Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Richard Dawkins and rape culture

So I happened to stumble on these two items simultaneously: Mark Oppenheimer's article about misogyny in the atheist movement, covering among other things allegations that Michael Shermer plied at least one young woman (Alison Smith) with alcohol until she was too inebriated to know what was happening and then had sex with her, and Richard Dawkins' comments to those allegations.

Wow.

Now, it goes without saying that allegations are not proof that something happened. Shermer has said the encounter was entirely consensual; he has neither been charged with or convicted of a crime. However, if Shermer did what he's accused of...that's rape. Taking sexual advantage of someone who is too inebriated to know what's going on after you've purposely plied them with enough alcohol to reduce them to this state for this purpose is rape. This may or may not have happened, but this is what the allegation is about.

So when Richard Dawkins says things like this:



He is in part correct: it is her word against -- and if she was raped, it is absolutely appalling. The use of "and she admits she was too drunk to REMEMBER" seems designed to trivialize important context in Smith's claim: that Shermer allegedly pretended to be drinking in equal proportion, while continuing to furnish with alcohol, that he was not inebriated while she was senseless, and that she clearly remembers having no idea of where she was (and spoke on the phone to friends in that state). Again, that doesn't mean that this is what actually happened, but it is what she is claiming happened. And since that's what we're discussing, it is not enough to sum it up with, "she was too drunk to REMEMBER." Because she has made some pretty specific claims about pretty specific memories.

(Dawkins focuses a good deal of attention specifically on remembering; not in the CeeLo Green "People who have really been raped REMEMBER!!!" because consciousness is required for rape vein, but more along the lines of "she can't possibly know it was rape if she can't remember the act of being raped" -- so it's worth pointing out that a crime might well have been committed regardless of the victim's state of memory, and a victim might well be able to realize that a crime happened even if they don't recall the actual commission of the crime. Indeed, the accusation largely hinges on Shermer deliberately reducing Smith to a state of total intoxication [where consent is not possible], in order to take sexual advantage of her in that state.)

Dawkins also mentions convincing juries more than once. (Of note: even if the allegations in question might not convince a jury, that doesn't mean that they're necessarily false). But the question isn't one of a courtroom. Shermer isn't on trial. It's absolutely valid to point out that the accused's innocence must be assumed until evidence to the contrary surfaces, and this is a point that Dawkins rightly makes multiple times. (It is equally fallacious to jump to the opposite end of the spectrum, however, and assume that the accuser is lying, as many other commenters have done). So far, some questionable phrasing, but otherwise, more or less reasonable.

Some of his other points are far less rational, however. For instance:
Here again, Dawkins illustrates a shocking ignorance, willful or otherwise, of the details of a case for which he seems so concerned. Alison Smith's claim isn't that she has no memory of the evening. According to Smith, she remembers having no idea of where she was. She remembers being told by Shermer, while she was in such an inebriated state, that he was taking her to her room; she remembers that he instead took her to his own. She remembers speaking to a friend and not knowing what hotel she was in. After leaving his room. So Smith might not remember having sex, but the scenario she paints is one of one party manipulating the other toward complete inebriation (while pretending that imbibing is mutual), luring the other under false pretenses to his bedroom, and then having sex with her while she is either passed out or so out of it that she doesn't even know where she is. In other words, rape. (That doesn't mean that this is what happened, but it certainly is what Smith claims happened -- and very different from how Dawkins presents those claims).

But that's not even the worst part of this tweet. Dawkins says "don't accuse anyone of a crime if you can't remember what happened (& no other evidence)." He might use the word "crime," but I'd be surprised if he would apply the same principle to other crimes. Would Dawkins, for instance, tell a mugging victim, "Don't ever bash someone upside the head to take their cash. But also, don't accuse someone of bashing you upside the head and robbing you, if you don't remember the robbery and can't prove it happened." With no more evidence, we have no more way of knowing whether the alleged mugging took place than we do of knowing if the alleged rape took place (there is physical evidence of some type of situation in both cases, but the cause is less certain). But I'm pretty sure we wouldn't tell the guy claiming to have been robbed, 'if you can't prove it, shut up!' Even if he had been plastered at the time.

Some of Shermer's supporters have whined about hearing the term "rape culture"...but let's tell it like it is. If Shermer was accused of plying someone with alcohol in order to commit any other crime, we wouldn't be telling the alleged victim to sit down and shut up because they couldn't remember the commission of the alleged crime (after having been purposefully plied with so much alcohol that they didn't know what was going on). Heck, if Shermer was being accused of the same crime -- rape -- against a man, I doubt people would be demanding that the alleged victim just shut up.

But this isn't the only such tweet from Dawkins, or even the worst. The day before the above, he had tweeted

This again utterly misrepresents the situation. The allegation isn't that Shermer got Smith drunk, and then Smith committed a crime. The allegation is that Shermer got Smith drunk in order to commit a crime on her. I find it hard to believe that someone as brilliant as Dawkins can miss such a critical nuance. And, again, I can't think that he would attempt to similarly guilt someone who alleged any other sort of crime was committed against them in this scenario.

But perhaps the worst of Dawkins' tweets was this one:
Like the others, it ignores all the details of the case. But it also suggests that a person shouldn't expect a shot at justice if alcohol is involved. Pardon me. It specifically suggests that the woman making this claim (and, by extension, women in similar circumstances) shouldn't expect a shot at justice being served against a male alleged rapist if alcohol is involved. For someone who places such a heavy emphasis on accused's right to justice, the dismissal of the accuser's right to justice is shocking.

At least, it would be, outside of rape culture.

As it is, it's actually depressingly familiar. And disappointing. To be clear, I'm not saying that it's disappointing that Dawkins doesn't believe Smith; that anyone should automatically take a side upon reading the case; or that not taking a side is rape culture. If Dawkins, or anyone else, doesn't find Smith's claim compelling, fair enough. But ignoring Smith's actual allegations time and again, mischaracterizing the situation that she describes, setting up standards for rape victims that society would never apply to victims of other crimes, etc.? That's disappointing. It's disappointing to hear from anyone, but particularly from such a prominent figure in the atheist camp, someone who supposedly eschews the misogynist dogma that so much of religion embraces.  And despite claims to the contrary, it is absolutely a product of rape culture.

3 comments:

  1. So my question is, did you believe Juanita? Paula Jones? Kathleen Wiley? Or is it all about who is accused over who is accusing?

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  2. You seem to have substituted what you assume I'm saying for what I actually wrote. I explicitly state that I do not fault Dawkins (or anyone) for not being persuaded by Ms. Smith's claims; my problem was with how he responded to and characterized the allegations, not that he didn't believe them. I actually address your concerns in at least three separate spots:




    "Now, it goes without saying that allegations are not proof that something happened. Shermer has said the encounter was entirely consensual; he has neither been charged with or convicted of a crime. However, if Shermer did what he's accused of...that's rape. Taking sexual advantage of someone who is too inebriated to know what's going on after you've purposely plied them with enough alcohol to reduce them to this state for this purpose is rape. This may or may not have happened, but this is what the allegation is about."




    "Dawkins also mentions convincing juries more than once. (Of note: even if the allegations in question might not convince a jury, that doesn't mean that they're necessarily false). But the question isn't one of a courtroom. Shermer isn't on trial. It's absolutely valid to point out that the accused's innocence must be assumed until evidence to the contrary surfaces, and this is a point that Dawkins rightly makes multiple times. (It is equally fallacious to jump to the opposite end of the spectrum, however, and assume that the accuser is lying, as many other commenters have done). So far, some questionable phrasing, but otherwise, more or less reasonable."





    "To be clear, I'm not saying that it's disappointing that Dawkins doesn't believe Smith; that anyone should automatically take a side upon reading the case; or that not taking a side is rape culture. If Dawkins, or anyone else, doesn't find Smith's claim compelling, fair enough. But ignoring Smith's actual allegations time and again, mischaracterizing the situation that she describes, setting up standards for rape victims that society would never apply to victims of other crimes, etc.? That's disappointing. It's disappointing to hear from anyone, but particularly from such a prominent figure in the atheist camp, someone who supposedly eschews the misogynist dogma that so much of religion embraces. And despite claims to the contrary, it is absolutely a product of rape culture."

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  3. Why are you people so dumb. Do you not understand how because of ideas like yours, people get blamed for such crimes and then receive many different kinds of "punishment" whether they did it or not. Not necessarily from the courts, but from all the people that know this person, or anybody who hears about the case and decides to enact some vigilante justice. Dawkins was obviously reacting to the fact that people had basically already made up their minds on the case and had begun demonizing the guy. This shit happens all the time to guys that have never done anything but get mixed up with a the wrong girl (crazy ones) and then shit goes bad. Usually for the guy. I would know. So pull your head out of your ass please.

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