Stephanie Zvan: skeptic, feminist activist, and SF&F fan

Woman wearing glasses

Stephanie Zvan

Stephanie Zvan is a proud feminist! She is also the associate president of Minnesota Atheists and one of the hosts for their radio show and podcast, Atheists Talk, as well as the author of Almost Diamonds on Freethought Blogs. She speaks and writes about science and skepticism in a number of venues, including science fiction and fantasy conventions. And she is a big supporter of the Ada Initiative!

“I was raised classically feminist and grew up on Free to Be You and Me and Ms. Magazine. So I grew up with some background and interest in these issues,” Zvan says. “In high school in the physics department, I actually wrote a fake anthropological study of the ‘Physics Male” when I got sick of them treating women as if we didn’t have brains.”

It is unsurprising then, that she is a big supporter of the Ada Initiative. “The thing that has really impressed me is how many people that I know either personally or through their work, for whom the Ada Initiative has made a huge difference,” Zvan says. “I’m also impressed by the diversity of the work that it has enabled and supported.”

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Zvan takes an active role in the atheist/skeptic movement, hosting the radio show Atheists Talk run by the Minnesota Atheists. Zvan has been aware of the opposition women in face in skeptic communities for years, but found herself becoming far more vocal in 2012, after the Rebecca Watson elevator incident ignited huge debates in the atheist community. (Short version: a man propositioned Watson in an elevator, she suggested that men not do things like that in a video blog, and part of the skeptic community is still harassing and threatening Watson years later.)

“I was with Rebecca when that happened,” Zvan remembers adding that the backlash against Watson had a big impact on her. But it was another conference that incited her to action. “One year later, when the first Women in Secularism conference happened, one of the panelists up on stage said that she had been warned as a young attractive women that there were certain speakers she should avoid. I was live-tweeting the panel and tweeted it and it blew up and caused a huge thing.”

Logo for Zvan's blog, "Almost Diamonds"

Logo for Zvan’s blog, “Almost Diamonds”

Stephanie quickly realized that there was a way to funnel all of the emotion coming up for the good of the community. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute — I have seen the template for the Geek Feminism anti-harasssment code of conduct and none of the conferences I’m attending have one in place.’ I suggested that people take their outrage and direct it toward getting codes of conduct implemented at the conferences.”

She soon realized that, as these discussions were so new to the community, with her suggestion she had unexpectedly become the go-to person for understanding conference codes of conduct. “Of course, because these were very new, that made me an expert and I had to learn a lot very quickly… Geek Feminism and the Ada Initiative were huge in helping me do that. They centralized the information that helped me get up to speed so that when I was asked questions I wasn’t stammering and making stuff up.”

Stephanie also brought her voice and activism to the science fiction and fantasy community which she has been part of for 20 years. She jumped into the discussions after conference organizers responded badly to an incident of harassment at Readercon in late 2012. “I saw people having the same kinds of arguments that we had been through in the atheist community and wrote a piece speaking to the ways they could avoid the mistakes we had made, fully expecting that it would be ignored. To my surprise it actually got some attention, and got to some people who needed it.” She spoke up again when WisCon had a similar problem in 2014, and the Ada Initiative republished her advice to conference organizers trying to decide when to allow a harasser to return to a conference.

A woman explains while a man listens

Ally Skills Workshop discussion

Zvan is a big supporter of the Ada Initiative’s Ally Skills Workshops and hopes to see the community direct energy and resources towards channels of tangible change. “The Ally Skills Workshops that the Ada Initiative runs could be helpful for our community in the future. I think that is deeply worthwhile. I would love to see more of that kind of thing happen in our movement. I think we need it.”

We agree – which is why if the skeptic community can raise $5,000 by midnight on Wednesday, October 8th, we pledge to teach an Ally Skills Workshop at Skepticon in November!

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Zvan is also heartened by the tangible impact of the Ada Initiative’s work and its capacity to grow. “People shouldn’t underestimate how much the people involved in doing this work in various communities are networking,” Zvan says. “And how much harder it will be to oppose the simple changes that we are looking for as our networks grow.”

Please join Stephanie Zvan in supporting the Ada Initiative so we can continue to work across multiple communities to create safer, more welcoming environments for women!

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