The atheist movement – a loosely-knit community of conference-goers, advocacy organizations, writers and activists – has been wracked by infighting the last few years over its persistent gender imbalance and the causes of it. Many female atheists have explained that they don’t get more involved because of the casual sexism endemic to the movement: parts of it see nothing problematic about hosting conferences with all-male speakers or having all-male leadership – and that’s before you get to the vitriolic and dangerous sexual harassment, online and off, that’s designed to intimidate women into silence.
Is that it? That’s not a lie. There are people who think that, and say so – and there certainly is vitriolic and dangerous sexual harassment, online and off. It is designed to intimidate women into silence – many of the people who engage in it say so, regularly.
Richard Dawkins has involved himself in some of these controversies, and rarely for the better – as with his infamous “Dear Muslima” letter in 2011, in which he essentially argued that, because women in Muslim countries suffer more from sexist mistreatment, women in the west shouldn’t speak up about sexual harassment or physical intimidation. There was also his sneer at women who advocate anti-sexual harassment policies.
That? I followed the links, and it looks like a fair cop to me.
On Twitter these last few days, Dawkins has reverted to his old, sexist ways and then some. He’s been very busy snarling about how feminists are shrill harridans who just want an excuse to take offense, and how Harris’s critics (and his own) are not unlike thought police witch-hunter lynch mobs. Dawkins claimed that his critics are engaged in “clickbait for profit”, that they “fake outrage”, and that he wished there were some way to penalize them.
Ah maybe that’s it – the shrill harridans bit. I did notice that the first time through. I haven’t seen Dawkins say that…I’ve only seen him imply it.
Or maybe it’s this passage?
What’s so frustrating, from the standpoint of the large and growing non-religious demographic, is that Dawkins is failing badly to live up to his own standards. As both an atheist and a scientist, he should be the first to defend the principle that no one is above criticism, and that any idea can be challenged, especially an idea in accord with popular prejudices. Instead, with no discernible sense of irony, Dawkins is publicly recycling the bad arguments so often used against him as an atheist: accusing his critics of being “outrage junkies” who are only picking fights for the sake of notoriety; roaring about “thought police” as though it were a bad thing to argue that someone is mistaken and attempt to change their mind; scoffing that they’re “looking for excuses to be angry” as though the tone of the argument, rather than its factual merits, were the most important thing; encouraging those who are targets of criticism to ignore it rather than respond.
There are certainly no lies there. I could find chapter and verse for each one.
Adam has requested elucidation; it will be interesting to see if any is forthcoming.