Jennifer Bardi wrote a recap of last weekend’s Women In Secularism 3 conference, put on by CFI. She began by characterizing it as a “secular conference for women”, a “feminist conference for humanists and atheists” and a “confederacy of black/white/Hispanic/Asian/gay/trans/cis/old/young/fat/skinny/pierced/inked/plain/ smart/caring/socially conscious human beings interested in gender equality”. Then she goes on to cover highlights:
Lindsay’s opening remarks stressed CFI’s commitment to equality and added that “stirring up trouble…is how we advance as a movement.” A panel of writers and bloggers discussed online activism and the power and pitfalls of a viral hashtag like #bringbackourgirls. While some criticize the passing along of a Twitter hashtag as superficial activism, panelists saw it as using one’s privilege to elevate the voices of the less privileged (in that case raising awareness of the missing Nigerian school girls).
Moderated by Lindsay Beyerstein, the panel included Soraya Chemaly, Amy Davis Roth, Zinnia Jones, and Miri Mogilevsky in one of the best discussions of the conference. A successful panel can happen as if by magic sometimes, but I think really relies on an integration of expertise, personal experience, and articulation. That chemistry was working here as the panelists discussed online campaigns they’d led or been part of and the backlash they endured as a result.
Another striking moment:
Ehrenreich spoke about her new book, Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything, in which she explores a mystical experience she had as a teenager. While Ehrenreich is known as the myth-busting author of books like Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America and Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, as a lifelong naturalist with a Ph.D. in cellular immunology she stressed, “you can’t ignore observations that don’t fit into your theory.” Her goal in writing about her youthful experience (which she chronicled in a diary at the time) was to disassociate mysticism or other unexplained phenomenon from religion and from the “soft, clammy rip of spirituality.” (Incidentally, she never really went into detail about what happened to her all those years ago, which may just be a genius way to sell a book and who can blame her?) Referencing Virginia Wolf’s “moments of being” and Sam Harris’s meditation, Ehrenreich urged the audience, if any of us were to ever experience an out-of-body, mysterious event: “Don’t fall on your knees! Pay attention, take notes, and better yet—go get a blood sample.”
And while on the subject of Barbara Ehrenreich’s books, I’m reminded to recommend to you the really really great Reasonable Doubts episode summing up Ehrenreich’s findings on the insidious connections between the positive thinking movement, the prosperity Gospel movement, and fraud.