Ensuring Women Remain Part of the Secular Movement

Having your consciousness raised is interesting. It’s a strange sensation, seeing the scenes that previously wouldn’t have caused a single eyelash to step up to the plate, spit on its hands, and prepare to bat. Then it’s pointed out to you that something’s wrong with the picture, and your eyelashes resemble the batter’s cage at a baseball stadium during spring training. I don’t think you ever really get used to it. And good thing, too, because we have a lot of scenes that should cause some consternation.

What is seen... cannot be unseen


Earlier this year, Secular Woman compiled the number of women and men working for 15 secular organizations in a staff or board capacity. We found that staff were comprised of 46% women and 54% men while the boards were 31% women and 69% men. The leaders of these organizations were 29% women and 71% men. In every capacity men outnumber women, particularly when it comes to positions of power and leadership (i.e. boards and heads of organizations).

Pre-consciousness raising, I’d have shrugged those numbers off. The culture around me had taught me two things: women can do anything they set their minds to, and women are awful. Ergo, lack of women at the top wasn’t anything to worry about: more of them could’ve gotten there if they weren’t so horrible. Or busy chasing hair, clothes, boys and babies. Or whatever it is feminine chicks do. I dunno, cuz I’m a tomboy, so I’m not one of those no good, terrible, awful, very bad women.

Then some folks pointed out to me that no, women aren’t actually aren’t horrible and awful at all, and rumors of equality have been greatly exaggerated. It took time and repetition and lots of people I trusted saying it before it sank in, but it eventually did. And so, these days, when I look at numbers like the above, my eyebrows knit, my eyes narrow, and my eyelashes pick up a Louisville Slugger.

I don’t talk about it as often as I should. For one thing, there are strong women and men on this network (listed in here) who say these things better than I. For another, I get buried in geology research, and it’s easier just to throw up a UFD or other such mystery. But that doesn’t mean I don’t read, and consider, and apply my eyeballs to the world around me, and notice the ten billion and one ways in which it’s still rather wretched to women, transgender folk, people of color, gays and lesbians and bisexuals and other such queer folk, and others who don’t fit the rather narrow conception society had of the ideal human (straight, white, male, Western, and Christian). It’s budged a bit, now that we uppity minorities came along with our Louisville Slugger-equipped eyelashes and started glaring meaningfully at the status quo. But really, we’ve only just begun to glare.

One of the results of all that meaningful glaring has been this Secular Woman piece: Opportunity and Access in the Freethought Movement. There is an unflinching look at why women may choose to give the freethought movement a miss, and a study or two, and then some solid suggestions. Not all of them will be ones organizations will wish to implement. But they’re the kinds of things that organizations should consider doing if they are serious about ensuring women remain within the secular and freethought movements.

Aside from that very vocal contingent that thinks hurling abuse at women is the height of sophisticated discourse, this movement has made strides. It’s not a solid sea of older white male faces out there writing popular blogs and speaking and leading. I’m seeing women and color, a rainbow of ages and sexualities, and eventually I’m sure we’ll have an even broader spectrum, with more visibility for people with disabilities. But this won’t happen if we declare our work finished, if we shut up and sit down, if we don’t keep pushing for a better and more diverse secular movement. Or should I say, movements? There are many movements that share some core goals and differ on others. That’s how it should be. We don’t need a monolithic movement. The world is too fucked up, and too many of us have too many different perspectives to offer, for that. But we do need all those various movements to work hard to ensure women and people of color and LGBTQ folk and all of that diversity doesn’t get disregarded, disrespected, and discarded.

We’re freethinkers, for fuck’s sake. We’ve been the agents of social change for thousands of years. We can’t fall at the last fence and congratulate ourselves on a job well done. We can’t let our consciousness slide back into torpor. Not now, not ever.

None of this is easy. No one ever said it would be. So, onward.

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Ensuring Women Remain Part of the Secular Movement
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5 thoughts on “Ensuring Women Remain Part of the Secular Movement

  1. rq

    Sorry for the pirate voice. Couldn’t agree more on this post.

    Personally, considering the rapidity with which I opened my eyes (had the opened, that is), I think I was waiting for someone to come along and confirm all the indefinable discomfort I had with the status quo. Not that I was perfect immediately or anything, but I didn’t need a lot of convincing.

  2. 2

    Organized skepticism has to become accommodating to women and other marginalized groups or else it’ll become more and more marginalized as its elderly and middle aged straight white male members die off. Sorry, Lindsay and Grothe, but that’s reality.

  3. 3


    I don’t really participate in “organized” skepticism, but just from lurking on blogs it’s apparent that a large portion of the atheist and skeptic communities (which I had assumed would know better) are in need of consciousness-raising themselves. The more people talk about it, the harder it will be for them to ignore.

  4. 5

    I mentioned to one of my mother’s caregivers that we’d had a visit from a doctor who makes house calls. She asked, “What did he say?” As it happens, the doctor was a woman.

    This is probably going to take a while.

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