So today I was poking around on the ol’ Facebooks and I noticed one of my friends announce that she’s going to boycott Center For Inquiry. Uh oh! Looks like I somehow missed a recent piece of the ongoing disaster that is Sexism in the Skeptical Movement.
Basically, a kerfluffle has arisen. This kerfluffle was initiated by the CEO of CFI, Ron Lindsay, a male, who made the odd and somewhat perplexing decision to give a 30 minute speech at the opening of a CFI Conference called Women in Secularism 2 which was supposedly dedicated to women in secularism. Not only that, but he thought it would be appropriate to include in the speech some of his concerns about the approach of some feminists toward the problem.
While his arguments were mostly reasonable, the context of his speech pretty much contradicted a lot of what he said. In fact, it made him look like he was blind to his own privilege and exactly part of the problem the conference was supposedly aimed at addressing.
My facebook friend linked a post by Amanda Marcotte. Going into it, I had not even heard about Lindsay’s speech or any of the controversy that followed it. But, after reading the post, the headline of which was a straw man and sounded like a lot of the same false dichotomy stuff you see from Atheism+ (you’re completely with us in everything you do or you”re a “Men’s Rights Activist” douchebag). I was pretty put off by it and was ready to go into my own screed about how tired I was getting of that kind of crap. Just look at this awful paragraph:
By claiming not to pick sides, the CFI leadership* ended up picking the side of the pro-harassers who oppose greater reach and diversity for the secularist movement. That is their choice, and they are too cowardly to admit it. If you have any doubts, look at the reactions out there: Feminists are dismayed, while people who want to stomp feminism out of the movement are elated. Real world evidence should trump empty bullshit on this account. Especially if you call yourself a “skeptic”.
False dilemma. “Real world evidence?” Evidence of what? If you don’t agree with Amanda, you’re not a real skeptic? Neenerneener.
I’m not one of those MRA jerks and I highly resent the fact that some skeptics will lump people in with them very quickly. It’s much easier than addressing people who have a less direct viewpoint than you do. I have for example, been accused of being on the side of MRA (and called a “fucking pig”) because I don’t think Dawkins is a complete “shitlord” (even though I think he was wrong about Dear Muslima and should apologize).
But, then I read the speech itself, and I read Rebecca Watson’s response. Watson asserted that Lindsay’s comments about men being silenced were out of place and didn’t make much sense in the context of the opening of a conference devoted to women in secularism.
Lindsays response to that consisted of a horribly shortsighted focus on logical inconsistencies in Watson’s comments on his speech, rather than actually addressing the issue. It came off, in my opinion, as an incredibly
pithy trite attempt at rebuttal.
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.
Ooooh! Sick burn! I doubt she’ll be wanting to have drinks with you any time soon, dude.
So while Marcotte’s awful article initially had me angry and in disagreement with the whole “Boycott CFI” thing in general, I hadn’t seen the whole story yet. Watson’s much more reasoned posts made it difficult to disagree with the idea that the CFI board has effectively made skeptical feminists feel disenfranchised with their unwillingness to even acknowledge this issue beyond making a vague statement (after waiting until their regular board meeting to address the issue), which I will now post here in it’s entirety so it’s clear how vacuous and pathetic it is:
Center for Inquiry Board of Directors Statement on the CEO and the Women in Secularism 2 Conference
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.
Sooooo. Is it surprising that skeptical feminists are feeling disenfranchised by CFI at this point and are calling for a boycott? Not really. I myself would like to see some more concrete answers on this issue. The CFI board response was incredibly lame and disappointing. I expect to see that kind of statement from the PR company of a major corporation, not from an organization that respects the opinions and critical faculties of its members and should know that bland non-statements like that will go over like a wet turd with them. Even a real acknowledgement of the problem would have gone a long way toward preventing calls for a boycott, I think.
UPDATE: Funny thing. I posted this to reddit on /r/atheist and it was removed by the admins almost instantly.
UPDATE 2: I learned today that I don’t actually know what the word pithy means. So, uh, up there where I said “pithy?” That’s not what I meant. I meant, uh, how about… trite. Thanks, Jesse.