I am a lucky lady for a whole bushel load of reasons. One reason in particular is that I get to meet a lot of wonderful, brilliant people. And every so often one of these amazing people lets me photograph them. And on a very good day they also let me pick their brain so that I can learn even more about them and then share what I find with you.
This is one of those times.
Please enjoy the latest installment of Get To Know Your Skepchicks with Julia Burke as she tells us a bit about her about her experiences with, Skepchick, CFI, Secular Woman and wine-making.
What do you do for a day job?
I am a freelance writer and I work in a vineyard.
How did you first get involved with Skepchick and what has the experience been like?
I had been a fan of Skepchick for years, beginning when I worked as assistant editor at CFI. That’s when I met Rebecca, and after a few years of my sneezing on her at roller derby bouts she was persuaded to add me. Oh, and I had also written two guest posts for the site.
The Skepchick network is amazing. I’ve never learned more from a single group of people, and not only are they brilliant, Skepchick writers are some of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever met. In the company of Rebecca, Deb, Elyse and you, Amy (I have never met the other Skepchicks in person but they are pretty damn awesome online and I’d hang out with any of them in a heartbeat), I never cease to be amazed at how such fearless women could be so down-to-earth and make a new person feel totally at home.
Tell us about Secular Woman, and what is your involvement like there?
SW is an amazing organization! I became a member in 2012 and joined the board of directors in 2013. I did a lot of articles for the SW website, getting to interview some amazing people like explorer Barbara Hillary and activist/writer Zinnia Jones. Due to some health issues this winter I stepped down from the board, but I am still a member and plan to continue my involvement. I love SW’s supportive community and fierce activism.
In your opinion, how do you think women are treated in organized skepticism and atheism?
My experience in this movement is rather limited; I only became aware of it when I was hired at CFI in 2011. I have been extremely lucky in that I have not experienced death threats, rape threats, or other abuse as several of my friends have. So far, I have observed sexism, harassment, and a cult of personality (by which I mean that certain figures seem believed to do no wrong) within organized skepticism and atheism, but the upshot is incredible communities that do value inclusion and equality, like Skepchick and Secular Woman, fighting back against that. Compared to other communities with which I’ve been involved, I think organized skepticism carries a sense of superiority––a “we’re better than everyone else” mindset––that is dangerously hospitable to abusive behavior because it treats skeptics as inherently less capable of mistakes.
What can we do about this?
Keep speaking out. Keep sharing stories. Keep showing organizations and conferences and people and businesses how they can do better. But it is very easy for me to say this, as someone who has not personally been targeted, so I want to add that media professionals like me have a responsibility to consider whose voices are being heard, whose rights prioritized, whenever we cover any social or political topic. And I think education, the backbone of our movement, goes a long way––many people are still ill informed about what rape culture is, what sexual harassment is, how everyday behaviors and words perpetuate beliefs that hurt us all. I do believe that once behavior turns into abuse it is not the job of the abused to be the educator, but I also never want to see skeptics get tired of spreading knowledge and figuring out how to get tough messages through.
Tell us about your love of wine and how you got interested in that.
When I was 21 I wandered into a winery in Niagara County for a tasting at ten minutes till closing time (I didn’t even want to go in, but the guy I was dating at the time insisted that we should at least ask), and the guys who worked there were drinking a 1999 Louis Jadot gevrey-chambertin. They let me try some and could tell it spoke to me just as it spoke to them. Then, for whatever reason, they offered me a job in the tasting room. I started showing up as often as I could, fascinated with wine’s history, sensory characteristics, science, and culture. I loved the feeling of spending hours out sweating in the vineyard to make something that you can put into a glass, slide across the table to anyone anywhere in the world, and say, “This is where I’m from. Try it.”
What other hobbies or activities are you involved with?
I run, on my better days, when I’m not laid up with a stress fracture. I also love craft beer (as do many wine-industry employees), riding my bike all the damn time, and live music. When my injury has recovered I hope to do another long-distance athletic event to raise money for something important to me, as I’ve done in the past; I really enjoy pushing myself physically for a purpose that goes beyond my own health benefit.
Of you could give one piece of advice to someone who wanted to help make the world a better place, what would it be?
Whatever you feel about Edward Snowden, he said one of the wisest things I’ve ever heard: “Leadership is about being the first to act.” You don’t need to be the smartest person in the room, or the most skilled, or the most famous or popular or attractive or charismatic. If you want to make something happen, you just need to be the one to do it, and if you’re good at listening and appreciating the input of others, you’re a torpedo in motion.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me, Julia and for letting me photograph you! Keep on kicking ass!
All photos © Amy Davis Roth