Taking it Personally: Privilege and Women in Secularism

Illustration by Tom Gauld for The Guardian
Illustration by Tom Gauld for The Guardian

There is a tendency for people to take criticism of ideas personally.  It’s true of all people, though I noticed it particularly this weekend at the Women in Secularism conference.  People also have a bad habit of criticizing individuals rather than their ideas.  I do not claim freedom from this tendency, although I do work very hard to try to be clear in that distinction.  I do not like the speech that Ron Lindsay used to open the conference with, but this doesn’t mean that I do not like Ron Lindsay.  I don’t know him, he is quite probably a pretty cool guy generally speaking.

Of course, I am not the only person who took umbrage at his opening speech.  I wasn’t particularly upset by it, I just felt it was wrongheaded as an opening speech for this event in particular and demonstrated poor understanding of the cultural theory behind the terms of “privilege” and the intent of “shut up and listen.”   I think it’s inappropriate to use the opening speech to criticize the conference goals rather than introduce it. I also think that the way he talked about critical theory indicated a lack of familiarity with the scholarship on the subject and the power dynamics at play. At best it was terrible tone deafness which was then exacerbated by his position of power in the organization, his race and gender and socioeconomic status, and the fact that he was giving the opening address not a lecture.

I also agreed with Rebecca Watson that it was particularly bad for these apparent misunderstandings to be delivered by a wealthy white man who was part of the organization in charge of the Women in Secularism conference.  In other words, it was a poorly expressed, poorly timed message delivered by exactly the wrong person for the message.


For stating that, I have been accused of being sexist, of having it out for men, for having it out for Ron Lindsay, of quote-mining, of being dismissive, of shutting down dialogue by calling people names, and just good old “fuck you” and “fuck off” from strangers. I am dogmatic and hateful and trying to tear people down.

Rebecca Watson has also gotten this kind of response, but far more intense, for level-headed criticism of the talk.  In response, Ron Lindsay felt the need to make it about how Rebecca Watson is a Bad Person.  (At least further accusations of quote-mining will be justified by the use of quotes):

Rebecca Watson inhabits an alternate universe.  At least that is the most charitable explanation I can provide for her recent smear.  Watson has posted comments on my opening talk at Women in Secularism 2.  It may be the most intellectually dishonest piece of writing since the last communique issued by North Korea.

Perhaps Watson was too busy tweeting about how “strange” it was to have a “white man” open the conference to pay attention to what I was actually saying

I’m just glad Watson didn’t notify security: “white man loose on stage, white man loose on stage!”

There are also places where it continues to be clear that he doesn’t understand the “shut up and listen” suggestion, but at least those aren’t unnecessary and unprofessional attacks on someone who has criticized something he said.

Now I’d like to offer some advice to Ron Lindsay: Shut up and listen.

  • Shut up because you’re just making this more and more of a PR disaster.
  • Shut up because you’re hurting Melody Hensley and the amazing event she put together.
  • Shut up because if you’re so busy coming up with ways to defend yourself, you’re failing to understand why people are upset.
  • Shut up because it is so very clear that you are not listening.
  • Shut up because you can’t talk and listen at the same time.
  • Listen to what other people in your organization have to say.
  • Listen to what other people in the cause have to say.
  • Listen to women and men who are upset about the opening speech.
  • Listen to criticism of what you said and remember that it’s not about who you are as a person, but the argument that you’ve made.
  • Listen because it’s the right thing to do.

I appreciate that there are those who somehow think that this “shut up and listen” thing means don’t use critical thinking, but it’s actually about defensiveness.  People always take things personally.  When someone says, “You’ve got privilege,” most of us want to yell, “I worked really hard to get what I’ve got.”  And most of us have worked really hard, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t privileged — learning to see the privilege is difficult, and to see it we’ve got to be willing to shut up for a little while and recognize the possibility that there are things that we didn’t know before.  In other words, if you’re not prepared to just listen for a little while, you’re going to spend the entire time trying to prove someone wrong instead of considering the possibility that they may have a point.

Ron Lindsay presents this as a war where either you “believe reason and evidence should ultimately guide our discussions, or you think they should be held hostage to identity politics.”  This negates the possibility that this is a fight between factions who think that reason and evidence point to the necessity of identity politics and those who refuse to listen.

Taking it Personally: Privilege and Women in Secularism

85 thoughts on “Taking it Personally: Privilege and Women in Secularism

  1. 3

    In other words, if you’re not prepared to just listen for a little while, you’re going to spend the entire time trying to prove someone wrong instead of considering the possibility that they may have a point.

    Good post, thanks. I really like the part I quoted.

  2. 6

    I was deeply disappointed in the opening remarks, and they (along with all the stupid reactions that stemmed from them) cast a pall over my experience at the conference. I’m planning to write a letter to Ron Lindsay to express all this, but I hope that someone with a bigger voice than me will put out some kind of call for everyone who attended to do the same, if they so wish. It’s important for Lindsay not to think that this is just about Rebecca, but rather (I imagine) that a strong majority of attendees had a problem with his remarks and ensuing communications. And it’s important that we not let him get and surround himself with only positive feedback from the pitters, while writing off his critics as only a few disgruntled individuals.

  3. 7

    I think it’s a wonderful thing for this guy to come out and challenge everyone. One of the most attractive features of secularism is to challenge people on their beliefs and listen to their defenses. One can agree with him or not agree – all is fine, but his speech spurred a large amount of conversation and interest in the conference that wouldn’t otherwise exist. Rebecca Watson was fairly civil but said some things that didn’t past the critical thinking test, and so did this guy. That’s fine – neither of them are villains, but as skeptics we shouldn’t value loyalty over facts.

    The only thing I’m disappointed in is these attempts to boycott/ban/fire whatever – it’s unnecessary. Spurring conversation is perhaps the most important part of skepticism. Those acts limit it, for no reason other than for some idea that hurting another person is a “win.”

    1. 7.1

      Lindsay didn’t spawn an interesting discussion with a deeply poignant analysis. He didn’t challenge anything or anyone. This conversation has been happening for a looong time in the secular community. This is not anything new, nor bold.

      Lindsay fanned the flames of an already ongoing struggle with his glib and privilege-ignorant remarks at an opening for a conference that was created to give space for women to talk.

      That’s not a positive thing.

      1. Not to mention, the conference was created as a place to have higher level conversations without the constant, silencing barrage of “glib and privilege-ignorant remarks” like Lindsay’s.

      2. I don’t know that this really has to be a continuing conversation. Don’t treat people like garbage. Can we agree that this is a good value for the atheist community?

      1. Ron Lindsey didn’t defend the male status quo in any way whatsoever. He expressed a desire that people should be able to talk, and listen to each other, *without* all the usual “shut up”, “fuck you” etc.
        The goal is equality.
        Feminism that has no male voices is just as empty as a world in which women are not allowed to question male actions. Equality only comes from both sexes working together, with both talking on each side of the discussion.
        The only people who should ‘shut up’ and listen (and I hate to use that term ‘shut up’, it’s like ‘fuck you’, not conducive to any kind of decent debate, it’s a form of abuse) are the people who shouted this guy down. His voice is valid too, and he said nothing that was against the spirit of the debate so he should be applauded.

        1. The only people who should ‘shut up’ and listen (and I hate to use that term ‘shut up’, it’s like ‘fuck you’, not conducive to any kind of decent debate, it’s a form of abuse) are the people who shouted this guy down.

          You display a remarkable ignorance of both the facts and of the concepts at hand.

          1. The only people who should ‘shut up’ and listen (and I hate to use that term ‘shut up’, it’s like ‘fuck you’, not conducive to any kind of decent debate, it’s a form of abuse) are the people who shouted this guy down.

            Ron Lindsay wasn’t shouted down. A roomful of people who paid to attend the conference sat and listened to his 2000 word speech. He was the only person in that room permitted to speak, because he’s the president of CFI and he put himself on the agenda (AFAIK) and held the microphone in his hand. That’s a major reason that no one thinks his voice has been silenced, for crying out loud.

        2. “Feminism that has no male voices is just as empty as a world in which women are not allowed to question male actions.”

          There’s something iffy about what I’m quoting but I can’t put my finger on it…

          What I would like to point out though is that a white cismale -can’t- know what it’s like to be female and not having the same privileges as him because he is inherently born into a position of aforementioned privileges. He can sympathise. He can wish and work for the equality of everyone. But if someone from a group he’s trying to champion tells him he’s doing it wrong, he really should take a step back and listen to the point that someone is trying to make. And here it rather sounds like Lindsay is instead defending himself and what he said by attacking someone/several someones he should do better listening to.

          Also, frankly, reading the quotes in the article about what he said about a female who was critical to what he said and essentially calling her a delusional, hysterical liar and trying to shame her into being quiet, I think he should take a large step back and seriously consider if he should get involved with any further feminist events as anything other than a ordinary guest, if even that before he has his head on straight.

          1. That’s unfair, did he really dominate anything? Just like every speaker, he was up on stage to talk, ao that is no more The Voice, or dominating, than any speaker at any other conference. I read his speech entirely, and I read the criticism, the criticism was unwarranted. His point was clear. It was about politeness and getting away from all the ‘shut up’ type abuse, and about men/women being able to express views without either being fearful of being silenced. I feel that he is being silenced right now (I’ve counted about 15 posts across all the blogs so far calling for him to be fired or stand down, so if that’s not silencing, I don’t know what is!). Also, that thing about him ‘not welcoming people’, it was clear he was saying that as a way of saying “it’s not my place to welcome you because it’s not my conference”. Admittedly clunkish, but clearly well intentioned. He, or other men, should be able to speak on Feminism so it is good that he spoke. He put across some ideas then went away, just like every other speaker there, he was not The Voice.

            Imagine (and this is hypothetical as I suspect this would be labelled as male oppression immediately) someone organised a “Men In Secularism” conference (sure, there’s no need, as there are probably more male speakers across secular conference, though I don’t know the numbers). If a woman was the president of the organisation that backed the conference, and so was invited to give the first speech (so really it’s fine for her to give the first speech) and the thrust of her speech was that for 10,000 years men have dominated women and that it is a notable point of progress in secularism that after hundreds of years of exclusively male societies with exclusively male conferences, finally a male oriented conference can be setup without it being a bone of contention to celebrate great male speakers without it being “exclusive” and instead embracing equality such that both sides can listen to each other without telling each other to ‘shut up’, and then for the rest of the weekend, various male secular speakers talked. I think we all know that everyone would definitely be of the view that “it’s great, and it shows how far we have come in the secular community now, that although the conference is about some great speakers in speakers who happen to be male, the president of the organisation can open the proceedings in a way that reminds us all (both men and women) about our place in society and our mutual responsibilities towards each other”. And I doubt anyone would even care about whether she was “white” (as was part of the complaint twitter remember) or “female”. That would definitely be progress.

            A man talked, he expressed some (perfectly reasonable, honest, sincere) views. Was he the best speaker of the weekend, probably not, was he the worst, probably not that either, but was he coming from a position of male dominance? Absolutely not. And was he trying to put women ‘in their place’ by dominating them as The Voice? Absolutely not. He was simply (as I am) tired of all the over-zealous hatred, attacks, abuse, “shut up”‘s and “fuck off”‘s that really, honestly, make the ‘secular community’ often look completely unprofessional, abrasive, demented and fight-obsessed, instead of calm, professional, embracing of all views and forward thinking (as we should be??).

          2. @andywatson
            Wow, what a load of thoughtless, misinformed garbage. But this in particular:

            A man talked, he expressed some (perfectly reasonable, honest, sincere) views.

            His views were not perfectly reasonable, which you’d know if you took the time to read the criticisms of what he said without letting yourself be blinkered by defensiveness over how those critics are, in your opinion, over-zealous, strident meany-heads.

            His views were not honest because they were based on strawmen and failures to understand the concepts. He couldn’t, for instance, back up his complaint about “shut up and listen” with actual examples of silencing.

            His views might well have been sincere, but when one’s views are neither reasonable nor honest, then a sincere profession of them is hardly virtuous. Especially for a skeptic.

  4. 8

    Thanks for this great post.
    “I appreciate that there are those who somehow think that this “shut up and listen” thing means don’t use critical thinking..”
    Yes, and they’re wrong. If they don’t stop talking along enough to hear what the other person is saying, how can they possibly make a reasoned response?

  5. 9

    I’ve taught public speaking, where I spent a lot of time talking to students about their need to think hard about their audience’s expectations. That makes me wonder exactly what was going through Mr. Lindsay’s head as he was preparing the speech. He should have gone through the following sequence:

    A: Am I saying something that the majority of those attending will agree with?
    Yes. Hurray! My speech will be a success!
    No. Go to next question.

    B: Is my speech worded so convincingly and cleverly that it will cause my audience to reevaluate their own positions, or see an opposing viewpoint in a way that had never occurred to them before?
    Yes. Hurray! My speech will go down in history!
    No. Go to next question.

    C: My speech is going to cause an enormous shitstorm. Am I secure enough in my position to ride it out?
    Yes. They’re only women, after all – who cares if they get all riled up?
    No. But I don’t care about the consequences, I just want to tell those uppity women and their supporters off.

    When he first gave the speech, it might have seemed possible that he answered yes to one of the first two questions. But the more he doubles down, the more it sounds like he made it all the way to question three, in which case he deserves whatever he’s got coming to him.

    1. 9.1

      ^ This is such a good analysis. I’ve been thinking along similar lines, but wasn’t able to articulate it to myself so clearly. I still think it’s possible that he answered yes to one of the first two questions… thereby proving that he hasn’t done NEARLY enough listening.

  6. 10

    I’m not familiar with Lindsay, but I can’t exactly get why a man would be chosen to be the opening speaker at a women in secularism conference. Not that I think men have no role in speaking at such conferences, just that, seriously, it’s women in secularism. Have a woman introduce it.

    I have no objection to men expressing their opinions anywhere, just look at what the conference is for. “Check your privilege” means that, at a Women In Secularism conference, you can actually let women talk about what they want to talk about rather than attempting to subvert it to make it a conference about how men feel threatened because women talk about male privilege.

    1. 10.1

      ^ This. Seconded by me. I don’t understand why this Ron Lindsay (who I’ve never heard of before now, FWIW) was chosen to introduce the WiS conference to begin with rather than a prominent female secularist or atheist. Dare I suggest Greta Christina or Rebecca Watson or even a certain Ms Miller would’ve been ideal choices to open instead?

      Even less can I comprehend why having been chosen Ron Lindsay would choose to make such a clueless, inappropriate, stupid and needlessly, pointlessly sour note speech to open with. Dude, what *were* you thinking? At the time and then later with the whole North Korea comparison hyperbole about Rebecca Watson and attacking her for speaking out and expressing her understandable and entirely reasonable views in response to that rubbish speech?

      What the .. ?!

      We’re now supposed to single out and blame Rebecca Watson again? Like she hasn’t had enough OTT attacks and hateful flaming from testerical douchebags over nothing already? Deja vu time? For what and why such overreactions when Ms Watson’s name gets raised? Yeesh.

    2. 10.2

      @ smrnda

      Lindsey is the president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry which is presenting the conference. It’s not unusual for the head of the sponsor organization to open a conference. He was the only male speaker and was allocated twenty minutes, less than half the time of all the other speakers. I don’t think it’s fair to say that he wasn’t letting women talk about what they want, or that he was subverting the conference.

      1. Silentbob,

        If Lindsay was there as CEO of CFI and not because they could find no-one else to give the opening speech – unlikely in that company – then he had a duty of hospitality, a duty to protect the good name of the organisation, a duty to ensure continuing support for the organisation and a duty – remember the name of the organisation – to promote inquiry.

        His opening address achieved none of the above.

        I’m also pretty sure that “score cheap point off attendees” is nowhere in his job description – unless he pencilled that in over the weekend.

      2. Just because he’s the head of the hosting organization doesn’t mean that he has to say anything. If an engineering school is having a talk about getting more women into engineering, there’s no rule that the male head of the department has to begin the talk. An explicit imprimatur from the head of a hosting organization isn’t necessary, unless the person really just wants to wallow in how great and noble they are to be ever so graciously giving a platform to these people.

        Other presenters felt that his comments were subverting the conference. I work in the tech industry. I am also hite. Let’s say there’s an conference on getting more African Americans in the tech industry and I opened up the talk before any Black speaker took to the floor. Even if I *think* I did a good job, if they felt I didn’t, I’d say that unless I’m a sanctimonious git I should count their opinions more than my own. It’s called being an ally.

  7. 11

    Lindsay did not offer a challenging or interesting speech. He offered a 100 level statement to a 300 level audience, forcing them to stop and answer his statements before being able to go back to the 300 level conversations they wanted to have. Know what effect that has? It effectively silences those people from having their 300 level conversations.

    Think about it. He walked into a conference that was all about “here are great things we want to talk about”, and the entire meaning of his speech was “I don’t think I should even listen to you in the first place because I think you’re wrong”. And he thought this was an appropriate way to open the conference. Sure, he got a lot of conversation going, but it wasn’t the conversation anyone wanted to have. He got a lot of conversation going the way a toddler streaking through a wine and cheese reception at an art gallery gets a lot of conversation going.

    1. 11.1

      I know there is a tendency to think that lots of Great Minds were having Great Thoughts, but don’t use that as an excuse to treat other people like garbage. The atheist community has the same problems every other community has. Women’s involvement is definitely one of these issues. Another issue is the people who have been given a voice in the community wanting to exclude the ones that don’t, as if they are unimportant. The power dynamic is interesting, but I’m happy to see someone like Lindsay speak up for the little people a bit.

      1. Oh, FFS, Edward.

        Lindsey wasn’t speaking up for the “little people.” What he said amounts to “Well I guess I’ll let you ladies have your little “conference” but don’t go getting all uppity about it, and do mind the feelings of the people who’d rather you had no voice to begin with.”

        But hey, thank you SO MUCH for being the brave signal boosting hero of the downtrodden majority. Really. Couldn’t do it without you.

        1. I get that as one possible interpretation, but I think it’s doubtful. I’m more persuaded that he really does think the conference and its goals are really important, as evidenced by his organization putting on the conference and him saying those things were important.

          More likely, he asked thoughtful questions. The organization is called the “Center For Inquiry,” so asking questions, learning, setting up various viewpoints, seem to be part of the deal. There are many people who like all the things the conference promotes, but too many people get caught up in personal hoo hoo, which I think what his talk was intended to try and circumvent though probably ended up just adding to it. This “downtrodden majority” stuff is a red herring – I’m not part of any great majority of anything. Being a man or woman doesn’t put one in lockstep with other people with the same basic shape of genital.

          1. More likely, he asked thoughtful questions.

            Did you watch the video of his speech or read the transcript on his website? I read the complete transcript. You’re comment sounds like speculation.

          2. I didn’t see the video (is there one?) I read the transcript and that’s how it came off to me – a series of questions the conference was addressing.

  8. 12

    I wonder if Lindsey realises just how much men hog the microphone? I suspect not. If you’re blissfully unaware that men have been monopolising the conversation for the last 5 millennia or so, then yeah, I suppose it would be annoying to be asked to shut up for a bit.

  9. 13

    “In other words, it was a poorly expressed, poorly timed message delivered by exactly the wrong person for the message.”

    Hey, check it out, a tone argument.

    “There is a tendency for people to take criticism of ideas personally.”

    Yeah, why would a wealthy white guy take it personally you dismiss him because he is a wealthy white guy?

    Your snatch smells like fish, no need to listen to your ideas.

        1. Obvious troll drop out (Obvious troll drop out)
          no ones paying attention to you
          Obvious troll drop out (Obvious troll drop out)
          You’ve got the bile, but not the spew!

          It used to be, some didn’t see, through you so trans-parent-ly
          But your sad hatred is there for all to see.

  10. 14

    I have mixed feelings about all of this.

    I think it’s inappropriate to use the opening speech to criticize the conference goals rather than introduce it.

    I don’t read Lindsay’s remarks as criticism of the conference goals. However, I still consider them inappropriate. I have never heard an opening talk in which the head of the sponsor organization explicitly criticizes the behavior of the attendees (as it seems, the remarks were received as quite targeted, and from the subsequent discussion it’s also rather clear that they were indeed meant as such). Nobody should be free from criticism and I’m not saying this to give a free ride to anyone; but the place and time were particularly ill chosen. I know that many commenters in various places (including this thread) were saying this and I agree with them.

    So, why the mixed feelings? They are largely about the reactions to what happened . For a start, I think that these reactions revealed a huge communication failure. They revealed that the “shut up and listen” phrase is in fact not received the way you state you intend it. They revealed also that it happens on quite a massive scale. There is a huge gap between your explanations and everyday reactions of people subjected to the “shut up and listen” treatment. And my mixed feelings stem from the feminists’ reactions to this gap. Here are two basic ones:

    (1) Since of course our intentions are benign, the failure in communication is due to the defensiveness/tone deafness/privilege/lack of education of the listeners! In view of that, the remedy is: more ‘critical theory’, more scholarship, more education. Let’s explain them once again how they should interpret the phrase!
    (2) Communication failure? C’mon! These fellows are a mere bunch of trolls, orcs and goblins! Sharpen your axes, dwarfs! Venceremos!

    Well, I won’t bother to comment on (2). As I understand, (1) is the perspective of the OP (cf. “I appreciate that there are those who somehow think that this “shut up and listen” thing means don’t use critical thinking, but it’s actually about defensiveness.”). Although I don’t think it’s completely wrong, I think also that such an approach – if consistently applied – will cause the communication gap to widen, not to close. I’m afraid it doesn’t take the perspective of the listeners seriously enough (problems with listening to what they say?). The main difficulty is that it doesn’t allow for any significant discrepancy between your ‘critical theory’ and your practice.

    To put it succinctly, my worry is that the following answer seems to be very rarely given:

    (3) We have our ‘critical theory’, our scholarship and our official explanations of the phrase. See these and these links. But please remember that we are just humans and yes, sometimes we bungle it. So, have you experienced it as a handy means of expressing contempt, hatred and dismissal, with all the talk about ‘critical theory’ functioning as a mere excuse and rationalization? Does your experience tell you that the real people you talked to used “shut up and listen” as a way of expressing “shut up and obey” or “shut up and go away”? That’s not out of the question; we are just human and it might have happened indeed. Your perspective is not dismissed, although it’s still quite possible that your reaction should be explained as defensive.

    I will say something now about my personal perspective. It is: after hearing (3), I would think “wow! Here is a partner for a conversation!” After hearing (1) for a thousandth time, I would think “oh my, theory and doctrine again – steer away!” After hearing (2) I would just go away.

    I hope this explains my mixed feelings.

    1. 14.1

      I think you’ve done a nice job of putting yourself in the speaker’s shoes. Your (3) aligns with the relevant paragraphs from his speech:

      But it’s the second misapplication of the concept of privilege that troubles me most. I’m talking about the situation where the concept of privilege is used to try to silence others, as a justification for saying, “shut up and listen.” Shut up, because you’re a man and you cannot possibly know what it’s like to experience x, y, and z, and anything you say is bound to be mistaken in some way, but, of course, you’re too blinded by your privilege even to realize that.

      This approach doesn’t work. It certainly doesn’t work for me. It’s the approach that the dogmatist who wants to silence critics has always taken because it beats having to engage someone in a reasoned argument. It’s the approach that’s been taken by many religions. It’s the approach taken by ideologies such as Marxism. You pull your dogma off the shelf, take out the relevant category or classification, fit it snugly over the person you want to categorize, dismiss, and silence and … poof, you’re done. End of discussion. You’re a heretic spreading the lies of Satan, and anything you say is wrong. You’re a member of the bourgeoisie, defending your ownership of the means of production, and everything you say is just a lie to justify your power. You’re a man; you have nothing to contribute to a discussion of how to achieve equality for women.

      Now don’t get me wrong. I think the concept of privilege is useful; in fact it is too useful to have it ossified and turned into a dogma.

      By the way, with respect to the “Shut up and listen” meme, I hope it’s clear that it’s the “shut up” part that troubles me, not the “listen” part. Listening is good. People do have different life experiences, and many women have had experiences and perspectives from which men can and should learn. But having had certain experiences does not automatically turn one into an authority to whom others must defer. Listen, listen carefully, but where appropriate, question and engage.

      I wasn’t at the conference and I haven’t seen a video, but based on the text Lindsay is asking for respectful discussion in the context of skeptical values. I don’t see a justification for the vitriol directed at him from some members of the community.

      1. This approach doesn’t work. It certainly doesn’t work for me. It’s the approach that the dogmatist who wants to silence critics has always taken because it beats having to engage someone in a reasoned argument.

        Yes, I’m very dogmatic in being the mistress of my own experiences. And I don’t take well to people who’re trying to tell me that my experiences aren’t what I think they are and that everything I know and feel is therefore invalid because he< who never was in that situation knows so much better.
        I’ve had guys tell me what a pregnancy feels like when I was 8 months along.
        And I’ve had a lot of guys tell me that experiences of lack of privilege (not being taken seriously at the mechanics’, the DIY, etc.) are absolutely not true. They weren’t there, they don’t have a lifetime orth of that crap but they insist that they know that those situations were very different from what I remember.

    2. 14.2

      This isn’t directed at your post solely, but your post did make me think about it:

      When a privileged group gets upset by the actions of an oppressed group in a way that isn’t justified (and, barring violence, it almost never is), I’m tired of the oppressed group being told that they are the ones who need to change, that they are the ones who need to pander and educate and be patient. The whole point of “shut up and listen” is that oppressed groups shouldn’t have to change, pander, educated, and be patient while being oppressed while the privileged freak out over their hurt feelings caused by a complete unwillingness to cede the floor. To insist that the oppressed need to change what they are doing so that they are pandering, educating, and being patient while they declare that they shouldn’t be required to change, pander, educate, and be patient is nonsensical.

  11. 15

    I just felt it was wrongheaded as an opening speech for this event in particular and demonstrated poor understanding of the cultural theory behind the terms of “privilege” and the intent of “shut up and listen.”

    Intent is not magic.

    I don’t know if you subscribe to that A+ position or not, but in this case it’s a valid point. Whatever the intent, “shut up” is not a skeptical attitude. “Listen before engaging in discussion” is less punchy, but suggests an actual willingness to have a real dialog.

    1. 15.1

      Y’know, Lindsay gave three examples of people supposedly using “shut up and listen” as a silencing tactic. Go look at them. See whether any of them should reasonably have anyone, much less the CEO of an organization like CFI who can decide he’s going to give the opening remarks at any event his organization puts on, quaking in fear that their voice will be taken away. See whether any of them actually even say anything other than that “I don’t have to listen to you” is a lousy way to learn–about as skeptical a statement as you can make.

      1. Do you mean these?

        You’re a heretic spreading the lies of Satan, and anything you say is wrong. You’re a member of the bourgeoisie, defending your ownership of the means of production, and everything you say is just a lie to justify your power. You’re a man; you have nothing to contribute to a discussion of how to achieve equality for women.

        The issue, for me, isn’t that “shut up and listen” would result in Lindsay “quaking in fear” but that it is an unnecessarily aggressive, rude, and dismissive phrase. It does not invite discourse after listening and strongly suggests a lack of respect towards the person at whom it is directed. It suggests that interaction with the person using it is unlikely to be pleasant or fruitful.

        I understand the desire for a forceful bon mot that can break through comfortable mental patterns, but “shut up and listen” will not achieve the goal of getting someone to actually listen.

        1. > but “shut up and listen” will not achieve the goal of getting someone to actually listen.

          I am a man. “Shut up and listen” worked for me. Now when I arrive in a feminist space, I shut up and listen because women are the domain experts on their own experiences, and I am not.

          If somebody announces that “Shut up and listen” will not work for them, they are advertising that their functional morality is conditional upon the politeness of others.

          Why somebody would want to advertise such moral deficiency – that their moral effectiveness only kicks in when conditions happen to be ideal? That I will never know.

          1. My point is that “shut up and listen” does not suggest that the person using that phrase is open to mutually respectful discussion, even if the target were to follow those instructions.

            Your attempt to frame this as a moral issue is a red herring. It’s about effective communication and skeptical values. I’d be interested in hearing some direct responses to Lindsay’s specific points, in that context.

        2. Except, shut up and listen is most often reserved for those who are themselves being unnecessarily aggressive, rude, and dismissive, people who do not have enough of a grasp to productively participate in a conversation but insist on talking over the other participants anyway. People who are not themselves being pleasant or fruitful. It’s the feminist (and anti-racist, et al) rebut to positions which basically amount to “evolution is just a theory” and “why are there still monkeys?” Someone who walks into a conversation about social justice issues, spouts off the status quo and refuses to be ignored is being aggressive, dismissive and rude. The proper response is not a pat on the head and a cookie.

          It is also used with people who seem to want to get it but can’t seem to let go of their need to dominate discourse. Not being allowed to dominate one conversation in one particular time and space when it is your POV and your voice which dominates most other discourse =/= silencing.

          1. In such a case I would agree that some return aggression is justified, although if there is no interest in getting to a point of actual interaction then simply “Shut up.” would be more appropriate.

            That doesn’t seem to be the case here, though, is it?

          1. Patrick May –

            The examples R. Lindsay provided of the shut up and listen meme are on his blog. http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/a_few_examples_of_shut_up_and_listen/

            His examples are quotes from PZ Myers, John Scalzi and a John Scalzi fan, and a blogger on DailyKos. Only the last of these individuals is a woman. (If that is relevant.)

            Even PZ’s example, which I think is the most strongly phrased, isn’t a direct personal command to an individual he wishes would shut up. It is more of a general piece of advice to men who want to argue about feminism.

          2. Patrick, what you (and Lindsay) are so magnificently failing to comprehend is that, as much as anything else, “Shut up and listen” serves as an aptitude test. You can’t get out of Feminism 101 without understanding it, and demonstrating that you understand it.

            Shut up = “Stop filibustering; stop interrupting.”
            Listen = “Actually take into account the speaker’s arguments; don’t just sit there, waiting for your turn to talk again.”

            Given that WiS is, as others have said, a Level-300 conference, for Lindsay to so horribly flub the ball here is indicative that he’s genuinely not ready to be at the conference as an attendee, let alone as a speaker.

            If I were on the CFI board right now, I might not be calling for Lindsay to be removed, but I’d sure as hell want to inform him that his role with respect to WiS and other outreach programs was going to be sharply curtailed, for the same reason I’d call to task a university president who blithely urged a ‘teach the controversy’ approach while opening a conference on evolution.

  12. 16

    Dialogue would, by definition, involve two or more people speaking and being given approximately equal time and space to do it.

    Once you’ve had a couple of hundred “conversations” in which a person told you what they think, told you what you think and then promptly walked away, at that stage “shut up and listen” seems like a very mild way of drawing attention to their failure to grasp the meaning of that dialogue word!

    The fact that this failure seems to correlate strongly with the existence of a force-field – fame, authority, power – protecting the person doing all the talking might well be of sociological interest.

  13. 19

    We give our complete support to the sentiments
    expressed in the first paragraph of Ashleys blog
    She is so on the money here that one feels now
    there is some agreement between old enemies
    For we have been saying this now our selves for
    such a long time and no one was listening to us
    So to see some one share that which we hold to
    be dear too is really rather refreshing and potent
    And so wish you all the best Ashley from now on
    We apologise for any previous comments which
    were made out of ignorance under the influence

    1. 20.1

      No, that’s not what’s being said. It’s NOT “you’re right and they’re wrong” as the only starting point. It’s that there is more than one possible way to view things, and you won’t know that if you never pay attention to what anyone else is saying, particularly other people with other experiences. Lots of other “starting points” are acceptable, but I do expect other people’s descriptions of their lived experiences to be taken seriously. And I expect everyone to take seriously the idea that sometimes it’s someone else’s turn to speak.

  14. 21

    My basic modus operandi is to allow all
    opinion to be referenced and then to let
    others choose the truth for them selves
    I am not here to rant and rave any more
    as those days are thankfully behind me
    I avoid ground apes otherwise I can not
    help myself when am talking with them
    So much prefer the written word now to
    the spoken one since I can say nothing

  15. 26

    But “shut up and listen” doesn’t mean “shut up forever” or “silence men’s voices.” The criticism of “shut up and listen” seems to assume that men are to be silenced or completely excluded from now on, and that is not what is being said. It just means that other people get a chance to talk TOO, without present interruption. After listening, then it’s your turn to talk again. If you HAVE been listening, you might say something different from what you would have said before you (temporarily) shut up and listened.

    1. 27.1

      “Shut up and listen” to me means that when another person is talking, you should be listening, not waiting for an opening in which to start saying that which you had already planned to say.

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