Bravo, Ronald Lindsay

In my last post I spoke of the feminist mantra of “Shut up and listen!” Specifically, I was alluding to a speech by Ronald Lindsay as given at a conference titled Women in Secularism. Here is the meat of what he said:

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.

For this Lindsay has seen backlash in the feminist community. Here’s one response:

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.

First, Lindsay did a great job expressing his message. I only quoted a small portion of his speech, but if one is to read the whole thing, it shouldn’t be difficult to grasp his message. It has clarity and it was poignant. Second, it is not only overtly sexist but overtly racist to dismiss a person’s message on the grounds of sex and race. Indeed, that’s practically the definition of sexism and racism. Third, his message wasn’t even wrong. I’ll get to why that is in a moment, but first here’s another response:

If Ron LIndsay was opening an NAACP conference, he’d be the guy who’s like, “Welcome! WHERE’S WHITE HISTORY MONTH?”

Criticizing a particular use of a concept and the tactics of a movement is far different from being oblivious to the historic reasons for something such as black history month. The situations aren’t even close to being analogous.

Now here’s why his message isn’t at all wrong. Lindsay was saying little more than, ‘Telling one side to shut up is not how adults go about having a discussion.’ I entirely agree with him. If the goals here are to increase understanding, get a message out there, and change minds, then shutting down 50% of the population is, frankly, stupid. Just imagine if Martin Luther King did that. Imagine if he told white people that they needed to excuse themselves from the discussion. First, the crowd that was hostile to him in the first place would only harden their position, and the crowd that was in the middle would have walked away. That is, if today’s strategy of caricature, Internet feminists was applied to the civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s, black people and other minorities wouldn’t even be close to where they are today.

(I raised MLK’s clear strategy in a discussion with a check-out-my-fem-cred male on Facebook. In doing so, I specifically had A Letter from a Birmingham Jail in mind. Amazingly, he cited the letter as though it were some divisive piece of trash that would have supported the ‘Shut up’ mantra of feminists today. The reality is that the letter goes on about engaging and negotiating with the opposition – a hallmark of MLK’s life – before encouraging moderate whites to stand up and speak, to be a part of the discussion.)

So, I say bravo to Ronald Lindsay. It took courage to address such a groupthink idea in front of a group that does nothing but support the groupthinkery.