[#wiscfi] Who Speaks for Feminism?

Second to last thing! Elisabeth Cornwell will be speaking about who speaks for feminism. This could be….interesting? I’m not sure where it’s going.



Here we go! Elisabeth is thanking everyone in the CFI staff. They’re pretty freaking great.

Elisabeth learned a great deal this weekend, and talks about how important it is that we can talk about these things and disagree about them in a place free of recrimination. There’s people here that she deeply respects but disagrees with them. Having discussions about it doesn’t change her respect for them.

One of the reasons Elisabeth doesn’t like debates very well is that she likes to take time to process and think about how the opposing side has defended their position. Also important to remember that it’s often true that as you have more and more agreement, can be harder to argue about the details.

The first wave of feminism was about getting the rights that we now consider unthinkable (in the West) to lack. Susan Jacoby reminded us that even old white Repulican males can speak for feminism. Would Robert Ingersoll be welcome at this conference. Would he have been told that because he’s not a woman he can’t be here? [Me: WHAT. One audience member: YES! Rest of audience: NO!!]


Panel on women leaving religion was heartbreaking. We often can’t imagine how it is to worry about losing our lives for our principles. Maryam Namazie doesn’t want our sympathy…she wants our activism. To avoid speaking out because we fear being called racist or Islamaphobic is not okay–we need to speak out. Being polite is not acceptable anymore–if we don’t speak up, we leave that fight to the radical right. We must speak out. We aren’t risking much–risking being called a bigot. Elisabeth has been called worse. After all, we’re called atheists; can it get much worse than that. [Me: er…what?]


Women are often the ones responsible for pulling it all together. (Should have clarified–w/r/t family, etc.)

There’s a cultural shift that has snuck in through pop psych, reality TV, Oprah…the elevation of victimhood. [Me: uh oh] This is often present in Christianity. Prayer as the the most obvious example. Elisabeth wants to scream at people to get off their knees and do something. Of course there are some victims, and that is recognized, and what’s faced by women who are victimized under Islam is not the same as the discomfort of some sexist remark. We, of course, need to keep working on pay gaps, gender equality. We should gain strength from women fighting from oppression abroad.

We need to keep fighting until we have subdued religion to the form of Quakers and Unitarians. Elisabeth loves the UU’s. [Audience light laughter.]

This is where it’s important to know history. Young women and men are often annoying in their pushes and fail to recognize history.  [Me: Wow, this talk makes me feel super welcome.] Good to recognize strengths and weaknesses of mvmts before us. One big failure of previous mvmts is diversity. Groups have had to regroup after. Take civil rights. Atheists and socialists were told to sit down and shut up. Maybe was right decision. Sometimes you have to give things up to make the gains you need. But atheists and socialists have been written out of history. Women too.


Feminism has had their troubles as well–first wave neglected everyone outside upper class white, second wave left out many of same. Hard for women of color to identify with Gloria Steinem.

We must work with other groups–not necessarily ones we agree with w/r/t supernatural.

One place we can step in to work on: battered women. Something churches do–a place for us to get involved as well. Also helping women looking for jobs. It’s not just women who can mentor women, men can mentor women. Elisabeth’s best mentors were often men. Male boss saw inequities helped her at previous job.

Women are particularly good at reading faces! Audience gives dead stare. Elisabeth: My bad–apologizes.

Acceptance and support that Teresa got should be rule.

We began con with white male Republican, Elisabeth wants to end it with one. Does so–I didn’t recognize source, she didn’t say. [Me: I dunno, didn’t go so well when we started with one.

Audience questions:

Are there any dealbreakers?

E: don’t think so. Makes analogy to Israel-Palestine. (Honestly didn’t catch it all, was too flabbergasted.)

Are there any secular feminists who actually make the argument that the opression of Western women is the same as that of women under Islamist rule?

E: Well, I’m not going to say that there are, but I disagree with that argument. Makes argument about how we know they’re different. [Me: Yes, we know. That wasn’t the question. You implied that secular feminists equate the two. Someone is trying to call you on it.]

Slight diversion of story to how women can help other women. Employee of E’s was groped by another staffer who was high money-making. One staffer went to support women. E called groping employee into office. “If you ever go near X staffer at all, I will have your balls on my desk. Don’t think I can’t, I work with cattle.” Elisabeth said don’t you say another word. Not another word. [Audience member: You told him to shut up and listen? Laughter.] She went to boss, said “You’ll have my back on this, right?” He said yes. Elisabeth repeats importance of mentoring people.

Importance of remembering that what one person may be insulted by isn’t what other person will be. Must remember we think differently.

What about rapists or those who threaten rape? [In response to first question]

E: No, absolutely not. [Audience: …wait, but you said there ISN’t a line?] E: No, that is criminal behavior. I thought we were talking about conversations that can be had. We *can* have conversations with these people, but should be with someone trained, like clinical psychologist. On our website, it’s our home. We don’t tolerate bullying, this behavior. We ‘smite’ them. Let’s not conflate criminal behavior discussion with conversations about feminism. Didn’t mean to imply otherwise in answer to first question–if you want to call me on that, you can.

Internet is place where people don’t have to claim who they are. For instance, if in car and someone cuts you off, you might…react with a signal or finger. If someone cuts you off while walking, you see them as a real person and don’t do the same thing. Face to face community is so important. We lose that on the internet. For heaven’s sake, don’t try to be cynical or ironic on the internet. It doesn’t work.

Elisabeth understands where Greta is coming from and doesn’t want to minimize it, but maybe…doesn’t want to use another word liek ignoring…but maybe having a shield of armor so these things can bounce off?

Maybe some people can do it and some can’t. Community as a whole has a right to stand up and say these need to stop.

Question about experience of living in small town with bad discrimination, cannot quit job, is withdrawing from life. What resources?

Elisabeth: hasn’t had experience, etc.

Fucking awesome audience member stands up, says has had similar experience, invites questioner to contact her. [Loud applause]

Elisabeth talks about not considering herself a racist but having learned how she hasn’t been viewing situations as well as she could be.

Ends with something about how white and black people can come together and chat with each other and say we’re black and you’re white and let’s go from here.

Update: comment from Elisabeth Cornwell.

[#wiscfi] Who Speaks for Feminism?

12 thoughts on “[#wiscfi] Who Speaks for Feminism?

  1. 2

    Evo-psych strikes again. I know people occasionally claim that the field isn’t populated solely by cranks, but this is just another data point that says otherwise. Elisabeth Cornwell is clearly not well versed in skeptical observation and in the scientific method. “Evo-psych” is just intended as a more intellectually respectable way of saying “libertarian”

  2. 3


    Firstly thank you for listening. I did miss the question about is there a line that cannot be crossed. My frame of reference was thinking about discussions and conversations about Humanists – and I do hope that we can discuss everything. I do not consider anyone who would suggest any sort of violence of any kind a humanist – that was my frame of reference. This goes back to what Lauren Becker talked about – that a single word ‘Think’ can be interpreted differently because of frame of reference. I apologize for not catching the framework of the question – but it was an honest mistake. I do not tolerate anyone who would suggest any sort of violence. The Richard Dawkins’ website does not tolerate such behavior on our site. Perhaps my actions are far more clear than my words today. For that I am truly sorry. But thank you for recognizing that and for recognizing that my clarification was not back-peddling – it was simply a misunderstanding of where two people were coming from. This is why it is so important to meet face to face and rather than assume what someone means – ask a question.

    On the comment about the scientific method… sorry, didn’t talk about the scientific method. But I guess being an evolutionary psychologist immediately implies to some that we don’t understand it. People like Darwin (father of evolutionary psychology in his book man and expressiion – or Steve Pinker – or George C. Williams… or Richard Dawkins. But people are very good at categorizing others into little boxes… oops… that would be something from evolutionary psychology so it must be crap right?

    On the ‘atheism’ comment – what could be worse – that was a joke. Given that I introduced the OUT campaign and Richard is a very outspoken atheist.. I was hoping that most people got the joke. I was poking fun at how many atheists are viewed by the outside world.

    1. 3.1

      Updated with a link to your comment! I’m a little travel weary–I apologize for such a short comment–but I certainly don’t agree with the previous commenter about your talk being related to evolutionary psychology. I thought it to be generally about feminism.

    2. 3.2

      Hey, Ashley here — just wanted to make sure I pointed out that Kate wrote the post, not me.

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment, it’s nice to be able to engage and see people engage in honest and non-hostile discussion of their ideas.

  3. 5

    Here’s the comment I posted at Jason’s place re: the Ingersoll question since I suspect I may have been the audience member Kate is referring to:

    FYI I was an audience member that said “yes” fairly loudly (my voice carries) and probably one of the the first to do so (I think I heard others), because I heard the first part of Liz’s question as “Would Robert Ingersoll be welcome here?” I do have a personal tendency that rightly annoys people and that is to be somewhat enthusiastic about responding to questions and don’t always wait for people to finish their sentence 🙁 However, after I had said this the latter part registered to me as “would he be welcome to speak here?” which others then said “no” to and at which point I started to reconsider. I’m not sure if it was two questions one after the other or one sentence though. I then commented to the woman next to me that I thought this was a bit of a “gotcha” type of question mainly for the reasons you cite and namely that the Republican party was quite different at that time. Lincoln was a Republican after all too. Like everyone else, I don’t have the transcript to know exactly how it was phrased but just putting out there what I perceived as the sequence. The video will come out however this is one where we can “go to the tape” eventually.

  4. 6

    Thank you, Kate for the liveblogging (and Ashley for the tweeting.) There was absolutely no way I would have been able to make it, and I appreciate the windows you provided to the conference and your takes on what was happening!

  5. 8

    I’ve been thinking for several days about this talk, about Kate’s response to it, and about my own response, which was very similar to Kate’s. Nonetheless, I think I understand a bit about Cornwell’s perspective, having completed a Ph.D. in the physical sciences not too long (I’m guessing) after Elisabeth completed hers in pyschology. I’ve now been a faculty member for the better part of two decades, and when I see my junior colleagues take some of the sexism to which they are subjected so personally, I have mixed feelings.

    One of the hardest things I had to learn in graduate school was how to stand up to the guys who were trying to make themselves look good at my expense. It wasn’t natural to me, and I still think it’s counter-productive for science. But I did learn a lot about how not to open myself up to those kinds of attacks, and I think it made my life as an assistant professor easier.

    Now, it seems that at least some women PhDs don’t run into this crap until later, and it feels very personal to them. I completely agree that no one should have to put up with this crap, and I realize that the crap I put up with has affected my career much more than I realized at the time. Still, I sometimes have a protective feeling toward my junior women colleagues, and I wish I could help them take this all less personally and avoid some of the crap.

    Don’t get me wrong– I fully agree that this shouldn’t be necessary, and I love the fact that the next generation has higher standards for their colleagues than I do. Maybe, just maybe, something will change because of that. I hope so; one of the most discouraging phenomena I’ve witnessed in academia is that the sexism isn’t dying out at all; some of my worst colleagues in this regard are younger than I am.

    On reflection, that’s how I heard Cornwell’s speech– asking women to develop a shell to protect themselves rather than to let the sexists off so easily. I think that’s a misguided solution, but I think it comes from a more generous outlook than one might have assumed.

    I hope that made sense– it’s not an easy thing to try to express accurately. And I’m getting old! 😉

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    […] Opening Remarks Faith-Based Pseudoscience. [Another from Jason] Amanda Marcotte [Jason] Rebecca Goldstein [Jason] Women Leaving Religion Gender Equality in the Secular Movement Susan Jacoby [Jason] How Women’s Concerns Can Best Be Advanced within the Context of a Secular Agenda [Jason] Jennifer Michael Hecht [Jason] Maryam Namazie [Jason] What the Secular Movement Can Learn from Other Social Movements [Jason] Who Speaks for Feminism? […]

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