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    Categories: Feminism

The Privilege Delusion

Well, PZ Myers, Jen McCreight, Phil Plait, Amanda Marcotte, Greg Laden, Melissa McEwan and others have all already said it, but I figured I should post this for the record: yes, Richard Dawkins believes I should be a good girl and just shut up about being sexually objectified because it doesn’t bother him. Thanks, wealthy old heterosexual white man! 

When I started this site, I didn’t call myself a feminist. I had a hazy idea that feminism was a good thing, but it was something that other people worried about, not me. I was living in a time and culture that had transcended the need for feminism, because in my world we were all rational atheists who had thrown off our religious indoctrination so that I could freely make rape jokes without fear of hurting someone who had been raped.

And then I would make a comment about how there could really be more women in the community, and the responses from my fellow skeptics and atheists ranged from “No, they’re not logical like us,” to “Yes, so we can fuck them!” That seemed weird.

So I started speaking more about women. About how they’re not idiots. About how they can think logically but maybe there are other social pressures keeping them away from our message, like how we tell women they should be quiet and polite and not question what is told to them. I spoke about how people need role models, and there were so few women on stage at these events.

And I got messages from women who told me about how they had trouble attending pub gatherings and other events because they felt uncomfortable in a room full of men. They told me about how they were hit on constantly and it drove them away. I didn’t fully get it at the time, because I didn’t mind getting hit on. But I acknowledged their right to feel that way and I started suggesting to the men that maybe they relax a little and not try to get in the pants of every woman who walks through the door. Maybe they could wait for her to make the first move, just in case.

And then, for the past few years as the audience for Skepchick and SGU grew, I’ve had more and more messages from men who tell me what they’d like to do to me, sexually. More and more men touching me without permission at conferences. More and more threats of rape from those who don’t agree with me, even from those who consider themselves skeptics and atheists. More and more people telling me to shut up and go back to talking about Bigfoot and other topics that really matter.

And I said no. I learned more about modern feminism and about how their goals so clearly overlapped those of the humanists and skeptics and secularists, and I wrote and spoke more about the issues within that overlap because so few other skeptics were doing it.

So here we are today. I am a feminist, because skeptics and atheists made me one. Every time I mention, however delicately, a possible issue of misogyny or objectification in our community, the response I get shows me that the problem is much worse than I thought, and so I grow angrier. I knew that eventually I would reach a sort of feminist singularity where I would explode and in my place would rise some kind of Captain Planet-type superhero but for feminists. I believe that day has nearly arrived.

You may recall that I related an incident in which I was propositioned, and I said, “Guys, don’t do that.” Really, that’s what I said. I didn’t call for an end to sex. I didn’t accuse the man in my story of rape. I didn’t say all men are monsters. I said, “Guys, don’t do that.” Cue Richard Dawkins‘ response:

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.

Richard

This is especially interesting since Richard Dawkins sat next to me in Dublin and heard me talk about the threats of rape I get. This is one I keep as a screenshot to use an example for people who don’t understand:

That comment and many like it were sent to me in response to a video I did about the horrors of female genital mutilation, which, by the way, is a cultural practice and not relegated to Muslim women. I’ve spoken about the topic a lot, and the worst of my hate mail from atheists is about that.

So to have my concerns – and more so the concerns of other women who have survived rape and sexual assault – dismissed thanks to a rich white man comparing them to the plight of women who are mutilated, is insulting to all of us. Feminists in the west have been staunch allies of the women being brutalized elsewhere, and they’ve done a hell of a lot more than Richard Dawkins when it comes to making a difference in their lives.

That wasn’t the end, of course. Dawkins went on to compare my experience with his frustration at riding in an elevator with a person chewing gum (presumably he was once accosted by such a person who rubbed Bubble Yum into his silky white hair). You can read all his comments to date at Shakesville or one of the other sites linked above.

This weekend when I read Dawkins’ comments, I was, briefly, without hope. I had already seen the future of this movement dismissing these concerns, and now I was seeing the present do the same.

What is the point in continuing?

That’s where you come in. You, dear reader, have been incredible. You posted in response to Dawkins on the Pharyngula thread, bravely battling both him and the hoards of clueless privileged people who didn’t get it. You emailed me to tell me to keep talking. You introduced yourself at SkepchickCon and told me how much you loved Skepchick and SGU. You wrote blog posts and made videos and were kick ass, and you made me realize that Dawkins is not the present. He is the past.

So many of you voiced what I had already been thinking: that this person who I always admired for his intelligence and compassion does not care about my experiences as an atheist woman and therefore will no longer be rewarded with my money, my praise, or my attention. 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. There are so many great scientists and thinkers out there that I don’t think my reading list will suffer.

Despite the fact that I’ve seen hundreds of comments from those of you who plan to do the same, I’m sure Dawkins will continue to be stinking rich until the end of his days. But those of us who are humanists and feminists will find new, better voices to promote and inspire, and Dawkins will be left alone to fight the terrible injustice of standing in elevators with gum-chewers.

PS: A few Skepchicks have written letters to Dawkins and were thinking of posting them here as well as sending them to him. If you’d like your letter included in our post, please send it to skepchick at skepchick.org.

PPS: Some are wondering if it was really Dawkins, and yes, that was definitely confirmed by PZ Myers. Also, some of you are wondering if I’m criticizing all rich, white, old, etc men when I call out those attributes. No! I am merely illustrating the unbelievable height of Dawkins’ privilege.

PPPS: Nope, I didn’t call for a boycott. I’m relaying the fact that I have no interest in giving this person any more of my money or attention. Other people have independently told me they’re doing the same. This is not an organized campaign, and no one is going to be vilified for continuing to give their own time and attention to Dawkins.

Rebecca Watson: Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.