Friday, September 12, 2014

Atheism and ruining it for everybody!!

After this latest round of sexy sexism in the atheist community, I've decided it's time for me to weigh in.

I hope that you recall that I'm the lady who advocates having sex on the first date. I am enthusiastically sex-positive. And today I would like to remind you that free love only thrives in an atmosphere where there is a healthy respect for consent.

Back when I was young and cute (before becoming a (happily married) old lady), I would have been more than happy to go to atheist conferences with the express intention of hooking up. And it is the people who are in favor of clear anti-harassment policies at conferences that make that sort of thing possible. I'm sorry to have to explain something that should be a no-brainer, but just because a chick is looking for NSA sex, it doesn't mean that she wants to be harassed or raped by whichever guy sees her first.

If you are a straight guy looking for a little fun and love, the rapists and rape apologists are not doing you a favor. Quite the opposite. Those guys are telling women: "If you wear that, if you get drunk, if you flirt at a conference -- then it's your own fault if you get raped." And when that's the message that wins the day, then that smart, hot, fun girl you might have met at that conference...? She won't be there. She's smart enough not to go.

Richard Dawkins in particular has been putting his foot in his mouth lately with idiotic distinctions. ("Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.") Well, let me make one of my own:

Personally, I have never been raped. I have had an ex-boyfriend lock me in an apartment, hold a knife to my throat, and threaten to kill me (see here). Given the choice between the two, I'd say I would have preferred to have been "just" raped. (And, by the same token, I'm pretty damn glad it didn't happen in the US where the equivalent guy would have had a gun -- in which case I probably wouldn't be here typing this today.) But those aren't the choices. It's not like there's one camp that says, "Oh, I would never rape a woman -- sure I like to mutilate and kill them, but not rape them," and the other says, "Oh, would never hurt a woman -- I just like to non-violently harass and rape them." The real two camps are the people see women as autonomous humans and those that don't.

In my situation, it wasn't rape, but it was the same damn thing. It was a question of a man being led to believe that if a woman won't be with him in the way he wants, then he's perfectly justified (as man) in making her do what he wants. She has no business making such decisions for herself.

It is the rapists and rape apologists who say stupid shit like "You should be glad he only raped you -- he might have killed you and cut you up in little pieces." Because those were his options. A normal person says something more like, "Wow, I'm sorry you had any contact at all with that criminal -- he needs to be stopped before he rapes again, or worse."

As far as Dawkins is concerned, I don't think he is for or against hearing more diverse perspectives in the atheist movement. I think it's simply a subject he's never has any reason to think deeply about, and, consequently, unsurprisingly, he has nothing insightful to say on the subject. Unfortunately, because he's the famous guy, he gets quoted on it, and his voice is amplified above the voices of people who actually have expertise and interesting things to say about it.

I agree with Terry Firma that it would be in Dawkins's own interest if somebody would succeed in persuading him to stay the hell away from Twitter. I was thinking that two twitter scandals earlier. But I'm less in agreement about this point Terry made:

It’s not a breakdown of his intellect, which is intact. Rather, Dawkins seems to suffer from an extreme form of tone-deafness. It’s almost as if Star Trek‘s Mr. Spock is modeled after him: cool, rational, detached, and faintly amused by the emotional human fools with whom he is forced to interact.

I think that is an insult to Mr. Spock, who is one of the most awesome fictional characters of all time. I mean, Spock might say insensitive things when asked, but he would have the good sense not to go out of his way to broadcast his random stupid musings.

I think Dawkins's real problem is a debilitating case of "I shit gold" syndrome. After being worshiped for such a long time by so many smart people, he's come to believe that any idea that pops into his head must be made of gold. It has severely compromised his ability to critically analyse his own thoughts and actions, which is unfortunate because (not just criticism, but) self-criticism should be one of the most highly regarded virtues in our movement.

Coincidentally, I should be going to see Dawkins in person today. He's here in Zürich giving a lecture at the Denkfest -- friends of mine will be in attendance. And because I want to make friends with the Zürich Freethinkers (who, I think, organized the thing), I am very hesitant to be typing this. I don't want to be "the difficult one" like I was back in church, many years ago. Yet, I also don't want my attendance to be registered as a vote for "we have to get somebody like Dawkins because he brings in the audience and the money." Therefore, I will be attending tomorrow. I am totally in favor of and impressed by everything about this conference except for the fact that it was billed as "RICHARD DAWKINS!!!! and some other people..."

I hope the local freethinkers will be willing to forgive me for this. I'm sure they are already well aware of how herding cats works. We mean well, but we are simply never going to all get in line.

But hopefully our movement is capable of self-reflection and learning.


Donna Banta said...

This is the first I've heard of this as I don't participate in the atheist community. However it certainly seems oddly timed against the American media focus on violence against women right now.

Have fun at Denkfest!

Holly said...

there is terrific. thanks.

C. L. Hanson said...


BTW, the specific tweet from Dawkins that I'm referring to is the one where he said "Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that's an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think."

Then, when people reacted badly to this tweet, he wrote "It is deplorable that there are many people who are literally afraid to think and speak freely, afraid to raise even hypothetical questions such as "which kind of rape is worse?". They are afraid - and I promise you I am not exaggerating - of witch-hunts: hunts for latter day blasphemers by latter day Inquisitions and latter day incarnations of Orwell's Thought Police."

To me, this is a little like if someone had asked his opinion on the Ebola virus and he said "I think people who have only a mild case Ebola need to stop their whining because other people have it worse." (A bit like his "Dear Muslima" comment discussed in the linked article.)

It doesn't even matter whether his point is accurate or logical -- it is completely pointless and unhelpful analysis. It makes me wonder why people are listening to this doofus at all.

Andrew said...

Awesome, and thank you for this. I am a new Atheist... and that is also bringing me new insight into women's issues. I was never intentionally callous and doltish, but I am realizing I was, and am, on these topics.

Daniel Midgley said...

Love Dawkins' work, but ugh. He's also complaining about radical feminism now. And insisting that anyone who disagrees go away and learn how to think.

A septuagenarian complaining about radical feminism? I never would have expected.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Andrew!!!

I'm glad if this is helpful to you, but the point isn't for men to do some sort of "mea culpa" ;)

Statistics show that a surprisingly high proportion of men commit rape, even in modern societies. But the thing to keep in mind is that our modern definition of rape (centered around a woman's autonomy/consent) is a relatively novel invention in our culture. It's not that the male sex drive or men in general are evil. Humans generally would rather be the good guy than the villain, but you have to have the tools -- the tools, the information that is -- to know how.

Religions often impede this flow of information (through abstinence education, etc.). The atheist movement should not be also impeding it. Atheists should not be standing in the way of harassment policies at conferences or shouting down Rebecca Watson for discussing that elevator incident. We should welcome a constructive discussion about what our cultural norms and expectations in such situations should be. That helps make living in a society work better for all of us.

Hey Daniel!!!

I know. He was apparently recently quoted as saying that he's for "equality feminism" but not "gender feminism" -- totally oblivious to the fact that this is a caricature of feminism spread by people who are not in favor of feminism (think: "I believe in micro-evolution but not macro-evolution").

It's weirdly interesting to see someone like Dawkins falling into the trap of not being able to recognize the limits of his own expertise -- and blithely pronouncing on subjects that he should realize he knows nothing about. It's also sad to see him gratuitously trashing his own hard-earned respect and reputation in the process, not to mention creating unnecessary rifts in our movement.

C. L. Hanson said...


In. Hole. Stop. Digging.