Tag: Sexism

Rancid Wine In A New Bottle

So this happened:

After much hype over Bill Maher’s invitation to host Breitbart provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos on his show “Real Time” on Friday, the two got along famously, bonding over their shared love of free speech and the unifying power of humor in a one-on-one conversation. It seemed that Yiannopoulos had found a warm embrace on Maher’s set — but then the broadcast ended and Yiannopoulos sat down with Maher’s other panelists for the post-show “Overtime” segment, which airs on YouTube. Two of those guests told the far-right prince what they’d like to see him do to himself. (Hint: It rhymes with “cuck.”)

And during that, this was said.

Maher said he didn’t see it that way. At the start of his conversation with Yiannopoulos, the host explained: “I think you’re colossally wrong. But if I banned everyone from my show who I thought was colossally wrong, I’d be talking to myself.”

Maher’s guest agreed, saying, “If you don’t show up to debate, you lose.”

The question of debate, and whether we should be debating someone like Milo Yiannopoulos, is one of only two interesting questions that he right-wing public bigot raises. The other is what it is about our culture that let’s someone as deeply banal as Yiannopoulos get so far in life when he has so little to offer.

We like to think of debate as a forum in which we calmly discuss rational proposals and through learned discourse arrive at sensible conclusions. This is easy to believe until you actually watch a debate. Debates are seldom won by reason, or evidence, or learned discourse. They’re often won by whoever can rattle off enough unexpected falsehoods to throw their opponent off balance. (This explains a lot about how Ted Cruz became a champion debater in college.) And Milo Yiannopoulos is, whatever else he is, a fount of falsehood. Before a TV host or panelist can start debunking his first lie, he’s already on to his third, and on television, where seconds count, this is the debating equivalent of the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique.

Further, debating someone like Yiannopoulos is inherently problematic because the mere act of doing so says that his “ideas” are still worthwhile debate topics among reasonable people. What are his ideas?

For his shopping trip to Gieves & Hawkes, Yiannopoulos calls for an Uber. The driver is a man, possibly because Uber’s algorithm has learned that Yiannopoulos rejects female drivers. Women, he says, have been scientifically proven to be worse at spatial relations, as have Asians. “It’s the only thing Saudi Arabia gets right,” he says about the country’s ban on female drivers. “Behind every racist joke is a scientific fact.”

He says he disapproves of all Muslims—except his boyfriend of 10 years. But it’s feminists who rile him most. During Gamergate, he targeted game developer Brianna Wu. Her address was posted on Reddit, and she received so many rape and death threats that she moved out of her home for a while and hired a bodyguard. “When you’ve faced difficulties in your life—growing up gay, being a minority, suffering from physical illness—you have two paths in front of you,” Wu says about Yiannopoulos. “Some people develop a fierce sense of empathy. The other side that’s available is to become something very dark. You can look at some of his poetry, when he was an adolescent, and it’s very clear he was hurting. He’s channeled that pain into hurting a lot of people and justifying it.”

So Yiannopoulos hates women and has contempt for non-whites. Are we supposed to be debating whether these are good ideas, sensible notions for a happier world? Are we supposed to hold a symposium titled, “Resolved: Behind every racist joke lies a scientific fact”, or does it lend racism a patina of intellectual legitimacy that it doesn’t merit because of its repeated and demonstrated failure as a way of looking at human beings? Racists like Yiannopoulos have been making the same fundamental errors for five centuries now. They’ve caused extraordinary harm. We know that. We can’t unknow it. Debating them is like debating people who think the Sun goes around the Earth or that Aristotle was more right about the descent rate of falling objects than Galileo was.

But what about Yiannopoulos’s feelings about free speech, the very reason Maher invited him on his show? Surely he has some thoughts of interest about that, right?

No.

For one thing, Yiannopoulos has not had his free speech rights violated. Never. Not once. At no time has any government–federal, state, or local–enacted a law, ordinance, or rule that prohibited him from expressing himself. Milo Yiannopoulos is, by any measurable standard, freer to speak than anyone I know. Simon and Schuster gave him $250,000 for his upcoming book. He gets invitations to banter and chatter on national talk shows. Major magazines interview him all the time. Hollywood stars have to shell out big bucks to publicists to be featured in the media as often as our supposed poster boy for censored speech.

What has happened is that at times when he’s been invited to speak, people who disliked what he said, mainly because they were the targets of his and his fans’ abuse, have talked back. Guess what? That’s free speech too. Occasionally, those protests have turned violent, and that is a shame. But it’s not a violation of his right to free speech. Yiannopoulos is free to speak. The public that hears what he says is free to react. And there’s no law that requires their reaction to be polite, so long as no one gets hurt.

For another, if free speech is a topic you want to discuss, there are many more qualified people to expound on it: journalists, lawyers, judges, historians. Yiannopoulos is none of these. He’s a brain stem attached to a keyboard (sometimes, when his interns aren’t doing his writing for him). He has nothing of interest to bring to the conversation. So why talk to him?

Yes, why?

Why has our culture let someone like Yiannopoulos get this far? What happened? Are we all this easily conned? Well, yeah. Yiannopoulos has found a way of hacking into our culture, bypassing what should otherwise be robust bullshit detectors.

Our culture has a fetish for putting old wine in new bottles. We reboot old TV and movie franchises, comic books, games, everything. We crave both novelty and familiarity, and like to get both at the same time if we can. Yiannopoulos is that in spades.  If he presented himself as a cranky Public Access TV host, ranting at us with an American flag behind him, or as a Klansman on the Jerry Springer show wearing his sheet and yelling “White Power” as the studio audience boos, no one would give a shit about him. Instead, Yiannopoulos says everything the racist, homophobic, sexist uncle you dread talking to at Thanksgiving says, but he wears eyeliner and pearls. Wild! Different! What can we make of it? If J.J. Abrams were to reboot the worst of five centuries of western civilization–and I’m not for a moment suggesting he would or should–he’d have created Milo Yiannopoulos.

We should probably rethink our affection for newly bottled old wines going forward. The past is full of rancid ideas unfit for modern human consumption, and the world is full of opportunists all too eager to be the their trendy new face.

UPDATE: I neglected to add Advocate In Favor Of Pedophilia to Yiannopoulos’s list of titles. I became aware of it only after hitting Publish. Here’s the video. Anyone feel like this is one of those topics worthy of debate?

Some That Man Might Be?

All That Man IsAll That Man Is by David Szalay

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I kept waiting for the irony to kick in.

As I read stories of one white, straight, male, European protagonist after another, I kept waiting for the joke that would make the book’s title pay off. I confess I may have missed it. By the sixth story, I was getting antsy. But if the ironic twist was in there somwhere, I never saw it. Which means I had to take the title and the book as sincere and proceed from the assumption that David Szalay thought he’d truly found something universal about the life of men on Earth, and that the best way he could think of to report his discovery through a fantastically narrow range of characters.

I don’t think he has. The book’s title writes a check that the stories, taken collectively, can’t cash. It fails even to capture All That European Men Are. Not all European men are white, for one thing. And, for another, not all European men treat women as nothing but sex objects. (Also, not all European women are as one dimensional as Szalay’s.) To be fair, the last story does have a gay, or bi, protagonist. His sexuality comes into play only insofar as its revelation cost him his marriage, but he’s still a relief after eight straight straight guys. If only there’d been more like him.

All That Man Is contains a great deal fine writing. The stories, on a line-by-line level, are well crafted, with considerable wit, humor, and pathos. It’s just that the overall project strikes me as so ill-conceived that I can’t recommend it.

View all my reviews

I Understand You

lizza-trump-theories-1200Hey, you. White dude with the red cap. You with the gun rack in your pickup’s rear window. You who live in a white rural town where people are real and eat real food and have real values and go to real churches.

I understand you.

You think I don’t, but I do.

What? Did you think I was born in a city? Well, actually you’re right. I was. I was born in Santa Monica, CA. But I didn’t stay there long. I’ve lived in Ohio. I’ve lived in Texas. I spent six years of my life in rural Utah, and there’s a good chance my town was smaller and whiter than yours.

I understand you.

It’s not hard. I hate to break it to you, but you’re not that deep.

I know that people of color in your towns have to be careful how they act, lest they eat your shit. The only reason I got a pass was that I was passing. My skin is light enough that people didn’t know, right away, that I was “a n—–.” (They’d have felt no embarrassment at spelling out the slur.) I know that gays and lesbians have to hide who they are to avoid your violence. I know how religion binds your communities, because I saw, from the outside looking in, how it bound mine.

I know the stories you use to explain your lives to yourselves. I know you see yourselves as standing in a line. It’s a long line. At the front are the rich people, and you think that if you stay in the line, don’t ask for too much, and behave yourselves, the rich people at the front will one day shower you with riches and all will be happy. You don’t question why there has to be a line, or why you’re the one standing in it. As long as the rich people at the front pass down an occasional treat, it’s a sign of their goodwill. And as long as the darker people are behind you, which they deserve because they’re more unruly and impatient than you, and don’t talk English as good as you talk it, all is right and just.

This is the story your ancestors used to explain slavery to themselves. Most of the more southerly of them didn’t own slaves, but they hoped if they stood in line, one day they could. Later, under our nation’s 100 post-civil-war years of legal apartheid, your grandparents could still tell themselves that no matter how bad off they were, they were better than the “n——“. They could vote, get the front seat on the bus, and ogle a white girl’s ass without dying for it. And if any “n—–” tried to get in line in front of them, there were hoods to wear, crosses to burn, and branches suitable for nooses.

When this system of apartheid was dismantled, suddenly people wouldn’t let your parents, or you, use the word “n—–” anymore. You got yelled at for it, and that hurt, partly because feeling guilty hurts, but partly because that meant that the darker people had moved up in line a little. Soon, black people were on TV and in movies and ads. They played sports. They were cops and lawyers and business executives. Black bodies were closing in on your position in line. Some were ahead. And what’s more, it looked like some of your fellow pale people, ones who lived in cities and always made fun of you, were helping them cut in front!

Yeah, I think I understand you.

Then along came a black President, with a foreign, black name. He never could have been in line. Now he’s at the front of it! How can that be fair? The treats were supposed to come to you first! And when he sends something down the line to you, bails out your auto industry, stabilizes the banks, gets you health care, you’re bewildered. Where does that–you won’t say the word because you’re not racist–get off trying to help you? And why isn’t he doing more? And why is he also helping those other people you don’t like: the gays and lesbians and Mexicans and Asians who don’t live in your town because…well…any one of them who tries gets the message? Now you’re pissed off. And now those fancy types are telling you you’re racist and sexist because you’re angry about all the non-white, non-male people ahead of you. You’re not mad because you hate them. You don’t hate. You’re mad because people of color and women don’t deserve those spots. The rich people promised your grandpappy.

I understand you.

You never got mad at the rich guys or their promises, even though they’re made of lies. You’ll never get that they told your grandpappy to stand in line because they feared he might revolt and then died laughing when the poor sap fell for it. You’ll never ask why your grandpappy, or your pappy, or you, never made common cause with the people of color to take what the rich man was denying all of you. Instead, you’ll let the rich guys pollute your land, air, and water if it means a job. And you’ll elect the smiling toady the rich man asks you to vote for so he can go to Washington and make sure that no uppity people ever try to give you health care, education programs, housing assistance, or the right to form a union. Why would you want those things? The rich guys at the front of the line will be passing down a treat for you anytime now. Anytime.

I understand you.

At last, one day, the rich guys stopped passing their treats down to you. They took your factories away and left you. And that confused you. Where’d the line go? Where’s your shower of riches? They couldn’t have been fibbing all along, could they? No. It must be the fault of those liberals in Washington. They regulated them too much. They drove them away. They’ll pay for that, them and the city slickers in Hollywood who make jokes at your expense and sip lattes and drive nice cars and know Jews. (Not that you’re antisemitic. Why would we think that?)

Idiots. You think voting for Trump upset the elites in Washington? They’ll adapt. They have money, influence, and time. They’ll be here long after Trump’s gone to Orange, Rapist, Con-Man Heaven. You may think by electing Trump you threw a brick at Washington Elites, but you hit poor people, the elderly, the vulnerable, and yourselves. After four years of Trump, your pockets will be emptier, and his fuller. Your towns will still be sucky and poor, and you’ll still be sad, paranoid, and angry. But maybe, if you’re good, Trump’ll send you some of those Trump Steaks. That should tide you over, because now that he’s at the front of the line,  the wait for the shower of goodies can’t be much longer. You’re so close. Right?

Yeah, I understand you.

 

Dear Richard Dawkins,

Professor Dawkins,

It pains me a little writing this. As a fellow atheist, I respect the work you’ve done promulgating atheist thought through your books and lectures. That you’ve chosen to absorb the attacks of religious zealots of all kinds makes me glad you’re here, and equally glad I’m not you.

But when it comes to your attitude toward women, I’ve got to say how disappointed I am in you. That a person as bright as you are could entertain such silly, victim-blaming attitudes is enough to make me weep. Now I know what you’re thinking. You don’t believe that you’re a sexist. After all, Christina Hoff Sommers is always there to tell you that sexism isn’t even a problem, and if you can’t believe a woman who’s made a career of telling rich, straight, white, conservative men that everything they say and do is fine, who can you believe?

Still, I’m not yet prepared to give up hope in your ability to pause, reflect and learn, so let me just give you a couple of pieces of friendly advice.

1. Stop trying to compare types of rape or abuse.

I’m not sure why you think ranking different types of sexual assault is a game worth the candle, but it isn’t. Whether the rapist gains power over his or her victim through violence, intoxicants, or just by being an adult or an authority figure, we’re still talking about sexual assault. Trying to parse the relative badness of each particular rape is like picking gnat shit out of pepper. It wastes time and helps no one, except possibly the rapist. And do we really want to help people who would say things like “Sure, I banged her without her consent, but it’s not like I hit her over the head first. I slipped something in her drink, ’cause I was raised right.”

2. Listen to a woman (other than Ms. Hoff Sommers).

It’s not easy to be told that something you’ve said is misogynistic. It’s hard enough to be told that you’re wrong about anything. The accusation that your words or deeds are sexist (or a racist, or a homophobic) carries the additional stigma of moral corruption. Understandably, your first impulse is to man the ramparts of your injured self esteem and defend yourself against the marauding horde. Since you can’t be what your opponents say you are, you will start to convince yourself that everyone who thinks you’re wrong must be slanderers out to tear you down as part of their own evil agenda.

This is a destructive road to go down, but sadly, Professor Dawkins, it’s the road you’re on. The way to get off it is this, a little bit of advice I picked up from the movie White Men Can’t Jump that’s served me well:

Listen to the woman.

Since the Bronze Age, men haven’t listened to women all that often. It’s a bad habit we’ve all gotten into, and the misery it’s inflicted and the opportunity costs it’s imposed have been enormous. If you think back over 6,000 years of intelligence and talent that men squelched to maintain power, it’ll break your heart. Nevertheless we’re stuck with these bad habits, and when we look around at the cultures and institutions we’ve inherited from our ancestors, we find their traces everywhere.

How do we break the sexist habit?

We start by listening to the woman.

We start by understanding that women know things about the way life is lived that men don’t, and that they’re experts on is what it’s like to navigate the world as a woman. Women understand harassment, rape, and legal and economic injustice in a way that we can’t. When they talk about these things, and a lot of other things, we need to listen. We don’t get defensive. We don’t try to justify or excuse. We don’t worry about being right. When we feel the impulse to do any of these things, we arrest the thought on its route from our brains to our lips, and instead, we listen.

Listen to the woman.

All the time.

Not just when she tells us what we want to hear.

Now you may be asking at this point, Professor, the question Billy Hoyle asks in the movie, “If I listen to the woman, do I have to agree with her too?”

And I’ll tell you what Sidney Deane said, that just listening is a start. I don’t want to stress you out. Just listen. If you do that, you might hear some things that inspire new thoughts. Where you go from there is up to you.

Listen to the woman, Professor Dawkins. You and the atheist world will be better for it.

Good luck,

JS

Stupid Things Great Writers Say

Let’s start with V.S. Naipaul, Nobel Laureate of 2001:

I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.

I’d be interested to see Mr. Naipaul put to a blind test. The closest thing we have online comes from The Guardian and from Nicole Bernier at Beyond the Margins. I took both, scored 60% accuracy on The Guardian’s test, but only 29% on Nicole’s test–my first eight answers were wrong. Statistically this makes me an average guesser, nothing more. Maybe Naipaul’s could hit 80% or better on both. Maybe that’s why he won the Nobel. (I kid, but don’t assume it’s because I love.)

The whole thing did get me thinking more broadly about the jackass pronouncements of brilliant writers. It’s strange. A author writes a compelling piece of fiction. It moves us, scares us, or makes us laugh. The author certainly has demonstrated a skill at spinning amusing and illuminating lies, but many try to translate this into erudition of a more general kind and turn authors into sages.

Given the nonsense a lot of brilliant authors take seriously, we should be at least a little more circumspect about doing this.

D.H. Lawrence, modernist author:

You have a Sam, a fat slow fellow, who has got slower and more slovenly as the weeks wear on. You have a master who has grown more irritable in his authority. Till Sam becomes simply wallowing in his slackness, makes your gorge rise. And the master is on red hot iron.

Now these two men, Captain and Sam, are there in a very unsteady equilibrium of command and obedience. A polarized flow. Definitely polarized.

The poles of will are the great ganglia of the voluntary nerve system, located beside the spinal column, in the back. From the poles of will in the backbone of the Captain, to the ganglia of will in the back of the sloucher Sam, runs a frazzled, jagged current, a staggering circuit of vital electricity. This circuit gets one jolt too many, and there is an explosion.

‘Tie up that lousy swine!’ roars the enraged Captain.

And whack! whack! down on the bare back of that sloucher Sam comes the cat.

What does it do? By Jove, it goes like ice-cold water into his spine. Down those lashes runs the current of the Captain’s rage, right into the blood and into the toneless ganglia of Sam’s voluntary system. Crash! Crash! runs the lightning flame, right into the cores of the living nerves.

And the living nerves respond. They start to vibrate. They brace up. The blood begins to go quicker. The nerves begin to recover their vividness. It is their tonic. The man Sam has a new clear day of intelligence, and a smarty back. The Captain has a new relief, a new ease in his authority, and a sore heart.

There is a new equilibrium, and a fresh start. The physical intelligence of a Sam is restored, the turgidity is relieved from the veins of the Captain.

It is a natural form of human coition, interchange.

It is good for Sam to be flogged. It is good, on this occasion, for the Captain to have Sam flogged. I say so. Because they were both in that physical condition.

It’s a good thing old D.H. was always broke. I’d hate to think what would have happened if he’d ever employed a housekeeper. Lawrence claimed that such a master/servant blood bond, strengthened through horrific violence, is infinitely preferable to contemporary employer/employee relationships. I don’t know. I’ve never much liked being an employee, but I’ve always been gratified to know that I could sic cops on any boss who raised a hand to me. I get that modern capitalist relationships have their alienating drawbacks, but Lawrence’s cure seems far worse than the disease.

Ezra Pound, modernist poet, rabid anti-semite:

You let in the Jew and the Jew rotted your empire, and you yourselves out-jewed the Jew.

And the big Jew has rotted every nation he has wormed into.

Your infamy is bound up with Judaea. You can not touch a sore or a shame in your empire but you find a Mond, a Sassoon, or a Goldsmid.

These gems came from Pound’s Italian radio broadcasts, made in support of Il Duce. I take it a close reading isn’t necessary. Pound gets credit for a great deal in literature. Certainly without him James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and Ernest Hemingway would have had a rougher time getting their work out and noticed. Pound advanced 20th century literature. He also advanced 20th century fascism and gave intellectual cover to people who murdered millions out of bigotry. I’ll leave the question of which is more important to you.

Orson Scott Card, renowned sf author, homophobe:

 Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.The goal of the polity is not to put homosexuals in jail. The goal is to discourage people from engaging in homosexual practices in the first place, and, when they nevertheless proceed in their homosexual behavior, to encourage them to do so discreetly, so as not to shake the confidence of the community in the polity’s ability to provide rules for safe, stable, dependable marriage and family relationships.

As a man of letters, Card doesn’t bat in the same league with Pound and Lawrence, but he is a figure of renown with the science fiction community, which by now must be well practiced in separating an author’s work from his personality. I wish them luck with that. With every statement like that, and Card just keeps on making ’em, it gets harder.

Henry Rollins, the rock and roll raconteur, once said that if you read the graffiti that your favorite band left backstage at a venue, your opinion of the band would plummet. The same is true of writers, and it’s going to get worse. Once upon a time, an author could cultivate a kind of semi-divine detachment from the audience, speak rarely, and every so often toss his work to the crowd the way John D. Rockefeller tossed dimes to the nobodies. But now, authors have to be on Facebook and Twitter, and have to push to do blog tours and interviews and speaking gigs, and thanks to the internet, every weird, stupid thing we say lives forever.

I’m not sure how to feel about that. What I try to do is ask myself whether the thoughts I express today will look barbaric twenty years from now. At the same time, I think about the bullet Shakespeare dodged. As far as we know, no one wrote down all the racist, sexist, monarchist shit that he surely must have thought.

Dudes and Doubitability

Reading Rebecca Watson’s Slate article on sexism and sexual harassment in the skeptical community depressed me this morning. (And with a cold coming on and a car in the shop, I wasn’t in the market for anything more to be depressed about.) I don’t consider myself a member of the skeptic community, or indeed, of almost any community, but my admiration for many of skepticism’s leading lights–Carl Sagan, Martin Gardner, the Mythbusters, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Lindy West, Julia Sweeney–is beyond question. I am an atheist and freethinker who believes that if the human race is ever going to stop being a moral embarrassment, we’re going to have to develop humane replacements for the habits of mind that lead us to accept sexism, racism, xenophobia, and homophobia.

I’ve always thought that skeptics and freethinkers were in the best position to lead on those issues. We pride ourselves on our ability to set aside hidebound ways of thinking, to question traditional assumptions, and to bust long-standing myths. And there is nothing more hidebound than sexism and the patriarchy it bolsters.

The patriarchy emerged in the neolithic era, when women’s work was restricted to crop harvesting and the production of offspring, while men grabbed the more glamorous jobs of trading, toolmaking, and warfare. Though human society was, in past epochs, more egalitarian, seven thousand years is a long time to inculcate the sexist divisions of labor and cultural habits that the neolithic peoples’ bronze age descendants committed to stone tablets and papyrus. Priests and potentates, to bolster their own patriarchy-based legitimacy, saw to it that religion and culture modeled and justified a sexist view of the world, rehearsing the ways in which they’d later use it to justify racism and homophobia, sexism’s younger siblings.

What hold should the social attitudes toward women of late stone age/early bronze age peoples have on those of us living in the 21st century? That is an issue that skeptics can address, for there is a world of cultural and religious mythology to explore, and a great deal of bunk in need of debunking, when it comes to the excuses people give for why women shouldn’t do certain kinds of jobs, shouldn’t be educated, shouldn’t dress as they like, shouldn’t control their bodies. The area is way too rich for skeptics to ignore.

But instead, when confronted with a skeptic with XX chromosomes, some male skeptics appear comfortable with not only with holding stone age attitudes about women, but also defending or excusing them. In doing so, they employ arguments that they’d laugh out of the room if the topic were God, Holocaust Denial, or UFOs. A quote from Richard Dawkins, taken from Rebecca Watson’s Slate article, in which he slags on her conference discussion of misogyny in the skeptic world:

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

If Dawkins can’t understand that a Rebecca Watson might enter the environs of creepoutsville when a stranger invites her, apropos of nothing, to his room, his imagination rests on a smaller plot of land than I thought. But let’s leave that aside for a minute. Dawkins missed, out of either ignorance or malice, what was clearly Watson’s larger point:

In June of 2011, I was on a panel at an atheist conference in Dublin. The topic was “Communicating Atheism,” and I was excited to join Richard Dawkins, one of the most famous atheists in the world, with several documentaries and bestselling books to his name. Dawkins used his time to criticize Phil Plait, an astronomer who the year prior had given a talk in which he argued for skeptics to be kinder. I used my time to talk about what it’s like for me to communicate atheism online, and how being a woman might affect the response I receive, as in rape threats and other sexual comments.

The audience was receptive, and afterward I spent many hours in the hotel bar discussing issues of gender, objectification, and misogyny with other thoughtful atheists.

 

Dawkins ignores the issues of rape threats and harassment, choosing what he takes to be the least serious of Watson’s examples. And he does this in order to…what? To suggest that because Saudi women are treated abominably that Watson has no cause to complain? It’s the kind of logic I might expect of the miserable prick who stole my car: “Dear Cambodian Refugee, I know that two millions of your brothers and sisters were tortured and brutally killed by the Khmer Rouge, but stop your fussing. Look what this poor American whose car I stole had to put up with.” Dawkins’s rhetorical trick is brilliant at shutting down the conversation. Look at the miserable Saudi woman! Isn’t religious oppression awful? And let’s not pay too much attention to the woman an atheist harassed. It’s the appeal-to-emotion red herring, and if Uri Geller used it, skeptics would rightfully fry him for it. But any person of moral sensibility should get that the other people’s felonies don’t excuse our misdemeanors. Women should have the right to proceed through life without having their genitals mutilated, but they should also be able to speak their minds in public without having members of their community threaten to rape them, either in person or in website comments. One form of abuse may be more severe than the other, but women in either situation have ample cause to feel abused.

In at least one sense, the misogyny of some in the skeptic community fails to surprise me. Sexism is old, far older than any religion currently practiced, older even than written language. It’s infested our culture, our politics, our language, and our lives on a deep level. Freethinking movements prize reason, and that’s good, but they also evolved from a culture steeped in gender bias.

Skeptic groups, because they needn’t fret over the implications of upending tradition, should be better at purging misogyny from their movement than religious groups are. The tools are at their disposal. I hope they follow Rebecca Watson’s example and set about using them, because this shit’s really old.