  • Graduate degree.
  • Successful business career.
  • Never sexually abused.
  • White.
  • You can stop laughing now!

Looking back, one clear example of privilege at work occurred when I was volunteering at a local women's group and we were working on ending Childhood Sexual Exploitation. As a volunteer on this committee, we worked directly with survivors to create Public Service Announcements and increase awareness in the business community. The PSAs featured girls and young women and were intended for the victims of child sexual exploitation to identify with, so that they would call a hotline.

We had multiple revisions of the PSAs, primarily because of our failure to understand how they would be perceived. We were trying to put together PSAs to help girls understand that they were, in fact, being abused. This wasn't how they saw themselves. The images that were being chosen were based on how middle/upper class adult white women saw teenage girls that had been prostituted: homeless, dirty, and standing on railroad tracks. Survivors were clear that that was not an accurate depiction of these girls’ lives or their self-perception. In spite of the exploitation that was an unavoidable aspect of their lives, they saw young glamourous well-taken care of women at the salon, the nightclubs, and in nice cars.

In another project, we were hosting a breakfast for community business leaders to increase awareness of this issue. Much of the exploitation occurred in business areas. The hope was that, with awareness, the incidents of exploitation would decrease. We targeted businessmen for this campaign even though the survivors of childhood sex trafficking explained to us several times that businessmen were their primary exploiters. This meant our awareness campaign targets were the problem. Not the solution. We were raising awareness of sexual exploitation to the very perpetrators of it!

But we didn’t listen to the survivors; instead, we forged ahead with our own vision of how to make a difference.

Anyone see the problem? Privilege. Of course, I only understand this in hindsight.

Fast forward to now in the secular community and all our discussions regarding gender and harassment. While I do not comment often, I read blogs and their comments. Many times I agree; sometimes I do not. One thing I do see is comments that strike me as odd. I cannot put my finger on what the problem is . . . then it comes to me: male privilege.

I don't use this term to distance us from one another. Instead, I am asking that men with privilege listen (or read) more, comment less, try to understand another’s perspective, try to understand how another might see your words and deeds in a different light, and to understand that words and deeds might not be taken as you intend them. Mostly I use this term so that we may start talking openly about it – together.

Yes, I am privileged; almost everyone is in some way! When you look at specific facets of another life, they will not entirely match your own. When they do not match and someone else's experiences are more relevant in illuminating how systemic oppression works in people’s daily lives. . . you are privileged in that you do NOT have those experiences.

  • When talking with my sister about raising her children . . . She has parenting privilege.
  • When talking with my mother about careers . . . I have education privilege.
  • When talking with my male partner about sexual harassment in the workplace . . . he has male privilege.
  • When talking about living in the south with African-American friends . . . . I have white privilege.
  • When talking about sexism in the secular community . . . some have white male privilege.

Do I have ideas about parenting? Yes. Does anyone who has been or is responsible for raising a child dismiss my thoughts out of hand? Usually. Do they have the right? Yes. They have been there, done that. They have experience and expertise that I cannot hope to match. Do I find being dismissed so easily annoying? DEFINITELY! Does privilege weigh into my annoyance? Probably.

Really, privilege means that we are different, and that our society rewards some of these differences while disadvantaging others. Let's celebrate those differences while coming together to reduce the way privilege warps social power dynamics in our society. How do we come together? We must learn to listen, ask questions to understand, be open to how our own perspective colors our understanding of the world, and know that your life experiences make up the very essence of who you are and what you say and do.

This article will make sense to some and to others it will be gibberish. Hopefully I have intrigued you enough to want to know more! Here are two articles by Peggy McIntosh and Barry Meutsch that are both explanatory and readable.


I kept learning while writing this article! I had listed being the first born girl as a privilege. An editor asked me to explain what I meant as she had never heard of this privilege. Here is my explanation:

Imagine a family that on one side has no boys born into it in fifty years and the other side having no boys born into it in sixty years! I am the eldest daughter of an eldest daughter in a family of strong women. My sister is six years younger than me; I’m almost an only child. I have no brothers. Within the family, I never saw boys and girls treated differently. I never competed with a male sibling. My intimate family experience is that men and women are treated equally, women are just as capable as men, women are just as smart as men, etc. No, I wasn’t taught that women are better than men; it would have been easy to do that though. My experience of being a woman is privileged. (And now, I would say it was different, but not necessarily privileged.)

What I learned is that because there is no societal power afforded this that it is not a privilege, it is simply part of my life experience. I hope including this will help illuminate the difference.

Member Spotlight: Martin S. Pribble


One does not have to be a woman to see the problems women face in society. One does not have to be a woman to stand up for the rights of women. One does not have to be a woman to be a feminist. In this sense, my feminism IS humanism, and the only reason I make a distinction between the two is that women as a group face far more hurdles than men do in general. I’m supporting those who need the help most.


It is perhaps more than a bit ironic that a journey beginning with spiritual and supernatural doubt brought Martin Pribble to a place of greater certainty.

Not certainty of the existence or non-existence of a deity, but of the importance of preserving human rights in the face of anything—either flawed thinking or the misguided policies it creates—that may infringe on them.

American-born but raised in Australia, Pribble’s family was nominally Christian. Churchgoing was reserved for extended family, but he, his parents, and his brother celebrated major holidays of the faith, and participated in prayer at large family gatherings.

The move to Melbourne, where Pribble still resides today, was the catalyst in the process that led to both his nonbelief and his commitment to equality. The government-run school he and his brother attended sat next to a synagogue, and this functioned as his first exposure to a non-Christian belief system. In fact, many of his classmates were Jewish, and the novelty of knowing people who did not celebrate Christmas in December led to a number of discussions about where Christianity and Judaism agreed—and where they diverged.

By age 12, Pribble had decided his path lay outside of organized religion. But he remained fascinated by the possibility of a supernatural dimension. Just as his inquiring mind had led to the dissolution of his ties to Christianity, so did self-guided inquiry divest him of what he calls the “weak deism” that once filled the gaps in his knowledge.

Pribble dove into the study of spirituality, the occult and cryptozoology, finding that scientific methods did a much better job at providing explanations for these phenomena than did the vagaries of superstition. And, moreover, that legends and unfounded beliefs explain much more about the human condition than they do about the world outside the senses.

“After reading authors such as Joseph Campbell and Gaston Bachelard, I realized just how much of human history is tied up in a need to explain,” he says. “All mythology springs from this need, and all mythology…falls apart in terms of the…‘actuality’ of the world around us.”

However, it was not until after reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion that Pribble says he gained the strength to join those trying to combat the worldwide detrimental effects of outdated methods of explanation.

The need for intervention, Pribble admits, is much more pressing in other parts of the world than in Australia. While there are some small, vocal groups like the Australian Christian Lobby in the country trying to insinuate religious educational or ministry programs in public schools, for instance, the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, India, Indonesia, and even the country of his birth suffer much more from the fallout of fundamentalist resurgence, says Pribble.

And while he does debate with believers via Twitter (@martinpribble) and his blog (martinspribble.com), he has found that engaging with issues rather than with individuals is a more effective way to raise consciousness across the board.

Pribble is an active member of the Atheist Foundation of Australia, a member of Think Atheist, Atheist Universe, and many other online groups. Pribble is also a fully fledged member of Secular Woman, whose advocacy for gender equality he hopes to see extend worldwide as the organization grows.

To Pribble, feminism is a logical extension of humanism, and deserving of a special highlight in his retinue of causes.

“Half of humanity is female, and if human rights are brought forward only to benefit men, then it fails to meet [the] criteria of equality,” he says. 

He acknowledges that women’s rights across the globe depend on many more factors than just religion. However, he says, religion, gender, feminism, politics, culture and social evolution are inextricably linked.

“For me it's all the same fight,” he says, “a many-headed dragon that needs all its heads severed in order to make progress.”


Reed Walton, Outreach Committee Member

To learn more about Martin Pribble and hear about his commitment to feminism in his own words, visit http://martinspribble.com/2012/08/member-spotlight-at-secular-woman/.

Interview with Secular Woman Carli R.- Aurora Shooting Survivor

Stand your ground, be assertive, treat others as you would want to be treated, and be gracious ~ Carli R., Secular Woman

For Carli, it was a night she'll never forget: July 20, 2012. That night an armed gunman, dressed in tactical clothing, set off tear gas in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater before shooting and killing 12 and injuring 58. Carli was one of those survivors. She credits her survival to quick thinking, her Navy training and especially the talented medical personnel on duty that night.

In the days after the incident Carli wrote about her experience from a secular point of view — only to find her words taken out of context and pictures used without her permission all over the Internet. Secular Woman (SW) wanted to give Carli the opportunity to set the record straight. This interview was conducted via email and is unedited aside from one bracketed word. What you are about to read is Carli, in her own words and in context:

SW: Tell us a little bit about yourself. 

Carli: I was born and raised in northeastern Ohio, and was raised by my mother and father. Though they sent me to catholic school for most of my primary school years, they always encouraged me to be the unique person that I was, and helped me the best they could as I dabbled in modeling and music. The city I lived in did not seem to have much going on when I graduated from a public high school, so I joined the military right after graduation. I served in the US Navy until October 2011. Soon after, I came to Denver, Colorado, to pursue music, modeling, and attend college, with my boyfriend, Chris. Right now, I'm finding work as an "alternative model" and playing with my new band, where I play bass guitar and sing lead vocals. It's all been pretty amazing until the incident at the theater. It seems it's really turned my life upside-down, at least for the time being.

SW: Tell us your most vivid memories of the night you were shot in Aurora. 

Since the full text of the article will be printed here, I won't go too far into detail about that night. I feel that the need to write about it was triggered by a few things. Firstly, a lot of people were asking me questions about it. I felt the need to sort of give an account of what happened, so that I could refer people to it instead of having to relive the event over and over again. However, writing about it was amazingly therapeutic for me. I kind of needed to do it to sort of sort through everything and really face it, in my mind. It definitely helped a lot, in that aspect.

The main thing that got me out of harm's way was the immediate rush of adrenaline that I felt, upon recognizing the smell of tear gas, which had landed at my feet. I learned in Navy boot camp to recognize the unique, acrid smell, and that it is not something you want to stay around for a long period of time. What saved me, after that, was my boyfriend's ability to handle a tough situation, and the medical staff who took care of me. Though my upbringing was religious- my parents sent me to catholic school for all of my elementary school years- my mother and father both worked in the medical field, and they have always seemed to be very fond of both faith and science.

I almost gave thought to praying in the ambulance that night, because that was when the real seriousness of the situation hit me- however, the medical staff whose care I was placed under took such good care of me. I was under the care of such competent, caring beings, that there was no need to do such a thing. I remember being in so much pain and shock that I was delirious, but at some point I was thanking them profusely. It wasn't a higher power that got me out of my seat- it was the smell of the tear gas that landed at my feet. It was my boyfriend, Chris, who got me to the police officer who flagged down an ambulance for me. And it was the amazing medical staff who took care of me to ensure that I left the hospital in the best possible condition. I don't want to put down the power of positivity, and that's what I feel prayer is- positive vibes being sent your way- but I do like to give credit where it is due, and express my extreme gratitude towards all of these people, and also to my parents for bringing me up "right".

SW: Why did you choose write about your experience? 

Carli: Well, since the main reason for writing my account of what happened was because I knew it would be therapeutic for me, I didn't really anticipate that it would attract any attention. I was still in shock (and I still am, to a degree), and I wanted to just "sort everything out" in my head. Getting it onto a screen or into a notebook really helps. Also, a lot of my loved ones were asking me "what happened?" and I hoped that my account of what happened would clear it up so that I would not have to relive it every single time someone asked. Who wants to relive something like that? So I suppose that being able to just refer them to the article was a positive outcome of writing said article.

Anyhow, a friend of mine was just so moved by the story that she wanted to post it on her blog. Apparently it became a hot topic. Last time I checked, it had over 150,000 hits in the United States alone. That was about a week ago. Being able to publicly thank those who helped me through that awful time was a big positive for me- I want people to know that, yes, it is kind of offensive and putting certain people down to tell me that the only reason I survived was because "someone was watching over [me]" that night. I've even had doctors, whom I've never met or heard of before in my entire life, message me on facebook to thank me for thanking them. They said that they went to school for eight to ten years to help people and it really bums them out when they make a very difficult diagnoses or something to save a life and the person they helped immediately thanks their higher power for the hard work that they did.

I can only imagine what that's like, and now I am getting a taste of it, firsthand. The positive outcommes outweigh the negatives so greatly that I'll only mention one more, which was the generosity of others. A woman who I met through a friend, on facebook, was also so moved by the story, set up a fundraiser for my boyfriend and I. I had told her how he and I were college students, how I was already struggling with debt and living paycheck to paycheck, and how I didn't know how I would pay the medical bills- or any other bills for that matter- while I'm out of work. We exceeded the set goal of $2,000.00 (she suggested a much higher amount, but I have never had to ask for such a thing before so I decided upon a much more modest amount), and I'm able to get the care I need- for now.

The negative is that, if I do need to get pellets removed from my body, I'll be out of work for even longer. I have a feeling people aren't going to be so generous after some of the attention I have gotten from dirty media lately. Though I thought it was very nice that many secularists were messaging me on facebook and the like to tell me how strong and smart I seemed in the article, this also triggered a lot of backlash from non-secularists, who think it is perfectly logical that their god would let two "non-believers" escape the theater while a 6-year-old girl died. These are the same people who have been messaging me because there was an internet meme made of me where I am quoted, saying "I wasn't touched by an angel. I wasn't blessed. I had a good head on my shoulders and I used it".

Apparently some people took this as an attack on some of the less fortunate victims of the shooting that night. I've been accused of being "cocky" and feeling that the others must have "deserved it" or something. This is odd, because I have never said anything of the sort, and I can't find any justification for triviliazing what ANY of us went through that night, so what would possibly compell a person to think that I would say or think such a thing, especially about those who weren't as fortunate as I? What kind of a person would think such a thing? Furthermore, what kind of person would think that I could think such a thing? Apparently they missed the part where I also said that "…no matter how they reacted to it, the event itself was nobody’s fault but that of the criminal who did this."

However, that is only one of the many instances where the media or public have tried to demonize one of the victims of the shooting, but I felt it to be a good example of the cruelty and ridiculousness in which some of us have been portrayed/treated. I think (and this is just a generalization) that people will typically believe what they want to hear- and today's society seems, to me, to only want to hear gorey, dark, destructive things.  Therefore, I should not be surprised, but I sincerely feel that anyone who would treat a survivor of such a heinous, traumatic experience that way, is just about a cowardly as the person who did it. And "person" is almost a compliment for our attacker.

However, though the "crazies" and the "media whores" have made it a point to demonize me, I have found myself with at least a dozen kind, compassionate souls, giving me their support, for every one bad egg. Most importantly, though, I'm recovering. Slowly, but surely, I'm recovering, and I have the best support system that anyone could possibly ask for. My family, and that includes my boyfriend and my "therapy dog", are my rock when I need them. They give me hope for humankind and they make every day amazing. I love and appreciate them in a way that no words could possible explain.

Am I rambling?

As I said before, when I originally wrote my account of what happened that night, I had only written it for myself and my loved ones. I did not say anything with the intent of stirring up controversy. I did not expect such an overwhelming amount of supportive responses either. I wrote exactly what was in my head, because it needed to get out- I wrote what I was feeling, truthfully, because it is all I know how to do. I am far too socially inept to sugar-coat things or manipulate people into an angry frenzy, and I was in far too much shock and pain (both physical and mental/emotional) to have any alterior motives.

This is probably why I was so surprised when the article not only got so much attention, but why a good chunk of it was negative attention directed toward me. It wasn't just hurtful- it was incredibly confusing. It still confuses and shocks me, to this day, that someone could do something as horrible as the shooter did that night (I avoid saying his name, because at this point, it's just one of those "ugly words" I don't like to use), and furthermore that someone could attack me for writing my feelings on it. We are all human beings, we are all special and unique, and part of what makes us special and unique is that we have all kinds of different thoughts and feelings. However, if one of your emotions is "blind rage", I would think that perhaps one should seek help from a professional rather than attacking someone who was recently victimized in such a terrible way. I guess I'll never understand such people, and I'm okay with that.

I feel fortunate that, though I've been through very traumatic and horrific experiences in my life (from childhood to now), I haven't experienced enough anguish to pick on someone while they're down. I have had to make my facebook private and immediately delete all messages and comments on my website just to avoid the headache of dealing with some of these people. The amount of positive responses have been just as overwhelming, in their own way. Though I sincerely appreciate the kindness of strangers and have always preached that the kindness of strangers is just wonderful and gives me so much hope for this world and for society in general, there have been so many of them that I have not been able to keep up with responding to all of them. I hope that anyone who has tried to send me their kind words has not felt unappreciated or offended that I have had to make my private life, well, private, due to the multitude of responses I've received.

As I've probably mentioned before, I had a lot on my plate before this even happened; I am a passionate musician, a part time model, a college student, and I work a mediocre job as a sales associate at a department store. I also have my own psychiatric problems to deal with, and I was (well, still am) working very hard to make my life the best it could be. After this happened, I've been overwhelmed with trying to get physically and mentally healthy again, therefore it has been difficult to respond to everyone and some will not be able to even reach out to me because of the privacy settings I have had to implicate. I do hope that none of the positive, supportive, people are offended by this and that they understand that, due to the things I've previously mentioned, it is just something that had to be done. Then again, I supposed I shouldn't care much for what others think of me if I'm a tattooed model and a lead singer in a rock band, right?

SW: Do you think you'll approach your recovery in a different way than a religious woman might? If so, how?

Carli: I feel that most people, religious or not, understand the importance of modern medical science, and that they understand these basic things are very important and that utilizing them can lead to our recovery, both mentally and physically. For instance, my mother, who wanted me to go to a private school and sometimes took me to church as a child, is a nurse. I have no doubt in my mind that she prayed for me the night of the incident, however, since she is a nurse, she has been monitoring my recovery closely and helped me out to ensure that I get the best possible medical care for myself. She fully supported me thanking the people who needed to be thanked, and is aware that I respect her beliefs as she respects mine (or lack of). I think that any person with common sense, whether they worship a deity or not, would handle the situation in the same way. The only difference is, I'm not praying.

Don't get me wrong, I have already acknowledged that someone can also act if they are praying (but just wait until someone makes another meme), however, I have supplemented my actions with positive thoughts rather than praying to a higher power and expecting them to intervene. Perhaps I am naive to think this, but I don't think our actions are that much different, a religious person and I. Obviously if someone is shot with buckshot from a shotgun and receives twenty-two holes in their body, as well as the other injuries that I mentioned earlier, and they just go home and pray about it (and I was in far too much pain to just go home, as you know if you read the story), it's not because they're religious- it's because they're batshit crazy, in my opinion. To me, it is just common sense that a bullet hole needs medical treatment. The kind of craziness that would let someone ignore such an obvious fact is the same kind of craziness that, I think, accompanies someone walking into an enclosed space with guns and teargas and shooting dozens of people like fish in a barrel- it's just absolutely crazy and beyond my comprehension. There aren't people who do stuff like that, are there?

SW: What would you say to women without religious belief who are having trouble coming out? 

Carli: Well, firstly, I think it is extremely sad that we live in such a society that somebody would have to "come out" about being who they truly are, especially if it's not hurting anyone. But I could rant about that all day. I'm not even sure of what advice I could possibly give you, except that while you should not be constantly defensive or expecting people to give you trouble, you should be prepared for it. I went to catholic school during my K-6th years, and in that time, I did a lot of searching. I didn't feel that the way I was treated at school was right, and furthermore it really hurt me that if I questioned anything, I was treated with no respect, as if I was there to be seen and not heard. I explored every religion I could find, in fact, I even got into trouble once because I brought some book about Wicca to school because I was genuinely curious and wanted to learn more about it. "There has to be something out there," I thought. But I couldn't force myself to believe in a higher power, no matter how much I prayed and no matter how much I studied every religion and denomination that I could get my hands on. Eventually, as an adult, I had enough knowledge of science, history, and literature, to know that my feelings were justified, and that feelings are justified anyhow because, well, you can't help the way you feel.

I am not the kind of person who typically goes around looking for conflict ("tween" years excluded, because I don't even want to think about how scary it is when a girl goes through puberty, and kudos to my parents for being so tough), however, religion is sometimes an unavoidable topic of discussion. Eventually, I became sick of the sadistic people who only wanted to belittle me and then not listen to a word I had to say otherwise, because I am an adult, I am a woman, and I am a very respectable human being.

I got a scarlet "A" tattoo on my left arm to signify that I "wasn't going to take shit from anyone, anymore". Of course, society hasn't really evolved as much as I had hoped for, so people do ask about my tattoos often. I had no idea that I got my tattoos for other people rather than myself, nor did I know that someone with Borderline Personality Disorder should be forced into indulging in ridiculous social pleasantries with ignorant people, willful or not, but I have been dragged into some pretty ridiculous conversations as soon as someone asks about that specific tattoo. As soon as they ask what it means, I simply say "I'm an atheist", and brace for a eruption on the other end. Honestly, most people either won't think much of it, or they'll act as if you just stabbed their messiah in the throat with a javelin. Seriously, the ridiculousness of the response will be at that level.

In such negative cases, there is not much you can do, though I almost want to dare you to "try to talk some sense into them". They want to convert you just as much as you want them to leave you the hell alone so you can go about your day, so the only thing to do at this point is to diffuse the situation and walk away. Sometimes it's more complicated than that, but you can usually express the point that you respect their beliefs and that you'd appreciate it if they respected yours as well, or that you feel such beliefs are a private thing and are very taboo to be discussing in such a situation (i.e. a work situation, a group outing) and that perhaps we should talk about something more important than having a pissing match over something that both parties are never going to see eye-to-eye about.

Other than that, well, be proud of who you are. Self respect is something that has been a very important part of my own personal growth and development, as well as overcoming many big obstacles (that's quite an understatement for some things) in my life. Stand your ground, be assertive, treat others as you would want to be treated, and be gracious. Obviously, the one who is raving like a lunatic isn't going to be the one to be taken seriously in such an instance. Don't let them "get to you" and do not look down upon them either- some people are delusional, as if anyone needed me to tell them that, considering the circumstances under which I am undergoing this interview.

(If, however, physical violence is threatened against you, I seriously suggest calling the local authorities right away. There is no bible, that I've read, that says your personal safety and well-being should be threatened just because you don't follow another person's religion).

SW: What would you most like to say to people reading this interview? To other secular women specifically?

Carli: I suppose that when I'm thinking too hard about it, it's hard to think of a message that I'd very much like to convey here. So I'll just speak from the heart, I guess, just say how I'm feeling about all of this. I firstly want to thank everyone who has been gracious, kind, and supportive, in this time of need for me. I am typically not good at accepting sympathy and though I can take a compliment, some of your words have been kind beyond my comprehension. So thank you. I'm still in shock from that night at the theater and please forgive me if it is hard to process the overwhelming amount of not only responses, but of support, at the same time. This is going to be a long, complicated, emotional rollercoaster of a journey towards recovery for me, but I appreciate all of the support in this time.

To any secularist women who may be reading this, and seeking some food for thought, all I can offer is the following; As I've said before, it is nobody's fault but that of the attacker that people were murdered, injured, and traumatized- however, it is a fact that I did not sit idely by and let this monster take my life. I ran for my life, and though my physical injuries and mental trauma are taking their toll on my life, I'm not going to let them ruin my life- I am fighting it, even as I type this. I'm going to face them in the same fashion which I will face my attacker in court. When life knocks you down, sometimes this is easier said than done, but get back up and tell life that "you hit like a bitch". Do not let other monsters in your life take any part of your life, ever. Stand your ground. Be gracious, be kind, pick your battles, but always stand up for yourself.

Furthermore, at any opportunity you might have, I urge you to stand up for those who may not be able to stand up for themselves, because they appreciate it more than you know. I know I certainly do appreciate it that, despite the media blitz, there are still people standing up for me. Thank you, SecularWoman.org, for giving me a vessel with which to explain my true thoughts, not taken out of context and made into an internet meme or made into a poorly-written article about what a villain I am. Everyone I've met in representation of the [organization] seems to be logically-thinking beings who know a real villian when they see one, and thank you for supporting me- the survivor. Not the villian. Not the helpless victim who takes abuse, either- but the wounded survivor, with a long journey ahead of her, who needs a little support every now and then because whatever label you give her, she is human.


Secular Woman wants to again thank Carli for taking the time out to speak to us and other secular women about her experience. She didn't want any fanfare and when we referred to her as "an inspiration", she shrugged it off humbly. Few victims of tragedy will express such overwhelming gratitude for the real life people that helped them pull through, rather than crediting an imaginary being. Carli's reflections espouse one of Secular Woman's core values: the embrace of human-centered ethics informed by reason and science and the rejection of dogma and superstition. Carli's courage and goodwill shine through loud and clear — we couldn't be more honored to welcome her into the Secular Woman community. 

Bridget Gaudette, VP of Outreach
Mary Ellen Sikes, VP of Operations
Secular Woman

Photo by 2509 Photo

Carli’s Story of Survival (Aurora Shooting)

I wasn’t touched by an angel, I wasn’t “blessed” – I had a good head on my shoulders and I used it.

The following is a recounting of Carli R.'s story. Carli, 22, is a Secular Woman who was one of the surviving victims of the July 20, 2012 mass shooting that occurred in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Secular Woman would like to thank Carli for allowing us to reprint this here. Also, please see Secular Woman's interview with Carli.

Carli's Story:

I hope that between this and the one that my boyfriend wrote, a lot of things are cleared up and people can maybe understand a little what happened to us. Either way, it is very therapeutic for me and helps me deal with it all:

I was saved by natural selection, and tear gas. That’s right- tear gas.

I guess I’ll start my story by boring you with what I did that day. First we drove to Boulder because I had a photoshoot. The photos will be used for Suicide Girls or Zivity, whichever the photographer decides on, and I looked absolutely smashing. Little did I know that my favorite bra, shorts, and underwear (which I wore in some of the photos) would later be cut off of me, stuffed in an evidence bag, and never seen again. I also remember telling the photographer that my zombie unicorn hip tattoos were the worst pain I have ever felt and that I was scared to get my ribs done. Oh, the irony. I had no idea I was about to have a whole new understanding of the word “pain” later. The day continued and was nice, but not very eventful. After my photo shoot, we got some delicious calzones at D.P. Dough in Boulder and went home for a little nap and TV time. Later, we went on a walk with our precious little dog, where I declared that I absolutely hate running and will probably walk most of the 5k run for political prisoners that we are attending on the 2nd of September. “I only run if I’m being chased,” I said. Little did I know that I would eat my words late that night. We got home, relaxed a bit, and then got ready to go see the awesome new Batman movie. I was excited to be wearing my batman plugs and the Joker t-shirt that my dad wore in the 80’s. Needless to say, it had a great deal of sentimental value, and I felt ultra-hip to own a t-shirt with the original Joker on it. On the way out the door, I remember having to yell at my dog for something and feeling bad, thinking “this could be the last interaction I have with her”, and then quickly brushing it off because Chris is a good, experienced driver, and of course I would see her when we got home from the movie. If my day had been a movie, I imagine this would have all been a great deal of foreshadowing, but of course I was oblivious.

We got into the car, and I promptly turned on some music. We went to the gas station to get some candy and drinks (sure as hell beats the movie theater prices!) and pressed on. I remember one of the last things I heard in the car was Chuck Berry’s “Rock n Roll Music”, the only Chuck Berry that Chris had on his ipod. I was in a great mood.

That’s all pretty irrelevant, however, and I think I just mentioned it because I am still really scatterbrained and not sure how to properly word some of this stuff. Anyhow, we got our tickets, used the restrooms, and headed into the theater. It was packed. There were four theaters showing the film and this one was still totally packed. Upon surveying the scene, I saw that there were two seats at the bottom, next to a little kid, but we didn’t want to strain our necks to see the screen so we moved upward. I was about to go for two seats at the end of an aisle, about halfway up the stairs, but since Chris really wanted to sit close to the center, he lead us to two seats in the middle of a group, who told us that the two seats were taken. We then moved to the two end seats that I had previously intended to sit in. Chris was on the outside and I was seated next to a fairly large woman who took up part of my seat and then complained to her spouse that even though nobody was sitting there, we should have asked first. I was pretty thoroughly annoyed at this point but I thought “maybe I’m just being paranoid,” and “I shouldn’t get all hostile with her because what if we get kicked out of the movie theater?”… Now I kind of wish I would have told that person what was on my mind.

To briefly explain where we were sitting: We were facing the screen, and from our point of view, we were at the far left side of the theatre, maybe ten stairs up from the bottom. There were two emergency exits and two regular entrances/exits. Since we entered from the one on the left, we sat on the left. I am not good at being effectively descriptive, but I hope that was good enough.

Anyhow, the movie started and we were all very excited. I saw Baine (msp?) and his creepy mask. I saw Christian Bale and catwoman and the movie had barely gotten moving but I was already pretty into it despite having anxiety and a tic disorder, which usually prevent me from being able to really focus on much of anything. Now, I’m about to tell you what happened, maybe a good 5-10 minutes into the movie, and I’m going to use a great deal of words- however, this all happened in a matter of about 5-10 *seconds*. I’m amazed at how fast the human mind works, and how, in the event of an adrenaline rush, your body can work just as fast. This is all also a little bit foggy, because when I’m experiencing a traumatic event, my mind usually blocks out a good deal of it- even when I’m having flashbacks. But here goes.

So I’m watching the movie and the emergency exit to our right, by the big screen, comes open. It doesn’t violently swing open, and it also doesn’t very quietly creep open. The door opened as anyone would normally, nonchalantly open a door. A man enters, wearing what appears to be a gas mask, and for some reason it looks just like the one worn by the villain in the movie (or at least, that is my messed up recollection of it). It also appears that he is wearing some sort of combat gear, with a helmet and everything. I was immediately a little freaked out, but I assumed that it was a promotional stunt from the theater and was meant to do so. I think I heard a weird popping noise and then a can or something came flying towards us. The girl next to me and I both swatted at it and it almost hit me in the face, it seemed. At this point, I still think it’s a promotional thing. Perhaps it was a t-shirt gun, or some idiot was throwing us cans of some up-and-coming energy drink. Maybe it’s a prank, who knows.

Well, the can landed and our feet, and as Chris is saying something like “what the fuck is that?”, I am smelling it to see what it is. In a split second, I recognized that it was tear gas, meaning that this was either a bad joke or it wasn’t a joke at all and either way, it is time to run. The next second is a blur but according to Chris, I jumped over him to get out of the aisle and we both ran for our lives. I dropped my purse on the way out with all of my cards- insurance, ID, bank card- as well as my cell phone and car keys in it. But the instinct to keep running overpowered any other thought in my mind. “Fight or flight” is an extremely basic human survival instinct to me, but apparently it wasn’t to some of the others in the theater that night because there were only a couple of other people running with us, I believe. I wasn’t even thinking about this at the time, though, so this is all just in retrospect. The thought did cross my mind that there might be another guy at the exit/entrance, but I knew that regardless, we needed to keep moving. It’s hard to hit a moving target anyway, and I wasn’t sure if it was gunshots or fireworks that I heard behind me. Two of the other runners almost stopped at the entrance. I yelled frantically for them to keep moving and I ran out. We kept running until we were within maybe ten or fifteen feet of the car, at which point we slowed down a little bit and I noticed that my right blazer sleeve was soaked. I was still convinced that this was all a bad joke, and that it was probably fake blood or some kind of liquid from a badly done beverage toss. Chris unlocked the car. I got in and took off my jacket. I was covered in blood, but my initial reaction to it was “it’s either fake or it’s someone else’s blood”. Suddenly, the pain began to sink in. I think my brain had blocked it out so that I could make the run out of the theatre (seriously, our basic survival mechanisms amaze me so much), but now that I was safe in the car, it all hit me at once. My legs were in pain too. But my arm was in so much pain, it hurt too bad to even cry. I grabbed his phone and turned it on, after we established that we needed to go ask the cop around the corner for directions to a hospital. I was going to call 911 about what happened, but after we saw a police car come barreling around a corner, towards the theater, we knew that wasn’t necessary- which was fine because, at this point, I was in total agony. There’s no way I could have even dialed those three numbers. I had never, ever felt pain like that before in my entire life. No matter how I positioned my arm, I couldn’t seem to find any comfort whatsoever. I had even tried biting down on my jacket to dull the pain. Nothing helped and all I could do was yell and hyperventilate. I don’t think I have ever felt so helpless.

The police officer said that he would flag down a firetruck or ambulance so that a paramedic could take a look at me. The only thing I could say or think was that I wanted the pain to go away. He flagged down an ambulance and the paramedics came to look at me. They asked me all kinds of questions about my age, name, etc, to make sure that I was coherent or whatever. I couldn’t do much but beg them to make the pain go away. I have never felt so helpless or pathetic in my entire life. I was entirely at their mercy and begging and pleading for them to make the pain stop. They tried to get me to walk to see if I was “ok enough” to just have Chris drive me to the hospital, and that was a very bad call, because I almost passed out. I could feel the head rush and my legs were in excruciating pain and they felt like jelly, as if I couldn’t stand on them. Thankfully they made the right call and got me into an ambulance, after a little bit of debate. There was some waiting before we could go anywhere, and I was in so much pain that I asked the paramedic to hold my hand and started babbling to her about how my mom is a nurse and this is definitely the time when I want my mommy the most. Looking back on it, I am quite amused by this, but at the time, I really needed someone to hold my hand. She was a rookie, so she probably wasn’t appreciated much by her coworkers at the time, but I hope she knows that simply holding my hand when I was in so much pain meant the world to me.

They told Chris which hospital I would be taken to and that he could follow us. We had to go back to the theater to grab a few more people, which obviously confused my boyfriend and caused the ambulance to hit his car- or maybe it was the other way around, I am really not sure. There wasn’t any damage done, though, and no matter what we just had to keep moving.

The paramedics started an IV and oxygen for me, and got two more guys in the cabin. I was moved to a seat. It was made of that plastic, leather sort of material, and my back wound stuck to it. Every time we hit a bump, it would un-stick itself and I would wince. I tried to meditate and go to my “happy place” but I wasn’t going anywhere, except for a totally different hospital than the one we had told Chris I was going to. Apparently the original one was very full. I cannot imagine working in health care at that time, in this town. The paramedics did gymnastics to get around the cabin, taking all of our vitals and getting everything situated. They cut off part of my shirt to get to my arm, and maybe 15 minutes of a bumpy ride later, they administered my pain meds. Sweet relief! Some of the agony was gone, but I was still in a state of total panic. Before we got to the hospital, they had to cut the rest of my Joker shirt off of me. I was actually pretty upset about it, and I held onto it until I got out of the ambulance- at which point I dropped it, and was too incoherent to do or say much about it but get on the damn gurney. I needed them to fix me up now and now that I think about it, it was probably all covered in tear gas.

They wheeled me into a room where they cut or pulled the rest of my clothes off, and felt around as doctors do, saying “does it hurt when we touch here”? They even stuck something up my bottom (“EEK WHAT IS THAT?!”…”checking to make sure your nerves are all working ok”) and gave me a catheter. What a terrible night. I lost my clothes, had things stuck up my butt, and nobody paid me for it. I’m just as amazed as you are that I can make such morbid jokes about it all. They gave me some more pain meds, asked me a metric ton of questions, and then took me in for a cat scan.

The CAT scan was not fun. It was the first moment I got to be alone, in a quiet room, since the shooting. I was shaking from what appeared to be a combination of being cold and still being in utter shock. I can’t even tell you how hard it was to calm myself down with only breathing exercises and hold still for the procedure. I also received X-rays later, which were also very painful because of the ways I had to move my arm. I think that’s when I finally cried. The nurse who was wheeling me around asked me questions about my band and other things to keep me fairly calm. I felt bad for crying and yelling so much but the nurses and everyone assured me that I was doing fine. I think I’m a bit overly critical of myself sometimes and that night just proved it.

I got back to my little ER room and was told that I had gotten hit in my right arm, both of my legs, my chest, my back, and my butt. I asked them what the hell hit me, because I thought it sounded like fireworks or a bomb or something going off behind me, and they told me it was a bunch of “buckshot”. “What the hell is buckshot?” I asked, in my stupor. They said that shotguns either take slugs, which are just big-ass bullets, like the ones we used in Navy boot camp, or buckshot- basically, a plastic casing holds a bunch of pellets, and when the shot is fired, these pellets disburse all over the place. All this meant to me was that this asshole really wanted to hurt and scare a lot of people. If his main mission was to kill, he would have gotten out the automatic weapon right away. The rumor is that he had a shotgun, automatic rifle, and two pistols with him that night. Thankfully he just used the shotgun and did not use slugs, because otherwise, the back and chest wounds might have been fatal.

I am told that surgery will not be necessary, but that my skin will have to push out some of the fragments because it will do more harm than good to pull them out. I’m ok with that, but what’s next? I did a great deal of waiting and being monitored, as well as talking to the police while they bagged up my smelly clothes as evidence. This whole time, I had been worried sick that something might have happened to Chris. I didn’t have my cell phone to retrieve his number because it was in the purse when I dropped it, so I had very low hopes of getting to see him. I also know that even if he had been hurt, he would have told them to take me to the hospital and not worry about him, so it was very possible that he was hurt. But four or five hours later, there he was, standing at the door! I was so overwhelmed when I saw him. He had gone to about 4 different hospitals and gotten a lot of hassle to find me. He even had to call our friend/room mate to come help him find the hospital, because he was probably really panicking at this point. I’m amazed at how collected he was through all of this. He stayed strong for me, because being strong was the only choice we had at the time. It was such a relief to see him. After much waiting and talking to various people (such as the chaplain and social worker, who were also very kind), I was able to get my wounds properly irrigated and go home with a prescription for Vicodin and Tylenol. I absolutely hate vicodin because it makes me nauseas and barely dulls the pain (must be the Tylenol, man I hate Tylenol), but Chris took me and my bloody scrubs to the pharmacy to get my medication. This was about 8 in the morning, so I just couldn’t wait to get home and get some sleep. I could barely walk and I probably looked pretty pathetic. I think I cried that day but honestly, the worst part was when I finally took a shower later. That’s when I got to not only see how many wounds I really had, but I go to clean them all. Every time I felt a sting or an ache during the shower, I’d hear a gunshot in my head. Flashbacks are no joke. People ask me how many I have and I say that I still haven’t counted yet. If you include the giant bruise/welt on my arm and the one on my underarm, there are 9 on my arm alone. There’s more on my back, butt, chest, and both legs. It hurts like Hell to walk on my right leg but I did today because we needed to get out of the house for a minute and go to the store.

I honestly don’t know how to answer broad questions like “how do you feel?” or “what were you thinking at the time?” I honestly wasn’t thinking about anything but running. My parents always taught me, as an itty-bitty child, that when your body senses danger, you go into “fight or flight” mode. It’s this basic part of your system called “adrenaline”. In a split second, I was able to see that there was no fighting a dude in what appeared to be full combat gear, so I ran. I hope to not offend anybody by saying this, but I wasn’t touched by an angel, I wasn’t “blessed”- I had a good head on my shoulders and I used it. It actually worries and saddens me that most people do not possess such basic animalistic survival instincts, that so many of them curled up on the floor and kissed their own butts goodbye. I don’t want or need to think about all of that, though, because all it does it bring on a barrage of emotions, where I feel angry with them and then guilty and then sad and then run-on sentences. It’s just not a good idea. And no matter how they reacted to it, the event itself was nobody’s fault but that of the criminal who did this. People can believe in whatever they want to, and perhaps the universe or a higher power or something else said “hey, it’s not her time”, and that is definitely possible (I mean, it’s possible to get shot when going out to the movies, so I am no longer ruling stuff out), but I’d like to give credit where credit is most certainly due, and thank the ones who need to be thanked the most because I don’t think they get enough credit sometimes;

If my partner and I had not taken responsibility for ourselves at some point in our lives and joined the US Navy, we would not have immediately recognized the smell of tear gas. If we had not been so sharp, or just born with common sense and basic survival instincts, we would not have ran. If we were lazy and slow, we would not have ran as fast as we did (glad we go on those nightly dog walks). If we were not brave, we would not have kept moving even though someone very well could have been blocking the exit, with another gun (though I seriously didn’t even process that it was gun shots behind us- we both really thought that it was fireworks or something ridiculous but still potentially dangerous). If Chris wasn’t a smart, level-headed guy, he would not have stayed calm enough to drive me where I needed to go and handle the situation. If the medical personnel had not been absolutely amazing, I would not be in the shape I am now. I am not trying to talk down to anyone who thanks their higher power for this miracle (and I will agree that that’s a very appropriate word for this) at all, so please do not take it as such because that’s not what this is about. This is about me wanting you all to realize the immense feeling of gratitude that I have for Chris and the medical staff who took such amazing care of me. From the paramedics and the one who held my hand in the ambulance, to the nurses, radiologists, doctors, chaplain, social workers, and even the pharmacy tech at Safeway, I want you to know that you all are the reason I am ok and in so much less pain right now. You made the pain “go away”, as I had kept begging and pleading for somebody to earlier that night. And if I didn’t have Chris here, if I had lost him in the incident or something, I don’t know what I would have done. I thank our instincts, Navy training, and the universe itself that he is here, alive and unscathed. However, the physical stuff is all just one part of the pain we have endured, and most likely will endure. I had already been shopping around for a therapist due to PTSD from other times in my life. The flashbacks and things were getting too hard to deal with. After that night, I now pretty much have a novel to give the next therapist I talk to. I hope they’re ready for this.

I hope I’m ready for this. <3

~Carli R.

Photo courtesy of Mark Brunce

Member Spotlight: Emily Dietle

For Emily Dietle, the processes of letting go of religious belief and embracing feminism were mutually interdependent.

The blogger and activist grew up in what she labels “a sexually repressed religious family in sexually oppressive, religious Texas.” Dietle, who has a much younger brother, essentially grew up as an only child, hopping from church to church and denomination to denomination. By and large, her mother made the decisions as to where the family would worship. But Dietle’s father only rarely came along as mother and daughter tried services in traditions including Methodist, Pentecostal, and Presbyterian.

“My dad’s absence from church troubled me greatly as a very little girl,” Dietle says. “I wanted to make sure he was ‘going to Heaven,’ too.”

As she grew up, the first cracks in the edifice of belief appeared and began to widen. Nothing Dietle had seen in Christianity, for example, was compatible with her emerging bisexuality. Having experienced attraction along many points in the gender spectrum even before she could put words to the feeling created only questions and doubts when put up against unyielding faith.

Ironically, it was a pastor who encouraged Dietle to explore her doubts. She still has deep respect for the man who encouraged a questing spirit, even if it led away from religion.

It is that questing approach that she hopes to inspire in others, whether they are believers, questioners, or nonbelievers with accommodationist leanings.

“For someone that insists that religion and equality are bedfellows, I would offer ample evidence to the contrary, and request that they do a little digging for themselves,” she says, “the goal being that if they read more material, they will uncover more than I could have convinced them of in argument.”

Dietle herself has become a purveyor of information on secular and women’s causes. Through her blog, EmilyHasBooks, and multimedia guest spots alongside numerous movers and shakers in the burgeoning secular movement, she is providing other nonbelievers the same kind of support she found in the online atheist community.

The support of a global network of like minds encouraged her to “come out” publicly, and helped her cope with the sometimes hurtful reactions of believing friends and family members.

Across the spectrum of believers, from kindly pastor to confrontational fundamentalist, Dietle’s approach to explaining her passion for reason and feminist ideals reflects her personal experience:

“[M]y aim isn't to upset the individual, but to place seeds in their thoughts or push them to begin questioning their perspective.”

When asked why she joined Secular Woman (SW), this is what Dietle had to say: “The values and goals that Secular Woman has outlined are strong and positive, and I joined this organization with the hopes that it will fill the needs of non-religious women seeking to make a difference in their communities.

"Though religious leadership has been dominated by males throughout modern history, the internal support and outreach has been done by women. We find that women have a difficult time leaving their religious communities that provide the backbone of their social network and support. When I heard about Secular Woman from Bridget Gaudette [the VP of Outreach], I realized that it would provide much needed support for women transitioning out of religion, and for those already out who are seeking to grow.”

Emily was pivotal during the first few days after SW was mobilized and remains a strong supporter. She used her social media savvy to increase our audience significantly. Secular Woman will forever be indebted to her. 

Reed Walton, Outreach Committee Member/Writer 

Our Bodies Politic

On a recent podcast, I was asked if I identified first as an atheist, secularist or as a woman. My response was that I identify in this order: human, woman, secularist and then atheist. Essentially, I put my biology before my beliefs, which are a function of the era in which I live. Still, since being asked that question, I have been thinking about how intensely intertwined being female and being a secularist are for me.

The United States of America is moving ever closer to becoming a dominionist theocracy and leaving the ideals of democracy in the stardust. Our government has been infiltrated with religious-based thinking and ideals. A few foundational areas that require immediate attention for the re-secularization of the U.S. are the military and reproductive health care. Clearing out these areas of religious ideology is a prerequisite to secularizing womens’ bodies. We must return a woman's sovereignty over her own physical being to her. There is no other way to move forward; each of us must be able to make decisions (based on full and accurate information) about our own bodies. 


At present, sexual assaults against female soldiers are continuing at an all-time high; all the while these women are unable to obtain legal abortions. The 2012 Army report “Discipline of the Force: The High-Risk Populations” has some exceedingly disturbing statistics about how women fare in our government's Army: “Although females compose only 14% of the Force, they compose 95% of all victims of violent sex crimes." Of the 1,313 (a 97% increase from 2006) reported violent sex crimes, 1,247 of the sex crimes were against female soldiers. And of these violent sex crimes 515, or more than one per day, were rape. Mind you, this is just the Army and just reported rapes; I am confident the actual number is much higher. Nearly 3200 sexual assaults were reported military-wide and they estimate that the actual number was closer to 20,000. Based on this ratio, the number of rapes of female soldiers (just Army) per day can be estimated at 8.8.

Imagine being in the military and being denied access to a legal medical procedure that you need only as a result of being raped. Is this restriction based on a religious principle? Here is a quote from Rick Santorum: “And so to embrace her and to love her and to support her and get her through this very difficult time, I’ve always, you know, I believe and I think the right approach is to accept this horribly created — in the sense of rape — but nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life and accept what God has given to you.”

When religious zealots are elected to State and Federal legislature, women's health, including access to contraception and abortion, somehow become the purview of the government; not the woman and her doctor. The restrictions being passed now are the result of theocracy infiltrating our secular government.

Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.
~Robert Heinlein

Reproductive Health

For U.S. woman, 2012 has been a dismal year politically with government representatives attempting to legislate women's health concerns at every opportunity. How? By silencing women, referring to women as livestock, comparing women to caterpillars, introducing over 900 bills to restrict access to legal reproductive healthcare, and, most recently, by finding female anatomical terms obscene!

Infamously on February 16, 2012, the Congressional Oversight Committee held a hearing regarding birth control — without ONE women being called to testify.

On March 29, 2012 the Georgia legislature passed the “Women As Livestock" bill (HB 954); it was signed into law by Governor Deal on May 1, 2012 and took effect that same day. This bill criminalizes abortions after 20 weeks, with no allowances made for rape or incest. During a floor discussions while in session, Terry England (R-Auburn) compared women to cows, pigs, and chickens. Skeptical that someone would say this on the record? Here is the video.

While trying explain that the “War on Woman” is fiction, the Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus made an analogy about the “War on Caterpillars” being equally real. He must not watch the news, be on the Internet, or have any type of connection to the daily happenings surrounding him. The Guttmacher Institute has this to say about Laws Affecting Reproductive Health and Rights: Trends in the First Quarter of 2012: 

  1. 76 abortion restrictions have been approved by at last one legislative chamber; 9 have been enacted.           
  2. Legislators have introduced 944 provisions related to reproductive health and  rights; 472 would restrict abortion.          
  3. This legislation includes ultrasound requirements (state sponsored rape), medication abortion limitations, gestational limits, and refusal to provide contraception coverage.

Can you say vagina? Not in the Michigan legislature — not even when you are discussing women's health! Lisa Brown was banned from the House floor by Republican leaders merely for uttering this word in their presence. The GOP-led house worked feverishly to explain away their banishment of two female representatives. According to them, the word “vagina” is vulgar, even when talking about women's health care.

If this is not war, what is? Do we have to wait until abortions are illegal to wake up and see that there is a war over the control of female bodies?

Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me. But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They all want to control women. They want to control how we dress. They want to control how we act. They even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and our own bodies. Yes, it is hard to believe but even here at home we have to stand up for women’s rights and we have to reject efforts to marginalize any one of us, because America has to set an example for the entire world.
~Hillary Clinton

Smell the Theocracy

In each example we've presented, the root assumption is nonscientific, religious-based judgment. In each example, women's choices about their own bodies are being limited by the government. In each example, a religious viewpoint is using OUR government to attempt to control, subjugate and diminish women in society.

Much if not all of the legislation fueling this War on Women is based on religious belief. In what should be a secular nation, laws based on religious doctrine and ecumenical chauvinism drive the USA ever closer to theocracy. The right of every woman to be sovereign over her own body is essential for the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness to which every woman has a right.

Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?
~Sandra Day O'Connor

Kim Rippere, President
Secular Woman

Her•Story: Ayaan Hirsi Ali

I would like to be judged on the validity of my arguments, not as a victim.~ Ayaan Hirsi Ali


     On November 2, 2004, Theo van Gogh was riding his bicycle to work in Amsterdam when he was shot multiple times by Muhammad Bouyeri. Van Gogh’s murderer further mutilated his body, attempting to sever his head before using a knife to pin a letter to his body. The letter made threats to many groups such as Jews and Western countries, but it also made a very specific threat to the life of one person. That person was Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

     Ayaan Hirsi Magan Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. She would move many times in her childhood, with her family eventually settling in Kenya. The common thread in all the places she lived was the dominating presence of Islam, and her upbringing was full of superstition. Her grandmother told her stories of men who could transform into hyenas. She was warned against making too much noise for fear she would awaken djinns. She was taught to be mistrustful, particularly of men. When her little brother Mahad asked her to look at something and then pushed her into a latrine, he was not punished. Instead Ayaan was punished for not sufficiently protecting herself. Perhaps most horrifyingly, she was subjected to female genital mutilation at the age of five, a torturous excision of her clitoris and inner labia conducted with scissors, in an effort to keep her sexually pure. Numerous people had the right to beat her.

     In 1992, Ali fled to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage. She began working as a Somali translator. During this work, she was exposed to many women who had been abused by their husbands. These women never fought back or pressed charges because such actions were forbidden by their religion. Ali was struck by the difference between refugee women and Dutch women. It wasn’t that Dutch women were never abused. It was that when Dutch women were abused, their community didn't blame the women, or tell them that they deserved to be hit because they were not obeying their husbands properly. The Dutch social services would naively ask abused refugee women if their families could help, not understanding that their religion dictated that families side with their male abusers. Ali tried, and failed, to find answers in the Quran. In her book Infidel, she notes that, “You must obey your husband if you are Muslim.  If you refuse your husband and he rapes you, that is your fault. Allah says husbands should beat their wives if they misbehave; it’s in the Quran.”

     The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 caused her further doubts. Though her colleagues, fueled by sympathy, rushed to assure her that they didn’t feel Islam played a role in the attacks, she felt differently. Reading The Atheist Manifesto was the final nail in the coffin. In 2002, Ali became an atheist. She described the process and the enormous relief it brought her in Infidel, writing, God, Satan, angels: these were all figments of human imagination. From now on I could step firmly on the ground that was under my feet and navigate based on my own reason and self-respect.”

     In 2004, she wrote the screenplay for Theo van Gogh’s short film Submission. The film portrays the various abuses of Muslim women, accompanied by the verses of the Quran used to justify these abuses written on the main actress’s skin. This film so enraged religious fundamentalists that it led to murder of the movie’s director and threats to the Ali’s life. Undeterred by the many threats against her life, Ali has gone on to found the AHA Foundation, which works to end forced marriage, genital mutilation, honor violence, and Sharia law.

     Secular Woman commends Ayaan Hirsi Ali. By speaking her mind about her secular beliefs in the face of terrifying threats meant to silence her, we feel she embodies our mission and values.

     Ayaan Hirsi Ali currently lives in the United States with her husband and son.

Laura Brady, Outreach Committee Member