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When We Have Equity

The first question on the “Gender Equality in the Secular Movement” panel at Women in Secularism was (I paraphrase), “What does gender equity look like? How will we know when we’re there?” My answer there was short, because it was a panel, so I want to expand on it here.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say we’ll know we have gender equity in the secular movement when we can put on a conference about our work and our concerns and not have that conference start with a statement that says, “Those are good. Those are important. But for the love of humanity, don’t take things too far!”

We’ll know we have gender equity when we can be as cranky as the guys. We’ll be allowed to have bad days or say something intemperate without people insisting it become and forever remain part of our official biography so everyone knows we’re not perfectly nice 100% of the time. Snapping at someone when our patience has proved not to be inexhaustible won’t be presented as a reason we should never be taken seriously again.

We’ll know we have gender equity when we can get something wrong every once in a while. We’ll be expected to correct ourselves and move on, just like everyone else (i.e., men). Misspeaking or misremembering won’t be evidence that we are not the 100% perfect we are required to be to contribute to this movement. Admitting we are wrong will count in our favor as skeptics rather than being held against us forever.

We’ll know we have gender equity when the people who speak about us are expected to treat our words, actions, and selves with the same principles of accuracy and charity that our complaints are held to or that the complaints against someone like Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris are held to. People won’t be welcome if they show up making vague, broad claims against us. People other than us will also be cautioned to be fair when they’re angry.

We’ll know we have gender equity when the evidence we provide for how we’re treated as women is evaluated the same way as the evidence atheists provide for how they’re treated as atheists. We won’t be treated by fellow atheists as though we need four witnesses for everything we report. The behaviors we mention over and over won’t be seen as individual incidents to be explained away. They won’t be seen as personal matters between two individuals. They will be recognized as a pattern to be addressed.

We’ll know we have gender equity when we’re not pitted against each other. We won’t watch people say, “Well, if you want a woman, try this one instead.” We won’t see people who want us gone from stage and organization and magazine and common discussion telling us that instead of paying attention to this woman, we should pay attention to that woman, as though that second X chromosome that we (those they recognize as women) have functions as some sort of key to the positions we’ve reached. We won’t be viewed as interchangeable objects to fill a limited number of positions.

We’ll know we have gender equity when we have equal ownership stake in this movement we’re contributing to. We won’t be told we can’t have “their” atheism. We won’t be told that our atheist work is appropriation of atheism. Our contributions and our ability to contribute more will be weighed alongside those considerations we ask for. When someone tells us to get out, the first question asked in return will be a skeptical “What can you offer to replace her?”

We’ll know we have gender equity when our work is recognized. Those of us who write will be linked and recommended. Those of us who speak will be remembered when the time comes for invitations–and when the time comes to decide where to spend atheist convention money. Those of us in leadership positions will be consulted and mentioned when leadership openings occur. More than either of those, though, the work of volunteers won’t go unnoticed and unremarked but will be given its full value when we talk about who and what is important in our movement.

We’ll know we have gender equity when interference with our work is scrutinized and minimized. People who want to see this movement go forward will get angry at the constant interruption of our work. The noise of continual attacks and constant pettiness will be decried as an attack on the work of the movement. The people who wage those attacks will lose credibility instead of gaining it. Those who libel us will be the problem of all who want this movement to succeed, not just the targets of libel.

We’ll know we have gender equity when our qualifications aren’t diminished at every turn. We won’t be referred to as “bloggers” and “commenters” (to name two of the least dismissive and demeaning names flung our way) but as the organization leaders, members, and donors; writers of books and articles; and media personalities that we are. Those of us who are philosophers will be credited as such. Those of us who are scientists will be given the credit that entails in this movement. Those of us who were already seasoned activists when the secular movement was starting to emerge from its infancy–lo, those…several years ago–will be recognized for our expertise. Those of us who are good at arguing will be considered assets rather than inconvenient pains in the ass.

We’ll know we have gender equity when our anger and our passion are put to use instead of being flinched from. The confrontationalist versus accommodationist wars will be settled in favor of the pluralism that is its destiny. We will no longer be the group to whom it’s acceptable to say, “But really, you need to spend your time and energy educating in a pleasant, non-threatening manner.” Our anger will be welcomed, validated, and channeled into productive political action, as anger is in political movements.

In response to a later question, I said we have made a lot of progress toward equity in this movement, and we have. We’ve made quite a bit even in the last couple contentious years. We still have quite a way to go, however.

Once again, stealing from Greta because the topic is the WiS conference:

If you have something to say about Ron Lindsay’s talk at the Women in Secularism 2 conference, and/or about his follow-up posts responding to the controversy… say it to the CFI Board of Directors.

Don’t just say it on Twitter, or on Facebook, or on blog comments, or even on your own blog. Say it to the people who can do something about it. If you’ve already said something on some other forum, please copy and paste it, edit as appropriate, and send it to the CFI Board of Directors.

The CFI Board of Directors can be emailed via the Corporate Secretary, Tom Flynn, at [email protected] can also be reached by snail mail, at:

Center for Inquiry Board of Directors
PO Box 741
Amherst, NY 14226-0741

I am told by Tom Flynn that letters to the board will be delivered to them several days before the meeting. That meeting is June 14, this Friday. If you have something to say but haven’t said it yet, now–today–is the time.

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