8 Ways to Be a Rational Woman

I could have started this new blog by trying to tell you who I am. I figure, though, that you’re here because you’re curious about what “a rational woman” might have to say. Besides, what better way to get acquainted than for me to delve immediately into what matters?

If you share my supernatural-free attitudes, you may be wondering how you can spread your beliefs and put them into action. It’s not that hard. You can begin at home with readily available people, objects, and resources. Join me here (clicking on the RSS feed is a good way to keep up with my posts) as we explore how to facilitate a better and more rational world.

[A NOTE that shouldn’t have to be added: rational WOMEN behaviors are pretty much indistinguishable from rational MEN behaviors, so whatever your gender, feel free to read, share, and participate.]

8 Ways to be a Rational Woman (or Man)

1. Watch your language. Use non-sexist terms whenever possible, such as mail carrier and fire fighter. (See, for example, this site.)

2. Don’t stereotype or over-generalize. When you lump people into groups, you miss the individual quirkiness that makes us human. Avoid saying, “Men are . . . ” unless you finish that with “. . .  the sex that manufactures sperm.”

3. Use cognition, not emotion, when deciding the fates of others. When you’re on a jury, when you vote, when you comment on a blog post, realize that your initial responses may be the more elemental emotional ones, such as anger or fear or pity. Look into those first feelings and then, perhaps, go beyond them.

4. Think hard about whether to have a kid, or how many to have. Their and your entire lives hinge on such decisions, and ought never to be “accidental.” Be aware that “only children” don’t fit the many myths they’ve accumulated. (See Susan Newman’s blog Singletons.)

5. Always assume goodwill in your intimate relationships, if not in your interactions with strangers. Your mate or lover typically means well. If you don’t believe that, you’re setting yourself up to be miserable. I can vouch for the efficacy of this stance in my own nearly three-decade-long second marriage. (See this article.)

6. Enrich your children’s environment by talking to them and answering their questions as fully as makes sense for their ages. Adding to their toy collections is not a substitute for this. (See this excerpt from Playing Smart, partially based on activities I used to do with my own two now-grown sons.)

7. Stretch your mind by reading other points of view. Look into current and controversial philosophical views that are backed up by science and research, such as Peter Singer’s anti-meat-eating and other stands. (Read this post of his called Affluence Today.)

8. Find your own way to be creative. Creativity and imagination are not at all inimical to rationality. (See my other blog, Creating in Flow).

  • And now a question for you: What’s the most controversial stand you’ve taken (even if it’s been in your own head up to now) as a self-identified Bright (or atheist, secular humanist, or other non-mainstream thinker)?

Copyright (c) 2012 by Susan K. Perry

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30 Responses to 8 Ways to Be a Rational Woman

  1. dave says:

    RW it seems to be a really difficult thing to be a RW, you (we men too!) really have to work at it to not be caught off guard again and again 🙂

    • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

      You’re so right, Dave. And it’s not as if there’s only one way to understand what the most rational and appropriate way to think about anything is!

  2. As a male, I’m certainly glad I read your post.

    Unfortunately rationalists often have a pedantic streak too. I can’t stop myself commenting on ” the gender that manufactures sperm”. I’ve always understood that “gender” is a grammatical term, not a physiological term. Shouldn’t it be ” the sex that manufactures sperm”. Or has the addiction to euphemism now changed irreversibly the meaning of “gender”, just as it has changed the meaning of “gay”. The saddest thing about the latter case, is that it’s now hard to enjoy the wonderful Archy and Mehitabel poems by Don Marquis. The Song of Mehitabel ends “boss sometimes I think that our friend mehitabel is a trifle too gay”.

    • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

      You’re correct, David, and not pedantic at all (in this instance, anyway). Please note that I have now corrected “gender” to read “sex.”

  3. Silvana says:

    I really liked this article. It sums up many of the things I believe as a feminist and as non-theist. Where I live, standing for the legalization of abortions is still very controversial, even when confronted with situations in which there usually is no doubt that an abortion should be considered (danger for the life of the mother or a serious illness detected in the foetus). And in the field of motherhood, I have also stood for women who can’t breastfeed or choose not to. I believe there is a lot of myth attached to breastfeeding. I am not going to deny the empirical evidence that shows its benefits, but I don’t think children who are not breastfed are doomed to be bad people, sick people or foolish people. And that is how a lot of breastfeeding campaigns make new mothers feel.

    • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

      Thanks for the comments, Silvana. I will probably post about abortion at some point. As for breastfeeding, I did it and I’m so glad I managed to, though it hurt a lot at times, and when I went back to work in an office, it was hard to coordinate. But of course, some women can’t, or just don’t want to, and their kids can be healthy and whole. New mothers need a lot of support, not criticism. I read that in some countries, nurses come to your home and help you with nursing and other issues. Such a good idea.

  4. Stephany Kottler-Albrecht says:

    I don’t know why I got the email informing me of this blog but for some odd reason I did. So I can’t resist adding my bit.

    You know what I find the weirdest miracle of all?

    It’s that we’re made, mostly, of stardust.

    After the big bang there was hydrogen, helium and traces of lithium, the first three elements of the periodic table. All the heavier nuclei, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous, sulphur, potassium, sodium, calcium, the elements of life, were cooked up in the interior of stars.

    Some of those stars exploded and threw the heavier elements out into the dust of the cosmos. Then second and third generation stars and planetary systems formed that incorporated traces of the heavier elements needed to make life. Our sun is probably a third generation star.

    On at least one planet those heavier elements came together to form life!

    No one is sure how this happened though speculations abound. For now it’s an open question. But somehow life formed.

    And then it got more and more complex. The building blocks of mammalian bodies like ours are eukaryotic cells. Comparing a simple bacterium to a eukaryotic cell is like comparing a mouse to a horse except that’s not an adequate analogy. In some senses a horse really is a scaled up mouse but eukaryotic cells are orders of magnitude more complex than bacteria. In terms of complexity a better analogy might be to compare the internet to a single computer. Each of our cells has the complexity of the internet.

    Somewhere along the way we evolved photosynthesis and transformed the entire planet. If we ever find an extra-solar planet with an oxygen-containing atmosphere it’s a fair bet that it has life. Oxygen is highly reactive. Without photosynthesis to keep splitting water molecules oxygen would disappear from the Earth’s atmosphere.

    Do you have any idea what a marvel of complexity a single chloroplast is?

    Will we ever make contact with intelligent species on other planets? For (scientific) reasons I doubt it. I think we’re orphans in space and time.

    So here we are. Ours’ is an improbable tale. I mean nobody could have made this up. As a species we’ve been around for about 200 thousand years in a universe that is over 13 billion years old. How much longer will we last? Or will we be what finally ends life on this planet and, maybe, in our galaxy if not the entire universe?

    You may not be religious but aren’t you awestruck by the wonder of it all?

    • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

      Wow, you said that beautifully. Of course I’m awestruck all the time. So many species, so many kinds of everything. The complexity is beyond imagining. We need to get those ideas into the minds of kids so they don’t grow up gullible and stupid, accepting simple answers to super-complex questions. Thanks for your input.

      You probably signed up for The-Brights.net at some point, which would explain why you got the email.

      • Stephany Kottler-Albrecht says:

        Rational woman wrote:

        The complexity is beyond imagining. We need to get those ideas into the minds of kids so they don’t grow up gullible and stupid

        Well here’s the problem.

        The story of how we got here – from big bang to us – is beyond awesome. The tale of how generations of scientists pieced it all together over a 2,400 year period is both astonishing and humbling.

        A decent science course could start with how Eratosthenes figured out that the circumference of the Earth was approximately 40,000 km in the third century BC. That’s almost 2,000 years before Magellan circumnavigated the Earth. It is a tale of scientific ingenuity that matches anything we see today.

        Or how about telling school kids the real story of the luckiest man in history, Christopher Columbus? He did not think the Earth was flat. He thought it was small and that his ships would be able to carry sufficient supplies to reach India. He was wrong. If it had not been for the fortuitous discovery of America he and his crew would have run out of food and water and perished at sea.

        Or how about explaining how Copernicus got the heliocentric theory wrong. Not only was his model wrong but his whole reasoning was wrong and that is why his magnum opus, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, sunk without a trace for six decades.

        Learning about science and the history of science should be thrilling. Students should be walking out of science classes saying “Oh wow!”

        In reality most high school science teachers take this grand tale and make it boring! They teach science as if it were religious dogma. They never discuss the open questions in science which is precisely what makes science so interesting and exciting.

        I mean how many science teachers even know that our understanding of evolution has undergone, by my count, four revolutions in the past 15 years alone? Or that one of the first people to understand the true nature of fossils was actually a Catholic Monk called “Steno” in the seventeenth century.

        For something almost beyond belief see:

        Lizards Rapidly Evolve After Introduction to Island

        Now that’s rapid evolution for you!

        Science teachers never seem to give their students a sense of the numinous.

        You know what I find really odd? I come across all these atheists who sneer at Christian fundamentalists for rejecting evolution. But when I ask them a few basic questions about evolution they stare at me as if I were mad.

        Guess what? It turns out that most atheists are as uninformed about the marvellous story of our origins as the most hidebound and ignorant – as they would see it – bible thumpers. So here we have two groups of people fighting over something neither of them understands!

        Not very “bright” on either side, is it?



        • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

          A very thoughtful response. I also find that people, in general, are not very cognizant of history, whether of the wars that have been fought (and why) or of the scientific advances that have been made. We can’t all be scientists, nor does everyone have to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. If we learn, possibly in school, how to choose credible sources and credible authorities in whichever field, then we can let them do the research, rather than every single individual having to become an expert in everything. Which is obviously impossible.

          I won’t be doing any sneering on this blog, though I retain the right to hold firmly to my own non-supernatural beliefs. The point for me is to let others continue the old arguments, and focus myself on how to live more rationally and fairly, and suggest ways for others to do the same.

  5. Peter Baker says:

    Hello Brights Blog!

    Excellent work on the new live blog.

    Carry on carrying on!


    • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

      Pete, thanks for the good wishes. Interesting site YOU have. Fascinating batch of intellectual influences, too. Good luck with your own work!

  6. Ejnar Fjerdingstad says:

    Pretty good points, except for the two first that are more Feminist than Bright in my view. I dislike the word “gender”, and a sentence such as “Men are the gender that manufactures sperm” is absurd, clearly the word should be “sex” here. What were the rational reasons for replacing the word “sex” with “gender”? Pretty few, I would think.

    That aside, I especially agree with your points 5, 6, and 7. Point six is simply the way children should be raised, and that goes for all questions they ask, including about sex. Knowing that they can ask about anything and get a truthful aswer is very important for children.

    Point four might seem a good idea, but not if it leads to women deciding not to have children, only to regret it when it is too late. Of course there are people who should not have children, but after all having a child is one of the most natural things a woman can do, and should not be overly dramatized.

    As for point 7, that is always a good idea. I have my reservations about Peter Singer, but that is another matter.

    • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

      I’ve been able to change “gender” to “sex,” as I replied to an earlier comment.

      Peter Singer was just an example I tossed up. He’s somewhat radical, but I appreciate the logic of a lot of what he says.

      Women and men need to think deeply about having kids. Changing your mind when it’s too late isn’t rational (!). I can’t agree that “having a child is one of the most natural things a woman can do” and so that means just go ahead and have them, no big deal. Population is an issue. Resources are an issue. The reality of how very much a kid affects a person and a couple–there’s no over-dramatizing there. It’s a lifelong adventure that is well worth the journey, but nothing is ever the same again once it starts. Knowledge is power, and all that.

      Keep reading and I’m sure we’ll find more to agree and disagree on!

  7. Jamie Richardson says:

    That is a great article. Especially the generalization comment.
    Not sure if its controversial or not but I have my own “A” campaign. All I ask when debating someone about their beliefs is for them to admit that they believe in ” A” god, not THE god.
    If they realize god is a job description not a name I feel that a positive change has been made. Would rather no belief, but at least its a start.

    • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

      Interesting approach, Jamie. And you find this actually makes people think a bit?

      • Jamie Richardson says:

        Its similiar to your first point about watching a person language. Listen around us and the statement I believe in god is simply shortform for most people that they are referring to Yahweh and one of the many cults that have formed from that culture. They simply ignore all the other gods that people have respected/feared enough to die for and name the days/months of their calenders for. I try not to make it easy for them.
        The realization that there have been 1000’s of other god options throughout humankinds relatively short existence on the planet was what lead me away from my Baptist belief system. Ironically it was reading about other cults in order to better defend my own that lead away from them all. Not a loss of faith so much as a gaining of reason.
        If someone says “Thank God” I hear “Thank one of many possible gods” and then seek for them to clarify for me as to which one. Maybe they should be more exact. And if its a Thursday make sure its Thor as he is kind of jealous and carries a big hammer. If that seems ridiculous to them how is their god any more logical.

        Yeah I am kind of annoying to have around, but it amuses me.

        The statement people make of ” I believe in God” is truly only accurate as “I believe in a god” and as such carries much less certainty and authority, two things that have hurt the human race the most.
        When you listen to someone speak or preach try inserting “A” in front of the word god everytime they use it and watch how it changes the conversation or statement.
        It has worked very well for me to introduce a little doubt and a little sense of perspective to people I talk with. As a teacher I consider this to be important to learning.

        • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

          Being able to keep a sense of humor and of the absurd is terrific. As a teacher, it’s your right and duty to make young people think. With adults, such conversations can turn into arguments, at which point I bow out. It’s often possible, maybe, to plant a tiny seed of doubt simply by asking questions of someone about their beliefs, so long as you’re really curious and not being subtly demeaning. It’s all in how you express yourself.

  8. Charles Schisler says:

    I know what you mean by genderized pronouns. When people are talking about an ultimate creator, capable of creating an infinte universe out of Nothing – since they know nothing about the sex, or lack of it, of that entity – it is presumptious to treat it as being masculine. I have suggested they write, and say it, in an undesignated manner as “s/he/it” – preferably spoken rapidly.
    Give me your postal address and I will mail you one of my booklet I think you’ll enjoy.

  9. Donald Clarkson says:

    Does point 3 suggest that emotion is unnatural? Considering emotion and intellect, which is more readily controlled by those with ulterior motives? What evidence is there that intellect is to be trusted before emotion? What faith can we have in our intellect except that it ‘feels’ right? Is intellect more than manipulated emotion?

    • Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

      No, of course emotion is not unnatural. Emotion is quick, our first response to a threat or a lure. If we can take an extra few seconds or even minutes and think things through, letting our more sophisticated minds have time to mull over a response, we tend to make wiser decisions.

      As for your other questions, I don’t have any hard evidence to point to, nor am I an expert in how the brain works. I’ll keep the ideas in mind for a future post.

      • Donald Clarkson says:

        I could probably write a book about the times I have mulled things over a second too long and lost a unique opportunity to say or do the right thing. My mother used to tell me I was too clever for my own good, and lately I think she was right. But perhaps I could write several books about the times I prospered by suppressing emotion.

  10. kleinem says:

    Two highly controversial societal action areas that I spent years of personal activity engaged in were Planned Parenthood & The Hemlock Society (now Compassion & Choices I believe.) A state of mind that both sexes need 2 B wary of getting themselves into in regard to trying to be truly rational in ones decision making is becoming unduly highly emotional in regard to ones attachment to a belief, IMO.
    This can lead to “Mandated Rationality” wherein the stated facts of a situation are interpreted such as to be in support of the belief, as a result of belief bias, rather than the use of unfettered interpretive choice leading to true rationality in ones decision making.

  11. Avatar photo A Rational Woman says:

    I won’t be able to post more than once a week, for now. As volunteers, we bloggers have to balance the various pieces of our lives. Anyway, we’re just getting started, and I’m pleased you find the blog worthy of your attention.

    • Oh I’ve learned more from hanging with “brights” than from most Christians.

      I’ll volunteer a piece if you like. I’ll call it “Are brights an endangered species?”

      I know it may not seem that way now but I think they are.

  12. InebriaEnt says:

    Thanks, I’ll be sure to follow and spread the word!

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