Ideas for an atheist conference and/or blogfest focusing on women - blog by Gurdur

 




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Posted 15-Aug-2011 at 02:25 AM (02:25) by Gurdur
Updated 15-Aug-2011 at 05:13 AM (05:13) by Gurdur

In line with my previous blog post, on my critique of the upcoming CFI "Women In Secularism" conference, I suggested atheist women should possibly organizing a complementary conference to the one that the CFI will be hosting in May next year. Below are a few suggestions, many of which also serve equally well for organizing blogfests, webrings of videos, etc.. Please bear in mind I am only making these suggestions as an outsider.

First off, more on the why - because it leads into the how. What's at least potentially wrong with the CFI Women In Secularism (WIS) gig, and how can a good complement then be made?
  1. It's a top-down organizing effort of only a small group of speakers, yet as we all know, some of them are going to be claiming to speak for women in general, and especially for atheist women in general. And some, as already done, will denounce any woman disagreeing with them as a "gender traitor".
    .
    1. Immediately, many atheist women see no point in conferences focused only on women; many point out that atheist women have exactly the same issues at atheist men, and point out other problems (see for example @Mechelle_68's comment here). Yet the profile of women in the atheist movement is often woefully small and distorted; the planned CFI gig may well raise the profile of (selected only) women, but at the price of futher distortion of the public image. So there's a great value in women organizing for themselves to represent as broad as possible a range of their own voices, and such a conference and/or blogfest etc. is a great way of publicising just that.
      .
    2. Yes, of course, atheist women can go on doing exactly what many are doing already; simply disagreeing. But as we all know, they get abused on many sites pushing certain lines of Ideological Rectitude; abused as "gender traitors", "ignorant", "misogyny enablers", "trolls" "pathetic allies of MRA's", etc. etc. etc..

      So good luck with that one, with merely disagreeing; very clearly, many on sites like Pharyngula or Butterflies&Wheels are in no mood to brook dissent or allow any reasonable range of diversity of opinion whatsoever. If one only sits back, later we get the situation where only one view is allowed and presented to the public, with pretty bad long-term results both for the atheist movement and for the public image of atheists.

      Quite a lot of atheist women then simply go silent (I know of such cases), get on with their lives, and try to ignore the whole debate and those trying to enforce the Stalinist Party Line. Well, that answer strikes me as being more than a bit self-handicapping ― and it would then lead to the public image of atheist women being very badly distorted in a way that then adversely affects the huge majority of atheist women.

      So one answer is, make a complement conference a piece of bottom-up organizing. Ask people what they want to hear talks about, what they themselves want to say.
      .
    3. Another answer is, increase diversity, get as many speakers as possible. That means cutting the usual 1-hour-per-speech in format, making speeches shorter, and also where possible increasing audience participation through lengthened Q&A times.

      Make a value of diversity. The CFI line-up of speakers has at least the possible problem of imposing by default a misleading and false picture of what women want or need, and has a highly probable problem of certain of the speakers trying to enforce an intentional top-down imposition.
      .
      So stress diversity of opinion, and more than that: stress, instead of celebrity debates, that speakers speak on outreach more than whipping up the troops. At least some speakers could lay great stress on how concretely they can reach a way of living together in a mutually productive way.

      For example, get speakers to speak on how so-called Gnu Atheists and accommodationists can work and live happily with each other. Or another idea is how to be happy and secure as an open atheist among Christians, without unnecessary strife.
    .
  2. Next off, the "Women In Secularism" gig has what could in the long-term become a fatal problem - while its objective of raising the profile of women in the secularism movement is worthwhile, owing to its title, planning and line-up, it is potentially double-edged in unconsciously reducing women to the status of the Womens' Auxiliary to the main movement.
    .
    1. So an answer is for women to have their own organized conference with the sole purpose of collecting and representing as many different actual concerns of women in the atheist movement as possible. Not to be merely a Womens' Auxiliary, but to be a voice of themselves for themselves.
    .
  3. Next, the CFI WIS runs the risk of becoming "champagne atheism/champagne skepticism" as well; having a number of famous celebrity women secularists, with resultant speaker fees, and the need to recoup the fees through the registration fees for the conference.
    .
    1. So an answer lies in keeping registration fees as low as possible. Get as many people to speak as possible, but ask if they're willing to volunteer to forego speakers' fees in each case. Some invited may not be able to do without at least reimbursement for travel and hotel costs, but all in all it should be held to the level of vital necessity, and volunteering should be greatly encouraged.
      .
    2. Another answer is to ask anyone attending who lives in the local area if they would be willing to host at home those attending the conference.
      .
    3. There's also sponsorship; should such a conference idea get off the ground, then existing organizations (including the CFI) could be approached in asking for sponsorship and donations. I'm sure that many atheist organizations would be willing to help any such atheist womens' conference, and so would many individuals; I personally would kick in a large donation.
    .
  4. Again, the basic idea is range - range - range! So as many speakers as possible who reflect the concerns of the majority of atheist women in the USA - and also perhaps allowing of genuine outreach to others.
    .
  5. Which includes coexistence with men, so maybe they would want some male speakers as well, but it has to be stressed that it must remain their own conference to be organized, with a huge majority of women speakers.

All of that above covers more of the why, and through that, some of the how. I'll make a new blog post very soon to kick off ideas (merely as an outsider), but in the meantime, onto the who.

The who and whom includes as possiblities:

You already have many atheist women who show real engagement and brains. Here are just a few of them (and ffs, if I've left someone out who really should be in this, pease let me know):

Abbie Smith (ERV, contact), Jennifer Keane (@ZenBuffy), Scented Nectar (@ScentedNectar), Rose St. Clair (@stclairose), Rosy Schwartz (@RosyEyes), Alison Smith (@RemieV), Stef McGraw (contact), Stevie D'Arbanville (@AllStevie), Godless Girl (contact), Aimee Lombard (Vampyroteuthis, contact), Jo (who is in New Zealand but still very relevant to the USA; @FRDB but here is a better contact), Sabine Vero (contact), Athena Awakened (contact), Yvonne Ann Muniz Scott (contact), Christie Swords (contact), Amanda Gulledge (contact), Paula Kirby (@PaulaSKirby, Polly Toynbee (columnist and current president of the British Humanist Association)

Then if real outreach to and cooperation with non-atheists was wanted, then people to consider wmight include Khadijah M. Britton (@KMBTweets), Peregrinus, Makbawehuh, @Becky_Garrison (her site; dissident Christian, feminist), Savi Hensman (dissident Christian, reports on issues including feminism, LGBT), people like Sana Saleem, and anyone actually recommendable from the staff of the British Humanist Association, or recommendable from Isobel Coleman at the Council on Foreign Affairs, @AngryBlackLady, @EmilyLHauser, or Jim Lippard, or the Black Skeptics' Group.

Then think laterally; one question that may well come up is philosophy and/or history and/or science journalism, and apart from many already mentioned, DNLee (@DNLee5) for example would be a great choice if she could be convinced to speak, and likewise, Deborah Blum (@deborahblum), Dr. Carin Bondar (DrBondar), Jennifer Brown (@jjunebrown), Holly Tucker (@history_geek), Maryn McKenna (@marynmck), JadeBio, Jenny Rohn (@JennyRohn), Mary Roach (@mary_roach), Ellen Byerrum (@EllenByerrum), or Sheril Kirshenbaum.

Next blog post onto the what (suggestions for that).


All my blog posts on this subject:

08-Aug-2011 More diversity contacts and blogs relevant to atheism, religion & feminism
13-Aug-2011 Women & feminism in atheism, humanism & skepticism: a critique of the upcoming CFI "Women In Secularism" conference
14-Aug-2011 Ideas for an atheist conference and/or blogfest focusing on women



        


              

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  1. Old Comment
    [rant]

    There are so many problems with this conference (and skeptic conferences as a whole).

    Half (more?) of these speakers have spoken before at major 'skeptic' meetings (eg TAM), while the others regularly speak at the smaller regional conferences. This is one of my Problems: Skeptic Speaker lists are incestuous. Its always the same names. It makes sense when youre talking about Dawkins or Downy or other prominent names. It does not make sense with say, McCreight. If you want McCreight to talk about Boobquake, great! But she doesnt want to talk about Boobquake. Shes not interested enough in her studies to want to talk about evolution. She wants to talk about feminism, but has no academic or real-world/work experience. Shes just a chick giving her opinions/views and research from GoogleU, which is fine, until you realize that groups are paying her to fly across the country WHEN YOU HAVE A WHOLE BUNCH OF REGULAR CHICKS IN YOUR OWN GROUP YOU COULD BE TALKING TO. YOU HAVE A WHOLE BUNCH OF EDUCATED/WORKING WOMEN IN YOUR OWN CITY TO ASK TO SPEAK.

    WHYYYYYY is McCreight talking about 'religion and women' instead of a debate between a former nun and a current nun? A local religion or theology professor (male or female)? A female member who escaped a hard-core Evangelical household?

    In a million years I wouldnt go to a conference like this. Im just some chick who is an atheist. What the hell am I supposed to talk about that the females in a local group couldnt address *BETTER*?

    I mean, its like asking my dad to speak at this years TAM because he LOVES SciFi.

    Or asking my mom to speak about genetically modified organisms because she planted some tulips in the backyard.

    Or asking my two-year-old nieces to speak about women in art history because they friggen LOVE to color.

    Their approach is not only anti-intellectual/anti-community leader, its like theyre telling local females 'your views arent good enough. we have to bring females in to speak for you.'

    RAGE.

    [/end rant]
    Posted 15-Aug-2011 at 03:48 AM (03:48) by ERV
  2. Old Comment
    Gurdur's Avatar
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ERV View Comment
    .....
    ERV, I think your comment is actually aimed at my previous post, "Women & feminism in atheism, humanism & skepticism: a critique of the upcoming CFI "Women In Secularism" conference", so I am going to repost as a quote your full comment under that post as well.
    Posted 15-Aug-2011 at 03:57 AM (03:57) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
  3. Old Comment
    I don't think I'd like to go to a conference specializing in only women. Might as well put 'feminism' in the conference title. Ugh.

    This reminds me though. You know the money Watson collects for her 'send a woman to a conference' fund, or whatever it's called? Is this from a separate, more legit donate button than her own?

    With her own, she told everyone initially that she would apply for non-profit/charity status or something, but never did.

    So, 1. shouldn't she write in a disclaimer to let people know that it's her private income 'donate' button? And, 2. how come the charitable use she puts some of it towards, is it only goes to women's costs for events? I mean, I thought it was all those misogynists who scare them away. Is the issue now a money one of not affording travel costs?
    Posted 15-Aug-2011 at 01:05 PM (13:05) by Unregistered
  4. Old Comment
    Oops, that was me above, writing "I don't think I'd like to go to a..." etc.
    Posted 15-Aug-2011 at 03:52 PM (15:52) by Scented Nectar
  5. Old Comment
    Perhaps the format is something to be questioned as well. Rather than a series of lectures and speeches, couldn't it truly be a "discussion"?

    Skeptics are all about open and honest inquiry (I hope), and permitting all honest voices to be heard; so why follow a top-down structure where leaders explain things to followers? I think an exploratory format would be more engaging; certainly more interesting; and possibly more productive as well.
    Posted 15-Aug-2011 at 06:43 PM (18:43) by Copyleft
  6. Old Comment
    How about Laci Green?
    Posted 15-Aug-2011 at 06:46 PM (18:46) by skepchex
  7. Old Comment
    Gurdur's Avatar
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by skepchex View Comment
    How about Laci Green?
    @lacigreen - is that the one?
    Posted 15-Aug-2011 at 06:59 PM (18:59) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
  8. Old Comment
    Gurdur's Avatar
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Copyleft View Comment
    Perhaps the format is something to be questioned as well.
    Everything but everything is up for question. Mind you, I'ld like to see us all work towards some mutual answers as well.

    Quote:
    Rather than a series of lectures and speeches, couldn't it truly be a "discussion"?
    It's definitely a good idea; a workshop format.

    Quote:
    Skeptics are all about open and honest inquiry (I hope),

    *I must suppress my sardonic, cynical self here - ignore me*


    Quote:
    and permitting all honest voices to be heard; so why follow a top-down structure where leaders explain things to followers? I think an exploratory format would be more engaging; certainly more interesting; and possibly more productive as well.
    As said, it's a good idea. Thing is, how to publicize it, which means how to structure it as well. Your thoughts? Ideas?
    Posted 15-Aug-2011 at 07:02 PM (19:02) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
  9. Old Comment
    Gurdur's Avatar
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Unregistered View Comment
    I don't think I'd like to go to a conference specializing in only women. Might as well put 'feminism' in the conference title. Ugh.
    Alternate ideas, suggestions, please, Scented Nectar?
    Posted 15-Aug-2011 at 07:03 PM (19:03) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
  10. Old Comment
    Hello, my name is Simon and I'm on the conference organizing committee as well as coordinate events for the DC branch of CFI. We do about 10 events/month from small (6-8 people) to large (800-1000 people). I have a day job and am happy to volunteer my time for CFI in this capacity. My wife Melody Hensley is CFI DC Executive Director and also the primary reason this conference is even happening as it was her idea and she pushed to make it happen back in March/April. So far the overwhelming amount of feedback we received has been extremely positive.

    There's a couple of points in Gurdur's post that I'd like to address:

    1) The concern about keeping costs low is one we absolutely share. Realistically, this means we can only afford to bring speakers who live in the US and that is what we've done. I say this because you mention some international speakers. Our goal is to remain on the low end as far as admission to national conferences. The conference rate at the hotel is also very aggressive for the Washington, DC area which is not easy to do in mid-late May. The ideas you mention like sponsorship, volunteering, asking locals to host out of town visitors, as well as others like sponsoring individual low income/student attendees are already in the works. This will be a professionally organized event (like all CFI events), but it will not be "champagne atheism".

    2) The conference format/agenda is not yet finalized, however there will be a reception Friday night, full day Saturday and half day Sunday. Our current speaker count is 12 and this is not a small amount for the time given that there won't be breakout sessions.

    3) As anyone who attends a CFI Conference knows, audience participation is absolutely encouraged. This will be no different.

    4) Child care via an RDFRS grant will also be pursued.

    5) We realize that there enough great speakers for dozens of similar conferences. The hope is to have more at the regional and national level in the future.
    Posted 16-Aug-2011 at 04:40 PM (16:40) by SimonSays SimonSays is offline
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