It’s been a strange evening. I had a crowd of people descend on my hotel room after the evening’s events at Women In Secularism and a good day of wonderful and inspiring talks from strong women, and besides just wanting to talk and celebrate, they wanted to complain. These are people who came here for a conference on women’s issues, and they were really annoyed that the head of CFI, Ron Lindsay, chose to use the opening talk of the conference to basically chastise the attendees and instruct them in how to behave, and I’ve had more than one person tell me that they were irate that their introduction to an event that they paid a considerable sum of money was to be greeted by a talk that pandered to people who hated the event, and were volubly complaining on the internet throughout the day about it. The impression they had was that the organization was unhappy to be sponsoring this conference.
That is a weird and impolitic message to send to attendees. It was especially weird to hear that on day one, and then to watch Melody Hensley, the person who did the organizational work to set up the meeting, make fundraising pitches at the evening reception on both days. Melody definitely stands behind the purpose of this event, there’s no doubt about that at all, but we’re simultaneously getting this bizarre vibe that CFI, as represented by Lindsay, does not like this feminist stuff, and would rather that we all went away and the MRAs who are crowing about his talk were here instead.
Who is he supporting? The people who actively invest in this meeting and CFI, or the jerks who lurk on the internet and rage at women all day long with no commitment to any cause besides hatred, and are openly hoping to see the meeting fail?
What has also caused all these people to lose confidence in Lindsay is that today, he posted a complaint against Rebecca Watson, who is here both as a speaker and as a sponsor of attendees here, comparing her to a propagandist for North Korea, and blathering misconceptions about his odd understanding of the idea of privilege and asserting that there is an effort to silence men (he’s very resentful of the idea that men might be expected to be silent long enough to listen to the experience of minorities). Or rather, he’s unhappy with the hyphenated entity Myers-Watson (really, we aren’t married, not even close), because he also posted a tirade against me for stating that shutting up and listening, that is, paying attention to and respecting the experiences of the underprivileged, is an appropriate strategy for learning about and responding to the concerns of people outside your class, sex, and race. Which, I thought, was the goal of this conference.
A lot of people are extraordinarily irritated by this effort by the head of CFI to undermine a CFI-sponsored conference. That’s why this one tired old man was listening to a crowd of annoyed conference attendees packed into his hotel room at 2am complain about mismanagement and loss of confidence in the administration of CFI. Attendees who paid $250 each, plus transportation and hotel costs, to listen to big names in feminism and secularism talk, and who got that plus a director who seemed more interested in appeasing an obsessed gang of manic, moronic anti-feminist spammers who’d been flooding the twitter feed (a strange corruption of the usual use of conference hashtags that I’ve never witnessed before) and countering the purpose of the conference.
I was put in the unusual and awkward position of having to reassure these attendees that CFI really was a great organization (something the head of CFI should have been doing, right?) despite the apparent opposition of the man in charge…a man who had just posted a bitter complaint about me on the web. I had to remind them that the woman who was specifically in charge of this conference, Melody Hensley, was on their side, and supported the cause of women in secularism despite the apparent intransigence of her boss.
I’m only here as an attendee myself, yet here I am having to defend the organization. I have no reputation as a diplomat, yet here I am trying to put out the fires that the CEO of the organization himself has enflamed. What kind of screwed up mess is this?
OK, I give up. I’m going to bed to get a couple of hours of sleep. Let’s hope Ron Lindsay wakes up and realizes he’s just blown up what ought to be a great success for CFI (the speakers here have been phenomenal) and turned it into a colossal PR disaster, and tries to change course. If it’s not too late already.