So if you weren’t aware, this weekend, CFI hosted the Women In Secularism conference, which, by all reports, was amazing. They had great speakers, great panel discussions, and apparently everyone had a good time.
Well. Except for one thing.
The opening speech was given by Ron Lindsay, President of CFI, and he took that opportunity to give a “what about teh menz?” talk. It was rather disappointing, and several people called him out on it, including Rebecca Watson. You should read her post here, because the rest of this isn’t going to make much sense without it.
Anyway, Ron decided to respond. And by “respond”, I mean “dig himself an even deeper hole.” He starts out by saying
Rebecca Watson inhabits an alternate universe. At least that is the most charitable explanation I can provide for her recent smear…. It may be the most intellectually dishonest piece of writing since the last communique issued by North Korea.
This, of course, is a brilliant way to start a civil discussion with one of the people you brought to speak at your conference. Oh wait, I meant to say it was a terrible decision and what the hell is Ron thinking?
He then moves to making a few quality arguments, namely, “I didn’t talk about stupid things for as long as people said I did so there” or something like that. Specifically:
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.
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.”
Dude, I frankly don’t care whether you spent five minutes or an hour talking about stupid things. The issue is that you said a lot of stupid things in your talk. In fact, if you spent less time talking about each stupid thing, that only means you had time to fit more stupid things into your talk.
The main problem Watson, as well as myself and a lot of other people, had with Ron’s talk was his discussion of privilege and the “shut up and listen” meme. Ron seems to completely misunderstand what it means, thinking it means “men should never say anything about feminism ever” rather than the correct “men should give women the opportunity to speak about feminism instead of shouting over them all the time.” But Ron is too busy shouting over his critics to understand that.
Ron quotes from his talk, where he says this:
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.
Of course, “shut up and listen” does not mean “shut up all the time.” It means that when a woman calls you, a man, out on sexist bullshit, you stop and listen to what she has to say. You don’t argue with her, you don’t tell her she’s wrong, and you most certainly don’t tell her that she’s written “the most intellectually dishonest piece of writing since the last communique issued by North Korea.”
Because the problem here is not that Ron Lindsay screwed up. He’s human (presumably). People screw up sometimes. The problem is that he’s refusing to listen to his critics, and he’s refusing to shut up. The reason it’s “shut up and listen” instead of just “listen” is that it’s really hard to listen when you’re busy screaming about how much you’re right. The more Ron argues, the more he demonstrates why the “shut up” part is necessary.
In closing, I want to say that I really like CFI. I really like what they do, and I really like what Ron is doing with the organization. Hell, my college organization is a CFI affiliate. I’m very thankful that they decided to sponsor WIS (twice!), and that they’re committed to equality in the secular community. Ron is clearly a feminist ally, and for that I’m very thankful. That said, I do believe Ron is really screwing up here, and he needs to stop screwing up before he starts alienating people from his organization and from the movement.
Lastly, this isn’t about picking fights, or about choosing sides, or about “deep rifts” or whatever the new thing is. This is about creating a better secular movement where everyone is welcome, and about correcting misconceptions about feminism, and, yes, it’s about calling out bullshit. My goal here isn’t to hate on Ron, or to “drum him out of the movement” or whatever, but to criticize his behavior and hopefully prevent this from happening again.