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.  ...

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A Few Examples of “Shut Up and Listen - May 18, 2013

So I gave a talk yesterday afternoon in which I emphasized how horrible it was that women had been suppressed for thousands of years, and, on many matters, had been instructed to remain silent.  As I stated at the end of my talk, this enforced silence robbed women of their humanity, and I indicated that CFI was committed to working toward a society in which the autonomy of women would be respected and, among other things, they would be free to express themselves however they wanted. 

But that is not what people wanted to discuss; instead, a number of people took strong exception when I expressed concern during my talk that the concept of privilege sometimes was being invoked to tell people to “shut up and listen.”  Tweets during and after my talk complained I offered no specific examples. 

Two quick responses.  First, my talk was over its allotted time limit as it was, and my concern about the misuse of privilege was not the primary focus of my talk, as already indicated.

Second, there are examples you can find on the internet through a few minutes search.  For myself, when I drafted this portion of the talk, the two examples I had in mind were a presentation on privilege that was given at the Heads meeting in January and a statement by PZ Myers.  I am not going to identify the speakers at the Heads meeting, as the meetings are supposed to be confidential, but if you ask around, other people will confirm that there was a lengthy discussion of privilege, and within that discussion there were examples of how members of  “privileged” groups should be quiet and just listen to those in the non-privileged group when the latter were discussing their experiences. ...

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Watson's World and Two Models of Communication - May 18, 2013

Rebecca Watson inhabits an alternate universe.  At least that is the most charitable explanation I can provide for her recent smear.  Watson has posted comments on my opening talk at Women in Secularism 2.  It may be the most intellectually dishonest piece of writing since the last communique issued by North Korea.

Her distortions begin with her second paragraph, when she states that “Lindsay spends a good deal of time arguing against the idea that feminism as a movement has no significant internal disagreements.”  I expended about 200 words out of a 2,420 word text posing the question about whether there are significant divisions within feminism.  In other words, I spent 90% of the time talking about other topics.  The next time Watson asks me for a “good deal” of my drink, I will leave her an ice cube.

Second, she says she has never heard anyone take the position that there are currently no significant divisions within feminism, which I assume is fairly translated as no divisions worth debating.  Yet Watson is aware that just a short time ago, the organization Secular Woman rejected the Open Letter that was endorsed by most leaders of secular organizations, in part because it implied that there was a legitimate ongoing debate about the meaning of feminism.  The Secular Woman response to the Open Letterstates, in pertinent part:

“It is confusing, therefore, that this same letter suggests that a significant problem with online communication is centered on the ‘debate’ about the ‘appropriate way to interpret feminism.’ At Secular Woman, the principle that ‘feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression’ (Hooks, 2000, p. viii) is taken as a given, and not a topic for debate.”

Next, Watson claims the “crux" of my talk was the problem I have with feminists using the concept of privilege as a justification for telling men to “shut up and listen.”  This claim is false.  No reasonable person could possibly describe the crux of my talk as dealing with this issue.  Instead, the crux of my talk dealt with the millennia-long history of the subordination of women and how CFI was committed to working toward a society in which women would have “complete social and civil equality and equal economic and political opportunity.” . . .

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