Not a touch


Hmmm.

Massimo Pigliucci did a skeptical post on Hitchens a couple of days ago, and Jerry Coyne defends Hitchens today. I mostly agree with the defense, but…hmmm.

Misogynyist? Does Pigluicci know what that means?  Let us check the Oxford English Dictionary. “Misogyny: Hatred or dislike of, or prejudice against women.”  I don’t think Hitch hated, disliked, or was prejudiced against women. Sometimes he was mildly paternalistic, as when he claimed that his wife didn’t have to work, and sometimes he made boorish remarks verging on sexism, as in his famous critique of the Dixie Chicks. (But remember that he used equal invective against people like Jerry Falwell, and was not accused of being a man-hater.)

[Update: The last sentence quoted above has now been altered, but I quoted it as it was at the time.]

Not verging on sexism; sexism, and not a million miles from misogyny. Disagreeing with women by calling them fucking fat slags is sexism and it does at least hint at the presence of misogyny. Men who don’t hate women as a category tend not to call them names of that kind.

So often these days, especially on atheist websites, a touch of sexism or boorishness, or even a criticism of a woman, is instantly condemned as “misognyny.”

Hmmmmmmmmmm.

If by “a touch of sexism or boorishness” he means calling a woman a cunt, a bitch, a twat, a slag, a smelly snatch, not once but over and over and over again – then I call bullshit. That’s not “a touch of sexism or boorishness.” If atheist blogs are calling it what it is, then well done atheist blogs.

Comments

  1. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    Ah, The Bro Code. Privileged White Dude A defends Privileged White Dude B’s misogyny by declaring what misogyny is (and isn’t!), which just so conveniently excludes his friend and everything blatantly bigotted thing his friend said or did, because bitchez ain’t shit and their opinions are definitely not worth listening too.

    I notice Coyne didn’t have anything to say to the legions of female bloggers who covered this issue. Nah – this is definitely a topic to be decided by men, for men.

  2. says

    I think that Hitchens himself might reject Coyne’s defense of him, on the grounds that for all of his faults he always seemed in favor of strong opinions honestly come by and forthrightly spoken. From what little I know of him, the last thing Hitchens would want is for someone to “defend” him by trying to water down his positions and make him seem less than what he was in order to make him seem better than what he was.

    Being bigger than life means that your flaws are often massive as well. I don’t think Hitchens would flinch from that, and Coyne does him a disservice in this instance.

  3. Michael De Dora says

    “I met Hitch only once, and found him charming, as most people did.”

    Well, then, case closed.

  4. Irene says

    Yep, more than a touch. Hitchens had a history not only of using sexist slurs when talking about women he dispproved of, but also of posting pro-life articles with pseudo-scientific arguments and of claiming that evolutionary psychology “proved” that women were intrinsically incapable of being funny. Apart from that, he had no problem with mysogyny. Oh, no.

    *sigh* Jerry Coyne shouldn’t let his long-standing feud with Massimo Pigliucci blind him to the fact that, yes, sometimes even idols can have feet of clay.

    (I could write a lot more about the other blind spots in Jerry Coyne’s admiration for Christopher Hitchens, but the links posted in the Pigliucci article already paint much of the picture. I’ll just add that even the so-called “polymath” aspect of Hitchens’ writing that lead Coyne to call him “the Orwell of our time” has been contested: see John Barrell’s evaluation of the book on Thomas Paine for the details on at least one instance of Hitchens failing to check his facts and “borrowing” heavily from other writers.)

  5. says

    He didn’t that I knew of before last summer; rather the reverse – he certainly didn’t approve of Wally Smith’s (aka “Tom Johnson” aka You’re Not Helping) way with sexist epithets. But last summer seems to have changed things.

  6. says

    Gah. I haven’t even gotten around to telling Jerry Coyne how disappointed I am with his defense of Hitchens, but HEY remember that time when Hitch said that women aren’t funny?

    In a totally not misogynistic way, of course. /sarcasm

    I don’t understand the atheist dude instinct to defend each other like this, honestly. Christopher Hitchens wrote some wonderful things, and I imagine he could be great company when he was inclined to be, but he also said some lousy things. As supposed skeptics, it seems like we should be more willing to examine Hitchens’ life and work critically rather than lionizing the man.

  7. says

    There is simply no comparison that can be made between the Dixie Chicks and Jerry Falwell, is there? Even worse, Hitchens slandered the Dixie Chicks because they dared to tell off his BFF at the time: W, of all people. (I can’t remember if this before or after Hitchens voluntarily underwent waterboarding that W had allowed to be used on prisoners of war.)

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    Misogynyist? Does Pigluicci know what that means?

    If so, he’s one up on me: I can’t find it in any dictionary anywhere.

    … instantly condemned as “misognyny.”

    Izzat like a blissninny, but less fun?

  9. Gregory says

    Sexism is a symptom common to many diseases, some benign and some not so much. Misogyny can be likened to cancer: whether benign or malignant, it is insidious, can become metastatic, is difficult to treat and has a depressing tendancy to return without warning. (Probably an inappropriate analogy for Hitchens, but it’s what I have.)

    Hitchens was definitely sexist, and nowadays there is no excuse for that. I’m not convinced that he met the diagnosis of a mysogynist, though. It is kind of like (speaking as a gay man) the way a lot of ignorance and straight priviledge gets labeled homophobia when is really isn’t.

  10. says

    Ahem. “I can’t remember if this was before or after Hitchens voluntarily underwent waterboarding”, I meant.

    Pigliucci is of course entitled to his opinion, but I don’t find his characterization of Hitchens as nothing more than an atheist known for being an eloquent writer to be true. Love him or hate him, Hitchens was our bullhorn against religion.

    And in the comments on his blog, Pigliucci claims that Hitchens did no small amount of damage to the world by supporting W‘s folly. I can’t see how that is in any way true. Yes, Hitchens supported it, but he had no more say in whether it was to be or not than your average news pundit–hardly any. And his arguments for the war were some of the least persuasive he ever made. I’d be surprised if anyone changed from not supporting it to supporting it based on Hitchons bravado about W. No, Hitchens did zero damage to the world by supporting that war, although he did damage his reputation by doing so.

    Mixed up in the same comment, Pigliucci says he is convinced Hitchens did damage to atheism. Again, I’m gobsmacked by that claim. What damage? Because Hitchens wouldn’t kowtow to Last Tuesdayism or something? I mean, WTF?

  11. Irene says

    @ Aratina Cage: IIRC, the Dixie Chicks affair came well before Hitchens finally decided to figure out for himself if waterboarding was or not torture. (Kudos for him to go all the way in his doubting Thomas act, not every War on Terror supporter was so consistent. Although the whole episode will not be accounted as the best showcase for Hitch’s brainpower.)

  12. Jeffy Joe says

    Illuminata: Are you seriously offering this as a summary of Jerry Coyne’s view on the matter: “bitchez ain’t shit and their opinions are definitely not worth listening too [sic]”? It’s OK if you disagree with how Jerry chose to balance Hitchens’ inappropriate comments with his insistence that the most important advance a society could make was to give women equal rights and full access to education (I’ve heard him make this claim in several debates). But let’s have some intellectual honesty in characterizing the views of others. If you were joking and I missed it, I’m sorry.

  13. says

    One comment: I am not satisfied, having read various pieces of his, that Hitchens was anti-abortion, not even in the ‘I’m personally opposed but wouldn’t interfere with other’s choices in the matter’ sense. He did not want Roe v Wade overturned. He did not think anyone ought to tell women what to do when confronted with the decision. He hammered religious bodies and people (including Mother Teresa) for their position on abortion. He wanted research into abortifacients, so that there would be no more surgery.

    The guts of his anti-abortion position was disliking pictures of ultrasounds (hence the fondness for abortifacients) and the ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ labelling employed in rhetoric on the issue. In this, I agree with him, and I happily joined in laughing when David Cameron ridiculed Nadine Dorries, one of the few remaining anti-abortionistas in the Tory Party, in the House of Commons. I am about as in favour of abortion rights as its possible to get, but I really dislike the language: ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ serve only to obscure the issue, attempting to manoeuvre opponents into an untenable position through word-play. Who is anti-choice – apart from the most doctrinaire Marxist? And who is anti-life, aside from the odd serial killer?

    I should probably run away at this point, but I will conclude with the observations I made on Ophelia’s facebook page: I suspect Hitchens was a ‘functioning drunk'; I’ve met a few (of counsel) in my time. The drinking did not impair their ability to be competent, but did impair their ability to be excellent. His brilliant wittiness is a characteristic of many Oxford students, and can be a cover for intellectual laziness. Hitchens got a ‘gentleman’s third'; so would most people, confronted with weekly tutorial essays in every subject studied. I used to tutor at Oxford, and also completed my English law degree there: I’m familiar with the type.

  14. Lyanna says

    Aratina Cage @ 10: yes, the fact that Coyne has to reach as far as JERRY FALWELL to find a man Hitchens bashed as badly as he bashed the Dixie Chicks is…telling, no?

    Not to mention that he didn’t bash Jerry Falwell for being a man.

    I await the inevitable rationalizations about how “slut” and “slag” are really truly non-sexist.

  15. screechymonkey says

    Yeah, I had someone lecturing me on another thread at WEIT that Hitch’s “women aren’t funny” piece wasn’t sexist because it was in the context of evolutionary psychology.

    For some people, nothing short of an unqualified “I hate [insert minority group here]” is sufficient evidence.

  16. julian says

    I await the inevitable rationalizations about how “slut” and “slag” are really truly non-sexist.

    Well obviously those women were fat slags! Therefore Hitchens spoke truth. Therefore he was not being sexist.

  17. Stacy says

    And in the comments on his blog, Pigliucci claims that Hitchens did no small amount of damage to the world by supporting W‘s folly. I can’t see how that is in any way true. Yes, Hitchens supported it, but he had no more say in whether it was to be or not than your average news pundit–hardly any. And his arguments for the war were some of the least persuasive he ever made. I’d be surprised if anyone changed from not supporting it to supporting it based on Hitchons bravado about W.

    Aratina Cage, have you heard of Mark Daily, a young soldier killed in Iraq, who largely credited Hitchens with persuading him to enlist?:

    http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2007/11/hitchens200711

    He was influential among people who didn’t take your average news pundit seriously.

    Count me as someone else who took Hitchens far too seriously in the early days of the Iraq War. He appeared on my radar in 1990, when I read the brilliant anti-Gulf War article he wrote for Harpers, Why We Are Stuck in the Sand.

    I was more impressed than I should have been by his support of the Iraq War and his talk of a “Clash of Civilizations” between the heirs to the Enlightenment and people who wanted a return to barbarism and theocracy. After all, he understood the region and its history very well (as demonstrated in the Harper’s piece), and he was not normally a war-monger.

  18. Grace says

    “I met Hitch only once, and found him charming, as most people did.”

    “Well, then, case closed.”

    And did you know Sylvia Plath couldn’t have really been abused by her husband like she claimed, because Christopher Hitchens went for drinks with Ted Hughes once and he seemed like a cool guy? (Christopher observed him being really nice to their mutual friend with MS, so Sylvia must be a liar, I guess).

    Hitchens seemed to like to vilify feminists with terms like “stone-faced Amazons” and claims that we Western ones don’t care about the plight of women under Islam (we are apprently silent on the issue, in fact our silence is “deafening”). He said he wouldn’t be caught dead attending what he thought was a ceremony for women first responders of 9/11 (it turns out it was actually for British victims of 9/11). And he was quite fond of calling gay women “dykes” and “bull dykes.” (I can’t imagine calling gay men “flaming homos” or “faggots” in public or private and not be considered homophobic).

    But he was nice to a Jerry Coyne once, so…

  19. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    But he was nice to a Jerry Coyne once, so…

    That. And once someone agrees with something Jerry thinks–*cough*Miranda Celeste Hale, *cough*Abbie Smith—then any criticism of said person makes you out of bounds, outrageous, and thoroughly not to be trusted. It also gives you license to ignore the most flagrantly offensive and wrong-headed views of Your Friends and defend them (and highlight their posts) at any cost. Even if the people criticizing their actions have proven themselves to be trustworthy, good-faith interlocutors who deserve your time of day.

    Yeah. I went there. And I wish I had before. Jerry’s been needing to hear it for quite some time. If you’re reading this Jerry, make no mistake-this is not a partisan defense of anyone. It’s an accurate expression of my own frustration and disillusionment with you, someone whose work I greatly admire.

  20. dirigible says

    “Kudos for him to go all the way in his doubting Thomas act”

    Read the words of someone trying to apologize for torture. Apparently:

    “You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is that it “simulates” the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning”

    http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/08/hitchens200808

    Now if only he’d applied the same principle and rigor to the swamps of “evolutionary psychology” and sexism.

  21. NMcC says

    The degree of cherry-picking displayed by Coyne and Dawkins, and others like Miranda Hale Celeste, in regard to Hitchens, has been quite astonishing – not to mention slightly depressing. I already considered Dawkins to have all but lost his marbles over the past couple of years, but Coyne was just jaw-dropping in his sycophancy. Outside of their writings on evolution, I could never take either Dawkins or Coyne seriously again. I think they proved what many suspected; that for them, at least, the ‘New Atheism’ really is as much a cult as any ‘cherry-pick the nice bits’ religion.

    As far as Hitchens and his admirers are concerned, George Orwell described them rather well:

    “Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side.”

    Strangely, I can’t remember Hitchens ever quoting that from his beloved Saint George. Mind you, Hitchens’s record with ‘Blairs’ wasn’t that good generally.

  22. says

    I’m glad that atheism has gotten so big that we’re starting to see in-group/out-group fighting going on, and figures attaining infallible status among the upper-echelons. “We’re way up here, where we can pass judgment on you lowly non-celebrity atheists. Oh, you have a criticism? Keep it to yourself, we’re rock stars!” Just lovely…

    Coyne has serious issues with other atheists on some issues. Unfortunately, he’s decided that HIS issues are valid and other people’s issues with him and his friends are by definition invalid. It is an irrational position, and it makes me lose some respect for him.

  23. says

    Sounds like Hitchens had some definite sexist attitudes, but using a term like “slag” means he’s also obviously speciesist against Newcomers.

    Of course, I use terms like “bitch” occasionally, but I don’t think that makes me sexist. For one, I don’t think of all, or even most women, as bitches, and I also call men bitches. Again, only if they’re legitimately bitchy.

  24. says

    Michael, I disagree. Call me or any other woman a bitch (for instance) and you’re out of here. That’s because yes, it is indeed sexist. And it isn’t “of course” that you use it, or it shouldn’t be, any more than it should be “of course” that you use “nigger” or “faggot” or “kike.”

    It has occurred to me to wonder what Jerry Coyne would think and say if a bunch of people were posting endless comments about kikes and yids. Would he call that “a touch of anti-semitism or boorishness”? Would he say

    So often these days, especially on atheist websites, a touch of anti-semitism or boorishness, or even a criticism of a Jew, is instantly condemned as “hatred of Jews”?

    I don’t think he would.

  25. says

    I wonder what Jerry Coyne would think if “franc hoggle” posted repeatedly about kicking him (Jerry Coyne) in his circumcised dick…on the blog of a friend of his (Jerry Coyne’s).

    I wonder I wonder I wonder.

  26. says

    I wonder what Jerry Coyne would think if someone else – say “frances higgle” – posted repeatedly about kicking him (Jerry Coyne) in his circumcised dick…on my blog. I wonder what he would think of me if I allowed that. I wonder what he would think if people such as PZ and Greta and Eric also commented on the thread where “frances” was fantasizing in that way, without saying a word about frances’s disgusting rants. I wonder if he would think that was acceptable discourse, or at worst just “a touch of anti-semitism or boorishness.”

    I wonder I wonder I wonder.

  27. Lyanna says

    I have to say, the “I call men bitches, so it’s not a sexist term!” argument is one that I find most infuriating.

    How does one respond to it? This is a genuine question of mine, and I’d welcome responses.

    My actual sincere response is, “No, you don’t. I don’t believe you. You are lying to cover your sexism.”

    But then I get accused of being close-minded, and of imposing my personal experience on others. Except it’s not personal experience–it’s fluency in the English tongue.

    On a related topic: a fifteen-year-old atheist girl who posted a picture of herself happily holding an atheist book given her by her religious mother got rape jokes from atheist men. And then got a cartoon implying that she was deliberately provoking the creepy jokes because she’s a vain attention whore, like all women–why else would she ever post her pic? Skepchick and Pandagon have more here: http://skepchick.org/2011/12/reddit-makes-me-hate-atheists/

    And here: http://pandagon.net/index.php/site/comments/flying_monkeys_why_they_suck_and_why_they_must_be_opposed

  28. says

    No, I actually do call men bitches. Called myself a silly bitch yesterday, in fact. I’d say I tend to call men bitches more than women, anyway, though I hardly use the word. And sometimes I call women dicks or assholes. I try to be very indiscriminate about my use of insults.

  29. Hertta says

    michaelbrew,

    What kind of behavior do you think is bitchy? What makes a person worthy of being called a bitch?

  30. says

    Micahelbrew
    “No, I actually do call men bitches. Called myself a silly bitch yesterday, in fact. I’d say I tend to call men bitches more than women, anyway, though I hardly use the word. And sometimes I call women dicks or assholes. I try to be very indiscriminate about my use of insults.”
    here is a comment in a similiar discussion on our forums that i think answers your question
    “such words must be taken on contextual meaning.”

    The answer to this is yes, and context is not limited to where you as the user draw the line but extends beyond that to from where the implied connotations are derived and where the reader’s preconceived biases lie. That is, definitions and situational context are not mutually exclusive when such loaded words are used. That is, the word has a cultural connotation that is embedded in our subconscious. Prejudice (gender, race etc) in the modern age is almost never explicit, and almost always through deeply ingrained cultural memes. Granted, this is pushing the use of language to an edge from where numerous such arguments can take us down different slippery slopes. But we can only take these one at a time, and in this case the men and women who are behind Nirmukta have made a decision.

    I mentioned this to the others when we discussed this issue in our administrators meet. I used to use the term ‘bitch’ (or biatch or beotch etc) a lot when I lived in the US, often when hanging out with my very progressive friends, and always in the context of other guys. I do not anymore. Think about this- even if I use the word ‘bitch’ to refer to my best friend, I can still find the word at the tip of my tongue when I’m really angry at a woman. I wouldn’t use it if I’m angry with a guy (I’d probably find a male-specific slur ready to be hurled at him, which is also something I’m against). Even though I consider myself a progressive, my ‘generic’ use of “bitch” belies a deeper connotation. Of course, this connotation is less transparent in society at large.

    The bottom line is this. Why use a word that is often used in a derogatory way towards women (or to dis a man by implying that he is a woman, thus clearly symbolizing social bias against the female sex) when there are so many perfectly gender neutral swear words?”

  31. says

    Well, if I had to peg down a general “bitchy” quality I’d say it’s that very caustic kind of judgmental, sniping behavior. That’s how my mother always used it when I was growing up (not that she used the term much), and I’ve generally found that on the very rare occasions I use the term that everyone I know, both male and female, accept that as the meaning. I say to my girlfriend, “Man, Jackie Tyler is kind of a bitch,” and she knows exactly what I mean. I ask my old college mate why he’s such a bitch and responds, “Can’t help it, I’m vindictive by nature.” But, you know, if we have to start allocating B-Word privileges, now, it’s not exactly a big part of my vocabulary and I wouldn’t particularly miss it.

  32. says

    @lalit

    I would agree with your assessment of the situation. As a male, I generally don’t consider if a word might be considered sexist or not, and I would agree that it’s putting oneself in a precarious position to use that kind of language thoughtlessly (which is why I generally don’t use crass language, anyway). It is generally better to find a gender neutral way to insult someone. I just felt it prudent to point out that the use of such a commonly abused epithet was not evidence, in itself, of sexist attitudes. It was mostly Hitchen’s actual sexist beliefs that made him sexist.

  33. Hertta says

    Ok, now why do you think you associate qualities such as caustic, judgmental, sniping or vindictive with the word bitch? Come on, you’re almost there.

  34. says

    And in the comments on his blog, Pigliucci claims that Hitchens did no small amount of damage to the world by supporting W‘s folly. I can’t see how that is in any way true. Yes, Hitchens supported it, but he had no more say in whether it was to be or not than your average news pundit–hardly any. And his arguments for the war were some of the least persuasive he ever made. I’d be surprised if anyone changed from not supporting it to supporting it based on Hitchons [typo: Should have been Hitchens’] bravado about W.

    Aratina Cage, have you heard of Mark Daily, a young soldier killed in Iraq, who largely credited Hitchens with persuading him to enlist?:

    http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2007/11/hitchens200711

    He was influential among people who didn’t take your average news pundit seriously.

    No, I hadn’t. A Randian agnostic (not atheist, not even after having read so much of Hitchens or Rand) with an old-Bush family (a family who agreed, it seems, with W‘s father that a war in Iraq was not OK) was persuaded by Hitchens to join the military voluntarily and go to Iraq where he died a senseless death by driving onto a mine (which, by the way, should never have had to happen if the military would quit using soldiers as pawns and start using our modern technology to save lives by putting remote-control vehicles at the front). For all we know, Mark Daily never fired a shot at another person, though that isn’t something one would mention in a eulogy. That doesn’t mean Hitchens did any damage to the world or to atheism. And what does Hitchens do when he learns about his influence in the Daily’s decisions? He doesn’t shrug it off but instead gives his all to the Dailys, even going so far as to mention his current contempt for the way the war is going:

    As one who used to advocate strongly for the liberation of Iraq (perhaps more strongly than I knew), I have grown coarsened and sickened by the degeneration of the struggle: by the sordid news of corruption and brutality (Mark Daily told his father how dismayed he was by the failure of leadership at Abu Ghraib) and by the paltry politicians in Washington and Baghdad who squabble for precedence while lifeblood is spent and spilled by young people whose boots they are not fit to clean. It upsets and angers me more than I can safely say…

    The whole ordeal does just the opposite of proving that Hitchens damaged the world and atheism. It speaks well of Hitchens himself and of selfless atheists and agnostics like Mark Daily as well.

    Count me as someone else who took Hitchens far too seriously in the early days of the Iraq War. He appeared on my radar in 1990, when I read the brilliant anti-Gulf War article he wrote for Harpers, Why We Are Stuck in the Sand.

    I was more impressed than I should have been by his support of the Iraq War and his talk of a “Clash of Civilizations” between the heirs to the Enlightenment and people who wanted a return to barbarism and theocracy. After all, he understood the region and its history very well (as demonstrated in the Harper’s piece), and he was not normally a war-monger.

    But Hitchens was much the same as you, impressed by others, and unlike you, he used his great skills to try and let no facts get in the way. For instance, Hitchens had unfortunately himself taken the now disgraced Ahmed Chalabi at his word, as had many, and then tried hard to reconcile his cognitive dissonance between reality and what he had previously believed about the war.

    Anyway, let’s not lay the blame for the entire war in Iraq on Hitchens! The part he played in that war happening remains near zero, and based on Mark Daily’s story, at least one person he influenced seems to have done more good than harm (if any) by joining the war.

  35. Lyanna says

    Michael, even if you’re telling the truth, I think it’s still sexist. Bitch means female dog. There’s no getting away from the dictionary definition and the long history of female-specific use, any more than one can separate “nigger” from its history.

    Aratina Cage, I’m confused by your logic. If Mark Daly never fired a shot at anyone, what does that have to do with the damage Hitchens did to Mark Daly by persuading him to go to Iraq? And if Hitchens feels sorry and disturbed about it after the fact, well, that’s to his credit, but the damage is still done.

    He’s hardly the most responsible party for Iraq, nor even one of the more responsible ones, but I would say he has done some harm to the world by advocating for this war. I think he helped provide a veneer of class and intellectualism to the pro-war side.

  36. says

    @Lyanna

    If Mark Daly never fired a shot at anyone, what does that have to do with the damage Hitchens did to Mark Daly by persuading him to go to Iraq?

    The issue Pigliucci brings up is that Hitchens did damage to the world by supporting the war in Iraq. If Hitchens did indeed influence one Mark Daily to join the war, then based on what we’ve been told, the one person who may have been influenced by Hitchens to join the war did his best to save lives and not take them, such as when he told a vehicle full of people to fall back and he would lead the way over a minefield.

    I would say he has done some harm to the world by advocating for this war. I think he helped provide a veneer of class and intellectualism to the pro-war side.

    Hitchens’ arguments for the war are really no more than mirror images of W‘s arguments though they are better stated, so I think that refutes your charge that he provided a veneer of class and intellectualism to the pro-war side.

  37. Lyanna says

    Hmm, okay, fair point about Mark Daly helping people in Iraq, but I think your admission that Hitchens’s arguments are better stated than W’s actually confirms what I was saying. He is a more eloquent, funnier, smarter version of W (at least, on this subject)…and IMO that made him dangerous.

    It’s really impossible to quantify the effects of most pundits on politics. I will admit that. For all we know, Hitchens had no effect. But I think prominent pundits bear responsibility for the policies they espouse even though their effects are diffuse and sometimes untraceable. I think all that talking has to have some effect. Because why else do it?

  38. says

    @Lyanna

    He is a more eloquent, funnier, smarter version of W (at least, on this subject)…and IMO that made him dangerous.

    But Hitchens had no power over any of it. Sure, I’d agree that he damaged the world if he and W had traded places (which could have happened–dare I say did happen if one were to believe Pigliucci about Last Tuesdayism), but as it is, Hitchens was all talk on that issue and nothing else. His influence ended on the pages of the magazines he published in and ended at the walls of the auditoriums he spoke at. He wasn’t an elected figure or an unelected official in any capacity. The war we started there did not hinge on Hitchens’ opinion or his feeling that we had a moral duty to attack Iraq which would quite obviously and needlessly kill thousands of people besides the tyrant (if even).

    As for why else do the punditry on Iraq, I can think of several possible reasons: rather easy money (for Hitchens at least), a staunch moral belief and a drive to be sure to be known to have been on the right side of history (as he saw it), an unknown but deep-seated motivation to do it, a captive audience that he couldn’t pass up the chance to interact with, and sheer contrarianism toward what he saw as the Clintonites (the Left in the USA and possibly Europe) for starters.

  39. gerryfromktown says

    Transcript of interview snippet with Christopher Hitchens, The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, TAM 5, SGU Uncut #2, January, 2007:

    Hitchens: I think it gets to the point also, where those who are hired to ask the questions don’t know how to do it. A great case in point recently, the interview by that unspeakable cunt, um, what is she called, blond bitch, on one of the morning shows …

    Rebecca Watson: Ann Coulter?

    Hitchens: No, no ..

    All: Laughter

    Watson: She’s my favorite unspeakable cunt.

    Hitchens: Yes, yes, but no, no. This is Dianne Sawyer?

    All: [general recognition]

    Hitchens: Who apparently once sat on Henry Kissinger’s face, can you believe it? And who was still employed in the profession as an objective commentator on his foreign policy. Anyway, she had to interview Mel Gibson …

  40. says

    @Hertta Ignoring the patronizing tone, I’ll respond that I associate those qualities because that’s the kind of behaviors everyone else agrees are “bitchy.” However, I’m well aware that the original origin is a general stereotype of women as possessing those qualities universally. Which is untrue, naturally. However, in my own circle of acquaintances and friends, which does include progressive females, the word simply isn’t used in that fashion. Granted, I’m sure there are people who do use it in a way to imply that all women are that way, but I don’t think one should jump to the conclusion that anyone who says “bitch” is using the worst connotation possible. I mean, unless it’s obvious that’s what the person is doing.

    @Lyanna I can see where you’re coming from by your comparison, though I don’t know that most people would agree that b=n. Asking some of the women I know their opinion on the subject, they don’t seem to regard them as equivalent, or at least say that it depends on the context and intent of the user of the word. Of course, my personal usage of words tends to be informed by how those with whom I interact view words. If I ever met you face to face, I would of course keep your personal views in mind. And I would say that it’s generally good policy to assume that anyone you don’t know well will take any word you use as the worst possible connotation of which you’re aware.

    @gerryfromktown Wow, that’s messed up.

  41. Riptide says

    I’m glad Hitchens’ supposed ‘anti-abortion’ stance was clarified earlier; though he *did* seem to see a fertilized egg as an ‘unborn child’ and he *did* say twenty some-odd years ago that he could personally imagine no situation for ‘evacuating a uterus’ (or some such), he never made a scintilla of noise about taking away that choice from individual women, and indeed he used women’s reproductive choice as a major measure of how advanced a given society is.

    He was sexist, I’ll give him that, as proved by various comments people have ‘quote mined’ here and elsewhere. (On the Feministe post about his death, people were digging up suggestive quotes from 1990. How’s that for quote mining?) But I don’t think you can claim that he was a misogynist. From the relevant article on Wikipedia:

    “Michael Flood defines misogyny as the hatred of women, and notes:

    ‘Misogyny functions as an ideology or belief system that has accompanied patriarchal, or male-dominated societies for thousands of years and continues to place women in subordinate positions with limited access to power and decision making.'”

    Given that Hitchens claimed that giving women access to power and decision making, both within their own lives and in government, was the only proven method of eliminating poverty…I think a case could be made that he was at least as much of a philogynist as a misogynist.

    Christopher Hitchens was not a simple man. He made some clearly regrettable statements about individual women (and maybe even women as a whole), but he also identified religion as the primary gaoler and punisher of women in all societies across the globe, and used that fact to argue both against religion and in support of women’s liberation. That means that he wasn’t perfect, and we’ve no right to expect him to have been.

  42. julian says

    That means that he wasn’t perfect, and we’ve no right to expect him to have been.

    I don’t expect him to be perfect. I expect him to as valid a target for criticism as anyone else.

  43. Grace says

    @michaelbrew

    You call men bitches? So do a lot of men, because it’s insulting to be compared to women. Doesn’t make it nonsexist. Does a white person calling other white people n*gger more than black people make it cool or nonracist?

    When women use bitch they use it as an adjective, meaning a mean, cruel woman. Most men use it as a noun, like “I’ll make you my bitch” (i.e. dehumanized victim, especially abuse/rape victim…a woman’s natural state according to misogynists). So I find that word beyond vile, even worse than cunt, actually.

    Maybe in 100 years people will treat that word the way progressives treat the n-word now.

  44. Hertta says

    michaelbrew:

    I’m well aware that the original origin is a general stereotype of women as possessing those qualities universally.

    So you are awere, that the word bitch associates women with a negative stereotype but don’t think that insisting on using that word with that meaning perpetuates that stereotype. How do you rationalize that?

  45. Lyanna says

    Aratina: Hitchens had no direct power, and was insignificant compared to an elected official, but I do think pundits have some influence. Yes, pundits bloviate for a lot of reasons, like pay. But why does anyone pay them? What’s their function & purpose, if their opinions have no effect?

    I suppose if you think pundits are just noise-makers (which is a defensible viewpoint) then Hitchens can’t be blamed at all. But I doubt he’d want to see himself as a mere futile noise-maker. In a way, that’s actually more critical of him than my viewpoint, no?

    Michael: “Nigger” also depends on context and intent, though. (For instance, many black people do use it to refer to themselves or other black people). It’s not equivalent in meaning to “bitch,” but it is equivalent in its specificity to a particular group of marginalized people. Bitch is by definition female; nigger is by definition black; even if you use either term to refer to a white male, it’s still heavily associated with its specific meaning.

    I think you are probably wise in assuming that people you don’t know will take the worst connotations from the words you use. Problems arise when people claim ‘ironic’ or ‘joking’ use of offensive terms in front of strangers, where there is no context of trust and goodwill.

    And, on that note, I’d like to apologize to you (Michael) because I think my comments on this have imputed bad faith to you, and you haven’t deserved that. I generally think people who claim to use ‘bitch’ for both genders are making it up, but you seem to be discussing in good faith.

  46. says

    @Grace Oh, of course, I forgot that I’m a man and so must automatically be using bitch with a sexist mindset. My bad. The comparison with the word “nigger” is also both imprecise and unhelpful as a) “bitch” has never been used throughout society as a synonym for woman at any point in history (rap culture, aside) and b) the mere use of the word “nigger” also does not mean that the user is necessarily racist (for instance, I just used it, and I’m most emphatically not a racist). Again, it is the attitudes of the person, and not the use of a word that makes one a bigot.

    @Hertta Because the origin of a word doesn’t equal the meaning. For instance, “lady” is an Old English word for “bitch.” Should I also stop calling women “ladies”? “Queer” used to be a derogatory term for homosexuals, meaning “strange,” “unusual,” or “deviant,” but at my college we had the Queer-Straight Alliance, and the word is now generally used as a positive descriptor. Are homosexuals wrong to allow the use of that word, now? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that “bitch” should end up being the new descriptor for women, but it needn’t be married to a few bigots’ assumption that “all women are bitches.”

    I think I should restate my original point because I think it’s gotten a bit lost. I agree that the word “bitch” can be used in a sexist manner. However, my only point was that just because a person uses the word at any point, it does not necessarily mean the PERSON is sexist. It is the person’s sexist attitudes that make him or her a sexist and not the words the person uses.

    Let me make an example. Let’s say I were to go to a restaurant with a buddy of mine who happens to be black. He goes to the restroom before the waiter comes, and the waiter asks what I want to order, so I order for myself and then say “I already know what my friend wants. He’ll have the fried chicken.”

    Now, that could be racist, given the stereotype of black people and fried chicken. If I didn’t know him that well and just assumed, because he was black, that that’s what he would order, I would be racist. However, what if we went out to eat often, and I knew that he did always order that. Then I’m saying he wants fried chicken because that’s who he, as an individual, is. In the same vein, there’s a difference between calling a woman a bitch because you know that that’s who she is as a person and just using it as a substitute for “woman.” Sometimes it can be hard to tell depending on the situation, which is why I wouldn’t recommend using the word, but it would be jumping to conclusions to condemn a person for using it regardless of context. And, no, I would disagree that “being a man” is suitable context to say if he uses the word he must be sexist. That being said, I have no problem saying Hitchens’ use of it was quite sexist.

    I hope that clears up my position on the matter and that it doesn’t seem too unreasonable.

  47. says

    I am a great fan of the work of Hitchens that I do agree with. In fact, I haven’t been paying enough attention to him to have picked up on his misogynist side. I only learned about that recently. I only found out about it after I wrote the post about him over on We Are SkeptiXX. It doesn’t change what I think of his atheist work, but I did lose some respect for him as a person. Misogyny is not defensible in any context, no matter what other brilliant work the person has done.

  48. says

    @Lyanna I didn’t see this one. I can’t disagree with anything you’ve said on this, and I’m grateful that you don’t think I’m just trying to find an excuse to call women names. In most contexts I do disagree with the use of the word.

    @Ophelia Looks good so far. Haven’t read the whole thing yet, and I have to go see my mother, so I’ll get to it later.

  49. says

    @Lyanna

    I suppose if you think pundits are just noise-makers (which is a defensible viewpoint) then Hitchens can’t be blamed at all. But I doubt he’d want to see himself as a mere futile noise-maker. In a way, that’s actually more critical of him than my viewpoint, no?

    In this case, I think, the effect his writing might have had on others was so indirect and inconsequential to the war on whole that he shouldn’t be assigned any blame at all. If he were, for instance, a leader of the war rallying cry, it might be different, but he wasn’t. Nobody who was anyone of any power turned to Hitchens on whether or not the war should happen or continue. Then McCain lost the election, so we can’t say Hitchens did a good job of convincing very many people to vote for the war-in-Iraq party. (Though didn’t he end up getting what he wanted with Obama in the end?)

    The war on gods, now that is a different story. There, in the imaginary realm, he was a skilled warrior and quite effective at rallying the troops.

  50. Grace says

    “@Grace Oh, of course, I forgot that I’m a man and so must automatically be using bitch with a sexist mindset. My bad.”

    Hilarious.

  51. Josh Slocum says

    Michael:

    You can’t claim it’s OK to say “that’s gay,” because “I didn’t use it in a homophobic manner.”

    You can’t claim it’s OK to say “That’s so Jew-ey” because “I didn’t use it in an anti-semitic manner.”

    Intent is not magic. Please stop it. Please listen to people when they tell you it’s offensive and that it encourages nasty epithets in discourse.

  52. Yahzi says

    You know, Hitchens was old.

    Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar; sometimes a level of sexism and a way of speaking are just ancient history.

    Jack Vance is one of my favorite authors from the Golden Age of sci-fi. I don’t it would make any sense at all to call him misogynistic. But was he sexist? Well. Ya. Good luck finding anyone writing in the Golden Age that wasn’t.

    We can admire Hitch’s talents and contributions even while we acknowledge that he, too, was a product of his times, and could never fully overcome that. All human heroes have feet of clay; we can’t expect an absence of flaws; all we can demand is that their flaws not prevent them from helping. And Hitch helped.

    Nobody’s perfect, language is not the same as intent, habits are hard to break. You have to accept people for what they have to offer; and on balance, Hitch was a pretty good deal.

  53. says

    Bullshit. Absolute total bullshit. Sure, Hitch was old, just as I am, but not old as in born in 1920. Hitch was exactly the right age to have been educated, formed and shaped by the women’s movement…if he had had the wit or empathy or whatever it was he lacked to have paid attention. It’s just nonsense to pretend that people who are old now – Boomers – are too old to have been exposed to feminism when they were young enough to take it in. Boomers fucking came up with second wave feminism. Feminism R us. Second wave feminism was born in the civil rights and antiwar movements in the late 60s – in very large part in reaction to the sexism of the men who took it for granted that they (and only they) were The Leaders.

    I don’t know how he and Martin Amis managed to insulate themselves from that, but they did. Mart is even worse – I suppose because he writes fiction, so women make an appearance, but he talks about them as if they were from another galaxy.

    It’s beyond ludicrous to think Hitchens was too old to have been exposed to feminism in time.

  54. malky957 says

    “…sometimes he made boorish remarks verging on sexism, as in his famous critique of the Dixie Chicks.” Dopey argument. Calling some women “fat fucking slags” on the basis of them disagreeing with you about the wisdom of the Iraq war is just obviously mysogynistic. And no amount of counter-quoting about his love of George Eliot’s prose will prove otherwise.

    Hitchens was simply a self aggrandizing twit who went from one fashion (Trotskyism) to another (Neo-con worship – and his authoritarian personality showed it on a number of occasions.

  55. says

    @Ophelia re: “The Nuanced Discussion” Very interesting discussion, and it seems we’re in agreement on what was actually my only point in commenting here.

    @Josh Ehhh…

    a) Calling something or someone “gay” or “Jew-y” in the context you’re talking about is using the generic name for an entire group of people and applying it specifically to something that is 1) a stereotype or 2) negative. This is blatantly homophobic and antisemitic because of that fact. If I were to call something viewed as negative “girly,” then, yes, I would say that would reveal at least some sexist attitudes. However, the word “bitch” is not a synonym for “woman” and therefore any sexism involved is of an entirely different character from your analogy.

    b) I can, in fact, use the term “gay” or “Jew”… though, honestly, I don’t know anyone who could use the term “Jew-y” seriously… maybe “Jewish.” I can actually call a person “gay,” for instance, because the person is gay. Or I can call a person “Jewish” when they’re actually Jewish. So… yeah.

    c) No, intent is not magic. That’s why I’ve said that I don’t endorse or encourage using such language, and find it completely inappropriate when in a public or professional setting. However, words are also not magic. If a person happens to use the word “bitch,” it may be inappropriate, but it does not magically make the person a sexist.

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