Dana Milbank Belittles the Atheist Movement and Edwina Rogers

Yesterday, the Secular Coalition for America (of which I am a former employee) held a Capitol Hill briefing, something that’s actually kind of gutsy considering the toxicity with which atheism is regarded within the Beltway. It featured a handful of big names from our movement, including Harvard’s Greg Epstein, David Niose (most recently notable for his new book Nonbeliever Nation), and of course SCA’s chief, Edwina Rogers.

What ought to have been a real boon for its efforts was the attendance of Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, one of the most widely-read writers in politics and someone with a wry and subversive sense of humor.

Alas, it did not prove to be the stroke of good luck that the SCA might have wanted. In fact, it reflected badly, I think, on Milbank, whose work I normally respect a great deal (I’ve even met him once, ages ago, and he was extremely kind).

Milbank used his column to belittle the briefing, plain and simple. He rolled his eyes at what he perceived as the smallness of our agenda (addressing the National Day of Prayer, etc.), found humor in the fact that Epstein is from Harvard (I guess because that’s supposed to be some kind of godless egghead haven?), and peppered the piece with references to our “God-given rights” and exclamations like “Good heavens!” (See what he did there? ‘Cause we’re atheists? Yeah.)

Worst of all, to my mind, was this bit about Edwina Rogers:

Rogers, who assumed her position atop the nonbeliever pyramid this year, is a creative choice for the job. She’s a Republican veteran of George W. Bush’s White House and the ex-wife of GOP super-lobbyist Ed Rogers, and she had a cameo on “The Real Housewives of D.C.”

Rogers, in a glittery gold blouse and knee-high boots with four-inch heels, acknowledges that she has a bit of a challenge to match the $390 million she says religious groups spend on lobbying each year.

I don’t mind Milbank reporting her background, as most of us were ourselves agog at the choice and wary of her unconventional resume. But then to make hay out of her outfit? It’s fine if Milbank thinks our agenda is silly or Sisyphean. But to ding Rogers for her clothes — to even mention them — is beyond the pale, as it implies a judgment about Rogers as a woman, using criteria that would never be used on a man. Epstein and Niose, obviously, did not have their outfits reviewed.

This is a shame. Milbank should be better than this, and rather than using this as an opportunity to explore a burgeoning movement, he decided to stick his nose up at it, and even did so with a dash of sexism (and it’s not the first time). It’s beneath him and beneath the Post.

About Paul Fidalgo

Paul is communications director for the Center for Inquiry, as well as an actor and musician. His blog is iMortal, and he tweets as @paulfidalgo, and the blog tweets as @iMortal_blog.
The opinions expressed on this blog are personal to Paul and do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for Inquiry.

  • Anonymous Atheist

    Sigh. :(

    Did anybody get a video recording of this event to post online? AFAIK, it didn’t make it onto any of the C-SPAN family.

  • pauleky

    I hope you and others took your concerns to Milbank and the Post. It’s time to stop letting these folks say this crap without, at least, a flood of responses. It’s time to fight fire with more fire.

  • The Captain

    Wow, I have to say the only thing surpassing here is that you say “whose work I normally respect a great deal”. Milbank is by far one of the worse (not evil, just worse) writers the Post has had in years. I have been reading the WaPo since I was a child, and he sets the bar for new lows on political commentary all the time.

    Of course he belittled atheist, thats what he does! He’s the liberal that belittles all liberal ideas. That’s his schtick. Hell I think the picture you used of him was from the infamous Hillary video where he called her a “bitch” and belittled her. 

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Rogers’ clothing is  a weird, self-trivializing thing for Millbank to focus on.  Is he now the Mr. Blackwell of the Beltway? Will we be seeing him in a fashion makeover show called “Christian Eye For the Godless Guy?” One wonders what he thought appropriate Edwina should be wearing, a staid, mauve skirted suit, or a Daisy Duke tied top and painted-on hot pants?

  • dearestlouise

    I agree with you on the comments about how Rogers was dressed. 

    However, I also took issue with calling her the “ex-wife of…” because it has absolutely nothing to do with her professional life and was not relevant to the briefing. If the piece had been about her ex-husband he never would have been referred to as “the ex-husband of…”. I also felt him mentioning her cameo on the Real Housewives was an attempt to discredit her and paint her as someone that shouldn’t be taken seriously. 

  • Plong15

    Below the Washington Post?

  • Rob Thornton

    When we humanist folk address someone like Dana Milbank, who really makes a fool of himself in my book, I personally think that over-sensitivity (in this article) or the over-ridicule (see P.Z. Myers) approach does harm to both atheists and their reputations. 
    I’m not espousing so-called “accomodationist” attitudes (is that a Politburo word or what?), such as  “respect religion” or “give in to the enemy.” I’m just saying that atheists can stand on their own without having to either whine at the oppressor or act like a venomous asshole. Godless/humanist beliefs are worthy in and of themselves and we no longer have to act like O’Hair to make our points.

  • Double Standard Much?

    Righhhhtttt….we can only refer to women as womyn, never mention their clothing even though they go to great lengths to dress and accessorize their outfits (and add in the fact that women themselves are constantly judging each other’s clothes and appearance to the point of cruelty). But heaven forbid (!) anyone EVER mention the clothing and accessories and the great lengths they go to. Indeed, when Edwina strolled on down to the boutique, the first thing out of her mouth was “set me up with something that highlights my intellect”.

    When is this idiotic double standard going to end? And for all of the wom(y)n here that are going to get all al flutter and start saying they “never go to great lengths to dress, shop or accessorize) I say one of two things:

    (a) You are a liar


    (b) All of the wom(y)n at this blog are slobs and bull-dykey looking.

    I will stop commenting on wom(y)n’s clothing the day they stop going apeshit poo-poo over Blahniks and LV (metaphorically speaking) and when they stop slapping make-up and every other adornment to draw attention to themselves.

  • dearestlouise

    Someone else pointed out to me that it’s shocking he didn’t just mention her status as a mother by either saying “the childless…” or the “mother of X kids…”.

    How women are defined in the media and life: how they are dressed, their status as a mother/non-mother, their marital status.

  • everAnon

    I’m with The Captain. Milbank is pretty low rent, even by current standards.

  • Fashionista

    I disagree Richard - 

    Women are constantly going out of their way to dress. From shoe obsessions, accessorizing, shopping shopping shopping, comparing outfits and clothing to other women etc….not to mention that the whole purpose of dressing the way they do is to draw attention to them, why shouldn’t we comment on it?

    As for the argument of “well, she was there to comment on the issue, not go to a fashion show” then why did she go to such great lengths to wear a gawdy and over the top outfit for the affair? She must know her clothing choice is going to either distract to take center stage, so again, why shouldn’t we comment on the clothes when she decides to wear this get up?

    Now, before anyone screams “well, she can dress anyway she wishes”. Absolutely, but if we are honest, we know the real purpose behind the adornments. So, she sure can dress anyway she wants, but when she perpetuates the women-clothing dilemma she is open to clothing comments.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rick.jackson.963 Rick Jackson

    Overreact much?  His point was that instead of merely disagreeing with the agenda and sticking to the issues, he decided to go the low blow of criticizing her wardrobe.  

    What would you suggest we say?  Take it in stride?  You act like men do not groom themselves and dress up nicely.  Do you think he would have said the same thing about these men, commenting about how “metrosexual” they look?

  • http://www.examiner.com/atheism-in-los-angeles/hugh-kramer Hugh Kramer

    Cheap shot groaners like “Good Heavens!” and “They don’t have a prayer” were bad enough, as was the sexism Milbank displayed. What disappointed me even more was some of the factual inaccuracies he promoted in order to make them. I expected better from him than a line like

    “But that obvious fact won’t stop them from exercising their God-given right to
    petition their government for a redress of grievances.”

    Um… in what part of the Bible does God grant that right? The reality is that it’s from the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution, a document that doesn’t mention God anywhere in the text. In fact, the source of all the rights in the Constitution and its amendments is actually pretty easy to find. It’s right there at the top in the first three words of the preamble:

    “We the people…”

    Who’d have guessed Milbank gets his information from the David Barton school of faux American history?

  • Pascale Laviolette

    This is a lose-lose situation for women.  Dress frumpy/plain – you are boring, trying to be “one of the boys”, or called a lesbian (as if that’s an insult).

    Dress nicely, you’re trying too hard, you want people to look at you etc. etc.

    Some women dress for themselves you know?  And don’t expect/want it to be part of how we are judged in our careers… The line between looking professional/put together, and trying too hard is virtually invisible.  What if she just has what most people would deem “poor fashion sense” — should it EVEN MATTER?!

    Have you any idea how hard it is for a woman to dress for work in the morning?!  Fuck, this is frustrating. [Edit: if I am to assume you're a woman - I ask again, even if women do enjoy what they wear, and appreciate "looking good", why should that have any impact on how we judge their policies/ethics/ideas/competence?]

  • Pascale Laviolette

    UUUGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH…So I’m not allowed to enjoy dressing up/wearing heals without being a hypocrite for asking that my outfits have no bearing on how you judge me as a person?

    There’s some sound logic right there.

  • RobMcCune


    Absolutely, but if we are honest, we know the real purpose behind the adornments.

    You mean conform to what society expects so as to have a fighting chance to be taken seriously? Oh well looks like she did wrong so her worth as person will have to wait for a makeover. She knew what she was doing, don’t pretend like she was lobbying congressional staffers or discussing issues or anything.

  • A3Kr0n

    We make fun of the Pope’s dress and silly hat all the time too.

  • Tainda

    What’s a Blahniks and LV?

    As most know on here by now, I don’t buy into the hardcore feminist movement but you sir (?) are a douchebag.

    The minute you stop stereotyping people of any gender is when I will stop calling you a douchebag.

  • RobMcCune

    Maybe you need to understand what a double standard is, for example judging a person’s testimony before congress by the content of their presentation, their factual accuracy, and the way they responds to questions is not a double standard. Here’s another example judging a man’s testimony based on content, and a woman’s based on clothing is in fact a double standard.

    Now for an unreasonable standard:

    If you “go to great lengths to dress, shop or accessorize” you are asking  to be judged by your appearance.

    Or if you don’t:

    (b) All of the wom(y)n at this blog are slobs and bull-dykey looking.

    I will stop commenting on wom(y)n’s clothing the day they stop going
    apeshit poo-poo over Blahniks and LV (metaphorically speaking) and when
    they stop slapping make-up and every other adornment to draw attention
    to themselves.

    Call me skeptical, but some how I really, really, doubt it

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Austin-Carnes/1034156402 Austin Carnes

    What’s wrong with mentioning her outfit? If SCA was headed by a man and that man was wearing a well-fit double-breasted suit with gold cuff-links and alligator-skin shoes I bet Milbank would have mentioned it. He likely commented on her outfit because it isn’t what most people would expect an atheist woman to be wearing. If anything it broadens peoples’ perception of atheist women. To assume the mention of her outfit was a judgement of her, and a negative one at this is simply asinine.

  • Jake

    That article didn’t seem all that bad. I have read much worse on this very site directed towards religion. Atheists love to dish it out. So how about you learn to take some in return? I am always seeing various atheists rage about how religion is not above criticism. Well, neither is the atheist movement.

  • Py

     He is a male, and religious. So, um, two strikes and your out?

  • Andre

    I didn’t like the following piece from the article:

    “This is because the very notion of uniting nonbelievers behind a common cause is pretty much an oxymoron. Those who identify themselves as atheists and agnostics tend not to be the type to join affinity groups.”

    It seems to me he is implying that the reason that atheists aren’t in a church is because they don’t want to join a community. Are Catholics really as monolithic as they are portrayed? Are Muslims? These groups tend to have authority figures who speak for them (often against the beliefs of the majority of the people in that community) giving them a unified image.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Simple minds are easily distracted by shiny objects.

    When a woman is speaking to me, I look her in the eye and listen carefully. When a man is speaking to me, I look him in the eye and listen carefully. When a child is speaking to me, I look him or her in the eye and listen carefully. 

    There’s nothing more to add or subtract. Clothing, gender, attractiveness, unattractiveness, age, skin color, height, weight, accessorized status symbols, or a bit of spinach on their teeth are all trivial distractions not worth my notice because I’m interested in persons rather than in walking objects upon which to pass 25 value judgments in the first seven seconds.

  • Nordog6561

    I’m sure Milbank would have mentioned any guys wearing knee-high boots with 4 inch heels.

  • Drew M.

     You’re a better ma… Ooh! Shiny!

  • jose

    If the atheist agenda is so petty and trivial, their goals should be easily attainable, right? I mean, the christians would not get upset and defensive over something to small. No?

  • SwedishLore15

    Could you please let me know who here has suggested that the “atheist movement” should be above criticism?  I am all for engaging in debate, but what was offered in the above article was insulting to Ms. Rogers.  If you honestly think the article “didn’t seem all that bad”, I wonder how often you confuse insults with substantive criticism.

  • SwedishLore15

    And we could start making the debate more focused on substance if we stopped with blanket statements like “atheists love this” or “atheists do that”, thanks.

  • Heicart

    >Women are constantly going out of their way to dress. From shoe obsessions, accessorizing, shopping shopping shopping, comparing outfits and clothing to other women etc….not to mention that the whole purpose of dressing the way they do is to draw attention to them, why shouldn’t we comment on it?Well, thanks for completely generalizing me. I’ve been a woman all my life, nearly half a century now. I was as you describe when I was in high school for a few years. Not all women stay mentally teenagers for life, hard as that may be to believe. Some of us actually mature into adults who aren’t at all concerned with how others judge our appearance or lives. In fact, if you’re not responsible for evaluating my job performance and adjusting my annual salary, my attitude about your personal judgments about me is pretty much “can you explain to me why should I care?”

  • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

    I’m sorry, when a woman dresses scantily, are they open to derision on the streets?

    You are arguing in defense of sexist remarks towards women based on their clothing. Try reading your post again.
    Why should it matter what women wear? The answer is “it shouldn’t”. The only reason it does is because our society accepts sexism as part of daily life. And here you are claiming that very sexism is just normal.Well it’s not. It’s held up by small minded people who can’t focus on the issue at hand. It’s like critiquing someone’s grammar instead of their argument.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

    I disagree. The point is she was not a man. Out of two men and one woman there, Millbank only criticized the woman.

    The problem is the sexism and misogyny present throughout society. Millbank’s criticisms of Rogers’ clothing may have been one instance but the tendency to comment on the person’s clothes if they are a woman is incredibly high.

    If you have not noticed it in the past, perhaps you will be more aware of it from here on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

    Oh, yeah… that totally makes all the difference right there!
    /end sarcasm.

  • 3lemenope

    He likely commented on her outfit because it isn’t what most people would expect an atheist woman to be wearing.

    To people actually have expectations about what an atheist woman would wear? What about atheism has sartorial implications such that they would form expectations?

  • A3Kr0n

     You’re right, we shouldn’t criticize religious people for what they wear (towel head, magic underwear, silly Pope hat) and get upset when they do the same.  That was my point, but I forgot the /s at the end.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

    I love how you end up showing exactly why it isn’t okay for Milbank to talk about her this way.

    So all of us either go to great lengths to dress up, shop, and accessorize, or we’re slobs and bull-dykey looking?

    There you go, you found the sexism without even realizing it!
    Every day, women have to choose between having people think they’re sloppy bull-dykes or shallow.

    I personally choose to look my prettiest with the risk that some idiot like you will think I’m shallow than look “sloppy” like I used to and have people make fun of me to my face. Problem?
    It’s not a fun choice. Imagine if your only choices were hobo or metrosexual.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

    Those generalizations are extremely insulting. They’re not true for many of us and even for those who do like to shop, how is it any worse than playing video games all day?

    When I was younger I didn’t dress very well and didn’t wear makeup. Guys and girls would make fun of me. Guys would come up to me and talk about how hot my sister was and how I looked nothing like her. Nowadays, I wear clothes that make me look good and I wear a bit of makeup. I like looking pretty even if some asshole thinks that means I’m shallow. That’s easier to deal with than the bullying.

  • jumpjet2k

    Hear, hear. I long ago lost any and all respect I had for the publication.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Austin-Carnes/1034156402 Austin Carnes

    I don’t know if there is a uniform expectation about what an atheist woman would wear, but I can tell you that there is a general expectation or idea held by the conservative Christian side as to what she probably wouldn’t wear. As a former conservative Christian, stepping back into that mindset, and speaking from conversational experiences, we would not expect her to dress in a way that conforms to traditional gender roles. Now I know atheism doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with gender roles. However, the right tends to conflate atheism with all sorts of positions and ideas.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Austin-Carnes/1034156402 Austin Carnes

     How do you know what his point was? How do you know his mention of her clothing was a criticism rather than an innocuous observation? You seem to be making statements of fact that you aren’t, not being inside the author’s head, qualified to make.

  • Randomfactor

     I bet he wouldn’t have mentioned a man’s wardrobe.

  • HughInAz

    What is it about atheists that makes the US media lose its shit? Why is it constantly trying to delegitimize us?

  • AnalogousGumdropDecoder

    While I agree that Milbank’s article was petty and put some dismissive, privileged, borderline bigoted attitudes on display, I don’t think this is the kind of thing we should make too much of a fuss about.  Mention it and criticize it, yes.  But we should also be careful not to come off as humorless, resentful, bitter people.  We already have that stereotype hanging on us.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Austin-Carnes/1034156402 Austin Carnes

    In my experience clothing is mentioned when it is either highly stereotypical, to the point of being quintessential, or in the opposite case. In any event, even if he wouldn’t have mentioned a man’s clothing it doesn’t mean that his mention of a woman’s clothing is critical or derogatory. 

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    I’d guess that either most of them are Christians, or more likely they’re aware that most of their paying viewers and readers are Christians. 

  • amycas

     So, we’re either dressing up too much and being shallow (in which case we’re lying hypocrites for wanting to be taken seriously for our ideas, not our clothing), or we’re bull-dykey looking slobs. We just can’t win with you, can we?

  • amycas

     It doesn’t have to be critical or derogatory for it to be sexist. I get really annoyed at work if somebody compliments my looks before they compliment the good job I did.

  • http://shoptexaselectricity.com/ Jhonmichael347

    You are arguing in defense of sexist remarks towards women based on their clothing. Try reading your post again.

  • The Other Weirdo

     No, it isn’t. If anything, Politburo didn’t believe in “accomodationism”.

  • The Other Weirdo

    “One does not walk simply walk into a Congressional hearing wearing a burlap sack.” That should be a new meme. It’s like meeting the President or the Queen or, for that matter, me. If you don’t dress for power, you won’t be taken seriously by power. I’m surprised he doesn’t seem to understand that.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    I suspect a lot of atheist women get this; somehow we’re expected to wear sensible shoes.

  • Tainda

    With a picture of Boromir behind it

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

    It has been mentioned here and now we are criticizing it, so I don’t see the problem. We’re not humorless. There was nothing funny in the article…

  • http://www.facebook.com/abb3w Arthur Byrne

    Reminds me of the West Wing episode “On the Day Before”. Maybe someone could send Milbank a copy of the DVD for that one.

  • Philo Vaihinger

    Maybe we need to riot, burn a few cars, behead a journalist or two.

    Not sure, exactly.

    But that does seem the only way to get any respect, doesn’t it?

  • Philo Vaihinger

    Muslims show up with rags on their heads in dirty white pajamas. Everybody takes them PLENTY seriously.

    It’s not about the clothes.

  • Philo Vaihinger

    Remember Bush pere suggesting atheists aren’t really citizens? The journos with him thought that was funny. Just another bunch of assholes. The journos, I mean.

  • Philo Vaihinger

    He’d have asked for a phone number.

  • raerants

    Do I detect a fellow redditor?

  • raerants

    Fashionista’s comment comes off as subtle slut-shaming.

  • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

    “Godless/humanist beliefs are worthy in and of themselves and we no longer have to act like O’Hair to make our points.”

    The first part of your sentence has nothing to do with the second. I’m not sure who made you the arbiter of when it is or isn’t appropriate to be “venomous asshole[s]” when dealing with the theists. I can tell you that being nice has only gotten us so far. On occasion it is highly advantageous to get up right up and into a theist’s grill.

    I would argue that this isn’t just about making rational points, where atheists and skeptics dominate. This is also about working to marginalize theists, so they no longer have such sway with everyday thinking, or power in the policy-making of our nations.

  • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

    See that thing in your hand? No it’s not your dick, it’s just a very broad paintbrush.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Austin-Carnes/1034156402 Austin Carnes

    I just love how the community of reason and evidence makes assumptions and statements of fact about Milbank’s intent without actually having any reason or evidence to support it. The fact of the matter is that you do not and cannot know Milbank’s intent in mentioning Rogers’ clothing. You might actually ask him if you cared to. But beyond that you’re making assertions so baseless it would make a theist proud. There is far more in that article to pick on than a mention of someone’s clothing. Why not dedicate this zeal to addressing Milbank’s statement that atheists uniting behind a common cause is an oxymoron? It seems many of you would rather fume about petty and potentially innocent statements than address ideas of substance.   

  • Pascale Laviolette

    I think he means the shoes (Minolo Blahniks) and Louis Vuitton.  Someone’s been watching too much Sex in the City.

  • Tainda

    lol never been there

  • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

    The phrase “Intent is not magic” comes to mind.

  • AnalogousGumdropDecoder

     I totally agree that there was nothing funny about the article.  I also didn’t mean to sound as if I was targeting the people writing for and commenting on Friendly Atheist to say that you/we were overreacting to it.  I was saying this and this alone:  There IS a stereotype about us as bitter and humorless.  This Milbank guy is being a jerk, but one guy writing a jerky article isn’t a colossally big deal.  One of the things he explicitly tries to do in his article is make us look like we’re constantly in a rage about trivial issues.  If we make too much of a fuss about this snarky little article or leave a bunch of angry comments on his page, we are going to be A) seeming to confirm his accusations about us, and B) publicizing his horrible writing.  I do not think it is strategically good for us to play into his hands that way.  That’s all I was saying.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dermot.meuchner Dermot Meuchner

    He’s another media shill who wants to be a “star” instead of searching for the real truth.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Austin-Carnes/1034156402 Austin Carnes

    You’re still making an assumption. Please detail for me how you can know Milbank’s intent with absolute certainty.

  • Alrightyeah

    I hate shopping. So do most of my friends. It’s a pain in the ass. So, no, this bitchezbeshoppinamirite! is not some sort of universal constant. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1081326283 Rayanne Stemmler

    Thank you!

  • randomhuman

    > Millbank’s criticisms of Rogers’ clothing may have been one instance but the tendency to comment on the person’s clothes if they are a woman is incredibly high.

    Maybe that is because women tend to have a lot more variety and colour in their outfits than men do? Men rarely depart from dark suit, shirt and tie in non-casual situations. Their clothes are uniform, and therefore invisible. Where I’m from (Ireland), our former prime minister once wore canary yellow pants at a “casual” meeting of world leaders, and you’d better believe that those were all that were talked about the next day. Similarly, there is a big debate going on here at the moment because several of our current TDs, all men, do not wear the “uniform” of dark suit, shirt and tie when they’re in parliament. And actually, during the last general election I remember reading a dissection of one of the leaders debates which commented on the fact that the four participants (all men) all wore identical black suits with red ties, and even tried to analyse the reasons behind that!

    Personally I think we should all wear identical navy jumpsuits at all times, that would solve these problems

  • Catherine Samuelson

    I was in that briefing. It may well be that Dana Milbank is a sexist, it is certainly true that women’s appearance is the subject of criticism far more often than men’s appearance, but of everything he got wrong — the panel was actually quite interesting, our concerns aren’t trivial — Rogers’ attire wasn’t one of them. My first thought upon seeing her — my visceral, gut-punch response — was that this was a person (not a woman, a person) whom I didn’t need to take seriously. Had a man been wearing something similar — perhaps Cong. Rob Bishop (R-UT) in one of his horrible, all-white temple-ready suits — I guarantee that Milbank would have noted it. 

    But the real problem was that the costume created a stereotyped first impression — unprofessional, in-over-one’s-head — that Rogers’ presentation did nothing to dispel. A more capable speaker could have pulled it off. An equally inept speaker in a business suit would have been utterly forgettable. But everything about Rogers, of which her outfit was only the final touch, reflected poorly on our movement. And that is the kicker. She didn’t walk into that room as Edwina Rogers, person. She walked in as representative of the entire secular movement. It’s fair to ask for better.