Adam Lee sums up the most recent outbreaks at Comment is Free.
He was, like me, a big fan of Dawkins. Now? Not so much.
Neither of us just plunged into this not so much state randomly or on a whim, nor did we do so as an exciting new way to draw attention to ourselves. It had to do with reasons, with things he said and did.
But over the last few months, Dawkins showed signs of détente with his feminist critics – even progress. He signed a joint letter with the writer Ophelia Benson, denouncing and rejecting harassment; he even apologized for the “Dear Muslima” letter. On stage at a conference in Oxford in August, Dawkins claimed to be a feminist and said that everyone else should be, too.
I had my doubts about that last item, to be honest, because I was pretty sure he meant a very limited, conservative, Sommersesque brand of “feminism” there, the kind that is good with formal equality but appalled by any attempts to dispel stereotypes or improve attitudes and even behavior. His recent tweets on the subject have confirmed that.
Then another prominent male atheist, Sam Harris, crammed his foot in his mouth and said that atheist activism lacks an “estrogen vibe” and was “to some degree intrinsically male”. And, just like that, the brief Dawkins Spring was over.
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.
For good measure, Dawkins argued that rape victims shouldn’t be considered trustworthy if they were drinking.
He also spelled out that it was Freethought Blogs specifically that he was accusing of all this – the network that includes Maryam Namazie, Taslima Nasreen, Tauriq Moosa, Kaveh Mousavi, Hiba Krisht, Avicenna, Nirmukta, Yemi Ilesanmi, etc etc etc.
Benson, with whom Dawkins had signed the anti-harassment letter just weeks earlier, was not impressed. “I’m surprised and, frankly, shocked by Richard’s belligerent remarks about feminist bloggers over the past couple of days,” she told me. “Part of what made The God Delusion so popular was, surely, its indignant bluntness about religion. It was a best-seller; does that mean he ‘faked’ his outrage?”
I still would really like to know the answer to that question. I would really like to know why it’s all right for him to be provocative but it’s just cynical money-seeking in people who criticize him.
On other occasions, Dawkins himself has emphasized the importance of awakening people to injustice and mistreatment they may have overlooked. But when it comes to feminism, he’s steadfastly refused to let his own consciousness be raised. Instead, he clings to his insular and privileged viewpoint – and, worse, he’s creating the impression that “true” atheists all share his retrograde attitudes.
Thus helping to ensure that atheism and secularism will remain divided and weak.