The HEADS Meeting: Your Input Requested

January 9, 2013

I think it’s fairly common knowledge that the leaders of the various nationwide secular organizations have an annual meeting (called “HEADS”) to exchange ideas and discuss how we can best advance our shared objectives. This is your opportunity to give me some input prior to the meeting on a couple of specific topics.

First, before going any further let me mention that the discussions at HEADS conferences are strictly confidential. This policy is important if we are to have candid discussions, so I will not be reporting back on who said what at the meeting. However, there is nothing improper about soliciting your input in advance, especially as this year I’m confident some of the issues likely to be discussed are of interest to CFI supporters.

Specifically, I’d like your input on these two questions: 1. What specific steps do you think secular groups should take to increase diversity within our movement, in particular with respect to the participation of minority groups? 2. As you are aware, there are some stark differences of opinion within the movement about the appropriate understanding of feminism and how feminism (however defined) should influence the practices and mission of secular organizations. How do you think these differences can best be narrowed or resolved?

Suggestions would be most helpful to me if they were supported by a concise explanation of the reasons for the suggestion. You don’t have to write a treatise (although I promise to read it if you do) but a paragraph or so might be useful.

Please mention in your comments if you are a CFI member/donor. I will consider everyone’s input, but I will give more weight to those who support our organization. As they say, membership does have privileges.

The HEADS meeting takes place on Saturday, January 26, so please submit any comments by January 24.

Thanks.

Comments:

#51 Ronald A. Lindsay on Thursday January 10, 2013 at 3:49pm

Well, that email address didn’t display too well. Here it is without the pesky “at” symbol. I think this should work.

rlindsayATcenterforinquiry.net

#52 Michaeld (Guest) on Thursday January 10, 2013 at 6:07pm

1. Best suggestion have conference organizers get move minority speakers or panelists to talk about their areas of interest or expertise (not necessarily their minority).

2. It might have been solved months ago but right now I don’t have much hope for reconciling the situation. There appear to be some non trivial differences between the two groups and at this point both sides are well entrenched. This will make a compromise that lowers tensions and reconciles the groups very difficult. I don’t how to fix humpty dumpty but its going to take a lot of work if it is possible at all.

#53 Stacy Kennedy (Guest) on Thursday January 10, 2013 at 10:43pm

Another thought, addressing this question specifically:

“How do you think these differences can best be narrowed or resolved?”

By looking at the evidence. There exists evidence in social psychology, cognitive science, criminal justice statistics, history, and elsewhere that can be brought to bear on exactly how prejudices and stereotypes affect people, how deep-seated resistance to feminism is, and the question of whether a purely rights-based “equity feminism”* is enough.

* I think the equity/gender feminist distinction is a false dichotomy. It was invented By Christina Hoff Sommers, and reflects her view as a libertarian, but most feminists don’t fall neatly into one or the other category. Regardless; let’s look at the evidence.

(Once again, as a reminder: member and volunteer here!)

#54 Martha (Guest) on Friday January 11, 2013 at 5:44am

Re diversity in general: I agree strongly that economic justice needs to play a much more central role in secular circles if we ever hope to make the movement look more like the broader community.

Re feminism in the secular movement:  most women will not take part in a movement in which some of the openly bigoted comments and personal attacks (see Pitchguest) that have been made here are tolerated. I first started paying attention to atheist blogs about the time that the DJ Grothe uproar began.

Although I was appalled at the openly misogynist comments made in various forums, that wasn’t what almost made me give up before I’d even started. It was constant questioning and denial of the female experience by otherwise reasonable people (mostly men). Instead of listening, they constantly told us that we were unreasonable to be upset. Why would I want to fight battles like that in my spare time? Why would I want to be a part of an organization that considers people who call women cunts and suggest that they be raped for speaking out valuable allies?

There are two reasons I stayed. The first is that I saw a youtube video of a panel of women from the Women in Secularism conference. I realized there were amazing people in the community who shared with me values I consider a lot more important than lack of belief in a deity.

The second reason I stayed is that men started speaking up about what they’d learned during Elevatorgate and the ensuing difficult discussions. They started calling out the anti-feminists for socially unacceptable behavior. It became clear that there are plenty of people in the secular community who share my values with respect to basic decency. It’s just a shame that wasn’t at all clear before.

CFI took a very important step in organizing the Women in Secularism Conference. Ron, please be very careful that you don’t undo that important work by implying a false equivalence between the feminist and anti-feminist sides of the current debate. I think you will find that most women spend their workdays working enduring subtle dismissals by male colleagues. We may not have any choice about that, but we do have a choice about what kind of communities to support in our personal time. I won’t support any that tolerate harassment toward women who dare to speak up.

#55 NoName (Guest) on Friday January 11, 2013 at 6:23am

I think CFI can do some simple and easy things. You can call out some specific behaviors and say you do not approve or support of them. For example,

“We at CFI decry name-calling during arguments. We decry attacks on appearance, whether they are serious or an attempt at a joke (this includes photoshopping pictures of people you don’t like). We decry the usage of slurs, as words that stereotype and harm people are inappropriate for any venue for discussion. We decry obsession with people who you disagree with. We decry attacks on people’s personal lives (for example, Greta Christina’s shoe non-troversy). If you participate in these behaviors online, CFI will not invite you to speak. If you participate in these behaviors at a CFI event, you will be asked to leave.”

That’s just a start. Saying that, though, would gain you a lot of support and membership (including mine).

#56 kaboobie on Friday January 11, 2013 at 7:43am

I became a member of CFI in late 2012, partly because of the Women in Secularism conference, and partly because of the work done by the Office of Public Policy. Both of these efforts in particular encouraged me that CFI takes social justice issues seriously. At the same time, I withdrew my support from another major skeptical organization when their leadership made it clear not only that social justice issues are not on the agenda, but that harrassment against women at their events was not something they took seriously.

I can only conclude that some conflicts cannot be resolved. As long as harrassment of women or any other minority is tolerated at events and in online forums, the groups who are targeted will stay away. Regardless of whether I ever experience harrassment or not, I will be paying close attention to how major organizations deal with harrassment and their willingness to adopt anti-harrassment policies. CFI has made a good showing so far, but I would hate to see those who value free speech at all costs override the goal of making this a welcoming community for all individuals.

#57 Denise (Guest) on Friday January 11, 2013 at 8:32am

I haven’t read through all the comments, so I don’t know if I’m repeating anything that has already been said here.

On both questions, my personal feeling is that understanding the role of language is one of the keys to raising awareness. With the second question, in particular, the matter of “Elevatorgate” has underscored dramatically the importance of how we speak and our language usage in the realm of minorities and feminism. I am in no way the sort of person to attempt to push on anyone how they “should” or “should not” speak; however, I believe a discussion about awareness of what we actually *say* would be potentially beneficial. Understanding what is meant by commentary designed to silence others, marginalize others, “Oppression Olympics”, and the like. Addressing these types of language games people play is something I would like to see happen.

#58 D Adams (Guest) on Friday January 11, 2013 at 9:06am

I would be happy if I never see an unqualified blogger speak about a science issue at a secular convention every again.

There are huge numbers of talented and competent people in the secular movement without stooping to these charlatans to fill the speaker roster.

#59 Janae (Guest) on Friday January 11, 2013 at 1:41pm

I am not a member and actually I only just heard of CFI.

What I think should be done is to try and cooperate with all other credible secular groups. I believe that it is important to have people from all backgrounds represented. gender, sexual orientation, previously religious affiliation, political view and race.

Why? Because we want people to feel accepted and understood. And no matter how much I fool myself of a world where we could all get along, learning about diverse groups I have found that it is actually much harder than just WANTING something to being such a way. People need to feel like they are a part of something and sometimes just ONE connection (secularism) is not enough.

#60 kelly (Guest) on Friday January 11, 2013 at 4:36pm

@55 You are absolutely right about personal lives being off-limits. I’m so weary of seeing people dogpiled and bullied because of what they do with their own money, or who they might follow on Facebook or Twitter, or what websites they visit. It’s a cheap trick to invalidate people when their opponents can’t find any legitimate way to refute them.

#61 EEB (Guest) on Friday January 11, 2013 at 4:44pm

If people want to make their groups more diverse, I think the number one thing to do is make sure that the meetings are accessable! A group will be lacking diversity right from the start if only able-bodied people with cars and disposable income are able to attend. Unfortuantely, because most of the people who plan the events have cars and aren’t disabled, those difficulties don’t even occur to them. A few quick tips for making sure a group is open to a much wider population:
1) Check the bus schedule. Is the place you’re meeting near a bus stop? “Near” is a relative term…in the summer, in a nice area of town, often times people won’t mind having to walk a little ways, but if it’s raining or the meeting is at night in a bad neighborhood, people won’t want to walk far. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t have a car. Would you be willing to go to your meeting? Also (and this is important): make sure you know when public transportation stops running at night (if ever). Even if people can get to your meeting at 7pm, if the buses stop running at 9pm, then won’t be able to attend.

I can’t tell you how many local atheist meetups I would have liked to attend, but couldn’t, because either they were in an area without public transportation, or they scheduled after the local buses stop running.
2) Is the building accessable? Are there wheelchair ramps? Elevators to upper floors? Plenty of seating for people with disabilities? Bathrooms? (Bathrooms: very important and often overlooked. But people with physical conditions that require frequent access to a bathroom will be looking.) One group I know of consistantly schedules meetings on the third floor of a building without elevators. Sadly, I have not been able to attend, because I am just not physically capable of climbing three sets of stairs, especially after hiking several blocks from the bus stop.

3) Is the venue expensive? Many atheist groups like to hold meetings in restraunts or bars, which can be fun, but when planning these events, people need to remember that not everyone has a lot of disposable income. I went to a wonderful meeting once, with great people and an amazing speaker (I got to hear Richard Carrier!), but the restraunt was so expensive that I couldn’t afford anything on the menu (plus, there wasn’t one vegetarian option). It was so embarassing to nurse my diet coke all evening and put up with the concerned questions and comments from the people at my table. I’ve yet to attend another meeting there, though if there was a speaker I really admired I would probably be willing to deal with it again.

Yes, I’m aware that it’s impossible to plan an event that will be totally accessable to everyone. And when I’ve proposed these things before, I’ve been called both unrealistic and entitled. Well, I think I’m being very realistic. If you really want to be more diverse, the best thing to do is make sure the widest amount of people are able to attend. It’s not entitled to point out the difficulties that some of us face. I’m not demanding that atheist groups cater to my needs, not stamping my foot and holding my breath and saying “You need to make it easier for me or I won’t come, so there! Hmmpth!” I’m pointing out that I can’t, physically can not, attend a lot of atheist groups, and I’m sure I’m not the only person dependent on public transportation, with physical and financial limitations. And while it will take effort, I think making meetings accessable is actually rather simple compared to some of the other tasks that need to be done in the quest for diversity.

#62 Luke Oer (Guest) on Friday January 11, 2013 at 8:43pm

1. Follow the oft-repeated but rarely observed “nothing about us without us”.

There are lots of smaller organisations that are already engaged with minority groups, specialised in this very area. Ask them. Publically ask them for their input, and action it when you get it.

Secular Women is one example, but there are lots of great Black Atheist groups, and LGBT atheist groups and so on. Use their knowledge.

#63 Luke Oer (Guest) on Friday January 11, 2013 at 9:04pm

I want to add my voice to EEB above too. Accessibility for people with reduced financial means is really ignored all the time. Disability access is not much better, if at all.

One of the reasons I really support the travel grants by Secular Women, it would be great if there were more programs like this.

#64 Cheese Donut (Guest) on Saturday January 12, 2013 at 1:22am

Hi,

Please do not make this a feminism-focused meeting. Ever since Elevatorgate my interest in skepticism and secularism has dwindled quickly.

There are already organizations that focus on feminism, and they probably do a better job at that anways.

If you do want to bring people who want to talk about feminism, at least verify whether their modus operandum is not coated with factual errors, ad hominems, and other atrocities of reasoning.

As a matter of fact, do that sort of screening of any kind of speaker you have. I’m always annoyed to hear an unreasonable talk regardless of the topic.

#65 SylviaMB on Saturday January 12, 2013 at 9:03am

Someone suggested using something like “gender equality” instead of “feminism.”

Let us remember that young women are abandoning the term “feminism” in droves, while being fully committed to women’s rights. It hardly seems likely, therefore, that we will attract more women if we use a term that has fallen out of favor. Hence my insistence on having evidence that such an approach, advocated by some very high-profile people in the movement, would result in effective outreach.

It is my belief that the women’s rights movement has succeeded spectacularly, and that claims to the contrary - claims that women are significantly disadvantaged compared to men - make us less credible with women in the general population.

I am very concerned that we will paint the movement into a corner and make it irrelevant by publicly siding with such claims, especially if it leaves the public with the incorrect impression that the secular movement is a hostile place for women, or that the movement is sexist in nature. Such an approach is likely to back fire. As a newcomer more than 16 years ago, I certainly would not have engaged with a movement that focuses on feminist ideology rather than reason. So when the leaders consider strategies, they should not forget to consider the cost side of any approaches advocated in this comment section.

How many humanists who are members of racial minorities really want their race to become their defining characteristic in yet another community? How many female humanists want their gender to be in the spotlight, rather than their humanity?

The assumption that what’s important to people is mainly or even in large part based on biological and socio-economic characteristics strikes me as belittling and a step away from humanism.

Let our outreach be based on what people are actually concerned with. Dale McGowan effectively speaks to many women, even non-parents, when giving advice about how to interact with religious family members. Mothers are often engaged with us because of our commitment to sound science education and keeping religious indoctrination out of schools. Some young women I talk to are interested in adding CFI leadership positions to their resumes.

All of it creates engagement, and outreach programs can be built around such pre-existing concerns for various “target groups,” if we insist on slicing and dicing humanity that way.

#66 Stacy (Guest) on Saturday January 12, 2013 at 12:17pm

Apologies in advance for debating, but Sylvia’s comment disturbs me.

“I am very concerned that we will paint the movement into a corner and make it irrelevant by publicly siding with such claims, especially if it leaves the public with the incorrect impression that the secular movement is a hostile place for women.”

It’s not an incorrect impression. The fact is that in this movement, many women who speak out on feminist issues are attacked daily. The evidence is abundant.

“Such an approach is likely to back fire. As a newcomer more than 16 years ago, I certainly would not have engaged with a movement that focuses on feminist ideology rather than reason.”

Nobody is suggesting the movement focus solely on “feminist ideology.” Feminism is reasonable. Our feminism should be informed by reason. But in this movement, people who discuss it are attacked every time they speak out.

(The fact that women are half the human race, and have not achieved equality, is another reason feminism should be a (not THE sole) focal point.)

“How many humanists who are members of racial minorities really want their race to become their defining characteristic in yet another community? How many female humanists want their gender to be in the spotlight, rather than their humanity?”

How many racial minorities are tired of having “white” be unconsciously perceived as the default, or norm, for humanity, and their concerns, their realities, shuffled off to the sidelines? Ditto for women?

“The assumption that what’s important to people is mainly or even in large part based on biological and socio-economic characteristics strikes me as belittling and a step away from humanism”

Oh, dear. Taking account of reality is belittling? Biological and socio-economic characteristics are unimportant? Humanism should not be aware of biological and socio-economic characteristics? That makes no sense at all. Human beings are not disembodied little Spock-minds.

#67 Martha (Guest) on Saturday January 12, 2013 at 12:33pm

Thank you, Stacy. Very important points.

#68 MarkPanzarino on Saturday January 12, 2013 at 3:10pm

Are P.Z. Myers, Ed Brayton, or any other representative of the Freethought Blogs attending the HEADS Meeting as “leaders of (a) nationwide secular organization”?

Are you releasing information about who is attending?

#69 Dawn (Guest) on Saturday January 12, 2013 at 9:02pm

About me: I am new to atheism/non-theism/humanism,I was a fan of Richard Dawkins because I felt voices of logic and reason were a natural home for me. A woman who has spent her life being harassed in religious settings and my male dominated work place by those around me who used their anti-woman religious dogma as a weapon against me. I have been blamed and shamed for my body for years and quite frankly I got very very sick of it. After having a daughter of my own I found solace in the feminist movement. I wanted desperately to find an outlet to change this world so she would not grow up to the same discriminatory practices I experienced. I also wanted to raise awareness for women expelled from intense religions that practice excommunication as a means to control members. I did not want to see another girl, unhappy with her mandated role as a subordinate expelled from her community and family with no place to go. But there is feminism for that. There is a haven for those repressed by the institution of religion because feminism understands the role male led religions have in the oppression of our gender. Now I have read many state that feminism means equality but that they are uneasy with all the “other stuff” that goes along with it. I have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. There are always voices in a community that carry opinions that stand out from the core group but if we hold all of those voices as (excuse the reference here) gospel for every movement or community out there nobody would ever support anything. I am not a member of any of the aforementioned groups, like I said I am new here and checking to see if I really belong. Feminism gave me the strength and support to see past religion now I was hoping this community would be somewhere I could expand my understanding of our world as science views it, not how some ancient books view it. Now that brings me back to Dawkins, his comment about “first world” women crushed me. Therin as I have delved further into this community I have been at odds with myself because the enlightenment that seemed such a logical extension of skepticism/atheism etc does not exist here. Some posses it but it is not fundamental, it is not ingrained and beyond that it is being challenged and talked down. This makes me an outsider and I will continue as such until this movement can make that revolutionary declaration that to them feminism means equality and they inherently support equality. The movement is IMHO doing itself a grand disservice because looking at the deeper struggles of women in this socioty, everything from the prevalence of rape culture to the exaggerated morality requirements to the incredible lack of pregnancy support and services in America shed light on the massive infiltration of religious morality and control in our culture to the point people are blinded by the simple fact they are drowning in it. I am not alone in my feelings. I have a significant group of non-theist female friends who feel the same. We want to find somewhere to thrive and to participate in ending superstition and advancing critical thinking but refuse to just walk into another movement where every time we open our mouths we are lectured to and not heard.

#70 Explicit Atheist (Guest) on Saturday January 12, 2013 at 9:03pm

The questions are a mistake, those questions are avoiding the problem and appear to me to be an effort to avoid taking responsibility for the problem.  The problem is that there is a group of individuls who are using violent imagery, slander, mockery, vitriol, and similar bullying tactics to try to discourage those they are targeting from participating.  Either the leadership, a.k.a. HEADS, is going to acknowledge and confront the problem, or they will falsely treat it like an honest political debate, which this is not, to avoid the problem, which is unfortunately what it sounds like Ronald Lindsey is doing with those misdirected questions.

#71 Iamcuriousblue on Sunday January 13, 2013 at 12:59am

1) Diversity in the secular movement. First, define “diversity”. Because so far this has only been defined as diversity on gender, racial, ability, and other “identity” lines. This is, of course, important. But I would argue that intellectual diversity is also important, and gender and other diversity issues being used as a club to impose a narrow ideology and beat down intellectual diversity is dirty pool indeed. The voices here or in Adam Lee’s obnoxious and partisan petition demanding the shutting down of other perspectives should not be listened to - this is guaranteed to stifle diversity of ideas within secularism, nor will it actually help promote gender and ethnic diversity in the movement. The people claiming this will be helpful grossly overestimate the numbers within marginalized groups that actually subscribe to the kind of neo-Marxist “social justice” ideology they’re pushing, which is largely the domain of radicalized white college kids more than any other group.

More generally, as somebody brought up earlier, an ethic of “nothing about us without us” should be a key value for any group you’re trying to include under the banner of the secular movement.

2) How can differences be resolved? Secular organizations should simply not take a side in this debate. They should not align themselves with the Atheismplus movement or its opposition. They should also take with a grain of salt the demands of partisan voices (very well represented in this thread) from the FTB/Skepchick/Atheismplus crowd who are very visibly lobbying secular groups and making demands that policy should be remade to their ends.

Do not lend your voice to hyperbole, such as referring to harsh criticism as “harassment”. Of course, there has been plenty of vitriol and, yes, even harassment to go around - criticize this behavior without pointing fingers at any one faction.

Anti-harassment policies are welcome, but should focus on what clearly constitutes harassment. Not, for example, on t-shirts that target no one, but are misconstrued as “harassing” by those looking for offense. Bans on “sexualized imagery and dress” clearly only serve a narrow and prudish agenda and have no place in this movement. Use common sense here, not ideological agendas.

3)I have to address this point as well, even though the question wasn’t asked. The very idea of a meeting like HEADS sounds very hierarchical and non-transparent to me. I’m not sure if I have much faith in such a process to come to the right decisions, promote inclusivity, and avoid factionalism. Then again, maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Or, maybe I’ll see just another reason to reject “movement atheism” and encourage others to do likewise.

4) THIS!: http://t.co/QCJ9JpvX .

#72 Iamcuriousblue on Sunday January 13, 2013 at 1:05am

#55

“We at CFI decry name-calling during arguments. We decry attacks on appearance, whether they are serious or an attempt at a joke (this includes photoshopping pictures of people you don’t like). We decry the usage of slurs, as words that stereotype and harm people are inappropriate for any venue for discussion. We decry obsession with people who you disagree with. We decry attacks on people’s personal lives (for example, Greta Christina’s shoe non-troversy). If you participate in these behaviors online, CFI will not invite you to speak.”

Well, there goes most of the Women in Secularism Conference…..

#73 SomeGuy (Guest) on Monday January 14, 2013 at 1:59am

“1. What specific steps do you think secular groups should take to increase diversity within our movement, in particular with respect to the participation of minority groups?”


Do not exclude people who don’t share ultra-progressive-left political opinions.

“2. How do you think these differences can best be narrowed or resolved?”

 

Sit back and wait for feminist organizations to figure it out?

#74 Nobody (Guest) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 at 12:46am

Just make up your mind what you want to be.  A feminist organization or a skeptical organization? 

Modern-day feminism is an honorable and worthy cause, but it introduces concepts like “hyperskepticism” - questioning things that shouldn’t be questioned - asking too many questions - having too many doubts - lack of faith - inability to believe without evidence - all those things that got a lot of us thrown out of church as kiddies.  In the skeptical community those qualities are admired.  In the feminist community, it’s just the opposite.

And that’s just one example of many that demonstrate that the two mindsets simply don’t mesh.

So what do you want to be, CSI?  Pick one and stick to your guns.  Accept the fact that you aren’t going to please everyone.  Whichever you choose, you’re going to piss off the other side.  Be prepared to cope with that, batten down the hatches, and just do it.

#75 Nobody (Guest) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 at 1:07am

CSI should be CFI, of course, but the acronym is a good one because it could easily mean Center for Feminist Inquiry if that’s the path you choose.

#76 Tony Sidaway (Guest) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 at 5:49am

Ron, you’re asking for specific suggestions, and I think you’re right. That’s the way to tackle it.

“1. What specific steps do you think secular groups should take to increase diversity within our movement, in particular with respect to the participation of minority groups?”

Getting concrete, as requested, I suggest requiring people in a leadership position to sign and commit to following a diversity policy. I think the problem within the skeptic/atheist movements has been lack of clarity at the top which encourages squabbling and turf fights within the organisation. If the organisations commit to diversity and to uprooting exclusive practices, that provides clarity of purpose and makes it harder to isolate those within the movement agitating for diversity. They must be seen to have the support of the entire movement.


“2. How do you think these differences [on the role of feminism] can best be narrowed or resolved?”

Drop the nonsense. Feminism should be policy. To all our members we owe complete acceptance of equality, strong commitment to encouraging women to attend, participate and take their share of a leading role within organisations. Adopt policies to further these goals in recognition that this movement, like the wider society, is far from reaching those goals. This is pretty much standard HR practice and should also be adopted in voluntary movements like ours.

#77 Mrs. A.S. (Guest) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 at 11:44am

After reading your post, Ron, I gather that you consider diversity an important issue to address.

Here’s an idea:

How about we stop making conferences so heavily Western World centric?

There are organizations all over the world which are promoting secularism and skepticism.  I’m sure we could come up with a diverse group of speakers from all over the world who can talk about their work, and their lives living in less enlightened societies.

Perhaps, it would give us all some much needed perspective.  Yes, there are battles that still need to be won in the western world but in relative terms our battles are minor compared to those being waged in third world nations and countries were government is theocracy.

Our obsession with first world problems seriously limits our appeal and our effectiveness, IMO.

#78 SimonSays on Wednesday January 16, 2013 at 11:48am

Me: CFI Member/donor/volunteer

To answer the question of how to define feminism, here’s a good resource I’ve found: http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/the-faqs/faq-roundup/

Now, some observations on the below and why I am a bit concerned at how the questions seem to be phrased:

1. What specific steps do you think secular groups should take to increase diversity within our movement, in particular with respect to the participation of minority groups? 2. As you are aware, there are some stark differences of opinion within the movement about the appropriate understanding of feminism and how feminism (however defined) should influence the practices and mission of secular organizations. How do you think these differences can best be narrowed or resolved?

Concern #1: On the one hand, I can see why these two questions are listed separately. Each group that is under-represented, may not be so for the same reasons, and therefore may require different strategies to reverse this.

On the other hand, there seems to be a difference in approach. With feminism, it seems like there are disagreements about what the word even means. I’m a bit perplexed as to why this is an issue for HEADS, but I guess if people are being educated that is a good thing on balance. However, for issues relating to race/ethnicity (ie the other minority groups being alluded to in question 1 presumably), there isn’t a similar call to define anti-racism, which might be seen as a rough equivalent to feminism.

I suspect the reason is that the term “feminism” is seen as “controversial”, but that is a mere guess on my part.

All that being said, IMHO what secular leaders should be seeking to define and indeed reduce is instances of prejudice (whether deliberate or otherwise) against others based on gender, race, ethnicity, etc. After all, it is these very prejudices that organizations’ harassment policies and indeed our own humanist principles oppose quite explicitly.

Concern #2: In your September 12, 2012 blog post “Divisiveness in the Secular Movement” you stated:

But if hate-filled comments and threats to women have not been expressly called divisive, it’s because such conduct does not threaten to divide the movement. It has already been repudiated, both implicitly and explicitly, by many, if not most, of the organizations in the movement.

Given that feminists will likely display a heightened sense of concern over exactly these very “hate-filled comments and threats”, this would seem to contradict you statement in this blog post that there are now “stark differences of opinion”.

What this reads like to me is that there are some leaders who simply do not want to address “hate-filled comments” about women with any urgency, even if the comments comments could be shown to be coming from prominent atheists/skeptics/humanists. My guess and my sincere hope is that this is simply due to concerns about “mission-drift” on their part.

As for the specific proposals, those will be sent via email. Thank you for reaching out and asking the question.

#79 Stephanie Zvan on Thursday January 17, 2013 at 7:18pm

My answer to the second part of your question was a bit longer in coming, Ron. I posted it here: http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2013/01/17/the-role-of-feminism-in-secular-organizations/

#80 Name (Guest) on Thursday January 17, 2013 at 8:24pm

“@Pitchguest

Seems like you have some notion of how my feminism and humanism diverge.  Please enlighten me.”

Anyone here believe that:

sexism = prejudice + POWER, that is, women can’t be sexist since they have no power?

Anyone here ever say something like:

A) MISANDRY AIN’T REAL
B) WHAT ABOUT THE MENZ
C) False rape accusations occur so infrequently they should be ignored in order to stop rape?
D) Schrodinger’s Rapist
E) I BLAME THE INVISIBLE SKY DEMON?

If you have found yourself saying that, you may not be a humanist.

#81 Elsa Roberts (Guest) on Sunday January 20, 2013 at 10:06am

Good afternoon Ron,

Below are my responses to your question. FYI, I am not currently a member of CFI.

1. What specific steps do you think secular groups should take to increase diversity within our movement, in particular with respect to the participation of minority groups?

Include issues that are important to minority groups as part of your action plan, show that you understand that “their” issues are issues that you and the rest of the secular movement care about and feel are relevant. Many social justice issues can be easily tied to the secular community because their advocacy is a result of viewing preconceived social notions through a skeptical lens. Take for example the war on drugs. On the surface this may not seem like an issue relevant to the secular community but it can be when looked at through a critical lens. Skeptics can look at the facts and see that the war on drugs has not been successful, they can question current policy based on a reasoned look at how that policy has worked so far.


2. As you are aware, there are some stark differences of opinion within the movement about the appropriate understanding of feminism and how feminism (however defined) should influence the practices and mission of secular organizations. How do you think these differences can best be narrowed or resolved?

I think it is a waste of time to give credence to these supposed differences. Giving attention to the anti-feminists in our movement legitimizes their position and their dubious definition of feminism. Stop engaging this manufactured debate and move on to focusing on how you can include issues of importance to women in your organization. For example, your organization could take up violence against women as an issue and tie together they ways that religious forces directly contribute to such violence and how an uncritical, unskeptical, society enables violence by engaging in logical fallacies and distorting or disregarding facts and pertinent research.

#82 Noelle George (Guest) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 at 2:19pm

Bring women and/or minority leaders within CFI to Heads as your representatives.  For example, Melody Hensley is the founder of the Women in Secularism Conference.  She is a very visible leader within CFI, and she has a different perspective from having been exposed to these types of issues first hand. 

Show that women and minority voices count by allowing them a chance to influence the discussion being held.

Also, not all opinions should be evaluated equally.  Someone who is a woman or minority, and has attended multiple secular events, and is very involved in the group would know better about how to make changes to incorporate more minority groups than someone who has never attended a conference. 

A person who identifies as transgender will have more knowledge of how to reach out to that group than someone who is not.  A woman will have more insight as to how to reach out to more women than someone who doesn’t identify as a woman.  A person who is a member of a racial minority will have more insight as to how to reach out to racial minorities, and their group in particular, than a person who is white. 

Not to say that other opinions don’t matter, just that it’s important to really pay attention when members of a particular minority group tell us their ideas for increasing the participation of that subset of the population.

#83 Corinne Zimmerman on Tuesday January 22, 2013 at 10:12pm

Dear Dr. Lindsay,

I am on the Board of Directors at Secular Woman and a Professor of psychology (my main research area involves the development of scientific thinking). I subscribe to Free Inquiry, but not yet a member of CFI.

1. What specific steps do you think secular groups should take to increase diversity within our movement, in particular with respect to the participation of minority groups?

I only became aware of the larger secular movement within the last year, prior to that I was both overly focused on my career and believed (to paraphrase Little Britain) that “I was the only atheist in the village.” I wanted to become involved in the secular/atheist movement because I felt inspired to come out of the closet after reading “Nonbeliever Nation.” I also feel strongly opposed to religious support for sexism, racism, and homophobia and so secularism seemed like the perfect place for me to begin volunteer work and activism.

I appreciate that your questions revolve around specific action items. I have worked in a university context for a long time, where we do not discuss IF we should support various types of diversity, but HOW. So I found myself disappointed to see that outside my ivory tower that people are still debating IF we should support diversity.  For me, issues of fairness and diversity are self-evident.

In my workplace, we have made an explicit commitment to diversity and accessibility. We advertise it as one of our Core Values. We have outlined specific goals, and specific strategies for meeting those goals. Within my department, we have a Diversity and Climate Committee. Our graduate students took the lead in creating a Diversity Task Force, which is committed to recruiting and retaining a diverse student population in psychology (broadly defined). They have created their own action plan and have already held events and fundraisers. All of this happens in the background of our work as psychological scientists and psychological practitioners – it does not detract from our teaching, mentoring, and research goals – it just is a part of our university and department culture. We can see analogs in our changing behaviors and attitudes about environmental issues. Once we made the commitment to being environmental, behaviors such as energy reduction, paper reduction, and recycling all fell into place. Now it just is a part of our university and department culture. Make the commitment, behaviors will change, and attitudes will follow.

2. As you are aware, there are some stark differences of opinion within the movement about the appropriate understanding of feminism and how feminism (however defined) should influence the practices and mission of secular organizations. How do you think these differences can best be narrowed or resolved?

I sometimes feel frustrated by conversations about definitions. At the same time, as a psychological scientist, operational definitions are critically important. But as some point we have to make some decisions and choices and move on, or research does not progress.
One way to narrow or resolve the differences is to determine if we all fundamentally agree in the idea of “equal rights” and “equal access.” My approach to life is that it is more like a marathon than the Olympics. Fine, someone will come in first, but hundreds (sometimes thousands) of people sign up to participate, not to win. What can we do to make it so that everyone gets to participate? That’s my approach to diversity. We don’t explicitly talk about the philosophy behind “No Child Left Behind” when approaching college level education, but I am aware that some people are participating with physical or learning disabilities, with inadequate preparation due to low SES, etc. And I do what I can to ensure that everyone gets what he or she needs to participate. If someone is going to be concerned about “losing” the race because of “reverse” discrimination they have a different mental model than I do. I’m just becoming active in the secular movement, and my hope that it becomes one that is welcome to diversity. My first forays have left me questioning whether I want to continue spending my volunteer time here or not. I choose to remain optimistic.

p.s., I gave up reading the threads here around #51, so I apologize if my contribution is repetitive.

#84 Ronald A. Lindsay on Thursday January 24, 2013 at 1:48pm

Thanks to everyone for their thoughtful comments. These were helpful to me.

#85 EdwardInMidwest (Guest) on Friday January 25, 2013 at 8:52am

As a follower, but not member, of the Atheist and Secular movements, I was not even aware of the conflicts within them.

Thanks for the view into the not-so-pretty side of things.

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