Sam Harris has posted his response to objections to his claims about women in atheism.
He doesn’t start well. The title is not propitious.
I’m Not the Sexist Pig You’re Looking For
Not good. Why assume we’re “looking for” sexism? Why dismiss our objections from the outset by assuming that we wanted to find them, for some evil purpose? And then the pig part is outdated, and dismissive. He’ll be complaining about political correctness next.
Also? He illustrated it.
But onward. What did he say? He recaps what he said and then comments.
“I think it may have to do with my person[al] slant as an author, being very critical of bad ideas. This can sound very angry to people… People just don’t like to have their ideas criticized. There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women,” he said. “The atheist variable just has this—it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”
It is a measure of the ridiculous paranoia engendered by political correctness that in the second it took me to make that joke about my sex appeal, I worried whether my assuming that most women are heterosexual would offend some number of lesbians in the audience.
Oh look, he actually does talk about political correctness! I thought I was kidding.
He says the reporter pretty much set him up, which may be true. Allowances for that.
Let me be clear about what I was trying to say (and actually do believe):
1. I started by claiming that my readership seems more male than female. And when I shifted to speaking about atheists as a group, I was referring to active atheists—that is, the sort of people who go to atheist conferences, read atheist books, watch atheists debate pastors on YouTube, or otherwise rally around atheism as a political identity. I was not talking about everyone on Earth who doesn’t believe in God.
Oh. Right. Exactly what Michael Shermer said, then – he’s not saying the kind of atheists who just passively sit in chairs and listen are mostly men, no no, he’s saying the active ones, the sort of people who go to atheist conferences, read atheist books, watch atheists debate pastors on YouTube, or otherwise rally around atheism as a political identity, are mostly men. So that’s way less insulting and patronizing.
2. Although I share the common perception that there is a gender imbalance among active atheists, I don’t actually know whether this is the case. I used to joke that my average “groupie” was a 75-year-old man. Happily, my audiences are now filled with young people, but I still encounter many more men than women. I wouldn’t be surprised if the split were 70/30. I would be very surprised if it were 50/50. Again, I am talking about active atheists. I have no idea whether there are more male unbelievers than female.
You know, I can think of an explanation for that that’s nothing to do with Our Essential Womanly Natures. It could be that a lot of women think Sam Harris is kind of an asshole about women, and don’t feel like going to his talks.
Then he goes on to repeat what he said, at more length, as if we hadn’t understood. Men in the aggregate like pugnacious commentary, and women in the aggregate don’t. Yes, we got that; we understood that that’s what he was saying.
And then he quotes an exchange he had with a woman after the interview.
She: I’m not saying that women and men are the same.
Me: Okay, great. So I think you misunderstood the intent of what I was saying. I was just acknowledging that some differences in the general tendencies of men and women might explain why 84 percent of my followers on Twitter are men. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to get into this, because there are 200 people standing behind you in line patiently waiting to have their books signed.
She: You should just know that what you said was incredibly sexist and very damaging, and you should apologize.
Me: You really are determined to be offended, aren’t you? It’s like you have installed a tripwire in your mind, and you’re just waiting for people to cross it.
She: No. You’re just totally unaware of how sexist you are.
Me: Listen, I was raised by a single mother. I have two daughters. Most of my editors have been women, and my first, last, and best editor is always my wife.
Etc etc etc.
I remain unconvinced that he’s not at all sexist.
Retweeted by D.J. Grothe
Sam Harris @SamHarrisOrg · 30m
.@OpheliaBenson The problem, Ophelia, is that you seem not to know the difference between being critical and being unfair.