Women in Secularism—A Conference for Everyone

February 24, 2012

CFI’s upcoming conference on Women in Secularism (register here) is most decidedly not a conference targeting an exclusively female audience. Yes, the speakers are all female and yes, the conference is focused on women’s concerns. But the concerns of women are not a concern for women only.
 
One of the claims made on behalf of humanism is that it does not share in the prejudices toward women and minorities that have been exhibited by many religions and some ideologies. We loudly proclaim that all humans, regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation, are entitled to equal respect and the same fundamental rights.
 
But commitment to an abstract principle, however sincere, does not always translate into appropriate attitudes and actions. These things seem to me to be true: one, there is a widespread lack of knowledge about the contributions that women have made to secularism; two, women continue to be underrepresented in secular organizations and in the secular movement—at all levels; three, the challenges that face women are not always appreciated by, or do not receive the appropriate attention from, men in the movement; four, there is still much to be learned about the influence that sexism has on attitudes, cultural roles, and stereotypes. Finally, to state what I think is obvious: some secular men can be as sexist as any religious fundamentalist.
 
Some of you may dispute all or some of these points. That’s fine. That’s what we do. We make claims about interesting, relevant issues and then debate the evidence bearing on such claims. And Women in Secularism will provide a unique opportunity to have a discussion about these points. I doubt any of the speakers want a passive audience. They want an audience that will listen attentively, but who will also engage them with questions and challenges. Moreover, there will be ample opportunity for discussion not only with the speakers but also with one's fellow attendees. This conference will be a great learning experience—for both men and women.
 
As humanists, we aspire to base our values and actions on the best interests of humanity. I don’t think we can do a very good job of this if we are not attentive to the voices of half of humanity.
 
I hope to see you at the conference.