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Richard Dawkins Apologizes for “Dear Muslima”

Content note: mentions of childhood sexual abuse, trivialization of childhood sexual abuse.

There should be no rivalry in victimhood, and I’m sorry I once said something similar to American women complaining of harassment, inviting them to contemplate the suffering of Muslim women by comparison.
-Richard Dawkins

Richard DawkinsRichard Dawkins has apologized for “Dear Muslima” — his infamous comment belittling American women in general and Rebecca Watson in particular for speaking out about sexist behavior, on the grounds that sexism and misogyny in Islamist theocracies is so much worse.

The apology is easy to miss. I missed it myself the first time. It’s buried in the final paragraph of an otherwise obnoxious piece that once again snidely straw-mans his critics. (No, Professor Dawkins, nobody said that you had to experience your molestation as the worst thing that ever happened to you. Everyone I’ve read who’s criticized your comments on this subject has great compassion for you as a target of childhood sexual abuse; and yes, you absolutely get to assess for yourself how harmful that experience was. We criticized you for belittling OTHER PEOPLE’S sexual abuse. We criticized you for insisting that when it comes to sexual abuse, you personally know what the objective gradation of badness is for OTHER PEOPLE. We criticized you for commenting on this supposed objective gradation of OTHER PEOPLE’S abuse based purely on your own experience and opinions — with no apparent knowledge of the extensive research showing that the factors contributing to the degree of harm caused by sexual abuse are numerous, complicated, and often highly subjective. We criticized you for condemning physical and sexual abuse in religious cultures, while inconsistently rationalizing the physical and sexual abuse of OTHER PEOPLE as well as yourself, saying it was just the culture of the time and place. We criticized you for belittling OTHER PEOPLE’S sexual abuse. OTHER PEOPLE. Citation; citation; citation; citation. Sheesh.)

So. All that being said:

Richard Dawkins has apologized for “Dear Muslima.”

Finally. It took three years, but Richard Dawkins has openly acknowledged that it is reasonable for American feminists to complain about harassment, even though women in many other countries experience sexism and misogyny in far worse forms. He has openly acknowledged that it was wrong for him to say otherwise. It’s sad that this should be news, but it is. And although I’m not thrilled with the fact that he buried this apology at the end of a pile of muck — that’s rather insensitive, given the years of toxic shit feminist women have dealt with since he poured that tanker of gasoline onto a forest fire — I, for one, am nevertheless going to accept the apology. Apologies are hard to make, and people often make them awkwardly, and I don’t like to refuse to accept them just because they’re less than ideal. Y’all, of course, can follow your own consciences on that. (For the record, although the apology was not personally made to Rebecca Watson — the original target of “Dear Muslima” — and did not mention her by name, she has accepted the apology. Her exact words: “Richard Dawkins just did the blog-equivalent of coughing into his hand while mumbling “sorry” to me. Eh I’ll take it”)

I’m not holding my breath for Dawkins to suddenly become super-awesome on the subject of feminism or social justice generally. His recent behavior is not filling me with optimism. But given how much furor was sparked by “Dear Muslima,” and how often the sexist jerks in atheism cite it and the fallacious ideas behind it, I’m happy that Dawkins has finally retracted it. The absurd notions that the only forms of sexism worth fighting are the most extreme forms, that the only valid feminism is the fight against misogyny in Islamist theocracies, that sexism and misogyny in the Western world are trivial or non-existent and anyone speaking out about them is just whining — these are way too commonly held, especially among the sexist douchebros in the atheist community. I’m hoping that Dawkins’ apology, and his acknowledgment that it’s valid for American feminists to talk about American sexism, will trickle down. I’ll echo Rebecca Watson here: I’ll take it.

Comments

  1. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    I mentioned over at Ophelias that it struck me as backhanded but it also seems to be unprovoked. There’s no currently ongoing firestorm regarding making it sound like he’s only saying it because he’s got a publicist hissing in his ear that his book sales are going to suffer if he doesn’t offer some kind of sop to the hysterical masses. It reads to me as if something people have been saying actually clicked for him. Which is good.

  2. Konradius says

    I have noted before that his ‘dear muslima’ remarks are doubly ‘valid’ when applied to Dawkins own hobby horse of religion critisism. What also bothers me is that for someone who complains of ‘too emotional’ responses Dawkins himself responds pretty emotionally (‘witch hunts’?).
    Hypocrisy, isn’t that even worse when applicable to a self-professed skeptic?

  3. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @ ^ Konradius : Yes – but then who isn’t emotional and who doesn’t have blind spots of their own? We’re all fallible, me, you and Dawkins alike.

    I’m glad Richard Dawkins has apologised for his ‘Dear Muslima’ thing especially when it had seemed he was digging a deeper hole on this issue. it is a good and hopeful sign and I respect him more for it.

  4. Ganner says

    He also just retweeted a link with tagline: “Watch smart, liberal psych prof demolish the “rape culture” crusade.Wow!”

  5. Anthony K says

    “Watch smart, liberal psych prof demolish the “rape culture” crusade.Wow!”

    You won’t believe how this one weird trick makes a prominent atheist sound like a Buzzfeed article. English professors hate him!

  6. Konradius says

    @StevoR: The difference is hypocrisy: I do not see having and using emotions as a problem. Dawkins professes to do so. I also have never complained about getting criticism that I then 3 years later accept as valid. While at the same time getting similar criticism that I dismiss as bizarre.
    He is still digging holes. I am glad though he’s filling the ones up that he made 3 years ago…

  7. says

    “I’m sorry for belittling the sexual harassment American women are protesting. Please excuse me while I applaud someone else belittling American women for raising consciousness about how our culture provides a welcome environment for rapists and predators.” -Richard Dawkins

  8. says

    I’ll echo Rebecca Watson here: I’ll take it.

    I wish I thought it mattered in the slightest to Dawkins whether any of us are willing to “take it” or not. But I’m pretty firmly convinced that it doesn’t. I guess that means I don’t take it.

  9. chrisdevries says

    While I do not in any way believe that Dawkins will stop saying stupid shit on Twitter and generally putting his foot in it, it is encouraging that he is both admitting he made a mistake and apologising for it. That shows that he is not immune to the rational arguments of those who criticise him and that he may be starting to see some of the blind spots he has, biases and predilections that have never before been challenged because he has an immense amount of privilege in our culture. I count this as a small victory, and as a sign that we need to keep challenging him and others who, for better or (usually) worse, have a much larger platform in our community than anyone else, so that he becomes a better representative of atheism. Ideally, no one person should be perceived by the general public to speak for a diverse group of individuals who rarely agree on everything, but we have to acknowledge that the founding authors of the 21st century anti-theist movement are perceived to speak for us all, and therefore it is rational to try and mold them into better representatives (while expanding the range of “voices of atheism” so that the general public sees our true nature as a bunch of people brought together by the fact that we are godless heathens, but who differ in opinion on basically everything else).

    Incidentally, this is one area where I think we have an advantage over other cultural groups – at least in theory, we value evidence and rational discourse, and therefore when an atheist/skeptic is presented with well-reasoned arguments that s/he is wrong, there should be no shame in admitting this and changing one’s mind. That’s what good scientists do. Everyone’s wrong on occasion, so encouraging people to be open to the idea that they are being misled by their unexamined bias – that they could be wrong – and reacting without judgement and scorn when someone like Dawkins actually says so, should be part and parcel with the way skeptics roll.

  10. says

    “Watch smart, liberal psych prof demolish the “rape culture” crusade.Wow!”

    another re-tweet of Hoff Summers, of course.

    I’ve not watched the video, but let me just point out that rape culture is a sociological phenomenon, not a psychological one. A psych prof has as little relevant authority on this as a meteorologist does on climate science.

  11. Jeff S says

    There was certainly an overreaction on the part of many of Rebecca Watson’s supporters to the “Elevatorgate” incident. Rebecca of course had every right to interpret the incident as sexist and react the way she did. I think it simply rubbed a lot of men the wrong way when people started painting atheistic men with such a broad negative brush in response.

    Richard Dawkins, instead of ignoring the online commenters who were getting a bit carried away, stooped to their level and delivered the inflamatory “Dear Muslima” letter. His intention was very likely to say that he felt the reaction to the incident was a bit overboard, but instead ended up belittling women’s issues in the western world.

    I’m glad that he has apologized, and surprised he didn’t apologize at the time. It wasn’t a good idea for him to weigh in publicly on what should have been a minor issue in the first place, instead he only stoked the flames.

  12. says

    As I was not wronged, it is not my apology to accept.

    The apology comes off as sincere, but confused. That is, he does finally recognize that his intentions three years ago went badly awry, but he doesn’t seem to feel any particular way about it. This may simply reflect a degree of success at purging himself of the demon Emotion, but in that case success will mean dooming himself to giving apologies that ring hollow, at least to me. He also doesn’t seem to see the connection between the effect of his behavior and the behavior itself — he can plainly see it had the effect it had, but he doesn’t seem to know why, nor to care to find out. Now, to me, an element of an apology is declaring an intent to stop doing whatever it is, but if you don’t see how you did it in the first place, it’s difficult to do that.

  13. Greta Christina says

    There was certainly an overreaction on the part of many of Rebecca Watson’s supporters to the “Elevatorgate” incident. Rebecca of course had every right to interpret the incident as sexist and react the way she did. I think it simply rubbed a lot of men the wrong way when people started painting atheistic men with such a broad negative brush in response.

    Richard Dawkins, instead of ignoring the online commenters who were getting a bit carried away…

    Jeff S @ #12: Citation needed.

    Seriously. Can you please cite three examples of people who overreacted, got a bit carried away, or painted atheistic men with a broad negative brush in response to Rebecca Watson saying “Guys, don’t do that”? It’s hard to respond to this without know what exactly you think constitutes overreacting, getting carried away, or painting with too broad a brush.

  14. Bernard Bumner says

    Jeff S – I think you’re equivocating and forgetting that what prompted the robust response from Watson’s supporters was the flaming vitriol that was directed towards them and her when people tried to explain why she was “right to interpret the incident as sexist and react the way she did”. There was no overreaction: there was a passionate and angry response towards flaming misogynists and their apologists; towards ableist remarks that suggested this might be a result of ASD; towards victim-blamers who thought that “don’t do that” was an offensive response; towards people dripping in privilege who could not understand that they have no right to proposition women.

    I think it simply rubbed a lot of men the wrong way when people started painting atheistic men with such a broad negative brush in response.

    This has been claimed for while now, and it simply didn’t happen. Actually, the fallout from Watson sharing her experience and Dawkins’ Dear Muslima response was one of the catalysts for the much wider discussion of general harassment problems, and disclosure beyond those individuals who were quietly warning others of specific threats from active creeps within the movement. Before that, there was much less online discussion of the issues surrounding the various Cons and the organised community.

    Richard Dawkins, instead of ignoring the online commenters who were getting a bit carried away, stooped to their level and delivered the inflamatory “Dear Muslima” letter.

    You make it sound as though this was a misjudgement, rather than a deliberate and articulate expression of an entirely offensive opinion.

    His intention was very likely to say that he felt the reaction to the incident was a bit overboard…

    Don’t minimise what he said quite clearly; that these problems of Western women were trivial compared to those of women in the Muslim world. That is what he has apologised for, and your subtle reinterpretation fails to acknowledge that.

  15. Great American Satan says

    What would be an overreaction to THIS? Shooting into a crowd of atheist dudebros at random? Because I’m fairly sure she hasn’t done that.

  16. speed0spank says

    If only he could follow up one of these nice acts by not immediately renewing his douche cred.

  17. nunraper says

    Being offended by everything is the exact opposite of being empowered. You women must live in hell,

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