No Gods, No Masters: A Day without Women in Secularism?

On the March 4 episode of Saturday Night Live, “Weekend Update” cohost Michael Che quipped: “March is Women’s History Month, while April is a lot of backed up dishes.” The joke got scant reaction from the audience (because, duh, people watch SNL hoping for clever comedy). But Che and his ilk may be in for a wake-up call tomorrow on International Women’s Day, when women across the country demonstrate their significance and economic value by taking the day off (from paid and unpaid labor) and by refraining from buying anything, except from women- and minority-owned small businesses.

Inspired by the recent “Day Without an Immigrant,” “A Day Without a Woman” is being organized by the same forces behind the Women’s March on Washington. They’re billing tomorrow as a mass strike that recognizes “the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system—while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity.” The mass action also recognizes that “trans and gender nonconforming people face heightened levels of discrimination, social oppression and political targeting.”

Women who can’t afford to take the day off (and let’s face it, that’s who this is really for) are encouraged to wear red tomorrow to represent “revolutionary love and sacrifice” and because red is associated with the labor movement. Men who want to support the day are being encouraged to take on domestic and caregiving tasks the women in their lives normally shoulder. Given that schools in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and New York City have had to close for the day because many teachers and staff are striking, I hope fathers will step up. Single mothers suddenly scrambling for childcare may not be so thrilled with the event.

“A Day Without a Woman” also has me thinking about the impact of women in the humanist and atheist movements, and what a day without women in secularism would look like. I asked several prominent secular women to share their thoughts about what atheism and humanism would be missing without women. Here’s what they had to say.

Amanda Knief, former legal counsel for the Iowa Legislature and now the national legal and public policy director at American Atheists:

Without women the modern atheist movement would look very different—if it even existed at all. The two largest atheist groups in the United States (American Atheists and the Freedom From Religion Foundation) were founded by women: Madalyn Murray O’Hair and Anne Nicol Gaylor, respectively. Today, women lead and hold director-level positions in nearly every national nontheistic group.

Yet our community still struggles with addressing harassment of women, in person and online. We struggle to attract women who have children to our events and to address their issues and concerns in the same way churches do. Let “A Day Without a Woman” remind our movement the value of women as part of our community and endeavor to do better.

Sikivu Hutchinson, founder of the Women’s Leadership Project and Black Skeptics Los Angeles and the author, most recently, of White Nights, Black Paradise, a novel on Peoples Temple and the 1978 Jonestown massacre:

Over the past several years, secular feminists of color have pushed back on the reductive single variable politics of a mainstream secular movement. Black women have stepped up to assume leadership roles as activists, educators, and writers, who have connected their humanism and atheism to addressing segregated education, state violence, reproductive justice, rape culture, heterosexism, homophobia, misogyny in the black church, and economic inequality. In a Huffington Post piece I wrote during Women’s History month last year, I profiled activists like Mandisa Thomas, Bria Crutchfield, Diane Burkholder, and the Secular Sistahs who fearlessly go beyond belief by putting a black feminist progressive face on atheism in their communities.

As women around the world observe “A Day Without a Woman,” a strike of nontheist women would have the same grave socioeconomic implications for atheists and agnostics (estimated at around 7 percent of the US population) as it would for religionists. Who, for example, would do the leading, planning, troubleshooting, organizing, and caregiving that powers families of all shapes and sizes from sunup to sundown? In households across the country, women of all classes and ethnicities continue to do a disproportionate amount of domestic and family caregiving tasks. While white women earn 85 cents to the dollar of white men, African-American women (who earn 65 cents to that dollar) and Latinas (58 cents) are still the lowest paid workers in an increasingly segregated, neoliberal, service-driven economy that depends on their cheap labor.

In communities of color, these disparities reinforce higher involvement in churches and other faith-based institutions that may provide the kind of cultural and social welfare resources wealthier white “secularized” communities take for granted. It’s also important to note that queer black and Latino families are more “churched” than their white counterparts. This seeming paradox speaks to why there continues to be a gargantuan divide between people of color and whites of all religious orientations. For secular white folk, white wealth and privilege is embodied in the jobs women of color do—from low- wage domestic work to farm work—and their status as fodder for and laborers in the nation’s mass incarceration regime. Specifically, a day without the poor and working-class undocumented women of color means less profit for the police state apparatus. For progressive secular folk, “A Day Without a Woman” demands heightened awareness of the role racialized and gendered “others” play in validating state violence and imperialism. It also demands that the conservative religious right assault on reproductive health and women’s right to abortion and contraception should continue to be exposed as a human rights crisis. These attacks on women’s right to self-determination have been especially catastrophic for poor communities of color.

Tomorrow, students from my South Los Angeles-based Women’s Leadership Project will be in school writing, publishing, and demanding their voices be heard on the impact sexual violence has on the lives and wellbeing of black and Latina girls and communities of color. Resisting the marginalization of sexual violence victims of color (of all genders and sexual orientations) is one of the many reasons the work of humanist and atheist women of color has been critical to pushing change in a polarized secular movement.

Linda LaScola, the researcher known for co-founding the Clergy Project (an anonymous online community for current and former religious professionals who no longer hold supernatural beliefs) and for her book, authored with Daniel Dennett, Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind:

How is a day without women different than a day without men? This is the question that came to mind when I heard about “A Day without a Woman.” Either way, it would mean 50 percent of the population gone and I think it’s perfectly obvious that getting through the day while half of humanity sits it out would be difficult.

It’s a bit different with immigrants. They are a much smaller and constantly changing group of people who often take society’s less desirable jobs while adjusting to a new country. So, bottom line, I can’t relate to the concept of a day without women.

I’m eager to see how it works, though, and if some greater truth is revealed, I’ll happily participate in the next event. This time, I’ll protest the protest and just go about my usual tasks.

Now, a day without secular women would be a different story, at least in the secular community. We’d be missing key figures in some of the national nonprofit groups, and any local atheist gathering scheduled for that day would lose about a third of its attendance and a large part of its appeal to the remaining attendees.

Are you participating in “A Day Without a Woman”? To find marches and other events taking place near you on March 8, check out the International Women’s Strike database.