It was especially troubling, from an optics point of view if nothing else, that he chose to do this specifically to feminists, a group defined primarily by the women associated with it. That he broke with traditional form of being a host rather than a critic when the event’s speaker roster was set to be all women and his audience was predominantly women sent a message, whether he intended it or not. It was that women don’t deserve the same basic respect and civility that is routinely afforded to your average conference speakers and participants. A crowd of women can get a stern talking to and skeptical querying about issues they are probably oblivious to in lieu of a welcome.
Yes. That is indeed a big, big, big part of the problem.
I’ve talked to quite a few people about this since getting back from DC, some of them people who go to a lot of conferences (unrelated to secularism or feminism). Nobody could think of a single instance of anything remotely like the reception we got. The normal thing is to welcome participants and say a little about the conference. The normal thing is not to decline to welcome participants (because participants were welcomed the year before) and then scold them. That’s not normal procedure. We’re not being weird or petty in saying that. It’s not normal; it’s special treatment.
Well why do we get special treatment? What’s different about us?
No, really. As Dan says, that sends a message, whether it’s intended to or not. A conference of women has to be lectured by a man before starting, so that they don’t make a mess of everything.
Particularly galling was Lindsay’s inability to adequately define privilege before criticizing it or to adequately explain how it works well in helping us analyze injustice against marginalized people before talking about potential abuses of it. As a philosopher, I am bothered by Lindsay’s laziness in understanding concepts before criticizing them and his blindness about feeling like he was in a position to criticize the concept to an audience of feminists without even taking any time to treat it in its strongest and most useful senses. This was, remarkably, an astounding instance of privilege induced blindness itself. It is staggering and upsetting that he managed to do that to open a conference on feminism.
That bothered me too, and it seemed uncharacteristic. It was so thin – so inadequate – so vulgar, even. It was a Fox News version of feminism. For cryin out loud, that’s the best you can do? Just a parody version to poke at? And you’re implying that we plan to talk nonsense like that? That is insulting.
Ron Lindsay was an egregious violator of civility principles by being such a disrespectful host and then poisoning the well against Rebecca Watson in his post replying to her counter post to his talk and to his first blog defense of it. And this is especially upsetting given that only this past spring he signed a civility pledge meant to set a standard for others in the community to follow. This pledge gave a ton of instruction to people engaged in emotionally upsetting fights, including to people who were on the receiving end of awful interpersonal abuse. I believe in the ideals of that pledge. I believe that even though it demanded people do difficult things that they are vital things that must be done if the movement is to have healthy debates about serious philosophical differences in the future.
And Ron Lindsay showed that he could not stick to the pledge the first time that he felt like someone made an uncharitable reading of his words in a very heated, public dispute after he signed it. The first time! He is asking women, specifically Rebecca Watson, to be bigger than a torrent of abuse that includes rape threats, death threats, sexually degrading photoshops, a website devoted to monitoring their every misstep, etc. And he cannot handle civil criticism from that same woman that was not a fraction as abusive to him as what she has had to endure. And he showed this thin skin while being the host of a conference where she was a speaker and it was his obligation to respect the position that that role put him in as a host. This was an abuse of his position and an embarrassment.
So much so that he’s now withdrawn the most insulting thing he wrote in that post – but only that, and no more. The only slightly less insulting things are left unwithdrawn.
By highlighting his anxieties with the worst instances of feminist activism as though they were the most central and pressing concerns related to feminists Lindsay inadvertently sent this message: When I think about feminism the first thing that comes to mind is how feminists act counter to rational ideals. Given feminism’s vital accomplishments, feminism’s hugely important substantive goals, and the long history of women being misogynistically mistrusted as inherently irrational, Lindsay could not have sent a worse signal.
It was a good way to incite an even bigger torrent of abuse against us though. I don’t think he intended that, but he sure as hell didn’t give it enough consideration to cause him to re-think.