So, late last month, the Women in Secularism conference got off to a rip-roaring start with an opening lecture by a male speaker (of course), Ron Lindsay, the CEO of the Center for Inquiry, who included in his address his Important Concerns about the concept of male privilege:
I am concerned the concept of privilege may be misapplied in some instances. First, some people think it has dispositive explanatory power in all situations, so, if for example, in a particular situation there are fewer women than men in a given managerial position, and intentional discrimination is ruled out, well, then privilege must be at work. But that's not true; there may be other explanations. The concept of privilege can do some explanatory work at a general level, but in particular, individualized situations, other factors may be more significant. To bring this point home let's consider an example of another broad generalization which is unquestionably true, namely that people with college degrees earn more over their lifetime than those who have only high school diplomas. As I said, as a general matter, this is unquestionably true as statistics have shown this to be the case. Nonetheless in any particular case, when comparing two individuals, one with a high school degree and one with a college degree, the generalization may not hold.This was such a typical, tiresome, garbage lecture from a secular dude, who has yet to learn the basic principle of communication that if you're talking (i.e. not shutting up) then you aren't listening, and who doesn't believe women are experts on our own lived experiences (!!!), that it would hardly merit comment, except for the entirely predictable fall-out that followed when women rightly objected.
But it's the second misapplication of the concept of privilege that troubles me most. I'm talking about the situation where the concept of privilege is used to try to silence others, as a justification for saying, "shut up and listen." Shut up, because you're a man and you cannot possibly know what it's like to experience x, y, and z, and anything you say is bound to be mistaken in some way, but, of course, you're too blinded by your privilege even to realize that.
This approach doesn't work. It certainly doesn't work for me.
...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.
Harassment. Threats. Harassment. Threats. Non-apologies. Harassment. Threats. Condescending lectures. Harassment. Threats. Etc.
Rebecca Watson details everything here, including the response from the Center for Inquiry Board of Directors, after "dozens of letters (including one signed by the majority of Women in Secularism speakers) were sent to the Center for Inquiry's Board of Directors, begging them to do something to restore CFI's reputation as a humanist organization that cares about women and their ongoing harassment." The response, in its entirety:
Center for Inquiry Board of Directors Statement on the CEO and the Women in Secularism 2 ConferenceOh. They're "unhappy with the controversy." Not unhappy with their CEO being a condescending, mansplaining annoyfuck who scolds women who ask men to examine their privilege, but with "the controversy," which was caused by women who took issue with their CEO being a condescending, mansplaining annoyfuck who scolded them in the opening address of a conference called "Women in Secularism." PERFECT.
The mission of the Center for Inquiry is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.
The Center for Inquiry, including its CEO, is dedicated to advancing the status of women and promoting women's issues, and this was the motivation for its sponsorship of the two Women in Secularism conferences. The CFI Board wishes to express its unhappiness with the controversy surrounding the recent Women in Secularism Conference 2.
CFI believes in respectful debate and dialogue. We appreciate the many insights and varied opinions communicated to us. Going forward, we will endeavor to work with all elements of the secular movement to enhance our common values and strengthen our solidarity as we struggle together for full equality and respect for women around the world.
Why this female atheist isn't a part of movement atheism, part one million and twelve.