I was going to add a quicklink to this clusterfuck in comments on the Open Thread, but then I realised that I had too much to say for the comment input box.
Over the weekend I’ve been following some of the FTB live-blogging of the second Women In Secularism conference (aka WISC2), and enjoying the speeches of thoughtful activist women on various topics. I didn’t bother to click on anybody’s liveblogging of the welcoming speech, because welcoming speeches are all pretty much the same, right? Welcome and thank you to the attendees, here’s the speaker lineup, the vendor stalls are in the lobby and the bar’s over there – isn’t that the job of the opening speech? With a few encouraging soundbites thrown in to get the audience excited? Usually 5-10 minutes, tops?
Well, I missed something different. The opening speech was given by Ron Lindsay, CEO of the event sponsor, the Center for Free Enquiry (CFI). Ron apparently thought that all those traditional aspects of a welcoming speech were entirely superfluous for WISC2, and instead dedicated half of his 30-minute opening talk to ‘splaining privilege and how feminists were misusing the concept to silence men and how all this fed into the divisive controversy etc etc
No mention of the sustained intimidation campaigns waged against women who have pointed out that atheism/skepticism/secularism is not immune from the same sexism/racism etc as the religions they’re rejecting, and that those campaigns are specifically designed to silence those women from speaking out at all ever, not just asking them to listen in certain spaces for a short while. The lack of respect and blatant hositility demonstrated by that sustained silencing campaign was obviously far less significant to Lindsay than (surprise) how Feminists R Doin It Rong.
Lindsay bizarrely equates social justice advocates asking those who are privileged along one or more of the axes of oppression to “shut up and listen” to those who lack those privileges with women being utterly forbidden to speak in houses of worship in many religions i.e. Lindsay is equating a request for the generally dominant group who have many platforms to step back and let others lead a discussion at the front of a platform for a change with a religious taboo whereby the generally subservient social group who has no platform is forbidden to speak at all in sacred spaces. He even explicitly labels requests for the privileged to stay quiet and step back for once as dogma.
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.
As many others have already pointed out, how Lindsay thinks anybody can listen if they don’t shut up? I dunno.
As an opening speech, this effort undermines the whole purpose of the conference. Might it possibly have been an interesting addition to the speech roster somewhere in the middle of the program? Maybe. But as an opening speech from the event sponsor it’s simply bizarre, does nothing to encourage the women in attendance, and does everything to encourage the already hyper-active flying monkeys.