Ideas from the Women in Secularism Conference #wiscfi

The Women in Secularism Conference is over now, and I am back at home enjoying one more day of vacation before jumping back into my work-a-day life. While I still have a bit of time off, I want to reflect on what I have learned at the Women in Secularism conference and how I can incorporate these ideas into my activism in the days to come.

1. If we wish to reach more people, we must engage in activities that affect their lives.

Typically, meetings of atheist groups are things that have appealed to people who have access to plenty of spare time, disposable income, and ample transportation. The leaders and topics of meetings have largely been from the sciences and from philosophy as well, topics that have been dominated for a long time by middle to upper class white men. I though it was a good point made by someone (sorry I forget who) that the reason we have such a imbalance of gender and race in atheist meetings is that most of our leaders come from a background that has the exact same problem.
Unfortunately, not everyone who might be interested in atheist community can stop in the middle of their busy lives in order to drive across town for a science lecture (or something similar). In order to reach a broader audience, we need to engage in activities that affect people in their daily lives. Things like volunteering on school boards, and providing child care services. I’m not exactly sure how to implement these ideas into our group in Louisville yet, but it is a question I will be pondering in the near future.

2. Misogynistic beliefs are a lot like religious (or any other) beliefs. It can be difficult to recognize such beliefs in oneself, and it may take many encounters to finally stop these patterns of thinking.

Greta Christina and Jen McCreight both noted that as a result of their writing about both atheism and feminism on their blogs, that they have gotten many messages from atheists saying that they had changed their minds about feminism. Greta has noted progress in this area, saying that every time there is a massive argument about sexism in the atheist blogosphere, the discussion is less neatly divided along lines of sex and the more men are accepting and repeating the feminist arguments. Yay progress!

3. Studies on communications styles have shown that women are generally less likely to speak up in meetings and more likely to be interrupted when they are speaking.

This is due to the fact that people with more perceived power in an interaction are more likely to interrupt and talk often and loudly. This is worth noting in male/female interactions since femininity is associated with submissiveness and masculinity with aggressiveness. Women are more likely to be concerned with saving face for others and with consensus building, so they are more likely to use a deferent tone when speaking in a meeting. The main takeaway from this talk was that both men and women need to learn both the submissive style and the assertive styles of speaking and to use them when appropriate. There is more information on this at http://www.bernicesandler.com/ under the section on The Chilly Climate.

Also, a takeaway for group leaders is to be aware of these differences in communication styles and make sure that everyone in a group discussion is heard and has their ideas recognized.

4. Studies have shown that women are more likely to attend a conference and to feel comfortable there when where are an equitable number of women on the podium.

This finding has clear implications for the organizers of atheist conferences. There are plenty of women atheist activists out there, so get them as speakers and panelists.

5. We have a lot to gain from working with religious and “interfaith” groups in order to obtain specific goals. However, we must be careful to define in advance what our values are and what we are willing to compromise to make sure that our beliefs and values are not steamrolled in the process. 

Greta noted a secular student group and Muslim group working together to fight religious discrimination after a the secular group started a discussion with them over Everybody Draw Muhammad day. Even though they disagreed about drawing Muhammad, that discussion lead to an acknowledgment of the areas where they did agree and could work together. There is also the example of The American Cancer society rejecting the full participation of the Foundation Beyond Belief in their fundraising. Unfortunately, an otherwise decent charity may blanch at the idea of working with the atheists (even for a very large donation!). Happily, FBB found another great organization who is willing to work with them, and participates with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation in their Light the Night program. You can see the acknowledgment of FBB on the Light the Night website at http://www.lightthenight.org/what/sponsors/foundationbeyondbelief/.

This post does not even come close to highlighting all of the great ideas and contributors at the Women in Secularism Conference, only the main ideas that have stuck in my mind which I hope to apply to my own efforts in the near future. I have also brought home Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars by Sikivu Hutchinson, as her contributions on the panel have convinced me that I really need to know more on this topic.

I am looking forward to reading Why Truth Matters, which was coauthored by Ophelia Benson who was also a panelist in the convention.

 

I also highly recommend the books Doubt, A History by Jennifer Michael Hecht and Freethinkers by Susan Jacoby. Though I had read their books many years ago as a new atheist, this is the first time I heard either of them speak.

I am looking forward to WIS2.

4 thoughts on “Ideas from the Women in Secularism Conference #wiscfi

  1. “Typically, meetings of atheist groups are things that have appealed to people who have access to plenty of spare time, disposable income, and ample transportation. The leaders and topics of meetings have largely been from the sciences and from philosophy as well….Unfortunately, not everyone who might be interested in atheist community can stop in the middle of their busy lives in order to drive across town for a science lecture (or something similar)”.

    I’m not sure to which meetings you are referring, but I suspect you are conflating atheism with skepticism. While atheism is a subtopic of skepticism, a skeptic meeting is not by definition an atheist meeting. The presentation of science-related lectures is not intended to attract those who “might be interested in the atheist community.”

  2. When you have an atheist group that has been around for more than about two months, you don’t only sit around and talk about more reasons God or gods don’t exist. Many atheists are skeptics who want to learn about all kinds of things. And besides, the question of gods is very closely tied up with philosophy and science and many other areas. I’m not confusing atheism and skepticism. Atheists and skeptics are very often the same people and the same community. Not identical, but very close.

    Atheists who meet in groups have interests much broader than the narrow definition of atheism.

    BTW, are you involved in any kind of atheist community?

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