Thursday, September 18, 2014

Dawkins embraces rape culture, redux: on lying with dogs, and getting up with fleas

So I'm not the only one who took note of Dawkins' recent expressions of sexism. In fact, I picked up on it a few days later than most (because, to be honest, I'm not on Twitter very much). There was one thing in particular that my initial post overlooked, since I had missed the play-by-play.
And that was this
 Now, Dawkins subsequently deleted the comment, but multiple people saw it and blogged about it.

 Wow. If, as seems likely, this was a genuine expression of outrage at the horrors of suggesting that the vehement defense of raping a drunk person is an artifact of rape culture, well, way to miss the point. Rape culture is thinking that consent is negotiable, if necessary at all. Rape culture, for instance, is blaming the person who is inebriated to the point of senselessness for someone else choosing to rape her (and, yeah, that's what it is when you "have sex" with someone who doesn't or isn't capable of consenting: rape). Feminists (and decent human beings in general) aren't demanding anything outrageous, and frankly it kind of pisses me off that I even have to say that in this context. Because it should be obvious. All we're asking is this: before you put your penis near someone, find out if they're actually interested in it. And, if not, stay the fuck away from them.

Damn. Is that so hard to comprehend?

But there was another aspect of Dawkins "you're asking for it" meltdown that I missed. That was his embrace of anti-feminist Christina Hoff Sommers.
The embarrassingly clumsy attempt at crafting a phrase from which to derive the acronym FTB -- Free Thought Blogs, from whence many of his critics hail -- notwithstanding, this is troubling for a number of reasons. Obviously, because Sommers' claims are dishonest and irrational. She overstates the influence of problematic feminists, drastically downplays real issues, and generally distorts reality in order to falsely claim that feminism is a radical movement that hates men, sex, summer, and apple pie. Her approach would be comparable to a religious apologist stumbling across Dawkins' recent tweets, and declaring emphatically that atheists are male chauvinist pigs, sexism is a result of atheism, and, really, religion is the solution to everything, particularly misogyny.

Aside from her other distortions, one of Sommers' fallbacks is to claim victimhood while declaring that everyone else is falsely claiming to be a victim. Women are fake victims who imagine that they face gender-based discrimination; but gosh darn is it risky to be a truth-teller in the "radical" feminist-dominated world. Cue the violins, because it's a rough life. (On second thought, I'm starting to see why a multimillionaire, best selling author and renowned biologist who claims that bloggers expressing different opinions is a matter of "bullying" and "witch-hunts" might find some common ground with her; if nothing else, they apparently share the same persecution complex).

She also likes to split feminism into categories all her own, of "gender" versus "equity" feminism; as PZ Myers notes, a meaningless and yet useful distraction tactic also employed by some folks with whom Dawkins is considerably less friendly: creationists.

It's unfortunate that a distinguished academic would lend credence to a far-right hack. It, like the "real rape culture" tweet, illustrates that -- far from being informed, cool and rational -- Dawkins'  responses are at best ignorant, and at worst thoughtless and reactionary. How could someone committed to rationality and honesty, as Dawkins is in some fields at least, in good conscience promote the work of someone who is known to play (very) fast and (very) loose with the truth, on the very subject in question? I don't think they could -- not without serious disclaimers (which were not present).

It is all the more curious when he tweets things like the following, in reference to his embrace of Sommers:
Since that is the basis for why people point out that Sommers is not a feminist authority and not trustworthy on the topic -- the amazingly ignorant and dishonest claims she's made -- it is disingenuous to make this a matter of teams, or gangs, or what-have-you. It is no more to the point than a creationist bleating that scientists should take Ken Ham seriously regardless of what meanies like Bill Nye say about him not being a scientist. Sommers' critics take issue precisely with what she says. Sommers' critics dismiss her ideas precisely because her dishonest claims and continual efforts against feminism illustrates that her work is neither feminist nor generally honest. Just as creationism is dismissed by scientists, because its rigid dogma and dishonest interpretations illustrate that it is not a scientific approach.

And so, again, I find myself being deeply disappointed in Dawkins. Not because he got angry or expressed frustration. If he feels he's being unfairly maligned, or some great injustice is being wrought, those are natural responses. If he shot off a passionate rage-tweet, or blog post, or facebook status, that expressed his irritation -- but was honest and logically consistent -- fair enough. I certainly have no objection to an impassioned, informed rebuttal; some people do that very, very well (Matt Dillahunty comes to mind). But Dawkins' reaction was none of these things. Instead, he reacted in ways that completely contradict everything he's stood for previously; he embraced thinking that is, quite frankly, beneath him and every rationally-minded person. He's willing to lie down with dogs, but thinks he can disavow the fleas the next morning. And, frankly, that's not the way it works: if you make light of rape culture, embrace radical misogynists and liars, and ignore the thoughtful arguments of those who attempt to show you the error of your thinking...well, those fleas are not so easy to shake.

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