We Can’t Stop Now

May 22, 2012

Based on my own experience—let alone the many favorable reactions we have received from attendees and speakers—I think we need to have another Women in Secularism conference. When, where, and other logistical items that go into conference planning need to be discussed and determined over the next few months (we may even change the name), but we have to have another.

Why? This conference was rich and varied in its content, but it seemed to me that it merely served as an introduction to the contributions, perspectives, and concerns of women. It was a prologue, establishing the agenda and background for a more thorough investigation and analysis of the relationship between secularism and feminism, but we need to follow through on that investigation and analysis. And then we need to follow that with concrete action, the specifics of which also need to be hammered out.

Wanting to obtain more input from women doesn’t imply we think women have special “intuition” or have “emotional knowledge” unavailable to men. The requirements of evidence-based reasoning apply to both genders, to paraphrase an observation made by Ophelia Benson during the conference. But, to state what should be obvious, the life experiences of women tend to differ in many significant ways from the life experiences of men. If we cut ourselves off from those experiences, we will find ourselves reasoning with incomplete or misleading data and the secular movement will be pursuing objectives that many will find irrelevant.

This leads me to one slightly disappointing aspect of the conference, namely the relatively low attendance of men (about 20%). I expected women would constitute a majority of the audience—given the unprecedented focus of the conference—but not by such a disproportionate margin. I’ve got news for you, fellas, if you’re a committed humanist/secularist the concerns of women are your concerns. Our mission is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, and humanist values. This remains a formidable task. We’re not going to get there unless we fully engage women—about half of humanity for those who haven’t noticed—in this effort.

Postscript: In reading some of the commentary on the conference, I have noticed that there have been some observations about the presentation made by Edwina Rogers, which was limited to 15 minutes and no Q & A. In fairness to Ms. Rogers, you should be aware that it was CFI that limited her talk to 15 minutes. The schedule for the speakers was already set when SCA contacted Melody Hensley and me about the possibility of Rogers speaking. Although we concluded it would be appropriate to hear from the new executive director for SCA, we simply did not have the room in an already crowded schedule to offer Ms. Rogers much time. So think what you will about the quality of her talk, but do not blame her for its brevity or the lack of Q & A.






#1 Ophelia Benson on Wednesday May 23, 2012 at 11:26am

How about a book, too? (I say “too.” Not instead.) Naturally the conference was only an introduction, because there’s only so much one can do in the time. What about a collection of essays drawn from the conference, with more detail? Plenty of potential contributors in the audience, not just among the speakers.

#2 Janet Factor (Guest) on Wednesday May 23, 2012 at 11:55am

I’d like to see a future conference make an effort to focus more specifically on the intersection between secularism and women’s concerns. I felt that at this one, we were mostly see-sawing between the two, rather than looking at the overlap.

I think that there are unique contributions women can make to secularism, and that recognizing that fact will bring more women into the movement and thereby strengthen it.

#3 jerrys on Saturday May 26, 2012 at 3:33pm

I was one of the 20% men at the conference. It was a worthwhile weekend.  But I said at the conference, and I’ll repeat here that part of the reason so few men came was tjhe speaker list, which didn’t contain any men,  and some of the publicity seemed to suggest they weren’t invited.  One of the emails I received said “.. critically examining both the successes and failures of secularism in addressing women’s concerns. ”  A man I spoke to at the conference, who attended with his wife, told me that he had asked her whether she thought he was invited.

#4 jerrys on Saturday May 26, 2012 at 3:35pm

I’d like to see the next conference be “Women in Secularism and Skepticism”.  My own sense, from having attended both CFI Humanist and Skeptic events is that woman are even less represented in the skeptics meetings than the humanist meetings.

#5 Melody Hensley on Wednesday May 30, 2012 at 7:12am

A Women in Skepticism conference is a great idea, but should be a separate conference in my opinion. We would have different topics and goals. CSICOP did a regional conference on devoted to the topic of women and skepticism in the 90s.

#6 jerrys on Wednesday May 30, 2012 at 11:31am


When people ask me why I am heavily involved in CFI and not, say AHA or JREF I say because it’s an organization that advocates for reason and science in all areas.  I understand that the humanist and skeptics sides have different interests and some people are only attracted to one side, but understanding why women participate at such low rates and figuring out how to remedy that seems to be something they should have in common.

#7 Melody Hensley on Wednesday May 30, 2012 at 12:12pm

I understand, but the conference isn’t just about low attendance rates at conferences or participation in communities. The Women in Secularism conference has goals and topics that relate to religion and secularism. I’m all for a Women in Skepticism conference. Let me plan one! I just don’t think they should be the same conference.

#8 Dave Ricks on Tuesday June 05, 2012 at 7:36pm

I was happy to attend, especially after I read the topics, the name “Women in Secularism” seemed as general as “Orbital Mechanics” as an umbrella to include topics like “[What Are the Dynamics of] Women in Secularism” and “[How Can We Get More] Women in Secularism”.

At the end of the second day, the audio engineer from CFI Buffalo told me the all-female panels created an “unfiltered discussion” of issues.  I lol’d in agreement and added, “without the Hollywood trope of a sympathetic white male character to guide the audience through some exotic world.”

As I expected, I learned things I didn’t expect to learn.  If CFI offers a similar conference again, I would highly recommend attendance for anyone who wants to grow the present secular movement.

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