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.

7 Responses

  1. There wasn’t a good place in my post to put this, so I’ll add it here: The very word “privilege” has come to mean nothing more than a code for dismissing an individual on par with when white people would call black people “uppity”.

    (My racial analogy works because, aside from being accurate, there is also the fact that racism and sexism are amazingly common within the feminist movement – common to the point of being overt and blatant.)

  2. The feminist movement is not racist or sexist those two class systems are what we fight against. Privilege is an unearned advantage you have and it is very real though easy to deny if you are part of the oppressor class. Females are oppressed by their very biology used against them they are vulnerable to childbirth against their will which the UN defines as a form of torture and their anatomy makes them more susceptible to STIs. Hence rape as terrorism against women. Surely you cannot deny that women are lacking in most fields of science and all political positions, that is patriarchy very obviously even non feminists admit patriarchy exists. Calling feminists racist shows a profound misunderstanding or unwillingness to understand our movement. Some people feminists of African descent are Audre Lorde, Alice Walker and bell hooks. White people do have white privilege and can slip up and we encourage them to own up to it and learn from it this is important to feminism to recognize our privileged and advocate for those with less. Feminism means advance all women including women of color. You seem to have a lot of prejudging in your mind about feminists already so I can understand why this woman was frustrated. Men would take well to listen to women instead of harassing us which I am not saying you are doing. I am sorry you felt silenced. Welcome to women’s world. I mean that sincerely btw not sarcastically.

  3. I’m enjoying the irony. Women who complain about being silenced because of their gender react with outrage when their own gender-based silencing tactics are called out.

    And the core of their complaint? That it’s coming from someone they feel should be silenced because of his race and gender! Hilarious levels of hypocrisy on display, as is often the case with extreme feminism… whihc, in turn is why they will never fit in the skeptical community.

  4. […] Bravo, Ronald Lindsay ( […]

  5. There’s actually a stream of feminism out there that criticizes the bulk of feminists for being oblivious to their own privilege; relatively few members of the feminist movement are actually of color or from poverty.

    Of course, that’s neither here nor there. My concern is with the incidents where people will criticize the person and not the argument. It was always something that bothered me in my days of message board postings. Once the dozen or so regulars got to know each other, they stopped debating issues and started debating each other. I always wished there was a way to make the whole thing anonymous so that a stop could be put to the rubbish. I feel the same way about a lot of feminist reactions. I like to imagine particular statements being made on a power point presentation – no byline given. Then maybe a real discussion could be had. Unfortunately, until that happens we just have to deal with a small sect of women who are willing to say “This is wrong!” based almost purely upon the sex and race of the person saying. It’s not even textbook sexism and racism – it’s straight from the fucking dictionary.

  6. […] Michael Hawkins at For the Sake of Science: Bravo, Ronald Lindsay […]

  7. Love this, man. Great example on MLK.

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