I know – no one cares anymore, right? But I think this needs clarification, and my blog is the only place I can do it. So if you’re sick of all this (like I am, honestly), no one is forcing you to read or comment.
After reading thousands and thousands of comments about this Elevatorgate kerfuffle, I was honestly surprised how people were interpreting my statements, or the statements of those who agreed with me. People said I was calling Richard Dawkins a misogynist, a rape apologist, and an all around horrible human being. I use certain harsh language when I’m passionate about an issue – but others seemingly interpret that as raging hatred.
So let me make it clear.
Having privilege is not intrinsically a bad thing. It does not make you a horrible person. From the amazing parable explaining privilege (which please, please read if you haven’t already):
Every single one of us has some kind of privilege over somebody. What matters is whether we’re aware of it, and what we choose to do with it, and that we not use it to dismiss the valid and real concerns of the people who don’t share our particular brand.
That’s why I was upset with Richard. Because while he is someone who supports many great feminist causes and issues surrounding women’s rights, like fighting against female genital mutilation, that specific thing just wasn’t the issue in this case. So even though his heart was probably in the right place, he was being dismissive. But more disappointing than his initial obliviousness about his privilege was his stubborn denial of said obliviousness when called out on it.
But honestly, it’s understandable. No one likes being told they’re wrong in general – but people get especially uncomfortable having their privilege pointed out. I sympathize – it took me a long time to understand white privilege and not feel like it was somehow attacking me or calling me racist. So I don’t really expect Richard to turn on a dime and instantly understand why what he said was hurtful. Because understanding privilege is hard. And it’s even harder when you’re a public figure who’s being made example of – you don’t have the leisure of slowly figuring things out.
So, I do disagree with Rebecca Watson on one detail. I don’t think it’s time we boycott Dawkin’s books or lectures. I think we need to give him the time to wrangle with this drama, since understanding privilege is not easy or comfortable. And that’s why when I offered to talk with him at TAM, I wasn’t being flippant – I was being honest. I still greatly respect him as a fellow atheist and evolutionary biologist, but I’d respect him even more if he sincerely attempted to understand why he was wrong.
And if he doesn’t want to chat, or doesn’t read the letters from atheist victims of sexual assault, or never issues some sort of remark or apology… Well, yes, I will be disappointed. But it’s not like Dawkins primarily writes feminism books. I will have to come to grips with the fact that my heroes are not perfect, but I’ll still happily chat with him about atheism or my research.
I don’t think Dawkins is a terrible human being. I think he just proved he’s human and made a mistake.