A Blatant Misrepresentation — And An Insulting One: The Content of Ron Lindsay’s WiS2 Talk


UPDATE: Ron Lindsay has apologized for his remarks. I have accepted his apology.

Here’s a tip: to Ron Lindsay, and to everyone else.

If the people you’re supposedly trying to be in alliance with are howling with rage, and the people you’re supposedly in passionate opposition to are praising you to the skies… you’re doing it wrong.

That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. We all screw up. But it means… well, it means that you screwed up. At the very least, it means you should maybe listen to your supposed allies who are howling with rage. You should maybe consider the possibility that, even if this was not your intention, you did something that was seriously troubling, and you need to stop and think about it.

A huge amount of the problem with Ron Lindsay’s opening talk at the Women in Secularism 2 conference had to do with the context: the very fact that this was the opening talk for this particular conference. In many ways, that is a far more serious problem than any one specific piece of its content, and in fact I have written a separate piece — and in my opinion, a more important piece — on that deeply troubling context.

But I can’t talk about the context of the talk without discussing the content. (Others have done this as well, and their pieces are well worth reading.) The context wouldn’t be troubling without the insulting and ill-informed content. So here goes.

One thing you may have noticed already is that I did not give you a formal welcome to Women in Secularism 2. Of course you are welcome here. We’re very happy to have you with us, but this is something you know already, and, although I don’t want to appear ungracious, why take up time to state the obvious, because the reality is we have much work to do, and presumably you came here for substance not rhetoric.

This is completely baffling. Does it really take up any more time to explain why you’re not welcoming people than it does to simply say, “Welcome”? And when you’re hosting an event, is it really insubstantial rhetoric to welcome your guests? Does Lindsay abandon all forms of courtesy and civility, on the grounds that it’s insubstantial rhetoric? Does he, for instance, abandon the insubstantial rhetoric of thanking financial donors, because obviously they know how grateful he is for their donation, and they presumably want substance and not rhetoric?

This is far from the most egregious failure in this talk, and if it hadn’t been for the other troubling and insulting parts of this talk, I wouldn’t be concerned about it. But it set the tone for much of the rest of the talk. That tone: I am not particularly interested in treating the attendees of this conference with respect.

Also, based on the rhetoric of some of its [Atheism Plus’s] proponents, and I underscore some not all, it seemed to me to have the potential to be divisive. In fact, according to at least one proponent it was intended to be divisive.

I’m pretty sure that the “one proponent” Lindsay referred to here is me. I’m the one who wrote the piece titled Atheism Plus, and Some Thoughts on Divisiveness. And this representation of my ideas, and of the ideas of the other people who wrote about Atheism Plus and divisiveness, is a gross misrepresentation. The point of starting Atheism Plus was not to create divisiveness just for divisiveness’s sake. The point was that the atheist movement is already divided. The point was that the barrage of hatred, harassment, and abuse aimed at women in this movement — especially feminist women — has not been treated as “divisive,” but somehow it was “divisive” to start a distinct group where this behavior was prohibited. And the point was that atheist groups and organizations need to make a decision. They can’t be inclusive of women, and also be inclusive of sexist, misogynist harassers.

But regardless of whether this was referring to me or someone else: It was incredibly deceptive to portray any proponents of Atheism Plus as saying it was “intended to be divisive.” Without any reference to the context explained above, this makes it sound like we were creating divisiveness just for divisiveness’s sake. That is a blatant misrepresentation — and an insulting one.

Still, some questions remain, for example, how should secular organizations, including any organization that styles itself as an Atheist+ group, set their priorities? You can’t do everything at once. Only the religious believe in miracles, and think that time will stand still for them. For those of us who believe in the natural world, there are three limiting dimensions to public policy advocacy, namely time, space and money.

Actually, there’s another very important limiting dimension that Lindsay neglected to mention — and that is numbers. When you have fewer numbers in your group or movement, you will pretty much automatically have less time, space, and money. When you have more numbers, you will pretty much automatically have more time, space, and money.

Why do I bring this up? Because numbers is one of the most important points that the social-justice crowd keeps bringing up. We keep pointing out that there are huge, untapped resources of potential atheist activists — women, people of color, blue-collar and working-class people, to name just a few — who could be participating in this movement, but aren’t. We keep pointing out that there are reasons for this: from organizations not focusing on issues that concern these people, to subtle and unconscious microaggressions that make these people feel unwelcome, to outright and overt sexism, racism, classism, etc.

That’s one of the main reasons we keep hammering on about the atheist movement needing to focus more on social justice issues, both publicly in areas where it overlaps with our existing missions, and internally in our own policies and practices. Doing this doesn’t drain our resources. Or at least, it only does so temporarily. Doing this draws in more resources — because it draws in more people.

It is disingenuous, at best, to talk about focusing on social justice issues as a possible drain on resources, without even mentioning the idea that doing so will actually increase our resources — or the idea that failing to do so will limit our resources. And given how often this idea has been brought up by so many people — including a whole lot of people attending this conference and listening to this talk — it shows a serious cluelessness about the very topic he was talking about… and a serious lack of interest in listening to the ideas of the people he was addressing.

What is sexism? What actions constitute sexist exploitation? I don’t think you’re going to find unanimity of opinion on the answers to those questions even within the feminist movement.

And here’s where Lindsay starts to veer from baffling and clueless to downright patronizing and insulting.

He was addressing a roomful of people who are broadly and intimately familiar with feminism and its history. He was addressing a roomful of people with hundreds of years of collective experience in the feminist movement. He was addressing a roomful of people who, ourselves, represent a huge range of diverse opinions and perspectives on feminism. Why on Earth did he think it was necessary to lecture us about how we’re not going to find unanimity of opinion within the feminist movement?

And it was a lecture. It was not just a passing remark. Continuing:

Or would you? I know that I’ve had some conversations in which the claim has been made there is no significant division among true feminists. There may be people who call themselves feminists who sharply disagree with the correct understanding of feminism, but they’re just fake feminists. Worse, some of them are sister-punishers.

Well, I’ll grant that merely calling yourself a feminist does not make you one. And it is true that some women seem to think that if you work outside the home that by itself makes you a feminist. Obviously not the case, But are there truly no significant divisions currently within the feminist movement? It would be surprising if that were the case b/c the feminist movement has had sharp divisions in the past. I just referenced a blog post from Louise Pennington in which she said capitalism had to be destroyed to eliminate patriarchy. Does everyone in this room who considers herself a feminist agree with Pennington? If not, then you already have one very significant difference among feminists.

Also if there were no divisions among feminists, that would arguably make feminism unique among social movements

???

Name three.

Who, exactly, are these feminists who claim that there is no significant division among true feminists?

Lindsay has already been asked elsewhere to provide three examples of feminist women telling men to “shut up” — a challenge he has embarrassingly failed to meet. (I’ll get to that “shut up” business in a minute.) I would like to issue another request: Name three feminists — not some random person with a blog on Daily Kos, but serious and respected leaders or writers in the feminist movement — who claim that there are no significant divisions within the feminist movement.

Again: To lecture a roomful of diverse feminist activists on the history of feminism, and to lecture us on how absurd it is to think feminist opinion isn’t diverse, was wildly patronizing.

But it’s the second misapplication of the concept of privilege that troubles me most. I’m talking about the situation where the concept of privilege is used to try to silence others, as a justification for saying, “shut up and listen.” Shut up, because you’re a man and you cannot possibly know what it’s like to experience x, y, and z, and anything you say is bound to be mistaken in some way, but, of course, you’re too blinded by your privilege even to realize that.

And here’s where things get seriously messed-up.

This section has been addressed at length by many other writers. But this is the place where I’m discussing it, so I’m going to address it again.

I do not know anyone — and I mean anyone — who is a serious and respected leader or writer advocating for feminism within the atheist movement, who is telling men that they have nothing to contribute to the conversation about feminism, simply because they are men, and that all men must shut up about feminism permanently.

Let me be very clear. There is an important difference between saying, on the one hand, “Shut up for the next ten minutes, you’re dominating the conversation, please let other people talk,” or, “Shut up for the next ten minutes, it’s impossible for you to listen while you’re still talking,” or, “Shut up for the next ten minutes, the points you’re making have already been addressed a thousand times over, if you stop talking we’ll point you to the places where it’s been addressed,” or, “Shut up for the next ten minutes, the things you’re saying are coming from a place of privilege that you’re obviously not aware of, if you’ll listen for a minute we’ll try to explain how,” or, “Shut up for the next ten minutes, you’re doubling down on an indefensible position and are increasingly walking out on a limb that will be very difficult to walk back,” or even, “Please stop saying the particular things you’re saying, they’re harmful and demeaning and flat-out wrong, if you shut up for the next ten minutes we’ll explain why”… and saying, on the other hand, “Shut up permanently, you have nothing to contribute, we don’t want to hear anything you have to say about feminism, ever.”

And there is also an important difference between saying, “This particular man has a long-standing, well-established track record of ugly, hateful misogyny, and we are not interested in hearing what he has to say about feminism or anything else, and are not willing to let him spread his toxicity in our own space”… and saying, “We are not interested in hearing any man speak about feminism, ever.”

In discussions about feminism, I have seen a fair amount of the former. I have not seen any of the latter, from any serious and respected leader or writer advocating for feminism within the atheist movement.

This is a total straw-feminist position. This is a position that no serious feminist holds, but that gets routinely set up and attacked because the actual things that actual serious feminists are saying are actually pretty reasonable.

And this particular straw feminist is one of the most commonly-used ones by the most hostile opponents of feminism. This is one of the chief anti-feminist talking points: that feminists are hostile to all men, that we’re uninterested in the experiences of any man, that we think everything men say about feminism is wrong, that we don’t think sexism affects men or that feminism has anything to do with them. This image of the ball-busting, man-hating feminist is one of the primary ways that feminists get demonized, marginalized, trivialized, and ignored.

To hear it coming out of the mouth of the person hosting the Women in Secularism conference, in his welcoming speech to the conference’s speakers and attendees and financial supporters… it was appalling. It was reprehensible. It treated us with contempt. (More about this in my piece about Context.)

And it’s not just this one paragraph. Lindsay went on about this topic for six paragraphs — in a twenty-four-paragraph talk. By my word processor’s word count, he devoted 484 words in a 2.,422 word talk to this topic. He devoted a fifth of his entire talk to this hostile, clueless, straw-feminist topic. I quote the entire section:

But it’s the second misapplication of the concept of privilege that troubles me most. I’m talking about the situation where the concept of privilege is used to try to silence others, as a justification for saying, “shut up and listen.” Shut up, because you’re a man and you cannot possibly know what it’s like to experience x, y, and z, and anything you say is bound to be mistaken in some way, but, of course, you’re too blinded by your privilege even to realize that.

This approach doesn’t work. It certainly doesn’t work for me. It’s the approach that the dogmatist who wants to silence critics has always taken because it beats having to engage someone in a reasoned argument. It’s the approach that’s been taken by many religions. It’s the approach taken by ideologies such as Marxism. You pull your dogma off the shelf, take out the relevant category or classification, fit it snugly over the person you want to categorize, dismiss, and silence and … poof, you’re done. End of discussion. You’re a heretic spreading the lies of Satan, and anything you say is wrong. You’re a member of the bourgeoisie, defending your ownership of the means of production, and everything you say is just a lie to justify your power. You’re a man; you have nothing to contribute to a discussion of how to achieve equality for women.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think the concept of privilege is useful; in fact it is too useful to have it ossified and turned into a dogma.

By the way, with respect to the “Shut up and listen” meme, I hope it’s clear that it’s the “shut up” part that troubles me, not the “listen” part. Listening is good. People do have different life experiences, and many women have had experiences and perspectives from which men can and should learn. But having had certain experiences does not automatically turn one into an authority to whom others must defer. Listen, listen carefully, but where appropriate, question and engage.

I started my talk with that reading from the New Testament which unmistakably assigned women a subordinate role. Both the symbol of that oppression and the vehicle for enforcing that oppression was silence. Enforced silence is always and everywhere the enemy of truth and progress. If someone is forbidden from speaking, you are obviously not going to hear what they have to say.

But enforced silence is also a way of robbing someone of their humanity. Part of what allows us to give meaning to our lives is the ability to exercise certain core freedoms, such as freedom of conscience, freedom of association, freedom of expression, and reproductive freedom. We need these freedoms to take control of our own lives, to give shape and direction our own lives; otherwise, we are just going to be forced into a role that has been assigned to us.

Do I have to say this again? NONE OF US ARE SAYING THAT. NONE OF US WANTS THAT. WHY ARE YOU GIVING CREDIBILITY TO THIS BULLSHIT, STRAW-FEMINIST VERSION OF WHAT WE ACTUALLY ARE SAYING, THAT’S SPECIFICALLY CRAFTED TO MARGINALIZE AND IGNORE US?

And to scold and lecture at length about this supposed “enforced silence” of men to a roomful of women, many of whom who have been the targets of a sustained campaign of hatred, harassment, abuse, violations of privacy, and threats for over two years, specifically aimed at getting feminists and feminist thought out of the atheist movement… that is messed-up on about fifty different levels. Not to mention issuing this scolding lecture to a roomful of these women… where one of our chief harassers was right there in the room with us. (Again: more about this in the piece about Context.)

Ron Lindsay owes every person at that conference, and every feminist in the secularist movement, an apology. And it needs to be a real apology. It cannot be a bullshit, half-assed, “I’m sorry you were upset by my entirely reasonable actions,” “I’m going to spend one sentence apologizing with ten paragraphs on defenses and excuses and counter-accusations” not-pology. It needs to be a real apology. It needs to demonstrate an understanding of what exactly was wrong with his actions, and a promise to not act like this in the future. If he doesn’t, I think it will be very hard for feminists in the secular movement to trust and support CFI again.

The other piece in this two-part series:
He Treated Us With Contempt: The Context of Ron Lindsay’s WiS2 Talk

If you have something to say about Ron Lindsay’s talk at the Women in Secularism 2 conference, and/or about his follow-up posts responding to the controversy… say it to the CFI Board of Directors.

Don’t just say it on Twitter, or on Facebook, or on blog comments, or even on your own blog. Say it to the people who can do something about it. If you’ve already said something on some other forum, please copy and paste it, edit as appropriate, and send it to the CFI Board of Directors.

The CFI Board of Directors can be emailed via the Corporate Secretary, Tom Flynn, at tflynn@centerforinquiry.net. They can also be reached by snail mail, at:

Center for Inquiry Board of Directors
PO Box 741
Amherst, NY 14226-0741

Comments

  1. carlie says

    I’m repeating what I said elsewhere: you don’t realize how much of your brain is tied up in thinking of your response to something until you actively tell yourself that you are not going to respond, so you don’t have to formulate anything to say. Asking someone to be quiet and listen to the entirety of a conversation is asking them not just to listen, but to shut off that “what will my response be” part of their brain for awhile so that they can devote more of it to listening. It’s like when you’re in a room with a large air conditioner on and the person talking to you seems to be barely audible, but then the air handlers shut off and even though you weren’t consciously aware of the whooshy air noise before, when it stops you suddenly hear the person next to you sounding much, much louder and more clear than they did a minute ago.

  2. says

    The “sister punisher” thing is a subtle clue that Lindsay has been communicating with, and largely agrees with, the slymepit crowd, who are OBSESSED with that phrase. That tells me that the “divisions among feminists” that he’s talking about is between actual feminists like you and the women at WiS, and the self-proclaimed “feminists” like Vacula, who practice a “feminism” that is merely a defense of the sexist status-quo… and much-loved by men in positions of power who don’t feel like checking their privilege.

  3. carlie says

    And didn’t Aratina trace the origin and only use of that phrase “sister punisher” to a one-off commenter or slymepit member in the first place?

  4. Stacy says

    Thank you for articulating this so clearly and beautifully. Lindsay’s condescension was truly gobsmacking.

    Lindsay may have derived his strawman version of the concept of privilege from Jeremy Stangroom and Russell Blackford. They’ve been spreading it around for over a year, impervious to any correction.

    http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com/?p=4010

    I sent my snail mail letter yesterday.

  5. larsmartin says

    I saw that you and Ophelia are listed as speakers at CFI summit in October. Do you know if you’re still going? I would consider it entirely reasonable to drop out of that if CFI holds on to Lindsay.

  6. CaitieCat says

    Before I started reading FtB, I’d never in my life heard the phrase “sister punisher”, and I’ve been involved in feminism one way and another since about 1988. Not once. Full-on straw-feminism.

  7. seraphymcrash says

    I’ve read quite a bit on Ron Lindsay’s speech at WIS2. I read through his transcript the day after his talk and thought “wow, thats kinda messed up”. It’s perspectives like yours that make me feel that my intial assessment was entirely too generous to Ron.

    I wasn’t sure of the context of the “divisive” comment, but if it was your post he was talking about (and I don’t see anything else that makes sense) then this is beyond ignorance and privelege and delves into malice.

    I don’t know that an apology would be enough. I certainly hope WIS3 (wise!) can be hosted by another organization, or at least be free from Ron.

  8. says

    @Stacy, oh god I saw that post of Stangrooms from metaburbia trolling skephick.org with it… Same thing struck me, very similar to the rubbish doing the rounds with the straw feminist brigade but with extra pseud thrown in for free. Metaburbia apparently “won” the debate with the evilz feminists cos they just pointed out it was an incredibly flowery strawman. Being dazzled by rhetorical shrubbery on a strawman is par for the course for that particular anti-feminist. He is spamming #ftbullies in revenge for being laughed at.

  9. leftwingfox says

    “Sister Punisher” was used at least once by Amanda Marcotte back in 2008 in reference to Sarah Palin signing a budget document requiring rape victims to pay for their own investigation.

    I figure that’s pretty much a justified use of that phrase, don’t you?

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2008/09/13/pandagon-smoking_gun/

    Everything else in my search seems to come from agitated MRAs.

  10. imthegenieicandoanything says

    Not a member and no intention of moving that way, for now, but he seems very much like a leader who believes reached his position by divine intervention, and therefore holds opinions worth more than any follower’s reasoning, evidence, or experience.

    He’s the “leader” so it’s up to you to “follow” him, though he may allow you and your precious little group to indulge in playing “house” or “doctor” so long as you don’t get in the way of the adults.

    The speech was terrible, but the comments made afterwards showed he was a real problem needing a solution – a clueless git, at least in this instance, and one who has made no effort to apologize for the fact.

    Glad it’s not my problem – I have plenty.

  11. LeftSidePositive says

    And, really, can someone please explain to me what is so WRONG with “sister punisher”? It’s not a term I use, nor one I’ve really heard any significant number of people use, but what exactly is so wrong with it?! This whole outrage seems to come from the idea that anything said with disapproval is a “slur.” It’s the old “being called a racist is worse than engaging in racism!” chestnut in slightly different clothing. “Sister punisher,” as I understand it, specifically refers to women who try to gain status at the expense of other women, by upholding and enforcing patriarchal standards. That is a BAD thing. Doing a bad thing should in fact earn you a bad label describing that bad thing. That is how language and accountability work. And there’s also a huge dose (even directly from Lindsay) of “but we’re juuuust disagreeeeeeeeeeeing!!!!” as though disagreements have no content or values! Look, if you “disagree” with the idea that women deserve to go to conferences un-harassed, and especially if you participate in that same harassment for two years, then why exactly is it wrong to call such a person a “sister punisher”?!

    I wasn’t aware that “don’t harass people” and “don’t charge victims for the privilege of being raped” were such arcane, minute, higher-order levels of feminist thought that distinguished feminists could and should disagree on!

    Look, sorry Ron et al, but some aspects are just plain foundational, and if a self-purported feminist fails to adhere to them we have every justification for questioning their identification as feminists. This is the same reason I don’t call myself a vegetarian, and certainly why I wouldn’t complain that other vegetarians are being overly narrow in their definition of the term!

  12. says

    Actually, I find this paragraph almost the worst

    Still, some questions remain, for example, how should secular organizations, including any organization that styles itself as an Atheist+ group, set their priorities? You can’t do everything at once. Only the religious believe in miracles, and think that time will stand still for them. For those of us who believe in the natural world, there are three limiting dimensions to public policy advocacy, namely time, space and money.

    He’s basically saying: We don’t have time for all issues, so we have to limit ourselves.
    And what he doesn’t say: Of course those are the privileged white man issues. That is extremely privilege-pushing, ignorant, patronizing and and -ism in the book. It’s disgusting, frankly.

  13. says

    Joerg beat me to it. Still an’ all…

    Still, some questions remain, for example, how should secular organizations, including any organization that styles itself as an Atheist+ group, set their priorities?

    From a purely practical/tactical point of view, if we as a collective voice are going to point out inequality etc in religious quarters, it would be nice tonot be waiting for the comeback, “not doing so well, yourselves, there, are you?”

    More importantly, from a moral point of view, aren’t we supposed to be better than religion? If not, what’s the point?

    (I’d love to know how many of the slymepitters et al have used the misogyny stick to beat religion with.)

  14. maudell says

    Well, Greta, if you feel like Lindsay misrepresented your post on atheism+ being divisive, the reasonable, sensible thing to do would have been simply to liken him to Pol Pot, not to present rational counterarguments. To work towards unity and civility in the movement, harassers and feminists hand in hand.

    /sarcasm on his North Korea comment, and his overall patronizing tone.

  15. doublenerds says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Beautifully articulated. I wrote to CFI shortly after the conference close to let them know that I have been a financial supporter but will be no longer if they truly and publicly support Ron Lindsay’s position. I have received no reply, not even a form letter. It is very clear that my ladydollars are not wanted.

  16. MrFancyPants says

    CFI tweeted last week that their board is going to discuss this when they meet in June. Does anyone know when in June that will be?

  17. MrFancyPants says

    Thanks, maudell. I hope that on June 18th CFI will send a very clear message about what they intend to do about this. It’s not going to go away.

  18. FossilFishy(Anti-Vulcanist) says

    Point taken about addressing CFI directly about this. Done.

    And now on to the snark:

    Ron Lindsay’s introductory lecture, and it was a lecture, is a heroic piece of mansplaining. So heroic in fact that it sets the gold standard for the genre. For this reason I propose that the fundamental unit of mansplaining be called one Ron.

    Of course one Ron is such a vast quantity that for daily use we’ll have to divide it up into smaller units, decirons and millirons and so on. I’ve contacting the International Bureau of Weights and Measures and expect confirmation of this new standard forthwith.

  19. georgelocke says

    WHY ARE YOU GIVING CREDIBILITY TO THIS BULLSHIT

    at least part of the blame goes to the rhetoric “Shut up and listen,” which, on its face, expresses exactly what Lindsay is arguing against.

  20. says

    georgelocke

    Might I suggest you reread the paragraph which begins: “Let me be very clear. There is an important difference between saying…”?

  21. georgelocke says

    @27 Daz

    Sure, I get it. People who are already in the know get it. The person who is supposed to listen – for any/all of the excellent reasons Christina outlines – may not get it. It’s a problematic piece of rhetoric. It’s snappy, but open to misinterpretation.

  22. says

    It’s snappy, but open to misinterpretation.

    S’cuse me for being slightly cynical, but I’d insert the word “wilful.”

  23. georgelocke says

    I’m sure that willful misinterpration occurs on a regular basis – do you think it’s willful in Lindsay’s case (if so, please explain what’s willful about it).

    My point is that “shut up and listen” as a slogan has a good chance of failing to reach fence-sitters (and very little chance of reaching sexists). Actually getting people to be quiet and listen for a few minutes IRL is a very good idea, but the slogan is problematic.

  24. says

    do you think it’s willful in Lindsay’s case

    I have no idea.

    To be honest, given that he has to be aware of the context and history, given his position, I see three choices: wilful, naïve, or stupid. None of which are particularly flattering, and none of which would seem to make him an apt choice for that position.

  25. says

    Oops, there’s a fourth choice. He may have been trying to imply that, of course he understands the meaning, but other people—those socially inept dumb people over there who are so much less able to parse the language than he is—might not understand it.

    So, wilful , naïve, stupid or patronising.

  26. Eristae says

    My point is that “shut up and listen” as a slogan has a good chance of failing to reach fence-sitters (and very little chance of reaching sexists). Actually getting people to be quiet and listen for a few minutes IRL is a very good idea, but the slogan is problematic.

    It peeves me immensely that people who are being actively oppressed are expected to constantly be polite, considerate, and deferential to the feelings of the privileged. I am really, really sick of people getting behind this idea that, hey, minorities need to be nice or else they the privileged won’t deign to grant minorities their human rights! Bloody fucking hell. The whole point of “shut up and listen” is that it is the privileged who need to change their behavior, not the oppressed, that this needs to stop being about the feelings of the privileged and start being about the needs of the oppressed. Freaking out that “oh, the privileged won’t like that!” is exactly the mentality that the “shut up and listen” phrase it meant to combats. The whole point is that being polite, considerate, and deferential is not the path to equal rights; no one minority group has ever gotten their equal rights by being nice because the privileged will never consider giving up the status quo to be nice.

    No one at that meeting told Lindsay that he, as a man, was never allowed to speak, but that didn’t stop him from taking his opening speech and making it into a lecture, a lecture that cut into the actual speech time of other speakers, speakers who (once again) had not told him to he could never speak. He felt no need to hold back so that he might not be misinterpreted. Why? Because he’s privileged and that gives him the power to do what he want. Minorities need to be able to have an existence that doesn’t revolve around fretting over whether or not the privileged are happy, a right that the privileged have taken to such an extreme that they think that being able to actively take shots at people who are currently being oppressed in a way that takes time away from fighting their oppression. When someone is pulling that shit, asking them nicely hasn’t worked because they’ve already discarded the pleas of the nice.

    Minorities don’t need to the privileged to “please deign to grant me a moment to say something about my experience as a minority that totally isn’t any more important or insightful than what you, the privileged, already think,” they need the privileged to “shut up and listen.” They need the privileged to stop being so thrice be damned self-centered that the privileged consider their feelings to be more important than anything else, even the oppression of others.

    In short: grrrrr.

  27. nurseingrid says

    Eristae, that was one fine and well deserved smackdown. I am duly impressed.

    Internet hugs if you want them.

  28. xof999 says

    @33: I am amazed at how many people will say, in essence, “If only you are more deferential towards the privileged, they be happy to give up their privilege.” A more absurd statement about how people actually behave could not be made, and yet.

    In short: +1.

  29. jacklewis says

    “I’m pretty sure that the “one proponent” Lindsay referred to here is me.”

    And I was pretty sure he meant Richard Carrier with his us vs them stuff, *that* was intentionally divisive even if one agreed with the points made… but it’s all just guess work….

  30. georgelocke says

    @eristae 33

    I’m not saying you have to be nice. I’m saying that if you’re looking for a slogan, you should pick one that gets the message across. What’s the point of using rhetoric that confuses people?

  31. Greta Christina says

    georgelocke @ #26, and #28, and #30, and #37: Please review Why “Yes, But” Is the Wrong Response to Misogyny.

    “Yes, but… the language you’re using to express your anger over misogyny is confusing and alienating — more people would listen if you used different language” could very easily be on that list.

    A fixation on the exact language being used to speak out against oppression is a form of distraction and derailment from the topic of oppression. And it once again treats the wishes of some men to be spoken to about sexism in the gentlest way possible as more important than the desires of women to not be treated in a sexist manner.

  32. Greta Christina says

    georgelocke @ #26, and #28, and #30, and #37: And in case that isn’t clear enough, let me point this out:

    Rebecca Watson’s reply to Ron Lindsay’s talk was calm, measured, straightforward, reasonable, and devoid of personal insult. And Lindsay still responded to her with a hostile, mean-spirited, personally vituperous diatribe. What makes you think that we’ll suddenly start being listened to respectfully, if we just avoid the phrase “shut up and listen”?

  33. georgelocke says

    I get that he’s being unreasonable. What I don’t get is the attitude that attempts at communicating with him – and people like him – are pointless. Are we trying to get across our ideas to people who disagree with us, or what? Why ever say “shut up and listen” if the people who we think need to listen are all assholes?

  34. georgelocke says

    Re “yes but”, I’m just wondering why the phrase “SUAL” exists? If its to carry information, then we should consider what information is actually reaching people like Lindsay, right? Or is he not worth reaching? Help me out here.

  35. says

    What I don’t get is the attitude that attempts at communicating with him – and people like him – are pointless

    Where?

    In fact the whole point of SUAL is aimed at the privileged to HELP us understand and improve communication. We are used to being listened to, especially as a man, and sometimes we need to be quiet and listen. You seem to be under the impression that any interaction I have with a marginalised person or group will involve them shouting “SUAL! SUAL!” until I run away crying or something. Ideally I and others will have read about the *meme* SUAL and it will not need to be uttered to me in that or any other way at all…. OR if I’m not listening and have areas of unexamined privilege that are colouring my thinking that when someone from the marginalised group I am pronouncing my wisdom about says stop you are wrong, I’ll listen. (See how the person in my example didn’t shout SUAL! Its not meant as a literal always say this and you win the argument tactic)

    So again where are these examples of people saying that attempts to communicate with “people like him” (white men?) are pointless?

  36. rnilsson says

    OK, so I’m already stressed out and angry, and I have missed a lot of the recent debate and have not had time to read all comments (or even all of the OP) — but two things immediately jab at me.

    1. Some of the “huge, untapped resources of potential atheist activists” are (gasp, pearl-clutch) not USians, not even North Americans. I may not carry a lot of clout, but I myself have in fact made a small number of small but (hopefully) strategic contributions from across the Great Seas from time to time, for example.
    2. I really cannot get my head around how someone in Ron’s position of trust can jeopardise his entire capital by failing thus grossly to analyse the situation, and moreover to kick the bucket from under the organisers of the conference (his hard-working subordinates, indeed) to cut another notch with one particularly loud minority team of stupid.

    I kind of remember how some d00d in the CFI hierarchy claimed that a natural skin hue was violent pink, as in girl toys, and it seems to fit my recollection that Ron actually (kinda, sorta) agreed with his critics that this was maybe not such a smart thing to actually say out loud in public.

    Well, Ron, it now seems to me that you have also stepped in the same tar-pit mess.

    Even though it pains me, I will seriously reconsider my subscription to the magazine, notwithstanding the resulting loss of income for some of the regular columnists. Instead, I would recompense them with personal digital cookies. My apologies to Melody; I hope she will shortly fill in for your position, Ron.

    If and when I can ever be arsed I might even make the effort to address you on your own turf, Ron. Or just let my sub silently drop if you’re still there, Ron.

    Submitted with equal politeness, respect and admiration, Ron (and an unequal amount for Greta:)

    R

  37. John Horstman says

    I think Lindsay’s misogynist, trolling screed was great, simply because I now have a perfect go-to source when anyone asks me what “mansplaining” means (I could not have asked for anything more on-the-nose than an old wealthy White man lecturing a room full of feminists, mostly women, on how they’re all doing feminism wrong; I’d think it was an intentional, clever, viciously inappropriate prank/bit of performance art if Lindsay didn’t demonstrate the self-awareness and contextual awareness of a mop bucket in the very speech in question and then in his response to the criticism).

    @georgelocke (#37): Good point; how about, “Shut the fuck up and listen, or get the fuck out because we’re getting really sick of dealing with the whining of the privileged about how hard it is to suddenly be in a space that doesn’t grant them the privilege to which they’re accustomed, and frankly it’s a drain on our time and emotional energy that distracts us from more important work than serving the same purpose that ten minutes on Google and a couple hours of reading could if the person in question actually were engaging in good faith and not simply concern-trolling to defend hir privilege while simultaneously trying to maintain the transparent claim that ze actually cares about the marginalized group in question, or at least cares about the marginalized group in question to anything approaching the degree that ze cares about maintaining the institutions that privilege hirself at the expense of the marginalized group in question”? Naw, that’s too wordy; just shut up and listen, d00d.

  38. georgelocke says

    I just wanted to say that think I’ve changed my mind on this issue – thanks to those who responded to what I had to say. I now think that the slogan “shut up and listen” has (some of) the problems Lindsay attributes to it only if you consider it without any context. But Lindsay has plenty of context, and has no excuse. He mentions three discussions of what SUAL means in this post. None of the three links he provides imply that when you’re told to shut up and listen, it has a “dispositive” effect. Hepshiba comes closest, writing, “if a whole bunch of black and brown progressives with lifetimes of experience dealing first-hand with racism, and with fighting prejudice & racism, tell you that you need to check your shit… you should shut up, sit down, and check it,” following that up with, “I’m an expert, and I still shut up, sit down and check it when I’m told, because I understand that being wrong is part of the process of evolving.” (Emphasis in original.) Notice that what nears “dispositive” for Hepshiba is “a whole bunch of black and brown progressives with lifetimes of experience dealing first-hand with racism” telling you to check your privilege. I have to agree: if you’re repeatedly getting that kind of response from people who ought to know what they’re talking about, then probably you really ought to shut the fuck up and listen. (Note that what is proved here is that you need to listen – not that you’re wrong.)

    None of this amounts to the idea that once you’ve been told to check your privilege, all discussion is over and you have to sit quietly and let the women/whoever talk in perpetuity, which afaict is what Lindsay was saying. (All I was ever arguing was that the slogan SUAL contributed to Lindsay’s confusion, not that he wasn’t being an ass.)

    So, we should expect that people in general and Lindsay in particular come to the table with at least some level of understanding,and SUAL helps get across to people that it’s just hard to see your own privilege. The only problem is that it invites people like Lindsay to ignorantly divorce the “shut up” part of the phrase from all context. As a slogan, it’s snappy and it communicates. (In person, I’d only use the phrase “shut up” if the target were really behaving badly, but asking people to listen for a minute is a good idea if handled adroitly.)

  39. Greta Christina says

    I just wanted to say that think I’ve changed my mind on this issue – thanks to those who responded to what I had to say.

    georgelocke @ #46: Thanks. Human beings often aren’t good at changing our minds, so I think it merits recognition when we do.

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