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May 21 2012

The day after

Paul Fidalgo reports on the conference for The Morning Heresy. (He’s another one of those people – like Rebecca – who are just consistently very funny. He did a tweet that cracked me up – approximately: “I could do a ‘this is what an atheist looks like’ ad but no one would be surprised.”)

Now that was a conference!

This was no egg-headed snoozer, this was no reiteration of why we like Darwin so much (not that there’s anything wrong with those). The Women in Secularism conference was as fantastic, fulfilling, and enlightening an event as we could ever have hoped.

I think that too. Also.

Susan Jacoby did the first talk. I didn’t liveblog that one because the panel I was on was next and I didn’t want to cross wires, if you see what I mean. I’m not good at multitasking. (Neither is anyone else. People think they are, but they’re wrong. Studies show this. People are confused because they can physically multitask, but they do the tasks badly. The fact that it’s physically possible to hold a book in front of your eyes while talking on the phone doesn’t mean you can read a book and talk on the phone at the same time. But that’s by the way.) I’m a plodder. I need to concentrate. I could listen to Jacoby’s talk without crossing wires, but liveblogging it too seemed a wire too many. Or maybe I was just being lazy.

Anyway: she said among other things that it has happened that when someone asks “why no women in atheism?” some men will cheerfully reply that it’s because women are too stupid.

Well, you know, that is what it is at bottom: that people think that. Too stupid and too Nice, which is perhaps the product of being too stupid.

That’s what I talked about for my opening remarks for the panel. The perception of women, and the fact that in some ways a certain kind of feminism – difference feminism – has enforced it rather than undermining it. We are seen as too stupid and too Nice (or, in an exciting twist, too bitchy) for pretty much everything. We must be, or we wouldn’t be so conspicuously missing from popular culture, and we wouldn’t be so staggeringly vapid when not missing.

This is not something it’s easy to change. I know this, because I know feminists have been trying to change it since at least 1970, and in some ways it’s worse than it was then.

Younger generation – your task is plain. Get to it. Thank you.

6 comments

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  1. 1
    Marc Barnhill

    Wish I’d been there, Ophelia. It sounds like some serious strategizing has been spurred by the magnificent presentations at WiSC, and what a crucial moment for this to be taking place. One thing I’ve noticed in nearly all accounts of the conference is that there was an unflinchingly nuanced reading of issues around gendered language and politics (such as yours above), a sensitive but firm teasing out of implications where other gatherings have too often settled for easy generalities. I find this exciting and inspiring, and I sincerely hope the momentum you helped create continues to push these conversations forward.

  2. 2
    jayyoung

    Will the videos be posted on YouTube?

  3. 3
    Paul Fidalgo

    Jayyoung – yes, eventually. Stay tuuuuuned!

  4. 4
    Ophelia Benson

    Yes Lauren explained yesterday in her closing remarks that nonprofits like CFI get to have their own pages on YouTube and that means they can post longer vids. I didn’t know that.

    Marc, I think you’re right, and it occurs to me that that’s another reason conferences like this are a good thing. We all must have worked out ahead of time that big generalities would be pointless because then you would just get everybody saying the same thing. A conference of this type forces everyone to drill deeper if only to avoid being repetitive. (Even then there was a lot of “what she said” as a preface on the panels. But followed by drilling deeper.)

  5. 5
    dirigible

    I’m really, really glad to hear the conference was such a success. :-)

  6. 6
    MEFoley

    Have been watching “56 Up”, one of the sequence of sequels to “7 Up”, in which a documentary team interviewed a bunch of British 7-year-olds, and then interviewed the same people again at age 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49, and now 56.

    This has been widely talked about as involving kids from all walks of life, blah blah blah — but there were 10 boys and 4 girls. The idea was to look at social mobility between classes by seeing whether these kids would grow up sticking with the class into which they were born. The filmmaker has been quoted as saying that they didn’t take feminism into account and so didn’t include many girls, because it never occurred to them that girls would have any serious choice of careers — so this “study” (flawed doesn’t being to cover it, though it makes for interesting viewing) began with the premise that your career defines your class. Girls could at least have grown up and married into different classes, but that wasn’t of interest, either — I think it’s clear that the filmmakers just weren’t interested in girls at all, or interested in people of color. I haven’t read any mention of what the filmmaker would do differently now re choosing participants from various races; the group of kids, from “all walks of life”, includes only one non-white kid and he’s half white!

    Anyway, individuals apparently mostly ended up staying with their original classes, although one boy from a Yorkshire farm made it to Oxford and moved to the US and never looked back. Which brings me (finally) to (something near the) point: when he had just arrived at Oxford, he had an interesting conversation with a fellow student who told the Yorkshire student, when they parted, that he’d “never associated intelligence with your accent”.

    Ouch. And there it is — whether it’s people who think women aren’t bright enough to be atheists (what?), or that people with rural or provincial accents must be stupid, or that people who aren’t white have no souls (just heard a Black American churchman on BBC radio talking about how Mormonism, at one time, preached that black people have no souls and so can’t go to heaven; even the southern fundamentalist church I grew up in didn’t propose that heaven was whites-only), it’s all the same thing: divide society into pieces and stack ‘em in a hierarchy, making sure that you are in the more powerful group, and you won’t even have to work like hell to keep your faction on top if you manage to convince everybody that this is natural.

    Men thinking that women aren’t bright enough for X — for a great variety of X-es — has been ‘natural’ now for years and years… When I was younger, I actually thought we’d change that within my lifetime. Yeah, right. I don’t know how on earth we ever will change it; I’d like to think conferences like this one will help to change it, but I can’t imagine people who still think that women aren’t smart enough to be atheists paying one whit of attention to the conference (it’s not that the dog dances badly, but that the dog dances at all); maybe its value lies in making the female participants feel they aren’t alone out there.

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