I think those who wish to reject Ron’s apology are forgetting that the goal here is not to have a movement only for feminist atheists, but to bring together a large coalition of people committed to social justice and atheism. Such a movement cannot exist without a commitment to feminism. Nonetheless, our culture makes such a commitment difficult for many decent and otherwise reasonable people – all the other side has to do is say “shrill” and all the buttons are pushed for many white men of privilege – and not just for white men of privilege.
I started reading atheist blogs – mostly here at FtB – about the time that DJ Grothe started blaming people calling for sexual harassment polices for the dropoff in women’s registration at JREF. I was appalled, but unsurprised by some of the misogynistic responses during the arguments that followed Groethe’s boneheaded statement. What really upset me, though, was the hyperskepticism of so many toward the feminists.
That didn’t surprise me; it’s pretty much a normal day at the office for someone in academic chemistry, but it did make me almost stop reading atheist blogs altogether. Yeah, I have to put up with this at work, but I don’t have to put up with it in my free time. I reasoned that with both atheist groups and UUs, there is a segment of the population I agree with pretty much completely, and a segment that drives me crazy. With the UUs, it’s the woo crowd that drives me crazy, and with the atheists, it’s the antifeminist/libertarian strain. I was willing to self-identify as a UU, because I shared a commitment to social justice and the inherent dignity of women even with those who I wished were more rational. I wasn’t willing to self-identify as atheist with those who promote or condone antifeminism.
There are basically two reasons I stayed and have slowly become more increasingly involved. First, I saw a couple clips from the first WiS conference and realized that there are many people involved in the atheist movement who share my values. The clips also made it clear that there are a lot of intelligent, witty and fun women in this movement, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know many of you better through your writings, and, more recently, in person at WiS2.
The second reason I stayed – and this is more relevant to the current discussion – is even during the worst of the battles, people like Stephanie and Greta convinced me that we’re making progress. I started to see comments from men who explained that their minds had been changed during these discussions, and I watched many of these men become strong advocates of feminism in atheism. I found that incredibly encouraging, and it’s a fight I can take part in. It was pretty clear to me that a split between those who embrace egalitarianism and those who don’t would eventually lead to a larger, more productive community than an atheist community so worried about divisions that it was willing to countenance MRAs and other misogynists and their apologists. Yes, a split at some level has to happen, but the end goal is to become the mainstream segment of the atheist community as the other groups become increasingly marginalized. How long it takes for that to happen depends a great deal on how much of the current movement is willing to get on board.
The question is not about whether there are enough people out there to build such a movement, but about whether current instituions are capable of leading such a movement. Abandoning institutions with similar goals is a measure designed to (a) get those institutions to respond to under-served groups or (b) lead to the formation of newer institutions who can lead professionally. Those are not necessarily mutually exclusive goals.
I take Ron Lindsay’s apology as an important sign that, whether or not the CFI board as a whole is listening to feminst atheists, he cares enough about the feminist atheists who work for him to put his ego aside and begin to listen. Yes, we might wish that this weren’t as difficult a task as it is, but I think we nonetheless have to give him credit for moving in this direction in spite of the difficulty.
I don’t mean that it’s not necessary to develop institutions with a primary focus on feminist atheism; indeed, I think we’ll need effective institutions that lead in this area. And, yes, I’d be more inclined to give my financial support to those institutions than to CFI or American Atheists. But I contributed to AA to show my appreciation for Dave’s support of the feminist community. I think I will now follow Stephanie’s lead and make a contribution to CFI earmarked for Melody’s salary.