The Rubicon is crossed: Women In Secularism, feminism, atheism, skepticism, humanism - blog by Gurdur


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The Rubicon is crossed: Women In Secularism, feminism, atheism, skepticism, humanism
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Posted 20-May-2013 at 11:53 PM (23:53) by Gurdur
Updated 21-May-2013 at 01:01 PM (13:01) by Gurdur

The Women In Secularism conference (#wiscfi) opened in Washington, DC, on Friday, and continues till Sunday. The full conference schedule and speaker list can be seen here. It was an event largely funded by the Center For Inquiry (CFI). Apparently the conference was planned and executed by the DC chapter of CFI - a siginificant fact - however it is largely funded by the national CFI. So the speaker list and schedule looks to have been set by the DC group. Ron Lindsay (@RALindsay), president and CEO of the national CFI, gave the opening talk. Here is the text of his talk. Please read it before reading anything about it.

Read it all? OK. It's important because some people are making claims about what was said, so best to know what was actually said. My own take on his speech is that Lindsay said, in short form, and in the order he presented his points in:
  1. - religion bad, oppression of women bad, long history of it;
  2. - religion may not be the decisive factor in sexism; if religion did not exist, sexism & oppression of women might still exist;
  3. - welcome to the conference, welcome to the attendees, acknowledgement all are there to work hard at the issues;
  4. - CFI organized and funded the first Women In Secularism conference, last year; this is the second one;
  5. - questions raised over relationship between feminism and secularism;
  6. - also issues about Atheism+ (atheismplus) and, overall, point of priorities raised;
  7. - then the question of what feminism is, using an example the divisions inside feminism;
  8. - then the issue about privilege is raised;
  9. - then about how the privilege argument can be misused and abused
  10. - the "Shut Up And Listen" meme is brought up, Lindsay states: "enforced silence is also a way of robbing someone of their humanity";
  11. - Lindsay then restates he finds the privilege argument useful and good in itself;
  12. - and he restates he finds listening good;
  13. - and then reiterates the point that silencing someone is oppressing them;
  14. - and reiterates support of womens' rights, saying, "we see a fundamental connection between advocacy for women’s rights and humanism", and, "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".
So that's all fairly clear. We get onto the reactions to that, and the claims about what Lindsay said. There was a response from Rebecca Watson on Twitter: "Very strange to open #wiscfi w a white male CEO lecturing women about using the concept of privilege to silence men." So let's get that clear; Rebecca Watson chose to make such a remark about a conference speaker while still both her and him were at the conference. Ron Lindsay was also immediately challenged to give examples of the meme "Shut Up And Listen" being abused or misused in action. So he did, in a second blog post. One of the examples he gave of people misusing the privilege argument was PZ Myers.

Ron Lindsay also replied to all that over Twitter, anong other things pointing out he had not claimed men had been silenced, just that some were trying to shut anyone up who disagreed with them, and also pointing out other mischaracterizations.

Rebecca Watson replied over Twitter and then with a blog post, which consisted of three major points:
  1. - she claimed Ron Lindsay had in his original conference speech spent "a good deal of time arguing against the idea that feminism as a movement has no significant internal disagreements", then discussed her own claim;
  2. - then she claimed that "Lindsay didn’t give any examples of men who have been silenced";
  3. - and complained Lindsay had not spent time in his speech on examples of women being bullied.
Sara Mayhew, a significant figure in the skepticism movement, tweeted, "You say "shut up and listen" but what you really mean is "listen then shut up"." Forgetting his claim he is a feminist, PZ Myers wrote, "Sara Mayhew is not here. She’s a parrot echoing & amplifying Vacula’s distortions...". Anyone who knows Sara Mayhew or even only follows her Twitter account knows PZ Myers' claim is simply and bizarrely untrue. PZ Myers immediately added in that comment, "... and that is another reason Vacula should be disinvited from participation in any part of the atheist movement’s activities", also forgetting one of his previous claims that he is not trying to set up blacklists against all the people he doesn't like. Meanwhile, others were busy; for example, someone created a new anonymous and quite pathetic sock-puppet very clearly only for the #wiscfi conference, called The Feminist Don Draper, which was used to spam the #wiscfi hashtag to attack people for alleged sexism. Fascinating, no? It was the first sockpuppet I saw created only for wiscfi, and the owner of that puppet account no doubt claims to be fighting for feminism, by, well, trolling, lying or whatever. Not any kind of feminism I can recognise as the real deal.

Ron Lindsay replied to all the previous provocations with a third blog post of his own. Things went wild. Amanda Marcotte tweeted, "I will be blunt: If the secularist movement continues to support Ron Lindsay, I will publicly write them off as irrelevant. #WISCFI". Gosh! Various others demanded Lindsay's resignation or sacking. Chris Clarke, a co-blogger with PZ Myers on the Pharyngula blog, tweeted: "Dear Skeptics Movement: Yes, nonprofits really do fire executive directors for that kind of thing. Sincerely, the real world. #wiscfi". A very dubious claim. Chris Clarke also tweeted about Ron Lindsay's conference speech, "Director of sponsoring NGO opened Women in Secularism conference by scolding attendees for not being nicer to misogynists". His claim is demonstratably untrue; simply see what Ron Lindsay actually said.

There is of course far more to describe, quote and say; however the main point of this post is to point out what Ron Lindsay actually said, and how different it is to various claims that he attacked feminism itself, or that he condescendingly lectured the attendees of wiscfi, and so on. It was through the generousity of the national CFI that the actual conference was made possible. Up till now Ron Lindsay, as CEO of one of the main USA organizations important to both the atheism and skepticism movements in the USA, has been trying with others to help promote a firmly inclusive line aimed at getting less divisiveness in those movements, and until now he has been very restrained in response. The CFI is also responsible for subsidizing many conferences,, and paying the speaker fees for Rebecca Watson, PZ Myers and others. Now that Ron Lindsay has actually raised the issue of various people attempting to silence others through misapplication of the "Shut Up And Listen" privilege argument, and now that he has been massively attacked for having raised that issue in a conference speech, and since it is most unlikely that people like Rebecca Watson or PZ Myers will de-escalate their response, but rather the opposite, then we can expect an all-out social-media war till events and decisions on concrete issues are made, and people get tired or distracted. The Rubicon has been crossed; alea iacta est, let the chips fall where they may.



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  1. Old Comment

    Rationalist v. Polemicists

    The more I read into this the more I have come to realise that Ron Lindsay spotted a real live issue for the WISCFI conference to address, and has handled the blow-back with a certain measured amount of skill. He answers to a board that will ask that he addresses any issues in a way that is rational and humane, and I cannot see that he has veered from this course in any way. His job is perfectly safe and he is conducting himself well.

    Two points:

    1. Lindsay's opening address asked some polemical feminists (ie Watson, Myers and others who follow their line) to think about the tactics they employ when dealing with dissenting voices in the skeptical community, and to justify this behaviour in a skeptical environment. A lot of the noise that has been generated is because thinking hurts, especially when you are in the wrong. This makes me smile.

    2. Polemicism has its place, perhaps to whip up the zealotry fervour of your hardened battle troops, but it won't win you brownie points in a rational debate with your erstwhile colleagues. Always try to remember that you join your friends inside the tent pissing out, and it is your foes who stand outside pissing in.
    Posted 21-May-2013 at 01:11 AM (01:11) by Pogsurf
  2. Old Comment
    Astute observations, Tim. Thank you!

    I think it's hilarious to see such remedial fallacies. I don't hold grudges against people. I think it's groupthink, something I would have excepted Becky to be immune from, because of her familiarity with the subject matter (I recall her talking about cults on SGU, back in the day).
    Posted 21-May-2013 at 04:40 AM (04:40) by Elevatorgate Elevatorgate is offline
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Labels and the rejection of feminist identity | insecular

23-May-2013, 10:26 PM (22:26)
n support of Lindsay, as some people are calling for his resignation. Gurdur also posted a detailed breakdown of what Lindsay actually said in his talk. While all of this is going on, I see that Justin Vacula

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