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[in brief] CFI Board’s Statement on the #Wiscfi Controversy

The CFI Board of Directors has released their statement on the controversy surrounding Dr. Ron Lindsay’s opening remarks at the Women in Secularism conference. Here is the full text of their statement:

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.

Yes, that is the full statement.

This says exactly nothing.

Many of us put lots of thought, effort, discussion, and revision into the letters we sent to the board expressing why Dr. Lindsay’s remarks were inappropriate. To respond to those letters with three paragraphs that say absolutely nothing about what actually happened–not to mention no apology–is patronizing and dismissive. Were our letters even read?

Whether or not the board meant it this way, claiming “unhappiness with the controversy” comes across not as unhappiness that their CEO behaved so rudely and inappropriately, but that everyone had to go and get their knickers in a bunch over it. It’s the typical “I’m sorry you got upset,” except without even the “I’m sorry” part.

I expect more from one of the major secular/skeptical organizations in the United States. I expect more from an organization that claims to “advance the status of women” and “work with all elements of the secular movement.” This isn’t “working with” us. This is brushing us off with a statement that can’t even properly be called a “non-pology,” since it doesn’t even pretend to apologize.

Please do better.

Comments

  1. CaitieCat says

    Okay, so…”we think being a big misogynist douchebag at a conference specifically about women in skepticism is really okay, thanks for the money, hope to see you next year.”

    Well, I’m sure Vacuous and his followers will have a nice time at their Douchebag in Skepticism conference next year.

    Now…how do we go about making a con happen that will serve our actual needs, instead of the sad-boner brigades?

  2. frogmistress says

    This way, they can hope we all shut up and forget about it.

    Which, we won’t.

    How disappointing. I really thought I found an organization that respected women and would make a difference. I’ve put in exhausting hours trying to make something more out of our local chapter. And for what?

    • says

      I’m more than happy to oblige and shut up about it. And they won’t get my money or participation, and they’ll get to go back to throwing their hands in the air and wondering “why women just aren’t interested in skepticism.” They are clearly more interested in asking that question than in hearing an answer.

    • Eristae says

      When I read it over at PZ Myer’s blog, I thought it was an actual intro. As in, I thought he’d only posted the first couple of paragraphs. I went looking for the rest of it and, well . . . you know what I found.

      *sigh*

  3. says

    Reminding me of the Queen, “we are not amused” … Supercilious as well as cowardly in this instance.

    So what organisations to support? I see AA are in the dock with some serious allegations of racism ->
    http://www.skepticink.com/incredulous/2013/06/17/american-atheists-sued-for-racial-discrimination-wrongful-termination/

    Secular Woman? They’ll be doing very well out of all this, and rightly so it seems (Being non-committal in case it turns out they are a front for quiverful creationists or something /joke)

      • says

        Yeah on a second reading of Ed piece it seems he has thrown in a few unsupported allegations which is not working to help AJ, AA or himself. A particularly nasty commenter there is suggesting minorities *always* play the race card when sacked for incompetence. The post is probably a bit too much on the shit stirring side and not sufficiently objective given its all “alleged” at the moment.

  4. says

    I agree with Nate: Does CFI have trademark rights to the WiS name/logo/etc? Does anyone?

    WiS needs to be divorced completely from CFI.

    • says

      I don’t know how I feel about that. Obviously I have some huge issues with CFI’s top-level leadership, but the directors of the regional affiliates are awesome, a lot of the staff are fantastic, and they do a good job with conferences. I don’t think I’d want some other org to put this on and fuck it up and make it unprofessional and poorly-funded.

      • says

        Well, I’m sure there are a lot of very nice people who work for the Catholic Church, too.

        I think you need to examine just how strongly the CFI board of directors told you directly — and I do mean you personally as Miri, a secular woman’s advocate — to shut up and go into the kitchen to make them a sammich.

        Sorry, I’m not supporting them with either my money or my time. Not on the national level, not on the regional level, not on the local level, not on the internet level, not on the interstellar level.

        Zero levels. Zero support.

        Sucks for those people who work for them. Money talks, bullshit walks.

        • says

          I’m a little uncomfortable with your comparison of unsavory views on feminism with mass coverups of child molestation, Kevin.

          But also, it’s one thing to leave the Catholic Church if you’re disgusted with what it does. It’s another to find yourself another job at another secular nonprofit, when there are not that many and the economy’s not that good. People have families to support.

          Sorry, I’m not supporting them with either my money or my time. Not on the national level, not on the regional level, not on the local level, not on the internet level, not on the interstellar level.

          That is absolutely your choice. Absolutely. I will not argue with it. But frankly, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell me what to do as a secular woman’s advocate. I have certainly “examined” what this CFI statement says, and it says absolutely nothing about the work that my friends and acquaintances who work for CFI do.

          • says

            Yes, doesn’t everyone have a family to support? Even those who work for the Catholic Church?

            You’ve reached the point where you’re willing to enable the organization to proceed as if you don’t care what it thinks about you and your advocacy. For the sake of those jobs.

            I’m not saying there should be mass resignations … but if there were, it would probably make the board sit up and take notice a little more. I am suggesting that people who work for an organization whose fundamental aims, goals, and respect for human rights don’t comport with their own should think of an appropriate exit strategy. Or be prepared to be branded as either a hypocrite or an outright supporter of those fundamentally anti-human rights goals.

            And I think those people should be prepared for an exit strategy in any event, because the fund-raising just got a lot harder. And effective advocacy just got massively more difficult. Because the true colors of the organization have just been revealed.

            I don’t know why I’m more angry at them than you are…but I am.

          • CaitieCat says

            Whoa, Kevin, dude, citation needed.

            In what way do you assert that youi’re qualified to judge who is more angry about this?

            Just because she exercises the choice we believe so strongly in her having in a different way than you do, in no way means you get to say she’s not angry enough, or any other form of tone policing. Just…no.

            She gets to choose, if she wants, to work from the inside. We are better as a movement when we have a diversity of people working for our aims. This can and should include how we choose to work to change organizations.

            Not an okay thing to say, and really not a feminist thing to say. No one gets to police someone else’s reaction to the things oppressing them.

          • says

            Yes, doesn’t everyone have a family to support? Even those who work for the Catholic Church?

            Yes, but people who work for the Catholic Church are likely to have more financial and occupational options than people who work for secular non-profits. Christian privilege.

            And also, I would like you to admit that making dumb statements about feminism is not at all equivalent to covering up the molestation of children. People who work for the Catholic Church have much more of a moral imperative to leave than people working for CFI. And also, I would still rather someone work for the Church and be able to support their children than quit their job, be unemployed, and not be able to support their children. I care more about children being fed, clothed, and schooled than I care about moral statements. But of course, I care about the latter too.

            I am suggesting that people who work for an organization whose fundamental aims, goals, and respect for human rights don’t comport with their own should think of an appropriate exit strategy. Or be prepared to be branded as either a hypocrite or an outright supporter of those fundamentally anti-human rights goals.

            I wouldn’t call CFI “anti-human rights.” Its CEO said a really incorrect and ill-considered thing about feminism. But I have yet to see evidence of them taking a stance against “human rights.” There is a lot of grey area between “Perfect Feminist Ally” and “Terrible Sexist Misogynist Anti-Woman Pig.” While Lindsay may certainly lie close to the latter (I don’t know), the organization as a whole does not.

            I don’t know why I’m more angry at them than you are…but I am.

            That’s fine. You’re entitled to be. However, you are not entitled to lecture me, a woman, about how to be a women’s rights activist, and I would like to see an apology from you. I would also like to see some clarification about your attempt to compare mass coverups of child abuse with making dumb statements about feminism.

        • queequack says

          I think you need to examine just how strongly the CFI board of directors told you to shut up and go into the kitchen to make them a sammich.

          lol

          So let’s recount what happened here. Ron Lindsay made some remarks that (whether he was “right” or not) were highly contextually inappropriate. CFI reacted sluggishly, as large organizations often do in response to controversy. Today, the board released a mealy-mouthed “statement” that essentially amounted to a notpology “I’m sorry this happened” sort of thing. Call the press?

          I think it’s reasonable to be disappointed in CFI. It’s reasonable to note that the board has said nothing of consequence, and it’s reasonable to take that into consideration when deciding where and to whom your time and money will go. On the other hand, it’s not reasonable to compare Ron Lindsay’s speech with covering up child rape, or with people who want women “back in the kitchen”. This is because not every bad thing is equivalent. Actually, to imply otherwise is sort of offensive, on multiple levels.

          I wasn’t too impressed with Rebecca Watson asking CFI employees to leave their jobs in protest of bureaucratic equivocation and the CEO not liking the word “privilege”, but at least she’s not comparing the organization to Stormfront.

          • Pocket Man says

            To be fair, her exact words were “look for a new job”. She never said that the only moral thing to do is to leave your only source of income in a crappy economy; she (from what I understood) said that people with the ability to resign – exempli gratia, another job on the horizon – should.

      • John Horstman says

        If you substitute “Catholic Church” for “CFI”, does that still look like a reasonable structure for an argument? There wrongdoing obviously isn’t anywhere near the same level, but once an organization makes it clear that it does not wish to consider addressing problematic stances or policies, one is pretty much stuck working to replace the leadership, disassociate with the organization, or become complicit in the enactment/perpetuation of the policies/positions in question. If it’s reasonable to suggest that Catholics abandon the church even if their particular parishes are totally great because the organization does awful things (perhaps you don’t think it is reasonable to do so), it’s reasonable to suggest that people stop backing CFI at all.

        • says

          If it’s reasonable to suggest that Catholics abandon the church even if their particular parishes are totally great because the organization does awful things (perhaps you don’t think it is reasonable to do so), it’s reasonable to suggest that people stop backing CFI at all.

          I never said it wasn’t reasonable to suggest that. I fully support anyone who suggests it. I just don’t appreciate being lectured at by men about how to be a feminist.

          I literally said, “I don’t know how I feel about that.” This is what I said. This statement just came out today, and maybe I’ll change my mind. I reserve the right to think about things before I take a strong stance on them.

        • John Horstman says

          Ah, I see in my delay in replaying, this has been addressed. You’re basically saying (or, rather, I’m hearing) there’s a level of harm that makes it okay versus not to remain associated with an organization. That sounds like a reasonable position to me. Obviously it invites ongoing debate about where that line is, but that’s probably good in and of itself.

          • says

            You’re basically saying (or, rather, I’m hearing) there’s a level of harm that makes it okay versus not to remain associated with an organization. That sounds like a reasonable position to me. Obviously it invites ongoing debate about where that line is, but that’s probably good in and of itself.

            Yup! As I said, not everything that is bad is just as bad as every other thing that is bad.

            For instance, I’m moving to New York in a little bit and I’m planning to get involved with the CFI affiliate there because 1) the few friends I have in the city are, 2) it does good work, and 3) I’d like to make friends quickly and feel comfortable in the city so that my depression doesn’t relapse. While there are certainly other ways of making friends, I prefer my friends to be feminists, skeptics, and atheists, and that basically addresses all of the above. I would like to have people I can trust. I would like to have a community. Otherwise things may get pretty bad for me pretty quickly.

            I don’t think I owe this explanation to anyone, but here it is in case anyone feels entitled to it.

        • says

          This is what is meant by “diversity of tactics”. While some of us may be disillusioned radicals, we can’t begrudge those who still have faith in the system and work from within. We need all hands on deck, and while it’s usually us radicals who get pushed away and derided more easily*, we need to remember to return the respect we demand from those less radical than us.

          * – No, seriously. The most blatant tone argument you’ll find is when mainstream media pundits start almost hopping up and down in glee pointing at a few black-clad possibly-anarchists smashing a window or throwing a rock and saying “see? see? they’re not really nonviolent!” and then proceeding to demand pure absolute nonviolence and extra super re-condemnation of violent actors before the protest gets treated seriously.

      • Eristae says

        As a victim of childhood sexual abuse, let me express my great displeasure having “Covering up, minimizing, and enabling the rape and sexual abuse of countless children” used as a analogy to whack on “Ron Lindsay said stupid stuff for a half an hour or so at the Women in Secularism conference.” The whole point of freaking out at the Catholic Church was that what they did was illegal, life ruining, and unforgivable. What Lindsay did s none of these things. I’m sure you don’t mean to minimize the sexual abuse of children, but analogies do just that. I imagine that, to you, this the comparison is simply taking the form of the argument against supporting the Catholic Church after what they did without the gravity of the argument, but the gravity of what the Catholic Church did not irrelevant. No one is saying, “You should abandon the Catholic Church because the leadership did something wrong and won’t own up to it.” Instead, people are saying “You should abandon the Catholic Church because the leadership did something illegal, life ruining, and unforgivable and won’t own up to it.” There is not one person at that conference who had their life ruined by what Lindsay did. The same can’t be said for what the Catholic Church did.

      • says

        There is a comparison to the Catholic Church insofar as the reasons people give for their continued association (both lay congregation and employees) go, but comparing the institutional covering up of child rape with making not-cool comments is rather much.

        That being said, I’m losing interest in waiting around for these big organizations to shape up, and I’m increasingly frustrated with the smaller branches for maintaining their association given everything that’s going on (and I see this as something of a leader in one said branch – ‘something of a’ because I haven’t been doing much leading since the baby was born, but I’m still on all the paperwork).

        I can give more leeway for branches with paid staff because, as you say, separating means losing a job. But what about the volunteer ones? What about my branch where no one is getting paid, and where everyone agrees that our association with the national organization is consistently creating more barriers than opportunities?

        • frogmistress says

          Volunteer chapters, like ours, still get their money from national. They control the website, the email list, the membership roles, etc. Breaking away isn’t as easy as it sounds.

          But it will be in the discussions. At least, it will be for our branch.

  5. smhll says

    CFI believes in respectful debate and dialogue.

    Well then folks, drat it, I suggest you have more dialogues and fewer monologues if you want to walk your talk.

  6. says

    This was the most cowardly response they could have written, I think. “We are unhappy that people are saying bad things about us, but we will neither acknowledge the criticism as just or defend our actions. But you should totally keep donating.”

    Bah.

  7. Scr... Archivist says

    At CFI, are the CEO and Board elected? If so, by whom? And when are the current terms up?

    Those who wish to continue to work and volunteer for CFI may want to consider running for the Board.

    And if CFI is not democratically run, that might be half of your problem right there.

    • davidjanes says

      @Helix –

      And given the climate in which it was formed, the governance structure is actually reasonable. Otherwise, a bunch of creationists and the like could easily join and engage in a hostile takeover. There are more of them out there, and they are better funded.

      Not that I am excusing the lame response, just reflecting how democracy is *not* always the answer.

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