Dana’s advice for Coyne Dawkins and Harris

Dana Hunter has a brilliant post on all this. It draws on brilliance from Libby Anne and from Hiba Krisht, for a hat trick of brilliance.

I’d like to ask a favor of anyone who can manage to get a critical viewpoint through the defenses of atheist celebrities like Harris and Dawkins: please get them to read Libby Anne’s infuriating and heartbreaking post, Do They Care about Women, or Simply Bashing Religion? Because it’s a question they need to address. They’re driving people like Libby Anne away from movement atheism. That is very much to the detriment of the movement.

It most certainly is. And Libby Anne is very far from the only one they are driving away.

I don’t think they’re worried about this, by the way – I think they think they have all the good, clever, sensible, anti-PC people, and we’re just the frenzied ideological cultists. No, that’s not how it is.

Dana lists some of the ways she admires Libby Anne and goes to her for useful reading.

She’s made me aware of just how relentlessly even mainstream culture genders kids, well before they’re old enough to even have a concept of themselves as boy or girl or something else. She’s worth a thousand Richard Dawkinses or Sam Harrises to me. She could be a tremendous asset to any atheist organization.

She could, but movement atheism is too busy patronizing women and making sure we all get the impression that we’re only of use to our Fearless Leaders™ when we’re being used as a cudgel against religion, and she wants none of that.

It is men like these who confirm my decision not to engage in movement atheism. Despite their claims, I don’t see them displaying a greater willingness to question their biases or engage in critical thinking. Frankly, I have felt for some time that atheist activists are frequently only willing to call out sexism when they see it in religion. It’s one more way they can point to how thoroughly horrible religion is as they call for its demise. But the moment an atheist woman says she has encountered sexism at atheist conventions or at atheist gatherings, she is lampooned and derided, called all manner of names and even threatened with rape or death. But isn’t this the kind of thing these same atheists criticize religion for?

Frankly, I feel used. These atheist activists are the sort of people who want to use my story as proof that religion is horrible to women but aren’t willing to listen to what I have to say about sexism in our culture at large.

“Aren’t willing” is putting it mildly – start spitting poison at the very thought, is more like it.

We can tell when you don’t genuinely give a shit about us, and are only using us as a weapon against someone or something else. You think you’re amazing allies, because wow are you so brainy, and you say such wonderful things about how wrong those religious practices that fuck over women are, but when it comes to treating the women within your own movement better? You shriek and whine and shit all over us. You use the plight of those religious women against us, as if this is either/or, as if we cannot address sexism within western secular spaces until we’ve destroyed all the religion.


You need to start paying attention to the women who are telling you they are not yours to use. People like Hiba. Her comment on Libby Anne’s post needs to be etched onto atheist leader dude’s mirrors, where they’re forced to read the words every day, until they get it:

Ex-Muslim woman of color here. I blog about this stuff over at the Freethought Blogs. Your words are affirming. I too, feel used. Especially when the plights of women like me–women raised in Muslim-majority countries, forced to cover, controlled and abused by militant Islamist organizations and individuals–are appropriated and used to bolster anti-feminism in the West, to minimize battles against harassment and unequal representation. I refuse to have my story used to attack and demean other women. I refuse to have my story used as a talking point for hypocritical anti-theists.

See what I mean? A trifecta.

I seem to recall men looking round the atheist movement a few years ago and wondering where the women are. We’re right here, either outside the movement or heading for the doors, because we tried to come in, but you made the place so hostile many of us said fuck all y’all and walked out.

You, white male atheists who spend so much time screaming you’re not sexist that you can’t acknowledge when you’ve done sexist things and bloody well stop, are causing women to stomp out in disgust. Then you’re blaming us for not wanting to put up with your shit. It’s well past time you cut your pride down to size, swallowed some of it, and listened to what women are saying to you. Women like Hiba, and Libby Anne, and so very many others who’ve had it.

You want a strong, united movement? Then fix the problems you’ve caused. Until you do, I’ll just be hanging out here on this side of the Deep Rifts with the people who give an actual shit about women.

It is better over here. Way, way better.


  1. Al Dente says

    I’m over here, waving goodbye to Dawkins, Harris et al and tossing their books into the Deep Rifts.

  2. Dana Hunter says

    All the blushes. You know you’re one of the ones that got me to sit up and pay attention to what was going on, right, Ophelia? Soooo glad you and others didn’t shut up and didn’t back down. It’s good to be on this side of the Rift, and hopefully Sally will have a better world because of people like you and her mom and Hiba.

  3. says

    Every fucking day I am more and more ashamed that I got Dawkins’ autograph on God Delusion and Greatest Show.

    But that’s largely canceled out by the pride I feel being over here, on this side of the ever-deepening, ever-widening rift with people like Dana, and Libby Anne, and Hiba, and Greta, and PZ, and Miri, and you, Ophelia, and so many others. I am quite confident that I’m on the right side… the good side… of the rift, because I’m on the side that cares about people because it’s the decent thing to do, not because caring about people can be used as a cudgel to bash religion… and I love bashing religion.

  4. says

    It’s funny because my internet name is more common than my real one. I wanted to tell my cashier last week, “Oh I’m Sally too, just only on the internet!” But that would be weird.

  5. Athywren says

    It’s funny, I used to get so annoyed with those people who criticise skeptics, saying that we should be skeptical of ourselves too. I always thought, ‘but hey! We are skeptical of ourselves too! That’s the main value of skepticism!’ But they really have a valid criticism there. So many of us seem determined not to look in the mirror with our skeptic goggles on. The sad thing is that I never realised it until relatively recently. It was only when I was introduced to the “groupthink blogs”/Thunderf00t thing by my token MRA friend… acquaintance… dude I barely ever speak to anymore, that I realised there was a serious self-criticism fail in the movement.
    I can’t help but remember that trite little comment about how, whenever you point a finger at someone, you’ve got three fingers pointing back at you… it’s weird how they’re so quick to notice misogyny in religion, but can’t recognise it in themselves. Maybe they think misogyny only counts if you have commandments to stone women?

  6. Athywren says

    Just reading through the linked article now…

    No, it’s all effaced by a few remarks that can be twisted into accusations of sexism and, yes, misogyny, which is “hatred of women.”
    These men do not hate women, and their opponents are ideologues.

    Is it just me, or is that just a repackaged version of the, “I can’t be a homophobe – I’m not afraid of gay people,” defence?

  7. 2kittehs says

    Athywren @8

    Maybe they think misogyny only counts if you have commandments to stone women?

    I’d say it’s just as likely they don’t give a damn about women, or misogyny; it’s exactly what the title of Dana’s post says.

    When they want to bash religion, misogyny is a convenient cudgel. But religious misogyny, especially by those brown people, is a convenient cudgel for telling feminists to shut up, as with Dear Muslima.

    My conclusion? They have at least as much contempt for women as they do for religion, or, essentially, for anyone who isn’t one of their approved type of atheist white dude. I won’t be surprised if the MRA two-dot ellipsis starts showing up in their writing eventually (We Hunted the Mammoth joke for anyone wondering what the heck that meant).

  8. Phillip Hallam-Baker says

    Dawkins and Harris are two very different problems.

    Dawkins looked pretty good in the pre-Internet age. Most folk only saw him on stage or read his books and articles. All very controlled media. Like a movie camera the audience sees exactly what the director wants them to see. And most folk in the atheist/skeptic movement were more than happy to see him bashing religion and the church.

    When the Selfish Gene was published in 1976, the Church of England was above reproach. The idea that religion could be anything but a positive force could never be discussed in public. Then the establishment overplayed their hand with their ludicrous response to The Life of Brian. The Python’s attack was petty much a hit and run attack but by then the press had found Dawkins and he was always ready to give good copy and clearly enjoyed provoking public anger.

    The view of Dawkins as the fearless underdog against the religious establishment was the one most people saw and the one widely discussed. But it wasn’t the only view of him even then. Being at Oxford when Dawkins was teaching there, people who knew him said that he wrote really well but he was pretty nasty in person. Nobody ever qualified the statement with ‘at times’.

    Fast forward to the Internet age and Dawkins could try to control his camera but he doesn’t. He goes on Twitter and issues 140 character nastygrams. I suspect there are rather more celebrity careers being broken on Twitter than made. Trying to be provocative in 140 characters is a risky move at the best of times. It is a really bad idea if like Dawkins your celebrity status is based on a misunderstanding. And the fact about Dawkins is that he isn’t really into bashing religion, he is just into bashing anything that brings him attention.

    Bashing religion doesn’t bring him enough attention any more so he bashes the movement. And especially anyone who he feels threatens his position as a rival. So he attacked Stephen Jay Gould for getting evolution ‘wrong’. And then when he felt his position threatened by Rebecca Watson he sicks the Internet rage squad on her with ‘Dear Muslima’. And Dawkins problem is not just that he is sloppy with where he directs the camera. The bigger difference is that he is not the only person with a camera.

    Yes, I did make the attempt to talk Dawkins out of his tree back then. I have no idea if the message even arrived, let alone made a difference. But I did think it worth attempting to avoid a rift. And I also rather suspected that Dawkins was not going to change is position unless it was mansplained to him. He did apologize but only for what he said. I don’t think he acknowledged let alone apologized for the blacklisting.

    At this point I see Dawkins as a liability and not an asset. He is a silent screen actor who is trying to make it in the sound era. And worse, he is oblivious to the change. He might climb down and apologize for defending rapists but it won’t be very long before he does it again. Another liability is the Elm Guest House scandal that is about to break in the UK and almost certainly take the libel laws and superinjunctions with it. Any member of the establishment who has been accused of closing ranks to protect a rapist is going to be fair game.

    So for Dawkins it is really time to build a wall and put the boiling oil on to heat up.

    Harris is rather different. First he is an example of an atheist who isn’t a skeptic, or at least not a very good one. Like Christopher Hitchens or Jeremy Clarkson he is extremely clever and sharp witted. And this allows him to win arguments without really having to think much about the subjects he is arguing about.

    And when he started arguing about estrogen vibes it quickly became apparent that he has never really considered what he was saying. And so pretty soon he was saying that more men read his books than women because men are cleverer. And because he is an intellectual dilettante, he still does not realize what he said.

    The difference between Dawkins and Harris is the difference between Larry Summers and Richard Lindsay. Summers and Lindsay both gave essentially the same idiot speech in front of a ‘women in’ conference. There was however one very big difference that made the Summers speech much worse. Summers was asking why there are so few women in academia and proposing some sexist theories when the main reason only 4 out of 32 tenure offers had gone to women during his appointment was that Summers had vetoed female applicants and gone outside the department hiring process to personally recruit professors, all of whom were male.

    Dawkins and Summers acted on their sexism. If you want to throw other folk into the Deep rift, that is the test to apply. Throw Dawkins overboard for the blackballing and ‘Dear Muslima’. And given the storm that is brewing, best do it in a form that limits the harm.

  9. SF says

    Phillip, Dawkins is 73. It is only a matter of time before he reduces his public engagements and fades into the sunset. He will be remembered chiefly for the Selfish Gene a popular expression of Hamilton’s kins selection as well as the concept of the meme and less for atheism in the long run. Harris will obtain Nirvana and leave the skeptical movement, else he’ll join a special forces OP to fight radical jihadists.

  10. screechymonkey says

    Philip H-B@11,

    Interesting points. I sort of laughed, though, at “And then when he felt his position threatened by Rebecca Watson” because, with no disrespect to Watson intended, that seems like such a stretch given the huge difference in their public profiles especially at that time.

    That doesn’t mean you’re wrong — it’s possible that he felt that way even though it was an unwarranted fear (those pesky emotions!) — but as to that aspect of things I’m more inclined to accept the theory that he was riding to the perceived defense of Paula Kirby.

  11. yazikus says

    The difference between Dawkins and Harris is the difference between Larry Summers and Richard Lindsay

    Phillip, very interesting post. I did wonder however, if you mean Ronald Lindsay here?

  12. tuibguy says

    The thing is that they have defined feminism in a way suits their world view. They are cool with women in the workplace, etc. But their feminism has its limits. Anyone who steps outside those limits is a rad fem. Or a white knight. I almost spit out my coffee when DJ Grothe told me in a contentious thread that he is a feminist until I realized that he was using the same word, but he had a different meaning.

  13. thetalkingstove says


    Is it just me, or is that just a repackaged version of the, “I can’t be a homophobe – I’m not afraid of gay people,” defence?

    Pretty much. The anti-feminist side seems to refuse to consider anything as misogyny unless it’s a man jumping up and down shouting “I HATE WOMEN!”

    Actually, even then they’d probably just claim the man was mentally ill, before they admitted the existence of sexism.

  14. Phillip Hallam-Baker says


    Has anyone ever said Dawkins sets a high bar when choosing targets?

    But FWIW, I made the same comment back in the elevatorgate days. There were only two plausible explanations for Dawkin’s response. One of them was that he was feeling threatened by a future rival.

    I am paid to do public speaking. I gave the keynote at Comdex Brazil once. OK so they did decide to stop doing Comdex shortly after but nobody has ever said it was only my speech. It was obvious to me when I first saw the Evo-Psych videos that Rebecca was going to be doing the keynote circuit in the future.

    @Yazikus, yes, Roland. Bloody dyslexia. Did I mention I made the worlds biggest spelling mistake ever?

  15. rorschach says

    but as to that aspect of things I’m more inclined to accept the theory that he was riding to the perceived defense of Paula Kirby

    Where did she disappear to, anyway? Haven’t heard from her in ages.

  16. darththulhu says

    There is one big difference between Dawkins and Harris.

    Dawkins is often ludicrously out of his depth, saying absurd and ridiculous and highly self-negating things. He’s always been this way. When he confines himself to actual evolutionary biology, he’s solid. The moment he writes about anything else, especially theology or politics, he immediately makes ridiculous swiss-cheese arguments that don’t sustain any real scrutiny, but he sticks to them.

    Harris usually knows most of what he’s writing about, and has thought it through decently well, but he refuses to acknowledge that other people can truly come to different conclusions from the same data, or hear statements other than in the tight. precise way he intends them to be heard. This leads to endless cycles of pedantry and horn-locking and digging into very extreme positions with little human warmth. #TestosteroneVibe

    Of the two, Dawkins has never been a net asset for anti-theist argument. The God Delusion is a (deserved) laughingstock to anyone with any theology background, just as much as his political opinions are (deservedly) a laughingstock to anyone thinking them through. In the long term, he will be remembered as a competent evolutionary biologist and a hack philosopher and a loathesome political figure. Comparing him and Hitchens to writers like Lewis, Bonhoeffer, and Chesterton is not going to reflect well on the relevant chops of the relevant writers.

    By comparison, Harris will at least still be worth reading in 50 years. Unlike anything theological that Dawkins or Hitchens ever wrote, An End to Faith raises some tough and well-thought-through questions that any coherent theist will be much better for having been exposed to, regardless of whether or not they remain theists at the end of the reading. Harris doesn’t make the arguments of anti-theists seem laughably ill-informed and poorly reasoned on their face.

    Unfortunately, Harris is constantly convinced that he has offered 100% proofs that no one can correctly disagree with, when at best he’s offered 80% proofs that require a huge number of assumpion leaps. And when he pedantically digs in, he often “wins” by reducing his opponents to spluttering tantrums and ad hominems … rather than by engaging and truly defeating the best of their arguments by their assumptions, rather than his.

    In the present cases, Dawkins is just digging himself deeper and making anti-theists look more foolish; while Harris is “winning” by making most of his opponents look ridiculous and engaged in bad faith argument and himself unempathetically Vulcanoid, tarnishing the entire anti-theist image in the process.

  17. SF says

    Harris isn’t as good a writer as you make him out to be. His arguments especially in The Moral Landscape are laughable, and I I doubt would earn even a passing grade in an introductory moral philosophy class.

  18. freemage says

    We can tell when you don’t genuinely give a shit about us, and are only using us as a weapon against someone or something else. You think you’re amazing allies, because wow are you so brainy, and you say such wonderful things about how wrong those religious practices that fuck over women are, but when it comes to treating the women within your own movement better? You shriek and whine and shit all over us. You use the plight of those religious women against us, as if this is either/or, as if we cannot address sexism within western secular spaces until we’ve destroyed all the religion.


    Put this way, it also reminds me of the arguments made by white hipster men involved in the Occupy protests, who insisted that any discussion of women’s rights, or even of actual harassment issues in the protest camps themselves, be put on hold until the class system was sufficiently dismantled, because once capitalism fell, naturally there’d be no more sexism or racism anyway.


    One of the painful ironies in all of this is that so much of Dawkins’ behavior reminds me very precisely of the behavior described by none other than C. S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters, where titular senior devil suggests fomenting discord by guiding the client (ie, the mortal being tempted by the junior devil Screwtape is advising) to automatically read every possible negative connotation and subtext into his mother’s speech, while insisting that his own be taken absolutely at literal face value, with no mind to context whatsoever.

  19. Maureen Brian says

    Sorry, darththulhu @ 19, I’m not buying your assessment of Sam Harris.

    The man is supposed to be a neuroscientist yet, when asked a perfectly reasonable question he repeats the long disproved notion of inherent difference and then a wholly new hypothesis – the oestrogen vibe. By the way, did you know that the oestrogen vibe is now available as a comic song?

    So part of the immediate response was a whole load of people asking to see the evidence. Did he provide any? Nah! He doubled down and whined a whole load more of his unsupportable nonsense. Aren’t scientists supposed to value evidence and know how to find it?

    It is not as though this “Why are there fewer women?” question is a new one. It has been repeatedly asked and frequently answered over several years. In fact I date the question to a comic novel by G B Shaw, first published in 1887 – long enough, don’t you think? Harris is just another bloke who refused to listen to the answers and so finds himself caught out. Tough!

  20. leni says

    …titular senior devil

    Sorry. I need to pause a moment here to laugh my ass off XD

    Ok, band name jokes aside, that was really an awesome comparison, freemage, well done.

  21. throwaway, butcher of tongues, mauler of metaphor says

    My biggest regret in life is that one time Dawkins retweeted me. I should really go back and delete that one…

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