My Talk at WIS2

May 17, 2013

There has been some discussion, including many tweets, about my talk today at Women in Secularism 2. I think some of the comments have been highly misleading. One of the principal points of my talk was the critical importance of advocacy for women's rights, and how this advocacy was integral to CFI's mission. This is something I emphasized at the beginning and end of my talk. You wouldn't realize this from some of the comments. Anyway, here is the text of my talk (note the video recording may differ slighly, as I did not read it word-for-word; also, grammar and punctuation probably are amiss in places, as it was intended for my eyes only).

Let me begin with a reading, a reading that should be familiar to many of you, it's from 1st Timothy chapter 2:

“Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. 12: I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. 13: For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14: and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15: Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty”


If you take out the references to Adam and Eve and salvation, similar pronouncements could have been made, almost surely were made, across the globe, from one to two to three thousand years before Paul write those words. And similar pronouncements were common at least up through about 1800 in the Christian west, and analogous pronouncements are still being made today in much of the Islamic world.

The suppression of women, their treatment as inferior, subordinate beings has a long history, encompassing virtually all human cultures. When precisely did the subordination of women begin? We can't know with any certainty; some anthropologists speculate it began with the development of agriculture, and that a similar hierarchy did not exist in hunter-gatherer culture. Whether that's true or not, the fact remains that the subordination of women has been a critical and common feature of human civilization for thousands of years. By contrast the slow, and very much incomplete, process of achieving equality for women has been a phenomenon of just the last couple of centuries.

The reading I just completed from the New Testament reminds us of a second point, that is, the connection between religion and the subordination of women. It is obvious that religions doctrines have often provided the rationale for treating women as inferior beings, beings who should not be allowed to speak, which of course is one reason many secular organizations regard advocacy for women's rights as an integral part of their mission.  In working for a secular society, we are also working for a society free of oppressive doctrines. But the relationship between religion and the subordination of women is not an uncomplicated, straightforward cause-effect relationship.  It’s not as though we could say with confidence if there had been no religion there would have been no subordination of women. Seems to me the roots of the suppression of women are much deeper, and that they have affected and may continue to affect the attitudes and conduct even of nonreligious individuals. I'll return to these points later.

One thing you may have noticed already is that I did not give you a formal welcome to Women in Secularism 2. Of course you are welcome here. We're very happy to have you with us, but this is something you know already, and, although I don’t want to appear ungracious, why take up time to state the obvious, because the reality is we have much work to do, and presumably you came here for substance not rhetoric.

The first Women in Secularism conference was a ground breaking event, but that's just it. It broke ground, it helped lay a foundation, but it's not clear yet what's going to be erected on top of that foundation. That’s in part what we need to find out over the next few days and that’s one reason CFI decided it was important to have a second conference.

The first conference raised a number of questions in my mind, and if the vigorous online debate that has occurred over the last twelve months is any indication, in the minds of many others as well.

What is the relationship between feminism and secularism? What sort of priority should secular groups give to advocacy for women’s rights? As many of you may recall, shortly after the first Women in Secularism conference, there was a call by some individuals to launch the Atheism+ movement, that is, atheism plus activism on social justice issues. This was not necessarily a bad suggestion, other than the fact that humanist groups like CFI or the AHA think that’s what they’re doing already, that is, they’re combining atheism with activism on selected social justice issues. Because CFI was already involved in social justice issues, including women’s rights issues, I was frankly lukewarm toward the Atheism+ proposal. Also, based on the rhetoric of some of its proponents, and I underscore some not all, it seemed to me to have the potential to be divisive. In fact, according to at least one proponent it was intended to be divisive. Upon further reflection, I’ve become more sanguine about the proposal. To begin, although nomenclature is not irrelevant, it’s not supremely important; at the end of the day, you cannot force someone to call themselves a humanist, so if people prefer to call themselves an Atheist-plusser, or whatever the term is, that’s fine. Moreover, it’s not intrinsically divisive to have another group or organization within the secular movement, provided the group collaborates on key matters with other secular organizations. Goodness knows, we have plenty of groups as it is and we still have found a way to collaborate on many issues.

 Still, some questions remain, for example, how should secular organizations, including any organization that styles itself as an Atheist+ group, set their priorities? You can’t do everything at once. Only the religious believe in miracles, and think that time will stand still for them. For those of us who believe in the natural world, there are three limiting dimensions to public policy advocacy, namely time, space and money. So what should atheists or humanists who are interested in social justice focus on? Women’s issues only? Presumably not. But which other social justice issues are considered critical? And who decides what’s included within the scope of social justice anyway? What is the definition of social justice?  I read a blog post by Louise Pennington the other day; she stated that although patriarchy may predate capitalism, we cannot destroy patriarchy w/o destroying capitalism. Is the destruction of capitalism considered part of a social justice program? If so, that position certainly has very significant implications.

This leads me to another set of questions. What is feminism and what are the aims of the feminist movement? There’s a definition that I’m sure many of you are familiar with, a definition supplied by bell hooks,  and that is the feminist movement is a movement that seeks to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. In the abstract, that seems about right. But the problem with this definition is it just pushes our questions back further. What is sexism? What actions constitute sexist exploitation? I don’t think you’re going to find unanimity of opinion on the answers to those questions even within the feminist movement.

Or would you? I know that I’ve had some conversations in which the claim has been made there is no significant division among true feminists. There may be people who call themselves feminists who sharply disagree with the correct understanding of feminism, but they’re just fake feminists. Worse, some of them are sister-punishers.

Well, I’ll grant that merely calling yourself a feminist does not make you one. And it is true that some women seem to think that if you work outside the home that by itself makes you a feminist. Obviously not the case, But are there truly no significant divisions currently within the feminist movement? It would be surprising if that were the case b/c the feminist movement has had sharp divisions in the past. I just referenced a blog post from Louise Pennington in which she said capitalism had to be destroyed to eliminate patriarchy. Does everyone in this room who considers herself a feminist agree with Pennington?  If not, then you already have one very significant difference among feminists.

Also if there were no divisions among feminists, that would arguably make feminism unique among social movements; the secularist movement has significant divisions. For example, there are some secularists who think it’s a waste of effort to complain about/litigate so-called symbol cases. You know the type of case I’m talking about, there’s a cross somewhere on a piece of public property, so some of us think we need protest, maybe file a lawsuit to remove it. Others think not; why bother. People who take this position, assuming they believe strongly in a secular government and follow other secularist positions -- are they not true secularists? I would think they are; I might disagree with them, but I don’t think I can mask that disagreement by the simple expedient of saying “you’re not a secularist, so I don’t have to talk to you.”
 
This brings me to the concept of privilege, a concept much in use these days. Let me emphasize at the outset that I think it’s a concept that has some validity and utility; it’s also a concept that can be misused, misused as a way to try to silence critics. In what way does it have validity? I think there is sufficient evidence to indicate that there are socially embedded advantages that men have over women, in a very general sense. These advantages manifest in various ways, such as the persistent pay gap between men and women. Also, I’m not a believer in a priori arguments, but I will say that given the thousands of years that women were subordinated to men, it would be absolutely amazing if in the space of several decades all the social advantages that men had were promptly and completely eradicated. Legislation can be very effective for securing rights, but changing deeply engrained patterns of behavior can take some time.
 
That said, I am concerned the concept of privilege may be misapplied in some instances. First, some people think it has dispositive explanatory power in all situations, so, if for example, in a particular situation there are fewer women than men in a given managerial position, and intentional discrimination is ruled out, well, then privilege must be at work. But that’s not true; there may be other explanations. The concept of privilege can do some explanatory work at a general level, but in particular, individualized situations, other factors may be more significant. To bring this point home let’s consider an example of another broad generalization which is unquestionably true, namely that people with college degrees earn more over their lifetime than those who have only high school diplomas. As I said, as a general matter, this is unquestionably true as statistics have shown this to be the case. Nonetheless in any particular case, when comparing two individuals, one with a high school degree and one with a college degree, the generalization may not hold.

But it’s the second misapplication of the concept of privilege that troubles me most. I’m talking about the situation where the concept of privilege is used to try to silence others, as a justification for saying, “shut up and listen.” Shut up, because you’re a man and you cannot possibly know what it’s like to experience x, y, and z, and anything you say is bound to be mistaken in some way, but, of course, you’re too blinded by your privilege even to realize that.

This approach doesn’t work.  It certainly doesn’t work for me. It’s the approach that the dogmatist who wants to silence critics has always taken because it beats having to engage someone in a reasoned argument. It’s the approach that’s been taken by many religions. It’s the approach taken by ideologies such as Marxism. You pull your dogma off the shelf, take out the relevant category or classification, fit it snugly over the person you want to categorize, dismiss, and silence and ... poof, you’re done. End of discussion. You’re a heretic spreading the lies of Satan, and anything you say is wrong. You’re a member of the bourgeoisie, defending your ownership of the means of production, and everything you say is just a lie to justify your power. You’re a man; you have nothing to contribute to a discussion of how to achieve equality for women.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think the concept of privilege is useful; in fact it is too useful to have it ossified and turned into a dogma.

By the way, with respect to the “Shut up and listen” meme, I hope it’s clear that it’s the “shut up” part that troubles me, not the “listen” part. Listening is good. People do have different life experiences, and many women have had experiences and perspectives from which men can and should learn. But having had certain experiences does not automatically turn one into an authority to whom others must defer. Listen, listen carefully, but where appropriate, question and engage.

I started my talk with that reading from the New Testament which unmistakably assigned women a subordinate role.  Both the symbol of that oppression and the vehicle for enforcing that oppression was silence.  Enforced silence is always and everywhere the enemy of truth and progress.  If someone is forbidden from speaking, you are obviously not going to hear what they have to say. 

But enforced silence is also a way of robbing someone of their humanity.  Part of what allows us to give meaning to our lives is the ability to exercise certain core freedoms, such as freedom of conscience, freedom of association, freedom of expression, and reproductive freedom.  We need these freedoms to take control of our own lives, to give shape and direction our own lives; otherwise, we are just going to be forced into a role that has been assigned to us.

And this is where we see a fundamental connection between advocacy for women’s rights and humanism.  Humanists are committed to the autonomy of the individual, the right of the individual to make decisions for herself, to decide which occupations, which relationships to pursue or forego.  Women will not be able to secure that autonomy until they achieve complete social and civil equality and equal economic and political opportunity, and that is why CFI is committed to working toward those objectives.  The notion that people are assigned, condemned to a certain predetermined role in life, whether by the church, the state, or society, is antithetical to the humanist point of view.  Freedom, real freedom, authentic freedom, that is what we want for everyone.  Of course, how to get there  --  that is not yet determined.  But that is what we are here to figure out. 

I look forward to the conversation. 

 

Comments:

#1 Astrokid on Friday May 17, 2013 at 9:10pm

Good post Mr Ron Lindsay. Respect.
And I disagree with a few points.

1) You believe that freedom of speech is very important, and consequently diversity of opinion.
Yet I see no Religious women (such as Erin Pizzey, the first Domestic Vioelnce Shelter opener in England in 1970s), no Right Wing women (such as Christina Hoff Sommers, or somebody from Independent Women’s Forum or SecularRight.com), no Anti-feminist women (such as Karen Straughan, a.k.a GirlWritesWhat on youtube). It will do YOU good to listen to outside voices.

I have been in the Atheism community for about 4 years now, and I find that the range of opinion is somewhat constricted. And the best advice I heard in this community, came from somebody outside of it who was visiting.

Best #skepticism advice I heard .. from David Byron
I hadn’t really thought in terms of “skepticism” as a concept but it matches a lot of what I have thought independently. It’s a good word. Here is what I think: people are not good at seeing things from different directions. They are very good at one direction. But trying to do two is very hard work. There’s an easy solution which is to get two people together with different views. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. That is how you learn to think better. That is why I go to places to meet people I know I will disagree with because I want to know more stuff and have better thoughts.

People ought to do it but they do not.
I don’t understand though, why skeptics do not do this already. Is it because there’s too much science not enough philosophy? Maybe you do visit eg. religious boards but just don’t know how to handle being on the other end of things?

I tell you this because I want you to know that talking to people isn’t easy. It’s hard. It’s very hard. It’s so hard that we are probably not going to be able to pull it off. I happen to think if it’s even 1% likely then I’ll give it a try

It seems you consider feminism as a force for good, and are looking the other way when it does pretty bad stuff. The legitimacy of its academic wing has been questioned.. quite vociferously from the 90s by ex-gender studies professors no less.. such as Daphne patai and noretta koertge.
And most recently this piece by Barbara Kay in the MSM Barbara Kay: The face of Identity Studies on campus

This is regrettably not the case with Identity Studies — Womens/Gender/Men’s Studies (identical triplets), Queer, Black, Disability, Chicano — which are pseudo-disciplines. That is, they did not spring from a rational, disinterested spirit of inquiry into objective phenomena, but from revolutionary beliefs and theories about society.
Identity Studies are to evidence-based scholarship as astrology is to astronomy.

And English Professor Dr. Janice Fiamengo interviewed on the Charles Adler show

2) Regarding the concept of privilege, I have not seen any feminist address the lived experience of lesbian feminist and gender studies graduate Norah Vincent, who tried to live as a man for 6 months to understand the male-experience. She bailed out earlier.. she couldnt take it.. and concluded ‘I am much happier living as a woman. We are more privileged” (seen in Part 3 here)
Self Made Man, Part 1, for 20/20
I reject outright that men are overall more privileged than women.

While I live in the US now, I am a “brown man” and grew up in the third world. I have first hand experience of class-structures with huge gulfs between the classes. THAT is privilege.
In the Western world.. I have had many white guys work under me.. And its nonsense to claim that white men are more privileged than me in the work-sphere. In the melting pot of the cities in the US, “white male privilege” did exactly zilch for them. “privilege” has 0 practical applications.

3) Coming to Religion is the greatest source of “misogyny” (but not “misandry”) meme.. which is dominant in the atheist community.. I see that it is always accompanied by a bunch of quotes from scripture showing that women were required to be subservient to men.  And you read such quotes and interpret it through modern sensibilities and say Tsk
Tsk.
Civilization was largely built by men, and it came at a price for them.. male disposability. It just could not have been any other way. Are you familiar with Psychologist Roy Baumeister’s work Is There Anything Good About Men?: How Cultures Flourish by Exploiting Men, a summary of which is available here Is There Anything Good About Men?

Does anyone really think that gender roles were NOT inevitable in our history? That women could & WOULD have tamed Nature themselves.. killing mammoths, chopping down trees and building homes, while bearing children.. and dying like crazy in the process?  In today’s world, how many women are taking to the primary sector jobs (agriculture, deep ocean fishing, etc) which was pretty much ALL that was available in the ancient world?

Anybody believes that a person who had NO role in retrieving resource from the Natural world.. and thereby no knowledge of how things work.. should have a DOMINANT or EQUAL role in running the show? Anybody believes that women had NO power at home? her sexuality had no power?

Athens rules all Greece; I control Athens; my wife controls me; and my infant son controls her- Themistocles

4) You say We still have a long way to go before achieving women’s equality. So I take it equality of opportunity is NOT good enough? Name one (legislative) RIGHT that men have that women dont.
In contrast, have you analyzed how women have MORE reproductive rights than men do.
In case of unplanned pregnancy (which is apparently 40% of all pregnancies), women have the UNILATERAL right to abort the baby, or give it up for adoption or to keep it. Men have no say.. if they dont want to have the baby, they are still on the hook for 18 years of child support.

#2 David Osorio (Guest) on Friday May 17, 2013 at 10:17pm

Your talk was absolutely amazing and I can relate to what you say, but I guess no good deed goes unpunished:

#3 hjhornbeck (Guest) on Friday May 17, 2013 at 10:59pm

AstroKid @1:
You believe that freedom of speech is very important, and consequently diversity of opinion.
Yet I see no Religious women (such as Erin Pizzey, the first Domestic Vioelnce Shelter opener in England in 1970s), no Right Wing women (such as Christina Hoff Sommers, or somebody from Independent Women’s Forum or SecularRight.com), no Anti-feminist women (such as Karen Straughan, a.k.a GirlWritesWhat on youtube). It will do YOU good to listen to outside voices.

Good point. What do these three women have to say?

Erin Pizzey: “With both children in school and time on my hands I went to work for The Women’s Liberation Workshop in Shaftsbury Avenue.  I witnessed the women working there tearing open letters and pocketing the three pounds ten shillings that desperate women were sending in to join the movement.  I tried to answer as many of the letters as I could. Some of that money went into buying explosives. [...] Men, at this point, took the whole movement as a joke but it was no joke, as many homeless men deprived of their children will tell you.  Savaged by feminist lawyers and therapists, men have routinely been deprived of their homes, their children and their incomes.”

#4 hjhornbeck on Friday May 17, 2013 at 11:05pm

Whoops, forgot to log in. Continuing my last post:
[...]  Savaged by feminist lawyers and therapists, men have routinely been deprived of their homes, their children and their incomes.”
http://www.whale.to/a/pizzey2.html

GirlWritesWhat: “I don’t really find too much in the article [The Necessity of Domestic Violence] that strikes me as seriously ethically questionable.”
http://manboobz.com/2012/08/16/girlwriteswhat-on-the-necessity-of-domestic-violence-i-dont-really-find-too-much-thats-seriously-ethically-questionable/

As for Christina Hoff Sommers, she was the one to coin the terms “gender feminism” and “equity feminism.” I defer to the opinions of others on those two:
http://web.archive.org/web/20020926020235/http://organizenow.net/cco/right/antifem.html
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2013/01/on-feminism-gender-roles-social-constructs-and-biology.html

#5 Thetar (Guest) on Friday May 17, 2013 at 11:51pm

Somehow I don’t see Rebecca Watson being invited to WISC3. She really is burning bridges.

#6 Michael Kingsford Gray (Guest) on Friday May 17, 2013 at 11:55pm

#1 Astrokid on Friday May 17, 2013 at 9:10pm
...
Name one (legislative) RIGHT that men have that women dont.

The right to be conscripted, and to be slaughtered for their country.

#7 Hero on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 1:51am

Thanks for remaining steadfast in your heroism, and standing up to Becky. http://storify.com/ElevatorGATE/conversation-with-rebeccawatson-ralindsay-and-mist

http://womeninsecularism.com/2013/05/17/r-lindsay-is-a-hero/

#8 oolon on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 2:09am

Wow, just look at the support your talk is getting. Not exactly sceptical but when loons like @ElevatorGate call you a #bravehero maybe its time to re-examine what you said?

Someone who works for CFI is here to help
http://freethoughtblogs.com/nearearthobject/2013/01/26/shut-up-and-listen/

Read it. It clearly says what “shut up and listen” actually means. If you start saying things to a person in a marginalised group that they say is erasing their lived experience, shut up and listen.

The “Shut up” part is not an insult, its to protect you from the “But…But… *I’M* NOT A—-IST” ... Cue rant that digs a hole to the core of the earth.

I think you misunderstood this concept.

@Hero/@ElevatorGate, you forgot to include your first post about Ron… How did that happen!
http://womeninsecularism.com/2013/05/16/arguably-the-man-who-raped-cfi-of-its-integrity-and-prestige/

#9 earl (Guest) on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 2:55am

Oolon, @elevatorgate likes toast. Are you like elevatorgate?

Have you considered adding Ron to the block bot for his sins?

#10 oolon on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 2:59am

@earl, yeah I heard he is a Brit too. OMG I must be *just* like him! ... WTF does toast have to do with anything?

Ron is already in there, didn’t you know he is the true evil genius behind @ElevatorGate, @centre4inquiry, @felch_grogan and @rickygervais!

#11 Reap on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 4:43am

1st- Good talk Mr Lindsay. If this type of thinking is supported with matching action then it will be one more step forward.

2nd (last)
@oolon. Name calling now oolon? After criticizing so many others? I would mourn for your credibility but it is long gone already. Ironic you feel the need to explain anything to anyone when you have a poor grasp on even the simplest of subjects. You are a person who thrives on limiting the exchange of ideas oolon. Your words show it and your actions prove it.

#12 Ulysses (Guest) on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 4:50am

Thanks, Ron, for your lukewarm, “well, since despite many peoples’ efforts it exists I guess maybe it’s okay, for certain values of okay” acceptance of Atheism+.

#13 Zenspace (Guest) on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 5:27am

Mr. Lindsay, this was a surprisingly well balanced speech. Well done. Hopefully this is an indicator that CFI is beginning to recognize the negative effects inherent in the infiltration of certain ideological influences into the skeptical community. The negative feedback you have seen on twitter is a clear indication that no breach of the faith will be tolerated and that the first casualty is reason, rationality and skepticism. I call your attention to PZ Myers recent, public ‘divorce’ from skepticism as further evidence that the ideological aspects of gender movements are antithetical to the progress of reason and rationality.

CFI’s reputation and credibility as a skeptical organization has been hurt by its ongoing support of persons subscribing to these gender based ideologies to the clear detriment of reason and skepticism. If your speech proves to be reflected in the future real world activities of CFI, including the quality of persons it chooses to support, I will look forward to renewing my membership with the organization.

Thank you again for the thoughtfulness and clear thinking and fairness you exhibited in this speech.

#14 lymie (Guest) on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 5:46am

Wow, that was the absolute epitome of mansplaining. And all the usual characters have joined in to shout, “Hazzah!”  That should really tell you something, Ron, that you are not thinking too clearly or deeply.

Just what the WOMEN in SECULARISM conference needed, a middle aged white male PhD welcoming the little womens and telling them to be nice. SHeesh.

#15 Ulysses (Guest) on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 5:52am

Ron Lindsay has never been a supporter of feminism.  He accepts that women are actually human beings and I’m sure some women are his best friends, but feminism isn’t one of his causes.  His tepid, patronizing opening remarks to WiS2 are evidence of his lack of interest in feminism and feminist causes.

#16 The Tim Channel (Guest) on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 6:37am

Many other men of high stature within the skeptic community have tried to make the point you made, the most humorous and damning of which was Matt Dillahunty.  They are American Girlyban.  They do not negotiate. They block, ban and bully.  I was one of the early victims so I cleaned up the evacuation shelter and just waited for the rest of you to roll in.  I got a ton of company now, even a lot of women.  I expect this debacle will continue until the top two or three lunatics on the #atheismplus side are more fully marginalized.  Lord knows they jumped the shark sometime between #elevatorgate and #donglegate.  Welcome.  Coffee is on the house.  Enjoy.

#17 Withinthismind (Guest) on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 7:05am

Thank you.

For proving once again that women really aren’t welcome at conventions, no, not even at ones supposedly being thrown for them.

#18 throwaway (Guest) on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 8:30am

“This is something I emphasized at the beginning and end of my talk. You wouldn’t realize this from some of the comments.” ~ Ron

You can put the finest slices of bread on the ends but it’s still a turd sandwich.

#19 iMontoya (Guest) on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 8:40am

When your words are complimented by someone who uses the phrase “American Girlyban” without irony, you have to ask yourself where your life went so terribly, terribly wrong.

The quality of your friends matters, I guess…

#20 The Tim Channel (Guest) on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 8:54am

Silly me.  I always thought it was the quality of the argument you were trying to forward and not just ad hominem attacks on my character or that of those I chose to support.  I am not the least bit moved by such tactics.  I suggest you are not even a skeptic because most of these lame attempts at trolling are eerily reminiscent of the tone of those interactions, right down to the Scientology based banning rituals and Taliban like antipathy to reason.  Hence American Girlyban.  Enjoy.

#21 kellyw (Guest) on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 9:12am

Fine load of condesplaing to the wimmin folk.  Ron, if at some point you ever fully grok how utterly clueless you are about women and women’s issues, maybe you’ll stop talking down at women and MAYBE you’ll realize that the ideas you hold above are exactly why Atheism + is needed.

#22 Gretchen Koch (Guest) on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 9:15am

“American Girlyban” is moronic.

I would, however, point out that just because there are morons who agree with you does not mean that you are wrong. It simply means you have made at least one critical comment about people they despise, which they take to mean you are on their side. Likewise, those who associate themselves in any way with the people you’ve made critical comments about may take offense.

Both of these are silly errors of tribalism, whether it’s “You criticized some members of a group I hate, therefore you’re my friend” or “You criticized some members of my group, therefore you’re my enemy.” I wish the hackles would go down and we would grow up.

#23 oolon on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 9:49am

How about Tim of the channel being a 911 truther? Sort of fits his level of intellect. Or is that an ad-hom… Better start respecting creationists as well!

#24 oolon on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 9:58am

@Reap, “@oolon. Name calling now oolon? After criticizing so many others? I would mourn for your credibility but it is long gone already.”

Wow, where to begin… I thought you were ignoring me?

Anyhoo, name calling -> http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2012/10/08/thats-fucking-effective-bitch-to-you/
... So I think you beat me in the destroying credibility stakes through name calling! To my knowledge I’ve never denigrated someone using their gender, race, sexuality by accident, let alone on purpose to try and hurt them as you have. I’d also recommend anyone reading this look up Reaps creepy 3d rendered videos, described by an impartial observer as “demented”. They are at a performance-art level of cluelessness, even for a Slymepitter like Reap.

“You are a person who thrives on limiting the exchange of ideas oolon. Your words show it and your actions prove it.”

Yup, yours and the Slymepits bigoted ideas. See link above… I’ll take that as a compliment.

#25 Martin (Guest) on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 10:07am

Ron, here’s your problem. In complaining about the supposed misapplication of the concept of privilege as a silencing technique (which it can be used for, sure), you’ve failed to grasp that the opponents of feminism, gender equality and A+ do not actually have anything to bring to the table but misogynist spew, insults, and the predictable cheap shots about how Rebecca Watson is a castrating bitch. Your perspective seems to imply that the anti-feminist side is actually interested in rational, respectful engagement, with valid ideas and dialogue of their own to contribute to a mutual meeting of the minds. And repeatedly, they demonstrate they do not. They thrive on trolling blogs and YouTube and Twitter feeds, and then once their behavior has become so appalling they’re inevitably blocked, they bleat about how you are a censorious tyrant who is “stifling the freedom of inquiry that makes skepticism so great.” They are to the skeptical movement what Glenn Beck and Alex Jones are to political punditry. Come on, where have you been that you haven’t noticed this?

#26 Martin (Guest) on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 10:58am

Also, this:

By the way, with respect to the “Shut up and listen” meme, I hope it’s clear that it’s the “shut up” part that troubles me, not the “listen” part.

But how can you listen if you won’t shut up?

In any case, instead of being all butthurt that your intent was supposedly misunderstood, why not actually stop to consider why some people might find it irksome that, in a speech that opened a conference about and for women in skepticism, you felt the most important point to make was how feminists were being unfair to men.

And if you’re so concerned about silencing, why no mention of the women (like Jen McCreight) who actually have been silenced, driven completely out of blogging and conference-attending and the movement in general because the level of hatred and even personal threats against them have gotten so extreme they’re in genuine fear for their physical safety?

This kind of thing is a big reason why conferences like WIS2 exist. Why haven’t you noticed?

#27 PQ (Guest) on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 11:52am

@Martin - so, given that you just made a couple of posts (and therefore weren’t “shutting up”), have you been failing to listen?  Is the same true of anyone who expresses their opinion?

Of course not, because outside of a very narrow context (face-to-face or phone conversation, essentially), listening does *not* require “shutting up” (except in the trivial sense than speaking 100% of the time leaves none for listening.  Which no one does anyway).  And even when it does, it means only temporarily doing so while the other person is speaking.

Which is all rather obvious, but it makes a nonsense of the idea that people making blog posts, or tweets, or indeed invited speeches, are somehow failing to listen by virtue of speaking.  The analogy simply doesn’t stretch that far, and comes across as a poor justification for telling people whose statements one dislikes to “shut up”.

#28 Nick Gotts (Guest) on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 12:25pm

Others have dealt adequately with your disgraceful condescension to the people this conference was supposed to be about. I’ll just mention two particular points.

(1)
“The first conference raised a number of questions in my mind, and if the vigorous online debate that has occurred over the last twelve months is any indication, in the minds of many others as well.”

Maybe the term “vigorous online debate” was used ironically, but somehow I doubt it. Are sustained campaigns of harassment against feminist bloggers, including threats of rape and murder, obsessive use of misogynist slurs, and photoshopping images of one’s their heads into pornographic images what you mean by “vigorous online debate”? Or have you somehow missed all these? Because while whining about the concept of privilege (which you have misunderstood) being used in “silencing men” (I’m a man, I understand what is meant by privilege and that sometimes, I really should shut up and listen), you have said nothing whatever about them. Why is that?

(2)
“there was a call by some individuals to launch the Atheism+ movement, that is, atheism plus activism on social justice issues. This was not necessarily a bad suggestion, other than the fact that humanist groups like CFI or the AHA think that’s what they’re doing already, that is, they’re combining atheism with activism on selected social justice issues.”

Well, your pompous finger-wagging lecture from a position of privilege is a fine illustration of why Atheism+ is needed. As it has developed, it has actually become primarily a place where atheists who want to can discuss social justice, among other issues, without constant interruption from misogynist harassers. It is also, unlike the CFI or AHA, very much an international group. But I see no sign that you so much as acknowledge the existence of atheism, scepticism or secularism beyond the USA.

#29 Martin Wagner (Guest) on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 12:43pm

Which is all rather obvious, but it makes a nonsense of the idea that people making blog posts, or tweets, or indeed invited speeches, are somehow failing to listen by virtue of speaking.

No, what indicates that they’re failing to listen is that when they do speak, what they say indicates they haven’t been listening, and only care that they aren’t being listened to. As Ron is doing with his tweets.

Instead of listening to what the women criticizing his speech are saying — that the main takeaway of his speech is how unfair feminists are to men, which is a rather tone-deaf and, yes, privileged way to open a women’s conference — he’s responding to all criticisms with “Look, there you go! You’re trying to silence me! That’s just what I was talking about!”

A big difference, I submit, between that and “questioning and engaging.”

So yeah, maybe there is a time to shut up and listen. As for “being silenced,” it’s not as is Ron doesn’t have this column plus any number of venues to express his views. A big lesson we all have to learn in life is that “everything’s not always about me, and I don’t have to get in my two cents all the time, especially where my opinion isn’t well informed.”

#30 PQ (Guest) on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 1:02pm

@Martin

“No, what indicates that they’re failing to listen is that when they do speak, what they say indicates they haven’t been listening, and only care that they aren’t being listened to.”

Why, because you feel they aren’t adequately addressing pertinent points?  They aren’t accurately representing the views of their critics?  They’re not basing what they say on facts available?

If true, these are all valid grounds for criticising what they say on the merits of what they say, not because of who they are, or a supposed “failure to listen”.  Nor is it something that requires them to stop speaking in order to rectify: people can make good points even when they’re not listening to their opponents (although obviously it helps) and, more pertinently, they can certainly make bad ones even if they are.

So even “what you are saying is wrong, this is why, and you need to shut up and listen” presupposes why they are wrong, recommends a remedy that isn’t essential and may well not actually address the problem, and sounds suspiciously similar to the common (but bad) human instinct to try and silence one’s ideological opponents.  And it’s worse still when people jump straight to the last part without bothering with actually criticising the statement.

#31 J. J. Ramsey (Guest) on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 1:18pm

oolon: “Wow, just look at the support your talk is getting.”

The catch is that any blog post that involves criticism of some feminists will tend to attract certain haters of feminists—regardless of whether the criticism actually supports what the haters are saying.

#32 Eliza (Guest) on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 1:30pm

Thank you, Mr. Lindsay.  Your opening words were very reasonable & appropriate for the CEO of an organization that seeks “to bring science, reason, and secular values back to the public square”, though even without a crystal ball one might have predicted it wouldn’t go over well with some of the speakers and attendees.

I have put my money where my mouth is (or at least where my appreciative typed words are) and have just donated for the first time to CFI, adding it to the other groups I already help support (AHA, FBB, FFRF, SCA, and the Skeptics Society, as well as several groups which do direct lifesaving work in developing countries).

#33 PQ (Guest) on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 2:10pm

@Martin - re my last post

“So even ‘what you are saying is wrong, this is why, and you need to shut up and listen’ presupposes why they are wrong…”

I realised this was somewhat unclear.  Supplying reasons (i.e. problems with their argument) is not a presupposition.  Saying their claims are wrong because they’re failing to “shut up and listen” is.

#34 StealthBadger on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 2:32pm

I like your message here, though I have a few suggestions (besides that there are an infinite number of more accurate ways to view the world that aren’t embodied in many of the comments you’re getting from the two most radical factions involved here).  I do apologize if I am telling you what you already know:

1.  Remember that if you’re going to tell one group they have to do/not do something, it may be a good idea to say *explicitly* that it’s bad for everyone.  Telling women they need to not silence men is especially dangerous ground, because they hear that from MRAs every time there is a mention of feminism in a non-negative light in pretty much every non-moderated forum on the Internet, to say nothing of real life.  Perhaps saying that we as men need to learn to avoid the reflexive urge to silence criticism of what we ‘know’ to be true about social roles, and that all of us must be careful of the urge to assume we know the intentions or motivations of others.

2.  Many people have a very different understanding of Marx than what we in the West know through our media exposure to authoritarian regimes.  Some might say that we owe the weekend, the eight hour work day, and paid vacations to Marx and his ideological cousins.  Tread carefully when you’re tempted to throw out a name.

3.  One interesting thing about privilege: it cuts both ways, because *there are no privileged frames of reference.*  Not only do men and women not have direct access to each other’s experiences (considering that none of us are telepaths), but none of us as individuals has access to the inner life and experiences of anyone else.  So approach these discussions with the realization (perhaps explicitly put) that much of what we are navigating here has been smoothed over by assuming that our particular prejudices and internalized social ‘norms’ are simply some form of inherent truth about who and what other people are.  We really don’t have any idea of the territory we’re in here, and we’re really good at misunderstanding each other when our foundational assumptions are at their most unreliable.

I think good points were made in your speech, but the mental associations that inform the words we say are not the associations that are triggered upon hearing them, and what makes it worse is that the mental imagery we are trying to convey is necessarily a fragmented and incomplete view of reality.

#35 Pitchguest (Guest) on Saturday May 18, 2013 at 8:51pm

Remember, folks, it’s not the content of what you say that matters. It’s who agrees with you that matters.

#36 hjhornbeck on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 12:52am

Pitchguest @35: When people who are opposed to feminism approve of a lecture that is supposed to favour feminism, you know you have a problem.

Besides, Lindsay’s real feelings leak out when he declares Atheism+ “was not necessarily a bad suggestion,” priviledge “has some validity and utility,” compares listening to “dogma,” and ignores the silencing of women in favour of the mythical silencing of men. This was supposed to be a rousing speech and a call to activism, and yet he spends more time not welcoming people that it would have taken to welcome people, and skips over talking about who will talk in favour of causing doubt over why everyone is there.

He doesn’t like this conference, not one bit.

#37 Pitchguest (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 4:19am

hjhornbeck:

Pardon me? Ron Lindsay “ignores the silencing of women” (whatever that means) because he expresses ambivalence to Atheism+, scepticism to the concept of privilege and dislike in the misapplication of “shut up and listen” when it’s used in conjunction with the previous concept to silence others?

Two things:

1) This is a *bad* thing?
2) What on earth has any of that do with women and/or women specifically?

Is the concept of privilege relevant to women alone? Is Atheism+?

And I’m curious how you seem to have divined Ron Lindsay’s mind regarding the conference. Will you be the one to claim the Randi million?

#38 Pitchguest (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 4:23am

hjhornbeck:

You can read the section where he explains his dissent to how privilege is used above, but for the sake of it I will quote the relevant portion. Just a slight warning, you will need to read the whole thing.

This brings me to the concept of privilege, a concept much in use these days. Let me emphasize at the outset that I think it’s a concept that has some validity and utility; it’s also a concept that can be misused, misused as a way to try to silence critics. In what way does it have validity? I think there is sufficient evidence to indicate that there are socially embedded advantages that men have over women, in a very general sense. These advantages manifest in various ways, such as the persistent pay gap between men and women. Also, I’m not a believer in a priori arguments, but I will say that given the thousands of years that women were subordinated to men, it would be absolutely amazing if in the space of several decades all the social advantages that men had were promptly and completely eradicated. Legislation can be very effective for securing rights, but changing deeply engrained patterns of behavior can take some time.
That said, I am concerned the concept of privilege may be misapplied in some instances. First, some people think it has dispositive explanatory power in all situations, so, if for example, in a particular situation there are fewer women than men in a given managerial position, and intentional discrimination is ruled out, well, then privilege must be at work. But that’s not true; there may be other explanations. The concept of privilege can do some explanatory work at a general level, but in particular, individualized situations, other factors may be more significant. To bring this point home let’s consider an example of another broad generalization which is unquestionably true, namely that people with college degrees earn more over their lifetime than those who have only high school diplomas. As I said, as a general matter, this is unquestionably true as statistics have shown this to be the case. Nonetheless in any particular case, when comparing two individuals, one with a high school degree and one with a college degree, the generalization may not hold.

But it’s the second misapplication of the concept of privilege that troubles me most. I’m talking about the situation where the concept of privilege is used to try to silence others, as a justification for saying, “shut up and listen.” Shut up, because you’re a man and you cannot possibly know what it’s like to experience x, y, and z, and anything you say is bound to be mistaken in some way, but, of course, you’re too blinded by your privilege even to realize that.

This approach doesn’t work.  It certainly doesn’t work for me. It’s the approach that the dogmatist who wants to silence critics has always taken because it beats having to engage someone in a reasoned argument. It’s the approach that’s been taken by many religions. It’s the approach taken by ideologies such as Marxism. You pull your dogma off the shelf, take out the relevant category or classification, fit it snugly over the person you want to categorize, dismiss, and silence and ... poof, you’re done. End of discussion. You’re a heretic spreading the lies of Satan, and anything you say is wrong. You’re a member of the bourgeoisie, defending your ownership of the means of production, and everything you say is just a lie to justify your power. You’re a man; you have nothing to contribute to a discussion of how to achieve equality for women.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think the concept of privilege is useful; in fact it is too useful to have it ossified and turned into a dogma.

By the way, with respect to the “Shut up and listen” meme, I hope it’s clear that it’s the “shut up” part that troubles me, not the “listen” part. Listening is good. People do have different life experiences, and many women have had experiences and perspectives from which men can and should learn. But having had certain experiences does not automatically turn one into an authority to whom others must defer. Listen, listen carefully, but where appropriate, question and engage.

#39 The Tim Channel (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 9:11am

Point.  Original Girlyban threat claims focused on skeptic events and are not backed up by anything more reliable than jaded witness testimony not dissimilar to alien abduction “victims” or people who see Jeesus..

Point. Rebecca Watson gets hate mail and threats for her disruptive behaviors, (but apparently none actionable by authorities.)  Does she think that Dawkins, Harris, et.al. get a free ride for their public statements, either of whom COULD try and make a career alone out of same, but they soldier on instead.

Point. Given complete control of their own Internet “domain” the Girlyban proved exactly the point that many were making about their propensity towards totalitarianism.  Their knee jerk Creationist response of blocking and banning (lest the truth seep into their cloistered world) of a sympathetic Matt Dillahunty is Exhibit A but only a sliver of the overall theme.  How bad is their desire to block, ban and bully?  As the #wiscfi conference was underway, PZ Myers,the King of #Atheismplus, was over at FTB decrying his inability to block and ban Twitter hashtags, and since you asked, yes they tried!!

These are demonstrable facts. They stand as a testament against the values of the evidence free emotion-fest that is #atheismplus

Enjoy.

#40 Artemis (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 4:27pm

Thank you Mr. Lindsay for this talk.

As an atheist woman I do feel excluded from the secular movement. This conference gave me hope that the situation might be improving. I was seriously considering attending it (which would be a great expense to me).

Your talk made it clear to me that I am still not welcome in the secular movement and that staying away from this conference was the right choice. I plan to stay away from CFI in the near future. There are many worthy causes around, no need to support an organization where I am not valued and not welcome.

Your message was received.

#41 Sheri Lucas on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 6:46pm

Looks like a reasonable and non-problematic talk to me. A good talk, even. You raise concerns in it that I share and that I am glad to see made. I’m sorry to see that you were put on the cutting board and hacked up as a “mainsplainer” for your efforts. Seems a great way to turn people away from feminism (including both men and women). Hopefully those who appreciate your efforts are in the vast majority and it is only a misguided minority who find reason to take offense to your talk. Best wishes.

#42 Sheri Lucas on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 6:48pm

I made a typo. I meant to type “mansplainer,” a term I find very annoying.

#43 debzilla on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 7:25pm

I did not attend the conference, but am sadly following the fallout.

This is not an opening speech I would expect from an intellectual organization such as CFI.

My criticism with all due respect:

Know your audience.  Given the fact that this is a meeting titled “Women in Secularism,” it is hard to understand why Dr. Lindsay would open it by focusing on that which has been so divisive in the skeptical/atheist communities in a way that further perpetuates that polarity. Reading the verbal shots in the comments above, it appears quite successful in that outcome.

Additionally, the speech as written is more of a “here’s my opinion on this issue.”  A good rule of thumb may be more humility, less hubris? 
Opening speeches should not be reduced to “op eds.”  Perhaps a better approach would have been to open the conference with something inspiring, uniting, giving an overarching theme for the conference that would have had the audience excited to be there, glad they took time away and spent the money to participate. 

The opinions expressed would have been more suited in a later workshop or panel dialogue with an audience. 

As an opening invitation to participants, the writing above sounds less like a welcome from the CEO and more like an uninspiring rambling that falls flat. 

-Some thoughts from a fellow (clinical) bioethicist.

#44 eradaica (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 7:25pm

So, what exactly is your call to action?  What is it you are calling people to do, or are you just trying to describe a situation?  What is missing here is a sense of your intention.  Do you intend to sit around and decide who is a proper feminist and who is not? Or do you intend to actually make a difference doing something real in the world? Why should we listen to you at all?

The idea that women’s issues are somehow separate from human issues is just weird.  Women are 52% of the population. Dealing with women’s issues is dealing with more than half the world, so yeah, you might want to “prioritize” that.  Add to that the fact that women are the birth-givers and caretakers of 99% of the population, yeah, you might want to prioritize their issues.

It’s not that what you said was really wrong, it was just so limp and meaningless.  Get on with it.  Change the world or get the hell out of the way.

#45 Ruby Dynamite (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 8:05pm

I’ve been an out and proud atheist on the internet since 2006 and have seen other female atheists be on the receiving end of endless rations of bullshit from men in the movement.  Silencing bullshit, sexist bullshit, misogynistic bullshit.

I had the grand fortune of getting to be in an after-charity-BlogTV that Thunderf00t was attending and when someone pointed out that I’d arrived, my being a lesbian came up and Thunderf00t just waved his hand dismissively and said, ‘ppfff, what can I do with that?’ and continued soaking up the adoration of other guys in the chat.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg of the kind of shit I endure as a female atheist and a feminist in this community. 

Which brings me to Atheism +.  I’m going to be perfectly blunt here—I didn’t support A+ and refuse to, in its current incarnation.  Why?  Because I’m a sex-positive feminist and a former sex worker, and after seeing the hand-wringing ego-and-misery parade that is A+‘s forums, I don’t want to have anything to do with it.  They push victim feminism and a victimhood mindset and don’t show any kind of support for sex-positive feminists or sex workers, beyond that patronizing ‘pat your hand, oh you poor, poor dear, you’ve been so brave - would you like a ride to therapy?’ radical nonsense that I can’t stand. 

It’s very obvious to me that the feminists pushing for A+ are more rad of center than myself and my friends and so, for me, I can’t conscience supporting such a movement.  Because, again, for me - it’s already coming from a toxic, rotted foundation.

Also, like I pointed out to StealthBadger—I can’t help but think it’s more than a little ironic, problematic and unfortunate that the keynote speech for the WOMEN in secularism conference was given by a guy.  Seriously, with all the female attendees, you couldn’t find -one- freaking woman to get up there and talk and -not- condescend to the attendees?  Seriously?

#46 Jacob Two-Two (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 9:49pm

Wow. Imagine that a person in Lindsay’s position actually needs to have all this explained to him.

Let me make this clear to you. No feminists have silenced any men. Any. What they have done is taken issue with men who have grown up swinging their privilege around the world, so assured of their natural place as the ruler of every situation, they can’t even see their own arrogance when you push it right in their face. Us feminists take issue with it. We call it out, and we make our displeasure heard.

The hilarious thing is how blind you are to the privilege inherent in your own complaint. Only a person drowning in privilege, swimming in a sense of his own entitlement could possibly characterise opposition as oppression, as if nobody has the right to disagree. If a chorus of men all loudly complained about an opinion of yours, you might feel you had been treated unfairly, but you wouldn’t say you were silenced, (because of course men have the right to be firm and vocal in their disapproval of you, but women don’t). Yet again and again we hear men whining that feminists are trying to silence them. By silence you, of course, you really mean that a feminist tried to make the conversation about something other than you for five minutes. God, do men ever hate that.

“But you’re missing the point! They’re telling us to shut up just because we’re men!! *sob, sob*”

No, you’re missing the point. This was a women’s conference. The fact that you felt you had to, just HAD TO have your say and make your point and get your male voice into the proceedings (not just into it, but making the kickoff itself all about you and your criticisms) shows without a doubt that you are utterly ignorant about how male voices dominate every sphere of life and how rarely women can find an outlet that doesn’t involve some man shouting them down as always. Men voices are in no danger.

“Shut up” doesn’t mean shut up forever, never speak again. As if any of you would. It just means that maybe for a few hours here and there, just every once and a while, we’d like you to consider hanging back and letting someone else speak. Y’know, just for the sake of variety if nothing else.

It really is remarkable how hard it is for so many men to do that, and how offended they get if you suggest that there might be another voice besides theirs with something to say.

#47 jason (Guest) on Sunday May 19, 2013 at 10:18pm

If women are so messed up, why don’t you just kick them out of your little club and let them form their own little club? You are not secularism. You are not rationality. You are not atheism. Neither are they. You are one guy who obviously has a problem with women.  The community of rational folks will go on without this you and without this organization. These women that irritate you are not secularism. I suggest starting over with your own little club that can be just exactly the way you want it to be without all these imperfect, needy, grasping women dragging you down. Built a fort, put up a little “no girls allowed” sign, and get on with your life.

#48 oolon on Monday May 20, 2013 at 1:13am

@RubyDynamite, that’s some pretty damning criticism of A+ in regard to sex positivity and sex workers. I’m not the right person to comment really but from what I’ve seen they follow Greta Christina’s sex-positive pro-sex-worker stance. In fact Greta and other sex-positive and current/ex sex-workers hang out at the forum. Doesn’t mean they are not sufficiently pro for you… But seriously -

“They push victim feminism and a victimhood mindset and don’t show any kind of support for sex-positive feminists or sex workers, beyond that patronizing ‘pat your hand, oh you poor, poor dear, you’ve been so brave - would you like a ride to therapy?’ radical nonsense that I can’t stand.”

Quick search on the forum and an ex-mod is having a go at someone denying agency to sex workers. Linking to the Desiree Alliance and articles by Melissa Gira Grant. http://atheismplus.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=4397&p=77903&hilit=sex+worker#p77903
—> In hidden text
I really cannot imagine anyone being sex-negative or anti-sex worker lasting long there! That person got banned.

#49 David L Steinhardt (Guest) on Monday May 20, 2013 at 8:54am

Wow. So you unzipped, let water loose on your attendees, and the castrating idiots didn’t understand your intention wasn’t hostile, just angrily condescending and cluelessly defensive of your own privilege?

Huh.

#50 Sean S (Guest) on Monday May 20, 2013 at 9:29am

You had the best of intentions, but it was disappointing for all the reasons given. Take criticism in stride and fix problems and then move on.

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