The Best of the Cochrane Collaboration

The Cochrane Collaboration is an international group of 28,000 volunteers who sit around organizing research, examining the evidence behind medicine and therapeutic techniques, writing easy to read summaries of their findings, and generally improving the state of information.

And nobody told me about it.

Guys, I’m so disappointed. There I am, at work, hunting down a specific paper and I run across this MASSIVE DATABASE OF EVIDENTIARY REVIEWS, that’s just been sitting there! Waiting for me! And nobody every told me that it was there.

So of course, I got completely sucked into it….for weeks.

Which leaves me with a series of favorite reviews.

Those ‘scared straight’ programs? They’re a horrible idea.

Exercise can have a small effect on some of the symptoms of depression…it’s better than nothing at all, but not by much.

In other frustrating news, we don’t really know how to prevent sex offenders from reoffending.

CBT for people with chronic pain or disability?

Hormonal birth control in overweight women. (BMI based, I know. Sigh.)

Go forth and investigate! (And post the interesting/relevant/surprising ones in the comments. 

The Best of the Cochrane Collaboration

Ashley’s SkepchickCON / CONvergence 2013 Panel Schedule

I’m a little worried — these are all new topics for me to be addressing to a crowd.  But I’m also very excited because British media, YA literature, and mental illness are all things I am deeply passionate about but don’t spend a lot of time here on this blog discussing.  So!  I hope you will be at CONvergence and come see my panels.

Thursday, July 4


 It seems like the villain is British way too much for coincidence. What is it about being British that makes it appealing to have villains British? Panelists: Emma Newman, Ashley Miller, Lee Harris, Emma Bull, Derek Mahr

Friday, July 5


It’s a fantasy novel for atheists! How does that work? Panelists: Ashley Miller, Ruth Berman, Heina Dadabhoy, Sasha Katz, Chris Stenzel


Although much YA literature with female main characters has become best-selling in the last few years, the portrayal of the heroines of these stories is problematic. What are examples of good portrayals, both recent and old. Panelists: Michael Levy, Kathy Sullivan, Joan Sullivan, Jody Wurl, Ashley Miller

Sunday, July 7


 Stigma of Mental Illness 

 Many of the people you know (and some of us!) are mentally ill by the standard medical definition. How do we cope? How can it be that people with mental illness are still happy, productive members of society? Panelists: Emma Newman, Ashley Miller, Kate Johnson, Steve Bentley, Molly Glover

Ashley’s SkepchickCON / CONvergence 2013 Panel Schedule

How Not To Be a Jerk to the Future of Your Movement

(This post could be more accurately titled How Not To Be a Jerk To, Like, Anyone Younger Than You, but the skepto-atheist movement is actually one where we can directly see how young students and activists are making waves. Also, they’re the ones reading this.)

These guys make it possible. (And make funny faces.)
These guys make it possible. (And make funny faces.)

It’s no secret that the secular movement has grown into a movement full of students, enthusiastic young people who go and do and write and organize cool conferences. SkepTech, Skepticon, Secular Student Alliance anyone?.

And that means young people are watching what the secular movers and shakers are saying. They’re blogging about it and retweeting and memeing and quoting. These, secular leaders, are the future of your movement. They’re listening to you.

And honestly, we’re a little tired of being the punchline.

At Women in Secularism last weekend, one speaker described young activists as annoying. Of course, being annoying get things done, she clarified, over the laughter of the room. But you have to grow up to have perspective, she continued, and went on with her message. From my perspective in the fourth row, watching two-thirds of the room agree that my demographic was annoying and nearsighted didn’t exactly have me leaping to volunteer my time.

“You’re so young for an activist!” Look, this one doesn’t even make any sense at all. Students have always been integral to activist movements. If it would be weird (though more accurate) to tell you “but you’re so old to be interested in social movements!” then I’d strongly suggest avoiding the reverse. Besides, what does one say in response? Why yes, I am young! Thank you for noticing!

Watch your language. The Secular Student Alliance has all my love for getting this one consistently right. Student activists, young activists, teens….all great! Kids? Less so. For one, it’s simply less descriptive: kids doesn’t tell you what someone is doing as much as it conveys tousled hair and sneakers. Unless your subject is under say, 13, you’re picking a word that’s both inaccurate and dismissive.

Don’t qualify our achievements with our age.  This part is complicated, because sometimes, it negates part of the previous. Say someone blogs or does activisty things as a result of their studenthood, or for a student organization (Like the MU SASHA Blog!). Congratulations–you’re completely correct in calling them a student blogger. However, if someone does activism whilst simultaneously happening to be a student…not so much. Go for “blogger and student”. And ask yourself why you need to point out their studenthood in the first place. After all, both my co-blogger Ashley and #FtBully Ian Cromwell are students. Would you describe them as student bloggers? Why not? Why do you need to point out the student part for young collegiate or high school students, but not graduate students? Why is it relevant to their blogging? [CFI On Campus has been great about this.]

A word on facebook friending those same young activists:

Facebook is wonderful, and social media has been a huge asset to this movement. And, speaking from experience, it’s just exciting to friend and be followed by those people whose writing you’ve read, whose speeches you’ve followed on YouTube. And it’s horrifying to watch those people you’ve looked up to for long stop by your status to tell you that you just don’t get it yet. To wait five years–you’ll understand better.

For many of us, this was the first thing we got involved in, the first time we felt part of a movement bigger than ourselves, like we could make a difference and change the world. I bet you felt like that too. And I bet you heard it was silly, that you didn’t get it, that the world didn’t work that way.

So, if you find yourself considering telling that young whippersnapper about how you remember that time in your life, and really, they’ll know better later, I encourage you to continue to harken back to your teenagerhood. Can you recall, also, exactly how helpful it was for everyone older than you to inform you how little understood about the ways of the world?

Yeah, me either.

Shoutout to Chicago Skeptics, a group that responded wonderfully to suggestions and has been bringing in new and young speakers, noted when locations were age-restricted, supported the ventures of secular groups at universities, and generally have been my favorite way to get involved in the secular community. 

How Not To Be a Jerk to the Future of Your Movement

[Monday Miscellany] Accessibility, Mental Health, and Atheist Churches?

It’s Monday, and I don’t have work! I’m celebrating by refusing to get out of bed.

Chris Hofstader wrote about his experience as a blind man at Women in Secularism. This community has quite a ways to go in providing accessibility for all.

I cannot blame the conference coordinators for the behavior of the attendees but this was also a downright surreal experience for both me and my blind friend. Lots of people approached us but, with very few exceptions, they talked to our dogs and not to us humans. A lot of people asked our dog’s names but not ours. Those who actually engaged us in conversation talked only about dogs. I don’t like telling people that I’m smart or whatever but my friend graduated from Princeton, works for the government in software accessibility, has been involved in feminism for a long time, is a humanist/atheist and would have all sorts of interesting things to talk to people at a secularism conference about if they showed any curiosity. This did not happen with anyone at the QED conference in the UK. Maybe the british public education system does a better job of teaching people about diversity in general or disability in specific, I don’t know but I felt like a dog walking bot and not a human at WiS.

Hayley Stevens, though not at WiS, also has some thoughts.

Want to make your event more accessible? Cornell University has a handy checklist.
You can also listen to SB Morgaine’s talk from SSACon 2012 about making your events better.
Want your website to be less suck? Check to make sure that it is compatible with screen readers. I use this open source one. Download the reader, open your page, and see if it can read the text. Also, commenter chippanfire has this excellent remark. 

This is a new periodic table song. It’s stuck in my head. Send help.

Old, but sadly necessary:  stop hitting on the waitress.

See that cute person behind the counter who smiles at you every day as you buy your (lottery ticket/breakfast/liquor/condoms/razors/newspaper/coffee)?

That person HAS to be there and HAS to be nice to you.  It doesn’t mean anything.  You don’t have a deeper connection.  Your daily transactions are not meaningful.

Fortunately, there is a way to show your appreciation for the person who brings you your meal or fixes your drink.  It’s called tipping.  And there is a word for entitled customers who try to use the inherent power imbalance to bully customer service people into unwanted personal interactions, and that word is “douchebag.”

Ally writes about church.

A few people have asked for my feels about the very existence of an atheist church, whether it’s viable, valuable, or even possible. But despite my skepticism, there is a piece of me that really wants this to catch on, and it doesn’t have much basis in rationality or cost-benefit analysis. Granted, I have a problem with the kind of logic that argues that emotion necessarily negates rational thought. I won’t go there now, but I know the desire to cheer them on is coming from a part of me that only seems to show its face when I drink.

For anyone who doesn’t know me outside the skeptic blogosphere, I’m a social dancer, mostly swing and blues. This hobby/sport/art form attracts every brand of human being, from well-mannered seminarians to radical secular humanists like me. There are dancers who claim that you don’t need to drink to enjoy it, but I’m here to tell you that that’s only half true. Sometimes, after a night of dance scene drama, beer has a way of holding the community together.

So after a long night of dance, my good dance friends and I end up at a little local place, and one of my secular dance friends mentioned the Sunday Assembly. We discussed our respective religious backgrounds, casually and anecdotally at first, but I felt a familiar emptiness that usually accompanies stories about my seven years as a wannabe Presbyterian. Before I could stop myself, I said it.

“I miss church, too.”

Wait. Shit. What?

Small things you can do to improve mental health in your community. I’d also add respecting any and all boundaries. If someone tells you they can’t go out tonight, or that they just really don’t like hugs or loud noises or spontaneous activities, respect that. Do not push, do not force.  Treat them as normal people who’ve done the equivalent of ask for chocolate instead of vanilla ice cream, not four headed monsters who DON’T LIKE PARTIES HOW COULD YOU NOT LIKE GOING TO A PARTY.

[Monday Miscellany] Accessibility, Mental Health, and Atheist Churches?

[Archive] Why Atheism Inspires Me to Seek Social Justice

Today, a repost. Last year, Ian Cromwell started a series asking atheists at large to contribute what being an atheist has done to improve their lives. Though I was not raised in a particularly religious fashion—a progressive take on Catholicism, followed by the epitome of spiritual-but-not-religious—my involvement in the secular movement and active identification as an atheist and a skeptic have enriched my experience. The piece has been slightly edited to correct for last year’s enthusiasm for awkwardly constructed sentences. 

[Piece originally appeared at The Heresy Club]

I have but this one short life. Though it would be nice to plan to live to a ripe and grouchy old age, it could end tomorrow. Or next Tuesday. Life has this terrible habit of behaving unpredictably, you know.

Though I am extraordinarily clumsy, I will likely, as do the vast majority of people, fade out of existence quietly. Five, ten, fifty years from then, I will have become nothing but curled pictures and retold retellings of stories.

These are facts, and they are cold. We atheists hear a lot about the chill of disbelief, about what we miss without a sense of the supernatural, the oceans of unseen, unmeasured universe we just have to have faith in. We are asked if it isn’t just a little bit lonely, to have nothing but ourselves and the neurons between our ears? With so little meaning to our lives, what motivation can we have?

Quite a bit, really.

I’ve but this one life to live. That means when I see homophobia, when I see sexism or littering or injustice in the world, I must act. I must act because now is all that’s guaranteed  But most importantly, I must act because the person who is suffering, like me, only has this moment for themselves. There isn’t any other happy alternate life for them either.

I’ll play devil’s advocate to your Pascal and his wager—in the vast infinity of beliefs, are you willing to let the unhappiness of your fellow human hang in the balance against the existence of a paradise for them in the afterlife?

I believe there is nothing to death but the winking out of one flame against the backdrop of an unending candelabra; I must do all I can in this life.

I have only this time, and if the only contribution I can leave as memory of own my existence is my actions, I must make them count. I must say what I mean. I must tell those I love that I love them now, because tomorrow is uncertain. I must share my happiness, and do what I can to give everyone else an opportunity to leap about in joy.  Sometimes this will come before my homework.

Because I am an atheist, I must act and care and speak and do. And, you know, occasionally shut up and listen.

[Archive] Why Atheism Inspires Me to Seek Social Justice

WiS and Liveblogging Wrap-Up

I’m back! Women in Secularism was excellent. I’m catching up on everything I left alone while I was gone and have a bigger post in the works, so you’ll have to forgive me for the short summary and links.

PROOF: We're not actually the same person.
PROOF: Not actually the same person.


Opening Remarks
Faith-Based Pseudoscience. [Another from Jason]
Amanda Marcotte [Jason]
Rebecca Goldstein [Jason]
Women Leaving Religion
Gender Equality in the Secular Movement
Susan Jacoby [Jason]
How Women’s Concerns Can Best Be Advanced within the Context of a Secular Agenda [Jason]
Jennifer Michael Hecht [Jason]
Maryam Namazie [Jason]
What the Secular Movement Can Learn from Other Social Movements [Jason]
Who Speaks for Feminism?

In Which People Wrote About Those Opening Remarks

If you haven’t actually heard or read the original talk by Ron Lindsay, I strongly suggest you read the transcript first.
…and follow that with Lindsay’s second post, where he responds to calls for examples.
Rebecca responded briefly.
Ron Lindsay…appears to have forgotten that he co-wrote this letter, and writes this.
PZ : People are not pleased. (I particularly appreciate how charitable and even-handed PZ was here–I’d be quaking in my boots right now.)

Digital Cuttlefish has a poem.
Ashley has some thoughts.
So does Amanda Marcotte.
Adam has some remarks.
Secular Woman has a statement.
PZ would like to remind everyone of the excellent work done by CFI’s Michael De Dora. Though I haven’t met Michael, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the interactions I’ve had with CFI staff. In particular, it was wonderful to meet Sarah Kaiser of CFI On Campus.

I want to emphasize that I had fun at WiS and lots of it. The conference was impeccably organized, the people were friendly and positive and gave excellent hugs, and I was happy to be there. I’m mightily sorry that the other employees are dealing with the conflict as a result of Dr. Lindsay’s opening remarks. At the same time, I’m okay with the growing pains and the ways the community has reacted to this. We can do better, and constructive criticism is part of this.

WiS and Liveblogging Wrap-Up

Taking it Personally: Privilege and Women in Secularism

Illustration by Tom Gauld for The Guardian
Illustration by Tom Gauld for The Guardian

There is a tendency for people to take criticism of ideas personally.  It’s true of all people, though I noticed it particularly this weekend at the Women in Secularism conference.  People also have a bad habit of criticizing individuals rather than their ideas.  I do not claim freedom from this tendency, although I do work very hard to try to be clear in that distinction.  I do not like the speech that Ron Lindsay used to open the conference with, but this doesn’t mean that I do not like Ron Lindsay.  I don’t know him, he is quite probably a pretty cool guy generally speaking.

Of course, I am not the only person who took umbrage at his opening speech.  I wasn’t particularly upset by it, I just felt it was wrongheaded as an opening speech for this event in particular and demonstrated poor understanding of the cultural theory behind the terms of “privilege” and the intent of “shut up and listen.”   I think it’s inappropriate to use the opening speech to criticize the conference goals rather than introduce it. I also think that the way he talked about critical theory indicated a lack of familiarity with the scholarship on the subject and the power dynamics at play. At best it was terrible tone deafness which was then exacerbated by his position of power in the organization, his race and gender and socioeconomic status, and the fact that he was giving the opening address not a lecture.

I also agreed with Rebecca Watson that it was particularly bad for these apparent misunderstandings to be delivered by a wealthy white man who was part of the organization in charge of the Women in Secularism conference.  In other words, it was a poorly expressed, poorly timed message delivered by exactly the wrong person for the message.


For stating that, I have been accused of being sexist, of having it out for men, for having it out for Ron Lindsay, of quote-mining, of being dismissive, of shutting down dialogue by calling people names, and just good old “fuck you” and “fuck off” from strangers. I am dogmatic and hateful and trying to tear people down.

Rebecca Watson has also gotten this kind of response, but far more intense, for level-headed criticism of the talk.  In response, Ron Lindsay felt the need to make it about how Rebecca Watson is a Bad Person.  (At least further accusations of quote-mining will be justified by the use of quotes):

Rebecca Watson inhabits an alternate universe.  At least that is the most charitable explanation I can provide for her recent smear.  Watson has posted comments on my opening talk at Women in Secularism 2.  It may be the most intellectually dishonest piece of writing since the last communique issued by North Korea.

Perhaps Watson was too busy tweeting about how “strange” it was to have a “white man” open the conference to pay attention to what I was actually saying

I’m just glad Watson didn’t notify security: “white man loose on stage, white man loose on stage!”

There are also places where it continues to be clear that he doesn’t understand the “shut up and listen” suggestion, but at least those aren’t unnecessary and unprofessional attacks on someone who has criticized something he said.

Now I’d like to offer some advice to Ron Lindsay: Shut up and listen.

  • Shut up because you’re just making this more and more of a PR disaster.
  • Shut up because you’re hurting Melody Hensley and the amazing event she put together.
  • Shut up because if you’re so busy coming up with ways to defend yourself, you’re failing to understand why people are upset.
  • Shut up because it is so very clear that you are not listening.
  • Shut up because you can’t talk and listen at the same time.
  • Listen to what other people in your organization have to say.
  • Listen to what other people in the cause have to say.
  • Listen to women and men who are upset about the opening speech.
  • Listen to criticism of what you said and remember that it’s not about who you are as a person, but the argument that you’ve made.
  • Listen because it’s the right thing to do.

I appreciate that there are those who somehow think that this “shut up and listen” thing means don’t use critical thinking, but it’s actually about defensiveness.  People always take things personally.  When someone says, “You’ve got privilege,” most of us want to yell, “I worked really hard to get what I’ve got.”  And most of us have worked really hard, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t privileged — learning to see the privilege is difficult, and to see it we’ve got to be willing to shut up for a little while and recognize the possibility that there are things that we didn’t know before.  In other words, if you’re not prepared to just listen for a little while, you’re going to spend the entire time trying to prove someone wrong instead of considering the possibility that they may have a point.

Ron Lindsay presents this as a war where either you “believe reason and evidence should ultimately guide our discussions, or you think they should be held hostage to identity politics.”  This negates the possibility that this is a fight between factions who think that reason and evidence point to the necessity of identity politics and those who refuse to listen.

Taking it Personally: Privilege and Women in Secularism

[#wiscfi] Who Speaks for Feminism?

Second to last thing! Elisabeth Cornwell will be speaking about who speaks for feminism. This could be….interesting? I’m not sure where it’s going.



Here we go! Elisabeth is thanking everyone in the CFI staff. They’re pretty freaking great.

Elisabeth learned a great deal this weekend, and talks about how important it is that we can talk about these things and disagree about them in a place free of recrimination. There’s people here that she deeply respects but disagrees with them. Having discussions about it doesn’t change her respect for them.

One of the reasons Elisabeth doesn’t like debates very well is that she likes to take time to process and think about how the opposing side has defended their position. Also important to remember that it’s often true that as you have more and more agreement, can be harder to argue about the details.

The first wave of feminism was about getting the rights that we now consider unthinkable (in the West) to lack. Susan Jacoby reminded us that even old white Repulican males can speak for feminism. Would Robert Ingersoll be welcome at this conference. Would he have been told that because he’s not a woman he can’t be here? [Me: WHAT. One audience member: YES! Rest of audience: NO!!]


Panel on women leaving religion was heartbreaking. We often can’t imagine how it is to worry about losing our lives for our principles. Maryam Namazie doesn’t want our sympathy…she wants our activism. To avoid speaking out because we fear being called racist or Islamaphobic is not okay–we need to speak out. Being polite is not acceptable anymore–if we don’t speak up, we leave that fight to the radical right. We must speak out. We aren’t risking much–risking being called a bigot. Elisabeth has been called worse. After all, we’re called atheists; can it get much worse than that. [Me: er…what?]


Women are often the ones responsible for pulling it all together. (Should have clarified–w/r/t family, etc.)

There’s a cultural shift that has snuck in through pop psych, reality TV, Oprah…the elevation of victimhood. [Me: uh oh] This is often present in Christianity. Prayer as the the most obvious example. Elisabeth wants to scream at people to get off their knees and do something. Of course there are some victims, and that is recognized, and what’s faced by women who are victimized under Islam is not the same as the discomfort of some sexist remark. We, of course, need to keep working on pay gaps, gender equality. We should gain strength from women fighting from oppression abroad.

We need to keep fighting until we have subdued religion to the form of Quakers and Unitarians. Elisabeth loves the UU’s. [Audience light laughter.]

This is where it’s important to know history. Young women and men are often annoying in their pushes and fail to recognize history.  [Me: Wow, this talk makes me feel super welcome.] Good to recognize strengths and weaknesses of mvmts before us. One big failure of previous mvmts is diversity. Groups have had to regroup after. Take civil rights. Atheists and socialists were told to sit down and shut up. Maybe was right decision. Sometimes you have to give things up to make the gains you need. But atheists and socialists have been written out of history. Women too.


Feminism has had their troubles as well–first wave neglected everyone outside upper class white, second wave left out many of same. Hard for women of color to identify with Gloria Steinem.

We must work with other groups–not necessarily ones we agree with w/r/t supernatural.

One place we can step in to work on: battered women. Something churches do–a place for us to get involved as well. Also helping women looking for jobs. It’s not just women who can mentor women, men can mentor women. Elisabeth’s best mentors were often men. Male boss saw inequities helped her at previous job.

Women are particularly good at reading faces! Audience gives dead stare. Elisabeth: My bad–apologizes.

Acceptance and support that Teresa got should be rule.

We began con with white male Republican, Elisabeth wants to end it with one. Does so–I didn’t recognize source, she didn’t say. [Me: I dunno, didn’t go so well when we started with one.

Audience questions:

Are there any dealbreakers?

E: don’t think so. Makes analogy to Israel-Palestine. (Honestly didn’t catch it all, was too flabbergasted.)

Are there any secular feminists who actually make the argument that the opression of Western women is the same as that of women under Islamist rule?

E: Well, I’m not going to say that there are, but I disagree with that argument. Makes argument about how we know they’re different. [Me: Yes, we know. That wasn’t the question. You implied that secular feminists equate the two. Someone is trying to call you on it.]

Slight diversion of story to how women can help other women. Employee of E’s was groped by another staffer who was high money-making. One staffer went to support women. E called groping employee into office. “If you ever go near X staffer at all, I will have your balls on my desk. Don’t think I can’t, I work with cattle.” Elisabeth said don’t you say another word. Not another word. [Audience member: You told him to shut up and listen? Laughter.] She went to boss, said “You’ll have my back on this, right?” He said yes. Elisabeth repeats importance of mentoring people.

Importance of remembering that what one person may be insulted by isn’t what other person will be. Must remember we think differently.

What about rapists or those who threaten rape? [In response to first question]

E: No, absolutely not. [Audience: …wait, but you said there ISN’t a line?] E: No, that is criminal behavior. I thought we were talking about conversations that can be had. We *can* have conversations with these people, but should be with someone trained, like clinical psychologist. On our website, it’s our home. We don’t tolerate bullying, this behavior. We ‘smite’ them. Let’s not conflate criminal behavior discussion with conversations about feminism. Didn’t mean to imply otherwise in answer to first question–if you want to call me on that, you can.

Internet is place where people don’t have to claim who they are. For instance, if in car and someone cuts you off, you might…react with a signal or finger. If someone cuts you off while walking, you see them as a real person and don’t do the same thing. Face to face community is so important. We lose that on the internet. For heaven’s sake, don’t try to be cynical or ironic on the internet. It doesn’t work.

Elisabeth understands where Greta is coming from and doesn’t want to minimize it, but maybe…doesn’t want to use another word liek ignoring…but maybe having a shield of armor so these things can bounce off?

Maybe some people can do it and some can’t. Community as a whole has a right to stand up and say these need to stop.

Question about experience of living in small town with bad discrimination, cannot quit job, is withdrawing from life. What resources?

Elisabeth: hasn’t had experience, etc.

Fucking awesome audience member stands up, says has had similar experience, invites questioner to contact her. [Loud applause]

Elisabeth talks about not considering herself a racist but having learned how she hasn’t been viewing situations as well as she could be.

Ends with something about how white and black people can come together and chat with each other and say we’re black and you’re white and let’s go from here.

Update: comment from Elisabeth Cornwell.

[#wiscfi] Who Speaks for Feminism?

[#wiscfi] Liveblog: How Women’s Concerns Can Best Be Advanced within the Context of a Secular Agenda

Here we go!


Panelists: Soraya Chemaly, Susan Jacoby, Amanda Marcotte, Katha Pollitt

Moderator: Jamila Bey


Jamila: So. Personhood. (She said a longer thing, but I was busy collecting my sanity.)

Amanda: Personhood is the idea of giving a fetus more rights than human beings (because humans can’t feed off of each other to survive right now). This would have had more repercussions than it sounds like–problem of criminalizing miscarriages, still births.

Susan: Also, class issues. Would have prevented in vitro fertilizations–something mainly available to upper class.

Soraya: Paul Ryan said “rape is another method of conception”. Not probably as bad as intended, but what norms does it represent? Reflects the subjugation of women–an approach taken by an entire party that’s well supported in this party. Rape and personhood conversations are connected. These disproportionately affect women who are poor, of color.


Katha: Want to point out that all of those statements didn’t work out so well for the men who said them. But….they haven’t really changed their tune. Democracy is supposed to involve rethinking unpopular strategies….problem of them not being able to just ‘give up’ the bad ideas that lose them support…because religion! Can’t just be “oh well, let’s change course!” Personhood is a religious concept. A fertilized egg doesn’t have anything that you need to be a person. Like feelings, personality…a head! But it has a soul–a religious concept.

Amanda: Also creepy because what does that even mean. Sperm as injecting souls into eggs?

Jamila: Okay, want to talk about the religion part. With respect to equal marriage, we’re seeing some GOP people moving over to more equality. Is that something we’ll see for women too?

Katha: Well, yes, but less so. GOP base is all about anti-abortion. It’s an argument about MURDER, not one of ‘mere perversion’. And let’s remember that not too many have endorsed equal marriage.

Soraya: And let’s remember, marriage is a conservative point/act.


Susan: Tells story–Catholic church against condoms. Priests used to tell people that it was okay to use condoms if holes pricked in them, because while it would still prevent pregnancy a little bit…possibility of conception still there. [Audience: UH SAY WHAT?]

Amanda: In the 70’s, used to have huge debates within fundamentalists about whether or not they even should be in politics. Now, they’re involved deeply as a result of abortion politics. Hard for GOP to change positions on abortion because they could also lose half of voting base.

Soraya: It’s important to remember that men can’t have abortions, but they can get married. [Me: hrmph, trans* men? They also exist.] Ties abortion to ‘just war’ debate. We have this idea that women are supposed to sacrifice, and that innocent souls are deserving of life at all costs. We see fetus being sanctified.


Katha: we should remember that not all religions are anti-abortion! See parts of Judaism, progressive sects of Christianity, etc. The thing you see happening with Beatriz in El Salvador is not something you would see in the most othodox forms of Judaism.

Jamila: give us a line on Beatriz.

Katha: She’s a young woman (not her real name) who is 23 weeks pregnant with an anecephalic baby. (Meaning will not live–no brain) She has kidney disease and lupus and in El Salvador abortions are all illegal. She’s petitioning for an abortion, but the courts are delaying and delaying.


Amanda: You’re hearing stories over and over like this. One of the problems is evangelical Christians gaining ground with believers in South America, and you’re seeing the Catholic church trying to compete with them by being more and more hard line.

Jamila: Let’s talk about other issues that compel American women to vote, and how secularism can get involved with this. Example of Obama signing the Ledbetter Free Pay Act. Brings up economic issues. How can secularism help us plead our case?

Jacoby: There are plenty of (mostly-white) men who are atheists who come from a social Darwinism tradition and worship the market.

Amanda: Women more likely to see importance of social safety net. Religion seen as support system in similar way. Hard to make secular argument in this economic climate.


Susan: Among proselytizing religions, you can see them gaining most ground in poor areas.

Soraya: useful to invert the question that Jamila asked: What does secularism have to gain from a feminist agenda? Example of TV program that said “Mankind. It’s the history of us all.” Nope, it’s not all of us.

Katha: Going back to conversation about why there are more men in atheism/secularism: one answer is that women have a movement already! It’s feminism.


Susan: and that’s why there’s religious feminists. Which there are! Although opponents of feminism called it anti-religious. And I think they were right, that feminism by nature will be against religion. And like progressive religious adapted to Darwin, religious progressives adapted to ideas of feminism.

Soraya: It’s hard without homogenizing people’s experiences, to talk about things that connect us all.

Most ageless denialism is the denialism of women’s humanity. We should focus on all kinds of denialism…including this!

Katha: ( to twitter user who criticized modernization theory) Within the young people, you see much more support for progressive causes. They’re pro-marriage equality, anti-war, pro-abortion (not as pro-abortion as they should be, given how many abortions are had within that demographic!)


Susan: Unsure how we change this structure of old white men who hold power. The struggle for social progress is long, and requires people showing up for it all. And the young don’t often show up to things like midterm elections. Also, issue of the Nones. Sometimes just denotes disinterest in being activists.

Amanda: Idea of using the skeptical side of secularism. If the young want to be apolitical, talk about how this is just the solution based on evidence, rather than a political thing.

Soraya: Talks about the ‘safety gap’. Men and women were asked questions like “How safe do you feel walking alone at night?”

[brain was dead, spaced for a second]

Soraya: We…need to take over the Texas State Board of Education. We’re failing in terms of education. 80% of textbooks are derived from what the BOE does. [Me: YES THIS. It’s because we require Texas Editions. So most textbook manufacturers are based in TX and make one Texas edition, slightly edited for the rest of the country. Easier for them, screws over children.]

Soraya: spent a month trying to only consume conservative media. Set up lunches with people who completely disagreed w/ progressive politics, where they try to convince each other. Many said of her claims about results of personhood amendments “oh, that will never happen!” When provided w/ proof, often backed away from conversation. It matters what information you’re given.

Panelist closing remarks:

Katha: Allying with good causes is ALWAYS good for secularism. We need to do that. And feminism is a good cause.

Soraya: All voices count. We need to pay attention to those around the world. Feminism changes lives, and we need to support one another. The internet is a good way to do that.

Amanda: Advancing your agenda is about having good friends. Feminists are good friends. We get stuff done. Grabbing on to that as a secular movement would be a good idea.

Susan: We have got to become more active. Ignorance is the worst enemy.

[#wiscfi] Liveblog: How Women’s Concerns Can Best Be Advanced within the Context of a Secular Agenda

[#wiscfi] Liveblog: Gender Equality in the Secular Movement

Second panel of the day! I just got here…and left my phone in the hotel. Womp womp.

Also, there’s a whole tub of hummus next to the projector. CAN I HAZ?


On the panel: Stephanie Zvan, Debbie Goddard, Ophelia Benson, Elizabeth Cornwell.

Moderator: Greta Christina

Stephanie introduces herself as perhaps most known for suggesting anti-harassment policies. Audience cheers.

Greta: First question–what does success in terms of gender equality in the secular movement look like? What are you goals?

Stephanie says that it’s more than numbers. When we have gender equality in the movement, we’d have a conference where we didn’t start out with an opening statement encouraging us to not take it too far. Where we can screw up and not have it hanging over our heads for years. Where we can be just as cranky as the men. (Seriously, you could hear a pin drop during this.) ALL THE APPLAUSE.

Ophelia: to not have to start out from a basis of having to argue about whether or not we need gender equality. To have conferences that fold in the parts of this conference because they matter.

Elisabeth: Deferring to Martin Luther King: it’s not just women, it;s all of us. We heard earlier about the struggles of women in religion. It’s not just women who are oppressed by religion, men are oppressed too. (You could hear a pin drop during this, too. Probably for different reasons.)

Debbie: I’ve been asking lots of other people this this weekend. (She asked me! My answer sounded like asd;lkfjsldjfao. It was late! I was tired!) Nobody has answered. Part of the problem is that we don’t have a larger culture that looks like gender equality. So how do we conceptualize it?


Debbie: We have certain kinds of demographics that we do include! Like, when was the last time you heard someone be all “The gays, I dunno about them”? And when people do say that, we shun them. I think success could look like this.

Greta: Debbie was the first person to talk about numbers. How do you think this plays in? Should we be looking for 50/50?


Stephanie: You can’t go after numbers just to solve the problem. I’d still like to see conferences that have speakers representative of the population of the secular or atheist movement. And then we also try to improve that population.

Ophelia: I think numbers are an important metric. I mean, you can’t expect there to be constantly exactly equal gender ratios at everything. That’s irrational. But when you see a big gender gap and you do some digging…then you see hey, there’s things influencing it.

Elisabeth: There’s definitely been a shift. In at least the last ten years, in terms of both women and young people. In terms of race and economic backgrounds, etc. Whether it’s PC or not, we tend to be the ones who take care of family. We are the caretakers. Those are issues we don’t talk about. In the last two years, she’s had more and more people say that we need to do more to take care of women and families. She’s given evo psych talks about why women tend to be more religious. It’s not because they’re less intelligent…it has to do with family.

In places with high governmental support, you see much less religion. We are a volunteer nation in the US, and here, we see churches doing the volunteering.


Debbie….has briefly forgotten the question. Science has been a word that’s been used a lot. We can research things. Our brains are dummmmmmb. Especially in this movement, we like to pretend that we make rational decisions. “My music is OBJECTIVELY better than yours!”

We have a movement here–we’re just not talking about an idealistic world. We want to change the world! The numbers, the faces on our programs, they matter.

Greta: Intersectionality! Let’s talk about it. What about the inclusion of blue collar women, women of color, trans* women. Not a question…but let’s talk about it!


Debbie: talked to Krysti of Humanists of Norway. Tiny country…biggest humanist organization in the world! They provide secular christening and confirmations and stuff! More women involved than men! Humanists in Scotland highly involved in education. (We have Scottish humanists at Teen Skepchick and School of Doubt!)

Ophelia: Loves international humanists–you don’t have to write in a different language. Also, in orgs Debbie mentioned, gov sponsors them in the same way religious orgs get benefits.

Stephanie: Let’s talk about internationality and headscarves. So. Headscarves. Some women want to wear them. And we often like to talk about how women don’t ever “choose” to wear them. We need to talk about it in a way that talks about women’s autonomy. If we want to talk about more than just..walking away from a fundamentalist church, then we need to wrap our heads around talking about that in a way that is nuanced.


Greta: What do you think we have been doing right, that has helped us move towards our goals?

Elisabeth: We have seen improvement, but that’s also something we’re seeing in the general population as well. We’re trying to keep just ahead of that. Has (except for Teresa MacBain) never met atheist woman partnered with religious man. Only the opposite.  It’s, in the greater world, much more accepted for a man to be an atheist.

We need to let women know that they can be rational.

Greta: question repeat


Well, doing what Elisabeth is encouraging can be seen as a “guy thing”. It’s having a “fight with God” (what?). Women are not seen as strong enough, belligerent enough, dedicated enough, pugnacious enough. (Ack, thesauruses!) There is a strong–not necessarily conscious–belief that atheism is more of a guy thing, and less of a girl thing. The more you chip away at these buried ideas, the more you see a diverse audience.

Stephanie: We have made lots of progress. We’re complaining. (laughter) Bernice Sandler gave great talk last year: pointing things out often is the first way to change things. The immediate response isn’t necessarily the result…it’s just what you hear first. Women have been promoting each other. We have women in leadership suggesting other women. And that makes a difference. Being obnoxious about it can be okay–it works! We’re making progress by doing the things we’re told not to do.

Elisabeth: I want to talk about something we’ve done wrong. And it’s something I did. Mentions 4 Horseman DVD. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was invited to participate…and as a result, wasn’t one of the horsemen. Few people know that, but she was supposed to be a horse(…person?)


Debbie: Let’s talk about….The Amazing Meeting. Ignoring last year, for reasons obvious, let’s talk about how they did make a large change after hearing feedback about how there were no women being invited. In the past, we drew mostly from philosophers, professors, best-selling authors. That gives you a very specific pool from which to draw. One of the shifts seen at regional and student cons (as well as national) is that you see more educators, bloggers, activists, organizers.


Greta: We’re talking about something like an “affirmative action” policy. We hear about how that’s ‘lowering standards’. Can you speak to this idea?

Stephanie: [shameless plug] MN Atheists is putting on a conference soon. They almost accidentally ended up with a roster of speakers who were all women. Didn’t quite happen….they had a guy they really wanted. Lots of those people are new speakers. The fact that people are making an effort to get new speakers out there is a big deal. It makes a difference.

Ophelia: If you only invite the stars you know, you get the same soundbites. The problem of the availability bias….people become famous and invited often because they were invited previously. (Me: YAY PSYCHOLOGY)

Elisabeth: Cannot ignore the issue of people relying on Famous Speakers(tm) to provide bodies at cons to pay for cost of cons. It’s a real problem. As the base of people interested gets bigger, you have to have women rising in the ranks too. She’s thankful to the ‘bitches’ who came before her and made her path easier. We have to also be mentors to women.


Debbie: So how do you get more people than the like…twenty women you see at meetings already. You have to reach out. Example of meeting where people say “Well, it’s really sad there weren’t more black students here!” Debbie: “Well, uh, did you reach out to the black students union?” Them: “Er. Well. Uhhh.”

Also, importance of artists! Art is a way to bring people in! See: webcomics. [Me: Debbie is so badass.]

Greta: American Atheists 50th anniversary con had lots of African American participants–far and above most cons. Someone asked Amanda Knief why that was. Her answer “We asked them.” Next question: what are the consequence of not having gender equality?

Stephanie: I’ve lived through them. When you’re not represented well..when you’re one woman in a group of guys and someone comes up and says something like “Hey, here with your boyfriend?” or “Women can’t think.” or “That guy just agreed with you cuz you’re sleeping with him.” And you look around…and there’s nobody else to talk to about the experience. One of the wonderful things about this year has been making those problems visible. Being a part of a large group helps when you run into those (rare) individuals who are jerks based on your gender.  Importance of having people who have your back. Lets you take more risks in voicing your opinion. Get support when you have good ideas! And all of that makes a huge difference. There are a lot of strong women here. But we shouldn’t all have to be that strong. When we get good representation, we’re all that much more supported. And that makes a *big* difference.

Ophelia: Going to be a Debbie Downer. [womp womp]. We’re a python with an undigested meal…on the upward hill of his issue. [analogy say what?!] We still have to be aware that we’re still having to be the face that suffers backlash.

Elisabeth: If we don’t get equality, we lose. We lose, our grandchildren lose, everyone loses.


Debbie: Diversity doesn’t just mean “having more black people show up”. People don’t understand the lived experiences of others. One of the benefits of different people in our movement means learning new things. And this movement LIKES learning new things. We like collected knowledge! Moving to Buffalo meant learning about Canada! [Me: elbows Jason as audience laughed] People teach you new things! And that’s why it’s importance to shut up and listen. [Roaring audience applause.]

Example of listening to Sarah Moglia talking about how she’s harassed when she tables for SSA. Debbie asked lots of questions and learned about experience of tabling in a different body.

Without exposure to diverse perspectives, we’re ignorant.

Audience questions:

How much of gender equality is due to financial inequality? Poverty is often invisible–how do we address it?

Elisabeth: Economic issues are obviously a problem. Childcare is a big issue, something we try to address, but it often takes money. It costs a lot to come to these conferences.
Stephanie: And it’s not just *conference* expenditures. If all of your meetings are big meetings in one place, that’s a problem. Even if it’s a central location. Gas is expensive, y’all. This is why meetup is important. Have to have diversity of events and event locations.

Are women more religious as a result of having a less precarious position in society? More stable societies are less religious?

Stephanie: Yes.

Elisabeth: Social aspect has been long ignored by this movement.

Ophelia: It’s like Stockholm Syndrom [Me: not a fan of this analogy, myself.]

Greta: Should we focus on removing the binary?

Debbie: Yes. Feminism has been a pretty good source of that–we can benefit from following their lead. We need to talk about fuzzy boundaries of boxes.

Stephanie: we talk about the binary lots more when we’re on the defensive. And we do that when we are citing research…and research uses the binary a lot. That’s because they often need to have strict operational definitions.

[#wiscfi] Liveblog: Gender Equality in the Secular Movement