Based on my own experience—let alone the many favorable reactions we have received from attendees and speakers—I think we need to have another Women in Secularism conference. When, where, and other logistical items that go into conference planning need to be discussed and determined over the next few months (we may even change the name), but we have to have another.
Why? This conference was rich and varied in its content, but it seemed to me that it merely served as an introduction to the contributions, perspectives, and concerns of women. It was a prologue, establishing the agenda and background for a more thorough investigation and analysis of the relationship between secularism and feminism, but we need to follow through on that investigation and analysis. And then we need to follow that with concrete action, the specifics of which also need to be hammered out.
Wanting to obtain more input from women doesn’t imply we think women have special “intuition” or have “emotional knowledge” unavailable to men. The requirements of evidence-based reasoning apply to both genders, to paraphrase an observation made by Ophelia Benson during the conference. But, to state what should be obvious, the life experiences of women tend to differ in many significant ways from the life experiences of men. If we cut ourselves off from those experiences, we will find ourselves reasoning with incomplete or misleading data and the secular movement will be pursuing objectives that many will find irrelevant.
This leads me to one slightly disappointing aspect of the conference, namely the relatively low attendance of men (about 20%). I expected women would constitute a majority of the audience—given the unprecedented focus of the conference—but not by such a disproportionate margin. I’ve got news for you, fellas, if you’re a committed humanist/secularist the concerns of women are your concerns. Our mission is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, and humanist values. This remains a formidable task. We’re not going to get there unless we fully engage women—about half of humanity for those who haven’t noticed—in this effort.
Postscript: In reading some of the commentary on the conference, I have noticed that there have been some observations about the presentation made by Edwina Rogers, which was limited to 15 minutes and no Q & A. In fairness to Ms. Rogers, you should be aware that it was CFI that limited her talk to 15 minutes. The schedule for the speakers was already set when SCA contacted Melody Hensley and me about the possibility of Rogers speaking. Although we concluded it would be appropriate to hear from the new executive director for SCA, we simply did not have the room in an already crowded schedule to offer Ms. Rogers much time. So think what you will about the quality of her talk, but do not blame her for its brevity or the lack of Q & A.