A critical point for many people

This is great. It starts with a powerful, inspirational talk by Dawkins in 2006, that changed a lot of minds about religion and related subjects.

That speech was a critical point for a great many people, spurring them to read TGD and other atheist books, to reevaluate their beliefs and to ask questions they’d not asked before – to seek answers they mightn’t have even known were possible to find. Perspectives were changed, as was the social landscape of the internet, not to mention many “real” communities: homes, towns, perhaps countries.

Now, the blogger says, Dawkins needs that kind of experience himself.

First, he needs to talk to educated people about what comprises “real” feminism and stop assaulting this invented (or at least overblown) “radical” kind other people (chiefly anti-feminists, oddly enough – hardly unbiased sources) appear to be telling him is dominated by shrieking anti-sex harpies (I say “other people are telling him” because he certainly doesn’t seem to be applying his own intellect or investigative skills to the issue). Dawkins is well-acquainted with hysterical accusations of militancy and stridency just for having the audacity to be publicly critical of religion and its effects; he should try to empathise with feminists who receive precisely the same type of mistreatment from his ostensible brothers and sisters in atheist advocacy.

That would be nice. That would be such an excellent change.

Second, Dawkins needs to ask himself “What if I’m wrong?”. What if he’s wrong about feminism, about rape culture, about the at-least very creepy behaviour of skeptic luminary Michael Shermer, about poster-child for misogynist fear and loathing, Rebecca Watson (her “page-o-hate” hasn’t been updated since May ’13 but rest assured the loathing hasn’t stopped; just check her twitter mentions) and about pretty much everything he’s tweeted about regarding feminism since “Dear Muslima” (which he did apologise for)? And he needs to ask properly, the same way he would if he was investigating some scientific phenomenon he didn’t understand – because it’s very likely he does not understand either feminism or the nature of the complaints against atheist/skeptic culture’s obvious woman problem right now.

Dawkins is already on public record with Ophelia Benson decrying threatening and abusive language and behaviour between atheists and secularists. This is of course a good (and long overdue) thing, but it’s not only a no-brainer to oppose that kind of incandescent hatred, it’s addressing the very pointiest and most extreme example of the sexist and misogynist treatment that feminist atheists and skeptics experience every day, online and in person, in many forms and at varying intensities. Dawkins should converse further with Ophelia and other atheist feminists about the real nature of the sexism problem within organised skepticism (not to mention the further problem of delayed, insufficient, flippant, insulting, rank-closing organisational and leadership responses to it).

That would, indeed, be good. I don’t see it happening now, because he seems way too dug in, but it would be good.

Basically I guess I just think the whole project is broken, permanently. The feminists hate the anti-feminists and vice versa, and we’re stuck with it.


  1. says

    Thanks Ophelia. My post was more a “wouldn’t it be great if…?” and a frustration-vent more than a realistic hope. I’m inclined to agree with you that the project is indeed broken and that the deep rifts will (and, I think, should) remain as they are. Only a critical mass of thoughtful atheists conscious of social justice will change this culture and that will take (more) time; even if Dawkins did recant tomorrow, as it were, his problematic views on feminism (which would be great if for no other reason than the MRAs and assorted anti-fem rage-bloggers™ would no longer have his implicit approval), the deep problems in atheist/skeptic culture would remain.

  2. Beth says

    Interesting. My take on Dawkins is he treats feminists exactly the way he treats Christians and makes statements that imply his assumptions about their belief, moral values and intelligence of an average individual member are based on the most extreme and cringe-inducing members of the group. His ‘Dear Muslima’ letter seemed wholly in character to me.

  3. arthur says

    As one who helped to create and inspire the global atheist community, Dawkins owes it to that community and to himself to honestly examine his prejudices and misunderstandings regarding what appears to be one of global atheism’s last and biggest hurdles.

    Great paragraph, that.

    Good article, thanks.

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