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Richard Dawkins is a Dick...

Richard Dawkins is a Dick...

... but we've known this for a long time. His sarcasm is as well-known as his intellect. So why are people acting like this is something new? Dawkins has made a career out of making bold, brash, and brazen comments meant to hit us in the gut as well as in the head. And yes, sometimes he speaks before really thinking about what he's saying (or so it seems, any way). His most recent comments are no exception:

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.


After Jen McCreight blasted Dawkins for his comments, Rebecca Watson has since responded with a blog post of her own, and while many are cheering her on, I'm feeling a bit uneasy about all of this. I'll try my best to explain why.

Rebecca wrote:

Richard Dawkins believes I should be a good girl and just shut up about being sexually objectified because it doesn’t bother him.

I gave Rebecca the benefit of the doubt in my previous post, but now I see she's painting Mr. Elevator Guy as the sexualizing objectifier of women we all fear him to be! What's worse, she's putting words in Dawkins' mouth. Does Rebecca really think that's what Richard Dawkins was thinking? Does Rebecca really think Dawkins doesn't care about women being objectified? As crude as his methods are at times - and particularly in his recent comments - Dawkins was trying to defend women by pointing out just how bad it still is in the 21st Century for women in certain parts of the world. This fact is ignored by those who find it so easy to demonize the "wealthy old heterosexual white man" for being insensitive of Rebecca's plight in that fateful elevator encounter.

What bothers me isn't Rebecca's response to Mr. Elevator Guy. I agree - and have said as much - that, regardless of his intentions, Elevator Guy's approach was questionable. What bothers me is the assumption that Rebecca was being "sexualized." Like I said, I gave Rebecca the benefit of the doubt. But she made it abundantly clear that she interpreted Mr. Elevator Guy's invitation to coffee in his room as her being "sexually objectified" by him.

Even if Elevator Guy had romantic or date-like hopes, I can't imagine that what passes for feminism these days includes the maxim that men shouldn't flirt with women - and vice versa. Is getting hit on the same as being sexually objectified? After all, I'm pretty sure we would know nothing about Mr. Elevator Guy had Rebecca actually been interested in him.

Assumptions are being made and emotions are running high among those who are part of a subculture of critical thinking. This is painfully apparent to me every time I read or hear the phrase "get it" or "gets it" - as in, "here's a guy who gets it," or "Richard Dawkins doesn't get it." The phrase gets thrown around so much that it's become a feminist meme (ironically, a word coined by Richard Dawkins). The danger of this meme is in the implicit (and sometimes not so implicit) elitism. If you dare question the feminist gospel, you will be branded as one who doesn't get it. And if you don't "get it," you run the risk of being excommunicated. Read the comments on Rebecca's blog. Hell, read Rebecca's own words: "I will no longer recommend his books to others, buy them as presents, or buy them for my own library. I will not attend his lectures or recommend that others do the same."

Now these so-called skeptics sound like Christians, who up till now held the championship title in shooting their own wounded and being elitists.

And I know some out there will say I don't get it, as though I haven't discovered the secret feminist gnosis that leads to feminist enlightenment. Some will say I can't understand what a woman goes through because I'm a man. I won't claim to understand what it's like to be a woman in a situation like that. I can't look through the eyes of a woman and see exactly as she sees. But I understand enough to know that women need to be careful. I'm a martial artist, and I always encourage women to learn how to defend themselves on the street. I'm all for women (and men) arming themselves with pepper spray or even something more powerful, and (most important of all) always using their brains to keep themselves out of harm's way. I understand that women have had it rough throughout human history, and the women's rights movement is a relatively recent phenomenon.

I understand enough to know that men should be sensitive to these concerns. That's why Rebecca was right to suggest that men not do what Mr. Elevator Guy did. It's the assumption of sexualization that's the problem. Considering such assumptions are coming from certain members of the skeptical community - the very community that prides itself on critical thinking and having good reasons to believe something - such assumptions are simply inexcusable.

What further troubles me with all this is that all of us - you the reader (most likely, if you're a regular reader of my blog), me, The A-Unicornist, Richard Dawkins, Jen McCreight, PZ Myers, Rebecca Watson, and maybe even our dimwitted friend Mr. Elevator Guy (who knows?), are on the same side. We want women to be treated as equals, treated with dignity and respect, and treated as people rather than as objects, property or a means to an end.

But maybe, just maybe, this isn't about whether people "get it" or don't. Maybe it's about free thought, and the fact that not everyone thinks the same way about this issue. If we can't maintain civil yet challenging, passionate yet rational dialogue in the skeptical community, where the hell is it ever going to occur?

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