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Jul 05 2012

WiS 2

Paul Fidalgo has a post on the next Women in Secularism, and how the last one didn’t actually eat your baby.

By now it’s clear, I’d say, that the Women in Secularism conference put on by CFI this past May was a milestone event in the secular movement’s history, as it raised consciousness for all in attendance—men and women—about all manner of issues affecting women both in and outside the secular and skeptic communities. Discussions and debates were spurred on a huge variety of subjects, from the personal to the political, and even if you had only been able to attend one session, you could not have walked away without a deeper understanding of what was being discussed.

It was such a success, that we’re thrilled to be able to say that a second Women in Secularism conference will take place May 17-19, 2013. After all, there’s so much more to talk about!

Mark your calendar!

But like many important events, some of this past conference’s content has been mischaracterized or misunderstood, especially by some who were not in attendance. That’s understandable; the conference sparked an enormous amount of ongoing discussion that continues today, well after the hotel staff kicked us out of the ballroom. Naturally, chatter on blogs and in tweets can be misconstrued or poorly expressed, and even the smartest and best-intentioned of us can draw the wrong conclusions.

And that’s especially true when the worst-intentioned of us are deliberately talking shite on the subject and misleading the underinformed and gullible. That has been happening. I have watched some of it happening right in front of my astonished eyes.

The main point of contention that we’ve seen revolves, predictably, around the topic of sexual harassment. (I know, you can’t get enough of this subject. Me neither. Just stick with me here.) If I may briefly sum up the idea underlying the biggest misunderstanding, it seems that many are under the impression that the sexual harassment issue—and more specifically, policing sexual harassment—was a central theme of the sessions, with most folks acceding to some kind of draconian solution to eradicate the problem altogether.

So not true. I can’t begin to tell you how not right that is. We talked about a squillion other things! My god, sexual harassment is boring; why would we have spent the whole time talking about it? And didn’t those people read my live blogging? Or Ashley’s, which was so vastly more thorough than mine? You can see what we talked about, and it wasn’t sexual harassment, except for one thing that Jen said.

It won’t be the only or main or large proportionally subject next year, either. I know that because I know the people organizing it aren’t stupid.

21 comments

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  1. 1
    Eskeptrical Engineer

    I remember following the hashtag on Twitter while WIS was going on. I was wishing I was there! I haven’t watched the videos yet, but I read both your and Ashley’s live-blogs and I felt like I had a good sense of the subjects that were covered, going way beyond sexual harassment. I’m dying to attend the next one!

  2. 2
    601

    The panel video is great, is worth watching twice, and does not dwell on sexual harassment.

    I’m reluctant to raise a narrow issue, but does anyone understand what Sikivu Hutchinson meant by the scientism problem?

  3. 3
    dirigible

    “I’m reluctant to raise a narrow issue, but does anyone understand what Sikivu Hutchinson meant by the scientism problem?”

    Possibly this:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/06/07/atheism-should-be-science-and-social-justice-not-science-vs-social-justice/

  4. 4
    601

    @3 dirigible – thanks, but I’m still confused.

    When I became involved with Gnu Atheism years ago, I was already a socialist, feminist, rainbowist, and equalist. But I was surprised to find so many that were only sans deity.

    However, I consider social psychology and such to be science, so I’m still not seeing the “scientism.” I have regarded scientism only as a frightened theologian’s desperate criticism.

    Am I defining science too generously, or just being too pedantic?

  5. 5
    Simon

    Sikivu discussed here as well: http://freethoughtblogs.com/blackskeptics/2012/06/11/the-uppity-negress-the-o-g-s/

  6. 6
    Ophelia Benson

    601 – No. That’s why I disagreed with her, and why I went on disagreeing with her after she replied to my disagreement. She didn’t spell out what she meant by “scientism” but treated it as self-evident, which it isn’t. She seemed to be either unaware of or indifferent to the way apologists for theism use the word to bash atheism.

    I think Sikivu uses way too much insider academic jargon and that it only obscures what she’s saying.

  7. 7
    Lyanna

    I think “scientism” is a useful term for the view that science can tell us everything, including about values.

    Some might say that’s a straw man, but I don’t think so. See, e.g., Samuel Harris. Also many geeks: they tend to think that what they personally value is somehow scientifically better as well as morally better.

  8. 8
    Scr... Archivist

    I thought scientism was more about bolstering one’s false assumptions and prejudices with techniques that *superficially appear* to be scientific. Some people fall for truthiness (falsity that merely appears true or likely), even those who purvey it.

    Think of all the forms of what is called “scientific racism”. For example, craniometry is scientistic because it uses measurement and statistics to “prove” that “Caucasioids” are the “smartest” of the five “races”. Measurement and statistics = science, right? Never mind that serious empirical inquiry demolishes such claims.

    If I’m wrong about my definition, I hope someone tells me.

  9. 9
    Ophelia Benson

    @ 8, that sounds like pseudoscience rather than scientism.

    Lyanna – right – that’s one meaning, and one that makes sense. (That is, is not just an empty pejorative.) Part of what makes Sam Harris’s book on metaethics so silly is the casual, clueless way he simply doesn’t do the work he needs to do to make his case, and apparently doesn’t even realize he hasn’t done it, because science.

    I’m not sure if that’s what Sikivu meant by it though – which is exactly why I think she should use way less jargon.

  10. 10
    melody

    There are more videos to come in the next few weeks. Grab a box of tissues for Wafa Sultan’s talk.

  11. 11
    Brad

    Will there be any “Not just for women” branding? The topics covered tend to be ones that the middle aged white dude crowd doesn’t talk about all that much but need to hear about. I’m not an old fart, but I am the other two and the videos from the first conference had an abundance of “Huh, I’d never thought of that” and “Oh, I’ve been wrong about that” moments that are what make progress on issues possible.

    I think there’s some* “It has women in the title, that must mean its only for women” going on that CFI should debunk.

    *Some of its disinterest, but some of it’s assuming incorrectly that all “women’s ____” things are like the Michigan music festival.

  12. 12
    John the Drunkard

    Yes, right. Sexual harrassment isn’t the elephant in the drawing-room, its the cockroaches in the kitchen. A constant drag on the goodwill and efforts of all, but only noticed when we turn on the light.

    Predators and stalkers are not ‘socially inept guys,’ or ‘just flirting.’ They will treat any code of conduct the way batterers treat restraining orders. The codes and discussions are to help the rest of us to recognize these creeps and stop rationalizing their behaviour by trying to sympathise with them.

  13. 13
    Ophelia Benson

    Brad, I’m sure there will – Ron had a lot to say about the shortage of men and the fact that men should be there. He’s the boss, so I’m sure he’ll influence the branding!

  14. 14
    Brad

    Awesome. I’m also excited to hear more videos are forthcoming.

  15. 15
    smhll

    “…about the shortage of men…”

    My brain is made of pure evil.

    A shortage of men means that (heterosexual)women who want to hook up at the event will have to try harder and men will get to be choosy.

  16. 16
    AnyBeth

    Cool. I’ve been keeping my boyfriend (who is little involved in the blogosphere) informed about recent on-goings. He isn’t much of a joiner and generally isn’t much interested in meet-ups or cons, but in discussing WiS (and reasons why there’s such a thing), he said he’d like to go to something like that: it’d let him know things he didn’t before (he couldn’t name a single woman important to the atheist movement, past or present) and he thinks it’s worth supporting. I was a bit surprised it took some time to get him to realize that him not knowing women important to atheism didn’t mean there aren’t such people (*facepalm*), but I was even more surprised that, once he understood that, he expressed interest in attending an event! So maybe, just maybe, I’ll see some of you in May. Something to try for, anyway.

  17. 17
    onion girl, OM; social workers do it with paperwork

    I just found out that this is the same weekend as the Maryland Human Trafficking conference that I also wanted to attend. :(

    I am definitely going to WiSII, but I might disappear for a quick run up to B-more to go to part of that conference. Assuming WiSII is in D.C. again (Please say yes. I could barely cover the cost even without hotels. Melody?)

    ∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

    I also did not understand what Sikivu meant by scientism, and I definitely agree that limiting jargon is essential when talking to non-academic audiences. I will say, once I unpacked the terminology (speaking of jargon ;)), I understood and agreed with her points. And I do think there’s a place for that vocabulary–sometimes the reason new terminology exists is to pack greater meaning into terms (skipping over the 101 phase, as it were), and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    With a non-academic (or mixed-discipline) audience, though, it’s important to either skip the jargon, or provide a little 101 background for the terminology used. When I teach my volunteers, I cover trauma 101 with clinical terms because they need to use them when writing documents for court, but I teach them what those terms mean, and when & how to use them.

  18. 18
    Eskeptrical Engineer

    Onion Girl, I asked Melody on Twitter about the location, and she confirmed it would be DC again.

  19. 19
    Simon

    I think there’s some* “It has women in the title, that must mean its only for women” going on that CFI should debunk.

    Hi Brad, there was an effort to address this back in February: http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/women_in_secularism_–_a_conference_for_everyone/

  20. 20
    melody

    Yes, I am happy to say that it will be in DC at the Marriott at Metro Center. It’s the most central part of DC with lots to do and great restaurants. The hotel will be completely renovated by then (it’s already lovely), it has a salt water pool and the restaurant in the hotel has been voted one of the five best places in DC to have lunch. It’s pretty snazzy.

  21. 21
    Ophelia Benson

    Woza!! I was secretly hoping it would be central DC this time. Oh yay.

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