Interview On The Women Without Religion Forum #SSAWeek

Welcome to Hour Eight of the Token Skeptic Sunday Sessions!

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From the Women Without Religion site: These forums are for women not shackled by religion or superstition and those men and women interested in the perspectives of women without religion. Religions are a patriarchy that thrive on misogyny and the subjugation of women, which we actively reject! This forum is about the empowerment and equality of all women, and establishing and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for all women.

For this interview, I spoke to Mandy Truscio of the forums – the Facebook page is run by Annie Geoghegan (who, by all accounts, is also thoroughly awesome).

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Kylie: Firstly, tell me a little about yourself – for example, what do you identify the most with, “atheist”? “freethinker”? “skeptic”? 

Mandy: I am a pretty average person I think. I own a small business, have a family, live a pretty hassle-free life. I am 48, and live in a small country town. And I am really really new to all this! I have been on internet forums before, but never been involved with anything like this from the very beginning. Its very exciting. Which goes to show that the WWR forum is for anybody. I don’t tend to identify as any one thing in particular, though I do feel that my atheism has allowed me to look at things more closely, to not always accept things simply because others do. I like that as an atheist I think my own thoughts, not those of others. Atheism allows me to be open minded.

Kylie: Do you think such labels are important or not?

Mandy: It would be nice to be able to say that labels are not important. That I never use them, and we have moved beyond them. But they are important. We use them to identify with others, we use them to identify others, and we use them to identify ourselves. Often we use them to wrongly identify others. Without our labels, it would be very difficult to connect with like minded others, to identify where we stand in society, especially in this internet age. There is so much available to us, but we need to give ourselves and others a label in order to find what we are looking for. Labels can be helpful, so long as we remember that people are much more than the sum of a label.

Labels can be powerful tools in finding our own identity. To label yourself “atheist”, “freethinker” “skeptic” “feminist” and to be proud of your label can add strength to a social movement, and show others that it’s okay to be different, to stand up for what you believe. It’s when we begin to use them to marginalise and discriminate against others that they become something unsavoury, and best left behind.

Kylie:  What are some of the goals of the Women Without Religion forum?

Mandy: Well we are very new, so there is a great opportunity for the members to decide the direction of the forum, but it has been set up with a few key goals in mind.

We hope to offer a place for women to express themselves openly. Women’s issues such as equality in all areas of life, examination and exposure of the rape culture, freedom of choice, violence against women, women’s health and the like are often difficult for women to discuss and also to learn about. This forum is based on highlighting these issues and women’s views and experiences.

We also offer a supportive place for women to come to in order to interact with others who have similar views and experiences. Whilst atheism is growing, being openly atheist is still a minority position, and can create many problems for women. Family and friends can sometimes cause distress, and in extreme cases, total relationship breakdown. The WWR forum is a non-judgmental place where opinions can be given, questions asked and support found.

We want to empower women to take charge of their lives, and live them as they want. Our aim is to reach as many women as possible to offer an online community where they can flourish. The more members we have, the more diverse the discussions will be.

We also want to act as an example to all women by highlighting strong role models to say that “no matter who you are, what you do, what has happened to you, you can be strong, you are valued, you are not alone”

We also have a sister Women Without Religion Facebook page, which is proving to be very popular, and growing by the minute. Its a great place to see the types of topics which will be discussed on the forum.

Kylie: What do you think are some of the greatest challenges facing women without religion?

Mandy: I think the greatest challenge facing women who have no religion is in creating a place for themselves in which they can genuinely be themselves. So much of the way our society perceives women and their role is linked to outdated religious morality and expectations. Women who have no religion are often seen to fall out side the social and cultural norm. That tired old question of “where do you get your morals if not from god” condemns women on a much higher level than men, as women are held to a higher moral code.

Finding a place were you can be comfortable and proud of yourself is difficult for women at the best of time, to do so being atheist adds an extra dimension to the issue, as many traditional support mechanisms are not available. For somewomen, moving away from their religion can cause real problems in their life. Family and friends can withdraw support, and thewoman can be left isolated. It is a huge challenge to rebuild your life without the support that has always been there.

Kylie:  What do you think online forums provide for such women (and their supporters)?

Mandy: Firstly, online forums provide information. Forums such as WWR are specialised, and contain the opinions and experiences of real people, enabling anyone to quickly find what they are looking for.

Secondly, they can be anonymous should a member wish it. For women who have been suppressed by religion, coming out as atheist can be traumatic. The forum allows them to speak freely without fear of judgment. It is a place for them to practice expressing their ideas and opinions, and allows them to make contact with like minded people who can encourage and support them. Often women who have experienced trauma feel very alone. Being able to tell their stories and remain anonymous can be of benefit. There is also the added bonus of not being immediately judged and pigeon-holed by the way you look. This happens towomen every day in RL. On the forum that is gone.

For those who support women without religion, and this can and should, include the men in their lives, the forum is an ideal place to see exactly what the issues that affect these women are, to read about them in depth, and to be a part of the solutions. We welcome men to the forum, and we already have many great guys there assisting us with the feminist issues, and giving their own insight into issues.

Kylie: Finally, what can new members of Women Without Religion expect if they sign up today – any plans for events or activism in 2013?

Mandy: As I have said we are very new, so we don’t have any events planned just yet. It would be great to see some members ideas on meet ups and social gatherings. There is a section of the forum devoted to that. As time goes on I’m sure we will begin to see events pop up on the calendar. For now new members can expect a warm and welcoming place, where they can be involved in its evolution if they wish, or not. The content will come from the members, so they will have a real chance to be heard and to discuss the things that concern them, from the very beginning. For the more experienced forum people, you will love it! I cant gush enough about the way it has been set up. You really have to get in and have a go.

The forum itself has been wonderfully set up. It is so so easy to navigate around and use, even if you have never used an online forum before. There is a great team of moderators who are there to help with any queries. They are experienced forum people, so can guide any newcomers in the right direction. As I mentioned before, I have been a member on a couple of forums before, and have made some of my dearest and closest friends there. This is a real opportunity for women to tap into a community where they are valued, and where they can connect with others.

The official site is at http://womenwithoutreligion.org/wwr-forums – Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/WomenWithoutReligion

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About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.


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