Encouraging Women to Own It: 2015’s Atheist of the Year & a Grief Expert

Heina looking excited about the Memphis airport welcome sign
The Memphis airport had a greeting sign for us!

Earlier this month, I attended my first-ever American Atheists Convention in Memphis, TN. It was quite a fruitful weekend through and through. I got to meet, get to know, and/or reconnect with dozens of people. Of the latter group, I had two interactions that reminded me of just how important it is to boost confidence in women,

I hardly mean this in some cliche, simplistic, capitalist-feminist ladder-kicking lean-in sort of way. It’s a lot more meta and much more data-based than that. My strategy was to remind women that men in similar or even lesser-accomplished positions than theirs are, on average, much more assured about it than they are.

Jack from 30 Rock stroking a sick Liz's back with a broom and saying
#gpoy me trying to comfort someone

The first day of the convention, Thursday, was dedicated to workshops and meetings. James Croft and I gave a workshop on intersectionality and atheism that was quite well-attended and a joy to give, not in the least because we encountered far less resistance to our premise than we had dreaded (that, apparently, was going to show up later on JT Eberhard’s blog). Among the presenters for the final workshop session that day was Rebecca Hensler, founder of Grief Beyond Belief. Before the workshop began, I told her that, as I am the worst at giving comfort to people without the aid of religious notions, I had come to consult with a grief expert. She laughed and said that she was no expert. I half-joked back that most of the men on speaker roster that weekend probably considered themselves to have expertise, if not actual experts, in whatever they were invited to speak about.

Though it began with tongue planted firmly in cheek, our exchange ended up haunting me all weekend. I couldn’t stop thinking about the confidence gap. I was reminded of how, at the 2013 Sacramento Freethought Day, I had been shocked to learn that you could ask to speak at events. I recalled my own personal strategy for job advancement, inspired by the HP internal report about how men vs. women apply to jobs.

One of the highlights of the convention for me was seeing my friend and fellow Abrahamic-religion apostate Vyckie Garrison of No Longer Quivering win Atheist of the Year, which is quite the honor. After the dinner, Vyckie sat next to me with the award in her lap and an ever-so-slightly stunned look on her face. She started saying something about how she needed to go back to her room to re-write her speech so that it would better suit the Atheist of the Year.

Vyckie Garrison on the speaker podium at AA Con 2015
Vyckie giving her speech [via her Facebook page]
At first, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but then, I remembered: Confidence gap. I looked at her and said, “Vyckie, you are already Atheist of the Year, so whatever you have to say tomorrow is automatically Atheist of the Year material.” I reminded her that she won Atheist of the Year for what she had already accomplished, for the speeches she had already made, rather than as some sort of aspirational goal. Something I said got through to her, and she came out and celebrated with us at a local bar instead of fussing over her speech — which, of course, went awesomely the next day.

Implicit encouragement is one thing, and a needed one at that. However, I’m taking it upon myself to encourage the incredible women I know and admire to own their accomplishments. It’s quite simple, when you get down to it: The founder of the premier org for secular grieving gets to be a grief expert, and the Atheist of the Year gets to give a speech that befits the Atheist of the Year — socialized expectations of female humility be damned.

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Encouraging Women to Own It: 2015’s Atheist of the Year & a Grief Expert
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