Friday, July 8, 2011

Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Rebecca Watson---and Why We Still Have a Long Road Ahead

In the last week or so, there has been many articles and blog posts circulating the web in regards to the incident that occurred between the feminist, Rebecca Watson, and the infamous "man on the elevator." My original post regarding this incident can be found here.

I have spent some time reading views that support Rebecca, and those that do not, which is the subject of this post. I agree that the behavior of the "man on the elevator" was inappropriate, but the reaction to this incident by one of the so-called "enlightened" men of this age was also rather disappointing. It saddened me to read how Richard Dawkins trivialized the experience of Rebecca Watson in a rather sarcastic comment he made on PZ Myers' blog:

"Dear Muslima
Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and … yawn … don't tell me yet again, I know you aren't allowed to drive a car, and you can't leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you'll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.
Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep"chick", and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn't lay a finger on her, but even so …
And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

Although I find Professor Dawkins remark disheartening, I understand why he made it. Notice how Professor Dawkins highlights the "chick" part of "Skepchick." This was the subject of my previous post, and in a response to the comments against his comment, Professor Dawkins claimed  that all the man in the elevator did was that:

"He spoke some words to her. Just words. She no doubt replied with words. That was that. Words. Only words, and apparently quite polite words at that."

What he implies by the above statement is that words don't really matter--which is silly.  Words DO matter.  As Foucault would say, "Everything is political."  This is illustrated when claiming that "All MEN are created equal"--when in the times of slavery, this only applied to white property owners, which meant that they had an image of a white man who owned property--excluding women, children, African slaves, and everyone else as being part of humanity.   Even today, when a boss uses the phrase, "I am going to hire the best man for the job," he already has a bias, as he has an image in his mind as to what kind of "man" he is going to hire.   

Words DO matter, and Professor Dawkins seems to contradict himself when he highlights the word "chick" (as if the word mattered) and then says what the man in the elevator said was "just words." (i.e., they DON'T matter)  Regardless, a woman who labels herself as a "chick" (it makes no difference how she views it) is going to be viewed and treated as a "chick" (i.e. brainless and fluffy) by men in elevators, and men such as Professor Dawkins. This is how the matrix works, and how it works against women.

Men such as Dawkins, and Mr. Hitchens are said to be more "enlightened" than most, which is why so many were taken aback by his remarks--but I have my doubts as to how "enlightened" they really are. They may claim to support the rights of women, and may stand up for the rights of women--but the insidiousness of the Abrahamic doctrine that women are "sexual objects" is still in their thoughts, even if they don't think so. This was illustrated by Professor Dawkins' sarcasm, and also by Mr. Hitchens in his book,"God is Not Great."

In his book, Mr. Hitchens spoke about the late professor A.J. Ayer,* whom he viewed as upstanding moral man, when in fact, he had broken "every sexual commandment" there is to break. Mr. Hitchens swept aside Professor Ayer's acts of "disrespecting the sexual code," i.e. disrespecting women, as he qualified the man as an outstanding moral figure by listing his virtues as a loving parent, an excellent teacher, and a man who fought for human rights and free speech--as if disrespecting women (especially his own wife) in this regard was meaningless. Mr. Hitchens said nothing about the rights and feelings of the women Ayer had used and abused during his life, but I do not believe Mr. Hitchens meant to disrespect women intentionally. What his statements do illustrate however, is how insidious and pervasive this patriarchal view of women is in society, as even men such as Mr. Hitchens, and now Professor Dawkins, see nothing wrong with men objectifying women, and say nothing in defense of the women who are hurt and abused (such as Professor Ayer's wife, and Rebecca Watson) in this manner. If this were a world where women were as valued as men, even Mr. Hitchens, and Professor Dawkins would see Professor Ayer's behavior, and the behavior of the "man in the elevator" as inappropriate. It is when women are objectified, that such behavior is seen as "acceptable" by society --and this, it seems, is still how Professor Dawkins, and Mr. Hitchens view women as well. 

It certainly illustrates that society as a whole (as Rebecca herself labels herself as a "chick") has a long way to go.....

* God Is Not Great, p. 186


Anonymous said...

It seems as though William Lane Craig is in the head of Richard Dawkins, you know the same William Lane Craig who makes clowns out of everyone of your atheist buddies and their hopelessly bad objections to Christianity....

The more time goes by, the more Dawkins is going to erupt, he knows he can't beat Craig, and this is eating him up inside.

Atheism is just so lazy, and now the leader is slowly going insane.

Dawkins when he isn't in a debate: "The Possibility of God existing is the same as a fairy!"

Dawkins in a debate with John Lennox: "You can make a respectable case for Deism"

CONTRADICTION!!!!! A is for Abortion-Survivor

A is for Atheist said...

@ anonymous

Stomping your feet and acting like a child does nothing for your "cause"

Check out the rest of my blog, as I have refuted Craig's arguments already. It wasn't hard, and has been done by many others besides me.

Chris Willett said...

Part I:

Why I stand with Dr. Richard Dawkins:

The skeptic community is embroiled in an acrimonious debate concerning whether "Elevator Guy" was obtuse and harmless or sexist and harassing in his overture to Ms. Watson in an elevator in Dublin. When I arrived to this debate, quite late, "Elevator Guy" had been repeatedly insulted and his motives thoroughly debated (in commentary long on assumptions and emotional intensity and short on facts). Some "feminists" derided his actions as sexist and emphasized the potential for sexual assault, citing statistics and research on rape. Others, siding with Dr. Dawkins, argued that this perspective constitutes "hysteria" (admittedly a sexist term) and serves not to elevate women, but to demean men by presupposing that they are all potential rapists. Some "feminists" shot back by accusing their opponents of ignorance on issues of sexism and male privilege.

While I certainly do not doubt or have any desire to minimize the experiences of Ms. Watson and other women who repeatedly receive unwanted sexual advances (and threats), I believe that the entire issue is overblown.

First, I disagree with the notion that this event was unquestionably an act of sexism:

Sexism is the belief (and more importantly, the differential treatment that results from such belief) that one sex is superior to the other. In the American historical context, men have long been (incorrectly, obviously) regarded as superior to women. (Undoubtedly, Christian doctrine played a large part in promoting this view.) It is clearly apparent that "Elevator Guy" dismissed Ms. Watson's statements concerning her discomfort with unwanted male pursuit and her intent to retire for the evening. He is thus rightly chided for being obtuse, selfish, and disrespectful. Concluding that his actions were sexist, however, requires demonstrating that he disregarded Ms. Watson's stated intentions because of her sex. While there is certainly a long history of men ignoring women's preferences concerning sexual advances, I am not convinced that the fact of this history alone is sufficient grounds to state with certainty that "Elevator Guy" is sexist or misogynist.

I also resent the assertion that my position is patently callous or sexist. I recognize that I not only enjoy male privilege, but that I also experience what could be termed "double male privilege" due to my sexual orientation. As a gay man, I do not relate intimately with women and thus am unaware of the personal concerns that they may express only in the privacy of their romantic relationships. Nor must I heed such concerns when pursuing romance, since I pursue men. Nevertheless, I remain unconvinced that merely believing that this issue is overblown makes me (or Dr. Dawkins) ignorant or insensitive concerning issues of sex inequality.

Certainly men must recognize the legitimacy of female discomfort in enclosed spaces. But when some "feminists" suggest that "polite" and "considerate" men decline opportunities to enter an elevator in which a woman stands alone, I do not see an argument promoting respect and equality for women. Instead, I see a rather insulting assertion that women are frightened, helpless, victims-in-waiting unable to defend themselves. This perspective also limits men - presumably even gay ones like me - by implying that a woman's right to not feel any level of discomfort, whether justified or not, transcends a man's right to ride in the elevator. This is not equality; this is a reversal of who has privilege.

Chris Willett said...

Part II:

Second, and much more importantly, I believe that Dr. Dawkins has been unfairly pilloried:

Dr. Dawkins entered the debate shortly after it began, sarcastically comparing the incident to the appalling oppression of women in fundamentalist Islamic societies. I believe he intended to express that the incident hardly merits the attention it has received. After his comment was widely panned, Dr. Dawkins clarified his position, requested additional information, and acknowledged that he could be mistaken. Whatever your opinion of his tone, a close reading of his three comments does not reveal him to be the domineering misogynist he has been made out to be.

But I am no longer chiefly concerned with my ability to convince others of my perspective on whether or not the elevator proposition was sexist. A much more pressing matter is the extreme, divisive reactions that Ms. Watson and some of her supporters have recently posted on Skepchick. In "The Privilege Delusion," Ms. Watson refers derisively to Dr. Dawkins as a "stinking rich" "wealthy old heterosexual white man," states that she will boycott his work, and thanks her supporters for "bravely battling [Dawkins] and the hoards of clueless privileged people who didn't get it." The open letters to Dr. Dawkins are more severe: "I look forward to watching your legacy crash and burn," wrote Mindy, who concluded with "you don't get a second chance." Another letter opened with "Dear Dick" and accused Dr. Dawkins of making the skeptic community "blatantly unsafe" for women.

Language such as this, dripping with negative emotional reactivity, eclipses the legitimate perspective the writers wish to express, reveals as hypocrites those who have targeted Dr. Dawkins for his tone, and threatens to split apart a movement that already has more than enough challenges. (Dr. Dawkins now faces retribution in the actual press.) Further, the ferociousness of the accusations of sexism and misogyny directed at Dr. Dawkins and others only serves, rightly or wrongly, to provide ammunition to the real "men's rights activists" out there who believe that feminism is about revenge rather than equality.

We can do better than this. The first responsibility of any skeptic is to be skeptical of his own perspective. That ability, along with a healthy dose of modesty and humility, has been abandoned in recent days. It is long past time to let this issue go.

Anonymous said...

Hyper-skepticism, something that has come to be a foundational requirement in all agnostics living out the hard atheistic lifestyle (yes that includes you -there's no such thing as an atheist) is for people that are pussies. You can take that one to the bank.

A is for Atheist said...

@ anonymous

Firstly, I am not a "hyper skeptic"--I am a Piercian pragmatist. Secondly, I am an Ignostic Atheist, in that I believe there are better explanations for phenomena than saying "goddidit"

Finally, your use of the word "pussy" and your manner of speech illustrates the flawed character of your belief system. "Pussy," like "chick" is another derogatory term towards women, which shows me what kind of a character you have. Your words and actions represent who you are, and you obviously are someone of low character.

Anonymous said...

As a man, I would like to live in a world where I can propose to any woman whenever and wherever possible, acting polite and accepting a yes or a no for an answer.

But if a woman, like R. Watson, says she feels threatened, to the point she would wears flat shoes just in case she needs to run, then we man must listen.

I am very sorry and ashamed there are men out there who mean and do inflict pain to women by means of brutal force. And we should, we must, we have to hear they complaint!

The Horny Crusader said...

I don't get this topic.What exactly are you objecting to ?

Your worldview is atheism which means different people have different standards of right and wrong.For Otis , harassing a girl or rape isn' t wrong.So why is he to blame here if he is being consistent with his own defined standard ?

PS Otis = elevator man

A is for Atheist said...

@ Crusader

I am objecting to the stereotypical view that even so-called "enlightened" men like Dawkins have, that women are "chicks" and are objectified.

The Horny Crusader said...

Yes I realised that.But you missed my point on a more general note.I asked what is wrong with women being objectified if objective morality doesn't exist ? As an athiest you wont be able to give me a single convincing reply to this.


A is for Atheist said...

@ Horny Crusader

First of all, I am not a relativist, or an ethical relativist. I am a Peircian Pragmatist. Morality comes from society and what are known as Normative Ethical Theories such as Utilitarianism, which means doing what is right for the overall good--no gods required.

The Divine Command Theory, in which whatever god says is right is right, is one of the WEAKEST Normative Ethical Theories, as it has several fatal flaws, such as the epistemological problem. There is no way of telling whether a god or goddess has told anyone, including Moses and Abraham, anything at all. As an example, how do we know whether or not god told Andrea Yates to kill her children or not, when the bible tells us Yahweh told many people to kill others? Most Christians would say she is crazy, or that god did not tell her that, and at this point they are no longer using the Divine Command Theory, but are using different moral guidelines.

If we went by the morals of your god, we would still be advocating slavery, since he even had rules for keeping slaves!

Your avatar name tells me a lot about your "character" if you know what I mean.

For more information on the subject, see my blog post where I defeated William Lane Craig on the subject of Objective Morality.

The Truthful Heretic said...

I don't know why this incident created such a fuss. Dawkins made a logical error: All the wrongs in the world does not make another wrong less wrong, or less important for that matter.

Now, if he had said that this whole thing on internet is too much for a rather smaller incident, and "people" should pay more attention to bigger issues, he might have had a point. (considering first he should have acknowledged the importance of this incident)

But still, I would have kept silent about it. No bigotry and discrimination in the world is not worth attention, especially sexism.

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