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Hey, Richard Dawkins! Women Aren’t Invisible

So stop treating us like we are.

Really, you only seem to notice women when you can use them to conveniently bludgeon religions. You’re super-concerned about how women are treated in the Muslim world because Islam. You call the Judeo-Christian god a “misogynistic…bully,” because hey, great point of attack, amirite? So women might get the idea you’re on their side, but when it counts, when we’re fighting against sexism and misogyny in the atheist community, you “Dear Muslima” us. When it comes to abortion rights, you’re more for pigs and parasites than you are women. You don’t see us, actual human beings with fundamental rights to bodily autonomy and respect. You see a rhetorical device. And you don’t even seem to be aware you’re doing it. I hope you’re not. I hope you’re not the kind of man who would deliberately erase a woman from the picture. But unintententional or no, that’s precisely what you’re doing.

How the religious right (and, later in pregnancy, Richard Dawkins) view pregnant women. All they can see is a fetus.

How the religious right (and, later in pregnancy, people like Richard Dawkins) view pregnant women. All they can see is a fetus.

Do you know who else erases women? The right-wing anti-abortion fanatics. They’re more thorough about it than you are, but you’re no slouch. I mean, look what happened when a woman tried to correct you on the fetuses-feel-pain thing:

You can see the full tweet stream, with awesome commentary, courtesy of Znikki at Storify. I encourage you to read the whole thing, because it is particularly relevant that Znikki sent actual scientific studies to correct Dawkins’ position and he ignored both her and the studies while responding to her husband.

Isn’t that interesting? I wonder why your eyes would edit out a female so easily. Oh, I’m certain you treat the women you know quite well, and you believe in equality and all that. You’re at least willing to grant a woman control over her body up until that mythical point when a fetus comes to feel pain, which is better than the anti-abortion zealots who banish women from the equation from the get-go, but you still have trouble with seeing women as complete, autonomous human beings. Your gaze slides right past them to the fetus parasitizing them, or the male they’re married to. Perhaps you should stop and ask yourself why that is.

You know what? I had to ask myself the same thing. Yeah, really. Even thought I’m a woman, I had a distressing tendency to fall for sexist tropes and erase my own gender from the picture. Good people brought me up short and forced me to reexamine certain of my assumptions. It wasn’t easy, but it’s easier than treating half the population on planet Earth as if they’re no more than incubators and rhetorical devices.

But I get it. I’m not being facetious: I really do get it. It’s hard. You’re a male, you’ve not got the anatomy necessary to ever be at risk for pregnancy. You don’t spend all day every day trying to avoid becoming a rape statistic. It’s hard to walk in other people’s shoes, I grant you that. So here’s a little thought exercise to help you out:

A fanatical Jain sect gains ground. One of their major beliefs is that killing parasites is murder. That sect controls nearly every aspect of the culture you live in. They support political parties and influence the laws of the land. You can’t escape their influence. And some of their ideas regarding parasites are pretty scary for anyone who could become infested.

  • The most radical ones say you can’t take medicine that would kill or evacuate parasite eggs before they implant.
  • Even the milder Jain sects say you must allow the parasite to mature within you, no matter how burdensome. Some make exceptions for life of the host, but in practice, hosts (that’s possibly you!) have died because doctors refuse to remove the parasites – even though not doing so means both the parasite and the person dies.
  • Many Jains think parasites are a consequence of fun activities such as swimming, and you should just accept the risks. If you don’t want to get a parasite, don’t go swimming. Oh, and refrain from eating most food, too. It’s your own fault if you eat food that hasn’t been completely checked for parasites, and end up having to host one.

Would you allow Jains to force you to carry parasites? Or would you fight them for control over your own body with everything you’ve got?

And how would you feel if a member of your secular community, a leading light, stood up and said, effectively, “Well, the Jains are wrong about forcing you to carry a parasite before it reaches a certain stage of development, but after that, parasites should not be removed. They can feel as much pain as an adult farm animal, therefore they should be allowed to grow.” How would you feel if that leader placed a parasite’s pain above your own, never even considered your pain as part of the equation - when that leader is immune to parasites and will never, ever have to face carrying one himself?

I doubt any of this will really get through to you, Richard. For you, it’s a thought experiment. For me and other uterus-bearing humans, it’s a distinct possibility. And we really don’t need men such as yourself coming along and throwing in with the make-pregnant-humans-invisible crowd, even partially. We’re fighting a hard enough battle without your misguided and flat-out wrong input.

I do hope you eventually take a moment to consider the fact that no other human beings are regularly forced to give up their bodily autonomy to have someone attached to and feeding from them for nine months. If you would refuse to have a person coupled with your body for an extended period of time, even to save their life; if you wouldn’t go into surgery today to donate half your liver or a kidney to an utter stranger who doesn’t even have a self-aware brain yet, much less the same hopes, dreams and plans that you do, why do you think you can blithely tell women to suck it up and give birth to a parasite? Pain is a ridiculous measure to go by. You’ll call me an absolutist, and think yourself superior for being otherwise, but I’m drawing the consequential line in a different place than you. I’m drawing it where the parasite is no longer physically attached. Then we can call it a baby. Then we can say that its life has equal worth, and that it must be cared for, if not by the birth mother then by someone else. Before that, all that matters is the person carrying it. That person can no longer be erased. Not by religious fanatics, not by social conservatives, and certainly not by you.

The whole picture is quite different, isn't it?

The whole picture is quite different, isn’t it?

Image badly modified by moi. Original here. Look, I’m no artist, m’kay?

Before you comment, read the policy. Know it. Respect it. Be aware I haven’t any patience with people who can’t see women, so if your comment erases women from the equation, elides important details, or in general annoys me, you won’t get through. There are some things not up for debate. Women’s status as full human beings is one of those.

Comments

    • says

      Me too, I went to one of his talks and I was super excited. But then the Dear Muslima and this whole fetus thing, and I am so dissappointed. I guess I had just assumed that he was a feminist, too :(

      • says

        Actually, if you go back to his book The God Delusion, he talks about Feminism, but with a sort of apologetic bent. He almost always includes caveats about how one may not agree with how feminists have “raise our consciousness”.

        I never noticed it until recently, but it’s become pretty clear ever since Dear Muslima and forward that, to Dawkins, feminism (and women in general) is a cudgel with which to bash religious people over the head and nothing more. This is really depressing for me, to be honest. I also thought he was a feminist, but obviously not…

  1. psanity says

    Very well put, Dana. I don’t suppose The Great and Powerful Oz will take any notice, though.

    Like others, I’m very disappointed with Richard Dawkins. Even in childhood, I’ve never had that child-like insistence that admired figures be perfect; I am content to admire people for their good qualities and accept the less-than-perfect in acknowledgement of their humanity. It became apparent, though, immediately subsequent to “Dear Muslima”, that Dawkins is not merely blind but willfully blind to misogyny in his own culture.

    I bought “The Greatest Show” (bargain table at B&N, what a find! so happy!) just before “Dear Muslima”. I just haven’t been motivated to read it, and even if I read it and thought it good and useful, I’d have difficulty recommending it, without a rather large disclaimer. Phooey upon him.

    [Dah! Preview is broken! May the FSM touch my miserable html-fu with his blessed noodly appendage.]

  2. stanbrooks says

    Thanks Dana for a well stated and easily understood article. I agree with psanity in that it is doubtful that the great and awesome RD would ever condescend to acknowledge these points. I recently asked Rebecca Watson, since they still often speak at the same conferences, how he reacts to her, and if he had ever acknowledged or apologized for any of his actions. She said he refuses to speak with her and will exit a room if she walks in. This is such childish behavior from someone who is so respected in the rational and secular communities, but unfortunately, not the exception by any means. I agree that I have never expected, or even wanted, those I respect to have anything but clay feet, but having all too human imperfections is one thing, refusing to acknowledge that one has them is a horse of quite a different color.

  3. rq says

    Thank you for this, Dana. What always impresses me about these people is their insistence that fetal pain is key – however, besides the bodily autonomy of women, they do not take into account the physical pain of the woman going through the pregnancy. The condition is accompanied by all sorts of dangerous and potentially fatal side effects, including (quite often) various types of pain on a daily basis (hip joints creaking, morning sickness, water retention and swollen ankles, bad back pain, to name a few more benign ones). So in their oh-so-wonderful equations, why do they not consider this as a bonus for the woman? (I almost wrote mother, but that implies this is a voluntary pregnancy that will not be terminated.) Why do they not see the woman as, say, bodily autonomy + maternal pain trumping fetal pain alone?
    (Besides, the fetal pain is transitory, as it is dying – the maternal pain lasts for nine months, and often continues after pregnancy to varying degrees. And yet this does not seem to matter.)
    Oh right.
    There’s no woman in the picture. (Or is it because it is woman’s natural lot to bear such pain in life because she is naturally a woman and must bear children through pain and she’s just so good at it that her pain can be ignored? But that sounds awfully biblical!! Remember Eve? And bearing children in pain? Maybe some of these high-talking atheists haven’t let go of all their religiouis biases after all.)
    Shame on them.

    • rq says

      PS Those are some stunning computer art skills. One for the desktop background! ;) The wide staring eyes are especially evocative. And yellow for the dress is a good choice… Oh wait, we’re not critiquing your art skills here? Fine then.
      (Cat says hi, by the way – I had a great Schrodinger’s pose from him, and I swear he saw the thought ‘I will send this to Dana!’ go through my head and scrammed. Sorry about that, I’ll think more quietly in future.)