There’s a nice article at The Humanist about the Women in Secularism conference.
Lindsay’s opening remarks stressed CFI’s commitment to equality and added that “stirring up trouble…is how we advance as a movement.” A panel of writers and bloggers discussed online activism and the power and pitfalls of a viral hashtag like #bringbackourgirls. While some criticize the passing along of a Twitter hashtag as superficial activism, panelists saw it as using one’s privilege to elevate the voices of the less privileged (in that case raising awareness of the missing Nigerian school girls).
Moderated by Lindsay Beyerstein, the panel included Soraya Chemaly, Amy Davis Roth, Zinnia Jones, and Miri Mogilevsky in one of the best discussions of the conference. A successful panel can happen as if by magic sometimes, but I think really relies on an integration of expertise, personal experience, and articulation. That chemistry was working here as the panelists discussed online campaigns they’d led or been part of and the backlash they endured as a result.
Chemaly, a media critic and activist, made sharp points, one being that websites should see the comments to articles as part of their content and moderate responsibly or consider abolishing the comments section altogether, as Popular Science has done. After presenting a talk on gender and free expression (“It’s not that women talk too much. People expect us to talk less”), she led a panel on intersectionality and humanism with Jones, Mogilevsky, Heina Dadabhoy, and Debbie Goddard.
Does intersectionality—examining intersections between forms of oppression—spell mission creep for humanist organizations? Certainly people who join groups seek unity. For atheist and humanist organizations, anti-religious topics achieve that, but does discussing things like immigration, racism, and—yes—sexism disrupt it?
My view? Yes, it can, but what are ya gonna do? It’s inevitable, that kind of disruption. Why? Because when you work in a group for awhile, if you’re one of the kinds of people who gets more or less politely shoved aside, you end up noticing. That can’t be helped, nor should it be. Unity is good, but not always at the expense of equal treatment. (I say “not always” because there can be emergencies, when it may be reasonable to postpone equal treatment concerns.)
Erm ok warning for inclusion of erm complimentary reference to dear Self but I can’t help it because of all the others. (“Seasoned” is a lovely euphemism for “ancient”; I’ll have to use that more.)
If day one was driven by younger secular women working largely in the digital trenches, day two was carried by the more academic and seasoned rabble-rousers. Barbara Ehrenreich, Rebecca Goldstein, Ophelia Benson, Taslima Nasrin, Susan Jacoby, and Katha Pollitt made an all-star cast of secular women writers in discussing their own exits from the religious traditions of their childhood, their thoughts on why women are so polite when it comes to religion, and even delving boldly into the conundrum of multiculturalism. Joining them were former charismatic minister Candace Gorman, Americans United for Separation of Church and State’s Sarah Jones, Huffington Post Associate Editor Mandy Velez, Jezebel columnist Lindy West, and American Atheists’ managing director and The Citizen Lobbyist author Amanda Knief. (Comedian Leighann Lord performed at the evening banquet, which, unfortunately, I had to miss).
I’m not going to lie; that second sentence makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, however absurd it may be.
Other notable quotes from WIS III:
“[When considering Muslim feminists] I used to think, why are you trying to fix this mess? Just leave it! But now I realize their value in de-fanging religion. I view them with admiration as they try to fix the hot mess I left behind.” – Heina Dadabhoy
“I have no respect for any religion.” –Taslima Nasrin
“There are bigger problems facing woman than Internet trolls, but who will continue to write about those women if female bloggers are driven off the Internet?” –Lindy West
“The degree to which [religions] aren’t dangerous to women is the degree to which they have been infiltrated by secularism.” –Susan Jacoby
I wrote some of those down too.