Liveblogging the Women in Secularism Conference IV

3:30 Susan says that atheists were also hidden from the feminist movement. The audience asks why women try to rewrite the bible and koran?

Wafa: Because the Koran doesn’t serve us. She asks why atheist groups and liberals are not responsive to her message

Susan says it is a confusion of multiculturalist liberals with atheists.

Wafa wants to know why she hasn’t been invited to important things like this before. And Susan says because they don’t have women generally.

Greta advises everyone to continue call out misogyny. As frustrating as every internet blowup over reasonable. It’s blowing up differently now than a year ago, there are more men on our side. It used to be more divided. Bloggers get emails all the time from people saying you changed my mind about feminism. As frustrating as the fights are, every time they happen we move forward and hang in there.

How do you respond to feminists who say that reaching to women in muslim countries is cultural imperialism?

Lady next to me: This is bullshit, I don’t know feminists who say that
Jamila in the back: This doesn’t happen to men

Liz: You hear it in sociology and anthropology all the time. We don’t want to have Western influence on them. Fair enough if they don’t want it, but most of these countries often wanted to have the tennis shoes and the watches and learn things and I don’t think it’s our right to say no. And I think this idea, I think it’s great to embrace the beauty of various cultures, the artwork, the writing, the poetry, it’s lovely, but lets not deny people education and the right to choose their life. To me it is incredibly arrogant to make the assumption that these women that are oppressed horribly if given the opportunity would not want it. I’m going to stop before I get outraged.

Greta: It’s so intolerant to impose our view, tell that to the girl who had their clitoris cut off, who are being stoned to death for the crime of being raped, who had acid thrown in their face. Tell that to them and then FUCK YOU


Wafa: Nothing left for me to say. Having a military base in Saudi Arabia isn’t imperialism but opening a school is??? If you can invade a country how can you not open schools. We need more schools no more army bases!

Susan: We are out of time, we’ve been told this has to end on time.

3:18 Susan says she doesn’t understand pushing we can be good without god because she wants the religious to prove that they can be good with god.

Why do the religious get more credit when we’re at the forefront of social movements? How do we work with them?

Greta: The queer movement has aligned itself with religion and is distancing themselves from the secular. They see atheists as toxics. Feminists as well. If we make ourselves a powerhouse movement so they want to be with us. We can organize online in a heartbeat. It’s going to be a long game. The more that we overcome the stigma and do visibility, and that’s what happened with the LGBT movement. Initially other social change movements didn’t want to be associated with them, but they overcame the stigma, and others wanted to be allied with them

Liz: Rising from the Rails. In this book, about the rise about the black middle class. The atheist movement has always been in the black community and yet there was a conscious decision that was made as unions were being built up and blacks were rising into the middle class and finding a place in society, there was a conscious decision not to align with atheist. At the time there was also communism and socialism. I’m wondering, and I really recommend this book, do you think that has something to do with being an ostracized group that you don’t need to add one more bit of ostracism. Being gay, black, and an atheist is the triple threat. Sorry, nobody likes you.

Greta: I think that’s a lot of it, unwillingness to be doubley or tripley stigmatized. And in the US religion is mainstream and patriotic, as the LGBT became more mainstream, it allied with the mainstream and religion. Not wanting the double stigma, wanting to be mainstream. The solution is visibility, we are also part of America, we are also patriotic, and we are globally patriotic. and we’re a powerhouse and you want to get 20k people writing angry emails to somebody, get the atheists on your side.

3:10 Susan had to lie about getting married so she could get birth control when it came on the market when she was 18. Young people take this stuff for granted. Also assumptions that Islam is one way but *our* religions are different. It shows you how fragile these gains can be. Islam is younger than Christianity and Judaism, it hasn’t gone through reform yet.

Lady next to me: We need the ERA!

Wafa makes a point that the US is massively better.

Greta: Contraceptive rights are huge, I also think a great way to reach them is gay rights. Straight young people are very passionate about. And the religious right is too. That’s a real hook.
(This is how I came to the atheist movement myself)

Here’s a statement from the audience: secularism does not provide clear guidance on moral principals, women rely on religion to provide morality.


Wafa: I have never found a trace of morality in my own religion


Greta: Religion tends to be behind the curve on moral development. Secular ideas come first and then religion catches up and tries to catch up. Human beings have morality, we’re social animals, we evolved with moral instincts. Largely secular societies they’re doing better

Annie: The idea that morality comes from supernatural realm is I think immoral. Morality is based on consequences, do they harm, religion is about whether you offend god. How is that morality? Maybe it’s about women being brainwashed.

Liz wants the person to wrote it to stand up. Promises to be human. Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature is recommended.

Liz: One of the reasons I didn’t believe because I read the children’s bible and was very confused by it and would ask if it was satan that drowned everybody, that was god. That worried me. A similar story was told when my dog died, and I was told that animals didn’t go to heaven because they didn’t have a soul. Why would I want to go to heaven if there weren’t animals that I loved? Why would I want to go there? My brother’s suffering as a hemophiliac, who died of AIDS having contracted it through a transfusion, someone told me that people like my brother are put here to remind others how lucky they are.

3:02 Susan says even in secular Scandinavia, there’s still a gap between men and women. Mentions what she said earlier about Ayn Randians saying that there wasn’t any need for social support. I will mention what I said earlier and say oh Ron Paul People.

What do you think we can do? How do we reach out to the young?

Wafa: My situation is a little different, we need to educate women in the Islamic culture. Their situation is very dire, and I believe Western women need to reach out to those women. I have a liberal friend in Syria whose daughter wears a hijab because she decided she’d have a better chance of finding a husband. A woman in Cairo with a master’s degree and she is covered from head to toe. she said “I consider myself a whore because they forced me to sleep with a man not of my choice and for three years I didn’t have children and so I hope this reason will be enough for him to divorce me.” Reach out for those women.

Greta: Support the SSA. There’s a perception of the atheist movement as fuddy duddys. The student group is amazing and it’s growing and it’s much more gender balanced and they are much less stupid about feminism. When I give talks about diversity, they are already onboard. Local groups make bridges with the SSA groups. There is a problem when students graduate, they leave the movement. Students who are already working in cooperation with their local groups are more likely to stay in the movement.

Annie: It’s very vibrant and SSA. Also one of the things FFRF has done is very modest student essay competition. High schools seniors, college, and grad students. It’s not that much but consider how many religious scholarships are out there. We need to do more.

Jen makes a good point on twitter that Liz is presenting hypotheses as known facts when it comes to evolutionary psychology and such.

Liz: Support the CFI on campus and Debbie Goddard is fantastic. Or best allies are the religious wingnuts trying to take away rights, and this is a men’s issue as well, we’re talking about jumping into a couple’s bedroom. That issue strikes a chord with almost everybody and there’s nothing like a good movement, a good something to fight for that will galvanize people. You have to be passionate to devote time and energy and give up your weekends to come to conferences and give talks. We have to ignite this passion in young people and remind them what is at risk. For women in particular, taking away bodily rights takes away the ability to have a full role in society. We have to remind young women what’s happening.

Liz cont’d: young women didn’t have the experience of knowing that you’ll never succeed beyond secretary. That’s what’s happening.

2:50 How much does the realization that everything is very fragile when you reproduce have to do with mothers becoming more religious

Greta: My question is the breakdown of society. I’d like to see how the stats break down in other countries, here it’s male 70:30 on religion, I wonder in Scandinavia if there is still a tendency to a gender difference. Is it culture or is there some legitimate tendency for women?

Liz: I have a paper! Jessica Collette and Lazardo study. Power control theory of gender and religiosity. One of the things they found was that when women were raised in patriarchal families, those women tended to be much more likely to become religious as adults. In egalitarian households, women’s difference from men in religiosity is gone. It’s difficult to get published academically if you’re critical of religion. We’re starting to find those answers, and there’s a large environmental factor

(it seems to me that this is a long way of saying it’s strongly if not exclusively cultural)

Greta: If that’s the case, one of the things we can do is work towards a more egalitarian society! I think the social services and networks are important for secularist to provide, but it’s not enough for us to provide a side network, we need to be advocating for the country to change.

Annie: It’s a public problem, we should each have to be little individual charities. It’s a band-aid solution. We shouldn’t have to be doing these charities. People who are told they must be subservient are going to be more religious.

2:42 And Susan steps in with my complaint, saying that churches are the primary provider of services that people need. Community and usefulness and support is not a negligible benefit. How can secular communities provide more of this, we could, but we are not right now! Big applause.

Liz: the one thing the secular community can’t replace is family and when people come out they often lose their families and their friends. Back to the difference between men and women, in the cost of reproduction. Women have a huge cost in raising a child that men do not have necessarily. When a woman loses her family, loses her social support, the risk of her child dying goes up. And there’s data behind this and it’s always been true. Women will sacrifice everything for their children, the secular community can’t replace their family and that cost. We can educate and address that. When a woman has a child, even if they don’t go to church, they will go back to religion once they have children.

Annie: The black church may be its own creature. I don’t think most churches offer free daycare. I think we’re overstating what churches are doing.
(the only daycare I know of in Columbia, SC is in churches. All of it. Some of which charges, I don’t think they’re generally free.) She doesn’t think women go to church to get stuff but to give to it.

Wafa: Hamas was elected by the majority of Palestinians to rule the west bank. The main reason was because they had money to provide social services. As long as Islamists control food and social services they will take over. I am afraid for Syria because I believe if the dictator leaves, Islam will take over because they are more ready to play the game with survival.

2:35 Susan asks about the differences in extremes of women in Afghanistan versus moderate Judaism. What are the benefits that women get from the most repressive religion?

Annie: they don’t get killed

Liz: Hunter gatherer tribes are very egalitarian. Agriculture led to property, and men through physical strength could control property and this is when women and children became property. The benefit was to eat and survive and have children. Their men then protected them from other men.

Wafa: the benefit of being raised in Islamic culture was that she was able to sense the difference between the two sides of the world. She doesn’t take her freedom for granted. She was taught that she was a crooked creature like the rib she was created from. Being here without her husband by her side is a big adventure.

Greta: Why is society religious at all? Once you grant society is religious, the answer to what women get out of it is easy, women get to participate in society. Why are men leaving faster than women it’s easier. Men have privilege, it’s easier to take on stigma and put yourself out on the edges, you still have a lot of other privilege going for you. If you already have the stigma of being poor, a person of color, a woman, gay, it’s difficult.

Annie: I wasn’t being totally facetious when I said don’t get killed, because that is the threat that hangs over the head of the apostate, especially if they’re a woman. 1 million women killed for being a witch, I don’t know if that’s in our genetic memory. Women have certainly been socialized into thinking this is what it is too be good, but women have more power than they think if they would get rid of religion. The benefits of religion to women, in my mind, are very negligible. There are social outlets elsewhere.

Religion is used to keep people inline, but I think she’s missing the fact that churches provide things that maybe “religion” itself doesn’t.

2:25 Wafa asks us to excuse any difficulties in understanding her as not her heavy accent but on jetlag. She tells the story of telling and an imam to shut up and crowd loves it.

The woman to my left keeps talking back to the people talking on the panel. It’s weird. Lots of “no ways” or “that’s horribles”. To my right is elbows.

The more religious people are, the less creative they can be. This explains the stagnant situation in the Islamic world. This is why it’s crucial for women to break through from religion so they can be more creative and productive. A few people stood to clap. Including talky lady to my left.

2:21 The crowd is filling up. There are a lot more people sitting up front now. I’m actually sitting next filled seats on all sides. Scary.

Elizabeth is still talking about providing social safety nets. Enthusiastic applause and to Greta.

Why are women so religious? This is an important question. Women are more likely to be religious than men. One of the things we need to look at is that religious in the US is seen as women’s work. The leaders are men, but on a day to day basis, that’s women’s job. Women are supposed to be the civilizing force. And bringing up children and teaching them morals.

For women to not be religious, it doesn’t just mean defying religious expectations it means you are a gender outlaw. While this room is comfortable with that (hand up) it’s difficult or impossible for women to do that. It isn’t always safe. Many have to stay within social norms, both in terms of religion and gender expectations. Greta thinks we need to liberate women from the equation of being religious means being female.

2:16 Elizabeth says she comes at this from an evolutionary point of view. We should be asking what religion provides minorities and women that outweighs the oppression. This isn’t a cabal of men to oppress women, or whites to oppress minorities, this is something that’s happened over human evolution, some is genetics, some is environment. Genetics don’t happen in a vacuum, social environments do not fall from the sky, the two interact in complex ways. It’s not nature vs nurture it’s nature AND nurture.

When we offer those benefits, they won’t need religion anymore. You see it in countries with strong social nets, like in Scandinavia. They aren’t better because they’re atheists, they’re atheists because they are better. AMEN.

2:11 Annie is talking about funding abortions through charity.

Ophelia Benson is also liveblogging.

2:02 Left to right Susan Jacoby, Wafa Sultan, Greta Christina, Annie Laurie Gaylor, and Elizabeth Cornwell.


In other news, I’m having a horrific allergic reaction to some sort of perfume or air freshener or something in this room.

1:57 Lunch is over, people are trickling in, the room is still surprisingly empty.  Afternoon is starting with a panel.

Liveblogging the Women in Secularism Conference IV
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One thought on “Liveblogging the Women in Secularism Conference IV

  1. 1

    The reason we don’t hear all the time about sexual harassment in the religious workplace is the same reason we don’t hear about it in the secular workplace. Concerns of those victimized are ‘trivialized.’ People who experience sexual harassment are afraid of being disbelieved and their allegations dismissed as “totally false.” In an employment context, women are afraid, and rightly so, of the power of those men whom they accuse of sexual harassment because by definition sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination and it occurs because women so often have less power in the workplace. Women are afraid if they complain they will be out the door in the next round of job cuts. Yes, that’s illegal too, but very few women can afford to get themselves a lawyer and fight it.

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