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We’re making progress

Guest post by Martha, originally a comment on Stephanie’s post Apologies Are Hard.

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.

Comments

  1. A Hermit says

    I saw this comment and thought “this should be it;s own post.”

    I must be psychic…

  2. R Johnston says

    I think it’s a mistake to view this apology as sincere, or even as putting aside his own ego and listening, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a mistake to accept it. The apology is too late, with too few details, to indicate a sincere understanding of why people believe Lindsay did something egregiously wrong. Without that understanding you can’t have genuine sincerity. There’s nothing in this apology that tells me that Ron Lindsay has listened to any of the substantive details in the complaints about his behavior or now knows and understands that what he did was egregiously wrong.

    That said, there has to be a reason this apology is coming now, after two weeks of silence and a not-even-a-notpology from the CFI board. This indicates to me that the potential loss of donors, loss of speakers, and the threat of significant resignations became apparent in the wake of the board’s record setting effort at pusillanimity. If those kinds of things can motivate Lindsay and the CFI board to change their behavior then it’s probably worth accepting the apology and trying to work with them, but their feet absolutely must be kept to the fire. There’s little if any indication that they understand what feminism or skepticism actually are, and working with them means close watch for unacceptable behavior until they make clear that they have internalized the belief that their strawman attacks, vacuous condescension, and utterly delusional hysterical blogging were all highly offensive and antithetical to rational inquiry.

    This apology may indicate that it’s possible to work with CFI towards common goals, and it certainly means that it’s worth watching Lindsay and the board to see what comes next rather than writing national CFI off entirely, but it does nothing to establish trust in Ron Lindsay or to establish the CFI board as actual allies in the causes of feminism and rational skeptical inquiry.

  3. arbor says

    Lindsay is unacceptable. He has no place in my society.

    CFI has rendered itself unworthy of support. There is no way they can earn their way back into a position of respect and effectiveness (giving them the benefit of a doubt that they were before this).

    There are a great many people doing very good work who deserve our support. Life is too short to waste any of it on Lindsay or CFI.

  4. mildlymagnificent says

    Life is too short to waste any of it on Lindsay or CFI.

    So the only people and organisations worth supporting are those who instantaneously see the point and promptly jump in to publicly agree with you while those whose original lack of understanding and reluctance to change their view(point) are to be abandoned now and forever? You don’t see any value in encouraging or supporting people who change their behaviour or their views slowly or reluctantly or only after being hit by a clue by four?

    I hope you’re not a schoolteacher. Education would fail everyone at the first challenging hurdle if that was the standard.

  5. Martha says

    Hey, thanks so much for posting this, Ophelia!

    Upon re-reading it, I noticed a typo. The last sentence in the 5th paragraph should read: “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.” (Emphasis merely to make it easier to see what the typo is). When you have a moment, would you please fix that for me?

  6. Kelseigh says

    I’m still skeptical that the optimism voiced by so many people really has a firm foundation on the apology given. It’s too thin, comes off as too grudging, and was delivered after far too long a delay for me to have so much confidence in it.

    After taking five steps back, one step forward is at least facing the right direction, but I’d hesitate to call it actual progress.

  7. karmacat says

    Mildly magnificent and arbor’s comments caused me to think about how to influence organizations. sometimes you can influence an organization by being a part of it. However, what can really motivate change is if an organization realizes they are losing money to another organization. The conclusion I have reached is that we need both methods of influence.

  8. Cow Sudder says

    Funny how you make no mention of the “hyperskeptcism” towards the claims made by women who are too afraid to voice opposition to Rebecca Watson, you, PZ, Stephanie, and various others, for fear of bullying and intimidation.

    EllenBeth has heard from these women personally. But hey, you’re just another form of bully. Further, your lies are being exposed right now on Ellen’s blog, where Stephanie made an ignorant and bigoted remark about autitstic people. Gotcha.

    PS – We have evidence you and others discussed the removal of Ron in the infamous “backchannel”.

    PPS – We are still awaiting apologies for the bullying and harassment from you and various other Baboons. We will not accept a “notpology” – we want you to get on your knees and grovel for forgiveness. Then, and only then, will we consider allowing you back into the atheist/secularism movement.

  9. Shari says

    Cow Sudder, you assume Ophelia wants to be in the same Atheist movement you are?

    Interesting.

  10. says

    It is hilarious that someone like “Cow Sudder” thinks that they hold the keys to the movement, and that they get to control who is in or out… especially since the people who they consider to be the “out group” are the ones leading organizations and speaking at conferences, and the “in group” is a handful of people with dozens of sockpuppet accounts harassing people on Twitter and Facebook.

    To tie it into the actual topic: Yeah, we’re making progress. So much progress that people like “Cow Sudder” mistake their being left behind in a shrinking space for them excluding everyone else and being “brave heroes” in an elite club. The fact that there are fewer of them every year makes them an exclusive movement the way Betamax owners are the cream of the crop of electronics aficionados.

  11. says

    Funny how you make no mention of the “hyperskeptcism” towards the claims made by women who are too afraid to voice opposition to Rebecca Watson, you, PZ, Stephanie, and various others, for fear of bullying and intimidation.

    [citation needed]

    As I’ve not seen any examples that such people exist; there are certainly women who disagree, but they tend to be anything but afraid to voice that.

    EllenBeth has heard from these women personally. But hey, you’re just another form of bully. Further, your lies are being exposed right now on Ellen’s blog, where Stephanie made an ignorant and bigoted remark about autitstic people. Gotcha.

    Go on….

    PS – We have evidence you and others discussed the removal of Ron in the infamous “backchannel”.

    Then present it?

    PPS – We are still awaiting apologies for the bullying and harassment from you and various other Baboons. We will not accept a “notpology” – we want you to get on your knees and grovel for forgiveness. Then, and only then, will we consider allowing you back into the atheist/secularism movement.

    I’ve been mostly passively following these “rifts” since the start of 2012 to now, and have yet to see the slightest bit of anything that looks like “bullying” from the FTB side of the rift. I have, however, seen people like Watson and Jen McCreight get harassed and bullied severely (to the point where one of the latter detached completely; can you provide even one example of anything near what she had to deal with?).

  12. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    Improbable Joe FTW!

    and I have to second Shari: Why in the world do you think we want anything to do with you, cow sudder? You are like MGTOW. Stop telling us you’re going away and JUST GO AWAY.

  13. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    Wait, you mean Cow Sudder is a lying scumbag? I’m shocked!

  14. says

    And as for me making “an ignorant and bigoted remark about autitstic [sic] people”, I suggested in a comment that it wasn’t particularly fair to put the behavior of an autistic woman on display as somehow representative of a group. This is, of course, being translated as “Stephanie says we shouldn’t listen to autistic people!!!!”

  15. says

    Stephanie

    They’ve moved on from cargo-cult skepticism to cargo-cult social justice: “You said ‘autistic’ so you’re a bigot! You mentioned that Richard Dawkins is a white man, so you’re racist AND sexist! You don’t want me on your blog, you’re discriminating against Asshole Americans!”

  16. Martha says

    @Improbable Joe:

    I hereby go on record as being in favor of discriminating against assholes– all of them, not just the American ones! ;-)

  17. John Phillips, FCD says

    Martha, I’ll second your #21. As for your post at the top? A thing of beauty and I agree with your points 100%. For while I have never been intentionally sexist,, but over my 61 years I have often been guilty of unintentional sexism. But ftb, led initially by Pharyngula and the horde, has over the last few years educated me greatly, making me much more aware of what I post/say and I now make a conscious effort to choose my words with more care, fully cognisant of the harm they can cause. Though fortunately it does get easier with time as new neural pathways are burnt :). Even an old dog can learn new tricks and I know I am not the only reader of ftb that has learnt a great deal over the last few years and not just from the bloggers. But to name the many posters who routinely excel while fighting the good fight in their numerous posts, would take up far too much space, though I will end by offering a heartfelt thank you to one and all.

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