Michael Nugent has a terrible, patronizing, let-me-fix-this post chastising Adam Lee for his article quoting Dawkins’s recent forays into anti-feminism. I’m very tired of Michael’s self-appointed let-me-fix-this posturing, and I was going to ignore the post, but then I saw on Twitter that Adam had responded so I clicked on the link, which turned out to be to a comment – a very good comment – on Michael’s post.
You said that you were going to address the question of where my article was “inaccurate”, but the majority of your article is a complaint about various choices of wording I made, the thrust of which is that it’s unfair for me to use emotive language in support of the conclusions I advocate. I reject this.
Over the last few years, I’ve seen some outstanding activists driven off the internet or out of the atheist movement entirely by torrents of horrendous harassment and threats. It’s an ugly silencing tactic, and it’s still going on: Rebecca Watson tweeted that she blocked or reported twelve abusive accounts yesterday. Not last month or last week, but yesterday. I believe that clueless, dismissive, or hostile remarks by prominent male atheists reward this behavior and encourage it to continue. Am I angry about that? Hell, yes! My words were chosen quite carefully to reflect that conclusion.
And that’s one reason Michael’s rush to defend Dawkins and Harris from the terrible verbal violence of a few feminist bloggers is so annoying. Atheoworld is already very comfortable and accommodating to Dawkins and Harris; it’s already full of worshipful guys worshiping them and scorning feminists who criticize them; it’s already deferential and flattering and soothing to them. They don’t need Michael’s help, but he rushes to give it anyway, stepping on us to do it.
The paragraph then refers to comments about thought police, click-bait for profit and fake outrage, which are not issues about sexism or feminism.
That couldn’t be more wrong. These are absolutely issues about sexism and feminism.
In context, what Dawkins was saying is that feminism is a non-issue, that the only reason people write about it and attack him or other atheists for allegedly sexist statements is that they’re acting in bad faith to drum up attention for themselves, or because they’re “outrage junkies” who simply enjoy getting angry over nothing.
As opposed to thinking his dismissive tweets about rape and his fawning tweets about Christina Hoff Sommers are calculated to put us in our place and to work up more rage from the enraged Macho Atheist Faction, and thus harmful to us (and to a larger and better atheist movement).
This is the same kind of demeaning, minimizing rhetoric that’s always used against people who argue for social-justice-based conclusions. It’s used against atheists ad nauseam, for example: that we’re thought police and outrage junkies who want to stop teachers from leading students in prayer, even though that’s a harmless historical tradition that no one ever complained about before. It’s an attempt to deny legitimacy to any criticism of harmful practices that are in accord with conventional wisdom.
But when Richard wrote about outrage in The God Delusion, he was responding to things like the Vatican police, in the nineteenth century, kidnapping Jewish children who had been secretly baptised by Catholic nursemaids. By contrast, when some people have recently expressed ‘outrage’ against Richard, it has been mostly about tweets on Twitter.
Michael, I hope you realize what you’re doing here. Whether you intended it or not, you’re saying that you’ve taken it upon yourself to decide which issues are or aren’t worthy of our attention, and you want to be accepted as the arbiter of what feminists should or shouldn’t get upset about. Even leaving aside the moral implications of a man talking down to feminists in this way, do you think this is a strategy that’s likely to meet with any success at all?
Exactly. Why is Michael taking it upon himself to decide which issues are or aren’t worthy of our attention, and to try to be accepted as the arbiter of what feminists should or shouldn’t get upset about? He’s not the boss of us. Why is he trying to be that?
I’m by no means the first to criticize Dawkins; plenty of prominent feminists and atheists have been explaining for years how certain of his remarks are untrue, hurtful, or founded in ignorance about the viewpoint and experiences of women. I guarantee those women could tell you that whenever Dawkins says something nasty about them, they get a noticeable uptick in harassment. His worse followers treat it as permission. His joint statement with Ophelia Benson was a welcome attempt to mitigate that, but it was years late, and in any case, I think whatever good it did has been mitigated by his more recent reversion to type – lashing out nastily at feminists by calling them dishonest, witch hunters, thought police, etc. Are those comments also “phrased to generate prejudice in readers”? Will you write a follow-up chiding Dawkins for using such language?
It was my suggestion that he could mitigate the harassment he had himself helped to justify. That part was my suggestion; it was his suggestion that we should sign it jointly. That was a good moment – I thought there really might be some hope of improved relations all around. I did. But it was only two days later that he embarked on the “let’s grade rape according to severity” tweets…and it was all downhill from there.
I think Adam’s reply is eloquent, and I think Michael’s officiousness is infuriating.