Bye bye Dawkins: a voice from the past

Richard Dawkins equates being alone in a lift at 4am with a strange man who suggests going to his room “for coffee” as a trivial annoyance, rather like riding with somebody chewing gum – quickly over and done with, no harm done, no possible threat to be concerned about, and certainly not worth talking about as part of the reason that women are underrepresented in the skeptical and atheist movements.  Get the background from Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy (more from Melissa McEwan, PZ Myers, Jen McCreightAmanda Marcotte, Greg Laden).

I’m with Rebecca Watson of Skepchick – nothing I can do can stop Dawkins being stinking rich and lionised elsewhere, but I will longer read, listen to or watch his work and will not recommend that others do either.  How very disappointing, but sadly not surprising, that he turned out be such a smug, patronising git about more than just religious beliefs.

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.[…]

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.

Categories: ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, relationships, skepticism

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13 replies

  1. Wow, the embedded vid from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia on Amanda Marcotte’s page was brilliant. Creepy as hell, but brilliant.

  2. I wasn’t surprised by Richard Dawkins having this attitude (he’s exhibited it so many times over the years). What surprised me was the ineptitude of his argument. He is the perfect example of the liberal dude with the sexism blind spot. He’s clearly capable of rational thought (having built his whole career on it), but abandons it completely when the topic is not to his liking. What’s the name for something that’s the perfect example of a type? A paragon?

  3. wow, am i glad i haven’t heard of this Dawkins-dude before (prefer your blog and e.g. Greta Christina)
    absolutely agree and love Amanda Marcotte’s analysis.
    i am completely with you and btw this is making shit-waves all the way to germany and feminist blogosphere here.
    cheerio & greetz

  4. I followed the recent, er, stoush between Jeff Sparrow and New Atheism’s conservatism with interest, having never found Dawkins’ arguments or attitudes attractive.
    Dawkins has completely vindicated Sparrow’s view of him in an extremely public way using irrational arguments that do nothing other than show his sexism and islamophobia.

  5. This thing is distressing me way more than I should let it. I wish I could take the positive out of it the way tigtog and Watson are, but all I can see is a bunch of guys taking ‘disingenuous’ to a new level (“So 4am is bad. Would 3.30 be ok? When is the cut-off?” “but he didn’t actually attack her”), and being willing to fight to the death to avoid the simple act of admitting that women are obliged to assess encounters with strange men for their level of potential threat, and therefore it would be a Good Thing to avoid making their lives scarier than necessary.
    But I liked McCreight’s link to the “parable about privilege”.

  6. This comment on Amanda Marcotte’s page said it all for me:
    “So as a PSA to all of you privileged men who don’t see what’s wrong with this: if you’re going to put the entire burden of rape prevention on women, you do not ever get to act offended when a woman interprets something you say or do as being threatening. Nothing. Ever. Because she’s acting in exactly the way that the culture you perpetuate has trained her to act.”
    nicely said

  7. There have been some awesomely eloquent comments in several of the blog threads dealing with this incident (such as the one quoted by Jfairy above). Their juxtaposition with so many awesomely vile comments has been quite an experience to behold.
    To orlando: it is upsetting to see the liberal dude disease in action. You’d have to have skin thick as a komodo dragon to NOT be upset by it.

  8. so i guess i can take that dawkins book sitting in my to-read pile and chuck it, then. *sigh*
    (though, i suffer from soft sound misophonia and riding in a lift with someone chewing gum is actually a really unpleasant experience for me. i’m cringing just thinking about it.)

    • @tree,
      Dawkins doesn’t really say anything about atheism that Sagan and others didn’t already say. He’s got some good phraseology, but he’s not essential.
      The Selfish Gene is still worth reading on evolutionary biology, simply because it challenges the dominant-at-the-time airy-fairy paradigm about the abstractly-group-beneficial complexity of evolutionary adaptations. Simply putting the challenge to many of those assumptions was extremely worthwhile.
      But there are far more rewarding atheist/skeptical philosophers to choose from.

  9. Dawkins doesn’t really say anything about atheism that Sagan and others didn’t already say.
    I also found many of his arguments on religion to be somewhat dishonest.

  10. His dishonesty was certainly on display in PZ Myers’s blog thread. When asked plainly whether he had just made the argument that if conditions are worse in other societies we shouldn’t try to improve things in our own, he denied it, said “Here’s the argument I was making:” and proceeded to introduce an entirely different (though similarly flawed) argument! He’s got to be a liar, as he couldn’t possibly be that inept at rational argument.

  11. oups, actually wachted one TED-talk by RD. was definitely “not impressed” (
    FYI, found this by Melissa McEwan/shakesville :
    quite some times i read/heard RD was called “the pope of the atheist movement”, ohmy //honi soit qui mal y pense//
    “rape culture” : imho sure women “can go to/participate/speak at such conferences” (or IT etc.).
    //just make sure to bring your asbestos-coverall// methinks

  12. For years, Dawkins has been saying, in effect, that religion risks turning you into a fool and a jerk. Now, he’s gone on to show by personal example that you don’t need religion to turn into a fool and a jerk. Way to lead, Richard!
    People don’t surprise me much anymore, but Dawkins took me by surprise. I guess I expected better from a man who has expressed such strong support for — not just atheism — but humanism.

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