Kimberly Winston had a conversation with Richard Dawkins the other day. She notes that he declined to be interviewed about his Down syndrome and comparative rape remarks last summer, but now on a Bay Area tour to promote his memoir he agreed to talk to her.
Bottom line: He stands by everything he has said — including comments that one form of rape or pedophilia is “worse” than another, and that a drunken woman who is raped might be responsible for her fate.
Of course he does.
“I don’t take back anything that I’ve said,” Dawkins said from a shady spot in the leafy backyard of one of his Bay Area supporters. “I would not say it again, however, because I am now accustomed to being misunderstood and so I will … ”
He trailed off momentarily, gazing at his hands resting on a patio table.
“I feel muzzled, and a lot of other people do as well,” he continued. “There is a climate of bullying, a climate of intransigent thought police which is highly influential in the sense that it suppresses people like me.”
One, no it doesn’t. He’s still cranking out the shitty remarks. Just the other day he called a bunch of his colleagues “pompous idiots” for objecting to a titty shirt worn on a global tv interview about a glorious success in technology and science.
Of course, he could be cranking out even more shitty remarks, and/or even shittier ones. Maybe this climate of intransigent thought police has suppressed him in that sense and to that degree. If so, hooray for the climate of intransigent thought police.
But let’s think about this underlying idea – that it’s suppressive and thought policey to say there are some things that influential people shouldn’t say in public. In a sense, of course, it is. Saying “you shouldn’t” is inevitably suppressive to some extent, because that’s the point of it. Saying “you shouldn’t shoot people you don’t know just because they turn into your driveway” is suppressive. Laws against murder are suppressive. There are things we’re forbidden to do, and things we’re urged not to do. That’s suppressive, in a sense. But it’s also essential to the ability to live together. Dawkins can’t be unaware of this fact. So the issue is really the kind of thing he’s being urged not to say.
Imagine if he kept tweeting that the Jews should be rounded up and killed. Who would object if other atheists and secularists and scientists and fans of science urged him to stop saying that? He would, no doubt, but who else would? Neo-Nazis, and pretty much no one else.
But he’s not saying women should be rounded up and killed – he’s just saying it’s their fault if they’re raped while drunk.
Yes, there are differences of degree. But that doesn’t make it a slam-dunk that people should not be urging him to stop saying things like that. It’s not a slam dunk that saying a drunken woman who is raped might be responsible for her fate is a trivial thing, or is such an important part of the debate that he should be blatting it out on Twitter.
And then there’s the “climate of bullying” thing. Horseshit. This is a guy with 1.2 million followers on Twitter. This is a guy adored by countless misogynist bullies who feel validated by him. This is a guy who is using his fame and influence to do his best to trash feminism (while claiming to be a “true feminist” himself). He is not being bullied.
Recent criticism of Dawkins has come from women, many of them within the atheist movement, which has long drawn more men to its ranks. His online remarks, some women say, contribute to a climate they see as unwelcoming to female atheists.
Yup. We do say that. They do. His online remarks contribute to a climate unwelcoming to female atheists. You bet they do.
Dawkins, however, disagrees. He is, he said, not a misogynist, as some critics have called him, but “a passionate feminist.” The greatest threats to women, in his view, are Islamism and jihadism — and his concern over that sometimes leads him to speak off-the-cuff.
No, Richard. You are not a passionate feminist. You may think you are, but you’re not. Feminists don’t constantly quote Christina Hoff Sommers approvingly. It’s only anti-feminists who do that.
“I concentrate my attention on that menace and I confess I occasionally get a little impatient with American women who complain of being inappropriately touched by the water cooler or invited for coffee or something which I think is, by comparison, relatively trivial,” he said.
Boom! So much for the very belated apology for Dear Muslima last summer. He just took it back. Fucking hell. He thinks he’s a “passionate feminist” and he also thinks he gets to decide what “American women” get to “complain of.” He thinks it’s up to him to compare and measure and decide and rebuke. He even thinks it’s only “American women” who object to sexual harassment.
“And so I occasionally wax a little sarcastic, and I when I have done that, I then have subsequently discovered some truly horrific things, which is that some of the women who were the butt of my sarcasm then became the butt of really horrible or serious threats, which is totally disgusting and I know how horrible that is and that, of course, I absolutely abominate and absolutely repudiate and abhor.”
Oh really? He does? Where, when, in what words? That’s literally the first time I’ve ever seen him say that. I wish he had put it that way in the joint statement. I wrote the joint statement and I carefully worded it as minimally as I could, lest I put him off the whole idea. If that’s how he feels I wish he’d said so last July.
On the other hand it’s not only threats that are the problem. It’s a lot more than that.
Todd Stiefel says it’s great that we have anti-feminists like Dawkins in the atheist movement, because that way we get to forgive him. (Doesn’t that sound a little Christian? Or is that just me.)
Todd Stiefel, president of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, has worked with Dawkins on numerous projects, most recently teaming up to launch Openly Secular, an anti-discrimination campaign. He says that despite the controversies, Dawkins continues to be a worthy spokesman for atheism.
But Stiefel knows not everyone feels the same — and that is an asset to atheism. Dawkins, he said, is just one voice within atheism — and the more different voices the movement includes, the stronger it will be.
“It is wonderful that we have such a brilliant asset with a keen, logical mind and passion for integrity,” Stiefel said in a phone interview. “But he is not perfect. He has flaws and weakness, just like we all do. I forgive Richard his faults and try to care for him as a human being, just like I would any other person. I think it is OK to admire Richard for his strengths and forgive him his weakness.”
Easy for him, isn’t it. It’s not his rights that Dawkins is constantly pissing on. It’s not his class of human that Dawkins is constantly showing his contempt for. He’s not an American woman complaining of something Dawkins thinks unimportant.
Hemant Mehta helps too, in his friendly way.
“What we’re seeing is a bad combination of a celebrity who speaks his mind about issues he’s not necessarily an expert on and a horde of well-intentioned people ready to vilify him instead of educate him,” Mehta said.
Right. No one has ever tried to talk to him. Thanks, Hemant – that’s very “well-intentioned” of you.