I thought Ronald A. Lindsay’s talk at Women in Secularism 2 was pretty reasonable, but a controversy erupted over his comments (or perhaps a continuation of a seemingly endless series of controversies). A few bloggers have already provided summaries. vjack has talked about it in a post titled Ron Lindsay Stands his Ground, and he has also written a letter to the CFI in support of Lindsay, as some people are calling for his resignation. Gurdur also posted a detailed breakdown of what Lindsay actually said in his talk. While all of this is going on, I see that Justin Vacula is still being tossed around like a beach ball. PZ Myers, for example, wants him “disinvited from participation in any part of the atheist movement’s activities.” Vacula has consequently made feminism a target:
The targets of Vacula’s tweet, Amanda Marcotte and Rebecca Watson, are also atheists, but Vacula doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to abandon the label atheist. Several participants in the discussion pointed out this problem, while others drew a distinction between atheism and feminism, including Vacula:
D. J. Grothe, president of JREF, tweeted the following in response:
Russell Blackford chimed in, agreeing with Grothe, although as a man he prefers to identify as pro-feminist. Rejecting feminism entirely could have negative consequences:
Miranda Celeste Hale does reject the term because “Actions matter, not labels.” Really? I’m not even convinced actions speak louder than words, and now we have another idiom to contend with.
I do think labels matter, but like liberalism, feminism is understood differently by different people. Something similar is going on with the atheist movement, where you have self-identified atheists and nonlabelers, although I’m not sure if nonlabelers make as much of a fuss about specific leaders within the atheist community. Vacula echoes Sam Harris, for example, when he says feminism has too much baggage, an issue I touched on in a previous post.
Vacula goes on to say that he would be happy to call himself a feminist if “people like Watson, Marcotte, others did not sully [the] label.” How can they sully an entire label? Atheism is apparently different because it “says one thing – lack of belief in any gods – nothing more, nothing less – cannot lead to other conclusions,” but this is clearly wrong. The word atheist, in the dictionary, isn’t even that simple. Meaning cannot be supported by dictionary definitions all the way down. Definitions are linguistic conventions, but people use those conventions in a variety of complex and even contradictory ways. Now, you could argue that atheism should just say one thing, but that’s a different argument.
Vacula tries to get around the fact that he’s judging a heterogenous movement by the behavior of the tiniest sample, but Grothe presses the point:
Miranda Celeste Hale received some mean comments about her rejection of the term, and she elaborates on her previous point:
Do you see a difference between Vacula and Hale’s positions on labels? I think there is a difference, but I’m still working through these issues. Regardless, do you think labels matter? What are the consequences for rejecting the feminist identity?