An Open Letter to Secular Community Leaders
Good news! The leaders of the secular movement have gone to the mountaintop and returned holding a stone tablet engraved with wisdom for us to behold. Go read it, and maybe read this response from Secular Woman and this response from Secular Census, both of which are very good. Then maybe read this, or whatever:
A Problem with Stone Tablet Communication
The fact that large organizations in this movement communicate via stone tablet presents unique challenges. For one, it can be difficult for those of us at the bottom of the mountain to understand what, exactly, went into the making of the tablet. For instance, if the tablet references the harassment of women in this movement, how many of the harassed women were consulted, if any? I know that Secular Woman was shut out of the tablet-etching process, so my hopes aren’t high. If this harassed woman had been asked, though, I may have made the following suggestions:
- The problem is not just the Internet. I’m not the only one who feels this way. If we don’t take the initiative to solve our “real world” problems, those problems will continue to leak over into the Internet, and vice versa.
- If secular leaders want to show they care about women’s equality, they should stop etching tablets and start actively participating in the massive feminist fight against the Religious Right that is currently happening in the US and elsewhere. Barry Lynn, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, isn’t listed on the open letter. I assume it’s because he was too busy making reproductive justice one of AU’s core issues. In fact, I just stopped typing this post for a few minutes so I could go donate $25 to AU. You should, too.
- There is no “debate over sexism” within this movement. People who don’t think sexism exists in this movement have no response to the massive amounts of evidence women have provided to illustrate the problem. There may be slight disagreements concerning things like, “How can we best help women feel welcomed in our community,” but . . .
- We cannot begin to discuss the tone of slight disagreements in our community unless and until secular women can prominently express unpopular viewpoints without receiving an avalanche of slurs and threats. Merely stating that slurs and threats are bad does not help this problem. Moderating blogs and forums is a good start, and I’m glad that some of the co-signers have apparently changed their minds on that point, but it’s not enough. Until this movement as a whole recognizes, condemns, and successfully marginalizes that behavior, we cannot demand that women tone down their comparatively mild responses on these issues.For instance, dear atheist leaders, if every hour of every day for a year someone randomly called you a disgusting heathen, told you you deserved to be raped by dogs, gave you pamphlets about burning in hell, and told you that your life was worthless and you should kill yourself, would you be ready for a calm and rational conversation with your neighbor, who just wants to tell you that you’d make more friends if you weren’t so angry all the time? Would you always be charitable to him? Would you respond to a defamatory article about you in the local paper, not with a fact-correcting op-ed, but with a polite, private phone call to the author? If you think you would, I congratulate you on having lived a life thus far free from persecution or harassment.
Once all that is taken care of, I think the tablet looks great. I’m a big fan of moderating blogs and forums. I’m a big fan of listening, and helping others, and being charitable, and those things are so, so easy to do in a community where I’m not relentlessly attacked from within. For instance, the disagreements I have with other feminists are by and large productive and interesting. Maybe one day I can say the same about secularists.
Featured image grabbed from AU’s current front page.