By Kim Rippere and Elsa Roberts, follow them on twitter at KimRippere and ElsaLRoberts
The article below reflects the personal opinions of the authors, and is not an official statement from Secular Woman
It was a surreal experience to witness a white, double PhD, straight, male lecture women and feminists on how to not upset the men in positions of power/privilege as part of a “welcoming” talk to Women in Secularism 2 – that the concept of privilege can be used to silence men! The conference was derailed before it began just as so many of our conversations are derailed online by men who feel entitled to make their issues and feelings paramount. We’ve seen it countless times; for example, how many times have we all seen a comment thread about rape instantly turned into a thread about how men are raped also (yes, we know that and care!)? It is impossible to count.
Dr. Lindsay’s point in his comments was that feminists need to moderate their voice so as to not upset men (or women who continue to cleave to the patriarchy). There was little apparent understanding of privilege and marginal understanding of how the underpinnings of systemic, historical oppression continue to function in our society, even though women’s historical subjugation was given lip service in his speech. It’s difficult to believe that Dr. Lindsay could have so poor a grasp on these issues given that religious privilege is explicitly a part of the CFI mission. Atheists, and their supporting organizations like CFI, are working to be heard regarding religious privilege, and do they worry about the potential of silencing those that are religious? I think not. Dr. Lindsay, you acting as the President/CEO of the Center for Inquiry, have condemned religious privilege while, apparently, dismissing and/or minimizing other forms of it.
Feminists are not silencing anyone in our movement; we are simply attempting to be heard. Dr. Lindsay, it isn’t that you are being silenced, it is merely that you are being informed you should make way for first hand experiences and give those primacy when relevant. As Adam Lee said: “You lack evidence relevant to this problem, so learn from those who have it.”
This is how a conversation should go between individuals when one has more experience and expertise than the other:
- When the conversation is about the inclusion of women, women’s experiences are most relevant. That doesn’t mean that no one cares about men’s experiences, it simply means that women’s are paramount.
- When talking about how men experience socialization, men’s experiences are primary and paramount.
- When talking about being a trans* woman of color? A trans* woman of color’s viewpoint is paramount.
- When educating regarding an aspect of the genome; gender and race are irrelevant; but, being a geneticist is relevant and paramount.
Most would rather hear from a scientist regarding science. The foundation of [privilege] is as simple as that.
Privilege is used, in part, to point out that the most relevant person has the best information/evidence and that their voice should be paramount. It doesn’t mean that anyone is silenced or that a marginalized person is always correct. The geologist isn’t silenced by the physicist speaking and commanding the attention of the room on a topic they are an expert in; they have a differing, complementary, and connected understanding. And on different ideas each will take primacy as appropriate.
Surely, you don’t think that the residential real estate attorney should be paramount in a legal employment concern? The employment attorney’s opinion, viewpoint, knowledge, and experience should be paramount with the EEOC. This is the foundation of understanding privilege. Your view is not the only view, it is not (or should not be) the default, and context matters when deciding who to listen to. This is one the reasons that GOP Senators were roundly criticized during their hearings on birth control: there were no women on the panel even though the issue explicitly affected women. Men were sitting in judgement of women’s health care, just as you sat in judgment of feminists with little to no apparent understanding of feminist history, feminism, privilege, or your feminist audience.
Your “welcome” speech, then, pushed back gains that women have made in our movement. You have emboldened the harassers and vocal detractors of feminism in the secular movement; in fact many of them have come out in vocal support of your statements. These supporters of yours make a habit of calling women “cunts”, “cunty”, and “bitches” all while creating and breaking down straw feminisms faster than we can keep track and still they claim to the “real” feminists, while those of us working to dismantle patriarchal structures are labeled as irrational. You supported these same repugnant and untruthful sentiments in your hyperbolic blog post made in response to Rebecca Watson, where you stated “Either you believe reason and evidence should ultimately guide our discussions, or you think they should be held hostage to identity politics.”
This statement creates a false dichotomy and implies that identity politics is somehow tainted. Nothing could be further from the truth; identity politics gives marginalized groups the tools to make their voices heard and a way to break free from oppression. Those engaged in identity politics must constantly question the status quo and engage their critical thinking faculties to dismantle long held beliefs which are not rational but merely serve to prop up those in power and to keep systemic inequality functioning. It is precisely these people who make use of the tools of reason and evidence everyday, we must if we are to effectively do our work and help others in non-marginalized communities see that some of their beliefs are not rational, but a cultural heritage which they must shed if they wish to move forward toward a more just society.
Feminism, sexism, privilege, patriarchy, and identity politics are all concepts that are readily available to research via the internet. The seemingly perpetual need within the secular community to have more and new dialogue, instruction, and education on these topics is a microaggression. The assumption that it is a feminist’s role and responsibility to educate, educate, educate the oppressor is completely unbalanced. Do some work, get educated. Or alternatively, listen.