[#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

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