Richard Dawkins opened his foot-shaped mouth again this weekend, suggesting that advocates for trigger warnings treat victims of rape and assault like children who need their teddy bears:
A university is not a "safe space". If you need a safe space, leave, go home, hug your teddy & suck your thumb until ready for university.
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) October 24, 2015
Rightfully, feminists like Jason Thibeault pointed out some of Dawkins inconsistencies:
Given Dawkins’ history of support for projects like the Secular Safezone, his continued distaste for the syllabus equivalent of a TV discretionary warning is baffling. It’s important to note that Dawkins did not pen the Secular Safezone articles on his site, as Dawkins rarely posts original content there (most of the site’s content reads like the RSS feed version of a circle jerk). Maybe the Dawkins content-aggregation algorithm has posted some pro-trigger warning articles in the past! Let’s go take a look. Hrrm… a quick search of his site for “trigger warning” returns not one, not two, but NINE articles by Jerry Coyne on the first results page.
Five of Coyne’s pieces are expressly anti-trigger warning (two of them indicate trigger warnings will be the downfall of free speech), three of them glibly offer trigger warnings for “Long and detailed discussion of a genetics paper,” “snakes,” and “Greensleeves,” while another conflates GMO labels with trigger warnings. That Jerry Coyne is a real joker. Mental health is such a riot!
Dawkins is right about one thing: Secular Safezones have an important place, especially in areas where being non-religious (or not belonging to the majority religion) can lead to marginalization. But if he acknowledges that, how can he argue that same care isn’t warranted for those coping with PTSD from rape, assault, or other trauma? Does Richard Dawkins think there isn’t enough oppression to go around? That if he shows compassion for victims of assault or rape, his pet cause won’t get enough recognition? Or is the reality more damning? Maybe Richard Dawkins truly doesn’t think rape is common or traumatic enough to necessitate a change in our education system. If that’s the case, then this is nothing more than oppression olympics.
Many feminists acknowledge that we can’t write off certain types of oppression, simply because they are less prevalent. Feminists like Stephanie Zvan have acknowledged that even white male atheists face some level of marginalization because of their lack of religion. Last year she wrote, “Mild forms of oppression are not the same as a lack of oppression. We know what microaggressions are. We understand how they affect access to spaces. That doesn’t change when we’re talking about atheists, even atheists who annoy us.”
Even if we accept Dawkins’ premise that rape isn’t common or traumatic enough to necessitate trigger warnings (and I don’t), his argument falls apart when viewed in the context of his support for secular safe spaces. Dawkins claims to value intellectual rigor, and part of that rigor means demanding intellectual consistency. It is breathtakingly illogical to advocate for secular safe spaces while simultaneously demeaning safe spaces for those who don’t fit your ideological narrative. In a society that constantly demeans people who push against the predominant cultural narrative, we should be focused on eliminating all types of marginalization – not just those that affect us personally.
Featured image by Dave Fayram.