Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dear Paula Kirby, You're welcome.

I tried to post a comment on this thread at B&W,* but the thread was closed, so I’ll recreate and expand on it here:
What Kirby said was that, in her “years of being part of all this,” she has “seen nothing to suggest” that “women are being deliberately held back by the men in the movement” of atheism. That is not equivalent to saying there is “no sexism.” Far from it!
Whatever it is, it certainly isn't far from it, and making this sort of claim betrays an obvious agenda. In any case, from what I’ve read of Kirby, she’s shockingly ignorant of sociological realities in business and in general, to the extent that I don’t know why anyone would take her particularly seriously on the subjects of sexism or feminism. What I’ve read is, to be sure, a limited sample of her writing, but many of these comments are those people point to in defense of her case.

I can’t believe anyone who’s been involved in these discussions over the past few years could agree that there hasn’t been a serious problem with women being held back in the movement. Oh, here’s a relevant example: Some of us have been bringing up the lack of diversity amongst speakers at atheist events for years, dealing with endless comments calling us conspiracy theorists, talking about how women aren’t interested in or as well suited to taking those public roles, and all manner of nonsense.** Over and over.*** For years. Making lists (gosh, look who's on that one under K, H, and S!).

If I recall correctly, some people were touting this Dublin event in part because, finally, after all of these years of our pointing to the problem even when we knew what would ensue, this one would feature a more diverse set of panelists (at least in terms of gender). Then they have a panel of women who all agree that they don’t see sexism as a serious problem in the movement. Well, isn’t that just swell. I feel like a union activist who’s worked for years to get recognition and better pay and benefits - going on strike, being harassed, and with the risk of being blackballed - only to hear someone newly hired talk in one breath about their great health care plan and in the next deny the need for a union. I am angry.

*I have no idea what OB is talking about here, but I’m tired of feeling like I’m fighting an uphill battle and never know what’s coming next. I appreciate that she’s posted on it, but don’t understand this tendency to make an argument and then suddenly accept these strange claims.

**Fully conscious, deliberate sexism isn’t necessarily a part of this, though there’s much of that. Nor does it have to be a conspiracy. This is a stupid strawman.

***Note that on this thread Richard Dawkins said his organization was setting up a speakers’ bureau. In 2008.


  1. that comparison to unions seems pretty apt: ignoring the forces that improved the situation by pretending the situation wasn't ever bad to begin with is a very annoying tendency.

    And it's not like the fight over the lack of diversity in speakers is even close to over; judging from the current speaker list at the Rally for Reason, the only people who can speak for reason are white guys. Can't look away for even one moment without the movement reverting to that "default" *sigh*

  2. Yeah well, your view, one I agree with by the way, is for some funny reason not especially popular in the blogosphere right now. Jerry Coyne in particular needs to have a long hard look at himself.

  3. After I posted that yesterday, I was looking around for other things she's written to try to see if her views might be more nuanced than it had seemed. Found this:

    But I would also challenge the premise that it’s only the men who are visible in the atheist movement. Just check out the speaker lists at atheist conferences. Think of authors like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ophelia Benson. Think of the many prominent female bloggers out there: Greta Christina, Blaghag, Skepchick... What makes you feel we’re less respected than our male counterparts? I certainly don’t feel that, unless it’s the Big Four you’re talking about and their huge success as writers and thinkers accounts for and justifies that.

    I absolutely reject the notion that women need a special helping hand in order to do whatever they want to do. The very notion reinforces misogynistic ideas of women being somehow weaker and less able than their male counterparts, and unable to achieve their goals in life unless men go out of their way to let them. As a woman, I have no truck with such attitudes.


    By the way, I read your post, Jadehawk, about the other conferences, and just recently yours, Rorschach, about this bizarre panel (which, as you know, Coyne posted a video of, ordering people to watch the entire thing before commenting and forbidding people to talk about Watson - unbelievable).

  4. "By the way, I read your post, Jadehawk, about the other conferences"

    are you referring to the write-up about the Copenhagen conference, or something else?

    I wish I still had the program for that, so I could check how many women were speaking; I only remember the two I actually heard, and I know Paula Kirby was there, too. IIRC, Taslima Nasrin had been invited as well, but her talk had to be cancelled since she wasn't able to come, after all.

  5. Sorry if "post" was confusing. No, I was referring to your comment on TET about the Rally for Reason. I hadn't known about the Women in Secularism event, either.

    Also by the way, since the CfI has come up a bit recently,...I'd noticed several months ago that of their blog contributors, 7 are men and only 1 a women (4 and 2 amongst the guest contributors, so 11 and 3 overall).

  6. ah, ok, that makes sense :-p

    and yeah, the vast majority of Atheist spaces, if not actively poked and prodded into it, are almost always male-dominated. And the same for ethnic/racial/ex-religious diversity.

  7. Don't be absurd. Individuals of true merit are always fully recognized regardless of those factors. I have no truck with that attitude!