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Thread: Richard Dawkins vs. Rebecca Watson

  1. #1
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    Default Richard Dawkins vs. Rebecca Watson

    Copy-pasted from here:
    "Over the weekend, a full-blown scandal erupted in the skeptical movement atheist and skeptical communities* over sexism and attitudes about sexual harassment. It started with a fairly straightforward story about a clueless man putting a woman in an uncomfortable situation. The conversation about it was interesting, to say the least. An important point that came up multiple times is that many men do not truly understand what women go through in such situations.
    This point was driven home when Richard Dawkins spoke up about it. Through his own words, he proved quite clearly that a lot of men just donít get it.
    Hereís what happened, boiled down from a video post Skepchick Rebecca Watson made about this (she tells this story starting at 4m30s into the video at that link). Rebecca was a speaker at a conference recently. After her talk and a late evening of socializing with attendees at the bar, she got on an elevator to go to her room. She found herself alone on the elevator with a man presumably also an attendee. He said he "found her very interesting", and would she like to get some coffee in his hotel room? Rebecca turned him down, and in her video talks about how uncomfortable that made her feel.
    If the story ended here there would be obvious things to say about it (obvious to me, at least, but not everyone, as will become quite clear). This man may have had nothing but noble intentions, but that doesnít matter. Being alone in an elevator with a man late at night is uncomfortable for any woman, even if the man is silent. But when he hits on her? Thereís no way to avoid a predatory vibe here, and thatís unacceptable. A situation like this can lead to sexual assault; I just read in the news here in Boulder that a few days ago a relatively innocent situation turned into assault. This isnít some rare event; it happens a lot and most women are all-too painfully aware of it.
    Rebecca, apparently, handled this situation with aplomb, and Iím glad. She turned it into a useful lesson for men on how not to treat women.
    At this point there are many offshoot discussions and tangential topics being discussed on the skeptical blogs and elsewhere. I will ignore those, as they distract from what is in my opinion the most important thing here. As it happens, PZ Myers wrote a blog post about this, and Richard Dawkins ó yes, the Richard Dawkins, PZ has confirmed this ó left a comment in that post. And what he saidÖ well. Read it for yourself:

    It took me a moment to parse this. He was being sarcastic, obviously, but he wasnít talking to someone specifically; he was using a rhetorical tool of speaking to an imaginary person. So he is saying to a generic Muslim woman, you think you have problems, why, Rebecca was hit on in an elevator! How horrible!
    At first I thought I had misread this. Surely, Dr. Dawkins, who has written and spoken eloquently in the past on the plight of women suffering under religious intolerance wouldnít trivialize what happened to Rebecca, would he?
    Many people certainly interpreted it that way, as that does seem overwhelmingly to be his point. Dawkins then attempted to clear this up by leaving a second comment trying to argue that he was not doing this. However, in my opinion, what he claims he was trying to say is actually worse:

    Oh my. I have tried and tried to see some other way to interpret this, but it looks to me that he really is comparing a potential sexual assault to someone chewing gum.
    And Iím not the only one who thought so. Many others did, and none, I think, put it more clearly than Jen McCreight at her blog BlagHag (note: I have edited this because it uses some choice NSFW words that will get my own blog caught in nanny filters; seriously, go to read Jenís whole post on this. Itís important), who addresses Dr. Dawkins:
    Frankly, this is disappointing for a number of reasons [...] youíre kind of an idol of mine, and it makes me want to cry a little when you live up to the stereotype of a well-off, 70 year old, white, British, ivory tower academic. But let me spell it out for you instead of just getting mad (though Iíll do that too):
    Words matter. [...] You donít have people constantly explaining that youíre subhuman, or have the intellect of an animal. You donít have people saying you shouldnít have rights. You donít have people constantly sexually harassing you. You donít live in fear of rape, knowing that one wrong misinterpretation of a couple words could lead down that road.
    This.
    The real problem here is that Dawkins (and several others who left comments) didnít see this as a potential assault scenario. This problem is driven home by Dawkins again in a third comment, where he literally argues that nothing bad happened to Rebecca in that elevator [I blurred the instance of a cuss word in the section below]:

    Itís this third comment that truly stunned me. I know a lot of people might agree with his sentiment, but itís staggeringly wrong.
    I can understand that itís hard for men to truly grasp the womanís point of view here, since men rarely feel in danger of sexual assault. But Jen McCrieghtís post, and many others, make it clear that to a woman, being alone on that elevator with that man was a potential threat, and a serious one. You may not be able to just press a button and walk away ó perhaps he has a knife, or a gun, or will simply overpower you. When thereís no way to know, you err on the side of safety. And what makes this worse is that most men donít understand this, so women are constantly put into situations ranging from uncomfortable to downright scary.
    Put even more simply: this wasnít a guy chewing gum at her. This was a potential sexual assault.
    So you may not think anything bad happened to Rebecca on that elevator, but something bad did indeed happen. He didnít have to physically assault her for the situation to be bad. The atmosphere in there was enough to make it bad. And Rebecca was absolutely right to talk about it and raise awareness of it.
    The discussion ongoing in the blogs is in general aimed at the skeptical and atheist movements. But this is far, far larger than that. This is a societal issue; sexism (conscious or otherwise) is still a strong force in our society, and a lot of men will dismiss claims of sexism from women. As has been made very clear here, we all need to make sure that all men understand the womanís point of view, or else this type of thing will continue to happenÖ and people will continue to dismiss it as no big deal.
    It is a big deal. If Dawkins ó a leader in the critical thinking movement and a man known for defending women against religious oppression ó can take such a dismissive stance, itís clear that we have a long way to go. I donít know if it was sexism on Dawkinsí part or just plain obtuseness, but this attitude is shared by far too many men. It trivializes the justifiable fear women have to live with as well as their point of view, and thatís just plain wrong."


    I'm curious to see people's opinion on this.

  2. #2
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    Yeah, I've been following that one for a couple of weeks....there's actually more drama than just RW vs. Dawkins, from what I understand, and the problems stem overall from a few overlapping points:

    -Originally, some guy propositioned Rebecca Watson in an elevator at 4am (by Rebecca's account he said something ilke, "don't take this the wrong way, but I was really interested in your talk, would you like to continue it over a cup of coffee in my hotel room?"). This made her uncomfortable; she politely rejected him, he took no for an answer and left, and she went up to her room and made a video blog entry wherein she briefly mentioned the exchange and said, basically, "guys, don't do that, it's creepy," and she said she didn't enjoy being sexualized like that.

    -Another (somewhat less popular but still relatively influential) blogger criticized the Watson post, saying that she was being unfair to the guy ("he asked politely, she said no, he left, I don't see what the problem was," etc.). Her main issue seeming to be that since the guy was polite and said no, that it was unfair of Watson to then call him out (even if not by name) in a video blog, given her disproportionate internet renown versus his 'regular joe' status.

    -At a conference shortly after, Watson used the first minute or two of her speech to call out (by name) the blogger who'd criticized her, basically saying that women like her contribute (inadvertently or otherwise) to the continued objectification of women.

    -This angered a lot of their fanbases, which went to Internet Flame War with one another. This is where things start flying out of control; other bloggers start joining in (PZ Myers wrote about it, ERV wrote about it, UNI Freethinkers wrote about it, even Hemant Mehta wrote about it, and once Dawkins got involved, even more people got in on it, like Phil Plait). I think this is where a lot of the miscommunication that followed began --- commenters from both sites started running around the blogosphere shouting people down, and we got a muddled pandemonium of extremists on one side screaming, "MISOGYNIST! RAPE APOLOGIST!" and the other criticizing Rebecca Watson's sexuality, making sexist comments about her being unnattractive ("like anybody would rape her anyway," etc.). And of course each side begins to become associated with the corresponding soundbytes, and almost all traces of the original discussion are lost.

    -At this point, Richard Dawkins leaves a comment on PZ's blog that is, quite frankly, surprisingly daft. It is addressed to a fictional Muslim, and it reads:

    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
    He was being sarcastic, of course, but that didn't distract from the fact that he seemed to be missing the point entirely. After someone said that he was basically using an old fundie argument ("other people have it worse somewhere else, so you should shut up about whatever problems you have"), he responded again:

    No I wasn't making that argument. Here's the argument I was making. The man in the elevator didn't physically touch her, didn't attempt to bar her way out of the elevator, didn't even use foul language at her. He spoke some words to her. Just words. She no doubt replied with words. That was that. Words. Only words, and apparently quite polite words at that.

    If she felt his behaviour was creepy, that was her privilege, just as it was the Catholics' privilege to feel offended and hurt when PZ nailed the cracker. PZ didn't physically strike any Catholics. All he did was nail a wafer, and he was absolutely right to do so because the heightened value of the wafer was a fantasy in the minds of the offended Catholics. Similarly, Rebecca's feeling that the man's proposition was 'creepy' was her own interpretation of his behaviour, presumably not his. She was probably offended to about the same extent as I am offended if a man gets into an elevator with me chewing gum. But he does me no physical damage and I simply grin and bear it until either I or he gets out of the elevator. It would be different if he physically attacked me.

    Muslim women suffer physically from misogyny, their lives are substantially damaged by religiously inspired misogyny. Not just words, real deeds, painful, physical deeds, physical privations, legally sanctioned demeanings. The equivalent would be if PZ had nailed not a cracker but a Catholic. Then they'd have had good reason to complain.

    Richard
    At which point people began to split into "Rebecca Watson" and "Dawkins" camps, with the vast majority opting for the third party "Not Touching This One."

    In any case, with all that's happened, it's become almost impossible to discuss this matter clear-headedly. Any blog or forum where it comes up is sure to be deluged with idiots from both sides tossing around words like "misogynist" and "whiny bitch." Even the Atheist Experience blog was tainted with a couple of posts on the matter, each full of comments by idiots refusing to try and learn something from the exchange.

    Personally, I got some good reading out of this, and even though I've never really been one to approach strange women (for sex or for any other reason), I still gleamed some useful information from several recommended reading articles (thanks in good part to The Atheist Experience blog's Martin Wagner).

    The important thing to keep in mind when discussing this, I think, is that there are several layers to this issue (the original incident, which IMO was handled well enough and wasn't anywhere near important enough to warrant this interbloggular nerd turf war; the response; the counter-response and public naming of names; the comment wars; the Dawkins comment; the response to Dawkins; the list goes on). And just because someone comments about one of those issues, doesn't mean he/she is commenting on all of them --- for example, if I mention that there are people throwing around words like "misogynist" and "rape apologist," I am obviously talking about idiot commenters, not Rebecca Watson or her supporters. Likewise, when I talk about sexist douche guys that just don't get it, while I am talking about Dawkins a little bit, I am largely referring to idiot commenters and trolls that make light of this issue by saying things like "Rebecca Watson is ugly, not hot enough to rape anyway," or that women should just suck it up and let guys hit on them because All Guys Always Have The Right To Hit On Any Woman Anywhere.

    [/long long post]
    Last edited by Static_Martyr; 07-16-2011 at 10:14 AM.
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    But there was nothing I could do...
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  3. #3
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    I understand as far as I can that the predatory nature of men must be fucking horrible for women. I know far too many women who have been raped and know far too many guys who have no clue that they're sexual attackers just waiting to happen, even if only ones who commit 'minor' transgressions that they can laugh off.

    The only question I have is, how well would the human species fare if neither gender had (or was denied) that predatory nature? I would foresee a dwindling population leading to eventual extinction. Which is kind of neat, really. And ironic, due to the evolutionary importance of a sexually predatory nature of at least one gender in any given species.

    This poses a very serious moral issue for ourselves as an 'intelligent' (ha!) species to consider. We either are or aren't animals; people need to realise that they can't place blame and pride in equal measure in both; ideally, a distinction should be made, a consensus reached on which side of the line the species sits and then appropriate measures taken from there. We should either be advanced enough to be 'above' nature and to correct her [moral] mistakes or accept that we're just animals with evolutionary reasons for all of the horrible things that we do.
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]

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    Out of what I've read summarized here I can quickly surmise that i agree basically with StaticM, commenters, trolls or otherwise, bastardized thedebate in order to further their own stupid pet causes/peeves in the most obnoxious possible way, by 'abstractualizing' the arguments to such a degree they could be remolded into any which nonsensical extreme they chose.

    It's a pity, I understand Ms. watson's fears, and i agree with Mr. Dawkin's objection as well, even if it is rather snarky. The important thing though is that the loud-mouthed, crass, and completely mentally incompetent bloggers don't get the attention they are desperately trying to milk out of this situation with any buzzword they can.

    I'm glad though that I haven't followed this, sounds absolutely infuriating.
    Quote Originally Posted by T-6005 View Post
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    Mrs Watson's fear is the same kind of uncomfortable fear that certain racist people have when they see a group of young black or arabs guys hanging around... *sigh*.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jesus View Post
    Mrs Watson's fear is the same kind of uncomfortable fear that certain racist people have when they see a group of young black or arabs guys hanging around... *sigh*.
    That is kind of how I see it.

    I cringe every time they say 'potential sexual assault', at no point would I call it that. I just woke up and I can't really think of a good connection or analogy, but it just seems fucking wrong for them to say that a guy asking for a coffee date is a potential rape situation. So basically, it's a guy who wanted to have a conversation with a woman, being in a hotel, he invited her to his room. If they had been in the lobby instead of the confined space of an elevator, would it have been okay? If he had asked her to a coffee shop instead of his room, would it have been okay? Should women just not be addressed at all? If him asking her for coffee was a 'potential sexual assault' was him just being in the elevator with her comparable to that as well? Should I be offended every time I am trapped in an awkward situation?

    I understand that the world can be significantly more dangerous for women, I often worry about a lot of my female friends at parties or I sometimes ask them if they want me to talk to a guy who has been creepily hitting on them all night (though I typically do not bring it up, because I feel it's not my place and they know they can ask me). But this all just seems so ridiculously blown out of proportion. Was it bad judgement to ask her in an elevator? Yeah, I suppose. Dawkins probably shouldn't have been a sarcastic douche with his first comment, but I see where he is coming from and this this whole situation is ridiculous.

    I'd like to hear what some female memebers of the board have to say about this situation.
    Last edited by WebDudette; 07-16-2011 at 05:57 PM.
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    Yeah 'potential sexual assault' was retarded. I mean, downright retarded.

    The point Ms. Watson was trying to make was how an inocuous looking situation can seem not-so-inocuous from another perspective. Or at least, that's how I've understood it. The problem with this is of course that it requires an inocuous example.

    The problem of course is that people who read blogs are fucking retarded. Not everyone, just the ones who think they have important opinions. These of course are always the ones who shouldn't have the right to comment either.

    Case in point: here's where the blogger Nieh quoted is a retard:
    It is a big deal. If Dawkins ó a leader in the critical thinking movement and a man known for defending women against religious oppression ó can take such a dismissive stance, itís clear that we have a long way to go. I donít know if it was sexism on Dawkinsí part or just plain obtuseness, but this attitude is shared by far too many men. It trivializes the justifiable fear women have to live with as well as their point of view, and thatís just plain wrong."
    No, not the whole paragraph. The first 5 words. An inocuous example isn't a big deal. That defeats the point, damages any credibility towards 'spreading awareness', and makes one look stupid. Not all bloggers of course. From what I understand Dawkins and Watson both blog (or at least comment), just these amateurs.

    On the other hand maybe I'm just a retarded commenter who misunderstood the issue. On a minimal glance of research (Watson's response is linked at the bottom of the original link) she seems to think it was a potential sexual assault. (her words)
    . I can't really tell, she sends a mixed message in that response. At some point she equates threats of rape to the proposition for a cup of coffee in the elevator, and she goes on and on about privilege.

    Then again, that was a response to what must've been a plethora of crazy. On the other hand, sounding crazy is pretty bad for your credibility. I liked it better when I hadn't clicked any links.

    In conclusion: I believe the example was intended to be just that, an inocuous example to reveal how varied perspectives can be. In which case it's stupid to claim it's a big deal, that shows a lack of perspective.

    p.s. The term 'potential sexual assault' cheapens the term 'sexual assault'. I think society views this crime as being one of the worst you can commit along with murder and pedophilia.
    Last edited by wheelchairman; 07-16-2011 at 07:28 PM.
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    I agree, this does sound incredibly frustrating. I guess I mostly feel bad for the poor guy who she's talking about. Could it have been a potentially bad bad situation? Of course it could have. This is true with virtually every human interaction.

    I also understand that she was literally trapped with this guy with pretty much zero options unless she was carrying some kind of weapon. She had every right to feel uncomfortable, and honestly, maybe I would have, too. What I would NOT have done is talk down about the guy afterward like he was some kind of pervert for doing what a guy is supposed to do when he sees a girl he likes. People may not know who he is personally, but thousands of women (and men) now think less of the man for pretty much no reason. Maybe it was a little bit of a faux pas on his part, but he probably wasn't going to get any other chance to ask her out, unless he stalked her around the hotel. Which would have beenÖ you knowÖ creepy. Maybe it would have been better if he had just said nothing, but it was a tactful request all in all.


    This was an entirely blown up issue. It sounds like a normal interaction in a less-than-ideal situation, which both sides handled nicely on the spot. I'd say any man here could have easily been in his situation, which is what frustrates me. In the right conditions, she may as well be talking about me or you. I bet if she spoke to him about it once out of the elevator, he'd have even come to agree and they both could have laughed about it.

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    In some regards, Ms. Watson's testimony seems to describe situations/locations as uncomfortable, more than the actual initiation, regardless of how it's done, by the man. I mean, for what was "presumably an attendee" to ask about further discussion in his hotel room can obviously be interpreted as possible flirting, but even still, on a crowded street or in a more occupied hotel lobby, one would assume the feeling of uncomfortable feeling would really only stem from the awkwardness of turning him down, as she would hypothetically not feel confined.

    And you hear all the time nowadays about how women shouldn't get into an elevator with only one other person on it, or they should get off if they're alone and only one person gets on. And I suppose that's fair enough; better safe than sorry, and whatnot. But if she's trying to extend this man's invitation, which from what I can gather seemed (on the surface) innocent enough to many different situations, then I can't help but feel that she has some deep rooted insecurity about being around men by herself. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that. It could be perfectly legitimate. At the same time, however, doesn't that kind of take some of the impact of her statement, if it was drawn from a personal fear/insecurity rather than a straightforward social criticism? Would she have made all these comments were it not for this encounter? I dunno. I'm completely sympathetic to her side, and don't necessarily disagree on any one point, but I think she should have expressed it in a different way, at the very least.

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    Richard Dawkins vs Rebecca Black: The fist fight.
    When they said "sit down", I stood up.

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