Marie Alena Castle is the communications director for Atheists for Human Rights. Raised Roman Catholic she became an atheist later in life. She has since been an important figure in the atheist movement through her involvement with Minnesota Atheists, The Moral Atheist, National Organization for Women, and wrote Culture Wars: The Threat to Your Family and Your Freedom (2013). She has a lifetime of knowledge and activist experience, explored and crystallized in an educational series. The first part of this series can be found here – Session 1 and Session 2.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Even with groups such as NARAL, NOW, and Planned Parenthood, the onslaught against women’s rights, reproductive rights and so on, continue to take place. The most vulnerable – poor and minority women – tend to be the main victims, and so their children and the associated families – and so communities. In a sequence, I see attacks on women’s reproductive rights as attacks on women, children, so families, and so communities, and therefore ordinary American citizens. What can be some buffers, or defenses, against these direct attacks on the new media and communications technologies, e.g. to educate and inoculate new generations?
Marie Alena Castle:
- No one cares about any social effects so this has to be made personally self-serving. Start with sex/contraceptive education in schools. Impress the girls that they are NOT a public utility and whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is entirely their business, not the church’s, not the state’s, not their sexual partner’s and not the Roe v. Wade regulations. Impress the boys with the fact that if they get a girl pregnant they are liable for 18 years of child support. Use social media to pass this around so it gets to the students at religious schools.
- Try for some social effects by calling to account the “pro-life” propagandists as misogynistic, ignorant liars. (They make outrageously stupid claims about embryos and fetuses.) Put up billboards next to their 6-month-old-white-baby ads showing women (various ethnicities) asking why it is anyone’s business but hers and declaring she is not a public utility and asking what the “pro-lifers” have done for real babies lately other than only opposing welfare/child care/educational aid.
- Run anti-terrorist ads everywhere pointing out the group that has done and is doing the most damage – the anti-abortion violence prone clinic vandals, death-threateners, bombers, murderers (give the numbers since 1973). Note the clinics’ need for excessive security, bullet proof vests, randomized doctor routes to get to clinics, etc.
- OK to note the desperate situation women find themselves in and needing an abortion (rape, abusive relationship, health issues, fetal deformity, poverty, etc.) but don’t do much of this because the general public doesn’t care.
Jacobsen: Who are the unknown women’s rights heroes, men and women, that people should more into – to self-educate?
Castle: They are the people who work at abortion clinics. They all have stories to tell. One of my friends managed a clinic and she was constantly threatened with violence and pickets at her house. I went there a few times to help in case the picketers got violent. One August I suggested she hook up her garden hose to a bottle of sugar water and set it to spray on the picketers and attract hordes of hornets. She wouldn’t do it but I would have. The leader of the picketers was the local fire department chief (with expert knowledge of how to set her house on fire). She wanted to move but dared not for fear the fire chief would send a “potential buyer” to case the house for fire-setting purposes. She needed some carpentry done but feared getting someone she didn’t know who would have a violent anti-abortion agenda. I got an atheist carpenter friend for her who was reliably safe.
Jacobsen: Once the shoe bites, people then become active, politically and socially, typically. These people can rise and protest in an organized and constructive way. Do you think this era of – yes, alternative facts, but at the same time – mass accessibility of information can hasten people realizing their shoe is being bitten, even when they weren’t aware before?
Castle: Lotsa luck on this. Most people really do assume that, as child bearers, women really are something of a public utility and in need of regulation. Why else would there be any discussion about how Roe v. Wade should be interpreted? What we need are new court challenges to Roe v. Wade that say it should be repealed and replaced with a ruling that says abortion is a medical matter to be handled by a woman and her doctor and is not the government’s business. Let’s have a major public discussion about women’s bodily autonomy and why their bodies need government oversight.
(While I’m at it, let me note that I am also opposed to men being drafted into the military. The government does not own their bodies any more than it owns women’s bodies. You get men to voluntarily agree to kill people and you get women to voluntarily agree to give birth or you do without.)
Jacobsen: For centuries, and now with mild pushback over decades, the religiously-based, often, bigotry and chauvinism against women, and ethnic and sexual minorities is more in the open, and so more possible to change. Because people know about it, and can’t deny it. And when and if they do, the reasons seem paper thin and comical, at times. What expedites this process of everyone, finally, earning that coveted equality?
Castle: The mild pushback has come because more people are losing interest in religion, and religion has always been the driver of bigotry and prejudice. The loss of interest has come from Internet sources that expose the absurdities and failings of religion.
To expedite the process you change the laws. You change the laws by organizing for and electing legislators who support civil rights. Then you elect a President who will appoint judges who support those rights. Nothing changes if the laws don’t change. The laws helped bring civil rights to the South because it gave pro-civil rights citizens the protection they needed to treat people with respect. We started getting civil rights by public agitation that led to legislation that led to court review and rulings that did or did not affirm those rights. One exception: We got women covered by the Civil Rights Act when “sex” was introduced into the language in the expectation that it would be seen as such a joke that the Act would be voted down, but it passed.
To get women out of the “public utility” category, we need to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed. That failed the first time precisely because opponents said it would give women the right to have abortions. What is about abortion that sets some people off so violently? None of them show any real practical interest in born babies. Why this obsession with controlling women? Something about species survival? So many men with so many zillions of sperm and frustrated by women’s limited ability to accommodate all that paternal potential? Who knows?
The only thing holding up equal rights for all is the Catholic and Protestant fundamentalist religions (and maybe also misogynistic Islam but we have to see how that immigrant population votes after being exposed to the relatively civilizing effect of living here). It’s always those religions that protest against women’s rights, gay rights, and that so ferociously supported slavery.
Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Marie.
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